Birthday Cakes

I’m so enjoying decorating cakes now I’ve learnt to use a piping bag. Until last year I’d never used a piping bag and this year I’ve pulled together all my reading and can now make cakes look pretty. This cakes was made for a lady I’ve known since I was a child, like my Gramps she was 90. I was so pleased to be asked to make this cake, the only challenging part was keeping the cake away from my boy!

This is my classic Victoria Sponge cake recipe and I used the rose piping technique shown to me by Gill at Cupcakes to your Door.

I can make cakes for local delivery, so email me if you are interested: info@ilovemealplans.com

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Supper Club

Last week was hectic. I was preparing for my second supper club and for things to run smoothly there was a lot of preparation. You can see from my blackboard menu what I served. Supper club is a my chance to get away from my stay at home Mum label and do something non-child related. I can exercise my brain and certainly keep myself very busy. I enjoy it most of all because it gives me a chance to bring together all the things I enjoy, I can share my love of vintage crockery, show off all the second hand furniture we’ve restored and of course my love of cooking. I am lucky to have the full support of my husband and you can see my happy helpers setting the tables below:

So far most people I invited hadn’t even heard of a supper club, but once they understood the concept they were very ethusiastic. One guest told me she enjoyed it much more than a restaurant as the standard was the same but she felt much more relaxed, while the atmosphere was unique. What a lovely compliment!

I’ve put together some photos to give a feeling of the evening. In fact, the Sunday Mirror sent a photographer from their magazine Homes & Holidays. I don’t know when the Supper Club will feature, but we certainly had to pose for enough photos – not easy while trying to cook for 16 people while my 2 year old son is upstairs suffering badly with a cold and asthma. It is interesting that the photographer said “I don’t know if you are mad or brave”, I think a good mix of both. However, the guests were happy and there was plenty of laughter to be heard. Lots of people stayed late chatting at their tables even after coffee had been cleared away, a sign that everyone enjoyed themselves.

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Quick Creamy Pasta

Thanks to Sainsbury’s for showing me this basic, easy carbonara sauce that I’ve been able to use time and again with a variety of different added ingredients. I tried out the Sainsbury’s feed your family for £50 campaign a few weeks ago and this recipe was a winner both in terms of how easy it was to put together and how great it tasted.

I’ve supplied the basic recipe below and then each time I cook it I add different main ingredients to make it a new dish every time. For example, today I added parma ham, some cooked spinach and peas. Another time I added a tin of salmon and some rocket. This is one recipe to have in your repertoire for a last minute meal or with a little forethought it makes a delicious main course for a dinner party.

Serves 4:

Ingredients:

  • 350g spaghetti
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, peeled & finely chopped
  • 1 tsp mixed herbs
  • 2 eggs, yolks only
  • 150 ml milk
  • 150 ml single cream or creme fraiche
  • 60g Cheddar cheese, finely grated

*As explained above add to the ingredients list some of your own choices such as ham, peas, cherry tomatoes, maybe tinned salmon. The list goes on, be creative.

Method:

  1. Cook pasta according to instructions on packet.
  2. Heat oil in a large saucepan, add the onion and mixed herbs, cook until soft. Add to this any of your chosen ingredients, in the picture above I added parma ham (which once cooked is deliciously crispy), peas and some defrosted spinach.
  3. Pour into a bowl the egg yolks, milk and cream, whisk together and mix in half the grated cheese.
  4. Drain the pasta pour into the saucepan with the onions, add to this the creamy mixture and stir well together.
  5. On a low heat stir the sauce and pasta for 1-2 mins.
  6. Serve with ground black pepper and sprinkle over the remaining cheese.

I guarantee this is a meal both adults and children will enjoy.

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A Precious Pie

This is Jamie Oliver’s Baked Chocolate Tart, taken from his very first book. When I first cooked this I was told it was essential for me to make this regularly by my university friends. However, it has been a very long time since I have made this and I cooked it again for my Supper Club this weekend. My 2 year old son George named this a ‘A precious pie’ when he saw me with the homemade pastry case. I was amazed he came out with that description himself and have decided to keep his title for this dish.

I think this is such a rich tart, totally gorgeous and a small slice is just right to finish a special dinner. This is a really indulgent dessert and I cannot think of anyone who would not like this. Most of the recipes I share on my blog are quick and simple but sometimes it is worth spending a little longer for a special occasion.

Here’s the recipe:

My Short Crust Sweet Pastry:

  • 40z plain flour
  • 4oz icing sugar
  • 100g frozen unsalted butter
  • small amount of cold water

Method:

  1. Sift together flour and icing sugar into a large bowl.
  2. Grate frozen butter into the bowl and then gently rub flour/icing sugar into the butter until it looks like breadcrumbs.
  3. Gradually add a few drops of water and then gently move mixture around with your fingertips until it comes together to make a dough. You may need to add a few more drops of water but add slowly, too much water will make a sticky heavy dough.
  4. If your dough is too sticky add a little of flour into the mixture to correct the consistency.
  5. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and put into the fridge for at least an hour.
  6. On a clean, floured, surface roll out the chilled dough to about 5mm-1cm thickness and then lift over your tart mould and carefully press it in to fit. (I leave the pastry hanging over the edge by about 1cm and trim it neatly right at the end when the tart is cooked.)
  7. Wrap the whole tart case in clingfilm and put into the fridge over night.
  8. The next day heat the oven to 180°c, take the clingfilm off and put the tart straight in the oven for 12 minutes. Freezing the pastry should prevent it from rising during baking and leave plenty of room for the filling.

While the pastry case is cooking make the tart filling:

Ingredients:

  • 140g unsalted butter
  • 150g cooking chocolate (70% coco solids)
  • 8 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 4 eggs
  • 200g caste sugar
  • 3 tbsp golden syrup
  • 3 headed tbsp creme fraiche

Method:

  1. Put butter, chocolate and cocoa powder into a bowl and set over a pan of simmering water; melt slowly, stirring until well mixed.
  2. Crack eggs into another bowl, add sugar and beat together, add golden syrup and creme fraiche, mix.
  3. Gradually stir the chocolate mixture into the the egg mixture and once combined pour into blind baked tart.
  4. Put tart back into the oven, reduce the heat to 150°c and cook for 40-45 minutes.
  5. Take the tart form the oven and leave to cool on a rack for at least 45 minutes.

I served my tart with a raspberry coulis and ice cream. This is not an everyday treat, but something out of the ordinary and totally yummy.

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Pick Your Own Fruit

I’ve had a few inquires about where I pick my fruit and so I thought I’d share the details here. The only place I have found in the Southend area is Hilltop Farm. It is a beautiful small fruit farm in Benfleet, Essex, on Hilltop Avenue. Drive down a small road off Vicarage Hill near Benfleet Road and find it near the end of this lane. It is not far from the Benfleet Water Tower. You can check out a map here. The only day they are closed is Monday and starting from this Wednesday 6th July they are open from 10.30 – 4pm.

There is a swing and slide for children to play on and a toilet if needed, plus a great view over the fields between Benfleet and Thundersley. My son loves to visit because we get to see the farmer’s small tractor and chat to the farmer’s wife (who he calls the farmer lady) in the her make shift shop, all the simple pleasures he enjoys. I find the atmosphere on the farm really calming and a few hours there is a relaxing outing.

The fruit is very reasonably priced and it is a great way to spend a few hours. I use my fruit to make jam and it is possible to pick plenty of fruit and freeze it to eat throughout the year.

If you do not live in my local area I have found a really helpful website which identifies Pick Your Own Farms around the country. It is called PickYourOwnFarms.org.uk

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Homemade Ice Cream

It is so hot here at the moment that it is definitely ice cream weather. I never thought homemade ice cream would be worth the effort, but I found out I was wrong. I use a recipe which allows me to make ice cream without an ice cream maker, so everyone should be able to make this recipe. Try it, you are going to like it!

Here it is, enjoy:

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 fresh vanilla pod
  • 1/2 pint milk (skimmed or full fat)
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 4oz caster sugar
  • 1/2 pint double cream
  • 50g chocolate chips

Method:

  1. Split vanilla pod open and place with milk into a pan, heat gently until nearly boiling.
  2. Beat the egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl.
  3. Pour a little of the hot milk in with the egg mixture whisking quickly, slowly add the rest of the milk whisking all the time so that the eggs do not curdle.
  4. Pour the egg and milk mixture back into the pan over a low heat, stir gently, but continuously, until the mixture has thickened and coats the back of a wooden spoon.
  5. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.
  6. Meanwhile, whisk the cream until thick and once the egg/milk mixture is cool mix it together with the cream.
  7. Remove the vanilla pod, add in the chocolate chips and stir.
  8. Place in a plastic container with a lid and put in the freezer for approx 3 hours, after which take the mixture and stir well to ensure it freezes evenly (the edges will freeze first, the middle will be last, so by stirring the mixture it will replace the need for an ice cream maker).
  9. Leave in the freezer over night or at least 6-8 hours – then enjoy!

Top Tip:

Since the ice cream uses only the yolk of the egg you could use the egg white to make meringues – a great accompaniment to serve with the ice cream.

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90th Birthday Cake

My Gramps is 90 this month and we had a party for him last weekend. I was tasked with making the cake and after several conversations with the man himself I found out what he really wanted was a Victoria Sponge. Of course, I had to make it a big more special than your average sponge. The cupcakes made it easy to share out and they were made gorgeous using piped buttercream icing and pearlised dust. They tasted as good as they looked because each cupcake had been filled with raspberry jam. You can see all the photos below:

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10 Minute Chocolate Pudding

I’ve cooked this recipe a couple of times now and each time it has been a big hit. The best part about it is that it only takes 5 minutes to whip together and 5 minutes to cook in the microwave. Hot chocolate pudding in 10 minutes, what could be better? I suggest you serve this with either ice cream or, best of all, hot chocolate sauce.

I served this to 10 people, each having a reasonable portion, but I’ve also cooked the same amount for 2, eaten far too much (!) and had some left over for pudding throughout the week. By the way every one of the 10 people wanted this recipe!

Ingredients:

  • 200g granulated sugar
  • 100g cup self-raising flour
  • 150g cup cocoa powder
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 130ml boiling water

Method:

  1. Sift together the sugar, flour and cocoa.
  2. Add the eggs, melted butter, and vanilla, beat until smooth.
  3. Pour the batter into a lightly greased large (approx 9 inch) microwave-safe dish (glass or ceramic).
  4. Gently pour the boiling water over the top of the cake, do not stir the water in.
  5. Cover the dish with a dinner plate or a glass lid.
  6. Microwave the cake for 5 minutes at regular power.
  7. Remove the cover, and push a spoon into the center of the cake. The cake should be set, but have a layer of chocolate ‘sauce’ at the bottom. If the pudding is done, remove it from the microwave and wait 5 minutes before serving.
  8. If it is still wet put it back into the microwave, without a cover, and cook for another minute or so.
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Sainsbury’s £50 Meal Planner

This is one of the tasty meals I cooked last week from the Sainsbury’s Feed Your Family for £50 promotion. Sainsbury’s have devised a meal planner that feeds a family of 4 three meals a day for a whole week for £50. Since my blog is called I Love Meal Plans, and it is true I do love them, I thought I’d better check out Sainsbury’s offer. A big thank you to Sainsbury’s for sending me a weeks worth of shopping to try their meal planner. Take a look at just how much shopping turned up:

My meal plans focus on one main meal a day but I was pleased that Sainsbury’s made sure to include breakfast and lunch into their meal plan.I found it really helpful to think about breakfast and lunch. Putting a whole weeks menu down on paper shows exactly what you are eating and helps to consider the balance of carbs and protein, as well as seeing if you really do eat 5 fruit and veg a day. I found that planning every meal made me think about healthier eating habits. This was also supported by the lack of snacks, £50 provided three meals a day, but nothing extra and this made me reconsider my need to snack, because the meals provided really did fill me up.

My main focus of meal planning is the sense of calm it creates for me. I know exactly what we are eating each day, I know I have the ingredients I need and I do not have to waste head space on a daily basis pondering over what to cook. This week Sainsbury’s went even further and had done all the planning for me, because all of the meals and recipes are online and available in a useful pamphlet instore. If you are not used to meal planning this is a great way to give it a go and see how meal plans can really bring a calm to your kitchen.

As you can imagine with a meal plan devised by somebody else there were some meals we really enjoyed, while there were others with food I wouldn’t usually eat that I found I liked and a couple of dishes that didn’t go down so well. It would be great in the future to have the chance to pick and choose the meals from Sainsbury’s library of recipes so the meal plans can become individual. Anyway, for now we were very impressed! I don’t shop in Sainsbury’s but I’ve already been over to our local store ot pick up some things I particualrly liked from their meal plan. In store I found that Sainsbury’s have a much better baking aisle than any other supermarket I’ve been to; a definite reason for a food blogger to go back.

Most of all this week has made me realise that I’m not alone in wanting to meal plan. Meal planning can save you money, but it also gets you organised and can make you healthier too. You can read all of my reasons for meal planning here. The overall feel of Sainsbury’s meal plan was that they did not cut back too much, they had free range eggs and freedom endorsed chicken. However, I am a foodie and have particular ideas about some products, I only eat butcher’s sausages because I know the meat is good and has less fat, I support free range products and like to support small quality producers. Meal planning is not only about saving money, sometimes I spend more for personal reasons – who could eat battery chicken after watching Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstalls Chicken Out campaign? Maybe Sainsbury’s will consider having meal plans for a variety of budgets, because this week I reconfirmed that meal planning is more much more than just about saving money.

Would I try this again? I would definitely give Sainsbury’s meal plans another try , it is possible to alter the shopping list to include different products, the price will come out differently, but you can still get organised using their meal planners. In fact, I’ve been busy on Sainsbury’s website looking at all their resources, there are other meal plans, nutritional ideas, recipes; Sainsbury’s I’m impressed.

Here are a few pictures of our week, more photos to come later this week:

Sainsbury’s latest meal planner was launched this week making it their third meal plan for £50.

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Utterly Scrummy Brownies

This blog post could change your life. A few weeks ago I ate the best chocolate brownie I have ever eaten and indeed I class it as one of the best cakes I have ever tasted. Michelle has a blog called Utterly Scrummy and she has been making her secret family brownie recipe for years. Over time the demand for her brownies has increased so much that she decided to launch her own website and delivery service.

I was lucky enough to be sent a batch of Michelle’s triple chocolate brownie to taste test and review. This has to be one of the best jobs I have ever had to do! It was amazing. Even as I unwrapped the parcel I could smell the intense chocolate flavour. I knew immediately that this brownie was going to be packed full of chocolate and it was. The texture was dense and moist in the middle whilst still firm and crumbly on the top. Inside were huge pieces of white, milk and dark chocolate which made the brownie even more enjoyable. Biting into the delicious cake and then having bursts of pure chocolate, not just small chocolate drops, but huge delicious chocolate chunks to devour was pure bliss. At first I felt the cake was soooo rich but after a few moments I realised that despite its rich intense flavour it was suprisingly light on the stomach – which meant you could enjoy more and more. This was a real chocolate hit for me and it could actually be described as dangerously addictive, dangerous that is to my hips!!!!

We ate the whole lot in two days. Michelle had to email me the above photo, I ate mine too quickly to photograph! Take a look at the website to see the brownies for yourself. I also have to apologise to my husband who only got to try to two pieces of the cake before my son and I devoured the rest. We really couldn’t help ourselves and I think that this may be the first time I could start a real addiction with food – never before have I eaten so much cake in such a short space of time, it literally took away all my self-control.

I’m giving Utterly Scrummy Brownie top marks – this is a cake every body has to try at least once, but once will never be enough.

www.utterlyscrummy.co.uk

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