Friday, 29 October 2010

I got an A!

I have started a distance learning course of late.  It is a 'study at home' affair, and with two small children it is more of a 'whenever you have a spare minute' affair, so I think it might take a little longer than initially anticipated, but I have started, nonetheless.  It has been so long since I studied, I wondered how rusty my skills were at producing a written piece of work.  My mind feels full of cobwebs, which are hard to shake through restless nights, oft disturbed by wailing babes. 

The course arrived a couple of months ago, and since then I have read and re-read the modules, waiting for the right time, and a free moment, to begin and get knuckled down. 

Last week I produced my first assignment.  A written piece about myself and my aspirations.  I 'ummed' and 'ahhed' and procrastinated about what to write. How to present myself, what to say.  As can be seen from previous entries in my blog, I feel a little lost at the moment, and a few events have knocked my confidence somewhat. 

But I heard back from my tutor this morning, and despite a slight hic-cup in her not being able to initially open the document (wrong format), she has read, marked and returned my work.  I got an A!

An A!

What a wonderful way to being the day!  Score one for the confidence boosters!

May just have to make some cookies in celebration......

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Steak Pie Heaven!

Man, oh man.  I do not like to brag (too much) but last night's steak pie was THE BEST!  Just what the doctor ordered.  Maybe it was the succulent meat, yummy vegetables or delicious gravy?  Maybe it was everything combined together?  Whatever it was, it was heaven, all wrapped up in puff pastry. 

Mmmmm, puff pastry!  Life certainly tastes better with a little slice of that in your meal, that is for sure.

And so today we start with a fresh outlook.  As the great Wayne Dyer says, 'If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change'. 

I shall be looking at the left overs of my steak pie and it shall be changing into my lunch. 

Heaven!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Steak Pie

1.5 lb / 645 gm Braising steak, diced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery sticks, washed, trimmed and sliced
500 ml beef stock
2 x 400 gm tin of chopped tomato
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1 tbsp fresh thyme, leaves removed from stalks, chopped
1 x ready rolled sheet of puff pastry
1 egg, beaten

Cook the oil in a heavy based, deep saucepan.

Add the meat and cook over a medium heat, until browned all over.

Add the onion, carrots and celery and cook for a further few minutes.

Add the herbs, stock and tomato and stir.

Simmer over a low/medium heat for 2 - 2.5 hours, until the sauce has thickened nicely.

Turn the oven on to 180C.

Pour the pie filling into a suitable pie dish.

Unroll the pastry and ensure that it is in one piece, otherwise use a rolling pin to make sure it can cover the pie.

Cover the pie with the pastry.  Crimp the edges with a fork dipped in water and trim any excess pastry.

Brush over the pastry with the beaten egg.  Cut a cross in the middle with a sharp knife.

Cook at the bottom of the oven for 45 minutes, until the pastry has turned golden and the sauce is bubbling beneath.

If the pastry browns too quickly, cover with foil until cooked.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Holiday with Matthew Mead

I LOVE the Christmas holiday season.  I love it in winter especially.  Whilst half my world in friends return to the southern hemisphere in late December, I have no desire to experience a Christmas without the cold. 

I love the warming food you make, the festive colours, the spirit of Christmas and the story of nativity. 

My mother has always had a wonderful way of decorating.  Every year she would adorn our tree so beautifully I could stare at it for hours.  And being the youngest in our family, it was always tradition for me to put the angel or star on top of the tree.  I try to recreate the same magic I had when younger, but lacking in the same gifts as either my mother or my sister in law, who takes decorating to another stratosphere, it is good to know that there is help at hand.  

Holiday with Matthew Mead is a book-azine with the most amazing and inspiring ideas.  From decor to food - everything looks absolutely scrumptious and I, for one, can not wait until I get my copy in the post!

You can find out more about how to get this amazing book-azine from the button on the right hand side of this blog.


Happy Holidays!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

All the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey...

There is nothing quite like marching through fallen leaves, kicking them up with your boots and watching as they dance in the air, floating on the wind back down to earth again.  Puts an easy smile on your face, that's for sure. 

We all went for a walk in Bushy Park today.  We saw deer, ducks, dogs and parrots.  Scooters were out, as were woolly hats and winter coats.  And yet, still Bob wanted ice cream when we got back!  That boy is crazy at times. 

This weekend has been an interesting affair.  Unsure as to what to do with ourselves at this junction in our lives - do we stay put or move before Bob starts school? - we went looking around houses this weekend in Kent.  Kent.  A county I have never wanted to live in really.  Mainly because it is at the end of the country and not many people come visiting through, unless they are on their way to France or sneaking in the country from the mainland!  My husband's family are from round those parts and so he is excited at the prospect of moving there.  Me, less so.  The idea of moving so far away from the life I have created here and to be on my own, in unfamiliar surroundings yet with everyone knowing my husband, makes me feel a little like a gooseberry. 

Still, the bigger picture is that our children will grow up near one half of their family.  Both my husband's and my family are small.  3 members in each, to be precise. So moving closer to his dad and sister means moving close to his whole family.  It also means moving away from mine.  

We looked at houses with large gardens, beautiful interiors and pretty hefty asking prices.  Our main reason to look was to see if we wanted to move.  Did we feel the time was right?  Is this where we would move to?  What is there in this part of the world for the children and I (as hubby will be mainly away working in the City).  

24 hours later and we still feel pretty confused.   We are looking around schools where we are in case we stay and yet looking around houses where we may move.  And feel none the wiser for either. 

But at least the autumn leaves have fallen and we can kick them up with our boots.  Because that makes you smile and easy smile and big things can be forgotten as leaves scatter on the wind and dance about.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Chicken Pie

This is a very simple pie to make and very tasty!

500g packet of shortcrust pastry
500g diced chicken
1 stick of celery, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 leeks, washed and sliced
50g butter
50g flour
200 ml milk
200 ml chicken stock
150 ml double cream
2 tbsp chopped thyme
2 tbsp chopped parsley
1 egg, beaten

Turn the oven on to 180C.

Grease a pie dish with some butter. 

Roll out half the pastry on a floured surface until about 5 mm thick and then use this to line the pie dish.  Trim off any excess pastry. 

In a steamer, place the carrots in a stream pan with the leeks and celery in an additional pan on top.  Steam over boiling water for about 5-10 minutes. 

In a deep frying pan, heat some oil and cook the onion until translucent and soft.  Add the crushed garlic and chicken and cook over a medium heat, until the chicken has changed colour.  Reduced the heat slight and continue to cook the chicken, stirring occasionally to ensure that it cooks on all sides. 

Meanwhile, in a small pan, melt the butter and then add the flour.  Stir with a metal whisk until you get a roux and remove from the heat.  Add a little milk and whisk through to ensure no lumps form.  Return to a medium heat and slowly add the milk and chicken stock, whisking continuously as the sauce thickens.  

Once the sauce is simmering and thick, remove from the heat and add the cream. 

Stir through and then add this to the chicken. 

Drain the steamed vegetables and add this to the cream and chicken, continuing to heat over a low heat.   

Stir in the chopped, fresh herbs. 

With the remaining pastry, roll out enough to cover the top of the pie on a floured surface, again to about 5mm thick. 

Remove the chicken filling from the stove and spoon into the pie dish.  

Add the pie crust and squeeze the edges together, trimming off any excess pastry. 

With a fork dipped in water, crimp the edges of the pastry all around the pie. 

Brush the top of the pie with the beaten egg and cut a cross in the top with a sharp knife. 

Cook at the bottom of the oven for an hour, checking after 40 minutes or so that the pastry top isn't over cooking.  

After about 50 minutes, check again and if the crust is browning too fast, cover with some aluminium foil to top it from turning black. 

After an hour, remove from the oven and allow to stand for 10 minutes before serving. 

Caution:  Filling is hot to you may want to let it stand for a further 5-10 minutes before serving to young children so as to avoid burnt tongues!

Autumn is here!

The leaves are turning golden on the trees right now.  When the sun shines through them, the air is turned such a wonderful, mellow colour that despite it being so cool, you can't help but feel warmed. 

Our apples have all fallen to the ground, and the ones that can be saved are so sweet and juicy.  Bobs and I have been busy making apple crumble with them.  His favourite part is squishing the butter together with the flour.  he hasn't quite mastered the art of 'crumbling' yet, but he does his part and loves every minute of it. 

Miss Boo continues to grow, babble and entertain.  She is pulling herself up to standing, desperate to walk and keep up with her favourite friend of all - Bob.  Bob is getting a little displaced by this change in her abilities and we continue to have to deal with the 'tricky three's', but for the most part, all if good. 

The sky remains a perfect blue.  The clouds are all away.  The temperature has dropped a lot and the hats and gloves have been re-discovered from the back of old drawers.  Soups, pies and hot drinks are the order of the day.  

Thick tights, Ugg boots, quilted coats and wooly scarves. 

Pumpkins are in the shops, waiting for young children to buy them up and carve out faces for Halloween.   

And soon it will be Christmas!  Sparkly lights, twinkling like stars around Christmas trees.  The smell of pine in your home.  Mince pies, gingerbread, mulled wine and Christmas cake. 

And my favourite of all, seeing the houses full of life and warmth as you walk down the street before reaching your house, opening the front door and breathing in the warmth as it envelopes you in a long embrace, letting you know 'you are home' as you shake off the cold and snuggle in with your family at the end of the day.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Trying Three's

Bob is 3.  No one ever told us that 3 was waaaaaaaaay harder than 2.

"Oh the Terrible Two's", people would warn us.  No one ever mentioned the "Terrifying Three's"!

Maybe it is because Boo is now crawling fast, pulling herself up to standing and saying a few words (Words!!), but he is becoming a rotter to her.  Hitting, knocking over, deliberately sitting on her, pushing her away and always jumping on me so she can't get anywhere near me.

He is also acting out towards me and Ian. 

Hard times. 

The Time Out step is being used in our house.  Bob has little respect for it, and uses it to amuse us only, me thinks.

I try to spend some one-on-one time with him as and when I can.  This morning we went to church, as is our usual routine.  As I announced that we were heading off to church many tears were had, mainly out of protest that Playhouse Disney was being turned off.

"But Mummy", Bob wailed, "I don't want to go to church!"

"But you love church darling." I countered.

"No I don't!" Bob exclaimed defiantly.

"Don't you want to learn about Jesus?" Ian asked.

"No!" Bob wailed. "Mummy, I don't want to go to Jesus!"

Least to say he loved it once we got there and came home singing "Jesus' love is very wonderful".

Cook's Staple - How to Breadcrumb Food

As the mother of a nut allergy sufferer, knowing how to breadcrumb food has been a life saver, especially when on holiday to foreign lands and having to create fun dishes for a toddler that I know is safe for him.

You can use this method for fishcakes, fish fingers, chicken fingers or even courgette fingers!

2 slices of slightly stale bread.  You can leave the bread out in the open air for as little as 30 minutes to get it to dry out.
2 eggs, beaten
2-3 tbsp plain flour (or more, depending on the size of food being covered)

Optional - you can always add herbs or spices to your breadcrumb mixture for variety.

Blitz the stale bread in a food processor for a few seconds, until the bread has turned into fine breadcrumbs. 

Place the ingredients in separate bowls, large enough for the food to be dipped in.

For this example I will assume we are using a chicken fillet cut into finger slices.

1. Roll the chicken finger in the flour, until well covered.  Shake off any excess.
2. Place the floured chicken finger in the beaten egg for a few minutes, turning it until it is well covered in the egg.
3. Roll the chicken finger in the breadcrumbs until completely covered.
Place on a lightly greased baking tray and cook in oven for approximately 12 - 15 minutes at 200C, until cooked through.

Spicy Turkey Burgers

These make either 4 large burgers or 8 small burgers.  To make them extra spicy you can add some cayenne pepper, but this is optional and probably best for older Screamers and grown ups.

400 gm minced turkey meat
20 gm finely chopped fresh coriander
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl.

Cover with clingfilm and leave to cool in fridge for an hour.

Remove from fridge and using clean hands, form into burgers (either 8 small or 4 large).

You can either pan fry these in a little vegetable oil or grill on a medium heat for 15-20 minutes.

NB:  you MUST make sure that the meat is cooked all the way through before serving.

Serve with a side salad or on a bun.

Tastes great with cheese and/or mayonnaise.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Scream

Tonight has been one of those evenings.

Nobody, but nobody has a better talent at burning rice than I.  No matter what I do, I ALWAYS burn my rice.  And more to the point, I burn my pan.  Tonight was no exception.

Bob has started at his pre-school of late.  Since starting he has started to be more aggressive to Boo.  This evening, as I was making up her bottle, I heard her scream out and cry a cry of pain.  Bob was running from the living room, giggling with guilt and trying to get away.

"What did you do?"  I demanded.

"I hit Boo" he giggled.

Poor Boo had a big red mark on her forehead where she had been hit.  Hard.

Bob was then marched upstairs and put in bed.  Lots of tears ensued.

I took Boo upstairs, gave her a bottle, read her a book and put her to bed.

Bob tried to escape his room.

"Bathroom.  Now." I ordered.

Teeth were brushed.  Wee's were had.

"Bed", I pointed.

Much protesting went on but I stood resolute.

"You are going to bed early because you hit Boo and that is unacceptable".

Bob seemed resigned to his fate and despite a few whimpers obediently got into bed.

I lay next to him and cuddled him for 5 minutes before telling him I loved him and leaving him to sleep.

Hopefully a good nights sleep and a brand new day will bring about a better tomorrow.

Until then, there is chocolate.

Praise be.

Warming Beef Stew

400 gm lean steak meat, diced
400 ml chicken stock
200 ml red grape juice
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and diced
75 gm button mushrooms, washed and thickly sliced
100 gm carrots, peeled and diced
300 gm potato, peeled and cubed
200 gm sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1 tbsp flour
1 tsp dried sage

In a large saucepan, heat the oil and cook the onion until soft and translucent.

Add the flour and steak and stir.

Allow the meat to brown all over but don't over cook it.

Add the remaining vegetables and stir.

Add the chicken stock, red grape juice and sage.

Bring to the boil then turn the eat down very low, cover and allow simmer for about an hour.

If you want the sauce to be a little thicker, continue to simmer uncovered for an extra half an hour.

Either puree or serve with well cooked rice.

Potato Gratin and Ham

2 medium sized potatoes, peeled an thinly slices
70gm grated Emmental cheese
20 gm grated Parmesan
2 slices of thickly cut ham, diced
50 gm flour
50 gm butter
600ml milk

Turn the oven on to 200C.

Par-boil the sliced potato in boiling water for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan and add the flour.  Remove from the heat and mix with whisk until you get a roux.  Return to the heat, adding the milk a little at a time, ensuring that you get no lumps in your sauce.  Continue to stirring until the sauce thickens and starts to bubble (about 10 minutes).  When it is simmering, add 2/3 of the Emmental and stir in until completely melted.

Place a layer of potato in a dish and cover with half the ham.

Pour over half the white sauce.

Repeat with anther layer of potato and ham and cover with the sauce.

Spread the remaining grated Emmental and Parmesan.

Cook in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until the cheese on top has turned brown.

Caution:  the sauce is very hot so allow to cool for a little while before serving.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Teaching and Old Dog New Tricks

My trip to France has invigorated in me a desire to rekindle learning another language.  My passable French can certainly be improved on and I relish the challenge of learning again.  Part of me wonders whether at the grand old age of 35 it is possible to kick start my brain back into learning mode from it's more dormant, sleep deprived baby centric mode. 

And then I discovered that it is indeed possible to teach an old dog new tricks.  For instance, I learnt today that when your dishwasher runs out of dishwashing powder adding a good old glug of Fairy liquid is NOT the best course of action. 

Thank goodness I have a 'it's best to learn from your mistakes' attitude to life........

(The dishwasher is okay, thankfully).

Monday, 11 October 2010

En Vacance en France

We have been to France!  The South of France no less.  We had an amazing holiday, and survived driving 1500 miles with a toddler and a baby (just!)

Things we have learnt from our French journey.

When going on a journey that will take approximately 20 hours DO NOT purchase a new car seat for your 3 year old.  He will not be able to sleep properly, will be delighted with his new found ability to unclick the seat belt and get so bored he will make a game out of sneaking out of his seat belt.  This will result in you discarding new car seat and having to purchase a further car seat in which you can ensure no escape by said toddler.

At the same time, DO NOT put your rear facing baby into a forward facing seat for the first time as your planned schedule of having them sleep at certain stretches of the journey will be marred by their general over excitement at the new view and will not sleep, become over tired and then scream for many many hours.

When travelling with a toddler with a nut allergy, learn the phrase 'mes enfants est allergic au noistette.  Et ill est tres allergic aux arachide'

DO NOT become overly panicked when you discover that one of the cheapest, and consequently most used oil is arachide - peanut oil.  Just become hyper-vigilant.

Bob's new skills from this holiday:

Pony riding
Swimming
Acting
Rugby

Boo's new skills:

Cruising
Not napping in the morning
Waving one handed

Anyway - two words that made our holiday heaven - Kids Club.

Nuff said!