Friday, 2 September 2022

Cherish Finden's Shiok - Expensive but worth it

Beautiful presentation, fantastic flavours but you will get a ‘shiok’ from the prices!

I had a £16 individual dessert in Bake Off Professionals star Cherish Finden’s new patisserie… and was it worth it? Find out what I thought of the Apple Tin below!

Cherish Finden is a celebrity chef known for her appearances as a judge on Great British Bake Off: The Professionals and as the pastry chef at London’s luxury Langham hotel. Her formidable demeanour combined with fabulous outfits and comments to the contestants that have launched countless memes have made her something of an icon, so when I read that she had opened a new patisserie just up the street from my office I decided to pay a visit.



Part of the Pan Pacific hotel but in a standalone building with its own entrance (so you don’t go into the hotel itself), Shiok! looks fairly unassuming from a distance, but as you get closer you can see rows and rows of perfectly formed sweet treats on the counter. There’s a seating area that gave off a peaceful, tranquil vibe - possibly because there was only one other couple in there on the weekday lunchtime when l visited. 

There are comfy chairs at the back and more formal hard chairs and little tables at the front, and the three staff hovering at the counter were friendly if a little intimidating - I watched one line up desserts in the display and check the distance between them with precision that the GBBO judges would have loved.




I spent some time admiring the display of treats, as much for their finesse and beauty as deciding which one I wanted to order. I have to admit having a bit of a ‘Shiok’ when I saw the price tags (this is not where the name comes from, and it apparently means ‘very tasty’, but perhaps it should be). Most of the patisserie was priced around the £15 mark and the one I chose was £16. Obviously aimed at the luxury market (I would say mainly tourists and business travellers) it is nonetheless an afternoon tea lover’s heaven. From traditional Singaporean biscuits to what looked like a chocolate tea pot, this is a feast for the eyes.



Cherish has revealed that the Apple Tin was inspired by her childhood where she would open a tin of lychees and eat them straight from the tin. Here, the tin itself is edible too- white chocolate printed with a design. Inside is caramel sponge, apple compote, apple slices and cinnamon crumble. Each mouthful was delicious, a perfect combination of flavours and textures, and at £16 it probably does scale up consistently from when you pay £50 for an afternoon tea for similar bite size patisserie (as the sandwiches and scones aren’t exactly the expensive part). Even do it was definitely a one off treat and not something I would spend that much on every week!

If you do get a chance to check out Shiok I recommend it - but don’t expect it to be cheap!

Sunday, 28 August 2022

Woodcote Green Garden Centre Dobbies - New restaurant review

Many people don’t like change, especially when it’s something they are familiar and comfortable with.

So it’s not surprising that some people were a bit dismayed when the independent Woodcote Garden Centre in Wallington was taken over by the Dobbies chain. At first nothing changed, then I saw people on local Facebook groups complain various things were different and in their opinion not as good, and they had moved the gift section to make way for soft play.

That made me sit up and take notice straight away as a mum of a (then) three year old and living very close to the garden centre. So the first weekend that the soft play was open (last summer - July 2021) I arranged a play date with my daughter’s best friend and we went to check it out. Incidentally, I have reviewed the soft play over on my other blog Mini Moo Life - I thought it was great for younger children.

In terms of the garden centre overall and some of the comments I have seen online, I would have no idea whether the quality or choice of plants was any different as I am the least green fingered person you are ever likely to meet. It did look like something was missing though as there is a huge new area selling hot tubs; I can’t remember what was there before but am sure it wasn’t hot tubs. The outside play area is still there, with a climbing frame, slide and sand pit, and inside everything has moved around but it’s hard to tell what if anything is missing, apart from the Edinburgh Woollen Mill concession which I really liked (which went when EWM went into administration). 

There seems to be a much bigger toy area than previously which is both good and bad - great for gifts (in the past I remember it being mainly wooden toys, puzzles and Schleich animals and now they have everything from Peppa Pig toys to Lego as well) but I can’t see myself taking my daughter past that section without her wanting me to buy something!

The restaurant has also expanded significantly and has taken over a large section that used to house barbecues and garden furniture as well as it’s previous site. It’s also changed in that you no longer pay at the till when you order food and instead it’s table service. The menu didn’t look a million miles away from what the garden centre served previously but there were some additions. I decided to try a macaroni cheese toastie - I love macaroni cheese and have had it as a burger topping a few times but never in a sandwich! It was very rich and filling (definitely a bit of a carb overload) but quite enjoyable as a lunchtime treat.

Since I've been back, I've noticed there is a smaller menu than there used to be under the previous owners, but there are some interesting additions on offer like an afternoon tea (which I haven't tried yet).

We have been back to the garden centre many times since it changed hands, to buy plants, gifts, visit the soft play or go to the cafe, and to attend different events. For me, the fact that it has become part of the Dobbies chain is no bad thing; it has given us new opportunities and continues to offer everything we expect from a garden centre - but I appreciate that not everyone wants a garden centre to be as much a source of entertainment and general shopping as it is about plants!

Friday, 5 August 2022

A Day Like No Otter Birthday Card


Until the last couple of years where my daughter has taken up pretty much all of my free time (in a good way!) I couldn't resist buying card making magazines when they have a set of rubber stamps on the cover that is something I haven’t got! This particular stamp was from a brilliant A4 sheet of clear stamps featuring different animals and puns relating to birthdays. This one is a picture of an otter that I stamped in black and a patch of grass that I also stamped in black and went over with a green Promarker pen.

The sentiment is two separate stamps, one saying ‘on your birthday’ and the other ‘have a day like no otter’, which I thought was cute!

Sunday, 31 July 2022

Restaurant review - Lutyens Grill, The Ned, London

Since having our daughter the only time my husband and I seem to go out for a meal by ourselves is a birthday or anniversary, and we haven’t even managed that most of the time for the past few years, thanks to covid and limitations on free babysitting.

We managed to celebrate our first anniversary after the birth of our daughter (pre-pandemic) in style, going into London to dine at the Ned, a swanky private members club (with restaurants and bars that are open to the public) near Bank.

It’s also a hotel, but the rooms are a little out of our price range (!) at over £300 for the smallest ‘crash pad’ room going up to over £2,000 a night for their most luxurious suite. They also have a pool, spa, various restaurants, a jazz and cabaret club and more.

After opening in 2017 in the historic 1920/ building designed by Sir Edwin - ‘Ned’ - Lutyens that was the headquarters of Midland Bank, the Ned quickly became known as a celebrity haunt. It probably helped that the Ned was set up by one of the founders of Soho House - and it’s not often you get the chance to visit somewhere like that unless you are a member but the restaurants in the Ned are open to the public too. There is an Italian called Cecconi’s, the Nickel bar, which has American staples and cocktails, an American diner called Electric, Malibu Kitchen which has healthy Californian food and smoothies, Asia Pacific-inspired restaurant Kaia, Lutyens Grill which serves steaks and fish and the Parlour which is a jazz and cabaret bar.

I was tempted by most of them and knew my husband would prefer either steak or the American diner, but the latter didn’t seem posh enough for an anniversary meal so I booked Lutyens, and it didn’t disappoint.

The building itself is impressive and we walked through the bar to get to Lutyens - It looked really lively and vibrant. Lutyens itself was a lot quieter and much more traditional in feel with banquette sofas and wood-panelled walls. It used to be the bank manager’s office when this was the Midland Bank. The trolley service where meat is brought alongside your table to be carved adds to the old school - and dare I say it slightly stuffy - feel.

The food was top notch - I had a steak with a side of Mac and cheese and ‘happy anniversary’ was written on the plate with our dessert. It was definitely a restaurant to try but the prices were steep - more expensive than Hawksmoor, which is also a premium steak restaurant in central London, and one which overall we prefer. But I’d still be keen to go back and try some of the other restaurants in the Ned - and if I won the lottery stay in the hotel as well!


Friday, 29 July 2022

Butlin's Bognor Regis restaurant reviews - part 2

Following on from this post about the restaurants at Butlin's Bognor Regis and the Dinearound plan, I've written a more up to date review, having returned to Butlin's some seven months later. We are in some of the same restaurants and tried some others, and I've answered some of the most common questions I see about the Butlin's meal plans.

Head over here to read the full reviews.

Sunday, 10 July 2022

A beginner's guide to swishing


What is swishing? What to expect from a swishing event - and top tips to make the most of a swishing event!

When I first told someone I was going to a clothes swapping event they gave me a funny look and asked if it involved keys in a bowl. But swishing, to use its proper name, means keeping your clothes on - and doing your bit for sustainable fashion.

A clothes swapping event involves bringing along clothes that you don’t want any more, and swapping for ones that you do. No money changes hands, though you usually have to buy a ticket for the event - and it’s a great way to get a few (or a lot) of new items for your wardrobe.

Such events have become popular for the last few years and I suspect even more so now that we are facing the combination of heightened urgency to fight climate change and a cost of living crisis.

I’ve been to two swishing events and have booked for a third, with an organisation called A Stitch to Wear. They run events in and around Sutton in south London and they are brilliant! They are run in a particular way that might be different to other events so I’m going to share my top tips for getting the most out of a swishing event but my description of how it works may be different for other events.

What do you do at a swishing event?

You come to a swishing event with clothes you don’t want any more - at A Stitch to Wear, you are allowed to bring up to 10 items of clothing plus one item of homeware and one and unused makeup item or beauty product.

You are allocated points based on the brand of the clothing or item, which are written on a little card.

Then, you are free to rummage through the clothing rails - at this event they are arranged by size with separate clothing rails for different sizes. Pick out anything you want and take it to the desk to ‘pay’ with your points!

If you have points left over you can keep them until the next event and spend them there. 

A Stitch to Wear sells tickets (it’s £6.50 to go) for different time slots 45 minutes apart, so there aren’t too many people in the room at one time - and it means you don’t have to come right at the beginning in case all the good stuff is gone, because new clothes are added at each time slot. It means it comes down to pure luck as to what is there in each size at the time you go, but that’s part of the fun!

At the last event I went to my haul included clothes from Oliver Bonas, Mint Velvet, M&S, Primark, Gap, Crew Clothing Company and M&Co, plus two brands I hadn’t heard of which I looked up and seem to be mid-priced labels - Klass and W - and a more expensive brand I wasn’t familiar with called Hampton Republic. Not everything was for me as I picked up a few bits for my mum as well. You also get a hand made cloth tote bag at the events so I've got two of them now!


Top tips for getting the most out of a swishing event

  • If you’re just going for a browse and to try your luck then there’s no need for a game plan – but if you are on a mission to restock your wardrobe it may help to have a strategy – what I mean by that is, an idea of what you want to get. Are you in the market for clothes for this season (e.g. summer), or next (winter)? Do you want to aim for the best brands, perhaps labels you wouldn’t normally be able to afford to buy? Are you looking for a new outfit for a night out, or some work wear, or summer holiday gear?
  • The reason I mention this is because the event can involve a bit of fast-paced rummaging through rails with other people going through the same rack as you. The events I’ve been to have always been very good natured – no sharp elbows or grabbing something from under someone else’s nose – but it is very much a case of first come, first served. So if you have particular items or labels you are after, have that in mind, and do a quick sweep of each rail to see if you can spot anything quickly, before going back through and having a closer look.
  • It doesn’t matter what slot you book as clothes are restocked between events as well – but it makes sense to arrive at the start of your time slot and try to be near the front of the queue, then you get first dibs on whatever is there – and keep an eye out as the volunteers restock the rails as each person hands over their donations.
  • Take a rucksack or small shoulder bag that won’t get in the way as you will need your hands free to rummage
  • Take a large bag (I find the Sainsbury’s extra strong fold-up bags are the perfect size) to carry the clothes and items you want to buy. The first time I went, I draped clothes (still on their hangers) over one arm, and quickly found it difficult to keep browsing the rails with only one arm free (and the clothes were getting heavy). The second time I went, I took clothes off their hangers and left the hangers on the rails, and put each piece of clothing into the bag that I could easily carry in the crook of my elbow or put down on the floor while I rummaged.
  • Check the other size rails too. At the A Stitch to Wear events, clothes are arranged in pairs of sizes, so there are a couple of rails for 10-12, a couple for 14-16 and one for 18-plus, as well as separate areas for denim, bags, shoes and so on. It’s always worth checking the other rails in case items have ended up in the wrong place.
  • You can’t easily (or privately) try clothes on at the swap - but as they are free once you have paid the entry fee, I have no problem with using my points to buy something and seeing if it fits when I get home - and if not it can go to the charity shop or I can bring it back to the next swap!

Swishing events are really good fun and a nice way to change up your wardrobe at no more than the cost of your entry ticket. I’m currently loving my two floral maxi dresses from the last swap and have already bought a ticket to the next event in September!

 


Monday, 27 June 2022

Purple Peacock Card

Here’s a card I made for a friend’s birthday using a set of toppers from Hunkydory. They have a membership club that is free to sign up for, and every so often you get an offer for a ‘free club gift’, a set that normally retails at £9.99 where you only have to pay postage of £2.99. You get several A4 pieces of printed card and four sheets of die cuts to press out, all on a particular theme. This theme was peacocks and I decided to buy the set.


I do find using these a little difficult however as I’m never quite sure what to do with them. The toppers are usually a picture with several frames and I never know whether to use just one frame or all of them, and the printed cards aren’t that practical for cutting out the picture from as it feels like you are then wasting the design on the card. So what I did this time was fold the A4 card in half to make the birthday card itself but again that feels a bit of a waste as I don’t need a design on the back of the card!

The Hunkydory website does have design ideas for using the set if you are stuck, but no instructions for how to make them. Most are quite straightforward though!

For this card I used one of the large peacock toppers and all three of the accompanying frames which I raised up at different levels with adhesive pads (though you can’t really see that from the photo). It’s for a friend who likes deep purple colours so I hope she liked it!


Wednesday, 22 June 2022

Samsara Indian Restaurant, Cheam, Surrey


I don’t often do girls’ nights out ever since I became a mum - most of the time I am just too tired and don’t have the time to think about a social life.

So it’s great when someone else organises an evening out and invites me! It was a friend’s birthday so four of us went for a curry and cocktails at Samsara in Cheam, a restaurant I hadn’t been to before.

It's a fairly large restaurant but was very empty with only a few other people there, which is a shame as the food was good - though the cocktails weren't quite as good as I was hoping.

I normally play it very safe when it comes to curry (chicken korma every time!) but decided for once to try something new - though still a mild chicken dish with almonds and a sweeter taste! I had a chicken dakeswari, which the menu described as "tender pieces of grilled chicken, marinated with herbs, spices and ground almond. Very mildly spiced and garnished with mango pulp". It was very nice and creamy with a fruity flavour, and not too spicy at all, and accompanied by a very tasty peshwari naan.

As I wasn't driving I was looking forward to sampling the cocktail menu as Samsara also describes itself as a cocktail lounge. I didn't see anyone who had just gone there for drinks and I don't think I've ever had a cocktail in an Indian restaurant before as I would always go for wine. I started with a mango and peach fizz to complement the mango flavours of my meal, then thought that a White Russian would be a good substitute for dessert as it combined cream and coffee. One of my friends ordered the same drink, and they were both served in tumblers - not quite what I was expecting - but of different sizes, so one of us had a tall glass and the other a much shorter wider one. I'm no mixologist but my White Russian seemed a bit heavy on the cream, and not as nice as I had remembered them being.

We took admittedly quite a long time over dinner; we hadn't started particularly early and also had a lot of catching up to do, but it was a surprise when the waiters started hovering and making clear signs that they wanted us to pay the bill and leave. Eventually one came over and said it was 10pm and they were closing - which was surprising as the website said they were open until 11am. I can only assume that because they had been quiet that evening and were the last people there, they wanted to be able to close and head home.

Still, it was a fun night out with friends and good food, and nice to try somewhere local I hadn't been before - and to branch out from choosing a chicken korma for a change!


Sunday, 22 May 2022

3D Dinosaur Cake - Children's Birthday Cakes


The lockdown in 2020 meant I didn’t post anything on my blog for several months, as I tried to juggle a full-time job with a toddler at home every day for nearly three months while nursery was shut. So I’ve only just realised that I never posted anything about her birthday cake in spring of 2020 – better late than never!

Sophie is a big fan of dinosaurs, and from a young age has been able to correctly identify dinosaurs to the extent that I think she already knows more types than I do! We have encouraged her love of dinosaurs through toys and books and also a green dinosaur-patterned beanbag for her room to counteract some of the pink! If I recall correctly, she actually asked for a dinosaur cake for her second birthday, and I was happy to oblige!

We held her birthday party at My Gym, where we go to a class every week – it’s a cross between gymnastics, exercise, games and play, and they do brilliant birthday parties where you get an hour of gym-based games and half an hour in the party room with food and drink, and of course cake. I had the option of providing my own cake so of course that’s what I did.

I wanted a cake that would actually look like a dinosaur – I saw some lovely ideas online of round cakes with dinosaurs on top (either made from icing or plastic toys), where the cake itself was decorated to look like the dinosaur habitat. But I wanted instant recognition and wow factor, and decided it had to be a three-dimensional dinosaur. Luckily, it was easier to make one than I thought, thanks to this brilliant tutorial on WikiHow!

I baked a round vanilla sponge cake and then cut it up according to the tutorial instructions, then covered it in green roll-out fondant. I used yellow fondant to add some spots, and a darker green modelling paste – a kind of icing that is stiffer, so better to use when you are making something that needs to stand up – to make the spines along the dinosaur back. It wasn’t difficult or even massively time-consuming at all and I was really pleased with the finished cake, and I think the kids at the party all enjoyed it!


Sunday, 15 May 2022

Passion Fruit Curd Mother's Day Cupcakes

I made these cupcakes for Mother’s Day for my mum, my mother-in-law - and me!

I’ve developed quite a taste for passion fruit recently - Passoa passion fruit liqueur is delicious and could definitely be used in baking, but since my four year old daughter was going to have these cupcakes as well I wasn’t going to use alcohol. Instead, I got the passionfruit flavour from a combination of yogurt - papaya, passion fruit and mango flavour, from Morrisons - and passion fruit curd (The Cherry Tree brand, from Ocado).

I wanted a light cupcake using yogurt in the cake mix and these were so light and airy, they probably aren’t robust enough to put a spoonful of curd into the middle but I did anyway (it just makes them a bit messy when you eat them!).

Here is the recipe I used:

125g margarine or butter, softened

150g sugar

2 eggs

150ml yogurt - I used papaya, passion fruit and mango flavour from Morrison's 

225g self-raising flour

1 heaped tsp baking powder

Pinch of salt

For the filling:

Passionfruit curd - I used the Cherry Tree brand from Ocado

For the icing:

500g icing sugar

250g butter, softened

Passionfruit flavouring to taste - for example you could add a spoonful of the passionfruit curd, or passionfruit liqueur if the cakes are for adults.

Preheat oven to 180C. Cream the butter and the sugar then beat in the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the yogurt, then fold in the flour, baking powder and salt.

Spoon into cupcake cases and bake for around 15-20 minutes depending on the size until the tops are golden brown.

Allow to cool, then using a teaspoon make a small well in each cupcake and add a spoonful of passionfruit curd.

To make the buttercream, cream together the butter and icing sugar and add a spoonful of passionfruit curd, or a few drops of passionfruit liqueur if for adults only - you may need to adjust the quantity of icing sugar if the mixture is too runny.

Using a piping bag and a nozzle, pipe swirls onto the top of the cupcakes. 

I decorated these cupcakes in different ways:

SuckUK customisable cookie stamp - this is a wooden stamp that comes with a plastic disc and little letters, that you insert into the disc to make the message of your choice. You can stamp this onto a cookie before it has baked, or stamp onto a circle of fondant icing, as I did here. I've had this piece of equipment for ages but this was the first time I had used it.

It was quite fiddly to get the letters into the right places, and took a bit of trial and error to work out if they were all the right way around; there isn't a huge amount of space for a message but I managed to get 'happy' across the top, 'mothers' day along the bottom and 'day' in the middle. However, there was only one of most letters and not enough to spell out 'happy' for instance as there was only one 'p', so I had to stamp the missing letter separately. It didn't quite look the same and I was surprised given that 'happy birthday' would be, to me, the most obvious message to use on the cookie stamp that there weren't enough letters to make it! Then I piped some small buttercream flowers around the edge.

Wilton Make Any Message Letterpress Set - this was also something I received as a gift several years ago. The letters are bigger than on the SukUK stamp so I just pressed 'mum' into a circle of fondant icing and placed it on top of each cupcake with a little buttercream. Then I piped some buttercream flowers along the top and bottom.

Piped flowers: I used two different colours of buttercream (pink and purple, though the latter looks a bit grey in this photo), and two different nozzles to pipe a swirl and some smaller flowers onto each cupcake and added some edible silver balls on top.

Sunday, 17 April 2022

Strawberry Milkshake Easter Cake

Having guests over Easter is always a good excuse for baking and I find cakes easier than desserts to make in advance. So I made this after work in the evening and decorated it first thing in the morning, in  time for my sister and niece to arrive.

The cake is a strawberry milkshake cake, so called because of the secret ingredient - Nesquik! (For those not familiar with this childhood staple, Nesquik is a powdered flavouring to add to milk, which comes in strawberry or banana flavour. It has been around since I was a child in the 80s, if not even longer!).

I recently made an Oreo cake for my husband’s birthday which I haven’t blogged about yet - it was the most delicious moist chocolate cake, and I decided to create a cake along similar lines. That cake used cocoa powder - and boiling water, to which I attribute the moistness - so for this one, as I wanted a fruity spring flavour but with an ingredient of a similar texture to cocoa powder and suddenly remembered Nesquik!

 This is the recipe I adapted, using Nesquik in place of cocoa powder, though I only used the recipe for the sponge and not the buttercream or chocolate ganache.

For the buttercream I made a standard butter and icing sugar combination, adding in some strawberry syrup for flavour and colour. I filled the three layer cake and then piped some swirls on the top, before colouring some more buttercream purple and green, to pipe more flowers and little bits of green (foliage, I guess) in between. 

I then decorated the top with Easter marshmallows (you could also use mini eggs if young children aren’t going to eat it) and a little pink glimmer sugar. The ‘hoppy Easter’ cake topper is a plastic sign that my husband printed for me with his new 3D printer, which I love!

Friday, 15 April 2022

Easter Imprint Plunger Cookies

I’m ever hopeful that one day I will develop the knack of decorating cookies so they don’t look like a child has done it, and have resigned myself to thinking I need to book a place on a Biscuiteers course.

But in the meantime I decided to have another go at making and decorating some Easter biscuits. I used a standard sugar cookie recipe like this one:

2800g plain flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

170g butter, softened

150g caster sugar

1 egg

a few drops of vanilla flavouring

Cream together the butter and sugar and then beat in the egg and vanilla flavouring. Next fold in the flour, baking powder and salt.

Knead until you have a ball of dough and wrap in clingfilm. Ideally place in the fridge for at least an hour (though I often skip this part!).

When you are ready to use the dough, roll it out on a lightly floured surface and cut out using cutters.

Bake in a preheated oven at 180C - the baking time will depend on the size and thickness of your cookies, but you don't want them to be overbaked, so I would recommend 10-12 minutes then checking if they look like they need longer.

For Christmas I got a set of Easter cookie cutters (which seemed odd to my sister who got them for me, but as I pointed out, my birthday is right after Easter so I would have had to wait a year before I could use them!).

I like these cutters because they have a design that imprints into the dough, and you use the little plunger to push the cookie out. When they are baked, the design did lose a little definition but could still be seen quite clearly.

I used the design as a guide for icing, piping royal icing in different colours and snipping the tiniest piece off the end of a piping bag rather than using a nozzle. Even then I found it really hard to decorate them neatly!


Sunday, 3 April 2022

40th Birthday Card Exploding Box Card

As my school friends (and I) were turning 40 all in the same year, I wanted to make them each a special birthday card for the occasion, using a different type of card design for each one. I had made an exploding boxcard before and used the same template for this one.




You can use a different design on each of the four sides but I decided the card  would look more professional with the same design on each so I used a diamond-patterned paper in what I thought was a nice range of colours – primarily reds, purples and pinks with some other shades too. The base of the card was a purple and white polka dot design, again from a patterned paper, which worked well with the diamond design.

My pop-up elements of this card were a ‘Happy birthday’ die cut, a glittery ‘40’ sticker and a small die cut sentiment saying ‘Life begins at 40!’ mounted onto a small piece of card cut with pinking scissors. I actually bought that in a small pack from Ebay but it’s quite easy to make your own – if you have the time!

 

Monday, 14 February 2022

Jammie Dodger Heart Cake

This cake is inspired by Jammie Dodger biscuits, which have two layers sandwiched together with jam, and a heart shape cut out from the top biscuit layer to show the jam underneath. It’s very easy to make and fun for Valentine’s Day or someone who loves a Jammie Dodger biscuit!

I used a giant cookie silicon cake pan, which has two parts and lets you bake a cake where the sponges have fluted edging and flowers and also the word ‘cookie’ on the top so they look like giant biscuits.

I used a heart shaped cookie cutter to cut out a piece from the top layer to show the jam underneath.

The recipe itself is a pretty simple one:

175g butter, softened

175g caster sugar

3 eggs

175g self-raising flour

1 tsp vanilla flavouring

50ml milk

For the filling

150g butter, softened

300g icing sugar

Strawberry jam

 

Preheat oven to 180C.

Cream together the butter and the sugar then mix in the eggs one at a time with a spoonful of the flour each time. Fold in the remainder of the flour. Finally mix in the vanilla flavouring and the milk.

Spoon into two greased cake pans and bake for 20 minutes.

When cool, use a heart shaped cookie cutter or cut around a heart template to make a heart shaped hole in the top layer of your cake.

Cream together the butter and icing sugar to make buttercream and spread over the bottom part of the cake. Spread a layer of jam on top, making sure the jam is thick enough in the centre of the cake (where your heart shaped hole will go) that the buttercream can’t be seen. Place the top layer on top of your cake and enjoy.

Sunday, 13 February 2022

Valentine's Chocolate Bark

Chocolate bark is a flat slab of chocolate covered with things like nuts, dried fruit, sweets or with a different colour chocolate swirled through it. I decided to make some chocolate bark with my daughter for Valentine’s Day and made up a recipe as I went along (with a nod to Marks & Spencer’s Percy Pig Choc Corn which I had at Christmas). This makes plenty for a family to enjoy or to give to three or four people in little gift bags.

You need:

300g white chocolate

Pink food colouring

Handful of gummy sweets - I used Haribo Heart Throbs which are usually part of their star mix but you can buy them separately especially at this time of year - I got a box in Poundland Handful of Smarties or M&Ms. I was going to just pick out the pink smarties from a sharing bag I had but my daughter ate most of them!

Handful of popcorn

Handful of marshmallows - I used heart shaped marshmallows that I got from Flying Tiger

Line a small square baking pan with greaseproof paper. Melt the chocolate in a Bain Marie or in the microwave and stir in a couple of drops of pink food colouring.

Pour the melted chocolate into your prepared tin and sprinkle liberally with sweets, marshmallows and popcorn. Put in the fridge until set.

When the chocolate has set hard, remove from the pan and peel off the greaseproof paper. Carefully cut into chunks - I found the easiest way was inserting the point of a dinner knife and pressing down and the chocolate broke itself into random shaped chunks. We ended up giving these as a gift to my daughter’s nursery teachers!



Friday, 4 February 2022

Making your own wooden story spoons

If you have children in your life and are a little bit artistic, these story spoons are a great idea. They are wooden spoons, featuring characters from whatever story you like - you can draw or paint or even cut out pictures and glue them on.
I drew these freehand using coloured marker pens (Promarkers) and then Mod Podge, which is a craft sealant, over the top. I bought a set of five wooden spoons on Amazon for just a few pounds and did the Three Little Pigs story and Red Riding Hood. I drew the three pigs on the first three spoons, and then on the back drew the house that each one built, so when you tell the story and hold up the spoon you can flip it over to show the other side.

The wolf spoon plays a role in both stories- so I drew a plain wolf on one side and the wolf in grandmother’s clothing from Red Riding Hood on the other, so again the spoon can be flipped around during the story. I then drew Red Riding Hood herself on the final spoon and the woodcutter on the other side.
I used these spoons with my daughter who had just turned three at the time (I actually made these nearly a year ago!) and she loved holding up the spoons and telling me the story. They act as prompts but also as characters and can help make storytelling easier for younger children and even more fun!


Tuesday, 1 February 2022

Unicorn Birthday Cake - Cakes for Children

 


Last year my daughter had a ‘lockdown birthday’; COVID-19 restrictions meant that we couldn’t have a party, couldn’t have family to visit and couldn’t do anything much at all really. We still had a nice day, as we got Sophie a balance bike for her birthday, and were able to go to a local park to try it out. Of course I was still going to make her a birthday cake, and this year she asked (repeatedly) for a unicorn cake.

I’ve made a unicorn cake before, but thought this style was a bit grown-up for a three year old and possibly not even as instantly recognisable, so instead I invested in a unicorn cake mould to make it easier for myself. I bought a silicon mould from Ebay for around £7 which I thought wasn’t too bad; I’m sure I will end up using the mould again and if not I can pass it on to someone else. 

I wasn’t entirely sure of the quantity of cake mixture I would need to fill the mould, but luckily the scale of this BBC GoodFood recipe for an easy chocolate cake was just right. My daughter had requested a chocolate cake and I thought this recipe didn’t look too rich, compared to some others I have made in the past.

The cake was really easy to make and un-mould (I use PMW Cake Release spray to grease all my cake tins), and decorating was fairly straightforward too. I’m sure a more artistic person – or more professional cake decorator – could make a more beautiful unicorn, but my daughter loved this! 

The cake was covered in a chocolate buttercream and then rolled out white fondant. I coloured some buttercream in various colours and used a piping bag to pipe each section of the mane – after all, everyone knows that unicorns have rainbow hair! 

This photo has come out a little darker than the real thing – you can’t quite see the purple in with the blue and pink, but my daughter thought it was great. She also had a unicorn helium balloon and a few unicorn-related gifts, so referred to this birthday – and continues to do so several months later – as “my unicorn birthday”. 

The year before was “my dinosaur birthday” – when she had a dinosaur cake and several dinosaur-related gifts – and she has already told me that her next birthday, even though it is nearly six months away, is going to be “my Sofia birthday”. So I’m already squirreling away Sofia the First gifts and thinking about how to make a Princess Sofia cake!

Friday, 14 January 2022

Restaurant Review - The Fox, Coulsdon Common, Caterham


I’ve been looking through old photos on my phone and remembering the fun things I did with my daughter pre-pandemic, and all the places we went. Many of them are things I was intending to post on this blog and never got around to - like this one!

It was back in 2018 when my daughter was barely two months old and my school friends came up to meet her as it was also my birthday. I knew I wasn’t really going to be in a position to host so we went out for a pub lunch. I needed to find somewhere that was child friendly and also vegan friendly. Even in the few years since 2018 vegan food has become much more common on menus but at the time I had to do a bit of research to find somewhere suitable.

I decided upon the Fox in Coulsdon Common, Caterham, a spacious Vintage Inns pub with a nice country feel. It did a delicious Sunday roast, a decent choice of vegan food and some very nice desserts. I have actually been here before and even reviewed it before - I don't normally review the same place twice but to be honest I had forgotten about the first time until I had already written this one!

There was plenty of room for the buggy and for me to be able to feed my daughter while sitting at the table. We haven’t been back since but that’s more due to the pandemic and the fact that we just don’t eat out very often, which is something that I think needs to change!

Wednesday, 12 January 2022

Butlin's Bognor Regis - Ocean Hotel and Restaurant Reviews, DineAround Explained

Butlin’s today is a far cry from the self catering caravan holidays I remember as a child in the 1980s. Today there are smart hotels, apartments, and a range of on-site restaurants including an American diner and Papa John’s. You’re sure to find something to suit everyone - but if you are considering a stay at Butlin’s how do you decide? Which hotel is best or should you self-cater at Butlin’s, what are the dining options and how does DineAround work?

In September I went to Butlin’s Bognor Regis and have tried to answer all these questions and more in a post on my other blog, MiniMoo Life. If you want to find out more, hop on over there!