Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Oreo Cheesecake (baked)

best cheesecake

It's not a secret that we love Oreos. This scrumptious biscuit makes a versatile ingredient for many bakes.
I have fond memories of little Sash lovingly twisting each Oreo, licking off the white icing inside and then eating the chocolate wafers. Now Eddie is a big fan of these cookies.

I remember seeing an Oreo cheesecake on Pinterest. I have looked online for a recipe, a lot of them were for non-baked Oreo cheesecakes. Finally I found what I wanted on AllRecipes - see Easy Philly Oreo cheesecake.
I have used a full-fat cream cheese. In the past I used light versions of cream cheese, but I found them too runny for cheesecakes.
I followed the recipe closely, adding a few minor changes, but overall this is not my recipe, all credit goes to Philadelphia for the most delicious cheesecake.
I added a bit of soured cream, as it gives a good tang to cheesecakes, but a Greek style yogurt would be another possible addition.

best cheesecake recipe

Oreo Cheesecake
25 Oreos (16 for the crust and 9 for the cheesecake layer)
50g butter, melted
ground vanilla (optional)
3 packs of Philadelphia cream cheese (280g each)
150g caster sugar
4 medium eggs
4tbsp soured cream
1tbsp vanilla paste

Divide Oreos into two groups of 16 and 9. Then carefully open up each of 16 cookies and scrape off the white icing (it will go inside the cheesecake topping). Place all the black biscuits inside a plastic bag, and bash it with a wooden rolling pin until you get a crumb consistency.
Melt the butter and mix with cookie crumbs. If using, grate some vanilla over the crumbs.
Line a spring cake tin with a parchment circle and oil sides. Put the cookie/butter mix in the bottom of the tin and spread evenly. Using hands, press the crumbs together.
In a deep mixing bowl beat together cream cheese with sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, then soured cream, white icing from cookies and vanilla and mix well. The cheese has a runny consistency.
Pour a half over the crumb base. Break half of the remaining Oreos over the cheese.
Pour more cheese, and break more cookies over.
Place the tin in the oven preheated to 180C.
Bake for about 45-50 minutes. If the cake gets too browned, cover it with a foil.

Remove from the oven, and let the cake cool. It will still have a wobble, when you take the cake out.

Now the most difficult part: waiting for it to set. Ideally it should stay overnight in the fridge.
The next morning you will have the most scrumptious cheesecake.

cake recipes with Oreo

It would also be interesting to play around with different types of Oreos, maybe use Golden or Peanut Butter Oreos.
If you love Oreos as much as we do, you might be interested in trying to make your own White chocolate Oreo fudge (our family favourite) and Oreo brownies.

Disney Eye Found It! (Ravensburger hidden picture game)

Are you a family who loves playing board games on Christmas, taking it easy after a big lunch? Or is playing games together a more frequent occasion in your family?

I'm all in favour of board games, as they are great fun (and they distract everyone from being glued to iphones, ipads and other gadgety things).
If you are looking for a new board game for Christmas and want to get away from the usual suspects (Monopoly, Cluedo, Scrabble etc), Disney Eye Found It from Ravensburger will tick all the boxes.
This hidden picture game is suitable for the whole family (ages 4+) and could include up to 6 players.

Disney fans will find many of their favourite characters on a magical journey through 12 illustrated Disney realms, from Radiator Springs to Peter Pan's Never Land and Pooh's Hundred Acre Wood.

What do you find in the box?
1 giant game board which comes in several big pieces
6 playing pieces with stands
1 spinner
12 plastic rings
30 search cards
and an hourglass

First assemble your game board.
You will need a well lit area to play this game, as there are lots of small details which you might miss otherwise. It is probably easier to unfold the game on the floor, or on a big table (our coffee table, which we use for playing games is too short for the base plate).

Choose a playing piece - be a Mickey, Tigger or Elsa - and journey through Disney realms, searching for hidden treasures.

There are over 1,000 things to find (don't worry, not in one go).
The beauty of this game is that you have to work as a team. You don't compete against each other. You win, everyone wins, you lose, everyone loses.
Together with your fellow players you need to beat the clock before it reaches midnight. If it does, off you go to the start to begin your journey anew.

The youngest player begins the game.
Spin the spinner and follow the instructions. If you get numbers from 1 to 8, you simply advance forward along the road. If your spinner stops at Clock Tower 1, you move the hand of the clock tower one hour ahead. If you stop at Clock Tower 2, you move the hand of the clock tower two hours ahead.

Stopping on Mickey Mouse symbol means it's time to search. Turn over the top search card from the draw pile and show it to all the players.

Turn over the hourglass. All participants start searching for the treasure seen on the card.
Each time one of you finds the right image, put a ring over it.
Stop when the hourglass has run through. Count the rings and move forward the same amount of spaces.

You will also see the Mickey Mouse symbol along the blue road as you travel. If you land on the symbol square, start a new search.

The game finishes once all the players reached the castle before the clock strikes midnight.

This excellent board game will make a wonderful gift for Christmas for the whole family.
You can buy this game on amazon, in Toys'R'Us, House of Fraser, John Lewis, Argos etc.

Another brilliant Ravensburger game for Christmas or any other occasion is Labyrinth - we have two different sets - original and Despicable Me 3, and love both versions.

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

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Aubergine Ikra

Russian vegetarian recipes

It's been over a week, since my Mum flew back home, and I miss her so. I talk to her every day on the phone, but it's not the same, is it?! I am trying to think positively, and convince myself that with each passing week it means that it's one week closer to the next time we'll see each other.
The truth is, of course, that we never know, if the next time will happen.
My Mum is in her 70s, her health is not getting better. And due to my circumstances, I haven't travelled to Russia for over 13 years. I cannot fathom taking a long flight with our older son who has autism, and is always anxious travelling. Even a relatively short flight to Italy is fraught with anxiety and stress. Airport check-ins and waiting are stressful even for neuro typical people, for autistic people they are extra tough.
I wish my Mum lived closer to us, and we could see each other often. But it's not going to happen. Thousands of miles separate us. Sad, but there is nothing we can do about it.
Whenever she comes, I ask her to cook some Russian food for me - familiar dishes and flavours that take me back home.

We went shopping together recently, and I picked three beautiful aubergines. I should have probably just chosen three purple ones, as the skins are peeled off for the recipe anyway, but they looked so pretty, I couldn't resist.

Aubergine ikra is a Russian answer to a Sicilian caponata. This Southern Russian dish is known as a poor man's caviar. There are many different variations, and even my Mum doesn't stick to one particular recipe. Ingredients might remain the same, but the amounts differ.
Aubergine ikra is something in between a spread, a side dish and a dip. It could be eaten hot or cold. I prefer it cold. I think it gets tastier on the 2nd or even 3rd day, kept in the fridge, when all the flavours merge together and mature.

Aubergine ikra
3 aubergines
4 sweet peppers
2 carrots
1 big white onion
tomatoes (mix of 3 big and a handful of cherry)
sunflower oil (about 1/3 bottle)
sea salt

Mum chops and slices all ingredients first, and fcooks them separately.

Skin the aubergine and chop into small cubes. Add about 70ml sunflower oil to a deep frying pan and fry the aubergine cubes until soft and golden, stirring them frequently, for about 10-15 minutes. Once cooked, place the aubergines in a bowl.
Chop the carrots very thinly and fry with a small amount of oil. Once cooked, add to the bowl with aubergines.
Next chop the onions and saute in oil until soft and translucent.
Fry the sweet peppers, chopped into small pieces. Again, add to the bowl with the other cooked ingredients.
Add the chopped tomatoes to the frying pan and cook for about 5 minutes. Place in a bowl, mix all the ingredients well and return to the pan. Cook it for another 5-10 minutes, stirring frequently. season with sea salt at the very last stage, when all the ingredients are combined.

Russian vegan recipes

Before serving add some chopped flat leaf parsley (optional).

Russian vegetarian recipes

Monday, 13 November 2017

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Getaway

Eddie is a big fan of The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. We have them all, and read them together.
He begged me to pre-book the latest release when he saw the poster in Waterstone's, and we ran to the bookshop after school to buy it, as soon as I received the text, notifying us the book was out.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Getaway is the 12th book in the series by Jeff Kinney.
There are inevitable comparisons with the 9th book in the series, The Long Haul, as both stories are about the Heffleys going on a family trip.
This time the Heffleys are off to a tropical paradise resort, where Greg's parents went on their honeymoon many years earlier and have fond memories of.
They are fed up with the cold, and on a whim decide to spend Christmas holidays in the warmer climes.
Greg, who's never been on an airplane before, is terrified of flying. The first part of the book goes into great detail about what you do at the airport and on board the plane. Though recognisable, it is not very funny.
As always, everything is exaggerated for the fun effect.

The men in the family are all fine examples of selfishness and egoism - from Dad who wants to spend the flight in the first class zone to Rodrick and Greg. And don't even start me on Manny, he's the epitome of a spoilt brat, the Devil incarnate.

After an ordeal, they arrive to Isla de Corales, and sigh with relief.
But the paradise exists only in their minds and dreams: the reality soon brings them back to earth. They in turns have a food poisoning, a sun-stroke, battle with all kinds of vermin, and by pandering to whims of the unbearably selfish Manny, have to escape the angry mob at the resort.

The fans of the series will still enjoy this latest installment. Eddie loved it, as for me, the greatest value of the series is that it turns my son into an avid reader.
We take it in turns to read these books. I will read to him for half an hour, then he continues to read to me, while I'm ironing uniforms for the next morning.

When a book turns into a successful franchise, do you keep writing even if you are short on ideas?!

Have you rushed to buy The Getaway?

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Birthday lunch at Frankie & Benny's

To celebrate Federico's birthday today, we decided to go out for lunch to Frankie & Benny's in Marriotts Walk. We visit it a couple of times a year.
The menu is a typical American-Italian food, quite heavy on meat, with a big choice of burgers, pasta and pizzas. Most of the things come with fries.
There are some vegetarian dishes on the menu, which I have tried in the past, but they were a bit boring. I don't think salads are their forte.

Going out with Sash is always tricky. If it's too noisy, he might get stressed and want to leave at once, but we decided we'd still go out together, as we wanted to celebrate Fede's birthday as a family.
Thankfully, Sash was in a good mood.

At some point, there was a young child running around and screeching at the top of her voice, and I braced myself, thinking Sash would get anxious, but the child was soon removed somewhere else to annoy the other people.

When the time came to order, first they didn't have prosecco, then champagne was only available as a bottle (at £35+), which we didn't want.
Steak was all gone, except the biggest size.
In the end we ordered a pina colada cocktail, a glass of rose for me, pepsi and blackcurrant drinks for kids.

Bruschetta looked pretty, but I'd prefer it more toasted.

For me pasta is not a celebratory meal at all, but our birthday boy opted for a plate of carbonara.

A Triple Cheese Burger is as full of calories as it sounds. It has mozzarella sticks inside and lots of mustard, and comes with fries. I should go on a diet tomorrow, shouldn't I?! And no dinner tonight.

Eddie wanted burger slides from children's menu, with fries and peas.

Desserts' list was full of temptations. My guys fancied milkshakes with all sorts of toppings, like cookies, waffles and donuts, but I was wondering if the stodgy bits get soggy in milk.
Have you ever tried those Freakshakes and would you recommend them?

In the end we picked a Can't Decider dessert, which is a perfect option for those who cannot make up their minds. You get four small slices of different cakes - a lemon tart, a pecan pie, a chocolate fudge cake and an Oreo cheesecake, and a mini bowl of vanilla ice cream.

Children's meal deal includes a dessert. Eddie liked the sound of fruit skewers with a chocolate dip.

He said he wished there were more strawberries rather than apples.

We enjoyed our meal together, which is even more precious because Sasha was with us and appeared to be happy and smiley. Simple things like that - eating out together - are often fraught with stress for families with special needs children, so we appreciate these times even more when everything goes without any trouble.

Eddie loves going to Frankie & Benny's, and we had a good laugh together, taking selfies and telling jokes.
The bill was £60+ for four of us.
Our birthday boy got three balloons to take home.
On the way home I was singing aloud "Ding dong merrily on high... Hosanna in excelsis" which left Eddie in stitches, though he kept looking back if anyone could hear us. And I only had one glass of rose, honestly.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

SportsDirect £5 gift challenge

We don't often visit Sports Direct, as we don't have this store in town. Whenever there is an opportunity to have a peek, for example, when we go to Oxford or visit Penzance, we have a good browse inside and end up buying one item of sports clothing or another, mainly for my guys. Generally we find the prices to be very reasonable, and the range varied.

When BritMums have asked parenting bloggers to join in #sdfiverchallenge and find Christmas gifts for a fiver at SportsDirect online, I was curious to discover just how easy (or difficult) the task could be. I haven't shopped with them online before, so this was my first experience.
All participating bloggers received £30 credit to use, and the task was to pick at least two items for £5, spending the remaining balance as we like.

SportsDirect is well known for its sports range of clothing, trainers and accessories, but would we be able to find perfect stocking fillers for Christmas.
I had a good look at the selection of Christmas gifts and toys, and was surprised to see a big variety of items (Reindeer LED hat for £1.49 anyone?!).

As much as I was tempted by some novelty gifts, I decided to spend my £30 allowance on practical gifts for my family.

Eddie wanted me to buy him a football, but I pointed out to him that he has several footballs in the garden already.
Being a chocoholic, I was tempted to spend the whole lot on chocolate - and yes, I was surprised to find a reasonable choice of chocolate gifts in SportsDirect - from advent calendars to mug and chocolate bars sets.

Ordering online was an easy process, the only difficulty was to stay in the limits of my allowance and not overspend. I could have easily spent a double of that and more, as the selection of products was impressive.

My elder son Sash likes beanie hats, preferably in dark colours.
Rhino Rugby Beanie Hat costs £5 precisely. Acrylic, with fleece lining, it would do nicely for late autumn and winter.

The next gift was again for my him - a warm Lee C FZ Hoodie, which I have squirreled away until Christmas. It is very soft and comfy, and I imagine my son will be happy to wear it, as it is the sporty style that he favours.

Firetrap Pyre Scarf (Grey/Black) was a gift for my brother. My Mum stayed with us recently for several weeks, and I've been buying gifts for her to take back to my family in Russia.
A warm scarf is a must, and I hope my brother will enjoy wearing it.

Eddie is a big Marvel fan. Most of his clothes have characters from his favourite films and animation series. Batman is one of our biggest favourites, so I knew he'd be ecstatic with yet another Batman hat.

Character Flat Peak Junior Batman Hat  has an adjustable snapback fastening and integrated headband. It is made from polyester and cotton. If Batman leaves you cold, you can opt for Minions, a generic Marvel hat or Star Wars-themed one. It comes at a princely sum of £4. What a bargain!

I love hats, and couldn't resist treating myself to a new one.

Heatons Wool Flower Hat is a total steal at £5. I've been wearing it for the past week. It is stylish, soft and warm. Just the other day I've seen a very similar hat at Debenhams at around £20.
It is a mix of wool and polyester, and is styled with a trimmed detail with a flower motif.

Before the challenge I wouldn't have thought of SportsDirect as a shopping mecca for Christmas gifts, but we were pleasantly surprised.

So, what do you think of my haul? Did I spend my £30 wisely?

This post is an entry for BritMums #sdfiverchallenge Christmas Challenge, sponsored by 

Disclosure: As mentioned above, we received £30 credit to spend online (including postage). All opinions are our own.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Oreo Brownies

TGIF and all that! On Fridays Eddie often has his best buddy over after school. They love to watch Youtube videos together, maybe have a Roblox session on my ipad and share a big bag of Doritos between them, i.e. the whole kaboodle.
My guys love Oreos in all guises and disguises, of all sizes and most flavours (all but minty ones). Since trying a recipe for white chocolate Oreo fudge back in summer, I've been making it regularly.
But today I decided to make brownies with Oreo Thins instead of fudge. I'm hoping my guys and Eddie's friend will love them as much as they love Oreo fudge.

I have looked online for a recipe, and the one I liked the most could be found on Marsha's Baking Addiction blog, see her recipe for Fudgy Oreo Brownies.
I have adapted the recipe: used her list of ingredients, but changed quantities. For the original recipe check out the link above.

I used a pack of Oreo Thins, but standard Oreos would be perfect as well.

easy brownies recipe

Oreo Brownies
140g butter
90g dark chocolate (I used Green & Black's Velvet edition dark chocolate, 70% cocoa)
200g caster sugar
100g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
35g cocoa powder
1tsp vanilla paste
a good pinch of sea salt
3 medium eggs
a pack of Oreo Thins (16 biscuits)

Melt butter and dark chocolate together in a metal mixing bowl over simmering hot water pan. Once melted, set aside. Add the sugar and mix, sift in the flour, baking powder, cocoa and mix in vanilla and salt. Beat in 3 eggs, one at a time. Mix well till you get a batter of thick and smooth consistency.

Preheat the oven to 180C.
Line a brownie tin with parchment paper, and oil a bit. I use an oil spray.
Pour in half of the dough mix inside the tin and spread it evenly with a spatula. Put 9 Oreo cookies on top and press in lightly.

Scoop the remaining brownie mix over the Oreos, and spread evenly.
Break the remaining Oreos over the top of the brownie and press them in gently.

Bake at 180C for about 30 minutes. If the toothpick comes out clean, they're ready.

These are lovely chocolatey brownies, a bit too sweet for me. I have already reduced the amount of sugar from the original recipe, but I would go lower on sugar next time I would make it, perhaps 150g rather than 200g.

Adding my brownies to #WeShouldCocoa linky hosted by one and only Choclette at Tin and Thyme.