A Feast of Photos – Fakenham Christmas Tree Festival

Just a couple of weeks ago, on holiday in Norfolk, we visited the Fakenham Christmas Tree Festival. It is in the Parish Church, where local charities decorate trees, leaving a bucket for donations underneath. It was a beautiful event, over 70 trees decorated the Church and for me it was a unique, special afternoon. Here are a few of the highlights:

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How Not To Get Fat. Your Daily Diet by Ian Marber

‘How Not To Get Fat – Your Daily Diet’ is Nutritional Therapist, Ian Marber’s latest book and will be on sale from January.

So what can you learn by reading this book? Well, I’m a food blogger and like to think I know quite a bit about food and eating food, but I’ve learnt a lot in the last week. Here are some of the things that have stuck in my mind:

  • Think of food principally as fuel.
  • Eat every 2-3 hours to maintain steady energy levels throughout the day.
  • Eat large carbohydrate meals in the middle of the day, not for an evening meal.
  • Fat is helpful in our diet – it triggers hormones which tell our brain we’re full and can actually make us eat less.
  • Always combine protein and carbohydrate.
  • Reduce simple carbohydrates and replace them with complex carbohydrates.

All these ideas, as well as many more, are carefully unpicked by Ian Marber to help us understand exactly what is on going on in our bodies when we eat. Really understanding how our bodies deal with the food we put in our mouths means we can make considered decisions about what, how and when we eat. Some of Ian’s writing is quite tough going, with a lot of theory to comprehend, but useful summary bullet points make this theory section of the book easier to read.

After Ian explains his ideas I was pleased, as a food blogger, to find the next section was a breakdown of 50 recommended foods, accompanied by recipes. Best of all, following the recipes, were Ian’s case studies. The case studies range from a high school student to the over 60s and detail three days of meal plans for each person. It is in this section of the book that you can really get to grips with Ian’s information to see how to apply his ideas to your daily life.

Well, have I changed anything in my diet since reviewing this book? I’m surprised to say I have changed quiet a lot! Here’s what’s different:

  1. My main carbohydrate meal is now at lunch*, leaving the evening free for a light meal – this actually makes my day at home with my little boy easier. Late afternoon I am not rushing around cooking and he eats better at lunch time when he is less tired.
  2. We are eating a snack mid-morning and mid-afternoon, this is improving my mood and my son’s!
  3. I am reducing my carbohydrates in the evening.
  4. Whenever possible I am eating less simple carbohydrates and more complex instead.

*Check us out enjoying our carbohydrate rich lunch!

I’m pleased I was sent this book to review, it’s really been helping me. My energy levels are better, and my little boy’s mood is generally improved. What I want now are more books from Ian Marber, I want to learn more and get more ideas for my daily life. His book really is food for thought!

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Christmas Biscuits

This year, saving on the pennies, I made gifts for my husband’s work colleagues. After seeing some Christmas Star Biscuits for sale as a gift in a posh delicatessant I decided to make my own Spiced Christmas Biscuits. I wrapped them up in cellophane bags with some red ribbon hoping that they would look professional. I really enjoyed making them and George helped too!

The recipe I used was based on my Gingerman recipe. I updated the recipe with more mixed spice and some cinnamon for a Christmas feel. A star cookie cutter and some white lemon icing completed my Christmas Cookie gifts. The only problem I have now is that there are none left for us! I’ll have to get baking again, these are a must in the biscuit tin at this time of year!

Here’s my recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 390g plain flour
  • 3/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp ground ginger (or more to your taste)
  • 3 tsp mixed spice
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) caster sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 160 ml golden syrup

Method:

  1. Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy in a food mixer.
  2. Add the egg and molasses and beat until well combined.
  3. Gradually add the flour mixture beating until incorporated.
  4. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight.
  5. Preheat oven to 170°c and place rack in the center of oven. Line 2 baking tray with baking paper and set aside while you roll out the dough.
  6. Lightly flour a clean work surface, roll out the dough to a thickness of about 1/4 inch. Use a star cutter to cut out the cookies.
  7. With a spatula gently lift the cookies onto the baking tray, placing the cookies about 2cm apart.
  8. Bake for approx 8 – 12 mins depending on the size of the cookies. Small ones need 8 minutes, larger cookies approx 12 minutes. They are done when they are firm, golden, but still slightly soft.
  9. Remove the cookies from the oven and cool on the baking tray for about a minute. When they are firm enough to move, transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  10. Store in an airtight container.

Lemon Icing:

Ingredients:

  • 8oz/225g icing sugar
  • 1-2 tbsp tsp lemon juice

Method:

  1. Add 1tsp lemon juice to sugar, mix until smooth, adding more lemon juice until the icing is thick and pourable, but not runny. Add extra sugar to thicken the mixture if it becomes too runny.
  2. Scrape into a piping bag with a fine tip and pipe onto cooled cookies.
  3. Allow to set for at least 1-2 hrs, until firm, before storing cookies in an airtight container.

This post is contributed for Sauce Communications.

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George’s Christmas Cake

Sometime ago I blogged about a cake I made my son that had no refined sugar, no fat and no dairy. Yes, can you believe it???!!!!! I called it George’s cake, because he loved it and I had designed it for him. This week I started thinking that this cake would make a fantastic Christmas Cake, especially for diabetics, those on a diet and vegans. I’m writing about this now because this cake is quick to make and doesn’t need to be made ahead of time so if you haven’t made a Christmas cake yet and wish you had, here is your chance! You could make this cake plain or add mazipan and icing. Here is my recipe for George’s Cake adapted for a Christmas feel:

Serves 10-12

Ingredients

  • 250g sultanas,
  • 275ml water
  • 85g plain flour
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 3 tsp ground mixed spice
  • 85g wholemeal flour
  • 400g bag dried, mixed fruit (choose a variety of fruit to make up the weight if you prefer, I like to use dates and dried figs)
  • 75g chopped mixed peel
  • 80ml orange juice

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C, gas mark 3, grease a large cake tin and line with baking paper.
  2. Place the sultanas and water in a pan, bring to the boil, remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
  3. Sieve together the plain flour, wholemeal flour, baking powder and mixed spice into a bowl.
  4. Add mixed fruit and mix together.
  5. Stir in the wet sultana mixture as well as the orange juice. Mix well.
  6. Spoon into the cake tin.
  7. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.
  8. Turn out onto a wire rack and cool.

Try using marzipan and royal icing to make this a real Christmas Cake.

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Winter Coleslaw

Last week I cooked jacket potatoes with chilli; when I went to make a salad I realised I had used up all my lettuce earlier in the week. No matter how much I meal plan I usually run out of something! However, since it was heavily snowing at the time I was making dinner, there was no quick dash to up the road to the shops. So I made this delicious coleslaw, I’ve made it a few times before and it is a great alternative to the usual salad.

If you sometimes find there’s no fresh lettuce left in your fridge, or you would like something different instead of your usual lettuce leaves, try making some coleslaw. This recipe works for me because I usually have carrots, apples and cabbage in my vegetable drawer and so can whip this up. It is really popular with my husband and it is so much fresher and lighter than shop bought coleslaw.

Here’s the recipe, enjoy:

Serves 2 (as a full salad) or 4 as a an accompaniment to other side dishes:

Ingredients:

  • 1 apple thinly chopped
  • few drops of lemon juice
  • 1 carrot thinly sliced
  • 1 third of a white cabbage finely sliced
  • handful of raisins
  • 1 spring onion sliced
  • 2 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1 tbsp plain yogurt

Method:

  1. Mix the apple in the lemon juice to prevent it from discolouring.
  2. Place the carrot, cabbage, raisins, spring onion and apple into a large bowl.
  3. Add the mayonnaise and yogurt, mix until everything is coated.

Try serving this alongside a jacket potato topped with chilli con carne like I did – yummy!

Top Tips:

  • Try pear instead of apple to give a different take on this dish.
  • Add more yogurt and less mayonnaise if you are on a diet.
  • Use a red cabbage instead and it will turn the whole dish pink – great for a meal served at a girly get together.
  • Different dried fruit would work well, try apricots instead of raisins.
  • 1 tsp of Dijon mustard gives this a fantastic flavour.
  • Walnuts work well in this recipe too

This post was contributed for Boisdale.

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Cheese Scones

A few weeks ago I was delighted to be a Guest Blogger on James Ramsden’s blog – he was in The Times Top 40 International Bloggers list!

Today I’m pleased to share my blog post for all those who did not see it and why not hop over to James’ site to see what he’s been cooking.

Cheese Scones:

The scone is a British classic and homemade they are fantastic – light, tasty and always leave you wanting more! This cheese scone recipe is easy to make and is a great alternative to the usual boring lunchtime sandwich.

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 100g butter
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 25ml milk (probably less)
  • 1/2 tsp mustard
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  • 70g cheddar (2/3 grated, 1/3 diced into small cubes)
  • salt and pepper
  • a little parmesan for topping

Method:

  1. Preheat oven 200*C (180*C fan)
  2. Rub butter into flour, so it’s like breadcrumbs.
  3. Add egg, salt, pepper, gradually add milk to make soft, not sticky, dough (do not overwork the dough).
  4. Mix in cheese, mustard and oregano
  5. Roll into little balls, make approx 10-12
  6. Add some grated parmesan on tops of each scone.
  7. Place on a lightly oiled backing tray
  8. Bake in oven for 10-15 mins.

After my scone making I sat down and brainstormed 101 different scone ideas, sweet and savoury to be made from a basic scone recipe. I’ll be kicking off with Apricot Scones – look out for this blog post coming soon – yum!

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10 Healthy Ways To Lose Weight

Every magazine I see seems to be doing a diet for Christmas – ‘How to lose half a stone in 2 weeks’ – you know the type of thing! I like to think of healthy eating as a constant diet rather than a short term crash diet. So I thought I’d put together my top 10 tips for eating well, reducing your weight and keeping it off.

  1. Always eat breakfast – people who eat breakfast are slimmer than those who skip this meal. It keeps you full for the morning and stops you snacking.
  2. Make your own lunch – if you rely on supermarket or cafe sandwiches you will be adding in lots of hidden sugar, salt and fat into your diet. If you make your own lunch you know exactly what is going into your sandwich!
  3. Walk anywhere under a mile and take the stairs instead of the lift.
  4. Eat lot of raw vegetables – I term these negative calories as they take more energy to digest than you gain from eating them.
  5. Evening meals should be protein based with low carbs. If you relax in the evening and do little exercise then you do not need the energy provided by carbohydrate and it can turn into fat – yuck!.
  6. Avoid soft drinks, even diet versions – they all have sugar or sweeteners – just drink water.
  7. Cut out takeaways, they are packed with fat.
  8. Start meal planning – you can plan 7 healthy meals instead of impulse buying bad foods when you are hungry. Use my meal plans to help you.
  9. Be careful when buying low fat products – they are often high in sugar, which means they can still help you pile on the pounds. Buy low fat plain greek yogurt and add fruit or muesli.
  10. Eat slowly – it takes approxametly 30 minutes for your stomach to register with your brain that you are no longer hungry. If you eat quickly you will not allow your body to realise it is full, eat slowly and you will eat less.

I hope you find these useful, sensible tips – do you have any tips to add? Please leave your thoughts….

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Baby Shower Shortbread

shortbread

Last weekend for my sister-in-law’s baby shower I baked shorbread. A couple of months before I found some baby themed cookie cutters just by chance in a discount shop, perfect for the baby shower! I used Fiona Cairn’s shortbread recipe from her book Bake & Decorate which I recently reviewed for Quadrille Publishing. Unfortunately it’s been a bit dangerous for me as I’ve fallen in love with this recipe and since it made around 50 biscuits there were plenty left over, now I can’t stop snacking of shortbread. It really is addictive and if I’m truthful I’ve been eating a piece while I’ve been typing! Naughty!

Here’s Fiona’s recipe (in my own words):

Ingredients:

  • 500g salted butter, softened
  • 200g golden caster sugar
  • 500g plain flour, plus more to dust
  • 250g cornflour or rice flour

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 170c.
  2. In a food mixer cream together butter and sugar.
  3. Sift together flour and cornflour/rice flour, gradually mix in with the butter/sugar mixture until bound together as a dough.
  4. Place dough on a floured surface, flour your hands and kneed dough until smooth, but do not overwork.
  5. Leave dough in fridge for approx 30 mins to make it easier to roll out.
  6. Roll chilled dough out to approx 5mm thick and cut into chosen shapes.
  7. Place shortbreads onto a baking tray lined with baking paper and cook for approx 15-20 mins. Sprinkle with sugar once out of the oven.
  8. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Top Tip: Add a little flavour to your shortbread at stage 3, I added 1tsp vanilla extract, you could try lemon or orange zest, cinnamon – be creative.

Icing:

I iced my biscuits with lemon icing as with my gingerbread men. You can read about my icing here: A Gingerman.

Try boxing these biscuits to make a gift:

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Yum Yum Bento Box

Wow what a journey I’ve been on this week. Quirk Books sent me ‘Yum Yum Bento Box, Fresh Recipes for Adorable Lunches’ to review and it is has taught me so much. I’m thinking about food and food presentation in a totally different light.

Now let me explain… A Bento Box is a Japanese lunchbox, presented in such a way that it becomes more than a packed lunch but a thing of beauty and interest. It is the current craze in Japan for Mothers to produce these boxed lunches and the ideas for them are endless. This book gives over 100 ideas to get you started on making your own Bento Box and believe it or not these are so inspiring that my mind has been in a whirl thinking of all the possibilities.

Nevertheless, I have to be truthful, when I read the brief for this book, I was interested but skeptical. I thought that Mums in the ‘real world’ wouldn’t have time to produce a Bento Box, but when the book came and I actually gave it a try I changed my mind. I realised rather than a Bento Box taking a lot more time it is about a different mindset. You can still put in the usual suspects, sandwiches, a yogurt, some fruit or a pasta salad, but you just need to think about the presentation. Cut the your sandwiches with a interesting cookie cutter and you have animal shaped sandwiches, slice and arrange your fruit in a fan and it just looks better.

The principles of the Bento Box go further than just presentation, they make you consider portion control too. The Bento Box works on the concept of 4 parts vegetable, 3 parts meat/protein, 2 parts grain and 1 part fruit, dessert or condiment. Having the 4, 3, 2, 1 principle to work from focuses you on what you’re actually eating for lunch, and I say YOU, because Bento Boxes can be for adults as well as children. Using this principle it is easy to recognise when you are eating too many carbs and not enough vegetables, or too much protein and not enough fruit. The Bento Box really does get you thinking, and on so many different levels.

I’m so pleased I got to read this book. I’m going to work on it, maybe not everyday but now and again, and the ideas can expand to how you present your everyday food, making your plate look prettier, especially for a birthday or dinner party. You can see my first attempts in my photographs.

In my first attempt my son and I baked some olive and cheese scones, cutting them into shapes and packing them alongside fruit, vegetables and cheese. I thought using shaped scones would give the Bento Box an English twist and show how you really can do anything you like with your box. In my second attempt I wanted to demonstrate that you can turn your usual lunchbox into a Bento Box without any fuss, so here I made a shaped sandwich, popped in some sausages left over from dinner, added fruit, carrots and a yogurt; a standard lunch box just with a bit of a makeover! The cupcake cases I used in the boxes are suggested in the book, they are used to divide food groups and are an attractive addition to the box.

Well, now you know all about Bento Boxes, but really I’ve only skimmed the surface of this topic and I could go on and on and on. Even if for nothing else this book is worth buying for the pictures, the beautifully designed boxes with cute, gorgeous and clever uses of food is totally absorbing – not only could this be your new recipe book but your new coffee table book too. I like and I know you will too!

If you want to find out more about Bento Boxes try visiting these websites:

Yumyumbento.com; aibento.net; cuteobento.com.

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Quick Bread Rolls

I’m a big fan of yeast free products, particularly when it comes to baking. The biggest bonus to yeast free bread, rolls, pastries etc is that you can make them in super quick time. There is no need to wait for the yeast to grow and without it baking is safer for young kids to get involved with; imagine kids putting dough with raw yeast in their mouth – and I find you can’t stop kids putting their finger in the bowl no matter what – yuck! It is also important to consider that if you’ve recently taken antibiotics yeast can seriously upset the balance of your healthy stomach flora, so this bread recipe would be good for post antibiotics or a even after the stomach flu.

This recipe is really versatile and you can add herbs, chilli, dried fruit even a little sugar and chocolate chips into the dough. Once you’ve mastered the basics get experimenting! I like to serve these filled with sea salt and rosemary warm from the oven at a dinner party. You must try this recipe; it really is the ultimate quick and easy bread recipe, plus it costs a fraction of fresh or flavoured rolls from a supermarket or bakers shop. This really is one recipe I make all the time.

Here’s my recipe:

Makes 6-8 small rolls.

Ingredients:

  • 500g self raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 5g salt
  • 300ml buttermilk or half plain yogurt, half milk mixed together

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 170°c
  2. Sift flour into a large bowl with baking powder and salt.
  3. Make a well in the centre of flour and pour in buttermilk or yogurt mixture.
  4. Mix together using a wooden spoon, it should gradually become a dough, add a little more flour if the dough is very sticky, or a little more milk if it has not come together as a dough.
  5. Flour a clean surface, and your hands, then empty the dough onto the surface and gently kneed until smooth.
  6. Break pieces of dough off and roll to form small bread rolls.
  7. Place on a lightly greased baking tray and place in oven for approx 10-15 mins, check the rolls, they should be firm on the outside but still soft in the middle.

Top Tips:

  1. Add any extra flavours such as herbs at stage 3.
  2. Try serving these rolls with a cheese board and chutney for an alternative dessert.
  3. Take these rolls filled to work for lunch or out for a picnic.
  4. Serve the rolls warm in the morning with butter, jam or marmalade.
  5. You can pop all the ingredients in your food mixer/processor and make this recipe even quicker!

This post is contributed for Wild Card.

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