The Silent Hours – Cesca Major

Its not often a book warrants a blog post all of its own. I fully intended on moving all book reviews over to Casa Costello’s sister site, 2 Adults 3 Children.

The Silent Hours is something special though.

I was sent the book through BritMums book club and to be honest, it took me a while to finally get into it. This book is the reason why my 100 page rule works though. I never give up on a book before the 100 pages are up – I didn’t think I would have to give up on this story at any point though, I was just taking ages before getting thoroughly hooked.

Something happened around page 95 though that made me keep thinking about the book – From then on, there was no stopping. I apologise to anyone that wanted to chat over the weekend – It was just me and the book at poolside.

Set in France during WW2, we are introduced to a variety of characters. I think there was a lot of scene setting at the start which looking back was completely necessary. We meet Adeline, who is living in a convent – Adeline has lost the ability of speech due to an event that we only later learn about. We meet Isabelle, the local teacher and the daughter of a shop keeper as she starts on the most delicious of relationships with Sebastien. This is no ordinary romance – The couple cannot be together – The reason why completely opens up your eyes to a whole different part to the war that I just hadn’t considered before.

The writing is wonderful – I really felt for all the people in the convent in their desperate attempts to help Adeline speak again. The desperation of Sebastien trying to locate his parents is awful – That sense of doom when you just know that something is going to happen.

This is a book that will stay with me for a long time – I have felt the need to talk about it since I finished. The sign of a good book is a reluctance to start another – I just want to savour this one for a little bit longer.

A definite 5 out of 5 stars.

Note: This review contains an associate link

Vanilla Table: Book Review & Giveaway

vanilla table giveaway

One of the my favourite parts about my job is getting the chance to lay my eyes on and review so many books. Every now and then one book stands out for its beauty (Books can be beautiful right?) Even the title of my latest review, Vanilla Table sounds inviting. I use vanilla in so much of my cooking, or at least I thought I did – This book stretches the boundaries of where various forms of vanilla can be included in dishes. Its definitely not restricted to sponge cakes and custard!

Vanilla Table is the product of ex-dancer and foodie, Natasha MacAller. As well as being an avid fan of vanilla dishes, Natasha has compiled a collection of recipes from an amazing selection of the world’s top chefs. These include Rose Levy Beranbaum, Duff Goldman, Anton Mosimann and Peggy Porschen. There are over 100 recipes included in the book, each accompanied by some exquisite food photography.

vanilla table chefs

There are several recipes that have caught my eye – I’ve swiftly entered them into my “To Cook” list. They include The Lobster Roll,Raspberry Meringue Martinis (pictured below) and the New Zealand Cassoulet (also pictured). We are even given instructions how to give a Pork Chop that extra something with the addition of vanilla.

vanilla table giveaway

Each recipe has its own introduction – I love reading why each chef likes that particular recipe, the memories it invokes and how they have adapted from when they first came across it. This could easily become my newest next-to-bed book – Does everyone have a pile of cookbooks by their bed?

vanilla table book give-away

I’m really happy to be able to offer one copy of Vanilla Table to a lucky winner. To enter, please follow the Rafflecopter instructions below – Please note, to enter you much add a blog comment at the bottom of this post, not on the widget. The competition will close at 11.59PM on 25th May 2015. I will then ask for the winner’s email address to share with the promoter (Quarto Publishing Group) who are responsible for sending the prize out once I have details. Sorry, UK entries only. Best of luck!

vanilla table giveaway

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Cool Layer Cakes Giveaway – Foodie Friday

cool layer cakes giveaway

A little different #foodiefriday than usual, not a recipe but a giveaway of a book that I highly recommend. Cool Layer Cakes by Ceri Olofsen, is a book that is suitable for bakers wanting to expand their cake repertoire. There’s a good mix of recipes, decorations and some more intricate sugarcraft – well it looks intricate, but actually it is more than achievable for most bakers.

The book itself is bright and fun, with easy to follow instructions. There are cakes to appeal to adults and children, boys and girls. I particularly like the camouflage cake, the colours of which could be changed to suit the party theme.

camouflage cake

Other cake tutorials contained in the book are: The famous Rainbow Cake (pictured on front cover), How to make a Piñata Cake, and an intricate Battenburg type (perfect for a Minecraft lover?). You can learn how to make sugar roses and other sugar flowers, brush embroidery (which is so much easier than it looks) and mini stacked cakes.

cube minecraft cake

I have 1 copy of Cool Layer Cakes to giveaway. Please follow the Rafflecopter instructions below to enter – UK entries only please. The competition closes at 11.59PM on Sunday 12th April 2015. When you leave a comment, please do so at the bottom of this post, rather than in the rafflecopter widget, otherwise it won’t count.

Best of luck to everyone who enters.

strawberry cake

My featured post from last week’s #FoodieFriday entries is Wheelie Good Meals with his Chicken, Pek, Leek & Sage Leftover Pie – Celebrating British Pie Week, this was Richard’s first ever pie and what a success it was. Brilliant step-by-step picture instructions. Congratulations!

chicken leek sage leftover pie

Our other entries were just as marvellous:

foodie friday roundup

1.I absolutely love these top ten tips for Mashed Potato from Tales from the Kitchen Shed – I will never bung the salt in at the last minute ever again!
2. Bakewell Junction has been using up Lemon Curd with her ever so perfect, Meyer Lemon Bars
3. Happy Blogiversary to the Cream Baker with her Chocolate Chiffon Cake
4. This Stunning Spiced Sausage Stew from Wheelie Good Meals would go down very well in our house
5. Making good use of leftover chicken is Wheelie Good Meals again with Leftover Chicken Tikka Masala
6. Beautiful colour in Herbs, Spices & Tradition’s Mango Jam Jelly – Would brighten up any dish
7. I’d be proud of this marbling if I were Eileen from Et Speaks From Home – Chocolate & Vanilla Marble Cake
8. I found Foodie Quine’s post on brushing up her food photography fascinating – Its something I have definitely tried harder with this year but there’s still work to do!

A huge thanks to everyone for entering – Don’t forget to add all your food links while you are entering the book giveaway. There is no theme and all food is welcome as long as you display the badge and link back to this post. I will be sharing like mad this week – Please feel free to spread the word about #FoodieFriday and lets get plenty of people joining in. Each post is commented on, pinned, tweeted and Google+ed. The linky is open until next Thursday morning.

Casa Costello
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Happy New Year From The Costellos

new year's day walk

Just wanted to pop in to wish you all a very Happy New Year from Casa Costello. We have started the year at a raring pace already – the girls have been in the pool for training and have a 5.30am start in the morning!

We did manage to fulfil one of our yearly rituals though with our infamous New Year’s Day walk – I think we had about 34 people joining in this year, on our 10th anniversary of doing the walk. We walk around 5 miles with a pub stop at a country inn about 3/4 of the way round. (We pretend that we just need the loo but really we are desperate for Guinness and Hot Chocolates by that point!)

new year's day walk

This year was one of the soggiest we have ever had – Didn’t dampen our spirits but made for huge puddles in the pub and some of our gang sneaked off into cars (Wimps!) We even had steaming socks drying on the fire guard – Classy! The photos were only taken on my phone so are really blurry – Far too wet for the proper camera.

It was our turn to host the after walk party, which is all good fun! Strictly cupboard food to use up what we have in our cupboards and several glasses of Prosecco – The New Year’s Walk is the reason I could never do ‘Dry January’!

steaming socks

I’m happy to report that we all seem to be on the mend from our lurgy – Looking forward to getting back in the kitchen with tons of recipes I want to share.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all my readers for their support, time and comments over the past year – I’ve loved getting to know my internet family and look forward to more fun during 2015.

I do have a couple of New Year’s resolutions – They are hardly life changing but something to work towards – Have you made any? Do you have any New Year’s rituals like our walk?

Smile more – Lets spread the infectious smile and warm up those wintery days!

Reading Challenge – I’m plodding on (albeit rather slowly) with my challenge to read 500 books by the time I’m 50 – I’m really going to have to pick up the pace this year though, so set myself a challenge of 50 books during 2015.

Be on Time – I set myself this one every year! This year I mean it! I’m going to be on time with birthday cards & presents too – People who know me well will be howling laughing at this one!

Business – My youngest starts school in September *weeps* I’m really going to have to admit that I’m a grown up now and continue to grow my business – I love writing and cooking, watch out for more from me!

And of course there’s the endless ironing pile … I will be done by next Christmas. Honestly!

Happy New Year!

Dairy Diary & Fantastic Food for Less Cookbook Giveaway

dairy diary giveaway

Dairy Diary definitely takes me back to my youth – I remember the milkman turning up in December with our copy of the next year’s diary. In fact, I could blame the milkman for starting my obsession with stationery and cookbooks!

When I was asked if I would like a copy of the 2015 Diary Diary and the accompanying cookbook, Fantastic Food for Less, I was keen. We sadly don’t have a milkman any more (We tried for a while but ours was really unreliable as he went to Florida 4 times a year!)

A hardback diary with a spiral spine – There are 3-4 recipes for every month making it jam packed with foodie ideas. The recipe suggestions are well balanced – plenty of simple ones with easy to find ingredients and not too long instructions.

dairy diary inside

The front of the diary is full of useful information – there’s even a pattern for knitting your own bunny if you’re looking for something to keep you occupied in 2015 (other than reading Casa Costello obviously!) It contains the usual conversion charts, important dates and anniversaries but also really good stuff too – like Grilling times for fish and what different oven temps are used for.

knit a bunny pattern

The diary is a week to 2 pages with plenty of writing room (there’s even enough room for a family that has a synchronised swimmer!). The memorable dates stickers are a novel idea for the uber organised.

cookbook giveaway

As if all those recipes weren’t enough, I also have a copy of Fantastic Food for Less – A cookbook about Less Waste, Less Cost, More Taste. Perfect for a family – plenty of simple recipes that look delicious. All with a handy QR code that you can scan to bring up an ingredients list – genius! The photography in the book is clear and inviting with many including a handy Cook’s Tip for alternative ways of producing the dish. A brilliant book!

family cookbook giveaway

I’ve got one copy of the Dairy Diary and Fantastic Food for Less Cookbook to give away to a lucky reader. To enter, complete the rafflecopter instructions below – As usual, don’t forget to leave a comment at the bottom of this post rather than on the widget itself.

Open to UK readers only and competition closes at 11.59pm on 20th December. I will do my best to try to get your prize to you before the start of 2016! Best of Luck x

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What to Bake & How to Bake It: Baking Book Giveaway

baking book giveaway

This book has a completely different feel to other baking books – Both in its content and the actual texture of the book. I was intrigued as soon as I opened my copy – Its a substantial sized book – If you gave someone this for a gift, they would feel they had got a decent present. A hard back with a matt cover and hand drawn pictures on the outside.

So what about what’s in it? The book is described as containing ’50 easy-t-follow recipes for all home bakers. Every stage explained with step-by-step photographs’. These step-by-step photos are what stick in your mind when you have been reading it. Very uncluttered and perfect for those bakers who are never quite sure what texture a substance should be.

tarte au citron The wonderful Tarte au Citron[/caption]

The recipes themselves are good homely bakes – There are the usual suspects, Victoria Sandwich, Seriously Chocolate Cookies and a wonderfully yellow Tarte au Citron that can form part of your baking repertoire. Even the more elaborate and fancy recipes all contain ingredients that are likely to be found in a home baking cupboard or easily found in most supermarkets – 3 flavours of macarons, 4 types of cupcakes, wonderful seasonal recipes like the Chocolate Hazelnut Log and Cranberry Stollen. At the top of my ‘to bake’ list form the book is the Strawberry Meringue Cake (see pictured below)

strawberry meringue cake

The book is divided into 5 sections, Introduction (This is rather a long intro but very handy if you are new to baking), Simple Family Baking, Morning Coffee & Afternoon Tea, Special Bakes and Desserts & After Dinner. I’m a bit of a sucker for a bookmark ribbon and this book has 2 – For someone who regularly takes their cookbooks to bed, these are invaluable.

how to bake a chocolate log

What to Bake & How to Bake It has a RRP of and can ordered here. I was given my own copy of the book for review and let loose with my own thoughts!

baking book giveaway competition

I have one copy of the book to giveaway – Perfect for a Christmas present, or you could just keep it and bake your way through the book – It would be easily done! Just fill in the Rafflecopter details below (Please remember to actually leave a comment on this blog post rather than the Rafflecopter widget – Otherwise your entry won’t count).

The closing date is November 4th 2014. The lucky winner will be chosen at random and contacted for their postal address to be sent the book as soon as possible after the closing date. Please reply within 5 days – Sorry UK entries only. Good Luck and Happy Baking!

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Book Giveaway: Deliciously Decorative Cookies

decorated cookies book giveaway
I’m well know for my love of books – Cookbooks, Cake Books, Reading Books – they are well and truly taking over the house! This book is one of the best I’ve seen so far though – I’m so pleased to be able to share a giveaway to WIN ONE OF 3 COPIES OF DELICIOUSLY DECORATIVE COOKIES!!

Not the easiest of book titles to say but absolutely jam packed with tips, pictures and ideas for beautiful cookies.  Whether you are new to cookie decorating or experienced, this book has something for you. Each page has tons of pictures, the writing is tiny meaning that they can fit so much more content in the book than other decorating books.

cookie decorating book giveaway

There are clear to follow tutorials and great ideas for presenting your cookies. For anyone that likes to give edible gifts, this book is a must!

There are plenty of quick cookie creations if you are pushed for time and more challenging projects for leisurely afternoons.

how to make owl cookies

There are some short cuts – I like that the author, Fiona Pearce doesn’t presume that everyone wants to bake every biscuit from scratch – sometime you just want time to decorate.

There are tips for using edible pictures and icing sheets which are easy to come across now and Templates and Recipes at the back of the book if you need them.

perfume bottle cookies

To enter to win one of 3 copies of this lovely book, follow the Rafflecopter instructions below. The winners will be chosen at random as soon as possible after the giveaway ends on Wednesday 1st October. The winners will be asked to give an address that their book will be sent to – The publishers are responsible for sending the prizes out.

All entries will be checked. Please make sure you have left your contact details. All winners to have provided address details within 7 days of winners names being posted. Sorry, UK entries only.

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Sainsbury’s Cake Book Giveaway & Review

competition giveaway cake book

Competition Now Ended: The lucky winner is Chloe Elphick. Chloe could you please contact me via email with your address and I will get the book sent out to you asap. Congratulations!


Its pretty common knowledge that I cannot resist a cake book – I’ve had to start limiting myself to only ones that are really good as space is rapidly running out. (I’m still hoping that one day I’ll get my haven of peace in the conservatory being converted to a snug/library). When Sainsbury’s contacted me asking me to review their Cake book (There’s no messing, its simply called ‘Cake’), all will power went out of the window. I was slightly sceptical though, wondering what could possibly be new in a supermarket cake decorating and baking book?

I was wrong.

how to make cakes with sweets inside

This has quickly turned into the cake book of the moment for me. There’s so many techniques that I’ve been wanting to try for ages but not got round to. I could possibly have googled the techniques on the internet, but its super handy to have them all in one book.

There’s at least 50 different cake designs to choose from with ratings to show how easy or complicated the design is to achieve. Each cake has a photograph alongside pics of the steps to achieving the finished look.

shapes inside cakes

The colours of the cakes are great. There’s cakes that even beginners can do and some for the more advanced (wedding cake that could be used for a really special party). All the latest trends are in there from the baked shaped in the middle of a cake to the surprise sweets piñata type of cake that are so popular.

I know that I will be using this book asa reference for quite a while to come – its definitely not been relegated to the ‘Nice book but not much in it’ shelf. My copy is covered in butter stains & splashes of vanilla extract already.

making a cupcake bouquet

Sainsbury’s have kindly offered another copy of this book to be used as a giveaway. To enter please follow the Rafflecopter instructions below. The draw will close on Monday 5th May and the winner will be notified as soon as possible. I will send the book out to the winner as soon as the winner has been verified. If any steps have been missed out when entering the competition, another winner will be selected at random.

Thanks for entering – I’m sure the winner will be very happy with their book! Happy Baking and Decorating!

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World’s Best Cakes: Cookbook Review

sticky date cake with caramel sauce

I’ve mentioned before how much of a cookbook addict I am. Every now and then, though, a book comes along that I just can’t get enough of – You know the sort, you take it to bed to read, you have a list as long as your arm of recipes you want to make. The World’s Best Cakes by Roger Pizey is definitely one of these books. I was looking forward to receiving a copy but when it arrived it took my breath away.

This is a book that has toured the world, looking for the best and most popular recipes. Each recipe has at least one good sized picture. The recipes are easy to follow and inviting to make – I have made a few out of the book already (the one pictured is Lucas Glanville’s Sticky Date Cake with Caramel Sauce – The recipe in the book is for Caramel Sea Salt Sauce but I was cooking for the kids so omitted the salt and it still worked perfectly.

world's best cakes baking book

I love the short story that accompanies each recipe – about where it comes from and when, who invented it and how it has altered over the years. Some of the recipes are really simple and some more complex but none seem so scary that I wouldn’t attempt.

This is a large book that is packed full of recipes and tips – there is not a bit of space wasted making it superbly good value for money at £30 – I wouldn’t normally advise paying so much for a cookbook but if you had this one, you wouldn’t be likely to need another for quite some time (I’m not promising I won’t fall foul of temptation and stop buying cookery books at all!)

I’m really looking forward to baking my way through this book – There’s ideas in here that I’ve heard of but never tried such as Maltese Prinjolata and Kransekaka – They are rather ambitious but I’m up for the challenge!

really good baking book

Celebration Popcorn & Some Foodie Resolutions

white chocolate marshmallow pecan nuts sweet popcorn

I’m having the most perfect New Year’s Eve tonight. We went to the Pantomime at the Liverpool Empire earlier with the girls, been for a delicious Italian meal at Il Forno in Liverpool, had drinks at our friends for a few hours afterwards and are now back home with the girls snugged up in bed. I’m not spending the whole of my NYE on the computer but wanted to share one of my favourite recipes with you. Tonight I will be drinking Prosecco (Yep, I’ve still got some left from Christmas) and nibbling on my favourite way to eat popcorn, Celebration Popcorn. So called because I did out the recipe near enough every time there is a celebration.

If you got some popping corn in the house, you still have time to make it before the clock strikes twelve. Here’s how:


  • Around 75g of unpopped popcorn (available in most supermarkets – I got mine from the Asian aisle in Tesco – not sure why it was there!)
  • 50g Mini Marshmallows – plus extra for sprinkling on later
  • 50g white chocolate
  • 50g Pecan Nuts (or whatever your favourite nuts are)
  • Vegetable oil for spreading around the base & sides of the pan
  • Popping Candy for extra explosive fun (optional)


  • In a large pan, drizzle about 1tbsp oil and brush around the sides and all over the botton
  • Pour in the popping corn and turn on the heat – MAKE SURE YOU HAVE THE LID ON
  • After 2 or so minutes the corn should start popping (Its fun to watch if you have see through lids on your pans) – Carry on with the heat until the corn pops start slowly down and there are several seconds between each ‘pop’
  • While this is happening, place the marshmallows and white chocolate (chopped finely if not already in small pieces) into the microwave and heat on high at 30 seconds intervals. It should take between 4-6 shots until you have a ‘bloop’ consistency. It will never go that runny.
  • Transfer the choc/marshmallow mix into a large bowl and add the corn. Mix thoroughly until well combined. Some corn chunks may break down. The bloop will turn into a crumb like consistency – most odd but great to eat.
  • Break up the pecans and mix well into the corn mix.
  • Just before serving, add a sprinkle of popping candy if you are using it – I also added extra marshmallows for extra chewiness.
  • get your glass and enjoy your celebration!

For 2014, I have made some Foodie plans/resolutions: During this year, I am going to try to:

  • Eat 5-a-day (or more) – Don’t gasp, I know I should have been doing this already.
  • Drink more (Not alcohol!) My water intake has dropped a lot – I’m going to experiment with different flavours of cordials and non-alcoholic cocktails.
  • Continue experimenting with different foods – 2013 was quite a good year for this -I’m going to keep up the good work and use some of this stuff in my cupboards.
  • Have a supply of homemade frozen meals in the freezer – Around 2-3 times per week, Millie and I have to eat our evening meal in the car or at a leisure centre for her swimming training. We give Meals on Wheels a whole new meaning.
  • Dermot has put us on a ban of buying any alcohol during January (We may even see how we go through to February). We’ve gained quite a stash over the past month so we need to economise. Watch out for some odd combinations – I’m still not sure we’ll drink my mum’s massive bottle of Lambrini or that really old bottle of Cherry Liquor though.
  • I’m all about Food Bargains at the minute – I’m not about to start queuing with the masses at the fridges while the shop assistant puts the ‘Whoops’ stickers on but I’m really going to cut down on our food bill. 2014 is the year of Frugal Eating for us!
  • We are going to experiment with different cuts of meat and types of fish.
  • Buy Less shop made cakes & biscuits – It annoys me every time I see the cupboard full of pre-made cakes – Surely I should be able to have a house full of homemade goodies?!
  • I’m getting back to sugarcraft – I lost the joy of doing it for a hobby but now there has been a while since my last wedding cake went out, I can start to experiment again.
  • Join in with linkies – I love discovering new blogs and recipes. I also love being part of the foodie community. Long may it continue!
  • And a biggie … I’m aiming for AT LEAST 200 FOOD BLOG POSTS. (If I type it in capitals, it has to happen doesn’t it?)

I also have a few other resolutions:

  • To continue with my reading challenge of reading 500 books by the time I’m 50 – considering I’m only 3 books in and I only have 9 years and 8 months to go – I’ve got some work to do this year.
  • This year is all about crafts for me too – I’ve sorted the craft room (at last!) and I’m ploughing on with my WIP’s. I’m taking part in the Granny Square Crochet Blanket – I’m aiming for 2 squares per week and am motoring on with our plan to crochet bunting to be displayed at the St Helens 10K in March in aid of raising money for the Steve Prescott Foundation
  • My inbox WILL be clear *cough*
  • I’m going to walk to school more – This is probably the last year I’ll ever have a pram with me *weeps* so I’m going to make the most of it.

Have you made any resolutions/plans/goals – whatever the trendy term is this year? I’d love to hear them. Don’t forget, while your working them out, enjoy a bowl of Celebration Popcorn! Happy New Year!