Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Purple sprouting broccoli salad with eggs and garam masala

I am forever cutting out the recipes from the weekend magazines like The Guardian Weekend and The Observer, with a good intention of going through them one day, they are cluttering the kitchen shelves and actually could be found anywhere in the house. One of the vegetarian recipes that caught my eye was from a tiny booklet written by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall "Three good things on a plate": eggs, purple sprouting broccoli and garam masala. As much as I love Hugh, this dish seemed a tiny bit boring, and I love adding crunchy bits to my salads, so that's exactly what I did, added some sourdough bread croutons and lots of seeds.

egg salad

Purple sprouting broccoli salad with eggs and garam masala (for 2)
2 eggs
250g purple sprouting broccoli
1tbsp olive oil (+ more for the bread croutons)
1 garlic clove
2 tsp garam masala
a handful of seeds (sunflower, pumpkin and pine nuts), toasted
2 big slices of sourdough bread

Toast the seeds and pine nuts, and make the sourdough bread croutons (in the oven on a tray, slightly sprayed with the olive oil, I used the Filippo Berio olive oil spray).
Cook the eggs the way you like (Hugh suggests cooking the soft boiled eggs, but there is no way my guys would even touch it, so hard boiled for us).
Steam the broccoli until just tender for about 2-5 minutes.
In the frying pan fry the chopped garlic clove with the garam masala for about 2 minutes, put the broccoli in and mix well.
Place the broccoli on a plate, add the egg sliced in half and pour some of the olive oil with garam masala on the eggs. Season well, add the croutons and seeds.

This salad makes a light lunch or dinner.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Thirty ways to save £1

Blogging challenges are always fun, and if you are a blogger, you might have come across a few posts recently which talk about money-saving tips. Money supermarket explains:
"To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the £1 coin, we're asking the UK's most talented and creative bloggers - that's you, by the way - to give us as many money saving tips as they can. We want 1,000, to be precise!" Thankfully, you don't have to come up with one thousand tips, thirty will do just as nicely (check the link above for all the terms and conditions). Blog away and you might win the top prize of £1000 (or even a double sum if they get over 1000 tips from the blogging community).

Here are a few of my money-saving tips:

Make your own inexpensive beauty products:
1) Put rice (about half a cup) in a mug, add the tepid water and stir well, once you get the cloudy whitish water, pour it carefully into another container and use as a cleanser for your face.
2) Make your own facial scrub from 1/2 tbsp of oatmeal mixed with some water, gently rub into your face and rinse with the cold water.
3) Take a couple of cooled teabags (everyday or camomile tea), place on the tired eyes to relieve the puffiness. Also good for the infected eyes, just dip the cotton wool in cooled strong black tea or camomile tea, rinse your eyes with it (less expensive than the eye drops)
4) Forget about the pricey skin products for dry skin, prepare a soothing lotion with camomile and cucumber: using a juicer, extract the juice of one cucumber, mix with the contents of 2 camomile tea bags and pour 450 ml of freshly boiled water, after it is cooled, add 2 tbsp of glycerine, leave it to get infused for half an hour. Strain the contents in a clean glass jar. This lotion can be kept in the fridge for up to 10 days.
5)  For a nourishing face mask mash 2-3 overripe strawberries, spread on your face and rinse in 5 minutes, your skin will feel refreshed and moisturised. You can do the similar mask with overripe apricots.
6) Have you seen those expensive chocolate moisturising masks? Mix 2 tbsp of cocoa powder (but not the hot chocolate mix, as it already has sugar and other ingredients) with 2 tbsp of Greek style yogurt, 1 tsp of oats and 1 tbsp of honey, and hey presto: a truly decadent mask, good enough to eat, which will give a boost  to your skin.

7) Those who suffer with dry skin prone to eczema know only too well how pricey the products like Oilatum or Aveeno could be. To relieve the itchy inflamed skin, create a DIY oatmeal soak for your bath, it takes literally minutes to prepare and is very soothing: put 1 mug of oats with 1/2 mug of baking soda in a food processor and blitz until very fine. Add to the warm bath and stir, stay in the bath for 15-20 minutes.

Cooking (food and drink) tips:
8) Be creative with the leftovers: - a whole chicken might be pricier than a couple of chicken legs, but one chicken will provide you with several meals (lacking in ideas? check this post One chicken, three meals)

9) Bulk up the minced meat with grated vegetables and lentils, even better, make your own minced meat, then you will know that you are not eating Don Quixote's companion.
10) Forage in the garden or nearby foods for the nettle tips, mushrooms, berries, primrose flowers, wild garlic (if you are not sure what to do with the nettles, read these posts, for example, Spring boscht with beet leaves and nettle or Soup with nettle and ground elder).

11) Grow your own herbs on the window sill or in pots if you don't have a garden, it is much more cost-effective than buying the small bags of herbs, half of which will dry or rot in the fridge. Put an onion in a glass jar with water, and soon you will be able to enjoy the spring onions any time of the year.

12) Flavoured salt costs a lot, and you can create your own version at a fraction of a price. Would you like to try a DIY flavoured salt with rose petals and coriander?

13) If you are a latte or a cappuccino addict, buying a takeaway cup of coffee at around £2.25+ each time adds up to quite a big amount of money, which would be wiser spent on a decent coffee-making machine, it might cost more to start with, but if you use it daily, it will be a good investment that would save you money in the long run.

Home and garden money saving tips:
14)  Run out of the drain cleaner? mix 200g of bicarbonate of soda with the same amount of the table salt, stir well, pour the mix down the sink and leave for 10 minutes. Boil the water in the kettle and pour over the sink, it will clear the drain.
15) Wrapping paper and gift bags can be very pricey, especially the seasonal variety. You can make your own with a minimal effort and saving a few pounds. Ask your local furniture/decorating stores for the discontinued fabric sample books or wall paper sample books. To give you some ideas what you could do with these free samples, read the following posts - Wrap it up on a budget and Create your own gift tags.

16) Fancy photo frames could be very pricey, save money by picking the picture frames in the charity shops for almost nothing, paint them with acrylics and jazz them up with embellishments: bright pencils, buttons, ribbons, and you will have unique framed gifts for your child's bedroom.
17) Going to a wedding? or planning a romantic dinner at home? Decoupage a plain candle, or do a stamped image transfer, and you will have a personalised gift for much less than the gift shop varieties. Find how to make a stamped candle in a post A Valentine's candle for your flame.

18) The empty coffee cans can be easily recycled and given a new life as gift containers (or Easter baskets), just paint them over with the acrylic paints and decorate using stencils or ribbons.
19) If you were wandering around the garden centres and gift shops before Christmas, you might have been appalled at the price of the Christmas wreaths. Personally I cannot justify spending £30-50 and more on a seasonal decoration. Look for the wire/hay wreaths without any decorations which you might find for a pound in the pound shops and decorate with the fresh greenery, ribbons and bells.
20) Recycle your Christmas cards by cutting them to create the tags, or embellishments that you can use for a new batch of Christmas cards.
21) Are you into sewing? Don't discard the empty thread spools: create your own place card holders by wrapping them in s piece of fabric and gluing it to the spool. Make the groove on the top of the spool where you will place a name card.
22) Don't discard the used ground coffee: it makes a perfect free plant food for the plants that thrive in acidic soil like roses, evergreens or rhododendrons.
23) Another gardening money-saving tip: after the spring clean in the garden, use the wood ash from any bonfire to spread around the strawberries to prevent the slugs from the strawberry patch (no need for pricey chemical stuff).
24) Gardening could be a very expensive hobby. It goes without saying that buying seeds rather than plants would save you money. However, you can also check the so called bargain corners and see if there are any plants on offer that you can buy for just a few pennies.

Shopping tips:
25) Stick to the shopping list, don't be tempted by any offers that you don't need (and a note to self too: if you make a list, don't leave it at home, as happened more than once to me)
26) If you see the BOGOF, don't grab the goodies to add to your trolley, it will only be a bargain if you are going to use it.
27) Buy in bulk those food items that can be kept in the cupboard, like chutneys, rice, pickles etc, when they are on offer (for example,Tilda rice is on offer at Waitrose until the end of this month, so I have bought quite a few bags that will last me a while)
28) Use loyalty cards: my particular favourites are Nectar and Boots cards. Every time I get a spare fiver on Nectar, I treat myself to a papercrafts or foodie magazine.
29) If you have a baby or a young child, you will get extra points for buying the baby-related products like nappies etc in Boots. I tend to save the points till Christmas time, and then spend them on buying the gifts, especially when they are on 3 for 2 offer, or treat myself to a new perfume.
30) And of course, before you start shopping, compare the prices on Money Supermarket website.

 And I want to end my post with a rather bizarre tip which I heard many years ago on the Russian TV: put your newly bought tights in the freezer overnight before wearing them (once they thaw), as apparently they will last longer and you won't get ladders. Whether it's true or not, I don't know, as I never tried.

This is my entry to the 30 ways to save £1 competition.

If you enjoyed reading my tips, you might love to read the other money-saving tips as presented by
Madhouse Family Reviews
Competition Grape Vine
Dragons and Fairy Dust
Splodz Blogz

Saturday, 27 April 2013

The yummiest chocolate face mask

You have probably seen those little sachets with the chocolate mask mix in the beauty shops, some brands cost a small fortune and you cannot be sure there are none of the nasties inside. It is very easy to make your own chocolate-based face mask which will moisturize and nourish your skin.

Chocolate face mask
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsp plain Greek style yogurt
1 tsp oats
Mix all the ingredients together to a thick paste and apply to your face for about 10 minutes. Rinse with the tepid water.

how to make your own chocolate mask

Now the scary part alert: me with a chocolate mask on. Eddie saw me and slowly tiptoed away, just in case, and asked his father: "What happened to Mama?" I had to show him a little bowl and reassured him that I would soon be back to normal.
Confession time: some mix ended up eaten, it tastes so good.

After I rinsed the mask off, my skin feels refreshed and moisturized (and if I say, it feels soft like a newborn's bum, I would mean it as a compliment).
Eddie sighed with relief and uttered "Mama's all nice and clean". Yes, darling.

This post was inspired by my friend Cheryl from Madhouse Family Reviews and her latest post on 30 ways to save money.

Adding my post to the latest  #PoCoLo linky on the lovely blog Verily Victoria Vocalises.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Spring borscht with beet leaves and nettle

I was pondering whether to make this spring soup with just the beet leaves or fresh nettle tips from the garden, had some suggestions from foodie bloggers on Twitter and then decided to combine two ingredients as an experiment. I love freebies, and nettles come into that category. This plant is a totally free foodstuff which is easy to cook and which has more minerals and vitamins than spinach and broccoli.

Russian vegetarian soup, borscht

Spring borscht with beet leaves and nettle 
2 beetroots, thinly sliced
leaves from 3 beets
a bunch of nettle tips (can't say a handful, ouch)
1 cube of vegetable stock
1 tbsp of Heinz tomato ketchup with balsamic vinegar (as my usual tomato paste has finished)
1 big tomato
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of black garlic (optional)
1 small carrot, sliced
1 medium potato, chopped
1tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp of sugar
spring onions, chopped

Start by peeling the beets and slicing thinly. Fry them on low in the olive oil with the chopped onion until the onion is translucent. Put the beets and onion in a medium sized pan, cover with water and cook for about 30 minutes (at this stage the beet still has a bite to it, if you prefer it softer, then cook for longer).
My beetroots were delivered with the other veggies by Abel & Cole, and the green leaves were so fresh and nice looking, they are a lovely addition to any soup.
Add the chopped tomato, carrot, black garlic, 1 tbsp of tomato paste or Heinz ketchup with balsamic vinegar, a pinch of sugar, crumble a cube of vegetable stock. Finely chop the beet leaves, add to the soup. In goes the chopped potato, season the soup and cook for about 10 minutes, until the potato is done.
If you are using the nettle tips, be careful handling them, I was wearing the kitchen gloves when picking them   in the garden. You want only the tips, the first 4-6 leaves of each spear.
Use the scissors to cut the nettles in small bits. The nettles should be added a few minutes after the potatoes. Add the chopped spring onions just before you turn the cooker off.

It is a lovely spring soup, full of flavour and colour. Don't forget to add a generous dollop of the soured cream or plain Greek style yogurt.

If you are not a big fan of beets (and why not?), you can cook a nice green nettle soup with courgettes, leeks  and white rice.
The nettle tips are also fabulous in a green risotto.

If you liked this recipe using the nettle, you might want to see some of the other recipes with this ingredient. Now it's a perfect time to forage for the nettles in the garden, when they are still young and not stringy.

Soup with nettle and ground elder

I'm adding my recipe to fabulous foodie Karen from Lovage and Lavender blog's linky Herbs on Saturday.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Pork with Bramley apple sauce and pomegranates

Shhh don't tell anyone, but sometimes I buy the meals in trays that need just to be put in the oven, like Easy to cook range from Waitrose. They had the dinner for 2 at £10 offer, and I picked a main dish of a pork leg with a Bramley apple sauce. When I opened it, I thought it looked quite boring and needed jazzing up. The little pouch of the apple sauce that came in the tray was very indistinct. Luckily I had half a jar of The English Provender Bramley Apple sauce with calvados. And a nice juicy pomegranate. And so with a few personal touches, a boring dish came up trumps. And next time I decide to cook a leg of pork, I'll just buy a leg of pork and add my own ingredients, as the Easy to cook dish wasn't very exciting.
Here's my pork with Bramley apple sauce and pomegranates.

Pork with Bramley apple sauce and pomegranates
500g pork leg joint
Bramley apple sauce (half a jar of The English Provender Bramley Apple sauce + the pouch of apple sauce from the kit, or use 1 jar of The English Provender apple sauce - 210g)
1 medium apple
1 pomegranate
1 tbsp of brandy
1 tsp of olive oil
1 orange
salt, pepper (I used the Cornish sea salt with pepper)

Chop the apple and scatter around the seasoned pork in a tray, add the brandy, the olive oil, the juice of 1 orange and the apple sauce, cook for about 50 minutes at 180C in the oven. Add half of the pomegranates for the last 10 minutes of cooking. Let it rest before serving and scatter more pomegranate seeds on the sliced pork.
I served the meat with the leeks and courgettes side dish plus some rigatoni with pesto.
It certainly beats the Waitrose offering.
The Bramley apple sauce from The English Provender added a much needed interest in flavour (I have already enthused about this apple sauce, it's one of my favourites, just try it in the simple cheese sandwich, mmm), the pomegranates gave it taste, texture and colour. And it is counting towards your 5 a day too!

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Honour by Elif Shafak (review)

The first chapter of Honour by Elif Shafak begins with an abrupt and dark declaration: "My mother died twice. I promised myself I would not let her story be forgotten..." It was too deliberately attention-seeking. Esma, who mourns her mother's death, is the first narrator of the intricate story of an honour killing.

"Pembe and Adem Torpak leave Turkey for London. There they make new lives for their family. Yet the traditions and beliefs of their home come with them - carried in the blood of their children, Iskender and Esma. Trapped by past mistakes, the Torpak children find their lives torn apart and transformed by a brutal and chilling crime".

The book follows several generations of the Turkish-Kurdish family. The narrative changes locations and times, from the Kurdish village in 1945 to Istanbul in the 1950s to London in the 1970s and the Shrewsbury prison in 1990s, going backwards and forward, like a fluttering butterfly.

Esma's voice is interrupted by her elder brother's Iskender's narrative. It is a tapestry of memories and stories, patiently and intricately woven like the famous hand-knotted Turkish rugs.

This novel is a powerful story which encompasses a plethora of themes like tradition versus modernity, love and the lack of it, violence and submission, betrayal and loyalty. Some tales are extremely poignant and intense.

The story of the twins' births was a stroke of genius. Naze, an embittered woman who already had six daughters, is left betrayed by Allah for giving her twin girls rather than a much-coveted son that she goes silent for the next 45 days. Only when accosted by the elders of the village who accused her of sacrilege, she opens her mouth to name her daughters Bext and Bese, Destiny and Enough. That was her way of "declaring to Allah that she had her fill of daughters... and He had to give her a son and nothing but a son". The father, however, was against sending the petition to the skies and offered his alternatives: Pembe and Jamila - Pink and Beautiful. "Names like sugar cubes that melted in your tea, sweet and yielding, with no sharp edges".

I felt that the author is at her strongest when she writes about the old culture and traditions. The story of Hediye, a "disgraced" elder daughter who was served an empty cauldron with a rope as the family's cruel order to commit suicide, is totally heart-breaking. The little rebel Pembe includes a motif of a letter H as a reminder of her sister's name in the carpet which would be sold abroad and which would carry a memory of her sister forever.

Jamila's midwifery has also been painted with the mighty strokes. These were the pages that I found myself fascinated the most with. The naming of Iskender, the birth stories, the Amber Concubine's plot line...

As an expat, I have also sympathized with Pembe's life in London. Though I came to the UK to do an MA and already had a degree in English lit, through the years I have encountered my share of people who look down at you for not being a British-born citizen, who are talking to you in a loud voice as if you are deaf, just because they think you do not understand what they are saying. So, the chapter "Racism and rice pudding" made me relive some of the unpleasant memories from my own experience.

Without giving too much of a plot, I thought the end of the book was a bit of a let-down, it was disappointingly rushed, as if the author has lost an interest in her own book.

Saying that, I am glad that I have joined the BritMums Book Club and read this book, I wouldn't have chosen it myself or picked up in the library, and would have missed a fascinating author.


P.S. I received this book as a member of BritMums Book Club.


Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Blooming scrummy Pear salad with strawberries and primroses

The other day my husband was at some posh college dinner (I was invited as well but I don't "do" dinners any longer). My boys had their meals, and I fancied something light, meat-free and different. I had a look around the kitchen, and thus this Pear salad with strawberries and primroses was created.

Primroses in my garden grow like weeds. They have an irresistible charm, I love their sunny personality and the lack of pomposity. They are smiley, simple and proclaim spring to me more than any other flowers in the garden.
I've been reading that eating flowers was very popular in the 16th and 17th C but later went out of fashion apart from crystallising them to use as the cake decorations. Primroses certainly transform the dish like a salad, they might not have much of a taste themselves, but they give a pretty look to it. Plus they give you a natural health boost.

Pear salad with strawberries and primroses
1 sweet juicy pear, sliced
4 strawberries, halved
a handful of toasted sunflower seeds
a small bunch of baby salad leaves
about 12 primrose flowers
1/2 medium courgette, sliced
2 tbsp plain Greek yogurt
2 tbsp of crumbled blue cheese (I used Stilton)

All the quantities are approximate, as I wasn't measuring anything, just slicing and assembling the salad with whatever ingredients I fancied at the time, so on top of the scattered baby salad I put the slices of a juicy pear, courgette and strawberry halves which I mixed with the Greek yogurt and crumbled Stilton cheese. Add the sunflower seeds for a bit of texture and decorate with the primroses which you should soak first a bit in the water, just in case there are some tiny insects hiding there. I do appreciate that they are a source of protein but I'd rather skip that part of the possible meal.

And that was it: my blooming scrummy pear salad.


Friday, 19 April 2013

A glimpse of the days long gone: The Italian Diaries, part IV

In the BC era (before children) I loved spending hours in the vintage shops and flea markets, looking for the old photos and postcards. Now I hardly ever have a chance to browse at my pleasure. However, during the last trip to Italy, I happened to pass through Ferrara's flea market, and my husband has taken the boys home, allowing me to spend time there and peruse the stalls to my heart's content. I quickly found the place where I could have probably spent the whole day. It was a table with the old photos, each priced at 1 euro. They were all piled together haphazardly and unceremoniously, in big heaps. I was standing in the middle of the square and travelling back in time to the days long gone.

These two photos below I have secretly named "Proud parents".
The young woman shows her new baby with a confident smile on her face. The photo is dated 24.2.41. The war was going on, the Italians even sent several units to fight against the Soviet Union. Was this woman showing her children to the husband who was sent to the war?

A couple on the left sent this photo to their cousins, mentioning that Teresa Giulia has turned 17 months. They are dressed in smart outfits, the husband is wearing a suit with a bow tie, his hair is pomaded, the wife has an intricately cut dress. His eyes are piercing. For some reason this photo makes me think of the Italians who left Italy for America. I can easily imagine him in the Prohibition-era crime syndicate, but maybe I have watched too many movies like Bugsy Malone and The Untouchables (blame my hubby).

vintage black and white photos

The anxious-looking girl Albertina Battarra sent her photo to her dear friend Elsa on 22.09.1926. She reminded me of Briony from Atonement (though the book is set 10 years later).
I found the nameless family group totally fascinating. The children have clearly inherited their father's long horsey face (no date or names in the back).

Italia flea market finds

The young couple visited the studio on 10.09.11. Carlotta has given this photo of herself to a friend.
The family group had their photo taken in Bologna in the Borghi photo studio, and the photo was posted to the Notari family in Bologna.
Who were these people? What happened to them? I will never know.

vintage Italian fashion

The shy and pretty young woman Anna Agnetti clearly was not sure what to do with her arms, the pose looks quite awkward. The photo was taken in the Zambini studio in Parma. Her photo reminds me of the few photos of my great grandmother that were taken before 1917, with a very similar hairstyle.

Little Laura's photo was taken in 1939, and she is a Ferrarese girl. What a cutie. I have a similar photo of myself at about the same age. As my hair was quite short, it was impossible to tie a ribbon, so the photographer just put the bow ribbon on top of my head.

The three siblings from Bologna were sitting for this photo in 1923.

vintage Italian fashions

This image of a smashing-looking heartthrob and Errol Flynn-lookalike has been cropped mercilessly, and the person standing on the back of the bench and leaning over the young man (was it a woman? there seems to be a fur stole on the bench) is cut off. The photo was posted in 1937 and signed Tonino. 1937 was an anxious scary year for many countries, with the Great Purge in the Soviet Union etc. In 1937 Italy joined an anti-comtern (Communist) pact that has already been in force between the Japanese and the Germans. The pact established the Triple Alliance that has become known as The Axis. Many old Russian photos of the 1930-50s have a similar fate, with images of the "dangerous" friends and family members who were pronounced the enemy of the people been simply cut out of the photos. Is that what happened with Tonino's friend? Or was it simply a love affair that ended, and discarded as an old glove?

handsome Italian man

I want to finish my photo show with a happy image of three confident and smiley young women who seem to enjoy the sunshine and their new outfits. It reminds me of "Roman Holiday" with Audrey Hepburn. Same simple elegance and freshness. I wonder who the boy sitting at their feet was. These ladies might still be alive,
would they remember that sunny day when the photo was taken? There is no note scribbled in the back, and it is not a studio photo. Just many of the glimpses of the Italian history.

la dolce vita

This array of the beautiful old photos brought to memory one of my most favourite poems by Francois Villon, Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan?

Nay, never ask this week, fair lord,
Where they are gone, nor yet this year,
Except with this for an overword, -
But where are the snows of yester-year?

I am submitting my nostalgic post to the #PoCoLo linky on the lovely Verily, Victoria Vocalises blog.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Live to Pin: what would you do with a million of Nectar points?

Pinterest: you can get so absorbed in pinning that you forget about the time. I've been pinning for the last hour or so and completely forgot that I had potatoes cooking in the pan. Well, now I have coals for dinner.
What kept me glued to my laptop?
A Pinterest competition, of course.
The other day I read about the Win up to 60,000 Nectar points competition (link removed as expired) on Confused.com. The competition invited the pinners to create a board on how they would spend a million Nectar points.    Some of the Confused.com's choices made me chuckle:
- 3 nights in a top New York hotel (Nah, not really, you need more than 3 days for NYC)
- 21 bottles of champagne (that's already better)
- 545 packets of Jammie Dodgers (I had to laugh as that's probably what my guys would want to spend the points on, Jammie Dodgers, Oreos and Rowntree's Randoms).

So, what would be my top choices? I think I could spend a fortune on the Virgin Experience Days (swap 10,000 points for a £50 voucher).
As a great history lover and foodie, I'd be spoilt for choice. How about a Medieval Banquet? Something I always fancied taking part in, especially if it involves the dressing up part.
A visit to Hampton Court and an afternoon tea would be my cuppa tea as well.
Traditional afternoon tea in Ruthin Castle is my idea of a paradise on earth.

Culinary days out, yet another tempting experience. A cupcakes and cocktails workshop sounds fantastic. A chocolate making workshop for one is even better. And though I'm a wimp when it comes to chillies, a chilli tasting experience is such a novelty idea, that I'd be sorely tempted to try it.

My boys would love a trip to Legoland. Sasha visited it a few times in the past. Eddie has never been there (if you discount the time when he was still inside my belly). The same with the London Zoo, a perfect place to visit with children, and again, Sasha loved it, and Eddie hasn't had a chance to see it yet. And how about a big family garden pool (that is if the weather is more clement than the last year's).

The Eurostar could whisk us for a day of sightseeing in Paris. EasyJet could take us to Italy for Christmas to spend the holidays with the grandparents. After our last trip to Italy at Easter, Eddie keeps asking when we are going on the airplane again, he just loved it (can't say I share his enthusiasm, as I hate flying).
Western style horse-riding adventure would make a fab gift for my husband.
I kept browsing all the possible ways of spending my "fortune", and now my dinner is ruined. A sandwich it is for me.

You can find my full board A Million Nectar Points on Pinterest.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Plaice with black garlic and basil

I'm so not a plan-a-week's-menu-ahead person, I often have a rather vague idea of what I am going to cook for dinner, and it might depend on what has caught my eye in the shop. Having a delivery from Abel and Cole early in the morning, which included fresh fillets of plaice, I knew it would have to be fish for dinner, but I wasn't quite sure just what I was going to do with it until I came across lots of discontinued pouches with the black garlic in Waitrose. There was nothing wrong with the garlic itself, but clearly there wasn't much of a demand, and so they decided to clear their stash.  
I don't think I have tried to cook with the black garlic before, so I decided to give it a try.

Plaice with black garlic and basil
3 fillets of plaice
1 black garlic
a small bunch of basil
1 tsp of plain flour
olive oil (a drizzle of Filippo Berio)
sea salt (coriander and rose petal)

When I was browsing Abel and Cole site, looking for fish, I was won over by their description: "Our fish is wild and comes from day boats. The boats fish in West country waters, and we buy the fish from Cornish and Devon Fish Markets. Looe is our preferred market but we also use Newlyn, Plymouth and Brixham from time to time. (Sometimes, when the weather is too extreme on that coast, the boats can’t go out, we will then buy from other selected Day Boats within UK waters.)"

The plaice is very pretty, with bright orange specks. If you don't mind tackling the bones, then the fish is really tasty.

 The black garlic, which acquires its black looks through the fermentation process, tastes differently from the standard garlic. It acquires an almost aged-balsamic-vinegary taste.

The peeled cloves of the black garlic are soft and slightly sticky. I can imagine it would give depth to any savoury dish, be it a pizza or a risotto.
I should go back to Waitrose and grab more of the black garlic before it disappears from the shop. Sadly they do that with more unique ingredients and products. I was so happy to discover over a year ago that they started to sell Mostarda di frutta (a speciality mustard from Italy), but after a while discontinued it due to the lack of interest (or more likely, the excessive price). I could list a lot of Italian products that Waitrose has stopped selling over the years, but I am digressing from my subject.

I chopped the black cloves and sprinkled them over the fillets of plaice which I have fried for 3 minutes on one side and placed in a deep ceramic dish (the fish was first dipped in the flour). I have added some chopped basil and seasoned the fish. Then I made a foil roof over the fish and placed the dish in the oven preheated to 180C for about 20 minutes.

The combination of flavours was just beautiful. I served it simply with a baby leaf salad drizzled with the aged balsamic vinegar.

A word of warning: the plaice has lots of bones, so probably not the child-friendly variety unless you scrape it off.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Pancakes with pears, baby figs and cambozola

Pancakes are not only for breakfast or the Pancake day. Depending on the fillings, they could be a base for a
proper meal. I have posted many pancakes recipes on my blog, but the list of recipes is endless.
Today I am offering you a simple recipe for pancakes with pears, figs and cambozola (soft blue cheese).


For the pancakes (that makes about 8 pancakes):
100g flour (I like the 50/50 ratio of white to wholemeal flour, but you can use just white)
100ml milk
3 medium eggs
30g butter, melted, + more for frying
a pinch of salt
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp plain yogurt or soured cream

For the filling:
1/2 a pear per pancake
40g blue soft cheese like cambozola per pancake
2 baby figs per pancake
a pinch of cinnamon
1 tsp butter
If you are using sweet pears like Green Williams, you don't need to add the sugar, as they are sweet and juicy as they are.

Sift the flour with salt and sugar into a bowl, add the eggs and about half of the milk, start whisking, gradually adding flour and more milk, plus the melted butter and soured cream. Let the batter rest for 10 minutes (ideally 30 minutes, but I never wait that long). If the batter is too thick, add a bit more milk.
To make the pancakes, heat the non-stick frying pan or even better a crepe pan, about 20cm in diameter. Add a bit of oil and move it, so that the melted butter swirls all over the surface. Add a ladleful of batter, once it is cooked on one side, flip it over and cook on the other side.

Slice the pears into 8 pieces, and fry in the frying pan with a dollop of butter. Add the baby figs, sliced in half. Sprinkle with the cinnamon (and sugar if you want to get a more caramelised look). Cook for about 5 minutes. If the pears are hard, cook for longer. At the last minute of cooking add the crumbled cambozola cheese. If you cannot find cambozola, dolcelatte or gorgonzola would work nicely too, or even the soft Cornish blue. Roquefort is beautiful and gives an extra boost of saltiness, but I prefer the slightly milder blue cheeses.

Add the filling to each pancake and serve warm.
A couple of pancakes make a very filling lunch or dinner, just add some salad.
This is a very simple recipe that can be easily adapted, depending on the ingredients you have at hand.

If you liked my recipe, you might want to explore more egg-based recipes on Main Meals in Minutes site.

This is my entry to BritMums' eggy Linky #eggmainsinminutes

You will find full T&C on the Linky on BritMums (link removed as expired). The first 100 qualified entries also receives a copy of the classic cook book Eggs by Michel Roux. So, hurry up if you want to get hold of the book.

Monday, 15 April 2013

A posh onion gravy for sausages and mash

Sausages and mash are the ultimate comfort food, which can only be enhanced by a rich sticky gravy, preferably made from onions. I have been playing with different versions of the onion gravy, adding different ingredients like the balsamic vinegar, sherry or brandy. This version which I call the Posh Onion Gravy is made with an addition of the Bramley apple sauce with Calvados from The English Provender (which is exceptionally good, I buy it often and use in many meat-based dishes, like roast chicken etc).

Posh Onion Gravy

  • 2 big onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 dash of brandy or dry sherry
  • 2 tbsp apple sauce (The English Provender Bramley apple sauce with Calvados)
  • 1 small pot of Bisto stock melts beef
  • 1 tbsp cornflour
  • Salt (I use the homemade coriander and rose petal sea salt)

Slice the onions thinly (in circles). Melt the butter with oil in a large saucepan or wok over a low heat, add the onions and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly.
After the onions acquire a translucency, add the sherry or brandy, a small pot of Bisto stock melts beef and enough water to immerse the onions in it. Cook on low for another 10 minutes, again stirring often and adding water if necessary.
If adding the cornflour, first mix it with the small amount of the cold water to prepare a thin runny paste, and pour slowly in the onion gravy, mixing well. Cook for another 10 minutes.
Season with salt. Add the Bramley apple sauce with Calvados almost at the end of cooking and mix well.

Serve warm with your choice of sausages (I cooked the pork and Bramley apple sausages as well as Toulouse sausages), baked apples and mashed potatoes.