Tag Archives: food

Time to snap up reduced Christmas produce and prep ahead for busy work night cooking

It was a bit of a surprise to pop into the local supermarket this morning for some essentials, only to discover trolley-loads of reduced Christmas fare. Everything from 10p red cabbage to half-price free range turkey was going cheap after the Christmas rush.

Feeling inspired, I thought it would be good to spend a bit of time getting ahead for when we’re all back to school and work in the New Year.

Thursdays are a particularly busy time at Willow Cottage; in between the commute to work and what feels like half a dozen clubs, there’s need to make sure everyone has had dinner, whatever time they are around. We tend to make great use of the slow cooker on Thursdays, so whether it’s chilli, curry or casserole – there’s benefits to getting ahead with a bit of sneaky prep work for our own version of ready meal.

That’s where the half-priced turkey came in. As well as the roast for tonight and some risotto tomorrow, I’ve lined up another four evening meals for busy January evenings. I simply carved off the breast meat from the bird…

Turkey butcher

Turkey butchery in progress, butchers look away now!

Then added the meat to four freezer bags filled with a variety of flavourings and pastes. These bags live in the freezer until needed, and I can just pop them in the slow cooker with a jar of passata or a tin of tomatoes. I add a little note to the label so I don’t forget what to do.

Ready meals

Our own ready meals for the slow cooker

With some rice cooked in the microwave they make for a tasty ad speedy meal on busy evenings.
Her x


Willow cottage gardeners are pleased to annouce the arrival of our first red tomato!

This rainy weather has been upsetting the greenhouse. We are finding that this year growth seems to be slow and spindly. Despite this we are pleased to announce the arrival of our first red tomato!

This is a plum variety called Roma. We are very proud parents and hope to have many more to follow this one.

The greenhouse looks very different to this time last year.

I feel that I am still waiting for it to grow. The tomato plants are covered in flowers but look very ‘thin’ despite a weekly feed. Any suggestions from fellow gardeners on why this is?

Maybe it is these ‘organic’ grow bags, or the cool temperatures or something else.

I am sad to say that my cucumbers died. They were looking so good and then they were attacked by black fly. I thought I would spray them with some soap mix. I must have mixed it up too strong as the next day they were past recovery. I have managed to source a couple more plants that I will put in and watch what happens. It is sad to see empty grow bag space…

Her x

Beautiful berries – raspberries, strawberries, blackcurrants, red currants and dessert gooseberries.

The berry patch looks like a jungle; all the rain has produced loads of lush green growth that has tangled together. The fruitcage looks like it may fall down at any moment, but  it is doing its job. The birds seem to be leaving the berries alone and despite the weather the berries  are ripening.

Picking them is not for the faint hearted as you really do need to fight your way in. During a break in the rain this afternoon, I braved the jungle and was rewarded with a fine selection of produce!

There are still many un-ripened berries on the bushes with no sign of any blueberries yet. I picked a few from each bush but the glut has still to appear.

I think the first berry crop needs to be eaten as it is, fresh and unaltered. Others I will jam, freeze, stew and jelly but these I think will just be enjoyed in the pure form – yummy! I love the taste of fresh summer berries and hope this harvest will be the first of many more.

Can you spot the glimmer of berries hidden in the bushy, wild and overgrown fruit cage?

The only pests we have are slugs! They have been having a wonderful  munch on my strawberries that I having lovingly tended all spring.  The straw surrounding them is very soggy, probably providing a cosy home for slugs and snails. Hubby suggested a beer trap – I think I will give it a try!

Her x

First garden grown meal of the year – homemade minestrone and fresh stawberries (not together)!

The garden is soggy but productive. We have not spent as much time out there as we would want to; the rain has been horrid and the packing has kept us busy. I thought I would have a wander down the garden this week to see what I could find.

I was delighted to pick the following selection of lovely garden yummyness.

If you look carefully you may spot courgettes, baby carrots, celery, fennel, spinach, purple sprouting broccoli, new potatoes and spring onions.

This all inspired me to turn it into a hearty minestrone soup.

I only added some tinned tomatoes, chorizo (to provide a depth of flavour), ready cooked leftover pasta and some stock. The result was delicious and is always a favourite in our house. It’s never the same twice and is a great way of using up a vast selection of pickings.

This is even better the next day, so we make plenty!

To top it all, as I was picking the spinach I noticed a glimmer of red in the fruit cage, could it be? Yes, we have our first ripe strawberries!

The other berries were not quite ripe but these tasted great as they were.

Her x

Party ideas for a girl’s 10th birthday party

Birthday’s can be a really tricky to get right. I really like a good home party and have put together a list of things we recently did at my daughters 10th party. It was a huge success and we have had loads of requests for a repeat next year. The party lasted two hours and we filled the time perfectly.

Meet and greet over fruit cocktails.
We printed out a menu and the girls enjoyed mixing up their own drinks.

We provided plenty of juice and mixers for the cocktails.

We provided water play in the garden.
We had a water slide that you plug into the hose pipe. This provided endless fun. It was helped along by some washing-up liquid to make it extra slippery!

We ate party food.

After a few savoury snacks we provided all the ingredients for ice cream sundaes. The girls loved inventing their own desserts!

We served the ice creams in my vintage ice cream bowls and used a random selection of glasses too. The overall effect was beautiful and was appreciated by the girls. I think they noticed we trusted them with glass rather than the usual paper party bowls.

We had cake.

We ended with party bags and thank you biscuits.

The party bags contained a tatoo, bath confetti ( from a multi pack I split-up) and a few sweets. They looked great with some printed labelled attached – all put together by my daughter!

I will post separately about these biscuits – they were so easy and can be adapted for any occasion!

I can’t believe my Big Girl is 10. The time has flown by. The children are growing faster than the weeds in our garden.

Her x

My top ten ways to use up extra eggs

There are times in the year when we seem to be drowning in eggs. As we are currently collecting approx. 70 eggs a week, I have had to be creative in how I deal with them.  Over winter we hardly eat eggs as I am not keen on buying them and it gives us an egg-free break! Also, our eggs are just so lovely, the shop-bought ones just don’t match up.

I hope this list may supply some ideas if you are also in the same situation. I would love to hear any further tips that you have.

1. Take some into your place of work and offer them for sale.

I sell mine for £1 for six. People are always keen to buy them as they are much better than shop-bought eggs.  I ask people to save egg boxes for me but have been known to give people eggs in an Easter egg box, old Lego boxes and carrier bags.

2. Give them as gifts.

They make a great give if you pop round to a friend’s house for coffee. They look great in an ordinary cardboard box tied up with a piece of ribbon. They are always gratefully received. I have even donated eggs to the school pledge auction – they sold really well!

3. Supply friends & family.

Ask friends and family members if they would like a regular supply of eggs. As we don’t always have eggs over winter, I find family are always understanding that you can’t supply regularly. My mother enjoys collecting her own eggs every week when she comes round to look after the children.

4. Plan eggs into the weekly menu.

Try to have at least one egg based main meal during the week. This could be tortilla, quiche or omelette.  This is economical as we have eggs in already, a great way to use up leftovers (anything can go in a tortilla!), and saves on shopping.

5. Encourage the children to eat more eggs.

In our house the littlest member is currently proclaiming that she only likes the white of eggs. I still give her eggs. She has hard-boiled egg white and the others eat her yolk. She does like egg when the yolk and white are mixed together. Eggy bread is a massive hit along with cheese quiche and cheese or chorizo omelette.

6. Make eggs a breakfast option.

We usually have eggs for weekend family breakfasts. This will usually take the form of eggy bread or poached eggs on toast – little girl has poached egg white on toast!

7. Bake cakes.

I usually bake every week. I like a bit hearty sponge as it uses lots of eggs!I find varying the after school snack option keeps the children interested. A piece of fruit and a slice of cake usually keep them going until tea time! All family celebration cakes are homemade. I have even baked cakes for fundraisers and as prizes for fundraising raffles.

Meringues are a great favourite. Easy to make and experiment with. A meringue making session is a wonderful activity for children.

8. Add eggs to salads.

Hubby often takes a salad to work.  This is currently made up of salad from our garden, leftovers from dinner and a hard-boiled egg! It adds protein and keeps you fuller for longer. I boil up a batch of hard-boiled eggs and keep them ready in the fridge. I try to use the older eggs for boiling as it’s really tricky to peel boiled fresh eggs.

9. Buy an egg slicer.

These are funny little gadgets, I picked mine up at a vintage fair. It’s from the 1970s, made from melamine and is bright orange. It hs multiple pieces of cheese wire that slice the eggs into about 10 neat slices. This greatly improves presentation and thus the chances of family members eating more eggs. It also is a great way to only provide the littlest family member with just egg white!

10. Offer hard-boiled eggs as a side order with  meals.

It may not make up the main meal but a side order of hard-boiled egg is usually offered alongside baked potatoes, pesto pasta, tomato pasta, salads, sandwiches and pittas.

I hope someone finds this useful!

Her x

Chocolate jubilee birthday cake

I made a cake this weekend for my brother-in-law’s birthday. He loves chocolate so the flavour was sorted, I just had to decide how to decorate it. I felt inspired my the recent jubilee celebrations and decided to go for a Union Jack. Some red, white and blue M&M’s on offer at the local supermarket sealed the deal.

I had two little helpers (both the girls) and we were all really pleased with the result.



The peanut M&M’s are stuck on nicely with chocolate ganache (150ml double cream heated with 150g of chocolate). The ganache makes a good (and tasty) coating for the cake. The cake is edged with Cadbury’s chocolate fingers and finished with some red ribbon.

The children enjoyed copying a picture of the Union Jack – a bit like painting by numbers! I would recommend this method of cake decorating.



The cake itself is a duck egg sponge. I am always looking for ways to use up my eggs and making huge sponge cakes can easily take 6-8 eggs.

In fact I will be posting more about my egg mountain later this week.

Her x