Fruity Festive Tipples For Christmas & New Year

Christmas is a time when mulled wine and hot cider brews reign supreme in the drinks department, but for those that are partial to a cold tipple during the festive season, the Christmas drink options can often be limited and disappointing.

With Christmas just a few weeks away, here are some great suggestions to add to your Christmas party drinks menus for those who’d prefer a chilled drink but for those of us who prefer our Christmas drinks warm, spicy and comforting, I’ve included a fabulous mulled wine recipe from Nigel Slater.

Easy Christmas drink recipes you’ll love

Cranberry Mojito 

Ingredients:

3 mint leaves
1 tablespoon Cranberry Reduction
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
Ice cubes
3 tablespoons of your favourite rum
Lemon-lime soft drink
Garnish: fresh mint leaves, lime slices, cranberries

Make it: 

Muddle the mint leaves, cranberry reduction, and fresh lime juice against the sides of a cocktail shaker (or a flask with a lid).

Add ice cubes and the rum.

Cover with lid and shake vigorously until thoroughly chilled (about 30 seconds).

Strain into your drinking jar glass filled with ice cubes.

Top with lemon-lime soft drink and garnish with fresh mint leaves, fresh cranberries and a slice of lime.

Blueberry & Lime Gin Gimlet 

Ingredients:

6 1/2 tablespoons sugar
6 1/2 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons fresh blueberries
2 1/2 tablespoons lime juice
gin (3 tablespoons per drink)

Make it:

First, you’ll need to make a simple syrup.

Put equal parts sugar and water in a small saucepan (for this recipe 6 ½ tablespoons of each) and cook over a medium heat until the sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally (should take about five minutes).

Add the blueberries and cook for 10 minutes until the blueberries burst and the syrup is purple.

Add the lime juice and remove from the heat.

Let cool and strain.

In a cocktail shaker, combine 2 parts gin to 1.5 parts blueberry syrup and some ice. Shake and strain into glass.

Top up with soda water or for a twist try sparkling elderflower!

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Gizzi Erskine’s Charred Blood Orange Mimosa from Seasons Eatings

Ingredients
(Serves 4)

6 ripe blood oranges
small knob of unsalted butter
1 teaspoon of caster sugar (optional)
1 bottle of medium-dry prosecco

Make it:

Preheat the oven to 200 C / 180 C fan (400 F), Gas Mark 6

Cut the oranges in half.  Put the butter in a large frying pan and heat until really hot.

Place the oranges flat side down in the pan and leave to char for 5-10 minutes.  You want to get them nice and black

Remove from the pan and place the oranges into a roasting tray.  Roast for around 20 minutes.

Remove from oven and leave to cool.

Squeeze the juice from the oranges.  Taste the juice to check it is not too bitter.  If so, add 1 teaspoon of sugar.

Half fill your champagne flutes with juice (approx 75 ml per glass) and top up with chilled prosecco.

Serve immediately.

Nigel Slater’s Mulled Wine from The Christmas Chronicles

Ingredients
(Makes approx. 6 servings)

200ml vodka
6 cloves
Cinnamon stick
3 Star Anise
10 Cardamom pods
1 Orange
1 Lemon
750ml bottle of fruity red wine
Handful flaked almonds

Make it:

Pour the vodka into a jug

Add the cloves, cinnamon and star anise

Crack open the cardamom pods and add them including the seeds

Remove the peel from the orange in long strips

Add to the vodka together with the strips of peel from half the lemon

Set the mixture aside overnight

The next day, strain to remove the spices (Nigel suggests keeping the Star Anise for garnish)

Pour into a large stainless steel pan and add the wine.

Warm slowly over a moderate heat.  DON’T let it boil.

Toast the almonds in a dry frying pan and scatter them over the surface of each cup as you serve the wine.

Non-Alcoholic Festive Fruit Punch

Ingredients:
(Makes approx. 15 servings)

2 litres cranberry juice
250ml orange juice
lemon/lime cordial diluted to taste in 500ml soda water
Sugar
Garnish: oranges, limes, cranberries

Make it:

Slice up the oranges and limes and throw into the bottom of a drinks dispenser or large punch bowl along with the cranberries.

Mix all the punch ingredients together and pour on top. Serve ice cold.

TIP: For an alcoholic twist add prosecco or champagne for a festive fruity fizz that’ll liven up any party!

What is your favourite Christmas drink during the festive season?




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Review: Tesco Free From Christmas Jumper Cake Kit

GIFTED: These days, more and more of us are adapting our diets, either through choice or because we are managing allergies and food intolerances. If you’re looking for a gluten-free Christmas cake, though, read on.

At Christmas, when we are likely to have more visitors than usual, wouldn’t it be good to know that, no matter what your guests’ nutritional needs are, you can offer them something special and tasty – for example a gluten-free Christmas cake.

This year Tesco’s Christmas campaign is “Everyone’s Welcome” and to prove the point they sent us their Tesco Free From Christmas Jumper Cake Kit to try.

It’s a vanilla cake mix with a decorating kit, all packed up in one little box so it would be easy to keep in the cupboard just in case.

The kit contains four sachets – vanilla cake mix, icing mix, chocolate drops and coloured sprinkles.  You need to supply 225g dairy free spread and 3 medium eggs (or egg substitute). You’ll also need greaseproof paper to create your cake template.

Make sure you keep the box because when you open it out you’ll find your template for the Christmas jumper.  All you do is trace the outline of the jumper on to some greaseproof paper, cut it out and place to one side until your cake is baked.

Caitlin was tasked with creating the template which she took very seriously.

To help us out, we were also sent a lovely Acacia mixing spoon made from handcrafted wood, a non-slip 4-litre mixing bowl and a Homebake Superior square baking pan from Tesco Go Cook range.

Assembling the cake is easy.  Simply place the contents of the vanilla cake mix sachet in a bowl with the eggs, spread and a tablespoon of water and mix.  That’s it!

25 minutes later (Gas Mark 4) you have a lovely golden cake ready for cutting into a jumper shape and decorating.

Once the cake has cooled, place it bottom side up on a flat plate or board and put your template on top.  Carefully cut around your template to create your jumper-shaped cake.

Then, turn the cake the right side up and prepare your icing.

Once again, this was a doddle – add 100g dairy-free spread or butter to the contents of the icing mix sachet and mix until smooth.  I had to add a little hot water to get a smoother consistency.

Cover the cake top and sides and smooth.

Then you are ready to decorate.

Now, this is the part where we came slightly unstuck.  You are supposed to melt the chocolate drops in the microwave and then return the melted chocolate to the sachet they came in. Snipping off the bottom of the sachet is supposed to create a piping bag.

I found the chocolate drops difficult to melt – probably due to the cold weather! Getting the chocolate back in the bag is a bit of a struggle and piping it was equally difficult.

Rather than have random chocolate blogs on top of my nice white cake, I let the kids go mad with the sprinkles.

You may be more creative than me (it’s entirely possible!) but next time I’ll add the chocolate drops as they are.

I think our creation is perfectly acceptable and looks just as exciting as a non ‘free from’ cake would look.

The Tesco Free From Christmas Jumper Cake kit retails at £4.50 and you’ll need to stock up quick because it will only be available for delivery until 23rd December. It’s a great choice for a gluten-free Christmas cake.

Halloween Family Traditions – What Are Yours?

Hmm.  Well, Halloween seems to polarise opinion in this house.  I love Halloween but the Husband hates it.  We have just returned from ASDA to stock up on ghoulish bits and pieces and he is in the kitchen muttering about tat and plastic whilst whipping up a curry and listening to his terrible Viking Rock.

Halloween family traditions - 2 carved and lit Halloween pumpkins

Perhaps it is just for the kids but it’s surprising how many of us have our own little Halloween Family Traditions.  We always make an effort with our Halloween costumes.

Sophie (Sophobsessed.com) says “We have this weird thing about not stepping on the bottom step. It dates back to when my mum was little and her grandmother told her this story her and her friends used to tell at school about stepping on the bottom step and a witch chasing you down the stairs. Well, it terrified my mum even when both her grandmother and her mum told her it was just a story. Since then my mum would never step on the bottom step until she was in her thirties!!! Sometimes you still catch her missing the step now!! Thing is she told us the story and then I wouldn’t step on the bottom step either!! I do now but there was a solid period where I forbade it.”

Nikki (Yorkshirewonders.co.uk) is a big fan of a traditional Halloween spell.  She says “Take an apple and peel it into one long continuous strip. Then, at midnight throw it over your right shoulder. The apple peel should land in the shape of the initial of the person you will marry… Love these old traditions!”

Helena likes to read spooky stories to her kids whilst Emma (TheMinisAndMe) always has a themed buffet and invites her kids’ friends around for a few games and apple bobbing before heading out trick or treating together.

Lianne  (Anklebitersadventures.co.uk) makes sure her house is decorated from top to bottom and likes to buy a special decoration every year that she allows her little ones to choose from.

Anthea (Bluebearwood.co.uk) creates a fearsome Pepper Brain Monster which they only ever eat during October.  (Find more healthy eating Halloween food tips for kids here).

Leandra (Lara Bee UK) has a Halloween cauldron which she fills with Halloween goodies much like a Christmas stocking.  She says it might be over the top but Halloween is a holiday they all love.

We decorate the house and lay on a special Halloween tea usually featuring my Halloween brain jelly and lots of ghoulish cakes.  Let’s be honest it’s a bit of a sugar fiesta but we try to eat healthily for the rest of the week.

Here are some more ideas you might like to try:-

  • Take a frightful family photo with you all dressed in your Halloween finest
  • Have a Halloween movie night
  • Have a pumpkin carving competition – who can create their masterpiece quickest?
  • Holding a doggie Halloween fancy dress competition – whose pooch is the most terrifying?
  • Try some fun fortune telling.  Become Madam Zara for the night and predict some happy tidings if your guests cross your palm with chocolate coins.
  • Hold a Halloween music contest – get your resident film buff to download the theme tunes to the top Halloween films and see which team gets them all right.
  • Or, play know your monster – create some flash cards of the most gruesome ghouls and ghosts and see how many your guests will recognise.
  • Halloween disco time – there are so many great tracks you could use to put together a great playlist (Monster Mash, anyone?)

Whatever you do, play safely and keep all costumes away from lit flames.  Make sure you know if any of your guests have allergies and keep all foods that could be a choking hazard away from little ones – including whole grapes and marshmallows.

Do you have any Halloween family traditions?

Involving The Children In Your Next Dinner Party

Keeping up with your friends can be quite tricky when you have a young family. You may find you have very little time to get out and about for coffee or nights out. 

A great compromise is to throw a dinner party at your house, this will save you on babysitting costs and will mean you can have a nice drink without having to drive.

Image credit

Depending on the age of your children it might be hard to organise an impressive dinner and keep the little ones out of your hair, so instead of battling to keep them away, why not set them some tasks and get a little help.

Canapes are a really wonderful way of getting your guests in the mood and delivering a really stylish event. They are a great introduction to a special night and will make your guests feel like they are part of something really special. 

Brilliantly simple to prepare and serve you could buy a little time by asking your children to get some inspiration from a website. Checking out a cool company which serve up canapes to their guests might get their little minds buzzing over some creative ideas.

Small hands are required for small food and if you can choose an easy canape such as tomato and basil sticks or little pastries with salmon and cream cheese, you may find that your children are more capable of constructing them than you are. Washed hands are a must, you want to make sure your guests aren’t sharing more than their creative skills. 

Set up a nice clean space and then show them what you need and how many. If you prepare all the cutting and cooking. They can help by doing the fiddly bits. This might give you enough time to work on the main dinner courses and will certainly keep the children busy.

Once your guests arrive, give your kids some responsibilities. These will be age dependent. Older children can offer drinks and let you know what has been ordered, then carry them to your friends. 

Younger children could collect up coats and take them to a spare room for later in the evening. Providing they are confident at carrying you can ask children of any age to serve the canapes and keep your guests entertained whilst you make your final preparations. Having a couple of waiters at your event is certainly going to make your life easier.

When bedtime comes, you could have a deal with them. Perhaps setting up a film night in their bedrooms so you don’t have to sit with them and leave your friends unattended. Just pop your head up every now and then so they don’t feel you have forgotten about them. 

Chances are they will be popping their heads downstairs more often than you’d like, but allow it. It’s exciting for children when there are people in their homes and providing you aren’t having parties every night, one late bedtime isn’t going to hurt.

Start Now To Get Your Home Ready For The Festive Season

In just a few weeks winter will be back with us again, bringing Christmas and all of its fun festivities. Christmas is a magical time of year, but as a busy parent, you’ll know there are a million and one things to think about!

Seeing friends and family is one of the best things about the season, but if you’re house proud it means there’s probably a fair bit of work to be done.

Plus with the change of weather, our homes are in need of some serious winter-proofing. Making sure all of this is done early will mean everything runs as smoothly as possible right through to the spring.

Clear The Garden

Most of us are done out in the garden for the year now the weather has taken a turn for the worst. If you’re lucky you might still have some flowers blooming and prettying up your garden, but before long most things will die back.

Unless you’re a hardcore gardener, now is the time to tidy your tools away. Move your mower to the back of the shed, and bring your leaf blower, rake and snow shovel to the front.  Now is a good time to review your garden storage.

Clear the gutters on your house and any outbuildings which can become blocked with leaf litter and cause leaks.

Turn the water supply off to your outdoor tap/ pipes, or at the very least cover them with insulation. This will prevent them from becoming damaged or bursting when the temperatures drop to freezing over winter.

Having a clear and tidy garden makes a good first impression when guests arrive, as it’s the first thing they will see when coming to your home.

Get Your Boiler Serviced

The last thing you want over the Christmas period is to be troubled by heating issues! If your boiler plays up, you can end up with no hot water or heating.

If this happens to fall on one of the festive bank holidays, you’ll pay well over the odds to have someone come out and sort it.

A boiler service should be done once a year and will cost you around £70. But it’s money well spent, and could potentially save you an awful lot more if it prevents anything major going wrong. Suppliers like British Gas offer their own boiler insurance and maintenance schemes.  Just make sure you shop around.

Tackle Any Repairs

November is a great time to tackle any repairs and finish up any projects before the worst of the year’s weather hits. It could be a bit of painting, filling in cracks or holes in walls, finishing up some tiling or anything else that you’ve been putting off.

Having the house in tip-top condition means you’re ready for your Christmas guests and are free to hang your decorations and make your home look beautiful come December.

Now that the evenings are darker, it’s a great time to review your home security in general – particularly your home alarm system.

Clean and Declutter

When children are getting things like new toys, clothes and books for Christmas you could clear out the ones they’re no longer using. Put anything sentimental up in the attic, and donate the rest to charity. This could make a less fortunate child’s Christmas, so it’s a win-win.

Finally, getting everywhere clean and tidy in anticipation of guests is a good idea. You could do the kinds of jobs that don’t usually get done on a regular cleaning day. Hire a Rug Doctor and clean all of your carpets. Wash curtains, clean windows and pull out large furniture items and vacuum behind them. That way, if you get a text or phone call from a visitor saying they’re popping over in ten minutes, you only need to do a spot of tidying before they arrive.

Is Your Kitchen Ready For Entertaining?

Is your kitchen ready for entertaining? Are you planning a celebration? Whether it’s the approach of the festive season, a romantic Valentines Day meal or a special anniversary or birthday, if you enjoy hosting then you may already be planning a celebration to bring everyone together.  You might be feeling especially brave and planning to involve the kids in your dinner party too!

But before you send the invitations out, you need to make sure that your kitchen is all ready for entertaining and hosting guests. Do you think you could do with a bit of kitchen renovation?

Here are some useful tips that can help you get your kitchen up to scratch.

Update Your Kitchenware

Cooking appliances, crockery and bakeware can quickly become dated. Unless you are going for a vintage style in your kitchen, you should update any old-fashioned items in your kitchen. Not only will this do wonders for the look of your kitchen, but you will also find that they are a lot easier to use. And new cooking appliances will help you cut down the time you spend in your kitchen. Meaning you will have a lot more time to mingle with all your guests!

Get Rid Of Clutter

I’m sure most of us have a lot of clutter on our kitchen tops and dining table. It’s because it easily gathers on these surfaces! Especially the likes of letters, bills and important paperwork. So before you start cooking for your dinner party, make sure you quickly tidy up all of this clutter and remove it from your kitchen.

It is also important to tidy your kitchen work surfaces once you have taken all the clutter away. Keep them neat, and you will have plenty of space to prepare your food. They will also look very tidy to your guests!

Clean Your Fridge

Your fridge will be used a lot during the dinner party especially if you have guests going in there to top up their glasses of white wine. So it is very important that the inside of your refrigerator is looking clean and tidy.

If you are placing a lot of dishes in the fridge ready for the meal, make sure that the door shuts tightly. It is also a good idea to check that none of the food is blocking any of the air vents. Otherwise, the refrigerator could quickly heat up.

Take The Bin Out

You don’t want a nasty smell to put your diners off their meal, so remember to take the bin out before anyone arrives. It might also be worth cleaning out the bin itself with some strong disinfectant. After all, no matter how careful you are, there is always the chance that some food has escaped out the bin bag and made its way into the actual bin!  Consider indoor bin deodorisers.

Make sure you have plenty of extra bin bags as well. The rubbish will quickly pile up during a dinner party, and you might have to even take the bin out half-way through the meal!

Once you follow these tips, your kitchen will be all ready for you to entertain. And if you are planning a celebration, then your guests will certainly be impressed!

Party planning – Unusual Entertainment Ideas That Will Get Your Guests Talking

From the venue to the catering, to the decorations, there’s no escaping the fact that it takes a lot of forward-thinking to plan the perfect party.

One of the main elements of any successful soiree is entertainment. Unless you get it just right, your attendees could be left feeling less than impressed, so it pays to think outside the box.

To ensure that your next party goes down a storm, here are three unusual entertainment ideas that are bound to get your guests talking.

A murder mystery dinner

For entertainment with a difference, a murder mystery dinner could be perfect for your next party. When they’re done properly, murder mystery dinners can keep your guests amused and entertained for hours, acting as the focal point of the whole evening.

Over a meal, your guests will be immersed in a dramatic storyline, with the main aim of trying to work out who’s to blame for the ‘murder’.

Instead of attempting to arrange this type of entertainment yourself, it pays to enlist the help of professionals. For instance, experts the Murder Mystery Collective use West End actors to bring their plots to life

A flashmob dance troupe

To really surprise your guests, why not arrange for a flashmob dance troupe to perform? A flashmob is a group of talented dancers who will seemingly spontaneously carry out a choreographed routine, usually to loud, upbeat music, and then leave just as quickly as they appeared. The whole sequence is unexpected and exhilarating, and it’s sure to create a real buzz among your guests.

For example, if you’re hosting a large dinner or ceremony in a function room, you could arrange to have the dancers disguise themselves as waiting staff to get into position, for them to then suddenly burst into dance.

As long as your venue has a sufficient amount of space, a flashmob troupe could be ideal for your next event.

Source:  Wikipedia.org

Aerial silk performers

If you’re keen to thrill your guests, you could book some aerial silk performers.

These highly skilled performers use the support of nothing but long pieces of fabrics and their own strength to carry out breathtaking stunts and routines while being suspended in the air.

Whether you arrange to have one acrobat or a group perform, aerial silk artists will undoubtedly leave your guests awestruck and impressed.

All that is required from you is that your venue has reasonably high ceilings. You can then leave it up to the act to put on a show-stopping performance.

Looking beyond the party ‘norm’ is key if you want to organize an event that’s going to get your guests talking.

Add A Sparkle To Your Dinner Party With Some Fantasy Guests

Regular readers of this blog know that one of my prevailing urges (of which there are many) is to host a festive dinner party.

I love to peruse the weighty Christmas editions of the women’s monthly magazines and fantasize about smoked salmon blinis, a handmade Beef Wellington with seasonal veg, and a cheesecake smothered in a wild berry compote with a sprinkling of the darkest chocolate.

My dining room will be a-glow with candlelight or even fairy lights (primarily just to annoy The Husband) with beams dancing off gleaming champagne flutes and wine goblets.

The wine will be chilled, the canapes prepped and I will have a leisurely hour or so to dress and do my face and hair.

Anyone who has kids, of course, knows that this is about as likely as snow in July.

The reality is that time will drift away so we’re late putting things in the oven.

The crockery won’t match.

There will be, for some paranormal reason, several dessert spoons missing and the kids will have hidden the teaspoons.

I will probably have bought a cheesecake and forgotten to defrost it and the local supermarket will have absolutely no cream.

By the time we have finally got the kids to bed, I’ll have approximately 10 minutes to change into a dress and will be barefoot because I won’t be able to find any tights.

Bed socks are not a good look for a dinner party.

Then there’s the question of the guest list.

It’s usually us four, plus my mum and dad.

The last time we ‘entertained’, the guests got so tipsy on red wine we found a pair of them lying outside on the pavement counting the stars.

If I hadn’t gone to put the rubbish out for the bin men at 11 pm, I suspect they would still have been there in the morning.

No, to play it safe, I think I’d choose from the ranks of the famous, past and present for a memorable dinner party with less chance of any health and safety infringements.

These would be my top 6 guests.

Hercule Poirot 
although he’d probably spend the time in my kitchen rearranging my crockery in order of height

David Suchet as Hercule Poirot

Queen Elizabeth The First
because Caitlin has Elizabeth as a middle name in her honour and good Queen Bess was a great feminist role model.

Stephen Fry
So many fabulous stories to tell and he could take charge of the after-dinner quiz.

Albert Einstein
to explain quantum physics and to find out his views on “The Law of Attraction”.

Dame Helen Mirren
for her great pro-age stance

Dame Helen Mirren

Greta Garbo
to see if she’d turn up or just wanted to be alone

The Husband would just invite the Welsh Rugby Team or Five Finger Death Punch to provide the music.  I say music.  Everyone has their own interpretation.

Still, at least these days the phrase “do you need a hand with the dishes” is practically redundant now many of us have dishwashers.

Who would you invite to your Christmas dinner party?