One of my favourite things about Christmas is entertaining. I’m never happier than when there are guests at our table, and the house is filled with the sounds of chinking glasses and chatter. I was delighted, then, when Waitrose asked me to share one of my favourite recipes for easy Christmas entertaining. In our house, we traditionally invite friends and family over for dinner on Boxing Day. It’s a great way to relax and unwind after the big day, and I tend to make a huge ‘Boxing Day pie’ using leftover turkey and ham, then just serve it simply with mashed potato and steamed veg. Of course, you don’t have to wait until Boxing Day – this pie is just as delicious using chicken instead of turkey, and it can be made well in advance and kept in the fridge ready to pop into the oven. Here’s how to make my festive pie:
There’s a standard phrase in our house: ‘I want to move to Marlow!’. It’s uttered every time we see something fabulous happening in this lovely little Buckinghamshire town. We go as much as we can, but it’s an hour from us (though actually, right next to where Mr E works). It’s gorgeous in the summer, and magical in the winter. I’ve even earmarked my perfect house on West Street (you don’t even want to know how much it is). This weekend, we were lucky enough to be invited to the launch evening of The Pop-Up Festival, a unique pop up cinema experience combined with delicious food from the fabulous Tom Kerridge. I’d heard all about the Gourmet Picture Company as my lovely mate Amanda from Online Stylist attended one last summer at Chewton Glen. It looked absolutely gorgeous, so I was so excited to see how the Gourmet Picture Company would keep us all warm and cosy in December!
One of the best parts of Christmas for me is choosing all the lovely wrapping paper and cards. For some people, obviously I’ll just choose the ‘robin in snow’ variety, but for my friends and family, I’m always looking for great quality, quirky cards and wrapping with a bit of a cheeky edge – and I’ve definitely found it in Love Layla Designs, a fab, family-run small business from Yorkshire who have the most original tongue in cheek, fun Christmas designs. For this weekend’s wishlist, step away from the boring snow scene and come and discover some of my favourite Love Layla Designs:
Recently, an enormous box arrived at English Towers with a lovely note from the folks at Kenwood: ‘we know you love cooking, so would you like this beautiful Kenwood Chef Elite?’ Seriously generous, right? But I didn’t rush to open it, because, well, I’ve got a mixer already that I’ve had for ages and love, and on the box it looks all complicated and new-fangled, not homely and quirky like mine. Not wanting to seem ungrateful, though, and because everyone kept complaining that there was a huge box on the kitchen floor, I opened it up and popped it onto the kitchen counter. Well. Cue choirs of angels singing and all that jazz, because this thing is beautiful. Seriously, I sent a pic to Mr E and he replied ‘erm, wow. It really goes in our kitchen’. To give it a thorough test, though, and make sure it has brains as well as beauty, I attempted some Christmas crumble muffins with my sleek and shiny new baby. Here’s how I got on:
So after focusing on the lovely ladies, next up is my Christmas gift guide for the boys. I always find Mr E really hard to buy for, as if he wants something, he tends to just go and get it. Plus, if you ask him, he always says ‘buy me a jumper’. Trouble is, he tells this to his Mum and everyone else that buys him a present too. I find the best way to combat this is to have a list on my iPhone notes of anything he mentions during the year. The boys, on the other hand, never fail to provide Santa with the biggest list possible to choose from, but I like to treat them with small, unexpected bits and pieces so there are still a few surprises. So whether you’re looking for your grown up kids, Dad, uncles or your significant other, I’ve had a look around the shops – I hope this provides some inspiration for Christmas gifts for the man in your life – for every budget!
The run up to Christmas can be stressful. For most of us, it’s a whirlwind of online (and real life) shopping, cooking and planning, and of course my work doesn’t stop either (I’ve already cooked three Christmas dinners and it’s only just December). I decided to take a pre-Christmas pampering trip with a little help from Trainline’s new voice app. Here’s how I got on.
So here’s the first of a little series of gift guides. This one is Christmas gifting for her and, ok, I’ll admit it. I do kind of use these gift guides as a little Christmas wishlist for Mr E and the boys. Let’s face it, if they can open the blog and see something beautiful here to buy me, plus I get to share my ideas with you as shopping inspiration, it’s a win/win. Talking of gifts, I was recently asked by the lovely Sam over at I’m Sam Squire to contribute an idea for his Hopeless Man’s Gift Guide (his words not mine), and, as always, I shared my favourite gifting advice: if you haven’t been asked for something specific, it’s best to choose something that’s beautiful and useable (or indeed edible). So if you’re not exactly certain about the taste of the lady in question, it’s a good tip to stick to something like deliciously scented candles (see my guide to festive candles here), or bath and body products (and definitely not lingerie if you even remotely have to guess the size).
Have you worked out your personal style? It’s a tough one. I think by now, in my mid-forties, I’ve kind of sorted out roughly what suits me and what doesn’t: I like a mostly minimalist style in a palette of grey, black and white, and I tend to stick to classic styles, with the odd bit of leopard thrown in for good measure. What if, though, you could have access to your own personal stylist? Would you be interested in maybe shaking up your look? I’d love to be braver, especially at Christmas! I was intrigued and delighted to be invited to try Tuesday from M&S, a new, free, personal styling service that aims to provide style inspiration (with no obligation to buy).
You all know that I love everything to do with Christmas, and once the lights have been switched on in London, I’m always desperate to take a trip to go and see them. Mr E works really hard and we don’t get much opportunity to do things as a family, so I thought we’d plan a lovely festive trip up to London on the train to go and see the lights (and maybe grab some dinner and a cocktail or two) while we’re there. While we were planning our trip, I thought it would be a good opportunity to try Trainline’s new Price Prediction tool to get the best possible ticket price. Here’s how we got on.
You know that friend: she always looks amazing, even just in jeans, and of course she has a lovely, welcoming home, a gorgeous wardrobe and impeccable taste, and that all just makes festive pressie buying a bit – well – difficult! I came across this very dilemma recently when the lovely chaps at John Lewis asked if I’d like to do a pressie swap with the effortlessly stylish Sara, who writes the beautiful lifestyle blog, Notes from a Stylist. I mean, ARGH! Luckily, not only is Sara very lovely and friendly, but it turns out we also have lots in common: teenage kids, yummy food (bring on the roast dinners), a love of interiors, stationery, twinkly things, beautiful flowers and lovely smells. Of course, there are also things we don’t have in common: mostly the fact that I have no style whatsoever, which is why I was reading her blog and following her in the first place – to pick up some tips. So how on earth do you choose festive gifts for a stylish friend? Well…
Stir-up Sunday is coming, people! I absolutely love this weekend as, for me, it properly signifies the start of Christmas. The kitchen is filled with the warming scents of orange and spice, and there’s lots of stirring and steaming: all my favourite things! If you fancy making your own Christmas puddings this year, I’ve added the ingredients list nice and early so you can make sure you have everything ready. Remember that, if you follow this recipe, you’ll actually need to start on the Saturday as I recommend steeping the fruit overnight – also, do remember that steaming the pudding takes about five hours, so don’t start everything too late or you’ll be steaming when you should be sleeping! So, for the Christmas pudding recipe 2017, I’ve kept it simple: no figs, no apricots, just a lot of cranberries and plenty of spice. Here’s how to do it:
I’ve been writing about cooking Christmas dinner on this blog for ten years, can you believe that? When you’re thinking about cooking Christmas dinner (or indeed lunch) for everyone, it can seem a bit daunting, but I always say that it’s basically just a big roast dinner, and if you think about it like that, and make sure you’re really well prepared, it’s a piece of cake. The lovely team at Crisp ‘n Dry (remember I worked with them when they sponsored RNLI Fish Suppers?) have asked me to share my top tips and cook a little practice Christmas dinner – a ‘Crisp ‘n Dry run’ if you will – geddit?!), to show you that with a little love (and Crisp ‘n Dry), your ordinary Christmas dinner can really become the ultimate festive feast. Here are my top five tips for planning the perfect Christmas dinner.
So that’s it, Alcohol Awareness week is over, and I promised to tell you about how I got on with my challenge to stick to the recommended weekly guidelines: that’s 14 units a week, spread across the week, evenly over three or more days with a couple of alcohol free days. I continued to keep a track of my units with the help of the Drinkaware app, and alongside it, kept a diary of what I had to drink and the circumstances in which I was drinking. Here are a few things I learned:
I adore candles. When I’m writing, I’ll often have a scented candle lit next to me while I type. I find it quite soothing and I love filling the room with delicious scent, although I’ve had to stop leaving them lit around the house (let’s not mention that time I turned the entire downstairs loo black by leaving a Halloween Yankee Candle burning all night – yes, it had to be redecorated). You know I love everything about the autumn, and I always get excited to see beautiful new scented Christmas candles appearing online and in the shops. Here are a few of my favourites:
I absolutely adore making a roast dinner on a Sunday, but another favourite of ours is this delicious slow cooked beef and red wine stew with dumplings. Sunday dinners can sometimes be quite labour intensive, but this one is so easy: once you’ve done a quick bit of browning off, the whole thing goes back in the oven until you add the dumplings, and then you’re basically on the home stretch. I love to add some fresh (or dried) herbs to the dumplings, and serve it with either piles of creamy mash, or one of our new favourites, these delicious, sage scented sweet potatoes. I prefer to use veggie suet in my dumplings as it gives a much lighter, fluffier texture than if you use butter, but of course feel free to use whatever you like. This stew also makes the perfect filling for a pie too. Perfect for a chilly autumn evening.
So last week I told you a little about my relationship with alcohol, and my Drinkaware challenge during Alcohol Awareness Week to stick to the recommended weekly guidelines: that’s 14 units a week, spread across the week, evenly over three or more days with a couple of alcohol free days. Last week, I also kept an alcohol diary, with the help of the Drinkaware app (and the notes on my phone to record the actual circumstances). Here’s how I got on:
- Entertaining over Christmas: my festive pie December 12, 2017
- A night out at the Gourmet Picture Company, Marlow December 10, 2017
- Weekend wishlist: festive fun with Love Layla Designs December 9, 2017
- Christmas crumble muffins with the Kenwood Chef Elite December 7, 2017
- Christmas gifts for the man in your life December 6, 2017