Saturday, 6 February 2016

Photo diary: week 5, 366

We rarely go out together, so it was a real treat to have lunch all four of us. It was quite a spontaneous decision, we first ventured into Frankie and Benny's, but they said we'd have to wait for half an hour for a table, and we didn't want to wait in the bar with two kids. We went to the Huffkins instead and got a quiet table in the corner which suited us perfectly. Boys wanted their chips, I ordered toast with smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, while Papa fancied an afternoon tea, with sandwiches and scones (very British and very quaint, if you ask me). While we waited, I gave my mobile to Sasha to play with, and he took several photos during the meal, including this one of Eddie.

On Monday I baked a carrot cake with caramelised carrot as a decoration. It was a tasty cake, Sasha loved it a lot, and methinks I'll have to bake it again soon. He didn't mind that the icing was applied in a rather haphazard way. I don't think I'd be applying for MasterChef any time soon.

I love discovering new teas, and this beautiful 1000 Day Flower tea was a lovely surprise. It looked gorgeous and had a delicate taste.

My strange son likes going to the dentist for two reasons: he enjoys cuddling the gigantic teddy bear and he always gets a sticker. Plus the dentist always makes him laugh, so make that three reasons. I wish I were so relaxed going to the dentist. I usually have panic attacks, and feel like running out of the clinic screaming.

On Thursday I cooked chicken fried rice with exotic mixed mushrooms. It was very tasty.

All the school kids from Eddie's class ran out of the classroom wearing the masks they made. Eddie was mighty proud of his artistic creation, and refused to take it off, so we marched home just like that.

Doesn't he look like butter wouldn't melt in this photo? We do have a problem with a child in Eddie's class who's not a good influence. This boy scratched Ed's face in the past, spat on him, pushes him regularly around, yet my silly child keeps playing with him, saying he's a friend. Even the teachers are not happy about it, and try to keep them apart, at least during the class. Now that my husband has seen them in action at a birthday party of another class mate, he came home huffing and puffing, saying we need to do something about it. But what can I do? I keep telling my son not to play with that boy. What would you do in this situation?

TheBoyandMe's 366 Linky

Friday, 5 February 2016

Chicken fried rice

Chinese New Year is just a few days away.
Will you be celebrating it by ordering a takeaway or buying ready-made meals? There are lots of promotions in supermarkets at the moment. But cooking your own Chinese feast could be a great fun, throwing together delicious meals, where you know exactly what goes inside the dish.
Chicken fried rice is absolutely delicious, yet so easy to prepare. You can always double the quantities if you are cooking for a bigger family.
A couple of days ago I had an email from Wing Yip, asking if I would be interested in trying some of their products and getting creative during the festivities. Wing Yip is widely recognised as the UK's leading Oriental grocer with four sites in Birmingham, Manchester, Croydon and Cricklewood. They also have an online store, thus "bringing traditional Oriental cuisine one step closer to UK homes".

I was already planning to do a feast for the Chinese New Year. The year of the Monkey is coming, and being a Monkey according to the Chinese horoscope, I consider it my year, and a good occasion to celebrate.

I googled for fried rice dishes, and came across a tasty recipe for Chicken fried rice on The Telegraph site. I have adapted the recipe, changing some of the quantities and adding mixed mushrooms. The author of the recipe starts by cooking rice. I used pre-cooked rice. Basically it is a glamorised version of an egg-fried rice, but while the egg fried rice is more of a side dish, this recipe is a meal in itself.

Chicken fried rice
3tbsp groundnut oil
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
3 spring onions
2 cloves of garlic
fresh ginger, about half a finger long
250g chicken breast
100g fresh peas (or frozen)
300g mixed exotic mushrooms (shiro-shimeji, shiitake, golden enoki and eryngii)
2tbsp Chinese fried rice sauce
300g cooked rice
2 medium eggs, scrambled with 1tsp of oil

Heat the wok really well, add the groundnut oil. Finely chop the onion, white bits of spring onions and grate the ginger, put all the ingredients in the wok and stir fry for a couple of minutes. Then add the cubed chicken and sliced mushrooms (smaller ones should be left whole). Season with a bit of salt. Cook for 5 minutes or longer.
In a smaller pan cook scrambled eggs with a teaspoon of oil, or make the flat omelette and then slice it. You will add it later to the rice, just before serving.
Add the rice to the chicken, as well as the Chinese fried rice sauce. Add the peas and sliced mushrooms (smaller ones should be left whole) and stir fry for another 5 minutes, make sure the chicken is cooked through.
Chop the green part of spring onions, scatter over the rice and serve it hot.

Wing Yip Chinese Fried Rice sauce made this recipe more authentic. This sauce is a flavoured soy sauce, with added garlic, black pepper, ginger and other ingredients. It is suitable for vegetarians and has no added monosodium glutamate.

I buy mixed exotic mushrooms in Waitrose, it is a 300g box with a variety of mushrooms. If you cannot find these mushrooms, use shiitake and oyster mushrooms which are available more widely.

Disclosure: I received a selection of Wing Yip products for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are mine.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

An Evening Walk (500 piece) puzzle from Ravensburger

My Grandma used to say "To see Paris and die". While she never had a chance to visit a city of her dreams and never travelled beyond Russia, I've visited the capital of France years ago and would love to go back one day. I thought of my Grandma and Paris, when I was assembling a new puzzle from Ravensburger.
An Evening Walk 500-piece puzzle is a charming scene. It comes in a sturdy box, like all the Ravensburger puzzles.

It is aimed at older children and adults. At 500 pieces it was a mere doddle in comparison to trickier 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles.

The nostalgic vintage scene is set in Paris of the 1950s. Flowers in buckets, a fruit and vegetable stall in the foreground are bursting with colour. An elegant Parisian lady is taking her dog for a walk. The evening sky is a melange of grey and pink. The Eiffel Tower is in the background.
I enjoyed piecing this beautiful puzzle together.

And now that I have finished it, I am ready to tackle a new one.

For a full range of Ravensburger puzzles visit Ravensburger.

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

Fractured by Clar Ni Chonghaile

When this novel literally dropped at my doorstep, my first thought  was Oh No, it's not my genre at all. I don't do modern politics in fiction (well, I do, but only rarely). And if I saw this book in the bookshop, I would most likely not pick it up. And that would have been a mistake.
Fractured by Clar Ni Chonghaile is a fascinating debut novel. Clar has worked as a journalist for over twenty years, and travelled extensively. Somalia was one of her the countries she worked in.
The novel starts abruptly, narrated by Peter Maquire, a journalist who is kidnapped and held hostage in Somalia. His existence in captivity is bleak. To escape his tomb mentally, Peter tries to travel back in time and remember the smallest details of his life before captivity. He knows that most likely he won't leave this place alive and will never be able to redress the wrongs of his life before the kidnapping.

Then as suddenly, the thread of narrative is picked by Abdi, a young Somalian, who is guarding Peter. He had to grow up fast, and he has witnessed a lot of atrocities and horrors happening in his homeland. Though he is on the side of the kidnappers, he is as much a victim of the situation as Peter. His life choices are limited, to survive he has to join a terrorist group. Working with the captors, he nonetheless strikes up a friendship with Peter, and decides to help him escape the captivity. Both men set off on a dangerous journey.

And then there is Nina, Peter's mother. She goes through the hell of her own. Unable to wait for the news of her son's release in Paris, she travels to Somalia. She is a former journalist herself, and has her own skeletons in the closet.

Each narrative is in first person. The fragments of their lives come together, interwoven and linked by the events of the past and present. In some way or another they are all prisoners, of circumstances and past.
Each of them is indeed fractured.

Clar Ni Chonghaile has created a bleak and convincing story. Her writing is precise and informative.
This is one of the books which makes you think about it , even after you closed the book on the last page..

Just earlier this week my husband had his article published in the German newspaper, where he talks about the organised crime and cinema, and how the mafia mimics the movies. I even read the following quote aloud to him, saying that it's very similar to what he said in his article:
"My guard pushed me inside, as though I had any resistance left, or anywhere else to go. I almost laughed at this cliched gesture. Sometimes, I think we have all watched so many movies that we have no originality left. We mimic the screen, while we think it mimics us (my italics, GV.) He locked the door and left me to my trivial thoughts" (page 16).

This is a topical and at the same time timeless in its philosophical approach novel.

Fractured by Clar Ni Chonghaile
Legend Press, pbk Feb 2016

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

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.

TheBoyandMe's 366 Linky

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