Vegetarian food blog featuring delicious and nutritious home cooked recipes, creative baking and luscious chocolate.

Award Winning Gourmet Chocolate: Iain Burnett’s Highland Chocolatier

The Highland Chocolatier

For those of you that love fine chocolate, I have the pleasure of presenting a guest post from the award winning Highland Chocolatier. Founder and director Iain Burnett is on the board of the Academy of Chocolate and so only uses ethical and fairly traded chocolate in his creations. As you’d expect from the name, the Highland Chocolatier is based in Scotland at Grandtully, Perthshire. You can visit in person of course, but for those of us who can’t quite make it, the chocolates are also available online.  I am very much looking forward to trying some of them.

(more…)

The Hidden Hut Revealed

I have great pleasure in welcoming CT to my blog for his annual guest review. Crafter of language, food pioneer, gardener, botanist extraordinaire and eater of cakes, he can now be found at From our Owen Correspondent as well as at his well established blog Radix. From our Owen Correspondent is a new blog featuring various tracts from his writing career on such varied subjects as fermented foods, travels around Australasia and garden visits.


In spring, a young man’s thoughts are said to turn to love. In autumn, I find a good stroll along the Cornish coast path serves just as well as a means of delighting the senses and stocking up on joie de vivre before the winter sets in.  So when Choclette suggested a walk along the Roseland Peninsula one sunny and calm day recently, I jumped at the opportunity.  Roseland is a pleasant, beckoning finger of land that juts out into the sea on Cornwall’s south coast between Falmouth and Mevagissey.  The coast path here has less of the patella-pummelling ups and downs which characterise some sections. I hardly know this area at all, so it seemed like a good chance to make its acquaintance.


Rather than portray this as a gentle trek for the middle aged across the beaches and along the cliffs, my vanity dictates that I dress things up in slightly more heroic garb; let’s call it another in a series of impromptu ethnobotanical walks – where I brush up on my floral identification skills and try and recall the various uses made of the plants in days gone by. I occasionally nibble on a leaf or two, but anyone who knows me will confirm that this is hardly sufficient inducement to persuade me to drag my frame on a forced route march of several miles, no matter how stunning the scenery. No, I prefer to combine some foraging with at least one stop in a well-appointed tea room or café for proper refuelling. I mean, have you actually tried raw seakale shoots? Choclette is astute enough to know, that like snakes and numerous armies, I too march on my stomach, so she mentioned that a café stop, at a place called the Hidden Hut was part of the deal; she’d heard good things about it.

We parked up at Pendower, not far from the Nare Head Hotel and duly set off. The sky was cloudless and the sea had that strange glassy quality that seems to come with calm conditions; the waves lapping on the shore made scarcely a murmur.   There were few other walkers around and we enjoyed the sensation of peace and isolation in a majestic setting. It was hard to imagine a better way to work up an appetite. 

After walking steadily for some time, we rounded a headland and before us, a few hundred yards away was Porthcurnick Beach, the home of The Hidden Hut. Indeed, we could see a squat wooden structure with a few chairs and tables placed around it just above the strand.  More alarmingly, as I was beginning to suffer pangs of hunger and my throat was distinctly dry, the shutters seemed to be closed.  We both exchanged anxious glances as we continued down the path and approached the beach. Then, with impeccable timing, as we crossed the sand, the shutters lifted and so did our spirits.


We plonked our bags on one of the large wooden tables, decorated with vases of flowers and proceeded to the counter.  Choclette opted for a reviving mug of chai and the inevitable chocolate brownie, while I went for a more prosaic Earl Grey which I followed up with a Roskilly’s ice cream – from the lovely Jersey cows not so far away on the Lizard. 


It was abundantly clear that this was no ordinary beach hut café.  Not a single all day breakfast featured on the menu. In fact, al fresco gourmet dining seemed more like it – quite a surprise given the unadventurous fare walkers often have to endure when tramping the coast path.  


The hut itself is owned by the National Trust and has apparently occupied the site since WWII.  Hidden may be pushing it somewhat – it doesn’t look as though it would have presented any difficulties for a U boat captain intent on target practice.

In its current incarnation it is run by Jemma and Simon, a local couple, with Jemma’s mum, Maggie offering logistical support on the cake front.  Their policy is a simple one: the best local food, prepared with love and care, for a reasonable price. And the punters have voted with their feet – literally – there’s no parking at the Hidden Hut, so everyone has to walk there, either from Portscatho, about half a mile away, or from nearby Rosevine Hill. And after the relative isolation of the walk, there did seem to be quite a few people gravitating towards this rather unpromising looking shack.  Simon is a trained chef and in addition to the fare served during normal hours, he also cooks up a storm in summer (when the weather doesn’t) with great paella pans for summer evening feasts. 

Jemma started to chalk up the lunch menu on the blackboards and we exchanged glances once again. The weather was lovely, the location superb and the offerings very tempting. Hang it, we thought, let’s stay for lunch now we’re here.    


Choclette opted for a delicious vegetarian option, a salad of tangerine, feta, Spanish olives, mixed leaves and toasted almonds with warm pitta bread; I went for Italian meatballs with mozzarella. Both were truly delicious and consumed with gusto. Eating outdoors is a real delight and is in fact the only option here.


Refuelled, we proceeded to march on to St Anthony Head, stopping at the fort to take in views of Falmouth and St Mawes, before returning via the inland route to Portscatho. If truth be told, I was feeling pretty weary by this time and longed for a sit down. Descending to the Hidden Hut once more, I prayed that this last homely house would be open for refreshments before we lugged ourselves over the last leg of our journey. It was indeed, so I had another pot of tea and an ice cream chaser before carting my weary bones back to the car and home.

When the weather is with you, as it was on the day we visited, I can think of no better place to work up an appetite and eat some first class food in a lovely setting. In fact, if the wind and rain hold off, we’re going back this weekend with some friends. 

I’m sure my mum told me that you shouldn’t judge a book by the cover; in future I will avoid doing the same to any hidden huts on the Cornish coast – because at least one of them is a real gem.

PS The wind and rain did hold off, we did go back with our friends yesterday and we had a celebratory birthday lunch in bright sunshine; everyone was as impressed as we had been.

Cornwall Food and Drink Festival – Guest Post

I’m very pleased to welcome CT (aka Rhizowen) of Radix to my blog for a one off chance to get his take on the Cornish foodie scene.

When Choclette suggested that I accompany her on a trip to Truro for the Cornwall Food and Drink Festival,  I jumped at the opportunity. I knew from past experience that all the free samples in themselves probably constituted a meal.  Could it be that Mrs Thatcher was wrong and that, in Cornwall at least, there is such a thing as a free lunch?

Walking down to Lemon Quay (how appropriate is that?) I could detect the first hints of Cornish mist descending. No matter, the event was located in a marquee so the weather could do its worst and we’d still remain dry. As we approached, we were greeted by this statue. The old song The Little Drummer Boy immediately came to mind; on closer inspection “little” was perhaps a misnomer for this – how shall I put it – larger than life character. As an old-timer passing by said to Choclette: “don’t look at ‘e, t’is likely your eyes’ll drop out”.

The marquee was bustling and it was a case of going with the flow as best one could and then exiting for a few moments to talk to the exhibitors. That and get stuck into the free samples.

Artisan breads were represented by Baker Tom and Vicky’s Bread, both well known locally for the quality of their baked goods.

Here’s the world’s best cheese – apparently. At least it was in 2010 and I can attest to the fact Cornish Blue still tastes pretty fine.

And this is a local speciality – Yarg, a cheese wrapped in nettles. It’s a fun idea and tastes delicious. The fun doesn’t extend quite so far if you’re the one  picking the nettles though. Like the Cornish Blue, it was originally developed on the edge of Bodmin Moor, close to where Choclette grew up. I’m not, by the way, suggesting that she grew up in a cowshed. Come to think of it though, she did!

All that bread and cheese naturally requires chutney. The ones from Crellow really hit the spot – they were excellent.  I was particularly taken by the tomato jam and the fig and lemon versions;  I spooned out perhaps a little more than I deserved onto the accompanying crackers.

 
 

This is the chocolate lady, Nicky Grant, or rather one of her classically inspired creations. But who, when all is said and done, wants to feast their eyes on a marble torso when they can devour a chocolate counterpart? That could explain the missing bits: maybe some lucky soul had already bitten off her head and limbs.

Nicky, who does actually feature in the background, similarly cropped, works with her husband and is a pukka chocolatier, producing some very fine chocolates.

 

I can attest to this fact, as we got to try some of her award winning fennel and ginger truffles. As I drooled, Choclette discussed the arcane world of dry caramel preparation, tempering and other such niceties. Each to their own.


For some strange reason, nettles featured at the festival more than once: here’s Cornish Stingers Nettle Beer. This caused quite a furore when the dead hand of EU bureaucracy threatened the producers with closure. Put it this way: when is a beer not a beer? Answer: when it’s made with nettles. And no malt. That makes it a wine.  And here’s your £10,000 tax bill. I’m not entirely sure how this stand off was resolved, but they’re still brewing this, er, alcoholic beverage.

I was also interested to see the display of sea vegetables, one of the mainstays of the oh-so-trendy forager’s diet. The sea purslane and sea spinach are quite tasty; the rock samphire is more of a flavouring or condiment than a salad.

If all that greenery seems a little worthy, biscuits too were available – Cornish fairings, clotted cream shortbreads and also saffron cake – all from Simply Cornish.  I’ll resist cliches about hot cakes and let this picture speak for itself.

Outside the marquee, the street market was in full swing. I couldn’t resist buying another local speciality – some daffodil bulbs. The fields of West Cornwall are quite a sight when they are in bloom.

I’m about as annoying and persistent as a wasp when the opportunity to sample some honey is available.  In this case it was worth it: Gwenen Apiaries heather honey was truly exquisite. I also had an interesting chat with Carole Dewhurst, who with her husband Rodger, run Gwenen.  Not only do they produce honey – Rodger is also a bee breeder, who is developing strains of bee adapted to the Cornish climate. Talking of the climate, it was now raining hard, so I decided to keep the camera under wraps, hence the lack of pictures. Apparently some of Rodger’s bees show signs of resistance to varroa infestations. They have developed the habit of biting off the mites rather than allowing them to cling on. This behaviour coincidentally makes them keener to nip the beekeeper rather than sting.  Fascinating – now if only he can get the money to carry out further research. Listen up potential benefactors!

After our second go round the marquee, we opted to escape the crowds and headed off with a considerable weight of purchased produce, to Chantek for lunch, where you can get some tasty oriental food at a very reasonable price.

Following lunch we toured the town before dropping into the award winning Charlotte’s Tea House. We had passed many times before, but never ventured in.    As the Cornish mist had by now transformed in to proper rain, we thought it an opportune moment to try it out. The tea house is located upstairs and entering it is like passing through a portal in the space-time continuum as you climb the stairs past books and household items from times gone by. At the top of the stairs you are greeted by waitresses in Nippy style uniforms who invite you to be seated – all very retro and enjoyable. The tea was very good too.  And this meringue, with a generous dollop of appellation controlee clotted cream went down very nicely. From our window seat we could see the umbrella wielding shoppers bustling across Boscawen Street – a scene not unlike Renoir’s painting Les Parapluies.

Suitably replete, we descended the stairs and headed home, after a thoroughly enjoyable visit. So although Lincolnshire won in the British Favourite Food Spot 2011 competition  and I’m too polite to say “fix”, I think Cornwall can give a fairly good account of itself in the foodie stakes.

Food Blog Theme from Nimbus
Powered by WordPress