The Crazy Kitchen: December 2015

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Monday, 21 December 2015

Pop & Chips #LightNightIn with Popchips

At the weekend it was the husband's birthday. We enjoyed an evening with family & friends, playing games and having lots of laughs, and then the following day we had a late afternoon/early evening family music, pizza and games session.

Pop & Chips #LightNightIn with Popchips

Inspired by the two limited edition Popchips flavours of sea salt, garlic & rosemary and sea salt, caramelised onion & thyme, we enjoyed pizza and garlic bread with garlic & herb dip, along with oven baked rosemary, sea salt & garlic chips with a caramelised onion dip (made from home made caramelised onion jam and mayo), whilst listening to festive tunes.

Pop & Chips #LightNightIn with Popchips

We then had a game of SHOUT!, our new game that's proved to be a hit with the teenagers, whilst Jack built LEGO around us, and the husband dragged out his old vinyl pop records to reminisce about those carefree days before kids! Yes we are THAT old to have the very first NOW album!

Pop & Chips #LightNightIn with Popchips Pop & Chips #LightNightIn with Popchips

We ended the evening in front of the TV watching The Apprentice, playing Scrabble & eating Popcorn and Popchips - so rock n roll!

 photo lightnightinselfies_zpspusxjkl6.jpg
Pop & Chips #LightNightIn with Popchips Pop & Chips #LightNightIn with Popchips

How would you spend your perfect #LightNightIn?



Popchips are available in a single serve bag for rrp 69p or £1.89 for a sharing bag. Click here for stockists.





post commissioned by Popchips

Friday, 18 December 2015

Simplify Christmas Dinner with Mash Direct

For the past few years I've cooked Christmas dinner at home. In fact I can't remember the last time we went elsewhere for dinner on Christmas day. Despite not enjoying making roast dinners throughout the year I do really enjoy cooking Christmas dinner - maybe it's something to do with the quantity of fizz I drink beforehand that makes it easier!

To ease the stress on the day I like to prepare as much as possible in advance, and have previously shared a few of my tips here and here.

Mash Direct have the ultimate solution for those of us that want to make it even easier at Christmas (or any other time of the year), with their prepared fresh mash and vegetables.

A photo posted by Helen (@thecrazykitchen) on

Just pop the containers in the oven or microwave (depending on the cooking instructions) and you'll soon have Christmas dinner without any hassle.

 photo veggies in oven_zpsxizc37m4.jpg

I cooked up an early Christmas dinner, and we sampled the following from Mash Direct, which I cooked in the oven in 45 minutes (cooking times range from 10 mins to 45 mins) :

Duck Fat Roast Potatoes (400g)
Mashed Potato (400g)
Honey Glazed Parsnips (300g)
Roast Root Vegetables (350g)
Brussel Sprouts with Bacon & Butter Glaze (350g)
Carrot & Parnsip Mash (400g)

All of these serve 2-3 people, but as we had all of the above in one meal there was plenty for the 5 of us.

As well as being amazingly easy and really tasty, they're free from artificial colourings, preservatives and are gluten free, and all the vegetables are grown, steam cooked and packed on the Mash Direct family farm.

 photo mash direct 1_zpsakcwc2mq.jpg  photo mash direct 2_zpsbqln7ijm.jpg

You would probably want to serve the vegetables in serving dishes, but if you choose to place the containers directly on the table, you get an added bonus of barely any washing up!

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I was provided with a selection of dishes from Mash Direct for the purpose of this review

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Home Made Mincemeat and Mincemeat & Apple Parcels

For the last few years I've been making my own mincemeat at Christmas, and I don't know why I didn't start making it sooner, as it's one of the simplest things. All it takes is a little soaking and mixing and then into sterilised jars, ready to use over the holiday period.

My first mincemeat was chocolate flavoured, which added to the richness of it, and it was great in recipes such as mincemeat palmiers, mincemeat pancakes, mincemeat ice cream and mincemeat slices

You don't need to be a culinary genius to make mince pies, especially if you use ready rolled puff pastry to make these mincemeat and apple parcels. If you want to have a go at making your own mincemeat, my recipe can be found at the end of the post.

 photo mince pies 3_zpszcqbbtny.jpg


Mincemeat & Apple Parcels - makes approx 20 small parcels

320g pack of ready rolled puff pastry
200g mincemeat
1 small Bramley apple, peeled, cored & finely chopped
1 egg, beaten
caster sugar
  • open out the pastry and cut into approx 20 equal squares 
  • mix together the mincemeat and Bramley apple
  • spoon a small amount (approx 1 tsp) of mincemeat/apple into the centre of each square
  • brush around the edge of the pastry with beaten egg
  • fold one corner of the pastry diagonally across to the other corner and seal around the edges with a fork
  • lay onto a baking sheet and brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with a little caster sugar
  • (at this point you can freeze a few to bake at a later stage)
  • bake in a preheated 200C oven for approx 15 minutes, until golden brown and puffed up

 photo mince pie 1_zpsxiabeo6v.jpg  photo mince pie 2_zpsx3hiixpb.jpg


Home Made Mincemeat - makes approx 6 large jars (recipe can be scaled down as required)

1500g dried mixed fruit (raisins, sultanas, cherries, mixed peel, currants)
450g soft brown sugar
200ml dark rum
200g vegetable suet
1 Bramley apples, peeled, cored & grated
juice & zest of 1 lemon
juice & zest of 1 orange
1 tbsp mixed spice
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tbsp ground ginger
  • mix the dried fruit, sugar & rum together in a bowl
  • cover and leave overnight to soak
  • stir in the remaining ingredients until well combined
  • spoon into sterilised airtight jars and store in a cupboard until needed
 photo mincemeat3_zpsjoamgbfx.jpg  photo mincemeat2_zpsgqnf03uq.jpg  photo mincemeat1_zpskywunmcq.jpg  photo mincemeat4_zps66l7kazl.jpg

Sunday, 13 December 2015

A Fuss Free Festive Buffet

With a busy few weeks coming up, it's easy to become stressed at the thought of family and friends calling round and knowing what to feed them, without spending hours in the kitchen rather than enjoying time together.

Even though I like preparing dishes from scratch, there are times when I would much rather be sitting with my feet up with a glass of fizz in my hand, knowing that I can produce a buffet with the help of supermarket food, and little effort from myself. With the help of my family taste testers we've given these foods a rating based on price, taste and look.

Independently owned retailer Budgens provided the majority of the food for our festive family buffet when my brother and sister in law recently visited us for a pre Christmas present swap, with a few luxury items from Asda and an amazing handmade Sicilian pistachio Panettone

 photo buffet 1_zpsq2akahmc.jpg OUR FESTIVE FUSS FREE FAMILY BUFFET. BUDGENS MINCE PIES(6) 2 for £3. 7/10

We started off with a selection of canapés from Budgens, which went straight from the fridge to the oven to the table in around 15 minutes. Everything went on one tray in the oven, and then onto a serving platter - couldn't be easier!

 photo canapes1_zpst2btsrw3.jpg
SELECTION OF CANAPES FROM BUDGENS CHILLED RANGE (ANY 2 FOR £7)
 photo oriental and duck_zpscdhezle9.jpg
ORIENTAL SELECTION WITH SWEET CHILLI DIP & MINI DUCK SPRING ROLLS. RATING 8/10
 photo indian selection_zpsyuv2r9xr.jpg
INDIAN SELECTION. RATING 8/10
 photo prawns_zpsyjajih4a.jpg
PRAWN SELECTION WITH SWEET CHILLI DIP. RATING 9/10
 photo brie bites_zpsqrlhakxa.jpg
BRIE & CRANBERRY TARTLETS. RATING 7/10

We then enjoyed a selection of sweet treats, accompanied by some fizz.

 photo christmas cake_zpsgpyji9jr.jpg
BUDGENS ICED FRUIT CAKE £7.99. RATING 7/10
 photo panettone_zpsqpsiejmg.jpg
ASDA EXTRA SPECIAL FRUIT PANETTONE £4. RATING 7/10
 photo prosecco_zpszgscqo67.jpg
MIONETTO PROSECO TREVISO £8.99. RATING 10/10 / LA GIOLOSA PROSECCO £7.99 FROM BUDGENS. RATING 10/10
 photo prosecco 2_zpsgekzphuv.jpg
A GREAT TASTING PROSECCO
 photo champange truffles_zpsg9tizriq.jpg
ASDA EXTRA SPECIAL MIXOLOGIST BELGIAN TRUFFLES £6. RATING 4/10 / EXTRA SPECIAL LOUIS BERNARD CHAMPAGNE £19.75. RATING 8/10

Along with the luxury items from Asda there was a gingerbread sleigh kit, which could make an impressive centrepiece for your buffet table. Unfortunately me and kits don't mix, and a had a little disaster with the reindeer legs, but if you have a bit more patience than me, and are better at cutting out intricate pieces of dough, then you might like to give this a try.

 photo santa sleigh_zpsueoz9z8f.jpg
ASDA GINGERBREAD SLEIGH KIT £3.50. RATING 3/10

The pistachio Panettone was something that I was intrigued by, although not particularly looking forward to trying. There's something about green food that doesn't look particularly appealing (unless it's a salad, which I LOVE), and a green topped cake with green cream inside was definitely not making me drool.

 photo bacco _zps133qmla0.jpg
PANBACCO PISTACHIO PANETTONE £12.34. RATING 9/10

I could not have been more wrong about this Panettone cake, which is handmade in Sicily, using nutrient rich pistachio nuts. The cake is so light, and the cream inside tastes very much like Nutella, and the whole thing is topped with a crisp white chocolate and pistachio layer. We couldn't stop eating the cake, and even craved a slice for breakfast the next morning, and as I'm writing this I'm drooling just thinking about a slice with an espresso. 

Definitely do not judge a Panettone by its cover!

In addition to the great selection received from Budgens, we also received some nut roast mixes, which are easily prepared by adding boiling water and baking in the baking dish provided. I love a slice of nut roast with my christmas dinner, but I also love a slice with salad and cranberry sauce.


 photo nut roast_zpssswegcv0.jpg ARTISAN GRAINS NUT ROASTS : Country Veg & Cashew, Cranberry & Cashew, Mediterranean Sundried Tomato. £2.50-£2.75 BUDGENS

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Scandinavian Inspiration for Your Home

Ever since I bought my first home back in the nineties, I’ve loved getting inspiration from, and shopping in, Ikea. There’s something about the clean look of Scandinavian furniture and homes that really appeals to me. Throughout the past 17 years of home ownership I’ve gone through many styles of décor, including bright orange and dark blue walls in my dining room (what was I thinking!), but more recently I’ve returned to that crisp Scandinavian look, with clean white walls and white furniture, and that ‘Hygge’ feel. Hygge is a word that I’ve seen a lot of this year, and it roughly translates as ‘cosy feel’.

We’ve recently had the lounge painted, and gone are the floral brown wallpaper clad and teal walls, replaced by fresh white walls, a newly painted fireplace in winter grey and grey accessories.  This Christmas I’ve completely embraced the Scandinavian look with red, white and grey bunting, cushions and decorations on the tree. I’m absolutely loving the way the lounge looks at the moment and can’t wait to get a few pictures up on the wall to give it even more ‘Hygge’. Our 12 year old carpet will be replaced in the new year and I’m crossing my fingers for a new sofa, but not holding my breath!

 photo scandi lounge 1_zps8ossnmtw.jpg  photo scandi lounge 2_zpsj6bkgezy.jpg  photo scandi lounge 3_zpsylcz6w6f.jpg  photo scandi lounge 4_zpsswl7g7ht.jpg


Although I love browsing the shops for home interior ideas, I find much of my inspiration on the Internet, in places such as Pinterest, Houzz, Polyvore and Homify. I could get lost for hours on these sites looking for lounge, bedroom and kitchen ideas, in particular the white rooms with pops of colour.


I’ve fallen in love with a few of the collections on Homify, and I can spend ages dreaming of having these homes for myself. As well as showcasing dreamy images the site is full of tips and advice on how to create your perfect style. A few of the tips for creating a Scandinavian feel in your home include the following :

  • Choose warm and cosy fabrics
  • Use natural materials in their raw state
  • Limit colours to no more than 3 tones
  • Use clever solutions to  maximise space
  • Make the most of natural light

 photo homify_zpsivs3sylw.jpg
Photo credit :Ekaterine Donde Design/ Homify

 photo homify 2_zpsjg9wpctk.jpg
Photo credit : Daria Baranovych Interior Design / Homify



promotional post

Monday, 7 December 2015

Peppermint Candy Cane Fudge Brownies

If you find yourself with too much chocolate over the Christmas period, and are craving rich and gooey chocolate brownies instead, then read on to find how I made a Lindt Gold Reindeer and 5 of Santa's helpers into these little beauties.

 photo peppermint brownies 3_zpsaj8ggnfa.jpg

Peppermint Candy Cane Fudge Brownies

220g caster sugar
160g butter
50g cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch salt
2 eggs, beaten
3 peppermint candy canes, crushed
125g plain flour

to decorate
1 peppermint candy cane, crushed
  • add the sugar, butter, cocoa powder, vanilla, salt & Reindeer to a large saucepan
  • over a low/medium heat stir until everything is melted together and smooth
  • allow to cool for 10 minutes before whisking in the eggs
  • stir in the crushed candy canes and flour to combine
  • pour into a greased and lined tin (approx 10" x 6")
  • bake in a preheated 160C oven for approx 25 minutes - the top should be firm but the inside still a little gooey
  • allow to cool & then cover with melted chocolate and crushed candy cane
  • refrigerate for a few hours or overnight before slicing into squares


These are delicious cold, but are also really good warmed up and served with good quality vanilla ice cream

 photo peppermint brownies 2_zpshndgczp3.jpg  photo peppermint brownies 1_zpsywx3rl60.jpg




I was provided with some Lindt chocolate for use in my baking

Friday, 4 December 2015

Flower Sprouts - an alternative Sprout

As we approach Christmas day the big question is 'do you like sprouts or don't you?' 

I don't ever remember liking Brussels sprouts growing up, but sometime in my adult years I decided that I liked them after all, and now I love them! I think my daughter is heading the same way, as last year, after 11 years of eating sprouts, she declared that she now couldn't stand them. Maybe it's just not cool to like sprouts when you're a teen, or maybe our palate changes along with our bodies. Hopefully, when she's past those awkward teen years she'll once again find a love for them, but in the meantime I attempted to get her to eat some Flower Sprouts for dinner.

 photo sprout chow mein_zpsrnzbhnmv.jpg

Flower sprouts are a relatively new vegetable, which are kind of a cross between sprouts and a mini cabbage or kale. They're not as tightly packed as a Brussels sprout, and therefore don't need to be cooked for as long, and after a quick blanch in boiling water they're tender enough to eat or add to a stir fry. It reminded me of the leaves of purple sprouting broccoli.

 photo sprouts 1_zpsmxflgy0z.jpg

I made two dishes with my flower sprouts, the first of which was a warm salad for my lunch.

Flower Sprout, Bacon & Chestnut Salad - serves 1

tbsp sesame oil
3 rashers of lean dry cured bacon, chopped
handful of cooked chestnuts, chopped
3-4 handfuls of flower sprouts
tbsp honey
tbsp dark soy sauce
  • heat the oil in a large frying pan
  • add the bacon and fry until turning brown
  • add the chestnuts and sprouts and fry for a couple of minutes
  • add the honey and soy sauce and stir to coat everything and continue frying until the sprouts are heated through and tender

 photo sprouts chestnuts_zpsyjq4vvcn.jpg

The second dish I made was for the rest of the family, and this time I cut the sprouts in half and blanched them quickly in boiling water to soften.

Flower Sprout & Chicken Chow Mein - serves 4

2 tbsp sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 onion, sliced
pinch of dried ginger
pinch of Chinese 5 spice
5-6 tbsp dark soy sauce
350g cooked chicken breast strips
150g flower sprouts
3-4 sheets of egg noodles
  • heat the oil in a large frying pan or wok
  • add the garlic and onion and fry over a medium heat for 2-3 minutes
  • add the ginger, 5 spice, 2 tbsp soy sauce and chicken breast and continue cooking for another minute or two whilst you blanch the sprouts
  • bring a pan of boiling water to the boil and add the sprouts for 60 seconds before draining
  • cook the noodles as per directions on the pack, and set aside
  • add the sprouts to the pan and toss to coat, adding more soy sauce as and when needed
  • add the noodles and stir - ensure everything is heated through before serving

 photo sprout chow mein 2_zpspc5oa6sc.jpg

The Chow Mein was a massive hit with the family. Before eating Jack declared "I don't like these green bits', but then went on to eat the lot. Hanna didn't ask what the green bits were so I didn't tell her, well not until she'd eaten the lot & said how nice it was . Later she said it tasted like broccoli.




post commissioned for flower-sprout.com

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Lemon, Prosecco & Raspberry Shot Glass Trifle

Over the Christmas period I have a couple of favourite tipples, one of which is Prosecco. On Christmas morning it's traditional for us to start off with a Bucks Fizz breakfast, which we make with fresh orange juice and either Cava, Prosecco or Champagne. Later in the day I switch the orange juice for a dash of Chambord raspberry liquor, or my homemade Cherry Vodka. I've stocked up my wine rack in preparation (especially as my Mum will be joining us, as she likes her Prosecco), and after trying the Prosecco from Premier Estates Wine I liked it so much that I bought a few more!

Raspberries go really well with Prosecco and I always keep a box of frozen raspberries in the freezer ready to add to a glass of fizz to add a little flavour, or help chill the Prosecco down if I've forgotten to pop one in the fridge in advance.

These individual shot glass trifles combine both raspberries and Prosecco, along with a touch of zing from lemon curd, and they would make great Christmas Day desserts when you fancy something sweet but are too full for Christmas pud. They can be made in advance or whipped up to order in just a few minutes.

 photo prosecco trifle 4_zps8woil7qu.jpg

Lemon, Prosecco & Raspberry Shot Glass Trifle - makes 6

base of trifle
2 1/2cm slices of Madeira cake
lemon curd
Prosecco

trifle topping
100g cream cheese
30g lemon curd
2 tbsp double cream
2 tbsp Prosecco
18 fresh or frozen (thawed) raspberries
  • spread one slice of cake with lemon curd and sandwich the 2 slices together
  • cut 6 discs out of the cake a similar diameter to the glass
  • place a disc of cake into the bottom of each glass
  • drizzle approx 1/2tsp of Prosecco onto the cake & set aside
  • whisk the cream cheese, lemon curd, double cream & prosecco together until smooth and forming soft peaks
  • place 2 raspberries into each shot glass & press down lightly
  • spoon the creamy mixture into the shot glasses, or pipe in with an icing bag
  • top with a raspberry and refrigerate for a minimum of 15 minutes before serving


 photo prosecco trifle 3_zps1izv8eio.jpg  photo prosecco trifle 2_zpsrsnejfk7.jpg  photo prosecco trifle_zpsqpfxjlad.jpg



I was provided with a case of Prosecco from Premier Estates Wine to use in my recipe, and over the festive period. This post contains a referral link.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Buy and Sell Gift Vouchers with Zeek

Christmas is rapidly approaching, and although there are many of us that have already started our Christmas shopping, there are many more that probably haven't even given it a thought yet. If you fall into either of these categories then Zeek could help you save some money on your Christmas shopping.

On their app (available in the App store or Google play) you can browse through the vouchers available from around 100 retailers and making savings from £1 upwards - I spotted a great deal with Abercrombie & Fitch where you could save 20% on a £96 gift voucher, and buy it for just £77. If you were planning on buying some of your Christmas presents in A&F stores, this could save you £19.

Some vouchers are physical vouchers which are sent to you in the post and can be used in store and/or online, and others are evouchers, and again they can be used in store and/or online, but might not be as convenient if you're giving the gift card as a gift. Information relating to the voucher type is displayed on the relevant voucher page.

As I've been eyeing up a light in John Lewis for my newly decorated lounge, I chose a One4all gift card, which can be used online or in store with many retailers, including John Lewis, Argos, TKMaxx and Top Man (to name just a few). A £45 gift card cost £43, a saving of £2. It doesn't seem like much of a saving but if you're going to be spending with these retailers anyway the savings can add up.


 photo john lewis star light_zpsh5xpmstl.jpg
MY NEW LIGHT

As we know, shopping can be thirsty work, so I decided to treat myself to a Costa Coffee gift card too, saving £1 in the process.

 photo Zeek_zpscnmbactw.jpg
A photo posted by Helen (@thecrazykitchen) on


You can pay for your gift vouchers by Paypal or Credit card, and save your details for future purchases, or delete them if you prefer. The process was really smooth, but it would be easier if you could add each of your vouchers to a basket before checking out, rather than having to check out each order individually, especially if you're buying lots of vouchers. 

Once you've made your purchases you can view them in your 'wallet' via the app, and find further details on redeeming your vouchers. I ordered my vouchers on a Tuesday evening, and they arrived by recorded delivery on Saturday morning.

If you find yourself with unwanted gift vouchers after Christmas, you can also use the Zeek app to sell them, and make some money for yourself.

Claim £5 FREE!
by signing up and redeeming the code 23R18T you will receive £5 to spend on your first purchase (I also get £5 which is nice, thank you!)


I was provided with credit towards the cost of my vouchers

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