Thursday, 24 July 2014

Apricot, blueberry and Wensleydale cheese salad for Pilgrim's Choice Blogger Challenge

Good news for all cheese lovers: Pilgrim's Choice has launched a new range of small size cheeses in jolly packaging. The Pick N Mix selection comes in a perfect size for sampling new varieties - 80g is enough to get an idea and test the cheese, yet not too big in case a particular variety might be not exactly to your taste.
As a foodie blogger, I love when brands approach me and ask to test their new products and even come up with creative ideas, hoping to inspire and encourage my blog readers to try something new.

summer salad withcheese

For the latest blogger challenge I received six varieties of Pilgrim's Choice Pick N Mix: Vintage Cheddar, Smokey Cheddar, Wensleydale & Cranberry, Indian Spice, Firecracker and Apple & Wensleydale. As you can see, these cheeses have a colourful packaging and come in a rainbow of flavours as well.

British cheese

As we're suffering from enjoying the heat wave these days, I am not very keen to slave at the stove, so salads are the order of the day.

easy salad with cheese

Apricot, blueberry and Wensleydale cheese salad
3-4 ripe apricots, sliced
a handful of rocket salad
a handful of blueberries
80g Wensleydale & Apple cheese, cubed
a handful of walnuts
pumpkin, sunflower seeds & pine nuts
for the derssing, mix:
2tbsp olive oil
1tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp runny honey
1tsbp soy sauce
Assemble the salad by placing the rocket leaves at the base, then adding randomly some sliced apricots, cubed cheese, blueberries and walnuts. Sprinkle some seeds on top. Mix the dressing and drizzle all over the salad.
Wensleydale & Apple cheese was a perfect choice for this salad. It has a lovely tangy flavour, and a crumbly texture with small pieces of apples in it. A tasty cheese on its own, it is a great ingredient for salads.

summer salad with cheese

Another quick lunch idea is Chicken wraps. To make this simple dish, grill the fillets of chicken, cut into thin strips (which were marinated in a tomato sauce with herbs for about an hour). Add a generous dollop of guacamole, chicken strips, rocket leaves and grated cheese in wraps. Make the pockets, then slice in half.
If you don't have any guacamole, use the salsa and soured cream instead, or even any spicy mayo.
For this simple dish I used a small pack of Vintage Cheddar. It is a delicious cheese, great on a cheeseboard with a slice of a fresh fig or a pear and some walnuts. And it is lovely with chicken too.

I haven't tried all the varieties in Pick N Mix yet. We loved the Smokey Cheddar and Wensleydale with cranberries, just as part of a bigger platter of cheeses and hams with salad.

Which Pligrim's Choice cheese do you fancy to try?

And just look at Cod and Cauliflower cheese bake created by Alison from Dragons and Fairy Dust which she has done for the Pilgrim's Choice Blogger Challenge.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Grilled peach and Soreen with ice cream

Soreen has been a staple of the British cuisine since the late 1930s, when Mr Sorensen created it in 1938. Is it a cake? Is it a bread? Whatever it is, this squidgy, squishy cakey bread has become a British icon. Nowadays, apart from the original malt flavour, Soreen offers a wide range of fruit snacks including the Banana loaf, Cinnamon and Raisin loaf and several other fruity flavours.
I was recently asked to create a recipe, using one of Soreen fruity loafs. I confess that until recently I have only tried the Original malt loaf, and was very curious to test and taste a Banana flavoured loaf.

What did I think of it?
It's very moist, soft and with a dense texture. The smell is lovely, and the banana flavour is quite pronounced. It is something in between a fruit cake and a banana bread. It is very nice with a cup of tea.

It could also be used as an ingredient for a dessert like the one I made a few days ago. This is not exactly a recipe, more of a recipe suggestion, but believe me, it is a very moreish dessert.

Grilled Peach and Soreen with ice cream
Ingredients (per each person)
1 peach, quartered
2 slices of Soreen
a scoop of Kelly's clotted cream ice cream
a drizzle of chocolate sauce (I used Choc Shot liquid chocolate)
Grill the slices of Soreen as well as peach slices on a grill pan for 5-7 minutes, turning over. Assemble your dessert: place one slice of Soreen in the middle of a plate, add the peach slices. Scoop some vanilla or clotted cream ice cream in the middle, top up with another slice of Soreen and drizzle with some liquid chocolate.

Mmm, mmm, how tasty is that! You can experiment with fruit and use apricots or nectarines instead, or even ripe pear slices. Greek style yogurt instead of an ice cream would be a healthier choice. This is a lovely combination of flavours and textures. Try it!
What's your favourite way to eat Soreen?

If you liked my recipe suggestion, you might be interested in watching a video on how to make a delicious Chocolate Soreen Flapjack.

Disclosure: I received a selection of Soreen products for the purposes of creating a blog recipe. I am not paid for posting the video, but thought you might like the recipe.

Lovely Cheryl from Madhouse Family Reviews has come up with three delicious ideas in her post Quick desserts using Soreen Malt Loaf. Check them out!

Kellogg's All-Bran Chocolate Wheats giveaway (c/d 7 August 2014)

If you love chocolate, you will enjoy new Kellogg's All-Bran Chocolate Wheats.
I have recently reviewed this cereal, and now I am pleased to offer a tasty prize for my blog readers.
One lucky winner will receive two cases (that's ten boxes) of this delicious chocolate-filled cereal. It is low fat, low calorie and high fibre. Read my full review Kellogg's All-Bran Chocolate Wheats.

To be in with a chance of winning this lovely prize, all you need to do is enter, using a Rafflecopter form below. As usual, you have a choice of options to enter: by leaving a comment (this is the only mandatory step), following the brand on Twitter or Facebook etc.

Only the first step is mandatory: all you need is answer my question by leaving a comment 
(if you login as Anonymous, please leave you Twitter name or FB name, so that I could identify you, I do not suggest leaving the email address in the comment)

All the other steps are optional, you don't have to do them all. All it takes to win is just one entry.
Only one entry per person is allowed (however, you can tweet daily to increase your chances).
The giveaway is open to the UK residents only.
Once the Rafflecopter picks the winner, I will check if the winner has done what was requested. I will contact the winner, if they do not reply within 28 days, the prize will be allocated to another person.

The giveaway will close on 7 August 2014

And the last thing I wanted to say is I have just picked the winner of the last giveaway, and it really saddens me to discover that people try to cheat. There were 142 comments left (the only mandatory step), yet 178 people claimed they did so. Please don't think I don't look first at the entries on a Rafflecopter entry sheet when I pick the winner. If I asked you to leave a comment, I will make sure the winner did it. If you click that you tweeted or repinned, I will check the url of your tweet or pin to check that you have done it. If not, you are basically disqualifying yourself and wasting my time as well as your own.

For more information about All-Bran visit their page.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, 21 July 2014

The Colosseum 3D Puzzle (Ravensburger)

The Colosseum or the Flavian Amphitheatre is known as one of the wonders of the world. This elliptical monument, situated in the centre of Rome has been the largest amphitheatre of the Roman Empire. Many years ago I visited Rome and went to see the Roman Forum. The Colosseum nowadays is an ancient ruin, but it still is a marvel of the architecture which breathes history. In its heyday it could hold between 50 to 80 thousand spectators. It has seen unimaginable cruelty and bravery as it was used for the contests between the gladiators as well as public spectacles and executions. I am fascinated by the ancient Roman history. The Gladiator is one of my favourite movies, and I even named my son Maximus after the main protagonist. Imagine my delight when I was offered to review a 3d puzzle of The Colosseum (Ravensburger).

My hands were itching to build it, but as my older niece was coming to visit us for a month, I knew she would enjoy doing this super puzzle. And she did a stellar job.
The puzzle comes in a sturdy box, like the other puzzles from Ravensburger.

What do you find inside? There are 216 puzzle pieces made from plastic as well as some structural support frames which hold the puzzle together, plus the little spikes-embellishments for the top.
All pieces are numbered and have some little arrows at the back which indicate the sequence of the puzzle chain. It is an intricate puzzle which is an excellent replica of the Roman masterpiece (as it used to look like, not in its current state of a semi-ruin).

Once my niece sorted the numbers and spread them on the table in tens, she was very quick and efficient.

Once all the puzzle pieces were attached to each other, we carefully put it on a narrow base frame to hold it, and then inserted a basin of the theatre inside. Then it was the turn of the finishing touches, like the spikes-columns at the top.

The attention to detail is extraordinary.

The suggested age for assembling this puzzle is 10-99, and my niece is 12.

We have now placed it on the book shelf, and I keep admiring it. This is the second Ravensburger 3d puzzle which we assembled, and they are a real pleasure to play with. These beautiful puzzles will make an excellent gift for any puzzle lover.

If you enjoyed reading this review, you might  be interested in reading a review of the other puzzles from Ravensburger:
Taj Mahal 3d Puzzle
and also see how Cheryl from Madhouse Family Reviews built an even more challenging Empire State Building puzzle.

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

Friday, 18 July 2014

Warm chicken salad with grilled mango and peaches (Amoy Blogger Challenge)

While a soy sauce is an essential ingredient in many Oriental cuisines and recipes, it is such a versatile ingredient that you don't have to limit its use to just Asian-inspired food. I often make simple salads with soy sauce or add to fried meats or vegetables instead of salt. Even a fruit salad might get a boost from a soy sauce. The Amoy range of sauces, noodles and coconut milk is well known and deservedly popular among cooks of all levels of culinary skills.

Warm chicken salad with grilled mango and peaches

Recently Amoy has launched a range of 3 soy sauces including Garlic & Chinese 5 spice, Kaffir Lime and Lemongrass and Red Chilli. They all sound delicious. I have tried one of the varieties (Garlic), cooking a stir fry, and it was delicious.

Beef stir fry with carrots, wild mushrooms, garlic, Amoy noodles and soy sauce

Amoy has also produced a range of Easy Meal Kits, which I haven't seen yet. I believe they are available in Asda only, and we don't have an Asda in town.
As an Amoy fan, I was happy to be invited to take part in an Amoy Blogger Challenge. All participating bloggers got a selection of Amoy foods (three soy sauces, lots of noodles and more) to play with and cook a BBQ meal.

This is the stash which I received for the Amoy Blogger Challenge

So, in the last couple of weeks I have been adding different soy sauces to numerous dishes, like a simple chicken and vegetables stir fry with red peppers, courgettes, tomatoes, garlic and herbs.

Use light soy sauce to cook a baked fish dish. Last Sunday I happened to buy some beautiful Dover sole (two whole fish for a pound and a half, as it was just before the closing time at Waitrose). I filleted the fish, placed it on the oiled tray, scattered thinly sliced fennel over it. Then I poured half a glass of white wine with Amoy light soy sauce, and later added some chopped dill. It was fabulous with the fried potatoes with wild mushrooms.

Dover sole fillets with fennel, dill, white wine and soy sauce
Yet for the Blogger Challenge I cooked a simple Warm chicken salad with grilled mango and peaches. It was so tasty, that my husband said It was extraordinarily good.

Warm chicken salad with grilled mango and peaches
300g chicken fillets
2 peaches, quartered
1 big mango, peeled and sliced
1 tsp chilli paste (or use a fresh chilli)
1tbsp soy sauce
2tbsp olive oil
rocket salad, to serve with
a handful of pistachio nuts
for the dressing:
2tbsp olive oil
1/2 lime, juice
2tbsp soy sauce
1tbsp honey, runny variety

Start by peeling the skin from mango. Cut the cheeks off and set them aside for later grilling, and then cut off all the remaining soft juicy bits, whizz them with a hand blender in a medium bowl and mix with some chilli paste, soy sauce and olive oil. Put the thin strips of chicken fillets in the marinade, and coat them well with it. Leave the chicken in the marinade for at least an hour.
Later cook the chicken fillets on the BBQ, turning regularly until cooked through (no pink juice running). Grill the quartered peaches and mango slices until browned for about 5-7 minutes.
Assemble the salad by layering the rocket as the base, then adding chicken fillets, mango and peach slices. Scatter some pistachios. Make the dressing by mixing the olive oil, honey, soy sauce and juice of a fresh lime. Pour over the salad, and serve while it is still warm. Enjoy!

I love the combination of sweet and savoury flavours, and the soy sauce works beautifully in marinades and sauces.

If you liked this recipe, you might be interested in reading a blog post with a recipe for Soy sauce and chilli glazed duck with fruit salsa.
And don't forget to have a look at what the other foodie bloggers prepared for the Amoy Blogger challenge: Alison from Dragons and Fairy Dust has created several mouth-watering recipes including a Noodle salad and Peanut satay and lime chicken kebabs; Cheryl from Madhouse Family Reviews has assembled a delicious Sticky Chinese Steak with Rainbow Noodle Salad.

Disclosure: I received a selection of Amoy products for the purposes of taking part in Amoy Blogger Challenge. All opinions are mine.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Arty spoons and jungle football

"Mummy, I want to put eleven eyes on the monkey"

We've been waiting for three parcel and packet deliveries today. As it always happens, waiting for the postie is like waiting for Godot. It is a tedious task.
You literally have to sit not far from the door not to miss him.
I didn't dare to go to the garden with Eddie in case we miss the knock on the door, so to keep him happy I took out our crafting goodies from the parcel sent by Betta Living (fitted kitchen retailer) to participating bloggers (see my previous post Kids in the Kitchen).

Among many other lovely things we got a set of wooden spoons for decorating, as well as colourful pipe cleaners (does anyone actually use them as pipe cleaners? ever?), googly eyes, pom-poms and cut out foam shapes of animals.
Creating Wonderful Wooden Spoon Characters is one of 20 activities on Betta Living Activity List of things to do this summer both on a sunny and rainy day.

First we tackled the spoons. Eddie asked me to draw a face on one of them. Then he started to draw his own design and later glued several sets of eyes to it. He said it was an alien monkey spoon, and was very proud of his invention. I tend to agree, his alien monkey looks better than the design suggested by me (Eddie did decorate it with pom poms and fuzzy wipes).

Then Eddie wanted to play with foam shapes. I suggested he should do a jungle scene. He drew a path and trees, then I helped him to add glue to the animal shapes, and he glued them around. As he added shapes to the picture, he commented that the elephants were Mummy, Daddy, his brother and him, and apparently "we" were all playing football in the jungle, while the monkeys watched.

He also drew a picture of "an elephant trapped in a cage" (I guess, that comes from watching Dumbo). It struck me that unknowingly he came up with an idea similar to Antoine de Saint-Exupery's Little Prince. Do you remember a picture of an elephant swallowed by a python?!

As it happened, we missed the postie. I was hoovering and didn't hear the knocking at the door. Five minutes later I have found the red card on the rug at the door. Like Elmer the patchwork elephant likes to say; "Drat!". The couriers haven't arrived either. Oh well, at least we had fun while waiting.

If you'd like to have a go at a crafting session like ours, we used a GoCreat Animal Multi-Pack from Tesco.

Disclosure: we received a big box of summer activities' goodies to play with and write about it.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Kids in the kitchen

Involving children in food preparation is an easy way to encourage them to eat a varied diet. While tiny tots can watch, older kids like my Eddie who's turning a sage age of 4 this month and who cackles when I call him a wise old elf, can be taught the basics of cooking. Yes, prepare yourself that everything will be messy, that you most likely end up covered in flour or frosting, but cooking is one of the vital skills which we all need to learn. And we do need to start at some point, so make it fun, when you want to encourage your kids to be involved.

There are certain rules, of course, which you need to keep in mind, like safety first of all (sharp knives and hot ovens are better be avoided by little people). Even with the simplest of tasks you should always supervise your mini-chef. Keep the recipes simple. But most important, have fun and enjoy it.
My sons love helping with baking, I can entrust them with a bowl and a big wooden spoon, and later, once the cake or cupcakes are baked, I let them decorate our joint effort with frosting, icing and lots of sprinkles.

It so happened that I was one of the lucky bloggers who were invited to take part in Kids in the kitchen project put together by Betta Living, a well known fitted kitchen retailer. All participants received a huge box of goodies for a fabulous Summer holiday bucket list, which had an activity pack of things to do with children, either in the garden in good weather or at home on a rainy day.

My younger son was very excited when the box arrived, it was like a Christmas in summer for him. He kept taking things out of the box and exclaiming with delight at the Kermit and Miss Piggy masks, gardening tools, skittles as well as cooking and crafting goodies.

We haven't yet used all the things we got, so watch this space for more posts related to this summer project.
In a few days' time we'll say Good bye to the teachers.
Did you know that the cost of keeping a child entertained over the summer holiday is estimated between £1000-1600?  The items in our goodie box cost £50 and it would take more than 20 days to complete all the activities on the bucket list. It's a super list of inspirational projects and activities, and we plan to do as many as we can in the coming weeks. I have been postponing some activities, as my older niece is coming for a month's visit, and I am sure she'll be happy to make a pizza and ice lollies with us, as well as have a good crafting session or two or three.
Last week has seen a mix of rainy and sunny weather. When the sun is out, it's difficult to convince my younger son to do anything indoors, he loves playing in the garden or at the playground nearby. Yet on one of the rainy days we baked some banana cupcakes and played a game of skittles.

Banana cupcakes (makes 10-12)
1 ripe banana, mashed
100g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
1/2tsp cinnamon
1tsp vanilla essence
75g golden syrup
2 tbsp ground almonds
150g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
80g butter, melted
for the frosting:
300g icing sugar
40g coconut oil
30ml coconut milk
lots of sprinkles

Mash a banana with a fork in a medium mixing bowl. Add the sugar and eggs, golden syrup, ground almonds and spices and mix well. Add the flour, baking powder and melted butter, keep mixing.
Spoon the cake batter in the paper muffin cases inserted in a cupcake tin tray. Cook in the oven preheated to 180C for about 20 minutes (check with a wooden skewer if they are ready after 15 miutes).
Take the tray out, and let the cupcakes cool completely before decorating.
Beat the icing sugar, coconut oil and coconut milk to make the frosting. Either spoon over the cupcakes, or use a piping bag. Use lots of sprinkles for decoration.

While the cupcakes were cooling down, Eddie and I played skittles to keep him happy.

Then it was time to decorate our yummy cupcakes!

Shake and shake and shake the sprinkles all over
Eddie was very proud of his decorative skills, and enjoyed eating the cupcakes with his big brother as soon as he finished his arty job.

Disclosure: We received a Kids in the Kitchen goodie box for the purposes of writing a blog post.

You can find a full list of 20 Kids in the Kitchen activities on Betta Living.

If you enjoyed reading this post, you might like to know what my friends said about their Kids in the Kitchen activities:
see Betta Living Kids in the Kitchen summer fun ideas by Cheryl from Madhouse Family Reviews

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Spaghetti Bolognese

"Mummy, sghetti are my favourite and my best!" (Eddie about spaghetti)

Actually here Eddie is eating spaghetti with pesto, he doesn't like meat sauces or ragu

My family loves spaghetti, and we eat it a couple of times a week. Little man likes just plain spaghetti with pesto, my personal favourite is either pasta with clams or Spaghetti alla Genovese, with chopped potatoes, green beans and pesto. My husband is content to eat any pasta, well, he is Italian after all.
An authentic Ragu Bolognese is not served with spaghetti, and what is known as spag bol in this country (shudder) often has nothing in common with the original dish. My version of ragu is not an authentic one, but is not as horrible as the bastardised spag bol.

Italian recipes, best pasta recipes

Spaghetti Bolognese (serves 4)
500g minced beef
1 carrot, peeled and grated
1 onion, finely chopped
2 medium tomatoes, sliced
a few cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 jar of tomato ragu sauce
1tsp mixed herbs (dried) or 1 tbsp fresh herbs (like basil)
100ml red wine (optional)
2tbsp olive oil for frying
sea salt
Fry the minced beef until well browned with the chopped onions and garlic with the olive oil in a big frying pan. Add the grated carrot, herbs, red wine and tomato sauce. Season well and cook on low for good 40+ minutes. The ragu will be simmering slowly. Give it an occasional stir.

Cook spaghetti al dente in the boiling salted water. Drain the pasta and serve with the ragu.
Grate a bit of parmesan on top if you fancy it.
I remember reading on some cooking forum where people suggested adding mango chutney or Marmite to the ragu, but mind boggles - why oh why? Horses for courses, of course, as long as it is not called a Bolognese. So, how do you cook your spaghetti Bolognese?

Kellogg's All-Bran Chocolate Wheats and The #RealMumsAllBran Challenge

Shredded wheat is a healthy choice of breakfast for many families, it comes in different sizes and flavours. Despite all the health benefits it offers, I confess that I don't often have cereals myself. If it's a plain shredded wheat or bran flakes, I tend to add some dried fruit or honey to it. Kellogg's have recently added a new product to their range of All-Bran cereals, and as soon as I heard the magic word "chocolate", I knew I must try it. Kellogg's All-Bran Chocolate Wheats is the same low calorie, low fat and high fibre cereal, only chocolate-flavoured.

Kellogg's All-Bran Chocolate Wheats look like mini cushions of shredded wheat.
They are not as sweet as some of the cereals for children (which is a big bonus). The chocolate filling is lovely. My guys liked them as snacks (I mentioned a few times on my blog that my children don't like milk in cereals, and prefer to have a snack and a glass of milk separately).

Just this morning I saw my older son sneaking in the kitchen and picking a few sweet cushions. He's 12 now, and is growing fast, and boys do tend to graze through the day.
I'm all in favour of him snacking on All-bran rather than munching on the cookies from a cookie jar.
I like the fact that All-Bran is a high fibre cereal (it provides 6g of fibre per 100g) and is made with wholegrain (it contains all 3 parts of the grain). Each 45g serving contains 179 calories, 9g of sugar and 4g of fat. 9g of sugar is 10% of the guideline daily amount. Ideally I'd prefer if it were even lower, so that if my guys get sugar, it should mostly come from fruit and vegetables.Yet comparatively to some other cereals catering for the children's market, they are relatively low in sugar.

Kellogg's box of All-Bran comes with a Take our 5 day Challenge, inviting the consumers to eat the cereal for 5 days in a row for breakfast and see if it makes a difference to feeling bloated and sluggish. I cannot say that I have been feeling bloated recently, as I keep taking a prebiotic powered drink for that, so it is difficult for me to say if All-Bran made a difference. But knowing that high fibre is good for my digestive health is enough of an incentive for me. And making it in chocolate flavour makes it even more appealing.

BritMums asked blogging Mums to join in the challenge and chirruped: "Our latest Challenge is all about getting a good feeling in your tummy as well as about your tummy. The Real Mums of All-Bran 5-Day Challenge is all about embracing our tummies and the way they look."

It is easy enough to get rid of the tummy niggles on the inside, and much harder to accept the outside. This year I have been on a yo-yo diet since January, I tried the 5:2 diet, the fast metabolism and slimming pills and drinks. Whatever I lost, I gained back.
Perhaps I should really stop and just accept the fact that, yes, my tummy is wobbly and soft, that I am not as slim as I was in my 20s, but this tummy did a super job, carrying two big babies (both of my sons were ten-pounders at birth). Maybe instead of being embarrassed about my midriff, I should be proud of its achievements! I joked today with my Mum, saying that my goal now is to look like this Russian beauty painted by Kustodiev.

And while I will not subject you to the sight of my own naked tummy, I will sing aloud the words from The Older Ladies Anthem:
"My thighs kinda jiggle when I giggle and wiggle
And if that’s the reason that you don’t love me,
Maybe that’s not love
My tummy ain’t tucked or liposucked.
It’s a little poochy, but I still Hoochy Koochy..."

Looking at my two beautiful boys, I am grateful to my body for doing a great job. I am a Mum, a real Mum, and I'm celebrating my tummy.

My little man snacking

For more information visit Allbran.

Disclosure: I was too late to apply for BritMums RealMumsAllBran challenge but I received a box of All-Bran Chocolate Wheats for the purposes of reviewing separately.

This post is an entry for the “Real Mums of All-Bran” Linky Challenge, sponsored by Kelloggs