AD/Gifted. At this time of year, I absolutely love throwing festive spices at everything I eat and drink. I’ve got myself into a nightly mulled wine habit, but sometimes I crave something a little less alcoholic and something a little more comforting. Last week I baked some delicious Speculaas biscuits, with my order came a little packet of Speculaas spice to bake some extra biscuits with. I decided to use the spice to make some lovely Speculaas hot chocolate with it instead. What a stroke of genius that was!
The hot chocolate is filled with cinnamon, cloves and ginger – all of our favourite Christmas spices and topped with an over-generous and positively indulgent pile of squirty cream. It’s not an every day treat, but it really is a treat.
Essentially it is hot chocolate with a spoon of Speculaas spice in it, I’ve written the recipe below, but if you regularly make hot chocolate, make it your own way and whisk a dessert spoon of the spice in before you pour it into you mug. It really is brilliant.
Speculaas Hot Chocolate
Ingredients for one mug:
350mls of milk
3 heaped teaspoons of hot chocolate powder
1 heaped teaspoon of Speculaas spice powder
A huge pile of squirty cream
How to make your Speculaas Hot Chocolate:
Heat up your milk to drinking temperature. I microwaved my milk, but you can heat it gently on the hob if you prefer.
Stir though the hot chocolate powder and Speculaas spice mix, pour into a mug and top with squirty cream. I sprinkled a couple of pinches of the Speculaas spice on top of the cream to decorate it a little.
It’s best drunk in front of a roaring fire with some Christmas music playing in the background. It’s as simple and delicious as that! Merry Christmas.
AD/Gifted. Growing up in the 80’s we always had a plastic tree. Every December it was dug out of the loft and decorated with a ramshackle selection of gaudy decorations and things we’d made at school. It was a tree heaving with sentimentality and we loved it.
When I eventually moved out of home, it was time for me to create some traditions of my own. Top of my list was to ditch the chintzy plastic tree and start buying a real Christmas tree every year; something we have stuck to. There’s something really nice about a real Christmas tree; from the gentle pine scent which fills the room, to the lovely prickly joy of decorating it. The real Christmas tree might have been something beloved of the Victorians; but it also looks very lovely in my 1940’s semi in South Manchester.
This year, like last year (and channeling Margo Leadbetter) I had my real Christmas tree delivered to me from The Christmas Forest. Based in London, they deliver top quality Christmas trees all over the UK. This saves me the faff of buying a tree locally and struggling to get it home, as a non-driver this is a real issue for me.
I ordered my 6ft real Christmas tree a few weeks ago and booked it to arrive on Friday; which it did do, bright and early; the driver even brought it in for me. Over the weekend we put it up, filled the base with water, dug our decorations out of the loft and set to work decorating it; something the boy is especially excited about doing these days.
As when I was a child, the tree isn’t covered in stylish and carefully co-ordinated trinkets; but mostly a selection of things we’ve made, or shiny things we have bought to remember the places we have been. I’ve picked out some of our favourite decorations from our tree, things that we’ve made and things that we love.
There are button decorations, hand painted baubles, a Tunnocks teacake bauble I made a few years ago, angels my son decorated at school, lolly stick decorations and easy paper baubles. I hope these will be on our tree every year and more will join them. I’ve always been a sucker for sentimentality, and our tree reflects who we are; homely, warm, with more of a taste of tradition than what’s hot and what’s not each Christmas.
If like me, you want to take some of the stress out of Christmas; getting a real Christmas Tree delivered is a real time saver and a godsend. It’s been such a help to have it delivered and it’s one very big thing off my festive to do list.
For more information about The Christmas Forest, or to order your Christmas Tree from them, visit Christmas Forest.
Disclaimer: We were sent our Christmas Tree for review purposes. All images and opinions are our own.
At Christmas time I can’t get enough of mulled drinks. Mulled wine is a favourite but a few years ago I tried Mulled Cider and my head was turned. I’m more likely to drink Mulled Cider at home and it’s such a delicious and warming drink, it really sings Christmas to me.
When I mull at home, I usually use a ready-made spice sachet, usually one from Steenbergs because I can’t fault them. This Christmas I’ve been using the Spices for Spiced Cider and Apple Juice and they’ve really hit the spot. All you do is warm through a litre of cider or apple juice, tip one of the sachets in and after a few minutes it’s ready.
Sometimes, and this is not very often, I mull too much cider and I’ll have some left. Sure, I could heat it up again later, but I fancied making something different with it. I thought I’d make some Mulled Cider Jellies. It turns out they make a really interesting, different and delicious festive dessert. You could make them just as well with apple juice if you’re serving them to children or people who don’t drink alcohol. This recipe makes 4 good-sized jellies.
Mulled Cider Jellies
1 pint of mulled cider or mulled apple juice
2 tablespoons of sugar
A sachet of Dr Oetker Vege Gel
How to make Mulled Cider Jellies:
Take about 200mls of your cooled mulled cider and stir the Vege Gel into it, make sure all the powder dissolves.
Add the sugar and bring the remainder of the cider to the boil, once it’s boiling, add your 200mls of cider and Vege Gel into the pan and stir, stir, stir.
Make sure you have your moulds ready for your jelly as it will start to set really quite quickly. I used some small glass pyrex dishes and also a metal cake mould in the shape of a star. You could make one big jelly if you prefer.
Pour your jelly carefully into your serving dishes and put them in the fridge until it’s set properly. This took about two hours, but if you can it is probably worth leaving the jelly overnight in the fridge.
I turned my jelly mould out onto a serving plate, be careful when you do this so not to break the jelly.
Serve with good vanilla ice cream.
Be careful if you’re turning your jelly out of the moulds, I tried to move my jelly and ended up breaking a little piece off the corner which I then covered with ice cream, so it was all fine in the end.
It’s such a pretty little pudding, easy to do and something a bit different at Christmas.
In a couple of weeks time families will be sitting down to enjoy Christmas dinner together. Christmas dinner is a real culinary highlight, it’s essentially the best roast dinner ever. Every family has their own favourites, some have beef or goose, most have turkey; I like Yorkshire puddings and several different types of stuffing. But one thing everyone has in common is Christmas dinner cooking nerves.
I take it in turns to host Christmas Day with my brother, this year is his turn, last year it was mine. I’ve been cooking Christmas dinner by myself since I was about 16. The two things that make it tricky are juggling everything for oven and hob space and getting everything cooked and ready at the same time.
Each year there are typically around 8 people sat around our table for Christmas dinner. Out of this number, two are vegetarians and one of those has a number of intolerances to take into account. The meat eaters are very traditional, but whatever number of chipolatas your family eats, we have to double it. There’s a lot to juggle.
That’s just for the main course. We usually have a starter of soup and bread rolls and pudding is a selection of options (because each one of us is fussy) including Christmas pudding, mince pies, chocolate pudding, ice cream, and a selection of boozy creams and sauces. We also offer a cheese board and mints. It’s a huge meal!
Last Christmas I sat down and thought about it. I didn’t want to spend my Christmas Day stuck in the kitchen peeling sprouts and being a skivvy for everyone. I wanted to enjoy Christmas morning with my family and not have too much stress. With a bit of forward planning and prep the day before I managed to pull off my most relaxed Christmas in years.
Here’s what I did. I looked at what food I would be serving and planned what I could cook the day before and what would be better cooked on the day. Most of the food could be cooked ahead of time and warmed through before serving, even the roast potatoes. So this is what I did.
This had to be cooked on the day, but that’s fine. Getting ahead of myself meant there was plenty of oven space for it. We also got a turkey crown from the butchers which cut down the cooking time by quite some margin.
Last year I served a nut roast, because I love nut roast. I found a nice ready made one and cooked that on Christmas Day.
Yorkshires really need to be made just before serving, there are no cheats here. Also, there’s no shame in buying the ready-made ones. Yorkshires can be tricky and who needs the added pressure on Christmas Day?
I’ve been cooking my roast potatoes on Christmas Eve for years. Everyone has their own way of doing them, I like fluffy potatoes cooked in groundnut oil, but cook them however you prefer. Take them out of the oven when they’re starting to colour, remove them from the roasting tin and put them on a cooling rack with some kitchen towel underneath. Leave them to cool, once they’re cool, put them as they are on a plain baking tray with no extra oil. They’ll take an extra 20-30 minutes to warm through and crisp up on Christmas Day, but they’re really crisp, fluffy inside and because they’ve not sat in oil for too long they’re not as oily as they could be.
Roast parsnips or sweet potatoes
Just like the roast potatoes, you can pre-cook your parsnips or sweet potatoes ahead of time. They come out just as good as freshly cooked ones, just do what I did with the roast potatoes.
If you’ve not put these on to boil at the end of summer, you might as well cancel Christmas. Not really, but it’s the old joke. Sprouts aren’t great re-heated, so I leave them to cook on the hob on Christmas Day. It’s worth allowing a bit of extra time for them to cook because somehow vegetables always take much longer to cook when you’ve got guests waiting.
Carrots really lend themselves to re-heating. I did almost all of my veg prep on the morning of Christmas Eve, all the peeling and chopping and par boiling and roasting. I boiled up my carrots with a bay leaf and once they were almost cooked through, I drained them, put them in a microwavable dish with a knob of butter and covered them with cling-film. Just before serving, I gave them a 5 minute blast in the microwave, a stir to coat everything in the little knob of butter and we had perfect carrots.
I generally cook my red cabbage in the slow cooker, but I follow this recipe. Instead of cooking it on the hob I use the slow cooker, yes it takes a few hours more, but it frees some precious kitchen space and it’s the kind of thing which can happily sit and more or less look after itself. Last year I made this on Christmas Eve, then turned my slow cooker on low on Christmas morning, by the time Christmas dinner was being served it was heated through and delicious.
I love a good stuffing and as a vegetarian they are a good filling addition to my plate. I have traditionally used packet bought stuffings and pimped them up by stirring a spoon or two of cranberry sauce though before baking, but last year I made two different stuffings from scratch. Yes, it did take a bit more time, but they were so much tastier and the texture was lighter and less gluey. I’d urge you to find some time to make your own if you can. It was remarkably simple, especially if you’ve got a food processor to do the chopping for you. I made my stuffings on Christmas Eve and they just needed baking in the oven on the day. I’m converted to homemade stuffing now.
Meat & Veggie Gravy
I am a big old cheat when it comes to gravy. Sometimes I make my own, but even with my plan-ahead precision, Christmas Day is too hectic for me to be faffing about too much. You can either make your gravy ahead of time and freeze it, or go to your local shop and buy a tub of fresh ready-made gravy and heat it up on the day.
Bread sauce is one of my favourite things about Christmas Dinner. Weirdly only my husband and me really like it, so it’s not something I devote too much time to. I’m happy to cheat, cheat, cheat with bread sauce. Buy a fresh tub of it from a good shop, bang it in the microwave and serve. Half the table will pull their face at it anyway, whether you’ve spent an hour stirring a pan or 2 minutes waiting for the mircowave to ping.
I think Christmas Dinner is all about picking your battles. For me, freshly made stuffing is really worth it, but I don’t need to stress of flat as a pancake Yorkshire puddings on Christmas Day. My stress-free Christmas dinner planning was noticed, gone were fraught scenes in the kitchen with me looking hot and bothered, instead I served a very good dinner with all the cool control of a northern Nigella.
Next year it’s my turn to cook Christmas Dinner and I know that I’ll do exactly the same again. Maybe I’ll cook my gravies from scratch and freeze them, but spending Christmas Eve morning doing all the prep and most of the cooking is time very well spent.
Do you have any top tops for an effortless Christmas dinner?
December is upon us, but regardless of whether you’re a put a tree up at the start of the month, or a leave it until the last minute tree putter-upper; if you’re going for a real Christmas tree, then at some point you’ll have to find one and buy one.
For us, December is always incredibly busy. It’s harder than you’d think for us to find a couple of hours where we are all free to be able to go and buy a tree together. Don’t get me wrong, it’s lovely to go and choose a tree; but the real magic is always in decorating the tree and seeing it all lit up.
This year we’ve dispensed with the stress and had our tree delivered instead. Our Scottish grown tree has come from The Christmas Forest which has 10 pop-up Christmas stores in London where families can go and pick their own treein London, or they can deliver it nationwide.
Our tree is a 6ft Nordmann Fir, which is non-drop and exactly the kind of tree we normally go for. They have trees in all sizes up to 8ft (12ft on request) with a range of different pine trees to choose from. I was a little worried that we might get a tree which wasn’t the perfect Christmas Tree shape we all dream of, but I had no need to worry. The trees are trimmed into shape as they grow and ours was just perfect.
You can choose optional extras, like a Christmas Tree stand, lights and wreaths too. We went for a new Christmas Tree stand, this holds water and helps keep your tree fresh.
Our tree arrived bright and early on the day we’d chosen for delivery. It was well wrapped in netting and plastic with a stick attached to the top to stop the top part from getting damaged in transit. All we had to do was cut a bit off the bottom, pop it in the stand and decorate it.
They also offer a tree collection service at the end of the season, with recycling option in London area.The Christmas Forest support the charity Tree Aid, who plant one tree in Africa for every one they sell. Through Tree Aid they have planted over 230,000 trees in the drylands of Africa.
Our Christmas Tree decorations are mostly a selection of things we’ve bought and made over the years; babies first Christmas; things I’ve made with Ben; precious baubles from my own childhood Christmas Tree and things we’ve been given by special people. It’s never a stylish tree, but it’s always one full of happy memories and love, which to us is just right.
If you want to take some of the stress out of Christmas, getting a real Christmas Tree delivered is a real godsend. It’s been such a help to have it delivered and it’s one very big thing off my festive to do list.
For more information about The Christmas Forest, or to order your Christmas Tree from them, visit their website.
Disclaimer: We were sent our Christmas Tree for review purposes. All images and opinions are our own.
Christmas dinner is one of the foodie highlights of the year. For me, it’s not necessarily the food which makes it special, it’s sitting down with the family, sharing a meal and enjoying the occasion. Whilst the main course on Christmas Day is more or less fixed, the Christmas Day Starters are a movable feast.
It can be difficult to decide what to make for your Christmas Day starter, but ideally it should be something you can make ahead of time, or something you can quickly cook before serving.
Our family always has soup as a Christmas Day starter. This year I’ll be serving my luxurious cauliflower and chestnut soup which is a grand way to start off the festive feasting. Plus, it’s so easy to make ahead and freeze. All you need to do is warm it through and serve with some crusty bread. Happy families!
Christmas Day Starters
Pâté, meat or veggie – served with melba toast. It’s a Christmas Day classic!
Goats cheese caramelised onion tarts
Mini Yorkshire puddings with creamy smoked trout and horseradish pâté
Crab and avocado tian with lovely thin Melba toast and good butter
Soup – make your own or jazz up a tub of shop bought. It’s a simple starter and a crowd pleaser!
Stuffed mushrooms wrapped in Parma ham
Prawn cocktail – a 70’s classic which will never go out of fashion.
Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and the flurry of shopping for presents and food is all but over for another year. It’s a day we try to pause the chaos a little and spend some time together as a family. We will have some preparation and thing to do, but being together is a priority for us. If you’re wondering what to do on Christmas Eve, then here are our suggestions.
Family Things To Do
We put together a Christmas Eve box which arrives on Christmas Eve. It’s packed full of lovely things including new PJs, a Christmas DVD, some Christmas books and nice nibbles. We curl up on the sofa for an hour or two and watch the DVD and just chill out. It’s lovely and a great way to change gear on the Christmas chaos and just wind down.
Go for a nice long walk. On Christmas Day we are mostly busy busy and stuck in the house. If the weather is reasonable, a good long walk on Christmas Eve is a great way to tire the kids out. It’s good to get some fresh air and burn off a few calories in anticipation of the feast to come.
More organised people will have bought tickets to a panto or a Christmas show like Elf The Musical. Going to a show together can be a really special way to spend Christmas Eve as a family.
Christmas Eve is a time for singing carols and feeling festive. Every Christmas Eve we trot off to our local church to take part in the Christingle Service. The service is so popular at our local church that they now have three services to accommodate the hundreds of children and families to come along on Christmas Eve.
For older children and adults, the Midnight Mass service is a beautiful way to start off the Christmas celebrations. It’s a little moment of stillness and calm, and the perfect place to belt out some Christmas carols. I love it.
You can find information on services local to you here.
Sensible people will have done this days ago, but *waves* I still have piles of unwrapped presents taunting me from the wardrobe. I know this will be done in dribs and drabs throughout the day but SODS LAW dictates that I will either run out of wrapping paper or sellotape. This has happened before, mostly because my husband always insists we’ve got too much wrapping paper already and then it turns out we have none. This is always discovered at 4pm on Christmas Eve. This will not happen to me this year. I have bulk bought both of these items, so much so that we may well never need to buy them ever again.
Preparation Preparation Preparation
I know some people cook their whole Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve; plate it up and just re-heat it on the day. There’s a lot of sense in that, but Christmas Day wouldn’t be the same to me without juggling for space in the oven, carving the turkey at the table and steaming the pudding.
I do however like to do some prep the day before. I will be roasting the potatoes and parsnips in advance, then on Christmas Day I can just put them on trays in the oven for half an hour and they crisp up beautifully.
This year I’m making stuffing from scratch (a departure for me as I’ve always been a packet stuffing kind of girl). I’ll also peel and prep the veg ready to be cooked on Christmas Day. There is lots to do; but if you’re methodical and you do as much as you can beforehand then it’s very doable!
Treats For Father Christmas
The last thing we do before bedtime is leave a mince pie, a small dram of whisky and a sprinkling of oats for Father Christmas and the reindeer. We make sure our stockings are hung up and we hurry upstairs to bed, hopefully for an early night.
It’s a busy day and a busy night, but spending time together is what Christmas is all about isn’t it. Merry Christmas to you and thank you for reading my blog.
Christmas is a time for crafting and creating with the kids. We love doing Christmas crafts and we were excited when we heard that ex Blue Peter presenter and craft queen Konnie Huq, had partnered with the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) to create a selection of homemade STEM toys for Christmas.
Konnie Huq has put her Blue Peter powers to practice for a good cause, making Britain’s most popular Christmas toys at home for a fraction of the cost. The Christmas STEM toys she has created include –
Konnie, who spent over ten years craft-making on Blue Peter, is supporting a campaign by the Institution of Engineering and Technology to inspire more children to consider careers in engineering. The toys are designed to make learning about science, tech, engineering and mathematics (STEM) more accessible and affordable. These handmade STEM toys – which include a dissolving egg, magnetic slime, a kaleidoscope and even a smartphone projector – are educational, as well as fun.
Making your own slime is so popular right now, but we thought we would try something a little different. We really liked the idea of building our own living gingerbread house.
Make your own living gingerbread house
You will need:
A number of plain sponges
Spray bottle (clean)
How to make a living gingerbread house
Choose one or two sponges to be your base. Fix them together with a cocktail stick, remember these are sharp so be careful of your fingers.
Choose more sponges to be the walls. Cut one sponge in half across the longest
side (i.e. make two regular rectangles, not two long strips) and fix those onto the shorter sides of your base with cocktail sticks. Fix two sponges onto the longer sides of the base.
Take two sponges and cut them down their long side on an angle so that they fit together to form the apex of a roof. Fix them together with cocktail sticks, put on the top of your structure and fix into place with more cocktail sticks. You should now have a house shape made of sponges. Put your house onto a plate.
If your house is a bit wobbly, you can secure it using a glue gun or some craft glue. If you have used glue, allow time for the glue to dry and set before you move on to the next stage.
Next, you need to cover the house with seeds. You can use mustard or cress but
there are many fast sprouting seeds, so the choice is yours. We chose cress.
Dab some water onto the roof of your house and spread the seeds onto the roof.
Pour a little water onto the plate so the sponge base can soak it up. Check the
sponge is nice and moist. Then sprinkle the seeds onto the base.
Leave your house in a warm, bright spot for the seeds to germinate. Spray the house with water using a spray bottle each day, and pour a little water over the house if it feels dry. In a few days the seeds should start to sprout, in a week they should be thriving.
It’s so easy and lots of fun to make too!
Disclosure: We were sent a shopping voucher to buy the materials for this craft.
I love a bit of Christmas crafting and I’ve found a really simple, festive and delicious craft which will delight the whole family this Christmas. I’ve been making candy cane hearts to hang on my tree.
Candy canes have long been a symbol of Christmas. They were originally white sugar candy sticks made in Germany around 250 years ago. No one really knows how they ended up with a stripe and in the distinctive J shape, but some say they were shaped to look like a shepherd’s crook, to remind us of the shepherds that visited the baby Jesus on the first Christmas. Whatever the real story, all I know if they’re delicious and we always have a candy canes hanging from our Christmas tree.
You can get candy canes in all sizes, but I picked up a box of Swizzels Mini Candy Canes from B&M Stores for £1.99 and I knew exactly what I was going to make with them.
Make your own Candy Cane Hearts
You will need –
A baking sheet
Place your baking paper on your baking sheet and arrange the candy canes into heart shapes. The mini candy canes are the right size for this, but if you’re using larger ones you can trim them down if you need to.
Making sure the two candy canes in each heart are touching; put them into a warm oven and watch very carefully. It should take about 5 minutes for the candy canes to warm up and start melting a little at the ends. At this point remove them from the oven and carefully push the ends and the joins together on the heart. Remember this is hot sugar and you don’t want to burn yourself.
Once the joins have been pushed together, leave them to cool for 15 minutes. Once they are cool, tie ribbon around them and hang them on your tree.
They’re so simple to make and they do look super-cute on the tree. I think I’m going to make a batch for the table on Christmas Day too.
A Christmas Eve box is a relatively new tradition for us. I’m not even really sure where it came from. We’ve always done the Elf on a Shelf thing and for the last few years the Elf has delivered a Christmas Eve box to our house from Father Christmas.
I think the idea of the Christmas Eve box is to give little ones something to tide them over until Christmas Day. Something that will help to calm their excitement and enthusiasm for not going to sleep or for waking up incredibly early. We’ve usually been quite lucky with the early morning wake ups, but the going to sleep on Christmas Eve is always a bit tricky.
To us, our Christmas Eve box should be filled with nice things we can do together as a family, things that’ll keep us cosy and things we will just enjoy. We have a small personalised sack we use for ours, but in previous years we’ve used boxes we’ve decorated. You can buy special boxes, but if you have the time and inclination, it’s nice to decorate your own.
Your Christmas Eve box can be as simple or as complicated as you want. If you’re struggling to think of what to put in yours, here are some of my suggestions.
18 ideas for filling your Christmas Eve Box
New Christmas pyjamas
New Christmas slippers
A Christmas book to read at bedtime
A DVD to watch together on Christmas Eve
A Christmas mug, hot chocolate and marshmallows
Family snacks – popcorn, chocolate, candy canes, whatever you like!
A special Christmas decoration to hang on the tree