Archive | December 2012

Wine Bottle Covers, Handmade Dishcloths And How To Track Santa On Christmas Eve

Before I start, I would like to say a big  “Welcome” to anyone who is visiting, due to the link on Rhonda’s ‘Down To Earth’ blog.  It is lovely to see you and thank you Rhonda for including me in your ‘Weekend Reading’. 


I make Christmas hampers for my family and put lots of homemade goodies in them, e.g. Jams, pickles, chutneys, etc. and everyone seems to like them.


In each hamper I also put a bottle of wine, but I feel they don’t really look very special on their own, so I make a cheap and simple cover to put around it.  I think this gives the wine an extra special touch (and makes it look more expensive than it actually was).

I bought the material from ‘Dunelm’ a couple of months ago.  It cost me £1.50 and I managed to easily get three covers out of it.

Below is how I made it:

I cut a rectangle of the fabric aproximately 10cm longer than the bottle and wide enough to wrap around the width of the bottle, with enough of an overlap to stitch the material together.

I folded the fabric in half and then pinned the bottom and side.


I then stitched the bottom and side together leaving the top open (you may find it easier to tack the material first).


I turned the bottle cover inside out and slid the bottle inside.

I tied the top together with a pretty bow to complete it.


I think my bottles of wine look much better now.


I thought I’d show you another thing I have been busy making for my homemade hampers ….Dishcloths.

I know some of you will be thinking ‘she has really lost the plot now’, but handmade dishcloths really are lovely to use and last far longer than the cheap ones that you buy.


I love knitting as I find it very therapeutic to do, so I decided that this year it would be nice to include then in my hampers.

There are loads of free dishcloth patterns on the internet, but I picked a pattern that used just ‘knit’ and ‘purl’ stiches, so it really was easy to do.  I bought the ‘Dishcloth’ cotton yarn cheaply from the internet too, so each dishcloth is cheap to make.

I have decided to put two neatly folded dishcloths in each hamper, tied with a pretty ribbon and a little note on them to say that they are ‘Handmade Luxury Dishcloths’.  I hope my family like them, I know I would.




Track Santa

Finally today I thought I’d tell you about a wonderful FREE website that young children will love on Christmas Eve.  It has been around for quite a few years now and my daughters used to love it.

The American website has a few games that children can play, leading up to christmas, but the fun really begins on Christmas Eve.


On Christmas Eve, you can track exactly where Santa is in the world delivering his presents.  It is so magical watching him going from place to place on his sleigh and children get so excited watching him.

So if you have small children, you can find the website here.

I hope you have as much fun as we have had over the years, watching Santa flying from place to place on his sleigh.


Thank you for reading my blog today.

A Winter Warming Spicy Parsnip Soup Recipe & The Love Food Hate Waste Website

I’m really really pleased today as a picture of my Mini Christmas Cake is on the home page of the ‘Love Food Hate Waste’ website and it links to a page with my recipe on it.  I am so proud and happy to have my recipe on their website, I could burst.

You can find their website here.

If you are visiting my blog for the first time via the above website, welcome.  I hope you enjoy reading my blog.




Parsnips are said to be sweeter after there has been a few good frosts.   So now we have had a few frosts at the allotment, I consider my parsnips ready to be dug up and eaten.


For quite a few years I had a problem growing straight parsnips, as they would always ‘fork’, which means they develop more than one root and they twist and turn as they grow downwards.  They say not to grow carrots and parsnips where you have recently manured, which I did and still they forked.

The way I grow my parsnips now is by sowing the seeds in kitchen rolls, in my greenhouse, until they germinate.  Once they germinate, I plant the kitchen roll into my allotment soil with the germinated seed still inside.  This way my parsnips are nearly all large and straight, without forking.

Below is a photograph of the parsnips that I dug up to use in the following Spicy Parsnip soup recipe.

I put a ruler next to one of the parsnips to prove to you that it was an incredible 44cm long.  I was very proud of this parsnip:



The recipe I have written today is Spicy Parsnip Soup.  I love this soup as it is really thick and warming and great on a cold winters day.

I think this soup is so special,  I served it as a starter on Christmas day last year.  I made it on Christmas Eve and just reheated it on Christmas day.  I served it with a swirl of double cream on the top and it looked fabulous.

Everyone really enjoyed the soup.



Spicy Parsnip Soup


1.1 Kg Parsnips peeled and chopped

2 Medium onions chopped

2 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon garam masala

1 teaspoon ground ginger

3 pints of boiling water

1 vegetable stock cube

2 tablespoons lemon juice


Heat the olive oil and fry the onions until they are starting to soften.


Put the parsnips, cumin, garam masala and ground ginger into the pan and fry for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.


Add the boiling water  and crumble the vegetable stock cube into the pan and stir.


Cover the pan and simmer for approximately 25 minutes, until the parsnips are soft.


Blitz the soup with a hand blender or in a liquidizer.  Add more water if the soup is too thick for you.


Reheat the soup and then add the lemon juice.


Serve with some nice homemade bread.


Thank you for reading my blog today.

Delicious Homemade Mince Pies

Yesterday I wrote about making mincemeat for mince pies.

Mince pies are traditionally eaten at Christmas time and children leave one for Santa at the foot of the chimney on Christmas Eve.


There are other traditions and superstitions that I have to admit I hadn’t heard of, until I did some research for my blog:

  • Did you know that when you make the mincemeat, you should only stir the mincemeat mixture clockwise, because stirring it anticlockwise is supposed to be bad luck for the up and coming year.
  • When you eat the first mince pie of the season, it’s traditional to make a wish.
  • You should always eat mince pies in silence.
  • If you eat a mince pie each of the 12 days of Christmas, it is good luck for the up and coming year.
  • Mince pies should have a star on top, depicting the Christmas star that led the three wise men and the shepherds to baby Jesus.



 At the weekend I made my mince pies, this is how I make them:



Sweet Pastry Mince Pies

1lb Plain Flour, plus extra for rolling.

10 oz. Hard margarine chopped

1 Tablespoon of caster sugar


A little milk

Icing sugar to dust the pies


Preheat your oven to Gas Mark 5 / 375F / 190C

Put all the ingredients in a bowl.


Rub the margarine into the flour using your fingers and thumbs, until it resembles breadcrumbs.


Add a little bit of water and mix with a round bladed knife.  Keep adding the water a little bit at a time and mixing until it begins to stick together.


Then use your hands to form a ball.


Put some flour on your clean work surface and begin to roll the pastry.  Every so often turn your pastry to make sure it doesn’t stick to your surface.  


When you pastry is approx. 5mm thick, cut rounds using a pastry cutter.


Put each ‘round’ into a pastry case.


Put a teaspoon of your mincemeat into the pastry cases.


Cut some smaller rounds using a smaller pastry cutter. 

Using your finger or a pastry brush, put a little bit of milk around the bottom pastry ‘round’ and then put the smaller pastry ‘round’ on top and firm gently around the edge.


Cut a cross in the top of each pie.


Bake for 15 minutes.

Leave to cool on a baking tray and then dust with icing sugar.


The mince pies freeze really well and only take half an hour to defrost if you have unexpected guests.


Thank you for reading my blog today





Homemade Mincemeat, Raspberry Flavoured Strawberry Plants & Radio Leicester

At the weekend I was invited onto the Saturday morning show at Radio Leicester.  I took in a homemade mini Christmas cake and the truffles I made last week, for him to try.  I love going in and chatting as they always makes me feel so comfortable to talk.

You can listen again here (approx. 1 hour and 7 mins into the program).


At the weekend I received two free strawberry plants from Spalding Bulbs.

Last month I agreed to join Spalding Bulbs Blogger Club and every so often I will receive one of their products in return for an honest review.


The strawberry plants are called Fragaria framberry (Fragoria x ananassa) and this is what Spalding bulbs say about them:

An exceptional strawberry that tastes like both strawberry and raspberry! It can be eaten straight after picking or used in a dessert. Grow just like ordinary strawberries and amaze your friends with this new variety! If you’re looking for something special, this is it!

You can find the plants on their website here.

The strawberry plants were delivered in a strong cardboard box and they were surrounded with a sturdy plastic carton.


The plants were moist and in good condition:


I put the plants into my cold greenhouse and I will plant them out in the spring when the weather warms up.

The only thing I would say to Spalding Bulbs is that there were no instructions or details of how or when to plant them outside.  This may be intentional as I have grown strawberries before, but it is something that would certainly help inexperienced gardeners.


I can’t wait to try these strawberries when they grow.


I also planted two more trays of broad beans this weekend.  You can see from the picture below that the broad beans that I planted a few weeks ago are doing well, but it is far too wet at my allotment to plant them out yet, so I will have to leave them where they are for now.



Nearly everyone loves mince pies at Christmas. 

I adore mince pies when they are homemade but I really do not like the ready made shop bought mince pies as much, even the more expensive ones.  So I make mine.


Mincemeat is very easy to make and tastes so much nicer than the shop bought alternative.   The history of the mince pie we know today is very interesting:

Originally mincemeat contained meat and mince pies evolved from a medieval pastry called “chewette.”  which was made with chopped meat or liver, boiled eggs, ginger, dried fruit and other sweet ingredients. It was fried or baked. During the 17th century, the meat products were replaced with suet, a beef or mutton fat.

 By the 19th century in Great Britain and North America, mince pies no longer contained any meat. Today mince pies are traditionally filled with fruit mincemeat, containing dried fruit, spices, nuts, suet and alcohol. The pies are cooked and dusted with caster sugar or icing sugar.


I used Delia Smiths’ recipe, with the odd change, as I didn’t have all the ingredients she suggested.  The recipe below is exactly as I made it, but you can find Delia’s exact recipe here.

I managed to make just under six jars with the recipe below and according to Delia, it will last for approximately three years, though I have never put this to the test.

Delia has worked out that her ingredients cost just £3.65 to make.  That works out at approximately 66p per jar.  A standard jar of shop bought mincemeat costs approximately £1.00 to buy and I would like to bet that homemade mincemeat tastes nicer!


When you first buy the ingredients to make Christmas recipes, it does seem to be expensive, when they include fruit, Brandy and spices.

I look out for offers leading up to christmas, for example I bought most of my Christmas ingredients when Tesco had them on a ‘3 for the price of 2’ offer.  The Brandy that I buy for my recipes is the cheapest I can find and it lasts ages (provided you don’t drink it) and the spices last for ages too.

The Brandy and spices are also used in other Christmas recipes I make, so nothing gets wasted.




Homemade Christmas Mincemeat

450g Bramley Apples, cored and chopped small (don’t peel)

225g shredded suet

1225g dried mixed fruit (with mixed peel included if possible)

350g Soft Dark Brown Sugar

Grated zest and juice of 2 oranges

Grated zest and juice of 2 lemons

20g ground almonds

4 level teaspoons mixed ground spice

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

6 tablespoons brandy.


Put all the ingredients, except the Brandy, into a large mixing bowl and mix together.

Cover the bowl with a plate or a clean cloth and leave the bowl in a cool place for 12 hours or overnight, so the flavours have time to mingle and develop.


Preheat your oven Gas ¼ /225F / 110C

Transfer your mixture to an ovenproof dish and cover loosely with foil and place in your oven for 3 hours.

Take out the oven and leave to cool, stirring every so often.


The mincemeat will look like it is swimming in fat , but this is how it should look.  By stirring it, the fat will coagulate instead of it being in tiny shreds and it will encase the other ingredients.

When the mincemeat is cold, stir again whilst adding the brandy.

Put the mincemeat in sterilised jars.


(Sterilise your clean jars and lids by placing them in the oven at gas mark 4 for 5 minutes).


I hope you enjoyed reading my blog today.

Tomorrow I will be using the mincemeat to make mince pies.

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.


Todays blog  is called ‘Mias Landliv’

In the ‘About Us’ section it says:

“My blog is called Mia´s Country Living. I live on a smallholding in Norway with
my husband, two cats, some sheep and a few hens. I blog about my country living,
my garden, home, decorating and patchwork projects”


I love looking at the photographs on her blog, as her house is so beautiful.  I dream of living in a house like hers.  She is brilliant at crafting too and when you look at the photo’s you can see many stunning things that she has made.

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


I hope you enjoyed reading my blog this week. 

I will be back on Monday at approximately 7.30 pm.

Homemade Gifts And Easy Homemade Truffles

I love homemade gifts as they are all unique and they take time and energy to make them.  It shows the person who receives the gift, how important they are to you.

I think a homemade gift, is a gift that is given from the heart and not just from your bank account.


Yesterday, I made homemade truffles for my friend’s birthday.  I bought a lovely little gift box and lined it with tissue paper and tied a nice ribbon around it.  I was very pleased with how it looked and I would have loved to receive it.



Tomorrow I am on Radio Leicester, on the Tony Wadsworth show at 10am.  I love going into the studio with Tony, as he is so welcoming and always makes me laugh.

One of the things I wanted to talk about is homemade Christmas presents.  So I also bought another gift box and filled this with truffles for the Radio Leicester crew to share.


In the box, I placed a little label which describes each truffle:


There are two different truffles in the box:

White Chocolate, Apricot And Brandy Truffles and Dark Chocolate Rum Truffles.


I am really pleased with these and I think they demonstrate that homemade presents can look really good too.

Below is the recipes for each truffle.


White Chocolate, Apricot And Brandy Truffles


¾ cup madeira sponge cake crumbs

¼ cup icing sugar

¼ cup ground almonds

½ cup finely chopped dried apricots

2 tablespoons double cream

50g white cooking chocolate

1 tablespoon brandy (optional)

½ cup desiccated coconut for coating


Mix together the cake crumbs, ground almonds, icing sugar and apricots in a bowl.


Quarter fill a pan with water and heat until boiling.  Turn the heat down so the water just simmers and put a heat proof bowl over the pan.  Melt the white chocolate in the heatproof bowl and then stir in the cream.


Add the chocolate and cream mix to the cake crumb mix, together with the brandy. Mix it  until combined.


Roll the mixture into balls and then roll the balls gently over the desiccated coconut, to coat them. Place on a paper-lined tray or mini cake cases and chill for 4 hours or overnight.


These truffles will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 10 days.



Dark Chocolate Rum Truffles

¾ cup madeira sponge cake crumbs

¼ cup icing sugar

¼ cup ground almonds

1 tablespoon rum (or 2-3 drops rum essence)

1 teaspoon lemon juice

50g dark cooking chocolate

2 tablespoon of pouring cream


The Icing:

1/3 cup sifted icing sugar

2 tablespoons butter

30g cooking chocolate

2 teaspoons rum (or 1-2 drops rum essence)

¾ cup chocolate sprinkles


Mix the cake crumbs, ground almonds, rum and lemon juice in a bowl.


Melt the chocolate in the heat proof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water.

Pour the melted chocolate into the cake mixture and add the cream.  Mix until the ingredients are all combined and then roll the mixture into small balls.


Put the balls onto a piece of greaseproof paper and allow them to harden in the fridge for approximately 4 hours or overnight.



Next make the Icing:

Melt the chocolate and butter in a heat proof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water.

Stir in sifted icing sugar and rum and stir until it is all combined and smooth.  It should be the  consistency of runny cream.  If it’s too thick add a little bit of warm water from your kettle.


Insert a cocktail stick into the truffle and coat it in the chocolate


Straight after, dip it into a bowl with the chocolate sprinkles in.


Put the truffles on greaseproof paper and put them in the fridge for another two hours to chill.


These truffles will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 10 days.


Thank you for reading my blog today.

A Free Santa Video For Your Children & Spalding Bulb Blogger Club

Spalding Bulb Blogger Club

Last month I agreed to join Spalding Bulbs Blogger Club:


Every so often I will receive one of their products in return for an honest review.  I love growing all sorts of things and this really appeals to me.

Also, every now and then they will give me a challenge, such as selecting which of their products will make a nice Spring display or creating a top 5 list of their products and why I chose them.  With my love of gardening this will be such a pleasure to do.

As a thank you for joining the Spalding Bloggers Club, I received 100 spring bulbs, which I planted today in an old plastic tub.


I planted the bulbs in layers, starting with the Tulips, then the Daffodils, Muscari and finally the Anemone.


I put the tub in my cold greenhouse and wrapped a bit of fleece around the tub, to give it a tiny bit of protection from the cold.


You can see the bulbs they sent to me here.

I hope mine turn out as lovely.  I will let you know.


One other thing I did today was plant up a winter hanging basket.  The plants were bought very cheaply and it really only took five minutes to plant up and it brightens up our front door:


I was very pleased with it.


A Free Santa Video For Your Children

About three or four years ago, I arranged for Santa to email a video to my daughter.


It’s a lovely video which talks about my daughter and what she wants for christmas.  Santa obviously knew her name and if she had been naughty or nice during the year.

My daughter loved it.

Sadly, my daughters are too ‘grown up’ for this now, but I thought I’d share it with you as younger children will love this and the good thing about it is:


The website below will send your friends and family a free personalised online video message from Santa, which lasts approximately four minutes.  It really is lovely for small children and there is an adult version too, which is good for a giggle!


All you need to do is follow a simple step-by-step process and answer a few simple questions. If you want to, you can even upload a photo of the person you’re sending it to, (if you have a digital photo of them on your computer).

I thought I’d just point out, what the terms of use state:

“In addition to the information you enter in the PNP registration sheet, we may collect information about your browser type, location, and IP address, as well as the pages you visit.

“We may use “cookies” (small pieces of data we store for an extended period of time on your computer, mobile phone, or other device) to make PNP easier to use, to make our advertising better.

  “We may institute programs with advertising partners and other websites in which they share information with us.”

So ensure you clear your cache afterwards, if you’re not happy with this.


I assure you, your kids will love this!

To send the video, all you need to do is go to the ‘Portable North Pole’ here and begin.

I would love to hear if any of you use this and if your children love it as much as mine did.  You can leave a comment by clicking on ‘leave a comment’ at the bottom of this post.

(ADDED NOTE: Please see the comments below if you have any concerns about the above ‘Santa’ website)


Thank you for reading my blog today.