Monday, 29 May 2017

Qixels Kingdom Castle Attack Playset

creative toys for children


If you sighed with relief that your kids are not that into Hama beads anymore, "beware" - there is a new playset on the block which can rival both Hama and Aqua beads. I remember a few years ago Hama beads were found everywhere in our house. I still occasionally find a rogue bead which has been hiding for a couple of years at the bottom of the drawers or behind the books on the bookshelf.
I believe Qixels have first made their appearance a couple of years ago, but their range has expanded to include new creative playsets.
Qixels Kingdom Castle Attack Playset (£29.99) will appeal to many fans of Hama and Aqua beads
as well as Minecrafts lovers.

Qixels


Qixels are the award winning brand brought to you by Character Options.
What exactly are they?
They are a variation of plastic beads - pixelated cubes, fused together with a spray of water.
The playset includes 1000 qixels cubes, 2 cube trays in two parts - top and bottom, 6 design templates, 6 display stands, 2 display bases, 4 plug in accessories (dragon flame, axes etc), door frame, draw bridge, large and medium  floor/wall plates, window frames, turrets, flags, poles, ladder, 1 water sprayer and 1 storage tray + an instructions leaflet.

qixels

qixels


This playset will allow children to create their own pixelated world full of fun themes and characters. No heat and no glue, simply make, spray, let it dry and play.
The castle parts can be assembled in a variety of constructions. You build your own unique castle, the possibilities are endless.




As my 6-year-old son Eddie is very much into Minecraft, he found these pixelated characters very appealing.
He hasn't done all the suggested designs yet, as the last week of school was very busy, with the May Day dancing, lots of term homework to be completed (for some reason we always leave it until the last moment, so it gets very hectic).


You need to put the top tray with holes over the bottom tray with pins. Don't forget about the top tray: we didn't put it at first, and then Eddie had to redo his design.
Place design template under tray using small tabs to lock it in place.
You might also put a template next to the tray, as it is not very easy to see through two trays.
Firmly press each cube one at a time onto the pins in the tray, matching the colours on the template.

Once the design is completed, spray the character with water from a water sprayer bottle. Make sure that all the areas are covered with water. Gently tilt the tray to shake off the excess water. Lay it flat and leave to dry.



According to instructions, it should take just over 30 minutes for the shape to set. I have shaken the tray as suggested. We left it to dry overnight, but when we lifted it in the morning, the down side was still a little bit sticky.
Overall, it is an excellent quiet activity. Our minor suggestion is to add a lid to the tray where the cubes are sorted (if you don't make all the characters in one go).
The Qixels Castle features 1000 cubes to create a Qixels Kingdom, where children can defeat savage trolls and regain power of their lands.
This is just one of the Qixels products, which you can mix and match for an imaginative play.



While 1000 cubes seems to be a very decent amount, I think for a truly creative spree you might need more beads. This is where the Mega Refill pack might come handy.

Eddie loved the set, and plans to finish the remaining designs this week. He has also been checking online which other sets are available. What have I "unleashed"?!  He's now saving his pocket money for the glow-in-the-dark Qixels set.


Disclosure: We received the Qixels playset for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are our own.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Grilled tuna and courgette salad

easy salad


It's been a very hot day today. I was sweltering in a jacket on a school run. Our run is literally a sprint, as I grab Eddie by hand and we hurry home in time for Sash to arrive on a school bus.
Saturday, on the other hand, was completely miserable, cold-ish and rainy. As we were walking into town to do some grocery shopping, we met a friend who asked us if we were heading to a food festival. Drat and double drat, I have totally forgotten about it, and didn't have my camera with me. My iphone is of a geriatric generation, with a very basic camera, so I didn't bother to take many pictures with it. We did go to the festival which was held in and around St Mary's Church, under a persistent rain.

The crowds seemed not that bothered by the rain, and there were long queues for any freebies, especially at the gin stall. That's called devotion - to queue in the rain to get a shot of free gin.
Eddie and I ran into the church, trying to escape the rain.
There was an impressive array of foods and drinks, especially the preserves and flavoured oils.
I didn't buy much, just a jar of local honey and strawberry jam - both from Holmes Made, a tin of Ariana natural spice blend from GoSpice, a small bottle of redcurrant syrup (non-alcoholic) and a chunk of pancetta from The Cotswold Curer.



I would have liked to spend more time, looking at the foods, but Eddie was quite bored and kept asking when we were going home.
The most magnificent displays of cakes were created by Aston Pottery. Alas, they didn't sell the cakes, only shared the printed leaflets about themselves. I wonder what they did with all those glorious goodies after the festival ended.

tuna salad


When it's a hot day, I prefer to have simple salad dinners. Tuna is a versatile ingredient for many kinds of salads.
To make a very simple grilled tuna and courgette salad you will need:

2 Tuna steaks
2tbsp mirin rice wine
2tbsp dark soy sauce
juice of 1/2 lime
2tbsp olive oil
1 courgette
a good drizzle of chilli-flavoured oil
mixed salad with pea shoots, a handful
green olives
for dressing:
1tbsp runny honey
juice of 1/2 lime
2tbsp toasted sunflower seeds

Slice each steak into four strips and marinade in a deep bowl in a mix of mirin, dark soy sauce, lime juice and sea salt for about an hour.
Drizzle the olive oil over the grill pan and heat it up. Cut the courgette into 3 pieces, then slice each one into "chips". Drizzle the courgette with a chilli-flavoured olive oil, and cook on grill for about 5 minutes, turning over once or twice.
Cook the tuna on grill for about 5 minutes, turning over.
Assemble the salad by layering the salad leaves, then courgette and tuna. Scatter the olives and sunflower seeds and drizzle a simple dressing of lime juice and honey.

tuna salad

Since I used a bit of chilli-flavoured olive oil (from a Filippo Berio olive oil hamper that I won before Christmas) and the remains of a bag of sunflower seeds, I'm adding this recipe to #KitchenClearout linky hosted by Cheryl from Madhouse Family Reviews.


Thursday, 18 May 2017

Disney Crossy Road toys

collectible minifigures
Disney Crossy Road Minnie Mouse, next to a daisy, to show the size

Just the other day Eddie was telling me with sadness that one of his class mates was making fun of his love of Mickey Mouse. According to that mouthpiece of primary school wisdom, only babies like Disney. I said "Wait a minute, a lot of grown-ups love Disney, especially Mickey and Minnie".
"Why don't we go to the toy shop and ask them?" Our local toy shop Denton's has a very friendly staff. There are three young people who know all about the latest toy crazes and who are happy to show us their latest cool toys like fidget spinners etc.
Eddie's been much taken by a brand new minifigures' range called Disney Crossy Road (available at Character Online) and we have taken an insert with a list of all the range to show at Denton's and ask if they have it.
And so we chatted to the guys and showed them our list. To Eddie they are all an epitome of coolness. He was much reassured when the guys at the shop said they knew of Crossy Road app, but haven't heard of the toy range. I think Eddie was on cloud nine that he has got toys that even the toy shop doesn't have yet.
He also appreciated the fact that they think Disney is awesome.

collectible minifigures, Disney toys

Disney Mickey Mouse toy


When I was asked to review this new range, I confess I haven't even heard of Disney Crossy Road. But my 6-year-old knew perfectly well what I was talking about.
If you're as ignorant of apps as me, Disney Crossy Road is a popular game app, with lots of Disney characters you can win or buy. I had a quick look at the reviews, and apparently the visuals are very impressive and the game is entertaining. I'll just have to take their word for it, as I have no plans to try it myself.

Image credits: Disney Crossy Road


And now Disney Crossy Road fans may rejoice as the new range of collectible toys has been launched.
Each character comes with its own rarity status, ranging from rare, epic, secret, legendary and limited edition.
There are 40+ characters to collect including Mickey and friends, Toy Story, Big Hero 6 and Lion King.

Disney Crossy Road range includes both minifigures and bigger plush toys.

collectible minifigures

You can anticipate that these new collectible minifigures will be the latest craze -collect, swap and play with your minifigures.
Eddie already cannot wait for the new range to hit the shops to spend his pocket money on adding to his collection.
Choose between plush figures, mini figure packs or mystery figures.
A mini figure pack has 4 toys (£10.99), three of which you can see through the plastic, while the 4th one remains hidden. Mystery figures (£3.49) are exactly that, basically pot luck, as you don't know and cannot guess what is hidden inside a small box.
If you enjoy unboxing videos (Eddie loves them, I never watch them), there are some great unboxings going on at Moose website.
Crossy Road items are available at Tesco, Asda, Toys R Us, Smyths and Argos.



Disclosure: We received a selection of toys for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are our own.


Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Grilled courgette and Scamorza salad

Italian cheese, salad with cheese


Browsing the cheese aisle in Waitrose a few days ago, I noticed a new Italian cheese added to the range - it was a smoked Scamorza. There was no price tag, and nobody to ask. Fast forward several days, the cheese was still there without a price, so I found a member of the staff and asked for help.

I tried Scamorza Affumicata many years ago in Italy, when my mother-in-law pan-fried it for a quick lunch.
This cheese definitely benefits from pan-frying or grilling, when it acquires a delicious crust. You can eat it uncooked as well, but the texture is a bit plasticky.

I love smoked cheese, and Granarolo Scamorza has a distinct smokey flavour. It's a delicious cheese, and I'm so pleased to see it in the local supermarket.



Since it's a National Vegetarian Week, I have been eating salads every day this week.
This is a recipe for one, but it can easily be doubled for two.

You will need (per person):
3tbsp olive oil
3 baby courgettes, sliced in half
2 slices of Scamorza cheese
3 baby tomatoes
a handful of mixed salad leaves
balsamic vinegar

Slice courgettes in half lengthways and put on the grill pan, drizzled with olive oil. Cook for about 3-4 minutes on each side. Season with sea salt, while cooking. Add the sliced tomatoes to the grill for a couple of minutes. Scamorza takes no more than a couple of minutes on grill to turn golden-brown crusty, and chewy soft inside. Put the courgettes, tomatoes and cheese on a plate with salad leaves, and drizzle some good quality balsamic vinegar over the salad.
Eat with a well toasted bread. I had it with another Italian food product - lovely crusty Farina Pugliese bread.

It is such an easy recipe, yet immensely satisfying. I will be definitely buying this cheese again.

easy lunches, vegetarian meals

vegetarian meals, meat-free meals

Monday, 15 May 2017

Mini Stretch Scooby


Scooby Doo, the lovable Great Dane, is almost 50 years old. His gang's adventures have been entertaining more than one generations of fans.
We have quite a collection of Scooby Doo DVDs (animation series and movies) because our son Edgar is a very big fan of the series. It appeals to his sense of macabre humour, he just loves all the stories with ghouls, zombies and monsters.
If you are a fan of this endearing funny dog, you will love a new addition to The Stretch Armstrong range - a Mini Stretch Scooby.

best toys for kids

The toy Scooby has a cheeky grin. His body is amazingly pliable and flexible.

fun toys, Scooby Doo

Grab him by his arms and legs and start exercising.

Scooby Doo toy

This 7-inch-long toy is the ultimate moldable and malleable toy. With the strongest formula, this action toy can be stretched again and again. Have a look at our stretching exercises, and every time the toy returns to its original shape.
Here is Eddie, laughing his socks off, trying to stretch Scooby as far as possible.

stretchy toys


This range is suitable for children aged 5+.
For this and other stretchy toys from the range, visit Character Online.


Disclosure: We received a stretchy Scooby for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are our own.


Saturday, 13 May 2017

Onion soup with cheese toast

French recipes, best soup recipes


I do love a good old French onion soup, but don't cook it very often, as my sons dislike onions. When Eddie was younger, he loved French's fried onions (the one you buy in a plastic tub), but otherwise wouldn't eat any. Such a shame.
Saying that, I remember as a child I hated cooked onions too. When my Dad made his famous chicken soup (one of two dishes that he could cook), he would spoon out the onion which he cooked whole in the broth, and pretended to eat it, while I ran out of the kitchen gagging and screaming.

Onion soup (serves 2-3)
Ingredients:
25g butter
3tbsp olive oil
5 sweet onions, thinly sliced
1 tbsp flour
a good glug of sherry (optional)
100ml dry red wine
500ml beef stock
sliced baguette or stonebaked ficelle and grated cheese (a couple of slices per serving)

Brown the thinly sliced onion rings in a large frying pan, with butter and olive oil. Keep the heat on low, and stir frequently. Once the onions started to caramelise and brown, add a generous glug of sherry. Stir until the alcohol is absorbed, then add 1tbsp of flour and stir for about a minute. Then add the red (or white) wine and beef stock.
Cook simmering for about half an hour. You might want to add hot water to the soup, if it becomes too thick.
Serve the soup with toasted slices of bread. Add the grated cheese, like Gruyere or Cheddar and grill the toast. Once the cheese has melted, add the toast to the soup.

There are many different variations of this classic French recipe. Some people use only white onions, some cook with red onions. Some cooks like to add a spoonful of Marmite or a dash of Worcestershire sauce, a bay leaf or even garlic.
I have also made toast with grated Parmesan, and it was delicious.

best soup recipes

Super Geek Heroes Animated Series (review + competition E: 31 May 2017)

Image credits: Super Geek Heroes


Geek is the new cool nowadays. Meet the super smart team called Super Geek Heroes!



Who are these new children's heroes? They are seven super kids with amazing learning powers.
Jake Jotter, Millie Maths, Ronnie Rock, Vicky Voice, Suzi Smiles, Peter Planet and Ant Active are showing children that education could be a source of great fun.
Their motto is "Having fun in turn with a mission to learn!"

Their super powers originate in three prime and four specific development areas of the Early Years Foundation Stage.
The development areas and resulting characters are:
Personal, Social and Emotional Development - Suzi Smiles
Understanding the World - Peter Planet
Communication & Language - Vicky Voice
Literacy - Jake Jotter
Numeracy - Millie Maths
Physical Development - Ant Active
Creative Arts & Design - Ronnie Rock

Super Geek Heroes reminded us of another educational TV programme for younger children - animated superhero numbers Numberjacks. And wasn't there a Go Jetters show, where four explorers were going on a world-round adventure?!

We have watched a couple of episodes together with Eddie, as I also wanted to find out what this new show is about. I liked the fact that all the names of geographical locations were sounded for an easier understanding.
These videos are educational and entertaining, with an engaging content.

They cover a variety of topics, from learning about morning routines to facts about rainbows and weather, from keeping fit to telling the time, from sight words to eating healthy food.

The characters are easy to relate to, as they are all young children. Even their names relate to the school curriculum. Eddie's school uses a system of the so called learning muscles (for example, Buzzy the Bee represents Creativity).

For more information, visit Super Geek Heroes. Information for parents and carers could be found at Super Geek Heroes/Parents.






If you like the sound of this excellent new show for children, you might like to enter a competition to win a 6-months' subscription to KidsCast APP, where you can download and view Super Geek Heroes on the go or cast to your TV (among many other programmes for children).

To be in with a chance of winning please watch the video above and answer the following question:
In the first video on the playlist - which continent is number 7 in Peter Planet's lesson?

T&Cs:
The competition is open to the UK residents only.
If you login as Anon, please leave your Twitter handle or some way of getting in touch with you if you win.
If the winner does not get back to me in 28 days, the prize will be allocated to another person.
The competition ends on 31 May 2017 at midnight.

Good luck!

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Asparagus, kale & Dolcelatte pasta

vegetarian meals, vegetarian pasta


I am not a big fan of kale, I find its texture too fibrous and tough. I feel a bit like a farm animal eating its share of roughage to keep healthy. I have tried it in many dishes, and haven't warmed up to it. It might be a super food, but it's not a happy food for me.
Seeing friends posting on social media how much they enjoy kale crisps and salads makes me question my dislike of kale every time. Do I cook it the right way? I have read numerous articles on how to cook it properly, and which mistakes to avoid. I still don't like it. Sorry, kale, our relationship is not working. It's not you. It's me.
In a fit of healthy thinking, I bought a bunch of fresh kale. What was I thinking? My mind must have been muddled up by the lack of sleep yet again.
I decided to cook a healthy vegetarian dinner with very healthy whole wheat pasta.

There was a pack of Garofalo whole wheat penne pasta in the latest Degustabox delivery.
I confess we typically eat just standard wheat pasta, not whole wheat. The taste is different, so is the texture. It does have health benefits obviously.

Asparagus, kale & Dolcelatte pasta
Ingredients:
about 5-6 big kale leaves, shredded thinly
2 cloves of garlic
6tbsp olive oil
1 medium courgette, sliced
a small pack of asparagus tips
about 80g of Dolcelatte cheese (I used just over a half of 150g pack)
penne pasta

In a deep frying pan heat the oil and throw in thinly shredded kale. I read that you need to slice it thinly, as in making slaw. Cook for 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chopped garlic and sliced courgette. Add the chopped asparagus too. Cook for another 6 minutes or so. You might add a little bit of hot water, while cooking the veg. Add the Dolcelatte in the last minute, stir in the vegetables. The cheese will melt and coat the greens.
Cook the pasta in boiling salted water. Drain, mix with the vegetables. Serve hot, with a bit of Grana grated on top.

Italian pasta recipes

OK, what's the verdict? It was edible. Next time though I would use other greens, like chard. It has more flavour and is less chewy.
What's your take on kale? Are you a big fan or a kale refusenik?


vegetarian pasta

Linking up my very green pasta recipe with #EatYourGreens linky hosted by A2K and The Veg Hog.


Tuesday, 9 May 2017

April Degustabox

We are always looking forward to our Degustabox delivery, which arrives every month and is full of foodie surprises. This monthly food and drink subscription box is an excellent way to discover products which have only just appeared in the shops or those which might have been around for while, but you haven't had a chance to try them yet.
Thanks to Degustabox, I have found new favourites to add to our shopping list, including some products which I probably wouldn't have tried otherwise.

Each time the box arrives, it's a total surprise. You get a good selection of foods and drinks.
If you haven't tried Degustabox subscription box yet and would like to have a go, I have a whopping £7 off discount from your first box (and you can unsubscribe any time) - just use a code 8EVI8 when you place an order.
What did we receive in April Degustabox? Let's have a peek.

food box, subscription food boxes

The food box was delivered just in time for our Bank holiday BBQ. The weather was pretty abysmal, and we had our BBQed sausages and burgers indoors. While the food was cooking under the merciless drizzle, we shared snacks in the warmth of the house.

Seabrook Lattice crisps are sliced both ways to hold more flavour and give a satisfying crunch. We got Sea Salt and Black Pepper which is a classic and much loved flavour.
Thumbs up from all of us.


I have also offered a bowl of VIP nuts (Hot Chilli), and we all dared each other to try them. They are lethal very hot indeed. If you love chillies, you will enjoy this blast of heat.


Nothing But is a range of freeze-dried fruits and vegetables, containing nothing but 100% wholesome ingredients. Suitable for vegetarian, vegan and gluten free diets.


Typically Edgar likes pineapple in juice, and so far resisted my attempts to feed him with dried pineapple slices. He tried a piece of a Nothing But freeze-dried pineapple, and gobbled up the whole pack.
These snacks are light, delicious and full of flavour.

Pineapple & Grape snack freeze dried fruit slices offer 1 of your 5 a day.
The pack contains 40kcal, no added sugar, salt, colour or preservatives.


I have noticed a new brand of chocolate Doisy & Dam in Sainsbury's recently, and even bought one of the flavours to try.
Doisy & Dam Quinoa, Smoked Tea & Vanilla organic milk chocolate bar is made with popped quinoa. Quinoa is a trendy ingredient these days. It might have been an interesting combination of flavours, but I wasn't quite convinced. Quinoa doesn't add much except a bit of texture, and I would have liked a more prominent flavour of Lapsang Souchong. The milk chocolate was a bit too sweet for me.



There was another trendy super food in the latest box -
GOOD HEMP Hemp Seed Hearts. These are nutty seeds, high in protein, fibre and omega 3. They are also free from nuts, gluten free and are environmentally friendly. Use them as sprinkles for your yogurt or cereal, or add to stir fries and bakes.


Whitworths Full of Super Vanilla Maca-Roons are made with almonds, coconut flakes and golden flax seeds. Naturally high in fibre and pantothenic acid, they are gluten free, soya free, suitable for vegetarians.


They are tasty enough, but do look like bird food. A light snack, they are handy to carry in a bag, for when you're out and about and are feeling peckish.


Dorset Cereals has expanded its varied selection of cereals to include an Ultimate Adventures collection.
We received an American Roadtrip flavour which includes cranberries, almonds and orange zest, as inspired by Route 66.
As we are not big muesli-eaters, I will be using this pack for adding as ingredients to crumbles and oat cookies.


Garofalo pasta is one of the brands we buy regularly, but this was the first time we tried Garofalo Whole Wheat Penne. It has a unique taste and texture. A word of warning - it might take you longer than suggested 11 minutes to cook it. When I tried it after 11 minutes, it was still very much uncooked. I do know the difference between al dente and uncooked, and it definitely needed longer time to cook.


I cooked Asparagus, kale and Dolcelatte pasta for dinner tonight, and it was pretty good.



POLO mints do not need an introduction, this is a classic brand. The POLO you've known and loved since 1948 are now available in a handy convenient pot for on the go.
POLO mints are flavoured with natural mint oils to freshen the breath. POLO sugar free range is accredited by the Oral Health Foundation as being kind to teeth.


Moving onto drinks.
CELIA Organic lager is 100% organic and brewed using just three ingredients. This is a premium Czech lager. It is a refreshing gluten-free drink.


Fentimans Pink Grapefruit Tonic Water is made with ruby red grapefruit and quinine.
Mix it with gin or vodka for a refreshing and zesty long drink
No artificial sweeteners, flavourings or preservatives.
36kcal per 100ml
We had it with sloe gin and ice, and it was delicious. Cin cin!


The food box included a flyer with a list of products and a recipe for Pasta all Norma, as cooked by your humble servant. I knew that my recipe suggestion would appear on the flyer, but actually seeing it in print made me feel all warm and fuzzy. My five minutes of fame.



Disclosure: We receive a monthly food box for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are our own.