The Crazy Kitchen: 2015

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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.

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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

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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
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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!

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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

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Photo credit :Ekaterine Donde Design/ Homify

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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.

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Lemon, Prosecco & Raspberry Shot Glass Trifle - makes 6

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

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

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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.

Saturday 28 November 2015

Slow Cooker Beef & Shallots in Red Wine Gravy

Once a week all 3 kids go to an after school sports activity on the same day, at the same time, and I really relish that additional hour to myself to potter around the house, or catch up on episodes of Neighbours. The kids come home absolutely starving though, so I try and have something cooking away in the slow cooker that's ready as soon as they walk through the door.

This week I made a hearty beef stew, which I served with mash, carrots and peas. I thought that a plateful of this would fill them up, but I was wrong - eldest had a bowl of cereal before his man size dinner, and youngest followed his big sister sized portion with cereal too - I think my boys have hollow legs! I guess the clean plates meant that they liked it, and I need to double my portions for next time!

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If you're like me, and like doing most of your festive shopping online then you really must take a look at Premier Estates Wine, especially if your wine rack is in need of filling. They offer a case of single or mixed wine from just £24 (by using website discount code), or sparkling for just £36, and best of all it comes with free next day delivery, so you won't have to wait long!

I used just over half a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon in this dish, which made the gravy really intense, along with some of my allotment shallots.

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Slow Cooker Beef & Shallots in Red Wine Gravy - serves 4/5

tbsp olive oil
700g (approx) lean stewing steak, diced
2 heaped tbsp cornflour
salt & black pepper
400g shallots, peeled
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
400ml Premier Estates Cabernet Sauvignon
400ml beef stock
3 bay leaves
  • turn the slow cooker on high & add the olive oil 
  • toss the beef in the cornflour and season generously with salt & pepper
  • add this to the slow cooker with the shallots and garlic
  • give it a good mix before pouring in the wine, beef stock & bay leaves
  • cook on high for 4-5 hours, until the meat falls apart

It really was as simple as that. There's barely any prep needed, and it can be popped in the slow cooker before school and work.

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

Thursday 26 November 2015

Mocha Marshmallows and a Coffee Lovers Gift Guide

I love putting hampers together at Christmas, especially ones that follow a theme, whether it be movie night, ice cream, curry, Mexican, ginger or coffee (a few that I've made in the past). I love researching products and retailers online, as well as browsing the shops to look for a specific item for the themed hamper, in the hope that the recipient will be just as pleased when they receive it as I am when I put the final bow on.

This year I'm once again making a couple of hampers, and this time I'm going to be popping in some of my home made marshmallows in keeping with the theme. I've made these mocha marshmallows which will be great in a coffee lovers hamper, and can be enjoyed on their own or popped into a cappuccino or hot chocolate. You can now buy my marshmallows online and have them delivered to your door in the UK, from Cookies and Fluff.

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For my last marshmallow recipe I used leaf gelatine, but this time I used granules, which come in sachets, which are cheaper. Marshmallow making may look quite complex, but once you get the hang of it it's quite simple really, and very, very addictive!

Mocha Marshmallows - makes 36 bitesize pieces

coffee layer
5 tbsp strong cold coffee
1 sachet of gelatine
200g caster sugar
100ml strong cold coffee

  • add the 5tbsp coffee to a microwaveable bowl and sprinkle over the gelatine
  • give it a stir and set aside
  • add the caster sugar to a saucepan with 100ml coffee
  • heat gently until the sugar has dissolved
  • increase the heat and boil until it reaches 235 F on a candy thermometer
  • place the gelatine into the microwave for approx 20 seconds until it becomes liquid
  • add the liquid gelatine to the bowl of a food mixer with a balloon whisk attached
  • with the motor running slowly, pour the boiled sugar into the bowl
  • scrape down the sided of the bowl before slowly increasing the speed and whisking for approx 10 minutes, until thick and airy
  • pour into an 8" square silicone baking tin lightly greased with a flavourless oil, and smooth the top

chocolate layer
5 tbsp cold water
1 sachet of gelatine
200g caster sugar
1/2 tsp salt
100ml water
25g cocoa powder
grated dark chocolate

  • add 5tbsp water to a microwaveable bowl and sprinkle over the gelatine
  • give it a stir and set aside
  • add the caster sugar to a saucepan with the salt, water & cocoa powder
  • heat gently whilst whisking, until the sugar has dissolved & the cocoa incorporated
  • increase the heat and boil until it reaches 235 F on a candy thermometer
  • place the gelatine into the microwave for approx 20 seconds until it becomes liquid
  • add the liquid gelatine to the bowl of a food mixer with a balloon whisk attached
  • with the motor running slowly, pour the boiled sugar into the bowl
  • scrape down the sided of the bowl before slowly increasing the speed and whisking for approx 10 minutes, until thick and airy
  • pour onto the coffee later and smooth the top & grate some chocolate over the top
  • leave for a few hours to set before cutting into 36 pieces

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Additionally, I've included a few gift ideas for the coffee lover this Christmas.

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coffee syrups
these are a lovely addition to a hamper, and you can buy large bottles of one specific flavour, or a gift pack with small bottles in assorted flavours, like these from Whittards £12.00

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coffee flavoured chocolates
These Dainty Dollops from Montezuma's not only have a great name but they're made in Britain from ethically sourced cocoa.  These dark chocolate dollops have a hazelnut & Columbian coffee ganache centre. available from John Lewis £7.50

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coffee gift card
For those that love coffee and a cake whilst they're out & about then a gift card is a great idea. These Christmas gift cards from Caffè Nero feature designs selected from the Victoria & Albert Museum's archive. cards can be loaded with any amount from £5-£100

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coffee scented candle
The smell of a good freshly brewed cup of coffee is divine, so why not recreate that with a Cappuccino Truffle candle from Yankee £21.99

coffee cups
how cute is this hand painted porcelain cappuccino cup & saucer, which is part of a lovely range of tableware from PiP Studio at John Lewis. £12.75 

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coffee machine

You can't have a good cup of coffee without a coffee machine, and if you're really serious about coffee then this bad boy is what you need. The Sage Oracle is 'incredible coffee made simple - it's like there's a barista inside'. It will set you back £1599 though.

Tuesday 24 November 2015

Salted Pecan & Pretzel Brittle

I've always fancied making peanut brittle, but as I didn't own a candy thermometer until recently, I didn't want to risk making it without. I loved the sweet & salty combination of this pretzel crust, so I wanted to try adding pretzels to the brittle, and combined it with one of my favourite nuts, pecans.

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Salted Pecan & Pretzel Brittle
250g caster sugar
tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp sea salt
40g salted pretzels, roughly broken
50g pecans
sprinkle of sea salt
  • add the caster sugar, vanilla & salt to a wide based saucepan or deep sided frying pan
  • scatter the pretzels & pecans onto a 8" square silicone baking sheet
  • heat gently until the sugar melts - be patient & don't stir it!
  • increase the heat and simmer until it reaches 260F (hard ball) on a candy thermometer
  • pour the caramel over the pretzels & pecans & sprinkle with a little sea salt
  • set aside to cool & firm up
  • break into shards

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Why not bag a few of these up and give them away as gifts this Christmas, or pop a few in a festive tin or box.

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Sunday 22 November 2015

Pea & Ham Soup

This pea and ham soup is not only very cheap to make (less than 50p for the peas) it also makes use of leftover gammon that I'd boiled in Dr Pepper at the weekend. There wasn't enough left to make a meal, but it was the perfect amount to add to the soup.

Whilst I'd cooked this in a saucepan it would be an ideal slow cooker recipe, which could be left cooking all day on low.

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Pea & Ham Soup - serves 4/5

300g dried marrowfat peas
cold water
splash of olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 litre stock (vegetable, chicken, pork or ham)
salt & black pepper
200g ham or gammon, diced
  • add the peas to a large bowl and cover with cold water
  • leave to soak for 6 hours, or overnight
  • heat the oil in a large saucepan and fry the onion for 2-3 minutes over a medium heat
  • drain and rinse the peas and add them to the saucepan with the stock
  • bring to the boil and simmer for around 30 minutes, until the peas are soft
  • remove from the heat and blend until smooth, with a stick blender
  • add salt & pepper to taste, and the diced ham
  • return to the heat until the ham is heated through 

The kids absolutely loved this with fresh crusty bread, and have asked me to make it again very soon!

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Thursday 19 November 2015

Marshmallow Cookie Sandwich

I've recently discovered the art of marshmallow making, and it's a lot easier than I thought it would be, as long as you have a decent stand mixer, and use the correct ingredients.

The first batch I made were a little soft, as I didn't use enough gelatine. The next batch didn't even get off the ground as I used vegetarian gelatine. The third batch were just perfect though, so this is the recipe I'll be using in future to make various flavoured marshmallows.

I added some crushed freeze dried strawberries to this batch, and some dried strawberries to the cookies, and sandwiched them together to make cookie sandwiches.

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Marshmallows - makes 25/30

8 leaves gelatine
cold water
400g caster sugar
50g golden syrup
1/2 tsp salt
100ml water
tsp vanilla extract
20g freeze dried strawberries, crushed
equal parts cornflour & icing sugar
  • add the gelatine leaves to a bowl and cover with cold water & set aside
  • prepare an 8"x10" baking tin by lightly greasing with a flavourless oil, or cooking spray (I use a silicone baking tin which makes it easy to remove the marshmallows)
  • add the caster sugar, golden syrup, salt, 100ml water & vanilla to a large saucepan
  • gently heat until the sugar has dissolved
  • increase the heat and bring to the boil
  • let the syrup bubble away without stirring, until it reaches 235C on a candy thermometer (soft ball stage)
  • squeeze the liquid from the gelatine leaves and add the leaves to the bowl of a food mixer
  • with the motor running and a balloon whisk attached, pour the syrup onto the gelatine leaves
  • whisk for approx 10 minutes until soft peaks form, and then add the crushed strawberries & whisk to combine
  • pour into your prepared tin and leave for a few hours to set
  • once set, turn out onto a surface dusted with your cornflour/icing sugar
  • using a sharp knife (lightly greased) cut into squares, dusting with the cornflour/icing sugar as you go

Cookies - makes 12 large round cookies

225g caster sugar
60g butter, softened
225g self raising flour
1/2 tsp salt
tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
50g dried strawberries
  • beat the sugar and butter together
  • stir in the flour, salt, vanilla and egg, until well combined
  • stir in the dried strawberries, and mix well
  • if you want large round cookies then divide into 12 and roll dough into balls, then place well spaced apart onto one or two greased & lined baking sheets
  • for square cookies :spread the dough onto a greased & lined baking sheet and flatten out
  • bake in a preheated 180C oven for approx 10-15 minutes until puffed up & golden brown
  • cool the round cookies on a wire rack
  • for square cookies :slice the large cookie into squares and allow to cool for 10 minutes on the baking sheet before cooling on a wire rack

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For added indulgence, add a little strawberry jam onto the cookies, and microwave for 5-8 seconds

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Monday 16 November 2015

Pegboard Advent Calendar

The new John Lewis Christmas ad has appeared on our TV's, which means I can now mention the C word on my blog once again. The last few months have flown by and I can't believe that Christmas is almost here again. I'm determined to be organised this year and get the Christmas presents bought before the beginning of December, and it all seems to be going to plan so far. The tree won't be going up for another month as the decorator is coming to finish off our lounge just before then, although I will probably be pestered into putting one in the kitchen at the beginning of the month.

Last year I made a gingerbread house advent calendar, but I've kept it nice and simple this year with a pegboard advent calendar on my desk (waiting for the decorator to come before I hang it on the wall).

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It takes only a few minutes to put together, and you can hang your favourite chocolates on it. I used these Lindor chocolate orange truffles, but if you want to go for a Scandi look you could use the milk truffles in red packaging.

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You will need :

length of ribbon
24 mini pegs
Sharpie pen
24 sweets/chocolates
  • tie loops in both ends of your ribbon & attach to hooks on your pegboard or wall
  • number your pegs from 1 to 24 with the Sharpie
  • place each peg over the ribbon, gripping both the ribbon and the edge of a chocolate wrapper

It's a simple, yet effective, advent calendar that can be used year after year with your favourite chocolates

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I bought both the ribbon and pegs from Ebay.

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As always, Lindt has a fab range of Christmas chocolates, including the famous Reindeer, and these mini Santas, bears and Santas Helpers, which make great stocking fillers.

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I wonder how long it will be before they disappear from my desk!

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I received a selection of Lindt chocolate to use in this post

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