Christmas is all about giving and one day I hope I’ll be given a new kitchen for Christmas. I grew up in a kitchen with an Aga, a table where we ate all of our meals and a dresser made by my uncle. Compared to many kitchens today, this was a simple room, but it was the heart of the household. My kitchen is small and narrow with no possibility of a table, aga or companionable space. I get on with it as best I can, but this doesn’t stop me dreaming of a new kitchen.
Growing up in a far flung part of the country, the railway was a bit of a lifeline to the civilised world. Back along, the roads weren’t so good and leaving Cornwall was not for the faint hearted. Thankfully, we’ve always had a mainline train service that carried us up to Plymouth, Exeter and even London. Three cheers for Isambard Kingdom Brunel and his Great Western Railway! We were able to visit geographically distant relatives in East Anglia and Scotland without too much trouble thanks to the train. We also got to take in some pretty gorgeous countryside on the way.
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.
Chocolate comes in many forms and here it comes in the form of hand cream. Cocoa butter has long been used for cosmetic purposes. I have used it myself on occasion to make my own body butter and lip balm. Cocoa butter is said to have a number of benefits: it is high in fatty acids helping to keep skin hydrated, high in antioxidants known for fighting off free radicals which stress the skin and helps to reduce stretch marks and scar tissue.
Hotel Chocolat now do a range of skin care products, Cocoa Juvenate – all using cocoa butter of course. In addition to the benefits already stated, they claim there is an extra feel good factor and that slapping it all over will enhance your mood as well as rejuvenate your skin. Great for chocoholics who can now have an all round chocolate body experience, both inside and outside; the skin is, after all, the biggest organ of the body. When I was offered a tube of Revive, the Cocoa Juvenate hand cream, I was very happy to try it out. Like many of us hard working food bloggers, I don’t pay as much attention to my hands as I should. They get very dry from frequent washing. This isn’t helped by my gardening activities; soil is notorious for drying out the skin.
As well as cocoa butter, Revive contains shea butter, mango seed oil and honey, all good protective moisturising ingredients. The scent is pleasant, if a little strong for me and reminds me of bergamot. A little goes a long way and massaged into hands and cuticles, it is almost instantly absorbed, leaving hands smooth but not at all greasy. The hand cream came in a very smart paper handbag echoing the black and white packaging of the product, which itself has a silver cocoa bean printed both on the box and the tube.
Available in store and online, a 100ml tube costs £19.
With Mother’s Day fast approaching, this is a gift which will surely be appreciated. Mummy bloggers, multi taskers par excellence, deserve a little pampering from time to time. In that spirit, I’d like to pass the love on to one of them. Galina of Chez Maximka is a devoted mother and blogger. She is also a prolific cook and artist to boot. With two sons, one with autism, her life is very busy – I don’t know how she does it.
May her hands be smooth, silky and fragrant.
Thanks to Hotel Chocolat for the hand cream. There was no requirement to write a positive review and as always all opinions are my own.
When it comes to food, we’re not very good at austerity in this house. Admittedly, we did fast three times over the Christmas week and twice last week, but that was because we wanted to properly indulge on the other days. However, in this time of post-Christmas austerity many of us will be thinking about tightening both our belts and wallets.
But chocoholics, don’t despair. I have a chocolatey treat to offer up to one lucky reader that shouldn’t pile on the pounds and might just help in the battle of the bulge. The designers at TShirt Store have come up with an iPhone case in the form of a chocolate bar. A half opened chocolate bar to be precise and as we know, such bars rarely remain that way. This, however, is a feast for the eyes, not the stomach. You can look as much as you like, but you won’t be tempted to eat it.
On sale through the TShirt Store, it costs £19. This may seem a tad expensive, but you could soon recoup it by cutting back on your chocolate consumption. Gazing at this tasteful rather than tasty chocolate accessory is probably the way to go. It’s made of tough plastic and is a snug fit. If my experience is anything to go by, it is not likely to fall off, in fact it is remarkably tenacious. I can’t vouch for how long the design will last, but mine has been knocking around for a few weeks now and looks as good as new.
I was sent a TShirt Store iPhone case to review. There was no requirement to write a positive review. As always, all opinions are my own.
As regular readers will know, chocolate on this blog comes in many forms. This time it comes in the form of a jigsaw. A wooden Wentworth jigsaw, entitled Decadence, to be precise. The chocolates depicted on the front of the box look decadent indeed. I can’t help but wish that on completion of the jigsaw those tempting looking chocolates would turn into the real thing. Maybe it will, who knows? I haven’t completed the jigsaw yet. In fact, I haven’t even started it. My table is just too cluttered with Christmas stuff at the moment and with the best will in the world, there is no room for a jigsaw. However, it will be clear by Christmas and I am really looking forward to getting stuck in. I love doing jigsaws. My mother loves them too, so once I’ve tackled it successfully, it will be passed over to her to have a go.
This is not a large jigsaw, being only 250 pieces, but it looks to be a tough one with the similar colours and repeating pattern of the chocolates. That’s lucky, as I don’t like my jigsaws to be too easy. It’s also rather a tactile one as the pieces are made of wood and are actually quite chunky but with a pleasingly smooth finish – no splinters to spoil the enjoyment here. The pieces are also wonderfully quirky, or at least some of them are. On sifting through them I found several shapes suitable for a food loving person: a spoon, a fork, cakes and pieces of chocolate to name but a few. I understand there is even a chocolate fountain dripping with chocolate, but I didn’t come across that one. When I first opened the box, I was delighted to see a drawstring cloth bag containing the pieces rather than the inevitable utilitarian and rather annoying plastic. The box itself is sturdy and is not likely to fall apart with a bit of rough handling, not I hasten to add that I would handle my boxes or anything else roughly. There is no doubt about it, this jigsaw is not only a thing of beauty but also of exceptional quality.
Wentworth Wooden Puzzles have been going since 1994 and have earned a name for themselves for both design and execution. Decadence comes in several different sizes, the largest being 1,500 pieces. This 250 piece version retails at £26.95 and would make a fine gift, Christmas or otherwise, for any puzzle lover.
It was Jac of Tinned Tomatoes that first alerted me to MOO business cards. I was so impressed by her wonderful photographs that I had to order some myself. Unlike any other cards I’ve seen, you can have a different picture on the back of each one if you like, which makes them not only fun but a walking gallery of your favourite blog photos. When I’m asked for a business card, not that I am very often, I can offer up several and ask the recipient to take their pick. It’s nice to get a few oohs and aghhs and watch while the all important decision is made. It offers a completely new dimension to a standard business card.
It took me a while to venture onto the MOO website as I thought it might be a rather complicated and time consuming process. But eventually I overcame my suspicions and duly ordered a pack of fifty standard size cards made using recycled paper. I needn’t have worried, the process was really easy. I was able to design my cards and choose the pictures in several stages as the design could be saved at any time and edited later. I chose two each of twenty five of my blog photos for the backs and on the front I used a section of my blog header photograph as a logo of sorts. The real difficulty was deciding whether to go for mini cards or the standard credit card size which fits easily into purses and wallets. The latter won out.
When the parcel arrived, I tore it open with indecent haste. I was thrilled with the results. To have a physical representation of my photographs was a first for me and I was impressed with just how good they looked. They are more expensive than cards I’ve bought before, but so much better – they look and feel classy. It was also good to have all my social media contact details together in one place.
No sooner had the cards arrived then I was regretting not having bought more – after all I wanted to hang on to one of each of my designs, Gollum fashion and that left only twenty five of my preciousses. As it happened, I spotted a giveaway over at Kavey Eats a couple of months later for a pack of MOO business cards. Amazingly, I won and like Gollum reunited with the ring, I was bouncing up and down with delight – thank you Kavey. I was able to recreate my favourite pictures and add some new ones as well. Another pack of fifty was soon winging its way towards me. These were somewhat different to my first batch as they were printed on standard paper, which is sourced from sustainable forests but is not recycled. The cards were thicker and slightly shinier.
The cards come in a handy holder with a “mine” and “theirs” tab to hold cards you are going to giveaway (maybe) and cards you collect. The top slides on and off easily and the whole thing is very properly made from recycled materials. My photographs don’t do the cards justice, the images are crisp and clear and a lot lighter than they look here. Mini cards, postcards, stickers and labels are also available and I am sorely tempted to add to my collection.
When asked by Al McCavery of All Tea Towels if I’d like to review a couple of tea towels from the site, I was really pleased. I love a good tea towel and especially nice colourful ones that look decorative when not in use. There are plenty to choose from. Whether it’s a particular theme or colour that is wanted, chances are you will be in luck. There is even a food and drink category, although sadly, I couldn’t find any chocolate related ones.
I did find plenty of red tea towels though. Red is my colour of choice for all kitchen related paraphernalia. Making a choice of only two was actually quite difficult. Colour and design were two factors to be considered. Material was another – linen, plain cotton or waffle? In the end I chose two Irish linen tea towels, partly because I liked the designs and partly because they were linen. Linen is purported to be the best material for tea towels as it is absorbent, lint free and durable. It also has a touch of elegance and class about it, which my kitchen is very much in need of.
I’d chosen an anemone design for myself – a Pierre-Joseph Redoute print. Anemones are some of my favourite flowers and as well as featuring a large red anemone, there is a thick red border too. The second one is a Madeleine Floyd design featuring garden birds, their song and their eggs; this one is destined for my mother. She loves to watch the birds in her garden and try and identify their calls and it has a blue border which matches her aga.
Linen has a long and venerable history. Made from the flax plant, Linum usitatissimum, it is thought to be one of the first plants used to make fabric in about 8000BC. It was brought to prominence by the ancient Egyptians in about 4000 BC. Although linen had been grown in Ireland from around 1000BC, it did not become widely used until the Middle Ages. Although cotton and in more recent times, artificial fibres have come to dominate the market, there is still, thankfully, a place for the production and use of linen in our modern world.
An added bonus, in my book at least, is that these tea towels are sent by Royal Mail. Despite the doom and gloom surrounding this venerable institution, I like to see it supported. A parcel very quickly arrived and the tea towels were extracted from their packaging. As an aside, they were wrapped in turquoise tissue paper and as I am partial to colourful tissue paper, I awarded another bonus point.
Both were a good couple of inches bigger in either direction than some of my existing tea towels and measure 48cm by 74cm.
The weave was more open than I’d expected and the linen nice and crisp. They are of course, colour fast and machine washable. The washing instructions say it takes a few washes to get a really absorbent cloth. I haven’t washed either of them yet, but I did test one out and I was really quite impressed with how much water it absorbed and how well it dried the mugs and glasses leaving them sparkling and smear free. I’m wondering if they really can get even better.
Al has kindly agreed to give a linen tea towel away to one of my UK readers. Being as it’s spring and rather a wet one at that, I’ve chosen a nice cheery yellow. Appropriately entitled Spring Season Tree of Life, the trunk and branches have words associated with belonging and positive emotion written along them. I very nearly chose this one for myself.
To enter the giveaway, you must leave a comment at the bottom of this post answering the question below. You have until midnight of Wednesday 9th May 2012 when the giveaway closes. The winner will be randomly selected after this date. Once again, apologies to oversees visitors, but this is only open to those with a UK postal address.
What would be your ideal tea towel design or colour?
Additional entries can also be made by doing any of the following and letting me know by leaving a separate comment for each method used. BUT you must answer the question above for these to be eligible:
- Tweeting the following message “Win linen Tree of Life tea towel from @Choclette8 on Chocolate Log Blog – http://bit.ly/I700rA”
- Liking Chocolate Log Blog Page on Facebook
- Following my blog via Networked Blogs (follow button can be found on the sidebar).
- Following my blog via Google Friend Connect (follow button can be found on the sidebar).
10 May Update. This giveaway is now closed. The winner has been drawn using Random.Org as follows: no. 29 – Baking Addict