Christmas tip sharing

I wanted to do something Christmassy on the blog this week, so when SHEilds contacted me about their Christmas Tip Share I was quite excited to get involved.

I’ve joined 7 other bloggers to share our top Christmas tips for this year – ranging from foodie tips to general health and safety around the house during the festive period.

As I don’t have any kids or pets, I will just be sticking to staying merry this Christmas and eating my way through lots of cheese and lots of turkey. Oh and drinking lots of mulled wine 🙂

Cooking at Christmas

I have not yet been solely responsible for the Christmas dinner in the family, but I help my Mum each year usually feeding 7 of us.

Planning ahead really is the best option. My advice would be to plan your timings beforehand, and sanity-check them over with a family member. Write down a list of what needs to go in/on and when. Stick it on the fridge and use it as a guideline throughout the day.

Another tip I have is get others involved! It’s a time of year when there is always loads of spare people knocking around the house. So get them working for their festive feast! Set the table, light the candles, carve the turkey, stir the gravy, check the roasties, get the cheese out, crack the wine open, set out the nibbles and keep the drinks flowing. Use your guests to their full ability to make sure you don’t end up doing absolutely everything!

Keep things simple. Don’t try to be overlly extravagant on Christmas day with the menu. Your guests will be happy with a simple, well-executed meal with all the trimmings rather than something less-practiced and fancy.

Finally, enjoy yourself and the quality time with your loved ones.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my lovely readers! ❤ xxx

Cheshire Food Blog

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#HBBakeOff with Ugne, Holland & Barratt

If you follow @SpamellaB or I on Twitter / Instagram / Facebook you will probably be aware that we went to a rather excellent food event this Sunday just gone.

It was a Holland and Barratt ‘free-from’ bake off, hosted by no other than Ugne – who was one of the stars of this years’ Great British Bake-off series.

Getting excited on the train down to London, my good friend Pamela and I chatted the whole journey, all about our excitement for the event, the fear of losing and baking in front of so many other bloggers, and wondered what Ugne herself would be like. Oh, and we took loads of selfies… Of course 🙂

Travel was fairly fuss-free, so when we arrived to Cactus Kitchen in North Clapham, a quick tour of the building and we were ready to meet the team and get stuck in. Everyone else was already there (OK, so our train was 20 mins late) so we set about with quick introductions – then straight to the kitchens upstairs to get baking.

The place itself is beautiful, quaint and quicky whilst also having some really impressive facilities and swanky kitchen gadgets. I’d expect nothing less from the legendary Michel Roux Jnr’s London based cookery school! We learnt that the place was also the set of Saturday Kitchen from BBC1, a show I watch almost religiously at home – so it was straight behind the scenes to get a few photos in. The lovely staff were happy to let us pose and even offered to take the photos for us!

The kitchen upstairs was out of this world. A beautiful, airy space in the loft of the building with high ceilings and stunning exposed beams painted in the cutest, pale, duck-egg blue shade.

The surfaces were polished, natural wood and all our ingredients were set out before us. Complete with Cactus Kitchen aprons and our own name tags to mark our individual workspace.

Ugne was warm, friendly and seemed as excited as we were. She told us about how she loved free-from cooking as she is passionate about baking with a healthy twist, saying that baking such beautiful, tasty treats shouldn’t always be full of fat, sugar, dairy and gluten/wheat.

We were baking an Apple, Pear and Cranberry cake – a Holland and Barrett recipe that Ugne was to judge at the end. Baking was a lot more relaxed than we had first imagined, with some bloggers less experienced than others. It was soon apparent that this was all just a bit of fun, although our competitiveness was quite difficult to suppress at times!

Cheshire Food Blogger
Time for a quick selfie with Ugne in the midst of baking!

Whilst our bakes cooled – we were treated to a fabulous ‘free from’ lunch. Everything on the spread was gluten and wheat free and much of it was also dairy and sugar free too. It was all delicious, particularly the avocado and quinoa salad and the stunning cheese that was served with pickles and chutneys. There was also sliced ham, hummus, tortilla chips and various tasty salads that were all truly outstanding. Ugne of course joined us for lunch, and it was great to be able to ask her questions and enjoy her company whilst we covered all topics from food, weddings, blogging and GBBO.

After lunch, it was back upstairs to put the finishing touches to our free-from bakes and get a demonstration from Ugne as she baked her Apricot, Chestnut and Coffee Cake that was soaked in a little rum, but was free from gluten, wheat, dairy and refined sugar. It was great to see Ugne in action, she’s very clearly a natural at baking and it was a privilege to see her talk through the recipe and have the opportunity to ask questions. We got to taste her bake at the end and it was stunning.

And so for the finale – judging our free from bakes! Ugne was tasked with trying all 8 of the bakes individually. They had been set out in front of her by the staff at Cactus Kitchen, as to not reveal the identity of the bakers…… It was a tense few moments as Ugne carefully considered each bite, commenting on the pros and cons of each cake (in the nicest way possible – not in any way like Paul Hollywood does on the Bake Off!)

Cheshire Food Blogger
My final cake, topped with dairy-free dark chocolate melted with coconut oil (Pam’s idea!) and topped with crushed pecans and cranberry jewels ❤

It was clear to see Ugne found it tricky to pick, all the bakes were pretty good (well, most!) and after much deliberation a winner was picked for the prize. Sadly, it wasn’t Pam or I this time – although we did get some absolutely cracking feedback (including Ugne grabbing my face with both hands and telling me my cake was beautiful!) I will certainly be baking more free-from treats in the future as I thought they tasted fantastic. It was great to experiment with new ingredients under such expert supervision!

Overall, this was one of the best food events I have been to yet. Meticulously organised, great staff and Ugne herself was the true star baker. I feel really privileged to have met such a nice woman and I think we can all expect to see great things from her in the future!

Cheshire Food Blogger
Presenting her own TV show one day…..? She’s a natural 🙂

Here’s a few more snaps from the day. And a massive thanks to the organisers Jade and Manisha for doing such an excellent job!

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Katie, one of the other bloggers who was baking next to me topped her cake with a chocolate ganache and cashew butter! ❤
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It’s all in the detail….
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Food bloggers doin’ what they do best……
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I could get used to this 🙂 on the set of Saturday Kitchen! And sporting the festive jumper…
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OK, just one more selfie…. 🙂

Christmas Gifts for Foodies

I thought I would treat you all to a last-minute Christmas gift guide. I am not the most organised of shoppers, usually opting for a hectic dash around the shops the week before…

So if you’re doing your Christmas shopping this week, like I am, these gifts might just make it in time for Christmas!

Foodie frames

notonthehighstreet.com is a great website if you’re looking for something a bit different.

Their lovely food-themed framed images would brighten up any food lovers kitchen or dining room. I think the British foods map or the one that just says FAMILY, FRIENDS, FOOD, FUN are particularly stylish/charming. And reasonably priced.

Personalised food jars

Both Marmite and Nutella are offering personalised jars this year. You can do the Marmite ones via their Facebook page and Nutella have stall in most Selfridges stores where they label them while you wait.

Great little stocking fillers, and they can be washed out and kept afterwards to store pencils on your desk. Cute!

marmite

Food Photography Workshops

If you know someone who enjoys photography and loves eating street food – this is the perfect, practical gift. A Street Food Photography Workshop where you get a guided tour around London’s street food hotspots snapping images along the way.

Sounds like a fun, visual and culinary adventure and an opportunity to learn and make friends too.

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For the organised foodie

If you know a foodie who likes everything just-so, then they might appreciate these. These mini Kilner jars means they can organise their spices, and even store them outside of the cupboard on a shelf for easy-access that looks good too!

These are also kind on the environment as they encourage you to then buy the re-fill packets instead of new plastic or glass jars each time – so in the long run better value for money too. Win-win for the practical food lover.

Gifts for Dads of Grandads

Food-themed gift boxes – men are notoriously difficult to buy for, but also quite ‘easily pleased’ if you get it right. My advice is to keep it simple when buying for the men in your life – be it brother, boyfriend, dad or grandad. If they like food and drink (most men do, right?) then something like ‘The Man Box’ from the Portly Grocer should hit the spot!

The Portly Grocer also make these wonderful wooden cheese larders, which are beautiful if you know someone who appreciates good cheese and is passionate about it. They are perfect for a dinner party too, with a bottle of port and some grapes. Yum.

And if you’re still left scratching your head…

Then buy something that will really benefit someone else. Oxfam sell an amazing range of ‘Unwrapped’ gifts. A few caught my eye but the ‘Pile of Poo’ stood out.  It isn’t just any pile of poo. It’s the ideal mix of manure, organic fertiliser and training in eco-friendly farming techniques to help a family grow a lot more crops. This means regular meals and a more varied diet, ultimately helping people out of poverty.

I have already purchased it for someone in my life who I think will find it funny, and will really appreciate the good cause.

Buying this gift supports Oxfam’s ‘Making a Living’ projects, and I really think this is charity gifting in its best form. The gifts also suit any budget so if you’re stuck for a materialistic gift this Christmas, this might just be the answer!

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Oxfam Unwrapped – Pile of Poo in action ❤

Happy shopping!