Friday, 24 October 2014

Coconut & Malibu rum cupcakes

I love browsing in our local Beanbag Natural Health shop, discovering unfamiliar brands or less known ranges. My little man loves rice cakes, coated in yogurt, and I often pop in to buy a pack for him. Last week I saw a box of Biona organic coconut flour on the shelf of gluten-free products, and as we all love coconut-flavoured cakes and bakes, I thought it might be a good idea to try it.
I often use dessicated coconut in baking but it was the first time I cooked with the coconut flour.

Biona organic coconut flour, "made from the finest selected organic coconuts, is a healthy alternative to wheat and other grain flours. Ideal for both sweet and savoury baking... 
If you are planning on using coconut flour as a substitute for traditional flour, make sure to adjust your recipe by adding extra ingredients such as egg, tapioca flour or chia gel. Due to coconut flour being non-glutinous, these additional ingredients are needed to bind the mixture".

Coconut & Malibu rum cupcakes
3 medium eggs
50g caster sugar
50g coconut flour
1tsp vanilla bean extract
50g butter, melted
3tbsp Malibu rum
2tbsp water
for the frosting:
3tbsp coconut oil
3+ tbsp icing sugar
3tbsp light condensed milk
2tbsp dessicated coconut

Beat the eggs with sugar in a mixing bowl, add the coconut flour and mix well. Add the vanilla, butter, rum and a couple of tablespoons of water to give it a softer consistency, easier to spoon into muffin cases. As you can see from the photo below, the texture is quite dense, and it is completely different from the normal flour.

Bake at 180C for 15-20 minutes (check with a wooden skewer if they're ready).

Mix the coconut oil with the icing sugar, condensed milk and dessicated coconut to make frosting.

Texture-wise, these coconut cupcakes reminded me a bit of Mrs Crimble's macaroons - quite dense and not at all like cupcakes made with the standard flour. I liked the mild coconut flavour and the aroma the flour gave to the baked product, but wasn't that enthusiastic about the texture.
I think next time I am going to use the coconut flour in baking, I will mix it with the normal flour, maybe 1/3 coconut flour to 2/3 normal flour. Or gluten free flour, if I know we have a guest on a gluten free diet.
My guys liked the cupcakes and they have disappeared quickly enough, but I think there is a room for improvement.
Have you tried baking with the coconut flour? What did you think?

The Bay Tree: Christmas treats

There is 61 day until Christmas! You might grumble and scorn the Christmas displays in shops, or you might rejoice in the festive atmosphere and join in the fun. I might be nodding my head wisely, talking to the other people "It's way too early to mention the C-word", but inside I am quite content at the sight of shelves of mince pies and Stollen. I love foodie gifts for Christmas, both as a recipient and as a gift giver. If you are looking for gifts and stocking fillers, The Bay Tree has it all covered, beautifully.
The company was set up by trained chef Emma Macdonald 20 years ago, so this year they are celebrating their 20th Christmas with a wide range of home-developed chutneys, jams, mustards, jellies and other preserves. This Somerset brand now boasts an impressive selection of almost 200 lines.
I have recently tasted and tested two lovely Christmas gift sets from The Bay Tree's Christmas assortment.
I do love making my own preserves, as you might have seen on my blog, but I also often buy them. I find it particularly difficult to resist those unusual artisan preserves or novelty sets which you discover in small shops like delis and farm shops.

Sweet Preserve Christmas House comes in a beautifully designed house box decorated with festive images of a Christmas stocking, wrapped gifts, branches of holly and Santa. My younger son has been enchanted with it, and once the jars were removed, it has become a new home for his Lego mini figures.

The Sweet Preserve Christmas House is a trio of traditional sweet preserves: raspberry jam, strawberry jam and a Seville orange marmalade. This classic combination of quality preserves is made according to The Bay Tree's home developed recipes.

The Bay Tree raspberry jam

I have invited a friend to a tasting session. I toasted a few slices of bread, brewed a pot of tea and we tucked into jars. We were in total agreement that all sweet preserves scored high points in the taste department. While raspberry and strawberry jams were well set (you could scoop them out of a jar, heaped), the marmalade was quite runny. When I make my own sweet preserves, it's usually the other way around, I make my jams softer and runnier, and my marmalade is more set. That's not a problem, of course.

In fact, the runny marmalade makes a great glaze for roast. I cooked the duck breasts for dinner, and spread the marmalade over them. The end result was delicious.

For a savoury Christmas treat I have chosen a duo of Boxing Day Chutney and Christmas pickle, which comes together in a plastic see-through container. Savoury Christmas pack would make a great accompaniment for a cheese platter, or Boxing Day cold meat platter. Dads and Grandpas would be thrilled with such a delicious gift (well, Mummies and Grannies too).

The Boxing Day Chutney is an apricot chutney with coriander, sultanas, orange juice, ginger and other ingredients. Great with cheese, it will also work perfectly with cold meats, and could be a great alternative to cranberry sauce in turkey sandwiches.

Fragrant and aromatic, this chutney could be added to curries as well. Or try blending it with cream cheese and walnuts for a scrummy spread for crackers.

Christmas Pickle is a fruity mix of cranberries, apples and currants. It is darker in colour and chunkier than the apricot chutney. Excellent with traditional fare, this could be another perfect filling for a turkey or stuffing sandwich. Open a jar, and smell all the festive Christmas aromas of spices, currants and cranberries.

It is sweet and tangy, great for a little something in between meals, when you are feeling peckish. Spread a tablespoon of chutney on a cracker or a small piece of chunky bread and add a bit of cheese.
So, if you are looking for Christmas foodie gifts, The Bay Tree offers a lovely range of festive foods.

To see a full range of products visit The Bay Tree.

Disclosure: I received The Bay Tree products for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are mine.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

A timeless charm of Cogges

After days and days of incessant rain, we were lucky to have a sunny Sunday, and when asked what we should do, Eddie enthusiastically encouraged us to go to Cogges. Not that any of us needs any encouragement. We love Cogges Manor Farm, and have visited it so many times, I lost count.

As a rule, we first have a short break in the Cogges cafe, boys are enjoying their soft drinks, while Papa and I have coffee and tea. I rather gave up on coffee there, as it is rather uninspiring. It is not terrible but there are better places in town to enjoy a cup of latte or cappuccino. With Teapigs selection of teas, at least I know I will get a decent cup of tea. Scones are pretty good, and so are blondies. And if you are lucky, you might find duck eggs in the shop as well as some local vegetables.

Eddie always insists on buying some veggie mix for the piggies. These must be the best fed piggies in Oxfordshire, as all visiting kids want to feed them. It's a pleasure to watch them eating with gusto.

Boys love all the climbing frames, the zip wire and the wobbly bridge. Each time we visit, they do a jumping routine on the bridge.

Sasha was in a melancholic mood on the last visit and preferred to just sit and watch the commotion below.

He was happy though to share the basket swing with his younger brother.

The weather was lovely, and we had a ramble around the fields at the back of the farm, watching curious ponies who came up close to us, waiting for some snacks, and shy sheep who ran away.

I was excited to read in the Cogges email newsletter about the upcoming shooting of Downton Abbey.They have been filming this week, alas, I haven't had a chance to sneak in and watch in person. The house has been prepped for this week. I have been enjoying spotting Cogges kitchen and outside buildings in the last episodes of Downton Abbey, where it has been transformed into Yew Tree Farm, home of Lady Edith's daughter Marigold.

Dining-room at Cogges

Dining-room at Cogges

I'm a big fan of Downton Abbey, and feel thrilled that our favourite Cogges appears extensively in the latest series. Most of the Yew Tree Fram scenes take place in the fabulous kitchen. I swear I could live in that kitchen, with its cozy stove and gorgeous display of vintage china.

They have changed some of the china and kitchen gadgets to make it fit the portrayed historical period, but it is still a very recognisable old kitchen.

I hope we'll still have a chance to visit Cogges before it closes down for winter. So, rain, rain, go away.

Adding our visit to the farm post to #CountryKids linky on Coombe Mill blog.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall
And because we had a meal out, it fits our new Out & About linky run by Alison from Dragons and Fairy Dust and me - which is all about eating out. 

Chez Maximka

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Autumnal teas from Bluebird Tea Co

What could be more comforting after a brisk walk in the cold than warming your hands on a hot mug of tea. All senses are involved: sight, smell, touch, taste and even hearing, if you count the jolly whistle of your kettle... Celebrating the golden autumn, Bluebird Tea Co has introduced several new blends to its ever expanding range. I have tried two new varieties: Gingersnap Green and Mocha Chai.

Gingersnap Green tea consists of Chinese green tea, apple pieces, ginger, Hibiscus, mango pieces, papaya pieces, sugar, Calendula petals, Sunflower petals and flavour. The longer you keep it in a pot, the stronger ginger flavour comes through. If you give it no longer than 3 minutes to brew, the peach and fruit come first, while ginger gives warmth and a touch of spice. Flower petals add a splash of colour to a festive autumnal look of the tea.

The green tea unfurls in the hot water, and the tea in the teapot is slowly releasing its pinkness from the depth. The tea tastes fruity, light and refreshing.
The loose tea looks like an Impressionistic painting, and it smells good.

This weather is perfect for chai, hot and spicy, with a spoon of honey and milk. When you are not sure if you want to put the heating on, sitting by the laptop, wrapped in hubby's old jumper, chai is a great belly warmer.

Mocha Chai is another new blend, an inspired trip of coffee, chocolate and chai.

Open a packet, pour the contents in a dish and find all sorts of ingredients: whole coffee beans sit comfortably in Sri-Lankan black tea together with cacao beans, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and vanilla. This is a darker brew than Gingersnap Green tea. It is an innovative combination of coffee and tea as well as cocoa, evocative of evenings around the fire.

If you enjoy trying new varieties of tea, Bluebird Tea Co have already announced its new Christmas blends.

Qabili Pilau (Dhruv Baker's recipe for Tilda rice)

The aroma of cooking pilau or pilaf takes me back to my childhood, when we used to visit family friends. The pater familias was a Korean born and bred in Uzbekistan, which is famous for its delicious pilaf dishes. He always cooked a lamb plov (that's what we call it in Russia), and it was a real feast. It has been cooked for hours in a special heavy pot, with a whole head of garlic sitting inside the rice. Memories, memories... When Tilda rice asked me recently if I would like to try some of their new recipes created by Dhruv Baker, I immediately said Yes.

MasterChef winner Dhruv Baker has been working wonders in partnership with Tilda (you might have seen and enjoyed their Limited edition rice packs). To coincide with the coming Diwali celebrations they have just released the first ever Rice & Spice Pairing Guide, which is "designed to help people understand the complex characteristics of rice and discover mealtime pairings".
This guide "helps uncover how wholegrain Basmati balances perfectly with spices like smoked paprika in a chilli con carne and why Basmati, often referred to as the Prince of Rice is an ideal accompaniment to a perfect chicken curry".

Having read the Guide, I was happy to try all the recipes. The first one I have chosen to recreate was a Qabili Pilau, which pairs Tilda Easy Cook basmati with cinnamon. I don't usually add cinnamon to pilaf, and was curious to try this combination of flavours.

Apart from cinnamon, there are also such spices as cumin, saffron and pepper. Tilda Easy Cook Basmati is exactly what it says on the packet - easy to cook. It has a unique fragrance which is ideal alongside the cumin, saffron and cinnamon.
"It is also more robust, both texturally and in terms of flavour, so it stands up to the lamb resulting in a fabulous finished dish".
What did we think of the pilau? It was absolutely spot on flavour-wise, a great combination of rice, meat, spices and vegetables.

Qabili Pilau (serves 6) - Recipe is reproduced with kind permission from Tilda
360g Tilda Easy Cook Basmati
3tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
600g lamb, diced
200ml water
2 large carrots
100g black seedless raisins
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp saffron
1 litre of water
salt and pepper

Prep time 10 mins
Cook time 2hrs 10 mins

1. Heat a large pan with the 2 tbsp oil and add the onions and saute until brown.
2. Add the lamb and brown lightly.
3. Add the 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp cumin, pepper with the water and cover. Simmer until meat is tender, about 1 1/2 hours.
4. Remove meat from the juice and set juice aside.
5. Cut 2 carrots into match stick pieces. Saute carrots and 1 tsp sugar in 1 tbsp of oil.
6. Remove from oil. Add 1 cup of raisins to the oil and cook until they soften up.
7. Simmer the leftover meat juices until it thickens into a sauce.
8. Bring a pan of water to the boil and add the Tilda Easy Cook Basmati, cook for 8 mins and then drain off the excess water.
9. Add the rice back to the pan with 5 tsp of the meat sauce and the saffron. Mix the meat, carrots, raisins and rice together. Add salt and pepper to taste.
10. Place in a large oven-proof dish and cover well to keep the steam inside. Bake for 30 mins at 200C.

11. Serve on a large platter and enjoy with the leftover meat sauce.

I have tried some of Dhruv Baker's recipes in the past, and if you are interested to check them out, please read my posts:
Dhruv Baker's Perfect Chicken Curry
Tilli's Tasty Tuna Bites

Disclosure: I received vouchers for purchasing products and testing a recipe.

The Adventures of Abney & Teal (issue 1)

If you have a pre-schooler in the family, I am sure you buy lots of CBeebies magazines like Peppa Pig, In the Night Garden, Octonauts, Tree Fu Tom and many more. My younger son Eddie loves these magazines, and most of the time when we go shopping together, we end up buying a magazine or two. Whenever my husband groans "Not another magazine!", I try to justify the purchase, saying they are educational. If like Eddie and I you find the appeal of CBeebies magazines irresistible, you will be excited to know that Abney & Teal now have a magazine of their own.

Abney & Teal are popular among preschoolers for their lovely gentle stories, with mild humour and old-fashioned charm (and I use "old-fashioned" here as a compliment and a synonym for retro, because the animation's pace and soothing stories are reminiscent of the TV programmes which we have enjoyed as children).
We were lucky to receive a preview copy of The Adventures of Abney & Teal, which is out this week. Eddie was very happy to read a new magazine.

The first issue comes with free toys, a guitar and a recorder, which I must say Eddie was more enthusiastic about than me.

The magazine is created along the same lines, as the other CBeebies magazines: there are stories to read, colouring pages and puzzles to complete, lots of stickers and a competition to enter. Eddie enjoyed listening to the Rock music story. There are questions at the end of the stories, which help you to find out how much your child can remember, as well as questions leading to a discussion, for example, about your child's favourite musical instruments.

Then there is an Abney & Teal's Reward Chart for 4 weeks, which invites your little one to learn a new song or draw a picture for someone special. Each day has a different task, and you can use star stickers to mark the completed tasks on the chart.

There are colouring pages. Who doesn't like colouring?! Always great for quiet evening activities or a rainy day.

Eddie was happy to go through a counting workbook and help Abney & Teal work out what's big and small (in fact they're just going through these concepts in school - bigger/smaller, lighter/heavier etc). As my son is learning to write his numbers and letters, he relishes simple tasks like tracing the numbers and letters.
The magazine costs £2.99, and would appeal to all fans of Abney & Teal, big or small.

Disclosure: we received a preview copy of the magazine for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are mine.