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. 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.
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.
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.
The prime purpose of my trip to London last month was to visit the home of Twinings and experience a tea tasting of both new and old. The Twinings shop on the Strand was a particularly apt venue to sip tea in, as it was the very first establishment in England to start serving tea back in 1706. This bold move was the inspiration of one Thomas Twining, a coffee house owner and trend setter of his day. Despite various difficulties encountered along the way, including a high tea tax and opposition from beer and coffee providers, tea drinking soon took off and by the 1750s had become the British drink of choice.
Arriving at Paddington Station from Cornwall, the easiest route to Twinings seemed to be to take the tube to Charring Cross and take a stroll along the Strand. Not only did this give me a nice walk, but it was a chance to wander down down memory lane as well. As a student in London I was very familiar with this area. Charring Cross was where one of our prime bookshops was located and obviously, being a keen student, I frequented it regularly 😉 For a while I commuted from Charring Cross station and got to know it rather more intimately than I might have wished. To avoid the rush hour fight for trains, I’d often go and while away half an hour or so in the National Gallery. It’s many years since I’ve visited this august institution, so I made a mini detour to have a look around. It seemed as though nothing had changed. Walking along the Strand, I couldn’t help but glance cheekily at The Strand Palace Hotel on the other side of the road. We had many a time filled up on the cheese and biscuits there, which were plentifully supplied along with an apple for a ridiculously small sum. What others ended their meals with was a meal in itself for us.
When I arrived at 216 the Strand, I found I was one of a small but select group of tasters and was particularly pleased to discover that Fiona of London Unattached was in attendance as well as Caroline of All that I’m Eating. The shop is long and narrow and steeped in history and packed to the gunwales with tea and tea making paraphernalia. I urge you to have a look at the pictures online as mine were less than perfect – hey ho, the joys of iPhone photography. The shop also contains a small museum which is worth a look if you are passing by. At the back is a tasting bar, where you can sample your tea before you buy – now what a fabulous idea that is. For the more adventurous, you can book a tea tasting for around £30 at one of the regular events. Having established that my preference was for green tea, I was offered a freshly brewed cup of Jade Pillars, a refreshing tea with floral notes that went very nicely with the chocolate tart I chose from the accompanying plate of patisserie.
Whilst we were sipping our welcome cup and munching on the tarts, we were welcomed by Stephen Twining, a 10th generation member of the Twinings family; he is still involved in the business, although it is now owned by Associated British Foods. He told us a little about the history of tea and the family business, which I found really interesting. Some of it I knew, but much of it I didn’t. I learnt for instance that China tea was our mainstay until 1838 when cheaper Indian tea started to be imported into the UK. Because of the high tax on tea, smuggling was rife and much of the tea that made its way to the British cup was adulterated with dried leaves and twigs. Richard Twining was instrumental in getting the tea tax substantially reduced in 1774 which effectively put an end to smuggling. In 1837, Queen Victoria granted Twinings the Royal Warrant for tea.
Feeling suitably steeped in the historical aspects of tea, we then had a session with two master blenders. It takes five years of training to reach this dizzying height and as a mark of achievement the blenders receive an engraved tea spoon of which they are justifiably proud. Traveling to plantations and sourcing teas from around the world is another of their rewards. Twinings take their tea blending very seriously indeed. Whilst excellent single origin and premium loose leaf teas can be bought at the shop or online, the teas that most of us drink on a daily basis need to be consistent, both in taste and quality. Every batch of tea is tasted at least seven times before it is packaged and sent out for sale.
I quizzed Philippa on the best teas to be taken with chocolate and she gave me such a fulsome answer I didn’t have time to write it all down. The essence of it is as follows: Assam for milk chocolate, strongly flavoured teas such chai for dark chocolate and Darjeeling for afternoon chocolate indulgence.
We started our tea tasting with a semi fermented oolong from Taiwan. We could see the large leaves unfurling in the glass teapots as the tea brewed. This was highly perfumed and quite delicious; I would have been happy going no further in my tea journey that day. I’m glad we did though as I think the second tea was even more irrisistable. This was a first flush Darjeeling. Although a black tea, this is fine and delicate and like the oolong is best drunk without milk. Darjeeling has a high price tag as it accounts for only 1% of the world’s tea. It has two harvests per year with the first flush being the cream of the crop. It tasted like it. We went on to taste keemun, a Chinese black afternoon tea which again is best drunk without milk. The last black tea we tried was a second flush Assam. In contrast to the Darjeeling, the first flush is best avoided and the second is the one to go for. This was smooth and malty and would be good with or without milk.
Innovation continues to be at the heart of what Twinings does. Realising that many people wish to drink green tea for its health benefits, but find it heard to accustom themselves to the taste, they have come up with a new range of sweet greens. Despite the name, these teas have no added sugar or other sweeteners but have an air of sweetness about them and do not taste bitter. Being a bit of a purist, I’m not normally a fan of flavoured teas, so was a little sceptical. We tried the caramelised apple first, which with added cinnamon and apple flavour smelt exactly like apple crumble to me. I was surprised to find that I didn’t dislike this tea and in fact didn’t dislike any of them. Salted caramel was next. The name alone makes this hard to resist and it actually tasted quite pleasant. I drink a lot of ginger tea, but the gingerbread tea smelt and tasted nothing like my familiar brew. The aroma was quite nostalgic and reminded me of old fashioned ginger cake. It is recommended that these teas are brewed for only two minutes which seems very sensible; in my experience less is more when it comes to green tea. Interestingly, my mother who would like to drink green tea, but doesn’t like the taste has found these new flavours quite palatable, so game set and match to Twinings.
When we thought we might have had our fill of tea for the afternoon, out came the cocktails. We quickly realised we could very easily manage a caramelised apple Martini made with green tea and vodka. Very tasty it was too.
I’m not at all sure it was kind of Twinings to introduce me to the concept of green tea cocktails. When I got home, I had a go at creating a salted caramel chocolate cocktail and found I couldn’t stop drinking it. Chocolate and salted caramel are one of my all time favourite flavour combinations and this drink did not disappoint. The flavour of salted caramel was there without the drink being overly sweet and the chocolate melded well.
After the tea tasting we were taken out for a late lunch at The Delaunay. Those more knowledgable than myself tell me this hotel is well known as a first class venue for business meetings. I didn’t clinch any deals, but I certainly enjoyed the food. I had my first tasting of pierogi, vegetarian Polish dumplings which were quite delicious. Needless to say I had a dessert and it just happened to be a chocolate one.
- 1 Twinings salted caramel green tea teabag
- 50 ml chocolate liqueur of choice
- 3 ice cubes
Many thanks to Twinings and Hill & Knowlton for a fabulous afternoon out. I was not required to write a positive review and as always, all opinions are my own.