Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Spinach and Mushroom Pottage (#ReadCookEat)

"A cook hurriedly served bowls of a steaming hot, well-spiced pottage, dishes of cheese and dried fruit, freshly baked bread and two large blackjacks of ale..." (The Book of Fires by Paul Doherty)


I am a big fan of a medieval mystery genre. For me it is a pure escapism, just like my favourite costume dramas on TV. "The Brother Athelstan Mysteries" by Paul Doherty is a brilliant series, intricately-constructed, sympathetically-narrated and authentically detailed. The Book of Fires is the latest instalment, set in the 14th C London. Murder, intrigues, ruthless killers and the Upright Men plotting the Great Revolt.

There are quite a few food descriptions and references. For example, "he had feasted on minced chicken in almond and rosemary sauce, venison steaks broiled in vinegar, red wine, ginger and a little cinnamon, followed by quiche of fish with a green topping. Delicious sweet wafers in a hippocras sauce had finished the meal before Pynchon had climbed the tavern stairs to sample the pleasures of a generously endowed, buxom chambermaid with olive skin and hair as dark as the night"...

The pottage is often mentioned in fiction set in medieval times, and this book's heroes eat it heartily as well.
It was the pottage that I tried to recreate for #ReadCookEat. So, what exactly is a pottage? It is a thick soup or a stew, made with vegetables, grains and sometimes meat. It was simmering for days, and each day new ingredients were added to the pot, when some of it has been consumed. It was a kind of a magic pot dish, where anything and everything could be added. It has been a staple dish for the serfs and peasants. Rich people who could afford expensive spices and meat, had their own version of pottage. I cooked a vegetarian version, neither poor nor rich, a bit in between, using products which were available in the Middle Ages (so, no potato, for example, as it was introduced to the European palate much later).

medieval soup

a handful of dried porcini mushrooms
3tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 big carrot, peeled and chopped
1 celery, peeled and chopped
2 turnips
2tbsp ground almonds
100g fresh spinach leaves
2 spring onions
1tbsp fresh thyme
1tbsp fresh sage
black pepper and a pinch of dried ginger

Break the dried porcini mushrooms into smaller pieces into a medium sized bowl. Pour freshly hot water over them (about a pint). Cover the bowl with a lid, and leave to infuse for half an hour.
Fry the finely chopped onion, celery and carrot with the vegetable oil until softened. Add the mushrooms and give it another couple of minutes. Put all the ingredients in a pan, add the chopped turnips and ground almonds, as well as a pinch of ginger and pour enough water to cover all the veggies. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for half an hour. Add the spinach and herbs in the last 5 minutes of cooking. Season with the black pepper. You might add more water while the pottage is cooking. Don't blitz it.
If you fancy, fry cubed bacon, when frying the vegetables.
The soup should be quite thick in consistency.
Serve hot with a dollop of soured cream or creme fraiche.

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 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+

Out & About Round-up for March

Alison from Dragons and Fairy Dust is a true poet when it comes to describing the nature and places of interest in her parts of the world. She makes me want to visit all the places she is so eloquent about on her blog, like the Yorkshire coast.

Whitby Abbey

I don't often go out without my kids, and those rare occasions when I do, are special. It's nice to have an adult conversation without being interrupted every few seconds. For my birthday at the end of February my husband took me out to The Wild Boar restaurant in Witney.

Gelato at The Wild Boar

It's lovely to see our linky's regulars visiting new places of interest and sampling new foods.
Samantha from North East Family Fun took her kids to The Bowes Museum. They admired the vintage costumes and old paintings, and had a good giggle at the modern piece of art. But was has set them off laughing? Well, you'll just have to visit the blog to find it out.

The Bowes Museum
Vicky aka Honest Mum has been out & about quite a bit in the past month. She was lucky to admire the most amazing scenery of Ravenscar, with panoramic sea views.

While the sun was out (a rarity last month indeed), Vicky the Honest Mum also took her family to Yorkshire Sculpture Park to admire the nature, find new exhibits and have a picnic. Sounds perfect.

I told you Vicky has been out and about a lot. She and her family spent a half-break term by the Yorkshire coast. They enjoyed the scenic views and delicious ice cream, but more importantly, spent time together with the family who visited from abroad. Those times together with the family living abroad are so precious, as I know only too well.

Robin Hood's bay

Fiona known as North East Nerd is another regular of our Out & About Linky. She was lucky to spend a weekend in Kielder. She loved the lake and admired the views. This brave girl whizzed on the zip wire over the freezing stream.

When her daughter Juliette was visiting the three-master Duchesse Anne in Dunkirk's maritime museum with her class, she convinced Cheryl from Madhouse Family Reviews to come along as a parent supervisor. Kids dressed up in vintage-style naval uniforms, and learnt about the knots. Mum had a great time as well.

Eileen from ET Speaks from Home has visited Warwick Castle before but her family always discover new things to learn and things to do every time they visit it, so they go there again and again. There is a thrilling experience of the dungeons for the adults and playing in the Mike the Knight tents for younger audience. And the sandwiches and pastries look mighty enticing as well after all the hard work.

When I started to read a blog post by Erica from 92three30, I confess I had to do a double-take, as she visited Warwick Castle as well, and it looks like she admired exactly the same display of pastries and sandwiches. She was fascinated by the audio-visual experience in the Time Tower at Warwick, and it sounds like something I would love to do as well.

Zoe from Splodz Blogz is training for the Lyke Wake Walk in June, and has been walking around Lincoln, exploring the beautiful countryside. She is one lucky girl to have all these gorgeous places at her doorstep.

I haven't had a chance to do any special outdoorsy activities in March, though in the last couple of days we visited the Blenheim Park and Burford Garden Centre, so expect to see lots of photos very soon. I did enjoy some me-time in the local cafes though, and recently my friend Jen and I sampled hot-cross buns in Costa. I know it sounds very tame in comparison to all the great outdoors, but then a nice cup of coffee and a pastry is pretty good too.

Out and About Linky

The out and about linky is for any places you have visited, restaurants you have eaten at or holidays you have been on, both with or without kids. Alison from Dragons and Fairy Dust and I host it. The linky runs until the end of the month. 

Rules of the linky

1. You can add up to three posts per month to the linky below. Please make sure they are no older than three months old and feature somewhere you have visited.
2. Tweet your link using #outandabout, if you include @maximka25 and/or @ali991 we will retweet for you.
3. Do pop along and comment on a couple of other posts in the link up and share the love.
4. We would love it if you could add the #outandabout badge to your post so that other bloggers can find us.
Chez Maximka

Monday, 30 March 2015

Shaun the Sheep Easter egg with sheep ears

Easter egg, chocolate egg

Easter eggs have been on display in most supermarkets from before Valentine's day. At that time we didn't pay much attention to them, though I did have a quick look at what varieties were available. Now that Easter is almost around the corner, we started the serious business of Easter egg shopping. Choices, choices... Which variety, brand or style is your favourite? Which ones to choose? Eddie often accompanies me on a grocery shopping trip, and whenever we go through the Easter goodies' aisle, he does a beeline to a Shaun the sheep milk chocolate Easter egg with sheep ears. And who can resist it indeed?

Shaun the sheep Easter egg is produced by Divine, a well-known brand, with excellent Fairtrade credentials. It is the only Fairtrade chocolate company which is 45% owned by cocoa farmers. This Easter they created the cutest Shaun the sheep Easter egg.

The packaging is uber-cute, with recognisable googly eyes and velvety soft dark ears on a headband.
Even I was tempted to try it on (no images of me wearing the sheep's ears are available...).

Milk chocolate, used to create the egg, is very smooth and silky, melting in the mouth. It is quite sweet, probably would appeal more to those who have a sweet tooth like my husband and kids (I prefer the dark chocolate, like Divine dark chocolate with raspberries which is truly divine, or dark ginger and orange - another of my top favourites).

My guys are very fond of the milk chocolate, and the egg has disappeared super fast, in fact so fast that I realised I didn't take a picture of it unwrapped, and then it was gone.

This lovely chocolate Easter egg would make a great gift for any Shaun the sheep fan.
Which chocolate eggs did you buy?

Disclosure: we received Shaun the sheep Easter egg for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are Eddie's and mine.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Spring greens soup

Spring greens soup
I love it when the garden reawakens in spring and starts giving us gifts of fresh greens and pretty flowers. I try to weed the nettles from the garden, as they tend to take over, but there is a big patch behind the greenhouse where I keep my nettles contained, mostly for the butterflies and bees.
Last week's soup box had ingredients and a recipe for a French soup with chervil and mustard. I added to it the freshly picked garlic green leaves, thyme and nettle tips (tops? I can never remember what's the right word, but you know what I mean; you only need the very top few young leaves).

Spring greens soup
1 medium carrot
2 celery sticks
2tbsp olive oil
green onions (I used one with a big sized bulb)
2 cloves of garlic
a small bag of salad potatoes
1tbsp Dijon mustard
2tbsp chervil, chopped
a handful of fresh nettle tops, chopped
several leaves of fresh garlic greens
1tsp fresh thyme

Peel the carrot and chop finely. Fry in the olive oil with the finely chopped celery and the white part of spring onions. Add the garlic and keep frying until the vegetables have softened. Slice the salad potatoes into discs (just wash them and keep the skin on). Fry for a couple of minutes, stirring, with the added Dijon mustard.
Put all the vegetables in the pan, cover with hot water and bring to boil. Cook for 5 minutes, then lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the nettle tops, fresh chopped garlic leaves and green part of spring onions, thyme and chervil in the last 5 minutes of cooking.
Serve with a nice chunk of bread. It is also lovely with a tablespoon of Greek style yogurt stirred in it.

It's a delightful light spring soup, bursting with flavours. If you haven't eaten nettles, now is a good time to do some foraging, while the nettles are still young and not stringy. They are very healthy, a good source of iron, but also very tasty too.

Eiffel Tower 3D Puzzle (Ravensburger)

Ravensburger puzzle
Eiffel Tower 3D puzzle
When the last piece of puzzle is slotted into its place, the feeling of satisfaction is quite overwhelming. 3D Ravensburger puzzles are well known for being challenging and exciting. Our house already has a few of the 3d iconic buildings' puzzles decorating the book shelves (we have the Collosseum, Big Ben and Taj Mahal), and I was mighty pleased when the Eiffel Tower 3d puzzle arrived for reviewing.
The puzzle comes in a sturdy box, complete with the puzzle pieces and instructions.

The Eiffel Tower puzzle follows the 3d jigsaw concept, typical of Ravensburger, and uses the latest puzzle technology. There are 216 high quality plastic pieces, which you slot together, as you build your landmark.
Each piece has a number printed in the back, as well as a little arrow showing the direction where the next piece should be attached. It's all pretty straightforward, you sort the pieces into tens to make the assembly go faster. The first two levels were easy to assemble.

But I did struggle a bit with the third narrow part of the tower, as pieces kept falling out.
Once assembled, the tower measures 44cm. You place it on a sturdy cardboard platform.
Now our Eiffel Tower is standing on the book shelf next to Big Ben. It's a beautiful 3d puzzle, and will make a great gift for any puzzle lover.

There is also another version of the puzzle available, Ravensburger Eiffel Tower by Night (<--- follow the link & read all about it in a review written by Cheryl from Madhouse Family Reviews). It looks absolutely amazing, with different light settings.
But our day version looks spectacular as well, with great attention to detail.
I have never been brave enough to climb the tower, as I suffer from vertigo badly. Last time I climbed St Peter's in Vatican, I swore to myself that I would never subject myself to this horror again. I prefer to admire the Eiffel Tower from afar, and having a small, personal version of it at the safety of my home is even better.
Have you visited the Eiffel Tower?

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

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Photo diary: Week 13, 365

22.03 For a whole week Britmums were running an Instagram competition, inviting bloggers to post images of dishes made with eggs. I posted an image every day, but it's this photo of a spring greens salad with eggs, dandelion leaves, primroses and fresh garlic leaves which won me the prize of the day.

23.03: I love the plum blossom, it is so fragrant and beautiful. On the way to Eddie's school we pass by a few enormous old plum trees. In summer they are covered with small yellow plums, incredibly sweet. I always fancy raiding them for a good jam-making session, as all of the harvest is totally wasted, ending up squashed by the feet of the passerbys. They are not in private gardens, but in an alley on the way to the shopping centre. And they are also pretty high to pick them easily.

24.03: Having popped into the local medical centre for the prescription, I browsed the shelves with the second-hand books. I picked a copy of Ready Steady Cook book, I enjoyed this show a lot, when I was newly married, and worked part-time, usually coming home just in time for the daily show. The dedication in the book is so flowery and effusive "Me and you always together", yet it ended up discarded in the pile of unwanted books. It made me rather sad to think what could have happened to that young couple. I didn't buy the book.

25.03 Eddie and I baked some cupcakes after school, using a boxed Frozen-themed cupcake mix. Eddie was mighty proud of his success.

26.03: Walking home from school, I saw two magpies and told myself "One for sorrow, two for joy". But as soon as I took out a camera from my bag, the second magpie managed to hide among the branches, and I was left with just one. Now that's annoying.

27.03: We already started on Easter eggs, as it's never too early, isn't it?! Eddie loved his Shaun the sheep chocolate egg from Divine.

28.03: Not the best start of the holiday break. A miserable grey day, it's been drizzling non-stop. Our garden is benefiting though from all the extra watering.


TheBoyandMe's 365 Linky

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Easter treats at Costa

This morning I invited my friend Jen to have a cup of coffee and sample some hot cross buns in Costa. We dropped our boys at school and met for a cuppa.

We are lucky to have two Costa coffee shops in town. When Sasha was little, we used to frequent a Costa by Waitrose, and he enjoyed a croissant with jam or Linzer biscuit there. These days my husband takes our boys to a new Costa cafe, and they treat themselves to a bag of mini-muffins or croissants.
Sasha enjoys sitting just behind the coffee-making machines on bar stools, and the friendly staff greet us with  smiles. They don't mind Sasha's humming or stimming. And as parents of a child with autism, we appreciate places where we don't have to explain or apologize, it does make a lot of difference. And while I'm on the topic of special-needs-friendly cafes in town, Huffkins and Sainsbury's cafe deserve a mention as well.
I often have a quick cup of latte there, and it is the best cup of latte in town (Costa and the pub Fleece share the 1st place in Witney's latte-o-meter). So, I easily believe that Costa has been awarded "Best Branded Coffee Shop chain in the UK" for five years running. They consistently serve a good quality coffee, and whenever we travel, we usually stop by in Costa for a cup of coffee and snacks.

This morning we sampled some Easter teacakes from Costa's new Easter menu. Often teacakes have a dry, cotton-woolly texture. Costa's teacakes were soft, sweet and jam-packed with juicy sultanas and Chilean flame raisins. Toasted and buttered, they were a lovely snack with our coffee.

Both Jen and I agreed, that the fruit content was very high and the texture was nice. We also agreed that these were child-friendly mild-flavoured teacakes, i.e.not too spicy. I would have liked a spicier flavour, but this is a matter of personal taste. All in all, it was a lovely treat (albeit on a humongous side; I'm glad I skipped my breakfast, as it was a very big teacake).

The new Easter menu includes a Chocolate Cornflake Crunch, which we haven't tried, but I can imagine it would appeal to my guys.

And if you don't fancy traditional Easter treats, how about a new addition to the range of pastries like a pecan and maple muffin, malty chocolatey crunch and mini lemon and raspberry cake?
I'm sure in time we'll try them all.
What will you choose with your cup of coffee?

Did you know that Costa was founded in London by Italian brothers Sergio and Bruno Costa in 1971? No wonder, Costa knows how make a good cup of coffee, as they introduced an Italian coffee-making culture in this country.

Disclaimer: I received a £5 gift card to sample a new Easter range at Costa. All opinions are ours.