Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Orange Polenta Cake

When Chris from Cooking Around the World announced the current cooking challenge, I liked the idea of travelling to Mexico (purely by means of cook books and online recipes). I have found lots of inspiring dessert recipes including the orange and almond cake as well as the polenta cake.This recipe is something in-between as it uses the ingredients from both cakes plus I had a lovely stash of juicy and sweet blood oranges delivered from Abel and Cole that I wanted to incorporate in the recipe.
So, it is more of a Mexico-inspired recipe rather than an authentic one.

Orange Polenta Cake
3 oranges (including 2 blood oranges)
4 eggs
200g caster sugar
200g butter, melted
100g self-raising flour
50g ground almonds
80g polenta
1 tsp baking powder

juice of 1/2 orange
4 tbsp icing sugar
2 tbsp granulated sugar
2 blood oranges

Zest 2 oranges. In a big mixing bowl beat the eggs with the caster sugar and orange zest.
Squeeze the juice from 3 oranges. Add 2/3 to the bowl. Add the flour, baking powder, ground almonds, polenta, melted butter and mix well.
Grease the 20cm round cake tin. Pour the mix in the tin and place the tin in the oven preheated to 180C.

Bake for about 50-60mins (check if it's ready with a wooden skewer). I have covered the cake with the foil for the second half of the baking session.
Once ready, let it cool in the tin slightly before taking it out.
Mix the icing sugar with the orange juice (from 1/2 orange) and drizzle all over the top and sides.
Slice two blood oranges and cook them in the sugar syrup made with the remaining orange juice.
Decorate the cake with the orange slices and drizzle the remaining syrup on top.

The polenta gives the cake a slightly different texture, a bit coarse. Plus the top is a bit on the crisp side. My guys loved it. I baked it yesterday, and by now it's almost all gone. I am always happy when Sasha eats my cakes, for me that's the highest seal of approval.

Marvellous Chris from Cooking Around the World continues his culinary trip round the world, stopping in Mexico this time. I'm bringing my Mexico-inspired cake to his judgment.

Oranges seem to be very popular this month in the blogland. Baking queens Karen from Lavender and Lovage (this month's host) and Kate from What Kate Baked have chosen Citrus Fruits for their January Tea Time Treats challenge.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Pale Henry (The Tiny Twisted Tales)

Do you children enjoy the macabre stories? Do they find disgusting things amusing? Are they delighted to read the spooky and scary books? The Tiny Twisted Tales by Calvin Innes is a collection of weird stories that would appeal to the lovers of all things strange and bizarre.

Take a young boy called Henry. He spends all his time hiding under the duvet in the attic. His parents have clearly given up on him and don't clean the attic which hosts a whole army of spiders and moths.

He spent all of his days,
in his room in the loft.
With the insects and spiders,
and dusty old moths.

Henry looks longinly out of the attic window and can see children playing and enjoying themselves, but his fears stop him from joining in. He looks as white as a sheet, hence the title of the book- Pale Henry.
One day Henry decides that enough is enough. He bravely conquers his fears and goes out to join the children who mercifully don't mock his unusual appearance and accept his difference. Henry gains his confidence, acquires new friends and loses his pallid looks.

The end of the book of verses is rather endearing and amusing. Despite the fact that Henry enjoys playing with the children during the week, he is as happy to spend his weekends back in the comfort of his attic, with the cat and insects for company.
The message that this book sends is that it is OK to be different and true to yourself. There is no need to conform.
It is reassuring for children to read that being different is perfectly acceptable and that it is "fun to be normal... but not all the time"

This book is written and illustrated by Calvin Innes who has been creating the world of unusual characters his whole life. His artistic portfolio is impressive.

My boys enjoyed the books from the series a lot, as they both take delight in gruesome and macabre subjects. They are entertaining, amusing and playful. As a more discerning critic than my gang, I found the poetry rather wobbly and uneven. Diverting and charming these books might be, but poetry-wise, there is a room for improvement. Saying that, I agree with the main message of Pale Henry: be yourself.

If you liked this review, you might enjoy reading reviews of Calvin Innes books written by the other parenting bloggers, like
The Mini Mes and Me
Emma's Little World
The Only Boy in the House

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Pancakes for Findus

It was Cheryl from Madhouse family reviews blog who started a Findus-mania in our house. I have read her review of the book "Findus Moved Out" by Sven Nordqvist and knew that it would appeal to Eddie. I was right, Eddie loved the story so much that I have bought a few books from the series since then. The latest addition to our Findus collection was "Pancakes for Findus" (we started reading the series in the wrong order but that didn't diminish our great pleasure).
If you haven't yet discovered Findus and Pettson Series from Hawthorn Press, I even slightly envy you that great feeling of thrill and excitement when you open a new book and realise that this is something very special.
Findus is a very unusual cat, he wears stripey trousers and can talk. His companion farmer Pettson is a slightly nutty old man who treats the cat as his own child. They are both endearing characters.
Looking back at the list of books I read in 2012, I would say this was my discovery of the year in the literature for children category.
Sven Nordqvist's narrative is always ingenious, original, entertaining and has a quirky charm. The illustrations are absolutely brilliant, with great attention to detail. Each page is a magical journey into the world of cranky old Pettson, his cat Findus and his household of chickens and muckles (fantastic mischievous little creatures which reminded me of Tove Jansson's Moomins).
Eddie doesn't get tired of listening to the delightful Findus stories, and I must confess, I read them with great pleasure too. We love to sit snuggled together on the bed, poring over the pages and having a giggle at the madcap adventures of the odd duo.

Pancake Day recipe

The other day while shopping in Sainsbury's, I saw a big stash of pancake pans at half price. I put one in the basket and told Eddie we'd get some pancakes done Findus-style on Sunday. Lo and behold, at 7am in the morning Eddie started telling me it was time to get up and make pancakes with cream and jam. Like Findus. I tried to persuade him it was way too early, and let's have a little lie-in, but he kept reminding me of my promise.

With the kind permission of the publisher, I am sharing a Pancake pie recipe.

Pancake recipe
5 eggs
600ml/2.5 cups milk
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
500ml/2 cups flour
100ml/0.5 cups water
2 tbsp butter
200ml/0.8 cups double cream

1. Mix the 5 eggs, half the milk, sugar and salt.
2. Add the flour and mix until smooth with no lumps. Add the remaining milk and water. Leave to sit for a moment.
3. In a frying pan melt the butter and add this to the mix so that you don't have to use so much butter between pourings. Cook the pancakes and let them cool.
4. Whip the cream. Spread the cream and jam alternately on the pancakes. Decorate.

I haven't followed the recipe precisely. I used only 3 eggs and less of all the other ingredients, as I was not sure we'll eat the whole lot in one go (obviously Findus and Pettson have very hearty appetites), and I wouldn't want to reheat the pancakes that have cream on them. I can't tell you the exact quantities, as I don't usually measure any ingredients for pancakes, mixing until I get the desired consistency of the batter.
Here is my stash of pancakes before the cream and jam were added.

Here is my little man looking at our pancake construction with admiration.

I have found a perfect cream for the recipe: Weight Watchers West country thick cream (reduced fat), the consistency of the cream was just right, not too runny and light enough.
As for the jam, I used the wild strawberry jam that my Mum makes, it is more runny in comparison to the shop-bought varieties and thus ideal for pouring over ice cream or pancakes.

The idea is that you slice the pancake pie like you do with a cake, but we just rolled each pancake into a tube and ate. It was absolutely delicious.
And I also want to persuade you to read the story how Pettson made a pancake pie for Findus, it is utterly hilarious. I know you will fall in love with the cheeky cat Findus and grumpy old Pettson.

Pancake day recipe

Adding this recipe to #CookitBlogit linky on The Diary of a Frugal Family blog (very inspiring), as it sounds like my motto.

And the more the merrier, there is a new linky open for all the cakey goodness on lovely Mummy Mishaps blog.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Vegetarian golubtsy

To separate apples from oranges, I decided to do two blog posts for the golubtsy, vegetarian recipe independently from the non-vegetarian, so as to keep both camps happy.

Vegetarian golubtsy
1 medium to big cabbage (white & round)
200g cooked rice (you can use Veetee jasmine rice)
1 medium carrot
1 finely chopped onion
300g fresh chestnut mushrooms
3 tbsp butter
black pepper
a small tub of soured cream
2 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tsp dried mint or parsley
3 small tomatoes
olives to serve (optional)

Thinly slice the carrot and onion and fry with the small amount of butter/oil until the onion is translucent. Chop and fry the mushrooms for 5 minutes. Mix all the ingredients: cooked rice, carrot, onion, mushrooms, add salt and pepper. Leave it to cool.
In the meantime prepare the cabbage. Place the cabbage in the salted hot boiling water for 5 minutes, then take it out, and remove the leaves carefully, try not to tear them. If the inner leaves are sitting too tight, place the cabbage back in the boiling water for another 5 minutes. Once you have a stash of leaves, put them all, one by one back in the pot and cook for about 5 minutes. Take them out of the water and drain in the colander.
Now each cabbage leaf will be your envelope for the stuffing. Flatten each leaf and depending on the size of the leaf place 1+ tbsp of the stuffing. Fold the cabbage leaf like an envelope. If it is not big enough and doesn't want to stay put as a pocket, you might use the cotton thread to wrap around the envelope to keep it together while cooking.
The next step: melt 1 tbsp of butter in the frying pan and fry the golubtsy about 4-5 mins on each side.
Take a deep ceramic or glass oven dish and put all the stuffed cabbage envelopes together. Add a bit of water and the pot of the soured cream mixed with the ketchup and dried mint. Chop a few small tomatoes and add on top of the golubtsy. Add the remaining 1 tbsp of butter on top. Cover the dish with a lid and cook at 180C for about 45 minutes.
Remove the cotton thread before serving.

Serve hot with a slice of lemon, green olives and a chunk of good bread.

The Soviet cook book "Kulinariya" published in 1955 gives several great suggestions for the golubtsy:

a. Make the stuffing with the fried thinly sliced carrot and onion, chopped hard boiled eggs, rice and dill. Serve in the milk-based white sauce (bechamel-style)

b. Chop the quince finely, cook in boiling water with a bit of sugar, mix with the fried thinly sliced carrot, onion, raisins, cooked rice and dill. The white sauce is made, using the water in which the quince was cooked. The book also suggests a substitute for the quince: pears or apples. The cabbage stuffed wit this mix is served with a dish of icing sugar, mixed with the cinnamon. I haven't tried this version, but it sounds quite unusual and I might experiment with it one day, though I am not sure how the cabbage will work with the icing sugar.

c. Vegetables like carrots, aubergine, sweet pepper, tomatoes are sliced and fried and mixed with the cooked rice. The sauce is made with the soured cream.

d. Then there's the variation which uses the cottage cheese with the rice: mix them with the chopped hard boiled egg, serve in the soured cream sauce with lots of fresh dill or parsley.

I have also found some recipes on the Russian vegetarian forums which use tofu but personally I don't like it (I don't dislike it but let's say, I am indifferent to it). But if tofu is your thing, then try it instead of the mushrooms.

Golubtsy: the ultimate comfort food from Russia

Golubtsy (stuffed cabbage leaves) is a traditional Russian dish which goes back to the 18C. The name itself means "little pigeons". Apparently the original recipe from France used the pigeons wrapped in the cabbage leaves, but I don't know if this theory holds water.

I've been reading my old Russian cook books, as I wanted to refresh my memory of the golubtsy recipes, but the 1950s editions are not entirely suitable for a family of 4, all the recipes are catering for big families, almost a whole kolkhoz. It was a fascinating read though, and the list of ingredients confirmed what I had in mind.

M. Bogatyrev, First celebration in kolkhoz, 1930s.

Golubtsy (cabbage envelopes stuffed with meat and rice)
1 big cabbage (white & round)
200g cooked rice (or 1/2 dried basmati rice which you would cook as normally)
1 medium carrot
1 finely chopped onion
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
500g minced beef and pork (50-50)
80g butter
1/2 mug of vegetable stock
black pepper
250ml of soured cream
1 tbsp tomato ketchup
3 tbsp plain flour (optional)

Fry the minced beef and pork for about 10 minutes (some chefs prefer to add the raw minced meat to the stuffing) with the chopped garlic, add salt and pepper.
Thinly slice the carrot and onion and fry with 1tbsp of butter until the onion is translucent. Mix all the ingredients: cooked rice, carrot, onion and minced meat. Leave it to cool.
In the meantime prepare the cabbage. Place the cabbage in the salted hot boiling water for 5 minutes, then take it out, and remove the leaves carefully, try not to tear them. If the inner leaves are sitting too tight, place the cabbage back in the boiling water for another 5 minutes. Once you have a stash of leaves, put them all, one by one back in the pot and cook for about 5 minutes. Take them out of the water and drain in the colander.
Now each cabbage leaf will be your envelope for the stuffing. Flatten each leaf and depending on the size of the leaf place 1+ tbsp of the stuffing. Fold the cabbage leaf like an envelope. If it is not big enough and doesn't want to stay put as a pocket, you might use the cotton thread to wrap around the envelope to keep it together while cooking.
The next step: melt 1 tbsp of butter in the frying pan and fry the golubtsy about 4-5 mins on each side.
Optional step: dip each cabbage pocket in the plain flour before frying.
Take a deep ceramic or glass oven dish and put all the stuffed cabbage envelopes together.

I should also add that you will most likely have some stuffing left, depending on the size of the cabbage (I did, as the leaves were getting smaller and smaller). It would keep well in the fridge for another day, and you can add it to the sweet pepper and roast them as stuffed. Or put in the freezer in the plastic container until needed.

 Add a bit of water or stock and the pot of the soured cream mixed with the ketchup. Add the remaining butter on top. Cover the dish with a lid and cook at 180C for about 45 minutes.
Remove the cotton thread before serving.
Serve hot with a chunk of good bread.

Irakli Iosebashvili was waxing lyrical about this traditional Russian dish in The Telegraph:

"The differences between Russian and French cuisine are many, but here’s one of the most important: French food is urbane, beckoning you forward while staying a few steps ahead, like a mysterious, beautiful woman; Russian food is like your mother, smothering you with love.

Golubtsy, or stuffed cabbage, is perhaps the most homely of Russian dishes. For most children of the Soviet Union, golubtsy evokes memories of mother or grandma and long, comforting meals in a warm kitchen" (to read the full article, please follow this link, it is worth reading, though I question the amount of minced meat used in that recipe, half a pound of each minced beef and pork would hardly fit in one cabbage).

If you are not keen on doing your own golubtsy but would still like to try them, then you might consider visiting the Russian restaurant Mari Vanna in London. Fiona from London Unattached has done a very entertaining review of Mari Vanna, with lots of lovely photos.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

A snowy day in January

I've gone soft. It is only minus 1C, and I say: Oh, it is cold. My nieces who live in Russia would laugh at me. They go to the nursery and school at minus 27C, wrapped up against the cold. They happily play outdoors in the snow at minus 20C and lower, skating, sledging, sliding and having fun. Here we have a small scattering of snow, and everyone panics, oh look, it's snowing. 10cm of snow, and the schools are closed. Pathetic really. Every winter snow comes as a big surprise. The local district council can't cope, and it's not just our small town.
There are happy little people though who enjoy the snow and get excited at the sight of a snowdrift. Take my little man Eddie. As soon as he saw the snow, he was ready to go out and dig. I could not find any matching gloves or mittens for Eddie, so he had to wear one mitten and one glove, but that didn't bother him.

We went out exploring into the garden, which looked totally transformed, white and magical.

After watching the Snowman and the Snowdog on Christmas, Eddie has been dreaming about building our own snowdog. Alas, the snow has been too fluffy and soft for us to be able to build anything, it kept falling apart. All we managed to do was a funny squashed fiasco which we named a snow chicken.

Sasha refused to go out with us when I invited him, but after a while his curiosity won over, he peeked out of the back door, but as he was still in his PJs, I shooed him back indoors.

I love snow, it reminds me of Russia and long truly cold winters. I remember one New Year's eve when it was minus 54C (I think it was the coldest winter in my memory). We were going to celebrate with my parents' friends. Mum made sure we were wrapped up well, the faces covered with the warm scarves, only eyes peeking from above the scarf, and went out for a walk to the friends' house. And it was fun. Maybe because we were kids, it all seemed like an adventure and not a big deal. I cannot imagine now going out at -54C with my kids.
Or how cool it was to have an ice cream outdoors in winter. Or skating with a friend and enjoying the crisp air and eating the chocolate truffles which were as hard as rocks in the cold. Falling in the snowdrift and not being able to get up, as the snow was so deep and laughing at myself. Country-skiing at school and again getting stuck in the snow with a friend, when we tried to cheat and not go the whole way trying to climb over the huge snowdrift to the other side of the track when nobody was looking, by the time we managed to get out of that snow, we were abysmally late.
Frolicking in the snow is one of the things that you have to experience at least once in your lifetime.


Sunday, 20 January 2013

Family favourites: all-in-one roast chicken

If your family is anything like my guys, every time I go to the kitchen to cook dinner, I am immediately requested to go back to the sitting-room to put the DVD on or clean someone's nose, change the music, find the book, help to retrieve the toy that got stuck behind the radiator etc etc. I love cooking elaborate dishes, but even more I love easy meals, when you sort of chuck everything together and don't have to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. This recipe for all-in-one roast chicken is as quick and easy as possible. There are no set rules, and the ingredients vary on what veg and fruit we have. Spices and marinade ingredients could be different as well. One day it is more lemony, the other time I add a spoonful of Dijon mustard. Onion could be substituted with leeks, pears with hard cooking apples.

All-in-one roast chicken (serves 4+)
For the marinade
zest of 1 orange
2tbps olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tsp wild rose el hanout spice mix
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp honey

about 800g chicken thighs
2 pears
1 big red onion
1 medium carrot
4-5 chestnut mushrooms

2 sweet peppers
1 pack of Tilda basmati rice (lime and coriander)

Quickly pan-fry the chicken pieces, about 5 minutes on each side.
Mix the marinade from all the ingredients: olive oil, grated zest, honey, crushed garlic, wild rose el hanout and lemon juice.
Cut the carrots in chunks, slice an onion and pears into 6 pieces. Put the veg/fruit and chicken in a ceramic tray or deep Pyrex and pour in the marinade. Using hands, rub the marinade into the meat and veg. Set aside for about 20 minutes.
Place the tray in the oven preheated to 180C and roast the chicken & veg for about 25 minutes. Check the chicken at least once, turning the pieces over.

Add the chopped mushrooms for the last 10 minutes of cooking. Serve with the roast sweet peppers stuffed with Tilda basmati rice. To cook the peppers, slice them in two, remove the seeds and place into the roast tins or ceramic dishes, drizzle with the olive oil and add some salt if wanted. Roast for 15 mins at 180C. Take the tray out, spoon the rice inside the pepper, and add a bit of water or a squeeze of orange juice. Roast for another 15 minutes.

BritMums has teamed up with Tilda to promote its initiative with the WFP in donating 300,000 meals to mothers in Bangladesh, to give their unborn children the best start in life. Low birth weight can seriously affect babies’ physical and cognitive development, so it’s essential they receive vital nutrition from the start.

For every specially marked pack sold of Tilda Pure Basmati Rice (1kg), Tilda will provide one nutritious meal to a new or expectant mum. In addition, Tilda will also be launching a Mums Helping Mums Cookbook app, available to download from the Tilda website from 1st March.

This post is part of the #FaveFamilyRecipes Competition with BritMums and Tilda Rice. Every pack sold will provide a meal to an expectant mum in need in support of the World Food Programme’s Mothers Helping Mothers initiative in Bangladesh

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

First... Then... poems from planet autism by Melinda Smith

If I were giving out prizes for literary achievements for 2012, I would have awarded Melinda Smith's book "First... Then..." as a discovery of the year in the poetry category. I have first come across Melinda's poem which gave the title to this unique book back in September 2011 (you can read my old blog post as well as the poem here) and was eagerly awaiting for the book to be published.
Imagine my delight when the book arrived from the publisher.
I have greedily swallowed it in one go, then started re-reading, piece by piece, randomly opening the pages and discovering new meanings and finding new food for thought.

This book of poems is all about life with autism. It gives a deep insight in what it is to be a parent of a child on the spectrum. But not just that. As the title suggests, you will hear different voices from planet autism, this planet which is so close and so distant at the same time. Some of the poems speak for those who have no voice to speak for themselves, like my non-verbal son.

Melinda Smith writes in the foreword to the book that she has been "engaging in the time-honoured creative practice of standing in the shoes of my fellow humans in the hope that we may all start to better understand each other."

I have read "First... Then..." poem many times, and each time it makes me emotional, as it is true on so many levels.

Or take "Brain Weather (Autistic Meltdown Ground Zero)":

When was it that       your frontal lobe
Cauterised      itself against your     will
leaving you endless     automised local           storms
with no way      to blow them    -selves out?

When my son Sasha has meltdowns for no apparent reason, I can sense he's sometimes as bewildered by having them, as if they truly come and go against his will. If he were verbal, he might have vented his frustration in a rant, but he doesn't have this luxury, the inside storms cause the meltdowns.

I have also written about "Autistic Acrostic" earlier last year and it still strikes me as a powerful poem. This is another poem about which I'd like to say: I wish I wrote it. It is about me. About the way I often feel helpless, vulnerable and desperate. In such a short space Melinda managed to encompass the world.

Melinda has a great gift of writing on behalf of her fellow humans. Like any great writer, she is full of compassion and understanding. Reading "Autistic child with acute auditory processing disorder" allows you to gain an insight on what it feels when you have a sensory overload:

"at a birthday party, buried under cushions and wailing like a siren
trying to say I can't stand it, the music and the voices
are tearing at me, pecking me apart"

We don't do birthday parties anymore, Sasha's or any other child's, they are an instrument of torture for him and what is the point of a party if you cannot enjoy it.

"in my bedroom after school, kicking my baby sister in the face
trying to say go away, go away, you're noisy, you're unpredictable
I've been clinging to a cliff face for six hours
and you're dangling yourself from my ankles"

That is exactly how Sasha feels, he's been enduring the school for hours. The last thing he wants when he comes home from school is the attentions of his little brother. And though he doesn't kick his younger brother, he doesn't welcome his embraces either, especially after he arrives home from "work", from being surrounded by a group of adults and children, some of whom can be very loud and noisy. And yes, anything or anyone unpredictable could be scary and uncomfortable.

The rhyme and style of "What the child hears" reminded me of Eric Carle's soothing rhythms of "Polar bear, polar bear, what do you hear?". In a way it is a homage to a children's favourite, with the same rolling sounds and a chain of animal characters.

"A prehistory of autism" is simply beautiful. It was inspired by Temple Grandin's quote "The first stone spear... was probably invented by an Aspie who chipped away at rocks while the other people socialised around the campfire". Each verse is a story in itself, creating a portrait of a prehistoric human. Clever and imaginative.

Melinda Smith takes the traditional metrical patterns of poetry and extends them to the breaking point, when they acquire an aesthetic virtuosity. Rhyme, assonance and alliteration work to evoke emotive responses from the readers. Each poem challenges our understanding of autism.

Each poem tells a story and is an inkling of what it is to inhabit the planet autism.

"I prefer" (to read the poem in full, please follow this link) is written from the point of view of a child with autism, and I imagine it could have been my son's litany and invocations of preferences:

"(I prefer)
torture to haircuts
libraries to birthday parties
standing ankle-deep in ocean...
looking at things out of the corner of my eye...
death to dentist visits...
not to see my school friends outside of school...
truth to sarcasm

to be left alone"

Melinda Smith is an inspirational poet and a linguistic virtuoso. She is a unique voice from planet autism.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Brownies with marrons glacé

I must confess I had this box of marrons glacé staring at me accusingly from the top shelf of the kitchen cupboard for over a year. I got it in the after-Christmas sales and then decided I didn't fancy it after all. So, it was sitting there and glaring at me: when are you going to open the box? The expiry date came and went, and I still did nothing. A couple of days ago, I tentatively picked the box from its place, opened the sealed candied chestnuts and decided that they were still good enough to eat.

Brownies with marrons glacé
3 eggs
100g dark chocolate
100g milk chocolate with sea salt
orange zest from 1 orange
2 heaped tbsp of cocoa
120g butter, melted
100g brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
125g self-raising flour
120g chopped marrons glacé

Beat the eggs with the granulated sugar in a deep mixing bowl. Melt the chocolate with butter in a bowl over the hot water, making sugar the bowl doesn't touch the boiling water. Chop the marrons glacé. Add all the ingredients to the big mixing bowl, and mix well.
Take a square/rectangular tray and line with the foil or parchment paper, buttering it well.
Pour the contents of the mixing bowl in the tray.
Put the tray in the oven preheated to 180C and bake for about 20 mins.

Once cooked, take it out of the tray (just lift with the foil) and let it cool before cutting into squares. We are an impatient lot, so I started cutting while the brownies were still hot.
Serve warm or cold, with cream or without.

Now what can I make with a jar of mincemeat which has been given to me 3 years ago? ;)

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Low-cal turkey schnitzel

I had a discussion recently with a friend who complained that all skinny meals were boring and lacking in flavour. And I agree with her to some extent: many ready-made low-cal meals are truly insipid and quite tasteless. Last year our local free paper was running a competition to win a 3-months-worth of supply of meals from Weight to Go. I was pleased to have won the prize, but most of the dishes were disappointing, I often found myself adding salt and spices to the soups that tasted of nothing and incredibly bland pasta dishes. But low-cal food doesn't have to be like that.

Low-cal turkey schnitzel
2 turkey fillets
4 tsp of honey mustard
1/2 tbsp oil
bread crumbs
salt and pepper

Typically a schnitzel is not exactly a diet food, what with all the oil, egg glaze and bread crumbs, it is pretty packed with calories. But you can definitely tweak the recipe and turn it into a low-cal version.

First, go for a turkey fillet. Turkey is a lean meat and can be quite bland.
Instead of dipping it in the egg before coating it with the bread crumbs, spread the mustard on both sides of each fillet and put in a shallow dish filled with the bread crumbs. Press slightly so that the crumbs stick well to the schnitzel. Season well with salt and pepper. Instead of frying it in oil, bake the turkey fillets. Put the foil inside the baking tray and add literally a drop of oi, then spread it over the foil. Place the tray in the oven preheated to 180C and bake for about 20 minutes. Check with a wooden skewer that they are ready.

Serve with the roast peppers, baked apples and kohlrabi. Kohlrabi can be par-boiled first in salted water, then baked in the oven. Add a small amount of grated parmesan for the last 5 minutes of cooking.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Crunchy Munchies: Jordans Super Berry Country Crisp

When it comes to a breakfast routine I am a "grab-a-cup-of-tea-and-a-toast" girl. I guess I am not very keen on cereals that go soggy and look like something my grandma used to prepare as a feed for pigs. So, it was with some hesitation that I decided to try Jordans Super Berry Country Crisp. Will it stand the test on sogginess? 

Each box of Jordans Super Berry Country Crisps contains golden baked oat clusters with freeze-dried blackcurrants, cranberries and blueberries. 
I have read the following information on the box with approval:
- no added salt
- high in fibre
- no artificial falvourings, colourings or preservatives
- non-GM

The cereal looks very appetizing and has a lovely delicate sweet smell. There is plenty of berries, as you can see from the image below. The oats come in pretty clusters as promised.

Now, the moment of truth: will it or won't it go soggy, when milk is added. I was pleased to discover that the clusters stayed crispy and crunchy. They had a pleasant almondy quality to them. The berries added a lovely zing and a slight tart note. Overall, a very nice taste and combination of flavours and nutty & crunchy textures. The cranberries give the cereal a Christmasy/seasonal appearance, but of course, you can have it all year round.

All in all, a very good cereal for breakfast or for after school munchies.
My guys actually prefer to eat cereals as snacks, dipping fingers in little bowls. Eddie drinks milk from a glass, Sasha doesn't drink milk. They both were happy to chomp on the oat clusters and dried berries.

And one more piece of information that I found impressive: "Jordans is the only cereal company which insists its farmers dedicate 10% of their land to create homes for British wildlife, like barn owls."

So, if like me, you try to avoid soggy cereals (we won't be naming names), then this is a cereal for you.

Monday, 7 January 2013

A few of my favourite things giveaway (NOW CLOSED)

For no particular reason, just because it's grey and miserable outside and the school holidays are over, I am running a giveaway for my blog readers.

One lucky winner will receive a Dramatic (in their words, not mine) eye defining trio which includes a defining eye pencil (black), an intensifying lash lover aka a mascara in black and one and only eye colour (which looks pretty much like black to me, but is probably dark grey). One hell of a trio to get you a smoky hot look.
You will also have a chance to read a book by M C Beaton "Snobbery with violence". If you are a fan of Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth series, you might enjoy this tale of aristos, servants and murder. This is a kind of light-hearted literature that I read when my kids are finally asleep and my brain is too tired to read anything too deep.

To enjoy your book in tranquility, there is a box of Twinings Jasmine Pearls, a gorgeous green tea which comes in whole leaf silky pyramids (if you want to find out more about this tea, please read my review). And there are two boxes of flavoured gourmet Jelly Beans: mint beans coated in Belgian dark chocolate and raspberry beans coated in Belgian white chocolate.

To be entered in the giveaway, please leave two comments on my blog (please remember, two, if you leave one, it won't count as an entry).

1. Please indulge my gossipy nature and tell me which gifts did you get for Christmas? or which gift has given you the most or the least pleasure? or which gift you enjoyed giving to someone else the most (any of these questions).
2. Please leave a comment under any other of my older blog posts.

And that's it. You don't have to follow my blog to be entered in the giveaway, though if you do, I'll be delighted of course.

If I get more than 50 comments, I will also add a bar of chocolate.

This is not a sponsored giveaway, all the goodies are bought by me personally, and I am not promoting any brand in particular. As the title says, just a few of my favourite things: I enjoy a good book with a cuppa tea and something to nibble.

It is open to the UK residents only.

The c/d is as given above in the title, 7 February 2012, the winner, chosen randomly from all the entrants, will be contacted after the closing date.

Good luck!


Thank you all for your lovely comments, I read them all with great interest.
The names went in the Raffle King.

And the winner is... a round of applause for the lucky lady!

Well done, Linda! I will contact you re your address details.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Saffron turkey

I love reading about historical recipes. In the era "before children" I could indulge myself by throwing big costumed parties, and for my 30th birthday we had a Tudor-themed party (long before this historical period was sexed up and became trendy thanks to the highly inaccaurate The Tudors TV series). I remember searching the library books and browsing the online sources, looking for the authentic recipes of the period. I have found some fascinating recipes and was trying to impress my guests with a variety of dishes including a cake baked with dried marigold petals among many other things.

It is with great interest that I read a historical roast turkey recipe on one of my favourite foodie blogs, Lavender and Lovage, written by the brilliant Karen Burns-Booth. The recipe itself is called Gilded Saffron and Butter Basted Turkey (doesn't the title itself make you think of the colourful feasts and rowdy courtiers tucking into their meals with gusto?). I confess in the end I haven't followed the recipe precisely, but it definitely inspired me to cook our Christmas turkey with a difference.

I meant to do this blog post just after Christmas, but with the holidays on, kids taking turns at being poorly, this and that, I haven't had a chance until now. But it's not too late if you take a Russian Christmas into account, which happens to be tomorrow.
We had a guest for our Christmas lunch, an 85-year-old lady from Oxford, an old friend, whom I have known for more than 20 years. We met many years ago, when she visited my home town in Russia, she kept in touch, writing beautiful letters and sending books for me. When I came to the UK to study and later got married, we became even closer friends. She has become my English family. Sadly, her health has become rather frail recently. I was thrilled when she agreed to come for lunch on Christmas. We have arranged for a taxi to bring her and her carer over and then take back home after the meal. I was quite stressed that morning, trying to get everything ready for the exact time, with Eddie being poorly, me having a headache etc Then as I was going to bring the turkey in, my friend felt unwell, so excuse the poor quality of the photos, it was all so rushed, I had no time or chance to take any proper photos.

As there weren't many of us for lunch, I got a turkey crown rather than a whole turkey. But even the crown was almost 2kg in weight.

2kg turkey crown
vodka (just enough to mix with saffron)
2 tbsp of softened butter + more
1/2 orange
5 rashers of unsmoked streaky bacon

I didn't use the eggs for the glaze (or decorate with a garland) like Karen did in her stunning recipe, mine is a simplified, bastardised version. But it was delicious anyway, the turkey meat was moist and saffron-flavoured, plus it had a very pretty colour too.
First wash the turkey and dry it with the kitchen towel (ideally this should be done a day ahead to let the tukey dry well).
In a small bowl mix a few pinches of saffron and a splash of vodka, wait until the vodka acquires a bright yellow colour. Mix with 2 tbsp of softened butter. Carefully try to prize the skin off the turkey crown to get in between the skin and meat and push the butter inside, spreading it evenly. Smear the butter over the turkey too a bit and season with salt and pepper as well.
Place half of the orange in the cavity.
Put the turkey in a deep tray, place the bacon rashers on top. Put the tray in the oven preheated to 180C. After 20 minutes, take the tray out and create a kind of a domed roof out of the parchment paper or foil over the turkey, with the ends tucked under the tray. The dome has to be quite loose and not hugging the bird too tight. It needs the air to circulate inside the dome.
Cook the turkey for 20mins per 450g of weight plus 20 mins. Baste it twice (or more) with the butter/saffron juices.
For the last stage mix again a good pinch of saffron with a bit of vodka. Add 1 tbsp butter (melted), mix well. Apply the saffron glaze to the turkey with a pastry brush, or just spoon over to cover it well. Roast the turkey for the last 20 mins without any foil/parchment dome.
Let the turkey rest before carving it.

Serve the turkey with a selection of traditional side dishes: roast potatoes, steamed parsnips and carrots with the honey glaze, red cabbage with apples and brussels sprouts with chestnuts and cubed pancetta. We also had it with the cranberry sauce with port (not homemade, but courtesy of Tracklements). And there was a good amount of the saffron butter juice in the tray to make a fab gravy.