Thursday, 30 July 2015

Pickled fennel

A few days ago, when I saw some fennel at a reduced price in Waitrose, I grabbed a couple of bulbs. I had a "cunning plan" in mind of making a jar of fresh pickled fennel. Having a good googling around, I came across a really nice recipe on Strawberryplum blog - Quick pickled fennel. Her recipe became my starting point. I have adapted it a bit and changed some ingredients. I recommend reading Sarah's blog post as apart from the recipe, she has some great suggestions on the ways of using the pickled fennel.
Me, I just eat it straight from the jar, picking it out with a fork. It's cold, crunchy, fresh, aromatic and just plain tasty.

Pickled fennel
2 bulbs of fennel (about 375g)
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/4tsp mustard seeds
1/2tsp pickling spice (coriander seeds, allspice, peppercorn, bay leaf etc)
1 bay leaf
300ml vinegar (malt and cyder vinegar half-half)
230ml water
125g granulated sugar
3tsp sea salt
a handful of fresh dill
a handful of baby tomatoes (optional)

Slice your fennel very thinly, if you have a mandolin slicer, now it's a good time to take it out of the hiding place. In a small pan quickly toast a scattering of fennel and mustard seeds. Add the pickling spice too.
In a medium bowl heat up vinegar, all the spices and water, bring to boil and simmer until the sugar and salt are dissolved.
Place a handful of fresh dill at the bottom of a medium sized jar, then pack in the sliced fennel tightly. The jar should be pasteurized in advance. Pour the pickling liquid in a jar through a sieve. You might have some liquid left. I had about half a mug of brine left, and used it to pickle a big onion bulb. I have also added a handful of baby tomatoes at the very top, just because we have a glut of tomatoes in the greenhouse.
Let the sealed/closed jar cool down before placing it in the fridge. The pickles will be ready in 24 hours.

And now we're talking business. Add to any salads, or as a side dish to roast meat or fish. I will definitely be pickling more fennel, a jar at a time, so that I can enjoy it freshly pickled.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

The Furchester Hotel Magazine

Give a warm welcome to a brand new magazine for children - The Furchester Hotel. I don't know about you, but we spend a small fortune on magazines for kids. I'm quite embarrassed to say just how many of the kids' magazines we buy regularly.

There are so many different magazines available, catering for any tastes and preferences. Many of CBeebies shows have their own magazine - like Peppa Pig, Ben and Holly, Dora the Explorer, Postman Pat etc etc.
Today a new CBeebies magazine has been launched - for fans of Elmo, the Cookie Monster, Phoebe and other furry creatures.
The Furchester Hotel Magazine will be on sale every four weeks priced at £2.75, quite reasonably priced in comparison to some children's magazines which retail at £3.99-4.99. It is aimed at children aged 3-6 years, with the core audience of 4-year-olds.
This magazine is based on a TV series about a half-star hotel run by the cute monsters - the Furchester-Fuzz family. Your children might know some of the characters from the much loved series Sesame Street as well as from The Furchester Hotel show itself.
You will find adorable Elmo and Cookie Monster, full of mischief and ready for adventures.
The magazine follows the problem-solving aspect of the show by introducing its audience to lots of fun activities, from stories to puzzles, from colouring to counting.
This is a light reading magazine, which has been created to support the Early Years Curriculum, thus adding an educational twist to a fun interactive magazine.

Eddie immediately spotted a crafting set on the cover, and was very enthusiastic about creating mini-portraits of the Furchester Hotel furry monsters. The little set had lots of paper and fabric cut-outs, frames for portraits, stickers and double-sided pads.

Like all CBeebies magazines, it comes with stickers and activity book tasks for little people.

It has amusing colouring pages.

And of course, there are stories to be read together and enjoyed.

There is a mask to cut out on the back cover of the magazine. We love making masks, though Eddie reasonably suggested that we needed to cut out the holes for eyes first.
We enjoyed the new magazine, and are looking forward to new issues.

To find out more about this magazine, check out their Facebook page The Furchester Hotel Magazine.

Disclosure: we received a copy of the new magazine for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are Eddie's and mine. We will also receive a year's subscription to the new magazine.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Heirloom tomato and roasted lemon salad

I have always loved a roasted lemon, and whenever I cook a roast chicken or any other meat, I like to add a lemon, cut in half or quarters. The flavours of lemon, roasted with the meat juices, are a mix of sour and savoury. But for some reason it never crossed my mind to roast the lemon for the salad. That is, until I came across an Ottolenghi's tomato and roasted lemon salad via a Pin that I loved. I didn't happen to have at least half of the ingredients of the original salad, but hope I will make it one day.
My version was very tasty.

Heirloom tomato and roasted lemon salad
1 lemon, sliced thinly
1tbsp olive oil
sea salt
2tbsp Coconom coconut sugar with turmeric and tamarind
1tsp Spice Parisienne
5 heirloom tomatoes, of different sizes and colours
mixed salad leaves
1 small sized goat's cheese (about 100g)
1tbsp olive oil to drizzle over

Slice a lemon into thin circles, spread over a foil on a baking/roasting tray and drizzle some olive oil over. Season with sea salt and sprinkle about 2 tbsp of coconut sugar with turmeric and tamarind (on both sides) and a teaspoon of Spice Parisienne. Roast at 180C for about 20+ minutes.

While the lemon is being roasted, slice the tomatoes and sprinkle generously with salt. Assemble the plates by first layering some mixed salad leaves. Then add the tomato slices, roasted lemon slices and sliced goat's cheese. Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the salad before serving with a nice chunk of bread.

I used Coconom turmeric and tamarind coconut sugar for the roasted lemons, which I received in the last Degustabox monthly food box, and by now there's not much left of the sugar, as I used it in a few recipes. It is a versatile ingredient which enhances the flavour of many dishes. If you haven't tried it yet, have a look at my recipe for Coconut sugar cookies.

This is a lovely flavourful salad. Roasted lemons are a great addition to my repertoire of salads, and I will definitely be making this salad again.
Now it's a season of tomatoes, and you can find a big variety of tomatoes in supermarkets and farmer's markets. I love the so called heirloom tomatoes as they are so colourful and unique.

Adding my recipe to Ren Behan's Simple and In Season linky.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Photo diary: week 30, 365

I have taken a break from Project 365 for a few weeks, but as the last week was quite eventful and colourful, and I took one zillion of photos, I am joining in again this week. It will be a slightly longer post of 8 days, including the Friday 17 July when our trip commenced.
It took us eight and a half hours to travel by car from Oxfordshire to Perranuthnoe in Cornwall. We were pretty exhausted, but after a quick unpacking and exploring of our new cottage, we went to the beach. It was the time of the high tide, and the enormous beach was completely covered with water. Both boys were delighted to watch the waves anyway. Eddie was busy making friends with a local girl and trying to impress her with his pebbles-throwing technique.
As you can guess from Eddie's outfit, it was verrry fresh.

18 July: The next evening we walked to a distant beach, along the coast, with the beautiful views of the sea and St Michael's Mount. We always stop by an old cannon and an anchor on someone's farm. Their gates are open for visitors. The evening was much warmer than the previous one.

19 July: Our routine was the same every day, we went to the beach in the late morning or early afternoon, when the tide was low. Eddie was digging, building the sandcastles, exploring the rock pools, paddling in the water and running away from the waves. It was too cold to have a proper dip, though Sash didn't mind the cold, he was in the water, wading through the waves and smiling like an angel.

20 July: I have been trying to take a few panorama shots. This photo was taken on our walk to the distant beach, with St Michael's Mount in the background. It is a very picturesque walk, with the fields and hills rolling down, and the sea coming closer and closer.

21 July: On a sunny day what could be better than jumping in the waves?!

22 July: We were having dinner on the open veranda, when I spotted these birds. They were quite far from our cottage, so I zoomed them closer with my camera. They looked just like musical notes.

23 July: Sasha loves Cornwall. For him it's the place, where he feels the happiest. He would stay in the sea all day, if we didn't drag him out. The water was pretty cold, but he didn't seem to mind at all. He loves everything about the sea: the smell, the taste, the sound and the feel of it.

It was raining when we said Good bye to the Church Barn cottage with its beautiful terraced garden. All the agapanthus and tropical plants looked soggy and the sky was grey. It took us almost nine hours to get home, by which time we were all miserable and tired.

We didn't have time to recuperate for too long, as on Saturday we celebrated Eddie's 5th birthday with a big party at the play centre Darcy Bear. My little man didn't show any signs of being tired, climbing and sliding, and playing with his friends. I couldn't catch him staying still long enough to take a good photo, as he ran away from me, laughing.

Eggless butter cookies

Hello, hello! Have you missed me? Maybe just a little bit?! I haven't posted for a week, as my family and I had a week-long holiday in Cornwall. I did take my ipad with me, but I don't like blogging on ipad, and to be honest, I didn't have much time either. After all, we were in Cornwall to enjoy the outdoors. We were mostly lucky with the weather, there were some showers, of course, but we braved the elements and walked by the sea.
I did miss my blog, and even more, I missed baking.
Today we are cooped at home, what with this horrendous rain, and Eddie asked me to bake some cookies for him. I first told him that I don't have any eggs left, as I used the last ones for making salad for lunch. Then I googled and found  a recipe for eggless chocolate chip cookies.
I have adapted the recipe and converted cups into grams. It took me less than half an hour from start to finish, and we are now enjoying them with a cuppa.
I wanted to use some glorious looking Cornish farmhouse butter from Rodda's which I brought with me from Cornwall. I have tried this delicious butter last year, but it is not available locally. I was delighted to find out that I could buy it online, when I did the food shopping for our Cornish cottage, and ordered two blocks of butter. It is yellow, creamy and oh so tasty.

I also got a bottle of Rodda's semi-skimmed milk to take with us, and it survived the 9-hours-long drive in the cooler bag (mind you, it wasn't a warm day, so that helped).

Eggless butter cookies
140g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
25g ground almonds (optional)
55g granulated sugar
55g light muscovado sugar
2tbsp semi-skimmed milk
1tsp vanilla essence
110g butter, melted
70g chopped cooking chocolate (mix of dark and milk, about half-half)

Mix all the dry ingredients in a deep mixing bowl, add the milk, vanilla essence and melted butter and mix well again. Chop the chocolate finely or use the chocolate chips (I didn't have any, so used the remains of two cooking chocolate bars).
Using hands, roll the cookie dough into small balls, then flatten them and place well apart on a tray covered with the parchment paper. If you fancy, press the fork over the top to make a stripey design. I had two trays of raw cookies to bake.
Place the trays in the oven preheated to 180C and bake for about 10 minutes.
The cookies will still be very soft, when you take the trays out, so judge the readiness by the colour, which is golden brown.

Let the cookies cool a bit before placing carefully on a plate.
There are about 15 cookies in total, and all my three men declared them very tasty. They are quite rustic-looking and are not evenly shaped, but they surely disappear fast.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Rekordelig jelly with raspberries and red currants

In the summer evenings when you fancy something sweet and light, a jelly ticks all the boxes. You can make it in any flavour you want, and the possibilities are endless. We had a big crop of red currants this year, which I managed to save from the ever foraging birds by wrapping the bushes not just in netting but in thin fleeces as well. I have put most of the berries in the freezer, and will make some jelly later, when I have a chance. We also ate some of the sour sweet berries fresh from the garden, while they were still warm from the sun.
I made an adult jelly with Rekordelig, which was one of the products in the last Degustabox.

You will need one sachet of Dr Oetker gelatine. Heat up 120 ml of Rekordelig, then add the contents of the sachet and stir well until the gelatine dissolves. Never add the liquid to gelatine, as it will go lumpy. Then top up with cold Rekordelig and apple juice to make a pint of liquid with gelatine (that is including 120ml). Put some berries like red currants and raspberries in the tall glass or sundae dish, pour the gelatine Rekordelig mixture. Put the jelly in the fridge overnight to set well.

The combination of flavours is very summery. A very enjoyable dessert.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Grilled prawns and courgette salad

Salads, salads every day. Hope you are not fed up with yet another salad recipe, but that's what we've been eating recently, our dinners are mostly salads. And we have been enjoying the salad phase.

Grilled prawns and courgette salad
1 courgette, cut into long strips
1 medium avocado
180g king prawns
1 lemon, juice and zest
1 Knorr Ginger and Lemongrass flavour pot
dried herbs
salad leaves with fennel tops
2tbsp+ olive oil
lemon juice

Start by marinading the king prawns in a deep bowl, with a juice and zest of 1 lemon, with an added Knorr Ginger and Lemongrass flavour pot. Mix well, and leave to marinade for at least half an hour.
Cut the courgette into long strips. I used an OXO Good Grips Simple Mandoline Slicer to make the job easier. I have reviewed it earlier this year (if you missed it, see my blog post Valentine's Day Menu).
Pour some oil in the hot grill pan and cook the courgette slices for about 2-3 minutes on each side, until you get a grilled pattern.

Remove the courgette from the pan, then scatter the prawns and cook for a few minutes, until the prawns turn pink.

Assemble your salad by placing some salad leaves with fennel tops as the first layer. Cube the avocado (1/2 per serving). Add the courgettes and prawns.
Squeeze some lemon juice over the salad and add a bit of olive oil. Serve while still warm.

Adding this recipe to Cheryl's Kitchen Clearout linky. Do I even dare to confess that I used a flavour pot which expired in February? Well, it looked and smelled absolutely fine when I opened it, and it just proves that sometimes you don't need to rely on the sell-by-dates.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

I Heart Merlot

When it comes to wine, I am definitely not a connoisseur. I enjoy a glass of wine now and then, especially if we go out or have guests for dinner. But I tend to stick to the safe choices, and go for those wines which we have enjoyed in the past, or it is from a familiar brand. Most of the wines we buy are either Italian or French, with rare forages into a new terrain. I was glad to expand my knowledge of the world wine and test a new range of I Heart wines by sampling i heart Merlot.

I Heart Wines is what you might call a new kid on the block. The people behind the new brand wanted to turn wine-buying for customers like myself (read: not-wine-experts) into a more joyful experience.
Having sampled wines from various vineyards, the i heart wines team has picked their favourites for each variety of wine.
I Heart Merlot is a Hungarian wine, with the grapes sourced from all over the country. As you might know, the climate of Hungary is well suited to vines.

What did we think of this red? It is smooth and fruity. You get to taste the ripe plum and raspberry with a hint of spices. A very drinkable wine, especially with food. And a good value for money too.
It is suggested to be paired with the roast, spicy pasta and/or a selection of Italian antipasti.
You can also enjoy it with some ripe cheese, grapes and maybe a slice of bread with a pate.

I imagine it would be great for cooking as well, if you enjoy a red wine and mushroom risotto, or a scrumptious Ragu Bolognese. Or what about braised lamb shanks?! So many possibilities to use the leftover wine.
How do you use the leftover wine? Or is there no such thing as the leftover wine?!

Disclosure: I received a bottle of Merlot for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are mine.