Archive | November 2013

Fast Food At Home…A Microwaved Syrup Sponge Recipe

This week has been really busy.

I started by sorting my three freezers out.  When we were moving our freezers, I must admit I just rammed everything in anyhow, so they really did need sorting as I hadn’t a clue what we had in them…which is not good for meal planning.


So I took everything out and put it all back in a reasonable order:


I did this with all three freezers and wrote a list of what was in each freezer


I need to start meal planning now at the weekend to make sure I don’t over spend on my food budget.

One thing I did find in my freezer contents was a bag of left over vegetables.  Everytime I have left over cooked vegetables after a meal, I freeze them.  When I have enough, I make a ‘use it up curry’.   So this is what we had for tea on Thursday:



I’ve also been preparing for my youngest daughters birthday yesterday.  I can’t quite believe she is now fourteen…where did time go to?  It only seems like yesterday that I was holding her in my arms when she was just a few hours old…and now she is growing into a beautiful young lady before my eyes.


So on Wednesday I made a dairyfree cake for her birthday (as she is dairy intolerant).  She asked for a chocolate cake with jam in the middle which is what she always asks for, but I wanted to make it extra special.  I decided to make it two tiers and cover it with dairyfree butter icing.  I used my faithful ‘throw it all in’ cake recipe, which you can find here.  She loved it, so I was really pleased:


It didn’t look quite as good as I had hoped, but it looked great when it was sliced:


My daughter invited a few of her close friends for tea yesterday.  When my girls were growing up I really hated ‘party bags’ with plastic rubbish in them, that got tossed away within a few minutes of opening the bags.  I felt it was such a waste of money.  So over the years I have made or bought things in the sales that I thought would actually get used, or I have sometimes made individual decorated cakes and bagged them up separately so they looked really special.

This year I thought my daughter would like something a little bit more grown up, so I bought little boxes of Cadburys Roses (they cost me £1 each in the sale) and I ‘poshed’ them up with cellophane and ribbon and a little note which ‘thanked’ her friends for celebrating her birthday with her:


 My daughter had a lovely time with her friends.


Before I go, I thought I would share a recipe with you that I cooked on Wednesday night.  It was a cold night and it was one of those nights where I just fancied something hot, sweet and filling to eat.  So, I cooked a Microwave Syrup Sponge.  It is so quick and easy to make and far cheaper than nipping out to your local shop to buy something on the spur of the moment:


Microwaved Syrup Sponge Recipe:

100g margarine or butter, plus some for greasing the bowl

100g granulated sugar

2 eggs

100g self-raising flour

2-3 tablespoons of milk

2 tablespoons of golden syrup


Beat the margarine and sugar together.


Add the eggs and beat together.

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Fold in the flour and add enough milk to achieve dropping consistency

 (so it drops off the spoon easily).

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Grease a microwave bowl with margarine.


Drop the syrup in the bottom of the bowl and put the mixture on top.

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Cover the bowl with a small plate or Microwave Clingfilm, leaving a small gap for the steam to escape.

Microwave on ‘high’ for 8 minutes (based on an 700W microwave).


Leave to stand for a couple of minutes before turning it out.


Serve with custard or ice-cream.




Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Monday at my usual time.

‘Stir Up Sunday’…A Christmas Pudding Recipe

Yesterday was ‘Stir Up Sunday’ which is traditionally the day that Christmas puddings are made, approximately five weeks before Christmas.  It is the last Sunday before Advent begins.

Early Christmas puddings actually contained meat, together with spices, dried fruit and wine.  It was Prince Albert who introduced the traditional Christmas pudding to the Victorians, which we know today.

 Christmas would not be the same without a Christmas pudding to ‘light’ and serve after a hearty Christmas dinner.  I have a lovely memory of my Grandad lighting a pudding one year when I was just a little girl and the memory has always stuck with me.  When our daughters were young we too lit our Christmas pudding and now it’s a family tradition for us.



Christmas Pudding Traditions:

  • A Christmas pudding is tradionally made with thirteen ingredients, to represent Jesus and his twelve disciples.
  • A Christmas pudding is tradionally stirred from east to west in honour of the three wise men that visited baby Jesus.
  • Each member of the family traditionally stirs the pudding mixture and makes a wish secretly.
  • A silver coin was tradionally placed in the mixture and the person who finds it is supposed to find wealth.  A ring was sometimes also placed in the mixture to foretell a marriage and a thimble for a lucky life.


The photo above shows the Christmas pudding I made last year using my eldest sister’s recipe, which you can find here.  It really tastes lovely and it can be made anytime leading upto Christmas day.

This year I decided to have a change and make a pudding that needs time to mature as it contains alcohol.  Here is the recipe:


Xmas Pudding

475g dried mixed fruit with candied peel

1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped small

Grated zest and juice of ½ an orange

Grated zest and juice of ½ a lemon

4 tablespoons of brandy, plus a further tablespoon for soaking at the end

55g self-raising flour

1 level teaspoon ground mixed spice

1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

110g shredded suet

110g soft dark brown sugar

110g white fresh bread crumbs

25g flaked almonds

2 eggs lightly beaten.


Put the dried mixed fruit, apple, grated zest and juice of the orange and lemon, into a bowl.

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Add the brandy and mix well.


Cover and leave to marinate overnight.


In the morning, lightly grease a 2 ½ pint pudding bowl.

In a separate large bowl, sift the flour, mixed spice and cinnamon together.


Add the suet, sugar, breadcrumbs and flaked almonds and stir together until they are well combined.

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Add the marinated mixed fruit and stir again.


Stir the eggs into the mixture.


Call all your family together and take turns to stir the pudding mixture from East to West, making a secret wish as stir.


Spoon the mixture into your greased pudding bowl and press it down lightly with the back of a metal spoon.


Cut out two large circles of greaseproof paper, the size of a large dinner plate.


Cover the pudding with both pieces of the greaseproof paper and top these with foil.  Tie them onto the dish with string.


Steam the pudding for 7 hours.


Remove the pudding from the steamer and let it cool completely.

Remove the paper and prick the pudding with a skewer and add a further tablespoon of brandy.


Cover with a new piece of greaseproof paper and tie it again with string.  Then wrap it in foil to keep it fresh.

Store in a cool place until Christmas day.

My pudding storing in my pantry

My pudding storing in my pantry

On Christmas day, steam again for 1 hour.



Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Friday at my usual time.

A Chicken & Parsnip Stew Recipe

I’ve really enjoyed this week as I have been putting my new kitchen to the test and I’ve got to say it is a dream to work in.  I have space to put things down, which is a luxury I am just not used to.


I started by making a loaf in my breadmaker and I had forgotten how delicious homemade bread tastes.  We have been eating shop bought bread for the last eight weeks and it has cost us a fortune.  Due to my daughter’s dairy intolerance I have been buying Warburtons bread whilst the builders have been here, but it costs £1.45 a loaf!

Today I worked out that the large loaf in my breadmaker costs just 42p to make.

I use my bread slicer to slice my bread and I get approximately fourteen slices from it, which works out at 3p per slice.  Warburtons bread works out at 7p per slice, though I can see it is very easy and convenient to just pick up a ready made sliced loaf from the shops.  However, homemade bread does taste lovely and I know what goes into it.


I also wanted to put my new cooker to the test, so I made my tried and tested easy cake recipe to see how it faired and it cooked it brilliantly.  I love this recipe as you just throw all the ingredients in a bowl and mix it all together.  You can find the recipe here.

As we haven’t had a homemade cake for ages I wanted to make it special for my daughters, so I put normal butter icing on one side (which my eldest daughter really likes) and chocolate butter icing on the other (which my youngest daughter really likes).  I also used homemade strawberry jam to sandwich the sponge layers together.

It felt like a real treat  to have  homemade cake again whilst sitting at our table, it’s something we have all missed.



I also made some flapjacks for my daughter to take to school in her packed lunch and these also cooked lovely in my new oven.



Another cake I made this week was my christmas cake.  I have usually made it by now, but it doesn’t matter as this recipe can be eaten the day you make it if you wanted to.  I always use the same recipe as it is easy and taste lovely.  You can find the recipe here.


My recipe uses ground almonds and I have had a problem buying them this year in the supermarkets…I wonder if anyone else reading this has had the same problem or knows why this is?

In the end I bought flaked almonds and ground them up in my food processor:

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The christmas cake turned out well and is now wrapped up in greaseproof paper in my pantry.  I will ice it nearer the time after it has had another few spoons of brandy poured into it.


Last week, my good friend Arlene, dropped round to give me a ‘kitchen warming’ present. She gave me the cast iron pan, that you can see in the photograph below.  She had only used it once as the burner on her hob was not strong enough to heat the whole base of the pan.  She knew I now had a large burner on my hob and thought I would like it and she was right.


So I decided to cook a Chicken and Parsnip Stew.

As it ages since I have posted a recipe on my blog, I thought I would share how I made it.  Parsnips are really great to add to stews in winter and they are even sweeter now we have had a frost.  I love parsnips in winter when there aren’t many vegetables around and they store really well in the ground.


 Chicken and Parsnip Stew.


2 tbsp olive oil

6-8 chicken pieces (I used legs and thighs)

1 onion chopped

4 medium parsnips roughly chopped

6 large mushrooms chopped

1 ½ pints of chicken stock


Preheat your oven gas 5 / 190C / 375F.

Heat the olive oil in a large ovenproof, lidded casserole dish.


Add the chicken pieces.


Cook the chicken pieces until they are golden brown on all sides.


Add all the other ingredients and finally pour the chicken stock over it.


Cover the dish and cook in the oven for approximately two hours, or until the parsnips are soft and the chicken is cooked.





Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Monday at my usual time.

Making Our Dream A Reality

Back in September I wrote about something very exciting that was about to happen to us:

  We have been in our house eleven years and during this time we have installed double glazing and a new central heating sysyem and last year we had new facias.  These things were all necessary things, but we hadn’t really done anything cosmetic to the house, except to give it a quick lick of paint.

Our kitchen was really small and impractical for the amount of cooking I do and I so enjoy preserving, freezing and storing my produce so we can eat like ‘kings’ on a small budget.  But unfortunately this has always been a real challenge in my tiny kitchen.


After my good friend passed away in February, it made us both realise that life is short and we should follow our dreams.  So this is why we finally decided to make our dream a reality and convert our small kitchen and back room into a kitchen diner.

Below are photographs of the rooms just before the building work began.

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We were very careful in choosing our builder and had various different quotes.  The builder we chose to do the work is called ‘Forestside Building Services Ltd’.  They were very professional each time we spoke to them and they helped us alot at the beginning when we didn’t exactly know what we wanted and this was before they knew we were going to ask them to do the building work.  In fact it was their idea to knock out our chimney breast to make more space for the cupboards that we so desperately wanted.

We also went to view some of their work and spoke to people that had work carried out by them.  So we did our homework first, in the hope that we would make the right decision.


Leading upto the building work, I cooked loads and loads of meals ready to freeze and we moved everything into our front room and bedroom.  This seemed to take ages as I didn’t realise how much I had packed into such a tiny kitchen!

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As we had to clear our kitchen and back room completely, we had to fit an enormous amount into our front room.  I even had to plan it on paper first to make sure it would all fit in.

So for the next eight weeks our front room became the room we would sit, cook and eat in and my daughter even practised her piano in it.

Altogether the front room had the following things in:  A settee, armchair, TV, fridge, piano, large table (with legs removed and chairs in my greenhouse in the garden), three freezers, a microwave, electric steamer and a slow cooker and a camping stove which I would take outside to boil a pan of pasta twice a week when it wasn’t raining.  I also had a kettle with tea and coffee and plates and cutlery.  It certainly is amazing how you cope when you have to.

My eldest daughter made me laugh on the first week of living in the front room, she said that she really liked the room as she could get a drink out of the fridge and switch the TV on without even moving from where she was sitting!


….And so the work began:

The kitchen cupboards and worksurfaces were removed, the fire and fire surround was removed and the ceiling was taken down.

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The chimney breast and the wall between the two rooms was removed and steel supports were then put into place.

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The backdoor was taken out and blocked up and the entrance to the old back room door was blocked up too.

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The builders had warned us about the amount of dust there would be, so each morning I used masking tape to stick a dust sheet over all the doors in the house and I’ve got to say it worked really well.

The pantry door was blocked up in the old kitchen and a new door was created in the hallway, which gave more room for cupboards in the new kitchen.

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Next they knocked out our window and put our lovely french doors in place:


Afterwards the plasterer came and this was when it first began to look like a room again.

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Then the really exciting part…the room was painted and the kitchen cupboards arrived:

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The builders worked very hard installing the kitchen and laying a new floor for us.  We did have one or two hitches with the kitchen, but this was due to the kitchen suppliers (Howdens) sending the wrong end panels and the incorrect cornice for the top of the cupboards, unfortunately the kitchen fitters had installed them before we noticed.  Forestside Builders Ltd were brilliant though and sorted it straight away with Howdens and refitted the correct end panels and cornice without question.

I can only praise Forestside Builders Ltd, as nothing has been too much trouble for them.  In fact they have even given us a new central heating timer, a  new radiator, put up shelves in my pantry and fixed my new curtain pole and they fixed our wall outside for us and haven’t charged us any extra for doing this.  Adam (who oversaw the project), even came to help our piano tuner to move our piano back into the kitchen, to make sure the floor wasn’t damaged in the process.

We still have the odd bit in the kitchen that needs finishing, however this weekend we were been able to bring all my cooking equipment back into the kitchen and we finally had a meal at our dining table….a luxury we have really missed.   The fire and fire surround still needs to be put into our front room and hopefully it will happen this week and I still have to make curtains for my french doors and a roman blind for my windows.



We asked for a practical kitchen with room for a piano and three freezers, but we wanted it to look beautiful as well without looking too modern.  We knew this was a tall order in such a small space but we think we now have all of those things and more.  It’s our dream come true and I can’t quite believe it’s ours.

Thank you so much Forestside Building Services Ltd  for all your hard work.


Presenting our new kitchen-diner:


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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back at my usual time on Friday.

The Things That Make Me Happy

Hi all, it’s nice to be back.


The last eight weeks have been quite strange as we have had the builders here, converting our back room and kitchen into a kitchen diner.  It is nearly finished now, apart from a few little bits and I am hoping to show you some photographs on Monday.  I have just started the process of bringing all my pots, pans and baking equipment downstairs and putting them away in their new places, but I’ll tell you all about it on Monday.  Before then, I thought I would share something with you that happened to me at the end of last month:


Just after I wrote my blog on the 18th October, I went to see my doctor as I had been suffering with stomach pains for a week, which in the end turned out to be IBS.  However, while I was there the doctor examined me and found a lump around my ovaries and she sent me for blood tests and a scan to establish what it was, especially as my grandmother (on my mother’s side) had ovarian cancer when she was younger than me.

Thankfully it turned out to be nothing serious and was thought to be due to damage caused by child birth, as I had a rough time when I gave birth to my eldest daughter.  My blood tests also came back fine and my stomach pains disappeared soon afterwards.  I have got to say though, while I was waiting for the scan date to come through, I felt like my world had been turned upside down and I went through a vast array of emotions.  They told me at my scan that it definitely wasn’t ovarian cancer and I can’t tell you how relieved I was to hear this.


While I was waiting for my scan and feeling quite low and poorly with my stomach, I sat and wrote a list of the things I love to cheer myself up.  It wasn’t until after my scan that I went back to my list and read it again and found that none of the items on my list were material things.  I wondered if any of you out there reading my blog, could identify with some of the things I wrote on my list, so I thought I would share it with you:


Things I love:

Holidays with my family – Cheap but wonderful

The dawn chorus

My girls laughing

The leaves falling off the trees in autumn

The smell of newly cut grass

A lawn when the edges have been cut

The seaside


The wind blowing in my face

The excitement leading up to Christmas and Christmas day

The thrill of seeing a seed I’ve sown germinate

Flowers that look beautiful and attract insects too

Hanging washing on my washing line and watching it blow in the wind.


A clean house

Getting into bed after a bath, with a clean nighty and clean sheets.

The feeling of satisfaction I get when I cook a meal from scratch using vegetables that I have grown.

The feeling of satisfaction I get when I pass on the skills that I have learnt by writing a blog post.

The nice warm feeling I get when my daughters friends come for tea.

The smell of a Christmas cake cooking.



Things I am so grateful for in my lifetime:

To have been able to stay at home with my daughters and see them grow


Meeting my husband.


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I would really like to hear about some of the things you love, that cost little or no money, but make you happy.  Please leave your comments below.

Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Monday at my usual time.

What To Do In The Kitchen Garden In November

When I first started to grow vegetables I really needed information to be in one place, so I could look it up easily. However, I found I had to search for lots of little bits of information, scattered between internet sites and books. It used to take me a long time to find the information I needed.

I thought it would be useful to have this information altogether in one place. So for the benefit of the UK gardeners, I write a list of things to be done each month and any useful information I can think of.

It is worth remembering that different parts of the UK have different weather conditions e.g. the last frost is expected earlier in the south than the north. Therefore, this is a general guide.



November is usually one of the wettest months of the year in the UK, though we do sometimes have a few days of fine, sunny weather.  Shorter days, cooler temperatures and gales are expected this month, together with fog and mist.

Northerly winds can bring snow, though it isn’t likely to last before melting away.

When good days are forecast, it’s a good idea to take advantage of them and clear your plots and start winter digging, or spreading compost or manure on the surface of your soil if you prefer not to dig.



Vegetables and salads to harvest:

Kale, celeriac, parsnips (parsnips taste sweeter after a good hard frost though), swede, carrots, red and white cabbages, Brussels tops, Jerusalem artichokes, winter spinach, kohl rabi’s, oriental salads (if they have been given protection), cauliflowers, turnips, Swiss chard, celery, leeks, radish, land cress, corn salad, rocket.



Fruit to harvest:

Autumn raspberries may still be producing if there haven’t been any hard frosts. There may still be time to pick the last of your late season apples too.


Cape gooseberries from my polytunnel


Vegetables and salads to sow:

Over wintering broad beans e.g. Aquadulce.



Things to plant:

Garlic. Rhubarb, bare-rooted fruit trees and fruit bushes before the ground becomes too wet.



Jobs to do:

Remove old plant debris and weeds and dig in compost, manure or leaf mould if your ground needs it.  If you operate a ‘no-dig’ system, just spread it over the top so the worms will do the work for you.

Cover late crops with cloches, i.e. oriental leaves.


Add lime to your soil if it needs it, before the ground becomes too wet (to increase the PH of your soil).  Don’t add lime at the same time as your manure, as they will chemically react with each other.

Add all the old plant debris to your compost heap as long as it’s not diseased.


Cover areas that have been cleared if you can, to stop the rain from leaching the nutrients out of your soil over the winter.

Mulch celeriac and globe artichokes with straw to stop any frost damage.

Bend a few leaves over on your cauliflowers to protect them from frost.

Weed around your fruit trees and bushes and remove fruit cages so the birds can pick off any insects or eggs on them.


As the fruit trees and fruit bushes become dormant, it is time to start to prune them (except cherries and plums).  Remove any dead or diseased branches first.

Catch up with jobs that you didn’t get time to do in the summer e.g. painting your shed, making a new compost heap etc.

Collect leaves to make leaf mould.


Continue to fill a trench with all your old peelings, where you will be planting runner beans next year.  This will help retain the moisture in those long hot summers  (the ones we dream of).


Plant remaining daffodil bulbs and start to plant tulip bulbs.

Plan what you will be growing next year and enjoy reading through seed catalogues and ordering your seeds.



November pests and diseases:

Remove yellow leaves from brassica’s as this can encourage grey mould.

Whitefly can still be a problem on brassica’s, so either squash them between your fingers or spray them.

Pigeons get hungry at this time of year, so make sure you net your brassica’s.


Watch out for mice as they like to eat your newly planted broad bean seeds, garlic and over wintering onion sets.

Check your stored produce for rot, so it doesn’t spread.

Remove rotten fruit that may still be hanging on your fruit trees.

Fit grease bands or paint on fruit tree grease, if you didn’t do it last month, to stop the winter moth climbing up and laying its eggs.


Thank you for reading my blog today.  I hope this information has been helpful.

I will be back on Friday at my usual time.