Edible Christmas Gifts - Part 2

Don't panic! So you haven't gotten around to making Christmas treats yet. Your mind has been consumed with Christmas dinner and have you really got a present for everyone? Never fear, here are some last minute ideas. Be they for Christmas day or to take with you when you visit family and friends this Christmas season. Boy, do I have a great line-up of ideas for you.

We start of with Coconut Ice courtesy of Johanna. Doesn't it look gorgeous? And so pretty too! I can just imagine them stacked in a clear cookie bag tied up with ribbon.

Next up we have some pretty amazing truffles from Nic over at Cherrapeno. The truffles in question are Chocolate Christmas Pudding Truffles. So keep these in mind if you have any leftover Christmas pudding. Heck, wait until Boxing Day, buy one cheap and be sure to make these little pieces of heaven.

Taking of truffles, guess what I spent this evening making? Yes a batch of coconut coated truffles. Graham has a buffet at work tomorrow, so he kindly suggested that he would take pizza and some sort of baked goods courtesy of me. There was some disappointment that I wasn't making the Toffee Pecan Brownies I made for him to take in last week, but since I had made 2 batches within the space of a week, I decided to go for something different. I don't think they will mind once they taste yummy little choccy treats. I have to thank my friend Audrey for the recipe. They are very famous in our staff room.

Leftover cranberries after making your cranberry sauce? I have just the recipe for you. Chocolate Coated Brownies with Cranberries. Lisa made her batch with dried cranberries, but just think how good they would be with little bursts of juicy fruit.

Christmas dinner is organised, but what about an easy treat first thing on Christmas morning? Beth has made the most gorgeous muffins flavoured with cinnamon, nutmeg, cranberries and orange juice. Just imagine the beautiful smell wafting through the house and they are so easy to make too!

I am sticking with the cranberry theme and introducing you to some cookies I made earlier in the year. Cranberry & Orange Cookies. I got the recipe from a talented young lady called Elyse over at Belle of the Bakery, (formerly Confectionary Creations). They are light, chewy and almost cakey in texture. Really lovely!

I end this line-up with a savoury treat from my friend Dana over at Dana Treat. This is a real last minute recipe. It is easy and quick, but only keeps for 1 month in the fridge, so it is best made fresh. I give you Dana's Spicy Tomato Jam. Great for eating with Christmas leftovers or serving with your cheese board, but an equally elegant gift to take with you when visiting.

I hope you all enjoyed the line-up and that you have a wonderful Christmas.


NCR - Festive Photos Roundup

This is our second venture into festive photos as part of No Croutons Required and the line-up of photos doesn't disappoint.

I am going to let the line-up speak for itself and hope you won't have too much trouble picking your favourite. A happy festive season to you all :)

Cats Around the Christmas Tree
Sarah (Ordinary Vegetarian)
Aurora, IL USA

Rose in the Snow
Soma (eCurry)
Texas, USA

Bunny in the Snow
Pam (Sidewalk Shoes)
Soddy Daisy, US

Glen Doll
My photo taken in the Cairngorms National Park
(not in vote)

Charlotte Square, Edinburgh
Johanna (Green Gourmet Giraffe)
Melbourne, Australia

Fffffffffreezing! (Frozen Web)
Nic (Nip it in the Bud)
Gloucester, England

Wee Bird
Wendy (A Wee Bit of Cooking)
Inverness, Scotland

Snowman and Muffin
Mangocheeks (Allotment to Kitchen)
West of Scotland

Nana's Handmade Reindeer with Holiday Cookies
Jenn (The Leftover Queen)

Felix the Cat
Ben (What's Cooking)
Columbus, Ohio, US

Melting Frost
C (Cake, Crumbs and Cooking)
Northwest England

Homemade Coffee Liqueur
Ria (Ria's Collection)
Kerala, India

Susan (The Well-Seasoned Cook)
New York, US

NCR - Festive Photos

This is my entry for this month's No Croutons Required.

If you would like to join in the challenge then just get your camera out. Just submit a festive photo, it doesn't have to involve food, just try to capture the mood of this festive season. My photo is a shot of the Scottish countryside on a frosty winter's day. The ground is crisp and crunchy and the air so very fresh and nippy, lovely.

Email your photo along with a title to me at nocroutonsrequired@googlemail.com by the 20th December 2009, with a link to your post that features the photo and your name and location. As usual, the roundup with run from the 21st December 2009 and the winner will be announced on the 31st.

Edible Christmas Gifts - Part 1

It's time to think about those edible gifts that we love to give and receive at Christmas. Some of us will have started with Christmas cakes and chutneys that need a few months for the flavours to develop fully, however there are still plenty of goodies that we have all the time in the world to make. Well two weeks anyway.

I hope you enjoy this roundup.

I am starting with a chocolate treat that went down a treat with all those that tried them and everyone who saw them. Chocolate Tiffin. A great no-bake recipe.

Next we move on to a traditional Scottish sweetie and a true delight at that. Tablet, made by Wendy over at A Wee Bit of Cooking. It is a bit like fudge, but it melts in the mouth. I urge you all to try it!

Look at the lovely colour of these Beetroot & Chocolate Muffins. Gorgeous huh? I can tell you right away how moist and luscious these must be after falling in love with the Chocolate & Beetroot Brownie Cake I have adopted as my own.

I was really impressed with these Pear & Ginger Muffins when I tried them. They would be great as a gift, but would also make a lovely start to Christmas morning. Nice and simple, with the wonderful flavour of pear & ginger and the smell, oh my the smell. Just gorgeous! Thanks Nigella :)

Made and decorated with love! Triple Chocolate Christmas Pudding Cookies, made by chef and artist (it has to be said, after seeing these) Nic over at Cherrapeno who shares with us a rather simple recipe and techniques for perfecting these amazing cookies.

Creamy and tart with a hint of spice. I fell in love with this Lemon Curd with Nutmeg when I tasted it, no scrub that, I fell in love with the smell and the beautiful colour first. Can you imagine how well received a little jar of this would be?

Sarah over at The Ordinary Vegetarian came up with these little treats masquerading as snow balls. No-Bake Oatmeal Cookie Balls. I am sure you will head straight over there when I tell you they have peanut butter in them, Yum!

We are finishing on a savoury note with Marinated Feta Cheese courtesy of Soma over at eCurry. I don't know about you, but that has me drooling. I'd love to be given a jar of this at Christmas.

I hope you enjoyed and took inspiration from this first roundup of edible Christmas gifts. If you have been particularly impressed by any edible gifts you have seen on other blogs, please let me know so I can include them in further roundups.

Rich Mushroom Soup

My mum was extolling the virtues of mushrooms soup and how much she loves it, so good daughter that I am, I make some mushroom soup for her next visit. Sods law steps in and mum breaks her glasses, so her trip is cancelled and instead she makes a pricey visit the opticians. Not knowing when we would see her next, Graham and I did the noble thing and tucked into the soup ourselves. I wouldn't say it is my favourite soup, but heck it was rather good.

Rich Mushroom Soup

1 tbsp olive oil,
a small knob of butter
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
5 large portabello mushrooms, sliced
15 medium closed cup mushrooms
1 heaped tsp dried thyme
1 heaped tsp dried parsley
2 tbsp plain flour
½ glass white wine
2 pints vegetable stock
a splosh of single cream
salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a large pan, saute the garlic and portabello mushrooms in the olive oil and butter. Saute for a few minutes before adding the closed cup mushrooms. I like to season the mushrooms at this point with black pepper as they really soak up the flavour.

Once the mushrooms are lovely and juicy and brown, reserve a few to serve as a garnish on top of the soup.

Next add the herbs. If you have fresh herbs, then so much the better, but this was a bit of a store cupboard soup for me.

Pour in the wine and allow the mushrooms to start absorbing the liquid. Stir in the flour which will absorb the juices from the mushrooms and help to thicken the soup.

Next, add the stock and leave the soup to simmer gently for 20 minutes.

Whizz the soup until smooth and season to taste before adding a splosh of cream. This is optional and it is up to you how much you would like to add.

Serve topped with some of the reserved mushrooms

Serves 4-6

Mum's Trifle

It's a simple dessert, but one filled with comfort and joy. My mum adds a good glug of sherry to her cake base, but I have left that out. Although I love it, Graham is not so keen, but the choice is yours. The jelly really moistens up the cake, so you don't need to add any extra liquid, although saying that, a good boozy trifle can go down a treat.

I'm not going to lay this out as a traditional recipe, this is more of a case of layering and you can't go wrong. If you want more custard and less cream, just adjust it to suit yourself. It's all about plunging your spoon through the layers and the taste sensation as your taste buds tingle.

Mum's Trifle

1. Start off with a nice large bowl, a clear one is good so you can see all the lovely layers.

2. Your first layer is sponge. You have a choice here. I used a few slices of my Jaffa Drizzle Sponge Cake, without the chocolate drizzle. I sometime use a Madeira cake. Homemade cake is a good choice, but bought cake works just as well.

3. Fruit next. I used blackberries and clementines in my trifle. Unfortunately the clementines I had were a bit bitter, so I used tinned clementines in fruit juice, instead of fresh. Fresh berries such as strawberries and raspberries are lovely in a trifle, again you choose.

4. Now we add the jelly. Jelly can be a problem for vegetarians, but there are alternatives out there. I used a sachet of Hartley's Quickset Raspberry Jelly, which uses pectin instead of gelatin. It's easy to use, just follow the packet instructions. Don't be alarmed when it doesn't set as firm as regular jelly, this is normal. Leave the jelly to cool slightly before pouring over the sponge and fruit. Leave to cool and set in the fridge.

5. Now for the custard. If you can find a good fresh custard to buy, then why not save some time, but if you have some time to potter about in the kitchen and want a more deluxe trifle, then make your own. You can find my recipe for fresh custard here. It is the custard recipe I use when I make ice cream and it is filled with lovely specks of black from fresh vanilla. I would leave out the cinnamon for this dish however.

6. Our last layer is cream. I whipped double cream with a little sugar until it was lovely and thick and then spread it across the top of the custard.

7. Decoration. I sprinkled my trifle with chocolate flakes, but many of you will remember childhood trifle sprinkled with hundreds and thousands, those colourful little sugar sprinkles. It depends how nostalgic you are feeling. A dusting of cocoa powder is rather nice too.

Dig in! How can you resist?

No Croutons Required - Festive Photos

December is upon us again. I just don't know where the year goes, do you?

I am looking back to last December and the fun we had changing things up a bit for the Festive No Croutons Required Round. In case you don't remember, we had a break from soups and salads and offered up some festive photos instead. Just a bit of fun really and a nod to the fact that everyone is so busy this month and keeping up to date with challenges along with everything else that's going on can be difficult. So, this month I would like you to submit a festive photo for the challenge. It doesn't have to involve food, just try to capture the mood of this festive season.

Email your photo along with a title to me at nocroutonsrequired@googlemail.com by the 20th December 2009, with a link to your post that features the photo and your name and location. As usual, the roundup with run from the 21st December 2009 and the winner will be announced on the 31st.

Good luck everyone! I can't wait to see your photos.

I will leave you now with last December's winning photo, courtesy of Wendy over at A Wee Bit of Cooking.


Greedy Pudding Pear Cake

(just look at that juicy slice of pear, what you can't see is the crunch of caramel you hit, before you bite into that luscious pear)

I was watching an episode of River Cottage on replay. I like to watch it this way, so if anything gruesome comes on, I can just fast forward. I do love Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's passion for food and love watching him cook, but some of it is just stomach churning.

Not so this dish. A delicious pear cake, ever so moist with slices of juicy, caramelised pears sunk into it's depths. I slammed on my pause button and grabbed a notebook (there is always one to hand anywhere in the house) and started to scribble down the recipe as he cooked. My mouth was watering as I continued to watch and scribble. Needless to say, I made the cake as soon as I could lay my hands on some ground almonds.

Gorgeous, just gorgeous! I just wish my evening photography was as good as the cake was!

Greedy Pudding Pear Cake


300g butter
250g caster sugar
4 large eggs
150g self-raising flour
150g ground almonds
a pinch of cinnamon


3 tender to firm pears
25g butter
1 tbsp caster sugar

Heat the oven to 180 c/ fan 160 c/ gas 4 (Hugh didn't specify the oven temperature, so I just went with the temperature I used for my Apple Cake). Line a 20cm cake tin. I like to use the inserts available from Lakeland, it saves time and effort. Don't you just hate lining cake tins?

Peel the pears and cut into 3 long slices. Melt the butter until bubbling and then add the sugar. move the pan about until the sugar has begun to melt and the cook the pears in this syrup for a few minutes until they are beginning to colour. Once they are tender, take of the heat and set aside.

Whisk the 300g of softened butter until pale and fluffy (one of Hugh's tips), then add the caster sugar. Still whisking, crack open 4 eggs and add one at a time. Sieve in the flour and ground almonds and fold together. Sprinkle over the cinnamon and stir into the mixture.

Smooth the cake mixture into your prepared cake tin, top with the pears, making a flower pattern. Spoon any left over caramel from the pan over the pears and the bake in the middle of a pre-heated oven for 45 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean.

Hugh's cake came out a lot browner than mine, but I think that might have been to do with the oven temperature. When I make this again, I will be doing it just the same way. The cake was lovely and golden and baked to perfection. I may add a little more cinnamon next time, as it wasn't very noticeable in the first cake. My friend Andrew, hinted that he would like some ginger in it next time and I think that would work well too.


Cook Express

I was lucky enough to receive a copy of this latest offering from Dorling Kindersley - Cook Express. I was planning on setting this book up as a prize, however, it is just too water damaged to give out. Thanks DHL!

All is not lost though, a large selection of recipes from this beautifully put together book are available as a widget for your desktop and it is also available to buy directly from Dorling Kindersley or from Amazon UK with a massive 40% discount.

The book is divided into two sections - Everyday and Food For Friends.


No Cook
(Mixed Mushroom Spinach & Orange Salad )
(Flageolet Bean & Smoked Cheese Salad)
Speedy Suppers
Everyday Chicken
10 Ways With ..... (cheese, salmon, mince, sausages, eggs, bacon and ham & turkey)
Faster Pasta

Pizza, Quesadillas and Pancakes
(Perfect Pizza Dough)
Easy Tarts & Pies
Get The Most From Your Roast
Batch & Freeze
Store cupboard

Food For Friends

Menu Planners
No-Fuss Finger Food & Dips
Simple Starters
Big-Pot Gatherings
All-in-One Roasts

No-Cook Desserts
(Meringue & Mango Mess)
(Orange & Chocolate Tiramisu)
(Tropical Trifle)
(Blackcurrant Jelly with Vanilla Cream)
Freeze Ahead Desserts
Indulgent Puddings
Cakes & Bakes

The book has a massive 700 recipes, each and every one of them illustrated with a mouthwatering photo. I don't know about you, but I hate cookbooks that don't give you photos alongside recipes.

Each section of the book includes tips and techniques to compliment the recipes and there is a really nifty recipe chooser at the front of the book, which shows photos of each dish in the book, with title, cooking time and page number listed underneath. A much smarter way of offering an index, more tastespotting than the average index and saves a lot of time when browsing for a recipe.

There are a good selection of vegetarian recipes in this book and all recipes can be made in under 15 or 30 minutes, so great for rustling up dishes after work or when you are short of time.

Some of my favourite recipes in the book are Artichoke & Fennel Dip, Swiss Chard & Gruyere Cheese Tart, Pearl Barley & Borlotti Bean One-Pot, Mushroom & Ricotta Pies with Red Pepper Pesto, Pear & Cinnamon Strudel, Blueberry Ripple Cheesecake and Apricot Crumble Shortcake.

I am sure I will be sharing a recipe or two from the book with you soon. It is a real treasure trove.

Disclosure Statement: I received this book free from the publisher to review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Jaffa Drizzle Sponge Cake

When I saw this cake on Anne's blog I was bowled over. I was due to start work at 1pm that day, but I had to make this cake right away. I had an hour and a half before I set off for work and I figured I could just about manage it, so I rushed downstairs to confirm I had all the ingredients. As luck would have it I had everything I needed and so I set to work making the most glorious sponge cake, flavoured with orange and drizzled with chocolate.

Anne's original recipe is here. I'm reproducing it here because I tinkered with it a little as Anne said it would be nice with a little more orange.

Jaffa Drizzle Sponge Cake


140g butter , softened
200g self-raising flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
200g golden caster sugar
3 large eggs
6 tbsp milk
finely grated zest 1 large orange
3 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice from said orange

To Finish

the rest of the freshly squeezed orange juice from aforementioned orange
50g golden caster sugar
50g dark chocolate

Heat oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4. Butter and line the base of a 1.2-litre loaf tin. Put all the cake ingredients into a bowl and beat with a hand whisk or wooden spoon for 3-5 mins, until light and fluffy. Spoon the mix into the tin and level the top.

Bake for 40-50 mins, until golden brown and firm to the touch. Meanwhile, heat the orange juice and sugar gently in a small pan, stirring until dissolved. When the cake is cooked, remove it from the oven and spoon over the orange mix. Leave to cool in the tin, then remove and cool completely on a wire rack.

Break up the chocolate and melt over a pan of simmering water Drizzle over the cake and leave to set.

What can I say about this cake? Well it is marvellous. The smell of orange wafting around the house while it baked was wonderful and it didn't disappoint on tasting either. The sponge was lovely and light and you could really taste the orange, although it wasn't overpowering and all topped off with dark chocolate. It was like a giant jaffa cake. What more could you ask for?

Just in case any of you aren't familiar with jaffa cakes, they are made by McVities and are a british biscuit/cake with a sponge like base, a layer of orange jelly all topped off with a coating of dark chocolate and they are very, very addictive!

My skills at drizzling leave a great deal to be desired. If any of you have any tips on how to drizzle more evenly and delicately I would be very grateful. Oh and you may have noticed I drizzled a little white chocolate on my cake with no more finesse than the dark chocolate.

Well, the cake received rave reviews and I have made it again since. I thought I was being clever the second time I made it and I creamed the butter, eggs and sugar together before adding the other ingredients, but to be honest I think it was a little lighter using the throw-everything-in-at-once technique.

My parents have since put in a request for another one and soon! There only complaint with the last one was that I only gave them half and it didn't last long enough.

Two Winners for the Price of One

Yes, in an unprecedented move, we will be awarding two bloggers the coveted No Croutons Required winner's badge and our congratulations this month.

They were neck and neck throughout voting with their tasty, frugal soups and I can see why they were so popular. One of them didn't even have a photo, but the sound of the soup still tickled the tastebuds.

So a big congratulations to Saranya over at Saranya's Kitchen for her Hawaiian-Style Mixed Veggie Soup and to Nic over at Nip it in the Bud for her equally delicious Green Tomato Soup.

Well done you guys and here is another look at Nic's yummy soup.

Head over to Lisa's Kitchen at the beginning of November for the next No Croutons Required challenge and thanks again to everyone who took part this month or dropped by to leave a comment or to vote. As always it is much appreciated by Lisa and myself.

Quick & Easy Banoffee Pie

I haven't made banoffee pie for years. It is a great dessert, but making the toffee sauce for it was always a chore. The best way to make the toffee was to take a can of condensed milk and boil the unopened can in water for a few hours. The result was the most luxurious, thick toffee sauce imaginable, but as I said, a chore. So when I stumbled on a new variety of condensed milk, made by Nestle, the first thing I thought was, "I must make some banoffee pie!". The new condensed milk flavour is Dulce de Leche caramel, so there is no fiddling about boiling a can for hours. With a flick of the can opener or the squeeze of a bottle it oozes over you choosen dessert. Yum!

Quick & Easy Banoffee Pie

10 digestive biscuits or graham crackers (not sure if these are approximately the same size or not, so you may have to adjust the quantity if you are using graham crackers)
75g butter, melted
200g carnation caramel
75ml double cream
1 tbsp sugar
1 banana, sliced

Crush the biscuits finely and then pour in the melted butter and stir until well combined. Press the biscuit mixture into 2 small loose-based flan dishes. My flan dishes are 12cm diameter. Leave to cool in the fridge for 20 minutes.

Pour the caramel in each biscuit base and smooth over before adding some sliced banana.

Whip the cream until thick, adding the sugar as you whisk. Spoon the cream over the pies and top with more banana.

Leave to cool in the fridge for another 20 minutes before removing from the flan cases. The biscuit base should have set enough to remove easily.

I would say serves 2, but realistically you could half these quite easily and there would still be enough for one. So lets say .....

serves 2 -4

Here is another slice for you to enjoy.

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