Festive Photos

The No Croutons Required challenge for December was Festive Photos. 
It's become a tradition that each year we ask for festive photos instead of recipes in December.
Just a bit of fun really and an easy to do challenge in these busy days in the run up to Christmas.

So would you like to see the entries? I thought you would!

The first festive photo comes from Nayna over at Simply Food. Nayna, who I had the pleasure to meet at Food Blogger Connect this year, made some gorgeous Autumn Fruits Chutney. Doesn't it look good?

Our next entry comes from Michelle over at Utterly Scrummy Food for Families. Michelle made these rather pretty Festive Fruit Pies. Michelle made her own filling to use up some apples, pears and cranberries for an after school snack. They look so appealing, I just want to dive in!

Michelle also made some Chocolate Fudge which would make a great edible Christmas gift or a snack for a husband with a longing for fudge! I could totally devour the whole lot right now!!!

Fiona from London Unattached was lucky enough to enjoy a Christmas Afternoon Tea at Intercontinental, London Park Lane. She took plenty of photos and is sharing with us the festive top layer of her cake stand which was inspired by the 12 Days of Christmas. You will notice the swans, drums and gold rings topping one of the cakes. What a treat!

Camilla over at Fab Food 4 All made a Festive Chocolate and Pistachio Wreath. Doesn't it look wonderful? It must have tasted wonderful too. Good quality vanilla paste, chocolate, chocolate spread, pistachio paste and pistachios. Oh my!

Choclette from Chocolate Log Blog came up trumps with this glorious Chocolate Log with a Whipped Dark Boozy Chocolate Ganache. Oh yes, count me in! I haven't made one of these since I was a school. I'm just too scared, but Choclette makes it look effortless.She says she has struggled in the past, but this looks pretty perfect to me, so I am going to assume she is just being modest.

Shaheen over at Allotment 2 Kitchen made some of these wonderful Oreo Chocolate Wreath Cakes.
Now isn't that clever and so effective with the oreo in the centre? I love the festive sprinkles on top too. Cooper's eyes would light up with delight if he was offered one of these and I'm sure he'd talk of nothing else for days. It's also vegan, so suitable for Graham too.

Nayna over at Simply Food also made these delightful iced Snowflake Lemon Shortbread. I wish I had her icing skills. You would never think I was an art graduate if you saw my awful icing skills. Truly bad! I also love the thought of lemon flavoured shortbread. You couldn't get a more festive biscuit.

Janice from the Farmersgirl Kitchen is one talented lady, as well as making he most mouth-watering dishes, she is also a crafter and makes her own Christmas Crackers. If you want to make your own, then check out Janice's step-by-step instructions. We used to make our own crackers too. They weren't swish like Janice's crackers, but from a bought pack. My husband proposed to me by hiding my engagement ring in a homemade cracker and pulling it with me. To say I was surprised was an understatement. Best cracker gift I have ever won!

Nayna has been a busy lady, she is also sharing with us these festive Christmas Pudding Cake Pops. I can see from this photo she was very organised. I didn't know the trick of standing the pops in a box or box lid, by poking holes in it and I struggled with my first batch of pops. I didn't know the freezer tip either. Hmmmm, lots to learn! I'm extra impressed with how professional these look Nayna after struggling to make them with no fancy decorations.

My good friend Stuart, also known as Cakeyboi made these wonderful characters, he calls them Marshmallow Snowmen. Aren't they whimsical? I think I'd have trouble biting into one of these chaps, they are so realistic. I can just imagine the joy in a child's face if they were presented with one. I bet a child would be much braver than me.

Louise over at Crumbs + Corkscrews made the most enchanting Christmas Tree Meringues. Such an inspired idea and executed beautifully, right down to the little star on top and the sprinkles. I love a well made meringue and Louise makes them just how I like them, crisp on the outside and soft and unctuous within. Mmmmmm!

Madeleine over at From the Healthy Heart made some luxurious cocktails with the most gloriously Christmas flavours. Pomegranate, orange juice and Cava or soda water. They look wonderful and it was nice of you to give us the option, but we'll go with the Cava please!

Louisa over at Eat Your Veg made some magnificent Chocolate Truffles. The kind made from good quality chocolate and cream, topped with all sorts of fabulous toppings. They look rich, luxurious and very, very chocolatey. Just right for Christmas.

Vanesther over at Bangers and Mash started off her Christmas review post with this beautiful photo of her Christmas tree. I am looking at it longingly and remembering how wonderful our Christmas tree looked before our kitten Nacho started his daily climbs up it. *sigh*

Another fine looking Christmas tree, this time from Emma over at Adventures of a London Kiwi. Emma starts of her post about being an expat in London with this splendid photo and follows it with her impressions of London at Christmas and what she misses about home.

Claire, The Foodie Quine has been making a lot of seasonal dishes including these Reindeer Pancakes. I particularly liked her Christmas Pudding Vodka, now I'd like to try that!

Sarah is well known for her baking blog Maison Cupcake, but she also has a family blog called Dinner with Crayons, where she posts family meals. In this post Sarah speaks about her family's nativity scene, which she bought when her little boy Ted was just a toddler.

Johanna from Green Gourmet Giraffe made this glorious Chocolate Layered Fudge. Isn't it the best? Layers of chocolate, then peppermint fudge make this delightful sweet nibble. Wouldn't you be thrilled to receive a box of this stripey fudge at Christmas? I know I would. Thanks to Johanna for letting me include her fudge in my latest post for Baby Centre - Scottish Macaroon Snowballs and Last Minute Christmas Treats.

Tina over at The Spicy Pear made these rather perfect looking Mince Pie Samosas. What an inspired idea! I made something similar myself for January's edition of People's Friend. I made pear and mincemeat strudel, so I can tell you how tasty these will be. Tina suggests serving them with brandy cream. Yes please!!!

Wow! That's all I can say. Wow!! Just look at it. A thing of beauty. Elizabeth from Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary made this stunning gingerbread house or Shetland Pepperkakehus as she calls it. Unbelievably this is the first time Elizabeth has ever made one. And she think it isn't as good as the barn on Great British Bake Off, but in my opinion their was never anything of this quality made on the bake off. Just beautiful Elizabeth!!

What a way to finish.

I will announce the winner later in the month. Do take the time to enter my 12 Days of Christmas  (21) Giveaways or at least enter your favourites. You will find the competition links on the sidebar.

Merry Christmas everyone xxxx

ps remember to head over to Lisa's Kitchen at the beginning of January for the next round of No Croutons Required.

Spaghetti with Mushrooms & Artichokes


Tesco asked me to create a recipe using their Parioli range of Italian products. Not heard of it yet?

"Parioli is a range of essential Italian groceries, produced entirely in Italy, for anyone aspiring to cook the Roman way. Olives and antipasti are joined by two extra virgin olive oils from southern Italy – one subtle, one fruity – authentic Modena balsamic vinegar, luscious red tinned tomatoes and four carefully selected regional pasta sauces including red and green pesto. The Parioli range, which is sold exclusively in Tesco, also includes dried pasta made from high-quality durum wheat semolina."     
For my recipe I used their spaghetti, extra virgin olive oil and artichoke hearts. 

I sauted the mushrooms in the olive oil with garlic, then added the artichoke hearts and fresh herbs. I tossed it all through freshly cooked pasta and finished it off with some black pepper and veggie style parmesan. 

It was very, very good! 

In fact my mouth is watering just thinking about it. 

I'll be making this one again. It's a fabulous weeknight pasta dish that is quick and easy to make. I do hope you try it.

print recipe

Spaghetti with Mushrooms and Artichokes
A wonderful week night spaghetti dish that is quick and easy to make but packs a flavour punch.
  • 1 tbsp Parioli extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for dressing
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 250g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 jar of Parioli grilled artichokes, drained (reserve some of the oil for dressing)
  • a generous handful of fresh basil
  • a generous handful of fresh parsley
  • a good grinding of black pepper
  • 300-400g spaghetti
  • freshly grated parmesan to serve
1. Saute the mushrooms in the olive oil with the garlic.2. Add the artichokes and warm through, then add the herbs and season with black pepper. Add a splosh of the artichoke oil and a little more olive oil if you like to coat the pasta..3. Cook the spaghetti according to the packet or until al dente, then toss the vegetables through the pasta and serve.4. Top with parmesan.5. Enjoy!
Total time:

Yield: Serves 4

Like the Parioli Facebook page to get the latest news from Parioli,8999 along with authentic Italian cookery tips, recipes and the giveaways to win Parioli goodies.

Disclosure: I was paid to create a recipe for Parioli. I was not expected to write a positive review and any opinions expressed are my own.

Fuss Free Christmas

I have a toddler.

He's adorable.

He's nearly 4 and starting to make his mind up about everything and deciding what he likes and doesn't like.  He has an opinion about everything and loves to share his opinions.

On the last few Christmas days I've missed all the fun.

I've, yes you guessed it been stuck in the kitchen. Now I love to cook and I like to share food with my family, but I missed out on so much of the fun and the joy of his excitement on Christmas Day. I have family over from morning until night, so there is breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks to provide.

This year I am doing it differently. He won't be little much longer, so I'm going to join in the fun this year. I'll make soup the night before for lunch and I'll do my own gravy and roast potatoes, but for everything else I will be relying on Mr Marks and Mr Spencer.

I've been trying out a few of their dishes ahead of time to get an idea of what I might serve. For Christmas dinner, I tried:


Indian-Style Snacks with a dip and some salad

Main Course:
Caramelised Onion & Goats Cheese Tarts
Parmentier Potatoes  
Red Cabbage
Peas and Carrot Batons

Sicillian Lemon & Ricotta Cheesecake 

The Indian snacks were lovely, crisp and spicy. The tarts are a new favourite. I have to give them 5 stars, they were delicious and will definitely be making an appearance on Christmas Day. The sides were good too and then lemon cheesecake finished off the meal beautifully. I'll be buying the cheesecake again too.

For Boxing Day I tried:

  • Vegetable Quiche
  • Potatoes in Herb Butter
  • Mexican Coleslaw
  • Festive Fruity Couscous with Pecans
  • Orzo Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes

I would serve this as a buffet on Boxing Day with a dressed salad,  bowls of pickles and maybe some crusty bread and let everyone help themselves.

M&S quiches are always good, the festive couscous had a lovely dressing and a nice crunch from the pecans and I really liked the Mexican coleslaw, which had a pleasant kick to it.

The cake, as they say on The Great British Bake Off is a showstopper and would be great on Christmas Day or Boxing Day. It will definitely wow your guests.

An all-butter fruit cake, packed with jumbo vine fruits and nuts, and fed twice with Cognac and covered in marzipan and soft icing, then hand-finished with soft and royal icing decorations to look like a fairy forest.

Moist, delicious and just wonderful! It tastes like Christmas.

Simple, but delicious food, that requires little work after a hectic Christmas Day. Perfect!

Hurry though, there are only 5 days left to order Christmas Food from M&S.

Have a very happy and stress-free Christmas!

Disclosure: M&S provided some samples of their vegetarian food for me to try. I was not required to write a positive review and any opinions expressed were my own.

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