Monday, 27 October 2014

British crime dramas worth watching

I watch a fair bit of TV, and autumn is traditionally the season when new dramas are rolled out. I love a good drama series - Broadchurch, The Killing, The Bridge, Top of the Lake - I loved all of those, and these recommendations are in the same vein.


The Fall is a psychological thriller which was broadcast earlier this year on the BBC, and although I missed it first time around I'm watching the repeat on BBC2 at the moment (I believe it's also available on Netflix).

On paper, it's a fairly predictable story - serial killer targets single women -  but it is brilliantly done. Tense, dark and quite scary in parts, it is a top notch drama that's won a bucket-load of awards and rightly so.  It's quite challenging to watch due to its subject matter and quite graphic and brutal images in places, but my goodness it's well written and creatively directed.

It stars Gillian Anderson who is mesmerising as DCI Stella Gibson, the head of the police investigation team, and Jamie Dornan as the serial killer, as well as an excellent ensemble cast including the very underrated Irish actor John Lynch (who I've fancied for years) it's definitely worth watching before the second series airs in November. So, so good.



Happy Valley is another excellent BBC drama and was aired earlier this year. Set in Yorkshire and starring Sarah Lancashire as police sergeant Catherine Cawood, and rising star James Norton as psychopath Tommy, it centres on a staged kidnapping that goes badly wrong with terrible and far-reaching repercussions. It's fairly brutal in parts, and not suitable for children, but I can't recommend it highly enough. Stunningly good.

Anyone old enough to remember Cagney and Lacey?  Well, Scott and Bailey is the modern-day, Manchester based equivalent of it, and bloody good it is too.  The series was created in 2011 by Sally Wainwright, who coincidentally also wrote and produced Happy Valley, and is currently in its fourth series. It is a very realistic police drama, and the lead characters, played by Suranne Jones and Lesley Sharp, are portrayed as imperfect women (is their any other type?) one mouthy and impulsive, the other steady and methodical, who are good at their jobs but not so great in their personal lives.  It's a gritty, intelligent drama with terrific female leads and is extremely watchable, I love this programme and will be sad to see this series' final episode this week. Catch it on ITV iPlayer.



What are you watching on TV, and what would you recommend?

Friday, 24 October 2014

Aromatic lamb burgers with mint raita



Last week I was set a challenge to make a recipe using lamb mince, or keema, and I made Keema Shepherd's Pie with a sweet potato mash which was delicious (even if I do say so myself).

This week I've made aromatic lamb burgers with a lovely mint raita to go with it.  Lamb and mint are a food marriage made in heaven, so I wanted to use both in the same meal.   As always with the recipes on this blog, it's easy to make and perfect as a mid-week family meal.  The burgers use spices, but they make the burgers 'aromatic' rather than spicy hot - but you could add more spice if you wanted, and one or two chillies to the mix if you want a bit of a kick. I left the chilli out this time because my daughter doesn't like it.

Ingredients
Makes 6 burgers

250g lamb mince
1 small red onion, finely chopped
Fresh breadcrumbs made from 2 slices of white bread, processed into crumbs
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1-2 red chillies, finely chopped (optional)
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp ground cumin
1 egg
salt and freshly ground pepper 
Oil for cooking


Method
Put all of the ingredients in a bowl, and mix well together. I find it easier to do it with my hands.

Shape the mixture into 6 burgers, put on a plate and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Lamb burgers

While the burgers are in the fridge, make the raita. Use 250ml of natural yoghurt, half a cucumber (grated and excess liquid squeezed out), a few leaves of fresh mint, chopped, and salt to taste.


Mint raita ingredients

Mix together in a bowl, that's it! 



When you're ready, take burgers out of the fridge about 10 mins before you're ready to cook to bring them back to room temperature.  

Brush the burgers with the oil and place into a hot frying pan. Cook for 5 minutes on each side.  Your kitchen will smell amazing at this point!

Aromatic lamb burgers

To serve, toast pitta bread for 30 seconds then open it up into a pocket.  Place the burger inside, serve with tomato and salad leaves. Top with some of the mint raita. We loved these, so easy and quick to make and the final result is really tasty. I'll definitely be making them again.



Visit Simply Beef and Lamb for more ideas on cooking with lamb mince.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Celebrating Apple Day


I love autumn. Not only is it time to break out the hot chocolate and woolen scarves, but it's also the time when Apple Day is celebrated. I think it's something that's only celebrated in the UK, but I could be wrong.

Last weekend I persuaded Tall Daughter to join me at our local Apple Day.  I say persuaded because these family days out are getting increasingly rare as they spend  more of their time with friends, boyfriends (eek!) and following their own interests. How very dare they!

But I was pleased she came because it's my favourite local event and we've been visiting since both girls were tiny. 

As usual there was lots to do and see, and it was a beautiful autumnal sunny day. There was food produce on sale, craft stalls, food stalls, games, activities and of course, apples. Plenty of apples, including dozens of different varieties.  My favourite variety McIntosh Red wasn't there, but it's 'relative' Lobo was so I had a taste. McIntosh Red is a very fragrant apple, crisp and juicy, just as all apples should be.  I used to be able to buy it at our local outdoor market, but alas the market is no more.














Is there an apple day event where you live? What are your favourite local events?

Cooking with keema: Keema shepherd's pie with sweet potato mash

This week I've been set a challenge by Simply Beef and Lamb to cook a meal using minced lamb, in particular using a basic lamb keema recipe for a family meal.

So after receiving a gorgeous parcel of goodies including  vegetables, spices and four packs of minced lamb, I thought I'd give it a go. 

One of our staple meals in the colder months is Cottage Pie using beef, but this time I decided to try something a little different and made a Shepherd's pie using a basic lamb keema recipe, with a sweet potato mash topping. The keema recipe is aromatic and slightly spicy and gives a nice twist to a standard shepherd's pie.

Lamb Keema recipe

Serves 4
Preparation time 20 minutes
Cooking time approx 40 minutes

Ingredients
450g lamb mince
2tsp sunflower oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped or crushed
2.5cm piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1-2 green chillies, deseeded (if preferred) and finely chopped
2tsp groung cumin
3tsp garam masala or medium curry powder
4 medium tomatoes, chopped 
1-2 tsp sugar
2 tbsp tomato puree
salt and pepper 
4oz fresh or frozen peas
Handful of fresh coriander, chopped (optional)

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and cook the onion gently over a low heat until soft and lightly golden, then add the garlic and continue to fry for one minute.
Add the ginger, chillies, cumin and garam masala or curry powder.
Cook over a moderate heat for 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the lamb mince and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes, then add the tomatoes, sugar, tomato puree and bring to the boil.

Season and reduce the heat, cook uncovered for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a little water if it looks too dry.

10 minutes before the end of cooking, add the peas.

Delicious as it is with with plain basmati rice, naan bread and some relishes (mango chutney for me).
OR, you could use this recipe in to add to a shepherd's pie like I did!



Serves 4 hungry people
Ingredients: basic lamb keema recipe
150ml good hot lamb or veg stock
650g of sweet potatoes (or 4 medium-sized sweet potatoes)

Heat the oven to gas mark 6/180°c.
Put the keema in a large pan, add the stock (to make more of a gravy) and heat for 3-4 minutes until hot.
Peel, chop and boil the sweet potatoes to make a mash. 
Put the keema in your preferred baking dish and spoon the mash over the top.  For a crispy topping add a few small pieces of butter over the top of the mash.
Cook in the preheated oven for about 25 minutes until the pie is piping hot.
Serve with seasonal veg. Enjoy!

We loved this, and with just a few tweaks it turned a basic mid-week meal into something pretty special.   The basic keema recipe is very versatile, and could be used in a multiple of ways: spooned over hot pasta, or added to a jacket potato - in fact, you can use the keema recipe for any meal that uses a minced beef mixture.

Add beans, lentils or other pulses (chick peas would be great!) to ring the changes. Next time I'm going to add diced carrots, but it would be very easy to hide other vegetables in the recipe if, like mine, your children are not big veg eaters.

To show you how easy this recipe is, take a look at the video featuring Stacey Solomon and Indian chef, Nisha Katona. Nisha also explains the difference between 'hot' and 'aromatic' spices and how to tailor them to your tastes (especially if you're cooking for children).

Saturday, 11 October 2014

To follow or not to follow, that is the question

Pooky Rants: Auto DMs are NOT cool


I've been using Twitter since 2009. I enjoy a good chat on there, have made loads of interesting connections and even chatted with the odd celeb or two.

I don't use it everyday, probably more at weekends, but it can be a lot of fun especially if you're watching a big TV event (the 2012 Olympics being a very good example) and everyone is joining in the conversation.

But recently something has upset me.  A blogging friend,  someone I'd been chatting to without incident for years suddenly started to ignore me. And if she wasn't ignoring me she was being rather rude and abrupt with me. More than abrupt actually, downright rude.

If I tweeted them they would either not reply or their response made it clear that that was the end of the conversation.

I know this will seem like a very strange concept to anyone who doesn't use social media regularly, but these online relationships really do matter, to me at least. The connections you make online can become really important, especially at times when maybe you're feeling a bit fed-up. There's nothing like a few online friends to help put things in perspective and make you feel better.

Bloggers in particular are an amazing bunch, and I've had some fantastic pieces of advice on twitter and Facebook over the years, and I've made some genuine friends.

So, this recent incident confused me at first. Then I tried to figure out why it might be happening, and I think I might know why.

This person had been involved in a online conversation that I joined in with. I said I disagreed with her (nothing personal) but she took exception to my comment. In an attempt to resolve the issue I contacted her privately and said that I didn't mean to cause offence if that was what I'd done.  She said it was okay and not to worry and she valued our friendship.

But since then she has pointedly ignored me. And I suppose I could understand it if it wasn't for one thing. There were several other people who also disagreed with her, but I know for a fact she is still chatting with them. So it's just me then.

I mentioned this on Twitter earlier today and was blown away by the response. So many people were very nice about it, and many thought I should unfollow her.  (She still follows me by the way).

Thing is, I have always liked her. She has an interesting blog, I love her style of writing and some of the subjects she writes about are very close to my heart. Up until recently I was a regular commenter on her blog, but I can take the hint and don't comment anymore.

So, to follow or unfollow? If I unfollow it makes it clear I don't want to talk to her either, but I do. Pathetic, right?

I wish it didn't bother me, but it does.

Am I being over-sensitive? What makes you unfollow someone?

Friday, 10 October 2014

Hotter for autumn

Hotter shoes


It's been a good summer. Up until a week or so it was still warm and sunny, but then last weekend the weather turned and now, along with the autumn colours, we also have the chillier weather. Still lovely, but definitely colder. 

Once the weather turns I almost immediately start wearing ankle boots, and as I'm in trousers 99% of the time they're a footwear essential for me.


A couple of weeks ago Hotter sent me this lovely pair of Dusk boots in Petrol (£85.00).  I love the
colour which goes perfectly with jeans and makes a change from my usual black.  Made from a lovely soft velvet nubuck, they have a 'relaxed' fit and a side zip fastening. They're also incredibly comfortable.

Summit Boot £115.00
After 5 years of dog walking I desperately need a new pair of dog walking shoes, and these Gore-tex Summit boots are also calling my name.  Sturdy, weather-proof and with supportive cushioning. Perfect.

I like the fact that Hotter is a British brand, based very close to where we live in the North-west.  I think it's fair to say they have a good range of classic styles, although some of their more recent designs will appeal to younger buyers.

I've had a pair of Hotter shoes for years and their quality is worth mentioning here. Hotter is all about good quality footwear which, combined with their competitive pricing, is a good enough reason to visit one of their shops or their online store.

What about you? Have you put your summer shoes away yet?


Disclosure: I was sent the boots for review purposes, however all words, opinions and feet are my own.

Monday, 6 October 2014

10 Practical Life Skills children should learn before they leave home

Our role as parents is to bring our children up to be able to fend for themselves, to be independent, be responsible and, hopefully, make good choices.

In theory, by the time they leave home they should be equipped with the skills to be able to do those things without relying on mum or dad to help them, and it's something I've been thinking about a lot recently.

I wrote recently about children travelling on their own, and said that my daughters hadn't really used public transport a lot as I drove them everywhere. A week or so later, when The Teenager made plans to visit her boyfriend in Leeds (he has just started university there) it came home to roost. She didn't know how to buy the tickets, read a train timetable or how to find the right platform.  I had to guide her through it all in a last minute try-not-to-panic masterclass on train travel. In the end I had to wait with her to make sure she got on the right train, but she's since made the journey on her own and was fine.  It made me realise that she should have already had those skills in place instead of giving last-minute instructions, but she didn't and her sister (who hasn't even travelled on a bus alone) had even less idea.

Both girls are pretty good at home skills - washing, ironing, basic cooking - but it's when they're out in the world on their own that they're much less confident.

So I decided it was time to put a list of Life Skills together. Skills that both of my girls should have learned by the time they leave home, and there's some impetus here as The Teenager is planning to go to university next September.

I asked a few friends on twitter for their thoughts on the types of skills children should learn and it developed into a very interesting discussion.  There were dozens of ideas, and here's just a selection:














Anyway, you get the idea. Here's my list of essential skills I want my girls to have:

1. To plan and shop for a week's supply of food and household goods, using a realistic budget.
2. To have a list of at least 5 nutritious meals they can make from scratch. I'm not including beans on toast and very simple meals like that, I'm thinking more of things like spaghetti bolognese, lasagne, a roast dinner, and so on.
3. To be able to plan a trip on public transport on their own, including buying tickets, reading timetables, and finding their own way there and back safely.
4. To be able to read a map. An actual paper map, as opposed to looking at an app. Relying on technology is all well and good but when there's no network available a paper map still works.
5. To master simple home repairs: change a plug, a lightbulb and a fuse; unblock a toilet; turn off the water at the stop-cock; all skills that can prevent a bigger problem in the long run.
5. To be able to use household goods: washing machine, dryer, iron, dishwasher, etc. on the right settings and how to keep them clean and in working order.
6. How to make a doctor's/dental/hospital appointment; how to make a telephone call to an official person; to fill in forms; how to order something online.
7. To be able to clean a house properly, using inexpensive products and the right equipment. I'm no domestic goddess, but I know how to clean windows with a newspaper.
8. Basic first aid and what to do if they, or a friend, become ill. Who to call, what not to do, and so on.
9. Being a bit street-wise. Knowing when to say no; understanding the dangers of drinking to excess; keeping safe when out and about; knowing which risks are worth taking and which are too dangerous.
10.  Knowing who/when to ask for help, and knowing that no matter what has happened or how embarrassed they are or much trouble they think they might be in, they can still always ask me for help.

As suggested by a few of the people who responded to my question, I'm hosting a linky jointly with MerryilyMe, as we compared notes on the subject as she was already planning a similar post.

What would you include on your list of essential skills, and have you already started teaching them to your children?  If you have a blog post already written, or would like to write one, please link up below. I'd love to know what's on your list of essentials.