Unusual twist on lasagne

lasagnemontageWith the thought that many of us may have had more than enough turkey… I felt it might be timely to do a quick note to mention the new lasagne sheets I have discovered in Sainsbury’s. I am always on the hunt for new ideas and products when I am out shopping, or chatting to other keen cooks, and this is the newest vegetable offering from Mr Sainsbury.

I did not use it to make a vegetarian lasagne (Richard would shudder at the thought) it’s a normal beef lasagne but instead of using pasta sheets for the dividers, you can now get butternut squash sheets or courgette sheets. If you imagine a peeled butternut squash going through a thin bread slicer – that’s what you get, firm but slim slices that are almost the size of a normal lasagne sheet. Likewise with the courgette version although they were a little smaller.

I layered mince cooked in a tomato sauce, you can make your own or cheat as I did and use a Dolmio version (sorry but I was in a hurry that day), anyway a layer of that then a layer of your veggie sheet, then white sauce or cheese sauce depending on your choice, another layer of the vegetable sheets and then more tomatoey mince. Obviously, easy peasy to create a purely veggie lasagne – just leave the mince out of the tomato sauce.

I continued with this until the dish was pretty full (as you can see from the photo) and then topped it off with some grated mozzarella and a grind or six of pepper. Forty minutes in the oven and hey presto! Even veggie-averse Richard was very complementary – that’s one way to get veg down them!

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Dear Santa…

I thought I’d share my personal ‘wish list’ for Christmas books, both cookery and fictional. I have cheated and also included one book that is top of Richard’s wish list – just in case there are any history buffs reading, or if you need an idea for a history-loving relative!

I try very hard to limit my intake of cookery books these days as there’s so much out there for free on the internet. However, nothing compares with curling up with a cup of tea on the sofa and a beautifully illustrated cookbook!

The novels I have included are definitely not candidates for any Booker or Orange, or whatever, book prize – my reading tastes are very straightforward and, if there’s one thing I hate, it’s pretentious literature that you are ‘meant’ to like as you struggle through it. I want to be entertained by a book, I want to smile a bit, cry a little and definitely feel I can’t bear to put it down until I have finished

So, I offer this list just as a personal – “hHere you go, this is what I am asking Santa for this year!” They are all available on Amazon – as are all my own novels (hah!) – surely you knew I wouldn’t be able to resist a plug!

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Making a Christmas Wreath

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What a lovely day out! From the tutor, to the lunch to the finished article!

Alright, I admit it was a bit of a busman’s holiday, but my goodness I did enjoy myself on Wednesday! I went to a lunchtime course on making a Christmas wreath, held by Karen of 2020 Flowers who lives in Stokeinteignhead, near me. The course itself was held in a dear little café in Shaldon on the seafront, which was fun to go to in itself, and the food they served for lunch was amazing! Honey pumpkin soup and home made bread… it was just perfect.

Anyway, back to the wreath making! I know it all through and through, but it’s sometimes lovely to have a few hours to yourself where the phone won’t ring and the emails can’t get you! Karen is a serene, calm teacher and had all her ingredients so beautifully organised it was such fun to just play.

Using an Oasis ring, which you can get at some garden centres and obviously florist wholesalers, it is so, so simple to make a wreath yourself. A great tip from Karen was to not only soak the oasis in water (knew that) but to add flower food to the water (didn’t know that!) and I can see what a great idea it is.

I’d brought a whole selection of greenery from home as I felt the wreath would mean more to me if it was created using my own greenery and in the end, as I was a touch speedy, (sorry Karen!) I ended up making two wreaths – so my daughter Pippa is thrilled to bits to have a wreath Mummy made!

Another useful tip is that you can use unwanted pieces of Christmas tree – sometimes you trim some away from the base – or maybe you have a Leylandii hedge in the garden that could be carefully snipped at. I used ivy, Leylandii, rosemary and anything else that looked quite tough and long lasting.

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…and this was the second wreath I managed to squeeze in!

To decorate your wreath once the greenery is all pushed in (small lengths only, all the way round) you can use Christmas tree baubles, shells, berries, artificial or real flowers and, obviously, ribbons. As the Oasis is easy to push things in it’s fairly plain sailing until you get to baubles and shells, those are best hot glued onto pieces of bamboo skewer or just hot glued straight on the wreath.

It does make you feel good to have a decoration that you made yourself – I hope my family enjoy mine as much as I enjoyed the course!

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A winter wonderland…

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kjestenbasket2I love Christmas – I love the preparation, the decoration and the celebration! It is a wonderful opportunity for us crafters to create all sorts of fabulous things and I am always keen to see what new ideas or trends will appear each year alongside traditional decorations.

Everything Scandinavian is very ‘in’ at the moment, but it is such a magical winter wonderland, it is no surprise that they are the masters of cosy (yes, hygge again!) and of creating fabulous decorations from the plants and trees that thrive in such a cold landscape.

I follow a Facebook page that’s linked to Gardener’s World and someone whose posts regularly catch my eye is a lady called Kjerstin who lives in Norway. Her wooden house, built in 1919, looks like something out of a fairytale, and her garden is equally lovely, full of shape and colour even when the temperature has plummeted well below freezing.

kjerstincolourKjerstin has recently posted some great photos of the Christmas decorations and arrangements that she has created outside and she has very kindly said I can share them with you. The arrangements in urns and baskets are, Kjerstin said, simply stuck into soil, with branches the pushed well down.

I thought Kjerstin’s ideas might inspire us to come up with similar designs and, if you swap soil for oasis, many of her ideas would work well inside as well as out. I’d love to hear about your own Christmas decorating ideas, so please share!

Smiles, Joanna.

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A Christmas cracker!

You can’t have Christmas dinner without Christmas crackers – well, that’s my view anyway! We groan at the awfulness of the mottos, we laugh at the pointlessness of the ‘gift’ and we feel silly wearing the paper hats… but it is a tradition and we stick to it every year.

In moments of great industriousness, I have made my own crackers and spent ages thinking of appropriate gifts and jokes to go inside. They always go down well, but they take a lot of planning.

This will be my first Christmas without my parents, Diana and John, so this year will be tinged with sadness for all the family. But Mummy’s enthusiasm for a traditional family Christmas is firmly entrenched with all of us and I shall be filling stockings, dressing the table and fussing about the sprouts just as always.

I love decorating the table, I think it makes such an impact with pretty napkins, candles and, of course, a special Christmas table centrepiece. I have produced so many over the years and always find myself getting excited as I add the finishing touches. If you don’t have a large table, you can still make it look lovely with a table runner ­– cheap enough to buy even in supermarkets these days – or run up one of your own very simply. Table sprinkles are also great fun and really do add a touch of glitz and sparkle… but you’ll be hoovering them up for weeks afterwards!

Returning to the Christmas cracker… did you know they were invented in 1847 by a London sweet maker called Thomas Smith? Rather unromantically, he devised the Christmas cracker as a money-making idea when bonbon sales slumped. They originally contained love messages and a sweet. The enterprising Mr Smith then went on to the snapping strip to replicate the sound of a crackling log fire!

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