Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Millionaire's shortbread with Terry's Chocolate Orange: Father's Day recipe

Father's day recipes

Since we got a new oven delivered and installed last Saturday, I've been busy catching up on my baking. My old oven died of old age, it was not new when we moved to our house over 8 years ago, and in the last years had no light inside; every time I turned the fan on, it would make rumbling sounds like a mini tractor. It had a good life though, and was much used, baking winning cakes as well as some disasters. My latest oven is Neff, let's hope the famous German quality proves to be not just the stuff of myths.
Just today I baked shortbread for Millionaire's Shortbread recipe with Terry's Chocolate Orange. Terry's Chocolate Orange PR have got in touch with me, asking if I'd like to try one of their recipes on the run to the Father's Day.
Since all my three men have a sweet tooth, I knew it would be appreciated.
If you fancy making this lovely treat for Father's Day, here is the recipe, courtesy of Terry's Chocolate Orange. It's perfect for the whole family. My older son loved it.
So, first comes the recipe, then my thoughts on it.

Father's day recipes, shortbread recipes

Millionaire's Shortbread
The Terry's Chocolate Orange Millionaire's Shortbread is an irresistible twist on the traditional recipe; the crumbling shortbread base and indulgent caramel perfectly combine with the signature chocolate orange flavour for its top layer decorated with the iconic orange segments.
Prep time 45 minutes
Cook time 50 minutes
Makes 25 squares (or 15 bigger slices)
For shortberad:
135g butter, softened
175g plain flour
55g sugar
1 orange, zested

379g can condensed milk
75ml golden syrup
150g butter
100g sugar
3 Terry's Chocolate Oranges

Preheat the oven to 180C/160 fan and line a 20x20 brownie tin. In the bowl of a food processor, add the butter and plain flour. Blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs and then add in the sugar and orange zest and blitz again to combine. Take the mixture out and work with your hands to form a ball of dough. Push the dough into the base of the lined tin until it is flat and even and bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown.
Meanwhile, prepare the caramel. In  a large non-stick frying pan, heat the condensed milk, golden syrup, butter and sugar until the butter has melted and the mixture begins to boil. Stir constantly to keep it from burning. Turn the mixture down to a simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes or until the colour starts to become golden brown. Remove from the heat and transfer to a heatproof bowl to cool and thicken slightly.
Once the shortbread is cooked, allow to cool for 10 minutes and pour the cooled caramel over the top. Allow to cool and then chill for 10 minutes while you melt the chocolate.
Bring a small pan of water to boil and place a heatproof bowl over the top making sure that the water does not touch the bowl directly. Break up the chocolate oranges into segments, reserving half of one for decoration and tip the rest into the bowl. Turn the heat down immediately to a gentle simmer and allow chocolate to gradually melt. stirring occasionally.
Once the chocolate has melted, remove the shortbread from the fridge and pour over the chocolate, making sure to spread it into the corners.
Use the remaining chocolate segments to decorate the top and then chill until firm.
Once the chocolate is set and you are ready to serve, slice into squares.

Father's day recipes

I followed the recipe precisely, and thought that there was too much of caramel sauce. It was a very thick layer of caramel, which is still quite soft, even after a few hours in the fridge. The chocolate has set well. Next time I'm making this recipe, I'll halve the amount of caramel.
You don't really need a food processor to make shortbread, hands are just fine for making crumbs.
I had to re-do the chocolate layer, as my first attempt at making the chocolate sauce produced a curdled chocolate. I have mixed cooking milk chocolate and one chocolate orange, and then the sauce turned glossy and easy to spread.

I liked the addition of orange slices, I think it's an inspired twist on a classic recipe.

My slices were all different sizes. I don't need Cherish from Creme de la Creme with her ruler to tell me that. I suspect she would run away in shock horror.

Will you be baking any sweet treats to celebrate the Father's Day?

Father's day recipes

Disclosure: I received several chocolate oranges for the purposes of testing the recipe. All opinions are our own.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

The story that should have never happened

I'm very glad to say Farewell to May. It has been a stressful difficult month for our family, especially our older son Sasha. He is severely autistic and non verbal. Any change from routine unsettles him.
His thinking is very rigid. The shampoo bottles should be just in one place in the bathroom. If I turn the toothpaste the "wrong" way, he would always turn it back. Action sequences are often ritualised, and routines are to be followed, or he gets very upset.
When we learnt that our trusted school transport team wouldn't be working with the school any longer (sadly, the company went into liquidation), I thought it would be a big problem for Sasha to adjust to a new team. Little did I know just how big a problem it would be,
Since there was little time between the company stopping work and finding new transport teams to take children to school, people without any experience of work with special needs kids were hired.

The first day Sasha returned home after school, he was very agitated and  unsettled. The bus driver complained about his behaviour, accusing him of hurting his female assistant (I will refer to her as FA). He said he compiled a report on him. He was very brusque with me, to the point of being rude, and said they might not take Sasha to school any more.
We called the school, and the teacher who observed what has happened said he pushed the FA as she was hovering over him. The teacher reassured me that they would be working with the transport team and explain to them about autism.
The FA told my husband that she couldn't sleep in the night, that she was short of breath and needed to go to see the doctor. At which point my radar started buzzing an alarm.
But we have apologised to the FA and driver for all the trouble.

He continued travelling to and from school with these people, who were absolutely unsympathetic. Sasha's behaviour in the meantime was getting worse and worse. He refused to go in the classroom, locking himself in the toilet to escape people. At home he started hiding in the airing cupboard, again locking himself in, which he has never done before. He looked very miserable, and my heart was breaking. We were very worried and didn't know how to help him.
The school were anxious too as Sasha's behaviour has changed dramatically. He has been doing so well this year at school, and suddenly he didn't want to take part in any school activities,
His anxiety was palpable, and he kept pointing to the symbol of the school bus in his social story.

After the second complaint from a driver the week afterwards, I said I'd walk with Sasha to school myself.
Unfortunately, it was not a solution. My husband commutes to work, and cannot take our younger son to school every day. And both boys attend schools which are in totally opposite directions.
Walking with Sasha to school was so difficult, as he was distressed - it was yet another change of routine for him - that I dissolved into tears in the presence of Sasha's teachers. They were most kind to me, calmed me down, listened to me and offered to help, saying that they would talk to the transport team again.

After struggling for a few days, we reluctantly agreed to send Sasha to school on the bus.
You might have seen these school buses for special needs children, they are not big in size and carry several children at a time, and two adults - a driver and an assistant.

Poor Sash would arrive home in tears, and my heart was breaking to see him so unhappy. When I asked the transport if it were possible to see the CCTV footage, they explained to me that the cameras did not operate.
How irresponsible is that?! The cameras should be working for the protection of both sides.

After I read their reply, I decided we needed to do our own investigation. I ordered a Spy Voice recorder on amazon. It is a tiny gadget, which looks like a USB stick, and can record up to 17 hours in one go. It is easy to charge and operate.

In the morning we put the voice recorder in Sasha's school bag, and waved him good bye. I felt quite bad about spying on them, but had no other choice really.
In the evening, my husband and I listened to the recording together. I had to go back a few times to listen again and again, as I couldn't believe what we heard.
Our vulnerable child who couldn't defend himself or tell us what was going on, was verbally abused by the FA. The driver didn't say much, but he was complicit in my mind, since he made no attempt to stop his FA.

We will never know what has really happened on the days when Sasha was travelling with them. We only recorded one day, but even one day was unbearable enough.

The FA kept taunting him with words like this "I'm bored. You're here to amuse me (telling this to all children). Then to Sasha - You're not, you're rotten little thing. You're rotten, rotten through and through. Aren't you?! You will never be my cherry berry muffin. You would be the cat litter tray, that's what you would be". She also laughed at him, saying that he was "probably ripped that and all, ain't he".
She kept clapping her hands and bothering other children on the bus, clearly to amuse herself.
Sasha was quiet at first, but she kept baiting him to provoke a reaction. It was like baiting a chained animal, knowing perfectly well he could do nothing in response.

It was difficult to listen to that recording as Sasha was getting more and more upset, and none of the adults made any attempt to reassure him.

I was shaking, listening to that woman. In fact, after it ended, I ran to the toilet to throw up.
You trust these people with the most precious in your life - your child, and find out that they abused the position of trust.
How could you say that to any human being, let alone a vulnerable child?! Such vile, despicable attitude! Knowing perfectly well that they were safe from anyone reporting them, with most children on the bus being non verbal. These people should never be working in a position of trust.

We emailed the head of the school at once with the copy of the recording, as well as the social worker who helps us. The head got in touch with the safeguarding team. The driver and the FA were suspended while the investigation was going on.

It was decided that the FA would lose her badge and would not be able to work in the position of trust. The driver who claimed he didn't hear much of what she was saying, would have to do an additional training. He was also remorseful during the panel meeting, while the FA was unrepentant.

A small victory, yet at what cost.
It will take a long time for Sasha to get back to his normal self. He also got such a bad skin rash due to stress that we had to go to the doctor. But that will be cured. It's the inner scars that take a long time to heal

As for the audio recorder, this was the best £15 I have spent in my life. Without it we would have had no clue as to what our son was subjected to, though sadly we'll never know what happened during the days we haven't recorded.

I have been thinking hard whether to talk about it on my blog or not. I might change my mind, and remove the post later. We are all feeling violated.

P.S. I should also add that I am most grateful to Sasha's school - head and teachers, and our social work for all the support and help in this dismal situation.

One of Sasha's selfies from a few years ago


Aubergines in tomato sauce

summer side dishes, BBQ side dishes

Last time we had a BBQ on May Bank Holiday, it was raining, and we had our meal indoors. We enjoyed it a lot nevertheless and promised each other to have another BBQ on the next Bank Holiday.
As it typically happens, it was raining again. I wonder if there are Bank holidays in this country when it doesn't rain? I imagine there are, but the impression is that as soon as we plan a BBQ, it's ought to rain.
For me a good BBQ needs to come with a lot of vegetable side dishes. A simple potato salad with soured cream and chives or dill is one of my summer staples. It goes well with any meat or fish.
A slaw is another classic choice. Yesterday, our friends brought with them a big dish of homemade babaganoush and fennel slaw.
Jay, being Australian, is the king of BBQs. Alas, due to the incessant rain we had to change all our plans, so he prepared a roast pork at home.
To go with the sausages and roast pork, I decided to make a side dish of aubergines in tomato sauce. This is a recipe which my Mum used to make often in summer and early autumn. It is a Southern Russian recipe, unheard of many years ago in my home town in the North East, where my parents came to live as young specialists. My Mum still has her Southern accent, even after living for almost 50 years in the North. The locals have their own peculiar accent, which is known as "lazy jaw".
But I digress.
I also remember cooking this dish for my in-laws in Italy, and they said it is very similar to some Southern Italian dishes. Anyway, you can vary it, and use just fresh tomatoes and fresh, uncooked garlic (just don't go on a date afterwards, as your breath will be very garlicky). The authentic Russian recipe would be made with a sunflower oil rather than olive oil.

BBQ side dishes

Aubergines in tomato sauce
3 medium aubergines
80+ml olive oil (or vegetable oil)
4 medium sized tomatoes, skinned and chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 bottle of passata (540g)
1 pack of chopped tomatoes with chilli (390g)
a glug of good quality balsamic vinegar

This aubergine dish can be used as an accompaniment to the meat, or eaten on its own. It's tasty on a chunk of crusty bread, cold from a jar in the fridge. But it's lovely piping hot as well.

My Mum usually slices the aubergines, and puts them in a big dish under the heavy lid for a couple of hours with a sprinkle of salt.
I use a different variety of aubergines, which don't have a bitter note to them, so I don't bother with the prep.
Cook them in batches in the deep frying pan with plenty of oil until brown and soft. Season with sea salt.
Skin the tomatoes by first plunging them in a pan of boiling hot water for a minute, then in the cold water. I don't always skin tomatoes, but some people are funny about eating tomato skins, and since we had guests coming over, I thought I'b better do it. Chop them finely and set aside.
Chop the garlic and give it a quick fry, add the passata and chopped tomatoes with chilli (from a pack). Bring the sauce to boil and cook simmering for a couple of minutes with a glug of balsamic vinegar.
Layer the aubergines in a deep dish, then a bit of chopped tomatoes, then add the tomato sauce, then aubergines and tomatoes and sauce again. If you have fresh parsley chop it and add on top.

That's how you start the first layer before the sauce is added

In this recipe I used two products from Cirio. They often send me a selection of their products for testing in recipes.
Cirio La Passata is an authentic Italian product, made with ripe tomatoes which were crushed and bottled to season all dishes. It is a versatile ingredient for many dishes, from different cuisines.

Cirio Polpa Fine Finely Chopped Tomatoes with chilli is made with chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, red peppers, garlic, salt, sugar, chilli. It has just the right amount of heat, a good chilli flavour without overpowering the tomatoes.

Aubergines in tomato sauce will keep well in a closed container in the fridge for a couple of days.
You could also stir them into any pasta dish.

BBQ side dishes

Monday, 29 May 2017

Qixels Kingdom Castle Attack Playset

creative toys for children

If you sighed with relief that your kids are not that into Hama beads anymore, "beware" - there is a new playset on the block which can rival both Hama and Aqua beads. I remember a few years ago Hama beads were found everywhere in our house. I still occasionally find a rogue bead which has been hiding for a couple of years at the bottom of the drawers or behind the books on the bookshelf.
I believe Qixels have first made their appearance a couple of years ago, but their range has expanded to include new creative playsets.
Qixels Kingdom Castle Attack Playset (£29.99) will appeal to many fans of Hama and Aqua beads
as well as Minecrafts lovers.


Qixels are the award winning brand brought to you by Character Options.
What exactly are they?
They are a variation of plastic beads - pixelated cubes, fused together with a spray of water.
The playset includes 1000 qixels cubes, 2 cube trays in two parts - top and bottom, 6 design templates, 6 display stands, 2 display bases, 4 plug in accessories (dragon flame, axes etc), door frame, draw bridge, large and medium  floor/wall plates, window frames, turrets, flags, poles, ladder, 1 water sprayer and 1 storage tray + an instructions leaflet.



This playset will allow children to create their own pixelated world full of fun themes and characters. No heat and no glue, simply make, spray, let it dry and play.
The castle parts can be assembled in a variety of constructions. You build your own unique castle, the possibilities are endless.

As my 6-year-old son Eddie is very much into Minecraft, he found these pixelated characters very appealing.
He hasn't done all the suggested designs yet, as the last week of school was very busy, with the May Day dancing, lots of term homework to be completed (for some reason we always leave it until the last moment, so it gets very hectic).

You need to put the top tray with holes over the bottom tray with pins. Don't forget about the top tray: we didn't put it at first, and then Eddie had to redo his design.
Place design template under tray using small tabs to lock it in place.
You might also put a template next to the tray, as it is not very easy to see through two trays.
Firmly press each cube one at a time onto the pins in the tray, matching the colours on the template.

Once the design is completed, spray the character with water from a water sprayer bottle. Make sure that all the areas are covered with water. Gently tilt the tray to shake off the excess water. Lay it flat and leave to dry.

According to instructions, it should take just over 30 minutes for the shape to set. I have shaken the tray as suggested. We left it to dry overnight, but when we lifted it in the morning, the down side was still a little bit sticky.
Overall, it is an excellent quiet activity. Our minor suggestion is to add a lid to the tray where the cubes are sorted (if you don't make all the characters in one go).
The Qixels Castle features 1000 cubes to create a Qixels Kingdom, where children can defeat savage trolls and regain power of their lands.
This is just one of the Qixels products, which you can mix and match for an imaginative play.

While 1000 cubes seems to be a very decent amount, I think for a truly creative spree you might need more beads. This is where the Mega Refill pack might come handy.

Eddie loved the set, and plans to finish the remaining designs this week. He has also been checking online which other sets are available. What have I "unleashed"?!  He's now saving his pocket money for the glow-in-the-dark Qixels set.

Disclosure: We received the Qixels playset for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are our own.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Grilled tuna and courgette salad

easy salad

It's been a very hot day today. I was sweltering in a jacket on a school run. Our run is literally a sprint, as I grab Eddie by hand and we hurry home in time for Sash to arrive on a school bus.
Saturday, on the other hand, was completely miserable, cold-ish and rainy. As we were walking into town to do some grocery shopping, we met a friend who asked us if we were heading to a food festival. Drat and double drat, I have totally forgotten about it, and didn't have my camera with me. My iphone is of a geriatric generation, with a very basic camera, so I didn't bother to take many pictures with it. We did go to the festival which was held in and around St Mary's Church, under a persistent rain.

The crowds seemed not that bothered by the rain, and there were long queues for any freebies, especially at the gin stall. That's called devotion - to queue in the rain to get a shot of free gin.
Eddie and I ran into the church, trying to escape the rain.
There was an impressive array of foods and drinks, especially the preserves and flavoured oils.
I didn't buy much, just a jar of local honey and strawberry jam - both from Holmes Made, a tin of Ariana natural spice blend from GoSpice, a small bottle of redcurrant syrup (non-alcoholic) and a chunk of pancetta from The Cotswold Curer.

I would have liked to spend more time, looking at the foods, but Eddie was quite bored and kept asking when we were going home.
The most magnificent displays of cakes were created by Aston Pottery. Alas, they didn't sell the cakes, only shared the printed leaflets about themselves. I wonder what they did with all those glorious goodies after the festival ended.

tuna salad

When it's a hot day, I prefer to have simple salad dinners. Tuna is a versatile ingredient for many kinds of salads.
To make a very simple grilled tuna and courgette salad you will need:

2 Tuna steaks
2tbsp mirin rice wine
2tbsp dark soy sauce
juice of 1/2 lime
2tbsp olive oil
1 courgette
a good drizzle of chilli-flavoured oil
mixed salad with pea shoots, a handful
green olives
for dressing:
1tbsp runny honey
juice of 1/2 lime
2tbsp toasted sunflower seeds

Slice each steak into four strips and marinade in a deep bowl in a mix of mirin, dark soy sauce, lime juice and sea salt for about an hour.
Drizzle the olive oil over the grill pan and heat it up. Cut the courgette into 3 pieces, then slice each one into "chips". Drizzle the courgette with a chilli-flavoured olive oil, and cook on grill for about 5 minutes, turning over once or twice.
Cook the tuna on grill for about 5 minutes, turning over.
Assemble the salad by layering the salad leaves, then courgette and tuna. Scatter the olives and sunflower seeds and drizzle a simple dressing of lime juice and honey.

tuna salad

Since I used a bit of chilli-flavoured olive oil (from a Filippo Berio olive oil hamper that I won before Christmas) and the remains of a bag of sunflower seeds, I'm adding this recipe to #KitchenClearout linky hosted by Cheryl from Madhouse Family Reviews.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Disney Crossy Road toys

collectible minifigures
Disney Crossy Road Minnie Mouse, next to a daisy, to show the size

Just the other day Eddie was telling me with sadness that one of his class mates was making fun of his love of Mickey Mouse. According to that mouthpiece of primary school wisdom, only babies like Disney. I said "Wait a minute, a lot of grown-ups love Disney, especially Mickey and Minnie".
"Why don't we go to the toy shop and ask them?" Our local toy shop Denton's has a very friendly staff. There are three young people who know all about the latest toy crazes and who are happy to show us their latest cool toys like fidget spinners etc.
Eddie's been much taken by a brand new minifigures' range called Disney Crossy Road (available at Character Online) and we have taken an insert with a list of all the range to show at Denton's and ask if they have it.
And so we chatted to the guys and showed them our list. To Eddie they are all an epitome of coolness. He was much reassured when the guys at the shop said they knew of Crossy Road app, but haven't heard of the toy range. I think Eddie was on cloud nine that he has got toys that even the toy shop doesn't have yet.
He also appreciated the fact that they think Disney is awesome.

collectible minifigures, Disney toys

Disney Mickey Mouse toy

When I was asked to review this new range, I confess I haven't even heard of Disney Crossy Road. But my 6-year-old knew perfectly well what I was talking about.
If you're as ignorant of apps as me, Disney Crossy Road is a popular game app, with lots of Disney characters you can win or buy. I had a quick look at the reviews, and apparently the visuals are very impressive and the game is entertaining. I'll just have to take their word for it, as I have no plans to try it myself.

Image credits: Disney Crossy Road

And now Disney Crossy Road fans may rejoice as the new range of collectible toys has been launched.
Each character comes with its own rarity status, ranging from rare, epic, secret, legendary and limited edition.
There are 40+ characters to collect including Mickey and friends, Toy Story, Big Hero 6 and Lion King.

Disney Crossy Road range includes both minifigures and bigger plush toys.

collectible minifigures

You can anticipate that these new collectible minifigures will be the latest craze -collect, swap and play with your minifigures.
Eddie already cannot wait for the new range to hit the shops to spend his pocket money on adding to his collection.
Choose between plush figures, mini figure packs or mystery figures.
A mini figure pack has 4 toys (£10.99), three of which you can see through the plastic, while the 4th one remains hidden. Mystery figures (£3.49) are exactly that, basically pot luck, as you don't know and cannot guess what is hidden inside a small box.
If you enjoy unboxing videos (Eddie loves them, I never watch them), there are some great unboxings going on at Moose website.
Crossy Road items are available at Tesco, Asda, Toys R Us, Smyths and Argos.

Disclosure: We received a selection of toys for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are our own.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Grilled courgette and Scamorza salad

Italian cheese, salad with cheese

Browsing the cheese aisle in Waitrose a few days ago, I noticed a new Italian cheese added to the range - it was a smoked Scamorza. There was no price tag, and nobody to ask. Fast forward several days, the cheese was still there without a price, so I found a member of the staff and asked for help.

I tried Scamorza Affumicata many years ago in Italy, when my mother-in-law pan-fried it for a quick lunch.
This cheese definitely benefits from pan-frying or grilling, when it acquires a delicious crust. You can eat it uncooked as well, but the texture is a bit plasticky.

I love smoked cheese, and Granarolo Scamorza has a distinct smokey flavour. It's a delicious cheese, and I'm so pleased to see it in the local supermarket.

Since it's a National Vegetarian Week, I have been eating salads every day this week.
This is a recipe for one, but it can easily be doubled for two.

You will need (per person):
3tbsp olive oil
3 baby courgettes, sliced in half
2 slices of Scamorza cheese
3 baby tomatoes
a handful of mixed salad leaves
balsamic vinegar

Slice courgettes in half lengthways and put on the grill pan, drizzled with olive oil. Cook for about 3-4 minutes on each side. Season with sea salt, while cooking. Add the sliced tomatoes to the grill for a couple of minutes. Scamorza takes no more than a couple of minutes on grill to turn golden-brown crusty, and chewy soft inside. Put the courgettes, tomatoes and cheese on a plate with salad leaves, and drizzle some good quality balsamic vinegar over the salad.
Eat with a well toasted bread. I had it with another Italian food product - lovely crusty Farina Pugliese bread.

It is such an easy recipe, yet immensely satisfying. I will be definitely buying this cheese again.

easy lunches, vegetarian meals

vegetarian meals, meat-free meals

Monday, 15 May 2017

Mini Stretch Scooby

Scooby Doo, the lovable Great Dane, is almost 50 years old. His gang's adventures have been entertaining more than one generations of fans.
We have quite a collection of Scooby Doo DVDs (animation series and movies) because our son Edgar is a very big fan of the series. It appeals to his sense of macabre humour, he just loves all the stories with ghouls, zombies and monsters.
If you are a fan of this endearing funny dog, you will love a new addition to The Stretch Armstrong range - a Mini Stretch Scooby.

best toys for kids

The toy Scooby has a cheeky grin. His body is amazingly pliable and flexible.

fun toys, Scooby Doo

Grab him by his arms and legs and start exercising.

Scooby Doo toy

This 7-inch-long toy is the ultimate moldable and malleable toy. With the strongest formula, this action toy can be stretched again and again. Have a look at our stretching exercises, and every time the toy returns to its original shape.
Here is Eddie, laughing his socks off, trying to stretch Scooby as far as possible.

stretchy toys

This range is suitable for children aged 5+.
For this and other stretchy toys from the range, visit Character Online.

Disclosure: We received a stretchy Scooby for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are our own.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Onion soup with cheese toast

French recipes, best soup recipes

I do love a good old French onion soup, but don't cook it very often, as my sons dislike onions. When Eddie was younger, he loved French's fried onions (the one you buy in a plastic tub), but otherwise wouldn't eat any. Such a shame.
Saying that, I remember as a child I hated cooked onions too. When my Dad made his famous chicken soup (one of two dishes that he could cook), he would spoon out the onion which he cooked whole in the broth, and pretended to eat it, while I ran out of the kitchen gagging and screaming.

Onion soup (serves 2-3)
25g butter
3tbsp olive oil
5 sweet onions, thinly sliced
1 tbsp flour
a good glug of sherry (optional)
100ml dry red wine
500ml beef stock
sliced baguette or stonebaked ficelle and grated cheese (a couple of slices per serving)

Brown the thinly sliced onion rings in a large frying pan, with butter and olive oil. Keep the heat on low, and stir frequently. Once the onions started to caramelise and brown, add a generous glug of sherry. Stir until the alcohol is absorbed, then add 1tbsp of flour and stir for about a minute. Then add the red (or white) wine and beef stock.
Cook simmering for about half an hour. You might want to add hot water to the soup, if it becomes too thick.
Serve the soup with toasted slices of bread. Add the grated cheese, like Gruyere or Cheddar and grill the toast. Once the cheese has melted, add the toast to the soup.

There are many different variations of this classic French recipe. Some people use only white onions, some cook with red onions. Some cooks like to add a spoonful of Marmite or a dash of Worcestershire sauce, a bay leaf or even garlic.
I have also made toast with grated Parmesan, and it was delicious.

best soup recipes

Super Geek Heroes Animated Series (review + competition E: 31 May 2017)

Image credits: Super Geek Heroes

Geek is the new cool nowadays. Meet the super smart team called Super Geek Heroes!

Who are these new children's heroes? They are seven super kids with amazing learning powers.
Jake Jotter, Millie Maths, Ronnie Rock, Vicky Voice, Suzi Smiles, Peter Planet and Ant Active are showing children that education could be a source of great fun.
Their motto is "Having fun in turn with a mission to learn!"

Their super powers originate in three prime and four specific development areas of the Early Years Foundation Stage.
The development areas and resulting characters are:
Personal, Social and Emotional Development - Suzi Smiles
Understanding the World - Peter Planet
Communication & Language - Vicky Voice
Literacy - Jake Jotter
Numeracy - Millie Maths
Physical Development - Ant Active
Creative Arts & Design - Ronnie Rock

Super Geek Heroes reminded us of another educational TV programme for younger children - animated superhero numbers Numberjacks. And wasn't there a Go Jetters show, where four explorers were going on a world-round adventure?!

We have watched a couple of episodes together with Eddie, as I also wanted to find out what this new show is about. I liked the fact that all the names of geographical locations were sounded for an easier understanding.
These videos are educational and entertaining, with an engaging content.

They cover a variety of topics, from learning about morning routines to facts about rainbows and weather, from keeping fit to telling the time, from sight words to eating healthy food.

The characters are easy to relate to, as they are all young children. Even their names relate to the school curriculum. Eddie's school uses a system of the so called learning muscles (for example, Buzzy the Bee represents Creativity).

For more information, visit Super Geek Heroes. Information for parents and carers could be found at Super Geek Heroes/Parents.

If you like the sound of this excellent new show for children, you might like to enter a competition to win a 6-months' subscription to KidsCast APP, where you can download and view Super Geek Heroes on the go or cast to your TV (among many other programmes for children).

To be in with a chance of winning please watch the video above and answer the following question:
In the first video on the playlist - which continent is number 7 in Peter Planet's lesson?

The competition is open to the UK residents only.
If you login as Anon, please leave your Twitter handle or some way of getting in touch with you if you win.
If the winner does not get back to me in 28 days, the prize will be allocated to another person.
The competition ends on 31 May 2017 at midnight.

Good luck!


Many thanks, everyone!
The winner selected randomly from all correct answers was Leila B! Big well done!

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Asparagus, kale & Dolcelatte pasta

vegetarian meals, vegetarian pasta

I am not a big fan of kale, I find its texture too fibrous and tough. I feel a bit like a farm animal eating its share of roughage to keep healthy. I have tried it in many dishes, and haven't warmed up to it. It might be a super food, but it's not a happy food for me.
Seeing friends posting on social media how much they enjoy kale crisps and salads makes me question my dislike of kale every time. Do I cook it the right way? I have read numerous articles on how to cook it properly, and which mistakes to avoid. I still don't like it. Sorry, kale, our relationship is not working. It's not you. It's me.
In a fit of healthy thinking, I bought a bunch of fresh kale. What was I thinking? My mind must have been muddled up by the lack of sleep yet again.
I decided to cook a healthy vegetarian dinner with very healthy whole wheat pasta.

There was a pack of Garofalo whole wheat penne pasta in the latest Degustabox delivery.
I confess we typically eat just standard wheat pasta, not whole wheat. The taste is different, so is the texture. It does have health benefits obviously.

Asparagus, kale & Dolcelatte pasta
about 5-6 big kale leaves, shredded thinly
2 cloves of garlic
6tbsp olive oil
1 medium courgette, sliced
a small pack of asparagus tips
about 80g of Dolcelatte cheese (I used just over a half of 150g pack)
penne pasta

In a deep frying pan heat the oil and throw in thinly shredded kale. I read that you need to slice it thinly, as in making slaw. Cook for 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chopped garlic and sliced courgette. Add the chopped asparagus too. Cook for another 6 minutes or so. You might add a little bit of hot water, while cooking the veg. Add the Dolcelatte in the last minute, stir in the vegetables. The cheese will melt and coat the greens.
Cook the pasta in boiling salted water. Drain, mix with the vegetables. Serve hot, with a bit of Grana grated on top.

Italian pasta recipes

OK, what's the verdict? It was edible. Next time though I would use other greens, like chard. It has more flavour and is less chewy.
What's your take on kale? Are you a big fan or a kale refusenik?

vegetarian pasta

Linking up my very green pasta recipe with #EatYourGreens linky hosted by A2K and The Veg Hog.