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Preparing the Perfect Christmas Dinner

Thursday, November 20th, 2014
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Christmas dinner is possibly my favourite event come Christmas Day and not just because of the golden turkey or scrumptious pigs in blankets; the festive feast sees the whole family coming together, enjoying a great meal and appreciating each other’s company. Preparing Christmas dinner can be rather difficult, even for the most experienced cooks. With that in mind, we’ve pulled together some fantastic tips to help you create a mouth-watering feast this Christmas.

Succulent Roast Turkey

Image via Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

For most households the centrepiece of Christmas dinner is of course the turkey. Deceivingly difficult to cook, even the best chefs can struggle with this delicate bird. To help keep your turkey juicy, follow these top tips:

  • Roast your turkey upside down for the first hour. This may sound a little backwards, but by roasting your turkey upside down on a V-rack, you will allow the meat to baste itself. Don’t worry about any marks left by the rack, once you flip the turkey back over and finish roasting, these will disappear on their own.
  • One of the main causes for dry turkey is overcooking, so invest in a decent thermometer and monitor the temperature. Always check the temperature at the thickest part of the thigh; the ideal temperature for a cooked turkey is 170°F.
  • The high temperatures inside your oven force the juices into the centre of the turkey. To give the juices time to flow back into the rest of the bird, let it sit for around 20 minutes before slicing.

Christmas Stuffing

Image via Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

Stuffing comes in a variety of flavours, so on Christmas Day there really is something to suite all tastes. Although the flavours may be different, the method for preparing your stuffing is the same. To avoid a dry or stodgy stuffing, follow these simple guidelines:

  • To ensure your stuffing is cooked through, try rolling it in tin foil. Once it’s cooked, you can then cut it into attractive slices.
  • For a little extra flavour, add ready-to-eat dried fruit. We suggest apricots or currants, or for those without a sweet tooth, add lemon zest for an extra punch.
  • Adding toasted nuts to your stuffing will create texture. Chop the nuts and fry them before adding to the stuffing to bring out the flavour.

Perfect Gravy

Image via Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

Whether you like your gravy thick or thin, lumpy or smooth, there is no denying its appeal on the dinner table. To keep the family fighting over the last drops of gravy this Christmas, follow these easy tips:

  • If you’re preparing vegetarian gravy, add some caramelised onions for a little sweetness. Simply cook sliced onions on the hob in a little butter before adding brown sugar to bring out the flavour.
  • The majority of people don’t like lumpy gravy. To avoid the bumps, use a wire whisk to stir.
  • Preparing the Christmas dinner can be stressful, so why not cook your gravy beforehand? Freeze it in advance and defrost on the day; add a little turkey juice before serving and your guests are sure to be impressed.

Seasonal Vegetables

Image via Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

Winter vegetables are some of my favourites and with roast parsnips, buttery sprouts and caramelised carrots, you should have no trouble convincing the little ones to eat their five a day. To help give your Christmas vegetables a little extra kick, follow these steps:

  • To save time on Christmas Day, prepare your vegetables the night before; you can peel your carrots and sprouts on Christmas Eve and place them in the fridge to keep fresh.
  • Adding bacon to a dish is never a bad thing, so try frying your sprouts with some streaky beacon to add a little texture and make them more appealing to the younger children.
  • To ensure your roasties are extra crisp this year, choose a potato that contains less water. A Golden Wonder or Aaron Victoria are the best potatoes to use when roasting.

We hope these tips for preparing the perfect Christmas dinner will be useful this year. If you have any advice you’d like to share with us, please feel free to connect with us on Facebook or Twitter – we’d love to hear from you!

nicole.westley

By Nicole Westley

As a food lover Nicole can often be found in the kitchen, covered in flour and experimenting with new tastes! When not making a mess she loves to explore her Celtic roots by roaming the Scottish countryside or exploring the bays along the Anglesey coast with her fiancé.

Where to Celebrate Thanksgiving in the UK

Sunday, November 16th, 2014
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For most of us in Britain, November 27nd will be just another day; a day spent either at work or Christmas shopping. However for the thousands of American expats living, working and studying in the UK, Thanksgiving is a day for Celebration. Living away from home in a country that doesn’t celebrate one of your favourite holidays can be hard, but not to worry as here at Sykes Cottages we know there are many places across the UK offering special Thanksgiving celebration. If you’re an American living in the UK or a Brit looking to join in the celebrations, keep reading as we highlight our favourite places to celebrate Thanksgiving in the UK.

Visit the Mayflower Steps in Plymouth

Image from Flickr.

Image from Flickr.

In 1620, the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth Barbican, carrying 102 passengers and 30 crew members across the Atlantic Ocean on a 66 day voyage to America. These pilgrims eventually settled in Plymouth Massachusetts, an area of America famous for being the birth place of Thanksgiving. Plymouth still maintains strong ties with America and every Thanksgiving hosts a special service and wreath lying on the Mayflower steps. With local pubs and restaurants offering traditional Thanksgiving dishes, it’s the ideal location to spend Thanksgiving weekend.

Enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner

Image from Flickr.

Image from Flickr.

Thanksgiving dinner is one of the highlights of the day, where families come together and share a fantastic meal which includes turkey, mashed potato, squash soup, green bean casserole and a variety of pies! There are a number of restaurants and pubs located throughout the UK taking part in the Thanksgiving celebrations by putting on special menus filled with all our favourite American dishes, so get yourself online and find your nearest participating eatery.

Attend the Thanksgiving Service at St. Paul’s Cathedral

Image from Flickr.

Image from Flickr.

London is home to a large number of American expats, so it should come as no surprise to find a number of events taking place in the capital on Thanksgiving. One of the longest running traditions in London is the Thanksgiving service hosted at St. Paul’s Cathedral every year. At the service the American Ambassador to the UK will make a speech before reading out a message from President Obama himself. It’s a wonderful event to be part of and a great way to meet new friends.

Rent a family cottage

Tan Llan in LLanelltyd, Wales. Reference 917340.

Tan Llan in LLanelltyd, Wales. Reference 917340.

Thanksgiving is all about family and being thankful for all that we have, so what better way to celebrate the holidays than to treat the family to a week or weekend away? Here at Sykes Cottages we have a number of large group properties that are perfect for a celebration at this time of year; with beautiful open fires, large dining rooms, and plenty of space in the fridge for all your Thanksgiving treats. For more information on our large cottages simply visit this page.

And there you have it, our guide to Thanksgiving in the UK. We would love to know what you’ll be getting up to this Thanksgiving so be sure to send us a tweet or comment on our Twitter and Facebook pages.

nicole.westley

By Nicole Westley

As a food lover Nicole can often be found in the kitchen, covered in flour and experimenting with new tastes! When not making a mess she loves to explore her Celtic roots by roaming the Scottish countryside or exploring the bays along the Anglesey coast with her fiancé.

Advice for Pet Owners on Bonfire Night

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014
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If you’re a pet owner you’ll know just how difficult, stressful and sometimes heart-breaking Bonfire Night can be. With a number of dogs, cats and small animals having a hard time coping with the bangs and flashes of fireworks, it’s easy to feel useless as your best friend cowers in the corner. Here at Sykes, we love animals and want to do everything we can to help both you and your four legged friend enjoy a stress-free Bonfire Night. So, we’ve put together some helpful tips on how to do just that.

Tips for all pet owners

Image via Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

Whether your pet is big or small there are a number of ways you can help them through Bonfire Night. The following tips are easy to put into practise and are a must for all pet owners.

  • Make sure your pet has a secure hiding place; for many pets this will be under furniture, tucked into an alcove or even in the cupboard.
  • Close all curtains and play some music or turn up the TV to muffle the noise from the fireworks.
  • As hard as this may be you need to give your pet some space. Unless they are harming themselves, you should leave them to it; fussing over them will only make things worse.
  • Don’t leave the house. Yes your pet needs space but don’t leave them alone; they need your support.

Tips for dog owners

Image via Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

As well as the tips above, there are extra precautions to take when you own a dog. We’d suggest the following to help keep your dog safe and calm this November.

  • Walk your dog during daylight hours. You never know how early the fireworks will start or how late they will run so walking your dog during daylight hours is the best way to keep them safe.
  • Before the fireworks start, make sure your dog is near their safe place and provide him or her with toys and their favourite things.
  • Ignore the fireworks yourself. Don’t bring attention to the fireworks. Instead see if your dog wants to play; if not then don’t force them but sit back and watch some TV or read a book instead.
  • If you have another dog or know a dog that isn’t afraid of fireworks then leave the two dogs together, this may help your dog understand there is nothing to be afraid of.

Tips for cat owners

Image via Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

Cats are pretty independent creatures but even they get scared during Bonfire Night. To help them cope with the noise and bright lights, follow these three tips.

  • Close all doors, windows and cat flaps. If your cat is scared they may try to run; this can be dangerous as in the panic your cat could get lost or hurt.
  • Don’t try to tempt your cat out of its hiding place as this will just make them more stressed.
  • Have a litter tray available during and after the fireworks.

Tips for small animal owners

Image via Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

It can be easy to forget about our smaller pets but they need just as much care as the larger animals so make sure to follow these tips to ensure a stress free fireworks night.

  • If your pet is kept outside bring them indoors and place them in a quiet area of the house.
  • If it’s not possible to bring them indoors, partly cover their cage and try to sound proof it as best you can.
  • Give your pets lots of extra bedding for Bonfire Night. They will need something to burrow into as it will make them feel a lot safer.

We hope our list of handy hints and tips has helped you this Bonfire Night. If you need any further information on keeping your furry companion safe then please visit the RSPCA website.

nicole.westley

By Nicole Westley

As a food lover Nicole can often be found in the kitchen, covered in flour and experimenting with new tastes! When not making a mess she loves to explore her Celtic roots by roaming the Scottish countryside or exploring the bays along the Anglesey coast with her fiancé.

Favourite Films for Halloween

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014
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Here at Sykes Cottages, we love Halloween. When the wind is rattling at your door and the rain is pounding against your window, we know there is no better feeling then snuggling up on the sofa with a warm blanket and a cauldron of sweets. If you’re planning to stay home this Halloween, the team here at Sykes HQ have some great suggestions for your viewing pleasure; from family friendly movies to horror films, our selection is sure to offer plenty of inspiration this Halloween.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Image provided by Leanne

A heart-warming story with a loveable protagonist may not be your first thought when it comes to Halloween, but it’s exactly what you get with The Nightmare Before Christmas. The film follows the Pumpkin King Jack Skellington and his dog Zero as they try to spread Christmas cheer across Halloweentown with disastrous consequences. The spectacular storyline and characterisation combined with the incredible soundtrack and stunning visuals of the film is what makes it not only my favourite Halloween watch, but also a favourite to watch throughout the year! – Leanne

Labyrinth

Image via Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

As one of my favourite fantasy films, Labyrinth takes top spot on my Halloween movie playlist. Not only is the film filled with fantasy creatures, magic and adventure, but with the added bonus of musical numbers – many involving the legendary David Bowie – there really is something for the whole family to enjoy.  The film follows Sarah’s adventures in an otherworldly maze as she overcomes the Goblin King’s challenges to save her baby brother Toby. This is a classic film and one you won’t regret watching even if you’re stuck singing the tunes until next Halloween. – Nicole

Casper

Image taken from IMDb.

Image taken from IMDb.

If I’m honest, I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to watching horror films! This meant picking my favourite Halloween film was always going to be a struggle, but after some thought I picked Casper. It tells the tale of a young ghost who – along with his three ghoulish uncles Fatso, Stretch and Stinkie – lives in a rickety mansion called Whipstaff Manor. The film is about Casper moving on to “the other side” whilst dealing with a greedy heiress, the affections of a young girl, and even attempted exorcisms – not to mention all sorts of mischief from his uncles. All in all, Casper makes the perfect alternative to the usual Halloween fare, and is definitely a film that the whole family will enjoy over the Halloween period! – Jamie

Hocus Pocus

Image via Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

For me, it’s not Halloween unless I’ve watched the early 90’s gem that is Hocus Pocus. The obsession started as a kid, when my sister and I would sit down and watch it on Disney Channel every year; it’s a tradition that I’ve never quite grown out of. You can put my love affair with this film largely down to Winifred, Sarah and Mary Sanderson who are evil witches raised from the dead. They are comedy genius and I’ll never get tired of their hilarious catchphrases, withering glares and of course, their rendition of ‘I Put a Spell on You’. Throw in a talking cat, a zombie who constantly loses his head and a trio of unlikely heroes, and you have everything you could ever want from a Halloween cult classic. – Lousie

Sleepy Hollow

Image via IMDb.

Image via IMDb.

The tagline ‘Heads will roll’ tells you all you need to know about Sleepy Hollow, a 1999 horror film directed by Tim Burton. Sleepy Hollow was the first film that frightened me; I spent weeks – nay, months – after watching it scurrying down the stairs, afraid that a headless, axe-wielding Hessian was hot on my tail. Though damn-scary, the eccentricity of Johnny Depp’s character, Ichabod Crane, adds some comic relief, whilst Tim Burton’s enchanting creations will feel familiar to anyone who’s seen The Nightmare Before Christmas. In short, Sleepy Hollow is a great introduction to horror for younger viewers – just be sure to have hide-cushions at hand! – Jonathan.

So what do you think? Will you be adding our frightful list of movies to your Halloween night viewing, or do you have your own ‘must watch’ movie for All Hallows Eve? Either way, we would love to know which films you’ll be watching this weekend, so make sure to let us know via our Facebook or Twitter page.

nicole.westley

By Nicole Westley

As a food lover Nicole can often be found in the kitchen, covered in flour and experimenting with new tastes! When not making a mess she loves to explore her Celtic roots by roaming the Scottish countryside or exploring the bays along the Anglesey coast with her fiancé.

The UK’s Best Halloween Attractions for 2014

Monday, October 27th, 2014
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Throughout the UK people are getting ready for the scariest day of the year. That’s right, Halloween is almost upon us and whether you love it or hate it, there is no escaping the things that go bump in the night! Here at Sykes HQ, we love a good scare and can’t wait for the arrival of All Hallows’ Eve when we’ll be visiting some of Britain’s scariest attractions. To help inspire you on a frightful outing this Halloween, we’ve put together a selection of the five best attractions to visit on Friday 31st.

The York Dungeon

Picture provided by Leanne

Picture provided by Leanne

With dark corridors, sinister characters and a severely creepy atmosphere, York Dungeon is the place to be this Halloween. As well as the usual villains and suspicious personalities, the dungeons are introducing an all new menace: The Master of Tricks himself, who – armed with his Wheel of Misfortune – will be baffling guests with his despicable deceptions and dares.

Tulleys Pumpkin Patch and Scare Fest

Image from Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

Tulleys Farm has catered for everyone this Halloween by putting on an eerie but not-so-scary show for children during the day before going all out with their adult scare fest. Voted the UK’s number one attraction at the Scream Awards, Schocktober Fest at Tulleys Farm is sure to scare your pants off with no less than seven haunted attractions!

Edinburgh Ghost Walks

Image from Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

With victims of the plague roaming the streets of old town and the Mackenzie Poltergeist terrorizing Greyfriars Kirkyard, it’s no wonder Edinburgh is known as the world’s most haunted city. Book your ghost walk with City of the Dead, who not only provide world class story tellers, but are the only tour in town with access to Edinburgh’s Covenanter’s Prison.

The Big Sheep Halloween Festival

Image via Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

By offering children a haunted hay ride and daylight haunted house, The Big Sheep in north Devon is really pulling out all the stops for kiddies this Halloween. Not content with tricking little witches and wizards, The Big Sheep also offers an evening party where adults are invited to join in a live haunt in their zombie zone before heading into the most haunted house in Devon.

Alton Towers

Image via Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

Known for its intense white knuckle rides, Alton Towers is the ultimate UK destination for thrill seekers. Combining their world famous rides with late night openings and terrifying scare mazes, Alton Towers is reaching out with cold icy fingers hoping to draw in lost souls for a spine-tingling family day out.

We hope this list of British attractions has encouraged you to take your ghoulish family on a scary day out this Halloween. We would love to hear all about your scary adventures so be sure to keep us up-to-date through Facebook or Twitter.

nicole.westley

By Nicole Westley

As a food lover Nicole can often be found in the kitchen, covered in flour and experimenting with new tastes! When not making a mess she loves to explore her Celtic roots by roaming the Scottish countryside or exploring the bays along the Anglesey coast with her fiancé.