Thursday, 26 February 2015

Ragged Rose Aprons Giveaway (E: 27 March 2015)

I love my aprons, and have quite an extensive collection, mostly branded aprons which I have won through the years or received as freebies at the food shows. Some are pretty, some less so but they are functional and protect me from the mess. I am a messy cook, with the flour flying like a cloud, sauces spilling and crumbs getting everywhere. Plus there is a big stash of mixing bowls and pans after each baking session, but then I am the one who cleans the mess, so nobody can complain really. If you want to look pretty in the kitchen, Ragged Rose is a home and gift brand of dazzling colours and fetching designs. Think vintage look, stylish, retro floral prints and plains textiles.
This range has been created by Dawn Rose in 2010, who was inspired by her garden summer house and all the vibrant colours of summer flowers and blooms.
If like me, you enjoy wearing aprons while cooking, you have a chance of winning a set of two 50s inspired retro aprons from Ragged Rose - one child's and one adult's aprons.
The winner will be able to choose aprons which they prefer.

Image credit: Ragged Rose
The image is for illustration purposes only, as the winner will have a choice of aprons

Image credit: Ragged Rose
To be in with a chance of winning, please enter a Rafflecopter gadget.
Only the first step is mandatory: all you need is answer the question by leaving a comment (if you login as Anonymous, please leave you Twitter name or Facebook name, so that I could identify you, I do not suggest leaving the email address in the comment)
All the other steps are optional, you don't have to do them all. All it takes to win is just one entry. 
Only one entry per person is allowed (however, you can tweet daily to increase your chances). 
The giveaway is open to the UK residents only. Once the Rafflecopter picks the winner, I will check if they have done what was requested. I will contact the winner, if they do not reply within 28 days, the prize will be allocated to another person. 
I will pass on the winner's details to Ragged Rose PR who will dispatch the prize.
The giveaway ends on 8 March 2015 (midnight).

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Spring bloom giveaway (c/d 28 March 2015)

Just because it finally feels like a spring day today and because of my birthday this weekend, I wanted to offer a giveaway to my lovely blog readers. I have selected a few items from brands which I personally enjoy. It hasn't been endorsed by any brands.
Let's just say I was in a mood to run a giveaway.
One lucky winner will receive the following selection:
No.7 Bloom Gift box - which contains No.7 Instant Illusions Airbrush away primer; no.7 High shine lip crayon daydreamer or delicate pink; no.7 Lovely lashes mascara black and no.7 Stay perfect eye shadow middle shade from In The Navy trio;
Heston from Waitrose chocolate box (mini-selection of four luscious flavours - fruity mandarin caramel, retro black forest gateau; thyme and rosemary & nutty macadamia praline).
Sweet Pea fragranced tealights from Royal Horticultural Society.

To be in with a chance of winning, please fill in the Rafflecopter gadget.
Only the first step is mandatory: all you need is answer the question by leaving a comment (if you login as Anonymous, please leave you Twitter name or Facebook name, so that I could identify you, I do not suggest leaving the email address in the comment)
All the other steps are optional, you don't have to do them all. All it takes to win is just one entry. 
Only one entry per person is allowed (however, you can tweet daily to increase your chances). 
The giveaway is open to the UK residents only. Once the Rafflecopter picks the winner, I will check if they have done what was requested. I will contact the winner, if they do not reply within 28 days, the prize will be allocated to another person. 
I will send the prize as signed for. If Royal Mail fails to deliver, I'm afraid I won't be able to find a substitute (No.7 gift set is currently on promotion at Boots). If this happens, I will fill in the Royal Mail form the size of War and Peace, but I wouldn't hold my breath that they would rush to do a refund.
The giveaway ends on 28 March 2015 (midnight).

Good luck!

  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, 23 February 2015

Personalised chocolate bars from Chocolat Chocolat

personalised chocolate bar

Independent chocolatier Chocolat Chocolat was opened in Cambridge in 1999, and though I visited Cambridge that year for the conference Russia before Millennium, to which my husband was invited, I missed the chocolate shop. More's the pity! I would have loved a good browsing and tasting session.
It was voted Cambridge's favourite chocolate shop, and seeing the images online, I can well believe it. The shop is famous for its handmade sheet chocolate, which is produced with the finest Belgian chocolate according to the French traditions of chocolate-making.
Chocolatier Isabelle has learnt her craft in Paris and Belgium, which she often visits, looking for more exciting flavours and ingredients.
As someone who is addicted to chocolate, I rejoiced at the chance of testing and reviewing three personalised chocolate bars from Chocolat Chocolat.

personalised chocolate bars

How does it work? To create your own bar, first you need to choose a chocolate type from 5 options: dark (70%), dark (55%), milk (34%), caramel (34%) or white (28%).
Then you choose toppings. If you are not sure what to pick from a big list of ingredients, you press the button "Show me" and get a few suggested combinations. Or you could create your own ingredients' combination from a big selection of fruit (candied lemon or orange peel, raisins, freeze dried raspberries and more), nuts (flaked or whole almonds, praline, pecans, pistachios etc), spices herbs, flowers (cinnamon, cardamom, cocoa nibs, coffee grains, lavender, fennel etc),  confectionery (chocolate buttons, honeycomb, fudge, meringue etc), decoration (gold and silver flakes).
You can also add some wording if you like.
I was amazed to read that with the whole range of toppings and bases you can create up to 200,000 different combinations. That is very impressive. Cannot complain about the choice.
Placing an order is an easy process.

My first choice was a white chocolate bar with sea salt, chopped pistachio and whole hazelnuts. Over a year ago we bought some Italian chocolate bar from Venchi, with whole hazelnuts, pistachios and almonds, and though usually I am not very keen on white chocolate, it was delicious. My husband prefers white chocolate, and my little man loves it too. So, my choice was inspired by the Italian flavours.
What did we think of it? It looked very pretty and stylish. The chocolate is a solid thick block, covered with nuts. Sea salt adds a savoury touch to the sweet chocolate. Each bar comes in a stylish brown card sleeve.
I would have liked more than four hazelnuts and slightly less sweet chocolate. But overall, I was pleased with my choice of toppings to go with the base.

If you read my blog regularly, you know how much I love Earl Grey tea. It was natural that I would choose Earl Grey as one of the ingredients for the dark chocolate bar (though I confess, I expected it to be a flavour rather than the actual tea leaves). Candied orange peel and lavender flowers were the other two toppings. Both of these ingredients work well with the dark chocolate. And it looked gorgeous too.

A beautiful bar, which I enjoyed, but yet again, I would have liked a less sweet dark chocolate base. I like my dark chocolate almost bitter. All three bars which I have ordered were a tad too sweet for me.
It is a matter of personal taste, of course, but maybe something to add to the initial choice of bars? Something like choose the sweetness level.

My top favourite bar was dark chocolate with rose and violet petals and gold flakes. It looked glorious, like a 19C shawl. Flower petals were candied and added a splash of colour to the dark background.

As my birthday is coming later this month, I asked for a Happy birthday message on the bar.

I love the idea of customised personalised chocolate, where you can choose any toppings you like.

Personalised chocolate bars from Chocolat Chocolat will make beautiful gifts for any occasion - birthday, Mother's day, Easter.

Disclosure: I received three chocolate bars for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are mine.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Photo diary: week 8, 365

February 15: After winning Waterstone's drawing competition, Eddie is very enthusiastic about entering more competitions. I suggested he should do a drawing of Spidey for Sipderman magazine. We do a parallel drawing session. Eddie sits next to me and watches how I draw, and repeats on his own piece of paper, bit by bit, copying. He's good at copying, but otherwise cannot draw free-hand yet.

February 16: I have been busy making a pancake recipe post before Pancake day. This was a kefir pancake with baked apricots, mascarpone and maple syrup, and very tasty it was indeed.

February 17: On Tuesday Eddie had a play date at his friend Nathan's house. We had a lovely lunch together and admired their enormous garden. Eddie enjoyed a ride on Nathan's bike.

February 18: A parcel arrived from Italy with coats for both boys. Eddie of course had to try his duffle coat on. He was in a very giggly mood and I couldn't catch him standing still.

February 19: In the morning I took Sasha to the Guideposts activities at school, he was relaxed and happy to go there. I took a quick snap of my elusive boy. He's almost a teen now, and as tall as me.

February 20: Tasting and testing some chocolate from Chocolat, Chocolat. Of the three customised bars, the dark chocolate one with candied rose petals, violets and gold specks was my favourite, though I would still have preferred a less sweet chocolate. It would have been much better bitter and truly dark.

February 21: A bit of a disaster day. Sasha got very unsettled in the morning and managed to break a window glass in the attic room. Thanks goodness, he didn't hurt himself. Eddie's a poorly boy today, in bed with high temperature, watching his favourite Ninja turtles and toys videos on his ipad. And my husband is travelling to Rome, so I am left on my own to deal with all the disasters.

TheBoyandMe's 365 Linky

Friday, 20 February 2015

Energy monitoring with OWL micro+

Are you dreading this winter heating bills? We live in a 250+ years old house, and while it might be pretty, it gets very cold in winter. Anything helpful to cut down on the bills is welcome.
Last year Zenith Home, home efficiency specialists, launched an online educational hub with easy-to-follow advice on the energy saving techniques, tips and products which help the consumers to understand how to take control of the energy consumption. They also sent me an energy saving kit including an energy monitoring device OWL micro+.

It comes in a sturdy box and consists of two units - Transmitter and Display (plus the batteries).
As soon as I opened the instructions, I sighed. It might be easy for techie people but for me it might as well have been written in a foreign language altogether. I had to read the manual twice at least.

Actually setting it up was not that bad, you insert the batteries, place the units into a pairing mode, set the time and cost and energy displays. So far so good.
Connecting the sensor over the insulated live cable was quite tricky. Our cables coming from the meter are very close to each other, and fitting the sensor over was not so easy. As the meter is situated in a small cupboard in the hall, fitting the sensor further away along the live cable is impossible, it is all covered apart from those bits which are visible in the cupboard.

But it has to be clamped around the live wire so as to "read" the information on usage through the plastic insulation.
Once the fitting's done, it starts working and displays the amount of electricity in use since the time of the setup.

This little gadget is good for raising awareness of your energy consumption, In the first week, I kept checking it to see what "eats" the most electricity and figure out the ways to decrease it.
I discovered that a hand blender, for example, costs about 1p per quick job, boiling a kettle is about 15p, making a toast is about 1p...

Though it helps you understand what consumes the most energy in your house, I have already had a good sense of what the main culprits could be. I knew the washing machine eats lots of energy, but there is not much I can do about it. I already use it on lower-temperature setting, but I cannot use it less often than I do. The same goes for the heating, it is very pricey but unavoidable in our circumstances unless we want to live in a cold mausoleum.

Some devices don't register separately, so the gadget is not 100% responsive or accurate, for example, if I have two or one bulbs on in the room, the reading seems to be exactly the same. It is also tricky sometimes to figure out how much each gadget is costing, if like in my kitchen the kettle is just next to the heater unit, and if both are on, then, the price shows for both gadgets.

Overall, it raises awareness of the energy consumption and gives a pretty good insight into how much power you use on a daily basis.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Pancakes with apricots and mascarpone

Pancake day is almost here, and the Internet is buzzing with the pancake recipes and serving suggestions. There's even a cyberspace rivalry challenge Maple syrup versus Lemon juice and sugar (just follow the hashtag #MapleVLemon). Being the maple syrup camp follower, I'm happy to use the maple syrup in both sweet and savoury pancakes. To encourage me to make more pancakes, lovely people from Clarks Marple Syrup sent me a big bottle of their maple syrup.
I have posted a savoury pancake recipe earlier today. Now it's the turn of the sweet pancakes with apricots and mascarpone.

Pancake day recipe

Pancakes with apricots and mascarpone
6 apricots
1tsp apricot kernel oil (or any mild vegetable oil)
2tbsp maple syrup
for batter:
2 medium eggs
100ml kefir
200ml milk
100g plain flour
1tbsp sugar
1tbsp apricot kernel oil
for the filling:
mascarpone cheese and maple syrup (1 heaped tbsp of cream cheese + 1tsp maple syrup per pancake)
icing sugar (optional)

Apricots baked with the maple syrup
Halve the apricots and discard stones. Place them in a baking tray, and drizzle with the apricot kernel oil and maple syrup. Roast at 180C for 25+ minutes, until soft but not mushy.
Make the batter by beating the eggs with the milk, kefir, flour, oil and sugar. The batter has to be smooth.
I buy a Polish kefir from Tesco (Mlekovita). Kefir is quite popular in Russia as an ingredient for baking and making pancakes. It adds a light note of acidity and lightness to the pancakes. If you don't have kefir, use 300ml of milk and a couple of tablespoons of Greek style yogurt or even plain yogurt.
Fry each pancake for about 3+ minutes on each side. This batter makes thin crepe-style pancakes, which are perfect for being filled with whatever delectable foods you fancy.

Pancake day recipe

Mix the mascarpone cheese with maple syrup. Spoon it on top of each pancake, add a few apricot halves, fold the pancake. Dust with a bit of icing sugar and enjoy.
This is truly a heavenly combination of flavours.

Pancake day recipe

Yet if you don't fancy this filling, or don't have time to faff with the apricots, just make the pancakes and drizzle with the maple syrup or honey. Less ingredients, but as tasty.

Disclosure: as mentioned in the previous post, I received a bottle of maple syrup and subsidiary fees to buy the ingredients in order to do two pancakes recipe posts. All opinions are mine.

And if you fancy more pancake recipes, have a look at these mouth-watering creations -

Choclette from Chocolate Log Blog made lush Spiced Kefir Pancakes with Manuka Honey and Creme Fraiche Chocolate Sauce;

Janice from Farmersgirl Kitchen cooked delicious Cinnamon Spice Pancakes with Cinnamon Poached Plums;

Jacqueline from Tinned Tomatoes made a batch of lip-licking Chocolate Chip and Raisin Scotch pancakes;

Dom from Belleau Kitchen rocks with his Two-Ingredient Nutribullet Banana Pancakes.

Savoury beer pancakes with wild mushrooms and bacon

Pancake day recipe
Beer pancakes with wild mushrooms and bacon

I am always surprised when I read people saying on their blogs that they only eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. Why limit yourself to just once a year? Pancakes are a staple breakfast food in Russia, especially at the weekends. My guys love pancakes, and every Sunday is a pancake day in our family. They prefer the sweet varieties, topped up with sliced bananas, berries and cream. I love mine with honey or maple syrup. Savoury pancakes are also fabulous. Beer is one of the ingredients which adds a definite lightness and a savoury note to the pancakes.

Pancake day recipe

Beer pancakes (makes 6)
2 medium eggs
150ml beer
100g self-raising flour
a pinch of salt
butter, for frying

for the filling:
1tsp olive oil
100g cubed bacon
100g wild mushrooms
1tbsp maple syrup
1tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
100g mozzarella, cubed

Beat the eggs with the beer and flour, add a pinch of salt. The batter should be smooth. Pour a ladleful of batter into the buttered hot frying pan and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side. There's enough batter to make 6 pancakes.

Pancake day recipe, savoury pancake
Beer pancakes
Chop the bacon lardons into cubes, fry them in the frying pan with a bit of olive oil. After 3-4 inutes of add the chopped wild mushrooms and a tablespoon of maple syrup, as well as some fresh thyme. Cook for another 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn down the heat and add the cubed mozzarella. Divide the filling between the pancakes and fold each pancake in half.

Wild mushrooms + Mushrooms with bacon and mozzarella
Drizzle more maple syrup if you like. The sweetness of the syrup works well with the salty savoury flavours of the bacon and mushrooms.

I have been asked by Clarks Maple Syrup to come up with a recipe for Clarks Pancake Challenge. Well, I am definitely in the maple syrup camp. As much as I love lemons in cooking, for me classic pancakes with lemon juice and sugar are just too boring plain. If I fancy a simple version, I would opt for maple syrup, or honey. Or do it the Russian way, with the soured cream and sprinkled sugar.

For more pancake recipes and cooking inspiration, visit Clarks recipes page.

If you're in the pancakes-once-a-year group, make sure you cook the best ones. And don't worry about the flipping bit. In fact, I have read that it's only the rubbery pancakes which flip easily. You cannot flip a large thin crepe or Italian lacy crespelle without tearing it.
Whichever recipe you choose, have fun with your pancakes and stack them high!

Disclosure: I received a bottle of maple syrup and a subsidiary fee for buying the ingredients. All opinions are mine.

If you liked this recipe, you might be interested in the following recipes:
Pancakes for Findus
Ricotta pancakes

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Photo diary, week 7 (365)

February 8: the day before Eddie and I went to Oxford to meet the Honey Monster. We got a goodie bag with a soft cuddly Honey Monster, and Eddie's been playing with him.

February 9: the life of food bloggers - you test a meal for a special occasion in advance. I baked a Nutella cake on Monday to try the recipe for Valentine's day menu post. It was a decent chocolate cake, with a dash of whisky and orange zest.

February 10: the hazel in the tree is covered with catkins, Did you know that there are male and female catkins. The male ones are yellow long ones, the female are small, red and concealed in buds. That's a bit of a botany erotica for you.

February 11: My husband was a bit under the weather, and when he suggested having a hot drink together in the morning after taking Eddie to school, we popped into the local cafe and ordered a pot of Russian caravan tea. It was lovely, dense, malty and smokey.

cup of tea

February 12: I have been postponing doing the puzzle blog review, but finally had a chance to start working on it. This is a detail of The Red Box 1000-puzzle from Ravensburger.

February 13: Our garden starts to look prettier and prettier, with the snowdrops coming up in hordes.

spring flowers

February 14: I have posted a picture that Eddie drew for Mother's day competition at Waterstone's a while ago. Last week I had an email that his picture was one of 50 winners through the UK, and that it would be on display in the local book shop. He also won a £20 gift card, which he spent today on Lego toys. We went today to pick up the gift card, and the shop manager asked if they could take a picture of Eddie for their poster. I also snapped a photo of him beaming, holding the certificate and his winning picture. Way to go, my boy.

TheBoyandMe's 365 Linky

Valentine's day menu

How do you woo your amour on Valentine's day? Do you keep things simple and sweet with a box of chocolates, or do you go for a full Monty and cook a 3-course dinner? Or do you fancy recreating that famous food scene from Nine and a Half Weeks? You know, I have just watched it again on Youtube and enjoyed it as much as I did the first time. Oldies are always goldies.
While I might be showing my age by reference to 9 and 1/2 weeks, I like to make an effort and cook a special meal on Valentine's day.

Valentine's day dinner
Valentine's day menu

If you are looking for a menu which is easy and romantic, the Italian cuisine might be a source of inspiration. The Italians certainly know how to woo their loved ones with the most tantalising recipes. Take Caprese salad, what could be simpler than slicing tomatoes, mozzarella and tearing some basil leaves? Yet it's one of the most satisfying salads.
For my starter I prepared a light Caprese with a twist, as I also added a sliced blood orange to the classic ingredients. Don't knock it off before you tried it.

Italian salad, blood orange recipe
Caprese salad with blood orange

For a Caprese salad, slice the tomatoes and mozzarella cheese, as well as a blood orange. Arrange the slices so that overlap each other. Drizzle some olive oil, tear fresh basil leaves, season with a bit of pepper if you fancy.

Strawberry Spumante cocktail:
To put you in the romantic mood, how about a cocktail with fresh strawberries?
Whizz 4-5 big strawberries into a thick puree, pour 5tbsp of puree in each glass and top up with a sparkling wine. I used Rosamore Vino Spumante Rosato Brut, an Italian fresh pink sparkling wine. It is a lovely aperitif, fresh and fruity.

For a main course impress your love with a dish of duck breast served with a strawberry and blood orange salsa.
Duck with sweet and sour salsa is a winning combination.
Duck with strawberry and orange blood salsa
2 duck breasts, skin remove
1tsp grated ginger
juice and zest of 1 lime
1 garlic clove
sea salt
2tbsp olive oil

For the salsa:
2tbsp balsamic vinegar
juice of 1 lime
1tbsp maple syrup
a small punnet of strawberries
1 blood orange
a handful of pomegranates
1tbsp fresh thyme

First marinade two duck breasts in a mix of grated ginger (1tsp), juice and zest of 1 lime and 1 garlic clove, grated or pressed through the garlic press. Leave them in the marinade for an hour and a half or more.
Cook the breasts in the frying pan with the olive oil. I like my meat well done, so I don't give any suggestions on the time, it depends on how you like your meat.

Valentine's day recipe

Mix the balsamic vinegar with the maple syrup, zest and lime juice. Chop the strawberries and put in the bowl with the marinade. Remove the skin from the blood orange, slice it and put together with the berries. Add the pomegranate seeds and chopped thyme. Ideally the salsa should be left to infuse for a couple of hours. Give it an occasional stir.
Serve the duck breasts with the salsa spooned over.

blood orange

Chocolate for me is a final indulgence. This Nutella and whisky cake tastes divine and finishes the Valentine's day nicely.

chocolate cake
Nutella cake

Nutella cake
4 medium eggs
100g Nutella+ more for decorating
150g caster sugar
1tsp vanilla essence
3tbsp whisky
200g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
40g ground almonds
zest of 1 blood orange (optional)
100g butter, melted
Dr Oetker Shimmer spray gold and gold pearls (optional)
30+ minutes

Beat the eggs with Nutella and caster sugar. Add the vanilla essence, whisky, flour, baking powder, ground almonds, orange zest and melted butter, mix well. Pour in a heart-shaped cake tin. Bake at 180C for 30+ minutes.
Once cool to touch, spread some Nutella with a knife and smooth the surface. If you like, add a touch of glamour with Dr Oetker shimmer spray gold and gold pears, but this is optional.

chocolate cake

If you are full, and feel a bit of slumber, perk up yourself with a nice cup of latte or cappuccino, sprinkled with cocoa.

To help me cook my Valentine's day dinner, OXO sent three kitchen gadgets of my choice to play with. I love OXO Good Grips, and use all my products from the range regularly. If you visit my kitchen, you'll see that I constantly use OXO Good Grips herb mincer, measuring cup and juicer to name but a few.

My first choice was an OXO Good Grips 3-piece Berry Bowl and Colander set. This jolly colourful set is just the right size for rinsing berries, beans and more. The set comes as a nest for compact storage, it has a non-slip bottom. The set is very easy to clean. The colander has an elevated ring along its bottom, so it also stays stable on the working surface or in the sink when you wash the berris. The holes are elongated for efficient draining. There is a lid with seals the bowl for storing the food in the fridge.

I used the set for washing the strawberries for both the salsa and cocktail and used the bowl for preparing the salsa.

OXO Good Grips Simple Mandoline Slicer is an easy-to-use kitchen gadget. I have fancied a mandoline for a long time. You choose a thickness you need for the food you selected: three slice thickness setting, julienne setting and storage setting. The stainless steel blade is angled and cuts the foods into slices with ease. You hold your piece of fruit or vegetable with a spring-loaded food holder which has a big rim to protect fingers. Textured runway prevents food from sticking.
A soft handle is comfy and soft, plus the mandoline comes with non-slip feet which keep it stable.
Once you finished the job and cleaned the mandoline, its leg folds for compact storage.
I used the mandoline for preparing the salad.

Tomatoes sliced with a mandoline
And finally OXO Good Grips Baker's Dusting Wand is a cute little kitchen gadget. It is useful for flouring the cake tin evenly, for sprinkling surfaces for rolling the dough, and of course, for adding icing sugar to your baked goodies or sprinkling cinnamon or cocoa over cappuccino. It is very light. Twist the wand open, scoop some icing sugar or cinnamon, twist to close and dust whatever you fancy.

Disclosure: I received a selection of OXO Good Grips to prepare a menu for Valentine's day.