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:
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
Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy in a food mixer.
Add the egg and molasses and beat until well combined.
Gradually add the flour mixture beating until incorporated.
Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight.
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.
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.
With a spatula gently lift the cookies onto the baking tray, placing the cookies about 2cm apart.
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.
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.
Store in an airtight container.
8oz/225g icing sugar
1-2 tbsp tsp lemon juice
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.
Scrape into a piping bag with a fine tip and pipe onto cooled cookies.
Allow to set for at least 1-2 hrs, until firm, before storing cookies in an airtight container.
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)
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
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)
In a large bowl mix flour, baking powder, water and oil until a smooth dough is formed.
Make dough into a ball and place on a clean floured surface; using a rolling pin roll dough into a rectangle.
Lift dough onto baking tray and stretch to fit the whole of the tray, push dough into corners to make a thicker crust.
Spread passata onto pizza base using the back of a spoon.
Add sliced mozzarella evenly over the pizza, add herbs and toppings**.
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.
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?
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.
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.
My handbag is currently weighed down by a large cookery book. I am an avid cook book reader, but it is rare I carry one around with me just as others might a paperback novel.
The Cake Decorating Bible is beautiful presented book with photo after photo of inspiring cakes. Living in Juliet Sear’s home town I’ve seen her cakes first hand in her shop window and think of her work as what I term ‘edible art’. Now, in this book, her cakes are captured for everyone to see.
The joy of this book is that Juliet shares her baking secrets so you can try making some of these cakes at home. It is fascinating to read the first section of the book which reveals the recipes that Juliet uses as the basis for her cakes – because, just like me, she believes that first and foremost the cakes should taste amazing – only after this can you begin to decorate! Flick further into the book and you can learn how to fully ice a cake without those pesky crumbs ruining the finish; how to construct a tiered cake; how to make sugar flowers and decorate cookies.
The final section of the book is ‘Caketastrophes!’ Here Juliet explains what to do when disaster is looming and your cake is in need of some attention. Thank goodness for some direct advice about those times when, as an amateur baker, you panic because people are expecting your cake and it is looking far from ready! Reading Juliet’s suggestions of how to correct your mishaps takes some of the fear out of the last minute slip ups.
For me, over the next few months, I have a lot of work ahead as I really want to master some of these techniques and improve my decorating skills. So, I’m not letting The Cake Decorating Bible out of my sight as it is in danger of being swiped by any number of my ‘baking’ friends – I say “Buy Your Own!”
Over the past few months I have had a difficult time, there has been an ongoing saga of finding the right school for George when none of the schools we liked had spaces for children out of catchment. Now that it is settled and he starts school in September I should have more time to develop my blog and supper club. With more time to spend on my blog I want to make some changes and improvements, finding out what recipes or food stories people want me to focus on. The first stage of my improvements has been to think about updating the look of my blog. I am very pleased to say that I have had professional advise in the form of the fantastic graphic designers at Adlo Creative, which luckily for me has its’ head office in Leigh-on-Sea. They are a fantastic company specialising in web design, branding and advertising. They have designed four logos for ilovemealplans.com but I have yet to choose my favourite.
Here is the best part: I have uploaded all four Adlo logos so that you can choose my logo for me. Take a look below and please vote for your favourite in my first ever official poll. I want to know which logo you think will look best representing my blog in my header, as a logo on emails and business cards etc. Most of the logos show different colours and while I’m going to make the final colours please leave comments either here or on my facebook page about any preferences you have. Right lets get started with the voting….
This is my latest cake. It was a commission by my Aunt-in-law who, I am delighted to say, is the latest of my family and friends to make use of my love of baking. This cake was made for leaving party of the co-manager at my son’s pre-school, where my Aunt works.
I had never made a coffee and walnut cake before, but I would definitely do so again, because while I did not get to eat it myself, I did get to try the icing! Yummy!
When trying a cake for the first time I like to stick to my favourites Delia Smith or Mary Berry. This cake came from Delia’s website, but I subsituted my own icing using a classic buttercream recipe with some camp coffee.
If you would like to try it Delia’s recipe is here - I love her addition of a coffee syrup drizzled over both of the layers before icing.
For the icing I added 3tsps of instant coffee granules to 2tsp of boiling water and then added it into my basic butter icing recipe. It is important to taste the butter icing, then if you like a stronger coffee flavour you can make up more of the coffee mixture to mix into the icing.
Today the Olmypic torch came past the top of our road. It was fantastic, the street was lined with people cheering. The police came along on bikes stopping to high five with children, buses followed blaring out music and waving flags. We were all so excited. This is the moment it came past, in the pouring rain we were still dancing and cheering.
My son and I have porridge for breakfast most mornings. Oats are an excellent way to start the day; they line the stomach with good slow release carbohydrate; have soothing properties and are so much cheaper than the over processed sugar and salt loaded cereals. If you want one way to reduce your weekly shop it could be to cut out branded boxes of cereal and opt for homemade porridge.
Now, I have to tell you that my husband is not a fan of porridge (he generally thinks it is boring and bland) but I’ve converted him with this recipe and hence I’ve called it ‘The Best Ever Porridge Recipe’. Once you’ve tried it you won’t be eating it because it is healthy or inexpensive to make, but because it is delicious. It is my use of grated fruit which gives the porridge its natural healthy sweet flavour without the addition of any sugar.
In my recipe I refer to cups for measurement. I have a set of ‘American’ cups to measure with as it is quicker and easier in the morning than weighing the ingredients. If you don’t have a specific set of measuring cups try using a tea cup, just as long as you use the same cup to measure with the recipe will work. If you’d like a set of cups the set below is very cheap at Amazon.co.uk
Serves 2 adults:
1 cup of oats
1 cup of water
1 cup of milk
1 large apple or pear peeled and coarsely grated
1 tsp mixed spice
1/3 cup of raisins or sultanas
Mix all the ingredients together in a small saucepan.
Place on a hob under a low heat.
Stir the mixture until it is smooth and silky, this should take less then 5 mins.
Serve with a little extra milk and extra fruit you like (my favourite are blueberries).
Look what landed on my doormat! How lucky am I?!! I really enjoyed watching The Great British Bake Off and was always a supporter of Jo Wheatley, the winner, because just like me she is a normal Mum from Essex with a passion for baking. I eagerly awaited her book and I had high expectations that this would be a cook book that would be filled with recipes I could really use. So often recipe books are not written for the average person and have a long list of ingredients I do not have in my store cupboard, or the recipes are long and involved. I felt that Jo would give a more rounded, realistic recipe book – I was not disappointed; it was more than I expected it to be.
‘A Passion for Baking’ is thick with recipes and the food photography makes this book a real pleasure. I take a particular interest in how the food is presented as I now have to style and photograph my own recipes for my blog. The quality of this book gives me plenty of inspiration and ideas to work from. I tried Jo’s Blackcurrant and Cream Cheese Pancakes for breakfast, replacing the blackcurrants with blueberries and greedily eating them all! They were quick and easy to make, very tasty and with the use of cream cheese protein was added to my breakfast as well as fruit.
There are so many recipes I am looking forward to trying, from the Blackberry and Apple Loaf Cake to the Baby Pecan Pies and I even want to get stuck in and give macaroons a try for the first time. This book is a great addition to my recipe collection and soon every page will be stained with cake batter as I work my way through all the recipes.
Finally, I’d like to say a big thank you to Jo for showing Britain that us stay-at-home mums do have talent. There seems to be so much pressure to get out to work and leave the kids in nursery. Even if money is tight some of us choose to stay at home. We are not wasting away, bored and unaccomplished, but we are enjoying honing our skills looking after our family, feeding them healthy, good quality food and some of us are learning how to make, design and run our own website/blog too – if you’d like to read Jo’s blog it is here at Jo’s Blue Aga.