Sunday, 31 January 2016

Roasted pepper and tomato hummus

Browsing the latest Weekend magazine of The Guardian, I read with interest that Yotam Ottolenghi said "After olive oil, tahini is the second most important ingredient in my kitchen". Like Yotam, I do love my olive oil, and usually have a few bottles at any given time.
I fancied making some hummus today, and knew I had a jar of tahini hidden behind the rows of the other half-eaten jars of preserves and chutneys.
I don't remember when I bought it, but it must have been a while, as the sell-by-date was last November. It looked fine though, under the layer of oil, so I thought it was still OK. When I tried to spoon the contents, it was a solid mass, a kind you would use to repair the dripping pipe. I suppose it would have made a good plug, but it wasn't suitable for consumption. Alas, that shows just how un-important tahini is in our house, if I haven't used it for ages. Though it would have added a nice flavour to my hummus, it wasn't meant to be.

Roasted pepper and tomato hummus
1 tin of chickpeas, drained
1 sweet pepper (red)
3 cloves of garlic
2 tomatoes, halved
5+ tbsp of olive oil
sea salt
juice of 1/2 lemon

First quarter a sweet pepper and put in a roasting tray with the halved tomatoes and garlic cloves, drizzle a bit of olive oil over the vegetables and roast for 20-25 minutes at 180C. Take the garlic and tomatoes out earlier, maybe after 20 minutes. Peel the skins off the tomatoes and pepper.
Drain the chickpeas and rinse with the cold water in a colander. Put the chickpeas, garlic, tomatoes and pepper in a medium sized bowl. Season well, add the lemon juice and olive oil. Blitz with a hand blender.
Serve with a nice bread or as a dip for crudites.

We love hummus, and this version is tasty and so easy to make. It will also appeal to kids, being so bright and colourful.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Photo diary: week 4, 366

Gosh, how did January go so quickly? It feels like it was only yesterday when we celebrated the new year's eve. I didn't do any of the DryJanuary or Veganuary challenges. They feel rather artificial to me. I don't drink much, and we often have vegetarian dinners (though not vegan, I could never go vegan).
I haven't gone on a diet, but then again, this was not my resolution. My resolution was not to buy any more tea until I go through at least one third of my 100+ boxes and tins of tea, but I broke it. There, I said it. I knew this so called resolution wouldn't last long.
I got some Twinings tea as it was at half price in Waitrose and I could never resist a bargain. And just yesterday I bought a tin of Tea India Masala Chai. My excuse: I love tins, and also I've run out of Masala Chai, which is one of the best chais you can find in the supermarkets.

Our garden is full of surprises. Crocuses are among my favourite spring flowers, now delegated to the winter flowers' camp.

On Monday we celebrated the Burns Night with haggis sausage rolls, and they were very tasty.

The mornings are getting lighter and lighter, but still a bit on the dark side when I get up to make breakfast for my people. The sky that morning was quite dramatic.

The hazel trees in our garden have long catkins, again way too early for this time of the year, but I should really stop repeating myself. This year everything in the garden makes an earlier appearance.

Tea is my religion. And my top favourite tea is Earl Grey. If I don't start my morning with a cup of Earl Grey, I'd be pretty grumpy.

On Friday as I was running home after taking Eddie to school, trying unsuccessfully to wrap my coat tighter against the blustery wind, it started to drizzle. They often say about the rain, it's a lovely weather for ducks. Well, this duck I spotted across the river, didn't look that happy to me. I think he was also quite miserable and hoping for a better weather.

Today Eddie and I visited a children's play centre called Darcy Bear. Our friends took us there by car, and Eddie was thrilled. We had his birthday party there last year, and he loves the place. Alas, it is not in town, and if you don't drive, getting there is quite tricky. I tried to snap photos of Eddie playing but he moved so fast, that all my photos are smudged. Looking at his long mane, I think it's probably time to trim it a bit.

TheBoyandMe's 366 Linky

Friday, 29 January 2016

Mascarpone and raspberry dessert

This week has been yet another hectic week, and I am totally behind with blogging about my recipes. Only just managed to write about the haggis sausage rolls which we had on Burns Night.
We ended our dinner with a mascarpone and raspberry dessert.
I know it sounds totally dull, but I wasn't sure what's the best way to call this sweet dish. It's not a fool, not a trifle, it is a bit like a cranachan but without oats or cream, so it's just that, a mascarpone and raspberry dessert.

Mascarpone and raspberry dessert
200g mascarpone
zest and juice of 1 orange
fresh rosemary
2tbsp whisky
2tbsp caster sugar
125g raspberries

Zest an orange and squeeze the juice. Put the zest and half of the juice in a small pan, add the whisky, rosemary sprig and caster sugar, bring to boil, until the sugar dissolves. Add the raspberries, lower the heat and cook for a couple of minutes (you want to keep some berries whole not mushy). Set aside.
Beat the mascarpone with the remaining juice.
I used a blood orange, so it gave a light pink shade to the cheese.

Spoon the mascarpone in a small food bag, and snip the corner. Squeeze half of it in a glass. If you use wider glasses, you probably won't need a food bag. I tried spooning it into a narrow wine glass, and it looked a mess, believe me. Not very festive.

Then top up with the raspberries. Put the glasses covered with a cling film in the fridge for a couple of hours to chill.
It's a delightful light dessert. If you don't fancy whisky, use a bit of raspberry liquer or port. But as it was the Burns Night dinner, I wanted some Scottish flavour, and bought a small bottle of Bell's whisky. I am not an expert on whisky, and bought one of the less expensive varieties. My father in law loves whisky, so we often buy a pricey bottle for him in the airport when we go to Italy. As for us, we're not great drinkers of stronger stuff. Last time I got a bottle of whisky for cooking, it lasted me for more than a year, as I was using only a little bit at a time.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Haggis sausage rolls

Monday the 25th saw a lot of bloggers celebrating the Burns Night with a traditional meal of haggis with tatties and neeps. Robert Burns is much loved in Russia, and I still can recite by heart Oh my luve's like a red, red rose (in Russian) and My heart's in the Highlands which I learnt at school for my English class. The Robert Burns reading societies through Russia celebrated his anniversary on Monday with feasts and lots of drinks too. Yet haggis as such is not a dish that you can easily buy in Russia.
And despite the fact that I've lived in England for over 20 years, it is only about two years ago that I tried haggis for the very first time ( see my post Burns Night Dinner Minus the Pipers).
Last year I cooked haggis sausage rolls with the added sausagemeat and cranberries, and they were delicious. This year I fancied changing the recipe a bit and adding some mashed potatoes instead of the sausage meat.
I bought a traditional haggis from Macsween which is well known for its quality and authenticity.

Haggis sausage rolls (makes 16)
250g haggis ( I used Macsween haggis)
140g potato, cooked and mashed
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1tbsp olive oil
1tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
1 packet of Jus-Rol puff pastry, ready to roll, 320g
1 egg yolk
sesame seeds

First peel and quarter a medium sized potato and cook in boiling salted water for about 10 minutes. Drain the water and mash the potato. Let it cool before adding to a mixing bowl with crumbled haggis. Mix well.
Finely chop half of the onion and fry for about 5 minutes with the olive oil. Add to the haggis mix with the fresh thyme.
Roll out the puff pastry. Slice lengthways in half. Divide the haggis & mash mix into two and shape into long sausages which you place in the middle of the pastry. Beat the egg yolk and brush the edges of the pastry. Overlap the edges so that you have two big sausage rolls, which you then slice into smaller pieces.
Dip each sausage roll into the egg yolk and then into a dish with sesame seeds.
Put the mini rolls on the oiled foil placed on the baking tray. Put the tray in the oven preheated to 180C. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is puffed, flaky and golden.
Eat hot. They are not bad cold the next day either. These sausage rolls were delicious, and adding a bit of mash makes the filling less solid.

What did you cook for Burns Night?

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Photo diary: week 3, 366

Sunday was uneventful. we got up late, had pancakes for breakfast and enjoyed a lazy afternoon later. The only pictures I took that day were food-related. This is a carrot and thyme soup.

I hardly ever watch any TV drama in the evening. 9pm is usually a hectic time, when I make sure the guys have a bath, and all the evening bedtime routine takes over. I watch everything on the iplayer. Thus I am enjoying War and Peace on Monday mornings, after I take Eddie to school. I make myself a big cup of coffee, grab a chocolate or two, and watch without being interrupted every few seconds.

I dreaded this TV adaptation, having read pre-views... I still disagree with some acting choices, mainly Natasha and Helene. They just don't work for me. Lily James has a limited range of three facial expressions - a so called thoughtful vapid face, an inane grin and even more inane grin. She has totally ruined the night scene with Sonya.
However, the ball scene was beautifully done. I think this is one of the best scenes of this lavish TV adaptation, which has been given a moniker of War and Peace Lite. When Andrei places his gloved hand on trembling Natasha's back... the red and silver epaulettes on his white uniform... it was all very romantic (and a bit Disney-like).

Tuesday morning was frosty and nippy. We walked a longer route to school, through the fields and the bridge over the Windrush river. Eddie was rather worried about the grass, he said the grass must be cold.

It was still cold the next morning. Those little patches of moss looked like mini-islands in the sea of frost.

Yet on Thursday it got slightly milder, and I was amazed to see some of the trees in town were already in bloom, way too early.

On Friday I finished my latest Ravensburger puzzle. As it consists of only 500 pieces, it was a quick job.

On Saturday we often take the boys out to Costa for a quick cup of latte (for the grown-ups) and some cakes and bakes for Sash and Eddie. This time Eddie wanted some crisps rather than a cupcake.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Thai Chicken Soup

It's been a frosty week. Every morning when I open the curtains and look out into the garden, I see the silvery dusting over the hedges and roofs. It looks pretty, but oh my, it is so nippy outdoors, and nobody wants to get out into the cold. Hot tea keeps me warm all day long, and in the evening we enjoy eating soup - a perfect food for this weather. A couple of days ago I cooked a simple and quick Thai Chicken Soup.

The recipe was created by Knorr, and I reproduce it on my blog with a kind permission from Knorr.
I'm rather fond of Knorr as a brand, its products have been reliable staples in my kitchen for many years. When I was just married (we're celebrating our 20th anniversary later this year, eeek), I collected a series of recipe cards produced by Knorr, trying to impress my dear husband. I still keep those cards.

But going back to our soup. Soups are very trendy these days (do I even dare to mention the word "souping"? I dislike the word which sounds rather silly artificial, but pleased to hear that soups are en vogue, though in my opinion they have never been out of vogue, have they?!).

Thai Chicken Soup
1tbsp olive oil
225g skinless chicken breast, sliced thinly
1/2tsp grated chilli
1/2tsp grated root ginger
1tsp ready-grated lemon grass (optional)
400ml can coconut milk
1 Knorr Chicken stock cube, dissolved in 500ml boiling water
1tbsp soy sauce
juice of 1 lime
fresh coriander, chopped
I have also added:
a handful of basmati rice
1 celery stalk, peeled and chopped

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, stir fry the chicken for 5-6 minutes or until lightly browned.
Stir in the chilli, root ginger and lemon grass and cook for 2-3 minutes.
Add remaining ingredients, except the coriander, bring gently to the boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes.
Stir in the coriander and serve immediately with crusty bread.

That's what Knorr says in the recipe.

And that's how I cooked it. First of all, I used the roast chicken leftovers rather than raw chicken, and skipped browning it. I chopped a celery stalk and gave it a quick fry for 3 minutes before adding to a pan with the shredded chicken meat. I also added a big handful of rice to the soup.
I sliced about half a finger of green chilli and mashed half of a fresh lemon grass for the stock.
I cooked it on low for about 15-20 minutes, until the rice was ready.
It was very nice, full of flavours. The coconut milk makes it creamy and gives a touch of sweetness.
I think that it was a tad too salty for my personal taste. It might be good if you taste the broth before adding the soy sauce, as you might find that adding a Knorr stock cube would make it salty enough.

And here is a professionally taken photo, courtesy of Knorr.

Disclosure: I received several packs of Knorr stock cubes for the purposes of trying a few soup recipes. All opinions are mine.

Image credits: Knorr

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Ginger apricot loaf

Ginger bakes are among my top favourites. I love ginger cookies and ginger cakes. If you rummage in my kitchen you'll find some fresh ginger, ground ginger, crystallised ginger, stem ginger in syrup as well as ginger in chocolate. I recently received a jar of Chunky Ginger Preserve from Duerr's, and was curious to test how it compares to the other gingery goodies. When you are baking, ground ginger gives a more robust, stronger flavour, while stem ginger in syrup would make your bakes milder in taste. A combination of the two might be just right for a well-balanced flavour: not too strong and not too mild.
And so I baked a ginger apricot loaf for an afternoon tea.

Ginger apricot loaf
2 eggs
100g molasses sugar
zest of 1 orange
pinch of salt
4 tbsp Duerr's Chunky Ginger preserve
1/3tsp ground cloves
1tsp ground ginger
230g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
120g butter, melted
2tbsp milk
2tbsp golden syrup
80g dried apricots
icing sugar and orange juice for icing

Beat the eggs with the sugar. If you don't have molasses sugar, use a dark sugar like demerara or muscovado. Add some finely grated orange zest (I used a blood orange), a pinch of salt, ginger preserves, cloves, ginger, flour, baking powder as well as melted butter, milk and golden syrup.
Chop the dried apricots into small pieces and add to the cake mixture.
The cake batter is quite thick. Spoon it into a well-oiled 900g loaf tin. Bake for 45+ minutes, check with a wooden skewer if it's ready.
Take the tin out and let it cool for about 10 minutes before removing the loaf from the tin.
Mix 4tbsp of icing sugar with enough of orange juice to make a runny icing and drizzle over the cake.
Serve warm.
It was an experimental cake, but it happened to be delicious, moist and crumbly.

I used Duerr's Chunky Ginger preserve in my recipe. It is a lovely amber-coloured preserve with the most marvellous aroma. It is finely chopped sweet ginger, which will work as a treat on a toast or served with a hot crumpet.

Disclosure: I received a jar of preserves for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are mine.

As I used some of the molasses sugar which I bought back in summer for baking molasses cookies, and the box has been sitting in my kitchen cupboard since then, I am adding this post to #KitchenClearout linky run by Cheryl at Madhouse Family Reviews.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

The Inventor's Cupboard jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger

If you love jigsaw puzzles, then the name of Colin Thompson must be familiar to you. He is a talented artist who has created many truly marvellous designs for puzzles. Every time I receive an email from Ravensburger, asking if I'd like to review one of Colin Thompson intricate puzzles, I reply the next second. Last week I was engrossed in this beautiful puzzle called The Inventor's Cupboard.

This is the 5th puzzle in the series of Curious Cupboards jigsaws.
As fits an Inventor's job, his cupboard is crammed full with all kinds of machines and gadgets including some fantasy ones like a bacon converter and a bed which explains the brief history of time.

I love puzzles. My problem is that I find them very addictive. When I start a puzzle, life sort of slows down. I am completely absorbed. Thankfully, my little man is as enthusiastic as me and loves to "help". He begs me to let him help me, so I would give him a piece and point in the right direction.
The other day we were both in our sitting room, with Eddie watching Ben and Holly's Little Kingdom on Netflix, me - doing the puzzle. I listened to the animation and enjoyed it as much as Eddie did. Sash would come down from his room, look at us, watching childish things, shrug his shoulders and disappear back into his den.

Eddie and I both enjoyed finding all the small details.
As in many jigsaw puzzles created by the artist, his imaginative world is populated with tiny creatures.

Oh, the feeling of satisfaction, when the last piece of puzzle is in its slot. Only the puzzle lovers would know what it feels.
The completed tapestry of puzzle pieces looks fabulous.
What a treat for any puzzle lover!

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

Monday, 18 January 2016

Coconut milk blini

My guys love pancakes in all guises, call them crepes, crespelle or blini. Quite often, as soon as I get up at the weekend, Eddie will make a cute innocent-begging face and ask me to cook pancakes for breakfast. As it is such a simple and quick meal to prepare, I often treat them to a little stash. Some days I cook proper big-sized pancakes, some days little Russian-style blini. And they all disappear faster than I can make them.

I use the word blini rather than blinis because in Russian blini means pancakes in plural, so blinis as a word is totally wrong, it's a double plural.

Coconut milk blini (makes 16)
2 medium eggs
1tsp caster sugar
1tbsp soured cream
80g self-raising flour
100ml coconut milk

Beat the eggs with a bit of sugar and soured cream, add the flour, keep mixing until you get thick smooth consistency. Then add the milk and whisk again. The batter is quite liquid.
Butter a pancake pan and fry for a couple of minutes on each side.
Serve hot, with whatever toppings you fancy - honey, soured cream, maple syrup, jam and cream, sliced bananas and whipped cream.

In this recipe I used a Koko Dairy Free Original coconut milk, which was part of the last Degustabox. Usually I add semi-skimmed milk. Coconut milk gave a slightly sweeter flavour to blini than the plain milk, but overall it's a good substitute for milk if you don't do dairy (obviously skip the soured cream if you are dairy-intolerant, and use coconut oil instead of butter).