Friday, 31 October 2014

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Figgy's Christmas pudding: an indulgence in a bowl

For many food bloggers Christmas has already started in summer, when they went to different Christmas-in-July venues, where brands meet bloggers and showcase their seasonal offerings. Alas, most of them took place in London, and I haven't been able to go to any of them. But my Christmas sampling has also started ahead of the season, and just the other day I had a taste of my first Christmas pudding of a new season. It happened to be a delightful Figgy's Christmas pudding.
I have tried many luxury ranges of puddings, and let me tell you, this must be the best of all (it even beats Betty's and Heston's creations).
The pudding comes in a traditional Mason ceramic bowl, wrapped in a white muslin cloth. It looks perfectly classic and stylish.

Very reasonably priced (from £10 to £20), this is a pure indulgence in a bowl.
Figgy's pudding is an award winner, in fact it is a recipient of multiple awards, and no wonder why.
These artisanal puddings are handmade in Devon, following a traditional family recipe.

I confess I have never made a Christmas pudding in my life. In Russia we have our own traditional foods for the winter festivities, and Christmas pudding is not one of them. The first time I tried one was almost 20 years ago, when I came to England as a student. It was probably a standard supermarket fodder, and I wasn't impressed with it. In fact I was wondering what all the fuss was about, and explained it to my family as a charming English eccentricity.

But my curiosity won over, and since my first taste of the Christmas pudding, I have tried many varieties, from luxury brands to homemade. Some were delicious, some quite forgettable.
Figgy's Christmas pudding is a lovely discovery. I would be happy to buy it and offer it to my family and friends.

It would make a great gift for foodies or busy families who don't have time to make their own pudding. In fact it might solve me the problem of buying gifts for a couple of friends, as you can send a pud straight to your addressee with just £1.95 for postage.

I read with great interest that owners Jo and Richie Evans are passionate about producing the best authentic Christmas puddings.
They carefully select the finest ingredients for their produce, for example, the legendary ten-year-old Somerset cider brandy and CAMRA champion Port Stout from Hanlons in Devon.

The flavours are marvellously rich, yet the texture is light and not at all dense, as often happens with puddings.
It is quite crumbly, appley, with a good amount of booze (not overwhelming) and not too sweet. Its ingredients are Californian raisins, sultanas, breadcrumbs, carrots, vegetable suet, Demerara, golden syrup, free range egg, Hanlons Port Stout, English Bramley apples, 10-year-old Somerset Cider Brandy, glace cherries, ground almonds, orange juice, lemon juice, mixed peel, zest, spices and more.
It is light enough to be a served as a grand finale for a Christmas meal.

I have tasted it in a company of two friends, and both were very enthusiastic about it and said they'd definitely buy it.
It would probably be gorgeous mixed with ice cream, but I haven't got any left to try. It was so good, that it didn't last long.
Top marks from all testers!

Please see Figgy's to order one of Figgy’s luxury Christmas Puddings or call 01392 459 488.

Disclosure: I received a Figgy's pudding for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are mine.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Peppa Pig Muddy Puddles Jumbo Jet

Peppa Pig, an iconic cheeky piggy, has probably a bigger following of fans than One Direction. In our family she's certainly more important and popular. We have quite a few Peppa pig toys and most of the DVDs in our collection. Now that Eddie is 4, he's slowly drifting into more challenging TV shows and characters, but he's still very fond of Peppa. Despite his recent penchant for Superheroes & Ninja Turtles, he was thrilled to receive a new Peppa Pig Muddy Puddles Jumbo Jet from Character

Peppa's plane comes with a mini-figure of Peppa pig and a couple of suitcases. The Jet moves along on free-wheeling wheels. There is a side door for Peppa, and a luggage compartment in the back which opens up.
You don't need any batteries to operate a toy (always a bonus!), and you don't need to assemble anything (double bonus!). And it doesn't make any noises or sounds.
Eddie has been playing with it, taking Peppa on a flight to Italy, as he says. Italy is where his grandparents live, and where he thinks Peppa should be flying as well.

Now for the cons bit: like most toys based on TV shows, the boxes are covered with free ads in the back for the other toys in the series. Of course, my son thinks this is an invitation to ask for more toys, because he wants this and that.
There is only one mini-figure in the set. And Eddie asks me "Why are there three seats? and Who will fly with Peppa?"

Eddie had lots of fun, playing with his new toy. He even made Peppa do a full salto-mortale (poor Peppa!), and she lived to tell the tale.

If you have little Peppa pig fans, this is a toy to put on a possible gift list for Christmas. I'm sure it will be greeted with great enthusiasm.

Snort! Snort!

Disclosure: We received Peppa Pig Jumbo Jet for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are Eddie's and mine.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Heinz Tomato Ketchup 50% Less Sugars

Prawn cocktail

Like many parents nowadays, I am looking for lower sugar and salt choices, when doing grocery shopping for my family. Thankfully, many brands have started introducing lower sugar and salt versions of the classic food products. To go with the times and healthy trends, Heinz has launched a new Heinz Tomato Ketchup 50% Less Sugars, which has 50% less sugar and 25% less salt than  regular Heinz Tomato Ketchup.
Heinz has been producing its famous ketchup for over 130 years. Heinz Tomato Ketchup has reached the iconic status and even got immortalised in the artwork by Warhol.
I always have a bottle of Heinz ketchup in the kitchen, and we enjoy it with a variety of foods, from French fries to Russian borscht.

Heinz Tomato Ketchup 50% Less Sugars replaces the current reduced sugar and salt ketchup and also meets 2017 Government salt targets.
It contains sweeteners from natural sources, with some of the sugar being replaced by stevia, a plant from South America.
New ketchup has appeared on the shelves of the major supermarkets in September (priced £2.05 for 555g top down bottle).

I confess I am quite partial to a good old retro-style prawn cocktail with a sauce made from mayo and ketchup. You will need half an avocado and a handful of cooked prawns per person. Mix them with chopped chicory leaves and pour a sauce over it, made of mayo, ketchup and a god squeeze of fresh lime juice.

Sometimes, when I am on my own, and don't want a sandwich for lunch, I do a quick dish of sauerkraut, fried in the olive oil with chopped frankfurters and mushrooms and good dollop of tomato ketchup.

My son Eddie enjoys his fish fingers, fries and peas with a bit of ketchup. This is a treat for him, as I don't often offer him French fries (I usually bake the fries in the oven rather than fry to cut down on fat). He didn't guess that I offered him a new variety of ketchup, as it has the same unmistakable taste of the original Heinz ketchup.

At the moment this is Eddie's favourite meal, he even got a sticker at school from a lunchtime assistant for polishing off his plate (and he often leaves the other foods untouched). When we got out together as a family, that's what he asks for lunch.

This new variety of Heinz tomato ketchup would appealing to parents as it has a much lower sugar intake without compromising in the taste.
Have you tried Heinz Tomato Ketchup 50% Less Sugars?

Disclosure: I received a bottle of new Heinz tomato ketchup for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are mine.

Monday, 27 October 2014

The Lexicon of Tea

I don't drink coffee, I take tea, my dear 
(Englishman in New York, Sting)

Unlike Sting, I do drink coffee, but I am fine going without it for a day or two or longer. Tea is a different thing altogether, I don't think I could function without it. As someone who loves talking about tea, I read an article about the lexicon of tea with great interest. I thought you might love to read it as well.

Tetley introduced tea bags to the UK back in the 1950s and was the first to use perforated tissue for its bags in the 1960s, and in the 1980s launched the first round tea bag. Today, a staggering 36 million cups of Tetley are drunk each day.
What does it take to become a tea taster for Tetley? Have you ever wanted to know about it?

"It takes hard work to become a Tetley Tea Taster, fluent in the art of tea blending and the lexicon that comes with it. The value of knowing the language lies in the need to understand and be completely immersed in the four-step process from crop to cup. It also lies in the ability to distinguish a quality cup in a line-up!

The Tasters use an extensive glossary of terms to define the many variations in terms of their appearance, scent and taste. There are over 200 terms used to describe tea - here are some of our key phrases within our lexicon:

Assam: a black tea grown in the Northeast of India. Assam is a strong, full-bodied tea with a rich and robust flavour, considered by many tea lovers to be a perfect invigorating tea for the morning. Often used in blends because of its strong taste.

Aroma: an important consideration in brewing teas is the smell that is given off. A favourable aroma is most often associated with a flavourful taste.

Black tea: the most commonly consumed tea in the world. Black is one of the three major types of tea, the others being Green and Oolong.

Biscuity: a desirable trait usually referring to a well fired Assam.

Bite: a very brisk and "alive" tea liquor.

Bloom: a sign of good tea picking and sorting (where reduction of leaf has taken place before firing), a 'sheen' that has not been lost through over-handling or over-sorting.

Blend: a mixture of teas from several different origins blended together to achieve a certain flavour profile.

Body: describes tea liquid possessing fullness and strength.

Brisk: describes a lively taste as opposed to a flat or soft tea.

Chai: a blend of black tea with various spices and steamed milk, commonly drunk in India.

Character: an attractive taste, describing teas grown at high altitude.

Coloury: indicates depth of colour and strength.

Dull: tea liquid not clear or bright in colour

Dust: a term that is used to describe the smallest particles of tea leaf.

Fine: teas of exceptional quality and flavor.

Flat: a tea that is not fresh. Tea tends to lose its characteristics and taste with age, unlike some wines that mature with age.

Green tea: tea that undergoes minimal processing and most resembles the original green leaf.

Hard: a desirable quality suggesting pungency, particularly applied to Assam teas.

Harsh: refers to a tea bitter in taste – a possible result from picking (plucking) tea before it is ready.

Jasmine: a green tea to which Jasmine flowers are added.

Leaf: a tea where the leaf tends to be on the large or longish size.

Malty: desirable character in some Assam teas. A full, bright tea with a malty taste.

Metallic: an undesirable trait , leaving a metallic taste in the mouth.

Nose: a term used to connote a good aroma of tea.

Plain: describes teas that are clean and innocuous but lacking character.

Powdery: ‘fine, light dust’ as the tea people say, meaning a very fine, light leaf particle.

Pungent: describes a tea liquid with a marked briskness and an astringent effect on the palate without a bitterness.

Sparkle: clarity and purity of colour, from grey to pure colour.

Toasty: a tea that has been slightly over fired during processing. It may be a desirable characteristic in some Darjeeling teas.

Woody: a characteristic reminiscent of freshly cut timber. This trait is usually associated with teas processed very late in the season.

Zing: overall quality impression of the tea on the palate; the balance of character and taste in the tea.

Disclosure: I received a selection of Tetley tea as a thank you for sharing this article.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Witch's hand

My broomstick is already polished for the coming Hallowe'en. We don't celebrate it the crazy way, like in America, but I usually carve a pumpkin and bake some themed cakes and cookies. Our neighbourhood is full of oldies, and we're not going to trick-or-treating. In fact, I will keep our own curtains drawn just in case, as I don't like strangers on my doorstep, especially those "kids" who are taller than me and look quite menacingly.
We'll have our own mini-Hallowe'en celebration, with a few treats and none of the nasty tricks. I might invite a coupe of friends with kids for a mini-tea party.
To rehearse for the Friday night, I have made a Witch's hand from jelly. It looked absolutely revolting but was a roaring success with Eddie, who was eager to demolish it all (please don't worry, he wasn't allowed to eat it all).

Witch's Hand (recipe reproduced with kind permission from Lovebrands)
Ingredients: 2 packs of jelly, 500 ml boiling water Oil, spray oil
Bed of dirt 100g caster sugar 75g plain Crunch milk sharing bar, blended into crumbs
Make the jelly by pouring 250 ml boiling water in with the jelly cubes and stirring with your broomstick. Then add 250ml cold water. Oil the inside of a clean rubber glove then pour in the jelly mix before tying in a knot and chilling to the bone in the fridge.

When set, carefully cut away the glove to reveal the bloody hand inside. To create bed of dirt boil caster sugar in cauldron with splash of water until it lightly boils and turns brown. Let it bubble till sugar dissolves. Remove your cauldron from the flame and stir in crumbled choc. Leave to cool on a baking tray then fluff into a mound of baking dirt. Curl witches hand on top.

I didn't make bed of dirt because I try to avoid anything which involves hot bubbling caramel. A few years ago I manged to drop a pan of hot caramel, splashing my leg, and don't want to repeat the experience ever again.
It wasn't easy to remove the hand intact, even if I cut the glove carefully. The fingers broke off.
It didn't prevent Eddie from admiring our work of art.
I think I will make a green jelly hand on Friday with a second glove.

What Halloween treats are you making for your little people?

Romanian um Blog

Salmon & Asparagus Stroganoff (Dhruv Baker's recipe for Tilda rice)

I have tried quite a lot of Stroganoff recipes, with beef, pork, chicken and turkey, but never with salmon. When I saw Dhruv Baker's recipe for Salmon Stroganoff, I just had to try it. This is such an interesting twist on a classic Russian dish.
The original Beef Stroganoff (Бефстроганов Befstróganov) was named after Count Grigorii Stroganov (1770-1857), who belonged to one of the wealthiest Russian families and served as an Ambassador to Sweden, Spain and Turkey. As a famous gourmand, he kept only the best chefs in his household(s). The legend says that Beef Stroganoff was invented by a Russian chef, who was Stroganoff's serf.
Fast forward a couple of centuries, and this Russian dish is well known around the world.

MasterChef winner Dhruv Baker has teamed up with Tilda rice to create a Tilda Rice & Spice Guide.
Each of Tilda's rice varieties offers a distinctive flavour tone and texture highlight that can be matched perfectly with dishes and spices from around the globe".

For salmon Stroganoff, Tilda suggests using Basmati & Wild rice. "The nutty wholesome taste of the wild rice matches perfectly with the Basmati grain, adding a visual twist to any dish".

Salmon & Asparagus Stroganoff (serves 4) (recipe reproduced with kind permission from Tilda rice)
240g Tilda Basmati & Wild rice
1tbsp olive oil
500g salmon fillet, cubed
200g button mushrooms
125g asparagus tips, cut into 3cm pieces
200g low fat cream cheese
100ml semi skimmed milk
1/2tsp smoked paprika
1/2 20g pack chives, chopped

1.Cook the rice in boiling water for 25 minutes, drain.
2. Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the salmon and mushrooms for 3-4 minutes.
3. Stir in the asparagus, cream cheese, milk and paprika and cook for 1-2 minutes. Season to taste.
4. Mix the chives into the rice and serve with the salmon stroganoff.

It was a lovely combination of flavours and textures. The mix of wild & Basmati rice might be an unusual side dish for Stroganoff, but it works well. The only thing I missed was a tangy note of soured cream. For me Stroganoff must have a soured cream among its ingredients. I followed Dhruv Baker's recipe precisely (only halved the ingredients for 2 of us, as my boys don't like salmon), but if I cook it next time, I will swap the cream cheese for the soured cream.

You can download the Tilda Rice & Spice Guide (just click on the link on the page).

If you liked this recipe, you might enjoy another of Dhruv Baker's recipes for Tilda - Qabili Pilau.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Coconut & Malibu rum cupcakes

I love browsing in our local Beanbag Natural Health shop, discovering unfamiliar brands or less known ranges. My little man loves rice cakes, coated in yogurt, and I often pop in to buy a pack for him. Last week I saw a box of Biona organic coconut flour on the shelf of gluten-free products, and as we all love coconut-flavoured cakes and bakes, I thought it might be a good idea to try it.
I often use dessicated coconut in baking but it was the first time I cooked with the coconut flour.

Biona organic coconut flour, "made from the finest selected organic coconuts, is a healthy alternative to wheat and other grain flours. Ideal for both sweet and savoury baking... 
If you are planning on using coconut flour as a substitute for traditional flour, make sure to adjust your recipe by adding extra ingredients such as egg, tapioca flour or chia gel. Due to coconut flour being non-glutinous, these additional ingredients are needed to bind the mixture".

Coconut & Malibu rum cupcakes
3 medium eggs
50g caster sugar
50g coconut flour
1tsp vanilla bean extract
50g butter, melted
3tbsp Malibu rum
2tbsp water
for the frosting:
3tbsp coconut oil
3+ tbsp icing sugar
3tbsp light condensed milk
2tbsp dessicated coconut

Beat the eggs with sugar in a mixing bowl, add the coconut flour and mix well. Add the vanilla, butter, rum and a couple of tablespoons of water to give it a softer consistency, easier to spoon into muffin cases. As you can see from the photo below, the texture is quite dense, and it is completely different from the normal flour.

Bake at 180C for 15-20 minutes (check with a wooden skewer if they're ready).

Mix the coconut oil with the icing sugar, condensed milk and dessicated coconut to make frosting.

Texture-wise, these coconut cupcakes reminded me a bit of Mrs Crimble's macaroons - quite dense and not at all like cupcakes made with the standard flour. I liked the mild coconut flavour and the aroma the flour gave to the baked product, but wasn't that enthusiastic about the texture.
I think next time I am going to use the coconut flour in baking, I will mix it with the normal flour, maybe 1/3 coconut flour to 2/3 normal flour. Or gluten free flour, if I know we have a guest on a gluten free diet.
My guys liked the cupcakes and they have disappeared quickly enough, but I think there is a room for improvement.
Have you tried baking with the coconut flour? What did you think?

The Bay Tree: Christmas treats

There is 61 day until Christmas! You might grumble and scorn the Christmas displays in shops, or you might rejoice in the festive atmosphere and join in the fun. I might be nodding my head wisely, talking to the other people "It's way too early to mention the C-word", but inside I am quite content at the sight of shelves of mince pies and Stollen. I love foodie gifts for Christmas, both as a recipient and as a gift giver. If you are looking for gifts and stocking fillers, The Bay Tree has it all covered, beautifully.
The company was set up by trained chef Emma Macdonald 20 years ago, so this year they are celebrating their 20th Christmas with a wide range of home-developed chutneys, jams, mustards, jellies and other preserves. This Somerset brand now boasts an impressive selection of almost 200 lines.
I have recently tasted and tested two lovely Christmas gift sets from The Bay Tree's Christmas assortment.
I do love making my own preserves, as you might have seen on my blog, but I also often buy them. I find it particularly difficult to resist those unusual artisan preserves or novelty sets which you discover in small shops like delis and farm shops.

Sweet Preserve Christmas House comes in a beautifully designed house box decorated with festive images of a Christmas stocking, wrapped gifts, branches of holly and Santa. My younger son has been enchanted with it, and once the jars were removed, it has become a new home for his Lego mini figures.

The Sweet Preserve Christmas House is a trio of traditional sweet preserves: raspberry jam, strawberry jam and a Seville orange marmalade. This classic combination of quality preserves is made according to The Bay Tree's home developed recipes.

The Bay Tree raspberry jam

I have invited a friend to a tasting session. I toasted a few slices of bread, brewed a pot of tea and we tucked into jars. We were in total agreement that all sweet preserves scored high points in the taste department. While raspberry and strawberry jams were well set (you could scoop them out of a jar, heaped), the marmalade was quite runny. When I make my own sweet preserves, it's usually the other way around, I make my jams softer and runnier, and my marmalade is more set. That's not a problem, of course.

In fact, the runny marmalade makes a great glaze for roast. I cooked the duck breasts for dinner, and spread the marmalade over them. The end result was delicious.

For a savoury Christmas treat I have chosen a duo of Boxing Day Chutney and Christmas pickle, which comes together in a plastic see-through container. Savoury Christmas pack would make a great accompaniment for a cheese platter, or Boxing Day cold meat platter. Dads and Grandpas would be thrilled with such a delicious gift (well, Mummies and Grannies too).

The Boxing Day Chutney is an apricot chutney with coriander, sultanas, orange juice, ginger and other ingredients. Great with cheese, it will also work perfectly with cold meats, and could be a great alternative to cranberry sauce in turkey sandwiches.

Fragrant and aromatic, this chutney could be added to curries as well. Or try blending it with cream cheese and walnuts for a scrummy spread for crackers.

Christmas Pickle is a fruity mix of cranberries, apples and currants. It is darker in colour and chunkier than the apricot chutney. Excellent with traditional fare, this could be another perfect filling for a turkey or stuffing sandwich. Open a jar, and smell all the festive Christmas aromas of spices, currants and cranberries.

It is sweet and tangy, great for a little something in between meals, when you are feeling peckish. Spread a tablespoon of chutney on a cracker or a small piece of chunky bread and add a bit of cheese.
So, if you are looking for Christmas foodie gifts, The Bay Tree offers a lovely range of festive foods.

To see a full range of products visit The Bay Tree.

Disclosure: I received The Bay Tree products for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are mine.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

A timeless charm of Cogges

After days and days of incessant rain, we were lucky to have a sunny Sunday, and when asked what we should do, Eddie enthusiastically encouraged us to go to Cogges. Not that any of us needs any encouragement. We love Cogges Manor Farm, and have visited it so many times, I lost count.

As a rule, we first have a short break in the Cogges cafe, boys are enjoying their soft drinks, while Papa and I have coffee and tea. I rather gave up on coffee there, as it is rather uninspiring. It is not terrible but there are better places in town to enjoy a cup of latte or cappuccino. With Teapigs selection of teas, at least I know I will get a decent cup of tea. Scones are pretty good, and so are blondies. And if you are lucky, you might find duck eggs in the shop as well as some local vegetables.

Eddie always insists on buying some veggie mix for the piggies. These must be the best fed piggies in Oxfordshire, as all visiting kids want to feed them. It's a pleasure to watch them eating with gusto.

Boys love all the climbing frames, the zip wire and the wobbly bridge. Each time we visit, they do a jumping routine on the bridge.

Sasha was in a melancholic mood on the last visit and preferred to just sit and watch the commotion below.

He was happy though to share the basket swing with his younger brother.

The weather was lovely, and we had a ramble around the fields at the back of the farm, watching curious ponies who came up close to us, waiting for some snacks, and shy sheep who ran away.

I was excited to read in the Cogges email newsletter about the upcoming shooting of Downton Abbey.They have been filming this week, alas, I haven't had a chance to sneak in and watch in person. The house has been prepped for this week. I have been enjoying spotting Cogges kitchen and outside buildings in the last episodes of Downton Abbey, where it has been transformed into Yew Tree Farm, home of Lady Edith's daughter Marigold.

Dining-room at Cogges

Dining-room at Cogges

I'm a big fan of Downton Abbey, and feel thrilled that our favourite Cogges appears extensively in the latest series. Most of the Yew Tree Fram scenes take place in the fabulous kitchen. I swear I could live in that kitchen, with its cozy stove and gorgeous display of vintage china.

They have changed some of the china and kitchen gadgets to make it fit the portrayed historical period, but it is still a very recognisable old kitchen.

I hope we'll still have a chance to visit Cogges before it closes down for winter. So, rain, rain, go away.

Adding our visit to the farm post to #CountryKids linky on Coombe Mill blog.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall
And because we had a meal out, it fits our new Out & About linky run by Alison from Dragons and Fairy Dust and me - which is all about eating out. 

Chez Maximka