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
Ingredients:
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.

Helebore

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.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Do you want to build... a cupcake?

Do you want to bake some cupcakes?
It doesn't have to be the cupcakes...

Frozen cupcakes


Eddie and I had a quick baking-singalong session today. I ventured into the 99p shop the other day, looking for some plant supports, and a Frozen cupcake kit has found its way into my shopping basket. We're all big fans of Frozen, despite me being the only girl in the house.



So, what do we get in a box? A small pouch of icing sugar, a bag of cake mix and edible decorations as well as cupcake cases.
I added 1 medium egg, zest of 1 orange, 50ml of milk and 2tbsp of melted butter to the cake mix, and Eddie mixed all the ingredients enthusiastically.


12 minutes in the oven, and the mini cupcakes were ready. We didn't wait for too long before decorating them. They were still warm, when Eddie spooned the icing over them (mixed with the lemon juice) and added the edible image transfers with Frozen characters.


Ta-da, Mummy!



Eddie pronounced them to be delicious. Sasha gobbled a couple but peeled the decorations off (well, he's a teenager now and has a full right to "disapprove" of kiddie stuff). With a few additional ingredients, I think the cupcakes were actually pretty good, for a princely sum of 99p.


Eddie was very proud of his baked goodies, and I tend to agree with him, he did a great job.


Monday, 23 March 2015

Salad with spring greens



Having read the family saga written by Lauraine Snelling, which is set in North Dakota, I enjoyed all the mentions of food and recipes. There were a lot of Norwegian foods, and I do plan to cook a couple of dishes described in the books. But it's the mention of the first spring greens, especially the dandelion leaves, that made me go foraging in the garden.
I did get rid of a good amount of dandelions last year, so it wasn't that easy to find them, but I did locate a couple of newly sprouting dandelion clumps. I picked a small handful, just enough for me to make a salad for one. I knew that my guys would decline my offer, but I really-really fancied a salad with dandelion leaves. I also picked a few fresh garlic leaves and a few primrose flowers.
It's not much of a recipe. I have assembled a plate with well-washed dandelion greens, tomato, cucumber, sliced egg and chopped garlic leaves, and scattered a few primroses over it.
I kept the dressing very simple - just a mix of olive oil, honey and lemon juice.
It was lovely. I am definitely going to pick more dandelion leaves. You need to use only very young leaves, about 5-7cm in length. If the leaves are bigger, you might need to soak them in salty water before eating them, to remove the bitterness.



Adding my simple recipe to Simply Eggcellent linky run by Dom from Belleau Kitchen.



Jordans Lighter Granola

If you enjoy munching through a bowl of granola for breakfast but are a bit worried about calories and fat, have you tried a new Jordans Lighter Granola? Jordans, well-known for their tasty range of muesli, granola and porridge, have recently launched a lighter version of their granolas with 30% less fat. It is available in two delicious flavours: Raspberry & Apple and Strawberry & Blueberry.

Each spoonful boasts a combination of crispy and crunchy baked golden oats with an addition of barley and lush fruit and berries. There is no added salt, it's high in fibre and helps to maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
It is made with 100% natural ingredients, without added nasties.

I am more of a cup-of-tea-and-toast-for-breakfast girl,but my husband regularly eats granola. Kids enjoy snacking on dry granola in the afternoon. Eddie might have a glass of milk, but separately, not pouring over the granola.
My favourite way of eating granola is to make a kind of a sundae dish, with layers of thick set Greek yogurt, fruit compote and granola topping. I'm also known for eating the granola straight from the bag (not very ladylike, I know, but... oh so good).


We have tried Jordans Lighter Granola Raspberry & Apple. Each serving (45g) contains 179kcal.  It is low on salt at 0,01g. But there is still quite a lot of sugar in it - 10g per serving.
The oats & barley clusters are crunchy and sweet, with generous amount of dried apple slices and freeze dried whole and broken raspberries. It is a tasty granola, with a good combination of flavours (sweet  tangy) and textures, though it might benefit from a reduced amount of sugar.


Just the other day I baked a batch of chocolate banana muffins, and added Lighter granola as a topping for some of the muffins for an extra crunch.



Jordans Lighter Raspberry & Apple Granola and Jordans Lighter Strawberry & Blueberry Granola are available from Waitrose from January, Tesco from February and Sainsbury’s from March  (RRP £3.69 for 550g).

For more breakfast ideas and recipe inspiration, visit the website at Jordans Cereals.

Disclosure: I received a sample of Lighter granola for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are mine.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Chocolate banana muffins



Sunday calls for a baking session. I opted to cook a batch of chocolate banana muffins, so that Sasha can take them to school in his lunch box for a few days. Bananas were going overripe in a fruit tray, and nobody fancied eating them. I used Nigella's recipe for chocolate banana muffins as a starting point, and adapted it.

Chocolate banana muffins with granola


Chocolate banana muffins
Ingredients:
2 bananas, ripe
120g caster sugar
zest of 1 orange
3tbsp cocoa
1tsp baking powder with a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice over it
2 eggs, medium
125ml oil (I used macadamia oil from Mokhado)
230g self-raising flour
2tbsp Greek style yogurt
different toppings: Jordans lighter granola, pine nuts, lemon-flavoured sugar

Mash the bananas with a fork, add the sugar, orange zest, cocoa and baking powder and mix well. Beat the eggs in, add the oil and keep mixing. Add the flour and Greek yogurt. The cake batter is quite thick. Spoon it into muffin paper cases inserted in a muffin baking tray. Add different toppings. I wanted to try muffins with a new Jordans lighter granola, but as my guys love pine nuts and sugar crumbs, I did a mixed batch, four of each flavour.
Put the tray in the oven preheated to 180C and bake for 20+ minutes. Check the readiness with a wooden skewer.



I used macadamia oil from Mokhado in this recipe, but you can use mild olive oil instead, or another nutty oil. It gave a hint of nuttiness to the flavour, but was mild enough to work well with the other ingredients. These are lovely muffins, moist, fluffy and not too dense (I recently baked some chocolate muffins, using Delia's recipe, and though my guys have eaten them, I found the texture way too dense). This recipe is a keeper, though I might try adding some spices to it as well, or chocolate chips.


Saturday, 21 March 2015

Photo diary: week 12, 365

I think I have completely lost my mojo, and after this week might take a break with the 365 project. I am lacking any motivation, and as last week Eddie has been poorly most of it and we haven't been out with him, I have been struggling with finding inspiration. So please excuse me, there will be mostly photos of food and drink, as these are the images I take on a daily basis.

15/03: This beautiful orchid greets me each time I am in the kitchen. While I cook or wash the dishes, I listen to the Classic FM on the radio and admire my garden through the window and this exquisite orchid on the window sill, a gift for my past birthday.



16/03: Bloody Mary soup was a twist on a classic cocktail, only cooked and hot, with vodka for a more authentic flavour.

Bloody Mary soup


17/03: Sasha's birthday. Day when my older boy becomes a teenager. He got on the school bus with a big cake to share with his class mates. Eddie had a high temperature on Monday evening and complained of an earache. Here he is, in his mixed PJs and a bathrobe, waiting for Sasha's arrival from school.



18/03: Eddie was feverish and still had the earache, he didn't have any appetite, and to entice him to eat something I made a plate of Nutella French toast (as found on Tin and Thyme blog previously known as Chocolate Log blog). I didn't use the sesame seeds and creme fraiche, but it was delicious. Go and visit the link above for the full recipe, you must try it.

Nutella French toast

19/03: My lovely friend Lynn made this gorgeous card for me, knowing how much I enjoy my cuppa tea. Love the pastel palette and a kind message.



20/03: There was so much talk on the eve of the eclipse, and I was looking forward to a dramatic change in nature. The actual moment was a bit of a disappointment. Our birds didn't stop their noisy business, the anticipated stillness didn't materialise and it wasn't dark enough. I was expecting something like in the movie Farnielli, when the celebrated Italian castrato was singing to the King and his court, soothing the scary darkness away. Nothing of the kind. Yes, it was a tad darker than usual and a bit gloomy.




21/03: my little man is still coughing. The cough syrups are totally useless. Trying to make him drink a primrose tea to soothe his sore throat. Thankfully we have lots of primroses in the garden. I just poured freshly boiled water over the primrose petals and added a teaspoon of honey.

Primrose tea

TheBoyandMe's 365 Linky

Friday, 20 March 2015

Scooby Doo Mystery Mansion playset



Scooby Doo, a playful and cheerful Great Dane with a great personality, and his best pal Shaggy are forever getting into trouble, aren't they? What, with all the aliens and zombies, vampries and ghouls, ghosts and monsters, they are always trying to escape the deadly situations. They also often find themselves in mysterious and rather scary locations. Scooby Doo Mystery Mansion playset from Character Online has lots of spooky features that would keep the big dog on his toes.


My younger son Eddie loves Scooby Doo, and was thrilled to play with the Mystery Mansion. He couldn't wait for me to unpack the box. A word of warning, you will need a screwdriver with a small head to unscrew the packaging. For some reason I always struggle with that, maybe because I'm in a hurry, as there's my son standing next to me, asking when I will be able to give him the toy to play with. Oh pressure, pressure!


The playset is aimed for children 3+. Eddie is nearly 5, and he absolutely loved it. And it's not just my little man. When we had a Twitter party a couple of weeks ago, our guests made a beeline for the Mystery Mansion as soon as they arrived.



Of course, Eddie being Eddie, he mixes his characters and toys, so the Mystery Mansion has been immediately turned into a house for Ninja Turtles. Well, why couldn't Ninja Turtles visit the same house as Scooby Doo?! There's safety in numbers, after all.


The actual playset comes with a figure of Scooby Doo himself. His limbs can be moved. Take your Scooby Doo on an adventure in the scary mansion. And beware of the traps!
Stepping on a loose step at the porch opens the doors bang-open. Walk up the stairs, and the understairs door opens to show a scary clown (I don't like clowns, they make me shudder). The button on the floor opens a trap with green ghoulish hands trying to get you.



And then there's a swinging chandelier and a cannon. The missiles go pretty far, so don't stand in the way.


This playset would make a super gift for any Scooby Doo fan. It is quite slim, so doesn't take much of a storage space, and it certainly is great fun to play with. Just ask my son!


Disclosure: we received a playset for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions and enthusiasm are our own. :)