Thursday, 30 May 2013

Take your movies with you: Essentials C7PDVD12 Portable DVD Player (review)

"Mama, are we there yet?" We've all heard this dreaded repeated at the regular intervals of 60 seconds phrase on a long car journey. We have an ipad for watching the favourite videos on Youtube but it doesn't always work, depending on the area you are driving through, especially in the rural places. This year we're going to be well equipped for our annual trip to Cornwall as we have acquired the Essentials C7PDVD12 Portable DVD Player.

It is marketed as a perfect travel companion, which lets you or your offspring to watch their favourite DVDs on the move.

We haven't been on a long journey yet since we bought it, but have extensively tested it in the home environment and in the summerhouse in the garden.

What does the product description promise?
"This portable DVD player has a 7" LCD screen with great non-reflective clarity, helping to reduce screen glare so you can watch wherever you are.
It is lightweight enough to come anywhere with you, and has a thin stylish remote that makes it easy to operate.

Plenty of battery life

You can be sure you'll finish your film as the C7PDVD-12 has a 2 hour battery life, but if it's getting low on charge you can always plug it in using the AC or car chargers."

What did we think of it?
It is extremely easy to use, even my 2-year-old is able to operate it. It is simple, doesn't have any unnecessary fancy features (we have another DVD player, which has way too many options that we don't need or will never need). For £49.99 it is a very good value for money. I am not going to get stressed that my little man would break it, as it looks pretty robust.
I like the size, it is not bulky. Neat and compact, it won't take much space in any room.
Very decent sound and image quality.
I was very happy not to share the family DVD player with my kids any longer, they were delighted to have a new DVD player of their own.

All in all, 9 out of 10 (one point off as we would have liked a longer battery life).

A happy customer

This review has been written as part of Inspect A Gadget competition (link removed as expired) hosted by

All possible candidates for reviewing were asked to provide their Paypal details to be paid £50 which allowed us to purchase the gadget of our choice.

I have placed an order at Curry's online and picked up the DVD player in store.

You must write your ‘Inspect A Gadget’ review post by 31st of May 2013. Entries after this date will not be considered for the main prize.

For terms and conditions visit the terms and conditions page (link removed as expired).

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Colourful lunchbox munchies

Eddie doesn't start the nursery until September but he often watches me making the lunchbox for Sasha, he thinks the food tastes much better if it comes from a lunchbox. What is good for his older brother, must be good for him too, right? I don't always oblige him, but sometimes he gets his lunch served in the plastic containers (I love the Sistema range). To make the food more appealing for little people, you can cut different shapes and add lots of colourful berries and veg.
Eddie loves baby tomatoes and cucumbers (the mini cucumbers are not in season at the moment, but we are growing our own this year), carrot sticks and sweet pepper sticks.

"This month Tots100 has teamed up with Walkers, who have created the new Baked Hoops and Crosses – a low-fat and fun way for kids to boost their wholegrain intake."
So, here is my lunchbox idea: you have fresh veg in abundance, hummus (preferably homemade but a shop-bought variety is a perfect substitute, we love the roast pepper and tomato variety), a butterfly sandwich with caramel and strawberries and a small packet if Walkers wholegrain hoops and crosses. And a handful of raisins coated in yogurt too.

The butterfly sandwich with caramel and strawberries was inspired by my childhood memories. I loved sandwiches with the caramel. Mum used to cook it in a tin placed in a deep pan with water for hours, but it was so worth waiting for, sticky, sweet and absolutely lush. Perfect with some sliced berries or bananas.

To make the butterfly sandwich you will need
2 slices of white bread
2 strawberries
1tsp Carnation caramel (or make your own from a tin of condensed milk)
icing pens
Holding two slices together, cut the butterfly shape, using the kitchen scissors (or a cookie cutter if you have one, I don't have a butterfly-shaped one, hence my butterfly is a bit funny). Put in a toaster for a minute, just to slightly crisp it. Spread 1tsp of caramel on one slice, add the sliced strawberries on top. Top up with the second slice of bread. Using the icing pens, decorate the top. Enjoy!

This is my entry to Tots100 competition #HoopsandCrosses (link removed as expired).

P.S. Since my post was published, I have tried some Hoops and Crosses in beef flavour, and didn't enjoy it, perhaps it is this particular flavour that is not to my liking but I am not eager to try the rest of the flavours. My kids refused to eat it after trying a bit. Rather disappointing snack from Walkers taste-wise. That was a total waste of money for me. The only redeeming feature is that it is wholegrain, but as my kids didn't want to eat these crisps, it's neither here nor there.
I don't think I'll be adding the pack of them to any lunchbox. Just thought you might be interested in an update.

Tagliatelle with roast tomatoes and prawns

We had a glorious weekend weather-wise (not so glorious in some other aspects, as my older son didn't sleep well, which means we're all sleep-deprived, apart from little man who can sleep during the day, lucky thing). Now it's back to "normal" English weather, i.e. it's raining again. Tomatoes are one of my favourite summer fruit, and this pasta dish of tagliatelle with roast tomatoes and prawns is evocative of leisurely summer days, and is best eaten while sitting in the garden (indoors will be as fine if the weather is like today).

Tagliatelle with roast tomatoes and prawns
300g basil tagliatelle
250g baby tomatoes
sage leaves (about 4)
1 garlic clove
1 chilli pepper (optional)
2 tbsp olive oil + more
1tbsp soy sauce
1tbsp honey
1tbsp vodka
1tbsp cider vinegar (or balsamic vinegar)
prawns (I used a pack of Taste the difference tiger prawns, not sure about the weight)

Start in advance by roasting the tomatoes, it's best cooked on low in the oven, but if you're short of time, roast them at 180C for half an hour. Mix the olive oil, soy sauce, honey, vinegar, vodka, chopped sage and chilli, and pour the mix over the tomatoes in a roasting tin or ceramic dish. Once cooked, add them to the prawns quickly warmed in the pan (first fry the chopped garlic, then add the prawns and then tomatoes)

Cook tagliatelle until al dente. Drain the pasta and dip it in the pan with the tomatoes and prawns, mix well. Serve with a nice chunk of bread to dip in the juices.
The roast tomatoes are so lush, I can eat them on their own, they are also lovely the next day, cold and eaten with bread and cheese. I usually add a dash of the balsamic vinegar, but as this time I chopped a chilli pepper (from my own chilli plant in the greenhouse), I swapped it for the cider vinegar. You might skip vodka if you don't have it, but it actually gives the tomatoes a deeper more intense flavour.

If you don't have tagliatelle, use another type of pasta. Be creative. The photo below is of pumpkin pasta with roast tomatoes and sweet pepper. If you are a vegetarian, use a vegetarian cheese (I used parmesan).

And for more recipe ideas visit Emily from A Mummy Too's blog linky Recipe of the Week

Link up your recipe of the week

Monday, 27 May 2013

Eddie, Eddie, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?

I know the word contrary doesn't rhyme with Eddie, but it fits his personality. He is quite contrary, and is going through a stage when everything starts with a word No. That is almost everything, except when I ask him if he wants to go out in the garden, then he immediately runs in the hall to put on his wellies or sandals. He loves our garden and cries when I tell him it's time to go indoors.

This spring most of the blossom came later than usual in the year. Apple trees are still covered in pretty blossom. We have two very old apple trees, one young tree which had lots of apples last year and a baby apple tree. All eaters, slightly sharp in flavour and crisp.

Every May I look with admiration at the rhododenron in the big pot outside the kitchen windows, which changes colour as the month progresses, from this glorious magenta pink... this pale, almost white bridal négligée.

And each May I send my hearfelt thanks to the lady of the house who lived here before us and who planted this beautiful rhododenron, she's been gone many years, but a lot of "her" flowers and fruit trees and berries in the garden are still prospering and bringing joy to us. It is as if she passed the baton of gardening to me. As we have changed the garden a lot (it was badly neglected after her death), I wonder whether she would have liked what she did with the garden, and hope she would have approved our plans and new additions.

The greenhouse has been a home for the tomatoes for many years, and this year I am growing some mini cucumbers as well. The grafted cucumber from the garden centre is doing well. According to Eddie, it has a peepeeska (that's how Eddie calls a penis, a word of his own creation), but actually it has about five of them at the moment, and hopefully many more to come. I am also growing some cucumbers and courgettes from seeds. I have tried two varieties of courgettes: round and yellow, one variety has all sprouted healthy little plants, another is completely unresponsive, and I have no idea which of the two has failed. Oh well it will be a surprise when the veg appears.
Chives grow in a pot outside. They seem to reappear every year, as well as the mint, though it has gone wild.

The fig tree on the right of the photo below only just woken up after a long sleep, and we have the first leaves. Last year it also started late, and though it had plenty of figs, they were all green and rock-hard. For 6 years since we moved to live here, we had lots of ripe figs only two years ago, and they were very tasty.

Then there are two juneberries, quite a rarity here but very popular in Russia. I believe they are originally from Canada, and can survive really hard frosts. In my home town they are used to minus 30C in winter. As a kid, I absolutely loved their berries, very sweet and resembling blueberries. Hope we get some crop this year, that is if the birds don't get there first, they manage to get under the netting, clever sods.

And that's a baby apple tree next to the sandpit. The grass has been cut last weekend, so it looks more civilised now.

I have strawberries in the strawberry patch with a small raspberry bush. A big well established red currants plant, again raided by the little blighters most of the years while they are still not quite red, and again, supposedly protected by the netting. And the logan berry shows some promise of a small crop this year, I planted it about 4 years ago, and so far we haven't had much luck with it.

As for the flowers, the tulips and daffodils are out of season now, but we have plenty of bluebells and forget-me-nots, yellow poppies and of course, the lilac is in its full glory.
We have put a summerhouse in the garden for the rainy days, so that if we want some fresh air with kids, we could hide in there in any weather. Sasha and Eddie love it.

If you enjoyed reading my post, you might like to see a selection of blog posts on gardening at one and only Mammasaurus's blog linky How does your garden grow?

Friday, 24 May 2013

Eddie, Ballets Russes and nursery rhymes

Ever since we received this kitsch gift for Easter (from in-laws' friends), Eddie enjoys dancing to its tune. I must say the tune is very catchy, and I am occasionally caught wiggling my bum to its rhythm. The cat dances, Eddie dances, the world dances. I call his dancing style "Ballets Russes".

Eddie loves nursery rhymes, we often sing them together. And Eddie's vocabularly has expanded with lots of characters and imagery from the nursery rhymes.
When we were in Italy for Easter, we walked to the town centre of Ferrara every day to have a latte and pastry in the lovely pasticceria. The building next to it boasts two statues: of the marquis Niccolo III on horseback and Duke Borso d'Este sitting enthroned. I pointed to the statue of the Duke and said: "Look, Eddie, there's the Duke"
Eddie replied: "Ah, Grandanduke!" (which is his word for Grand Old Duke of York, he pronounces it as one word). I think from now on this will always be a Grandanduke for me. Sorry, Borso.

On the way to the town centre we met a neighbour who lives across the road. I tell Eddie: "That's an old lady who lives..." Eddie finishes "in a shoe?"

Last week we visited Sasha's school, when we arrived, Sasha's class was out, so we had a quick peek in his classroom. We saw a huge screen there, so I commented: "That's one monster of a TV". For the next few days Eddie kept telling anyone who'd listen:
"We went to Sasha's school. We went to his room. There is a huuuge TV. There is a monster in the TV".

Every night before going to bed we read "Maisy's bedtime" together. Each time I read "Maisy brushes her teeth, puts on her pyjamas", my little man adds "like Eddie". Then there's a page where Maisy cannot go to sleep because she needs a loo. So there's a picture of Maisy sitting on the toilet. Eddie helpfully adds "Maisy's pissing. Like Mama".

The other day when I have just moisturised my face with a night cream, Eddie sniffed at me and said "Mama, you stink", to which I replied "What a thing to say to your Mama, that's not very nice". He thought hard and said: "Mama, you are beautiful. But you stink".

And here he is: sitting in a hamper. He's like a cat, cannot pass by any box, parcel or container, he just has to climb inside.

I would like to add my post to Shoulder to shoulder to day blog hop. If you haven't heard of it: this is
"one major blog hop from 22nd May to 23rd June to help out one of our fellow bloggers, Emma Day, who is over at Crazy with Twins. She will need lots of cheering up as she will be in isolation due to her radiotherapy."

Emma, we are all thinking of you and your children. Hope this post will make you smile.

Shoulder to Shoulder to Day

Leftovers by Stella Newman (review)

First, I'd like to say that I really do not like the chick lit with its fluffy self-centered heroines. I wasn't sure if I have made the right decision to read a book endorsed by the likes of Wendy Holden. I started to read and groaned to myself: not another single 30-something looking for love and drinking herself into oblivion at the weekends. But in case of Leftovers, I got hooked. What sold it to me, is the talk about food and recipes.
The main protagonist of the book, Susie, is a girl who feels lonely, stalking the Facebook for photos of her ex's new flame. She is unappreciated at work, and finds solace in cooking pasta.

This is mostly comfort food which makes you feel better. Heroine's Italian grandma used to say that there is a pasta dish suitable for every occasion. "My grandma always told me that a bowl of pasta is the answer to most of life's problems"

My only hesitation regarding the authenticity of the Italian grandma is the spaghetti bolognese dish. First of all, they don't call this dish like that in Italy. It is known as ragu. Second, the ragu is not served with spaghetti. Perhaps Susie's grandma spent too many years of her life in the UK and forgot about what the real ragu was supposed to be. Susie calls the dish Spag Bol (ugh, hate that name, it brings to mind all those awful canteen dishes or cheap eateries where they serve you the gloopy pasta drowning in the brown-red sauce, which honestly deserves to be called Spag Bol). I appreciate that there are more than one authentic recipe for Ragu alla Bolognese. If you want to find out the true ragu recipe as certified by the Bolognese chapter of the Accademia Italiana della Cucina in 1982, “after having carried out long and laborious investigations and conducted studies and research”, I suggest visiting the Culinaria Italia recipe page. Culinaria Italia wrote:
"There are however countless inauthentic ones (recipes). It bears little or no resemblance to the dish known as Bolognese or Bolognaise found outside of Italy. It is also never served with Spaghetti"

Some of the recipes sounded a bit over the top to me. The combination of cheesecake and brownies didn't appeal to me either. Funnily enough, I have just seen a tweet from Hummingbird bakery with the photo of the brownie cheesecake (and No, I'm still not quite convinced that I want to try it).

I share some of Susie's sentiments and ideas on food: a use by date is arbitrary, and the episode when Susie's friend came to help her clear the clutter in the kitchen made me smile and nod my head in agreement. I also have some very old jars with spices which I feel deserve a second chance.

I was less interested in the shenanigans of the office life: most of the characters were created as caricatures or one-dimensional personalities which seem to inhabit only the books and sitcoms. There were some witty amusing dialogues, but what actually redeems the book for me is the talk about food, blogging and recipes.

Despite all of the minor issues above, I enjoyed the book (and was surprised with myself). While I'm not suddenly converted into loving the chick lit, I would definitely read another book by Stella Newman.

And here is my favourite pasta: pasta with clams. Perfect to recreate the sunny day on the beach in Italy.

P.S. This book was one of my perks on Peer Index.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Cheeky monkey at the seaside

I think my little man Eddie and Curious George are twins, or at least brothers-in-arms when it comes to mischief and adventure. Eddie has the same curiosity about the world and the same determination. If he sets his mind on doing something, it's not easy to dissuade him. He was in his element by the seaside, exploring the rock pools, running along the beach catch-me-if-you-can-style, building the sandcastles and eating the ice cream.
This photo of Eddie with a scoop net, whooping with pleasure, always makes me smile, as I remember that lovely day on the beach in Cornwall last summer. It was his birthday, he just turned two that day. We are going to visit the same place again this summer, and I do hope we'll be able to catch a bit of sunshine too.

I'm entering this photo in the Tots100/Curious George competition.

And also adding my post to lovely Verily Victoria Vocalises blog linky #PoCoLo.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

The Monster Book of Numbers and The Monster Book of Colours for little monsters

What is it about monsters? Why do they have such a huge appeal for little people? If you ask me, I think the monsters are overrated but both of my boys can't have enough of anything related to monsters. I wonder if it has anything to do with conquering your own fears by laughing at the silly monsters. Eddie would come up to the window before bedtime and declare "There's a monster in the garden", and when I exclaim in pretend-scared voice Oh No, he looks at me and says "No, there's no monster, Mama", as if reassuring himself that we are all safe. As soon as I saw the two books from My Little Big Town named The Monster Book of Colours and The Monster Book of Numbers, I knew they'd be more than welcome in our house.

The Monster books and Where's The Scone? are jam-packed with bright, colourful illustrations. We are entering again the strange weird world created by Calvin Innes. If you regularly read my blog, you might remember my review of Pale Henry (from The Tiny Twisted Tales). The new books follow in the footsteps of quirkiness, and are catering for the slightly younger audience than the Tiny Twisted Tales. The best fit would be pre-schoolers who learn their numbers and colours.

The monsters come with their own amusing names that will make your tot smile and giggle. They are not scary monsters, which is exactly what you want for your little readers. The aim is to amuse and educate, not to scare (and yes, we have one of those scary monsters' books that someone has given to my guys and which I find rather disturbing, so for the time being it's hidden on the top shelf, as I don't want to give any nightmares to my 2-year-old). Only child-friendly, silly and kind monsters would do.

My personal favourite of the three new additions to My Little Big Town range is Where's the Scone? This is a counting book from 1 to 10 (or the other way around) with silly rhymes that make us laugh, like "5 yeti sucking spaghetti" or "6 gnu tasting tofu". Every page comes with a different exotic and familiar animal who scoffs a different kind of food.

These paperbacks will keep your pre-schoolers amused and entertained, and will help them to memorise their numbers and colours.

Peaches and pears with Prosciutto di San Daniele and Grana Padano

I have quite often heard from foodies and TV chefs that Grana Padano is the poor man's Parmesan. But in fact this hard Italian cheese is great in its own right. My Italian mother-in-law always has a block of grana in the fridge for pasta and risotto. It might be less nutty or salty than Parmigiano, but it works beautifully in many Italian dishes or served as part of a platter.
For a light dinner or lunch serve this lovely selection of fruit, cheese and prosciutto. A glass of wine wouldn't go amiss too.

Peaches and pears with Prosciutto di San Daniele and Grana Padano Cheese
Pesche e pere con Prosciutto di San Daniele e Grana Padano

Serves 4

6 Peaches, sliced
6 Pears, halved and core removed
200g Prosciutto di San Daniele, thinly sliced
150g Grana Padano Cheese
Good-quality runny honey

Cut each slice of Prosciutto di San Daniele into three equal parts
Alternate a slice of peach and a piece of prosciutto, placing them on the side of a serving plate
Cut and fan the pears and place on the opposite side of the plate
Crumble the Grana Padano Cheese over the pear, and drizzle the honey over it before serving.

For more information and suggestions on how to enjoy Prosciutto di San Daniele and Grana Padano Cheese, including recipes from the renowned chef, Giancarlo Caldesi, visit
"" .

Prosciutto di San Daniele is available in Tesco, Partridges, Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Fortnum & Mason, John Lewis, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Selfridges. For more information about Prosciutto di San Daniele, please visit: ""

Grana Padano Cheese is available in Waitrose, Marks and Spencer, Harvey Nichols, John Lewis, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, as well as various independent delis. For more information about Grana Padano Cheese, please visit: ""

This recipe was created by Giancarlo Caldesi to promote Italian Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) products.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Gnocchi with asparagus, dolcelatte and pine nuts

Horror of horrors, I don't make my own gnocchi. They come from a packet. That's cheating, I hear some foodies say and give me thumbs down. Oh well, I can live with it. We all do the shortcuts one way or another, and I am not yet Italianised enough to make my own pasta like the Nonni of yesteryear. To mark the start of the National Vegetarian Week, which runs from 20th May to 26th May, I have prepared this simple dish of gnocchi with asparagus, dolcelatte and pine nuts.

Gnocchi with asparagus, dolcelatte and pine nuts
a pack of gnocchi (500g)
250g asparagus
a handful of pine nuts
100g doleclatte
olive oil

In a frying pan, melt the cubed dolcelatte cheese and add the sliced asparagus + a tablespoon of olive oil.
Cook the gnocchi in salted boiling water. Once they start floating at the surface, they are ready. Drain the water and add the asparagus dolcelatte sauce. Sprinkle with toasted pine nuts before serving.

If you are not a vegetarian, then I may suggest using a gorgonzola instead of dolcelatte. And sprinkle with the grated parmesan (which is not a vegetarian cheese, but oh so good).

Very easy to prepare, if you want a quick lunch or dinner.

For more easy vegetarian pasta recipes, visit The Vegetarian Experience blog.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Lilac syrup: bottling the essence of May

I wanted to try to make my own lilac syrup over a year ago, when I read a magazine article about it (where? which magazine? no clue now). But I never managed, thinking I had plenty of time, and then we had such a scorching hot May that the lilac blossom soon turned dried brown.

We have two old lilac trees (is it a tree or a bush? ours look like proper trees anyway), one next to the kitchen, and one of a darker hue, at the very end of the garden, next to the stone wall and shed. I love the smell of the lilac, it brings memories of May in Russia. Somehow I don't see any florists selling the lilac bunches here, while in Russia they are very popular in bouquets. When I was young, we lived in the ground floor apartment with the lilacs waving in my windows. They have such a pronounced sweet aroma that you cannot take it for any other perfume. Heady and lush.

Lilac syrup
1 mug of granulated sugar
1 mug of water
a handful of lilac (see photo below)

Bring 1 mug of water and 1 mug of sugar to the boil and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
Add the lilac to the sugar syrup and simmer for about 10 minutes on very low heat.
Let it cool before pouring into a clean jar or bottle after removing the flowers.
Et voilà!

The syrup turned out to be surprisingly pale straw green. I expected it to gain the colour of the blossom, but it didn't happen, and the flowers themselves changed colour to blue.

I have decanted it in a glass jar (yes, it is a bottle for mixing the salad dressing but I haven't used it as such).

This syrup is supposed to keep well in the fridge for up to 2 weeks, but we are already half-way through, so I don't think it will last that long. Perfect for a cold drink with ice on a hot May day. Just add a dash of syrup,   top up the glass with water and add the ice cubes. Enjoy!

Say You're Sorry by Michael Robotham

Say You're Sorry is Michael Robotham's eighth novel (and the first one of his eight books I have read).

It starts with an intriguing introduction:
"My name is Piper Hadley and
I went missing on the last Saturday of the summer holidays three years ago..."
From page one, you get captivated by this roller coaster of a book with the intricate nail-biting and scary twists galore.

Best friends Tash and Piper go missing. The last time anyone remembers seeing them, they were enjoying themselves at the Bingham fair. "As days passed, the media storm blew through Bingham". After a long extensive search, the police failed to find them, so most people presume they have run away.

Three years later, a couple has been found brutally slaughtered in their farmhouse.

The book is narrated by two protagonists: one is the clinical psychologist Joe O'Loughlin, who helps the Oxford police to look into the farmhouse murders and eventually into the disappearance of the Bingham girls which happened three years earlier, and Piper Hadley who writes her diaries in captivity and talks to herself.

As I don't want to spoil the plot for you, I only want to say that it moves at fast speed and kept me guessing to the last pages. Michael Robotham says in Acknowledgements "Do you know how many people have taken me to bed", which is absolutely true in my case. It's an absolutely gripping page-turner, which I just couldn't put down, I tried to finish the book late in the night (or should I say early hours of the morning?), and then could not sleep as I kept thinking about what I read. So, this first-rate thriller should come with a warning: a sleepless night is guaranteed.

As many events take place in Oxfordshire, I could recognise all the mentioned locations, and that added an extra flavour for me.
Many years ago, when I just got married and settled in Oxford, some of my Mum's friends were asking her why would I choose to live in Oxford, which is such a "deadly" place (that is their knowledge of Oxford was based purely on Inspector Morse). I guess this book would have added to their perception of how dangerous Oxford is.
But clearly Oxford in this book is just a metaphor of any town. You might think nothing happens in smaller communities, it's not like it is a huge megalopolis where people do not know their nearest neighbours. But of course, behind each serene dignified and almost somnolent facade there might be horrors and secrets hidden that you have no idea about.

If you enjoy compelling and shocking narratives, this is a book for you.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Pasta with clams and sea beet

Pasta with clams is probably my all times favourite pasta. I think the first time I cooked it was when we stayed at a friend's villa in Agropoli, Italy. It was from the same day catch, very fresh and tasty. Alas, as we don't live by the sea, the clams that we get here are never as fresh as those little beauties from the Tyrrhenian sea. I was standing by the fish counter in Waitrose the other day, pondering over what I fancied for dinner, and decided pasta with clams would do nicely. Then I noticed a solitary pack of the sea beet, which I haven't seen in the shops before, and that went into my shopping basket as well. And thus that evening we had pasta with clams and the sea beet for dinner.

Pasta with clams and sea beet (for 2)
200g dry spaghetti
400g clams
a pack of sea beet (see the photo below, not sure about the weight)
a glass of white wine
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
a handful of black olives
olive oil
sea salt, pepper

Fry the finely sliced onion and garlic with the olive oil in a deep frying pan or wok, until translucent. Add the clams, pour the white wine, add the olives and cook under the lid until all the clams are open (discard those which didn't open). Season well. Add the chopped sea beet or parsley and cook for another few minutes until the sea beet is wilted.
Cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain the water and toss the past in the pan with the clams.
Serve hot.

What exactly is the sea beet (Beta vulgaris maritima)? This plant grows wild along the coastline of the UK, you might have seen it aplenty without realising that it is edible. I have recenly come across the foraging blog Down to Earth., and if you fancy to find out more about this plant and what to cook with it, I recommend visiting it. What does it taste like? It is a bit of a cross between the spinach and beet leaves.

You don't have to add the sea beet, of course, if you cannot find any. A big bunch of flat leaf parsley would be wonderful as well.

Buon Appetito! 

Adding my recipe to lovely inspiring Verily Victoria Vocalises blog linky #PoCoLo.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Not so Classic New York Cheesecake

Cheesecakes: love them or hate them. I remember the day when we had guests for dinner, an Italian couple, friends of my in-laws, I was a young wife then and really eager to impress our guests. So I baked a cheesecake, and it looked absolutely gorgeous. Our Italians though refused to eat it categorically, as the husband had the food poisoning incident from eating the cheesecake on his previous visit to England. Well, it was their loss, I should add, as the cake was lush. I tend to change the ingredients slightly when I bake my version of the New York cheesecake, so I could really call it New Yorkish. This time I have added a new yoghurt from Chobani.
Last Tuesday we had two people doing the maintenance works in the garden. They are both lovely chaps, whom we have known for several years. We invite them when we need to do big jobs in the garden. It was first drizzling, then bucketing on Tuesday afternoon, but they worked in the rain. To keep them warm, I offered them hot drinks and cakes. They said this cake was absolutely delicious and that they would be more than happy to have a cake like this served in a restaurant as a dessert.

Not so classic New York cheesecake
150g crushed biscuits, Hobnobs and Hovis Digestives
2tbsp sugar
50g Stork
2 packages of Light Philadelphia soft cheese
170g pot of Chobani fat free with raspberry yoghurt
4 eggs
200g caster sugar
3tbsp self-raising flour
1tbsp vanilla paste

I typically use the butter in cakes, but I had a pack of Stork in the fridge (if you ask why, I bought it to enter the competition. Yes, me and my competitions, lol).
Crush the biscuits in a bowl. Add the sugar and melted butter or margarine. Mix the crumbs well. Press onto the bottom of the springform cake tin.
In a deep bowl mix together the soft cheese, yoghurt, vanilla paste, flour, eggs, using the hand blender.
Pour the mix over the crumbs in the tin.
Bake at 180C for good 70 minutes, until the centre is almost set (it will still be wobbly when you take the tin out).
Cool the cake before removing the tin. Be careful or it might crack on the side (mine did, it didn't affect its taste, but slightly spoilt the looks).
It is best eaten the next day after staying in the fridge overnight (or at least 3-4 hours before serving).

For this cake I used Chobani fat free yoghurt with raspberry. This is a new flavour in a Chobani family of yoghurts. I have recently reviewed this tasty range, see my post Chobani yoghurts for more recipe ideas.
The raspberry yoghurt is the same Greek style thick yoghurt, as you would expect from Chobani, layered with a sweet raspberry puree. Delicious on its own, but also lovely as an ingredient for a cake.

Lovely people from Chobani sent me a couple of tubs of new yoghurt to try.
I use the spelling "yoghurt" in this post, though typically I write "yogurt", but I don't want to confuse you if you start googling for Chobani.
And in case you are wondering about the pretty china, this is a Royal Crown Derby coffee set which I bought on ebay. I just couldn't resist, it is so beautiful. Perfect for a sophisticated cup of coffee with a lush slice of cake.