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Merry Christmas!

Monday, 24 December 2012
To all my friends, family, readers of my blog and those who have stumbled across this page:

However you are celebrating, we hope you are having a great festive season.  Along with the merriment please spare a thought and prayer for those who are missing family and friends for whatever reason at Christmas time.  Keep safe and look after each other.

Merry Christmas from my family to yours!

Christmas Gingerbread House

We made and constructed a Gingerbread House last Christmas, it was duly transported to Church for everyone to devour.  We've made another one this year, however it will be devoured by us and those coming for Christmas Dinner at ours this year.

It is such a fun activity and keeps my daughters busy for quite a while.  We make the dough from scratch, cut out the pieces using templates then 'glue' it all together using royal icing.  I roll out the dough slightly thicker than usual as the house has to hold the weight of all the icing and sweets piled on top of it.  We also put a clear boiled sweet into the windows of the cut out pieces as it melts to make a strong window pane, this means that the windows are filled in and not a void/weak point of the house.  Once the house is built we usually wait until the next day to decorate it.  This enables the gingerbread to dry out and the icing to properly harden. 

As with most things at Christmas time, the 'less is more' mantra does not apply!

You can find the gingerbread dough recipe that we used here.

Christmas Mincemeat Bakewell Style Slice

Thursday, 20 December 2012

This is another recipe for using up Christmas fruit mincemeat should you have a jar knocking about, it's also great for using up shortcrust pastry if you are bored with making Christmas Mince Pies.  My mother in law used to bake Bakewell Tarts in Bakewell at a bakery before she moved from the UK to NZ when she was much younger.  My husband, despite disliking almonds, likes Bakewell Tart so I decided to make my own version using Christmas mincemeat instead of jam and vanilla bean paste instead of almond extract.  It went down very well in our household and I managed to secretly package up half of it for a friend and her family.

I used a disposable foil baking tray from Lakeland to bake the slice in which measured 8 inches x 13 inches or 20cm x 33cm. 

You can use either bought shortcrust pastry or make your own, either way you'll need about 350g.

Christmas Mincemeat Bakewell Style Slice

350g sweet shortcrust pastry
8 - 10 Tblsp Christmas Fruit Mincemeat
200g butter, softened
200g caster sugar
4 medium free range eggs
100g ground almonds
100g self-raising flour
1 tsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 180°C/Fan160°C.  Roll out the pastry thinly on a lightly floured surface and use it to line your baking tray.  Spread the Christmas fruit mincemeat over the pastry base.

Put the butter, caster sugar and vanilla in a large bowl and beat until smooth and creamy.  I use my trusty stand mixer.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, adding 1 Tbsp of ground almonds with each egg to help stabilise the mixture.  Fold through the flour and remaining almonds then spoon the mixture over the fruit mincemeat.  Level the surface.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until the sponge is well risen, firm and golden.  Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin.

Icing and decoration

In a small bowl, mix together 300g icing sugar and 3 Tbsp water to make a fairly thick icing. When the tart is cold, spread the icing evenly over the top.  Decorate with glacé cherries and wait for the icing to set.  Cut the tart into squares or rectangles then serve.

I'm entering this recipe into the No Waste Food Challenge over at Kate's fab blog Turquoise Lemons


I'm also submitting this recipe to Alphabakes because this months letter is S and my recipe is a Slice.  Alphabakes is jointly administered and cohosted by The More Than Occasional Baker and Caroline Makes.

Leftover Christmas Mincemeat Muffins

Monday, 17 December 2012

Not everyone likes Christmas Mince Pies and these muffins are a tasty alternative, great for putting in gift hampers or just having with a well deserved cuppa during the busy festive season.  They are also a fab way of using up leftover fruit mince that you may have knocking about, there is nothing worse than having half a jar and nothing to bake with it.

300g plain flour
75g light soft brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
250g fruit mince
handful of dried cranberries
300ml sour cream
75ml milk
60ml vegetable oil
1 free range egg

Preheat oven to 180°C. Line a 12 hole muffin tin with muffin cases of your choice.

Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, bicarbonate soda and cinnamon into a mixing bowl.  Add the cranberries and stir to combine all the dry ingredients together.

In large measuring jug or separate bowl mix together the soured cream, milk, oil, egg and Christmas fruit mincemeat. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined, don't beat or over mix otherwise the muffins will be tough and not light.

Fill the lined muffin tin holes evenly with the muffin mixture and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the muffins are cooked through.  Cool slightly then dust with icing sugar before enjoying one or two with a cuppa.

Christmas Reviews Roundup

Wednesday, 12 December 2012
I have been sent many times to review and mull over this festive season so I have decided to put some of them in a round up.  If like me you are disorganised, panicking, and unprepared just getting around to sorting out Christmas gifts then hopefully you will find these reviews helpful.

Harrods Hamper

hamper harrods christmas
Photo courtesy of Harrods.

I was recently sent The Chelsea Hamper from Harrods worth £70 to review.  The hamper contained the following:

1 x 50g Tin of Harrods Christmas Spice Loose Leaf Tea

1 x 250g Harrods Christmas Spice Ground Coffee

1 x 200g Harrods Christmas Pudding

1 x jar Harrods Brandy Butter

1 x jar Harrods Strawberry & Champagne Conserve

1 x packet Harrods Brandy Butter Shortbread

1 x Harrods Chocolate Praline Selection Box

1 x Harrods Christmas Bauble

The contents of the hamper were delicious and the quality you would expect from a famous and exclusive store such as Harrods.  But not only do you get to feast on some fabulous festive treats you are also left with a gorgeous hamper for storage.  I would happily recommend this, or indeed the other hampers Harrods have available for this time of year.  Harrods have food hampers to suit every budget, including Luxury Chocolate Hampers, this festive season - perfect if you have picky people to buy for.

Ferrero Rocher Hamper

I was also send a large hamper of Ferrero Rocher to devour with some carefully matched wines.  Unfortunately the PR company had run out of wine so I was sent more chocolate instead, result!  The chocolate went down very well with a group of Mums I invited for a chocolate and wine tasting session.  It was just the sort of evening we needed as an antidote to all the Christmas rush and we enjoyed taking time out for ourselves indulging in two of our favourite vices.

We all we had a brilliant evening and I would definitely do something like this again.  It was fun to get together with great friends and enjoy a treat.  My friends are wondering how we can make this a regular session once a month! 

Hotel Chocolat Rather Large Christmas Cracker

Rather Large Cracker
Photo courtesy of Hotel Chocolat

We were also sent a delicious Hotel Chocolate Rather Large Christmas Cracker rrp £38 to review.  It is enormous!  There are 40 chocolates wrapped in pairs within the middle section along with party hats and a selection of jokes in an envelope.  This would be perfect for an after dinner treat if you are having family over for Christmas.  My 3 daughters enjoyed the non-alcoholic chocolates and I thoroughly enjoyed the boozy ones.  A great gift idea for someone hosting a Christmas gathering.  Hotel Chocolat have many different festive treats to suit all tastes and budgets, great gifts for chocoholics.

Dunelm Mill Christmas Range

I was recently able to select some products from the Gifts for Cooks and Christmas Cook and Dine ranges at Dunelm Mill to review.  I was delighted as a branch of Deunelm Mill has recently opened in a Retail Park near me and I have spent time browsing the aisles forming a wish list for future purchases.  Thankfully my husband has no idea how long my wishlist is! 

I chose the following items:

Red Cast Iron Casserole Dish

6 Fabric Hearts

Red Wooden Hanging Heart

Merry Christmas Sign  

All the items arrived swiftly and are of excellent quality.  I have used the mixing bowl and festive red coloured cast iron casserole dish to help prepare Christmas treats for us here at home and edible gifts for friends.  The hanging hearts are great for decorating packages of homemade treats when wrapping them as gifts as well as decorating your house or Christmas tree.
I wholeheartedly recommend a browe on the Dunelm Mill online store or instore for your festive decorating and gift needs.  There is a large selection of items to suit all budgets, and you can be assured of good quality.  

** Many thanks to Harrods, Ferrero Rocher, Hotel Chocolat and Dunelm Mill for sending these items to me for review purposes. **

My Christmas Mincemeat and Christmas Mince Pies

Monday, 10 December 2012

My 12yo decided that she HAD to make some Christmas Mince Pies from scratch the other day after school.  She had been nagging for a week or more so we prepared the mincemeat on the weekend and she make the pastry fresh on the day she made the Christmas Mince Pies.  I must say that they were delicious and she did a fabulous job.  The fact that there were only 3  pies left for her to take to school to share is evidence of how good they tasted.

Slowcooker Christmas Mincemeat

Here's our recipe for Slow Cooker Christmas Mincemeat which makes about 5 x 400g jars.  I used my large slowcooker to make our Christmas Mincemeat but you could just use a large stockpot saucepan on the hob.  As long as your mixture reaches 150C then it is fine to put into jars.  Sterilise your jars in the oven for 10 - 15 minutes at 120C with the lids or simmer the lids for 5 mins in a saucepan of boiling water. 

500g apples, cored and chopped into small dice
250g shredded vegetarian suet
800g mixed dried fruit
150g candied mixed peel
350g dark soft brown sugar
zest and juice from 2 oranges and 2 lemons
4 tsp ground mixed spice
1 whole nutmeg, grated
1 tsp ground cinnamon
90ml brandy or whisky

Mix all the ingredients, except the brandy, together in a large non-metallic bowl.  Leave covered with clingfilm for 12 hours.  Pour into the slow cooker and cook on LOW for about 4 hours.  Stir the mixture every hour or so.  Check the temperature with a sugar thermometer if you have one, you need it to reach 150C.  Once it reaches this temperature turn off the slow cooker and allow the mixture to cool before stirring in the brandy and putting the mincemeat into the sterilised jars.

If you are making the mincemeat on the hob, follow the instructions above then place in a saucepan on the hob and bring slowly to the boil.  Again you need it to reach 150C or to boil for at least 5 - 10 minutes until it is thick and syrupy.  Allow to cool slightly before adding the brandy and putting the mincemeat into the serialised jars.

Quick and Easy Christmas Mincemeat (No Cook)

This recipe makes enough mincemeat for 24 normal sized Christmas Mince Pies.  If you only want to make 12 then halve the quantities given.

200g luxury mixed fruit, with added candied peel
1 Bramley apple, cored and grated
50g dark sot brown sugar
25g dried cranberries
Grated zest of 1 orange
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1½ tsp ground mixed spice
25g fresh white breadcrumbs
60ml brandy

At lest one day before you want to use the mincemeat, mix all the ingredients together in a non-metallic bowl and set aside covered with clingfilm.  Use within a couple of days.

Pastry - Version One (Food mixer version)

I use this pastry to make jam or lemon curd tarts and it is a really easy pastry to make either by hand or in a mixer.  This recipe makes 24 Christmas Mine Pies at a time so feel free to halve the quantities should you only want to make 12.

250g butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 free range eggs
4 cups plain flour
2 tsp baking powder

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat well. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt over the creamed mixture and mix until combined.  Turn the mixture out onto a lightly floured board and knead well for a couple of minutes.  Wrap the dough in cling film and chill in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 180°C.  Lightly grease a standard sized muffin. Roll the pastry out to 2-3mm thick. Cut out rounds with the appropriate sized fluted edged cutter, and gently line the muffin holes with pastry rounds.

Fill the uncooked pastry cases with Christmas mincemeat.  Cut out small stars from the pastry and use them to top the mince pies, or cut out rounds with a fluted edged cutter to make lids.  Bake in your preheated oven for 20 minutes.

Pastry - Version Two (By hand version)

This is the pastry my 12yo made when she baked her Christmas Mince Pies.  I was using the mixer for something else at the time and she wanted to make pastry by hand instead of "cheating with a machine" as she put it.  This makes enough pastry for 24 Christmas mince pies.

75g icing sugar
200g plain flour
75g butter, at room temperature
2 medium free range egg yolks
2 Tblsp cold milk

Sift the icing sugar and flour into a bowl then run the flour into it until the mixture resembles  breadcrumbs.  Mix the eggs and milk together then add it to the dry ingredients.  Mix until combined but be careful not to overwork the dough or you will end up with tough pastry.

Wrap the dough in cling film then chill in the fridge for 15 minutes.  Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface and cut out 24 circles to line the holes of two 12 hole muffin tins that have been lightly greased. 

Preheat your oven to 180C.  Gently put the pastry into the holes of each muffin tin and fill with a couple of spoonfuls of mincemeat, not too much otherwise they will overflow when baking.  Top with stars cut from the remaining pastry that has been rerolled.

Bake in your preheated oven for 20 minutes.  You can freeze the Christmas Mince Pies for up to a month once they have been cooked, just reheat from frozen for 15 minutes at 200C.

My Festive Mini Panettone

I made these late one night to take to a Coffee Morning the next day.  They would be a fab addition to a gift hamper of treats for Christmas or just to devour with a cuppa or as breakfast on Christmas Morning.  The Mini Panettone went down very well at the Coffee Morning with our vicar Sue declaring that "they are better than good sex!"  High praise indeed. *giggle*  I shall definitely be baking several more batches of them this festive season as they are now very much in demand.  I wonder why?!

I made mine in disposable mini loaf tins but you could use lined muffin tins to bake them in instead.

500g strong white bread flour
½ tsp salt
1 tsp dried yeast
120ml lukewarm milk
2 medium free range eggs
2 medium free range egg yolks
150g butter softened
75g caster sugar
150g mixed fruit
50g dried cranberries

I made these in my stand mixer but you can just as easily make them by hand.  Put the flour into a mixing bowl, add the salt and make a well in the centre. Warm the milk in a measuring jug the microwave (or saucepan) until it is lukewarm - too hot and it will kill the yeast.  Whisk the yeast and whole eggs into the warmed milk.  Pour into the well you made in the flour and mix a little flour into the liquid so that it is the consistency of custard.  Leave the mixture to rest for about half an hour.

Add the egg yolks, butter and sugar into the bowl with the flour.  Mix everything together until thoroughly and totally combined. 

Knead the dough for 5 - 7 minutes.  Cover the dough and leave to prove until doubled in size, this can take up to 2 hours so be patient.  Scatter over the dried fruit and gently knead them through the dough which will help knock the dough back.

Divide the dough into 12 and put into the lined muffin tin holes or mini loaf moulds.  I try to make sure that there is no dried fruit exposed on the surface of the loaves because it can get overcooked during cooking and taste bitter.  Set aside the dough, covered with greased cling film, and prove for an hour.

Preheat your oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas Mark 4 then bake the loaves for 20 minutes.  You can brush the tops of the loaves with melted butter and sprinkle with caster sugar before you bake them if you like.  I did this the next morning then put them in the oven for 10 minutes at 180C/160C fan/Gas Mark 4 to warm through before they were enthusiastically devoured.  


Our Family Meal Plan for Week Of 10/12 - £56

Saturday, 8 December 2012
Yes, I have at last blogged a Meal Plan after not having done so for a few weeks.  Rest assured I have still been Meal Planning and not fallen off the budgeting wagon, I have just been flat out with work and life so have not had the time or energy to blog the Meal Plans we have been using as a family.

I have a couple of busy weeks ahead so my 3 girls will be having school dinners, much to their dismay but it does free up time that I need to spend working so they will have to put up with the situation until school breaks up for the Christmas Holidays.

The weather here in the UK has gone from us thinking we need to build an ark to us thinking we will be soon building igloos.  Either way it is cold, freezing or below most nights and low single figure highs during the day.  Comfort food is needed, hopefully not too much of the sort that makes us look like we're wearing  padded coat when we've already taken our coat off LOL

I will be making several batches of soup which hubby and I will have for our lunches and will also be an after school snack for our 3 girls.  A cup of soup will be a more nutritious and filling alternative to a hot chocolate or hot cordial when they get home from school and are ready to devour the contents of the fridge.

Our breakfasts will be warming porridge with fruit compote or homemade bread toasted and spread with vegemite or homemade jams.  As usual I have included the price of flour and yeast in the shopping list.  I realise that families may not have the time, energy or inclination to make their own bread so that will alter the cost of the Meal Plan should that be the case.  We also have some hardy greens from the garden to use and I have added the cost of those in to the Meal Plan as not everyone has access to greens from the garden.

The cost of our Meal Plan this week was £56.39 from Asda on 08/12 and our shop would've cost £67.44 from Tesco and £68.66 from Sainsburys.  As usual I used My Supermarket to compare the cost of my shopping.


Vegetable Soup

1 onion, diced
1 Tblsp oil
4 cups of vegetables - I used leeks, celery, carrots and pumpkin
1 large potato or sweet potato
Vegetable stock, enough to cover the vegetables
seasoning to taste

Soften the onion in the oil over a medium heat then add the vegetables and cook, covered, until softened,  Add enough stock to just cover the vegetables and then simmer until they are tender.

Blend with a stick blender until smooth, season to taste, adding more stock or water to thin down the soup to your preferred consistency.

Vegetable and Lentil Soup

1 onion, finely diced
2 celery sticks, finely sliced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 swede, peeled and diced
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 Tblsp ground cumin
115g red lentils
2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
1.25 Litres vegetable stock

Put a large saucepan on the hob over a medium heat. Sauté the vegetables and garlic in a little oil until they begin to soften. Add the cumin and cook for a minute until fragrant. Add all the rest of the ingredients to the saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until all the vegetables are tender.

If I can be bothered I whizz up the soup a little with a stick blender. I serve this with cheese on toast or crusty bread rolls.

Carrot and Coriander Soup


Vegetable Nachos - Monday

1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
2 x 400g cans mild chilli beans
1 x 300g can whole corn kernels, drained
1 large packet nacho chips
1/2 cup grated cheese

Preheat oven to 200°C

Heat a non-stick fry pan that has been sprayed with a little oil. When pan is hot, cook onion and garlic for about 5 minutes or until onion softens.

Stir in beans, corn and canned tomatoes (including tomato juice).  Bring mixture to the boil then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes or until mixture has thickened. Stir occasionally so mixture doesn't stick to bottom of pan.

Place corn chips onto large oven-proof dish. Pour bean mixture over chips. Sprinkle with cheese.  Bake uncovered for about 10 minutes or until cheese is golden and melted.

Mince and Pasta Bake - Tuesday

400g lean beef mince
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 pepper, deseeded and chopped
2 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
1 tsp mixed herbs
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 Tblsp Tomato paste
1 tsp beef stock powder
1 Tblsp sugar
1 Tblsp corn flour
1 Tblsp water
200g dried pasta - I used penne
1 tbsp butter or oil
1 heaped tbsp plain flour
250ml milk
¼ cup grated cheese

Brown the mince in frying pan. Add the chopped onion, garlic and capsicum and continue cooking until the vegetables are soft. Pour in the tinned tomatoes, tomato paste, herbs, stock, sugar and Worcestershire sauce and simmer for 10-15 minutes. While the sauce is simmering cook the pasta in boiling salted water according to the packet directions and assemble the cheese sauce.

Melt the butter or oil is a small saucepan, turn the heat to low and stir in the flour. Mix well and then using a whisk gradually add the milk, a little at a time, stirring continuously to create a smooth lump free sauce. When all the milk is added swap the whisk for a wooden spoon and stir the sauce continuously until it begins to thicken. Do not allow it to boil. When the sauce will coat the back of a spoon, stir in the grated cheese, mix well and set aside. Drain the pasta and stir into the meat sauce, place in a heat proof dish and smooth over the top. Spoon the sauce over the top and grill or bake (depending on how much time you have) until golden.

Vegetable Fritters - Wednesday

2 free range eggs
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 cups grated courgette, or 1 tin of whole kernel corn, drained
1 Tblsp fresh mint, finely chopped (optional)
1/2 cup milk
125g grated cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Beat eggs and half the milk.

Stir in flour and grated courgette (or corn), feta and mint. Add more milk, if needed. If the mixture is too runny, add a little more flour.

Heat the oil in a non-stick pan.  Place spoonful of mixture into the pan.  When the mixture bubbles turn the fritters over. Cook the other side until golden brown.

Place cooked fritters on a paper towel and keep warm in the oven until the whole batch has been made.  Serve with steamed greens and homemade salsa.

Minestrone with Meatballs - Thursday

430g beef mince
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 stalks celery, finely sliced
2 small courgettes, roughly chopped
400 g can chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 litre beef stock
400 g can cannellini beans, drained
400 g can kidney beans, drained
1 cup dried pasta (I used penne)
1 tsp dried basil
1 big bunch spinach leaves
1 handful fresh basil leaves

In a large saucepan, gently fry onion and garlic over a low heat until transparent. Add bacon and fry until crisp. Throw in carrots, celery, courgettes, green beans and frankly any other veggies you have on hand. Make sure, however, that they are cut to the same size so that they cook evenly. If some vegetables are denser than others, dice them a little smaller. Cook vegetables over a medium heat until carrots start to soften and brown a little.

Add tomatoes, tomato paste and stock and bring to a gentle simmer. Add cannellini beans, half the can of kidney beans and pasta and simmer gently for at least 20 minutes or until the pasta has softened.

While soup is simmering, make tiny meatballs. Mix beef mince with dried basil, a good pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Form a meatball from a heaped teaspoon of minced beef. Repeat until all mince mixture is used.

Fry meatballs in a little olive oil until lightly browned all over. Make sure they are small, otherwise they’ll break apart in the soup, though that’s not a complete disaster!

When pasta is softened, add meatballs, spinach and basil and stir through. Simmer for another 5 minutes then, if wished, serve with a swirl of pesto on top or a dusting of Parmesan, or both.

Mixed Vegetable Frittata - Friday

3 Tblsp oil
300g pumpkin, peeled and diced
300g potato, peeled and diced
6 free range eggs
Handful or two frozen mixed vegetables
Salt and pepper

Heat oil in a non-stick frying pan (about 24cm diameter).

Add potatoes and pumpkin to pan and cook over a moderate heat for 10 minutes or until tender.

Beat eggs and seasonings together in a bowl. Pour over potato and vegetable mixture and cook without stirring over a low heat for 5 to 8 minutes or until the egg has set.

When the egg sets, sprinkle with a little grated cheese over the top and pop under the grill until golden and bubbly. Or instead of putting under the grill, cover with a lid and cook for a little longer.

Serve hot or warm in generous wedges with a simple salad or steamed greens.  Wrap leftovers and have cold for lunch the next day.

Slow Cooker Beef Casserole – Saturday, and as pasties on Sunday

1 kg casserole beef
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 each red and green capsicum, chopped
2 Tblsp plain flour
2 Tblsp tomato paste
250ml beef stock
400g can chopped tomatoes
1 Tblsp dried oregano
400g can cannellini beans, well drained

Cut beef into 2.5cm-3cm pieces and season the beef with salt and pepper. Brown the meat in a frying pan over a high heat and transfer to a slow cooker.

Scatter in the onion, garlic and capsicums. Stir the flour, tomato paste and beef stock together to make a smooth paste and pour over the beef. Add the tomatoes, scatter in the oregano and cover.

Sloe Cooker:  Cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 3-5 hours. Add the cannellini beans, stir to mix and allow to heat through before serving.

Oven Cook:  Prepare the casserole as above, adding an extra 250ml of beef stock. Cook in a lidded ovenproof dish at 180ºC for 120 minutes.

Hob Cooking:  Put the browned beef and other ingredients into a heavy-based pot. Partially cover, and keeping the heat low, simmer until the meat is very tender. Stir occasionally, adding water if needed during the cooking time to keep ingredients just covered. In the last 30 minutes of cooking time, add the tomatoes and cannellini beans.

Weekend Lunches

Baked Beans on toast

Twice Baked Potatoes

Weekend Breakfasts

Eggs and Soldiers



Chelsea Buns

Spiced Apple Muffins

3 cups plain flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon each ginger and mixed spice
1½ cups milk
1 cup finely diced peeled apple
2 eggs
few drops vanilla essence
½ cup sultanas, optional
100g butter, melted and cooled

Preheat the oven to 200ºC. Grease 16-18 standard muffin cups or line with paper cases.

Sift the flour, baking powder, sugar and spices into a bowl and make a well in the centre.  Beat together the milk, apple, eggs and vanilla essence. Fold into the dry ingredients, adding the sultanas, if using and the butter towards the end of mixing.

Three-quarters fill the prepared muffin cups and bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes or until well risen, golden and cooked.  Remove muffins from the oven and serve warm or leave to cool and pack into lunchboxes.

Shopping List

39 items: £56.39

Packets and Cereals
1x ASDA Smartprice Porridge Oats (1Kg) 75p
1x Silver Spoon Granulated Sugar (1Kg) 88p
1x Asda Wholefoods Strong White Bread Flour (1.5Kg) 60p
1x ASDA Smartprice Plain White Flour (1.5Kg) 60p
1x ASDA Smartprice Pasta Shapes (500g) 24p
1x Great Scot Red Split Lentils (500g) £1.28
1x ASDA Chosen by You Ready to Roll Puff Pastry (500g) £1.00
1x Asda Home Baking Easy Bake Yeast (6 per pack - 42g) 64p
1x ASDA Wholefoods Brown Bread Flour (1.5Kg) £1.28

Tins, Jars and Cooking
1x ASDA Baked Beans in Tomato Sauce (4x410g) £1.42
8x ASDA Smartprice Chopped Tomatoes (400g) £2.48
2x ASDA Cannellini Beans in Water (300g) £1.28
2x ASDA Chosen by You Chilli Beans (290g) £1.36
1x ASDA Smartprice Red Kidney Beans in Water (400g) 27p
2x ASDA Smartprice Sweetcorn (326g) 64p

2x ASDA Smartprice Mixed Vegetables (1Kg) £1.50
2x ASDA Chosen by You Diced Casserole Beef (454g) £5.00

Dairy and Eggs
5x ASDA British Semi Skimmed Milk 4 Pints (2.27L) £5.00
1x ASDA Chef's Value Medium Eggs (30) £3.10
1x ASDA Smartprice Salted Butter (250g) 98p
1x The Lake District Cheese Co. Mature Cheddar (2x350g) £3.00

Fruit and Vegetables
1x ASDA Smartprice Mixed Fruit (500g) 98p
2x ASDA Spring Greens (500g) £1.94
20 ASDA Smartprice Apples by Weight (100g) £2.00
20 ASDA Bananas by Weight (100g) £1.36
1x ASDA Lemons Loose 30p
5 ASDA Courgettes by Weight (100g) 81p
10 ASDA Red Onions by Weight (100g) 90p
5 ASDA Swede by Weight (100g) 42.5p
2x ASDA White Potatoes (2.5Kg) £3.00 2 FOR £3.00
10 ASDA Butternut Squash by Weight (100g) 90p was 10.7p
1x ASDA Celery 89p
1x ASDA Trimmed Leeks (500g) £1.00
1x ASDA Garlic Loose 30p
1x ASDA Smartprice Peppers (700g) £1.25
2x ASDA Carrots (1.2Kg) £2.00
1x ASDA Clementine (650g) £1.00

Snacks and Sweets
1x ASDA Chosen by You Nacho Cheese Tortilla Chips (200g) 80p was 95p

Meat, Fish and Poultry
1x ASDA Butcher's Selection Beef Mince (830g) £3.23

Prices and special offers reflect those of the online grocery websites, and are correct as of 8 December 2012.

Spiced Cranberry and Chocolate Chip Cookies

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

These Christmas cookies are great for gifts or with a well earned cuppa.  They are so easy to make and you can vary the flavour to suit your tastes, change the chocolate chips for fudge pieces or make them fruit and nut, they are adaptable and delicious.

2 cups plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
185g butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup light soft brown sugar
1/4 cup caster sugar
1 free range egg
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preheat your oven to 170C and line several baking trays with non-stick baking paper.

Combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large bowl.  In another bowl mix together the melted butter, vanilla extract, egg and both sugars.

Combine the wet and  dry ingredients in the larger bowl and add the chocolate chips and dried cranberries.  Mix until everything in thoroughly combined. 

Put large teaspoonfuls of mixture on to the prepared oven trays, leaving some room for the cookies to spread during cooking.  Bake for 12 - 15 minutes.  Cool on the trays for at least 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

I am submitting this recipe to the December edition of Tea Time Treats. The theme chocolate, and I think these cookies should fit in nicely. Tea Time Treats is hosted alternately by Karen at Lavender and Lovage and Kate from What Kate Baked, and this month Kate is hosting.

I am also submitting this recipe to the We Should Cocoa Challenge created by Choclette from The Chocolate Log Blog and Chele from Chocolate Teapot. The theme this month is Cinnamon and Nazima of Franglais Kitchen is hosting.

Gingerbread Christmas Biscuits

Sunday, 2 December 2012
** This is a sponsored post **

I decided to make these biscuits with my 3 girls to brighten up a couple of evenings this week.  At this time of year all of us are feeling weary, grumpy and usually almost frozen when we get home from the  school run.  There's nothing like cranking up the oven and baking treats to warm both our hearts and the house.

These are SO easy to make, I made sure all three girls were able to take turns in the making process and they each got their own portion of dough to roll out and cut biscuits out of.  Using piping bags to ice the biscuits is great for developing fine motor skills, as is drizzling icing with spoons if you can't be bothered making piping bags from baking parchment - not that I am admitting to anything. ;o)

These biscuits are great for Christmas Fair Cake Stalls or Bake Sales and  make fab teacher gifts or an easy and tasty addition to Homemade Christmas Hampers.

I was recently sent some Clover Block to try, you can use it exactly the same as butter but has 30% less saturated fat.  Great for festive bakes as it means you can feel a little less guilty indulging in baked treats.  You can check out their website here and find their Facebook page where you can find out news and offers about Clover plus our their new Clover Hearts rewards scheme. 

I love the baking inspiration with the measurements on the back of the pack

 Gingerbread Christmas Biscuits

350g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
100g Clover, diced
175g light soft brown sugar
1 large free range egg
4 tbsp golden syrup

Preheat the oven to 190C/170C fan/ 375F/gas 5. Put the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg in a bowl.  Rub in the butter until the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs.  We used a nifty gadget I purchased from my local supermarket for £3.  It means that there are not lots of hot hands in the dough rubbing the flour through, it cuts down on mess and makes taking turns easier as there are no floury hands that need sorting which can slow down the making process. 

Stir through the sugar, add the egg and syrup then mix to form a dough.

Turn the dough out on to a lightly floured surface and knead to bring the dough together.  Divide the dough into batches. Roll out each batch with a lightly floured rolling pin until its about 0.5cm/5mm or 1/4 inch thick.

Cut out shapes with biscuit cutters, make a hole in the top of each with a straw if you want to be able to hang up the biscuits.  Put the biscuit shapes on baking trays lined with baking paper then bake for 10 - 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing either use a mixture of a little water and 200g of icing sugar mixed until you get the consistency you want, or use a packet of Royal Icing Mix from the supermarket and follow the directions on the pack.  I use gel colours to colour the icing which can be purchased from most large supermarkets.

Drizzle or pipe on the icing using a piping bag or a teaspoon.  Adding sprinkles, chocolate beans, edible glitter or other suitable decorations.

** This is a sponsored post **

November Fresh From the Oven Roundup - Plaited Loaf

Saturday, 1 December 2012
Our challenge for November was set by the lovely Helen who blogs over at Fuss Free Flavours.  The task she set for us was to make a plaited loaf or savoury of sweet bread that was made up of three or more strands.  Some brave bakers took on the 8 strand plaited loaf of Great British Bake Off fame and succeeded, some of us made less complicated plaits.  Regardless of how many strands the plaited loaves were made up of they were all delicious and looked fabulous.

Thank you so much to all of those who took part and to Helen for hosting.

© Challah Challah | Kitka | Braided Bread

There is now a Fresh From the Oven Facebook page, do pop over and take a look and like our page to show it some love.  We also need bloggers to host challenges in 2013, please contact Claire from Purelyfood should you wish to put your name down to host a challenge.

The Challenge for December is being hosted by Tina over at Tina's Cookings and the challenge is to make and bake Spicy Savoury Chilli Buns which will no doubt warm us up during the cold winter here in the UK and the rest of the Northern Hemisphere.

For details on how to take part please see the Fresh From the Oven page of my blog.

Happy Baking Everyone!

Red Velvet Christmas Cake

Friday, 30 November 2012
** This is a sponsored post **

Not everyone likes Christmas cake, my husband can't stand it.  He does however like a good chocolate cake, as do most people.  For the past couple of years I have made traditional Christmas cakes and this Red Velvet Christmas Cake as an alternative.  It always goes down well and if you decorate it well it will look very festive and rather lovely.

My versions of the cake last year, how does the version this year compare?

Red Velvet Christmas Cake

I made a 9 inch/23cm round cake.

350g softened butter
350g caster sugar
100g cocoa powder
6 free-range eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch salt
200g plain flour
1 Tblsp baking powder
1 or 2 tsp ground mixed spice
50ml red food colouring

Preheat your oven to 180C/160C Fan/350F/Gas Mark 4.

Grease and line a 9 inch/23cm round cake tin.

Beat the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add the cocoa powder and beat slowly until it is completely incorporated.  Gradually beat in the eggs, vanilla and salt, and half of the flour to prevent the mixture from curdling.  Add the remaining flour, baking powder and mixed spice before giving the mixture a final beat to make sure everything is completely combined.  Add the food colouring and mix well.

Spoon into the prepared tin and bake for 65 - 75 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Once the cake is in the oven, the washing up marathon begins!

Once the cake has been  baked and cooled it is time for the fun part, decorating the cake!

Buttercream Icing

180g butter
60g cream cheese
600g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Mix all the ingredients together to achieve a smooth spreadable consistency. 

Using a long serrated knife, carefully cut the cake in half and sandwich together with some buttercream.
Spread a small dollop of onto the cake board and put the cake onto it upside down.  This means the top will be nice and flat.

Using half of the remaining buttercream, spread a thin layer over the top and sides of each cake until it is lightly covered.  Put the cake in the fridge for about half an hour for the icing to set.  Spread the remaining buttercream icing over the cake to give a smooth finish and chill in the fridge for another half an hour until the icing has set.  Coating the cake in buttercream using a two stage process makes for better coverage and a smoother finish.

For instructions on how to cover your cake in white ready to roll icing, Ruth over at The Pink Whisk has a fab tutorial on How to Cover a Cake with Sugarpaste

Once your cake is all covered you can then cut out sugarpaste shapes and decorate your cake however you like to make it look Christmassy and festive.

Break out the cutters and edible glitter, it's cake decorating time!

Here's how my finished cake looked, once the decorating process was complete:

How did the cake taste?  It was delicious, according to a couple of friends who just happened to call around once they realised there was cake on offer.  My husband and three daughters also enjoyed it, particularly the addition of mixed spice to make it taste a little more festive.

The eagle-eye amongst you will have noticed a strategically placed bottle of Persil’s Limited Edition Warm Spice Washing Up Liquid in this post.  Persil have challenged selected bloggers to blog a Christmas recipe and use Persil’s Limited Edition Warm Spice Washing Up Liquid to clean up afterwards to truly put its cleaning power to the test.  It smells lovely and Christmassy which makes washing Christmas baking dishes slightly more pleasant and it gets dishes clean quickly and easily - what more could you want - other than to have someone wash the dishes for you LOL

Ruth Clemens has also been working with Persil and has created a range of recipes to celebrate the launch of Persil’s Limited Edition Warm Spice Washing Up Liquid. For more information and recipes visit:  www.persildishwash.co.uk

Here's Ruth and her son Finn making some delicious Florentines:

** This is a sponsored post **

Christmas Baking and Making Tips

Wednesday, 28 November 2012
As November draws  to a close I get stocked up with ingredients and plan my Christmas baking.  There will be Christmas Fairs, school productions, events at Church and the month of December always rapidly fills up with one thing after another.  Get planning and making as and when you can now so that you don't get too overwhelmed closer to the festive season.

As always my mantra is:

Pick manageable crafts and edible treats to make, don't run yourself ragged.

Yeah, I know, pot/kettle! There are lots of biscuit and muffin recipes that can be frozen or that keep for ages. Do what you can, when you can. Take time to enjoy Christmas preparations and stop for a well earned cuppa once in a while.  There is no law that says you have to turn into Martha Stewart or Nigella Lawson and bake/make for the entire world.  Sometimes a homemade card and small item is enough, sometimes there is no need to bother at all.  Don't feel the pressure to give to everyone your family comes in to contact with.  Be selective and make the gift meaningful for those people.

My best tip ever is: Put it on a stick!

Cookies and cake pops make impressive gifts and you can get away with giving someone half a dozen prettily packaged items as a gift if they are on sticks rather than in little cases or a gift box.  It makes your creations go much further. If you gave someone 6 plain cookies they would think you were a scrooge. If they're on sticks and individually wrapped with cellophane and ribbon, somehow half a dozen looks impressive. LOL

Chocolate Christmas Tree Biscuits recipe is here

What about hampers and jars?

A gift that usually goes down well doesn't actually involve having to bake anything at all.  I put baking mixes in jars, wrap them up including a cookie cutter and wooden spoon and that's it.  Kids can make them as it helps them with measuring and pouring skills and you don't have to turn on your oven.  Brilliant!  Jars and wooden spoons can be bought very cheaply, baking ingredients are usually on offer too so it makes an attractive gift - both from a budget and low faff point of view.

Wrap your homemade baking and gifts well. You've spent energy and effort making gifts so make an effort with presentation too. It needn't be expensive either. Cover cardboard trays, boxes, etc in Christmas paper to recycle them. Look out for cheap ribbon, cellophane, baking tins and glass jars to put your goodies in.  The £1 stores usually have jars, tinsel, paper and other wrapping items or use reusable wrapping like a lovely teatowel, fabric gift bag or lined tray made from fabric remnants.

Swap baking and goodies with your friends.

They may be good at making things that you aren't, swap what you make and then you both benefit. If you have 30 jars of chutneys and preserves like I do, swap with a friend who has made loads of Christmas cakes or other goodies. Tis a winner all round.

Easy Christmas Cake Balls recipe is here.

Have a Christmas Craft Afternoon

Our Church organises one every year and there are other informal sessions I have with friends as well.  It is a good opportunity to enjoy spending time with friends help each other make gifts that will save money and have a cuppa and natter at the same time.  It's also brilliant for picking up new ideas and skills, plus learning new techniques and recipes from others.

Get your kids involved

It's a really hard hearted and rude person who will turn their nose up at a homemade gift made by adorable children. They wouldn't dare hurt their feelings, would they?! It also has the added benefit of keeping kids amused when the weather outside is cold and awful and they are bored in the weekends and week or so of school holidays leading up to Christmas.

Recycle what you can, make your own when you can.

Use old Christmas cards as gift tags, old tins as plant pots or baking tins for mini Christmas cakes, get your kids to make wrapping paper from plain paper, and use Christmas tea towels to wrap bags of baked goodies or Christmas cakes in. Make your own Christmas cards, gift tags and even stickers using a colour printer and your home computer.  Get your kids to make gift tags and wrapping paper, save money and keeps them amused at the same time.  Go plain when it comes to wrapping paper. If you really can't resist shiny Christmas wrapping paper, buy plain colours like red, silver, green or gold or which can be used to wrap all kinds of presents all year round.

Self adhesive felt is craft material sent from heaven!

It can be used to make decorations, just cut out shapes using cookie cutters as templates, add a loop of ribbon and stick two together. So simple! It can also be used to cover old tins that make great cookie holders in hampers. You can also use shapes cut from self adhesive felt to make Christmas cards, or stick them on cardboard and cut around them again to make gift tags. So versatile, and not too expensive either.

I'll be blogging my low faff Christmas Recipes over the next couple of weeks that will hopefully make your homemade gift baking and making much easier.  If there are any recipes for treats you would like me to blog please let me know.

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