Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Home-made Presents from the Kitchen!

Home-made Presents from the Kitchen! 

At Christmas, more that at any other time of the year, it’s useful to get hints and tips on how to make things easier in and around the kitchen. Of course, these ideas can be applied to any time of year, but with extra guests and visitors turning up out of the blue at Christmas, this is when we tend to feel the pressure and need just a little help in the right direction.  

There is always a great interest in ideas for home made gifts, home baked and beautifully packaged gifts to give to family and friends.  These can range from quite advanced crafts to simple home made cookies and cakes, but they are always welcome! 

Dress them well, pack neatly or place your hand made gifts in cellophane bags, add ribbons and a lovely gift tag to make an amazing first impression, your effort won’t go un-noticed!

Kilner Jar gifts - 
Those of you who have been to my kitchen, will know that I'm a huge fan of Kilner jars, the traditional preserving jars. I have shelves full of them, containing everything from sugar, spices, pasta, right through to ribbons and buttons. They are available in most cook shops, craft shops and even supermarkets during the jam making season. 

To make a stylish and useful present, fill a Kilner jar with all the ingredients needed to make chocolate cookies, brownies or Welsh cakes, add a little parcel label with the instructions on how to make them, and you have another sweet and useful gift. The storage jar can be used again and again, whilst the contents offer and activity and a sweet treat, three pressies in one!!  By the way, just like the packet mixes in the shops, don't add the wet ingredients!! Don't add eggs or butter, just the dry stuff!! 

For gifts to make now and give and use on the day, try making your own cranberry sauce with fresh cranberries, orange zest, sugar and a drop of port. Store the sauce in a Kilner jar and take it with you as a gift for the family ready for the Christmas dinner. If you have a little more time on your hands, how about making special friends a decorated Christmas cake? Wrap it in a pretty box and tie shut with a ribbon... what could be better?

Here's my favourite luxury Christmas Cake recipe, and although stir-up Sunday has now been and gone.... it's really not too late to bake a cake!

Luxury Christmas cake


1kg mixed fruit

1o0g glacé cherries
75g of mixed peel
50g chopped walnuts
2 teaspoons mixed spice
300g butter
300g soft brown sugar
5 eggs
300g plain flour
1 tablespoon black treacle
1 orange rind & juice
a drop or two of brandy


  • Wash your hands!
  • Grease and line a 20cm cake tin
  • Measure out and mix fruit, orange & lemon rind and orange juice
  • Add brandy and soak overnight
  • Measure out the dry ingredients, the nuts, spices, sugar and flour
  • Place the softened butter, beaten eggs into a mixer, and mix well, add the remainder of the ingredients.
  • Stir in the fruit and treacle and finally, spoon into the prepared tin
  • Cook on the middle or low shelf for 3½  - 4 hrs at 140˚c. 
  • Check the cake after 3 1/2 hours especially if using a fan oven.  
  • Check that the cake is cooked by inserting a skewer or a knife into the centre of the cake - it should come out clean
  • Have fun decorating with marzipan, icing and Christmas sprinkles / holly / silver balls and a ribbon!

It’s easier to make some mini cakes to give as gifts.  The ingredients are the same,

but we use recycled small food tins as cake tins.  Cooking time will be about 30-40 minutes.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

A Healthy Winter Warmer

A Healthy Winter Warmer

After weeks of what can only be described as incessant and torrential rainfall, we had a drier colder week.  At last!  Okay, it didn’t last long and another storm in on the way, but at least we got a short break from the dampness that has virtually become the norm.  

Crisp, beautiful sunny mornings lift our mood and lightens our spirit.  The light changes as it bounces off the icy paths and trees, children get excited at the prospect of snow and days off school, and evenings cosying up by the fire totally are enjoyed. I noticed that some local children ventured up to the hills to enjoy some snow last week, I didn’t have the time, last week, but I wont be missing out next time, if it snows again you’ll know where to find me, and I wont be at The Pumpkin Patch!!

If there was ever an excuse to enjoy comfort food, it’s now.  Post christmas, and in the depths of winter.  Add the depressing thought of paying for the Christmas credit card bill and the longest gap between pay packets, and I think you’ll agree that we really do need something comforting to keep us going.  That said, it would be a great shame to suddenly compromise all that hard dieting and exercise regime that we set about after Christmas, so what better way to enjoy the cold winter weather, than with something warming and filling yet wholesome and healthy. 

This weeks recipe is so simple, but it’s so tasty and uses up all those leftover pieces of cheese that you may have cluttering the fridge since Christmas. It’s now time to clear out the fridge and to also use up all the leftover pickles and chutneys. 

To start, bake a few large jacket potatoes in the oven. If you usually use the microwave for jackets, I dare toy to try the oven this time! If you  must, start them in the microwave and then pop them into the oven to crips up. Proper baked potatoes are so good, fluffy potato and crisp skin is a great start to a simple mid week meal or snack. The slower baking process, compared to the sudden microwave equivalent, even fills the house with a gorgeous aroma of healthy food! 

Once cooked, allow them to cool a little then, scoop out the potato, add a dollop of butter and add some of your favourite salad flavours. Add a combination of spring onions, chopped tomatoes, sweetcorn, peas, bacon pieces, mix them well with the potato, add a little seasoning and top the empty skins with your colourful mixture of goodness! Cover with a combination of different  leftover cheeses, they can be either grated or chopped, and return to the oven to warm through, crisp up and melt the cheese. 

Serve with a good portion of home made ‘salw' - the posh name for coleslaw! We’ll call this one Red Cabbage and Onion Slaw as its made with… you’ve guessed it, red cabbage and red onion! Enjoy!

Friday, 4 September 2015

Garden Recovery

Garden Recovery
It’s that time of year again, the time when the garden is looking just a little bit jaded. The vigorous growth of early summer is past, and the pace has begun to slow. 

Post-holiday garden recovery mode is now complete, the grass has all been cut, and our few hedges have been trimmed, though not the big yew tree yet - as that’s a mammoth task!  In the vegetable garden, the early peas have now been picked and the old forlorn plants removed and composted.  Their old silvery stems and leaves looked tired following weeks of yielding peas for the family.  It’s always a shame to remove vegetables from the beds but I now have a patch ready for some late summer fast growing salad crops.
The red onions have also been harvested and hung to dry in the sun, ready for winter storage.  I love stringing them and storing them in the kitchen, until they are needed.  The gourds, pumpkins and squashes have all started to romp around the garden, weaving their way through the dahlias, entwining themselves quite nicely wherever they go.  This year I’ve grown spaghetti squash for the first time; an interesting shape which could well be a real talking point! 
I’ve erected trellising to encourage the pumpkins (also known as cucurbita) to further explore and to create height; the trellises also enable air to circulate beneath them and makes it far easier to spot the swelling fruit and to keep an eye on them. 
The sunflowers loved the warmth and the rain last week, and have now reached some dizzy heights.  They have yet to be measured, but I recon the tallest is now well in excess of 7ft, maybe even 8! My tiny patch of eight or so sunflowers is hardly competition for the golden fields of mid France, but I’m content with my few strikingly tall yellow faces! 
Other crops doing well right now are the broad beans, the Swiss chard (great in a vegetable stir fry) and purple French beans (similar to the green variety - just purple in colour). 

The Borlotti beans are ready, although I’ll be drying these to use in stews later in the year.  They have a creamy flavour and a meaty texture, great for hearty soup as the weather gets colder in a few months’ time.  In the meantime we can make the most of the salad crops, especially the tomatoes, lettuce and the very versatile Swiss Chard.  The beetroot is coming on nicely, and I can’t wait to roast some of the big ones to enjoy with plenty of salt and pepper alongside a summer salad, or even as a side with a roast dinner!

I love this time of year; the garden may not be at it’s very best and the weeds like to make their presence known, but supper is always provided, very simple and very fresh & it doesn't get better that. Happy days!

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Leeks by Torchlight!

The vegetable garden is now virtually empty, so the pantry or store cupboard is regularly raided, and baking cakes and breads have become the norm at The Pumpkin Patch.  Before Christmas, gingerbread cookies and shortbread were a hit, easy to make, easily made into all sorts of seasonal shapes & virtually impossible to get wrong yet really tasty. 

I mentioned the garden being empty, it is empty-ish, but not quite. We made 'Cawl' last week, and totally forgot to buy leeks, I was so disappointed. Cawl just isn't cawl without leeks. Anyway, somehow it suddenly dawned on me that I had a whole patch of the garden dedicated to leeks and I'd hardly harvested any of them. With all the recent rain, wind and drizzle, i'd totally forgotten about them. So torch in hand, wellies on, coat over apron, I ventured out into the black night to pick a few leeks! The cawl was great, just what the doctor ordered during the coldest week of the year to date, and made all the more special for the effort made to get the ingredients.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

New Year's 'Lunch' resolution

Just a week into 2015 and no doubt that despite our best efforts and intentions, some of our new year's resolutions have already been forgotten about. Making serious changes to our lives can be difficult, it really does take effort.  Many of us will have decided to make food related changes. Some will wish to loose weight, others may wish to simply cut down on fat, fizzy drinks, sweets, crisps or to reduce alcohol consumption, or even to increase their water intake. 

One easy way to improve our health without really trying, is to change our lunch habits! Sounds a bit obvious but most of us don't give a lot of thought to what they have for lunch. By the time lunch time comes around we are usually starving, and consequently either opt for the same, safe repetition of yesterday's lunch menu, whatever that may be, or we grab the first thing available. Obviously, we have special days when we meet friends, have to attend pre organised lunches/ lunch meetings, but on normal, run of the mill days we rarely divert from the comfort of our regular lunch routine. 

Children at primary school have very little choice, assuming they take advantage of Carmarthenshire's school meals which are conscientiously planned to offer children a tasty nutritionally balanced meal, offering meals containing carbs, protein, dairy etc and also giving our youngsters adequate energy (calories) needed to see them 'till tea time.

At secondary school, children have a little more choice made available to them, and of course, by the time our children get to twelve years and older, they really do have their own particular preferences and favourite foods. Trying to get a teenager to make the healthy option and to opt for a tuna salad over a pizza, is never going to be easy! The situation is made even more complex when you consider the differing nutritional needs of the thousand or so children at the school. The needs of the rugby firsts team, the sprinter, the ballet dancer, the actor, musician, the child with a high metabolic rate or the under active thyroid....the list goes on, and it's quite a challenge. Even within large family it can be quite a task to meet the nutritional needs of the energetic, the not so sporty, the weight lifter, rugby player, and those with a large appetite and those that rarely feel hungry, and yet each of them fall within the realms of 'normal'.

For me, the day passes quickly, lunch time often passes and it's school pick up time before I get my lunch, this is not ideal. For others, lunchtime is the highlight of the day. Escaping from the workplace to indulge in a cuppa and a panini, a baguette, a sandwich, a bowl of soup or even a sit down, two or three course meal at the office canteen with friend and colleagues is a treat, not to be missed, in the middle of the day.  

Whether you buy or prepare your own lunch box, it's important for our health (and our waistline!) that we take care to consider what we eat for our lunch. It goes without saying that a variation is key! It keeps us interested in our food as well as providing us a variety of different vitamins and minerals from the range of foods. Choosing different lunches also gives us the opportunity to balance high energy (the high calorie) luxury lunches with lower energy, high fibre foods such as a simple soup or salad. If you opt for the same sandwich on a regular basis,  and it happens to be the deluxe, highly calorific, mayonnaise laden, fatty option, then you'll soon see those pounds go on. The unfortunate thing is, you still go home thinking and exclaiming that 'I just had a quick sandwich for lunch'. 

Even if you haven't made any New Years resolutions this year,  make a decision to take lunch seriously.  If you've never considered it before, try making your own lunch and taking it with you a few times each week. Treat a bought lunch as a luxury, whatever the price. Make soups and bean or pasta salads, healthy sandwiches, add plenty of fruit and enjoy a lighter 2015.