Monday, 29 February 2016

Ideal Home Show Tickets giveaway (c/d 12 March 2016)

The Ideal Home Show is returning this spring. This award-winning show is very popular. 
Lovely people from Thomas Sanderson have offered my blog readers an opportunity to win one of five sets of tickets to the show.
They say:
"Excitement is building at Thomas Sanderson as our team of expert designers put the finishing touches to our show-stopping presence at this year’s Ideal Home Show (running from 18th March – 3rd April 2016 in London).

Thomas Sanderson is the main sponsor of A Traditionally British Home, one of the full size houses within the show, which we’ve styled in conjunction with celebrity designer Linda Barker.

Image credits: Thomas Sanderson

Five winners will win tickets to this year’s Ideal Home Show, where you can tour every room of the four-bed house to see stunning styling trends, be inspired by the hottest home colour schemes for 2016 and learn more about Thomas Sanderson’s stylish energy-saving solutions and home automation window blind products.

For a chance to win one of five pairs of tickets, please fill in the Rafflecopter form.

The giveaway is open to the UK residents only.
Once the Rafflecopter picks the winners, I will contact the winners, if they do not reply within 24 hours (due to the nature of the giveaway), the prize will be allocated to another person. For the tickets to arrive safely in time for the Show, they should be posted on Monday the 14th.
Please don't forget to leave a comment, as it is the only mandatory step, I will make sure the winner selected by Rafflecopter has complied with T&Cs.

The giveaway will close on 12 March 2016 (at midnight)

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Annabel Karmel Mini Cupcake Set with Spoon and 20-piece Baking Set with Accessories

Baking with kids could be a fun activity, if you don't mind the noise and the mess. Eddie is always happy to join in with the mixing and decorating. And even my teen enjoys an occasional foray into the baking activity. He loves cooking classes in school, and recently proudly presented us with his own bakes - Shrewsbury biscuits and rock buns, and they were lovely.
Annabel Karmel has been titled a Queen of Cooking. Her books have been flying off the shelves for decades, and her cooking range for kids is as popular.
Recently my boys and I have tested two of the Annabel Karmel's range of baking products for children - a Mini Cupcale Set with Spoon and a 20-piece Baking Set with Accessories.
These sets have a huge appeal to both little people and grown-ups.

Annabel Karmel Mini Cupcake Set With Spoon from Casdon is great for mini-bakers who will have lots of fun baking real cakes.The set contains 1 Mini Cupcake tray, 6 mini silicone cups and 1 silicone spoon.
Cupcake cases and the spoon are very colourful and easy to use for little hands.
The recommended age group is for 5+ year olds. At £5 it is a very good value set, and will make a lovely gift for any budding Masterchef.

We tested this set, baking a batch of vanilla cupcakes. Eddie helped me by mixing the ingredients and pouring into the little silicone cups. The cupcake cases worked perfectly well.

As my guys are not too keen on huge amount of frosting, we decided to add a little bit of lemon juice icing and marshmallows. We made a big batch of cake batter, so there was enough to make these 6 mini cakes and 12 bigger muffin-sized cupcakes.

Annabel Karmel's Baking set with accessories (20 pieces) has won us over. It includes a lot of useful kitchen tools like a round baking tin, 10 cute cookie cutters, 1 measuring jug, 1 mixing bowl with anti slip base, 1 silicone spatula and 6 measuring spoons - all the basis which you can use again and again.

Eddie and I baked a batch of lemon shortbread cookies. He was mixing the dough with great enthusiasm, and had fun choosing which cookies cutters to use. Some are easier to use than the others. Basically, those with thin limbs or bits like a man or a house were tricky to cut out without bits staying inside a cutter, but overall he did a splendid job.

We rolled, re-rolled, cut out and baked. And then it was the most enjoyable part - decorating with abandon. As you can see from the photo below, someone has spilled half a mini jar of sprinkles over the cookies. No names revealed, but that was not me.

They might not look like they would win any competition regarding their looks, but they tasted lovely, and Eddie was very proud of himself. We'll be definitely baking cookies again soon.

This set is simply super: for a tenner you get so many bits and bobs. An excellent set for any child or even a grandparent who enjoys cooking with their grandkids.

Cheryl from Madhouse Family Reviews has also enjoyed using both of these sets with her son Pierre, have a look at what treats they have baked in her post Baking with kids.

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

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Photo diary: week 8, 366

Last Sunday we went out for lunch with the boys to Frankie & Benny's (let's just say, not my choice, but my arm was twisted). I knew it would be noisy, but I forgot just how noisy that place can be. Why do some chains think that playing loud music is conducive to a relaxed atmosphere? It isn't, it's bloody terribly annoying. The food was OK, but the music really grated on my nerves.
Eddie enjoyed it though, as he got an activity booklet with stickers and a balloon on the way out. Plus he ate his favourite fish fingers with chips and peas.

Monday dinnertime was an experimental food night. I cooked an Indonesian chicken dish Ayam Areh, with a very smelly sauce which included the shrimp paste. I had to air the house to get rid of the pungent aroma.

Tuesday was a day when I didn't take any photos. I had very sad news about my friend Trudy who died that morning, and I was too upset to think about photos. I dreaded that phone call, though my friend warned me a few months ago that it was going to happen. She was my family here, my English-American Mum. Her late husband and she have "adopted" me, they were witnesses at my wedding as well.

The next morning was frosty and quiet. I walked through the frozen fields, and thought my soul was also feeling frozen.

I kept thinking about my dear-dear friend, and looking up at the lacy plum blossom and a clear blue sky, I was wondering where her soul was. Was she still nearby, saying farewell to everyone she loved and knew? Or was she already up there, meeting her beloved husband who was her true soulmate?

Eddie has been eagerly anticipating the launch of the new Lego Nexo Knights magazine since we saw the ad in one of the other Lego magazines. I've been checking the shops daily, and finally on Wednesday found the first issue. He was very happy with a minifigure of Lance.

Yesterday Eddie's class went on a trip to the woods. I volunteered to accompany them. We spent all day in the forest school. Adults were divided into six stations, each of which had a task to complete. Kids moved from station to station and enjoyed the action. It wasn't a warm day, in fact I got so frozen, I could still feel the cold in my old bones at home, in the evening. Even the lunch time was outdoors. And no tea all day, imagine that! Quelle horreur! Eddie had a whale of a time, and almost fell asleep on the bus back to school. After the bus arrived to school, I had less than half an hour for myself, and I ran into the nearby gastropub and ordered a cup of hot tea. It was totally divine! At the woods I did a few nature photos, including this lovely sheep in the fields.

Today we popped in The Entertainer shop to get a new big bottle of bubble solution, and ended up buying a bubble shooter as well.

TheBoyandMe's 366 Linky

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Grilled chicken salad

Jack Daniel's as a brand doesn't need an introduction, it is well known and much appreciated.
It has recently launched the latest addition to their range of BBQ glazes - a brand new Tennessee Honey Barbecue Glaze.

Image credits: Jack Daniel's

All of these BBQ products are made with an authentic Jack Daniel's Tennessee whiskey and show the distinctive smoothness of Jack Daniel's. They transform your meals into tasty dishes, and are also vegetarian and vegan friendly.
Being asked which flavours I would like to try and test, I have chosen two milder flavours.
Jack Daniel's Smokey Sweet Barbecue Glaze includes soy sauce, sugar, salt, wheatflour, concentrated pineapple juice, cider vinegar, molasses concentrated orange juice, garlic and onion puree, chilli powder and more. It is a delicious glaze for meat or fish, and can also be used as a dip for wings and drumsticks, or potato wedges.

Grilled chicken salad
2 chicken breasts
3tbsp Jack Daniel's Smokey Sweet Barbecue Glaze
1tbsp lime juice
1tsp + 2tbsp olive oil for the grilled chicken and butternut squash
200g butternut squash and sweet potato, diced
1 pear, quartered, cored and sliced
a handful of mixed salad (rocket, spinach and fennel tips)
balsamic vinegar and olive oil for dressing

First of all, spread 2tbsp of the glaze over the chicken breasts, squeeze 1tbsp of lime juice over and let them marinade for about half an hour. Roast the butternut squash and sweet potato cubes with 2tbsp of olive oil.
Heat your grill (I used Tefal Optigrill) and add a little amount of oil.

Once the chicken is cooked, slice it into smaller pieces.
 Cook a quartered and sliced pear in a small frying pan with 1tbsp of olive oil and 1tbsp of Jack Daniel's glaze for about 3-4 minutes. The pear slices should be soft but still hold shape.
Assemble your salad: first mixed salad leaves, roasted squash and sweet potato, chicken pieces and pear pieces. Drizzle a bit of balsamic vinegar and whatever sauce is leftover in the pan.

If you liked this recipe, you might be interested in reading my Tefal Optigrill post.

Disclosure: I received two bottles of JD's glazes for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are mine.

Beef Lasagne with Napolina sauces

I have recently seen on Mumsnet that Napolina were looking for testers to try their new sauce range. I applied, thinking "Fat chance" as I presumed they would be bombarded by volunteers willing to enroll as testers. Imagine my surprise when the other day I received an email, saying that I was chosen as one of the testers. The hamper of Napolina sauces was promptly delivered the next day.
Among the selection of products there were two Napolina sauces for lasagne.

I don't often buy sauces which are specifically designed for lasagne, as when I cook the meat ragu, I use tinned tomatoes and add whichever dried or fresh herbs I have at home.

I'm rather fond of Napolina as a brand, and often buy their excellent pasta shapes. Their pasta range is extensive. Just today I saw a new addition to the range - regional pasta, and couldn't resist buying a packet of Gnocchi Sardi. But that will be a weekend project. Yesterday I cooked a big dish of beef lasagne, using two Napolina lasagne sauces - red and white.

Beef lasagne
1 red onion, finely chopped
3tbsp + olive oil
900g ground beef
2 cloves of garlic
2 celery stalks
1 beef stock cube (e.g. Knorr) dissolved in 125ml hot water
1 jar of Napolina red lasagne sauce
1 jar of Napolina white lasagne sauce
9 sheets of dried lasagne
70g grated Grana Padano cheese

First prepare the ragu: heat the oil in a deep frying pan. Add a finely sliced onion and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the ground beef and sliced celery. Cook the beef for about 7-8 minutes. Add the garlic, finely chopped and half a mug of beef broth made from the beef stock cube and hot water.
I used a Knorr beef stock, but any good stock cube would do. Pour the contents of the red lasagne sauce in to the ragu. Cook on low, simmering, for 45+ minutes. The Knorr stock cube is salty enough, so I didn't add any more salt while cooking the ragu. With all the flavours going on, you don't really need extra salt.
If using dried lasagne sheets, boil a medium sized pan of water and immerse the sheets two at a time for a couple of minutes, just to soften the pasta. If using fresh lasagne sheets, skip this step.
Put three lasagne sheets at the bottom of a deep lasagne baking dish which has been oiled.
Pour half of the ragu over them. Then pour 1/3 of the white lasagne sauce.
Place the next three sheets over, then the second half of ragu and another third of the white sauce. Then top up with the remaining three sheets and more white sauce.
Put the baking dish in the oven preheated to 180C. Cook for about 40-45 minutes. Add the grated cheese in the last 5-7 minutes of cooking. Once the cheese has melted and turned golden brown, the lasagne is ready.
Serve hot with a chunk of bread and some salad (or pickles, I had mine with two pickled cucumbers from the Polish deli, I know it's not an Italian combination, but oh so tasty).

Lasagne freezes well, sliced in portions. This amount will feed 4 very-very hungry people, or 6 if you serve some sides to go with lasagne.

Of course, if you have time and inclination, prepare your own tomato sauce and white sauce from scracth. If you are a busy parent like me, and/or cannot spend the whole evening cooking, then ready-made sauces are a Godsend.
Napolina lasagne sauces are made in the best classic traditions, and make you help a delicious authentic Italian meal.
Napolina smooth red lasagne pasta sauce has no added sugar. Its ingredients include tomato puree (52%), crushed tomatoes (40%), garlic puree, basil, salt, oregano, concentrated lemon juice, ground black pepper and sweetener.
Napolina smooth white lasagne sauce includes double cream, mature Cheddar cheese, rapeseed oil, cornflour, Regato cheese, starch, mustard powder, white pepper, nutmeg.

Both sauces are free from artificial colours, flavours and preservatives.

Disclosure: As mentioned above, I received a selection of Napolina products as a tester, All opinions are mine.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Ayam Areh (chicken in coconut milk)

If you read Madhouse Family Reviews blog often, you must know just how adventurous Cheryl is when it comes to cooking. Last summer she cooked Ayam Areh (chicken in coconut milk with Indonesian spices), and I thought how brave she was in trying such an exotic recipe. Well, my turn has come.
The Kitchen Trotter food subscription box is Indonesian-themed this month (see my previous post on trying Gado Gado salad).

The recipe requires several authentic ingredients which you can find in Kitchen Trotter box - combava leaves, Terasi shrimp paste, kemiri nuts and lemongrass powder.
Having read Cheryl's post, I was very careful to have the nuts cooked properly. Apparently if you eat them raw, you might suffer from "an explosive malfunction" to put it kindly.
Kemiri nuts look like big sized hazelnuts or macadamia nuts, but the taste is different. It is mostly used ground and cooked.
Also a word of warning: if possible, keep the windows open in the kitchen - the shrimp paste has a very pungent smell (this is a euphemism for stinky very smelly). I could smell it the next morning. I do buy the fish sauce for Asian stir fries, but this is 10 times stronger smell-wise.

Ayam Areh (recipe courtesy of Kitchen Trotter)
4 Combava leaves (aka kaffir lime leaves)
1 tbsp shrimp paste (Terasi - Ams Koe Poe)
5 Kemiri nuts (Epices et Delices & Kitchen Trotter)
1tbsp lemongrass powder (Terre Exotique & Kitchen Trotter)

2-3 chicken breasts
2 bay leaves
2tbsp vegetable oil
2tbsp brown sugar
400ml coconut milk
3 onions
3 cloves of garlic
1tbsp fresh coriander, finely chopped
1 cube chicken stock
salt & pepper
rice to serve

In a mixer mix the onions, garlic, kemiri nuts and shrimp paste. When a semiliquid paste is obtained, keep aside.
Bring 20ml of water to boil in a saucepan, add the stock cube, stir well and set aside.
Dice the chicken and brown on all sides in a deep frying pan with oil. Cook for about 5 minutes. Pour in the paste and stir for a couple of minutes.
 (bring out your chemical warfare gas mask, sorry, couldn't resist)
Add the coconut milk, the stock and stir well. Add the brown sugar, bay leaves and combava leaves (slightly crush them in your fingers to release the flavour), the lemongrass powder, coriander and stir well.
Season with salt and pepper.
Simmer on low for about 45 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Stir regularly.
Serve with rice.

I already mentioned the strong smell. Now let's mention the appearance. Let's just say that the overall result (and it could be entirely my fault) was not exactly an Instagram material. I even said Sorry to my DH.
The sauce looks pale brown and sloppy.

I braced myself and had my first forkful. And then I was pleasantly surprised. This dish is very nice indeed. Despite the smell and the looks, don't dismiss it. It is very flavourful and tasty.
I'm glad I cooked this dish, as it was quite a revelation.

As much as I enjoyed the dish, I don't think I'm brave enough to use more of the shrimp paste jar.
Any takers?
Did you try this recipe, and what did you think of it?

Disclosure: I received a Kitchen Trotter food box for the purposes of testing the recipes and reviewing. All opinions are mine.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Zuppa di ceci (Italian chickpea soup)

A few weeks ago I came across a free ebook on amazon called From Mangia to Murder (A Sophia Mancini - Little Italy Mystery Book 1) by Caroline Mickelson. The title immediately made me think of Little Italy in New Haven, CT where I used to buy the best pine nuts cookies ever. They also had two competing pizzerias, each of which claimed to invent pizza.
The story takes place in Little Italy in 1946. Sophia Mancini and her brother Angelo, an ex-policeman who recently returned from the front, decided to open a private detective agency. To celebrate the event and advertise their agency, they hold a dinner at Vincenzo's Ristorante. Vincenzo sounds like the most unpleasant brute and ends up killed in the kitchen, while the dinner goes on. And thus Sophia has her first case to solve.
I am yet to find out who killed the chef, but I'm in no hurry.
I've read perhaps one third of the cozy mystery, then got distracted by the other books, and haven't finished it. I might get back to it at some point, but as I'm re-reading War and Peace at the moment, it will take me a while.

The murder in the book happens in the restaurant, and there are quite a few food references, including an inspiring Italian menu which includes pasta with mascarpone, sun dried tomatoes and spinach; gnocchi Caprese and chicken Cacciatore, Panzanella bread salad and two kinds of biscotti for dessert.
Zuppa di ceci was the suggested starter.

"Zuppa di Ceci to start, with baskets of fresh loaves of garlic bread".
Creamy chick pea soup. Perfect."

I have looked up a few recipes online, and while some leave the chickpeas whole, some recipes offer a creamy version. I have opted for a creamy version which I found on Italian food and flavours and adapted a bit, and it was a very nice soup. If you are a vegetarian, skip the pancetta.

Zuppa di ceci
250g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in cold water
70g pancetta cubes
1/2 onion, diced finely
1 clove of garlic
1 carrot, sliced
2 celery stalks, sliced
1 vegetable stock cube
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves

Soak the chickpeas overnight in cold water. The next day put the pancetta cubes in a big frying pan and cook stirring for 5+ minutes, until the cubes are well browned and crispy. Remove the pancetta cubes from the pan, and keep on a plate. Add the sliced onion, garlic, celery and carrot in the fat from pancetta, and fry on low for about 8 minutes, stirring regularly.
Drain the chickpeas and add the fried vegetables to the pan, cover with water and add a stock cube, fresh rosemary and bay leaves. Bring to boil, then lower the heat and simmer on low for about 2 hours.
A few recipes I came across suggested cooking the soup for 1 and a half hours, but the chickpeas were still pretty firm so I kept them cooking for longer.
This soup would be great for a slow cooker, as cooking it on the stove requires regular checking and adding more water.
After two hours remove the rosemary and bay leaves, then blitz the soup. Heat up the pancetta cubes quickly and scatter over the soup.
You might want to add more stock or liquid to the soup to get a desired consistency. The soup is quite thick.
It is a hearty rustic soup, best enjoyed with a good chunk of bread.
You might also grate some parmesan or Grana over it instead of pancetta.
For a vegetarian version, skip pancetta altogether and use the olive oil for frying.

Have you read a book recently which inspired you to run to the kitchen and cook to your heart's content?

I hope you are inspired by books to join in our #ReadCookEat challenge.

The idea is to choose a book, either a world classic or modern fiction, or even memoirs and pick up a dish mentioned or described in that book and then recreate it in a recipe. Please say a few lines about your chosen book, and maybe even do a quote from the book.

If you decide to take part, please add the badge to your post and link up back to me, and either use a link-up tool or add the url of your post as a comment. Alternatively, email me with the link to your post (my email is sasha1703 at yahoo dot com).

I promise to Pin all blogs posts taking part in this challenge, as well as RT and Google+

Gado-Gado salad

I've been reading reviews of Kitchen Trotter written by Cheryl from Madhouse Family Reviews for a while, thinking how exciting that travelling via world cuisines food box subscription was. And to my delight, it is available now in the UK as well. I was pleased to receive my first Kitchen Trotter box, which is Indonesia-themed this month. When I opened the box, I realised that I don't know most of the exotic ingredients. For a foodie like me, it is like opening a Christmas present. Oh, the excitement!
Every month Kitchen Trotter delivers a cooking kit to your door. Each box is a surprise, but it will allow you to cook an authentic meal that serves 4-6 people and create 4 authentic recipes. It includes 7+ gourmet items. You can subscribe at £29.00 monthly fee (unsubscribe at any time).

Today my boys are back to school after a week-long break. Eager to start cooking, using the ingredients from  Kitchen Trotter, I decided to make a quick and simple salad called Gado Gado.

What will you need?

Gado Gado recipe (recipe courtesy of Kitchen Trotter)
From the kit
for the dressing:
80g Gado Gado Mix - Asli
2tbsp Kecap Manis - Bango
2 Combava leaves - Terre Exotique

+ add:
80ml water
2 bay leaves

For the salad:
salad leaves (I used gem lettuce, the booklet suggests iceberg lettuce)
4 small potatoes
4 tomatoes
4 radishes
4 eggs
1/2 cucumber

As I was cooking just for myself, I have quartered the amount of ingredients and halved the amount of ingredients for the dressing (I still have some dressing left for another salad tomorrow).

Pour the water in the saucepan, adding the combava and bay leaves. Heat. Once the water starts boiling, add the Gado Gado mix.
As soon as the mix thickens, remove from the heat and mix in Kecap Manis. Keep aside.

What exactly is Gado Gado mix? This is a peanut base dry mix.with sugar, mixed herbs and spices. It is an interesting combination of sweet and savoury, a great base for a dressing.
Dried Combava leaves have a citrus fruit aroma close to lemon. Combava leaves are also known as kaffir lime leaves (which are easily found in supermarkets). This ingredient is very popular in Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian and Indonesian cuisines.
Kecap Manis (Bango) is apparently an Indonesian cusine must-have. This is a sweet and slightly thick soy sauce which is used in a variety of recipes. I loved the taste of this soy sauce, and can easily see it used in many Asian meals.

Back to our salad - peel and cook potatoes. Cook the eggs to hard-boiled. Slice the tomatoes and radishes.
Assemble your salad by putting the lettuce first, then all the other ingredients. Season with salt and add the Gado Gado dressing over.

Kitchen Trotter suggested this lovely vegetarian salad as a starter for an Indonesian-themed menu. I had it for lunch, and really enjoyed it. The salad itself is not specifically exotic, if anything, I have had salads like that for many years, but it's the dressing which makes all the difference, adding an exotic flavour.

I will be posting more recipes from the latest Kitchen Trotter box, but if you fancy seeing which other countries and recipes were covered in the past, check out Kitchen Trotter posts by Cheryl from Madhouse Family Reviews.

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

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Photo diary: week 7, 366

Last weekend our lovely neighbours from across the road moved to their new house, and a new family moved in. We know they have a little boy a year younger than Eddie and a new baby on the way. Eddie was very eager to come and meet them, so I said we could bake some cookies and take them over, just to say Hi and welcome to our neighbourhood. We baked a big batch of lemon shortbread cookies. Imagine our chagrin, when they have gone back to their old house early on Monday, and were not here for the rest of the week. I wonder if they stayed behind because the baby was born.

Most of the crocuses in our garden are self-seeded. They come out every spring, and I love them. I did buy some rare crocuses last year, but they are not blooming yet. These yellow crocuses are the "wild" ones.

It has become a custom that when we are on school holidays, our friend Jen takes my boys and me by car to the Burford Garden centre. We usually have a coffee and some pastries in their cafe. The boys enjoy visiting the book and toy shop. I was happy to see that my boys were playing together. They were running, having fun on the swings and other playground equipment.

For some silly reason my boy thought it was a hilarious idea to try on my hat.

On Thursday Eddie had a guest, a school mate who is a year younger than him. They are both quite boisterous, and to keep the noise down at home so as not to bother our Sash, I offered them to play in the garden for a bit and put on the Gazillion bubble machine. Eddie likes it so much that we need to replenish our supplies of bubble solution.

Yesterday dinner was Zuppa di ceci, an Italian chickpea soup. It was pretty good, though it took me ages to cook those chickpeas, even if I soaked them overnight. It's probably an ideal candidate for a slow cooker, which I don't have.

Today was the last day of our neighbourly duty, we have been looking after the guinea pigs and a cat. The day has been quite miserable, with the drizzle non-stop for hours and hours. Even crocuses in the garden didn't bother to open their petals.

TheBoyandMe's 366 Linky