Why do we give gifts?

Christmas, Birthdays & Anniversaries are all times of celebration and cheer. We are at our most generous during the festive period than any other time of year. But, why do we part with our cash so easily for others during this period.

One of the main reasons we have the tradition of giving and receiving presents is to remind us of the presents given to Jesus by the Three Wise Men: Frankincense, Gold & Myrrh.

Giving presents is a little different today to say the least!  It’s a fine balancing act of spending the right amount of money versus the perfect gift for the recipient? Research is critical to finding the correct gift at the price you can afford, a problem the Wise Men did not encounter!

Today, we give gifts for different reasons. For some, it is a way to celebrate the Christian holy day & for others, it is a special time to let family & friends know that you care & are thinking of them. Often a way to show your appreciation of their support you have received throughout the year.

St. Nicholas was probably the most famous gift giver in history, leaving wonderful presents in shoes that were left outside for children! This is the reason children today hang up stockings on Christmas Eve.

Christmas as we now know it originated from the Victorian era, with families gathering for a feast, to play games & give gifts. To give a gift was an expression of kindness & warmth especially during harder times.

Nowadays in more affluent times, Christmas is all about the gift. With Christmas adverts being shown on every channel & Santa Claus appearing in department stores the focus on buying the perfect gift has never been more important. Macy’s of New York revolutionised Christmas shopping when they stayed open until midnight on Christmas Eve in 1867 encouraging shoppers to pop in for their last minute gifts.

Luckily today we have the blessing of the internet to help with Christmas shopping so you don’t need to brace the cold, you can shop to your hearts content whilst drinking your cocoa in front of the blazing fire. In fact a little bird has told me that www.prettymaison.co.uk has some great little gifts for your friends and family, definitely worth a click 😉

Happy Shopping & Merry Christmas!

My favourite Autumn dish!

As the leaves turn golden brown, the cooler nights draw in and thoughts of Halloween & Bonfire Night spring to mind so does Toffee Apples, Hot Chocolate and Duck with Blackberry Sauce!

An odd combination I know but definitely one of my favourites and it’s delicious! Game season begins in September so you can replace the duck with Venison or Guinea Fowl and it works just as well. Why not swap blackberries and red wine for cherries and port at Christmas for a festive alternative to Turkey!

Ingredients – Serves 2

2 duck breasts

150g blackberries

1 tbsp caster sugar

½ shallot, finely chopped

100ml red wine

100ml chicken stock

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180˚C, gas mark 4. Score the skin of the duck breasts in a criss-cross pattern and season. Place them skin-side down in a cold frying pan and set over a medium heat. Cook for 20 minutes, tipping excess fat out of the pan as it cooks. Meanwhile, put the blackberries in a small saucepan with the sugar and simmer for 5 minutes, crushing the berries with the back of a fork; set aside.

2. When the skin is golden and crisp, turn the breasts over and cook the flesh side for 2 minutes, then transfer to a roasting tray and place in the oven for 8 minutes. Remove from the oven, wrap loosely in foil and rest for 5 minutes.

3. While the duck breasts are in the oven, spoon all but 1 tbsp fat from the pan. Set the pan over a medium-low heat and cook the shallot for 2-3 minutes, until softened. Add the wine and stock to the pan and simmer for 5 minutes over a high heat, until reduced and syrupy. Stir in the blackberries and any resting juices from the duck and simmer until warmed through. Slice the duck and serve with the sauce, plus some steamed Autumn green vegetables.

Enjoy x

How to make unbelievably easy mince pies.

Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without the traditional mince pie! Crisp shortcrust pastry hiding a mouthwatering, spiced fruit filling, simply perfect for your festive gathering.

As you take the first bite memories will come flooding back, Christmas baking with Mum, making sure Santa’s little treat is ready on Christmas Eve and burning your lip on the hot mincemeat because you can’t wait for the pies to cool!

Over the years I have tried to make mince pies that taste as good as my Mum’s but somehow I’ve never quite managed it. The pastry has been too thick, too crumbly, not enough filling, too much filling, you name it and I’ve done it!

All this is now a thing of the past thanks to the easiest recipe alive. Simply follow this step by step recipe below and you too will have mince pies that taste like my Mums baked them, and Mary Berry has nothing on her!

Ingredients

  • 225g cold butter, diced
  • 350g plain flour
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • 280g mincemeat
  • 1 small egg
  • icing sugar, to dust
  1. To make the pastry, rub cold, diced butter into plain flour, then mix in golden caster sugar and a pinch of salt. Combine the pastry into a ball – don’t add liquid – and knead it briefly. The dough will be fairly firm, like shortbread dough. You can use the dough immediately, or chill for later.
  2. Preheat the oven to 200C/gas 6/fan 180C. Line 18 holes of two 12-hole patty tins, by pressing small walnut-sized balls of pastry into each hole. Spoon the mincemeat into the pies.
  3. Take slightly smaller balls of pastry than before and pat them out between your hands to make round lids, big enough to cover the pies. Top the pies with their lids, pressing the edges gently together to seal – you don’t need to seal them with milk or egg as they will stick on their own. (The pies may now be frozen for up to 1 month).
  4. Beat 1 small egg and brush the tops of the pies. Bake for 20 minutes until golden. Leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then remove to a wire rack. To serve, lightly dust with icing sugar. They will keep for 3 to 4 days in an airtight container (unless you live in my house and then it’s a small Christmas miracle if they last until the morning!).

Now all you need to do is taste! Best served with a little cream whilst warm (not hot otherwise you will have the same memories I have!). Relax, pop on a Christmas movie, sit back and enjoy. Let the festive season begin x

Thank you to the BBC Good Food Guide for their unbelievable easy recipe!

Fancy a little something on the side?

stilton scones

If you’re like me and are in for a busy day this Christmas you will look forward to waving the last of the crowd off, putting your feet up and catching up on who’s wedding went off with a bang and who snuffed it on the soaps! Trouble is after the cooking, the present unwrapping and the clearing up, the nibbles start to nag (even though I’ve consumed enough food to last me to February!).

My Stilton & Rosemary Scones are perfect for this time of day and if you’re very organised you could make them a couple of days before the 25th and keep in an air tight container. They are the perfect partner for my homemade chutney (this chutney is so easy, once you’ve made it you will never buy another jar!).

This delicious duo is excellent with a glass of your favourite red and what better way to end the craziest day of the year, indulge and enjoy!

Quick Caramelised Onion, Port & Cranberry Chutney

  • 5 onions finely sliced
  • 3tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1tbsp brown sugar
  • 1tbsp dried cranberries
  • Salt & pepper
  1. Soak the cranberries in the port.
  2. Fry the onions in 1tbsp olive oil allowing to brown and caramelise.
  3. Add the vinegar, sugar, salt & pepper & port-soaked cranberries & cook out for a further 20 minutes or until liquid is reduced by three quarters.

Stilton & Rosemary Scones

  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 level tsp baking powder
  • 25g butter
  • 75g Stilton cheese
  • 1tsp finely chopped rosemary
  • 1 large egg & a little milk
  1. Combine flour, baking powder & salt.
  2. Rub in the butter until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  3. Mix in the Stilton and rosemary.
  4. Mix in the egg and a little milk, enough to create a sticky dough.
  5. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and roll to 2cm thick.
  6. Cut shape with a biscuit cutter.
  7. Bake in a preheated oven (200c fan) for 8 mins.
  8. Cool on a cooling rack.

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.

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

 

Presents for the Pet Lover!

I’m back again with some ideas for the animal lover in your life!

Who can resist the soulful eyes of a mans best friend? Not many of us, which is why an animal themed gift is a great idea for most.

Frames: We have the perfect duo, two photo frames featuring the words ‘My Dog’ & ‘My Cat’. Each is decorated with either a wooden fish or bone and is perfect for adding a photo of their cuddly companion. These fabulous frames makes the perfect stocking filler and are priced at just £5.99 each.

Door Mat: Well this really is a novel idea! if your friend has a pet they probably need one of these to help with the muddy paws! Gorgeously designed with cats and dogs, practical & stylish! Why not treat them to our ‘Wipe your paws’ sign too? It would certainly pop a smile on my face, (I’m hoping for the Scottie dog design!).

Storage Tins: If you’re secret Santa this year doesn’t have a furry friend don’t despair you can still get in on the act and treat them to a bird seed tin! What better way than starting the New Year with a new hobby? Team it with one of our bird nesting boxes and open the door to a whole new world!

Next week I will be back to help with the gifts for the man who has everything (we all have one of those in our life!) Happy Shopping x

Gorgeous Gifts for your Gardeners!

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This week I’m going to help you with your green fingered friends!

Gardening is a fantastic past time and if embraced with enthusiasm (and the right tools) your chums (and hopefully you) will soon be able to reap the benefits.

Bulb & Seed Tins: These are available in various colours and various sizes and make perfect stocking filler from only £6.00 each. Why not fill them with unusual seeds or a range of bulbs to give the gift with a difference!

Thyme Watering Can: Ideal for the Alan Titchmarsh in your life! This traditionally designed metal watering can is absolutely stunning and beautifully finished in the new Thyme green colour and complete with a detachable brass rose. This will certainly make someone feel very special.

watering canwater misterbulb tin

Water Mister: Pop a smile on somebody’s face this Christmas with our traditional water mister. Great present for the indoor gardener and lovingly decorated with the words, ‘Grow Damn It!’.

Traditional Buckets: Better than they sound (honest!). Absolutely brilliant for the organic vegetarian! My favourite is our gooseberry green bucket with ‘Grown in the UK’ printed on the front, great for Grandpa’s allotment!

Next week I will be blogging about Gifts for the Animal Lover! Happy Shopping x