I’m off work this week to spend the half-term school holidays at home with the kids and – what a surprise – the weather is truly miserable. So yes, we’re resorting to our favourite rainy day activity: baking. We’ve been having fun experimenting with edible decorations from Dr Oetker and have come up with three tasty bakes you might like to try out with your gang the next time rainy day boredom sets in. Continue reading “Autumn half-term baking with kids”
It’s high time I brought you another selection of thumbs ups – my regular round up of favourite food and drink products I’ve either discovered myself or been sent to try out. In case any PRs are reading this, it’s probably worth pointing out that only products I really like are featured here; simply sending free samples doesn’t lead to automatic inclusion.
Sally’s Sizzling Sausages
With my family’s love of bangers, you can imagine how excited we all were to be sent a large box of sausages and burgers from Sally’s Sizzling Sausage Co the other week. And even more excited on serving up the Cumberland sausages with lots of lovely mashed potato to discover they are as delicious and gorgeously meaty as I’d been promised. We tried their 100% beefburgers a few days later and were equally impressed.
All products from Sally’s Sizzling Sausages are ideal for those with food intolerances as they are free from wheat, soya, dairy, egg, yeast, gluten and lactose. The company is based at Smithfield Meat Market in London and was set up by Tim Hixson, who himself has food allergies.
“Over the years I have been dismayed at the quality of some foods to the point where I decided to do something about it,” Hixson explains.
Sally’s range includes a wide variety of pork and chicken sausages, meatballs, burgers, continental meats, and kebabs. Vegetarians will be pleased to hear that they plan to introduce a vegetarian range in June 2014. Find out more at www.sallyssizzlers.com.
Cornish Sea Salt
This Cornish Sea Salt is so tasty you could almost eat it on its own, although a much better idea would be to sprinkle it over a fresh tomato salad. I’m also rather taken by the idea of trying it in chocolate brownies or some salted chocolate pretzels.
Cornish Sea Salt began trading in 2008 and was set up by Tony Fraser who discovered there had once been an Iron Age salt works near Porthkerris on the Lizard Peninsula, and his idea for a new business took hold.
Sadly, Fraser passed away in 2012, but the company continues to go from strength to strength and their delicious salt appears on the tables of some top restaurants and hotels.
If you haven’t tried it already, I’d definitely recommend you get hold of some. It’s available in most supermarkets and you can also buy online at www.cornishseasalt.co.uk.
Available in most supermarkets, Laimon Fresh is a new lightly carbonated lemon, lime and mint flavoured drink which got the thumbs up in our house when we received samples the other week to try.
I did expect it to taste a little synthetic but it’s actually a very refreshing and natural-tasting drink.
Jessie drank hers as it came and wanted more, but alas the grown ups in the house had already turned the rest into super easy mojito cocktails by mixing with white rum and pouring over crushed ice. The mojitos could probably have benefited from a little more fresh mint, but we enjoyed them nonetheless.
Oh, and Jennifer Lopez has been spotted drinking it too, so it’s clearly a hit with the uber cool set too.
La Rochelle Salad Croutons
These Meditteranean style herb croutons from La Rochelle are so good you can enjoy them as a snack on their own, rather than tossing into a salad, although that’s how I like to use mine.
I adore croutons in a fresh green salad but generally can’t be bothered to make my own, so these are very handy to have in the cupboard on standby.
Flavoured with oregano, basil, parsley and thyme, these light and crunchy croutons are deliciously moreish and completely ungreasy as so many shop-bought croutons quite often are.
Dr Oetker Chocolate Hearts
We received some sweet tiny chocolate hearts in milk and white chocolate from Dr Oetker. They were a big hit with my daughters, who chose to use them to decorate the banana, chocolate and ginger tray bake we made last weekend.
As well as looking ever so pretty, they also taste good and chocolatey, and I had to work quite hard to stop my girls from eating the remainder of the packet.
And if you like the look of the cake, I plan to post the recipe in the coming days. My aim is to get it up in time for this month’s Spice Trail challenge, as the theme is ginger. But I’ve got a mad week ahead, so I’m not promising anything.
Disclosure: I was sent complimentary samples of Dr Oetker’s Chocolate Hearts, Laimon Fresh and Sally’s Sizzling Sausages for review purposes. No money exchanged hands and all opinions expressed are my own.
There’s been a bit of a baking frenzy in our house recently. There was a PTA cake sale at my daughters’ school last week and we decided to get all creative with these love heart cupcakes with a double chocolate and cream cheese topping. Jess hates buttercream so cream cheese is a good alternative.
Sometimes I just can’t be bothered to bake for the cake sale and at the last minute we’ll resort to buying plain fairy cakes or biscuits, which the kids will decorate with gaudy-coloured icing and a few sprinkles. But other times I go the whole hog. And this was one of those times. I was definitely spurred on by my earlier success with a classic Victoria sponge and also by a big bag of chocolate goodies from the kind people at Dr Oetker. My youngest daughter Mia, who is a self-confessed chocoholic, couldn’t believe her luck when she opened up the parcel.
Dr Oetker are running a competition, challenging UK bakers to come up with their most creative chocolate cupcake and I thought I might try my chances. One lucky baker will win the fantastic prize of a trip for two to New York City, the home of the cupcake. The closing date is 17 October 2013 if you fancy having a go too. Pop over to their Facebook page for more details on how to take part. Having seen the other hugely impressive entries, I don’t think I have even the slightest smidgen of a chance of winning anything but it’s the taking part that counts, as they say.
The cupcakes were a big hit at the school cake sale. Admittedly they’re a bit more of a faff than I’d usually go in for when it comes to decorating cupcakes but it was worth it to see the children’s faces when they spied them. And if you fancy a pretty-looking sweet treat, the love heart cookies on their own seem to go down rather well with the little ones.
Love heart cookies
Makes around 40 cookies – so you’ll have plenty left over to enjoy later
250g butter, softened
140g caster sugar
1 egg yolk
2 tsp vanilla extract
a drop or two of red food colouring
300g plain flour
pinch of salt
25g dark chocolate
hundreds and thousands
Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4.
In a large bowl, beat together the butter, sugar, egg yolk and vanilla extract. Add a couple of drops of red food colouring and combine well.
Sift in the flour and salt and mix thoroughly to form a dough. You’ll need to get your hands in at this point.
Roll out the dough between two sheets of baking parchment until it is roughly half a centimetre thick.
Use a small heart-shaped cutter to cut out your cookies, or work freehand using a sharp knife.
Line a baking tray with more baking parchment and carefully lift the cookies onto the tray, spacing them apart a little.
Bake in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes until just firm to the touch. Remove from the tray and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.
Place the dark chocolate in a small bowl and melt in a microwave. Using a teaspoon, drizzle chocolate onto each love heart cookie and then sprinkle on some hundreds and thousands.
Chocolate chip cupcakes
Makes 12 – six chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate chips and six plain cupcakes with dark chocolate chips
125g butter, softened
125g caster sugar
125g self-raising flour
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp milk
2 tsp cocoa powder, mixed with a few drops of water into a paste
25g white chocolate chips
25g dark chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6.
Put the butter, caster sugar, eggs, flour and vanilla extract into a food processor and whizz until smooth. Add the milk and mix again.
Split the mixture equally between two separate bowls. Into the first add the cocoa paste and mix in carefully. Then add the white chocolate chips and stir until well dispersed through the mixture. Into the second bowl of plain mixture add the dark chocolate chips and again stir in.
Line a 12-bun muffin tin with 12 muffin cases.
Spoon the mixture into the paper cases and bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes until the cupcakes are springy to the touch and just golden on top.
Remove the cakes from the tin and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.
Double chocolate and cream cheese marbled topping
100g cream cheese
200g icing sugar
75g white chocolate
75g dark chocolate
Scoop the cream cheese into a large bowl and sieve in the icing sugar. Beat together until thoroughly combined. Place half the mixture into a second bowl.
Place the white chocolate and dark chocolate into two separate bowls and melt in the microwave. Add the white chocolate to one bowl of topping mixture and the dark chocolate to the other. Combine well.
Place alternate spoonfuls of white chocolate and dark chocolate topping into a piping bag until it is full. Swirl a generous amount onto each of the cupcakes.
And finally, top with one of your pretty love heart cookies.
Disclosure: Dr Oetker provided me with a complimentary selection of cooking chocolate and cake decorations for this post. No money exchanged hands and all opinions are totally my own.
In the parcel I received 72% Extra Dark Fine Cooks’ Chocolate, 26% White Fine Cooks’ Chocolate, Dark Chocolate Chips, White Chocolate Chips, and Hundreds and Thousands, all of which I used in this recipe.
What a difference the sunshine makes. For the first time I can remember in a very long time, we got to enjoy fine weather on a bank holiday weekend. We spent as much time as we could outdoors and it felt like we were on a mini holiday. The whole of nature seemed to have jumped into action with the trees, hedgerows and fields bursting into spring flower.
For our breakfasts we’ve been enjoying homemade fruit smoothies. My husband Jason concocted indulgent blueberry smoothies with vanilla ice cream and sprinkles on top…
… while I got the children making slightly healthier smoothies with mango, passion fruit and apple, along with some special edition mango and passion fruit flavoured Actimel we were kindly sent to try out. A deliciously fruity start to the day.
On Saturday my parents came to stay. They arrived just in time for lunch and we tucked into spring lamb that had been slow roasting in the Aga all morning, served with homegrown purple sprouting broccoli and an Ottonlenghi-inspired aubergine and courgette risotto (a recipe I’m going to be making again and again), all washed down with a light, sunshiny rosé.
To walk off lunch we took a leisurely stroll around the tranquil Bishop’s Palace Gardens in nearby Wells. I’m working at the moment in Wells so it makes a lovely change to visit the city as a tourist. The children loved dressing up as bishops (perhaps by the time they’re grown up the Church of England will actually allow women bishops?), climbing trees, playing Pooh Sticks with Grandad in the palace moat and trying to wake the sleeping willow dragon. I was rather taken with the community gardens – what a wonderful place to have an allotment.
On Sunday we took Nana and Grandad for a walk across the fields behind our house, carefully skirting around the protective cows and their calves, to go and feed the two local nanny goats. One of the goats was so heavily pregnant she could barely walk; it made me wince to look at her. We also visited the field of sheep and their dainty lambs, whereupon Mia decided we should buy ourselves a pet sheep and lamb and keep them in the garden so that Daddy doesn’t have to mow the lawn anymore. Grandad tried to teach Mia to make duck noises by blowing on grass (unsuccessfully) and we foraged for wild garlic in the hedgerows (successfully).
On Sunday afternoon, possibly the warmest day of the year so far, I decided to do some baking. Crazy I know! I rustled up some zingy lemon mascarpone cupcakes and we decorated them with these pretty wafer butterflies from Dr Oetker. Perfect for an impromptu garden party underneath our apple tree that’s just beginning to bud – hopefully we’ll actually get apples this year. Jessie normally hates butter icing as it’s so rich, but loved this mascarpone topping because “It’s lovely and lemony!”
And then on Bank Holiday Monday, along with seemingly half of Somerset, we climbed up Glastonbury Tor to enjoy what are arguably the finest views in the Westcountry. The girls had great fun pretending to be the tor monsters when we reached the top. We really should have taken a picnic with us, but instead found ourselves in the fabulous Hundred Monkeys bistro in Glastonbury afterwards for a well-earned late lunch of deliciously meaty burgers served in artisan bread rolls, local Somerset cider, ice cream coke floats and ever so tempting homemade cakes. If you’re ever in Glastonbury, I heartily recommend it. While we were waiting for our food, the children invented a new game of napkin dot-to-dot; I rather like our arty creations…
So that was how we spent our bank holiday. What did you get up to this weekend?
Disclosure: I was sent samples of the new limited edition Mango & Passionfruit Actimel to try out, along with fresh fruit and a smoothie maker. I also received samples of Dr Oetker’s Wafer Butterflies to see what I thought. No money exchanged hands and the views expressed here, as they are throughout my blog, are completely my own.