Hoping for good things in 2014.

Well, the dregs of the turkey are safely tucked away in the deep freeze, the central heating has taken its toll on the tree, and the last cracker has been pulled. This can only mean one thing… Christmas has passed and a new year is dawning.

I always find myself feeling rather sentimental in the week between Christmas and New Year. It’s a proverbial nomads land; reflecting on times gone by whilst eagerly anticipating what the upcoming new season may bring.

Generally around this time of year I’m even more thankful to God for His unwavering provision and opportunity in all areas of our life, yet hungry for more of Him, and more opportunities to serve and grow our ministry, being Kingdom builders rather than pew sitters.

One of my Christmas gifts from Ste is a new study bible. My old one was getting a bit battered and I was really touched that he’d thought to buy me a new one without me having to drop any ‘subtle’ hints (ladies, I’m sure you can relate…). Anyway, I was thinking about the word ‘hope’, and how it gets banded around a lot at this time of year. It made me think about how the meaning of the word seems to have changed over the years. Nowadays it’s a word we tend to use out of desperation, when we don’t know what else to say, when we’re trying to give an empathic word of encouragement to a friend, or sadly, even when we think the desired outcome is unlikely. In biblical times however this was not the case. Hope packed a punch. To hope was to be certain of, to be convinced, to have an  unwaveringly confident expectation.

Isaiah 40:31 was the ‘Verse of the Day’ on my bible app today. “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint”. This is my prayer for you this year. That you will have a confident expectation and unwavering believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who came to earth for one reason; to give you, and me, and all our other brothers and sisters here on earth a way to our heavenly father, through a divine relationship with him. By grace we have been saved.

I’m hoping for a fantastic 2014, are you?

T’was the night (day) before Christmas…

I had a lovely few hours in the kitchen this morning, with just some obligatory cheesy Christmas music, a cheeky Baileys and big Bertha the turkey for company. It was bliss.
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Big Bertha had a Christmas make over, and is ready for her long anticipated debut tomorrow. I smothered her with the herb butter I’d made earlier in the week, stuffed her with pork and chestnut stuffing I made last night, and criss-crossed some streaky bacon on her to finish the job off good and proper!  Mmmmm! After a few hours in the oven tomorrow she should be delicious!
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The ham has been cooking in cola since 8.30am and is looking gooooood! I’ve loosely followed Nigella’s recipe, although haven’t decided whether I can be bothered doing the glaze as it tastes delicious without it anyway.

The carrots and sprouts are prepped, and the cauliflower is drowning in the most magnificently smooth cheese clad sauce.

Santa came early….
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And we merrily tucked into the Christmas cake with a well earned cup of Earl Grey.
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Now all that’s left for me to do is put my feet up, let Mum make dinner tonight, and enjoy drinks with friends later. Oh, and of course wish you guys a very happy Christmas and prosperous new year!  I’ll be praying you remember the real reason for this Holy-day and that you too recieve the best possible gift that was ever given to us. It’s yours for the taking… Believe and recieve.

God bless you!

Pretty Ice Bowl

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It could be argued that this borders on the ridiculous and is utterly impractical, but I don’t give a hoot because it is incredibly beautiful, incredibly wintery and perfect for a Christmas drinks party. 

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With water, two Pyrex bowls and whatever fruits, herbs and spices you have to hand you can create a very unique centrepiece that is sure to be a talking point with all your guests.
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In the larger bowl put about half an inch of water in along with a few of the decorations, then pop in the freezer.
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When that has set, put the smaller bowl on top of the now frozen half inch of water, add a few more decorations and another inch or do of water. Freeze.
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Repeat this process until you’ve reached the top of the larger bowl, bearing mind most of the decorations will float. In short you get the best effect if you have more layers so the time it takes is worth it in the end. This is what you’ll end up with.
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Now it’s time to remove the bowls. Fill the small one with warm, but not hot, water and leave to stand for a couple of minutes. It should just lift out.
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Then flip the large bowl over and place in the sink. Running warm water over it should release it.
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Et voila! A beautiful ice bowl!
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Pop it back the freezer for a while as all that warm water will have started to melt it.

You could use this for all sorts of things. Keeping scoops of ice cream cold on a dinner table or keeping a fruit salad fresh are just two ideas. On a cold winters day you could put it outside your front door with a tealight (supported by by some cranberries) in, like so:
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I think I’ll be using this as an ice bucket on christmas day though.
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Pretty! Just make sure you put a saucer underneath it to catch the drops when it starts to melt.

Herby butter to smoother on the turkey.

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Turkey is a pretty bland meat, so to help our Christmas bird along a bit I’ve made a herb butter to spread underneath it’s skin. Putting it under the skin helps the flavours really permeate the flesh and keep the breasts extra moist.

It is so simple to make…
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Herbs of your choice (I used rosemary and thyme from the garden, and some fresh sage too), salt, pepper and garlic to give it an extra kick if you fancy it.

Finely chop the herbs.
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Soften the butter in a bowl and add the herbs before mixing thoroughly.
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Dollop the mixture onto some greaseproof paper and shape into a sausage.
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Roll up.
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This can be frozen or stored in the fridge for a couple of weeks. It’s also great with steak, fish, spread on bruschetta.

Christmas pudding rocky road

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Before we begin I’ll just clarify that the only thing remotely Christmas puddingy about this treat is the look (and perhaps the stem ginger and cinnamon should you choose to add it in). Anyway, let’s commence.

Any cake that starts like this…
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… can only be a triumph. So simple. Popcorn (could obviously use rice crispies or cornflakes), raisins, cranberries, smashed up ginger nuts, marshmallows, stem ginger and syrup, some ground cinnamon, oh, and lots of melted chocolate. Of course, this is the type of recipe which will happily accommodate swaps and changes of ingredients and quantities, just make sure you have enough melted chocolate to bind them all together. Basically, mix all the dry ingredients together along with the syrup from the stem ginger if you so wish, then pour on the melted choc.
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Mix thoroughly…
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Line a pudding bowl with scrunched up greaseproof paper and press the mixture in. I had so much mixture I did a large bowl and a small one too.
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Leave to set in the fridge overnight. Once set, lift or of the bowl and peel off the paper.
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Melt some white chocolate and pour over the top, before decorating with sons raisins and cranberries.
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Cut into wedges to serve. This is what mine looked like inside…
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Enjoy!

The icing on the (Christmas) cake.

I made my Christmas cake a few weeks ago, using an old tried and tested Nigella recipe (click here), and have been feeding it brandy once a week to keep it moist. I iced it tonight. Enjoy the pics.
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It was a busy evening actually. I decorated several other cakes to use as demos for a craft evening I’ve organised for Saturday. I wanted some visual inspiration for the sugar craft table. Here’s what I ended up with:
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Hot chocolate on sticks.

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I have never tempered chocolate before… Until tonight, when I made over 80 hot chocolates on sticks for favours at a Christmas Craft Cafe I’ve organised for this coming Saturday. I’m not sure what possessed me to do it in such vast quantities. I guess I like a challenge. My husband thinks I’m off my rocker, and I think he might be right. I would not advise doing it on the scale I did. I used 50 100g bars of dark chocolate. The tempering technique I used is on the BBC Good Food website.

The idea of a hot chocolate stick is that you swirl it into a mug of hot milk, to create an indulgent and delicious treat.

Apart from the tempering, the process is so straightforward. Basically, pouring melted chocolate into moulds, sticking a stick in it and topping it with mini marshmallows. Here are some pics, including ones from the tempering process.

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Lay your moulds out

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Melt in a bain-marie

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For tempering dark chocolate the temp needs to get to about 55oC before lowering the temperature by seeding.

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Hubby trying to lower the temp! Outside, in the UK on a December evening!

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It took longer than we expected!

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Heating the mixture up again using the seeding technique.

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Pour into moulds.

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Stick a stick in it and top with mallows.

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Et voila!

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Enjoy!

Tinsel or no Tinsel? That is the question.

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Now I know I’m likely to unleash a whole bucket of worms with this post, but I like a good old fashioned debate.

I for one would definitely not class myself as a tree purist. I don’t do colour coordination when it comes to my Christmas tree. I just don’t get why people do it. Nothing on our tree matches.  Every ornament has a story behind it and they work together in juxtaposed harmony to create a vision as gaudy as Blackpool Illuminations, but equally as mesmerising.
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There is definitely no tinsel snobbery in this household. We use it loud and proud. There’s absolutely no other time during the year you can get away with using fake gold metallic anything, so make the most of it I say! None of those beaded string alternatives here.  Anyway, here are a few of my favourite decorations.

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I love this angel. It came as part of a set and was given to me by a Consultant Psychiatrist I used to work for.

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Phoebe made this one only yesterday. Love her creativity and the fact she piled as much stuff on it as she could!

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I adore this tiny glass nativity scene. He is the reason for the season afterall!

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Ah, my princess's first Christmas back in 2011.

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I believe...

Snails pace ultra slow cooked leg of lamb.

So, to accompany my ultimate roast potatoes yesterday, I served up a whole, slow cooked leg of lamb which had been cooking for about nine hours in the slow cooker/crock pot.

I like my lamb either pink, or falling off the bone, and, as you can imagine, this fell firmly into the second category.

It was a huge leg, and I actually bartered with the butcher in Waitrose because I wasn’t prepared to pay what they wanted for it. I have no shame in telling you that after a bit of hustling back and forth I actually carried it away for an impressive £10! Chip off the old block me! My father is very proud!
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The first stage is dressing up the meat a little. Here’s what I used:
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Quarter the onion and set aside. Slice the garlic and cut the rosemary into little sprigs. Puncture the meat and push the garlic and rosemary inside the slits.
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Season with the salt and pepper, before massaging it with a little olive oil. Brown in it a frying pan to seal all those lovely juices in.
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When sealed, put it in the slow cooker, and return the frying pan to the heat. Add a good glug of red wine or port to the hot pan to de-glaze it and pick up all the caramelised flavour from the meat.
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Let the alcohol burn off for a minute or so before adding in some hot lamb stock. I simply used lamb oxo cubes on this occasion. Pour the mixture into the slow cooker on top of the meat.
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Pop the lid on and leave it to work its magic!
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Baste the lamb with the juices every couple of hours if you’re in (if not, don’t worry, it will turn out fine away), and a couple of hours before you’re ready to serve throw in some fresh mint if you’ve got it to hand.

Half an hour before serving drain the juices into a saucepan and reduce to intensify the flavour. Add some cornflour paste to thicken if you so desire.
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Turn the slow cooker off and leave the meat to rest while you put the finishing touches to the rest of the meal. At this point it’s likely to look something like this:
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Don’t panic. It’s meant to be falling off the bone. When you’re ready to serve simply pull a couple of forks through it to break up the meat and serve. Enjoy!
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My ultimate roast potatoes

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In my book, a Sunday lunch is a few sandwiches short of a picnic without good old roast potatoes. They have to be crispy, they have to have a fluffy middle, and they have to be well seasoned. A soggy roast spud is as dreary as a thunderstorm on a camping holiday. Come on people, there is no reason for bad roasties when it’s as easy as boil, oil, roast.

Here’s how I do it. Firstly you need the right spuds. Maris Piper/King Edwards are what I’d usually go for and if they’ve been hanging around the bottom of the cupboard for a while even better. Old potatoes make brilliant roasties.

Peel, chop and then par-boil. Heard it all before yes? Now, this is where things might begin to change slightly from what you’re used to.

Drain the potatoes and leave them in the colander for a few minutes to dry.
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While they’re drying, pour some vegetable oil (goose/duck fat is even better but I didn’t have any in) into the saucepan you used to boil the spuds (make sure it’s dry when you add the oil, obviously). Let it heat up then throw in some fresh rosemary and a couple of cloves of smashed up garlic.
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Immediately add the potatoes, put the lid on the pan, and shake vigorously to coat the spuds in the herb scented oil and rough up the edges. For goodness sake make sure it’s a tight fitting pan lid before you start shaking hot oil around!
Carefully empty the contents of the pan onto a baking tray, grind some salt over them, and put in a preheated oven at about 180oC.
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Take out of the oven after about half an hour and give them a quick turn.
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Carry on cooking until they’re as crunchy and golden as you want them. Mine were in for about an hour twenty. Beautiful.
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Enjoy!