Our ghastly Halloween showstopper

Every year I watch the Great British Bake Off and every year I feel inspired to get the kids in the kitchen to join me in creating some crazy, outlandish showstopper-style masterpiece*.

The problem is, and I know I’ve said this before on the blog, but I’m just not a natural-born baker. That’s not to say my bakes don’t taste good. Nine times out of ten they most certainly do. But all too often they just don’t look good. And that’s the whole point of a showstopper, isn’t it? To impress? To wow? So perhaps our attempt this year at a ghoulish bake for Halloween is more a pause-glance-and-nod-approvingly before moving on than a full-blown stop-them-in-their-tracks-in-awe showstopper. The children loved it though, and that’s what’s most important.

*easily interchangeable with ‘monstrosity’, but quite appropriate really for this time of year. Continue reading “Our ghastly Halloween showstopper”

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.