Monday, 25 August 2014

Parsnip and wild mushrooms salad

Summer is almost over. The harvest is upon us. I love the local fruit and vegetable markets at this time of the year, with the luxurious displays of colourful produce. I have never grown my own parsnips but really love this humble vegetable for the sweetness and aroma. You can eat it raw, when it's young and not too woody, it's perfect in stews, but also lovely cooked in warm salads.

Parsnip and mushroom salad (serves 2)
2 parsnips (150g)
100g wild mushrooms (chanterelle and other)
1tsp dried herbs
2tbsp olive oil
1tbsp fresh lemon juice
mini mozzarella (about 10 mini balls)
a handful of green olives (about 10)
2tbsp olive oil + 1tbsp balsamic vinegar (for dressing)
sea salt, pepper
Cut the skinned parsnips into batons and cook until al dente in slightly salted water. Drain once cooked. While the parsnips are cooking, tear the bigger mushrooms into pieces, leaving the small mushrooms intact. Give them a quick fry in a frying pan with the olive oil, dried herbs and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Assemble your salad on a big plate, first place the parsnips, ten scatter the fried mushrooms on top, add the mozzarella and green olives. Mix olive oil and balsamic vinegar for a simple dressing, and pour over your salad. Scatter the chopped parsley, season with salt and pepper.

I know that technically mozzarella is not a vegetarian cheese, but you can find some vegetarian versions of it.

I used Filippo Berio extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar in this recipe. My favourite brand for olive oil, it never disappoints and works as a great ingredient for dressings, marinades and glazes.

I have already mentioned Finest Wild mushrooms from Tesco on my blog. Tesco is the only supermarket which sells wild mushrooms on a regular basis. I usually order a pack or two in my weekly grocery shopping, and you never know which variety of mushrooms will arrive. Sometimes there are only chanterelles, sometimes they are mixed with girolles or other mushrooms). Fab for risottos, pasta dishes and with fried potatoes. For £1.50 a box it's a steal, as some of the online grocery companies sell their wild mushrooms at exorbitant prices.

In the last couple of weeks, I have been using a new herb mincer for chopping herbs.
OXO Good Grips Herb Mincer is a handy little gadget made of stainless steel. I love OXO Good Grips range, and have mentioned it several times on my blog. Herb Mincer has a non-slip soft grip. It is easy to use, four circle blades chop the herbs effortlessly.

 You can use the front edge to move the herbs together in a neat pile. To clean the blades, you open the gadget, it separates for easy cleaning. And to store it, just pop in a plastic top back for safety.

Disclosure: I received an OXO Good Grips Herb Mincer for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are mine.

If you liked this recipe, you might be interested in the following recipe:
Endive boats with candied walnuts

I'm entering this salad into Simple and in Season, created by Ren and hosted this month by Elizabeth.

Also linking with Extra Veg hosted by Sarah this month for Helen and Michelle

Caponata for Montalbano

"The moment he opened the refrigerator, he saw it.
 Caponata! Fragrant, colourful, abundant, it filled an entire soup dish, enough for at least four people. It had been months since Adelina, his housekeeper, last made it for him. The bread, in its plastic bag, was fresh, bought this morning. The notes of the triumphal march of Aida came spontaneously, naturally, to his lips. Humming, he opened the French windows after turning the light one the veranda. Yes, it was a cool night, but still warm enough to eat outside. He set the little table, brought the dish, the wine, and the bread outside, and sat down" (Excursion to Tindari, Andrea Camilleri)

Adelina's caponata appears quite frequently in Inspector Montalbano mysteries. This traditional southern Italian dish is often served as an appetizer or a side dish. You can eat it hot, you can eat it cold, it keeps well for a few days in the fridge. In Excursion to Tindary Montalbano takes a big dish of caponata out on the veranda to eat as his main course, with good bread and wine. According to a short description of the recipe in the endnotes of the book, anchovies are one of the ingredients of caponata. It is possible, that Adelina indeed adds anchovies to her caponata, but most of the recipes for this zesty colourful dish that I came across in my cook books and online, do not list this ingredient.

This is a screen shot from The scent of the night, but that's the right veranda


olive oil 8tbsp+
3 aubergines (800g)
1tsp dried oregano
2 medium red onions (200g)
2 cloves of garlic
2 stalks of celery (150g)
5 tomatoes
1 heaped tbsp capers (in salt, rinsed)
2tbsp white wine vinegar
2tbsp tomato paste
a handful of sultanas or golden raisins
a handful of green olives
a handful of pine nuts (you can use flaked almonds instead for a budget version)
sea salt, pepper
fresh parsley

For this dish you will need medium sized aubergines, which are firm and don't have too many seeds. Cube the aubergines (don't remove the skin). For this amount of aubergines, I used two frying pans, you can use one, but fry the cubes in two batches. Stir continuously, while cooking the cubed aubergines in the olive oil. Season with dried oregano. Aubergines soak the oil like tissue paper. If you don't want to use as much oil, you might roast the aubergine cubes instead. Cook both batches for about 7 minutes, until golden brown on all sides, but not entirely cooked yet. Put both batches into one pan, and set it aside. Fry finely chopped onions, garlic and celery in the 2nd pan for about 7-10 minutes, until translucent. Add to the aubergines. Chop tomatoes, and add to the pan. Mix all the ingredients well. Cook for about 15 minutes, with the white wine vinegar, tomato paste, golden raisins and green olives, stirring regularly. Rinse the salted capers before adding to the pan. Add the pine nuts at the last five minutes of cooking. Season well with sea salt and pepper. Add some fresh chopped parsley before serving.

Meet the veggies

I prefer to use the salted capers rather than those preserved in vinegar.

Caponata is a lovely snack, served on the multi-seeded toasted bread or a good chunk of ciabatta.

You can also use it as a sauce for pasta, just stir a few heaped tablespoons in your bowl of spaghetti, though this is not an authentic Italian way of eating it. Montalbano would probably shake his head in exasperation at my suggestion.
Well, for him I would also set the table with a big bowl of caponata, chunky bread and a bottle of wine.

I'm adding my recipe to In My Veg Box - Aubergines linky created by Nayna from Citrus Spice and hosted by Full Scoops
this month.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Molasses cookies for Moonfixer

I have been following Free E-books Daily on Twitter for a while and added quite a few books to read, mostly cook books and historical fiction, as these are two genres I enjoy the most. They seem to favour chick lit, romance and sci-fi, which I read very rarely. But I also happened to discover a few new authors from my favourite genres. One of the pure gems I came across was Moonfixer by CC Tillery, Caitlyn Hunter and Christy Tillery French. As it happened, it was a second book in The Appalachian Journey series (after I finished Moonfixer, I bought the first book).
It starts in 1906 when Bess and Fletch Elliott buy an old plantation in North Carolina, with a house and slave shacks nearby. They got 400 acres of land to work on, with beautiful views. What they didn't plan to acquire was the ghosts of the slaves.
Bessie, a talented healer, has inherited her skills from her Cherokee ancestors. Her grandma Elisi, her spiritual mentor, is often mentioned in this beautifully written book. She feels the nature as a live being, and finds solace and strength in the restorative powers of nature. The sounds, smells, colours all come to life in the book descriptions.
The life on the mountain is tough, and the work is endless. Some stories are totally heart-breaking and tragic.
Yet Bessie is determined to follow her career and be an inspiring teacher for the mountain folk's children.
She shares her knowledge of the Cherokee legends with the young generations, and also helps the locals as a wise woman. She picks the herbs and plants, and uses them as medicine.
In some ways Bessie reminded me of my own grandma, who lived in the middle of nowhere, in a small Southern Russian village. She also collected and dried herbs, growing some in her garden which was bordering with the woods, and going in the wild steppes to pick the other plants. She was brilliant with animals, and they responded to her gentle touch.
I was thrilled to discover this inspiring book. I'm looking forward to reading the first book, and hope the third book will be published soon. Moonfixer ended on a cliffhanger, and when I visited Amazon, eager to read the sequel, I realised that it is not finished yet.

With our #ReadCookEat challenge in mind, I kept reading the food references with great interest. There were a few possible choices for recreating a recipe, but it was Molasses Cookies that I finally decided to bake.
It was a bit difficult to find proper molasses in our little town, the supermarkets only sold either pomegranate molasses or molasses sugar. Eventually I found two different brands of liquid molasses in Holland & Barrett.
But as I bought a box of molasses sugar, I decided I was going to combine both ingredients in my recipe. There are lots and lots of recipes for molasses cookies online, but they are all American, and I could never figure out the exact cup measurements. The conversion guides are very confusing, with different kinds of sugar and flour coming to different weights. So my recipe is based more on my intuition than any precise American recipe.
"I won't be but a minute and I think Loney has some of Mama's molasses cookies hidden away where the little ones can't get to them. We'll have some of those, too" (Moonfixer)

Molasses cookies (20+)
100g molasses sugar
100g granulated sugar
4tbsp molasses
125g butter, softened
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
a squeeze of lemon juice over the soda
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 egg
225g self-raising flour
90g oats
oil, for the baking sheet or foil

In a deep bowl beat together the sugar, molasses and butter. Squeeze lemon juice over soda, once it goes all bubbly, add it to the sugar mix. Add all the spices, egg, flour, oats and mix well. The dough will be quite sticky.
Put the foil or parchment paper on two trays and slightly oil it. Put a bowl with cold water next to you. Dip hands in the cold water, then pinch a piece of dough and roll a ball the size of walnut. Place about 6 balls on a tray, spaced from each other, as they expand during baking. With a fork flatten each ball, so it looks more like a cookie. I ended up with 4 trayloads, so I baked them in two batches.
Bake the cookies at 180C for 10-12 minutes. They will still be soft when you take the trays out. Let them coo, and they start to harden.
Very tasty with a cup of tea or coffee, or with milk if you prefer.

I don't know if Bessie's Mama's Molasses Cookies were similar to mine, but hope she would have liked them.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Who doesn't like a proper pick your own?!

Today is a sad day for me. My Mum and niece Sasha who stayed with us for a month, have left very early this morning. I have heard briefly from my brother that they safely landed in Moscow, and tonight they'll be boarding a train for a 22-hours-long journey back home. We had precious times together, and managed to cram quite a few activities in these weeks. Pick your own was a fun day out.

I've got an apple!

It's just the right season for blackberries, plums and apples... When planning a pick your own, Millets farm springs to mind as an excellent spot for a berry- & fruit-picking session and a fabulous food shop.
I haven't visited Millets farm, Abingdon, for quite a few years. I don't drive, so it is not very easy for me to get there, but as my Mum and niece were staying with us for a month, I've been thinking of ways of making their stay more fun, and our friend Jen has kindly offered taking us to Millets farm. (I don't know where the apostrophe should go in the word Millets, is it before s or after, the website seems to use it without any apostrophe, so that's how I am going to call it as well.)
The morning wasn't very promising, and at 9 o'clock I thought we might need to cancel the trip altogether as it was downcast and even drizzling a bit. By ten the drizzle stopped and we decided to go, raincoats in the bags.

Oi, that was sour!

Luckily for us the weather has changed dramatically, and the sun was shy at first, but later grinned and sent its hot arms towards us. My Mum who my son calls Baba (grandma in Russian) is an excellent fruit-picker, her basket was full in no time, while we were still running around and sampling.

Mum says she looks like a daughter of Genghis Khan in this photo, now wouldn't that make a lovely title for a book?!
My lovely niece Sasha fluttered around like  butterfly, tickling my mini-tornado Eddie and chatting with him. It was Sasha who spotted the zucchini flowers in the fields which I later used for cooking a delicious dish of stuffed zucchini flowers.

We didn't pick an enormous amount, as I didn't fancy cooking too much jam. At the weekend I made a batch of mixed raspberry-blackberry jam and another one, of plum jam with Lady Grey tea.

Eddie was happy to help, but mostly he was running around like a demented happy billy goat. He also ate a bit too many blackberries.
There is a fabulous shop at Millets farm. If you don't fancy doing any pick your own, you will be spoilt for choice of already picked produce. They have a great fresh fish section, and an amazing array of jams and preserves. But prices are quite amazing as well, so I have spent a small fortune, paying for our picked berries, as well as the other food goodies like goose fat, two fresh trouts, a couple of jams, sweets for kids and more.

Mum, I had enough...
As we were putting the bought berries and goodies in the back of the car, my son has spotted a big merry-go-round and a bouncy castle, so off we went to explore the area designated for entertaining kids or Millets Maize.

My people wanted to go on the bouncy castle, but they don't sell the entrance tickets just to one attraction. You have to pay £17 for two kids and one adult, which might be OK if you plan to spend a day there, but a total rip-off if all you wanted would have been maximum 15 minutes on the bouncy castle. Also, clearly an adult just accompanies kids, it's not like I would have climbed on any of the equipment. So, a grumpy old woman that I am, I told Eddie I am not wasting money and he was crestfallen.

Luckily for him, there is a small size tractor just outside the maize. You put a pound coin in a slot, and can ride it for three minutes. Eddie had a couple of rides, and his good mood was restored.

He was ecstatic, riding the tractor. My niece explained to him how to operate it, and he was driving around with a big grin on his face.
Looking back at these photos brings back memories of a special time I had with my family.

 photo ActiveFamily150x150_zps28e829a4.jpg
Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Mittens the white cat (Happy's Pets)

Who would have thought that my Superheroes- & Lego-obsessed little man would fall in love with a fluffy bundle called Mittens?! Mittens the white cat is one of four cute Happy's Pets, a brand new range of tail-chasing pets from Flair.

There are four interactive furry friends who love to play: Bentley the retriever, Chance the beagle, Sport the goldendoodle and Mittens the white cat. They can interact with the owner and each other, using Infrared Technology. Each pet comes with its own special themed Happy treat. For example, our Mittens arrived with a yellow fish treat. You press the little button, and Mittens performs the tricks.
All Happy's toys are able to move around fast, spin, make noises and a silly dance routine.

Photo of The Happy's pets is reproduced here courtesy of The Happy's

My son was thrilled with Mittens' antics, and was happily chasing it around the room. He was in stitches when Mittens was spinning and making mewing noises. He keeps saying now that he is going to take the cat with us next time we go on holidays to Italy to show to his Nonna (who is very fond of cats and has three or four cats).

Mittens is fluffy, cuddly and cute. The Happy's will make a lovely gift for any preschooler or primary school child.
The only fault I could find is that the treat has ran out of battery very quickly. Mittens itself is still full of beans and loves pouncing and spinning, but the treat needs a new battery already.

Flair said they are set on a mission to make every kid in the UK happy. Don't know about all the kids, but they have certainly made one little boy happy indeed.

Disclosure: we received Mittens the cat for the purposes of reviewing and writing an honest review. All opinions are mine.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Discovering the Ancient Worlds at the Ashmolean

You cannot possibly explore the Ashmolean Museum in one day, you can only get some insights and glimpses. Years ago, when we used to live in Oxford, I worked in a University department just a couple of blocks away from the museum, and loved popping in the museum for a quick visit very often. My current life is like a rapid torrent these days, I just about manage to keep afloat, and haven't had a chance to revisit my old haunts for several years. What, with Sasha's autism and dislike of crowded spaces, and Eddie being a bit too young to appreciate the glories of the Ashmolean, I kept postponing the trip. But as my older niece Sasha (don't get confused with our two Sashas) is very interested in the ancient Egypt, we decided to go to the museum together and split afterwards, if my older son gets too agitated.

Marvellous faces at the Ashmolean

I was as excited to see my beloved Ashmolean as my niece, who visited it over four years ago. We were a group of six, three kids and three adults, and together we were discovering and re-discovering the ancient worlds and cultures.
The Ashmolean is the most visited museum in the UK outside London. Its ancient Egyptian collection is spectacular.

The Egyptian collections with mummies were the highlight of our latest visit. Some of the objects on display have been part of the collection since the opening of the museum in 1683.
Recently there has been a lot of discussions on the ethics of displaying mummies and other human remains in the museums. Is it a sacrilege or simply science? The mummies in the Ashmolean come with the fascinating stories behind each of them.

There is a mummy of a 2-year-old boy who died of pneumonia. His mummy is undisturbed and is dispayed next to the modern art work by Angela Palmer, who was so moved by the story of the little boy who died 2000 years ago, that she visited the site where he was found in Hawara, and brought back a handful of the local sand to remind him of his home. Touching and bizarre at the same time.

Now that I had a quick visit, I want to go back on my own. Maybe once Eddie is settled in school (he starts school in a couple of weeks), I might be able to go to Oxford on my own and study the collections at my own pace.

My son Sasha was actually quite curious about the artefacts (well, up to a certain point, when the crowds got too much for his peace of mind, and he got quite stressed, then we said good bye to my niece and Mum. They went to the exhibition Discovering Tutankhamun, and we left the museum).

For some reason Eddie was fascinated by a double portrait of a Roman doctor Claudius Agathenus and his wife Myrtele. He looked at them and asked me: "Mummy, why is she so grumpy?" A good question, my darling, but I don't know. They look a bit like a mismatched couple, she clearly is much older and quite masculine in appearance.

Eddie liked the sculptures the most, and I will take him along another time. My clever niece Sasha was most studious, and even bought a heavy book on ancient Egypt in the museum shop.

I love the museum shop, and could be happily browsing there for hours.

It is a marvellous place to visit with children, and the admission is free.
How do you keep your kids entertained in summer?

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Stuffed zucchini flowers

I have always fancied trying a recipe for stuffed zucchini flowers. Last time we stayed in Italy, I have seen packs of zucchini flowers in the shop and planned to buy a couple the day before we had to fly home. By Sod's Murphy's law, they were out of zucchini flowers in two supermarkets that we visited, so I had to come home flower-less.

I wasn't lucky with my own zucchini plants this year either. They have all been slaughtered by blasted slugs, who have eaten most of my seedlets including those which are supposed to serve as a deterrent for the slugs. It's almost a joke, but they enjoy sleeping in the containers where I grow garlic, so much for the popular advice to plant the garlic among your veg to prevent the slugs and snails from feasting on your plants. But back to my zucchini story. Last week we went to visit the Cogges Manor farm, where I admired the neat rows of courgettes and marrows with lots of bright yellow blooms. I was very tempted to ask at the counter if they would sell some flowers to me, as they do sell the garden produce.

Then last Friday, we went to the big farm which is known locally for its pick your own. Our planned pickings were blackberries, raspberries and plums. But as we were picking the berries, my niece said: "Galia, look at those flowers!", and just behind the blackberry rows there was a huge field with hundreds and thousands of courgettes and marrows, most of them in the state of decomposition. Clearly nobody bothered to pick them. Such a waste of food. Why couldn't they offer these vegetables to the food banks, or as the feed for farm animals?! Anyway, there were lots of blooms, which I picked up. I was thrilled with my find.

It would have been better if I cooked the blooms on the same day I picked them, when they were very fresh, but I didn't have any sparkling water for the batter, so I made a batch of stuffed flowers the next day. The flowers have shrank in size and didn't look as pretty, but they tasted amazing.

Stuffed courgette flowers (20+)

for the batter:
100ml self-raising flour
a pinch of bicarbonate of soda
a pinch of salt (optional, you can add the salt later, sprinkle over the deep-fried fowers)
1 medium egg
200ml sparkling water
Zucchini flowers (around 20)
for the stuffing:
a mix of ricotta and goat's cheese (I used a tub of 250ml ricotta and a small tub of soft goat's cheese 150ml, and had about 1/3 mix left)
zest of 1/2 lemon
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2tsp dried mint
1/2tsp thyme
sea salt with pepper
oil for frying (I used half a small bottle of rapeseed oil, but sunflower oil will be fine as well)

Mix the ricotta and goat's cheese in a medium bowl, with the herbs and lemon zest, season well. Remove the stamens from inside the flowers, open them carefully and just twist the stamen away. Stuff each flower with about 1/2 to 1 tsp of ricotta mix, depending on the size of the flowers. Keep the baby zucchini attached to the blooms. Twist the flower top a bit, to seal the stuffing inside, but don't worry overmuch if the stuffing is showing a bit.
Prepare the batter by beating together the flour with the egg, soda and salt (if using). Pour the sparkling water, a bit at a time, and keep mixing until you get a batter of smooth consistency, like thick cream.
Add the oil to a deep pan or wok (or use a deep-fryer if you have one, I don't, so I used a deep frying pan).
Once the oil is very hot, dip the stuffed flowers in the batter and carefully put in the oil. Cook for about 3-4 minutes on one side, then turn the flowers over and cook on the other side as well. The recipes I have seen online mention cooking each flower for 2 minutes on each side, but after 2 minutes the zucchini itself was still uncooked, and the batter wasn't golden brown enough, so I cooked them for longer than that.
Cook them in batches of 4-5 at a time, so as not to overcrowd the pan. Remove the cooked flowers onto a big plate with a kitchen towel, to remove the excess of oil.

Serve hot, sprinkle with more salt if you like or with tomato salsa.

It was a bit time-consuming to stuff the flowers and then deep-fry in oil, but totally worth it. We all loved the result, and if I happen to come across more zucchini flowers for sale, I will be definitely cooking them again.

Adding my recipe to 3 blog challenges for August: Cooking with Herbs on Karen's Lavender and Lovage (flowers being this month's linky); Vegetable Palette on Allotment 2 Kitchen (yellow colour for August) and Shop Local at Elizabeth's Kitchen.

Cooking with Herbs Lavender and Lovage

Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary