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Do-Ahead Christmas: Stress-Free Cooking for the Festive Season
Do-Ahead Christmas: Stress-Free Cooking for the Festive Season
by James Ramsden
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £6.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beyond the sprout..., 18 Nov 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Handy little book full of things to make for the festive season. I liked the drinks section which had some very original cocktails such as tangerine whiskey sours and chestnut punch, and the turkey alternatives like pork loin stuffed with figs and a fab-looking salmon en-croute. The veggie mains were less impressive - yet another version of nut loaf (albeit tarted up somewhat with a savoy cabbage leaf coat)- however the veggie side dishes looked really good - red cabbage with port and an unusual braised fennel with orange and vermouth. There's a small section of foodie gifts including damson gin, which I've had before - you would not believe how morish this drink is - and a leftovers section suggesting turkey fricassee and panattone bread and butter pudding.

I have another James Ramsden book, Small Adventures In Cooking, which I think has the edge in terms of novel recipes - however this Christmas book wins in the styling stakes, with a proper hard cover and loads more pictures. Clever use of Christmas giftwrap as endpapers and chapter dividers, plus Nigella-style bottle brush Christmas trees and plastic deer adorning a number of the recipes for that essential little bit of yuletide kitsch.


Lake District: Low Level and Lake Walks (British Walking)
Lake District: Low Level and Lake Walks (British Walking)
by Vivienne Crow
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cagoules at the ready!, 8 Nov 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I live by a river and often take weekend walks along the riverbank or over the water meadows, so whilst I am perfectly happy in the great outdoors, I have no high level walking or climbing experience. This book thus appealed to me greatly with its less common take on the Lake District - with the exception of a few elevated sections, mostly low level walking away from the peaks. Please don't think that means uninspiring scenery though, because in addition to the lakes themselves, the treks also bypass tarns, waterfalls, stone bridges and ancient forest, often with the fells as an imposing backdrop.

Vivienne Crow's guide is well set out, with 30 walks included, all between 4-10 miles in length. The walks are graded 1-5 for difficulty, with maps showing whether the trails are circular or linear (if they are linear public transport options to complete the loop are given). There are details on where you can stop for refreshments en-route, and most importantly, lots of inspiring colour photographs - many of the traditional guides have no pictures, or resort to line drawings which look stylish or evoke a sense of the edwardian intrepid explorer but ultimately aren't always that helpful. The book is small enough to fit into a rucksack or large jacket pocket (along with your compass and Kendal mint cake!).

There are a few minor downsides such as the font being quite small and a little tricky to read, plus as the author herself admits the maps included are for a broad overview only, and you will probably need the appropriate OS map covering the route you've chosen as well, although to be fair the descriptions of the trails are very well written and might prove sufficient on some of the more straightforward walks. Since many of the routes start from car parks or station car parks I would have ideally liked some info on number of parking spaces/likelihood of getting in at busy times. Apart from that though it's a great book and I can't wait to try out the walks.


Cole & Mason 165 mm Dark Wood Morley Crank Pepper Mill, Brown
Cole & Mason 165 mm Dark Wood Morley Crank Pepper Mill, Brown
Price: £29.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Stylish, effective and great value., 24 Oct 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I've previously had the Cole & Mason powered pepper grinder and it was a quality item but like all powered grinders it becomes a bit useless when it runs out of juice and you don't have spare batteries to hand. No such problems with his hand cranked version.

It's has a solid reassuring weight and feel that cries out durable reliability. It looks fabulous, the high shine chrome finish contrasting with the warm brown of the wooden body and handle. The capacity is such that you won't need to refill it every couple of days but even the process for refilling is a breeze. The top crank pulls off allowing you to simply pour in more peppercorns. The crank action is extremely effective and delivers a good dusting of pepper on every easy turn and doesn't at any point feel flimsy or require forcing. It's quite pricey for a simple pepper mill but I think at this level of quality the price is justified. A great addition to the pantry and thoroughly recommended.


PetSafe ScoopFree Replacement Crystal Litter Tray, Blue, Pack of 3
PetSafe ScoopFree Replacement Crystal Litter Tray, Blue, Pack of 3
Price: £48.17

3.0 out of 5 stars Very, Very Expensive!, 22 Oct 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
What's to be said about these. They go with the Petsafe Self Cleaning Litter trays I reviewed previously. Notionally they're supposed to last up to 30 days but this is dependent on the diet and size of your moggy. With my large British Shorthaired male on a wet food diet I think I wouldn't get more than 20 days out of one tray. At that rate of usage and working out at almost £17 pounds a tray this is much less economical than my usual non clumping litter. I just don't think they do a good enough job to justify that cost.


Cole & Mason 145 mm Brushed Chrome Oxley One Handed Pepper and Salt Mill Set, Set of 2, Silver
Cole & Mason 145 mm Brushed Chrome Oxley One Handed Pepper and Salt Mill Set, Set of 2, Silver
Price: £37.98

4.0 out of 5 stars Takes the grind out of grinding!, 21 Oct 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
These mills are well designed and easy to use. The tops pop off for you to fill with salt or peppercorns, the bases twist to allow you to select the coarseness of the grind, and when you want to dispense your salt or pepper, you simply press the black plastic handles into the bodies of the mills. Interesting factoid - the coarser grind takes more pressure to dispense than the finer grind - no, I've no idea why. Oh, and they come partially filled so you can start seasoning without a trip to the supermarket.

Styling is lovely - the brushed metal finish combined with the slightly tapered body is very mid-century in influence - they remind me a bit of Scandinavian candle holders. On the downside (and this is really the only niggle I have), the mills have cheap looking plastic 'S' and 'P' labels on top to distinguish them, which detracts a bit from the otherwise classy design.

I am a bit of a fan of one handed mills so these were always going to score highly with me - however, my all time favourites were a pair from Habitat which were perspex globes with double 'bunny ear' grips on top that you squeezed together. Those mills also had magnets on the side so you could whack them on the fridge when not in use. These Cole and Mason gadgets are bigger and have to sit on the worktop, so a point off for that. Otherwise, very nice though.


PetSafe ScoopFree Original Self-Cleaning Litter Box
PetSafe ScoopFree Original Self-Cleaning Litter Box
Price: £123.66

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Works well but you'll need a big wallet!, 20 Oct 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I ordered PetSafe's ScoopFree Self Cleaning Litter box with a little trepidation, it being the first powered litter tray I'd attempted to entice my feline waste producer to use. The first problem I had was choosing a site for it. In my smallish flat I have his current tray in the bathroom. With a powered system it needs a place with access to a socket.

After choosing an alcove in the hall the next task was setting it up. It's big, bigger than I expected but it was easy to set up and once the crystal insert was in place it sat waiting for Sam (the pussycat) to investigate. Soon he was in having a scrape around but not actually using it for its intended purpose. His usual tray is hooded so I'm not sure if a non hooded version induced a bit of stage fright but after few hours and some more scraping he got down to business.

Here in lies another problem. Sam's usual toilet routine is to use it and, if its a solid, he comes and tells us with the expectation of immediate removal. Usually involving some miaowing and chuntering. The PetSafe doesn't kick into action until twenty minutes after it detects the cat leaving the tray after use. You can override this with a manual cycle but seems a bit of a bother when paying this amount of money. Once the system is running it seems to work well, scraping the evidence away and leaving the crystals looking clean. In terms of smells I didn't notice a huge advantage over non clumping litter manually scooped after use. Indeed, until the cleaning cycle takes place, smells linger noticeably longer. Removing waste box for cleaning is pretty straightforward but i'm not convinced the crystals will last as long as stated by the manufacture, especially with a larger cat on wet food.Where I think the system does well is for those times where your cat may be left on its own whilst you might be at work. The puss cat always seems happier with a clean box and knowing this will work whilst you're not about is a bonus.

The major downsides for me are twofold, first the initial cost is eye watering, The RRP of over £150 seems an awful lot for no huge improvement in utility for an able bodied owner. The other downside is being tied into one sort of litter from the manufacturer. Even through Amazon this isn't cheap, especially when the supermarkets do twenty litre bags of litter for around ten pounds that will last longer and allow you to restock immediately if you run short.

So all in all I'll give it three stars. The actual system works but the practicalities of actually owning it seem to me to make it cost prohibitive.


Hotpoint Multi-Functional Food Processor, 1000 Watt, Silver
Hotpoint Multi-Functional Food Processor, 1000 Watt, Silver
Price: £88.02

4.0 out of 5 stars Quality processor with great accessories, 19 Oct 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This Hotpoint Multifunction Food Processor is a serious bit of kitchen kit. It comes with a wide range of bowls, attachments and blades to let you tackle most tasks and is powerful enough to cope with anything you throw at it.

It arrived in a pretty humungous box. Dauntingly large actually but on opening it was apparent the size of the package merely reflects the amount of extras you get with this product. The base unit is heavy, finished in a pleasing brushed silver and black combo. The large clear control knob on the side feels solid and is marked with the various speed options. There are four suction cup feet which secure the base firmly to your work surface and belay any worries the powerful motor may cause it to move around.

The attachments include a large 2.6l mixing bowl, with large handle and generous aperture for feeding in ingredients whilst the various blades are in action. The bowl fits very securely into the base unit and instructions for inserting the accessories are easy to follow. From chopping, grating and slicing veg, processing meats, kneading or mixing dry and wet ingredients for cake mixes, bread doughs and biscuits the large capacity means you really can do substantial batches in one go. There are a couple of pushers, for feeding in veg or fruit for processing, a large lid one and smaller one for the juicing attachment, which works surprisingly well. Within the base unit there's a handy slot for storing the various blades and the disks can sit on top of the unit when the jugs are removed. Leaving you to find storage for only the main blending jug, mixing bowl and grinder.

The blending bowl is a large 1.5 jug, great for soups, sauces and smoothies. Like it's larger brother it comes in a fairly durable looking plastic which was easy to clean in warm soapy water. It also allows you to add ingredients whilst blending through a sealable aperture on the lid. Again very handy for doing things like mayonnaise. The last accessory is a small grinder intended for either spices, pulses or coffee. It works well for coffee, although I still prefer a burr grinder rather than blades for that, and does a great job with spices. In combination with the other bowls, making your own curry pastes is a straightforward job. My only worry is that the plastic might retain the flavours of strong aromatics even after washing and this would deter me from using it for both spices and coffee.

In summary this is a really decent processor. It coped with all I've thrown at it well and feels like it will be useful addition to my kitchen for years to come. So why not 5 stars? It's just a bit big and heavy for everyday use. In a large kitchen it could comfortably live on a counter top but in a smaller kitchen it's too big to leave out constantly and the weight means getting it in and out of cupboards is a bit of a chore


Leitz WOW Click & Store A4 Storage Box (Pink) - ref 60440023
Leitz WOW Click & Store A4 Storage Box (Pink) - ref 60440023
Price: £10.79

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pretty in pink., 19 Oct 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I'm the world's least organised person, with letters and documents piled up everywhere. Whenever I need something - car V5C, insurance certificates, pension info - I have a frantic few hours (sometimes even days!) sifting through everything desperately trying to find what I'm looking for. Hopefully this will be a thing of the past though, with my new Leitz Wow storage box.

First impressions are very good - the box is made of an extremely sturdy high gloss card in a vivid and thus impossible to misplace fuschia pink. It comes flat-packed and only takes about 30 second to assemble - you pull the side flaps up and press-stud them into position, then the lid just drops on top. Because of the way the box is assembled it wouldn't be watertight so I think it more suitable for domestic storage than any sort of professional archiving. There are nice features like metal carry handles at each end (they fold flat against the box when not in use), plus a removable label with metal surround (I honestly don't know that I will ever be organised enough to record the contents, but it's a useful addition). The actual dimensions are well in excess of A4 so you won't have stuff getting jammed or bent inside, or being difficult to lift out again.

I've started by putting my passport and travel insurance documents inside and really think this is the beginning of a new and exciting superwoman-like significantly more organised me. No doubt everything else - my love life, stressful job and challenging family - will all just blissfully fall into place now. :-)


Olympus PEN E-P5 Micro Four Thirds Interchangeable Lens Camera - Silver (16.1MP, Live MOS, M.Zuiko 14-42mm II R Lens) 3.0 inch Tiltable Touchscreen LCD
Olympus PEN E-P5 Micro Four Thirds Interchangeable Lens Camera - Silver (16.1MP, Live MOS, M.Zuiko 14-42mm II R Lens) 3.0 inch Tiltable Touchscreen LCD
Price: £699.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Say cheese!, 8 Oct 2014
I'm a big fan of the micro 4/3 system, loving the compact size coupled with near DSLR image quality. Despite the fact that a number of manufacturers produce mirrorless compacts, I think that Olympus pretty much own this format, with clever retro styling, uber fast response times and a range of relatively affordeable lenses. This is my third PEN - I had the E-PL1 and the E-PM2, keeping each for a couple of years before selling on to facilitate an upgrade to this model.

The E-P5 shares the same 16mp sensor as my E-PM2, (and the flagship OMD), but has the added advantages of wireless, a tilting screen, faster shutter speed (1/8000) and heavier metal body which is great if you are at all prone to camera shake, mode dial that cuts down on the amount of menu scrolling, switch function lever controlling iso, white balance and exposure (though can be programmed for other modes) and built-in flash, rather than the clip on version. It has the same superb colour handling as all the other models in the range giving saturated images that somehow always manage to look vivid but never unnatural. The silver and black variant is straight out of the sixties and style-wise, to die for.

I currently have my E-P5 paired with the 17mm pancake lens and it will fit in a jacket pocket or handbag quite easily like this. To my chagrain the just about to be released E-PL7 comes with the new and very lustworthy 14-42mm pancake lens, which would really be my ideal partner for the E-P5. On the flipside, the E-PL7 design has reverted to the clip on flash and whilst this might give a wider field of illumination I found having to slide it on and off the hot shoe on my E-PM2, removing and replacing the various plastic covers each time not terribly conducive to impromptu photography, so think the pop up on the E-P5 preferable despite it's diminutive size.

The camera is quick and responsive in most light conditions, including rain and overcast skies. It's very comfortable to hold, producing the expected crisp and beautifully hued images. Autofocus is pretty quiet and the metering systems easy to access. I use a number of the art filters from time to time, particularly dramatic tone and pop art, although this model could really do with updating with some of the vintage filters popular on the likes of Instagram (in fairness to Olympus I think the E-PL7 does have new tools along these lines). In common with another reviewer I don't bother using the tilt screen function, partly for fear of breaking it. There's no optical viewfinder, though you can attach one via the hotshoe if your pockets run deep enough to buy one. I'm not that fussed (sacrilege!) because to me the compact dimensions and streamlined styling are a major selling point of the PEN range - if I was desperate for a viewfinder I'd probably go for an OMD or even a DSLR. The positioning of the flash means you occasionally accidentally deploy it, though I found I adapted my hand position pretty quickly to mitigate against this - easy for a female with small hands, might be tricky for a bloke with big mitts.

Generally the reviews for this camera in the wider technology press have been very favourable - there have been some reports of blurring/lack of effective image stabilisation at speeds of around 1/160, but I have never noticed this myself, and there is a firmware update available that is said to correct the problem anyway. Oh, and I loved the little touches like the Olympus branded lens cloth included in the box! You can see a few test shots I took on the right hand side of the page using a range of settings.

In summary this camera has great styling, great performance and a build quality that will probably make me hang onto it far longer than the earlier versions. I am smitten :-)


Scandinavian Baking: Loving Baking at Home
Scandinavian Baking: Loving Baking at Home
by Trine Hahnemann
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.00

3.0 out of 5 stars Not tonight Josephine!, 5 Oct 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a beautifully produced book with tantalising photography on thick expensive-feeling paper. The majority of the volume is taken up with cakes and breads, although the author does expand the repertoire somewhat to include recipes for soups and sandwich toppings to go with the breads. Actually, I think it's quite heavy on the bread and crispbread recipes as an overall percentage so that could be either offputting or inviting depending on your culinary preferences.

My first attempt at baking from the book was the Napolean's Cake - a sort of mille feuille of cream and redcurrant jelly. Although not at first glance a difficult thing to make by any means I actually struggled quite a bit - the cooking time for the flaky pastry seemed quite short at 20 mins and mine came out a bit doughy, so had to go back for another 5-10. The instructions for making the custard part of the cream filling told you to whip it until it thickened - but how thick? I suspect I may have taken mine off the heat too early because when I mixed it with the whipped cream it was too runny to heap up on the pastry in one thick layer as shown in the picture. Even when I rejigged my cake with extra layers containing less cream I still had a bit of a landslide. Admittedly the taste was great - the redcurrent jelly is an inspired choice to offset the crème patisserie as it's so much sharper than berry based jams. It just looked a bit of a dogs breakfast!

My second attempt at baking from this book was to be the orange and rye cookies- however I was unable to source rye flakes anywhere - even Holland and Barratt which lists them online doesn't seem to carry them instore - so that plan never really got off the ground.

In summary, I think this book is lovely to look at and very inspiring - lots of Scandinavian ingredients like marzipan, herring and buttermilk in evidence, but a little bit of culinary expertise is probably in order to work round the mildly ambiguous instructions.


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