Are your pets safe in your home this Christmas?

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year! It’s a time for tinsel & trees, mince pies & puddings, it’s a truly special season and one to be enjoyed by all. To ensure your home has a magical Christmas follow our safety tips to ensure your furry friends have a great time too!

Chocolate, raisins, liquorice and nuts are a definite this time of year in my house but I always make sure they are stored safely, these are just a few foods that are potentially fatal to your pet. It’s always best to avoid feeding human food and feed them food that is formulated just for them, and remember to store their treats in a secure jar so they can’t overeat if they find them! If you do suspect your little Freddie may have been a naughty boy and found the chocolate coins that Santa left, call your vet immediately who will be able to advise the best course of action.

I expect your halls are decked with boughs of Holly, but did you know that Holly is poisonous for dogs and Mistletoe & Poinsettia’s are fatal for cats? I still decorate my home with festive flora but make sure it’s out of reach! There’s some great artificial alternatives on the market now, so if you’re worried and have curious pets (and children!) in your home it may be worth investing.

Another fabulous artificial purchase is the tree! Real Christmas trees are mildly toxic to some animals and oils can be an irritant to eyes and sensitive skin, pine needles may also get stuck in paws so it really is best to avoid. Artificial trees have come on leaps and bounds since I was a kid, you can actually avoid the sparse silver wired versions and opt for a Canadian Spruce! Lights, tinsel and baubles make great toys for puppies but these are obviously chewing hazards so make sure you don’t leave them alone when you are out partying or you may come home to a scene that represents World War II.

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How to make the perfect Christmas cake!

christmas cake recipe

Have you ever contemplated making your very own Christmas cake but a little too scared of how it might turn out? Worry no more! I have the perfect recipe with the easiest method going!

Rumour has it that it is popular to make your Christmas pudding on Stir Up Sunday which is the last Sunday before Advent, (this is traditionally the start of the season and falls on 22nd November this year). So why not make your cake on this day too?

Traditionally, families would gather in the kitchen to mix their Christmas pudding on this day. Everyone would take a turn to stir the pudding mix and make a wish for the coming new year. By tradition the pudding mixture was stirred from East to West in honour of the three wise men who travelled from the East to visit baby Jesus.

What a great way to get the family into the Christmas spirit, have fun in the kitchen and produce your very own homemade extravaganza!

Now let’s get started!

Ingredients

  • 1kg mixed dried fruits (use a mix of raisins, sultanas, currants, cherries, cranberries, prunes or figs)
  • Zest and juice of 1 orange
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 150ml Brandy, Sherry, Whisky or Rum, (plus extra for feeding!)
  • 250g pack butter, softened
  • 200g light soft brown sugar
  • 175g plain flour
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 100g flaked almonds
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Method

  1. Put the dried fruit, zests and juice, alcohol, butter and sugar in a large pan set over a medium heat. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 5 mins. Tip the fruit mixture into a large bowl and leave to cool for 30 mins.
  2. Heat oven to 150C/130C fan/gas mark 2. Line a deep 20cm cake tin with a double layer of baking parchment, then wrap a double layer of newspaper around the outside – tie with string to secure.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients to the fruit mixture and stir well, making sure there are no pockets of flour. Tip into your prepared tin, level the top with a spatula and bake in the centre of the oven for 2 hrs.
  4. Remove the cake from the oven, poke holes in it with a skewer and spoon over 2 tbsp of your chosen alcohol. Leave the cake to cool completely in the tin.
  5. To store, peel off the baking parchment, then wrap well in cling film. Feed the cake with 1-2 tbsp alcohol every fortnight, until you ice it. Don’t feed the cake for the final week to give the surface a chance to dry before icing.
Recipe courtesy of Good Food magazine.

How to make sure your garden is full of colour next Spring!

spring bulbs

Believe it or not Autumn is officially here and I am already talking about Spring! Forget the dark winter nights, frosty mornings and rainy days and think colourful gardens, birds singing and swaying daffodils and you will be on my wave length!

Seriously the best time to plant your daffodils, crocus and hyacinth is before the first frost, so at the end of September (plant tulips in November), there’s no point wishing your garden looked as colourful as your neighbours in March and April, you need to act now!

First you need to buy your bulbs from a reputable centre and find a good location in your garden. Most hardy bulbs like tulips and daffodils prefer a warm, sunny position with good drainage, you can improve your soil with compost and grit if needs be.

Plant in groups of no less than six, the more in a group the better the display, and follow our easy guide below.

  1. Dig a hole deep & wide enough for your bulbs. Work out the planting depth by roughly measuring the bulb from base to tip and doubling or tripling this length – this figure is the rough planting depth. For example, a 5cm (2in) high bulb should be 10-15cm (4-6in) below soil level
  2. Place the bulbs in the hole with their or shoot (pointy end), facing upwards.
  3. Space them at least twice the bulb’s own width apart.
  4. Replace the soil and gently firm with the back of a rake. Avoid treading on the soil as this can damage the bulbs.

Another great idea is to transform your tired lawn into a fabulous display of colour. Simply throw bulbs up in the air and plant them exactly where they land in the grass. This will make it look as though they have decided to grow there by themselves. Remember to allow plants to die down after flowering before mowing over the lawn, this will give you continued colour year after year.

If you prefer to lift your bulbs after flowering (I advise to do this with any summer bulbs such as arum lilies as they are not hardy enough to withstand the winter), lift and clean once the foliage has died down. Trim back the roots and discard any damaged bulbs.

Lay the bulbs on a tray to dry for 24 hours and then dust lightly with sulphur (from garden centres) to help prevent fungal rots developing and put bulbs in a dry, cool place to store, preferably a metal bulb storage tin to preserve them.

Enjoy your planting, the effort you put in now will pay off next year and your garden will be the envy of all!

Are you ready for the Blackberry season?

Blackberry honey creams

It’s that time of year when the humble blackberry decorates our hedgerows and our spare time is filled with searching out brambles. Armed with Tupperware containers, baskets and a brolly (for holding back branches!) we will set out to fill our kitchens with enough blackberries to feed an army!

There is a fine art to blackberry picking, look for plump, dry & dark fruit that are not too firm nor too squishy. You need them to survive the journey home (minus a few tempting ones!), you also need them ready for storing.

The best way to store blackberries is to keep them dry and cool and eat within a day or two. Blackberries freeze extremely well, simply spread a single layer on a tray and freeze until solid then pop them into an air-tight bag, you can then defrost at room temperature to use for cooking or eat them frozen with a warm white chocolate sauce!

I always use my surplus blackberries to make Blackberry Honey Creams, they are absolutely delicious and so easy to make, follow my recipe below for a speedy dessert or a nutritious breakfast!

Ingredients

  • 500g Greek yogurt
  • 2-3 tbsp runny honey
  • 300g washed blackberries
  • blackberry coulis (bring to the boil 250g blackberries & 50g caster sugar, add teaspoon of vanilla extract, when fruit is soft leave to cool and then whizz to a puree in a blender, and sieve before serving).

Beat the yogurt with honey to taste. Divide half the berries between 4 glasses, drizzle with some coulis and spoon over yogurt. Top with the remaining berries and some coulis. Serve immediately with the rest of the coulis.

Blackberries are available from August through to October but do you remember the old wives tale? Don’t pick a blackberry after Michaelmas Day (October 11th) as it’s rumoured the devil will make them unfit to eat by stepping & spitting on them! There’s probably some truth in this as when the wetter and cooler weather arrives this often causes the fruit to become mouldy. Therefore you haven’t got long to enjoy the seasonal delights, but it’s a great time to try your hand at making jam, cooking & baking!

Enjoy x

How to spice up your BBQ!

BBQ foodI’m sure your nostrils have had the delicious waft of your neighbours al fresco cooking and you’ve often wondered why your chargrilled sausages don’t smell quite that good! Well wonder no more simply follow my mouth watering recipes below and you will have your taste buds trembling with delight!

Grilled Corn

Boil the corn for 5 minutes until bright yellow but not yet cooked through; cool under cold water and drain well. (Can be prepared up to 1 day ahead and kept in the fridge). For cooking the coals should be white and glowing before you begin cooking. Cook for 10 mins, turning often, until the corn is tender and golden. Brush with a little soft butter (garlic butter is perfect) as it cooks. Transfer to a dish, top with more of the butter and let it melt.

Burgers – Aussie Style!

  • 1kg minced beef
  • 2 finely chopped red onions
  • 5 crushed garlic cloves
  • large handful of chopped parsley
  • 75ml tomato ketchup
  • 50ml oyster sauce
  • 2 egg yolks

To make the burgers, mix together all the ingredients and knead well so everything is thoroughly mixed. Separate the mix into 6 large balls, then shape into burgers. Put them in the fridge and, if possible, leave to chill for at least 1 hr.

To cook the burgers, get the barbecue good and hot with the coals glowing. You don’t need to add any oil to the burgers. Put them on the barbecue and leave for a few minutes until the edges start to colour, then turn over. Repeat the process, then turn again. Remove to the cooler side of the barbecue and leave to cook for a good 15 minutes if you like them well cooked.

To serve:

  • 6 smoked back bacon rashers
  • 6 slices fresh pineapple
  • 6 slices good melting cheese, such as cheddar
  • 6 burger baps, split in half
  • 2 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 12 slices pickled beetroot
  • 2 large tomatoes, sliced
  • 1 Cos lettuce, separated into leaves

While the burgers are cooking, BBQ the bacon and pineapple. Top the burgers with the bacon, then add the cheese and put back on the barbecue to melt. Warm the baps over the barbecue, too, if you like. Divide the mayo between the bap bases and top with the burgers. Add the pineapple, beetroot, tomato and lettuce, then put the lids on top.

Frango churrasco (Grilled lemon & garlic chicken)

  • 900g boneless chicken thighs (skin-on if possible)
  • zest and juice 2 lemons
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp mild piri-piri sauce
  • 2 tbsp soft brown sugar
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp coriander, finely chopped

Place the chicken in a shallow, non-metallic dish and cover with all the other ingredients and mix everything together. Cover and chill for at least 2 hrs, orovernight if possible. Bring to room temperature 1 hr before grilling.

Thread half the thighs onto 2 large metal skewers, or wooden ones soaked in water for 10 minutes. Repeat with the remaining thighs and another 2 skewers. Heat an outdoor barbecue until very hot. Place on the grill for 6 minutes on one side, then turn over and cook for 4 minutes. Cook for a few minutes more on each side if they are large – keep the heat on medium so they don’t burn. Remove and keep warm under foil.

That’s it folks! Easy!

All you need to do is serve the above with a fresh crispy green salad and a nice chilled beer, your guests will be amazed and your neighbours nostrils will be twitching for hours!

Recipes courtesy of BBC good food guide http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/collection/barbecue

How to make refreshing Raspberry Cordial!

raspberry cordial

It will soon be that time of year when your tummies will be full and your fingers will be flushed from picking ripe summer berries. July is the best month for harvesting raspberries; a wonderful sweet treat that is high in fibre, low in calories and jam packed full of vitamin C!

Of course you can use them in baking, serve them with cream or why not make our simple cordial? Perfect for adding to lemonade or soda to make an ice-cold refreshing drink, drizzled over fruit and ice-cream for a summer treat or even used as a cocktail mixer if you’re feeling indulgent!

*Ingredients

  • 500g raspberries
  • 500g caster sugar
  • 3 tbsp red wine vinegar

Method

  1. Put the raspberries in a pan with the sugar and vinegar. Mash over a low heat for 10 mins until smooth and syrupy. Rub through a sieve into a clean pan.
  2. Tip the seeds from the sieve into a bowl and stir in 300ml water, then sieve again to remove the last of the pulp from seeds. Pour the liquid into the pan with the sieved pulp, stir well and boil for 1 min. Pour into small sterilised bottles and seal. The cordial will keep unopened for a few months, however once opened, store in the fridge.
  3. Add ice to long glass, fill with lemonade, top with raspberry cordial and make your way outside, book optional! Enjoy x

*Recipe courtesy of BBC Good Food Guide.

Spring is in the air!

spring is in the air

March the 29th is just around the corner and probably one of the happiest times of the year for most of us. Why? I hear you cry. Simple, the clocks go forward and officially summer time begins.

Now we all know it takes a while for the temperature to rise but at least we are at the beginning, Spring is in the air and Winter will soon be a distant memory.

The best way to embrace this time of year is to get out in the garden, start ridding your vegetable patch of leaves and debris, give the lawn its first trim and start planning for the summer. It won’t be long before the weeds start growing so this is probably a gardeners busiest time of year and every minute counts.

Early spring is the best time to prune shrubs and trees, and cut back your hydrangeas to a healthy bud. And if you want the garden to look tip top, a good idea is to edge your beds and borders with shears for a nice clean line. This is the perfect time to plant your hardy annuals like Pot Marigolds and Californian Poppies for some spectacular Summer colour.

When it comes to your organic vegetable plot now is the time to sow Broad Beans, Parsnips, Carrots and Peas. Sow straight into a well-prepared soil, no need to add manure just fork over lightly and apply a top dressing of general fertiliser, and if you are fortunate enough to live in a milder area you can plant your potatoes too!

With all this work going on you will need to make sure your tools are up to the job, how about treating yourself to a lovely set of Joules gardening tools and why not go the whole hog and throw in a pair of matching Joules gardening gloves, after all with all your hard work you deserve a treat!

And talking of treats don’t forget Easter is fast approaching so you can take a well earned rest, put your feet up and munch away on chocolate Easter eggs!

Happy Gardening x

Give a bird a home!

national nest box week

This great idea is organised by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and gives us all a chance to get involved in helping our wildlife.

With more and more trees being cut down we need to not only protect our wildlife but also encourage more birds to come home to roost.

National Nest Box Week takes places from 14-21 February 2015 and is a great time to get the whole family involved, you can buy a ready made box or if you are feeling more adventurous why not make your own the National Nest Box Week Website has some great advice. Different types of nest boxes attract different birds, Robins are partial to open fronted boxes whereas a Great Spotted Woodpecker likes a large box with holes.

Once you have decided on the type of box you would like to put up you then need to take the necessary steps to ensure it will be in favour with your feathered friends. The main points to keep in mind are :

  • Don’t position nest boxes of the same type too close together as this may promote aggressive behaviour.
  • Shelter your box from rain, strong sunlight & prevailing winds. Ensure the box is angled vertically.
  • Position boxes 3 meters from the ground preferably on a tree trunk, although sheds & walls work just as well.
  • Ensure open-fronted boxes are hidden from view with shrubs & plants.
  • Position nest box away from feeders, as high levels of activity can birds disturb nesting.

There are now around 6 million nest boxes in the UK and I’m happy to say we have a few in our garden. It’s fascinating to be able to watch the comings and goings of our little neighbours and knowing that we are doing our bit to ensure our native breeds continue to strive.

Good luck with your nesting, I hope boxes are busy! Why not pop onto our Facebook page and send us your piccies we’d love to see your success x

https://www.facebook.com/prettymaisonuk

Happy New Year!

Who can believe it is 2015? It really doesn’t seem two minutes since we were all worrying about hitting the year 2000! Each new year brings regrets and resolutions, regrets I’ve had a few but then again too few to mention! Resolutions I have many! One of which is to make sure this year my house is in order!

Actually that’s quite a big task so I thought it best to tackle a room at a time but it’s far too cold to do that now! The forecasters have predicted minus weather conditions this week with gale force winds which would indicate one would need to perch themselves in front of the TV with warm cup of cocoa and enjoy the roaring fire!

Talking of roaring fires if you’re lucky enough to have an open fire we have the perfect accessories ranging from retro styled metal kindling buckets with matching firelighter & match storage tins to gorgeous hand crafted willow log carriers and baskets.

As for decorating and organising your home, I will be back next month when hopefully the weather will be a little friendlier! In the meantime snuggle up and keep warm x

fireside

Gifts for the guys!

christmas gifts for him

Most people have a man in their life who has everything, simply impossible to buy for! Hopefully I can help relieve a little stress with my gift ideas for guys.

Darts Drinking Game: This is the perfect present for the man who likes a tipple or two! Complete with shot glasses, darts board and magnetic darts (real ones would be dangerous when the game gets going!) This groovy game makes the perfect stocking filler and is priced at a reasonable £4.99 each.

Retro Sweet Hamper: Filled to the brim with old school sweets to add a smile to the face of any fickle soldier! Supplied in a willow hamper with leather fastenings which my Dad uses for his fishing! (Two gifts for the price of one!).

Nickel Wine Stopper & Coaster: Are you fed up with buying the usual bottle of wine? Well this year you can raise the bar and complete the ensemble with this gorgeous twosome.

Golfer Wall Plaque: If your man has tried his hand at a round of golf, then this will be perfect (and cheeky). Decorated with the words “An old golfer lives here… with the best score of his life” makes a fabulous fun gift idea for any golfer who’s advancing in years!!

Well it’s not long until Santa makes an appearance so I would like to wish you all a very merry Christmas and look forward catching up with you in 2015, in the meantime…. Happy Shopping x