Saturday, 30 November 2013

Cheddar nibbles with Rice Krispies

During our last stay at my in-laws in Italy I was looking through some paperbacks that I left there many years ago, and a magazine cutting with a recipe for Cleverest Ever Cheese Nibbles has fallen out.

I don't know now which magazine it was, it must have been either BBC Good Food or Somerfield magazine, and it was published some time before 2000, as that was the year when we moved to the States and sent a whole load of our books and belongings to Italy. I read the recipe and liked the sound if it, it is incredibly easy to make and you can involve children in the baking session.

I have only slightly adapted the recipe by using at least half a teaspoon of paprika. I also didn't have 225g of Cheddar, but a smaller block, so I used some grated Babybel to make up the difference.
As suggested, I mixed together the grated cheese (225g) with 115g softened butter and paprika, added 25g Rice Krispies and plain flour (100g). Then just mix it all together, roll into small balls and place on the pre-oiled tray (I used 2 trays). Bake for 15 minutes until golden at 180C.

The resulting nibbles were very soft, textured and a bit fluffy. I didn't mind that they were all mismatched, as it only adds to the rustic charm. They will look lovely on a cheeseboard with strong flavoured cheese and pickles.

I used a mild Cheddar for this batch, I think next time I will try the extra mature Cheddar and even more paprika.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Mini pampepato

Pampepato, a spiced chocolate cake, is a speciality of Ferrara. It was first mentioned in the documents dating back to the 15C. The original cake was created by Cristoforo da Messisbugo, a celebrity chef of his times. The Ferrarese claim this was the first chocolate cake produced in Europe. The name Pampepato means the bread of the Pope, and was a chef's tribute to the Pope. There is another Italian cake called Panpepato (or peppered bread) which is a completely different cake.

Every Christmas we spent in Ferrara, Italy, with my husband's family, we would have a slice of this rich spicy chocolate fruit cake at the end of the meal. It is very rich, so you only need a small piece. I love the local Christmas markets which sell Pampepato in different sizes, from big shiny domes to mini-cakes, that are like thick biscuits.

Pampepato di Ferrara (makes 1 big or 12-14 small cakes)
200g flour (preferably Italian 00 type)
100g caster sugar
3tbsp runny honey
100g whole almonds
100g chopped candied orange and lemon peel
100g cocoa (not the hot chocolate mix)
1tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp ground cloves
120ml milk, warmed
200-300g dark chocolate (depends on the quantity of cakes you make)

In a big mixing bowl mix together the flour, caster sugar, spices and candied fruit. Add the cocoa, almonds, honey and warm milk (a little at a time). Stir well together.
Using hands, work the cake dough to shape a big ball. Flatten the ball and shape it as a dome.
If you are making mini-cakes, roll the dough into small balls and also flatten them to resemble domes.
Place the cakes onto the tray, which has been covered with the slightly oiled foil.
Bake at 180C for 15-25 minutes (less time for mini-cakes, longer if you bake one cake).
Ideally the cake should rest in a cool place for 10 days before being covered with the chocolate icing.

For the icing, melt the chocolate over a boiling water and dip the mini-cakes in the melted chocolate or drizzle it over the big cake. The chocolate has to set before you can cut the cake.
Use the dark, bittersweet chocolate for the authentic flavour.
The cake will keep well for a couple of weeks.

Decorate with the writing icing (optional).

I had a bit of a disaster with this batch. I managed to burn the chocolate icing, as I answered the phone and forgot all about it, by the time I got to the kitchen, I had crispy coals in a pan. Had to buy more chocolate for the icing.


mummy mishaps

Thursday, 28 November 2013

The Artisan Kitchen jams: try something different

Jams... the best ones are still done in small batches, in a traditional copper pot. The Artisan Kitchen makes a fabulous array of jams, preserves, marmalades and pickles. The Artisan Kitchen is a brainchild of a passionate foodie and a trained chef Sarah Churchill. Wherever possible, Sarah uses the local fruit and berries for her marvellous inspired creations.
I have recently discovered The Artisan Kitchen online, and was pleased to see a lot of innovative and unusual flavours. While I was browsing, I wanted to try them all.

I have recently mentioned The Artisan Kitchen Gloucester Quince and Lime Jam, the jam of gloriously rich colour and great taste.
As a chocoholic, I couldn't resist buying Raspberry & Chocolate Jam. I love raspberry in chocolate, but have never tried a chocolate-flavoured raspberry jam. Did it work? When you open the jar, the jam doesn't look any different from any other good quality thick raspberry jam with a high fruit content. It is soft set and looks very appealing. If you love chocolate, you will love the jam as well. It was a bold decision but original and inventive. A big Yes to this combination of flavours!
It transforms a humble slice of bread into a Royal feast. If the Queen who "was in the parlour eating bread and honey" had a choice, she would go for this jam.

I love the idea that Sarah works with the fruit's natural pectin rather than adding the additional commercial pectin.
She is a true artist, a Maestro of the kitchen who knows her jams and pickles.

Toffee Apple Jam is a sweet chunky jam. The apples are cut into mini-cubes and look very pretty spread on the bread. It contains homemade toffee sauce. I tried a small jar, so didn't have enough to experiment with, but I would imagine it will be superb in a crostata served with the vanilla ice cream or thick Greek yogurt.

Strawberry Apple Vanilla jam is another tasty combination of flavours. Perfect on a toast or with a hot croissant.
Tutti Frutti Jam is a mix of red berries and Bramley apples, again a lovely combination of flavours. How about adding a dollop of jam on your pancakes or blini?!

Raspberry & chocolate jam in a warm croissant, simply divine

We loved all the flavours of jams that we tried. If I had to choose my total favourite, it would be Apricot Lemon Verbena Jam which is absolutely AMAZING (yes, in capital letters). There are big soft pieces of apricot in a soft jam, which benefits from an added lemon verbena flavour. The flavours are perfectly balanced. It is such a beautiful jam, that if I were the Queen, Sarah would be appointed a Dame without any doubt.

If you are thinking of giving foodie gifts for Christmas, visit The Artisan Kitchen online, you will be spoilt for choice.

Apricot Lemon Verbena jam on toast
Disclosure: I bought 3 several jams and also received several small size samplers with my order. All opinions are mine.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

All Aboard Interactive Story Book

Are you one of those annoying well-organised people who had all their Christmas gifts shopping done and wrapped before September? Or like me, you're still thinking what to get for your kids and dear husband? I have squirrelled a couple of presents for my little man but most of my gifts are yet to be purchased. Anything where you need to press buttons gets thumbs up from my kids. I just knew my 3-year-old will be happy to read a new All Aboard Interactive Storybook from Hallmark.

interactive books for children

The book has an On/Off button at the top right hand edge and comes with the pre-installed batteries (just pull the tab to start it). Sit with your child in a quiet place and read aloud. Once you read the highlighted phrases, the book springs into action and will automatically respond to your voice, asking your little one to participate.
As you can guess from the book title "All Aboard" takes you on a train journey. Connor the train conductor will welcome you on board the train. You are invited to travel to Celebration City.

Connor likes to chat, and will ask you lots of questions, as you turn the pages of the book. Help him find the missing ticket or choose the track for the train, say Hello to the farmer feeding her chickens and keep the train clean and tidy.

As soon as we finished reading the book, Eddie wanted to read it again. This is a kind of a book that appeals to him. Depending on what you child chooses or says, there will be different responses from Connor. This fun book has over 30 possible interactions.

This enjoyable interactive book will make a lovely Christmas gift.
My only unenthusiastic critique of the book will be that I found Connor's voice a bit too loud to my taste. I wish there was a way to make the sound lower.
The illustrations are colourful and remind of the books I enjoyed reading as a child.

Disclosure: I received this interactive book for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are mine.

Christmas gifts inspiration

Let me mention first that if you are looking for techie gift ideas, you are in the wrong place. I know nothing about the latest gadgets (I wouldn't know a Wii from Xbox), unless they are kitchen-related. The selection of gift ideas that I offer for your perusal is more or less my own wish list. I would be happy with any of those presents (yes, including those that are supposedly for men in your life).

Winter and jumpers, you cannot imagine one without the other if you live in the colder climes. For the fans of Sarah Lundt and all things knitted, I found these two super-jumpers: Sleuth Jumper from Seasalt is a Scandi-inspired knit in super soft lambswool, sporting a classic Fair Isle pattern and looking very cozy, and this fab traditional jumper from Gudrungudrun would make a Sarah Lundt fan stop in her tracks.

Hats! As someone who watched Downton Abbey more for hats than the plot, I am always on the lookout for the new attractive hats. This Cossack fur hat from Marisota reminds me of Dr Zhivago with its most beautiful Lara's theme by Maurice Jarre. The black pork pie hat with tartan trim from Pret-a-Portobello is darn cute and stylish. I will happily wear either of them.

This Cute Jute bag from Seasalt would make a charming gift bag (that could be regifted later too). It is 30x24cm in size, a perfect container for a box of chocolate or a pretty scarf, like this gorgeous soft Russian Doll scarf from White Stuff's recent Verushka collection. It is very silky and hugs your neck gently. I confess, I have treated myself to this scarf just the other day. It is my pre-Christmas gift to myself, and I love it (I have recently written about Verushka range).

They say it will be a long snowy winter. Have you prepared your wellies yet to wade through the snow? These comfy and lightweight red wellies from Burnhills will brighten up even a dark morning. And these adorable sheep slippers aka Baa Baa Mules from White stuff will keep your feet warm.

Are you feeling tired? Do the dark mornings and early evenings make you feel miserable? How about this mood-enhancing Mama Mio Gravida candle? It would add a touch of glamour to any interior. Mama Mio calls it a "fragrant halo of calm". I love citrus aromas, and feel relaxed looking at the flame of a candle.
Snuggle up all wrapped cozily in this elegant Cape Mohair knee throw in pastel check at Achica.

For a posh Downton Abbey-style tea party go for this elegant Portrait dessert set from Zara (very reasonably priced at £9.99).
Sophie Bruen's handcrafted ceramics are inspired by nature. This dragonfly bowl is simply stunning. Love the colour and the pattern, very Japonesque.

Now these gifts are supposed to be suitable for men in your life, but I just adore this cute little robot tea infuser from Rigby & Mac. At £5.95 it would make a nice little stocking filler for any tea lover, don't you think? And if you prefer coffee, go for the real McCoy and buy a stove top espresso maker. Just like they do in Italy. Mind you, the espresso from those coffee makers is almost lethal. It is so strong, for me it's like a rocket fuel, I have a sip and ready to launch into the open space. It was invented in 1930s by Bialetti and has become a style icon.

Foodies gifts, now we are talking. My favourite kind of gifts to give and receive.
For a great talking point and a Christmas tree with a difference, go for this Scented Floral Creations Chilli topiary. I wonder if I have enough chillies to make my own mini-tree, as the chilli plant this year was so prolific, we'd never be able to eat all that chilli.
Bellini is my favourite cocktail, which always brings back memories of the sun-kissed evenings in Italy. You can easily make your own Bellini with a Bellini Box from Fortnum & Mason. Fresh peach juice works beautifully with a crisp prosecco for the most wonderful cocktail ever.

Do you love charms? This little stunner of a charm, Pandora Carousel from John Greed Jewellery is ever so elegant and stylish. An enchanting trinket indeed.
If your house is anything like ours, pens and pencils and crayons are all over the place. I wonder if a Wooden pencil tree would make a job of putting them together in one place more attractive to my guys.

There are also some brilliant gifts for kids who enjoy cooking, like The Big Cheese Making Kit from Grow Your Own (is there a mini-Heston Blumenthal in your life who would love experimenting with food?), or Christmas Cookie Cutters from Rigby & Mac, so festive, you'll be chuckling Ho-Ho-Ho baking your cookies.

Here comes Mr Tumble with his famous spotty bag! Squeeze him and squash him, and share giggles with him. Castle & Rattle Play Characters Set - Maileg makes me almost sad that I am not a kid anymore, I would have so loved to play with this soft fabric set with the princess, the frog, the knight and the prince.

And one last gift that I love and which my little man would surely appreciate. He's very much into Fireman Sam stories right now, and his favourite toys are all kinds of fire engines. This super duper Fire Station Play set from BigJigs would surely be a dream come true for him or any other fireman Sam-obsessed little person.

Disclosure: I haven't been asked by any of the companies above to be mentioned on my blog. I love gifts ideas and inspiration boards and hope you enjoy looking at my selection.

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Sunday, 24 November 2013

Stapleton yogurt, bursting with flavour

Stapleton yogurt, different from the first spoon... 
When you pass by the yogurt aisle in the supermarkets, you might almost get lost amidst so many brands, flavours and sizes. Which ones to choose? How does the idea of a creamy yogurt made from the milk of the Jersey cows sound? Especially when it is mixed with fruit and other natural ingredients and a little of unrefined cane sugar? Stapleton assures us that they "still make their yogurt in small, 30-litre pails. It's this technique that gives our yogurt its smooth, silky texture without the need for stabilisers. This is impossible with the larger scale industrial vats used in most of the industry".

Stapleton's signature 25% fruit range comes in five delicious flavours: Strawberry & Clotted Cream, Gooseberry, Raspberry, Nectarine & Passion Fruit and Apple & Blackcurrant.
Each 150g pot is bursting with flavour. As Stapleton states on their website: "Our fruit compotes are prepared on site and stirred in by hand, avoiding unnecessary mechanical processing".

We have tried two of the above flavours: Raspberry and Gooseberry.

Stapleton low fat Raspberry yogurt:
First impressions - very pretty dark pink colour. It is a tasty yogurt with a high content of fruit. It is not just a raspberry-flavoured yogurt (like many other brands), but a yogurt with a generous amount of pureed berries. Absolutely lush!

Stapleton Gooseberry yogurt is another delightful yogurt, full of berries. Before I tried it, I was a bit unsure if it's going to be sour, as many varieties of gooseberries are very tart. I shouldn't have worried. I loved that the gooseberries were not squashed or pureed, but left intact, it was a mix of a creamy delicious yogurt with a gooseberry compote. This is one of the best gooseberry yogurts I have ever tasted.

When the Stapleton hamper arrived, I shared a few pots with my friends and asked to let me know what they thought. One of them emailed me: "Hope all is well with you. Oh yes! the yogurts were delicious. I would almost go to say the best that I have tasted- Mum agrees too. Very fruity with the whole fruit added to make quite an authentic taste..."

Stapleton Prune and Date Yogurt

Stapleton Prune & Date yogurt with sunflower seeds, cereals and grains as well as Stapleton Fig & Date yogurt from Anytime range have recently undergone a packaging design makeover. These attractive 400g pots display the selection of ingredients: seeds, grains and fruit on their packaging sleeves.
I love prunes (and figs) with yogurt, it is such a fantastic combination of flavours - the sweetness of prunes, figs and dates is beautifully contrasted by the sour note of the yogurt. This low fat yogurt is a whole brekkie in a bowl, you get clusters of oat groats and sunflower seeds inside. A brilliant start of the day for many health-conscious customers. Or an afternoon snack, when you are feeling peckish. Anytime range yogurts, as the name suggests, can be enjoyed at any time of the day, not just for breakfast.

Then there is a wonderful range of Stapleton Greek Recipe Yogurts available in Natural, Lemon Curd and Vanilla flavours. These yogurts come in 400g pots which contain several servings and have resealable lids for easier storage. Each of the Greek recipe flavours is a versatile ingredient for desserts - try them with fresh or dried fruit.
The design of the packaging is very stylish and shows very attractive photo images, which were taken in Crete by Stapleton co-founders Peter and Carol Duncan.
The Greek Recipe range (just like the rest of Stapleton's products) contains nothing artificial and achieves its consistency without any thickeners (like modified maize starch or gelatine). It was first produced in the early 1980s, and is inspired by the Cretan holidays.

Stapleton Greek Recipe Natural Yogurt is great in fruit salads and coleslaw, as well as in curries like Korma or Greek style marinated chicken (with garlic, oregano, parsley and lemon).

Add a generous dollop of Greek recipe Natural yogurt to any creamy soup, like this chuck-it-all-in vegetable soup I  cooked today. I had a small size pumpkin or squash, not sure what it was, since pre-Hallowe'en days (the idea was to paint it but it never materialised). I roasted it with a couple of red sweet peppers (skinned the peppers after roasting), and then cooked with 1 chopped carrot, 1 potato, 1 stock cube and a handful of red lentils. Blitzed. Served with the yogurt. It was comfort food at its best. Very tasty.

Make a batch of blini, either sweet or savoury, adding the yogurt to the batter. Top up with a good dollop of yogurt and sliced banana, or a sliver of cured salmon.

Stapleton Greek Recipe Vanilla Yogurt has a delicate vanilla flavour. It is extra smooth and thick.
I have used it to make blueberry pancakes. I often add the soured cream or plain Greek style yogurt to the pancake batter. Vanilla-flavoured recipe added an extra oomph to the much loved dish. Prepare the batter (see my old recipe post for the basic pancake batter) with any of Stapleton's Greek Recipe yogurts. Pour a ladleful of batter on a hot pancake pan and scatter a handful of blueberries. Absolutely delicious!

Blueberry pancake made with Stapleton Greek Recipe Vanilla Yogurt

Stapleton Greek Recipe Lemon Curd Yogurt is wonderfully creamy. For a quick dessert, just spoon it on a shortbread, top up with a few fresh berries and enjoy.

I have also used it in baking. I often bake yogurt cakes or cupcakes, and have a recipe, which I have used with many differently flavoured yogurts and toppings.

These cupcakes are so easy and quick to make, and are full of goodness. I often put one of them into my older son's lunchbox as a dessert.

Yogurt cupcakes with poppy seeds
3 eggs
175g caster sugar
150ml yogurt
1tsp vanilla essence
150g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
70g ground almonds
165g butter, melted
2tbsp honey
zest of 1/2 lemon
2+tbsp poppy seeds
Beat the eggs with the sugar until creamy, and add the remaining ingredients, one at a time, keep mixing. Add  1tbsp of the poppy seeds to the cake mix, and leave 1tbsp for the topping.
You can substitute the seeds for sunflower seeds as a topping, or use the pine nuts.
Pour the cake mix into the muffin cases placed in the muffin tin, and bake in the oven preheated to 180C for about 20 minutes. Check if the cupcakes are ready with a wooden toothpick.
The cupcakes are very soft and squishy.

For more information, updates and funky competitions, visit Stapleton Yogurt on Facebook.
You can find Stapleton Yogurt on Twitter as well.

There is also a fab competition to win a summer holiday in North Devon on Stapleton website (link removed as expired). You can bet I have entered, and keep my fingers crossed.

Disclosure: I received a hamper of Stapleton yogurts for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are mine.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Wild mushroom risotto with parmesan and clotted cream

Wild mushrooms' season has technically ended, but you can still get some in Tesco if you're lucky. Just make sure they're not soggy if you are buying the pre-packed mushrooms. I am still working through a selection of Rodda's goodies that I received recently for testing a couple of Rodda's recipes (see my posts Beef Stroganoff with Rodda's Cornish clotted cream and The ultimate creamy mashed potato with Rodda's Cornish clotted cream). I had in mind to cook a very creamy risotto with clotted cream. I also had some lovely girolle and chanterelle mushrooms which work beautifully in risotto.

Wild mushroom risotto with parmesan and clotted cream
180g risotto rice
100g wild mushrooms (for example, girolle + grey chanterelle)
50g butter (I used Rodda's butter)
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
2tbsp olive oil
a splash of white wine (optional)
4 heaped tbsp Rodda's Cornish clotted cream
1 and 1/2 mug of stock
25g Parmesan, grated + more for garnishing

Brush off the dirt from the mushrooms, or wipe clean with a damp cloth. Chop them not too finely. Heat the oil and half the butter in a deep frying pan and fry the mushrooms for a couple of minutes. Tip them out into a bowl to set aside.
Cook the chopped shallots in the oil left from mushrooms until translucent.
Add the risotto rice and stir together with the shallots, so that the rice is well coated. Add a generous glug of white wine if you are using it. A splash of dry sherry would be lovely too instead of the white wine.
I made the stock from the I Dadi/Star porcini stock cube (one is more than plenty, if anything, half of a cube is enough, as the cubes are very salty, you really need to use them sparingly). Any vegetable stock will be a good substitute (or even chicken stock).
Add one ladle of stock at a time to the rice and stir, keep stirring until the liquid is absorbed and cook on low for about 15 minutes, occasionally stirring and adding more stock. As the stock was salty, I didn't need any additional salt.
Stir in more butter and clotted cream as well as the grated parmesan.
Serve with more parmesan shaved on top of risotto.

Typically I use the single cream in risottos, but adding Rodda's Cornish clotted cream this time resulted in a much creamier dish. My husband wanted a second helping of the risotto, and said it was exceptionally good.