Archive | December 2012

Mrs Thrifts ‘Twelve Tips Of Christmas’

I try to think of Christmas dinner as just a posh ‘Sunday Roast’, as this way I don’t get stressed about cooking it.  Below are my ‘Twelve Tips Of Christmas’ to avoid any disasters with your Christmas dinner.

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My Twelve Tips Of Christmas:

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If you have a frozen turkey, don’t forget to check how long it will take to defrost so it is ready to cook on Christmas day.

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Don’t make the classic mistake of finding that your roasting tin is not big enough for your turkey.

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Try and plan a starter that you can make the day before.  Last year on Christmas Eve I made a Spicy Parsnip Soup, as it was easy to reheat quickly the next day.  You can find the recipe here.  

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Prepare your vegetables the day before.  Peel potatoes, squashes, carrots, parsnips and they will be fine kept in water overnight. Washed and prepared vegetables can be kept in plastic food bags overnight e.g. Brussel sprouts, cabbages, swede, cauliflower florets and broccoli, etc.

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Consider using a steamer to cook your vegetables if you have one.  It is more economical as you can cook more than one type of vegetable at a time, which also means you can cook a larger selection of vegetables.

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Before the day, decide what time you want to eat your Christmas dinner and then work out what time you need to put your turkey in the oven.  Work out all your other timings too e.g. plan what time you need to par-boil your roast potatoes, cook your vegetables etc. and write it down, so you have nothing to worry about on Christmas day.  

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Lay the table the night before, so it’s one less thing to do on Christmas day.

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Don’t forget that if you are cooking larger volumes of vegetables than you are used to cooking, then they will take longer to cook.

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If you want to warm your plates up and you have no room left in your oven, fill the sink with hot water and submerge the plates for a few minutes.  Take them out and dry them ready to serve your dinner.

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Your food will stay warm for longer if you put it on your table in serving dishes.  It also looks more festive too on Christmas day.

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To avoid the skin on your turkey shriveling as it cools, baste the turkey as soon as it comes out of the oven.

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If you aren’t lucky enough to have a double oven, cover your turkey when it is cooked with foil and a couple of tea towels. Leave it in a warm place while you roast your potatoes.  The turkey will keep lovely and warm and it will help the turkey retain moisture.

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I hope these tips will help.

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I have been writing my blog for six months now, every Monday to Saturday.  It does take quite some time each day to plan and write.  I have therefore decided to take a small break over Christmas, so I can give my full attention to my family.  I’m sure you will understand.

I will be back when the schools reopen on Tuesday 8th January 2013

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Just before I finish writing…..

Don’t forget that you can buy all next year’s wrapping paper, Christmas cards and even your Christmas pudding for 2013, in the January sales.  There are usually nice gift sets etc. that you can buy cheaply and store for birthday presents throughout the year.

However, please remember that “a bargain is only a bargain if you wanted in the first place”, so take a list with you and stick to it.

Don’t forget that the on-line shops have their sales starting on Boxing Day.  In fact I have even heard that the Amazons sale starts on Christmas day this year!

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And finally…

Our Christmas’s now are cheaper than all our Christmas’s past, but I can honestly say they are also better.  I think that homemade Christmas’s come from the heart and give lovely memories in years to come.

Thank you for your support over the last six months. I hope Santa brings you everything you dream of for Christmas.

HAVE A MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR

Love from Mrs Thrift

My Daughter Homemade Chocolate Log

My Daughter’s Homemade Chocolate Log

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A Christmas Table Wreath & Homemade Hampers

Yesterday I made a Christmas Table Wreath.

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I openly admit that I’m not very good at flower arranging.  In fact, I was the only Brownie that just ‘scraped’ a flower arranging badge due to ‘Brown Owl’ stepping in and rearranging it all for me.  My arrangement was so bad.

Still, I thought it would be fun to have a go and I think it turned out really well.  This is how I made it:

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My Table Wreath

I bought an oasis ring from Wilkinson last month for £3.50

I used a bit of old ribbon

Pine cones from my local park

Shrubs from the garden

(I used Viburnum tinus, conifer and bay)

Large paper clips (you can use florist’s wire)

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I started by soaking the oasis ring upside down in water for about 5 minutes, until the bubbles stopped coming out of it.  I have read that you should not press the oasis ring down, as this will cause air bubbles to enter the foam, creating dry spots.

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I cut the foliage in lengths of approximately 10cm and striped the leaves so there was about 4cm of stem to push into the oasis.

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I layered the shrubs into the oasis by pushing the stems in at a slight angle, starting at the bottom.

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I kept building the foliage up, so eventually the oasis couldn’t be seen.

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I used big paper clips that I stretched out, to secure the ribbons and the pine cones to the oasis.

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I have read that it is best to mist the wreath with water each day so it doesn’t dry out.

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I am very proud of my table wreath.

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Now I had my table wreath I decided to decorate my table, so you can see how it will look on Christmas day, with my table wreath and homemade crackers.

My tablecloth, napkins, napkin rings and plate chargers only come out at Christmas, so they still look like new each year.

My plates are our everyday ones.  I bought white, so they can easily be replaced if one breaks, without having to buy a whole new set.

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Even though I do say so myself, I think our table looks lovely and I can’t wait to have our Christmas dinner with lots of my home grown vegetables and my lovely ‘Aldi’ turkey crown, which cost me just £9.

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Today, I also finished wrapping the hampers that I have made for my family.

I tied a piece of tissue paper on all the jars of pickles, chutneys, jams etc and tied them with some raffia to make them look nice.

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In the hampers I put the homemade preserves, homemade mini christmas cakes and bottles of wine with the bottle covers I made last week.

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I added the handmade luxury dishcloths,

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I then also added one or two ‘surprises’ in each hamper too.

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I wrapped the hampers in cellophane (I bought a big roll, cheap from ebay, that will last me a few years).

I think they look great and I would love to receive one.

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A homemade gift is from the heart and not just the bank account.

Thank you for reading my blog today.

Homemade Christmas Crackers & Secret Santa

Secret Santa

Just before I talk about crackers, I thought I would talk about my husbands ‘Secret Santa’ at his office .

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Secret Santa is a traditional part of the Christmas festivities. Work places, schools and colleges across the UK exchange anonymous cheap Christmas
gifts.  As you only buy one gift, it is a fun, low cost way to take part in the festive season.  Some families even do this now to save money.

No one is really sure when or where Secret Santa originated  from, but it is thought the original Secret Santa was
an American philanthropist, Larry Dean Stewart (1948 – 2007). He spent 20 years doing random acts of kindness for people throughout the year.  People soon cottoned on to his ‘Secret Santa’ idea, seeing it as a way of exchanging cheap Christmas gifts anonymously.

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People usually set a limit to the amount of money that is spent on a gift, but sometimes this can still be expensive.  My husbands work place came up with a good idea to keep the cost down:

Each person is given a budget of £2 to buy the daftest, most obscure thing that they can find, to make people laugh .

You may say this is a waste of £2, but they have such a laugh when they are opening their presents and they still talk about some of the presents for years to come, which shows it is £2 well spent.

I think this is a really great idea.  Please let me know if you do a Secret Santa in a different way too.

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Christmas Crackers

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Christmas Crackers are a British tradition dating back to Victorian times.

Tesco Crackers £9.93

Tesco Crackers £9.93

In 1847, Tom Smith invented the cracker after admiring the French sugared almond, wrapped in coloured tissue paper.   So he introduced them to London but they were not as popular as he had hoped.

For a few years he worked hard to develop the sweets into something more exciting. But it wasn’t until one evening when he was working in front of his fireplace that the great idea came to him.  One of the logs on the fire made a loud ‘cracking’ sound and that gave him the idea of putting a strip of paper in the sweet to make a ‘bang’.  He knew children would love the noise and loud bangs were said to frighten evil spirits too.

At the turn of the century, Tom Smith produced crackers not only for the Christmas season but also to celebrate every major occasion from The Paris Exhibition in 1900 to War Heroes in 1918 and The World Tour in 1926 of Prince Edward, The Prince of Wales.  He tailored the contents of each cracker in each individual box.

Sainsburys crackers reduced from£10 to £5 until 18/12

Sainsburys crackers  £10.00

It soon became a firm favourite at parties with toys and hats added to each ‘cracker’.
By the end of the century it was well established as a traditional holiday custom and now every Christmas, virtually every household in the UK has at least one box of Christmas crackers to pull, with their Christmas dinner.

Asda crackers £7.00

Asda crackers £7.00

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I make our Christmas Crackers:

Homemade crackers are fun and cheap to make and you can personalise them to suit each member of your family.  Also, you can use colours that will enhance the look of your dining room table and impress your guests.

This is how I made mine:

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Christmas Crackers

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Tissue paper

Kitchen roll tube

Cracker snaps (these can be purchased from craft shops, eBay, amazon etc.)

Ribbon

A joke (there are loads of jokes on the internet – I used this website)

A small gift (e.g. a small chocolate)

Sellotape

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First make a hat by measuring a length of paper to fit an ‘average head’ and then cutting the tissue paper in triangles.

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Sellotape the hat together .

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Fold it ready to go inside the cracker.

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Cut the cardboard tube the size that you want your cracker to be.  Cut a piece of tissue paper so it will wrap around the tube once.

Put your cracker snap, gift, hat and joke inside the cardboard tube.

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Wrap the tissue paper around the tube and stick it with Sellotape.

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Tie up each end tightly, with a ribbon.

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You can decorate your cracker in whatever way you want.  I print off name tags to stick on mine, as my gifts are tailored to individual members of my family.  I also cut an old piece of tinsel and stick that on the crackers too, to make them a bit more glamorous.

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I think they look super and everyone always comments on how special the homemade crackers are and they are really cheap and fun to make.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

Homemade Biscuits For Teachers Christmas Gifts And Small Gifts for Children

When my daughters were in Primary School, they liked to give their teachers a present at Christmas.

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I didn’t like to give their teachers an ordinary shop bought box of chocolates or a ‘Teacher Mug’ as I didn’t think it was very special.  So instead my daughters made ‘Christmas Biscuits’ (with a little help from me).

We would gift wrap the biscuits nicely and they would look very special.

“As I’ve said before,  a homemade gift is a gift that is given from the heart and not just from your bank account”

We have had many times leading up to Christmas, when we have made Christmas Biscuits and as a mother, this has given me lots of lovely Christmas memories seeing them make the biscuits and hand them to their teachers with big smiles on their faces.

Just one more thing….it’s a very cheap present to make.

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You can make any kind of biscuits, but I found ginger biscuits and shortbread biscuits easiest for my daughters to make.  You can find the recipes here and here.

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I rolled the dough out and used Christmas pastry cutters that I bought a few years ago.  They were well worth buying as I have used them every single Christmas since.

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My cutters are Angels, Holly and Stars.

After the dough is cooked I leave it to cool on a cooling tray.

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When it is cold I melt some chocolate and dip some of the biscuits into it.  I then put it on a piece of greaseproof paper to set.

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I bought a cheap jar from Wilikinsons (for approximately £2.00) and wrapped a nice bow around it.

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We thought the jars look great and the teachers seemed to really like them.

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Christmas gifts are expensive to buy for all of your children’s friends.  One thing, which is a good idea at christmas for smaller children, is to wrap a few of the biscuits up in cellophane and give them out to their friends as a Christmas present.

They look really good and expensive, when really they haven’t cost much at all.

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I also cut a large star biscuit, with a smaller star cut out of it.  I popped a boiled sweet in the centre before I cooked the biscuits and this makes a beautiful star biscuit.  Again I wrapped it in cellophane and it looks great to give out to friends and again it’s cheap to make.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

A Homemade Gingerbread House

Another Christmas tradition in our house is to make a Gingerbread house.

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A few years ago I would buy a pre-baked Gingerbread House and my daughters would decorate it with the limited decorations that would come with it.  These were expensive kits to buy and the houses were small and really not worth the money.

Things are different now as I learnt that Gingerbread houses really aren’t hard to make from scratch and it’s much more fun to make them yourself and my daughters decorate it with sweets and chocolates of their choice.

Decorating the house is a great activity for children near Christmas.

There is a great ‘Gingerbread House’ song on You Tube that we play whilst decorating the house.  You can find it here.

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This is how I make the house:

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First I download a Gingerbread House template from the internet.  There are loads to choose from, but I downloaded this one from ‘Delicious Magazine’.  I then cut out the templates.

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I made the gingerbread, using the gingerbread recipe here.  I doubled the recipe.

I rolled the gingerbread out and laid the paper templates onto it and cut the shapes out, using a knife.

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I put the shapes on greased baking trays and cooked for 10 -15 minutes, Gas Mark 3 /160C / 325F and then transferred them to a cooling tray.  I put a boiled sweet into each window before I cooked it, but beware, it can make it hard to get them off the baking sheet after cooking.  I find it easier to let them cool before I remove them when I use the boiled sweets.

(I had a problem removing the sweets and one of my windows broke, but we will decorate it so it won’t be seen).

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When all the pieces have cooled, mix some icing sugar with a tiny drop of water and stir until really thick.  Use this icing to ‘glue’ your house together  Apply the icing thickly and it will look like snow on the joins.

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It helps if you support the walls while it is drying.  I used tins etc. to support mine.

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I leave it overnight, to make sure the icing has set well before decorating.

Then the fun begins…..the decorating.

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You can decorate with whatever you want…sweets, biscuits, chocolate buttons etc.  Use thick icing to stick the sweets onto the house.  I let my daughters loose with a piping bag too and they have loads of fun with it.  

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My daughters decorated one side of the house each.

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I think my daughters did a really good job of decorating the house, don’t you?  They certainly ate a lot of sweets while they were decorating it.

It looks too nice to eat!

Please let me know if you make a Gingerbread House this Christmas too.

Thank you for reading my blog today.

Saturday Is ‘Bump The Blog’ Day

Today is ‘Bump the Blog’ day.

I pick a different blog each week, that I particularly enjoy reading.  I then post a link for you to check it out, to see if it interests you too.

There are so many wonderful blogs out there, talking about subjects of all kinds.  Each person spends time and energy updating their blogs and it is lovely getting views and comments in return.

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Todays blog  is called ‘Frugal Living UK’

In the ‘About Us’ section it says:

“As a single man fast approaching 40 I have moved from London to a rural retreat in the depths of the beautiful East Lancashire countryside. The move has left me skint but with a richness to my life that cannot be measured in monetary terms.  I have found my home, where I was meant to be and this blog is about my new journey in life towards a simplistic, frugal and healthier lifestyle”.

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I particularly like the post dated Wednesday 12th December, as it features the ‘Blue Peter Advent Candles’ which were lit each week leading upto Christmas.  As a child in the early 1970’s, it was so so exciting when they lit the candles as it meant it was soon Christmas.  Kids today would think we were mad getting excited at this, but it is one of my fond childhood memories.

You can find the blog here.  I’m sure you will enjoy the blog too.

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I hope you enjoyed reading my blog this week.

I will be back on Monday at approximately 7.30 pm.

Next week I will be showing you how I make a Gingerbread House for my daughters to decorate, Christmas crackers and school ‘Teacher Gifts’.  There will be lots of other things too.

Please remember that Christmas should not be stressful, it should be enjoyable.

How To Ice A Christmas Cake And How To ‘Elf’ Yourself

Last week I made my Christmas Cake and I also made some ‘Mini’ Christmas Cakes too.

Today I iced the mini Christmas cakes ready to give away as presents in my hampers.  I will be honest with you, I use ready made icing and marzipan that I bought from Tesco when they had their ‘3 for the price of 2’ offer recently.

Icing the mini Christmas cakes is exactly the same as icing my large Christmas Cake, so I thought I would share this with you:

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How to Ice a Christmas cake

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Firstly put a dusting of icing sugar on your work surface.

Take the marzipan out of the wrapper and knead it for a few minutes until it is nice and soft.

Roll out your marzipan until it is larger than your cake, using a rolling pin.

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Put your cake on a cake board or plate. 

To ensure you have an even surface on the top of your cake, turn your cake upside down.

Spread a thin layer of jam over the top and sides of your cake.

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Lift the marzipan up with your rolling pin and put it over the cake.

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Using the side of your hand, push the marzipan down gently around the side of the cake, ensuring there are no ‘folds’.

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When it is all even and smooth, use a knife to remove the excess marzipan.

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Cover the marzipan with a thin layer of jam.

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Roll out the icing in exactly the same way as the marzipan and cover the cake.

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Remove the excess icing.

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I cut out stars with the excess icing and stuck them on with a little bit of icing sugar mixed with water.

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I used ‘silver balls’ to push into the icing on each point of the stars.

Finish by wrapping a ribbon around the cake.

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Cover with cellophane to complete the look.

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Occaisionally, even if you turn your cake upside down, it still isn’t straight.  When this happens I cut a liitle bit off the cake to make it straight before I ice it.

If I have any icing and marzipan left, I use this with the above bits of cake and make ‘Christmas Cake Sausage Rolls’:

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‘Christmas Cake Sausage Rolls’

First I roll a rectangle with both the marzipan and icing and then I put the cake in the middle, with a little bit of jam on one side to hold it together.

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Then I roll it up, starting from the edge without the jam.

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Slice the roll into pieces with a knife and serve on a plate.

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Elf’ Yourself

To finish of with, I though I would put a link to an ‘E-Card’ that you can have fun with.

Basically, you can upload a photograph and put your face and/or your families face on an ‘Elf’ and it will dance around.  It does look funny.  You can then email it to your friends and family.

We have had lots of fun with this ‘E-card’ and I hope you will too

You can find it here.

Enjoy!

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I hope you enjoyed reading my blog today.