Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Teksta Scorpion

My younger son loves gruesome things. I don't know if it's a boy-thing, or a universal love of frightful stuff. He enjoys watching the grisly old Goosebumps, and he finds all the critter toys very attractive. When I showed him a Teksta Scorpion from Character online and asked if he'd like to play with it, he screamed Yessss! 

Teksta Scorpion is a new wireless interactive robotic toy. When you think about it, it's pretty cool. You are in charge of a robot, and can make the scorpion move backwards, forward and sideways. The tilt sensor RC is attached to the back of your hand.
The toy is pretty big in size and has a striking design, not overly realistic, more like a mix of a car and scorpion, something from a futuristic movie or a superheroes story.
It needs quite a few batteries - for AA for the scorpion itself and 2 for the intuitive motion control.
You either attach the control to your hand by a strap (not very easy to do it with one hand) or just hold it in the palm.

I haven't quite mastered the art of moving it, as I didn't have much practice. I tried to shoot a short video of how the toy moves, but have to say I failed. I should have asked my younger son to help me, he's much better than me.
The first time you use the toy, you will need to establish the connection between the scorpion and the control by pushing the buttons on both parts.
The scorpion is very agile and moves fast. Once you mastered the control, it is a fun game.
Bigger open spaces are better than cluttered, as our scorpion kept losing one limb or another while it moved around the room and met the obstacles aka furniture. They are easily put back on, but I noticed some other bloggers mention the same issue with the legs.
You can make your scorpion grab the target too, as it closes its pincers around the small object in its target range.
This toy works with up to 5 other Teksta scorpions at the same time. These robotic toys were built to fight, so they can either engage in a battle between themselves or have a race.

Image credit: Teksta Scorpion/Character Online

Teksta Scorpion is aimed at children aged 5+ but could appeal to any fan of robotic toys. It is obviously not a cuddly toy, and might spook younger kids. 
If you are looking for Christmas gift ideas for your kids, this toy might make a great Christmas present.

Disclosure: We received the toy for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are mine.

Apple cider pound cake

A pound cake has been originally made with a pound of every ingredient like butter, flour, eggs and sugar. If you don't quite fancy a humongous cake, it is quite easy to halve the quantities, but keep the ratio about the same. I like to cook cakes with an addition of alcohol, and this time baked a cake with a delightful apple cider called The Good Cider of San Sebastian.

It was one of the products which were delivered with the latest Degustabox. Technically my cake should be called a half pound cake, but a pound cake sounds better.
For a successful pound cake it is advisable to have all the ingredients at a room temperature, and also try not to rush, mix the ingredients gradually.

Apple cider pound cake
200g caster sugar
170g softened butter
3 medium eggs
a good pinch of salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
125ml apple cider
200g self-raising flour
for the icing mix 4 heaped tbsp of icing sugar with 2tbsp of cider

First weigh three medium eggs. Then measure the similar amount of butter, flour and sugar. I have slightly reduced the amount of butter, but just a little bit.
Beat the butter with caster sugar until light and creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, and keep beating until fluffy and creamy. Add the salt, baking powder, apple cider and flour, and keep beating until you get a creamy consistency of the batter. Pour the cake mix into an oiled bundt cake tin.
Place the tin in the oven preheated to 180C. Half way through cooking cover the tin with foil to prevent the cake from getting too crisp at the top while the middle is still wobbly.
Bake for about 45+ Minutes. Check if it's ready with a wooden toothpick.
Let it cool before removing the cake out of the tin.
Mix the icing sugar with the apple cider until you get smooth runny icing, and spoon all over the cake.

The apple cider gives the cake a wonderful deep apple flavour. And don't worry, the cake doesn't taste of alcohol, it just adds the depth of flavour.

If you like the idea of adding alcohol to your cakes and bakes, why don't you check out some of my other "boozy" cake recipes, for example
Blood orange and limoncello cake
Malibu rum cake
or our family favourite
Advocaat cake

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Rainbows and rainclouds game

- Mummy, it's my favourite game!
- But what about the Spongebob Bingo? I thought that was your favourite game?!
- No, I love this one best!

We love board games, and with a very enthusiastic player in the family, play on a daily basis. Some games  leave their spot on the shelf only occasionally, some are used so often, I can play them with my eyes closed, well, almost. I don't know who was more thrilled to receive a new game in the post, my son or me (as I was starting to lose enthusiasm whenever he offered to play a game of bingo). Rainbows & Rain Clouds from Manhattan Toy is a variation of a well-known and much-loved Snakes & Ladders game.
It comes in a cute sturdy tin and contains 1 puzzle game board, 4 wooden player pieces, 1 die and an instructions sheet.

The rules are simple, if you get on the rainbow, you move up; if you happen to land on the raincloud, you're moving down.
It could be played by 2-4 players and is aimed at children aged 3+.

The puzzle pieces are strong and durable, and when disassembled, fit in a small sized tin perfectly - ideal for storage.

Eddie says this game is a great fun, and has been asking everyone in the family as well as our friend Jen to play with him. Top marks from all of us!

Disclosure: We received the game for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are Eddie's and mine.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Casdon Annabel Karmel My Perfect Pastry Set

Annable Karmel doesn't need any introductions. She is a leading expert on children's nutrition and kitchen gadgets, and has inspired a range of baking kits for budding chefs. Both of my boys are interested in cooking, Sasha enjoys his cooking lessons in school, though he's more of an observer when it comes to cooking at home. He also watches a lot of cake-baking videos on Youtube, the more garish, the better. Eddie loves to help me in the kitchen, whenever I bake cookies or cupcakes. Decorating is his favourite bit.
I knew he would be thrilled to try a Casdon Annabel Karmel My Perfect Pastry Set.
Toy company Casdon has created a range of cooking tools for young chefs as inspired and approved by Annabel Karmel. These are perfectly normal kitchen utensils, only suitable for little hands. This set is aimed at children aged 5-11.
Annabel Karmel has written special recipes to go with the range (which also includes a Mini Pizza Set and an Ultimate Baker's Set).

This set includes:
1 round baking tin
1 mini tart pan
10 cookie cutters
6 measuring spoons
1 silicone spatula
1 measuring jug
1 mixing bowl with anti-slip base
1 silicone handle whisk
10 recipes

As you can see, all the tools are colourful and cheerful. Most of them are made of plastic (apart from the tins). They are light in weight, and can be easily handled by younger children, like my 5-year-old son. He loved the cookie cutters the best
The bright yellow mixing bowl has an anti-slip base. We have tested most of the tools in the set (except the handle whisk which we haven't had a chance to use yet).

During out first baking session we baked a bigger apple and rhubarb pie, using the bigger tin, a spatula and a butterfly cookie cutter for making pastry decorations on top of the pie.
I used the ready-made Jus-Rol shortcrust pastry as the base for both this pie and the mini-tart, which Eddie wanted to fill with raisins. Once baked blind, we filled in both pastry cases with the apple and rhubarb filling, which I cooked with sugar and a bit of water. Both were then baked in the oven at 180C for about 15 minutes.
Apple and rhubarb pie
Eddie insisted on adding raisins to his mini-tart.
And yes, wearing a Superman costume while baking helps to be efficient
Later, when we had our pie and tea in the garden, he ate his own creation with gusto.

Mmm, mmm, good
The apple and rhubarb pie was lovely too. I served it with a bit of cream. And it disappeared very fast.

Today we baked a big batch of lemon cookies. The original plan was to follow Annabel Karmel's recipe as printed in the leaflet. You need 100g of cubed soft butter, 50g caster sugar, 150g plain flour and zest of 1 lemon. So far, so good, but the dough was not right in consistency, it was too crumbly and dry, there was no way I'd be able to roll it out. I added 1 medium egg and a tablespoon of lemon-flavoured olive oil.
Now I had a good working dough, which I rolled on the working surface, dusted with flour.
We had enough cookies to fill in 3 trays.
Once baked for about 10 minutes at 180C, we left them to cool.

Lemon cookies, raw and baked
In the meantime, I made some icing.
Eddie was very enthusiastic when decorating the cookies. I gave him different kinds of sprinkles, sugar hearts and silver pearls.

Again, the proportions for icing seemed not quite right: if you add 3tbsp of lemon juice to 200g icing sugar, the ratio of liquid per dry ingredient is not working. I cut the amount of icing sugar in half, and even then 3tbsp of lemon juice were not enough, I added one more spoonful to get the icing of the consistency I wanted.
I appreciate that it might be considered presumptuous of me to criticize the recipe created by the queen of baking, but her recipe for lemon cookies didn't work for me.

However, once we tweaked the recipe, the cookies were delightfully light and zesty.

The testing of biscuits is a serious business

We loved working with this set. I would only suggest to expand the kit by adding several tart pans, as usually you wouldn't bake one small tart at a time. Several would have been much handier.
I may also suggest relying on your own expertise while following the recipes. We haven't tried all the recipes, but the lemon cookies recipe definitely needed adapting and adjusting. If we followed it, we'd have had a pile of crumbs rather than lovely cookies. Saying that, my son and I are planning to cook some chocolate biscuit cookies some time soon.

Thumbs up to lemon biscuits!

Disclosure: We received the pastry set for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are mine.

Ed's decorated biscuits

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Photo diary: week 39, 365

Last Sunday was infused with sadness, as my Mum was leaving the next day. I said we must do a selfie together, but we both look sad.

The next morning Mum and I got very early on a taxi to Heathrow, so my husband was in charge of the boys getting ready for school. I have prepared all the uniforms and packed the lunch boxes, but was still worried as to how he was going to cope without me.
Now the garden looks so empty without her. I liked this view of the apple through the spider web.

These crocuses are self-planted on the lawn. Once they start to fade, I'll need to dig them out and replant somewhere safer, where nobody will walk over them.

I couldn't resist buying the latest issue of The Lady magazine to read the latest gossip on Downton Abbey.

These last weeks I have been baking lots of apple pies. This is yet another apple pie, with rhubarb, and crumble on top.

Yesterday I cooked some tasty kedgeree nests, so a lot of my photos were of that dish. If you want to see what they look like, just follow the link above. For Friday I'm posting a photo which I didn't know I even took, while walking in the morning from school. I was surprised to find it on my mobile. I don't usually even check my mobile when outside, but I must have looked at the time (I don't wear a watch), and somehow accidentally took this photo.

As my husband is in Italy until tomorrow, we didn't go out today and stayed at home. Eddie was busy playing with his Lego.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Kedgeree nests

"The one Indian dish that did make its way among the British, albeit with an English accent, was kedgeree, based on khichari, a simple recipe of rice and lentils. The English started adding smoked fish to it, along with hard-boiled eggs, curry powder and fried onions, transforming it into a popular breakfast dish. It's still around, if not always made with the inventiveness and flair that it once was..." (A History of English Food by Clarissa Dickson Wright)

I haven't tried a kedgeree until my mid-20s when I arrived to Britain as a student of art and design. I knew of it, thanks to literature and films (think Wodehouse and Agatha Christie). It sounded very exotic, and of course, I had to try it. I actually don't quite remember what I thought of it. This recipe epitomizes the old grandeur of the British Empire, and is still quite popular, existing in many versions and variations, cooked with different types of fish and with tofu as a vegetarian dish.
When I was asked to create a recipe for the British Egg Week which takes place on 5-11 October 2015, I immediately thought of kedgeree. The theme for the current challenge is creating a classic egg recipe with a twist.
So, here is my revamped kedgeree nest, celebrating the great British egg.

Kedgeree nests
1 big smoked haddock (about 380g)
200ml semi-skimmed milk
2tbsp butter
1tbsp olive oil
1 stalk of celery, diced
1/2 big onion, finely chopped
1tsp curry powder
a handful of raisins
300g cooked rice (e.g. Thai Jasmine rice)
50ml single cream
1tbsp olive oil
eggs (one per portion)
a handful of fresh parsley

In a deep pan melt the butter,add the fish and pour the milk over it. Cover the pan with a lid and cook on low for about 5 minutes. Keep warm under the lid.
In a frying pan fry diced celery and finely chopped onion with a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the raisins and curry powder, cook until the onion is browned. Add the rice and cream and cook for another couple of minutes, stirring.
Flake the fish and add to the rice, discarding any bones and skin.
Using a cookie cutter ring or cooking ring, make a mould of rice by packing it carefully inside the ring. I used Thai Jasmine rice, which is quite sticky and keeps the shape of the ring well. Add more flakes of fish on top, a bit of torn parsley and top up with a baked egg.
For the eggs, separate the egg whites from yolks. Keep the yolks in shell halves while you beat the whites until all fluffy but not as stiff as you would for a meringue.
Oil the muffin tray inside and pour the egg whites inside each mini-tray. Then carefully slid a yolk into each fluffy mass. Bake at 180C for about 3 minutes. Carefully remove out of the tray with a big spoon and place on top of the kedgeree nest.
My kids don't like the texture of boiled or fried eggs, and my Mum came up with this suggestion of baking egg nests. She said she saw it on the Russian TV. I really liked the idea, and so did my younger son.

In a typical kedgeree you would have hard-boiled eggs or a fried egg. My twist is to serve a fluffy baked egg. It is a bit like a poached egg, as the yolk is still soft and runny. But the texture of the egg white is sponge-like and very light.

Disclosure: As part of #ShortcutEggsperts team, I received supermarket vouchers for the purposes of creating a recipe with eggs on a given theme.

For more egg facts, recipes and information, visit Egginfo

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Leek and potato soup with lemon oil-infused croutons

The Indian summer didn't last long, did it? This week as I get out of bed early in the morning, I feel like putting the heating on. And the evenings are much cooler as well.
Time for hot comfort foods like pies and soups. Yesterday I cooked a pot of leek and potato soup, it was so tasty, that my husband asked for a second helping (either that or he was very hungry).

Leek and potato soup with lemon infused oil croutons
500g leeks
3tbsp lemon infused olive oil + more for croutons
25g butter
1tsp dried mixed herbs
2 medium potatoes
250ml semi-skimmed milk
4 chunky slices of bread, cubed
dried herbs
sea salt

Slice the leeks into discs and fry in the frying pan with the olive oil and butter, on low, just sweating them for about 10 minutes, stirring often. Add the mixed herbs.
Peel and slice potatoes. In a big pan put together potatoes and leeks, add semi-skimmed milk and water, so that all the vegetables are covered with liquid. Season well and cook on low for about 20 minutes. Keep an eye on your soup, add more water if needed.
Once the potatoes are cooked, blitz the soup with a hand blender until you get a creamy consistency.
Serve with croutons, a dash of single cream and/or fresh parsley.

I used Nudo olive oil stone ground with real lemons in this recipe, as I wanted to add a bit of zingy flavours to this timeless classic. It's a beautiful oil, made with Sicilian lemons. Later olives with subtler flavour are used for this infused oil. It is delicious, with a lovely aroma and taste of lemons.

I also used it for making the croutons for the soup.
Cut the old chunky bread into thick slices and then cube. Place on a tray, drizzle the olive oil over them generously and sprinkle mixed herbs and sea salt. Bake for 10+ minutes at 180C until golden.
We didn't eat all the croutons with soup, as there were plenty of them, but the next day they were all gone, as we kept snacking on them.

Disclosure: I received a selection of Nudo oils for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are mine.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Photo diary: week 38, 365

I've been trying to cook as many apples as possible from our glut, adding them to a lot of dishes. We all enjoyed an autumnal soup of butternut squash with apples and spices. 

I buy what feels like one zillion magazines for Eddie, encouraging him to read, do the puzzles and enter competitions, especially the drawing ones. Here is his drawing of Thor for the competition to win a Lego set.

We carry Lego people with us everywhere.

Wednesday morning was very sunny, and when I popped in the garden, I spotted some marvellous spider webs outside the kitchen windows. What a splendid piece of engineering, isn't it?!

Thursday was a very busy day. In the morning after taking Eddie to school, I had a meeting with a child psychologist who monitors my older son's issues, and she mentioned the possibility of applying to a new school for autistic children. Then our friend Jen took my Mum and me to the garden centre. I wanted to brighten up my autumn garden with a few flowers, but ended up buying an apple tree, which was reduced from £27.99 to £7.99.
We do have at least four apple trees in the garden, two of which are very old, but not this variety, and I just couldn't resist the bargain. My Mum planted it behind the summer house.
Mum has stayed with us for four weeks, and on Monday it will be time to say Good bye. I am always so sad when she leaves. With all the politics and her health issues, we never know if it is a Good bye or a Farewell.

These beautiful cyclamens have added a splash of red to our garden. I got three different coloured cyclamens in pots.

Today we went to the Lego Church. Yep, you read it right. Though it's not a Lego-worshiping service. We passed by the Lego Church poster a few times in the past week, and Eddie begged me to take him there today. As it happened, this was an event held at the Congregational church, where families were invited for a bit of Lego-building, cakes and singing. Let's say, it was different. Eddie loved it, and wants to go again.