Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Bresaola rolls with rocket and parmesan

It is a lovely starter, if you serve a selection of appetisers and starters, then consider preparing two rolls per person.

You will need (for 4 people)
8 slices of bresaola
a handful of rocket
about 40 g parmesan
olive oil (optional)

To start, place a slice of bresaola on the plate or chopping board, add a few rocket leaves and a thin slice of parmesan, like in the photo below.

Roll up the bresaola slice. Keep repeating with the remaining slices of bresaola, parmesan and rocket. Secure with the cocktail sticks. Serve on a big platter, and if you like - drizzle a bit of olive oil over the rolls.

Monday, 30 January 2012

The Natural Goodness of Pukka teas (review)

After discovering a new herbal tea from Pukka (see my review here), I decided to explore their range further.

Refresh tea is a unique blend of uplifting herbs: organic peppermint, fennel and rose. Peppermint is a great refresher but could be a bit strong. This blend is deliciously sweet thanks to the fennel seed and coriander seed. Rose adds an aromatic note to the blend but it does not taste perfumey like some rose petal blends do (and believe me, I tried many). As it is a caffeine free tea, you can drink it any time of the day. The colour is beautifully golden. I have tried this tea both hot and cold, and it works either way.

Three Mint tea is not just your usual mint tea, it is a combination of three different varieties of mint - organic peppermint, spearmint and fieldmint tea. There are many varieties of mint, and many gardeners probably grow the most popular variety which is Mentha spicata or a spearmint. Spearmint is milder in taste and aroma than peppermint. Mint's cooling and stimulating effect makes it very effective in relieving digestive problems.
For the purposes of comparison I prepared two cups of mint tea, using a Pukka Three mint sachet and a standard mint tea from Waitrose. The standard tea was darker in colour and had a stronger taste, more reminiscent of the chewing gum or even the toothpaste. When you compare two teas, you can taste the difference. Three Mint is much more delicate, gentle and soothing - definitely a winner.

Love tea is another unique combination of fragrant herbs: organic rose, chamomile and lavender flower as the main notes with the added goodness of limeflower, elderflower, marigold petal and licorice root. The herbal infusion is nicely balanced, none of the herbs is overpowering. The taste is delicate and sweet. The motto on the box is "to warm your heart". And while I would not go that far and claim that it made me feel cherished, it is a very pleasant herbal drink, and would probably convert the most stubborn herbal tea haters.

Disclosure: All teas were bought by me.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Noisy Sunday

The blogger who coined the term Silent Sunday most probably does not have children. Or she might be a paragon of housewifery who lives in a pristine clean house with her perfect well-behaved children who never scream, shout or play noisy games, but sit at the table doing quiet intellectual games. Does this sound familiar? Not to me.
So here we are, having another noisy Sunday. Hurrah for the real life and my noisy boys!

Eddie tried some pizza yesterday for the first time, and he liked it. :)

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Semolina carrot cake

Today Eddie and I were baking a Russian semolina cake, which is known as Mannik (manna means semolina, and I jokingly name this cake a Semolinnik). There are many variations of the cake. It can be plain or banana-flavoured. Today I have chosen to bake a carrot-flavoured semolina cake. This is a lovely way of adding vegetables to your child's diet, and this cake tastes great.

If you love light crumbly cakes without lots of cream, then this is a perfect recipe.

1 standard mug of semolina (or 150g)
300 g soured cream
1 mug of granulated sugar (or 150g)
1 mug of self-raising flour (or 150g)
2 medium eggs
1 medium carrot, grated
1 orange
1/2 tsp of cinnamon (optional)
For the icing:
2 tbsp icing sugar
2 tbsp+ orange juice

1. Mix the semolina with the soured cream in a deep mixing bowl and leave for an hour.
2. Add two eggs, flour, sugar, grated carrot and the grated zest of one orange. You might also add cinnamon.
3. Pour the mixture into a cake springform and bake at 180C for 40-45 minutes until golden. Use the wooden skewer to check if the cake is ready.
4. Once the cake is ready, take it out of the oven, and open the springform to take it out. While still warm, add the icing on the top (mix the orange juice with the icing sugar).

This is our entry to the Appliances Online Cooking with Kids competition (link removed as expired). You can read all about it on the Red Ted Art blog.

He certainly enjoyed eating it.

I am also adding this recipe to the Tea Time Treats on the wonderful blog Lavender and Lovage. Its creator Karen is hosting this month's challenge. Kate from What Kate Baked will be hosting the next month's challenge, so keep your eyes open.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Vroom Vroom (Next Transport bedlinen set and Bus storage review)


Eddie loves to play with his little cars, trucks and trains. Boys will be boys, they love things on wheels. The Transport bedlinen set from Next is perfect for little boys, obsessed with transport of all kinds. It has a playful design with different colourful vehicles.
Eddie was quite thrilled with his new bedding.
The bedlinen set comes as a duvet cover and a pillowcase (a suggested sheet set comes in a starry design). You could also get matching curtains, car cushions and a rug. And decorate your child's room with the matching stickers.

Find me if you can...

The photo below is not Eddie's bedroom (I wish our child's bedroom was as immaculate, lol), I just wanted to show you the whole set available from Next.

Image credits: Next

When I was offered by Next to pick any item for reviewing, I was torn between a cupcake maker and the storage box. Our house often looks like there was a blast in the toy shop, the toys are scattered everywhere, as soon as they are picked up, they miraculously reappear on the floor and carpets. I needed some fun storage for Eddie, which would encourage him to pick up toys and place inside. The Bus storage seemed like an ideal solution to the problem.
The storage box was also an excellent match for the bedlinen set that I have just bought for Eddie.
It requires self-assembly and comes with a book of instructions, but it is quite easy to assemble. Just don't make a mistake and throw the polysterene foam packaging without removing a small bag that contains nuts and bolts. I did not see that it was attached to the side of the foam packaging, and was looking everywhere for nuts and bolts.
This storage box looks like a red double-decker bus, it is bright and cheerful.

Eddie and boxes is a special love story. He cannot pass a box without trying to climb inside. I just knew he wouldn't be able to resist the temptation to get inside.
That's one happy boy.

Just wanted to mention that the instructions do not recommend children getting inside the box. After he sat there for a few minutes, I took Eddie out of the box and asked him to help me to put the toys inside.

Now all I need is to find a perfect storage box for the big boy, aka my husband, who leaves his socks on the floor in the bathroom.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Mahna Mahna! The Muppets love Cravendale

Cravendale and The Muppets have joined forces to provide some fab stickers that are specially designed to turn a Cravendale milk bottle into some of your favourite characters from The Muppets.

It is not easy being green, but in the style of Kermit the Frog and his friends, your favourite Muppets moments will be brought to life on your breakfast table with the specially designed stickers that fit perfectly on bottles of Cravendale.

Cravendale is giving away four free stickers sets featuring our favourite characters from the movie as well as exclusive downloads of more Muppets on TheMilkMatters.co.uk

There are aslo VIP tickets for the new The MUppets movie to be won by fans who share photographs of their Muppet Cravendale bottles at facebook.com/cravendale

Happy stickering!

What are you waiting for? Go and claim your stickers!

Many thanks to BritMums for the stickers!

Drinking milk is much more fun if it comes from the Kermit bottle.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Is it worth paying more for products endorsed by celebrities?

Curiosity killed the cat. I am often doing impulse purchases when I see a new product. Waitrose has teamed up with Heston and Delia, arguably two of the biggest names in the British cooking market.

Heston Blumenthal has created a range of seasonal and around-the-year products for Waitrose. And I have been slowly testing the range.

I have already written about Heston Olive Oil and Vanilla Biscuits, Heston Mince Pies and Heston stuffing.
Heston for Waitrose Lapsang Souchon tea smoked salmon was on offer last week (for £2.99 instead of the usual £4.49), so I decided to try it. The idea of Scottish Salmon Smoked over a blend of Oak and Lapsang Souchong Tea sounds good.

 Did it meet my expectations?  Lapsang has a very distinctive smokey flavour, and I anticipated a deeper and  more pronounced smokiness from Heston's take on the smoked salmon, but it was pretty mild and lacking in the intensity of the expected flavour.

Sadly the unique aroma of lapsang has gone with the wind (or smoke, lol). It is just not there. While it was interesting to try it, I don't think paying £4.49 for a small packet makes any sense.

If you were shopping in Waitrose before Christmas, you couldn't fail to notice Delia's Classic Christmas Cake mix and Delia's Cranberry and Orange relish boxed ingredients.

Christmas Cake didn't hold much attraction to me, and also my kitchen was groaning under the weight of panettones and pandoros that I bought for gifts and for our Christmas meal.
The relish mix was something I considered buying but wasn't too sure if buying the ingredients separately would be a better choice.

The recipe was printed on the box and was very easy to follow. The box included a very small orange, a bag of cranberries and a mini bag of sugar with spices including a cinnamon stick. All you had to do is add a spoonful or two of port and cook it for 5 minutes. As the orange was very small, there wasn't enough orange juice and I added more, thankfully I had some oranges at home.
The result was a sharpish refreshing relish, which worked really well with the meat. It was sold in Waitrose at £2.99. Was it worth it? You could probably save a bit by buying all the ingredients separately, as most of the people who consider making their own relish would probably have sugar and spices at home. I would also buy a bigger orange for this recipe.

In the future I will follow the recipe but buy my own ingredients.

From my own experience buying the products endorsed by the celebrities is a hit and miss, some products are good enough to pay more, some are disappointing and are definitely overpriced. Basically you pay for the name on the box rather than for the actual product.

So, is it worth paying more for products endorsed by the celebrities?
And the answer is don't be swayed by the famous names and use your common sense.

Always tea o'clock (Pukka Morning Time Tea: review)

As a rule I don't believe in the new year's resolutions, but if I have to pick one it would be cutting down the amount of caffeine intake. I tend to drink lots of tea, and my kitchen looks a bit like a tea shop, there are boxes of tea everywhere (I can probably compete with the local branch of Whittard's).

You have probably seen boxes of Pukka tea in the supermarkets and health food shops. They stand out on the shelves as they have a pure clean design, in light pretty colours and patterns.
I was pleased to be offered to test a Pukka Morning Time Tea.

Pukka Morning Time Tea is a blend of rooibos, honeybush and red ginseng.

Morning Time tea is a naturally caffeine-free, deliciously sweet and full-bodied blend of uplifting herbs which can be enjoyed with or without milk to help kick start your day.

• Rooibos and honeybush enliven and refresh
• Red ginseng and roasted maca are a perfect natural pick me up
100% organically grown and fairly traded, we hope this is the best rooibos blend you will ever taste.

I had it both in the morning and in the afternoon. It is a very refreshing drink, with the honeybush enhancing the flavour of rooibos.
As you can see from the photos, the colour is intense without being too dark or too pale. The taste is slightly sweet, light but flavourful. I was a bit worried that the licorice flavour would be overwhelming but it is hardly noticeable (which is great for me, as I am not keen on licorice).
All in all, a well balanced taste.

As I was passing by the local health food shop, I popped in and bought a few different Pukka teabags to try (Pukka teas come in little individually wrapped paper sachets). A great idea for those who want to try without buying a whole new box, and a bargain at that, they were 10p each. One of the teas is called Harmonise (the description of the contents: organic rose, sweet vanilla & chamomile tea with shatavari: balancing for women - sounds like a poem).

If you reach for a pack of tea,
Let it be a Pukka tea.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Our Christmas duck (The Quilters Kitchen recipe)

I came across Jennifer Chiaverini's books by pure chance, browsing the Returned Fiction shelves in the local library. Having read one, I got hooked and started looking for the other books in the series (I believe there are 14 in total). I haven't read them all, but the escapism of the series has a strong appeal.
"The Quilter's Kitchen" met some serious criticism among the fans of the series who complained that the plot was thin and the characters were flat. I think they missed the point that the plot is just the thread that holds all the recipes together, as first of all, it is a cook book, and should be appreciated as such. I read the recipes with great interest, as they are holding the key to the past and I felt immersed in a different world and reality.
I don't mind the American measurements or cooking ingredients. But as these recipes mostly cater for a crowd or at least a big family, it won't be as easy for me to recreate some of them, as simply halving the amount doesn't work, you still need to know the ratio etc.
I planned to cook a duck for our Christmas, and Chiaverini's recipe for the roast duck with the raspberry coulis was very inspiring.

Roast Duck with Raspberry Coulis
serves 6

1 whole duck (about 7 pounds), excess fat and skin removed from neck and cavity
Kosher salt and black pepper
1/4 cup molasses
Juice and rind from 2 oranges
3 garlic cloves, minced

For the raspberry coulis:
12 ounces fresh or frozen raspberries
1/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp molasses
1tbsp brandy

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.
Using a sharp knife, carefully score the breast of the duck, about four times on each side, cutting through the skin to allow fat to render. Season generously with salt and pepper.
Place the molasses, orange juice and garlic in a small bowl and stir to combine. Place the orange rinds inside the cavity of the duck. Place the duck in a small roasting pan or large oven-proof skillet and brush with about one-quarter of the molasses mixture.
Transfer the duck to the oven and roast, basting every hour with the molasses mixture, until very tender and the legs move easily in their joints, about 4 to 5 hours.


Prepare the coulis: While the duck is cooking, place the raspberries, sugar, molasses and brandy in a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Press the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer. Refrigerate until ready to use.

As often, I used the recipe as an inspiration and changed a few bits. I didn't have molasses, but have read that the treacle is the closest in flavour and texture, so I used the treacle instead. Less garlic too.
Plus I added stuffing inside the cavity. The stuffing was Heston Blumenthal's duck and pork stuffing with red cherries (again my curiosity defeated me, as the stuffing was just OK, nothing to write home about, won't be buying it again).
And I cooked it for about 3 hours, not more.

I served the duck with the coulis and also the cranberry & orange relish.

The recipe works well, and my thanks go to Jennifer Chiaverini for an inspirational cook book!

Friday, 6 January 2012

Don't call me a bloody nuisance (a kind of a poem)

This is not exactly what I would call a poem, it is more of a meditation, self-induced during the last sleepless night when Sasha was showing the world how frustrated he is by screaming in the empty hall and banging the door at 3am.

Don't call me a bloody nuisance, Madam,
When I dance and laugh in the shop.
The shelves whirl with me, the biscuits smile,
Your shopping cart has stopped my dance,
Who's a bloody nuisance then?

Don't call me a f...ing idiot, Sir,
When I flap my arms in the coffee shop,
I'm excited at the sight of a million of bubbles in my coke.
Did you know how many bubbles exactly hide in my glass? No?
Who's a f...ing idiot then?

Don't say I have no manners, old gent,
When I scoop the ice cream with fingers.
It feels good and tastes better this way.
You farted in front of my Mum in the queue,
Who has no manners then?

Don't tell me I am a spoilt little brat, strange woman,
When I have a meltdown in the train station.
That passing train could have taken me to the faraway land.
I saw your daughter stick a chewed gum to the bench.
Who's a spolt little brat then?

Don't laugh at me, "Non capisce niente", young Italian boy,
I do understand what you said.
I can speak in my mind, but words die without being said,
Did you hear my inner voice? No?
Who doesn't understand much then?

Don't scream at me, Mum, when I hit my head
 And bang the doors in the night.
You know I love you,
And I know that you know,
But I need to vent my feeling and angst.

I am who I am,
I watch, I observe,
No criticism passes my lips.
Look around you at this "perfect" world,
Now who is the first to throw a stone at me?

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Coins for Change (results)

You might have read my post about Coins for Change campaign last year (see here).
The results are out, and if your children participated in the campaign, they should be proud to have been a part of the good deed. Big well done! 

Club Penguin fans changing the world through online play

Virtual world celebrates fifth year of Coins For Change campaign by doubling donation

London, United Kingdom, 4th January 2012 – Thanks to the generosity of Club Penguin (clubpenguin.com) fans who took part in the fifth annual Coins For Change online giving campaign, more children around the world will soon have safe places to live, learn and play.

Each December, Coins For Change empowers the children who play Club Penguin to help change the world by donating virtual coins they earn playing games online to real world causes that matter to them. Kids can direct donations to provide medical help, build safe places or protect the earth. At the end of the event, the virtual donations to the three cause categories serve as votes to determine how a cash contribution from Disney Online Studios will be divided among charitable projects aimed at helping children, families and the planet.

This year, to mark the fifth anniversary of Coins For Change, Club Penguin doubled its overall cash donation to $2 million USD after players filled the virtual world's lighthouse with more than 10 billion virtual coins. Players donated to three causes: medical treatments, protecting the earth and providing safe places for kids.

“Our players are always looking for ways to make a difference and help others, and over the past five years they’ve embraced the opportunity to give through Coins For Change,” says Lane Merrifield, one of Club Penguin’s co-founders and executive vice president of Disney Online Studios. “It was especially exciting to see kids from 191 countries participate together to help change the world.”

As a result of Coins For Change 2011, Disney Online Studios will donate

· $640,000 USD to fund medical clinics, health care, surgical treatments and nutrition programs.

· $620,000 USD for schools, libraries, playgrounds, education programs and support, and a group home.

· $740,000 USD to support wetlands, rainforests and wildlife conservation programs.

Club Penguin is the number one virtual world for children with a reputation for providing fun for kids and peace of mind for parents. Millions of children and families play Club Penguin in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and German. Word filters and live moderators monitor chat and activity on the site and work to prevent the sharing of inappropriate or personally identifiable information.

Club Penguin is free to play, however special features require a membership.

A portion of Club Penguin's net proceeds support organizations working to improve the lives of children and families around the globe. Through Coins For Change alone, Club Penguin has helped in excess of a million people in more than 40 countries. To find out more, visit clubpenguin.com/global-citizenship.

Public Display of Autism (poem by Tina Moreland)

Public Display of Autism
by Tina Moreland

If he falls to the floor, kicking and screaming, because there’s no chicken nuggets, it’s just his way of coping. Be patient, you’ll get your turn to order.

If she bumps her head and starts to hit herself in the face, don’t stare, it’s her frustration. Mom will handle it, she sees it everyday.

If dad is cutting his child’s food, he’s not treating him like baby. He just doesn’t want his son to choke.

If she ignores your child on the playground, she’s not a brat. She’s just not good at social interaction. She would love to play with your child, she just doesn’t know how.

He may be to big to sit in the shopping cart, no, he’s not lazy. He wants to run around, but his mom needs to shop. She’s not up for chasing him today.

If she has to be carried out screaming, it’s probably because of a meltdown. Be helpful, open the door. Don’t just stare or whisper. No, it’s not because she didn’t get the toy she wanted. If it were only that simple.

Don’t talk to her like a child, unless she is one. Don’t yell, she’s not deaf. She may not talk, but she can understand.

No, it’s not bad parenting. Discipline won’t help.

This is autism, it’s his life. Don’t judge him, he’s not judging you.

I came across this poem yesterday, and thought it is a very poignant and true account of what it is to live with a child on the spectrum. Sadly in our day and age there is so much ignorance about autism. When you experience the stares and nasty comments first-hand, it could be heartbreaking. With time you feel like your are growing a thicker skin and learn to ignore the nastiness, but still there are times when the defensive armour is broken and someone's unkind remark about your child and your apparently non-existent parenting skills becomes excruciatingly painful.
Don't judge us. Don't hurt us. Don't be snobbish in your ignorance and smug about your perfect children. We are good parents.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Mince pies: Heston vs The Authentic Bread Company

When Heston Blumenthal's take on mince pies hit the shelves in Waitrose last year, the brouhaha followed their appearance. The year before his orange pudding with a whole orange inside was so popular that it was sold on ebay for crazy money (and presumably bought by people with more money than sense). I didn't fancy a pudding, so stayed away from it. I guess I never acquired a taste for this British delicacy. The only way I can eat the pudding is with lots of good quality ice cream.

I first encountered The Authentic Bread Company when they sent a small cute box with a mince pie enclosed with the Abel&Cole veg box. It was so delicious, I ordered two boxes of mince pies for our Christmas. As you can see from the photos below, mini mince pies are an absolute delight to look at. They are very tasty, with a perfect ratio of the light crumbly buttery shortcrust pastry to the mincemeat, and they are organic, which is an added bonus.

Alas, these melt-in-the-mouth little beauties are only avaiable at Christmas time.

Heston's mince pies with a twist boasted an unusual combination of the lemon curd, apple puree and rose water with the currants and raisins in the pie. But the most exciting bit was the smell of the Christmas tree, in the form of pine oil, in the sugar on top.
"Warm in the oven and then sprinkle with pine sugar for a real festive twist," say the instructions on the box. When I tried to explain to my Mum the concept in our phone conversation, she was left unconvinced and puzzled, as to why would I want my food to smell like a Christmas tree. It's the bears who eat the pine cones and pine needles before they hibernate. Good point, Mum, but I was still intrigued by the idea of a lovely smell coming from my mince pies, and bought a box of Heston's experimental delights to try.

The smell of the pine sugar on the hot pastry is truly inspired. As soon as the fine sugar hits the hot surface, the kitchen fills with a wonderful aroma. I loved it, such a fab idea. But the smell fades away almost immediately. The pastry itself is crumbly and flaky, very light. The mincemeat is not overpowering. But is it a mince pie? Not sure if it should have been named as such.

To be fair, these two different mince pie varieties should be judged in two categories. The Authentic Bread Company mini mince pies would win a golden branch as the classic traditional mince pies.
Heston definitely gets my vote for the originality and inspiration.

I was rooting for The Authentic Bread Company, my husband loved Heston's creations. Eddie the human hoover ate both with gusto, Sasha did not eat any.
Come Christmas'12 I will be buying both varieties again.
How many days are left until the next Christmas?