Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Humidity is rising, Barometer's getting low

No man rain to be seen though.  In fact no rain of any type which means the house is about 8 million degrees, or there abouts.  The thought of spending the morning in the kitchen with the oven on gives me the shudders.  Fortunately fathers day is coming up so with busy ourselves with other things for the majority of the day (more on that next week) but it wasn't enough to hear "can we make cakes now" on repeat, so I caved and went for an easy option and decided on shortbread.  I got as far as the kitchen before remembering this weeks scouts fail - no golden caster sugar.  I do, however, have a small mountain of brown sugar so lets give this a go...

Better than toddler meltdown shortbread

50g brown sugar
140g - ish plain flour
100g room temperature butter or margarine
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
20g chocolate chopped in to small chunks or a handful of chocolate chips.
2 tsp caster sugar

Preheat my oven to 160 degrees.

Measure out the sugar and add to a bowl.  Make the mistake of putting it in front of your child.  Remove when you hear "mmmm, this tastes nice".  Add the fat and cream well.

Add in the vanilla extract and chocolate chips and give them a good stir.

Sift in the flour.  I normally start with 100g of flour and then keep adding until I have a nice dough.  Tip the bowl and it should fall rather than stay in a sticky mess.  Never ever demonstrate it not being ready by tipping the bowl over your head.  This action will stay in toddler memory until a point in time where you are in a crowded situation - probably a wedding - and will be re-enacted with soup. 

Gently roll out the dough on a well floured surface and cut in to whatever shape you wish.  Sprinkle the last of your caster sugar over the top and bake in my oven for 15 - 20 minutes (depending on biscuit thickness).  You want them firm to the touch but only coloured on the edges.

Remove from the tray and allow to cool.

Brown sugar shortbread

They were a lot better than I expected in all honesty.  Brown sugar can sometimes make me go cccccccchhhhhhhhhh when I taste it but I think the chocolate and vanilla helped out with that.

Of course we didn't just want to eat one on a day like this so we took two and shoved a scoop of ice cream in between them.  You could turn this in to quite a fancy pants pudding if you did delicate thin biscuits and posh ice cream.  Top with a drizzle of melted chocolate.  Yum!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Fish Pie is my FAVOURITE

When something is announced as Millys current favourite thing it generally means she wants to make it.  Of the ingredients I need to make said pie I had milk and peas so this isn't really the best start for a recipe.  She may only be 3, but I'm not getting away with milky pea pie even on my best day.  I did remember eggs at the supermarket this week though so last weeks planned Dora loaf would provide me the time I find something a food stuff that rhymed with fish.  Once again, I ignored the recipe and did my own thang.

Haven't you done this recipe before cake *

40g golden caster sugar
50g butter or margarine
75g self raising flour
1 egg
Rind of half an orange
Juice of half an orange plus 1 tsp
1 tbsp soft cheese (brand and fat content is entirely up to you)
icing sugar
Assorted decorations (again, up to you).

Preheat my oven at 160 degrees

Cream together the room temperature fat (yeah right - straight from the fridge in my case but we all know what it *should* be) and sugar.

Get a bit too confident with your child's ability to crack an egg and watch it smash against the jug.  Add 5 minutes of fish rhyming time to the bank whilst you sort out the mess.  Whisk whatever is left.

Pour the egg in to fat and sugar and mix well, adding in the rind and juice as you mix.

Sift in the flour and mix again.  Simple as anything this one.

Pour in to your mini loaf tins.  This is enough to make 2 if you fill to the top, 3 if you're a bit more conservative with your mix.  I have one tin, so we made mini fairy cakes with the rest.

Of course, lick the spoon and bowl

Cook for 20 minutes or until brown and springy to the touch.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

To make the orange cream cheese topping:

Mix together the soft cheese and tsp of orange juice until they are well combined and sift in the icing sugar.  How much you use is entirely a personal preference.  Obviously the more you use the thicker (and sweeter) the mix.  I rather like it so it is thick enough to hold but will still drip, so I add 75g icing sugar and then increase a tbsp at a time until I get what I want.

Decorate immediately.  I wanted to go with slices of kiwi fruit but Milly wanted chocolate.  We compromised by putting chocolate on the cake and I ate the kiwi.

Frosted orange mini loaf

* yes, its a slight variation of that victoria sponge but its a nice one.

Whilst the cake is cooling ready for its cream cheese topping, we made

Stick it all in a dish when we don't have fish pie

I know.  Terrible

70g plain flour
35g butter or margarine
Half a slice of ham
1 tbsp peas and sweetcorn
Extra mature cheddar
1 tbsp milk
Black pepper
Beaten egg

Mix together the flour and fat until it forms "really funny looking sand" / breadcrumbs.  Add a tbsp cold water and bring together.  Add more water a tsp at a time until you have a dough (if you add too much just add a little more flour).  Wrap in cling film and shove in the fridge.  It should go in there for 30 minutes but fish pie face wouldn't wait that long, so we went with as long as it took to sort out the filling.

Tear or cut the ham into small pieces and place in a bowl with the vegetables, grated cheese (as much or as little as you want) and milk.  Stir together and season well.  Add a pinch of oregano.

Remove the dough from the fridge and let the small person roll out to approx 1/4 cm.  It needs to be quite thin because the mix is quite dry.  Cut out two circles (I don't have cutters of this size so I used the lid of an M&S mini cakes tub, but a saucer would work).  Hand any leftovers over for the kiddies to make decorations or pastry shapes.

Divide the filling between the two pastry circles.  You can overfill these slightly due to the lack of moisture but make sure you only put it on one side and leave the edges clear.

Brush egg along the edge of one half and cover so you have a half moon.  Crimp together with a fork to seal.  Brush egg over the top and make a small slit in the top.  Cook for around 20 minutes or until golden brown all over.

Mini pasties

For the more organised of this world than myself, these are lovely with things like left over casserole, chilli con carni, bolognese or even the Sunday roast, veg and stuffing with a touch of gravy.  Of course, fish pie is much much nicer.  (Milly) FACT.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Take my mother in law

We had the in laws around for Sunday lunch this weekend.  I like cooking for them - they like food so I always get the chance to try out a few new things.  This week it was leg of lamb cooked on top of potatoes, which is a completely new concept for me.  I was a bit concerned about cooking spuds for that long and that concern was justified when they attached themselves to the bottom of the tray.  Still, once chiseled off they were really lovely and I'd do that again with a few adjustments!  The concept is simple enough - thickly slice potatoes, season, add 1/2 litre of stock, put lamb on top, cook.  Definitely worth giving it a try.

Since I was going for risky main, I went for easy as heck pudding which also happens to be my mother in laws favourite.  I was originally drawn to a bbc good food recipe because I liked the chocolate on top, but then I read it and decided to do my own thing anyway.  This is one of those that is great to do with a joint of meat because it needs a lot of fridge action. 


14 chocolate digestives
60g unsalted butter (it really does need to be butter for this, and it doesn't even matter if you forget to get it out of the fridge!)
Either a tin of caramel or a tin of condensed milk boiled for approximately 2 hours to make a tin of caramel
Large pot of double cream
1 tbsp extra fine caster or icing sugar
3 bananas
approx 40g chocolate (the size of a mini chocolate bar)

Crush 12 of the digestive biscuits.  Either shove them in a food processor or beat out your rage with a rolling pin.  Depends what sort of day you've had really.

Melt the butter slowly in a pan.  Eat the other two biscuits while you wait.
Add the crushed biscuits to the butter and mix well.

Press the mix into a loose bottom flan or cake tin and allow it to rise up the sides.  Refrigerate for 20 - 30 minutes.

Remove the biscuity goodness from the fridge and spoon on the caramel.  Don't stir or over mix this.  Return to the fridge for a couple of hours (which is about the time it takes to cook the lamb).  Lick the spoon.

Slice up your bananas and place on top of the now cool and slightly firm caramel.
Melt your chocolate either in a baine marie or in the microwave.  Its such a small amount of chocolate that I went for the microwave method.  Allow to cool whilst you whisk together the sugar and cream until thick.  Spoon over the bananas and cover the entire cake.

Drizzle the melted chocolate over the top and refrigerate for another 15 minutes so it hardens.  Mix together any left over chocolate and the cream in the bottom of the jug.  Eat.  Pretend you didn't.

I forgot to take a picture, so I've pinched the one my mother in law took.

Banoffee pie
The epically poor slicing was down to the other half and a lack of cake slice.

We demolished the entire thing between 5 adults and Milly who ate it even though she doesn't like cream.  She also ate my base and pinched some from other plates, so that's a win for that pudding.

If you have a few more minutes, and the tins to do it, this is lovely made in to small individual pies.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Be Prepared

I never attended brownies or guides as a child.  The lack of brown owl in my life is quite clear, poor hard-done-by that I am, in my complete inability to prepare properly for the things I have planned.  Most of the time my cupboards are stacked well enough for me to get away with it but this week was my first Mummy and Milly Day disaster.  The weekends baking (I didn't photograph it all) resulted in the use of 24 eggs so, of course, this morning I was completely out and therefore the planned orange mini loaf was not going to happen.  Tears were threatening from Mill so it was over to my backup recipes and no eggs means just one thing to me - biscuits.  We had those cookie cutters I bought a couple of weeks back too so Milly was a very happy girl.

Disaster Saving Biscuits

40g golden caster sugar
135g plain flour
1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa
85g butter or margarine 
Juice of half an orange

Cream together the fat and sugar.  You don't need to go OTT with this but get the fat as soft as possible.   If you're well prepared and you've got the butter out in advance it should be soft enough to let your child do this bit.  Ooops.

Sift in the flour and cocoa powder (you already know the best way to do this) and mix with a fork until it starts to come together.  Pour in the juice and mix a little more.

Now for the fun bit.  Get your hands in and bring it all together until you have brown playdoh.  If its still a bit wet and sticky at this stage throw in a bit more flour, too dry and add a touch more orange.  You want something that looks like a big ball of soft yum rather than something that covers your hands in goo or breaks into little crumbs.

For under 2's get it to this stage and then hand it over for them to have some fun with rolling and cutting.

Flour your work surface (throw in a bit of cocoa if you care about white flour on chocolate biscuits - we don't so I didn't) and roll out your dough until its around 1/2 cm or there abouts.  Cut out whatever shape you want

Add the shapes to a tray covered in greaseproof paper.  They can be reasonably close together because they aren't really going to increase in size.  Bake for around 10 minutes and allow to cool on the tray for around 10 minutes.

Childrens chocolate biscuits

Once cooled, decorate in any way you wish.  We went with orange icing (3 tbsp icing sugar mixed in with a few squeezes of orange juice to make a thick paste), assorted sprinkles, mini fudge pieces and fresh strawberry slices.  These would be lovely made in to a sandwich with a chocolate filling.

Unintentional Dora Face-Palm

Who needs eggs and brown owls anyway.

Amelia's Miracle

I know of another girl named Amelia who lives not far from us.  She is the same age as my Amelia and used to go to the same nursery.  They should be friends but that Amelia has a brain tumour, one which is inoperable and incurable.  They have the hope of a miracle in the shape of a treatment in America which comes with a £200k price tag.  Its controversial but what parent wouldn't dance naked in moonlight if they thought there was the hope of even another day with their child.  There is real hope here, hope that this beautiful child gets more time, hope that she can beat this and live, hope to just be a normal 3 year old again.

The similarities between these two children were too much for me not to help.   The donation I made didn't feel enough so we rattled buckets and packed shopping, and last weekend I baked.  6 hours of cooking, a week of preparation and some total disasters produced these.

dark chocolate cupcake with white chocolate frosting and marshmallow hearts, chocolate cheesecake cupcake with milk chocolate frosting and chocolate dipped strawberry, banana cupcake with caramel frosting and mini fudge pieces, lemon meringue cupcake

Mini cupcakes
Assorted chocolate and vanilla mini cakes with white chocolate, milk chocolate and vanilla frosting

It was a lot of hard work but ultimately worth the effort.

Amelia's Miracle Website
Amelia's Miracle on Facebook

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Is this my lunch?

I was running solo in the supermarket this bank holiday Morning (I sure know how to have a good time).  Milly was swimming with daddy so I actually had the chance to take a look around instead of behaving like I'm a supermarket sweep contestant.   As a result I came home with a hand mixer, a huge bag of cookie cutters in assorted shapes and the joy of knowing that I will never again get arm strain from mixing frosting.  Its good timing because I'm baking some charity cakes at the weekend and there are 48 of those bad boys to frost.

Unfortunately Mill decided this morning that, in addition to her normal breakfast, she wanted toast with assorted toppings (one with butter, one with jam, one with cheese and one with cheese and jam - I kid you not) which she then faffed with for an hour so our planned use of cutters will have to wait until next week.  However, I still wanted to use my lovely new mixer and I had peanut butter in.  Its a no-brainer really.

There is nothing finer in life than cookie dough

120g plain flour with 1 tsp baking powder or self raising flour
40g brown sugar
40g caster sugar
1 egg
2 tbsp smooth peanut butter (thats what we had, use crunchy if you want)
2 tbsp (or more) chocolate chips
zest of half an orange (trust me - it really lifts it)
50g butter or marg

My oven : 160

Cream together the butters and sugars with my lovely new hand mixer.  Divide the metal thingies between the two of you and lick them clean.  When asked, this is not the childs lunch.

Whisk the egg and add that to the creamed mix.  Make a face like youre sucking lemons when asked if they can taste it at this stage.  Stir in the orange and chocolate.  Repeat face.

Shake shake sifting dance in the flour (and baking powder) and mix well.  Now you can taste it.  Remind yourself that this definitely is NOT your lunch regardless of how much you want it to be.  Lick the bowl and any spoons anyway.

Now its entirely up to you what you want to do with the mix.  I took approximately a tbsp of mix, rolled lightly in to a ball and flattened slightly on a tray but you could just blob it on if you want to.  Make as large or as small as you want - its an anything goes cookie.

Bake for around 20 minutes or until brown.  

Chocolate peanut butter cookies

This could be your lunch if you wanted.  I'm not the food police and there are days when I want nothing more than a tube of pringles and a pot of garlic dip.  Besides, it has orange in it so its practically fruit.

Despite their obvious goodness, we had them for pudding.  For lunch we went with muffin pizzas, which are great fun and a regular part of toddler diet in this house.

1 English Muffin per child (the other half can go through 3 without a problem)
Any form of pizza sauce or ketchup (for fussy veg haters cook up a tin of chopped tomato, finely chopped carrot, courgette and celery, reduce and then blend - I used to freeze this) 
Black pepper
Mature cheddar cheese
Pizza toppings

Cut each muffin in half and toast slightly.  You dont really want any colour here, just to firm them up.

Hand over to the small one and let them have fun.  Expect mess.

Milly decided on ham, olives and sweetcorn today.  Shove under the grill for about 10 - 15 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling.

Mini muffin pizza

This is definitely your lunch Milly.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

The daddy gift array part 4

About a million years ago when I was a child, the absolute highlight of breakfast time was the toy you got in with the breakfast cereal.  My favourite of these were shrinky dinks - small pictures which you coloured in and then put in the oven to shrink (hence the name).  I have no idea what you were supposed to do with these after this point but I still loved them.

So imagine my utter joy when I saw shrinkies paper and packs in my local hobbycraft a few months back.  They were instantly assigned to my I'm using those at some point brain file - I just needed a reason and a project.

Awww, its a teeny weeny me hand

Shrinkies A4 paper
Pencil crayons
Paint (any type that will produce a hand print)
One keyring attachment and ring 
A big fat book
A hole punch
An oven
A child

Paint your childs hand and print on to the rough dull side of the paper.  We used paint designed for handprints from ELC and it didnt dry particularly well, so if I was doing it again I'd probably go for something else.

Cut around the hand leaving a good sized border and use the punch to make a single hole.

Put in to the oven according to the instructions on the pack.  The first time I did this in our fan oven it blew like crazy and stuck together so had to go in the bin.  The second time I turned the tray every 20 - 30 seconds.  It takes a couple of minutes before the print goes flat. 

Remove from the oven and shove a book on the hot plastic (Jamie Oliver books work well I have found).  This will ensure its flat (ish).

Allow to cool and add the key ring thingy.

I think we're going to try assorted colour prints and magnets next time.

Better than hallmark (maybe)

Stage one and we already have options

1. Have your child draw a picture directly on to the shrinkies paper and colour it in
2. Know that you have one of those 'if this goes wrong in the oven you will never draw another picture again' children and have them draw on to paper and transfer this on to pc and print (obviously you'll need a method of doing this and a printer for this option!)

I went with option two.  Milly is *that* child.  I also did it in two parts - first she drew the black and white outline which I scanned, fixed up with GIMP to make it darker (if you want to do this then look for a levels tutorial - it basically involves moving the little arrows to the right of the peak around a bit).  Then she coloured in this printed version and I re-scanned, fixed the levels and then printed on to the shrinkies paper.  The only problem with doing it this way was that the background has a slightly strange colour to it, but I can pretend it was intentional.

Cook as above and leave to cool and you get something like this

Now its over to the small people to stick to a card and decorate as only their crazy little selves can.

I hope he likes it!  I always get very nervous about these things.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Back to Basics

Mummy and Milly day was cancelled this week.  Mill had her boosters so probably spent the day plotting her revenge and I had an illness that made me sound like this "nngggnggngggggggghttt" and to breathe out of my ears.  Instead, we spent the morning watching Mr Men episodes (the original ones, not the dreadful remake) under a blanket on the sofa.  Instead, have some recipe information.

I have a basic cake recipe that, with some minor adjustments, gives you the ability to create any cake in the world, ever.  Ish.

Victoria Sponge and Friends

50g self raising flour (or use plain flour and baking powder - about 1/2 a tsp should do it)
1 egg
50g butter or margarine
50g sugar

Preheat my oven to 170

Measure out the flour, sugar and fat.  I tend to use margarine because most days I am surprised I remember my own name, so getting butter out in advance to soften would require a week of reminders, an alarm and a packet of postit notes.

Allow your child to break the egg (fish out the shell if you're eating it) and whisk whilst you get on with the harder job of creaming together the fat and sugar.

Pour the egg in to the creamed ingredients and mix togegger (I am never correcting that speech mistake - we love it).

Sift in the flour (we do the shake shake sifting dance to this - maybe I should do a tutorial) and stir through.

<< jazz hands >> That's it really.  This is enough to make 6 fairy / cup cakes or a thing single layer sponge cake.  Takes about 15 - 18 minutes in my oven, but they can burn quickly so keep a watch for the last few minutes.

The quantities are easily expanded to make larger cakes.  Double it to make a reasonable single layer sponge, triple to make one you can cut in half or a loaf, quadruple to make a real sponge cake with cream in the middle *drool*

Now for the extras

Clockwise L- R : Nutella cupcakes with nutella frosting, chocolate and cream filled "hedgehog" loaf, dinosaur cakes, chocolate butterfly cake, chocolate orange marble cake, chocolate "pizza" cake, chocolate sponge, chocolate loaf.

Vanilla - the easiest.  Add a drop of vanilla if you're doing a very simple cake.  Don't bother if you're going to drown it in frosting.  "oh mother, we've missed out the vanilla" has never passed Mills lips so I don't think it matters so much with toddlers.

Chocolate.  Add 1 tbsp of unsweetened cocoa powder to the flour and 1 tbsp of milk once all the ingredients have been mixed.  Throw in a handful of chocolate chips if you have them.

Orange.  Add the zest and juice of half an orange at any point you want.

Lemon.  Add a tsp of lemon juice and the zest of half a lemon at any point.

Chocolate orange.  Replace the milk in the chocolate mix with the juice of half an orange, plus the zest.

Christmas.  Add 20g sultanas (or raisins if that's what you have), 20g mixed peel, 1/2 tsp cinnamon and 1 tbsp milk.  This works best on fairy cakes and is great with cinnamon frosting.

Nutella.  Melt 2 tbsp nutella in a microwave for a few seconds (it needs to be soft but not liquid).  Add a tsp to each filled fairy cake and swirl around a bit to mix.

Marble.  Take two (one chocolate, one not) and blob in to the tin.  Swirl together.

Pink.  Take pink colour.  Add.  Sigh

Once you have your cake just decorate with any sort of cream, frosting, fruit, melted chocolate combination you want.  Most of it will be inhaled before it gets near the cake, so always double up.

Sometimes the simple options are the best though.  A couple of bowls of headache coloured icing and assorted sprinkles can keep the small one happy for quite some time.

Please note, I do not keep my child in pajamas all day but they do make excellent messy play outfits!