Saturday, 14 January 2017

Trolls 100pc jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger

best puzzles for kids, gifts for kids, Trolls

After taking the big screens by storm last year, Trolls are everywhere these days - on birthday cakes for children, in toys shops, on bottles of shampoo etc. Trolls are new Minions, with millions of young fans all over the world. Since I try to avoid most of the children's animation with too much annoying enthusiastic singing (think Chipmunks etc), we didn't go to see the film in the cinema.
But as Eddie's been pestering me to buy him a Trolls DVD, I suppose I won't be able to avoid it altogether.
Recently Ravensburger has added a Trolls 100pc jigsaw puzzle to its extensive range of puzzles for kids. It is aimed at children aged 6+.

This bright colourful puzzle consists of 100 big chunky pieces, which are easy for young children to sort and hold. It measures 49x36cm.
As always with Ravensburger puzzles, the jigsaw pieces are made from high quality cardboard, fit together snugly and have a matt finish. They are strong and durable.
The puzzle features all the main characters from the animation.
Eddie's taking after me when it comes to jigsaw puzzles - we are both great lovers of this wonderful hobby.
He loved assembling Trolls puzzle. It took him about 20 minutes to finish it. That's my boy!

childrens' puzzles, Trolls

Once the puzzle is assembled, it is easy to put it back in the box until the next use.
Jigsaw puzzles are great on so many levels. I find them relaxing. For younger children they help with motor skills and brain.
This lovely jigsaw puzzle will make a great gift for any Trolls fan.

gifts for children aged 6+

It is worth following @RavensburgerPC on Twitter, as every Friday they host a new giveaway.

Disclosure: We received this jigsaw puzzle for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are our own.

gifts for children, puzzles for children, Trolls

Friday, 13 January 2017

Ricotta cheesecake (torta di ricotta)

Italian cakes, gluten free dessert, gluten free cheesecake

Every time we go to Italy, I return home, inspired by Italian recipes. An Italian cheesecake - torta di ricotta - is a lovely dessert. It is not as rich as, for example, New York cheesecake, because it doesn't have the crushed biscuit base and uses less sugar.
I haven't baked a cheesecake for ages, and wanted to cook it ever since we came back from our trip.

Ricotta cheesecake (serves 6-8)
zest of 1 lemon
150g caster sugar
75g softened butter
450g ricotta cheese (almost 2 tubs)
2 medium eggs
1tsp baking powder
1tsp vanilla essence
3tbsp cornflour
75g sultanas
icing sugar, to sprinkle on the top

Depending on which sultanas you're using, you might want to soak them in hot water for quarter of an hour, if they look too dry. I still have some of sultanas left from before Christmas, when I bought a big bag to make mincemeat. They are quite plump, so I didn't think they need soaking.

Grate the lemon zest into a deep mixing bowl, add the caster sugar, softened butter and mix well. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the ricotta, baking powder, vanilla and cornflour. Finally add the sultanas and mix well.

Pour the cake mix into an oiled spring cake tin, place the tin into the oven preheated to 180C. Bake the cake for an hour. When you take the tin out, the cake might still look wobbly, but it should be cooked. Let it cool for 15 minutes before taking the cake out of the tin.

Italian cake recipe, gluten free cheesecake

Sprinkle with icing sugar before serving.

Italian dessert recipes, gluten free desserts

Italian dessert, gluten free cake

Since I managed to use some of the sultanas (not finished yet the bag), I'm adding this recipe to #KitchenClearout linky run by Cheryl from Madhouse Family Reviews.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Roast beef with brown sugar, rum & mustard glaze

best roast beef

The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on 7 January, following the old Julian calendar for religious events and holidays. While many celebrate Christmas on 25 December together with most of the western world, Russians are happy to use any excuse for a holiday with a feast.

A proper Russian Christmas eve is a day of fasting, when you would eat very simple fare like a dried mushroom soup or sochivo (a dish of wheat soaked with dried fruit and honey). The next day you eat to burst. The meal traditionally consists of 12 dishes to represent 12 disciples of Jesus.
As it happened, I didn't serve 12 dishes, but we had plenty of food and drink.

Last Saturday we invited friends over for dinner. I often tend to cook a roast chicken as a main meal, but this time fancied a different roast. The starter was a simple Russian dish of mushrooms baked in ramekins with lots of cream.
I cooked the beef with a glaze of brown sugar, rum and mustard, and it was a lovely combination of flavours.

Roast beef with brown sugar, rum & mustard glaze
1kg beef roasting joint
2tbsp mustard powder
1 and a half tbsp brown sugar
3tbsp rum
1tbsp olive oil + more for the veg at the bottom of the tray
1 and a half tsp sea salt with thyme
1 fennel bulb
1 medium carrot

Make a paste from mustard powder, brown sugar, rum, salt and olive oil, and rub it all over the beef joint. Let it marinade for at least 3 hours, or leave overnight, wrapped in cling film.
Take the beef out of the fridge at least half an hour before cooking. Preheat the oven to 200C.
Slice the fennel bulb and carrot into big chunks and put them into a deep roasting tray. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil.
Place the beef joint over the vegetables. Put the tray in the oven and cook the way you like it.
According to Delia, you give it 20 minutes at the start, afterwards lower the temperature to 190C and cook for 15 minutes per pound/450g for the rare beef. Add 15 minutes for medium rare, and 30 minutes for well done.
Baste the beef a few times during the cooking. Pour a dash of rum over the beef, as it cooks.
Once the beef is roasted to your liking, remove the tray out of the oven and let it rest for 15-20 minutes before carving.
Serve with roast potatoes & other vegetables, gravy, or mustard or horseradish sauce.

Since I managed to finish a little pot of mustard powder, as well as a bit of rum (a bottle which will last me ages, I guess), I'm adding this recipe to #KitchenClearout linky run by Cheryl from Madhouse Family Reviews.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Roasted and Stuffed Butternut Squash with Brown Basmati, Quinoa & Goat's Cheese

gluten free recipes, vegetarian recipes

There are many reasons why people pick January to set up new resolutions. And then not stick to them, or stick for a little while to abandon later. I don't want to run with the crowd and have given up on taking resolutions a long time ago.
I do know it would be much better for me to cut down on caffeine, chocolate and generally reduce the calorie intake, but I also know that I won't stick to any particular plan. Ideally I'd love to lose some weight, so we'll see, but no resolutions...

If, however, you decided to eat healthier and get more fibre, you might have thought of alternative grains like quinoa. If you take brown rice, it houses more fibre than white rice, while quinoa wins with even higher content of fibre.
Quinoa has quite an acquired taste. While appreciating its health benefits, I am not that keen on pure quinoa. But if it is mixed with the other grains or rice, plus added vegetables, then the quinoa takes on their flavours.

Tilda rice has a selection of steamed basmati and quinoa like brown steamed basmati rice & quinoa, quinoa pumpkin & sunflower seeds steamed basmati rice as well as vegetables & quinoa.

Last week I have tried a wonderfully moreish recipe for Roasted and Stuffed Butternut Squash as created by Dr Sarah Schenker for the Tilda Genuine Goodness initiative. It was so delicious, that I am going to cook it again soon.

gluten free recipes, vegetarian recipes

Roasted and Stuffed Butternut Squash (recipe courtesy of Tilda rice)
Serves 4
Prep time 15 mins
Cooking time 1 hour 15 mins
1-2 pouches of Tilda TSB Wholegrain Roasted Vegetable or Wholegreain, Quinoa, Pumpkin & Sunflower
1 large butternut squash
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2tbsp butter
drizzle olive oil
75g walnut pieces, roughly chopped
200g goats cheese, diced or mashed
2tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped (or dried)
1tbsp honey

1. Preheat oven to 190C. Cut the squash in half lengthways and scoop out the seeds and soft fibres. Place on a baking tray, add the garlic and 1tbsp butter to each cavity. Drizzle with oil, season well and place in the oven. Bake for 60 minutes until the flesh is soft.
2. Scoop out some of the cooked flesh and juices into a large bowl, leaving a 1cm layer of squash attached to the skin so the squash keeps its shape.
3. Heat the rice according to pack instructions.
4. roughly mash the butternut, stir in the rice with the thyme, most of the walnuts and cheese, season with salt and pepper.
5. Spoon the filling back into the squash halves and scatter the remaining cheese and walnuts.
6. Drizzle with honey and bake for another 15 minutes.
Now that's how I cooked it. It's not very easy to cut a butternut squash, as it is pretty hard. The way I do it is wrap the squash in foil whole, and cook in the oven for half an hour at 180C. Take it out of the oven, let it cool and then cut in half and scoop the seeds and fibres. Much easier.
I then spread the minced garlic, olive oil and salt mix over the open halves, and put back in the oven to cook for another 25 minutes.
Take out of the oven, scoop the soft flesh into a bowl, leaving a 1cm rim around the squash, to make a container for squash and rice mix. Add the chopped walnuts, dried thyme, goats cheese and mix well. Ladle the contents back into the squash halves, back in the oven for 15 minutes. Drizzle with honey before serving.

vegetarian recipes, recipes with quinoa

The butternut squash I used was about 900g in weight, it wasn't big enough to use two pouches of Tilda rice. Depending on the size of the squash you choose and the number of people you are cooking, you might want to increase the amount of rice, or reduce it.

recipes with quinoa, vegetarian recipes

I used Tilda Brown Basmati & Quinoa which includes natural brown basmati rice, natural yellow and red quinoa, sunflower oil, vegetable stock powder (rice flour, salt, onions, parsnips, carrots, olive oil, turmeric, parsley). Like all Tilda products, it is free from artificial colours, flavours and preservatives. Quinoa adds a bit of crunch and nuttiness to the rice mix, but doesn't overpower it.

If quinoa doesn't rock your boat, any Tilda basmati rice would work in this recipe. We love the coconut flavoured basmati rice mixes from Tilda, and jasmine (dry rice, not steamed) is fabulous too.

steamed rice

You might have seen Tilda rice ads in the magazines recently. Just this weekend I spotted them in the Guardian and Observer magazines. They show brand new Genuine Goodness packaging, expressing all the goodness of naturally gluten-free, low GI basmati.
I like the new design of packaging, with stylised hands made of rice. The new designs are colourful and modern-looking.

For more hearty recipes and information on the Genuibe Goodness initiative, visit Tilda where you can download the Big Hearted cookbook, created by Sarah Schenker exclusively for Tilda.

Disclosure: I received a selection Of Tilda rice for the purposes of testing the recipe. All opinions are our own.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Lego Santa's Visit Christmas Seasonal Set

Lego Christmas sets

We love seasonal Lego sets and minifigures. Actually we just love Lego. Full stop. We can't get enough of it. This Christmas we had plenty of Lego to play with, thanks to generous grandparents, well, and thanks to me too.
As Eddie is obsessed with Nexo Knights and loves playing the game on ipad, I bought several Nexo Knights sets on Black Friday, and took them with us to Italy to put under the Christmas tree as gifts for Eddie.
As if that was not enough, I couldn't resist buying a Lego Santa's Visit Christmas Seasonal Set (40125) in Sainsbury's. I thought it would be a lovely seasonal toy, small enough to put in the suitcase with us. Little did I know that Nonno and Nonna would splash on Lego big time.
Eddie was so Lego-ed on Christmas day, and so ecstatic to find his favourite Nexo Knights under the tree that he hardly paid any attention to Santa's Visit.
So, I built it myself. When we were resting after Christmas lunch, I quietly enjoyed myself with Lego.
It is available on amazon for £14.99, but I definitely paid £7 in Sainsbury's, and that's about the right price for it.

It is a lovely festive scene - a living room with a fireplace, armchair and Christmas tree. The armchair is set on a rotating base. There is a minifigure of Santa included, as well as a little cat. I loved the little table with a cup of tea and mince pies (not sure if they are mince pies, they do look more like choc chip cookies).
The attention to detail is impeccable.
There are two Christmas stockings and a wreath hanging over the fireplace, the flame of the fire and Christmas tree decorations.
It is easy to assemble, with clear instructions, and is a real pleasure to play with.
This charming seasonal set will make a lovely gift for any Lego fans.

Christmas Lego sets

Monday, 2 January 2017

Degustabox Winter Box

The last Degustabox of the year was delivered as were sitting downstairs, waiting for the taxi to take us to the airport. I only had a quick peek before we were off, but it certainly looked good.
Degustabox Winter Box is full of festive seasonal treats.

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, as you don't know what you might find there. 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 Winter-themed Degustabox? Let's have a peek.

food box delivery

I'll start with sweet treats:
Lebkuchen are traditional German gingerbread cookies. You can buy them in the UK before Christmas in most supermarkets.
Bahlsen Akora spiced lebkuchen-style cakes with fruit filling and dark chocolate are our favourites. I always buy them before Christmas. They are delicious - soft inside, with a gooey jam, and are covered with dark chocolate. Very moreish, and you can't just stop at one...
Bahlsen Lebkuchen Mischung is a mixed selecrion of gingerbread spiced cakes, glazed with sugar icing and chocolate. They look very festive and taste just like Christmas itself.

German gingerbread cakes

Bristows Oh Fudge will make a lovely gift, for any occasion. It is available in three flavours. We have sampled Apple & Cinnamon fudge. This is a fudge from Devon. Apples and cinnamon in fudge is a combination of flavours I haven't come across before. It is certainly different from the classic fudge flavours.

Devon fudge

Nutri-Brex Gluten Free Coconut & Crispy Rice is packed with the tasty ancient grain Sorghum. Naturally gluten free, fortified with vitamins and high in fibre. It promises a tasty breakfast, with its coconut and cinnamon flavours.
There are 24 cereal bricks in a pack. Calorie-wise, it is 201kcal per serving (3 bricks).

gluten free breakfast

Hoots Snacks are an exciting new range of multigrain snacks. They make a healthier alternative to crisps, as they are baked, not fried, and are a good source of fibre. Other bonus features: no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives are used. These snacks are suitable for vegetarians and vegans too.
We received two flavours of Hoots - Salt & Vinegar and Salt & Pepper.

These crunchy crispy snacks make perfect croutons for soup. I served carrot lentil soup with Hoots salt & pepper snacks, and it was a lovely combination of flavours and textures.

homemade soup

Bite + Multi Grain Flakes are a new concept in snacking. They are multigrain cereal flakes, seasoned with savoury flavours. We received a Sour Cream & Onion flavour. These crunchy cereal snacks contain less than 3% fat, no artificial colours, GMO, MSG or preservatives. They are also a good source of fibre. One pack is 2 portions, at 111kcal each.

healthier snacks

Gallo is one of our favourite Italian brands. I often buy their risotto rice (arborio) to keep in the pantry.
I haven't tried their Expresso variety before. They offer a selection of authentic Italian recipes.

risotto rice, arborio, Italian rice

Today for dinner we had a chance to try Gallo Expresso Risotto Al Quattro Formaggi (four cheese). I followed the recipe on a packet, which is very easy, and also added fried mushrooms and about 50g of goat's cheese (leftovers from new year's eve party). I served it with a bit of Grana Padano grated over. One pack is enough for two people. You can cook it for 2 minutes in a pan on the hob or 3 minutes in microwave.

Italian risotto

Maggi 3 minute noodles are available in chicken, beef and curry flavours. Chicken noodles pot contains 275kcal. This will come handy on one of the school days, when I won't have much time to cook anything for my own lunch.

Moving onto the drinks. I have written about a2 long life milk over a year ago.
Noone in my family has digestive problems due to lactose or A1 protein, so we tested a2 milk purely for its taste.
a2 milk is easier to digest than the standard milk. Research has shown that the A1 protein breaks down more slowly in the body, and for some people this could bring on uncomfortable symptoms which are quite similar to lactose intolerance. a2 milk is not suitable for anyone who is allergic to cows milk protein.
It is a tasty milk, which keeps well.

Newton's Apl Fizzics is a refreshing fizzy drink, made from apple juice and sparkling water. All natural, with no added sugar or sweeteners, it also has 40% less sugar than apple juice on its own.

What a Melon is a new watermelon water, which hydrates like coconut water, with extra anti-oxidants and amino acid citrulline.

Degustabox drinks

Eisberg  Sauvignon Blanc is a non alcoholic white wine, fresh and aromatic, with hints of gooseberry and fruit. It is low cal, only 28kcal per 125ml serving. I used this wine to make a cranberry sauce to serve with baked ham on new year's eve.
Cranberry sauce with white wine was absolutely delicious.

Disclosure: We received the latest Degustabox for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are our own.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Cranberry sauce with white wine

Oh, we had a wonderful new year's eve night with friends. It's been many years since I stayed up until midnight on new year's eve, unlike in the days of my childhood and youth when this day was celebrated with great enthusiasm.
I think the last time we went to a new year's party was 15 years ago, when I was pregnant with our first child. After that, it was an early bedtime for me, with a book or ipad, reading until midnight.
Yesterday we stayed until late, or should that be early hours. Even my younger one didn't want to go to bed. He and his friend braved it with the grown-ups. And just I look back with fondness at the midnight feasts and TV shows of my childhood, I hope that Eddie will also remember this night as a jolly good time.
Yes, we were tired, and he zonked off as soon as he hit the bed, but we didn't have to get up early today.

The fireworks in London were spectacular, Robbie Williams less so. I don't know if it was his usual level of performance, but he wasn't good at all. I wonder if "Party like a Russian, have it like an oligarch" was meant to be a satire on the new Russians, or a song written to humour the nouveau riche residing in London?!

I cooked a big ham as the main course, and served it with a simple cranberry sauce among other things. Today, I was happy to munch on all the wonderful leftovers. For dinner, I had cheese and crackers, and ham with cranberry sauce. And I also treated myself to a glass of gin and tonic.
Reading one of Mumsnet threads on the "pleasures" of Facebook friends recently, I had a giggle, when one of MN-ers said she has an annoying FB friend who always posts that she is having a cheeky glass of ... (insert an alcoholic drink). That wasn't me, honest. And I wouldn't use a word cheeky, describing my G&T.
It was delicious (Gordon's elderflower gin, with lots of ice and tonic) and a proper treat after several hours of washing all the dishes, pots, pans, roasting trays.


I love cranberry sauce, it is a great accompaniment to any roast or cold meats. This sweet tangy sauce is often enhanced by the orange zest, spices and alcohol.
I did write last year that for many 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 recommended using white wine instead of the usual port and orange juice. I have already tried his cranberry sauce recipe with white wine, and it was delicious, light and fruity, less sweet than the sauce made with port.
In the recent Degustabox there was a small bottle of Eisberg Sauvignon Blanc (non-alcoholic wine), which I used in this recipe.

Place 300g cranberries in a pan with 100ml white wine, 100g caster sugar, zest and juice of 1 orange and a cinnamon stick, bring to the boil. Simmer gently for 10 minutes, remove from the heat. Using a hand blender, blitz the sauce, not too fine, leaving some berries whole, 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, though we'll most likely polish it off much sooner. There is already not much left.

Christmas condiments, Easter sauce

I hope you had a lovely new year's eve. Did you go (or host) a party, or did you go to bed early?


Saturday, 31 December 2016

Happy new year!

That's my little brother and me, aged about 2 and 5, looking very solemn. I'm dressed as a Snowflake, a rather typical New Year's eve costume for children's parties at those times in the Soviet Union.
Most of my early childhood photos are black and white. I remember when my older niece was a little girl, she looked at her Mum's childhood photos and was sad, because she thought that everything was black and white then. She was also offering to colour in the photos.

New Year's eve was a big celebration in the Soviet Union, much bigger than Christmas which then was a very religious holiday. Sometimes I wish I could turn back the time and just have a peek at our jolly company, with my parents still young and us as kids, trying to stay awake until midnight. The winters were white (well, they still are in Russia), and the magic was just round the corner.

Wishing you all a very happy new year!

Thursday, 29 December 2016

My Top ten most popular recipe posts of 2016

Looking back at 2016, it was an eventful year for us as a family, with lots of ups and downs.
At the beginning of the year I was seriously considering whether to stop blogging altogether, but I plodded along, and here I am, still cooking and posting recipes and snippets of our family life.
I'm always amazed that someone is reading my ramblings, and I'm eternally grateful to all my blog readers for coming back.
At the end of the year I usually look at the stats for my posts written through the year, to see which posts have received the most pageviews. My food and drink, book and toy reviews do quite well, with Grossery Gang Yucky Mart post taking the laurels of the most read non-recipe post.
Being a foodie blog, I'm curious to find out which of my recipe posts got the most interest.
And so here are my top ten most popular recipe posts of 2016:

No.10 Fruit & nut chocolate shards with popping candy
chocolate desserts are usually popular with readers (and with me too. I'm a chocoholic through and through)

dessert, chocolate bark

Haggis sausage rolls were cooked to celebrate Burns Night, and proved to be well-received by my audience.

Burns Night, recipes with haggis, sausage rolls

Strawberries with Pimm's - it wasn't much of a recipe, more of a recipe suggestion. It's one of my personal favourite food photos of 2016, as it reminds me of summer.

strawberry salad, summer salad

Roasted Tomato and Garlic Borlotti Beans Hummus was a quick and easy hummus recipe.

homemade hummus recipe

Slow dough: Real Bread by Chris Young and Earl Grey tea loaf appeared quite recently, but managed to reach no.6 position. It was a delicious loaf, and I must bake it again soon.

Marmalade cookies - who doesn't like cookies?! Easy to bake, always welcome with a cup of tea or coffee.

Reuben sandwich made it to no.4. You can't beat a good old classic sandwich.

Italian recipes are often in demand, judging by the stats of my blog through the years.
Aubergine parmigiana is another classic recipe which has loads of fans.

Italian cooking, Italian recipes, aubergine recipes

Crabbie's Raspberry delight  cocktail recipe proved to be popular on the run to Christmas, and propelled it to no.2.

festive cocktail recipes

And Ta Da... no.1 was a total surprise for me, as it's quite a recent post, having appeared just over a month ago:
Plaice in tomato saffron sauce recipe achieved the highest score of the year, and I'm not quite sure why. It was a tasty meal, but if I had to pick my most favourite recipe of the year, it would have probably been some dessert.

I'm wishing you all a very happy new year! And thank you again for reading my blog!