Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Torta di tagliarini for The Second Duchess

As soon as I spotted The Second Duchess by Elizabeth Loupas and read on the back cover that it is set in Ferrara, I wanted to read it. My husband is a Ferrarese, and Ferrara's history is fascinating. This novel is set in Renaissance Italy and tells the story of Barbara of Austria, the second wife of Alfonso d'Este, Duke of Ferrara. Both he and his first wife Lucrezia de' Medici have been immortalised in Browning's poem My Last Duchess. The books has a riveting plot, and this was a part of the history of Ferrara I was unfamiliar with.
Barbara of Austria arrives to Ferrara as the eponymous second duchess with a great pomp. But her entry in town is marred by the undisguised threats of poison and the gossip about the first wife, who was said to be murdered by the Duke. Barbara might be plain looking, but she is intelligent and determined to find the truth. Murder, court intrigues and conspiracies - all the ingredients for those who love their doze of escapism, like I do.
There were also quite a few food references.
"...This tart is delicious, and like nothing I have ever tasted before".
"It is called a torta di tagliarini, for the sweet pasta in the filling". He smiled, "It was created for the wedding feast of my grandfather and his second wife, Lucrezia Borgia, in homage to the bride's magnificent golden hair..."

Italian cake recipe

When Barbara visits the Abbess, she is served some wine and a slice of pampepato.
"She nodded, put a whole slice of cake into her mouth, and wiped her fingers daintily on a napkin. Abbess or not, clearly she did not practise austerities of the flesh".
Pampepato was mentioned several times through the novel.
"Music swirled softly through the room; the courtiers whispered and laughed. The servitors presented sweet wines and slices of pampepato, the dense cake rich with cinnamon, cloves, citron and pepper. It was the same sort of cake Mother Eleonora had offered me at the Monastero del Corpus Domini. I picked my piece into small bits; it seemed too highly spied, too cloying..." What Barabara forgets to mention that this is a chocolate cake, in fact this was the first chocolate cake in Europe, cooked in honour of the Pope (hence the name, which translates as the bread of the Pope).
I have a recipe for pampepato on my blog, if you are interested.
Barbara also reminisces about the rice pudding of her childhood:
"I was a child again, seven or eight years... My nurse was making the milchreis, rice pudding, my favourite supper. Thump-thump-thump went the wooden spoon in the pan as she stirred it and stirred it. Each stroke made a thick wet swishing sound. Milk and rice and eggs and sugar, and then the reddish-brown dusting of cinnamon..."

I was tempted to cook milchreis, and I might still do one day, but what I really fancied was to cook a torta di tagliarini. I have seen this cake in the Italian pastry shops, sold as individual-sized cakes.
For the original authentic recipe you need to make your own pasta and pastry.
My version is very much simplified. I used a ready-made block of pastry and fresh pasta.

Torta di tagliarini
1 block of dessert pastry (not the whole amount, about 350g)
2 medium eggs
100g caster sugar
100g ground almonds
3 tbsp cocoa
50g melted butter
150g candied orange and lemon peel, cubed
1 tub of Milkybar dessert (70g) or 70ml double cream
80g fresh pasta

Roll the block of pastry with a rolling pin to 5mm thickness on the parchment paper and move over to the spring cake tin. It will be the base of your cake. Even the surface with the fingers.
In a medium bowl beat the eggs with the sugar, add the almonds, cocoa and melted butter, and mix well. Add the chopped orange and lemon peel and 1 tub of Milkybar. It was supposed to be the double cream, but I forgot to buy it, and the only possible candidate for a replacement that I could find in the fridge was the Milkybar dessert.
Put 2/3 of fresh pasta like tagliarini or tagliatelli at the bottom of your cake, pour the cocoa and fruit mixture over the pasta. Place the remaining pasta on top and slightly flatten, it should not all be immersed in the cocoa mix, as you want the crunchy texture on top once the cake is cooked.

steps: 1. place the pasta at the bottom; 2. pasta over the cocoa mix

Place a buttered parchment paper circle on top of the cake, and bake for 30+ minutes at 190C.

Serve warm, with or without cream. A cup of coffee wouldn't go amiss.

This cake has an interesting history and an intriguing texture, from the crunchy pasta on top to the creamy almond and cocoa filling.

Italian cake from Ferrara

I know I am abysmally or fashionably late with ReadCookEat linky for May, so I will run it until the end of June.
Have you read a book recently which inspired you to run to the kitchen and cook to your heart's content?

Are you an avid reader who enjoys food references in fiction? Would you like to recreate a meal, inspired by a book you've just finished and join in our #ReadCookEat challenge.

The idea is to choose a book, either a world classic or modern fiction, or even memoirs and pick up a dish mentioned or described in that book and then recreate it in a recipe. Please say a few lines about your chosen book, and maybe even do a quote from the book.

If you decide to take part, please add the badge to your post and link up back to Chris and me, and either use a link-up tool or add the url of your post as a comment. Alternatively, email me with the link to your post (my email is sasha1703 at yahoo dot com).

I will Pin all blogs posts taking part in this challenge, as well as RT and Google+

Yoghurty Melts from Kiddylicious (review + giveaway c/d 25 June 2015)

The range of Kiddylicious products has been recently expanded with an addition of two healthy fruit snacks - Yoghurty Melts (in strawberry and passion fruit & peach flavours). If your kids are anything like my son who's grazing through the day, you are probably having a good stash of snacks at home.
Kiddylicious is a brand, well known among the parents who want to treat their little ones to healthy and delicious snacks.

When Eddie was younger, he was very fond of the Kiddylicious snacks, and even now, at the wise age of 4 (5 in summer) he is not averse to trying new kiddie snacks (as long as I don't mention they are for younger kids, since he insists he's a big boy now).
To be honest, the age is just a number. For example, some of the fruit crisps which are targeted for babies and toddlers are actually great for taking on a trip, or even scattering over the porridge or ice cream. The same goes for most of the Kiddylicious snacks. Fruit and vegetable crisps have a universal appeal, for all ages. And I can predict that the new Yoghurty Melts will be enjoyed by children and adults alike.
So, what are they exactly, those Yoghurty Melts? These are snacks made from fruit and yoghurt, which are literally melting in your mouth.

For little ones, they offer an opportunity to learn to feed themselves, as they are small and easy to handle. They are sweet and bursting with fruity flavours.
What are the ingredients? Apple puree concentrate, skimmed milk yoghurt, sugar, peach or strawberry puree, natural tapioca starch, passion fruit concentrate or carrot concentrate. There are no added preservatives, colours or artificial colours, no added salt, no wheat or gluten.
It is 21kcal per 6g portion.
They remind me of freeze-dried strawberries I buy for cake decoration. You need to keep them sealed, as they easily absorb moisture if you leave them in an open pouch or container.
I haven't had a chance to use the melts in any cake decorating or baking project, as they didn't last long enough. Eddie's verdict was "Very yummy!" I have also tried them, and agree, they taste lovely.

If you'd love to try this new range, I have just the right giveaway for you. Lovely people from Kiddylicious have offered a range of Kiddylicious products as a giveaway prize.

One lucky winner will be able to try a whole range of Kiddilycious products including the new Yoghurty Melts.
To be in with a chance of winning, please enter using the Rafflecopter.

Image credit: Kiddylicious

Only one entry per person is allowed (however, you can tweet daily to increase your chances).
The giveaway is open to the UK residents only.
Once the Rafflecopter picks the winner, I will check if the winner has done what was requested. I will contact the winner, if they do not reply within 28 days, the prize will be allocated to another person.
Please don't forget to leave a comment, as it is the only mandatory step, I will make sure the winner selected by Rafflecopter has complied with T&Cs.

The giveaway will close on 25 June 2015 (at midnight)

Good luck!

  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Apple and blackberry pie

There are days when only a pie will do to satisfy the sweet craving. I unashamedly use the ready-made pastry, and don't have any qualms about saying so on my blog. Buzz off the GBBO, a real life takes over. I hardly have time to cook different meals for my family, up  to 3 separate meals for dinner to please my three men, so cut me some slack and don't scorn me for not trying hard enough to make my own pastry.
And in case you are wondering, this time I used the sweet pastry from Sainsbury's, and very good it is too. Whenever I have  chance to visit the supermarket, I get a pack of pastry.
I have been checking the contents of the freezer, and discovered that I still have a couple of tupperware with blackberries from the last summer's foraging trips in the fields nearby with my Mum and niece.

Apple and blackberry pie
500g sweet pastry (ready-made)
50g butter
6 apples, peeled and sliced
300g frozen blackberries
2tbsp cornflour
1/2tsp cinnamon, ground
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2tsp ground ginger

Peel and slice the apples, cook them with butter in a big pan until slightly softened, add the frozen blackberries and stir well. Add all the spices and keep cooking for about 5-7 minutes, Add the cornflour to soak in the juices and make the pie less soggy.
Cut the block of pastry into two parts. Roll the pastry and cut out a big circle to fit into a pie dish, which has been slightly oiled. Pre-bake blind for about 10 minutes.
When the apple and blackberry mix is cool, scoop the contents into the pastry.
Roll out the second half of the pastry, cut into strips and decorate the pie in the lattice pattern.
bake for another 15 minutes at 180C.
Serve hot, with the ice cream or cream. Enjoy!

Monday, 18 May 2015

Squash risotto with crispy sage

National Vegetarian Week which runs this week of 18-23 May is actually in its 23rd year. And though we're not a vegetarian family, we do eat a lot of meat-free meals as well. Butternut squash risotto is one of my top favourite vegetarian dishes.
Usually I cook a risotto with the butternut squash, but today all the squashes were ginormous, so instead I got a round-shaped Queen squash, which has the similar amber-coloured sweet flesh.

Squash risotto with crispy sage
1 Queen squash
1 onion
2tbsp olive oil
1 clove of garlic
50g butter
200g arborio risotto rice
100ml white wine
2tbsp soured cream
1 mug of vegetable stock
1 tub of Giovanni Rana Butter & Sage pasta sauce
parmesan, grated
sage leaves, fresh

For the ease of handling, pre-bake the squash in the oven at 180C for half an hour. I was actually baking some potato Smiles for my sons, so put all the bits in the oven at the same time, and once the Smiles were off, I left the squash in the oven. It was still quite firm to the touch when I cut it into halves, scooped out the seeds, peeled and cubed the squash.
Finely chop the onion and fry in the deep frying pan for 5 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the chopped garlic, butter and arborio rice, and cook stirring for another 5 minutes. Add the wine, stir. Once the wine evaporates, keep adding ladles of the stock, keeping an eye on the rice absorbing the stock and adding more of it. Keep stirring. Add the soured cream and Butter & sage sauce.
Cook the risotto for about 20-25+ minutes, depending on how al dente you like your risotto.
Fry the fresh sage leaves in a bit of olive oil, until they turn crispy, but don't let them turn too dark.

Serve the risotto with crispy sage leaves on top, and grate a bit of parmesan (it's not a vegetarian cheese, but you can find a vegetarian version).

In this recipe I used Giovanni Rana Butter & Sage pasta sauce, which is a creamy pale sauce with a distinct sage flavour. It is a tasty pasta sauce, and could be used in a variety of recipes.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Dyson Ball Toy Vacuum Cleaner

When my little man was younger, about 2 years old, he was obsessed with things like vacuum cleaners, brooms and scoops. He even preferred them to actual toys, and couldn't understand why I wasn't keen for him to play with them. A couple of Christmases ago we bought him a pricey toy vacuum cleaner which sadly didn't last long. Eddie is still very eager to help me with cleaning. Though our Dyson is pretty bulky, I let him help me with the cleaning. At the same time Eddie is very good at the role play and pretending that he's the man of the house who helps his Mummy.
When Dyson Ball Toy Vacuum Cleaner was delivered for reviewing, I was amazed that the replica looked just like the real thing, only smaller in size.

It's wonderfully life-like, right down to the last detail, and is great for realistic role play.
You will need 4 C batteries (they are not included with the toy). It comes in a box in two pieces, when you slot them together, the vacuum cleaner stands at 63cm high.

When the toy is on, the coloured crumbs in the cyclone cylinder fly around inside. Working suction action makes this toy different from the other replica vacuum cleaners. Great fun!

The suggested age range is 3-8 years, but I think that it's probably more suitable for the younger end of the range. Somehow I doubt that the savvy 8-year-olds will be much interested in this toy. Saying that, it depends on each individual child.
It could be a useful toy for children with special needs, as it provides a striking visual stimulation. It also encourages hand-to-eye coordination and motor skills (that is great for both children with special needs as well as younger mainstream children).

You can watch the Dyson Ball Toy Vacuum Cleaner in action in this cute video from Cadson Toys.

For a full range of educational and imaginative toys, visit Cadson.

Disclosure: we received the toy vacuum cleaner for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are Eddie's and mine.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Photo diary: week 20, 365

10.05: We love Cogges manor farm, and last Sunday visited our favourite haunts and fed the piggies.

11.05; "Hello, is it me you're looking for?!"

12.05: This splendid chocolate cake was decorated with crystallised violet petals, and it proved to be delicious.

13.05: This brave snail was among the leaves, way above my head. I had to climb on the chair to take a picture of it.

14.05: One of the glories of May, a rhododenron in full bloom, unravelling from the brightest candy pink to the white lacy negligee.

15.05: My Batman fell asleep, while waiting for his dinner. He was watching TV, and suddenly conked off.

16.05: Roses started blooming this week in our garden, this white rose has the most exquisite perfume.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Mixing up the fun: Blenheim Palace and Petits Filous

Life is like a game of chess, you move on the checkerboard from one square to another, recognising patterns  and structures. Light and dark colours alternate. And life is full of contrasts, just like the chessboard.
We recently visited the Blenheim Palace. Not once but twice in two weeks, exploring all the corners and activities of the park. On our second visit I took Eddie to the Palace itself, as I wanted to show him the place where I worked years ago, before he was born. We used to live in Woodstock, and the Blenheim park was literally our backyard.
Eddie loved the palace and wanted to know everything. With his best friend from school and his younger brother, Eddie enjoyed the attractions of the Pleasure garden and had great fun on the train and in the maze. But it was the palace itself that has captured his imagination, and he talked about it for days afterwards.
It so happened that we discovered that Ai Weiwei's exhibition was on. Ai Weiwei is probably the best known modern Chinese artist and dissident in the West. His political views and art concepts have won him plaudits all over the world.
It was an interesting concept to place his very modern art statements around the splendour of the Blenheim Palace. Each piece was displayed amidst the old historical artefacts.
Did it work? You judge. For me the verdict was 50/50.
We loved the grand chandelier in the entrance hall. It sparkled like a fabulous cascade and shimmered in the day light.

Some of the pieces were clever and inspired, like the glorious blue ceramic balls on the lawn of the park, with the palace in the background. It is a beautiful setting, and the reflections of the palace in the ceramic balls looked tasteful and not out of place the park.

Some installations looked fabulously odd and out of place, for example, the crab invasion in one of the State rooms. Apparently there are 2,000 plastic crabs. While Eddie was enthralled with the crabs' army, and the media enthused about it as "one of the most visually striking pieces", I was left completely unconvinced and if anything, slightly quesy.

I'm sure there is some political message but I have missed it. I have full respect of Weiwei's political views but his artwork didn't work in this room. It was just bizarre.

When we were in the dining-room, I told Eddie that I worked as a security person a couple of times in this room and had to watch that people didn't touch anything. You wouldn't believe how many ignorant people rubbed the walls to check if the marble was real or an imitation.
Eddie made me laugh, asking if I had my launch in that room. I just could imagine that.

Weiwei contributed a whole line of golden animal heads for this room. These are Zodiac heads of a Circle of Animals. Apparently these heads have provoked the anger of some Chinese visitors. It is a pure bling, but then it's not out of place in the dining room. There is already a lot of vintage bling there, like that silver piece showing the first Duke on the horse which apparently was placed in the middle of the table so that the wife of the 9th Duke didn't have to look at the face of her husband while having dinner.

Then there's a 5,000-year-old Han Dynasty vase which the art rebel has painted with a Coca-Cola logo. Yes, he made a statement about the American culture, but it's been done before. Defacing the old art has become quite a cliche.

It was all about the juxtaposition of the old and the new, traditional and modern. Library is one of my favourite places in the palace, with the walls of book shelves and the wonderful views of the park. The exhibition curators have placed Weiwei's photo work around the library. Each image was of him giving the finger to a famous landmark. After a while, it was becoming a tad repetitive. Political? yes. Innovative art? Hardly.

It was a day of discoveries. A long day. We were getting tired. Saying good bye to the Palace, park and Weiwei, we headed home.

We did have a bit of a lunch in the palace, but arrived home, feeling quite peckish. Very conveniently, we had some new Petits Filous to try. Eddie has seen the ad of the newly launched Magic Squares and was very eager to try it. Petits Filous is a well-known and much loved kids' yogurt and fromage frais brand.

New Magic Squares combine two tasty flavours - vanilla and raspberry or vanilla and strawberry.
The design is two-tone, just like the checkerboard. Eddie loved the new flavours, and now wants only Magic Squares, which is a bit of a problem, as the only local supermarket which sells the Magic Squares is Sainsbury's and it is quite a long way from us.
With calcium and Vitamin D for stronger bones, these tasty desserts get thumbs up from Mums and kids alike.

That's so yummy!
And that's how we mix the fun and the magic!

This post is an entry for BritMums #MagicSquaresPlaydates Linky Challenge, sponsored by Petits Filous

Disclosure: I received a Tesco gift card to try the new Petits Filous. All opinions are mine.