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cerys82

cerys82
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      04.03.2014 13:44
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      A good introduction to Devonshire cookery

      If you have read many of my reviews you may have surmised that I have a pretty extensive collection of cookbooks. A couple of years ago however, I developed a particular interest in cookery from the South West of England where I live. I have found that there are not a lot of traditional recipes freely available. A lot of the regional dishes I know are ones that I have been taught over the years by my mum. So I went through a bit of a phase of tracking down cookbooks from the local area.

      Devonshire cookbook is one of those. I bought it from a local garden centre a few years ago for £2.99. It is available new for the same price via Amazon. It is paperback and has a rather old fashioned cover with the author with a table of unappetising looking beige food but I tried to look past this. It is quite a slight cookbook at 40 pages. It is published by a small Cornish publisher called Bossiney books. The cover and inside pages are quite glossy so stand up quite well to splashes that inevitably come from cooking.

      The book was originally published in 1998, although the edition that I have was printed in 2003. Wilson is the joint owner, with her husband, of Tinhay Mill Restaurant & B&B in Lifton, just over the border from Cornwall in Devon.

      The book itself is pretty no frills with no pictures apart from a few sketches. Some of the recipes have a short introduction.

      To give you a flavour of what the book is like, here are some examples of the recipes from each section.

      Starters: Leek and potato soup, layered fish loaf

      Savouries: Devon leek or turnip pie, Barbican fish cakes, leek and herb cheddar stuffed jacket potatoes, Devon beer and beef casserole with herby cobbler

      Sweets: blackberry and apple cobbler, Devonshire junket (a kind of milk pudding set with rennet), Devon cider sorbet, fudge pudding, rice pudding with Plymouth gin,

      Cakes: Devonshire splits (a kind of sweet bread roll), Devonshire saffron cake, Devonshire apple cake

      Jams and pickles: Aunt Ellen's marrow jam, apple and apricot chutney with Devonshire cider.

      Basic stocks and special pastries: chicken stock, rosecrust pastry (sweet pastry), Devon butter pastry, clarified butter.

      Cider: Devonshire cider (made with lemons and ginger included)

      I do like this book. As you may be gathering by the fact that I have a lot of reviews of books about Westcountry cooking I have quite a few of them and this is definitely one of the better ones. A number of the other similar books that I have tend to have fantastic and different desserts and baking ideas but fall apart a bit when it comes to the savoury bit, either being far too old fashioned or just too plain. Here there are some really good savoury recipes which I use regularly myself - I must mention in particular the beef casserole and the herb cheddar jacket potato, both of which are in my regular repertoire of meals now.

      That said there are a few clunkers of recipes here, that seem to be straight out of the 1970's book of Fanny Craddock - fish loaf? Kipper pate? (*gags*)

      The recipes that I have tried have been easy to follow and have turned out well. As alluded to earlier, really it's the sweet dishes that do excel. They are not dainty haute cuisine to be sure, but they are full of flavour and have prescience on using local seasonal ingredients which are relatively inexpensive and easy to source. The cider sorbet was particularly interesting, and thankfully did not necessarily require the need for an ice cream maker.

      I do have another slight criticism which is the same as what I had with another book of Wilson's called 'Vegetarian recipes from the West Country.' I feel that she could do a little bit more to point her readers to the local suppliers; she only really mentions them by name once or twice within the book. For the most part she just describes the dish as 'Devon this' or 'Devonshire that' with no real elaboration on that and to be fair you could easily remove the Devon bit and the recipe could be from anywhere. It is a shame that she did not feel the need to quantify its Devon credentials by maybe touching on where in Devon the recipe came from or when it might have links with tradition.

      In conclusion, if you have an interest in traditional Devonshire cookery I think you would definitely get something out of this book as regards flavours and ingredients, even if it does not necessarily teach you as much as it should about the links to the local area. As regards presenting wholesome recipe ideas which are easy to prepare and slightly different than you might get in other cookbooks, I think that it acquits itself quite well.

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        26.02.2014 15:21
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        An oldie but a goodie

        At Elizabeth David's Table is not a book that I would not have normally picked up on the face of it as I prefer more modern cookery; however it was given to me as a present.

        It is available at the time of writing for £16.75 on Amazon in hardback.

        The book is in hardback with matt finish pages.

        There is a 4 page introduction which gives a brief biography of David who was brought up in a well-to-do family and ended up living in Europe for a number of years, publishing a number of books on Mediterranean and French cookery which were very popular in her native England despite how hard it was to locate some of the ingredients she detailed at that time.

        This book is a collection of a number of the recipes from across her very popular books over the years. I will talk you through example recipes from each section. . Most recipes also have a photo accompanying them of the final dish and most have a short introduction from David.

        In between each section there are examples of David's writing from various publications which cover a wide variety of subject such as European markets, cooking with wine, her usage, bread making and her travel experiences. This is a really nice touch and makes it feel less of a compilation made to simply cash in.

        Starters and light dishes: piedmontese peppers, coriander mushrooms, aubergine puree, pork and spinach terrine,

        Soups: fresh green pea soup, courgette and tomato soup, gazpacho, spiced lentil soup

        Eggs: Tian with spinach and potatoes, a variety of omelette recipes, poached eggs, onion tart

        Pasta: Tagliatelle with Bolognese sauce, penne with mascarpone, macaroni carbonara, spaghetti with oil and garlic,


        Vegetables: Venetian artichokes, broad beans with bacon, slow cooked beans, Provencal leeks, sweet pepper and tomato stew, gratin dauphinois,

        Rice; Milanese risotto, risotto with green peas, chicken risotto, pilaf rice, kedgeree,

        Fish shellfish and Crustacea: baked bream, baked salmon trout, scallops with white wine and bacon,

        Meat: Provencal beef and wine stew, beef and wine stew with black olives, Sussex stewed steak, beef with red wine, onions and mushrooms, courgette moussaka (with lamb or beef), pork cooked in milk.

        Poultry and game birds: sautéed chicken with olives and tomatoes, chicken pot-roasted with fennel and ham, chicken baked with Italian spice and olive oil, chicken baked with green pepper and cinnamon butter, duck with figs, turkey breasts with marsala, partridges braised in white wine,

        Sauces: Mayonnaise, aioli, tomato sauce, tuna mayonnaise,

        Sweet dishes and cakes: raspberry shortbread, peaches in white wine, apples with lemon and cinnamon, apples cooked in butter, chocolate mousse

        Bread and yeast making: a basic loaf, rice bread, Provencal onion pie, thick parmesan biscuits.

        I have to say that despite my initial reservations, I am really impressed by this book. Most of all I am surprised at just how modern it feels when a lot of these recipes were initially published in the 50's and 60's. The vast majority of the ingredients are easily available and not massively expensive. Also a lot of modern food writers who are inspired by Mediterranean and European cooking could learn a great deal from just how pared back so much of it is. For the most part there are not huge lists of ingredients, David instead focusses on keeping things simple with carefully chosen seasonings and simple techniques, and there is also quite a nod to slow cooking in some of the stew type recipes.

        I have done a number of these recipes now and they have all worked wonderfully. Some of the meat recipes I have done when I do more special recipes at the weekend, however there are plenty that I think would be suitable for a busy family who want something relatively quick in wholesome for tea. In particular I am referring to her pasta and risotto recipes which are relatively simple but absolutely delicious and packed full of flavour.

        The snippets of her writing are particularly engaging. She is a very articulate but straightforward writer, and I have to say I really got sucked into her descriptions of European food markets. Whilst I am an avid recipe collector and reader of recipes I have always been a bit reserved when it comes to reading general food writing, however this book has made me want to explore things a bit further.

        Of course, I know that this is only a selection of the many, many recipes that she included in her many, many books and articles and therefore the compiler has chosen those which would suit the modern lifestyle and taste more than others but that is obviously not a bad thing as it introduces keen home cooks like myself to her way of cooking. I think a lot of purists might baulk at what she calls French and Italian cooking as ti might not be 'traditional' in the most obvious sense to them, and may be adapted slightly to suit English tastes but that is no bad thing necessarily as they still follow the same principles when it comes to taste.

        I like that the food is not overly fussy and very wholesome. It would have been incredibly easy in this collection to go down the patisserie route which can be quite intimidating to the home cook but she resists this. In fact a lot of the cakes and sweet section is quite English in taste and style. The photography is also worth a mention, it is truly gorgeous and fully in keeping with the feel of the book which is of a rustic/ farmhouse kitchen style.

        In conclusion, I recommend this book to keen home cooks who are looking to enhance their European recipe repertoire a bit more. The breadth of recipes in here is suitable for so many occasions and the end results are without exception very impressive and full of flavour.

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          24.02.2014 09:13
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          Well written book with a Westcountry twist

          If you have read many of my reviews you may have surmised that I have a pretty extensive collection of cookbooks. A couple of years ago however, I developed a particular interest in cookery from the South West of England where I live. I have found that there are not a lot of traditional recipes freely available. A lot of the regional dishes I know are ones that I have been taught over the years by my mum. So I went through a bit of a phase of tracking down cookbooks from the local area.

          Clotted Cream is one of these books. I purchased it for £2.99 from a local farm shop. It is available on Amazon or through your local bookshop ordering process. It is published by a small Cornish publisher called Tor Mark. The book itself is paperback and quite slight at 32 pages.

          I am originally from Cornwall and Clotted Cream is something that the Cornish are particularly proud of. There have been a lot of battles over the years as to the trademarking of Cornish Clotted Cream as a protected trademark to distinguish it from other clotted cream products.

          Unlike some of Martin's other books that I have, about half of the book is actually given over to information about clotted cream and the remainder goes on recipes.

          In the background bit of the book, Martin talks about pretty much all there is to know about this foodstuff. She talks about how it originated because it needed to be transported in the days long before refrigeration and that the famous crust created a seal to keep it fresh. She talks about the traditional methods for preparing it through history and how the breed of cow and location can make an impact on the taste. She also delves into the traditional cream tea, a bit of a tourist staple in this part of the world as well as talking about modern day manufacturers such as Roddas and Langage Farm (the latter of which is controversially in Devon!). To make it a bit more balanced, she does of course refer to the fact that it is extremely high in fat!

          To give you a flavour of what the recipes are like, I have detailed some below. Most of the recipes have a short introduction where she talks about the history behind them or where she credits somebody who has given her the recipe. There are no pictures.

          Firstly she gives you tips on how to make your own clotted cream with a number of methods that are suitable for the standard home kitchen as well as Lebanese varieties and clotted cream butter.

          Clotted cream savoury recipes: lemon soup, Devon pork casserole with clotted cream and cider, Devonshire potato and clotted cream pie.

          Commercial use of clotted cream: clotted cream shortbread biscuits, clotted cream walnut fudge

          Puddings: Tiverton batter pudding, Nan's pudding (an egg custard pudding),

          Cakes and scones: Heavy cake (a spicy fruit cake), Devonshire revel buns (spicy, fruity yeast buns), Victoria sandwich and of course the book finishes with home-made scones with clotted cream.

          I really like this book. I think that if you have an interest in Clotted Cream, particularly its role in traditional Cornish and Devonshire cooking, then you will probably get everything that you need out of this.

          The book may be slight but it covers a lot of ground and is well informed and a lot of research has gone into it. Over the years I have done a number of recipes from this book. Where it particularly comes into its own for me personally, is that it gives you lots of ideas for using left over clotted cream. I frequently find that because it is so rich when we do buy tubs of it we usually find we have some left over when we have finished using it for the main purpose that we usually have - that is on the side of desserts such as steamed fruit puddings and things like scones and apple pies. Also, my parents are not the healthiest of eaters and usually buy quite big tubs when we go to visit and then force us to take the remainder back with us because they get eaters remorse and decide they don't want it in the house. Sadly, more often than not the remainder used to just end up in the bin.

          Now, thanks to this book, I do not have this kind of waste because I have some great ideas to use it all up. Another good thing about it is that due to its density and richness compared to other creams, a little really does go a long way in these recipes. I have even experimented a bit with the savoury dishes, although perhaps unsurprisingly, these do tend to be quite rich and I tend to use less cream than recommended in the recipe.

          One thing I am yet to do is have a go at making my own clotted cream. It is something that I definitely want to do at some stage, but I am somewhat daunted by it which is silly I know!

          The recipes that I have tried have been very tasty and easy to follow.

          I am not going to pretend that this is not a niche book, about a product which is for some people a bit of an acquired taste (crusty cream????) but for myself as a clotted cream fan, through heritage as much as taste, I really like it and the way that it has expanded my recipe repertoire. This is by no means an essential cookbook - you can find quite a lot of clotted cream recipes for free online these days and also some Rodda clotted cream packs now contain a little recipe pamphlet. However, I think I got enough out of this book to make it worthwhile for me.

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            06.02.2014 13:42
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            Good solid but non-essential cookbook

            Bryn's Kitchen was given to me as a present a few years ago by someone who is Welsh and a fan of Bryn's cooking. It is available for £11.25 from Amazon. It is a hardback book with nice, good quality shiny pages which are great to wipe clean when you are cooking and get the inevitable splashes.

            After a short introduction where he talks about his family and what he feels is useful equipment which is pretty standard - food processor, decent knives...

            The subtitle of this book is '5 brilliant ways to cook 20 great ingredients' . So essentially each chapter refers to a particular food and gives 5 recipes for each food. I will give a couple of examples of recipes from each section to give you a bit of a flavour of the book. Each section has a brief introduction about why he has chosen this ingredient as a base in particular. Each recipe has a short introduction, a full page photo of the finished product and some additional tips from Bryn as relevant.

            Beetroot - Beetroot soup, Beetroot tarte tatin

            Mushrooms - mushroom risotto, mushroom soup.

            Potatoes - Potatoes dauphinoise, marjoram gnocchi

            Crab - crab risotto, crab salad

            Scallops - raw scallop salad, baked scallops in the shell

            Salmon - smoked salmon risotto, potted salmon, horseradish and pickled cucumber

            Sole - Grilled sole with fennel salad, sole in a bag with courgettes and black olives

            Mackerel - salt and vinegar cured mackerel, Grilled mackerel, broad beans and chorizo

            Chicken - roast chicken, parsnips & garlic, whole poached chicken, lemongrass and Pak Choy,
            Beef - steak tartare (*gags*), roast rib of beef

            Lamb - slow roasted shoulder of lamb, lamb stew with rosemary dumplings,

            Pork - Slow roasted belly pork with chickpeas, braised pork cheeks with ginger carrots,

            Game - Game terrine and pear chutney, peppered loin of venison, savoy cabbage and celeriac,

            Apples - Apple flapjack, spiced apple and chestnut crumble, apple tarte tatin with calvados cream

            Berries - Raspberry jelly, Mixed berry clafoutis,

            Chocolate - Chocolate whisky truffles, Chocolate brownies

            Cream - Lemon posset, strawberries & basil, Bara brith and butter pudding

            Baking - Swiss roll, shortbread,

            Bread - Focaccia, Bara brith, soda bread, white bread rolls

            Preserves - Lemon curd, pear chutney

            Stocks and sauces - mushroom stock, veg stock, chicken stock, tomato ketchup, brandy sauce.


            It is fair to say, and perhaps no surprise to you that this is not necessarily a book that I bring out every day. A lot of the recipes are quite fiddly with difficult to source and expensive ingredients (in particular the game section) and also I do not normally tend to make fish meals at home if a lot of fiddly preparation is needed. There are definitely meals within this book where he has given into his cheffy tendencies. I am all for pushing the boat out and really pushing your skills to the limit where necessary, especially if you are doing a special meal at home or if you have guests - but I do think in this case for most even keen cooks, some of the ideas may be a bit beyond the scope of the home cook. To be honest as well, the fussier dishes are not the type of thing I would really want to prepare at home.

            Conversely, his more traditional recipes are absolutely fantastic. Some of them may appear on the face of it to be really standard and not particularly exciting. However, I have picked up a number of hints and tips from some of them which has meant that I feel more confident with them, in particularly the Bara Brith and the Mixed Berry clafoutis is probably my favourite recipe out of all of the ones that I have tried from this book.

            One place that he does deserve particular praise is that he really does keep his ingredients list to a minimum - something that a lot more 'family friendly' chefs could learn from (*cough* Jamie Oliver *cough*). Williams' emphasis is on mastering the techniques and getting those right and showing that you don't need an expensive shopping list full of stuff necessarily to do good home cooking - particularly with the sweet sections. I have to say that the recipes that I have tried from here which have mainly been from the sweet side of the book have all been straightforward to follow and consistently turned out really well.

            Some of the more ordinary recipes here I have now adopted as the technique that I choose which is a compliment when you consider I have hundreds of cookbooks. I particularly rate his chocolate recipes and his slow roasted belly pork.

            I do not normally pay a lot of attention to the way a book looks because I am more interested in the recipes contained within. That said, this is one of the best looking books that I own. The photograph is very stripped back, clean and modern with tones of grey throughout which gives it more of a modern rustic feel.

            In conclusion, this is a good solid book well executed with clear instructions. Because of the slightly cheffy pretensions of a lot of the recipes I would definitely not recommend it as an essential cookbook but I certainly think that Williams has a future in food writing outside of the TV work he does and the restaurants that he owns.

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              30.01.2014 14:10
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              An excellent introduction to rustic brewing or even if you have a bit more experience

              Booze for Free is a book that I bought some time ago from The Book People. It is also available from Amazon at the time of writing at £7.19 for Hardcover or £4.68 on kindle.

              It is quite a chunky little book coming in at around 330 pages.

              My husband and I are quite keen home brewers/drink makers and have a number of books on the subject. What appealed to me about this book particularly is the 'free' part, that is that there would be some focus on how to successfully forage - something I know shamefully little about even though I am surrounded by some lovely countryside.

              The book is separated into 3 parts - The Basics, The Recipes and lastly Further Information.

              There is an introduction by Hamilton where he talks about how he got passionate about home brewing .

              The Basics section goes for 80 pages and talks about the origins of beer and winemaking. He goes into some detail about the equipment that you woill require as well as 'best practice', that is how to adequately sterilse, pack and store your booze. This vcan seem a bit expensive and intimidating to start with so you really do have to think about whether this is a hobby that you can see yourself continuing with. He touches on foraging as regards safety tips and where the law stands on it. He finishes the section by probiding some basic tips on growing your own. Where this varys from some other books that I have seen is that as a self-sufficiency guru, he likes to focus on things like seed collecting which is not something that I really knew a lot about before.

              The recipes section begins with separate chapters for cider making, beer making and wine making. Here he describes the basic ingredients, methods and variations for each of the techniques so that these can be built on later.

              From here on in, the recipes are separated into seasons so that you can find drinks to prepare all year round. I will describe some from each section so that you can get a flavour of them.

              Spring: Cherry wine, cherry brandy/gin, Dandelion wine, Elderflower cordial, Gorseflower wine, Japanese knotweed ale, 2 nettle ale recipes, pine needle cordial

              Summer: Blackberry wine, blackberry cordial. Crème de cassis , elderberry port, Chilli vodka, lavender mead, crème de menthe, sumac lemonade, mulberry liqueur.

              Autumn: Acorn coffee, spiced apple wine, Dandelion and burdock (cordial, boozy and ale), damson gin/vodka/rum/wine/cordial, dandelion coffee,pumpkin beer, simple hop beer and wine.

              Winter: bay and rosemary ale, rhubarb vodka, rosemary ale, sloe wine/gin, parsnip sherry and wine.



              As you can see from the recipes I have described - Hamilton is of the impression that you can make booze out of pretty much anything. The best compliment that I can pay to this book as it has really expanded our horizons as to what kind of drinks we have been making. Typically we had made wine, beer and cider with a few variations but these had largely been from flavourings that you can buy from homebrew suppliers. However, getting this book has coincided with us starting to grow our own produce and obtaining our own allotment so we have been able to experiment a bit.

              It has changed the way I look for ingredients to make into drink. Normally I probably would have only tried to make drink if I had a surplus of soft fruits. However last year I was able to make some drink from things like dandelion and nettles which we had in abundance on the allotment. I have found the recipes that we have done to be in general quite successful , although I have had quite a bit of a hand from my husband who is more experienced with making these types of things than me. We had a bit of a glut of blackberries from our allotment so I made a couple of drinks from these.

              As we will be growing new things year on year on the allotment I am looking forward to experimenting with this book further. In particular, next year I am looking to make some of the spirits - crème de cassis and crème de menthe as these can be expensive and not altogether easy to source. Knowing that I have a book that will be useful for years to come is quite nice.

              I am still a little wary when it comes to foraging as I am convinced I will end up accidentally picking up something poisonous and this book does not give a massive amount of detail about how to identify some of the more unusual plants. As such, you might want to invest in a separate foraging book or at least one of those books that helps you to identify plants. Also, there is a bit of an absence of information about how long the drinks will store for once made. This is less of a worry with alcoholic drinks, but I know from other books that I have on drinks that non alcoholic drinks such as cordial have a relatively short life when bottled, even when put in the fridge. The last thing you want is to make something (and a lot of hard work goes into the prep for a lot of these recipes), save it for a special occasion and then be greeted with growths of mould floating on top of all your hard work.

              As you can probably see from my list of recipes, there is a real variety in the stuff that can be made. Whilst it does have a good amount of recipes of standard ones, I do like the fact that it is quite adventurous. Who would have thought that you can make something out of that perennial pest Japanese knotwood? What is good about the variety within is that it means that you have something that will appeal to both beginners to help them master the processes involved, and also for more experienced brewers who want to do something more unusual. Everything that I have made has turned out well which obviously gives me a bit of confidence when it comes to experimenting further.

              One thing that did make me laugh was a couple of very unusual ones at the very end of the book - one entitled Holy Water and one called Prison Beer. The first made out of marmite, the second orange juice and bread!

              In conclusion, if you have an interest in homebrewing or are thinking of starting, I would highly recommend this book. The techniques are clear and non-intimidating and the variety of recipes is vast and should inspire you to go further with your brewing than you perhaps thought possible.

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              • Bendicks Mint Collection / Chocolate / 75 Readings / 74 Ratings
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                25.01.2014 14:38
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                Posh chocolate

                Bendicks Mint Collection

                I am a huge fan of mint chocolates despite the fact I would not say that I have a sweet tooth otherwise. I think I would give up pretty much every other sweet confection in order that I could only have mint chocolate for the rest of my life! I love the way that good mint chocolate is quite complex tasting and the mix of freshness, sweetness and bitterness.

                As it was Christmas I thought I would treat myself to a 'good' box. That is, one that is made up of dark chocolate mints and I think that mint complements dark chocolate better than mint or white. My first preference would have been for a box of chocolates that incorporates Summerdown peppermint oil (this is produced in Britain and is absolutely delicious). Unfortunately I could not find any of these without having to order them online so I decided to go for Bendicks instead because I knew that they had prestige but I had not had them for years.

                I got a box which was for 400g on special offer for £5.50 from Waitrose in December. I see know that a lot of supermarkets are selling the 200g for £5.50 so I can assume that the 400g version is largely only available at Christmas time.

                The box is quite slickly presented with mixes of green, gold, brown and black - to complement the mints within presumably. It has the Queen's seal of approval on the box also. It is sealed with cellophane and then to lift the top off the box.

                The first thing that you get is an absolute waft of mint smell which for someone like me is an incredibly good thing.

                The chocolates are covered with a thin bit of white plastic type material on which is printed how to identify which chocolate is which.

                Looking at some of the earlier reviews here - it appears that the contents of the Mint Collection have changed over the years to the point where they have refined it to just these 4 options.

                Dark English mints (brown wrapper) - This one is the only one which is mint chocolate and nothing else. It is in a 'baton' shape. The chocolate is very rich, relatively bitter but not as bitter as ones with 95% cocoa solids. The baton itself is not that big, measuring at about 10cm and very thin.
                Chocolate mint crisps - (light green wrapper) This is a disc and when you bite into it you get quite a bit more texture than you get with the other ones. It has a real crunch to it and you can see large-ish pieces of honeycomb within in it, although you cannot actually taste honeycomb. This reminds me of a better quality version of the Elizabeth Shaw mint crisp chocolate disks that you can get.

                Victorian mints (gold wrapper) - these are also discs although they are quite thick and when you bite into them they have a soft peppermint fondant flavour. The filling itself is quite thick. This will probably remind you of an 'After Eight' as it is quite similar, although better. The chocolate is richer and the fondant, although there is more of it is thicker so it does not splay out the side like After Eights tend to.

                Finally, I come to the Bittermints which are apparently their most famous ones. This time the fondant which is encased in the chocolate is firm and the chocolate is made up of 95% cocoa solids. This is definitely the strongest out of all of them and the strength of flavour comes from the fondant more than anything. The chalky consistency of the fondant reminds me of Kendal Mint Cake as well as the strength of the flavour of peppermint. This works exceptionally well as a palate cleanser at the end of a meal as it wipes all other tastes clean out of your mouth.

                My favourites in order of preference are as follows

                1) Victorian mints
                2) Bittermints
                3) Dark English mints
                4) Chocolate mint crisps

                Despite the fact that I have ranked them, I have to say that they are all really, really nice. As a mint chocolate aficionado I have to say that I do not have any regrets that I bought myself a box as a treat.

                I like the fact that they have obviously refined their choice down to 4 of which ones they want to include as it means that they have taken choosing the best ones incredibly seriously.

                From the ones they have chosen, there is a very definite through line - they are all of superior chocolate quality and the oil is of a very good standard. I eat enough mint chocolate to know that yes, the chocolate is important but the way to really make a mint chocolate superior is largely reliant on the oil and how synthetic it is because better oil will give a better richness of flavour. I am pleased to say that they obviously use quite a good one here because the mint comes through fresh and uncloying.

                Also, with the inclusion of fondants and honeycomb they are definitely not samey and there is a really good mix of textures and flavours in that they intensity of the chocolate/mint mix varies between them.

                I remember having some Bendicks many years ago and really not liking the Bittermints finding them just too strong, which I suppose is part of the reason that I have not bought them recently. However, I have enjoyed them much more as an adult - maybe my palate has become a bit more sophisticated and I can stand a more bitter higher cocoa level. The mint fondant on these if I am being picky, is probably a bit too strong and overpowers the rest of the chocolate but is very definitely refreshing. It may be of interest that these are the only ones in the collection which can be bought separately.

                I have to say that £5.50 for a box half this size, as is what is available most of the year, is probably more than a bit pricey. However, I suppose you can justify this by remembering that they are so full of flavour that even someone like me is unlikely to have more than one in one go.

                In conclusion, if you want a box of mint chocolates that are a little bit special but are readily available, I can really recommend these.

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                • Argo (Blu-ray) / Blu-Ray Movie / 68 Readings / 66 Ratings
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                  20.01.2014 13:21
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                  Highly recommended

                  Argo
                  *This refers to the Blu-Ray version*

                  At time of writing it is available for £9 on Amazon.

                  Argo is a 2012 thriller directed by Ben Affleck. It won the Best Picture Oscar in 2013.

                  It tells the story of the real life American embassy hostage crisis in 1979 where revolutionaries broke into the embassy and took the government workers hostage. Six of them managed to escape by the skin of their teeth and make their way to the Canadian ambassador's house who is a friend of one of them. However, the demonstrators soon work out that they are missing these individuals and so begins a race against time to get these individuals out of Iran before they are found and seemingly inevitably and publicly killed.

                  Heading up the American CIA operation to get them back to the US is CIA agent Tony Mendez (Affleck). His plan for getting them all out of Iran is where the genius of this story lies. After coming up with and subsequently dismissing a number of ideas for how best to smuggle them out of the country, Mendez presents the most audacious of plans - The Hollywood Option. Mendez uses his close relationship with legendary movie prosthetics and visual make-up designer John Chambers (John Goodman) to create a premise for a fake science fiction film called Argo. Chambers already has a neat sideline in providing reliable prosthetics and effects for undercover CIA operations, but the plan that Mendez comes with is something altogether bigger and more risky.

                  Essentially Mendez wants to travel over to Iran and persuade the 'hostages' to pose as location scouts for this fake movie under new identities. Mendez seems fully confident that this idea will work but knows that a lot of background work has to be done in Hollywood in order to make it look authentic, it has to appear to pretty much everyone that the film is real, not just any security services they may come across on their route out of Iran, but also in Hollywood itself. So sketches are drawn, casting is done, articles published in Variety and then Mendez goes out to Iran to meet the escapees themselves.......

                  From here on in, an already tense film goes up a notch as he tries to persuade the hostages of the potential of the plan and then prepare them for it to be undertaken.

                  I have to say that I really enjoyed this film. I cannot say that I really knew
                  Affleck directs the film in a very mannered and respectful way. The crux of the story is so barmy (they do say that life is stranger than fiction) that in the wrong hands it could have been a insincere and emotionless farce. However, somehow Affleck and the writer Chris Terrio take that central story and wrap it in authentic acting, dialogue and visuals and surprisingly effective humour and create something which is not just engrossing but incredibly tense and nervewrecking, especially towards the end.
                  A great deal of work has obviously gone into how the film looks. All too often, films like this can look like the costume and set designers went into a vintage warehouse and picked up anything that looked vaguely 1970's. Here it is much more restrained and actually incredibly beige, even the filter that most of it is filmed through.

                  In his leading role, Affleck is very restrained and unshowy and there are some great supporting performances from Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin and the largely unknown cast who play the 'hostages'.

                  The way that characters engage with each other and behave in the various precarious situations that they find themselves in is incredibly realistic. There are no action heroes here, yes they may be government employees, but they behave in ways and have the same fears and anxieties that any human would have in this situation and having to embark on such an ambitious plan. The dialogue is realistic and naturalistic which helps you engage with their plight even more. Ultimately there are not going to be any massively dramatic action sequences with helicopters coming in and swooping them back to safety, they know that they will have to act on their brains and wits alone which makes it all the more tense.

                  Blu-Ray Extras

                  Picture-In-Picture: Eyewitness Account - Feature length - playing the film with in-picture comments by those firectly involved in the real0life story.

                  Rescued from Tehran@ We Were There - 16 minutes - talking heads from the people directly involved in the true story of the crisis

                  Behind the Scenes: Argo - Absolute Authenticity - 11 minutes - talking to Affleck and the art department about the way that the film looked as he wanted to 'root the audience in the period' through replication. It talks about filming locations (in particular that fact that they needed to film in Turkey rather than Iran and the work that went into that,), costume design and contains comparisons to actual footage from the events.
                  Short Feature: Argo: The CIA and Hollywood Connection - 6 minutes - talks about the relationship between the CIA and Hollywood in the real life events interspersed with clips from the film and interviews with cast and crew

                  Documentary: Escape from Iran: The Hollywood Option - 44 minutes - the real-life story of the background to the story and also the context within Iran.

                  There are two different versions of the film that you can watch - the theatrical version (which is the only one that I have seen) and the extended cut which I cannot comment on and is 9 minutes longer. You can also watch the film with a commentary by Ben Affleck and writer Chris Terrio.

                  The Blu-Ray also comes with an option to have an Ultraviolet copy of the film for your computer, tablet or Smartphone, however it needs to be redeemed by 4th March 2015.

                  In conclusion, if you want to watch an extremely well-made tense thriller, which focuses on people rather than gunfights and explosions you can do a lot worse than to sit down and watch this.

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                    14.01.2014 13:47
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                    An excellent introduction to Mexican cooking

                    I am a huge fan of Mexican food but have always struggled to find books that can help me to cook it, that don't have too much of an American bent. I find this to be highly unusual because a lot fo the things that are stock ingredients in Mexican cooking are quite easy to find over here eg coriander, tortilla wraps, tomatoes, cheese, spices etc.

                    As a result of this, I tend to snap up any Mexican cookbooks which are specifically written for a British audience, which up until now have been exclusively by Thomasina Miers.

                    I picked up "Tacos, Quesadillas and Burritos" for only 3.99 from The Book People as part of a larger order but it also available for around £6.89 at time of writing from Amazon. The RRP is £9.99.

                    The physical book is longer than it is wide and hardback with a loose leaf cover. At 64 pages long and with a good spine it is very easy to cook from when laid out flat. The paper itself is of good quality and ever-so slightly glossy so quite good to wipe stains from. Inside the loose leaf cover there is a short blurb about the book. The introduction allows the author to set out her personal feelings about tacos and some basic information about how they should be accompanied etc.

                    We then get into the main recipes which are separated into chapters as per the title. Each recipe gives a short introduction, an estimate to the number of servings. The ingredients themselves are separated into whether they are required for the relish, mayo, sauce etc. Each recipe has an explanatory picture of the dish/serving suggestion on the opposing page to the recipe itself.

                    As a way of giving you an overview of what the book contains I will list example recipes from each section.

                    Tacos: ground beef tacos, marinated pork belly tacos with pineapple salsa, shredded chicken tacos, orange-marinated fish tacos with chilli cream, ancho-roasted butternut squash tacos (one of my favourites), mixed vegetable tacos with chipotle-lime mayo,

                    Burritos: Beer braised beef burrito, breakfast burrito, chorizo, bean and pepper burrito (another favourite) . chicken mole burrit

                    Quesadillas: pepper beef quesadilla, ham & egg breakfast quesadilla with baked beans, chicken and chorizo quesadilla, chipotle, black bean and feta quesadilla.

                    The final section is on sides and salads and has recipes for accompaniments: red rice, baja slaw (a coleslaw for fish tacos, Mexican style beans, guacamole, and a variety of salsas.

                    My verdict

                    As you have probably gathered by the fact that it is quite a small book and by the title - this should not be purchased as a comprehensive book on Mexican food unless you only wish to experiment with tacos, quesadillas and burritos. That said, I have found the recipes for the sides to be very versatile and tend to use them on other occasions, not necessarily as accompaniments to recipes from this book.

                    Although obviously there aren't a massive number of recipes in this book, I personally think that they cover a wide scope, not just meat but fish and vegetarian options as well. They are well explained, pretty straightforward and not overly fussy. That said I think it would perhaps benefit with some photographic instructions on how to fold a burrito correctly as they can be a bit messy to eat if not folded correctly.

                    What I also like is that by setting its base of ingredients quite broad it encourages the reader to experiment a bit more. By taking the base ingredients/methods (particularly those with sauces etc), it is quite easy to adapt the recipes to some slightly different pulses, veg, meats etc without too much effort. This also makes the recipes included a little bit more versatile than normal and means that you can use the book for a lot of times when you don't have much else in the cupboard than a few tinned pulses and some leftover tortilla wraps that you desperately want to use up before they dry out.

                    By and large the ingredients themselves are accessible. She does use ancho chillies quite a bit, which I have now found you can access quite readily in the Tesco Ingredients range in larger Tesco stores. The only thing that I think you may have more trouble sourcing is the mole sauce, so I tend to make my own from some good recipes that I have in my Thomasina Miers cookbooks. That said, I have started to see Tesco and Sainsbury's doing their own in jars from time to time.

                    Washburn, although London-based, is an American food author and so does give American terms for some of the ingredients but also gives English translations/alternatives eg cilantro/coriander and Monteray Jack Cheese/cheddar.

                    By and large, I really like this book and use it quite frequently. Tacos, burritos and quesadillas are by nature, a type of fast food so they make really good after-work meals and I usually accompany them, if not with the sides selected, with salads, wedges and tortilla chips and no matter how bare my fridge is, i can usually find something that I can through together using the methods from this book as long as I have Tortilla wraps. The fillings also, I have found, can be stored for a couple of days in the fridge if you make too much and can make good accompaniments for rice salads and leftover wraps.

                    So in conclusion, I think that it may be a bit light for somebody wanting something comprehensive on Mexican cooking, but as a versatile book for those who like quick and inexpensive meals with optimum flavour - I would highly recommend it. At the price of £3.99 I can't help but feel that I got a bit of a bargain!

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                    • Trance (DVD) / DVD / 71 Readings / 68 Ratings
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                      09.01.2014 13:21
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                      Danny Boyle having some fun with a genre thriller

                      This refers to the Blu-Ray version which is available for £9.65 currently on Amazon, however I bought an ex rental copy from my local Blockbuster when it was closing down.Trance is a 2013 thriller from Oscar winning British filmmaker Danny Boyle, apparently based on a BBC TV series that I can't say that I knew anything about.

                      It tells the story of Simon (James McAvoy) who is a trusted employee at a top art auctioneers where some paintings go for tens of millions of pounds. After briefly talking the viewer through the procedure should an attempted robbery take place during an auction for an extremely valuable Goya painting, it happens for real. During the ensuing struggle where Simon appears to try and save the painting, he is seriously injured by a blow to the head.
                      On his release from hospital , it becomes apparent that this is an inside job when he is captured by shady underworld figure Franck (Vincent Cassel) and tortured in order to find out where the painting is. Simon cannot provide Franck with the information that he wants because the head injury he sustained has caused some amnesia. To remedy this, Franck arranges for Simon to visit a hypnotherapist in order that that might extract the memory from him. Simon selects Elizabeth Lamb (RosarioDawson) and begins his treatment.....

                      To say much more than that would probably be saying too much. From here, the plot develops in a way which could be easily ruined by too much information. What does evolve however, without giving too much away is a stylish, twisty turny erotic psychological thriller.I have to say that despite the mixed reviews that this film received, I really liked it. I am a fan of Danny Boyle in general and what you get here is something thatmay lack a bit of depth but is definitely the work of someone who is really cuttingloose and having a lot of fun. Like McAvoy's character, you are rather hit across ahead at the startAs you would expect from this genre of film there are a number of twists. If you read into the extras bit of my review you will see that I had one of the major ones ruined for me.

                      That said, there is a lack of subtlety when signposting some of these twists so I think I might have guessed it to a certain extent anyway. I still think that story develops in such a way that you would not be able to completely guess all of it, particularly as McAvoy becomes an increasingly unreliable narrator. There are also some quite nasty, short sharp visual shocks within it which take it unsettlingly into a sort of nightmarish territory in places.The performances are roundly very good although I think Cassel is a bit underused and his character a bit underdeveloped which is a shame because few actors do shadowy scuzzball quite like he does .

                      Without wanting to give toomuch away, the film does become less about McAvoy's character and more about Dawson's as the film progresses. I have to say that I think that she is brilliant in the lead role and whilst I think the film gains from the fact that she is not a massively famous actress and so you do not come to it with any preconceptions of her character. That said, the way she plays probably the most complex character in the film makes you wonder why she is not cast in leading roles more often.I found it evocative of a lot of the fun slightly schlocky erotic thrillers of the 90s such as Basic Instinct and The Last Seduction albeit with modern visuals and style.

                      I enjoyed its own take on the traditional femme fatale /film noir genre which is something which has gone a bit out of fashion in favour of more male driven fayre such as Gangster Squad in recent years.In hindsight looking back at the story it is a bit thin. Although it delves into psychological thriller territory and touches on memory, identity and hypnosis - it does not really explore them in any great depth. That said, I'm not entirely sure that it needs to in order to be enjoyable, and perhaps going to far into them in this particular film would have slowed down the slightly frenetic pace as it does seem to get going from the very moment that the film starts.I have to say that I do have issues with the ending.

                      The climatic action sequence develops from something quite gritty and horrible to something faintly ridiculous and I can see that some people would think that the very final scene is a bit pat and overdone. However, I do not think this is enough to really ruin what is a wholly enjoyable ride.

                      As you would expect of a Boyle film, it looks incredible. London is very much a character in the film but it has been filmed in a way which is fresh and new. In the Blu-Ray extras, Boyle states that he originally wanted to make the film in New York but had to do it in London instead because of his commitments with the Olympics Opening Ceremony. That I think has actually turned out to be for the best. We are used to seeing New York filmed in all kinds of guises, whereas I think that London has never been shot in this way before. I think some people may find the visuals a bit gaudy and overly flashy - Dawson's apartment is seemingly built in orange Perspex - but it suits the film perfectly.

                      The soundtrack (available separately) is once again for Boyle, a collaboration with Rick Smith of Underworld, so you know pretty much what to expect - a lot of thumping electronic music which really goes well with the pace and action within the film. Aside from that it probably has the most disturbing uses of M People's Movin' On Up and Chanson D'Amour that you will ever experience!

                      Blu-Ray Extras
                      Deleted scenes - These are more extended scenes rather than deleted ones and are all realy rather brief and do not really add anything to your understanding of the film, apart from one where a MRI scanner scene is explained in more detail.

                      Special Features:Danny boyles film noir - talking about the fact that it is a central female character and how it fills into the film noir genre.

                      Hypnotherapy - discussion of the role of hypnotherapy in the film including how the research into it informed the filmmaking.The Look - some discussion aboaut the visual aspects of the film

                      The Power of Suggestion - He talks about some of the behind the scenes ideas and there is a particularly interesting discussion with regards to the Goya artwork in the centre of the film

                      Danny Boyle retrospective - Boyle gives a brief overview of all the films that he has made with Fox Searchlight (ie those from A Life Less Ordinary onwards).

                      The trailer is also featured.

                      .I have a couple of major criticisms to do with the Blu-Ray itself. As it was loadingto the main menu page it was very difficult to see which menu option you had chosen as the white text only highlights itself slightly. Therefore, we accidentallyclicked on an Easter Egg that appeared at the top of the screen by pressing the across button and didn't realise at the time. This Easter Egg was called 'Trance unravelled' and basically unpicks all of the twists in the film. This was quite annoying as it did reveal one of the major twists of the film which the story pivots on. So if you do get this Blu-Ray, be a bit careful!

                      In conclusion, I really enjoyed this film. I found it exciting, frenetic and visually stimulating. It is far from the most deep film you will ever see but while it last it is a bit of a blast!

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                        03.01.2014 11:58
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                        Highly recommended

                        Bill's Everyday Asian is a 2011 hardback cookery book from Australian chef Bill Granger. At time of writing it is available on Amazon for £13.20. Granger is a chef that I have been vaguely aware of as the BBC sometimes shows some of his programmes and he is also sometimes on Saturday Kitchen. I received this cookbook as a present.

                        It has a loose leaf cover which I always advise to remove when cooking from it in order to make it look pristine on the outside when in your bookshelf (no matter what the inside looks like!)The inside pages are quite glossy which is always useful in a cookbook as it means that any splashes can be wiped away relatively easily.

                        It starts with a brief introduction by Granger about how this book is inspired by growing up in Australian and also on his travels.

                        There is then a two page spread called 'Bill's Asian pantry' where he describes a lot of the ingredients that it may be useful to have in your cupboard if you are really interested in Asian cookery. It also contains a really good recipe for Sweet chilli sauce.

                        To give you a flavour for the book, I will give you some sample recipes from each section. Each section has a brief introduction by Grainger as does each recipe. Most of the recipes have accompanying photographs. The book is also peppered with pictures of Granger and his family.

                        Starters - quick cucumber pickles, nuts three ways (various spiced nuts), sticky sesame chicken wings, curry puffs, Thai fishcakes, Miso and aubergine dip,

                        Soups - roast chicken and egg noodle soup, chicken curry soup, duck soup, butternut squash, chilli and coconut soup,

                        Salads - Prawn and mango salad, Vietnamese chicken salad with carrot and mint, beef salad with orange dressing, char-grilled chicken sald with pineapple and basil,

                        Seafood - fish baked in a bag with lime butter and potatoes, tuna kebabs with crispy coleslaw, turmeric fish,

                        Poultry - hoisin chicken with a celery salad, Thai green chicken curry, classic stirfried chicken with basil, cashew and chicken curry,

                        Pork - pork baguettes with meatballs, pork with peppercorns, spiced slow0cooked pork shoulder with spring onion pancakes, Japanese crumbed pork cutlet with cabbage salad,

                        Lamb and beef - meatballs with tamarind, marinated Korean-style barbecued beef with miso slaw, black bean beef, Massaman lamb curry, beef rending, lamb cutlets with satay sauce.

                        Noodles and rice - Hainanese chicken rice, simple egg noodle salad with peanut dressing, pad thai, chilli fried rice with broccolini and tofu, Vietnamese rice noodles with sticky prawns. There is also a section on how to cook 'perfect' steamed, brown and cocnut rice.

                        Vegetables and tofu - Potatoes with soy butter, Stir fried Asian greens, Thai-style stir-fried butternut squash, salt and pepper tofu with lemon soy dipping sauce

                        Desserts - mango with sticky rice, Chinese custard tarts, passion fruit granita, ginger fudge, mango pudding, coconut and lime slice

                        I have to say that I had reservations about this book when I first received it. Although I am a keen home cook with a vast cookbook collection, I have not really dabbled in Asian cookery beyond making the odd Indian or Thai curry. However, when I took a closer look at this book I was surprised at how good it was and have cooked several times from it on a variety of occasions.

                        My favourite and most used sections are the starter and curry ones. The starters have given me a number of ideas for entertaining - I particularly recommend the nuts and curry puffs as something to put out for people to snack on. The curries are also very good - and use herbs and spices that I think most keen home cooks would have at home anyway. The recipes are explained very well and the end results have always been successful and very tasty which is of course one of the most important things with any cookbook. The sweet chilli sauce recipe in the introduction has been a really pleasant surprise to me as I had never even considered making it before.

                        I would say that mostly the ingredients that are required here are quite easily accessible. Most decent sized supermarkets are well stocked with most of the ingredients that are included here - pak choi, fish sauce, lemongrass - even panko breadcrumbs are not that difficult to get hold of these days. One of its key bonuses for me is that it has given me more idea of the versatility of a lot of Asian ingredients. Quite often I have had a bottle of soy sauce or miso around and not been quite sure how to use them other than stirfrys, but I know have a bit of variation to do with this.

                        For the most part this is definitely a book about 'fusion' rather than a traditional Asian cookbook - ( the lovely Mandarin crème brulee being a case in point!) so if you are a purist when it comes to Asian cookery you may not have much interest in what is presented here.

                        It is a very striking looking book, full of very colourful looking food.

                        Perhaps one criticism I would make is that although, I do not know whether this has been adapted much from the Australian version of this book - I would say that there are a large number of recipes included perhaps cater more towards a warmer weather climate - there is a great deal of raw and cold food which is not something that really appeals to me.

                        In conclusion, this is a solid, well put together cookbook with a lot going for it. For the most part the recipes are accessible and relatively easy. Whilst more fusion cooking than traditional, I think that most keen home cooks who are looking to dabble in a new cuisine would find something here to encourage them to explore it further.

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                          29.12.2013 15:52
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                          If you find traditional mulled cider too bitter, you might like this....

                          Rekorderlig Winter Cider is a seasonal release by this popular Swedish cider brand. I thought it was released for the first time this year, however I see from the previous reviews here that it has been around for quite some time. The flavour is meant to be Apple, Cinnamon and Vanilla, something which intrigued me as I love all of those flavours. Also, I really like mulled cider, although I tend to make my own from scratch using local cider and either ready made spice mixes or my own recipe so was intrigued as to what this would be liked warmed.

                          I bought one bottle for myself from Lidl and was also given a bottle by a friend so have had it hot and cold. You can also get it at this time of year from most supermarkets for around £2.20, at the time of writing Asda are selling it for 3 for £5. The bottles come in a size of 500ml and is 4% alcohol, meaning a measure of 1.6 units of alcohol per bottle.

                          Cold, the taste is very, very sweet - one of the sweetest fruit ciders that I have ever tasted. That said the apple does come through more than in normally in flavoured ciders. I cannot say that I could particularly taste the cinnamon which is a shame because I think that would be the thing that would make it more Christmassy. Because it was so sweet, it went down very quickly but felt more like a drink you might drink on a night out. It is almost a bit sherbetty I thought.

                          I prepared it hot by merely heating it on a low heat on the hob for a few minutes. The smell that came off made my kitchen smell absolutely gorgeous, very sweet and fruity. The taste was, I thought, quite different hot to cold. Here I think that the overwhelming taste was of vanilla more than anything else although the apple flavour did come through quite a bit. I found the taste quite evocative, but of not I did not know until I really thought about it and I realised it reminded me of warm apple pie with vanilla ice cream, which is not a criticism. In fact, it is quite comforting and when I drank it I was in curled up on a particularly cold night and it felt like a really nice treat. It was very warming.

                          I have to say that I think I preferred it warm and was surprised about how different elements of the flavour came out by heating it.

                          I think if you find the taste of traditional mulled cider a bit acrid, which I know some people do then this would be a good alternative when heated. That said, if you were making up quite a lot of it and needed a number of bottles it would prove rather expensive. So , in that sense if you are after it thinking that it would just be a bottled alternative to traditional mixed and home-made mulled cider, you might be a bit disappointed because the flavour is very, very different.

                          In conclusion, this is a drink that I quite liked, particularly when warmed, but just didn't have the real spicy flavour that I really like and expect from traditional mulled cider.

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                          • The Last Kiss (DVD) / DVD / 89 Readings / 86 Ratings
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                            07.12.2013 14:26
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                            Not a must-see

                            The Last Kiss is a 2006 romantic drama starring and co-written by Scrubs actor Zac Braff.

                            He plays central character Michael who on the cusp of turning 30 has hit a bit of crisis point where he feels anxious about the fact that he feels as though he knows exactly how his life is going to turn out. Although successful and in a seemingly happy relationship with girlfriend Jenna (played by Jacinta Barrett), he is unconvinced about the longevity of relationships in general - typified by his reluctance to marry.

                            Around him his friends seem to cement his view. One of whom is a serial womaniser, another who is a father with a small child is desperately unhappy and the last is scarred by a recent relationship breakdown and preparing to take himself off on a road trip to Mexico.

                            At another friend's wedding, he is approached by sparky music student Kim (Rachel Bilson) who shows a clear interest in him. There is an instant attraction between the two, him seemingly drawn to her lack of responsibility and that her student status reminds him of the best years of his life.

                            For the most part this will-they-wont-they relationship takes a bit of a back seat to the dynamics between the male friends and their various ups and downs. However, in the last third of the film there is a noticeable shift.

                            I did enjoy this film. For the most part it is well written and relatively believable. Whilst for the most part it is quite predictable, bar a few surprisingly graphic love scenes, the story zips a lot at such as pace that you cannot really be bored.

                            However, it is still quite flawed. Nobody in the film, bar Jenna, is particularly likeable. Now, I'm not somebody who thinks that you have to like all of the characters in order to engage with something, but in this case it can be a bit annoying and leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. For the most part the characters are well-off and successful and seem to want to live a life without consequences whilst enjoying the security that their lifestyles bring them. Additionally, the female characters are far too thinly sketched and just come across as a bit shrill, annoying and clingy.
                            There is a subplot involving the faltering marriage of Jenna's parents, played by Blythe Danner and Tom Wilkinson which is probably the most convincing part but perhaps only serves to hold a mirror up to the selfishness of the main male characters.
                            In a lot of ways it is very reminiscent in theme and tone of Braff's previous film Garden State although perhaps less quirky.
                            The dialogue is one of the strongest part of the film, which is perhaps no surprise when you consider that it is co-written by Paul Haggis who won an Oscar for his screenplay of Crash and also adapted Million Dollar Baby. However, this makes it a bit more disappointing that that the characters are not as well built as you might expect.

                            It is worth mentioning the music which is a highlight of the film. The music supervisor on the film is Michael Penn and contains a number of good songs by artists such as (his wife and one of my favourite singers) Aimee Mann, Imogen Heap, Coldplay, Snow Patrol, Turin Breaks and Athlete. These are largely recognisable to a British audience and fit the film really well.

                            In conclusion, this is a decent enough film, well acted and written but perhaps let down by a sense of predictability and its inability to build well-rounded characters that fully engage you.

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                            • What Richard Did (DVD) / DVD / 63 Readings / 63 Ratings
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                              01.12.2013 18:19
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                              A strong film that lingers in the memory

                              What Richard Did is a 2012 drama film from Irish director Lenny Abrahamson. This film had a limited release when it came out earlier this year, however I sought it out after hearing a good review of it by my favourite critic Mark Kermode on his 5 live radio show. It apparently has parallels with a real-life story which I was not aware of and I do not want to say too much about the case in question as it may give away too much about the plot.

                              It tells the story of the eponymous Richard, a popular middle class rugby player in his late teens. He is the alpha male amongst his peers, admired by his friend's parents and successful with the opposite sex. He appears to have the world at his feet and nothing but a bright future ahead of him.

                              For a good portion of the film we follow him and his friends as they socialise in their picturesque small Irish community. We watch them as they go on overnight trips, have parties, enter into relationships and sexual trysts and interact with their families. This fun-filled consequence free lifestyle, where they do not yet have the responsibilities of adulthood comes to a crashing end when a life-changing event occurs after one of their many drunken house parties.

                              I will not say what it is, because it happens quite a way into the film. However, the event sends shockwaves throughout his friends, family and the community and he is thrust into a situation of moral dilemma and the very real possibility of this perfectly crafted life falling away around him before it has really even begun.

                              The film itself owes to the tradition of realistic cinema such as Ken Loach. So, I think it is fair to say that for the most part it is not action packed and so if you are looking for overwrought melodrama and massive plot development you will not be getting it. That is not a criticism however, as it is endlessly engaging and compulsive viewing throughout its relatively short running time (88 minutes)

                              There is an argument that perhaps the scope of it lends itself slightly more towards TV drama territory, however the stark and modern way it is shot and Abrahamson's superb direction elevate it to something much more cinematic.

                              One of the biggest compliments I can give it is that gives more grist to the 'jock' stereotype than you normally get in most films. Yes, Richard is a character that appears to 'have it all' but there is so much more to him than that. He is charming in a believable and not smarmy way and for the early stages of the film, has a sense of integrity about him. In the latter stages of the film, post the event that the story pivots on, this character is severely tested and it is the groundwork that has already been laid out in the way that the character has been written and the phenomenal way he is performed that makes you stay with the character even if you are not on board by the way he is behaving.


                              The acting from all of the cast, particularly given how young and unknown most of them are is really very good . However, the film does belong to Jack Reynor who unsurprisingly is now on the path to a Hollywood career (unfortunately, this appears to be starting with an appearance in the next Transformers movie - booo!)

                              In conclusion, and as if you hadn't guessed, I really liked this film. I think that the character development and acting, particularly, by Treynor was absolutely top drawer. The way the story developed, whilst slow ,was eminently believable and I give credit to the director for managing to not sink into sentimentality or melodrama because that would have been incredibly easy to do in this instance. It really felt like a snapshot of modern life within this particular community but also alludes to human characteristics that have always existed; fear, anger and the fight for survival at all costs.

                              If you are looking for a slightly gritty character study and film that stays long in the memory after the final credits have rolled, you could do a lot worse than give this film a go.

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                                23.11.2013 17:40
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                                Be strong with yourself or you could get addicted

                                I was introduced to Tapped Out on the IPhone by my husband just over a year ago. I believe it had been going for some time before that. It has a lot of players from all over the world - its Facebook page has over half a million likes at present. You can also use it on an IPad which is probably slightly more preferential given the much larger screen space.

                                It is available for free download from the App Store, but be warned, it does eat up quite a bit of space!

                                Essentially, the aim is for you to build your own Springfield using tasks that you are given to complete. When you first download it, you are given a very easy to follow tutorial comprising of several tasks and then you are on the way.

                                Gradually, as you carry out all of the different tasks,(some of which you are assigned and some of which you can choose to selct your characters to do at your free will) you get access to more items in the manner of characters from the series, buildings, decorations, land extensions etc.

                                These are collected by obtaining money (mainly for buildings and decorations)and XP (experience) points which take you through the levels where you unlock even more items and characters.

                                By tasks, I mean that every character has a list of activities that they can 'carry out' and which are unique to each of them. These tasks all hold different times for completion (varying from 45 seconds all the way through to 90 days) and therefore different cash levels and XP points. As you complete them you can build up your cash reserves and also get through the levels.

                                It does require you to use your email address to register with EA so that you can set up your Springfield. This is useful also for occasions where it gets a glitch and accidentally logs you out and also to link up with 'friends'- more on this later.

                                Additionally, you are 'awarded' a star rating for your Springfield for things like the number of decorations you have, the number of businesses etc. The higher the star rating you get, the more additional XP points you earn every time you collect.
                                More rarely, you can obtain 'donuts.' These are used to purchase 'premium items' and characters which can not be obtained using the Springfield dollars. You get these sometimes through random tasks, such as cleaning up Springfield, but mainly you are awarded them every time you get through a level. These vary in how many you need, but the buildings and characters all start at over 100 donuts. To give you some sense of how long it takes to collect donuts for free, I have not spent any for a year and still only have just over 100! You will note that I said 'for free'. That is because it is possible to link to the App Store and buy more donuts for actual real money. The costs for this vary from £1.49 for 12 to £69.99 for 2400.

                                I have to say that I have never done this, because I feel that I get enough out of the game without having to spend any money on it. That said, if there is something that you particularly want to buy with your donuts, the process of obtaining enough of them is painfully slow. Occasionally you will get 'deals' where you can get more donuts for less.

                                The game is updated quite frequently to add new characters, storylines, buildings and decoration . This usually takes the form of an update through the app store. For larger updates, especially ones related to 'special events' (more on those later) you may find that you get a message when you are in Tapped Out that tells you you cannot get any further until you update. Typically you will find that when you have carried out the App Store update, it takes quite a while to load

                                The 'special events' that I mentioned earlier tend to refer to time limited updates (typically around a month) where by carrying out tasks you can get limited time characters, buildings and decorations. For example, recently for Halloween you could collect gremlins and 'goo' and I expect the Christmas tasks will start any days now.

                                You can add people you know as alternative Springfields you can visit and gain extra XP points and money. I think for the most part you have to have people's usernames to do this, although if you go on the game's Facebook page you will see loads of people give their usernames and request to be added.

                                The more shops and decorations you put in your Springfield add to your overall star rating which gives you an extra percentage of XP depending on how many stars you have.

                                The game has lots of setttings you can amend, ie if you want to turn the music off you can and also if you do not want to receive notifications when tasks have

                                You will notice that I have been a little bit vague about the characters, buildings etc that you can have. I have done that deliberately because I think some of the enjoyment is in not knowing what you can work towards as you move towards the level.

                                The game is very easy to play and somewhat addictive as it gives you a false sense of achievement as you gradually build on your Springfield and design it to your own taste, sort of like being a town planner (or not!). Because most of the tasks start at about 60 minutes, you have to be quite disciplined with yourself to not go and play on it every hour. I have learnt to do this and for the most part I set 24 hour tasks so I'm not tempted to play on it throughout the day.

                                I have seen some negative press about the game where children have been left unattended with their parents' Ipads and run up massive bills by buying lots of donuts with real money. I, however, am of the view that if you leave your children alone with your Ipad and your Itunes password (which you need before you can purchase anything), then that's your own problem - it is not possible to 'accidentally' buy anything unless you go through these security checks. I have played the game quite happily without spending any money!

                                In conclusion, I really like this game, its entertaining, very much in the quasi-anarchic spirit of The Simpsons and there is something strangely satisfying about building your own little Sims type world using characters you know and love. The slow process of obtaining donuts to get some of the more exciting items is a bit frustrating but I have to say there is enough in the free version to keep you occupied.

                                I would say that it is suitable for most ages, some of the edgier humour (as with the programme itself) will probably go over little one's heads. It is easy to use and follow and best of all it is free. Just be disciplined with yourself or you could end up being a bit addicted!

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                                  16.11.2013 18:03
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                                  An entertaining enough read

                                  I have to admit that I am not a huge buyer of magazines. I do like them it's just I generally find them a bit expensive for the amount of reading you get out of them, especially compared to a good weekend paper. I do tend to make an exception of this when it comes to the summer however and will often buy a couple of month's bundle to take on holiday with me. I normally go camping, so I have quite a bit of time with not much else to do but read.

                                  Prima is one of the magazines that I normally buy and is one of the cheaper monthly women's magazines at £2.99. It generally comes in at around 160 pages.

                                  Perhaps a good way of describing the content of the magazine is to describe the content like the index does.

                                  Fashion inspiration:
                                  These articles are mainly around seasonal fashion and incorporate fashion shoots and examples of where to buy high street examples of trends. In this issue I am currently reading, this refers to a sort of photographic list of all different types of shoes for autumn. For the most part the fashion featured is probably mid-to-higher end high street eg Joules, Jones bootmaker, John Lewis, Laura Ashley, Marks & Spencer etc.

                                  Beautiful you:
                                  This comprises of beauty and make-up tips, such as new products, a reader makeover, reader testing of a particular beauty product.

                                  Real lives:
                                  Some stories of people who are sharing interesting life stories, generally career-related, travel-based, overcoming tragedies etc.

                                  Life etc:
                                  Tips on money saving, legal matters, gadgets and problem pages and family life

                                  Home style:
                                  Ideas for interior design, gardening tips, home and garden makeovers and advice.
                                  Make it:
                                  Ideas for crafting clothing and items for the home - largely knitting or sewing. Every month there is also a pattern available for readers to obtain by calling a premium rate number. Subscribers get the pattern with their magazine delivery

                                  Everyday cooking
                                  20 pages of food related information including a a number of recipes and cooking tips.

                                  Health advice:
                                  Advice and articles - mainly medical, but also some alternative therapies, fitness, problem pages and wellbeing.

                                  Every month:
                                  Readers short stories, letters, contirubtions and tips, competitions, surveys, travel articles, antiques, horoscopes.

                                  Quite often, the magazine comes with a separate recipes or craft booklet.

                                  Verdict:
                                  To start with, its probably fair to say that as a 31 year old without kids, I am not in its main target demographic. I believe it is mainly aimed at women from their late 30s who probably have families who are not that young,looking at the people who are featured within it and the fashions/shops that they promote. I do not mean anything against it because of that though as I still find it an enjoyable read.

                                  It contains lots of tips to do with the home and cooking which I have found useful. My favourite part of the magazine is probably the recipes. They generally choose ones that are tasty and well-thought out without being overly complicated or expensive. I collect recipes and frequently use ones that I have obtained from Prima as they tend to contain a lot of stuff that I already have in the house.

                                  It seems that its main focus is to be informative, which it is. There is a lot of focus put on providing short sharp tips on all sorts of things, from household ideas to cookery. They are also very big on getting readers to send in their own tips.

                                  It is perhaps fair to say that as a relatively cheap monthly magazine, it does not go into depth with its articles in the way that say Red or Good Housekeeping do. Even the features and short stories are incredibly brief, which can give the impression that it is quite bitty and not all that substantial which I suppose in places it is. That said, on the occasions that I have read it I have always come away feeling like I have gained some ideas from reading it, particularly around cookery.

                                  Maybe it's due to the size of the magazine, but I have to be honest and say that it does not appear to be quite so burdened with the need to fill itself up with adverts as the expense of providing original content like so many of other women's glossies do which is something to be commended. Also, it is very straightforward and does not seem to be one of those magazines that sets impossibly high expectations for women as regards beauty and wealth and in that way is more friendly and approachable.

                                  I also like the sheer breadth that it covers with the subject matter that it covers. Whilst, as alluded to before it does not really go massively into depth about things it at least touches on a lot of things that I think would be of interest and useful to its target demographic. That said, it does not really seem that interested in popular culture which is slightly surprising. It could be that it does not want to be tied to other women's magazines which have a celebrity on the cover and those types of interviews.

                                  In conclusion, this is a solid, well put together and informative magazines. It will never break any boundaries or win any massive design awards but it is a satisfying and interesting enough read.





                                  I

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