What a summer we’ve had and there’s still all to play for. I do love an Indian summer when the days are warm and the nights turn chilly. Whatever happens, I intend to stay in sandals until October at least. I’m celebrating the season in lots of ways and one of them is by offering you this delightful all vegan summer bundle giveaway. A bottle of Rock Rose summer edition gin, two packs of Doisy & Dam’s new chocolate snaps and a couple of jars of Pip & Nut’s special edition chocolate orange almond butter.
The apple is the king of fruits and plays an important part in our culture. Turning it into craft cider is a venerable tradition, complete with a whole slew of rituals, including wassailing. Virtually every farm had an orchard and labourers of yore were often paid in cider. Crafty Nectar are offering my readers the chance to win a discovery box of six craft ciders. No need to scythe a meadow first.
We’re already nearly one week in to Fairtrade Fortnight, which runs from 27th Feb to 12th March. This year the Fairtrade Foundation are urging us to take a break with fairtrade products. Fairtrade coffee, tea, chocolate and bananas are all readily available. We can enjoy our break in the certain knowledge that impoverished farmers and farm workers are getting a better deal than they otherwise might.
Who likes a crumbly cookie? For those that do, these vegan vanilla almond cookies are just that. They’re made with ground almonds and wholemeal spelt flour and flavoured with vanilla. Not too sweet, but perfect with a cup of tea.
It’s that time of year again and lots of us are starting to wonder what we can get Granny, Uncle Fred, the girl next door, an unexpected guest or Little Harry for Christmas. I may not be able to help much with Little Harry other than a stocking filler, but these are some of the items I’ve received and appreciated recently. You should find something of interest in this Tin and Thyme Christmas Gift Guide 2016 to suit most adults.
Cocktails are apparently on the up in the UK. This is a trend that I, for one, am happy to see. Ever since I had my first glass of Pimms as a teenager, I perk up when I hear the word cocktail. Mojitos are a rather more recent discovery for me, but now I’ve had the odd, ahem, one or two, I’m finding it hard to make a choice. Would you plump for a Pimms or make friends with a Mojito?
The coconut revolution is truly upon us. I remember when we first started buying cold-pressed coconut oil over a decade ago. It was hard to find and very expensive. Now the food world has realised the wonders of coconut and I’m very glad to say not only is coconut oil cheaper and easier to find, but there is a wealth of other coconut products out there to choose from.
Here are a few ideas for stocking fillers if you are feeling a bit stuck. You will surely find something here for the food lovers in your life. I’d certainly be happy to find any of these in mine.
Drinking Chocolate Christmas Baubles
Hans Sloane is probably my favourite hot chocolate and I’ve tried a few over the years. It makes a rich and creamy beverage, even without the addition of milk and it is not overly sweet. Made with water, these make excellent drinks for vegans or those with a dairy intolerance. You can read my previous reviews of Hans Sloane drinking chocolate Madagascar 67% and Ecuador 70% and Rich Dark (53%) and Natural Honey.
|Photo courtesy of Hans Sloane|
The latest to come my way is this adorable Christmas Bauble full of 53% chocolate beads that rattle around when you shake it. The sight of a Christmas tree groaning under the weight of these substantial baubles would be a remarkable sight; when I tired of the spectacle, it would be good to know that I could pop them individually into mugs and liberate the contents with some hot water or milk. From tree to tea-tray in a trice. Perfect! £2 per individually packaged bauble and they will arrive in time for Christmas if you order by 18 December. Alternatively the 270g packs cost between £4.49 and £5.49 and can be found at Tesco and Waitrose as well as online.
Personalised Cornishware Mug
I grew up with Cornish Blue and the plates, cups and jugs are still in regular use in my mother’s kitchen on the edge of Bodmin Moor, though somewhat cracked and chipped these days. They hold a special place in my heart, though I now have a preference and yearning for Cornish Red. This personalised mug adorned with my moniker I found especially appealing. It’s just the right size and has a chunky, hand warming quality about it – perfect for those bedtime mugs of cocoa I’m so fond of, or even chocolate tea. Next time maybe Santa will bring me a red one. £10 for an 8oz personalised Cornishware mug.
Having received my dose of antioxidants and minerals internally, how about applying chocolate externally, in this case in the form of soap? Made locally in Liskeard by Cornish Soapcakes, I was frothing at the mouth at the thought of trying this. With its simple but effective packaging, this certainly looked good enough to eat when I opened it. Made with Green & Blacks chocolate rather than the usual cocoa butter. Is this a first for Liskeard and who knows, the world?
Cheese Making Kit
Cheese making is all the rage at the moment and Cheeky Monkey Cream Chargers have cleverly seized the opportunity and are making kits for home cheese making. I was sent a Goat (Chèvre) kit, which I’m excited to try, but haven’t quite found time to do so yet. I adore goat’s cheese which is fabulous for cooking and pairs remarkably well with chocolate. You can see some of the recipes I’ve tried with this combination. The kit comes with instructions, recipes, cheesecloth, citric acid, cheese-salt and herbs de Provence. It will make about 3 lb of chèvre. All I need to do is buy the milk and follow the instructions. I will report back when I have done so. There is a mozzarella and ricotta kit too, which sounds equally attractive. Both kits cost £6.
Made by husband and wife team Soph and Ian in Suffolk, Raw Nibbles are on a mission to create delicious and healthful products which retain the nutritional benefits of chocolate by keeping processing to a minimum. All products are handmade, vegan and free from dairy, wheat, gluten, beet sugar, cane sugar, soya, egg and artificial additives. Not only that but they are organic, with Soil Association certification, which always endears a producer to me.
Double Chocolate Brownie – dates, cacao butter, coconut sugar, cacao powder, cacao paste, vanilla powder, almonds hazelnuts.
This is substantial and dense, but with a fudgy texture consistent with a good brownie. It’s certainly very tasty; I noticed that the date flavour comes through quite strongly – maybe it’s my Middle Eastern genes, but I really liked that: I found myself desiring more than a nibble. Weighing it at 110g, it’s currently on offer for £2.80.
Crispy Raw Chocolate – cacao butter, coconut sugar, cacao powder, cacao paste, sprouted buckwheat, vanilla powder.
Sprouted buckwheat in chocolate? This was a first for me and I have to say I was a little dubious. My mistake. Buckwheat usually has a powerful and distinctive flavour, which is not to everybody’s liking. I needn’t have worried, they tasted just like nuts with the same crunchy texture. The chocolate had a good snap with a feel of “real” chocolate. My mouth didn’t feel assaulted by vast quantities of sugar – really nice. Currently on offer at £2.40 for a 50g bar.
mberry – Miracle Fruit Tablets
The fruits of the miracle berry, Synsepalum dulcificum, a West African shrub, are compressed and dried into tablet form. The effects are the result of a taste modifying process caused by miraculin, a glycoprotein found in the berry’s flesh. So what does all this mean? The theory is, it turns sour and bitter flavours sweet.
CT and I gave it a go. We each let one tablet dissolve on our tongue. It took rather longer than I was expecting and tasted fruity with a berry like tartness. So far, unremarkable. Then we tried drinking some freshly squeezed lemon juice. Wow! We’d heard it was meant to make things taste different, but it was still a surprise to find the lemon juice tasted sweet, really sweet. What fun. Fool your tongue like never before. An ideal party piece to amaze your friends at Christmas to go with the magic lantern show and other curiosities. Dickens would have loved these. Available from mberry at £12.99 for a pack of ten.
Crumb – Ruby Tandoh
For those that haven’t been following the Great British Bake-off, Ruby, a young law student, was a finalist in the 2013 competition and now writes regularly for the Guardian. For fans of this iconic programme, she will need no introduction. Her book Crumb is filled with enticing recipes for bakes of all kinds; they not only sound highly flavoursome, but are down to earth and fancy free. The law’s loss is our gain.
The book is both intelligently and clearly written, so it’s engaging as well as informative. The recipes are easy to follow and full instructions are given for the novice cook. Each chapter begins with a “how to” section explaining ingredients and techniques. Answers are given throughout to many of the common questions which even experienced bakers may have: why is my cake too dense? Why is my bread too yeasty? Why is my Danish pastry leaking butter as it bakes? Ruby is also good at demystifying those little tips and tricks that the experienced baker takes for granted. So what does it mean when you say a curd has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon? Well she shows you.
Innovative bakes and twists on old favourites abound, inspiring me to get off the computer and into the kitchen. So far I have only made a batch of wholemeal walnut cobs and a jar of her lemon curd; both were simple to make and delicious. I have, of course, bookmarked a rather ambitious number of other recipes. These include: cherry stollen with pistachio marzipan, dark chocolate orange bourbons, blackberry ricotta cheesecake, chocolate lime mudcake and spiced chocolate tart. There you have it, my New Year’s resolution.
Published by Chatto & Windus in September this year, the substantial 336p book costs £20.
Some festive chocolatey treats rolled in, just in time for Christmas – a stocking to fill a stocking it would seem. Hotel Chocolat is the best High Street chocolatier out there and I do miss not being able to pop in to the Plymouth store with the regularity I was once able to. A box of chocolate reindeer made from the house special 40% milk chocolate was much appreciated as was the Christmas stocking filled with white, milk and caramel chocolate santas, presents and bells. Thank you Hotel Chocolat.
Keep in Touch
Thanks for visiting Tin and Thyme. If you try any of the items featured in this guide to fun fillers for your Christmas stocking, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. Do share photos on your preferred social media site and use the hashtag #tinandthyme, so I can spot them.
You might also like this Christmas gift guide for food lovers post.
Hot chocolate is one of life’s real pleasures. But did you know there’s more to a good mug of the stuff than bunging in a couple of spoons of drinking chocolate powder? Find out what we thought of some of the drinks out there in this hot chocolate review.
Tea tasting and blending is a veritable art form. Find out how the masters at Twinings do it in their tea masterclass. You’ll also find a review of Twinings redbush tea and a recipe for a salted caramel chocolate tea cocktail.