Pizza Express, Didsbury (review) 

Hot on the heels of our review of the flaming hot Etna pizza with Pizza Express/Deliveroo, we were invited back to Pizza Express in Didsbury, Manchester this weekend to sample their new Autumn menu.

The new Autumn menu includes some much loved PizzaExpress classics, including the Rustichella Romana, Basilicata Romana and Cannelloni.  AND – the new melting Chocolate Fondant.  

Pizza express Didsbury
Our local restaurant is just around the corner from us, so we enjoyed a lovely autumn walk on the way there. Pizza Express restaurants are always a good family choice, as they are great with the children meaning the olds can have a relaxed meal while they’re entertained with colouring and activity sheets and crayons. 

The kids menu is really reasonable: 3 courses for £6.45.  Our excited girls had the dough balls which came with an inviting pot of garlic butter and a separate pot of vegetable sticks. 

They then had their own mini pizzas (1 la reine with olives, ham and mushrooms, and 1 marguerita).  They loved these and got to take the remainder back home (in their own ‘special box’, no less). 

For pudding, they were delighted to tuck into chocolate brownies and a bambiccino – a nice touch which was thrilling for them!

Pizza express Didsbury

Onto the adults, where we were trying out the hearty Autumn menu.  We each had the mozzarella and tomato salad to start which was refreshing and light enough to make room for the mains.  My husband had the Basilicata Romana which was topped with lamb, mint and chilli meatballs.  I had the Canneloni, stuffed with spinach annd ricotta and topped with loads more cheese and a delicious tomato sauce. Both were really tasty – and filling!

Despite this, we still managed to squeeze in pudding.  We just had to try the melting chocolate fondant.  It was soooo nice! All warm, melty, chocolatey gooiness.

We enjoyed or lunch at Pizza Express.  It’s a great local family-friendly restaurant for us and we’ll definitely be returning. 

Disclaimer: We were invited to try the Autumn menu at Pizza Express free of charge.  All opinions are our own. 

A dinner party for grown ups

This post is well overdue, as the dinner party in question took place over the Christmas period. Where has the time gone already? How is it February?

Anyway, to the point. I held a dinner party for grown ups. No kids. No trying to talk over screams of “I want more sausage!” or trying not to look exasperated in front of others when a plastic plate gets pushed onto the floor for the 86th time.

Not an iota of child presence. Or at least this is how I planned it to be. However my eldest, now four, made her presence felt in a most unusual way.

I’d decided a while back that it was high time I held a dinner party. It was getting mildly embarrassing thinking of how many we’d been to without reciprocating. What put me off, then? Tiredness and lack of energy I guess – a dinner party on top of the week’s usual shopping and meal planning?!

Yet things have got a bit more normal of late, so I got out the Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay much-neglected books and started menu planning.

The menu:
– pre-dinner cocktail (Mr EC made these – Cointreau, clementine juice and prosecco). Pleasingly lethal.
– Jamie’s Spiced Parsnip Soup
– Gordon’s Beef Wellington.
– Jamie’s Chocolate Torte.

All preparation and cooking went very well, probably because Mr EC was around to deal with preschooler-interruption tactics.

I was well prepared…and so the evening began.

My guests arrived and amazingly both my girls were in bed. I breathed a sigh of relief, until the eldest appeared at the stair gate.

“Can I just come and say hello, Mummy?”

“Oh, ok then.”

She came to say hello to my guests. She tried it on a little, wanting to stay up, but then went to bed and all was quiet again.

We got started on the cocktails, which were very, very nice. I did think I could hear the flutterings of tiny feet upstairs, but decided ignoring it was the best possible option. I made the final touches to the soup course and invited my guests to kindly exit the lounge and make their way to our candlelit dining room.

To be greeted with this on the stairs:

Toilet roll decor
Attractive toilet roll decor – a little avant le dîner amusement, anyone?

So, not to be content with being sent upstairs to bed, my 4-year-old had been busying herself making us a little decoration. With toilet roll delicately placed on several bannister legs, all topped off with one big, smelly bed sock.

And no sign of her. She was asleep by then.

It was quite sweet, really. I honestly am trying not to don’t think it was a dirty protest. More a little surprise for our guests of her own individual making.

The evening went well and I can recommend ‘proper’ dinner parties for all parents – especially if you’ve got a budding Junior Fritz in your home.

Beef Wellington Gordon Ramsay
Beef Welly. Gordon Ramsay style. Proper food (if you eat meat – otherwise stick to cheese).

An evening of bloggers and decadence with Co-operative food

number 1 Angel Place, Manchester
Was I actually in the future?

On Friday evening I was transported into the future by shape-shifting aliens who had the knowledge of worm-hole technology…ok not really. But I was at Number 1 Angel Place, the Manchester home of Co-operative Food and that was just as good.

What happens when you put a load of north-west bloggers who don’t get to see each other that often in a room with copious amount of sugar and prosecco? I would tell you the answer, but I may have to kill you. Let’s just say that it involved sending tweets to someone sat less than 1 yard from me saying “I’M BEHIND YOU!” and discussions on just how many glasses of prosecco we could nail in half an hour (in the end, the weary waiter didn’t even bother asking and just topped us up).

We did also try out some of the Co-op’s new range of  Christmas wares, watch a cooking demonstration of some of their new desserts and listen to some incredible bloggers, such as the gorgeous Jo Middleton of Slummy Single Mummy and Jordan McDowell of And eat cheese and biscuits. Lots of it.

Co-operative Food Christmas
Chilli Brownies, how I love thee

During the cooking demonstration, we had the opportunity to try some delicious new desserts and snacks, including different flavours of popcorn and different types of brownies. My absolute favourite of these were the chilli brownies. I’m a big fan of chilli – and these had a real kick which you didn’t realise was there until roughly 30 seconds after eating them. Amazing.

The room was dotted with the Co-op’s latest range of Christmas goodies, including a Christmas Chocolate Toolbox which I thought would make a great stocking filler for my little ones.  The Champagne Truffles also looked particularly delectable and would make a great after-dinner coffee accompaniment on Christmas Day (MINE! ALL MINE!!).

I was generally impressed with their range of cakes and desserts, too, which obviously I ate a lot of during the evening (I was going straight out for a meal afterwards, too – Fatty Expression and Confession).  The flower-topped cupcakes were really lovely, and my two girls tried the marshmallow-topped chocolate cupcakes and loved them.

Co-operative Food Christmas
Co-operative Food Christmas wares…

The talks.  I did listen, honest.  To some of it.  I didn’t talk all the way through and top up my glass at all.  I certainly did not tweet @TheCooperative “what do you call a fly with no wings? A walk”.  That didn’t happen.  Or maybe it did in shape-shifting alien world, but in the real world, I was a picture of decorum, happily jotting down notes and making a useful task list which would aid the development of my blog in the future.

The one thing that did register in my mind was one of Jo Middleton’s 16 questions:  “why did you start this blog in the first place?”.  That’s one I’ll be reflecting on.  I’ve been blogging for nearly 2 years and it will be a good exercise for me to think about what I’m actually doing for once refresh my intentions regarding my blog.

This was a great event for bloggers in the North West and a great chance to try some good quality food.  We do often shop for bits and pieces at the Co-operative.  It’s handy as there’s a couple of stores in our area and I find them accessible – I wouldn’t do my full weekly shop there but definitely a ‘top up’ shop.  I’ll be more interested in their Christmas ranges and desserts in the future.

Disclaimer:  I was invited to this event by Co-operative Food but was under no obligation to write this review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

Me and the lovely HodgePodgeDays (, We don't always look like this.  Honest.
Me and the lovely HodgePodgeDays (, We don’t always look like this. Honest.

Oi1 Extra Virgin Olive Oil (review)

Oi1 Extra Virgin Olive Oil

We tend to cook most things from scratch here in the Expression Confession household (cheese strings aside) and that means cooking with oils, which we use for frying, braising, roasting or dressing.

Recently the lovely folks at Candiasoil sent me a lovely tub of Oi1 Extra Virgin Olive Oil to trial.

What’s different about their oils is that they’re produced from one single variety of olive from individual farms (in Crete, I believe – great holiday destination) which gives them a more distinguished flavour and character. Most oils we see in the shops are blends of a range of olive varieties as this is more economical.

They also carry something called PDO- ‘protected designation of origin’ which means the olives have been picked out for their high quality.

I tried Oi1 Peza from Koroneiki olives from Peza in central Crete – billed as smooth and slightly fruity and good with red meat, vegetables and homemade dressings. It’s also genuine extra virgin – which means it’s produced from a genuine mechanical pressing process rather than adding chemicals.

Due to its extra virgin qualities, we didn’t want to use this as ordinary frying oil. We tried it firstly as part of a marinade for some lovely lamb chops (I say lovely – I’m vegetarian so these were for husband/children), using the remaining marinade to create a sauce. We also used it mixed with lemon and balsamic vinegar as a dressing for an accompanying salad.

We would definitely agree that the oil is a lot more flavoursome than the oils I usually buy. Much like buying a bottle of wine with different grape varieties, you can certainly tell the difference in character from the single grape variety used.

Also unique is the tin the oil is provided in (rather than a bottle) – this prevents sunlight reaching the oil and breaking down some of its natural beneficial chemicals.

Cost: The oil is £6.50 for 500ml bottle (available in Tesco stores) which I think is reasonable for an extra virgin oil (we use normal olive oil for cooking and extra virgin for marinades and salads).

I think we would definitely purchase this again and keep it as the ‘special’ oil – reserved for dressings and marinades so we can appreciate the flavour!

Disclosure: I was sent a run of Oi1 Extra Virgin Olive Oil to review, free of charge. All opinions expressed are my own.

Some very different sandwich recipes with Roberts Bakery!

Last week we were invited by Roberts Bakery to a fab picnic at Delamere Forest.

We love Delamere. I’ve blogged about our trips there previously – it’s just an easy place to go to with the little ones with lots to see and do.

Robert’s Bakery has been a family of bakers since 1887 and they’re rapidly expanding. They do a great range of lovely bread and soft rolls. Our challenge was to make some of their sandwiches while the kids went off and ‘did their thing’ with story teller Ian Douglas, then we would all come
back together and eat our wares to another of Ian’s fab stories.

Ian Douglas storyteller
Riveted by Ian Douglas, storyteller

Beginning with Ian – wow, this guy’s like the pied piper or something? He’s a real talent with the little ones. As soon as we arrived, my children literally disappeared with him, looking at bugs and beetles, singing songs and listening to fab stories in the tent he had set up. I’m seriously thinking I may book him for my little ones’ joint birthday party later in the year (shouldn’t have said that – you might get in there first!).
This is of course meant I could relax and have a coffee with my fellow blogger Hodge Podge Days before sandwich making commenced. We had a brief talk from Roberts Bakery about bread making and flour which I was actually riveted at – never thought I’d be riveted about bread! Did you know for example that all flour, even white flour, must legally be fortified with vitamins and iron and that this is a hang up from war days?

Roberts bakery

Onto sandwich recipes of the day:
– good old fashioned sausage sandwiches, but spread with half mayo, half low fat Greek yoghurt and topped with tomatoes and salad.
‘traffic light’ sandwiches. This was a mix of grated carrot, cheese and raisins, popped between two slices of bread with three small round holes cut out of the top slice. Pop extra carrot, raisins and cheese into each hole and there you have the traffic light effect.
strawberries and cream! My favourite of the day. Heart shaped sandwiches spread with soft cheese and topped with strawberries, rocket and a touch of black pepper. Heaven.
monkey faces! The little ones loved these delights. Two slices of bread made up the monkey face, and we uses bananas and honey for the face.

Sandwiches with Roberts bakery
All the sandwiches were made with Roberts lovely and soft 50% white and 50% wholemeal bread, and there wholemeal rolls. I was impressed with the produce- often prepackaged sliced bread can feel cloying and taste over processed but this was really lovely.

We had such a great day out that I want to go back again soon to Delamere. My two girls had a great time. We continued our day after the event was over by having a walk in the forest and finishing with an ice cream at the cafe.

We were invited guests of Democracy PR for this event, and were not financially compensated for this post.

How much food can we fit on a barbecue? A bank holiday adventure

Eating the barbecue #MorrisonsLast weekend was a bank holiday – a time to pack in lots of family activities. We saw Grandparents, went to a birthday party, spent time in the garden and most excitingly – had a barbecue!

When I think of a barbecue, I instantly think of the gorgeous smell associated with it.  It’s difficult to describe in words – that charcoal, not quite burnt, outdoorsy aroma.  It makes me instantly think of parties and spending time with family and friends.  A barbecue is somehow always a celebration.

This one had a twist.  The EC family don’t often get out the barbecue, and when we do, Mr EC complains about lugging it up the cellar steps (which obviously I would never even contemplate doing myself, me having such a delicate constitution and all).

So if we’re having one – we’re going to stick as much food on there as we possibly can.

In addition, I was chosen to be a #MorrisonsMum for the bank holiday. The mission: check out Morrisons new ‘cheaper Morrisons’ range, as they have cut prices for good on over 1,000 products.

The shopping experience
The new cheaper reange at MorrisonsWe don’t often shop at Morrisons – in fact I think we’ve been there maybe once over the past year, and even that was to one of their smaller, local stores as it happened to be convenient. I usually alternate between Aldi and Sainsburys. I think I may be an actual Aldi expert, if such a thing exists, and I was intrigued as to how the Morrisons new price cuts would stack up.

This all meant that the girls and I were super excited to visit this store that was new to us. Much to the bemusement of other shoppers and the staff – who looked on in a bewildered fashion as I took photos as though we were on a day trip to Blackpool.

The store we visited was in Chorlton, Manchester. Our experience there was very good – the new cheaper range was clearly labelled throughout the store with eye catching signs saying “I’m cheaper”. My eye was drawn to the signs and we did choose these items for the trolley over the others as they appeared to me to be of good quality.

The girls also enjoyed it, sitting in a trolley with two child seats and generally shouting orders and terrorising the man on the butchers counter until he gave in and gave them a cooked ‘pig in blanket’ each.

The food list
As I mentioned, we aimed to stick as much stuff on the barbecue as possible on a bank holiday Monday.  We’d feed our family of four that day, and have leftovers for a good further few meals throughout the week:

  • Cucumber portion: £0.25
  • Spicy bean burgers: £0.99
  • Pack of 6 soft, brown rolls: £0.65
  • Bagged mixed leaf salad: £0.99
  • Organic spring onions: £1.00
  • Piccolo tomatoes: £1.69
  • 1 pack Morrisons radishes: £0.50
  • 4 large, flat mushrooms: £0.81
  • 1 pack Morrisons organic garlic: £0.60
  • 6 Morrisons butchers counter sausages: £2.37
  • 1 Morrisons Prime Rump Steak: £3.25 (half price offer)
  • 4 pack Morrisons Beefburgers: £4.00
  • 1 pack Morrisons Blue Stilton: £2.20
  • 1 Morrisons small whole chicken: £4.00
  • 6 lemons: £1.00
  • 4 pack Morrisons lamb chops: £4.00
  • 1 jar of Morrisons chocolate spread: £1.54

Total: £29.84
Cost per head £7.46, for a barbecue for 4 and leftovers for lunches and a couple of family teas over the next few days (see ‘leftovers’, below).

Oh and the rump steak was a little luxury – but Mr EC does love it.

The prep

Marinating the meat - a barbecue!Our prepping for a barbecue always involves lots of marinating – excepting the sausages and burgers which are fine as they are.  I use herbs from the garden (at the moment we have thyme, sage, rosemary and mint) and I’ll add additional dried herbs if I think it’ll add flavour.  Then I’ll add some oil, garlic and lemon juice, and sometimes a kick of dried chillies.

For the lamb I added dried chillies and an extra kick of dried rosemary.  The steak I kept quite simple with garden herbs, garlic and olive oil.  Mr EC always reminds me to season away – meat tastes bland without it (how would I know – I was having the veggie burgers!).

For the whole chicken I actually used some lemon-infused rapeseed oil I had in the cupboard for the marinade, with garden herbs added

For an addition to my veggie burgers, I prepared the large, flat mushrooms with stilton, garlic and a bit of olive oil, wrapping each in foil.

Garlic blue cheese mushrooms

The BBQ – and the star of the show!

BarbecueWe cooked away that Monday afternoon, and really enjoyed the whole process.  I’m always amazed with a barbecue at how quickly everything cooks.

I’d prepared salad and soft, brown rolls to accompany our meal, and set out a range of sauces.  We had burgers, sausages, lamb chops, steak and the veggie burgers and garlic, blue cheese mushrooms.  The girls were beside themselves with choice – but obviously ate mainly sausage.  And more sausage. With the odd piece of cucumber thrown in.

Barbecue from #morrisons

However, the star of the show was definitely the chicken.  We stuck this on the barbecue while it was still hot and just left it for a good hour.  When we opened its foil parcel to have a glance, it cause much excitement…

Barbecued chicken

Of course ice cream has to feature in a barbecue,  just to round the meal off with a sweet treat.  For this I warmed some of the chocolate spread in the microwave for 30 seconds to form a chocolate sauce, and served it with vanilla ice cream.

Ice cream with chocolate sauce


We did manage to pile a load of food onto the barbecue which was great in terms of leftovers.  Here’s how we used them (and there’s still some lamb left which will a nice lunch portion for the Mr with some salad):

  • Sausages and burgers were used as part of a family picnic the next day.
  • Chicken and vegetable rice with salad (2 portions)
  • Chicken salad lunch (1 portion)
  • Thai style hot beef and noodle soup (2 portions)
  • Garlic mushroom and blue cheese salad (1 portion)

Overall experience and value for money

I was impressed with my shop at Morrisons.  I directly compared the shop to Aldi and found that my shopping list would have been £1.24 cheaper.  However, the meat, veggie burgers and some of the fresh produce such as the piccolo tomatoes were slightly better quality, so I think this is well worth it for just over £1 extra.

Don’t get me wrong – I still love Aldi and my ‘Aldi special buys’.  But this has made me want to shop at Morrisons again to see if this was a one-off experience or not – so who knows, I could become a regular?

Disclaimer: I was sent vouchers for the food but all opinions expressed are my own.

Check out the new cheaper Morrisons for yourself when you shop in store and online by looking for the yellow markers, or check out the price cuts at






Cookery bucket list

Ok so I’ve been a tad obsessed with Masterchef recently. Who doesn’t like watching John Torode bollock people for not executing a quenelle correctly, or Greg Wallace gleefully taking great gushing mouthfuls of ‘pud’, thinking all his birthdays have come at once?

Watching the programme is not only great for general recipe ideas, but has made me realise that I surely haven’t lived until I’ve cooked the following items myself:


Fondant potato: These items look lovely, and I sense from watching the programme that they’re cooked in butter. Quite how, I’m not yet sure, but maybe John and Greg can help me.

Gnocchi. I love gnocchi. It’s just very versatile and moreish – and can be eaten in a really plain style with just olive oil, a few veggies and cheese. I always buy ready made gnocchi, but would like to have a go at making my own and putting it to use in more experimental ways.

A quenelle, of any purée-type substance. I’ve never attempted one, and have yet to google how to. Can’t be that hard, surely? Just get two tablespoons and bobs your uncle?! Yet even the Mastercheffers themselves seem to struggle. Hmmm.

A jus. I’ve made gravy. And cheese sauce. But a jus sounds much more refined and worthy of attention. In Masterchef, a red wine jus is frequently mentioned, so I aim to have a stab at this sometime soon.

A water bath. This is the grand enduring mystery of Masterchef. “Oh, you used a water bath”, says Greg, and we fleetingly see a glimpse of a weird pan part-filled with water and are left wondering that on earth this could mean. I aim to undertake further research and cook something in a water bath. Unsure what.

That’s my cookery bucket list for now, which I’m sure will keep me in kitchen exploits for some time! I bet Mr EC can hardly contain himself!


Image credit:

My brussels sprouts love affair

How to use up left over brussels sprouts?

After the Christmas dinner and Boxing Day excess, many of us survey the leftovers and think “what on earth do I do with all this?”

This year, we seemed to be left with a lot of sprouts, both cooked and uncooked.

I’m a huge fan of the humble, oft neglected sprout. I love the iron-y, bitter taste they leave on my palate. Yes – I’m a sprout obsessive.

Today I’ve been reflecting on the many uses I’ve put my leftover sprouts to over the past week.


What do we know about the brussels sprout? They’re low in calories (28 calories per 1/2 cup), provide a small amount of protein, are full of fibre, provide plenty of vitamins such as A, B, C and K and the minerals iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, calcium, manganese and selenium. They contain antioxidants which help protect against cancer.

They were introduced to Britain in the nineteenth century but were named after the Belgian capital after becoming popular there in the sixteenth century. They were used by ancient Chinese physicians for bowel problems.

The world record for the most sprouts eaten in one minute is currently 31 (I can beat that, surely?!).

Ok that’s enough of that (“You sprout freak!”, I hear you say!).

Here are my sprout meals over the past week:

  1. Sprouts with melted Brie and Stilton. Simple yet unbelievably tasty fayre. Cheese and sprouts go so well together – just as others greens do, for example spinach or broccoli (sprouts are a crucifers us vegetable, by the way).
  2. Pasta, pesto and sprouts. Now you wouldn’t think this would work, but it does. The cheese and basil in the pesto compliments the earthy tannins of the sprouts perfectly.
  3. Sprout and mature cheddar cheese omelette. Another cheese and sprout option, with the addition of eggs. A perfect meal – protein, calcium and the health benefits of sprouts.
  4. Sprout and paneer curry. Just realised the distinct cheese theme here. Paneer is a type of Indian cheese, which is ace in a hot curry. Add sprouts and you’re winning.
  5. Just sprouts. Sometimes, I just fancy a sprout, as a snack from the fridge. Yes, really.

To top this off, I attended a pre-New Year’s Eve party where the host kindly prepared me a Thai sprout satay.

In 2014, I shall be eating more sprouts – I can’t believe I’ve neglected them for so long!


Money saving meals: Beef in ale stew and Veggie Paneer Bake

I enjoy cooking for my family and have been known to share the occasional recipe. I usually look in recipe books, order the ingredients in my weekly shop and follow a recipe to the letter.

I was recently inspired by Jamie Oliver’s Save with Jamie book and his series Money Saving Meals. I wanted to challenge myself: think about what I happen to have in the cupboards and fridge and make some healthy deliciousness with it.

We have an added complication in our family, in that everyone else except me eats meat. So I need to concoct a vegetarian version of whatever we make for myself.

So, here’s what I created yesterday: Beef in Ale Stew and Paneer Veggie Bake.

I began by frying off 2 large onions, a few shallots and about 4 cloves of garlic.

At this point, I halved the mixture (with half in my sad-looking little brown dish), and set the veggie option aside while I concentrated on the meat.

Then I placed 500g of casserole steak into the frying pan with a bit of flour, and browned the meat.

Once browned, the meat went in with the onions (in the large, meat-eaters casserole dish), and at this point I threw in whatever I happened to have in. This turned out to be a few chopped carrots, a couple of potatoes (I also sliced an extra one for the paneer bake – see later), some cabbage and one large red chilli (we like our food hot).

Now I added the liquid and herbs. 1 500ml bottle of ale, a tin of chopped tomatoes, some rosemary and thyme and a couple of bay leaves.

Then the lid went on and the whole thing went in the oven for three hours at 170 degrees (our oven tends to be very hot – 180 would usually be ok).

Now I could turn my attention to the Paneer Bake. I totally made this up, and luckily we all liked it (yes everyone else gets a turn with my veggie version even though they already have their own!).

I don’t know if you’re familiar with Indian paneer cheese. It’s a hard cheese which is so versatile to cook with. It’s obviously great in curries – I make one with a simple masala mix, onions, garlic and ginger, tinned tomatoes and a bit of water and simmer it all down. But I wanted to try something different.

The cheese looks like this:

I had some spinach to use up, so literally all I did for this dish was layer the paneer with sliced potato, tinned tomatoes, some oregano and seasoning, and the spinach.

Being meat free, this only took 40 minutes to cook so I put this in the oven when the stew had only around 40 minutes to go.

The finished result of both dishes looked like this:


I thought it would be interesting to do a quick cost breakdown. The stew serves 4-6 people I’d say and I would get 2 portions out of mine. So working on the conservative side, I calculated cost per head based on 6 people for both dishes.

  • Stewing steak: £4 (current tesco price)
  • Onions: 25p each so 50p
  • Shallots: £1 for a bag so say 50p for half the bag
  • Carrots: 9p each so 24p for three
  • Potatoes: 48p each so 96p for two
  • Spinach: £1 bag – used half so 50p
  • Cabbage: 80p – used half so 40p
  • Tinned tomatoes: 31p each so 62p for two tins
  • Paneer: £1.80
  • Ale: £1.97
  • I’ve not included herbs here as I’m assuming everyone will have some herbs in the food cupboard.

    Both meals cost £11.49 to cook, which is £1.91 per head! I think that’s pretty good. You could also make it even cheaper by substituting the ale for beef stock.

    I really enjoyed cooking creatively and simply. Do you have a money saving recipe to share?


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    My rose-themed Christening cake

    I only make celebration cakes once (or since the birth of my eight month old twice) a year. A christening (or Thanksgiving service, as we chose) for my littlest one makes this potentially three cakes this year (although I may well try and get away with a joint birthday party and thus joint cake, as my two girls were conveniently born in the same month).

    It’s a lengthy and drawn out journey, this cake business. Yet so rewarding when you see the final result and know it’s made by your own fair hand (ok, with considerable help and advice from an expert cake maker in the family, my excellent mother-in-law).

    So here’s my rose-themed christening cake.

    Making the fruit cake

    Now I would love to share the recipe for the actual fruit cake, but between myself and the above-mentioned expert cake-maker, we concocted a mix of recipes handed down through generations, collected from magazines, and, well Delia. We also had a huge square 12″ cake tin to fill.

    Delia does an excellent celebration fruit cake recipe, here. Of course, depending on the size of your tin, you have to scale up your quantities and cooking time. There’s a good guide to this here (excellent blog, by the way).

    The basics are lots of fruit, flour, eggs, butter and booze, cooked for many hours at a moderate temperature (ours was done in 4 1/2 hours at 140 degrees, but then my oven is big and prone to furnace-like tendencies).

    Anyway, here is how the fruit cake turned out:



    Ok, I cheated on both marzipan and fondant icing. With my oldest’s cake, I toiled for hours with eggs and ground almonds to make my own marzipan, and with water and bags and bags (and bags) of icing sugar to make the fondant. This time, I thought “why bother?!”. It’s just eggs and ground almonds, or just water and icing sugar. Just buy some ready made! So I did.

    For those who are interested, previously I’ve used Delia’s marzipan recipe and also her fondant recipe. You can’t go wrong with Delia for baking.

    Here’s the marzipan-covered cake. Note that you have to brush the cake with some warmed jam to make it stick:



    …and the fondant-covered cake. Just a note here that a trick I learned from browsing many YouTube videos is that left over fondant rolled into a ball makes an excellent buffer to get a smooth finish:


    Rose-themed decoration

    Again, I watched many YouTube videos and practiced lots, with two-going-on-three-year-old making her own decorations (“it’s SuperwormMummy!”) at my side.

    So – fondant roses.

    Take a small ball of pink fondant icing, as so:

    Squash it into more of an oblong shape, place it on a plastic ziplock or freezer bag, fold the freezer bag over it and squish it down (very toddler friendly , this task) as so:


    Now simply roll the flattened oblong up to make the inside of your rose :


    Now do the same, but miss out the oblong part and keep the balls round, for your petals. Add your first petal as so – no need to use water to stick (apologies for the terrible nails by the way. I would have spent an hour or two at the beauticians having a deluxe manicure but, er, I don’t have time):


    Keep adding as many petals as you see fit – I added four per rose, and also varied the shade of pink by mixing pink with white fondant:


    The finished cake

    Here it is. I like it – it still looks homemade, is personal to us as a family, and doesn’t look like a dog’s dinner!


    The proof is in the eating

    This post wouldn’t be complete without a photo of the cake in the process of being eaten. We had a lovely day for my littlest one, despite the horrendous weather! A nice cake brightens up any party.



    A giant hand eating a giant slice of cake. This partygoer and good friend of ours told me the cake had the “perfect level of moisture”, and he particularly loved the addition of glacé cherries!