Meet the Meal Planner : Anne’s Kitchen

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Meet the Meal Planner is a new feature on At Home With Mrs M, designed to introduce everyone to the people who get involved with Meal Planning Monday each week.  This is each meal planners chance to tell us who they are, why and how they meal plan. I hope you enjoy this new item and feel free to leave a comment for the meal planner below!

Hi there and welcome to Meet the Meal Planner! It’s great to have you here. Lets start by introducing yourself. Please tell us a little more about who you are and all about your blog. (If you have one!)

Hi I am Anne, and I blog at Anne’s Kitchen. I have been blogging for over 7 years, and its mostly recipes I create at home for me and my family. I like nice things but I try to keep things on a budget! There is a few reviews too of restaurants, cookery books and kitchenalia. I accidentally stumbled into becoming a blogger simply trying to find a place to store my recipes!

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Lets get down to business. I’d like to know you have been meal planning for and what inspired you to start?

About 5 years I ago I began shift work and meal planning helped to create some normality, so when I was tired I had at least a rough idea what to make. Also it helps to save money! I now finally work back Monday to Friday so its changed again, planning helps me not plan things that will take 3-4 hours to cook like before!

It’s time to start writing your meal plan for the week. What do you do first? Talk us through your planning.

 I check my excel spreadsheets (such a geek!) and flick through the fridge to see what needs using up sooner rather than later! Then its checking the diary as to our plans for the week…

Where do you find your meal-planning inspiration? Do you have a list of go-to meals or do you like to get creative and mix it up?

I get asked this a lot but its mostly creative mind wandering! I get inspired by reading other blogs, flicking through food magazines and sometimes its just a case I have picked something up on offer and trying to find a way to use it! Next up its Zaatar…! There isn’t a huge amount of single recipes I repeat as I always vary them but one of my most often made is an Aubergine Jambalaya dish – its makes loads and can be made meaty or veggie.

What cookbooks do you use the most? Is there a website resource you would recommend to other meal-planners?

I have erm over 130 ish books of varying cuisines but I love Nigella’s Kitchen for inspiration for weeknight friendly meals! I do stalk the BBC Good Food website too, have made lots from there and they are all reliable. Its not online but I love the monthly Waitrose magazine, I make lots from it each month!

So you’ve got your meal plan ready…do you ever go off-plan or do you always stick to it rigidly?

Quite often something will come up but I try to just swap days around, I don’t really like change but at the same time I try to go with the flow and try not to get too hung up on if it fails!

What benefits have you seen from meal planning? Do you find it helps you to cut waste? Save money?

Definitely saving money! And endless hours staring into the fridge with anxiety over what to make! Plus also not wasting food is very important to me, not much gets thrown here!

Any top tips for meal planning?

Relax! If you can only plan 3 days ahead then just do the 3 days! A glass of wine and uninterrupted time helps too! I tend to keep one emergency meal in the freezer just incase all else fails and my boyfriend has to cook our dinner!

And finally, purely because I am nosey, what kitchen utensil/gadget could you just not live without?

My knives, they are sharp (as my scarred fingers show!) and it makes prepping food a doddle and saves time too!

Thanks to Anne for sharing her meal planning tips.  Why not pop over to Anne’s Kitchen and see what she’s been cooking up recently!

I’ll be back with another Meet the Meal Planner really soon!

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Mrs M’s Christmas 2014 Gift Guide – Gifts for Food Lovers!

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Hello and welcome to the first of this years Christmas Gift Guides. I started doing these a couple of years back and they’re always fun to put together so I thought I would bring them back for 2014. The first one today is gifts that would be perfect for the food lover in your house.  There will be more guides popping up over the next few weeks including ones for her, him and children so do check back!

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1. I have been a fan of the English Provender Company for many years.  There are eight different gift packs to choose from, so there is something to suit most tastes. My personal favourite, being a big bad cheese lover is the The English Provender Co. Slate Cheese Board (RRP £25) which contains a natural slate cheese and acacia wood board along with a top quality cheese knife and comes complete with a jar of The English Provender Co.’s Caramelised Red Onion Chutney and Sea Salt & Rosemary Biscuits.  I also love The English Provender Co. Cheese Dome (RRP £22) which is a wooden based cheese dome with a glass cover, paired with the Sea Salt & Rosemary Biscuits and a delicious sounding Plum & Apple Bramley Chutney. The festive packs start from £8 and are available to buy in Debenhams stores.

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2. I was recently introduced to Rock Bakehouse which was founded in 2011 as a cake decorating school.  In 2014 they launched a great range products including aprons, tea towels and oven gloves. I love their tea towel range which I think would make a great gift to add into a hamper but their just as fabulous as a standalone gift.  All the tea towels are made from 100% premium cotton and prices start from £8.95. You can find them on the Rock Bakehouse website

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3.  If you’ve got a foodie in your life that is also a bit of a dab hand in a kitchen garden then this “Grow Your Own Christmas Dinner” would make a fantastically unique gift.    This seed collection from the London Herb Garden contains seven varieties of herb and vegetable seed – all varieties designed to be ready to eat in December. The Christmas Dinner seed collection is priced at £12.50 and is available from Not On The High Street.

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4. For the gin lover in your life (I’ve got a few…) how about this lovely Raspberry Gin Liqueur Set from Raisthorpe Manor?  The gift set is available to buy online priced at £24.99 and includes a 35cl bottle of Raspberry Gin Liqueur, Raspberry Jam and some Raspberry Chocolate Clusters. The gin has even won two awards – Great Taste 1 Gold Star 2011 / Yorkshire Post Taste Award Winner 2009.  Raisthorpe Manor have a wide variety of foodie gifts and all their products contain only the finest (locally sourced where possible) ingredients, created using traditional methods. To view the whole range, visit the Raisthorpe Manor website now.

Billingsgate Gift Voucher

5. Why not consider treating the foodie in your life to a gift that gives them the chance to learn some fantastic cookery skills? The Billingsgate Seafood School is located on the first floor of the Billingsgate Fish Market, the UK’s largest inland fish market in the heart of London’s Dockland. The school has been established as a charitable company, with the aim of promoting the awareness of fish in young people.  With classes ranging from £40 – £198 there is something to suit every experience, budget and occasion. Gift vouchers, which are valid for 12 months, are available online or can be bought by calling 0207 517 3548. Visit the Billingsgate Seafood School website to find out more.

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6. A hamper is always a good option when buying for someone who has everything else and Fodder have a great selection of interesting and reasonably priced hampers. Fodder is a shop and cafe overlooking the Crimple Valley, where the goods are supplied by Yorkshire farmers and producers. I really like the Afternoon Tea Hamper which is priced at £25.00 and comes complete with tea, coffee, biscuits, parkin and fruit cake, but could quite easily be swayed by the Cheese Accompaniments Hamper too. Check out the Fodder website to see more, where you can also purchase gift vouchers. 

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7. I love the idea of buying a three month Friday Night Curry subscription from The Spicery. The Friday Night Curry subscription contains all the fresh spices and recipes you need to make a fantastic curry and all the side dishes. The initial gift pack includes a useful storage folder for the recipe kits and a voucher gift card with your personal message, along with a free recipe kit to get the spicing started. Then once the subscription is activated the first Friday Night Curry box is sent right away, with subsequent boxes sent at the end of each month.  A three month subscription costs £20 – visit The Spicery website to find out more.
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8. Something a little different is this Give a Fig set from The Gluttonous Gardener.  The set, priced at £35.00, comprises of a young Brown Turkey fig tree in a terracotta pot along with a jar of fig jam. The Gluttonous Gardener has a great range of other foodie gifts including gifts for olive enthusiasts to gin lovers! Go to the Gluttonous Gardener website to find out more.

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9. For anyone who is a fan of a hot stone steak this would make an amazing gift. Steakstones sell a range of sets so you can enjoy the experience of cooking your food exactly as you like, live at your dinner table. My personal choice would be The Sizzling Steak Set, priced at £65.00, in fact, I will absolutely be buying myself on of these! See the full range on the Steakstones website.

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10. Finally, for anyone who likes to produce and perhaps give their home product as gifts, this product stamp would be a really unique gift. The stamp, from The English Stamp Company in Dorset, is priced at £24.00 and is customisable. There are also further stamps available for other kitchen uses. The website is well worth a visit – you can find it here.

That’s it for my foodie gift guide for 2014. Hopefully you might have found some inspiration! I’ll be back very soon with my next Christmas gift guide.

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Disclaimer: I have not been paid to promote the products featured in my Christmas gift guide. I may have undertaken product reviews of some of those featured in the blog posts and this will be mentioned where it is relevant. Many of the products I have featured in the gift guide series are there purely because I like them! I always try to be upfront and honest – if you have any questions, please get in touch via email.

Best Ever Chocolate Victoria Sandwich

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Some days just call for chocolate cake and believe me, I have more than my fair share of those days over the past few months.  I’ve been doing a lot more baking recently since I have unwillingly found myself at home more and the baking I have been favouring is simple, non-fussy cakes. You know, the type you can just whip up and eat within about an hour? The BEST type of cake.

The chocolate cake falls into that bracket. It takes no time at all to prepare, a nice short baking time and is damn easy to slice up and shove into your cake-hole. It’s also pretty scrummy to boot.

Because it’s a Victoria sandwich, you can just make it as described below or dress it up as you fancy. Sometimes I pop some cherry or raspberry jam in there with the buttercream, or I’ve let the children lose on the top with some icing and sprinkles. In the summer I fully intended to make this with a whipped cream and raspberry filling, that would be incredible. I’m currently musing on ways to Christmas it up a bit too. Any ideas for that, leave a comment below!

Best Ever Chocolate Victoria Sandwich

Ingredients

4 medium eggs
260g butter, softened
260g golden caster sugar
200g extra fine sponge flour
65g cocoa power
1 tsp baking powder
40ml milk

For the buttercream;

75g butter, softened
225g icing sugar, sieved
60g dark chocolate, melted
1 tbsp icing sugar
1 tsp cocoa powder

Method

Preheat the oven to 180C, gas mark 4. Grease and line two 21cm loose bottom cake tins.

Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Beat the eggs together and gradually add to the butter and sugar until well incorporated.

Sieve the flour, cocoa and baking powder together and fold into the mixture. Finally stir in the milk.

Divide the cake mixture between the prepared tins and smooth over the surface. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 20-25 minutes until the cake is springy to touch. Leave to cool in the tins for a few minutes, and then remove to a wire rack.

To make the filling, beat the butter with the icing sugar until smooth before pouring in the melted chocolate and stir. If it is a little thick you can add 1tbsp milk to make more spreadable.

When the cakes are cold, sandwich together with the chocolate butter cream. Place the icing sugar and cocoa powder in a sieve and dust over the top of the cake.

And then get yourself a big pot of tea and a large slice of chocolate cake and r..e..l..a..x!

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Festive Family Days Out

Every December, in the run up to Christmas, we like to take the children on a festive day out. It helps build up the excitement towards the big day (like they need any help) and it’s just seems like a nice thing to do, with the whole family, to get us all in the festive spirit.

These days there is an absolute wealth of places to go and “Santa experiences” are springing up left, right and centre in all manner of places so it can actually be hard quite hard to choose one. I’m starting to find it even harder now my children are getting that much older as I worry that some of the experiences might be a little too young for them, and these days out aren’t cheap so I’m really conscious of making the wrong decision.

I am just at the point now of planning our festive family day out for 2014 (and I realise I’ve left it a little late as it seems lots of places are already booked up!) and I thought I’d take a look back at some of the festive fun we’ve had in the past. Here are our top three festive experiences!

Drayton’s Magical Christmas

When we first went a couple of years ago this was completely centred around Thomas Land and therefore really was a day for the little ones. It seems now that they’ve incorporated a lot more for older children and the whole family. My two children loved Thomas Land when they were younger and enjoyed meeting Father Christmas, watching festive shows and the highlight of the day for them most certainly was the “snow” that fell in Thomas Land through out the day.  The majority of the attractions were outside though so it was pretty chilly in December!

Image Credit: http://www.jdtravelservices.co.uk/

Image Credit: http://www.jdtravelservices.co.uk/

Great Central Railway Santa Specials

One of our favourite trips was on the Santa steam train with Great Central Railway. We completely surprised our children with this trip so they had no idea what was coming – they nearly popped when they realised they were going on a train trip. We hopped on the train for a round trip, enjoyed cookies, mince pies and even a cheeky glass of sherry and the children got to meet Santa on board who gave them each a present. There was also a children’s entertainer on the train to get everyone into the festive spirit. It was a really nice experience and one I would definitely do again.

Image Credit: http://www.inloughborough.com/

Image Credit: http://www.inloughborough.com/

Santa at the Servants Quarter at Shugborough Hall

Last year we went to the magnificent Shugborough Hall in Staffordshire to meet Santa (actually one of the best Santa’s I’ve seen recently). The Victorian Servant’s Quarters had been festively decorated and we even got to help Mrs Claus stir her Christmas pudding and make a wish. There was a little land train to ride on and lots of Christmas activities to partake in. And best of all? Yes, they also had fake snow showers! Such an amazing hit with the children.

Image Credit: http://enjoystaffordshire.wordpress.com/

Image Credit: http://enjoystaffordshire.wordpress.com/

 

That’s really whet my appetite now, I’m looking forward to planning this years excursion!

What about you? Have you been on any Santa experiences or festive days out that you recommend? Let me know by leaving a comment below!

I recently teamed up with Dr. Oetker and became part of their pizza blog panel and this post was written in as part of my involvement with the Dr. Oetker brand. Check out their Facebook page where you can read the posts of other members of the blog panel and also look out for exclusive competitions.

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Disclaimer: As a member of the Dr. Oetker pizza blog panel I have received a Flip-cam and pizza vouchers. I have received no other form of payment to write this blog post and all words and opinions documented here and my own and not those of Dr. Oetker.

Meal Planning Monday (17th November 2014)

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So I totally missed Meal Planning Monday last week. I have no real excuse, other than the weeks appear to be running away with me at the moment. Quite scary really seeing as I’m not working right now! I don’t know where my time goes. I think it’s because I am all out of routine right now, I’m hoping very soon it will improve when my husband returns to work. It’s been a very odd few months.

I don’t have high hopes for meal planning this week as I am currently sicker than a sick thing. I’ve been struck down with the dreaded winter cold and I feel absolutely dreadful. Food certainly isn’t on the top of my list right now but the rest of the family have to eat, so life goes on!  Here’s what I am planning (and I say that loosely as there’s a good chance I’ll be spending the rest of the week lying in bed!) for the family; luckily I have a few meals stashed in the freezer and I am also doing a review for a ready meal company this week so that’s two nights sorted!

Chilli and rice
Chunky vegetable soup and crusty baguettes
*Cavendish Cooks review meal
* Cavendish Cooks review meal
Macaroni cheese and garlic bread
Spaghetti bolognese

Easy peasy which is just what the doctor has ordered this week.

Okay, here you go. Your turn to link up.

If you are a newcomer to my blog and Meal Planning Monday then the idea is simple. Read more about Meal Planning Monday HERE.  All you have to do to join in is write a blog post about your meal plans for the week and add it to the Linky below. No blog? No matter! Just leave a comment below with your plans or you can join in with our Facebook group and let us know over there.  We’ve also got a great Pinterest board going on.  If you want to join this collaborative board then let me know. We’ve currently got over 915 followers so it’s another great way to share your recipes and posts with the masses!

Follow At Home With Mrs M’s board Meal Planning Monday’s Family Favourites on Pinterest.

Also, I’ve just started a new community on Google+. I have ignored Google+ for so long since I joined there so I have no idea what I am doing but here is the link, come join me so I am not lonely! https://plus.google.com/b/…/communiti…/117001749684787456150

I’d really like to drum up some more interest in Meal Planning Monday this autumn, so please do share your posts and RT so we can get as many people on board as possible!  Use the hashtag #mealplanningmonday over on Twitter and I’ll share as many as I can.

Look forward to seeing what you’re all cooking up this week.

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