Monday, 26 November 2012

Triple Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix In A Jar

I'm a big fan of giving and receiving Christmas gifts that can be used up, whether that's eaten, drunk, poured into a bath or spent.  Unless I know someone wants something very specific, I always try to give them something I know they will be able to use up and won't have to keep lying around the house for years to come.  Last year, I gave several friends and relatives homemade jars of cookie mix as part of their present.  They went down really, really well so I'm doing a few more this year.

After trawling the Internet for hours last year trying to find the perfect cookie-in-a-jar recipe, I ended up combining a couple and adjusting the quantities to perfectly fit the 750ml jars I had.  The recipe below will fill this size jar perfectly and you can easily increase the quantities of each ingredient by, say, 25% to fit litre jars.

Of course, you have to do a trial run of the cookies, just to make sure they're good enough to give out as gifts...that's my excuse, anyway.  I don't like 'hard' cookies, so when I sampled the recipe, I baked the cookies for 10 minutes which gave a lovely, soft chewy texture.  If you like them more crunchy, bake for a few minutes longer until they're just right for you.

Triple-Chocolate-Chip-Cookie-Mix-In-A-Jar Recipe

Fills one 750 ml jar

60g white chocolate chips
60g dark chocolate chips
60g milk chocolate chips
15g Rice Krispies 
150g plain flour
Half tsp of bicarbonate of soda
Quarter tsp of baking powder
80g dark brown soft sugar
75g caster sugar
30g porridge oats

Layer the ingredients into your jar in any order you like, but see the tip below on the brown sugar.

Attach a label to your jar with the following instructions:


Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes 24 small or 12 enormous cookies

1. Preheat oven to 180 C / Gas 4. 
2. In a large bowl, cream 75g of butter or margarine until light and fluffy. Mix in 1 egg and 1 additional egg yolk. Add the contents of the jar and stir until well blended.
3. Dollop spoonfuls of the mixture onto a baking tray.
4. Bake for 10 minutes for a soft, chewy cookie, or a couple of minutes longer for a crunchier cookie. Remove from baking trays to cool on wire racks.

Tips on filling your jar

Obviously, you want the jars to look pretty but I found it a lot harder than it looks to get perfectly neat layers!  I just spooned the different ingredients into the jar and levelled them out as best I could.  

One thing I do recommend, is to mix the brown and white sugars together before adding them to the jar.  

Dark brown sugar has a tendency to harden and I read lots of comments on other cookie jar recipes from people who found they had to hack away at the brown sugar layer to get it out the jar!  Mixing the two certainly worked for me, and a jar I kept back for a couple of months was fine when I came to use it. 

Decorate your jar any way you like - I keep things simple with a length of ribbon and a customised gift tag.  Those retro style card luggage tags you can buy in stationery shops for pennies are perfect as they're big enough to write the baking instructions on!  

P.S How cute are my Santa and polar bear?  We had an almost identical Santa when I was a toddler in the 80s and I loved him. I was delighted when I saw this 2012 version in M & S and had to have him and his polar bear friend. Tacky, you say? Absolutely :-)


Thursday, 15 November 2012

Cruelty-free hair!

Hello! It's been way too long since my last post but I wanted to share my latest cruelty-free finds with you.    I wrote a bit about my quest to only ever buy cruelty-free products back in May and thought it was time for an update.  And as we can't talk about cruelty-free without a gratuitous cute bunny shot, here you go:

Cruelty-free make-up and, increasingly, toiletries are fairly easy to find but I've always struggled with quality hair-care products.  Supermarket own-brand shampoos and conditioners (see Co-op and Sainsbury's own labels for super-cheap cruelty-free products) tend to be cheap and relatively low on quality.  While these are fine for 'normal' hair, my long, heat-damaged, dehydrated hair doesn't do well with these basic products.  Step in, Liz Earle

For some reason, I'd never purchased any Liz Earle products until a few months, ago.  I have to be honest and admit that this is partly because I vaguely remembered Liz as a reporter on GMTV in the 90s and I found her intensely irritating at the time.  Well, I decided it was time to forgive and forget and I finally lost my Liz Earle virginity by heading into John Lewis and purchasing this shampoo...

Liz Earle Botanical Shine Shampoo £8.50
this conditioner...
Liz Earle Botanical Shine Conditioner £8.50
and this shine treatment...
Liz Earle Botanical Shine Treatment £14
My verdict?

The shampoo = awesome.  Liz has a customer for life there. You only need to use a teeny, tiny dollop and it lathers up beautifully, leaving your hair feeling squeaky-clean and happy.

The conditioner = awesome.  Again, you don't need to use all that much compared to other brands and although it doesn't feel that 'conditioning' while you're applying it, your hair will feel lovely and soft once you've rinsed it off.  

The Shine treatment = meh.  Maybe it just wasn't a good match for my hair but this was the only product I didn't love.  It's OK, and I'd consider buying it again to use on a beach holiday, maybe, or if my hair was looking particularly dull.  I didn't actually find this did much more for my hair than the conditioner did so it wasn't worth the £14 to me.

At the cheaper end of the market, Superdrug have recently expanded their hair-care range and now offer shampoo and conditioners which are their version of Pantene Pro-V.  Pantene is made by the most definitely NOT animal-friendly Proctor and Gamble so I was pleased to try a similar product from a kinder company.

Superdrug Pro-Vitamin Conditioner £2.29

I was pleasantly surprised by this shampoo and conditioner.  It left my hair nice and soft and the scent is lovely.  Proper old-school clean hair smell!  I bought the Thermal Protect  shampoo and conditioner but they also offer 'Normal', 'Extra- Shine' and 'Volume'.  I will definitely be buying this again and thoroughly recommend it if you're on a budget as the bottles are BIG and it lasts for ages.  I also recommend it if you  want to instantly be transported back to your childhood, sitting on the sofa on a Sunday evening, smelling of shampoo and bubble bath, full from a roast dinner and waiting for You've Been Framed to come on.  Or Songs of Praise if you were more highbrow than I was.

Last, but not least, my final cruelty-free hair care find is Tara Smith.  I'd never heard of Tara but on a recent trip to the ginormous new Marks and Spencer near Cheshire Oaks on the outskirts of Chester (if you're in the north-west and haven't been yet, go. Even if you don't like M & S, just go.  It's amazing.  Even my retail-therapy-hating boyfriend loves it) I spied a display of her pretty bottles.  I was so excited when I picked up one of said bottles and it turned out her products were BUAV approved and 100% cruelty-free *squeal*.

I thought I'd just try the serum to start with, reasoning that if I liked it, I would simply HAVE to come back to the world's greatest M&S to buy up the rest of the range.  I've only used the serum twice so far and I like it very much.  A little goes a very long way and it leaves my hair looking smooth and healthy.  It feels very  rich and luxurious and not at all sticky like some serums tend to.  The bottle is pretty funky too:

Tara Smith Base Coat Serum £14
The full range includes shampoos, conditioners, styling products and some nifty little kits, each designed for a specific hair type.  I will be dropping some heavy hints and hoping to find a selection of Tara Smith goodies in my Christmas stocking this year.

Have you tried any of these products, or do you know of any other cruelty-free hair-care ranges?  If so, I'd love to hear from you, as would my parched locks :-)


Monday, 24 September 2012

What I did on my holidays

The title is a bit misleading as I didn't actually do anything at all except eat, drink, sleep and swim.  After a hectic few months of running Bluefinch Boutique as well as contracting in a demanding full-time job, I was more than ready for a fortnight of rest and relaxation and that is exactly what I got, bar several messy 5am cocktail sessions. (But I blame them on a lovely north Wales couple we were introduced to by a mutual Turkish friend. They practically MADE us stay up drinking all night.)

My boyfriend and I holidayed in Kalkan, which is on the Turquoise Coast of Turkey.  This was our 5th time there and while I never thought I'd be the sort of person to keep going back to the same place, it's so perfect and we have so many lovely friends there that it's hard not to! I thought I'd share some of my favourite holidays snaps so you can see for yourself how beautiful this part of the Turkish coast is...

Bench with a view

Kalkan boats

Don't you love those pics you take yourselves with an outstretched arm?

Cat in a bowl

Me, in a hurry to get to the beach club

Kalkan flower

Turkish lanterns outside a Kalkan shop
A fondness for cocktails requires big glasses the next morning

Mahal Beach Club, voted most romantic place in Europe

More of that Mahal romance

The view from my Mahal sun lounger

Pomegranates growing by our swimming pool

Glyn with the lovely Haldun

Kalkan sunrise

....and a Kalkan sunset

Typical (and very healthy) Turkish breakfast

I love this cat so much I didn't want to crop him into a square

Adorable dog at a beach club

Ottoman seating

Patara beach, longest beach in Europe & nature reserve

Footprints in the sand...

Ruins at Patara

Now, is it too early to book for next year....?


Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Strawberry Cupcakes

I have a terrible habit of enthusiastically offering to do all sorts of things well ahead of time and then finding myself flapping around at the last minute because I've got too much to do.  I promised to make cupcakes for a family party the other day but then had a hectic week in work, lots of orders for Bluefinch Boutique and a hundred and one other things cropping up so had a last minute dash to the supermarket the morning of the party looking for inspiration.  I wanted something quick, easy, light and summery so when I spotted some lovely, Scottish strawberries, my dilemma was solved.

These strawberry cupcakes are super quick and easy to make.  They're lovely and light and although the frosting is sweet, it's not too heavy as you whip it to a fluffy consistency.  You could substitute pureed fresh strawberries for the jam in the frosting but I like to use seedless jam so it's nice and smooth.  I just use a basic cake mix with a touch of vanilla which goes perfectly with the strawberry frosting.  

Recipe (makes 12)

250g butter
250g caster sugar
250g self-raising flour
Pinch of salt
2 medium free range eggs
2 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla extract


200g butter
500g icing sugar
90g seedless strawberry jam 
Fresh strawberries 

1. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C/Gas Mark 5. 
2. Beat the butter in a large mixing bowl until smooth. Add the sugar, flour, salt, eggs and milk and whisk until the mixture is smooth. 
3. Place the cake cases into a muffin tin and divide the mixture evenly into the cases.
4. Bake for approx 20 minutes or until cakes are a light golden brown colour.  Remove cakes from the tin and transfer to a wire cooling rack.

For the frosting:

1. Whisk the butter and jam together until smooth and well combined. 
2. Add the icing sugar gradually, whisking to combine each time before adding the next lot.
3. Pipe or spread onto cakes, top with a fresh strawberry and enjoy!

They are best kept in the fridge until a few minutes before serving.


Sunday, 2 September 2012

Malteser Refrigerator Cake

When I was little, a neighbour used to make an amazingly rich creation for parties that we kids all charmingly called 'Chocolate Poo Cake'.  I now know it to be more commonly known as Refrigerator Cake, or Traybake, being a mixture of melted chocolate, crushed biscuits, butter, and anything else suitable you have to hand, such as glace cherries or raisins.

I was planning on making two types of cupcake for a family party at my auntie's house this weekend, one fruit based and one chocolate based.  Whilst trawling the Internet for ideas for a Malteser cupcake, I came across several recipes for refrigerated traybakes and as I'm not one to turn down the easy option, I decided to go down this route instead.  

After assembling the most unhealthy group of ingredients I've ever used in one recipe, I was a bit worried it would be too rich but the dryness of the Malteser centres takes the edge off so it's definitely worth leaving them whole rather than crushing as I've seen in some recipes.  You definitely need to serve it in small squares though!

Recipe (makes approx 20 small squares)

200g milk chocolate
2 tablespoons golden syrup
100g butter
250g crushed digestive biscuits
135g Maltesers (one large bag)
100g white chocolate

1. Break the chocolate into small chunks and slowly melt over a low heat with the butter and syrup, stirring regularly (you can microwave but I prefer the bowl over a pan of hot water method)
2. Mix in the crushed digestives and the Maltesers until evenly combined
3. Pour into a large baking tray lined with clingfilm and press down to ensure an even thickness.  Leave in the fridge for a couple of hours or until fully cooled and set
4. Melt the white chocolate and drizzle or spread over the top. Return to fridge until set, then cut into small squares with a sharp knife.

Hell, yeah


Sunday, 26 August 2012

“A Sunday well-spent brings a week of content”

OK, so that's an old proverb and not my own words but I definitely agree.  I hate mooching around the house all day on a Sunday wondering what to do and feeling that familiar Sunday night feeling creeping up on you sometime around 4pm.  Now that I'm (temporarily) back in a 9-5 job with an obscenely long commute as well as running Bluefinch Boutique, my Sundays are really precious and I try and enjoy every minute of them!

Friday night was spent having dinner, playing cards and drinking gin with friends, Saturday was early morning clothes shopping in Liverpool, a supermarket dash, DIY and housework so Sunday needed to be unwind day.

We started off our day at Brimstage Hall, an 800 year old hall which houses a range of lovely independent shops.  Recollections is a stunning shop selling a huge range of vintage crockery, furniture and gifts.  Most of the vintage china is sold in matching sets but there are a bunch of lonely cups and saucers you can buy separately and mix and match for £1.50 each.  I've seen a few people turning pretty teacups into mini plant pots so I bought this one with the intention of doing the same:

I had (and, sadly, killed) a cute little heart-shaped cactus from Ikea so I'm thinking one of them might look good in the cup?  And I'll try not to kill it this time - so much for cacti being the option for people who can't look after plants.

I'm still gathering together pictures for the gallery wall I mentioned in my last post and so far have prints from Paris, Amsterdam and Turkey which are all special places to me and my boyfriend.  I had been looking for a local print for a while and came across a great selection in The Stables Gallery .  I made Glyn make the final decision on which print to buy as apart from his guitars, games consoles and laptop, I feel like I picked out pretty much everything in our house!  He picked this one of New Brighton lighthouse in the middle of a storm:

We can see this lighthouse from the end of our road so couldn't get a much more local picture!  It's really hard to see from the photo but it's got great depth and colour.  I also bought this card which reminds me of the Rosie the Riveter posters:

After browsing the lovely shops, we sat in the sun in the courtyard with a cup of tea and lots of very friendly  hens.  

I didn't realise they were ex-battery hens until I saw a sign on the way out about them.  It's so lovely to see them clucking around, happy, healthy and safe.  I know a couple of people who've adopted ex-battery hens and think it's a wonderful thing to do.  As soon as I get bigger garden, I'm joining them!

Next, it was leisurely Sunday pub lunch with my whole family followed by a walk on the beach at sunset...

Whatever you're doing, I hope you made the most of your Sunday and that you're having a lovely Bank Holiday weekend :-)


Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Song lyric embroidery

I'm currently gathering together a load of prints and pictures to complete a gallery wall in my living room and wanted to add a few bits of embroidery in there.  I've been intending to do a song lyric embroidery for a while but couldn't decide what song/line to use.

The one I've gone with for the living room wall isn't the most profound lyric and I can't say it's one which particularly speaks to me, but The Doors are one of my favourite bands ever and Light My Fire has been one of my favourite songs since I was about 12 so I thought I'd just go with it!

This embroidery only took an hour or so to do which made it the perfect project for last week's Creatives Unite (Creatives Unite is the brainchild of Anna at Miss Beatrix.  If you need a creative outlet to stay happy and help you function properly, check it out!).

I've got a couple more embroideries to finish and I need to find a couple more prints before I have enough for my gallery wall but in the meantime, I'm getting lots and lots of inspiration from Pinterest.

My first blog post in aaaaaaaaages and it's probably better suited to tumblr but thought I'd ease myself back in gently :-)