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Reviving Soft Cheese Biscuits

5 Jan

Happy New Year everyone! Just thought I’d share a quick tip that I learnt from my Aunt Mary over Christmas. If you’ve left cheese biscuits or crackers out with the cheese board a little too long and they’ve gone soft here’s a quick and simple answer – Put them on a baking tray and into the oven for a few minutes. I put them in at 200°C for four minutes. The Jacobs biscuits needed a further three.

Then make sure you put them in an airtight container. My main mistake in the first place!

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Sloe gin: the final product

29 Dec

The sloe gin we started back in September was finally finished off the week before Christmas. We bought some really lovely bottles from a kitchen shop down the road for around £4 each.

The sloes were strained from the liquid, first just using a regular strainer, then again using some kitchen roll, to make sure all the sediment was removed.

We overestimated how much we would get, which was a shame, meaning it wasn’t quite as cheap as expected at around £11 per bottle.  In the end, we only produced two medium sized bottles of the stuff. But, it was (is!) delicious. Well worth the money and effort and something we will definitely be doing again next year.

Christmas Shopping

20 Dec

This year I’m feeling a bit smug about my Christmas preparation as I put £20 away each month this year to fund presents. But I’ve got lots of people to buy for so need to be canny and I know that home made presents won’t cut the mustard with my family! My top tip is the usual one – use your contacts. Any friend with a discount card or cash and carry membership is worth going on a shopping trip with!

If you haven’t finished your present shopping this year here are a few bargains I’ve spotted while buying for my family and friends.

Boots – their now traditional 3 for 2 on gifts is back on and there are so many items in it that it’s almost impossible to not find it useful. If you don’t need three of that type of gift for Christmas – toiletries and make up mainly – then it’s worth buying them to save for birthday presents throughout the year.

My best pick at Boots until Thursday is their Soap and Glory gift set which normally retails at £60 but is only £25 at the moment. While stocks last…

M&S are also doing a 3 for 2 Mix and Match deal and they have 25% off everything in their Cashmere Shop. Plus their gift wrapping paper is 50% off at the moment.

For stocking fillers and Secret Santa gifts Tiger is a great shop to visit. They have toys, toiletries, home ware and electrical products (plus essentials such as batteries and shoe polish). At the moment in the UK they’re only in London and the south but hopefully they’ll spread out soon.

Urban Outfitters have discounts on lots of their festive products offering up to 60% off some lines. I love this cake stand which is now only £5.

Waiting for Boxing Day sales is almost a thing of the past so keep your eyes open for sales already on and if you’re a student don’t forget your student discount is available to use in lots of high street shops.

Making Christmas Cards

9 Dec

Christmas is just over two weeks away and being a big fan of the festive season I’ve been getting prepared. I’ve already blogged about my Christmas tree and I’ve also been making Christmas cards. I bought some gold shiny and glittery craft papers from Paperchase and dug out a load of old cards for inspiration.

I started with the idea of a peep hole shaped like a festive object showing a different type of paper through it. I’m quite pleased with them but would like the shapes to be more uniform. Luckily this month’s issue of Hobbycraft magazine comes with lots of templates so I’m going to try some more with those.

But I really like the snowflake cards. I found an old card with a snowflake on from which I made a template. Then I stenciled the pattern around the edges. I carefully glued the pieces onto blank cards and here are the results.

Christmas present wrapping ideas

6 Dec

This year, as you will already have seen from my advent calendar post, everything is getting wrapped up in brown paper, with pretty ribbons and tape to make the decorations. Brown paper is very inexpensive and easily tarted up, and there’s something so nice about opening things wrapped up in it.

I have just wrapped the first lot of Christmas presents to take over to my aunt’s house today, and I’m really pleased with how they turned out.  I bought some brilliant tape from the East London Design Show (from textile artist Zeena, who I think I also saw at the Papered Parlour Open Studios earlier in the year) and that just looks gorgeous on the brown paper.

I'm feeling very festive after all this wrapping!

It seems as though I’m not the only one who feels that way – there are loads of inspiring wrapping pictures of Pinterest. Some of my favourites include…

Monogrammed wrapping from Callaloo Soup

Great paper snowflakes from How About Orange

Silver and yellow highlights from Decor8

Some great DIY decorations from A Pair or Pears

How are you wrapping up your gifts this year?

Christmas gift ideas: Caramel & whisky sauce

4 Dec

Inspired by last month’s Good Food magazine, I decided to make some Caramel and Whisky Sauce for the three parts of my family here in the UK for Christmas.  The recipe looked simple enough and apart from the cans of condensed milk and caramel, I already had all the ingredients.

Little did I know!

Apparently, it is impossible to buy caramel in a tin here in south London. Or at least, I couldn’t find it in the big Clapham Sainsbury’s, Jack’s Supermarket or Costcutters at Stockwell, or in any of the little supermarkets I checked in Brixton. No problem I thought, I’ll just make some caramel instead. It can’t be that hard, right?

Well, it was actually trickier than I expected. I used this recipe from BBC Good Food and in the end it steered me right, but I had to remake the recipe THREE TIMES. That’s because although the ingredients and steps are right in that recipe, they leave out some crucial information. So, I’m going to share it here with you so that you don’t have to make your caramel three times too…

Top tips for making caramel:

1. After  you add the intial water, do not stir the sauce. I did this in round one and rather than caramelising, the water just evaporated and I was left with raw sugar again. I tried adding more water, but it just bubbled and didn’t turn colour. Fail.

2. When it says “heat and bubble for 4-5 mins until you have caramel” what it actually means is “heat and bubble for 4-5 minutes until it just about starts to turn brown, then take it off the heat“. I thought I had to wait until the entire thing turned brown, but the caramel keeps cooking when you turn it off the heat, and as you whisk it with the cream and butter the entire thing becomes golden brown and caramelised. If you leave it on the heat and wait for everything to go brown, you will end up with bitter, burnt caramel, which is what I did the second time I did it. Fail.

Looks delicious, tastes disgusting - burnt caramel

3. Rather than using a heavy based frying pan, I actually found it worked better in a heavy based pot.

Once the caramel was made, I let it cool down completely before reheating it with more butter, brown sugar, condensed milk and ground ginger, dissolving the sugar and melting the butter as it heated up. Then I added in the whisky and stirred it until it was nice and smooth.

That's more like it.

I bought these cute jars at IKEA last weekend, and the caramel sauce is now sitting in the fridge waiting for me to take it over on Christmas eve. I have tasted some (of course!) and it tastes divine – VERY sweet (well it would have to be with so much sugar and condensed milk in it!), but with a nice whisky flavour and it would be amazing with Christmas pudding and ice-cream.

I used a gravy boat to pour the sauce into the jars

Next step for the gifts is to make some labels for the jars, which I’ll be doing later on this week!

Get the full recipe on the Good Food website

Homemade Advent Calendars

30 Nov

Tomorrow is the first of December, but if you’re interested in making a homemade advent calendar this year, there is still time!

I bought my god-daughter a wooden advent calendar last year, so this year I just needed to fill it up. Alice is only just a year and ten months, so I didn’t want to spend a fortune. However, I also couldn’t just fill it with chocolate, because she’s still little. Instead, I picked up a fantastic sticker book and an adorable ‘touchy feely‘ book from a stall at the South Lambeth Market. The sticker book has hundreds of Christmassy stickers, so I carefully pulled these out and divided them up, so that on one day she will get the book plus one set of stickers, and throughout December she’ll get more. I also included cashew nuts, a few chocolate coins and some hand-drawn or embroidered pictures.

I then wrapped them all up using brown paper (my wrapping of choice this year). For items that won’t fit in the drawers, there are numbers which go into the drawers, with symbols on the back linking to one of the presents (eg: number 2 has a 2 on the front and a Christmas tree on the back, linking to the big present with a Christmas tree on the front!).  Hopefully her mum will find it easy to fill and Alice will find the presents fun to unwrap and enjoy!

If you want some more inspiration, Babble have a great round up of advent calendars on their blog, and my favourites are all below.

From Casa Trend
From Casa Trend


From Boudie and Fou


From Living at Home


From Living at Home

Have you ever made your own advent calendar?  What did you fill it with? Ideas and suggestions below!

Decorating the Christmas tree: inspiration

18 Nov

Today I went along to the Christmas shop at Liberty, in central London. I’ve been meaning to go for a while, as @liberty_fairy, the twitter account they have set up to give Christmas present recommendations, gave me a very good recommendation for one of my cousins. Perusing their website, I also found something in their home store which I wanted to pick up for another cousin. So today, I decided to go and pick up the presents. Somehow I ended up on the 4th floor, where they have set up their temporary Christmas store. It is AMAZING.

Endless, colour coordinated Christmas baubles

A small selection of the white and silver baubles

Christmas is coming!

I’m afraid the pictures I took aren’t great, but hopefully you get a sense of the size of it. There were hundreds and hundreds (possibly thousands) of different Christmas tree decorations, as well as games, books, and great stocking stuffers. This year will be the first year P and I are decorating our own tree, so my walk around the shop was massively inspiring. So many gorgeous designs! I am planning to make some of my own decorations this year, and I found a few things I thought I could make (photos and tutorials to come, if they work out!).

What do you do for Christmas decor? Do you buy stuff in or make it yourself? Do you have any great DIY tutorials you would like to share?

A Christmas Tree isn’t just for (one) Christmas

12 Nov

Every year I buy a real Christmas tree. I don’t have anything against artificial ones, I just love the smell and the tradition of getting a real one. But they are getting more and more expensive every year, especially if you want a tree that doesn’t drop it’s needles and since I insist on putting up decorations on 1st December that’s quite important in my house.

This year I decided to buy one in a pot. They come with some roots on and if you look after it there’s a chance that you can put it outside for the year and bring it in again the following Christmas – two years of tree for the price of one.

The roots were starting to grow out of the bottom of the pot it came in, which is a good thing because it proves the tree is growing, but it was obviously running out of room and the soil it was potted in didn’t seem great quality. So, I decided to pot it up with some new soil into a slightly larger pot. I just happened to have a nice red one the right size but you could buy one specially.

I cut the tree out of its existing pot so as not to rip the roots which had grown through.

Then I loosened some of the roots with my fingers so they can spread easily into the new soil.

Put some new soil into the bottom of the new pot, stand the tree on top of it, making sure the top is well below the top of the pot and start to fill around the sides with soil. Make sure it is straight! This is quite difficult and you might need someone to help so one can hold it and turn it round to see all angles while the other looks from a short distance. Once happy, press the soil firmly and give it a good water. I’ll keep an eye on it until I bring it in for decoration in December and keep it watered when needed until next year. I’ll update you on the tree’s progress in 2012!

PS At the DIY store I also got these Violas to refresh my window boxes at a knock down price of 30p!

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