Sunday, 28 November 2010

Snow, snow and more snow...

The east coast has been hit by the snow pretty badly over the past few days, and although we're inland we were certainly no exception. We've had a bit of a mixed response to it this year. On the one hand I love snow, from the first sight it I start making plans for hunkering down, preparing for a snow in, old movies log fires, perhaps a Baileys or two, whats not to love? But this year we are on a countdown to get our roof in place, the struts have arrived we just need on more day of bricklaying to be at roof height but then the white stuff arrived...


temperatures dropped and building was called to a halt...


Its been very tempting to vent and fume and shake my fists at the sky, after all this could mean tools are down till the new year, but what can you do. If life gives you lemons, make lemonade and if snow stops your building schedule then...

tether up your Airedale and go sledging...

The two little Freerangers got the day off to play in the snow and travelled in style to Freerangenans for cocoa and treats...

 Pearl had her first taste of snow, and took to it like, well like a pup to snow of course...
And I got to hear about it all when I got home from hoo! But I did get the Baileys and an amazing view of the Wolds as I made my way there...

So for now, let it snow...

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Red, red, rice...

I don't know about you, but I need colour at this time of the year. The golden leaves are now lying in a mud sodden heap, the russet hedges are becoming blackened sticks and as for the glorious hot pink cyclamen I planted, the last time I saw them a small dog was running up the garden with them in her mouth - the less said about that the better. So colour in the kitchen it has to be...

I love Risotto at this time of the year and I'm lucky enough to have a good stock of a really good Arborio rice courtesy of the FriendlyGrocer (who also happens to be Gardengirls husband).

FriendlyGrocer and his family have the most amazing Grocery and Deli in Finchley and we always try to make a trip there when were back in the big smoke to stock up on Cypriot and Mediterranean delicacies that are hard to get hold of. Id been saving my last pack of FGs special rice for a special recipe and this one certainly did the trick.

From Tessa Kiros 'Red plums for jam', the Red rice is actually a Tomato Risotto and very easy to make,

You need

1.25litres Vegetable stock/ broth
Olive Oil
2 Garlic Cloves (whole)
Half Red Onion, finely chopped
Pinch of dried chilli flakes
200g Risotto Rice
250ml Tinned Chopped Tomatoes
2 Basil Leaves
20g Parmesan Cheese
100g Mozzarella (cut into small chunks)
Grated Parmesan to serve

Saute the onion and garlic over a low heat for a bout 5 mins then stir in the chilli flakes and rice and cook for another minute. Add half the Tomatoes, half the basil and 375 ml of the stock.

Simmer for 10 mins on a low heat and add more stock as needed, stirring it now and them just to make sure it doesn't stick, add the rest of the stock and the tomatoes and simmer for another 10 mins. Fish out the garlic cloves and stir in the Parmesan and mozzarella. As soon as the mozzarella starts to melt your good to go - just sprinkle the extra Parmesan on top!

I served mine with pork schnitzels, but it was just as good on its own and a real winner with the little Freerangers, who whilst quite conservative in their culinary tastes were convinced it was just ketchup and rice, so tucked straight in!

But now my last bag of arborio has gone - so if your listening at Tony's Continental Store - put me some aside for the New Year please, and some macaroni, and some beans, and some octopus, and dolmades and...I tell you what, I'll bring a list!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Rainy days and chocolate cake...

As the songs says, 'I don't care what the weather man says, if the weather man says its raining, then its another excuse for baking, and that's alright by me' ...okay, so that's not quite the words but you get the idea! The weather here in East Yorkshire has been pretty filthy of late. Even walking the dogs round the block is a waterproof and wellies job. The temperatures dropping, the days are dark and the garden looks like one big compost heap...

But on the bright side, the fires are lit and glowing

the evenings are longer for knitting and crochet (or putting knots in bits of string as BH would refer to it!)

and all the time I would spend in the garden can be put to good use baking cake...

I made this Double Chocolate Loaf Cake at the weekend with the intention of fuelling BH  on the building site this week. The kids loved sprinkling the choc chips and set about scoffing it as soon as it was cool enough to handle. I got the recipe from good food and tweaked it by changing the chocolate chunks to chunks of leftover Toblerone - I know there's no such thing as leftover Toblerone, theres only Toblerone that Mum broke into before Christmas and felt so guilty that she used it up in a cake - there you have it -  confession over, I feel so much better that the truth is out there!

Double Chocolate Loaf Cake

175g softened butter
175g caster sugar
3 eggs
140g self raising flour
85g ground almonds
half teaspoon baking powder
100ml milk
4tbsp cocoa
50g plain chocolate or guilt laden Toblerone

chocolate chips for decorating

Heat the oven to 160C and grease and line a 900g baking tin ( I use the Lakeland liners for convenience).
To make the cake batter beat the butter and sugar until fluffy then beat in the eggs, flour, cocoa, baking powder and milk until smooth. Stir in whats left of your Toblerone then scrape into the tin. Bake for 45 -50 mins until risen and ready.

Then devour and ignore the fact its still raining outside!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Bedtime biscuits...

Our little freerangers are biscuit addicts. Like most children they have no particlar preference. They're not at all elitist in their cookie cravings and given the chance they would probably opt for the nastiest dayglo additive packed fuel on offer. The answer - home made, at least when time allows!

These chocolate and vanilla biscuits are from Tessa Kiros book 'Apples for Jam'. They are super simple to make and rolling them up into twists makes for great fun for little chefs.

You need

180g butter
150g caster sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
240g plain flour
20g cocoa

After mashing the butter and sugar together, add the flour and work it all together. Then whisk the egg with the vanilla and add it to the dough, kneading it well.

Next split the dough and add the cocoa to one half. This needs quite a lot of working in but it will come together I promise! Wrap each disc in clingfilm and chill on the fridge for half an hour.

Finally, roll it out and let the fun begin! They may not look perfect but they do taste yummy!

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Monday, 15 November 2010

Top and tailing...

I couldnt resist this...

Do you think they like their new bed?!

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Countdown to Christmas

I know, I know, it's only November - but I have a little tradition to kickstart the season in the right frame of mind. Citygirl, Gardengirl and myself head off to the Countryliving Christmas Fair for a spot of dreamy Christmas shopping. We're also joined by Cookgirl, our lovely friend so named because once you've tasted her Sunday roasts you never look back!

The dates marked on the diary all year and I've been saving my spends since spring. On Friday night we packed up the tribe and headed for the big smoke. We all met up on saturday morning and headed for the show - no need for a map, just following the trail of Cath Kidston and Boden.

This is a shot of inside the show...

It was hard to get any decent pics as it is really busy! It takes serious shopping stamina but it's worth it just to soak up the cinnamon soaked atmosphere and hunt out artisan goodies for special gifts.

We do stop off in the foodhall for a pitstop and my favourite snorker makers Debbie and Andrewa are always on hand with tasty morsels to tempt us into filling the freezer!

I'd love to show you some of the things we bought - but of course they have to be wrapped and sent to Father Christmas for delivery (and Freerangenana might be reading this trying to get a sneaky peak!)But I do have a picture of my dream shed...

This was the view through the windows. I suppose shed is a bit of an understatement, more of a grotto...

Either way, it's a good job it was roped off or I might have had to move in and claim squatters rights...

All in all it was a very successful trip, topped off with mojitos in St Pancras. But now were winging it back up the motorway, back to work and real life. To be honest it's a good job we don't do these things too often as I'd probably be bankrupt... But I do feel ready to head into the Christmas season fully prepared...I just have to wrap it all now!

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Tuesday, 9 November 2010

My little ponygirl...

I couldn't resist sharing this. My mini freerangegirl has become ponygirl and I couldn't be prouder. She's been hankering after riding lessons all year but I had to draw the line somewhere as she was dancing and swimming and all the other stuff that seems to be de rigeur for the average 6 year old (Its no wonder they just want to lie down a lot when they're teenagers, they're probably exhausted!) So when she decided to give up dancing we said she could have some riding lessons...and shes loving it!

I know I'm biased as I used to ride a lot as a teenager, but I just think its a great sport for kids to get into. Riding has certainly boosted ponygirls confidence as she proved on Sunday when the pony she was riding was spooked by a stray dog (who knew there were stray Alsatians wandering the country side). Before we moved to the country she was terrified of animals, but now she was able to hold tight and carry on  - no tears, no hysterics, she even laughed about it when she got home and was very proud to have a tale of daring do to share at school.

BH is not so sure, he thinks Ponies are like motorbikes with a mind of their own, so why would we put a six year old on one. I kind of see his point  but then I'm terrified of motorbikes and I know I'll go nuts when they come home saying they want one of those!

But for now, I'm just going to get my old Thelwell cartoons out and look forward to rereading the Pony Club sagas with my girlie - before I know it she'll be wanting hair straighteners and be too busy texting her friends to talk to mum, so I'm making the most of it!

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Hand me down heirlooms...

I just wanted to share the surprise parcel I received from my great aunt recently.  A cardboard box came home with BH after he'd been to see her and all he knew were there were some 'bits and bobs ' that I might want. After digging through the many layers of newspapers this is what I found...

My Great Grandmas rolling pin!

BH couldn't quite work out why I was behaving as though I'd won the lottery. It was just a rolling pin after all, and one with a pretty extreme squeak at that! But this isn't just any rolling pin, and it wasn't just my Great Grannies either, but the rolling pin that I learnt to roll pastry with every Friday night as  a little girl with my Great Auntie.

It was like biting into a Proustian Madelaine and being whisked back through the years in an instant. I had forgotten so much about those Friday nights that all flooded back. The two of us would squeeze into the tiny kitchen, me wrapped tightly in a flour dusted pinny and she directing proceedings from the well worn Bero book. We almost always baked the same things, jam tarts, coconut macaroons and of course the seasonal mince pies and fruit cakes. I don't actually remember us baking much else but I do know that we would occasionally experiment and then try out our produce on my Great Grandfather, who was more than happy to be our guinea pig.

It was my job to roll the pastry, and the rolling pin squeaked on every roll,  the cause of much hilarity between the two of us. I look back now and know that Auntie P obviously finished the pastry off but still she made me feel as though I was in charge of it, I've also no doubt that the squeaky roller probably drove her crackers but she played along never the less - bless her!

I know we used the moulds occasionally for blancmanges and the other bits and bobs are all familiar, but nothing quite brought it back like the the squeaky roller! And when It did I looked around my own kitchen and realised how much I owe to those Friday nights, I store my flour the same way as her, I know how to make a macaroon in an egg cup and I do like a dusty pinny - dusty with flour that is!

Auntie P suggested that I might want it for my dresser, but I know it's got another job first - I've got two apprentice bakers who are quite ready for baking night and making some memories of our own!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

The road to recovery...

Thank you everyone who wished us well. I am very pleased to say that BH is up and moving. It was either that or he was beginning to run the risk of being hoovered by me or having Lego built on him by mini freerangers! He has damaged his back in the past and so these old war wounds tend to flare up from time to time - especially when he moves skips around ( I have to remind him he's not Superman or the Hulk!) We've done Osteopaths and Chiropractors, he's had Chinese ladies sticking needles in him and bruising him with hot suction cups and attended Pilates with the most flexible grandmothers on the planet - but still the back goes! So we're trying a new tack, the no cake for a while diet plan (well we couldn't no cake ever!)

This is the plan...
Inspired by Mrs Nesbitts health kick over on her blog, were going to go for it and see if it makes a difference. I don't know if I can stay away from the oven though, so healthy, low fat, high taste recipes would be much appreciated!

I need to build my own back strength if I'm going to get all the bulbs planted in the garden for next year. The 80 allium bulbs I preordered at Chelsea Flower show arrived this week and its a race against time to get them in. I didn't get much in last year and come spring I was looking longingly at the early colour in other peoples gardens - never again! We've planted forsythia, aubretia, daffs and tulips and now alliums, lots of 'em! I even got round to planting some indoor bulbs ready for Christmas, but it seems they couldn't wait...these paperwhite narcissi burst open over the weekend and have filled the kitchen with a lovely smell.

and thank goodness they do smell nice as Ive got a large bowl of onions soaking in brine ready to pickle, and blimey do they whiff, but more of those tomorrow...