Thursday, 21 November 2019

Maple oat cookies

easy cookies, quick cookies, Chez Maximka

After spending a month with us, it was time for my Mum to go back home. She left early on Tuesday morning, and was still travelling yesterday, as though she was in Moscow on Tuesday, it takes another 22 hours by train to get to my hometown.
Every time she leaves, we say Good byes with a heavy heart. With her health issues and me being a "prisoner of Zenda" - not being able to travel far due to the elder son's mental health problems, we never know if we'll see each other again.
To cheer up myself and treat my boys, I was baking maple oat cookies.

easy quick cookies, Chez Maximka, baking with maple syrup

After a recent debacle with Flora, I'm on the lookout for a new margarine for baking cookies with. While I prefer a real butter when I bake cakes, I used to add either Flora or Stork as an ingredient in cookies, as they help to keep the shape.
After Flora has antagonised the Mumsnet members, I am now trying to find an alternative. I'm not a very active Mumsnetter, more of a reader than a contributor, and resent the fact that all members were insulted en masse. So, it's a good bye from me, good bye, Flora.

If you know of a decent alternative which is good for baking cookies, please let me know.
In this recipe I used a Baking block by Sainsbury's. It's the first time I used it, and can't say that I'm impressed. The cookies did spread quite a bit and lost their pattern. This means, I'm still on the lookout for the perfect margarine.

Emma Bridgewater, Chez Maximka

Maple oat cookies (makes 18 cookies)
100g demerara sugar
120g margarine
1 medium egg
60ml maple syrup
50g oats
180+ g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
a pinch of sea salt

Cream the sugar with margarine, beat in one egg, add the maple syrup, oats, flour and baking powder as well as a pinch of sea salt. The cookie dough will be quite soft and sticky.
Dust hands with flour and pinch walnut-sized balls of dough, roll between your hands, then flatten and put on the tray, lined with a baking parchment paper or baking silicone sheet.
Bake for about 13-14 minutes. The cookies will be slightly golden and very soft.
Let them cool a bit before lifting off the tray, they are fragile at this stage and will break easily.
If you prefer crispy cookies, let them bake for a couple of minutes longer.

Clarks maple syrup

These are lovely chewy cookies, perfect with a cup of tea or coffee. My boys loved them.
The maple syrup adds a distinct aroma and flavour to the bakes.

Chez Maximka, easy cookies

easy quick cookies, Chez Maximka

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Photo diary: week 46, project 365

We're having a quiet early evening today. Eddie is working on his Tudor project for school, creating an illuminated title page. Mum has offered to cook dinner for kids, so I can have a rest from my kitchen duties. Sash is watching YouTube cooking videos, he loves the American cake videos with the most outlandish cakes. And my darling husband is flying home from Italy as we speak.

Last Sunday we had a quick bite at Costa, Eddie enjoyed a pigs in blankets roll, and I had a festive spiced cappuccino, which looked pretty but again was too sweet to my taste.

On Monday a friend took my Mum and me by car to the Burford garden centre. While Mum was browsing the aisles with the seeds and bulbs, Jen and I checked out a new Reading room with art books and gorgeous stationery. The prices, however, are totally crazy - for example, these beautiful notebooks cost £36 each. There was a sealed book set on Leonardo at £400.

Chez Maximka, beautiful stationery

A dental appointment first thing in the morning for Eddie.

On Wednesday I persuaded my Mum to visit the Ashmolean. She's been there before, but not in the last couple of years. With my boys, I tend to stay longer in the Egyptian rooms, as Eddie loves looking at the mummies, while Sash prefers the Greek sculpture, and we rarely go upstairs to see the European art.
This is the Ideal Head by Antonio Canova.

Chez Maximka, Italian art

With all the rain in the last weeks, the river Windrush has burst out of its banks, and the flood plains are under water. When I was walking towards the bridge from town, some bloke on the bike asked me sarcastically if I could swim. Like it's any of his business what I plan to do.

Chez Maximka, floods in the UK

When we were in Oxford on Wednesday, we also visited the flea market, and Mum bought this Tudor-style bell to take back to Russia as a gift for a friend who collects the vintage bells. The seller wasn't sure about what historical period it could be. I don't think the bell is that old, but the lady is dressed in a Tudor-style dress.

Chez Maximka, vintage bells

The iris pods in the garden look so pretty.

autumn garden, Chez Maximka

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Friday, 15 November 2019

Lemon and orange drizzle cake

Chez Maximka, easy cakes and bakes

As mentioned many times, when I'm stressed, I bake to let off steam.
Today I had to deal with the clinic, which has lost my prescription request, submitted 12 days ago. It's for my son's meds, which is available only on prescription, otherwise I wouldn't have bothered with them.
It's not the first time they did it, and as our supply at home is running very low, I'm upset about their cavalier approach.
I was fuming after an exchange of phone calls, and went to the kitchen to bake. I baked a passion fruit drizzle cake last week, and decided I'd make another drizzle cake, this time a more traditional one, with citrus fruit.
You can make it with either lemons or oranges, or a mix of both.
Gorgeously moist, this cake is a lovely dessert for any tea party.

Chez Maximka, easy lemon drizzle cake

Lemon and orange drizzle cake
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 orange
180g caster sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon and 1/2 orange
3 medium eggs
20g polenta (optional)
200g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
2tbsp orange gin (optional)
120g butter, melted
for the icing:
5 heaped tbsp icing sugar mixed with orange juice

In a medium sized bowl zest a lemon and an orange. Add the caster sugar and juice of half a lemon and half an orange, mix together. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then add polenta and sift in the flour. Add a teaspoon of baking powder, orange gin and melted (but not hot) butter. Mix well.

Oil a cake tin and pour in the cake batter. Place the cake tin in the oven preheated to 180C. Bake for 50+ minutes. Check with a wooden toothpick if it's ready, once it comes clean, the cake is baked.

Let the cake cool a bit before taking it out of the tin.
Mix the icing sugar with enough freshly squeezed orange juice to make a runny icing, and drizzle over the cake.
Decorate with jelly diamonds or any other sweets.

The polenta is optional in this recipe, it just adds a nice texture. The gin is also optional, it adds a more concentrated flavour.
I have a bottle of Tanqueray orange gin which I got as a present for my birthday back in February, but I rarely have a gin and tonic, and the bottle is almost full. If you don't have the orange gin, a limoncello could be a nice substitute. Or skip the alcohol altogether. You can't actually taste the alcohol, as it evaporates during the baking, yet it gives a more intense flavour.

Chez Maximka, easy lemon drizzle cake

Chez Maximka, easy lemon drizzle cake

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Photo diary: week 45, project 365

We're getting closer and closer to Christmas, the shops are full of festive treats and gifts.
I've been looking at the selection of panettones in Waitrose, but won't be buying any until the end of this month, or we'll be tempted to eat it.

"The autumn Moon is incomparably beautiful. Any man who supposes the Moon is always the same, regardless of the season, and is therefore unable to detect the difference in autumn, must be exceedingly insensitive", pronounced wise man Kenko in AD 1331.

Moon crescent, Chez Maximka

We had a sudden outburst of hail in the afternoon on Monday, but it stopped as abruptly as it started.

Chez Maximka

The morning of the Bonfire night started with a steady drizzle, and we thought we wouldn't be able to have a bonfire later. But my clever Mum, who prepared the bonfire, has covered it, and while still pretty wet in the afternoon, we put on old coats and ventured into the garden.
That day we had Eddie's friend over, after school, and the boys had fun, roasting marshmallows on wooden skewers.
My Mum who just loves open fires and bonfires said she probably enjoyed it even more than the boys.

Chez Maximka

On Wednesday Sasha had his overnight stay at the respite home, and Eddie had an afterschool club for the first time ever. I have booked sessions for this half term, and will see how it goes.
I convinced Mum to go to Oxford, so we got on the bus and went to the West Gate shopping centre. We were looking for gifts for my Mum to take with her when she travels back home.
My Mum always refuses to eat or drink anything in the cafes, but this time I insisted we should go to have coffee. Well, I did have a latte, and she ordered a hot chocolate.
We were sitting in the café, and I laughed, saying that this is the most middle class experience - to have a coffee in the John Lewis café.

Chez Maximka

I spotted a recipe card in Waitrose for a passion fruit drizzle loaf cake, and decided to bake it on Friday. I have reduced a sugar content quite a bit, and I was right, it didn't need more sugar.
The cake is very moist and tasty, and I will definitely bake it again.

tasty cake, Chez Maximka

It's a day of a torrential rain here. I woke up with a terrible migraine, and had to lie down as soon as I fixed breakfast for the boys, because apparently nobody else can do it. Sigh.
Later I decided to venture out, hoping that the fresh air would ease my aching head.
I bought a copy of The Dinky Donkey for Sash. We are reading the original The Wonky Donkey every single day, as being autistic, my son insists on reading books from the same stash of books by his bedside.
We've already read it today, and it's just not as good as the original book.

books for preschoolers

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Friday, 8 November 2019

Home Comforts Degustabox

There is something reassuring in coming home from the cold and enjoying a mug of hot chocolate. Home Comforts is the theme of the current Degustabox.

This monthly food and drink subscription box is an excellent way to discover products which have only just appeared in the shops or those which might have been around for while, but you haven't had a chance to try them yet.
Thanks to Degustabox, I have found new favourites to add to our shopping list, including some products which I probably wouldn't have tried otherwise.

Each time the box arrives, it's a total surprise. You get a good selection of foods and drinks.
If you haven't tried Degustabox subscription box yet and would like to have a go, I have a whopping £7 off discount from your first box (and you can unsubscribe any time) - just use a code 8EVI8 when you place an order.

What did we receive in the Home Comforts Degustabox? Let's have a look.

food box, subscription food box

Pip's Real Hot Chocolate Coins (£1.50) are single-servings of high quality chocolate hand-made in Wales since 2015. Available in a range of delicious flavours, with variations suitable for vegans and those watching their sugar, everything is gluten-free and trace-free of nuts.
It's been hailed as the Best Luxury Hot Chocolate Retailer 2019.
You will receive 1 item in your box. To make a mug of delicious hot chocolate, just unwrap and pop into 200ml of any kind of milk on the hob and stir until melted.
Available on and at independent shops.

luxury hot chocolate, vegan hot chocolate

If you prefer coffee to hot chocolate, take your coffee to the next level with a selection of Gourmet Drops Chocolate/Vanilla (£3.99)
I love flavoured coffee, but am always struggling with the sugar heavy coffees in many cafes. Gourmet Drops allow you to add flavour without all that extra sugar.
This is a highly concentrated no added sugar flavoured syrup with sweeteners.

coffee syrup, flavoured syrup for coffee

Tea lovers are not left without a treat this month either. You will receive one of three Tick Tock Teas (£2.05). One of Britain's most loved independent tea brands, Tick Tock, has launched three new wellbeing teas - Bounce (lemongrass, ginger, cinnamon and green rooibos), Balance (fennel, turmeric, cardamom and rooibos) and Bedtime (camomile, lemon balm, lavender and rooibos).
Wellbeing herbal infusions are brimming with natural goodness for bright days and peaceful nights.
They are naturally caffeine free blends.
Available at Waitrose and and

rooibos with flavours, herbal infusions

Upbeat Drinks Juicy Protein Water Blood Orange and Mandarin (£1.79) is a curious concept. It's a sugar free water made with real fruit and containing 12g of whey protein (from milk). Useful for gym devotees, or hydration on the go, it offers an enriched hydration for strength, energy and mental performance.

drinks for gym fans

Maille Mustard with Honey (£1.99) is a classic combination of heat and sweetness. It will add a delicious flavour to any ham sandwich, sausage roll or chicken kebabs.
If you're not a meat-eater, add it to a Welsh rarebit, or a cheese sandwich.
Bring out more flavour with Maille's 270 years of experience.
Available in all major supermarket chains.

classic condiments

Maille Tartare Sauce (£1.99) is another classic condiment. Add a touch of luxury with this gourmet take on a classic tartare sauce. Maille created a twist on the traditional sauce with an addition of shallots, giving the sauce a savoury sweet note.

It is exceptionally good with baked fish or fish fingers.

Chez Maximka

Clarks Original Maple Syrup (£2 for 180ml) is a natural blend of Pure Canadian maple syrup and Carob fruit syrup. This means, you get a delicious maple syrup with 45% less sugar than granulated white sugar (per 100g).
Maple syrup is a must for pancakes and waffles, of course, but it's also a versatile ingredient for many marinades or as a drizzle on roasted vegetables like sweet potatoes or squash.
It's suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
Available in all major supermarket chains.

cooking with maple syrup

Amy's Kitchen Organic hearty rustic Italian vegetable soup (£2) is made with ceci beans (aka chickpeas), vegetables, mushrooms and traditional herbs. This recipe was inspired by Amy's Kitchen chef's trips to Europe
It's gluten free, diary free, vegan and kosher.
Available in all major supermarket chains.
We have tried Amy's Kitchen soups in the past, and they are a handy product to keep in the pantry for when you don't have time to cook.

vegan tinned soup

Growers Garden fresh Broccoli crisps (£1.29) is an innovative product. Made using broccoli grown on their own farm, they have developed a snack which is a healthier alternative to potato crisps.
Less than 99 calories per bag, low in saturated fats, gluten free and vegan, they include fresh broccoli, potato flakes, rapeseed oil, potato starch, salt, spinach powder, vegetable oil and pea fibre.

Crisps themselves are pale green and do have a distinct flavour of broccoli. A hit with fans of broccoli. My Mum enjoyed them, my sons less so.

vegan snacks

Boost + Protein (£1.49) snack bar is a combination of protein crisps enrobed in layers of chewy caramel and Cadbury chocolate. Every bar gives you 12g of protein.
Available across a number of major supermarkets and retail chains.

protein snacks

Snatt's Garlic & Parsley Mediterranean Baked Snacks (£1.49) are authentic Mediterranean baked snacks. Lovely with a dip, or topping, or as a pre-dinner snack.
Nutritional information: 100% natural ingredients, oven baked, vegan, no MSG or palm oil.

vegan snacks

Whitworths Shots Chocolate & Hazelnut (£1.89) are tasty little snacks. Packed full of an indulgent mix of juicy raisins, cocoa dusted hazelnut halves and milk chocolate pieces, these snacks are less than 100kcal. Handy in size, they are great to tuck away, ready to enjoy any time, anywhere.
Suitable for vegetarians, they are a good source of fibre.

fruit and nut snacks

Disclosure: We receive a monthly subscription box for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are our own.

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Sweet and sour aubergine ragu with oyster mushrooms

November is being hailed as a World Vegan Month. While no-one in our family is a vegan, I cook lots of vegetable dishes that just happen to be vegan-friendly.
Aubergines and potatoes are my most favourite vegetables, I am happy to eat them as often as possible.
A few years ago I tried to grow my own aubergines, but there was one plague after another - slugs, caterpillars, some kind of mould etc, so I've not succeeded. After that gardening disaster I just buy them in the shops.
I rarely peel the aubergines (unless the recipe asks for that specifically). The modern varieties are not bitter, and I don't pre-salt them either to remove bitterness.
Sweet and sour aubergine ragu with oyster mushrooms is a tasty comfort food.

vegan recipes, Chez Maximka

Sweet and sour aubergine ragu with oyster mushrooms
1 red onion
5+tbsp olive oil
2 medium carrots, grated
2 medium aubergines
1 sweet pepper
1-2 clove of garlic
2 big tomatoes
3-4tbsp fresh lemon juice
2tbsp Clarks maple syrup
a punnet of oyster mushrooms
fresh dill (optional)

vegan dishes, Chez Maximka
The sweet pepper is listed in the ingredients list, but is missing in the photo, as I added it after I took the photo

Start by frying a finely chopped red onion in 2 tbsp olive oil, keep stirring for 3-4 minutes, then add grated carrots, and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
Cube the aubergines and slice a pepper, add to the onion and carrot mix, with more of olive oil.
Aubergines tend to absorb quite a lot of oil, so if you're counting calories, add a dash of water, and cook stirring frequently.
Add a finely chopped clove of garlic, chopped tomatoes, lemon juice and maple syrup. You might need a big glug of water. Cover the pan with the lid, and cook simmering, on low heat, for half an hour or so, until the aubergines are soft.
Add the mushrooms in the last five minutes of cooking.
Serve with rice, or as a side dish to a meat course. Sprinkle with fresh herbs, like dill or parsley.
If you don't like oyster mushrooms, they can be easily swapped for chestnut mushrooms.
I served the ragu with the arancini (rice balls).

In this recipe I used Clarks Original maple syrup, which was one of the products in the latest Degustabox food box. It's a natural blend of Pure Canadian maple syrup and carob fruit syrup. It's suitable for both vegetarians and vegans.

vegetarian dinner recipes, Chez Maximka

If you enjoy cooking with aubergines, check out the following recipes:

Aubergine curry (Indian recipe)

Aubergine ikra (Russian recipe)

Caponata (Sicilian recipe)

Pasta 'ncasiata (Sicilian recipe)

Freekeh with aubergines and cashews

What are your favourite aubergine-based recipes?

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Photo diary: week 44, project 365

Didn't I moan about the miserable weather just a week ago?! Well, it hasn't changed much since then. We did have a few sunny spells, but it's been raining most days. I think I'm becoming a true Brit, being obsessed with weather, asking Siri each morning what's the weather for the day.
Sometimes "he" gets it right.

Last Sunday spoilt us with a beautiful sunny break in the afternoon, only to turn drizzly later.
This glorious red bush in our garden is a restaurant for small birds.

colours of autumn, Chez Maximka

I'm forever looking up at the clouds, and they never cease to amaze me by their shapes. This one looked like big feathery wings.

I know it looks sunny again in the photo, so why was I moaning about the bad weather. It's just we were trying to catch any break from rain to get outdoors. But it was definitely raining before and after that day.

The day before Halloween I carved a pumpkin with Hiccup and Toothless. I always carve a pumpkin, based on our favourite film and book characters.
In the last years we had a Gruffalo, Meg and Mog, Funnybones, dragon from Games of Thrones, dragon from Merlin and more.

How to train your dragon pumpkin, carved pumpkin, Chez Maximka

We don't do trick-or-treating as a rule. Having a child with autism who is very sensitive to noise and any break from routine, trick-or-treaters are not welcome here. I pull the curtains tight.
We were walking home from town in the late afternoon, when Eddie spotted a lighted pumpkin at the neighbour's door. He asked me if he could go trick-or-treating, just to the neighbour.
He got dressed up as Harry Potter.
Our local computer repairs shop makes a big Halloween display in the window every year. They have three cackling witches who spook the passerbys.

Rainy day: Eddie stayed at home with my Mum, while I accompanied Sash and his father in town. They visited a Huffkins café. I stayed briefly with them, and then rushed to do a bit of grocery shopping.

cafes in Oxfordshire, Chez Maximka

As soon as the Halloween is over, there are Christmas decorations in town. We've already spotted Christmas light in a shape of tree on one of the doors in the neighbourhood.
And Costa is serving Gingerbread latte and mince pies.
This was my first mince pie of the season, and very nice it was too.

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Race with Ryan (game review)

games for young children

October ended on a minor chord of a miserable drizzle, and November started with a torrential rain. On a rainy day like today, what will you opt to do - read, bake, sketch or play games?
Race with Ryan launched yesterday (1 November 2019), to the sounds of accolade. This new racing game is available on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and PC.

If you are a parent of a primary school child, you might well be aware of the Ryan's World brand, a family-based production company. I confess I had to google who Ryan is, but it would appear I'm in the minority, and cheeky smiley chap Ryan is a world-wide phenomenon and one of the biggest names on Youtube.

My younger son is a gamer. He is happy to play Minecraft, Hello Neighbour and other games on his Xbox One. When we were offered a code to try a new game before its launch, he was thrilled to have an opportunity to trial it.

Chez Maximka

"Worldwide family entertainment publisher Outright Games in partnership with digital-first, kids entertainment studio's gaming division P.W.Games and Sunlight Entertainment, the family-run production company and creator of the "Ryan's World" brand, announced the release of "Race with Ryan" the first-ever console game based on the massively popular global kids' brand "Ryan's World".

You can play on your own, or together as a family, racing to victory across multiple, magical worlds as Ryan and his friends - Moe, Gus, Alpha, Lexa and others.
The game features a four-player-split-screen to race with friends in multiplayer mode.

Race with Ryan is available on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and PC.
Exclusively at Smyth's Toy Store in the UK for £29.99 and many retailers in the US including Target, Amazon and Gamestop for $39.99 with a version of the game which includes a limited edition race with Ryan collectible die cast vehicle exclusively available at Walmart in the USA and Big W in Australia.
"Race with Ryan" can also be downloaded from the PlayStation Store, Xbox Live, Nintendo eShop and Steam.

If you enjoy racing games, Race with Ryan is a colourful fun fast adventure. You pick a racer, then head to one of six magical locations, and off you go. Show your friends and family who is the fastest racer.
My son enjoyed playing this game, he said it is a great fun. He played on his own, but can't wait for his friend to come over after school next week so that they can race together.

video games for younger children

The controls are easy, once you learn how to use them. There is an optional auto-acceleration and a tutorial which shows you how to play.

video games for younger children, Christmas gift ideas for gamers

The game is aimed at children 3-6 years old, but at 9, my son had fun playing this game, so it might well be enjoyed by older kids.

"We had so much fun as a family when helping to create this game", said Ryan's father, Shion Kaji. "Players will see and hear Ryan and the beloved characters from Ryan's World as they experience the exciting race gameplay in different magical lands."

As one of the top kid content creators on YouTube, Ryan's channels received over 41 billion views to date, and amassed over 31 million subscribers, and growing (and my jaw truly hit the floor in amazement).

video games for young children
Image credits: Outright Games

You can watch the brand-new launch trailer here:

Disclosure: we received a free code for the game for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are our own.

video games for young children