Monday, 25 July 2016

Birthday boy

Tell me, how could it possibly be that my baby is turning six today?!
You often see threads on parenting forums discussing whether it is sensible to have babies after you're 40, as if once you reach that magic number, you should be more concerned about your pension and possible grandchildren. Such gibberish.
In fact, having our second child when I was 42 was one of the best decisions I have ever taken in my life. I love both of my boys, they are my Universe, my alpha and omega.
Eddie is my second and last baby. He often talks about a baby brother, he loves babies, alas, he'll never be a big brother.
I remember that late evening when he was born very clearly - to the melody of "We can rule the world" (not my choice of a song, the nurses put the music on).
He was bonny and quite heavy, over 10 pounds, with a great mop of dark hair. This picture was taken the next morning, when we were still recovering in the hospital.

When I was one,
I had just begun.

When I was two,
I was nearly new.

When I was three,
I was hardly me.

When I was four,
I was not much more.

When I was five,
I was just alive.

But now I'm six, I'm as clever as clever,
So I think I'll be six now for ever and ever.

I've always loved this poem by A. A. Milne, though Eddie's reasoning is that he's very much looking forward to his 7th birthday party. Yep, we have already started planning the next year's party. 

Happy birthday, my darling boy! Here's to next 100 birthdays! 

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Swedish-style potato salad

BB side dish

I love potatoes in all guises and disguises, and will happily eat them every day, given a chance. A potato salad is a must for any BBQ, it's a perfect side dish for grilled meat, fish, sweet peppers or mushrooms. There are many versions of potato salad - with mayo, mustard dressing, vinaigrette or oil. Eastern and Northern European recipes often ask for a soured cream as one of the ingredients. In Italy they might add a good glug of extra virgin olive oil and add a handful of capers - that's the way my mother-in-law prepares a potato side dish.

BBQ side dish

Swedish-style potato salad
3 medium sized potatoes
4tbsp soured cream
1tbsp pickle brine
2tbsp chopped sweet pickled gherkins, + more for decoration
a handful of fresh dill, chopped

Peel and cut potatoes into big chunks, cook in salted boiling water until tender. Drain and add the soured cream and pickle brine, while potatoes are still warm. Chop the dill and gherkins and mix with the salad. Add more gherkins to decorate the salad.

This is my kind of food - potatoes and pickles, and who cares about the grill?! For me that's already a super meal.

BBQ side dish

In this recipe I have used Swedish sweet pickled Felix gherkins from the latest Degustabox. Unlike many British supermarket varieties of pickles which taste of nothing but vinegar, these gherkins are flavourful and tasty, with a right balance of sweet and salty. They are cooked using a traditional recipe with vinegar, sugar and spices. They are crunchy and crisp, and lovely in sandwiches.

BBQ side dish

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Photo Diary: Week 29, 366

We're finally enjoying the summer holidays: bye-bye, school, we won't miss you. Actually, that's not entirely true. Eddie's birthday is on Monday, and he is upset that he doesn't get a chance to sit on a birthday cushion - which is a school tradition for kids celebrating their birthdays. But I'm glad, that I don't need to worry about all the school routine for six weeks.
I skipped last week's photo diary installment, as to be honest, I'm totally lacking in motivation.

Last Sunday the Moon was clear in the still bright blue sky.

On Monday I prepared some bruschetta with grilled courgettes, sweet pepper and parmesan. It was a light meal, perfect for a hot day.

Our garden is my haven, I often pop outside from the noisy indoors to have a moment of peace and quiet and admire the nature, like this bee, whom I caught mid-flight, carrying pollen.

Wednesday was the last day of school. It was also a day of foodie adventures for Eddie and me, as we took a bus to Oxford and visited a Thai restaurant Thaikhun to sample a new children's menu including among other foods some creepy crawlies - read all about it in my post Adventures at Thaikhun, Oxford.

We received a new playset for reviewing - The Grossery Gang Yucky Mart, which so far has been a big success with Eddie. Like most boys, he revels in all things yucky and gross, so this set appeals to his sense of humour.

Yesterday my funny child said that he was missing school. He watched Horrid Henry on Netflix with a box on his head, saying it was his hat.

Today we did a bit of grocery shopping and popped into The Entertainer to look at the new Grossery Gang range. I suspect we'll be now expanding our "collection".

Friday, 22 July 2016

Adventures at Thaikhun, Oxford

We often get invitations to visit and review cafes and restaurants, but the majority of these events happen in London. I always politely decline the invitations as travelling to London and back home would involve a whole day. There are too many factors to take into consideration - like travel costs, organising a childminder for our older son who wouldn't be interested in eating out etc etc.
A few days ago I received an email, asking if we'd like to visit Thaikhun in Oxford and sample their newly launched menu for children.
Wednesday the 19th was the day when Thai street food restaurant Thaikhun has hosted its official kids menu launch party.

Eddie is a social animal who loves meeting new people, and he was very excited to go to Oxford with me. We caught a bus to Oxford, hoping to be in time for the start of the event. The bus was crawling sooo slowly, and it was unbearably hot inside. By the time we arrived at Thaikhun we were flustered, red and sweating, not the most elegant sight.

Friendly staff accompanied us to our reserved table. Eddie was most excited to find lots of balloons floating above the chairs. Kids and balloons. Such simple things keep them entertained for ages. Eddie played with the balloons and was thrilled to find out we could take them home.
This was our first visit to Thaikhun, and I was curious to see the interior. It is a treasure trove of objects and artefacts which gives an authentic feel to the dining experience.

The ceiling is decorated with all kinds of exotic lanterns and bells.

Eddie was happy to chat to two young lads sitting at the table next to ours. They all seemed to be enjoying the atmosphere. Eddie even told me enthusiastically "This is the best restaurant ever".

The team at Thaikhun has been working with a team of children who did the taste testing of the new menu.

As you can see from the menu, you could choose one option from each column: jasmine rice or plain noodles, grilled chicken or pork or mixed vegetables and no nuts satay sauce or sweet BBQ sauce or slightly spicy green curry.
Each kids' meal comes with carrot and cucumber sticks to start. We also had a big bowl of crackers and a small dipping bowl of sweet chilli sauce, which was mildly spicy.

And the most adventurous bit - free creepy crawlies are served with every meal! Not for faint-hearted the sight of these dried Buffalo worms. I thought they looked revolting unappetising. These crunchy critters are freeze-dried and are packed with protein.

Thaikhun Oxford

Oh my, worms for lunch?!
I could have never imagined that my very fussy eater will be brave enough to sample the creepy crawlies. But having seen the other lads eating them, he decided he was sport enough to give it a go. My brave son has tried the first worm very cautiously, then grinned and said he liked it. Soon enough, he was happily munching on a few more.

Eddie loves rice, so he decided to try rice with vegetables and sweet BBQ sauce. He enjoyed the sauce, ate all the carrots but wasn't keen on broccoli.

My suggestion for the vegetable option for kids is to expand the choice of vegetables. Serving just carrots and broccoli seems like an incomplete meal. How about adding some green beans, courgettes, sweet peppers and other veg? It would be more colourful and appetising. It did look like a side dish rather than a main course.

The sweet BBQ sauce was flavourful and got top marks from Eddie. He also liked the jasmine rice.

I was also offered to choose a starter and a main for myself.
For the starter I fancied a dish of dumplings or Ka Nom Jeeb. The menu says "an age old Chinese import, dumplings have become a real street food favourite with us in Thailand". I opted for steamed vegetables dumplings, but you can also choose pork and prawn-filled dumplings. It was a lovely light starter.

Thaikhun Oxford

I have also ordered a Geang Kiew Wan or Thai green curry, cooked with chicken, courgettes. green beans and fresh Thai basil. It was served with a fragrant sticky jasmine rice. The curry was delicious though a tad on the hot side (there were generous slices of fresh red chilli in the sauce). This classic dish was aromatic and full of flavours.

curry, Thaikhun Oxford

Thaikhun Oxford

When we were leaving, Eddie got a Thaikhun goodie bag with a portion of creepy crawlies. He is very tempted to take them to his birthday party on Sunday and treat his guests.
What do you think, should we put some worms in the party bags?!

Disclosure: Eddie and I were invited to have a free meal at Thaikhun to sample a new menu for children. All opinions are ours.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Chicken Satay with black treacle

BBQ dishes, summer recipes

I know I've been moaning about the rainy summer, but this heatwave is quite unbearable too, why can't we have something in between: not too wet but not too hot?! The BBQs are out, judging by the aromas of the burnt meat wafting from the neighbours' gardens.
It certainly is pleasant to have dinner outside, sitting in the garden and enjoying the birdsong. We are so lucky to have a big long garden, and the birds feel right at home there (even if they're not welcome to demolish our red currants and juneberries).
In this hot weather I'm not too keen to stay longer than necessary by the stove. Something quick and easy is the way to go.

summer meals

Recently Lyle's has created a series of summer recipes including the recipe for succulent chicken satay skewers.
The addition of the black treacle to the classic peanut butter-based sauce gives it a depth of flavour.

Succulent Chicken Satay (recipe courtesy of Lyle's)
for the chicken satay -
2tbsp Lyle's Black treacle
100g crunchy peanut butter
4tbsp sweet chilli sauce
1tsbp light soy sauce
1tbsp lemon juice
500g skinless chicken breasts, cut into chunks

To make the satay sauce put the Lyle's black treacle into a large mixing bowl with the peanut butter, chilli sauce, soy sauce and lemon juice. Spoon half this mixture into a small serving bowl, stir in 2tbsp of just-boiled water, then cover and set aside to serve with the meal.
Add the chunks of chicken to the rest of the satay sauce in the bowl. Mix well, then cover and refrigerate for 2-3 hours (or overnight).
When ready to cook, preheat the BBQ or grill. Thread the chicken onto soaked wooden kebab sticks or skewers. Barbecue or grill, turning often, for 8-10 minutes, or until the chicken is done (Test with a sharp knife - there should be no trace of pink juices).
Serve hot with a salad of your choice and extra satay sauce on the side.

summer lunch

Disclosure: I received a couple of tins of treacle, some BBQ utensils and a supermarket gift card to buy the ingredients and recreate the recipe for testing. All opinions are mine.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Bruschetta with grilled pepper, courgette and parmesan

summer lunch

The first month of the British summer was a bit of a downer with its incessant rain and grey skies. Now it seems the weather is trying to catch up on all the missed sunshine but today we are suffering from enjoying a heatwave. Slap on your sunscreen, you'll definitely need it. After a walk in town I came home, feeling that I am melting, just melting. With this weather who wants a heavy lunch?
Bruschetta with grilled vegetables sounds like a sensible option. Very tasty too.
Bruschetta is a type of antipasti, popular in Italy. It is made with grilled bread, which has been rubbed with garlic and olive bread and topped with grilled tomatoes or other vegetables.

Recently Lyle's has created a series of summer recipes including the recipe for char-cooked courgette and pepper bruschetta.
The addition of the black treacle to the glaze for bread creates an inspired twist on the classic recipe. The sweetness of the treacle works well with the saltiness of parmesan and earthy flavours of courgette and pepper.
In fact, it was so delicious, that I'm going to make it again very soon.

summer lunch, dinner starter

Char-cooked Courgette and Pepper Bruschetta (recipe courtesy of Lyle's)
1tbsp Lyle's Black Treacle
3tbsp olive oil
2tbsp lemon juice
1 garlic clove, crushed
4 thick slices of sourdough or rustic-style bread
2 large courgettes, sliced diagonally
200g roasted peppers (from a jar, drained) or 1 grilled sweet pepper
few shaves of Parmesan cheese
freshly ground black pepper
basil or parsley sprigs, to garnish (optional)

Preheat a char-grill pan or the grill
Mix together the Lyle's Black Treacle, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic. Lightly brush the slices of bread with this mixture, then char-grill or grill the bread on both sides.
Brush the courgette slices with the glaze and char-grill or grill them until tender (about 1 minute per side). Arrange them on the slices of bread with torn-up strips of roasted pepper.
Finish off with shaves of Parmesan cheese, a little black pepper and some basil leaves or parsley sprigs. Drizzle with the remaining glaze, then serve.

Cook's tip: Char-grill or grill 4 small bunches of cherry tomatoes on the vine and serve them on top of the bruschetta, if you like.

I have sliced a sweet pepper and grilled it with a bit of olive oil and sea salt to use in this recipe, but buying a jar of already roasted peppers will save you time.

Disclosure: I received a couple of tins of treacle, some BBQ utensils and a supermarket gift card to buy the ingredients and recreate the recipe for testing. All opinions are mine.

summer lunch, dinner starter, Italian antipasti

Monday, 18 July 2016

Vintage Recipe Cookbooks (Historic Newspapers)

The world's largest Original Newspaper archive, Historic-Newspapers, has launched a new range of Vintage Recipe Cookbooks. Take a trip down memory lane with this collection of books from different decades of the XXc.
I have received two books from the series - Recipes & cookery ideas from 1930s and 1950s newspapers.

These are not simple cook books - there is no index or list of ingredients to be found. The recipes represent only part of each edition. The content of the books is reprinted from the vintage newspapers, just as it was first published. There is a lot of ads and agony aunt-type of columns.
These books give a fascinating insight into each decade they cover. Some of the content is so non-PC, but historically accurate of course. Adverts, health and beauty advice, recipe tips and agony aunt's columns are clearly targeted at housewives.

Available in both paperback and hardback versions which could be personalised with a recipient's name and a message. You could also have a recipient's name embossed in gold on the front cover of the hardback design.
The whole range is available on Historic Newspapers site, retailing from £12.99.

Recipes & Cookery Ideas from 1930s newspapers showcases an instantly recognisable historic period. The recipes reflect the thrifty ways of the 30s, with the aftermath of The Wall Street Crash of 1929 and unemployment.
The recipes are rather frugal and economical, but quite creative: potato puddings, stuffed tomatoes, fruit flan, madeira cake, scotch shortbread, tomato jam, flapjacks, marrow chutney, welsh pikelets, welsh rarebit and many more.

Foraging is encouraged - for example, make a salad with fresh tender young dandelion leaves or brew a dandelion beer. Or go blackberry-picking for a wide selection of jams and jellies.
Canned foods are not to be frowned upon - "How many housewives realise the number of ways in which it is possible to serve corned beef, for instance?"
"Bacon is so exceptionally cheap just now that it is used for all kinds of tasty supper dishes".
"Four housewives tell our Cookery Expert how they use up Stale Bread. Have you tried: Bread Omelet? Toasted three deckers? Crisped breadcrumbs for breakfast? Chocolate bread pudding?"`
"Faddy people" are reprimanded for looking down upon offal. Though I confess the idea of the kidney, breadcrumbs and herbs casserole didn't appeal to me either.
I love entering competitions, and enjoyed reading a small feature about the so called economy competition, where you had to send 3 economy tips for the home. The first prize winner received £2.
Another competition to name a race horse offers a much more tempting prize of £200.

The frugal cooking theme is present in Recipes & Cookery Ideas from 1950s newspapers as well. Rationing ended in 1954, so this decade still felt the influences of the war.
You learn how to cook a tripe and potato hot pot and how to make a waistcoat out of an old mattress.

This was the decade when the Daily Mirror has created a cartoon character Patsy who showed the housewives how to cook.

As the decade progressed, more indulgent ingredients and more exotic recipes started to appear on the pages of the newspapers - for example, ravioli with spinach filling, curried potatoes, Roman pie, Normandy soup, sardines Provencale, Milanese soup, risotto and even pizza.
There are some absolutely wonderful snippets of "posh" life too, like the feature on Pond's as promoted by the Lady Moorea Hastings "whose family dates back to the times of William the Conqueror". "Famous for the beauty of her dark eyes and the fairness of her skin, Lady Moorea relies on a simple, inexpensive beauty care that is available to everyone". Pond's gets an endorsement by the "outstanding beauty" Viscountess Erleigh as well as by Elizabeth, Lady Rendlesham with a "breathtaking quality in the clear radiance of her complexion" and other upper class beauties.
Looks like the aristocrats were endorsing the products even in those times.

According to a recent thread on one of the parenting forums, meat with fruit is a bit of a Marmite problem, some love the combination of flavours, some clearly detest it (I was surprised at how many voiced their dislike).
This is obviously not a new discussion, as the feature from 1959 shows: "What, meat with fruit? Not as silly as it sounds", writes Ambrose Heath on his cookery page. He recommends cooking lamb cutlets with apricots. The fruit, tinned or dried, can be served hot with the meat.
I'm not the biggest fan of tinned fruit, but for the purposes of experimenting decided to have a go, and serve tinned apricots with grilled lamb cutlets.

And while it was a perfectly edible combination, I think fresh grilled apricots would have been much better.

Recipes & Cookery Ideas From... will make a lovely gift to any history buff or foodie.
Which decade would you choose to explore?

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