Monday, 17 November 2014

Holidays are coming, Holidays are coming....

I don't need shops and supermarkets to tell me that Christmas is around the corner immediately after Bonfire Night.  What I look forward to is my first viewing of the Coca Cola advertisement with the great big red truck with flashing lights alongside the tune 'Holidays are coming....Holidays are coming'.

I'd like to say that I don't go around singing it for days afterwards but I do.  I won't say that it annoys Hubby but it does.  I won't say that this week while shopping in Morrisons I filled my trolley singing along with Christmas carols but I did.  

And I love it!

Hubby doesn't - he loves Christmas Day but hates all the fuss that goes on up to that day.  I do.  

How did we get together and adore each other so much.....

I ignore the 12 days before and after Christmas rule when it comes to decorating my house.  After all, it seems unfair to ask Hubby to take 20 boxes of trees and decorations from the attic and put the empty boxes back and then repeat the process just for 24 days.  So on the 1st December I stand at the bottom of the ladder gleefully stacking boxes as he passes them from the attic.  

Without a days leave it takes me two to put them all up.  Hubby doesn't help - he leaves me too it, wisely.

Each year I try, and mostly fail, to remember that the lights must go on the tree first.  I move things around the house to make room for Christmas trees and the rocking chair is consigned to our bedroom for the period of the 1st December to the 5th January.

Last year, I was frustrated at the inability to put up the Christmas tree in the dining room now that the replacement freezer is taller.  Removing the computer station is impossible and so this year again I may have to forgoe it.  However, Beautiful B could make use of it and the accompanying decorations for this year to remove the need and cost for buying her own.  She can then choose to keep it but I suspect, knowing my daughter, that she will keep the decorations and buy a new tree for next year.

Usually the Christmas advertisements from the big companies pass me by however this years John Lewis Christmas advertisement managed to get an 'aaaaahhhh' out of me.  A very clever and sweet advertisement where even penguins can yearn for love.

This year we are entertaining 5 people, well I do the entertaining and Hubby cooks; though I may attempt a nice desert for this year.  Cue plenty of practice and puddings for everyone else to eat in the run up to Christmas. Mum is staying with us on Christmas Eve and Day, Mum and Dad and my Aunty and Uncle will join us for Christmas Dinner.  I am sure I will have all sorts of items all over my bedroom as I remove them all from within the storage area under my bed to get to a table insert or two.

Beautiful B and Ryan are working on Christmas Day, the former looking after some of the ill folk in our society and the latter sending emergency services to people who need them.  I am so very proud of them both for giving up family time to help others.

Unusually I have only bought one gift so far which is more than niggling on my OCD nerve but finances and the urgent requirement for house repairs have gotten in the way.  Small gestures will have to surfice this year as our finances have been more than stretched; hopefully our friendship and love for family and friends will help make up for it until next year.

As Beautiful B and Ryan are working on Christmas Day they will have to visit us a day or so earlier so we can give them the present we have bought and when I can be ready with a camera to film the moment as I am sure that my Beautiful B will cry with joy.

This Christmas is going to be a good one; I can feel it in my bones! 

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Cherry and Chocolate Loaf - harder than I thought

I am not a good cook, in fact; I would say that I am a good cooker for too long and rescue food just before I burn it to a crisp person.  However, I can make cupcakes and some of them have been a hit.  I'm thinking coconut and lime cupcakes for Dad and chocolate orange muffins for Rachel.  If I am honest, the latter could have been almost awful as long as they were a chocolate orange flavour as Rachel is obsessed....

Like a lot of the UK, Hubby and I became hooked on this years 'The Great British Bake Off' where the formidable Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood set, what I consider to be, a sequence of horrible baking tasks.  While I wondered at the imagination of the contestants and was very tempted by many of their recipes I have saved the last 3 episodes which consist of baking lessons by Mary and Paul.

We will ignore the Baked Alaska recipe (yes, I am an 80's chick) because this post isn't about that and move swiftly to a bread that Paul showed us how to make which includes dark and white chocolate pieces and cherries.  Now we all know that I will try anything sweet but as a lover of bread I couldn't resist trying this.

I watched the show where Paul showed us what ingredients to use and how to make the recipe.  I watched the part where he shows us how to plait the free form loaf about 20 times before asking myself how hard it could be.  FAIL.

Firstly, I have never made bread before; I am a maker of cupcakes remember so I had no idea how long to mix the dough for starters.  Using the mixer mum gave me what I really needed was a large bread hook; instead the dough wound around the next best alternative until it was spinning around the top of the hooks.  At that point I thought it best to do the mixing by hand.  Except the cherries wouldn't break up.  Next step was to use my food mixer to break up the cherries in the mixture.  After this you can only imagine the amount of washing up I had accumulated.....

The problem with watching how to do a recipe on TV is that they forget to tell you how long you need to mix and knead the dough for.   Having already added 50g of strong bread flour to soak up the excess moisture of the cherries and it failing I added more and more flour.  The frustration was climbing.

Eventually I figured adding more flour wasn't really helping and left the somewhat sticky mixture to rise for 90 minutes.  During this time Hubby got a 15 minute session on the way home from work of me moaning about how useless I am and how I felt like I should cook some cupcakes just to prove I can cook something when I collected him from work.  He wisely took himself up to our room and the spare television when we arrived home.

I watched the episode 2 or 3 times again before noticing that when the cling film was removed from the mixture of 90 minutes the dough was in fact sticky and Paul was just much more experienced at using flour to get it out of the bowl.  Doh!

A more than generous coating of flour on the worktop and over the bread while I kneaded and shaped it was likely too much because Paul's long rolls to use for the plaiting were not split like mine but I did manage to get it into a misformed plait, the top of the plait much larger than the bottom.  Back into a bag to rise for another 90 minutes.

After 90 minutes we had a plait that was taking on Godzilla proportions a sure sign that I definitely used far too much flour trying to dry out the mixture.  

As well as the many lessons you are no doubt saying I should have learned by this point one of the biggest ones is that using an almost new and powerful oven after it has cooked dinner for an hour will result in the cooking time being halved and me just rescuing the bread before it burnt - hence, no photograph.

Once it had cooled Hubby and I assembled in the kitchen for a taste test.  I cheered inside when I noticed it was still sligtly warm in the middle of the slice.  Despite not being able to eat the top crust of the bread and the bottom crust having too much flour as a consequence to me coating the non-stick tray with too much flour the inside was scrumptious.

I do not believe for one minute that the gorgeousness of the bread had anything to do with my non-cooking skills and everything to do with what a gorgeous recipe it is.  A hug from Hubby and a congratulations on my first attempt made me feel much better and cheered me up enough to stop beating myself up and tell myself that we learn more from mistakes than successes.

A slice or three will go to my mum and dad today for their taste test and I am guessing that I will come home with an order for a loaf of their own. 

I will avoid the temptation of buying a more up to date and larger mixer primarily because I cannot afford one and persist with the smaller one having more patience and breaks to centre the dough correctly when I attempt a better version.  

I will post a recipe and instructions over the coming week because I really do urge you all to try this recipe - it is the best sweet loaf I have come across so far!