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


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 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.


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.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Revisiting Summer Lodge

Can you marry a hotel? I suspect not. But if you could, I would definitely want to be partnered for life with Summer Lodge in Dorset. Of course, what makes it particularly special is the incredible service you get there. The staff are supremely sensitive to your every whim, though one would, I suppose, expect this given the price already assumes a tip about 1000 times the all-in price of most hotels. And worth every penny, I say. Of course, easier for me to say because Jonny paid. Isn’t he great?

I struggled to decide between two desserts on Friday night, and requested to know what chocolate was used for the chocolate trio. “Dark fondant, white chocolate icecream, and some milk chocolate.”


“And do you know what brand he uses?”

“Oh! Ok, I don’t. I will go and ask.”

How sweet. He came and said it is Valhrona. Decision made. However he continued and said that if we were staying for lunch tomorrow the chef could specially prepare my alternate choice. Second decision made.

It really is the most lovely hotel ever. Of course we could stay for lunch again.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Booja booja chocolate truffles

Last night we were treated to one of the nicest meals at someone’s home I have had in a long time. I love being friends with people who are equally passionate about food. Our dear friends have superb taste and recognise that the quality of ingredients make the meal. We were treated to taromasalata from Fishworks, bread from Pouillaine, wild, line-caught sea bass, baked in kilos of salt, the most tender and delicious fish I have possibly ever eaten. Delicious salads and creamy mash as sides, all perfectly prepared. To end our feast our host brought out a box of Booja booja truffles. The hazelnut crunch variety. They had told me about them before and they were as good as their preamble. Incredible to believe they are vegan. This box has been resting near the plate warming drawer and so the middles were deliciously runny. I will definitely be seeking out all of the other varieties to sample now.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Galler chocolates

A friend kindly forwarded me news of Galler's arrival in Harrods. It was in French but I got the gist, went on to google and sleuthed out the rest. I was intrigued.. had they taken over Max Brenner? How might I have missed this?

But no, at least not yet. And, to be clear, I don't think the plans are to take over Max Brenner, but they will create a chocolate tea room as they have in Belgium and the Middle East.

Galler is a Belgian chocolate company, making chocolates the Belgian way but with more care than some of the so called "Belgian" companies. They have a big range and their staff are lovely. As I usually do, I turned up as a customer and the very helpful sales girl offered me a sample and then talked me through their range (at my request). She was very sweet and when I asked what her favourite was (the Earl Grey tea) she gave me a piece to try. I selected a few in a bag to buy and try later and said goodbye to the staff and walked away. On my way out of the hall I stopped to chat with Jessie from La Maison and she asked if I had been to the Galler concession. I said I had. She said she must introduce me. Rather bashfully I returned and explained my business and then learned that one of the men standing near the counter was in fact the UK Director of the company. How exciting. I was then treated to even more information and even more samples (I rolled home!) and learnt lots about this very interesting chocolate company. They have some really unique products. I am always so impressed that every chocolatier, every store has its own offerings that no other chocolatier has.

My favourite (so far) is the dark coffee caramel heart.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Montezuma chocolate

We were spoilt with lovely homecooked food all weekend, and last night the after dinner mints came out. These ones were of the real chocolate variety, Montezuma's Peppermint Crunch Dainty Dollops. Delicious and moreish. I might have to go by their actual store and try some more of their chocolates. It's great how many English people are creating chocolate businesses with real chocolate. A fabulous story of a couple escaping the rat race to build their own Willy Wonka dream.

The remainder of the box was slipped into my bag (not by me!) as we left and they are sure to make the train journey even more pleasurable! (We're travelling first class, the standard has been set now. I can get used to this!)

Sunday, May 06, 2007

country musings

I’m currently sitting in Northumberland overlooking a beautiful garden and, beyond that, a valley. There is a fire at my back and freshly baked bread on the tablecloth beside me. I love getting out of London for the weekend. Especially a long weekend. Right now I wouldn’t live anywhere else but it is so peaceful being away from it. Only when I step outside the M25 do I realise how insular my view of the world becomes whilst inside. I move from one project to another and back again, and am constantly bombarded with new information, admittedly I pay the most attention to food related news, but am also aware of happenings in other major cities, of anticipated mergers in the financial world, of CRI reports, environmental damage and the like. Visiting smaller towns reminds me that there is even more to life, and sometimes those other larger scale things are best forgotten for a while. Time to appreciate the trees and the flowers and the deer that tread across the grass to eat the roses. I grew up in the country, but I feel almost like I’ve completely forgotten what it was like to live in a rural community. It’s nice to be reminded.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

William Curley chocolates

I sneaked in ever so briefly to buy some of William’s chocolates to sample again. His shop isn’t very conveniently located for me so I have only been there a few times. Though – very exciting news! – he will soon be serving up his treats in central London!

I selected eight from the range and was slightly aghast at the final price the sweet shop assistant read from the register. Only then did I ask how much they were per 100g. The priciest in the capital (well, of those that allow you to buy them per 100g). I took them home to my chocolate partner in crime and we have been tasting them very methodically. The winners? The sea-salted caramel is divine. I don’t know who started this trend but so far I can’t pick a winner amongst all the chocolatiers. Canet in Nice (France) stands out but for an official verdict I think I would need to line them all up together. Other favourites were the mango and passionfruit (so fresh and well- balanced) and the araguano truffle.(delightfully creamy).

Thursday, May 03, 2007

chocolate cake for breakfast

I had a rather ordinary start to the week so I decided to treat myself by making a chocolate cake. For me part of the treat is in the making. But it was also good and I kept slicing further skinny slices that amounted to a rather sizeable piece of cake. Oh well, it was good for my soul.

This morning the cake was sitting on the bench, topped with a spread of hardened dark chocolate and looking delicious. It has been such a long time since I have done anything so decadent as to eat cake for breakfast. Professional chocolate tasters always do their tasting of chocolate in the morning, when one’s palette is at its most discerning. This is part of the reason the chocolate tours start at 10am, so you can really experience the difference in the quality and taste of the chocolate. On non-tour days I tend not to eat any chocolate until at least mid-afternoon. It’s my reward for being productive (and my solace when I’m not). Sometimes I won’t eat any until after dinner and on rare days none may pass my lips. It’s not like I’m an addict or anything. Honest.

But today I decided to try my chocolate cake when my palette was most fresh. It was divine. It felt like such an indulgent way to start the day, my own naughty secret. I won’t be maintaining this habit but it was a nice treat for a change.

The chocolate cake, in case you were wondering, was a muddy chocolate chunk cake. Complete with 300grams of chocolate plus cocoa. I think it’s worthy of going in the next newsletter.