Birthday beats and eats

Phew! It’s been a crazy few weeks for birthdays in our family. In the last four weeks it’s been my birthday, my father-in-law’s, my husband’s, both my daughter’s and my father’s. With Easter thrown in the there too, I really have no desire to see any more cake or chocolate for quite a while. The 5:2 diet really hasn’t had a chance…

On Monday it was my husband Jason’s birthday. We celebrated with scrummy milkshakes and smoothies at lunchtime at Great Shakes in Wells and later a delicious ‘homemade’ dinner bought from COOK, followed of course by cake. I love the look of surprise on Jason’s face to see yet another birthday cake.

Birthday Collage

Yesterday it was my daughter Jessie’s go as she turned eight. Now how did that happen? It really does not seem eight years ago Jason and I returned home from hospital with our scrawny little bundle. We got home and put Jess in the middle of the living room in her car seat for a while, just looking at her, wondering what on earth we were meant to do next. And now look at her – our beautiful big girl with such curiosity, creativity and a thirst for life. It’s hard to keep up with her sometimes but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Jessie’s big day involved a meal at a restaurant with her very best friends, followed by a movie. We watched Oz The Great and Powerful in 3D, thoroughly enjoyed by both the children and adults alike. The kids were especially thrilled with their 3D specs as they offered lots of opportunities for to pose for photo after photo as we attempted to get them all home after the film.

We took the children to Frankie and Benny’s for food beforehand – not normally my restaurant of choice but it happened to be right next to the cinema. I have to say though, for a group of kids, it was absolutely perfect and they had a whale of a time. Especially when our waitress switched off the lights and played Congratulations by Cliff Richard as she brought out the birthday cake. Jessie’s friends will be teasing her about how red she went for quite a while I bet!

JessCollage

Fortune teller (or whirlybird) kits in the party bags also went down well. Thanks to Lia at Dizzy Loves Icy for that idea. Coming up with silly fortunes kept them all entertained while they waited for their pizzas and burgers to arrive.

Jessie shares her birthday with her Grandad Chris, my Dad, who yesterday celebrated his 60th birthday. We didn’t get to see him unfortunately as he’s in London and we’re in Somerset but Sue, my Step Mum treated him to a slap up meal at Wild Honey in Mayfair, lucky thing.

As my Dad is renowned for his love of music, various members of my family have been extremely busy the last few weeks compiling a very special music compilation for him, featuring a different song to mark every year of his life, from 1953 right up to the present. We called the album Birthday Beats and the 60 tracks filled four CDs. Do you like the artwork?

BirthdayBeatsCollage

Artists on Birthday Beats range from Perry Como, Elvis Presley and Dave Brubeck in the 50s; through Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins and The Beatles in the 60s; The Pointer Sisters, Al Green and The Jam in the 70s; Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Talking Heads and The Housemartins in the 80s; right through to Blur, Bjork and The Fugees in the 90s; and Taj Mahal, Ojos de Brujo and Medeski, Martin & Wood in the last decade (I hate to say noughties).

It was such good fun putting the album together and I think the final selection reflects just as much on the family that compiled it as it does on my Dad’s evolving taste in music through the last six decades.

And because this is a food blog, I really need to end this post with a recipe. So here’s a simple recipe for an easy peach pudding I remember my Dad making us when I went down to stay during the school holidays. It’s probably a bit far-fetched to describe this a recipe, as it’s simply three ingredients layered one on top of the other in a bowl. But when I was little I thought this was one of the most amazing desserts ever created and I still love it to this day.

easy peach pud

Easy peach pud

Serves two

4 digestive biscuits
Half a tin of sliced peaches, chopped
6 tbsp plain yoghurt

Break the biscuits into two bowls or glasses. Place the chopped peaches on top, pour over the yoghurt, and serve.

The perfect easy-peasy-peachy-squeezy pudding. Thanks Dad! And happy birthday Reeses and Hamers! Until next year…

Bye bye baby: a birthday party and chocolate cake for my five-year-old

My youngest turned five today. While of course I’m brimming with maternal joy and have loved sharing every moment of her anticipation in the run up and bubbling over of excitement on the day, my emotions are also tinged with a touch of sadness. It feels like my little baby is growing up too fast. When she was four I could just about get away with thinking of her as big toddler. But now she’s five, she’s a proper little girl. Bye bye baby.

We celebrated Mia’s birthday on Saturday with a party. It was a small do at the house with a handful of school friends from her reception class; quite an old-fashioned party really, without any party entertainers, bouncy castles or spectacular cake sculptures.

The highlights of our party were simple delights: playing with balloons, a messy chocolate cake covered in hundreds and thousands, fizzy flying saucers, old school games like pass-the-parcel and musical bumps, getting gluey making Easter bonnets, telling fart and poo and bottom jokes while gobbling chipolatas and party rings, and playing a new game we invented called pin-the-nose-on-the-Mia. Turning five is lots of fun!

The chocolate birthday cake is very easy to make, especially if, like me, you’re not a natural-born baker. It’s the kind of cake that actually looks better if it’s not too perfect. Fill it with whipped cream and your child’s favourite soft fruit – we went with raspberries. Pour over the icing and cover liberally with sprinkles, Buttons, Smarties or whatever your little one’s favourite happens to be – this also happens to be the perfect way to disguise any imperfections.

The end result is a celebration cake fit for a five-year-old.  It’s a tried-and-tested party cake recipe from one of Jamie Oliver’s early cookbooks, The Return of the Naked Chef. I first made it when my oldest daughter turned one, and have been baking it ever since.

Chocolate birthday cake

3 tbsp cocoa powder
200g caster sugar
200g soft butter
3 eggs
200g self-raising flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp flaked almonds
200ml double cream
1 tbsp icing sugar
2 large handfuls raspberries (or any soft fruit of your choice)

For the chocolate icing

100g butter
100g cooking chocolate
100g icing sugar
3 tbsp milk

Decorations – hundreds and thousands, Smarties, Buttons or the like

Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4. Grease and line the base of two 20cm cake tins with baking parchment.

In a cup mix the cocoa with 4 tablespoons of boiling water until smooth.

In a large bowl, beat the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add the cocoa mixture, eggs, flour and baking powder and mix well. Fold in the almonds.

Split the mixture between the two cake tins and bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the oven. The cakes are ready when an inserted skewer comes out clean. Allow to cool before removing the cakes from the tins.

To make the chocolate icing, place the butter, chocolate, icing sugar and milk into a bowl and place over gently simmering water in a pan. Stir until it’s all melted and blended together. Allow to cool a little.

Whip the double cream until it forms soft peaks and sweeten with icing sugar.

Remove the baking parchment from both cakes. Place one a wire rack, over kitchen towel or newspaper, and spread the whipped cream over the top, almost to the edge. Scatter the raspberries on top.

Place the second sponge on top and press down. Drizzle the chocolate icing over the top – you’ll be glad of the kitchen towel or newspaper at this point as the chocolate drips and gloops everywhere. Decorate with your chosen treats. Leave the icing to set before adding the candles and serving to your young birthday girl or boy and their party guests.

Birthday bangers

This time last year I had absolutely no idea what I was about to launch myself head first into.

Yes, it’s a year ago to the very day that I summoned the courage to hit the Publish button for the first time and with it created Bangers & Mash, complete with hand drawn pictures and dubious photography. (I do cringe a little when I look back at those early food shots.)

So I would like to take this opportunity to wish Bangers & Mash a very happy first birthday! I hope you like my little cake in honour of the occasion.

In my first post, I attempted to justify why we need another food blog? If you’re interested, and I haven’t already bored you senseless on the subject, you’ll find this post lays out my ethos of cooking wholesome, family food using good quality, seasonal ingredients, without it costing you a fortune. I also talk at length, as I am prone to do in a verging on obsessive way about meal planning, particularly how it has helped dramatically reduce our shopping bills and food waste and encouraged us to eat a much more varied, healthy and adventurous diet.

The first recipe I posted on Bangers & Mash wasn’t actually one of mine. It was my husband’s fabulous carrot cake. But in a way, that’s very appropriate, as I hadn’t a clue about cooking until I moved in with my other half. It’s funny to think back to my early 20s when I had no idea how to cook anything really and no inclination to really bother. How things change!

While I would by no stretch of the imagination consider myself a fully fledged food blogger quite yet, I do believe I have come a long way over the last 12 months.

My recipes and photography are improving all the time. The main reason for that is the feedback and support I get from friends and family, but perhaps most importantly other bloggers. That’s what has surprised and impressed me most – the support network provided by the enormous blogging community out there, through both our blogs and Twitter (a platform I avoided like the plague for quite a long time).

When I started out, I pictured blogging as a rather solitary pastime, sitting alone at a PC and broadcasting thoughts and ideas to an invisible audience. But what I’ve discovered I enjoy most about blogging is the interaction and conversation. I didn’t realise just how much I would learn from others as a result of writing a blog.

But that’s enough of that. The children will be getting up soon – as usual, I’m writing this in the early hours of the morning when the house is still and quiet – and my day must start properly. I’ll be back soon with my latest concoction. And I look forward to hearing about yours!

Sue’s Strawberries and Cream Birthday Cake

With my step-mum Sue in Epping Forest in the 1980s

I clearly remember my Dad telling me one summer holidays when I was staying with him in London that he wanted to introduce me to someone special: his girlfriend, Sue. I was about seven or eight years old. I remember being taken completely by surprise but I couldn’t wait to meet her. Particularly because she had hand-sewn me the most exquisite little doll. When I met her, I thought she was a bit like a princess with her long brown hair and her beautiful dresses. Rather like her doll!

For some reason, it wasn’t until I had my first child that it dawned on me how significant a role Sue had played in my childhood. It’s quite common I think for women not to acknowledge what their mothers have done for them until they have their own children. The same was true for me. I saw both my Mum and Sue in new lights.

Whenever I came to stay in London with my Dad during the school holidays, Sue would always make a huge effort with me. We baked together, she helped me make my own dresses, she taught me to play the recorder, she’d take me into the Chelsea Playground where she worked, and we’d play endless games – picture consequences was a particular favourite of mine.

I was 12-years-old when I came to live permanently with my Dad and Sue in London. My twin sisters were just a year old. For me it was all a big adventure; moving to London, getting a new bedroom, starting a new school and meeting new friends. I really never thought about what a massive impact this must have had on Sue’s life: bringing a near-teenager into your home when your hands are already very much full with two little babies. I can’t imagine many people would put themselves forward for that. I’m not sure if I’ve ever said a proper thank you to Sue for this. So, thank you. I’ll say it properly in person when I next see you!

And all this is why I’m so pleased Sue has entered this cake into TACT’s Care to Cook family recipe challenge. Because Sue knows a thing or two about family and welcoming young people into her home.

Over to Sue for her very special Strawberries and Cream Birthday Cake…

Since I first made this cake one June to celebrate my twin daughters’ birthday – or should that be birthdays? – I’ve made it almost every year. Often we waited for their birthday to have the first strawberries of the year – all the better for the waiting! When they were away at university it was something to have when they returned home.

We may not have it quite so often these days but this year – when Lottie returned from Spain and met up with her sister, Maura in London – we shared it again. Cakes are often part of getting together as a family and seem to signify special times or celebrations often becoming a bit of a family tradition. Cranberry muffins on Christmas morning whilst we open the presents is another one in our house.

But as it’s summer and strawberries are still good here goes.

(The Victoria sandwich recipe here is based on one of Mary Berry’s. My mother gave me a copy of book of her cake recipes and it’s one of the most used in the house – much splattered and stained to prove it!)

Strawberries and Cream Birthday Cake

4 free-range medium eggs
225g caster sugar
225g self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
225g baking spread, margarine or soft butter at room temperature (or a combination of the two to make the same amount) plus a little extra to grease the tins

For the filling and topping:

At least one punnet of ripe strawberries – some sliced in half (for between the layers), the rest left whole
300ml whipped double cream
450g strained Greek yogurt and whipped cream (see below)
mint leaves for decoration

Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4.

If using tins rather than silicone cake moulds, grease and line two 20cm sandwich tins: use a piece of baking or silicone paper to rub a little baking spread or butter around the inside of the tins until the sides and base are lightly coated. Line the bottom of the tins with a circle of baking or silicone paper; to do this, draw around the base of the tin onto the paper and cut out.

Break the eggs into a large mixing bowl, then add the sugar, flour, baking powder and baking spread.

Mix everything together until well combined. The easiest way to do this is with an electric hand mixer, but you can use a wooden spoon. Put a damp cloth under your bowl when you’re mixing to stop it moving around. Be careful not to over-mix – as soon as everything is blended you should stop. The finished mixture should be of a soft ‘dropping’ consistency – it should fall off a spoon easily.

Divide the mixture evenly between the tins: this doesn’t need to be exact, but you can weigh the filled tins if you want to check. Use a spatula to remove all of the mixture from the bowl and gently smooth the surface of the cakes.

Place the tins on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 25 minutes. Don’t be tempted to open the door while they’re cooking, but after 20 minutes do look through the door to check them.

The cakes are done when they’re golden-brown and coming away from the edge of the tins. Press them gently to check – they should be springy to the touch. Remove them from the oven and set aside to cool in their tins for five minutes. Then run a palette or rounded butter knife around the inside edge of the tin and carefully turn the cakes out onto a cooling rack.

To take your cakes out of the tins without leaving a wire rack mark on the top, put the clean tea towel over the tin, put your hand onto the tea towel and turn the tin upside-down. The cake should come out onto your hand and the tea towel – then you can turn it from your hand onto the wire rack.

Set aside to cool completely.

Whip the double cream until thick and stiff. At this point I fold some thick, strained Greek yogurt into the cream; it takes away a little of the richness and makes for a lighter cake. I usually use two-parts cream and one-part yogurt but you can decide on what proportions you prefer.

To assemble the cake, place one cake upside down onto a plate and spread with about half of the cream mixture. Then arrange the halved strawberries on top – you want to cover the entire surface. Place the next layer of sponge on top – add a little more of the cream if the top layer won’t stick to the bottom one.

Spread the rest of the cream mixture on top and crown with the whole strawberries to cover. Arrange them so that they look pretty.

Finally, decorate with a few mint leaves.