24 Dec 2011

Jamie's Flavoured Butter Turkey - for a tasty moist turkey

Now the gravy is frozen and Son2 has strict instructions to remind me to remove it early on Christmas morning (which of course, he won't), it's time to turn to the turkey.
My favourite recipe is, once again, from the god of chefs, Jamie Oliver. It makes for an incredible flavoursome, moist turkey that practically bastes itself.
Ready? Here's the ingredients, taken from the recipe page on the JO website

• 1 x 250g pack of butter • 75g dried cranberries, really finely chopped • a few sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked • 4 fresh rosemary sprigs, leaves picked • a few sprigs of fresh sage, leaves picked • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper • 1 clementine.

First, I took the butter out for an hour to soften it, then added it to a food processor with the cranberries, herbs, zest and seasoning. JO says to mix it by hand, but whizzing it up in the blender on pulse saved me time.

Whizz up the ingredients 
Then, using a spoon, I carefully separated the skin from the breast as far back and across as I could, making an opening for the butter.
Separate skin from breast starting from the arrow
Then I pushed half the flavoured butter in the space I'd made. James says to use your hands, but I have this hands slim soft spatula from Pampered Chef that does the job and is much less messy.
Carefully stuff half the butter mixture in the space
Then I used the remaining butter to cover the top of the turkey, finally covering it with clingfilm and putting it back in the fridge until tomorrow morning. Make sure yo get it out when you get up so it has time to warm up a bit before you put in the oven.

Smother the top with the rest of butter
We had this last year as well and I can safely say it's the best, moist and flavoursome turkey I've ever had.
A reminder of the recipe page on the JO site. And to make The Best Turkey in the World, check out this page for cooking the bird.
My  well-used Christmas JO 'Bible' - note greasy smudge marks!

All that's left is for me to wish you all a fantastic Christmas. If you like this blog, please follow, or subscribe by email or RSS so you never miss another post. (At the top of the site)
There are several other recipes in past posts such as:

Merry Christmas!
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23 Dec 2011

It's more faff than Bisto, but Jamie's Get Ahead Gravy's worth the effort

So, 23rd December, and I've started the gravy for the big day. This may seem extreme, but it's to save me the hassle of it on Christmas Day and to make sure I serve up the best gravy of the year.
I'm making Jamie Oliver's Get Ahead Gravy. As far as I'm concerned, Jamie Oliver (my fondue disaster not withstanding) should be knighted in the New Year's Honours and then made Prime Minister, or perhaps King. Or both.
Here are the ingredients:
• 2 celery sticks, trimmed and roughly chopped • 2 carrots, roughly sliced • 2 onions, peeled and quartered • 5 fresh bay leaves • 5 fresh sage leaves • 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary • 2 star anise • 2 rashers of smoked streaky bacon, the best quality you can afford • 8 chicken wings • olive oil • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper •
4 tablespoons plain flour • optional: 60ml sherry or port • 2 heaped dessertspoons cranberry sauce, for finishing.
How I did my best impression of the great J.O 
So first, I put all the staring ingredients (see above) in a roasting pan, added some fabulous olive oil that we brought back from Tuscany this year, then some salt and pepper. I put it in the oven for an hour at 200c.

Put all the starting ingredients into a big roasting pan
When I got it out, it was all golden. I got a non-scratch masher as Jamie instructs, and mashed it all up hard.

When they come out of the oven, mash them up
I scraped the bottom to make sure it was all mixed in. Then I added two tablespoons of flour bit by bit and made sure it was all stirred in well.

Scrape the bottom of the pan
Then I added two litres of hot water and boiled for ten minutes, then simmered for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add 2 litres of water, then boil for 10 mins and simmer for 25mins
After than I added a glug of port. This is optional.

Add port if desired. I desire very much.
Then sieve. I first sieved in a colander as my sieve is quite small. This got rid of most of the mashed up ingredients. Then I strained it again in my sieve into a freezer box, let it cool and popped it in the freezer until Sunday.

Strain it, put it in a freezer box and freeze until the big day.
On Sunday I will get it out first thing, defrost it and put it in a pan. When the turkey is done, Jamie says to add 2 large dessertspoons of cranberry sauce (which is good as there's always too much) and the skimmed juices from the turkey.
Decant into a gravy boat, and there you have it, Jamie Oliver's Get Ahead Gravy. It's a lot more faff than Bisto gravy granules, but it's Christmas!
And click here for the link again to the full set of instructions from the Jamie Oliver website
Images on this post are All Rights Reserved c. Tania Tirraoro. Use Contact form to request reuse.
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22 Dec 2011

Women of the Year 2011 - My personal list

This year I've published two books, one fiction - a romance- and one non-fiction, aimed at helping parents get special needs help for their children.
In this endeavour, I've formed friendships both online and in person. As this is the time of year for 'best of' lists  here's one of my own, giving a big thanks to those who have inspired, steadied, encouraged and helped me.

1. Mel Comley
Mel Comley
 Mel and I first became friends when we launched our books on Authonomy in 2010. Since then I have watched her grow as a writer and been amazed by her ability at reaching out online to people, making them aware of her books. Mel lives in France and in January we were able to meet in person when she came to stay with us. We attended a writer's workshop in London together and I'm pleased to say she'll be coming over again in May for another event.
She has published a trilogy of crime novels featuring DI Lorne Simpkins as well as a number of romance and short story books.
Mel has supported me, advised me of opportunities, cheered me up when I was down and sent me the biggest box of Christmas chocs I've ever received. A special mention to her mum, Jean too, who is fab.
Find Mel here

2. Libby Fischer Hellmann
Libby Fischer Hellmann
Libby, a well-known Chicago writer, is one woman I look up to. Her writing is flawless and in the YouTube video I watched of her giving a writer talk, she exudes the sure confidence of someone who knows what she's talking about. I love her Chicago PI, Georgia Davis - a worthy successor to VI Warshawski. When I grow up, I want to be Libby Fischer Hellmann. Find out more about Libby here.

3. Linda Prather
Linda Prather
Linda is a woman of many talents - an author, psychic and paranormal investigator whose books leave an impression on you long after you have read them. Linda is kind and generous with her time and I look forward to reading more Jacody Ives mysteries in 2012 as well as her forthcoming book, Find Me.
Read more about Linda here.

4. & 5. Lia Fairchild and Valerie Maarten
Valerie Maarten
Lia Fairchild
These two woman live on opposite coasts in the US and they are promotional powerhouses. I am astounded by the number of ways they come up with to promote their books and the energy they have in going about it, despite having busy family lives. It is something I can only dream of matching. Lia is also about to become an Amazon Encore author with In Search of Lucy and has a series called A Hint of Murder. Read more about Lia here.
Val has four books out, all great reads, including the salutary tale "Into Thin Air". Find out more about Val here.

You should watch out for all these woman in 2012. They've put in serious ground work in 2011 to pursue their goals of making it big in books. I wouldn't bet against them.

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21 Dec 2011

The Teen Party - I survived but Son2 almost didn't

So, the day of the much anticipated teenage party arrives. Son1 is cool about it as usual. I am running about checking he's thought of everything before I realise that it's his party and if he can't be bothered to pre-plan, then neither can I.
Apart from, of course, ordering in all the food and soft drinks that will be inhaled by the party goers. This is my job, to be welcomingly silent, remain in the kitchen and produce copious amounts of refreshments.
As I'm setting out cans of drinks (less easy to spill than glasses, I reason), Son2, 12, enters the kitchen. He's not been having a good time lately, his Asperger's has rather taken over.
"I'm going to sit on my bedroom balcony for a bit," he announces. Distractedly, I reply that he doesn't have a balcony. We've just refitted his Technolair but a balcony was not on the specifications.
Minutes later, I hear a rumble and then Son2 falls past the kitchen window, crumpling to the hard patio floor outside.
I shriek and dash out as he picks himself up and dusts himself off. "Oh My God! I screech, what did you do? Are you hurt? You could have been killed!"
"I slipped," he says calmly. It turns out that his 'balcony' was his windowsill and he had slid down the small half-roof under it and tumbled to the ground, falling ten feet. He grazed his knee, nothing worse, luckily but my nerves were shot.
I locked his window and poured myself a calming sherry.
Minutes later the first party goers arrived. My visiting sister, unused to teenagers, took herself off to her room and shut the door. Then she evacuated the house entirely for the relative peace of the nearby pub while I tried to ignore the noise level that only twelve teens, girls and boys can make.
I think the party was a success. Certainly Son1 was happy. I shared a glass of wine with some of the Mums at the end and the house was ours again by nine thirty. The Sky+ HD remote control vanished, never to be seen again - no one has admitted responsibility.
Would I let him have another party? Well, yes, I think I would. His friends are all nice young people, polite and respectful. But most of all, I cannot say enough how wonderful it is for Son1, whose ADHD & undiagnosed Asperger's when in mainstream saw him with almost no friends and an angry child. Now, with four years at the right specialist school with intensive social skills training and support, he's doing well and his recent review at school described him as a popular boy. This thrilled me more than any academic success.
I hope that with the continuing support of his school, he can turn these newly found skills into second nature. He's going to need them - he's climbing Kilimanjaro in 2013.

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12 Dec 2011

Term ends - with a teenage party. Gulp.

So here we are, the last week of school - well part of a week anyway - before the Christmas holidays. Term ends on Thursday lunchtime after a carol service, collection for a good cause and a round up of the autumn term from the Headmaster.
It has been something of an eventful term after what turned out to be, thankfully, a malicious call resulted in all boys and staff being locked down int he PE hall for five hours, surrounded by armed police. The police were fantastic and someone was tracked down and arrested before the day was out. Can you imagine the aroma of an already smelly PE hall stuffed to the gills with 500 people, most of whom are adolescent boys?
Everyone is exhausted. Son2 has been ill with a virus, but has spent the weekend moving into a new, bigger bedroom, or Technolair, after we made some internal alterations. We then had to get a range extender for the router which took me an hour and a half to make it work. We found one in Maplins which, for him, is like a magical emporium. He plans to get a part-time job there when he's old enough.
Son2 turned 14 this term. We took him, his brother and eight friends paintballing. We hadn't been before so we naively expected there would be somewhere warm to wait. We were mistaken. My husband also had to make a dash to the nearest supermarket to stock up on drinks and snacks for the boys between each session because teenage boys are rather like locusts, devouring everything in their path. We also shelled out, rather unexpectedly, a small fortune on extra paintballs - something anyone considering such an outing should factor in to the overall cost.
And so, can I relax after Thursday? You're joking. My sister arrives on Thursday afternoon, so I have to make sure the spare room, formerly Son2's bedroom, is set up and tidy.
And then on Friday... it's Son1's first TEENAGE CHRISTMAS PARTY. The capitals are supposed to convey anxiety and trepidation on my part.  It was supposed to be a joint one with his brother, five people each. But Son2 isn't interested and wants to go out instead, so Son1 decided that meant he could have ten, now, eleven.. how about fourteen.. people of his own. Mind you, I'm not sure he's actually invited anyone yet. Am I supposed to hear back from people's Mums at this age? I have no idea.
But, in theory anyway, there will be girls as well as boys, including his newly acquired girlfriend. I'm rather looking forward to that bit - I will, of course, be utterly charming.
Mainly, I will remain busy in the kitchen, providing the locusts with food and soft drinks and will be otherwise invisible but with my ears open over the sound of my new Michael Bublé Christmas album.
My biggest concern is whether to place throws over my two brand new sofas and where to put the dog for his own safety.
If anyone has any tips for me - please leave them in the comments section - they'll be much appreciated!

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6 Dec 2011

Read an excerpt from a FREE Christmas anthology

I've got together with a group of fab women writers to publish a sparkling Christmas anthology of short seasonal stories, Season's Readings. You can download them for FREE from Smashwords in any ebook format, PDF or just read online.
I also designed the cover which I hope captures the festive feeling that will soon be grabbing us all.


Click the image to go to the book page
Eleanor surveyed the scene of quasi-devastation in the living room. Gaudy wrapping paper torn away and then carelessly discarded, littered the floor. Presents were piled up untidily on the coffee table. And her husband of twenty years, Roger, slumped groggily in the armchair, mug of tea balanced on his rounded stomach that was wrapped in a tartan robe.
Under the robe, he wore pale blue cotton pyjamas that he preferred to be ironed, even though they were the non-iron variety. Roger was the chief financial officer of an insurance company in the City. He worked long hours and had amassed them a considerable fortune that had made it unnecessary for Eleanor to find paid employment ever since she'd given birth to the first of their two sons, now aged fifteen and seventeen.
The teenagers had returned to their lairs, otherwise known as their bedrooms, after they had ravaged the Christmas wrapping paper that she had so carefully folded over their expensive ipods, computer equipment and designer clothes that she had bought for them.
Roger was pleased with his aftershave, new leather briefcase and Cartier cufflinks. Eleanor was happy she didn't seem to have made any faux pas, present-wise.
"Darling, you haven't opened your present yet." Roger's voice broke through her thoughts. He indicated a bulky package that was far too neat to have been wrapped by him.
Eleanor smiled. "Thank you," she said, perching on the arm of the sofa as she carefully opened the parcel. Inside was a fluffy robe from...she cast a closer look at the label…Marks and Spencer. Eleanor's smile faltered and forced it to remain on her lips. "It's just what I wanted," she said, a little too brightly.
Seemingly satisfied, Roger went back to reading the sports section of yesterday's Telegraph. Eleanor felt like screaming. She had worked so hard to think of nice things to buy him. The briefcase had his initials embossed on it, the cufflinks had cost a small fortune.
Then she thought of the expensive Prada wallet she had bought for his personal assistant on his behalf. She knew without asking it wasn't Roger who had chosen the robe. She glanced at it again. Pale pink, size 16. Eleanor was a svelte size 10. She shouldn't be ungrateful, she told herself. Roger provides for us so well and she could always go and buy what she wanted whenever she wanted. But as she rose and turned away towards the kitchen, the long silk robe she had bought for herself just months before swishing around her, she couldn't stop her lower lip from trembling, just a little.
The problem, she reasoned, was the lack of thought that had gone into it. It wasn't that she had wanted something expensive, but it would have been nice if Roger had actually thought, just for a few moments, what she might like as a gift. He rarely did these days. When they met and they had both been newly minted accountants, they had had so much fun going places together, being spontaneous. Flying off on a short break on a whim.
After they married the good life had continued, working and playing hard. Roger was on a fast-track promotion route and when Simon was born, it just made sense for Eleanor to give up her job and devote her time to looking after the baby and Roger. She became the perfect corporate wife. Coiffed, toned and tanned, despite producing two babies, two years apart. That had been their life ever since.
She had spoiled the boys, given them all her attention to make up for the fact that their father worked long days and often weekends. They repaid her by leaving their dirty clothes scattered on the floor wherever they took them off, just as they had done since they were children. They often took dishes of food they had asked for upstairs and rarely brought the empty plates down again. They hardly ever said thank you when she took them to sports practice and picked them up again. They seemed to think the clothes fairy picked up their things, washed and ironed them and replaced them neatly in their drawers.
Eleanor never chided them for their slovenliness. They were only children for such a short time, she told herself. Now, as she tossed the half-wrapped M&S robe on the chair in the hallway and set about preparing the Christmas lunch, she regretted letting them treat her like part of the furniture. To them, she was largely invisible, just a wispy outline behind the wheel of the Range Rover, a chauffeur come housekeeper.
The actual housekeeper, Mrs Jarvis, always tutted at her for letting them treat her with such disregard. Eleanor usually just gave a wan smile and a small, defeated shrug.
But today, Christmas Day, she felt differently. She took out the potatoes she had peeled the night before and left in a pan of water. She cut them into odd shapes so the corners would be sharp when they came out of the goose fat, all brown and crispy, and put them back into the pan in fresh water for par-boiling later.
She checked the turkey, which had been in the oven for some time already. It was basted in cranberry butter that she had forced under the skin for added succulence carefully following a Jamie Oliver recipe. Satisfied that everything was on track, she went up for a shower.
Eleanor paused at the top of the stairs listening to the various sounds coming from each boy's bedroom. Simon was strumming his acoustic guitar and 'singing' along as he played. Jonathan, her fifteen year old, was playing his new shoot 'em up game on his X-box. Neither of them had bothered to buy her a gift or a card.
She put her shoulders back, lifted her head up and crossed to the large bedroom suite she shared with Roger. It was beautifully fitted out and she had a large dressing table upon which sat her expensive Crème De La Mer moisturiser and her Chanel make-up bag.
She opened her top drawer and slid out a packet of blister-wrapped tablets, popping one out and swallowing it without water. Prozac, mother's little helpers. She sat to brush out her hair, feeling miserable and taken for granted.
Her face reflected in the mirror was unlined, thanks to regular non-surgical face-lifts and her honeyed bob had been perfectly highlighted and cut at Vidal Sassoon in Sloane Street just the day before. Securing it back with a band, she shrugged out of her robe and matching silk night-slip and crossed into the en-suite wet-room.
The water took seconds to heat up and Eleanor stepped under the powerful jets. Before she knew what was happening, before she could rationalise her misery any further, her face crumpled and huge tears rolled down her cheeks. Her head dipped forward, the fierce water jets wetting the hair she had meant to keep dry. Eleanor angrily snatched off the band keeping it back and threw it to the floor of the shower.
She knew what she was, she was a bloody Stepford wife and she hated it. She hated her life in a gilded cage, doing just what was expected of her while no one cared how she felt. She was 48 years old and a walking stereotype of a well-heeled woman.
Over the hammering of the water, she suddenly hear Roger calling, "Darling, are you almost finished? Mother will be here soon."
Bugger, she thought. Bloody Regina. Why couldn't the old bird just hurry up and die? Roger's mother always came for Christmas lunch. Regina was 79 years old, a widow of a more than a decade, after her own husband had worked himself into an early grave. She was the epitome of health and showed no signs of following her husband to the world beyond. Or the world below, more likely, thought Eleanor, grimly.

Read more by downloading the book for FREE or read it online - just choose your preferred format
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2 Dec 2011

Coming to terms with parenting teens

Tomorrow is my eldest son's 14th birthday. It already seems like he has been a teenager forever. He now stands a head taller than me and his voice is so deep I am constantly wondering who on earth is the strange man talking downstairs?
These physical changes have taken place over the past year and I, as his mother who has had 13 years of having two little boys, am still struggling to come to terms with the fact that I have one big boy (12) and one young man on my hands.
The job is made more complicated by their Asperger Syndrome. Which aspects of their behaviour are because they have AS and which is just because they are adolescent? It can be hard to tell.
It is also hard to change your parenting behaviour. While it is still necessary to give them firm boundaries as well as love, the position of the boundaries, by necessity, changes.
What is difficult is knowing which boundaries to change and where to move them to. Bedtimes have become more lax. Sometimes he will go for a shower unasked, sometimes he needs to be reminded to wash his hair because it needs it - after all he's getting used to having a new body and hormones as well. I suspect there are plenty of teens this applies to.
Communication is also something that is changing, in that he doesn't particularly want to, at least with us. He's often on Facebook chatting with his school-friends and I sometimes hear his deep voice talking on his mobile late in the evening.
The other week he had some friends over for a sleep-over before we took them paint-balling the next morning. They disappeared into the conservatory where they were sleeping. "Don't you want to watch TV?" I asked. "No, we're going to talk," he replied. When I remarked that he never talked to me, all the boys collapsed into what can only be described as Smash Alien-type laughter.
I know what they were talking about: girls - another area for worry. He goes to an all-boys school but they get together with girls from a nearby girls' school for theatrical productions. My son likes girls very much and they like him back - since he was six up until he went to the boys' school, he always received one or even two Valentine's Cards every year from smitten primary schoolgirls, much to my younger son's disgust.
I have decided the best thing to do about girls is...nothing. Unless he asks. I will just keep my eyes and ears open although as he tends to keep things to himself, this is a challenge.
I am working my way through Thomas Phelan's "Surviving Your Adolescents" and have found that I am making lots of mistakes - such as 'the insightful comment' hoping to instill my wisdom into him, usually when he's stuck in the car with me. This is apparently a no-no. Oops.
I'm also getting some things right as well, which is a relief not to be totally useless. I remember being a teenager and, I can promise you, I was a lot worse than he was and I turned out alright, I think.
I bought him a book, "The Teenage Guy's Survival Guide: The Real Deal on Girls, Growing Up and Other Guy Stuff". "I got this for you," I said, casually leaving it on the table. "You might like it, have a look if you want". I left it at that. It's now on or next to his bed, so it's apparently a hit.
Other boundaries haven't changed, for example, I try to make sure we eat together at the table as often as possible. We had a little talk the other day about how I was going to try to treat him in a more grown up way, although it was hard for me to adjust. Then I said that he would also need to take more responsibility for things within the family. He looked at me sharply. "I'm not that old," he said. I smiled to myself. It's a long journey, this growing up stuff.

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