Sunday, 30 December 2012

Daxon's VIP Fashion Bloggers

Are you a Downton Abbey fan? Have you been waiting for the Christmas Special with impatience and have you been left in total shock after the episode ended (I must confess I'm glad I watched it as recorded on the Boxing day, as it would have definitely ruined my Christmas. Julian Fellowes should be put in the stocks). Have you caught a bug for the classic-style clothes that would make you look like Lady Mary? I've been perusing Daxon's website and have found some perfect outfits that would not look amiss in the Scottish mountains stalking a deer with Shrimpie and the Earl of Grantham.
Don't believe me? Have a look at this Ellos ladies tweed blazer jacket.

And I love this Ladies Shorn Velvet Jacket, very elegant, stylish and timeless. This indigo blue outfit would have been approved by Dowager Countess herself, no doubt.

Ellos Ladies Smart 3/4 length blazer jacket is another outift that makes me think of Downton Abbey and its elegant characters. This is just my kind of outfit. I love jackets and blazers. Any of the three jackets I have shown would look good with my Downton hats.

To be honest, until my buddy Cheryl from Madhouse Family Reviews did a blog post on Daxon on her blog, I haven't heard of them before. But I am very curious by nature, and as any girl (of any age, young or young at heart), I love a good sale, and Daxon's prices are rather competitive. I found out that Daxon is part of Redcats, which is the 3rd largest home shopping organisation in the world.

And to win my heart over, not only do they sell clothes for women and men, they also have a range of cooking utensils.
Now, Mrs Pattmore and I would be in agreement, they have some lovely kitchen goodies. I'm particularly tempted by an automatic bottle opener (after breaking two of bottle openers in a row).

If you are a blogger with an interest in fashion, you might consider joining in the Daxon's VIP Fashion Bloggers' appeal and become a part of their blogger network. But you have to hurry up, as the closing day is today.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Salmon cured with rooibos tea

I wanted to add a Russian twist to our otherwise rather English Christmas meal (we had a roast turkey with trimmings and a plum pudding) and opted to serve blini with home cured salmon as a starter.

900g piece of salmon
100g sea salt
120g dark soft brown sugar
2 heaped tbsp of rooibos tea (Twinings Winter Warming Infusion)
2 tbsp wild herb rub (mix of thyme, marjoram, sage, fennel seeds etc)
2 tbsp vodka (I used Stolichnaya)

Huge whole salmons were on offer in the shops just before Christmas, and I bought quite a big piece of salmon. It wasn't a fillet exactly or a steak, just a big piece from the middle, as you can see in the photo below. For the first step, remove the bones with a thin knife, wash the salmon and pat dry with the kitchen towel.
Take a deep ceramic dish/tray and place a layer of the cling film on top of it, leaving a wide overlap. Place your salmon in the dish and sprinkle first the rooibos tea and then the wild herbs. I used the Wild herb rub from ForageFineFoods, but you can use any mix of thyme, sage, marjoram and fennel seeds.

Twinings Winter Warming Infusion is a rooibos tea infused with orange flavour and spicy cinnamon, a festive blend of a spectacular colour. The tea itself is intensely red and deep in colour. A pleasure to drink at any time of the day. It comes as a loose tea in a very pretty caddy (I know, caddies and I, we love each other). It is a recent addition to an ever-growing range of Twinings teas. I thought it would add a pizzazz to my home cured salmon, and it did.

The next layer was the sea salt. Then comes the brown sugar. And the last step: pour the vodka (I used Stolichnaya, but I suppose any good quality vodka would do).

Wrap up the salmon in the cling film, so that it is all wrapped like a parcel. Place a smaller ceramic tray on top (I use the lasagne dish, which is quite heavy). Put the trays in the fridge, and add more weight inside the second tray. Leave it in the fridge for 2-3 days to cure.

Unwrap the cling film and rinse the salmon under the cold running water.

The salmon acquires a deep rich colour. It doesn't taste too salty, in fact the flavour is quite delicate.
Slice the salmon thinly and serve on top of the blini with a dollop of the soured cream.
The rooibos tea with its festive blend proved to be a lovely addition to the home cured salmon.

For the blini recipe have a look at my older post if you want.

If you liked this recipe, you might also like another recipe for the home cured salmon with beetroot, vodka and dill.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Jingle Jam, Jingle Jam

I'm pretty good at making my own jams and chutneys, but if I see a new jam variety, I can't resist the temptation. So it happened when I was browsing Abel & Cole's website, looking for their Christmas offerings. The sound of Jingle jam was very attractive and I added a jar to my shopping cart.
Quite often Christmasy jams and chutneys happen to be disappointing as they are all rather same-ish.

So, what did we think of Abel & Cole's Organic Jingle Jam?

It is basically a thick apple jam with spices (ginger and cinnamon). Sounds simple, but tastes wonderfully festive and truly evocative of the holiday season. It is sweet, but not overly sweet. Lovely on slightly buttered toast (my guys love a toast with butter and jam in the morning, and this jam has received Thumbs up from all of the toast-eaters).

It is an exceptionally good jam to serve on digestive biscuits with a selection of cheeses: here you see it paired with a chunk of Stilton and a piece of Tickler. Honestly, this combination is so good, I could eat it every day.

I think this jam would be wonderful for a jam crostata too, as it will definitely work well with the shortcrust pastry.
On the taste front it gets 10/10 from our family. My only  mild criticism is that I find the design of the label slightly boring. I would jazz it up and make more Christmasy.
Ho Ho Ho!

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Betty's plum pudding

I have never made a Christmas pudding in my life, this is not something I grew up with as a child. Christmas puddings were things that happened in books. As a child, I was fascinated by the description of the triumphal entry of the Christmas Plum Pudding topped with a sprig of holly. Plum pudding was so very Dickensian and absolutely alien to me, brought up in the Soviet Russia with its own customs and traditions. Fastforward the clock, many years later, I am celebrating Christmas and serving a Betty's Christmas Plum Pudding to my family and friends.

It was thanks to Karen from Lavender and Lovage blog (if you are a foodie, you might want to follow this blog, it is full of inspirational recipes) that we were able to discover this quality pudding and enjoy a traditional Christmas meal. What represents a traditional Christmas meal for many Brits, for us was quite an unusual choice, as typically I would cook a mix of Italian and Russian dishes for Christmas.
I was enchanted as soon as I opened the parcel. This luxurious pudding comes in its own collectable ceramic pudding basin. And it is a very nice ceramic bowl indeed.
Once you unwrap the pudding, the aroma is deliciosly sweet and enticing.

The pudding itself is made with dried whole plums, cranberries, apricots and sultanas soaked in Yorkshire Stout, what a great combination of flavours and textures. It is very dark in colour, and very dense, but at the same time you can see the actual dried fruit in its glory.
I read with great interest on Karen's blog that this pudding has been featured in “House Beautiful”, “Country Home and Interiors” and “Eat In Magazine”.

We had our plum pudding with the brandy cream. Even my husband, who was at first a bit apprehensive (as a true Italian, he was secretly hoping to have a slice of panettone, which he also had later in the day), enjoyed it and even asked for a second helping. Total success.

Thanks to Betty's, we have discovered the pleasures of a great tasting plum pudding, and when the next Christmas comes, I would know where to get the best Christmas pudding.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Candied orange peel

I blame it all on Missie Lizzie from Me and my shadow blog. She has posted a lush-looking photo of the jar with homemade candied orange peel, and I was inspired to make my own batch.

Let me warn you, though the end result is utterly delicious, it is a quite time-consuming process. I tend to use the grated orange peel for all sorts of cakes, as it adds a fabulous aroma and zesty flavour to the baked goodies. Thankfully, my guys enjoy a freshly squeezed orange juice, so we are not short of the orange peel.

For a jar of candied orange peel you will need

4-5 oranges
1/2 mug of granulated sugar
+ caster sugar

I am retelling Missie Lizzie's recipe in my own words, but if you want to read her post please click on the following link.
First remove the orange skin by scoring it with a sharp knife, like drawing the segments. Don't cut too deep. Open the peeled segments of the orange like in the image below. You will need 4 or 5 thick-skinned oranges, depending on their size.

Carefully remove the white pith from the skin segments. Put the segments into a pan and pour enough water to cover them. Bring to the boil, lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Drain the water, cover the segments again with the cold water and bring to boil. Simmer for 15 minutes. Repeat one more time.
Make the sugar syrup in a pan (ratio: 1/2 mug of sugar to 1 mug of water). Stir it until the sugar is dissolved, then add the orange peel. Simmer for 45 minutes. The cooked segments will look almost translucent. Place the cooked orange peel on the cake rack  with a dish under it to pick the syrup drops.
That's what they look like at this stage.

Take a bowl with the caster sugar and dip each segment into it, making sure that they are well covered with the sugar. Leave them on the greaseproof/parchment paper overnight to get firm.

You can also dip them in chocolate if you like. Place the homemade candied orange peel in a jar.

If you plan to give it away as a gift, tie a nice Christmas ribbon around the jar. 

Personally, I don't think it will last long here to be given away. The candied orange peel is delicious, very zesty and moreish. Maybe I should save a few segments and make a lemon drizzle cake?

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Kippas tee (Oh, Christmas tree)

If you come round to our house, Eddie will give you a tour around the Christmas tree, which he calls "Kippas tee". He will show you Santa and an angel, a snowman and a sock (it's a stocking actually, but Eddie calls it a sock). He is very proud of our tree. Last year he was still too young to appreciate it and hardly noticed it, but this time Eddie was actively involved, as we went together to the garden centre to pick our tree, selected a few decorations with him and put the ornaments together.

While I decorated our Christmas tree, I looked at the baubles and figurines and recollected when we bought them and thought of our friends who gave them to us as gifts. Some of these dear friends are not with us anymore.

This lovely angel (below) was purchased in Woodstock, when we lived there and Sasha was still a little boy. We returned last week to Woodstock to have a long walk in the Blenheim park, and I popped into the gift shop where I bought this angel, but alas, they didn't have anything similar this time.

This cute little ceramic bell is one of the latest acquisitions. It is so jolly and bright, very festive and Christmasy.

The little glass drum reminds me very much of the ornaments we had in Russia when I was little. Of course, in those days, it wasn't Christmas that we celebrated, but the New year's eve. I loved everything about that holiday: the tree, decorations, food, party and presents. Seasons were proper seasons, and we would have had a deep snow and a biting frost outside.

When I saw this little girl in the shop, I immediately thought of the Russian fairy tale Morozko.

And of course, we need the three crowns for the three kings.

It actually looks quite garish and cheapish in the day light, but the Christmas tree's lights transform it into a crown sparkling with jewels.

I also used to decorate our trees with Sasha's artwork in the past, but to my dismay, found out that all the salt dough decorations that were made by Sasha and which I kept in a box up in the attic have gone soggy and disintegrated.

Now that you have seen our Christmas tree, what ornaments do you have?

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

The Yummy Gummy Search for Santa

Are you a Christmas movie traditionalist who watches the same golden oldies like "It's a wonderful life" and "White Christmas" or do you enjoy watching something new every year? I confess to being a mix of both. Christmas wouldn't be Christmas for me without "Back to the future". But I also love discovering new films with my children. And when "The Yummy Gummy Search for Santa" DVD (from Lionsgate) dropped on the doormat in an envelope as a surpise pack (together with a gummy bear jelly mould and a pack of jelly), I knew it would be a hit with my guys.

What's the plot summary?
"When Santa vanishes on Christmas Eve, Gummibär and his band of wacky misfits shake their booties from the North Pole to the tropics on a madcap search. But when they discover that Santa was abducted by a dance-crazed alien, the fate of Christmas morning rests in the hands -  and feet- of our lovable green gummy bear!"
Does this plot sound amusing to you? I grant you it is not for "bah-humbug"-ians, and yes, it sounds silly and not profound, but my guys didn't care. As the big fans of Gummy Bear, they had fun, watching their favourite Youtube song character move to a longer animation with more dancing, bum-shaking and bouncing.

Gummibär and his buddies Cala the cat, Vamp the bat, and Harry the chameleon, are determined to find out what happened to Santa after he is reported missing by his elves on Christmas Eve.
The alien named Allen (very imaginative, lol) didn't take Santa very far away. He took Santa to a nearby island, and has convinced him that he stopped time with his magic wand so that Santa could have a longer vacation. Now it's Gummi's turn to convince Santa that Allen has lied to him and that it is time to do his Santa's job and deliver the gifts to children around the world.

The eccentric adventure is interspersed with some of the Gummibär hits from the internet, including his original "I'm a Gummy Bear (The Gummy Bear Song)" that has over 2 Billion views on YouTube. I think my guys have contributed immensely to that total number of views. It was first Sasha who kept playing the original song again and again and again. This year Eddie discovered the  masterpiece, and he also sings along.

If, however, you can only groan at the mere mention of the words "Gummy bear", steer clear, it will be tough on you. I think it has kind of grew on me, as I have listened to the original song so many times, that at some point it kept ringing in my ears every time I went to bed.

And my sons were also very excited about the jelly mould. Here is our lime green creation, wobbly and bouncy.

It's not easy to eat jelly, is it? It tends to slide off the spoon. The solution? Eat it off the plate.
As you can see, Eddie has mastered the jelly-eating technique.

If you are still looking for Christmas stocking fillers, this DVD might be just the right gift for any Gummy bear fan, be they young in age or young at heart.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Christmas breakfast at "Chez Maximka"

If you were to pop in at our house on a Christmas morning, you'd find me in the kitchen, making pancakes and blini. To make them more festive, I add a pinch of cinnamon and a bit of orange zest to the batter. And of course, my guys add lots of squirty cream to their pancakes and chopped bananas.
We have lovely patchwork placemats with Christmas motives, the souvenirs of our three years in the States, and they are taken out of the cupboard for this special occasion.

My little man Eddie prefers blini to pancakes. Though they taste excatly the same as the bigger pancakes, they look much more cute and appealing for small hands.

Personally I choose not to squirt any cream on my blini, but add a dollop of the soured cream and a bit of sugar. Or drizzle with honey.

Another  treat we enjoy for Christmas breakfast is a lovely cup of hot chocolate, made from proper chocolate (none of that sweet sugary nonsense that comes as a powdered hot chocolate drink). And yes, it has to be served with cream (and marshmallows too).
We put on the CD with jolly songs like "I'm the happiest Christmas tree" and "Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer".

After a brekkie, I ask my husband to take the guys out for a long walk or just play in the garden, so that I can concentrate on the serious business of cooking a Christmas lunch.

Monday, 10 December 2012

British pork in London Porter

Best of British challenge, sponsored by New World Appliances is drawing to a close today. The last month has been hosted by London Unattached blog (one of my favourite foodie blogs). For the last challenge I am cooking a roast British pork with Fuller's London Porter, a veritably British combination of flavours.
To make it even more local, I went to the butcher's and bought a piece of the outdoor reared British pork tenderloin fillet.

500g British pork tenderloin fillet
1 small carrot
3 garlic cloves
1 tsp of Hogwood Spice blend
1/3 bottle of Fuller's London Porter
olive oil
Cornish sea salt and luxury pepper seasoning

For the side dish:
1 big butternut squash
1 tbsp of butter
olive oil
1 tsp of Wild Rose el Hanout

Cut the carrot in half lengthways and then into smaller sticks. Cut the garlic cloves lengthways into 3 pieces. Take the long narrow knife and pierce the pork fillet along its length.Then put the carrot and garlic pieces inside the meat (sort of stuff the pockets). Brush the meat with the olive oil, sprinkle with the Cornish sea salt and luxury pepper seasoning as well as Hogwood Spice blend. This blend is called a secret spice from Britain, and mine came from Forage Fine Foods.
Place the meat on a hot skillet and seal it on both sides.
Put the meat in the ceramic tray and pour about 1/4 of the rich and dark London Porter. Put the tray in the oven preheated to 150C and cook on low for over 2 hours, turning occasionally and pouring more London Porter.

Take the pork out of the oven and let it sit for about 5 minutes before slicing it.
Serve with the mashed butternut squash.

While cooking the meat, cut the squash into big chunks, remove the seeds, brush them with the olive oil and wrap in foil. Place on the lower shelf of the oven. Once soft, remove from the oven, let the squash cool slightly and peel the skin. Mash in the bowl with a tabelspoon of butter, add a bit of sea salt and a spice mix. My Wild Rose el Hanout comes from Forage Fine Foods. It is a beautiful blend of aromatic spices and a cooling rose. The blend might be not British in its origins but it is produced by Forage Fine Foods which is run by Liz Knight, and I would definitely name her products as the best of British. Put the mashed squash back in the oven for another 10 minutes.

The Adventures of Achilles

Years ago I was teaching the history of the world art in school. I wish I had this edition of The Adventures of Achilles (Hugh Lupton, Daniel Morden & Carole Henaff) from Barefoot Books then to help me with the visual material for the lessons in Greek mythology.
This book is a true feast for eyes. The panel and border illustrations by Carole Henaff depict both gods and humans and remind of the images from the ancient Greek vases. It is a homage to the ancient Greek art without actually copying it, but giving it a modern twist.

This edition comes with two full-length CDs so that you can listen to the riveting retelling of the Iliad and be transfixed with the story of the Trojan War, its  causes and violent progress. The young audience will get their first taste of Homer's language with the references to Apollo, the Lord of Light, the Mighty Archer, to ox-eyed Hera, owl-eyed Athene and Great Father Zeus, the Cloud Compeller.

I have read some rather critical reviews of this book on GoodReads, which accuse the book of being too sophisticated for the younger audience or being too grim. Yes, some of its content is too dark for the younger children, but that is true with most of the Greek myths, they are pretty much sombre and morbid. I must have read the Greek Myths for the first time when I was 8 or 9 (and several times afterwards including recently). Many of the storylines were totally alien to me, but it was such a fascinating world, with its own rules and logic.

This edition is a brilliant combination of the most compelling narrative retold in modern language, striking art of illustration and a fabulous audio-recording.
As you may have read, the original Greek statues were brightly painted. These paints have become very faint or completely disappeared after thousands of years, but the Infrared and X-ray spectroscopy helped the scientists to see the original colours. I imagine they used the same intense blues and terracottas as the artist of The Adventures of Achilles.

My older son and I took our time to go through the book, as we listened to the story in installments. This is a thought-provoking book, and I would suggest reading this book or listening to the CD together with your child.

Score: 10/10

Disclosure: We recieved a free copy of the book for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are ours.

Recreate an Orange Grove in Winter

I wish I could create an olfactory video review so that you can discover yourselves what I am trying to describe in words. We all have olfactory memories, and Christmas time for me is forever associated with the aroma of mandarins and oranges. In the time when the fruit was seasonal and haven't been in the shops all year round, some of the first manadarins appeared around this time of the year and every time I smell this beautiful fruit, I think of the Christmas trees of my childhood days. The White Company has a variety of candles to appeal to all tastes, but they couldn't find a better one for me than Orange Grove Signature Candle.
Do you like the smell of the orange peel and green leaves? That's what you get, when you light the candle. The aroma is very delicate and subtle, which I absolutely love. I cannot stand strong-smelling candles which are so overpowering they give you a headache. You get the earthy and woody rich notes underfoot, and sultry bergamot strikes a cord with its classic touch.
The Orange Grove is warming and zesty at the same time.

This signature candle (as well as all the candles in their range) is "individually hand poured in the UK using high quality wax and fragrance. The 140gs of wax gives approx 28 hours of burning."
Each candle is Gift boxed. The packaging is very stylish. It is a black and white box, a Bond-girl type of packaging, sleek and expensive-looking. At £20 per candle it is not cheap, but it is oh so excellent as a Christmas gift.

It wouldn't be Christmas without a festive candle. Christmas is known as a time of indulgence, and this candle would impress even the most harsh critic.