Friday, 25 October 2013

Butternut squash cupcakes

If you receive Abel and Cole's veg boxes, you might be aware of their Recipe of the month competitions, when they challenge the entrants to reproduce one of their recipes and submit the photo. I won one of their competitions earlier this year, and received a lovely prize of the food ingredients for the next challenge. When I saw their recipe for Gourdgeous Little Cakes, I knew my guys would love it.
We love squash, the butternut squash in particular, and I often cook with it.

I have adapted the recipe (for the original recipe please follow the link above) and skipped the vanilla yogurt icing altogether.
As I bought a pack of pre-sliced butternut squash, I couldn't possibly grate it, instead I slightly oiled it with the olive oil and roasted in the oven preheated to 180C until soft, then just mashed it with the fork.
I have also added a generous glug of the Gourmet Mulling syrup from Selsley Foods instead of the ground cinnamon, and sprinkled the top of each cupcake with the Holland & Barrett's breakfast mix (sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and pine nuts), which my guys are happy to eat by a bucket.

It was a very successful batch, the cupcakes were moist, sweet and very moreish. It's not the first time I have used Abel and Cole's recipe, they have a great selection of recipes online, and you don't have to be a customer to have access to their recipes.

As Hallowe'en is approaching fast, and you might not be sure what to do with the pumpkin's flesh, once you carved it, why don't you try to bake these cupcakes with the pumpkins!

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Win a 3-months' supply of Special K multi-grain porridge (c/d 22 November 2013)

Are you looking at your waistline with a slight frown and wonder if it might be a good idea to drop a size before all the Christmas festivities start? I am forever jumping on the scales in the morning to check if by some miracle I have lost some weight. It didn't help recently that my husband brought 1kg of my favourite Leonidas chocolate from one of his recent trips.
With the coming colder times, I do find myself craving a bowl of porridge in the mornings. Being a fan of multi-grain cereals and porridges, I am pleased to offer a prize of 3 months' supply of Kellogg's Special K porridge for slimmers for one of my lucky blog readers. The prize has been kindly offered by Kellogg's.

I have recently reviewed Kellogg's Special K porridge. As I mentioned in my post, you don't have to be on a diet to enjoy the porridge, in fact all the family might have it for breakfast.

If you would like to win this prize, please fill in the Rafflecopter form.
Only the first step is mandatory: all you need is to answer the question by leaving a comment (there is no right or wrong answer)
(if you login as Anonymous, please leave your Twitter name or FB 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 Rafflcopter picks the winner, I will check if the winner has done what was requested. I will contact the winner, if they do not reply within a week, the prize will be allocated to another person.

If you haven't used the Rafflecopter before, you might want to watch this simple video.
The giveaway will close on 22 November 2013 at midnight (the night from the 21st to the 22nd)

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Terrifying tea time treats: gingerbread for Hallowe'en

At Hallowe'en, it's all about the atmosphere. Light the candles, carve the scary pumpkin and bake your own gingerbread skeletons and mummies.

Bake the gingerbread as you would usually do, once they are cool to touch, decorate them. You will need a super fine icing sugar to mix the base paste. Add a tiny bit of water or lemon juice, and mix well until you have a paste (not too runny, not too thick). Cover the gingerbread with the base. For the coloured biccies, add some food colouring (for example, Dr Oetker gel colours) to the icing paste.

Once the icing is set, take a brush and draw your designs on the surface. I used Queen Natural extracts (drop vials) and Dr Oetker food colouring gels.

Gingerbread Funnybones

Have fun!

Gingerbread mummy

As I finished decorating the first two gingerbread men, Eddie pointed to the mummy and asked "What happened to him?" I replied "It's a mummy". "And that's a Daddy", said my little man, pointing to the skeleton.

Bubble beard and giggles with Matey

Bathtimes are happy times usually, unless I tell my little man it is a high time to wash his hair, then he makes the tragic eyes and implores "Mama, tomorrow", and then the next day the story is repeated, that tomorrow would never come if I agreed with him. However, if there is no "threat" of hair-washing looming, my son is very happy to play in the bath, splashing the water, chasing the bubbles, singing and laughing. We have a whole collection of toys next to the bath, and Eddie is very reluctant to get out, as he enjoys playing with his bath toys and books so much. If you have young children, you are probably well aware of the Matey bubble bath products in funky big bottles. Now the collection of Mateys includes a new limited edition book from Matey bubble bath. It is called Matey Bubble Fun.

Max Matey and his buddies Molly Matey and Peg Leg live on a Scrub-a-Dub island where the good ship Matey is docked. Unscrew the top hat and pour the lovely smelling bubble bath in the water.
A bottle of Matey makes up to 30 baths. And it is truly very bubbly.

With its hypoallergenic and skin-pH neutral formulation, it is kind to sensitive skin.
Funnily enough, it was my husband who was the first to test the bubble bath. He was running a bath for himself and I offered him a bottle of Matey and said jokingly that my blog readers might demand the photos of the product being used.
All four of us have tested the bubble bath (on separate occasions, I hasten to add) and enjoyed the lovely scent.

A recent research revealed that 60% of parents consider the bathtime one of the most important bonding experiences with their child.
"The research commissioned by Matey bubble bath also found that over a third of parents (38%) agree that bathtime with their children is a highlight of their day, with 43% admitting to looking forward to bath time".
I know my guys are always looking forward to their bathtime and bedtime story after the bath.
And if you are curious to find out what were the top ten parent-child bonding experiences as chosen by parents they are:
1. Having a cuddle (29%)
2. Playing together (22%)
3. Reading a story (15%)
4. Bathtime (9%)
5. Chatting (6%)
6. Mealtimes and feeding (5%)
7. Going for a walk (5%)
8. Bedtime (3%)
9. Watching a film or cartoons (3%)
10. Listening to the music (2%)

Some parents admit that the bathtime could be pretty stressful. To help parents to make the bathtime a fun experience for both kids and parents, Matey has produced a limited edition waterproof book.
Matey Bubble Fun (book) is written by Emma Greaves and features the familiar characters: Max, Molly and Peg Leg. It is made of PEVA & PU foam and floats in the bath.
Emma Greaves is a Mum of two from Surrey. She won the writing competition run by Matey and is now a published author.
There are not that many pages in the book, and it is just the right length for reading in the bath. Colourful illustrations will appeal to little readers.

Just as the book says "Sail with Max Matey in his big, bath boat, Make him a bubble beard and go for a float".

Bubble beard

I treasure the bathtime with my little man, soon enough he will be too big to have me around at bathtimes, and I will look back at these days with nostalgia.

Disclosure: we received a bottle of Matey bubble bath and Matey bubble fun book for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are mine.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Pirozhki with potatoes and wild mushrooms

Pirozhki - individual pies - are a staple of the Russian cuisine, there are so many variations and methods of preparing them, that one would need to write a mini-encyclopedia just on the topic. They can be fried or baked, sweet or savoury, made with meat or vegetarian. My Mum's pirozhki are of course the tastiest in the world.
Just the other day I was singing praises to the wild mushrooms from Tesco (see my post Girolle and garlic pasta). I saved the 2nd pack for Pirozhki with potatoes and wild mushrooms. Mushrooms and potatoes are a classic combination, and they complement each other beautifully.
For a budget recipe, skip the mushrooms altogether and just do the filling with the mashed potatoes and fried onions. When I was a student, that was often the option for a cheap tasty meal.

Pirozhki with potatoes and wild mushrooms (makes 20)
100g wild mushrooms (girolle or ceps)
150g potato
2tsp butter
1 small onion
salt, pepper
1 pack of Jus-Rol shortcrust pastry
1 egg yolk

I know the likes of Paul Hollywood and the GBO contestants would pooh-pooh me for using the ready-made pastry, but I am not ashamed to admit that I use it. Jus-Rol makes pretty good pastry, and it is very convenient for busy Mums like me.

Start by peeling the potato and cooking it in the salted water until just soft. Mash it with a fork and add 1tsp of butter and a bit of the liquid in which potatoes were cooking or a dash of milk. Don't make it too runny.
Brush the specks of dirt from the wild mushrooms - I used the beautiful girolles from Tesco - and chop them with a knife. In a small frying pan melt 1tsp of butter, add the finely chopped onion and fry for about 5 minutes, then add the mushrooms and fry for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Mix the mashed potatoes and mushrooms. This is your filling for the mini pies.

Now roll out your pastry, and using a cookie cutter, cut the little circles. You will have some leftovers, knead them together in a ball, and reroll the flattened dough. Cut more circles. Slightly stretching each circle of pastry, add a teaspoon of the filling, fold the edges, so that they meet like a little purse, and pinch them together. Place all your pirozhki on a big baking tray, which has been oiled. Beat the yolk with a fork, and using your fingers or a pastry brush, brush the yolk over pirozhki. You could also use a bit of milk for the same purpose or melted butter.
Put the tray in the oven preheated to 180C and bake the pirozhki for about 20 minutes until golden.
Serve with the pickles and a generous dollop of the soured cream. They are also often accompanied by a hot steaming mug of clear broth or bouillon.
They are tasty both hot and cold.
Na zdorovie! Enjoy your meal!

I'm participating in the 1st Edition Tiendeo cooking competion "Seasonal Recipes".

Apple and orange jam

We are lucky to have several mature apple trees in the garden. Two of them are really old, and every year I send my silent thanks to whoever planted them. The old owners are long gone but the trees keep bringing pleasure to us, with the glorious blossom and bountiful harvest. This year I picked several boxes of apples, leaving more than a half on the trees, as they are too high up for me, and I am not good on the ladders. Eddie helped me to pick the windfalls, and we have been enjoying apple crumbles and cupcakes for weeks.

I love apple-based chutneys and jams, and last week made a batch of apple and orange jam.

Apple and orange jam
2kg apples (not too sweet)
1.8kg sugar
0.8l water
1 lemon, juice and rind
2 oranges, juice and rind
1 cinnamon stick
Wash the apples and chop them without peeling. Keep all the bits, pips and all, they will be your source of pectin. In fact you don't need to use the preserving sugar or pectin at all. Juice the lemon and oranges and peel the rind. Again, don't throw the pips. Put the chopped apples in a big pan with the juice and rind, the cinnamon stick and all the bits. Pour the water and cook until the apples are very soft and resemble the chunky apple sauce.
Take a sieve and rub the apple mix through it, discard the rind, the apple skin and pips at this stage.
Pour the sieved apple sauce into a pan, add the sugar. Slowly bring to the boil, then simmer for about 10 minutes. On a small plate test a spoonful of jam for setting.
Once the jam sets, pot it into the sterilized jars.

I got over 11 different sized jars of jam. As you can see from the photos below, the jam is very thick in consistency, as I mentioned before, there was no need for any preserving sugar.

This jam is lovely in sweet pirozhki and jam tarts. Or spread thick on a slice of toast.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Oral-B Pro-Expert toothpaste: keep them clean and neat

I am not going to tell you when I visited the dentist the last time. Every time I have to go to the dentist, I have panic attacks. I developed my phobia thanks to the "kind" dentists many years ago when I was six or seven years old. My Mum, who was very trusting anyone in the medical profession, left me at the mercy of the dentist who decided to do the casts of my teeth for their cabinet display for the dental students. My Mum thought they were working on my teeth and didn't question why it took them so long to fix the problem. There was no problem, in fact my teeth were in good condition. As the dentist later explained to my mother with a smile, they picked me for that ordeal because I was such a well-behaved little girl. I was quite terrified to sit with my mouth open, as they told me I couldn't close it or my "teeth will get stuck together" (that was apparently a joke). Mum was upset later and apologised to me. For me it resulted in many years of panic at the mere smell of the dental practice.
I had better dentists ever since, but still I try to avoid them as much as possible.
It didn't help either that when we lived in Woodstock, the receptionist at the local dental clinic made me feel inadequate. On seeing my foreign name, she used to spurt all kinds of patronising rubbish like "Your English is much better than my Russian". Erm, yes, I do have a degree from a British University, while your knowledge of Russian is probably limited to two words "vodka" and "sputnik".
As you can see, I am not overly fond of the dental clinics.
And for that good reason, I have to take an extra special care of my teeth.
I brush my teeth religiously several times a day, I floss, I rinse. And of course I lie through my teeth that it is fun to go to the dentist when I talk to my kids.

Little man likes brushing his teeth

During my first pregnancy I had problems with the bleeding gums. That's why when I got pregnant with our second child, I was prepared better. I used to make my own sage rinse from the fresh sage leaves, which helped to keep the bleeding at bay. I was taking the multi-vitamins, my diet was very healthy. Thankfully, I never smoked.

The importance of looking after your teeth, especially in pregnancy, is well known. But still, according to the stats, more than 1 in 2 women will develop gum problems during pregnancy. There are helpful products developed to keep your teeth and gums healthy, and Oral-B Pro-Expert fluoride toothpaste is one of them. It is clinically proven to help and reduce gum problems in just four weeks.
It is suitable for the sensitive teeth  and helps to slow bacterial growth to protect against gum problems.
And while none of us have gum problems at the moment, I have been using the new toothpaste in the last couple of weeks. It has a pleasant minty flavour and makes my mouth feel fresh and clean.

And despite me having issues with the dentists as a generic term, I do try to instill in my children the importance of looking after their teeth. We regularly change the toothbrushes. And my little man is so enthusiastic about brushing his teeth, he even chews his toothbrush, a bit like a puppy, so his looks worn out quite quickly.

P.S. My little man wasn't using the new toothpaste as he is too young for it. But as he looks a zillion times cuter than his parents, you get to see him brushing his teeth rather than old me. ;)

Disclosure: I received Oral-B Pro-Expert to take part in BritMums linky about the dental health (see below).

This post is an entry for BritMums’ #ORALBLoveYourGums Challenge  sponsored by Oral-B, promoting healthy gums – something especially important for pregnant women. Get tips and advice on

Brush your teeth, brush your teeth,
Give them all a treat.
Brush up and down and all around,
To keep them clean and neat.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Girolle and garlic pasta

I love wild mushrooms. Mushroom hunting is a national hobby in Russia. When you go to the market in summer and autumn, there are usually dozens of babushki selling the freshly picked bounty. I have never been confident enough in my knowledge to pick the right mushrooms to go foraging in the woods, but I certainly enjoy eating them. That's why I was delighted to see that Tesco is selling the girolles aka golden chanterelles (a 100g pack for £2). As I was placing my groceries order online, I have added a couple of packs to my shopping trolley. I would have added more, but I wasn't sure how fresh they would actually be, as in the past I had some very sad looking wild mushrooms from Waitrose (but they were picked somewhere in Latvia or Lithuania and were not at their best after a long trip). Well, Tesco proved me wrong, and the mushrooms were very fresh.
Girolles are known in Russia as lisichki, i.e. little foxes, and no wonder why. The colour is as bright as the summer fox's tail.

These mushrooms don't need any fancy cooking, they are so full of flavour that they need just a little bit of cooking. They make scrummy snacks, just quickly fried in butter and seasoned well. Top up a piece of warm ciabatta, and enjoy a heavenly snack.

Girolle and garlic pasta (for 2)
100g fresh girolles
1 garlic clove
1tbsp butter
a small bunch of chives
salt, pepper
Brush the mushrooms to remove the specks of dirt. You are not supposed to wash them, but if they are a bit too dirty, give them a quick rinse and then leave them to dry on a paper towel.
Cook the spaghetti in the salted boiling water, they should be cooked al dente.
In a small frying pan melt the butter. Once it starts to sizzle, add the garlic, either finely chopped or squeezed.
Add the chopped mushrooms and chives, season well with the sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring the mushrooms.
Drain the pasta and mix with the cooked mushrooms.
Serve at once. Delicious!

You could swap the chives for fresh thyme, or even a bit of flat parsley.

Have a look at Tesco's Wild Mushrooms. I haven't been asked to write about the mushrooms, I just wanted to share the good news in case you missed it.

Link up your recipe of the week

Hummingbird DVD (review and giveaway NOW CLOSED)

Are you a fan of deftly twisting action movies? I am more of a Downton Abbey girl, but sometimes enjoy gritty dramas and thrillers. Hummingbird which is avaiable on DVD and Blu-ray from 21 October 2013 starts rather slowly.
Joey Jones (Jason Statham), an ex-serviceman, is on the run from a court martial. He is what could be decsribed as damaged goods, a tramp sleeping in the box, drinking himself into the oblivion. When he and his girlfriend Isabel are attacked by the local thugs, he manages to escape and literally falls into an empty apartment whose owner is away in the States for several months. Rather conveniently (and that I found a bit implausible) there is a credit card and a pin number in the mail, the car keys and the whole lot of trendy suits. But once you decide to swallow this slightly unlikely scenario, it gets interesting.

This film marks the directorial debut of the screenwriter Steven Knight who is famous for Eastern Promises (in fact that alone sold the film to me, as Eastern Promises was a truly engrossing thriller).
Joey assumes the identity of the conveniently absent owner of the apartment and attempts to reinvent himself. He is empolyed by the Chinese mafia and excels in his job.
Along the way he is trying to find out what happened to his girlfriend Isabel. A Polish nun Christina helps him with the information. Joey is bent on revenge when he learns of the brutal death of Isabel.
The strong points of this film are the honest scenes of the London criminal underground (there are some very memorable and heartbreaking scenes of the human trafficking).
Angels have their dark secrets, and baddies are capable of doing good deeds. The films uses a variety of forays in the past, exploring the hidden memories, both of Joey and Christina.
While Statham is pretty convincing as a thug and vigilante, Agata Buzek's nun is less so. Her face hardly shows a change of emotions. And though Joey and Christina's relationship is touching, it is not a very cogent storyline. Joey's sexual identity is also under a big question mark, it's not very clear whether he is gay or only pretends to be in order to deceive the prying neighbours.
This film is not flawless, but the narrative is gripping, and only the stone-hearted won't sympathize with the main protagonist. Will the twilight criminal world destroy Joey completely or will he be able to escape?

If you think you might enjoy this film, Lionsgate has kindly offered 3 copies of Hummingbird DVD for my blog readers.

If you would like to win this prize, please fill in the Rafflecopter form.
Only the first step is mandatory: all you need is to answer the question by leaving a comment (there is no right or wrong answer)
(if you login as Anonymous, please leave your Twitter name or FB 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 Rafflcopter picks the winner, I will check if the winner has done what was requested. I will contact the winner, if they do not reply within a week, the prize will be allocated to another person.

If you haven't used the Rafflecopter before, you might want to watch this simple video.
The giveaway will close on 17 November 2013 at midnight (the night from the 16th to the 17th)


a Rafflecopter giveaway


Many thanks to everyone who entered this giveaway! I enjoyed reading your DVD choices and recommendations!
The Rafflecopter picked the winners, big well done to Rob, Tracy and Lowri! I have just emailed you all, asking for your address details.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Gourmet Mulling Syrup from Selsley Foods

What do you associate the glass of mulled wine with? Family gatherings and the table groaning under the weight of food? Tales of the Victorian times? The historians claim that the first mention of the mulled wine appeared in the Roman times. There are many names and versions of this classic hot drink. There is a beautiful non alcoholic Gourmet Mulling Syrup from Selsley Foods which will transform your mulled wine or hot apple juice into a work of art.

It contains a special blend of spices, and as it is a sugar based product, it simply dissolves in the hot drink. Selsley Foods promise:"Simply add to your chosen drink in 8:1 ratio, heat and serve. For example, our 500ml bottle contains enough syrup to make a minimum of 6 bottles of wine..."

The syrup comes in a beautiful bottle (there are two sizes: 200ml and 500ml). There is a whole cinnamon stick inside. The deep golden colour looks very enticing. If you are looking for foodie gifts for Christmas, you might want to add this precious bottle to the list.

And while you might not yet be enthusiastic about the coming Christmas, this is such a versatile product that you can use it in many recipes and dishes. It will be lovely smothered over the barbecue sausages, or mixed in a marinade for the roast lamb.

I have tested it in a recipe for Advocaat banana cake with roast plums.

Advocaat banana cake with roast plums
1 banana, mashed
3 medium eggs
200g caster sugar
125ml Advocaat
2tbsp vanilla essence
150g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
50g ground almonds
100g cornflour
170g butter, melted
1tbsp Gourmet Mulling Syrup

Plums, halved
Gourmet Mulling Syrup

In a big mixing bowl mash the banana, add the sugar and eggs and beat them together. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Pour the cake mix in the oiled cake ring tin and bake at 180C for 45+ minutes (check with the wooden skewer if the cake is done). The cake is very moist and flavourful.

For the roast plums, just halve the big plums, put them in the deep ceramic dish, slightly buttered. If the plums are sour, sprinkle a bit of sugar. Pour the Mulling syrup over and place the dish in the oven preheated to 180C for half an hour. The aroma is totally mouthwatering. The flavours are incredibly good too. Serve a slice of cake with the roast plums and warm sticky syrup.

Follow Selsley Foods on Twitter for more information and ideas
You can also find them on Facebook, see Selsley Foods.

Disclosure: I received a bottle of Gourmet Mulling Syrup for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions and recipes are mine.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

GreenVale FarmFresh potatoes

You might have spotted a new ad in the magazines that cheekily proclaims: "This season's new bag. Go on, spoil yourself!" or even this amusing pert slogan from GreenVale FarmFresh potatoes:
I know, very daring for a family blog. ;)
For the last couple of weeks I have been testing GreenVale FarmFresh all-rounder potato called Jelly (not sure what's the story behind the name of this variety).
Before I tried them, I read that "they have a delicious, creamy buttery taste, a lovely yellow flesh and are great boiled, mashed or chipped, in fact, they're so versatile you can use them for all your potato needs".
It sounded like a good promise, and I wanted to find out myself just how versatile they are.

These spuds have green credentials and come in a sturdy paper bag. They are available from Tesco nationwide for about £2.50 and from Booth in the North East. The potatoes come already washed (or rather showered, as the website explains).

A.A.Milne said once: “What I say is that, if a man really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow.” 
Being a Russian gal, I can eat potatoes every day (a bit like my Italian husband who is happy to eat pasta every day). 
And who could resist a dish of roast potatoes?! Jelly potatoes taste good with a bit of olive oil and garlic (I parboiled the potatoes before roasting). 

It was a great side dish to go with the stuffed chicken breast and roast peppers. I sprinkled it with the rosemary sea salt.

For another dinner I cooked the gammon steaks and served them with the roast potatoes and vegetables.

Cut the potatoes, carrots, pears and fennel into medium sized chunks, drizzle with the olive oil, season with salt and roast for 35-40 minutes.

And again, the potatoes were very flavourful, with a touch of sweetness.

Pasta alla genovese is one of my favourites for a mid-week meal, it is really easy to prepare and doesn't take much time. You can also make it with the trofie pasta. Cook the pasta. Add the chopped potatoes and green beans and the pesto sauce. The Jelly potatoes worked really well in this recipe.

Pasta alla Genovese

Pasta alla Genovese 

And don't forget a humble baked potato (I had it for lunch yesterday). The Jelly potatoes are just the perfect size for this simple yet delicious meal. Top it up with whatever you fancy. I added a sliced avocado, grated Cheddar and a teaspoon of the Luchito salsita. A squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and hey presto!
As you can see from the photos, I have tried the Jelly potatoes in several dishes, and they all came out lovely, so it is truly a good all rounder.

If you are looking for more recipes of potato dishes, there is a mouthwatering recipe for Raclette from Madhouse Family reviews.

For more information and recipes, please visit GreenVale FarmFresh.

Disclosure: I received a 2kg bag of Jelly potatoes for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are mine.