How to Take the Stress Out of Christmas Dinner

There are many constants that come with the Christmas season, most of which include the positive, holiday spirit-inducing traditions that we enjoy with our loved ones every year. But this season can also leave us feeling a little overwhelmed. In this post, Jemima gave us some great tips on how we can avoid stress in the lead up to Christmas.

In my experience, one of the biggest stresses this time of year is cooking the family’s Christmas dinner… especially if you’re in charge of making the entire meal!

Christmas dinner table

But fret not, because there are steps you can take ahead of time to make sure your dinner is a success and reduce any possible stress that comes with it. As outlined by the Stress Management Society, there are plenty of ways to create a relaxing environment in the home, especially during the holidays. Some of the more dinner-related suggestions are to make sure you plan ahead, and to create a calming atmosphere with laid-back music and relaxing aromas. This month, I’ve been listening to lots of London Grammar and James Blake, and making great use of my aromatherapy oil burners and scented candles. All of which have helped to keep me relaxed whilst I’ve been beavering away in the kitchen.

And when it comes to making a stress-free Christmas dinner, I personally suggest ditching the ‘typical’ Christmas dinner main course of oven-roasted turkey for something a little different. As I wrote recently, my mum introduced me to nut roasts when I was 12 years old—and I’ve enjoyed them as the centrepiece to my Christmas dinner ever since. My latest take on the recipe is to make it with a base of red lentils and cashews, which is then topped with a festive cranberry glaze.

Red Lentil and Cashew Nut Loaf with Cranberry Glaze

But the best thing about this dish, apart from the taste, is that you can make it up to three days ahead of time. You could even do it earlier than that and freeze it if you wanted, because it’ll keep for weeks that way. Preparing it in advance will also free up space in your oven because let’s face it, we’ve all struggled with trying to fit all the Christmas dinner components in there at once. But don’t let that lead you to believe that you need a bigger oven or that you need to spend more time swapping food in and out. As My Smart Buy points out, you can simply grab a new oven rack (or two) and you’ll be able to expedite your meal-preparation process.

With that in mind, all you’ll need to do on Christmas Day is get started on those veggies. You are obviously free to use whichever ones you like to accompany the nut roast, but my favourites are roasted potatoes, maple-glazed parsnips and carrots, and Brussels sprouts. This year, I might also try cooking some vegan Yorkshire puddings (from Viva!’s Mini Guide to a Veggie Christmas) and some herbed chestnut stuffing balls, so an additional oven rack will definitely come in useful!

In previous years, I’ve made the nut roast 1-2 days in advance, then on Christmas Day, I start preparing the veggies about 1.5 hours before I’m planning to serve the dinner.  Here’s how I usually prepare the roasted veggies…

While the veggies are roasting, I prepare the Brussel sprouts and gravy. I usually just boil the sprouts in a little salted water. Last year, I made the gravy from scratch but, this year, I’m going to use the Colman’s Instant Gravy Paste with Roasted Onion as it’s less hassle and has a great flavour!

When the roasted veggies are almost ready, I slice the nut roast and either heat it up in the microwave (covered with a plate to prevent it drying out), or pop it in the oven for a few minutes.

And that’s dinner sorted!

Now I just need to get on with the Christmas card writing, present wrapping, Christmas cake decorating and cracker making. With the assistance of one of Santa’s little helpers, I’m sure all tasks will be finished in good time and in good spirits 😉

What veggies are you planning to serve on Christmas Day? If you’ve got any lovely recipes, please do link up below xx

Disclaimer: This is a guest post that I wrote in collaboration with author, Dora Stevens.

Christmas has arrived in Bath!

First, we had the Bath Christmas Lights switched on by Mary Berry.

Bath Christmas Lights Switch On

Then there was the Bath Lantern Parade, filled with a huge array of paper lanterns which danced its way down Pulteney Street to the beat of Samba Sulis.

Bath Lantern Parade 2013 1

Watching Bath Lantern Parade 2013

The Bath Christmas Market has been in full flow for the past couple of weeks. It’s been bigger and better than ever this year!

Bath Christmas Market 2013 2

The Lantern Parade and official opening of the Christmas Market were even more special for me, as my mum and her best friend came to visit for the night

Bath Christmas Market 2013 1

My favourite time to walk round the Christmas Market has been during the evenings, when the crowds have started to subside. It looks so pretty lit up, with beautiful Bath Abbey as its backdrop.

Bath Christmas Market 2013 3

And last weekend, Christmas came to our house too!  M and Lil’ L headed to Colerne to buy a tree. When they returned home, they decorated the tree and the living room as a surprise for me!

Christmas Tree 2013

After all this activity, the boys definitely deserved a cup of hot chocolate, which I made with the Elements for Life Spiced Raw Hot Chocolate, and topped with some vegetarian marshmallows from The Vegan Kind‘s latest subscription box.

Vegan Hot Chocolate with Marshmallows

And now it’s time for me to treat three of my lovely readers with an early Christmas pressie   The Raw Chocolate Making Kit giveaway ended at midnight last night and the three winners, chosen at random by Rafflecopter, are…

93 Tamzin

339 Poppy

522 Jane

Congratulations to you all!  I’ll be in touch to arrange delivery x

And I must say a big ‘thank you’ to Elements for Life for enabling me to host such a fabulous giveaway!

Elements for Life has a fantastic range of chocolate-making goodies and super foods available from their online store. They’ve kindly given me a discount code which entitles my readers to 10% off any products on their website. Just enter BOTGS10 at the checkout. This code has no expiry date!

Are you feeling ‘Christmassy’ yet? Now we have a tree, I’m definitely starting to feel more festive 😉

Have you finished your Christmas shopping yet? I only started mine yesterday!!!

Christmas Food and Drink Gifts

At Christmas time, I love to create food and drink packages for friends, family and neighbours, filled with quality, hand-picked treats.

Today, I’ve been looking for fine teas, coffees and savoury foods that would make great additions to hampers, as well as some stand alone gifts.

Savoury Gifts
On the savoury front, it’s The Black Dog Delicatessen that’s caught my eye this year. It’s a premium product range, yet the pricing is very reasonable. I love the brand design and packaging, which were inspired by Bailey and Blue, two extremely cute rescue black Labradors! What’s more, proceeds from every product sold are donated to The Labrador Rescue Trust. Here are my top picks from their range:

1 Award Winning Sicilian and Spanish Extra Virgin Olive oils, perfect to use in dressings, marinades and as a dipping oil for Italian breads. £9.99 (500 ml)

2 Premium quality Penne Rigate, Linguina, Vermicelloni,and Orzo pastas made in Italy using traditional ingredients and techniques. £2.20 (500g)

3 My family and friends love marinaded olives! There are five in the range, and I especially love the sound of the Pitted Kalamata Olives with Thyme, Basil, Parsley and Chives £3.39 (250g)

Black Dog Deli Gift Ideas

4 This gorgeous hamper filled with goodies from the Black Dog Delicatessen would make a great gift to send to loved ones. It costs £45 (incl. delivery), with at least £5 from each sale donated to the Labrador Rescue Trust.

5 Four risotto mixes – Asparagus, Lemon, Porcini Mushroom and Tomato – prepared with the finest Carnaroli rice £2.49 (300g)

6 Balsamic Vinegar from Modena in Italy, aged in wooden barrels for ten years according to local traditions to give it a sweet, mellow taste. £9.99 (250ml)

7 And here’s one of the rescue black Labs that provided the inspiration for the company’s brand. Isn’t he gorgeous? This one is clearly priceless 😉

Gifts for Tea Lovers
Walter Whittard opened his first shop in Fleet Street, London in 1886, where he sold tea, coffee and cocoa, and created special blends for his customers. Today, Whittard of Chelsea are still the blending experts, and have an amazing array of quality teas and coffees on offer.

Here are my top picks for tea lovers this Christmas…

Whittard Tea Gift Ideas

1 This stylish Kilner tin is filled with Whittard’s signature English Breakfast Tea blend – Assam for strength, Ceylon for depth and Kenyan for its rich colour. £10.00 (net weight 150g)

2 This Teas of the World set would make a beautiful gift for any tea lover. It includes 50g each of English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Assam, Spice Imperial, Lapsang Souchong, Jasmine, Russian Caravan, Sencha and Ceylon Teas. £20.00

3 This Hexagonal Tea Gift Set contains eight of Whittard’s most popular black and green tea blends – English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Whittard Original, Afternoon Tea, Imperial Spice, Vanilla, Gunpowder and Jasmine. The set includes 60 tea bags, individually wrapped. £15 (net weight 360g)

4 Whittard has created a range of festive tea blends, including The Spice Imperial Tea, infused with the citrus and cloves flavour of mulled wine, and the Festive Chai, which captures the fruit and spice flavours of festive baking. £4.75 for 50 tea bags.

Gifts for Coffee lovers
1 These brushed stainless steel cafetieres are not only stylish, but they’re far more robust than glass cafetieres, making them perfect for both home and office use. They’re not always easy to find on the high street, but Amazon has a great selection. The one shown below is the Andrew James Double Walled Cafetiere, currently on offer at £14.99 (reduced from £32.99).

Coffee Gift Ideas

 

2 These Kilner tins have raised gold lettering and are beautiful to handle. This one’s filled with Whittard’s After Dinner Coffee, a delicious blend of South American Arabica beans. £10.00 (net weight 175g)

3 Whittard has created a range of scrumptious-sounding festive coffees, including Christmas Pudding, Warming Brandy and Luxurious Crème Brulee. These would make great additions to festive hampers or as stocking fillers. They would also be perfect for serving as an after-dinner treat. £4.75 (120g)

4 These beautiful tins would make a wonderful gift for coffee lovers. There’s a range of coffees to choose from. The one shown here is the strong roast “rich and chocolatey” Santos and Java coffee. £5 (net weight 100g)  

5 This Coffees of the World set is absolutely beautiful! It includes Whittard’s nine most popular ground coffees – Monsoon Malabar, Santos and Java, Sumatra, Guatemalan Elephant, Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, Pico Duarte, Colombian, Costa Rican and Mocha Djimmah. £20 (each box contains 66g)

Stylish Mugs for Coffee and Tea Lovers!
Have you heard of Whatever It Takes? It’s a charity artwork campaign where celebrities donate their original artwork, which is then sold on a range of products with the proceeds donated to projects supporting key global development causes, such as poverty alleviation, environmental conservation, and the protection of children. So far, the royalties raised from these celebrity-designed products has raised over $6 million!

The Whatever It Takes mugs are high quality, stylish and come in a beautiful presentation box or gift tin. As an added bonus, each purchase is helping to support worthwhile causes

These mugs are selling out quick, so I recommend getting your hands on one asap. Here are some of my favourites for 2013…

Whatever It Takes Mugs

 1 Large mug in gift box, with artwork by Susan Sarandon. Proceeds go to: 21st Century Leaders and Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen and Heifer £19.99

2 Mug in gift tin, with artwork by Ronnie Wood with the message “Look after our animals so our children can see them!!!Proceeds go to: 21st Century Leaders and Tusk £9.99

3 Mug in gift tin, with artwork by Pierce Brosnan with the message “Peace and love (man) always, peace and love what else?Proceeds go to: 21st Century Leaders £9.99

My next mission is to find yummy chocolates and sweet treats for the gift packages. I’m hoping to make them all myself!

Have you started your Christmas shopping yet? Do you ‘hit the shops’ or prefer to shop online? I much prefer to shop from the comfort of my arm chair and with a warm cuppa in hand 😉

Disclaimer: This post contains Amazon and Whittard affiliate links. If you click on a link and purchase something, I will receive a small commission which will go towards the development of Bit of the Good Stuff. Many thanks in advance!

 

 

Dairy-Free / Vegan Chocolate Advent Calendars and Stocking Fillers

I can’t believe it’s only a week until the start of December! When this realisation dawned upon me yesterday, I thought I’d better start looking for advent calendars. Since my family loves chocolate so much, I’ve sought out some great options that suit both the milk and dark chocolate lovers. Along the way, I also came across some cute chocolatey stocking fillers 😉

All the festive chocolates presented in this post happen to be dairy free and vegan, so they can be enjoyed by anyone, including those that are intolerant to dairy.

And I mean anyone! Who was the party pooper that decided that advent calendars and stockings were only for children? If there’s chocolate involved, I’m definitely joining in 😉

For Milk Chocolate Lovers ♥

Moo Free Organic Fairtrade Dairy Free Advent Calendar
Moo Free has replaced cows milk with rice milk to create a delicious dairy free and vegan confectionery that actually taste like milk chocolate! The award-winning Moo Free chocolate calendar is available in the UK from Waitrose and other high street and online retailers. It’s also available in Europe and the US.

Priced £4.75 – £4.99 (120g)

Moo Free Advent Calendar 250

Moo Free Organic Dairy Free Chocolate Santa
These milky chocolate santas would make a great stocking filler for vegans, or anyone with a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance.

Price: 99p (32g)

Moo Free Dairy Free Santa Chocolate

Plamil Organic Fairtrade Milky Dairy Free Advent Calendar
Here’s another scrumptious chocolate advent calendar that has all the taste of dairy milk but with no dairy!  It’s made in their own factory which never uses dairy, gluten or nuts.

Price: £4.95 (135g)

Plamil advent calendar 500

Plamil Dairy Free Chocolate Snowmen
Another scrummy stocking filler for kids of all ages!

Price: £4.95 (125g)

Plamil Dairy Free Chocolate Snowmen

Plamil chocolates are available to purchase from many UK health food shops or online, directly from Plamil or from other online stores. They’re also available to purchase in Europe.

For Dark Chocolate Lovers ♥

Hotel Chocolat Ultimate Dark Chocolate Advent Calendar
I checked this out yesterday in our local Hotel Chocolat, and it’s absolutely exquisite! It contains 24 fabulous Christmas sculptures cast in 70% dark chocolate.

Price £12.50 (125g)

Hotel Chocolat Dark Chocolate Advent Calendar

Hotel Chocolat Dark Tiddly Penguins
These penguins are so cute! They’re cast in 70% rick dark chocolate and would make a super addition to stockings or as an after dinner chocolate (for big and small kids alike 😉 )

Price: £5.50 (85g)

Hotel Chocolat Dark Tiddly Penguins

Hotel Chocolat Ho Ho Ho Dark Chocolate Pillow Pack
I think any dark chocolate lover would be happy to find these cute santas in their stocking!

Price: £2.50 (30g)

Hotel Chocolat Mini Dark Chocolate Santa

Hotel Chocolat confectionery is available to purchase online from their UK and US sites. They also have a number of high street stores. I found that the availability of dark chocolate festive treats was limited in the Hotel Chocolat in Bath, but I’m pleased to find that their website provides a ‘click and collect’ service, with free collection.

Montezuma’s Organic and Dark Chocolate Advent Calendar
This top quality calendar is filled with Montezuma’s wonderful house-blended organic dark chocolate. Perfect for all dark chocolate lovers, including vegans and those on dairy-free diets.

Price: £9.99 (240g)

Montezumas Vegan Dark Chocolate Advent Calendar

Montezuma’s Dark Chunky Snowmen
This set of eight cute little snowmen, made of organic 73% dark chocolate, would make the perfect stocking filler for dark chocolate lovers

Price: £4.99 (110g)

Montezumas Dark Chocolate Snowmen

Montezuma’s chocolates can be purchased directly from their website. It’s also available in high street health food shops and online stores.

Are you planning on having an advent calendar this year? I’ll definitely join in the fun (if one of Santa’s little helpers happens to treat me 😉 )

Vegan Chocolate Celebration Cake (Dairy-Free / Egg-Free)

At the start of the Autumn half term school holidays, Lil’ L moved into double digits. I’m still dumbfounded as to how my boy grew up so fast. Seriously, where did all those years go?

His day kicked off with present & card opening. I love watching his facial expressions as he opens presents!Lil L 10th Bday Morning 2013

Another sign that he’s growing up is the lack of toys on his birthday wish list. Instead, he wanted new wheels for his scooter, a skater helmet and books (so glad he still enjoys reading!)

The birthday celebrations continued for the next few days (one of the perks of having a birthday in the school hols!) and included a Laser Quest party; a trip to Dorset to visit his Nan; walks in the forest; and bike rides with his Dad and cousin. What a lucky boy he is!

Lil L 10th Bday Activities 2013

As usual, he requested a vegan chocolate cake for his birthday. This year, I made a very simple chocolate victoria sponge sandwich cake, which worked out surprisingly well. It was moist, held together well when sliced, and wasn’t too rich or sickly sweet.

I was all set to use cashew cream frosting (which I prefer a million times over to regular frosting) … but then had a change of heart. This cake wasn’t for me, it was for Lil’ L and his friends. Rather than impose my preferences on them, I ditched the cashews and dug out an old box of icing sugar from the back of the cupboard. I even went to the shops and bought some sugar sprinkles.

Vegan Chocolate Victoria Sponge Sandwich Cake 400 copy

The cake got great feedback from the family (including my mum!) as well as Lil’ L’s friends. I was particularly surprised when Lil’ L’s best friend came up to me after the party to tell me how much he’d enjoyed the cake. This meant a lot as he isn’t normally a ‘cake person’ (you’re much more likely to seeing him diving into a fruit bowl or tucking into roasted nuts and seeds!)

Vegan Chocolate Cake 2 copy

The cake was super easy to make. Here’s how I did it:

Products used in this recipe
Morrisons 23cm Non-Stick Springform Cake Tins – These are made in the UK, cost only £4 each and have a 5-year guarantee!
Salter Aquatronic Electronic Kitchen Scale – These scales are great as you can weigh everything directly into the same bowl. As an added bonus, they come with a 15 year guarantee!
Tesco Chapatti Flour – I use this flour in all my baked goods. It’s a very fine wholemeal flour and super cheap too!
– Dr Oetker Sugar Stars and Sugar Strands – Purchased from The Co-Op; also available from Tesco

Vegan Chocolate Cake 3 copy

For those of you that dislike the traditional Christmas fruit cake, I think this would make a great alternative. You could even add some festive sprinkles!

 

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Goult, Provence, Summer 2013

Last month, we were lucky enough to visit the beautiful region of Provence in France. We travelled by car, stopped overnight in Fontainebleau, then headed to the historical village of Goult, which was to be our home for two weeks.

Goult Provence France 2013 2

We stayed in a sweet little cottage, which we rented from Eva, a very kind and welcoming Swedish lady that had lived in Provence for many years.

The cottage had everything we needed for a comfortable stay, including a fully equipped kitchen.  Whenever we stay in France, we tend to prepare our own meals. It’s way cheaper (we would easily have spent £60 per day if we’d eaten out), plus I’ve found it near-on impossible to find vegan cuisine outside the big towns and cities.

La Joliette Goult Collage

I did bring a few supplies from England with me (mainly bags of raw nuts as these tend to be expensive in France). We bought fresh bread, salad, fruits and veg from the shops in Goult and did our main grocery shops at the hypermarche in Apt. The big supermarkets often have a ‘bio’ (organic) aisle which stocks health foods, wholegrains and ‘free from’ products. We found non dairy milk (including Alpro) in the long life milk section, and soya yoghurts (such as Sojasun) on the chilled yoghurt aisle. We also found big tubs of ready-made houmous, much to Lil’ L’s delight 😉

Lil L at La Joliette, Goult France 2013

All the meals we prepared were quick and easy. For lunch, we’d have big plates of salad and crudites, served with freshly baked ‘6 cereales’ bread. We also found Heinz baked beans on the ‘International’ aisle of the hypermarche, which made a tasty quick lunch served on toast.

For evening meals, I’d stir fry a big pan of veggies with spices, then use them as a basis for Mexican fajitas, Moroccan couscous or Indian curries. We also made tomato & basil pasta dishes, red lentil dals and French bread pizzas.

While we were out and about, the boys did eat the odd ice cream, crepe or patisserie but I stuck to nuts, seeds and dried fruit snacks. My stomach appreciated it.  Normally on vacations my stomach feels very unsettled but not this time. I didn’t have a single stomach ache whilst we were away 🙂

We enjoyed so many activities on this vacation! In the mornings, there was tennis playing and frisbee throwing in Goult; swimming at nearby St Saturnin; exploring in the Foret des Cedres in Bonnieux; paddling in the crystal clear waters at Fontaine-de-Vaucluse and plenty of biking 😉

Provence Activity Collage

After lunch, we would often go exploring by car, hiking up to hill-perched ancient remains…

St Saturnin Provence France 2013 4

and visiting nearby towns and cities, including the historical and vibrant Avignon.

Avignon Summer 2013

Back at the cottage, we would chill out in the ‘cave’, reading, drawing, playing cards and watching films.  Early evening, I also enjoyed going for runs up and down the hills round Goult, taking in the beautiful scenery 😀

Goult Provence France Summer 2013

Biking was a big part of our vacation this year. We took our own bikes (strapped to the top of the car) and enjoyed exploring Goult and the surrounding countryside. We cycled past vineyards, olive groves, lavender fields and through cedar forests. It was such a feast for the senses!

Lil' L Biking back from Bonnieux, Provence, France 2013 2

Often, in the mornings, we would cycle to neighbouring villages, which tended to be perched on top of a hill.

Bonnieux Provence France 2013 3

It was challenging at times for Lil’ L …

Lil' L Biking in France 2013

… and there was the odd injury :/ …

Lil' L Biking Injuries in France 2013 3

… but it was worth it.  In addition to the great sense of achievement he felt at having ‘conquered’ another hill, there were the rewarding refreshments at the village cafes…

Lil' L in Roussillon France 2013 2

and spectacular views to take in

Me Biking in France 2013

I also took on my own challenge this year and decided to ride a section of Mont Ventoux.  I hadn’t done any hill training on my bike this year, so I knew I wouldn’t be in shape to ‘conquer’ Ventoux, but I thought I’d at least attempt the last 6.5km section.

I left M and Lil’ L eating nutella crepes at Chez Reynard…

Lil' L eating crepes Summer 2013

… and set off on my Marin full suspension mountain bike (much to the amusement of the ‘roadies’) ….

Me on Mont Ventoux Summer 2013 2

… praying that my 13 year old gaffer taped shoes would hold out!

The final 2km seemed more like 20km, but I eventually made it to the summit.

Me Cycling Mont Ventoux

It was a fantastic experience. I’m so glad that I did it!

The two weeks flew by and it was soon time to pack up and head back home, feeling refreshed, revived and fitter than when we’d arrived!

Lil' L leaving France Summer 2013

Provence is such a beautiful area of France.  Hopefully we’ll be lucky enough to return one day

Me & Lil' L in Goult France 2013

 

Do you choose to cook on vacations? If so, what are your favourite dishes to make? Do you have any tips for quick and easy meals?