A Strong Coffee

Monday, 5 December 2016

Easy Penguin Cupcakes For Christmas

Now it is December I couldn't resist making these easy penguin cupcakes. They are nearly too cute to eat! All you need is some round cutters (I got a great set from Sainsburys which have a range of different sized circles for less than £5.) 

Penguin cupcakes

Here are a few tips for making these cupcakes even easier. Firstly metal cutters are much better than plastic ones. They will cut through the icing better. Having been on a cake decorating course, I found out that preparing your icing will help. You will need to prepare your icing the night before. To make your ready coloured icing easier to handle and hard enough to stay in shape, you want to knead in 1/4 tablespoon of CMC to every 100g. When you use the icing the next day you need to knead it until it feels like chewing gum. This is basically mixing in edible glue and it will make the icing harden. It means that you can curl the wing tips of the penguin up. The cake decorator also recommended using Renshaw icing, as she feels this is the best. Having used the supermarket brands and Renshaw, I think she is right. 

Easy Penguin Cupcakes

  • 2 eggs
  • 4oz caster sugar 
  • 4oz self raising flour
  • 4oz butter

  • For The Topping 

  • Frosting or buttercream
  • Black icing (prepared with CMC)
  • White icing (prepared with CMC)
  • Yellow icing (prepared with CMC)

  1. Mix all the cake ingredients together and evenly distribute between 10 cupcake cases.
  2. Bake at 180C for around 10mins until a skewer comes out clean.
  3. Allow to cool.
  4. Top with frosting.
  5. You will need the following shapes:
  6. Cut out a black icing circle that is slightly larger than the top of your cupcake and place this over the frosting.
  7. Cut a smaller circle in white and place this to the bottom. Use edible glue or water to stick this on.
  8. Cut the same size circle in black and cut this in half to make the wings. 
  9. Add icing eyes, beak and feet. Watch the video below to help you out.

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These cute penguin cupcakes are easy to make and great for a Christmas Party. You can even stand them up!

Friday, 2 December 2016

Sweet Champions Christmas Giveaway!

Choosing your favourite retro sweet champion is a hard task. These retro sweets take me back to my childhood, but there are some modern twists too!

sweet champions

I remember buying my first Wham bar from the school tuck shop for just 10p when I was nine years old. I remember it being huge, but that might be because I was small! These mini Wham bars are a great treat and a throwback to growing up in the eighties. I am also pleased to report that the younger generation (aka my three sons) love them too.

There are also some twists on the classics. Refresher and Fruit Salad softies! Now I am stuck in my ways and don't like change, so I am happy with the originals (you can find these in the selection boxes.) However, my eldest loved these new additions.

The Sweet Champions tub also contains the classic dip dab, sherbert fountain, and black jacks. These retro sweets will make anyone in their forties and above, look back on their younger years. They also make a fantastic stocking filler for the new generation! To keep up to date follow Candyland on Twitter.

fruit salad, wham bars and refresher softies

I am excited to be able to offer one of my lucky readers a selection of these retro sweets from Sweet Champions. Just complete the Gleam entry below. Good Luck!

  Sweet Champions Tubes

SuperLucky Blog Giveaway Linky

Listed on The PrizeFinder

All I Want For Christmas....

Dear Santa

My name is Louise and I am 40 years old. I have been a very good girl this year. I tidy the house, cook dinner (nearly) every day and have made it to every one of my children's school plays, parents evenings and assemblies without falling asleep.

Thank you for my presents last year. They were really nice. I thought you might like an idea of what I would like this year. I have tried to make things as simple as possible for you and the elves and have chosen the items from Debenhams. I know that you are really busy at this time of year making toys and that sometimes arranging a home delivery might just be easier for you.

I love a Christmas jumper and really don't think you can have enough of them. I am particularly keen on polar bears this year so that would be great. Do you have polar bears where you live? I am thinking they would scare (or worse eat) the reindeer?

Just like your dear wife Mrs Claus, I enjoy baking. I love this 3 tiered cake stand and am sure that we could leave you a few extra mince pies out on it. That is, if I can convince the boys that you don't want cucumber and houmous this year. They really do worry that you have too many mince pies and gingerbread men to eat. I don't think they realise that you share them with the elves!

I am planning on doing more vlogging this year, so a make up set would be good. I need something to hide my tired eyes!

I also love Lego. I was so excited when middle man started enjoying building. However, now he is a "master builder" he has downgraded me to "tricky piece finder." It has been a knock to my confidence and I would love a set of my own to build. Anyone would be fine, but I do particularly like the Ghostbusters one.

Last but not least, I love my coffee. Infact some days it is the only thing that makes me get up! We all have our vices don't we? I would love a capsule one if possible and I can't resist this cute mug.

I hope that Christmas is all coming together for you. You might like to add these port glasses onto your order for yourself. I bet you like a small glass after your busy night. I will ask the boys to leave their stockings outside their rooms as they are really light sleepers and I don't want you waking them. I will send the burglar alarm code through private message as we don't want you setting off that. It would scare the reindeer! Oh and I do have one small confession. I may have eaten some of the boys "trick or treating" stash, but I promise I will try harder next year.

Best wishes and a very Merry Christmas! 


P.S. Apologies about middle man's drawing of you on the Christmas card. I think your trousers had got dirty down the chimney and were in the wash. He is certainly not making any slanderous allegations against you.

child's Christmas card
Santa warms himself by the fire whilst his sooty trousers are washed.

Gnocchi With Chicken And Parmigiano-Reggiano Sauce

This gnocchi with chicken and Parmigiano-Reggiano sauce is absolutely delicious. Even better, is that it is quick and easy to make using the new Italian Indulgence Parmigiano-Reggiano sauce from Giovanni Rana

Gnocchi With Chicken And Parmigiano-Reggiano Sauce

The new range can be purchased from Asda. It includes the new and improved Basil Pesto with Pine Nuts & Garlic as well as the  Parmigiano-Reggiano sauce. Whist I was there I picked up some of their pasta as well for another quick and easy meal. The sauces are in the fresh sauce section, but have a best before dates of a few weeks, so they are great to keep in the fridge for when you need a super quick meal.

Giovanni Rana sauces

The Parmigiano-Reggiano sauce is blended with cream for a full-flavoured sauce that remains a classic, indulgent dish both in Italy and the UK. I decided to combine mine with some gnocchi for a quick and tasty lunch. This recipe will serve four people.

Gnocchi With Chicken And Parmigiano-Reggiano Sauce

  • 500g gnocchi
  • 100g Baby button mushrooms
  • 75g asparagus tips
  • 1 tub of Giovanni Rana Parmigiano-Reggiano Sauce
  • 2 pre-cooked chicken breasts sliced 
  • Optional: grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and garlic bread to serve
  1. Heat a small amount of oil in a pan and add the gnocchi.
  2. Slice the button mushrooms and chop the ends of the asparagus tips. (leave the tops of the tips whole for decoration.) Add to the pan of gnocchi and cook through.
  3. Take out the unchopped asparagus tips. 
  4. Add the cooked chicken breasts. 
  5. Stir in the Giovanni Rana Parmigiano-Reggiano Sauce.
  6. Serve with asparagus tips and grated Parmingiano-Reggiano on top.
Gnocchi With Chicken And Parmigiano-Reggiano Sauce

I have been extremely impressed with the sauces from Giovanni Rana and am looking forward to trying some more products in the range. Have you tried them yet? What is your favourite? For more recipe ideas, check out the Giovanni Rana website.

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A quick and easy recipe using gnocchi. chicken, mushrooms, asparagus and a rich Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese sauce

|In collaboration with Giovanni Rana

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Christmas Without Breaking The Bank

It is 1st December, which means that Christmas is now officially on it's way. 25 days to be exact. But do not panic (easier said than done I know!) Here are my top tips to help Christmas go smoothly without breaking the bank.

don't get your tinsel in a twist card


Don't leave it until the last minute to get your presents. Buy them as early as you can. Before you buy anything online check out Zeek. I reviewed them a while back and have been using them to help my Christmas shopping cost less. You can basically buy discounted gift vouchers through the app - some are for instore use but many are online codes. You can sign up using my affiliate link here. This means that when you have made a purchase both you and I will recieve £5 we can use for our next one. More money saving!

If you have a large family, then doing a secret Santa for the adults is a great idea. If the kids want to but presents too, why not get them to make some gifts. These Reindeer hot chocolate cones are simple to make and will put a smile on anyone's face.

Reindeer hot chocolate cones DIY gift


You don't need to spend a fortune on decorations. Infact you can make your own, really simply and often very low cost. SALTROCK have complied a fantastic post filled with ideas for creating DIY Christmas decorations using natural materials. If you go on a woodland walk and pick up some pine cones there are ideas galore. A garland, pom pom decorations and a table centre piece to name but a few.

Image Credit Saltrock
Image credit SALTROCK


Just because it is Christmas, doesn't mean that you have to over eat. Sometimes I think that we order twice as much food than we can possibly eat just because the supermarket will be shut for a day or two. My advice is not to go too overboard with the food shopping. Buying some frozen bits that can be cooked if needed is a great idea. Finally, make use of your leftovers. This Mother Christmas' pie, is possibly better than Christmas dinner itself!

leftover pie

Wishing you all a great Christmas (without breaking the bank!) What are your top tips for saving money over Christmas?

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In collaboration with SALTROCK

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

River Cottage Canteen: Recipes from River Cottage A to Z

I won't lie, when an email landed in my inbox inviting me to River Cottage Canteen in Winchester, I jumped at the chance. Having had the pleasure of visiting River Cottage HQ not once but twice, I knew I would be in for a treat.

If you didn't already know, as well as River Cottage HQ, there are four River Cottage Canteens. These are in Axminster, Bristol, Plymouth and Winchester. They have regularly changing menus and a wide selection of seasonal, local, organic and wild food. This particular event was a lunch with Hugh, where he came and talked to everyone about his ideas on food as well as his new recipe book River Cottage A to Z. Guests were able to go and have a chat with him during this time. Of course I couldn't resist the urge to say hi. We chatted about how Afra and I had had the pleasure of visiting River Cottage and how inspiring it was. I told him that my attempt of bring a chicken hadn't really worked and he advised that I should try it with some thighs to start with. So stay tuned and hopefully second time lucky.

photo with hugh fearnley wittingstall

The book itself is packed FULL of recipes.

River cottage A to Z

Our menu had been specially designed using the book and the words in bold indicate what section of the book you will find the recipe. I am ashamed to say I had absolutely no idea that Pouting was a fish and had not even heard of the root vegetable cardoon. I can, however, now confirm that both are delicious!

River Cottage Canteen Tasting Menu

So it is only fair that I share some pictures with you. First up was a cauliflower and nigella soup. Smooth and full of flavour. Next deleicata and butternut squash, shallot and mushroom tart, as well as cardoon brushetta with honey and thyme. Picking a favourite is like asking you to choose your favourite child. If I am honest, the cardoon brushetta probably had the edge. it was sweet and sticky and I might have had two!

cardoon brushetta

Next was lemon cured herring with pouting fish fingers. I should point out here that the dishes are designed for you to share with a partner. I turned my nose up at the herring, until I put a spoonful in my mouth. Delicious.

pouting fish fingers

The main course was Hampshire Angus beef cheek and parsnip and rabbit ragu. Both tasty, but now I was starting to get very full.

beef cheeks and rabbit ragu

Unfortunately, as I had to pick the boys up from school, I made a quick exit. On the plus side, the lovely people didn't want me to miss out on dessert so they gave me a goodie bag. Oh my the bay leaf syllabub was to die for! After an hour in the car, my picture doesn't do dessert justice, so here is one that Afra from MadMumof7 took.

Photo Credit Afra Wilmore: MadMumof7

The meal was beautiful, the company fantastic (I also got to chat to Vicky from Verily Victoria Vocalises and Janie from The Hedge Combers. In addtion to a lovely couple who told me all about The Clink Charity.)

River Cottage A to Z is availiable on Amazon and check out the events page for River Cottage Canteen for future lunches with Hugh.

Family Fever

Affilate links included.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Christmas Tree Cookies - A Fun Festive Bake

These Christmas Cookies are perfect for the festive season. I am pretty sure that Santa would have a smile on his face if these turned up on his plate instead of a mince pie.

I have been wanting to make this style of cookie ever since the rainbow heart ones were all over Facebook a few years ago. Then I popped into Lakeland the other day and purchased a mini cookie cutter which was perfect! Now I fell I should be honest and tell you that these are pretty time consuming to make. They are on a par with cake pops as you need to keep putting them in and out of the freezer. 

Christmas tree cookies

Christmas Tree Cookies

  • 170g salted butter
  • 100g icing sugar
  • 2 egg yolks (Keep the whites for a wash.)
  • 175g plain flour
  • 2tbsp cornflour
  • A couple of drops of caramel flavouring
  • green food gel
  • sprinkles
  1. Cream the butter and icing sugar together.
  2. Stir in the egg yolks and caramel flavouring.
  3. Fold in the flour and cornflour to make a dough.
  4. Take a third of the mixture and use the green gel to color it.
  5. Place in the fridge for 20 mins.
  6. Roll out the green dough and cut out the Christmas tree shapes. Glue them on top of each other with the egg white and then place into the freezer for 20 mins to go hard.
  7. Take the trees out of the freezer and place the uncoloured dough around the trees. Roll into a cylinder.
  8. Apply egg wash and roll in the Christmas coloured sprinkles.
  9. Slice the dough to make individual cookies. Place in the oven at 180C for around 10 minutes.
  10. Remove and allow to cool.

What are your favourite festive bakes? If you are looking for an alternative Christmas cake, why not check out my easy to make snow globe cake. Or if cake pops are your thing then I have some super cute Rudolph cake pops too.

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