Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Dressing Up Box: Next Stylist Mummy Blogger Competition

Have you ever fancied creating a mood board? Now is your chance to do just that. Next is running a competition asking you to browse through their range of maternity clothes or clothes for kids and choose your fashion favourites.

Going through the website and picking outfits for my son Eddie reminded me of the favourite childhood games of dressing up dolls, hence the mood board above is named "Dressing Up Eddie".
Eddie loves clothes, he is a vain young man ideed.

For my mood board I was looking for clothes that would be suitable for our holiday in Cornwall as well as for our daily outings in the garden. Eddie is a very outdoorsy boy, he is happy to play outside for hours, it's almost impossible to convince him to go back in the house, he doesn't want to leave the garden with its earthy pleasures: muddy puddles, pebbles and sticks, berries and flowers, bugs and birds.

What did I choose for Eddie? I went for the blue palette.

A blue hooded shirt would be just perfect for the British summer. And Eddie Blue Eyes would look very smart wearing it.

Blue Stripe Tractor t-shirt was Eddie's personal choice. He was sitting on my lap, while I was browsing and pointed to this t-shirt, he loves tractors and all things on the go.

A cute little Flag t-shirt which celebrates the season of Britishness with the Royal Jubilee and the Olympics.

Hoping that this summer we'll have a chance to dip in the sea, and what could be better than a Rescue team Sunsafe 2 piece set?

Turn Up Jeans would match any of the tops above to create a casual but elegant look.

And if the weather is anything like last year we would definitely need something weather-proof like this funky Navy Crocodile Cagoule. When we were in Cornwall last August, I never had a chance to unpack our swimsuits and my guys were wearing coats on the beach. This outfit would keep Eddie snug against the wind and the rain, and we could just enjoy the beach even if the elements are not obliging.

Having two sons, I wouldn't find it difficult to spend £500 of prize money, if I were lucky.
If you enjoy creative competitions, hurry up and enter the Next competition at All Baby Advice blog (link removed as expired).

And just to prove that Eddie is indeed a Next fan, here is another mood board called The Importance of being Eddie, which shows my son wearing different outfits from Next (we are lucky to have Next in town).

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Around the World in 80 Dishes (review)

In my childhood I treasured the novels by Jules Verne. One of the stories I particularly enjoyed was his 1873 classic Around the World in 80 Days (I just had to google the image of the Australian cartoon that my brother and I watched many moons ago).

If you loved the novel, you will relish the concept of the book "Around the World in 80 Dishes".
This book reads like a novel too, it is a mix of mouthwatering recipes and photos of food intermixed with personal comments and stories. I love the vintage feel of the photos. There are retro stamps scattered among the pages, black and white cabinet photos and old posters.

This book is not a universal world cuisine encyclopedia, it covers the countries that feature in the novel and follows the route taken by Phileas Fogg and his valet Passepartout: from London to Europe, Egypt, Middle East, India, Asia, America and back in Great Britain.

The recipes range from well known Welsh rarebit and Caesar salad to exotic Sticky Orange, Kashmiri Chilli and Vodka cake.

Yet again I must mention the exceptionally artistic photos by David Loftus. Jamie Oliver wrote an introduction to the book: "It is also a real celebration of David's temperament, personality and commitment - overly nearly 25 years - to shooting food in a really honest, quick, no-nonsense way".

David Loftus is well known as one of the most talented photographers in the world. He was recently voted the 65th most influential photographer of all time.

The photo styling is inspired: dark wooden surfaces, torn vintage papers and tags, rusty knives, scattered spices, old linen - and the colours are vibrant and electrifying. A bunch of grapes, so full of pep, it almost falls in your hand out of the page. Freshly baked breadsticks with a scattering of salt flakes and thyme, you can almost taste the salt and herbs. A visual feast.

This book has a universal appeal, whether you are an amateur or a kitchen goddess, there are recipes for all levels of cooking skills.

I have tried several recipes from the book and was going to blog about them, when my laptop crashed. Sadly all the photos were gone too.

Yesterday morning my old friend was coming to see me. I had just over an hour before my friend arrived for a morning cup of tea. I didn't have time to bake anything complicated, and thankfully, the book offered just the right recipe. I loved the sound of the Date and Coffee Loaf, and it was very easy to make. Here is the recipe (reproduced with the kind permission of Atlantic Books).

DATE AND COFFEE LOAF (recipe by Debbie Loftus)

serves 8-10
250g pitted dates, chopped
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
250ml strong Arabica coffee
2 tbsp softened butter
2 tbsp white sugar
1 free-range egg, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract 150g plain flour
1 tsp salt (optional imo, or add just a pinch)
150g pecan nuts, chopped Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4.

Grease a 20x10cm loaf tin and line the bottom with baking parchment.
Put the chopped dates into a bowl and sprinkle with the bicarbonate of soda. Bring the coffeee to the boil in a small pan and pour over the dates, then set the bowl aside.
In another bowl, vigorously mix the butter, sugar and egg until well blended -either by hand or with a hand-held electric whisk. Using a metal spoon, blend in the vanilla extract. Add the flour and salt and gently blend, then finally fold in the chopped pecan nuts and the date and coffeee mixture. Pour into the prepared loaf tin.
Place in the centre of the oven and bake for appr. 1 hour, or until the top of the loaf springs back when lightly pressed. When the cake is ready, let it stand for a few minutes before emoving from the tin, peeling off the baking parchment and leaving to cool on a wire rack.
Try serving a slice with a weak Yemeni coffee, sweetened with a little sugar and preserved ginger.

My notes: the cake is lovely, but not exactly what I expected. It is almost savoury in taste. That's why I suggested adding just a pinch of salt rather than 1 tsp. I could definitely taste the salt in the cake, and though it didn't bother me, and my friend and son enjoyed it, I think my husband would probably find it not sweet enough. So, if you have a sweet tooth, you might want to add more sugar, or serve it warm with custard.
I baked it in a round springform rather than in a loaf tin, and used walnuts instead of pecans.
It was very easy to bake and it doesn't require too many ingredients, so this recipe is perfect for a quick baking session when you're expecting visitors but don't have a chance to spend the whole day in the kitchen.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

A day to remember: win a £50 voucher from Experience Days (c/d 17 July 2012) NOW CLOSED

Have you ever found yourself in a predicament: What do I buy as a present for ... insert: dear hubby who loves cars and all the technical toys for boys, a new colleague who invited you to her birthday party, a difficult mother-in-law, a distant cousin who seems to have everything etc etc)?

There is a simple solution: spoil them with a gift voucher from Experience Days (link removed as expired).

The choice of days out is vast: you can spend a leisurely day at the spa or experience an adrenaline rush by taking part in a super adventure like bungee jumping, fire walking or zorbing.

(Eek, no, thanks, just looking at the image above gives me vertigo. )

If spas and martial arts leave you indifferent, how about having a day for two at Hampton Court? A grand day with a costumed guided tour.

Do you fancy spending a day making chocolate? Yes, I can hear you shouting: Yes, yes, yes! Not only will you learn how to create chocolate like a professional, you will be able to take your products of the day home with you.

Does ghost-hunting sound like fun? Put yourself in the most terrifying situation and communicate with the underworld.

There are so many things to do and so many experiences to choose.

Experience Days has kindly offered one of my readers a prize of a £50 voucher that can be redeemed against any of the gift experiences on the website.

To enter this giveaway, please use the Rafflecopter. The only mandatory condition of entry is to answer the question, all the rest is giving you bonus points. a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, 18 June 2012

Goat's cheese, Montalbano and the Russia House

If I mention that I follow a goat on Twitter, would you think I have gone baaarmy? Well, I do, and Ethel the goat is a lovely tweep.

Hi, kids!

I was recently asked to take part in the Capricorn culinary challenge. Yippee, a challenge that involves creative cooking! Just my idea of fun.

Here is what Ethel herself has to say:
"How it works:
- I send them a hamper jam-packed full of all my fave foods from Somerset and beyond
- They use the ingredients provided as inspiration – adding other tasty extras if they fancy! – to devise a lip-smacking recipe and post it on their blog
- I’ll try each recipe (what a life!) and select 6 finalists over the coming months – these will appear on my website:
- To finish off the challenge, I’ll choose my overall favourite recipe and the winning chef will receive a trip to Babington House in Somerset (it’s so plush – beats my pen any day!) and a year’s supply of Capricorn Goats Cheese".

I knew that Ethel and Co were going to send me a selection of products including the Capricorn goat's cheese to work with, what I didn't expect was the size of the hamper. It was literally bursting with goodies. My head was buzzing with ideas, where do I start?

Salad Primavera

The first thing I tried was a refreshing salad with beets, goat's cheese, rocket, pumpkin seeds and the strawberry dressing.
 If you fancy trying the same salad, you will need a handful of rocket (roughly, per person), about 3 baby beets (I used the beets from the hamper, they were the variety that comes in vacuum packs, already in a vinegar dressing. I think it would benefit this salad to use non-vinegary beetroot, either buy precooked or bake your own in the oven, wrapped in foil), half a Capricorn cheese, 4 strawberries whizzed to the sauce consistency) and a good sprinkling of the toasted pumpkin seeds. I chopped the beets and mixed them with the strawberry sauce. Drizzle a bit of the olive oil on top, once your salad is assembled. It is a lovely salad, full of flavours and textures (you get creamy cheese and crunchy seeds). As for the name, it is totally random, I just like the word Primavera (i.e. spring in Italian).

Next dish: a plain quick pizza for lunch. You can make your own version with the olives and tomato bruschetta sauce. And if you fancy: add a few slivers of proscuitto or grilled artichokes too.

Savoury croissants

As a busy Mum, I do love my shortcuts whenever possible. One morning I fancied savoury croissants for breakfast. The Jus-Rol croissant pastry tin was waiting patiently for its turn. Having divided the pastry into triangles, I added a spoon of the red onion marmalade on top, a piece of goat's cheese, rolled the pastry and tucked the ends in, so that the cheese doesn't escape. I have blogged about this recipe in more detail here.

But all of the recipes above were not exactly challenging, so I was thinking what could I make that would be different?

Arancini with goat's cheese

Then Commissario Salvo Montalbano came to mind and his love of the arancini, i.e. traditional Sicilian stuffed rice balls. Apparently there is even a cafe in Sicily which serves Gli Arancini di Montalbano.
On the day before making them, I cooked some plain risotto. Take about 250g of dry risotto and cook, following the instructions on your pack. You can also use a saffron risotto rice. Once cooked, let it cool. The risotto has to be completely cold before you start working with it.
You will need 1 Capricorn cheese, a red onion (a half, finely chopped), some fresh herbs like sage and basil, or dried like oregano, breadcrumbs (about 4 heaped tbsps), 1 egg and about 3 tbsp of grated parmesan cheese (grate your own please, do not use the dust that is sold as grated parmesan)..
Mix the risotto rice with the egg and the grated parmesan.
I made a meat-free version though traditional arancini would have a ragu (minced meat in tomato sauce) inside and be cooked with the mozzarella cheese. Rather than adding tomato sauce inside, I roasted tomatoes separately and served them as a side-dish with the arancini. Fry the chopped red onion in the olive oil until translucent, once cooled, dip a chunk of cheese in the onions and chopped herbs, coat it well, then using your hands grab a handful of risotto rice and roll the rice around the cheese with onions.
Once you are happy with the shape of the arancini, coat them in the breadcrumbs and place on a big tray to bake at 180C for about 20 minutes. You could also deep-fry them for the more authentic flavour and do it in batches, if you add them all at once into the hot oil, the temperature will lower and the arancini will get greasy.
That's how they looked before being baked.

And that's the end result. For the roast tomatoes: wash them and put in a ceramic dish with 2 tbsp of olive oil, 2 tbsp vodka, 1 tbsp light soy sauce, 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 1tbsp honey or maple syrup. Believe me, they are heavenly. Love them hot, love them cold the next day, added to a cheese sandwich. You'll want to lick your fingers too.

Having paid homage to my favourite Commissario, I was still not satisfied completely with my creative input.

Hasten to add that I kept buying more Capricorn cheese for my experiments. It is such a lovely cheese.

Pirozhki with goat's cheese and sorrel
After several attempts of being creative with the goat's cheese, I decided to go back to my Russian roots and find inspiration there. What could be more Russian than tiny pirozhki? Fab hot with the generous dollop of the soured cream or served with a cup of hot boullion (preferably clear chicken broth).

For this dish I used the readymade shortcrust pastry (but if you are feeling virtuous, please make your own, a mid-term break was not a good time for me to spend more time than necessary in the kitchen).

For the filling I used 2 bags of Uncle Ben's rice, 4 soft-boiled eggs, 2 packs of fresh sorrel (30g) and goat's cheese. I made enough for two batches, so if you're using just one roll of Jus-Rol pastry, half the amount. Cook the rice and eggs (you could also use hard-boiled eggs if you prefer), let them cool completely before chopping the eggs into the rice. Add wilted sorrel (pan-fry it in the olive oil for a minute) and crumbled goat's cheese.

Roll out the pastry, cut out small circles using a standard glass. Add a bit of the filling in a pastry circle, close it and pinch the edges. Continue until all the pastry is done. Place on the big tray with the pre-oiled parchment paper and brush each small pie with a bit of milk. Bake at 180C for about 15-20 minutes. Serve hot. You can reheat them the next day in the oven. They keep for a few days in the fridge wrapped in foil.

And as we are on the topic of Capricorn, I kept singing to myself "Sous le soleil exactement", just because the first few lines refer to the Capricorn. Do you remember how it goes or are you too young to know it?
Un point précis sous le tropique
Du Capricorne ou du Cancer
Depuis j’ai oublié lequel
Sous le soleil exactement
Pas à côté pas n’importe où
Sous le soleil sous le soleil
Exactement juste en dessous...

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Have you heard of Pora Ora?

I must confess I haven't until recently. It is a new game-based learning tool for children.

Whether we like it or not the new generation is living in the world surrounded by all the latest technology.
Both of my sons play on the computer and ipad. Eddie who is not yet two years old, already enjoys age-appropriate apps on ipad (which incidentally he calls "uppity" for some reason) that teach him animal sounds and matching shapes, he loves solving the most simple puzzles, and yes we do silly things with him as well as laughing at the Talking Tom Cat (and his mischievous buddy Farting dog).

I visited the Pora Ora website for all the background information and I like how it engages with the parents.
Following the latest scandal with the Habbo Hotel, as a parent I ask the question: How safe is it for my child to join in the virtual world of Pora Ora? From what I understand we, parents, have a full control over the security settings in this game.
As a former teacher, I also found this piece of information very interesting:
"All games are currently mapped directly to the UK national curriculum and content is intelligently adjusted to challenge each and every child. We encourage a rounded educational profile in the child by making appropriate recommendations and suggestions as to which games they should play next. And, by linking to the curriculum, we can provide detailed progress reports to parents and teachers - outlining the child's strengths and weaknesses against national expectations. We will also be rolling out regional curriculum content in the coming months, to cover our ever-widening global community. "            


Pora Ora is the virtual world that is sweeping across the country and transforming the way that 5-12 year old children learn. With over 15,000 children already reaping its educational rewards, by the end of 2012 membership is expected to reach 500,000.

The free educational resource also engages with parents by providing them with regular reports identifying ways in which their children can improve learning and allows them to share their tips and advice with other parents, meaning they can feel fully part of their child’s education.

Pora Ora offers children the chance to explore an extensive virtual universe where they can play games, go on quests, and interact with the global community of Pora Ora children. With the motivational benefits of rewards and earning roobles, the Pora Ora currency, children can spend and manage their money as they learn. All content is geared towards the national curriculum allowing children to truly support their schooling.

The entire experience is completely safe for children and parents are given control of their child’s security settings and provided with notifications of all of their activity. The aim of Pora Ora is also to introduce children to social networking sites so parents can gradually relax their security settings as they get older, meaning by the age of 13 they are proficient and safe users of social networks.

“Children are growing up in the most fast moving period and stimulating period in history and need an education that reflects this. Our current education system remains granular and creativity has fallen down the priority list to the extent it is almost unrecognised in the education sector. The game is hugely popular with parents too as it allows them to be a part of their children’s learning and play a role in their progress. We believe that Pora Ora will become the world’s top online education entertainment destination for children.” Neil Gallagher, Caped Koala, CEO.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Where'd you go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (review)

I volunteered to do a review of the book, so the fault is entirely mine.
This book is a mix of genres: it is basically the epistolary genre bordering on chick-lit.

The book starts with the chatty buddy-matey email banter between the Orion editors. A big mistake. I do sincerely hope this is not a new trend started by the publishers to print their email correspondence. It feels insincere and faked. Of course, you cannot expect the publishers saying about their own book: "It is so boring, I fell asleep on page 3". Please ditch this irritating approach for the future reference.
If you browse through the inane emails bounced from one editor to the other, you'd think there has never been a wittier novel. Someone was laughing so hard, they bumped into the old lady on the way. Really? Could you please point to that particular passage that caused so much merriment.
The book endorsements promise a lot. I had to re-read them after I finished the novel, and asked myself: Have we been reading the same book?

The plotline:
Take a dysfunctional family. A has-been architect Bernadette Fox who won awards for her design projects. She moved to Seattle with her husband and became an eccentric recluse and a social disaster. If your child has health problems (her daughter Bee was born prematurely and spent the first five years of her life in the hospitals), you learn to ignore the minor irritants of life and don't care for the petty things like Intersections. But not in case of Bernadette. I think that was one of the reasons I could not believe the author. Having a child with special needs or big health problems teaches you what really matters in life. You just don't get obsessed with the parking. For example, she describes parking in Seattle in 8 step process, ending with an insight "Already I wished a Chechnyan rebel would shoot me in the back". Really? Is that supposed to be funny?
Then there is Bernadette's husband Elgin who works for the Microsoft. I know he was supposed to be portrayed as boring, but every time Semple was describing the MS empire, my eyes were glazing over. Excruciatingly tedious.
And of course, there is a child prodigy Bee. Bee comes up with an idea of taking her parents on a trip to the Antarctica. Her mother disppears, and for the rest of the book, poor child is looking for her mother. You'll have to read the book yourselves to find out how it ends.
Alas, I didn't care to find out what happened to Bernadette (good riddance to her), neither did I care for her abandoned child.
But as I promised to do a review, I kept reading (and cursing myself for agreeing to do it). Once I finished the novel, I sighed with relief. Finally over.
The novel is supposed to be a satire on the modern society. Everyone in the novel is talking (or writing, to be more precise) in the lingo and manner of the sitcom characters, i.e. in those one-liners that are meant to be witty, but in real life are rather flat, forced and annoying. The supercilious emails by Bernadette to her Indian assistant Manjula are cringeworthy and patronising. She is the most annoying character in the book.
There is of course a villain, a caricature PTA mother Audrey, in the style of the Desperate Housewives' PTA chairwoman Dana-Paina. She is one of the so called Gnats (i.e. other parents as opposed to Bernadette).

I'm not going to push you in any direction. You might even like it. There is a demand for every kind of literature (there is even a market for memoirs of Jeremy Clarkson and Katie Price).
Sadly, this novel didn't live up to its hype.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Laudamus te, Victory Tea (review)

As a kid growing up in the Soviet Union, I found the British love of tea and the five o'clock ritual utterly fascinating. Tea seemed to be an inseparable part of life in the UK.
I used to imagine Her Majesty waking up to a big breakfast in bed, served on a fancy tray, with a butler standing nearby to pour more tea whenever the cup was empty.
Then there was Alice in Wonderland and the most famous tea party.

I would never have imagined then that one day I would be living in England. Years passed, I have been in the UK for nearly 17 years.
So what do I think of the Brits and tea? If anything, the love affair between the Brits and tea is quite astonishing. I read that there are more than 1,500 different teas in the UK and they vary in type, style and colour.

Image credit:Victory Tea

In this sea of tea how do you pick the one that suits you best?
If you regularly read my blog, you might know already that I love tea and always get excited when I find yet another tea to talk about.

I was recently offered to test and review Victory Tea.
What is Victory Tea? It is a premium black tea which was created using specially selected tealeaves from East Africa. It is vacuum-packed and gas-flushed in the UK for the long lasting freshness.
This tea is only available online from in order to cut out the middleman and the arbitrary prices inflicted by the supermarkets. If you buy this tea, you tend to be saving up to 50% per sachet.

Image credit: Victory Tea

This tea was launched by the young businesswoman Sarah Holmes. Sarah's career started in the fashion industry, and she introduced her designer skills into the new venture. She marketed the new quality tea as one would a designer bag. She said she noticed a gap in the online market for a premium quality, cost-effective tea that would appeal to both tea-snobs and the budget-conscious buyers. Thus Victory Tea was born. In a perfect fashion-speak she called the "Primarni of the world" Victory Tea a designer bag with a High Street price tag.

Personally I would always (and I stress always) choose a good cup of tea over any designer bag. I can happily live without designer bags (and I do), but I cannot function without tea.

Tea arrives in a stylish packaging with a Union Jack branding. A Superior box conatins 16 sachets, while a Victorius box contains 40 sachets. Which means 640 teabags in the Superior box (£2 per 80) and 1,600 teabags in the Victorious box (£1.50 per 80).
My box arrived just in time for the Jubilee weekend.

What did I think of Victory tea? It is a full-bodied tea, it has a lovely bright golden brown appearance. It is not bitter or flat, like some bog-standard black teas (won't be mentioning names, but they are available everywhere). It doesn't leave a long-lingering aftertaste or the dark oily stains on the mug.
If you love black tea without any additions, it is lovely as it is. It works well with milk. It is even better with a slice of lemon and a spoonful of sugar (that's how I like my black tea).
Or be adventurous: add some rose petals or a couple of strawberries, or even a few slices of apple to your tea and take it to the next level.
Enjoy your cuppa!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Inspiring palettes from The Icecreamists (book review)

"Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it is not illegal" (Voltaire) This quote introduces you to a new book The Icecreamists written by an ice cream fanatic Matt O'Connor.

The first time I heard about the Icecreamists was during the brouhaha of the BabyGaga-Gate. I remember reading about Lady Gaga taking a virtuous stand against the ice cream made from the breast milk, just because it was called Baby Gaga. Not sure since when Lady Gaga has been able to own the word Gaga. We used to say "Gaga" almost about anyone as kids if we wanted to claim someone is a bit bonkers.

The book is utterly fabulous. The photos are exceptionally tantalising and inspiring. The photos of each scoop are very artistic.
Think of the Dutch Golden Art paintings: lush still life with the abundant displays of food. Or think of the masterpieces by Rembrandt, his tactile manipulation of the paint, the dark earth tones and golden highlights.

Bravo to the photographer Anders Schonnemann.

Props styling by Rachel Jukes deserves a separate mention, she did a brilliant job by matching each ice cream to the vessel it appears in.

The book is a feast for eyes. And the recipes make you want to grab that ice cream machine that has been hidden in the back of the kitchen shelves for ages, unused and unloved. Not anymore.

What else deserves mentioning? Graphic design and the brilliant use of the visual language.
Very clever titles that are a wordplay or puns like The Vanilla Monologues, Taking the Pistacchio, Doughnut Stop Believin', Lemony of the State, Lenin and Lime etc etc

The first recipe from the book that I decided to try was the traditional Italian Crema Ice cream (I reproduce the recipe with the kind permisssion of Octopus Books).

All the photos below are mine, I tried to emulate the book style by finding an interesting prop and served my ice cream from a ceramic jar from Perugia (old container for Baci chocs)

Admire, drool and reach for the ice cream machine, here is a recipe:

The Custardy Suite

250ml full-fat milk
125ml double cream
4 egg yolks
88g caster sugar
pinch of sea salt

1. Pour the milk and cream into a large saucepan and heat gently, stirring occasionally, until the mixture begins to steam but not boil.
2. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs yolks in a heatproof bowl until smooth. Add the sugar and salt and whisk until pale and slightly fluffy. Gradually and slowly, pour the hot milk into the egg mixture whilst whisking continuosly to prevent the eggs scrambling. Return the mixture to the saucepan and place over a low heat, stirring frequently until the custard thinly coats the back of the wooden spoon. Do not allow to boil.
3. Pour back into the bowl and set aside for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally until cooled to room temperature. For more rapid chilling, half-fill a sink with cold water and ice and place the bowl of mixture in it for 20 minutes. Never put the hot mixture in the fridge.
4. Once cooled, cover the mixture and refrigerate, ideally overnight, but at least for 6 hours, until thoroughly chilled (at least 4C). Pour the chilled mixture into an ice cream machine and churn according to the manufacturer's instructions.
5. When the churning is completed, use a spoon or spatula to scrape the ice ceram into freezer-proof container with the lid. Freeze until it reaches the correct scooping texture (at least 2 hours).

The ice cream was very delicate in taste, lovely with the berries.
Alas, my photos don't do any justice to it, but we had guests for dinner and I was running like a headless chicken from the kitchen to the dining room and back, and hardly had any time to do any proper photos. The actual colour of the ice cream was much more yellow.

All I want to say that the recipe worked beautifully.

The book is very well written. As the author himself says, it is part ice cream Bible, part confessional.
It would make a great gift for anyone who loves ice cream.

Monday, 4 June 2012

New snacks on the block: Popchips (review)

As much as I love cakes and chocolate, I enjoy savoury snacks even more. Salted nuts and crisps will be my downfall. Alas, they are not what you would call a health food.

Is it even possible to have healthy crisps?
There are new kids on the block though, and they are called Popchips.
What are Popchips? They are a popular snack from the States. They are neither fried nor baked, but popped with the heat and pressure to achieve a crisp that retains all the flavour and has less than half the fat of fried crisps. Sounds good? You gain less calories, and they don't have any nasties in them either like fake colours or flavours.
Apparently the fans include Aston Kutcher, Heidi Klum, Sean Diddy Combs and Bruno Mars (don't ask me, I have no clue who the last two guys are).

Popchips come in five different flavours: original, salt & pepper, sea salt & vinegar, barbeque and sour cream & onion. They are available at Waitrose at £0.69 RRP for a single serve bag and £1.89 RRP for a share bag.
Each single serving bag has about 17-18 crisps with the total of less than 100 calories.

The first flavour we tried was the Original potato chips. They certainly look different. In comparison to Pringles, for example, they are much thicker, as if they are wearing a puff coat. They are light, non greasy (a bonus in my books) & crunchy.


As I was cooking dinner, I opened a bag of Salt & Pepper Popchips, purely for the purposes of the thorough research of the product for the review. Tried one, very peppery. Not so sure I like it. Let's try another one. One by one. And horror of horrors, I finished the whole packet. On my own.
What can I say? They are addictive.

With several flavours to choose from, you are bound to find the one that suits you. My personal favourite would be Sea Salt & Vinegar, very moreish. And guilt-free too. A good combination.

I have read that you can get hold of the so called Popclip to keep your Popchips fresh in a bag, in case you haven't finished the whole lot. Not sure about the Popclip, what I would need is a Mouthclip.
If you haven't tried them yet, go on, treat yourselves!

P.S. Popchips were sent to me for the review. All opinions are mine.

    Saturday, 2 June 2012

    Life full of flavours: Caramelised Red Onion Chutney from The English Provender (review)

    If you love chutneys, you might have seen the enticing jars of chutneys from The English Provender Co. on the shelves of the supermarkets and the delis.
    I have a couple of jars of their chutneys in the fridge, in case we have visitors who invited themselves for a cuppa tea. These chutneys are superb with the cheese, but also are my secret weapon when I am making little open tarts. Just add a generous helping to the shortcrust or puff pastry, top up with a goat's cheese or brie, bake for 10-15 minutes, and you have a mouthwatering treat.

    Lovely people at The English Provender have offered to send me a jar of their new Caramelised Red Onion Chutney.

    The design of the jars has been recently revamped and now has a see-through label. It clearly says: "I have nothing to hide. Look at me! Can you resist me?" (at least that's what I think it says).

    Apart from the obvious sandwiches and cheese platters, you can use the caramelised treasure to add a pizzazz to a number of dishes.

    Just earlier today I have been baking croissants for breakfast. My hubby having a sweet tooth, wanted his pastries sweet, but I am more of a savoury breakfast girl.
    So, my croissants were made with a dollop of the red onion chutney and a good chunk of the goat's cheese.

    If you fancy trying the same, buy a tin of the Jus-Rol croissant pastry. Unroll the triangles of the pastry on the board, add the red onion chutney and top up with the goat's cheese (a chunk of brie or any other soft cheese would be a good alternative).

    Roll the croissants, put on the baking tray and pop in the oven for about 10 minutes at 180C. If you don't want the cheese to escape the pastry, just tuck in the two ends.
    A lovely breakfast, which beats a boring cereal any time.

    The chutney itself has a beautiful rich colour & is full of flavour.

    It also adds richness to a beef stew.

    All in all, a versatile product at a very reasonable price.

    Friday, 1 June 2012

    Apricots in rose petal syrup

    All of a sudden roses are starting to bloom. Just a few days ago, there was only a promise of a rose, and now several parts of my garden are proud to present their crowning glory.
    I have been waiting for the new roses with impatience, as my supply of the dried rose petals has gone. I love to add the dried rose petals to my tea, and my older son just eats them as they are.

    I have picked a few roses to cook a rose petal syrup. Don't ask me for the exact quantities, it was about three handfuls of fresh petals, I haven't a clue about the weight.
    First I washed them thoroughly and inspected for any hidden bugs. They are a source of protein, of course, but not exactly welcome in my cooking.

    Then I added two mugs of granulated sugar to the pan and added water, just enough to soak the sugar, brought to boil and then lowered the heat. I added a lemon wedge and a vanilla pod (just the empty case, as I used the seeds recently for the cake). All the petals went in. Once they became translucent, the syrup is ready.

    In the meantime, cut the apricots in half (a couple of apricots per person) and put in a ceramic dish in the oven, preheated to 180C. I also sprinkled the vanilla sugar on top of the apricots before they went in the oven.
    Once they are soft (takes about 15-20 minutes), take the dish out, pour the rose petal syrup on top and put back in the oven for another 5 minutes.

    Serve on their own or with a generous helping of the vanilla ice cream (Haagen Dazs is truly the best vanilla ice cream in the world).

    The aroma is exceptionally enticing, and the flavours of the apricot and the rose petal syrup work beautifully together.