Zouk Cookery School

In my Christmas gift guide last month I suggested that a cookery skills workshop would be a great gift for a foodie-type person, and a couple of weekends ago I got the chance to try one out myself at Zouk. Zouk is a lovely Indian restaurant in Manchester, and when they offered me a place on one of their half-day cookery workshops I jumped at the chance, because I really wanted to know the secrets to making dishes that taste as delicious as in a restaurant (because no homemade curry ever really compares).

What’s nice about Zouk Cookery School is that there are a range of themed workshops to choose from, so you can pick the one that most appeals to you – from Zouk Signature Dishes (including Spicy Prawn Cakes and Lamb Lazeez) or the Tikka Masterclass (including Tandoori Mixed Grill dishes and various tikka curries), to masterclasses that focus on vegetarian or seafood dishes. The idea behind each session is to focus on a few selected dishes, which are chosen to give people an idea of the different herbs, spices and flavours involved.

Zouk cookery school

I chose to take the Punjabi Masterclass, which focuses on a menu of dishes from the Punjab region:

Starters

  • Punjabi Lollipop: Chicken wings marinated in pomegranate and gently cooked over hot charcoal
  • Lamb Chops: Char-grilled lamb in a secret Mughal marinade

Main courses

  • Lamb Karahi: Prepared over hot flames with tomatoes, crushed peppercorns, cumin, ginger & garlic
  • Chicken Jalfrezi: Chicken pieces cooked with capsicum, onion & eggs in a thick spicy sauce

Sides

  • Pilau rice
  • Naan breads with various toppings and fillings

On arrival at Zouk restaurant we were welcomed with a warming cup of home-made desi chai tea and then split into 2 groups. Our group went into the main restaurant kitchen first, to learn how to make the main courses and pilau rice under the guidance of a chef. Because these dishes are best made as a big batch in large pots, this part of the class was like a practical demonstration, which we got involved with by adding ingredients and taking turns at looking after the pots. We picked up plenty of tips this way, and it was obvious many of us had lots of questions about the best ways of doing things. Once we’d finished on the curries our groups swapped over and we had our turn at preparing the starter dishes. This was more of a hands-on session and we all had individual stations where we prepared our chicken wings, lamb chops and marinades following the step-by-step instructions of the chef. These were left to marinate for a while before we cooked them on the charcoal grill. We then had a demonstration of how the naan breads are prepared and baked in the tandoori oven (which takes literally seconds!).

Zouk cookery school chef

Zouk cookery school starters

Zouk cookery school grill

Zouk cookery school bread

Every workshop ends with everyone sitting down to eat the dishes they’ve made and people even had their partners and friends turning up for this part, which I thought was nice (and another reason this would made a nice gift!). All of the dishes we prepared were fantastic – my personal favourites were the Punjabi lollipop and the Lamb Karahi. I was impressed with everything I tasted though and will definitely be attempting to recreate some dishes using the recipes and step-by-step guides we were given to take home.

Zouk cookery school food

The classes cost £80 and after attending this class I’d definitely recommend them for all curry enthusiasts and as the perfect gift for someone like that. Many of the people on my workshop had received their place as a Christmas gift, and all of them loved it. And what’s great is that if you are buying a gift but you don’t know which class to book your friend on to, you can buy a gift card and they can choose themselves from the course programme, which makes it ideal!

Has anyone else ever been to anything like this?

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How I’m defeating the January blues in 2017

A couple of years ago I wrote a post on Ways to Defeat the January Blues, and I still love reading it each January for tips. I used to suffer with the post-Christmas blues really badly, but now I think I’m pretty good at forward planning and keeping busy during this strange month of the year.

Winter walks

One of my tips was to have plenty planned in for January, and I’ve definitely done that this year. I’m busy every weekend this month, with spa visits, theatre trips, meals out and drinks with friends all penned into my calendar. And because I made these plans with plenty of notice, I’ve already made sure that I’ve budgeted for them. After all, money can sometimes be tight after Christmas!

I’ve also starting making plans for the rest of the year. If you didn’t see my exciting news on Instagram, I got engaged over Christmas so there’s plenty of planning to be done there! Plus a bit of summer holiday planning is always a great January distraction.

I also find that having a clear out at home is a great way to feel refreshed for the new year. We’ve been moving our furniture round, having a clear out of DVDs and I’m about to sort through all my clothes to see if there’s anything I can donate to charity.

January is usually all about the Sales, but this year I’ve only done sensible sale shopping – only buying things I actually already wanted or needed and not being distracted by impulse “bargains”. This means I’ve hardly bought anything at all, and just saved a bit of money on items I would have been buying anyway.

But one of the best ways to get through January is to actually enjoy it! There’s a lot to be said for enjoying the small things, such as having long winter walks followed by relaxing baths, and playing with all the new things that you got over Christmas. I’ve been painting my nails in new colours, watching new DVDs and curling up with a new book.

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10 gift ideas that aren’t “things”

Sometimes the nicest gifts aren’t even “things” at all. Whether it’s a class to inspire a new hobby or something that gets them out and about, “things to do” gifts show that you really know a person, and it’s always nice to buy something you know they will definitely use! So if you are looking for a thoughtful gift that’s a little out of the ordinary, see if anything on my list inspires you!

Gift ideas

For a theatre lover:

1. Theatre tickets. Well if someone likes theatre, they’re bound to appreciate tickets to see a show. It could be tickets to a specific show you know they’ll love, or if you want to leave the choice up to them try Theatre Tokens or even a gift voucher for their local theatre.

2. Theatre workshop. Something a little more unusual for theatre creatives. Check out your local independent theatre for their upcoming workshops. For example, HOME MCR always have an interesting schedule of industry-led practical workshops.

For a foodie:

3. Cooking class. I love the fact that some of Manchester’s restaurants also offer cookery classes. Zouk offers half day courses in Indian dishes with their expert chefs and at Chaophraya you can learn to master Thai cooking. Plus you’ll get to eat your creations at the end of the session!

4. Restaurant gift cards. If cookery classes are too adventurous though, you can’t go wrong with a gift card for their favourite restaurant or for somewhere they haven’t got around to trying yet!

For a crafter:

5. Crafting workshop or voucher. Manchester’s Ministry of Craft not only offers a range of sewing and crafting workshops, they also sell gift vouchers valid against any of the workshops so that you can give the gift of “crafting time”. Or how about one of Annie Sloan’s chalk painting techniques workshops to inspire some furniture up-cycling projects? Or even a calligraphy class! There are plenty of craft skills workshops out there, so you just have to find one in your local area.

For someone who needs pampering:

6. Spa treatment. Why not buy someone a voucher for a spa day or treatment for a bit of pampering? And if you don’t know what they’d like, I also think a Treatwell gift card is a nice idea because it leaves the choice of venue, treatment and date up to them.

7. Afternoon tea voucher. Because surely cake is the best gift ever?! Most tea shops who serve afternoon tea also offer gift vouchers for afternoon tea.

For an animal lover:

8. Adopt an animal. Show your caring side by giving a gift and giving to charity at the same time. How about adopting a donkey at The Donkey Sanctuary or one of the primates at Monkey World?

For someone who likes to be out and about:

9. National Trust Membership. An annual membership costs £63 and for that you’ll get free entry to over 500 national trust places in the UK. That’s a lot of days out to enjoy!

10. Treasure Trail. This is a cute idea for a Secret Santa gift because the trails are within a £10 budget. There are over 1000 themed treasure trails across the UK, and you can have the printed booklets posted out to you. You can even be extra thoughtful and personalise them.

The opportunities are endless but there will almost certainly be something to suit whoever you’re buying for. So hopefully I’ve inspired you in time for Christmas!

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Sprucing up the home for Christmas, with Hassle.com

Hassle.com are an online marketplace for household services, which means that through their website or mobile app, you can easily hire and pay for a domestic cleaner for your home.

I always aim to put my Christmas decorations up the first weekend of December, and I always have a really good cleaning session of our apartment the weekend before to get it Christmas-ready. So when Hassle.com contacted me to see if I wanted to trial their service after they recently launched in Manchester, I knew this would be the perfect time for it.

Hassle poster

Using the online service was really easy. I just entered my postcode, my available dates and what kind of service I wanted (4 hours, one-off clean), and put the booking through. Then Hassle matched me with an available cleaner in my area, Bola. It was so easy to find a cleaner, and what’s great is that you can read online reviews from other people who have used the same cleaner. After all, it’s important to find a person who comes recommended and is trusted. And everything about the booking can be managed online – you can amend or cancel it through the app or website, or contact your cleaner directly. And better still, the payment is also sorted through the site as well – the card payment is taken once the clean is complete.

So I definitely found using the service as hassle-free as was promised. And on the day I was so impressed with the quality of the clean that Bola did! I hate to say it, but I know my pre-Christmas clean wouldn’t have been as thorough if I’d done it myself, and now I’m pretty pleased with my sparkling apartment which is Christmas-tree ready.

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10 festive things to do in Manchester

December is almost here, and the official Christmas countdown can officially begin. So if you’re not feeling festive yet, here are a few things you can be doing to get in the mood for the most wonderful time of the year.

1. Christmas Carols at John Rylands Library. I went to this one-hour carol concert last year, and it was a lovely break from the Christmas shopping crowds. This year it will be on 4th December, 2-3pm (no booking required) and takes place in the Historical Reading Room, which is a lovely space.

John Rylands Manchester carol concert

2. Ice skating at The Winter Gathering. Manchester Ice Rink has a new home at The Winter Gathering (London Road Fire Station). It’s a bit of a festive-themed wonderland which also features street food stalls, markets and live music, so there’s definitely enough festive fun to keep you entertained for a few hours!

3. A Very 80s Christmas. Get into the festive spirit the 80s way at HOME Mcr with a showcase of 80s movie viewings. I reckon Santa Claus: The Movie and Scrooged would easily get me in the mood.

4. Craft workshops at Paperchase. Christmas crafts are the best crafts, fact. And Paperchase are putting on a range of Christmas-themed workshops at their Manchester store, including techniques such as die cutting, lino printing and foiling for making gorgeous cards and tags, plus workshops where you can make gingerbread house gift boxes (very cute!), Christmas crackers or paper poinsettia wreaths. Prices start at £10.

Handmade gift tags

5. Festive afternoon tea. Tea Hive have really gone for it when giving their afternoon tea a Christmas makeover. Here’s what you can expect for £18.95: Festive gingerbread scones; a selection of finger sandwiches including Cheddar, pear and thyme; Bacon, brie and cranberry; and Turkey and stuffing; a selection of seasonal cakes; mince pies served with brandy butter; tea or coffee; and a mulled spiced apple drink. For an extra £4 you can even get a winter berry Bellini or liquor coffee.

6. Christmas at the movies. Christmas movie music always gives me the festive chills, and on 23rd December The Hallé will be playing orchestral music from The Polar Express, White Christmas, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Frozen and Harry Potter, among others.

7. Brass band music.  Nothing sounds more like Christmas than brass bands playing carols, and Horwich RMI Brass Band will be performing In the Corn Exchange Atrium as well as in St Anne’s Square on various dates throughout December. Check out their events page for details.

8. Hot chocolate at BonBon. Cosy up and experience Manchester’s most luxurious hot chocolate away from the cold in BonBon in the Northern Quarter.

9. Manchester Christmas Markets after dark. I say after dark because there is something magical about seeing the wooden chalet huts all lit up with fairy lights twinkling in the trees above. Don’t forget to enjoy some warming mulled cider and some traditional Christmas market food for the full experience.

Manchester Christmas market

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10. Big Christmas Cracker at Hope Mill Theatre. This adults-only Christmas Cabaret featuring singers and dancers, burlesque and comedy sounds like a fun night out at Manchester’s hottest new fringe theatre venue. But if you’re looking for something more family friendly, there is also a production of the classic story of The Snow Queen too (I’m guessing it’s nothing like Frozen!)

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Time for a Facetox

There is no better time for a skin detox than now, just ahead of the Christmas party season when we all want to look our finest. And that’s one of the reasons I am giving Facetox a go – an organic, cruelty-free, paraben free, mix-it-yourself facemask kit that’s becoming a bit of a beauty craze. “7 day” kits can be ordered from their website and will arrive looking like this (I say “7 day” because each of the portions is very generous and I think would serve 3 or 4 uses rather than just the 1).

Facetox Aztec Healing Clay mask

Facetox Aztec Clay mask kit

The kit contains individual sachets of the “FaceTox blend” of Calcium Bentonite and Rhassoul clay powders (a dry mix), and sachets of organic rosewater, and you simply mix the two together to create your mask.

So here is what FaceTox say about their facemask:

“FaceTox is probably the most powerful face mask you will ever use. When the organic rose water is mixed with the FaceTox blend, it creates a negative charge which will;

  • Prevent and draw out blackheads
  • Reduce the appearance of scars
  • Even skin tone
  • Draw out external toxins
  • Heal and regenerate skin tissue
  • Unclog & shrink pores”

This is compelling stuff, and whether you have an issue with breakouts, or simply want your skin to look radiant, there are plenty of reasons to give these masks a try, even if just to see if they really do all that is promised.

I’ve been using FaceTox masks just once a week (which they recommend as a starting point) and as I’m not currently in the middle of a skin crisis, once a week is perfectly fine. And it’s an easy process of mixing 2 sachets together into a smooth paste using the bowl and spoon provided, and then applying evenly to clean skin, avoiding the eye and mouth area. It does take a little bit of prep compared to a ready-made face mask, and it is a bit messier too, but potentially worth the effort.

Facetox Aztec Clay mask

The only really time consuming bit is waiting while your mask does its good work – it slowly dries over 30 minutes, and they recommend you leave it on for 20-30 minutes. During this time you will feel it tightening on the skin as it pulls out your impurities, and deep cleans your skin. One thing to mention is that personally I find the smell of this mask a little bit off-putting (I put this down to the organic ingredients), but that’s something I can deal with to avoid nasty parabens.

Finally, I remove the mask using warm water and a muslin cloth. I like to take my time over this part, usually in the bath, because remember the mask has dried over 30 minutes and it takes a bit of effort to remove. I like to be really gentle and just moisten the mask with a warm damp cloth until it’s easy to wipe off, and I have found this to be the best way.

Facetox Aztec Healing Clay mask

So, does it do all it promises? Well it’s hard to say if you don’t have all the listed skin issues, but I can definitely tell the difference after deep cleansing with FaceTox. It has already stopped a potential breakout in its tracks, and my skin always looks much fresher and more radiant after using it. I have sensitive skin and these masks aren’t irritating it, but they are pretty intensive so I prefer to stick to a once-a-week regime for now. And I’m hoping my skin will stay Christmas party ready for the rest of the year!

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6 key wardrobe pieces for Winter 2016

Well, snow is forecast today, and that can only mean one thing – winter is here! I haven’t updated my wardrobe in a while, but since the cold weather has arrived I’ve been browsing the AW16 ranges. Here are the 6 key pieces that I think would see me through the season, and a couple of examples of each that I found on my travels.

High neck jumper

I like knitwear that genuinely keeps you warm, so this high neck trend is perfect! I prefer these jumpers in pretty colours and with embellishments because it’s such a chunky style.

AW16 high neck jumper

Grey embellished jumper, £29 from Dorothy Perkins

Premium cable jumper, £55 from Topshop

Over-the-knee boots

Whether they are the flat, casual version to wear over jeans, or the velvety black heeled version for nights out, this trend is not going away! The goal is to find a pair that don’t slip down as you wear them, because that is pretty damn annoying!

AW16 over the knee boots

Thigh boots, £39.99 from H&M

Gold heel over-the-knee boots, £60 from Missguided

Knitted dress

The most work-friendly way to wear knitwear, a knitted dress is definitely on my shopping list! I’ll be wearing mine with cosy knee-high boots and tights.

AW16 knitted dress

Navy check dress, £30 from Next

Knitted dress, £24.99 from H&M

Coatigan

For when inside is almost as cold as outside!

AW16 coatigan

Grey hooded cardigan, £24.99 from New Look

Monochrome check coatigan, £28 from Next

Sparkly bomber jacket

I think these sparkly bombers are so cute when paired with girlie dresses and skirts, and the perfect thing to wear for a night on the town.

AW16 sparkly bomber jacket

Sequin bomber, £28 from Matalan

Glitter bomber, £34.99 from New Look

Christmas midi skirt

Every Christmas party wardrobe needs a midi skirt, whether it’s lace-trimmed, metallic or tulle!

AW16 midi skirt

Red mesh midi skirt, £27.99 from New Look

Pewter pleated skirt, £46 from Next

Wardrobe update = sorted!

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Sublime Repair hair care from Show Beauty

Show Beauty is Tamara Ecclestone’s glamorous and luxurious hair care range, which launched in 2013 with a range of styling products. Just recently they also launched a full range of wet hair care products, including Moisture and Volume ranges of shampoos and conditioners, and I have been using the “Sublime Repair” range. This range focuses on strengthening and repairing damaged hair, with ingredients such as Quinoa Protein (full of amino acids to rebuild damaged hair), plus luxurious white truffle and caviar.

As you can see they have gone to town on packaging. The aim was to have something that looked glamorous and beautiful on your bathroom shelf, and I’d say they achieved that!

Show Beauty Repair wet haircare collection

Sublime Repair Shampoo

I have been using the repair shampoo as my regular shampoo for a few weeks. It contains Quinoa Protein to repair damaged hair, as well as shea butter and vitamin B5 to nourish the hair.

I find that this shampoo is quite difficult to lather (because it is sulphate free), so it can be quite tempting to pile it on. However, given the expensive price tag of the product I would not recommend this! In fact, you don’t need to use much of this product to wash your hair. I have been trying to take my time washing my hair with it too, because of the repairing qualities of the ingredients.

I’d like to say that this shampoo has a noticeable effect on my hair, but I’m not completely sure of that. Overall I’d say that it’s the conditioner that has the greater effect, but it’s nice to use both products together.

Show Beauty Repair shampoo

Sublime Repair Conditioner

I’ve been using the repair conditioner as my regular daily conditioner, and have been leaving it on my hair for just a couple of minutes after shampooing.

Apparently this conditioner has “a multi-faceted protein-based complex which
builds strength from within, reinforcing hair to provide protection from
cuticle abrasion”, and I can actually feel the effect of the conditioner immediately and while my hair is still wet – it feels stronger and fuller as soon as I rinse off the conditioner.

And after using both products together my hair looks and feels shiny and strong. They do have an interesting scent – it sort of reminds me of fake tan – but I find it quite pleasant.

Show Beauty Repair conditioner

Sublime Repair Treatment Mask

This intensive hair mask treatment is definitely an indulgent treat! I am only using it once a week, and the key is to leave it in for 10 whole minutes to allow your hair to benefit.

It contains the same strenthening protein complex as the conditioner, plus hydrolysed pea protein and Quinoa Protein to hydrate and improve elasticity. Finally it contains extracts of caviar and white truffle to enrich and moisturise hair. This is really a treat for the hair, which feels amazingly soft and glossy after using it.

Show Beauty Repair treatment mask

So, the main downside of this collection is that it is quite pricey (around £35 a product), but it’s supposed to be a luxury product range so this is to be expected. The products are lovely to use and I am always will to pay a decent price for an amazing treament mask (plus this jar will last me ages!) In fact, I think these are the sort of products that would be nice as luxury beauty gifts for Christmas.

The range can only be bought from a few stores, including Harvey Nichols, and when the wet hair care range launched I went along to the Show Beauty blow dry bar in Harvey Nichols Manchester. Without washing my hair they gave me this bouncy, curly blow dry using their styling range, and I’d highly recommend popping along for one of their express blow dries if you want salon-standard hair for a night out (or just for a treat). It costs £20, but the money can be redeemed against Show Beauty products afterwards – so it’s basically free if you were planning to buy something from the range!

Show Beauty blow dry bar

Show Beauty blow dry bar Harvey Nichols

Show Beauty products and their ingredients are not tested on animals, and are not sold in mainland China. 

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Lisbon love

Lisbon welcome

Last week I visited Lisbon for the first time and fell in love with its quirky charm. We chose to stay in a cute apartment in the Baixa district, which put us within walking distance of many of the sights of the city, including Commerical Square and the Elevator Santa Justa, as well as being right in the middle of all the action in terms of shopping, eating and drinking.

Our trip was only a short one, but we enjoyed exploring the wide tiled shopping streets of Baixa and the quirky narrow maze-like streets of old-town Alfama, following the route of the vintage 28 tram up to the highest point of the Sao Jorge castle. And as first-time visitors we also took a trip over to Belem where some of the main sights and monuments are to be found. We made sure to try the famous Pasteis de Nata (the custard tarts of Lisbon), eat plenty of seafood and experience the amazing views of the city from several angles, and we also managed to fit in a day trip to the nearest beach (because when it’s 30 degree heat, why wouldn’t you?!).Elevator of St Just

View of Lisbon

Lisbon Baixa Chiado

Lisbon pasteis de nata

Lisbon monastery

Lisbon Jeronimos Monastery

Belem Tower

Lisbon Belem

Carcavelos Beach Lisbon

lis16

Lisbon Alfama district

Lisbon Alfama district view

Lisbon Alfama district tiles

Lisbon Alfama district tram 28

Lisbon Alfama district building

Lisbon castle

Lisbon views

São Jorge Castle Lisbon

Lisbon São Jorge Castle

Lisbon love tokens

Lisbon love tokens

As you can see I fell in love with Lisbon a little bit, and just I hope my picture-heavy post isn’t too overwhelming!

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The Body Shop Superfood face masks

Last month The Body Shop launched their brand new Superfood Face Mask range, with 5 luxurious-sounding (100% vegetarian) face masks made from key beauty superfood ingredients. Not only are they made from these amazing ingredients from around the world, they are also free from parabens, paraffins, silicone and mineral oils, so they’re a real skincare treat.

Body Shop superfood face masks

Body Shop superfood face masks

The masks are designed to fulfill 5 different skincare goals, so let’s take a look at the range:

After having my own personal skincare consultation the Body Shop experts explained the different jobs that each mask does, and how they are keen to promote the idea of “multi masking” if different areas of your face need different things. I had my own #DareToMask multi-masking experience in store, with the tingling Himalayan Charcoal mask taking care of my oilier T-zone, and the deliciously moisturising Ethiopian Honey mask taking care of my drier areas.

Multi-masking

#Daretomask

The Body Shop are keen to promote the idea of face masking in general, and the idea that it’s both fun and relaxing to paint on a mask and then get on with doing something else, such as watching TV, making a cup of tea or soaking in the bath. They are even giving away a free colouring book  with each face mask purchase to help relax you mask and relax, which I think is a great idea.

Face masks are extremely popular right now, so it’s unsurprising that this range has has been well-received (the Himalayan Clay mask was first to sell out!)  I’ve bought the delicious British Rose mask to be getting on with, although I fully intend to extend my collection and start multi-masking once Himalayan Clay is back in stock.

Body Shop British Rose face mask

Body Shop free colouring book

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