Friday, 31 December 2010

Bliadhna Mhath Ùr

We are just getting ready to go and spend Hogmanay and New Year's Day with my in-laws, so I thought I'd dash off a quick post to wish everyone a very happy and blessed New Year!

2010 has been a very happy and content year for us in our house. Next week, once all the festivities have settled down, I was hoping to do a wee review of 2010 in the houseful of boys.

We have been enjoying the holidays so far. The boys have had their cousins round to play; we had a visit from an old friend of my husbands, who happens to be excellent at magic tricks and kept the boys enthralled; we have been brave enough to visit the sales at the shops; we have been swimming and the boys have been to their youngest cousin's 3rd birthday party. His birthday is on Christmas day but to give him his own special day his mum and dad chose to celebrate it yesterday instead.

Time to finish packing now though. We might only be away for one night but we still seem to take a lot of stuff!

Gaelic phrase of the day:
Bliadhna Mhath Ùr (Blee-anya Va Oor) - Happy New Year

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Christmas Photos

The night before.......

.......setting out the presents.

Christmas morning, opening stockings on mum and dad's bed......

.........although Alasdair wasn't quite ready to wake up yet!

The boys and their main presents.....

David and his Playmobil Bin Lorry and Street Sweeper

James and his Lego Medieval Village

Alasdair and his garage

Calum and his Playmobil safari

The table set for dinner

Our golden pear name places we made

The starter

The turkey

The dinner plate, over-flowing with food

The profiteroles (before they were filled with cream and smothered in chocolate sauce!)

The chocolate log

The Christmas pudding 
( I put my flash off to try and catch the flame so the photo is too dark, and it didn't show the flame!)

The plate of those brave enough to sample all three puddings (and before the ice cream was added!)

And a little cutie to finish, Alasdair on his Scuttlebug from his Uncle and Auntie.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Nollaig Chridheil!

Nollaig Chridheil!

Merry Christmas to everyone from my houseful of boys 

hope you all have a lovely day


Thursday, 23 December 2010

Christmas preparations continue...

Yesterday I got my chutneys made. A couple of jars of Apple & Raisin chutney and 5 jars of Sweet Chilli Jam  (from Nigella's Christmas book). I also made a couple of jars of Onion Marmalade after I took this photo. Most of these are for gifts.

I've just finished my fourth batch of the Baileys & Vanilla fudge from last week. That is, I have just finished making my fourth batch of it, not eating my fourth batch! Most of that has been for gifts too.

 I also received a wonderful package in the post yesterday.

Three little owl potstands from Marie's Shabby Shoppe.

Aren't they so delightful?

They look quite at home by the cooker. The boys love them and we put the biggest one straight to work under a cooling pan of fudge.

Marie's shop is so lovely. She has great taste!

The food preparations are under way. I'm hoping to have all the veg prepared tomorrow, the stuffing made and the starter made so that on Christmas day all I have to do is cook the food and not spend most of the day in the kitchen.

Our planned menu will be:

Prawn Cocktail, Smoked Salmon Pate and oatcakes
(Calum is making the Prawn Cocktail sauce)

Turkey, pork & apple stuffing, pork & chestnut stuffing, roast potatoes, honeyed roast parsnips, red cabbage, stir-fried sprouts, mashed carrots, bread sauce & cranberry sauce.

Christmas Pudding 
Nigella's Orange & Lime Ice Cream 
(we tried this out with Christmas pud a few years back and it works a treat) 
Chocolate Log
Profiteroles (maybe, we'll see how time goes tomorrow, but James is keen to have them!)

Tea & Coffee with Bailey's Fudge

A couple of weekends ago my beloved suggested that I treat my self to a new outfit for Christmas day so this is what I plan to wear.

The shoes aren't new and I haven't decided which to wear yet either. 

Alasdair ran off with one of these just as I was about to take the photo!

Tomorrow I'm hoping to get the boys to sing a quick Gaelic Christmas song for the blog, so even though it is Christmas Eve and everyone will be busy, pop by quickly if you can!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Christmas Food Shopping

I had big plans of getting a batch or two of chutney done today to give out as gifts but just ran out of time!

Where do all those hours go?!

Actually, I don't mind because I did manage to get our big Christmas food shopping done, and a lot of those 'missing' hours were actually spent filling our shopping trolley with lots of Christmas goodies. I'm glad I got it done nice and early too because the shop was surprisingly quiet.

We headed out at lunchtime, although first I had to dig the car out of the snow. I had my little helpers on the job too but it still took nearly half an hour to get the car cleared of snow and then the driveway cleared. 

As a treat, we had lunch at the supermarket first (exciting stuff, hey?). The boys love the Morrisons cafe because you get a fruit bag, juice, little chocolate and puzzle book free with every children's meal. I love the Christmas special - turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and gravy on a big soft roll (don't knock it till you've tried it!)

I have been saving my till receipts for the last 5 weeks to qualify for the £25 Christmas voucher. It was so nice putting extra little treats in the trolley, knowing that we had this voucher to cover it. 

We now have enough food in the house to last us through a second Ice Age, and from the look and feel of things outside that isn't too far away :0) The turkey, bacon and chipolatas are being delivered by the butcher tomorrow, and we get our vegetables delivered from a local farm on a Friday.

I was going to share my Christmas day menu today but I think I've said enough tonight. I've still got some more crochet to finish before Saturday too.

Oh, and I got the best early Christmas present at dinner time. A message from my husband that he is coming home tonight! He has to work this evening but will be down in the very early hours of the morning. Hip, hip hip hooray.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Miscellaneous Monday

On Saturday I got my Christmas cake iced, and we had the first slices of it yesterday. I wanted a simple decor on the cake so just made some white hollies and then brushed the icing with some edible glitter powder. I need to get a photo of a slice of the cake and all it's fruity yumminess!

As forecast, we had some heavy snow again yesterday. It was nice to go out walking in the soft new snow. After about 10 days without any snow showers, and constant sub-zero temperatures, our previous snowfall had gone very hard, icy and quite treacherous to walk on. 

When we came back from our Sunday stroll yesterday, James turned our car into a character from Cars the movie!

Alas, there wasn't enough snow to completely cancel all the trains going north. So although there were delays to many trains, my husband still got to go back to work. He will be back on Wednesday this week so that's not so bad really. Only the weather forecast is promising heavy snow for Wednesday too!

The snow is beautiful though. Especially with the temperature being so low. It glistens like jewels in both the sunlight and the moonlight. 

Tomorrow I have lots of holiday baking planned. Chutneys and more fudge. Yum yum!

Gaelic phrase of the day:
Nollaig Chridheil (nollag chree-yal) - Merry Christmas

Friday, 17 December 2010

This time next week.....

.......the excitement in this house will have reached fever pitch!

I think I have most things in hand as far as Christmas planning is going.

The last of the boy's presents arrived in the post today. There have been some serious delays with the post as a result of the snowy weather we have been having. Suddenly today we received four separate parcel deliveries! 

The only parcel I am still waiting on is my husband's present but I am still confident it will be here in time.

The snow settled down enough last weekend, the trains started running again, and my husband got home for the weekend. Despite fresh snow yesterday, the trains are still running and he is on his way home again for this weekend.

There is heavier snow forecast for later in the weekend and I am secretly hoping there is enough to make him snowed in here instead! He will only be away three days next week anyway so he wouldn't miss much!

Gaelic word Phrase of the day:
dìreach ochd lathaichean... (jee-roch ochg la-yeech-een) - just eight days......

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Recipe of the Week - Chocolate Reindeer Cake

Christmas cake can be a bit rich for children to eat. As well as that, our Calum doesn't like raisins, which is a fairly major obstacle to enjoying Christmas cake! So one year a few years back I came up with this idea, and it has become something of a tradition in our house ever since.

This fellow here is last years cake. We spent last Christmas at my parents' but the reindeer cake still had to feature!

The cake is basically my Old fashioned chocolate cake recipe but instead of cooking it in round sandwich tins, cook it in a long rectangular tray-bake tin. It will need slightly longer to cook, although not too much longer.

You will also need:
2 cinnamon sticks (the antlers)
a pinch of dried cranberries, or a glacier cherry (the nose)
2 dairy-free white chocolate buttons (the eyes)

Once the cake has cooled it is time to start cutting the shapes. These measurements are very rough. I don't measure them!

Place the cake with the longest sides across the top and bottom. Using a sharp knife cut off a chunk, from top to bottom, of about  a quarter for the head, leave 2/4 for the body and cut the final quarter into four slices (across the way) for the legs. 

I hope that makes sense!

If you think your cake is thick enough to do so without it crumbling, slice each section through the middle so that you can sandwich them together with some of the chocolate butter icing. If your cake isn't thick enough it won't need this extra layer of icing anyway as it will be covered in the stuff!

Now arrange your pieces on a large plate, or foil covered tray if you don't have a plate large enough, and cover the whole cake with the rest of the chocolate buttercream.

Add the antlers, nose and eyes, using a dot of buttercream on the buttons to make the pupils.

I know he looks too cute to eat but once you have a taste of the chocolate cake you will feel better about it!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Family Trees

Somebody asked me recently about how many people were in my family.

I've already mentioned how surrounded I am by boys.

 I have two brothers. 

One is only thirteen months younger than me. The other is eighteen years younger than him! He was a very nice surprise for everyone, and certainly gave me plenty baby experience before I had my oldest, who was born just before my brother turned three. I obviously thought that a three year age gap was a good one, because there is roughly three years between each of my boys!

My older, younger brother (are you all following?) is married and lives only a few miles away from us here. He and his wife have three boys, aged 8, 6 and 3 (well, he will be 3 on Christmas day!)

I found this photo of us all the other day. It was taken just over a year ago at Alasdair's baptism, when he was four months old. It is the most recent photo of all of us together and we all pretty much look the same now, except maybe the odd haircut, that the boys will all have grown a years worth taller, and of course Alasdair looks totally different! This was during the months that his eczema was at it's worst. You all know what he looks like now though, so use a bit of imagination! 

So the people at the front are:
my mum with our David, me and Alasdair, my beloved, my dad and my middle nephew.
At the back are:
my youngest brother, our James and Calum, my other brother, his oldest son, his wife and their youngest son.

Our boys recently had to find out about their family trees for Boys Brigade and we discovered that my dad can trace his family back to the 1700s! That deserves a whole other post though.

Gaelic word of the day:
teaghlach (chi-lach) - family
(the i in chi should sound as in chin)

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Edible Gifts

I can see how, as a result of last week's posts, you might all begin to think that I spend all of my time these days in the kitchen, baking and cooking for Christmas. I can also see that this post will just further that belief!

However, let me say that I don't! I was honestly hardly in the kitchen today.

Or yesterday.

I do love Christmas cooking and baking though. I love all my old traditional recipes taken from my mum but I also love to find some new recipes. I stumbled upon these two on Friday when I was looking online for a couple of quick gift ideas. I needed something for the Boy's Brigade leaders and also for the Kid's Club leaders at church.

I found these two recipes on the BBC Good Food website. They are really simple to make and really delicious to eat. I would highly recommend trying them both out. 

Firstly we made Peppermint Creams.

These contain uncooked egg white, which all of my boys except David are allergic to, so only he was able to help me with these (I think he was quite pleased with that anyway!)

You will need:

250g icing sugar
½ an egg white
peppermint essence
green food colouring (optional)
 dark chocolate , melted

~All you need to do is put the icing sugar in a bowl, add enough of the egg white to make a paste (it looks like rollable icing), and enough peppermint essence until you get the strength of mint you want. Also add in your food colouring if using.
~Dust your surface with a little icing sugar, roll the paste out and cut out little shapes.
~Place them on greaseproof paper and leave to dry out for a few hours.
~Melt a little dark chocolate and dip the mints in the chocolate. We just dipped the underneath parts in but you could do whatever you fancied.
~Place them back on the greaseproof till the chocolate is dry.

Baileys and White Chocolate Fudge

Our second recipe should come with a health warning. If you are making this as a gift, you really must make sure and leave enough for yourself too!

Oh. and a more serious warning, make sure you use a nice big pan. I used one that seemed ok until it all started bubbling up and up and up and over the top!

And Baileys, in case non-UK readers aren't so sure, is the brand name of an Irish Cream Liqueur.

Baileys & white chocolate fudge

500g granulated sugar
500ml whipping cream
50ml Baileys
150g white chocolate

    ~Put sugar, cream and Baileys in a large pan and, stirring slowly, bring it to a simmer. Make sure the sugar is dissolved (it will stop feeling grainy on the base of the pan), then turn the heat up to a rolling boil.
    ~Adjust the heat until the mixture bubbles without getting too near the top of the pan. Keep bubbling, stirring occasionally, until a small amount of mixture dropped into a glass of cold water will form a soft ball that you can pick up on the end of a teaspoon.
~Take off the heat, add the chocolate, mix well until melted and give a quick beat with a wooden spoon to make it smoother.

~Pour into a square tin and leave to cool. Cut it into squares about half and hour or so after putting in the tin. It just makes it easier while it is still warm and soft.

~Package up nicely with cellophane bags and ribbon.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

O come, o come Emmanuel

So I mentioned yesterday that this was my favourite carol. 

When I was looking for it on youtube I came across the arrangement below.

I don't think I can even begin to explain how much I loved it.

The piano part, the way the music changes key (twice!), the haunting violin melody (which is actually the Israeli national anthem, I believe!).....

It's not in the least bit 'Christmassy'!

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Christmas Music

These two are my favourite Christmas albums.

I've had this one for quite a few years now and it's still my most favourite.
(If you had told me about 10 years ago that I would even just own an Aled Jones album I would have cringed with embarrassment!)

I bought this one last year, and it comes a pretty close second to the Aled Jones one. I love the sort of ancient sound of the voices on it.

This year I bought this one for the boys. A friend introduced us to Colin Buchanan earlier in the year and the boys just love his songs. His Christmas CD is really excellent. Very catchy songs and all about the true meaning of Christmas. It comes with the sheet music and lyric sheets so we are practising a couple of them to do a wee concert on Christmas day!

My most favourite Christmas carol is 'Oh come, oh come Emmanuel' and there is a version of it on both of my favourite two cds.

Here is the Aled Jones version.

All I could find of my second favourite CD on youtube was this clip of the composer talking about it, but you hear wee bits of the carols on it too.

I couln't find the boy's favourite song from King of Christmas, but I did find this one,

Happy Listening!

Friday, 10 December 2010

Mince Pies

Elizabeth asked me a few weeks ago to write a bit more about mincemeat pies, so I did a quick bit if research online and I'm afraid I didn't find out much more than I already know!

I did find out that what we call mincemeat is called fruit-mince in the US, a far more accurate term!

Nobody is sure for certain why mincemeat pies changed from containing different meats to just fruits. The spices are supposed to have been added after Crusaders brought them back from the east, and traditionally three spices were added to represent the three gifts of the Wise Men.

Anyway, today our mincemeat is made of dried fruit, spices, sometimes apple, sometimes suet and often a touch of brandy or whisky.

I use Nigella's Mincemeat recipe from How to be a Domestic Goddess. 

My pastry recipe is:

8oz plain flour
4oz butter (Stork pastry butter is good)
1tbsp icing sugar
1 beaten egg

~Put the flour and butter into a food processor and blitz until it looks like breadcrumbs.
~Add the icing sugar and blitz again until mixed.
~With the motor on add the egg until the mixture turns into a ball of dough.
~Wrap the dough in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for about half an hour.
~Flour your worksurface and roll out the dough reasonably thinly, cut out rounds and place them in a shallow bun tray.
~Add a teaspoon or so of mincemeat to each pie.
~Re-roll the pastry and cut out little star shapes for the tops of the pies.
~Bake in the oven at 180C for about 15-20 minutes until golden and the mincemeat is bubbling.
~Cool on a cooling rack and sprinkle icing sugar over the top.

As an alternative to rolling out the pastry, I use my Pampered Chef Mini Tart Shaper. Then you just take little chunks of dough, roll them in a ball, pop the ball in your mini-tart tin, squish it with the wooden shaper and it makes a perfectly shaped pastry case for you! You can also get this at Lakeland (no I'm not on commission from them!)

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Recipe of the Week - Christmas Biscuits

Although these are Christmas biscuits, we make them throughout the year with different shaped cutters.

My mum got me this set of cutters last year for my birthday. They are sooo fab.

There are 12 different shaped cutters and each cutter has two bits to it. 

These are the Christmassy shaped ones.

The red bit cuts out the basic shape of the biscuit, then you pop off the clear bit and use it to add some detail, like this little teddy below.

Here he is after the basic shape was cut out.

And here he is with the details added.

Moving onto the recipe.

 10oz Doves Farm SR Wheat-Free Flour
4oz dairy-free margarine
4oz brown sugar
1tsp baking powder
2tsp mixed spice
2 eggs, beaten

~Put the flour and margarine into a food processor and blitz until the butter is all blended into the flour and it looks like breadcrumbs.
~Add the sugar, baking powder and spice and blitz again until mixed in.
~While the motor is on, slowy add the eggs until the mixture comes together in a ball. You may not need all of the egg mixture but with wheat-free flour I find that you do. You don't want your mixture to be too crumbly and with wheat-free flour you are best to have it on the sticky side, although not too sticky to roll out!
~Use some more wheat-free four to dust your work surface and roll out the dough until it is about 1 - 2cm thick, depending on how chunky you want your biscuits.
~Cut out the shapes, re-rolling the scraps until the dough is all used up, place on greased baking trays and bake at 180C for 15-20minutes until golden brown.
~Transfer to cooling racks once they are cool enough to touch and then shake over some icing sugar.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Christmas baking continues...

Last night the temperature here was -18C, although the postie claims that when he started work this morning it was as low as -22C! During the day it didn't even get close to 0C, I think the maximum daytime temperature today was -6C.

Perfect conditions for a spot more baking!

~~~Today I made the cranberry sauce for Christmas:

500g fresh cranberries
100g brown sugar
2 oranges, zest of one and juice of both
5 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 slug of port (optional)

Just put everything in the pan and cook gently until the berries pop and the sauce thickens.

I have now frozen this until the big day but it keeps for about a week or so in the fridge. I'm planning on adding another slug of port once it's defrosted too. 

Oh, and remember to take the cinnamon stick out before freezing!

~~~I also made a double batch of Mum's Never-Fail Gingerbread.

One big one and the small one are for the freezer.

~~~A batch of Christmas biscuits (tomorrow's recipe)

~~~And some toffee popcorn for Calum's little cinema that he made up today.

He made up the tickets and sign, James made the cones for the popcorn and we all snuggled up and watched Finding Nemo this afternoon.

Gaelic word(s) of the day:
uabhasach fuar (oo-av-a-sach  foo-ar) - Awfully, or dreadfully, cold!