c 2013 | Garden, Tea, Cakes, (Books) and Me

Chocolate Mince Pies with Port - Recipe

I know I am rather late posting this recipe, it's now New Years Eve! To top it off it is also supposed to be an entry into December's We Should Cocoa Challenge, but I have kind of missed that too. 

Recipe for sweet chocolate pastry

150g butter
250g plain flour
30g cocoa powder
90g icing sugar
1 beaten egg
pinch of salt

jar of mincemeat
2-3 tablespoon Port

Preheat oven to 180 degrees c or gas 4.
  • Rub the butter and flour together, until it resembles breadcrumbs. 
  • Sift the icing sugar and cocoa into the mixture, add the egg and salt. Mix altogether lightly to you obtain a smooth dough. 
  • You will need to chill the pastry for a minimum of 30 minutes, wrap in cling film and place in fridge.
  • Roll out the pastry onto a floured surface, cut out using your pastry cutters and place into you pie trays. 
  • This should make a good 16 mince pies, but it will depend on how thick you like your pastry. 
  • Before adding your mincemeat straight to your pastry cases, pop it into a bowl and mix in 3 tablespoon of Port, or more but you do not want it too runny. 
  • Add a good teaspoon of the mincemeat into the pastry cases.  Use a little milk to fix the pastry lids on. Bake in the oven for 15 mins.

It is tricky to judge when chocolate pastry is baked, but I always say its better to have slightly over baked pastry than under baked. So if you are unsure bake for a few extra minutes.

I  baked some of these for my Christmas Office Bake Off, but finished them with a nutty topping.

This is my late entry into December's We Should Cocoa Challenge, which this month combines chocolate with alcohol and is hosted by Chocolate Log Blog.
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Christmas Office Bake Off

1970's inspired Ginger Nut Biscuit Log
It appears that we just can not resist a bake off in the office where I work, the suggestion of a Christmas Bake Off certainly got the creative juices flowing. As you would expect there were a few Mince Pies entries, a few Yule Logs including one with a twist. 

The winner was the 1970's inspired Ginger Nut Biscuit Log, it packed a powerful punch as the Ginger Nut biscuits were soaked in Sherry and then covered in fresh cream. It also saw the first man win the Office Best Baker title, not that we were in any way competitive. In second place was the Festive Rocky Road with its cranberries, pecans and glitter. Placed third was the rather tasty Almond and Mincemeat tart, a Mary Berry recipe which was still slightly warm.

The Office Bake Off also coincided with Christmas Jumper day, so it was only fitting all monies raised from selling off our bakes went towards  #SaveTheChildren. We raised a total of £136!
Christmas Cupcakes
Mary Berry's Mincemeat & Almond Flan
Chocolate Yule Log
Mince Pies

Christmas Rocky Road with Cranberries and Pecans

Christmas Tree Shortbread
Chocolate Mince Pies with a nutty topping.
See my Shortbread Office Bake Off or my Loaf Bakes Office Bake Off posts.
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Dairy Diary 2014 - Review and Giveaway (closed)

Most people like to be organised, and we all have our own way of achieving this. Even in this world of technology I like to write reminders/lists/birthdays down in a paper diary.

I was very kindly sent a 2014 Dairy Diary, which as you can see  has a wonderfully Summery picture on the front. The Dairy Diary will be familiar to many, it was first published in 1982 and has developed over the years to respond to the needs of a busy home. The main part of the diary is of course the calendar which is printed a week to view, with sufficient space in each day to write appointments, reminders and notes. Alternative weeks there is either a larger notes section or a seasonal recipe.

One regular feature in every Diary Dairy is a selection of recipes, I have already spotted a number that sounds tasty such as the Crunchy Alaska Salmon Goujons and one that would be great to make edible Christmas gifts Peanut Brittle.

The Dairy Diary comes with some essentials, such as reminder stickers for those important dates, birthdays, doctors, dentist. I have already got my sticker in for my dentist appointment in May. A guide to washing labels and stain removing, conversion tables, planners for 2014 and 2015.

Each year you also get a little something extra, 2014 contains an introduction to crocheting, baking meringues and also some great gardening tips. So if that New Year's resolution is to try your hand at something new, then why not pick up a crochet hook.

What I like best:-
  • Ribbon marker 
  • Reminder stickers
  • Plenty of space to write notes
  • great selection of recipes
  • loved the introduction to crocheting
  • wipe clean and sturdy cover

I was sent a Dairy Diary for the purposes of review, all opinions expressed are my own.


Dairy Diary have kindly given one of my readers a chance to win their very own 2014 Dairy Diary. If you are not lucky enough to win your can buy your own or they make a great gift for £7.25 

How to enter
To be in with a chance of winning this lovely prize confirm your entry using the Rafflecopter widget, for extra entries complete the additional tasks. If you can not see the Rafflecopter widget below, you may need to refresh your page using F5.

Remember if you enter the competition by tweeting be sure to include the link to your tweet. If any of the links are not working on the widget leave me a comment or tweet me.

Closes 29 December 2013.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
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Easy handmade gifts using chocolate transfer sheets

Here is a really easy Christmas treat to make, ideal for yourself or as a gift for family or friends - Chocolate Mendiants. I made these with a little help from my niece, they are very easy.

Chocolate Mendiants with chocolate transfer sheets
Chocolate Mendiants
You need:- 
  • 1 to 2 bars of quality dark chocolate (depends how many you want to make for gifts and eat yourself!)
  • a selection of dried fruits and nuts, whatever you have in your cupboard
  • chocolate transfer sheets
Break up and melt the chocolate, I prefer to use a bowl over a saucepan containing simmering water. Here is a helpful guide to melting chocolate if you are unsure how to do it.

Roll out flat your chocolate transfer sheet transfer side up, keeping things festive mine was a snowflake design. You can buy these from the internet  or you can use a sheet of baking parchment or greaseproof paper. Spoon the melted chocolate onto the sheet in a circle shape. Then sprinkle your dried fruits and nuts, I also used the odd chocolate drop and meringue pieces. Allow the chocolate to set before packing in cellophane bags with some ribbon to these make great Christmas gifts.
My niece's smily face design 

I made a batch of these for Christmas gifts last year and they were well received by everyone, including Santa!
I am entering these into December's Festive Food Gifts Tea Time Treats, hosted this month by What Kate Baked and alternating with  Lavender and Lovage

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National Botanical Gardens of Wales

National Botanical Gardens of Wales

My recent holiday to Pembrokeshire gave me an opportunity to visit for the first time, the National Botanical Gardens of Wales. Now I admit the middle of November is not the ideal time of year to visit a garden.  It was indeed a very cold day, but two of the warmer features of the gardens to look forward to would be The Great Glass House and the Tropical House. Sure to supply a flower or two.


The first place visited was The Great Glass House, alas on this day the heating had broken down so there was no need to take off my coat. I have no doubt this was equally as much a shock to the plants as it was to myself! The planting is split into zones Australia, South Africa, Chile, Mediterranean, Canary Islands and Californian, you will even find a fair sized water feature within the domed structure.
My sister thought this flower reminded
her of a liquorice allsort
One of my favourite features of the visit was the Fungi exhibition, this was extremely interesting, informative and best of all fun. Something both adults and children alike would enjoy and learn from. 

A slight Alice in Wonderland moment!

I must say there was a magnificent sized walled garden, which I imagine would looked spectacular during the Summer.

A quick mention for Stan who was one of the volunteers who drove an   electric buggy around the site, he also gave a great mini tour of the Broadwalk and Slate Beds.

Orchids in the Tropical House
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An impromptu afternoon tea

Usually when I lay on an afternoon tea I put quite a lot of preparation into it. This week I have been away to Bluestone, Pembrokeshire -  a free holiday thanks to a competition on the Bluestone Facebook page! 

crisp sandwiches
An impulsive afternoon tea
One of the days was spent milling around a lovely village called Narberth, there picked up some scones and a cake or too before heading back to Bluestone. With limited food in the lodge as we ate out mostly, when we returned the idea of a sandwich escalated into an impromptu afternoon tea. We had really limited food supplies, so had to work with what we had - you will understand when you see the menu!

* Impromptu Afternoon Tea Menu *


Banana and Nutella


Pineapple tart
Rocky road

Shortbread biscuits
Mint Matchmakers



This was such a wonderful one off afternoon tea, doing something on impulse is such a good thing. The teapot and set in the lodge really did make this afternoon tea, very impressed with Bluestone there was a milk jug and even a tea strainer. I will remember my first visit to Pembrokeshire for a number of reasons, this special afternoon tea being just one of them.

I will leave you with this thought, we should eat crisp sandwiches more often.
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John Lewis Christmas hamper and festive foods - Review

A John Lewis Christmas
The countdown to Christmas has started, and you know you need to get your 'organising' act together when you see the John Lewis Christmas advert on the television. When I was given the opportunity to receive a little bit of John Lewis magic myself I was quick to accept the offer. I received my very own John Lewis Christmas Hamper, with a selection of their fine food and drink from this years Christmas food gifts.  

There is an extensive selection of John Lewis hampers to choose from, my particular favourite is the Winter Warmer Hamper. Do you have a favourite?

My personal hamper contained:-
  • Holdsworth champagne cocktail chocolate selection
  • Ambassador's of London Merry Christmas chocolate bar
  • Penguin gingerbread biscuit
  • Milk chocolate nutty hippos
  • Ambassador's of London jelly beans
  • The Lawn classic English Breakfast tea
  • Paxton & Whitfield cheese grater and chutney set
  • Il boschetto lemon infused extra virgin olive oil
  • John Lewis bottle of special reserve Port
  • Coole Swain Irish Cream liqueur cocktail set
  • The modern cocktails margaritas mixers
  • Staffordshire brewery Cheddleton Christmas ale 
  • a wonderful basket
Hot chocolate with a twist
Anyone with a sweet tooth will be pleased with the great choice of treats available. The little Almond and Honey Hippos taste divine. I am looking forward to trying the Toffee Fudge Hot Chocolate when my niece visits for a sleepover this weekend, the perfect toast whilst we watch Strictly Come Dancing!

Handmade Champagne Cocktail Chocolates 
Merry Christmas Chocolate  and Jelly Beans
Divine tasting Hippos, yes really hippos!
Savoury treats, include the Chutneys for Cheese and cheese grater gift set. A bottle of lemon infused olive oil which is packaged in an attractive tube, making it easier to gift wrap and protect it from any unexpected bumps.
Chutney for cheese, ooh yes please
Infused Olive Oil
Many of us love a tipple during Christmas and will often buy alcohol as gifts. I jumped up and down when I spotted this bottle of John Lewis Port in the hamper, I do enjoy indulging in a glass of Port and Lemon over the festive season. I am not an ale drinker myself, but specialist ales usual feature on my Christmas present shopping list, either for my brother or uncle so I particularly liked the Christmas Ale, which is a good hefty bottle.

Irish Cream Liqueur cocktail set
Chin chin - its cocktail time
Hamper time
Disclosure - I was sent a hamper containing a selection of John Lewis Christmas food gifts for the purposes of this review, all opinions expressed are my own.
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Garden update November and squirrel proof bulbs

Squirrel proof?
Have you planted Spring flowering bulbs in your garden? If you have and like myself have some of your bulbs planted in pots, and also have  squirrels in the area be sure to protected them. The bulbs that is not the squirrels! I can not stop the squirrels from digging up the lawn and burying their little food treasures, so they may survive Winter. But by placing a little wire mesh over the soil in the pots, I will hopefully prevent any flowering disappointment come Spring.


I am down to the last remaining carrots in the raised bed, just enough for another few meals. I have some onion sets left from last year, so I may chance my luck and plants these in the next few days. The other raised bed was empty in October, I broadcast sowed some green manure, mustard seeds. Broadcast sow, makes it sound like an acre, but it it just your average raised bed. You can see from the photo below it soon grows, once it has grown a little more I will then pull it up, crush it and dig it into the soil, to add back some nutrients.
Mustard plants - green manure
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Win a Case of Nakd Bars - Giveaway

It's giveaway time! Who fancies a chance to win a case of Nakd Bars? Well one lucky reader of Garden, Tea, Cakes and Me will win a case of healthy Nakd Bars thanks to Natural Balance Foods. 
Nākd bars are completely different to other cereal bars because they’re made with a wholefood approach, which means that we believe in minimal processing and we don’t add any sugar, syrups or mysterious additives to your food. 
So if you are looking for a healthier alternative for those days you want to avoid chocolate, or you are in a rush and looking for healthy breakfast ideas, Nakd bars is here to help. 

How to enter
To be in with a chance of winning this lovely prize confirm your entry using the Rafflecopter widget, for extra entries complete the additional tasks. If you can not see the Rafflecopter widget below, you may need to refresh your page using F5. 

Remember if you enter the competition by tweeting be sure to include the link to your tweet.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thank you to Natural Balance Foods for providing the prize for this giveaway 
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Haribo and Celebration Birthday Cakes

Happy Birthday
Thought I would share a few cake bakes I have made recently with you. The flower cake as you can see was for a 70th birthday celebration, made using a vanilla sponge cake filled with vanilla buttercream and strawberry jam. For the recipe I used my standard fairy cake recipe, only a four egg and eight ounce mixture for this large cake. The flowers are made with petal paste using large blossom cutters and finished with a sugar paste button made using my button mould. If your skill is not piping, then keep it simple as I have. I did get a little carried away with the pearlised cake decorating spray.

Following the success of the Sweetie Birthday Cake back in July I made another for a family friends birthday. The cake hidden under all those sweeties is a chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream and damson jelly, topped with Haribo sweets and chocolate fingers.
Haribo Birthday Cake
I am entering these two cakes into the newly launched Celebration Cakes and Bakes blogging challenge, hosted by Mummy Makes Cakes#CelebrationCakesAndBakes 
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David Austin Roses Tearoom

I am sure that any keen gardener will have heard of David Austin Roses, synonymous with the  breeding of English Roses. I am almost ashamed to admit that they are only around a 20 minute car journey from where I live, and I have never been. Located at Albrighton, Shropshire their Rose Garden contains the National Collection of English Roses. 

Tearoom David Austin Roses
David Austin Roses Tea Room

Although with all the rain earlier in the week roses that were in bloom were not at their best. But to be honest the Roses were not the purpose of the visit, my sister and I were going to put the tearoom through it's paces. 
David Austin Roses - Gift Shop!!
On route to the tearoom we passed through the gift shop. Wow what an amazing gift shop, oh my, there were so many wonderful gifts and treats. I really could of gone to town, there were some wonderful kitchen china, soft furnishings, purses, gift ideas I could go on and on. 
Coconut and raspberry cake
Having received two recommendations for the tearoom, one from my aunt and another from an on line acquaintance Julie, I had great expectations. We were not disappointed, I selected the rich chocolate cake with creme fresh and raspberries and my sister had a rather large piece of coconut and raspberry cake. I fancied a cup of coffee for a change, my sister order tea and she had a huge teapot all to herself. Both our drinks were served with  I think a lovely almond butter biscuit, very melt in your mouth. I loved the fabric of the curtains in the tea room, would of been lovely if the waiting-on staff had some matching pinnies! The teapot and teacups were a design especially made for David Austin Roses which was of course available in the gift shop. 
Chocolate cake with raspberries
Can not wait to go back with my mum and both my sisters for afternoon tea, hopefully next Summer when all the roses will be in full bloom.
Alnwick Rose David Austin Roses
Alnwick Rose - David Austin Roses
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Hairy Dieters Sparkling Lemonade and Lime Jelly Recipe

Lemonade and Lime Jelly from the Hairy Bikers. I have rather indulged in too many cakes and biscuits of late and wanted to make something a little less calorie laden. My sister has raved about the Hairy Dieters recipe book, which she has kindly lent to me. I will return - promise! Whilst looking through I found this perfect light low calorie dessert.

Lemonade and Lime Jelly Recipe
Sparking Lemonade and Lime Jelly recipe can be found on page 165 The Hairy Dieters cookery book.

The recipe is for six jellies, I halved the ingredients and still made four small jellies. 

3 sheets of leaf gelatine
2 tbsp Lime squash 
25 ml water
300 ml diet lemonade
the recipe in the book suggested blueberries and raspberries. However I used a handful of raspberries from my garden (not many left now) and cheated and opened a tin of peaches!

  • soak the gelatine for 5 minutes in water
  • add the cordial and water into a saucepan and warm through, then remove from heat
  • take the gelatine and squeeze out the excess water then add it to the pan of water and stir, it should dissolve almost immediately
  • pour the lemonade into a jug add the gelatine mixture and stir, watch out this will fizz up.  
  • add the fruit to your glasses then pour in most of the jelly, keep some back but do not put this in the fridge. 
  • pop your jellies in the fridge to set for 3 hours, take out and stir the wobbly jelly this will activate the extra bubbles.  Top off with the remaining jelly mixture you kept back.

I liked this recipe it gives you scope to be creative.  Using different fruit you may have growing in the garden, or which tins of fruit are in your cupboards. I thought I may try this with tonic water,  ginger ale or of course champagne. Obviously you will need to watch your ingredients if you still want to maintain this dessert as a diet option.

This post is part of the Hairy Bikers Bloggers Know Best Challenge #2 hosted by Jo's Kitchen.

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