Halloween pumpkin cake pops

Cake pops are very cute. After all, who doesn’t love food on a stick? I made some simple ones recently for a school cake sale and they sold out instantly. In fact, the school caretaker got in there first and bought some while we were still setting up.

I’ve seen lots of beautifully decorated cake pops on websites and blogs recently and for some strange reason I’ve felt an overwhelming urge to create some special cake pops for Halloween. Now this just isn’t the kind of thing I do normally. My interest in baking has increased massively over the last couple of years but creating cleverly crafted cakes and daintily decorated delights is way out of my comfort zone.

Admittedly, these little pumpkin pops are not an example of patisserie perfection I’m afraid, but they are a bit of fun and most importantly my children can’t get enough of them.

It took me a couple of attempts to get these Halloween cake pops right, mainly because white chocolate isn’t particularly easy to work with as a cake coating.

The first time it took me ages to get the colouring right. I was adding a drop or two of red liquid food colour, then a drop of yellow, and a bit more red, and a bit more yellow, ad nauseum. Eventually the chocolate just split and went all grainy and horrible because I’d over-worked it. I added a little vegetable oil to loosen it again, which seemed to work but then the coating refused to set properly on the cakes and they ended up looking a complete and utter state.

The second attempt was better. I used white chocolate again but went for a concentrate paste colouring and took lots more care not to overwork it. The end result, as you can see, is OK but I still haven’t ended up with the lovely smooth finish you get with normal chocolate. Next time – if there is a next time – I might try a white cake covering or ‘candy melts’ – it might taste ghastly but does that matter as long as it looks the part?

There are various ways to make the cake pops themselves. I have seen a cake pop machine on the market but that seems a little excessive to me. I bought a special cake pops baking pan, which works fairly well but I don’t think it’s completely necessary. I’ve since found a few pop cake recipes online using ready-made cake; you simply mix with chocolate and roll into balls. No baking necessary.

But if you do fancy going down the baking pan route, here’s what I did…

Halloween pumpkin cake pops

Makes 12

50g plain chocolate
60g butter
80g caster sugar
1½ tbsp cocoa powder
1 egg
50g plain flour
¼ tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
200g white chocolate
12 lollipop sticks
orange food colouring concentrate paste
2 tbsp jam
green ready-made icing
black writing icing

Preheat oven to 180°C / gas mark 4.

Grease the baking pan liberally with vegetable oil and dust with cocoa powder.

Put the plain chocolate and butter in a large mixing bowl and heat gently in a microwave or over a large pan of hot water until melted. Mix in the caster sugar and cocoa, and then stir in the egg. Finally add in the flour, baking powder and salt and combine well.

Spoon the mixture into a twelve-pop baking pan, filling each well so it creates a slight mound over the top. Put the lid on and secure.

Bake for 20 minutes until a toothpick inserted into one of the holes comes out almost clean. Leave to cool for five minutes in the pan before removing and leaving to cool completely.

Melt a couple of the pieces of white chocolate and dip the lollipop sticks in before inserting into the cake pops. Put in the fridge for half an hour to allow the sticks to set into place.

Line a plate or board with greaseproof paper.

Melt the remainder of the white chocolate in a large bowl. Using a skewer, gradually add in a little of the orange colour paste at a time, stirring gently after each addition, until  you get the shade of orange you want.

Dip each cake pop into the orange chocolate using a metal spoon to pour over the chocolate and fully cover each one. Spin the cake to let the excess chocolate drip off. Place on the greaseproof paper and leave in a cool place or in the fridge for a few hours to set.

Heat the jam gently in the microwave and leave to cool a little.

Roll out the green icing and cut out leaf / star shapes. Stick the icing onto the cake pops using a little smear of jam.

Lastly draw on the faces using the black icing – triangles for eyes and noses and zig-zag mouths. Leave again in a cool place to allow everything to set into place. Preferably somewhere up high and out of sight, as when the little ones spot them, they won’t be around for long. Happy Halloween!

Kale, red pepper and potato pithivier

I’d never really bothered with the Great British Bake Off before, but this series I felt compelled to watch it. I’ve spent quite a bit of time on Twitter over the last year, and there had been so much talk about #GBBO I just had to see what all the fuss was about. And of course I was hooked from the first show.

In the final, John, Brendan and James tried their hands, rather successfully, at baking pithivier. Until then I had never even heard of pithivier. It turns out it’s a classic French pastry, sometimes sweet with fillings like frangipane and fruit but in this case savoury.

I rather liked the look of the pithivier so decided to give it a go myself. Mine is a much simplified version of Brendan’s recipe. You could probably go so far as to say it’s a cheat’s version, particularly since it uses ready-made puff pastry. For my filling, I opted for curly kale, red peppers, red onion, garlic and new potatoes, with lots of mature Cheddar cheese.

I was rather pleased with the end result and it went down with the family too. It’s like a big posh pasty. It didn’t have a soggy bottom, so Paul and Mary would have been happy. Although saying that, since I didn’t make my own pastry I guess they wouldn’t have been all that impressed. But I was. It’s lovely served warm and it’s also great cold the next day. And the next. It’s a bit of a monster, and kept us going for a while.

Kale, red pepper and potato pithivier

450g new potatoes
knob of butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, peeled and chopped
2 red peppers, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
bunch of fresh thyme, picked
230g curly kale, washed and shredded
100g cream cheese
2 eggs
salt and pepper
2 x 500g packets of ready-made puff pastry
180g mature Cheddar cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 200ºC / gas mark 6

Boil the potatoes in salted water until tender. Drain and set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, slice the potatoes into half centimetre thick slices. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large pan and gently fry the red onion for about five minutes until translucent, then add the red peppers and continue to fry until they are softened. Add the garlic and stir fry for a couple of minutes, before stirring in the balsamic vinegar and thyme. Next throw in the kale, stir well and then cover with a lid. Allow the kale to cook down for a few minutes until al dente and set aside to cool a little.

In a small bowl, combine the cream cheese with one of the eggs and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir this into the kale and red pepper mixture.

Flour the work surface and roll out one lot of dough until it is around 3mm thick, and cut out a disc 32cm across for the base. Roll out the second amount and this time cut out a disc 35cm across for the top. Place the base onto a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper or a non-stick sheet.

Layer the sliced potatoes on to the base, leaving a 4cm border all around. Next pile on the kale and red pepper mixture on top of the potatoes and finally sprinkle the cheese over the top, using your hands to press the cheese down to form a tidy mound. Brush the pastry border with the remaining egg.

Carefully place the larger disc over the top, pushing down around the mound to seal the pastry and cutting off the excess. Cut around the pastry border to form a sunshine shape and using the back of a knife, decorate the top with a sunbeam pattern and score the base. Be careful not to cut all the way through. Make a small hole in the top to allow steam to escape. Brush it all over with more egg.

Bake in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown. Cool for 10 minutes or so on a wire rack and serve at room temperature or leave it to cool completely. You’ll get around 10 slices out of this, so perfect buffet or picnic food.

Afghan-style aubergine and yoghurt

As soon as I came across this recipe for Afghan-style aubergine and yoghurt in a recent edition of Delicious magazine, I knew I had to make it. I adore aubergine dishes and the Middle Eastern flavours in this one simply called out to me.

The recipe comes from Sally Butcher, a British-born cook who married into an Iranian family, and it is taken from Veggiestan: a Vegetable Lover’s Tour of the Middle East. I don’t own this book yet but I plan to get hold of a copy very soon.

It’s an incredible dish. The herbs and spices, lemon, garlic and chilli give it a beautifully fragrant zinginess, which works so well with the creaminess of the Greek yoghurt and the soft, sumptuous texture of the smoky aubergine.

I did worry it might be a little grown up for the children and so I made a version without the chilli for them. Miss Bangers, the four-year-old, did have to be persuaded a little to get through it. But Miss Mash, the seven-year-old, wolfed it down happily.

Afghan-style aubergine and yoghurt (burani bonjon)

3 large aubergines
salt
vegetable oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
4 green chillies, chopped (optional)
1 tsp ground turmeric
400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 small bunch of fresh coriander, roughly chopped

For the yoghurt

450ml Greek yoghurt
2 tbsp lemon juice
6 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
handful of fresh mint, chopped, plus extra sprigs for the garnish
salt and pepper

Cut the aubergine into half centimetre slices and sprinkle salt on both sides. Leave for half an hour, then rinse in cold water and dry with kitchen towel.

Heat a little oil in a large frying pan and saute the onion and chillies (if using) until soft. Remove and keep to one side.

Add some more oil to the pan and fry the aubergine in batches until slightly browned on each side. Sprinkle the aubergine with a little turmeric and return the slices to the pan with the chopped tomato, coriander, onion and chillies. Pour in enough water to just cover the ingredients, cover with a lid, turn down the heat and simmer gently for about half an hour. Add a little more liquid if it starts to look too dry.

While this is cooking, prepare the yoghurt. Simply mix the yoghurt and lemon juice in a bowl, stir in the crushed garlic and mint, and season to taste. Place in the fridge.

When the aubergine mixture is ready, spread half the yoghurt across a large serving plate, and then place half the aubergine on top. Cover with more yoghurt, the remaining aubergine and finishing with a last dollop of yoghurt and a sprig or two of mint.

Serve straight away with warm pitta or flatbread. Heavenly.

As this dish features lots of tasty mint and coriander, I’m entering it into October’s Herbs on Saturday blog challenge hosted by Karen at Lavender & Lovage. If you enjoy cooking with herbs, do head over there and take a look at the other recipes submitted as you’re sure to find plenty of new inspiration.

Kiwi and blueberry surprise

I am handing over the Bangers & Mash reigns today to my good friend Trish Tucker-May, who runs an awesome juice bar company called Passion 4 Juice, which you may well have come across at one of this summer’s festivals.

I first met Trish a decade or so ago, when we were both pre-kids. I was in the throes of launching my own PR business and she was just setting up Passion 4 Juice. In fact she was one of my first clients. Trish was a real inspiration. I haven’t met many people with the same level of energy and zest for life as her, and it is quite infectious. So while I’ve never invited someone to do a guest post on here before, with Trish I know you will be in safe hands. And so without further ado, here is the lovely Trish and her extremely clever recipe for Kiwi and Blueberry Surprise

How to make a guilt free and tasty pudding

Hi, I am Trish Tucker-May, an Aussie from Forster. You can’t get much more Aussie than that!

I have a pretty crazy life that some people dream about and others may think is just way too hard and crazy. I spend half the year working at summer festivals in the UK and half the year at festivals in Australia. I love travelling and the great outdoors and am passionate about bringing fresh juice and good health to people.

In 2003 I founded Passion 4 Juice Ltd an award winning juice bar company. I have written a small book about redesigning your life to live your passion and I have also self-published a recipe book called ‘Juice and Smoothie Recipes From Around the World’.  Currently I am studying a Diploma in Nutritional Healing – and loving it! I am married to a professional clown and mum to 4-year-old Jack-Patrick (AKA Jackpot) and 2-year-old Roary.

Trish with Roary, Jackpot and Joe

I became a little concerned this week when I thought back over the last three suppers and realised that perhaps they weren’t as nutritious as they should be for my developing 2 and 4-year-old boys. Okay, lasagne is good wholesome food and so is spaghetti  bolognaise, especially when I sneak in a handful of peas,  grated carrots and whatever other veg I can put my hands on at the time.

I know these easy Italian favourites are perfect for my boys. But given my slight aversion (rather than intolerance) to wheat, dairy and meat, I was left craving something green, fresh, and raw.  It was while I was pondering this dilemma that I came up with a fantastic idea. What if I could make something that satisfied my boy’s desire for sweet gooey pudding while also giving myself a treat packed with nutritional goodness? The Kiwi and Blueberry Surprise was born.

Firstly I put 2½ cups of nuts in the blender.  I mixed what I had which was almonds, brazils and cashews – so that was 2½ cups in total, not of each nut.  I blended until all the ingredients crumbled. Next I added ¾ cup of pitted dates and a pinch of salt.  That was the base done.

Next came the slightly sneaky bit. My son Jackpot is very used to me sneaking all sorts of weird and wonderful ingredients into my super green smoothies in the morning so I had to be careful not to be too obvious or I would get the “Mum it’s a bit too green for me, no thanks” treatment.

I peeled and cut a courgette, placed it in the blender with an avocado, a handful of mung bean sprouts, a handful of cashews,  a splash of yoghurt , a cup of frozen passionfruit puree and a tablespoon of agave syrup. I love making raw food so I have all these ingredients to hand. If you don’t have agave syrup, honey will work just as well.

Blend until smooth and pour into the tin.

Next step is to decorate with whatever you have to hand. In this case I used kiwi and blueberries. The kiwi worked well so I called it Kiwi Blueberry Surprise.  It seemed to go well with the green colour. Now the kids didn’t think it was green because of some crazy green vegetables.

Did I successfully satisfy both camps? We ate over half immediately and the boys were delighted. I was truly satisfied with the knowledge of raw sprouts, courgette and avocado for pudding. The following day my husband was home after working away.  I served it with a question – “Bet you can’t guess what is in this?” He is accustomed to me making weird and wonderful creations out of fruit and veg so he had a head start. He got the avocado right but that was all.

I have since shared this idea with a few contacts on a Facebook juice group. They have taken the idea to inspiring new heights and added variations such as chocolate, strawberries, lemon juice, cacao powder, vanilla bean paste, a handful of cashews, flaked almonds, shredded coconut and cacao nibs. To be honest I think my first attempt needed a little extra something and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it – I think a squeeze of fresh lemon and an extra handful of cashews would have done the trick.

So if you are tempted to try this one at home, be daring and always taste as you go. Make sure it has just the right level of sweet, sour, salty or bitter to suit your taste buds. This is a truly guilt free tasty pudding that satisfies the entire family.

Kiwi and Blueberry Surprise

Base
Blend the following and press into a flan tin and store in the fridge while mixing the filling:

2½ cups mixed nuts, such as almonds, cashews, brazils
¾ cup dates
pinch of salt

Filling
Blend the following and pour onto base:

1 avocado
1 peeled raw courgette
1 handful of raw cashews
1 handful of mung bean sprouts
2 tbsp natural yoghurt
¾ cup frozen passionfruit puree
2 tbsp raw agave syrup or honey

optional extra ingredients to taste
cashews, lemon juice, shredded coconut, raw cacao

Decoration
Your choice of fresh fruit – I used sliced kiwi fruit and blueberries.

So what do you think? If you try this out on your family, we’d love to hear how it went down.

You can find Trish on Twitter and Facebook and her website is www.passion4juice.com.

Courgette and cheese scones

With both of my girls now at school and with me working away from home most of the week, keeping the contents of our lunch boxes vaguely interesting is an ongoing challenge. Normally I go for set staples like rolls, pasta or rice salads, pitta bread and hummus – that kind of thing. From time to time though I do like to bake something a little bit different, but something which isn’t too much of a departure from the norm that the kids leave it untouched.

These courgette and cheese scones fit the bill perfectly. Tasty and moist, they are the ideal finger food and are packed full of goodness. Ideal served cold from a lunch box or warm straight from the oven. And they aren’t too much of a faff to make. A definite winner in my book.

Courgette and cheese scones

Makes 12

225g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
45g soft butter
115g Cheddar cheese, grated
1 courgette, grated
1 carrot, grated
2 spring onions, finely chopped
handful of fresh herbs, chopped (I used thyme and oregano)
salt and pepper
2 tbsp creme fraiche
60ml milk

Preheat the oven to 200°C / gas mark 6 and grease a baking sheet with a little butter.

Sieve the flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Rub the butter in the flour until it looks like fine breadcrumbs.

Add the cheese, carrot, courgette, spring onion, herbs, salt and pepper. Combine and form a well in the middle. Pour in the creme fraiche and milk and mix together to create a sticky dough.

Lightly knead the dough on a floured surface and then form into 12 scone shapes and place on the baking sheet.

Bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown. Cool a little on a wire rack before serving.

These scones can be frozen, or can be kept  in an airtight container for up to five days.

Halloween cupcakes

In my goody bag from the MAD Blog Awards I was intrigued to find a mysterious jar containing, well… exactly what I wasn’t sure. To find out more I had to scan the little QR code on the lid and in an instant I was taken to the new Appliances Online blog, which explained all…

The jar contained all the dry ingredients needed to bake some delicious cakes and take part in their Cakes Win Prizes contest. As you know, I’m a bit of a sucker for a competition, so I just had to enter.

The dry ingredients contained in the jar were:

  • 65g caster sugar
  • 60g light soft brown sugar
  • 125g self raising flour
  • 25g chocolate chips

I simply popped all this in a large mixing bowl and combined with:

  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 125g soft butter
  • 2 tbsp milk

And hey presto! There was my cake mixture. This was spooned into a fairy cake tray lined with 12 cases and baked in an oven preheated to 180°C/Gas 4 for about 15 minutes.

Once the cakes were cool, Miss Bangers and Miss Mash helped me to decorate them. Now I know it’s still a little way off, but my girls are already getting into the Halloween mood, so that was the theme for our decorations.

For the white icing, I sifted 150g icing sugar into a small bowl and added a tablespoon of water. This was mixed together, adding a touch more water as necessary, to form a thick smooth paste. We used coloured icing pens to draw on our spooky creations.

A pumpkin by Miss Bangers (the 4-year-old)

A spider by Miss Mash, the 7-year-old

A spider and its web by me, the 37-year-old!

And so I’m linking this post to the competition page on the Appliances Online blog. Do pop over there to check out all the other fantastic creations bloggers have been making with the contents of their jars!

My weekend in chocolate heaven… plus your chance to win a raw chocolate making kit

Isn’t the sight (and smell) of melted chocolate one of the most beautiful things on the planet? When I see melted chocolate, I want to jump right in, just like Augustus Gloop in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!

In case it you hadn’t heard, here in the UK it is Chocolate Week (8 – 14 October 2012). And in preparation for this, I successfully spent much of the weekend in blissful chocolate heaven.

We had a rare lie-in on Saturday morning as Miss Bangers has had a bit of a cough all week so we didn’t want to chance her with her 9am ballet lesson. In celebration we breakfasted on pain au chocolat, dunked into hot chocolate.

The kids had their usual stuff from the supermarket but J and I went for Fiery Raw Hot Chocolate from Elements for Life. It’s a very grown up hot chocolate, with a tasty kick to it. Despite the name, it’s not overly hot. I love it as an occasional alternative to my morning coffee. So, as you can see, a rather indulgent start to the day.

Once we’d got our Saturday chores out of the way, we headed over to the wonderful Lipsmacking Pop Up Chocolate Shop in Frome, open all this week until Sunday 14 October from 10am to 6pm. The Pop Up Shop in Frome’s Paul Street is a great little venue, and has been home to all kinds of in businesses in recent months, including a tapas bar and a children’s arts and craft workshop.

As well as selling all things cacao, the Chocolate Pop Up Shop is running a number of chocolate-themed events, from chocolate making workshops (see below) to meeting chocolatiers and even creating chocolate-inspired jewellery!

The Pop Up shop is very much a precursor to the Lipsmacking Chocolate Festival in Frome on Sunday 18 November 2012, which as you can imagine I am looking forward to. A lot!

The children enjoyed chocolate milkshakes, while J and I indulged in yet more hot chocolate – this time a warming spiced number featuring cardamom, definitely my spice of the moment.

But the main reason we were there was to meet up with Paula from Elements for Life for a lesson in making raw chocolate.

Based just over the border in Wiltshire, Paula and Dan, the lovely husband and wife team behind Elements for Life, produce a wide range of handmade raw chocolate products. They are all dairy, gluten and wheat free, free from refined sugar, with no artificial additives, and packed full of goodness.

According to Paula and Dan, raw chocolate is much better for you than normal chocolate in so many ways, and having tried a number of their products I can certainly vouch for the fact that it tastes incredible.

The award-winning Yummy Scrummy raw chocolate brownie – one of my personal favourites

With normal chocolate, the cacao bean is roasted, destroying much of its nutritional value. Add to that all the refined sugar, fat and the myriad of other things added to it and you end up with something that’s bad for you. Raw chocolate on the other hand is actually said to be good for you. It is one of the richest sources of magnesium, essential for a healthy heart and clear mind, and contains much higher levels of anti-oxidants than either green tea or red wine. It’s packed full of essential amino acids, feel good chemicals and vitamins, and what’s more it is an appetite suppressant!

But health benefits aside, it tastes fantastic and that is essentially why I jumped at the offer to find out more about making my own.

Paula from Elements for Life melting the cacao butter – the smell was so good!

What surprised me most was just how easy raw chocolate is to make, particularly since, unlike normal chocolate, there is no fiddly tempering required. It’s simply a case of melting the raw cacao butter, mixing in the raw cacao powder, and sweetening with a low GI fruit sweetener.

It didn’t take too long for my two girls to get in on the chocolate-making action!

Once the melted chocolate has been poured into the silicone mould, you simply place it in the fridge for an hour and a half, or in the freezer if you can’t wait that long. Paula’s tip was to pour it into a small jug before attempting to pour into the mould, otherwise it can get very messy indeed. But then when you’re cooking with my children, nothing you do can prevent the mess!

Making raw chocolate would be the perfect activity for a children’s party, or even next time you have your friends over for a couple of glasses of wine. Or as Paula suggested, how about serving the melted chocolate in a hollowed out pumpkin for a Halloween fondue?

Paula shared with us all some chocolates she had prepared earlier and the end result is really very, very good. It’s ever so smooth and creamy, and despite being a dark chocolate, it isn’t nearly as bitter as most dark chocolates I’ve had before.

Paula’s demo made it all look very easy. Question was though, would I be able to recreate the same quality chocolate experience back at home with the kids? That was to be our challenge for Sunday morning.

So on Sunday, once we’d got breakfast and homework and Christmas card making (I know! our school PTA is über organised!) out of the way, our adventures in chocolate making began as we put the Elements for Life starter kit to the test. Simply grating the cacao butter filled the kitchen with the sumptuous aroma of pure chocolate.

The scent increased to even headier heights when we started to melt it.

Holding the little ones back from immersing themselves in the melted chocolate was the only tricky bit!

With one of Elements for Life’s raw chocolate making starter kits, I can categorically say that making your own chocolate is child’s play. It took us less than half an hour to make, and just over an hour later we were scoffing these little beauties:

I added a little sprinkle of confectioner’s glitter to the moulds before pouring in the chocolate. Pretty eh? As we had some leftover chocolate in the jug, I poured the rest out in a metal tray lined with greaseproof paper and sprinkled with some chopped nuts and currants to create my own chocolate slab. Isn’t that such a great word? Slab. Love it!

So there you have it. If I can make raw chocolate, then anyone can. As I mentioned before, raw chocolate isn’t as bitter as the normal stuff, and the other good thing is you don’t need so much either. Just a couple of mouthfuls and you’re satisfied. And coming from me, that says a lot. I can usually eat chocolate until I make myself sick. Trust me, this is good stuff. The kids loved it too, but for them the best bit was licking out the bowl. Isn’t it always?

While the kits themselves would make an excellent gift for the chocaholic in your life, my personal plan is to experiment a little with additional ingredients (such as more nuts and fruit) and give the chocolates themselves as Christmas presents.

During Chocolate Week (8-14 October 2012), Elements for Life is offering 10% off every product bought via their website, so now is a great time to stock up.

Win a raw chocolate making kit from Elements for Life

Now it’s your chance to win a raw chocolate making starter kit from Elements for Life worth £14.99. The kit includes everything you need to make a batch of gorgeous chocolates (and an extra slab too if you like!):

  • 100g raw cacao powder
  • 120g raw cacao butter
  • 300ml bottle of Sweet Freedom, low GI natural sweetener
  • reusable heart-shaped silicone mould
  • information and recipe card.

To be in with a chance of winning, all you need to do is provide a comment below saying why you’d like to get your mitts on an Elements for Life chocolate making starter kit.

Double your chances by tweeting about this competition, linking through to this post and including the hash tag #MakeRawChoc and my Twitter name @bangermashchat. I’ll keep an eye out for your tweets but make sure yours doesn’t slip through the net by also mentioning you’ve tweeted in your comment.

The closing date for competition entries is midnight on Sunday 4 November. The winner will be the first name randomly drawn after the closing date.

Please note: this competition is only open to UK residents due to shipping costs and there is no cash or other product alternative.

Disclosure: I was provided with two complimentary raw chocolate making kits by Elements for Life; one for review and one for a competition prize. No money has exchanged hands, but honestly – would you expect me to want to be paid to review chocolate?

Praise You!

Hit PLAY and read on…

I promise this is the last time I mention it, but you will have to excuse me for making the most of this. In case you hadn’t heard already last week I won an award. A MAD (Mum & Dad) Blog award. And yes, I am still grinning.

This time last week I was in a posh hotel in London with the many of the UK’s best parenting bloggers, dressed up to the nines, quaffing bubbly, and pondering how on earth I’d got here.  And then, I was being invited up on stage to pick up the gong for best food blog. A huge thank you to everyone that voted for me. I owe you one. Big time.

The event was an amazing celebration of what I’m fast learning is a very unique and supportive community, and so this post is in praise of all the winners and finalists of the 2012 MAD Blog Awards. So sit back and listen to a little Fatboy while you look through a few snapshots…

Chris Mosler aka Thinly Spread – my fellow Somerset Frome blogger who drove us to London in our courtesy sexy Skoda. She’s been blogging much longer than me, and I’m indebted for all her words of advice during our journey

And that’ll be me and the Skoda. I’m rather excited as it’s so much shinier than my own car…

The drive took longer than anticipated, so we missed our make up appointments but managed to fit in a hair styling.

Finalists congregating around the large red deer, the unmissable focal point of the hotel’s lobby

With Cathy Winston (Mummy Travels) and her lovely fluffy shrug

The lovely Marleene Klass was there to present an award and look! I got my picture taken with her!

And then the whole of Table 6 (the place to be) were joined by the lovely MK

That crazy Table 6 again giving it some noise… “And the winner of Best Food Blog is… Bangers & Mash!”

That’s me, receiving my award from Aime Southgate of Brabantia – sponsor of the category

There it is. Isn’t it grand?

Liz from Table 6 (and The Baby Wears Prada) collecting her award for Best Fashion Blog

The wonderful Lexi from Mammywoo picking up her award for Blog Post of the Year

Kat from Slugs on the Refrigerator receiving the award for Best Blog of the Year – and very well deserved too!

And finally back home to Miss Mash, who loves this woolly hat from my MAD goody bag

 

Here are the winners of the MAD Blog Awards 2012 in all their glory. I praise you all! Please sit back with a cup of tea or a glass of wine and have a read. I guarantee you’ll be both laughing and crying before  you’re done…

MAD Blog of the Year: Slugs on the Refrigerator

MAD Blog Post of the Year: Mammywoo

Best Family Travel Blog: It’s a Small World After All

Best MAD Baby Blog: SAHM Loving It

Best Blog Photography: Slugs on the Refrigerator

Best MAD Writer: Northern Mum

Best Craft Blog: Red Ted Art

Best Family Fun Blog: Multiple Mummy

Best Family Life Blog: Adventures of an Unfit Mother

Best Food Blog: Bangers and Mash

Best Home Blog: Growing Spaces

Best Schooldays Blog: Actually Mummy

Best Small Business Blog: Coombe Mill

Best Fashion Blog: Baby Wears Prada

Best Thrifty Blog: Frugal in Cornwall

Best New Blog: Mammasaurus

Best Pregnancy Blog: Me, the Man and the Baby

Most Helpful MAD Blogger: Mammasaurus

Most Inspirational Blog: A Boy with Asperger’s

Most Innovative MAD Blog: Science Sparks

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Easy ratatouille

Along with my tasty chicken rice, this easy ratatouille is my go-to meal when I’m stocking the freezer with quick weekday meals for the kids.

Now that I’m working over in Wells four days a week, ratatouille appears regularly on my meal plans. It’s particularly good for those days when I’m not back home til late and my husband has little time to get the girls back from school and fed before taking them off out again to their various clubs and activities.

My girls have been eating ratatouille since they were very little, when I’d mash it up for them a bit. They still love it today, served either on its own with a hunk of bread to mop up the juices, with rice, pasta or a baked potato and sprinkled with cheese, or as a veggie accompaniment to sausages or chops.

This is one of those recipes you can play around with. If you’ve got herbs to hand, throw in some of those. If you don’t like cumin, leave that out. The quantities of aubergine, courgette and pepper vary each time I make it, but this should give you the general idea.

Easy ratatouille

Makes 8-10 servings

2tbsp olive oil
½tsp cumin seeds
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 red bell pepper, deseeded and chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, deseeded and chopped
3 courgettes, chopped
2 aubergines, chopped
1 bay leaf
2 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200ºC / gas mark 6.

Heat the oil in a large ovenproof casserole dish and fry the cumin seeds for a minute or so.

Add the onions and fry gently until golden, then add the garlic and fry for another minute before throwing in the red and yellow peppers.

Saute the peppers until they have slightly softened and then add the courgettes. Continue to saute for a couple of minutes and then add the aubergine. You may need to add a little more oil to the pan at this stage. Keep stirring the vegetables until they’ve started to colour, and then add the bay leaf, tomatoes and season to taste.

Put the lid on your pan and pop in the oven for 20-30 minutes. If it’s a little too liquid for your liking, remove the lid and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes. Leave to cool before dividing into freezer bags.