Food: What To Bake This Festive Season

It’s Christmas Eve Eve baaaabbbeee! I’m now feeling all sorts of festive and I’m SO excited for Christmas. Not only is it our first as a married couple, I’m also really excited (although a little apprehensive not being at home) to spend the day with my in-laws for the first time. We’ll also not forget my Christmas last year was rather odd, with Christmas night spend in A&E and then quarantining myself away from everyone for a few days (spraying Dettol at anyone who dared come near me) – though I succeeded in avoiding the winter vomiting bug everyone else had! Anyway, it’s Christmas, I’m excited, and here’s why.

 photo Festive Baking_zpswfswoozq.jpg photo Gingerbread House BakeOff 5_zpsafdd0i4x.jpgFood.

I’m all about that festive food.

 

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Turkey, goose, pigs in blankets. Two types of potato (mash and roast). The obligatory sprout. Terry’s Chocolate Orange. Toblerone. Quality Street (strawberry cremes for the win!). Alllll the cheese. Then the leftovers. Bubble and squeak, cold cuts, turkey curry. And that’s before we get onto dinner parties for the New Year parties.

All of that is good, but my absolute favourite thing is festive baking. Not only are the results delicious, but I find it really brings people together. Whether it’s me and my husband having a flour fight, the taste of my grandma’s jam tarts (she always made them for the mince pie haters) or children decorating baked tree decorations, festive baking is just so heart warming. With that in mind I’m sharing some of my favourite festive bakes. Whether they’re tried and tested by me, family favourites or just ones I’m desperate to make having seen them in the blogging world, they’re all things I’d suggest spending a cosy afternoon making. Pop on your most festive socks and jumpers, turn up the Christmas playlist and get in the kitchen!

Chocolate Orange Brownies

Brownies are probably my favourite bake to eat, and adding orange (and a pinch of festive spice) is the perfect way to inject a Christmassy feel. I usually stick to my Ultimate Brownie recipe, adding in all sorts of extras. This year I’ve poached orange slices in a sugar syrup, chopped most of it up finely and stirred it through the mixture, and used the remainder to top the brownies. Switch out the usual chocolate chunks for some chopped Terry’s and you’ve got the perfect chocolatey treat for this time of year!

 

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Mince Pies

Ok, disclaimer right here. I’m not a Mince Pie fan. I hate dried fruit so the idea of them is just a bit bleugh, but I will accept they are a staple part of Christmas for so many, and I do love the smell of them baking! My tip for these is to buy ready-made mincemeat and then pimp it up. Add extra orange (always) and some alcohol (whisky is our go-to, but the more traditional brandy is an obvious choice). Serve warm with cream and you may even convince me to take a bite…

 

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Edible Gifts

One of my favourite things to do the week before Christmas is bake some little treats that I can bag up, decorate with pretty ribbon and give out to my friends and colleagues. It’s something I really love to do, as it shows my appreciation for them without breaking the bank.

This year I’ve been super busy at the office (think still being at your desk way into the night on the Friday before Christmas, plus I’m working Christmas Eve too!), and so I turned to some super-quick yet super tasty recipes which I knew would be crowd pleasers. Super-Easy Peanut Butter Fudge – see my recipe here – is one of my favourite recipes. It’s so perfect to package up into little homemade gifts, hardly takes any time, just a while in the fridge to set, and is the perfect combination of sweet and addictive peanut butter. I’ve also been making snowball cookies (chocolate recipe here) though this year I’ve given them a twist by removing the chocolate and making with a combination of maple and pecans.

Gingerbread House

Making a Gingerbread House brings back so many memories for me. On our first Christmas as a couple (an unbelievable 8 years ago now) W and I decided to make one. I can’t say it went particularly well, from memory we snapped one of the roof pieces so ended up with a flat topped ‘shed’ – and then we decided to ice our initials on…

And yep. The Gingerbread Toilet was born.

 photo Gingerbread Toilet_zps2ojbaecy.jpg

Isn’t she a beauty?!

 photo Gingerbread House BakeOff 4_zpsxob82420.jpg photo Gingerbread House BakeOff 2_zps1ys0yiz5.jpg photo Gingerbread House BakeOff 1_zps7pd4cu3s.jpg photo Gingerbread House BakeOff 7_zpsapnachso.jpg photo Gingerbread House BakeOff 6_zps4b146sin.jpgFortunately when I was invited along to a Gingerbread House Bake Off with NEFF and Currys PC World things went slightly better! When an evening kicks off with mulled wine and cheese you know it’s going to be a good one, and this was one of my favourite December experiences of 2018. Divided into teams and provided with gingerbread dough, icing ingredients and a whole kitchen of shiny equipment (including those ovens with the slide-and-hide door from a certain tent…) we were tasked with producing a fully decorated gingerbread house and a few trays of canapes in just a few hours.

We got the dough in the oven in record time, prepped up some canapes (Smoked Salmon, Creme Fraiche and Dill bruschetta was a winner for me!) and *just* about managed to get more of the sweet decorations on our creation than in our tummies. A lot of giggles and some groans (the team next to us unfortunately suffered a catastrophic collapse) we presented our houses to the judges. Unfortunately we didn’t quite win, but it didn’t really matter – we made a great looking house, and most importantly had an amazing time. I met some bloggers who I’d been following for years (hey Victoria) and some of the loveliest new-to-me bloggers too (Sophia and Corinne in particular).

And that’s what Christmas baking is, for me, all about. It doesn’t matter if it’s stunningly presented, even to the point of being a collapsed gingerbread house. It doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect. It’s all about getting together as friends, as family, as couples and enjoying time together in the kitchen baking up something filled with care and love.
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*I was invited to attend the Gingerbread Bake Off event, but this post isn’t sponsored – and of course all opinions are my own!

Have you ever tried to make a gingerbread house? What’s your go-to festive bake?

I’d also like to take this as an opportunity to thank you, my readers, for continuing to support me over 2018. Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

Cooking From: Midwinter Suppers from The Christmas Chronicles

This book is so much more than just a cookbook. Not only is it ones of the most Instagrammable books I own, it’s also one of the loveliest to cosy up and read at this time of year. Nigel has such a wonderful way of writing, so personal that this feels more like a diary than a collection of recipes. Indeed it’s full of so many of his own memories of the festive period, interspersed with recipes covering the main event of turkey and goose, to how to use leftovers and all manner of other delicious things. And it’s not just the usual Christmassy fare either, the book takes the reader from the beginning of November all the way to the end of February. And somehow each recipe seems absolutely perfect for this time of year.

 photo Nigel Slater Christmas Chronicles 11_zpsdzfefrii.jpgNigel is able, in both his cookery programmes and books, to completely relax me. It’s his voice, but also his wordings and the way he simply puts sentences (and ingredients) together. And his recipes are just the same – simple, uncomplicated and all the ones I’ve tried have been delicious. This book is all about cosy winter food, which sums up both recipes we’ve cooked.

 photo Nigel Slater Christmas Chronicles 14_zpsmvwb833m.jpg photo Nigel Slater Christmas Chronicles 15_zps56obvc7p.jpg photo Nigel Slater Christmas Chronicles 16_zpslfvfgbhr.jpgThe Black Pudding and Baked Apples with Celeriac and Mustard Mash might be a bit of an unusual combination, but it’s one of the best things I’ve eaten in the past few weeks. It’s warm and comforting, and genuinely feels like a big hug on a plate. Just a few ingredients, a bit of time (but not too much) and you’ve got a delicious plate of food – and this also makes the whole flat smell amazing from the baked apples.

Then there’s the Pork Chop with Cheesy Spinach Polenta. We’d never tried cooking with Polenta until last week, but I’m fairly sure it could become a new obsession. Super creamy, a little cheesy, instensely savoury and perfectly matched with the tender yet slightly caramelised pork chop. Another dish which made us feel enveloped in a satisified happy foodie fog.

As a last minute edit, we also ate the polenta with onions and cheese (Camembert will do – favourite line in the whole book) yesterday evening. Rib-stickingly heavy with cheese and oh so glorious.

But there’s so many other recipes I’d love to try! The Roast Goose with Lemon Potato Stuffing is high on my list, and the Oxtail with Butter Beans and Sherry sounds amazing.

 photo Nigel Slater Christmas Chronicles 10_zpsqywase2j.jpg photo Nigel Slater Christmas Chronicles 13_zpskswejamu.jpgSo much more than a cookbook, this is currently living on my bedside table. I can see it becoming almost a tradition to pull it out and cook from it each festive season…

What’s your favourite festive recipe?

Recipe: Brussel Sprout, Bacon & Blue Cheese Pizza

I’m a bit lacking in Christmas recipes this year – I usually like to start testing and photographing them (getting myself firmly in the festive spirit at the same time!) during November, but lying on a beach in Hawaii until the end of October meant I felt firmly un-Christmassy until last week. There’s been no edible gift testing (so who knows what my colleagues will end up with!), we’re even well behind normal consumption levels of Pigs in Blankets.

 photo Brussel Sprout Pizza_zpshls8suso.jpgWhat I do have, though, is this festive pizza. And I’d like to think it makes up for all the other lack of festive recipes coming up in this space. It’s crunchy and cheese, rich and decadent, and really delivers a punch of festive flavours. The honk of blue cheese always reminds me of festive cheeseboards (and one particular hour-long car journey with W’s family and some potted Stilton, not something I care to repeat!). Cranberry sauce just because. And the sprouts.

Brussel sprouts are so reminiscent of childhood Christmases where I’d be made to eat “just one” – and actually this continues now as I still hate the things served up with a Christmas dinner. Shredded onto pizza, pasta, in a salad then fine. Steamed or boiled and covered in gravy and they are my foo of nightmare. But they DO work on pizza.

As it’s a no-tomato pizza it runs the risk of becoming a little dry, but we’ve both spread the base and dotted spoonfuls of mascarpone over to add some creaminess. It’s also fab with walnuts to replace the bacon for a veggie pizza.

 photo Brussel Sprout Pizza 1_zpsnde98ss5.jpg photo Brussel Sprout Pizza 3_zpsmdqe38uv.jpgRecipe (for one)

  • 1 ready-made plain pizza base (or make your own, my recipe is here)
  • 1 rasher of bacon, diced
  • 8 brussel sprouts, base removed and finely shredded
  • a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 4 tbsp of mascarpone
  • 25-50g blue cheese depending on your taste, you could substitute for brie or even mozzarella if you prefer
  • 1 tsp cranberry sauce, to serve

Fry your bacon in a small amount of olive oil or butter until crisp, then add the sprouts. Stir fry for a minute or two. Meanwhile spread 2 tbsp of mascarpone over your pizza base, and season with black pepper and the grated nutmeg. Scatter the spouts and bacon over the bacon, dot over more mascarpone, and sprinkle over the blue cheese. Bake for around 10 minutes at 200C, then serve with a drizzle of cranberry sauce.

 photo Brussel Sprout Pizza 4_zpskj6spx1q.jpgI imagine this would also work well with leftover sprouts from the big day itself, certainly a step up from Bridget Jones’ mum doing a turkey curry buffet!

Are you a fan of brussel sprouts?

Have Yourself A Very Merry Christmas

Just a quick note from me to say I’m now signing off until the New Year.

 photo Christmas 2016 18_zpsn3lze10m.jpgIf I’m honest, the last month or so has exhausted me. I’ve been emotional and teary, and quite frankly a joy to live with. I’ve tried to do far too much, overworked myself in my career, my study, my blog. I’ve set the bar for myself too high and the beaten myself up when I ‘failed.’

I desperately need to recharge my batteries.

I have a whole fortnight off work. I’ve cut down the studying I planned to do (see, too much of a control freak to let myself have proper time off!). I’ve swiped my blog schedule clean. As of 1pm on Friday I’m officially out of the office, and will at least reserve a few days for total rest and relaxation.

 photo Christmas 2016 19_zps9sx1dqvj.jpgThe plan is to catch up on some zzz’s. Eat far too much food. Drink lots of wine. Catch up with friends and family. I might be feeling more unfestive than I ever have before, but I’m also looking forward to this Christmas period more than I can remember.

So to all my lovely readers, have an absolutely lovely Christmas, a very merry New Year, and I will see you (hopefully refreshed and replenished!) in 2017! x

Lifestyle: Feeling Festive

I’m not quite sure what it is about this Christmas, but I’m looking forward to it more than I have done in a while!

I’m normally a bit of a scrooge. I hate Christmas songs playing in the shops from mid-October, hate how busy things are, and I can’t stand the smell of mince pies. Yet this year I threw on Heart Christmas (my new fav radio station), my festive jumper and begged to put the tree up on the 1st December. I think it’s a combination of working full-time (and having two weeks off over Christmas, roll on 5pm on the 23rd!) and it being my first Christmas living with W – it just feels so magical and exciting!

 photo Christmas 2016 16_zpsj82vnq9t.jpg photo Christmas 2016 18_zpsn3lze10m.jpg photo Christmas 2016 19_zps9sx1dqvj.jpgWe picked up our tree a few weeks ago – getting a bit of a bargain in the process. It’s a 7fter – tall, but as it’s a “slim” tree it fits quite nicely in it’s designated corner and doesn’t overwhelm the room. It’s box is also pretty compact. A bit of a relief, really, considering I wasn’t thinking and ordered it to store. In the City. Trust me, getting a Christmas tree home on the Tube isn’t the easiest of tasks…

Our colour scheme is a *little* confused this year, as we didn’t want to fork out for a load of new baubles. Turns out a certain someone had forgotten about playing “indoor cricket” last January with wrapping paper and tree decorations, so quite a few hadn’t survived. It was a case of mum to the rescue, and she treated us to a gorgeous box of rose-gold baubles. I’m hoping to ditch all of the red decorations next year and go full-on copper-y colours.

I’ve also invested in decent wrapping paper (it’s not just wrapping paper, it’s Marks & Spencer wrapping paper…), I’ve gotten all my presents bought and wrapped wayyyy ahead of time. Last year we were frantically wrapping on Christmas Eve, so this isn’t like me at all!

 photo Christmas 2016 5_zpsv5qf5dbi.jpg photo Christmas 2016 4_zpsre41gogh.jpg photo Christmas 2016 1_zpsjuyzjexn.jpgOf course, it wouldn’t be Christmas without trying out some of Costa’s festive drinks. I found the Toasted Marshmallow Hot Chocolate insanely sweet, to the point of having a headache about half an hour later – though the glittery marshmallows almost made up for it! The Orange Hot Choc, however, is by far my favourite. So yum. We also indulged in some of their Christmas foodie items. We were a little let down by the Pigs in Blankets Panini – it only being sausages and bacon rather than an actual pig in blanket. Better was the Christmas Dinner Toastie, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

(My work canteen does an actual Pigs in Blanket panini, for less than my lunch allowance. It’s so, so good. Very dangerous, I had three this week!)

 photo Christmas 2016 14_zpssh4m1xfr.jpg photo Christmas 2016 13_zpsgs0a2g1u.jpgNow all I need to do is find me an advent calendar and catch up on all the chocolate I haven’t eaten!

How are your celebrating the run up to Christmas?

Festive Friday: Christmassy Jumpers

I’m not a huge jumper fan. I rarely wear jeans, I live in floral dresses and skirts (and pyjamas…) and cosy cardigans are my go-to cover ups. But there’s something about a festive jumper that screams Christmas, and for a few weeks I’ll happily live in one. I tend not to go too festive, and I still tend to accessorise with tartan scarves, but these are my wardrobes concession to festiveness. Excuse the slightly yellow light – the new lightshade in my room might look pretty, but isn’t helpful for blog photos!

 photo 2014-12-03183821_zps21671c4a.jpg photo 2014-12-03183838_zpsde03ec6a.jpgNot strictly a Christmassy jumper, but I’m so glad I splurged on this Terrier number from Joules (one of my favourite shops!) last year. Not only does it match my fur-baby, the cashmere makes it feel wonderfully soft and luxurious – as it should for the price I paid (especially considering the assistant neglected to give my three-year NUS card back, and I never saw it again). The colours make it suitable to wear whatever time of year, and it looks great dressed with with smart trousers as well as thrown over jeans.

 photo 2014-12-03184037_zps5fd79350.jpg photo 2014-12-03183859_zps6199e167.jpgSorry to say, but I failed at taking a photo of my real dog against my jumper-dog! Real dog just wouldn’t sit still for the camera, so his feet are the best I have! See here for the likness!

 photo 2014-12-03183234-Copy_zps8fb923d9.jpgNext up and I couldn’t resist included my boyfriend in his festive jumper. A classic reindeer in a lovely berry shade, this was a bargain from New Look. I think men’s jumpers are so much nicer than womens – especially this year as there’s far too many pastel colours around! M&S have some lovely ones this year, there’s one I’m desperate to get him but being short on funds makes this unlikely…sorry my love!

 photo 2014-12-03183853_zpsd072b36f.jpgNow for my favourite festive item – not a jumper, but a ridiculously oversized cardigan. It’s unbelievably a Size 8, and from Warehouse, but I’m afraid you’ll only pick this one up by rifling through attics as it’s actually older than me! This was one of my mum’s 18th presents many years ago, so many that it is officially a vintage piece. I’ve loved this for years, and I finally bagged it two years ago. Perfect with skinny jeans, and it acts as a festive dressing gown on Christmas morning too. Oh, and its warm enough to wear without a coat. I love it!
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Are you a fan of Christmas jumpers? What one are you wearing this year?