Wednesday, 29 August 2012

What we did last weekend

So we went to a wedding and got all dressed up. 
Don't we look smart? 
(Don't tell anyone but Monkey got ketchup down his shirt later!)

It rained during the ceremony but afterwards, we managed to get
a few photos outside before it rained again and we ran back inside. 
(The bride is our cousin by the way)

And after a long time (too long for Monkey!) we finally got to eat!

Later, Missy Woo got to hold her newest cousin. 

Then, after a long day....

Monkey fell asleep on the bed watching Match of the Day.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Meal Planning Monday - the last week of holidays edition

This is very late for me, as I usually have this post done and dusted by Sunday night at the latest, sometimes on Saturday but we were away at a wedding until yesterday afternoon and we unpacked and relaxed last night. We cobbled together a meal plan this morning and headed off to Asda, husband taking the kids to browse the toys whilst I shopped (works for me). I've picked some recipes from a speedy suppers booklet that came with BBC Good Food this month, and one of the recipes is from the Hairy Dieters series that I wanted to try. They're fairly cheap meals too - I have some stuff in the freezer, I managed to get some chicken reduced for the freezer today and even with buying extra stuff for lunches, I still only spent a few pennies over £40.

Here we go.

Monday - Tuna and sweetcorn burgers
Tuesday - Thai satay stir-fry
Wednesday - Barbeque chicken pieces with coleslaw and corn on the cob
Thursday - Chilli salad bowls
Friday - Broccoli baked potatoes
Saturday - Pesto crusted fish (olives removed because I'm the only one that likes them!)
Sunday - kept free

So that's us. What's on your menu this week? Don't forget that, even though she's on holiday, Mrs M has all the Meal Planning Monday entries over at her place.

Friday, 24 August 2012

20 things I learned this week

1. If you want to avoid a long wait when shopping for school shoes, the best thing to do is to be the first ones through the door at opening time.

2. It may, however, still take half an hour to get two children measured and fitted.

3. It is possible for feet to measure a totally different width fitting than the one they eventually fit. Which explains 2.

4. Missy Woo has inherited my high instep. See 3.

5. Monkey doesn't care what his school shoes look like, so long as they have an association with a character or dinosaur.

6. Missy Woo cares very much what her shoes look like. Too much.

7. Missy Woo has no colour co-ordination. She is dazzled by it - the more colour, the better.

8. In the future, Missy Woo is going to cost me a lot of money in clothes.

9. Monkey claims not to be bothered, but secretly he likes to dress up smart.

10. Monkey looks swamped in jackets, even if they fit him.

11. On the other hand, waistcoats suit him.

12. Monkey has a longer body but shorter legs.

13. Monkey therefore doesn't fit suit sets. He fits trousers in one size, and shirts, jackets or waistcoats in another.

14. Shopping for a wedding outfit for a 7 year old boy is nigh on impossible because they don't get that they need to try things on to see if they fit.

15. Shopping for a wedding outfit for a 7 year old boy straight after school shoe shopping is a bad, bad idea.

16. The children love The Great British Bake Off so much that they get excited when they see the books in shops. So much so that they were moved to shout, "Mary Berry! The queen of baking!"

17. I have forgotten how much I love reading. Henning Mankell books especially.

18. When I read Wallander books now, the people I picture in my head are the ones who played the characters in the Swedish series.

19. Monkey really is ruled by his stomach and comes home from playing with friends when he is hungry by and large.

20. What excites and intrigues the children most when going away on a trip is not where we are going but the sticker books they get to play with on the way.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Mocha crunch cake - a totally over-the-top birthday cake

Sunday was the first birthday event of the local Clandestine Cake Club. If you don't know what it is, see here - basically, you book onto an event, make a cake to fit the theme, then turn up at the venue (which is kept a secret until a few days before), eat lots of cake, chat with cakey people and get to take cake home. What is not to like?

So, as I said, it was our first birthday event. I have been going since the second meeting ever so I missed the first and although I haven't been every time, I'm a fairly established regular attendee, this being my fifth event.

The theme was, of course, Happy Birthday and I wanted to make a decadent, over the top cake for a special occasion that would be suitable for a grown up birthday. In our house, that means chocolate cake, by and large. I found the original recipe for chocolate crunch cake in a booklet from a Good Food magazine but I wanted to do more to it so I have combined with details from a coffee crunch cake on the Good Food website and added my own details.

I wasn't totally convinced that this would work, particularly as the cake batter was quite runny so it is a bit of  leap of faith, but the meringue stayed on top and baked nicely. I have tweaked the amount of water going into the cake batter as the cake took a lot longer to cook than it should have done. If you find the mixture a bit stiff, loosen the batter with a drop of water.

Just feet from cake club venue.
This is probably best made on the day you want to eat it. I couldn't because logistics didn't allow for it - I was at Body Pump until an hour before. So I made the cakes, stored them in plastic containers overnight, then filled with the cream just before I left for the event, which was held a few feet from Bradley Wiggins's other golden postbox. The cream softened the meringue very quickly, so if you want to keep the crunchy effect of the crisp meringue, I would recommend filling it with cream at the very last minute. And then you have every excuse for finishing it off on the day you make it.

Mocha Crunch Cake
Cuts into about 12-16 pieces


For the cake batter
50g good quality cocoa powder
175ml hot water
100g butter, softened
280g caster sugar, preferably golden
2 large eggs
175g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp (2.5ml) bicarbonate of soda

For the meringue topping
2 egg whites
100g caster sugar, again preferably golden
Coffee flavouring (see below)

For the cake filling
284ml double cream
2-3 tbsp icing sugar
Coffee flavouring (see below)

Also required
100g dark chocolate drops

1, Start by making the coffee flavouring. I make a small cup of double strength espresso from our coffee machine and allow to cool. If you can't make fresh coffee, use as much instant coffee as you dare and dissolve in 100ml hot water. You may need a little more than this but the stronger you make it, the less you will need. Also before you start, place the cocoa powder in a jug or bowl, pour over the hot water and whisk until you have a fairly uniform lump free liquid. Place on one side to cool while you get the cake ready.

2. Grease and line the bases of 2 20cm (8in in old money) sandwich tins with baking parchment and grease the linings. I find the best way to do this is to use cake release spray but you can use softened butter if you like.

3. Place the butter and sugar in a bowl and whisk for 2-3 mins, preferably with an electric hand or stand mixer. There is a lot of sugar in this mix, so it won't go all pale and fluffy like it normally does but do not panic. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking after each addition and this time, it will go all pale, light and fluffy. Pour the cooled cocoa mixture on top, and then sift in the flour and bicarbonate of soda. Fold everything together gently until thoroughly mixed and smooth. Divide the mixture equally between the two tins. Smooth the tops if necessary. Place the tins on the side whilst you prepare the meringue topping.

4. Preheat the oven to 160C/Fan 150C/Gas 3. You will need to reuse your mixer to make the meringue unless you are very strong or like me, possess two mixers! If you have to clean it first, clean the beaters very well to remove all traces of fat or the eggs will not whisk. Make sure you have a clean bowl too and when you separate your eggs that not a trace of yolk has got into it. (I find it easier to separate the eggs into a small bowl first before adding to the mixing bowl. Whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks - when you lift the beaters out, the eggs should make a peak that stays formed very easily. Add half of the sugar to the bowl and whisk again until the mixture becomes glossy. Gently fold in the rest of the sugar and 1-2 tsp of your coffee flavouring.

5. When combined, spoon half of the meringue on top of the cake mixture. Leave a 2cm gap around the edge of the tin as the meringue will spread as it cooks. The tins are now ready to go into the preheated oven.

6. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the meringue is crisp and the cake cooked. Use a long skewer at an angle to test the cake under the middle of the meringue. If the cake needs longer cooking, check how the meringue looks - if it is looking like it will burn, turn the oven down to about 140C and keep in there until the cake is finally done.

Cakes cooling after baking

7. Remove the tins from the oven and leave the cakes to cool in their tins for 5 minutes. Then, really carefully remove the cakes from the tins - this is where loose bottomed tins come into their own! Peel off the paper and leave to cool completely, meringue topping uppermost.

8. When it's time to eat the cake, make the cream filling. You'll need your mixer beaters again - cold if possible (I put clean ones in the fridge to chill) as this makes better whipped cream. Whisk the cream until it forms soft peaks. Sift in the icing sugar and add 1-2 tbsp of coffee flavouring, folding both gently into the cream. Add more coffee or sugar to taste, folding gently as before. You can do this an hour or so ahead if you want and store in the fridge.

9. Right, cake building time. Decide which cake has the best looking topping and reserve that for the top. Place the other cake carefully on a plate and spread thickly with the coffee flavoured cream. Scatter about half the chocolate drops on top of the cream.

Cream on top of bottom layer, with chocolate chips

10. Make some coffee drizzle icing. Place 2-3 tbsp icing sugar in a bowl and add about 1-2 tsp coffee flavouring then mix together. You need an icing that is runny enough to drizzle but thick enough for it to set quite quickly and not dribble over the sides.  You may need to add more icing sugar - mine was too runny but I didn't have time to thicken it further! Drizzle the icing over the top of the cake, then scatter the remaining chocolate drops over the top so they stick to the icing. A final dusting of some icing sugar is completely optional - I didn't bother as I was out of the door within a minute with the cake in a box.

You may like to try other combinations with the chocolate - I can think of using orange juice and an orange liqueur to make a chocolate orange cake or peppermint essence to make mint choc cake. How about some chopped hazelnuts folded gently into the meringue with some frangelico in the cream? Or even some squashed berries in the cream! The possibilities are endless.

Thanks to Susan and Linzi for organising today's event.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Meal Planning Monday - the half a week edition

A bank holiday weekend, so what happens? A wedding of course! We are going to my niece's wedding down in Buckinghamshire so we will be away on Friday and Saturday and probably home late on the Sunday. This leaves me only 4 meals to plan for this week. Husband is off work this week so we are still keeping it fairly simple but I can't help sneaking in the odd recipe I've never done before.

Eyes down, look in. This is our (half a) week in meals.

Monday - Chicken, coconut and mango pilau (link goes to lamb recipe)
Tuesday -  Fish finger pie
Wednesday - Pad Thai with prawns
Thursday - Chorizo bean burgers

What are you having?

(Don't forget the linky over at Mrs M's where there are more fab meal planning posts).

Sunday, 19 August 2012

The ultimate fish finger wrap?

The finished product
For some strange reason, when I was ill, I found myself thinking about fish fingers. Don't ask me why but obviously a bad chest does that to you. So it was a complete coincidence when Birds Eye offered to send me a kit to try making the ultimate fish finger wrap, but quite a welcome one.

The recipe comes from Phil Vickery and there are a load more recipes (not just fish finger ones) that he's put together with Birds Eye and Saira Khan on their facebook page in the Clarence's Cookbook section.

So, this is the recipe for the wraps.

Ultimate Cod Fish Finger Wrap
Serves 4 

Preparation time:- 15 minutes. Cooking time:- 10 minutes.


4 x 24cm soft flour wraps
8 Birds Eye Cod Fish Fingers cooked and warm
1/4 Iceberg lettuce
4 slices smoked streaky bacon, cooked until crispy
2 hard boiled eggs, halved
4 tbsp mayonnaise
few fresh basil leaves
2 spring onions, finely sliced
1 medium carrot, finely grated (optional)

1.Lay out a wrap onto a chopping board.  Place a little Iceberg lettuce down one end of the wrap. Top with 1 slice of bacon, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, add the 2 cod fish fingers. Add half a boiled egg, 1 tbsp squirty mayo, a few basil leaves and a sprinkling of spring onions. Add carrot if you want.

2. Fold bottom edge over the fold in both sides, finally roll up tight, and then wrap tightly in film. Chill well.

3. Remove film and cut in half diagonally and serve with onion rings.

I made these for lunch one day, and to be honest, I couldn't be doing with the onion rings so they didn't happen. There is quite a lot of prep to do - cook fish fingers, slice lettuce, fry bacon, hard boil eggs, for example. I also found it odd that you have lovely cooked fish fingers and bacon, then wrap and chill them. My wraps, therefore, didn't get chilled for very long. Chilled partly, I'd call it but it meant that they were still warm when we got to eat them. I am fairly rubbish at rolling wraps up tight and wrapping in cling film even worse, but I seem to wrap them tight enough for them to stay wrapped after slicing diagonally.

I must admit, I was a bit dubious about putting basil leaves in this. So were the children - when presented with these, they looked suspiciously at the greenery within but after a few mouthfuls, they proclaimed them a success, and asked when they could have them again. That makes them a success. I found the mayo I had used worked well because it is quite vinegary (Asda reduced fat mayo, if you're interested) which was a nice balance to the richness of the bacon and the egg.

I have to say tho, as ultimate as they were, they were ultimate in the amount of washing up it created  - one pan for the eggs, another for the bacon and a grill pan for the fish fingers! My favourite fish finger sandwich is  just to bung them in some soft bread, add some tartare sauce or mayo if you haven't got any. And eat - simples! Having tried this ultimate wraps, I'd probably add some basil (or some fresh dill - I love it with fish) just to make it slightly posh. Even though fish finger anything is not really posh at all.

(Birds Eye kindly sent me a kit to make fish finger wraps, a coupon towards Birds Eye products and an Asda gift card to buy the remaining fresh ingredients required. They also sent two cuddly Clarence polar bears for the children. I have included the recipe for information but all opinions are my own.)

Friday, 17 August 2012

How are you surviving the school holidays?

OK, I know that Scotland are already back at school but this week is like the halfway point for us in our school holidays. I wondered how everyone else was doing?

We're doing surprisingly well. It was an inauspicious start to the holidays, what with me being ill and struggling for the first week, which was of course the week that husband had taken off work - which was good because he could amuse the children, but it was bad because we missed out on family days out. Although we did go to Old Trafford for the Olympic football.

Two excited children
That's Team GB down there!
Although, recovering slowly from a bad chest, the walk up 5 flights of stairs nearly killed me. And they told me at the top that I could have got the lift!

And then, to celebrate the opening ceremony the next day, we had an Olympics-themed tea.

I know top left should be blue but I couldn't find
anything suitable!
And then, of course, we had the Olympics to amuse us all. The first week, Missy Woo went to dance summer school at the local village hall so Monkey and I watched most things just the two of us, when he was here. And then the second week kind of merged with the first week, with us hoping it wouldn't end.

On the last but one day of the Olympics, I took the children to MediaCity to see a special preview screening of a new Justin's House episode in the piazza.

Yes, Justin is on stage there before the episode was shown on the big screen - we were asked to stay sat down so the children could see what was going on.  To make it even more exciting, afterwards, we were invited for lunch in Dock House (the building you can see top left of the picture) along with lots of other lovely bloggers and we got to do this.

Notice smiley excited Monkey there. Two hours before, he'd told me that he was too old for Justin's House but soon changed his tune. (You can also see the edge of Geekmummy trying to get the geekdaughter out from under a table as she hid from Justin!). Monkey was actually most impressed with the huge slices of pizza on offer. He had three.

Which brings us onto this week. We've been chilling a lot (and missing the Olympics) but Missy Woo has just come back from an overnight visit to Granny and Grandad's, during which she had her birthday treat from them of a trip to see the Dora the Explorer show, as well as being spoilt rotten by Granny buying her clothes and more presents. Monkey and I stayed home and made cake - I can blame  Great British Bake Off for his renewed cravings for cake. He also discovered a programme on CBBC that he liked this week called "I Want My Own Room" and got very excited when they visited Dock House, showing them visiting the building we'd been inside only a few days before.

Today marks the end of the fourth week and it actually feels like it has flown. Missy has two parties this weekend and then husband is off next week so we're hoping to go on some days out then we are going to my niece's wedding over the bank holiday weekend.  After that, we will be into the Paralympics. The most exciting thing about that is I managed to secure tickets for one of the athletics sessions for all of us this afternoon for just after the children go back to school. I couldn't believe it! We are all now really excited and have something to look forward to once the holidays are over.

How have your holidays been so far? I hope you are surviving. Let me know how you're coping and what you've been doing.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Gusto for Gousto?

Basil mint pesto fusilli with pancetta and mushrooms
You may remember that a few weeks ago, I mentioned in a Meal Planning Monday post that I was trying Gousto out for some of my meals. I was going to mention in the following week how it went but felt it deserved its own post. So here we are.

The idea of Gousto is that you choose 2 to 4 meals from their list to cook and they deliver all the ingredients to you, along with a recipe card with full instructions how to cook each dish. All ingredients are delivered on a Wednesday night between 6pm and 10pm if you are in London but they have also just launched nationwide, delivering between 9am and 5pm.

The week I chose the recipes, I found it quite difficult to choose as there weren't too many that appealed to my personal taste. Husband had to help me choose although we ended up choosing two chicken dishes. To be fair, I just looked at the current selection and the range is more appealing so I was probably unlucky that week. You can place the subscription on hold at any time so I guess you could dip out if a particular week didn't appeal to you. When choosing the recipes, you are given the calories, the level of difficulty, how long it takes to make and any extra equipment (like a blender) that you need so that you can use to suit your circumstances.

Obviously, we are not in London so the delivery was due to be on a Thursday between 9am and 5pm. We were around the time they started doing nationwide deliveries so I'm expecting there may have been some teething problems. I wasn't all that comfortable with it being a day long delivery slot - it's just not possible to stay in ALL day, especially when I am doing the school run. We were out between 10 and 11, which was taking a risk on my part, but there was no card through the door when I returned. But I waited... and I waited ... and I waited. Good job I was (mostly) watching the Olympics. The inescapable fact was that the food didn't arrive. When husband got home, I had to go to the chippy - not that the children complained, but it was annoying.

Gousto promised to sort this out for me - the following week. Had I been a paying customer, I would not have been happy about that. I was just trying to plan what to eat, when the door went. Our food was finally delivered on Friday at 12 noon. The delivery agent seemed to know nothing about it being late for delivery so I really don't know what happened. Obviously, having ordered chicken, I was a tad nervous about this. However the contents seemed fairly cool when I got them. Plus, we ate it and no-one got ill. Still, it was not a great start.

This is the box we received. It's wool insulated and the meat were kept in a foil bag with ice packs. But when they say every ingredient, they mean everything, with the exception perhaps of oil for cooking. Because we were catering for 4, not 2 people, we had two of everything. This made it quite hefty on the packaging and I can't help wondering if they couldn't look at reducing by combining - there were two packs of everything, many of them half full. I also found it odd that hardly anything was labelled - if you weren't familiar with certain ingredients, it could prove a problem.

Onto cooking the dishes. The recipe cards were clear and laid out well with lots of photos. However, some of the recipes were in a strange order - I added one ingredient way too early as it told me to wash it and another ingredient but only added one in the next step and I managed to speed read it. Oops. Also, in another recipe, it told me to make up stock, then keep back 200ml for later before using the rest. I couldn't, however, find where I was to use the stock I'd kept back. I even got husband to confirm I wasn't going mad and he couldn't find it either, so this extra stock went unused.

Portion sizes were generous. More than generous in fact. I tend to make dishes for 4 people even though the kids don't eat a full adult portion as the leftovers are taken to work by husband  for his lunch. So I know how big a 4 person dish looks like - and these were HUGE portions. Well, the carbohydrates in the dish were - we had bulgar with one of the dishes and the leftovers filled my Mason Cash mixing bowl and got used over the course of a weekend. I reckon it could have fed 8 people! Wise to this, when I went to make the next dish, containing parsnips, I held back some of them and it was still way too much. However, when I made the pasta dish, there wasn't leftovers as the children love pasta but it was still a substantial portion.

The quality of the ingredients was good - especially the meat, which was organic. However, I did find that one of my packs of basil went slimy after only a couple of days - and coincidentally, someone else had sent me another pack of basil in the post at the same time which was fine and I had to use that instead, along with the other pack. I wasn't overly impressed with the quality of the parsnips we had either - I had to cut out quite a lot of black bits.

My biggest problem with Gousto is the cost. I looked up how much the subscription cost was for what we had - 3 meals for 4 people. £72! (£66 for the full vegetarian option). That is a hefty week of supermarket shopping in our house, including breakfast, snacks and lunches, and all 7 main meals.

But then, this service is not really aimed at someone like me. I have a pretty decent store cupboard because I cook such a wide range of dishes for the family. Out of all the non-perishable ingredients I was sent, there were only two I had never used before and everything else I had in my cupboards. Of the perishable items, they are all things I buy fairly regularly. I have time to plan our meals and my shopping list - in fact, I'd say it saves me time over the course of a week. I'd want to plan all my meals in one go on here or nothing. And I definitely could NOT afford a whole week's worth! This service is for the cash rich time poor person who wants to make nice food without having to think too hard about it - although you still have to choose your meals well in advance so the ingredients can be prepared and sent out to you.

If I were that type of person, I'd want assurances that the delivery was better service than I received. You can arrange delivery to your workplace, but what would you do if it didn't arrive? Go home without food.

Gousto is a nice idea. In my experience, it didn't live up to all its promises but if I was paying for a subscription, I'd expect it to. Because of that, Gousto fails the value for money test for me and therefore, I do not really have gusto for Gousto.

(Gousto kindly sent me 3 meals chosen by us for the purposes of a review. I have not received any other compensation for this post and all opinions are my own.)

Monday, 13 August 2012

Olympic Scrapbook crosses the line

Sponsored post (but you know it's not bad, don't you?)

So, it's all over. All the medals awarded, the final party has been and gone and the athletes and officials are heading home. And that means one thing - our Olympic Scrapbook has been completed. It is a bittersweet moment. We are all proud of what we have achieved with our scrapbook and we have completely loved every minute of the Olympics, from the start of the first women's football match to the very end of the closing ceremony.

I must show you how we have finished it off. First, Saturday's page.

And yes, we have the same picture twice - Mo Farah and Usain Bolt doing each other's celebrations on the podium. Saturday was an amazing night - we watched Mo Farah together in the living room and as a family, we all shouted, "Yes!" when he crossed the line in front. We have also included Ed McKeever, who won the K1 200m canoe sprint, Luke Campbell who won boxing gold, Liam Heath and Jon Schofield who won bronze and on the right, we have Tom Daley winning diving bronze and a picture of them all jumping into the pool at the end, which we thought was great.

Then there was the page for the last day of sporting action and the closing ceremony.

We have some included some shots of the closing ceremony (which we thought was great, incidentally) but also the USA basketball team, Stephen Kiprotich the Ugandan marathon runner and Anthony Joshua, all of whom won gold on the last day. Also, there was Sam Murray who won Team GB's very last medal of the Games, a silver in the modern pentathlon. A truly fabulous ending to the Games.

With all the medals awarded, we were ready to complete our medals table. Flags drawn by the children whilst we were waiting for the closing ceremony to start. Look at that - Great Britain in third!

And then, we chose pictures for the middle page which has space to record more London 2012 memories.

I've managed to chop off Mo Farah in the picture, but we chose him as our favourite memory of the Olympics. Also, we have a picture from the opening ceremony, Chris Hoy crying on the podium after winning the Keirin, Laura Trott after winning the Omnium, Oscar Pistorius competing in the 400m, the heptathletes on a lap of honour, and a group of athletes running past the Olympic flame.

And then, finally, we visited The Times website to download our certificate for completing the scrapbook.

I have since filled it out and it's stuck proudly in the back page of our scrapbook. Because we've done it - it's been a bit of a marathon, but we really have enjoyed it, although my living room will be tidier without newspapers spread across it, and scissors, glue and scraps of paper scattered everywhere. We'd like the real medal, but you know, our achievement pales into insignificance compared to those of all the Olympians over the last 17 days.

You've still got time to get a copy of The Times today to complete recording your memories of the London 2012 games in your Olympic scrapbook. I hope if you started this along with me, you've made it through to the finish line and have enjoyed compiling it as much as we have. I'm off for a lie down.

I am a member of the Netmums Blogging Network. I am paid an expenses fee to cover my time but Netmums have no editorial control whatsoever about what I blog about. Being a member of the Netmums Blogging Network means that I get to try out products and brands and get my expenses covered but that I retain full editorial integrity.

Meal Planning Monday - the post-Olympics edition

It's all over (the Olympics, that is) and we are bereft with only the prospect of the Paralympics in a couple of weeks to keep us going. That does mean that we are returning to a kind of normal in the household but it is still school holidays.  I'm trying to keep it relatively simple whilst providing some kind of variety as I get bored so easily with what I'm cooking (if you hadn't noticed).

On with the week.

Monday - Veg and cheesy rice bake
Tuesday - Oriental salmon and broccoli traybake
Wednesday - Turkey chilli jacket potatoes
Thursday - Special fried rice with prawns and chorizo
Friday - Pizza (Homemade)
Saturday - Chicken pesto pasta
Sunday - keeping free

That's us. How about you? What's on your menu this week? Remember that Mrs M has the Meal Planning Monday linky on her blog so you can find more meal planning inspiration.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Olympic Scrapbook hits the home straight

Sponsored post

We're nearly done. We have reached the home straight and struggling for the line. Well, not really struggling - we're powering to the line, a bit like Mo Farah did last Saturday night. Time is passing very quickly it seems and I can't believe that it will all be over tomorrow night.

We'd had a bit of a lull in our last post, but Team GB returned to winning ways on Thursday with a bang! Three gold medals, all won by women, in an eclectic mix of sports - boxing, taekwondo and freestyle dressage. All of them dancing, after a fashion.

Our page reflects that - Nicola Adams, Charlotte Dujardin and Jade Jones all feature on our page. We also included Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and Warren Weir - a Jamaican 1-2-3 in the men's 200m, David Rudisha who broke the world record in the 800m, and the GB rhythmic gymnastics team - just because their participation was so historic. Keri-Ann Payne is also on the right - I was really gutted that she didn't win a medal.

And then, Friday. A day of no golds for Great Britain but medals a-plenty nonetheless. Lutalo Muhammad getting a bronze in taekwondo, Luke Patience, Stuart Bithell, Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark all winning silvers in sailing, Anthony Ogogo who lost a boxing bout to gain a bronze, and the women's hockey team. I also included a shot of the BMX riders and Oussama Mellioli who won the open-water swimming. We also had some more challenges to do and I've added all the medals even though we have not quite yet filled in ALL the pages in the scrapbook but we will do very soon.

We're headed to the line. One more day of competition and a closing ceremony to go! Do remember that you too can continue to collect The Times and The Sunday Times to record your memories of the London 2012 Olympics.

I am a member of the Netmums Blogging Network. I am paid an expenses fee to cover my time but Netmums have no editorial control whatsoever about what I blog about. Being a member of the Netmums Blogging Network means that I get to try out products and brands and get my expenses covered but that I retain full editorial integrity.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Olympic Scrapbook - a slight pause for breath!

Sponsored post (but it's good, honest!)

Well, another post after two more days of Olympic action. Recording our memories of the London 2012 Olympics with our Olympic Scrapbook from The Times and The Sunday Times is proving to be a worthwhile experience. Every day, we turn straight to the scrapbook page to see if we like the pictures, then scan through the rest of the paper to try and ensure we have a picture of all the British medallists and any other significant people (like Usain Bolt - you couldn't miss him out, could you?).

But these last two days have been that little bit quieter. Including a whole day when Team GB didn't win any medals. I mean, really? I have to pinch myself because we keep trying to explain to Monkey how in some Olympics, Team GB only won as many medals across a whole games as we have on some days this time. But yes, a whole day without medals yesterday - probably a nice pause, given the rate we are running out of stickers in our pack.

Missy Woo insisted muscling in on Tuesday's page as she helped me compile the page. We have the Brownlee boys on the left hand side. We also have our 3 medals as we completed our challenges again - the children loved running upstairs to bed in particular, and Monkey did sterling work carrying shopping back from our walk into town. Talking of which, I took this picture yesterday whilst we were in town.

The children with Bradley Wiggins's gold postbox, which is located opposite the Town Hall in Chorley. The children were very excited to see it.

Anyway, on the right of the page is Charlotte du Jardin of the dressage team, Robbie Grabarz who won high jump bronze, Victoria Pendleton after she won silver (still gutted about that), Laura Trott winning another gold, Sir Chris Hoy winning yet another gold, and Rob Dempsey winning a windsurfing silver.

So, Wedneday was a lot quieter day. I mean, for goodness sake, I even have some Aussies winning a gold medal in the sailing! On the right, I put Nick Skelton (who was unlucky not to win a medal), Mo Farah doing his Mobot, and Shanaze Reade doing BMX time trials -  there is even space for a crowd picture and a picture of a random Chinese table tennis player. Yes, really, that quiet. The last day we didn't win any medals was Day 1, which seems like a lifetime ago.

Only four days left now. I can't believe it is nearly over. And there is still more to come for our Olympic Scrapbook. If you're joining in with this, don't forget you can continue to collect the The Times and The Sunday Times to record your memories of the London 2012 Games.

I am a member of the Netmums Blogging Network. I am paid an expenses fee to cover my time but Netmums have no editorial control whatsoever about what I blog about. Being a member of the Netmums Blogging Network means that I get to try out products and brands and get my expenses covered but that I retain full editorial integrity.

A hand blender that chops and whips too - my first Morphy Richards Innovator review

So, you may or may not know that I was chosen earlier in the year to be a Morphy Richards Innovator. This means I get to try out Morphy Richards appliances and share my thoughts on them with you lucky people.

The first thing I've been sent to try is their Accents Hand Blender set in red. Here's the official Morphy Richards video showing you just what it can do.

I love hand blenders as they make soup making so much easier because you don't have to decant everything from pan to jug and back again. I used to have one long ago that did other things so I was intrigued to try this. It has a balloon whisk attachment to whip cream and a little chopping bowl that you can use like a little food processor. And the blending leg is heat resistant so you don't even have to wait for the soup to cool before blending it.

All the attachments detach easily and go in the dishwasher which is fantastic. Not that anything is too fiddly to clean. My one comment is I don't understand why they put small ridges on the inside of the chopping bowl because it makes it harder to scrape completely clean. Everything feels solid and well-made, so I have no concerns that it won't stand the test of time.

Making pesto was a breeze
The chopping bowl itself requires a bit of a knack to learn how to do the twist and lock mechanism to put it together as it feels counter-intuitive. However, once you get it, it's fine. The chopper itself is brilliant - I made pesto in it over the weekend and the little chopping blade is amazingly efficient. You have to make sure that you screw the motor bit in properly or it just makes a horrible noise but it's easily fixed. I love it because it is so much easier than getting out my food processor for doing smaller amounts. It would be great for anything like making breadcrumbs when you only want to do one or two slices, chopping a bag of nuts or making a curry paste.

Whipped cream in two minutes flat!
The whisk attachment is a bit different. I used it to try and beat some eggs but I made the mistake of trying to do it in a mixing bowl rather than the beaker provided. It took forever, but that's because there is only one beater, not two. In the interests of research, I bought some cream to try whipping it using the beaker. It did the job in less than 2 minutes, but I did have to hold onto the beaker tight to stop it moving around. I think adding a small  non-slip base to the bottom of the beaker (similar to the base on the chopping bowl) would make a big difference, as I wanted to adjust the speed without turning it off. Still, it was fast and effective.

The instructions state that the chopping bowl should be used at full speed and the whisk at low speeds. It's a shame they're not marked on the dial as it's easy to lose instructions and forget. It's obvious that you need to keep the whisk at low speed or you'll get spattered, but it's not really obvious that you can only chop at high speed.

On the whole, I love this little set. If you can't afford - or don't have space for - a food processor and a hand mixer, it's a great choice as you'll get 3 gadgets for the price of one. It may not do everything that a food processor does but it's very versatile. I think it could be improved by having a non-slip base for the beaker and making the inside of the chopping bowl smooth, but these are minor quibbles. For the price, which is around £50, I think it's great value for money.

By the way, if you  fancy buying anything, you can get 25% off if you enter the code FP1002 at

(I was sent the hand blender set to try for the purposes of a review. All opinions are my own.)

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Olympic Scrapbook passes the bell

Sponsored post

We're onto the second week of the Olympics - not quite the home straight, but we've certainly heard the bell now. None of us want it to end in this household  - well, maybe Missy Woo is not as excited as the rest of us, but she does loving Team GB winning golds. In terms of our Olympic Scrapbook, in which we are recording our memories of these games with pictures from The Times and The Sunday Times.

It's been two days since my last post and we've encountered a bit of a crisis. We've run out of Team GB gold medal stickers! I'm sure they were trying to be conservative and not over-confident but I guess we couldn't have predicted we'd win so many medals in the list of who won what - which is not a complete list of medallists as some days, there are over 20 medals on offer. We've had to stick on gold medals and stick a  union flag next to it!

This is Sunday's page, which was a bit mad. Andy Murray won men's singles gold incredibly easily so he's on the left, with Ben Ainslie, Andy Murray, Laura Robson, Louis Smith and Christine Ohuruogu all winning silver. And then, of course, Usain Bolt winning the 100m - which of course, I couldn't leave out. And not to be left out, Max Whitlock is at the bottom winning his bronze in the pommel horse. (You might also notice there is a Chinese athlete called Ling Dan who won the badminton men's singles, largely to fill a gap!

And here's Monday's. A somewhat quieter day - since when did a quiet day at the Olympics meaning winning two golds and a bronze? That would never have happened when I was a child the age mine are now! So, we have included Holly Bleasdale coming 6th in the women's pole vault - because she's from round here and went to the school the children will probably go to in a few years. We could only find a small picture of the showjumping team - it was that or a huge picture that wouldn't have fitted in! And then of course, there is Beth Tweddle finally winning a medal in the uneven bars. On the right, we have put Beth again, as well as Jason Kenny blowing the opposition away in the sprint and Laura Trott doing well in the omnium races.

We know already we have more gold medal performances to add to today's page, so I'll show you that in a few days.

Don't forget you can continue to collect the The Times and The Sunday Times to record your memories of the London 2012 Games. 

I am a member of the Netmums Blogging Network. I am paid an expenses fee to cover my time but Netmums have no editorial control whatsoever about what I blog about. Being a member of the Netmums Blogging Network means that I get to try out products and brands and get my expenses covered but that I retain full editorial integrity.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Meal Planning Monday - holiday/Olympic/August edition

I wasn't really sure what to call this, as you can tell. Normal routine has gone out of the window, what with scrapbooking, watching the Olympics and not a lot else really. Mostly watching the Olympics! The week reflects my need not to make anything too complicated. Sunday, we are having tapas to celebrate (and commiserate the closing ceremony of the Olympics, that I really don't want to end).

Here we go.

Monday - Sweet mustard salmon with garlicky veg (held over from last week)
Tuesday - Sausages with sweet mustard onions
Wednesday - Spicy root and lentil casserole
Thursday - Prosciutto and pesto fish gratin
Friday - Homemade burgers and wedges
Saturday - keeping free
Sunday - Tapas

Don't forget, there are more Meal Planning Monday entries over at Mrs M's place but do tell me what you're  having this week.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Our Olympic Scrapbook runs out of superlatives

Sponsored post and all that...

The other day, I said we'd gone medal crazy. I hadn't banked on the days to come. On Friday,  I sobbed as Katherine Grainger finally won a gold medal with Anna Watkin in the women's pair. But then yesterday, wow. We were at Old Trafford as the men's four won their gold and caught the end of that race. We heard that the lightweight women's pair had also won during the match we attended (Japan beat Egypt 3-0 in case you're wondering, a result that was never really in doubt when an Egyptian player got sent off in the first half.

Once we got home, we then enjoyed the ladies of team pursuit winning gold for Britain, but we were totally not prepared for what happened next. Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah all winning gold on a very very special night. It was a great night to be on Twitter, I lost track of the number of tears I shed for them and shared the stunned amazement and jubilation the whole country seemed to be feeling.

With all this success, how on earth do we even manage to fit everything into our Olympic Scrapbook, which we are using to record our memories of the London 2012 games using pictures from The Times and Sunday Times? Well, it's been a struggle but we've tried to include everybody by doing montages in the big boxes on the relevant pages.

So, this is Thursday, which seems so long ago now. Winning 2 gold medals in the space of 5 minutes, and a silver to boot, was pretty amazing but that almost pales into insignificance of the days since. We have Sir Chris Hoy, the other team sprint boys Jason Kenny and Philip Hindes, Peter Wilson, the canoe boys Bailie, Stott, Florence and Hounslow, and off in the corner is Gemma Gibbons winning an emotional silver medal in judo. (Sorry for chopping you off in the photo!)

Friday, we have fitted in the men's team pursuit, aforementioned ladies pair, Alan Campbell, Karina Bryant, Victoria Pendleton and some early shots of Jess Ennis taking part in the first day of the heptathlon.

And then finally, Super Saturday, which I'm renaming Superlative Sunday, because I've run out of them. More Jess Ennis, and tucked away in the left are the ladies of the team pursuit and Kate Copeland and Sophie Hosking of the lightweight pairs. On the right, we have the mens four, the lightweight pair who won silver, and Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford on the bottom right. I snuck in Andy Murray and Laura Robson for good measure as they reached the final of the mixed doubles. You'll notice the medal challenges up on the left, which the children completed, having learned the words to God Save the Queen, played tennis and done 10 press ups (which was quite entertaining, they don't really have perfect technique on that one!)

Phew! I have run out of superlatives for the London 2012 games now. It's been amazing and we're only halfway through. I can't wait for the next week, when we will be continuing to collect The Times and The Sunday Times to record our memories of these Olympics. Are you?

I am a member of the Netmums Blogging Network. I am paid an expenses fee to cover my time but Netmums have no editorial control whatsoever about what I blog about. Being a member of the Netmums Blogging Network means that I get to try out products and brands and get my expenses covered but that I retain full editorial integrity.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Our Olympic Scrapbook goes medal crazy!

Yes, this is another sponsored post...

I don't seem to have any time to blog at the moment. I'm permanently glued to the Olympics. I worked out earlier that I've seen all of Team GB's medal performances live (on television, not at the venue!) so far and there has been a lot of jumping up and down and shouting at the box in the corner of our living room.

Well, that and continuing to complete our Olympic Scrapbook from The Times and The Sunday Times. If you've missed this so far, the idea is you collect pictures from the newspapers and you stick them in the scrapbook.

The children are joining in but they are a little camera shy today. That is actually code for they are joining in and cutting out but often wander off, leaving me to finish it all off - well, once they have applied all the glue to the pages anyway, that seems to be their favourite thing.

A bit photo heavy but here are our pages from the last few days.

This is Sunday's page, featuring of course, Lizzie Armitstead and Rebecca Adlington after their medal winning performances. We also chose a picture of Ryan Giggs scoring a goal at Wembley.

Here's Monday's page, featuring the divers and the men's gymnastics team - plus Ruta Meilutyte, because she trains in Plymouth! They're slightly out of shot here but we completed all but one of the day's challenges - because it involved doing a length of the pool and Missy is doing dance summer school this week.

Tuesday saw another medal in the team eventing and we also chose a fantastic action shot from the women's football as we were so proud of Team GB beating Brazil.

And of course, Wednesday was the day it turned gold for Team GB. Monkey and I put together a montage in the big picture featuring Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome, Michael Jamieson, the men's eight, Andy Murray and Kristian Thomas. And we cannot, of course, forget Helen Glover and Heather Stanning who won gold in the women's pair. I've almost impressed myself with that.

Don't forget you can continue to collect the The Times and The Sunday Times to record your memories of the London 2012 Games.

And of course, the cycling starts today and the athletics tomorrow. It can only get more exciting.... if that's possible.

I am a member of the Netmums Blogging Network. I am paid an expenses fee to cover my time but Netmums have no editorial control whatsoever about what I blog about. Being a member of the Netmums Blogging Network means that I get to try out products and brands and get my expenses covered but that I retain full editorial integrity.
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