Friday, 7 November 2014

Orange cake

  Mister Chief is four now.  Far too grown up for my liking.  We had a conversation the other day about growing up.  He informed me that he was going to grow bigger and.

  That's how he said it, 

  "I'm going to grow bigger and".

  "And?" I said.  I expected him to say taller, or stronger, or something.

  "And bigger"  said he.

  "And?" I said.

  "And bigger"  said he.

  "And?" I said.

  "And bigger"  said he.

  "And?" I said.

  "And POP!!" he said happily.

  Still small and gorgeous then.  :-)

  A birthday party necessitates an extra special cake - but one that is pretty foolproof.  I made this cake for the first time and it worked out brilliantly.

1 thin-skinned orange (except I didn't have any oranges so I used three small "easy-peelers" instead, not sure if they were satsumas or clementines but they didn't have any pips)
275g self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
275g caster sugar (except I used normal granulated sugar 'cos that's what I've got)
275g butter/marge
4 eggs (I used 5 because three of them were small, one of our chickens has only just started laying)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground mixed spice (or nutmeg or something you like if you don't have mixed spice)

What to do

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4 (fan 160C).
Grease and line an 8in sandwich tin (or whatever cake tin you want to use) with non-stick baking paper. 

Place the whole orange (or satsumas) in a small saucepan, cover with boiling water and boil for 30 minutes, or until soft. Leave to cool. When the orange is cold, cut in half and remove any pips.  I actually didn't leave them to cool but held them carefully and cut them as quickly as possible to try not to burn my fingers.
Roughly chop the orange and blend, including the skin, in a food processor.
Cream together the sugar and butter, then add the eggs and mix well.  Add the blended orange.
Sieve in the flour, spices and baking powder and stir until it's all really well mixed and looks smooth.  Pour the cake mix into the prepared tin and bake in the pre-heated oven for about 30-40 minutes. 
Leave to cool for a couple of minutes and then transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool down properly, peel off the baking paper when it's cool enough to handle.

Then, when it's cooled, it's time to decorate!  I let Mister Chief go crazy with some pre-shaped icing decorations in the shape of vehicles.  I was probably fooling myself to think that there would be any left - of course he used both packets.  Why wouldn't he?  I also melted some chocolate and poured it into little heart moulds, so the cake was well and truly decorated!

I forgot to get a picture of the finished cake before it was cut, but managed to snap this pic before it was all scoffed.

  And it was really yummy!  I'm planning to make another cake like this for Christmas except maybe using more spices.  I'm not going to use raisins, currents or sultanas though - they are evil ex-fruit.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Cauliflower cheese

It's half term soon and I'm making plans for keeping everyone sane.  The usual venues tend to be ridiculously crowded (which, quite personally, is filling me with dread for next year when Master Chief will be at school and the only time we can go to Sealife, soft play, etc will be the busy times) and also we're pretty skint.  It's the end of October so trips to the park are possible but not for as long as in the summer.  Wet woods walks are always a winner, followed by a bath and hot chocolate.  Mmmm.  Lovely idea.  The reality is sharing a bath with two wriggly splashing toddlers and either necking the hot chocolate so quickly it burns my mouth or finding it cold an hour later!

The colder, darker days are also luring me to comfort food.  So I remembered an old family favourite that I haven't made for months.  Cauliflower cheese, easy to make, a hit with the kids, hurrah for that then.

1 large cauliflower
500ml milk
4 tbsp flour
50g butter
100g cheddar, grated

What to do
Heat the oven to 220C / Gas Mark 7.
Take the cauliflower leaves off and break the white bits into pieces.
Get a large saucepan, half fill it with water and heat it on the hob until it's boiling.  Put the cauliflower in and boil it for about 5 minutes.  Drain the cauliflower and then put it in a large ovenproof dish or tray.
Put the milk, flour and butter in the empty saucepan and whisk while heating until it's really well mixed and is bubbling nicely.  Turn of the heat and stir in most of the cheese (leave a small handful for sprinkling over the top).
Pour the cheese sauce over the cauliflower and scatter a bit of cheese on top.

Then stick the dish in the oven for about 20 minutes.  When it looks done take it out and sprinkle the rest of the cheese over the top, it'll melt on and give a really cheesy smell and taste.

Eat.  I'd recommend waiting until it cools a bit but I often burn my mouth because I don't wait so who am I to preach?  You'd think I'd learn.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Really easy bolognese

So, I used to write about stuff here, in this blog.  Then, the summer holidays hit us and I found I was overtaken in a world of holiday activities, trying to keep sane, soothing a teething toddler (those ghastly molars!) and dealing with loads of other stuff.  We lost a family friend, she was taken from us by cancer.  It hit us hard.  Maybe I'll write about that some other time.
I have also been involved a lot in a local funding bid to bring a lot of money into the area for pregnancy and the early years, really exciting stuff, so that's involved time and effort.
Excuses, excuses.  I'm back now and hoping to get going again.
So, teething.  How unfair is teething?  Lots of pain, lots of tears and sleepless nights.  I'm still breastfeeding and that seems to be the only thing that comforts Miss Chief.  I am trying to eat healthy and lose some weight but I need to focus more on cooking and not just groaning "Let's get a takeaway" as we sink into the couch after the ninth trip upstairs.
I've been using the slow cooker a lot more, both Master and Miss Chief seem to accept these meals as edible.  I don't like mince but I've been making some meals for the rest of the family and they are going down well.  Here's a  very simple bolognese recipe that can be made quite quickly and was yummed up.  This would feed four adults or make a lot of portions for small people. 

The pirate plate is optional.  This is Mr Chief's portion because he's trying to stay off carbs but I made pasta to go with it as well.

Mince, any type (I used a 500g pack minced beef but turkey or lamb will do just as well)
Peppers, chopped (I used a yellow pepper because that's what I had in the fridge)
Onions, chopped (I used 2 red onions)
Mushrooms, chopped (I used 3 large ones)
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
Mixed herbs

What to do
Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan.  Bung in the mince and stir it round, breaking it up, until it's all browned, then add the peppers, onions and mushrooms.  Stir round for a bit until they seem a bit softer and then pour in the tomatoes.  Stir until everything is really well mixed and then sprinkle on some mixed herbs and stir them in.
That's it really.  Just leave it bubbling gently away for a while, stirring it occasionally .  A while can be ten minutes while you make tomorrow's lunches or half an hour/an hour while you persuade the children that sleep really IS an option.  As long as it's on a low, gentle heat then it should be fine.
Alternatively, you can fry up the mince and veggies and then chuck them in the slow cooker with the tomatoes and herbs and leave it to do it's stuff.
Cook some pasta and then serve it all up with an enormous glass of wine.  Or water, whatever's your poison.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014


Day one of the holidays (well, nearly, they've got a nursery party tomorrow so it's my last day at work until September) and we made cakes and fudge!
Mr Chief decided a few days ago to buy some scones, some strawberry jam and some clotted cream.  There's been clotted cream sitting in my fridge for a couple of days (all the scones have been scoffed) so I thought it shouldn't go to waste.  Clotted cream fudge - yes please!

275g  sugar (I used normal granualted because that's what I've got, the recipe said to use unrefined blah blah blah)
100g golden syrup (this I always have, don't you just love that it's still in a funky tin like our Grandmother's used to use?  The squeezy stuff just isn't the same)
227g clotted cream
½ tsp vanilla essence

What to do
Get a square tin (or one of those microwave meals plastic tubs, which is what I used) and grease it then line it with greaseproof paper.
Bung all the ingredients into a  saucepan and heat gently, stirring until it's all blended. Bring it to the boil, cover the pan and boil it for about 3 minutes. Uncover it and continue to boil for a while ( the recipe said to boil it until the temperature reaches 116 °C / 240 °F - I did it for around 5 minutes - about the length of time it took to get both kids a drink and supervise a toilet trip for Master Chief).
If you don't have a thermometer (and who does?) you can see if the fudge is ready by dropping a little into a cup of cold water. If it turns into a soft ball, it's ready.Remove the pan from the heat and beat the mixture until it becomes thick, this could take up to 10 minutes. Pour into the prepared tin/tub and leave for 30 minutes. Mark into squares with a knife and leave until set. I always do this too soon and the knife drags though the not-yet-set fudge, try and wait until it's cool and it'll cut a lot neater!
Cut it into the pieces that you marked and store in an airtight container.

I would have put a picture here - but it's all been eaten!  I'm going to make some more though, so I'll update when I can get in quick enough to snap a picture.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Sharing party

Sometimes when you just can't think of anything to cook, or it's too hot to eat a"proper" tea or your brain has been turned into a small heap of mush because you've been at home with the kids all day and you know the beebies timetable like your own name - so just occasionally then ;-) - I do a sharing party for the kids.  Master Chief loves it, Miss Chief likes it because he does.
It involves a pound shop divided plate and various bits - grapes, blueberries, satsuma, apple, mini chedders, raisins, or whatever you have really.  It's a great way to get some fruit into them as they have the choice (and usually end up eating more than they would if I just put it in front of them), in fact sometimes Master Chief wants a sharing party just for himself - kind of missing the point there but hey, it's still getting him to eat.

You can just put a little bit in and keep refilling if you want, then there's no waste.
I've got some recipes for fruit gummy sweets that you make yourself which I'm going to try at some point but in the meantime this works a treat - they're happy because they have the controlled choice that we all love and I'm happy because it's quick, easy and healthy (well, as healthy as you want to make it, I suppose you could fill up the plate with chocolate if you wanted!)
One small tip though - if you have a destructor tot like Miss Chief then DON'T let them smash the empty plate down on the table.  Bits break off.  That'll be a trip into town for me then...

Wednesday, 16 July 2014


We made pancakes!  Well, Master Chief helped me mix the batter and I did the cooking but it all counts.
We had them for breakfast and they were yummed up by the whole family.  The recipe below makes about 6 pancakes but that obviously depends how big you make them.  I doubled the amount and then we had some cold - absolutely delicious spread with butter!

50g sugar (the recipe said caster but I only had granulated)
100g flour (the recipe said you can use either plain or self-raising - I used self-raising)
1 egg
Milk - just a little bit

What to do
Sieve the flour into a bowl and add the sugar.
Add the egg and mix it all up using a whisk (or a fork if you don't have a whisk!).  It'll be a lumpy, dry, floury mixture.
Add the milk, a little bit at a time - mixing and adding, mixing and adding until it's a smooth thick batter, like cream or melted ice cream.  You shouldn't need a lot of milk, I think I used less than a teacupful.
Oil or grease a frying pan, when the pan is hot pour or ladle in a bit of batter.  You can use as much or as little as you like, the pancakes can be any size but if you make them too big then it gets really difficult to turn them over.  The recipe said cook for about a minute on each side but I think this depends on your cooker.  I used a plastic ladle to ease the edges up until it was loose and then flipped it (I'm a flipper, some people just turn it with a spatula - where's the fun in that!). 
When the pancake was done I put it on a baking tray in a warm oven - this is so I could cook all the pancakes and then we could all eat them together, rather than me standing there at the stove while Mr, Master & Miss Chief devoured them!
You'll probably need to re-grease or oil the pan between pancakes.

I find that my first pancake is usually pretty crappy, either over or under done so maybe you eat that while you're cooking the rest.... chef's perks, right?

Eat with sugar & lemon, or golden syrup (we didn't have maple), or chocolate spread, or jam, or anything really.

Fairly quick and easy breakfast or dessert - don't wait for pancake day!

Friday, 11 July 2014

Eggshell art

We have chickens, did I mention that?  Lots of lovely fresh eggs, yum.  Lots of eggshells.  Not a problem for us, we seem to live in one of the few areas where the food recycling bins are emptied regularly, also there are uses for eggshells, putting them round your plants to stop the snails and slugs, using them to grow seedlings in (as you can put them straight into the ground) or - eggshell art!
I saw this on a children's television program and stored it away in the dim and distant recesses of my memory where it was only dredged out recently when Master Chief wanted to make cards.

What you'll need
Eggshells (You'll need way more eggshells than you think)
Normal food dye in whatever colours you want to use (or have)
A bowl for each colour you're using (I used china bowls, I think plastic ones would take on the colouring)
Teaspoons (I used one for each colour but you could use and wash and then use for the next colour)
PVA glue

What to do
Before you want to use the eggshells you'll have to clean them.  I rinsed them in water and then put them in a bowl of water to soak, this cleaned them and also made it easier to peel the inner lining off the shell.  You need to leave them to dry after this so do this the day before, or in the morning for use in the afternoon.
When they are dry, crush the shells using the back of the teaspoon (you want them small but not crushed into powder).  
Put the shells into the bowls and mix in the colouring.  Mix it in well, you want the eggshells to take on the colour thoroughly.
Leave the shells to dry, this shouldn't take long depending on how much dye you used (I spread the shells out on some kitchen towel to dry quicker)

The dye will seep through the kitchen towel so don't put them on anything that could stain.
When they're dry you can start making your card!
Depending on how artistic you are you might want to do this freehand or you might want to draw a design on the card to follow.
Glue the area of the card you want to put the eggshells on and then spread a thin layer of the eggshells on.  Drizzle some more glue over the top so it sticks really well.  If it doesn't look enough then put some more shells and more glue on until you're happy with it.
We did a pirate ship design as Master Chief is a pirate fan (who isn't?) and we added glitter to the blue "sea" for added effect (and because glitter is fab).

We added a little pirate that was cut out of a party cup and a little pirate flag and hey presto!  A lovely pirate card.

I was going to tidy it up a bit but Master Chief wanted it just as it was and he's the artist so we left it.  The recipient was very impressed!