Thomas the Tank Engine 2nd Birthday Party

Following on from my cupcake blog I thought I’d show a couple of pictures of our decorations. We hung pictures in our apple tree, my husband made a station sign for our front door, we had Thomas music and a Thomas cake. Our Thomas cake was a homemade marble cake and featured Thomas’ face which was made using icing sugar, cocoa powder, edible glitter and a stencil. I had ordered a printed sugar paper topper for our cake which featured three trains, but just before the cake was to be served we found it totally ruined! We had to peel it off and think fast to turn disaster into a triumph! I love stenciling using icing sugar and the edible glitter I had used for my cupcakes added something extra!

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Thomas & Friends at George’s Birthday Party

My baby boy turns 2 this week and we threw him a party. He is totally Thomas the Tank Engine mad and so it wasn’t hard to choose a theme. I went cupcake crazy and made 40 Thomas cupcakes which went down a storm with both children and adults! They were totally delicious partly due to the vanilla sugar and partly due to the sweet cream cheese topping. I made a mixture of vanilla and chocolate cupcakes with both plain cream cheese icing and cream cheese/chocolate icing. Now how to make cupcakes Thomas themed? Well, first I found some Thomas rice paper toppers on ebay so that was easy, but I wanted to do something more. Then I found Thomas silicone ice cube trays and was able to use these to make Thomas chocolate shapes to top the cakes! Here are the pictures and the recipe:

Thomas the Tank Cupcakes Thomas the Tank Cupcakes Thomas the Tank cupcakes Thomas the Tank Cupcakes

Ingredients:

Makes roughly 20 cupcakes

  • 8oz unsalted butter
  • 80z sifted vanilla caster sugar (make this by storing caster sugar for several days with a vanilla pod to infuse)
  • 80z sifted self-rising flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 4 large free range eggs
  • 2 tsp milk
  • 1 tbsp coca powder
  • 1 tbsp drinking chocolate powder

Method:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 180°c.
  2. Make sure butter is soft and, in a large bowl, mix well with caster sugar until smooth.
  3. Add half the flour, all the baking powder, and 2 eggs to the bowl, fold in gradually and gently.
  4. Add the rest of the flour, eggs and milk, fold in gently.
  5. Test mixture, it should drop easily from your spoon, if it is sloppy add a tbsp more flour, if it is too thick add a tsp more milk.
  6. Be gently with your mixture and fold gently this will keep air in the mixture.
  7. Spoon half the mixture into cupcake cases, fill each case no more than half full or they will rise too high to ice easily.
  8. Gently fold cocoa powder and drinking chocolate into remaining mixture and then spoon into remaining cases, again only fill cases half full.
  9. Bake cakes for anywhere between 15-25 minutes this will depend on your oven*.

*A fan oven will cook cakes more evenly and quicker, but all ovens vary and you must check your cakes after 15 minutes. Try to check the cakes through the glass of the oven door (if you have a glass front) if you open the oven too early it will change the temperature and can effect how they rise. When you think the cakes have risen open the oven and test the cakes by pushing a skewer into one, if it comes out clean without any wet mixture then they should be ready – see the photograph below for the cakes straight out of the oven.

Thomas the Tank Cupcakes Thomas the Tank Cupcakes Thomas the Tank cupcakes Thomas the Tank Cupcakes

Icing:

Ingredients:

  • 500g full fat cream cheese
  • 12 oz sifted icing sugar
  • 100g dark or milk chocolate

Method:

  1. Mix cream cheese and icing sugar well**.
  2. Pipe half the icing onto a variety of chocolate and vanilla cupcakes.
  3. Melt chocolate and pour into remaining icing, mix well.
  4. Pipe chocolate icing onto remaining cupcakes.

** Full fat cream cheese is needed as low fat will not keep its shape when piping.

Thomas Chocolate Shapes:

To make these shapes buy silicone Thomas ice cube trays available online. Melt chocolate and pour into moulds, cover the ice cube tray with cling film and place in the freeze over night. Pop out Thomas chocolates and make another batch. Place on top of the iced cupcakes.

Cupcake Stand:

Inspired by Annies-eats.com I made my own cupcake stand. It is really easy to make and you can read all the instructions on Annie’s blog, but I made it even easier by using some old cake board instead of starting from scratch.

My beautiful boy turns 2.

Thomas the Tank Cupcakes Thomas the Tank Cupcakes Thomas the Tank cupcakes Thomas the Tank Cupcakes

Thomas the Tank Cupcakes Thomas the Tank Cupcakes Thomas the Tank cupcakes Thomas the Tank Cupcakes

Thomas the Tank Cupcakes Thomas the Tank Cupcakes Thomas the Tank cupcakes Thomas the Tank Cupcakes

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How to Pipe Icing

Next week is my little boy’s 2nd birthday party and I’ve been planning to make some fancy cupcakes. However, I’ve never used a proper piping bag before and I’ve been watching youtube videos to teach myself how to pipe icing!
Here is one of the videos I found, great fun and helpful too:

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Mock Trifle

On our wedding anniversay my husband and I went for a walk by the creek. When we came across some huge blackberry bushes we couldn’t resist picking some.  

On our anniversay we always cook each other a special meal. My husband cooks the starter and main course, while I cook the dessert. This year I didn’t have much time to plan ahead and decided to make chocolate trifle, which is a favourite of both or ours and I could include our freshly picked blackberries.

When it came to prepare the dessert it had gotten late and it coincided with trying to put Baby G to bed, I didn’t have time to make a proper trifle so I made these little individual ‘mock’ trifles – something I came up with there and then. They turned out to be totally delicious and much quicker so I am recommending this recipe to you.

Serves 2:

Ingredients:

These measurements are approximate, they filled the two small champagne glasses I decided to serve them in (add more of less accordingly)

  • 100g blackberries
  • 2tsp sugar
  • 2 trifle sponges
  • 150g custard
  • 50g chocolate (or more if you love chocolate!)

Method:

  1. Gently heat the blackberries with the sugar until they are soft and slightly liquid.
  2. Place the trifle sponge in the bottom of glass/dish, you may need to cut the sponge to fit.
  3. Pour the blackberry mixture over the sponge and leave to soak in
  4. Break chocolate into small pieces and place in microwave proof bowl with custard, heat on a low temperature for 30 seconds at a time stirring until chocolate has completely melted and mixed with custard.
  5. Pour chocolate custard over sponges and place in fridge for custard to set.

Check out the romantic setting:

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Frittata

Frittata is such a good dinner for so many reasons:

  1. It tastes delicious!
  2. It is really easy to make.
  3. Eggs are the main ingredient so it is an inexpensive meal.
  4. You can add lots of different fillings to make a different meal everytime.

I first tried frittata when my school friend Sarah Shear made it for me, then several years later I read a Delia Smith recipe and started cooking frittata myself. A few years ago I taught my Mum how to make frittata and now she often cooks it for dinner as she finds it so quick and easy, plus my Dad loves it! Now my 89 year old Grandfather said he would like to make it so here is the recipe.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • some olive oil
  • 1 large onion sliced into rings
  • 1 large potato sliced and cooked
  • 1 large handful cherry tomatoes halved
  • 1 large handful of chopped fresh herbs (basil, thyme, parsley) or 2 tsp dried mixed herbs
  • 100g peas
  • 4 slices of ham (roughly chopped)
  • 100g grated cheese
  • 6 eggs

Method:

  1. Pre-heat the grill to 180
  2. Pour a little olive oil into a large non-stick frying pan and fry the onions.
  3. Place the eggs and the cheese to one side and add all the other ingredients to the pan with the oinons, cook on a low heat for approx 5 mins.
  4. Whisk the eggs in a jug, beat them well and pour into the frying pan. Increase the heat underneath and sprinkle the cheese evenly on the top.
  5. Cook the mixture on the hob, on a low heat, for roughly 10 minutes. While the mixture is still wet on the top but showing signs of cooking at the edges remove to the grill (if you continue to cook on the hob it will burn underneath before you have been able to cook it on the top!).
  6. Watch the frittata and when it is set slice and serve.

Serving suggestion:

Cous cous and salad.

You can add lots of different fillings to a frittata so experiment and enjoy!

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Gilberts – My Local Baker

My local baker is only a short walk away, Baby G and I usually make a trip once a week to stock up on their speciality bread. Sadly they have been shut for their summer holidays but they are open again and I’m desperate to get over there this week. They make a fantastic range of yeast free products. I’ve been trying to avoid too much yeast in my diet for a few years now. After taking antibiotics I got several stomach bugs in a row and found out I had candida. This took the form of a yeast infection in my stomach with too much bad bacteria and not enough good bacteria to fight off any stomach bugs. Ever since then I’ve thought it good to limit the amount of yeast in my diet. I’ve discovered it is in all sorts of food from sausages to crisps. I still can’t figure out why crisps need to have yeast extract? Can anybody answer that for me?

Now, my local baker’s is the only place locally that we can buy yeast free products, they make good bread, delicious rolls, pastries, sausage rolls as well as other yeast free products. I adore their Chelsea buns, although they are not yeast free! This year they are finalists in the Essex Food & Drink Awards Baker of the Year. As you can imagine I voted for them and I hope they win. They are good old fashioned bakers doing a good job, the shop has been the same forever and unlike modern competitors they don’t need a fancy sign or marketing gimmicks, they have loyal customers. I have been pleased to find they do have a website and it is regularly updated.

I love the shop so much, there is nothing better than having good local shops within walking distance. Walking to my local shop I feel good about myself; getting some exercise and fresh air makes me feel a little less guilty when I tuck into some yummy treats!

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Smoked Mackerel Pate

This is a great lunch or starter for a dinner party. As with everything I do it is very quick. It took 2 minutes to whiz it all together in my food processor and a few minutes to make it look pretty in the bowl. Mackerel is a good fish to use as it is full of fish oils which aid with a whole range of health issues from arthritis to depression! Here is my recipe:

Serves 4 for lunch, 6 for a starter

Ingredients:

  • 2 smoked mackerel fillets
  • 250g cream cheese
  • 2 tsp lemon juice

Method:

  1. Whiz everything together in a food processor until smooth.
  2. Serve with toast.
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Macaroni Cheese

I really love macaroni cheese but I find to make it from scratch takes time and makes a lot of dirty dishes to be washed up! Instead I sometimes make my quick version, it uses all good ingredients and is good for when you are in a hurry.

Quickest Ever Macaroni Cheese
Serves 4

Ingredients:

300g Pasta (you may want more or less depending on how hungry you are)
500ml crème fraiche
100ml milk
2tsp English mustard
200g grated cheddar cheese (or cheese of your choice)
6 savoury biscuits of your choice ( Jacobs cream crackers or Ryvitas work well)

Method:

  1. Put pasta on to cook as per instructions on packet
  2. Empty crème fraiche into a saucepan on a very low heat, stir continuously and do not allow to boil, add milk slowly, a little at a time, keep stirring or the sauce can split.
  3. Add mustard and grated cheese when crème fraiche has loosened, keep stirring.
  4. Turn heat off under sauce and pour cooked pasta into sauce.
  5. Put the grill on high and place sauce and pasta into an ovenproof dish, crumble the crackers over the top and add a little black pepper or some mixed herbs
  6. Place dish into the oven until the top has coloured and is a little crunchy, this should only take a few minutes, but can burn so do not leave for long.

Serving suggestion:

Green salad and roasted tomatoes.

5 A Day Addition:

Stir through either a bag of fresh spinach or a tin of sweetcorn or maybe peas at stage 4.

Ways to Make this Meal Quick, Quicker, Quickest

–       Put your grill on to preheat while cooking so you won’t have to wait for it to warm up later.

–       Buy a bag of pre-grated cheese.

–       Use an ovenproof saucepan to make your sauce in, then when you add the pasta and topping keep it all in the same pan, it can go under the grill like this and you won’t have any more dishes to wash up. (If you like to see the finished dish looking good rather than in a saucepan, just serve the meal onto plates before it gets to the table.)

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The News

It’s been so long since I wrote about the food news! Lets see what is interesting….

Amazon has started its own online grocery deliveries. Do we need another online grocery site? What will they offer that is different? These are the questions running through my mind. Ocado the independent grocery site has been making a loss and this indicates Amazon may be on to a loser. However, Amazon claim that they will specialise in bulk buying to enable customers to save money. Saving money is great, but how many of us have enough space to buy boxes of crisps and sacks of rice? On the upside it seems Amazon want to achieve with food what they’ve done with books, anything you want you can find it with them, even if you’ve search everywhere else. Read about it here.

Ofcom put a ban on junk food advertising on children’s TV. As a parent I love this piece of news. All TV advertising of junk food before 9pm will be banned. Furthermore, celebrities and cartoon characters are not allowed to advertise any foods high in fat, salt and sugar. Characters such as Tony the Tiger for Frosties can remain as they are characters created specificially for the food brand. As you can imagine this has not been popular with advertisers, and broadcasters claim this move puts the funding of children’s TV under threat. More on this in the Guardian.

It caught my eye in the news that a make of English wine beat the French to win in an international wine competition. The wine is made in Cornwall and is favoured by British chef Rick Stein. Find out more about the award winning wine in the Telegraph.

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Budget Meal Plans

During the summer holidays trips out and holidays blow the budget, so I’ve planned 7 days of cheap meals:

  1. Macaroni cheese
  2. Bacon and pea risotto
  3. Frittata
  4. Pizza (shop bought £1.50 at Iceland)
  5. Prawn curry
  6. Jacket potatoes
  7. Pork stir-fry
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