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Archive for the ‘Parties’ Category

Once kids are in the picture dinner parties become a thing of the past, or should I say civilised dinner parties become a thing of the past!  Now we opt for dinner with friends that everyone can take part in – including the kids! Over the summer we had a couple of pizza nights – having made the dough and sauce – everyone makes up their own pizzas with whatever toppings they fancy. James and I have developed a good system – I prepare the dough and James rolls it out. Works great, and I have to say that they taste so much better then store bought versions. Maybe part of that is the taste of satisfaction when you are feeling all Nigella like for having prepared everything from scratch! I expected it all to be more complicated but it is simple! Make sure you buy a pizza stone – definitely worth it.

This weekend our good buddies the Rhule’s (Jon, Justine & Easton) came over for a spot of face painting and pizza making. All done just in time to settle down in front of X Factor!

A couple of very funny Clowns!!

A couple of very funny Clowns!!

Could there be a cook book more appropriate than ‘Jamie’s Italy’ to turn to in search of a recipe for pizza dough??

Basic Pizza dough (courtesy of Jamie Oliver – Jamie’s Italy)

Ingredients:-

800g strong white bread flour

200g fine ground semolina flour or strong white bread flour

1 level Tbsp fine sea salt

2 x 7g sachets of dried yeast

1 Tbsp golden caster sugar

around 650ml / just over 1 pint lukewarm water

Pile the flours and salt on to a clean surface and make an 18cm well in the centre. Add your yeast and sugar to the tepid water, mix up with a fork and leave for a few minutes, then pour into the well (or just chuck it all in the electric mixer like I do!). Using a fork and a circular movement, slowly bring in the flour from the inner edge of the well and mix into the water. It will look like stodgy porridge – continue to mix, bringing in all the flour. When the dough comes together and becomes too hard to mix with your fork, flour your hands and begin to pat into a ball. Knead the dough by rolling it backwards and forwards, using your left hand to stretch the dough towards you and your right hand to push the dough away from you at the same time. Repeat this for 10 minutes until you have a smooth springy soft dough.

Flour the top of the dough, cover it with clingfilm and let it rest for at least 15 minutes at room temperature. This will make it easier to roll it thinly. Now divide the dough into as many balls as you want to make pizzas i.e. lots of small ones or a few larger ones, but 6 is a good quantity for the dough.

Timing-wise it’s nice to roll the pizzas out 15 to 30 minutes before you start to cook them. If you want to work more in advance, it’s better to keep the dough in clingfilm in the fridge. Take a piece of dough, dust your surface and the dough with a little flour, and roll it out into a rough circle about 1/2 cm thick. Tear off an approximately sized piece of tin foil and rub it with olive oil, dust it well with flour and place the pizza base on top. Continue doing the same with another piece and then if you dust with a little flour you can pile them up into a stack, cover them with clingfilm and put them in the fridge.

When you are ready to cook them, preheat your oven to 250C. At this stage you can apply your toppings. Remember, less is more. If you can, cook the pizza’s on a piece of granite in a conventional oven, if not, do them one by one on the bars of the oven shelf towards the bottom of the oven. (If you are going to cook your pizza’s on the bars of the oven, make sure they are not too big – otherwise they will be difficult to manoeuvre). Cook for 7-10 mins until the pizza’s are golden and crispy.

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Family fun

I like to put out a variety of toppings and let everyone just go for it. Some suggestions are:-

Salami, Pepperoni, Chorizo, Ham, Chicken, Turkey, Anchovies

Courgettes, Corn, Pine nuts, Mushrooms, Peppers, Tomatoes, Red Onion, Pineapple, Olives, Capers, Jalapeno, Chilli

Grated Mozzarella, Goats Cheese, Brie, Blue Cheese…..basically any sort of cheese

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Justine's turn...the vegetarian version!

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Jon's up...

Try not to overload too much – I like a good selection but just little bits of this and that. If you overload it the base can go a bit soggy. Being proper pizza rather than a pan base they are not as sturdy for huge amounts of topping.

Of course, a good pizza needs a good tomato sauce……

Tomato Sauce (a la Jamie of course)

Note: I double up on this and find it makes the right amount for 6 pizzas. Always better to have too much than not enough plus you can always throw leftovers in the freezer .

Ingredients:-

Extra virgin olive oil

1 clove of garlic, peeled and finely sliced

bunch of fresh bail, leaves picked

1 x 400g of good quality plum tomatoes

sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

Heat a saucepan, add a splash of oil and the sliced garlic and cook gently. When the garlic has turned light golden, add half the basil, the tomatoes and a few pinches of S & P. Cook gently for about 20 minutes, mashing the tomatoes until smooth, then taste, season again and put to one side.

There is a small mystery to Jamie’s recipe….where does the rest of the basil go???

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Today was the annual Macmillan Coffee Morning and so I thought it would be a good chance to raise some money for a great cause (whoever came up with this idea at Macmillan is genius!) and ask all the girls in the office to get involved. I sent out an email to all the girls requesting cakes (baked or bought), and I know it seems a bit 1950’s of me to only send  it to the girls, but meet the guys in my office and you will totally understand. Not a baker amongst them!!

So it was awesome when everyone (except one – who is a right misery!) bought in a plateful of goodies to sell. There was rocky road, flapjacks, lemon loaf, about 4 different types of cupcakes, cookies, doughnuts and brownies. A right sugar smorgasboard so needless to say that within an hour there was a considerable sugar high spreading throughout the office. One of my colleagues, Carol, was happy to admit that she was not a baker and years ago this had been confirmed by her effort at rock cakes when she mistakenly substituted salt for sugar. Well turned out great for us as Carol had purchased home made cupcakes from a lady in the next village – they were beautiful and looked amazing. I didn’t get a chance to try one as they went like hot cakes!! I have looked up the cupcake lady online – Janes Cupcakes – so if you are ever looking for a supplier check her out.

Word spread quickly around the building and we had colleagues from other departments and floors coming to visit us in support of Macmillan. Not only was it great to raise money for an important cause but there was a fantastic sense of comraderie in the office. People were laughing and joking with each other and the atmosphere was fun so Macmillan were not the only ones to benefit.

So, how much did our team of ladies raise? Well I was hoping that we might make 50-100 pounds and our final total was 216.95!! How awesome is that!!! There was no set donation and so all this was raised through the generosity of all my colleagues!

So, what did we (James & I presented a joint effort!) make? Well there is a bit of funny story here… Yesterday morning I went to work and was chatting away with Louise who was despairing over her baking efforts the night before  and I was reassuring her that one of my efforts had gone in the bin so I was not having much luck either. We continued moaning and then I mentioned that I had made lemon loaf…well ends up Louise had made the same thing from the same book – total coincidence!! Made us both feel so much better….must have been the recipe then 😉 Louise salvaged hers and iced it (and it was yum!) but my issue was the lemon syrup for the top as I failed to taste before pouring it all over – like sunlight liquid! yuck!!!

So anyway, that was our failed attempt so we reverted back to our tried and tested cupcakes from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook….All I can tell you is that they smelt good and they were complimented but I never tried them – too full from tasting everyone elses efforts!! I made the Pumpkin cupcakes and James very kindly whipped up Strawberry Cheesecake cupcakes. We also made Chocolate cookies that are filled with M & M’s and Peanut M & M’s – this was half a success but still delicious and so we will be working on this one.

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Pumpkin Cupcakes (courtesy of Tarek Malouf – The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook)

Makes 12

Ingredients:-

120g plain flour

140g caster sugar

1 Tbsp baking powder

1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, plus extra to decorate

a pinch of salt

40g unsalted butter, at room temperature

120ml whole milk

2 eggs

200g tinned pumpkin puree

Preheat oven to 170C. Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and butter in a freestanding electric mixer with paddle attachment (or use a hand held electric whisk) and beat on a slow speed until you get a sandy consistency and everything is combined.

Gradually pour in the milk and beat until well mixed. Add the eggs to the mix and beat well (scrape any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula). Stir in the pumpkin puree by hand until evenly dispersed.

Spoon the mixture into the paper cases until 2/3 full and bake in the preheated oven for about 20 mins, or until light golden and the sponge bounces back when touched.

Leave the cupcakes to cool slightly in the tray before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely. When cupcakes are cold, spoon the cream cheese frosting on top and finish with a light sprinkling of cinnamon.

Strawberry Cheesecake Cupcakes (courtesy of Tarek Malouf – The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook)

Makes 12

Ingredients:-

120g plain flour

140g caster sugar

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

40g unsalted butter, at room temperature

120ml whole milk

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 egg

12 large strawberries, chopped into small pieces

200g digestive biscuits

Preheat the oven to 170C. Put the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder & butter in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a hand held electric whisk) and beat on slow speed until you get a sandy consistency and everything is combined.

Pour in the milk & vanilla extract and beat on medium speed until all the ingredients are well mixed (scrape any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula). Add the egg and beat well for a few minutes to ensure the ingredients are well incorporated.

Divide the chopped strawberries between the paper cases. Spoon the cupcake mixture on top until 2/3 full and bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until light golden and the sponge bounces back when touched. A skewer inserted in the centre should come out clean. Leave the cupcakes to cool slightly before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

Roughly break up the digestive biscuits and put them in the food processor. Process until finely ground. When the cupcakes are cold, spoon the cream cheese frosting on top and finish with a sprinkling of finely ground of biscuits.

Cream Cheese Frosting (courtesy of Tarek Malouf – The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook)

Makes enough for 12 cupcakes

Ingredients:-

300g icing sugar, sifted

50g unsalted butter, at room temperature

125g cream cheese, cold

Beat the icing sugar and butter together in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a hand held electric whisk) until the mixture comes together and is well mixed. Add the cream cheese in one go and beat until completely incorporated. Turn the mixer up to medium high speed. Continue beating until the frosting is light & fluffy, at least 5 minutes. Do not over beat, as it can quickly become runny.

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Cupcake anyone?

Well, I have had a busy couple of nights and right now I am ‘Cupcaked Out’!. Today is fun day at Izzy’s Nursery  and I offered to make cupcakes for the 75 children. Cupcakes are quick and easy and with a piping bag to ice they look like they took longer than they did. Most importantly, they are delicious!

First step was to find some cool cupcake cases and colour pastes. I have been using http://www.cakescookiesandcraftsshop.co.uk as they have a good range of cases, sprinkles and colours.  I decided on football & dinosaur cases for the boys and flower & pink cases for the girls, plus I have some jungle cases left over from Izzy’s party.

Once Izzy was in bed on Tuesday  I  got started and made 84 cupcakes ready for icing on Wednesday night. Once again turning to my trusty Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook for the tried and tested Vanilla cupcake. I thought best to keep it plain in order to keep the sugar high for 75 kids as low as possible….

Vanilla Cupcakes (courtesy of HB Cookbook)

Makes 12.

Ingredients:-

120g plain flour

140g caster sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

a pinch of salt

40g unsalted butter, at room temperature

120ml whole milk

1 egg

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 170C. Put the flour, suar, baking powder,salt & butter in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) and beat on slow speed until you get a sandy consistency and everything is combined. Gradually pour in half the milk and beat until the milk is just incorporated.

Whisk the egg, vanilla extract and remaining milk together in a separate bowl for a few seconds, then pour into the flour mixture and continue beating until just incorporated (scrape any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula). Continue mixing for a couple more minutes until the mixture is smooth. Do not overmix.

Spoon the mixture into the paper cases until 2/3 full and bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes (I have a fan oven and so 20 mins is perfect), or until light golden and the sponge bounces back when touched. A skewer inserted in the centre should come out clean. Leave the cupcakes to cool slightly in the tray before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

When the cupcakes are cold, spoon the Vanilla frosting on top (I use a piping bag) and decorate with hundreds and thousands (or whatever you want to decorate with).

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Now, the icing is where it got messy. No doubt I will find icing sugar in every corner and on every surface in my kitchen for the next month – no matter how much I try and clean it now! A couple of hours and the plain cupcakes were transformed……….

Vanilla Frosting (once again, courtesy of HB)

Makes enough for 12 cupcakes

Ingredients:-

250g icing sugar, sifted

80g unsalted butter, at room temperature

25ml whole milk

a couple of drops of vanilla extract

Beat the icing sugar and butter together in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) on medium-slow speed until the mixture comes together and is well mixed. Turn the mixer down to slow speed. Combine the milk and vanilla extract in a separate bowl, then add to the butter mixture a couple of tablespoons at a time. Once all the milk has been incorporated, turn the mixer up to high speed. Continue beating until the frosting is light and fluffy, at least 5 minutes. The longer the frosting is beaten, the fluffier and lighter it becomes.

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Saturday was, what has become, our annual outing with the Mackies. Both Mer & Stu work for Bloomberg and each year the company put on an indescribable and completely amazing summer party for it’s employees and their families. Each employee is allowed to take a guest and as Mer & Stu both work for them they have dragged us (kicking and screaming of course!) to what has become a highlight of the summer. This year was our 3rd time and coming from a company culture where you are charged 14p for a tea from the vending machine (yes, those little white plastic cups ) I find it incredible that a company puts on such an event in the name of FUN!! and they don’t just put it on in London but NY and Asia too.

Anyway, onto some detail. The best way to describe the day (although I did say it was indescribable!) is over the top (Mer’s words actually).

This year the party was held at Osterley Park and the theme was ‘101 experiences and flavours’ and so true to word this meant there actually was 101 different experiences and 101 different flavours.

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Along with my birthday and Christmas I have declared that the Summer party is a calorie free day…..eat what you want when you want! From the pics below you might get an idea of the calibre & variety of the food. I won’t give you the tick list of what I sampled…..

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The party was split into 7 sections and each section was themed and co-ordinated to perfection. It is impossible to get around the whole party – even though we were there from 2.30m until 10.30pm!! We started off the day in ‘Eden’ and this was set in the beautiful flower gardens where 5 stalls were set up featuring the most delicious picnic food. You picked up a box and filled it with the whatever took your fancy – oak smoked trout, smoked salmon,cucumber & dill salad, chicken caesar salad, scotch egg, pork pie, mini quiches & sandwiches, mixed berries, fresh fruit galore….and the list goes on! The area was set up with white wrought iron tables, picnic blankets and hammocks. So beautiful. We settled in and enjoyed the garden & food and the time just started flying by!

The garden of Eden

The garden of Eden

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Mmm Pancakes!!

Mmm Pancakes!!

Next stop was the ‘Roam Free’ section and there were yet more gastronomic delights – one of the highlights being a delicious Mediterranean fish stew.

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Delicious!

Delicious!

The Izzy’s were very excited by all the new sounds, sights and smells and so it was time to explore. We stumbled upon the ‘Jungle’ area and the menu was completely child focussed. My favourite bit was the children’s smoothie bar complete with steps for the kid’s to stand on to place their order and watch it being prepared. The smoothie was then served with a cocktail umbrella – very classy for 2 year olds!

The 'Jungle' Menu

The 'Jungle' Menu

Cocktails for 2 year olds!

Cocktails for 2 year olds!

The highlight of the ‘Jungle’ though was the face painting. I was not convinced that this was going to be a success as did not think that Izzy would sit still long enough but she completely surprised me – we ended up with the 2 cutest pussy cats!

Miaow!

Miaow!

We finally made it down to the ‘Mad Hatters Tea Party’ which we had passed on the way in and I wish I had stopped and taken some pictures because it really was the best example of how far this party goes. It was like you really had gone through the looking glass….amazing! By the time we made it back the rain (albeit brief) had set in and the cake trays were fairly depleted. However as the Mad Hatter and friends danced and mingled the trays of cakes continued to circulate so we managed to squeeze in some lemon meringue pie & carrot cake! oink! Then it was onto the tea cups with the girls where we went round and round and round……

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Eventually we made it to the front section of the party which included ‘Miami Beach’ complete with a Beach (of course!) and an American diner (my camera had run out of juice by now!) serving hot dogs, doughnuts, sundaes, milkshakes…. Throughout the day there had been some very impressive sand castle building and backing onto the beach was a roller disco. Fun, fun, fun!!

Moving along we had missed the rodeo (yes, that’s right a Rodeo!) in the ‘Go Wild’ section but there was still plenty to see with a stage coach, saloon, wigwam’s and yet more yummy food to sample!

Lastly, we made a quick stop in ‘Kooky Pursuits’ for some Asian fare – I thought I might sneak in some yummy noodles but it was not to be as the girls insisted on devouring them!

Flavour number 70!

Flavour number 70!

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The Hijacked noodles!

The Hijacked noodles!

There is just so much more to talk about but I am out of time. So if you had not guessed from the above ramblings we had a FANTASTIC day!! and the 4 girls were on the dance floor until after 10! It’s only once a year after all! I haven’t really mentioned any of the 101 activities but trust me when I tell you that they were as varied and creative as the 101 flavours – snake handling, learning to unicycle, tea leaf reading……

And did I mention, it was all FREE! It must be quite a bill for Bloomberg and boy, do we appreciate the invite! I also think whoever has the job of organising it has my dream job – what an awesome challenge!

Thanks to Mer & Stu again for the invite!!! Great memories are created every year!!

girl SP09

boys SP09

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One of the things I love doing the most is party cakes. Like most Kiwi’s and Aussie’s the run up to my birthday included flicking through the pages of the Australian Women’s Weekly Birthday Cake Book and choosing which one Mum was going to have to attempt that year! She always came up trumps!

I had Izzy’s 1st birthday cake picked out by the time she was about 4 months old. There are a limited number of years that I can get away with choosing it myself and then I will be at her mercy. I reckon I might get away with it for one more year and then she is likely to have her own ideas.

My soul mates in the children’s birthday cake baking are Kerry & Meredith. Like me, they resist the lure of a shop bought cake and have spent till 2am the day of the party trying to get it just right, or in Meredith’s case all night!

For me, the children’s birthday cake has never been about the recipe and the cake itself – it’s all about the icing and decoration. Kerry & Mer have mastered both – always producing delicious and gorgeous cakes. Maybe next year!

This year has also been about cupcakes and all 3 of us produced them to accompany the cake. I love the look of bright cupcakes on a cupcake tree and there are so many yummy flavours that are topped off with colourful icing and cases. The big bonus is that they are so easy to make, especially if you have a Kitchenaid (without a doubt my favourite kitchen gadget).

So back to birthday cakes! For Izzy’s 1st birthday we opted for a farm theme and we invited everyone to join us in one of the party rooms at Godstone Farm in Surrey (www.godstonefarm.co.uk) – it’s a great venue and families can enjoy a fun day out too.  We had been there years before with my god daughter and so I had kept it in the back of my mind for when we had kids. As far as the cake went I kept it simple for my first attempt and went for the Pig. The only bummer with using the AWW book is the fact that all the sweets used to decorate are Australian and so you either need to source on the internet or from friends and family over there or spend some time sourcing here. We are lucky enough to have a local old fashioned sweet shop and they helped come up with some ideas to try. So, how did it turn out? Judge for yourself….

Izzy's 1st birthday cake

Izzy's 1st birthday cake

As with her 1st birthday I had the 2nd birthday cake chosen well in advance (actually before she turned 1!). The theme was jungle and I was torn between 2 cakes – the solution was to make both! Mum came over for the celebrations and so she very kindly tracked down and lugged over a suitcase full of sweets. I failed to tell her that I only needed 2 spearmint leaves so she bought a bag of about 60!

James was a great help on the Lion cake especially – the icing for the mane was tricky and needed more patience than I possess.

Although there were two cakes at 2 there will certainly not be three cakes at 3!!

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I made the cupcakes the night before and topped them with sugarcraft animal toppers. For the orange ones I used a colour paste and for the green I used the liquid colouring you get from the supermarket. I would definitely recommend the paste – unfortunately the green went quite streaky and then seeped through the animal toppers so there were a few green tinged panda’s and elephants.

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This year I also had the chance to make Easton’s 2nd birthday cake. It was pretty easy as just did 2 square cakes iced them green and on one cake I used choc fingers as a fence and dug out a pond in the centre and filled it with chopped up jelly. Last touch was to raid Izzy’s farm set for animals.

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Finally, here are some pics of Kerry (Jaydon) & Mer’s (Isobel M) homemade cakes & cupcakes.

Isobel M's 1st birthday cake

Isobel M's 1st birthday cake

Jaydon's 4th birthday

Jaydon's 4th birthday

Isobel M's 2nd birthday

Isobel M's 2nd birthday

Mer's amazing and delicious cupcakes!

Mer's amazing and delicious cupcakes!

Jaydon's 5th birthday

Jaydon's 5th birthday

Jaydon's spider cupcakes - awesome!

Jaydon's spider cupcakes - awesome!

Izzy enjoying her cupcake at Jaydon's party!

Izzy enjoying her cupcake at Jaydon's party!

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