Friday, 19 December 2014

Make your own Marshmallows

Marshmallow recipes aren't something you often see people talking about, so I had assumed they were incredibly difficult to make and would perhaps require magical ingredients and equipment.

However, Sainsbury's now sell their own DIY kits so I thought I'd give it a go.

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without bowls of sweeties and treats dotted about the house, and what better than light and fluffy marshmallows in snow white to pop into your mouth as the mood takes you.

Turns out, they are incredibly simple and quite quick to make - you need to chill in the fridge for a couple of hours before cutting, but the actual making part only takes about 20 minutes.

They'd make a lovely personal handmade gift too presented in a cellophane bag or pretty box, and just right for a last minute present.

As I said, the process is so simple, just boiling the sugar, dissolving the gelatine and whisking together.  The kit contains everything you need, you just need your own square tin and some cling film.

Frankly, the hardest part was turning it out from the cling film lined tin and cutting it up, but that's because I was a little frightened of it.  As it happens, marshmallow is quite robust stuff and can take a bit of tough love, you've just got to go for it.

The kitchen did look a bit like a snowstorm afterwards with all the icing sugar flying around, but then I'm not the tidiest of cooks.  It did however result in possibly the best bowl licking session of my life - warm, melty mallow straight from the spoon - ahhhhhh.

And the final result?  Delightful pillowy soft marshmallows - little squares of heaven.  Now I've made my first batch I fancy getting more adventurous with flavours, colours and shapes.  Cut with cookie cutters into different shapes they'd be even prettier and swirling through some lemon curd or Christmas candy canes to add colour and flavour is my next plan.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go and make a fire so I can try toasting these babies.

Disclosure: The marshmallow kit is available in store from Sainsbury's priced at £2.50.  Not suitable for vegetarians. I was sent a kit for the purposes of this review.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Have a DIY Christmas with Worx - Power Tool Giveaway

With the trend for a homemade Christmas, power tool firm Worx are asking us to take on the challenge of making a gift this yuletide.

Do you remember receiving a homemade present as a child?  I certainly do.  I remember the much-loved rag doll my mum made for me and the beautiful doll's house my dad toiled for hours in the freezing cold garage making me.  He'd crafted the doors and windows, the stairs and even wired it up so it had working lights.  I can't say I remember too many other gifts I got as a child, all those games and mass produced toys fade in my memory, but those two items which had taken hours and hours to painstakingly make will always be remembered.

Worx have come up with three projects, complete with comprehensive instructions and videos that you can make your child this year.  There's a simple pair of stilts, a pull-along wooden dog which is a little more challenging and for those who like to think big, there's plans for a doll's house.

We tackled the stilts and they really were straightforward, and took only about 10-15 minutes to assemble.  I love that you can customise or decorate them how you want, and I spent some time painting them for Ruby.

I'm so pleased with how they've turned out, what do you think?

We used the Worxsaw circular saw which has a very useful laser light, perfect for guiding your straight cuts.  It has adjustable saw cut depth and is powerful but so small and lightweight it can be used one handed.  Capable of cutting wood, tiles, brick, plasterboard and metal it's perfect for the hobby DIYer.

We also used the Worx Sonicrafter as a powerful and compact mini sander, but it has lots of other uses too including cutting pipes and removing tile grout.

The full details can be found on this video, and there's a link on the youtube with all the written instructions and dimensions.

Further projects can be found on the Worx channel.

To get you started, Worx are offering you the chance to win a Worx SD Cordless screwdriver.  Perfect for all those little DIY jobs round the house, or for crafting a Christmas gift of your own. It's pre-loaded with 6 different bits and the easy to operate slide action means you can flip from flat-head to Phillips quickly and easily.  It has a built in light making it perfect for those tricky jobs or working in poor light.

To be in with a chance of winning, complete the rafflecopter below before midnight on Sunday 21st December 2014.

Open to UK entrants only.  One winner will be selected at random.  The prize is supplied and fulfilled by Worx. a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: The prize is kindly supplied by Worx and we received the tools to complete the project outlined above.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Support Save The Children with this cute Christmas book from Costa Coffee

Costa Coffee are this year supporting Save The Children's Christmas Jumper Day. Today, up and down the land people will be wearing their festive sweaters to raise money for a great cause.

But don't worry if you've missed the boat or your workplace/school (or in my case, working from home!) prevents you from joining in the frivolity, there's another great way to support the campaign.

Next time you pop into Costa Coffee (and let's face it, most of us are never far away from a Costa), pick up their adorable little book 'The Best Christmas Jumper'.

Priced at only £1.50 it's a great little stocking filler or gift for a class mate and you can feel warm and glowy knowing that £1.17 of that cost will go directly to Save The Children to help with their Read on, Get on campaign helping improve the literacy skills of disadvantaged children in the UK.

Join our national mission to ensure every child in the UK is a confident reader by age 11. Reading is the key to unlocking a child’s full potential and one of the best routes out of poverty for our poorest children. Yet in our country today too many children, including 40% of our poorest children, leave primary school without being able to read well.  - Save the Children

The story is a charming Christmas tale, featuring Santa, Snowman, Reindeer and Elf (you may recognise them as the coffee cup characters), who discover that working together as a team is the key to success.  A perfect book for Christmas bedtime reading or for your book advents.

Written by  award-winning children’s writer Rachel Bright author of the Love Monster series, and illustrated by Vicki Gausden of Noisy Circus fame.  It's suitable for tiny tots and young readers.  

We loved it!  And I'll be popping out to buy more for stocking fillers, knowing that the money will be going to a good cause.

Disclosure: We were sent a 'bedtime pack' including a copy of the book by Costa.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Folded Mince Pies

I have a strange relationship with mince pies it has to be said.  

I adore mincemeat, I could eat it all year round.  On occasions I can be found hiding in the pantry with a spoon, shovelling the stuff into my mouth direct from the jar.

However, mince pies? Not so much.  I can't abide the shop bought ones with inches thick of cloying pastry, you know, the ones which are more of a chore to consume than a pleasure.

I've never mastered the art of the homemade mince pie, producing either an undercooked offering with a soggy bottom, or else the filling busts forth, frothing and bubbling into a scalding hot mess, burning thick and dark onto the pastry top ruining the entire thing.

So this year, I'm trying something different.  Something altogether lighter in the mouth and foolproof in the oven.

I kind of Christmas samosa if you will.

I discovered this delicious hedgerow mincemeat from Wild at Heart at the Christmas London Foodies Festival last week.  I love the story behind the firm, two friends who left the corporate world to focus on a more family-friendly business, harnessing their love of foraging and their shared interest in good food.

Their hedgerow mincemeat is made with crab apples and elderberries, as well as the more traditional raisins.  It's delicate and fruity and the lack of suet means it's not only suitable for vegetarians, but it makes the whole texture so much lighter.  There's a beautiful zingy citrus freshness from the orange and lemon, and those who don't usually like rich, heavy mincemeat should definitely give this a try.

Ingredients for 10-15 'folded mince pies' - depending on size:

Pack of filo pastry
Jar of hedgerow mincemeat
30g melted butter.

NB one 260g jar of hedgerow mincemeat will do about half a pack of filo pastry, so just take half the sheets and re-wrap the remainder straight away and freeze for use another time.

Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

Place your butter in a saucepan over a gentle heat to melt.

Cut your pile of pastry sheets into long strips.  I cut mine into three but you could cut them into 4 piles of strips if you want smaller, bite-sized parcels. I find it easier to use scissors.

Work quickly before the filo pastry dries out.  For each parcel use two layers of pastry.  Fold up the top one and using a pastry brush, brush melted butter onto the second sheet so the top sheet sticks to it.

Then brush melted butter along all four sides of the rectangular strip.

Place a teaspoon of mincemeat near the bottom corner.

Fold over the pastry to form a triangle, pressing down lightly at the edges.

Next, fold upwards, and continue folding in a triangular shape all the way up the strip, pressing down on the edges to seal as you go.

Once your parcel is fully wrapped, place onto your baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper and give a brush all over each parcel with more melted butter.

Bake your folded mince pies for approximately 20 minutes until crispy and golden brown.

Sieve over icing sugar and allow to cool a little before serving.

Hedgerow mincemeat can be purchased online from Wild at Heart and costs £4 a jar.

I received a free sample at the food festival.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Littlest Pet Shop Play Sets Review

There was much excitement in our house when a huge bundle of Littles Pet Shop play sets arrived from Hasbro.  Ruby has quite a few of the figurines already - they make great pocket money toys - but we didn't have any of the larger toys or sets so this was like Christmas come early.

There are lots of different toys in the LPS Your World range, and they all aim to encourage imaginative play.  There's lots of opportunity to design the room sets your own way and customise them.
Watching the TV show or the new app for inspiration, or simply designing from your imagination, you can create your own little world of LPS buildings.
All the sets come flat packed and some adult assistance was required to make them up.  However, all three of the sets we had are assembled in broadly the same way, so once we'd mastered one it was fairly straightforward.
There are a huge amount of teeny tiny pieces so these toys are not suitable if you have young children around, and some of the parts would not hold up to boisterous or clumsy play - for example the scene backgrounds are card so you need to be a little careful handling them.  However, Ruby is playing with them respectfully as she loves them, so I expect them to last.
Blythe's Bedroom RRP £29.99

Blythe is the main character and can talk to animals.  She has a special relationship with all the little pets but is kind and caring to her human friends too.  She loves fashion and her bedroom is an extension of her fashionista style.  Arrange the furniture how you like, add stickers to customise or flip the background to turn it into a stage setting.

This set comes with over 90 different pieces as well as a Blythe doll and a Penny Ling pet figure.
We really liked the detail on this set with the little balcony front and window boxes.

Spa Style Set RRP £14.99

This set comes with Zoe Trent pet figure and lots of accessories to keep your Littlest Pets pampered and preened.  There's a shower and bath for grooming, scissors, hair drier and spray as well as a mirror for admiring the finished look you've created.  

As with the other sets, this stacks on top of others, or along side so you can create a whole town.  The roof lifts up so you can access either from above or through the front to play.

Treat Bar Style Set RRP £14.99
This set also comes with a Penny Ling character figure, but this time she's not so happy as she's spilt her ice cream!  

There are bar stools, a 'glass' display cabinet and lots of pet treats to display inside.
As with the other sets, the sides of the room are interchangeable and the background is reversible, so along with the stickers provided there's lots of opportunity to design it your way.


These sets have certainly kept Ruby occupied.  All of this past week she's got up in the morning and quietly played with them for an hour or so before coming downstairs - meaning these toys get bonus parent points for allowing lie-ins and unsupervised play!

I suspect there'll be a few more sets making their way onto her Christmas list now.

All the sets are recommended for children from 6 years.

Ruby's enjoying playing on the LPS app too.  There is supposed to be a way to scan your pets so you can play with them 'in-game' (the pets with a paw print symbol are scannable) however we haven't managed to find how to use this feature yet.  Perhaps you have to earn a certain amount of points before this feature is unlocked?  I'm not sure, so if anyone knows please let me know!

Overall the play sets were a big hit in this house.

Disclosure: We were sent the sets for the purposes of this review and a small fee for our time. All opinions are our own and the toys were tested by my daughter who is aged 6 3/4. 

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Candy Cane Hot Chocolate Recipe

I've gone a bit candy cane crazy here lately, what with my candy cane Christmas wreath, but they just scream Christmas to me and I wanted a treat for us, so this seemed perfect.  Mint and chocolate are a winning combination always, and what could be nicer on a yuletide evening than a sweet and warming hot chocolate made with candy canes and real chocolate?  Perfect to have after a busy day's Christmas shopping or snuggled in front of the fire.  The candy canes give a mild mint flavour to the drink so even children should cope with this level of mintiness.  

Melting the candy canes into the hot chocolate will make it even sweeter than usual, so I've opted for bitter dark chocolate, although if you have a particularly sweet tooth you could use regular milk chocolate.

There's always chocolate and candy canes knocking about this house at this time of year and this is a wonderfully different way to devour them.

Ingredients (per mug - adjust accordingly to personal taste)

50g chocolate
1 small mint flavoured candy cane
200 ml milk
Whipped cream and marshmallows to serve (optional)

Break up your chocolate into small chunks (or use buttons or drops if you have them, they'll melt quicker).

Wrap your candy canes in a clean tea towel and bash with a rolling pin to smash.

Reserve the larger chunks of candy cane for decorating, and pour the powdered candy cane into a saucepan along with the chocolate and milk.

Heat gently stirring all the time.

Once all the chocolate has melted it's ready to pour into mugs.

Decorate with whipped cream, marshmallows and the reserved shards of candy cane.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Rag Rug Christmas Wreath

I mentioned yesterday about thrifty Christmas decorations, well I've also been learning to rag rug.  A traditional craft, this is perfect for using up scraps of materials and old, worn clothing so it certainly appeals to my make-do-and-mend spirit.

I recently spent a rather lovely day with Elspeth from Ragged Life along with some other bloggers, Ali, Maggy, Emma and Niki.  Elspeth taught us the techniques for rag rugging (both 'shaggy' and 'loopy'), as well as the best way to cut fabrics and gave us some inspiration to create our own Christmas projects.

Here's one that Elspeth bought along with her to give us an idea of what we could achieve.

We descended on her bags of fabric like maniacs, excited at the opportunity of a child-free crafting session, and armed with the tools of the trade, got ragging.

Ragged life offer workshops so you can learn the skills yourself and they sell the gauges and hooks online too.  Or if you're not so crafty, you can buy a ready-made wreath from her Etsy shop.

I'd thoroughly recommend attending a workshop.  Elspeth is a great teacher and is really relaxed and will help you get the most out of your new-found skill. The techniques are easy to pick up and once I'd got started on my design I took it away to finish at home.  In fact, with my little bag of scraps in my handbag, I continued on the tube on the way home!

A few more evenings in front of the telly and my circle was completed.  I followed her instructions online to make up the wreath and now it's proudly adorning my front door.

I love the wreath, it's so tactile and looks really effective.

I've already started snipping up scraps for my next project.  It's so satisfying cutting up old fabric that's been hanging around, redundant for ages and transforming it into something beautiful.

Update!  I've completed my second wreath!  Inspired by some candy canes, I've made a red and white wreath and attached candy canes so visitors can help themselves.  After the design was completed, I hooked some ribbon through the centre of each rosette and left it loose before attaching the backing board, hanging hook and felt to tidy the back up.  Then simply tie the candy canes on with the ribbons.  The wreath can be used year after year - just replace the sweets (if there's any left!).

Thank you Elspeth for teaching me a new craft!

Purchase a full rag rug making kit from the Etsy shop for £11.99 - a perfect gift for a crafty friend.

Purchase a ready made Christmas wealth from the Etsy shop for £30.

Disclosure: I was invited along to a workshop.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.