Saturday, 24 June 2017

Chocolate hazelnut muffins for school fayre

I don't cope well with the heat. I'm so glad that the heatwave has ended. Last Tuesday when I accompanied Eddie's class to the swimming pool, I thought I'd have a sunstroke. It was hot and humid, and my face was the colour of the cooked lobster (and I do wear the hat at all times).

My husband has just talked to his parents, and it's +49C in his home town in Italy. Makes me shudder. I don't think I could survive that.

Earlier today Eddie and I went to his school fayre. I was rather reluctant to go, but he begged and begged, and I just tagged along. Thankfully, it wasn't as hot as a few days ago.

Yesterday I baked a batch of chocolate muffins for the fayre. I have adapted the recipe found in Eric Lanlard's Totally Chocolate book.
I got this book a couple of years ago for Easter from Happy Eggs PR, suggesting to try one of the seasonal recipes. I confess I haven't tried the egg cups recipe, nor cooked anything from the book.
I have way too many cook books, and really need to sort through them and take some of them to the charity shop.

If you don't have the book, you can find the original recipe for chocolate and hazelnut muffins online.

Since I needed more than six muffins, I have doubled the amount of all ingredients. I used milk chocolate rather than dark one. My kids prefer milk chocolate. I also used more milk as the cake batter was very thick to spoon into the muffin cases. I couldn't find any chocolate chips, but an Easter chocolate bunny, chopped finely, worked fine instead of chocolate chips.

Eric decorated his muffins with chopped hazelnuts, I used sugar stars and chocolate jazzies (buttons with sprinkles) also known as rainbow drops. I placed them on top of the warm chocolate, spread over the top of each muffin, to "glue" them to the top.

You can use Nutella or a supermarket own chocolate hazelnut spread to cut the costs.

These are lovely rich muffins, which you can decorate in a variety of toppings.

baking for school fete or fayre

Flower Fairies 500 piece jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger

best jigsaw puzzles

When I was a child, my Mum bought me a book about the world's best illustrators of children's books. I loved that book and spent hours looking at all the fascinating pictures and dreaming of reading all of those books one day.
I was completely entranced by the images of Flower Fairies, and thought that surely nothing could be more beautiful than those delicate little sprites created by Cicely Mary Barker.

Her illustrations which first appeared in 1923, are world renowned, and have many fans among both children and adults.
The flower drawings are botanically accurate and depict delightful fairy images. Each Flower Fairy has a lovely poem written in her honour.

I have recently revisited my childhood dreams, working on a new Flower Fairies 500pc jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger.

best jigsaw puzzles

The puzzle presents a tapestry of several famous images from Flower Fairies collection, as well as a poem Spring Goes, Summer Comes.

This colourful and detailed puzzle is made from high quality cardboard and measures 36x49cm.

best jigsaw puzzles

Admire the graceful floral illustrations of lavender, pinks, sweet peas, buttercups, daffodils and more, as well as delicate butterflies and dainty fairies.
It is an enjoyable puzzle, which will make a lovely gift for any jigsaw puzzle fan.

best jigsaw puzzles

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

best jigsaw puzzles

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Tonka Blast & Dash Quarry Playset

Can you believe it that Tonka is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year?! That's a great achievement for a toy brand. Happy anniversary, Tonka!
To mark 70 years of fun, Tonka has released two new playsets in their Tonka Tinys range -- Tonka Car Crush Escape and Blast & Dash Quarry (£9.99 each).

collectible mini cars, toy cars

If you haven't come across Tonka Tinys before, this is a collection of miniature vehicles which are great for small scale adventures.
Suitable for ages 3+, this range of mini collectibles is popular with children and grown-ups alike.
We have already reviewed some of the Tonka Tinys earlier this year.
There are over 20 vehicles to collect including police pickups, quarry dump trucks and even helicopters. You can get them in packs of three (with one mystery vehicle) or in blind garages (priced at £2.49).

They are highly detailed and have movable parts. We like that they come in small craters/garages, which are easy to store, as they are stackable on top of each other.

Two latest sets are connectable, and are scaled to play with all Tonka Tinys vehicles.

Tonka Tinys

Tonka Tinys Blast & Dash Quarry Playset features a working crane, car crusher and catapult for an exploding action. Don't worry, the exploding action is very minor, it's more of an up and down movable part than a blast.

Tonka Tinys

This set comes in a box, ready for a simple and easy assembly. It is suitable for 5+ due to small pieces.
Both sets include an exclusive Tonka Tinys vehicle.

Tonka Tinys

Eddie enjoys playing with little cars and other vehicles. He loved sending them down the slide through the tunnel.

This set is a lovely addition to Tonka Tinys range.

If your child is a fan of Tonka Tinys, keep an eye on a new larger playset coming out in autumn.

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

Monday, 19 June 2017

Ginger molasses cake

best ginger cake

I recently discovered Shetland series on Netflix, and totally fell in love with the location and detective Jimmy Perez. I headed to The Book People and bought a bunch of Ann Cleeves' books. Raven Black has a strong narrative, a great setting and an intricate plot. The personalities and close-knit community are well crafted. And though I know exactly how it all ends, having just watched the series on TV, I am enjoying the book.

One cold January morning a teenager is found dead on the frozen beach. All suspicions fall on an old loner Magnus Tait, who has been a local pariah for many years (he was implicated in the disappearance of a child eight years earlier, though nothing has been proved). Did he kill Catherine Ross?
Detective Jimmy Perez is investigating the case, which will lead him into the past.

Lonely Magnus is sitting in his house on the new year's eve, hoping that someone would come and wish him a new year. He has bought a ginger cake, and is ready for any visitors.
A few days later he thinks of inviting new neighbours - a mother and her daughter - in for a cup of tea with biscuits, "there was a slice of ginger cake in the tin. He wondered briefly if she baked for her daughter. Probably not, he decided. That would be another thing to have changed. Why would anyone go to all that trouble now? The beating of sugar and marge in the big bowl, turning the spoon as it came out of the tin of black treacle. Why would you bother with that, when there's Safeway's in Lerwick, selling pastries with apricot and almond and ginger cake every bit as good as the one his mother had baked?"

best ginger cake

I read that, and suddenly had a craving for a slice of ginger cake. I don't bake it often, as my kids are not very keen on ginger, but a friend was stopping by on Friday for a cup of coffee, and I decided to bake the ginger cake. Not with black treacle like mother of Magnus, but with molasses.

best ginger cake

100g molasses sugar
175g margarine (I used Flora Light)
3 medium eggs
1tbsp molasses (liquid)
1tsp baking powder
3 big pieces of preserved stem ginger, grated
2tbsp ginger syrup (from preserves)
a pinch of salt
1/3tsp ground cloves
1tsp ground ginger
1/2tsp ground cinnamon
1tbsp ground almonds
230g self-raising flour
2tbsp milk (optional)

for the icing: mix icing sugar with a teaspoon of ginger syrup and lemon juice to make a medium runny consistency icing
2 pieces of stem ginger, sliced thinly for decoration

Beat the molasses sugar with margarine in a deep mixing bowl. Beat in eggs, one at a time, and add molasses, baking powder, grated ginger and ginger syrup, salt, almonds and spices. Mix well.
Sift the flour in the bowl. If the batter is too thick, add a bit of milk.
Take a brownie tin and line it with a foil. Oil it lightly, and spoon the cake batter in. Even the surface, and place the tin in the oven preheated to 180C.
Bake for 30+ minutes. Check if it's ready with a wooden toothpick, if it comes out clean, remove the tin from the oven. Carefully lift the cake from the tin, and let it cool a bit on the rack before adding the icing.
Mix icing sugar with lemon juice and ginger syrup and pour over the cake. Decorate the cake with thinly sliced stem ginger.

It is an utterly delicious cake, not too sweet and perfect with a cup of tea or coffee. Shame my kids wouldn't eat it. Eddie peeled off a slice of ginger from the cake, ate it, shuddered, made a face and said "Thanks, but No".

best ginger cake

If you don't have molasses, by all means swap it for treacle and brown sugar, but molasses add a distinct rich flavour which works so well in baking.

best ginger cake

Have you read a book recently which made you run to the kitchen and cook to your heart's content?

I hope you are inspired by books to join in the #ReadCookEat challenge.

The idea is to choose a book, either a world classic or modern fiction, or even memoirs and pick up a dish mentioned or described in that book and then recreate it in a recipe. Please say a few lines about your chosen book, and maybe even do a quote from the book.

If you decide to take part, please add the badge to your post and link up back to me, and either use a link-up tool or add the url of your post as a comment. Alternatively, email me with the link to your post (my email is sasha1703 at yahoo dot com).

I promise to Pin all blogs posts taking part in this challenge, as well as RT and Google+

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

LEGO The Capture of Sophie Jones play set

LEGO Elves

If I mention Barblin, Tufflin, Roblin, Beiblin and Dukelin, would you know what or who I am talking about?! If you know exactly who they are, it means you have fans of LEGO Elves in your family.

LEGO recently expanded their Elves range by adding five more new sets, which follow Part 3 of the LEGO Elves webisodes.
Emily Jones' little sister Sophie - like all younger siblings - thinks she can do the same things as her big sis. She is delighted to discover the magical kingdom: "What could possibly go wrong?!"
Of course, she gets into lots of trouble.

New sets invite you to defeat the evil goblins and save Emily's little sister. Each play set could be enjoyed on its own, or assembled together in different combinations.

"The magical world of Elvendale where the LEGO Elves Azari, Farran, Naida and Aira live faces dark times now the King Goblin and his goblins have hatched an evil plan.
Emily Jones' little sister Sophie has followed Emily through the portal to the magical kingdom Elvendale, however, without her big sister and her elf friends, Sophie gets capture by the evil Goblin King and his mischievous goblins.
The LEGO Elves must unite the magic and go on a dangerous mission to search for Sophie and also recover Emily's precious Amulet which has been stolen."

It is aimed at age group 8-11, but at 6, my younger son Eddie is a LEGO pro, and found it very easy to build the set.

LEGO Elves

The Capture of Sophie Jones 41182 (RRP £17.99) includes some crucial details from the story, with lots of accessories.
There is a magical portal that took Sophie to Elvendale.

LEGO Elves

You may visit Mr Spry's grocery store and discover all the items for sale.
It even has a price list

LEGO Elves

We love all the little goodies.

LEGO Elves

Mr Spry the squirrel has quite cosy quarters above the shop too, with a little couch to sleep on and a family picture on the wall.

LEGO Elves

Barblin the goblin rides a capture-mobile with a big butterfly net which moves up and down.

LEGO Elves

He looks kind of cute, but don't be deceived by his appearance. He is in with the nasty Goblin King.

LEGO Elves

And there is Sophie Jones herself. This mischievous trouble-maker is pretty and cheerful, with big blue eyes and a cheeky smile.

LEGO Elves

LEGO Elves sets are colourful and creative. If you haven't followed the story, you might like to watch the trailer, which captures the essence of the latest Elves adventures, to get an idea on who all the characters are.

After Eddie built the set, we have spotted the latest issue of LEGO Elves in the supermarket. It comes with a minifigure of Mr Spry and a juice bar with tiny cherries and watermelon slice.
There is also a competition to win all five new LEGO Elves sets.

For more information about the range, visit LEGO Elves.

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

LEGO Elves

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Smokey Russian Caravan tea

best loose tea

Having picked some tea, he drank it,
Then sprouted wings,
And flew to a fairy mansion,
To escaped the emptiness of the world...
Chiao Jen

After a sleepless night with a rather unsettled Sasha who often manages to survive on just a few hours of sleep, I was wandering through the twilight zone. Having taken Eddie to school, I exchanged a few words with the school secretary, who looked at me with sympathy and said "Now take it easy. Go and have a big cup of strong tea". 
It made me smile. I find it amusing how many Brits think a cup of tea is the solution to many problems. I wish... If only my troubles diminished with every cup of tea. 
I drink so much tea, my life should be miraculously free of any worries.

I did come home, and brewed a small pot of tea. I have chosen a strong Smokey Russian Caravan from Jeeves & Jericho.
It is a fusion of Lapsang Souchong and Keemum Chinese whole leaf teas.
I bought it a few weeks ago in a local cafe which has several shelves dedicated to tea and tea pots. My kind of teashop. I'd be happy to try all of their teas (though, truth to be told, my kitchen has more tea than their shop. Ahem.)

Russian Caravan is one of my favourite teas, probably second favourite after Earl Grey. I have tried several brands of this tea, and find it very refreshing and palate-cleansing. It doesn't need any milk, but if you take tea with milk, a little dash would not distract from the smokey flavours.

Our local cafe Coffeesmith used to offer a decent cup of Russian Caravan. But when I went there for a cup of tea last week, I was served a pale green tea. When I queried if they might have by mistake offered me a cup of green tea, the young lady at the counter told me it was a Russian Caravan. She clearly thought I was a fusspot, and I'm too polite to insist. I think I'll just order a latte there from now on.

Russian Caravan tea has such a distinct flavour and aroma.

Jeeves & Jericho is a local, Witney-based tea business. They call themselves teasmiths, and boast of a new modern approach to tea. 

Their boxes come in a very striking, distinct design, and look different on the shelves. They are colourful and striking.
Each character representing a tea flavour is a national stereotype. 
For Russian Caravan, you find a mustachioed Cossack in a tall bear hat, with onion cupolas of the church in the background.
I don't necessarily associate black tea with Cossacks. They would definitely drink herbal brews, like wild thyme tea, mint and spices. Fruit compotes made with dried fruit and kvas.

I have also bought a couple of other teas from Jeeves & Jericho.
Tea might not solve my problems, but it surely keeps me sane.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

My Haven - The Man Cave 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger

best jigsaw puzzles, Father's Day gifts

Goodness me, it's only one week to go until Father's Day.
Are you stuck for ideas for Father's Day gifts? You can always buy another Best Dad Ever mug (I'm laughing at myself, as the last time I counted we had at least three Dad mugs at home).

I plan to bake a cake, and Eddie will most likely do a homemade card for his Papa.
My late Dad loved crosswords, fishing and listening to the radio. He was also a very talented jeweller. One day I will find courage and write about him.
My father-in-law is into arts and fine whisky. We all have our passions and hobbies.

If your Dad or father of your child(ren) enjoys puzzles. there is a perfect gift for him -
My Haven-The Man Cave 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle.

Father's Day jigsaw puzzles

This puzzle is the second in My Haven series of Ravensburger puzzles, created by British artist Steve Read.
My Haven presents all kinds of havens and sanctuaries for different creative retreats and hobbies.
Last year I reviewed My Haven - The Craft Shed, which depicts a colourful scene inside a shed with the most beautiful garden view. I wish I had a shed like that to escape and relax with my hobby.

The Man Cave is suitable for ages 12+, and measures 70x50cm when complete.
Like all Ravensburger puzzles, it is made from strong premium grade cardboard, with linen finish print to minimise glare on puzzle image.

Father's Day gifts

The Man Cave in the puzzle is a perfect hidey hole for any man, where he can concentrate on his numerous favourite hobbies. He clearly has several projects on the go.
The master of this creative chaos is not in the picture, must have nipped out to the loo.
His laptop is on, the big beer mug is waiting, and the fluffy dog is asleep in the corner.

Looks like the owner of this well-organised shed (or is it a house extension?) has quite a few hobbies - model building, photography, reading, playing musical instruments and doing online research. I wonder if he's researching his family history.

He's clearly also into sports - golf, cricket and rugby.
And he has the most comfortable looking armchair as well, lucky chap.

The overall design is colourful and very detailed.
This puzzle will make a lovely gift for any puzzle fan and might be a great idea for a Father's day gift.

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

Thursday, 8 June 2017

May Degustabox - the Picnic Box

For me having a food box Degustabox delivery is like enjoying a Christmas surprise every month. 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 May Degustabox? Let's have a peek.

Cadbury Dairy Milk Big Taste Peanut Caramel Crisp is a big sized chocolate bar.
At 190kcal per 3 chunks or 547kcal per 100g, it is perhaps not for people who are on a diet.
I'm ashamed to say I have eaten it all by myself. It's not that I was hiding it from anyone, it's just my guys are not keen on peanuts in chocolate. I ate it a little bit at a time for a few days, and really enjoyed it. Peanuts go so well with caramel and chocolate, don't you think?!

Candy Kittens come in four falvours (sour watermelon, sweet pineapple, Eton Mess and sour blueberry). These gourmet chewy sweets are gluten free. They look like posh Percy Pigs.
I have bought them before, when they are on offer, and my children love them.

The food box arrived at the end of April, just in time before our second attempt at a BBQ on a Bank holiday. The weather was abysmal, so we cooked everything indoors.
I have opened bags of Hippeas and Portlebay popcorn as snacks before our big meal.

Hippeas organic chickpea puffs is a new product with clear health credentials and exciting flavours.
Its benefits include No MSG or trans fats; vegan, gluten free, high in fibre and a source of protein
91kcal per 22g serving
These scrumptious puffs are made with organic chickpea, organic whole rice, sunflower oil with herbs. A lovely hint of oregano and rosemary.

Portlebay Popcorn is made using 100% natural ingredients, unrefined raw cane sugar, a splash of rapeseed oil and the finest butterfly corn from the Pyrenees. Hand popped in Devon, it is a lovely snack.

Sweet Thai Sriracha flavour had a good kick of chilli and a sweet note.

Cereal Lovers Crunch Time nuggets are a snacking granola made with oats, sunflower and pumpkin seeds and malt granola. Benefits: no added salt and low in saturated fat, high in fibre, anti-oxidant, great for the heart, beta-glucans in oats help lower blood sugar. Nutritional info: 246kcal per 60g bag.

MOMA bircher muesli (raspberry & coconut) are quick gluten free oats with fruit and seeds including raisins, dried apple pieces, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, coconut flakes and dessicated coconut, raspberries and blackcurrants.

It made a great base for flapjacks with walnuts and mashed banana. They were so tasty, I'm going to make them again soon.

Deli Kitchen Skinni Wrap is a delicious new flatbread. New Skinni Wrap is just 91kcal, and comes in a unique shape, which makes a perfect pocket for any combination of sweet or savoury ingredients.

For example, fill it in with spinach salad leaves, grated beetroot, sliced sweet pepper and grilled cheese Scamorza for a very moreish wrap.

Millions are tiny chewy sweets which come in nine exciting flavours including sour strawberry and milk chocolate covered strawberry.

Sour strawberry sweets made a lovely topping for donuts and cupcakes.

Millions Chocolate Covered Strawberry chewy sweets are made with milk chocolate, vegetable oils and strawberry millions.

Homepride flour is one of my kitchen staples, though I usually buy a self-raising variety.
Homepride Strong White Bread Flour is the latest addition to the flour range. It's made from 100% British wheat to help you bake the finest loaves and rolls.

Zeo Soft Drinks are delicious all-natural, low calorie soft drinks. Blended with natural fruit, juices, exotic botanicals and a splash of spring water. They come in four flavours.
My husband had finished it before I even had a chance to take a picture.
He said it was very nice.

Crabbie's Original Alcoholic Ginger beer is a much loved classic. It is beautifully gingery, zingy and refreshing. It also makes a fantastic base for a whole range of cocktails, for example, Crabbie's Raspberry Delight.

And finally, Bean Bags Rawbean Proper Coffee. One pack includes 10 single serve bean bags.
The slogan on the packs says No mess, no fuss, just cracking coffee. It is an equivalent of tea bags, only made with coffee. These eco-friendly pyramid-shaped bean bags are full to the brim with 100% ground arabica coffee. I'm saving them for our trip to Cornwall later in summer.

Disclosure: We receive Degustabox every month for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are our own.