Wednesday, 25 March 2015

What I've been reading: Rise and Watersmeet

My love of reading precedes my love of cooking.  I spent my primary school years devouring the books of Enid Blyton, I was fortunate to be able to go home for lunch and after eating my lunch I would lie on my bed for half an hour reading before heading back to school.  I seem to have much less time to read novels these days, but always have at least one book on the go, usually manage a couple of chapters before I go to sleep at night.  I also like to have books on my tablet, that I can read when I'm travelling, so can be reading more than one book at a time.

I've been fortunate that, through reviewing cookbooks, publishers have also offered me some novels to read and review.  So every now and then you will find my first love creeping into my kitchen to claim a little spot here where I can share with you the books I am reading.


RISE by KAREN CAMPBELL

The Blurb
Justine is running for her life. Escaping a city and a man, who, between them, have almost broken her. She heads north to the mountains and the valleys of the Highlands, looking for somewhere to hide.
Michael and Hannah are also running. With their two sons and their tattered marriage they have come to the village of Kilmacarra. They are looking for somewhere they can call home.
In a place of standing stones, an ancient landscape in a country on the brink of change, a brutal accident causes their lives to intertwine. Tangled together in threads of guilt and love, with Scotland rushing towards a referendum and the community around them fracturing, each must question where they truly belong.
Tackling contemporary questions of nationhood and identity through the issue of Scottish Independence and the debates surrounding sustainable energy, Rise is an important and powerful story of living in the modern world.

My Thoughts
I reviewed Karen Campbell's previous novel, This is Where I Am which, although challenging, I really enjoyed.  I found Rise even more challenging, Michael and Hannah's unhappiness and  the underlying threat and menace to Justine were disturbing, and as I neared the end of the book I had to force myself to continue reading.   I think the blurb over estimates the impact of the referendum on the plot, it could have as easily been set around a council election and I was only aware of any issues of 'nationhood' through the discussions Michael had with his political mentor, John Donald.  More significant were the environmental and local activist messages  and the exploration of mental health and marital breakdown.

This isn't a thriller, but it had a similar impact on me as a psychological thrillers which I generally avoid.  I carry away a little of every story with me after reading and found myself having several nights of disturbed sleep after reading Rise.   There were many good things in this book, not least the portrayal of Scottish village life, and the characters you might find there.  However, I found that the the lack of honesty amongst the characters combined with the latent terror, violence and sadness in this book, made it a book I found hard to enjoy.  If you are made of sterner stuff, then there is no doubt it is a well written novel with recognisable characters and situations, it just wasn't for me. 

My Rating: 7/10

Rise by Karen Campbell
Published by Bloomsbury 
26th March, 2015
RRP: Hardback £16.99/ e-Book £14.99





WATERSMEET BY RACHEL COTTERILL
And now to introduce to you a writer you may know in a different guise.  Rachel Cotterill is talented writer who combines her love of cooking, and  photography on her blog 'Rachel Cotterill'.  In her 'spare time' Rachel is a computational linguistics PhD student, writes and publishes fantasy novels and I thought I was busy!


The Blurb
When a stranger tells her she's a mage, Ailith is intrigued but she's also afraid. Magic is heresy, and heresy means death under the Temple Law. Even literacy is suspect in a girl of her background, and her sister's impending wedding only serves as a reminder that she should be focusing on her future. Then a local priest asks her to rescue his son, and she starts to wonder if her talents could be a blessing, after all.

The Lord Baron of Watersmeet, Leofwin isn't accustomed to welcoming uninvited visitors. A commoner turning up at his gates should be no more than a minor footnote to his day, but something about Ailith catches his attention. Alchemy can be lonely work and an apprentice might be just what he needs.As their lessons grow into shared experiments, Leofwin wonders if he might even trust her with his greatest challenge. But Ailith can't forget why she came to the castle.

My Thoughts
I've read a couple of self published books before and have been disappointed, but this novel did not disappoint.  There is quite a bit of scene setting in the first few chapters, but once Ailith reaches Watersmeet, the pace quickens and I couldn't put this book down, I just wanted to find out what was going to happen next.

It's a love story, an adventure, a story of betrayal and, of course, magic! The characters are fully rounded and complex and I can see that some of those lurking round the edges of this story may come to the fore in future novels.  Once I had finished Watersmeet, I immediately wanted to read more of the Twelve Baronies Novels, alas they have not yet been written. However, Rachel has written a short prequel The Falconer which you can download for FREE from Smashwords to see if you are as taken with Rachel's writing as I was..

My Rating: 8/10
Watersmeet by Rachel Cotterill
Download Watersmeet 
e-book £2.49

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Sweeet Biscuits, Crisps and Juice on my Kitchen Table


You may have seen the TV adverts featuring the McVittie's Sweeet friends, in  the latest on-pack promotion from McVitie's, they are giving you a chance to win your own McVitties Sweeet friend.

McVities Digestives are such a classic, they are nice on their own with a cup of tea and they also taste great with cheese, the sweet wholemeal flavour acts as a perfect foil to a good cheddar or blue cheese.  Digestives can also be crushed for cheesecake bases or sprinkled on top of  yogurt, ice cream or crumbles.

The Chocolate Digestives take me right back to my childhood when they were a real treat, sweet and half covered with thick chocolate, they never disappoint.  Look out for the McVitie's sweeet friends on-pack promotion which runs until July 2015, you will have a  one in ten chance to win either the Chocolate Digestives kitten, the Digestives puppy, the BN owl and the Jaffa Cakes tarsier.  The on pack promotion will be present on 35 million packs across nine core McVitie's sweet biscuit and cake products including Jaffa Cakes, Chocolate Digestives and Hobnobs.

The sweeet friends are lovely and soft and cuddly and I'm sure there is someone in your life who would love to own one.  Find out if you are a winner by texting the unique on-pack promotion code from the promotional range on McVities's products.  There are also a number on no purchase necessary opportunities to win a McVitie's sweeet friend spanning across the McVities's website, social media and media promotions.

Rating:
sweeet friends 10/10
McVities Digestives 10/10
Chocolate Digestives 9/10


Sweet Greens Are Made Of These… New vegetable and fruit blends set the bar for juice flavour Don’t vegetate with the same old boring juices. Instead, reach for one of Cawston Press’ three new vegetable and fruit blends - ‘Sweet Greens’, ‘Sunshine Blend’ and ‘Radiant Roots’ - delicious and intriguing drinks that will revitalise your taste-buds.

Featuring nothing but pressed fruit and veg (Cawston never use concentrate) and all-natural ingredients, each is free from any added sugar, sweeteners, preservatives or colourings. The drinks are carefully blended and mixed with a little water to make them refreshingly drinkable. Crafted by the company’s Master Blender, Micah Carr-Hill, the distinctive recipes are inspired by juice bar culture and the fresh ingredients found in kitchen gardens. The balance of each flavour presented a significant blending challenge. Just finding the perfect mint for ‘Sweet Greens’ proved hard, as Micah wanted to replicate the gentle ‘grassy freshness’ of the mint from his garden, rather than the often harsh mint used in chewing gum and chocolate.

Rating:
Sweet Greens (39% apple, 30% Iceberg lettuce, 8% pear, 2% cucumber, lemon, water and garden mint extract)- This one really didn't do it for me, I found the cucumber and lettuce taste was overpowering and while I did drink the juice, I didn't find it pleasant.4/10
Sunshine Blend (26% apple, 24% carrot, 21% orange, 7% celery root juice, lemon and water) Really tasty and fresh flavour with a hint of sweetness 8/10
Radiant Roots (47% apple, 24% carrot, 8% beetroot, lemon, water and ginger extract)  This juice combo went down a lot better, the sweetness of the beetroot came through with only a hint of earthiness, the ginger came through well and this was an enjoyable drink. 7/10


Do you remember how as children you used to mix up all your snacks in one bag? We used to call it Duck Soup, I've no idea why but everyone would share their different crisps and snacks and even peanuts and we each ended up with a mixed up bag of 'Duck Soup'. Well Walkers have now created great big sharing bags already mixed up for us!

New MixUps Snack Mix sees family favourites Doritos, Wotsits, French Fries and Monster Munch come together in one sharing bag!

Walkers, the UK’s number one brand for snacks, is announcing the launch of a new range that’s fun for the whole family - MixUps. New Walkers MixUps brings together the whole family’s favourites, which offers a variety of tastes, textures and shapes for the first time in one tasty bag that will keep everyone happy on those family nights in.

Walkers MixUps are available in three mix varieties - Snacks, Popcorn and Crisps – so there’s something for everyone!

The Snacks Mix - available in Spicy and Cheese flavours, sees family favourites Wotsits, French Fries, Monster Munch and Doritos come together in one sharing bag, for an incredibly tasty combination!

Adding another dimension to the range, the new and delicious Popcorn Mix is available in Sweet & Salty and Sweet & Spicy flavours. Popcorn has become a popular light snack, with many families reaching for new and different flavour combinations, making MixUps Popcorn Mix the ideal Saturday movie-night accompaniment.

And of course, any Walkers range wouldn't be complete without classic crisps! The mouth-watering MixUps Crisps Mix is an exciting addition to the range. Available in tasty Cheese and Bacon and Cheese and Worcester Sauce flavours, the two complementary flavours in each bag ensure that there’s something for everyone.

Walkers MixUps are available now in Snacks, Popcorn and Crisps varieties at retailers nationwide with an RRP of £1.99.

To find out more about the range of Walkers MixUps, visit www.walkers.co.uk/crisps-range/mixups.

I enjoyed the mixed up crisps and snacks more than I thought I would, I would particularly recommend the Cheese and Worcester Sauce Mix Ups Crisps which were a great combination.
Rating: 9/10


Saturday, 14 March 2015

Gnocchi with Spinach, Bacon and Mustard Cream Sauce and a Giveaway


I've always wanted to make gnocchi but there was one thing missing.  I didn't have a Potato Ricer and, while I could have spent hours mashing and pushing potatoes through a sieve - it never really appealed.

However, just before Christmas OXO Good Grips sent me a Potato Ricer to review and it is now one of my favourite kitchen tools. It makes the most fantastic smooth mashed potato, lumps are a thing of the past and that is why you need one to make good gnocchi.


I made my gnocchi using a recipe I found on Pinterest which was posted by Nicole at Cooking for Keeps: How to make Light as Air Gnocchi.  It was a very simple process, once the potatoes have been pushed through the ricer, you add eggs, flour and salt, then roll out the gnocchi, cut and press a fork into the cut edge.  The gnocchi is then boiled for 7 minutes before being served with sauce.

One of the joys of social media and the Foodie community is that you get some great advice about making the best of new recipes you are trying.  I had posted a photo of the uncooked gnocchi expressing my hope that it would taste as good as it looked once cooked.  Becca from Amuse Your Bouche replied to suggest that I sauted the gnocchi in butter after boiling in water to improve the flavour and texture.  You can read more about Becca's Sauted Gnocchi in Simple Garlic Butter Sauce  you don't need much more than this simple sauce when you saute your gnocchi.


The sauce I made had a few more ingredients wasn't too complicated. It's another recipe I found on Pinterest for Gnocchi in Mustard Cream from Maras Wonderland (it's a German blog, but if you scroll down Maras also has the recipe in English.  I added about 200g of spinach to the pan with the onion and let it wilt down before adding the other ingredients.

The most excellent news is that I have one OXO Good Grips Potato Ricer worth £30 to Giveaway to one lucky person, just follow the instructions on the Rafflecopter.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Marbled Chocolate Cheesecake Muffins


When I was asked by Dr. Oetker  to bake one of their Chocolate Indulgence recipes. I chose these Marbled Chocolate Cheesecake Muffins.  I love to bake muffins, they are easy to make and just the right size for a sweet treat with a cup of tea or coffee, I also often serve muffins instead of dessert and they are always welcomed.


Dr. Oetker has a great range of products and tools to help you make a great chocolatey bake. They have several varieties of cooking chocolate, chocolate decorations and powders that make it so simple to make a tasty chocolatey bake.  There are also lots of great recipes on the website to help inspire you. 


This March, Dr. Oetker want to celebrate all that is great and good about chocolate so are encouraging you to have some fun with chocolate and get experimental by trying new chocolatey bakes you’ve never attempted before. That way, you’ll get a handy practice run in March so you’re proud to share these new bakes at Easter with loved ones and friends.



The muffins were very easy to make, you do need to make two different mixtures, one with the cream cheese the other with melted chocolate, then you swirl the two together to get the marbled effect. I liked that they are not too sweet and there is a definite cheesecake flavour.  There are many more delicious recipes on the Dr. Oetker website for you to try. 


I couldn't resist using up the remaining cream cheese to make some Cream Cheese Frosting and decorating the muffins with Dr. Oetker Chocolate Hearts and Dr. Oetker Chocolate and Silver Pearls I took them into work to share them with my colleagues who were duly grateful!



*Dr. Oetker Twitter Competition*
Dr. Oetker is encouraging bakers to celebrate chocolate by making a yummy chocolate bake and      believes that chocolate tastes even better when you share it, so they want to know who you’ll be sharing your chocolate bake with.    

To enter: just tweet a photo of a chocolate bake you've made to  @DrOetkerbakes and tell them who you'll be sharing it with, for the chance to win a deluxe hamper of chocolate products from Dr. Oetker using the hashtag #evenbetterbaking

Monday, 9 March 2015

Celebrate Mothers Day with Afternoon Tea


It's Mothers Day or Mothering Sunday on 15th March, that's next Sunday!  It's a great opportunity to treat your Mum, but when you are a busy Mum too, it's sometimes nice to let someone else spoil you both.


The good news is that you can treat your mother and/or mother-in-law and yourself to an afternoon tea with these lovely treats from Marks and Spencer.

Daffodil Madeira Cake, all butter sponge filled with buttercream and raspberry jam with soft icing and royal icing flowers - £12.00
*The Daffodil Madeira Cake is soft and moist with a nice layer of buttercream and jam, the icing is very sweet.  The daffodil decoration is delightful and very effective, overall it is a good cake.

A selection of Sweet Treats, milk chocolate coated honeycomb, white chocolate covered strawberries and milk chocolate discs - £9.00
*It is nice to have a slightly different take on a box of chocolates.  I enjoyed the honeycomb covered in chocolate and the white chocolate strawberries have a bit of a zing to them, you can definitely taste the fruit.  The milk chocolate discs are smooth and shiny and the chocolate has a good taste.

All Butter Lemon Shortbread Thins, scrummy lemon shortbread baked in the Scottish Highlands - £3.00
*The shortbread thins have a nice snap to them , the flavour of lemon does not overwhelm the delicate buttery taste.

Mini  Scottish Shortbread Tea Cup, all butter Scottish Shortbread mini rounds in a beautifully decorated cup and saucer - £12.00
* This pretty cup is a good size for tea or coffee and the buttery mini shortbreads are ideal for a little nibble to go along with it.

Simply add a pot of tea, some pretty linen and china and a bunch of flowers and you have everything you need for a relaxed afternoon tea.

Thanks to Marks and Spencer for providing me with these sweet treats for Mothers Day, I was not paid for this review and all opinions are my own. 

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Creamy Butterscotch Pudding from Vanilla Table



Do you remember Butterscotch Angel Delight?  Well this is nothing like that, it is rich, creamy and sweetly caramel flavoured, a really indulgent treat.  It comes from a beautiful book called Vanilla Table: The essence of exquisite cooking from the world's best chefs.


Vanilla Table is curated by Natasha MacAller who has a passion for Vanilla and hopes to inspire home cooks, students and chefs to try this exotic but familiar ingredient in a wide range of dishes.  It includes recipes from Natasha and 33 other chefs from around the world including David Lebovitz, Anton Mosimann, Yotam Ottolenghi and Peggy Porchen.

About the Author: NATASHA MACALLER is known worldwide as the “Dancing Chef”. A former professional ballerina, after thirty years of performing with companies such as New York’s Joffrey Ballet, the Boston Ballet and on the stages of Broadway, she decided to move on to what she considered another performing art: cookery. She used her seasonal layoffs from ballet to become a professional cook and eventually set up her own catering business, Dancing Chef Catering, which served TV, theatre, film and food industry folks. In 1996, after graduating number one in her class from The Colorado Culinary Institute, Natasha went from strength to strength, and she now holds her own culinary classes and has become an international chef consultant.

About the Photographer: MANJA WACHSMUTH is a Danish photographer who, while currently residing in New Zealand, comes out of the Scandinavian photographic tradition. Specialising in food photography, she has her own boutique photographic studio and works with some of New Zealand’s favourite magazines and chefs, as well as with clients in Denmark, UK and Australia.


Here are some of the recipes that caught my eye:

Starters: Shaved Fennel and KeriKeri Orange Salad, Caramelised Orange Salad, Pate au Poulet with Tipsy Cherries and Heirloom Tomato Bisque.

Main Plates: Slow Roasted Oxtail Pot Pies, Vanilla Lacquer Duck Leg, Seared Scallops with Vanilla Parsnip Puree, Chicken Stroganoff with Chanterelles and Vanilla.

Blue Plates* and Brunch Plates: Coronation Chicken on Squashy Poppyseed Buns, Crunchy Cornflake Fried Chicken and Apricot, Almond and Vanilla Clafoutis.

*Blue plates are a US invention, literally a plate made up of three compartments - one each for main, side and dessert. 

Sharing Plates:  Island Crab cakes with vanilla-grapefruit remoulade,  The Tonga Trifle, Devilish Eggs with vanilla candied bacon and Saturn Peach, Onion and Blue Cheese Pie.

Dessert Plates: Vanilla Spiced Pineapple Roast, Quince Tarte Tatin, Raspberry Meringue Martinis, Creamy Butterscotch Pudding with Tash's English Toffee and The Anna Pavlova.

Cake Plates: Pure Vanilla Layer Cake, Caramelised Pineapple Carrot Cake, Two-Tone Chocolate Malt Cake and Bittersweet Chocolate Torte.

The Cookie Plate: Chocolate Sticky Bits, Espresso Brownie Bites, Gold Ingots, Cranberry Tweed Cardigans and Black Pepper Chai Truffles.

Bevvies and Bar Snacks: Toasty Coconut Chips and Nuts, Vanilla Passion Martini, Pink Ginger Zinger, Carrot Vanilla Gougeres.

Vanilla Pantry: Vanilla Sugar, Vanilla Salt Flakes, Vanilla Extract, Vanilla Aioli, Raspberry Vanilla Vinegar and Scooter Pastry Cases/Pie Shells.

Vanilla Plate concludes with Notes, Weights and Measures, All Sorts of Sources and biographies of the Contributing Chefs.

Who is this for?
This is not a beginners book, it is a book for confident cooks who would like to produce restaurant style dishes.

Pros:  Each recipe is well laid out with a paragraph about the story behind the recipe, a table showing the ingredients and clear instructions.  The photographs by Manja Wachsmuth are outstanding and help you understand how the dish should look as well as tempting your taste buds.

Cons:  Some of the recipes are quite complex or include ingredients that are difficult to source although the majority seem fairly straightforward.


I chose to make the Creamy Butterscotch Pudding which is essentially a caramel custard made with dark brown sugar, cream  and butter.  I am not entirely sure why the egg yolks were added when the pudding also contains cornflour to thicken it, they seemed a little surplus to requirements to me.  Whether you add the eggs or not, it is a gorgeous dessert and would be perfect for a dinner party or other event as you can make it beforehand and keep it in the fridge until required.  The taste is well worth the many pots and bowls that it requires to make it.

Creamy Butterscotch Pudding
6 servings

475 ml whipping cream
225 g unsalted butter, softened
45 g cornflour/cornstarch
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
480 ml milk
3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
15 ml pure vanilla extract
1 tsp rum (optional)
1 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar

1. In a small saucepan, heat 300 ml cream until warm (or microwave in a small jug until warmed). Remove from heat and set aside.
2. Combine butter and brown sugar in a medium stainless steel saucepan over low heat.  Simmer 2 minutes, stirring with a spatula until bubbly. Add warmed cream and stir until smooth.
3. Combine cornflour and salt in a small bowl.  Slowly whisk in 1/4 of the cold milk until cornflour dissolves.  Add this mixture to the pan with remaining milk.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly to prevent burning.  Stir about 2 minutes until you see steam rise from the surface and the pudding thickens.  Slowly stream in egg yolks, whisking constantly.

4. Switch to spatula and continue to gently stir until bubbles form on top of pudding.
5. Remove from heat and stir in 2 1/2 tsp vanilla, rum (if using) and the vinegar.  Quickly strain into a jug , to make pouring easier, and then immediately pour into 6 individual serving dishes or glasses.
6. Tightly cover each one with a piece of cling-film to keep a skin from forming.  Chill 3 hours or until softly set.  Can be made a day in advance.

To serve whip remaining cream with 1/2 tsp vanilla until soft peaks form.  Place a dollop of the whipped cream on top of each pudding.  Garnish with a toffee shard.


As you can see I didn't serve mine with whipped cream but topped with thin slices of banana and finely grated chocolate.  Banana and butterscotch is a great combination and gave a different texture.


Vanilla Table by Natasha MacAller
Published by Jacqui Small in March 2015
RRP £25

I have one copy of Vanilla Table to giveaway, follow the instructions on the Rafflecopter to enter (UK/EU only) GOOD LUCK!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Snip, Clip, Store, Bake, Cook, Share - it's Recipe Clippings!


There were some great entries to Recipe Clippings in February and now it's time to open the March Linky so get out that folder full of recipes cut from magazines, the ones copied from your mother, grandmother and friends and cook or bake the recipe and share it right here.

There are a number of different ways you can join in and cook up the recipes from your #RecipeClippings.

Make a recipe from a magazine/newspaper clipping or note: 

  • post a photograph and the recipe, or a link to a recipe, on your blog and add to the InLinkz linky at the bottom of this post. Link to Farmersgirl Kitchen in your blog post and include the #RecipeClippings logo OR
  • post a photograph and description on Instagram tagging FarmersgirlCook and using #RecipeClippings OR
  • post a photograph and description on Twitter tagging @FarmersgirlCook and using #RecipeClippings OR
YOU ONLY NEED TO DO ONE OF THESE, BUT YOU CAN DO MORE IF YOU WISH


Rules: 

  • You may post recipes you have clipped from magazines, newspapers or have written down from friends and family.Please credit the author of the recipe or ask permission.
  • Please say where the recipe came from.
  • Three entries per month.
  • I will re-share any posts and/or photos that are tagged
  • Recipes must be added to the linky by the 28th of each month.

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