Saturday, 22 October 2016

Goosebumps DVD - scare yourself silly

We're discovered Goosebumps over a year ago on Netflix, and watched all of the old episodes in quick succession. We were binge-watching. I found them fascinating. They are really bizarre - most of the time there is no happy end at all, as you would expect in films for children. A boy is turned into a rabbit by the evil magician, and stays like that... Another boy "deletes" his nasty little sister from life by the use of the magic clock, travelling back in time... The family moves into what appears a haunted house but actually the whole town is populated with mutants...
The series based on R.L.Stine's books are pretty scary and disturbing. Eddie and I watched together, and often he moved to sit on my lap just in case.

The special effects are very dated but there is a certain charm in the lack of the latest technology. Being so simple, it makes it more sinister. Anyway, we enjoyed the bizarre world of Goosebumps, and were thrilled to find out that the feature film was coming on big screens and later DVDs.

Goosebumps film (2015) is based on the same book series as the original TV adaptations. It was directed by Rob Letterman and written by Darren Lemke. It stars Jack Black in a triple role, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush and others whom I've never heard of before either.
The story starts when a young teen Zach arrives to a small town with his Mum. He's unhappy to leave a big city, but quickly makes new friends at school, and also meets a pretty girl next door called Hannah.
Hannah's Dad is not happy about their friendship. Zach learns that the aggressive Dad is the famous author R.L.Stine who created the bestselling Goosebumps series.
Stine's imagination is so strong, that all the monsters he has created, come alive, and need to be kept locked in their books. Accidentally, the books get unlocked, and all the hell is unleashed...

There are the creepy gnomes, the Abominable Snowman, mutant plants, haunted car, Giant praying mantis, Slappy the Dummy and a lot of other evil characters... And the action kicks off...
Being fans of Goosebumps, we enjoyed the film. It's funny, entertaining, creative and will keep you on tenterhooks till the very end. And the delightful end promises the sequel.
If you haven't seen it yet, you might enjoy watching it during this midterm break week on the run to Halloween.

Earlier this year, in May, we took part in the Goosebumps Twitter party, when a whole lot of bloggers watched the film with their families at the same time, tweeting along their thoughts. It was great fun.
And we had our photos turned into movie posters too.

Are you going to watch any scary movies on Halloween?

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Snazaroo Halloween face paint kit

Face painting is a bit of a Marmite really. Some kids love it and couldn't have enough, throwing face paint birthday parties... Some kids hate it and wouldn't let anyone with a brush near their face. My younger son belongs to the not-so-enthusiastic camp.
Last year Mumsnet sent us a Snazaroo Halloween face paint kit to try at home. At first Eddie seemed quite keen to have a go, as there were big posters in the city centre, advertising the face painting booth just before Halloween.
But when the paints were delivered, it took me a lot of cajoling and even bribing him with a Lego toy to allow me to paint a mask on his face.

We had a long look online for any possible Halloween mask or character, and he rejected one after another, until we saw some kid with a Ninja Turtle face. That's sorted it then. He is a huge fan of ninja turtles, and we agreed to do a Donatello.

Halloween activities

The Halloween face paint kit includes a colour palette and a brush. The paints mix well with a bit of water. Don't add too much, or it will be watered down, and not as effective. Applied to skin, the paint gives a smooth and even coverage.
The choice of colours is not very varied, but you can mix them to achieve a desired effect.
The set comes with a book of instructions and ideas, but having a look at it, my son didn't fancy any of the suggested options.

The paint was easy to apply, but not so easy to remove. Though we managed to clear up most of it with a make-up remover lotion, the green left a yellow stain on his face. The friend asked anxiously the next day if Eddie had a bruise on his face. It did in fact look like an old fading bruise. And we only kept the paint for about an hour, I wondered if the stain would have been more intense if we kept the paint for longer.

Saying that, Eddie liked his Donatello look, though we haven't touched the paints ever since. The poster has appeared in town again on the run to Halloween, inviting children to have their faces transformed into ghouls, witches, Frankensteins and zombies. When I asked Eddie whether he'd like to have a go, he refused categorically.
I don't want to dissuade anyone from using the face paints. It is a fun product, just not for us.

Are you (or your kids) a fan of face paints? Will your children have their faces painted for Halloween?

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

GBBO range of gifts and Maids of Honour

Tudor recipes

Tonight is the GBBO's semi-final. I think by now it's clear who's going to win. If you're a GBBO fan, there is a new range of Great British Bake Off gifts launched in Debenhams.
This range, launching exclusively in the first few weeks at Debenhams, includes cake tins and stands, timers, an assortment of mugs, fridge magnets, a tea-for-one set and a Star Baker apron, with more items to be added towards Christmas.
A good cake tin is a must for any baker. A new personalised cake tin from the new range comes with a whiteboard marker and eraser. Write whatever you want to label the tin - very useful for taking a tin to potluck or school fayre. It is a spacious container, for a good sized cake or a lot of biscuits.

To test my new tin, I decided to follow in the footsteps of last week's challenge.

Last week's GBBO was Tudor-themed, and oh boy, what a creative chaos it was. I did think Jane was robbed of the Star Baker title, as her showstopper looked the part the most. I'm afraid Candice's peacock looked very unappetising, albeit colourful.
Years ago I have hosted a Tudor-themed birthday party for my friends. Here I am, in a Tudor dress, with our friend Cecilia looking ever so dashing as Sir Walter Raleigh.

At that time the Internet was not as extensive, but I did manage to find some articles on the Tudor cuisine, and I also found a book in the library. I remember I baked a cake with dried marigold petals, but I don't have that recipe any longer, and as much as I searched, I couldn't find exactly the same recipe.

A quick google for Tudor recipes suggested baking Maids of Honour - curd cheese pastries, much appreciated by Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. According to the legend, the king went to visit Anne Boleyn in her rooms, and saw her scoffing those pastries. He loved them so much that he confiscated the recipe and kept it in the iron box to be used only for the Royal Consumption only. That's love for you.

There are quite a few recipes around, but that's where the confusion begins.
Some use puff pastry, some use shortcrust pastry. Some bakers add a raspberry jam, the others - quince jam, then there's Delia with a lemon curd.
You can find a recipe for Maids of Honour as made by Richmond House, who claim its roots back to the original recipe. One of the ingredients they have is a mashed potato. Not quite sure about its authenticity then, as potatoes were introduced to Great Britain by Sir Francis Raleigh, so that would be already after Henry VIII.
Then there's the food historian and chef Clarissa Dickson Wright's recipe - her Maids of Honour are made with ground almonds and quince jelly, and not a spoonful of curd cheese in sight.

Having read all the available recipes thoroughly, I decided to adapt several of them.
First of all - oh horror - I used a ready-made puff pastry. Mary Berry would need her smelling salts. But, but, but... good old Delia, thanks God for Delia, uses a block of fresh puff pastry in her Richmond Maids of Honour recipe.
I didn't make my own curd either, a jar of a supermarket own lemon curd worked perfectly well.
I decided to make half a batch with lemon curd, and half - with raspberry jam.

Maids of Honour
1 pack of puff pastry ready rolled (320g)
150g curd cheese
40g caster sugar
zest of 1 lemon
1 egg
1 egg yolk
20g ground almonds
2tbsp lemon curd
2tbsp raspberry jam

You will need to take the pastry out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before working with it. Unroll the pastry, and using a cookie cutter, cut out 24 mini rounds. You might need to re-roll the scraps of dough to cut out more circles.
Bake in two batches, if using a 12-piece cupcake tin.
Slightly butter the tin before putting the pastry circles inside, and slightly press in to get a cup-shape.
Add a bit of curd cheese on each pastry and spread it evenly.
In a medium mixing bowl beat together the curd cheese with sugar, egg, egg yolk and lemon zest. Add the ground almonds and mix well. Use half of the mix to fill in each pastry, about 1 heaped tsp each.
Bake in the oven preheated to 200c for about 20 minutes until golden.

Take out of the oven, let the pastries cool a bit, take out.
Then repeat with the raspberry jam for the second batch.

Don't worry about the cracked curd cheese, it only adds to their rustic appearance.

Both version were delicious, though the lemon curd variety is my favourite.
And they store beautifully in the new spacious tin.

Have you been inspired by GBBO? What did you bake/

Tudor recipes

Disclosure: I received a GBBO tin for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are mine.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Creating a brighter future one step at a time - #BrightFuture

Does my blog post title sound too ambitious?! Can we really create a brighter future for our children? With most of the environmental research reporting gloom and doom, it feels like we're leaving our children with the most unenviable future. So, do we just give up without even trying?
Yes, we have screwed up with nature big time, but...
I believe that teaching our children to care about nature and encouraging them to make even tiny little steps in the right direction is always better than a passive acceptance.
Perhaps you think that as an individual you cannot do much about saving the environment or changing the future. Don't feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the task and start with small steps. Just a few small changes can make a difference.

Unilever's brightFuture initiative focuses on small changes which help make a big difference.
Small steps are not scary and are very achievable.
Just a few facts:
"Since the launch of the Sustainable Living Plan, Unilever has helped 483 million people to improve their health and hygiene.
This is exemplified in the work undertaken by Domestos that has committed to helping 25 million people gain improved access to a toilet 2020. Access to clean sanitation can protect people from preventable diseases, reduce mortality rates and improve quality of life."
I agree, the clean sanitation is paramount, if anything, it is much more valuable than the questionable vaccinations the West brings to the Third World countries. They need to have access to clean water and sanitation.

Another initiative by Unilever which is worth mentioning is the Dove Self-Esteem Project. This inspiring cause helps girls and women gain body confidence. They've been working on this project for over 10 years. I remember when the first Dove ads appeared, featuring women with normal bodies. It was so refreshing and reassuring.
This campaign is a reality check, especially for young people who are bombarded daily by "perfect bodies" in social media. Young people of all genders would benefit from developing a positive self-image.
Bringing up our children to be confident is very important.
Could we dream of a future where people are not judged on the merit of their appearance, and nobody preys on the other people's insecurities?!
I remember how my own insecurities were riled up by an unkind teacher who used to comment on my "cute hampster's cheeks" every time she saw me. I tried to avoid her as much as possible.
So, kudos to Dove for the self-esteem project.

Which little steps do we take as a family, hoping for the better present and future?
- We recycle religiously, and have been for many years.
What else could count as little things to a more sustainable lifestyle?
- donating to local charity shops. As a blogger, I'm very lucky to be sent quite a lot of toys for reviewing. Some of them we keep, a lot of them is passed on to friends' children, or go to the nurseries and the charity shops.
- washing clothes at lower temperatures and using Persil Non-Bio.
- not using a car. We decided against having a car, and life without a car is do-able, unless you live somewhere in the middle of nowhere. My husband commutes by bus to another town for work. I walk everywhere in town, 10-12 miles every day easily.
- using leftovers creatively:
if I have fat leftover from the roast, I don't throw it away. The duck fat added to roast potatoes turns them into a feast of gods.
If there's beef or pork fat leftover, I let it cool, then add the seeds, roll into balls and pop into the freezer. Birds absolutely love those homemade food bombs. You can buy a big bag of seeds very cheaply. We love watching birds in our garden. There is a curious robin who follows me around the garden, whenever I have some gardening jobs.

We try to encourage bees and butterflies to visit our garden, by planting sweet smelling and wild flowers, and not weeding everything (for example, I keep a little patch of nettles behind the greenhouse - they are a magnet for some butterflies. The same goes for dandelions).

What do you do as a family to create a brighter future?

This post is an entry for BritMums #brightFuture Challenge, sponsored by Unilever.

Disclosure: I received a selection of Unilever products for taking part in the challenge. All opinions are mine.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Tomato veal stew

Have you noticed how early it starts to get dark these days? And the mornings as well, it's still pretty dark when I get up. I love the early autumn, for its fruit and colours, but mid-and-late autumn are a bit depressing. When the alarm goes off, I open one eye, look at the window, blimey, it is still too dark, I wish I could snuggle in bed under my warm duvet for longer. I often fantasize about pretending that I never heard the alarm. What if we just keep sleeping? Skipping the school sounds very tempting. But then I know that I would never do it deliberately. So, off I skedaddle to the kitchen, put the kettle on, switch on the radio and start making breakfast for my guys.
Just a few days ago when we walked to school across the fields, all the grass was covered with frost.
The air is positively chilly. When it's getting colder, I cook a lot of soups and stews. What could be better than tucking into a hot savoury bowl, and mopping up all the sauce with a chunky bread. Sigh of pleasure. I do love good bread. That's why I will never regain my thin figure again.
Yesterday I cooked a tomato veal stew. My guys are not very keen on dumplings, so it was a slightly Italianate version, with Spanish wine, Italian tinned tomatoes, Polish soured gherkins and British pickled jalapenos. Rather pre-Brexit.

Talking of which, since we live in Cameron's former constituency, we are facing elections the next week. The onslaught of campaigning has been relentless. Especially from LibDems, every day there is a new envelope, addressed to us personally. I even had a call on my mobile, which to be honest, annoyed me big time. I said I never voted LibDem, and never will, still I got more papers through the door which went straight in the recycling bin. Couldn't they see the poster I put in the window "Vote Labour"?!
The other day some very young man knocked on the door, all dressed up smart, but looking like a 12-year-old and uttered an immortal phrase "May I inspire you to vote Conservative?" Arrrgghhh...

Tomato veal stew
275g veal cubed
1tsbp plain flour
6tbsp olive oil
1 big red onion
1 carrot
150ml red wine (rioja)
1 tin (440g) Cirio Tuscan chopped tomatoes (or any other good quality tinned tomatoes)
1 beef stock cube
4 potatoes
2 fresh sage leaves
a few pieces of pickled jalapenos (Deli Toppers from Baxter's)
sour gherkins to serve with (optional)

Dust the cubed veal with the plain flour. Heat up 3tbsp of olive oil, add the veal, cook stirring until browned on all sides. Put the veal in a big pan. Add more oil to the frying pan, where the veal was browned, add the finely chopped onion, cook stirring for 5 minutes, add the sliced carrot, and cook for another 5 minutes.
Put the onions and carrots in the pan with the veal.
Pour the red wine, a tin of tinned tomatoes, crumble a beef stock cube. Cover with hot water, and bring to the boil, then lower the heat and cook on low for about 40 minutes, simmering.
Peel and cube potatoes, add to the stew. Add more water, and about 2 tbsp of pickled jalapenos as well as some finely chopped sage.
Cook on low for another 20 minutes or so, until the potatoes are cooked soft.
Serve hot with a nice chunk of bread, and slice some gherkins too.

Elizabeth David was very adamant in her dislike of stock cubes. I've just been reading "Is there nutmeg in the house?", and oh my, she clearly hated them with vengeance. The book is very entertaining, but goodness, the lady was very opinionated and also with a long memory.
Unlike Ms David, I don't see them as enemies of foodies, they do add flavour, and if you don't mind extra salt, then just use less salt when cooking.

In this recipe, I used a tin of Cirio Tuscan chopped tomatoes. They give the perfect flavour, a good balance of sweetness and acidity.
I also added some Baxters Deli Toppers Jalapenos for an extra heat.

What are you cooking these days?

Deli Toppers from Baxters

Pickles, mmm, when it comes to pickles, I am a self-confessed addict. They always add an extra oomph to any plain dish, be it a sandwich, burger or a bowl of soup.
Recently Baxters introduced a new range called Deli Toppers - created for foodies who love to add an extra zing to dishes they cook and serve.
There are four inspiring varieties to choose from - Red Onion, Red Saw, Spicy Slaw and Jalapenos. They are created to add the ultimate bite to your food, for dishes such as hot dogs, pulled pork, burgers, salads, wraps, pizzas and nachos.

Red Onion jar is jam-packed with big sized picked onion rings.
I like pickled onions sightly sweeter and less vinegary, and I also cut them into thinner rings. They add a good crunch to a burger, like the one below - chorizo burger with grated cheese and onion rings.

Red Slaw is made from mixed vegetables (red and white cabbage onions carrots), barley malt vinegar, sugar, sea salt, caraway seeds, black peppercorns, ground ginger and cinnamon.
Just add a forkful for a bit of punch to burgers, pulled pork and cold (or hot) meats.

Take a slice of wholemeal bread, toast it well, and top up with apples stewed with cinnamon, chopped pork sausage and a good spoonful of red slaw - totally delicious.

I have also added red slaw to a Russian style cabbage soup schi. As the red slaw is quite vinegary, give it a good rinse under the cold water before adding to soup. This was a vegetarian soup made with green pointy cabbage, tomatoes, potatoes, red slaw and a vegetable stock cube.

Schi, Russian cabbage soup

Just the other day I made myself a leftovers lunch with two sausages, one big apple and half a jar of red slaw and spicy slaw. Heat up 1tbsp of olive oil in the deep frying pan, add the chopped sausage (already cooked) let it brown slightly. Add a cored and sliced apple (don't peel, it just add more fibre to the dish), keep frying for about 5 minutes, then add the rinsed slaw and a glug of chilli dipping sauce for an extra sweetness and flavour. Cook on low for about 10 minutes adding a bit of water in the process.

Spicy Slaw is a mix of shredded vegetables in vinegar with red chillies. It is relatively mild on the heat scale.
A lovely topper, it added crunch and texture to a chicken mayo sandwich on wholemeal bread.

Chicken sandwich with mayo and slaw
Jalapenos are jalapeno peppers in vinegar. I must say I laughed when I read that they are medium on the heat scale. I wonder what the next step on the scale would be. I found jalapenos pretty lethal as they are.
These pretty sliced peppers come in two colours - red and green.
My advice is to go sparingly, unless you are a fire eater. They definitely deliver a punch.
I added a few little slices to rice and broad beans dish.

They worked really well with the sturgeon pate on wholemeal toasted bread.

Sturgeon pate sandwiches with jalapenos
I recently cooked a Sardinian fish stew - fregola sarda, and served it in bowls with a little bit of jalapenos. This was a delicious combination.

Fregola Sarda, served with jalapenos

Now that the mornings are turning to frosty and days have a certain chill to them, stews and soups become a must meal. We love tomato-based stews, and to add a bit of heat to the tomato veal stew, I put several pieces of jalapenos just before the end of cooking. It certainly added the heat, so much that I'd say your sinuses will be all cleared if you had a bowl of my stew.

Veal stew with red wine and tomatoes, with added jalapenos

As you can see from my suggestions, there is a lot you can do with Deli Toppers, from sandwiches to soups, from burgers to stews.

To give you even more recipe ideas, please check out the most comprehensive guide on Deli Toppers as written by Jacqueline from Tinned Tomatoes. She did an amazing job of compiling lots of hacks and recipe suggestions.

Disclosure: I received a selection of Deli Toppers for the purposes of testing and reviewing, but this is not a commissioned post. All opinions are mine.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

The Tea Route

"A traditional Englishman drinks tea to the point where his blood has long-since been replaced with an infusion of Ceylon, Assam, and Darjeeling"
Fennel Hudson, A Meaningful Life - Fennel's Journal - No.1

I often say that I drink so much tea it must be flowing in my veins. My kitchen can compete with the local branch of a famous tea brand. I'm always excited to discover new brands and new blends.

Tearoute is a new online tea shop with a Greek twist, which has been launched by tea enthusiast Milena Bottero.

Its range of over 80 teas is impressive, with such a wide choice there is sure some blend to tempt you.
Tearoute introduces an aromatic selection of whole leaf teas inspired by the Mediterranean and top quality single origin teas from Asia.
The list of teas is extensive - from flavoured and wellness teas to true origin white, green and black teas.
Tea blends include natural ingredients like dried fruit, flower blossom, spices as well as essential oils.
I have tried two of Tearoute teas: Gardens of Bukhara and The Earth Song.

Gardens of Bukhara oolong flavoured tea is fragrant with sweet spice aromas.
I have chosen it because I loved the name and the list of ingredients including Oolong tea, pineapple and coconut pieces, cranberries and orange pieces rose buds and petals, shredded coconut, pomegranate, vanilla and more.
Many years ago when I was a child, my Dad visited Bukhara, and his travel stories made it sound like a magic place. I also loved reading a story of Avicenna, dreaming of visiting this beautiful place one day. Alas, I never travelled that far, but Gardens of Bukhara tea with its beautiful aromas and flavours brought back my childhood memories of the faraway lands.

floral fruit tea
Gardens of Bukhara tea

The Earth Song is a relaxing fruit tea with such beautiful ingredients as dried Damask rose buds from Rose Valley in Bulgaria, sour apples and pear pieces, freeze-dried strawberry and raspberry, blackberry leaves, cornflower and marigold blossoms, chamomile and more.
The taste of apples is predominant, with the added floral and berry flavours.

The Earth Song tea

This fruity floral tea is pale golden in colour. A real treat for anyone who loves fruity teas.

Having a good browse of the online shop, I loved the names of many teas - Red Square, A Tale of Two teas, Cherry Orchard, Treasure of the Majas etc - imaginative and creative.
Which blend would you choose?

Disclosure: I received samples of two teas for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are mine.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Fruit & nut chocolate shards with popping candy

This week is all about His Majesty Chocolate (or should that be Her Majesty?!). Chocolate Week is definitely a cause for celebration, whether you cook a lush chocolate cake, bake brownies with the kids or just treat yourself with a box of truffles.

The original recipe for chocolate shards appeared in Sainsbury's magazine in October 2014 issue. I have adapted it a bit, but the major inspiration comes from that recipe created by food director Sarah Randall.

Fruit & nut chocolate shards with popping candy
3 bars of chocolate - two dark and one milk
100g raisins
50g dried mango
a good glug of apricot brandy
30g pistachios
60g pine nuts
2tbsp honey
100g unsalted butter
2tbsp or more of chocolate covered popping candy (optional)

Soak the raisins and chopped mango pieces in apricot brandy (or rum, like in the original recipe).
Preheat the oven to 180C, put the nuts on the baking tray and toast for about 10 minutes.

I soaked raisins and sliced mango pieces in apricot brandy for a couple of hours
The original plan was to substitute macadamia for walnuts, as we are not fans of macadamia. I put 100g of chopped walnuts on a baking tray and in the oven for 10 minutes. I was watching Poldark on BBC iPlayer, and got distracted by basic anatomy. By the time I remembered about the walnuts, they were a beautiful ebony colour. Quick change of plan then. What do I have in the kitchen? About 30g of shelled pistachios and 60g pine nuts, that would do.
I didn't have any coconut cookies, instead I used one of the dark chocolate coconut bars. Waitrose has recently introduced a selection of dark chocolate bars to its 1 range. In this recipe I used Waitrose 1 Indian Ocean dark chocolate with coconut, Dominican Republic Dark chocolate and milk chocolate.

Place the butter, broken chocolate bars and honey in a bowl set over simmering water and keep stirring until the mix melts. Add in the fruit and nuts and mix well.
Pour into the oiled square tray. I have added a layer of foil first in the tray for the ease of taking the chocolate block later. Sprinkle the popping candy over the chocolate mix.

Once cooled, cover the tray with foil and put in the fridge overnight.
Using a large knife, cut the block into shards.

The shards are very creamy and moreish. Just lovely with a cup of tea or coffee.

Adding my recipe to #KitchenClearout linky run by Cheryl from Madhouse Family Reviews, as I used some odd ends of the nuts' packets.

And it being a chocolate recipe, it fits well with We Should Cocoa linky run by Choclette from Tin and Thyme.