Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Beef steak with balsamic strawberry sauce

It seems I am never going to catch up with all my recipe blogging, as I cook daily and take photos, sometimes taking notes of ingredients, sometimes not, rather hoping that I would remember how I cooked the dish. I've got way too many photos which I look at in bewilderment now, trying to recollect which ingredients I used. Some photos are easy to deconstruct, you just look at what's on the dish, but of course, with the spices and sauces it could be tricky. I cooked beef steaks with balsamic strawberry sauce over a week ago, and thankfully scribbled a basic list of ingredients in my battered and splattered notebook.



Beef Steak with Balsamic Strawberry Sauce (serves 2)
Ingredients:
strawberries (a punnet of 227g)
2tbsp balsamic vinegar
1tsp caster sugar
2 medium sized beef steaks
2tbsp olive oil
for side dish:
a medium sized pumpkin
about 6 plums, halved
cinnamon & nutmeg
2 tbsp olive oil

Start by slicing the strawberries. Place them in a small roasting dish or tray, pour the balsamic vinegar over and sprinkle a spoon of sugar. Roast in the oven preheated to 180C for about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven, put in a bowl and blitz with the blender. This will be your sauce for steaks. It looks a bit like thick ketchup.
The sauce could be cooked ahead.


Put the whole pumpkin in the oven as you roast the strawberries. In 20 minutes it will be soft enough to cut easily into chunks. Remove the seeds but keep the skin on. Place the slices of the pumpkin in the oven with plum halves. Pour some olive oil and sprinkle with the nutmeg and cinnamon. Roast for half an hour.


Cook the steaks. I don't suggest the times, as I like my steak well-done.
Serve it with the pumpkin and plums and the strawberry sauce poured over the steak.



P.S. While taking photos, make sure the shutter is open completely, or you will end up with photos like mine, with black corners. :)

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Parnsip and fennel soup with caramelised chestnuts

This morning when Eddie and I walked to school through the fields (it's a longer way but much more beautiful and also you avoid the mad traffic with all the pollution for half of the walk), the ground with low lying grass was white with frost. Not surprising really, as it's almost the end of November. On the way back home I popped in Waitrose to get some fresh bread, and saw the most gorgeous plump fennel bulbs. I grabbed one to make some parsnip and fennel soup.



Parsnip and fennel soup with caramelised chestnuts
Ingredients:
2 medium parnsips, peeled and cubed
1 big fennel bulb, sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 banana shallot, halved
2cm of ginger root, grated
2 tbsp vegetable stock powder (I used Marigold Swiss Vegetable Bouillon powder)
100ml semi-skimmed milk
200g whole chestnuts, cooked and peeled (e.g. Merchant Gourmet)
1tbsp olive oil
1tbsp balsamic vinegar
1tbsp maple syrup
Slice the fennel, peel and cube parsnips, and halve a shallot. Place the vegetables in a small tray, drizzle with the olive oil and roast for half an hour in the oven at 180C.
Open a packet of cooked whole chestnuts, cut each one in half. Put the chestnuts in another small roasting tray or dish, drizzle with the olive oil, balsamic vinegar and maple syrup, mix well to coat all pieces. Roast in the oven for half an hour at 180C.



Remove the vegetables from the oven, put them in a medium sized pan, cover with water. Add the vegetable stock powder or stock cube. Add the milk, the grated ginger and bring to the boil, then simmer for 20 minutes or so. Whizz the soup with the blender.
Serve the soup with the chestnuts (they sink in). 
That's proper comfort food - sweet and savoury.


Adding my recipe to Vegetable Palette Linky on A2K - A Seasonal Veg Table blog run by Shaheen. Theme of the month: White vegetables.


Monday, 24 November 2014

Top Advent Calendars for 2014

My younger son Eddie was recently going through a big Argos catalogue. When I asked him what he was looking for, he replied that he was looking for what he wanted for Christmas. That's my boy.
I don't know about you, but with my two sons I cannot avoid the subject of Advent Calendars. Not that I would want to. As a child growing up in the Soviet Union, I haven't even heard of the Advent Calendars. You can say I am catching up now for the lost opportunities in my childhood (meant ironically, as you don't really miss what you don't know about).
I have already got four Advent Calendars ready for 1 December, and am also wondering whether to treat myself too.
My boys will be getting their chocolate treats from Thorntons.
We had a couple of The Snowman and the Snowdog Advent Calendars last year, and my sons loved the chocolate treats.
This year The Snowman and the Snowdog Advent Calendar is slightly redesigned, but hopefully will have the same delicious chocolates.



And I couldn't resist buying The Gruffalo Advent Calendar from Thorntons. The Gruffalo is our family favourite. I got both from Waitrose, but the Gruffalo doesn't appear in their online shop.



Moving from chocolate to longer-lasting advent gifts. Lego. Do I need to say more?
Eddie is Lego-obsessed, and I love it too (remind me that when I step on a Lego brick in the middle of the night en route to the loo). If I could, I'd have bought all the Lego advent calendars for him, but he'll have to be content with a Lego City Advent Calendar. Eddie has seen the box, and keeps asking me every day if it's already time to open the first door. It was on offer at Tesco, and with their voucher boost promotion, it cost me about £7.50. This super duper advent calendar includes 7 mini-figures with assorted accessories. I'm looking forward to seeing my little man opening the doors every day.



Older Lego and Star Wars fans would enjoy a Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar.

Another toy brand much loved by kids and parents is Playmobil. They have several different Advent Calendars. If you are still looking for a good bargain, Argos is selling Santa's Workshop Advent Calendar from Playmobil at 25% off. It is suitable for ages 4-10, and comes with 4 mini-figures of elves, an angel and of course, Santa himself (on the 24th). The play scene is complete after 24 days.



Wow Toys, well known for its fun and educational toys, are inviting little people to celebrate the season with an exciting Wow Wonderland Advent Calendar. Each day a cute figure is revealed, and there is even a limited edition push-along Santa car included. 24 lovely toys. WOW indeed! Or like my son Eddie calls his WOW toys "Wowcher!".

Image credit: Wow Toys

If you think advent calendars are for children only, think again. Ladies of all ages have a great variety of beauty advent calendars, from Boots no.7 (all sold out online, but you might be lucky to find it locally, alas, our local shop has none left. I waited to be paid to treat myself, but they were all gone) to Benefit, from Liberty to You Beauty Advent Calendar.
Santa, if you are listening, I have been a very good girl. Could I have a prezzie?
Image credit: You Beauty Discovery

Another advent calendar that I would enjoy immensely is Tea Lovers Tea Bag Advent Calendar by Victoria Mae Designs. What a fantastic gift for any tea lover! Santa, are you taking notes?! Who wouldn't love 25 cute teabags, individually packaged in paper envelopes. Designs differ from lovely quotes to seasonal images. There are different flavours of tea included: English breakfast, Earl Grey, Summer Berries, Peppermint and more.

Image credit: Victoria Mae Designs


If you enjoy a dram or two (or even more) Maverick Drinks offers a splendid selection of advent calendars including whisky, premium whisky, gin, cognac, tequila and vodka. Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendar, for example, comes with a selection of single malts and blended malts from around the world.

Image credit: Maverick Drinks


And back to la dolce vita, Carluccio's advent calendar is a chocolate treat for grown-ups. While I haven't tried this particular brand of chocolate, I have already squirrelled away a big Carluccio's Pandoro for Christmas. I like the stylish design of the packaging and cute chocolate characters. Natale will be certainly Buon with this gift.



And Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without a bag of Jelly Bellies, or even better a Jelly Belly Advent Calendar. Open a window to find a small bag of flavoured jelly beans. A special surprise flavour is hidden behind the last window. I wonder what could it be?! My favourite jelly belly flavours are cafe latte, coconut, chocolate pudding, green tea and dark chocolate. Well, actually I love most of them except the liquorice. What flavours do you love? If you buy this box, do tell me what the surprise flavour was. I would love to know.



And that's my top 10 Advent Calendars for 2014. Are you treating your family or yourself to any of them?

Friday, 21 November 2014

Winter chicken & date salad (Random Recipes)

As the month is moving towards the end quite rapidly, I knew I needed to act fast if I wanted to join in Random Recipes challenge for November. Dom from Belleau Kitchen has challenged foodie bloggers to take out all old magazines and clippings, put them in one big pile and pick a random recipe. While I cannot say, I put ALL of my old magazines together, as I have too many baskets and boxes full of that stuff, all around the house. I went to our bedroom, where I keep several hamper baskets under the bed, picked one randomly and without looking grabbed an old copy of BBC Good Food (Christmas 2004). So far, so good, though I was secretly hoping for an Italian magazine or Taste Italia (which doesn't exist anymore, such a shame, they combined it with the travelling magazine, and I am not interested in renting villas on Lake Como or skiing in the Italian Alps).
Anyway, back to BBC Good Food, let's open the magazine. There are two recipes on the page, for a winter salad and a pizza.



I have slightly adapted the recipe. It asked for using the remains of a chicken roast, but then suggested using 600g cooked chicken or 4 cooked chicken breasts (an interesting chicken with 4 breasts). I didn't roast a chicken specifically for the purpose, but bought two chicken breasts instead. So, I halved the ingredients.



Winter chicken & date salad (serves 3-4)
Ingredients:
2 chicken breasts, cooked
1 Knorr garden herbs stock pot
1 clove of garlic
2tbsp rice vinegar
1 1/2tbsp caster sugar
a 2cm piece of ginger, grated
3tbsp creme fraiche
2 smaller parsnips
1 banana shallot
a handful of mint leaves
a handful of dates (about 6-7)

Cook the chicken breasts in boiling water with a stock pot for flavour. Let it cool in the stock to keep juicy and moist.
Mix together the garlic, rice vinegar, grated ginger and sugar. Coat the shredded or cubed chicken breasts. Leave to marinade for a couple of hours.
Remove the chicken from the marinade. Add the soured cream to the marinade, mix well. Fold the chicken back in the marinade with the coarsely shredded parsnips, thinly sliced shallot and dates, which were stoned and halved lengthways. Scatter a few mint leaves before serving.


We just had it for dinner, after a small cup of hot carrot lentil soup.
I liked it but would change the ratio of ingredients if I decide to cook it again. More parsnips, and probably not grated, but cooked and cubed. I might add a grated apple too, and a tablespoon of low-fat mayo. Mint wasn't quite the right herb either, flat leaf parsley or coriander would work better.
I love salads, and this wasn't a bad recipe at all.



Season to be jolly giveaway (c/d 5 December 2014)

Today is the 3rd day of the series of Christmas giveaways running on my blog, but this one will be slightly different. For 10 days I will be revealing a part of an overall prize, and each day there will be a new question. One winner will receive 10 days-haul of goodies.

Day 1: Today's prize is a lovely Her Ladyship mug and three Lindt Excellence bars (white, dark and milk to suit all tastes).
I have the same mug, and several of my blog readers commented on how much they liked it, so I bought one as a prize. As tea and chocolate are great companions, I also bought 3 bars of Lindt chocolate.
To be in with a chance of winning, please enter the Rafflecopter gadget and answer the following question
Question 1: What's the best Christmas present you've ever received or given?


-

Day 2: Today's (23/11) prize is a stylish kitchen gadget from Joseph Joseph - TriScale folding digital kitchen scale. This useful gadget has an easy to read LCD display with touch-sensitive controls, add & weight function which allows you to measure multiple ingredients in the same bowl and folds for compact storage.
Question for day 2: Do you have any kitchen gadgets that you bought but have never used?

Today's prize has been provided by Wild Card PR, and I was very tempted to keep it. :)



Day 3: a jolly festive My True Love Kitchen Towel from Ulster Weavers. As soon as I saw it in the local linen shop window, I loved it so much, I had to buy it.
Question 3: What do you plan for Christmas dinner, is it a traditional turkey, goose, duck or ham or  do you prefer a vegetarian main like a nut log?



Day 4 (25/11): cute cookie cutters - Christmas tree and star, plus handmade Royal icing decorations from Cake Angels.

Question 4: Do you enjoy entering advent competitions? Did you win anything Exciting last year?


Day 5: a selection of Tilda rice including White & Brown Basmati, Hyderabadi Masala, Khichdi wholegrain basmati, Mexican chilli & bean basmati and Lime & coriander basmati rice.

For delicious recipes and to see the full range of Tilda, visit Tilda rice.


Question for day 5: What is your favourite rice dish?.


Day 6: Jordans Country Crisp (raspberries + strawberries)

For fab recipe ideas and a full range of Jordans products, visit Jordans.

Day 6 question: What is your favourite breakfast?


Day 7 (28/11): two Santa Maria spice grinders - Pizza & Pasta (perfect for Italian dishes) and Seafood & Fish (perfect for fish & vegetables).
To find out more about Santa Maria range, visit Santa Maria.

Question no.7: Which of the two spice grinders would you use first and what dish would you cook?



Day 8 (29/11): Clarks maple syrup (Pure Canadian and Original).

Question for day 8: Apart from drizzling over pancakes, have you tried a maple syrup as an ingredient in any recipe?

For exciting recipe ideas and more information about the range, visit Clarks Maple Syrup.




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
T&Cs:
The giveaway is open to the UK residents only.
There will be one winner, who will receive all the goodies appearing during the ten days of the giveaway.
The only mandatory step is to answer at least one question.
The more questions you answer, the more chances you get to be entered in the draw. The same with the other options, they are not mandatory, they only give more choices to enter.
Only one entry per person is allowed (however, you may tweet daily to increase your chances).

If you missed a day, you will have a chance to catch up on any other day until the end of the giveaway, as long as it comes in a SEPARATE comment.

Please note, if you answer 10 questions in one comment, it will count as 1 entry.

Once the winner is selected by the Rafflecopter, I will check if they have done what was requested (if it's a tweet, I'll check that the tweet is still there, etc).
I will contact the winner, who will have 7 days to reply with their address details. Due to the nature of the prize which I hope to dispatch in good time before Christmas, the time limit to get back to me is shorter than usual.

I will be posting the package at my own cost.
If the winner's away when the parcel arrives and is not able to rearrange the redelivery, and if by some chance it is returned to me, please do not expect me to cover the cost again. If that happens, the prize will be taken to the local food bank (foods) and charity shops (non-perishables).

The parcel will contain foods which were provided by the WildCard PR, with whom I often work on reviews, as well as products which I have bought myself (mug, chocolate etc).
And that's all, folks.
Good luck!



a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Black Hits the High Street

Just what is it with the black colour? Walking through the local shopping centre almost every morning, on the way to school, I am amazed to see the endless rows of mannequins in black. The black is everywhere. Did all the High Street shops' designers attend the same seminar, where they got an impression that black should dominate the festive scene? I wonder.

Marks & Spencer's black fairy


I don't know if that's our local phenomenon, as I haven't been anywhere else recently, or is it a global fashion's focus on black?!

Magic & Sparkle or Gothic tales?


I do love black outfits, they all have a part to play in many celebrations and festive occasions. But when the palette shifts to one colour, it becomes a bit overwhelming.

East
There are some gorgeous black outfits, but where are all the patterned, bright, sparkly dresses and trouser sets?

Dorothy Perkins
I wander in bewilderment. It looks like a scene from The Godfather.

Phase Eight

Phase Eight



Wallis
Thankfully Monsoon adds a bit of colour with red and navy blue.

Monsoon

What do you think I have chosen as a Christmas outfit for myself?
A black layered chiffon blouse from La Redoute (now where that winking smilie when you need one?!).
What are you planning to wear this Christmas?

Hearty Treat from Adagio teas giveaway(12 days of Christmas) c/d 5 December 2014

"There is nothing so capital as a cup of tea for settling the Disheveled Nerves of Fair Ladies" (Joan Bassington-French, Christmas at the Tittletons)

All the pre-Christmas hassle could be quite an unsettling experience, and what could be better to calm one's nerves than a comforting cup of tea. Today's giveaway prize is a real treat for all tea lovers: one of my lucky blog winners will win a Hearty Treat loose tea from Adagio teas. This delightful set consists of three seasonal gourmet teas - Gingerbread tea, Chestnut tea and Candy Apple tea. This collection includes premium black tea from Sri Lanka flavoured with chestnut, candy apple and gingerbread. Now doesn't it sound exciting?
It comes in pretty tins, each tin contains 113g of tea, yielding 50 cups. What a lovely gift!



If you are looking for gifts for tea lovers and/or making your own food hampers for Christmas, why don't you browse an amazing range of teas at Adagio teas. To help you decide which tea you might like, read my review Adagio Teas.

For a chance to win this lovely collection of festive teas from Adagio teas, please fill in the Rafflecopter gadget.

T&Cs:
Only the first step is mandatory: all you need is answer the question by leaving a comment (if you login as Anonymous, please leave you Twitter name or Facebook name, so that I could identify you, I do not suggest leaving the email address in the comment)
All the other steps are optional, you don't have to do them all. All it takes to win is just one entry. 
Only one entry per person is allowed (however, you can tweet daily to increase your chances). 
The giveaway is open to the UK residents only. Once the Rafflecopter picks the winners, I will check if they have done what was requested. I will contact the winners, if they do not reply within 7 days, the prize will be allocated to another person. I will pass on the winner's details to Adagio teas who will dispatch the prizes. Please note - due to the nature of the prize, it will have to be dispatched in good time before Christmas, hence the shorter time limit for getting back to me. 
The giveaway ends on 5 December 2014 midnight (night from the 4th to the 5th).

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Figgy's Christmas pudding giveaway (12 days of Christmas) c/d 4 December 2014

Christmas is just 35 days away. Have you started your Christmas shopping? Or are you one of those wonderfully-organised people who've done all their gifts-shopping already? So far I've got a few stocking fillers and a couple of advent calendars for my boys, but nothing major.
Do you enjoy entering Advent competitions? They always put me in a festive mood. Today I'm starting a series of foodie giveaways for my blog readers, and hope you will enjoy entering them.
Each day a new prize will be revealed, and each giveaway will run until 4 December 2014.

To celebrate the first day of my giveaway spree, I am delighted to offer a super prize for my lovely blog readers - a medium sized Figgy's Christmas pudding (I have reviewed it recently, read my review to find out how we rated it  - Figgy's Christmas Pudding).



This delicious pudding is made with such ingredients as Californian raisins, sultanas, breadcrumbs, carrots, vegetable suet, Demerara, golden syrup, free range egg, Hanlons Port Stout, English Bramley apples, 10-year-old Somerset Cider Brandy, glace cherries, ground almonds, orange juice, lemon juice, mixed peel, zest, spices and more.

Now you have a chance to win one just in time for Christmas. And if you can't wait, you can buy one at Figgy's.
To be in with a chance of winning, please fill in a Rafflecopter gadget.

T&Cs:
Only the first step is mandatory: all you need is answer the question by leaving a comment (if you login as Anonymous, please leave you Twitter name or Facebook name, so that I could identify you, I do not suggest leaving the email address in the comment)
All the other steps are optional, you don't have to do them all. All it takes to win is just one entry. 
Only one entry per person is allowed (however, you can tweet daily to increase your chances). 
The giveaway is open to the UK residents only. Once the Rafflecopter picks the winners, I will check if they have done what was requested. I will contact the winners, if they do not reply within 7 days, the prize will be allocated to another person. I will pass on the winner's details to Figgy's who will dispatch the prizes. Please note - due to the nature of the prize, it will have to be dispatched in good time before Christmas, hence the shorter time limit for getting back to me. 
The giveaway ends on 4 December 2014 midnight (night from the 3rd to the 4th).




a Rafflecopter giveaway

Curd cheese cookies with jam

There are many Russian recipes, using cottage cheese or curd cheese, which is an excellent ingredient for both sweet and savoury baking.  The other day got a big tub of curd cheese in Waitrose deli just for 45p, and since I wanted to bake some Russian-style cookies for a long time, this was a good chance to use the cheese. Curd cheese cookies are lovely with a raspberry or apricot jam, but made with Christmas preserve with mulled wine (a new tasty jam from Mackays) they were elevated to a different level. I say "were" because there is less than a half left already, and there were over 20 earlier this morning.



Curd cheese cookies with jam (makes 20+ cookies)
Ingredients:
80g caster sugar
150g butter, softened
a pinch of salt
30g ground almonds
300+g plain flour
270g curd cheese
Mackays Christmas preserve with mulled wine (about 300g, almost a whole jar)
a bit of milk, less than 2tbsp

In a big mixing bowl beat the softened butter with caster sugar and a pinch of salt. Add the ground almonds, flour, curd cheese and mix well. First use a fork, then your hands to knead the dough. It is pliable but quite thick dough. Roll it in a big ball, and place in the fridge for 15 minutes.
Divide the dough ball in half, roll out the dough to 5mm thickness and cut small squares with a knife (about 9x9cm). Place a teaspoon of jam on each square and fold two sides to make an open envelope. Brush a bit of milk over the side where the flap goes over, to "glue" the sides.
Place the cookies on trays covered with the oiled foil or parchment paper and bake in the oven preheated to 200C for about 20 minutes. Check after 15 minutes if the cookies are golden in colour, they might be ready by then,


Take the trays out of the oven, let them cool for about 3 minutes, if you can wait that long. They are delicious hot and cold, with tea or coffee.


I used Mackays Christmas preserve with mulled wine in this recipe, but any good quality raspberry or apricot jam will do. New jam from Mackays is made from strawberries, raspberries, black currants, red currants, red wine among the other ingredients. This festive jam made with whole fruit has a great taste and smells lovely too of mulled wine. It's another fabulous new addition to Mackays' range of scrummy goodies.



These cookies will make a nice foodie gift. They will keep for a few days in a closed container but don't cook them too far in advance.


Disclosure: I received a few jars of new preserves for the purposes of creating a recipe.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Roast Lamb with Quinces and Marmalade Glaze

If you read my blog even occasionally, you might know that I love culinary challenges and projects. I was delighted to be asked to take part in Mackays Christmas project which challenged the bloggers to create a festive dish, using new preserves from Mackays. To celebrate my husband's birthday last week I cooked a roast leg of lamb for dinner. And though it was technically not a Christmas dish, it is easily adaptable for Christmas, if you are a bit fed up with the traditional turkey.


Roast lamb with quinces and marmalade glaze
Ingredients:
a leg of lamb
2 big quinces, quartered
4tsp Mackays Christmas marmalade
40ml brandy
sea salt
1tsp sumac

 Mix the marmalade with brandy and sea salt and pour over the leg of lamb. Cover with the foil and let it marinade for a couple of hours, turning the meat over a couple of times.
Place the tray with the lamb in the oven preheated to 200C and roast for half an hour open. Then cover the meat with the foil, lower the temperature to 180C and cook for two hours.


Add the quartered quinces for the last hour of cooking and sprinkle both the quinces and lamb with sumac. Roasted quinces are excellent with the red meats, and they add a beautiful aroma to an overall dish. The meat was melt-in-the-mouth, very moist and flavourful. The marmalade & brandy glaze added a touch of citrussy sweetness and enriched the gravy.


As a side dish I served a selection of roasted vegetables: a sliced turban pumpkin, 5 little beets (skinned and quartered), a fennel (thinly sliced), several baby carrots, 3 banana shallots (halved lengthways), a handful of baby tomatoes with pomegranate seeds scattered in the last few minutes of roasting. I have used some dried herbs too, cannot remember now if it was Italian mixed herbs or French.


Roasted pumpkins are simply fantastic. I usually first pre-cook the whole pumpkin in the oven for half an hour, then it is easier to slice and remove the seeds. Later the slices go back in the oven for another half hour or so.


I didn't take the picture of sliced lamb with veggies on a dish on the day. The next day I had a bit of lamb with the floral salad. Nasturtium leaves are very tasty, they remind me of rocket. I mixed a handful of nasturtium leaves and flowers, a couple of small marigold flowers and pomegranate seeds.


For the glaze I used a newly launched Christmas marmalade with cranberries from Mackays. This festive marmalade is a pure delight. I love the combination of oranges, cranberries and ginger. Superb on a toast, it is also an excellent ingredient in cooking. I recently used it as a glaze for a gammon steak (will post a recipe separately). If you are making your own Christmas hampers as gifts, this is a great addition to any foodie hamper.


Disclosure: I received four jars of jam and marmalade from Mackays for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are mine.