Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Tasty Tuesday - Chocolate Brownies

Chocolate Brownies

  • 175g (6oz) butter, cubed plus extra for greasing
  • 175g (6 oz) dark chocolate, chopped
  • 3 eggs
  • 275g (10oz) caster sugar
  • 80g (31/4 oz) plain flour
  • 40g (11/2 oz) cocoa powder
  • 100g (31/2 oz) pecan nuts, chopped
  • 100g (31/2 oz) fudge, diced

20cm (8in) shallow square baking tin or silicone pan

  1.  Put the butter and chocolate into a large bowl placed over a saucepan of just-simmering water (making sure the base of the bowl does not touch the water) and heat, stirring occasionally until the butter and chocolate are melted and smoothly combined. Remove from the heat and leave to cool to room temperature.
  2.  Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/gas 3.  Grease the baking tin with a little butter and line with baking parchment or place the silicone pan on a baking tray.  Put the eggs and sugar into a large bowl and whisk together until the mixture is a pale colour and has doubled in volume, about 8 minutes.  Pour the cooled chocolate mixture into the egg and sugar mix and fold together.
  3.  Sift the flour and cocoa powder into the bowl and fold in gently, then fold in the chopped nuts and diced fudge.  Spoon the mixture into the baking tin or pan and gently level.
  4.  Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes until the brownie is just set.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool a little in the tin or pan before turning out and cutting into 12 rectangles. Serve either hot or cold.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Strictly Come Dancing Week 6 - Halloween Week

First of all, I must apologise for not posting a recap of Week 5.  The time just got away from me and every time I remembered it needed writing, I was distracted by something else.  So many apologies to anyone who reads my ramblings.  So just to sum up last week in a few sentences, Joe got his first 10 for his Paso, Debbie is back on form after a fabulous Rumba and topped the leaderboard, four couples were joint bottom (Brian, Susan, Simon and Ruth), Anton DuBeke blinded the nation with a bright pink frilly shirt, Bruno Tonioli was absent from the panel due to prior commitments and Craig Revel Horwood fell off his chair impersonating the aforementioned Bruno.  I think he's been on the happy pills as he wasn't his usual scathing self to most contestants but you have to check this out. Seriously, never seen anything so funny.

So the results last week on Sunday, the bottom two were Simon Rimmer against Brian Conley in the dance off.  Both performed badly in the dance-off, Simon fell over and Brian forgot the routine.  In the end, all four judges chose to save Simon and Brian left the competition.

So onto this week and Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.  Yes, it's Halloween week on Strictly.  This means more amazing costumes, lots of practical jokes and Craig.  Yes, Craig was back to normal this week, it was pretty unnerving watching him be nice to people.  There were some fantastic dances in the mix as well which always makes for good viewing however, there were a lot of horrors.

Although saying that, first up was Jonnie and I'm glad to see his sense of humour showing.  What else could a partial amputee be other than a pirate?  Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to save his Cha Cha Cha and the rest of him was as wooden as his leg.  Not his best dance at all!  Next up was Ruth as Samantha from Bewitched and it's a pity her dancing isn't as good as Anton's rabbit impression.  The judges think she's improving but I thought Jonnie's leg had more life in it.

Then it was Simon's turn and his American Smooth was anything but.  Again he was wooden and how he has remained in the competition this long is a miracle.  His best bit? Having to not speak during the judge's comments because he had a mouthful of dry chicken.  That'll teach you to eat your props!

Finally, we got some decent dancing next and it came from Gemma.  She and Alijaz did a Jive dressed as Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  For someone whose own mother described her as a baby elephant, she is light on her feet and her kicks and flicks were pretty impressive to an untrained eye.  I hope she goes a lot further in this competition.  Speaking of going further, my mate Joe was on next.  Now I have mentioned before about Joe being very up and down in consistency from week to week.  He'll have a good dance then he'll have a bad one, another good, then bad etc.  So after having a storming week last week with an amazing Paso, I was expecting a bad week for him but I was delighted to see another fabulous routine.  Even dressed as a spider couldn't make me stop watching his Foxtrot, I loved it.  He's another one I want to see stay for a while longer.

Next up were a pair of cheeky devils, Mollie and AJ.  Dancing to Kylie Minogue no less. Their Cha Cha Cha was a lot better than Jonnie's but she does need to loosen up.  She's said many times that she prefers to be in hold in the ballroom dances, she's not keen on the Latin.  Next up was Alexandra and she was dancing the Tango.  Her routine was pretty good, which is fairly consistent for her, although she had a bad week last week with her Samba.  Her eyes freaked me out this week though as she had a contact lens in one as part of her costume (she was a zombie) but it gave me the shivers.

Davood was next, his dance was the Rumba and he's the first male celeb to dance this so far this series.  It's known to be difficult for male celebs to dance, not sure why but that's always cropped up every year.  Now I'm no technical expert so I am only going by what the judges said which was that it lacked much Rumba content, but as a dance to watch it was a nice routine.  Next up was Susan and she was dancing the Foxtrot to Killer Queen by Queen dressed as the Queen of Dragons from Game of Thrones.  Enough said really, not her finest hour and the studio singers could NOT sing the song, it was an appalling version.  Poor Freddie Mercury must be spinning in his grave.

The last two dances of the night belonged to Debbie and Aston.  Debbie was first dancing the Charleston and was incredible.  The legs on that woman are in better condition than many people half her age, she's amazing and thoroughly deserving of her near-perfect score of 39 (you meanie Craig, only a 9).  She was followed by Aston and he did the Paso Doble.  On paper, it didn't sound like it would work.  A modern Paso with contemporary hip-hop moves to the Nirvana song Smells Like Teen Spirit.  It sounds like a recipe for disaster but this is Aston and as much as I don't like him, he made it work and bagged himself a couple of 10s from the judges.

So by the end of the night, the spooky scores on the devilish doors were 

Debbie & Giovanni39
Aston & Janette38
Alexandra & Gorka35
Joe & Katya32
Gemma & Alijaz30
Mollie & AJ27
Davood & Nadiya25
Ruth & Anton22
Jonnie & Oti20
Susan & Kevin18
Simon & Karen16

So the results show on Sunday night and the scariest thing about it? No not Craig Revel Horwood (I do like him really) or Shirley Ballas (can't stand the woman).  It was a performance from the group Steps.  I think I've been sucked into a Time Warp, oh no they've just reformed.  Oh dear lord!

Moving swiftly on!

Into the dance-off were two completely different couples.  Simon and Karen (no surprises there) but they were up against Mollie and AJ.  I really can't understand how she was in the dance-off.  I admit she's not the best in there but there was no way she was in the bottom two surely.  Anyway, they both performed again and in a unanimous 4-0 vote, Mollie won out over Simon and finally, justice was served and Simon Rimmer is eliminated.  I don't dislike the man, but he should stick to cooking as he is good at that.  Dancing however, not so much.

So next week is week 7 and all couples will be hoping to impress the judges and viewers in the hope of surviving to the following week which is Blackpool! Everyone wants to dance at Blackpool Tower but unfortunately, one couple won't make it.  I bet it's Ruth, poor Anton never usually gets to Blackpool.

Until then everyone, keep dancing!

Week 4 | Week 3  | Week 2 | Week 1

Monday, 16 October 2017

Strictly Come Dancing 2017 - Week 4

WOW! What an amazing week of dancing.  Our remaining thirteen celebs have really upped their game this week, well most of them anyway.  For me, Week Four is always a bit of a comedown after Movie Week but this year, OMG! Sorry about all the capital letters but seriously folks, this week saw some outstanding performances and some real surprises and our first 10s of the series.

First of all, I am really taking a dislike to Shirley Ballas.  When she first joined as head judge, I thought she wasn't too bad but as the weeks have gone on, she is overly harsh to the dancers she clearly doesn't like and she is definitely biased.  She also needs to learn the names of the celebs she is talking to.  In the first week, she called Chizzy 'Lizzie' and had to be corrected by Darcey.  This week when criticising Charlotte, she called her 'Mollie'.  No-one bothered to correct her, they probably didn't think it was worth the effort, given her attitude.

Anyway, onto the dances.  First up was Debbie and I have to say the last two weeks have seen a drop in standards from her.  This week her Cha Cha Cha wasn't as good as we would expect, given how lithe and supple she has shown herself to be.  I had previously thought she was heading straight for the finals but now she may have some competition on her hands.   She did do an amazing standing split though. Next up was Brian.  Brian never fails to deliver the entertainment factor even if the technique isn't always spot on.  He was dancing the Paso Doble and was dressed as a rock star.  He really amuses me and he is genuinely delighted with the scores he gets and is always so thrilled with any positive comments he gets. Next up was Mollie doing the Salsa.  Mollie is slowly improving but she needs to loosen up a little, although this week wasn't too bad.  Again, like in last week's American Smooth, AJ put in some amazing lifts and apart from the final one where she hit the floor slightly, they were impressive.

Davood was next and he had been previously criticised for the routines being overly sexy and not enough dance content.  This week he had the Viennese Waltz and all the spinning and turning left him physically ill.  In fact, it was touch and go if he would be able to perform after the dress rehearsal on Saturday afternoon.  He suffers from motion sickness so he resorted to wearing anti sickness bands on his wrists and he got through it. Not only did he get through but he scored his highest mark yet and gave a beautiful performance, not sexy but romantic. Next, we had Charlotte.  I do like Charlotte, she is such a sweet girl, it's just a shame she can't dance.  She did the Jive this week and she did show some improvement from the last two weeks.  She is heading in the right direction, she just isn't in the same league as some of the others and won't last much longer.

Following Charlotte was Joe.  Now Joe is this year's Greg Rutherford for me.  If you recall last years blog, I had a real soft spot for Greg and was gutted when he left, even though I knew he wasn't going to make it to the final.  Joe is the same for me this year.  I adore him, he's such a cheeky chappie and he really tries hard.  The problem is that he isn't consistent enough.  He had two great weeks in week 1 and week 3.  Unfortunate, y he then dipped in Week 2 and again this week.  His Cha Cha Cha was too wooden and stilted and not his best routine.  Knowing Joe, he'll be back next week with a great performance. Ruth was doing the Tango this week.  Now I have never been a big fan of Ruth but this week I was actually quite impressed.  She had a good hold, good frame and never missed a beat.  You could tell she really worked hard at this routine and clearly, the Tango is her dance.  She actually deserves to stay this week, which is not something I have previously thought of her.

Aston was up doing the Quickstep next.  Now you all know I am not an Aston fan, but I have not been able to criticise him much.  UNTIL NOW!  He was still good, compared to a lot of the others, but the Quickstep was not his dance.  He's definitely a Latin man, the ballroom is not his forte.  He just seemed to struggle to keep up with the pace of the dance and didn't look comfortable at all, although he still continued to play to the cameras with his cockiness.  At the other end of the spectrum, Simon was dancing the Samba and it was bad.  He hasn't got the natural sway needed for this dance and it was awkward to watch.

Up next was Gemma dancing the Paso Doble.  Oh my word, this girl has come on leaps and bounds since week one and has steadily improved week after week.  This was an amazing Paso and her whole performance was smooth, polished and fierce.  Oh boy was she fierce.  She scored a whopping 35 points and has impressed the judges.   However, she was followed by Alexandra and if I thought gemma's performance was impressive, Alexandra just blew everyone away.  It was almost like deja vu from Ore last year.  Ore scored 39 for his jive last year in week four.  This year Alexandra performed the Jive in week Four and also scored an incredible 39 points.  She got 3 10s, the first of the series, with only Craig scoring her 9.  The poor girl was just so overcome she burst into tears. (She lost her mum just after joining the Strictly line up and she was just overcome with the whole result.)

Next up we had the lovely Jonnie, or should that be the sexy, sultry Jonnie.  Oooooh, his American Smooth was incredibly smooth.  He's also one getting better and better and moving up that leaderboard.  Of course, he has the incredible Oti as a partner, her routines and choreography are just outstanding, as we saw last year with her partnership with Danny Mac so she knows exactly how to get the best out of her partners and knows how to show them off to the best of their abilities.
Our final dance came from Susan and she was also dancing the Quickstep.  She was absolutely brilliant and so light on her feet which I didn't really expect from her.  The routine was lively and fun and a fantastic tribute to Morecambe & Wise at the end.  What a way to end the show.

At the end of the night, the leaderboard looked like this

Alexandra & Gorka39
Gemma & Alijaz35
Aston & Janette32
Jonnie & Oti31
Susan & Kevin30
Davood & Nadiya29
Debbie & Giovanni27
Mollie & AJ27
Joe & Katya24
Ruth & Anton24
Brian & Amy21
Charlotte & Brendan19
Simon & Karen19

On to Sunday night and the results.  The first couple into the dance-off was Davood! I don't think anyone expected this, there were a few gasps and stunned faces all around.  He took it well, although I don't think he relished having to spin round so much again.  He was joined in the dance-off by Charlotte which wasn't wholly unexpected.

Davood actually performed even better in the dance-off, correcting a mistake from Saturday night (he actually lifted his partner off the ground slightly which is illegal in the Viennese Waltz). This time he left her lower to the ground so her feet remained on it.  Charlotte still performed badly so it was inevitable that she would be the one to leave.  As I said, lovely girl but she just can't dance so in the end, it was the right result.  It was unanimous with the judges as all four votes went to Davood.

So, a great week and the bar has been raised.  Let's see what week five will bring us.

Until then, keep dancing.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Strictly Come Dancing 2017 Week 3 - MOVIE WEEK

Da da da da da da da, da da da da da!

It's time for Strictly to hit the red carpet as it's Week 3 which can mean only one thing.  It's MOVIE WEEK!!  No prizes here for guessing this is my favourite week, with Musicals Week being a close 2nd.  There were some Oscar-winning performances and some Razzies too but it was a Spectacular Week!

A huge shout out to the make-up and wardrobe departments.  I mean, the dancers look great every week but themed weeks are always outstanding when it comes to the costumes and the whole look in general.  Strictly really does go to town for Movie Week (Hollywood or La La Land).

So after an opening number from the celebs and pros, which paid homage to La La Land but wasn't my cup of tea at all, we move onto the celebs third dance.  14 remaining contestants are hoping to avoid the dreaded dance-off and elimination but which were Best Heroes and which were best Villians?

Another outstanding dance from Aston Merrygold this week.  He and Janette were dressed as Trolls and dancing the Cha Cha Cha and to quote Craig 'You are good aren't you darling?'  He is good, but he knows it too which is what puts me off him.  I think unless something goes drastically wrong, he's going to make the final.  He's another Danny Mac, but whereas Danny Mac and Aston both had prior dance experience and from week one they led the field, Danny was likeable and genuinely modest about his abilities whereas Aston just comes across as cocky.  It may be just me but something about him annoys me.  My favourite routine this week came from Gemma Atkinson and Alijaz.  They were doing the Charleston and the music was 'The Bare Necessities' from The Jungle Book.  Disney and Charleston.  My favourite movie genre and my favourite dance.  I was either going to love this or hate this.  Fortunately, I loved it!  It was playful, well danced and even Alijaz losing an ear didn't change how much I enjoyed this routine.  Gemma is improving week after week and she's having so much fun with it.

Also improving each week is Molly King.  Her American Smooth was just that.  Smooth, outstanding lifts and a fantastic connection with her partner AJ.  I said from the start I wanted her to do well and after an iffy jive in week one, she's really started to show promise now and her performances are getting stronger.

Another one of my favourites was Joe McFadden. He had a bad week last week with his Tango after a great first week Jive.  He was certainly the comeback kid this week as he danced a Doctor Zhivago themed Viennese Waltz and the difference was amazing.  It looked almost flawless to an untrained eye.  What gets me is the fact he can't stop smiling. It will make his Paso Doble interesting if he gets to dance that, he can't be smiley and happy during that.

Speaking of Pasos, we had two very different ones this week.  We had a halfway decent one from Jonnie Peacock and a truly dreadful one from Rev Richard.  Also struggling were Simon Rimmer (another Disney routine but awful), Ruth Langsford (as a Bond girl, please no!) and Charlotte Hawkins (Top Gun, more like a loaded gun at her head).  Debbie McGee didn't perform well this week although I think she was penalised unfairly with an unknown rule from Craig.  I've never heard the 10-second rule mentioned before when judging a Quickstep and I'm sure Simon and Karen had the same but it wasn't brought up.  Much improved was Brian Conley who's Wizard of Oz themed American Smooth was fun and entertaining, if not entirely technically correct. He certainly had a lot of fun with it and he was so overjoyed at getting a 5 from Craig, it was so sweet.

So at the end of Saturday night, the leaderboard looked like this:-

Aston & Janette35
Alexandra & Gorka33
Joe & Katya32
Gemma & Alijaz31
Mollile & AJ30
Debbie & Giovanni29
Jonnie & Oti26
Davood & Nadiya25
Brian & Amy22
Susan & Kevin20
Simon & Karen19
Charlotte & Brendan17
Ruth & Anton15
Rev Richard & Dianne14

So onto Sunday night and the votes are cast.  First off was an AMAZING Disney themed dance by the pros.  As a Disney fan (have I mentioned this before?), again I was going to love or hate it and I LOVED IT!  It was a spectacular sight.  Thumbs up to the pros for this.  There was also a midway performance by Sheridan Smith which I wasn't expecting to like but I did.  She can sing and create a performance and combine well with the pro dancers, a lot of guest performers on Strictly are either poor mimers or you can't hear them.  This was actually very very good.
Onto the eliminations and the two couples into the dance off are Simon and Karen up against Rev Richard and Dianne.

Neither couple performed well, however, the right decision was made to save Simon and we say farewell and Hallelujah to the Rev Richard as he leaves the show.  He was entertaining but cannot dance so it is right that he departs now and doesn't become another Ed Balls and linger longer than he deserves.  Without the technique, there is only so far entertainment can take you (Brian and Susan take note).

So the remaining 13 couples continue to Week 4.  Let's see what drama unfolds next week (unless Brendan can keep his mouth shut).

Until then, keep dancing

Week 2 | Week 1

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Strictly Come Dancing 2017 Week Two

It’s week 2 and there has to be an elimination this week.  It seems too soon to lose one of the dancers but that’s the way this competition goes.  Last week saw great performances from Joe, Aston and Debbie. However Rev Richard, Brian and Ruth all need to improve dramatically in order to stay in.

So what happened next? First of all, two illegal lifts this week. Come on pros, your partners only do what you tell them to do, don't punish them for your mistakes. AJ had an illegal lift in his Tango and Nadiya had one in her Quickstep. Sort it out, you are meant to be professionals.

This week saw some great performances from Gemma Atkinson, Molly King and Jonnie Peacock, all of whom were much improved from week one.  Gemma danced the waltz and looked elegant and graceful, Molly did the Tango and channelled her inner mean girl whilst Jonnie replaced his prosthetic leg with his blade and pulled off a fabulous jive.

Alexandra Burke performed a Paso Doble and scored the highest score of the series, getting 4 9s in only week 2.  She will certainly be one to watch. Another beautiful waltz, this time from Debbie McGee who has all the makings of a finalist already and an energetic salsa from Aston Merrygold.  I don’t want to like him but I can’t deny it was impressive.  If it had gone wrong, Janette would have been in traction, but he pulled it off impressively.

However, on the other side of the scale, things are looking a bit nervy for Brian Conley.  Last week his Tango failed to impress and this week his Cha Cha Cha was cringeworthy, with more disco than Cha Cha.  Chizzy Akudolu also had a bad week and Charlotte Hawkins, god bless her, was appalling.  Her Cha Cha Cha was worse than Brian’s with many mistakes and tumbles. I do however think Bruno needs to watch his comments when judging and Brendan was quite right to step in and defend Charlotte.  I hope she stays, I really like her.  There’s something just so sweet about her but after her dance this week she could well be going home.

Another poor effort from Rev Richard with his American Smooth.  Joe McFadden didn’t perform well this week with his Tango, which is a shame after his wonderful Jive last week.  Simon Rimmer and Ruth Langsford both continue to be poor and I’m not sure how long Susan Calman can use comedy to compensate for lack of technique in her dances.

So by the end of Saturday evening, week 1 and week 2 scores combined to leave the leaderboard looking like this, with the public able to vote for the first time in this year's competition.

W1 W2 Total

Debbie McGee & Giovanni Pernice 30 34 64
Aston Merrygold & Janette Manrara 31 32 63
Alexandra Burke & Gorka Marquez 24 36 60
Davood Ghadami & Nadiya Bychkova 27 27 54
Joe McFadden & Katya Jones 29 22 51
Jonnie  Peacock & Oti Mabuse 20 29 49
Molly King & AJ Pritchard           23 25 48
Gemma Atkinson & Aljaz Skorjanec 20 26 46
Susan Calman & Kevin Clifton    20 22 42
Chizzy Akudolu & Pasha Kovalev 21 16 37
Ruth Langsford & Anton Du Beke            16 20 36
Simon Rimmer & Karen Clifton 17 19 36
Brian Conley & Amy Dowden                   16 19 35
Charlotte Hawkins & Brendan Cole 22 12 34
Rev Richard Coles & Dianne Buswell      17 17 34

So onto Sunday evening and a great pro dance to The Blues Brothers number ‘Everybody, Needs Somebody’ set in a bowling alley, could easily have come out of Grease, it was fun and energetic.

So onto the scores and the first couple to enter the dance-off is Chizzy and Pasha.  It’s such a shame because she is so much fun but her Foxtrot lacked technical elements and relied too much on theatrics.   A brief pause with a performance from Emilie Sande (I muted this as I don’t like her.  If you recall she performed in the final show last year and I went and made dinner) and a brief technical close up with the judges.  Previously this was called Len’s Lens which was down to head judge Len Goodman but since his retirement, it’s been given the new lacklustre name of ‘Dance Debrief’.  Hmmmmm!

So back to the scores and yes, Charlotte is safe and it’s Brian into the dance-off with Chizzy. I don’t think either couple performed any better the second time around.  The judges voted 3-1 in favour of keeping Brian, with only Craig choosing to save Chizzy. So we have to bid farewell to Chizzy, the first casualty (Holby City, geddit?) of Strictly 2017.  It was emotional, it was tearful, it was not the best decision in my opinion but hey, I’m not a judge, just an armchair dancer.

Movie Week next week, my favourite week.  There has to be a Disney song in there somewhere, there usually is!

So until Saturday, keep dancing!