Thursday, May 31, 2012

Chocolate, hazelnut and salted caramel tart

(Good Food Magazine April 2012)

I have been wanting to try this since we received the magazine and as we have friends over for dinner tonight, it seemed like a good opportunity!

Wasn't too bad to make, although (and I'm blaming this on the heat!) the pastry was still very soft and sticky even after half an hour in the fridge. I could roll it out, but it was too soft to lift, and when I tried to just turn my rolling out board upside down over the tin to kind of drop it in, it just stuck to the board and needed scraping off! So I put the pastry in as a lump and pushed it out with my hands. Consequently I suspect the pastry layer is going to be quite thick!

I'm not sure I got the caramel quite right either - the recipe said to let the sugar/water mixture boil until it was amber coloured, which I did, but the final caramel (after adding butter, cream and golden syrup) looked a bit pale...

Finally on the 'should have done better' notes, the topping has come away from the edges of the pastry as it has cooled so I think I may also have slightly overcooked it. I found it very difficult to tell whether the topping 'had formed a crust' so to be safe I left it in a few more minutes - I suspect possibly a few too many! Still, it looks and smells great and my husband says the pastry tastes good so we'll see how we go.

I bought some vanilla ice cream to eat with it so we have a back-up pud!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The French Concert

It's not something I've mentioned very much on this blog, but I play viola with the Nottingham Symphony Orchestra, and I love it! I'm not an amazing player (very definitely an orchestral player rather than a soloist!) but I think of myself as being a solid player and I can count well, so I usually know where I am in the music! This has been particularly helpful for the last few concerts, as by dint of some strange confluence of events, I have ended up on the front desk next to the leader... Very scary especially as I have to turn the pages of the music for us so I really need to know exactly where I am all the time.

This is usually fine, except for this concert, our main piece was the music for the ballet Daphnis & Chloe. This is a piece not performed very often - and having played it I can see why! The score is complex, meaning both the players and the conductor have had issues sorting out where we are at any given time. When we did the first play through, I found it incredibly scary as I had very little idea where I was in the music most of the time (let alone being able to play it), and consequently fluffed a load of page turns. This terror continued through a large number of the rehearsals, but by the time of the concert, fortunately I was much more slick!

So, back to the concert - it was a break from our usual programme of overture, concerto, symphony, and we were joined by 3 local choirs and a huge number of percussionists, including a wind machine, and 2 harpists. We played 5 smaller pieces and then Daphnis & Chloe. So picture the scene - Friday night's rehearsal, we only have 1 rehearsal left after this before the concert, it's only the 2nd rehearsal with the percussion and the first rehearsal with the choirs, the harps and the solo violinst for Tzigane. We have had 2 intervening concerts between our last main one and this one, so rehearsal time has been slightly limited anyway and each week we've been practising Daphnis, the conductor has been looking more and more panicked at the amount of work still needed. We have already weathered one crisis to find a replacement celeste player as ours had dropped out! Okay? So not a stressful rehearsal at all.

We started with the Royal Hunt and Storm (Berlioz) - half-way down the first page the thundering timpani were nowhere to be heard. The percussionist for those particular timpani (we had 3 sets for the concert - 2 off-stage!) had not turned up and hadn't given her music to anyone else. Nice. Pavanne (Faure) went well and is beautiful with the choir. As we started Daphnis it came to light that the alto flute player had lost her flute. She turned up without flute having searched everywhere - conductor slowly turning purple. At a pre-arranged time, the concert venue had tea ready for everyone downstairs. Conductor wanted to press on, but he was advised we had to stop. Huffing and puffing, he let us go for a break but you could see he wasn't happy! And then the choir wanted to rehearse a huge section all again. Through gritted teeth the conductor agreed. At this point it's 10 to 10, we have rehearsed 3 and a half of the 6 pieces we are due to play, and the conductor says that he 'just wants to go over the orchestra only bits in Daphnis and then run through Bolero.' The sigh rippling through the room was audible!

Fortunately the concert was stupendous - everything went very well and I enjoyed it all! Roll on the next one.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Have box, will...squeeze myself into it even if it's a bit too small!

Hoorah! We have some sun at last this year - and to celebrate, the gazebo went up for the first time yesterday. And the box was left to its own devices on the lawn. Enter Leo.

Leo enjoys crawling in box, which means Zachary has to have a go - bit of a squish!!!




But wait! There he is outside the box! So who's in now??

It's Leo again - blimey, it's like some kind of magic trick!!!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Chocolate Raspberry Brownies

Described by the Good Food Magazine as 'best-ever...' Always a claim I like to try out!! Really lovely soft brownies but to be honest I didn't think the raspberries added much...may have been that my raspberries were just a touch too tart. However, I'm pretty sure I could make the recipe again and just leave out the raspberries.

200g dark chocolate, broken into chunks
100g milk chocolate, broken into chunks
250g salted butter
400g soft light brown sugar
4 large eggs
140g plain flour
50g cocoa powder
200g raspberries

1. Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Line a 20x30cm baking tray with baking parchment. Put the chocolates, sugar and butter in a pan and gently melt, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Remove from the heat.

2. Stir the eggs, one by one into the melted chocolate mixture. Sieve over the flour and cocoa, and stir in. Stir in half the raspberries, scrape into the tray, then scatter over the remaining raspberries. Bake on the middle shelf for 30 mins, or if you prefer a firmer texture, for 5 mins more. Cool before slicing into squares.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Ups and Downs

It's been a bit of an up and down week - the significant down being the loss of Dax yesterday, but the boys have been keeping us well entertained, pants on head notwithstanding!

There was drama and controversy at the swimming pool on Tuesday - there was a poo in the pool! Cue the inevitable tutting and shaking of heads of the mums in Zachary's lesson group at the nameless mum who let her child poo in the pool during the lunchtime public swim. Zachary was very excited and kept trying to see if he could see it - nice. I consider myself very fortunate that neither Zachary nor Leo have yet pooed in the pool, or even in the bath, thank goodness (other parents we know have had this issue - it's not something you can really do anything about, but thankfully the boys have never been inclined to do it).

After a slow start, the bird table is going brilliantly now. We're getting lots of visitors each day including blue tits (who have nested and produced babies in the bird box on the shed) and this week greenfinches were spotted. Fab.

Leo has shown that he's absolutely no good at trash talk - we were playing a game and he kept shouting at Leigh "you're going to beat me!" Hmmm, not quite sure that's the right way round! When he did finally get it, for some reason he would just whisper it at Leigh...lost a little of the effect!

And then finally I visited a local farm with Leo this week. Bearing in mind that Leo seemed to use the word 'chicken' to describe any bird he didn't know - you might be able to guess what he had seen when he said 'look, that chicken is on that blue chicken.' Yep, 2 budgies having a bit of how's your father! Classy.

Welcome Emma Frost and Hex!

Well, we've done it - we have bought some new chickens! It was very exciting, tinged with sadness that we no longer have Dax, but the boys threw themselves into the challenge. We visited Hens for Pets this morning and the boys chose an Amber chicken - now named Emma Frost - and a Smoky Blue - now named Hex. The boys' frame of reference for name choice at the moment is comprised of X-Men and the Skylanders computer game...please note we did not go with "Wolverine" or "the Beast" as potential names, funny though they would be for chickens!

Leigh had read that we should keep them separate from Bubbles for about a week before introducing, but the Hens for Pets lady suggested that actually just a day would do and we could mix them tonight. The potential issue is how Bubbles will get on with them, and the inevitable 'pecking order' squabble which we'll have to go through. We've kept them separate today and have put them together now for roosting, although noone's roosting (suspect Bubbles, who would normally be in bed by now) is too interested in what the others are doing!) - Leigh is sitting outside keeping an eye on them and making sure the new chickens know where to go. We have borrowed a rabbit hutch and run from a friend so if there is too much arguing tonight and they don't settle, Emma Frost and Hex can sleep on their own until things calm down a bit.

But they are lovely chickens, and so far, apart from a few pecks, Bubbles is behaving herself so we shall see how the night goes. And in other chicken news, Bubbles laid an egg this morning!!! Woo-hoo!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Farewell, Dax

Sadly one of our chickens, Dax, died last night. I found her this morning and it looked as though she had peacefully passed in the night.

Strangely, it was Bubbles, our other chicken, who has been ill recently but she rallied after some antibiotics. We had noticed that Dax was not quite herself but she didn't seem as ill as Bubbles had been and the vet didn't notice anything major. She had had a bit of a problem with her crop and we think maybe that combined with her still being in moult and waiting to regrow feathers may just have taken its toll on her.

The worst thing was disposing of the body. Leigh read that we needed to just put her (double bagged) in our usual household bin, but as it's Friday today, the bin men were due and they come early! Leigh saw the truck down the road so we rushed through it, got out in time and then the truck drove the other way! Hardly a dignified farewell.

Bubbles seems fine though. although she should not be a flock on her own for too long, so we are going to look at chickens tomorrow. It is also the first time the boys have come into contact with death so we were a bit nervous about telling them - although secretly hoping it might be an opportunity for us to shed a few tears too. However when we told the boys at lunchtime, although Zachary seemed to understand he wouldn't be seeing Dax again, he was more excited by the prospect of buying new chickens and just kept asking whether all her feathers had dropped off! (no, and not because we stuck them all back on, Zachary!). He did also ask whether we could call one of the new chickens Dax - although I said it would be best to have new names, considering the origin of her name (Dax from Star Trek), it seemed oddly appropriate that it might continue.

Goodbye Dax.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Bedtime Shenanigans

My 2 boys share a bedroom, which has its ups and downs (for example Leo emptying the entirety of their bookcase onto the floor...). To be honest, I quite like the fact that they share at the moment and they (mostly) enjoy playing with and talking to each other before they go to sleep, although as they get older we'll probably have to move to 2 rooms.

Just lately we have been watching some Marvel superhero cartoons with them just before bed so we can often hear them shouting that one of them is (for example) Gambit, and the other Wolverine! We have also on occasion found them both in the same bed, very sweet - although to their faces this is frowned upon, and just now I have been in to check on them. Both had pairs of pants on their heads. What on earth??!!!!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Bizarrely Crafty Weekend

We had a strangely crafty weekend. It was good. On Friday I took the boys to Lush in the Derby Westfield centre because I'd been told they'd have people in from their factory giving 'making' demonstrations. The boys made a blackberry bath bomb each - no charge. Great!

Then Saturday saw us at Calke Abbey where Zachary spotted a craft book in the shop. We didn't buy it but I used all my powers of focus and concentration to try and memorise the instructions for a treasure chest... Leo's didn't quite get finished, and Zachary was fairly happy with his although he's still complaining that it doesn't have a hinged lid (oh and Leo sat on the lid in the garden...after the photo was taken fortunately!)...

On Sunday, I attempted Mary Anne's Ploughman's Loaf. Mary Anne was a contestant on the Great British Bake-Off last year and she was fab. I have been wanting to try this loaf since I saw it on TV and here is my attempt. 

It does taste great and it has lasted for 3 days so far without getting too hard - I must admit I kneaded it in the KitchenAid, but it appears to have been successful! Oh, just one thing to say - I don't think I caramelised my onions enough or cut m cheese small enough! I've put a link here to Mary Anne's blog and you'll be able to see how in her loaf the cheese and onion is barely noticeable, where as in mine...

Also on Sunday, Leigh showed us a great origami boat which we're going to make on a bigger scale for Zachary to take to nursery next week - his class's current topic is Journeys and they'll reach boats next week.

And then finally the boys made some cupcakes each based on their favourite Skylander characters, Camo and Warnado - well, based on their colours anyway (you can't really see it in the photo, but the Camo cakes are amazingly green and Warnado's are amazingly blue!) You can see them on the side of the plate.

And relax!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Sick Chick

We have had a poorly chicken in the household. We've had the chickens for nearly 2 years now and this is the first time either of them has been ill, but poor Bubbles has been a little under the weather lately - fortunately she now seems to be much better.

She started looking a little uninterested in things, tail was pointing down and she didn't seem to be eating properly so we thought something might be up and then her comb turned very pale. Off to the vets we went - suspected she might be egg-bound, although the vet couldn't find anything. She started on a week of vitamins, but it was during this week her comb went a funny colour, so we went back to the vet and got some antibiotics. Have no idea what was wrong, but the medicine seemed to work and she's really picked up over the last few days. Still not laying though, and neither is Dax, who's been moulting for what seems like months - there's a picture of her with no feathers in the snow we had at the beginning of the year. So we're buying eggs at the moment - come on girls, lay lay!


While I try to think of a good title for this entry I'll tell you about my day. To start with we had an exciting new visitor to the bird table - a squirrel! Saw him standing up on the top of the wall trying to nibble into the peanuts - the boys were very excited. I tried to get a photo, but he was off and running before I got organised!

I then had one of my ears washed out at the doctors and can hear again from it - hurrah! I seem to have a recurring issue with wax build-up in my ears. I think I could lessen the impact if I was consistent about putting a few drops of olive oil in every week, but I get complacent and think I don't need it, and then by the time I realise things are going too far...things have got too far! The last time this happened I had to go to the hospital for the ENT nurses to vacuum everything out, but it appears that my GP surgery is now permitted to do it again - apparently a spate of people suing when they had follow on ear infections or problems with their ear drums resulted in a blanket ban on the procedure locally. But it all went well and now I realise just how loud my children are! I'm almost tempted to go and ask for the wax to be put back in! They're just so shrill and Zachary seems to shout all the time.

I'm afraid I had a bit of a break-down just before dinner - I had my hands in raw sausage meat and had Leo by my legs doing some low level complaining about some slight he'd just suffered at Zachary's hands. I could cope with this, but then Zachary sat himself on the floor behind Leo and kept shifting himself backwards to bang into Leo's legs. Leo did not like this, Zachary would not stop (despite my persistent asking) and it all erupted in some kind of banshee wail/scream/rage from Leo, together with Zachary complaining that he 'wanted to keep doing it'. I lost my cool and shouted 'just shut up!' at them both! Fortunately it all calmed down after that.

Then just before bed, we watched an episode of X-Men. The boys usually have a 20 minute episode of something after their baths as a wind down before bed and we've been using this as an opportunity to expand their Marvel superhero education which was ably started with Super Hero Squad. They have now worked their way through season 1 of the late 70's Spiderwoman cartoons, a season of Spiderman and his Amazing Friends (Iceman and Firestar) and we're now on the 1990's X-Men cartoons. Brilliant. Sadly, we may now have watched too many - sitting watching the opening credits, I had Zachary on my right singing along to the theme tune and Leo on my left shouting out the (correct) names of each X-Man as they appeared. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 09, 2012


Had a cup of tea in Thorntons today - well, pot of tea for one. Pot of tea had easily enough for 3 cups in it - but I was only given enough milk for 1!

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Chelsea Buns - part 2

I had another crack at Chelsea buns today and, having given the dough proper time to rise, they came out much better than my first attempt. I still think they'll be a bit hard tomorrow (!) as my kneading abilities are not great, but I'm pleased with them - eaten 3 already!

Treasure Trails

We discovered a series called Treasure Trails when we last visited a local museum. Essentially they're fairly simple trails around towns and places, giving you opportunities to explore them while solving clues relating to buildings and local sights. Leigh bought me a murder mystery themed trail for Christmas, based around Loughborough. As this is a place we haven't been to before we thought it'd be a good outing for Bank Holiday Monday.

After managing to find a car park (they weren't very well signposted) and negotiating the trampolines and fair rides set up in the market square, we had a good half hour or so following the trail. It was great and gave us a chance to look at things in Loughborough we might otherwise not have seen - and we also discovered an interesting looking shopping lane called Church Gate. Most places were shut as it was Bank Holiday but we'll more than likely go back. I don't think I can really pinpoint what I thought Loughborough would be like, but I liked it more than I thought I would - it reminded me a little of Ipswich.

We didn't finish the trail though - the boys got a little bored and it was freezing! But we shall be back...

Friday, May 04, 2012

The planets must be in alignment or something

The apocalypse has occurred three times this week! Yes, three.

On Wednesday I took the boys to a local farm in the afternoon to eat ice-cream, use the trampoline in the play area and feed the animals. The play area was shut. Disaster....end of the world-type disaster for Zachary! And then to top it all off, a chicken flapped at him and Leo - more crying and 2 very muddy boys to take back to the car! Please note, no chickens or children were harmed in this blog entry.

On Thursday Zachary asked to have his face painted half an hour before dinner. I said no, but I would paint his feet (also part of the original request I would hasten to add!) and thus brought about the second ending of the world in 2 days.

Today, Leo took one of Zachary's books off the bookshelf. Zachary then decided he wanted to read it and although I suggested we all read it together on the sofa, when Leo refused to let Zachary hold the book, the world ended once more.

Surprisingly our post-apocalyptic world seems vaguely familiar to the old one...

Cake Break 2012

Well, today was the day of Cake Break. I managed  to put together an array of various cakes and lovely treats which my brother-in-law has kindly had at Caralot all day snagging employees and visitors to the site for their hard-earned donations!

I made some flapjack (some of it chocolate covered!), a coffee and walnut sponge, cherry bakewell sponge, popcakes,

special Caralot shortbread biscuits,

a lemon drizzle traybake

and strawberry cupcakes.

Managed to do more than I thought I would on Thursday (given that my entire evening was devoted to watching the Avengers Assemble film - awesome!) and apparently all the cake has gone! Huzzah!

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

PS on the sweets

As it turns out, leaving the coconut ice in the fridge for a week has firmed it up admirably and is now an acceptable consistency for ladies trying to eat nibbles whilst holding a glass of champagne. It's back in! I have my 3 sweets (although this still means I need to try fruit pastilles sometime as they were going to be my next trial!)

It's that time of year again!

It's nearly time for Cake Break!

This is an annual event organised by the Multiple Sclerosis Society to raise funds - this year the 'official' day is Friday May 4th. The idea is to get together with friends over tea and cake and donate to the charity. I ran one a couple of years ago at home and it went really well, but I missed last year's.

I've decided to try again this year (mainly because I love making cakes!) but have realised that most of the people who came last time have either gone back to work after children, or have moved away. So a Friday would not be good from a 'getting people round to my house' point of view and similarly, people usually have plans at the weekend. So this year I've asked my brother-in-law, who runs Caralot in Spondon if I can basically set up my stall on their site and try to interest people looking at cars (and of course the many, many staff members) in making donations for cake.

Jamie's been enthusiastic about it (so much so I think he just wants me to drop off cakes and he'll do the rest!) and I've started the baking marathon today - I was saying to Leigh though that the trouble this time is that there are so many cakes I like baking, it's difficult to choose! I'm making a batch of popcakes (as I had some bags and sticks left over from a previous batch!), and made the base cake for those today. I've also made 2 batches of flapjack (one for home, one for Friday), and have 2 cakes and the making of the popcake balls on my list for tomorrow. I'm only slightly concerned about having enough time...but seriously, whatever I manage to make, hopefully I'll be able to raise some money!