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.
First of all I made it onto the front page of The Times supplement this Thursday with my Strawberry Jubilee Cake. Very exciting for me and especially my Mum who does the crossword and sudoku in this supplement every day.
Secondly, I’ve been selected as a member of The Sainsbury’s Bank for Family Bloggers. Recently they ran a competition for their favourite blog and I was surprised that nearly all of the finalists had very personal blogs sharing lots about themselves. I’ve always concentrated on the recipes, and food information rather than on myself and realised maybe I should give a little bit more of me.
So this weekend I thought I’d share a personal moment for me. This photo is of my husband and I going out together for the evening. This is something of a personal triumph for me and I am celebrating today because since my son was born over 3 years ago I have hardly ever been out in the evening with my husband. I have always suffered with anxiety, but once George was born it went off the scale and I had post-natal depression. I have been up and down ever since and socialising is one of the biggest problems for me. Certainly going out for the evening to a bar with music and friends would be perfect for some, but for me it is just filled with a whole host of my own phobias and can make me feel unwell for days before and after. However, this time it was my sister-in-law’s 30th birthday and she was jointly celebrating her husband’s 40th birthday. I wanted to join everyone instead of staying at home by myself and I did it! I put on a dress, makeup, did my hair and practised all of my positive thinking, all of the things I’ve learnt at counselling and I did it! We went to a place I would never choose to go in, the music was loud, it was hot and it was a long way from a tea room, vintage sale or a visit to a National Trust property, but this was one step closer to knowing that when I need to I can do it. I’ve also learnt to share my feelings so when I know I’ve tried and given it a go I can happily say it’s time to leave and my family and friends know that I’m not boring or rude but that I’ve done my best and I can’t do anymore. So if you’ve ever suffered with anxiety or depression there are others of us out there and we are just taking one day at a time.
My George designed these Jubilee cupcakes. I kid you not! When I asked him what type of cake he would make for the Queen’s party he replied he’s like to make her face on a cake. This is what we came up with and I think they are quite effective, certainly they are something the kids can get involved with making for any Jubilee parties you are having.
Here is my recipe:
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup (130 grams) caster sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 1/2 cups (195 grams) self raising flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup (60 ml) milk
2 cups (230 grams) icing sugar sifted
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tsp milk
Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (a food mixer is good for this job).
Add the eggs, one at a time and beat well each time, mix in the vanilla extract and lemon juice.
Take a separate bowl and sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
Slowly beat in the flour mixture and the milk, in three additions: flour, milk, flour.
Fill the muffin cups with the mixture, bake for approx 18-20 mins or until a toothpick inserted into a cupcake comes out clean.
Remove from oven, place on a wire rack to cool.
Decorate cupcakes when they have completed cooled.
For the Icing:
Cream the butter until smooth and well blended (it is best to do this with a electric whisk or food mixer).
Add the vanilla extract and with the mixer on a low speed, gradually beat in the icing sugar.
Add the milk and beat on high speed until icing is light and fluffy approx 4 mins.
Decorate with strawberries, blueberries etc to make a face a crown on each cupcake.