Archives for category: Food

25037454_138865226896675_2036079854268448768_nMerry Christmas to you and all your loved ones! Hopefully, everyone has had as wonderful a time as I have, filled with joy (and treats). I realise this post is a little late, but maybe it could come in handy for next year…Not that advanced preparations have actually helped me in the past. Despite my best attempts (even taking time off work), there’s still always a lot of rushing around at the very last minute! I did, however, manage to get all the wrapping done by the morning of Christmas eve. Whew!

2017-12-21 22.11.31I try to come up with different gift ideas every festive season, and thought I’d have a go at something I’d been meaning to do for a very long time – personalised goody bags…or mini sacks/pouches in this case. The designs were created in Photoshop (remember to reverse them!), and then printed on transfer papers before being ironed onto the hessian pouches.

Unbeknownst to me then, my iron was actually damaged. It wasn’t distributing heat uniformly, so some of the fabric ended up with slight burn marks, and in other areas, it wasn’t hot enough for the design to transfer successfully. The result was a tad patchy, though some of my friends felt it contributed to the overall rustic appearance. I’m still getting a new iron though!

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These little bags are a good alternative if you have many friends you want to buy gifts for, but have a limited budget. I filled these with scented tealights (a bargain from any pound shop), homemade espresso truffles (recipe here), skincare/aftershave samples, poppers, and a few other party favours or stocking fillers.

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As for other presents specially for family, I made 3D Christmas Trees from origami paper, and glued them on gift tags made out of card, patterned ribbon, and gold raffia. If you haven’t got any pens with metallic ink, it’s probably best to use light coloured card instead of the burgundy ones like mine.

2017-12-18 21.51.07We normally send charity cards every Christmas, so I was very pleased to find out that Snapfish had partnered with Macmillan Cancer Support to offer bespoke merchandise, such as greeting cards. We have a gorgeous photo of our cat Magic playing with tree decorations when she was 16 weeks old, and I just knew it would be perfect for this occasion. My order did turn out a bit more expensive than previous years, but looking at the glossy outcome, you can see why I didn’t regret a penny of it!

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Speaking of tree decorations, look at these two adorable ones a friend and fellow crafter made for us! Needlework is one of those skills I never quite got to grips with, and how I wish I had…Perhaps a new goal for 2018? 😀

2017-12-15 00.49.20…to be giving! But what makes me equally joyous, is to be on the receiving end too!

A month or so ago, I blogged about how you can get your hands on free products, either through social media, or joining marketing campaigns. Since then, I have been sent many goodies that I didn’t have to pay for, and amassed quite a growing collection. It’s almost like Christmas come early!

2017-12-15 01.32.54There are basically enough items here to fill the average subscription box, except most of these did not cost me a penny. However, there were a couple of occasions when I had to pay a quid or two for postage. I always suspect the amount does cover the cost of production, and the reason brands give them away for so little money is because they need to get rid of overstock. Still, majority of products are in launch phase so all you may be asked to do is review the samples you receive. Personally, I think it’s a fair bargain.

A new range of freebies that I am particularly excited to try out is from Your Good Skin by Boots. The full-sized beauty products below were delivered entirely for free, and in return I have to commit myself to the 28-Day Challenge, plus share my results on social media. There is one catch – in order to be selected for this campaign, you do need to have over 1000 followers on Instagram.

2017-12-15 00.51.39The Balancing Skin Concentrate is the focal point of this challenge, but included in the package was the Pore Minimizing Tonic, Oil-Lifting Make-Up Remover Wipes, and the Instant Dryness Rescue balm.

I don’t wear make-up frequently, so would have preferred to receive a cleanser instead of the wipes. However, as luck would have it, my Boots card has loads of points because I haven’t spent any of them in ages. So, to treat myself, I used them to order the highly-recommended Nourishing Hot Cloth Cleanser (to counteract the toner) and ProVitamin Overnight Cream. Since I didn’t technically hand over any money, I guess I kind of got these for free too!

2017-12-15 00.54.26Your Good Skin also has a day moisturiser with high SPF, but I decided against buying that as I’ve already found my HG (Holy Grail) sunscreen and don’t want to replace it with anything else. I reviewed Bioré UV Perfect Milk for Face and Body not long ago, and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for decent protection from photoaging. I figured that if the Balancing Skin Concentrate isn’t hydrating enough, I’d just apply a little of the ProVitamin Overnight Cream under the Perfect Milk sunscreen.

While my freebies were on their way to me, the support team from Your Good Skin emailed to suggest I post a ‘before’ picture of myself so I can share the progress of my transformation. I made up my mind to start the challenge after a late night out to a Christmas party. It’s one of the few occasions I would wear make-up, so I knew my skin would not be at its best the next day.

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And I was right…In the first photo, you can see some light foundation just about hiding a spot on my chin, but I swear it actually ballooned overnight because the next pic of me in the morning shows a definite flare-up. Two new tiny spots were also beginning to form under my nose. Boo!

Well, Your Good Skin aims to improve your skin so it becomes visibly healthier, or your money back. I don’t think I would qualify for the latter, but Boots skincare products are generally effective so I’ve got nothing to lose. Hopefully, at the end of four weeks, I will emerge with more “good skin days” as advertised.



INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

Here I am again, on day one of the challenge, face sans make-up, freshly washed (hence a little pink and blotchy), and with Your Good Skin products duly applied.

2017-12-19 14.21.34If you’re wondering why I have one eyebrow slightly raised, it is not a response to this new beauty routine. This expression is normal for me…I constantly go through life in a mildly bemused state. 😀

Where the new lotions and potions courtesy of Boots are concerned, everything’s so-far-so-good. It’s of course too early to tell if they are benefiting me in any way, but I don’t seem to be allergic to any of the ingredients and my skin is sensitive enough to react quite quickly. There is hardly any fragrance to all the products (though the toner smells a bit weird, almost sickly), and some of them don’t glide on my face as well as I’d hoped. The moisturiser in particular feels quite tacky and takes quite awhile to absorb. That said, it does appear matt after application, so I suppose it’s the end result that matters. Also, the spot on my chin does seem a little less red and angry, so perhaps the new stuff is doing something after all!

I’ll blog about this again at the end of the challenge, and in the meantime, I shall keep all my fingers (and toes!) crossed that this will be (as touted) a “journey to better skin for life”!

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Everytime someone whinges “but it’s not even December”, an elf loses their sense of purpose, and gets turned out into the cold. Help save jobs in Santa’s Workshop by keeping the festive spirit alive! Forget S.P.E.W…that’s so 1994. Elves of today have a new campaign and slogan – Christmas should be forever, not just once a year. 😀

Yes, I know…I’ve gone a bit OTT, but people can bah-humbug me all they like. I’m still not going to change; I just love Christmas. I was making plans for this occasion even before Halloween had been and gone…Actually, I probably started as early as spring when I went looking for pine cones during our nature rambles.

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Early May saw us at Spring Wood in Walley which was practically covered in gorgeous bluebells. Quite by coincidence, it also had a lot of pine trees in the vicinity…The ground was full of pine cones, much to my delight. If you live in Lancashire, another great place to gather pine cones would of course be Beacon Fell.

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I wish I’d thought of bringing a bag or basket with me because I could only carry the cones in my coat pockets. They were very large and deep pockets though, so I did collect enough pine cones for craft purposes. The little branch that some of them were attached to could come in useful for another project, so I took that home with me as well.

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As it’s my first time working with pine cones, I had to do some research on how to prep them. According to various online sources, there are a number of methods. However, a vinegar bath seems to be the popular choice. Mostly because it not only cleans them, but also kills any bugs that may be hiding within. It will stink the room out as well, but that can’t be helped! 😛

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It’s advisable to grab a pair of tweezers so you can remove any visible debris before doing anything else. There’s probably all sorts of muckiness trapped in the scales. After that, put the pine cones in a bucket or large bowl. Mixing the solution is not an exact science, but it’s roughly two parts water and one part white vinegar.

Leave the cones to soak for about 20 minutes or so. You might want to weigh them down with a small dish as they tend to float to the top, and the cones need to be completely submerged in order to be cleansed thoroughly.

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As you can see, the pine cones close up when wet, but this is normal, so no need to panic. They open up again once dry. From here onwards, there are two ways you can proceed. Either lay them out on some old newspapers or a towel, and let them dry naturally, or use your oven.

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I am not certain if there’s a difference in the outcome if you opt to do it either way, but I have heard that airing cones can take a few days, whereas the oven gives a much quicker result. Plus, it has the added benefit of further bug-proofing your cones.

As I was impatient, I put them in the oven on the highest setting and took them out after about 45 minutes. It was probably a little too long as a few of the cones turned darker. I didn’t mind so much as some of them will get painted eventually, but for future reference, I’ll take the cones out after half an hour, or turn the heat down.

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When the pine cones are dry, it is recommended that you coat them with some sort of clear varnish in order to preserve them. The smaller cones were quite brittle, so the lacquer did help slightly in keeping the ends from flaking off. I am not keen on gloss, so it was a matt spray that I used. You can’t really tell from the photo above, but the pine cones that I sprayed have a smooth sheen as compared to the ones in the tin trough which have no varnish on them, since I will be painting those at a later date when making some of my Christmas ornaments.

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Pine cones fully sanitised and glazed, I could finally relax and enjoy a small batch of truffles I made earlier. What could be more Christmassy than chocolate? Truffles are a simple treat to make, whether for yourself, or friends and family.

The recipe is pretty forgiving as not a lot can go wrong…It’s basically ganache that has been allowed to set, rolled into little balls, and coated in ground nuts, cocoa, or any other ingredients you like. To make these, I used:

150gm Dark Chocolate – Chopped
150ml Double (or Whipping) Cream
25gm Unsalted Butter

Melt the butter in the cream until the mixture begins to simmer. Then pour it into a bowl with the chopped chocolate. Keep stirring until the chocolate melts and blends smoothly with the cream. If you want to add other flavours, such as coffee or Amaretto, now would be the time to do so.

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Let it the ganache set in the fridge for a few hours (it took four hours in my fridge). You’ll know it’s ready when the little balls keep their shape after you’ve rolled them in your hands. The first one I made sank into a sort of squishy blob, so back into the fridge the ganache went.

I used unsweetened cocoa and ground almonds to finish off my truffles, but you could also try dipping them in milk chocolate or desiccated coconut. After coating them, I left my truffles to chill in the fridge overnight so they could solidify further. I am not sure what the shelf life would be for homemade truffles, but that might not be much of a concern…If your family is anything like mine, it won’t be 24 hours before they’re all gone.



In other news…

Processed with MOLDIVI’m very happy to say that the relaunch of my Etsy shop is going well, and I have made quite a few sales since opening it a couple of weeks ago. As a gesture of appreciation, all customers will receive complimentary gifts of either sweets or scented tealights, along with a small discount for their next purchase. Thank you all for your support…It’s been awesome! 🙂

…on a tight budget!

At long last, our loft conversion is complete, and just in time for the Easter hols! Work on it actually started last summer, but because it was mostly DIY (apart from rewiring, reinforcements, and boarding), progress was slow.

Not taking into account the metal edging (not sure of correct terminology?!) which still needs to be installed on the carpet around the trapdoor thingy, I now have my own personal sanctuary and craft space, not to mention extra capacity for storage and (maybe-not-so-secret) snack stash. I am beyond chuffed! 😀

Even before we started building the loft, I had factored in an area for a mini photo booth with chalkboard wall. It wasn’t too difficult to set up, and the outcome was more or less what I pictured in my head. I’m now also thinking I should get a thin plank of wood to slide over the blackboard, painted white, just so I can have another background option…But perhaps that is a job for another day.

This month has also seen us celebrate our wedding anniversary, and although David and I agreed in advance to keep our expenditure to a minimum (due to the loft!), I couldn’t resist getting him a little something, complete with cheesy homemade card featuring puns related to a common interest of ours – Astronomy.

If I’m honest, it was more of an excuse to show off a gift topper rose I’d made using a few of the remaining pipe-cleaners from last year’s Halloween Spider Bun.

 

Using this helpful video, a friend put my hair up in a bun and pinned to it a pair of googly eyes that I’d stuck on a bit of cardboard the night before. I know it’s not really a costume, but still a spookily acceptable (and cute) low-cost, last minute alternative in the spirit of the occasion.

 

Although I haven’t really been experimenting on the culinary front, I did make more of an effort on this year’s Pancake Day. As it’s normally close to dinner time when we get home from work, I didn’t fancy anything too dessert-like, so I decided to make us savoury pancakes with Stilton spinach and mushrooms, topped with bacon and egg. It didn’t look like much after I made it, but was quite rich and thus, more filling than I expected.

What I am particularly proud of, however, is a classic dish that’s also one of David’s favourites. He likes to call it ‘red stuff’ (which we usually get from the takeaway), but is more traditionally known by its Cantonese name Gou Lou Yuk, or over here in the UK as Sweet and Sour Pork. That night’s meal was met with much satisfaction, with only one complaint. Apparently, I’d left the kitchen looking “like an industrial accident” had occurred in there! Luckily for me, our family has a rule I am not above exploiting, and that is…whoever cooks is spared from doing the washing up!

Whilst essentially not all that difficult to master, Gou Lou Yuk does require a lot of prep work, and some of that includes deep frying. Was having our home smell like the local chippy worth every mouthful? Yes. Would I be making it again anytime soon? Probably not! 😀

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I started off this year wondering if I should have made consistent blogging a New Year’s resolution, but super glad I did not since that would have been one big fail. My last post was actually before Christmas last year, which means we’re now practically halfway to Santa’s next visit! Whoops, I guess real life just got in the way. You could say this is a good thing since it means I must only have been up to loads.

Whilst I have been rubbish in updating my blog, at least I can say I’ve kept one promise to myself, and that’s to be a lot less lazy in the kitchen. I used to enjoy cooking whilst working part-time, but moving into full-time employment made me feel like I was coming home to another job when faced with anything domestic, and so an unhealthy (and expensive!) habit of relying on ready meals (particularly during the week) was developed.

This is, happily, no longer the case, as you can see from my very first crack at Okonomiyaki in the image above. For the uninitiated, it is a type of Japanese savoury pancake.

I have even started baking again! Nothing too ambitious (due to a broken oven that only has two settings – low and high), but these Nutella Cookies were not completely beyond my skills. (Translation: Did not burn them.)

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I even tried a Low FODMAP diet as a spring challenge…I would say Lent, but as I’m Taoist I can appreciate some readers may prefer a more politically correct denomination.

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You’d think the no-garlic and no-onions rule would render everything bland, but the Coconut Shrimp Chowder was particularly tasty, even if its consistency was more like risotto! And the Buffalo Chops with Roast Butternut Squash are definitely staying on the menu, not just for sheer scrumminess but ease of preparation as well.

I stupidly decided to include all sweet food and drinks in the restriction, which I personally found harder to give up, so I made sure to have my fill over Valentine’s Day with a huge sugary fix of Chocolate Mousse and Cinnamon French Toast.

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Rest assured, I was back on all manner of cakes, pudding and confectionery as soon as the 40 days or so were up, starting with this two-ingredient Maple Soufflé.

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Things got back to normal after that, but my journey as a foodie continues, albeit with a low-cost caveat. This hasn’t made me any less adventurous, and I think I surprised myself with what ended up on our dinner table despite the limitations, such as this Thai-Cajun fusion of Shrimp Étouffée, and Lamb Kofta with Tzatziki.

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Hopefully, I won’t suffer a relapse and resort to anything pre-cooked ever again, unless it’s the homemade variety. Both my Rainbow Rolls, and ‘Pot Noodle’ with Soy-Pickled Egg make perfectly acceptable lunch options, seeing as neither require the use of a microwave!

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Update 01/01/17 – I often share photos on facebook whenever I make something so it made perfect sense to create an album on there dedicated to yummy things, and the result is Nom-Nom Foodage which will hopefully provide some inspiration despite my poor photography skills. 🙂

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It’s that time of the year again! No matter how hard I try to keep festive activities to a minimum, things never quite seem to work out. Thankfully, having to be frugal doesn’t necessarily mean resorting to basics, and can sometimes be the stimulus for creativity. It does help if you have lots of paper lying around though!

For the giant modular snowflake above, I just used cheap A4 printing paper. The kirigami instructions were easy enough, and it didn’t take long for me to produce a few to hang around home and office.

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I continued the origami theme when it came to everything else, including the mini gift buckets you see above – each containing ingredients and recipe for either Mulled Wine or Hot Chocolate, along with assorted treats. It’s a bit similar to the gift jars I made awhile back, though far more fiddly, since those only involved a few leftover present toppers, and jar covers which I generated digitally.

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Things would probably have been simpler if I’d re-used the gift tags I made last Christmas (left image below), but what can I say? I just got a little too carried away with Japanese-inspired papercraft!

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Fortunately, there are no culinary expectations of me this year, what with hubby roasting the potatoes and mum-in-law sorting the turkey out. So I can simply sit back and enjoy my handiwork.

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Hope the festive season brings joy to everyone!

I never paid much attention when they taught us to bake in school, but perhaps I’m now trying to make up for lost time…No, who am I kidding. I’ll never be a domestic goddess, nor do I care enough to acquire the prerequisites for that role. Having said that, it is Christmas, and there’s something about the smell of cookies fresh out of the oven during winter that makes me feel all cosy.

Christmas cookies and happy hearts,
This is how the holiday starts.

The Christmas spirit must have really taken hold of me because not only did I make Soft Chocolate Chip and Nutella Swirl Cookies, I even made hubby David’s favourite Vanilla Cheesecake!

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I did cheat with the cheesecake though…It was a modified no-bake recipe I used and whilst it was a bit fiddly (what with it being my first time and all), the whole endeavour was pretty straightforward, and I was pleasantly surprised by what I’d achieved by the end of the day!

And of course, the season of giving would not be complete without…PRESENTS! I try to come up with different ways of adding a personal touch to all my gifts to friends and this year, the girls got some chocs and crochet lip gloss holder keyrings in tree baubles.

The trickiest bit was getting the origami dove to hang in such a way that the bauble could be easily taken apart and put together again. Halfway through, I almost gave up and wondered if I should have made paper bags and gift tags like the Christmas before.

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Well, I’m glad I persevered, because wrestling with those lace doilies and ribbons (not forgetting the cardboard, sequins and beads for the handmade holly) was totes worth it when I ended up with baubles I wished I could keep for myself!