Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Chocolate box brownies

I read a lot of foodie blogs. There are times when a delicious recipe stays with you and just asks to be replicated. That's happened when I saw the most delectable recipe for lush chocolate box brownies cooked by Dom from Belleau Kitchen.

I fancied them from the moment I saw them. a kind of "You had me at Hello" moment. I also had a half-empty box of Thortons chocolates left from Christmas that nobody wanted to finish. Chucking them in a brownie mix together with some Polish chocolate-covered marshmallows seemed like a problem-solver.

Unbaked brownie

I followed Dom's recipe closely enough, perhaps adding more chocolates than he did. I also cooked it for at least 10 minutes longer, as it was still pretty uncooked after half an hour.
That's how the brownie tray looked after I just took it out of the oven, still pretty glossy.

Once it got cooler, I carefully took it out of the tray, and cut into squares and rectangles. These brownies are so rich and gooey that the pieces have to be on a smaller size. They are verrry good though, so I recommend you try the recipe yourselves.
We had them with cream and without, delicious both ways.

And of course the possibilities are endless. Next time I'll try to add some Ferrero Rocher or my favourite Raffaello.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Sweet potato, butternut squash and coconut soup

Just the other day I mentioned the Knorr Flavour Pot - Product of the Year challenge. I have received a lovely hamper of foods including a full range of Knorr Flavour Pots, and have been using them in lots of different meals. For a meat-free Monday, I decided to cook a sweet potato, butternut squash and coconut soup.

Sweet potato, butternut squash and coconut soup
1 big onion, finely chopped
2tbsp olive oil
180g red lentils
350g cubed sweet potato and butternut squash mix
1 carrot, sliced (about 100g)
1 Knorr Garlic flavour pot
1 Knorr Ginger & Lemongrass flavour pot
1 tin (400ml) coconut milk
1/2tsp chilli paste

Finely chop one big onion and fry it with the olive oil for about 7-8 minutes, stirring occasionally. In a big pan put the lentils with the fried onion, cubed sweet potato and butternut squash mix, carrot, Knorr garlic flavour pot and Knorr Ginger & Lemongrass flavour pot, and chilli paste, pour enough water to cover all the vegetables and bring to boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 35-40 minutes, until all the vegetables are soft. Add the coconut milk for the last 10 minutes of cooking. Season with a bit of sea salt. Blitz it with a hand blender. If the soup consistency is too thick, add a bit of boiled water.

This happened to be such a tasty soup that I am definitely going to cook it again. Sweet, spicy, zingy and full of flavours, a real comfort food.
Also after going out for dinner on Saturday and having guests over on Sunday, I didn't fancy anything too complicated. We all love soups, and this soup was a big hit.
Knorr flavour pots were very handy, and they turned a simple soup into a veritable feast, especially when served with a spoonful of soured cream and a chunk of sourdough bread.

Disclosure: I received a hamper of products and a gift card for the purposes of creating recipes with Knorr Flavour Pots. All opinions are mine.

If you fancy reading what the other foodie bloggers created with their hampers, may I bring your attention to
delicious Spicy bacon and chickpea soup as cooked by Cheryl from Madhouse Family Reviews;
delectable Grilled Shetland Salmon with ginger and lemongrass as made by Elizabeth from Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary;
Emma aka Mellow Mummy cooked a delightful Thai Chicken Laksa with sweet chilli rolls; while
Jenny from Mummy Mishaps baked an incredible Chocolate and Chili Cake.

What will you cook with Knorr Flavour Pots?

You're invited to #NickJrBlaze and the Monster Machines Twitter party on Friday 5 March!

My son Eddie loves parties. He's a true party animal. Imagine hid delight when I told him we were chosen to host a #NickJrBlaze and the Monster machines party on 5 March. Every morning he wakes up and asks eagerly if it's a Friday yet. Well, just a few days to go.
We have invited a few tearaways friends of Eddie to come to our party. There will be activities to do, a new show to watch at 4pm, prizes to give away.
Nick Jr Blaze and the Monster Machines party starts at 3.45pm on Friday. The party will be hosted by UKMumsTV as well as several bloggers.

We plan to watch a premiere of the new TV show and following that, do some educational STEM activities (science, technology, engineering and maths).
Keep an eye on the Twitter party - the hashtag to follow is #NickJrBlaze
You will get a chance of winning some lovely prizes. So mark the date in your calendar, head over to @ukmumstv and @NickJrUK on Twitter, watch the premiere of Blaze and the Monster Machines at 4p on Nick Jr and tell what you think using #NickJrBlaze.
Throughout the two hour party there will be prizes given away.
As a host, I also have a prize to give away, so head over to @maximka25

Disclosure: we received a big parcel with party bags and activities for the party.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Easy Mexican stir-fry

As a foodie blogger, I enjoy taking part in cooking challenges. It is always great fun. To celebrate winning the first prize in Sauce & Cooking category for this year's Product of the year awards, Knorr Flavour Pots have invited food bloggers to take part in Knorr Flavour Pot - Product of the Year challenge. The whole range features nine different tasty flavours including Mixed Herbs, Three Peppercorn, Curry, Garlic, Mixed Chillies, Garden Herbs, Ginger & Lemongrass, Paprika and Mexican. I have tried quite a few flavours from the range, and was glad to have an opportunity to expand my knowledge of the range.

I received a hamper of food ingredients including the whole range of Knorr Flavour Pots and a gift voucher to buy extras.
With the varied range of flavour pots, I cooked a whole plethora of meals from butternut squash risotto to soup, from pasta bake to Mexican chicken stir fry.

Mexican chicken stir fry

2 chicken breasts, cubed
2tbsp avocado oil
1 sweet red pepper
1 Knorr garlic flavour pot
1 Mexican flavour pot
a hanfdul of sweetcorn, frozen
1/2 lemon, juice and zest
1 avocado, cubed
sea salt
lettuce leaves, to serve in

Cube two chicken breasts and fry them with the avocado oil, together with the sliced sweet pepper and two Knorr Flavour pots - Garlic and Mexican. Add the lemon juice and zest and a handful of frozen sweetcorn. Once the chicken is cooked through, mix it with the cubed raw avocado and serve in lettuce leave boats.

This is a very easy recipe, yet full of flavours and textures. It will make a light lunch or dinner.
Knorr Flavour Pots save you time (no need to chop the garlic or mix the spices for the Mexican flavour). The chicken was succulent and tasty.

I used an avocado oil in this recipe, but you can substitute it for the olive or vegetable oil.

Disclosure: as mentioned above, I received a hamper of products to play with. All opinions are mine.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Photo diary: week 9, 365

22.02: On Sunday I cooked a Moroccan chickpea soup, this was the last soup from the Abel and Cole soup box, colourful and bursting with flavours, full of veggie goodness.

soup for Lenten, vegetarian soup

23.02: After taking Eddie to school in the morning, I popped into the local Waterstones to see if they put up Eddie's winning picture as promised. And indeed, it was on display in the children's section, next to a big fat Moomin and Very Hungry Caterpillar. Proud Mummy moment.

24.02: Our garden is prettier and prettier with every new day. Amidst the white carpet of snowdrops there is a burst of colour from the bright purple crocuses.

25.02: Tried all afternoon to capture my little man playing, but every time I picked my camera, my Eddie-quite-contrary-son ran away, so all I had was an empty room. So, empty room it is.

26.02: Eddie has been wearing his new coat this week, a gift from Nonna, his Italian grandma. I love the retro look of this duffle coat.

27.02: When the sun is out, the shadows create the intricate patterns on the ground.

28.02: a little posie for my birthday, picked from our garden by little hands. Better than any overpriced roses.

TheBoyandMe's 365 Linky

Friday, 27 February 2015

Herb focaccia

"...There was something about the smell of fresh-baked bread that always reminded him of home and his mother's kitchen. She had loved to bake bread. Her love of cooking was legendary, but she said there was something healing about baking bread..." (No distance too far, Lauraine Snelling)

Italian bread

Nothing can compare to an aroma of a baking bread. I don't often bake bread these days, well, I used to bake it regularly when my bread machine was in a good working order, but since someone has "helpfully" binned or recycled a mixing paddle, I have never ordered another one, and the machine is now residing in the attic. Yet it is really not so difficult to make bread from scratch without a bread machine. Baking Mad who've teamed up with Allinson flour and launched a Dough Tree campaign, have asked me if I'd like to attempt one of their great bread recipes.

Of course, I said Yes. I do love a good culinary challenge, To inspire me and put in a bread-making mood, they sent me a lovely hamper including Allinson flour, a loaf tin, a loaf bag and more.
For my challenge I have chosen a recipe for a Herb Focaccia.

Focaccia is an Italian bread, and there are many variations on a classic recipe.
I have followed the recipe instructions as posted on Baking Mad (see the link above).

Soon after I added a sachet of yeast to the mix of strong white flour, sugar, salt, olive oil and warm water, the distinct aroma started to spread through the kitchen. It is such a tasty smell.
I kneaded for 10 minutes, listening to Classic FM on the radio.
It has risen in size beautifully, and was elastic to the touch.

Dough and herbs

Chop the herbs, add a bit more of a good Italian olive oil, bake for half an hour, and voilĂ  you have a fabulous focaccia.

Focaccia uncooked and baked

Tear it into chunks or cut into neat slices. It is very tasty hot, and it's good the next day cold. My little man and I had a slice each, when it was still hot, before dinner.
It was delicious, crusty on the outside and soft inside.

Disclosure: I received a selection of products for the purposes of trying a recipe and blogging about it. All opinions are mine.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Ragged Rose Aprons Giveaway (E: 27 March 2015)

I love my aprons, and have quite an extensive collection, mostly branded aprons which I have won through the years or received as freebies at the food shows. Some are pretty, some less so but they are functional and protect me from the mess. I am a messy cook, with the flour flying like a cloud, sauces spilling and crumbs getting everywhere. Plus there is a big stash of mixing bowls and pans after each baking session, but then I am the one who cleans the mess, so nobody can complain really. If you want to look pretty in the kitchen, Ragged Rose is a home and gift brand of dazzling colours and fetching designs. Think vintage look, stylish, retro floral prints and plains textiles.
This range has been created by Dawn Rose in 2010, who was inspired by her garden summer house and all the vibrant colours of summer flowers and blooms.
If like me, you enjoy wearing aprons while cooking, you have a chance of winning a set of two 50s inspired retro aprons from Ragged Rose - one child's and one adult's aprons.
The winner will be able to choose aprons which they prefer.

Image credit: Ragged Rose
The image is for illustration purposes only, as the winner will have a choice of aprons

Image credit: Ragged Rose
To be in with a chance of winning, please enter a Rafflecopter gadget.
Only the first step is mandatory: all you need is answer the question by leaving a comment (if you login as Anonymous, please leave you Twitter name or Facebook name, so that I could identify you, I do not suggest leaving the email address in the comment)
All the other steps are optional, you don't have to do them all. All it takes to win is just one entry. 
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 they have 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. 
I will pass on the winner's details to Ragged Rose PR who will dispatch the prize.
The giveaway ends on 8 March 2015 (midnight).

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Spring bloom giveaway (c/d 28 March 2015)

Just because it finally feels like a spring day today and because of my birthday this weekend, I wanted to offer a giveaway to my lovely blog readers. I have selected a few items from brands which I personally enjoy. It hasn't been endorsed by any brands.
Let's just say I was in a mood to run a giveaway.
One lucky winner will receive the following selection:
No.7 Bloom Gift box - which contains No.7 Instant Illusions Airbrush away primer; no.7 High shine lip crayon daydreamer or delicate pink; no.7 Lovely lashes mascara black and no.7 Stay perfect eye shadow middle shade from In The Navy trio;
Heston from Waitrose chocolate box (mini-selection of four luscious flavours - fruity mandarin caramel, retro black forest gateau; thyme and rosemary & nutty macadamia praline).
Sweet Pea fragranced tealights from Royal Horticultural Society.

To be in with a chance of winning, please fill in the Rafflecopter gadget.
Only the first step is mandatory: all you need is answer the question by leaving a comment (if you login as Anonymous, please leave you Twitter name or Facebook name, so that I could identify you, I do not suggest leaving the email address in the comment)
All the other steps are optional, you don't have to do them all. All it takes to win is just one entry. 
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 they have 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. 
I will send the prize as signed for. If Royal Mail fails to deliver, I'm afraid I won't be able to find a substitute (No.7 gift set is currently on promotion at Boots). If this happens, I will fill in the Royal Mail form the size of War and Peace, but I wouldn't hold my breath that they would rush to do a refund.
The giveaway ends on 28 March 2015 (midnight).

Good luck!

  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, 23 February 2015

Personalised chocolate bars from Chocolat Chocolat

personalised chocolate bar

Independent chocolatier Chocolat Chocolat was opened in Cambridge in 1999, and though I visited Cambridge that year for the conference Russia before Millennium, to which my husband was invited, I missed the chocolate shop. More's the pity! I would have loved a good browsing and tasting session.
It was voted Cambridge's favourite chocolate shop, and seeing the images online, I can well believe it. The shop is famous for its handmade sheet chocolate, which is produced with the finest Belgian chocolate according to the French traditions of chocolate-making.
Chocolatier Isabelle has learnt her craft in Paris and Belgium, which she often visits, looking for more exciting flavours and ingredients.
As someone who is addicted to chocolate, I rejoiced at the chance of testing and reviewing three personalised chocolate bars from Chocolat Chocolat.

personalised chocolate bars

How does it work? To create your own bar, first you need to choose a chocolate type from 5 options: dark (70%), dark (55%), milk (34%), caramel (34%) or white (28%).
Then you choose toppings. If you are not sure what to pick from a big list of ingredients, you press the button "Show me" and get a few suggested combinations. Or you could create your own ingredients' combination from a big selection of fruit (candied lemon or orange peel, raisins, freeze dried raspberries and more), nuts (flaked or whole almonds, praline, pecans, pistachios etc), spices herbs, flowers (cinnamon, cardamom, cocoa nibs, coffee grains, lavender, fennel etc),  confectionery (chocolate buttons, honeycomb, fudge, meringue etc), decoration (gold and silver flakes).
You can also add some wording if you like.
I was amazed to read that with the whole range of toppings and bases you can create up to 200,000 different combinations. That is very impressive. Cannot complain about the choice.
Placing an order is an easy process.

My first choice was a white chocolate bar with sea salt, chopped pistachio and whole hazelnuts. Over a year ago we bought some Italian chocolate bar from Venchi, with whole hazelnuts, pistachios and almonds, and though usually I am not very keen on white chocolate, it was delicious. My husband prefers white chocolate, and my little man loves it too. So, my choice was inspired by the Italian flavours.
What did we think of it? It looked very pretty and stylish. The chocolate is a solid thick block, covered with nuts. Sea salt adds a savoury touch to the sweet chocolate. Each bar comes in a stylish brown card sleeve.
I would have liked more than four hazelnuts and slightly less sweet chocolate. But overall, I was pleased with my choice of toppings to go with the base.

If you read my blog regularly, you know how much I love Earl Grey tea. It was natural that I would choose Earl Grey as one of the ingredients for the dark chocolate bar (though I confess, I expected it to be a flavour rather than the actual tea leaves). Candied orange peel and lavender flowers were the other two toppings. Both of these ingredients work well with the dark chocolate. And it looked gorgeous too.

A beautiful bar, which I enjoyed, but yet again, I would have liked a less sweet dark chocolate base. I like my dark chocolate almost bitter. All three bars which I have ordered were a tad too sweet for me.
It is a matter of personal taste, of course, but maybe something to add to the initial choice of bars? Something like choose the sweetness level.

My top favourite bar was dark chocolate with rose and violet petals and gold flakes. It looked glorious, like a 19C shawl. Flower petals were candied and added a splash of colour to the dark background.

As my birthday is coming later this month, I asked for a Happy birthday message on the bar.

I love the idea of customised personalised chocolate, where you can choose any toppings you like.

Personalised chocolate bars from Chocolat Chocolat will make beautiful gifts for any occasion - birthday, Mother's day, Easter.

Disclosure: I received three chocolate bars for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are mine.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Photo diary: week 8, 365

February 15: After winning Waterstone's drawing competition, Eddie is very enthusiastic about entering more competitions. I suggested he should do a drawing of Spidey for Sipderman magazine. We do a parallel drawing session. Eddie sits next to me and watches how I draw, and repeats on his own piece of paper, bit by bit, copying. He's good at copying, but otherwise cannot draw free-hand yet.

February 16: I have been busy making a pancake recipe post before Pancake day. This was a kefir pancake with baked apricots, mascarpone and maple syrup, and very tasty it was indeed.

February 17: On Tuesday Eddie had a play date at his friend Nathan's house. We had a lovely lunch together and admired their enormous garden. Eddie enjoyed a ride on Nathan's bike.

February 18: A parcel arrived from Italy with coats for both boys. Eddie of course had to try his duffle coat on. He was in a very giggly mood and I couldn't catch him standing still.

February 19: In the morning I took Sasha to the Guideposts activities at school, he was relaxed and happy to go there. I took a quick snap of my elusive boy. He's almost a teen now, and as tall as me.

February 20: Tasting and testing some chocolate from Chocolat, Chocolat. Of the three customised bars, the dark chocolate one with candied rose petals, violets and gold specks was my favourite, though I would still have preferred a less sweet chocolate. It would have been much better bitter and truly dark.

February 21: A bit of a disaster day. Sasha got very unsettled in the morning and managed to break a window glass in the attic room. Thanks goodness, he didn't hurt himself. Eddie's a poorly boy today, in bed with high temperature, watching his favourite Ninja turtles and toys videos on his ipad. And my husband is travelling to Rome, so I am left on my own to deal with all the disasters.

TheBoyandMe's 365 Linky

Friday, 20 February 2015

Energy monitoring with OWL micro+

Are you dreading this winter heating bills? We live in a 250+ years old house, and while it might be pretty, it gets very cold in winter. Anything helpful to cut down on the bills is welcome.
Last year Zenith Home, home efficiency specialists, launched an online educational hub with easy-to-follow advice on the energy saving techniques, tips and products which help the consumers to understand how to take control of the energy consumption. They also sent me an energy saving kit including an energy monitoring device OWL micro+.

It comes in a sturdy box and consists of two units - Transmitter and Display (plus the batteries).
As soon as I opened the instructions, I sighed. It might be easy for techie people but for me it might as well have been written in a foreign language altogether. I had to read the manual twice at least.

Actually setting it up was not that bad, you insert the batteries, place the units into a pairing mode, set the time and cost and energy displays. So far so good.
Connecting the sensor over the insulated live cable was quite tricky. Our cables coming from the meter are very close to each other, and fitting the sensor over was not so easy. As the meter is situated in a small cupboard in the hall, fitting the sensor further away along the live cable is impossible, it is all covered apart from those bits which are visible in the cupboard.

But it has to be clamped around the live wire so as to "read" the information on usage through the plastic insulation.
Once the fitting's done, it starts working and displays the amount of electricity in use since the time of the setup.

This little gadget is good for raising awareness of your energy consumption, In the first week, I kept checking it to see what "eats" the most electricity and figure out the ways to decrease it.
I discovered that a hand blender, for example, costs about 1p per quick job, boiling a kettle is about 15p, making a toast is about 1p...

Though it helps you understand what consumes the most energy in your house, I have already had a good sense of what the main culprits could be. I knew the washing machine eats lots of energy, but there is not much I can do about it. I already use it on lower-temperature setting, but I cannot use it less often than I do. The same goes for the heating, it is very pricey but unavoidable in our circumstances unless we want to live in a cold mausoleum.

Some devices don't register separately, so the gadget is not 100% responsive or accurate, for example, if I have two or one bulbs on in the room, the reading seems to be exactly the same. It is also tricky sometimes to figure out how much each gadget is costing, if like in my kitchen the kettle is just next to the heater unit, and if both are on, then, the price shows for both gadgets.

Overall, it raises awareness of the energy consumption and gives a pretty good insight into how much power you use on a daily basis.