Saturday, 31 March 2018

Photo diary: week 13 (project 365)

March is almost over, and tomorrow we celebrate Easter. The weather was mostly rainy this week, and the river Windrush is quite high up today, when we passed by. There is even a little bit of flooding in the flood fields, not surprising with all that rain.
Last Sunday we stopped by in the local toy and bike shop Denton's, where Eddie spotted this big giraffe. Erm, thanks, but no, it might look cute, but we don't live in a palace.

Running to school on Monday, I snapped this doggy in the window across the road. We see it almost every day in that window, waiting patiently for someone to take it out for a walk. The poor thing was shaved recently, and looks even sadder than usual.

The tree in the Market Square is decorated with red fabric poppies.

The Moon on Wednesday was visible, when the sun was still shining.

Thursday was the market day in town. I was running through, in a hurry to meet a friend for a cup of coffee, so had no time to stop properly. The bread and pastries' stall looked very appetising.

On Friday I took Eddie on a long walk across the town, to the Royal Mail depot, as I missed the parcel the day before. By Sod's law they always deliver when I am on the school run, and they never-ever bother with leaving a package with the neighbours.
The depot was closed, so my package is still there, and these were supposed to be gifts for Easter, argghhh. Now they will be completely useless after the weekend.
It was a rainy day. The Japanese quince by one of the old hotels in town is in full bloom.

Today Eddie and I went grocery shopping. We have guests coming over for Easter lunch, and I needed quite a few bits and bobs for tomorrow's big menu.
We did pop into Gregg's as a treat for Eddie, who helped me to carry some of the shopping, and also visited Poundland, where we got a couple of Horrid Henry books which Eddie hasn't read yet.

While I was checking Notes on my iphone whether I got everything on my list, Eddie was sitting among the loo rolls, grinning. What are you doing there, Eddie? - I'm chillaxing, he said.

Wishing you all a happy Easter!

Marshmallow rocky road with mini creme eggs

what to do with leftover Easter eggs

Last Thursday our Sasha arrived from school with a package of sweet treats they've been making at the food tech lesson. There were a couple of chocolate rice krispie eggs and a few slices of rocky road with marshmallows and creme eggs.
Sasha generously shared these delicious goodies with his brother. After gobbling up a big slice of rocky road, Eddie looked at me and asked if we could make some at home.

While I don't know exactly which proportions and ratio of chocolate to marshmallow and biscuits were in Sasha's school (I must ask them), I had a quick look online, and realised there are no rules. Basically, chuck in whatever you like, from nuts to dried cherries or cranberries, use more butter or even condensed milk, experiment with different biscuits and brands of chocolate.

When I asked Eddie what he would like in our rocky road, he vetoed raisins or any other dried berries and nuts too. I would have loved both, but then it was a fun activity for him and me to do on a rainy day.

what to do with leftover Easter eggs

Marshmallow rocky road with mini eggs
140g unsalted butter
150g milk chocolate bar
1 Cadbury milk egg - 105g
100g dark chocolate
3tbsp golden syrup
2 bags of mini creme eggs (89g each)
100g mini marshmallows
155 digestive biscuits (a dozen of biscuits)
50g white chocolate

ingredients for rocky road

Start by melting the butter and chocolate. You will need a pan with boiling hot water underneath a glass or ceramic container where the chocolate goes. The top container should not touch the hot water.
First goes the butter, so that it starts melting before you add the broken chocolate and golden syrup. It prevents chocolate from going grainy. Mix it all with a wooden spoon until thick and glossy.

Set the container aside to cool before adding the remaining ingredients. If you add the marshmallows while the chocolate is hot, they will melt.
Once cool enough, add the biscuits, broken into small pieces, marshmallows and half of creme eggs, also chopped.
At this stage you can add whichever other ingredients you fancy - dried berries, nuts, mini eggs, smarties etc.

Line a deep tray with cling film, scoop the rocky road into the tray and flatten with the spoon.

Melt half a white chocolate, and make the splats of it over the rocky road. We didn't go for artistic drizzle, as I was going to press it all in anyway. Add the halved mini creme eggs.
Cover with the film, and press all over.

what to do with leftover Easter eggs

Set the tray in the fridge for at least a couple of hours, ideally overnight.

Cut into chunks before serving.

what to do with leftover Easter eggs

While a satisfying sweet treat for anyone who has a sweet tooth, MasterChef it is not. We didn't aim for a perfect presentation, and could hardly wait for it to set.
I started cutting it after an hour and a half in the fridge. It would benefit from a longer stay in the fridge.

Eddie ate his big piece and then asked me: "On the scale from 1 to 10, how would you grade our rocky toad and the one that Sasha brought home?" This was his "cunning" way to tell me that our rocky road was not as good as Sasha's. Oh well, harsh critics in the family.

what to do with leftover Easter eggs

This is a good way to use any leftover Easter eggs. And yes, such thing does exist, if you receive over a dozen of chocolate eggs for Easter (friends, family, school).

Friday, 30 March 2018

Aubergine curry

vegetarian curry, vegan curry

I so admire people who plan their meals a week in advance, and know exactly what and when they would be cooking. I'm rather disorganised when it comes to dinners.
Often I have a vague idea of what I might be cooking, but it would depend on my mood and what I might find on offer. I suppose it doesn't help that I go grocery shopping every day.
I don't drive, and there is so much I can carry home, plus we do love freshly baked bread.
And I do often have a change of plans when I see something tempting.

The other day, while looking for some greens in Waitrose, I came across a big pile of aubergines at a reduced price (29p each) and grabbed three. One of them I used to make a pasta sauce.

Today I cooked an accidentally vegan dinner. I didn't plan for it to be vegan, but it just happened that way.
This recipe is a variation of an Indian recipe for aubergine curry (Baingan bharta).

vegan meals, vegan curry

Aubergine curry
1 medium carrot
5tbsp+ olive oil
1 big red onion
1 chilli
2 cloves of garlic
1tbsp turmeric
1tsp Sri Lankan Masala
1tbsp ginger paste
2 aubergines, skinned and cubed
350ml tomato sauce (e.g. Cirio Cuor di Pelato)
a handful of raisins
170g coconut yogurt (e.g. The Coconut Collaborative coconut milk dessert)
flat leaf parsley

Peel and chop a carrot, and finely chop an onion. Heat 2tbsp oil in a big frying pan. Fry the onion and carrot for about 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently, then add the chopped and deseeded red chilli and garlic, as well as all spices.
Peel and cube the aubergines. Add them to the frying onion, carrot etc. Stir well, so that the aubergines are well coated. Add more oil, and a dash of water.
Pour in the tomato sauce.
I used a bottle of Cirio Cuor di Pelato tomato sauce with vegetables, which was one of the products in the latest Degustabox food box.
If you don't have this particular product, any good quality tomato sauce, or passata will work, or just tinned tomatoes.
Add a handful of raisins and cook simmering on low for about half an hour. For an extra creamy taste add a small pot of coconut yogurt.
You might need to add a little bit of water, if the sauce becomes too thick.

Serve hot with basmati rice. I added a tablespoon of dried barberries to rice.

vegan curry, vegetarian curry

vegan curry

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Dr. Oetker Bake In The Box

Easter holidays are starting tomorrow, and you might be making plans on what to do with children for 17 school-free days. If you travel far to warmer climes, I wish you a safe journey. If you stay at home like us, then we have to come up with contingency plans for any weather.
On a rainy day, how about a baking session with children? Either make a cake from scratch, or take it easy and use a cake mix.

Have you seen a new range of Dr Oetker Bake in the Box loaf cake mixes?
They come in three delicious flavours - Lemon & Poppy seed, Banana & Choc Chip and Double Chocolate.
They are top notch easy bakes and cakes. You just add milk to the cake mix which comes in a pouch inside the box, and bake in the box itself, so there is no need for any extra prep or washing.
The cakes are baked beautifully inside the cardboard boxes, and it takes just about half an hour from the start to finish.
Imagine you have surprise guests and would love to treat them to something sweet. What could be easier?

baking with kids, easy bake cake mix

The first cake mix we tried was Banana & Choc Chip, as selected by my elder son, as he loves banana bakes and choc chips too.

You don't need to add anything but milk to the cake mix, but I always jazz up any cake mix I buy.
I added 1 egg to each cake mix and 1-2tbsp melted butter or oil, and a little bit of something like a few chopped chocolate buttons.
This is what a raw banana cake looks like, just before going into the oven.

cake mix

You need to take the cake out after 10 minutes of baking to score a neat middle, but if you don't mind slightly wonky, off-side cakes, then don't worry if you forget to do it.
Here is the baked result. You need to carefully open the box to take the cake out.

cake mix

The banana cake was sweet and fluffy. My children loved it. I still think that a banana bread made with fresh mashed bananas has a superior taste, but don't scorn this little bake. It's lovely with a cup of tea. 

easy bakes

The next cake mix to test was a Lemon & Poppy Seed. I love this combination of flavours, and this cake was my top choice of the three.

I added 1 egg, 1tbsp of mild olive oil, zest of 1 lemon and 1tbsp of lemon juice.
I also made a thin icing from the icing sugar mixed with lemon juice and decorated the cake with mini jellies.
As you can see, I haven't scored the cake in time, so it split in the middle on its own accord.

It was zingy, light, lemony and with a nice addition of poppy seeds. A real winner.

lemon and poppy seed cake

lemon and poppy seed cake

And finally the chocolate cake... I've added 1tbsp of oil, 1 medium egg and 1 heaped tbsp of chocolate hazelnut spread (like Nutella, only less sugary).

chocolate cake mix

We've decorated the cake with Dr Oetker Unicorn Chips, which look very pretty. As we were putting them on top of a still pretty warm cake, the chips started to melt.

chocolate cake

chocolate cake mix

chocolate cake, unicorn chips

It was a moist, very chocolatey cake. Judging by how quickly it disappeared - it didn't last 24 hours - this was the best cake, according to my family.

Have you tried any of the new Dr Oetker Bake in the Box cakes?

chocolate cake

Disclosure: I received three boxes of cake mix for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are our own.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Chocolate & marshmallow traybake with mini eggs

Easter dessert, Easter recipes

With Easter approaching super fast this weekend, you might already have a visual overload of seasonal cakes and bakes posted on social medis, and might groan "Not another Easter bake!"
I have more or less decided what I'm going to cook for Easter lunch, though our dessert would depend on the fact if our friends could come over or not.
One of the possible options is a lemon ricotta cheesecake, which I will bake with gluten free digestive biscuits (one of our friends is a coeliac).
I'll probably make some easy chocolate cornflake nests with Eddie, or cupcakes which he would decorate wildly in multi-coloured sprinkles or mini eggs.

Easter recipes, Easter dessert

Over a week ago I baked a chocolate and marshmallow traybake with mini eggs. The original recipe could be found in March issue of Delicious magazine. The recipe has been developed by Chetna Makan. I didn't watch the GBBO when she was one of the contestants, but I've seen her cook books in shops. I couldn't find this recipe online, so if you fancy following Chetna's recipe, you'll have to buy the magazine.

I have adapted Chetna's recipe, first of all by reducing the amount of sugar and butter, then removing the layer of chocolate ganache altogether. And even then my husband said it was way too sweet. And that comes from a man who has a very sweet tooth. My children enjoyed the cake, and I think it would most likely appeal to children more than to the grown-ups.
But it looked very pretty, decorated with mini eggs.

Easter baking, Easter menu

Chocolate and marshmallow traybake with mini eggs

3 medium eggs
180g caster sugar
30g cocoa powder
100ml boiling water
175g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
175g unsalted butter
40g mini eggs, chopped

for the marshmallow icing:
2 egg whites
80g caster sugar
20ml orange juice
65g marshmallows
mini eggs for decoration

To make the cake batter, beat the eggs with the sugar in a big mixing bowl. Mix the cocoa and hot water in a pan to combine, then pour into the egg mixture. Sift in the flour and baking powder, and add the melted butter. Chop the mini eggs and add to the cake dough, mix well.
Pour the cake mixture into a well-oiled brownie tin, lined with parchment paper.
Place the tin in the oven preheated to 180C. Bake for 30+ minutes, until the wooden toothpick comes clean.
Leave to cool in the tray before carefully taking it out.

For the marshmallow icing, whisk the egg whites with sugar and orange juice in a small pan. Place the pan over another pan with simmering water (the top pan should not touch the water). Keep whisking till the egg mixture gets glossy and shiny for about 5+ minutes. Take off the heat and add the marshmallows, stir well until all the marshmallows have melted.

I used big marshmallows, which I chopped into pieces. Small sized ones would melt faster.

You will have a beautiful glossy white frosting. Spread it over the cake while still warm, and decorate with mini eggs. Let the frosting set before slicing the cake.

Easter recipes with mini eggs

Serve with tea or coffee. I loved the frosting, it is thick and glossy and looks very attractive, but it is very-very sweet. I think even less sugar in the cake batter would work better.

Easter baking

What dessert are you having for Easter? Home baked or bought?

Easter dessert

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Freekeh with aubergine and cashews

ancient grains, vegan recipes

Since my husband announced he doesn't eat meat any longer, I started  searching for more varied vegetarian meals rather than the usual suspects like pasta, pizza or soups.
I have a huge library of cook books, yet I could never resist looking at newly published cook books.

New Classics by Marcus Wareing (Harper Collins) has a selection of attractive recipes, and I might buy it, once it appears in The Book people or Sainsbury's.

One of the recipes which has caught my eye was a Vegan aubergine, freekeh and cashew tagine (you can find the full recipe at Great British Chefs site).

I have adapted the recipe, skipping some ingredients, and adding the other. The overall dish is a tasty and flavourful vegetarian/vegan meal, so many thanks to Marcus for the inspiring recipe (please check out his full recipe and step by step, following the link above).

I have never cooked freekeh before, and didn't know what to expect, but taste-wise it is similar to the Italian grain farro.

vegan recipes, ancient grains

Freekeh with aubergine and cashews (serves 4-5)
100g cashew nuts
200g freekeh
a good glug of mild olive oil
1 big onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 big tomato, sliced (optional)
1tbsp ginger paste
2tbsp tomato paste
400ml of passata
1tbsp balsamic vinegar
250ml vegetable stock (made with 2tsp of vegetable bouillon powder)
a big handful of raisins, or sultanas
a handful of dried apricots, chopped (optional)
2 aubergines, skinned and cubed
1tbsp maple syrup (optional)
fresh mint leaves
sea salt
for the spice mix:
2tbsp ground cumin
1tbsp fennel seeds
1tsp coriander seeds
2tsp ground turmeric
1tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp smoked paprika
1/2tsp sea salt
2tbsp plain flour

First place the cashews in the oven preheated to 180C and bake for about 6 minutes until golden.
Remove from the oven, chop and set aside.
Cook the freekeh following the instructions on the box in 500ml water, for half of the stated time. I didn't drain it, as there was not much liquid left.
In a deep frying pan heat up 2tbsp of olive oil and add the chopped onion, saute for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, then add the garlic and ginger paste and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
Add the tomato paste and passata (I used Cirio), a chopped tomato, vegetable stock, vinegar, chopped apricots and raisins.

The original recipe asks you to heat fry the spices and then crush them with a mortar and pestle. I used the spices without crushing them.
Mix together all the spices with salt and plain flour, and pour them over skinned and cubed aubergines, and mix well so that the aubergine is coated on all sides.

In a deep frying pan heat up the oil (a very generous glug, as aubergines soak up the oil, and not the suggested 2tbsp, that wouldn't be enough). Cook the aubergines, stirring frequently for about 10 minutes.

Pour the tomato and onion sauce over the aubergines and add the freekeh. Mix well, bring to boil, then lower the heat and cook on low for about an hour, stirring often, until the grain is soft.
Serve hot, with a few chopped cashews on top and a bit of chopped mint (coriander or flat leaf parsley).
While the freekeh was cooking, I tried the sauce and found it slightly on the sour side. I was debating in my mind whether to add a teaspoon of sugar or maple syrup, and opted for the maple syrup.

I have completely skipped saffron and black treacle from the recipe. Black treacle has such an overpowering taste, I don't think it would necessarily work in this recipe, though it would add a sweet note. And saffron would also quite disappear among the other strong spices.

Cashews could possibly be swapped for flaked almonds. If you cannot find freekeh, use quinoa or farro.

vegan recipes, vegetarian recipes

In this recipe I used Greenwheat Freekeh from Artisan grains which I found in the local health shop.
It is lightly toasted, cracked grains of young wheat with a distinct nutty taste. It is a source of fibre and is high in protein. This re-discovered ancient grain is one of the latest food trends.

Have you tried freekeh? Which other recipes using this grain would you recommend?

ancient grains, greenwheat frekeh,

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Photo diary: week 12 (project 365)

Yet another week has whizzed past. On Sunday we still had plenty of snow for us to worry if the schools would be open the next day, and whether Sasha's respite stay was going to happen. He has to travel for an hour by car to the respite centre, and if the roads were unpassable, he would have had to stay at home, and he was very eager to go. Every time I mention the place where he stays he gestures that he wants to go.
I've been postponing a post on Oreos for BritMums, but the deadline was looming the next day. We love Oreos, we truly do, and buy them regularly, but I just couldn't feign much enthusiasm to do a cookie quest around the house. Eddie wasn't keen either.

On Monday the snow was still on the ground, but roads were clear enough and schools were open in town. Thankfully, Sasha was able to travel to his favourite respite home to stay overnight, and my husband and I took Eddie out to Pizza Express. This was his first visit there.
He loved the dough balls with garlic butter and the ice cream with chocolate sauce and fresh strawberries the best, but deemed their pizza not as good as Domino's (a declaration which I completely disagree with).

This was my pizza, with spinach and egg. The crust was just as I like it, thin and crispy.

One of the houses in our street is a home to at least a dozen of white doves. They have several nests in the creeper branches over the house. The house looks so eerie, and we call it the ghost house.
It would make a good setting for an episode of Goosebumps.

The new Moon on Wednesday: I just liked the juxtaposition of the old house's chimney with the modern aerial and the eternal presence of the Moon.

On Thursday we had to get up very early, as Eddie's class travelled to Bath to visit the Roman Baths.
They study ancient Rome this term, and this was part of the programme. The tour itself was splendid, and I am going to do a separate post about it.
The trip by coach was a big trial. It was about 2 hours each way, and so many kids were sick. The poor heroic teachers were running around with sick bags and cleaning up.

Eddie loved dressing up in Roman toga.

I am drawn to this house with a red post/letter box in Woodgreen square. I think I have a red post box envy. I wish we had one in our house.

red post box

Today we walked through the fields, past the old woolen blanket factory buildings with a huge chimney. The road is new and shiny as it has just been redone this week.

wool blankets of Witney