Sunday, 19 October 2014

Chipolatas with chocolate glaze and Hasselback potatoes (#UnileverHalloween)

After a long walk at Cogges earlier today we had a quick platter lunch - just sandwiches and fruit. For dinner I wanted to try a recipe for sausages with chocolate glaze. An original recipe appeared in one of those seasonal Waitrose booklets a year or two ago. I have snipped a page out of the booklet, and recently came across it, while sorting through my magazine clippings. I couldn't find any venison sausages, and got beef chipolatas instead. I have also slightly adapted the recipe, by changing some ingredients, and also served the sausages with Hasselback potatoes. I have added juniper berries, Knorr beef stock pot and a dash of red wine.

Chipolatas with chocolate glaze and Hasselback potatoes
a pack of beef chipolatas (340g)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion
a pinch of caster sugar
1/3 tsp ground cinnamon
2tbsp balsamic vinegar (I used Maille balsamic vinegar)
1 Knorr beef stock pot
15 dried juniper berries
a dash of red wine
1 1/2 tbsp grated dark chocolate (like Lindt dark cooking chocolate)
for potatoes:
2 medium potatoes
2tbsp olive oil
1/2 Mexican flavour pot

Start by slicing the potatoes thinly across without going all the way down. The potatoes should still hold together. Mix olive oil with the Mexican seasoning and using hands, smear the mix all over the potatoes. Put the potatoes in a small ceramic dish or roasting tin, and in the oven preheated to 200C. Cook for about 40+ minutes. Check with a wooden skewer if they're cooked.

Fry the chipolatas in the oil, turning frequently until evenly browned on all sides. Transfer them to a plate. Slice an onion in half, and then slice thinly each half. Cook in the oil left from sausages. Add a pinch of caster sugar and cinnamon, stir for about 5 minutes. Add the vinegar and juniper berries, stir well and cook for another 5 minutes. Dissolve the beef stock pot in 120ml of boiling water. Pour over the onion, add the sausages and simmer for 5 minutes. Grate the chocolate and sprinkle over the sausages, stir well. Simmer for another 5 minutes.

Don't worry about chocolate making the sausages sweet. As it is a dark chocolate, it only adds richness and depth to the glaze. These sausages will be lovely served on the Bonfire night.

In this recipe I used two Knorr products: Beef Stock Pot and Mexican Flavour Pot. Mexican Flavour Pot is a new product from Knorr range of flavour pots. This is a seasoning paste made from red pepper, herbs (oregano, coriander), cayenne pepper, smoked chili powder, garlic, onion, cumin, black and white pepper and other ingredients.

For two potatoes I used 1/2 pot, and that was quite hot for us. If you enjoy spicy hot food, you might want to use the whole pot, but for me that was quite enough. The flavours of Mexican seasoning work very well with roasted potatoes. I think it would be lovely with roast vegetables like sweet peppers, fennel, tomatoes and other.

This is my second recipe for #UnileverHalloween culinary challenge.
I received a hamper of Unilever products to create a recipe suitable for Halloween and Bonfire.

See my Spiced Pumpkin Cupcakes for Halloween.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Sillsallad (Swedish herring salad for #ReadCookEat)

I buy zillions of books, but I also enjoy freebies. I have already mentioned Free eBooks Daily on my blog. I follow them on Twitter (@FreeEbooksDaily and check them out if not daily, then every few days to see what new books have been added). I mostly download historical fiction and cook books, and thanks to Free eBooks Daily I have discovered several authors, whom I never came across before. It's a bit like pot luck, some books are not exactly masterpieces of literature, but there are some true gems (like Moonfixer by CC Tillery) which kept me awake for a few very late nights, as I couldn't put my ipad down. I have first come across Linda K Hubalek when her book Planting Dreams was offered as a free download back in summer. I loved it, and bought two sequels. Then another book by Linda K Hubalek appeared on the site - Prairie Bloomin' (The Prairie Blossoms for an Immigrant's Daughter). Since it was book 2 in the series, I bought the first one as well.
Butter in the Well (A Scandinavian Woman's Tale of Life on the Prairie) is a historical diary set in 1868-1888) This fascinating account is a fictional diary, based on the life of Maja Kajsa Swenson Runeberg, the author's ancestor. She and her husband left Sweden to become the homesteaders in Saline County, Kansas, in 1868.

This is not an idealistic Little House-style portrayal of the pioneer life. The reality was harsh, the nature uncompromising. Life was a constant battle with the elements, as they lived first in the sodhouse, surrounded by rattlesnakes. They literally lived in the middle of nowhere, and depended on each other. No doctor in case of emergency for miles, noone to ask for help when you needed it. So much hardship, so many tragedies, when children's mortality rate was extremely high. It puts everything into perspective, when you read the diary entries about poverty, hunger and death.
You will learn a lot about the life of pioneer women in the prairie, there is an abundance of details on many aspects of the farmers' life, from house-building to harvesting and making preserves.
The book is written in a journal form, a bit repetitive at times, and in a perhaps over-simplified manner, though this might have been a literary device to imitate the diary written by a person without literary accomplishments. The story is sketchy at times,  a mere record of events of what was going on around in the neighbourhood. There were moments when I felt a bit lost, with too many names that meant something for the narrator but were totally meaningless to me as a reader. Personal photos and maps added depth to the narrative, and made it more captivating.
The ebook itself could have benefited from a better editing and proof-reading, there were too many typos which I found distracting.
The author has a great understanding of an epoch she has recreated and possesses a deep knowledge of the pioneer life in the prairie.
As someone with interest in food history, I enjoyed reading references to different foods and dishes Kajsa made. These were mostly Swedish recipes, but prepared with the ingredients found in Kansas.
Several Christmas meals were mentioned in great detail.

"This year we celebrated Christmas with all the trimmings and traditions of our family. I'll admit we used a primitive substitute for most of our Christmas dishes, but Moder makes the best ostkaka and frukt soppa no matter where she lives. Adelaide gave us some white sugar to make some kringler, the pastry Carl likes. Since we butchered a hog this fall, we had potatiskorv and a smoked ham also. I pickled catfish we caught in the river this fall and mixed it with potatoes and beets for Fader's favourite dish of sillsallad. It doesn't quite taste the same since it is supposed to be made with herring, but he was happy..." (entry for 25 December 1869)

So many new dishes for me to try: ostkaka (a custard dessert or cheesecake), kringler (pastry with icing sugar and nuts), potatiskorv (sausage made with ground meat, onions, potatoes and spices), pepparkakor (molasses and ginger cookies) and other foods mentioned in the book sounded perfect for our #ReadCookEat challenge. In the end I have chosen a pickled herring salad, Sillsallad.

Sillsallad is a Swedish herring salad with soured cream.
I have looked up the recipes online, as I am not very familiar with the Swedish cuisine. I based my recipe on Sillsallad recipe found on I have adapted it, having reduced amounts of some ingredients and also did some minor changes with the ingredients themselves.

270g rollmops (herring with onion)
3 medium potatoes
250g baby beetroot, pickled in vinegar
3 cornichons, pickled with dill flowers
1 apple
2tbsp cyder vinegar
2tbs caster sugar
2tbsp onion and gherkin marinade from rollmops
1/2tbsp English mustard
for the sauce:
a tub of soured cream, mixed with fresh dill
hard-boiled egg for decoration

The recipe I mentioned above uses bigger quantities of herring and pickled beets. I couldn't find any dried dill, so I used fresh one instead. Of course, the homesteaders would have used a dried dill in the middle of winter.
For this recipe I bought 2 tubs of Young's rollmops.
Boil the potatoes in skins, once cooked, let them cool, before removing the skin and chopping into small pieces.
Slice the herring in two lengthwise, then in half again, and chop into small pieces. Chop the beets, apple and cornichons. Mix all the ingredients in a big mixing bowl.
Prepare the dressing by mixing caster sugar in vinegar with the marinade from rollmops, as well as mustard. Pour over the salad, mix well. Refrigerate for a couple of hours before serving.
Serve with the soured cream mixed with dill on the side.
You may garnish the salad with sliced hard-boiled eggs.

If you enjoy pickles, you will love this salad. If you're not a fan of pickles, then it's not a recipe for you. It is basically pickles upon pickles in a soured cream sauce. Like most Russians, I looove pickles, and am very happy with the dish. On the other hand, I wouldn't offer it to my husband, as he would never eat pickled herring or beetroot (and it's his loss, how can you not like pickles?!).


I apologize I am so late with #ReadCookEat linky this month, my life has been very hectic, and I am always on the run. Believe me, I haven't lost enthusiasm, in fact I have bookmarked so many recipes already in the books I have read in summer and in September. There will be more recipes coming.

Have you read a book recently which inspired you to run to the kitchen and cook to your heart's content?

Chris from Cooking Round the World and I are inviting you to recreate a meal, inspired by books 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 either of us with the link to your post (my email is sasha1703 at yahoo dot com).
The challenge will end on 30October 2014.
I promise to Pin all blogs posts taking part in this challenge, as well as RT and Google+

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Professional vs amateur: food photos for Kelly's Creative Kids in the Kitchen

Sometimes I wonder what would my blog recipe photos look like, when done by a professional photographer and a food stylist. Recently I had a chance to find out exactly how it might look. Earlier this year, my guys and I were invited to take part in Kelly's Creative Kids in the Kitchen challenge. My younger son Eddie and I had fun, creating a twist on a classic Eton Mess with Kelly's ice cream, meringues and berries as well as Colin's butterflies (M&S sweets from Percy Pig range) and Jelly Bellies, and called it Eddie's Mess.

To be honest, I thought it was just great fun and not much of a recipe. Yet lovely people at Kelly's have seriously considered our recipe suggestion, and our simple playful kiddie-created recipe has reached the final stages of Kelly's Creative Kids in the Kitchen competition.
Moreover, a professional photographer took photos of Eddie's Mess. Many thanks to Kate Whitaker for doing s super job! Kelly's of Cornwall have given me permission to reproduce the official photos on my blog. The image below shows Eddie's Mess decorated with sweets.
Photo by Kate Whitaker (reproduced with kind permission from Kelly's of Cornwall)
As Kelly's feel that the recipe without sweets would represent the brand better, they have also asked Kate to take a photo without sweets.

The images look uncluttered, light and elegant.
For me it's always a problem to find a clear space in the house, with a good light. Our house is quite dark inside. I tend to take most of my photos out in the garden, weather permitting.
And if I'm taking photos in the kitchen, I usually use curtain samples as drapes over my numerous jars and boxes, so as not to distract from the food I am taking photo of.

My photo

We are very fond of Kelly's of Cornwall ice cream. Every summer, when we stay for a week in Cornwall, we enjoy eating it outdoors in a seaside cafe.

Having an ice cream cone by the sea is the best treat of all. And then we try to keep our summer alive by eating Kelly's of Cornwall ice cream from a tub at home. It is perfect with hot crumbles and apple pies.
The sight of Kelly's brand umbrella never ceases to work its magic, we just love Kelly's ice cream.

Teasy Tea

Green tea has become very trendy recently. Of course, Chinese wise men have known its health benefits for thousands of years. Thanks to the way it is processed without fermentation, green tea keeps all the anti-oxidants intact. Being hailed as a super-drink nowadays, it helps with the weight loss, as well as heart problems and diabetes. Wouldn't it be lovely to have a bottle of green tea when you're out and about?! Well, now you can, as Teasy Tea does exactly that - offers you a green tea drink in a small size bottle, which you can take with you anywhere you go.

Teasy Tea comes in light aluminium bottles which keep the drink cool and protected from the sun. There are two varieties: peppermint and chamomile.
Green tea is blended with peppermint and chamomile and then sweetened with fermented grape juice and gently carbonated.
The result is a really refreshing cold drink. This gentle-tasting brew has no added sugar but lots of tea. It is light amber in colour
I enjoy herbal teas in general, and liked Teasy tea for its mild sweetness and light fizz.
And it's good news for those who watch their weight, as there are only 48 calories per 250ml bottle.

Find more about Teasy Tea on their website.

Disclosure: I received two bottles of Teasy Tea for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are mine.

Pumpkin, pork and chorizo stew

It's cold and miserable outdoors, just the right time for slow-cooked stews and casseroles. Imagine ladling a rich smoky stew in a deep bowl and dipping a chunky bread in it. As I have just had a big delivery of colourful pumpkins from Abel & Cole, I am cooking everything with pumpkins these days, from cupcakes to stew. Pumpkin, pork and chorizo stew is a great comfort food and a belly warmer.

Pumpkin, pork and chorizo stew (serves 4)
1 small pumpkin
700g pork belly
2tbsp olive oil
100g chorizo
3tbsp Kikkoman soy sauce
1 cube of Knorr ham stock
1tbsp fresh thyme, chopped finely
2 cloves of garlic
2 parsnips
1 carrot
9 dried apricots, sliced in half
1 tin of plum tomatoes (400g)
1 tin of butter beans (235g drained weight)
1 potato

Wrap a small pumpkin in foil. Cook it in the oven preheated to 200C for a half an hour to soften a tough skin.
Once the pumpkin is cool, remove the skin and seeds and cube the flesh. Set is aside.
Cut the pork into big size cubes. Heat the oil in a big pan and fry the pork for about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat. Sprinkle it with fresh thyme & pepper and pour 1tbsp soy sauce over it.

Chop the chorizo and fry it for about 3-4 minutes in the pan where the pork has been cooked. Chop the parsnips and carrot, put them in a big pan and add boiling water. Put the pork and chorizo in as well. All the vegetables and meat should be well covered with water. Add 2tbsp soy sauce, a cube of ham stock, finely chopped garlic and sliced apricots. Open tins of butter beans and plum tomatoes and add the contents to the pan. Cook simmering for half an hour, then add a chopped potato, and cubed pumpkin. Cook for another 30 minutes on low.

I didn't add the salt, as the stock cube and soy sauce gave all the saltiness that was needed.

I used Kikkoman's naturally brewed soy sauce in this recipe. It is a versatile ingredient, which is much more than an Oriental cuisine product. In fact, it is a universal seasoning, and I often use it instead of salt in salads and roasts.
I was recently invited to make a one-pot warming winter dish as part of Kikkoman Blogger recipe challenge. The task was to make anything so long as it not oriental in style.

Disclosure; I received a bottle of Kikkoman soy sauce. All the other ingredients were purchased by me.

If you are looking for seasonal recipes, check out this delicious soup recipe from Cheryl (Madhouse Family Reviews) called Autumnal Hug in a Bowl.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Happy stamping with Stamptastic

The first school term is in full swing, in fact we're almost approaching the midterm break. Having two sons in school means a lot of labelling of school clothesand shoes, not a task that I can say I enjoy. Writing with pens soon washes off, embroidering is too time-consuming. I did embroider my younger son's initials on a couple of cardigans, but it took me ages. Thankfully Stamptastic came to the rescue, and saved my time and snity.

I have already heard of this brand and seen some blog reviews, where Mums were raving about a new way of labelling all kids' belongings.
Now it was my turn to try it and discover just how good Stamptastic was.

I received a set of two personalised stamps with my sons' names as well as an inkpad. The stamps are attached to transparent acrylic blocks for easy stamping. When you use them, you can see exactly where the name goes.

Both the stamps and ink can be used on any fabric, wood, plastic and even metal (though I haven't tried the last option yet).
The stamping is very straight-forward and easy. The stamped words look crisp and clear to read.
As I wash my guys' clothes on a daily basis, all school clothes went through a good amount of washing cycles since the day I stamped all the labels.
I am pleased to report that all the ink stays put, and hasn't faded. So, when Stamptastic promises that the ink will last wash after wash, they deliver their promise.

I was particularly impressed with the stamping on my younger son's wellies. He's been wearing them to school, and we walk a long distance to school and back every day. I suppose there will be a natural wear of the ink from the soles, but for the time being the stamping stays put.

It's a brilliant little gadget for all parents, and I am happy to recommend it to anyone who doesn't have much time or desire to hand-stitch and embroider all labels.

To find out more about Stamptastic and read all the testimonials, visit Stamptastic.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Spiced pumpkin cupcakes for #UnileverHalloween

My little man has been off school today, as he is not feeling well. He spent most of the day in bed, watching the CBeebies and sleeping. To cheer him up, I baked a batch of spiced pumpkin cupcakes, though it is still two weeks until Halloween.
The weather has been ghastly for the last few days, and baking cakes is always a good way of spending day indoors.
I love culinary challenges, and was thrilled to be invited by Unilever Kitchen to join in a Halloween and Bonfire night challenge, testing my cooking skills - spooky style.
They said:
"Now, we much prefer the ‘treat’ to the ‘trick’ here at Unilever kitchen , so we’d like to challenge you to whip up some ‘treat’ snacks and dishes to keep the family warm during the Halloween and Bonfire season. The most inventive dish will then be awarded the top place, with the creator receiving tickets to the London Dungeon Experience for four people.
To help you on your spooky challenge we’ll provide you with a delicious foodie Halloween and autumn themed hamper, full of mouth-watering seasonal treats, Unilever products as well as some Halloween inspired surprises. Whether it’s ghostly cupcakes, banging stews or frighteningly good soups, the choice is yours!"

Since the hamper arrived, my son Eddie kept asking me when I was going to bake the spooky cupcakes.

Earlier today I had a delivery of glorious pumpkins from Abel & Cole, and just had to use some of them in baking.

Spiced pumpkin cupcakes (makes 20+)
140 g cooked pumpkin
1/3 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2tsp ground ginger
1/3 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
3 medium eggs
200g caster sugar
100ml olive oil
135g yogurt
1tbsp molasses
1tbsp golden syrup
240g plain flour
210g cornflour
80+ ml water
Start by cutting a small sized pumpkin into big chunks and scoop out the seeds. Slightly brush with oil and roast at 180C for half an hour. I used 3 pieces of pumpkin for the cupcakes ( the rest I served for dinner with venison steaks).

Remove the skin from the pumpkin pieces and mash with a fork in a big mixing bowl. Add all the spices, sugar and mix well. Add the olive oil, yogurt, molasses and golden syrup, and mix well again. Finally add the flour and cornflour. At this point the cake mix will be very thick. Add water a little bit at a time, until you have a smoother consistency, which is easier to ladle into the muffin cases.
Place the muffin cases in a big muffin tin and pour the cake mix leaving 1cm at the top.
I also used a silicone cupcake mold, as my son Eddie was very eager to try fancy-shaped cupcakes.
Bake the muffins/cupcakes at 180C until the wooden skewer comes clean (about 20+ minutes).

Let the cupcakes cool completely before decorating with the glace frosting.
For the frosting mix 250g icing sugar with 4tbsp lemon juice and 2tbsp coconut oil. You might want to add a little bit of water, to make it easier to spread over the cupcakes. Also add a bit of food colouring. The actual frosting is much more orange in real life than in the photos, but the light is abysmal today, and I couldn't get it right when I took the photos.
I used Dr Oetker icing writing pens to add a few touches.

We also did some ghostie cupcakes by adding the marshmallows on top of the frosting and painting faces with Dr Oetker icing pens.

Eats Amazing Fun Food Friday

Monday, 13 October 2014

Roasted figs with pistachios and Soreen

 A life of a foodie blogger has its own perks as well as lovely surprises. In the last month I received two unexpected parcels with Soreen products. No note enclosed, no tasks given, a total mystery. A sliced original malt-flavoured Soreen was quickly demolished, toasted and buttered (I love to use the salted butter on Soreen for a delicious sweet & salty combination).

My guys were particularly pleased with a new Toffee Apple Soreen renamed Scream for the coming Halloween. It is a delightful squidgy apple-flavoured loaf with toffee pieces.

Orange Soreen is another tasty variety of the British icon cake. It is much lighter in colour than the original malt loaf, generously speckled with juicy raisins. I wanted to use it in a dessert of roasted figs.

Roasted figs with pistachios and Soreen
6 figs
4 thick slices of Orange Soreen
a handful of pistachios (about 2 per fig), chopped
2tbsp maple syrup
100ml Pimm's

First make the Soreen croutons, by slicing the loaf in thick 1cm slices, then cutting into cubes. Place them on a tray in the oven preheated to 180C for about 7 minutes.

Slice each fig in quarters, not quite all the way down, so that you can open it and put chopped pistachios inside. Place all the figs in a small roasting tin or ceramic dish. Drizzle with the maple syrup and pour Pimm's in. Roast for about 20 minutes at 180C. Add the Soreen croutons, and cook for another 5 minutes.

Serve with custard or cream, or even ice cream.
You get the soft figs with crunchy nuts and crisped Soreen croutons. Simply lovely.

If you liked this recipe suggestion, you might like to try Grilled peach and Soreen with ice cream.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Frankie & Benny's in Witney

I thought we have explored all the local eating places with my guys, but for some reason we haven't visited Frankie & Benny's before. Even today, we decided to give it a try only after first trying to find a table at our usual cafe, Huffkins, which was too busy today, and when we asked how long it might take to wait, we were put off by a rather dismissive reply "It's up to you". It was their loss, and our gain, as we discovered Frankie & Benny's.

First brownie points go to F&B's for being friendly and attentive to our needs. When we were seated, I asked if there was a quieter corner for us, and explained that our older son has autism and is sensitive to loud noise. The lady who took us to the table said it wasn't a problem, and left us to lower the sound. Wow, I was really touched, as I certainly didn't expect that.
We placed our orders, and didn't have to wait long. Eddie was given a goodie bag with a jigsaw puzzle, a little book and a pencil. He was particularly impressed with a pencil as it had 3 colours in one. According to my son, it is a magic pencil.

He enjoyed doing the puzzle and completing some of the tasks in the book. Soon after our meals were served.

What did we order? I fancied a BBQ pulled pork sandwich with French fries and coleslaw. And it didn't disappoint. Pulled pork was exactly what the pulled pork should be, well-seasoned and tender, with a smoky flavour of BBQ sauce.

My husband ordered a chicken pitta, with a corn cob and fries. He also thought that his pitta sandwich was pretty good and nicely flavoured.

Kids love fries, and Eddie requested fish fingers and fries. He also asked for some peas, and when I asked if it was possible to add peas to the plate, it wasn't a problem. Eddie has demolished his meal with great appetite. When we asked Sasha if he enjoyed his meal, and if he would like to come there again, he nodded his head. He was in a very good mood, and I was pleased with the seating area, as we didn't sit too close to anyone else.

The interior reminded me of the American eateries we visited while living in the States. The kitchen area is open. There are lots of black and white photos and some reliefs and sculptures.
The menu is quite a typical one for the Italian-American style of eaterie, with a good choice of pasta, pizzas and sandwiches.

Eddie was so full after his meal, and also so relaxed, he had a little lie-in, while I enjoyed my caffe latte.

We had a good time, with a very friendly and quick service. I went for a naughty Baileys latte to end my meal, and oh boy, they were very generous with the liqueur. My husband enjoyed his mango sorbet, though couldn't finish it, as it was quite a big portion.

As we were leaving the restaurant, Eddie was given a balloon. He was thrilled, and told me he wants to come there again. And now that we discovered Frankie and Benny's, we'll definitely be back.

Have you been out and about this month? If you have a review of eating out or visiting a place of interest, please come and join in Out & About linky.

To join in, please add the post to the linky.
You may use any post about going out, but please a recent one, not more than 3 months old.
I promise to repin each post added to the linky, leave a comment, RT and give a G+.
Please use a badge for Out & About and link back to hosts: Chez Maximka blog as well as Dragons and Fairy Dust.

Chez Maximka