Birthday Cakes by Fiona Cairns

It is National Baking Week and I’ve got hold of the perfect book for this. Birthday Cakes is the new book by Fiona Cairns the creator of Wills and Kate’s wedding cake. Her last book, Bake & Decorate, is one of my favourites and this book is everything I expected and oh so much more! It is truly inspirational.

Fiona has a core of cake recipes which are the start for so many different cakes. She shows how to make a cake that looks like an erupting volcano, a designer handbag, a castle, a teapot, a merry-go-round, a box of chocolates, I could go on…

In my opinion Fiona is an artist; her recipe book needs to come out of the bookshelf and onto the coffee table where everyone can take a look at the beautiful cakes she has sculpted. The best bit of all, the magic, is that she has broken it down so us home-bakers can create the wow factor too.

A quick peek at how Fiona Cairns inspired my George and I. After looking at Fiona’s Chocolate Crispie robots, we used this idea to make a Chocolate Train – which shows how this recipe book gets you thinking outside the box.

By the way this cake was delicious and I’ll be making it again soon!

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The Great British Bake Off

photo @

photo @

Last year I received an application form for The Great British Bake Off, but there was no way I could take the pressure of cooking for a competition using an unknown oven and with a camera in my face! I did not even consider filling in the form. Instead I was very happy to watch the show every week and now it is Tuesday and the show has finished.

So I’ve been searching around on the interspace and I have managed to find that 6 of the contestants who have their own blogs. I’ve rounded them all up and I thought I’d share them here. Then, like me, you can keep up to date with their baking:

  • Joanne Wheatley, 4, from my very own Essex, is blogging at Jo’s Blue Aga. If you visit her blog you can check out the baking classes she now runs from her home.
  • Mary-Anne, 45, from Kidderminster, blogs at Time To Cook Online. She has a wide variety of recipes and it is a good, easy to navigate site.
  • Yasmin Limbert, from The Wirral, started her self title blog on blogspot. With photography as a hobby her blog has some lovely photos.
  • Urvashi Roe, 40 from Enfield, London. Her blog is called The Botanical Baker which is reflected in her use of edible flowers to decorate her cupcakes on the show.
Posted in Cakes, Random | Tagged , | 2 Comments

New Ways to Meal Plan

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Normally I write a meal plan and do a big shop,  then the planning and shopping is out of the way for the week. This is my ideal situation, but I have to admit I’ve been extra tight on money. I keep hearing on the news that living costs are rising while wages are not, now I’m realising that we are one of the many families to whom this applies. One wage is not quite enough, but the cost of child care does not make two wages viable either!

I’m being totally honest when I say I’ve been to the hole in the wall and I can’t get out any more money, so I’ve been worried to do my weekly shop. What would happen if I get to the till and my debit card won’t work – how awful would that be? Not to mention the que of people waiting behind for you to get through the check out, something I am definitely avoiding!

I’ve had to change the way I meal plan and I hope my ideas will help others who are finding money tight. I think this may particularly help the students who find my blog searching for Student Meal Plans.

So here we go:

  1. I write a basic meal plan around the weekly schedule for everybody in the family. Then I can see which days are busy and try to plan an easy meal to prepare.
  2. Next, before going shopping I check my store cupboard for basics such as rice or pasta so I do not waste money buying duplicates.
  3. Then off to visit the local shops, which I have been doing every 2-3 days – I keep my meal plan in mind and look for special offers and reduced items.
  4. I fill in my basic meal plan with more detail, e.g. where I had put pasta, I could now add pasta with ham & courgettes, if I had found these reduced at the shop.
  5. Finally, I design a recipe around the reduced items I have found – I enjoy making up recipes, but an Internet search of your ingredients should find a recipe that fits what you have bought.

The pros to this type of meal planning:

If you live in an area with plenty of shops in walking distance this is a ideal way to support local shops and also to keep fit!

I have found I have less food wastage. I am not tempted into buying too many items for my store cupboard and only buy what I need for the next few days.

Taking cash to the shops, rather than my debit card, makes me think through every price carefully and concentrates my mind about how I am spending my money.

Posted in Meal Plan Topics, Money saving | Tagged , | 1 Comment

My George’s 3rd Birthday

George is now 3. At the end of August we had a family party to celebrate and George was keen to have a postman pat cake. I decided simple and well executed was the best way to go with my cake design. I have to admit it was a very yummy cake. The same weekend we headed off to the Total Greek Yogurt event in London and we were able to share a piece with My Daddy Cooks and his boy Archie.

The cake was based on my basic Victoria Sponge recipe, which I decide to mix up a bit by adding dessicated coconut and lime juice. The icing was a very thick butter icing, the car made out of ready bought sugar paste and the detail was done with some royal icing. Here is my basic recipe:

Serves 12 or more depending on the size of slices

  • 10 oz sifted caster sugar
  • 10 oz softened unsalted butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 10 oz sifted self rising flour
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 100g dessicated coconut
  • 2tsp lime juice
  • approx 1 tbsp milk/water


  1. Line a large rectangular cake tin approx 24cm by 36cm
  2. Pre-heat the over to 180°c.
  3. Cream butter and sugar together until smooth.
  4. Add two eggs and mix well, add half the flour and mix again.
  5. Add the rest of the eggs and the rest of the flour, baking powder, vanilla essence, coconut and lime juice, combine into a smooth mixture.
  6. Pour a little of the milk into the mixture, you need the mixture to be ‘droppable’, this means it should fall slowly from your spoon. If the mixture is too thick and sticks to the spoon add more milk, if the mixture is too runny then add a spoonful or two of more flour.
  7. Gently pour the mixture into the tin,
  8. Use a palette knife to spread the mixture across the tin to give it a flat surface.
  9. Cook in the middle of the oven for 20-30 mins. Test the cake is cooked by touching the top of the cake, it should spring back up and not leave an indentation. If the cake is ready gently remove from the tin and leave to cool on a wire rack. If the cake needs longer leave for a few minutes in the oven and test again.

Icing the Cake:

  • Strawberry jam
  • Apricot jam
  • 8 oz softened unsalted butter
  • 16 oz sifted icing sugar
  • 2 drops vanilla essence
  • 1 pack red sugar paste icing
  • 1 pack black/brown sugar paste icing


  1. Cut the large rectangular cake in half, spread some strawberry jam in the middle and stack on top of each other.
  2. Warm the apricot jam in a saucepan and with a pastry brush paint over the entire cake (this will stop crumbs getting into your butter icing when you ice the cake later).
  3. Beat butter and icing sugar together until smooth, add vanilla and blend.
  4. Spoon icing onto cake and smooth with a palette knife, keep dipping the palette knife into a mug of hot water this will help you to get a smooth finish.
  5. Roll out the red sugar paste and using a picture of Postman Pat’s van cut out a van shape. Cutting out a space for the wheels with a round cookie cutter.
  6. Roll out the black/brown sugar paste and cut wheels with a cookie cutter.
  7. Place icing onto top of the cake.

If you want to find out how to do the royal icing which I used to: decorate the edges of my cake, write the Royal Mail logo and to put the window on Pat’s van try looking at this great website that I use to learn about royal icing: Sweetopia. However, if you want me to do a blog post on using royal icing for piping details leave a comment and I’ll get on to it!

Posted in Cakes, Recipes | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Quick Work Day Dinner

I’m a stay at home Mum, but if my Dad’s PA is ever ill then I fill in. This week I’ve been working and I invented this recipe so I could cook dinner super fast when I got home from a busy day.

I split this recipe in to two parts, cooking the first part of the meal the night before (something I would do more often if I was working) and part two, the finishing touches the next day.

The reason this recipe works so well is that while the meal is mostly cooked ahead the addition of fresh vegetables at the final stage keeps it looking colourful and tasting fresh. It was great that both my boys really enjoyed this meal.

Here’s the recipe:

Serves 4.


  • splash of olive oil
  • 1/2 onion finely chopped
  • 500g minced beef or lamb
  • 1 red pepper finely diced
  • 1tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2tsp mixed herbs
  • 450ml (approx) chicken stock
  • 2 carrots grated
  • 50g green beans finely sliced
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 2tsp oregano
  • freshly ground black pepper

  1. Heat oil in a medium saucepan, add onions stirring until coloured, add mince, red pepper and mixed herbs cook until browned.
  2. Pour in the Worcestershire sauce and chicken stock.
  3. Bring the pan to boil then turn down to simmer, leave for approx 15 minutes or until liquid has reduced by two thirds.
  4. Now you can either: allow to cool and store in fridge to complete next day, or continue with the next step straightaway.
  5. Cook pasta according to instructions on the packet.
  6. Put the mince on a high heat, add grated carrot, sliced beans and chopped tomatoes plus the oregano.
  7. Reduce the heat to gentle simmers for approx 15 mins or until the green beans have softened.
  8. Combine with drained pasta and serve with lots of freshly ground pepper.
Posted in Food Thoughts & Nutrition, Quick Easy Meals, Quick Easy Recipe, Recipes | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Peanut Butter Stir Fry

Stir fry is one of my favourite week night meals to cook. My 3 year old, George, loves it and it gets him eating lots of vegetables. I love cooking stir fry because I can always get a meal on the table in at least 15 minutes! How good is that? I like to use prawns and to change my usual recipe, I added peanut butter watered down with hot water to make a yummy sauce. It is really good!

Serves 4


  • 1tsp five spice
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 100g peas
  • Packet of fresh ready to use stir fry vegetables (approx 400g)
  • 250g pre-cooked prawns (I use frozen prawns and defrost them in my fridge)
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tbsp peanut butter mixed with 1/2 tbsp hot water
  • approx 250g noodles
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • Handful fresh coriander (optional)
  • Handful roasted peanuts (optional)


  1. Heat noodles in boiling water according to packet instructions.
  2. Pour oil into a large wok and put on a high heat, when oil is really hot add the spices, the peas and packet of stir fry vegetables, stir quickly around the wok, after a few minutes add the prawns.
  3. Move prawns quickly around the wok for only a few minutes before adding lime juice and pouring over peanut butter.
  4. keep stirring until prawns are hot and vegetables have wilted, this should take approx 3-4 minutes.
  5. Drain noodles, transfer to the wok and use chop sticks to mix everything together.
  6. Serve with fresh coriander and roasted peanuts
Posted in Quick Easy Meals, Quick Easy Recipe, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

My Big Brother’s Gnocchi

My big brother Matthew loves to cook gnocchi not only because it is delicious, but he can buy a prepared packet cheaply and it only takes 3 minutes to cook!

Since Matt introduced us to gnocchi I found out you can serve it with a wide variety of sauces and have been trying them out at home for a speedy supper. Matt cooked his gnocchi with a ragu sauce roughly the same as my recipe below.

Here’s the recipe:

Serves 4


  • 500g pack gnocchi (2 packs if you are extra hungry)
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 1 clove garlic crushed
  • 2 tsp mixed herbs
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp worcestershire sauce
  • 500g steak mince
  • 2 tsp tomato puree
  • 1 tub passata (500g)
  • (optional – 1 glass red wine)


  1. Heat oil in a large frying pan, add all ingredients except the passata and cook for roughly 3-5 mins or until soft.
  2. Add steak mince and fry until browned.
  3. Add passata (wine if using) to frying pan, simmer for 15-20 mins.
  4. Serve on gnocchi with ground pepper.
Posted in Money saving, Quick Easy Recipe, Recipes | 1 Comment

Book Giveaway Winner

A big thank you to all the people that entered my competition to win a copy of new cookbook Fishy Fishy.

My winner is: Emma, from Please email me your postal address at

Emma entered via Twitter and I’ve checked out her blog which has lots of lovely recipes as well as meal plans!

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Fruit Bottomed Yogurts

I love the expensive yogurts with the creamy yogurt and stewed fruit or jam at the bottom. Well I guess they aren’t always too expensive, but I’m always looking for ways to save pennies and I’ve found a way to make this treat at home. I used to just put some yogurt and jam in a bowl but I decided to make this dessert more attractive. Here is how easy it is:

  1. Find a small clear jar (I used an old baby food jar).
  2. Put  a couple of teaspoons of jam or stewed fruit at the bottom of the jar.
  3. Load up the rest of the jar with plain yogurt of your choice, I like greek yogurt.

My George likes to make his yogurt jar himself, it is a good way to get him involved and in my photo you can see him getting stuck into eating his dessert.

Why to give it a try:

  • They are cheaper than buying pre-made yogurts of this type.
  • You can make them with any flavour you like, giving you lots more choice than shop brands.
  • Pop on the lid to your jar and you can put these yogurts in a lunchbox.
  • They look very attractive when they are served.
  • Old jars are being recycled which means less waste than buying yogurts in plastic pots.
  • It is an incredibly quick way to make a pudding.
Posted in Cooking with kids, Quick Easy Recipe | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Twenty One Ways To Save Money On The Food Bill

  1. Swap olive oil for cheaper sunflower or rape seed oil when frying.
  2. Don’t buy prepared vegetables/salad, a bag of salad costs around the same as two whole heads of lettuce.
  3. Weigh each portion of rice and pasta so you have less wastage.
  4. Grow your own herbs, even a pot on your windowsill will save you buying expensive packaged fresh herbs.
  5. Compare the price per kg(lb) of products to find the real bargains.
  6. Make your own flavoured yogurts by buying plain yogurt and adding jam, fruit, nuts, muesli, chocolate chips etc.
  7. Say no to ready meals, make meals in bulk from scratch and freeze them in portions so you have your own ready meals at a fraction of the price.
  8. Eat less meat, choose several nights a week to eat vegetarian.
  9. Don’t buy brands, instead try supermarket own brands.
  10. Make your own bread (dig out your breadmaker from the back of the cupboard, or buy a cheap one on ebay). Bread made at home costs only a few penies and you can make flavoured breads at a fraction of the shop bought price.
  11. Meal plan – plan a whole week of meals so there are no last minute calls to the local takeaway.
  12. Check the fridge, freezer and store cupboard before shopping so no duplicates are bought by mistake.
  13. Dilute fruit juices to make them go further – this also makes them more refreshing as the fruit provides vitamins and the water hydrates.
  14. Check out local shops – at my local Chinese supermarket I can by the same products 3x cheaper than leading supermarket chains.
  15. Don’t buy gravy granules – use some cornflour to thicken sauces.
  16. Make your own muesli with oats and dried fruit, it is cheaper and healthier as there are no hidden sugars or salts.
  17. Use a teapot to make tea, it will provide more than one cup per tea bag.
  18. Make lunches to take out – shop bought sandwiches are expensive and unhealthy.
  19. Don’t thrown away leftovers make bubble and squeak or soup.
  20. Look at the low shelves in the supermarket – items at eye level are more expensive and budget ranges are on the lower shelves.
  21. Find out what time of day your local shop/supermarket reduces the price of items close to their sale by date. At my shop it is 11am, if I go after that I find lots of reduced items I can buy and then freeze to use at a later date.

Do you have any more ideas? Please leave a comment!

Posted in Money saving | Tagged | 2 Comments