Monday, 28 March 2016

Coconut and curry chicken soup

A few weeks ago a surprise packet was delivered with a set of curry spices from . It came straight from amazon, without any note or explanation. I emailed the Steenbergs Organic team, asking if they posted it to me for reviewing (sometimes I do get surprise packages from brands I worked with, but not on this occasion), they knew nothing about it. Maybe I have entered a competition a long time ago, and forgot all about it? Possible, but googling for a relevant competition didn't bring any results. I still don't know who has sent it to me or why, but thank you, whoever posted it.

You might have been slaving half a day yesterday, cooking an Easter feast. And if you fancy something light and easy-peasy today, why don't you make a quick curried chicken or turkey soup with the roast leftovers?

Coconut and curry chicken soup
about 180-200g of chopped chicken leftovers + a carcass for the stock
1 carrot
1 leek
1 clove of garlic
1tbsp butter
1tbsp garam masala spice
a handful of basmati and wild rice
2 small potatoes
1 small jar of coconut cream
sea salt

Put the chicken carcass and chopped leftovers in a medium sized pan, pour hot water over them and start simmering on low. Peel and chop a carrot, and finely slice a leek and a clove of garlic. Fry them with a bit of butter for 5-7 minutes, add the garam masala spice, keep stirring. Remove the carcass from the stock and discard. Add the veggies to the cooking stock. Peel and chop potatoes, add to the soup, cook for 10-15 minutes until the potatoes are soft. Add a jar of coconut cream, season with salt.
Serve hot, with a sprinkling of spring onions.
This is a light and very tasty soup. If you don't have garam masala, I think any mild (or hot, if you prefer) curry powder will be as good.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Easter menu

Last Easter we invited our friends over for lunch. I cooked the starters and main, and they brought with them a couple of desserts. I never had a chance to blog about that lunch, so here it is, our Easter menu from last year. This year it will be completely different, as my mother-in-law will be cooking, and for once I will be excused from the kitchen.
Looking at the folder of photos, we had a couple of starters - apricot bites with blue cheese and a smoked trout pate.

Apricot bites are a lovely starter, great with drinks. Serve on a pretty dish or tray and pass around while chatting to your guests.
Mash some creamy blue cheese like gorgonzola or cambozola with a bit of runny honey, place about 1tsp of the cheese on each dried apricot, drizzle with more honey and that's it.
You can add some chopped nuts too, like pistachios or walnuts, but I cannot recall now if I actually added any that time.

The second starter was a simple but delicious smoked trout pate, served with pickled and fresh cucumbers as well as sliced ciabatta bread. Remove the skin off two smoked trout fillets, and mash with a fork, season well with salt and black pepper. Add about 2/3 of a pack of cream cheese (I used light Philadelphia), 1tbsp fresh flat leaf parsley, zest of 1 lemon and juice of 1/2 lemon (add a bit at a time, don't use all juice if it becomes too sloppy) and mix well.

Our main was a roast turkey crown. It was a saffron-flavoured crown, roasted with streaky pancetta.
If you are interested in how to cook it, have a look at my old post Saffron turkey.

The roast was accompanied by roasted potatoes, carrots in maple syrup, parsnips and a gluten free stuffing made with pancetta, parmesan and pine nuts.

A fresh salad made from sliced blood oranges is a perfect palate refresher after a meat course. Red oranges were sliced and marinated in orange juice with a bit of caster sugar and ginger syrup.

Our friends also brought a homemade tiramisu (even the lady fingers were home-made from gluten free flour). It was totally divine.

If you are a traditionalist, you would probably indulge in a good serving of a Simnel cake or hot cross buns.
I have never baked a proper Simnel cake, but if you would like to try baking your own, check out a recipe for Simnel cake at Dragons and Fairy Dust or Simnel cake at Attachment Mummy.

Simnel cake, as cooked at Cogges Manor Farm

And of course a festive meal wouldn't be a feast without a cheese platter with fresh fruit, oatcakes and bread. However full you are, there is always space for a bite of cheese, isn't there?!

What are you cooking for Easter, a traditional British dinner or a mix-and-match of cuisines and dishes?

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Gluten free stuffing

A good festive roast is often accompanied by a generous helping of stuffing.

This is the recipe I cooked last Easter when we had guests over for lunch. One of our friends is on a gluten free diet, so I had to rethink the usual stuffing with breadcrumbs. It is not an Italian recipe as such, but it is inspired by Italian flavours and includes pancetta and Parmesan.

Gluten free stuffing
77g cubed pancetta (1 half-pack)
1 big red onion
4tbsp olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
50g pine nuts
80g parmesan, grated
150g bread (Glitafin part baked fibre rolls, cubed)
4tbsp flat leaf parsley
2tbsp fresh sage and rosemary, finely chopped
zest of 1 lemon
2 medium eggs

Fry pancetta cubes in the olive oil for 5-7 minutes, then remove into a mixing bowl with a slotted spoon. Fry the finely chopped onion and garlic for 5 minutes in the pancetta fat. Then add pine nuts and cook for another couple of minutes, stirring occasionally.
In a big mixing bowl mix the pancetta, onion, garlic, pine nuts, grated parmesan, cubed gluten free bread or rolls, finely chopped herbs, zest of 1 lemon and 2 medium eggs.
Spoon the contents into an oiled baking dish. Bake for half an hour at 180C. Cover with foil if it starts browning too much.
Serve hot.
It's a delicious stuffing, with lots of flavours and textures. If you don't need a gluten free recipe, swap the GF rolls for a good chunky bread.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

The Black Farmer giveaway (c/d 20 April 2016)

To celebrate a new The Black Farmer TV commercial shown in a few days' time, lovely people from The Black Farmer have offered an exciting prize to my blog readers - The Black Farmer cookbook and £5 voucher which you can spend on the delicious TBF sausages, burgers, cheese or other produce.

We have recently tested The Black Farmer Cheddar, and it got thumbs up from all of us.
If like me, you collect cook books, The Black Farmer cookbook might be a wonderful addition to your collection.
(I usually buy books from The Book People or in charity shops, then hide them around the house, and pretend they've always been there. My husband grumbles occasionally, but I'd say half-heartedly, as he's as guilty as me when it comes to books (albeit not cook books).)

To be in with a chance of winning, please enter via the Rafflecopter form.

The giveaway is open to the UK residents only.
Once the Rafflecopter picks the winner, I will contact them regarding address details, if they do not reply within 28 days, the prize will be allocated to another person.
Please don't forget to leave a comment, as it is the only mandatory step, I will make sure the winner selected by Rafflecopter has complied with T&Cs.

The giveaway will close on 20 April 2016 (at midnight)

Good luck!
  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Roar into action with The Half Shell Heroes

The Half Shell Heroes Blast to the Past are a range of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toys by Playmates Toys. They are collectable items for a younger generation of TMNT fans, like my 5-year-old son Eddie who wants to be a Ninja Turtle when he grows up. The latest addition to the range are half-shell heroes with prehistoric pets. Hurrah, that's two of our favourite things together!
You might have seen them in the Nickelodeon TV special aired on the 31st of January on Nick Tooms. 

The fearsless TMNT heroes are going back in time for the ultimate rumble in the jungle. Apparently they must stop a sinister alien dino race from changing the Earth's future forever.
The range is pretty impressive. We received T-Rex with Donnie and Stagosaurus with Mikey, but you can also find such fun combos as Pterodactyl with Raph, Robo Raptor with Triceraton as well as beaddies Shredder, Beebop and Rocksteady..
The toys are very colourful and bright. Dinosaurs look rather cute than scary.

T-Rex with Donnie: Donnie is riding his not so fierce looking T-Rex into battle, chomping down on bad guys. This set includes an exclusive Donnie figure. T-Rex's jaws open and close.
My son was very enthusiastically playing with both sets we received, and told me he wants to expand his collection. 

Stegosaurus with Mikey: Mikey rides a stegosaurus. When you press the button, the tail slashes.
These toys are cute and encourage imaginative play.

TNMT fans are eagerly anticipating a second movie release on 30 May 2016. Get in the spirit with the latest new movie based figures - ranging from the four brothers to Splinter, Shredder and Casey Jones. They are sculpted in a new style true to the characters of the film. 
Start collecting 11 figures now -  my son calls them goodies and baddies. I can just envisage trips with my son to the toy shops ahead, now that the Easter holidays are starting very soon.

Disclosure: we received two toy sets from the range for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are Eddie's and mine.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Cranberry sauce

Cranberry sauce is not just for Christmas. Any roast could be accompanied by the sweet tangy lush sauce, enhanced by the orange zest, spices and alcohol. For years I have been making cranberry sauce with fresh or frozen cranberries and port, and the result was always a satisfying ruby red preserve which works beautifully with any roast meat - either red or white.
Last year, before Christmas, I was looking for something a little bit different, when I came across Nigel Slater's cranberry sauce.

He suggests using white wine instead of the usual port and orange juice. Following Nigel's advice, I used a dry white wine as suggested  but did add a few spices.
The sauce was less sweet but delicious, light and fruity.
As fresh cranberries are sold in the UK only around Christmas, just use the frozen cranberries.
You will need 250g of cranberries, defrosted. Place the cranberries in a pan with 100ml white wine, 100g caster sugar, 50ml orange juice, a few cloves and a cinnamon stick, bring to the boil. Zest the orange and add the zest to the sauce. Simmer gently for 10 minutes, remove from the heat and spoon in a sterilised Kilner jar. Once cooled, put the jar in the fridge.
This sauce will keep in the fridge for a week or more.

So, if you plan a grand roast for your Easter lunch or dinner, try this cranberry sauce recipe.
It is delicious with roast turkey sandwiches as well as with cold ham cuts.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Teksta newborn puppy

"Mummy, this puppy is so cute, I want to squeeze him!"

Micro pet robots are all the rage these days. A new generation of micro pet robots has been launched recently. It is supposed to be more interactive and animated than ever before.
Newborn Teksta Puppy from Character Online is a super sweet and adorable baby robot. It responds to your voice, physical gestures, lights and sounds.

You could ask the Puppy to sit, walk, beg, jump and sing.

The toy comes in a small box, and requires 2 AAA batteries (not included).
When you want to play, switch the power key on his tummy. It might be advisable to read the instructions as to which leg positions are correct for a jumping mode or singing mode.

It has quite a high-pitched voice, but then many puppies make the same sounds, and they don't have a switch off button. My son enjoyed playing with it, but after a while, I had to ask him to move to another room, as I found the barking too annoying loud.

Pros: it is an absolutely cute and small toy, so can be easily carried around; it has a cool modern design.
Cons: not as interactive as you'd like it to be; not the most pleasant voice, and its ears seem to have a life of their own, and keep falling off.
The toy is suitable for children aged 3+, but with its ears falling off you need to make sure there are no babies or toddlers around who might be tempted to put the fallen bits in their mouth.
This toy might make a lovely present for a techie-minded child.
If you are a cat-person, there is also a Teksta Newborn Kitten available at The Character online.

Disclosure: we received the toy for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are Eddie's and mine.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Cirio giveaway (c/d 12 April 2016)

When I read Carluccio's quote on Cirio's website: "We Italians talk about food all times, even while sitting at the table...", I thought that it's not just the Italians. My auntie and Grandma were exactly the same, domestic Goddesses from the Southern Russia (though not as svelte as Nigella). At breakfast time there would invariably be a very important discussion on what to cook for lunch, then at lunch time - what to prepare for dinner etc etc. And just like the Italians, they used a lot of tomatoes in their cooking, both fresh produce from their kitchen garden as well as canned and tinned. I think my family and Carluccio have a lot in common. Not surprising that I enjoy cooking and talking about food.
Last week I posted a couple of recipes using Cirio tomato products (see my recipes for Fruity pork stew and Chicken and chickpea curry).
If you enjoy cooking and eating tomato-based dishes, you might like to enter a Cirio giveaway on my blog.

One lucky winner will receive a selection of Cirio tomato products - chopped, passata, puree, peeled plum, pomodorini; a Cirio apron, scented recipe booklet, a cute tomato keyring and a trolley disc.

To be in with a chance of winning, please enter via the Rafflecopter form.

The giveaway is open to the UK residents only.
Once the Rafflecopter picks the winner, I will contact them regarding address details, if they do not reply within 28 day, the prize will be allocated to another person.
Please don't forget to leave a comment, as it is the only mandatory step, I will make sure the winner selected by Rafflecopter has complied with T&Cs.

The giveaway will close on 12 April 2016 (at midnight)

Good luck!
  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Photo diary: week 11, 366

Another week has whizzed by, not the best in our lives. Eddie was jolly and happy all Sunday, we even went to the cinema to see Kung Fu Panda 3 which we both enjoyed. The only snap I took that day was this smudgy picture on my mobile, taken in the cinema foyer.

 ...then the next morning Eddie woke up very lethargic, and when he didn't even want to watch TV in the morning before school, I knew he was unwell. I decided to watch him and keep at home. He later had a very high temperature, so my worries were confirmed. I didn't venture beyond the garden, and this crocus has caught my eye.

Last autumn Mum planted a few hyacinths in our garden, and this bright blue flower is like a greeting from her.

On Wednesday Eddie was still at home, though mostly recovered and quite restless for being cooped up at home for a few days. I baked some cheese straws with Cheddar and paprika.

My older son turned 14 on Thursday. I sent him to school with a big Batman vs Superman cake along with some sweets and chocolates, but also wanted to bake a cake for us at home. He is rather fond of a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and absolutely loves jelly bellies, so his birthday cake just that - a carrot cake with jelly bellies.

The Moon on Thursday was seen so clearly that I managed to capture its "spots" quite well, even with my camera, without any telescopic abilities and gizmos. (Posting two photos done on Thursday, as on Friday I went to a funeral service of my dear friend, and I wasn't in the mood to take any photos on that sad day).

Today we all popped into our usual Costa for a cup of latte (for the grown-ups) and cakes with soft drinks for boys. Then off we went different ways, Eddie and I to do grocery shopping, having a peek at some soft toys in a gift shop on the way. Eddie gave a hug to a soft Po toy, but I didn't buy it. Our house is overflowing with soft toys as it is. (And Po looks a bit deranged in a soft toy presentation, don't you think?!).

TheBoyandMe's 366 Linky

Friday, 18 March 2016

Kung Fu Panda 3 (review)

Last Sunday Eddie and I went to see Kung Fu Panda 3. We met with one of Eddie's friends and his Mum at the cinema. I braced myself to endure 90 minutes of boredom (last time I went with my son's school to watch the musical Annie, I nearly died of boredom). Since I haven't seen KFP 1 or 2, I didn't know what to expect. I thought I'd just read my ebook on iphone.
After almost half an hour of ads (who thought a long ad on the latest i-gadgets is appropriate for young kids?!), the film started. At first I was quite bewildered. It seemed a rather sophisticated concept for little people. I confess I was hooked.
The film begins with the most bizarre scene of a demon yak in the Otherworld or some universe of the spirit world. He swings his jade axes (or are they knives?) on long chains, trying to capture the chi of the ancient tortoise Master Oogway.
In the "real" world panda Po, an endearing goofball, is propelled into an unenviable position of a Kung Fu teacher. Everyone including himself (well, apart from Master Shifu) thinks it is not a good idea.
This dumpling-munching-kung-fu-fighting hero is the true star of the film.
He is reunited with his long lost father, and goes in search of his panda identity. There are some hilarious scenes which made us laugh aloud.

We watched this animation in 2d, as I didn't think Eddie would be happy to endure wearing the 3d glasses for 90 minutes, but this animation is available in 3D as well.
When our young friend decided to leave half-way through the film because he was scared, I asked Eddie if he wanted to stay, secretly hoping that he didn't want to leave as well. No, thanks goodness, he wanted to stay and watch the film to the very end. He didn't even want to leave when the final film credits were rolling and people started to leave the cinema hall en masse.
Eddie asked me to buy him a DVD of this animation as soon as it is out. And in the last few days he's been glued to the TV, watching Kung Fu Panda on Netflix.
The animation in KFP3 is very impressive. The imaginary universe is populated with antropomorphic animals who behave just like humans. It is funny and sweet, and has super action scenes.
This flamboyant animation will appeal to both children and grown-ups.

Disclosure: both images and the trailer are reproduced courtesy of Dreamworks.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

The Black Farmer Sweet Mature Cheddar

The Black Farmer sausages of the legendary fame are appreciated in many meat-loving families throughout the UK. But did you know that this super brand has launched a new cheese?
Black Farmer Sweet Mature Cheddar is a welcome addition to the tasty range.

This cheese has been traditionally handmade in the West Country, and promises "the strength you would expect from mature Cheddar but with real depth of flavour and a delicious, sweet finish".
The Black Farmer Sweet Mature Cheddar uses 100% British milk. It is currently available in selected Asda stores in 400g blocks (at £3).

We are rather fond of a mature Cheddar. My younger son used to nibble on strong cheese as a mere tot. I'm glad to say, at 5 he is still enjoying cheese as much.
We all thought Sweet Mature Cheddar was delicious, both as nibbles with grapes and figs and oatcakes, and in sandwiches too (like a sandwich below, with Cheddar, cold beef, mustard and rocket).

I imagine it would be a good choice for a Ploughman's lunch, served with little pearly pickled onions and apple chutney, or onion marmalade.

I also made a small batch of cheese straws with this cheese.
You will need 100g self-raising flour, 50g grated Cheddar, 50g margarine, an egg yolk, a good pinch of salt and paprika. Mix well, roll the dough on a flour-dusted surface, cut into sticks about 10cm in length and 1cm in width. Bake on a tray, covered with foil, for 12-14 minutes at 180C.
For an extra crunchy texture, dip the unbaked sticks into a beaten egg yolk and then sesame seeds. I didn't have any sesame seeds left, so mine are just plain.
They are quick and easy to make.

We enjoyed The Black Farmer Sweet Mature Cheddar, and hope that this foray in the dairy won't stop with one kind of cheese.

Disclosure: I received a block of cheese for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are mine.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Apple raisin chutney

Whatever meal you are cooking at Easter, a nice jar of chutney will never go amiss with any of the roast leftovers or a cheese platter.
Add a bit of booze for an extra festive touch. I used a small bottle of grappa in this recipe. I don't remember how it happened to be in our house. Most likely a small gift. If you don't have grappa, swap it for brandy, or skip altogether.
I like a touch of alcohol in marmalades (whisky flavoured Seville orange marmalade anyone?!) and chutneys; after cooking the alcohol evaporates, giving a stronger more intense flavour to the finished product.

Apple raisin chutney
about 1kg of apples, preferably a tart variety
2 medium red onions, finely chopped
200g raisins
1tsp sea salt
juice of 1/2 lemon
1tbsp mustard seeds
1tsp ground ginger
1tsp ground cloves
500g brown sugar
250ml malt vinegar
40ml grappa (optional)

Peel and core the apples and cut into chunks. Put the apples, finely chopped red onions, raisins, lemon juice, salt, mustard seeds, ground ginger and cloves. brown sugar and malt vinegar in a medium sized pan. Bring to the boil, simmer on low for an hour. Add the grappa in the last 15 minutes of cooking.
Cook simmering until thick. Pour into sterilised jam/chutney jars and cover with lids.
Ideally store for about a month for flavours to develop, but if you can't wait, even a week is fine. I'm actually quite happy to eat it in cheese sandwiches the next day after cooking.
It will keep in the fridge for 3+ months, maybe longer, but I cannot vouch for that, as I cook small batches, and they usually get eaten fast enough.

In this recipe I used a bottle of Sarson's malt vinegar, which you might find in the latest Degustabox delivery.