Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Easy midweek dinner: fusilli with meatballs in tomato sauce

Italian pasta recipe

Midweek dinners are often quick and easy meals in our family. As much as I enjoy cooking, I don't want to spend ages every afternoon, preparing an evening meal, especially that most of the time I tend to cook several different dishes for my guys. For the last couple of months our younger son refuses to eat anything but pasta with ketchup for dinner. In fact, not just any pasta. It has to be fusilli. He's a funny guy like that. Last year he used to request plain rice for dinner. Yes, you read it right. Plain basmati rice, without anything else. Then after several months of eating rice for dinner he thankfully got bored with it, so now we're on pasta.
The other day I was reading The Guardian's 10 rules for eating in restaurants with young children and chuckled to myself, as it really sounded very familiar:
"Make sure they serve something familiar. Since I had my baby, my favourite restaurants are the ones that include "Penne in Red Crap" on their kids' menu. I don't care if they've got poor TripAdvisor reviews or are unethical about sharing their tips... All I want is Penne in Red Crap because I know my son will definitely eat Penne in Red Crap".
On our recent trip to Brighton we had dinner in an Italian restaurant Donatello's, and guess what our Eddie wanted? yes, you got it right, he asked for fusilli with ketchup. I told him they only make fusilli with lots of other things in it, so he opted for a safe Margherita pizza. Oh bless those unadventurous eaters!
When we were in Italy for Easter, and our master Eddie asked his Nonna for fusilli with ketchup, I think she was left deeply shocked, though she did go to the local supermarket and found a ketchup for him.

I usually buy the basic supermarket own fusilli for Eddie (his choice, not mine), and I had to beg him to try a different type of fusilli which was delivered with May Degustabox. As it happened, it was an excellent Garofalo pasta. He did one small bite and made a face, as if I offered him a wriggly worm and asked "Could I have my fusilli, please?" sigh, I tried and I failed.
My husband and I though enjoyed this pasta very much, and he even asked for a second helping.

Fusilli with meatballs in tomato sauce
a pack of 4 chorizo burgers
2tbsp olive oil
1 tin of Cirio peeled plum tomatoes
1 clove of garlic
a pinch of dried thyme, basil, pepper
1tbsp ketchup
1tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp honey BBQ glaze (optional)

For the speed of cooking I used a pack of chorizo-flavoured burgers (quite a few supermarkets have their own chorizo burgers) to make the meatballs. Basically break each burger into 6 parts and roll into meatballs, using hands. Heat up 2tbsp of olive oil in a deep pan and brown the meatballs on all sides, stirring frequently for about 5 minutes. Add a chopped clove of garlic, and cook for another couple of minutes, then pour in the contents of a tin of peeled plum tomatoes (break/squash the tomatoes with a wooden spoon), dried herbs, a tbsp of ketchup, balsamic vinegar and Jack Daniel's Tennessee honey BBQ glaze. Simmer on low for 25-30 minutes. If the sauce is too thick, add a splash of water to thin it.
Cook fusilli al dente, as per instructions on the packet, in boiling salted water.
Serve pasta with sauce and meatballs added to it, and add a couple of mini mozzarella balls, or grate some parmesan or Grana Padano.

This is an easy and quick midweek meal, very tasty and flavourful.

If you cannot find Garofalo pasta, use any other fusilli, though the Garofalo pasta is shaped like a corkscrew and looks prettier than the standard fusilli pasta.

I used a tin of Cirio peeled plum tomatoes in my recipe, as it is a quality tomato product, and works perfectly well in many Italian-style recipes. It is a great kitchen staple, which allows you to cook a tasty pasta dish any time you fancy a tomatoey pasta. Actually any tinned tomato product from Cirio would work in this recipe, not just peeled plum tomatoes.

Italian pasta recipe

Disclosure: I received some Cirio products for the purposes of using in recipes on my blog. All opinions are mine.

Monday, 30 May 2016

May Degustabox

My family and I always look forward to our monthly Degustabox delivery, which is full of delicious surprises. This monthly food and drink subscription box is a good way to discover products which have only just appeared in the shops or those which might have been around for while, but you haven't had a chance to try them yet.
Each time the box arrives, it's a bit like unwrapping Christmas gifts, as you don't know what you might find there. You get a good selection of foods and drinks.
If you haven't tried Degustabox subscription box yet and would like to have a go, I have a whopping £6 off discount from your first box (and you can unsubscribe any time) - just use a code BLDEG15 when you place an order.
What did we receive in May box? Let's have a peek:

food subscription box

We immediately tucked into the packet of croissants. They were selected as DB's product of the month.
Brioche Pasquier Croissants au Beurre are made with an authentic levain. They are free from preservatives and hydrogenated fat. One croissant is 172kcal. Lovely warmed in the oven for a few minutes, and served with a jam of your choice.

Get Fruity Scrumptious Strawberry is a bar made from a blend of wholegrain oats with fruit including juice infused strawberries, fruit juice concentrate and virgin coconut oil. It is low in sugar and high in fibre. Made in Cornwall. A 35g bar contains 141kcal. It is chewy, beet-coloured and quite sweet.

fruit and oat bar

Two packs of rice and corn cakes have "mysteriously" vanished before I had a chance to do a proper photo of each pack, so I can only show a close-up from a photo of the whole food box rather than a product separately.

Kallo Belgian Milk Chocolate Corn Cakes are made with the highest quality ingredients, are suitable for vegetarians and coeliacs. At 78kcal per corn cake, it is a lovely mid-morning or afternoon snack, for when you're feeling peckish.
Kallo Yogurt Coated Rice Cakes a nice alternative to biscuits, they are made with wholegrain rice and are coated in yogurt.

The Wonderful Company is one of our favourite brands. Wonderful pistachios totally deserve their name, they are truly the best pistachios you can get in supermarkets. Roasted to perfection, they are slightly salted and are absolutely delicious.

Wonderful Almonds are sun-ripened in California. They have a sweet, mild flavour, and make an addictive snack.

Now Pechkeks fortune cookies were a total novelty food item for me. I haven't heard of them before. These black cookies have amusing messages inside, and will appeal to anyone who has a black sense of humour.

misfortune cookies

Beloved Dates was another product which I haven't tried before. This gluten, wheat and dairy free date nectar is made from 100% pure dates.

It will jazz up a boring porridge and sweeten pancakes. It has a naturally sweet caramel taste, and unlike honey, is suitable for vegans.

I have recently reviewed Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey Barbecue Glaze which we all loved, so I was pleased to get another bottle with Degustabox. It is the latest addition to an excellent range of BBQ sauces and glazes. It is made with an authentic Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey Liquer as well as soy sauce, concentrated pineapple juice, cider vinegar, honey, molasses, garlic puree, onion juice etc. It has a sweet and sour aroma and a strong taste. A welcome addition to any well-stocked pantry.

BBQ sauce

If you're looking for ideas on how to use this delicious glaze, you might want to check out my recipe for Grilled tuna steak with exotic mushrooms.

Garofalo is a well known and much loved Italian brand, we buy Garofalo pasta quite often. Garofalo Fusilli Bucati Corti slightly differ from the standard fusilli pasta you can find in all supermarkets. Its shape is more of a corkscrew. Made with the high quality durum wheat, it is a delicious pasta.

Italian pasta

I cooked fusilli with meatballs in tomato sauce, and it was a very tasty meal.

There were several drinks as well in the latest Degustabox including - new to us - Cranes' alcoholic drinks. Cranes drinks come in 3 flavours, and we have tried two of them - Original Cranberry and Strawberry & Kiwi. There is 4% alcohol content. This drink is brewed from crushed cranberries, with added juice for flavour. The product is 100% natural and relatively low in calories at 99kcal. It is a nice refreshing drink, though a tad too sweet for my personal taste.

I haven't bought Pomegreat recently, and having a carton of Pomegreat in the recent delivery reminded just how lovely this drink is. The juice is quite sweet, with a deep pomegranate flavour and beautiful intense colour.

Disclosure: I receive the Degustbox for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are mine.

Vegetarian Borscht with Beet Leaves

Russian soup, beet leaves

Last week we had a farmers' market in town. It happens once a month ( we have a usual weekly fruit & veg market too, but it's not necessarily selling local produce), and whenever I have a chance, I enjoy buying locally grown veggies as well as freshly made butter, cheese and other food products.
This time I bought a delicious Cotswolds honey, a block of Cheddar and Farmhouse butter, plus a bag of fresh peas in pods as well as spring onions and beets.
I was lucky to find very fresh beets at the farmers' market, it would have been a sin not to use the fresh leaves when they looked so good. They taste wonderful in soups, and make a great substitute for cabbage.

I haven't cooked borscht for a while, and really fancied some. You can make it a vegetarian or vegan. And if you're a meat eater, then there is a variety of meat-based borscht recipes too.

Russian recipe

Vegetarian borscht with beet leaves
2 small beets
a big bunch of beet leaves (from 4 small beets)
2tbsp olive oil
1 medium carrot
1 clove of garlic
1 tomato
1 heaped tbsp tomato puree (I used Supercirio double concentrated tomato puree)
1 big potato
1tsp vegetable stock (powdered)

Peel and chop the beets (first in quarters, then slice thinly). Thoroughly wash the beet leaves, and chop them finely as well.
Heat up 2tbsp of olive oil in the frying pan and fry the beets for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the finely chopped garlic and carrot, cook for another couple of minutes before adding a chopped tomato and cooking for 2-3 minutes more.
Put the contents of the frying pan into a medium sized pan, cover with water and cook for about half an hour.
Add the peeled and chopped potatoes in the last 20 minutes of cooking, while the beet leaves should be cooked no more than 5 minutes.
Add a tablespoon of tomato puree and a bit of a vegetable stock too. Season well.

Serve hot, with freshly chopped spring onions or flat leaf parsley. A spoonful of soured cream or Greek style yougurt wouldn't go amiss, and you might also add a halved hard-boiled egg too.

It is a lovely spring soup, full of flavour and colour.

Russian soup recipe

I used a Supercirio double concentrated tomato puree from Cirio, an Italian brand known for its tomato products. But if you don't have this particular brand of tomato puree, any good quality similar product would do.

You could also try a different version of this beetroot soup, cooked with new nettle tips - see my recipe for Vegetarian borscht with the nettles.

If you're a meat eater, have a look at my Mum's borscht recipe.

Russian recipe

Sharing my recipe with a few foodie linkies - Recipe of the Week

Tasty Tuesdays on HonestMum.com

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Perfecting Sourdough by Jane Mason giveaway E: 20 June 2016

"Never enough cook books" is my motto. One might call it unreasonable, having a look at my shelves groaning under the weight of the cook books in several languages, but any enthusiastic cook and cook book collector will understand me (I hope). Earlier this week I have reviewed an excellent cook book on bread- see my review of Perfecting Sourdough. This book was written by Jane Mason, founder of Virtuous Bread.
It is an "ultimate companion for those wanting to master the art of baking with starters and wild yeast".

The book includes recipes for two starters - rye and wheat.
There are forty two recipes in total including basic breads (for example, ciabatta and French bread) and some truly fancy ones (Jasmine Tea buns sound particularly enticing, so does an Austrian Christmas bread).
I like that there are pages of possible problems and solutions, I find them very useful.
I baked a savoury gingerbread with molasses, following the recipe from the book, and it was a delicious bread.

bread baking book

Lovely people from ApplePress have offered a copy of this excellent cook book as a giveaway prize for my blog readers.
One lucky blog reader will win a copy of Perfecting Sourdough.

The giveaway is open to the UK residents only.
Once the Rafflecopter picks the winner, I will contact them regarding address details, if they do not reply within 28 day, the prize will be allocated to another person.
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 prize will be dispatched by ApplePress.

The giveaway will close on 20 June 2016 (at midnight)

Good luck!

  a Rafflecopter giveaway

And the winner of the book is Petra B. Big well done! Sorry, there is a glitch on the gadget and it refuses to display the name.

Good luck!

Saturday, 28 May 2016

John Whaite's Spiced Lamb Pasties


Pasties are traditionally associated with Cornwall. A freshly baked pasty is a delicious pastry, typically made with meat and vegetables, like beef, swede or turnip and onion. I'm not the biggest fan of turnips.
Turnips always bring back memories of my student days. In the Soviet times most 1-year-students spent up to a month on collective farms, just before the studies started in early October, helping with the harvest. We were digging turnips intended as an animal feed, but as we spent many hours outdoors, we were all quite hungry and often munched on the raw turnips, peeling the skin off with a knife.
Recently celebrity chef John Whaite has come up with a lamb pasty recipe for Stork's Sunday Bakes service. This service is a social media service designed to help people bake on the nation's favourite baking day - Sunday.
Stork and John Whaite have created a series of videos for Bake with Stork Youtube channel, check it out for useful baking tips and inspiration.
I loved the sound of lamb pasties - scroll down my post to watch the video on how to make them.

These delicious pasties are filled with minced lamb, grated sweet potato (hurrah! no turnips in sight!), peas and cheese as well as spices. The shortcrust pastry is made with Stork rather than traditional butter.
I have slightly adapted the recipe. I added twice the amount of grated sweet potato (and have a little bit of filling left because of that, but I put it in the freezer and will have it one day for lunch as a topping for a baked potato).
I also used a Cheddar cheese rather than feta, because I bought a lovely local Cheddar on the farmers' market and wanted to use it.
And I cooked pasties with fresh peas.
My crimping technique is pants second-rate. I'm much better at crimping pirozhki (Russian mini pies), but then they are usually smaller in size, so much easier to work with.

However, the filling was absolutely delicious. I baked four biggish pasties. They might not look like celebrity chef's creations but they were tasty.
If you plan to bake them, the full list of ingredients and instructions on how to cook the pasties can be found under the video on Youtube (click on Youtube symbol to move from this post to the video).
These pasties would be a lovely addition to a picnic or even the upcoming Patron's Lunch.

Do you love pasties? What is your favourite filling?

Disclosure: I received a £20 Sainsbury's voucher to buy the products to test the recipe. All opinions are mine.

Photo diary: week 21, 366

May is almost over, and we're having a week of holidays. Our garden is turning into a jungle again. I can't catch up with the destruction of all the weeds. Once you manage to clear one area, they reappear in the other part of the garden. sigh... My purple tulips are still blooming, though I guess in a few days time it will be all over for them. 

We have two very old apple trees in the garden. The trunk of one is rather gnarled and has a mini-well in which the rain water stays after the rain. It is a mini-watering hole for birds.

I baked a savoury gingerbread from Perfecting Sourdough book by Jane Mason. It is an interesting sourdough bake with molasses and spices.

On Wednesday Eddie's school celebrated May Day on the Church Green with lots of music, dancing around the May poles. The day before and the day after were hot, but by Sod's law Wednesday happened to be chilly and downcast. At least it didn't rain. A lot of kids were wearing short sleeved clothes, and Eddie had just a shirt and trousers on, no jumper or anything to keep him warm (he did have a jumper in his school bag). I was freezing by the end of the performance, even in my coat. Kids seemed to be happy though. Here is Eddie, blowing kisses my way.

This red poppy is one of a few on the way to school, such a strong colour.

After taking Eddie to school on Friday I wandered around the little farmers' market in the main square. I bought a jar of Cotswolds honey, spring onions, beets with leaves, fab tiger tomatoes, farmhouse butter and a block of cheddar (plus fresh peas but forgot to put them out for the photo). The spring onions are so tasty, they are almost sweet, nothing like the supermarket varieties.

Yesterday I baked pasties with minced lamb, sweet potato, peas and cheese. Had one for lunch today. It is a lovely combination of flavours.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Gingerbread from Perfecting Sourdough by Jane Mason

bread, baking

I love sourdough bread and buy it often enough. Making my own sourdough always felt rather daunting.
Perfecting Sourdough by Jane Mason which has been published by Apple Press (£14.99 for a hardback)  earlier this month has inspired me to try making my own sourdough starter and bake a bread. And I'm so glad I did it.

bread making book

The book includes recipes for two starters - rye and wheat.
There are forty two recipes in total including basic breads (for example, ciabatta and French bread) and some truly fancy ones (Jasmine Tea buns sound particularly enticing, so does an Austrian Christmas bread).
I like that there are pages of possible problems and solutions, I find them very useful.
Most recipes come with a full page photo, plus you will find technique tips and photos so that you know what the end result is). The photos are very appetising.

It's a fantastic source of sourdough bread and pastries' recipes. I have bookmarked quite a few of the recipes and now that I have successfully baked my very first sourdough bread, I'm enthusiastic about trying more recipes. As I've been reading a lot of novels about the prairie and the American pioneers in the last year, I'd love to try my hand at making a Flax Prairie bread and Yukon flapjacks.

After perusing the book, I have decided to bake a gingerbread. It is the most unusual recipe, as it is not a sweet gingerbread, but savoury.
The instructions on making a wheat sourdough starter were precise and clear. I followed the recipe exactly as suggested by Jane Mason, mixing 50g of white wheat flour with 50ml every day, leaving it covered in the container, then adding more flour and water every day until on the 5th day I had a nice bubbly starter. Gosh, the smell was truly punchy and sour.
I used some of the starter for my gingerbread, and put the remaining starter in the fridge to leave until the next time I decide to bake some bread.
I think both bread-making novices and experienced bakers alike will find recipes and ideas for bread-baking inspiration in this beautiful cook book.
This book is a lovely addition to my cook book collection, and will make a super gift to anyone interested in baking or cooking in general.

sourdough bread, baking

Gingerbread (recipe reproduced with permission from the publisher)
65g wheat sourdough starter
345g white wheat or spelt flour
65g water
100g butter, melted and cooled to room temperature, plus extra for greasing
60g molasses
100g milk
pinch of salt
1 egg
1tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp ground ginger
3/4tsp baking powder

Day 1:
1. Measure the sourdough starter into a large bowl and return any remaining starter to the fridge.
2. Add 65g flour and all the water. Stir and cover with cling film, and leave on the counter for around 8 hours.

Day 2:
3. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the butter, molasses, milk, salt and egg together. Add to the refreshed sourdough and mix well. In a separate bowl, sift together the remaining flour, spices and baking powder. Sift or whisk to eliminate any lumps but don't overmix. The batter is thick, but if it's too thick you can slacken it with a drop of milk.
4.Scrape the batter into a 20x20 cm greased baking tin. Cover the tin with a shower cap (or cling film) and leave to rest for 3 hours.
5. Preheat the oven to 200C. place the loaf in the oven and bake for 40 minutes. Insert a knife into the centre of a loaf: if it comes out clean, it is done; if not, bake for a further 5-10 minutes.
6. Remove the loaf from the tin and leave to cool on a wire rack.

sourdough bread, baking

Our verdict: we liked the savoury gingerbread, even my fussy eaters ate it with gusto. Eddie asked for a bread, butter and jam sandwich.
I found the shape a bit odd for a bread, perhaps a more traditional loaf tin would be better. Also for me there was not enough ginger. I would expect a gingerbread to be more gingery, so if I bake it next time, I will use the double amount of ground ginger and maybe a bit of ground cloves too.

sourdough bread, baking

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

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Jim-Jams Spreads (review + giveaway E: 15 June 2016)

Chocolate hazelnut spreads are a popular choice for breakfast and pancakes, but do you know their sugar content? Award-winning food producer Kevin Bath has created JimJams after realising that 57 cubes of sugar went into his kids' favourite Nutella. That's an incredible amount of sugar. Makes you scratch your head in disbelief and dismay, doesn't it?!
Kevin, a father of two, has started a range of delicious spreads which contain 83% less sugar. And his produce is taking the supermarkets and health food shops by storm.

"People should be educated on the facts about sugar and clearer labelling is needed", said Kevin. "There's no point beating anyone over the head, but we do need to know more about what we're eating. For example, how much sugar is actually safe to have a day? If a product has 35g of sugar, what does it actually mean? people need to be better educated".

JimJams was the first brand to be certified by Sugarwise, and health campaigners hope that clearer food labelling will help cut the confusion for consumers and support the fight against the growing problem of obesity and sugar-related conditions such as tooth decay and type-2 diabetes (though of course sugar is not the only culprit. My Mum for example doesn't eat any sweet treats, is not overweight and is very active for her age, yet she was recently diagnosed with type-2 diabetes).

I have first come across JimJams when a jar of hazelnut chocolate spread was delivered inside a selection of Degustabox goodies. It was absolutely delicious, and we've all enjoyed it. Chocolate and hazelnut is a classic combination of flavours. Some of the best world chocolates contain these two ingredients, just think of gianduiotti.
My favourite way of eating the chocolate spread is to add it to a warm croissant. Total bliss!

I also used this spread as an ingredient for baking - see my recipe for Chocolate oat cookies.

I make a batch of strawberry jam every summer, but I also buy branded jams often enough.
JimJams Strawberry Jam is full of flavour and is made with reduced sugar. That's another top contender for a croissant's filling. It is a scrumptious jam, which could also be a perfect ingredient for many bakes and cakes, for example, a Victoria sponge.

If you haven't tried delightful spreads from JimaJams, I have a super giveaway prize for one of my lucky blog readers. One winner will receive six jars of JimJams Hazelnut Chocolate Spread.
To be in with a chance of winning, please fill in the Rafflecopter gadget.

The giveaway is open to the UK residents only.
Once the Rafflecopter picks the winner, I will contact them regarding address details, if they do not reply within 28 day, the prize will be allocated to another person.
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 prize will be dispatched by JimJams.

The giveaway will close on 15 June 2016 (at midnight)

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I received two jars of JimJams spreads for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are mine.