Monday, 24 April 2017

Eldrador Dragon Poacher from Schleich

miniature dragons, collectible dragons

Dragons and fantasy kingdoms have millions of fans. You don't have to be a child to appreciate the art of Schleich minifigures. The Eldrador range from Schleich is a marvellous imaginary kingdom populated with dragons and knights.
While the farm animals and dinosaurs might fascinate younger children, dragons would appeal to older children and grown-ups to. Stage a battle of dragons, or create a fantasy kingdom for your dragon and get immersed in an imaginative play.
The Eldrador range has been recently expanded to include several new dragons - Dragon Ice Hunter, Dragon Night Hunter and Dragon Poacher (priced £14.99 each).

dragon minifigures, collectible dragons

Dragon Poacher is a fierce, powerful warrior, with razor-sharp claws. He breathes fire at his enemies.
"Angry and extremely aggressive, the dragon poacher swoops down at every foe. It is incredibly strong, with razor-sharp teeth and claws and fearsome dragonfire".

dragon toys, collectible dragons

The new Eldrador dragons feature moveable wings which can go up and down.

dragon minifigures

If you visit Schleich website you will discover a fun fact about the dragon poacher - apparently it has one weak spot, which is hidden beneath its crest.
Dragon's dimensions are 9.6x8.1x5.7 inch.
It is suitable for children aged 5-8 (and most likely for any Game of Thrones fans aged up to 100).

Schleich minifigures are always hand-painted with great precision and attention to detail. The modelling quality is outstanding.

collectible dragons, dragon toys

Its visage is savage and destructive. Just look at those sharp teeth, spikey prickles and devilish horns. Those eyes seem to follow you. He's a merciless hunter, and he's after you.

collectible dragons, dragon toys

For a full Eldrador range and new super ferocious fire-breathing dragons visit Schleich.
Image credits: Schleich
Image credits: Schleich

Disclosure: We received a toy for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are our own.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Curd cheese cake with buttercream frosting and jam

easy bakes, easy cakes

It's a contradiction - you wait and wait for holidays, but when they come, you find them as stressful as school days. This doesn't mean that I'm looking forward to back to school, early mornings and dash to the school.
In the last few days my husband was away on a conference or giving talks, whatever, I have lost track of his academic shenanigans. That meant, I had to cope with my guys on my own.
On Tuesday, our friend Jen took my boys and me by car to the garden centre. Both boys love going there and seemed very happy and relaxed.
I don't dare to venture out of the house with the boys on my own, as Sash is too quick for me now. We joke that he could easily win any sprint race. And so we stayed at home yesterday and today, which made both guys grumpy with me.
When I'm feeling stressed, I bake. I rummaged in the fridge and kitchen shelves, and found a container of curd cheese as well as the remains of the damson jam, which I bought for using in the Easter lamb recipe.

I have baked a curd cheese cake on many occasions, typically as a plain bundt cake, with just a dusting of icing sugar. This time I baked it in a standard spring cake tin, and added buttercream frosting and jam inside.

easy bakes, easy cakes

Curd cheese cake
zest of  1 orange, grated
3 eggs
200g caster sugar
200g curd cheese
1tsp baking powder
300g self-raising flour
100g butter, melted
1tsp vanilla bean paste
For buttercream frosting:
100g softened butter + icing sugar, enough to make a sweet frosting
jam of your choice (I used damson jam)

Grate the zest of 1 orange in a deep mixing bowl.
Beat in the eggs with the caster sugar, add curd cheese, baking powder, flour, vanilla bean paste and melted butter and mix well.
The cake batter is quite thick. Spoon it carefully in a well oiled cake tin. Put the cake tin in an oven preheated to 180C for 40+ minutes (depending on the size of the cake tin). Check with a wooden toothpick if it's ready. You might need to lower the temperature and bake it for another 10 minutes, until the skewer comes clean.
Once cooled, slice in half. Spread one half with buttercream frosting, and jam on the other half. Sandwich two halves together.
Sprinkle some icing sugar on the top.
Serve with tea or coffee. It will keep well for a couple of days, wrapped in foil.

easy bakes, easy cakes

Since I used the remains of the jam in this recipe, I'm adding this post to #KitchenClearout linky hosted by Cheryl from Madhouse Family Reviews.

A day at the beach 500pc jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger

best jigsaw puzzles, Ravensburger puzzles

We all love the seaside, and can't think of any better outdoors activity than running on the beach and splashing in the waves. Alas, we live pretty far from any beach and usually stay by the sea once a year, when we go to Cornwall. Though last year we also spent a couple of days in Brighton, and remember that short break with fondness.
We can't wait when we can go back to our favourite beach in Cornwall in summer.
A Day At The Beach 500 piece puzzle is a bright and colourful puzzle, which makes us think of long summer days by the sea.

best jigsaw puzzles

I'm not sure if this is the image of the old Brighton pier, or a generic picture of a vintage pier. It invokes nostalgic memories of childhood holidays and summers past, with the Punch and Judy show on the beach, donkey rides, sandcastles and flasks of tea in the breeze.
This vintage-style jigsaw puzzle was created by artist Andy Walker, who has been a professional illustrator for 30 years.

The finished puzzle measures 49x36cm, and is easily do-able as the details on the pieces give you hints as to where they should go. This puzzle is suitable for ages 10 years+, but our 6-year-old son was happy to join me and hunt for pieces needed to complete the puzzle. He's getting better and better with this super-relaxing hobby, and often asks me if I need help with a puzzle.

Like all Ravensburger puzzles, it is made from strong premium grade cardboard, with linen finish to minimise glare on puzzle image.
This cheerful jigsaw puzzle will make a lovely gift for any puzzle fan. I love all the details - with happy children, a small airplane carrying a banner and hungry seagulls waiting to swoop on you and snatch an ice cream cone.

Building sandcastles is such a wonderful summer pastime. Observing the sand activities around us, I often notice that it is the parents who are most competitive about digging the biggest trenches or erecting the tallest sandcastle.

I look at this charming puzzle, and think of how happy we are on the beach.

This puzzle also makes me smile, probably for the wrong reason.
The inane-grinning couple reminds me of The Goosebumps, with their "normal" characters who turn out to be some evil monsters or aliens pretending to be real people. What do you think?

Disclosure: We received this jigsaw puzzle for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are our own.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Brackenheath ispot blade desk lamp

desk lamps

Reading and blogging are two of my favourite evening activities. My table is far from being clutter-free, I have lots of magazines, newspapers cuttings lying around, books piled not so neatly, pens and colouring pens, my camera, notebooks, a laptop and ipad, plus an inevitable cup of tea or coffee. But this is my creative chaos. By the evening my eyes are quite tired, and a good source of light is indispensable.
I don't have a study room of my own, and my working table is often a play area for Eddie who is a Lego fiend (so add one zillion of minifigures to my creative mess ambience).
With a new desk lamp from Ormrod, the atmosphere is more conducive to work.
Brackenheath ispot blade desk lamp is available in two colours - black and white, two colours which are the easiest to enhance any interior colour scheme. It currently retails at £37.62.

best desk lamps

It is a LED desk lamp, with adjustable colour temperature, from warm white 3000K to daylight 6500K.
The lamp head rotates at 180°, with an 90° adjustable lamp arm. It is dimmable via touch control.

On top of all these features, it has a built in USB charging port, perfect for charging phones and other digital devices.
This desk lamp folds away for easy storage, though in our case it doesn't need to be folded. If anything, we can't decide between ourselves who would have this desk lamp.

desk lamp

In the last few weeks my husband is finishing to edit his book and works late in the night. A good lighting is crucial for his work, so I let him have the desk lamp (for the time being). He appreciated the USB charging facility, as he and his iphone are inseparable.

The slim design of this desk lamp would fit many interior styles. I have placed it in several different rooms, on different surfaces, and I think it works well with all of them, for example, with the antique desk...

... as well as a simple wooden modern-style computer table/desk.

See the full range of stylish lighting at Ormrod. I have already bookmarked a couple of things that I love there, including the most fantastic nautical lamps.

Disclosure: We received the desk lamp for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are our own.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Ravensburger Colin Thompson's Funtastic Adult Colouring Book

Colin Thompson, the world's best-loved jigsaw puzzle artist, is one of my favourite modern illustrators. I have enjoyed quite a few of his wonderful jigsaw puzzles (see, for example, my reviews of Flying Home and The Inventor's Cupboard).
I was thrilled to discover that I can revisit his unique designs in a new colouring book for adults.

Ravensburger Colin Thompson's Funtastic Adult Colouring Book is a splendid gift to all fans of this remarkable artist.

There are 72 pages in total, which will take you many hours to complete. I have only started working on it, doing slowly a few details at a time, as a chance to relax. I imagine it will be my long-running project to complete.
There are 35 double page spreads taken from Thompson's popular jigsaw puzzles. Some I have recognised at once - like The Inventor's Cupboard or The Bizarre Bookshop, some are completely new to me.

colouring books for adults

Each design is printed in half-tones for the increased depth. Illustrations are crammed with amazing wacky creatures. Fantastic landscapes and bookshelves, architectural constructions and flying machines, quirky animals and humans, each illustration tells a story.
I love reading all the book titles, which are puns on the famous books - for example, Last Mango in Paris, The Great Brain Robbery, The Spy Who Came in With a Cold, The Satanic Nurses, The Taming of the Yew, Tizer with Rosie, Lord of the Files, and many more, some more amusing than the others.

The designs are printed on high quality paper. I have used very basic colouring pens from a Poundshop, and I think I need to invest in good quality watercolour pencils to do justice to this clever book. Felt pens are too bright and cover too much of the intricate shading.

Some designs are easy - for the hesitant colourist, maybe a beginner - finishing which will inspire you to move...

... to more intricate designs...

...and some rather fiendish pages for the intrepid colouring fans.

I was delighted to see some of my old favoruites which I enjoyed piecing as jigsaw puzzles, like this - The Red Box. The design shows a magic oriental red lacquer box, with lots of drawers. You find all sorts of hidden treasures inside, as well as some mystic mini-figures.
You'll see a beautiful Blue Willow patterned piece and a red lantern, a golden koi carp, elegant old pieces of china, a smiling Buddha and much more.

colouring books for adults

The book is suitable for ages 12+, but it might also appeal to younger audience. Eddie is 6 (7 in summer), but he was fascinated with the book. He looks enviously at my colouring and begged me to let him do some colouring as well. I suggested he could choose some pages to work on, but warned him to be very careful and attentive to detail.

So far he did just a few little details.

Colouring for grown-ups is a trendy these days, and this book will give hours of pleasure to all colouring enthusiasts.

Disclosure: I received the colouring book for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are my own.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Easter lamb with juniper and rosemary in damson and sloe gin sauce

Classic FM channel has been on most of this weekend, as I'm trying to catch most of the Hall of Fame 2017. While I was making a cup of mint tea for myself after a late-ish Easter lunch, Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet was announced as moving 32 places down to no.101.
This is one of my Hall of Fame votes. Every year I change two other votes, but Prokofiev's Dance of the Knights holds a special place in my heart.
It reminds me of seeing Romeo and Juliet ballet in my home town. It was and still is one of my most favourite ballets. I think I saw it first when I was in high school, and I promptly fell in love with the ballet dancer who performed the part of Tybalt. He was a very good dancer, and was soon poached by one of Moscow theatres. That was a long time ago, and his name now escapes me.
In case you are curious, the other two votes from me were for Masquerade Suite by Aram Khachaturian (no.218 this year), and The Gadfly by Shostakovich, which appeared this evening at no.81 933 places up). I was quite torn whether to choose The Gadfly or The Jazz Suite no.2.

Our Easter started very early, as Sasha got up at some ungodly hour, when it was still dark. I fell back into an uneasy slumber, and in the meantime he wandered downstairs and raided the locked cupboard with sweets.
Eddie wanted to go to the Easter service, and came back loaded with more chocolate eggs and Easter books.
I dyed a few token eggs to put on a table as a centrepiece.
When Eddie came home from the church, he asked me: Mummy, are you cooking your tights? - It's true, I was wrapping up eggs with herbs inside the pieces of old (washed) tights. I cooked them in the boiling water with the food colouring. The pattern is not very clear, as the eggs were brown to start with.
I'm not sure why most of the eggs that you see in the shops are brown (or blue, if you buy local breed eggs), and never white. When we were kids, most eggs were white, and easy to decorate for Easter.

dyed eggs

This is a pattern from mint leaves.

dyed eggs, Easter traditions

While Eddie went to the church with his Dad, I started cooking lamb. I have bookmarked recipe on Waitrose site. I don't often cook lamb, but the recipe for Juniper and rosemary lamb with damson and sloe gin sauce sounded very tasty. I'm glad I tried it, it was delicious, and I'm definitely going to cook it again, when we have guests for dinner.
I have slightly adapted it, but mostly followed the Waitrose recipe. Since I cooked just for our family, I used half a leg at 1.1kg weight.

best lamb recipes, Easter roast lamb

Easter lamb with juniper and rosemary in damson and sloe gin sauce
2 rosemary sprigs
2tsp sea salt
2tsp demerara sugar
2 cloves of garlic
1tsp butter spread like Lurpak
2tbsp olive oil + more
10 juniper berries
lamb, half leg (1.1kg)
1 red onion, thinly sliced
for the gravy:
2tbsp damson jam
sloe gin, about 100ml ( I used more than Waitrose's suggestion of 2tbsp)

Remove the leaves from the rosemary stalks, put into a bowl with garlic, salt, sugar, juniper berries, butter spread and olive oil. They suggest crushing the rosemary with a pestle. I used a handblender to blitz it all together. Definitely add some olive oil to make a spreadable consistency.
Rub the marinade all over the lamb and sit it on the thinly sliced onion in a roasting dish. Drizzle some olive oil over the onion too. Let it sit for half an hour.
Preheat the oven to 200C. Place the roasting dish in the oven for 10 minutes, then cook the lamb as you like it - 8 minutes per 100g of weight if you like it well done, or 6 minutes per 100g if you like it pink. Turn it once over, and occasionally baste with the lamb juice.
Once cooked, take the lamb out of the oven, wrap in foil and let it rest for half an hour. To keep it warm, put a clean towel over the foil.
For the damson sauce, tip the roasting tin to collect all the juices in a small pan, add the damson jam and sloe gin. Using a little whisk, break the jam, to achieve the right consistency. Reduce the sauce.
Serve the lamb with the damson gravy, and roast potatoes and carrots.

roast lamb

I also put a jar of mint jelly and redcurrant jelly on the table. I did buy fresh mint to make my own mint sauce, but was running out of time, and The Bay Tree mint jelly is lovely.
If you want to cook the same dish, I used Tiptree Damson jam and Gordon's Sloe Gin.

roast lamb

The Hall of Fame continues tomorrow, and do I dare to hope that the Lark Ascending will topple over. I would be pleased with any other piece of music getting to no.1 just to make it descend.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Pancetta-wrapped tuna steaks with lemony potatoes

Italian fish recipes, best fish recipes

I'm in a rather grouchy mood this evening, because I managed to ruin my much loved bundt cake tin. I have struggled with a cake recipe found on Taste of Home (online). It sounded rather lovely, what with cream cheese and blueberries. But first the cake batter escaped the tin, after 10 minutes in the oven, so I had to take the tin out, and clean the oven, then the cake baked in a concave shape, with all blueberries grouped together in the middle. And then I could hardly prize it out of the tin altogether. I was embarrassed to offer it to my men, but the unsuspecting husband claimed it was very tasty. He did have a laugh later when he saw the cake in the kitchen though.
I hope I can still salvage my tin, but I'll let it soak overnight. And I'll need to work out what exactly went wrong with the recipe. The flavours are all there, but the presentation is beyond the pale, i.e. unacceptable.

I've been trying to spend as much time as possible today in the kitchen, listening to the Classic FM Hall of Fame. So far none of my votes appeared, it's either a good sign of them still to come later, or they might be out of top 300 altogether.

As it is Friday, I cooked fish for dinner. Thanks goodness, my dear husband didn't comment that we were having fish again.
The latest issue of BBC Good Food had an Italian Classics Collection supplement, and I loved the sound of pancetta-wrapped fish with lemony potatoes. I couldn't find pollock in Waitrose, and picked up two tuna steaks instead.

Fish Friday

Pancetta-wrapped tuna steaks with lemony potatoes
300g new potatoes
zest of 1/2 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
a hnadful of cherry tomatoes
a handful of black Kalamata olives
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tuna steaks
4 rashers of pancetta
2tbsp spring onions, chopped

Cook potatoes in salted boiling water for 10-12 minutes until tender. Drain the water.
Halve the potatoes and put in a roasting tin or dish with the olive oil, toss in the olives, chopped spring onions and tomatoes, add the grated lemon zest and juice and mix together well.
Season the steaks and wrap them in pancetta rashers. Lay the fish on top of the potatoes. Place the roasting dish in the oven preheated to 180C. Cook for about 12-15 minutes until cooked through (or less if you like tuna steaks rare).
Serve hot.

Italian fish recipes

Have you been listening to the Hall of Fame today?

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Hot Cross Bun tea from Bluebird Tea Co

Easter tea

We've been eating lots of hot cross buns recently. Eddie likes them slightly toasted, with a bit of butter. I confess that I always buy them, and have never baked a single hot cross bun in my life.
When you slice it, and put in the toaster, the smell that is wafting in the kitchen is delicious.
Recently the Bluebird Tea Co rose to the challenge of recreating that wonderful spicy aroma of hot cross buns in a tea blend.
I love seasonal teas, and when I read the newsletter from Bluebird Tea Co recently, announcing their Easter teas range, I just couldn't resist trying one of their Easter-themed blends. It is not the latest addition to the range of Bluebird Teas, I believe they had it already, but I haven't tried it before.
Hot cross bun tea is an inspired spring mood tea.
Ingredients include Rooibos, Sri Lankan black tea, cinnamon, hibiscus, apple pieces, rosehip, orange peel, Lapsang Souchong tea, vanilla pieces, cranberry pieces and flavour.
All my favourite flavours together. It is warm, spicy, smokey and toasty, the black tea adds strength to rooibos, while rooibos adds mellow notes.

Easter flavours, Easter tea

It smells delicious, just like freshly baked hot cross buns, with the aroma of cinnamon and currants.
A lovely tea for spring, refreshing and flavourful.

Easter tea

This tea will make a lovely Easter gift to a tea lover. It's a limited edition tea, so hurry up, if you fancy trying it.

Easter tea

Easter tea