Monday, April 30, 2007

Levant Moroccan Restaurant

After yet another lovely tour on Saturday where I again pointed people to this recommended restaurant that I had never yet been to, I finally went last night!

We were on the way back from visiting our friends' new baby (she's very cute) and were so hungry as we were passing Marylebone High Street we decided we would just eat out. Our first choice was closed and then I remembered that we were near Levant. So, finally I can speak with authority about the food there.

The dips are fantastic. So are the smoothies and juice drinks. Take my advice and stick to ordering mezze. One or two more mezze and we would have been pleasantly full, but we had already ordered mains. Jonny's mixed grill was about four times the food as my salmon and salad, and I'd almost wished I had asked them to leave the bread on the table for me. Knowing we were getting mains, I didn't eat too much before they arrived. I will definitely go back if I'm ever nearby, but now I know how to order properly. It will be interesting to see what happens in July when the no smoking ban takes effect. The pipes were pretty overwhelming but we were too hungry to go anywhere else at that point. Despite the restaurant part being almost completely empty our host seemed unwilling to sit us in seats as far away as possible from the smoke, yet those seats never were filled in the hours we passed there. Bizarre.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

It's not chocolate without cocoa butter

As I mentioned in my newsletter in the US the "Chocolate Manufacturers' Association" are trying to change the FDA laws regarding products not containing any cocoa butter that they want to call chocolate.

It's just not right. Cocoa butter is MUCH better for you than the vegetable fats they would be replacing it with, plus it tastes different.

The lovely people at Guittard have set up a website to help people lobby the FDA to ensure this isn't allowed. You have until June 25th.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Friday is chocolate day

OK, every day is chocolate day. It just seems that way lately because in preparing for tours I have to do chocolatey things the day before. Today I went to visit two chocolate shops, and I went back to Daylesford Organics. I also went passed the now-closed Luento Santaro.

I didn't get another brownie from Daylesford because I was off to The Chocolate Society and knew that I really should try theirs (though I may have long ago). When I got there I found a variety of choice, all baked onsite, with Valhrona chocolate. I asked for explanations and what I should try (deciding to limit myself to just one). "Do you like rich chocolate?"

"Yes, she does," replied my friend.

My sheepish smile indicated my agreement so rather than the brownie on this occasion I opted for the flourless chocolate cake (it has another name which I don't remember, sorry). I didn't try it until this evening and they weren't kidding. It is so rich. More like eating a truffle than a cake. Good, but next time I think I'll have the brownie (and maybe a truffle or two as well).

I have a new phone with a reasonable camera on it and my plan for this weekend is to find a way to transfer my contacts from the current phone so in future I can capture all my chocolate expeditions in pictures. Because sadly by the time I get home to the SLR the chocolate treat is at least part demolished (yes, I know no restraint when it comes to chocolate, save when - if ever - I'm satiated).

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Sweet Chocolate Kylie

UK Chocolate makers have created a miniature model of Kylie Minogue, entirely out of chocolate. As if the men weren't already drooling, now the women will be, too.

This was made by the same company that made Elton John's wedding cake.

Monday, April 23, 2007

a marathon effort

It was such an inspiration standing near Mile 10 watching runners of all shapes and sizes and costumes pass by in the London Marathon.

A hot day for April. Most runners ran slower than their PBs. I was in awe of those who finished at all. It was exhausting standing in the sun and clapping and shouting support, all respect to the 36,000 who ran.

It almost got me thinking I might run it one day. Ha ha. We'll see.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

more chocolate fondant

Way-hey it's the weekend. I'm buzzing from the chocolate tour this morning (the BBC were right!) and looking forward to enjoying the rest of the weekend in this glorious weather. Tomorrow we are off to watch my cousin-in-law run in the London Marathon, her first time running, and my first time watching.

I went out for dinner two more times this week so am looking forward to staying in tonight. I have a confession to make: we went to a gastro pub on Thursday night and guess what was on the menu? Yep, chocolate fondant (with coffee icecream). Two fondants in three days. Spoilt. The men did help me with this one though, I have to say, not much. Fondants always come in such tiny portions, I get to the end and think "I could eat another," then twenty minutes later I realise they were just the right size. When it comes to chocolate though, I always want more.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Another chocolate brownie.

Oops. I only meant to taste it. I visited Daylesford Organics this afternoon and bought their chocolate brownie. For research purposes, of course. It is sooo good. I’m getting a favourite brownie list as long as, well, my favourite chocolate list. That’s long.

Dirty Dancing and a Valhrona chocolate fondant

Are these not the ingredients for the ultimate night for a girl?

I went to see the musical last night. I'm pretty sure every girl between 20 and 70 has a special relationship with that film. It was so much fun to see it live on stage. The actress playing Baby was brilliant and the voice of one of the male supporting actors would on its own be worth going to hear. Unbelievable.

I just looked up the cast and now I know why Johnny's accent was so bizarre - he's Australian. At one point, when he said "Let's get out of here.", he sounded just like Buzz Lightyear. But then he took his shirt off and nothing seemed to matter anymore. The almost all female audience were very appreciative. The musical doesn't quite carry the tension and character of the film, you don't really appreciate how Johnny feels about Baby as well as you do in the film. Still, it was so much fun.

Before the show we went to Bank for dinner. The sea bass was perfectly cooked, crisp skin and delicate flesh, resting atop perfectly steamed sprouting broccoli and the most delicious sweet potato I have ever eaten. Though the dessert list was incredible and I genuinely wanted to try them all, it was an obvious choice to have the Valhrona Chocolate Fondant with malt chocolate icecream. As good as it sounds and I could have eaten two of them. My lovely Jonny sweetly ordered the other chocolate dessert: a milk chocolate and raspberry mousse with raspberry sable, and he let me try it (it was good, but mine was better). My Jonny's great, and he calls me Baby. Now we just have to learn to dance.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Profiteroles, Miette and the Cotswolds

Mmm. Profiteroles. I haven’t made these in years. After the tart at Alex’s a few weeks ago (I mean the dessert, the women in attendance were lovely!) I haven’t stopped thinking about these. So decided last night after declining on dessert at the restaurant that I might as well make them when we got home. They were slightly more effort than I remembered. You have to beat the batter pretty hard. Would be great if you had any frustrations to vent. Not so great when you’re having a catch up with your lovely cousin visiting from South Africa. Finally they were made, along with the chocolate sauce and organic double cream. Delicious and still warm. Though by now more a midnight snack than a dessert. The recipe will be in this month's newsletter which I'll send out in a few days.

Said cousin stayed the night and we headed off to the Cotswolds on this beautiful, sunshiney day. Perfect day to get out of the city. We managed to find the gorgeous country pub our Uncle had taken me to on an earlier visit (even though I couldn’t remember what it was called) and even bagged ourselves a table outside in the sun. The food at the Horse and Groom is fantastic.
A good bet for a country pub. I hear the Old Butcher’s is also good, so we might have to try there next time. Or the Fox which Uncle Claude also said was “a good boozer” but impossible to get a table in.

We made such good time on the way up that after lunch we had a few moments before getting to the brewery (where our Uncle lives) to stop back into Miette that I visited last time. Some of the chocolates I had wanted to try last time but there weren’t any, were on the menu today. So I selected six and packaged them away. I haven’ tried them yet. The only sad thing I see about Miette – apart from being so far away – is that they make really yummy sounding fillings in white chocolate varieties. I just don’t like white chocolate much. Such a waste of interesting combinations. Sour cherry is the only one I remember from a long list. When I start eating them I will report back.

There are dozens of birds at the brewery, including seven peacocks and three peahens, and the baby swans hatched recently. Budgens kindly save bread for the menagerie. The little ones were so cute swimming up to the trough to get their food. We were also treated to the peacock’s full feather display (and then a little bit more than you want to see - we don't go in for bird porn on this site!).

The brewery really is one of my favourite places, it is stunningly beautiful. Given that Miette’s is a short walk, perhaps I could even consider living there. Chocolate and countryside and good places to eat. That’s most of the bases covered.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

a chocolate expert

I was asked to be a Chocolate expert at Damien Senn’s Web Wednesdays evening for internet entrepreneurs last night. Damien is a good friend and I went along to the first one of these he held eighteen months ago, and a couple since. It was an Easter after-party and he promised there would be chocolate bunnies. Thinking it was unlikely to be good chocolate I decided to stop at La Maison du Chocolat to finally sample their Salted Caramel Macaron. Very subtly salty, almost negligible, but very, very good. The large size was just perfect to satisfy the cravings I’d had for good chocolate all day.

I arrived at the trendy bar in Piccadilly and finally encountered the right pocket where the early arrivers were hiding. I was presented with an enormous platter of brightly wrapped eggs. I declined. Only later did I discover they were actually made by Lindt and conceded to top up my chocolate reserves. They were milk and so I stopped after just one and then eyed off the Lindt bunnies that were decoratively arranged on every other table in the room. I decided not to knock off the innocent rabbits. The macaron was enough for the one day. I met loads of wonderful people and though I can’t make next month’s because I have a fabulous dinner party to attend, I’m looking forward to going again.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Easter in the Lake District

I remember saying last year that Thanksgiving had to be my favourite holiday, because friends and/or family get together and eat a great meal but there’s no pressure to buy presents. But I think I may have to reconsider. Afterall, Easter can provide the benefits of those, plus there’s CHOCOLATE. And it is actually celebrated almost everywhere in the world, and in the countries I have lived it’s always been a four day weekend.
I enjoyed this Easter in the Lake District. Last year I was in St Lucia, the year before in Japan and in 2004 I was in Vietnam. It wasn’t really acknowledged in any of those years. This year I gave and received chocolate. Apparently Somerfields supermarket made the comment in the lead up to Easter that it is sad that most people don’t realise the real reason for Easter: the celebration of the birth of Christ. Ahem. Poor, poor PR woman who made that gaff.
We went hiking on Saturday, the first time I had put the boots back on since returning to the UK. I used to love scrambling up rocks as a kid, and took every opportunity to go to the beach near my parents’ farm and climb over and around the rocks that marked the cape. This time climbing up the steep slope up Wetherlam it was far too reminiscent of the stretch up to Gillman’s Point on Kilimanjaro. Yes, I know it’s about 3000m lower and there was no altitude sickness, but somehow it haunted me still. The hike on Saturday was still a gorgeous walk on a beautiful Spring day. I am sure in time the memories of that slow scramble to Gillman’s will fade completely and I will enjoy the great outdoors as I did as a child!

Easter egg insides revealed:

Thursday, April 05, 2007

the best cookies ever

I just made the best cookies ever. Mmm. Well, I just made three batches, and of the two that have come out of the oven and cooled (just) long enough for me to try they are both good. The first batch was from the cookie recipe you get when you sign up for my newsletter. But the second... Oh my. I got misshaped (that weren't really that misshaped) caramel centred "O"s (chocolate discs) from l'Artisan du Chocolat and I pressed them into a chocolate cookie batter and patted them around the edges to hold in the disc. They look so pretty! And they taste so gooood. I expect there may be a few left for the family Easter trip to the Lake District, which is what they were intended for.

Clever Jonny just took a picture for me. I love technology.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Chocolate Easter craziness

It's almost Easter and there is so much chocolate in the media at the moment. I'm happy to be amongst them. Though it's about time I started seeking the media and then the tours might turn up in more publications.

Last Saturday I was invited for coffee and cake at the lovely Alex's fabulous flat (Alex is female). I don't think anyone actually drank any coffee. (I love how herbal tea is so mainstream these days, though I am ribbed at home for my ever growing range that is threatening to overtake all of the shelf space in the kitchen.) Though there was no coffee, there was definitely cake. A divine chocolate profiterole tart. Combining two of my favourite things. Proper chocolate ganache and perfectly made profiteroles. This used to be one of my favourite desserts my mum used to make. She never filled them with the weird sweetened cream which is how they are traditionally served, but just hot in a bowl with hot chocolate sauce and pouring cream.

Yes, I know the "weird cream" is crème pâtissière and when it is done well tastes nothing like the sugary concoction that goes into the cheap version that supermarkets and some bakeries sell. Case in point: the profiteroles in this tart were plumped with a divine cream that contained the tell-tale grey flecks of real vanilla bean. Surprisingly even the pastry on this tart was just perfect, it would have been delicious as a biscuit in its own right. Alex came on the chocolate tour two weeks ago and brought out the two salted chocolate bars she had bought on the trip. It was great to be able to sample the two next to each other. Though difficult to compare because one contains chopped almonds.

I saw in the paper this morning that Thornton's had made the largest ever edible billboard in Covent Garden. Made from 390kg of chocolate it measures 4.4m X 2.9m. A media and advertising first. This is to coincide with their decision to remove all the Hydrogenated Fats and GM ingredients from their Easter products. About time! Wonder if that applied for the billboard too... Would have been quite expensive to create if they did use real chocolate!

It took 300 hours to build but apparently was eaten in a day. Doesn't sound very hygenic to me.

In other chocolate Easter egg reporting, in an independent survey by Which?, Cadbury's was voted at the bottom of the scale for the taste of their milk chocolate Easter eggs. *Wow* Who would have guessed?

Sorry, I'll stop being so smarmy. But please, please buy good chocolate this Easter.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Gu Brownies

After being told a long time ago that I had to try these brownies. I finally succumbed on a late last-minute trip to Tesco last night. Yes, how boring of me: in Tesco on a Saturday night getting shooed out of the store by the staff.

Back to the brownies.

Because I was two steps from getting manhandled to the checkout I threw the brownies in the basket without glancing at their ingredients. I remembered reading Gu ingredients about two years ago when they first launched their chocolate souffles and being pleasantly surprised that the list was minimal and contained no artificial or unnecessary nasties. When I got the brownies home and finally looked at the list I discovered that the chocolate they use has vanillin in it. Vanillin! I know! Surely they know that real chocolate only has vanilla in it, and that vanillin is a cheap chemical substitute. Horrified. I have to say if they were amazing this wouldn't stop me eating them, but frankly, they are only ok. But when you've had the best it's hard to enjoy substitutes, and therefore I may be being quite harsh. If you have tried them and enjoyed them then I suspect you will like these brownies even more.