Christmas Gift Guide - 30 days and counting

My head is filled with Christmas at the moment and I am always looking for new ideas. I have the bulk of my presents bought, but still have a few to figure out. I thought it might be nice to share some gift ideas with you. They are only a few foodie gifts thrown in, because lets face it, not all of our friends are foodies, as much as we would like them to be. Oh and I have highlighted gifts from the UK and the US, although most will ship and there is still time.

1. Olive Wood Mortar & Pestle
Muji £14.95

I visited Muji when I was in Birmingham last weekend and if I wasn't traveling with hand luggage only, I could have gone crazy.

I have one of these pestle and mortar sets and I love it. It is a joy to use and such a beautiful thing to have out on display in your kitchen.

My mortar in pestle is bigger than this one, but this would actually be big enough. I bought mine from Provender Brown a wonderful deli in Perth, Scotland.

2. Next up are three choices from Prezzybox. I first came across them when they sent me an egg cup set for Cooper. You can see it over at Little Tums. I could just spend and spend and spend on this website. So much to choose from. Here are three gifts I particularly like.

Homemade Cookie Stamper £4.95

The staff over at Prezzybox tried out the stamper and they have included their recipe for chocolate cookies and photos of their attempt. It looks like great fun. This would be a great stocking filler.

Super Egg Cup £4.95

"Kick your day off to a super start with the Super Egg Cup. But wait! Don’t crack it open just yet because hidden in the box are the last pieces of your egg’s hidden identity. The Egg Cup itself already features a heroic, billowing cape, snazzy red boots and a symbol on its chest, but the egg is not super until the finishing touches are there. Find the mask, headband and weapons in the box to complete your breakfast time hero."

Russian Doll Measuring Cups £9.95

I was quite tempted by these myself, but I already have two sets of measuring cups, so this would just be overkill. The dolls measure out 1/4, 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, 3/4 and 1 full cup, and they’re built from heavy-duty, food-safe, long-life plastics and of course they stack inside each other, so they don't take up too much room.

3. I always turn to Folksy when I want something a bit individual. Folksy is the British equivalent of Etsy. Here are three brooches that took my fancy.

Bird Brooch by Andrea Berry in her Polka shop.


This brooch measures 10cm across.

Foxy Brooch by Kirsty Elson Designs.


This brooch measures approx. 7cm x 5cm.

Ceramic Brooch by Beverley Gee.


These brooches measure: length 60mm, width 25mm, depth 5mm

4. Now on to Etsy itself. Here are some ideas:

Bird Lariat Necklace by LadyKJewelry.

On sale at $22.86 USD. Usual price $24.85 USD

Copper Wallet Inset Card by SnappinStudio.

$40.00 USD

I thought this was a lovely keepsake. This company stamp personal messages on metals. There are bookmarks, wallet inserts, jewellery, pet tags and various other items. Prices start at $0.20 USD for a stamped keyring fob. I have bookmarked this page!

Handprinted Leather Journal/Sketchbook

Dimensions: (journal inside is 4 ix 6)
7 inches tall
5 inches wide

Journal/notebook inside is removable, and can be replaced with refill books. Different leathers and designs can be chosen.

$25.00 USD smaller journals are priced at $14.00 USD.

5. We are visiting Find me a Gift now. An online gift shop. Another one with endless gift ideas. Those nice folks at Find me a Gift have kindly offered me a voucher code for my readers. Over November and December you can expect a 15% discount at the checkout if you use the code CHRISTMASGIFTS15. I will also be working with them on a giveaway over at Little Tums, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

Animal Skittles Set with Carry Case

On sale at £19.99.

The Animal Skittles Set includes six soft animal skittles to bowl down with the rattling bowling ball. Each animal skittle is 20cm by 8cm complete with a handy carrying case. The animal skittles are CE marked and designed to exceed the most demanding of safety standards. Suitable for ages 18 months+.

Lunch Box & Spork by Black & Blum


I have one of the Black & Blum lunch boxes. A square one with a dressing compartment and dip area and I use it a lot. They are really attractive lunch boxes and the seal on them is good, so no leaked dressings dribbling into your bag.

After a query, I decided to add a little more info about this one.

The lunchbox comes with two stacked watertight containers- the smaller one fits inside the larger one when empty
Both food storage containers have a watertight locking system
The lunch box comes with a nifty spork and carry strap
The Black and Blum lunch box and spork is microwave and dishwasher safe
Spork and lunchbox are made from polypropylene and copolyester (BPA free)
The Black & Blum pot measures 19 x 11.5cm
Smaller lunch container holds 300 ml/10 floz
Big lunch container holds 550ml/18.5 floz

Food Face Plate


My cousin Claire who blogs over at A Kiss of Cookies, bought me a set of these for Cooper. What can I say. Fun with food for little ones. Mind you, I am not giving Cooper his dinner on one of these until he has gotten over his habit of tipping his dish of his highchair once he has finished eating.

I hope I gave you some good ideas. Try not to let Christmas stress you out. It really should be fun and a time for families and friends to get together.

Fresh Ginger & Parsnip Soup

This is my entry for this Month's No Croutons Required. NCR is a little bit special this month. I teamed up with Dom over at Belleau Kitchen and so No Croutons Required Does Random Recipes was born.

This month you have to select a random soup recipe, make it and post it for our challenge. Randomly select a soup from one of your cookbooks, but remember it has to be suitable for vegetarians. You have until the 29th of November to submit an entry. You can find all the details here.

For my random recipe I decided to use the 30-Minute Vegetarian by Johanna Farrow. A much under-used book on my bookshelf. It is a pocket sized (A5)cookbook filled with lots of appetising meals that are great for an after work meal. The polenta chips with saffron mushrooms looks great as do the couscous fritters with beetroot and creme fraiche and the cranberry, oatmeal and cinnamon scones. I really must re-visit this cookbook more often. It has some real gems in it.

My friend Andrew did the hunt for the recipes and Graham picked a number. I had to disregard the first pick as it had butter beans in it and I have a real phobia about butter beans after an incident as a child. But, the second soup was the Fresh Ginger & Parsnip and I was happy to give that one a go. I added ground cumin to the recipe as I felt it needed some spice to counter the sweetness of the parsnips. It isn't going to be one of my favourite soups, but it was pleasant enough and I enjoyed some lovely homemade bread with it.

I didn't manage to get in touch with Joanna to ask her permission, but I am publishing the recipe, with full credit and links in the hope that she won't mind.

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Fresh Ginger & Parsnip Soup
A slightly sweet creamy soup with a kick of spice from the fresh ginger and the extra cumin I added.
  • 25g/1oz butter
  • 50g/2oz fresh root ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch of spring onions
  • 500g/1 lb parsnips, sliced
  • 1 litre/ 1 ¼ pints vegetable stock
  • 1 - 2 tsp ground cumin
  • a good grinding of salt & pepper
  • a dollop of greek yoghurt to serve
  • a sprinkling of cayenne pepper to serve
1. Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the ginger and fry gently for 1 minute. Roughly chop the remainder and add to the pan with the parsnips. Fry gently for 2 minutes.2. Add the stock and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer gently for 15 minutes until the parsnips are tender.3. Transfer the soup to a food processor or blender and process until smooth, or leave the soup in the pan and use a hand-held electric blender.4. Return the soup to the pan, Add the cumin and stir well. Warm the soup through for a minute, then season to taste.I served my soup with a dollop of greek yoghurt and a sprinkling of cayenne pepper, but you could use creme fraiche and scatter some finely sliced spring onion on top.
Total time: Yield: Serves 4


Basic White Loaf

I was surprised and delighted when a copy of Paul Hollywood's 100 Great Breads landed on my doorstep unexpectedly.

Bread in Fife

I'm rather keen on breadmaking since I went on a bread making course with Chele (Chocolate Teapot) back in August.

We had a rare day and we were so inspired by our teacher Colin. Saying that, I don't make a lot of bread, because we don't eat bread every day, but I do like to be able to. Especially if I have an uncomplicated day off.

I had such a day today. Graham was at work and Cooper was with his childminder, so I got stuck into my housework (after a long read of my book) and then made a loaf of bread and a pot of soup before heading out to collect the wee boy.

100 Great Breads

I didn't need to think twice about which cookbook to peruse.

100 Great Breads is a real bread making bible, with such a great variety of breads. From basic breads, through French and Italian breads, on to traditional bread, then herb and seed breads right through to fruit and nut breads and finishing with sweet treats such as Croissant Pudding, Wimbledon Muffins and Normandy Apple Tart.

It's a beautiful book filled with the tales of breads, some great tips and the most mouth-watering photos.

Simple White Loaf

I decided to start at the beginning and make a simple white loaf, something I haven't tried up to now. The perfect partner to our homemade soup.

It cut beautifully. The crust was crisp, slightly chewy and delicious.

It was gone in a flash, so I think that says it all really. It maybe could have done with a few more minutes, but all in all I was very happy with it and Graham and Cooper really enjoyed it.

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Basic White Loaf
An easy, basic white loaf with the tastiest crust. Prepare to make two as one doesn't last long at all.

This loaf comes from 100 Great Breads by Paul Hollywood.
  • 500g/1 lb 2 oz strong white flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 60ml/2 fl oz olive oil
  • 20g/¾ oz fresh yeast or 15g of instant or dried yeast
  • 250ml/9 fl oz water
1. Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl, taking care not to put the yeast on top of the salt (if you are using dried or instant yeast, leave it to froth for about 15 minutes in a little warm water before adding it). 2. Knead well with your hands and knuckles, then leave to rise for an hour, I kneaded my dough until it was silky and very elastic. Paul doesn't cover his dough, but I like to cover mine lightly with some oiled clingfilm and then a tea towel.3. Oil a 450g/1 lb loaf tin. Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and mould into a sausage shape . Put back in the tin and leave to rise for 30 minutes to 1 hour. I covered my dough once more.4. Preheat the oven to 230c/210c fan/450f/gas mark 8. Dust the top of the dough with flour, put the tin in the oven and bake for 35 minutes.5. Take out of the oven and turn the loaf out onto a wire rack to cool.
Total time: Yield: 1 loaf
Notes: There was a printing error in the book which has been flagged up. The quantity of salt should be 7.5 to 10g of salt and not 1 tbsp. However I was happy with the flavour of the bread. I think a white loaf needs a bit of flavour.

Disclosure: I was sent this book to review I was not expected to write a positive review and any opinions expressed are my own.

Eat Your Books Janet

I recently discovered Eat Your Books, an online search engine for your cookbooks. I immediately bought a subscription and started using the site. I find the site really useful when I have something in the fridge I need to use up and I need a spot of inspiration. I type in the ingredient and Eat Your Books searches through all the cookbooks, magazines and blogs I have added to my online bookshelf. It then throws back a list of recipes, each one telling me which cookbook it came from and what the main ingredients are. Such a great time-saving website. I love it.

Since then, Eat Your Books have added Tinned Tomatoes as a blog you can add to your bookshelf (so remember to add me if you join) and as one of their authors, they upgraded my membership to a lifetime one and offered me a lifetime membership to one of my readers. I had a great response, 102 entries. Too many to write out and have Cooper pull a winner, so I turned to a random number generator and let it choose my winner.

And the winner of a lifetime membership for Eat Your Books is:

Congratulations Janet!

Tagliatelle con Spinaci e Funghi

This pasta is a firm favourite in this household. I don't like to have it too often as it is coated in a rich cheese sauce, but when we do have it, we really enjoy it.

Spinach, juicy and peppery mushrooms, unctuously glossy cheese sauce and salty feta cheese, such a winning combination of flavours.

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Tagliatelle con Spinaci e Funghi
Tagliatelle with spinach & mushrooms in a rich, creamy cheese sauce, finished off with some crumbly feta. Luxury on a plate.
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 large field mushrooms or portabello mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 pint / 570ml milk
  • 40g plain flour
  • 40g butter
  • ½ onion
  • 12 black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 50g mature cheddar
  • 30g vegetarian parmesan
  • 100g baby spinach
  • a grinding of salt and pepper to taste
  • enough tagliatelle for four
  • a generous slice of feta, to crumble on the finished dishes
1. Pour the milk in a microwaveable dish and add the half onion, peppercorns and bay leaf. Microwave until warm.2. Melt the butter in a pan and then add the flour. Stir until it is well combined.3. Add the milk a little at a time (use a sieve) and whisk until it is absorbed. Do this until all the milk has been used. Simmer gently for a few minutes.4. Add the cheese and whisk until it has melted. Season the sauce with salt and pepper. Keep it warm until it is required.5. Once you have started the sauce. Cook the pasta according to the instructions. 6. Saute the mushrooms in the olive oil with the garlic until they are soft and juicy. Season with lots of black pepper for a fabulous flavour.7. Rinse the spinach in a colander, then pour over a kettleful of boiling water to wilt the spinach. Pour a little cold water on, so you do not burn your hands, then squeeze out the excess liquid. I like to pat it dry with a teatowel as well before chopping it.8. Once the pasta is ready, drain it, then coat in the cheese sauce and stir through the spinach and mushrooms.9. Serve in bowls topped with crumbly feta cheese and a good grating of black pepper.
Total time: Yield: serves 4


Nanaimo Bars

Nanaimo bars are a new concept to me. I have heard them mentioned on other blogs, but didn't know much about them, then I saw them in my copy of Cox Cookies & Cake.

Custard filling, mmmmmmmmmm! I would take these over a cupcakes any day. Although I would change the recipe somewhat. There really wasn't enough custard filling to fill the bars in quite the way they were shown in the cookbook, so I doubled up the custard filling. Next time, I will also use more custard powder and less icing sugar for a more custardy flavour. The colour was there, but the custard flavour was rather lacking.

In case you haven't come across Cox Cookies & Cake, it is the new venture of shoe designer Patrick Cox and master patissier Eric Lanlard. They have a shop in Soho, London selling their wares and this new book to accompany it. None of your delicate petals and pastel shades in this book. It is a full on neon-nightclub of a book and that includes the cakes.

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Nanaino Bars
These custardy slices, which are reputedly the national sweet of Canada are a delight and very moreish. A coconutty biscuit base, topped with a custard icing, then finished of with a layer of chocolate.

Ingredients for the first layer
  • 65g/2½oz sugar
  • 15g/½oz cocoa powder, sifted
  • 125g/4oz digestive biscuit crumbs
  • 65g/2½oz desiccated coconut
  • 65g/2½oz walnuts, finely chopped
  • 125g/4oz unsalted butter, melted
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
Ingredients for the second layer

  • 50g/2oz butter, softened
  • 25g/1oz custard powder
  • 250g icing sugar
  • a little warm water (optional)
  • Ingredients for the third layer

  • 150g/5oz dark chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 50g/2oz unsalted butter

  • Instructions
    1. Line a shallow 20cm (8 inch) square baking tray with baking paper.2. To make the first layer: in a large bowl, mix all the ingredients together except the butter. Pour the melted butter over and combine well. Using a spoon, press this into the tin and chill in the fridge for 15 minutes to set.3. To make the second layer: cream the butter with the custard powder, ideally with an electric hand whisk, until fluffy. Then add the icing sugar a little at a time. Add a little warm water if it gets too stiff. Smooth the creamy mixture on top of the biscuit base, and again place in the fridge for 15 minutes to set.4. To make the third layer: melt the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water until smooth and glossy, making sure the base of the bowl does not touch the water. Let it cool slightly, then pour over the custard layer and smooth with a palette knife. Chill for a further 15 minutes, or until set.5. Take out of the fridge 30 minutes before serving to allow it to soften slightly, then cut into bars with a large sharp knife.
    Total time: Yield: 10 bars

    I am entering my nanaimo bars for this month's Bookmarked Recipes (there is plenty time to add your own bookmarked recipe, just add your recipe to the linky) and for Karen's new challenge Teatime Treats. The theme is ginger and bonfire treats. These would definitely be great for bonfire night and I added a spot of ginger into the base.

    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.
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