Tuesday, 31 December 2013

My most popular recipe posts of 2013

I know it is a self-indulgent post but I need a bit of cheering up, being poorly since after Christmas. I have seen other bloggers doing similar lists and decided to be a copycat and talk about my most viewed and read posts of the past year.
Pancakes for Findus appeared in January. It was part-book review, part-recipe post, and has been my top post of 2013 (discounting all giveaway posts which always bring the bigger numbers of views). We still enjoy this book as well as the other books in the Findus & Pettson series. And we love pancakes.

No. 2: Golubtsy: the ultimate comfort food from Russia was also posted in January, and attracted a good amount of visitors. I wonder if people google for comfort food, when stumbling upon my post?

No.3 Yet another Russian recipe post, Salad Olivier and the ghosts of the past New Year's eves, proved to be popular throughout the year, and had another boost of visitors in the past week. Could it be the Russian expats looking for the recipe of the salad they used to love? 

No.4 Orange polenta cake is one of our firm favourites. It is such a tasty cake that I am not surprised to see it in my top ten recipes of the year. I have baked it many times in the last year, using ordinary oranges, but now that I have a stash of blood oranges from Abel & Cole, I think I might bake this cake as blogged a year ago.

No.5 Never underestimate the power of the little piggy! Peppa Pig Muddy Puddle Cupcakes review post is in the 5th most read position. It wasn't the most exciting review or the tastiest dish, but Peppa Pig's appeal that propelled it into top 10.

No.6 For being posted in June 2013 White Witch Cake, did pretty well to get to position no.6. It was just a few views below Peppa Pig cupcakes. Quite an elaborate cake for me. I do prefer to make something quick and simple, and don't often go for the icing and intricate decorations. I am actually pretty proud of my cake, as I think it was rather unusual.

No.7 Lemon polenta gluten-free muffins, yet another polenta recipe that proved popular. 

No.8 Pirozhki with potatoes and wild mushrooms, that was the third Russian recipe, and most probably my personal favourite of the year. Having appeared in October, it had a lot of comments, and did really well to get into top ten.

No.9 Apple Welsh cakes: this simple recipe from Cogges Manor Farm is easy and perfect for when you want to make something quickly. 

No.10 Cupcakes for Lara: Coconut Cupcakes with blueberry curd was a semi-confessional post, and quite emotional for me for that reason. 

Seven of my top ten posts talk about desserts, and three savoury ones are the Russian recipes. I wonder if that's something I should be writing more about? What do you think? 

Monday, 30 December 2013

My ultimate tea party

I don't often do events, as it is too complicated for me to organise the childminders and transport but I do love having guests over. I love baking and entertaining, and I sometimes imagine how wonderful it would be to invite my favourite bloggers over for a big tea party with cakes and chocolate aplenty.
Consider yourself invited!

My blogging inspiration and buddy Cheryl from Madhouse Family Reviews is the most prolific blogger I know. She has been the bad influence on me, I have bought many things after reading her reviews.
She is also one of the loveliest people in the blogging/Facebook/Twitter community, and I just love her. Being a Mum of three, I am sure she welcomes a moment of peace and quiet with a refreshing cup of tea. Perhaps prepared in this stylish Scandi teapot? What would it be: Lapsang Souchong or English Breakfast?
And let's polish that box of Leonidas chocolate, shall we?

Karen from Lavender and Lovage blog has the best china selection in blogland, so it would be tricky to find a cup that she might not have in her collection. Karen is also the best food stylist, and in my opinion nobody can surpass her stunning food photos (and there are many splendid food blogs around).
I would offer her tea in this quirky upcycled Vintage girl cup from Melody Rose. A cup of Assam First Flush?

Jane from Onions and Paper has travelled extensively, and she is my guru when it comes to all things comping. I would offer her this amusing cup, and hope it will make her smile. As her "moment of the year" as defined by Facebook is slightly not-day-blog material and thus "cannot" be mentioned, I thought she would like this "outrageous" East of India Time to Drink mug from Beau-ti-ful. Would you care for a cup of White Wings tea, Jane?

And I know as a crafter she will appreciate this lovely old stamp from Stampington.

When it comes to chocolate, there is only one and only Choclette from Chocolate Log Blog. White Chocolate tea for Choclette and a bar of delicious Venchi white chocolate with salted pistachios and almonds. Typically I am not the biggest fan of the white chocolate, but this bar has converted me, it's totally moreish, and the salted nuts make all the difference (I have also tried the original Venchi white chocolate with nuts, and wasn't that impressed, look for the salted nuts' variety!).

And just because I find this reindeer mug from Butterfly Lane utterly cute, I would add it to my collection of mugs and offer this cuppa to Choclette.

Leta aka wise and wonderful Attachment Mummy has given birth to her third daughter, just in time for Christmas (what a wonderful Christmas gift ever?!). As a Mum of a newborn, she surely appreciates a good night's sleep (what's that, you may ask?!), so no caffeine for her please. Maybe a nice calming cup of Mint infusion? especially when it is presented in a festive bauble?

Moomins have been part of my world since early childhood, and I think every child and grown-up needs a Moomin book in their life, as well as a mug. I bet Leta's girls will love it.

When I try to imagine the real kitchen of Janice from Farmersgirl Kitchen, I think there are lots of cook books and clever gadgets, with a cottagey-feel interior (I might be totally wrong, and Janice favours a modern style decor). Christmas Jumper mug would be my offering to Janice. And Sticky Toffee tea?

Deb from Aspie in the Family has had a challenging year, and I would love to give her a hug. Her blog is a testament to parenting commitment and dedication. Deb is an inspirational lady who is very passionate and eloquent. A Hug Mug from Alessi for Deb, and some strong brew, maybe Whittard's 1886 blend.

Fiona from London Unattached is one sophisticated lady who knows how to entertain in style. She travels, she cooks, she blogs. Her 5:2 recipes look so good, you wouldn't believe they are low-cal. This set from the British Library is my choice for Fiona ( as well as the Russian Caravan tea, well, Fiona has been to Marivanna a few times).

Chris from Cooking Around the World has been taking his readers on a cooking trip of a lifetime. His posts and recipes are always a pleasure to read (he has a great sense of humour). Moving home is a stressful task, and that's what he had to do recently. Have a cuppa, Chris! What would you like? How about some Chilli Chai and One for the Boys set from Teapigs?

Cook and food writer Dom from Belleau Kitchen is a perfect gentleman as well as the kitchen god. If you are hungry, better not read his blog, wait until you had a meal, or your tummy will rumble. His mouthwatering recipes would tempt a saint. Dom, a Perfect Gentleman cup was made for you. And would you care for some Earl Grey Creme?

Angie from Cakes Photos Life is a very enthusiastic fundraiser and a talented blogger. Her love of life is shining through all her posts and photos. And her cakes are stunning!
For you, Angie, and your little man who is simply wonderful, these two warm Forever Friends mugs from Hallmark. And Honey Bee Beautiful tea, because you are beautiful!

And for myself I will choose this vintage recycled Kissing Couple teacup and saucer, because I love costume dramas. As for tea, I will choose good old Earl Grey from Twinings (original, please, not the new variety). This is always my first cup of the day, I am not able to function without an early cup of Earl Grey with a slice of lemon and sugar.

Wouldn't it be just fab to see all my favourite blog writers together?!

There are many more blogs that I enjoy reading and haven't mentioned here, who inspire me and make me think. Happy new year to you all!

P.S. All links to products have been removed as most have expired.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Kumquat cheesecake

Gosh and golly, I didn't realised I haven't blogged for over two weeks. I have been taking photos and notes, so hopefully will be back soon to full-time blogging as earlier. Christmas seems already a distant memory (though we are still struggling with the leftovers).
Days before Christmas I have prepared this easy and flavourful not-much-cooking-involved dessert - a kumquat and cranberry cheesecake. The original recipe for cranberry and kumquat cheesecake in a glass appeared in Sainsbury's magazine (December 2012 issue), it used fresh cranberries and looked very festive. I ended up using the recipe as a base and adapting it to our taste and to the ingredients I had available.

Kumquat cheesecake
150g kumquats, halved lengthways
100g caster sugar
1 orange (juice + zest)
80g dried cranberries
2tbsp port
1 pack of Philadelphia cream cheese
1 egg white
80g icing sugar
50ml single cream
2tbsp white chocolate, grated
50g digestive biscuits
40g butter, melted

In a medium pan heat the caster sugar with the orange juice and port, stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the halved kumquats and simmer for 10 minutes, then add the dried cranberries and cook for another five minutes. Leave to cool. You can make it a day ahead.
Crush the biscuits, mix the crumbs with the melted butter and put the mix at the bottom of a wide glass dish.
Whisk together the cream cheese with the icing sugar, grated white chocolate and the egg white. Spoon the cream cheese mix over the biscuit base. Top with the kumquats and cranberries (you will have some syrup left, I used mine just adding to tea instead of sugar).
Chill at least for an hour before serving.
A delightful dessert, which I am going to make again.

This gorgeous "Calories don't count on this spoon" dessert spoon was my prize from Strawberry Fool. I confess it makes me smile.
I was planning to add this recipe to Choclette's We Should Cocoa linky for December, but hey ho, missed the deadline.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Festive star cookies (baking with kids)

"That wasn't an accident, Mama!" (looking at an empty plate, from which all cookies are gone)

What could be better than a baking session on a Saturday?

Cookies before being decorated

Festive cookies
1 medium egg
130g caster sugar
1tsp vanilla essence
1tbsp vanilla syrup (optional)
1tsp cinnamon
375g plain flour + more for dusting the board and rolling pin
1tsp baking powder
240g butter, melted

For decorating:
icing sugar + lemon or orange juice
Jelly bellies, Jelly diamonds, Dr Oetker Soft silver and gold pearls

In a big bowl beat the egg with the sugar and spices. Add the flour, baking powder as well as the melted butter and mix well. Cover the bowl with the dough and place it in the fridge for an hour.
Take the dough out and divide in two. I used one half of the dough for today's baking, the other half went back in the fridge for tomorrow.
Turn the oven on to 180C.
Cover the baking trays with the foil or parchment paper.
Lightly dust the board or working surface with the flour, roll the dough out to 5mm thickness. Using the star cookie cutters, cut out the shapes and lay them on the trays. Scraps can be kneaded together for making more cookies. Bake for 10-15 minutes until the cookies are golden brown. At this stage they are still soft, so be careful handling them. Leave the cookies on the rack to cool completely before decorating.
Make the icing from 4 heaped tbsp of icing sugar and fershly squeezed lemon or orange juice. Add the juice a bit at a time, the icing should be soft, pliable but not too runny.
Decorate with Jelly Bellies, diamonds, soft pearls or any sprinkles.

Eddie decorating the cookies and sampling along the way
I have used Rodda's butter to make the dough for these cookies, if you are using any other brand of butter (unsalted), you might want to add a pinch of salt to the cookie mix.

These cookies won't last very long here, already one of the plates has been polished by my older son.
They are very easy to make, and kids will enjoy taking part.

Festive star cookies

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Cheesy Advents with Primula

Primula Cheese and dips are well known. Fifteen million tubes of Primula cheese are sold in the UK each year, that's a very respectable figure.
"A natural source of calcium and dairy protein, Primula’s spreadable cheese is packed with cheesy goodness.  In fact, Primula contains the highest amount of real cheese of any cheese spread, so you can rest assured that your kids are on their way to getting their daily calcium and protein quota. What’s more, Primula contains no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives and is gluten free.  Plus we use real ham, chives and prawns in the flavoured cheeses. It is suitable for vegetarians (except Ham and Prawn varieties) and is pasteurised, making it suitable for pregnant women. It is also Gluten Free."
Did you know that the recipe for Primula's famous spreadable cheese is a closely guarded secret.
When I told this to my younger son, he asked if it is guarded by the dogs.
Primula was first created in 1924 by Olav Kavli in Bergen, and has been sold in the UK since 1929.

As with many well known products, sometimes you need to look afresh at them to appreciate them more.
The spreads are smooth and go well with crackers, but beyond the crackers and oatcakes and sandwiches, how could you use Primula?

Primula Cheese & Chive spread tube works well in sauces for pasta or as a sauce for meat.
For a quick supper, cook beef with a three-cheese sauce. My original plan was to prepare the steaks with the cheese sauce, but I have started slicing one of the steaks absent-mindedly, and then thought Doh, I'll have to change the plan. So, I cooked a quick stir-fry instead.

Cut the steak into thin strips, heat the oil in the frying pan and add the beef and thinly sliced onion. Season well with sea salt and pepper. Fry for 3 minutes on each side, turning over. Remove the meat, and add the cheese to the onion. I have used a chunk of Stilton (about 80g), half a tube of Primula and grated cheddar (about 2tbsp). Once all the cheese has melted, place the beef back and stir well.
Serve with mashed potatoes or basmati rice and green beans.

Beef in three cheese sauce

Primula can be successfully used as an ingredient in both savoury and sweet dishes.

Treat the family and friends to Primula Santa's Cheese cakes around the fire or wake the family up on Christmas morning with cheesy Breakfast Egg Muffins with Primula’s tasty NEW selection of recipes, featuring every mum’s secret helper; Primula’s scrummy tubes of cheesiness!

My version of Primula Santa's cheese cake

Primula Santa’s Cheese Cakes

Primula Santa Cheese Cakes (photo and recipe courtesy of Primula)

Give the family something to ho ho ho! about with scrumptious bite sized Primula Santa Cheese Cakes – a decadent way of using Primula Original Cheese in your festive baking


1 tube of Primula Original Cheese
4 ginger biscuits
3 digestive biscuits
12 strawberries
60g icing sugar
200ml double cream
50g butter
3 gelatine leaves
1tsp vanilla extract
12 cupcake liners (5cm in diameter)


Melt the butter in a bowl in the microwave for 30 seconds.
Put the digestive and ginger biscuits in a sandwich bag and bash them with a rolling pin until they are a crumbly powder.
Mix the biscuit crumbs with the melted butter until it starts to join together.
Place a spoonful of the biscuit mixture in the base of each cupcake liner and press down firmly to the bottom using a teaspoon until each base is roughly 1cm in thickness. It is easier to pop the liners in a cupcake-baking tray, as they will keep their shape. Place in the fridge to set whilst you make the cheese mix.
Squeeze Primula Original Cheese into a mixing bowl and add the icing sugar and vanilla extract. Mix to a smooth consistency.
In a separate bowl whip up 150ml double cream until it stands in stiff peaks. Fold the cream into the cheese mixture.
Follow the gelatine mix as described on the packaging and stir thoroughly through the cheese.
Take the bases from the fridge and spoon in the cheesecake mix on top (2.5cm thick) and place inside the fridge to set overnight.
Take the cheesecakes out of the fridge and remove the liners. To decorate, cut the tops off 12 strawberries. Place the strawberries upside down on the top to look like a Santa hat.
Whip up the remaining double cream, until it stands in stiff peaks and put into a piping bag. Pipe a tiny decorative silver ball on the top of every strawberry and a ring of balls around the base. This will look like the fur parts of the hat! Serve and enjoy!

For more recipes and product information visit Primula.
You can also follow Primula on Facebook.
Disclosure: I received two tubes of Primula for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are mine.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Alfresco Smoked Cooking Chorizo (Unearthed)

I often buy Unearthed prosciutto and olives, and was pleased to read that their range of products has expanded recently. One of the latest additions to the range is Alfresco Smoked Cooking Chorizo. This spicy Spanish cured pork sausage is seasoned with paprika. It works as a splendid ingredient in stews and casseroles.

Croutons with chorizo

These short sausages have a smoky aftertaste and are oozing with a paprika-favoured oil when cooked. Just add a handful to roast potatoes for a lovely kick.

The first dish I tried them in was Chicken with chorizo and dates. I fancied a combination of sweet and spicy.

Chicken with chorizo and dates
half a chicken, cut into pieces
2 chorizo sausages
2 carrots
1 parsnip
1 leek
1 sweet pepper
a handful of chopped dates (about 80g) plus several whole dates
1 orange, sliced + juice of 1/2 orange
1tbsp Wild Rose el hanout spice mix
olive oil
sea salt with rose petals
rice to serve
As I buy a whole chicken once a week, I tend to use one half for soups, and another for different dishes, like stews, casseroles etc. You can use several chicken legs or thighs instead, rather than half a chicken cut into pieces.
In a hot pan fry pieces of well seasoned chicken. Once browned on both sides, remove the chicken and place in a roasting tray with the sliced vegetables and skinned & chopped chorizo. Add the dates, spices and slices of orange & orange juice and place the tray in the oven preheated to 180C. Cook for about half an hour or a bit more, stirring once or twice during this time.
Serve with basmati rice.

I haven't bought BBC Good Food magazine for a while, so I'm not sure if they still feature the recipe suggestions for the so called Cheat's Dinners. I enjoyed reading their menu ideas for those who cannot/won't cook/are short of time etc.

My recipe suggestion for the butternut squash soup with chorizo croutons is along the same lines.
Cook a bit, "cheat" a bit. I had a tub of Glorious New England butternut squash soup in the fridge that needed using as well as a couple of slices of ciabatta left from the previous day.

You need a tub of soup (600g) or the equivalent amount of homemade butternut squash soup, 1 small chorizo sausage, two slices of ciabatta, 1 tbsp olive oil, a few sprigs of thyme.
Slice the ciabatta into small cubes. Skin and chop the chorizo. Quickly fry it for a couple of minutes in a frying pan, add the croutons and drizzle the olive oil over the croutons. Mix everything well, keep stirring until the bread is crispy. Add the thyme too (optional).
Serve the hot soup with the croutons and pieces of chorizo scattered in the dish.
It was very tasty, and anyone can make it.

Butternut squash soup with chorizo croutons

And if you have time and energy to cook more sophisticated dishes, how about this beautiful casserole?

Chicken and chorizo casserole

If you like what you see in this mouthwatering photo above, you might want to read the recipe for Portuguese chicken and chorizo casserole.

For more information and recipe ideas visit Unearthed.

Disclosure: I received a pack of chorizo for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are mine.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

A tale of a stolen Christmas wreath (with a happy end)

Once upon a time there was a little boy, and his name was Eddie. He loved everything about Christmas. Christmas tree and all the baubles made him ecstatic. So he was very glad to have a Christmas wreath attached to the front door at the beginning of December. Eddie was very proud of it, and it was truly a beautiful wreath, made of branches with little red apples. Very festive, with a touch of "merrie olde England" look. Probably not the most magnificent wreath in the neighbourhood, but much loved and admired by Eddie and family.

One day (last Sunday, to be precise) the wreath was gone. It looked like it was stolen by some heartless person who didn't think that stealing Christmas wreaths was wrong on so many levels. Eddie was saddened, Mama was upset, two older men in the family shrugged their shoulders and mumbled that it was not the end of the world. Yes, it wasn't the end of the world, but pretty upsetting nevertheless for people who care about such things.

So, indignant Mama wrote a note and stuck it on the door with the scotch tape. The note read "Whoever stole our Christmas wreath, hope you enjoy it" (she was very tempted to add "low life" but resisted, but she did swear under her breath, that's Mama for you).
The next day they got some sympathetic comments from the school bus driver and assistant and some neighbours, who expressed their disbelief at the un-Christmasy spirit of the thief. What next? Stealing the mince pie and a glass of milk left for Santa?
Mama ran around a few shops to find the wreath that she liked the look of, but was appalled at the prices, and came home empty-handed. She complained to her friends on Facebook and got a lot of supportive comments from kind people.

In the evening Papa arrived home from work and beckoned Mama to the front door, saying Have you seen the door? Mama opened the door, and stopped in her tracks. There, attached to the door knocker, was a shiny new Christmas wreath, colourful and festive, and a little note tucked under her own note which said "Sorry to hear of your loss: Probably not as good as your original one, but maybe acceptable as a temporary replacement!" The note was not signed. The mystery benefactor didn't want to reveal their name or be thanked in person.

Mama was amazed, touched and moved. Eddie was delighted to have a new beautiful wreath.
She wrote another note, thanking the lovely person for their wonderful gift and their kindness, and wishing them a Merry Christmas.

The beauty of the act of kindness is that they didn't expect us to reciprocate. And this little miracle happened in our street.