When I was an intrepid eighteen year old, I took off to Switzerland to work, first in an hotel and then as an au pair. I’d never been there before and I didn’t speak the language, but throwing myself into the thick of it was a very effective way to learn French. Of the many culinary experiences I had there, chocolate aside, Bircher muesli was my favourite.
Trying out new foods and products is one of the joys of being a food blogger. Food Bites is an occasional series showcasing some of the edible offerings that have landed on the kitchen counter at Tin and Thyme recently. This month it’s mostly about liquids: alternatives to meals as we know them, condiments, dessert wine and then wrapping up with a few sweet treats.
One of the many fascinating things about food is that there are so many ingredients and combinations in the world, that providing we are able to access them, the adventure never ends. Here are some of the food products that have landed on the kitchen counter at Tin and Thyme recently.
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.
There is no doubt about it, Italians are proud of their food heritage and they have every right to be so. With its fresh flavours, vibrant colours and simplicity, Italian cuisine ranks as one of the world’s best and is one of my personal favourites. It’s had a massive influence on British food. Where would we be without our pizza, spaghetti Bolognese, lasagne, risotto and more recently the panini? But there is far more to it than these familiar dishes.
This spicy dark chocolate cake is redolent with sweet and fragrant Dutch speculaas spices. It’s glazed with a shiny dark chocolate ganache and the whole thing is egg and dairy free, making it inclusive and entirely suitable for vegans. What’s more, it’s incredibly easy to make.