Actimel Family Wellbeing Fund & Our Mini Garden Orchard

apples on tree 2apple treeapple blossom

A couple of months ago I was invited by Actimel to apply for funding for a project I thought would be beneficial to my family involving food. It didn’t take me long to realise this would be my chance to ask for funding towards the fruit trees I’ve been longing for. When we bought our bungalow it already had a well established apple tree bearing Golden Delicious apples. It was lovely to have our own supply of apples and my next move was to find a local pick your own fruit farm. During the summer and autumn my son and I spend many happy hours wandering through the orchards at the last pick your own in our area, and have made friends with the 70 year old lady farmer who sees to its maintenance. Now, with the Actimel Wellbeing Fund, would be my chance to have more fruit in our own garden and to make jams, chutneys and preserves to last all year by freezing and canning the fruit. I saw this as a way to increase my family’s fruit intake and reduce our food bill, Actimel agreed and last month we were allowed to buy 5 of our own fruit trees for our garden!

Thank you very much to Actimel for choosing our family and funding our project. The good news is that there is more funding to be awarded and Actimel want bloggers to apply. My funding was awarded under the EAT category of the Family Wellbeing project but there are 5 more categories: PLAY, CONNECT, MOVE, LEARN & GIVE.

If you would like to apply for funding check out their website: Actimel Family Wellbeing

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Rose Cake

This cake is a lemon sponge covered in buttercream icing.

All my cakes are for order.

 

 

 

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Dinosaur Cakes

Meet Terry the T-Rex. This was a very special cake made for a little boy’s 4th birthday, in fact he is the brother of my god-daughter and one of my son’s best friends. A big thanks to his Mum for trusting me to make this cake; it is the first 3D cake I have made and I’m pleased with the results. This cake would be £35 depending on the size required.

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Quick Crispie Cupcakes

Yesterday I needed to make cupcakes but I had run out of time. I had to invent my new quick cupcakes – cupcakes made with rice crispies. I followed a simple recipe by Nigella Lawson and used silicone cupcake cases to make it easy to turn out the cakes. Next to change these cakes from basic crispie cakes into cupcakes I piped buttercream icing and added some fondant decorations.

These tasted delicious and took a less time to make than regular cupcakes. I think the adults at the party enjoyed these cakes more than the children!

Nigella’s Recipe is as follows:
(makes approx 20 cupcakes)

Ingredients:

  • 45 gram(s) butter
  • 300 gram(s) mini marshmallows
  • 180 gram(s) rice krispies
  • 1 sprinkling of sprinkles (or edible glitter – optional)
Method:
  1. Melt the butter in a large, heavy-based saucepan over a low heat.
  2. Add the marshmallows and cook gently until they are completely melted and blended, stirring constantly.
  3. Take the pan off the heat and immediately add the cereal, mixing lightly until well coated.
  4. Press the mixture into a greased silicone cupcakes cases; use two spoons to push and scrape into the cases as it will be very sticky. Flatten the top and
  5. Let the marshmallow crispy squares cool completely in the cases and then decorate with butter icing.

My buttercream icing recipe can be found here.

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Start Meal Planning for the New Year

photo from http://www.resourcefulcook.com

I love to meal plan. In my family I am in charge of the kitchen and to keep organised  I meal plan. Meal planning means I can save time and money. To get started with meal planning there are plenty of recipes for quick easy meals to try  here.   However, meal planning can also include pre-packaged food, just so long as you have planned ahead and bought in what you need. If you are working full time it is not always practical to cook from scratch every day and so forward planning can help you select some good prepared foods that help you to balance the issue of saving both time, money and healthy eating in your kitchen.

Here are my top tips to get started with meal planning:

  1. Find out the weekly schedule for everybody in your family; see who will be eating at home on what days; see which days are busy and plan an easy meal to prepare.
  2. Look through the fridge/cupboards and see what there is to use, this will prevent duplicates being bought and keeps costs down.
  3. Write a list of 7 meals and, if lunch planning too, write a list of 7 lunch meals (or use an ilovemealplans.com meal plan from the meal plan page).
  4. Write a shopping list including all the things you need for your 7 meals plus extras such as cleaning products.
  5. Do one big shopping trip* and get everything you need, or make an online grocery order and have it delivered to your door.

*As a stay at home Mum I do one big weekly shop but leave some fresh items, such as salad, to bought throughout the week. Then later in the week I plan into my routine a trip to a local shop when it is convenient to buy a few fresh ingredients. If you plan ahead this can fit into an routine such as a trip to a shop on the way home from work, rather than arriving home and realising it is necessary to go out again to the shops.

If you use my 5 steps to meal planning you may find it helpful to use a meal plan chart and place it somewhere that everyone can see it. I have found an attractive free meal plan at this website: OlliBird.com

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Strawberry Santas

If you love these Christmas Santa Strawberries. You can see how to make them below and watch the step by step picture instructions:

Check out How to Make Christmas Strawberry Santa Claus With Micho by Michel on Snapguide.

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Christmas Gift Biscuits

Let’s get on with some blogging, while I’ve been working full time for a few months I’ve not had time to stand still, but over the next few days I’m going to refresh some old Christmas posts to inspire you. I made these biscuits after seeing some Christmas Star Biscuits for sale as a gift in a posh delicatessant. I decided to make my own as gifts and called them Spiced Christmas Biscuits. I wrapped them up in cellophane bags with some red ribbon hoping that they would look professional. I really enjoyed making them and George helped too! They make great gifts for teachers, colleagues, grandparents and are a good money saving exercise!

The recipe I used was based on my Gingerman recipe. I updated the recipe with more mixed spice and some cinnamon for a Christmas feel. A star cookie cutter and some white lemon icing completed my Christmas Cookie gifts. The only problem I have now is that there are none left for us! I’ll have to get baking again, these are a must in the biscuit tin at this time of year!

Here’s my recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 390g plain flour
  • 3/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp ground ginger (or more to your taste)
  • 3 tsp mixed spice
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) caster sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 160 ml golden syrup

Method:

  1. Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy in a food mixer.
  2. Add the egg and molasses and beat until well combined.
  3. Gradually add the flour mixture beating until incorporated.
  4. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight.
  5. Preheat oven to 170°c and place rack in the center of oven. Line 2 baking tray with baking paper and set aside while you roll out the dough.
  6. Lightly flour a clean work surface, roll out the dough to a thickness of about 1/4 inch. Use a star cutter to cut out the cookies.
  7. With a spatula gently lift the cookies onto the baking tray, placing the cookies about 2cm apart.
  8. Bake for approx 8 – 12 mins depending on the size of the cookies. Small ones need 8 minutes, larger cookies approx 12 minutes. They are done when they are firm, golden, but still slightly soft.
  9. Remove the cookies from the oven and cool on the baking tray for about a minute. When they are firm enough to move, transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  10. Store in an airtight container.

Lemon Icing:

Ingredients:

  • 8oz/225g icing sugar
  • 1-2 tbsp tsp lemon juice

Method:

  1. Add 1tsp lemon juice to sugar, mix until smooth, adding more lemon juice until the icing is thick and pourable, but not runny. Add extra sugar to thicken the mixture if it becomes too runny.
  2. Scrape into a piping bag with a fine tip and pipe onto cooled cookies.
  3. Allow to set for at least 1-2 hrs, until firm, before storing cookies in an airtight container.

 

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Homemade Pizza – Quick, Easy & Yeast Free

Today I am updating my Homemade Pizza recipe and photograph. George and I made the pizzas in this picture, George made the small pizza and ate most of it, while my hubbie and I shared the larger pizza. So Daddy came home from work to a delicious pizza we had made from scratch. Dinner was made and my son was entertained at the same time! Normally I try to make dinner while he shouts for me to play with him; sometimes he tries to help, but there isn’t always something he can do. When we made this pizza he was kept busy and useful; he ate lots of this dinner and when he gets involved in adding all the ingredients touching and smelling it he eats his meal better. This reminds me of a saying I heard about feeding kids “If it’s on their plate it’s too late” which means if they help with making the meal they are more likely to eat it all.

Now, one reason that this pizza recipe is so good for kids is that it does not use yeast. Yeast requires the dough to rise which means waiting time, something kids are not good at. It is also important to control any spillage of yeast or it can grow (and smell!) on your kitchen surfaces; since cooking with kids always creates a lot of mess it is best to use a yeast free recipe. The final point to consider is that kids put things in their mouths and putting a spoon covered in dough containing raw yeast is not a good idea! Anyway I’m a bit fussy when it comes to yeast, I think it is over used and put in unnecessary products – you can even find it in crisps! Too much of anything is not good for you, but I stop here as my husband says this subject is boring!

Moving on, the other plus side to this homemade pizza is that by making it yourself pizza becomes the healthy option. So often shop bought or delivered pizzas have too many calories, hidden salt and sugar, but when you make it yourself you know exactly what the ingredients are.

Here is my extremely easy recipe:

Serves 4 for dinner (with a salad)

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz white self-rising flour (sifted)*
  • 2 oz wholemeal flour (sifted)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 200ml warm water
  • 1.5 tbsp olive oil
  • 250g passata
  • 1 ball mozzarella (or 2 if you like cheese!)
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried mixed herbs
  • toppings of your choice (egg, ham, olives, chorizo, spinach, peppers)
  • greased large rectangular baking tray or two round tin bases (I use the bottom of my 10 inch springform victoria sponge tins)

Method:

  1. In a large bowl mix flour, baking powder, water and oil until a smooth dough is formed.
  2. Make dough into a ball and place on a clean floured surface; using a rolling pin roll dough into a rectangle.
  3. Lift dough onto baking tray and stretch to fit the whole of the tray, push dough into corners to make a thicker crust.
  4. Spread passata onto pizza base using the back of a spoon.
  5. Add sliced mozzarella evenly over the pizza, add herbs and toppings**.
  6. Cook in a pre-heated over at 180°c for 25 minutes.

*Add a pinch of salt to the dough mixture if you wish.

**If you wish to use eggs as a topping as I did they should not be placed onto the pizza until later. Cook the pizza until there is 5 minutes remaining and then crack the eggs onto the pizza to cook.

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George’s 4th Birthday

This year for George’s 4th birthday I went all out and made two birthday cakes; one cake for our family on his actual birthday and a larger one for his birthday party. I was really pleased with his main birthday cake and George told me himself “This is the bestest birthday cake I’ve ever tasted. That means I love it” Being told this by your son makes all the hard work worth it. There was a lot more I wanted to improve and develop with this cake, but I couldn’t stay up all night – sleep is essential. By the way, you can see my improvement from last year’s birthday cake here. Still a good cake, but no 3D elements.

Our family cake was a first for me as I tried a chocolate cake recipe from American blog Annie’s Eats and made ganache following instructions from my latest cake book The Cake Decorating Bible by local Leigh-on-Sea girl ‘done good’ Juliet Sear. With this cake I learnt that, while dark chocolate ganache is a hit with the adults, for a 4 year old’s birthday cake less dark chocolate and a little milk chocolate is better. To top the cake off I made chocolate lollipops – which I will blog about soon as they are easy and cheap to make.


Finally George and I worked together to decorate cupcakes for his birthday party. They were inspired by another blog – this time Canadian blog Sweetapolita – a totally gorgeous blog filled with stunning cakes. I made my own blue sprinkles by mixing caster sugar with a drop of blue food colouring, this is an easy way to match your sprinkles to your theme or cupcake cases. We were using blue and white to work alongside George’s Thomas the Tank Engine theme; he is Thomas mad!

Maybe I’ve inspired you to try something new next time you bake a cake?

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Meal Plan

http://thisweekfordinner.com/

http://thisweekfordinner.com/

After the summer holidays I am officially back into a routine of meal planning. Whenever I take break from meal planning I realise how beneficial it really is; I feel less stressed, more organised and things run more smoothly. There are no last minute dashes to the local shop, I do not have to stand at the fridge thinking through options each day and I can get meals ready quickly before people get too hungry.

Here is this week’s plan including puddings:
(remember I don’t assign fixed days to each meal, I do work down my list but sometimes swap days, that way although I am still planning I can also have some spontaneity.)

1. Ham & cheese pasta. Summer fruit custard fool.
2. Chicken baked with passata and peppers. Crumble & custard.
3. Stir fry. Fruit cheese cake.
4. Meatballs & rice. Fruit & yogurt.
5. Macaroni cheese. Baked apples with raisins & custard.
6. Steak, salad & potato wedges. Ice cream & bananas.
7. Roast chicken. Chocolate mousse & blueberries.

Possible lunches:
1. Spaghetti hoops & toast.
2. Fish fingers.
3. Left over chicken in sandwiches.
4. Poached eggs.
5. Homemade minestrone soup.
6. Cheese on toast.
7. Chicken noodle broth.

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