Category Archives: Shopping

Alyson’s Top Ten Ingredients of 2015

The end of the year is always seen as the perfect time to reflect on the year that’s just gone by, and look forward to the next year. Since we’re a food blog, it’s only fitting that we look at the past year in terms of food and its impact on my life. So here are my top ten ingredients of 2015.

Garlic

1. Garlic 

The smell of garlic has always reminded me of the best kind of home cooking. It was my uncle who first inspired me to cook, letting me sit at his butcher’s block as he chopped and fried, throwing together the most delightful array of tasty little dishes in seemingly no time at all. Now I’m older and can look back on it, I suspect he lost whole mornings making lunch!

Garlic always featured heavily in his cooking, and was the predominant smell in his house, but in a “welcome to the nourishing bosom of our home” kind of way. So that’s what got me into garlic. And I just can’t seem to look past it. If it’s a pasta sauce, curry sauce, marinade, soup, roast or stir fry, garlic is the starting point. It’s good for you and it does so much flavour work!

 

2. Ginger

This year has been a turning point for me in terms of food and nutrition. I’ve finally had the willpower to make a few healthier changes which have helped me to drop the dress size I wanted to shed before our wedding, as well as helping me to realise that eating healthily is a lot less difficult, and much more tasty, than you might think.

Soups for lunch and stir fries for supper have played a massive part in this, particularly when I learned that it’s pretty easy to keep stocked up with the makings of a great stir fry marinade, delicious enough to forget about those calorie stuffed sachet sauces. Ginger is a big hitter for me, and I always have a knobble in my fridge (especially since Charles told me off for resorting to ginger purée!).


3. Soy Sauce 

For similar reasons to the above story about stir fries, soy sauce has been hugely helpful in letting me throw together healthy but filling suppers, satisfying enough to stop me rescuing for a takeaway menu or a bag of pasta. Even if it doesn’t feature in your stir fry, it’s a slightly heather way to ass on your Asian food, so stick it on the table in case there isn’t enough salt on your noodles or rice.

The legend says that light soy is for flavour, whilst dark soy is for colour, but I just prefer dark soy sauce – it seems a little less bitter to me.

 

4. Honey 

Honey has been getting a bad rep, recently  – “oh it’s not as healthy as you think”, “it’s as bad for you as sugar”, yadda yadda, but everything in moderation.  A teaspoon in your marinade isn’t going to kill you, but it will give you the perfect dash of Asian sweetness, as well as the most beautiful sticky glaze to your stir-fried meat (see my Chicken Teriyaki for the evidence!).  I like to buy the runny kind in a squeezy bottle for easy dispensing, but I’m not at all fussy about brand so don’t take the photo as a specific recommendation – whichever is on offer will be the bottle which makes it into my basket.

 

5. Fresh Fruit and Vegetables

Really, I could be giving you a top ten rundown of my favourite/most eaten fruits and vegetables, so I’m afraid the title of this item will have to be as general as this!  You may remember (if you’ve followed my blog from the beginning) that one of my major resolutions for 2015 was to do my darnedest to eat my 5-a-day.  And, for the most part, I’ve achieved this (apart from the odd Saturday and Sunday, but that will change in the Brooker household).  It’s really much easier than you think.  I’m sure I’ll eventually get round to a post about the little changes you can make to the everyday to make your diet that little bit healthier, but generally melons and grapes have replaced my lunchtime packet of crisps, homemade soups and salads take the place of M&S sandwiches, apples and clementines float around my handbag in case I get peckish mid-morning or mid-afternoon, and bulking out my suppers with lots of fresh vegetables helps me to cut down on the carbs.  It can seem like an expensive way to eat, but once you’ve figured out your favourites, your weekly shop becomes a lot easier and a lot better for you.

 

6. Ribeye Steak

Charles has the credit for introducing me to this one.  The lovely, succulent, tasty ribeye.  It has more flavour that a sirloin or a fillet, and it’s generally pretty easy to trim out the excess fat.  It just has more…steakiness about it.  We had ribeyes from my butcher for our first supper as an engaged couple (I didn’t know we would be an engaged couple but we were otherwise celebrating heading off for a wonderful week together on Skye, it just worked out quite well) and Charles has also introduced me to the wonders of Aldi steaks.  Seriously. Try them.  They beat the butcher hands down because they are hung for a bit to tenderise and mature the beef, and yet they are sourced locally from farmers who meet the highest standards.  When I’m not celebrating, however, I love these Tesco ribeyes, which, at £3 a pop and big enough to make two stir fries, are my protein-packed best friend for a tasty midweek supper which will help my muscles to recover from HIIT and Pilates.

 

 

7. Brown Rice 

My name’s Alyson and I used to be a brown rice sceptic.  Until I bought a bag, learned that it took forever and a day to cook it, and tasted it.  It’s easier to prepare than basmati (provided you have 20+ minutes to let it simmer),it won’t turn stodgy on you, it tastes beautiful and nutty and delicious enough to eat alone, and it has a low GI, which means it takes longer to break down in your body and is therefore less likely to turn to fat.  Sorted.  Although you should definitely stock up when i’s on offer as it can get fairly pricey (£2.50 from Tilda in Tesco right now ….on the shelf you will stay).

Olive ou


 

8. Olive Oil

Everyone, surely, knows the benefits of olive oil.  It’s a staple. It’s always kicking around somewhere in both of our kitchens.  If I’m stir frying, I prefer groundnut oil as it can handle a higher heat without burning (be careful if you’re allergic to nuts), but olive is still a great starter for dressings, marinades, pestos, and getting a gently sweat or fry on the go.  Let’s try some new oils in 2016…

 9. Tinned Tomatoes 

Such a staple, even my Mum keeps them in the house, tinned tomatoes are a must-have store cupboard ingredient.  They’re a great start to a pasta sauce, a curry base or a casserole and they help to make an excellent minestrone.  Buy a four-pack when they’re on offer.  I used to be all about the chopped tomatoes but I think I’ve convinced myself that tinned plum tomatoes (or cherry tomatoes if you’re feeling flush) give you a better flavour and texture.

image

10. Stock Cubes and Stock Pots

I’ll probably be breaking a “foodie” (yeurgh) law by telling you that I swear by Knorr stock cubes.  Chuck two or three in some boiling water and add to some vegetables in a soup pot and you’re halfway to a week of nutritious hot lunches.  They also give a great savoury backbone to sauces, and one beef stockpot added to a stew or casserole will hit all the right notes.  By all means, make fresh stock if you have leftover bones and the wherewithal, but don’t be too much of a snob to reach for reach for a helping hand from your cupboard.  Cooking loses it’s shine a little if make things too difficult for yourself, so take shortcuts when you can!

Let us know which ingredients you haven’t been able to keep out of your shopping basket this year, and have a great time at New Year!

Super Drugstore Stocking Fillers for Ladies

If you’re anything like me, you’ll find it increasingly difficult to come up with ideas for stocking fillers as each year goes by. It’s really important to me that people don’t receive presents for the sake of just having a present; it should always be something people might want or like, or don’t even know they might want!  
My Mum, Nana and I contribute to a great big stocking for each other every year, so it can be hard to think of new ideas. Yesterday, I took a trip up to Superdrug for a bit of a stocking filler smash and grab (without the stealing) and I thought it might be helpful to share with you some items which make great stocking fillers but wouldn’t necessarily be traditionally considered for a Christmas present. 

  
This is something I’ll probably put in my own stocking: the B. Eye Shadow Brush, which looks lovely and soft, as well as big enough to blend out your shadow. It would probably be great for concealing too. At £3.99 and with good-sized packaging, it ticks the stocking stuffing box, whilst being a great present.

 

Imperial Leather; Stocking Filler Ideas
Imperial Leather Shower Gel
 
Shower gel is another great filler product. Most people use it, and they certainly know someone who would use it even if they themselves have a bath every day. It might be a bit of a boring present, but it will at least be useful (which, let’s face it, we start to appreciate as we get older) and if you can find an exciting scent or texture, even better. 

 

Superdrug Stocking Fillers
Superdrug staples
 
Beauty staples….I happen to know my Nana can’t be without this Vitamin E Intense Moisture Cream and my Mum keeps complaining about having dry elbows so I’ve picked a pot up for her as well. 

Nail polish remover pads are so handy for anyone who might ever wear nail polish, so a great, cheap little thing to throw in there. I always seem to be running out!
This GOSH Eyeliner was for me to replace one which has stopped sharpening, but you can’t really go wrong with a kohl liner as a little extra, and it’s always an intriguingly shaped present to open. And you currently get a free smoky eye palette when you spend £10 on GOSH in Superdrug (one present for you, one present for me….)!

Makeup Stocking Fillers
Makeup Revolution Palettes
 
I have to admit that eyeshadow palettes are a bit of a guilty pleasure for me just now – so many pretty pigments. However, I’m a big believer in sharing the love, so if you’ve bought something and loved it, why not buy one for someone else?  These are getting towards the pricier end of stocking filler territory but there’s still a 3 for 2 in Superdrug so it sort of evens out. The Makeup Revolution Beyond Flawless palette is one of my favourite things just now, but the Flawless palette has a slightly broader range of colours for people who might not be so comfortable with the concept of 50 shades of nude. 

I also picked up the Makeup Revolution Iconic Pro 1 palette for my Mum, as she tends to wear a lot of purple shades so I thought this might introduce her to the 21st century and no make-up make-up. Plus it comes with a brush, and it’s in that crucial £5 bracket. 

Other things I’ll probably pick-up at some point or which might be suitable for a sister or friend:

  • Hair bobbles 
  • Hand cream
  • Face masks
  • Hairspray or dry shampoo
  • Bath bombs/bath salts/bubble bath 
  • Body lotion 
  • Vaseline or lip balm
  • Nail polish
  • Lipstick or lipgloss
  • Blusher, bronzer or highlighter 
  • Your favourite primer or setting spray 

I wouldn’t recommend gifting a concealer or foundation (no matter how badly you want to share the wonder of Collection concealer) as you are very unlikely to be able to correctly match their skin tone!

Let me know if this has helped any of you out or if you have any ideas for me!

The 5 Best …Websites for Starting Your Christmas Shopping 

Here we are again. Galloping towards the end of November, but we’ve barely started our Christmas shopping. We’ve taken a few rambles around the local shops: Boots offers the same old FCUK and Nando’s gift sets, M&S wants you to give your grandad another mug to remind him he’s “Head Gardener”, and a scarf for, well, every female relative you know, just isn’t going to cut it this year.

  
Ok, ok, before you tell me off, I know that shopping local is great. It’s the best. But let’s not get into Perth local politics. In fact, I’ll be buying a fair amount from good local businesses, but we’ll get into that nearer the time. Just now, though, help is at hand. With a little bit of time, organisation and a sufficient number of postage days before The Big Day, you can really break the back of your Christmas shop in a relatively short amount of time. It won’t even do that much harm to your credit card if you start now during the Black Friday sales.

  

1
. John Lewis

Try to block the terrible Christmas advert from your mind for a moment. I mean, they have put some pretty good ones out in the past. John Lewis is great. It really is. It can be pricey, but not obnoxiously so, so it offers a good range of ideas to suit pretty much every demographic. Even boys. 

  
Their website is really helpful too, with lots of “gift by recipient” categorisation to help you navigate the options available without visiting every department, as well as allowing you to sub- search by budget. So if you want to spend under £30 on your granny, John Lewis has you covered. Genius. 

  
Another thing they do pretty well every year is their selection of hampers. I hear you groaning in boredom already. But hear me out. We hate hampers because every hamper we’ve had has been filled with rubbish no one wants to eat or drink, right? What if you could find a hamper that doesn’t break the bank, that gives someone a load of their favourite things all neatly packaged together and which might just let you get away with a sneaky 1-4-2 couples’ present (smaller price tag than 2 presents, and less time spent shopping)? I told you to trust me!

John Lewis offer hampers ranging in price from £15 to £500 (like you would…) as well as make your own hamper boxes, baskets and trays, if you wanted a more personal touch, so they’re worth a look (especially that Chocolate Cube….).  My biggest criticism is that all of them are Christmas themed. Ok, it is a Christmas present, but (think about it John Lewis) who really needs brandy butter and a mini Christmas pudding on December 25th? (Unless you’ve given them a spoiler not to go out and buy one or they’ve burnt the main guy or whatever) That’s why we hate hampers!

2. The Book People

There’s not as much to say about these guys, except I’m not entirely sure how the manage their crazily low prices. As a bookworm and lover of language, I think books make wonderful presents. I’m not a zealot, so I do get that you can take a person to the pages but you can’t make them read, but you can probably find a book on this site for about 80% of people. They do kids’ books, cookbooks, craft books, humorous books etc etc etc. 

  
There’s a bit of nostalgia for me with The Book People because I remember my Mum buying me books from them when I was a kid in the days when their reps would bring books to offices to sell. Weirdly they’ve just started doing that again. Anyway they had a catalogue at that time and have now moved online so I’ve had a great time rediscovering them over the last few years. The best thing they offer, in my opinion, is their collections. 

  
Basically, they offer collections by the same author, for example, the Harlan Coven collection of 10 of his novels for £10, or themed collections (I have the Penguin “Banned Books” collection, for example, whereby the books are sold as a collection for a fraction of the price they would be bought separately. Great, great presents. 

  

3. Not on the High Street

People seem to have mixed feelings about this one; they love its quirkiness or they’re put off by its gimmicks. I have to say I’m somewhere in the middle. The original idea behind this website, as I understand it, is to bring professional small scale producers to the mass market, in a more organised fashion than Etsy can manage. However, the message is getting lost a bit with all sorts of mass-produced gimmicks finding their way onto the site, I mean, who actually wants to receive chocolate Brussels sprouts, let alone pay a tenner for them?! 

  
  Still, I do think this website has its place, you just have to be savvy and be careful that you’re happy to pay the price their asking, especially as the base price can really ramp up when you add personalisation, gift wrapping, postage etc. There are some really lovely unique gifts on offer and it’s a great place to get ideas. I bought a lovely (in my opinion!) business card holder for Mr Brooker from this site, engraved with one of his favourite song lyrics. It was reasonably priced and the turnaround time was spectacular. Have a browse!

  
4. Feelunique.com

This website hasn’t been on my radar for very long, but they offer some really nice beauty brands, as well as their own beauty advent calendar which gives you 12 little gifts for £30. 

  
Although a lot of what they have to offer is on the pricier main present side of the scale, they have some great little stocking fillers which are a little bit different from the usual socks and chocolate orange. 

Even though you may hate gifting “bath stuff” to those friends and relatives you need to find a gift for about whom you know very little, this site offers you all sorts of lovely gift sets people might actually want and use.

5. Debenhams

Trusty old Debenhams has a load of good deals on just now; I saved £7 on a jumper I was planning to buy for my Dad anyway yesterday. So get in there before Friday’s over!

  
Debenhams is a middle of the road alternative to John Lewis, offering everything from slippers to food gifts, as well as the customary Christmas socks and gadgets. You can tick off lots of people at the sane tine with this one, especially your Mum and Granny. 

I hope this has been helpful! Let me know if you have any go to Christmas shopping websites. 

Little Primark Haulette

So it’s been a little while since I shared any shopping with you, and I thought this would be the perfect opportunity, as it was a bit of an accidental haul. You can’t really go wrong with 4 items for £16! 
  So, first of all, this lovely £5 scarf. It’s nice and long, thick and wide and comes in a couple of different colour options. It’s also ridiculously soft. Being 100% acrylic, it might not have the best longevity, but when even new look is looking for £15 for a blanket scarf, you can’t really go wrong. Plus it would make an excellent knee blanket if you’re feeling particularly middle-aged…. 

 (And now for the close-up)

Item number 2 is a lovely, cosy pair of tartan pyjamas. £8, 100% cotton. They are super soft, again, but relatively smart in case you’re planning on a movie night with your friends. I particularly love the wiggly white edging.

  These were a total impulse buy, I’ll admit, but I was getting a bit sick of mismatched cost bottoms and thin tshirts with Mr B’s fleece thrown over the top. Time to be a grown-up. Again, they had a few different patterns, but these ones look much more expensive than the other colourways, which looked a bit cheap. That’s the key to Primark though – shop wisely! They’re even pattern-matched at the front! 

My one criticism would be that the cord on the trousers is pretty short so I’ll have to make sure it doesn’t make a break for it by wriggling back inside. 

  

I have some really lovely navy tartan thick cotton pj bottoms which are relatively slim legged and generally quite smart, so I thought I ought to treat them to a new tshirt. £2.80. Now that’s bang for your buck. It is a pretty stretchy fabric though so if in doubt I would size-up.

  

Aaand, last but not least, this absolute steal: 

  
Pretty right? I thought it would be perfect to slip inside the neck of a nice plaid shirt. 

  
Yerp. A single pound. Even at the original £2 it’s a pretty good deal. 

So that’s us. Let me know if you’ve found any hidden gems recently!

Supermarket Haul

In the spirit of my post-exam to do list, I’ve read nearly three novels in the last 2 weeks and will be starting 30 Days of Yoga tomorrow evening, as well as having spent a chunk of my weekend both patiently giving time to my family and declurrering my bedside unit and the bottom of my wardrobe. After clearing a bit of space in my freezer last week, I’ve jumped back into trying new recipes. Given I’ll have some new things to share with you, I thought I’d give you a glimpse of what’s to come in the form of a supermarket haul. All of this for £38. 

 
First thing’s first: the junk food. Jelly sweets are something I can’t resist and one of the regular treats I allow myself even with my new healthier lifestyle.  I had to pick up some £1 jelly tots since they were on offer as well as my usual Haribo, but these should last me a couple of weeks! The Doritos were a complete impulse buy since they were kicking about for 96p and I was going to have some with the Saturday night film but ended up bringing them home. Hopefully I’ll be able to resist them for long enough. 

 
Next, a few things for the chocolate orange cakes I have planned for bonfire night, with an extra oranges for a new supper recipe. You can’t see from the label, but I always always always buy salted butter for baking with, despite recipe directions telling you to use unsalted. Also, I’ve switched back to full fat yoghurt after having experienced the watery nonsense that was 0% fat yoghurt. I’m still convinced that the less you interfere with a natural product the better it must be for you….all things in moderation. 

 
Fruit and veg. I’ve cheated a little here as my Dad gave me a couple of red peppers he’s grown in the greenhouse, but they just look so good! The apples, grapes and melons will be added to the pears and satsumas I have in the fridge to take to work for lunch and healthy snacks (giving me up to 5 of my 5-a-day depending how hungry I am in the afternoon), whilst the leek, onions and tomato are for a cracking lentil and tomato soup I have planned. Watch this space. Oh, and some salad leaves….for you know, salad.

Kitchen cupboard staples. You know how it is – there are some items you always have in the cupboard, whilst there are others you pick up for the first time and hope you’ll like them enough to prevent them hanging around in the cupboard forevermore. 

Self-raising flour is something I always make sure I have in plentiful supply just in case I fancy to throw something together in a baking tin, whilst brown rice is a new favourite of mine. I can’t believe I’m saying this but it really is much better than white! It’s nutty, it’s filling, it doesn’t give you so much bloating, and it’s really much easier to cook than basmati, although it does take much longer, there’s none of that messing around with starchy water ir worrying about it going gooood. And I’m sure you’ll know that whole grains are much better for you than white, as well as being easier to burn off because they take so much longer to turn to sugar. Ditto wholewheat spaghetti, although I eat it much more sparingly and it really only goes with a flavoursome vegetable sauce. 

I’ve never actually tried sriracha but it seems to be a must for Vietnamese cookery, and if one is to widen one’s culinary horizons, one really ought to do as the Romans do. Now to work out how to make a pho!

Wholewheat cous cous is a new one for me as well, but it didn’t look much darker than regular cous cous so hopefully it won’t be too much of a shock to the system!

 I was really excited to see that Tesco has introduced loose mixed nuts in their shells as well as chestnuts. They had all sorts of ridiculous festive packages at a huge premium as well as a net of them for a few quid, but they were about £1 a kilo cheaper (I may be exaggerating as my maths isn’t great) to scoop them yourself than to buy them in the net. Madness. It’s a common theme though in fruit and veg in supermarkets. Preying on people’s laziness. Anyway the brown bags are much nicer and they handily had a rack of nutcrackers for £2 each dangling nearby. 

  

Other than the above, I think I’ve skipped the pot of fresh basil, fresh Parmesan and 4-pack of loo rolls. Fairly self-explanatory. And I love to have fresh herbs on my windowsill…even if I am hopeless at keeping them alive.