Category Archives: Lifestyle
How I gained 50,000 Instagram followers!
So, last weekend I achieved a huge milestone – a whopping 50,000 followers on my Instagram profile. Grasping the amount of people who have taken an interest in my life and my home is overwhelming – that’s the size of an entire populated football stadium! It’s something I will never take for granted and I truly appreciate every single person who has clicked that follow button. It’s not been a quick process, it’s been a lot of time, effort and hard work.
It all started around 18 months ago. I had bought myself a new lamp from Next Home, which you will all know, is my favourite shop. I only had a handful of followers, mainly my friends and family and I decided to share a photo of my sparkly new purchase! I uploaded a pretty photo which included a hashtag #nexthome. The following day I logged on and found that the photo had gained around 50 likes and I couldn’t believe it! I would usually get one or two as I had so few followers and I only really used the app to make my photo look pretty! And so my journey began. I became rather fond of posting my latest home ware goodies and started to become addicted to taking inspiration from others. I would search hashtags such as #homedecor and from there I found some beautiful and inspirational home accounts. This brings me onto my first tip…..
Always include hashtags
Make sure you include relevant and popular hashtags in your photos. Not only sites and shops where you have purchased things, but also include the big accounts such as Interior4all, where people look for inspiration. If someone fancies a new Laura Ashley wallpaper and they search for recent tags, you want them to stumble across your photo and notice you. I don’t like the look at hashtags in my posts as it can look a little messy. I post mine in a comment immediately after I upload. I have my frequently used tags in a saved list which I copy and paste and then add in anything relevant to my photo such as #boysbedroom. Have a look at the popular accounts that inspire you. Check out their hashtags for ideas on where to start and get noticed!
Find your niche
Find your passion and share it with others, whatever that may me! Whether it’s make up, fashion or interiors, you can make a success of it with good content and quality photos. Try and stick to your niche to establish yourself. If your account is to showcase your skills in interior design, don’t post a random selfie of you and your hubby on a Saturday evening, as tempting as it may be! Keep that for your Insta stories where people are generally keen to see more of the personality behind the camera! You want your feed to have a clean, aesthetically pleasing theme. You’ll notice I’m not keen on posting colour! If someone is following you because they love your home, its off putting to have random things pop up on their feed that isn’t relevant to their interest. Whilst that may sound harsh, it’s true and if you want to keep your followers engaged, stick to your niche on your feed.
Post good quality photos daily
I recently designated an entire blog post on how to make your photos look beautiful and professional which can be found here (LINK). Edit your photos, make sure they are sharp, clear and have good lighting. You should post regularly and as consistently as possible to keep people interested in you and keep increasing your following. Once daily is ample, posting too much can be irritating and clog up people’s feed in a spammy fashion. It’s all about a balance of being consistent but not too much.
Post at the prime time!
You will find that certain images you post are slow to generate likes and others will sky rocket! Try to assess when your followers are most likely to engage. For me, the peak times to post are evenings around 8pm. That’s generally when the dinner is finished, the kids are in bed and your followers are perhaps sitting down for the evening and reaching for their phones. I also find that early mornings around 7am are popular too. I think many of my followers, like me, go on their phone upon waking up to have a quick scroll before getting out of bed. Weekends are also generally much more popular than during the week too. Try to capture your audience when they’re most likely going to be free to have a look on their phones. A Monday morning at 11am is going to be quiet!
Engage with your followers
Try to interact with your followers as much as possible and show your personality! There’s nothing worse than when a photo has been posted and has a load of comments asking where an item is from and there are no replies from the account. Of course, you can’t answer every single question and it can be frustrating being asking where things are from when you’ve taken the time to tag the product in the photo and answered the question previously. However, it’s important to take time to try and be as helpful and as engaging as possible. Like and comment on other people’s photographs which you enjoy. The more you do this, the more you will pop up on other’s feeds throughout the day.
Change to a business account
Once you’ve started to gain a good amount of followers it’s helpful to switch to a business account on the Instagram app. Annoyingly, Instagram requires you to have a business Facebook page to use this facility, but it you don’t particularly want your images on Facebook you can simply make a blank page with a title. The business account enables you to see where your followers are mainly based, statistics like their gender and age and what your most popular times for engagement are. It’s a great base to provide statistics to potential businesses who may want to collaborate with you. It very helpfully shows how many people have saw your posts (as opposed to how many likes you’ve received) which is important if you’re trying to make a business from your page, or indeed if you are a business!
It’s easy to get carried away with the hype. Stay true to yourself and only post products that you love. People will offer to send you things along the way as you gain your following in excess of 20k. It will be very obvious if the item isn’t something you’d normally buy. I stick to this religiously. I’ve been sent wax melts and candles for example which are poor quality that I simply wouldn’t share on my page just because it was sent to me. Be picky and only share things that you love and are passionate about. It will quickly become apparent if you promote poor quality items just because they were free! Your reputation is important if you want your followers to trust you and invest in things which you love too.
Finally, I want to say another huge thank you. I find the Instagram community to be a warm and friendly platform and without you I wouldn’t have had to confidence and the motivation to create this blog which I have grown to love. Virtual hugs to you all and have a wonderful weekend!
Make your Christmas magical
Anyone who knows me will understand just how much I love Christmas. That time of year when both my husband and I finish up work for at least two weeks and collecting the kids from school and nursery on that last day is just pure excitement! Nothing but family time for two blissful weeks. Closing the door on frosty nights, fridge full of party foods and treats and the house adorned with sparkle. Oh, I’m getting excited just thinking about it!
That magical feeling you had as a child when you unequivocally believe in Father Christmas returns in abundance when you have your own children at Christmas time. I am usually awake before them at 6.30am willing them to wake up on Christmas morning. Their little faces and excitement is priceless.
We like to start our preparations and celebrations at the to mid-end of November. If Halloween and Bonfire night are finished, and the famous John Lewis advert is popping up on social media, we’re more than ready for the excitement to start building. We have a few traditions in our house, which I’m hoping will last a lifetime in my children’s memories. If you’re looking for some inspiration (from someone who was surely an actual elf in a previous life) then this is the blog post for you!
Elf on the shelf
We started this tradition three years ago. The idea is that your child is sent an Elf from the North Pole to watch over them and report back to Santa. Your child mustn’t ever touch their Elf, or they may lose their magic!
Also, you don’t want your kids to discover that you’ve used Sellotape on the Elf for the odd occasion!
Each day the Elf will be in a different place in your home for child to hunt for, upon waking up each December morning. Now, we like our Elf to get up to mischief! We have had so many side splitting moments after the kids have gone to bed, setting the Elf up in the most imaginative and inventive ideas possible! There are so many ideas online if you’re left scratching your head. Last year, one of our photos went viral after I posted it on my Instagram feed. It appeared in a newspaper and on various websites. What a laugh that was! If you want to see our favourite Elf on Shelf creations so far, click here (LINK) . Here’s is the ‘famous’ photo that made our Elf a star in his own right!
Visit your local Christmas market
This is one of the first things we do in the build up to Christmas. The hustle and bustle of the market on a frosty evening, festooned with twinkling lights, surrounded by happy families, the sweet smell of fresh pancakes and the smokiness from the bratwurst hot dogs! Oh, it’s simply glorious. Often the markets have a funfair attached too, making it the most fun, festive day/evening out for the whole family. What better way to kick start your anticipation of the big day. We love to get wrapped up in new woolly hats and gloves and finish the evening off with a hot chocolate.
One special day out/Santa visit
I like to keep the magic alive by taking the children to visit Father Christmas just once each year. I like to spend money on one great quality experience. If you’re in Scotland, I can highly recommend Goulding’s Garden Centre. (If not, check out your local garden centre) Your day starts off with a reindeer parade, a ride on Santa’s sleigh, a walk through his magical workshop to watch the wooden elves at work making the toys, a funfair and of course, a visit to meet Santa himself. There is so much on offer out there, spend your money wisely. Check out reviews online and choose something really special.
Christmas eve boxes
Is it just me who thinks that Christmas Eve is the most magical day of them all? The anticipation of Santa visiting your very own house on that night, the cosy pyjamas, party food and festive movies. It’s all so special. We love to give our children a box each filled with goodies to start the excitement. This year we have some beautiful silver ones to match our décor. Some ideas to fill your child’s box are
*New Christmas pyjamas
*Reindeer dust (Glitter and porridge oats in a clear bag, tied with ribbon)
*Key for Santa
*Sweets, chocolate coins, cookies
*Letter from Santa
*Festive bath bomb
*Personalised Christmas bauble.
The ideas are endless. You could have a couple of special items and bulk the rest out with homemade goodies. There’s abundance of little treats in the pound shop so you don’t have to spend very much at all. What a perfect way to start that wonderful day.
Last year, we used this fantastic app ‘Catch Santa’ After we had arranged the children’s presents we used this to place a photo of Santa in our living room for the children to see in the morning. This really made me laugh as it looked so real. I love the expression on Santa’s face. He really looks caught in the act! I sent this photo to my mother in law and she thought it looked so real she replied, ‘Is that Shaun in a suit?’
Portable North Pole
We have used this app since Sofia was a tiny baby. It’s fantastic. You fill out an online form with your child’s name, age, achievements, toys they want and things they have been trying hard with throughout the year. The result is a personalised five-minute video for your child from Santa. You can also choose whether they are on the naughty or nice list! I have a friend who used this to say her son was on the naughty list to whip him into shape after he hurled his iPad across the room! It worked a treat. The beauty of it is that you can save it forever to look back upon.
Video call Santa
In a world of technology and social media, our children will Facetime friends and family as though it’s as normal as writing a letter back in our day! This clever little app sends a short video of Santa and presents just like Facetime. It caused a flurry of excitement and wonder in our home last year when my phone lit up with the message ‘SANTA CALLING’. You can of course personalise it with your child’s name, age and interests to make it completely realistic.
The children just love this! Evidence that Santa has visited all the way from the snowy North Pole! Simple get the largest pair of boots in your home and sprinkle flour or magic snow over your feet several times to create footprints leading to the presents under the tree. We also make tiny little elf footprints by printing off a little stencil. You can also buy them on eBay for a couple of pounds. The tiny little footprints alongside Santa’s give a great effect!
Wrap up the entrance!
Lastly, we always completely cover the entrance to the living room (which houses the presents) in wrapping paper. It creates even more suspense and the children love to burst through it to find all the treasures Santa has left behind!
A little something extra….
This year we are going to add something else to our family tradition. The older my daughter becomes, the more interested and concerned she has become of those who are in need. When we go into town at the weekend, she is always looking for people who are homeless to give some money to or some hot food. She also likes to donate her toys which she has outgrown and this year we have decided to donate an item to our local food bank for every day of December. She will be choosing items in the supermarket each week to donate and fill her box to take along on Christmas Eve. The joy of giving is truly a wonderful thing and I think it’s so important to teach our children from a young age to always help others who are less fortunate. Christmas is such a magical time if you’re happy and have a loving family. But it can be such a lonely time too if you’re not in that fortunate position. Imagine the difference we could make if we could all contribute something small in the month of December to a local charity or food bank?
I would love to hear about your family traditions and hope that you’ve had some nice ideas! I can’t believe it’s already December. This year has really flown by….
Elf on the Shelf ideas 2017
Elf on the Shelf is one of our favourite Christmas traditions! You can buy the original Elf here (LINK) This comes in a little box with a special book about your child’s elf. However there are so many copies out there now which look very similar. I spotted this one in The Range last week (LINK) Bargain! And there are lots of accessories too (LINK)
Now, if you don’t know the tradition, the idea is that your child has his/her very own elf sent from the North Pole to watch over your child and report back to Santa. It’s a great way to keep your children motivated, well behaved and helpful around the home as elf is always watching! Each day in December, the Elf should be hidden somewhere for your child to find. This is probably going to be exciting enough! However if you want to do something a bit more adventurous or mischievous with your Elf to add to your child’s delight, I’ve posted some ideas below from the past couple of years since we have been doing this tradition in our home. The children have an elf each named Snowflake and Mia. This year they will be arriving through their very own Elf doors in the children’s bedrooms!
I have tried to post a mixture of ideas. There are some occasions when we have had so much fun creating something pretty special for the children and indeed other times when I’ve fallen asleep on the sofa and woken up thinking ‘Oh no, I need to do the Elf!’ Therefore I’ve included some simple ones for those nights too!
You can do a lot with cereal. Last year we used it to spell out ‘I’m back!’ and the year before he arrived by making a mess of the cereal all over the floor. The kids loved it. Simple and effective!
We also bought mini cookie cereal from Asda and tied up Leo’s cookie monster with string to make it look like the Elves had kidnapped him and stole the cookies!
You can also do loads with toilet roll!
You can also use the toilet paper to create little towels for your Elf. I use accessories from Sofia’s doll’s house too. I also used cotton wool to make bubbles in the bath.
A few other occasions where I have utilised the kid’s toys and accessories!
This one is probably my favourite. I used Sofia’s little tea set and I used a water bottle lid to cut out mini pancakes to make a lovely pancake and nutella breakfast! Far too cute.
Another favourite and simple to do! Blueberries for eyes, carrot for the nose, cookie cereal for buttons and the mouth was cut out paper. The hat was taken from an old teddy. Of course, the snowman is made from spilled milk.
This was was made by making a zip slide from string attached from the light to the door and we used candy canes from Home Bargains.
This one is made using flour and mini marshmallows.
Also using mini marshmallows on some cocktail sticks.
What a laugh we had making this one! We made swag bags from little ripped pieces of bin bags and tied them with black hair ties. We also made the masks from cut out black paper.
Here are a few more simple ideas. This one’s good for your elf’s last day.
I must apologise for the quality of some of the images. I had to screenshot them from from Facebook from two years ago! That’s commitment right there.
I hope that’s been helpful. I will post more ideas daily throughout December. I can’t wait to see what your cheeky elves get up to! They surely can’t be as naughty as mine!
Keeping the kids happy on a rainy day!
So, we’re fast approaching the time of year where trips to the park with the kids becomes a cold, wet and muddy affair. I find myself spending a lot of money on trips to our local soft play as a warm latte and a seat is much more appealing that shivering in the park with a towel in tow to wipe the swings and slides dry! We still love our family walks at the weekends and we still do picnics in the winter. But instead of sitting on a lovely blanket on the grass with sausage rolls and juicy strawberries, we find a bench, get out the furry hot water bottles and crack open a hot flask of tomato soup. We love it!
However, there are so many days, especially in Scotland during Winter, when the weather is simply so bad that venturing outdoors would be insanity if you really don’t need to! But when you become a parent, those days indoors can be far from enjoyable. My children get bored quickly and a day spent indoors usually leads to bickering, or worse, extreme hyperactivity! Keeping the children amused can be difficult, especially if there’s an age gap. Sofia is 6 and Leo is 3 and I find that I have a few fail-safe activities that always keeps them amused and appeals to them both equally. Here are my top ten ideas!
Sands alive (LINK)
If you’re a parent, I’m sure you’ve already heard of this stuff. It’s great. There are lots of brands who make this foamy, super soft, mouldable sand such as Kinetic, but the sands alive is by far the best. You can easily build sand castles, make shapes and animals from their little moulds and they last. Other types just collapse straight away as the sand is too fine. This one comes with a tray to minimise mess and unlike play doh, the sand is easy to clean up, doesn’t stain and never dries out. It only sticks to itself and can easily be rolled back up into a neat ball. I seal mine in clickable sandwich bags and store away for next time. Recently I bought a bag of treasure for my son. He loves pirates. You can buy these very cheaply from The Range (LINK) in the party bag aisle! He sat for ages burying his treasure in the sand and then digging it up again with a little spoon. My daughter likes to play with her mini barbies like these and pretend they’re at the beach. A tray each keeps them happy. I recommend placing a plastic sheet underneath your child’s chair to catch any mess like this (LINK) it comes in a pack of three. Hours of fun!
My children love nothing more than a treasure hunt! We recently bought Sofia a copy of her favourite book and instead of wrapping it up, we left clues to its whereabouts, waiting for her after school. We printed a map from google (LINK) for her to follow and she loved it! She has recently learned to read very well and was proud to be able to read the clues herself. On Leo’s map we draw pictures instead and the treasure at the end could be something small like a little biscuit. It’s the thrill of being able to hold a magical map and follow the clues themselves that they love. Sofia also makes hunts for us with post its, its adorable as the treasure is always a note saying I love you mum and dad!
Make your own play-doh
Play-doh is cheap and easily available. But did you know that making your own is easy and you probably have all the ingredients in your cupboards already? The kids will love getting involved in mixing and rolling and will have a sense of pride being able to play, cut and mould their very own home-made version! Save your money with this thrifty, fun recipe:
- Mix 8 tbsp flour and 2 tbsp salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl mix together the 60 mls cold water, a few drops of food colouring of your choice and the 1tbsp vegetable oil.
- Pour the coloured water into the flour mix and bring together with a spoon.
- Dust a work surface with a little flour and turn out the dough. Knead together for a few minutes to form a smooth, pliable dough. If you want a more intense colour you can work in a few extra drops of food colouring.
- Store in a plastic sandwich bag (squeeze out the air) in the fridge to keep it fresh.
Picnic on the floor
Make lunch time more exciting by bringing your picnic indoors. Lay a cosy blanket on the floor and arrange lots of little plastic plates with snacks. I like to cut the children’s fruits and arrange them into funny faces. Get some cookie cutters and make their sandwiches into little stars or maybe some Halloween shapes. I bought a bag of Halloween cookie cutters for £1 in Asda! We often pop on a Disney film too. The children will really enjoy this special treat and it encourages them try different foods.
Have a disco
We always do this on a Saturday night! I bought a fabulous double disco ball like this one here (LINK) If you don’t want to splurge on that then you could opt for these bulbs from The Range (LINK) and pop them in your light when the kids fancy a boogie! We do dancing competitions; musical statues and we have a list of our favourite YouTube videos such as (LINK) where the kids must copy the moves. That song is their all time favourite, they know it by heart! If it’s daylight, close your curtains/blinds and turn the lights off for a better effect with your new lights. What an adventure!
We all loved to bake as children, didn’t we? I have fond memories of standing on a stool in my gran’s kitchen making fairy cakes. I felt like we were the only two people in the world. I can’t think of anything more magical than recreating that with my own children. There are thousands of easy recipes to follow online. My favourite is marshmallow krispie squares. They’re perfect for taking into school in a Tupperware box to share proudly with their friends. My daughter took her creations into school a few months back, for no particular reason, and was so proud to come home with a sticker from her teacher as a reward!
Here is our recipe which I took from Tanya Burr’s baking book. It’s fabulous! (LINK):
*Line a 30x20cm baking tin with greaseproof paper
* Melt 50g unsalted butter in a saucepan over a medium heat
* Tip in the marshmallows and stir constantly until they’re melted and smooth
*Remove from heat and stir in 150g of rice crispies until well combined
*Pour the mixture into the tin and spread out evenly. Scatter over a handful of mini marshmallows for decoration (The kid’s favourite part).
*When cool, cut into squares and get stuck in!
Print off ‘worksheets’
My daughter loves to play schools. She constantly asks me to make her some ‘homework’ even during the school holidays. I go onto Pinterest and type in what I’m looking for such as ‘sums for 6-year olds’ I set up a desk for her with pencils and rubbers and she just loves it. I usually print off a big batch of all different types of ‘worksheets’ such as spelling, drawing, sequences and reading. My son loves to join in and I usually print him off some dinosaurs to colour in so that he feels involved and grown up like his sister. I have a stash of special ‘well done’ and gold star stickers available here (LINK) and they burst with pride in me acting as their teacher and correcting their ‘work’. Recently my daughter spent the night at her Grandparents and off she went with her little pink trunki loaded with worksheets. Her poor Grandad was subjected to a whole night of sums! He loved it really.
Refresh the toys
People often ask me where I store the Children’s ‘big’ toys. They can take up so much room in their bedroom and if they’re always available, they will lose interest quickly. I try to rotate their toys every few weeks. We are lucky enough to have a large garage where we have lots of toys stored in plastic storage boxes like these (LINK) ‘Can we have a special toy from the garage?’ is a question we are asked frequently and they think of it as a real treat. It’s amazing how excited they become when they see an old favourite being brought back into the house. You may not have a garage, but you can still store some toys separately from their bedrooms or play rooms as special treat toys. I have some on the top shelf of their wardrobes out of sight too. It keeps their little minds active and they always play so much better together when we do this.
Make a campfire
My children were obsessed with doing this last year. We click this (LINK) on YouTube which plays a continuous crackling campfire. It has a lovely effect when played on the iPad. We grab some blankets, teddies and barbies and sit in a circle around the ‘campfire.’ Telling stories, roasting pretend marshmallows and pretending we’re out in the wilderness. When Leo was just a baby he would ask if we could make a ‘COMP fire’ it was so cute, he just loved it! Close the curtains, get the torches out and have a real camping adventure. Just watch out for the wolves!
Make a den
I think this must be the most popular game at the moment, although it’s the bane of my life! I’m forever coming down to the living room to find my beautiful, velvet, perfectly plumped cushions in a heap on the floor in the kid’s attempt to make their own den. They love us to pull out the dining chairs, drape blankets over them and make an under the table den. They love to pile their books in there and do some spooky story telling! A couple of years ago, we bought a new dining table which came in several huge boxes. When emptied and before the table was built, we made a gigantic long tunnel that stretched the entire way from the dining room to the living room by taping the boxes together. Oh, the fun the kids had that night! Whenever I receive a delivery I keep the box for a couple of days to allow them to make a den out of it and draw on it until their heart’s content! You can even buy cardboard houses and castles to colour in! These make a fantastic gift for children of any age! (LINK)
You don’t have to spent money to create beautiful memories. It’s the simple things in life that are often the most precious.
Share your ideas below and here’s to healthy, happy children!
Our favourite family meals and recipes
Food glorious food! One of my favourite things in life. I’ll never understand people who say that they’ve been so busy they’ve forgotten to eat. I’m already planning dinner whilst I’m munching on my Weetabix! I’ll happily spend hours in the kitchen cooking a roast, all for it to be devoured in ten minutes by my family. It brings me such joy.
I love to experiment with new recipes, but I have firm favourites that are always a success and leave us all feeling full and satisfied.
I’m not one for calorie counting really. If I eat eggs (keeps you full for hours) for breakfast and a light (ish) lunch, then as long as my evening meal is homemade from scratch, I feel healthy no matter what it is. Even my lasagne is packed with hidden veg (the kids will never know).
Pre-prepared and frozen meals of course have a place in my life. I’m not going to pretend that I never reach for Pizza or fish fingers because I have two children under the age of 6 who frequently have their little friends round for tea! There’s no way I could master the perfect béchamel whilst making sure Leo isn’t drawing on the wall! I plan my meals wisely. For example, for days that I’m working I’ll ensure I’ve made something like Bolognese the night before. Not only does it taste so much better the next day, but it’s so easy to make enough portions to last you at least two nights. If the meal requires a lot of chopping and preparation, I try to do it during the day when Leo is busy with his play-doh. With a little bit of forward planning, its achievable. And once you’ve made your own cottage pie, you’ll never want to buy a frozen one again.
I have lots of delicious recipes that I only make for my husband and I such as Chilli Con Carne, Cajun chicken pasta and Chicken Katsu Curry. I’ll maybe save those ones for another blog post! This one is all about the family meals that you can all enjoy together!
These recipes feed all four of us easily. Many last for two nights
Chicken and Asparagus Pasta (You all went nuts for this one!)
Dice two large chicken breasts
Sprinkle a little thyme and season with salt and pepper.
Fry until brown
Meanwhile boil your pasta, I like to use Farfalle
Add two minced garlic cloves to the chicken and add a packet of chopped asparagus spears. You can also throw in some frozen peas too!
Add a teaspoon of wholegrain mustard and a Knorr chicken jelly stock cube and stir until melted
Add 300 mls of chicken stock (Knorr cube) and allow to simmer and bubble for 5-7 minutes until reduced a little.
Add around 150mls of HALF FAT crème fraiche (full fat doesn’t taste as good) or more depending on how thick you want it the sauce. Let this bubble and simmer until the sauce is a nice consistency, usually 6-8 minutes. You can add a little cornflour if it’s too thin. You can also add a heaped tablespoon of Parmesan if you like!
When you’re happy with your sauce, drain and add your al dente pasta and mix well. Season with a little salt and pepper to taste.
Lasagne (And spaghetti bolognese)
Dice an onion, add a little salt (it absorbs the water) and fry in a deep casserole dish until brown.
Add three large minced garlic cloves
Add 1000g of low fat mince and fry until brown
Add 2 teaspoons of thyme, basil and oregano
Add a tablespoon of tomato puree
Add a few drops of Worcester sauce
Now grate three large carrots and two celery stalks until finely minced and add to the mixture.
Add 300mls of hot beef stock
Add 1 ½ cartons of passata
Add a tablespoon of sugar (This neutralises the acidity of the tomatoes)
Now let is simmer for around 90 mins until the liquid is reduced and thick. It should be darker in colour.
At this point you’ve got your perfect Bolognese. Boil some pasta and you’re done! It’s insanely delicious after being stored in the fridge overnight.
Next have either two lasagne dishes ready or one large (This will easily feed a family of four twice). Spread a little butter all around the base to stop your pasta sticking.
Now place one layer of cooked lasagne sheets in the bottom. Now add a layer of Bolognese, repeat (lasagne sheet – bolognese, repeat again!)
Now it’s time to spread your béchamel sauce on top. I confess to using a jar for this!
Now add a generous amount of grated cheddar cheese on top and top with some black pepper.
Place in the over at around 180 degrees and cook until crispy on top. Usually 20-30 minutes.
Tip – If you serve this straight from the oven it won’t hold its shape and will look like slop. Leave it to cool down before serving or better still, serve the next day!
Peel and boil some king Edward potatoes. Enough to make two pies worth of mash!
Dice an onion, add a pinch of salt and fry in a casserole dish until browned.
Add two large diced garlic cloves and fry for a further two minutes.
Add 1000g of low fat beef mince (Or lamb if you fancy a Shepherd’s pie)
When the mince loses some of its juices, add a tablespoon of flour to scoop it up. This will thicken your gravy
Add two teaspoons of thyme and rosemary.
Add a tablespoon of tomato puree Add a few drops of Worcester sauce
Add around 500ml hot beef stock (or lamb stock)
Add a tablespoon of Bisto Best beef gravy granules
Add 2 chopped carrots, and half a chopped swede
Simmer for around 45 mins until it has a lovely thick gravy.
Now add your mince and gravy to two pie dishes or one large and allow to COOL. If the mince is hot, your mash will sink right into it. Give it as least 30 minutes.
When cooled, add a generous helping of mashed potato (make sure it’s seasoned) on top. Smooth down with a fork to create some lovely little tracks.
Now add some grated cheese to the top of the mash
Pop in the oven for around 20 minutes or until the mash is crispy on top.
Tip – On the second night your mince will be drier and you may need to make need to make some gravy.
Creamy chicken pasta bake
Chop two leeks and fry with some salt and pepper until tender
Add two large minced garlic cloves
Add two diced chicken breasts, season, add a chicken Knorr jelly stock cube and fry until browned
Add one teaspoon of thyme, rosemary and a pinch of parsley
Now pour in 800ml of hot chicken stock and cover with a lid for 30 minutes
After thirty minutes grab a slotted spoon and transfer the contents to a plate leaving only the juice. Allow it to reduce for a further ten minutes.
Meanwhile boil your pasta of choice.
Now make a roux in a bowl of one tablespoon of flour and one tablespoon of butter. Mix to create a paste and whisk into the sauce.
When dissolved add a big dollop of half fat crème fraiche
Now add one cup of grated cheddar cheese.
Now add your contents back in and mix well. Use the slotted spoon again to transfer into a large lasagne dish leaving the sauce in the pot for the pasta.
Now add your al dente pasta to the sauce, mix well and add to the top lasagne dish.
Grate some more cheddar cheese over the top, black pepper and place in the preheated oven at 180 degrees until crispy. Usually around 20 minutes.
I usually serve this with green beans and garlic bread!
Tip – If you wish to make a delicious warming chicken pie, follow the recipe exactly (minus the pasta) and add diced carrots at the start with the chicken, place all in a pie dish and cover with some puff or shortcrust pastry, brush over with some egg yolk and place in oven following pastry instructions.
Winter warming beef stew
Buy around 750g of stewing beef. You need a tougher cut of beef as it needs to slowly cook for hours to be tender, tasty and delicious!
If you can, do this step the night before – Add a tablespoon of thyme and rosemary to the beef. Add some salt and pepper and now coat the beef in flour. Get stuck right in with your hands, ensuring all the meat is coated (This is what will make your sauce thick) Cover with cling film and leave in fridge.
Fry and onion, add a pinch of salt in a casserole dish and fry until browned. Add two minced garlic cloves and fry for two minutes. Now add your meat and make sure all the herbs and flour go in to!
Fry until your meat is brown.
Add a Knorr beef jelly stock cube.
Now add a packet of baby carrots, half of a swede (or turnip!) and mix well.
Add a 1 1/2 tablespoon of tomato puree.
Now add enough hot beef stock (from a Knorr cube) to cover all the contents in the dish.
Season and put the lid on and transfer to a preheated oven at around 170 degrees.
Meanwhile make your mashed potatoes
Leave in the oven until at least 2-3 hours. I mix it every 30-40 minutes.
Around 30 minutes before my stew is ready, add a diced butternut squash.
Your meat is cooked when the largest part of meat breaks up when mashed effortlessly with a fork.
Serve with creamy mashed potatoes!
Tip – You can easily make this into a steak pie by placing into a pie dish and top with puff pastry, brush on egg yolk and follow pastry instructions in oven.
Carrot and Coriander Soup
Chop and fry an onion with some salt and pepper for 5 minutes in a large soup pot
Add two minced garlic cloves and fry for one minute
Add one large chopped potato
Add 6 large chopped carrots
Add a tablespoon of ground coriander
Add a teaspoon of coriander leaf
Add a few drops of Worcestershire sauce
Add a chicken jelly stock cube and mix
Add 700mls of hot chicken stock from a Knorr cube
Add another 700mls of hot vegetable stock from a cube
Cover and simmer for 30 minutes until all contents are soft and ready to puree
Now puree until the soup is completely smooth. I use a handheld blender
Add a big dollop of half fat crème fraiche
Give it a good whisk
Now serve with crusty buttered bread and enjoy!
I have just recently perfected my chicken fajitas and they are incredible (if I do say so myself)
Firstly, make you own fajita spice mix! You can of course by some premade but I love to make my own and it’s very easy. Grab a bowl and add a tablespoon of each spice – Garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cumin, turmeric, a pinch of salt and pepper and a Teaspoon of mild chilli powder. Set aside
Now I have two frying pans. I add sliced onion and three colours of peppers to one and my chicken to the other. I add my spices to both equally and fry. Make sure your chicken is lovely and brown.
You may not need all your spices, add gradually to suit your taste.
Now for the magic part, just as your spices are becoming dry and a little clumped in the dish, I add some water. This soaks up all those spices and flavour and creates the most amazing juices to keep your meat moist and full of flavour.
Serve with warm wraps, some Mexican rice, grated cheese, salsa and chips! I like mayonnaise on mine.
The above photo also has some delicious fillet steak fajitas!
Tip – Have a premade fajita spice mix nearby in case you need a dash more spice!
Tip – I make the kids chicken separately adding only a tiny pinch of spice
If you recreate any of these recipes I’d love for you to tag me on Instagram and let me know your thoughts. What are you waiting for? Ready, steady…..Cook!