Mario birthday cake

My son had a last minute change of mind about his birthday cake.  Since he was born he has always had a dinosaur cake, as his bequest.  Again, this year it was his cake of choice.  Excellent, thought I, done it before - easy peasy!  

Then last week he announced he would like a Mario cake.  He didn't notice the look of mild panic on my face as I said 'Mario!  Yes, ummm, well I can certainly try.'  For the first time ever I have actually planned out what I am going to do.  I am cheating on the icing and use ready rolled and I fear with my colouring skills Mario might look a little sunburnt, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.

So, this morning I baked a vanilla sponge, using my cupcake recipe but doubling the mixture.  I had plenty of mixture left over and made 20 small fairy cakes, which I might just ice and send in tomorrow for his class rather than the lemon cakes I had planned.  In my experience as a mother and a teacher, kids only eat the icing anyway and leave the beleaguered sponge cowering at the bottom of the discarded case.  So I may cheat (sssh!) and grab a tub of Betty Crocker icing, give it a swirl and a jelly diamond and send those in instead. (postscript:  I did!)

I am currently waiting for the whole lot to cool and will be back later with the next instalment....


Well.  I did it.  Not well, but I did it!  My hands are dyed Christmas Red and Mario looks a bit like he should really be called 'Charlie', he's covered in so much white powder...BUT he is at least recognisable and if you don't look too hard you can't see all the dodgy icing.

Having made the two sponges, I cut around a template I made and then sandwiched them with buttercream filling and spread a thin layer over the top and sides of cake to secure the roll icing.  

I had all sorts of 'fun' dying the icing pink, red and blue and rolled it out about 6 times only to rip it as I picked it up.  Then I thought about putting a layer of clingfilm down to roll it on (with yet more icing sugar) and this did the trick.

I iced the face first and made the nose.  Then I did the hat, the eyes and the emblem.  Then I did the moustache and stuck the nose and blue eye bits on.  The red 'M' was fiddly, but I got there in the end.  For his hair I used chocolate buttercream icing with a grass nozzle to pipe it on.  

I haven't worked out how to de-powder him yet, but he looks OK...from a distance!

Cake-making is such a skill (not one that I have much of) from the baking to the icing and I am in awe of those who turn out perfectly presented cakes without a crack or speck of icing suger to be found!  To give you an idea of 'behind the scenes' I have included a photo of the carnage left behind.  And this is just the icing bit!  I can't face clearing it up yet....I need a cup of tea and a sit down.

Funky kitchen stuff

As much as I love cooking, I may love kitchen gadgets/cookware even more.  I am a sucker for kitsch especially.  With this in mind, I thought I would share with you my latest acquisitions that my sister bought me for my birthday (she knows me so well!).

The items are from Fred.  The first is the Russian Doll measuring set.  It measures cups, half cups etc with the bottoms and the tops in use!

The second is letter cookie cutters which allow you to bake your own ransom note!  These are very cool and great to use with the kids too - spelling and baking at the same time! Ta-da!

Having totally fallen for these I foolishly googled what else Fred does and now have a wish list.  First on my Fred list are the Gingerdead Men and the Ninjabread Men - if only because I do like a good pun!  And biscuits.....I like biscuits too. Especially ginger ones.

Carrot Cake

My husband loves carrot cake, so what better thing to bake him for his birthday cake?  As aforementioned, we are going to be cupcaked out by the end of next week, so I thought it would be better to make his cake a bit different from the endless sponge that is to come go for something he'll enjoy.  I hope.  This is a new recipe for me and involves a triple layering.  Not for the faint-hearted!  Or for the poor in skill (that'll be me then...).

The cake-making bit was fine apart from the endless grating of carrot which I managed without serrating any of my digits (but through luck more than anything else).  I always use a kitchenaid to make cake, so unless instructed otherwise, assume all beating is done with the help of a mixer and not by hand.  

I beat 3 eggs, 300g of soft light brown sugar and 300ml of sunflower oil until well-mixed then added 300g plain flour, 1 tsp bicarb of soda, 1 tsp of baking powder, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ground ginger, 1/2 tsp of salt and 1/4 tsp vanilla extract and mixed well.

Then I added 300g of (laboriously) grated carrot and 100g of chopped walnuts.  This bit I'd do by hand else you'll end up with smush.

I divided the mixture into 3 x 20cm cake tins and baked for 20 mins at 170ºC.  

To make the icing I sifted 600g of icing sugar and mixed it with 100g soft unsalted butter (using the paddle attachment).  Then I added 250g of cream cheese and mixed on a medium speed for 5 mins.  

Then...the tricky bit.

As you will see from the photos, icing is not my forte.  Especially a triple layered cake.  The only other attempt I made at one of these was exactly the same, a big splotty cakey version of The Leaning Tower of Pisa!  Possibly I should level off my my cakes before I ice them, but that would mean a lot of nifty and straight knife work.  Anyway, I ploughed onward iced each layer with 1/4 of the icing then used the last quarter for the sides.  I ended up with a somewhat wonky, but nevertheless iced cake adorned with walnuts and shortly afterwards a plastic golfer and three birthday candles.

The result was a good.  Not excellent, not poor but good.  The icing was creamy and delicious but rather over powered the cake.  Perhaps next time I will try two thicker layers rather than three thin ones.  The cake was SO moist - fantastic!  The taste was fine, but for me I would perhaps increase the cinnamon and ginger to one teaspoon for a bit more 'kick'.  As predicted, the kids hated the cake and only liked the icing.  No change there!  But Husband and I enjoyed it and he is taking the leftovers into work tomorrow for further devouring.

Birthday Boys

Tomorrow is my husband's birthday and then 3 days later it is my son's birthday.  Next week it's his party. So this week I shall be blogging about fusion food.  

Only joking, it's all gonna be about cake, cake, cake!

In the next 10 days have to make:

1 grown-up birthday cake
20 cupcakes to take into school
1 dinosaur cake
12 jubilee cupcakes (with the added hazard of being 'helped' by my kids)
1 large traybake cake, decorated for a party of 16 ravenous children

I have just put a Waitrose order in and the amount of sugar and butter that's on there is embarrassing.  It's one of those orders that makes you want to explain yourself to the delivery man as he heaves it up the garden path.  Like when I order about 9 bottles of wine because it's my fav and on offer.  I'm sure he clanks it down on the doormat and thinks 'luuuush!'.  Which is, perhaps, not without merit, but I feel I need to chirp up with 'It's not all for me!' which means exactly the opposite.  Just not all at once.

I digress; so back to the mountain of cake I have to make this week.  I will of course do my best to document the baking frenzy that will engulf the house and try not to lick ALL the bowls I use (this is my little guilty pleasure).  Lord knows what they'll turn out like and with all the glorious sunshine we're having I am sure they will be a gooey mess by the time we get around to lighting the candles.  To make it worse, I am on dieting (again) and cannot partake in the eating part which, let's face it, is the best bit.  Maybe a slither....a good cook should always taste their food after all.....

Know your Place(mats)!

I found these place mats at a country show years ago and I still love them.  They make me giggle (especially the froggy one - haven't explained that to the kids yet!).  They are by Tangent Art and annoyingly I cannot find their original website - hoping they haven't given up trading.  However, I did find some of their coasters on this site so if you want some, perhaps contact them.  I know, rubbish info but thought I'd share my regular dining companions with you.  These four are my favourites....


Stuffed chicken wrapped in prosciutto

This is a dish of my own invention!  So not particularly difficult then....

All I did was put of dollop of Le Roule cheese in a chicken breast and then wrapped the breast around to cover the cheese.  Then I wrapped each breast in 2 slices of prosciutto (but bacon, parma ham etc. would work just as well, I'm sure).  To secure it all and keep all the ingredients where they are supposed to be I skewered it with some cocktail sticks.  Than I baked the chicken in a 180ºC oven for about half an hour.  When it was cooked I removed the cocktail sticks and served with some steamed baby sweetcorn and fine green beans.  


This week I discovered a new website: Foodisan.  Foodisan is a fantastic company that showcases a plethora of scrummy goodies that come from small, independent food producers.  Such producers can't always afford to give their products the marketing they deserve, especially on a limited budget and Foodisan gives them the opportunity to sell above and beyond farmer's markets or local shops and makes their products accessible to the likes of you and I.  Hurrah!  So far they have 43 producer partners signed up and over 900 products on their live database which means one thing; my bank balance will shrink as my tummy grows...

One ingenuous idea they have developed and branded is their 'tasting box'.  You can buy a one off or subscribe. For £19.99 you will receive a box of 5/6 gorgeous products to tickle your taste buds and expand your repertoire of artisan foods.  They also do a gift box, which I think is an excellent idea.  When you think how much you pay to send someone flowers or suchlike, this makes a much better idea for a present.  For a birthday, Father's Day or even a corporate thank you, I think this would be a really classy and much enjoyed gift.  Free delivery too.  Bargain!

I was also very impressed with the style and ease of their website.  A doddle to negotiate and with a very friendly feel.  There is opportunity for you to recommend products too, which is great because so often independent producers rely on word of mouth - well now Foodisan can speak up for them too!

I have waxed lyrical long enough, but I do recommend you visit the site and see for yourselves.  It's like that posh deli down the road and a farmer's market rolled into one and available in the comfort of your own home!  Get drooling at  Enjoy!

FOODIES100 Jubilee Challenge

Foodies100 were throwing down the Jubilee gauntlet to create something bakey and jubilee-ey and also win lots of Dr Oetker stuff to bake even more stuff with!

So, I had a think...Jubilee....Queen....Corgis!

This is my baking effort to celebrate the Jubilee!  Although not (really) for the corgis!

I made vanilla biscuits and then iced them.  Using royal icing I lined the biscuits and then flooded them with runnier icing to fill them in.  They may look like fancy bonios, but I can assure you they were very yummy.  In fact I needed to eat four of them to make sure of this.

To make the biscuits: beat 1 large egg with 1/2 tsp of vanilla essence.  Sift 100g of self raising flour and 350g of plain flour together then rub in 125g of cold diced, salted butter to make fine breadcrumbs. When evenly mixed add 125g golden syrup and the egg mix and form into a dough.  Squish the dough into 2 flat discs and refrigerate for half an hour before rolling out and cutting. Bake at 170ºC for 14-18 mins.  When cooked (just turning golden - don't overcook!) remove carefully with a spatula and transfer to a cooling rack.  Careful though else they'll break...

To ice:  I make the line icing by mixing 900g of royal icing with 150ml of cold water.  To colour use a gel and dip a cocktail stick in the dye and then mix in.  Keep going until you get the colour you want, but believe me, it happens very quickly!  Using a fine nozzle and a steady hand, pipe around the cooled biscuits to form an outline.

To make flooding icing you repeat the above but add enough drops of water to make it a smooth mixture with the pouring consistency of custard.  Then with a thicker nozzle, fill in the biscuit until it is fully covered but not overflowing.

Let them set and admire them with patriotic pride!  Then eat them.  And DON'T give them to the dogs!

Avocado & Mozzarella Platter

We eat this a LOT!  I can't even remember where I got the recipe from, but it is a lovely mixture of Italian flavours and even better with a large glass of wine!  I urge you to try this - delicious!   I haven't really given specific amounts as you can use as much of each ingredient as you please but as a guide, for two people I would use one avocado and one packet of mozzarella.  Try to buy the best you can afford - it makes a difference!

Heat oven to 200ºC.  Put 2 bunches of cherry vine tomatoes and either 2 cloves of chopped garlic in a roasting tin.  Drizzle over 2 tbsps of olive oil and cook for about 15 mins (when the skins have split).

Meanwhile, decorate plates with a generous drizzle of balsamic glaze* and then arrange slices of avocado and mozzarella.  Toast some pine nuts and scatter them over the plates too.  Divide the roasted tomatoes between the plates and drip the left over garlicky oil over the mozzarella.  Eat and enjoy - mop up any juices with some crusty ciabatta!

*I recommend Waitrose balsamic glaze - it is thick like a syrup and you can zig zag across the plate like a pro!


Feel free to use large tomatoes cut in half and small mozzarella balls.  For the more rustic approach I sometimes tear up the mozzarella and scatter everything haphazardly over the plate.  Whichever way the wind takes you...there are no rules!

Cod & Chorizo with Green Salad

This is a healthy and delicious meal with some of my favourite flavours in it - chorizo, lemon and thyme - yum! Serves 2.

Fry 90g of chorizo chunks over a high heat for about 5 mins, then remove from heat and stir in the thyme.

Put 2 skinned cod fillets in a roasting tin and season with salt & pepper.  Sprinkle over a pinch of paprika and the grated zest of 1/4 lemon (you'll need another 1/4 later on).  Drizzle over half a tablespoon of olive oil and scatter about 10 cherry tomatoes and 8 cloves of peeled garlic around the tin.  Place 2/3 of the chorizo over the fish and bake at 200ºC for 8 minutes.  Then add the rest of the chorizo and lemon zest and cook for another 5 minutes.  Check the fish is opaque inside so you know it is cooked properly as some fillets are chunkier than others!  Serve with a green salad, or indeed whatever you fancy!

p.s. What do you think of my photos?  I am slowly improving my photographc skills.....

Another Monday, another diet....

Due to the enormous amount of pastries and biscuits I have consumed in recent weeks (not sure why) I have decided to dig out my Atkins book, ignore most of it but de-carb.  Again.  I do this at regular intervals and it really does work and as a sufferer of IBS I feel much better for it.  Trouble is, carbs are my achilles heel and it only takes a brie and chutney panini to get be back on the slippery slope to Sunday morning croissants with a pain au raisin chaser.  However, I have two big events coming up and I would like to look my best for them.  So the carbs have got to go.  

Alas, with a husband and three kids it is harder to actualise than you might think especially as I do NOT want my kids to know I am dieting (although as I am constantly on one diet or another, I imagine they won't notice any difference!).

So as I sit to plan the week's meals I find myself centred around meat and veggies.  No rice, pasta, bread or potatoes.  *sobs*  I can't cut all the carbs in sauce type of stuff - just the basics for me.

It's not too bad in the summer (when there's sun) as it is all salads and BBQs but the weather lady informs me the rain is coming back and miserable weather just makes me want to eat biscuits.

I will compromise.  No carbs (or wine) all week then Fri-Sun night I can eat what I like.  This allows me pizza with the kids on movie night, a sandwich and a coffee in Costa on Saturday and a full Sunday roast.  Potatoes, stuffing and all.  There will be light at the end of the weekly tunnel!

So, this week's dishes are:

Cod & chorizo with a green salad

Avo & mozzarella with roasted tomatoes

Chicken stuffed with Le Roule and wrapped in parma ham with green beans and baby sweetcorn

Deli platter - Cheeses, meats, pickles & chutney

I will endeavour to share these wondrous creations with you...

Saturday is Caption Day

Linking up with Mammasaurus blog, can you think of a witty caption for this photo?  
Actually any caption will do....

What was that wine called again......?

Aha!  You need an app and I have just the one!

For years I would drink a bottle of wine (usually whatever was on offer) and think 'Ooh - that was really nice.  Must remember that one for next time'.  Of course, next time came and I would be patrolling the wine aisle of Waitrose looking for it.  Then it would strike me that I actually got it in Tesco.  Or was it Sainsbury's?  Maybe even the garage on the late night wine run....

Then with the arrival of an iPhone came the world of apps.  And in my newbie enthusiasm I, of course, searched 'wine'.  The app I found is called Memorable WInes and basically you can photograph and record a wine you like - grape, year, price etc. plus your own notes (i.e. got it at  Tesco!).

It's not flashy or anything, but works really well and is perfect for what I need it for which is wandering up and down the booze aisles trying to match up the label and wine.  Here are a few pics to whet your may know of other/better ones but I'm sticking with this one for now.

Rice Krispie Chicken

This is a recipe from Lisa Faulkner's book: Recipes from my Mother for my Daughter.  It is basically home-made chicken nuggets, but more exciting and can be done with the help of little people (children, not elves).  Quick and healthy to make, they went down a treat, although my kids were slightly miffed that there was no snap, crackle and pop!

However, the second time I made them a few rogue coco pops had wriggled into the rice krispies so we had a little bit of fusion food.....chicken and chocolate.  Reaction was mixed from 'Hey!  There's a coco pop!' to this face.....

All you need to do is dip strips of chicken in mayonnaise and then into crushed rice krispies and bake at 180ºC for about 20 minutes.  For the exact recipe, please consult Lisa Faulkner's book (which I hope you all have - it is very good).

I was going to post a photo but we ate them all before I time!

The Glynde Food & Drink Festival

This year we are going to the Glynde Food & Drink Festival, set in the grounds of Glynde Place, East Sussex

I haven't been before, but it promises to be an amazing day out and you can even take the kids as there are childrens' cookery classes or a craft & creche area to keep them busy.

Celebrities already signed up to run demonstrations are John Torode, Dhruv Baker, Tim Anderson and Lisa Faulkner (if you don't watch Masterchef you may be saying 'Who?' but trust me, they're all fab!).  I have signed my kids up for a junior masterclass and really wanted to sign up myself for a bit of one-to-one with Dhruv, but fear leaving Husband with the 3 kids for 1 hour+ would send him over the edge...

You can pre-book or turn up on the day, but there is a discount if you book ahead.

It's just down the road from me so an easy excursion, but if you're further afield I do think it will be a visit - A foodtastic and hopefully sunny day out.

              Lisa                                                                          Dhruv                                                

I'm a Finalist!

Well, knock me down with a cheese string, I made it to the final 8 in the Tasty! category of the Britmums blogging awards (#bibs)!

How the hell did that happen?

As you can imagine I am chuffed to bits and have been tweeting my delight and then.....wait for it....I GOT A DIRECT MESSAGE FROM NIGELLA LAWSON CONGRATULATING ME!! (sorry for the cyber-shouting, but how exciting is that??!!)  Look...

One word speaks volumes..

Now, to celebrate I might just have to fire up the kitchenaid and get baking!  I am sure my son would appreciate a 'didn't Mummy do well chocolate cake' and I did buy myself a new cake plate and server last week.  I know...but I needed them!  I was slightly irked it was a Kirstie Allsopp cake-server, but hey - it's candy striped and pretty! Whatever I cook, it's got to be Nigella and I'm going to blog about it!

M&S, if you're interested....

*allows self one last burst of self-adulation* YAHOO!

Sausage Rolls

WHY have I never made these before??  They are so scrummy and, as ever, easy to make!

Here's what to do...

Finely chop 2 shallots, 2 large cloves of garlic and 2 sage leaves and saute in about 20g of butter.  Then in a bowl mix it in with 450g of sausagemeat and thyme leaves (from about 4 sprigs).  I cheated on the pastry and used pre-rolled puff pastry.  Cut the pastry sheet into two rectangles and arrange the sausagemeat mixture in two long sausages down the middle of each.  Then gently pull the pastry over the meat and sealed with egg wash.  Cut each one into 6 pieces and lay on a baking tray, seam side down.  Brush again with egg wash and bake at 180ºC for about half an hour.  Then wait for them to cool a little before scoffing the lot (or offer them to other people too if you are of a kindly disposition).

On my 'Net Diary' app I have worked out that it is 134 calories per sausage roll if you use the jus-rol light puff pastry sheet.  Just in case you're counting....!