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. Read on to find out more.
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.
Now Twelfth Night has passed, I’m feeling it’s time to Jumpstart January. Whilst these vanilla almond cookies aren’t exactly healthy, they aren’t too bad for you either. They contain freshly ground almonds and wholemeal spelt flour and the sugar content is relatively low. I’m also trying to eat more vegan meals than usual this month to celebrate Veganuary, so I’ve made them vegan.
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.
All this blustery and quite frankly miserable weather we’ve been experiencing down here in the last few days means that warming comfort food is required. What could be more comforting than wrapping your hands around a mug of steaming hot chocolate in cheery defiance of the weather gods?
Luckily I have both hot chocolate and some rather fine goat’s milk in plentiful supply.
The goats at St Helen’s Farm in East Yorkshire have been producing fresh milk for the last 27 years. Many people who find themselves unable to drink cow’s milk, are able to tolerate the goat version. Do watch out for future goaty posts where I will be trying out other products from the farm. I’m not normally a fan of skimmed milk, or even semi-skimmed milk, but I did like both of these in goat form and they do work remarkably well with chocolate. There is a slight goaty tang, but it’s not too strong and adds another dimension to the drink which I could become quite addicted to.
Chocolate Week has brought me many delights and one of these was a chocolate bar from Barry Callebaut with my name iced on the top. This put a big smile on my face. It wasn’t long, however, before the bar disappeared. Half of it went into a pan of skimmed goat’s milk to make the hot chocolate you can see above and the other half was shared with CT a little later.
Hans Sloane Drinking Chocolate
Back in May, I reviewed Hans Sloane Natural Honey and Rich Dark drinking chocolates and was favourably impressed. I was hoping to try their award winning Madagascar and Ecuador single origin varieties, so I was delighted when a fragrant parcel arrived in the post. CT and I girded our loins and got down to the difficult business of doing a compare and contrast exercise. It was difficult to see much difference in the appearance of these two chocolates but when it came to smell and taste the resemblance disappeared. Thick and rich as these drinking chocolates are, I decided to taste test them with water once again. The shiny chocolate beads melt beautifully this way and the flavours are not masked by dairy. I found, with absolutely no surprise whatsoever, that we liked both of them. We did, however, both have the same preference.
Madagascar 67% – a rich and fruity aroma wafts up from the packet on opening. It has a strong fruity taste with aromatic cardamom notes. It’s also a little bitter and leaves a slightly drying sensation behind in the mouth.
Ecuador 70% – the fragrance is more of tobacco in this case. It has woody notes with liquorice tones that make it quite robust. It is less sweet, richer and drier than the Madagascar which makes it our favourite.
There is currently a 20% discount on the Ecuador, so now is a good time to try it. You’ll find this on the Hans Sloane website.
Mortimer Chocolate Powder
Some of you may be aware that I’m a big fan of Mortimer’s chocolate powders. They are fabulous used in bakes where chocolate is called for, as no melting is required; the chocolate is ground down to a powder so can go straight into the mix – less fuss and less washing up. The powders also make excellent hot chocolates. Not only do they taste good, but the chocolate melts quickly and easily. The dark chocolates are both 70%, but come from two different continents: one from Ecuador and one from West Africa. I have reviewed these in a previous post, so I won’t repeat my findings here. The fruity West African, however, worked particularly well in these rich chocolate scones.
The white couverture powder is equally impressive and contains 40% cocoa solids, which is much higher than many brands. Flavoured with natural vanilla, it is free from both gluten and soya. I’ve used it in various recipes, but you can find specific mention in my red gooseberry cakes and burnt butter cupcakes. I have to confess that I’ve not tried this as a hot chocolate, but for those with a sweet tooth, I expect it would make a very nice drink indeed.
Come back tomorrow for more ChocolateWeek tasters and don’t miss out on those posted earlier this week:
Thanks go to Hans Sloane, Mortimer Chocolate Company, St Helen’s Farm and Barry Callebaut for the various samples. I was not required to write positive reviews and as always, all opinions are my own.
Chocolate may be my number one passion, but there is nothing quite so refreshing as a good cup of tea. For me, the best cuppa involves loose leaf tea and plenty of room for the leaves to swirl around, expand and infuse. Some of you may remember the IngenuiTEA and Adagio tea samples I reviewed earlier in the year and that particular pot gets plenty of use in our house. However, when I am on my own, a pot of tea is not always what I want, the tea can get cold before I get around to finishing it.
Luckily Adagio now has a new line which is perfect for such occasions: a porcelain cup with infuser. It may be called a cup, but it’s actually a large mug, with accompanying lid and infuser. The infuser is also large allowing plenty of room for the leaves to expand and it handily fits into many other drinking vessels if you fancy a change. Made of stainless steel, it’s also good and sturdy; I’ve had metal infusers before, which have been so feeble they’ve given up the ghost after very few uses. This one looks as though it’s here for the long haul. It also makes washing it up nice and easy as there is no fear of it breaking. I do find the solid base a bit annoying as the liquid is unable to escape properly thus leaving a rather mushy pool of leaves and tea behind – but this is a minor quibble. The cup, lid and infuser are all dishwasher safe. The lid is not only essential when the leaves are infusing, but it can be used to keep the tea warm in between sips. Handily, it doubles as a receptacle to place the infuser on when the tea has been steeped to your liking. This no fuss, no mess method makes it ideal for office use as well as at home. I chose a bright red one, called barn for some reason, but there are five other colours to choose from. Hmm, maybe I should have gone for the chocolate one.
So what of the teas? Two of the three samples I was sent to try were black teas, which are not generally a favourite. However, I have been surprised by black teas in the past and I am always happy to try new ones. The third one was a herbal and struck me as distinctly odd as I’d never come across that combination before.
Pu Erh Spice – I’d heard quite a bit about pu erh and that the name is perhaps quite apt in terms of smell. However, this one had a sweet heady aroma both when opening the packet and as brewing tea. With an added spice mix of cinnamon bark, orange peel, ginger root and aniseed, I guess this shouldn’t have been a surprise. It’s like a lighter version of masala chai and is very tasty with the warming and zesty flavours of cinnamon and orange to the fore.
Yunnan Jig – the scent emanating from the packet on opening was not at all what I expected from a black tea. It was pure summer – sweet grassy newly harvested hay. Large sticks of tea that unfurled into leaves in the infuser and tasted just as good as they smelt. Light and fragrant as it was, is seemed more like a green tea than a black one. The world of tea never ceases to fascinate.
Foxtrot – Although the scent of chamomile is one of my favourites, I’m really not that keen on drinking it; when I saw that this herbal tea contained chamomile, my heart sank a little. It perked up on further reading when I saw it contained my favourite tea rooibos too. But I thought it a very odd mix of flavours with chamomile, peppermint, rooibos and rooibos vanilla. Chamomile and peppermint both have strong scents and I felt the aromas were fighting each other rather than melding or complimenting. Strangely when water was added, the scent improved and I found myself liking it. The proof would come in the drinking. Weeellll, it’s actually not bad. The mint is refreshing and the chamomile and vanilla give a sweet note, though I’m not quite sure where the rooibos comes in. I don’t think I’d go out of my way to drink this, but it makes for an interesting change.
You can read another account of the cup with a different selection of teas over at Fork & Good.
Our family, my mother’s side at least, used to be nicely contained within the boundaries of England and Scotland. As a child growing up, my holidays were usually spent visiting one or other of them and we were close. These days, the family has become international and live in Australia, Spain, California and Colombia. Needless to say, I don’t get to see them very often anymore. So I was delighted when a bunch of relies came down to visit us in Cornwall earlier this month. I was particularly pleased to see my vegan cousin from California who I haven’t met since his wedding five years ago. Of course I had to make him a cake.
I’d recently been sent a special spice mix from the Speculaas Spice Company and was keen to try it out. It’s based on the vanDotsch family’s secret recipe and only some of the spices are revealed in the ingredients. Speculaas is a Dutch spice mix dating from the 17th Century when Holland was sailing the Seven Seas in search of exotic spices. Today the spice mix has been mostly standardised and is best known for its use in Speculaas biscuits. This mix consists of nine spices including Sri Lankan cinnamon, cloves and ginger. The overwhelming aroma emanating from the opened packet was of cloves and cinnamon – a heady mix indeed. But other less obvious scents were there too. On trying the spice, we all had a go at guessing what the secret ingredients might be. My aunt was convinced it contained black pepper, CT was pretty sure nutmeg was in it and I thought I could taste allspice. It certainly has a hint of a kick to it and is full of flavour. The company tries to source its spices at as high a grade as possible and to ensure that they are pure with no additives of any kind. They are also mostly organic, fairtrade or both.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been trying out some pure chocolate powders from the chocolate company Mortimer. These are not cocoa powder, but ground up chocolate. Well, what a very good idea I thought; no need to faff around melting chocolate and creating extra washing up for baking purposes now – the chocolate can be added directly into the mix. And this has proved to be the case. You wouldn’t know from eating the cakes I’ve made that the traditional method had not been used. Finer than grated chocolate and similar to cocoa powder, it gets completely incorporated into the baking mix. I did try melting the white couverture powder in these burnt butter cupcakes and it melted almost instantaneously.
In addition to the white couverture powder (40%), which smells deliciously vanillary, I also had two different 70% dark chocolate powders to try. All of the powders come in 220g packs and are suitable for drinking as hot chocolate as well as in baking recipes. Each packet has a recipe printed on the back; I want to make all of them, although the white chocolate coconut ice-cream sounds the most intriguing. To see what differences we could spot between the two dark chocolates, CT and I tried both, in powder form and as a hot chocolate. The powder melted into the hot milk really quickly, leaving no bits behind, as can sometimes be the case. They were different in colour with the Ecuador being slightly darker and redder. Both were quite delicious. For convenience, I reckon these are excellent products. They retail at £3.80 and are now available at Sainsburys. South America and Ghana versions are also available to buy online.
|Two continents, two colours, two tastes|
Pure Dark Chocolate Powder (70%): Ecuador
Described as flavour 4 intense, this tastes less sweet than the West African, but surprisingly less bitter too. In hot chocolate form it was also less sweet as well as being more refreshing and robust. I have heard that Ecuador is the home of the best quality cacao and this is reflected, we think, in our perceptions here. The recipe suggestion was for sumptuous chocolate sauce.
Pure Dark Chocolate Powder (70%): West African
Described as flavour 2 mellow, we found this had a fruiter and sweeter smell and tasted slightly of cardamom. In hot chocolate form it also came across as fruity with notes of coconut and was slightly sweeter than the Ecuador. The recipe suggestion was for gorgeous chocolate brownies.
Everyone enjoyed the cake and my cousin was delighted with his welcome back vegan bake. We all thought it was strong on flavour and not too sweet – the way things should be.
- 200g (7oz) flour (half wholemeal spelt, half white)
- 1 rounded tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1 heaped tsp speculaas spice (or mixed spice)
- 60g 70% Ecuador dark chocolate powder (not cocoa)
- 130g dark brown sugar
- 1 large banana
- 50ml sunflower oil
- 1 tbsp vinegar (I used cider vinegar)
- 150ml water
- 20g coconut oil
- 25g 70% dark chocolate powder (or finely grated chocolate)
- 2 tbsp maple syrup
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 8-10 servings