Thursday, 12 May 2011

Let's Hear It For The Girls

Last Saturday I joined my two fabulous friends Larni Godfrey and Hayley Waters along with hundreds of other women at London's 02 kitted out in pink on a 5K 'run' supporting Cancer Research UK at one of their many summer Race For Life events.

Having all lost a close one to the disease we were keen to show our support for the charity and signed up a couple of months back with every intention of training so that we could run the distance, raise some important pennies and maybe even get a little fitter into the bargain.

Life in general, plus a lifetime habit of laziness, meant the training never took place and so we walked the race instead with tons of other women, in just under 50 minutes. We found that the atmosphere was electric on the day, everyone was there for the same cause, and it wouldn't have mattered if we had run, walked, crawled or cartwheeled round.

We couldn't help but feel inspired and uplifted by the bravery of some of the racers. We saw women, old and young taking part who were clearly undergoing chemotherapy, and while this was poignant and upsetting its only spurned us on. And whilst it was heartbreaking to see a little girl of about 4 years old racing with the sign on her back saying 'For my mummy' it just brought home to us how important events like these are to help fight this disease and support those living with it and their loved ones too.

Between the three of us we raised a rather respectable £915 and I'd just like to say well done to Larni and Hayley for this and a thank you to all who sponsored us. We all get sent tons of requests to sponsor people doing various feats for charity - and often people may just ignore it, but you can sponsor as little as £2, and it might help another little girl from losing her mummy or her daddy.

While this is a complete departure from my usual posts, I felt compelled to write about our experience and highlight the wonderful work that Cancer Research UK carry out. If you'd like to make a donation to the charity you can by visiting


On a related and slightly lighter note - our greedy selves were delighted when we arrived at the event and discovered a cupcake stand, with a selection of pink-themed vanilla cupcakes.

After finishing the race we all treated ourselves to one, and they were absolutely gorgeous, sweet, tasty and they looked absolutely beautiful. The lady that runs this company, Fiona Mallin, runs classes to teach people how to make these cakes, and I am signing up for one of her classes which I will be sharing soon.

I've included a photo so you can see how pretty the cakes are and to find out more you can visit:

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Simple Supper - Gnocchi Pasta Bake

Sometimes in my life when preparing a meal for loved ones, I have all the time in the world, and can lovingly and leisurely prepare dishes that I’m quite proud of and which demonstrate the passion that’s have gone into them.Other times I might get home from work on a Friday evening, realise that dinner-making duties have fallen on my unwilling shoulders, and have very little motivation or energy for it. On these days I rely on my ‘simple suppers’, which basically do exactly what they say on the tin. They’re not time consuming, take little effort, fill a food hole, and fill it well.Last week I called on an old favourite – a Gnocchi Pasta Bake - which I adapt according to what’s in the fridge at the time – a crowd pleaser, that’s filling, comforting and damn-right yummy. But the real beauty of this dish is that it literally is completely changeable dish that can depend exactly on what’s already in stock – it’s also a very cheap dinner, so perfect for the end of the month, before pay-day when money might be tight.

This time I made the very easy sauce by sautéing chopped spring onions, (can use any type!), a little crushed garlic (optional), and some chopped smoked bacon. For ideal results I would use pancetta, but bacon was in the fridge and meant I didn’t have to leave the house, so bacon was used, and it gave a nice smoky flavour. I also chucked in 2 mushrooms, chopped – which again were left in the bottom of the fridge.

Once this was nicely cooked I added a tub of crème fraiche and cooked for about five minutes. While all of this was going on I cooked some fresh Gnocchi – or pasta potato dumplings – which only take a couple of minutes in boiling water and drained. I broke up a couple of fresh mackerel fillets that were in the fridge and mixed all in together with some chopped parsley and placed into an ovenproof dish.

It goes without saying that this must be seasoned to taste as you go along with salt and ground black pepper.
I have made this with chicken before and it’s just as tasty – but I do love oily fish at this time of year.Finally I grated on some Cheddar (again a fridge essential – but other cheese would work just as well, especially a Mozarella or Emental which have that nice melting quality). This was then baked in the over for 25 minutes until the cheese was lightly browned and et voila – dinner was served.

I served with a simple salad thrown together. And in the 25 minutes the dinner took to cook I had time to clear away, lay the table and most importantly open a bottle of cold Pinot Grigio and pour myself a generous glass as a reward for all that hard cooking. Simples!

Monday, 9 May 2011

Royal Wedding Tea Party

Royal wedding fever gripped the nation throughout April and it was decided early on that to honour the nuptials of William and Kate we would host an intimate oh-so-English tea party.

The women in my family and a couple of my close friends came together to celebrate the most exciting British event to have occurred in, at least, my lifetime.

So on the 29th April 2011 after a rather decadent breakfast of smoked salmon and strawberries and Bucks Fizz, my mum Vicky, Nanny Pat, aunty Karen and my two very good friends Larni and Stephanie and I sat in glorious anticipation of the wedding, the outfits the women would be wearing and especially the dress that Kate would be wearing. We weren't disappointed in any way, and oohed and ahhed with what seemed like the rest of the nation as William turned to Kate at the altar and said 'You're Beautiful'. There wasn't many a dry eye in my house, aside from the cold-hearted, cynical ones (no names).

After the ceremony we found we were quite hungry and so the tea party began. We naturally had the quintessential selection of dainty finger sandwiches fit for royalty as well as an array of British savoury food stuffs courtesy of my mum, Vicky. With a mass of very British sandwich fillings including beef and horseradish, ham and mustard, cucumber and cream cheese and my mum's speciality poached salmon, watercress and mayonaise - which was the undisputed flavour of the day and all the other titbits we weren't about to go hungry.

Whilst my mum sorted the savoury - I was on sweet duty. Firstly I only granted Stephanie access to the party if she brought along one of her mum Debbie's cakes. We try to get one of Debbie's cakes at any opportunity, and the only way I can describe these creations is like couture cakes - made to measure any brief. Aside from being delicious they are always beautifully presented fitting the occassion. Already this year we've had a specially designed cake for my cousin's 21st birthday and a cheeky baked cheesecake which kept our family raving for days, and literally lasted minutes in my house! For the tea party we were presented with a genteel and fittingly regal Victoria sponge cake, topped with a rich vanilla buttercream and fresh strawberries, and a strawberry jam filling. It was moist, rich, delicious and a very welcome addition to our 'spread.'

I also dug out my apron and did a little festive baking myself. First I made three batches of cupcakes, vanilla, chocolate and lemon. Sticking to a simple fairy cake recipe from childhood and adding the various flavour additions (cocoa and a little melted chocolate, lemon juice and zest, and the the contents of a vanilla pod), I then iced with a simple Mascarpone topping and have to say that sometimes, the old recipes are the best - they were light and tasty. Larni loved the vanilla ones and took some home for her family - personally I was more partial to the chocolate, but then what's new.

Finally I had been keen to try and make macaroons for a while, I always enjoy them out, and love the look of them so I made my first attempt at the little almondy treats.

I'll readilly admit that I am no confectioner or pastry chef, more a willing have-a-go cook, and have very little artistic flair so was critical of my own presentation, but luckilly the flavour and lightness were good. Also I don't own and didn't have time to source a piping bag, so I had to improvise - I did so by using freezer bags and snipping a little hole in the corner - hence why the sizes of them all completely vary!

I certainly had fun experimenting with the food colouring and was pleased with the very sweet, almondy results, the presentation may have been bad, but practise makes perfect, so I'll aim better next time.

We absolutely loved the wedding and our little tea party and it naturally ended with us all having a tipple or two. As we did on the day lets just raise our glasses once again to the beautiful couple - congratulations Will and Kate.

If you are keen to find out more about made-to-order designer cakes from the delightful Debbie or to view an online catalogue of designs please contact Stephanie Fletcher who can be found @Fletch_Master.

If you would like to attempt to make similarly mis-shapen, varying sized Macaroons see recipe below:

150g ground almonds
250g sifted icing sugar
Seeds of 2 split vanilla pods
2 large egg whites
For the butter cream:
140g softened butter, salted
280g icing sugar
1-2 tbsp milk (full fat)
2 drops vanilla essence

*Preheat the oven to 150 degrees and line a couple of trays with baking paper (greased)
* Put the almonds, icing sugar and vanilla into a bowl.
*Whisk the egg whites until firm and fold in
*Add whichever food colouring to make the desired colour - or cocoa, just 1 drop will do
*Spoon mixture into a piping bag (or improvised freezer bag with snip in corner)
* Pipe little mounds on the trays - try to pipe in equal sie and shape if possible
* Leave to cool
For the butter cream
* Beat the butter in a bowl till soft
* Add half the icing sugar and beat until smooth
* Add the rest of the sugar with the vanilla extract and milk and beat until creamy
*Sandwich macaroons together with a little butter cream