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Thursday, 22 September 2016

Ultimate Chocolate Drip / Freakcake Birthday Cake

When it's the birthday of one of my children, I usually make their birthday cake. I may have bought the odd caterpillar cake in the past, because, let's face it, the thought of a slice of a £5 caterpillar cake drying up in the bottom of a party bag is better than a slice of that cake you spent the hottest September day on record sweating over, rotting away in there. The cakes have not always gone to plan, and some have been bloody hard work - there was the time that I sieved fondant icing to make fluff for Boobah. If you don't know who or what Boobah is, Google it, your mind will be blown. Think Teletubbies on Ecstasy.

Cakes over the years have definitely become easier to make. It's more about what their favourite chocolate is rather than their favourite tv character. The kids can also be swayed by chocolate. Jack:"mum I think I'll have a football cake again this year'. Mum:"wouldn't you prefer to have a big chocolate cake with loads of yummy chocolate on".Jack:"yeah, yeah. Chocolate". Easy.

I'm no fan of fondant icing so a cake that benefits from buttercream or ganache is good for me. I'm not particularly neat when it comes to baking cakes either, so haphazard-less-is-most-definitely-not-more cakes are also good for me.

The basis for this year's cake came from a pot of Pinteresty looking polka dot sprinkles that I came across in a supermarket in Ireland in the summer, and I was desperate to use them. Aside from the sprinkles there was no great plan. As long as there were mint Aero Bubbles this teen girl was going to be happy. We'll ignore the fact that mint Aero Bubbles are half green and definitely didn't go with my beautifully colour co-ordinated cake!

A 5 layer ombre sponge cake was made (same recipe as this pink ombre sprinkle cake), and covered in buttercream, before refrigerating.

Ultimate Chocolate Drip / Freakcake Birthday Cake

I then made a ganache by weighing out equal parts double cream and milk chocolate. The cream was heated and the chocolate was stirred in until the ganache was smooth and silky. Next time I'll leave the ganache to cool for a little while as it was a lot drippier than planned, and some of the toppings slid a little - the photo lower down of the back shows how the drips should look!

Sweets, donuts, biscuits and chocolates were added to the cake in a random fashion, with lollies and other tall items at the back to give the cake more height, and then I threw some of the sprinkles at the cake - yep, there was no delicate sprinkling involved.

Ultimate Chocolate Drip / Freakcake Birthday Cake Ultimate Chocolate Drip / Freakcake Birthday Cake

Ultimate Chocolate Drip / Freakcake Birthday Cake

 photo freakcake back_zpsoqmolh0s.jpg

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Cheesy Chicken & Sweetcorn Slices

It's pastry week on The Great British Bake Off this week so I thought I would share these easy to make Cheesy Chicken & Sweetcorn Slices. I cheated a little here as I didn't make my own puff pastry, but store bought puff pastry is so convenient, and considering that home made puff pastry can take a whole day to make, it's definitely £1 well spent.

Cheesy Chicken & Sweetcorn Slices

I served these up with some Actifry chips, which made a very fulfilling meal for the family. The recipe makes 4 good sized slices, but can easily be doubled up to make a few for now and a few for another day.

Cheesy Chicken & Sweetcorn Slices

Cheesy Chicken & Sweetcorn Slices - makes 4

1 large skinless chicken breast, cooked
80g cooked & cooled potatoes
75g frozen sweetcorn, thawed
75g mature cheddar cheese, grated
pinch of dried herbs
twist of black pepper
500g puff pastry block
1 egg
  • slice the chicken breast and potatoes into small pieces
  • add to a bowl with the sweetcorn, cheese, herbs and pepper
  • mix to combine all the ingredients
  • roll the puff pastry block out into a rectangle until it measures approx 35cm x 30cm
  • straighten up the sides of the pastry by cutting off any uneven edges
  • cut into 4 equal pieces
  • brush beaten egg around the edges of each sheet of pastry
  • spoon some of the filling onto one side of each pastry sheet, leaving a gap around the edge
  • fold the other side of the pastry over and press down on the edges to seal 
  • using a fork, press gently around the sealed edges
  • brush with beaten egg
  • bake in a preheated 200C oven for approx 25-30 minutes, until puffed up & golden brown

Cheesy Chicken & Sweetcorn Slices Cheesy Chicken & Sweetcorn Slices

Monday, 19 September 2016

Maple & Cajun Spiced Chicken Filled Yorkshire Puddings

Another week of Great British Bake Off has gone by and this week was batter week; a new challenge for the bakers. I can understand some of the failures of bread week, as 2.5 hours is not long to make a decent loaf of bread, but I really don't think there was any excuse for some of the seriously bad Yorkshire Puddings this week. If there's one thing we've learnt from batter week it's 'don't mess with the flour', after Tom used chickpea flour in his recipe, and they turned out more like a dense blini than a puffed up, light and airy Yorkshire pudding.

I am the first to admit that Yorkshire Puddings have never been my thing, and they have always been a bit hit and miss in the past - sometimes huge, and sometimes a bit on the dense side. I put my hit and miss efforts down to not having a go-to recipe to use each time, so this week I set about researching and testing some recipes so that in the future my Yorkies will be consistent (and hopefully consistently good!)

Some recipes have an exact weight of flour and a certain number of eggs, but they don't always say whether the eggs are medium or large, so surely that has to interfere with the batter consistency? As my memory is often poor when it comes to remembering exact quantities I would also need to make sure that I have this recipe written down somewhere safe (and then remember where that safe place was) if I was to use this method. Then there is the method where you weigh the eggs in a bowl (out of the shell) and then use this weight to base the quantity of the other ingredients on. This is the method I use for baking sponge cakes (weighing the eggs in their shell for cakes) as it then doesn't matter what size your eggs are, and it's easy to increase your quantity of batter based on the number of eggs you want to use (or have).

Maple & Cajun Spiced Chicken Filled Yorkshire Puddings

One important point that I've discovered works best, is to have the batter at room temperature before you use it, so once you've made it you should leave it to rest for a couple of hours at room temperature.

Another important point to bear in mind is the cooking temperature. It's really important to have your oven temperature high and make sure the oil in your pan is, quite literally, smoking hot. The best way that I've found to do this is to pop the muffin pan into the oven as you turn it on to the highest temperature that your oven will go to, and then once the oven has reached that temperature (when the indicator light goes off) the oil will be hot enough to add your batter, at which point I turn the oven down to a more reasonable 200-210C.

The final very important point to remember,  is to be patient. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR until the cooking time has passed - which for my puddings was 20-25 minutes. If you open the door any sooner they could flop.

Everyone has their own preference for the fat they use to cook the puddings, whether it's sunflower oil, lard or beef dripping, but I personally prefer to use Trex, a solid vegetable fat, which I also use for roast potatoes.

Now that I've mastered the pud I think we'll be eating a lot more of them around here, and not just with a roast dinner. I've made filled Yorkshire puddings before, and we now always have them on Christmas Eve, but they're also lovely as a dessert, or even for breakfast with a spoonful of Nutella or drizzle of maple syrup!

I decided that my Yorkshire puddings for Great Bloggers Bake Off would be filled with chicken, which had been roasted in cajun spices and drizzled with maple syrup, and was inspired by my trip to London last weekend where myself and my teen daughter enjoyed a southern style afternoon tea at Ma Pluckers.

Maple & Cajun Spiced Chicken Filled Yorkshire Puddings

The roast chicken was stripped from the bone and basted in cooking juices and a drizzle of Maple syrup along with an extra sprinkling of cajun spices, before being loaded into the Yorkshire puddings. A couple of these served with some home made coleslaw and a corn on the cob makes a delicious meal which can be thrown together in minutes, if you've prepared the chicken and puddings in advance.

Maple & Cajun Spiced Chicken Filled Yorkshire Puddings

Yorkshire Puddings - makes 15-18

206g plain flour
pinch of salt
4 medium eggs (weighing 206g in their shells)
206g skimmed milk
206g water
vegetable fat or oil 
  • add the flour and salt to a large bowl
  • whisk in the eggs, milk and water until smooth
  • set aside for a couple of hours at room temperature before using
  • add half a tsp of fat to each cell of your muffin pans and place the pans into the oven
  • turn the oven temperature to maximum and leave until the oven reaches temperature
  • remove the pan from the oven and quickly half fill each cell with batter (pouring the batter from a jug helps)
  • return the tin to the oven and turn the temperature down to approx 210C
  • cook for 20-25 minutes without opening the oven door

Maple & Cajun Spiced Chicken (for the filling)

roast chicken, shredded off the bone
cooking juices from the chicken (fat drained)
maple syrup
cajun seasoning 
  • drizzle the shredded chicken with some of the cooking juices and a drizzle of maple syrup, so the chicken is moist, but not wet
  • sprinkle on some of the cajun seasoning, to taste
  • set aside until you're ready to fill your yorkshire puddings - the chicken can be served cold or warmed up before piling into the puddings

These were absolutely delicious, and I'll definitely be making them again - maybe even on Christmas Eve!

Maple & Cajun Spiced Chicken Filled Yorkshire Puddings

 photo yorkshire puddings_zpsj6dh9mlx.jpg


I am joining in with the Mummy Mishaps Great Bloggers Bake Off

Mummy Mishaps

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Keeping kids hydrated, and tips to get them to drink more water

Keeping kids hydrated, and tips to get them to drink more water
Keeping ourselves hydrated is important to keep our body functioning at its best. By the time we feel thirsty we may already be on our way to being dehydrated, so it's important to get into the habit of drinking plenty of water before this happens, especially in hot weather, when we could become dehydrated a lot more quickly.

For children it's important to stay hydrated at school, as being dehydrated can affect their performance and concentration. If they're running around a lot or playing sports it's important that they know they need to drink lots of water in between. My eldest child never used to drink enough water throughout the school day so I would send him in with three small bottles of water, and his challenge would be to drink one bottle at each break time and another at lunchtime. These habits have stayed with him and he's now almost 16 and always has a bottle of water in his hand. My teen girl, on the other hand, has never been much of a water drinker until recently. Our persistence has now paid off and she always takes a bottle of water to school (plus any extras that I may sneak into her bag!)

Keeping kids hydrated, and tips to get them to drink more water

As a family we try and drink lots of water, and the husband swears that it was water that helped him lose weight a couple of years ago. When we go out we always make sure we've got plenty of bottles of water in the car, and it's become part of our routine now. With all the activities Jack's taking part in this term I need to make sure he's drinking plenty too, and have started popping a bottle of Highland Spring in with his sports kit, to remind him that he needs to drink whilst keeping active. These moments, when they come out of school with grazed knees, shoelaces untied, and no football socks on 'because my feet were too sweaty', are the moments to be captured and treasured.

Keeping kids hydrated, and tips to get them to drink more water

Some things you may not know 
  • Kids should drink more water in relation to their body size than bigger people
  • It’s recommended that children drink approximately 6-8 glasses per day
  • Water is the best way to hydrate as it’s free of sugar, sweeteners, colourings and calories
  • Kids don’t always recognize when they’re thirsty, so it’s best to encourage good drinking habits early
  • Sipping throughout the day is the best way to encourage hydration
  • Popping a bottle of Highland Spring into their lunchbox helps them to remember to sip at school
  • It’s harder for kids to concentrate when they’re dehydrated
  • Studies have shown that kids who drink a litre of water over the course of a school day have better short-term memory and generally perform better than those who don’t
  • Water at mealtimes can help children tolerate vegetables
  • Sometimes if kids don’t drink enough during the day, they get thirsty and drink before bed. This can increase the risk of little accidents during the night

encouraging children to drink more water
It may not always be easy to get your kids to drink water, but hopefully some of these tips will help if you're finding it a bit of a struggle.
  • Talk to kids about the benefits of drinking water, and the negative impact that having too much sugar in their diet can have, and encourage them to switch sugary drinks for water. It's still ok to have the occasional fizzy drink but water is best for every day. They should start to feel the benefits within just a couple of days.
  • Make it fun by encouraging kids to decorate their water bottles with coloured pens and stickers, and of course, adding their own name.
  • Encourage children to take their decorated water bottles to school, and whenever they go out to play with their friends.
  • Make water easily accessible by filling up the fridge with bottles that are ready to go. The 330ml Highland Spring bottles with sports cap are perfect to grab and pop into a lunch box, school bag or sports bag, and are on offer at £2.00 for 12 bottles at the moment in Tesco.
  • If your kids aren't keen on plain water then they may need a little coaxing. You can flavour their water naturally by adding a slice of lemon, berries or even some mint leaves.
  • Challenge them to a game - fill glasses with water and pop a couple of frozen raspberries in each. Give each child a straw and race them to see who can suck the raspberries up through the straw the fastest - they will be so busy concentrating on the raspberries that they won't even notice drinking the water. (I discovered this game one evening with friends, however it was Prosecco we were drinking instead of water, and I would highly discourage that!)
  • Reward charts may help encourage younger children, and stickers can be given for each glass they drink throughout the day - charts can be customised and downloaded for free from Kiddycharts.

Do you have any tips for getting children to drink more water?

I’m working with Highland Spring and BritMums in a paid relationship promoting the #TermTimeEssentials campaign about the importance of hydration to kids. Visit for more advice and tips.


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