Saturday, 30 July 2016

Marmalade polenta cake

I haven't baked a polenta cake for a long time. Having rummaged through the kitchen shelves, I found a couple of jars with remains of marmalade. These jars were taking shelf space, and I wanted to shift them. This cakey-baking result is a mix of two of my recipes - marmalade cake and orange polenta cake.

Marmalade polenta cake
4tbsp marmalade
180g caster sugar
zest of 2 oranges
juice of 1/2 orange
4 medium eggs
50g ground almonds
90g polenta (dry, ground variety)
100g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
190g butter, melted

icing: juice of 1/2 orange + icing sugar

Mix sugar with marmalade, orange zest and juice and beat in eggs, one at a time. Add ground almonds, polenta, flour, baking powder and mix well. Melted butter goes in last. Mix the cake batter well until you get smooth runny consistency. Pour into an oiled cake tin and put the tin in the oven preheated to 180C.
Bake for about 40+ minutes. Check if the cake is ready with a wooden toothpick, if it comes clean, the cake is done.
Mix the icing sugar with orange juice until you get a runny icing, drizzle over the cake while it's still warm.

Since I have used the remains of the marmalade, I'm adding my recipe to the Kitchen Clearout linky at Madhouse Family Reviews.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

July Degustabox

My family and I always look forward to our Degustabox delivery, which arrives every month and is full of foodie surprises. This monthly food and drink subscription box is an excellent 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.
Thanks to Degustabox, I have found new favourites to add to our shopping list, including some products which I probably wouldn't have tried otherwise.
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 £7 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 a July box? Let's have a peek:

Being a chocoholic, the first product I have opened was a pack of Brookside Chocolates - Acai & Blueberry flavours in dark chocolate. The combination of sweet and tart berry centre with smooth dark chocolate is truly a winner. Taste-wise they are very moreish, but I wasn't happy to see that sugar in this product is produced from genetically modified sugar beet, corn and soya beans. That's regrettable, as I avoid buying foods with GM ingredients.

We usually buy Bahlsen Choco Leibnitz biscuits in big packs, but now these delicious biccies are available in handy portions of two biscuits per pack. Crunchy and crisp butter biscuits are covered with a thick layer of chocolate. It's a delicious snack under 150 kcal. Great for picnics, snacks on the go or grown-up lunches (I think quite a few schools nowadays don't look favourably upon any chocolate treats).

Rowntree's Fruit Pastilles Infusions are a twist on Rowntree's Fruit Pastilles. There are three flavours including orange & grapefruit, raspberry & pomegranate and apple & elderflower. Made with fruit juice, and no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives. My boys enjoyed them. I have tried a couple, and didn't like the texture, as I generally am not fond of sweets which stick to teeth.

Itsu Crispy Seaweed Thins in sea salt flavour are new vegetable crisps. One pack provides 13 kcal which makes it an ideal snack for anyone on a diet.. Seaweed, the green superfood is naturally packed with nutrients, zinc, iron and B vitamins. It's a great source of iodine. The seaweed for this snack is harvested from the crystal clear seas around South Korea. The crisps melt on the tongue, leaving a flavour of the sea in your mouth.

Seabrook Lattice Food Heroes celebrate all things British Food and Drink. These Chorizo flavoured gluten free lattice crisps were crunchy and mildly spicy. If I had to do a blind test, I wouldn't have guessed this was a chorizo flavour, but they do have a mild paprika flavour.

I often buy Jordans for breakfast, we especially love Country Crisp. Jordans Swiss Style Muesli is the latest addition to an extensive range of cereals. It is a blend of crispy wheat flakes, creamy oats, juicy raisins and almond slices. This is a classic recipe, with no added sugar and with 100% natural ingredients.

breakfast cereals

I was most excited to find a jar of Felix Gherkins in the box. I have recently discovered this brand, visiting Burford garden centre and seeing several different varieties of Swedish jams. I bought a jar of rose hips & lingonberry jam, and it was delightful.
Sweet pickled crunchy gherkins are delicious flavourful pickles. They are made, using a traditional recipe with vinegar, sugar and spices.

Swedish pickles

I added a few spoons of gherkins to a Swedish style potato salad, and ate the rest straight from the jar. They were excellent pickles, and if I see them in the shops, I'd buy them definitely.

BBQ side dish

Sarson's balsamic vinegar is a useful addition to any pantry. I always have several different brands of balsamic vinegar in the kitchen. I love adding it to salads or as an ingredient to tomato sauce for pasta. Sarson's has been a vinegar expert for over 200 years, and its balsamic vinegar promises a distinctive gentle aroma with a tangy taste.

For 2-3 endives you will need
100g Dolcelatte, Gorgonzola or any other creamy blue cheese
50g pine nuts
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp runny honey
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Cube cheese and place into endive boats, scatter pine nuts inside them, then drizzle the dressing made with runny honey, balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

Rejuvenation Water is an amino acid enriched spring water. Using Derbyshire spring water, natural fruit flavours and a unique amino acid profile (whatever that means), Rejuvenation Water is meant to fuel the immune system and build a natural resilience to stress, depression and anxiety. While I'm always slightly sceptical about the claims to relieve stress and anxiety, as a drink it has a pleasant taste. I enjoyed this refreshing water.

Cracker Drinks Co produces natural fruit drinks that taste delicious. The range includes a selection of various blends, with no added sugar or artificial sweeteners. A serving will provide you with 1 of 5 a day, and at less than 90kcal per serving. The carton of Pineapple, Coconut and Lime was finished off so quickly, I haven't had a chance to take a photo of the actual drink. My men said it was tasty.

ALO Drink is made with real aloe vera juice. I know aloe vera juice has had a bit of a bad reputation recently thanks to unscrupulous pyramid companies who try to sell you aloe vera products as a cure for everything. Yet aloe vera has been known for its medicinal properties for thousands of years.
ALO Drink is a non-GMO project verified, gluten free and fat free. Aloe Vera with Honey is a mildly sweet refreshing drink.

As the contents of boxes vary, there might be different products included.
BerryWhite range of soft drinks is certified organic and is blended from natural non-GM fruits. The exotic extracts are also organic with subtle notes added to make exciting drink combinations. They are made with no added sugar or artificial preservatives.
Sparkling Cranberry & Guava and Lemon & Ginger are zingy refreshing drinks, perfect for summer.

Cucumber drinks are all en vogue these days. I've noticed quite a few cucumber-based drinks and water in supermarkets recently.
Qcumber sources its spring water from Radnorshire in Mid Wales, an unspoilt rural area, where the water is able to filter naturally through layers of rock. This drink has a pure taste, and is lovely straight from the fridge on a hot day.

Follow Degustabox on Twitter -  @degustaboxUK  or Instagram @degustabox_uk

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

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Happy Days Edinburgh 1000 pc puzzle from Ravensburger

I was just chatting to a friend earlier today, telling her that one of the ways to unwind and relax for me is make a cup of coffee and assemble a big jigsaw puzzle. If you read my blog, you must know by now that I often talk of my love of puzzles.
Happy Days Edinburgh 1000 pc puzzle from Ravensburger depicts a lovely nostalgic scene. Take a promenade along a busy street outside the Royal Scottish Academy.
It's a colourful scene with bright buses and cars, and the people in the street are as colourful.

Happy Days is a range of nostalgic scenes from Ravensburger, with puzzles depicting Blackpool, Brighton, Cotswolds, Tenby, York and other locations.
They are a bit old-fashioned in style, and will make a safe gift for an elderly auntie or uncle. Or anyone who enjoys historic memorabilia. I had fun, piecing it together, and I'm not yet in the "elderly aunt" category. So, I guess it might appeal to any age group.

Each scene tells a story.
A little girl stops by the piper's dog, waving a warm hello. Her Mum waits nearby, while the little boy in the pushchair looks straight at you.

There are plenty of interesting details to work on, as you build the puzzle. Some areas are more tricky, like the sky, the grey road or the building of the academy, as there is a lot of similar-coloured pieces.

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

Monday, 25 July 2016

Birthday boy

Tell me, how could it possibly be that my baby is turning six today?!
You often see threads on parenting forums discussing whether it is sensible to have babies after you're 40, as if once you reach that magic number, you should be more concerned about your pension and possible grandchildren. Such gibberish.
In fact, having our second child when I was 42 was one of the best decisions I have ever taken in my life. I love both of my boys, they are my Universe, my alpha and omega.
Eddie is my second and last baby. He often talks about a baby brother, he loves babies, alas, he'll never be a big brother.
I remember that late evening when he was born very clearly - to the melody of "We can rule the world" (not my choice of a song, the nurses put the music on).
He was bonny and quite heavy, over 10 pounds, with a great mop of dark hair. This picture was taken the next morning, when we were still recovering in the hospital.

When I was one,
I had just begun.

When I was two,
I was nearly new.

When I was three,
I was hardly me.

When I was four,
I was not much more.

When I was five,
I was just alive.

But now I'm six, I'm as clever as clever,
So I think I'll be six now for ever and ever.

I've always loved this poem by A. A. Milne, though Eddie's reasoning is that he's very much looking forward to his 7th birthday party. Yep, we have already started planning the next year's party. 

Happy birthday, my darling boy! Here's to next 100 birthdays! 

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Swedish-style potato salad

BB side dish

I love potatoes in all guises and disguises, and will happily eat them every day, given a chance. A potato salad is a must for any BBQ, it's a perfect side dish for grilled meat, fish, sweet peppers or mushrooms. There are many versions of potato salad - with mayo, mustard dressing, vinaigrette or oil. Eastern and Northern European recipes often ask for a soured cream as one of the ingredients. In Italy they might add a good glug of extra virgin olive oil and add a handful of capers - that's the way my mother-in-law prepares a potato side dish.

BBQ side dish

Swedish-style potato salad
3 medium sized potatoes
4tbsp soured cream
1tbsp pickle brine
2tbsp chopped sweet pickled gherkins, + more for decoration
a handful of fresh dill, chopped

Peel and cut potatoes into big chunks, cook in salted boiling water until tender. Drain and add the soured cream and pickle brine, while potatoes are still warm. Chop the dill and gherkins and mix with the salad. Add more gherkins to decorate the salad.

This is my kind of food - potatoes and pickles, and who cares about the grill?! For me that's already a super meal.

BBQ side dish

In this recipe I have used Swedish sweet pickled Felix gherkins from the latest Degustabox. Unlike many British supermarket varieties of pickles which taste of nothing but vinegar, these gherkins are flavourful and tasty, with a right balance of sweet and salty. They are cooked using a traditional recipe with vinegar, sugar and spices. They are crunchy and crisp, and lovely in sandwiches.

BBQ side dish

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Photo Diary: Week 29, 366

We're finally enjoying the summer holidays: bye-bye, school, we won't miss you. Actually, that's not entirely true. Eddie's birthday is on Monday, and he is upset that he doesn't get a chance to sit on a birthday cushion - which is a school tradition for kids celebrating their birthdays. But I'm glad, that I don't need to worry about all the school routine for six weeks.
I skipped last week's photo diary installment, as to be honest, I'm totally lacking in motivation.

Last Sunday the Moon was clear in the still bright blue sky.

On Monday I prepared some bruschetta with grilled courgettes, sweet pepper and parmesan. It was a light meal, perfect for a hot day.

Our garden is my haven, I often pop outside from the noisy indoors to have a moment of peace and quiet and admire the nature, like this bee, whom I caught mid-flight, carrying pollen.

Wednesday was the last day of school. It was also a day of foodie adventures for Eddie and me, as we took a bus to Oxford and visited a Thai restaurant Thaikhun to sample a new children's menu including among other foods some creepy crawlies - read all about it in my post Adventures at Thaikhun, Oxford.

We received a new playset for reviewing - The Grossery Gang Yucky Mart, which so far has been a big success with Eddie. Like most boys, he revels in all things yucky and gross, so this set appeals to his sense of humour.

Yesterday my funny child said that he was missing school. He watched Horrid Henry on Netflix with a box on his head, saying it was his hat.

Today we did a bit of grocery shopping and popped into The Entertainer to look at the new Grossery Gang range. I suspect we'll be now expanding our "collection".

Friday, 22 July 2016

Adventures at Thaikhun, Oxford

We often get invitations to visit and review cafes and restaurants, but the majority of these events happen in London. I always politely decline the invitations as travelling to London and back home would involve a whole day. There are too many factors to take into consideration - like travel costs, organising a childminder for our older son who wouldn't be interested in eating out etc etc.
A few days ago I received an email, asking if we'd like to visit Thaikhun in Oxford and sample their newly launched menu for children.
Wednesday the 19th was the day when Thai street food restaurant Thaikhun has hosted its official kids menu launch party.

Eddie is a social animal who loves meeting new people, and he was very excited to go to Oxford with me. We caught a bus to Oxford, hoping to be in time for the start of the event. The bus was crawling sooo slowly, and it was unbearably hot inside. By the time we arrived at Thaikhun we were flustered, red and sweating, not the most elegant sight.

Friendly staff accompanied us to our reserved table. Eddie was most excited to find lots of balloons floating above the chairs. Kids and balloons. Such simple things keep them entertained for ages. Eddie played with the balloons and was thrilled to find out we could take them home.
This was our first visit to Thaikhun, and I was curious to see the interior. It is a treasure trove of objects and artefacts which gives an authentic feel to the dining experience.

The ceiling is decorated with all kinds of exotic lanterns and bells.

Eddie was happy to chat to two young lads sitting at the table next to ours. They all seemed to be enjoying the atmosphere. Eddie even told me enthusiastically "This is the best restaurant ever".

The team at Thaikhun has been working with a team of children who did the taste testing of the new menu.

As you can see from the menu, you could choose one option from each column: jasmine rice or plain noodles, grilled chicken or pork or mixed vegetables and no nuts satay sauce or sweet BBQ sauce or slightly spicy green curry.
Each kids' meal comes with carrot and cucumber sticks to start. We also had a big bowl of crackers and a small dipping bowl of sweet chilli sauce, which was mildly spicy.

And the most adventurous bit - free creepy crawlies are served with every meal! Not for faint-hearted the sight of these dried Buffalo worms. I thought they looked revolting unappetising. These crunchy critters are freeze-dried and are packed with protein.

Thaikhun Oxford

Oh my, worms for lunch?!
I could have never imagined that my very fussy eater will be brave enough to sample the creepy crawlies. But having seen the other lads eating them, he decided he was sport enough to give it a go. My brave son has tried the first worm very cautiously, then grinned and said he liked it. Soon enough, he was happily munching on a few more.

Eddie loves rice, so he decided to try rice with vegetables and sweet BBQ sauce. He enjoyed the sauce, ate all the carrots but wasn't keen on broccoli.

My suggestion for the vegetable option for kids is to expand the choice of vegetables. Serving just carrots and broccoli seems like an incomplete meal. How about adding some green beans, courgettes, sweet peppers and other veg? It would be more colourful and appetising. It did look like a side dish rather than a main course.

The sweet BBQ sauce was flavourful and got top marks from Eddie. He also liked the jasmine rice.

I was also offered to choose a starter and a main for myself.
For the starter I fancied a dish of dumplings or Ka Nom Jeeb. The menu says "an age old Chinese import, dumplings have become a real street food favourite with us in Thailand". I opted for steamed vegetables dumplings, but you can also choose pork and prawn-filled dumplings. It was a lovely light starter.

Thaikhun Oxford

I have also ordered a Geang Kiew Wan or Thai green curry, cooked with chicken, courgettes. green beans and fresh Thai basil. It was served with a fragrant sticky jasmine rice. The curry was delicious though a tad on the hot side (there were generous slices of fresh red chilli in the sauce). This classic dish was aromatic and full of flavours.

curry, Thaikhun Oxford

Thaikhun Oxford

When we were leaving, Eddie got a Thaikhun goodie bag with a portion of creepy crawlies. He is very tempted to take them to his birthday party on Sunday and treat his guests.
What do you think, should we put some worms in the party bags?!

Disclosure: Eddie and I were invited to have a free meal at Thaikhun to sample a new menu for children. All opinions are ours.