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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).

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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.

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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.

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The plants were moist and in good condition:

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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I hope you enjoyed reading my blog today.

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

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Our Decorations And How To Make An Easy Christmas Cake.

Today we put the Christmas Tree up.

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We bought our Christmas tree in the January sales in 1995.  So it is nearly eighteen years old.  I can’t remember how much we paid for it, but it wasn’t more than £25.

I think it’s important to buy a Christmas tree and decorations that will last a long time, as it’s more environmentally friendly to use things over and over again and it’s also cheaper that way.  Our tree looks as good as it did when we first bought it and I’m sure we will have many more christmas’ with it.

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Seven years ago I bought all the baubles etc. in one ‘bumper’ pack that cost me approximately £10.00 and again they still look like new and I hope we will have many happy years with them.

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The Christmas wreath on our front door was purchased from Wilkinsons approximate five years ago.

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Also the Christmas garland was bought from Wilkinsons approximately fifteen years ago.

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I’m sure you will agree they all still look good and it was money well spent.

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Today I made our Christmas cake.

I think homemade christmas cakes taste far nicer than christmas cakes you buy from the supermarket.

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This recipe is great as you don’t need to make it months in advance as it will even taste good if you make it and eat it straight away.  In my usual Mrs Thrift way, I bought the ingredients when Tesco were selling them ‘3 for the price of 2’.

This homemade christmas cake not only tastes really lovely as it is moist and well flavoured, but it fills the house with beautiful christmas smells whilst it is cooking.  Making this cake is one of my christmas pleasures.

I also use this recipe to make three mini christmas cakes, that I give away to my family in the ‘Christmas Hampers of Homemade Goodies.’

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One Of My ‘Mini’ Christmas Cakes

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I will show you how I ice and marzipan my cakes another day.

First though, you need to line your cake tin:

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Line your cake tin by cutting a double length of greaseproof paper 5cm deeper than your tin and long enough to wrap around it with a slight overlap.

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Make a 3cm crease along the folded edge, then cut up to the crease at regular intervals to make a fringe.

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Cut two circles of greaseproof paper by drawing round the base of your tin.

Grease the tin and put one circle in the base and then grease the paper too.

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Fit the long strip of paper around the side of the tin, with the fringed edges flat on the base.

Grease the paper and then place the other circle of greaseproof paper in the bottom and then grease it too.

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You are now ready to make your cake:

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My Christmas Cake Recipe

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175g margarine or butter

200g dark muscovado sugar

750g mixed dried fruit that includes mixed peel

Grated zest and juice of 1 orange

Grated zest of 1 lemon

100ml of brandy (I use the cheapest ‘value’ brandy) plus 4 tablespoons more.

3 eggs lightly beaten

85g ground almonds

200g plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon ground mixed spice

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground all spice

Into a large pan, put the margarine, sugar, dried fruit, zests, juice and 100ml of brandy.

Put on a fairly low heat, stirring all the time, until the margarine has melted and the mixture begins to boil.

Turn the heat down and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove the pan from the heat and leave for approximately 30 minutes to cool.

While you are waiting, preheat your oven Gas Mark 2 / 150C / 300F and line your cake tin.

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After 30 minutes has past, stir your eggs and ground almonds into the pan.

Sift the flour, baking powder and spices into the pan and mix until it is all combined.

Spoon the mixture into your cake tin and smooth it down evenly.

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Bake for 45 minutes and then turn the heat down to Gas Mark 1 / 140C / 275F and cook for a further 1 – 1 ¼ hours (1 ¾ hours if you have a gas oven).  If your cake starts to darken too much, cover the top of the cake with foil.

The cake is cooked when it is a dark golden colour and is firm to the touch.  Insert a skewer into the centre, if it comes out clean then it is cooked.

When it is cooked, make holes all over the cake and spoon over the remaining  4 tablespoons of brandy.

Leave the cake in its tin until it is cold. 

When cold, remove from the tin and peel off the greaseproof paper. 

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Wrap in new greaseproof paper and then in foil.  Store in a cool cupboard.

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This cake will keep for up to three months, but if you really want to get ahead of things, it can be frozen for up to six months.

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If you make this cake, I would love to hear how you get on.

Thank you for reading my blog today

 

An Eco House Event And A Christmas Pudding Recipe.

I don’t normally advertise on my blog, but today I thought I’d talk about a wonderful place in Leicester, called EcoHouse.

Their website can be found here.  It says :

“Leicester’s EcoHouse was the first environmental show home to be opened in the United Kingdom. The House demonstrates how people can live in a more sustainable way, saving money in the process. Entrance is free to the House, although we welcome donations.

The garden is fully organic and demonstrates how to garden for wildlife and food.

The house, café and garden are open to the public Wednesday to Sunday to both look around and seek advice. Guided tours are offered and the training room may also be hired for events and meetings.  For school visits we can tailor tours and activities to a group’s needs to tie into the National Curriculum”

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There are various events that take place at EcoHouse, that are well worth a visit.  One such event is:

‘Christmas Decorations From The Garden’

Sunday 2nd December 2012

2.00 pm – 4.00pm  

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Rob Carter will be running the event and this is what he says about it:

“We provide a range of green material from local gardens and people use their imagination to make things.  There are always folk who know exactly what they want to do and others copy them, while their own atrophied imaginations are kicking into gear.

The sort of material that will be used, is willow and hazel wreath frames, wooden roundels for table decorations, logs, conifer greenery, holly of various types, dried flower heads, pine cones, etc.”

I think it sounds fantastic.

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Also, while I’m on the subject of EcoHouse, Rob Carter also runs an excellent organic gardening course:

“This friendly course has been running since 2001. It offers new organic gardeners a grounding in the basic principles and makes strong connections with the worldwide issues of resource depletion and sustainable cultivation. Established gardeners are also very welcome. New gardeners are often excitingly innovative and experience contributes great wisdom and intelligent criticism. The course hopes to encourage participation from the group at all times.  The course comprises of nine sessions in total.”

I personally know Rob and he is an inspiration with his knowledge of organic gardening practises.  I have learnt so much by listening to him.

You can read about the course he runs here.

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‘Stir–up Sunday’

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Last years Christmas pudding

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This Sunday is ‘Stir-up Sunday’.  This is the traditional day to make your Christmas pudding.

The name comes from the opening words of the collect (the prayer of the day), in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer:

“Stir-up, we beseech thee” .

On Stir-up Sunday, families would return from the church and each give the pudding a stir and make a wish.  The pudding would be stirred from East to West  in honour of the three wise men who visited the baby Jesus.

As with many English puddings, Christmas pudding started out as a meaty dish but evolved over the centuries, via Plum Pudding, into the sweet creation that we know today.

The recipe I have written below is one my eldest sister gave to me.  She has been making this pudding since she was eleven years old, so it is definitely tried and tested.  It is an unusual recipe because it doesn’t contain any alcohol and it doesn’t use eggs.  If you are dairy intolerant, I’m sure it would be fine to use soya milk instead of the cows milk too.

I’ve got to say it is delicious.

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Helen’s Christmas Pudding Recipe

3 oz. plain flour

3oz soft brown sugar

1 lemon zest and juice

1 orange zest and juice

1 small carrot grated

¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 ½ oz. white breadcrumbs

1 ½ dessertspoons golden syrup

6 tablespoon of milk

¾ teaspoon mixed spice

¾ teaspoon cinnamon

3oz suet

3oz grated apple

1 lb. mixed dried fruit

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Put all the ingredients into a mixing bowl.

Mix all the ingredients together and place in a greased pudding bowl.

Cut out two 12 inch squares of greaseproof paper.

Put the squares on top of each other and put a 1 inch pleat in the middle.

Tie the greaseproof paper over the pudding bowl with string.

Steam for six hours.

Either serve straight away or allow to cool and replace the greaseproof paper and store in the fridge.

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My sister tells me that this pudding will keep in the fridge for up to a month.  However, the pudding tastes lovely the day you make it, so this pudding can be made much closer to Christmas.

I reheated the pudding in the microwave for approximately 13 minutes.  My microwave is only 700w so it may need less time, depending on how powerful your microwave is.  Just make sure it’s piping hot inside.

Thank you for reading my blog today

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