Monthly Archives: February 2013

How to grow kitchen herbs

How to grow your own kitchen herbs


How to grow your own herbs for the kitchen

Whilst doing all the testing for our next cookbook, I have come to realise just how expensive fresh herbs can be. They don’t last long in the fridge either and often go to waste if I forget to freeze any leftovers.

So, this year I am
determined to grow
my own.

It will be wonderful to step out of the kitchen door to the subtle scent of sage, mint and rosemary, and be able to clip a few leaves off to add to salads, soups and stews.

Here are some tips on how to sow your own seeds. Something I haven’t done for a long while!



Grow kitchen herbs

Grow kitchen herbs

Pot Herbs for the Kitchen

Fresh herbs give a great lift to many foods – so grow your own in pots sited near the kitchen for ease of picking. And why not choose some colourful, fun containers to plant in?

Sow seeds in March, or buy small herb plants in April or May, pot up at once and start picking leaves as soon as the plants have grown slightly. A sunny position is best. The job will take about an hour.

What you need

Plants Seed packets or small plants of parsley, thyme, marjoram (oregano), sage, mint and rosemary.

Equipment Six small plastic pots for potting up seedlings bought at the garden centre. Seed tray, modular cell system or jiffy pots for sowing seeds, if using. Five containers such as the enamel kettles. Soil-based potting compost and proprietary seed compost if using. Broken crocks for drainage. Trowel.


1 Fill the seed tray or modular cell system with seed compost and sow your seeds according to the instructions on the packets, or sow in jiffy pots according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Keep on a kitchen windowsill while the seeds germinate, then move them outside when all danger of frost is past.

2 When the seedlings are large enough to handle, pot them on into the plastic pots using potting compost and lining with broken crocks for drainage.

3 Or, line the plastic pots with broken crocks and fill with potting compost, into which you have mixed some sharp sand (if using). Then plant your garden centre seedlings, place into the containers and set out in an attractive arrangement. In general, allow one herb per container, but if the container is big enough, put several in together – here rosemary, parsley and mint have been put in the central container.

4 Place the young herb plants outside only when all danger of frost is past. If you’re uncertain, place them outside on sunny days and bring them in at night until the weather warms up enough for them to be left outside permanently.

5 Pick and use the leaves regularly. All these herbs can grow quite large and, by the end of summer, may well have outgrown their containers unless you keep them under control.

Notes Most herbs do best in full sun. They don’t require rich soil, but they must not be allowed to get waterlogged, so good drainage is essential. Rosemary, sage, thyme and marjoram are tough, shrubby plants and can be kept going for years if put into the ground or grown in large enough pots. Mint and parsley are herbaceous and will die down in winter, but reappear again in spring.

Aftercare Regular picking is needed, and watering with care.

Seasonal Garden IdeasThis project is taken from
Seasonal Garden Ideas 

a collection of lovely, easy
projects for any garden.

Now available online
for just £3.99  

(Feb/March 2013 orders).



Family Fun for Free

Family Fun for Free (and playdough recipe)

Family Fun for FreeWell, at long last the sun is shining! And doesn’t it raise your spirits?

Those you with children or grandchildren will know that facing a half term week of rain is a pretty daunting task! Those little people need a couple of hours’ physical activity every day – something difficult to achieve indoors – otherwise you are faced with some serious strops/hyperactivity. So, it makes life much easier when we wake up to blue skies. This week, the world is our oyster!

I have a couple of days in work and then I am free to enjoy every day with my little ones. And the littlest two celebrate their second birthday on Thursday, so we have lots to look forward to. We have so much planned (inspired by the Dairy Diary Family Fun feature) I am not sure how we will fit it all in!

Be inspired to enjoy every
minute with your small
people and check out our
ideas for half term.

Most are free or cost very
little. Have a great time.

All ages

Visit your council office or library, and look in the local newspaper, for details of local events and places to go. Pick up leaflets at places you visit – they sometimes have discount vouchers. Many local amenities are free or inexpensive: art galleries and/or museums often have scheduled events and workshops for children; your local library may offer reading groups; English Heritage properties offer great-value and intriguing days out (see the ‘days out on a shoestring’ page on their website); the park is perfect for ball games; country parks and local sites are good for picnics; the playground and beach are always favourites; many local leisure centres offer swimming for free and plenty of other sporting activities for children of all ages.

Under 5s

  • Create a very simple treasure hunt at home with one word cards to follow, such as table, chair and toybox.
  • Food packets and tubes can be used for plenty of activities: your child can sort them into different shapes and sizes; the tubes and packaging can be used as building bricks, and painted in different colours.
  • Make a themed collage (by colour, season or transport, for example) with pictures cut from magazines. If the children are very young, cut the pictures out yourself and allow them to stick.
  • Make pasta necklaces by painting individual pasta shapes, such as penne. Allow to dry, thread on to string and tie.
  • Imprint rubbing can be intriguing for little ones. Place a piece of paper over a patterned object, such as a coin, leaf or shell, and then rub over the top with a crayon.
  • Cut a potato in half and carve a simple pattern into the flesh. Make several of these for your child to cover in paint and print the shapes on a piece of paper.
  • Paint can be used in all sorts of ways. Cut a butterfly shape from a piece of paper. Ask your child to paint a pattern on one side then fold in half while still wet to see the pattern mirrored. n With paint, you can also create butterflies from two children’s hand prints with a blob of paint in the middle. Sponge painting is also great fun, or try drawing patterns with wax crayon and painting over the top.
  • Use the playdough recipe (below) to create models, make patterns and cut into shapes. Baking equipment is ideal for use with playdough.
  • Encourage an interest in food at an early age by making chocolate and rice crispy cakes together, or simple flapjacks with butter, oats and syrup.
  • Play some lively music and dance with your child. Get him/ her to mirror your movements, count or clap to the beat, or waltz with your child standing on your feet.
  • Let’s pretend – choose an animal and make the relevant noises and movements. Choose contrasting animals, such as a tiny mouse and huge elephant.
  • Ask your child to clap out the rhythm of his/her name and clap along, or clap to the beat of a song. Make a simple shaker by sealing dried rice or pasta in a tub to shake along to the music.
  • At the start of the day choose one letter from the alphabet and see how many things beginning with that letter your child can spot throughout the day. Paint a picture or create a picture collage of some of those things at the end of the day.
  • Go for a short walk and collect natural objects, such as pinecones, pebbles and feathers. With glue, paint and paper, make little creatures from your finds. You could also try a ‘colour walk’ and ask your child to point out all the yellow items he or she sees, for example.

5-12 year olds

  • Make a calendar or clock. For a clock, decorate a paper plate then paint on numbers and secure cardboard hands with a paper fastener. To create a calendar, choose month-appropriate pictures from a magazine and stick them on to 12 sheets of card or paper. Print out dates from the computer or write them down. Hole-punch each sheet and secure together with string. Both these craft projects will encourage your child to learn about time, days and months.
  • Use food packets to play shop. Your child can use scales to weigh items, stickers for pricing and change to learn about money and counting. Or your child could make a money box, and learn how to save. Create a model village by painting windows, doors and flowers onto packets.
  • To make an impressive mosaic picture, draw a large, simple design (such as flowers) on a piece of paper, cut small squares from coloured paper or magazines and use one colour to fill each section of the design.
  • Fingerprint characters are fun. Simply make lots of fingerprint marks with paint on a sheet of paper and allow to dry. Then make faces, monsters, animals and bugs by adding features/hair/legs/arms/tails with a black pen.
  • Create finger puppets – ask your child to draw animal or people characters on a piece of paper. Cut them out and glue a loop of paper to the back.
  • For paper weaving, cut long thin strips from coloured paper or magazines. Then take a larger piece of paper and cut strips almost but not quite to the top so it’s fringed. Weave each complete paper strip horizontally under and over the fringed strips. Trim the sides and secure at the back with tape.
  • Encourage your child to get involved in all (safe) food preparation to foster his/her interest in food. Choose a simple recipe and follow it together.
  • Throw a dice and draw a funny animal. Each number represents a body part (write these down first), take it in turns to throw and draw part of the beast. See what bizarre creatures you can create together.
  • Using either your clothes or jumble-sale finds, play dressing up and role play. You could pretend to be pop stars, play their music and sing with a hairbrush ‘microphone’ while dressed up. Face paints or make-up are good for this activity, too.
  • Hold a treasure hunt throughout the house and garden. Make around ten simple clues, such as ‘Your next clue is very cold’ (the clue’s hidden in the fridge) and hide them in appropriate places. The treasure can be a small toy or a home-made cake. The fun is in the hunt, not the prize. You could also encourage your child to write clues for you to hunt.
  • Make a family photo album. When you go out, take photos of teddy, or a favourite soft toy, in various places. Then put the photos in an album with other family members for your child to keep. You could also create a family tree together.
  • Children often get bored while out walking. Make a countryside stroll more fun with a ‘spotter’s list’. Write a list of plants, birds and creatures with tick boxes and a small reward. For example, blackbird 2p, kingfisher 50p. Your child will then have something for his/her moneybox at the end of the walk.
  • Poetic artwork – go for a walk and jot down things you do, see, smell, touch and hear. For example, bees buzzing, the scent of lavender, warm sunshine, green grass, a thrush singing, steep hill. When you get home, encourage your child to write them all down in different coloured pens/crayons on a piece of paper.


Teenagers are much more independent and less likely to want to take part in structured activities. They may still enjoy crafts (card making, drawing, painting, sculpture), cooking or reading but it is important to treat them as young adults when suggesting these ideas. Out-of-home activities may be more successful, such as ball games, swimming, skating and visiting local attractions.

Useful websites

Useful materials

It’s a good idea to keep some, or all, of the following to hand. They are cheap and can be used for many different activities.

  • Apron
  • Ball
  • Cardboard tubes
  • Cereal packets
  • Child-safe scissors
  • Crayons

Safety first

For all these activities, stay with the children to ensure they are safe. Pay particular attention to choking hazards with very young children. If you are doing any craft activities, it’s a good idea to wear aprons and cover surfaces with newspaper.

Playdough recipe

  • Plain flour 1 cup
  • Water 1 cup
  • Vegetable oil 1tbsp
  • Cream of tartar 2tsp
  • Salt ½ cup
  • Food colouring a few drops

Place all ingredients in a pan on a low heat. Stir continuously until mixture thickens to a firm dough texture. Store in an airtight container and keep away from pets.

Knit & Stitch Collection fringed shawl

Knit & Stitch Fringed Shawl


A cosy craft project

I felt like all my Christmases had come at once when my Knit & Stitch package landed on the doorstep last week.

Wow, there was copious amounts of gorgeous wool; knitting needles galore; a lovely knitting bag and a cavalcade of exciting new projects to try. I just need to find some time to give them a go!

The beauty of knitting and crochet is that you can do them anywhere, anytime. So, I will be dabbling with the needles whilst snuggled on the sofa watching to latest episode of Wonders of Life (though I don’t know if I can understand both at the same time!)

As you can see from my profile pic, I LOVE scarfs and shawls and so my first project is going to be this gorgeous knitted shawl from issue one.

Knit & Stitch Collection fringed shawl

A soft mohair yarn is used to knit this shawl – using three strands together to produce a thick, but lightweight, fabric. Fringing and tassels trim the outer edge. So chic!

Materials and stitches used: Col. Violette: 6 balls Type: Angel 44% polyamide, 32% acrylic, 24% mohair 25g/275m Stitch Used: stocking stitch Needles: 4.5mm

Size: 93 x 143cm.

Tension: 15 sts x 19 rows in stocking stitch using 4.5mm needles = 10cm square note: Use 3 strands together throughout the shawl. Wind 3 balls together before using to obtain an even finish.

To make: Using 4.5mm needles and 3 strands of yarn together, cast on 3 sts. Work in st st, inc 1 st at each edge (1 st in from edge) on every rs row 68 times. 139 sts.
Cont in st st, dec 1 st at each edge of every rs row 68 times as foll: k1, k2tog, work to last 3 sts, sl 1, k1, psso, k1. Cast off rem 3 sts.

Tassels: To make a tassel of 8cm, wrap yarn around cardboard 33 times (see the instructions, right), attach to one corner of the shawl. Make 3 more tassels and fix to each remaining corner.

Fringe: To make a fringe of 4cm, wrap yarn around cardboard 12 times. On each side of the shawl, between the tassels, tie 30 fringes at approximately 2cm intervals.

Making a tassel

1 Cut a piece of cardboard 2cm longer than the intended tassel. Wind the yarn lengthways 20 to 40 times around the cardboard, depending on the size of the tassel you require.

Make a tassell

2 Thread a length of yarn onto a tapestry needle and slip the needle under the loops along the top edge.

3 Remove the needle and tie the ends firmly, gathering the loops of yarn together. Wind a length
of yarn about 1cm from the tied-off end of the tassel, tie firmly and hide the ends on the inside of the tassel.

4 Finish off by cutting through the yarn loops at the bottom of the tassel, then trim the ends even.

Making a fringe

Make a fringe1 Cut a piece of cardboard 2cm longer than the intended fringe. Wind the yarn around the cardboard, then slip scissors between the yarn and the cardboard and cut through the base of the loops. This will ensure that the strands are all the same length.

2 Insert a crochet hook from wrong side to right side through the knitted edge. Fold a hank of strands in half and place them over the hook, then pull from the wrong side through the fabric to form a loop. Pass the remaining ends of the yarn through the loop and pull firmly. Form the rest of the fringe in the same way, spacing the knots at regular intervals; trim the ends even.

Click the link for more information on the Knit and Stitch Collection

Valentine’s Day Recipes & Tips

Tips for a romantic Valentine's Day.


Valentine’s Day Recipes & Tips

I LOVE Valentine’s Day, I know I know, what a hopeless romantic. Many people dismiss it as commercial and an excuse for the card companies and other retailers to make money. I have to say I’m a little less sceptical (although I am sure it is a lucrative industry none the less).

I think it’s fantastic that we have
a day to remind us to cherish our
other halves and take time out to
make them feel special.

We get so swept along with the mundanity and busyness of everyday life that most of us (I am sure that there are those who are romantic every day….not me!) forget or simply don’t have time to spoil our loved-ones.

It doesn’t need to be an expensive affair – you don’t even need to go out. Just have a think about a few special things that you can do to make your special person feel loved:

  • Leave secret notes – choose places where they will be discovered throughout the day; in pockets, the car, cupboards, under the duvet etc.
  • Make a special breakfast tray – croissants, preserves, a pot of tea or coffee.
  • Send a few kisses by text several times during the day.
  • Create your own card with photographs of you both together during happy times. Print them out and make yourself or order online from Snapfish or similar.
  • Lay a very special table for dinner (and if you have children, eat after they have gone to bed). Go to town, with a tablecloth, your best crockery and glasses, candles and flowers.
  • Cook a delicious dinner, see below for some recipe ideas.

Special Lamb Shanks and Valentine’s Almond Creams.

Lamb Shanks and Almond Creams recipe

Have a lovely time and don’t forget to tell us about your special day! Have you been treated too?


Our favourite pancake recipes

Dairy Diary favourite pancake recipes


Favourite Pancake Recipes

For some reason I only ever cook pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. Why is that?

It’s as though someone has passed a law that states they only allowed on one day of the year! I love pancakes too; savoury and sweet, though I’ve not quite mastered a decent savoury pancake yet. I think the French are brilliant at these. I can still vividly remember the crêpe with cream and egg cooked for me on my French exchange as a fourteen year-old (which is more than a couple of years’ ago now, no comments on that please!)

So what’s your favourite pancake recipe?
I adore good old simple sugar and lemon
but I do like to cook something different too.

On the recommendation of my friend Gudi who tested this for me when we were putting together Take a Box of Eggs I shall be cooking Chicken, Broccoli & Cheese Pancake Bake followed by Apple Pancakes.

Roll on Pancake Day, I’m ready with my whisk!

Dairy Diary 2013 | Take A Box Of EggsBy the way, we still have a few copies of Take a Box of Eggs and Dairy Diary 2013,  available to buy online at

Make sure you invest in a copy if you haven’t already.

Competition | Win a Spa voucher

Competition | Win a Spa voucher

Competition | Win a Spa voucher


Competition | Win a Spa voucher

Prepare to be pampered! Dairy Diary is giving you the chance to win a £50 Spa voucher valid at more than 75 spa venues nationwide.

The voucher allows you to redeem against any packages at any of the venues listed on the website at the time of redemption.

The voucher will be valid for six months.

Click here to enter the competition.

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