Boo!!!

Pumpkin Vase

One of my favorite holidays is coming! It combines so many things I love: fun decor, fun food and the opportunity to wear some silly dress! I fell in love with Halloween while studying in North Carolina, it's really spectacular there and the autumn's nature backdrop is just gorgeous! I might be not a big fan of some really tacky Halloween decorations mostly made out of Chinese plastic, but aren't those pumpkins look fantastic!

Halloween Buffet Party Ideas
Halloween Recipe Ideas Spiderweb Muffins Eyeballs

Unfortunately, it's not celebrated at the same scale in Europe. And while pumpkin decorations might seem out of place in the inner city of London,  I still think everyone can make this holiday shine even here with some willing friends, preparation and imagination. I managed to have a Halloween party in the small London apartment somehow.

Halloween Devilled Eggs Spider Recipe Ideas

When it comes to Halloween party planning, it's really worthwhile to start a bit earlier to make sure all of your party supplies are in and at the best price. Most of the stuff can be ordered directly from China either on Ebay or Aliexpress.com for a fraction of high street stores prices and mostly it will be of the same quality or even from the same manufacturer. Just pay attention to the sellers reviews and read through the items details carefully to avoid disappointment!

Halloween Recipe Ideas Spider Web Guacomole Cheese Dip

I prefer finger food for my Halloween parties and style them as buffets. As a busy and lazy person ;) I either invest in food taste or decor and rarely have time to address both to the highest standards.

So, my Halloween food is usually nothing special or complicated to prepare, but I invest some time into its decoration. As I mentioned earlier, it's always about "talking points" when it comes to home entertaining and creatively decorated food is a perfect talking point for your guests!

Halloween Recipes Party Ideas Pumpkin Cheese Board

One don't need to invent a wheel with Internet at her fingertips, Pinterest got plenty Halloween ideas for your inspiration.

Most of the recipes I am going to share today were taken from Internet and I just tweaked them a bit to my taste. Unfortunately, I don't remember the exact sources but you can probably google them.

Also, I think many of the dishes, pictures of which I provided here, don't need a recipe really. Just use your favorite recipe of muffins and put some weird gummy eyeballs on top or chocolate web - here you go Halloween Muffins. Or take your favorite recipe of deviled eggs and decorate those with spiders made out of black olives!  Well, how about you favorite dip decorated with the spider web too? Oh, I think you got the idea.

 

Halloween Cheese and Poppy Seeds Bats

Ingredients:

Halloween bat cheese balls poppy seeds black crackers
  • 180-200g of cream cheese (small pack)
  • 200g of grated hard cheese as per your taste (cheddar, emmental etc)
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • Herbs (chives, parsley etc) and spices (cayenne pepper etc) per your taste or replace with chopped smoked salmon
  • 3Tbsp of poppy seeds for the decoration
  • several black olives for eyes
  • red peppercorns for eyes "irises"
  • charcoal crackers or blue tortilla chips for the wings. I used the following, because of their hexagonal shape they are perfect for wings when cracked into two parts:

http://www.waitrose.com/shop/DisplayProductFlyout?productId=311396

Method:

  1. Combine cream cheese, grated hard cheese, crashed/minced garlic, lemon juice, spices and herbs, mix thoroughly into a homogeneous mass.
  2. Form small balls of a plum size.
  3. Roll each ball in poppy seeds.
  4. Chill the balls until ready to serve, at least 30 minutes.
  5. Just before serving, decorate with split charcoal crackers (or blue tortilla chips) on either side of the each ball to imitate the wings. Imitate the eyes with thinly cut "wheels" of olives and red peppercorns for irises.

Korean Inspired Seaweed and Pig Ears Salad

This salad is not for the faint-hearted when it comes to weird ingredients. But I like it for its various textures and a bit of spicy bite. Because it should be prepared, at least, fortnight before, it's also perfect to spread the cooking workload across several days.

Ingredients:

Halloween Korean Seaweed Pig Ears Salad
  • 20g dry wakame seaweed
  • 2 big pig ears (~250g)
  • 1/2 of a small red cabbage
  • 200g finely julienned carrot
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • Spice mix as per your tolerance (ground coriander, chili paste, salt, black pepper)
  • 1 Tbsp of sesame seeds
  • 100ml of vegetable oil (I prefer sunflower or corn)
  • 2 Tbsp of sesame oil (optional for stronger taste)
  • 2 Tbsp of dark soya sauce
  • 2 Tbsp of balsamic or white vinegar

Method:

  1.  Start with preparing your pig ears (ask your local butcher for them or order on-line from the specialist meat suppliers). Mine arrived perfectly cleaned, but one might need to clean them if buying from less scrupulous sellers. Boil them for at least 2 hours. Then remove from water, cool down and slice into thin stripes.
  2. Rehydrate your dry wakame seaweed (ask for in Asian supermarkets or buy on-line).
  3. Mix together cut ears, seaweed, julienned carrots, sesame seeds and finely cut red cabbage. Add crushed garlic, soya sauce, vinegar and mix again.
  4. In a separate pan heat vegetable and sesame oil with the spice mix. While it's still piping hot, pour the mixture over the veggies and ears mix.
  5. Marinade the salad in the fridge for at least 10 hours, but the longer the better.
  6. For a bit of Halloween touch I served mine decorated with quail eggs and cherry tomatoes "mushrooms".

Have a spookylicous Halloween!

 

Spinach for the dessert, anyone?

This week I was obsessed with velvet and mirror glazed cakes. I believe these cakes are already art, not baking :) And, also, I am glad that professional baking is moving from the sugar icings. Frankly, sugar icing is fun for kids, but, in terms of taste, it really distracts from the cake and who needs additional tons of sugar on top of some already in the cake? Anyway, I think velvet glazing is beyond my baking budgets (the sprays are ridiculously expensive), but mirror glazing looks fun and achievable. I will definitely test the approach soon and share the results here.

With kids on board, I missed baking a lot. The problem is I am back to dieting, my babies are too small for the sweet goodness and I don't want to balloon my husband who is faced with the challenge of finishing the cake alone. Unfortunately, guests and home entertainment are rare these days too, I think some of my friends think that the woman on the maternity leave is a dead woman :) So, I just had to come up with the diet friendly baking recipe. So, here we are, today I baked:

Low Carb Gluten Free Spinach Cakes

Ingredients:

Low Carb Gluten Free Diabetes Paleo Dessert Spinach Cake Recipe
  • 200g fresh spinach leaves
  • 4 eggs
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • 150g of margarine (I used Stork)
  • 1/2 cup Splenda for the dough and 2Tbsp for the cream
  • 1Tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3Tbsp of coconut flour
  • 2Tbsp of sesame flour (or any other low carb flour)
  • 250g of mascarpone
  • vanilla

Method:

1. Process fresh spinach in the food processor to the green paste. Add eggs and lime juice. Switch on the oven and heat to 180C.

Low Carb Paleo Gluten Free Diabetes Recipe Dessert  Spinach Cake

2. Add soften margarine to the mixtures and process again. Then add sugar, sunflower oil, soda, vanilla and flour. Mix everything together.

Low Carb Paleo Gluten Free Diabetes Recipe Dessert  Spinach Cake

3. Distribute the mixture to your baking form of choice - you can bake this as one cake or in a muffin mold as I did. I do recommend using silicone ones for low carb baking, because the dough usually contains higher proportion of eggs and they tend to stick to the metallic pans.

4. Bake for about 40 minutes at 180C if in a muffin mold, larger cake pans can take longer.

Low Carb Paleo Gluten Free Diabetes Recipe Dessert  Spinach Cake

5. Mix together mascarpone with 2Tbsp of Splenda. Serve with cooled cakes and several blueberries on top (berries sourness goes nicely with sweet sponge).

Low Carb Paleo Gluten Free Diabetes Recipe Dessert  Spinach Cake
Low Carb Paleo Gluten Free Diabetes Recipe Dessert  Spinach Cake

Enjoy your diet!

 

 

It's all about cream cheese!

It's all about cream cheese, or Philadelphia cheeses in particular, today.

I decided to participate in Philadelphia and BBC Good Food recipe contest and for some time my family has been enjoying everything cheesy for their breakfast, lunches and dinners this month :).

I've already shared some of my recipes with this versatile product in my previous posts, but today I am going to share two more, which I am considering specifically for the contest. One is the perfect dish for the buffet style party and another is my saver when I am desperately craving some dessert while on a low carb diet.

Savory Waffles with Salmon Philadelphia cheese

 

Dough Ingredients:

Waffles with Salmon and Cheese Recipe _ Nuts Stuffed with Cheese_ Golden Apron
  • 2 eggs
  • 150g grated Emmental cheese
  • 5 generous Tbsp of mayo
  • 1 tsp of baking soda
  • 1/2 cup warm water or milk
  • 3 generous tsp of cornflour
  • Roughly 400g flour (the exact amount will depend on eggs size and mayo texture, the dough should be soft and just about stiff enough to roll small balls out of it)
  • Herbs as per your taste (I used dry dill)

Stuffing Ingredients:

  • Philadelphia Salmon and Dill cheese or mix together Philadelphia Original cheese with several slices of smoked salmon and a pinch of paprika

 

Method:

  • Mix together eggs, mayo and finely grated cheese. Add baking soda, cornflour and water/milk. Then add about 2 cups of flour. Knead the dough for the gluten to develop. Set aside for about 5 minutes in the fridge
  • If, afterwards, the dough is still too sticky, add more flour. The dough should not be very stiff, it should just allow you to roll small balls with slightly oiled hands.

 

  • Now, as you can see on the picture, I got a special "nut" making press for my waffles, which helps a lot and those nuts are perfect as an alternative for party canapes. But, if you have just an ordinary waffle maker, don't get discouraged, small round waffles with the piped cheese on top will look and taste delicious too! You will probably need more dough for each waffle and that's it.  And, while we are on the topic, may I recommend one of my recent purchases. My kitchen is really small and I've already got too many devices that lie idle and occupy space in my cupboards, but, when I saw this little waffle maker, I could not resist. What I like about it the most is its versatility! With 3 different inserts it allows you to cook waffles and cookies of multiple forms: delicious Belgian waffles for kids, Christmas cookies and nut shaped canapes for your parties. And having it tested, it bakes good and it's a breeze to clean. Back to the recipe now :) 
  •  So, lightly oil your waffler maker and bake the waffles until golden (for nuts shaped waffles, pinch off just enough of dough to roll small balls size of a macadamia nut). Let them cool down and get more crispy.

 

Waffles with cream cheese and salmon
  • Meanwhile, make a stuffing of your choice. In addition to cream cheese options, guacamole goes with those waffles really nice too. Or one of my friends suggested shrimps and cheese. A piece of butter with caviar tastes delicious too for this extra touch of poshness to your table :)
  • You can either serve those waffles as whole nuts, or pipe the stuffing nicely and serve in halves chilled.

Low Carb Coconut and Almond Cheesecake

 

Ingredients:

Low Carb Coconut Almond Cheesecake Recipe
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 pack of full fat Original Philadelphia cream cheese (280g)
  • 50g butter
  • 200g creamed coconut
  • 3Tbsp desiccated coconut
  • 5Tbsp ground almond
  • 9Tbsp Splenda
  • vanilla
  • 1 sugarfree coconut yogurt (or whipped cream) and coconut flakes for the decoration

Method:

Cheesecake crust
  • For the crust mix together melted butter, ground almond, desiccated coconut and 2 Tbsp of Splenda. Press the mixture in the baking pan (I used a small one, you might need to double the ingredients for bigger ones), and bake until just beginning to turn golden in the oven at 190C.
  • For the cheese mixture, beat Philadelphia cheese with remaining Splenda, add eggs, creamed coconut and vanilla and mix until smooth
Coconut cheesecake

 

  • Pour the cheese mixture over cooled coconut and almond base and bake for 45 min at 160C.
  • Decorate the chilled cheesecake with the top layer of coconut yogurt (preferred option as it offsets sweet Splenda nicely) or whipped cream and sprinkle with toasted coconut flakes. Enjoy!


Both recipes are really easy and quick to prepare!

Apologies for somewhat weird formatting, but, unfortunately, I've chosen a wrong platform provider for my blogging and formatting pictures is unbelievable pain!

 

 

Family Favourites Part II

As promised, today I am continuing with our family favorites. And next recipe I am going to share with you is Lamb Heart Stew with Prunes and Mediterranean Veggies. What I like about it, is that lamb hearts are very cheap and at the same time quite unusual in terms of taste, it is also very easy and flexible recipe and allows various modifications depending on my fridge content. As I already mentioned, my cooking is not the high cuisine and I am all for corners cutting and time saving tricks. Here I can use my favorite frozen chargrilled veggie mixes. Almost every major supermarket sells those, some call it Mediterranean Vegetables Mix, others call Chargrilled Vegetables Mix. As soon as the vegetables pack contains aubergines and peppers, it will suit. Usually, those also have courgettes, onions and some add tomatoes. If you have more time on your hands, you can prepare your own mix out of fresh vegetables, but the chargrilling really adds to the taste of this dish.

Lamb Hearts Stew Prunes Recipe

Lamb Heart Stew with Prunes and Mediterranean Veggies

 

Ingredients for a rather big casserole:

  • 6 lamb hearts (800-900g)
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 3 large potatoes
  • 400g of chargrilled Mediterranean vegetables, frozen (can be replaced with the mixture of chargrilled or sauteed aubergines and sweet peppers with optional courgettes and additional onions)
  • 1 can, ~ 400g of chopped tomatoes preferably with some herbs (or add separately to your taste)
  • 8-12 large prunes (depending on your taste for sweeter things in sour dishes)
  • 25g honey
  • salt and pepper to taste (I usually add 1tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp of black pepper)
  • couple of bay leaves
  • some butter for hearts browning

Method

  • Cut hearts into medium sized pieces. Heat some butter in the pan, add finely chopped onions and cook until soft. Then add lamb hearts. Brown the mixture and add finely chopped garlic towards the end.

 

  • Put half of the meat at the bottom of the large oven proof casserole dish and lay medium cut potatoes on top, then put a layer of the meat again and all your prunes on top.

 

  • Finish with the layer of the veggies.

 

  • Mix together chopped tomatoes, honey, herbs (if using), salt, pepper and a cup of hot water or stock. Add to the casserole, stick the bay leaves inside. Cover with the lid and place into the heated oven. Cook at about 180C for an hour and a half.

 

  • Remove bay leaves before serving.

 

 

OK, now it's time for something sweet!

As a kid I liked crepes with various fillings, but, as an adult, I found those quite a pain to cook because they take quite some time to make. Somehow supermarkets versions didn't hit my taste buds. So, in my favorite fashion of cutting the corners and fusing different cuisines together, I came up with this alternative recipe.

Lazy "crepes" or samosa parcels with cream cheese

Ingredients:

Crepes Parcels Samosas with Cream Cheese
  • 350g frozen sweet cherries or blueberries
  • 1 small 180g pack of Philadelphia cheese
  • 1 pack 98g Birds Semolina
  • 2 Tbsp sugar (optional, if the berries are not sweet enough)
  • 1 pack of spring rolls pastry sheets (sold in all major UK supermarkets or Asian stores)
  • powdered sugar and creme fraiche for serving
  • vegetable oil for frying.


Defrost berries or cherries and get rid of the liquid juices, if any, after the defrosting. Defrost pastry sheets (when buying, please, ensure those are not made out of the rice paper, because those are intended for summer rolls and can't be fried).

Mix together berries, semolina, cheese and sugar for the stuffing. Use about one heaped table spoon of staffing for each parcel. Wrap tightly. You can make either little triangle parcels or small rolls.

Fry until golden in the heated oil. Place on the paper towel, when they are ready, to get rid of excessive oil. Serve sprinkled with the powdered sugar and a spoon of creme fraiche.

Family favourites

My twins demand more and more time and, unfortunately, it means less and less time for everything else, including blogging. So, my next posts I'd like to dedicate to all the busy moms handling family budgets, varied family tastes and limited time on their hands. In particular, I'd like to discuss what's cooking in our kitchen on day to day basis to entertain the most precious guests of all - our family members!

Potato Spinach Bake

Of course, we all have some really simple day-to-day staples which might not require particular coverage or recipe details like fried eggs, potatoes or morning cereals. But there are times when we just want to step our game up and treat our family to something a bit more elaborate than above, but at the same time still simple, on the budget and with limited time available. In my opinion, the perfect family recipe should be:

Pork with Peaches Recipe
  • Flexible and forgiving all sorts of modifications. We don't have time on our hands to run to the supermarket if some of the ingredients are missing. And, usually, we have plenty of leftovers in our fridge or cupboards which we would like to use too, not to waste precious family resources
  • Allowing to use my favorite short cuts: frozen vegetable mixes, spice kits etc
  • Easy to freeze and store for a week ahead
  • Not containing expensive or difficult to find ingredients, only few are lucky to have unlimited family budgets
  • Not taking much time and requiring handling too many dirty bowls and pans to prepare
Pizza with mushrooms and blue cheese

Considering all the above, I would say that these dishes are broadly falling into the categories of stews, bakes, curries and pasta in my kitchen :) And, of course, you can always make pizza with anything really! Depending on the combination of foods available in your home at one particular moment, I would say you can definitely prepare one or another with those! To be 100% sure, I tend to always stock some favorite veggie mixes in my freezer, have a box of cannelloni and a bag of rice in my cupboard, and just replenish my fridge with fresh cheap meat cuts, fish fillets and cheese through my weekly shopping orders.  When it comes to meat selection, I prefer skinless chicken thighs fillets, pork and lamb hearts. In my opinion, those meats satisfy most important conditions: they are cheap, easy to prepare and versatile enough to go into any of the four dishes I mentioned.

Ok, I think, we covered all the theory. So, let me share some of my favorite recipes with you now. How, about some pasta for a start?!

Cannelloni Recipe Chicken Spinach Ricotta

Cannelloni with chicken and kale or spinach

Cannelloni Recipe
Cannelloni Recipe Spinach Kale Chicken

It might seem to be a bit fiddly due to the need to fill in the tubes, but it really takes 5 minutes to stuff the cannelloni and this additional effort is definitely worth it - both in terms of the taste and looks of the dish. The tubes can be stuffed with anything really and the ingredients can be finetuned as per your family tastes and the choice available in your fridge. Though it might be a bit trickier when the tastes differ :) - I like those crispy and spicy, my husband likes those gooey and bland. It's really a very versatile and forgiving dish. Stuffed cannelloni can be frozen and prepared on the day needed too. So, I am going to share just one of the many versions of this dish. The end result might look different depending on the cheeses, sauce and crumbly mixture you choose. To the right are two versions of essentially almost the same cannelloni with chicken, kale and ricotta! The more traditional version is usually done with beef mince, but there is something about it lately that it is not exactly to my taste, so I prefer lighter chicken. I've also done a more complicated version of these with two sauces - one tomato and another bechamel, but, really, didn't find it that special not to simplify and prepare with one sauce only going forward.

Ingredients:

  • 250g cannelloni pasta (I prefer those which doesn't require precooking)
  • 500g of skinless chicken thigh fillets finely chopped
  • 300-400g of frozen chopped kale or spinach
  • 1 large onion finely chopped (I use frozen alternative too)
  • 2 garlic cloves finely chopped (I use frozen alternative too)
  • filling condiments: frozen, dry or fresh basil to your taste (I also use basil infused oil for meat browning at times to enhance the flavor), salt and black pepper (well, any herb combi your heart desire), chopped walnuts (optional)
  • 250g of ricotta cheese (can be replaced with cream cheese)
  • 2 Tbsp of butter + olive oil for meat browning (butter is optional but I do believe it's better)
  • 400-500g tomato based sauce or passata (any version will do even a can of chopped tomatoes, I usually prefer the ones with slight hint of chilli and herbs, in my opinion, the mild heat of chilli compliments the blandness of pasta perfectly, but my spice averse husband disagrees :))
  • 200ml of double cream
  • 100g of hot boiled water or stock
  • 1Tbsp of plain flour (optional)
  • 100-200g shredded hard cheese(the amount depends on how cheesy you like the dish and budget, I like a combination of mozzarella and cheddar, but any will do)
  • Crust topping (simple breadcrumbs will do, but for a more elaborate version, mix breadcrumbs with garlic powder, Parmesan, paprika and herbs of your choice)
  1. Heat the butter and the olive oil in a large frying pan, add onion and garlic, then cook until soft. Add chicken meat and brown the mixture a bit.
  2. Add spinach (kale), ricotta and filling condiments, then cook for further 2-3 minutes. Put aside and let it cool down.
  3. Preheat oven to 180C. Fill in dry cannelloni with the prepared mixture. I usually do that with hands, I found it to be the quickest and easiest method, but you can do that with piping bag too, assuming it has wide enough cut for chicken pieces. At this stage you can freeze some of your cannelloni to prepare later during the week.
  4. If you are using prepared tomato sauce, spoon in about half of it at the bottom of your oven proof dish evenly (if you are using plain chopped tomatoes, I suggest you salt and spice it to your taste first). Place filled in cannelloni on top evenly and tightly.
  5. In a separate bowl mix together half of the remaining tomato sauce, cream and half of the shredded cheese. Depending on how gooey you like your pasta, measure and add boiling water/stock and flour. I provided the measurements which kinda average my family tastes. Spread the mixture evenly on top of the cannelloni.
  6. Sprinkle the pasta with your remaining shredded cheese and crust topping. Cover with foil and bake in the oven for about 40 min, then remove the foil and cook for 10 more minutes until golden brown.

Next time I will cover one of my favorite stews - Lamb Heart Stew with Prunes and Mediterranean Veggies!