Thursday, 31 December 2015

Photo diary: week 52+, 365

And here it is, the last day of the year. Bye, bye, 2015! You were eventful. And thus the daily photo-taking 365 project comes to an end for this year. Will I continue in 2016? I probably will.

On Sunday the 20th we were still looking for some Christmas gifts, and Eddie was admiring the Star Wars goodies in M&S.

On Monday we had a play date with one of Eddie's buddies, at our place, and I baked some brownies.

On Tuesday our friend Jen took us by car to the Burford garden centre to look at all the Christmas decorations.

The day before Christmas I cooked a delicious cranberry sauce with white wine. I will put the recipe on my blog, once I have a spare minute.

Christmas Day: I have been cooking for hours and hours. By the time our guests arrived, I was totally exhausted, but it was worth it. We had a wonderful time with our friends. They came with their three kids and 90-year-old Nana. Eddie didn't want the day to end. When our friends left, he was sulking, so when I asked if my husband could take a photo of us together, he was sitting next to me with the grumpiest facial expression ever. When I looked at the photo, I asked "Who died? What's with that face?"

We received a huge box from Character Toys with the newly released Teletubbies toys. I told Eddie we couldn't open the box yet.

For a few days after Christmas he was busy building his new Lego sets. He got six new Lego sets for Christmas, but then you can never have enough Lego, could you?!

On the 28th I tried to do a few selfies with Eddie, but he was making faces the usual way.

We were asked to feed the neigbour's guinea pigs, a task which Eddie enjoys a lot. It was a sunny day, and I was surprised to see this little blue grape hyacinth in the garden.

Birch trees always make me think of Russia. If I look up, see the blue sky and the silhouettes of the birch trees, I am lost in time and space. Is it Britain, is it Russia?

Our last day of the year was quite mundane. Eddie and I went to a cafe at M&S for a quick cuppa tea for me and a Percy Pig chocolate lolly for him. We did a bit of grocery shopping to last for a couple of days, and Eddie begged me to buy a little toy for him in the Christmas junk section, a spinning wand, and he's been playing with it all evening.

It's after 9pm on new year's eve. my guys are watching TV, and I am sitting with my laptop, blogging. They say, the way you spend the last hours of the year, you'll be doing exactly the same things through the year. Well, I don't mind, that's my world, my family around me and my blog.
Farewell, 2015!
Happy new year, my dear blog readers!

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Looking at 2015: my top 10 most popular recipes

It's always a bit of a revelation for me when I look at the stats of the posts written over the year. Some recipes gain a lot of pageviews, yet in my opinion they are nothing special. Some, which I was hoping would attract more attention, have relatively modest results. Desserts usually win stats-wise.
So, starting with the lowest scorer of top 10:

No. 10 Chocolate bundt cake with crystallised violet petals was pretty and tasty. I was actually quite proud of that cake.

No.9 Apple bread was baked with the apples from our own garden. We had a huge crop this year, and I've been trying to use as many apples as possible. Not a great looker, but tasted lovely.

No. 8 Salad with spring greens was made with freshly picked new dandelion leaves, garlic greens and primroses. Can't wait for a new batch of greens to appear in the garden when the spring comes.

No.7 Italian style scrambled eggs were a twist on a scrambled eggs dish, and very nice they were too. But is it worthy of being in top 10? Not in my opinion. Yet it had a lot of visitors.

No.6 Pasta alla Norma is a classic Italian recipe of a pasta cooked with aubergines and creamy ricotta cheese. Pure comfort food.

No. 5 Coconut sugar cookies were made with a coconut sugar, flavoured with tamarind and turmeric. This was the first time I have tried the coconut sugar in baking.

No.4 Grilled prawns and courgette salad was full of summer flavours. Last summer we were eating lots of salads, and after all the winter stodgy comfort foods I am craving some salads now.

No.3 Lemon drizzle cake recipe was inspired by the book I read back in summer, called Hippy Dinners. It was a wonderfully moist zesty cake, and I really must bake it again soon.

No. 2 A Russian recipe for Curd cheese cookies was one of the top contenders for the laurels of the most popular blog recipe of 2015. Maybe the photos looked appetizing, as the photo of these cookies has also appeared as one of my most liked images on Instagram for the last year.

Yet I would have never guessed that the first place will go to...
No.1. Blackberry and apple pie, a timeless classic, simple and delicious. It is a super seasonal treat, which we all enjoy so much.

Happy new year!
Share your 2015 - Belle du Brighton

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Chocolate chip bread and butter pudding

Whenever I send my darling husband grocery shopping with the shortest possible list on earth, he almost always manages to get something wrong different. Just yesterday I asked him to  buy some fresh bread, and off they went, my husband and the younger son. Came back proud of themselves that they managed to find the nuts I asked them to buy for Sasha (I had to give instructions over the phone on where exactly they might be). And they also bought a round loaf of chocolate chip bread. Why, just why? I needed bread to make sandwiches, not a dessert. Then of course, they didn't actually fancy eating it. I had a slice in the morning.
But I cannot be the family bin any longer, I already try to finish all the leftovers, and I duly resent that. I do. I doooo.
So, what should I make with the choc chip bread? What about a bread and butter pudding?
I didn't need to add any chocolate chips, as the bread was quite generously stuffed with them.

Choc chip bread and butter pudding
about 250g choc chip bread
butter, enough to spread on the bread and to grease the baking dish, softened
3 medium eggs
125ml semi-skimmed milk
a good glug of the Irish cream (optional)
1tsp vanilla essence
2tbsp creme fraiche

Slice the bread, and butter on one side, then cut into big cubes.
In a medium sized mixing bowl beat together the eggs with the milk, Irish cream, vanilla essence and creme fraiche. I didn't add any sugar, as the bread is sweet enough. Pour the batter over the cubes and let the mix soak for at least half an hour.
Grease the baking dish. Pour the bread and butter pud mix inside the baking dish, put the baking dish in the oven preheated to 180C. Bake for about 35-40 minutes.
Sprinkle with the icing sugar. Serve hot. If you have some single cream, it's even better.

Adding this post to #KitchenClearout linky run by Cheryl from Madhouse Family Reviews.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Teletubbies are coming!

You might have noticed a Teletubbies badge on my blog. The day before Christmas we received a big special parcel the contents of which we aren't supposed to see until the 11th of January.
Of course, my little man has been doing a daily tango around the box, hugging it and begging me to open it and have a little peek.
To find out what we'll find inside, please come and visit my blog on the 11th. All secrets will be revealed.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Turkey, leek and potato pie

Another after-Christmas day, another dilemma on what to do with the leftovers. Yesterday we had a Boxing day turkey soup. Today I spotted a nice recipe for Turkey, leek and mashed potato pie recipe from Delicious magazine which conveniently arrived by email. I have adapted it, and though we had some Stilton and pancetta, I didn't want the pie to be too fatty and rich, so I skipped those ingredients altogether.
Once all the leftovers and cheese is gone, I really fancy just a plain salad.
I also don't like the taste of the roast potatoes the day or two after they were cooked, and mashing them for the pie didn't appeal at all, so I cooked fresh mashed potatoes just for the pie.

Turkey, leek and potato pie
2 leeks, finely sliced
1/2 red onion, finely sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
dried basil
450g white turkey meat, cubed
1tsp fresh thyme leaves
4 medium potatoes
1 tub single cream + more (about 300ml)
2tsp butter
100g Cheddar, grated

Slice the leeks and onion and fry with the olive oil for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Sprinkle with the dried basil. Cube the turkey and place in an oiled medium sized ceramic pie dish or casserole. Layer the leeks and onion mix over the turkey. Pour a bit of cream over.
Cook potatoes in salted water. Drain, leaving some of the liquid in a mug. Mash the potatoes, mix with the single cream and add a bit of potato liquid to make the mash slightly lighter in texture and easier to spread.

Spread over the turkey and leeks. Add a little bit of butter on top. Place the dish in the oven preheated to 180C. Cook for about 25+ minutes. Add the grated cheese in the last 8-10 minutes of cooking. Once the cheese has melted and turned golden brown, it's ready.
Serve hot.

This variation on the shepherd's or cottage pie with the leftover turkey is a real winner. It might not be a great looker, but it tastes lovely, and it's an easy recipe too.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Boxing Day turkey soup

I spent hours slaving in the kitchen yesterday, cooking a Christmas lunch for my family and friends. Half an hour before our guests arrived, my younger son piped in that he wanted some Christmas pasta (we got it in Lakeland, and he's been eating it daily for the last couple of weeks). No amount of persuasion that soon we were going to eat worked. So I cooked him a plate of pasta. It must be his Italian genes to blame.
By the time our guests arrived, I was knackered and irritable. My gravy was coddling and I was ready to chuck the pan in the garden, pan with gravy, apron and all. Thankfully, one of our friends came to the rescue and made a very good gravy. 
We had a veritable feast of salmon with blinis and roast gammon as a starter, followed by the turkey with all the trimmings - roast potatoes, parsnips with candied walnuts, carrots with fennel seeds, red cabbage, sprouts with pancetta and chestnuts, pigs in blankets, stuffing balls and cranberry sauce. I didn't bother with the bread sauce, I don't like it and don't see the point of it. You probably need to be born British to appreciate the "beauty" of it. I also warned my guests that we would be having an Italian-style dessert, and if they fancied a Christmas pudding, they'd have to bring their own. They brought a wonderful homemade tiramisu made with Marsala wine and homebaked gluten-free savoiardi biscuits. So, we ended up indulging in the excellent Pandoro and splendid tiramisu. By the end of the meal, I suspect we all felt like the proverbial turkey.
Though I gave our friends a "doggy bag" with leftovers, we still need to go through a big mount of food. This morning I opened the fridge and looked wistfully, pondering what should I do with the leftovers. Nobody fancied a Boxing day sandwich with leftovers. Turkey curry always reminds me of Bridget Jones' Mum's culinary expertise. Bubble and squeak? Too British. 
What about a slightly Oriental soup with the leftover turkey and vegetables? Yes, that sounds better.
So, soup it was.

Boxing Day turkey soup
About 250g turkey meat, chopped or broken into smaller pieces
1 medium sized leek, sliced thinly
cooked carrot batons (about 1 full carrot in total)
cooked parsnip (about 1 full parsnip in total)
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 vegetable stock cube, crumbled
2cm grated fresh ginger
a handful of cooked sprouts
1tbsp soy sauce
1tsp white wine vinegar
2 egg noodle nests, broken into smaller pieces

If you have any bones left, put them in a pan and cover with boiling water. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, then spoon the bones out and discard. Slice finely a medium leek and put in the pan with the broth. add the stock cube and finely chopped garlic. Add the sliced carrots and parsnips and grate the  fresh ginger in.
Slice the sprouts and chop or cut the turkey meat into small pieces. Chuck everything in, bring to boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Add a splash of vinegar. I suppose the rice vinegar would have been a more authentic Asian flavour, but I didn't have any, so I added just white wine vinegar. In the last five minutes of cooking break a couple of small egg noodle nests in.
Serve hot.

It is a lovely flavourful soup. It will also work well with the roast duck leftovers. If you have spring onions or fresh coriander, that would be a nice addition to the soup as well.

If you had a turkey yesterday for Christmas, what did you make with the leftovers today?

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you, my lovely friends, a Merry Christmas! May the light of kindness be always with you.
I don't believe in miracles any more, but I am surely hoping for a kinder world for our children and us.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

The Visitors Book and Other Short Stories by Sophie Hannah

Do you enjoy a good ghost story at Christmas time? or any other time of the year? I confess I don't read that many ghost stories, maybe a couple of books a year. I have a friend who's a big fan of the genre, and she always recommends the best stories.
I haven't heard of Sophie Hannah until I saw a giveaway thread on Mumsnet.
The Visitors' Book and Other Ghost Stories is a small hardback.
I am in two minds about the stories. They are written skilfully and keep you wanting to read more, but some of them really left me confused. I wanted to ask "Is that it?" as I surely still had questions about the plot. Hannah definitely had clever plots in mind, but perhaps she was a bit confined by the space of the short stories.
There are four short stories in total, all unconnected and all with a modern setting.
A young woman who is visiting her boyfriend's house gets troubled and unnerved by the sight of the Visitors' Book which he wants her to sign.
A little boy at the birthday party who endears himself to the hostess.
A lady who gets very nervous by seeing a customer in the post office queue.
A mother who listens to all the vicious gossip about the other mothers in her daughter's class.
As you can see, the locations are not very Gothic or ghost-inducing. But as each story progresses, there is a supernatural twist to it.
The stories are quite creepy and unsettling ratherthan chillingly scary.
This book is a quick and easy read. If you have a spare hour during winter holidays, it might well be a good little book to enjoy, snuggled in under the duvet with a mug of hot cocoa.
And being a small hardback, it will be a neat little Christmas stocking filler for fans of the ghost story genre.

Disclosure: I received this book for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are mine.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Leek, mushrooms and cranberry gratinata

Today I went to M&S to pick up the turkey crown I've ordered for Christmas. To say it was crowded would be an understatement. And of all days the tills in the whole shop were playing up, with one till refusing to process cards after another. I came home battered and grumpy. When I arrived home, our Christmas fruit and veg box arrived from Abel & Cole. I looked at the lovely vegetables and decided to cook an Italian-inspired dish of leek gratinata, with mushrooms and Grana Padano cheese.

Leek, mushrooms and cranberry gratinata
77g pancetta cubes
3tbsp + olive oil
3 leeks
200g brown button mushrooms
1tsp dried thyme and basil
4tbsp single cream
a handful of dried cranberries
60g Grana Padano
a handful of pine nuts

Start frying pancetta cubes in the olive oil. Add finely sliced leeks, fry stirring for 5 minutes. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook for another few minutes, stirring. Season with salt and dried herbs.
Put the leek and mushroom mix as well as dried cranberries into a deep ceramic roasting dish, pour the single cream over it. Scatter the grated Grana Padano cheese and cook at 180C for 10 minutes, until the cheese has melted. Add a handful of pine nuts in the last couple of minutes of cooking. Serve hot with a nice crusty bread.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Christmas Trooper cake from Baker Days

These days you cannot escape Star Wars, even if you tried hard. Star Wars merchandise is just everywhere, from toy shops to supermarkets. My younger son is absolutely thrilled (and he wants everything). I have bought him a Lego Star Wars advent calendar as well as a couple of smaller Lego sets for Christmas. When I saw that Baker Days offer two super Star Wars cake designs for Christmas, I knew my guys would be more than happy to try them.

Choosing a right cake to order is a serious business, and Eddie and I were pondering the benefits of two possible candidates - Christmas Trooper or Disturbing Lack of Cheer. Having chosen our favourite design, we looked at the choice of flavours - vanilla sponge, chocolate chip sponge, fruit cake, gluten free cake and dairy free cake.
With us being a family of chocoholics though we knew that we wanted a chocolate chip sponge.
We also added a personalisation to the funny slogan on the cake.
Our order arrived very fast. It being a Letterbox cake, it came in a flat sturdy box. The cake was in a pretty tin, with some candles, a cute little card and balloons.
The cake arrived in pristine condition. The tin keeps it in good shape, and though the box fell on the floor through the letterbox, the icing wasn't cracked anywhere.

Eddie was ecstatic. He loved the design, loved seeing his name on the cake and loved all the little extras (did I mention it already that he loved it?!).
It felt almost a shame to cut this super cake into slices.

The cake itself was lovely, moist and chocolatey with a soft icing. As you can imagine, it didn't last long. Both of my sons enjoyed it very much. I had only a very small piece. The cake is quite thin, it is basically one-layer cake, that's why it could fit through the letter box.

If Star Wars leave you indifferent, Baker Days has an enviable choice of different designs for different occasions and celebrations. It is probably a tad late to order a cake for Christmas, but there's a new year's celebration coming very soon. And if you're a Star Wars fan, I don't think you need an excuse to order a themed cake. May the Cake be with you!

For cake news and information check out Baker Days on Facebook or follow Baker Days on Twitter.

Disclosure: I received the cake for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are my family's and mine.