Thursday, 13 December 2012

Rudolph cupcakes

It's been a while since I last posted for which I'm sorry. I start preparing for Christmas early, but even so November and December are very busy. We also have the arrival of our elf on the shelf at the start of December, so November is the time I plan his visit and his mischief. (For more information on elf visitors, have a look here or'll find plenty out there...).

Anyway that's why I've not been around so much, but I'm here today to write about my festive Rudolph cupcakes.

These are simple chocolate cupcakes with chocolate icing then decorated and my kids LOVE them.
You'll need (to make a batch of 12 muffin sized cakes):

For the cakes:
3 eggs
6 oz sugar
6 oz margarine
5 oz self raising flour
1 oz cocoa powder

For the icing:
5oz margarine
10oz icing sugar
1 oz cocoa powder

For the decoration:
6 glace cherries, cut in half
3 curly wurlys, cut into antler sized pieces. 3 should be enough to have a little spare to taste test
chocolate dots/chocolate drops/currants/raisins/black icing

Line a muffin tin with 12 cake cases. Preheat the oven to around 180C.

Mix together all of the cake ingredients, until the batter is thick and well combined. Divide evenly between the cases and bake for around 15-20minutes or until the cakes spring back when the tops are lightly pressed.

Remove to a cooling rack and cool completely before decorating.

Once cool make the icing. Mix together the margarine,cocoa and icing sugar to a thick spreadable consistency. 

Using a palette knife or the back of a teaspoon, spread the icing over the tops of the cakes. Top with half a cherry for the nose, and stab in the pieces of curly wurly for the antlers. Finish with the chocolate dots for eyes.

These are a really quick treat for children and can be made fairly quickly and easily...get the kids to help decorate too!

Friday, 2 November 2012

Festive gingerbread playdough

Some months ago I published a recipe for homemade playdough - the batch of playdough I made then (on 5th August) is still going strong - kept wrapped in the fridge it can last for ages.

But now I've discovered something new, something seasonal, something that smells so good you'll wish it were real edible dough - Gingerbread Scented Playdough. I've also based this loosely on the spices I use in my Gingerbread Syrup recipe (which I use to make gingerbread lattes at home).
And the wonderful thing about this is that the more you play with it, and the warmer it becomes, the more it smells...

You will need:
1 cup of flour
1 cup of warm water
2tsp of cream of tartar
1tsp oil
1/4 cup of table salt
1 heaped tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1tsp nutmeg
Pinch of allspice

Put all the ingredients in a saucepan and heat over a low-medium heat. Mix with a wooden spoon until it all comes together, forming a ball.

Not only does this smell like gingerbread, but the spices give it that lovely mottled brown colour - perfect for making pretend gingerbread men too!

Monday, 22 October 2012

Homemade marshmallow

Firstly, an apology. I fully intended to take photos of every step of this 'make', and started off well. However, there are no images of the finished marshmallow because my husband and children ate it all (alright, I had a bit too!) before I got a camera near it! But I hope that just goes to show how yummy it is!

So, marshmallow. This is a versatile recipe that can be adapted to introduce flavour and colour. I've slightly adapted a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe.

You will need:
2 egg whites
550g granulated sugar
2 sachets of powdered gelatine (about 25g)
4 tbsp icing sugar
4 tbsp cornflour
A little oil for greasing
Liquid/gel colouring of your choice

Put the sugar and 250ml water into a large pan, along with a sugar thermometer and heat gently until the sugar is dissolved. When all dissolved, turn the heat up until the sugar reaches 124C.

This can take a while, so now you can get on with all the other jobs -
Put a small bowl over a pan of simmering water, and add 125ml water and the gelatine. Stir/whisk until the gelatine is melted.Then remove from the heat and leave to cool.

Put the egg whites into a large bowl and whisk (preferably with a stand-mixer) until stiff peaks.

And lightly grease a 20cm square tin.

When the sugar has reached the correct temperature, take it off the heat and stir in the gelatine - it'll bubble up a bit.

Turn the mixer back on and slowly pour the sugar syrup onto the eggs. Beat until it's just pourable. At this point you could add in a few drops of your desired colouring (pink is popular).

Then pour into the prepared tin.

Leave to set in a cool place (but not the fridge) for a few hours. Using a oiled knife to help ease it out, tip the marshmallow onto a light dusting of icing sugar mixed with some of the cornflour. Cut into whatever shapes you like.

Mix together the remaining icing sugar and cornflour. Toss the cut pieces in this mixture, and then it's ready to eat. Store in an airtight tin, lined with greaseproof paper.

Having made this quite a lot now, I decided to experiment this time, and just tipped half of this plain mixture into a tin. I added a few drops of peppermint essence to the remaining mixture, gave it a quick beat, then tipped it into another tin, then swirled a few drops of colouring in with a cocktail stick. This gave me two quite flattish slabs, but as it was a flavour experiment, I didn't mind how it looked really. Despite initial reservations, the peppermint marshmallow disappeared quickest, and so for Christmas I might crush some candy canes and press these into the mixture before it sets for something different.

Edit: I have now tried adding candy canes! I ground them in the blender with icing sugar and cornflour. Then used this dust to roll the marshmallow in. It's blunted my blender blades quite a bit, but tastes delicious. However, I don't think there's anything added (except expense and blunt blades) by doing this, so in future will just continue using peppermint essence.
I've also tried strawberry essence. But despite using half a bottle, I couldn't taste it in the marshmallow once set.

Thursday, 11 October 2012


I've already mentioned Christmas and how I like to make homemade Christmas gifts. This year, as an avid Pinterest user, I've picked up loads of ideas for different presents, and have been pinning like mad over the last couple of months in preparation. You can follow me on Pinterest here, and look at my 'Things that are gifty' and 'Things to try to make' boards. There's also a Christmas board with all things festive too!

Having decided on a few things I'd like to try making, I thought that I'd best test some of those ideas - I don't want to poison anyone, and if things don't work out as planned I'll need time to try again or choose an alternative. So a couple of weeks ago I settled on Limoncello, which I'd seen others pinning as a present idea.

You'll need:
A large glass bottle or kilner jar
75cl vodka
5 lemons (unwaxed, or washed in really really hot water to rinse the wax off)
650gwhite sugar
700ml boiling water

Start by taking large strips of the peel from the lemons and placing in the jar. Try not to get any of the bitter pith in, you just want the peel. Pour the vodka over the top and leave to steep for around a week-ten days. Keep in a dark place, and give it a shake every day.
You could leave this upto a month if you really wanted to improve the flavour, but I was desperate to get on and try it! Now you've made lemon vodka, and you could leave it at that - it's a great gift still.

But I wanted something a bit more than just flavoured vodka, so...
After the initial steeping, put the sugar into a jug and pour over the boiling water. Stir until the sugar is all dissolved. The pour this sugar mix onto the lemon vodka. Give it a gentle shake and leave for another week, again shaking each day.

Now all you need to do is strain through a muslin/paper coffee filter, and bottle or jar it, adding a few of the large pieces of peel if you desire. You could make your own labels, and add ribbons to make it pretty. Best served from the freezer, but it'll keep well for months in a cool, dark place.

And how about trying some homemade lemon curd with the juice from the leftover lemons?

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Hot chocolate toppers

I went to the Cake & Bake show at Earls Court a couple of weeks ago, and got to meet Edd Kimber, who won the first Great British Bake Off. (his new book is fab...pre order it now!) I also saw many famous baking faces- Paul Hollywood, Mich Turner, Jo Wheatley, Paul Young, and have developed a crush on baker boy Tom Herbert! And whilst there picked up some decorating ideas and lots of freebies to test. And I hope to share some of those baking and decorating ideas soon...

But today's post is a make...

As it's turning chillier we've been drinking more hot chocolate. We all love marshmallows on top so I tend to keep a bag in the cupboard, and we also like cream but I don't keep that in the fridge all the time. But I saw this idea on pinterest and thought I'd try it- Hot chocolate toppers! You can use normal instant hot chocolate, homemade hot chocolate (melted chocolate, cream and a bit of milk - evil) or even my Hot Chocolate Spoons.

It's very simple- whisk up double cream to almost stiff peaks. Spread onto a an inch deep tray that you've lined with cling film.

Freeze overnight.

Remove from the freezer then take the cream out of the tray, removing the cling film.

Set the cream 'slab'on a board, then use your favourite small cutters to cut shapes in the cream. You'll need to work quite quickly else the cream will melt.
I don't like waste so I kept the 'trimmings' too! Which I'll probably use on my own hot chocs when no-one is looking!!

Pop them back in the freezer and whenever you fancy a creamy hot chocolate, just pop a frozen cream shape on to of your drink...

-Use metal cutters, I don't think plastic ones would cut as well.
-Have a small tub or freezer bag waiting to put the shapes straight into.
-Why not sprinkle some hundreds and thousands onto the cream before you freeze it, or swirl some food colouring in for a different effect. You could even set marshmallows in it!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Gingerbread syrup

Admission time - I'm a big Christmas fanatic. Yes, I know it's only September, but X Factor has started, the first Strictly Come Dancing was on last night, and it's dark by 7.30pm, so to me that means Christmas is on it's way.

I mentioned before I'm on a tight budget, which means I start Christmas shopping early in order to help me spread the cost across the whole year. It also means I get some bargains because I buy things when I see them - especially when I see them in sales!!

I also like to make homemade gifts - in the past I've made movie hampers (using a homemade record bowl, filled with Christmas DVDs and popcorn), pinecone firelighters, saltdough decorations, children's 'make your own bird feeder' kits and today's make - Gingerbread Syrup.

In fact, I first started making this a few years ago, not to give as gifts, but because my hubby and I are big Starbucks fans and especially their festive 'Red Cups'. Our favourite Starbucks cup is the Gingerbread Latte, but we can't afford to drink them too often (especially as a trip there now involves drinks and cakes for Mini and Dollop too), and we really missed them at the end of the festive season one year. So I searched for a recipe for something I could use at home instead. After lots and lots of making, coffee-drinking and testing, I came up with the following recipe. Incidentally, this syrup is great over icecream and in hot chocolate too. If you want to gift it, then you can buy pretty bottles, or use empty, clean ketchup bottles!

4 cups granulated sugar (for this and the water I use a standard coffee cup)
2 cup water
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon and 1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla extract
Sterilised glass bottles*

Put the sugar and water into a very large saucepan over a low heat. Gently stir until the sugar is dissolved to make a basic sugar syrup.

Add the spices and vanilla, then turn the heat up to medium, allowing the syrup to boil until it thickens slightly...til it's the consistency of something like maple syrup (runnier than goldren syrup), almost like washing up liquid! Don't worry if you get foamy stuff on top, though you can skim it if you wish. At this stage you can also strain through muslin if you like - but you don't have to.

Leave the syrup to cool slightly, remove the cinnamon stick if you haven't already strained the syrup, then pour into the sterilised bottles. Once cool, add a label. In coffee, we find that we use just enough to cover the bottom of the mug, and we love it with both instant or ground coffee. And we find it keeps best in a cool dark place, not the fridge.

*the best way I've found is to wash the bottles in hot soapy water, then rinse and put into a cold oven. Turn the oven on to about 140C, and 'cook' the bottles for around 15minutes. Fill whilst they are still hot. Hot liquid poured into cold bottles can cause the glass to crack or worse, explode.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012


I'm a planner (I know, I know...don't hate me!) but I have a small, strict budget and meal planning each week enables me to keep within my means, and make the most of leftovers and good offers at the supermarket. Despite my small budget, I want - like most mums - to give my family proper homecooked food. However, I often struggle with thinking of different things to feed them. They're not *too* fussy, and Mini is getting more experimental as he gets older.
So as I was planning this weeks meals, I realised that due to a change of plan one night (we had surprise fish and chips at the seaside) I had a packet of flour tortillas left in the cupboard. I know I could have frozen them, and often do, but Mini has just declared these tortillas to be the best things ever after Chicken and Coleslaw Wraps last week, so I thought I'd use them.
Wraps - yep but had those last week, Mexican Lasagna (the original intention, using chilli for the filling and the tortillas in place of pasta sheets) - but didn't fancy that, so thought I'd offer Quesadillas, with salad on the side. They went down really well, and both children have asked for them again another time.

So you need:
Flour tortillas - you need 2 for each Quesadilla. (1 Quesadilla per adult was enough, and half of a Quesadilla each for my two was just right).
A mozzarella ball, ripped into small pieces. (1 ball does about 4 Quesadillas)
Cheddar cheese - grated, a small handful per Quesadilla.
Salad of your choice.

Preheat a couple of frying pans - they must be large enough to lay a whole tortilla in flat. Brush each pan with a little sunflower or olive oil.
When the pans are hot, lay one tortilla in each, then dot the Mozzarella around the tortilla, sprinkle over the cheese (but not too close to the edges) and then finally lay another tortilla on top.
Give it a minute or two to cook - you want the bottom tortilla to be crisping on the outside, so carefully use a spatula to lift it and have a check. When it's crispy enough it should be easy to flip, so you can then crisp the other side. The cheese should be all oozy and melted inside.

When crisped on both sides, remove from the pan and cut into 6 or 8 wedges and serve with salad of your choice.

Including preparation and cooking these were ready in about 10 minutes, so quick for a warm meal.

In the past the NC and I have had these with Tomato Soup that's been perked up with a sprinkle of chilli powder...very yum, and in the winter I might do this for the children (without the chilli powder!). I didn't think I would feel full up after eating one of these, but I really did, and so did the NC.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Really easy cream slices

Recently we held a surprise anniversary party for my in-laws upcoming Ruby Wedding anniversary. As it was an afternoon tea party, cakes featured heavily! But I didn't want to just make cakes, so my sister in law made a load of gorgeous little sandwiches, and I made these incredibly easy cream slices too. They went down a treat, in fact the raspberry cream slices all disappeared, and there were just a few blueberry slices left.

You will need:
Puff pastry (shop bought or homemade), just a standard block
1 egg, beaten
A little caster sugar
A little flour for rolling

For the filling:
A large carton of double or whipping cream
Fresh fruit of your choice

Preheat your oven to 180C.
Sprinkle flour on your rolling surface.
Roll out the puff pastry to around half a centimetre thick. Then simply cut into 5cm squares. You can re-roll the trimmings once or twice, but after that the pastry will not puff as well and will become tough.
Place on a baking sheet and brush each square with a little beaten egg, then sprinkle a small pinch of sugar over the top.
Bake for around 10 minutes or until puffed up and golden brown. When done, immediately remove to a cooling rack.

Whilst the puffs are cooling, whisk the cream to stiff peaks and pop it into a piping bag with a large nozzle. (If you don't have a piping bag, you can use a knife or pallette knife to spread it instead).

When the puffs are cooled, gently ease the tops off each one. They should be easy to split open like this.
Then pipe or spread the cream inside, top with the fruit of your choice, and place the lids back on.

See, how easy is that?? The hardest bit is splitting the puffs open, and that's really easy! You can even make the puffs (but don't fill them) the night before, just make sure you put them in a tin (not plastic tub) which will help keep the pastry fairly crisp. And feel free to experiment - flavour your cream with vanilla or rose essence, use sliced peaches instead of berries, mix chocolate ganache with the cream, drizzle the tops with runny icing, dust with icing sugar or edible glitter...go mad.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Grape Caterpillars

Such a great little make. I put these together quickly for my children, but I'm sure they would have enjoyed 20minutes or so putting them together themselves!

In the holidays, Monday afternoon is always 'Movie Afternoon'. I do a 'Now Showing' poster with a picture of the film and details of the snacks that will be served, and I try to link (loosely) those snacks with the film. So for The Jungle Book, there was popcorn with surprise jelly animals at the bottom. For Toy Story we have cartons of juice with Woody and Buzz on, and cookies to go with. These Grape Caterpillars accompanied A Bug's Life!

What you need:
Chocolate drops
A little melted chocolate or icing
Wooden skewers

Simply thread 8 or so grapes onto a wooden skewer. Using the icing or melted chocolate as 'glue' stick the chocolate drops onto the end grape as eyes - da da!

Obviously be careful using the wooden skewers do not stab yourself when assembling, and closely supervise the children eating them too.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Lego jelly

Hmm.... well I think I said I might be brave enough to post some of our 'failures' too. Here's the first one...

This sounded simples. Get mega blocks (large duplo), clean, fill with jelly and set. Hey presto - lego style jelly.

In reality, it didn't quite work. Mega blocks are actually divided inside, so even the largest pieces only created 1 small piece of jelly. And they weren't the easiest 'moulds' to release the jelly from, so despite dunking briefly in warm water, they took a while to make that lovely slurpy sound and slip out, and by the time they did, the tops of them had melted somewhat and that distinctive lego shape had disappeared and turned into a more rocket shaped lump.

We managed one or two pieces that looked as they should have, but we had to explain to Mini what they were supposed to be, as it clearly wasn't obvious!

In case you want to give it a go - just make up jelly as per the packet instructions and fill your moulds as you usually would. Perhaps a light oiling might help?

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Nature Paper

Another crafty make this time- Nature Paper, but we managed to combine this one with another of our summer holiday activities -  a Scavenger Hunt.
I've made up a number of bingo style cards with 9 different images of things Mini is likely to find whilst we're out walking - ants, cars, postboxes, double yellow lines, trees, birds etc etc, and sometimes when we go out he takes a card and a pencil and gets a little treat (usually a small pack of Haribo or something similar) when he gets all 9.

Last week, the activity was to complete the scavenger hunt on the way to the shop, and on the way back we had to collect a variety of natural objects - leaves, large and small; petals; flowers; seed heads; feathers; grasses etc with which to make nature paper. At the time though Mini just knew that we needed lots of different bits for a project. The anticipation of what it could be, was enough to keep his interest on a 20minute walk. And I was able to do 'the talk' about picking/not picking, dangerous/safe and not eating berries when you don't know what they are!

What you need:

Natural objects, as mentioned above. Enough to fill a small cereal bowl should be enough.
Sticky backed plastic (also known as contact paper)

This is definitely a craft to do with your children - they will get in a pickle without your help.

Lay out all your nature finds so you can quickly see what you have.

Cut two squares of sticky backed plastic, roughly the same size - about 30cm square(ish).

Unpeel the backing off one piece of plastic and carefully distribute your finds all over the sticky side, leaving some space in between (you'll see why shortly). Make sure they are pressed down firmly.

When happy with your design/pattern, carefully unpeel the backing on the other piece of plastic and lay the sticky sides together, pressing it firmly down, especially in the gaps between the items. This will ensure the plastic stays stuck together. Trim off any excess sticky backed plastic.

Now you have nature paper - you can use it to decorate cards, or as we did - make suncatchers. Experiment with fresh/dried leaves, or fresh/pressed flowers and see what works best and looks nicest.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Play dough

Lots of foody posts so far - here's my first crafty one. Again, this was from an activity pack that I did with the children.

A good old favourite, who doesn't like play dough? Over the last few years I've tried several recipes for homemade play dough but this one is by far the nicest. It's quick & easy and the final result is smooth, soft and squishy.

You will need:
1 cup of flour
1 cup of warm water
2tsp of cream of tartar
1tsp oil
1/4 cup of table salt

 Put all the ingredients in a saucepan and heat over a low-medium heat. Mix with a wooden spoon until it all comes together, forming a ball.

Knead until smooth, then play.

This lasts for ages too. Just keep it in a sealed bag.

For an extra dimension you could add some food colouring, or drops of scented oil. You could even try glitter!
Practising roses!

Note: Of course, using the saucepan is a hot job and that part is not recommended for children. But Mini liked scooping the ingredients and giving it a good mix together.
He also enjoyed playing with the dough whilst it was still warm, and kept giving Dollop status updates about how quickly it was cooling down.
This was Dollop's first time with play dough and she thoroughly enjoyed it, she didn't even try to eat it until Mini suggested it to her. However, one lick was enough to stop them both 'testing' it even more!

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Chocolate sweetie slabs

I'm aware that quite a few of my posts include chocolate and marshmallows. There is a good reason for that - they are quite frankly delicious. But the real reason is because I'm adding quite a lot of posts in a short space of time it looks like I make lots of things with chocolate and marshmallows in. Actually these makes have not been everyday, and are consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet.

All that said, this particular post is all about the chocolate! You know those lovely looking mini (and giant) slabs of adorned chocolate you can buy at posh chocolatiers? Well, you can make them yourself! And what's more, the kids can help!

What you need:

200g bars of dark/milk chocolate
100g white chocolate
Mini marshmallows/jelly tots/dolly mixtures/jelly beans/chocolate buttons/toffee covered popcorn/smarties - basically any sweets that take your fancy!

Plastic lids such as margarine tub lids - this quantity of chocolate will fill 3 medium sized margarine lids.

Start by lining the inside of your lids with a layer of foil. This will make the chocolate slab easier to remove. Your slab will be the same size and shape as your lid, so you could play around with other shapes and containers if you want...just make sure they're about 1cm high, and lined well.

Break up the chocolate and melt separately in short bursts in your microwave.

Now divide the chocolate evenly between the lined lids, swirling it together if you so desire.

Whilst the chocolate is still wet and melted - adorn it! Pop the sweeties onto the chocolate, slightly pressing down as you go. Pop in the fridge or a cool place to set. Then break or cut and eat! (Or bag up for homemade gifts).

Above is Mini's attempt. At 5, he was just interested in putting as much as possible on!
Below is Dollop's attempt after the foil had been removed. Even at just 2, she is clearly artistic and creative (!), and has managed to make a skull shape on hers...

This much plainer version is that of my hubby - the NC, who was more careful with his sweetie placement and included some artistic swirls using a cocktail stick!

NOTE - we used 3 of these medium sized lids. The slabs turned out just fine, but the chocolate was a little thin on two of them. Perhaps an extra 100g of chocolate would do better.

Hot chocolate spoons

I know, I know...not really the time of year for hot chocolate is it? But, my kids really enjoy a hot chocolate as a treat, and I'm quite partial to a cuppa of the yumtious (and yes, that is a word!) stuff myself, especially with a few marshmallows floating on top!

So, for another of our activity packs I decided to make 'Hot Chocolate Spoons'. My local supermarket is selling something similar for about £1 each, but thrifty me decided they could be done much cheaper, and we could even gift them later in the year.

You will need:

Plastic spoons (we used the cheapest ones I could find in Tesco)
100g Dark chocolate
Small bag of Mini Marshmallows

Break up the chocolate and place in a microwaveable bowl. Microwave in short bursts to melt the chocolate. 
Whilst the chocolate is melting, lay out the plastic spoons on a plate or tray. 
Once melted and smooth, dollop the chocolate onto the spoons making sure you put on as much as possible. Decorate with about 3 marshmallows and a few sprinkles - really easy for the kids to do! Then leave in the fridge to set. 

To use, heat some milk in the microwave and pop a Hot Chocolate Spoon straight in. Leave it a minute to melt and then stir a few times. Voila - a mild hot chocolate perfect for children (or for mummy!)

Monday, 30 July 2012

Marshmallow Pops

This is another 'make' from the activity packs I've made for my children this summer and one that the whole family had a lot of fun with.

I can't be specific on quantities here, it depends how piggish your family is! But this is what we used:

1 bag of pink and white marshmallows
50g white chocolate
50g dark chocolate (you could use milk if you wanted)
A variety of sprinkles/coloured sugar/coconut/dried strawberry

Tray/baking sheet
Skewers/straws or cake pop sticks

Firstly line a tray or baking sheet with foil. Make sure it's long enough to lay your wooden skewers/lollipop sticks on.

Then push the marshmallows onto the skewers or sticks. I've seen suggestions of using straws, but if you do I'd suggest cutting a small slit into each marshmallow before pushing the straw in. Then pop the marshmallows on sticks into the freezer (this will help the chocolate set faster).

Whilst the mallow pops are freezing, break the chocolate into separate bowls and melt in the microwave. Do this in short bursts to prevent overheating it. Whilst the chocolate melts, put a little of each type of sprinkle into a small container ready for dipping.

Once the sprinkles are sorted and the chocolate is melted, bring the mallow pops out of the freezer and dip each firstly into one of the chocolates, then into your desired sprinkle. Lay carefully on the foil and allow to set.

Tie together in bunches for a gift, or if you're like us, eat them up as soon as possible and feel really full and happy after :-)

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Sausage and Spaghetti Spiders

Those of you who read my other blog The Boy's Behaviour, will know that I'm attempting to make our summer holidays smoother by planning to the Nth degree. I've lovingly and carefully prepared activity packs which include everything needed for a variety of different activities. Some are ten minutes things, others are science experiments which take a number of days to finish, others are good for an hour or two. And they vary from crafts, to science things, to nature/wildlife to foodie makes.

The Sausage and Spaghetti Spiders came from an idea I saw on Pinterest. Along with providing half an hour of snapping, cutting and skewering, it also provided lunch for Mini and Dollop. So I made sure I did this activity with the children just before lunch, it meant they got to eat the results almost straight away :-)

Makes enough for 4 children:

1 tin of hotdog sausages (8 in a tin)
Dried spaghetti
Pasta sauce (we used a small portion of my versatile tomato sauce)
Cheese, grated

Put a large pan of water onto the hob and bring to boiling point. Whilst this is heating, ask the children to cut each hot dog sausage into 3 equal pieces - these will create the bodies. Make sure you supervise them when using knives.

Then have the children snap the spaghetti lengths into 3 or 4 pieces...they don't have to be equal, in fact we liked it when they weren't!

Push 4 pieces of dried spaghetti into each cut end of the sausage pieces. Push them in a little way being careful not to piece the sides of the sausage. They'll look something like this:

When each sausage has had all it's legs poked in, carefully place them into the boiling water. Cook until the spaghetti is soft and the sausages hot through. Remove each 'spider' using a slotted spoon.

Whilst the 'spiders' are cooking, heat up your pasta sauce. Then place a pool of it in the bottom of each child's plate/bowl. Serve 6 spiders per person, with an extra blob of sauce on top if required, and a sprinkling of grated cheese.

Here's a picture before we added more sauce and cheese...

Mini is something of a sausage connoisseur and wasn't particularly taken by the hot dogs, although he did eat it all up. Dollop on the other hand isn't at all fussy and wolfed the whole lot down! Hubby is also looking forward to 'testing' them with the remainder of the hot dogs!

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Chocolate fudge

Mini came home from school yesterday asking if he could make cards and a present for his teacher and classroom assistants as it is the end of term tomorrow.
I'd half had it in mind that I'd make fudge, and had all the ingredients in already, so I thought it would be perfect for Mini (5) to have a go at making. And presented in pretty cellophane bags with pink ribbons made a lovely pressie.

The recipe I used is based on the one printed on the side of the condensed milk tin, but having made it before, I decided to tweak it a little bit.

Makes around 64 pieces:

397g tin of condensed milk (apparently this doesn't work with the light version, so get the full on one!)
400g dark chocolate (I use the 'value' version which is not only cheap, but not quite as rich as branded ones)
30g margarine
125g icing sugar (sifted)

Break the chocolate into pieces. Then add it to a large pan along with the condensed milk and margarine. Stir occasionally til smooth and glossy.

Whilst the chocolate melts, line a 20cm x 20cm tin with cling film.

Once melted, add the icing sugar and beat until thick, firm and all icing sugar traces have disappeared. (I did this in my kenwood mixer with the k-beater for ease.

Press into the prepared tin and pop in the fridge until set. Score and cut, then enjoy!

For some variation, you can dust in icing sugar or cocoa before serving.
Or try pressing some chopped nuts/sugar sprinkles/coloured sugar into the surface of the fudge before chilling.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

My versatile tomato sauce

This is one of my favourite makes. My kids love pasta, and usually ask for it with this basic tomato sauce, which I make myself. It's a great sauce and is really versatile...I've used it as a base to mix with mince for bolognaise and lasagna; as a base for soup; served cold as a dip; on homemade pizza; as a layer in a spinach and ricotta quiche; and I also vary it by adding different herbs and sometimes vegetables that are a bit past their best to make a hidden vegetable sauce too.

No pics I'm afraid because it got wolfed down so quickly I didn't get a chance to get the camera out!

This recipe makes a really large batch, so I freeze half for another day:

2 tins of tomatoes (chopped or plum)
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 clove of garlic (or 1 cube if using frozen)
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp dried oregano
A pinch of sugar
A little olive oil

In a saucepan, fry the onion in oil until just softening, then add the garlic. Fry for another minute or so, then add the tinned tomatoes.
I then half fill each can with water and add this to the saucepan. (This helps thin the sauce, but also rinses the tins for recycling too).
Let this come up to simmering point and then add the vinegar, sugar, oregano and puree, stir and continue to simmer for around 15-20minutes.
I use a stick blender to blend until smooth as neither I or the kids like lumpy tomatoes, but you could leave it with some texture if you prefer.

The longer you can simmer the sauce the richer it will be, but I'd suggest 15minutes is the quickest you'd want to do it.
If using other vegetables too, add them with the tomatoes - fresh tomatoes, peppers, and mushrooms all work really well, but I've also used carrots and aubergines.You could also add fresh basil right at the end.
Wait until completely cold if freezing, and always let thaw before reheating thoroughly - you'll find it might split a bit when freezing, but it comes back together when reheated.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

First bake - malted chocolate and vanilla cupcakes

Hi and welcome to my new blog - Cakes, Bakes and Makes.

Here I aim to share some of the things that I make - some regularly, some not so regularly, and if I'm brave enough, I might even share some of the disasters too! I love baking, and love eating the results, and with a hungry husband and 2 young children, I always have willing testers too.

But I don't just make cakes; I like baking savoury things and I like to cook generally. And, I like doing craft activities too - often with the children. So hope to feature all these on the blog at some point soon.

So for my first bake, I want to share my malted chocolate and vanilla cupcakes with you, this recipe makes 12:

For the vanilla cupcakes:
3 eggs
175g margarine
175g sugar(granulated works fine, or caster)
175g self raising flour
vanilla extract (never flavouring)

For the malted chocolate icing and decoration:
2tbs malt extract
9ozmargarine, softened
18oz icing sugar
2oz cocoa
1 bag of maltesers, keep 12 for the tops, but crush the remainder of the packet into sprinkles.

Preheat your oven to around 180° C. 
Line a 12 hole muffin tin with either cupcake or muffin cases.

In a mixer, by hand or with an electric handwhisk, cream together the margarine and sugar until light and fluffy. Then add one egg, swiftly followed by a dessert spoonful of the flour, beat for a moment. Then repeat the process for the remaining eggs. Add the vanilla and finally beat in the remaining flour.
Divide this mixture evenly between the cases and cook for around 12-15minutes until the sponges are lightly browned and spring back when pressed lightly. Remove from the tin and allow to cool on a rack until completely cold.

To make the icing, first beat together the malt extract and margarine. Then add the icing sugar and cocoa. You and your kitchen will get covered in a cloud of icing sugar if you're not careful - my mixer comes with a guard which helps contain the mix within, but you could also use a dampened tea-towel over the bowl to help lessen the white dusting! If the icing looks to soft to pipe or looks like it might not hold a piped swirl, then add more icing sugar a little at a time. If it looks too stiff, then you could add a dribble of milk until it's the desired consistency.

Now the choice is yours - either fill a piping bag and pipe the icing onto your cupcakes, or spread it on with a spoon or palette knife. Immediately sprinkle over some of the crushed maltesers and top with a whole one. 

There you go, my first bake for you. I'll add that this is my basic cupcake recipe and I tweak it with flavours and textures, but I almost always start with this as a base.
Maltesers as a sprinkle to tend to go a little sticky and lose their crunch within a day or so, so don't make these too far in advance.

The malt icing is quite strong so you can adjust to taste, or you might like to try a stout flavour cupcake with this icing - it can take a lot of flavour underneath.

Enjoy x