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Homemade Christmas Gifts…

This week I have been busy again.  I started the week by making another batch of laundry liquid.  It still amazes me how much I save by making my own liquid and it only takes about fifteen minutes to make approximately three months worth (and I wash a full load every day).

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I also made some more dishwasher liquid too, using soap nuts:

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And I topped up my homemade multipurpose kitchen spray too, using white vinegar and a few drops of teatree oil.  The vinegar cuts easily through grease and dirt and the teatree oil turns it into an antibacterial spray.

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All of the above things help me to save money around the home and I don’t use any nasty chemicals either.

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In the garden:

I also managed to buy another bag of woodchip to complete my the paths in the new area in my kitchen garden:

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I then brought a couple of bags of soil conditioner to spread over two of my beds (I will buy some for the other beds another day):

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I have left the soil conditioner on the top of the soil so the worms can do the hard work for me over winter.  I have also covered the two beds with weed suppressant to prevent weeds from growing and to also prevent the winter rain from leaching the nutrients out of the soil:

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I am already looking forward to growing crops in this area next Spring.

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Preparations For Christmas:

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Well Christmas is nearly here and this week I have been turning my attention to Christmas presents.

On Saturday I talked to BBC Radio Leicester about Christmas presents on a budget:

You can listen to the interview here if anyone is interested.  The interview starts 11 mins into the show.

I love chatting to Radio Leicester and they always make me feel very welcome.  I hope this comes across in the interview.

One of the things I talked about was homemade presents.  I love homemade presents as I always say they are “from the heart and not just the bank account”.  I took in three homemade presents to show (and taste) and explained that they are far cheaper to make than buy and by making them yourself you can have far nicer presents for far less money:

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The present on the right looks like a Christmas pudding and my daughter made these for all her friends and teachers last year and kindly made this one for me to take to the radio show.  It is a chocolate orange with maltesers stuck on with melted chocolate and she melted white chocolate over the top (to look like cream) and she put a little bit of plastic holly on the top.  She wrapped it in cellophane and it looked fantastic.

The box in the middle had homemade truffles in.  I love homemade truffles as they are so easy to make and look and taste really good:

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I also took in a present of which contained cubes of chocolate with cranberries and sultana’s and this is how I made it:

First I melted a bar of my favourite chocolate in a bowl over a pan of gently simmering water stirring all the time…

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When the chocolate had melted I added some cranberries and sultana’s and mixed them until they were fully coated in the chocolate (you can use anything you enjoy e.g. smarties, maltesers etc)…

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I then poured the mixture into a tin / container that was lined with clingfilm (you can use silicone bakeware too if you have it)….

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I then left the chocolate mixture to set (don’t put it in the fridge).

When it was set I took it out of the mould and removed the clingfilm….

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I drizzle some melted white chocolate over the top and again left it to set…

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When it was set I chopped the chocolate into cubes and wrapped it in cellophane….

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Top chefs will tell you that the chocolate should be ‘tempered’ to keep the shine on the chocolate, but if you slowly melt the chocolate and keep it away from the fridge whilst setting, I don’t think you need to for this.

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This week, as Christmas is near I turned my attention to my Christmas hampers.  I started by covering my homemade jars of jams and chutneys with a pretty pieces of tissue paper, tied with a bow:

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And then I wrapped a few surprises (including my homemade wine) to also go into my hampers too and then I started to put them altogether:

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I am very pleased with the result, though I do still have two hampers to do.

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I also made three mini Christmas cakes this week and a full sized cake too.  The Christmas cake recipe I use is very easy and can be eaten straight away, without having to continually ‘top it up’ with brandy.  The recipe is here.

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I like to give the mini Christamas cakes to our parents, as they are just the right size for them to enjoy.

I decorated the mini cakes and wrapped them in cellophane and I think they look great and I would be very pleased to receive one….so lets hope they like them:

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Just incase you are wondering, I brought my roll of cellophane approximately three years ago on-line and I still have loads left.

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  I checked this week and you can buy a 100 meter roll of clear cellophane for about £12 (incl. delivery).

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Before I finish today I wanted to show you a lovely couple of chocolate logs that my daughter made last week for her friends at school…..apparently they all enjoyed it.   The recipe is here.

Each chocolate log costs approximately £1.50 to make and tastes delicious……to buy a supermarket ‘finest’ chocolate log it costs £3 and I bet it wouldn’t be as nice!

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I also want to show you some wonderful cakes that one of my daughters friends made to take into school too this week:

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I think the cakes look wonderful and it just shows what you can do with a little bit of imagination!

“Homemade really is from the heart and not just the bank account”

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Thank you for reading my blog today.  I will be back next Friday as usual.

Have a great week!

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‘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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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Cover and leave to marinate overnight.

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

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

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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.

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Stir the eggs into the mixture.

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

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

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

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

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Steam the pudding for 7 hours.

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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.

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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.

Enjoy!

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Friday at my usual time.

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.

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.

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.

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Parsnips

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.

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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:

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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.

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Spicy Parsnip Soup

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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Reheat the soup and then add the lemon juice.

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Serve with some nice homemade bread.

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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.

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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.

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

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Sweet Pastry Mince Pies

1lb Plain Flour, plus extra for rolling.

10 oz. Hard margarine chopped

1 Tablespoon of caster sugar

Mincemeat

A little milk

Icing sugar to dust the pies

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

Put all the ingredients in a bowl.

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

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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.

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Then use your hands to form a ball.

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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.  

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

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Put each ‘round’ into a pastry case.

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Put a teaspoon of your mincemeat into the pastry cases.

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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.

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Cut a cross in the top of each pie.

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Bake for 15 minutes.

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

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

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Thank you for reading my blog today