Friday, December 29, 2006

Chocolate Beetroot Cake

I have been kicked out of the kitchen where Thai Green Curry is being made so I thought I would update the latest chocolate news.

I just spent Christmas in the Lake District where my Chocolate Chip Cookies appeared to go down rather well. (For the recipe go to and sign up for the newsletter.) I also made some oatmeal and raisin cookies too. the cookie supply ran dangerously low so I improvised in the cottage kitchen and made some Christmas Cookies - nutmeg, raisin and orange.

One of my Christmas presents was the Chocolate recipe book from Green and Blacks. As soon as we returned to a full kitchen I headed to Tesco for inspiration (having spent some time poring over it beforehand). I saw the beetroot in the vegetable section (would you believe the organic beetroot is cheaper than the regular kind?) and decided I had to try to make beetroot cake. I first saw chocolate beetroot cake at Chatswood House but I didn't buy it, and then I saw the recipe in this book.

It is such an easy cake to make, you don't need to cream butter and sugar, or whip eggs. Though I guess you do need to process the beetroot to mush and melt the chocolate with butter. I was going to take a picture but I couldn't remember where I left my camera (in my handbag!) until after it was already cooked and cut.

I hope you all had a nice chocolatey Christmas!

Monday, December 18, 2006

visions of Chocolate from Russia

I finally have my photos on my computer. There was just so much chocolate on display here!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Chocolate Christmas pudding

I remember when I was a kid and we used to be served Christmas pudding, the only reasons my brothers and I used to accept it was for the promise of coins. And the brandy butter. We use to dig around in the dessert, eating little bits of pudding with large amounts of the accompaniments until we found coins.

Now that I'm all grown up I like Christmas pudding more - though still mainly for the brandy butter. I went searching on the internet for a chocolate Christmas pudding recipe. Though in November I was so organised and made my recipe for the December newsletter I decided last week that I would try and make a chocolate Christmas pudding instead. So the newsletter has been delayed because today has been the first day I have been able to make it. Actually, I started last night. I've never made any kind of steamed pudding before and didn't realise it is supposed to stand in the dish overnight. So I finally took it off the boil at about midnight (did you know they have to boil for 1 3/4 hours? The tedium. Fortunately I was simultaneously making several batches of biscotti.

The final unveiling occured at midday today. The bowl was not quite right, but the pudding still tasted good. A quick trip to the supermarket in the afternoon to get some milk because I was going to make custard. Then I decided brandy butter would be easier, so the milk is still sitting in the fridge. I wouldn't normally use milk for anything but custard is so precarious to make from scratch I decided I better not risk using rice milk or a similar substitute.

Here is the pudding and the recipe can be found in the December newsletter which I will send out tomorrow. I took the picture before I had any cream or anything else pretty to decorate it, so please excuse its nakedness.

Happy Holidays!
(Oh, how politically correct!)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Dominiques Chocolate

I confess, I took some chocolate with me to St Petersburg. I had no idea if Russian knew anything about chocolate. Whether you could get any good chocolate. I wasn't going to risk it.
We walked past Grand Hotel Europe and saw they had "Europe's finest afternoon tea". As we had eaten a very late (and large) breakfast and booked to go to the ballet that evening, we decided afternoon tea might be better than dinner. On the mezzanine we discovered now only a selection of cakes (which, incidentally, the ones we tried weren't that great) but CHOCOLATE! The hotel has begun making their own selection. We tried 13 of their 15 (I don't like praline that much) and totally fell in with their green apple and madras curry. I also really liked both of their cassis chocolates. And the banana and vodka pepper was nice too!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

from Russia, with Chocolate

We are definitely staying in the right hotel. It was obvious from the moment we arrive in the room. Two blue-paper wrapped squares bearing the hotel name sitting on a silver tray on the desk, on the underside the words, "60% Kakao". Excellent. Not so much the quality but the knowing that there was some chocolate to hand. And I was so grateful I had dropped one in my handbag as it was a life saver in the Hermitage when my blood sugar was dangerously low but I didn't want to leave as we hadn't yet seen all the highlights on our list. It tied me over till our lovely Russian lunch.

Got to, off to dinner. More later on the Russian chocolate discoveries.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Low Battery - Noooooo.....

I’m on the plane to Russia and the Low Battery warning is popping up. No…. I’m sure I remembered to pack the adaptor. I know I packed the cord, because I was careful to avoid putting the still-warm hair straighteners too close to it when I was packing the suitcase. I was rather hoping that delaying the trip to St Petersburg until December might mean there would be snow on the ground, but no, it will

Just be cold. That’s where it went into hibernation. Still over an hour to go on the flight. I didn’t know how to pass the time. I’m such a geek. I don’t take books travelling, I take my laptop.

Anyway, am in Russia now so will enjoy being in Russia and write more on my return! (Yes, I found chocolate!)

Monday, December 04, 2006

Chocolate IS good for you!

I picked up London Careers magazine on my way into the tube this morning. No – definitely not looking for work, just wanted to read the articles. I haven’t taken one in about a year and interestingly this particular issue, apart from having a very strange error in printing that positioned an article on cures for diseases next to an unsmiling photo of Cameron Diaz, had an article about chocolate. How the dark stuff is useful in people at risk of heart attack. According to this article it thins the blood. They found this out because in a trial where people where on a restricted diet to minimise the extraneous variable some of the participants refused to give up chocolate (smart people) so they decided to monitor them separately. They had healthy readings! Hooray! Long live chocoholics!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Discovering country chocolatiers

A perfect weekend for country driving, though it felt and sounded like someone was throwing full buckets of water onto the window last night this morning the sky was washed clean and blue again. Perfect for family visiting. We went to visit Donnington brewery, where my grandmother grew up. Described as the prettiest brewery in the UK, with its lake and old stone buildings it really is beautiful as though painted into life. It is not open to the public. Nearby is gorgeous Stow-on-the-Wold. My father was born there. It is such a pretty town. Not a high street chain in sight. Plenty of quality food shops, making me very happy. Even better a chocolatier opened about six months ago. The lovely Katherine owns and runs Miette in Stow. A chocolatier and patisserie. In the lead up to Christmas the patisserie has been put on hold because the demand for chocolates is so high. Which is a shame, because I do like quality baked things, especially when baked by a chocolatier – you can guarantee they would have used good chocolate. Miette means small, sweet thing. According to Katherine some of the locals seem to think it is called “meat”; a little unfortunate but it doesn’t seem to affect the rave reviews.

Whilst not all the range that I would have liked to have sampled were available yesterday the fig and orange marmalade truffle was just lovely. Not too orangey. One or two left to try still…

The brownies from Maby’s are also worth trying if you happen to be in Stow.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Fountains of chocolate

It seemed only right that being the chocolate girl I am that I have at least some chocolates at my birthday party. I was planning on serving chocolate cake, but then lovely friends offered to loan me their chocolate fountain – even though they couldn’t come to the party! So I ordered 2.5kg of 72% Callebaut from Raj (my new supplier ;-) ). Delighted that I could get cocoa butter to use to thin it down rather than vegetable oil (ick!). It was rather popular. (Understatement.)The marshmallows went quickly. Sponge cake, apples, grapes and bananas also were divine. Mmm…

I am grateful people never arrive on time because I still had my dressing gown over my dress to protect me from blending the dips! I kind of invited lots of people, rather casually, not really sure who might turn up, and not remembering to invite everyone (sorry!). Funny how those parties always end up the most fun. To be honest, I think most people came because I promised them food and cake! Well, I delivered, and the bonus fountain seemed a pleasant surprise and kept the party kicking until well after 2am (love that chocolate stuff! OK, so all the bottles of champers on the "bar" may have helped too).

I finally went to bed about 3.30am, leaving my brother and a couple of his mates and the mess, and more chocolate… Though we made quite a dent on the 2.5kg, I’ll be making more cakes and things soon I think, with this stock I will have to!

Friday, November 24, 2006

A chocolate birthday

Today is my birthday and I was given chocolate flowers. The most precious of all the cacao plantations in the world is the Porcelana plantation in Venezuela. Valrhona have created a signature gift box of three layers of chocolate pieces laid in the shape of an open flower. When you lift the cardboard layers that open like petals (and then the protective plastic) the smell is just divine! I had to leave the house at 7am to train 25 boys in public speaking so I decided to hold off on my treat until I returned.

I was treated to chocolate cake by the lead trainer after we finished. We debated whether the quality of the local Literary Café’s chocolate cake might only disspoint me but I was so desperate for chocolate by the end of this long day that if I was going to eat sugar it had to be with chocolate. It was a very satisfying cake. Moist and made with cocoa, just like the quick cakes I used to make when I was younger. A comforting, nostaligic treat.

Tonight I’m being taken for a surprise dinner… as long there is chocolate somewhere on the menu! :-D

Saturday, November 11, 2006

5 desserts, but no chocolate?

Five desserts and not one of them chocolate. Surprising.

I had been counting down the days to last night's dinner in the Library at Sketch. I went with my foodie friend Kevin and his fiance and Kevin's friend Matt who runs a very cool cookery school for everyone:

The lack of chocolate in the five dessert selections was made up for by the petit fours to follow: a white chocolate and chartreuse ever-so-light whipped ganache, a piece of milk mendiant bark, with pistachio, hazelnut and dried fruit, an incredible milk chocolate case with a passionfruit and salted caramel centre; and a (non-chocolate) rhubarb jelly square. I could have eaten a plate of the passionfruit chocolates. The five desserts were also very good. The first course of my taster menu was divine too: a beetroot and raspberry coulis with coco beans.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Newtons Chocolates in Clapham.

My uncle is visiting from South Africa and he took us out for dinner last night. We went to Newtons on Abbeville Road. It was almost empty when we arrived just before 8pm but gradually filled up. The staff are really friendly with just the right amount of attentiveness. My brother and uncle loved their lamb shanks. When it came time for dessert we had trouble deciding. We couldn’t decide who should get the chocolate brownie and who the lemon tart, with the plan to share but knowing that like with all siblings we probably wouldn’t if one of them was especially good. We both got the brownie. It was served hot and very dense. With walnuts which apparently so rare in brownies these days that my brother wondered what they were doing in there. Also on the menu were Newtons Chocolate truffles. After ordering the brownie I quizzed the waitress: “They are made with Valhrona”. Darn it. This meant I just had to try them. We ordered 6 to take away after dinner, and each ate one at the table. They were just taken from the fridge so apart from recognising they were good it was impossible to tell just how good. The liqueur was so subtle we couldn’t even taste it, and the chef who had made the batch earlier that day had left and so couldn’t tell us what it was. Upon trying another truffle again this morning I could see that they really were made with Valhrona. It’s amazing what a difference it makes tasting it at room temperature. Having them cold completely dulls the taste.

Monday, October 30, 2006

La Plaisir Chocolates

I have now tried all of the chocolates. I bought so many at once that I haven’t actually eaten them all, but I have at least had a small taste of each. I found them really buttery, so I went back (under the guise of asking the question but really because I wanted to try one of their other cakes). Of the 25 or so I selected (and I avoided all of the white ganaches) there were three that I would return to try: the Bitter almond and apricot, prunes and armagnac and the Laphroang. I am told there is no butter in the ganache, it is perhaps due to a high quantity of cocoa butter in the chocolate. They use Callebaut but are looking at commissioning their own couveture soon. The flagship store in Edinburgh opened 7 years ago and, except for the store where they are made, all the other stores and Harvey Nichols concessions were opened in the last 18 months: Manchester, Edinburgh, London and Dubai.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Chocolate in Edinburgh

The things we have to do in the name of research. Ahem. OK, I would seek these chocolate shops out wherever I go regardless, I just conveniently have managed to attribute my tasting of chocolate to the necessary role I have of sharing these tastes with the rest of the world. Ok, ok, I’m quite sure no one is hanging on my every chocolate-centred word, but regardless I shall write about the chocolate shops of Edinburgh that I visited yesterday.

Despite being the last weekend in October, Edinburgh is actually not too cold. It is only in the last two weeks that I have finally acknowledged that summer is indeed over, by beginning to wear boots instead of sandals and coats over my skirts and sleeveless tops. Even this far up North I still haven’t had to don gloves or even a scarf. And have incredibly poor circulation and I do not cope well with the cold.

Sorry, back to the chocolate. Well, I had already heard about La Plaisir du Chocolat and so made a target of finding it as soon as possible. We had a lunch date and upon seeing the enormous selection (especially the range of cakes!) we realised we would have to return. So I bought just one cake to take away as I hadn’t had breakfast and in this case felt it was appropriate to begin with dessert because it was already after noon. Raspberry ganache. So incredibly rich that I am not sure how anyone could eat one slice to themselves in one day, let alone in one sitting. Very very yummy. Thick, thick layers of quality ganache interspersed with thin layers of sponge cake and raspberry. I suppose it was a raspberry jam but a quality one.

I discovered Coco of Bruntsfield by chance on the way to lunch and was forced to wait until after eating to go and in and explore. Coco specialises in bar infusions and hot chocolates. They also make two truffles and praline balls. The lovely Rebecca, originally from Sydney let us sample whatever we liked. The rose and peppercorn was great. As is the dark with cinnamon and cardamom and dried cranberries that I took away. You can sit and have hot chocolate at the little bar inside and a short walk away can view their kitchens (though they weren’t open yesterday so we could only peer through at spice jars and barren marble slabs. Coco has been nominated for Independent Retailer of the Year awards. Results are out this week!
I then returned to La Plaisir to get a take-away bag of about 25 of their 40+ chocolates. A little chocolate-weary from the ganache cake (which I didn’t even finish!) I will wait to try these. Though being made with fresh ingredients I only have a week to do so….

Friday, October 27, 2006

New Chocolate store in London: Demarquette

There’s a new chocolate shop on the block. I popped in today to visit. The first I heard of them was because they won a few awards in the Annual Chocolate Awards last week. One of the award winners was the house truffle, a 75% cocoa content blend with honey. A well-deserved award. It is interesting how all of the top end chocolate shops still manage to be unique to each other. Though they have a similar style of serving their ganaches in enrobed rectangular pieces as La Maison du Chocolat and L’Artisan du Chocolat, Demarquette transfer an edible print of the type of chocolate directly onto the top. Rather than consulting a menu you can see right there what you are about to consume. I guess it’s not the place to go if you enjoy the guessing game! Rather than design, it is the tastes of each chocolate shop that gives them their individuality. I have no one favourite chocolate shop, rather many favourite chocolates that I have to go to different stores to get. Then of course there is mood dependent choices. Demarquette has several flavour combinations I have not seen before, a Japanese cherry blossom and coconut and banana. Of the six I tried the one I will return to have again would definitely be the cassis (I don’t drink Ribena anymore but loved it as a kid!). But there are over 20 varieties so I will definitely be back - if only to taste my way through the rest!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Raw chocolate cake

Last night I ate a completely “raw” chocolate cake, made by my friend Peter. You would barely know it wasn’t raw. I have no idea how it was created because he keeps his recipes top secret, though having been to one of his classes I daresay it included an awful lot of equipment that normal kitchens don’t have: pulverising-thingies and dehydrators and all sorts. However, fortunately for those of us who don’t have the goods (nor the inclination to spend the time playing with superfoods) he will be selling them to the general public soon.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Chocolate Week Chocolate Week Chocolate Week

I've been too busy trying fine chocolate this week to write (oh, and working a bit too!).

I have just finished the second of the two luxury chocolate tours and am now relaxing on the couch, laptop on lap (hmmm...) completely buzzed from all of the chocolate. Now, in general chocolate shouldn't really have this much of an effect on your biochemistry, but when you consider just how much I have consumed in the past three days, well, over 300 compounds are having some effect. :-)

So, how much chocolate have I eaten?

Well, I didn't go to that many of the chocolate events this week but I spent all of today and all of Thursday touring London's best chocolate stores sampling lots at each. Thursday's tour was followed by the chocolate soiree, a 3 course chocolate extravaganza at Volupte lounge with Burlesque dancers and a musical trio playing show tunes.

Last night I went to a presentation by Damien Allsop, the former chocolatier from Melt. He makes very cool chocolates with a water-based ganache (ganache is the soft chocolate centre of the best kind of chocolate, made from warm cream and chocolate mixed together). So, no cream, though he does add some clarified (ie. flavourless) butter to help maintain the creamier texture. The main reason for not using the cream is to keep the flavour as pure to the original chocolate flavour as possible. It was a very delicious evening, we tasted squares of pure chocolate, he made a water based chocolate mousse and we tried some ganache chocolates he'd "prepared earlier". It was really interesting to learn all the science-y stuff behind chocolate making.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Back to Morel

This time for a family dinner. This is my third three course dinner in a row and I feel that perhaps I need to be doing a little more running! Despite the dodgy fish I felt it was worth another try here. Exceeding expectations. My seared tuna was reminiscent of Joey's in Canada... aah. My bro thought the portions were a little skimpy, which is interesting because normally he eats less than me in a meal. Having already tried the chocolate and orange fondant I decided to try the Apple Tart Tatin. OMG. Goood. You should try it. Really.

A chocolate confession

Um, if you're thinking that I had another chocolate fondant last night when I went out for dinner then you'd, er, um, be right. Though to be honest, me being me, a chocolate confession is more likely to be that there was chocolate fondant on the menu and I didn't have it. Well, there was chocolate fondant on the menu, and I did have it. We went to a restaurant-that-was-a-pub called the Olive Tree (I think) and I really wished I'd taken my camera so you could see their dessert board menu. It was laughably written for me. Of eight options only 3 of them didn't have chocolate. There was a white chocolate and raspberry tiramisu (I know! Like, what?), a sticky chocolate pudding, a chocolate chip bread pudding and some others I don't remember now... But I had to have the fondant because that's what I do (and they take 15 minutes to cook). Also, I did ask the waitress what she thought and she said the fondant was best. It was good. I don't think any have compared to one that I had in Santorini (Greece) two years ago. But perhaps it's deliciousness is in part manufactured by my memory, and the fact it was perhaps my first introduction to the dessert.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Still no Yauatcha chocolate for me...

It was Dani's birthday on Monday and she came to town yesterday so we went out for dinner last night. First to Busaba Eathai which I must have eaten at over 20 times in the last year, a trustworthy friend. It had to be Thai of course, because we met in South East Asia and green curry brings back such good memories. And then, because all birthdays require cake (obviously), we headed over to Yuatcha to have one of theirs. Alas, they were all booked out for dim sum. So I am still waiting to try their chocolates. Luckily we arrived at Sketch (the parlour) and persuaded the waitress to let us select a cake before they put them away for the evening. A light white chocolate cloud with a fruit and coriander jelly centre... I don't particularly like white chocolate (which, yes, isn't really chocolate according to the "rules") but this was sensational. Their berry sponge is traditional. Tasty and comforting but doesn't experiment with molecular gastronomy like this other sweet creation. I can't wait to go eat at Sketch in November!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

I ran London!

10km of it! The Nike 10K. Around Hyde Park, such a pretty park. I haven't run a race since I was 15, and that was the school cross-country. Girls only ran 4km, I remember almost collapsing at the end of that. I was so short of breath I had to use someone's asthma inhaler - and I'm not asthmatic! It helped me to breathe, but I couldn't stop the shakes for a while! Anyway, last year I discovered running is quite cool, and I haven't had too much trouble breathing since! (Except maybe today... I can be a stubborn one and didn't want to stop running, and for some reason felt the urge to sprint across the finish line... duh...)

I meant to start with a 5K race, especially as I was supposed to be in Glasgow this weekend. But then I wasn't needed in Glasgow and Jonny couldn't run because of the operation on his foot two months ago, so I took his chip and shirt and ran for the wrong side of the river. Given I only decided to run 10 days ago I figured it was better I was running for the enemy: my time would likely increase the average on that side! The results aren't out yet...

After a bath and a nap it seemed the only appropriate way to celebrate was with chocolate cake. So I made one. And it is good. The recipe is going in this month's newsletter, it's not mine, but I thought I better test it first (tough job this one!).

Friday, October 06, 2006

Apparently Chocolate tours are the coolest hidden thing to do in the UK!

OK, so I'm a little pleased! Friends and family who asked to see it - here it is! (Sorry about the delay!)

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Another chocolate fondant anyone?

I had to order it, it had a 15 minute waiting time. I was really impressed by Morel (SW4). Although something very wrong happened with my Sea Bass, I wasn't planning on saying anything because the starter was so delicious I forgot to offer to share and the service had been so impressive, yet the waitress noticed I had destroyed it without actually eating much of it. She apologised and when they brought out our desserts (15 minutes later) she brought each of us a free glass of dessert wine. Lovely lovely lovely. It's true what they say about fixing customer problems makes an even happier customer than had the service just been normal. Although I would have been a happy camper anyway. I'm also a sucker for unrequested surprise appetiser gifts. Carrot and orange soup - yum.

Oh, this chocolate fondant was actually chocolate and orange fondant which almost put me off (I overdosed on Terry's chocolate oranges as a kid and will not go out of my way to eat orange flavoured chocolate). The orange was subtle and the pudding was good, though almost a little bit like it had been boiled? Just not quite the texture I was expecting.

Until the next chocolate fondant, I shall return to work.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

My proper English family

Sunday lunch on the Common (Windmill on the Common, that is. It's a lovely pub, where you feel totally secreted from the outside world in the centre room). In an unintentional attempt to affirm our Englishness at this semi-family reunion everyone ordered the roast. Lamb or beef and yorkshire puddings, all around the table. I would have followed suit had there been a vegetarian option, instead I had roast sea bass (but no yorkshires for me...). It was even followed by proper English puddings, everyone having either Sticky Toffee Pudding or Creme Brulee. And, before you laugh at my apparent ignorance, Creme Brulee, despite its name, was invented in Birmingham. Or was it Nottingham? I don't even want to know how someone figured out exposing fire to sugar sprinkled on custard made such a delicious dessert. Northerners. ;-) I lied, not quite all of us had an English after: the younger of my two brothers had a brownie (chocolate addict...). Even still, all three male family members followed their dinner with a Fry's turkish delight bar just an hour later. (I had some Valhrona Manjari...) See: a family of chocolate lovers.

Friday, September 29, 2006

An OD of Chocolate?


Two chocolate tours in four days. And yes, I still like chocolate. My brother and father are visiting, they arrived after the public tour so I just bought some chocolate for them to try. My dad doesn’t leave until the 15th so hopefully he will get to come on the tour on the 14th. Both of my brothers, my father and my mother all love chocolate. Perhaps not to my extreme, but close. What choice did I have, in this family of chocoholics (though they'd probably never call themselves that, but watch them devour any in sight, or watch what they order from the dessert menu). Yep, definite chocolate lovers.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Michelin Chocolate Dessert

This was my dessert from La Bastide St Antoine:

OK, the photography is rubbish, but I was trying to be discreet. It was a rather classy restaurant, taking happy snaps of you meal is not the done thing, I'm sure.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Chinese chocolates?

Last night I had dinner at Yuatcha. The dim sum there is incredible. They also have some of the most amazing cakes in London. And, apparently they sell chocolates too. We were in so much of a hurry to get to the gallery exhibition opening (Chelsea College of Art) that I didn't get to try any. I'll go back but if anyone has already sampled and wants to share their opinion I'd love to hear it.

Ooh, very exciting news for the people booked for this Saturday's tour. As I was organising things this evening La Maison told me that their second-in-charge from the kitchens in Paris will be leading the tasting in La Maison. This is a treat.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

the Chocolate Day tour is coming...

We’re finalising the details for the full day, ultimate, indulgent, luxury tour… It’s going to be the coolest day ever!
Details will be posted on Sunday.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Full o' Chocolat

Waking in the hills of France this morning to the sounds of children playing, then winding down the country roads onto the express way into Monaco, to have lunch overlooking the marina in a gorgeous restaurant called Mandarine. The coolest yacht had on its uppermost deck a helicopter, a speed boat and two jet skis. Yes, two. For races, I’m sure. I had the most amazing cold confit of fish and tomato, drizzled with a deep green olive oil. And then, for dessert, could not ignore the moulleaux of chocolat caraibe with lemongrass icecream.

As we strolled around Chanel, Gucci and Hermes, I commented that it was surprising we had not happened across a fine chocolaterie in a place of such expensive tastes. Two seconds later a patisserie appeared with a cabinet full of chocolat. Still satiated by my mollauex I chose only 3 from their selection – to eat later.

Hours later at the airport I decided to replenish supplies of Valhrona (French chocolate is unsurprisingly cheaper in France, even in the airport). And after a supper of bread it seemed sensible to taste the earlier purchases. Jasmine, Pear and Mandarin. The pear ganache was unlike any pear flavoured chocolate I have ever tasted, almost as though you were biting into the stewed fruit itself. If you are ever in Monte Carlo, I don’t know if the patisserie had a name, but it is only a two minute walk from Zara, at the rear of the building that houses the cinema. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Chocolate from Canet & La Bastide Saint Antoine

Though almost every patisserie in France has its own chocolate range which you can be fairly confident will be of high quality, there are not as many devoted chocolateries. Unfortunately whilst I discovered three in Nice, only one was open at the time of passing. Canet has two stores in Nice and offers a range of filled chocolates, macarons and patisseries.

We chose a selection of chocolates, ignoring the pralines and the “sugar-free” (I don’t believe eating artificial sweetners can be good for you). Canet molds their chocolates into flat square tablets, which is better for experiencing the taste fully (hitting all the taste buds at the same time). They were all pretty incredible but the stand out of the group was the buttered salted caramel, which is a combination I am always a sucker for. Other pretty incredible tastes in their repertoire were earl grey tea and vanilla.

On the day the Daily Mail identifies me as a chocolate expert, it seems only appropriate that I choose the intense chocolate dessert from the Michelin Star restaurant near Grasse that we had pre-booked before we even learned of the article. La Bastide St Antoine is set in gorgeous grounds with olive trees over 100 years old, and a stunning pool and hot tub. The kitchen of 2 starred restaurant is overseen by chef, Jacques Chibois. With my love of food, one of my favourite things is to look at menus. If you don’t share my appreciation I can be a rather frustrating person to walk down a restaurant street with, it’s a slow amble at best. Even in quality restaurants in English speaking countries chefs often appear to thrive on finding ingredients or cooking methods that don’t give away what the dish actually is. In a gourmet restaurant in a foreign country this dilemma was magnified further. Not eating meat narrowed down the necessary explanations but I still felt so helpless relying entirely on the maitre’d’s translations. So although I couldn’t totally remember what I’d ordered, it all tasted pretty spectacular. Langouistine to start and sea bream as a main. Both delicate and delicious. Though I preferred the overall experience that we had at Summer Lodge in July, the main courses were definitely superior in their quality and combination of ingredients.

We lingered at La Bastide this morning, having a quick dip in the, uh, “refreshing” pool before heading up into the hills. Given the indulgence of the night before it seemed only appropriate that we start Sunday with more chocolate. I admit, this is almost true. By the time we stopped at a patisserie for our first meal of the day it was already 2pm (hotel snacks don't count, right?). Another cabinet of chocolates greeted us as we entered. Though we also bought a savoury sample from l’boulangerie, I chose several chocolates to take away. Tired, by now, of asking what they were flavoured by I randomly pointed at four chocolates. Amongst the group was an incredible cassis. It is so frustrating when you are already miles from the store before you taste the chocolate. Cest la vie.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The French do chocolate properly

It's been a long week, so I felt justified in lying in bed most of the day. That, and the rather fierce thunderstorms outside, meant there was little to inspire leaving the hotel. Except French desserts, of course.

We hardly had to step too far from our hotel overlooking the stormy sea to find a little tea house with a glass patisserie cabinet filled with pastries and chocolate covered decadence. I was good and ordered salad to start. Then, a selection of chocolate delights: an opera and a chocolate raspberry tart. It makes such a difference when the chocolate is of good quality. My favourite thing about France: it is unheard of that even in an ordinary café would they serve food with anything but the best quality ingredients.

Tomorrow we dine at a Michelin starred restaurant in Grasse (the town where they make a lot of the world's perfume, I'm informed). I can't wait!

chocolate would make it all better...

This one I’m writing on a plane. Long, long queues at Heathrow, followed by a delayed flight. It feels like my fingers are moving of their own accord. I’m not entirely sure I’m aware as I tap away, bleary eyed. An hour long flight hardly seems worthy of a nap. And I locked my eyepatches in my suitcase. Oh well. In just under an hour I will hopefully be slipping into crisp hotel sheets.

My drone about my tiredness actually made me momentarily forget the incredibly exciting news that I received this afternoon – I’m going to be in the Daily Mail on Saturday! How exciting! Unfortunately I’ll be in France so I can’t rush out to the local corner store and buy up all the copies. Hopefully my brother will do it for me.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

tube delays...

I’m writing this on my laptop on the tube. Despite the nuisance of lugging my laptop I have been grateful for having it with me. For some reason this has been a hideous week for tube travel, I am only grateful I’ve always had water, music and either my laptop, or when I couldn’t get a seat, a paper to read. So, yes there is lots of backdated entries that I have been writing and not actually putting online. I’ve had an influx of work, which is great, but when I’m going on a four day break to France tomorrow evening I’ve been all hectic trying to make sure everything that needs to be completed, is completed, before I head off. So I can relax properly! It’s going to be lovely… Flying to Nice and going to drive to Monaco, Cannes and up into the hills too. I love France. They know about food. Good food. (Especially chocolate.)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

more chocolate fondant...

Dinner at the Gate in Hammersmith last night and I wasn’t planning on having dessert. Delays on the tube meant I only got to go to the gym for 25 minutes (yes, I recently joined, I’m still loving running around the Common but find it easier to get more variety here); though I was grateful for the endorphins that kicked in enough before I left to shift me from my “I hate commuting” doldrums. So, the intention was not to have dessert, and then I noticed the menu had changed since I last dined there. And it not included a chocolate fondant with a cherry compote, with a 15 minute wait. I am a sucker for any food that requires a wait (as you might remember from last weeks trip to the Brackenbury). I am also unable to avoid ordering chocolate fondant or anything similar whenever it appears on a menu. This dessert was not nearly the taste experience of the cherry cafloutis of the earlier pre-order.but still lovely. I am glad I shared the course.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Summer chocolates at La Maison

I went by La Maison du Chocolat today, to say hi. I found out their lovely manager has left – though I don’t know where too. I learnt a lot about chocolate from Philip. I’m grateful the other staff are equally warm and welcoming. I had been meaning to sample their summer range and finally took the opportunity to purchase their small set, with just one of each of the five flavours developed just for the now waning season.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

a bought chocolate birthday dessert

I cooked a delayed birthday dinner for my brother last night. I had planned to take him out but when he called to let me know he would be late and I asked him where he would like to go, he said he would be happy for me just to cook. Hmm. I guess that means I can cook alright. I spent quite a while in Tesco deciding what we should have and settled on Salmon with soy, garlic and ginger with stirfried boychoy, mange tout (snowpeas) and mushrooms, and baby new potatoes. I offered to cook him any dessert he wished, and he choose a ready-made pudding that I brought home a few weeks ago. A worthy choice I must say. For a pre-prepared pudding to meet my standards it firstly must be made with all normal – non-chemical sounding – ingredients, and
Then must also taste good too. The sticky chocolate pudding made by something-or-other farms (I'll find out!) Farms is fantastic. It tastes like my mother could have made it – and only 20 minutes in the oven. Now I am the favourite sister (ok, I am the only sister so I can say this with some certainty at least!) .

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

even better chocolate brownies?

I may have to make a new claim for the best chocolate brownies in London… Last night I assisted at another Speakers Bank training. There was a break over summer, and it was great to get back into it. It was such a lovely group. So, anyway, these chocolate brownies: gooey, dense and delicious. Apparently you can freeze them and the last for ages AND they even taste good frozen. So, I think I might have to do this… At the moment they aren’t sold in stores. I know, it’s a tease to tell you and not give you a way to access them. But, I promise, I will give you your fix as soon as I’m able!

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Brackenbury

Last night we finally ate at the Brackenbury, after meaning to go there for some time. It was one of the nicest meals I have had in a long time. A perfect combination of tastes with quality ingredients. Their cherry clafoutis that requires a 20 minute wait was one of the most divine desserts I have experienced in a long time. I can’t wait to go back.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Belgian chocolates

My lovely colleague went to Belgium this weekend and brought me back a range of chocolates to try. Isn’t he great? Nehaus, Pierre Marcolini and ??. The Pierre Marcolini bar is fantastic – dark with pecans. I have so far only had a nibble of the others and they are very Belgian – sweet and rather creamy. I’m definitely more of a dark, intense girl (when it comes to chocolate). When I have the chance I will do a more thorough review.

He is my fellow foodie friend – though with considerably more experience and intensity in his quest to review the Michelin starred restaurants of Europe.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

I love the Chocolate buyers at Waitrose

I love Waitrose. OK, so they aren't the cheapest supermarket if you're looking for commodities. But if you love good food they are brilliant. They source the best quality products and ingredients. Their own brand food is void of unessential additives. I generally don't like cakes unless they are from a quality bakery or home baked by me or someone else I know, yet the cake line they launched last year is fantastic.

What I love most about Waitrose is their chocolate section. Far from Asda that doesn't even stock Lindt, Waitrose has chocolate bars from Valhrona, Michel Cluizel and Rococo - amongst others.

In a plan to begin the chocolate education of friends I bought a bar of Michel Cluizel's blue lined variety (I don't have it with me and I've forgotten the country of origin!). We ended up having Haagen Daaz and Thai Bananas that I made for dinner so the chocolate got laid aside. But I opened it yesterday. Recently I've been enjoying my chocolate more in baked goods or in truffles and filled chocolates. I had actually forgotten just how delicious quality chocolate is on its own - how much flavour is in the chocolate that comes entirely from the bean, no difference in the processing whatsoever. It is this kind of chocolate that I really can manage to stop after just a small amount. I'm looking forward to attending another Seventy Percent tasting next week. So I can be reminded again of the variations in pure chocolate. Yum.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

a baking bonanza...

I’ve just gotten back from a lovely weekend visiting my friend in the South. This is the first weekend in ages that it hasn’t been consistently sunny. Today it rained, but only when we actually went out to the stables, so we didn’t go for a ride. By the time we got back and had some more food before my train journey home the sun had reemerged and it was actually quite warm, lounging in her conservatory. But, I had to get back to London and so the horses will have to wait for another visit. Funny weather days that can’t seem to decide whether to rain or shine. As the train pulled out from the platform the skies darkened and the heavens opened again, gently cascading drops upon my window pane.

The upside to having odd, inconsistent weather is that it is ideal for baking! Dani has something of a peanut butter addiction, and had an idea that if peanut butter flapjacks hadn’t been invented then I would know how to do it. Of course, good old google knows all and managed to spur forth a suggestion. I also remembered a choc-chip cookie recipe that had peanut butter in it too.

“Which one should we make…? Or should we just make both?”



So, make both we did. And both were delicious. We put both dark and white chocolate chunks in the cookies (proper chocolate, of course). I think, if I made them again, I’d put milk into the mix too. Why not?

I arrived back in London loaded with the foil wrapped goodies, I might be eating these all week...

Friday, August 11, 2006

Proper chocolate in a sushi place?

My new favourite place to eat in the city: Itsu. Healthy and delicious, you choose to put the dressing on yourself, the teas are real, the juices fresh and the prices reasonable. AND they have an assortment of desserts that includes a Valhrona chocolate mousse. Valrhona! While I’m sure most people who buy their lunch their don’t understand the significance, this makes some serious claims about their commitment to quality. I’m sad to say I forewent the opportunity to sample the dessert, based on my belief that I was going to be picking up some chocolates a lovely friend brought me back from Paris a few weeks ago. If their other food is anything to go by, the dessert would be delicious I’m sure.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Chocolate and Prunes

Oops, I promised a report on that cake I made last week. Well, it’s a distant memory now, but simmering prunes in port and mixing them with yoghurt makes a divine filling for any chocolate based cake, and made the cake. I really should have written about it whilst the memory was still fresh. I have to say though, the actual wasn’t so outstanding that I would bother repeating the recipe anyway…

Don't leave chocolate in the car!

Or kids, or dogs.

I went to the market to get some of my favourite chocolates to send back to Australia - some for the friend I was meeting Sunday night, and some for her to give to my Holly. Then went for a picnic in Richmond park.


The chocolates became a chocolate blob. Well, I don't think it was quite that severe, but certainly separating them will be a challenge. Still, it (not "they" anymore) will still taste good and there was no chance to buy fresh ones.

So girls, I hope you enjoy them! And next opportunity I'll send you more!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Chocolate Whisky Gateau

The chocolate whisky gateau was a success, though using “real” chocolate means that next time we need to add more whiskey (well, I thought so!). A garnish of blackcurrants was the perfect accompaniment.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The chocolate jogger

I must have looked a sight this afternoon, in my runners and visor, jogging along with my phone in one hand (useful as my radio, my contact with the world and for taking photos of the cute squirrel that crossed my path) and a bar of Green & Black's silver wrapped cooking chocolate in my other hand. Looked like I was carrying my reward!

Finally have all the ingredients to make chocolate whisky gateau for dinner party tomorrow eve. Think I better start making it now!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Averting near Chocolate disaster

I ran to Tesco just now because I decided I wanted to test a new recipe to put in the newsletter. Also might be useful for dinner party this Friday if it works well. Got to Tesco and remembered I’d left prunes and port on the stove on simmer. D’oh. Ah… The flat smelt delicious when I returned! And I think we’ll be able to salvage the pot.

This cake better be good! Full report to follow…

Ooh, it just started raining. Nice timing!

Monday, July 31, 2006

God and Chocolate Icecream

Check this out:

What Nic Askew is doing is brilliant. I love the first 5 minutes of this video in particular. The references to being chocolate ice cream are a bit silly. But he gets credit for mentioning chocolate!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Women in Chocolate

Attended a fantastic seminar today – Women in Business. I thought it was put on by a long-standing professional organisation that I just hadn’t heard of yet. I was duly impressed when I discovered it was actually a Landmark SELP project. Kudos to Jackie for putting it all together. The speakers were varied and brilliant. I had planned on going before I discovered Claire Burnett, from Chococo, was speaking. She was, of course, my favourite. And though I was probably biased by the subject matter her passion for her topic was uncontainable. I did have to find her during the break and explain that I wasn’t stalking her, though I had seen her in London a few weeks before and down in the shop just last weekend.

Met loads of fantastic people at the seminar, all in different stages of setting up their own businesses. After 3 days of eating really well I was definitely on some kind of trippy sugar buzz after starting the day with biscuits and then sampling Chococo’s chocolates Claire had brought with her. Oh, how I love them.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

William Curley chocolates

As compensation for not returning to Chococo before leaving Dorset (I know, it wasn't really on the way home!), we detoured into Richmond to visit William Curley.

Arriving with just 5 minutes until closing time, the warm weather and bustle of traffic suggested they weren't ready to close just yet. Lucky, because I didn't want to rush this. After trekking here twice only to find they weren't open, especially last week in the sweltering heat, I was going to savour this.

We decided it prudent to sample almost all of the filled chocolates and truffles. And for good measure, a brownie as well. First, the brownie: well, though the valhrona creation was tsaty, it was not, under any definition I've heard, a brownie. Yes, it had walnuts in it, but it was neither fudgy, dense, nor crisp. Still. it made a very nice, light mini-cake.

Of the truffles the standout was the cassis. And of the filled chocolates the raspberry and the Japanese one (sorry - I forgot what it was called!).

All the pastries looked so delicious. And the icecreams looked amazing! Sea salted caramel! Have to go back...

Monday, July 24, 2006

Chocolates by the Seaside

When I realised how close the hotel was to Swanage I just had to go and visit Chococo. Sad to see they don't have all of their range at once, but it does make sense. That's what happens when you make all the chocolates yourself! I did get to try the raspberry truffle I'd been eyeing off on the menu that came with the box I bought a few weeks ago. So delicious...

The lovely staff raved about the hot cross bun chocolate. Seemed so cruel when there wasn't one there to try. :-) It's nice to visit another chocolate store where the chocolatiers themselves are in the building.

Their bars are also delicious. Being a fan of berries and chocolate the dark bar with cherries, blackcurrants and blueberries caught my eye, and was as delightful as it promised.

I wish I lived closer... (Though, for the sake of my waistline, it's probably better I don't. Whilst this chocolate is better for you, too much of anything isn't good for you!) One of the nicest qualities of the Chococo chocolates is that the taste is so perfect that you couldn't possibly eat more than 5 in one sitting. So a large box of 25 will nicely last you the week! (If you don't share, and you probably won't want to!)

A weekend of decadence (of course, including chocolate)

This weekend I stayed the Summer Lodge. Rated by Harpers as one of the Top 10 hotels in the UK (and Top 100 in the World). I think the subscript is “privately owned”. You kind of get an idea of why, when within minutes of booking online they call to ask if you would prefer “feather or foam pillows” and if you would prefer “blankets or a quilt”. Arriving after dark you turn into a drive lined with trees glowing with fairy lights. Supper shall be taken in the drawing room – where Jane Austen’s Emma was filmed. Only a few weeks ago I was at Chatsworth House, where Pride and Prejudice was filmed. I almost feel like I’m doing the Jane Austen tour of England.

What I love most about this year is I’m finally travelling to see more of England. Massively underrated as a choice of holiday destinations, I love this country. Culture, history, green fields and old stone wherever you look. There is something magical about driving along winding country roads edged by handcut stone walls or thick green hedges, having to slow down and ease along the edge in order to allow two cars to pass in opposite directions.

Back to the lodge: The room. Wow. Flat screen TV on the wall, drawing table, DVD player, teddy bear, chaise lounge… The bathroom was phenomenal. An enormous room lined with mirrors and sparkly blue tiles. A free standing bath in the centre of the room, two sinks, a large shower area with a huge plate in the ceiling that the water cascaded from. The toilet was discretely tucked in the corner behind swinging doors. The walls lined with padded blue material, clearly in case you let the award winning sommelier ply you with too many wines, so you can pass out comfortably. This theory is surely confirmed by the phone available within arms reach.

I want to return to eat again in the restaurant. There were options that were just so frustrating not to be able to try. They fortunately offer a dessert plate, unfortunately this did not include the coconut soufflé. It did, however, include a valhrona chocolate orange fondant, which, though divine, was topped by the tiramisu and apricot pannacotta.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

I can't eat the chocolate I used to anymore

I was handed a free Kit Kat Chunky peanut butter bar a few weeks ago, at Hammersmith tube station. It is still sitting in the fridge. I used to really like the Kit Kat Chunky caramel bar, and I have nothing against the mix of chocolate and peanut butter… I just appear to have totally disassociated myself from enjoying the mainstream supermarket brands. Even the Cadbury vending machines in the stations do nothing for me. Not even when I’m hungry! This realisation is a little astonishing, and it definitely happened slowly. Just a few months ago I would bite into Cadbury’s if someone offered me a bar. Now…

I’ll probably always eat Smarties though… And chocolate éclairs.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Chocolate taster boxes

Hmm, I was at a BBQ today and one of the guests brought along a Hotel Chocolat taster box. Though it’s quite a large taster box, I was very good and only had two (was trying to be polite, and share with the other guests, though there were still quite a few chocolates in the box when I left!). I think I was the only guest who requested to look at the guide to what they were (wanted to make an informed decision!). I had a blueberry bombe (in white chocolate) and a cherry something-or-other. Well, they are no L’Artisan or La Maison… but not bad chocolates. I have had them before and found the quality of the box to be somewhat mixed… It is fun I guess, trying a new mix every month.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Another Chocolate Tour...

What a fun day! It fortunately didn’t get too hot for my group, walking between the chocolate stores. I definitely need to make more of a point of the variations in the tour - with it being summer and all... So I have:

Last night I saw Jacqueline Gold, the CEO of Ann Summers, speak. An inspirational lady. She got involved in the business at 19, when the turnover was around £86,000 and was pivotal in bringing it to the targeted £1,550,000 it’s due to hit this year. There are too few female entrepreneurs and successful business figureheads, and even less when she began. Also, you have to love the business she is in! All about fun and freedom!

I wonder if they sell Chocolate…

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Hard work making Chocolate sometimes..

When the sun is shining outside at least!

I went to Islington briefly to visit Paul Young today. It must be tough for these chocolatiers working 7 days a week, while the sun is shining outside. He’s got a huge range of ice cream flavours in store every day. I didn’t try one but the flavours are all so tempting – white chocolate and raspberry, chocolate brownie… The main reason I popped by was to find out the name of that chocolate store I should have gone to in Paris and didn’t. A wonderful man named Dan said he might be able to find it for me this weekend…

I love getting ready for a chocolate tour, packing the bags with Chocolate lover treats…

Friday, July 07, 2006

"Hey - Chocolate Lady!"

This is how I was greeted by the students at the Speakers' Bank Citigroup final. "It's chocolate Jen!" "Did you bring us any chocolate?"

Fortunately the schools that I'd helped to train had come with the most students to support their representative - which meant they got to take home a load of chocolate as a prize - so I was off the hook. Even if it wasn't real chocolate...

I love it when people talk to you on the tube. I guess reading The Alchemist makes an easy conversation starter. Also seems to happen more frequently after 11pm. Interesting that as I headed home following the team drinks after the competition I got into a conversation with a fellow commuter. Interesting because I had just left the coordinator and her husband, who met four years ago because he, in a terribly un-English fashion, started speaking to her on the Bakerloo line. Not that this is the only reason people start speaking... a few weeks ago I met a guy who had cycled all the way from London to South Africa. And a few weeks before that, the woman who - out of the blue - offered me one of her bracelets following our conversation. A twilight moment as I'd walked out of the house wishing I'd had a bracelet that matched this outfit... and this bracelet did.

'Tis almost the weekend...

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The chocolate box is empty!

Devastation! Something about the lightness of the Chococo chocolate centres that makes them feel simulatenously decadent and... fun. I still prefer L’Artisan’s mint to Chococo's and also like L'Artisan's regular champagne truffle better, but Chococo has an incredible and delicious selection that I definitely want to try all of…

Might have to head down to Dorset soon...

Thank you Clare and Andy!

P.S. I’ve never been much of a fan of marzipan, but I have to say, I am now converted – at least to Chococo’s version!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Chocolate Warning!

As seen on a sign outside a gift store:

Warning: Chocolate has been known to make clothes shrink.

(Fortunately when you eat good chocolate you don’t need to eat as much to feel satisfied! Though I think my tolerance levels are shifting... Lucky I live near the park...)

More Chococo chocolates

The Chilli is divine! The pink fizz, a champagne and strawberry truffle was one of the most delightful taste experiences I’ve had for some time. The Rum Totty, a combination of rum soaked raisins in a dark ganache enrobed in milk chocolate? Soooo good……

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Chococo chocolates are delicious!

The prize winning ginger really is worthy of accolades… The Chococo chocolates are made from fresh Dorset cream and their centres are much lighter and fluffier than the chocolates made by other favourite chocolatiers. Which is nice for variety. While at a glance they could be the Belgian chocolates that are imported and marked up to give the impression of luxury – though not actually being that spectacular – the Chococo range is made in Dorset from El Rey couveture. You can tell the difference.

I’m trying to prolong the enjoyment… there are still more to try! I’ll be back…

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Chocolate & Luxury

Mmm... today I chose not to spend all day enjoying a beautiful English sunshine-y day outside, and headed to the Conde Nast Luxury Travel Fair. L'Artisan du Chocolat were giving short talks and tastings - their tobacco chocolate is such a strange (and addictive) experience. We wandered around the various stalls and chatted with some of the salespeople, picking up some lovely brochures for cruises and skiing holidays and cookery courses... mmm... those ones are high on the list. Had a test of the British Airways Club & First Class beds (First is definitely better, but I will accept Club ;-) ).

Then, we went to try and find Lloyd Grossman, but got distracted by the food section of the Home & Garden show downstairs... somehow we got stuck amongst those few aisles for hours, sampling olives and oils and seeds and chutneys and sauces... Ladened with purchases (and pretty brochures from upstairs) we reemergenced into the sun when they kicked us out (not allowed to leave via the red carpet we entered on because we waited too long).

I love London. We wandered the streets and settled in to enjoy a few more hours of sun in a park, finally eating some of the foods we'd brought with us. One of the stalls in the Food Fair was Chococo. This is a company I've seen stocked in many stores but not sampled yet. Meeting the owners and discovering the couveture was from El Rey - I was sold instantly. Yet I can't comment on them right now because I'm far too full from delicious tarts and cakes from Popina to even consider opening the box. I promise to update you soon!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

More chocolate pictures

The need for chocolate photos was becoming urgent; so a studio was hired and we headed to Brixton. The piles of truffles were so pretty, and the smell of melted chocolate filled the room as we attempted to create an avalanche of flowing chocolate... I was very good and only ate two!

Later in the evening I met with my raw food chef friend and we chatted a little more about our plans for a raw chocolate meal. I'm so excited! Peter does amazing things with raw food. If it wasn't my business I would be quite happy just to eat his mega-healthy chocolate creations, they are definitely much nicer than any supermarket brand of chocolate!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Cadbury's Chocolate Scare

All over the papers. Apparently the amounts are negligible and no one could contract the disease from the bars. I’m looking at the 250g block of Turkish Delight on my brother’s dresser, one of the potentially contaminated blocks. Really, the almost nonexistent possibility of salmonella is far less of a concern to me than the fact that Cadbury’s squeezes out the cocoa butter and replaces it with vegetable fats that

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A new season in Chocolate

I love what I do. I went to visit the shops on my tour today. To say hi and remind them of the tour scheduled for July 15th and I got to try some of the summer specialties that have just arrived. La Maison du Chocolat have got an incredible chocolate sorbet (dairy free and so refreshing) and an apricot and lavender sorbet that is equally delicious. The summer range of chocolates are only available by the boxed set but the sample box arrives next week. Watch this space for more!

In case you're reading this and you have no idea what the tour I mention is referring to: Check out

Monday, June 19, 2006

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!

Alton Towers has a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ride. We went for the rollercoasters and found the added bonus of this new ride. Meant for kids, it only opens to big people after 3pm. A distinct lack of edible chocolate, but still quite cool. If only these were real.. (I guess they wouldn't be fit for eating...) I love the idea of Willy Wonka's factory. Well, I have my tours I suppose - the next best thing!!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

A wedding without Chocolate!

3 weddings in 4 months. The first by the water of the mouth of the Snowy River, the second in the ruins of a sugar mill in the Caribbean and today in a castle in England. The sun shone for all three. This was a beautiful day, lovely ceremony and fantastic food. I almost thought they would complete the ceremony without chocolate - the dessert was cheesecake and the cake the traditional fruit. Thank goodness there was chocolate with coffee.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Un-Common Chocolate

Mmm.. I was down by Clapham Common today looking for internet access and was recommended to a French patisserie on The Pavement just off Clapham High Street, right on the Common. While I was a little disappointed they said they didn't have net access I was grateful to the man who directed me there - and recommended the cakes. Not only do they have a gorgeous selection of cakes, pastries and breads they also have chocolates made by Valhrona just for them! I tried most of the ten or so on display and can thoroughly recommend the apricot and caramel. I was not a fan of the mint and raspberry. I'm so excited to have found another place to buy good chocolate!!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Paid to eat chocolate...

Way to get a kid's attention. I had the class today clambouring to do work experience with me. I have two years to grow my business large enough to let them! I do love this work.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Chatsworth Chocolate

England was treated to hot spell this weekend. Lazing under blue skies scattered with white wisps of cloud in the country was on the menu. Punctuated by dips in the swimming pool and hot tub. There seems to be a sad correlation between the weather and chocoloate consumption. The warmer the weather, the less chocolate I eat. At least durng the day! As with any good BBQ or dinner party (well, in my books) the chocolate boxes come around with the wine into the wee hours…

I love farm shops. As obsessed with food as I am, the highlight of my visit to ChatsworthHouse was the farm shop there. They have their own branded chocolate bars, which, though I tried, I couldn’t find out who actually makes them. They do make a chocolate beetroot cake which though it doesn’t taste particularly different I’m sure it MUST be healthier for you! (Let me tell myself that!!)

Chocolate is good for you!

I picked up a magazing on the weekend because on the cover it claimed “Chocolate that’s good for you.” The article quoted all sorts of interesting research which I was already aware of – in moderation good chocolate is good for you. What freaked me out, thouigh, was the box at the bottom of the apge that compared several brands for their “goodness”. The range was almost entirely of confectionairy – not chocolate! OK, allow me to climb on my high horse for a minute here please, a snickers is not real chocolate. It barely contains any resemblance of the good stuff that is in chocolate. If you are eating chocolate for health – but especially for pleasure – stick to quality dark chocolate, where the only ingredients are cocoa solids (or cocoa liquor), cocoa butter, sugar and vanilla. Only exception to this list is soya lecitithin which is just an emulsifier added to make it easier for chefs to use. The less processing that occurs during the chocolate production the more of the health benefits will be achieved. Dagoba, an American brand that can be found in Wholeoods stores in the States and Australia and Fresh and Wild in the UK, makes big claims to this. Domori, an Italian maker, make it their aim to minimise the alterations to the chocolate from pod to bar. Or, you could just eat raw cacao! Think I’ll save the information on that for another day!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Chocolate Food Porn (as Joe likes to call it…)

Today I went with my friend Joe to take photos of chocolate. OK, he took the photos, and I helped to move the chocolate into a better position. Mmm… chocolate. Pouring massive bags of chocolate buds onto the table… So much chocolate! A happy day… And I managed to keep my white skirt clean! There are more photos to be taken so, dear, oh, dear, we’ll be back again next Wednesday.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Leaving Georgia

Gosh, so much to say... what an incredible 3 days. These kids are just phenomenal. They have almost nothing and yet they are so willing to share what they do have. They shared back with us the sweets we had given to them. The boys carried my bags and picked me flowers, and even insisted I go through doors before them. Certainly not what I had expected. It's great to see that the work that the guys from Zest have been doing is really taking effect - this is not the picture that was painted for us. It was better than we had expected, yet still wasn't all roses and candy. In the past these orphanages have had no heating and no running water and it was standard that at least one child would die during the Georgian winter. Many of the kids were very shy and reserved to begin with, some of them really didn't want to know us, yet by the end of our time with each group every child was grinning. Though they appreciated the toys we brought them it was our attention that brought the best reaction from them, just to play with them and see them light up. When they began spontaneously hugging and kissing us... you could not help but be moved. I will be back.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The First Orphanage

At first I thought Georgia that was a long way to come for 3 days, especially, how much good could we possibly do in just 3 days? Now I see why it is only 3 days! It is an intense experience. For us and the kids. So powerful. We took the kids from the first orphanage out for the day. To McDonald’s first where, to my delight, they didn’t seem to like the food that much. They did love the brightness of the place, especially as we wandered around painting their faces and arms.

It’s unbelievable how quickly kids open their hearts to you. When we first walked into the building where they sleep and entered one of the bedrooms there appeared to be swarms of them. Entering blowing bubbles gave me instant popularity as they clambered to grasp the soapy spheres from the air. And then, after giving them the opportunity to blow the bubbles themselves I spent the next half an hour crouched amongst a fluxing group of kids ranging from two to twelve, coaxing some of the younger ones to try, ensuring some of the more confident ones let the others have a turn and endeavouring to learn all of their names. I think it was the latter that meant some of the quiet girls felt I was someone to be trusted and caused little Salomi to grab my hand as we walked out to the bus.

After McDonald’s we took them all to the park and finally returned them, filled with sugar, back to the orphanage gates. It felt almost cruel to have shown them a day of colour and laughter and love, to take them back to the grey concrete block which they would awaken to tomorrow, and probably every day after. For these kids cannot be adopted, they have no papers and therefore as far as most of the world is concerned, they don’t exist. I assure you, they exist. In all their sweet innocence, they exist to hold our hands, give us spontaneous kisses, sing to us and cry over scraped knees.

The same story with more photos can be seen at

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Arriving in Georgia

Funny how each country has its own smell. As we emerged from Tblisi airport (which involved passing through one small barn of a building, having our bags screened as we exited?!) I noticed the distinct difference in the air – the smell and the feel. Fresh, and a faint smell of spice. Still warm despite the darkness. We threw our suitcases into the back of an open-backed van with a shattered windscreen and piled ourselves into a converted ambulance and rattled through the early morning hours into the city and up into the hills beyond. We arrived at Nana’s house sans electricity, found our beds by candlelight and were promised a sleep in…

Today we go to the first orphanage. This orphanage is privately managed. Until Zest started coming here it didn’t exist at all, which is really heartening. We were given sleep over our coaching session so we will be heading in with only the briefest of briefing. Not normal procedure but because everyone in our group has done a fair amount of coaching before I’m sure we’ll manage fine.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Chocolate in Eire

Dublin has very pretty looking Chocolate cafes – Butler’s Chocolate Cafes. Basically they are chocolate stores (along the lines of Thorntons’) that also sell barrister coffee. I didn’t notice anything particularly special about their hot chocolates – but I didn’t try one so please tell me if I’m wrong. The nice thing is that with each coffee order you do get one chocolate. Still, I couldn’t find any chocolate more special in the centre of town. We asked in a few shops and were recommended to Thornton’s!! Hmmm…. I think we need to bring the Irish over to London for a chocolate tour. Or maybe we can just persuade them to start ordering from one of my recommended online chocolate stores.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Where the chefs eat...

I went for drinks at Cocoon last night, it has the best cocktail menu I’ve seen in a long time (no, I didn’t try any of the chocolate ones…). The rain was relelentlessly pelting down (I thought this was supposed to be summer, England?!) so we stayed quite a while and saw Ainsley Harriot come in. Now I know that I am definitely going to go back there to eat too. Wise to eat where the chefs eat!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Oops, I got chocolate on the keys

I’m currently at my laptop in Oxford eating chocolate (hmmm… de ja vu…). I generally have had a minimum focus on eating chocolate these last few days as I’m actually here for a speaking course: Holographic Presentation. As I’m getting more involved in teaching public speaking in schools I thought it would be wise to improve my own public speaking skills! If you’re interested in becoming a better speaker I can thoroughly recommend this course. Most of the topics for our learning we choose ourselves so even though I’m no eating chocolate I’ve been talking about it lots!

Oxford is absolutely gorgeous. I wish I could stay a little longer to explore it more. There’s a sensational organic salad bar in the covered market which you MUST eat at if you come here. I’m staying in the Cotswold Lodge on Banbury Road. It has the cutest rooms which would be so nice if you were here for a romantic weekend.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Vegetarian Chocolate

Mildred’s Vegetarian restaurant in Soho have been serving up sensational vegetarian food for years. Waiting times for a table are long at this reasonably priced, friendly eatery. I’m guessing the Chocolate and Prune pudding is good because we were told there was none left when we went to order it. Fortunately the special: a vegan maple, pecan and chocolate mousse was available, and divine. The chef at Mildred’s specialises in vegan desserts, the kind that you wouldn’t know were vegan unless you were told. Yum

I’ve started volunteering with Speakers Bank. An amazing organisation that delivers public speaking training to schools and also to adults. Apart from chocolate I am passionate about getting more relevant education into schools. It is so encouraging to be present amongst group of teenagers who have so much passion and the most inspiring visions for the world - how the want to make it a better place. The greatest thing about this program is they have the opportunity to express all of this, and learn the skills that will make them more eloquent in doing so. It gives them more confidence in all areas of their life, and is so necessary that they have this freedom to express who they are, rather than being told what they should be doing. I'm excited.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Chocolate Tasting

Last night I attended another of Seventy Percent’s monthly chocolate tastings. I learn more every time I go. This time I paid particular attention to my favourites of the selection: Amedei’s Chuao and Valrhona’s Ampamakia. Tryi it! Just as in the tours, it’s interesting to note that only about 60% of the attendees are female. And I don’t think the men are there because they think will meet women! Though it might seem more women like chocolate than men, there has to be something in the fact that most, if not all, of the world famous chocolatiers are men…

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Chocolate Birthday Surprise

Last Saturday a group booked a chocolate tour as a surprise birthday present for a friend. It was such a fun day! It was so cool to see the surprise on the birthday girl’s face and it was great fun to lead a group that were already all friends – and even more fun introducing people to the fantastic chocolate you get to taste! I remembered to start a testimonial book – rather than collecting comments on separate pieces of paper. You can read some of the comments I’ve typed up on the main site here.

I definitely have to stop eating so much chocolate myself on the tours!! I keep persuading myself it’s important that I have experienced as much of each range as possible… Oh well, lucky no matter how much I eat in one day, I could never tire of eating good quality chocolate!

Monday, May 01, 2006

Shiny, Happy, Chocolate People

It’s true: people who work with chocolate are the loveliest people in the world. How could they not be? Sugar is a mood enhancer in itself, but chocolate has phenylethyamines which also improve mood.

I met Paul A Young, master chocolatier, today. I only heard about his store during yesterday’s tour and was thrilled to make it up to Angel this morning. The advantage also being that his normally pulsing store was comparatively empty, funnily enough not too many people rise early around Upper Street. Paul decorated his store himself and it’s clear his creativity is not limited to his chocolates. Many of the features were designed by Paul and then hand crafted by artisans. The wood boards have been soaked, rather than treated with chemicals and the spotless store is cleaned only with environmentally friendly Ecover products.

Paul makes all of the chocolates himself by hand downstairs. This means that the product range changes frequently and when something runs out, it runs out. Very frustrating for the local business people who have abandoned all the nearby cafes for their sugar hit and are rushing to Paul’s for one of his amazing brownies or his dairy-free hot chocolates. (You can buy the kit to make them at home too!)

This is also the only place in London where you can buy Amedei in 1kg blocks. The Italian manufacturer produces fine chocolate that will make an incredible difference to the outcome of your own home baking.

With only about 16 different chocolates on sale at any one time, you can actually try them all in one box. I did. My favourite? The raspberry. And they really all are delicious.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A Wonderful World of Chocolate

Real chocolate on every corner. I love Paris. My first visit to France since I was very small when I apparently climbed the entire Eiffel Tower on my own – have to take my mother’s word for that one. The French know their chocolate. Every boulangerie and patisserie had their own homemade chocolates and while I sought out every chocolate store I could find information on on the internet (to the weary tolerance of my travelling partner) I also stumbled across many more.
I did learn that just to be French does not mean the chocolate is fantastic. Still, you are never too far from chocolate that is. It was a delight that even the corner stores stocked several brands of quality dark chocolate. I kept walking past these stores thinking they were specialty chocolate stores as I glanced the massive display of bars.

My suitcase is full of chocolate...

Monday, April 17, 2006

Another Easter without Chocolate...

Last year I was in Japan, the year before in Vietnam. I seem to have a tradition of greeting Easter in a foreign country. And the Easter Bunny never seems to find me… As all the shops were closed in St Lucia and no one had planned in advance, we ate mangoes for Easter breakfast. And not a speck of chocolate was seen all day…I was tempted to start gnawing on the raw cigar of cacao that the bride and groom had given us as part of the wedding gift. But this is not raw cacao like I eat back in London. I’m assuming this one’s only for making into drinking chocolate. It will have to wait until I get home.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

A Sugar Mill Wedding

All guests dressed in white, amidst the 200 year old remains of a sugar mill stamped as having travelled from London centuries ago, we watched the bride and groom exchange vows and rings, to the sound of guitars and a viola. For a moment it felt like we were all alone in the world, and there was nothing except the love between the new couple and their family and friends. I realise this sounds a little syrupy, I guess you had to be there…

We’d all been swimming only an hour or two before the ceremony. I spend longer getting ready for work than I did for this wedding, which was part of what made the day so sweet: the unhurried and accepting pace at which it unfolded. It’s hard to get stressed in St Lucia! The 4 o’clock wedding was followed by hours of drinking, eating (chocolate wedding cake) and dancing, and finally a bonfire down on the beach (without the newlyweds!).

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Sun, sand and Pitons

Internet access here is limited. I’m surprised by how spread out things are on this island. Without renting a car or paying for cabs you are more or less stuck at whichever resort you are staying at. Fortunately with a group of about 20 staying at Balenbouche and more wedding guests dotted along the West coast we managed to rotate the swimming between a few different locations (it’s a tough life). Arriving a week later than most, I appear to have missed the major sightseeing adventures. Oh well. The Pitons – I’m assured – are the best thing to see anyway. I’m not 100% certain if "they" are referring to the giant mountains displaced by volcanoes that jut out of the Western landscape, or the St Lucian local beer…

Another wedding is about to occur… This time my cousin and his gorgeous American girlfriend. This was why they chose St Lucia – it seemed unfair to choose just one of their homes to celebrate the nuptials. There are 37 in total, including the bridal party – 22 in their twenties! This is making for quite a large party in the Caribbean!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Molten Chocolate Lava Souffle

I seem to be making a tradition of trying chocolate soufflés in each country I visit… Joey’s in Kelowna, aside from an amazing ahi tuna salad, also serves an incredible chocolate lava soufflé. It tastes better shared. Having not taken any chocolate onto the mountain, our two visits to Joey’s and the odd chocolate chip cookie from the Big White Bakery were my only chocolate indulgences in the ten days we spent at the ski mountain. Though the same cannot be said for my friend’s son, who came back from ski school every day with a hot chocolate mustache. Sweet.

A few more days in Vancouver and I’m off to St Lucia for another wedding (via Miami). Canada is definitely proving better than my encounters in the United States in selling better quality chocolate. I think the Candian teeth are slightly less sweet than their North American neighbours.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Chocolate Nemesis

I’m so fortunate to have grown up in a family of chocoholics. Or perhaps I just feel that way because I’m sure that is why I love chocolate so much and it’s nice to share the love with the people I love. Running the chocolate tours is reinforcing what I already was quite convinced of: men love chocolate as much as women. Many not as many men but men can and do love chocolate just as passionately. For me, the great thing about guys who like chocolate is that they also tend to prefer dark. At least they do in my family.

I went with my brother for dinner at the Botanical in Melbourne. It’s a tradition of ours to have dinner together when we’re in the same city, as we both love good food. I went scourng the internet looking at the menus of the best restaurants in Melbourne, choosing based on what chocolate delights they proffered on their dessert menu. I couldn’t resist the sound of the Valrhona Chocolate Nemesis with Gold Leaf. Having discovered Valhrona was about as diffiult to find in Melbourne as one would imagine it to be in rural China I was quite excited. This is where I became grateful for the shared chocolate passion that runs in our blood, to order this dessert requires a minimum of two people. Served with poached figs and raspberries, balsamic icecream and pouring cream the combination was divine. What a difference it makes to use quality chocolate in the recipe.

To Canada I go…

Another country, another seminar…. The location in downtown Vancouver was alongside a street with three gorgeous chocolate shops. For some reason I have chosen as one of my closest friends a “recovering chocolic”. Yes, this means he doesn’t eat chocolate. Luckily he tolerates my obsession, with only mild ribbing of me, and even is so kind as to search his friend’s house in the middle of the night to find me some chocolate (he did).

Vancouver has sushi that rivals Melbourne. (Maybe better...?) There are several sushi restaurants on every block. We ate at Tsunami on Robson, and while there might be better, we liked it enough to return! If we weren't eating sushi in Tsunami you could find us at Earl's. The salmon in their salad was so far removed from the salmon you get in the UK it seems incredible that they can be named the same food.

We’re off to Big White ski resort tomorrow. Bizarre to think that less than two weeks ago I was soaking up the sun on my parent’ balcony in a bikini, and tomorrow I’ll be wading through snow… Still need the bikini for the hot tub!!

Monday, March 13, 2006

My Best Friend’s Wedding

The sun shone brightly in blue skies as my Holly got married near the water where we grew up, surrounded by our friends and family. It was the most beautiful day and I was so proud to stand along side her and loved the look on her husband’s face as she appeared from the boat sheds in her red wedding dress, a secret we’d managed to keep for over a year from everyone except our closest girlfriends and her mum.

As mine and Holly's friendship was founded on chocolate, cemented with chocolate chip cookies and extended with Cadbury’s. Lindt and late night chocolate pudding, it was only fitting that her wedding cake be chocolate, the bombonerries be chocolate hearts and for there also to be mini chocolate icecreams served from swinging baskets carried by the serving girls. Though we now live half a world away from each other, my beautiful best friend and I still share chocolate recipes and stories. Only now we just can’t make them in the same kitchen. Occasionally she’ll tease me in an email about some amazing chocolate recipe she’s just tried. Lucky for the newsletter readers when she types them up and passes them on to me.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Asian Tapas in Cape Town

On recommendation from the South African Airways inflight magazine, we had dinner at Haiku last night. A really funky restaurant, and sensational food. A nice way to end a gorgeous day of driving along the cliff roads of the Western Cape, down to the point where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic. An even nicer way to end the meal was with the house chocolate souffle. Divine.

Cape Town is a truly gorgeous city. As modern as any, with a relaxed pace, stunning residents, fabulous seafood and sun that blazes in the sky almost every day, it would seem. Perfect for cruising in a convertible mini. The sunsets here are incredible.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Happy New Chocolate!

I encountered a new Lindt chocolate!

I wish they sold it in England! Intense Pear! With pear and almond in dark chocolate.

Yum...Chocolate in Austria... they are the second largest consumers of chocolate in the world. And Milka Milka everywhere! Pale purple lining the shelves.