Sunday, 30 September 2012

Honey cake with walnuts and mascarpone

There are many versions of the Russian honey cake. I have been baking honey cakes for many years, following numerous recipes. This recipe is not exactly a traditional Russian recipe, but more of a variation on the theme.

The last time I baked the honey cake the soured cream for the cream filling was too runny. As my Philips Fresh Cooks party was approaching, I wanted to treat my guests to a selection of cakes.
I wanted to find a substitute for the soured cream that wouldn't be runny. Mascarpone on its own would have been a bit too sweet, so I decided to add some plain fromage frais to add a sour note.
It happened to be a winning combination, it was a thick cream, not too sweet, not too sour, and it matched the sweetness of the honey-based cake very well.

170g self-raising flour
100g butter, melted
2 medium eggs
200g granulated sugar
2 heaped tbsp honey (I used Tiptree Orange Blossom honey)
1 tsp baking powder
50g ground almonds

for the cream
200g chopped walnuts
200g fromage frais
250ml mascarpone

  1. Preheat oven to 180C/350F/Gas 3. Butter and line the bottom of a 20cm cake tin.
  2. Beat the eggs with sugar in a big bowl, using a hand blender. Add the melted butter, honey, baking powder, ground almonds and flour and mix well.
  3. Pour the contents into the cake tin and bake for about 45 minutes, check if the wooden skewer comes clean. It should be springy to the touch and slightly shrinking from the sides of the tin. If the wooden skewer is still sticky, cover the cake tin with the foil, and leave in the oven for another 10 minutes.
  4. Cool the cake in the tin slightly and turn out onto a wire rack. Once the cake is cool, slice the cake into 3 layers (one layer slightly narrower than the other two).
  5. Take the narrow layer of the cake and break it into pieces. Mix the pieces with half of the fromage frais, mascarpone and walnuts.
  6. Spread the fromage frais & cake pieces' layer on top of one cake layer, top up with the second one. Spread the remaining mix of fromage frais, mascarpone and walnuts on top of your cake and the sides.
  7. Leave in the fridge overnight, covered with foil. The honey cake is quite dry, so you need time for the cake to become moist.

I forgot to take the photo of the cake before the party so you can only see the slice of the cake. :)

Friday, 28 September 2012

A goatally delicious cheese (giveaway c/d 19 October 2012)

As my second blogversary is approaching fast, I have decided to ask my favourite brands to sponsor a few giveaways for my blog readers.

Capricorn Somerset Goat's Cheese has been my discovery of the year.
It is a versatile cheese that could be savoured as it is, with a selection of crackers and oatcakes, grapes and figs, or enjoyed in many cooked dishes.

To tantalise your tastebuds, I'm going to showcase a few mouthwatering photos.

One of my most favourite blogs, London Unattached, has several wonderful recipes that use Capricorn cheese. If you are a foodie, Fiona's blog is a must.

I love the idea of making these lush pumpkin jam and goat's cheese tarts, they are so full of flavours and textures.

Or would you like to try these delicious crispy golden filo parcels?

This recipe has been suggested by lovely Cheryl from Madhouse Family Reviews (another of my favourite blogs), you can find the recipe on her blog among several other dishes, using Capricorn.

I have also participated in the Capricorn Challenge with my own ideas and recipes.
If you fancy trying Goat's cheese, baked in shortcrust pastry, my recipe can be found here.

More suggestions from me, offering a choice of pirozhki and arancini could be found here.

All of the recipes above use pastry, I think goat's cheese and pastry are made for each other, but of course, you can do any other dishes with the cheese like summer salads and risottos. Search for Capricorn Challenge on Google, you will be surprised how many wonderful dishes you will find.

Now how would you like to win a month's supply of Capricorn Somerset Goats Cheese (8 vouchers)?

 For a chance to win the prize, please fill in the rafflecopter form.
Leaving a comment is a mandatory step, all the other steps are optional.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Learning words with Usborne First Words Flash Cards

Our Usborne First Words Flash Cards set is already quite battered. I bought it several years ago for our older son. And now it's Eddie's turn to play with the Flash cards. By now he can say most of the words in the pack.
This pack is based on the popular Farmyard Tales series, and all the cards are illustrated by Stephen Cartwright. His style is unique and very easily recognizable. You might not know the artist's name but you have surely seen his work.
Each card has a simple word and picture on the front, and the same word, without a picture, on the back - a great way to help children learn to read.

It is interesting to notice that some cards have very simple and basic images, like a trio below. You can't make any mistakes: an apple is clearly an apple, you can't confuse the cow with any other animal.

flas cards for preschoolers

Some cards are a bit trickier. Take a mouse and a rabbit, for example. Eddie keeps calling a mouse a rabbit, and I can see why. Two images are very much alike, the animals are standing in the same pose, painted in the same colours. I understand that an adult would immediately see the differences in the shapes of the ears and a tail, but for a young child it could be utterly confusing. Perhaps it would have been better to make the difference more visible, by changing the pose and facial features.

educational materials for preschoolers

Along with the plain cards there are also flash cards that are way too fussy and have too many distracting details. Take a hat: it is decorated with the flowers, and there is a duck hiding behind the flowers. Eddie thinks he should say "a duck". Or the house card: two kids are playing football in front of the house. Eddie says "ball". What do you expect? The details only hinder understanding the concept. And if you compare the first three cards in the photo above and the cards below, there is no consistency in style. One is simple and basic, another is too detailed and fussy.

educational resources for preschoolers

When we look at the cards below, Eddie usually mentions "egg, broken" or "sock, broken", which is actually true, the egg is broken and the sock has a hole. Again, these details are diverting attention from the concept. I think the artist should have taken the age group this set of flash cards is meant for into consideration.

preschool education

Eddie also likes to cheat a bit, when he sees a card with an umbrella he usually says "raining", as he finds the word umbrella quite a mouthful.
I often call Eddie "a silly billy". And when we look at the "goat" card I say "a silly billy" as well because a goat is eating a newspaper. The other day, when I showed this card to Eddie and asked him what it is, he thought and answered "Silly Eddie", bless him, confusing his billies.

educational tools for preschool

Overall, we love this set of flash cards, they are very colourful, bright and have cute characters. If you are a fan of Usborne Farmyard Tales, then this set is a useful one for learning new words.
With the younger child, you might use the cards to teach them new words, with the older children these cards will be helpful in learning to read.

Anchor cooking challenge (part 1)

I often wonder why there are so few brand loyalty rewards around. When we visit my in-laws in Italy, I wistfully look at my mother-in-law carefully cutting the little tokens from milk cartons and dairy products, which she collects and exchanges for beautiful kitchen items. I wish we had more schemes like this in the UK.

I think Anchor has read my mind. They have introduced a new Anchor Rewards Club (link removed as non-existent). You can collect points to exchange for must-have kitchenware items (cake tins, butter dishes, tea towels) and dining out discount vouchers. You collect points by entering codes found on special packs of Anchor Butter, Anchor Spreadable and Anchor Lighter Spreadable.

My boys love pancakes, and I make them at the weekend. While my husband prefers a bigger size pancake with sweet fillings & toppings, my sons prefer the Russian style pancakes known as blini (I deliberately omit the S from the end of the word, as Blini in Russian means pancakes (in plural). I know many people use the word "blinis" but for the Russian ear it sounds definitely odd, it would be like adding an extra S to scissors).

Pancake day recipes

For the basic blini recipe you will need

4 heaped tbsp of standard self-raising flour
2 medium eggs
1 tsp of granulated sugar
1/2 tsp of salt
80 ml milk
2 tbsp of soured cream or plain yogurt (optional)
butter for oiling the pan and for the blini themselves

There will be enough batter to make 12 blini and one big pancake.

Add all the ingredients into a mixing bowl and use a blender until you have a smooth batter. Use a pancake pan, you need to add some butter to it first. Once very hot, using a ladle, add the batter to the pan, or use a tablespoon if you like, about 2 tbsp per one pancake. You can make them big-sized too. Spread a bit of butter on top of the hot blini as you make them.

They are best eaten hot. Serve them with a dollop of soured cream and a sprinkle of sugar for the authentic Russian flavours, or with a generous drizzle of honey.
If you prefer savoury blini, then omit the sugar from the batter, and once cooked, serve them with a thin slice of the smoked salmon, a dollop of the soured cream and some chopped dill, totally amazing. Or if you feel like splashing money about, top up your blini with a spoonful of caviar.

Pancake day

That's how I serve pancakes to my husband who has a sweet tooth: he likes the pancakes with the chopped banana (half a banana per pancake) and lots of Anchor Real Dairy cream.

You might have noticed a pretty Anchor butter dish and a wooden spoon in my photos. You can get hold of the same lovely kitchen item, once you collect enough Anchor points. I was among the first to receive these items from Anchor and have already started collecting points for a cake tin.

Have you started collecting Anchor points? Well, what are you waiting for?

P.S. I received two Anchor collectable items for the purposes of writing this post, all opinions are mine.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

A whole lot of smiles on a rainy day: Justin's Funny Faces Sticker Book (review & giveaway c/d 15 October 2012)

When Justin's Funny Faces Sticker book arrived the other day, I don't know who was more excited about it: Eddie or I. It couldn't have arrived at a better time: it was raining non-stop, Eddie was cranky, as he's got sniffles and I didn't want to take him out in his favourite garden. We've done painting and colouring, read a few books, but he wanted something new to discover.

Justin was just the right remedy for the miserable rainy day.

 As I mentioned many times Justin is a big part of our life. My sons love his shows. And I think he is simply marvellous.
Justin Fletcher is a talented actor who has been working as children's presenter and voice over artist for the last fifteen years. He won a Bafta in 2008 for best Children's Television Presenter, and if it were in my power, I'd keep giving him Baftas every year.
In 2010 Something Special won the Bafta for best pre school programme and Justin won his second Bafta for best Children's Television Presenter.
He is very talented. Working with children who have special needs is not an easy task, but he is doing a great job. You can see how children respond to his jokes and kind words, how their shy smiles turn into wide grins.

Eddie calls him Tamba and every night when we go to bed, we go through the routine of saying "Papa is asleep, Sasha is alseep, Mr Tumble is asleep etc etc" to convince Eddie he should go to sleep as well.

The sticker book was a real godsend. It is a book with lots of stickers that you attach to empty faces. As stickers are reusable, you can move them around to create a totally hilarious effect. You clown could looke like a witch, and vice versa. Or do them as suggested at the beginning of the book, you can see all the images together on one page.

We loved the grumpy pirate and a funny clown, the smiley lion and the dreamy astronaut.

The Picasso-style lion above is Eddie's work. This book could be as educational as it is entertaining: just name all the facial features as you stick them on, or try putting them in the wrong order and ask your child to change them.

You will find Justin on the last page of the book, and he invites you to decorate him as you like. We thought we won't be too cruel to Justin and wouldn't add any witch's warts or an elephant's nose. I think he looks lovely.

This brilliant sticker book will be available on sale at all major book shops from 4 October. You can also preorder it from Amazon.

And if you love Justin as much as we do, keep your eyes open for The Official Justin Fletcher Annual 2013. I have seen it at Sainsbury's already and it looks very good.

I have a copy of Justin's Funny Faces sticker book to give away to one of my blog readers.
To be in with a chance of winning, please use the Rafflecopter.
You must leave a blog comment, all the other options are bonus entries.
Good luck!



a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, 24 September 2012

A good book and a cup of Twinings (Pinterest competition c/d 14 October 2012)

How many times have I read online how boring it is to enter competitions which only require numerous RTs on Twitter and Like & Share on FB.

Now you have a chance to join in a creative competition sponsored by Twinings.

You are probably aware that Twinings has introduced a range of Twinings Literary Tea Gifts which include book inspired mugs and notebooks and paired them with a box of Twinings tea. What a super gift for any book and tea lover!

I invite you to create a Pinterest board that would pair any Twinings tea with any book from the world literature. Just add the image(s) of your chosen Twinings tea and pictures/images from the book you might associate the tea with and the quote that you think might look good on the mug.

What you need to do:

1. Log in to Pinterest and create a new board called A good book and a cup of Twinings.

2. Pin or Re-Pin 7-10 images on your board. At least one of the images has to be your chosen tea from the Twinings range. Then add images (possible ideas for you to choose from): the book cover, the author, illustrations from the book, photos of the country described in the book or any images that you associate with the tea. Don't forget to find the right quote for your mug and add it to the description on one of the pins.

To give you an idea what it might look like, have a look at my own A good book and a cup of Twinings board.
I have chosen Russian Caravan tea and Tolstoy's War and Peace.
For me the first sip of a new tea is always as exciting and romantic as Natasha Rostova's first ball.

3. Add a link to your board in the comments below this blog post– along with your full name – before midnight on 14 October 2012.

I will choose the most creative and inspiring board and let Twinings know the name of the winner.

Terms and Conditions:
• This competition is open to UK residents aged 16 or over
• One entry per person
• Entries must be received by email before midnight on 14 October 2012
• The prize is one of Twinings Literary Gift sets (as chosen by the winner), to be delivered to a UK address
• The winner will be notified by 21 October 2012.
I hope you will enjoy creating your Pinterest board! Looking forward to your creations!
If you love Twinings tea, get all the latest news and competitions from their Facebook page.
And if you are a Pinterest fan, join Twinings on Pinterest too.


Thank you all for taking part! Please find an update and a winner annoucement here.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

My Pocket Buddy (review)

You are in a hurry to do some grocery shopping, but your tot refuses to stay in the pushchair and insists on walking. He stops to look at things around, touches all the dirty window sills on the way, admires the bins. Sounds familiar? By the time you get to the supermarket, his hands are pretty mucky, and you don't have time to find the nearest loo to wash his hands. And here is when My Pocket Buddy comes to the rescue.

What is My Pocket Buddy?
It is a hand sanitiser for kids (and parents) on the go.
It contains 100% natural ingredients. It is non-toxic, alcohol and allergen free, contains aloe vera, and hasn't been tested on animals.

Tots are often like germ hoovers, picking all the dirt on the way.
I know that a certain exposure to dirt is actually beneficial to our kids, but there are limits, of course.
Eddie is a like a little magpie, he cannot pass indifferently an attractive stick or pebble on the ground, and with our sidewalks and pavements being a common toilet for the local dogs, I am always worried about what germs he could pick. Finding a place to wash hands is not always an option.

My Pocket Buddy fits perfectly in a handbag or even a pocket of your coat, it is very light to carry when out and about.

My Pocket Buddy has been scientifically formulated to kill 99.99% of virus bacteria, while still being kind to the most delicate skin.

Before using it on Eddie's hands, I tested it on my own. You apply the product to the palms and spread evenly over your hands and fingers. It dries very quickly, hands feel refreshed and even moisturised (thanks to aloe vera).

Eddie giggled when I sprayed his little hands with the sanitiser, and wanted to carry it home.

These pen sprays are designed for children to use at school. While I appreciate the concept, I am not sure if school kids would be actually using it when they are at school.
Would they feel confident to use it in public? Could it be made to look more appealing design-wise, so that the school kids would look at it as a cool product to be seen with? I do not dispute the advantages of this product, just wondering if kids would actually use it on their own. I would love to read any reviews of parents of school age kids and their thoughts on the matter.

If you want to find more about My Pocket Buddy, please visit

P.S. We received My Pocket Buddy for purposes of reviewing, all opinions are mine.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Around the Clock app: it's always Wombi o'clock

Learning to tell time is a tricky business. The best way to learn without getting bored is to turn a learning experience into a game. A new app for kids called Around the Clock from Swedish developer Wombi apps is a fun way to introduce the young children to the concept of telling the time.
Keep in mind though its primary purpose is not to teach how to tell time.

The idea is to play your way through a whole day. Every hour brings you a new mini-game or activity. And when they say mini-games, they mean it. You get very short interactive games, from brushing teeth to biking home, from putting the books on the shelf to finding a teddy bear in the dark room. After each mini-game you are taken back to the smiley ted accompanied by the music interlude (while my 2-year-old enjoyed the music, I found it a bit annoying, but then we have different tastes in music and I am obviously not the target audience for this app).

The games are simple enough for a young child to understand what to do and how to play (except when we started the game, our first game was aligning the stars. I was looking at the twinkling stars and had no clue what I was supposed to do with them. Eventually I got it, but it made me think that some sort of vocal instructions would be helpful, or a written message).

This game is good for any ipad novice as you learn how to do all the finger motions like tapping and dragging objects and swiping.
The grapics are rather simple, but bright and colourful.

Here is a video demo.

P.S. We were given a code to try an app for free for the purpose of reviewing.

P.P.S. An update: just wanted to add that Eddie has been enjoying playing with this app. It's been a few weeks since we first tried it, and now he is very confident. He loves the teddy, and the music interlude and does all the little tasks now without my help. I didn't know at the time of writing this review that this app would prove to be so popular with my little man.

There is a lite version of Around the Clock available for everyone to try with 5 mini games.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Vibrant figs and autumn feasts

Pork leg paupiettes with figs

A disadvantage of being married to an Italian is that you tend to eat lots of pasta. While my husband doesn't get bored with pasta, I cannot possibly eat it for several days in a row without an inner protest. Even if every day it is a different pasta dish. I was wandering around our local Waitrose, thinking what to cook for dinner that would not invlove pasta, when I've noticed that Pork leg paupiettes were on offer. I haven't cooked pork for ages, and decided it might do for dinner.
The paupiettes came stuffed with shallot and herbs.

2 pork leg paupiettes
2 fresh figs
1 apple
olive oil
sea salt
a small glass of marsala

Place two paupiettes in a frying pan with the olive oil and brown the sides. It takes about 3 minutes per side. Put the browned pieces in a small ceramic dish, add sliced apples and figs, salt and pepper, pour the marsala over and place the dish in the oven preheated to 200C. Lower the heat to 180C and roast for half an hour. Serve with the roast potatoes and grilled mushrooms.
As the paupiettes came with two small pieces of herby butter, I removed them and used on top of the grilled mushrooms.

Roast butternut squash with figs (side dish)

It's a season for figs.
We have a beautiful fig tree in the garden, but in five years since we moved to our current address, we had ripe figs only once, in summer of 2011. This year the tree stood naked for a very long time, and I was worried that the spring frosts have damaged it. Slowly the leaves appeared and even the green figs, but they are as hard as rocks. I picked one ripe fig this month, and it almost felt like a victory.

I spoke too soon, after writing this post, I went to the garden to water the tomatoes in the greenhouse and found another ripe fig.

Having no home-grown figs doesn't stop me from buying them, they are sold at reasonable prices at this time of the year.
Last evening, when we had dinner with our guests, I served this side dish of roast butternut squash with figs (to go with the roast duck).

1 medium butternut squash
1 sweet onion
3 figs
1 fennel bulb
2tbsp olive oil
1tbsp orange saffron oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp honey
(serves 4 as a side dish)

Cut the butternut squash lengthwise, leave the skin on, wrap in the foil and place in the oven preheated to 180C. Do the same with the sweet onion and fennel. In half an hour, take them out of the oven, remove the skin from the butternut squash pieces with a knife, place them in a deep tray with the onion, fennel and sliced figs.
Mix the olive oil, orange saffron oil, balsamic vinegar and honey in a small container and pour the contents over the vegetables and fruit, mix well, using your hands. Place the tray back in the oven and roast for 20-25 minutes. Serve hot.

Figs feature as this month's ingredient in One Ingredient Challenge for September. This challenge it is hosted by Working London Mummy and How to Cook Good Food blogs.

Poster paints and starry nights

Eddie loves crayons and pencils. He's usually a total tornado who won't sit still, except when he wants to do "kayaying" (his word for colouring). We can't pass any paintwork in town without stopping and observing with great interest (who said Watching the paint dry is not fun?). Even after the work is done, Eddie would comment en passant "painting" when we walk past any recently repainted walls or windows in town.

I knew he would love to paint, but wasn't so sure I am ready to have the paint all over the house (from the times of Sasha's art activities). But I braced myself and got a set of poster paints for Eddie.

When the childminder comes to play with Eddie for a couple of hours twice a week (so that I could spend time with Sasha, one to one, without being bothered by a very exuberant sibling), he usually insists on going to the garden. However, he was happy to sit and paint for almost an hour, a big achievement for a little busy man.

Today he wanted to paint again, he woke up and asked for paints. This is his artwork.

Can you guess what it is? Starry Night, of course. Eddie's homage to the great Van Gogh.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Mega Bloks Moshi Monsters Ooh La Lane giveaway ( c/d 7 October 2012)

Do your little monsters love Moshi Monsters?
Of course, they do!

I have a lovely surprise for you, Moshi fans! Here is your chance to win a super prize from Mega Bloks - Mega Bloks Moshi Monsters Ooh La Lane

Image credit: Mega Bloks

Guaranteed to be a huge hit, the 99-piece Mega Bloks Moshi Monsters Ooh La Lane set comes with Katsuma and Guiseppe Gelato, plus a surprise Moshling! With this prize, your little one can build the hot spots of Monstro City, including the famous Ice Scream Shop and Gabby’s Cafe! Two secret codes are also included for fun accessories and items.

If you’re not a lucky winner this time, look out for the rest of the Mega Bloks Moshi Monsters construction range. The buildable play sets and characters are guaranteed to impress your little fans, who will love collecting and building their own their Moshi Monsters world!

The range includes eight packs – with six stackable blocks in each – in the new Moshi Monster Moshling Block Blind Packs Series 2. Little ones can join them all together and stack the blocks in a cool display. What’s more, there is an ultra rare pack to be collected too, so it’s a surprise every time!

Perfect for building up an impressive collection, the Moshi Monsters Blind Packs Series 3 allows fans to collect even more of their favourite characters from the game. Each buildable Monster comes with a block to display proudly. Both Series 2 and 3 Blind Packs are compatible with Series 1 so can be joined together for endless fun!
Adding to the already massively popular, buildable Moshling Zoo sets, there are now four more to collect! Fans should look out for the Bushy Fandango, Diavlo, Katsuma and Guiseppe themed Moshling Zoos. All the sets can be added together to make one giant zoo and each set also comes with a surprise Moshling!

Moshi fans can now build, set up and decorate their very own Tree House home for their loveable Moshling characters with the largest play set in the Mega Bloks range. With customisable furnishings and designs, and a working lift, little ones can enjoy hours of building and rebuilding fun. Plus, there is a surprise moshling character to collect in each set!

Stockists include Argos, Tesco, Toys R Us, Amazon, The Entertainer and Smyths. For more information visit
To win this fab set, please use a Rafflecopter form:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, 14 September 2012

Buonissima Banana cake with chopped apricots

This banana cake is so easy to bake and so tasty that it deserves to be called Buonissima.

2-3 ripe bananas
250g granulated sugar
2 medium eggs
200g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 heaped tsbp ground almonds (optional)
2 tbsp rose petal syrup/preserve (optional)
50g melted butter
80g chopped apricots
icing sugar to sprinkle on top

The overripe mushy-smushy bananas are the best for this recipe. You know the feeling, the semi-forgotten bananas in the fruit bowl, looking truly neglected and nobody wants to eat them. Well, these are perfect for any kind of the banana cake.
This cake usually disappears very fast. It is a "gone in 60 seconds" variety which appeals both to kids and adults with a sweet tooth.
Mash the bananas in a deep bowl with sugar, using a fork. You can use a hand blender as well, if you prefer. Add the eggs, cinnamon, almonds, flour, rose petal preserve and melted butter, and mix well. Add chopped apricots and mix.

Preheat the oven to 180C. Pour the cake mix in the spring form and place in the oven. Bake for about an hour. Check if it is ready with a wooden skewer. Serve warm or cold, dusted with the icing sugar. We actually enjoy it when it is just out of the oven, but it is good the next day as well. It doesn't last longer than the next day, so don't know how long it keeps.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Ryvita-lise your Sunday morning!

Why Sunday? The recipes I am going to share with you, take a bit of time, so they are probably best for the more leisurely mornings. Our typical mornings during the week are way too hectic to have a cooked breakfast.
I have just done a post about the autumnal recipes to go with Ryvita crispbreads (see here). Inspired by Mark Sargeant, I am offering you a few more ideas for a leisurely Sunday breakfast or brunch, using Ryvita.

Dried apricots with pancetta

I also make this snack with prunes.
You will need:
about 2-3 apricots per each Ryvita crispbread
Ryvita Pumpkin Seed and Oats Crispbread (1-2 per person)
pancetta (one for every apricot or prune)
a handful of rocket leaves

Preheat the oven to 180C. Wrap each apricot or prune with the pancetta. Using a bamboo skewer, thread them (4-5 per skewer). Place in a ceramic dish or tray and move it in the oven, bake until the pancetta is crisp. It takes about 10 minutes.

Serve hot on the Ryvita with a few rocket leaves.

Mushrooms baked in ramekins

This takes a bit of time, but it's so worth it. It is a meat-free recipe but not a vegetarian one as it uses parmesan.

250g closed cup chestnut mushrooms
a tbsp of butter
a small piece of Stilton (about 50g)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove
100ml plain yogurt (or soured cream)
a pinch of nutmeg
a few chopped chives
1/2 tsp dried oregano
salt, pepper
parmesan, freshly grated
Ryvita crispbreads to serve with the mushrooms

Depending on the size of your ramekins, this will be enough for 2 big or 3 medium ones.

Chop the mushrooms and pan fry in butter and olive oil, season well, and add all the herbs and chopped garlic. Add the yogurt or soured cream and the crumbled Stilton. Pour into the ramekins and place them in the oven preheated to 180C. Bake for about 20 minutes (half-way through take them out and sprinkle the grated cheese on top, then pop back in the oven). The mushrooms are ready when the cheese melts.
Serve with the Ryvita crispbreads to dip in the mushrooms.

Enjoy your Sunday breakfast!

Ryvita รจ bella (Autumn recipes with Ryvita)

The mornings are suddenly chilly, and the evenings have been creeping upon us with their shawl of darkness each day earlier. The autumn has come. The first days of September held a promise of the Indian summer, but there is no doubt now - the autumn is finally here.
This is the season of the heart warming dishes and mugs of hot steaming drinks. Consider soups infused with flavour of the autumn harvest, thick stews, hearty curries, mouthwatering crumbles and hot chocolate.

Celebrate the season with Ryvita and the talented chef Mark Sargeant, of celebrated Rocksalt in Folkestone, who created a selection of heart warming British autumnal toppings, tailored to perfectly accompany your favourite Ryvita® Crispbreads.

Be imaginative and creative with your choice of Ryvita and spreads. I was asked to try new recipes created by Mark. When I read the recipes and saw the photos, I knew I would be happy to try them. I love the richness of the autumnal vegetables, their full-bodied flavours and beautiful colours.

Photo credit: Ryvita

Mark comments, "Ryvita® provides a great base for these seasonal toppings. I particularly enjoy eating curried sweet potato, butternut squash, yoghurt and fresh mint on top a Ryvita® Pumpkin Seed and Oats Crispbread - the combination works perfectly, and gently warms you from inside."

A versatile base for seasonal ingredients and great to share with family and friends, Ryvita® is a must-have for autumn get-togethers.
With a wide selection of different variants, including Ryvita® Pumpkin Seed and Oats Crispbread and Ryvita® Sunflower Seeds and Oats Crispbread, there is something available for everyone. Get munching and crunching this autumn.

Ryvita® Pumpkin Seed and Oats Crispbread with curried sweet potato, butternut squash, yoghurt and mint

Serves 4-6 as a light supper

16 Ryvita® Pumpkin Seed and Oats Crispbreads
2 tbsps vegetable oil
1 onion (roughly chopped)
3 garlic cloves (crushed)
250 grams butternut squash (seeded and cut into chunks)
1 sweet potato (cut into chunks)
200 grams potatoes (cut into chunks)
1 apple (peeled, cored and cut into chunks)
2 tsps curry paste (mild)
1 tsp turmeric piece
ginger (2 1/2 cm piece fresh, peeled and finely chopped)
2 bay leaves
250 mls vegetable stock
25 grams raisins salt
black pepper
4 tbsps plain yogurt
1 bunch of mint

Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the onions for 4-5 minutes until golden. Add the garlic, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, potatoes and apple. Then stir in the curry paste, turmeric, ginger, bay leaves, stock, raisins and plenty of seasoning. Bring to the boil, stir well, then cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are just tender and the sauce is lovely and thick. Set aside to cool. Mix the yoghurt with the finely shredded mint and season. Spoon onto Ryvita® Pumpkin Seed and Oats Crispbreads and add a spoonful of yogurt and mint over the top.

My take on Mark's recipe: I didn't have any fresh mint (the one in the garden looked all stalks and hard leaves, past its best), so I used a teaspoon of dried mint instead. I also added less garlic.
My suggestion: if you don't have all the ingredients, use your imagination and think creatively.

Ryvita® Sunflower Seeds and Oats Crispbread with Waldorf Salad

Photo credit: Ryvita

10 Ryvita® Sunflower Seeds and Oats Crispbreads
2 Braeburn apples
1⁄2 lemon, juiced
4 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp Grain mustard
2 stalks celery, peeled and cut into crescents
handful walnuts
couple of handfuls watercress

Cut the apple into chunks and toss with the lemon juice. Mix together the mayonnaise and mustard and toss with all the other ingredients. Spoon over 10 Ryvita® Sunflower Seeds and Oats Crispbreads.

This is a nice combination of flavours and textures. I didn't add the watercress and used Gala apples rather than Braeburn. Ryvita is a perfect base for this new take on the Waldorf salad.

If you liked these recipes with Ryvita, please visit their site for more inspiration.
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Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Old MacDonald had a puzzle (review + giveaway closing 1 October 2012)

Do your children love music? And Puzzles? Does having a jigsaw activity pack with both elements sound like a fab idea to you?

My 2-year-old Eddie is forever asking for music (the way he pronounes the word, it sounds more like "muzikah"). He particularly likes listening to children's voices.

We were lucky to receive an activity pack from Music Room for reviewing.

The activity kit comes in a sturdy box which contains a 1m long puzzle, a music CD, two sets of stickers and a colouring sheet.
Boxes, who doesn't enjoy opening them? Eddie was very excited at the sight of the bright and cheerful box, and even happier to see ist contents. We had to listen to the new sing-along CD at once.
Personally I am not that keen on children's music performed by children, but I am clearly not the intended audience for the CD, because Eddie loved it a lot, and he has been asking to listen to it every day since the box arrived. The CD includes a set of well known animal songs like Mary Had a Little Lamb, Baa Baa Blacksheep, Daddy Fox and many more.
The metre-long puzzle is very colourful, it consists of big chunky pieces. As Eddie is a bit young for it, I helped him to finish the puzzle.
After the task was accomplished, we named  all the animals portrayed on the puzzle and put the pieces back in the box. As for the stickers, I confess they didn't end up where they were supposed to be, as my older son found the stickers while I was in the kitchen (and Eddie had a nap in his bedroom) and stickered them all over the box.
This activity set would make a lovely birthday or Christmas gift for anyone who loves Old MacDonald.
 I have one Old MacDonald Had a Farm Jingle Puzzle to give away. To be in with a chance, please fill in the Rafflecopter form below.
Leaving a comment is a must step to be entered in the draw (please do not click on the button, saying you did, if you haven't, as I can actually see it). You can do the other 3 steps as bonus entries, but they are not obligatory.
Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, 10 September 2012

Scented dreams: Twinings Jasmine Pearls (review)

Twinings has introduced a new range of Whole Leaf Silky Pyramids. I don't need to be encouraged to try a new tea, being a tea-addict. I've been dancing around the shelves displaying the new range of Twinings in Waitrose in the last few weeks, telling myself that I have enough tea in the house for my very own Boston Tea Party.

But I had a very stressful weekend, and what could be more relaxing than a cup of tea. Some women go to have their hair done or nails painted as a treat to themselves. I buy tea and chocolate.

I was torn between two new flavours, and decided that Jasmine Pearls looked especially appealing. Inside the box there are 15 silky pyramids (teabags) with pearls of rolled green tea. They look very pretty, and the transparent bags are quintessentially elegant. The small pearls of green tea are scented with white flowers of jasmine to achieve a delicate and slightly sweet flavour.

Make a cup of tea, sit, close your eyes and breathe in the aroma of jasmine. The wave of the jasmine will caress your senses and send you dreaming about the faraway lands. This is a very relaxing brew.
And also very healthy. Did you know that green tea is a great source of healing antioxidants? It increases metabolism and if you drink it regularly, you might notice that your waistline is getting trimmer.

When steeped in water, the pearls start to unravel or uncurl their green leaves, it is like a little miracle in a cup. Beautiful tea to look at, and it tastes fresh and fragrant. It is lovely hot, but also delicious when cold. I think it is perfect for the iced tea.

My only criticism is that I am not impressed with the design of the box. I like the shape, but the actual painting is a bit garish and amateur (I might be wrong and the artist tried to imitate the Primitivism art on purpose, then my apologies). The images are not associated in my mind with the origins of the Jasmine tea, its ancient history and cultural uses. I would have used a photo of an antique Chinese fabric as a pattern for the box.

Boys and their toys: Nano Speed Super Vert Crash set (review)

Boys and their toys. The faster, the better. Who could resist a super fast miniature toy cars as they zoom throught the corkscrew track?

The Nano Speed range brings the super fast and collectable miniature toy cars to children across the UK.
With crazy power to weight ratio, the Nano cars are capable of defying gravity and pulling off impressive stunts never done before!

The Nano speed range promises impressive speeds, awe-inspiring loops and adrenaline filled stunts!
Imagine yourself a mini-James Bond with this super toy.

"Defy gravity as you launch multiple cars into the triple loop, watch them wind their way through an inverted corkscrew and 5 high intensity crash points. The vehicles are automatically boosted to hit maximum speed on a micro scale!"
Set comes with two exclusive Nano Speed cars.

If you plan to give it as a birthday or Christmas present, do not forget to include two D batteries, as the kit doesn't include them, and they are not necessarily the type that you would find in every household (at least, talking from our own experience).

What does Nano Speed™ promise?

• It’s the fastest – Nano Speed™ can go as fast as 1500mph scaled speed!

• It’s the smallest – with Nano Speed™ it’s maximum speed on a micro scale!

• Pullback mechanism – it’s easy, pull back & go!

• Nano Speed™ do amazing stunts for non-stop race and crash action

• Super collectable – 60+ awesome looking cars to collect in wave 1

• Quick & easy to assemble play sets

• The range includes: Nano Speed™ 2 Pack £4.99, 4 Pack £8.99, Stunt Set £12.99, Multi-Car Launcher £14.99 & Nano Super Vert Crash Set £34.99

Does it deliver what it promises?
The instructions that come with the set are useful and clear. Though the set is not difficult to assemble with the parent's help, it could be quite tricky to do it for someone aged 6 (age specified on the box). The track sections have numbers on the back. The diagrams are clear. Level of difficulty is moderate (if you take into consideration the age of the possible recipient).
The main problem lays with the launch of the cars. When you pull the car to the back to launch it through the spiral, it doesn't always work consistently. I would say the ratio is 1 out of 10 times it will work.
Another thing about this toy: you cannot modify the track. You get what you see in the picture. So, after playing a bit with it, you might get bored. The conclusion is it won't hold any prolonged interest.
The toy costs £34.99. I appreciate its production must be costly, but from a parent's point of view, it is not cheap, especially if your child plays with it just once.
We were sent this toy for purposes of reviewing. All opinions are my own.