Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas Tequila Cookies

My friend sent me this a few days ago. It amused us over Christmas. I do like Christmas. I especially like it in the UK as Father Christmas seems to find me here! I love giving gifts, although the process of selecting them can sometimes be stressful trying to fit in so much shopping with the rest of life. Then there is the permission to eat copious quantities for several days running which is just glorious and even nicer when shared with people you care about. Obviously board games are the best thing to burn off all those calories, and ensure that if you haven't yet had a family argument then this will surely bring one on!

While I haven't tried this recipe myself yet, my friend assures me this is a great recipe for Christmas, even better for New Year, but perfect anytime really! ;-)

Christmas Tequila Cookies

1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup (two sticks) butter
1 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup dried fruit (dried cranberries or raisins)
1 cup of chocolate chips
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
2 cups all purpose flour
1 bottle Jose Cuervo Tequila (silver or gold, as desired)

First, sample the Cuervo to check quality.

Take a large bowl. Check the Cuervo to be sure it is of the highest quality.

Pour another 4 ounces in a measuring cup and drink.

Turn on the electric mixer.
Beat one cup of the butter in a large fluffy bowl.
Add one teaspoon sugar. Beat again.

At this point, it is best to make sure the Cuervo is still OK. Try another 4 ounces, just in case.

Turn off the mixerer thingy. Break two leggs and add to the bowl and chuck in the cup of dried fruit, picking the frigging fruit off the floor.

Mix on the turner. If the fried druit gets stuck in the beaterers, just pry it loose with a screwdriver.

Sample the Cuervo to check for tonsisticity.

Next, sift 2 cups of salt or something.

Check the Jose Cuervo.

Now shift the lemon juice and strain your nuts.
Add one table.
Add a spoon of sugar, or somefink. Whatever you can find. Greash the oven. Turn the cake tin 360 degrees and try not to fall over.

Don't forget to beat off the turner.

Finally, throw the bowl through the window, finish the Cose Juervo and make sure to put the stove in the dishwasher.

Cherry Mistmas.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Changes all around

When I couldn't sleep Sunday night I made changes to my website (and business!) and last night I made changes to this blog. Trying to get in early on those New Year's resolutions.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

L'Atelier du Joel Robuchon

The only trouble with eating is that eventually you get full and then, sometimes, you have to wait a while before you eat again.

I went to L'Atelier du Joel Robuchon for the pre-theatre dinner this evening (though, clearly, didn't go to the theatre afterwards this time). It was my first, long awaited visit there. For £19 for 2 courses or £25 for 3 (plus service) this was a fabulous taste of what they can do. There are only two options for each course and desserts are either a sweet dessert or single cheese with crackers.

My friend and I exchanged gifts after we finished our meal and the waitress enquired as to whether we were celebrating Christmas and we told them birthdays as well. A few minutes later they brought out this plate:

Isn't that pretty?! And so thoughtful. It was also the most divine tarte au citron I may ever have eaten. Mouth wateringly tart and delicate. Given we were full already (we couln't resist the Opera accompanied by lime and vodka sorbet) this mini portion shared between two was perfect. Incidentally, while the two components of the dessert I just mentioned were delicious, they had to be enjoyed separately as they were not remotely complementary.

It was quite interesting they brought this birthday plate as I was lamenting that my birthday was passing with less and less fanfare with every year (mainly notable by fewer celebrations that included candles). I know this should be expected, and probably welcomed really. I am not complaining - I did have a wonderful extended Sunday lunch in a cosy pub with half of my closest friends which was actually pretty close to a perfect way to mark another year.

I still feel so full. Tonight was the third of three (or more!) course meals this week. A fabulous, but oh-so-full week. Italian, Chinese and French. And I still have to post pictures of Guatemala!! Not to mention the fascinating shopping I did last week... I should probably fit a run into all of this eating somewhere as well.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

I made this chocolate cake today

The intention was to take it to the lunch I had today to mark another birthday, unfortunately I realised that it wasn't going to be baked in time to do so so I abandoned it mid-project, leaving three bowls on the counter, covered in tea towels. It didn't seem to do any harm though because it's one of the nicest cakes I've eaten in a while. 300 grams of chocolate will help with that! Melted with 200g butter, 50g caster sugar, 50g brown sugar and some cinnamon. Cooled pureed apples mixed with 3 egg yolks. Mix these two then add 100g of sifted self-raising flour. Finally fold in three beaten egg whites. I sprinkled a bit more chocolate on top (white and dark) Cooked in a fan oven at 170 C for one hour and cooled in the pan. So gooey and chocolatey. The apple and cinnamon added an interesting twist that was subtly different and far too moreish. Lucky I only ate steamed vegetables for my dinner.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Chocolatier in Antigua, Guatemala

OK, apologies again for the lack of updates. I was away for a much needed holiday in Guatemala and Belize for two weeks. So needed that I was in bed with a feverish flu for most of the week, right up until I dragged myself onto the plane. It was actually quite pleasant to be on the plane and have water brought to me at my whim. A day or two more rest in sunnier climes and I was fine again. Until, that is, I got food poisoning or some such thing that also brought a fever with it about halfway through. But you don't want to hear about that!

Anyway, I have much to update about my adventures in Central America but for now here is just the beginning of what I found on Day 2:


I was totally shocked to stumble across a real chocolatier in Antigua in Guatemala (our first stop after a night near the airport). I was under the impression Guatemala only produced the rough chocolate for drinking in Guatemala so far (more about this in another post, maybe tomorrow!). Apparently this chocolatier, hidden inside a deli, is a Belgian ex-pat. They were good quality chocolates and a pleasant surprise to find as I was finally well enough to want to eat chocolate again (see, I was properly sick, I never not want to eat chocolate). His range even included a wasabi chocolate! The caramels were the nicest though.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Off to see chocolate plantations!

I've been in bed most of the week. :-(

Still not feeling fabulous but off to Guatemala today for 2 weeks!

Will take pictures!!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

La Salon du Chocolat in Paris

Finally. I have been wanting to go to La Salon du Chocolat since I first heard about it three, maybe four, years ago. It is absolutely heaven for me – for most women and a lot of men too, I’m sure. While we were welcomed at the entrance by Ovaltine and M&Ms the quality from there stepped up into artisanal producers. There were sections split out dedicated to different countries, from the bean growers to the chocolate (couverture) makers to the bon bon (praline, filled chocolate) makers.

We arrived at 12 on Friday and didn’t leave until they were sweeping us out at 7pm. In that time I think we managed to see every single stand, though we didn’t stop at all of them. Unfortunately all of the talks were in French so we skipped these too. The chocolate fashion show at 5pm was an incredible spectacle, couture creations modeled on stage, some by circus performers and dancers. By this stage my camera battery had sadly given up.

Most of the chocolatiers I visited last time I was in Paris were here at the show, and some I had missed, plus ones from Japan, Switzerland, Sweden.

Apparently it was incredibly crowded on Saturday - no surprise really. I met tons on interesting people and probably ate my body weight in chocolate over the next two days.

I highly recommend going to the next one! Although, from all I saw, I do think the chocolatiers in the UK are at least as good and many better, than anything I saw (or tasted!) at the show. Hooray!

Monday, October 20, 2008

End of Chocolate Week but Salon du Chocolat to come

I had such a nice time on the Full Day Chocolate Tour on Saturday. It was a really lovely group of people (people who love chocolate are always lovely!) which made it all the more fun.

I've booked my tickets for Salon du Chocolat in two weeks time and I've just been reading up about it. It looks intense!

I was thinking about organising a dinner for people going over from London to meet up. Anyone interested?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Chocolate Open Evening at Paul A Young

I have a camera I haven't used much and I really should use it more because I am not taking great pictures with it so unfortunately have no clear pictures of truffles from last night :-(. I went by Paul's shop in Bank for his open evening. We have a private audience with him on Saturday morning with the full day tour though. Not sure if I will take any pictures then but there are still a few places on the tour if you want to sign up!

Monday, October 06, 2008

An apology

I rarely post here anymore. I hope I will again more regularly, one day not too far away. I still reflect and ponder too many things in my head but it rarely reaches the screen because, although I am thrilled at how my life has expanded with more work and more friendships, it means that when I am at the keyboard these days (and that is about 12 hours or more most days) there is so much work to do, or people to respond to via email.

So, I just wanted to say that I am thinking of you all, maybe some of you more than you would think I am from the lack of contact.

And, I'm still eating lots of chocolate. We had a lovely day yesterday with dear friends. It poured with rain but it was so nice to be in the countryside in a real house that it didn't matter we stayed indoors. We had a yummy lunch and divine brownies. Carol is such a great baker. She'd make a fortune if she chose to set up shop. Though, maybe not, I guess baking is not the most profitable business. It would be fun though! I think I would probably end up eating all my profits if I tried it.

Chocolate Week starts next Monday. So quickly it's upon us! And so many exciting events. I'm really excited about the Full Day tour I have on the 18th.

OK, a few more things to do before I sleep. I'll be back soon!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Go and see Danny Bhoy

Showing at Soho theatre until Saturday. Around the world more in the next year.

Nothing to do with chocolate but really funny! Let me know what you think if you go!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

2 chocolatiers I forgot to mention

In my rush to mention the fine food fair on Sunday in time for Londoners to get down there to see for themselves I totally forgot to mention two other very interesting chocolatiers I encountered: Booja Booja and Zotter.

Booja Booja have been making vegan truffles for years now (I don't know how long exactly, but a while). You wouldn't know they were vegan at all when you eat them. Most excitingly they have a new range of super-fresh truffles coming out that must be kept chilled and these are made using agave syrup/nectar instead of sugar. So they are incredibly good for you. Kudos to them. You can get them in all good department stores in the UK, and some smaller food retailers as well.

Zotter I was alerted to early this year by Will of the market stall in Cabbages and Frocks. I am told they have been making chocolate for years, which would explain why they have such an enormous range. It is very experimental - chocolate and bacon bits, peanut and ketchup. Not all of the flavours are quite so wacky though! One of the really interesting flavours available to taste was a white chocolate bar where instead of using milk powder the chocolatier subsitituted raspberry powder. So it was intensely raspberry-flavoured, and dairy-free to boot. Awesome. You can buy them in Harvey Nichols and some delis around London.

Mr Zotter (a little scary, no?:

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Speciality Fine Food Fair at Olympia in London

I spent five hours here today with my friend from work. It's on for the next two days. If you're in the food industry in the UK it's worth getting down there. Quite a few chocolate happenings of interest, notably:
Lauden Chocolatier of Leeds - no shop yet but making superb fruit chocolates with Valrhona and some Amedei, though all Valrhona at the show.
Valrhona and their new bars and fabulous new packaging.
Ooh la la Chocolatiers - two fun girls making chocolates and cupcakes with a variety of couvetures. I didn't taste their chocolates but they looked interesting!
And some of the old favourites:
Cocoa Loco and their yummy brownies and more
and Vanini were back too.
The Chocolate Empire looked good too but they were busy when I walked past and I forgot to go back. (I was a bit weary by the end!) Enjoy!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Surprisingly Vegan Chocolate truffles at Wholefoods

Yesterday I went by Melt and Wholefoods. I bought only 4 chocolates in Melt: Kalamansi, Sea Salt Praline, Passionfruit and a Passionfruit and Mango cube. They were all divine but I had barely left the shop by the time I had finished them all so as the bus home went past Wholefoods I thought I would go in and perhaps get another chocolate. In the collection downstairs there are some of Melt's chocolates, amongst others. There was a coconut ganache I hadn't seen in the Notting Hill store so I asked the woman behind the counter if I could try it. She cut one in half for me and waited for my reaction. It was very mildly coconuty. She suggested I also try the vegan chocolate truffles (rolled in coconut) which she told me she made with coconut cream instead of regular cream. I asked her what chocolate she used and as soon as she told me Valrhona Manjari I asked to buy four. She then offered for me to try one first. Smart move as then I decided to get a few more. You would never have known they were vegan, or made with coconut cream. You couldn't tell at all because the fruitiness of the Manjari was stronger. Knowing how much better for you coconut oil is than dairy (in fact recommended as part of a weight-loss diet!) I think I might have to have these more often when I want truffles! They were really well made, and cheaper than any other chocolate truffles made with Valrhona in London. All the other house made chocolates were made with Callebaut. We had a further chat about chocolate and discussed other possiblities. I might have to pop in again to see what she's come up with. Quite a cool perk to the job to be able to play around with flavours and then get them straight to such a wide market. It made me want to go home and play with chocolate, but knowing I'd eat them all straight away,as well as the ones I'd just bought, I thought I might wait for now.

Oh, Willie's Wonky Chocolate Factory is back on TV again. I think this is the episode I'm in.

Friday, July 25, 2008

I ate everything at Acorn House

OK, not everything in the whole restaurant but I did sample every one of the meals, all of the salads and each of the desserts except the strawberry and cream. Every dish was spectacular. The arrabiata on the trout, the succulence of the pork belly and tenderness of the lamb and lots of fresh vegetables and leaves in the salads, the pasta dishes, especially the infamous prawn caramelline and the pasta with pancetta and cherry tomatoes - a lighter version of carbonara.

It was made all the better knowing how ecological the restaurant is, yet nothing is sacrificed for flavour of the dishes. In desserts the stand outs were black pepper chocolate cake with ginger ice cream was fabulous and the cherry eton mess a perfect melding of vanilla-flecked cream and part-crispy, part-chewy meringue and sharp fruit.

Jamie was on duty and sensing our enthusiasm (perhaps because we gushed to him so) he offered to show us the roof garden and waste room. The latter not normally somewhere you would want to see in such an establishment but relieving to see the order and lack of any odour!

Acorn House Roof Garden

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Chocolate Beer

At university beer and chocolate were my two favourite things. Well, certainly the two most frequently consumed. So I always assumed Belgium would be the best place ever, home of beer and chocolate. I can't believe it took me 3 1/2 years of living full time in London to get there this February and I can't believe it took me until tonight to drink this beer I brought back with me:

Chocolate beer! It was good. Strange. The sweet smell of milky chocolate in what is a slightly hoppy fizzy drink, like alcoholic creamy soda! (Does this exist in the UK?) This picture was taken on our brand new table and chairs in our tiny garden. It's so nice to have somewhere to sit outside and it looks so much prettier outside the window now too. Even nicer that we finally have a warm evening! Bring on Summer.

Friday, July 11, 2008

the bath is my sanctuary

Lately (always?) I seem to be either at work, working on the business, visiting my family, or something else comes up that I can't seem to say no to. I love all those areas of my life. They all have frustrating and boring moments but I wish I had more time in every area because there is always more I would like to achieve or more time I'd like to spend with people or more people I'd like to spend time with. I'm not the greatest at saying no so I guess this doesn't help with the current overfill of my calendar. Granted, this is not a great trait in my job, but it is much easier to say at work and the repetition of saying no during work hours has made it much easier to say elsewhere. The trouble is I don't usually want to say no, there are so many things I want to say yes to.

So right now, my best escape is to light candles and lay in the bath. Today it's better than chocolate (although I have had chocolate too!).

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Chocolate @ Taste of London

I couldn't resist buying both of these chocolate desserts yesterday. Both restaurants mentioned the Valrhona chocolate they had used by the specific type so I figured they knew their chocolate and could not just be looked at. I got the One-o-One offering first. We had savoury dishes from here last year and they were sensational. I also love salted caramel.

Coupe Liegoise of dark Manjari brownie chocolate, coffee and salt caramel ice cream.

The coffee mousse was delicious and the honeycomb crumbled at the bottom was fabulous. Despite the addition of the icecream it didn't really taste "puddingy" enough to be satisfying. The chocolate could have almost been anything, there was none of Manjari's trademark fruitiness coming through.

After another lap of the grounds and another savoury interruption (parmesan custard with anchovy toasts - super salty, but interesting) we joined the throngs at L'Atelier du Robuchon for this:

Chocolate sensation au chocolat Araguani, sorbet au cacao amer et biscuit Oreo - Creamy Araguani chocolate, bitter chocolate sorbet and Oreo cookie crumbs.

Now this was a dessert that filled a gap. A little too well. The little balls of crunch hidden amongst the mousse and sorbet were a welcome textural change for what was otherwise almost too rich after all the other food we had consumed.

I was much more restrained overall this year. I don't know if it wasn't as good as last year or if I just remembered how insanely full I was last year and therefore held back a little.

It was great also to see Gorvett & Stone, Paul A Young and Cocoa Loco showing off their delicious chocolate creations. I had thought I would buy some to take away but I was so chocolate-ed out (yep, even me) from the two chocolate desserts that I couldn't face the thought of taking some home.

Friday, June 20, 2008

a summary of the last few weeks

I’m not sure what happened to Sunday either, or the rest of the week for that matter. Except for returning Wednesday night (after Yo Sushi with friends) to a sparkling kitchen. Best £34 I have ever spent.

Where to start? Although I might protest otherwise I do enjoy being busy. Last minute madness at work adds to the excitement and I am obviously thrilled to be doing so many chocolate tours. Even more thrilled to have my second guide in full swing now. I love getting emails back with rave reviews. I may actually have accomplished what every business book tells you to do and hired people better than myself. I guess we all have different personalities but I know I have two truly excellent chocolate guides which is very nice indeed.

We are already planning the next trip to Paris. Not just because it took less than a week to demolish the bounty, but because there was still so much more to see. Next time we will organise a proper restaurant for Saturday night because although we read a sample menu for the one we did go to we were falsely seduced by oyster icecream and other molecular gastronomy-sounding dishes (really, who thought up that word, does that really sound appetising?) it was mostly a lot of fluff. Expensive fluff too. Delicious sounding dishes that just didn’t deliver, especially not at the cost. The maitre’d was excellent but the waitresses looked like they were lost. Cest la vie.

There has been a chocolate event at least one evening a week for the last few weeks and then tours on the weekends. I attended another Seventypercent tasting with special guest Alex Rast explaining the matrix by which all fine chocolate will fall into – in the four corners: earthy, spicy, fruity and creamy (if I remember correctly? Please remind me if I’ve got it wrong!).

Paul Young hosted an Ecuadorian chocolate and jewellery event at his store in Camden Passage. When we arrived he poured us glasses of his special chocolate brew, informing us “you only need two”. One and a half was where I stopped! Delicious, rich and managing to be both refreshing and – because of the alcohol – warming. I want the recipe.

Last Friday Beth Dunn hosted a chocolate party in St Paul’s. Truffles, biscuits, cakes, shortbread and chunks of chocolate brought in by her and Chrstine (who runs cooking classes). Somehow I was still there when they turned the lights on. It was a fun evening catching up with friends from a variety of areas in my life and introducing them all to each other.

Then earlier this week I got myself along to the first open Academy of Chocolate event. Chantal Coady who is celebrating 25 years of Rococo Chocolates gave a talk and offered us a variety of chocolate to sample. Bill McCarrick (Sir Hans Sloane Chocolates), William Curley, Paul Young and Sevetypercent where all there with chocolates to taste too. It’s definitely worth getting yourself along to the next one (I’ll give you notice, I promise!). I have heard Chantal talk at least once before but most of what she said tonight was new to me, a new insight into chocolate production and also into her business history. From everyone I speak to, and my own limited experience, having your own business is both one of the most rewarding experiences and the most stressful. Especially when everything is on the line for it. I like how my business supports these other chocolate businesses – by bringing chocolate lovers for their best chocolate experience.

In other news, my mum arrives from Australia tonight. I will be sharing her with the rest of her family after tonight but I am so excited to see her!

Apologies that this has fallen into the blog curse of listing events but there was so many chocolate things to share with you all!

Tomorrow I'm off to Taste of London. I will be saying hi to Paul Young and Cocoa Loco brownie and truffle makers! And, no doubt, eating and drinking myself silly. I'll be the one accompanied by the motherly-looking identical twins, on their induction to fine food. It should be entertaining.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate

I have had a very intense few weeks and it isn't over yet. I need to go to bed now but it's been so long since I blogged!

Work has been super busy and every spare minute outside of that has been filled with chocolate, with the exception of a very peaceful weekend in the country with friends last weekend - though it feels so long ago now.

I have to say though that even though I may be running on adrenalin I am so happy. I love it when my life is filled with chocolate. Work's been really interesting too. I've been to two chocolate events in the last week, visited so many chocolate boutiques, been sent chocolate brownies and tomorrow night am off to a chocolate party and have the new Chelsea Chocolate tour on Saturday (so tomorrow won't be a late one!) plus organising a last minute hen tour to run simultaneously on Saturday. What fun!

I promise to post more details about all of these choc-adventures on Sunday (or at least start to!) when I finally stop. Though I really should clean the flat first. I'm so pleased we finally hired a cleaner - I just wish they were able to start this week!

Saturday, May 31, 2008

the longest chocolate walk ever

10.5 miles! We did plan, even with the detailed maps, to play the day by ear. We only decided the first few shops that we would visit, after these we were making good time so decided to try and see more, especially as most would not be open tomorrow. So we walked and walked. Stopping finally for lunch in a brasserie in a gorgeous square. At this point quite ravenous because we had been buying, rather than trying, at each shop. We got the last two shops in just before closing, then stopped by L’Epicerie – supermarket heaven for me. Like a cross between WholeFoods and Selfridge’s Food Hall but oozing with French glamour. Only sad that the other incredible food shops aren’t open tomorrow so they will have to wait until the next (as yet, unplanned) visit. With aching feet we arrived home after 8pm. We mapped out our route on the total miles we walked were just over 10 (about 16.5km). Next time we should probably wear proper walking shoes!

More details to come.... Time for dinner!

A Chocolate Adventure in Paris

It’s been two years and one month since I was last in Paris. Far too long. This time I’m better equipped for chocolate exploration. I’ve made a map with most of the chocolate shops and patisseries and printed out some additional details to remind me what’s what. Also, this time I’m here with my good friend who is, most conveniently, half-French and a chocolate lover and expert. It’s good to be here with someone who is as passionate about chocolate as I am! This way I don’t have to feel bad for dragging someone else into my obsession! Here we go….

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Chocolate and Wine tasting

On Wednesday night I went along to Seventypercent's Chocolate and Wine tasting. Surprisingly, though I've been to wine tastings and to (many) chocolate tastings and I've indulged in the two together many times, this was the first time I'd gone to a proper tasting. It was truly an education. I think I learnt the most from experimentation (don't we always?).

I arrived early to help the team set up and, in order to man the tables appropriately, took it upon myself to check out as many combinations as possible (without opening the champagne or the Eiswin which were both chilling.

I discovered that the 10 Year Old Tawny Port was fantastic with the Valrhona Ampamakia, quite good with the Pralus Ecuador, not so good with the milk chocolates. They were divine with the champagne and the Eiswin. The milk chocolates were Michel Cluizel's Maralumi Lait and the Amedei Toscano Brown.

Willie's 100% Rio Caribe was an interesting combination with an Angus Bull Red. It also went quite well with the fortified wine, Mon Amis.

If I had to choose for my own after dinner selection it would be the Mon Amis with Amedei Chuao or the Eiswin with the Amedei Toscano Brown. Heavenly.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

and the Chocolate Awards go to...

What a great night. Champagne, chocolate, what more could a girl ask for?

It was a really well-run evening and the award-giving part of the evening ran smoothly, there was the opportunity for it to drag a bit but the presenter kept it moving along swiftly. Perhaps he wanted to get back to the chocolate himself?

It was almost a clean sweep for William Curley who took home a swathe of well-deserved certificates and a mounted, spray-painted cacao pod as further recognition. I had the opportunity to try some of his, and the other award-winning chocolates, during the evening. I was in total chocolate ecstasy upon trying his juniper berry and cassis truffle. This gold winner was a jelly layered on ganache, enrobed in dark Amedei chocolate - bliss. His very lovely staff gave me some to take home too which I was delighted about because with all the different varieties around that evening even I couldn't have tried them all. Because of this I got to try his raspberry truffle which I had eschewed for the more adventurous flavours on offer that evening. It was similarly wondrous.

A few other highlights included Bill McCarrick's white chocolate with passionfruit and drambuie. I don't even like white chocolate especially so this is saying something. Paul Young had a refreshing goats cheese and citrus filled chocolate and Theo (of USA) brought along his award-winning fig and fennel truffles - delicious.

I was still on a chocolate high at 10am yesterday, having woken - eyes wide - at 5am, even at 10am my eyes were gleaming and limbs moving just a little too quickly and erratically as I gestured excitedly telling people about the chocolate. What a great way to perk up the day. I love chocolate.

Soon, so soon, there will be more. Off on the very first Chelsea Chocolate Ecstasy Tour today!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Off to the Academy Awards

The Academy of Chocolate Awards, of course. It's tonight. What fun! Hmm, just realised it could be a formal affair. Oops, no time to get changed between there and work. Oh well, I'm sure people's focus will be on the chocolate!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Bonny Scotland

Gosh, it has been a long time. I've been on holiday this week, in Scotland (had you guessed?). Somehow we fluked the first turn to consistent warm weather and in Scotland. Two days ago it was warmer in Inverness than in Barcelona. Never can anyone tell me that I bring bad weather, this may be the warmest week Scotland has all year.

It was nice to have a holiday where you just get in the car and drive, particularly when the sun is shining and the temperature hovers in the early twenties all week.

Enough talking, here are some pictures:
Go in Spring when there are sweet lambs like this one.

Real countryside, with cows and everything. :-)

And we climbed hills (!):

I found a great little cafe/bakery in Edinburgh where they sell all the top chocolate brands and make their ice cream and chocolate treats from Valrhona:

Thursday, April 17, 2008

L'Artisan biscuits are back

I'm in heaven! And maybe just a little sick. I should have stopped a biscuit or two ago. :-) I was just so excited that L'Artisan du Chocolat have started making their chocolate biscuits again. They are so good. Sophisticated buttery biscuits with a deep fruity chcoolate.

The Real Food Festival is on next weekend (Thurs 24th to Sunday 27th). I know L'Artisan du Chocolat will be there. I'm not sure who else yet but I'm certain it will be worth a look!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

New Chocolate Entrepreneurs

After the chocolate tour today I went back my usual way through the Cabbages and Frocks market. Lo and behold, a new chocolate maker is on the scene.

Check out Will and his team:

That's Will with the headphones. This is his first foray to selling to the public (he's been supplying events for the last year or so).

And these are his exciting chocolates (all three boxes):

The passion just oozes out of this guy. I love it. I promised him I'd get Alice to deliver next week's tour group to his stall next week. They might be chocolate-ed out but it'll be worth it.

This, I believe, is how he made it through the week preparing the chocolates for market:

Super sugar.

Go along and check him out on Saturdays at the Marylebone market or at his website.

Friday, April 11, 2008

the youngest person to ever come on a chocolate tour

Is he not the cutest thing you have ever seen?

My friends' baby had his six month birthday on the trial of the new chocolate tour last Saturday. This was us in Fishworks having some food afterwards. They make the best taramasalata ever. You can see my fresh mint tea in the left of the picture. It came with an incredibly moreish brownie chunk that they make in-house. Yes, my capacity for eating chocolate is virtually limitless. Hey, we had a savoury break of fish and bread in between!

The little man was supremely well behaved throughout the whole tour. Chocolate tours aren't really the place for babies but you can take this one anywhere. He is a dream. All down to a very chilled mum and dad, me thinks.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

oh, so full

It took me until about 10am today to feel remotely hungry. Ok, I know that's not a particularly long time, but I still didn't eat much then.

I stuffed myself so much at dinner last night. A complete glutton. I went for a run at lunch today to try and make myself feel slightly better about it. But, then, I don't care too much. It was totally worth it.

We had the tasting menu at Petrus and it was superb. It's funny, I'm half-way through reading Gordon Ramsay's second biography and everything he says about his service in his restaurants is true. They offered to do substitutes if there was anything we couldn't or wouldn't eat and offered a vegetarian version of the tasting menu which I chose (with a fish dish from the a la carte in the "main" course). This way we get to try more, though the man was quite stubborn in letting me try his dishes. After I chose the vegetarian menu they came back with risotto ball canapes for me, sensitive to the fact that the lamb koftas and foie gras with blackberry powder might not be my favourites. The risotto balls with truffle oil were divine (though the lamb koftas were pretty good too!).

In his book Ramsay mentioned the champagne trolley "to make things simpler for the table in deciding aperitifs" and candidly admits that the £9.50 rose champagne helps the upselling of the bill. I expected the prices may have risen since the book was published (2007) but was still somewhat aghast at the £25-a-glass addition in the bill. Live and learn. I should have asked. I did get a small box of chocolates to take home (mmmmmm) so that went a way towards making it all ok. Frankly, it was better just to pretend the entire bill didn't exist and not to look at it again. La di da.

I do love going to restaurants like this but I'm glad not to do it too regularly. Mainly because I find it difficult to leave food on my plate (though the budget blow-out is the real reason!). The truffle risotto (my 2nd official course) was delicious. I was surprised to find a few of the dishes - this one included - overly salty, but the variety of breads we were offered mopped this saltiness up reasonably well.

The turbot was delectable too, as was my halibut with truffles and baby vegetables. Melt in the mouth good.

Our final course was a chocolate molleux (warm) with banana jelly cubes and banana icecream for me and a lemon creme with brioche crisp for him. We couldn't decide which was better but both were incredible. The chocolate was Valhrona 70%. Caraibe, I assume. We thought we were done but oh no... The chocolate tree came our way. An elaborate set of hanging truffle baskets. There were six varieties and I ended up trying them all (not knowing I would get a box of four when I left). My current chocolate craving is for chcoolate and nuts so the milk chocolate praline was the most satisfying but I really loved the mango and passionfruit. It was a dark chocolate shell filled with a fruit puree. There was also a plain dark caribbean truffle, a cassis (its white chocolate shell overpowered the delicious blackcurrant centre a bit too much), a coconut (too sickly, but perhaps only because I was so full already) and a salted caramel. For the first time in a long, long time I was chocolate-d out. I genuinely thought I might not eat any chocolate today. But it was a dull train journey home so I picked up a large slice of chocolate cake at St Pancras. "Oops."

I think I should probably go running again tomorrow.

Monday, April 07, 2008

in anticipation of Ramsay proteges

Snow. In April? What's going on?! At least it's lighter in the evenings. It's amazing how much that can lift spirits. Despite spending more hours in the office last week than I have so far this year, I felt energised and awake. I thought it was just because I was enjoying the work I was doing. I realised today on my pilgrimage to a chocolate shop that last week was the first week after the clocks changing for daylight saving. Ah ha! So, despite the snow, summer must be on the way. Right?!

The good thing about snow is it makes hot chocolates all the more enticing.

On Wednesday night we're eating at Petrus. I can't wait. I'll be sure to eat something chocolate-y and report back.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

the New Chocolate Tour

I've just got back from the trial of the new Chocolate Ecstasy Tour. This one is in the Chelsea/Kensington area. In the time it took me to put on a load of washing my lovely man - who came with me today - had fallen asleep! Despite sleeping later than me this morning! Though I guess I am able to keep going and going and going once I've had chocolate! Tours always give me a high, too. I just love introducing people to great chocolate All the shops did a spectacular job today and I can't wait to start taking more people to these shops as well. I just need to schedule the public launch date! Due to other commitments it looks like it might be the first weekend in June. I'm really excited that each tour is unique. All but one of my guinea pigs today had been on the original Chocolate Tour and all agreed that each tour has its own specialness.

I've got to go get ready to go out for dinner with friends now (will the eating never stop? :-) ).

If you are interested in being part of the public launch of the brand new Chocolate Ecstasy Tour let me know!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Brownies made by me!

Whenever possible I give people chocolate brownies in their goody bags on the chocolate tours. This week I wasn't organised in time so I didn't have any ready for today from Cocoa Loco, in Sussex, so I made my own!

Here they are in the container before I packed them into plastic bags this morning. Made with organic free range eggs, organic butter, organic flour, organic sugar and Belgian chocolate. We tried them last night and they were pretty darn good (if I may say so myself!).

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Chocolate tour this Friday 28th March

There are still a few spaces! No more after this until May 31st.
Book now if you want to come along!
(The link keeps playing up, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Email me if you want to come along!)

Hope you all had a fabulous Easter! I made the cookies from the recipe on my website. Soooo good.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Cake made with Willie's chocolate

This one was cooked, not like his Cloud cake. It's very good. I'm going to putthe recipe in my Easter newsletter which I'll send out this week. You can sign up for it via the free cookie recipe form on the left of the Chocolate Ecstasy Tours homepage.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

No French chocolate in the French Alps

A week in the great outdoors. Well, the great, manufactured outdoors. As we were skiing in France I didn’t take any chocolate with me, assuming that, being France, good chocolate would be easily accessible everywhere. Bizarrely, whilst all of the supermarkets had a slightly different selection, the majority of the chocolate was Swiss. Having said that, the closest airport is Geneva so I expect this is not so bizarre as I first thought. Fortunately the Lindt Caramel Creation got me through the week! This isn’t a bar I’ve seen in the UK and although it has the tell-tale ever-so-slightly overroasted taste to the chocolate, the thin caramel and mousse layers that this chocolate enshrouds more than make up for this lacking. Towards the end of the week I found a patisserie that had a selection of bon bons (small, filled chocolates) that were made in house (according to the sign, at least). My French and the assistant’s English could not get me to a point of understanding what couverture they used but the passionfruit filling in one of the chocolates was scrumptious, nonetheless. (If you go to Val Thorens it is in the little shopping centre where the pharmacy is, but, again, it's only the fillings that are good, rather than the chocolate.)

We had two days of lovely weather when we first arrived, while I slowly tried to remember what to do with these things strapped to my feet, and then the weather turned sour on Sunday night I had to wonder on Monday as I traversed the grey slopes in the biting cold, what the appeal of this skiing thing was. The miserable weather continued through until Wednesday, the nightly snowfall making the slopes too powdery to appeal to a pretty ordinary skier like me, especially as the winds revealed icy patches by the afternoons. But when the sun came out again Thursday and gave us three days of continuously cloudless sky it was easy to forget that I had vowed never to bother coming skiing again. I love it! Ah, so fickle.

So, today, I am going to bake something with Willie's chocolate whilst the washing machine churns through load after load. Part 3 airs tonight. I keep getting contacted by people who say they have seen me on TV, but I've not seen the trailer myself. I kind of forgot the cameras were there.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Cocomaya in this very chocolate-y week

I had planned to write about my chocolatey exploits of last night, where I experimented with Willie's 100% chocolate liquor, clotted cream and St Dalfour cherry jam (on ciabatta from Wholefoods, it was gooooood). So good, in fact, that I repeated it tonight with an M&S mixed berry smoothie and some honey instead of the jam. This version was also all too moreish.

OK, so I have ended up telling you about my homely chocolate feasting, but much more briefly than I might have because in my inbox this morning I fortuitously actually read the Daily Candy email that arrived and discovered that Cocomaya opened in Connaught St, W2. I heard rumours a few weeks ago that a new chocolate shop was opening in the area and, lo and behold, here it was, opened!

I was delighted to be able to get there in my lunch break, and even more thrilled that two of the three masterminds behind it were in-store to chat to. Lovely chaps indeed, as were all the others in store, too. The store is beautifully decorated in purples and greens with butterflies in frames on the wall and unique cake stands that delicately display delicious chocolatey delights. I was so enthralled in the chatting and tasting that I forgot to take any pictures. It's fortunate I have no plans for a career in photo-journalism. In Cocomaya the chocolate-making happens at the back which you can observe through a glass partition. My next tour version is launching in May but it looks like I'm going to have to add No 3 to the mix shortly afterwards!

It's always inspiring to see how each chocolatier creates their own unique chocolates, therefore making visits to all of them essential (I can see how that could be a bad thing, I suppose). What's unique here? Strawberry chilli truffles, milk pomegranate domes and sour cherry truffles. More too, I'm sure. The milk and honey ganache I tried this evening from my take-home box was a delight. In the next few weeks Jonathan (the chocolate master) will complete his range, of around 35 chocolates in total. I'm going to have to go back soon to check out what else he comes up with.

Tomorrow I'm off to France, with limited internet access. Hopefully with unlimited chocolate access. Ski slopes or hot chocolate? Hmmm... tough one.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Sir Hans Sloane Hot Chocolate

We went to the Liberty Cardholders' evening tonight. When the invitation arrived a few weeks ago I immediately spotted the chocolate tasting with Sir Hans Sloane Chocolates. I was excited to get to see the lovely Bill McCarrick again, and particularly to taste more of his chocolate. He scolded me for not having been down to see him yet. I've really wanted to!! I will get down there in April - diaries permitting - and give you all a full report of his chocolate studio.

His chocolate was even better than I remembered. We came home with a few of his bars and a tin of his hot chocolate. I tasted this just after he discovered it, when he spoke on my full day chocolate tour last October. Crunchy sugar granules that are sprayed with layers of chocolate and spun in a metal bowl until they shine, it is both pretty and delicious. As we had a pint of organic whole milk in our fridge (very rare for us) we decided to mix some up when we got home. Taking great care not to boil the milk we mixed up our nightcaps, then frothed them with the mini electric frothing gadget we got as a gift last Christmas. Yum. Well, actually, I prefer to eat it straight from the bag. As a drink it's a bit sweet for me (but then I am a fan of 100% chocolate!). The other half was thrilled with his cup, made meticulously to Bill's directions. I added some of Willie Harcourt-Cooze's (of Willy's Wonky Chocolate Factory) 100% Hacienda El Tesoro and some Valhrona cocoa powder. The kitchen is now a lovely chocolatey mess and when I went for a shower a short time ago I discovered I'd even managed a chocolate smudge on my forehead. If you saw Willy's Wonky Chocolate Factory you'll know that 100% chocolate isn't really the best thing to have at bedtime. While milk contains tryptophan that helps encourage sleep, chocolate gives you a buzz, hence this rapidly written post. Oh well. I'm tired enough I'm sure I'll get to sleep anyway. I used to be such a morning person. Somewhere in the last few years I transformed into this night owl who gets far more excited and active and productive late in the evening. I do love mornings though. I've been making more of an effort to set my alarm earlier and go for a short run. It's not much but it helps keep me awake during the day, and now that it's getting lighter earlier the sky is gorgeous when I'm out.

It's hard to discern whether it's chatting to chocolate people or eating the chocolate that gets me so excited. I think a mixture. I get excited speaking to anyone who's passionate about their work. I always get excited about chocolate too, and together it's compounded.

So, I should probably lay my weary (and buzzing) head. I have written some posts in the last few weeks that I haven't published yet. I just need to find them!

One more thing: I found out Willie's chocolate is on sale in Waitrose too! Very exciting for him. You can get Sir Hans Sloane chocolate in Liberty (obviously), Selfridges and The General Trading Co. Go and get some of his pralines. I wish I had.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Willie and the Chocolate Factory starts tonight!

Ahead of plan people! 9pm Channel 4 tonight. Watch it!!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

A weekend of eating (and drinking) in Belgium

Food, glorious, food. It’s possible I actually ate less chocolate in Belgium than I would normally. But I bought more than I have in a long time, at least, in one day. I was far too easily persuaded by the much cheaper prices of the chocolates there than the same chocolate in London. That was my excuse for buying 1.5kg of Valrhona chocolate. Yes, it's French, but it was much cheaper there than it is here. 1kg of that was in a single block that I intend to use for cooking. Maybe.

On top of these fabulous deals there were a few gems that you can’t get in London. I ignored the ones you could, and I also ignored all the other “chocolate shops” with samey products. I would stick my head in (sometimes not even that) and do a quick assessment of whether it was worth my time. I don’t think it was too intolerable for my ever patient traveling partner. He shouldn’t complain, I did get all the boxes made up with two of pretty much everything.

I understand now why one of the people who came on my tour suggested I should run tours to Belgium. In some ways, it's pointless because that's what people go there for anyway, but having now seen for myself the sheer number of chocolate shops... It is quite overwhelming and quite difficult to discern what is quality and what is not. Unfortunately price, though a reliable indicator, does not always suffice.

The chocolate museum, behind the Grand Plac, was fantastic. It was really interesting and the enthusiasm of the chocolatier doing the demonstration was wonderful. I love passion in people, which is a further benefit for being part of the "chocolate world", people in the industry usually have so much passion for their vocation.

Travelling by Eurostar was brilliant. We arrived in time to leave our bags at the hotel and go wandering for supper and beer. We found went to a brasserie and ordered as tourist-Belgian as we could: moules naturale with frites, Belgian beers, followed by waffles with chocolate sauce and ice cream. Saturday we caught the train to Brugges for our extravaganza at the three-starred Michelin restaurant, De Karmeliet. We couldn’t ignore the tasting menu. Seven courses. The cheese course procuring the full cheese trolley (le chariot de fromages!). Before we chose our menu option we were given five amuse bouche each, which included a tartlette of tomato, basil and cheese, an olive friand, mackeral with salsa and a langoustine mousse. These were a great incentive to order the full degustation menu.

Our seventh dessert course turned out to be first a stand with 7 petit fours each, then a plate of three apple desserts (including sorbet, pastry, icecream, foam, mousse, crisp and rice pudding) and finally they whisked away this empty plate and returned with the chocolate construction below:

We were ridiculously and deliciously full, and we still have kilos of chocolate to work our way through. Now you might see why we bought to take home, rather than sampling too much while we were there!


The Chocolate Line in Brugge was inspiring. I get the feeling the main chocolatier doesn't make all of the multitude of chocolates he offers but I bet he makes these ones himself:

The one at the front is Fried Onions. Yes, fried onions. It was pretty hideous to be truthful. I wasn't a big fan of the Saffron Curry either (but that's partly because I don't love white chocolate). The Wasabi was interesting, and really well balanced. The Black Olive, Sundried Tomato and Basil was less appealing but provoking nonetheless. His better chocolates were some not featured in this image. The passionfruit, the raspberry and some of his pralines. Plaudits for his adventurousness though!

Pierre Marcolini in Brussels (on the grand sablon):

He is the only chocolatier in Brussels to make his own couveture from the bean. Fantastic chocolates. His nut-encrusted truffles were particularly moreish.

Others in Brussels worth going to (that are harder to find in the UK):
Wittamer for their square ganaches and raspberry hearts (ignore the truffles in hard shells) and Galler (though you can find them in Harrods Chocolate Hall there are a few extra treats you won't find in the UK yet).

Friday, February 01, 2008

On the way to the chocolate capital, Brussels.

Sometimes life is great. Like, right now, I’m on the train on my way to Brussels, planning moules et frites for when we arrive, staying in a nice (albeit chain) hotel and a three star Michelin restaurant booked for lunch tomorrow. I’m in the middle of Lollipop Shoes (I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to read it!) and it’s as wonderful as Chocolat. The prose used to describe the chocolate make me so glad that I have a business in chocolate. Then there’s the fact that on top of all the chocolate lying waiting for me to explore in Belgium, there’s also Belgian beer and the fact that people have been saying nice things about my tours. Hooray. I stumbled across this blog post written by a fabulous American girl who came on my tour a few months ago. I love people who love food! And I also had a call from a lady to book her gift certificates that were bought for her by her son who had loved the tour so much he had to buy it for his parents. I remember him and his lovely wife, a singer. That was a fun tour. I get to meet such great people.

If this post all sounds a bit gushy, I apologise. What can I say? It’s the start of a weekend, I’m going to another country for the weekend (I love living in London!), and people have said nice things about something I’ve put quite a lot of love and effort into. Oh yeah, and all the deliciousness to come. Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to give you all the details!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Willie and the Chocolate Factory

What are the odds of the first man to start making chocolate from the bean in the UK to have the name of Willie? Love it. Mr Dahl, I’m sure, would be very pleased.

The lovely chaps from Seventypercent invited me to a tasting for Willie Harcourt-Cooze. To be filmed as part of a four-part documentary showing in March. I’m guessing this section is demonstrating the chocolate revolution in the UK and exactly why there will be a demand for Willie’s chocolate liquor in stores. Now, I should clarify: Mr Harcourt-Cooze Is not making chocolate as we know it. He has a farm ( a “hacienda”) in Venezuela and rather than selling his beans to other manufacturers he decided to grind the beans to liquor himself. Liquor is the early stage of chocolate, you will see it as an ingredient on the back of chocolate (also seen as cocoa solids). It doesn’t yet have sugar mixed with it and hasn’t been conched with additional cocoa butter and the sugar to make it smoother and more palatable (this process destroys a lot of the flavanoids that give us antioxidants but, on the upside, remove the bitterness (one and the same in this case, unfortunately).

Only recently, two UK businesses have started to make chocolate themselves, but even these companies buy in the liquor. The making of chocolate they do is all in the blending of the liquor to their own times and temperatures and with varying amounts of sugar. Willie’s product will be completely niche in the UK. It’s not a big production but it will appeal to all of you who, like me, love the idea of stripping food right back to the raw ingredient and then messing about with it in your own kitchen. In order for us to get a taste for his product Willie made it into a tartufo (the liquor, a small amount of sugar and cream). You could tell that the quality was good. There’s a definite difference to the taste and texture because it’s pre-conching but it was miles better than cheaper chocolate in stores and a better flavour profile than some of the other pure bars we tasted on the night. Unfortunately because it was all being filmed I couldn’t really take any pictures but the documentary debuts the 2nd Thursday in March. The tasting is unlikely to be until at least the third hour but I think the whole series, beginning at the plantation in Venezuela, will be just fascinating.

The first line of the liquor goes on sale exclusively in Selfridge’s on February 18th. Sometime in the next few month’s I’m hoping to get down to Devon to see his factory, and one day I might run a chocolate tour to his plantation in Venezuela. Now that would be cool.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Happy New Year!

OK, it's a little late, but it isn't quite Christmas again yet. Though I'm sure that this year it will arrive as quickly as it seemed to last year! In the meantime, there's a lot of chocolate to eat.

Back in the UK now and I'm tempted on almost every corner by quality European brands and my chocolate consumption has returned to its sky-high levels, unfortunately this hasn't been accompanied by resuming regular exercise. Oops. Though I have been doing quite a bit of wandering around London in my research for the 2nd Chocolate Tour, which will launch in the next few months (hooray!).

I hope you all had a fabulous start to 2008. We did, celebrating at home with great friends and great food (well, the ingredients were good, I shouldn't shout too loud as I made most of it). We did have lovely homebaked bread (not made by me) and our friends brought taramasalata from Fishworks (soooo good, if you haven't tried it and you are anywhere near a Fishworks restaurant, go now!) and they also bought chocolate cakes. So we had two chocolate desserts, the one I prepared (to be more specific, this is one I had only got as far as getting the ingredients out for but decided to make even after hearing they had brought another chocolate dessert) and the Christmas Logs from La Maison du Chocolat. The home-made dessert was a peach and chocolate pudding. What can I say? it's Winter here, and hot chocolate pudding was required. I feel I should perhaps clarify that we also had a main course of baked salmon, kale and hazelnut and parsley mash potatoes. I'm getting hungry writing this...

Three days later I was treated to dinner in Claridge's. We discovered they do a fabulous deal on a three course meal. Delicious food, and they use Valhrona Manjari in their chocolate dessert (though the raspberry was actually the tastier dessert, I think).

If you have found this site through Red Magazine, welcome! I hope to see you on a tour sometime!

Now it's really time for dinner. Wishing you all good food and good chocolate and good health for 2008!

Back soon...