Saturday, 31 January 2015

Photo diary, week 5 (project 365)

Where did January go? It feels like we've just been back from Italy, and now we're already moving to February. What did we do in the last week of the first month of the year?
January 25 was Burns Night, and to celebrate the event, albeit on a very modest scale, I baked a marmalade cake with Scottish whisky, and cooked a batch of haggis sausage rolls. Both bakes were delicious.

Haggis sausage rolls

26.01 This ornamental cabbage (not sure of its proper name) outside one of the houses on the way to Eddie's school has been thriving in the cold. I love this splash of colour in the otherwise dull front garden.

27.01 I was delighted to find the first snowdrops in our garden, they are my favourite spring flowers.

28.01 On Wednesday I started doing a bit of spring-cleaning, and took out some of the cups and saucers from the shelves to give them a good wash. They are all mismatched, i.e. I don't have two of the same pattern or design. Some of them I bought in the vintage shops and on ebay, some I received as gifts. I believe tea always tastes nicer in a pretty delicate cup.

Popping into the local Waterstone's, I have noticed a competition poster. Children were invited to submit their drawings for Mother's day. We had just one day left to enter. Once Eddie came home, I asked him to do my portrait. He was happy to oblige. This is me, holding a cup of tea and two balloons. And what a beautiful smile, isn't it?!

I love soups, and the winter pho with carrots, leeks, mushrooms, ginger, tamarind, chilli and a whole lime was zingy and singing with zesty flavours. Wonderful on a cold day.

winter soup
Winter pho

The snow has covered the ground and hedges overnight, but it was spread rather sparingly. By the time we got out into town, the snow has melted, much to Eddie's disappointment. We visited the library, where Eddie picked a couple of books. His reading skills are improving.

TheBoyandMe's 365 Linky

Friday, 30 January 2015

Win a Morphy Richards Elipta Traditional Kettle (E: 2 March 2015)

As you might have noticed, my blog slogan is "Home, where the kettle is always on". I do love my tea, and our kettle is in constant use. I'm inviting you all to a virtual tea party, and giving you a chance to win a Morphy Richards Elipta Traditional Kettle in red. This stylish kettle features a  360° cordless base and a removable limescale filter.
I have had a Morphy Richards kettle for years, though not an Elipta.

This prize has been kindly provided by House of Fraser, which offers an impressive selection of products in their kettles section.

traditional kettle
Morphy Richards Elipta Traditional Kettle
To be in with a chance of winning, please fill in the Rafflecopter gadget.

Only the first step is mandatory: all you need is answer the question by leaving a comment (if you login as Anonymous, please leave you Twitter name or Facebook 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 they have 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. I will pass on the winner's' details to House of Fraser PR who will dispatch the prize. 
The giveaway ends on 2 March 2015 (midnight).

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Dragonfly tea

Now the tea began to do its work- as it always did- and the world that only a few minutes previously had seemed so bleak started to seem less so.” (Alexander McCall Smith, The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection)

Sometimes I think the song How many ways I love you was written about tea. Passions come and go away, tea remains a true friend and solace on a hard day. Love of tea runs in my family. As a child I was fascinated by stories of Baba Varya, a distant relative on Mum's side who would drink a whole 10-litre samovar in one sitting, one tea dish after another. Now that's a commitment. I don't drink tea is such copious quantities, but cannot live without it for sure. My Mum and I share our love for flavoured, floral, herbal and fruit teas. When she visits us in summer, I introduce her to all the wonderful new teas I have tried, like Dragonfly tea. I have written about Dragonfly tea last year (see my post Dragonfly tea: finesse in a cup), and was glad to have a chance to expand my knowledge of the range.
Dragonfly tea is a British tea company which boasts a hundred years heritage of creating artisanal teas.

Jasmine Dragon Pearls is China green leaf tea.
First of all, I love the design of tins in Leaf teas of distinction range. Tea comes in stylish emerald green tins with an embossed dragonfly and swirls. Once the tea is finished, I will keep the tins and reuse them as pretty containers. 
This tea is beautiful, a feast for all senses. It's amazing how the tea leaves unfurl its tentacles in the hot water. The aroma is simply stunning, and the taste is very delicate and floral.

green tea, leaf tea
Dragonfly Tea Jasmine Dragon Pearls

China green leaf tea
Dragonfly Tea Jasmine Dragon Pearls

Luxury leaf Mao Feng Green tea is a green tea from China, "bright and fresh, with intriguing complexity and hints of peach". The brew has a delicate straw yellow green hue, and a grassy fresh taste.

china green tea
Dragonfly Tea Mao Feng

China green tea
Dragonfly tea Mao Feng

Green Gaucho organic mate tea is a blend of Mate, green tea and lemongrass. Mate also known as yerba mate or chimarrao is a traditional South American drink. It is caffeine-rich and very energizing. This well-rounded brew is perfect for an after-heavy-meal slumber. I liked the addition of lemongrass, which gives a citrus note to the hot drink.

green tea
Dragonfly Tea Green Gaucho

Vanilla Rooibos is a full-flavoured, naturally caffeine free tea. It grows in South Africa's Cedarberg mountains. It has a delicious hint of sweetness and a delicate vanilla scent from natural Bourbon vanilla from Madagascar. This could be a before-bedtime cuppa, soothing, gentle and sweet.

Dragonfly Tea Vanilla Rooibos
The full range of teas is available from all major supermarkets as well as some independent shops.
All Dragonfly Speciality range is certified by The Organic Food Federation.
They don's use artificial additives, preservatives or colourings, and all their teas are GM-free.

For a full range of Dragonfly teas, visit Dragonfly tea website.

Disclosure: I received a selection of teas for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are mine. And as I mentioned before, I do buy teas from this brand regularly, especially Earl Grey Rooibos and Skinny Dragon.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Ninja Prawns with avocado oil

- Mummy, did you say you are cooking Ninja Prawns for dinner?
- Not Ninja. Ginger...


I couldn't disappoint my little man, how could I? Ninja prawns sound much more fun than simply ginger prawns. I was planning to cook a quick vegetable stir-fry with noodles to serve with the steamed prawns. A Vietnamese friend taught me many years ago how to cook the prawns, marinated in ginger, garlic and lemon juice. She never added salt to this dish, saying that the salt should be offered in a small dish mixed with ground pepper to dip the prawns in.

Last week I received three bottles of Mokhado oils. Mokhado is a new brand of oils from Limpopo region of South Africa. I will be testing all oils and writing posts as I use them in cooking.


The first oil I tried was Avocado oil.
"This super versatile oil has a smooth yet grassy flavour, making it brilliant for high heat stir frie and general frying, as well as making delicious raw vinaigrettes or finishing dishes with a drizzle. And there's health benefits too- studies have shown that regular consumption of Avocado oil improves the ratio of good to bad cholesterol. It also contains Vitamin E, a natural anti-oxidant".

It has a lovely fresh aroma and tastes just like a blitzed avocado. I used it in the vegetable stir-fry, and also as an ingredient for marinade for prawns.

Ninja prawns
150g fresh prawns
1 heaped tbsp fresh ginger, grated
2tbsp avocado oil
2tbsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1tbsp soy sauce

In a medium-sized bowl mix the grated ginger with the avocado oil, lemon juice, soy sauce and crushed garlic. Add the prawns and stir well. Marinade for at least an hour before cooking.
I used a deep ceramic pudding bowl but a smaller size Pyrex will do as well.
Place the bowl with prawns in a big pan filled with the hot boiling water that would reach about half-length of the pudding bowl. Cover the big pan with lid and cook for about 7+ minutes, the prawns will turn pink.
Serve with slices of lemon if you wish, or with noodles and vegetable stir fry.

Avocado oil was a perfect ingredient in this dish. It added the depth of flavour and worked well with the other ingredients.

To learn more about Mokhado oils and get delicious recipe ideas visit Mokhado.

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

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Haggis sausage rolls with cranberries and sesame seeds

I have ordered my haggis from Abel and Cole for Burns Night in advance. Last year we had a traditional Macsween haggis, which I cooked following the instructions on the packet (see my post Burns Night dinner, minus the pipers). I remember we had quite a bit left over, and I used it as a stuffing for sweet peppers. This year I fancied something different. This year's haggis came from Peelham Farm.
I loved the recipe for Haggis sausage rolls in Delicious magazine online, and have adapted it, with a few changes in ingredients. And it suggested using a ready-made puff pastry. I'm the Queen of Jus-Rol, and don't bother with making my own pastry, it won't be as good anyway.

Haggis sausage rolls with cranberries and sesame seeds

250g haggis, skinned and crumbled
150g pork sausagemeat (I used 3 pork and caramelised onion sausages)
a handful of freshly chopped thyme and sage
a handful of dried cranberries (I used Ocean Spray Craisins, as they're juicy and sweet)
1 pack of Jus-Rol puff pastry, 320g
1 medium egg, beaten with a dash of milk
sesame seeds

In a deep mixing bowl crumble the skinned haggis. If using sausages, remove the skins and discard them, add the sausagemeat to the haggis. Add the herbs and cranberries, and mix well. You don't have to add any salt, as there is enough salt in haggis and sausages.
Open the pastry, cut in half. Lay the filling in the middle of each half, like a long thin sausage.
Brush one side of the pastry with the egg mix, close the other side over and brush with more egg over. Slice each sausage roll into small 4cm pieces.
Put a generous helping of sesame seeds in a small bowl. Dip each mini-roll in the egg, then in the sesame seeds.
Place all the mini-rolls on the foil inside a tray (I had one full tray and a half), greased with a bit of oil. bake at 180c for 15+ minutes.
Serve hot with the soured cream or mustard.

I love sausage rolls, and let me tell you, these ones totally rock. Some of the best sausage rolls I ever had. Totally scrummy.

Adding my post to Cooking with herbs linky at Lavender and Lovage. This month's theme is Store-cupboard basics, essentials and herbs. Dried cranberries and sesame seeds are my cupboard basics and essentials.

Cooking with Herbs Lavender and Lovage

Blood orange & marmalade cake for Burns Night

Burns Night dessert

To celebrate Burns Night, I have baked an orange marmalade cake. While the recipe is not exactly coming from Scotland, it uses Mackays marmalade with whisky. I also added a dash of The Famous grouse for the icing
It's quite possible that the purists from Scotland would throw rotten eggs at me for not serving a Cranachan or Clootie Dumpling.

Marmalade cake

Blood orange and Marmalade cake
zest of 2 blood oranges
juice of 1 blood orange
4 medium eggs
200g caster sugar
113g marmalade (I used Mackays Orange Marmalade with The Famous Grouse)
50g ground almonds
200g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
200g butter, melted

2 sliced blood oranges, cooked with 3heaped tbsp of caster sugar + 1tbsp whisky

for the icing: icing sugar mixed with the blood orange syrup

In a big bowl beat the eggs with the zest of 2 blood oranges, juice of 1 orange and caster sugar. Add the contents of 1 jar of marmalade (113g) or about 5 heaped tbsp. Add the ground almonds, flour, baking powder and melted butter, mix well.
Pour the cake batter in a greased cake tin and place the tin in the oven preheated to 180C. Bake for about 40 minutes. Check with a wooden toothpick if the cake is ready.
Take it out, let it cool before decorating with the icing.
Slice one blood orange, without skin (the one that you zested) and cook with 3tbsp of caster sugar and 1tbsp whisky for about 4 minutes, stirring.
Make an icing from the icing sugar mixed with the blood orange syrup, it has to be about a runny yogurt consistency. Pour it over the cake, place the cooked orange slices on top.
If there is a bit of syrup left, pour it over the cake, when you serve it.

I used a small jar of Mackays orange marmalade with The Famous Grouse. It was on offer in Cargo at £2 for a set of 3 marmalades with whisky, what a bargain.

The Famous Grouse marmalade has a distinct flavour, with more than a hint of whisky, a very grown up breakfast treat. Baked in a cake, the alcohol only adds the depth of flavour, and doesn't taste boozy at all. I love Mackays marmalades, have noticed online they have a marmalade with champagne, which I haven't seen anywhere. Have you tried it by any chance?
I think I might do another trip to Cargo, and get some more marmalade if it's still left. It will keep well, and will make a lovely breakfast, Burns Night or not.

And if you fancy a Cranachan with a modern twist, Cheryl from Madhouse Family Reviews has a recipe for Cranachan with fruity twist.

Happy Burns Night!

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Photo diary week 4 (project 365)

Sunday 18/01
"Mummy, guess how much I love you?" We love playing this game. "I love you all the way to Oxford, all the way to London, all the way to Italy, all the way to Russia, all the way to China... and back" For some reason Eddie thinks the Moon is closer because we can see it, yet we cannot see Oxford from our house, hence Oxford is further.

Monday 19/01
I really need to declutter my kitchen, and am slowly going through my endless tea stash. I think I have enough to last a couple of years for sure, probably even more. But I can never resist an appeal of a new tea. I enjoyed a cup of Mao Feng green tea from Dragonfly teas, it was light, delicate and refreshing.

Tuesday 20/01
On Tuesday I do my library shift at Eddie's school. I take the class in groups to the library, collect the books they return and issue new books, keeping the records of the issued books and returns. I have an hour to kill before 10am, so I usually either walk around the shops, or treat myself to a latte. Last Tuesday I was in The Coffeesmith. The latte was OK-ish, pretty but not the best one in town.

Wednesday 21/01
I bought a big tub of curd cheese on offer, and fancied baking some curd cheese cookies with jam and marmalade.

Thursday 22
Loved the sight of this Antiques shop with all the mini-bits and bobs inside. If I were a collector of doll's houses, I'd be very tempted. I always wanted to have one when I was a child.

Friday 23: Poorly little man and I stayed at home today. To keep him entertained, we did a mini-picnic, with fish fingers, scrambled eggs, sweetcorn, and tea afterwards. Well, Eddie had a juice, he doesn't actually drink hot tea. But the Tiger who came to tea does, doesn't he?! I tried the Gingerbread tea from Adagio teas today. They sent me a box of Happy Holidays tins before Christmas as a lovely gift.

Saturday 24/01
I've been trying to catch a bird on the bird feeder with my camera, but every time I open the back door ever so quietly and slowly, the smart birdies fly away. I poked my nose in the garden to see if there are any flowers, and yes, I found a few of the first snowdrops, my favourite spring flowers. And I was surprised to see the black hellebore bud under the plum tree, as I didn't expect it yet.

TheBoyandMe's 365 Linky

Friday, 23 January 2015

Italian-style scrambled eggs (#happyeggtastemakers)

I cannot remember having scrambled eggs when I was a child. We usually had either fried or soft-boiled eggs for breakfast. I don't remember now my first taste of scrambled eggs, but it must have been served as part of a breakfast in a hotel. Whenever we eat in a hotel or B&B, I do enjoy a bit of scrambled eggs on toast. They are lovely for a light lunch as well. Just before Christmas, when we had lunch at Giraffe's in Heathrow, I had a plate of scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and toast. Delicious.
Scrambled eggs do need a bit of jazzing up, with cheese or herbs so as not to taste bland. The Happy Egg co has recently asked bloggers to join in the Eggciting January Challenge and come up with an idea for a scrambled eggs meal including a vegetable or source of protein like meat or fish, herbs and/or spices and a surprise ingredient.
As my husband is Italian, I often cook Italian dishes. Some of them are authentic recipes, some are inspired by the Italian cuisine.

Parmesan, Parma ham, oregano and thyme for Italian-style scrambled eggs

Scrambled eggs, Italian-style
2 medium eggs
1tbsp olive oil
2tbsp grated parmesan
2 slices of prosciutto, chopped
1 heaped tbsp fresh herbs, chopped finely (oregano and thyme)
olives, to serve with the eggs
sage leaves (optional)

Break the eggs into a medium sized bowl, and beat with the fork, season with a bit of pepper. I don't add salt, as the prosciutto and cheese give enough saltiness to an overall result. Add the herbs, cheese and prosciutto and mix well.
Pour the eggy mix in a frying pan with the olive oil, and cook stirring gently.
Serve hot, with a toast or a nice crusty bread, add a few olives as well.

Italian food

I have also pan fried fresh sage leaves for a minute or so in the olive oil. They are crispy and delicate, and add a nice touch to an overall dish.

As Eddie is not feeling well today, I kept him at home, and we had lunch together. He's not very keen on herbs, so I scrambled an egg for him with freshly cooked corn (also added more corn on the side) and a bit of parmesan. He scoffed all his lunch with gusto.

What is your favourite way of cooking scrambled eggs?

Alison from Dragons and Fairy Dust cooked Brunch Scarmbled Eggs for the challenge, and served them on toasted English muffins.

Wendy from Inside the Wendy House created Smoky Chipotle Scrambled Eggs recipe.

Cheryl from Madhouse Family Reviews prepared Happy Scrambled Eggs Nicoise.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Tilda Wholegrain and Quinoa

basmati, quinoa, super foods
Tilda wholegrain & quinoa
I am very partial to a good bowl of rice, especially if it is a Tilda rice. It is a much-loved brand, their range of rice is varied and inspired. At any given time you will find a few of Tilda products in my kitchen. Eddie loves Easy Cook basmati, and requests it for dinner almost every day. I am very fond of Basmati & Wild rice, as it looks fabulous and has a unique taste. White and wholegrain basmati is one of my staples for cooking soups. And I also have at least a couple of pre-steamed rice pouches in the pantry as well. Coconut-flavoured one is my top favourite, but there are many other tasty choices in the range.
Tilda has recently expanded its range to add a couple of wholegrain and quinoa mixes.
Quinoa is hailed as a superfood or super grain, its health benefits are well known. It helps with digestion, reduces headaches and strokes, controls blood sugar levels, boosts energy and much more.

Brown Basmati & Quinoa Wholegrain is made with a delicious & nutty brown basmati rice. The classic grain with all the natural goodness of the bran layer intact is combined with quinoa, known for its nutritional benefits. The texture is light and fluffy, sightly crunchy thanks to quinoa seeds.
Ingredients: natural wholegrain basmati rice, natural yellow and red quinoa, sunflower oil, vegetable stock powder, salt.
The pack contains no artificial flavourings, colours or preservatives and is gluten free.
It counts as 170 kcal per serving, and includes two servings per pouch.
I mostly use the pre-steamed basmati as a side dish for meat, fish or vegetarian dishes.

Beef Stroganoff with Tilda wholegrain and quinoa

Garden vegetable & quinoa features the wholegrain basmati, delicious & natural red quinoa, combined with the tasty mix of carrots, butternuts squash as well as herbs and spices (turmeric, lemon zest, ginger and coriander).
The taste is subtle and gentle. Eat it  as a lovely side dish, or a main, mixed with more veggies.

basmati, quinoa, healthy food

Tilda wholegrain and quinoa mixes are also very good for soups, with extra root vegetables and herbs, add the stock you prefer, and make it meat-free or add cooked meat for a quick lunch or dinner.

Tilda wholegrain & quinoa with fish and wild mushrooms

When I'm on my own at lunch time, I tend to use whatever leftovers I have from the dinner from the previous day. Dump it all together is my favourite recipe - meat, sausages, vegetables go well with a bit of Tilda rice and some olives. Jazz it up with some lemon juice or balsamic vinegar.

New Tilda wholegrain and quinoa mixes are a great addition to an excellent range of rice. It's ready just in 2 minutes in the microwave, or if you don't have a microwave (I don't), it takes just a minute or two longer to reheat it in a pan.

Disclosure: I received several packs of Tilda wholegrain and quinoa for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are mine.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Ukha on a budget

Ukha is a Russian fish soup. It is made of various kinds of fish, and ranges from a budget version made from fish heads or tinned fish to luxurious soups cooked with a variety of rare fish and even caviar.
My Dad loved fishing. Whenever we visited my grandparents in the South of Russia, he would spend hours fishing in peace and quiet in the Don river. My grandma had a summer kitchen with a big clay stove under the roof on poles. There was a deep wooden well nearby and a long kitchen garden and garden which bordered on the woods.
All the fresh fish was cooked in a big pot in the summer kitchen, with a few herbs from the garden and some root vegetables. It was a simple fare but absolutely delicious. All grandma's cats would sit and wait patiently for the fish scraps and entrails.
But I'm digressing.
I'm often pestering the fish counter at the local Waitrose if they have any salmon heads on offer, and most of the time they don't, but the other day I have spotted a big fat head and bought it for a princely sum of 49p. My first thought was to cook some clear fish stock, but then I decided to make a very simple fish soup, or ukha.

Russian recipe

Ukha (serves 4)
1 big salmon head (about 500g)
1 banana shallot, finely chopped
2 carrots, sliced
2tbsp olive oil
1 tomato, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 medium potato
2tbsp rice, basmati type
2 gherkins, chopped (optional)

Wash the fish head well under the running cold water, put in a big pan and pour water over it, it should be all covered. Add the bay leaf. Bring to boil, then cook, simmering on low.
Fry the shallot with the carrot in the olive oil for 5 minutes, then add to the fish stock. You might skip the frying bit, but it adds a depth of flavour. Add the tomato. Simmer for 15 minites.
Check if the fish head is cooked, take it out of the pan. Once cooler, flake the fleshy bits and put back in the pan. Throw all the bones and scales. Actually from one salmon head there was quite a bit of flesh.
Add the chopped potato and rice and cook for another 12-15 minutes, until the potato is cooked. In winter I like to add some pickles to the soup, so I added some chopped gherkins.
Serve hot, with a sprinkling of chopped green onions or dill.
I also like to add a teaspoon of Greek style yogurt or soured cream.

This is a truly budget recipe, economical yet very tasty.

Adding my post to Credit Crunch Munch linky run by Fuss Free Flavours and Fab Food 4 All.

Also linking up with No Waste Food Challenge at Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary.

Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary