Saturday, 28 June 2014

Coconut banana cupcakes (dairy-free & lacto-free)

Yesterday my little man said Good bye to Miss Willis, his nursery teacher, a lovely lady who worked in our school for 10 years. She is kind, motherly and oozing confidence. Alas, she had to leave as they were moving house. All the parents wanted to give her a parting gift, so we collected money and signed a huge card. But I also wanted to do a personal good bye gift for Miss Willis. I made some discreet inquiries, and have been told by another teacher that she is on a dairy free diet.
I rushed to the supermarket and got a tub of lacto-free spread for baking. On Thursday evening I baked a batch of coconut banana cupcakes, decorated them and was pleased with myself that I had everything under control. Then on Friday morning it crossed my mind to look more carefully at the spread, and I realised that lacto-free is not dairy-free, and that spread wasn't suitable for our gift recipient. Having a quick look around the kitchen shelves and the fridge, I found a jar of coconut oil and decided to have another go at baking, this time dairy-free for sure.
So, here are two recipes for both "free-from" versions, they are almost identical, apart from the different oil and also I used shredded coconut in Lacto-free recipe.



Coconut banana dairy-free cupcakes (makes 10-12, depending on the size)
Ingredients:
1 banana, mashed
150g caster sugar
80g coconut oil (for example, Pukka)
2 medium eggs
150g self-raising four
1tsp baking powder
25g ground almonds
100 ml coconut milk
1tsp vanilla essence
for the frosting:
300g icing sugar
40g coconut oil
30ml+ coconut milk
Dr Oetker silver pearls (for decorating)

Mash a banana in a mixing bowl, add the sugar and softened coconut oil, mix thoroughly. Add the eggs, flour, almonds, baking powder, vanilla essence and coconut milk, keep mixing. Spoon the batter in the muffin cases inserted in the cupcake baking tin. Place the tin int he oven preheated to 180Cand bake for 25 minutes (check after 20 minutes with a wooden skewer if they're ready). Take the tray out, let the cupcakes cool before decorating. Make the frosting by beating together icing sugar with coconut oil, add the coconut milk a little bit at a time to create  soft frosting. Using an icing bag, decorate the cupcakes and add the silver pearls on top.



Coconut banana cupcakes (lacto-free)
Ingredients:
1 banana, mashed
150g caster sugar
80g Lactofree spread (e.g. Arla)
2 medium eggs
150g self-raising four
1tsp baking powder
25g ground almonds
100 ml coconut milk
1tsp vanilla essence
for the frosting:
300g icing sugar
40g Lactrofree spread
40ml+ coconut milk
40g shredded coconut
Dr Oetker silver pearls (for decorating)

Mash a banana in a mixing bowl, add the sugar and softened Lactofree spread, mix thoroughly. Add the eggs, flour, almonds, baking powder, vanilla essence and coconut milk, keep mixing. Spoon the batter in the muffin cases inserted in the cupcake baking tin. Place the tin int he oven preheated to 180Cand bake for 25 minutes (check after 20 minutes with a wooden skewer if they're ready). Take the tray out, let the cupcakes cool before decorating. Make the frosting by beating together icing sugar with Lactofree, add the coconut milk a little bit at a time to create the soft frosting. Add the shredded coconut and mix well. Using an icing bag, decorate the cupcakes and add the silver pearls on top.


I used Pukka Organic Virgin Coconut Oil, and it is delicious in baking.


Wednesday, 25 June 2014

My kitchen story

For many families around the world the kitchen is the most important place in the house, where family meals are cooked, councils take place, important decisions are made around the table and even revolutions are being hatched. When I was growing up, I remember we all preferred to eat in the kitchen, next to the cooker and a low-humming fridge which produced an occasional hiccup sound. My Dad used to work in the kitchen as well, creating the most beautiful pieces of jewellery and listening to the radio non-stop. I have very fond memories of my friends' kitchens as well.
Yet the kitchen we have now is not exactly a family space. We eat in the dining room. Our kitchen is a later addition to the house, a narrow long room, cluttered and in great need of re-decoration. Our boiler is so vintage, they don't do them like that any more. There is no space for a table and chairs. It has a potential, and I dream of re-doing it one day.
It is a place where I cook all our meals and take a lot of photos for my blog. It has shelves and shelves of teas and my pretty vintage china.





There are lots of things which probably reveal my likes and hobbies, and make it a personal space. It is very colourful and a complete design disaster. I could imagine the likes of Kirstie Allsopp would faint or condemn me for the lack of integrity in the design department.



Could I also sneak in a picture of my favourite kitchen in Cogges Manor Farm? This is my dream kitchen, but one which sadly I will never have.


I might not have the space of the Cogges kitchen, or their historical background, but my own kitchen faces our lovely garden, with the beautiful roses, lilac, rhododendron, potted herbs.


When I was the dishes in the sink, I watch the black birds frolicking in the garden, listen to their tweeting.
The other thing I share with Cogges is that neither of us has a dishwasher.

Why am I talking about my kitchen?
BritMums have recently teamed up with Fairy Platinum and asked the bloggers to talk about their kitchens, saying "the kitchen, it's the heart of the home. We eat, socialise and sped time as a family there... we work at making it a place that reflects our family's style".

When Fairy Platinum sample has arrived, I clutched my head. For some reason I expected it to be a Fairy Platinum washing up liquid, not the dishwasher tablets. Oh my, I'm in a pickle, I don't even have a dishwasher. Thankfully, my friend Liz came to the rescue, she invited me to her kitchen to test the Fairy Platinum in her dishwasher.



I checked the BritMums appeal again in my Inbox, and No, it only mentioned the Fairy Platinum, so it was a genuine mistake on my part.
I gave the dishwasher tablets to my friend.
And this is what my friend Liz said:
"We would normally wash our loads in a 50 degree 2 hour wash but decided we would try your tablets on a 30 degree quick wash lasting 35 minutes.
I was very impressed. Even with oily pots and pans from our cooking everything was spotless and shiny so I didn't even bother testing it on the hotter wash. The only thing I didn't like as much as those we use at the moment is the fragrance as I did notice quite a strong sweet smell, although this doesn't seem to transfer to the crockery so possibly just a general cleaner to the dishwasher"
And here are some photos Before, After and a very shiny plate!




I confess I am impressed with the results, and even mentioned it to my dear husband that perhaps we should consider getting a dishwasher.

This post is an entry for the “My Kitchen Story” Linky Challenge, sponsored by Fairy Platinum” 

If you enjoyed reading My kitchen story, you might like to read Tales from the Kitchen Sink written by Cheryl from Madhouse Family Reviews.

Belgian Apple Tart (#ReadCookEat)



"Becoming Jane Eyre" by Sheila Kohler had raving reviews and very decent testimonials on the cover, yet having just finished it, I remain in the minority of the un-converted. Joyce Carol Oates even called it "a tour de force of style, vision and imagination..." For me it was more of an unfulfilled promise and a lost potential.
First, I had issues with the title. "Becoming Jane Eyre" was almost identical to "Becoming Jane", a film which came on the big screen a couple of years before Sheila Kohler's book was published. It also dealt with the predicament of a pre-fame author.



The first pages of the book take you to 1846, the days when the Bronte father has just had an eye operation and is bed-ridden in a small Manchester room, with his dutiful daughter Charlotte keeping him company. This is where embittered by the rejection from the publishers and set on revenge, she starts creating "Jane Eyre". The narrative flickers between countries and years.
The whole plot reminded me of high school essays or a dissertation, when you try to put forward your theory by finding small relevant details to prove your point.
The three sisters are portrayed as quite garrulous, selfish, thriving on petty grievances between themselves and to be frank, quite unpleasant women. The magic of the Brontes' style of writing has been lost. Of course, there was a rivalry between the three sisters, that must have been inevitable, living and writing together and being so different as personalities.
I am often shocked at the cavalier approach some authors take with the imagined conversations and inner thoughts of their real life characters. Take the marital bed scenes between the older Brontes: the poor exhausted mother muttering prayers "please God help me" when performing her marital duty, or the Bronte father remembering "the strong odour of her body after sex". A gratuitous sex detail anyone?
Sheila Kohler was neither generous nor kind to the Brontes.
Was Charlotte really so condescending towards anyone below her in social status? I believe her books tell differently.
Some pages were tediously long in describing very minor occurences, yet the end of the book was very rushed, and the author almost skipped the deaths of Branwell, Emily and Anne with ungainly haste. The same goes for Charlotte's relationship with her husband. He appeared almost out of nowhere with his passionate pleas of love, but why wasn't he worthy of being talked about in greater detail, is a mystery.
I wanted to like this book, because Jane Eyre has been one of the novels which has influenced me greatly as a child and teenager (I must have read it at least twenty times), but to me it proved to be disappointing.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------



Food doesn't feature prominently in this book, and those meals which are mentioned are rather unappealing like the watery porridge or greasy mutton. While Charlotte sits next to her blind father in a small room in Manchester, she recollects her trip to Belgium and her further infatuation with a man she calls the Professor. Her memories go back to her first day in Brussels, where "they ate something heavy bu delicious in a brown sauce with fresh bread followed by an apple tart..."
This was the point of my foraging in the woods of blogs and sites in search of a Belgian-style apple tart. I have found a delightful recipe for an Apple Pie on Baking in Belgium blog (see her post Quick Apple Pie).
I have adapted the recipe slightly, and the resulting tart is so tasty, I will be certainly baking it again.
As it uses ground almonds, it is almost marzipan-y.



Belgian Apple Tart
Ingredients:
1 block of sweet pastry (I used Tesco Finest Dessert Pastry Ready Rolled)
3 apples
2 medium eggs
125g caster sugar
70g ground almonds
1tsp vanilla essence

As mentioned above, I used Tesco Finest Dessert Pastry, and very nice it proved to be as well. I often use Jus-Rol, and happy to report that Tesco pastry was excellent, and I will be buying it again.
Spray the tart dish with spray oil. Roll out the pastry and cut the corners to make it fit the round dish.
Prepare the filling: Peel one apple and grate it on coarse. Mix with the ground almonds, eggs, caster sugar and vanilla essence.
I was a bit concerned that the pastry might get soggy, as the recipe suggested pouring the filling straight on the raw pastry (I usually pre-bake the pastry before adding the filling), but I shouldn't have worried. It cooked perfectly well. Slice two apples thinly and put the slices around the edges, leaving the middle open.
Place the dish in the oven preheated to 180C. bake for 25 minutes.



As this recipe is inspired by a novel, I am adding to #ReadCookEat linky, which Chris from Cooking Around the World and I run together.


As it is a Belgian recipe, I am also adding it to the World Cup culinary challenge to represent Belgium playing tomorrow, on the 26th of June.
Chris from Cooking Around the World has challenged the foodies to take part in a culinary-football-themed game this month. Read all about the rules of the game in his linky Bloggers Around the World.



Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Spaghetti Primavera

A plate of pasta with freshly made pesto is one of life's pleasures.
There are some decent jar varieties around, but if you made your own pesto once, you know the taste is so much more vibrant. Also a lot of brands do cheap substitutes: parmesan for some unspecified hard cheese, pine nuts for peanuts, olive oil for the sunflower oil.



Spaghetti Primavera
Ingredients:
spaghetti
200g baby courgettes
500g broad beans in pods (weight of beans is much less, of course)
2tsp olive oil
For pesto:
a bunch of basil leaves (I used all the leaves from a grow pot bought in Waitrose)
50ml olive oil
50g parmesan, grated
1-2 clove of garlic, crushed
40g pine nuts
a handful of edible flowers like daisies and clover (optional)

First make pesto: blitz the basil leaves with the olive oil, add the grated cheese and crushed garlic (1 or 2, depending on how much you like garlic). Mix well. You could blitz the pine nuts together with the pesto sauce, or just add them and mix with a spoon. I prefer whole pine nuts for an extra crunch and texture.



Cook spaghetti in the salted boiling water. I cooked the broad beans separately and also fried the sliced courgettes with the olive oil for  couple of minutes (slightly seasoned). Drain the pasta, add the pesto and vegetables. Scatter some flowers if using (only advisable if you have an enclosed garden and no animals around).


As I write this recipe, I know that Italy has lost today, which means it's a Goodbye from Italy. They were a bit of a disappointment in this World Cup.




Chris from Cooking Around the World has challenged the foodies to take part in a culinary-football-themed game this month. Read all about the rules of the game in his linky Bloggers Around the World.


As my pesto sauce is made from scratch, adding this recipe to Javelin Warrior's linky Made with Love Mondays.


Monday, 23 June 2014

Ensalada Mediterranea

It's too hot for stews and soups unless it is a cold soup. As Spain is playing today, I toyed with an idea of making some gaspacho. But my failure to make a gaspacho many-many moons ago has entered the family lore, so I decided I would be safer with a salad. Having googled for Spanish salad recipes, I liked the sound of Ensalada Mediterranea or Mediterranean Salad. I found the recipe on La Tienda The Best of Spain site (see their recipe here). As for the list of ingredients, I followed the recipe close enough, but I am not good at ounces and cups, so the measurements are all different, I guess.



Mediterranean Salad (serves 4)
Ingredients:
2 spring onions, finely chopped
2 tins of John West Infusions tuna (lemon & thyme), 80g each
1 tin of haricot beans (240g in drained weight)
24 mixed green and black olives
1 jar of red pepper (I used Fragata Pimiento Piquilo)
zest of 1 lemon
chopped parsley
2 tbsp olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
1tsp vinegar
sea salt, pepper

Finely chop the spring onions and slice the pepper thinly. Drain the haricot beans and rinse them with cold water, as their water is quite slimey. Mix well all the ingredients in a big bowl. Season well.
Serve with a nice slice of bread. A glass of wine wouldn't go amiss.
This salad could be a lovely starter or even a main course, depending on the size of your portions.

Fragata Pimiento Piquilo are sweet Spanish peppers, lovely in salads or dips with cream cheese. They are very moreish.




Chris from Cooking Around the World has challenged the foodies to take part in a culinary-football-themed game this month. Read all about the rules of the game in his linky Bloggers Around the World.



Elmer-mania: our favourite elephant is 25 years old!

Did you know that Elmer the patchwork elephant is celebrating his 25th birthday this year?! This classic childrens' book, created by multi-talented David McKee, is one of the most widely read books for children in the UK. This colourful series has sold over 7 million copies since its publication in 1989 at Andersen Press. That's a lot of happy children.
Elmer has been such a big part of my children's lives, that he's almost a member of our family.



We first fell in love with him when our older son was a little boy. He absolutely adored the series, and I kept buying all the books as well as toys. Our first Elmer book is a battered veteran, it has been chewed, torn and scotch-taped, but I treasure it as this is the book which my kids and I enjoyed reading again and again.
Sasha is 12 now, but having autism, he doesn't feel he should be moving on and abandoning his old favourites. Nowadays he's as happy listening to me reading an Elmer book as he's watching a Fifth Gear video on Youtube.
If anything, quite often when I read to my younger son before bedtime, Sash would tag along and sit with us on the bed, listening to one of the wonderful Elmer stories which he has most likely heard hundreds of times.
When my younger son picks up a book to read before bedtime, there are times when I inwardly groan "Not again", but with Elmer books I never get tired of reading them aloud because I love the stories and marvellous illustrations so much.
And Eddie is very fond of Elmer books as well. Some of them I read so many times, that I can recite them by heart.

Our Elmer collection (incomplete in this photo)


We are such Elmer enthusiasts, that we've got not only books and toys, we have an Elmer rug, Elmer framed art print, a couple of years ago I painted an Elmer mural in my younger son's bedroom and also decorated his room with stickers, and even made an Elmer pancake once (as you can see from my blog header).
Imagine my delight, when we were offered a selection of Elmer-anniversary-themed products and a new book to review. Yippee, what could be more exciting?!

We received a lovely Elmer creative activity pack with colouring sheets, which my little man is working on.
We read a new book "Elmer and the Monster" (watch this space for a separate book review) and appreciated it.



Eddie is a big fan of puzzles, and he was very pleased to play with a new Elmer Floor Puzzle.



This 24 piece puzzle comes in a sturdy box with a red rope handle. The pieces are chunky and perfect for little hands. It is double-sided. One side is a colourful illustration from Elmer and the Lost Teddy, with Elmer and Wilbur finding the lost teddy (by the way, this is one of my own personal favourite books in the series, a perfect read before bedtime). The other side is a black and white colouring sample of Elmer, for your little people to colour in.



Elmer Colouring Felt Pens is a set of 6 felt pens in a lovely storage box. Each pen is double ended, so you have 12 colours in total to colour in Elmer and his magic world.



Elmer Tabard is perfect for little artists or chefs. You can wipe it clean easily. Eddie thought he looked like a musketeer.



Elmer Snowglobe is a delightful souvenir for the Elmer fans of all ages. Shake the snow globe, and the sparkly stars float around the elephant. Tilt it to the side, and the reflection makes it look like there are two Elmers inside. Pure magic! What's more, there is an insert on the other side for your own photo, so you can make it personalised. How smart is that?


Eddie loved all the Elmer goodies but the snowglobe made him giddy with joy.


If you love Elmer and would like to wish him a happy birthday, how about decorating an Elmer mask from Andersen Press? Go on, you know you want to join the Elmer's Day parade! (<--follow this link to download lots of colouring sheets and create your own Elmer mask).

After all, in Elmer's Special Day Elmer said:
"Let's begin... From now on everyone can join in the Elmer's Day Parade... as long as they wear an elephant mask! This will be the best elephant parade ever!"
"And everyone", said Elmer, "means everyone!"



Sunday, 22 June 2014

Mushroom Julienne

This is a Russian recipe but of French origin. I believe the Mushroom Julienne became popular in Russia in the old days when the Russian aristocracy liked to employ the French chefs. I have fond memories of eating it in the old cafe in Moscow, where it has traditionally been served in metal mini dishes with a ladle-like handle.

mushroom recipes, Russian food

Mushroom Julienne (serves 3-4, depending on the size of ramekins0
Ingredients:
300g chestnut mushrooms
2tbsp butter, preferably clarified
a pinch of nutmeg
a pinch of dried or fresh thyme
4 heaped tbsp of thick Greek style yogurt or soured cream
3 tbsp mayonnaise
fresh flat leaf parsley, torn
Slice the mushrooms thinly (hence the name - julienne). Fry them quickly in the clarified butter, season with salt and nutmeg. Add the soured cream or thick yogurt, mayonnaise and thyme and mix well. Cook for about 5 minutes. Spoon the mix into the ramekins and place them in the oven preheated to 180C. Cook for another 5-7 minutes. Garnish with fresh parsley leaves.
Serve with a nice chunk of bread to dip in and mop up all the lovely sauce.
This dish is very satisfying, a real comfort food.
There are quite a few variations of this dish, some cooks like to add a bit of grated cheese, some add the onion or garlic. I prefer a simple version.

Russian food, Russian recipes


The original recipe asks for ceps or fresh porcini mushrooms. Since these are not widely available, I used chestnut mushrooms, as they have more flavour than bland white mushrooms.

Russian food, Russian recipes

Chris from Cooking Around the World has challenged the foodies to take part in a culinary-football-themed game this month. Read all about the rules of the game in his linky Bloggers Around the World.


Saturday, 21 June 2014

Eiersalat, German egg salad

I got my World Cup days mixed up, and realised in the afternoon that I don't have any recipes ready for the culinary challenge. Drat, what can I make today that would be quick to prepare and use the ingredients I already have, as I didn't fancy crawling out to the shops in the heat. My guys and I went to Cogges manor farm earlier today, and that was enough of the hot weather for me for one day. As last week, I came back home with a box of duck eggs from the ducks at the farm.
Then I remembered a very simple German salad Eiersalat. There are many versions of this egg salad, some have added potatoes, mushrooms and even ham.



Eiersalat
Ingredients:
3 duck eggs, hard-boiled
3 spring onions, finely chopped
a few garlic leaves (optional)
3tbsp thick Greek style yogurt
2tbsp mayonaise
a pinch of paprika
a good squeeze of lemon juice

Chop the hard-boiled eggs and finely chop spring onions and garlic leaves. Mix together in a medium sized bowl. Add the yogurt or soured cream, mayonnaise, paprika and lemon juice, and mix well.



It is a lovely side salad to go with baby new potatoes and green beans. It will also be fab in plain egg sandwiches.



I am growing garlic this year, both in planters and in the strawberry patch. The green leaves are still young now. Can't wait to harvest it later this year.


Chris from Cooking Around the World has challenged the foodies to take part in a culinary-football-themed game this month. Read all about the rules of the game in his linky Bloggers Around the World.