Saturday, December 29, 2007

homeward bound

Well, there was more baking, more chocolate and there was more proper activity. A few more farm walks, I pedalled a few laps of some of the paddocks while the boys played with the motorbikes, and we had a few hits of tennis (I’m so bad at it!) and on the gorgeously sunny boxing day we did make it to the beach AND managed to make this spectacular sand castle.





We packed so much into every day, yet felt completely relaxed the whole time, it was more in retrospect that we realised in one day we’d baked (twice), played tennis, gone to the beach (twice) and spent a fair bit of time just hanging around. Other days were similarly busy and it passed all too quickly before we had to pile our luggage into my mum’s toy car and drive back to Melbourne for our flight home. Not before catching up with a few more friends at a pub, riverside. Melbourne is more gorgeous now than it was when I was a student there, though I am very happy living in London. I was sorry not to have spent more time with my Australian friends, it was all too short, sorrier still I didn’t see some at all, though this always happens, and glad that this time I got to see some I’d missed the last time. It’s amazing how quickly the years pass and how when you return after not seeing people for so long it all feels so easy still.

What will I miss? My dad’s breadmaker bread, made from flour he mills himself, the sunshine, trying more of the restaurants and discovering all the food changes that occur in my absence, being able to go to the farm and relax and eat my mother’s famous chips. I’ll miss walking along the beach. Mostly I’ll miss the people, especially my delightful niece and nephew who made Christmas so special.

Back to Old Blighty. Does anyone know why it’s called that? I could Google it I suppose… Except I’m writing this on the plane and there’s no search engine up here… In fact there’s not much of anything on this plane, no personal TVs, not even a personal air conditioning vent! Good on the way out with back to back night flights we slept, with no distractions to watch films, I’ve managed to fill almost the entire twelve hour flight to Shanghai with a thick and very addictive novel bought for me by my Holly for Christmas. Perhaps I’ll nap on tomorrow’s flight.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Ain't no sunshine while we're here...

We keep getting scolded for bringing the weather with us. But it’s not true! Most of the days we have had here have been sunny and nice! Well, maybe slightly more than have been raining. Today it is cool. Time for scrabble and films. Might as well have stayed in the UK! Though I would rather this than the high thirties they are predicting for the week after we leave. Especially this is suitable weather for a sweet-toothed frenzy. Mind you, all of the desserts I’ve made so far are cold ones: chocolate ripple cake, the biscuits soaked in cherry juice; a chocolate-cherry cake; and a loganberry marscapone trifle. The chocolate-cherry cake was pretty ordinary. I was glad I didn’t use all of the good chocolate in it. If I’d had cocoa (forgot to buy cocoa, silly) I would have swapped it for some of the flour and I should have left out the lemon rind as my gut instinct was telling me. It was a confusion of being a fruit cake and a chocolate cake, and not in a good way. I love the combination of chocolate and cherries though (the chocolate ripple cake was divine) so I might have another go at the recipe. There’s still more baking to do before I leave, to use up more of the ingredients I bought. We might have to get up to something more active than one gorgeous walk along the bush tracks though!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

the best meal ever (so far...)

Wow. What a meal. That is the best meal I have had so far in my life. True, I have a lot more restaurants to try but previously I would have struggled to pick a favourite meal. Not so anymore.

In the six non-consecutive nights we had in Melbourne we managed to fit in meals at Taxi, Vue de Monde, Koko and Jacques Raymond. There are so many incredible restaurants in Melbourne and not enough time to go to all, but these seemed like a good selection. We were gluttons at all of them, accepting the full menu at two of the four. At Vue de Monde this was the ten course Gourmande menu. Gourmande, meaning someone who eats a lot, very appropriate. Of the ten courses, plus amuse bouche, palette cleansers and petits fours, only two were just ok, and the rest were outstanding. There was a lot of food theatre at the table, but a meal is partly about entertaining and the smoking bowls, the dry ice drinks and the bouillabaisse made at the table in a 1970s coffee machine were all delicious as well as entertaining to watch. I hate going out for a meal and receiving a dish I feel I could have made better myself. Only the chocolate dishes here were in that category (and maybe the cheese course). All of the other dishes were far beyond my culinary abilities, the creativity was inspiring and the ingredients both difficult to obtain and luxurious (too expensive for an amateur like me to experiment with!). Flavours were perfectly matched to be interesting, complementary and without overwhelming each other. Challenging the palette without distracting from the quality of the ingredients. Our first dish of salmon, with smoked, fresh, mousse, foam and jerky set the standards for intensity of flavour and variety of texture. The crayfish mousse wrapped in courgette (zuchinni here) and topped with a buerre noisette sat in a shallow Provençal vegetable soup with crayfish pieces was a favourite of all of us. Just divine. The first dessert course matched our first savoury in strength of flavour and texture variety, this time the central ingredient was raspberry: a raspberry mousse on crisp rice flavoured with raspberry and dotted with snap-frozen raspberries. On the side of the bowl was a raspberry cannelloni (striped raspberry sugar shell) filled with raspberry rice pudding and drizzled with a raspberry coulis. Yum, yum, yum and yum. The service was friendly and knowledgeable though I was surprised that after one of the servers knocked my brother’s glass of red wine over me (the poor waitress) they didn’t refill his glass and though the manager came with his card and offered to pay the dry cleaning, they didn’t offer any discount on the meal. Strange.

Of the five courses at Jacques Raymond only two were really good. The others seemed, to me, to be an attempt to be too clever, pairing strange ingredients that didn’t quite gel. Steamed spinach and dehydrated strawberries is an interesting idea but not particularly compelling and especially not next to vegetables I can't remember decorated with rubbery slivers of black truffle, a special “extra” we were persuaded to have. A piece of pumpkin laquered with palm sugar and miso, served on a vanilla puree with coriander, fennel and a soy and sake glaze was suberb, however. It was obvious when the ingredients weren’t as high quality, and too many of them weren’t. It isn’t like me to be too critical and I guess I just had too high expectations after hearing it was given best restaurant for 2008. Perhaps they were foreseeing better things for the coming year than they were able to produce for mid-December 2007? Though it’s considerably less expensive than Vue de Monde I’d still rather pay more and eat there.

Taxi was fabulous. Great quality food, beautifully plated. Slow service but pleasant enough. I was taunted by a cherry mousse with a Valhrona centre that had one tiny square of Manjari in the middle of cherry-hinted warm air. It had me (and my brother) digging into the chocolate stashes at home. With the views of the Yarra and the relaxed and comfortable atmosphere, and obviously the great food overall, I would definitely go there again.

Koko reminded me of an episode of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares where the chef was scolded for cooking everything on the grill and Gordon told him it was making all the food taste the same. We had teppanyaki. Our first course of sushi and sashimi was fantastic and the quality of the seafood and meat cooked to follow could not be argued with, but I kind of missed the impressive plating and accompanying sauces that normally happens in these restaurants. Even though we were given three bowls of sauces each to dip into as we pleased, somehow sloshing a bit of soy over the sizzling steak and a dab of butter and squeeze of lemon on the toothfish made it just seem less magical. But I guess everything just pales now in comparison to Vue du Monde... But I'm happy to face up to the challenge of trying to beat the best meal title in 2008!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

All-Australian Experience



I hadn’t expected this to be as much of a holiday as it is so far turning out to be. We’ve spent the most of the last few days in planes and cars, baptising the man to true Aussie experiences. On the first day we made it to the beach (albeit only the sand, the water wasn't too inviting), on the second a barbie with my friends, on the third we flew to Sydney and climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge. An All-Australian experience for our first few days. At this point it finally rained, leaving him questioning the insults he receives about the weather in the UK, but it made the walk up the steel pylons all the more adventurous!

We’ve been treated to gorgeous seafood spreads and this morning a tropical fruit spread with fresh croissants before heading to the airport to fly back to Melbourne. We also saw Australian animals (and more) at the Taronga Zoo and swam in the beach at Noosa. We were completely spoiled in Brisbane with seafood followed by sparkling wine in the hot tub and a swim in the outdoor pool in the morning.



A giraffe with Sydney in the background (!). We went for lunch in the viewing tower you might be able to make out in the distance. Don't bother unless you are just going for the seafood. It's ok but I'm not a huge fan of buffets at the best of times, I like the choice but hate that the lack of focus that usually means most things aren't great, or that they have been sitting in the warmer for hours. The view is lovely though. I did get to introduce the man to some Aussie desserts though: Lamingtons, Cherry Ripe Slice, Caramel Slice. Unfortunately not the greatest examples of these, I might have to make some with the kids over Christmas.

The only blip in our fabulous Northern side trip was this:


He was actually ON the toilet roll when I started to pull it. Needless to say, I screamed. I don't mind spiders, unless they surprise me in a small room at such close quarters. I was just grateful I had only just closed the door and could escape quickly!! (And that there was another toilet in the house.)

Back in Melbourne, we've got a few fancy meals planned while we're here. Taking advantage of the fact that nice restaurants are slightly cheaper here than restaurants of a similar quality in London. Tomorrow night we're off to Vue de Monde, given the Best Restaurant in Melbourne for 2007 title. As we can't try them all we might as well try the best!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Lazy last weekend in London (with Chocolate Wine)

I love lazy weekends. I have needed one. These last six weeks have been hectic and living the last four months in just one room of what was a one-bed flat has made weekends at home pretty unappealing. We finally got the carpet laid last week and moved all the furniture last weekend (ok, he mostly moved the furniture, I ate chocolate, but it was my birthday, so that's ok right?).

Last Friday evening was magical. We went to Somerset House to go iceskating, and I managed to stop thinking that I might fall and have my fingers sliced off by blades, and just relaxed into skating and gazing at the gorgeous building that surrounded this sparkly circle reflecting the coloured lights all around. Mulled wine, music and a brisk pre-Christmas evening.

So despite it being a "lazy" weekend I have done quite a lot of my backlog of filing and emails and feeling reasonable proud of myself. I also managed to find time to make a scrumptious chocolate and berry pudding and to have Sunday lunch at a friend's house. Where we drank this wine:

How cool is this? It concerned me that they'd named it so because it was quite high in tannins and therefore slightly bitter but it was delicious with dinner.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Chocolate as Fuel

And not just for humans! I know I can definitely run further and faster on chocolate, but now it appears cars can too!

This provided interesting canape conversation last night so I thought it was about time I wrote about it in my blog:

Two chaps from the UK, Andy Pag and John Grimshaw, have converted a truck and two 4WD vehicles to run on the misshapes of chocolates and are travelling to Timbuktu. Brilliant! I'm so excited about the use of this "chocolate" (I don't think they're using top notch stuff here) for fuel. This trip is not just carbon neutral, it's carbon negative. Though this calculation includes the fuel that will be offset in the coming year if the citizens of Mali use the biofuel conversion machine they are delivering. But it's also because if they weren't using the chocolate rejects for fuel they would only be taking up space in a dump somewhere.

It also works out at about 15p/litre. (That's about US $1.16/gallon.) Isn't it great when things are good for the environment and good for your wallet?

Nice work, gentlemen!

Check out more about biodiesel from chocolate at their site.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today I was thankful for the happy music that made me bounce along in the car on the way to work, for the road that took me there smoothly and the sunrise that lit the way after the lights were snuffed out along the journey. I was grateful for the gym at the end of my ride that allowed me to feel good about eating three courses at dinner last night.

Pacific Bar and Grill is such a friendly local restaurant. We stepped into the warmth from the rain and this pub made shiny was almost full with smiling diners. The two waiters looking after the whole floor were attentive though a little scattered! But I haven't had such friendly service in a long time. The food was fresh, simply prepared with good ingredients, and a delicious combination of flavours that didn't try too hard - it didn't need to. Both the tuna and the salmon we had were cooked perfectly and served with bright green leaves (mine Cos, his rocket) and light dressings. The high point was still to come: The Chocolate Brownie, broken up, warmed and topped with ice cream and hot chocolate sauce, it was just divine. Crisp on the edges and chewy and fudge-like when you got towards the middle pieces. A delicious dessert that couldn't seem to decide whether it was cake or cookie or something in between, made in-house apparently. I had to use my fork to fight away the persistent attempts to steal it. At this point the head waiter told us he would bring us something to go with the brownie, and promptly brought us two glasses of frangelico on ice. Now that is the way to bring warmth to the heart of your customers and get them to return.

Monday, November 19, 2007

food-full weekend (chocolates too)

I only started feeling hungry again at noon today. I've been too busy eating this weekend to write in my blog. Which now leaves me with a backlog of things to post about.

On Friday night I went to the BBC Good Food Show. I got there quite late so it was a bit of mad dash around as many stalls as I could get to. So many chocolate stores! Including a new one, Vanini:




New to me, at least. They have apparently been making chocolate for decades in Italy but only just been brought over to the UK. I tried all the ganache bon bons and their dark bar too. Delicious! And no nasties in their ingredients either. I look forward to them coming into the shops. By the time I got back from doing the loop of the other stalls they had closed so I didn't get to buy any this time.

After the food stalls closed we went to explore the drinks vendors and then the dining experience. It wasn't quite the choice, or the quality, of the Taste London festival. Theo Randall did have a soft chocolate cake made with Valrhona. The menu said it was made with Lindt but the host told me that Lindt offered them the chocolate and they accepted and then tasted it and decided to use Valrhona instead. It was delicious. I really don't think it's as obvious what quality the chocolate is in cakes as much as in tarts and mousses though...

On Saturday I was chocolate touring all day then went to a friend's hens' party for dinner and karaoke and finally yesterday went to another friend's house for more eating. I feel like I didn't stop eating all weekend. Here are some of the "raw" chocolate desserts we made:

blueberry and orange mousse cake


chocolate fudge!


chocolate and apple cake

Friday, November 16, 2007

a chocolate brownie gift!

I received a note this week that I had a parcel delivery attempt. I ran to the post office this morning to get it. When I returned home I ripped open the discreet cardboard box to find...
BROWNIES!



Sent to me by the lovely Jane of Coco a Moi. Seemed like a great way to start a Friday so I ripped open the box and tucked in. They had pecans in them so surely a good way to start the day? They come in brownie bites so it's easy to just have one or two (or three...).



They are completely different to the brownies I sell on my website. Not just because of the nuts. They are slightly more cakey and it's a very different chocolate flavour, a completely different texture. Yummy. Both so yummy. Mmm...

Chocolate taster and packers wanted!!

Is anyone looking for some extra work leading up to Christmas? One of the BEST chocolate makers in London is looking for some help packing the chocolate boxes. You will get to taste lots of great chocolate as well as be in fabulous company while you work.

Help needed ASAP! Please contact me on info[at]chocolateecstasytours.com if you are interested!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Chocolate Ecstasy Tours Facebook group

I finally got around to starting a Facebook group. I thought it would be a fun way to answer people's questions about chocolate or for people who met on previous tours to reunite. At one point I might get my website to have a forum or something on it but for now I'll just use Facebook. If you are on Facebook please join the group! It is Chocolate Ecstasy Tours.

I was on a conference earlier this week and there were chocolate desserts both evenings. I asked, as I almost always do, what type of chocolate they use. I was specific this time and said "what brand". The waitress came back and told me it was their own brand. Ugh. I don't think so! It's a simple question, I don't know why people have so much trouble with it. Even chefs in some restaurants are vague about it. True, the waitress was possibly quite scared of me seeing as I'd sent my meal back both evenings. I don't remember ever in my life having sent a meal back before. The first night it was a vegetarian "curry". A watery yellow soup with overcooked, tasteless peppers and mushrooms. After pushing it a few times with my fork I plucked up the courage to ask for just the mash and roast vegetables without the lamb shank (didn't trust it would have been organic or even nicely reared). The mash and roast veg were really good. The second night my risotto was lovely and I was so pleased they had managed to make a proper vegetarian substitute. They even gave me the vegetable sides from the chicken dish on a smaller plate (someone saw me coming, I guess).

Now, I say the risotto was tasty, but that was until I bit down on a metal bolt. Well, half a metal bolt. Not sure now if the shavings I thought were pepper were actually ground metal. I felt kind of bad for the waitresses who were mortified. Things like this do occasionally happen and I only had mild stomach cramps later in the evening (!!). I just hope the conference organisers got a discount! The complimentary already opened bottles of wine they offered me, when I already wasn't paying for the wine was hardly compensation!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

a weekend in the country

I'm up North this weekend, and reveling in the space of a large house and garden. Something about fresh country air and wide expanses of space that instills new spirit in me. Hopefully it doesn't dissipate on the train journey back to London...

The only downside to being here this weekend is that I'm not in New York at the Chocolate Show. The fact of having a job as well as the tours and booking all my holiday to visit the family later in the year. It's too hard to go to New York for just 48 hours! Being here means I'm not even at the Spirit of Christmas show where lots of lovely chocolatiers are showcasing their wares. My friend called last night to say he had just had a hot chocolate from Bill (McCarrick). Jealous, me? Never. Well, maybe a little. In the New Year I am definitely going to Surrey to visit the Hans Sloane Chocolate studio.

We spent the afternoon yesterday raking up leaves. We didn't bring the appropriate cord with us so I can't upload the before and after photos until we get home. I found, surprisingly, it was fun! Plus, really satisfying. This was the same experience I had a few weeks ago on an outward bounds course where we had to build a barn, and spent the day outdoors climbing and lifting and drilling. Perhaps there is yet more of my father's characteristics in me? I was quite the little tom boy when I was younger and loved climbing trees and building animal sheds and fence. Then I started to realise it was exploiting child labour and did my best to rebel. Suddenly it's become fun again to be outdoors accomplishing something with physical effort.

It certainly hasn't been all hard labour. I picked up the book, The Undercover Economist, from the window sill and managed to get through a few chapters already. Most of it so far is familiar, but a nice refresher on my university subjects. It made me glad I chose the university I did (or that my mother chose it, I might say). Most of the universities offering business studies has a long list of compulsory subjects but the one I went to had only four: Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, Statistics 1 and Statistics 2. Interestingly, I think perhaps only one of these was on the compulsory list at the other colleges. They have absolutely been the most useful to me in the outside world. Sometimes I wonder what value I got from university, save for a huge amount of experience running committees and things as part of my extra-curricular activities. Then I read a book like this and realise how most of us are so ignorant to market dynamics and why the world works as it does and I'm grateful I had an introduction to it before I joined the real world (ahem!). Though, frankly, even the best economists struggle to exlain the whole picture. Reasonably so. My father always said that the more you know the more you realise you don't know. Is that a way to make the stupid feel smart again? Well, if that's the case, the further I get into this book the more grateful I am for this comment.

I think I'll revert to what I do know: chocolate. (Though even here there is surely much more to know.) Specifically, Sinking Currant Cake. It doesn't have chocolate in its name but it has chocolate in the icing. It started as mocha brownies when my man was small but his mother decided to adapt it for little people's taste and removed the walnuts and replaced them with currants. The currants always sank, hence, Sinking Currant Cake. I'll see if I can get the recipe and put it here or in one of the newsletters (next one coming soon!). It is the only cake he admits to liking, and I just like making cake so better I make one that he will eat too! On second thoughts I might have to make two, to save any arguments!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Chocolate Ecstasy website down temporarily

In case you managed to find this site instead of www.chocolateecstasytours.com. It is currently down. I'm swapping servers and it keeps disappearing and reappearing. Grrr. This means no emails are getting to me either. Sorry for the inconvenience!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Boycott of chocolate

I came across this interesting article today. The bitter life of chocolate slaves. In it, the spokesperson for the Confectionary Manufacturers' Association says that they can't guarantee their chocolate has not touched the hands of slaves. Granted, not an easy thing to do until you decide it's important, and even then, not necessarily transparent. What actually made me laugh - and despair - was his suggestion that "Boycotts will not help anybody. Hand-outs to people without change will achieve nothing." Excuse me? Of course Boycotts will help! How else can consumers make a real difference to large corporations except by voting with their dollar, or pound, or whatever currency?

You might be wondering why I appear to be suggesting we boycott chocolate. I'm not suggesting we stop eating all chocolate, just that we pay more attention to where our chocolate is coming from. Sadly, a Fair Trade seal neither 100% guarantees the farmer's are getting a fair price (corruption has been found within the channel of money passing to the farmers) and some chocolates have no Fair Trade sticker but are absolutely committed to the livelihood of the people who produce their cacao, otherwise they couldn't get the quality they need to make their fabulous chocolate. Amedei, Malagasy and El Rey are brands like this that come to mind.

I've been reading Ethics of Eating by Peter Singer and Jim Mason. The tag line is "What we eat and why it matters." It's actually all about industrialisation of farming and primarily the horrendousness that goes on behind closed doors to the animals, but it is certainly making me think a lot more about everything to do with what we eat. It's a great book if you want to know about why we should care, along as you can handle some gruesomeness.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Chocolate Week is over

Every week is chocolate week for me, but Britain's official Chocolate Week has now come to a close. The tour on Saturday was deliciously fun and it seemed all my guests had a great time too (hooray!). As soon as I get hold of the photos I will post some of them up here. In my opinion, it was the best full day tour yet and each of them have been quite different. It still felt we had too short a time in each place but I think that will always be the case - why would we ever want to leave a chocolate shop? - and this tour was definitely much more relaxed with more quality time than the previous tours. Rather sadly at this stage it will be the last full day tour until Chocolate Week 2008 while I focus on the half-day tours and the other tricks I have planned! But there's plenty of fun to be had on the regular tours. I feel the highlights of Saturday's trip will be better discussed with the pictures so I will return with them to tell you more about it!

Hope you all enjoyed Chocolate Week!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Chocolate Week: 1st event: Damien Allsop and Seventypercent

Some of the bars we tried:


My chocolate high is only just beginning to fade... It's good though because I've been really productive since I got home. I was even productive on the tube on the way home!

It was a fabulous night. Damien gives such great talks about the science behind chocolate. Here is him making a ganache for us:



I learnt the very useful fact that when chocolate appears to seize it just needs more of whatever liquid you are adding to it! And I learnt - by comparison - that a chocolate ganache made with water is MUCH nicer than one made with cream. Oh and I learnt that I REALLY want a foam maker. The silver canister-thing that uses little gas cylinders to produce instant food foam (or instant chocolate mousse equivalent).
This is a picture of the water-based chocolate foam:



Here's my tasting plate. I like to try a little bit of each and save part of the piece so I can compare along the way (because the plate fills up one piece at a time):




Damien also told us a little about his current pet project: adventures with an olive oil ganache, which we got to try with a fifteen year-old balsamic vinegar. I love the balsamic and chocolate but I'm personally not overly fussed about the olive oil. Especially after having the water-based ganaches which are so much lighter. Apparently the size of the microns of fats are larger than those of your tastebuds so fats tend to coat your tastebuds thus impeding your taster to some degree (as well as adding texture/"mouth feel".



Gosh, I really need to sleep. I'm off to a preview of Stardust tomorrow night (non-chocolatey).

Oh, I've finalised more details for Saturday. There's only four tickets left now though! If you want one of them go to www.chocolateecstasytours.com/luxury.htm.

Sweet chocolate dreams...

Monday, October 15, 2007

Chocolate Fondant


I didn't look at these pictures for a while and they aren't as pretty as I remember. I didn't even take a picture of it cut into and oozing. Darn. Might have to make them again. Though perhaps not this week!

Well, you can at least see what the coating of sugar in the dish looks like, and how they are supposed to be cracked on top!

Chocolate Week has started!

Hooray! It's finally here. In some ways it started for me on Saturday with one of the regular tours - we managed to squeeze 14 people on this one! I did my best to limit my choc consumption on this one, knowing the week that lies ahead. I'm not actually going to be able to go along to too much as I have a full schedule in my day job this week and I have to prepare for my own event on Saturday: the Full Day Chocolate Ecstasy Tour. (If you haven't bought a ticket yet there are just a few left! Click on the previous link to buy now.)

I am planning on popping in to Seventypercent's event with Damien Allsop tomorrow night on origin chocolates. My chance to input into a new creation? I couldn't miss that one!

If you want help choosing what to attend this week (there's so much on the website!) drop me an email through my website, or post to this blog!

I'll post a review of what I do get along to.

Have a delicious week!

PS. Newsletter readers: I will post the pics of my chocolate fondant tonight, I've had computer issues this week!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

I'm reading this:



Real flavours, by Glynn Christian. This is such a great book about food. Even better the author has lived in both the UK and Australia so I was remindeded of Australia's place in the culinary community, more significant than most people realise. I can't wait to visit again.

When I borrowed this book from my local library the man asked if I was starting up a deli. Er, no, I just really like food. It's an absolutely fascinating book. But maybe just to a food-geek like me. I've only properly read the chapters on bread and chocolate so far but it also has chapters on cheese, charcuterie, spices, oils and basically all the stuff you would find in a deli, which I've scanned too. The reason I haven't read more is because it makes me want to eat and cook and shop for food so I only allow myself to read it if I'm about to do one of these things, otherwise I end up completely distracted (and hungry).

The chapter about chocolate isn't as thorough as other books I have, but still as part of a bigger book about food it gives it a decent coverage. This is an essential book for anyone who wants to seem clever when they go to visit their local farmers' market or explore more of what tastes are out there. Speaking of which, I went again yesterday to the farmers' market in Chelsea to collect brownies for the tour from Clare, and ended up coming home with bags of watercress, olives, brocollini, cheese and other treats. Oops. Clare sells dough so you can go home and bake you own too. Unfortunately her cheese straw dough made such nice biscuits they were gobbled before we could photograph them. Eventually I might get in the habit of taking pictures.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Chocolate Ecstasy in Chocolate Week

Yum. My favourite week of the year is coming! Chocolate Week. This year seems to be the biggest ever with a HUGE amount of events.

I'll be running a full day Chocolate Ecstasy Tour on Saturday 20th October (in conjunction with Seventypercent.com. It's going to a delicious day where people will be personally guided to some the best chocolatiers in London and have the opportunity to ask about all the others too. We get VIP access into stores and we'll be having lunch with an innovative new chocolatier (well, I say new, he's been in working with chocolate his whole life but has only recently started his own chocolate business).

If you're interested in joining us (there are only a few places) go to www.chocolateecstasytours.com/fulldaytour.htm.

You can check out the other events here. (The full day tour isn't up yet but it will be soon!)

I hope you can join me!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Chocolate gets better and better

Chocolate helps fatigue syndrome too! Hmm, wonder if this explains my sleepless nights? Got to love it, people are finally catching on to the fact that, although a treat, chocolate also comes from a bean (seed) incredibly rich in nutrients.

Read more here.


Like they say though - moderation, people! ;-)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

It's nice when people say nice things about chocolate tours

How lovely. A friend of mine complimented me on this article this evening, so I went to look it up.

It's a shame they spelt ecstacy wrong. So many people do... A bigger shame I hadn't registered the incorrect address which it links to! I thought I had. Darn. Other than the spelling and linkage error I don't think I could have asked for nicer things to be said. It's made my day. Yesterday my day was made by seeing Clare's (of Milk and Honey) fabulous stall at Kings Road market. She's there every Saturday now. I was thrilled to finally try her other delicacies, already being a raving fan of her brownies which everyone who comes on the tour gets in their goodie bag. She also makes chocolate banoffee biscuits. Yum. She even sells the cookie dough so you can bake your own. She was educating me in the science of making crisp versus soft biscuits (oven temperature + cooking time) and so today I made my own dough and experimented. Bizarrely the lower tempature (160C) came out more crisp - so crisp they just kind of disintegrated. I think I left them in a little too long (14mins). I also should have added a bit more butter. I was also experimenting with the recipe too. I did use the same dough for each temperature test though and the 2nd hotter (190C, 9 mins) batch were still pretty good, though also a teensy bit dry. The kind of cookies you need to have with a glass of milk. Except we don't have any milk in the house, because no one drinks it here. It's bought occasionally for cake making, or guests. The cookies made me nostaligic for the super-dark double-choc cookies I used to make during sleepover weekends in high school. I can't wait to see my girlfriends again later this year.

There were also some people at the market who made amazing soup, and incredible icecream that used agave syrup instead of sugar. If you didn't know, agave syrup has a low GI, but sweetens like sugar. In layman's terms: you shouldn't get a sugar rush. I'm sorry I can't remember the name but I'm going back next weekend so I'll write it down and even take a picture and let you know then! Or just go along and check it out for yourself.

Monday, September 17, 2007

What I saw in Warsaw.

Greek fish:

This was part of the Italian/Polish wedding feast. We also ate pierogi (Polish dumplings), traditional smoked and grilled cheese, sour soup, red cabbage, cold meats and salads, bread and many desserts.

That was an awful title, I know. I am my father's daugher. This, because I make bad attempts at plays on language. I also know this because it's what my mother refers to me as if she's ever annoyed with me. Interestingly, when my father is frustrated or amused by me I am my mother's daughter. Nice, hey?


Back to Poland: the brief trip this weekend for the wedding. I didn't see much of Warsaw in Warsaw (not even the couple kissing!) but I was priveleged to attend this union of Polish and Italian friends of ours. The ceremony and reception was a blend of traditions from each, and not having attended either an Italian or a Polish wedding I'm not too certain what came from where but it was all very entertaining. Much singing and dancing. Thankfully neither country has a wedding speech tradition because versions in three languages would have made it quite a lengthy session! The bride and groom briefly thanked us all for coming, in Polish, Italian and English, and after that we got on with six courses of food, Italian wines and Polish vodka shots, in between random cheers and songs. Well, they seemed random but given the languages were foreign I couldn't tell you this with certainty.

The wedding cake... (White chocolate curls on a chocolate cake with an alcholic cream middle that was thicker than either layer of cake sandwiching it.)


A poignant point. I love passion for food and drink.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I love the people in the Chocolate world

Another indulgent weekend that began with a chocolate tour on Saturday morning (my favourite way to start the weekend, this tour special as a final goodbye to one manager leaving, and a hello to a new manager starting in different store). Then I travelled onto a garden party in the West Country, complete with brass band and full-size skittles runway, and finishing at the London Food Show at the Islington Business Design Centre. I just realised I was wearing my high-heel boots for 18hours straight, with the exception of two hours in the car on the way down when I was a passenger. No wonder my calves hurt still.

It's a shame that the Food Festival wasn't advertised better, at least, it didn't seem like it was. The trouble with going at the end of a three-day show is that the exhibitors are just keen to get home, and many of them have already left, including one of the chocolate exhibitors I really wanted to see.

It was great to see the couple from Gorvett and Stone again. Not only do they create delicious chocolates but they are just lovely as well. Their dark chocolate bar with strawberry and black pepper is perfect. I pinched this picture from their website because mine didn't quite do it justice.


I went by to visit Paul of Paul A. Young Fine Chocolates afterwards and was delighted to find him in the shop - and with exciting news too! He is opening another shop in the Royal Exchange in Bank in just a few weeks. So business is obviously good. And with good reason: divine chocolates with no expense spared on the ingredients. His Autumn range is slowly coming into the stores (how sad to be acknowledging we really aren't getting a summer). Paul also had a strawberry and black pepper chocolate, his was a milk truffle and perhaps even more perfect, as a truffle at least. I never seem to buy enough of his chocolates when I'm there. He's now mastered how to make stilton chocolate truffles that last more than one day - add port! Brilliant. Bizarre, but good.

Other lovely finds at the fair were CurrySlim jars of sauce and FleurDelicia chutneys and marmalades (NOTE: second website isn't there yet). Now, normally I won't touch any products with the word "slim" in the title. Not because I'm not conscious of my diet, but because in my experience tags like "slim" and "lite" tend to imply a whole host of additives, artificial sugars and fillers. As always I scanned the ingredients on the labels and not only is their virtually no fat there is also no sugar. The only sweetener I could spot is pineapple juice, and all the other ingredients are normal things you might find easily in many people's cupboards. I met Fleur as well and was impressed by her insistence on only buying fresh fruit and vegetables and not compromising on ingredients. Her spicy tomato and hot aubergine chutneys are great, they're being picked up by Asda (please don't let that put you off!). Fleur, like a lot of other gourmet food producers these days, left a city job to have a go at making her talent into a business. She's doing pretty well so far, it seems. Good luck to her!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

John Scharffenberger - an American pioneer of chocolate

Last night I was invited to a talk by one of the co-founders of Scharffen Berger, the US chocolate company, Mr Scharfenberger himself. Cloistered in a basement room in a Mayfair members' club a group of around ten chocolate obsessives listened as John gave us a history of his own career and Scharffen Berger chocolates, and the complete biography of cacao. Rather than being a patisserie chef, as most of the people who start their own chocolate shops are, Scharffenberger was an agricultural historian, and then a successful sparkling wine maker (Scharffenberger cellars is now owned by Maisons Marques & Domaines).

We tried the "candy bar" brands, the ones sold in most supermarkets. Still real chocolate, but the 70% was a bit rough and woody, according to John this was because there were too many Ghana beans in the mix, and not enough Venezualan. In Venezuela right now the political situation is such that no one can get cacao beans from there except Domori. Sadly, political unrest and poverty affects so many countries that grow cacao. John also brought along a few of the artisan bars for us to sample, including a delicious bar solely from Trinidad and Tobago that had a hint of black cherry to it. In Trinidad and Tobago the reverse is true, where people are choosing not to farm cacao because industry is so great there they can get paid better in other jobs. Scharffen Berger have been making efforts to make it more worthwhile for them, so we get to keep eating chocolate made from their delicious beans.

One of the most interesting bars he brought along was a virtually unconched bar. It was very grainy, sugar crystals and bits of cacao nibs, crunchy and fun like a "candy bar" as I would refer to them - chocolate with extra bits. Keeping the ingredients in more of their natural form means added antioxidant benefits for all of us.

The guests were rather a who's who of the chocolate world in London, which makes sense because it was hosted by the Academy of Chocolate, whose mission is to support and encourage the creation and consumption of fine chocolate. There were obviously many missing, the chocolate world is expanding fast here in London, it's fun to get together with its constituents and discuss (and eat) the good stuff from time to time. Damien Allsop brought along some of his divine ganaches. His USP is that he makes his ganaches without cream. They are water based, though one he brought along was from a fine vintage olive oil, "plant to press in 8 hours". He topped the enrobing on one side with a pinch of maldon sea salt and indented the 2nd bite to hold a small drop of balsamic vinegar. These ones are sold in three restaurants in the UK, the waiter joins you at the table to pour the balsamic, quite an experience. I enjoyed the fuss of this one, though my two favourites of those he brought along were a milk anise with a pear jelly layer, and the pure ganache he made from Bill McCarrick's couverture created here in the UK. Bill, of Sir Hans Sloane Chocolates, is one of only two UK companies to make their own couverture from "scratch". I've been invited to go and visit his studio in a few weeks time - I can't wait!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

September already?

Time is flying and I am rarely blogging. Instead I have been working and socialising and, lately, baking a lot. It's been a bit crazy trying to work around living in one room of what was already a crowded flat while we waited for the bedroom to dry and now we wait for the new plastering and new carpet.

I registered at the gym two weeks ago and was told I have an athlete's level of body fat. Ahem. Now, I am slim, but I was pretty sure that couldn't be right. But who's to argue? I took them at their word and their word as free license to eat whatever I liked. Bad move. Polishing off entire batches of cookies and muffins is not good for anyone. It stops today. Who knew one could gain weight so quickly? Please be heartened that my current extra kilos are just from excessive eating, rather than chocolate. I was pretty excited to be living proof that you can be eating around 100g of chocolate a day and still be not just slim and healthy but also have low levels of body fat. Unfortunately you can't have 100g of chocolate and six cookies and other big meals. Oh well, lesson learnt! Back to the regular eating routine now.

It's quite sad to realise that the northern summer is officially over and the UK has had barely ten days above 25 degrees. If that? Cest la vie. We will at least have three weeks of warmth when we head to Australia later in the year.

I wish I had had my camera at my friend's 30th last night. She had the most beautiful cake with a design on the top that perfectly matched her funky 1920s invitation. I do, however, finally have pictures of some of the cakes from the four weddings we've been to in the last few months. One of them, much to the man's delight, was made entirely from cheese.

There was yummy chocolate cake under this pretty icing.



The cake of cheese (thank you Paxton and Whitfield, and the newlyweds, of course).


Notice another wedding cake cut with a sword? Fruitcake made by the groom. Delicious, even if there wasn't any chocolate during the entire day, the couple are real foodies and everything was delicious and so well thought out.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

a delicious BBQ - with chocolate

My friend turned 40 last week. He had a BBQ on Saturday and we went to help him celebrate, not just because his partner is such a fantastic cook. After devouring platefulls of delicious savoury food - barbequed salmon, chargrilled holoumi wrapped in red pepper (a surprise bite of chilli hidden in each parcel) and so much more, the desserts were brought out. Later in the evening we counted: a full ten options for dessert. Not bad given there were less than thirty people left at the time they were unveiled. Of these, three were chocolate: tart, mousse and flourless cake (the actual birthday cake). Every single dessert was homemade, except the icecream. Very impressive for a new mum. I wonder if this explains baby's sweet temperament?

Perfect weather, delicious food, great company. A very relaxing weekend. Well, relaxing Saturday, the weather turned for worse on Sunday and there were chores to do...

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Chocolate and Cherry Fondant at the Gate

Dad made a flying visit through London last night so we took him to the Gate, reputedly London's best vegetarian restaurant. Despite my familiarity with the "cuisine" of the little town I spent most of my school years, where my parents still live, I was shocked to explain what hommous and falafel were to him. If I inherited my passion for good food from either parent I thought it was more likely to be him. Now I know it's neither. They both enjoy food, but generally care little about what it is. Though it was my father's insistence on home-grown, made from scratch food and my mother's compliance with fairly regular baking that gave me my love for ingredients and creating I guess.

It's been a while since we ate at the Gate and last time I was a little disappointed with the quality overall, which perhaps explains why the booking I made was a little unnecessary afterall. If you, too, have stayed away based on previous disappointing visits then on the back of our delicious meal last night I urge you to give it another go. It's still not guaranteed every dish will be delicious but some are divine and the worst is just good so a safe bet really. The arancini and the cheese and onion tart were fantastic. The dessert list offered myriad options I would have liked to have tried, unfortunately not the same for my father who was only sold on the chocolate and cherry fondant with creme fraiche. So we both had it. Of course I had to ask first what chocolate it was made from. Usually with a fondant it is less important than, say, with a tart or a mousse when the dessert is ruined by lesser quality chocolate. It was made with Callebaut. Our server got extra points for saying that Valhrona was his favourite though. It's nice to know people working in food know enough about food to know the difference.

It was divine and I'm glad I didn't opt for sharing. Properly soft sponge breaking to reveal warm, melting chocolateness and the surprise of a cherry soaked in kirsch with every other mouthfull (it only took me about eight bites I should add!). The Gate has won me back.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Menier Chocolate Factory and the curse of the Monmouth coffee

Can you tell I have just finished reading Harry Potter?

The Menier Chocolate Factory is not actually anything chocolatey now, it's a theatre and restaurant (so, I guess a little bit chocolatey). For the last few years kind people have been letting me know about it. I thought I should at least visit. I took advantage of the new office relocation and my last lunch in my role at SpeakersBank. The food was actually really, really good. We all had burgers (veggie for me) accompanied by possibly the nicest chunky chips I've had in a long time. I love it when a restaurant knows which type of potatoes to use for which dish.

My (now ex) boss has been so excited about the move because it brings him closer to Monmouth coffee, his favourite caffiene company. For me, one addiction is enough. I haven't drunk coffee in about two and a half years, though not because I don't like it, I just don't need to be hooked on anything else. I agreed to try Monmouth coffee as the boss had welcomed my introduction to better chocolate, and accepted that I would buy the chocolate brownies for us from the Flour Power City stall. Also because I always want to try any food or drink someone raves about.

He was right. It was really good. Delicious, in fact. But, never again. I quite enjoyed the buzz in the afternoon. Totally happy to stay late making sure everything was sorted, I was so wired. I started to get a little tired of feeling jumpy by the evening though. And this morning my heart was still racing. I can handle a LOT of dark chocolate, and it does give me a slight buzz if I over indulge, but nothing compared to this. Made me realise that the caffeine in coffee really is a totally different ball game to whatever chocolate may contain.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

"that story thing"

This is what my mum refers to Facebook as. (She hasn't used it, yet.) To be fair, she did make this reference during a Skype conference call we had last night, her somewhere in the backend of nowhere in Oz and my brother similarly outplaced in Serbia and me in this soggy London flat.

Facebook. Ah, facebook. The first note on my wall was welcoming me to "the biggest timewaster ever". Hmmm. Its existence has meant I am in touch now with people I haven't heard from in years. While it's nice to be able to hear how people are doing, it's slightly disturbing that they, in return, get to learn all about you. Particularly as with just two clicks you get to this blog. Ironic that I should be concerned about this, why have a blog in the first place then? My cousin recently commented on the irony of when we were at school and girls kept diaries, and god forbid anyone dare read a page, they would face eternal wrath of the bearer; to this: an emptying of thoughts accessible by anyone with a pc and connection to the world wide web.

I was registered with the doctor on Tuesday morning, about time as I have been here five months now. When the nurse took my vitals it was revealed I have lost precisely 1.2kg since my pre-operation appointment a week and a half ago at the hospital. So I have taken it upon myself to chocolate-load, to make sure I don't cause any confusion when I arrive for my operation tomorrow morning. I assume this is, at least in part, due to my forced day and a half of fasting, and purging, on the weekend. Ick. I could never be bulimic. Sunday marked the fifth time I have ever thrown up, since I was about five. Two earlier encounters with food poisoning, a bout of gastro and the aftermath of my one-and-only general anaesthetic, when they put the screws, that they are about to take out, into my knee. Great. Looks like I have another healthy weekend to look forward to! :-)

I'm going to go to Borough Market today and get a Flour Power City brownie. I've got some catching up to do before the weekend!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

what a week... (My website is down, in case you are trying to get to it.)

1. Last Tuesday Jonny had food poisoning.
2. On Friday the flat flooded.
3. Saturday night I got food poisoning (from an expensive meal).
4. My website is down, which means my email address doesn't work either.

There are lots of niggly details that make all of these things even more annoying than they might at first glance, but, hey, my life is certainly a million times better than lots of other people's. I have chocolate, for one (and now I feel well enough to eat it again). Fingers crossed the website will be up again soon.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

a true chocolate master

My intention was to write yesterday about the launch of the L'Artisan du Chocolat range of chocolate bars that they create straight from cocoa liquor (roasted and squished cocoa beans, in a sense). They are divine. And also I had planned to write about how delightful it was to discuss chocolate with Gerard Coleman, the chief chocolatier at L'Artisan and the chocolate master I was referring to in the title. It was a thrill to be in a room with so many people who were passionate about chocolate, and knew criollo from forastero.

Unfortunately before I got around to writing all of this the rains came. I sat inside our little flat on my day when I do my own things at home and thought I'll pop out to run errands when the rain lessens. Sitting at the kitchen table under the skylight and quite enjoying the look and sound of the cascades. Then I touched my feet to the floor and water seeped through my socks. I looked around and there were giant puddles on the floor. Confused, I got up to see where the leak was. Under the front and back doors apparently. Rivers of water were entering and spreading across the floor, pooling in the slightly lowered and carpeted bedroom. Unfortunately I was half way through cleaning the house which meant that the down duvet was on the floor, so were the suede couch cushions, lots of books, clothes, hairdryer, hair straightener, Jonny's laptop, two computers and many power boards... Joy. Only having the one level I quickly ran out of higher ground to transfer things to and quickly realised I needed to switch off the mains before I got electrocuted wading around in ankle-deep water that covered plugs I couldn't reach to switch off.

It was knee high outside the door so I was trapped. (Well, unless I wanted to experience a rush of water into the flat.) Within an hour the sun came out and the water outside subsided. Thus began the sweeping of the silt and water back outside the house. Carpet in the bedroom is a lost cause. It's messy but it has brought us to talk to our neighbours which is nice. And right now I'm safe and dry in Mal Maison in Oxford while our flat probably sweats into a greater stench. Mmmm. Nice bithday present for the man!

I hope everyone else is ok!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

People who eat chocolate are happier

I read yesterday, courtesy of my fabulous friend Holly, that people whose mothers ate lots of chocolate while pregnant with them were on average happier. Scientific fact, that is. I think it must also be true for people who eat chocolate themselves too. The people who come on the chocolate tours are always so lovely. They make it such a pleasure (and that's saying something because it's difficult to find a way to make trying delicious, high quality chocolate and wandering around gorgeous London more pleasurable!).

I am still alive. Healthy (and happy) too. I will post more tomorrow. It's been a very busy few weeks! Off to a wedding party on a boat - hooray!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Taste London Festival

I'm just about able to move again. A long rest was required after a day of concerted eating (and drinking). Soup, fish, beer, wine, port, sherry, cheese, beef, potatoes, scallops, ice cream, chutney, oil, bread, fruit, chocolate, juice and more. A delicious day.

I have the nicest man in the world. Despite my insistence that I was ok with going on my own, he magnanimously accompanied me in this feast of culinary delights.

My absolute favourite dish we tried was the Seared scallop, black polenta emulsion from Club Gascon.

The most delicate salmon I've ever tasted came from One-O-One in their "Confit of Norwegian salmon and scallop mi-cuit truffle potato mousseline, foie gras jus roti". Delicious.

Cocoa Loco were here too so I got to pick up some of their white chocolate brownies. I don't think I'll be trying them today though!

Sorry for the lack of pictures! (Next year...)

Friday, June 22, 2007

I love Turtle bags

Does anyone else ever feel like their brain starts to turn to mush when they start wading through Outlook?

I was talking to a friend today and he has now (on the advice of someone else) made it a rule not to check his email until after 12noon. A pretty good plan, I think. I doubt I could do it. But I do think I should perhaps shut Outlook completely between 10 and 12, or something like that. And Gmail, Yahoo, Facebook... All of these glorious "timesavers".

What are turtle bags, you ask? My friend bought me two for Christmas and they are fabulous. Though it seems that I always forget them on the days the staff member on checkout remembers to ask if I have brought my own bags and I am certain that each bag counts as two of the plastic ones for all their capacity - I want green clubcard points.

I'm researching suppliers for some environmentally friendly bags to give people who come on the tour. I know they don't look so luxurious but it's nice to be able to do our bit when we can. Any recommendations welcome!

Still hoping to make the Taste festival this weekend. My poor, equally food fanatical friend was ill today so we cancelled our adventure. Fingers crossed to go on Sunday...

Monday, June 18, 2007

Whole Foods Chocolate Department

Valrhona, Pralus, Dagoba, Michel Cluizel, El Rey and more. Heaven. Whole Foods is my new favourite place.



I actually took these pictures the Friday after it opened, nearly two weeks ago now. But it's been an interesting ten days so this is the first opportunity I've made to post them. I spent over an hour (and a lot of money) in there Friday and again on Saturday.

They also have a big range of raw chocolate bars, which I have now tried three of. I went back on Friday last week because I just had to have more of the ciabatta which is the best version of the bread I have ever tried. When I went to the super food aisle to buy more of my preferred bar they were all out - I guess the raw food chocolate bar (Valfonte?) is everybody's favourite.

It'll be great when everything is priced properly (!). Other must-buys are cheese (some of my market favourites are available here, the 5 year old gouda is treacly and an addictve chocolate alternative); fig balsamic vinegar; the four cheese bread; and any of the bulk buy foods - they all work out cheaper than buying them pre-packaged (even cheaper than Tesco and others). All the pastry products (brownies etc) are made with either Valrhona or Callebaut. Hooray, another place to buy quality treats and one that's open 8am to 10pm Mon-Sat and less than that on Sunday.

The chocolate counter:







This is the best value chocolate you will find in a store for large quantities, a little awkward for eating but perfectly tasty for doing so!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Chocolate chunk cookies

I had a craving for chocolate cookies all day on Monday so I stopped at M&S on my way home to get some eggs (forgot them in the big shop on Sunday) and started creating when I got home.

Ingredients
100g butter
75g sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
220g flour
1 tbs cocoa
100g dark chocolate (good quality)
100g white chocolate (good quality)

Put oven on to pre-heat at 180 C

I melted the dark choc and butter in a bowl above a saucepan of simmering water (not touching the water).

Whilst that was melting I whisked up the egg with the sugar and vanilla.

I poured the melted chocolate into the egg (it had been off the heat for a while before I did this) and stirred till completely mixed together. I sifted in the flour and cocoa and stirred until it was properly combined, then added the chopped white chocolate so it looked like this:



I spooned the chocolate mixture onto a greased and lined tray and baked for ten minutes. They were very chocolatey, but a little dry. I think they really would have benefited from a spoonful of milk. But still delicious!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

More chocolate discoveries - Choc Star and Cocoa Loco

After wandering around the flat in something of a daze, speaking simultaneously to my brothers and father via Skype and a mobile on speakerphone (the wonders of technology) I finally showered and decided to head to Clapham to have lunch with the brother that lives in London. After we were fed delicious, wholesome organic food at Breads Etc, we went to the Common to sit. On this day the sun remembered again that it was Spring in London and bathed us in gorgeous warmth that quickly dried any tears and its glow made it easier to be grateful for his life.

Leaving Stephen I decided to do what I love most, and what I knew would distract, if not cheer me, for a while. Earlier in the morning I'd flicked open the paper to read about a food festival in East London. Not sure how I hadn't heard of it earlier. Already being on the Northern line I decided to lose myself in sights and smells and tastes of fresh, local produce.

Fortunately for my bank account my retail therapy is always food, rather than clothes. I spent so long meandering and chatting to stall-holders that most of the stalls had closed by the time I reached the end. Sadly dropped a bottle of oak-smoked olive oil I bought from Casa de 'Oli and its thin neck snapped. Whilst I cried quite a lot on Friday, it was a day I really wasn't going to cry over spilt oil.



I was delighted to encounter the van Choc Star and its fabulous owner, Petra. I had been meaning to get to Brick Lane for months to check out her van, and was so pleased to discover her here. Always fun to talk chocolate with fellow chocolate lovers. Petra treated me to one of her chocolate guiness cupcakes, slathered with addictive cream cheese frosting which really was the icing on this cake (sorry, terrible, terrible puns in this post - I'm sorry. I would say I will stop being cheesy but I realise this just adds to my pathetic prose).

Absolutely spoilt this Friday by also managing to catch Rory from Cocoa Loco, just before he completely packed up. I'm sure I slowed him down but he was very gracious about it and kindly discounted his brownies for me which I have since eaten (and gone to heaven over) and gave me some truffles which he said has suffered a bit in the warmth but they still looked and tasted fantastic to me! I chose the deeply dark brownies, now I know I must also try all their other treats. I thought I might go back again during the weekend but time slipped away from me. Fortunately I had enough chocolate to get me through!

The Cocoa Loco brownie at home later:




Mmm... chocolate truffle from Cocoa Loco

My Uncle Claude

Claude in 1963




The two of us in 2005.



This is Claude and my cousin Nicci, just a few weeks ago. He could walk fine by himself but having no daughters of his own and no nieces either, I think he enjoyed our affection. We all loved him very much. None of us grew up in the UK, so only came to know him as adults. I remember being shocked at how witty and aware he was of everything going on in the world. He was still overseeing the business every day. He was a truly remarkable man and I am glad to have known him.


Friday, June 01, 2007

chocolate that melts in your mouth

My uncle died yesterday. My great uncle, actually. I still... don't really believe it's true. I was planning on visiting him tomorrow. I called and spoke to him yesterday morning, to ask if he fancied visitors. He said "not this Saturday if you don't mind". He hasn't been well and said he was lying down most of the time so he didn't feel up to having company. A proper English gentleman. You could never visit Uncle Claude unless he was ready with tea and cake, and he always wore a jacket and tie.



(the view from Uncle Claude's house, usually filled with birds of varying descriptions)

The last time we went to visit him I took a few chocolate mendiants we picked up on the way from Miette. He was so pleased that when I learnt the next day it was his birthday I posted him a box of chocolates from L'Artisan du Chocolat. He called me a week later to say thank you. The first thing he said after hello was "I've heard of chocolates that melt in your mouth, but I had never experienced it until now.". I was planning on going there again today to buy another box to post to him.

I'm not really sure what to do with myself now.

I miss him.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

chocolate therapy

I read today about a woman who uses chocolate as part her therapy for people, Julie Pech. She also lectures about the health benefits. She spent eighteen months eating chocolate daily as part of her research and continues to do so. The article explains just how good chocolate can be for you: twice the antioxidants of a glass of wed wine, two to three times as much as green tea. Sounds great to me. Perhaps I don't need to bother with my two chocolate-free days a month after all? I'm coping ok so far though (50 hours since I last ate chocolate!). Like a true addict, if I wasn't going to ingest it I would get my fix some way, and I slathered cocoa butter moisturiser into my skin last night before bed. I smelt delicious!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

When the cat is away, the mouse will... eat chocolate.

Growing up on a farm, you quickly learn that mice actually prefer chocolate to cheese. Any stale chocolate in our house went on the traps (sorry, you live on a farm and you kind of get used to animals being killed, or you don’t and become a vegetarian at the age of 8). Unfortunately for the mice, most of the chocolate in our house was stale because mum would hide it and then forget about it. I remember in 1998 finding a bar with a best before of August 1991. Ick.

I didn’t actually mean to write about mice. The dear man (who does prefer cheese, though is now also very partial to chocolate) is away mountain biking and I decided to stay home and “work” (seeing as I don’t have a bike that could handle the hills and am petrified of hurtling down slopes on two wheels given I managed to crack ribs coasting down a gentle gradient of a tarred road many years ago). So, “work”: I have been shopping (new dress, new shirt - hooray! The first time I’ve bought new clothes in MONTHS) and watched “Down With Love” with Ewan McGregor and Renee Zellweger. I never knew that the feminist protaganist (played by RZ) recommends chocolate as a subsitute for love. What a great film (I'm so biased). This reminded me that I have a bar of Manjari that had been put aside for truffles I bought on the tour that needed to be eaten first. (See, I’m not turning into my mother, I remembered the chocolate while it was still fresh!)

People often ask me what my favourite chocolate is. While it does change regularly, if I did have to choose just one (please don’t ever make me!) might be Valrhona Manjari. This is what’s currently left of the bar, sitting on the bed covers – yep, decadence all the way. I LOVE it. It’s unbelievable how fruity chocolate can be, with no added flavours.



Time for me to have a bubble bath. And yes, I have managed to fit in cleaning, washing and working to my hectic schedule of chocolate and films.

I hope you’re enjoying the long weekend!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Chocolat

I've been rereading Chocolat. It's been years since I read it the first time and I forgot how enchanting it was. I am completely enthralled in Vianne's world. I feel like the book was written just for me. It is so eloquently written and so timeless. I feel I have a kindred spirit in Vianne, though I have no patience for decorating chocolates I share the passion for real chocolate.

If you haven't read it yet, you must.



I was surprised to hear a few months ago that she was releasing a sequel. Having reread the book I cannot wait, and yesterday waiting for the tube saw it had been released. All my grand plans for the weekend may disappear within the pages of this novel: Lollipop Shoes.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Mars takes the meat out of chocolate

Mars have reversed their decision, on some products. So now vegetarians can eat Mars bars again. Hooray! Ahem. I was hoping it might make people realise this isn’t real chocolate, and convert them to something better. You don’t see real chocolate with rennet, vegetarian or otherwise.

Apparently they haven't changed the ingredients in Maltesers, but they have in Mars; not in Twix but they have in Snickers. Confused? Me, too. But I don't really care because I stopped eating all of these a long time ago. I used to love Twix but everytime I see any of these all I think of it all the unnecessary vegetable fats and excess sugar and worse that go into them, and any desire is completely gone.

Monday, May 21, 2007

a raw food lunch (with raw chocolate!)

I went to a raw lunch yesterday. It felt like a wise move, to balance out the full day chocolate tour on Saturday. Before you think “ick”, let me say the food was actually really good. Peter has spent time working in professional kitchens, before deciding to try his hand as a raw chef, and you can tell. None of the “wholesome” (read: gritty) sauces and over-complex spiced salads, Peter’s specialty is replicating cooked foods that people crave. He makes incredible “corn chips” from flax seed. After spending two days studying with Barry Callebaut last week I expect his range of raw chocolate treats will only get more delicious. These are the light lasagnes with sundried tomato and pesto that we had as a main on Sunday, before they were plated with a spinach, olive and pine nut salad and brought out to us.

Unfortunately I have no picture of the "maple pecan icecream with chocolate sauce". But it was smooth and cold like icecream and the chocolate sauce thick and solidified on contact. Incredibly sweet and creamy. I'm not so certain that this was the best antidote to yesterday afterall! (But delicious and fun, nonetheless. If you are interested in trying these raw food experiences (I swear, even hard-core meat and veg people will like them) go to www.rawfoodparty.com and sign up for Peter's newsletter and you'll get information of the meals as he schedules them. Each meal has a theme, this one being Italian. I'm sorry I missed the raw Indian (or maybe that one is still to come... hmm...).

I left armed with supplies for my almost guilt-free chocolate treats, which, after all I've eaten lately, might be a good way towards weaning myself into having some days with less chocolate.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

chocolate-d out

Even me, who has been in training my whole life for days like these, could have visited one or two less stores somewhere along the way and perhaps not missed it. Though every store has it's own unique style and chocolate specialties. Which would you not go to? It would be so hard to choose. A completely wonderful, decadent day. A fabulous group of people and a delight for the taste buds at every stop. What I like most is walking through old alleys in Mayfair and wandering through the Rose Garden in Hyde Park, and past so many of London's incredible buildings.

More later, time to rest my feet now (and eat some salad!).

Friday, May 18, 2007

chocolate delights and Napket snob food

I'm so excited about the tour tomorrow. I've been visiting some of the stores in anticipation, to make sure everything is ready for our arrival. We are going to have an extraordinary day, filled with such incredible chocolate - and more!

I also came across Napket. Seeing the tag line "snob food" I had to go in. Delicious muffin loaves lined the walls, gourmet salads on the bench top below. Such itnensity of colour, and the food combinations: pomegrante, artichoke. The breads were the most intriguing. I struggled to decide between feta, mint and spinach; basil, tomato and mozzeralla; olive and more, but finally selected the mozzerella, gorgonzola and parmesan that looked moist and just divine. I asked for assistance and felt like Harry in Love Actually when purchasing the necklace from Rowan Atkinson.



Layers upon layers of ornate packaging for one slice of bread. Only to be unwrapped and uncovered and devoured (delightfully) at the bus stop just outside. Despite the rather outrageous pricing, it was worth it. I'm going back. My love of food could not deny me.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Galler Kaori

I just had one of the most unique chocolate experiences I have had for some time. Like dining at a fine restaurant. Galler sell a chocolate package that includes six chocolate sticks, with different centres (strawberry and balsamic, ginger and more) that come with three little pots. A syrup and two dips, like oil and dukkah for bread. Read below for instructions:
So much fun! And delicious, too. A great variety in the flavours and the dips were a perfect complement. What truly surprised me was the cardamom stick. It had grains of what appeared to be space rock, or popping candy. So surreal. Back to childhood in a gourmet chocolate.

Chocolate, Date and Coconut milk bread pudding


I stepped out at lunch today and walked past a Fishworks. Having recently been introduced to their taramasalata it was impossible to walk past. Treasure in hand I remembered the local grocers stocks Pouillaine sourdough bread. Alas! There was none on the shelves. Just in case, I decided to ask the shop assistant. She very sweetly went out the back and brought back a loaf and said, we have this, it's old but - feel it - it's still ok. Because it's old I can't sell it to you but I can give it to you.
Ok. Works for me!

There was enough bread there to host the taramasalata plus extra that was just begging to be made into a bread pudding. This was enough to make two large ramekins like the one you can see here. It's dairy-free, too.

Ingredients:

2 large slices of sourdough bread
coconut oil
1/2 can coconut milk
5 dates
1 egg
splash of water
1 1/2 tablespoons of chocolate chips (I just chopped up some Lindt and callebaut)
1 tbs agave syrup (but you could use maple)
sprinkle of sugar for the top

I buttered the bread the coconut oil, cut it into smaller pieces and filled the ramekins halfway. Then I put in half of the chopped dates and chocolate chips and repeated the layer of bread and dates and chocolate.

I whisked up the egg with the syrup and coconut milk and added a squeeze of lime juice and a splash of water (probably 50ml or so). Upon tasting it a half-teaspoon of vanilla extract would have been very welcome, and next time I may consider adding some spices.

Pour the egg and coconut mixture over the ramekin full of bread, sprinkle with sugar (looks pretty, tastes good) and bake for 25-30mins in an oven pre-heated to 180 C.

This is such a great way of using up store cupboard ingredients. Nothing fresh requried (though I am certain some fruit - bananas or apricot - might have also made it more tasty). As well as a pudding this makes a decadent breakfast, heated up.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

animals in Chocolate

No, not chicken mole.

Ugh. Animal products in chocolate. Why????? Apparently Masterfoods have started using a non-vegeterian rennet in the production of their main chocolate bars. I assume to “bulk them up” cheaply. Ick ick ick.

Over 20 of their chocolate products now contain animal-derived whey. Well, just another reason to avoid this "non-chocolate". Why do you need to put whey in chocolate anyway?

Read more here.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Kallari Rainfamily Chocolate Bars

The chocolate discoveries seem endless! Last night after a curry in Exeter I was permitted (well, I ran in and it was tolerated) to go inside a new food shop: a season gourmet food store. In house bakery, sushi bar, pizza parlour, plus deli counters of cheese, cakes, meats. It had officially closed but the manager told me to take my time. Not wanting to keep him or my friends waiting I did a quick circuit. I bet if it had been open there would have been an array of samples to try, as in a market. I was looking for a packet of nice biscuits or something to get for our dessert but none were in sight. I ignored the cakes on the basis of our having just stuffed ourselves quite a lot of Indian food, though they looked worthy of revisiting some time. Then I saw several brown paper wrapped bars: chocolate!

Apart from a rather generic Swiss organic chocolate sharing the same shelf I didn’t see any other chocolate in the store. This makes it so difficult to gauge what the knowledge of chocolate is. There were two varieties of the brown paper brand. Only 50g in size, but I grabbed one of each and headed for the counter. I was told I had made a good choice. Excellent. Delighted with my discovery I returned to my kind friends waiting in the street and we continued on our way.
I have had a lovely weekend, which will be nicely rounded off tonight with another nice meal, at another friend’s house. My nudging persuaded her to host a final dinner party before she moves home. I’m looking forward to excellent food and company to match. After all this focus on fine dining the last few days I think it may be salads all this week in preparation for the full day luxury chocolate tour this Saturday. There are still a couple of spare spaces. I can’t wait. It’s going to be such fun.