Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Tartan Dragon £25 voucher giveaway!

Let me introduce you all to Tartan Dragon!  For the past 12 years, Tartan Dragon have been smallholding in North Shropshire - rearing pedigree cattle, pigs, sheep and chickens and they also have horses - although not for food!

They sell jointed beef and pork direct from the farm gate and via mail-order.  Good meat is worth it's weight in gold and believe me, this meat is worth it!  Christmas is not just about turkeys... and roast dinner is not just about Christmas - or Sunday's for that matter!  In fact, we had roast dinner for tea last night - loved by all!   

Tartan Dragon have worked hard to achieve what they have done and love to share this passion (and their excellent knowledge!) with others and so now run ‘Introduction to smallholding’ courses for complete beginners or those with a little knowledge.

This would suit anyone who would love to run a smallholding but needs help in making the first step and the all-important decisions about what exactly they want to achieve.  A smallholding is second place on my wishlist - running a B&B being the first (which is what I do now!) so I'm tempted to try the courses myself - just for future reference!  

Other courses they run include keeping cattle and pigs, butchery and fencing for livestock. Keep your eye on their Facebook page here where you can keep upto date with their news, courses, prices and (of course) the cute photo's of the newborn calves!

And a quote from their website to keep in your head.... 

“Never be afraid to try something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark; professionals built the Titanic.”

So enter the Rafflecopter below for your chance to win a £25 voucher to redeem with Tartan Dragon - either towards an animal husbandry course or treat yourself to some lovely beef, pork cuts or sausages!  Remember, the courses run from their smallholding in North Shropshire and the meat is mail order so can be delivered throughout the UK.

Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, 26 November 2012

Children Learn What They Live...

Last year, I decided to complete a short parenting course "The Incredible Years" (aimed at children aged approx. 4-8 years old).  I wasn't particularly struggling with any aspect of parenting but I thought I would go and see if there was anything I could learn... and I'm pleased to say that I did!  I learnt more about myself and how to turn a situation around so that your child *thinks* they have "won" but in fact you, the parent have!  (Cue evil laughter!!)

One thing that struck a chord with me - and is now stuck on my fridge! - is a poster we were given with some sentances that will change how you parent your children.  

A child who is criticised, learns to condemn.
A child who lives with hostility, learns to fight.
A child who is ridiculed, learns to be shy.
A child who lives with shame, learns to feel guilt.
A child who lives with tolerance, learns to be patient.
A child who is encouraged, learns confidence.
A child who is praised, learns to appreciate others.
A child who lives with fairness,learns justice.
A child who lives with security, learns to have faith in people.
A child who lives with approval, learns to like themself.
Children who live with acceptance and friendship, learn to find love in the world.

"Incredible Years Cymru: The Welsh Centre for Promoting the Incredible Years Programmes"

We all as parents have probably used negative attention towards our children, more than likely unintentionally.  Seeing this poster every day has helped me to change - ignoring "bad behaviour" as far as possible and praising good behaviour!  A simple step but not always as simple to enforce... much lip-biting going on while I got used to the "ignoring" part!

I made a pact with myself - to praise both of my children everyday for whatever aspect of their behaviour warranted a "praise".  On the darker days, this may just be as simple as "Well done for walking home from school nicely"... or even just "Well done for smiling!"  (Even if it did last for only 5 minutes - but say the last bit in your head!).

And always avoid the "slimy slug"!  Try not praise your child and then say something negative immediately afterwards, for example, "well done for reading you school book, but I wish you would not fidget aroud when you're supposed to be sitting still".  Children often only remember the last command or sentance said to them so they will not have taken in the praise, and just remember the criticism!  This technique also works for adults too!  Try turning the phrase into a positive, so next time you catch them sitting still without fidgeting, praise the "sitting still" action and don't mention the lack of fidgeting! 

The pyramid below forms the basis of the programme... daily situations can be dealt with by using the pyramid, starting at the bottom.  Play a little every day to promote your relationship with your child and combined with praise, this will reduce the number of times you have to rise to the top of the pyramid... it's not all good at the top, you know!

 Our primary school also uses the Ysgol Dina programme which follows on from The Incredible Years and so the continuation through their schooling helps to reinforce the postive messages.

I'm not a parenting expert so only know what works for me and my family... you can have a look at the Incredible Years website - it's quite "wordy" though and is aimed at childcare professionals and parents.  I found out about the course via my Health Visitor, so if you're interested in a future course, I would enquire with your local HV and they should point you in the right direction!

Good luck with any situations you may find yourself in, and remember, you're not alone!

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

THE Christmas Cake Recipe!

Well, after 6 weeks of soaking fruit in brandy, sherry and orange juice... THE Christmas Cake is ready!

"Cake, cake.... did someone say cake?"
The recipe I've used this year is a hand-me-down recipe from the great Ainsley Harriott's Mum!  It's a rich, fruity family favourite - with the fruit soaking for weeks beforehand, it's a really moist but not too heavy Christmas cake.

You can start to make this cake as early as August - but I'm never that organised!  Ideally, to allow the flavours to develop to the max, soak the fruit in August and September; make the cake in the first week of October then store for 3 months, decorate in the week before the big day and enjoy in it's glory on Christmas Day!

So here's the recipe....

Ainsley's Mum's Christmas cake
Start soaking the fruit a month ahead, if possible.
Ready in 45 minutes, plus soaking, 4-5 hours baking.
Cuts into 16 slices.
Easy, can be frozen

280g/10oz sultanas
280g/10oz raisins
280g/10oz currants
175g/6oz glace cherries
175g/6oz mixed citrus peel
150ml/0.25 pint brandy or rum
2 tbsp sherry (optional)
2 tbsp orange juice (optional)

225g/8oz self raising flour
85g/3oz ground almonds
1 heaped tsp mixed spice
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
225g/8oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
225g/8oz dark muscovado sugar
6 eggs
zest and juice of 1 large unwaxed lemon

For the decoration
2 tbsp apricot jam
225g/8oz bought or homemade marzipan
250g/9oz white ready-to-roll icing
silver balls and ribbon, to decorate

  1. Put the dried fruit and peel in a bowl and pour over the brandy or rum and sherry.  Mix well and store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for at least a month.  Stir the fruits every few weeks.  If they look dry, add more booze or a splash of orange juice.
  2. Start making the cake once the fruits are plump.  Heat the oven to 150C/fan 130C/gas 2.  Butter a 20cm round cake tin - about 7-8 cm deep - and line the base and sides with greasproof paper.  To protect the sides from burning, tie a double layer of greaseproof paper around the outside of the tin.
  3. Blitz the soaked fruit mixture in three batches in a food processor, blitzing the final batch only lightly to keep some bite and texture to the fruit.  Mix the flour, almonds and spices in a large bowl and stir in the fruits.  Don't worry if it's hard to mix.
  4. Cream together the butter and sugar with an electric hand whisk until light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs, one by one.  Stir into the fruit mixture bit by bit, along with the lemon zest and juice.
  5. Tip the mixture into the tin and bake for 1 1/2 hours.  Reduce the heat to 140C/fan 120C/gas 1 and bake for 3 to 3 1/2 hours (4 hours in a gas oven). Take care it doesn't overcook.  Insert a skewer deep into the cake, if it comes out clean, it's cooked.  Cool slightly, remove from the tin, and cool on a wire rack.
  6. Store in a double layer of greaseproof paper, wrapped in foil until ready to ice.  You can store the cake for up to 3 months.  Make sure you "feed" the cake by making skewer holes and pouring in brandy or rum every few weeks.  Wrap up the cake tightly after every "feed".
  7. Brush the top of the cake with jam, roll out the marzipan to fit and place it on top.  Reserve a small piece of icing and roll out the rest and cover the marzipan.  Roll out the reserved icing and cut out holly leaves with cutters.  Gently press them on the edge of the icing, dampening under each leaf with water to secure.  Decorate with silver balls and ribbon.
Per slice: 616 kcalories, protein 8g, carbohydrate 102g, fat 20g, saturated fat 20g, fibre 3g, added sugar 45g, salt 0.38g.

Undecorated... straight from the oven!
 If you're quick, you can still manage to make this cake in time for Christmas.  It's simple to make so long as you follow the instructions and weigh carefully.

In step 2, I used newspaper to double wrap the cake tin (to avoid burning) as it's cheaper than greaseproof paper!  And also, on this occassion I couldn't find any string (anywhere!) to secure the paper so I stapled it into a ring large enough to slip over the tin!  The staples won't come into contact with the cake so don't worry!

I'll upload another picture once the cake is decorated... if only you could smell a cake through an online photograph!

For the record, I'm not related to Ainsley Harriott in any way!  This recipe was published in BBC Good Food Christmas, December 2004, and advertised as "Ainsley's Mum's Christmas cake".

Monday, 19 November 2012

Orange Loaf Cake with Twinings Cranberry & Sanguinello Orange Tea

Here's recipe for a quick and easy (and lovely tasting!) Orange Loaf Cake.

It's easily adapted by changing the tea flavour or juice that the syrup drizzle is made with.  It also can be made with lemons rather than orange to make a lemon drizzle cake.... yum yum!

To be seasonal, I used orange as stated in the original recipe and then used Twinings Cranberry and Sanguinello Orange Tea for the syrup drizzle.

Orange Loaf Cake - Serves 4

125g (4oz) soft margarine
175g (6oz) caster sugar
2 large eggs
175g (6oz) self-raising flour
4tbsp milk
The zest of 1 medium orange
4tbsp of freshly squeezed orange juice or freshly brewed fruit-flavoured tea
100g (3½oz) icing sugar

You will need a 1lb loaf tin, greased and lined with greaseproof paper.

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C (360F, Gas Mark 4) and prepare your loaf tin.
  2. Cream together the margarine and sugar, either using a mixer or by hand, until it is pale and fluffy.
  3. Add the eggs and beat them in well, then fold in the flour gently.
  4. Add the orange zest and the milk, gently folding it into the mixture, using as light a hand as possible.
  5. Spoon into the prepared loaf tin and pop into the pre-heated oven. Bake for 45 minutes until the cake is well-risen and golden.
  6. Just before the cake is ready, measure 4tbsp of orange juice/tea into a small saucepan along with the icing sugar and heat gently until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture has become syrupy.
  7. As soon as the cake is out of the oven, puncture the top all over with a skewer or cake tester and carefully pour over the syrup. Try to go gently . . . if you try to do it too quickly, the syrup won’t be absorbed and most of it will end up running down the tin.
  8. Leave to cool completely before turning out of the tin.
Now, you can simply slice and eat!  Or for a better presentation, slice the top from the loaf, turn over and drizzle glace or royal icing over the top in random stripes.  You can flavour this icing if required, but I like it just plain with the cake holding the flavour of the fruit.

I made this cake over the weekend for a charity car boot sale and, unfortunately, didn't get a picture before it was sold and eaten - my own fault!  So, I'm making it again on Wednesday for another event, so I'll add some pictures then!

Twinings make a fabulous range of teas - from fruity and fresh to seasonal Christmas teas (not trees!!).  Have a look at their website here and choose 2 free teas to sample at home... you really will be spoilt for choice!

Also at the moment, there's some great competitions running on their Facebook page, so pop over, have a look and say "hello"!  Off for some more tea.....!

Edit:  here's the cake from Wednesday's baking session!  Before it was even baked, it had been marked to be eaten by various people!  A quick trip to Luv It! to drop a couple of slices off to the lovely shop-keeper there, some to my father-in-law who missed out last time and the rest to a fundraiser tonight for our local Rainbow/Brownie/Guide group!

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Mayan Monkey Mijas - quite possibly the best chocolate in the world!

I'm not a chocaholic.. but I do like chocolate!  I'm not a big milk chocolate fan, I much prefer a good quality dark chocolate you can nibble on rather than chocolate that you just eat and eat until you feel a bit queasy!

Whilst on holiday earlier this month, we stumbled upon a fantastic little shop in the village of Mijas, Costa del Sol, Spain. 

Mayan Monkey Mijas is tucked away in the quiet village of Mijas strategically placed on a balcony of cute shops overlooking Constitution Square - it's like a little secret that needs to be shared and shouted about; it really is that good!

The beautiful Chanel was very helpful...  there's loads of chocolates to choose from and when you're limited by baggage weight, it really was a difficult decision as to which chocolate to buy!  In the end we decided on Massaman Thai Curry Dark Chocolate and Orange & Chilli Dark Chocolate.  We also tried samples of the White Chocolate with Lavender - I really didn't think that I would like it but it was a lovely flavour and would be great to top a cupcake with as a treat or something a bit different.

These chocolates are defintely ones to be savoured and nibbled slowly - not scoffed in one and not appreciated! 

We also bought (and ate before we left the shop - oopppss!) some lovely mini chocolate figures for my children.  From robots to owls and most things inbetween, there's something for everyone. 

Chanel was even making some "special" Christmas chocolates - without giving too much away, they gave us a giggle on a wet and misty afternoon!

And.... they also sell ice cream!  "Ice Cream Heaven" to be exact.... a scoop or two of ice cream (any flavour!) covered in freshly melted, hot chocolate which immediately freezes when it touches the ice cream, resulting in a chocolate "crust"!  Sounds a bit strange... but absolutely lovely!

Mayan Monkey Mijas has a claim to fame... it's the smallest chocolate factory in the world. All of the chocolates are made on site and you can help with the process!  They run workshops (pre-booked) for children and adults.  In workshops for children, the emphasis is more fun-based, whereas with adults, they can get more technical, and explore the science, geography, etc in greater depth.

Workshops run daily at Mayan Monkey Mijas, 7 days a week. Spaces are limited, and since classes are proving as popular with children as with adults, make sure you book in advance to avoid disappointment!

They can accommodate birthday parties, team-building events, etc.  Workshops at Mayan Monkey Mijas are held in their professional craft-based factory.

So, if you are planning a holiday to Costa del Sol any time soon, or are local to Mijas Pueblo (you lucky thing!), pop in and see Chanel and the guys and girls, say hello and be spoilt for choice with the amazing chocolates on offer!

Cafédirect Machu Picchu Coffee Recipe Review

This week we were sent some lovely Fairtrade coffee from the guys and gals at Cafédirect.  Now, I love coffee but as part of my blogging life, I also love to use everyday items in great recipes.  Cafédirect have a cool coffee matching guide with innovative reipes using the coffees they produce. All of their products are Fairtrade certified so you know that the growers are all getting a fair deal out of the growing and production of the coffe, tea and chocolate products.... so you can enjoy them even more!

I decided to make the Cardamom chocolate mousse on an Amaretti biscuit base with hazelnuts.  This is a recipe by Saskia Rogerson, winner of the Cafédirect coffee matching challenge.  I chose this recipe specifically for it's ingredients.  Coffee is quite widely used in desserts but here we have the addition of cardamom pods and chilli - combined with chocolate and carrot, I'm hoping the results will be quite spectacular!

So here we go.... recipe coming up!

Cardamom chocolate mousse
Biscuit Base
250g Amaretti biscuits, crushed
120g unsalted butter
2 tbsp chopped hazlenuts
3 cardamon pods, grated

Caramelised carrot and chilli layer
2 tbsp shredded carrot
2 tbsp shredded chilli
25g unsalted butter
4 tbsp Fairtrade muscavado sugar

Cardamom, Hazelnut & Chocolate mousse
300g Fairtrade bittersweet
chocolate, broken into pieces
2 tbsp hazelnuts
4 cardamom pods, grated
45g unsalted butter
5 free range separated eggs
4 tbsp Fairtrade caster sugar
230ml double cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
Shot of espresso made with Cafédirect Machu Picchu coffee

  1. Biscuit Base... Melt the butter in a pan, add the Amaretti biscuits, hazelnuts and grated cardamom. Transfer to a 28cm springform cake tin (or 6 individual ramekins) and leave to cool.
  2. Caramelised carrot and chilli layer... Bring the carrot and chilli mixture ingredients slowly to simmer until it caramelises, then pour onto the biscuit so it forms an even layer.
  3. Cardamom, hazlenut and chocolate mousse...  Melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl heated over pan of simmering water, add espresso, cardamom, hazelnuts and vanilla extract.
  4. Leave to cool. Heat the egg yolks and two tbsp sugar over the simmering pan of water. Whisk until warm then transfer to an electric mixer and mix until the yolk is pale and fluffy.
  5. Fold into chocolate mixture. Whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl until stiff, and fold into the chocolate mixture.
  6. In a bowl set over ice, whip the cream until stiff and fold into chocolate mixture. Spoon onto the biscuit and carrot/chilli caramel layer, and spread.  Refrigerate until set.
  7. Eat!

The recipe is a bit technical at points with the separating of eggs, whisking yolks over heat and whisking egg whites to peak!  But I can say that it is definitely worth the effort!  The flavours are absolutely fantastic - you can taste each flavour with the chocolate complimenting the chilli, hazlenut and cardamom perfectly.

It was quite rich and so would recommend this dessert as a spectacular finish to a dinner party, but a small slice would be fine with an afternoon cup of coffee... Cafédirect of course!

We shared this dessert with my neighbour and over a cup of Machu Picchu coffee we decided that it would be making an appearance over the Christmas festivities with both familes!

Cafédirect products - tea, coffe and hot chocolate - can all be purchased at all major supermarkets and selected independant stores.  There's a great range of teas, coffees and hot chocolate available... it would certainly take a good while to work your way through them!  I can certainly try though!

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Oasis £10 Gift Card Giveaway!

As a quick treat for you all, I have a £10 online voucher code for Oasis up for grabs.

A short and sweet competition starting today and running for 2 days only!

Treat yourself or a loved one to something stylish and pretty for the festive season.... or just because!

Simply complete the Rafflecopter below... and start choosing what you could spend your prize on at Oasis!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friends Prize Pack Giveaway!

A guilty pleasure of mine is that I love LOVE LOVE the "Friends" series.  It reminds me of having sneaky duvet days during my college years - my sister and I collected them all on VHS, and I'm pretty sure my mum still has them somewhere at our family home!

 If the Christmas present fairy is listening, I would LOVE the full set of the series on DVD or Blu-ray... or I could treat myself.... everyone needs a duvet day now and again - I think my last one was when I was 19!
So here's a great competition to share with you all to celebrate the release of the complete series of "Friends" on Blu-ray.  In conjunction with Warner Bros. you can win a limited Edition Friends prize pack with two oversized cappuccino mugs and a picture frame just like the one on Monica’s door!  I just hope you have a spy-hole to frame!

 Just take the quiz below (bottom left hand button) to see which "Friends" character you are, complete the simple Rafflecopter and leave a comment below this post letting me know which character you are!

So good luck and have fun with the quiz! 
a Rafflecopter giveaway