Insta-Advent Day 23

Taking it Slow


Ho Ho Ho, only 2 sleeps to go! I hope that you are all finding the time for a bit of relaxation amongst all of the Christmas madness, not always the easiest thing with excited kids bouncing off the walls but I’ve managed to find time for a massage in an effort to not totally neglect myself in favour of the small people. You can’t pour from an empty cup and all that.

With the idea of making life easy on yourself in mind I thought that it might be a good time to talk about slow cooking, both of the slow cooker and the traditional cooker variety. If there was ever a time of year to bung something in the oven and then leave it to gently stew away while you get on with more fun stuff then this has to be it.

One fantastic idea for this time of year, particularly if you are still entertaining the crowds, is pulled pork. Last weekend I prepped a pork shoulder joint, stuck it in the oven for 5 hours on a low heat then went out with the kids to see Peter Pan at the theatre. When we came home it was ready to go and you can serve with whatever sides you fancy. The recipe I used (see below) also includes a barbecue sauce and suggests serving in brioche buns but I made it easier with gravy and potatoes and there were plenty of leftovers for sandwiches the next day.

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/bbq-pulled-pork

This time of year probably also calls for a slow-cooked gammon, so if that’s your thing, try out this recipe for size from Nigella, just make sure you plan ahead!

Serves 10-12 with leftovers

Ingredients

3.5kg joint boneless gammon, rind on

150g black treacle

1 tbsp whole cloves

4 tbsps black treacle

4 tbsps demerara sugar

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

  • Preheat the oven to 250c and let your gammon come to room temperature
  • Line a large roasting tin with a layer of foil and then sit a wire rack on top of the foil. Put a strip of foil over the rack and keep another to place on the ham.
  • Sit the gammon on the foil and pour the first lot of black treacle over it, onto the rind. Don’t worry about spreading it too evenly.
  • Use the foil underneath and the final strip of foil to create a pocket for the gammon so that it is well sealed. Put in the oven and cook for 30 minutes then turn the oven down to 100c and cook for another 15-24 hours.
  • The next day, take the gammon out of the oven, retaining the liquid for later. Increase the oven temperature to 200c and using a sharp knife cut a diamond pattern in the fat layer.
  • Stud the centre of each diamond with a clove then mix the black treacle, sugar and mustard in a bowl and spread over the fat of the ham. Put it back in the oven for 20 minutes and then rest for 10-20 minutes before carving into thin slices.

If you haven’t as yet invested in a standalone slow cooker then I would recommend it as a good piece of kit for the winter months and they don’t cost an arm and a leg. I have a cheap Russell Hobbs one that does the job nicely while we’re at work.

Personally I think there are few things nicer than a nice beef stew (particularly if you add dumplings towards the end) but there are also a million other things that you can try in your slow cooker. Did you know, for example, that you can cook some great curries in a slow cooker, how about this cosy looking dhal for a vegetarian day?

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/creamy-black-dhal-crispy-onions

And sticking to the vegetarian theme, French onion soup is one of my very favourite things – not something my kids will eat but a good one to get stuck into if they’ve eaten earlier. Try out this recipe from Good Housekeeping:

Serves 4

Ingredients

75g butter

700g onions, thinly sliced

3 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tbsp plain flour

200ml dry white wine

1l vegetable stock

1 bay leaf

Thyme sprigs

Parsley sprigs

1 small baguette cut into slices

50g gruyere or cheddar

  • Melt the butter in a large pan and fry the onion over a very low heat, stirring frequently for around 30 minutes until soft and golden brown. Add the garlic and flour and cook for another minute.
  • Pour in the wine, bring to the boil and bubble until reduced by half. Add the stock and tie the herbs together in a bouquet garni, adding to the pan with some seasoning.
  • Bring to the boil then add to the slow cooker, cook on low for 3-4 hours until the onions are tender.
  • When ready to serve discard the bouquet garni and serve the soup in bowls. Toast the baguette slices in the grill then add to the soup and layering the cheese on top. Stand under the grill for another minute or so until the cheese has melted.

And last but not least, I love the idea of this slow cooker porridge, how nice would it be to wake up to this on Christmas morning (after the chocolate of course)?

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/slow-cooked-porridge

Enjoy!

Emma xx

Insta-Advent: Day 20

Gingerbread Joy!

 

It’s ginger architecture time.  Zoe’s design plans this year included a small extension to the side of the house, just because it’s not difficult enough..!

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We make a gingerbread creation every year that we can admire for a few days before demolishing when friends come round for tea.  It’s also a nice way to get together, despite the chaos, in the week before Christmas and bake/construct of a winter’s afternoon.

This year I tried caramel glue instead of royal icing…and I’m never going back.  No need for endless waiting and propping with tins and books; it’s pretty instant. It’s simply 200g caster sugar and    ml water; place on a medium heat and cook until the syrup is a golden colour and the consistency of honey.  Use immediately and put back on the heat if it starts to set before you’ve finished gluing (which happened to me…because of the extension).

 

I used a Mary Berry recipe for the gingerbread, as follows:

900g plain flour

1 tbsp bicarb soda

3 tbsp ginger

375g butter

300g muscovado sugar (Mary uses dark but I used light)

150g golden syrup

Place the flour, bicarb and ginger in a bowl.  Melt butter, sugar and syrup together.  Pour into the flour and mix well.  Knead a little to bring it together.  Make templates for the house pieces (see Mary Berry’s on BBC Good Food or make your own…as you can probably see our measurements were quite approximate). Bake the pieces on lined baking trays at 180˚c fan for about 10 mins but watch and remove if getting too dark.

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You can trim the edges to get cleaner lines when the pieces come out of the oven if you like (do whilst warm).

When cool, stick together with caramel glue (or icing if you don’t fancy this new-fangled way).  Decorate as desired!

We’ve use giant chocolate buttons on the main roof and matchsticks on the extension.  Obviously I have to resist the temptation to do it all myself and make it neat; I just have to keep reminding myself what it’s all about!

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And anyway, it won’t be here for long…

 

Have fun with your creations!

 

Cara x

Day 17 – Christmas Eve Scandi style

Having spent three days in Copenhagen earlier on in the year for my 40th (and working with someone who spent a year there) I now consider myself officially Danish. Or I wish, there are literally no ugly (or even imperfect) people there, it’s like walking through a movie set!

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Anyway, since I’m now Scandinavian, I’ve decided to host a Scandi style Christmas Eve for the in-laws. The Scandinavians apparently (and this is only as a result of a very small bit of research so don’t shoot me if I’m wrong) have their main celebration on Christmas Eve and, as with most of the rest of Christmas revellers, this revolves around food.

So, as well as decorating the kitchen Scandi style I’ve also (with the help of Monica, my lovely sister-in-law) designed a menu, which would befit a Christmas table in Denmark.

The first thing I’ve gone for is a Christmas ham. Handily as this is also an English tradition, the kids love it and so I can make sure they’re full up before bed (don’t want them up too early the next day). I’m serving this one from this month’s Good Food Magazine, although I’m just going to go for one big ham:

www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/mustard-clementine-glazed-ham-hocks

The other meat dish will of course be meatballs, but no pasta. Instead we’re serving the with gravy in an Ikea style, but have found it’s best to keep the gravy in a jug on the side so people can add as they please.

Again to make sure the kids eat a fairly substantial meal, I’m going to team this with a potato gratin. I found this one from Nigel Slater which I like the look of, but if I’m running short of time it’ll be fine to default to some mash.

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/apr/18/gratin-dauphinoise-classic-nigel-slater

No Scandi table would be complete without a certain amount of pickling. I’m doing pickled cucumbers and have used the following recipe before to great effect.

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/bread-butter-pickles

Admittedly it’s supposed to accompany a barbecue but I think it’ll be great here. Monica’s also making some pickled red cabbage and she’s found this fab website www.scandikitchen.co.uk which we’re going to use to source the obligatory pickled herring.

As fish is also a big staple of the meal, to go with the herring we are also going to serve gravadlax (or smoked salmon because I’m not that sure of the difference).  I’m thinking of serving the salmon with soured cream and dill on a variety of breads: blinis (though a bit Russian to be honest) as my eldest loves them; rye bread (as this is truly Scandi); and soda bread. I’m not even considering making any of this bread and have added to my Christmas order which will hopefully arrive the day before.

For some more sides I’ll be doing celeriac remoulade which is one of my husband’s all time favourite dishes and which I don’t get round to making very often. And if I’ve got time I’ll also make a dough ball Christmas tree which isn’t Scandi at all but which the kids saw in Good Food magazine and demanded I made. I’m sure they eat dough balls in Copenhagen…

Not sure we’ll really need much for pudding but I’m planning to make a gingerbread Christmas tree in the manner of Hayward World, which can also be a bit of decoration for the table. This may stay at planning stage depending on how much time I have. We don’t want to eat too much more as we need to save room for indulgence on the next day, but I think a few mince pies and a bit of cheese might be needed. Monica has some brown cheese from www.scandikitchen.com which is apparently made from the whey rather than the curds so it’ll be interesting to see how that turns out.

So the only thing left is drink, which is at least as important as the food! We’ve got a few Scandi beers in, but will clearly be indulging in some serious mulled wine drinking using this Jamie Oliver recipe:

http://www.jamieoliver.com/news-and-features/features/how-to-make-mulled-wine/

The aim is to end the day in a relaxed (hygge) state of mind and ready for what the next day will bring. Ultimately it might bring chaos and a hangover, but we can only try!

M x

Insta-Advent Day 15

A Bit on the Side

stuffing-sprouts

For the large majority of the year I can’t say I pay that much attention to side dishes. With a full time job and 2 young kids I feel I’m doing pretty well to get something on the table at all never mind serving it with honey-roasted parsnips and bacon-wrapped asparagus.

Christmas, however, is a whole different story.   At Christmas everything is bigger, better and tastier. At Christmas you pay attention to the turkey, to the Christmas pudding and you pay attention to your side dishes too.

With that in mind I thought I’d share some recent recipes that I’ve come across for spicing up the veg in your life.

In this month’s BBC Good Food magazine there are a few great ideas including stir-fried red cabbage with mulled wine dressing and harissa and marmalade roasted roots (see below for recipe links) but for me the stuffing sprouts particularly stood out so I thought I’d share the recipe here:

Stuffing sprouts – serves 6

50g butter
1 onion, finely chopped
3 rashers smoked streaky bacon, chopped
Small bunch sage, finely chopped
3 good quality pork sausages, skins removed
500g Brussels sprouts trimmed and halved
150g cooked chestnuts, roughly chopped
3 tbsp breadcrumbs

 

  • Melt the butter over a low heat in a large frying pan. Add the onion and soften for 10 minutes. Increase the heat and add the sausage meat, bacon and sage. Cook for 6-8 minutes, breaking up the sausage until starting to brown.
  • Tip in the sprouts and chestnuts, cover with a lid and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes until the sprouts are tender. Keep over a low heat until you are ready to serve. At the last minute season, stir in the breadcrumbs and fry for 2 mins on a high heat to toast them and colour the sprouts.

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/stir-fried-red-cabbage-mulled-wine-dressing

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/harissa-marmalade-roasted-roots

On the subject of sprouts, pancetta-wrapped also makes for tasty morsels, and Russell Normal suggests wok-frying them with nutmeg but personally I love them as they are. Weird I know.

The Times Weekend supplement this weekend also suggested a recipe for one of my all-time favourite things – bread sauce. But of the souped up sourdough variety courtesy of Jason Atherton.

Sourdough bread sauce

  • Heat about 200ml of milk with any of the following – cloves, cinnamon mace and bay (I can’t stand cloves so for me it would probably cinnamon and bay) then melt some butter in a saucepan and fry a chopped shallot for 5 minutes.
  • Add the infused milk, 400ml of cream then bring to the boil. Take the pan off the heat and add the bread (sourdough obvs, the better the better). Leave to soften then refrigerate until needed.

And I’ll finish on red cabbage as you can’t get much more festive than braised red cabbage and sprouts. Check out the following recipe from Anna Hansen of The Modern Pantry.

Braised red cabbage with orange

spiced-braised-red-cabbage

  • Place a sliced red cabbage, a sliced white onion, the zest and juice of half a large orange, a couple of bramley apples (grated with skin on), a cinnamon stick, a tbsp. ground allspice, 200-250ml red wine vinegar, 150g muscovado sugar and 330-350ml apple juice in a pot. Slow cook for about an hour with a lid on, stirring frequently.

Emma

xx

Insta-Advent: Day 14

Advent-urous Appetisers

Christmas day is a somewhat massive affair for us since I am one of 5 brothers and sisters and we all have children (ranging from 2-21!) and they all need feeding! The day is spent at my (poor) mother’s house but we all do our bit as far as the mass catering goes. I’m usually first up, with some appetisers to have with champagne before the main event. This always takes some thinking about because 1) the oven is usually full of a huge turkey and trimmings so it’s kind of out of bounds and 2) I don’t want to miss the present giving frenzy by being stuck in the kitchen. I also like to vary things so I can’t repeat ideas from year to year (apart from the obligatory smoked salmon which I daren’t leave out for fear of Zoe’s wrath).

Here are my ideas for Christmas 2016:

Smoked Salmon with blinis and dill crème fraîche:

This is pretty straight forward; just be sure to buy a nice bit of smoked salmon (I’m usually quite stingy but I spend a bit extra here because it’s the star of the show and there are also some good offers out there anyway). Mix together some crème fraiche with a little lemon juice and garnish with dill (or chives).

I used to buy the blinis but started making them more recently (the day before or further in advance and then freeze) because the ones you buy are quite pricey for what you get and also my sister-in-law is Russian so I feel the need to make an effort here. My recipe:

80g buckwheat flour

250g strong white flour

1tsp salt

10g dried yeast

300ml crème fraîche

350ml milk

4 eggs, separated

50g butter, melted (to cook blinis in)

Place both flours, the salt and the yeast in bowl. In a pan warm through milk and crème fraîche until tepid; add the yolks to this and then pour the whole lot into the flour and whisk. Cover the bowl with a cloth and leave for about an hour in a warm place. Whisk up the egg whites and then fold into the yeasty, bubbly mixture. Cover and leave again for another hour. When ready, heat a frying pan and brush with melted butter cooking tablespoons full of batter, flipping over after 30 secs to cook the other side. This should make about 40 (and though that sounds a lot, there are never enough!).

*I might, if I’m feeling crazy, try Jose Pizarro’s beetroot-cured salmon this year (see November issue of BBC GoodFood Magazine).

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Celeriac Remoulade and Parma Ham Rolls:

Peel and coarsely grate 1 whole celeriac and mix with 2 tbsps mayonnaise, 2 tbsp crème fraiche or double cream, the juice of 1 lemon and 3 tsps Dijon mustard. Season with salt and pepper. Wrap spoonfuls of the mixture up in slices of Parma ham (or Serrano ham).

Camembert and Bread Roll Dipping Platter:

This is a recipe I found that made the kids’ mouths water so it’s goer (not quite sure why they are suddenly obsessed with Camembert??? Carlos even had one for his birthday this year!!!)

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/baked-camembert-dough-ball-platter

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Crab Balls with Sweet Chilli Sauce:

I like these because you can cook them in a pan rather than a deep fat fryer and it involves the white and brown meat which I think is tastier than the white alone.:

2 chillis, 2 cloves garlic, 200g soft white bread, large bunch coriander: blitz in food processor until finely chopped. Put into a bowl and add 4 tbsps mirin, juice of 1 lime and 800g mixed brown and white crabmeat; season with S&P. Shape into small balls; you should get 20-25 from this mixture. Warm some oil in a frying pan and cook over a low heat, turning regularly. Serve with a sweet chilli dipping sauce.

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I never worry too much about how these will be accepted because people are generally in the mood for eating after an early morning of kiddy-present-giving and I don’t recall a year when there has been anything left on the starter platters…I just have to make sure there’s enough, as I’m usually last to get to them!

Happy 2016 feasting!

Cara

Day 10! The Christmas Fair

Day 10! Getting there with the Christmas shopping now and my work’s Christmas party on Thursday gave me my first feelings of festivity. We’re getting the tree today and I’m going to a wreath making workshop with the amazing Chaos Coffee, so if I don’t feel fully festive by this evening something’s wrong with me.

But it’s Saturday and that’s often Christmas fair day. My contribution tends to come in the form of baking so I thought I’d share what I made for my kids’ “Winter Wonderland”. I fins that the important thing when baking this kind of thing is that they look inviting but equally that they don’t take too long to make as otherwise you’ll be put off doing in. Let’s face it it’s hard to fit in the cooking we have to do without adding too much other stuff.

This year I chose chocolate Christmas tree pops, gingerbread cookies and snowy fairy cakes all of which would also be perfect for Christmas parties for kids who (for some reason I can’t fathom) don’t like mince pies.

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Christmas Tree Pops

The Christmas tree pops recipe is from BBC Good Food magazine way back in December 2014 and I’ve used it a few times as kids really seem to go for it and its super easy. This is how to make it:

Ingredients

100g butter at room temperature

100g golden caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 medium eggs

100g self raising flour

3 tbsp cocoa powder

3 tbsp milk

300g icing sugar

green food colouring

sprinkles for decorating

8 lollipop or cake pop sticks

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180° (160° fan) and grease and line a 20cm wide cake tin.
  2. Cream the butter with the sugar and vanilla extract until creamy, crack in the eggs one at a time mixing in between. Add the flour & cocoa powder and fold until combined. Spoon the mixture into the cake tin and flatten the surface. Bake for approx. 20 minutes.
  3. After cooling on a wire rack remove the cake from the tin and cut it into 8 wedges. Push one of the lollipop or cake sticks into each one so they look like a lolly. I did this later on as they’re easier to carry that way.
  4. Mix the food colouring with the icing sugar (I found these quantities made a lot so you may want to half) to make an icing which runs but is still quite stiff. Drizzle over the cake in a Christmas tree like way…
  5. Add whatever decorations you have to hand. I used snowflakes and silver balls but I’ve used Smarties in the past.

 

Fairy Cakes

The fairy cakes recipe is the one everyone knows! That is 100g butter, 100g sugar, 2 medium eggs and 100g flour. I’m not really into the one mix method so I tend to cream the butter and sugar, then add the eggs one at a time, mixing inbetween and fold the flour in at the end.

I used some lovely Christmasey cake cases from Ocado and Georgia decorated with runny icing and white snowflakes and edible snow (both also from Ocado).

GIngerbread

The final thing I made was the gingerbread. Again I used a Good Food recipe (because let’s face it they’re really good), but just got this one online. The one I used is:

Ingredients

350g plain flour

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

2 tsp ground ginger

1tsp cinnamon

125g butter

175g soft brown sugar

1 egg

4 tbsp golden syrup

Method

Put the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger and cinnamon in a bowl and rub in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar.

Lightly beat the egg with the golden syrup and combine with the flour mixture until it clumps together. Knead the dough briefly until smooth and chill in the fridge for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 180° and line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.

Roll out the dough to a thickness of 0.5cm and then cut out whatever shapes you fancy and then put on the tray leaving a gap between each.

Bake for 12-15 minutes until light golden brown. Leave on the tray for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Billy decorated these ones for me. We cut some snowflakes out of some fondant icing using a cutter I got from the dreamy shop that is Lakeland. Billy was keen to try out piping so we also added some white icing using a round nozzle in a piping bag and finished off with some of the fake snow we seem to have developed a liking for.

It seems to be that the trick for this type of event is don’t try too hard to make things perfect because as long as they taste good nobody will care. It was hard for me to relinquish making them look perfect with lovingly crafted decorations when Billy and Georgia wanted to take over. But let’s face it they all got sold, so maybe I should learn to embrace the help.

 

 

 

 

 

Insta-Advent Day 7

Chocolate (B)logging

I’m not quite sure how it all began but it probably had a lot to do with my fussiness as a kid and refusal to eat Christmas pudding. Whatever the reason, before I knew it making the family chocolate log every year had become my “thing.”

And, never one to keep it simple, not only did I land myself with the task of creating THE LOG, I also seemed to start a tradition which sees me having to create something completely different every year, with the final product to be unveiled on Christmas day to a cast of thousands. Talk about pressure.

Given that planning for THE LOG is already underway I thought I’d talk about a few of my past victories here as I obviously can’t disclose the full details of this year’s recipe because breaking tradition really can kill Christmas you know.

THE SPONGE

First of all, you’ve got to find yourself a reliable fatless sponge recipe.

Starting as a kid I went for the simplest kind of all passed on by my mum and I think it’s still a reliable recipe that I end up going back to every couple of years. The sponge is comprised of 3 eggs, 3 ounces of caster sugar, 2 ounces of flour and 1 ounce of cocoa powder.

The important thing is that you whisk the eggs and sugar (a stand mixer makes this far less painful, I actually did it by hand in my student house and it nearly killed me) until they have ballooned in size, are pale in colour and until a trail is visible when you drizzle the mixture from a spoon. Then stir through the flour and cocoa powder and cook for 10-12 minutes at around 180 degrees on a greased and lined sandwich tin.

Mary Berry advocates something quite similar here:

http://www.redonline.co.uk/food/recipes/mary-berry-christmas-chocolate-yule-log

Once out of the oven turn it onto another sheet of baking parchment sprinkled with caster sugar to stop it sticking and roll up. Then leave to set in place whilst you contemplate…

THE FILLING

As a kid my first port of call would have been buttercream which I had plenty of practice with when making butterfly buns. Nowadays I’m more likely to favour fresh cream, much to the dismay of my children!

You can stick with simple whipped double cream (be careful not to over-whip, it’s a very fine line) which I like for its lack of sweetness or add some icing sugar if you (or they) like it a little sweeter.

Over the years I’ve also experimented with lots of different things in the filling including:

Chocolate chips – milk, dark and white
Swirling through a drizzle of chocolate sauce (like Hershey’s ice cream sauce)
Mixing in some baileys or frangelico if there are no children involved (or if your kids like a bit of booze)
Adding a layer of nutella under the cream
Adding chopped nuts (particularly hazelnuts)
Adding a layer of dulce de leche (really really good)
THE DECORATION

I’ve experimented a lot over the years (I can’t remember when this started but I’m going to say this has been going on for close to 30 years now) but you really can’t beat your traditional decoration. Pour over a load of (good quality) chocolate (especially green & blacks for me), wait for it to start to set and then run a fork through it. You can make a thicker and better mixture by combining around the same amount of chocolate as double cream and warming in a pan until the chocolate melts and the mixture combines. Again, pour over cool a little and then run your fork through it, top with a sprinkle of icing sugar (which also nicely covers blunders).

I’ve experimented with white chocolate, with less chocolate, with different chocolates but for me it’s quite hard to beat green & black’s milk chocolate with cream. Just try not to down the panful before it goes onto the cake.

As for the decoration, I wouldn’t say I’m in the minimalist camp. Go to town, add some robins, a few snowflakes, make sure you ham it up as much as you can. This is your star turn after all.

FANCY LOGS

If you’d like to try something a bit different there are plenty of ideas out there.

What about this artic/Yule log mash up for example?

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/alaskan-yule-log

I tried this one year and I can tell you it’s a proper faff.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/bche_de_nol_christmas_96543

And check out this offering from Delia:

http://www.deliaonline.com/recipes/international/european/french/prune-and-armagnac-chocolate-log

And that’s your logs. Have you found yourself taking on a traditional role at Christmas? What’s your party piece?

Emma xx

Insta-Advent:Day 6

Tasty Christmas Makes

It has become a bit of a ‘thing’ for Zoe (13) to have a bit of an edible Christmas present making session round at ours with a friend or two. It usually involves a few pounds spent and a lot of mess but is generally a good bit of fun and I quite like helping with ideas (when I was 13 I would have killed for some of these ingredients and presentation bits and bobs.

We usually think of 3 things to make and then see how far we get. If we can get there we sometimes buy a few little items from Lakeland to make nice presents but Quality Save is pretty decent on this front at the moment and an awful lot cheaper; Tesco and Sainsbury’s have some surprisingly nice items, such as bags, jars and ribbons. Here is this year’s plan:

1) Cookie Jars

This is a variation on last year’s hot chocolate jars. This time we put the necessary dry ingredients for some tasty cookies into a pretty jar, tie it up with ribbon and provide instructions on a label for what to add to make them. We’re attaching a cookie cutter to each one with the ribbon too.

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Choc chip Cookie Mixture:

For each jar:

Combine 210g plain flour, 1/2 tsp bicarb of soda, 100g caster sugar and 340 g choc chips. Place half of the mixture in the jar and pack down.  Place 110g dark brown soft sugar on top of this and then pack the other half of the first mixture on top to create a layered effect.  Add a label with cooking instructions:  Place contents of jar in a bowl.  in a separate bowl beat together 170g soft butter, 2 medium eggs and vanilla essence and then add to the dry ingredients. Drop tbsps of the batter on to ungreased baking trays and bake at 190 fan for 8-10 mins.

N.B. You can vary these ingredients, such as the type of chocolate, adding gold edible glitter or using your own favourite cookie flavours.

2) Candy Cane Lollipops

We’ve made these once before and they turned out well so we’re revisiting these pretty little things and placing one or two in a cellophane presentation bag (Lakeland), with a name label (Quality Save) and some festive ribbon.

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Ingredients and method:

12 candy canes, 200g white chocolate, edible sprinkles, 6 ovenproof lollysticks.

Pre-heat oven to 160 fan. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment.

Place the candy canes in pairs to make heart shapes, place a stick at the bottom and then bake for 5 minutes.  Whilst they are soft pinch the top together and pinch the bottom around the stick.  Melt the chocolate and then pour into the candy cane hearts.  Sprinkle with whatever you have chosen and then leave to cool and set before putting in cellophane bags with a ribbon.

3) Gingerbread Buntingimg_1068

We love a bit of gingerbread so we use our favourite recipe here.  We make a good few people, putting a hole in the top of each before baking and then decorating and threading with ribbon to make as long a line as we reasonably can! (Spot the random unicorn!)

Gingerbread recipe:

175g dark muscovado sugar

85g golden syrup

100g butter

350g plain flour

1 tsp bicarb of soda

1 tbsp ginger (or more if you’re like Zoe..)

1 tsp cinnamon

1 egg

Melt the syrup, sugar and butter with a pinch of salt in a pan.

Mix the flour, bicarb and spices in a bowl.  Pour in the warm syrupy mixture and add the beaten egg. Stir well and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.  Pre-heat the oven to 180 fan.  Knead a little and then roll out and cut out your people.  Remember to put a little hole in the top of their heads (ouch) ready for the ribbon later.  Bake for 10-12 minutes.  Decorate and thread through with ribbon or string.

Happy festive foody making!

Cara

 

Insta Advent Event – Day 2!

The Advent Calendar

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I’ve been doing a fill your own advent calendar (aka creating a rod for my own back) for the past few years and listen every year as Billy boasts that he doesn’t get a “normal” advent calendar, but that I put something different out for them every day during advent. I was hoping this might end at some point but the news that Cara’s eldest (at 16!) still wants her to do it for him, has filled me with dread!

Anyway I have a few pointers on how I fill mine:

  1. I always pick things up in the January sales. I know it sounds barmy but all shops reduce the kind of things I’m looking for so much after Christmas that I just pick them up as I go along and save them for the next year. Admittedly you then have to store them for a whole year but it does mean that as advent approaches you know you’ve got a few things in store.
  2. Quality Save (or similar bargain store) is your friend. I always do a panic shop in there pre advent and can pick up mini gingerbread houses (as shown), cute little Christmas bottles, stickers, Christmas decorations etc for a snip.
  3. Multipacks are good. It can get a little expensive buying single things and so I mix this with buying multipacks such as paper streamers which you can break up and give separately. I’ve used Yellow Moon this year as they sell multi-packs of things which you might ordinarily pop into party bags.
  4. You can still give chocolate! Part of the reason for starting this was that Georgia doesn’t like chocolate, but every few days I pop in chocolates or sweets and obviously that goes down pretty well.
  5. Combine with other occasions. We have Christmas jumper day coming up at school so that day they’ll get something to wear. Totally OTT but just don’t tell their father! You could also pop Christmas PJs in as a lovely surprise as, for me, something that it’s hard to justify spending money on out of the blue.

I think the main thing is not to try too hard. I find that the anticipation is almost more important than the gift. Don’t overthink it, they’re happy with pretty much anything!

Melony

xxx

Welcome to Insta-Advent!

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Hello and welcome to the start of our Manchester Kids Insta-Advent which we’re very excited to be running alongside fellow Manchester mums Rainy City Kids and Chaos and Coffee!

Over the next 23 days we’re aiming to serve up a smorgasbord of Christmas delights including ideas on things to eat or edible presents for the neighbours, what to do with your kids to get them in the mood for the big day (as if they need it!) and craft ideas to get your house looking perfectly festive without going on a major blow-out at John Lewis.

All you have to do is look out for our special red doors on Instagram and then follow the link to the blog post for that day’s treat. An advent calendar that you actually get to open yourself, and without the chocolate guilt.

We’re kicking off tomorrow with a Feed the Team post from Melony on filling up those Advent Calendars and there’ll be much more to come so please keep your eyes peeled for those red doors and play along with us.

Merry Christmas!

Emma xx