Rich chocolate cake

Rich chocolate cake with easy chocolate frosting

So there I was, minding my own business, working hard at the dining room table whilst refereeing the dog and cat because Mr E is painting the lounge ceiling, whilst also, y’know, keeping an eye on social media, when someone went and mentioned cake.

Then that was it.  I couldn’t concentrate.  I just wanted cake.  And the more I tried to concentrate, and stop the dog and cat wrestling, and come up with interesting ways to say ‘amazing’ without using the word 20 times in one article, the more my brain was going ‘cake… cake… caaaaake…’

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First glimpse

My Disney Dream diary part one – Disney’s Yacht Club Resort

Oh, the Disney Dream.  The delightful, delicious, delovely, delectable Disney Dream.  Regular readers will know that I adore all the Disney Cruise Line ships, but there’s something about Disney Dream in particular that makes my heart sing. I think it’s because my first ever Disney Cruise was on board the Disney Dream.  I just love everything about it – the restaurants, the fabulous AquaDuck water coaster, the gorgeous restaurants, the gorgeous cocktail bars, the sumptuous spa…  So, if you’ve ever wondered what a cruise holiday on board a Disney Cruise Line ship is like, wonder no more.  Sam (my oldest son) and I kept a diary during our cruise trip last week, and here’s part one.

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Autumn caramel and apple cupcakes

From red velvet to winter sparkle – easy seasonal cupcakes

Everyone loves making cupcakes, don’t they?  Flora have a really easy peasy cupcake recipe on their website, which is perfect for everyday baking at home.  But how do you ring the changes?  Maybe you’d like to make some cupcakes as a gift for someone special, or for some sort of celebration?  Flora challenged me to create four seasonal cupcake recipes to give you some inspiration for your own home baking throughout the year, so here, for your delectation, are my four very easy but good enough to share seasonal recipes:

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Wholemeal pizza

How to make healthier pizza at home – step by step

So I’m still suffering from hideous jetlag after our recent trip to the Bahamas on the Disney Dream (much more of this coming up).  We got a night flight back from Orlando and it was practically empty, which meant we could all spread out and I spent most of the flight spread out across a row of four seats, snoozing blissfully, and only woke up when they started opening up the blinds and tidying up ready for landing.  Still, I’m now suffering that weirdness that crossing timezones always seems to bring – for me, this means an increase in my usual clumsiness, a general heavy tiredness, and a craving for junk food.

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Shredded barbecue chicken

Slow cooked barbecue pulled chicken

I love a feast.  A proper, gather round the table heaped with dishes, everyone talking at once, help yourself, kind of feast.  My favourite one recently was our huge Middle Eastern feast for New Year’s Eve. when the table was heaving with all sorts of different things ready to tuck into.  We talked, we laughed, we drank lovely wine, we stuffed all sorts of different things into pittas, and then into our faces.  A real joyful night.

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Stags Leap Chardonnay

The best of the January sales

Happy Sunday!  I hope you’re having a wonderful weekend.  We’ve mostly slobbed around, eaten cake, signed the contracts ready to exchange on our house (YAY!), splurged in Majestic Wine  (this Stag’s Leap ‘Karia’ Chardonnay was buy two, save £10), stroked our gorgeous little furball family and started prepping for our next painting project: Sam’s bedroom (feature wall dark grey, other walls silvery grey).

I’ve got my first trip coming up very soon, a cruise on the gorgeous Disney Dream – one of my favourite ships, so I thought it would be a good time to stock up on some of the summer stuff that’s inevitably in the sales:

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Sainsbury's #loveyourfreezer banana ice cream

‘Prom night’ purple and Tom and Jerry antics

It’s been a mad week here at English Towers.  The Sainsbury’s #loveyourfreezer campaign has gone live and it’s been really lovely receiving tweets, texts and Facebook messages (and AWFUL screenshots – thanks guys haha) saying ‘ooh, I’ve just seen you on the telly!’.  I’m SO proud of this campaign – Sainsbury’s have been amazingly lovely to work with, and there are loads more exciting things coming up.

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Mmmm pancakes!

My top five fluffy American pancake ideas

So how did you feel this morning when the alarm went off?  After all the lovely festive lie-ins, English Towers was not a happy household.  I find that what you really, really need on these cold mornings (apart from a hug, obviously), is a mahoosive tower of puffy, fluffy American pancakes.  The lovely chaps at Flora were kind enough to share their wonderful recipe for American pancakes with me, and challenged me to come up with some awesome breakfast recipes to help you all through all these ffffrrrreeeezing mornings!

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Christmas wines

Step by step: how to cook a turkey, stuffing and all the trimmings

IT’S NEARLY HERE!  If you’re hosting Christmas lunch/dinner this year, here is everything you need to do, including lots of tips to make it stress free and ensure you spend your precious time with your family and friends, and not too much chained to the oven!  Remember, don’t panic, and  just think of it as a roast dinner on a slightly larger scale.

Before you start, grab a cuppa and have a read through:

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Asda Extra Special hamper

Asda’s Extra Special Christmas

Lovely Asda sent me a very festive hamper this weekend: not chocolates, or chutney, no, the best kind: MEAT!

Of course, not everyone wants to eat a traditional roast turkey at Christmas, and Asda’s Extra Special range has some stunning alternatives, including an Extra Special rack of venison, and a unique six bird roast, with British turkey, skinless duck fillet, chicken breast, wild pheasant, partridge and pigeon. The thought of these ‘bird within a bird’ roasts sometimes puts me off (how do you cut off the skin and inedible bits of each bird?) but Asda’s chefs have worked hard to create a dish with all the nice edible bits.  It’s covered in a lattice of oak smoked streaky bacon and all you need to do is shove it in the oven. It serves 10 and costs £40 – in store now.

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M&S mini Christmas pudding cakes

Party food from Marks and Spencer

My children love our weird dinners (not).  The other night, we were testing Marks and Spencer’s new range of party food.  Their dinner was entirely made up of canapés, which although seems very posh, is actually quite strange.  The good news is, though, that the party food is REALLY good, so we didn’t mind at all.  And we thought it would be even better if you actually used it all as intended, y’know, for parties…

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Sprouts: yum

My top five Christmas dinner hacks

So you might be one of those people that LOVES cooking for people at Christmas (like me) or you might be one who dreads it every year.  Either way, the best way to get through that dinner is to cheat as much as possible.  Here are my top five Christmas dinner hacks to give you more time with your family and friends, and less time at the oven and sink on the big day.

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The Snow Leopard martini

Christmas cocktail fun: the Snow Leopard Conservation Martini

A friend of mine’s got a bit of a thing for premium drinkies and, knowing I feel the same, sent me a bottle of this lovely stuff: Snow Leopard vodka.  This uber cool super-premium vodka was created by Stephen Sparrow, a passionate conservationist and ex-drinks industry expert, who heard about the plight of the Snow Leopards during a trip to the Himalayas.  There are just 5000 of these beautiful big cats left in the wild and Stephen created the Snow Leopard Trust UK with a goal to raise a million dollars a year to save them.

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Rough puff mince pies

Rough puff pastry mince pies

The thing about home baking is that it should be a joy.  My favourite times are spent in my kitchen – pinny on (Cath Kidston, a treasured present from my friend Taralara), oven on, flour everywhere, radio playing, people popping in and out for a chat or a quick taste – it’s my therapy. I’d go mad without it.  Someone once told me that you should never bake when you’re miserable – nothing goes right – cakes don’t rise, things don’t taste right… it’s because the baking picks up on your mood, and I completely believe that’s true.

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One pot garlic chicken

Pot roasted garlic chicken – and win a Berndes casserole dish!

If you’ve been in Tesco recently, you’ll have seen that they’re currently running a sticker promotion  where you can save up to 70% on exclusive Berndes cookware products (collect one sticker for every £20 you spend – once you’ve collected five stickers you can use them to buy the discounted cookware.  Tesco very kindly send me one of the casseroles to try. They’re wonderfully chunky and heavy – perfect for soups, stews and casseroles.  I tried my hand at a little one-pot cooking:

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Ox cheek Jalfrezi

Braised, spicy Jalfrezi ox cheeks with Schwartz Flavour Shots

My store cupboard is really important to me.  As well as the basics like salt, pepper, oil and stock cubes, I like to have lots of different seasoning mixes and dried herbs and spices, especially at this time of year when it’s more difficult to pop into the garden for a handful of parsley or coriander.  Products from the lovely chaps at Schwartz feature heavily in my kitchen – I like dried coriander in my winter curries, and we’re all completely addicted to the Perfect Shake seasoning blend for chips (if you haven’t discovered this yet, grab some now, it’s awesome).

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Bobbi Brown at Macy's UTC

The UK does Macy’s – the new Macy’s at UTC Sarasota

So next on our wonderful trip to Florida, we hopped back into our amazing Mustang and headed down to Sarasota, to the brand new Mall at University Town Centre (UTC for short).  The brand new Macy’s there is utterly fantastic, and very state of the art.  We joined store manager Kerry Yelle for a tour of the store.  She’s understandably pretty proud of the place and pointed out several really cool features that are unique to this ‘smart store’.  The lighting, for example, has been designed to be sustainable and the lamps don’t need replacing, plus the changing rooms have lights that only come on when you enter, to save energy.

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Christmas tree biscuits 2

Christmas tree biscuits #bakeitforward

So have you seen the Waitrose Christmas advert?  We love the story of little Ellie, the reluctant baker, who ends up mastering the art of gingerbread baking for her school fete.

Waitrose have challenged me to get involved with their #bakeitforward campaign, to spread a little love and Christmas cheer to some people I really care about by baking them a special treat.  I love decorating biscuits, it’s so Christmassy – so here are my cute little chocolate Christmas tree biscuits.  This dough is perfect for cutting out shapes as it doesn’t spread in the oven – it’s really easy to make too.

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Fog Head Pinot Noir

The autumn wine round up

We have very weird wine habits in this house.  When Mr English is home we really splash out and try a few nice wines, but when I’m at home on my own when he’s working, I tend to have a glass of a supermarket red on the go and I don’t think there’s any shame in that.  I often read my friend Helen’s blog: Knackered Mother’s Wine Club for inspiration as she’ll regularly recommend a good bottle or two.

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