Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Lovely Christmas

Carrot for Rudolph, milk and cookies for Santa

Christmas was lovely; the kids woke me at 4.45am and despite trying to get them back to sleep, they continued to check the time with me every 10 minutes or so, leaving me exhausted and I eventually succumbed to their excited whispers of "is it time YET?". Lucy wasn't feeling entirely well but they were all excited and decidedly happy with their gifts. We made dough for Schnecken buns and rested collapsed into a coma like state with hot mugs of tea whilst watching the kids play happily with their toys.

The Schnecken are prepared

And separated into nutty ones and nut free. Mmmm.

My sis arrived with her kids, to help us eat the cinammony, pecan topped delights which are Schnecken and bacon sandwiches to follow. Once they left, I began to prepare dinner, roasting the ham, which had been boiled the night before with a maple syrup and honey glaze, slicing the turkey crown, also made the night before, to heat in gravy later and preparing the turkey by stuffing it and rubbing it with lashings of herb flavoured butter and topping it with fatty bacon slices.

Roasting the Ham with Honey, Cloves and Maple Syrup

Lemon rind, sage and thyme to be mixed into the butter

Inbetween cooking, we watched The Polar Express and had our Scotch Broth. When dinner was ready, we sat at the table and opened the champagne, toasting another year and the year ahead. When we had finished and tidied, we were just in time for The Gruffalo and Doctor Who!

Scotch Broth

Christmas Dinner

The new 3d Monopoly was brought out; whoever said games brought families together were wrong but it was a great laugh nonetheless.

Grandpa, my husband's dad, had me in stitches throughout the day with his interpretation of certain things he'd overheard, for example, whilst watching the news... "...Pope has been knocked over", grandpa exclaimed "the Pope wasn't sober??".

Boxing Day saw us all sledging before heading to Ann's house for curry and conversation. It was a lovely day although in hindsight, the 3pm start of drinking champagne doesn't entirely agree with me, when not heading home until late....


Monday evening, we went to Di Maggios restaurant for pizza and pasta with our friends and their family, followed by a pantomime at the Pavilion Theatre. Today, I'm being forced to see Alvin and the Chipmunks 2 and then it's Hogmanay tomorrow! Party time.

A Happy New Year to you all.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Jedi Santa

Well, my lovely bloggy friends, that time is almost upon us; the time when we let the big red fella down our chimneys to eat the cookies we left him. To look out at the snow covered roofs and watch the kids laugh and giggle as they open and enjoy the gifts they received; we'll stuff our faces with beautiful birds and tasty treats, roasted ham and Brussel sprouts; we'll nap on the sofa and play board games, maybe do a jigsaw and listen to Christmas tunes.

View from our window

Grandpa has settled in, mum, sis, brother in law and baby came to visit, we ate cake, opened gifts and toasted Christmas with a wee gin and tonic. The Christmas movies are playing, the braising steak is in the oven, all the gifts are wrapped and new pyjamas are donned by little 'uns, who snuggle under blankets as we speak, happy and excited about tomorrow.

Kelly fell in love with the turkey foil, stuck eyes and a mouth onto it and let it sleep in her bed last night. Her confused brother took a picture, trying to make sense of what was going on. We gave up a long time ago.

Our Christmas feast usually consists of Christmas morning muffins with cinnamon and jam followed by bacon rolls but this year, we'll who is this 'we'll'; me, I mean...who else.... be having schnecken. Oh, and the bacon rolls of course. My twin sis and her lovely offspring will be coming to join us for this, much to the kids delight and for the first time in 12 years, I will be hosting Christmas dinner with no extra guests. We usually have all my family and Brian's dad at least but we decided that this year, we'd keep it small. I'll miss them though.

The dinner itself will be:
Scotch Broth

Honey Roasted Side of Salmon with Prawn Salad
Parmesan Bread or Blinis

Roast Turkey, Gingerbread Stuffing,
Ham joint,
lemon and wine flavoured gravy
pigs in blankets,
baby boiled potatoes, roast potatoes,
mashed potatoes

Accompanied by
Brussel Sprouts with pancetta and toasted flaked almonds,
Honey and maple syrup glazed parsnips and carrots,
Broccoli, peas and onion confit
Redcurrant and Cranberry sauce.

The kids will have some chocolate cake and we'll just about manage a mince pie but later...much later! We're all excited about watching Dr. Who as the master returns, much to the excitement of the kids...ok, me...Brian.... and having a lovely, relaxed time.

Lunch; lentil and vegetable soup with freshly baked bread

Merry Christmas to you all, wherever you may be.

Monday, December 21, 2009


Well that was a busy few days! I've missed've missed me too, haven't you...what's that you say? No? You didn't realise I was gone? Oh......*bleedin' muttering mutterers*.

Today, we completed the last of the Christmas shopping and all the food shopping for the next two weeks. Woohoo! Most people were in good spirits and friendly with the occasional grumpy sod ramming trolleys into our ankles. I send them karma.....

School finishes tomorrow so we'll be able to do Christmasy things with them have lie-ins, eat cake, not comb our hair.... and plan to whisk the kids off to the cinema but only after taking them to our friend Val's house to meet up with a crowd of revellers, hellbent on celebrating the holidays. What can you do but join in?

Since we've all been really quite ill this winter, we've been eating comfort soups, stews, pies and homemade breads. We're all bright eyed and rosy cheeked, if a few pounds heavier aye, ok, not that much heavier but health comes before waistline. We're moving back this week to roast chicken, pastas, still on the soups and some lovely fresh fish before having our blowout Christmas day dinner.

At the supermarket today, I asked for a side of salmon but the fishmonger said he'd give me two as a whole salmon was costing way below usual. He beheaded the thing and filleted it for me, with the total coming to just over £7! If I had any room in the freezer, I'd buy three more.

Last week, just before going shopping, I realised we had to use up as much as we could from the fridge and the freezer, hence the creation of leftover pie:

Such a creation can be wonderful and occasionally bleuch of course; this one turned out really well except for the use of the sun-dried tomatoes...what was I thinking? We just picked them out and ate it all up.

Thinly sliced potatoes topped with some leftover white wine cream sauce from the dinner with friends. Onion confit was sprinkled over.

The sun-dried tomatoes didn't work but it didn't destroy it either. We just picked them out.

Cooked sausages were sliced and thrown in.

And another layer of potatoes before doing it all over again until a top layer of potatoes was reached. The remaining cream sauce was mixed with chicken stock and poured carefully into the dish. A mix of cheddar, mozzarella and Gruyere cheese was sprinkled on the top. It was roasted in the oven for approx. 45 minutes at a medium heat. The kids LOVED it. Without those bleedin' tomatoes of course. Normal cream...not cream sauce would be perfect too.

Messy looking but yum!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Times Remembered

Every Friday, the Loose Bloggers Consortium get together to post about a particular subject; today's topic is Times Remembered. Check out the other blog members:
Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future and time future contained in time past. If all time is eternally present, all time is unredeemable.
Burnt Norton, Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot

On this Friday in December in 1976, I lost my best friend.

I was a little girl of seven and it was a school day like any other. I woke up, reluctant to get out of bed. Mum was shouting to us all to get up, in that way which left us with no choice but to thud our uncooperative feet on the floor. As I stood up, the cold air hit me, little draughts coming through the window sill. Shivering, I headed downstairs.

A nice smell enveloped me as I settled down at the table for breakfast; Ready Brek or Weetabix was the cereal of choice in the winter, with hot milk, the memory of which has eluded me but it filled my belly and, after getting ready, my sisters and I trudged off to school.

On arrival, we ran through the gates and into the ancient Victorian building, freezing and pink cheeked, hoping to get a heat from the old, rusty radiator but the wicked Head Mistress blocked our path as we headed towards our heated nirvana and threw us out. She told us to stay out until the bell rang or we would face her wrath.

We ran around, trying to stay warm with bare hands and bare legs; our coats weren't enough to keep the heat in so we eventually snuggled together in the shed, watching our breath as it flowed out of us like fog. I kept peeking out, looking out for my best friend Thomas but he was nowhere to be seen.

When the bell rang, I looked anxiously behind me, hoping to see a glimpse of him running up the road but he wasn't there. I was worried he'd get into trouble. We entered the old building and after hanging up our coats in the cloakroom, made our way to the classroom to finish making the puppets we had started for a school show. Thomas loved the puppets and our alternative fairytale theme, Little Blue Riding Hood. We both were in charge of writing the script, which we loved doing and today, we would be making our own puppets from papier mache and wood. He had been so excited the day before.

I sat by myself, sulking. No-one else seemed bothered that he wasn't there. Where was he? He couldn't be ill as he was fine yesterday and anyway, no-one ever stayed off sick at our school, unless they were in hospital. I put my hand up and the teacher ignored me. I persevered until eventually she sighed and asked me what I wanted. "Where's Thomas, Miss?" I asked. She sighed once again and stood up, ignoring what I'd said. But then she addressed the class; "Children. Thomas will not be coming back to school. Now back to work". And that was my answer.

I wanted to ask more but I knew I'd be met with a frown and possibly the belt; this teacher used any excuse to give it to me. I sat at my desk, the noise of everyone chattering disappearing as my own thoughts consumed me; where in earth could he be? Had something happened? Why didn't he tell me? I was so confused and scared; I had an ominous feeling that I would never see him again.

I never did find out what had happened or where he went. I went to his house as soon as school finished and there was no reply to my knocks. I opened the letterbox and peered in to find nothing; literally nothing, not even the carpets were there. I cried all the way home, then wiped my eyes before entering the house and spent the night sitting on my bed, staring at the blue flowered wallpaper and the poster of David Cassidy that belonged to my big sister. I wanted to rip that stupid grin of his face as anger began to fill my little head. The grief I felt was too much for me to bear but bear it I did until I had no choice but to accept that he was gone.

I hoped that one day I may find him or see him again. I thought about him every now and then and as I grew older, I wondered what he would be doing, where he was living, who his friends were. When the internet arrived, I periodically searched for him but his last name had eluded me by then. I asked old classmates, my sister about him; no-one even remembered him. It's like he didn't exist. But there he is, in the old class photo, staring out at me with that cheeky wee grin. I hope that one day, he looks for me.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wordless Wednesday; Ghosts of Christmas past....

Building blocks....?

Building an igloo

The inlaws room?

Destroying it...all part of the fun!

Kelly's Christmas Aikido move

Happy Christmas Eve kids

And we had to have a chocolate cake in there somewhere, didn't we?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The trouble with square meals....

My distinguished and lovely bloggy friend, Rummuser at Ramana's Musings sent me the image above; he thought it would be perfect for my blog and perfect it is. I love it and am actually rather scared as I own a pair of shoes like that and quite possibly the dress too but that was from a different time.... In fact, the statement is my mantra. Or downfall, depending on what angle you come from. If it weren't for the fact that I don't drive....yes, that's right, I don't drive....and of course, walk everywhere, I'd be the size of a small house.

Thank you Rummuser for the laugh and for the image.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Dinner guests

My very first dinner party was many, many years ago; I had purchased Floyd's cookbook and decided upon 'paupiettes of beef with lemon stuffing'. I was excited to be making my first grown up meal and took everything Floyd said literally so when he recommended using your own beef stock and gave a recipe on how to make it, I took his advice. I soaked up everything he said completely and utterly, even phoning the butcher with my order ahead of time.

The butcher was very pleasant when I arrived, his patter constant; he handed me many bags, much to my surprise and told me the cost with a big grin. I falteringly smiled back as I paid him, dropping my purse and trying to stay calm. I walked out the door and round the corner, stumbling towards a wall, hyperventilating at the amount of money I'd just handed over. The meat alone had come to over £100. This was the 80s when I was still a teenager but one with a flat, bills and a budget.

I hadn't even thought to question the recipe, why would I... but the stock alone was enough for around five gallons and it used braising steak amongst other choice cuts for the best beef stock ever. The meal in question turned out pretty well although my kitchen looked like a bomb had gone off; pots and utensils lined not only the surfaces, but the floor too.

My guests seemed to have a lovely night but what they didn't know was that I had to walk the couple of miles into work and back every day for a few weeks and I had soup for dinner every night for ages-the only thing I could afford, once the beef from the freaking stock ran out.

But such is life and we learn from these things, albeit second dinner party taught me not to drink until the dessert was on the, after a further 20 years, I can safely say that I'm relaxed and comfortable and have stopped calling the dinner party stress route. No more £100 stocks, no slurring my words before the starter's even begun. No crazy, six course, complicated works of feat involving scallops and jus, although scallops and jus have their place! just good food organised well.

We had friends round on Saturday evening and I decided on the following menu:

Antipasti with pesto and Parmesan bread

Braised corn fed chicken leg with honey and five spice, potato rounds, parsnip mash with honey, cinnamon & nutmeg, crispy courgettes, onion confit and a white wine cream sauce

Baked Brie with pecans and a brown sugar caramel

The bread used the hearthbread recipe and was sprinkled with olive oil before topping with homemade pesto, tomato halves and basil leaves.

Once baked, a little drop of extra virgin olive oil was drizzled over the bread and some Maldon sea salt sprinkled atop.

One hearthbread was sprinkled with olive oil, grated Parmesan and some thyme and lemon thyme. Once it was ready, extra virgin olive oil was drizzled over with a good pinch of sea salt and a fresh grating of Parmesan.

The antipasti plate; a selection of meats, slices of Parmesan and cucumber with mint and salt, oven roasted tomatoes as well as sun-dried, olives and fresh pesto.

Olive oil and balsamic vinegar accompanied the plate.

Lyn and Ken; "stop taking our freaking picture, hurry up and let us eat!"

The chicken legs were corn fed and free range; I couldn't believe the size of them though, they were huge! That was one big chicken! They were pan fried in spices before being gently braised for 45 minutes. This is a Gordon Ramsay recipe from Cooking for Friends.

Potatoes were boiled and mashed with butter and milk before being pressed into rounds and placed in the oven when we were ready for them. It makes for an easy life!

Onion confit Hilary Brown's recipe from La Potiniere; onions were cooked in butter and then simmered gently for 2 hours with sugar, sherry vinegar, creme de cassis and salt. The exact recipe to follow. I really love these; there are always loads left over and I can use some for the next week or so, reheated and some have been placed in cute little jars for gifts. It lasts ages.

The main course; the steam, my angle and the gin made for a fuzzy piccie! The parsnip mash sits under the potatoes and on top is the crispy courgettes....delicious. The stock from poaching the chicken was spooned over the plate before adding the wine and cream sauce.

A whole Brie was used for dessert; the rind was removed from the top and then baked for 20 minutes in the oven. While it was cooling...20 minutes...pecan nuts were crushed and toasted for around 8 minutes. Half of these were sprinkled over the Brie. I then made a caramel with Muscovado sugar and maple syrup although any sugars could be used.

The remaining nuts were sprinkled on the top before the caramel set and it was served with broken oatcakes.

Anyone want to come round?

I've started preparing for my hampers and below is the toffee I made yesterday, thanks to inspiration from my lovely bloggy friend, Carolyn at Backyard Eden.

You'll find the recipe on her page; I poured the toffee into rounds rather than a baking tray. I ate some....of course!! It is delicious!

The toffee, bagged up and waiting for a label. This particular bag is going with some lovely champagne.

1 medium garlic clove, peeled
40g Parmesan, grated
50g fresh basil leaves, some stalk removed
40g pine kernels
Quarter to half teaspoon salt
3fl oz/75ml good olive oil

Place everything in blender and blend to a puree. Continue to blend whilst pouring oil through the top. Stop, scrape down and blend again. Pour into a jar; this will keep for weeks. Don't worry if it changes colour, it is the air hitting of the basil but it will still taste lovely and will be an unctuous green under the darker colour atop.

Onion Confit
40g butter
2 pounds/900g onions, finely sliced
100g demerara sugar (or other brown sugar)
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1.5 tablespoons Creme de Cassis
2 teaspoons salt

Melt butter and when it turns light brown, add onions. Stir and coat, cook gently for five minutes, stirring now and then. Add all remaining ingredients, stir and simmer uncovered for 1.5-2 hours, depending on your pan. Stir occasionally, keep your eye on it now and then, tipping the pan towards you to see how much liquid remains. When no liquid left, you really need to watch it but this will take at least 1.5 hours. The finished confit will be dark, golden and sticky. Yum.
This will keep for ages and goes great with meat, fish and cheese. Reheat gently in a saucepan.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sundays in My City

The wonderful Unknown Mami hosts Sunday in my City every....well...Sunday....go check it out!

My Sunday comes from inside our home...

The kids and I made these decorations!