Sunday, 30 October 2011

Our Meg and Mog pumpkin

I never celebrated Hallowe'en as a child, it was something kids did in the States, a totally alien concept. And though I am still not exactly a convert, I thought it might be fun to carve a pumpkin for my guys.
I did not want anything scary or threatening, just something gentle and toddler-friendly.
As we love Meg and Mog stories, it was a natural choice.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Spooky Cookies: Dr Oetker Hallowe'en Bat Cookie Kit (review)

We are baking cookies for two days in a row. Today it's the turn of Dr Oetker Hallowe'en Bat Cookie Kit that I bought a few days ago. The kit contains a cookie mix, a bat cookie cutter and a tube of black Writing Icing for decorating. All you need to add is 85g of butter. The kit says you will get 6 cookies, we managed to do 8. As there is only a black icing tube included in the kit, I added a bit of colour from a different set of Writing Icing. The Evil Witch was decorated with Dr Oetker Coloured Ready to Roll Icing. The icing pen needs a steady hand for squeezing the icing in a neat line, not an easy job when an inquisitive toddler tries to grab the icing pen from your hand. Coloured Ready to Roll icing is very easy to work with.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Monsters for my little monsters (Halloween Make a Monster kit review)

Browsing shelves in Sainsbury's, I spotted a box of Hallowe'en Make a Monster: Gingerbread men kit by Sainsbury's. The kit comes with a mix, a cookie cutter and a small bag of golden syrup as well as two icing tubes, all you have to do is add a bit of water and butter.
So we stirred and we poked the dough, we rolled it on the board and cut out the gingerbread men, then in they went in the oven to come out in 10 minutes all nice and golden brown.
Sasha wasn't interested in helping and watched me a bit anxiously, trying to take away his book Noisy Monsters that I tried to use as an inspiration for decorating my Mummy and Skeletons.
I also bought a pack of Dr Oetker Coloured Ready to Roll Icing which comes in several colours and Silver Spoon Writing Icing.
This is how the cookies looked before being baked.
You get 6 men and a bit.
My gingerbread men are a bit psychedelic. The Mummy is covered with yellow rolled icing and painted over. The skeletons were decorated with the icing pen from the kit, and I thought that I would prefer a slightly whiter icing, this one is almost translucent.
And if you like your gingerbread men have a more pronounced ginger flavour, I suggest adding a bit more ginger while making the dough, as the flavour is quite mild.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

I am no longer an Abel & Cole virgin

I have been thinking of trying an organic food delivery from Abel & Cole for a long time and finally placed an order for a small gourmet box. I was quite curious as to what I was going to receive.
The box arrived promptly yesterday.
I set myself a task to cook several dishes and decide for myself whether it is worth continuing the scheme or not. You see, I am usually the type who inspects each piece of fruit or veg when buying, so for me having groceries delivered is a bit of a mental challenge.
I got: 1 aubergine, 2 sweet potatoes, 2 courgettes, 1 sweet pepper, two boxes of tomatoes, 5 red onions, an avocado and a box of shiitake mushrooms. So far so good, cannot fault the quality. All vegetables looked fresh.
First I decided to cook a Russian style aubergine ikra (see my recipe below, in a separate post). Sweet potatoes were roasted with the olive oil and a bit of cinnamon.
My experiment continues today, as I plan to do a beef stir fry with shiitake mushrooms. Will be adding to this post.
Update on 27/10/11
My husband commented that my blog is turning into a cooking blog. Perhaps I am spending too much time blogging about my recipes and food?
As someone mentioned my blog as "Chef Maximka" by mistake, and I giggled, as I can see why it might be an appropriate name.
Anyway, returning to our muttons, i.e. the contents of the organic box.
Yesterday's dinner was made using the shiitake mushrooms. I haven't followed any particular recipe, it is just an Oriental-themed dish, a stir fry with beef, shiitake mushrooms, a carrot, a sweet pepper and tinned pineapple. I also added a pouch of Hoisin Garlic sauce from Aldi and served with the egg noodles.
I slightly dusted the meat with the wholemeal flour before frying, and also added a dash of Mirin rice wine.

Now I have an avocado, a few onions and courgettes left. Not sure I have time to be very imaginative and creative, as I am again on my own this weekend with my guys, and that is a challenge enough.

Update from 28/10/11
A quick salad made from the avocado, iceberg lettuce, cashew nuts and Leerdammer cheese with a simple dressing of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Update 1 November 2011:
One more dish: pasta with courgettes and shrimps (as suggested by my friend Bloom), see the recipe here.

Tomatoes were eaten raw as snacks by Eddie, and I added a good amount of them to the soups.
Which means, all the vegetables have been eaten.
And now it is time to order another box.
I am looking forward to a new challenge.

Aubergine ikra (Russian aubergine spread)

Russian recipe

This dish is known in Russia as the poor man's caviar, and there are as many variations of this dish, as there are cooks, and of course, each one thinks her recipe is the best. I am offering you the recipe as taught by my Mum (and my Mum of course knows best, lol). It is not easy to find an exact British equivalent to this dish, as it is something between a dip and a spread, but not salsa. Maybe caponata is close enough.
You will need
1 aubergine (about 300g)
300 g carrots
300g tomatoes
2 sweet peppers
2 medium onions
flat leaf parsley
sunflower oil

Skin the aubergine and chop into small cubes. Add some sunflower oil (about two tablespoons) to the frying pan and fry the aubergine cubes until soft and golden, stirring them frequently. Once cooked, place the aubergines in a bowl.
Chop the carrots very thinly and fry with a small amount of oil. Once cooked, add to the bowl with aubergines.
Next chop the onions and saute in oil, adding a teaspoon of dark muscovado sugar (optional) until soft, but not too dark.
Fry the sweet peppers, chopped into small pieces. Again, add to the bowl with the other cooked ingredients. Add the chopped skinned tomatoes to the frying pan and cook for about 5 minutes. Place in a bowl, mix all the ingredients well and return to the pan. Cook it for another 5-10 minutes, stirring frequently. I add salt at the very last stage, when all the ingredients are combined.
Before serving add some chopped flat leaf parsley.
This dish is lovely hot as a side dish to meat and sausages. In fact I served it yesterday with some Sicilian sausages, lamb chipolatas and roast potatoes.

And today, I keep snacking it as a cold spread on toasted stonebaked bread.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Heston Blumenthal's olive oil and vanilla biscuits (review)

Just in case I have some friends coming to visit me at a very short notice, I decided to try some new Heston Blumenthal's biscuits.

Heston Blumenthal’s frozen dough packs mean you can have a plate full of biscuits in just 15 minutes after you take them out of the freezer. There are twelve biscuits per pack and they come in three Heston-derful flavours: olive oil and vanilla, chocolate and caraway, and almond and marzipan. £3.79 for 12, available at Waitrose.
It was very easy to bake a batch of biscuits, the kitchen smelled lovely.
As for the taste, I cannot say I was impressed. If anything, they were a tad disappointing. For £3.79 for a pack of biscuits I expected something a bit more inspired. You can hardly taste the vanilla in them. However, the texture is right, nice and crumbly. I just wish there was more vanilla.
Will I buy them again? Probably not. But I might be tempted to try the other two varieties.

Soup for a cold autumnal dinnertime (recipe)

A bag of mixed rocket, spinach and watercress was sitting in the fridge, looking slightly despondent, and I fancied making a bit of soup to serve for dinner.
To make this soup you will need
1 bag of rocket, spinach and watercress
1 medium courgette
1 medium leek
1 biggish potato
double cream to serve
a stock cube, optional
a dash of brandy or sherry, optional
Chop a potato into cubes, thinly slice a courgette and a leek. Fry the sliced leek in a frying pan, adding a bit of olive oil or butter, if you prefer. I also added a dash of brandy, just to give it a more intense flavour, but it is optional. I have a bottle of cheap-ish brandy from Aldi for cooking (we don't drink brandy as such, but it is very handy for cooking). All the above ingredients go in a medium sized pan with enough water to cover all the vegetables. You can also add a stock cube if you like. Add the salt almost at the end. Whizz the soup once all the vegetables are nicely softened.

Best served with hot ciabatta bread, but any chunky bread will do, like stonebaked boule, for example.
And don't forget a generous swirl of double cream (or single cream if you count calories, or plain yogurt if you want to be saintly good)

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Quince jelly (recipe)

A family friend asked me if I would like a bag of quinces. Yes, of course, I would. As tempting as it was to try the recent Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's recipes from The Guardian, I love the quince jelly.

I used the most basic and simple recipe as I don't think quinces need any extras, they have such an intense beautiful flavour of their own.
You will need
500g/1lb granulated sugar to every 600ml/1pint of strained juice
or in simple terms, if you don't have scales, for a full cup of strained juice you will need to fill a cup with sugar about 4/5.

1.Wash the quinces well and cut into chunks, removing any blemished or rotten parts, keep the skin on. Put in a large pan and pour over enough water to just cover the fruit. Simmer until pulpy, which will take at least an hour.
2.Put the pulp into a jelly bag or muslin cloth and leave to drip for at least 4 hrs (or overnight).
3.Measure the juice and pour it into a preserving pan. Stir in the sugar.
4.Heat slowly, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Bring to the boil rapidly, skimming the scum off the top, until the jelly reaches setting point.
5.Pot into warm, dry jars, cover and seal.

Serve your quince jelly on crumpets, muffins or toast, or with roast hot or cold meats, especially game.
I absolutely love a good dollop of quince jelly with a chunk of smelly cheese.

I made a batch of quince jelly jars and also left a couple of quinces for a game casserole I am cooking tonight.

I tried to take a few photos outdoors to show the most gorgeous colour of the jelly, but the sun is hiding today, and the photos do not do the justice to the colour palette.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Enjoying the macarooniest taste: Mrs Crimble's Macaroons (review)

Back in early September a big surprise parcel arrived, full of Mrs Crimble's goodies. It was a prize, but I must have entered the competition on the auto-pilot, as I had no recollection of where or when I did it, and there was no note attached to help me.
We have been enjoying Mrs Crimble's fruit cakes and rice cakes, but this hamper proved to be a discovery box. There were lovely rice cakes, coated with chocolate and yogurt that I haven't seen anywhere before. Once sampled, I had to find them, and it took me a few trips to several supermarkets and health shops to find which ones sell them. They are very handy to carry, when we are out, to keep Eddie's hunger at bay and also to keep him happy when I do my grocery shopping.
Now, there are macaroons and there are macaroons, they might go terribly wrong and be as dry as sawdust. However, Mrs Crimble's macaroons which come in two varieties - chocolate and cranberry - are very moist, coconutty (is that a word? :)) and chewy.
They are also gluten free and wheat free, and are lovely to entertain guests who are on a gluten free diet.
While Eddie prefers the chocolate variety, I am partial to the cranberry macaroons.

To see the whole range of products go to Mrs Crimble's

Monday, 17 October 2011

Anyone ready for a chocolate boost? (giveaway CLOSED)

As I was doing some boring grocery shopping in town, I passed by the Thorntons shop and was easily swayed to have a look inside. It doesn't take much persuasion for me to buy chocolate. So, I bought some for myself and some for you.

If like me, you do not need a reason or excuse to have a rendezvous with a chocolate bar, you are welcome to enter my little giveaway.
A winner will get 3 bars: Milk Chocolate with Strawberry, Dark Chocolate with Apricot and Bakewell tart milk chocolate (Limited Edition).
To enter:
1. Please tell me what you like about autumn.
My favourite thing about autumn is the Indian summer, when the days are warm without being hot. Plus being a practical being verging on romantic, I love picking fruit from the trees. So does my little man, but that's another story.
2. Please leave a comment on one of my other posts as well. I love reading comments, and it will be my pleasure to see what you think about my ramblings.

You do not have to follow my blog to enter the giveaway. I do not believe in following blogs just for the sake of entering comps, and then quickly unfollowing as soon as the comp is done and dusted.
However, if you choose to follow my blog, I will be delighted and will "wag my tail" with joy. :)
On 1 November 2011 I will pick a winner.
If you do not have a blog, please leave me some means of contacting you if you win, a Twitter name, or forum name (then let me know which forum it is, as I belong to quite a few).
Good luck! And I hope you will like my selection of chocolate, I was choosing the chocs that have little bits and different flavours. Also I thought the colours of the packaging look nice together.
Now all I need is to hide the chocolate away before someone is tempted.


The chocolate giveaway is now closed. All names went into a hat, and Eddie has picked a name.
And the winner of the chocolate giveaway is......... Shaheen. Congratulations, I am going to email you!

Many thanks to everyone who posted their comments, I enjoyed reading them.
Please do not be disappointed. And watch this space, in a matter of days I am going to announce a new pre-Christmas giveaway. A little hint: it will be Italian and for foodies.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Italian-style sandwich

It is not something authentic Italian, but inspired by Italy nevertheless and using fine Italian foods.
You will need
a ciabatta loaf, preferably the type that needs finishing in the oven
a chicken breast
rocket, a handful
pesto, about 2 tbsp
Cut the chicken breast into pieces and quickly fry them in the frying pan, adding olive oil, once cooked, stir in some pesto for an extra oomph.
In the meantime bake your ciabatta in the oven until the top is golden and crispy, but do not overcook.
Once ciabatta is done, cut it into 3 sections and then each section in halves. Please do not add mayo. I cannot understand the obsession of mass produced sandwich creators who add mayo everywhere, even if it does not work with the other ingredients.
Put some rocket leaves on the lower part of ciabatta, add chicken, prosciutto and cover with the top part. Eat with olives.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Apple jelly

Last year our apple trees were laden with heavy big apples, this year one of the trees is completely resting and had not a single apple, the other two had apples, but not enough to appeal to all neighbours to come and help themselves. But there's still enough for me to cook lovely crumbles, chutney and jellies.

This recipe was written by a crafts forum friend a few years ago, and I have been making it ever since, with different variations, adding herbs and spices.

"Makes 7-8 x 225g jars

2 kg Crab Apples or other sharp Apples
Around 900g Granulated Sugar

Pick over the fruit removing leaves & stalks, wash then cut out any bruised bits.
Don’t peel or core the apples just chop them roughly. Place all the prepared fruit in a saucepan with 1.2 litres of water. Bring gently to simmering point and simmer until all the fruit is soft and pulpy. Remove from the heat.
Have a scalded jelly bag or muslin cloth (or thin tea towel) ready and turn the contents of the pan into it. Leave to drip overnight. I don’t care about my jelly being cloudy, so I give the cloth a good squeeze the next day when it’s cold to get more juice out.
Measure the juice and for every 600 ml juice use 450g sugar.
Put the juice into a large pan and bring slowly to the boil.
My note: it is at this stage that I start to experiment with add-ons. This year I made 3 different batches: first with rosemary, second with the Greek basil and oregano, and the third one with the homegrown chili and a bit of cinnamon. Once the juice's infused enough with the flavours, I remove the herbs (but not the specks of finely chopped chili) and the cinnamon, and only then add sugar.

Add the sugar as it just comes to boiling point and keep stirring until all the sugar has dissolved. Then boil rapidly, without stirring, for about 10 minutes until setting point is reached. Pot and seal as quickly as possible.

I warm jam jars in the oven while the jam is cooking to ensure that they are warm and sterilised. Rather than shop bought wax circles and cellophane, I cover the jars while they are still hot with pieces of cling film cut to size."

A blogging colleague What Kate baked has set an Autumnal challenge to create a recipe using Autumnal riches and blog about it.
Though technically my recipe has nothing to do with baking, it is certainly autumnal, so I am going to ask Kate if she would consider my recipe. Come and join the fun!

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Sea salt and caramel chocolate cake

What is it about licking a bowl clean? It does not matter if you are 3, 13 or 43 years old, it is such a pleasure to lick the sticky cakey goodness from your finger.
The recipe for this lovely cake comes from a Jamie Oliver's Monster Bake Sale booklet which was produced for the Comic Relief.

You will need
225g butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing
225 g caster sugar
3 tbsp cocoa powder, plus extra for dusting
4 large eggs
220 g self-raising flour, sifted
1tsp baking powder
200g caramel sauce
1 tsp sea salt
200 ml double cream
1 vanilla pod, halved lengthways and seeds scraped out
300 ml double cream

For the peanut brittle
450 g caster sugar
200 g unsalted peanut
A knob of butter, for greasing

Now looking at the photo of my cake you might ask, where is the peanut brittle?
And the answer will be - on the floor. Yes, I did manage to drop the tray of still burning caramel on the floor, splashing my leg in the process, and now have a few burns to prove it. Don't think I will be making peanut brittle any time soon. The cake is decorated with less dangerous substances.

What you have to do?
Preheat your oven to 180C/gas 4 and line a 20cm spring form cake tin. In a clean bowl beat rhe butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the cocoa, eggs, flour and baking powder and mix well.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake in the hot oven for 40 to 45 minutes. Check on it after 40 minutes, and insert a skewer into the centre of the cake, if it comes clean, it is done. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then carefully turn out on to a wire rack to cool completely.
Meanwhile, make the brittle. Put the sugar and 200 ml water into a pan on a medium heat for about 10 minutes until the sugar dissolved. Turn the heat up and after 10 to 15 minutes the sugar will begin to caramelize. Add your peanuts. Don't touch or taste the caramel, as it can burn badly, and do not be tempted to stir the mixture, just gently swirl the pan every now and then. When it turns a beautiful caramel colour, pour it on to a greased non-stick tray and use a palette knife to push it out to about 1/2 cm thick. Allow to cool for 15 minutes, then bash it up as you like.
My note: the photo in the booklet shows a very modest amount of brittle sprinkled on top of the cake. If you use the amount of sugar and peanuts specified, it will be a big lot of brittle, way too much to decorate the cake. Or clean from the floor tiles for that matter. Lol
Once the cake is cool, run a long knife around the middle, scoring and turning as you go, until the two lines join up. Carefully turn and cut into your cake, going deeper each time until you end up with two round halves.
Or do like I do, after scoring the cake in the mid-section, take a thick thread and tie it around the scored line, then carefully pull the ends together, then the thread will cut the cake into two neat halves. Jamie Oliver, eat your heart out.
To make your filling, mix the caramel with the sea salt, then spread over the cut side of the bottom half of your cake. Whisk the cream with vanilla seeds until it forms soft peaks, then spoon on top of the salted caramel. Carefully place the top half of the cake on top then dust with cocoa powder and the crushed peanut brittle.

I am a bit confused here, as to why there are two amounts of double cream. One is mixed with vanilla, what about the other part, does it go in the caramel sauce? I left it untouched.
I decorated my cake with the melted Lindt sea salt chocolate to go with the theme of the sea salty pleasure. Then added a few coffee beans in chocolate and a sprinkle of Lindt white chocolate.

As my good friend Anne celebrated her 85th anniversary on Wednesday, this cake is baked for her visit.
Home baked blog is running a competition to bake a cake to celebrate its author's 30th birthday. This cake will be my entry.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Apple tart

The original recipe appeared in one of those recipe calendars that seem to sprout every Christmas as freebies coming with food magazines, not sure which magazine it was. It is called an Apple Simnel cake and is an Easter pud, but I cook it in any season. Now that we have plenty of apples in the garden, I use our own apples rather than suggested Pink Lady. It is quick to make and bake.
You will need
375g ready rolled sheet shortcrust pastry (or puff pastry, it works with both, but I prefer the shortcrust variety)
250 g white marzipan (optional, you may omit it altogether, as I did making the latest batch)
6 tbsp apricot conserve (Bonne Maman is very good)
25g ground almonds (or flaked)
4 medium apples, quartered and cored
25g golden caster sugar, plus 2-3 tsp
2-3 tbsp calvados or brandy. optional
284 ml carton double cream to serve, or ice cream, or clotted cream

Serves 6, Prep 20-25 mins, cook 20 mins
1. Heat oven to 220C/fan 200C/gas 7. Lay the pastry on a large baking tray.
Roll out the marzipan thinly so it is slightly smaller than the pastry sheet. Brush the pastry lightly with 1 tbsp of the conserve and lay the marzipan on top, turn the pastry egdes over very slightly. Sprinkle the almonds over the marzipan.
2. Slice the apples very thinly and place over the marzipan. Sprinkle over the 25g of sugar. Bake for 20 mins or until the apples are tender and the pastry is golden.
3. Meanwhile, mix the remaining conserve with 1 tbsp of the calvados or brandy (or use water). Press through a sieve and thin down with a little water if needed. While the tart is warm, brush the apples and pastry edges with apricot glaze.
Lightly whip the cream, remaining calvados or brandy if using, and 2-3 tsp of sugar to taste. Serve with the warm tart.
It is also lovely with the clotted cream, or ice cream.
Or go for the sugar overload.

Monday, 10 October 2011

A Mad Hatter

...or should that be a Hatterette? I love hats and hardly ever go out without one.
This is my latest acquisition, a new hat from Next.
On a recent walk with Sasha and Eddie, a man in his late 50s saw Sasha and me in hats and made a silly comment: "It must be genetic for you to wear hats" I asked him coldly "Do you think I was born wearing a hat?"

Hats for me are what shoes and bags for many other women. In fact I hate shoe-shopping, it is always an ordeal for me, I usually grab the first comfy pair and buy. Wearing hats is a different matter.

Seeing my new hat, my mother-in-law who is visiting this week decided to go out and buy one for herself. This is the hat she bought, a lovely hat, but I decided it is not me. Not my colour.

This is one of my old favourite hats. I still have it. This is a photo of little Sasha and me.