Tag Archives: kitchenware

Vintage Kitchenware Items

Vintage kitchenware

Vintage is one of the most popular fashions of the moment and at Wares of Knutsford, we believe this is one trend that’s going to stick around. The new vintage kitchen items section of the Wares website will help you find vintage kitchenware to suit the look easily by grouping it all into one place. You don’t have to spend a fortune on a whole new kitchen to get the look – as long as you have a relatively neutral scheme, a selection of appropriate vintage kitchen items as accessories should be enough to style up your existing decor.

Vintage kitchenware for baking

Think back to your grandmother’s kitchen – chances are it housed a healthy number of mixing and pudding bowls in the style of the Mason Cash collection. These earthenware items are dishwasher, freezer and microwave safe and come in the classic cane colour or white and in various sizes.

Essential baking accessories that perform as well as they look include a classic set of balance scales – they may not look very high tech but you’ll be impressed at how accurately they measure. Similarly the stainless steel rotary whisk is a staple of many kitchens years after electric versions arrived simply because it works so well, along with looking funky. Wooden accessories such as spoons and rolling pins have natural antibacterial properties while a charming blackbird pie funnel will keep your pastries light and airy.

Having baked yourself into a frenzy with all this kit, the finishing touch to add true vintage style to your kitchen would be a ceramic cake stand. The single tire ceramic stand with a glass dome is ideal for large, round cakes such as Victoria sponges or chocolate gateaux, while the two tier stand will show off your fairy cakes, muffins and scones to perfection.

Enamel vintage kitchenware

Wares of Knutsford offers a large range of enamel vintage kitchenware, some of which can be found in our special vintage section. The Falcon brand of enamelware sold by Wares has been found in British kitchens from 1920 and is still going strong. Famed for their superior heat retention properties and resistance to burning, scratching and staining, enamelware is both a stylish and effective part of any vintage kitchen armoury.

Popular with cooks and campers alike, the traditional white with blue trim style will add a vintage touch to any kitchen. If you’re going for a softer look, there are enamelware items available in soft cream, black, red or blue.

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Sea Grass Storage Baskets

sea grass baskets

Woven baskets have long been a popular storage solution and those crafted from sea grass are especially appealing. Constructed around a metal frame, they are sturdy yet light. Many also have robust handles, allowing you to move them easily. They can be used in a variety of ways around the home to not only minimise clutter but create an attractive storage solution for your household products.

Great kitchen storage with sea grass baskets

These baskets are an ideal choice for the kitchen, possessing plenty of rustic charm. Use them in your cupboards to keep small items such as spice jars tidy, or display on shelving and tables as an unusual fruit or vegetable bowl. Available as a set featuring a range of different sizes, the baskets stack neatly inside each other when not in use. The flat bottom of these sets of nesting baskets means that bottles and jars can be stored safely without the risk of spillage. They are also the perfect way to display fresh produce for shops, farms and markets stalls. Additionally, sea grass baskets make ideal containers for gifts. If you are preparing a special hamper of food and drink items as a birthday or Christmas present, they make a wonderful alternative to cardboard boxes or traditional wicker baskets.

Sea grass baskets around the home

The baskets are also extremely useful around the rest of the house. A large sea grass basket in the living room can be used as a coal basket or somewhere to store magazines. Smaller versions make handy containers for household accessories such as phone chargers and television remote controls. This type of storage is extremely popular in bathrooms and baskets of beauty products or toiletries look smart displayed in an open-fronted storage unit. Parents of young babies know just how much paraphernalia they need. Use different storage baskets to separate out the different bits of necessary equipment, such as bibs in one, socks in another. Keeping nappy changing supplies in one large basket in the nursery will ensure you have everything you need close to hand in an emergency. As the children grow, sea grass baskets are the ideal way to help them keep their assorted small toys tidy and mess to a minimum.

These smart baskets are a chic and stylish way to keep your living space free of clutter. Whether you use them for toys, culinary products or even to keep your garden shed tidy, sea grass storage baskets are a clever solution for any home.

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More Than Just Jam Jars

wares of knutsfordCustomers may have originally become aware of Wares of Knutsford as a useful online preserving resource but in fact there’s far more to the story.

All about Wares of Knutsford – the past

Do you remember those old fashioned hardware shops that used to be a fixture of every high street, where you could buy absolutely anything? There was one at 72 King Street in Knutsford, Cheshire. Having been open for about two hundred years, changing fashions in commerce saw the business close. In 1992 one Valerie Byles, having moved to Knutsford to escape the rat race and fallen in love with her new home town, decided the idea of a traditional hardware store still had legs and determined to reopen Wares of Knutsford on the site of the original shop. An old customer request book kept on the original counter drove the stock purchase and the new Wares quickly became popular as the town’s Aladdin’s Cave, the kind of shop where the good old fashioned values of courtesy and personal service reigned supreme.

In time success drove a move to a larger store on Princess Street, still in Knutsford, which allowed a larger choice of stock including ironmongery, hardware, kitchenware, a range of gifts and pet supplies. However with the advent of the internet and the demise of the British high street, the traditional store front was no longer a viable way of trading. Nonetheless founder Val saw that there was still a demand for her products and moved to online trading.

All about Wares of Knutsford – the present

Jam jars and other jam making equipment were for a long time the focal point of the business and as the premiere online preserving resource, Val became known by the nickname ‘Jam Jar Lady’. However Wares’ wares don’t stop there – traditional enamelware has been popular for the last twenty years and, along with the vintage style Mason Cash pottery range, is even more in vogue nowadays to appease the trend for vintage.

In 2012 the website was relaunched to make sure the company catered to current trends along with its more traditional market. A vintage decor was used to reflect the company’s classic values but the site is thoroughly modern with its easy navigation and user friendly customer service.

There are seasonal specialities, a regular newsletter and blog and a thriving online community, not to mention a set price for delivery, bargain bulk buys and plenty of special offers. If you have any questions about the stock or how to purchase, don’t hesitate to contact our friendly and knowledgeable staff.

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Romantic Gifts for Couples

ramekin romantic gift set

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, many people will be racking their brains to come up with romantic gifts for their significant other that are original, creative and suitably sentimental without seeming twee. There are some simple ways you can add a touch of romance to the day without making grand gestures or spending a fortune, and starting at home.

‘Eternal Flame’ blowtorch and ramekin romantic gift set

The ramekin romantic gift set from Wares of Knutsford comprises a couple of ceramic, heart shaped ramekins and a miniature pink blowtorch to be used for caramelising when making desserts such as crème brulee. The ramekins are 9cm size and are dishwasher and microwave safe. The refillable butane gas blowtorch (supplied empty) complies with British safety standards.

While the set is ideal for a classic dessert such as crème brulee, you could use the ramekins for a number of other recipes. Start the romance early in the day by serving an indulgent but healthy version of an English breakfast.

Baked eggs in your ramekin romantic gift set

  • 25g butter
  • 100g baby spinach leaves
  • 2 tablespoons bacon lardons
  • 2-4 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons double cream
  • 2 tablespoons Parmesan and Gruyere cheese, grated
  • 1 tablespoon breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 220ºC. Grease the ramekins with a little oil and set on a baking tray. Melt the butter in a frying pan and add the spinach for a couple of minutes, cooking until wilted and soft. Put half of the spinach into each ramekin. Add the bacon lardons to the pan and fry until crispy, then again divide between the ramekins. Crack an egg (or two if you prefer) into each ramekin then add a tablespoon of cream on top. Top with the grated cheese and breadcrumbs. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes or until the tops are bubbling and golden. Serve immediately with toast fingers.

If that sounds a little too healthy for your tastes, you could stick with the more traditional English fried breakfast but up the romance factor by cooking your eggs in a heart shaped egg ring. The theme could continue all through the day, as Wares of Knutsford offers a number of heart shaped cooking tools – add a heart shaped hard boiled egg to a lunchtime salad with the heart egg mould or make heart shaped quiches with a heart shaped baking tin or the silicone, heart shaped, six hole unit. Have an afternoon snack of heart shaped cookies then finish the day with a romantic dinner, served with heart shaped desserts in ramekins. That should have the desired effect.

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How to Make Valentines Cookies

heart cookies

St Valentine’s Day descends every year amid a flood of complaints that it has become a commercialised and meaningless event. However the post-Christmas period tends to be a bit drab so a day of romance is worth making a bit of effort for, to cheer up an otherwise dreary February. Avoid the commercial hell of fluffy teddy bears and lifeless garage forecourt blooms by going for the personal touch instead. Making your own valentines heart cookies will be greatly appreciated by partners, and if you don’t have one at least you’ll have something delicious to scoff and won’t even have to share!

Love heart cookies

These tasty valentines’ heart cookies are easy to make and you can decorate them as you wish. Makes 12 cookies.

  • 250g butter, at room temperature
  • 320g plain flour, sieved
  • 125g icing sugar, sieved
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 1tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 170ºC and grease and line a baking tray. Beat the butter in an electric mixer until soft and light. Add the remaining ingredients, mix together well and knead to a soft dough. Lightly flour the work surface and roll the dough out to a thickness of about 6mm. Use a heart shaped cookie cutter like those sold by Wares of Knutford to cut out 12 heart shapes, place them on the prepared baking tray and cook for about 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely on a wire rack before icing.

Icing your heart cookies

It’s the icing that makes these cookies really special. You can emphasise the heart shaped theme with a simple layer of red icing, spell out a special message to the one you love or go for a mixture of designs. Remember to use a very light touch with the food colouring; you’ll only need a drop or two for each colour batch you make.

  • 400g icing sugar, sieved
  • 3-4 tbsp water
  • A few drops of food colouring

Mix the water with the icing sugar gradually until the mixture reaches a smooth paste consistency – you may not need all of the water. Divide the icing into clean bowls for each colour you want to make and stir in a drop or two of the appropriate food colouring to each bowl, mixing well until the colour is uniform. You can spread the icing onto the heart cookies with a palette knife or use a piping bag and shaped nozzles to create detail. Set aside and allow the icing to harden completely before serving.

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Kitchen Storage Solutions

kitchen storage

Minimalism as a lifestyle might be appealing in principle but can be very hard to follow in practice. However living with clutter all around is not exactly relaxing either. Unless your budget allows for a whole new kitchen, you’ll have to find other, creative ways of organising storage for kitchen accessories.

Open shelves for kitchen storage

Unless your kitchen is furnished with wall units all round, you should be able to fit in the odd shelf somewhere. However you have to go carefully when furnishing your shelves – open packets of cornflakes and biscuits don’t scream elegance but even if you don’t have attractive glassware or ornaments to show off, you can still make your shelving look decorative while serving a practical purpose. Decant your dried goods such as pasta, rice, sugar, teabags, coffee or cereals into a neat set of glass or ceramic jars, prettily labelled so you can identify the contents. This not only looks stylish but preserves your food in optimum condition.

Utilise spare space for kitchen storage

Take a look around your kitchen. Apart from the fitted units, there are probably a number of other areas that could be used as kitchen storage for accessories that are less obvious at first. Wall space can be used to attach magnetic or hanging racks to free up worktop space, while ceiling beams can support hanging baskets that are ideal for fruit and vegetable storage. A wall mounted dispenser is not only neat but practical for kitchen roll, aluminium foil and clingfilm. Unused corners can be used to house portable trolleys, such as underneath breakfast bars or behind doors.

Kitchen storage for hiding things in plain sight

Having made the most of any unused areas, you may still find you have some clutter in your kitchen. It may be that you will never manage or even want a completely clear worktops. You can still give your kitchen a sleeker look by coordinating your storage. Bread bins, cake tins, storage jars and other attractive containers can disguise a number of sins. You don’t need a country cottage style kitchen to achieve this look, just a coherent theme in colour, pattern or style to tie it all together. Consider placement too – if you drinks lots of tea and coffee, there’s no point keeping the teabags in a cupboard at the opposite end of the kitchen. A set of attractive tea and coffee caddies stored near the kettle makes a convenient beverage station and free up storage elsewhere.

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A New Year A New Kitchen

kitchen accessories

A new year is generally accompanied by a raft of supposedly inspirational phrases such as ‘new year, new broom’, pledges to lose weight and various other steps towards overhauling one’s life. Some are certainly more achievable than others, ‘new broom’ being one of them. If renewing your youthful figure, vigour or even sense of style seem beyond the reaches of your willpower, you may find it easier to start with your home. The kitchen, the so called heart of the home, is probably the most used room in most houses and is an accessible place to start. Updates can range from ripping the whole lot out and starting again to gentle but effective refreshments with a selection of new kitchen accessories.

Updating your accessories is a low commitment way to change the look of your kitchen in a big way – new units, worktop, appliances, flooring and wall tiles for example add up to a huge financial outlay. If your budget can’t quite match that, there are some halfway houses – simply replacing cupboard doors or a worktop can be a good start, then move on to accessories.

Traditional kitchen accessories

Even if you live in the urban jungle, it’s relatively easy to achieve a classic, rustic look in your kitchen. Wares of Knutsford offers a wide range of cast iron cookware along with some more eye catching and individual items to personalise your kitchen – think traditional whistling kettles, tagines, enamelware and the quaint kind of galvanised steel buckets and housework hardware that your grandmother might have used. Mason Cash pudding and mixing bowls, decorative cake stands, bread bins and cake tins all add up to a feminine, homely look and are practical along with attractive. Textiles in gingham or chintz, polka dotted ceramic storage, wicker baskets and enamelware can all add to the effect, which is economical to achieve compared to a whole kitchen renewal.

Themed kitchen accessories

If the traditional, rustic look doesn’t work for you, find another theme that does. If you’re not confident going the whole hog with a comfy, traditional or sleek, modern look, choosing a new colourway accomplishes the same effect. The key is consistency – once you’ve chosen your colour, find a way to make it touch each aspect of your kitchen. As an example, Wares of Knutsford has an extensive range of red kitchenware that includes kitchen storage ideas, cooking utensils, bakeware and textiles. You don’t need to worry about going over the top – the idea is to have small touches all over rather than one big splash.

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Cupcake Decorating Kits

cupcake decorating kits

Despite a plethora of pretenders to its crown, the cupcake trend seems to be here to stay. The repertoire of designs and flavours is constantly expanding, with your imagination the only limit to creativity – well, that and your kitchen equipment list! To really go wild, take a look at the variety of cupcake decorating kits available to help you come up with your masterpiece.

Using cupcake decorating kits for beginners

There’s excellent fodder for cupcake creativity among the traditional shapes and colours that populate Halloween lore – witches, black cats, pumpkins and all manner of other ghostly and ghoulish motifs. Pick a design suited to your skills level – even novices can work wonders with some buttercream icing and a bit of food colouring.

Beginners can start with a simple monster eyes design. Cover a basic batch of chocolate cupcakes with green icing, then top with either shop bought eyeballs or make your own with small circles of white sugar paste topped with small ‘pupils’ of black sugar paste.

You can always buy preformed icing shapes to decorate your cupcakes, but it’s great fun to come up with your own by experimenting with cupcake decorating kits.

More complicated ideas for using cupcake decorating kits

If you’re ready to take the next step in your cupcake decorating career, try some witchy designs.

For each cake you will need a round biscuit such as an Oreo cookie or party ring and a wafer ice cream cone, slightly smaller than the biscuit in diameter. Cover both pieces in melted chocolate and stick the cone onto the cookie base to form a pointed hat shape. Decorate the ‘hat’ with coloured sprinkles or your choice of embellishment before the chocolate sets. Leave the hats to set on a sheet of greaseproof paper.

While the hats are setting, you can build your witch cakes. Ice half of your cupcakes on top with orange coloured buttercream. Remove the other half of the cupcakes from their paper cases and use a piping bag to cover all over with bright green coloured buttercream icing. Perch each one on top of an orange base. Now you can decorate witchy face shapes onto each green cupcake – you can use desiccated coconut for hair, liquorice for moles and eyebrows and various sweets for eyes, nose and mouths. Once your witches look suitably repulsive, finish them off by perching a chocolate hat onto each cake!

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Hot Toddy Recipes

hot toddy recipes

It’s medicinal, honest! Joking aside, a hot toddy is a well known winter booster and more adult alternative to Calpol, ideal to lift both the immune system and the spirits. Allegedly the heat, spices, honey and lemon all work to encourage mucus production, thereby flouting the march of bacteria and viruses through your body, while the alcohol promotes sleep and the warmth of the mixture soothes a sore throat.

Traditionalists in the art of how to make hot toddy would have it that a whisky base is essential, but in reality any alcohol will do, with rum and brandy having at least as many advocates and coconut moonshine the alcohol of choice for an Indian hot toddy. Modernists have been known to experiment with tequila, vodka and even sambuca. Aside from this, there’s usually hot water and a sweet and sour mix of honey, lemon and spices.

Hot toddy recipes the old fashioned way

For one serving:

  • 60ml water
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 stick of cinnamon
  • 1cm chunk of raw ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 1 strip lemon peel
  • 60ml whisky
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice (double this if you like your toddy very citrusy)
  • Freshly grated nutmeg

Add the spices and lemon peel to a small saucepan with the water and heat gently until simmering. While the mixture is heating up, pre-warm a heatproof glass by filling it with hot water. Empty and dry the glass then add the whisky and the spiced water mixture. Add the honey and lemon juice and stir in before tasting to judge the ratio of sweet to sour, then adjust if necessary. Serve garnished with a sprinkle of nutmeg and enjoy the toddy’s health giving properties.

Alternative hot toddy recipes

How to make hot toddy really interesting? Dare to deviate from the traditional recipe for something equally healthy and reviving but with a modern twist. For a chai rum toddy, take the recipe above and substitute chai tea for water and rum for whisky for a more exotic twist on the old favourite.

You could also try this aromatic and cidery variation on the theme:

To serve four:

  • 4 cardamom pods, cracked
  • 1 clementine and 1 lemon, both cut into wedges and stuck with cloves
  • 100ml whisky
  • 100ml orange liqueur
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1 litre cider
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • Freshly grated nutmeg

Simply heat all of the ingredients together gently in a pan, then pour into pre-warmed, heatproof glasses and garnish with a little nutmeg.

If none of the above hot toddy recipes hit the spot, you could always enjoy developing your own version!

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Christmas Cookie Cutter Set

christmas cookie cutter

You may think it’s a bit premature to be preparing for Christmas in October, but think again! Shops are already stocking up with festive goods and those who prepare their own Christmas cakes in the traditional way will have had their fruit soaking in brandy for some time already.

If heavy, alcoholic fruit cakes and the accompanying teeth rotting combination of marzipan and icing aren’t for you, there are plenty of lighter baking options to exploit for the festive season. One of the simplest and most useful involves Christmas themed cookies. Get the kids involved too and experiment with a variety of flavours and decorations. Invest in a set of Xmas cookie cutters with shapes including Santa’s hat, an Xmas tree, a bell, a sleigh, a holly leaf, a star, a present, an angel and a stocking shape. Not only are these great to share, they can also be used to decorate your tree!

Basic recipe for Christmas cookie cutters

To make 24 biscuits:

  • 100g unsalted butter, softened
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 275g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 190ºC and line a baking tray with a sheet of greaseproof paper.

Add the butter and sugar to a large bowl and cream together until light, fluffy and creamy. Gradually add the egg and vanilla extract, beating in well until fully combined.

Fold in the flour so the mixture forms a soft dough.

Lightly flour a work surface, turn out the dough and roll to a thickness of about 1cm. Use your Xmas cookie cutters to cut shapes out of the dough and place them carefully onto the baking tray. If you are planning to hang the decorations from your Christmas tree, make a small hole in the top of each biscuit before baking.

Bake for about 10 minutes, until the biscuits are light golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave the biscuits for about 5 minutes before placing on a wire rack to cool.

Decorating biscuits made with Christmas cookie cutters

You now have some wonderfully festive shaped biscuits, but that’s not enough! You now have to decorate the biscuits in suitably Christmassy fashion.

To make a basic icing for this quantity, sift about 400g icing sugar into a large bowl and gradually add the water, stirring in well, until you have a smooth consistency. For two or more colours, just separate the icing mixture into separate bowls and add your food colouring very carefully, drop by drop.

Spread the icing onto your biscuits with a palette knife then decorate with edible glitter or other cake decorations.

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Foods that Boost the Immune System

foods that boost immune system

A healthy eating regime can do far more than maintain your sylphlike figure. In fact, you can use the food you eat to wage war against illness and infirmity. The saying ‘an apple a day…’ could be expanded to include a whole repertoire of so called ‘superfoods’ that have excellent immune boosting properties.

Natural foods that boost immune system


Everyone knows the importance of wholegrains for the passage of food through the intestinal system. However some wholegrains, particularly oats and barley, also contain antioxidant and antimicrobial properties that can boost the immune system and help to ward off infectious diseases, and even boost wound healing.


The active ingredient in garlic, allicin, is a proper little warrior against bacterial infection. Studies have shown lower rates of colorectal cancer, stomach cancer and even less susceptibility to the common cold among regular garlic munchers. Aim for at least a couple of cloves per day for a beneficial effect – and expect to smell!

Sweet potatoes

Containing high levels of vitamin A, sweet potatoes can help the body to produce connective tissue, important for healthy skin. This makes it one of the more important foods that boost immune system, as skin is the body’s first line of defence against germs, dirt and other undesirable elements. Other orange tinted foods have similar properties, such as carrots, peppers and orange fleshed melons.

Prepared foods that boost immune system


Yoghurt is full of probiotics, live bacteria beneficial to the health of your intestinal tract. If you can’t eat dairy products, you can take a probiotic supplement, but a couple of creamy yoghurts on a daily basis is a delicious way to maintain gut health and up your calcium levels at the same time.


Much has been made of the health properties of green tea, but black tea drinkers have also demonstrated high blood levels of interferon, known for fighting viruses. You’ll need quite a few cups per day though, strongly brewed.

Chicken Soup

It seems your grandmother may have been right to recommend chicken soup at times of illness, with scientists discovering it may have a protective effect upon the immune system. The benefits are thought to come from the release of the amino acid cysteine during the chicken cooking process – used to fight bronchitis, from the salty broth base that can thin mucus and from addition of other immune boosting foods such as onion and garlic.

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Enamel Soup Plates

enamel soup plates

Enamel soup plates have been traditional camping gear for a long time, but actually make great serving dishes in as well as outside. If you’re planning a Hallowe’en or Bonfire Night feast, the Falcon enamel soup plate set is ideal for tucking in around a campfire.

Hearty pumpkin soup in enamel soup plates

To serve 6:

  • 1 medium sized pumpkin, skin and seeds removed and cut into large chunks
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon mild curry powder
  • 400g bacon lardons
  • Salt and pepper
  • 400ml double cream
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Cook the pumpkin with the onion in a large pan of boiling water for about 20 minutes or until tender. Meanwhile, gently fry the bacon with the garlic and curry powder until it starts to crisp at the edges.

When the pumpkin is cooked, drain and blend until smooth. Add the bacon mixture and cream, stirring well to combine. Reheat and season with salt, pepper and sugar to taste.

Serve in enamel soup plates with some crusty bread.

Chilli Con Carne in enamel soup plates

If pumpkin soup is a bit too predictable for you, try a chilli con carne. It’s so easy to prepare, works equally well around the campfire and is a universal favourite.

To serve 4:

  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 500g minced beef
  • 1 teaspoon each of cumin, chilli powder, paprika and Cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 x 400g tin red kidney beans, drained
  • 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes

Fry the onion with the beef in a large pan on a medium heat until the meat is browned. Stir in the spices, garlic, kidney beans and tomatoes. Bring to the boil then cover and allow to simmer for about 90 minutes. Serve with a baked potato, rice or crusty bread.

Finish the feast with a pumpkin pie and some marshmallows on sticks toasted around the fire!

Pumpkin pie in enamel soup plates

To serve 6:

  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon plain flour
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 375g fresh pumpkin, pureed
  • 350ml evaporated milk
  • ½ teaspoon each ground cinnamon, ginger and salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 1 sheet shortcrust pastry

Preheat the oven to 230ºC and line a pie dish with the pastry.

Beat together the pumpkin, sugar, flour, spices, salt, golden syrup and the egg. Stir in the evaporated milk slowly then fill the pie dish with the mixture.

Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 170ºC and cook for a further 30 minutes. When the pie is cooked, a skewer inserted into the centre should come out clean.

Finally, for the real Halloween campfire feel serve in enamel soup plates with lashings of whipped cream and ice-cream.

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Christmas Gifts for Tea Lovers

tea gifts

Tea lovers are the custodians of an old and valuable tradition. Afternoon tea is a quaint ritual and a gift of exotic tea or funky brewing equipment can elevate the experience to a delicious luxury. Christmas gifts for tea lovers range from the practical to the whimsical, and are sure to bring a smile to any devoted tea drinker’s face.

Practical tea gifts

There’s a fairly standard range of gifts that are always welcome in tea lovers’ homes – storage jars, straining equipment and pretty tea pots have always been favourites. However there’s also a modern range of tea brewing equipment including dedicated electric tea kettles. These are economical to use, boiling only the exact amount of water needed and are quick and convenient.

For those who prefer to brew in pots, there are funky tea pots for modern, cutting edge design enthusiasts or flowery, bohemian types, available as tea gifts for all budgets. On the other hand, French presses are more commonly used to make coffee but are just as suitable for brewing tea leaves and can make a glamorous alternative to a tea pot.

Flavoured teas often come in pretty tins, which can be reused once the tea is finished and a pretty tea set with delicate cups, matching saucers, elegant spoons plus milk jug, sugar bowl and a set of cake plates can turn an everyday cuppa into a ceremonial experience.

Some gifts can be both practical and whimsical. A chicken shaped tea cosy is trendily retro and ironic, while performing a very practical purpose. Update the traditional flask for those on the go for a modern variety with a built in tea infuser.

Whimsical tea gifts

Armchair tourists will enjoy a global tea trip with a sampler of different international teas. Go for exotic varieties such a Japanese genmaicha, Tibetan The des Moines, Chinese Grand Yunnan Imperial or Argentine Flor de Oro. Indian chai varieties are spicy and warming on chilly mornings, making ideal Christmas gifts for tea lovers. Alternatively you could go for something cheekier, such as a set of novelty Prince William and Kate teabags.

Tea infusers are a fairly humble piece of equipment, but there are creative varieties available in funky shapes and designs – try a Death Star tea infuser for a Star Wars fan.

Meanwhile academic types will enjoy exploring the science and history of their favourite beverage with a tea themed book.

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Christmas Gifts for Coffee Lovers

coffee gifts

Coffee drinkers see themselves as a sophisticated bunch, and the coffee industry has expanded to cater to their tastes. There’s huge amounts of paraphernalia available meaning it’s easy to buy Christmas coffee gifts.

Traditional cafetiere coffee gifts

Traditionalists forego modern machines in favour of the simple cafetiere or French press. These attractive devices make perfect coffee gifts and brew coffee via a very simple mechanism, featuring a filter at the end of a plunger within a clear jug. Coarse coffee grounds are placed in the cafetiere with hot water and left to brew for a few minutes. The plunger is then depressed and traps the coffee grounds underneath the filter at the bottom of the jug.

The bonus of a cafetiere is its simplicity. It’s portable and can even be used to brew tea.

Funky Christmas coffee gifts

Real coffee connoisseurs will enjoy using a coffee grinder, so they can make the freshest brew from whole beans. Frother accessories produce professional looking, creamy textured cappucinos.

Posh coffee

Coffee beans are, in effect, the roasted seeds of berries from the Coffea plant. From raw product to steaming cup, there’s quite an intensive processing period. Roasted beans are graded by colour, with lighter beans producing a bolder flavour. Roasted beans must be stored in an airtight container to maintain freshness.

Fresh coffee beans make a sophisticated and fragrant gift. Arabica beans are a popular choice for their low caffeine content and soft flavour. However there’s a dizzying variety of blends and coffees of exotic origins.

Beans are usually bought according to the grade of roast – light for more delicate and acidic flavour, medium for a fuller, sweeter flavour and dark for a strong, sometimes bitter taste. Apart from roasting, beans from different geographic areas have distinctive flavours, so coffee producers often blend different grades of roast for more complex flavours. French and Italian coffees tend to be darker, while American roasts are more moderate.

Turkish coffee, for example, is usually finely ground and flavoured with cardamom. It should be served with a foamy top and is an international favourite, along with espresso and cappuccino.

To surprise a serious coffee lover, the internet is your friend. Search out more unusual and exotic beans and blends, such as kopi luwak coffee, made from beans excreted by the Asian Palm Civet. It may sound unappetising but results in a flavoursome brew that is considered a delicacy!

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What Makes the Perfect Cup of English Tea

perfect cup of tea

There’s nothing more British than a traditional cuppa – whether made from leaves and tea pots or by dunking a tea bag. There are tea snobs who will bore for England about the best way to prepare a brew, which advice you can take or leave, but there are a few guiding principles you can follow to get the best cuppa.

The raw ingredients for the perfect cup of tea

The tea you use is the most important factor. Unfortunately, this is a case of getting what you pay for and the cheapest is not the best. Specialist tea shops offer the best selection. For a proper British cuppa you will need black leaves, such as a classic Earl Grey. You can buy tea bags but will get a better result from loose leaves.

Store your tea leaves in a cool, dark spot in a dry, airtight container for the requisite freshness.

Tea pot etiquette

Use freshly boiled water for every cup. Ideally the temperature of the water when poured should be slightly below boiling, or about 93ºC. For the perfect cup of tea always warm tea pots before brewing.

Use about a teaspoonful or three grammes of tea leaves per cup and one extra for good measure, or three teaspoonfuls for two cups of tea. Add the tea leaves to the pot, then pour over the water and allow to steep or brew. Leave the pot with the lid on for about five minutes.

Pour into cups through a tea strainer and season with milk or lemon and sugar if required.

The perfect cup of tea from tea bags

If you prefer to use tea bags you can still obtain quality results. Use the same freshly boiled water, a little below 100ºC, that you would use for loose leaf tea. Pour over a good quality tea bag in a mug and leave to stand for about five minutes – three minutes will do for a weaker flavour or you can allow up to eight minutes for a really strong tea. Remove the tea bag and add milk to your taste. A proper British ‘builder’s tea’ will be a dark tan colour, having been well brewed and adulterated with only a splash of milk.

If you prefer loose leaf tea but don’t like to use tea pots, you can put tea leaves into an infuser and brew directly in a mug.

Don’t forget that a perfect cup of tea requires a couple of biscuits to really bring out the flavour!

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International Soup and Stew Recipes

soup recipes

Stew and soup recipes are one of the best things about winter – warming, comforting and nutritious. Ring the changes and avoid predictability by looking internationally for inspiration.

Classic Eastern European soup recipes: Borscht

This is one of the best known hearty soup recipes, usually based around beetroot, potato and cabbage. Variations are made with spinach or tomato and all these soup recipes can be eaten hot or cold with sour cream or yoghurt. Many Central and Eastern European countries have developed their own national versions of the traditional recipe, but the version given below makes a good starting point. Leave out the sausage for vegetarians.

To serve 10:

  • 450g pork sausage, cut into cubes
  • 3 beetroots, peeled and grated
  • 3 carrots, peeled and grated
  • 3 baking potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 150g tomato puree
  • 180ml water
  • ½ green cabbage, cored and shredded
  • Half a 400g tin chopped tomatoes, drained of juice
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon caster sugar
  • Salt and pepper
  • 125ml soured cream
  • Handful fresh parsley, finely chopped

Fry the cubes of sausage until cooked then set aside. Add about two litres of water to a large pan and bring to the boil, add the sausages and then the beetroot, cooking until the beetroot has lost its colour. Stir in the potatoes and carrots and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Add the cabbage and tomatoes.

Meanwhile, in a separate pan, fry the onion in the oil until soft and translucent. Add the tomato puree and water and combine together well. Add to the vegetable pot along with the garlic, then remove from the heat and allow to stand, covered, for 5-10 minutes. Season according to taste.

Serve garnished with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of parsley.

Exotic soup recipes

The Caribbean has a rich repertoire of soup and stew recipes, full of exotic spices. Callaloo originates from ingredients brought East from Africa.

To serve 6:

  • 450g callaloo/spinach leaves, stems removed and roughly chopped
  • 1½ litres chicken stock
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 225g salt beef, without fat and diced
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 6 shallots, minced
  • ¼ teaspoon thyme
  • 1 green chilli, cut in half lengthways
  • 100g okra
  • 225g crab meat

Add the callaloo leaves, chicken stock, onion, beef, pepper, shallots, thyme and crab to a large pan. Simmer, covered, for about 35 minutes or until the beef is tender. Add the okra and cook for a further eight minutes. Remove the chilli halves and run the soup through a blender until smooth. Season to taste.

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Uses for Bicarbonate of Soda

bicarbonate of soda

It seems grandmother does know best – growing numbers are becoming convinced that natural alternatives to chemical stuffed cleaning products are just as, if not more, effective. Traditional Bicarbonate of Soda, lemon juice and vinegar are just some of the wonder products with a million uses.

Cosmetic uses for Bicarbonate of Soda


Add a teaspoon of traditional Bicarbonate of Soda to half a glass of water, then take a gulp, gargle, spit out and rinse. This will neutralise any nasty odours in your mouth.


For an effective facial scrub, mix three parts traditional Bicarbonate of Soda with one part water. Use as a facial skin exfoliator in a gentle, circular motion or add some sugar for a more powerful body scrub.

Insect bite treatment

Make a paste of the bicarbonate of soda with a little water and apply to the site of insect bites to ease stinging and itching.

Hair detoxifier

Add half a teaspoonful of bicarbonate of soda to your shampoo when you wash your hair for a detoxifying effect – the soda will help to remove any build up of styling products just as effectively but more cheaply than special detoxifying shampoos.

Clean hairbrushes

Use bicarbonate of soda to keep your brushes and combs clean. Soak your hair tools in warm water with a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda added, then rinse thoroughly and allow to air dry.

Uses for Bicarbonate of Soda around the House

Clean pots and pans

Soak saucepans and frying pans in warm water with three tablespoons of baking soda to loosen cooked on food and stubborn grease residues before washing by hand or in the machine as usual.

Microwave and fridge cleaner

Rub the inside and outside of your appliances with a clean, damp sponge sprinkled with bicarb. This will leave your appliances spotless, without scratches or any chemical odours.

Polishing silver

Make a paste of three parts bicarbonate of soda and one part water and apply as a polish to silverware with a clean sponge or cloth. Rinse thoroughly and rub dry with a soft cloth for a sparkling finish.

Stain remover

Remove stubborn coffee and tea stains from pots and mugs with a baking soda and warm water solution, soaking overnight if necessary.

Oven cleaner

It’s the worst job in the kitchen! Make cleaning the oven easy by sprinkling the bottom of the oven with bicarbonate of soda, then dampen with a water spray. Leave to work overnight, then remove dirt and grime in the morning and rinse with a cloth or sponge.

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Choosing Kitchen Knives

kitchen knives

A set of kitchen knives makes the basic kit list in any kitchen. While you can invest a substantial amount buying a smart kitchen knife set, it’s worth doing a bit of research into what you really need, considering your cooking habits in addition to your budget. Many people find building up an individual collection of knives to suit their own specific needs is more useful to them than a kitchen knife set – although these are useful if you’re starting from scratch.

What to look for in kitchen knives

There are a number of features to consider when buying your kitchen knives. Most important of all is material. Blades are created from a number of materials, each with different properties. Stainless steel is easily the most popular. It’s affordable and simple to sharpen at home. Carbon steel is a lower maintenance alternative – it needs less sharpening but is more expensive. Ceramic is prized by professional chefs for its light weight but exceptionally durable finish. Titanium is similarly desirable for the same reason and even more costly!

The sharp end

You’ll also need a range of different cutting blades. Scalloped and serrated edge blades are used for bread knives, thanks to their ability to cut the crust and bread inside cleanly. Straight edged blades are the all rounders of the kitchen knife set and should be sharpened regularly to maintain keenness. A useful alternative is a straight edged blade with fluted indentations along the side. These form tiny air pockets as you cut that stop food clinging to the blade, ideal for cheese and for very delicate slicing.

Basic sets

Most kitchen knife sets come with a range of good all rounders, knives that cope with everyday kitchen tasks, to which you can add specialist kitchen knives depending upon your cooking habits. Among them you will usually find a small paring knife for fruits and vegetables, a serrated edge utility knife, a large bread knife, a flexible bladed carving knife and a cook’s knife for larger chopping jobs.

Specialist kitchen knives

Task knives are those specifically designed for certain jobs, such as meat cleavers, filleting or boning knives. If you prepare or eat a particular ingredient regularly, it’s worth investing in a knife designed to make that job easier – meat lovers should consider a good set of steak knives, healthy types a grapefruit knife and those who entertain would surely find a cheese knife handy. In the same way, oyster knives and pizza slices are more than decorative. Their design means they make their particular job easier to accomplish.

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Decorating Your Kitchen Ideas

kitchen ideas

Few of us are in a position to splash out on a complete new kitchen every time a fresh decorating whim strikes. However, there are smaller scale changes that can have major impact upon the style and character of your kitchen without breaking the bank. Accessorising and decorating your kitchen according to a theme can transform it without investing in expensive new hardware such as units and appliances.

Shelving kitchen ideas

If you have spare wall space, rather than putting up expensive new cupboards, consider open shelving. Not only do they provide storage, they can be a style statement in their own right and can be the simplest way to furnish an awkward corner. Owners of modern, minimal kitchens may want to stick with the theme, using invisible bracket shelves in a single, long line. However you can ring the changes with some retro style in the form of old wine crates or an eclectic selection of wooden boxes for a relaxed, effortless feel. Fill the shelves with your more attractive kitchen ideas such as coloured glassware, vintage tea sets or cast iron cookware. Open shelving also makes a great home for a collection of cook books.

New lighting kitchen ideas

Spending a small amount of time and money on clever kitchen ideas such as mood lighting can pay massive dividends. Careful illumination can transform a stark, cold space into something warm and cosy. If you have a dining table in your kitchen, you can’t go wrong with one single or a row of low hanging pendant lights. This creates the illusion of a separate, more intimate space. Task lighting under the wall units helps you to see what you’re doing – because no-one wants to lose a fingertip while chopping carrots. What’s more it has an amazing enlarging effect upon the kitchen.

These are practical kitchen ideas, but consider also the aesthetic effect of decorating your kitchen according to a theme – even a sleek, minimal, all white kitchen can express a bohemian personality with careful accessorising.

Antique objects add sure-fire charm and, carefully collected at car boots sales and flea markets, don’t have to cost a fortune. Just make sure they are in reasonable condition and above all clean!

Plain, painted walls may be the traditional look in a kitchen, but a bold, patterned wallpaper used sparingly can make a strong statement. Alternatively, using the paper all over rather than as a feature on one wall is a more modern look and works particularly well with a retro modern theme.

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Wicker Baskets

wicker baskets

Humble wicker baskets are ideal for a number of uses – they not only provide practical but decorative storage but also securely lug around logs or shopping. You can even order a wicker coffin! A wicker basket in the corner of the living room or at the bottom of the stairs is ideal for corralling loose objects prior to returning them to their homes. Use a mixture of shapes, sizes and colours for a rustic look or line up a matching set in a more modern, minimalist décor.

Planting wicker baskets

You can plant up your baskets for an unusual and attractive display both inside and out, however unless they are designed to hold plants, they need some preparation first. Moisture and drainage are important issues, so either plant inside a plastic tub that fits neatly inside your basket, sitting on a draining tray, or line the basket yourself with plastic. A layer of small stones at the bottom of the plastic lined basket will provide both drainage and stability. Then fill the basket with potting compost to within about 4 inches of the top rim and plant away! You will need to leave a one inch space between the top of the soil and the rim of the basket to allow for watering. Wicker baskets look particularly fine with a display of grassy foliage and delicate flowers, such as scabious, rather than large, bold blooms and work equally well as hanging displays or sitting on the ground.

A bar from wicker baskets

Not many houses have the room (or the need!) for a full size bar in the living or dining room. However it’s nice to be able to have a selection of drinks available for guests. Traditionally, silver trays work well for this purpose, but if you’re looking for something a bit more relaxed, try rustic wooden or wicker baskets. The basic bar will need a selection of glasses – four highballs and four tumblers should do it. Then you’ll need some drinks – gin, vodka, rum and whiskey to start, then you can consider adding some liqueurs such as Tia Maria, Chambord, Triple Sec, Amaretto and Cointreau., or anything else that’s a regular favourite. If you’re a fan of cocktails, add a shaker and a stirrer. For parties or other events you’ll need to add extra ingredients such as ice, mixers and garnishes such as lemon and olives, but a simple range of basics is usually sufficient on a casual, everyday basis.

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