Monday, 11 December 2017

Ravensburger Perplexing Puzzles no.9 - Retro Revelry 1000-pc jigsaw puzzle

Christmas gifts

For a jigsaw puzzle fan no Christmas would be complete without a new puzzle. If anyone can make a flawless jigsaw puzzle - it's Ravensburger. In the past years I have enjoyed many a Christmas-themed puzzle - see my reviews for Santa's Christmas Party or The Christmas Cupboard.
This year, when offered a selection of puzzles for a pre-Christmas reviewing, I couldn't resist going for a different range - Perplexing Puzzles - which has all sorts of themes going on, from Cooking Up a Feast to Haberdashery, from Crafty Yarns to Glittering Gemstones... Each one is a joy to assemble.

Perplexing Puzzles Retro Revelry is the 9th in the series. What I loved about it is that it is a trip down the memory lane. I was a child in the 1970s, but remember quite well the psychedelic colourful kitsch interiors and patterned designs of the time.

best jigsaw puzzles

The nostalgic photo taken by Devon-based photographer Greg Shepherd is the homage to the 1970s wild parties, with lots of booze and cheese and pineapple snacks on toothpicks. Incidentally I recently served this vintage party appetizer to our guests, and we were all reminiscing about what we ate in those days.

The photo shows a vintage cocktail bar, genuine 70s style wallpaper, a pineapple ice bucket and a fabulous design chair...
There is the sun burst clock - now very retro and collectible...

There are soda syphons, a home bar, from where cocktails of all colours were served.

This high quality 1000 piece cardboard jigsaw puzzle measures 50x70cm when finished. It is suitable for ages 12+ and is made of strong premium grade cardboard with linen finish to minismise flare.

I've been working on this puzzle last month, watching Alias Grace on Netflix, when kids were at school. This is most likely my last jigsaw puzzle of the year. There is just a week left until school holidays start, and then I won't have any me-time to relax.

This colourful puzzle will make a great gift for any jigsaw puzzle fan - for Christmas or any other occasion.

Disclosure: I received this puzzle for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are my own.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Butternut squash and feta salad

vegetarian salads

Whenever these days I ask what he would like for dinner, my husband is requesting something meat-free. Fine with me, I am happy to oblige, though it does mean an advance planning. I find it easier to cook dinner with meat or fish, unless it's a soup or a salad.
I don't have many purely vegetarian cook books in my collection, as I prefer to buy books on either baking, or on national cuisines (and avidly avoid any celebrities from outside the culinary world like Pippa & co).

One of the books which caught my attention is "More from the accidental vegetarian" by Simon Rimmer. It was on offer from The Book People a while ago. I confess I didn't quite know who he was, until I bought the book. I've never watched Something for the Weekend.
It is an inspiring book, full of delicious recipes. I like Simon's attitude, he doesn't evangelise vegetarianism, he just offers a selection of tasty recipes which happen to be vegetarian.
Not sure why there is a chapter on desserts. Most desserts are vegetarian by nature (meat and fish-free) anyway. Not many of us cook puddings with lard or suet these days, so unless specified I would presume a dessert to be a vegetarian dish (even jellies these days are made with vegetarian gelatine).

One of the recipes I bookmarked was for a pumpkin salad with cheese. I didn't have any fresh pumpkin or Yorkshire fettle cheese, so had to improvise.
Butternut squash is a good substitute for pumpkin, and feta is another staple for salads which is easily available.

Butternut squash and feta salad
a packet of butternut squash wedges (385g)
3tbsp olive oil for roasting + 2tbsp for dressing
125g feta cheese, cubed
about 3tbso pine nuts, toasted
a handful of rocket and spinach salad
a handful of olives (I used feta-stuffed olives)
3 radishes, thinly sliced
100g peas, cooked from frozen
Fennel and garlic crostini (optional)
1tbsp maple syrup
2tbsp olive oil
1tbsp cider vinegar
1tbsp fresh lime juice
1tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

Cube the butternut squash wedges and place them on a big baking tray. Drizzle olive oil over them and season with sea salt. Shake the tray so that the cubes are coated with oil evenly. Bake at 180C for about 20+ minutes until the squash is soft, but still holds its shape.
Roast the pine nuts for 5 minutes on a separate tray.
Cook peas in boiling water for about 3-4 minutes, then drain.
Assemble the salad: first put the salad leaves, then add the squash cubes, feta cheese, olives, radishes, peas and scatter pine nuts over. Add crostini or croutons if you like.
Make the dressing and drizzle over the salad.

vegetarian salad recipe

In this recipe I used Filippo Berio Fennel & Garlic Crostini, baked with extra virgin olive oil, which were delivered in the latest food box from Degustabox. The crostini are crunchy and flavourful, and will work well in a variety of salads or soups.
You can obviously swap them for any croutons you have, bought or homemade, or skip altogether, if you count calories or are on a gluten-free diet.

vegetarian recipe

Last Christmas I won a huge hamper of Filippo Berio goodies, including several jars of olives. I just realised that I still had a jar of olives stuffed with feta at the back of the larder shelf, and it nearly expired.
For this reason - clearing the kitchen and using nearly expired olives + the end of the pine nuts' bag - I am adding this recipe to #KitchenClearout linky run by Cheryl from Madhouse Family Reviews.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Jack's Peach and Chickpea Curry

budget recipes, vegetarian curry, vegan curry

My guilty pleasure (or at least one of them) is having a good reading session on Mumsnet, when I am in bed with my mini ipad. A few days ago I came across a thread, discussing Jack Monroe's book A Girl Called Jack. Gosh and golly, who would have thought that a recipe book would provoke such passions.
Though I have a vast collection of cook books, I don't have any of Jack's books. I did have a very quick look at her first book years ago, so can't really say much about it.
I'm not really her target audience because though I enjoy vegetable dishes, I'm not a vegetarian or vegan.
Reading the bun fight thread on the merits and worth of Jack's book, a mention of a peach and chickpea curry piqued my curiosity. I thought: wait, that sounds intriguing.
Off I went to Jack's blog Cooking on a Bootstrap and found the recipe for peach and chickpea curry. And I really loved the sound of that. It is easy, and supposed to be a budget recipe.

With all the Christmas gifts shopping (we need a whole lot of presents for teachers and TAs, especially those who work with our elder son at special needs school), I need to find ways to budget better than I'm doing at the moment.

I bought most of the ingredients in Waitrose (it's the nearest supermarket), so the prices might be lower if you shop elsewhere.

I had a tin of Cirio chopped tomatoes, olive oil and spices at home, as well as rice.
Tinned chick peas - £0.58, peach slices in syrup £0.79 (both Essential Waitrose range), a pack of fresh red chillies (reduced to 45p), 1 carrot 13p, 1 bulb of garlic - 50p, 1 onion at 36p. The most expensive bit was a pot of fresh flat leaf parsley at £1.31. A total of £4.15.
You will need just 1 clove of garlic for the recipe and only 1 chilli, and I used just a little bit of parsley.
It is enough for 3-4 servings, depending on your appetite.
Tinned peaches are a secret ingredient in this dish, they add a lovely sweet taste. The textures and flavours are varied as well from silky soft peaches to slightly crunchy chickpeas.

For the recipe and step-by-step please visit the link above.
I added a chopped carrot to the recipe, cooking it with chopped onion and spices. I also added a couple of chopped tomatoes and a teaspoon of Sri Lankan Masala spice mix.
In this recipe I used Cirio chopped tomatoes, but if you count pennies, a less expensive tin of supermarket own tomatoes will work.

I can make less expensive meals, like soups, for example, carrot, lentil and orange soup is tasty and pretty cheap to make. Overall, this meal was not as cheap as I thought it might be, but it's still pretty good, and I will be definitely cooking it again.

I had this curry for lunch today, and loved it.

vegetarian curry, vegan curry

As for the chillies, I've been a good girl, and chopped all three, putting two of them in mini jars in the freezer so that they will be ready for the next time I need some fresh chillies.

Adding this recipe to #KitchenClearout linky run by Cheryl at Madhouse Family Reviews, as I used a tin of tomatoes from one of the earlier-in-the-year food boxes and old-ish spices.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

November Degustabox

We are always looking forward to our Degustabox delivery, which arrives every month and is full of foodie surprises. This monthly food and drink subscription box is an excellent way to discover products which have only just appeared in the shops or those which might have been around for while, but you haven't had a chance to try them yet.
Thanks to Degustabox, I have found new favourites to add to our shopping list, including some products which I probably wouldn't have tried otherwise.

Each time the box arrives, it's a total surprise. You get a good selection of foods and drinks.
If you haven't tried Degustabox subscription box yet and would like to have a go, I have a whopping £7 off discount from your first box (and you can unsubscribe any time) - just use a code 8EVI8 when you place an order.
What did we receive in November Degustabox? Let's have a look.

The current food box has a good selection of sweet and savoury products.

Kallo Organic Stock Pots are a handy product to have in the pantry. Made with organic, natural and high quality ingredients, the stock pots add flavour to a variety of dishes.

Available in three flavours - chicken, beef and vegetable - these stock pots will enhance many of your family favourites, from soups to stews, from pasta dishes to risotto.
I use it in soups (for example, chicken soup with lentils and vegetables)

as well as in a mushroom risotto.

midweek meals

Rio Mare Tuna in Olive Oil is another product to add to the kitchen pantry. Made with best tuna and selected olive oil. Use it in a variety of salads, add to a baked potato, or cook soup.

I used this tin of tuna to cook Pearl barley tuna soup.

The English Provender Co Caramelised Red Onion Chutney has been around for quite a few years. It is a great addition to any cheese board, or cheese sandwiches.

Sweet onions also work well with pastry. I have written about this chutney over 4 years ago, have a look at savoury croissants with caramelised red onion chutney and goat's cheese.

Filippo Berio Classic Pesto is a versatile sauce for a big variety of pasta dishes, and beyond.
Cook turkey steaks with parmesan and pesto crust or pesto pancakes, add to bread and make baked pesto bread as an accompaniment to pizza instead of garlic bread, mix into dressings for salad, or add a tablespoon of pesto to plain boring hummus to jazz it up. The possibilities are endless.

As a reviewer, I've received three products from Filippo Berio, but subscribers will get only one: Filippo Berio Classic Pesto, Filippo Berio crostini or Rio Mare Italian Tuna.

Ryvita Multigrain Rye Cakes are made with popped wholegrain rye. They are naturally high in fibre and low in fat, making them a healthy snack. Add your favourite toppings and enjoy!

Weetabix Additions Apple & Raisin is a new product in Weetabix range. It is made with 100% whole grain, apple and raisins, and a hint of cinnamon. The apple flavour is not very prominent.

Taylors of Harrogate is an independent family tea and coffee company from Harrogate. Their single origin coffee explores extraordinary flavour from the world's great growing regions.
We have tried Cacao Superior Colombia flavour in Nespresso capsules, and it was tasty. Haven't opened the big bag of ground coffee yet, but when we have a big company on new year's eve, it will keep us going into the early hours.

Planters Fruity Chocolate Crunch have introduced two indulgent nut mixes this season. Planters Fruity Chocolate Crunch is made with crunch peanuts, juicy cranberries and creamy milk chocolate buttons. A lovely festive snack.

Propercorn Perfectly Sweet Popcorn is hand-popped corn, sprinkled with unrefined Fairtrade sugar for a sweet, caramelised flavour. Tonight is our home-movie night. I bought the latest DVD of Spiderman: Homecoming, and all the snacks are ready for the evening fun.

Cadbury Picnic Bites are moreish nobbly nibbles of crispy wafer, chewy caramel, crunchy peanut and juicy raisins, covered in Cadbury milk chocolate. I opened the bag to sample, and might have eaten most of it. I think the Instagram hashtag #Iwillnevergoonadiet is invented for me.

The Jelly Bean Factory Super Sours come in 9 delicious flavours to tingle your tastebuds. These gourmet jelly beans are made using natural flavours and colours. They are also gelatine free, gluten and nut free, thus suitable for coeliacs and vegetarians.
If you find them too sour, use them as decorations for festive cookies and cupcakes.

Vanilla cupcakes with jelly beans

Festive cookies

There were two drinks in the box:
Dalston's Fizzy Apple - a fizzy soda, packed with Jonagold, Idared and Bramley apples from farms in Kent. I haven't had a chance to even try it, but my husband enjoyed it.

ALO claims to be the only quality proven brand of Aloe vera drinks in the UK market today (though I suspect Holland & Barrett and other health food shops might dispute the case, as they sell a variety of aloe vera drinks).

Overall, it has been another great selection of foods and drinks, a mix of established and new brands.

Disclosure: We receive a monthly food box for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are our own.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Tea in the City

Christmas tea

"But when we consider how small after all the cup of human enjoyment is, how soon overflowed with tears, how easily drained to the dregs in our quenchless thirst for infinity, we shall not blame ourselves for making so much of the tea-cup"
Kakuzo Okakura, The Book of Tea

It's true that for Brits tea is often the solution to many a problem, or the remedy which helps us calm down or feel revived. I think many women would nod their heads in agreement that the cup of tea after giving birth was one of the most wonderful things in life. That cup of milky tea with sugar and a slice of toast were like manna from heaven and a true reward.
How many times after hearing some sad or worrying news you go to the kitchen to make a cup of tea?!
There are so many fond and wistful memories around tea for me, of my long gone friends, family kitchen, emergency cups in stressful situations. Tea might not cure all ills, but it certainly is a constant positive in my life.
I am always delighted, whenever I'm asked to review a new brand of tea.

Tea in the City is a single origin loose leaf company with teas from several corners of the world.

They focus on pure unblended teas, and also stock a number of different tea types.

I have sampled two of the Tea in the City's range - Lapsang and Georgian Black.

best black teas

Georgian Black has nothing to do with the British monarchs. It comes from Ozurgeti, Georgia.
Georgian tea was very popular in the Soviet times.
It makes a beautiful aromatic cup, strong but mellow, not bitter or harsh, like some black teas taste. It has a mild berry note, and is very-very drinkable on its own. I have tried it with lemon, and also with milk, but prefer it unadorned.

It is grown inland from the Black Sea, outside the city of Batumi. The story goes that tea cultivation started in Georgia in the 19C, thanks to the crown prince Miha Eristavi, who loved tea so much that he had it smuggled from China in the form of seeds. The local climate was similar to sub-tropical tea growing regions of China, and the rest is history.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s, the local tea-growing industry was thrown into chaos.
But as it often happens, it takes one passionate person to inspire the others, and the tea growing was revived. Davit Teneishvili had been growing tea on his farm for over 20 years, but the plants themselves are up to 80 years old.
When you drink this beautiful tea, think of its wonderful history, and raise a cup to the dedicated Georgians.

best tea gifts for Christmas, foodie gifts

Wild Lapsang Souchong is one of the most famous Chinese teas. This variety comes from Wuyi Mountains, Fujian Province.

best teas

I am a big fan of Lapsang Souchong, but usually I drink a smoked variety. Lapsang from Tea in the City is unsmoked. It is a malty black tea with earthy, mineral undertones and pine aroma.

This is the first time I have tried an unsmoked Lapsang.
"Despite being unsmoked, it packs a punch in terms of flavour, and the absence of smokiness really lets the taste of the tea leaves come through."

The tea makes an intense amber-coloured brew.

If there is a tea lover in your life, and you're looking for Christmas gifts for them, check out Tea in the City.

Disclosure: I received two teas for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are my own.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Twelve days of chocolate (giveaway c/d 12 December 2017)

Chocolate, books and tea are my favourite prizes! In the last couple of weeks I have been buying chocolate bars for my now annual 12 days of chocolate giveaway.

First of all, let me wish all my blog readers a very merry Christmas, and a happy New Year!
December is the most anticipated month for many compers, as it brings an avalanche of daily prizes.

As a self-confessed chocoholic, I do love chocolate gifts, and my seasonal giveaway reflects my love of chocolate. I give you Twelve days of Chocmas.

Every day I will offer you a chocolate gift and a little something too, edible or decorative.
For 12 days I will be revealing a part of an overall prize, and each day there will be a new question.

As stipulated in the T&Cs below, the number of winners will depend on how many questions the first randomly selected winner will answer. If they answered all 12 questions, they get the whole lot. If they choose to answer less questions, they'll get less prizes, and the remaining part of the prize will go to the next randomly selected winner.

Day 1 (1 December): Last Sunday Eddie and I went to the cinema to see Paddington 2. We both loved it. Very entertaining family film. To celebrate the release of the film, I bought this cute Christmas tree decoration in M&S - a golden Paddington bear.
The chocolate bar of the day is Thomas & Grace Starburst Peppermint chocolate (rich dark chocolate with peppermint oil, decorated with a stunning metallic starburst pattern). Now I haven't tried it yet (you can buy it in Lakeland for £3.99) but it surely looks festive and pretty.

Day 1 question :
Do you usually take part in daily advent competitions? Did you win anything last year?

(I was lucky to win a wonderful Filippo Berio hamper and a jewellery set on Instagram, plus two lovely Christmas books for children on Twitter. )


Day 2 (2 December): Christmas is not Christmas without a little bit of festive marzipan. I usually buy a selection of marzipan fruit at the market.
Niederegger Marzipan in dark chocolate and Ritter Sport Marzipan are very seasonal treats.

Day 2 question :
What Christmas gift do you most anticipate giving to someone this year? (Or what Christmas gift that you've given in the past was most memorable to you?)

Day 3: I first discovered Godiva, when we lived in New Haven, CT long time ago. There was a Godiva shop on the campus, and I could spend a fortune there.
I was delighted to see a range of Godiva introduced recently in Sainsbury's.
Here is a Godiva Salted Caramel chocolate bar and a soft velvet purse for jewellery or some trinket.

Day 3 Question (December 3): What is your favourite Christmas treat?


Day 4 (4 December): Green & Black's is another chocolate brand I'm partial to. On Day 4 I'm adding a Green & Black's Velvet Edition Dark Chocolate Orange & Almond to my prize stash, plus a No.7 nail polish (Bronze).

Day 4 Question: Do you have Christmas family traditions (or did you have any special traditions as a child)?


Day 5 (5 December): my boys, big and small, all love white chocolate, so I had to add at least one white chocolate bar to the stash - Lindt Lindor white is creamy and smooth. There are also Christmas stickers which could come handy, when decorating a wrapped gift or making a seasonal card.

Question 5: Christmas jumpers - do you love or loathe them? (Will you be buying one this year? )

Ahem, I couldn't resist buying a Christmas jumper in Debenhams, you might have seen it, it's white, with two cats, one wearing a crown, another one has reindeer antlers. Cheesy but cute.


Day 6 (December 6): 
This Winter edition Cadbury Dairy Milk is my elder son's favourite. He would happily eat it all in one go. There's also a packet of Bart Wine Mulling Spice for the hot festive tipple.

Day 6 question: What is your favourite Christmas film?


Day 7 (December 7): If you enjoy dark chocolate, you will be happy with this Waitrose 1 Single Origin Dominican Republic Dark Chocolate - it's 90% cocoa. For festive baking there is a bag of Candy cane sprinkles.

Day 7 question: Tell me your favourite Christmas cracker joke (good or bad)!

Day 8 (December 8): We're already on day 8, and today's choice of chocolate is Ritter Sport Honey Salt Almonds + a set of 12 gift tags.

Day 8 Question: What do you typically have for breakfast on Christmas morning?


Day 9 (9 December): It's just over two weeks until Christmas, and though I bought most presents, I still need to get a few for family and friends.
Today's chocolate is Milka Yoghurt + a little spoon rest with a red cardinal.

Day 9 Question: Have you finished your Christmas gifts' shopping or leave it until later? (Or are you super organised and had everything bought and wrapped back in January?)

Day 10 (December 10):
Galaxy Cookie Crumble is for those who love both cookies and chocolate. My Melting Moment star shaped chocolate made me think of the Nativities my children took part in.
Eddie was a cow in the nursery, a dancing diamond last year, a narrator with one line and something else so memorable that I cannot recollect what it was.
Do you remember that episode from Love Actually, where Emma Thomson's character's daughter announces that she will be a second lobster in the Nativity play? Always makes me smile.

Day 10 Question: If you've ever taken part in a school Nativity play, what was your memorable part? Were you a Mary, Joseph, Gabriel, one of the shepherds, wise men or a more random character?


Day 11 (11 December): Have you had any snow in your parts of the country? My younger son was ecstatic that he could finally have a snowball fight in the garden.
Here is a cute felt Gingerbread lady decoration. + a delicious Godiva masterpieces Hazelnut Oyster Belgian Milk chocolate.

Day 11 Question:
How cold is it today where you live? Did you get any snow?

Day 12 (December 12): Green & Black's Velvet edition dark chocolate (70%) and a Waitrose Christmas cracker with chocolate.

Question 12: Actually not a question, just wish a merry Christmas to a poster above you!

The giveaway is open to the UK residents only.

Please leave your name or Twitter name in the comment if you login as Anon, or I will never know who commented.

There will be one or more winners, who will receive all the goodies appearing during the twelve days of the giveaway. If the first winner has replied to all twelve questions, they will receive the whole lot.
If the first winner answered less questions, they will receive the prizes from those days only.
The remaining prizes will be allocated to the next winner(s).
I hope I don't have to send twelve different packages though.

The more questions you answer, the bigger your prize will be.
Only one entry per person is allowed.

If you missed a day, you will have a chance to catch up on any other day until the end of the giveaway, as long as it comes in a SEPARATE comment.

Please note, if you answer 12 questions in one comment, it will count as 1 entry.

Once the winner is selected randomly, I will count their replies.
I will contact the winner, who will have 7 days to reply with their address details. Due to the nature of the prize which I hope to dispatch in good time before Christmas, the time limit to get back to me is shorter than usual.
All the prizes are provided by me, and are in no way sponsored by any brand.
This is my way of saying Thank you to my blog readers.

I will be posting the package(s) at my own cost.
If the winner's away when the parcel arrives and is not able to rearrange the redelivery, and if by some chance it is returned to me, please do not expect me to cover the cost of the postage again.
If that happens, the prize will be taken to the local food bank (foods) and charity shops (non-perishables).

I will send the packet by Royal Mail, tracked and to be signed for.

The giveaway will end on the 12th of December at midnight.

First of all, many thanks to each and every one of you for taking part and making it a fun event. I have read every comment. Those of you who wondered that they have commented and then couldn't see their comment, it's because of the amount of comments - 670 in total, you just needed to click on "more comments" to see them all. They were all published, none were removed.
I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

I wish I could give out chocolate to everyone, but there can be only one winner.
And the winner, selected randomly, is...


Jodie, big well done! I have tweeted to you. Hope you and yours will enjoy all the chocolate and the other goodies.

Merry Christmas to all lovely people who took part in the competition!