Sunday, 31 October 2010

In Praise of a Good Sausage

Quite what Craig Revel Horwood has to do with sausages, I shall never know, but aside from being a judge on Strictly Come Dancing, he has been chosen by lovepork.co.uk to be the master of ceremonies for
British Sausage Week (1-7 November 2010).

This week is dedicated to all things sausage. Sausage, that's a word that has me collapsing into a fit of giggles if I have to say it a few times,
I suppose that's what being British is all about. The numerous references in episodes of Blackadder, make it even funnier, especially when enunciated by the magnificent Stephen Fry as Melchett.

On a more serious note, British Sausage Week's aim is to make us all aware of how British pork is the best and encourages us to support our own farmers and producers by buying quality sausages.

There are many regional sausages throughout the British Isles that use traditional recipes that go back many generations.
There's the long coiled Cumberland sausage which is meaty with a coarse, chunky texture and black pepper giving a spicy bite; The Lincolnshire sausage, an old fashioned favourite scented with sage; West Country ones with pork and apple and maybe a touch of cider and Oxford sausages that contain veal, as well as pork. These are just a few of the many varieties made and the list continues to grow as producers experiment with different flavour combinations.

I can't resist a nicely cooked sausage. They should be cooked carefully over a medium heat so they cook slowly allowing the outside to gently caramelise so it becomes slightly sticky and the inside should be juicy. Don't have the heat too high or the sausage will burst and definitely do not prick them, this will make all the tasty juices escape.

In July, earlier this year I went to the Samphire smallholding open day in Norfolk, where Karen Nethercott opens her doors to visitors, showing them how she rears her rare breed pigs. They have a wonderful natural life with space to roam outside, enjoying the fresh air and wallowing in the mud. Her English Saddleback pigs are reared slowly which gives their meat a superior flavour and contributes to some truly wonderful sausages.

On my visit I bought some of the sausages which I put in my freezer awaiting their appropriate outing. They were "The Samphire Sausage",
they have a lovely texture, not too tightly packed – which can produce an undesirable bouncy feeling – but quite light and crumbly. They are seasoned with ginger, mace and nutmeg for a warming background, against which, lighter, fresher notes of sage, onion and coriander, sit happily.

I served them with potato and parsnip mash and some caramelised shallot gravy, just perfect for celebrating British Sausage Week.

For more information on British Sausage Week visit the website: www.britishsausageweek.co.uk
If you're interested to know more about Samphire's sausages visit their website: www.samphireshop.co.uk
Photos: ©childsdesign 2010

Friday, 29 October 2010

Cheeky Spouse Special Offer: 20% off Cookery Books & Free P&P

I am pleased to offer three cookery books, hand selected by myself, from New Holland Publishers. With this special offer you can receive 20% of the normal price, plus you get free postage and packing.

To order your preferred book, simply click on the link at the end of each review to take you directly to New Holland's website, then enter the code Cheeky1 at the checkout to qualify for the discount.
With Christmas just around the corner, what better time to buy a present for a foodie or even yourself!

The Billingsgate Market Cookbook
Think of fish and you'd probably immediately think of Billingsgate in London. Billingsgate is a heady mix of history, pride, hard work, tradition and camaraderie and The Billingsgate Market Cookbook is a celebration of all that is wonderful about fish.

Setting the scene through the market's rich and varied history, the people, and day to day activities, we are transported to the early hours of the morning as the market opens its doors. Bells ring and the trading begins as the porters trundle cart loads of fish quickly across the market floor.

The informative approach really helps us to understand where our fish comes from, there are comprehensive guides to the different species and a section on sustainability, all important these days.

This book should prove to be invaluable for those wanting to learn more,
or lose their fear of dealing with fish. From sourcing, storing to choosing and buying, through to preparation, everything is covered in a clear and approachable style which will have even the novice attempting the seemingly tricky parts of fish preparation. Step by step photographs take you through various skinning, scaling, steaking and filleting techniques. Dressing a crab is also a simple process when following the directions.

With 80 or so recipes covering white fish, flat and round, shellfish such as crabs molluscs and squid, coarse fish, like salmon, oily fish, smoked fish and exotic varieties, there is a wealth of inspiration.
The photographs of the dishes will have your mouth watering as you set off for the fishmongers, even the raw fish looks delectable with its shining scales and beady bright eyes.
All the recipes allow the fish to shine as the cooking is simple and unfussy, using only flavours that complement and enhance. John Dory with Lemon Thyme and Wild Mushrooms, Grilled Mackerel with Almond and Cranberry Glaze, and Roast Scallops with Leeks and Ginger are some of the enticing recipes to choose from and if you prefer something very traditional, then there's always White Fish in Beer Batter or Fish Pie.

This is the only fish cookery book you'll ever need.

Billingsgate Market Cookbook by C.J. Jackson
is published by New Holland Publishers, price £20.00.
Enter the discount code Cheeky1 at the checkout for 20% off and free P&P.
Offer valid until 31st December 2010.

Made in Great Britain: Aiden Byrne
This is the book to own if you want to impress your dinner guests and are tempted to take your kitchen skills that little bit further.

Most people will have heard of Aiden Byrne, he has regularly appeared on the BBC's Great British Menu and he is also the youngest ever chef to win a Michelin Star at the age of 22.

This is an exciting cookbook that will take you out of the realms of home cooking and into restaurant standard food, where flavours and textures are elevated to a new level, however, the ingredients used are far from exotic as they reflect Aiden's passion for British cuisine using good British produce that's just on our doorstep.

Aiden's approach to food is creative but always pays the highest respect to the ingredients without stepping too far away from his British roots.
Each photograph showcases artfully presented dishes which display his passion and talent which is highly inspiring. Chicken Breast with Lemon, Rosemary and Figs, White Chocolate and White Truffle Risotto with
Pan-Fried Scallops, Veal Fillet with Lobster, Apple Fondant and Jabugo Ham and Warm Chestnut Cake with Chocolate Sorbet are all begging to made, no matter how complicated they may at first seem.

The recipes are interspersed with Aiden's authoritative views and advice on food and the accompanying photography shows him, sourcing ingredients from suppliers, working in the kitchen and even down on the farm and diving for his own scallops.

An ideal book for the more adventurous and competent cook.

Made in Great Britain by Aiden Byrne
is published by New Holland Publishers, price £12.99.
Enter the discount code Cheeky1 at the checkout for 20% off and free P&P.
Offer valid until 31st December 2010.

Danyel Couet's Paris
Paris is a city bursting with many cultures and therefore many cuisines and Danyel Couet, chef and restaurateur takes us on a journey to every ethnic quarter of the gastropolis. African, Arab, Jewish, Greek, Indian, and Asian recipes jostle for attention as if in the bustling city itself.
Danyel's, life-long passion for food started with simple French food in his grandmother's kitchen, this set him off on a gastronomical journey that led to him developing a love for couscous,                                                        strudel and Peking duck.

The gorgeous photography by David Loftus plants us right into the heart of a living breathing Paris, the atmosphere is almost pleasantly claustrophobic, comforting, exotic but somehow familiar and reassuring.

An array of cosmopolitan flavours are presented in over 90 recipes,
from Spice-Fried Cod with Coconut, Chilli and Lemon to Fried Eggs in
Ginger Stock, every aroma is sent to tantalise the reader. For those looking for more well known French bistro dishes there is Boeuf Bourgignon or Onion Soup.

Guaranteed to make you hungry to explore the Parisian global menu.

Paris by Danyel Couet
is published by New Holland Publishers, price £24.99.
Enter the discount code Cheeky1 at the checkout for 20% off and free P&P.
Offer valid until 31st December 2010.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Online Event to Help Sufferers of Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance is a very common condition, with around 15% of the UK affected, but still, people understand very little about their own problem.

Not being able to use normal dairy products in your diet can present many challenges, from making sure you get enough calcium to simply making a meal that the whole family can enjoy.

To increase understanding of the condition, Lactofree, the UK's only lactose free, real dairy brand, will be hosting the first online Expert's Question Time session with three of the UK's leading experts in this area. Renowned paediatrician, Dr Adam Fox, nutritionist and registered dietician, Sian Porter and Lactofree's brand manager, Samantha Glassford will be on hand to answer all your questions.
You can send your questions in advance see details below.

Event details:
• When: Tuesday 9th November, 6.30pm – 8.30pm
• The event will be broadcast live online http://www.lactofree.co.uk
• Questions can be sent before the event to lactofree@outsideline.com
• Experts will also be able to answer questions posed live

If you are lactose intolerant you should find the event an invaluable opportunity to learn more about your condition. Indeed, if you know of anyone with lactose intolerance, let them know.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Food from Many Greek Kitchens

I've been doing a spot of Greek island hopping, not in the actual sense, but from the comfort of my armchair, courtesy of Tessa Kiros. Her new book, Food from Many Greek Kitchens has had me relaxing on a sun drenched harbour side, watching the fishing boats bobbing on a pure clear turquoise sea while I enjoy the aromas of hillside herbs and summer soaked lemons.

I didn't know a huge amount about Greece, I've never even been there, but I found Tessa's writing to be enlightening, both in the culinary traditions as well as the idiosyncrasies of the Greek people.
The book revealed, that my knowledge of Greek food is fairly limited, there is so much more than Moussaka, Baklava, Dolmades, Hummus and Taramasalata and the like.

The climate, geology and terrain of Greece make it ideal for an abundance of olives, the rocky hillsides are grazed by tottering sheep and its vast Mediterranean coastline is rich in fish. This would explain the copiousness of olive oil, lamb and seafood used in the recipes.
Covering traditional dishes, as well as foods for fasting and feasting, Tessa Kiros totally encapsulates the atmosphere of the country, steeped in ancient history and folklore.
The photography further reinforces the feeling of the place providing evocative imagery.

Psari Vrasto Ladolemono
Poached Fish with Lemon Oil

Choosing not settle for what I already knew, I decided to make the Poached Fish with Lemon Oil (p.193) This is included in the soup section, but it really is more than that. Chunks of carrot, courgette, potatoes, celery and onions are cooked in water until they create a flavoursome clear broth, the fish is then poached in it towards the end. What really lifts the dish, though, is the final addition of extra virgin olive oil mixed with lemon juice. Everything was so light and fragrant.

Honey Cakes

I always fall for a sticky Mediterranean treat. I don't really have an exceptionally sweet tooth, but there's something very enticing about the fragrance of honey and spices that I cannot resist.
The very easy to make Honey Cakes (p.42) were divine. I was initially surprised at the amount of olive oil used in them but it is obviously there for a reason. The cakes are perfumed with orange zest, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg and when baked they are soaked in a warm honey syrup and then sprinkled with crushed walnuts.
For some reason, mine spread on baking, so looked slightly flatter than the photograph in the book, but this didn't affect the texture or taste.

The recipes are clear to understand, but impaired by the poor colour choice for the body text. Light turquoise on white is difficult to read at the best of times, but that said, the overall quality of the book is very good.

Food from Many Greek Kitchens by Tessa Kiros is published by Murdoch Books
Hardback RRP £25
Order yours now

Food photos: ©childsdesign 2010
Book kindly supplied by Murdoch Books

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Leon Book 2 – Naturally Fast Food

A soon as I received this book I knew I was going to like it. I already have the first Leon cookbook which I have found to be a total inspiration from start to finish.
There are a lot of cookbooks around – and I think I own most of them – so for a book to attract my attention it has to be different. Of course recipe content is all important, but I like it to be more than just a set of instructions, it needs to engage me in some way. Leafing through a cookery book, extends beyond merely looking for something to cook for tommorrow's dinner, I will often curl up on the sofa and browse its pages purely for pleasure. A cookbook is a good companion in times of solitude.

Like the first, the second Leon book has such an endearing design, almost like a family album or scrapbook, it draws one right into the authors' life, both in and out of the kitchen. Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent want us to use their book, as they say on the welcome page, "This is not a book for the coffee table. It is a book we would like to be used, made messy, torn a little and stuck together with unidentified jammy bits." Needless to say, I will be using the book but I think I'll try to avoid getting it sticky!

The book has been designed as if stuck in a time warp, actually I like its retro qualities. Many of the graphics hark back to the 70s and 80s and I love the visual references to fruit stickers and vegetable crate labels. There's even a full page picture of a framed collection of old Brook Bond tea cards further building on the nostalgic theme.
Some of the food photography, however, I have reservations about, it does look like some of those wierdly coloured plates from old edtions of Good Housekeeping, but perhaps that's the point. What I do like, though, is the humour, I just had to giggle at the picture of the soup on page 72, when I noticed, that perched on the edge of the bowl, was a tiny plastic figure of a man with his fishing rod dangling into the contents. Nice touch.

Divided into two distinct sections, the first half of the book covers Fast Food where none of the recipes take more than 20 minutes to prepare, Nothing is too involved and all the listed ingredients are obtainable from everyday shops. Breakfasts are given a fresh approach, soups are made simple and barbecuing a breeze. There are some great ideas for children's foods too.

The second half focusses on Slow Food. Again preparation is straightforward and the only lengthy part of the process is the cooking, but the methods of stewing or pot roasting allow one to get on with something else or just relax while the magic takes place automatically in the oven.

When selecting the recipes to try, the weather had turned cold, the leaves brown and there was a distinct nip of autumn in the air, this made me naturally gravitate to the Slow section, as I was in need of some cosy sustenance.

Leon Chilli Con Carne

I made the Leon Chilli Con Carne (p.219) as I was looking for something comforting, unfussy, yet full of flavour. I've made and eaten various versions of chilli con carne over time, so why not try another one?  This was so easy to make, I didn't even have to do much chopping, as the carrots, celery and onion all go into the food processor.
The whole thing just sits very gently bubbling on the stove for two hours, with a little stirring now and again to make sure it doesn't stick.
The beef and kidney beans become soft and everything melts away into a rich and spicy tomato sauce which has just the right amount of chilli kick to leave your lips tingling, but not launch your head into space.

Apple's Breathtakingly Quick Chocolate Pots

For some self-indulgence I quickly whipped together the Chocolate Pots (p.199) which were so effortless I barely noticed I'd made them! Just two hours in the fridge is enough to set them into a rich and velvety texture that renders one silent whilst eating, just the clinking of spoon against cup can be heard as every last bit is scraped up.

I really love this book, the whole approach is fun and inspirational and the recipes can be made by anyone to produce a real crowd pleaser.

Leon by Henry Dimbleby & John Vincent is publish by Conran Octopus
Hardback RRP £20
Order yours now

Food photos: ©childsdesign 2010
Book kindly supplied by Conran Octopus

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Gaia's Kitchen and The Use-It-All Cookbook

I'm going to start off by saying that vegetarian food is not boring, well at least not if you make it yourself.
It is not uncommon for me to eat at least three meat-free meals each week and that has nothing to do with principles, morals, ethics or the like, but because meat can be expensive and I don't always want it.
It is possible to have a vegetarian dish and not miss meat at all.

Gaia's Kitchen is all about wholesome natural food, after all that is what food should be about, I know I'd rather avoid unnecessary additives and suspect ingredients.
Most people immediately think of lentils when vegetarian food is mentioned, they are right of course, but lentils are not bland or insipid if they are cooked with care and a smattering of herbs and spices.

From the minds and kitchens of Schumacher College in Dartington,
Gaia's Kitchen teaches us about the importance of respecting the Earth and ourselves through our choice of food. Some might think of this as a hippy ideal, but issues concerning ecology and sustainability could not be more important in this day and age.

The intention of the recipes is to feed lots of hungry people –
the quantities for some are huge and all of the dishes include a version to allow the cook to scale up the ingredients to serve around 40 people!
Well it does state on the cover that they are for family and community.
As I was cooking just for two, I reduced the amounts accordingly, without detriment to the final result.

I made two recipes, the Spinach & Mushroom Plait (p.71) and Marilyn's Vegan Chocolate Cake (p.186). Both recipes were easy to follow and liked the diagrams to show you exactly how to create the pastry plait work.

Spinach & Mushroom Plait

The Spinach & Mushroom Plait was rich, intense and mushroomy,
the mushrooms are cooked down quite a lot which magnifies their flavour. The addition of cheddar cheese gave it an agreeable savouriness.

Marylin's Vegan Chocolate Cake

The chocolate cake was a revelation, being vegan, it can't contain any dairy products, so that meant no butter or eggs. The fat is replaced with vegetable oil, but believe it or not, it is possible to make a cake without eggs. The texture was dense but appropriate for a chocolate cake. My only comment would be that it should have more cocoa as it wasn't quite chocolatey enough for me.

This is a good book for those looking for more vegetarian options to
add to their repertoire and many of the dishes would hold up well at a dinner party.

The second book, The Use-It-All Cookbook is one I feel everyone should own. These days, so much food is wasted, either because we think it has gone off, when it really hasn't, or we don't know what to do with left-overs or the last carrot in the veg trolley.
With hints and tips on planning, storage, reheating, to the mysteries of the use-by date, the book could save you money and feed you well.
It is filled with recipes from the basics to savoury to sweet and is simple
to use when looking for something to use up like cold roast chicken or mashed potato.
Although the book encourages frugality it is far from austere in terms of cuisine. Good family cooking at its best.

Gaia's Kitchen by Julia Ponsonby is published by Green Books
The Use-It-All Cookbook by Bish Muir is published by Green Books

Order yours now

Food photos: ©childsdesign 2010

Books kindly supplied by Green Books

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The Three Sisters Indian Cookbook

Centering on the food that sisters, Sereena, Alexa and Priya craved from their childhood, the cookbook features many traditional and authentic Indian dishes.
The Kaul family left Kashmir in the 1970s and grew up in Derbyshire with their mother’s cooking being the heart of the home. When they grew up and and had families of their own, they longed to make these same recipes and this book is the result of gleaning their mother’s and grandmother’s culinary creations.

This is the sort of book I can appreciate and respect. Knowing that its recipes have come from the kitchens of real Indian families, I can be sure what I make and eat is authentic and has every bit of love and care put into its creation.
All too often recipes become altered by overly experimental, and dare I say it, competitive chefs, so that the results are unrecognisable from the original, but this is the real thing as eaten in many Indian homes.
Obviously it has the appeal for curry enthusiasts, such as myself, but it could and should have a rightful place on the bookshelf of young Indian families wanting to recreate the taste of home.

The detailed introduction gives a comprehensive guide to all the spices used throughout the book, in fact the sisters have created a spice box (masala dabba) which can be bought online from their store (www.flavoursandspices.co.uk) which has everything you need and keeps the spices fresh.
There is also a section giving advice on planning, preparation, storage and even how to make your own paneer cheese, which is so easy, you’ll never need to buy it again.

Divided into chapters covering Snacks and Starters, Chicken, Lamb, Fish and Prawns, Vegetable Dishes, Rice, Beans and Lentils, Bread and Chutneys and Desserts and Drinks, meal planning is a breeze, only the sheer choice of delicious looking dishes, makes it difficult to decide what to make. Every recipe has an accompanying photograph, which is inspiration in itself.

Dhansak, Jalfrezi, Rogan Josh, all the familiar names are there, plus there are some irresistible looking fish dishes too. I may even be tempted to try okra again – it’s not always been that popular with me, as I don’t normally like slimy textures – but the Crispy Okra Chips (p. 28) have more appeal. Other tasty bites are Tikki (p.29) and Pakora (p.22) which are straightforward to make.

Murgh Tikka (Chicken Tikka)

I decided to make Chicken Tikka (p.44), this is something I’m very familiar with in terms of the ready-made variety, but I wanted to see for myself what they really should be like. I loved the result. After the long marination process in the yogurt and spice mix, the chicken became meltingly soft and rich in flavour. Mine looked greener in colour than the book’s picture (probably something to do with the juicy fresh coriander) but the taste was just heaven, so much better than the shop bought pretenders.

Tamatar Kuchumber (Tomato Salad)

I also put together the Tomato Salad (p.37) which was really refreshing with lime juice, mint and coriander complementing the tingle of chilli.

At first glance some of the ingredients lists can look a little daunting, but the methods are easy to follow and the recipes can be made with the minimum of fuss, providing you have everything to hand before you start.

The Three Sisters Indian Cookbook has made me want to eat curry everyday and I could happily eat my way through the book from start
to finish.

The Three Sisters Indian Cookbook by Sereena, Alexa & Priya Kaul is published by Simon & Schuster.
Paperback RRP £16.99

Food photos: ©childsdesign 2010

Book kindly supplied by Simon & Schuster

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The Value of Pie

"Good apple pies 
are a considerable part
of our domestic happiness."
Jane Austen

Happiness is indeed pie-shaped, something enticing enclosed inside a crisp rich pastry shell never fails to please. My model and pie ambassador for this post is a bramley apple and blackberry pie, which I made in honour of the latest English seasonal fruits.
Of course, fruit is not the only filling for a pie, meat, fish and vegetables all make welcome inclusions for delectable dough enrobement.

A hot pie is the ultimate comfort food during winter, fresh from the oven, the contents bubbling within and when the crust is broken a sudden gush of steam delivers its appetising aromas to eager hungry diners.
A pie can be as simple or as complicated as you wish. You don't even need a recipe – just pastry and your imagination.
Never be afraid of the pie – if you make it yourself, you know exactly what's inside and never need fear anonymous lurkings beneath the lid.

Monday, 18 October 2010

I Love Curry

I’m inclined to agree with those that say curry is addictive, whether the exotic spices have a narcotic property or not, they certainly tantalise the taste buds, making me want more.

Lately, curry has had a bad rap from health enthusiasts, stating that it is high in fat, sugar and salt, takeaways and ready meals especially so.
That’s not good news for devotees of Indian food who want enjoy a good fuss-free curry but also care about what they put into their bodies.

Anjum Anand has the perfect antidote to this problem, as her approach to Indian cooking is lighter and healthier, but no less authentic or full of evocative spices. It is very refreshing to know that curries do not have to be covered in a layer of oil to be bursting with flavour.
The recipes are not complicated either. I Love Curry delivers clear well described instructions which are undemanding to follow, perfect for the novice curry lover.
The book offers plenty of choice for those looking for tried and trusted favourites, restaurant classics or authentic regional dishes. In total there are 50 great curries and 25 accompanying dishes.

Anjum gives us plenty of information about ingredients and cooking methods, she also shares her tips to help achieve the perfect result,
which made me aware of the fact that I’m still learning.

Prawn Mango and Coconut Curry

With such a variety of recipes for vegetable, poultry and game, meat and fish and seafood, I was torn between something I knew like the Chilli Chicken Balti (p.99) or something I was less familiar with. I went for the latter and chose the Prawn, Mango and Coconut Curry (p.80), which turned out very well.
According to Anjum, the curry came about after a chat with her publisher who wanted to include mangoes in the book, particularly in a savoury curry. I quite liked the idea myself and the coconut was also especially appealing.
Interestingly, the recipe doesn’t use ay garlic or onions but that’s not missed in the end result. The flavour is very aromatic, fragranced with curry leaves, brown mustard seeds, whole black peppercorns and of
course chillies.

Cucumber and Mint Raita

I decided to make the Cucumber and Mint Raita (p.171), not because I’d never had it before, but to prove that something so ridiculously simple does need a recipe. On previous non-recipe assisted attempts mine always turned out too thin in consistency. However, following Anjum’s foolproof guide it worked out fine. It is essential to squeeze the grated cucumber through a cloth to remove the excess water.

With well thought out recipes and splendid photography there’s nothing that won’t inspire curry lovers, whether they are venturing out into the world of cooking Indian cuisine for the first time or they are experienced and confident in the kitchen.

I Love Curry by Anjum Anand is published by Quadrille.
Hardback RRP £17.99
Order yours now

Food photos: ©childsdesign 2010
Review copy kindly supplied by Quadrille Publishing

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Alternative Roots

I often find roasting preferable to boiling when cooking carrots, firstly it intensifies their sweetness and secondly it gives me scope to add other enhancing ingredients.
Carrots can be partnered with a multitude of of flavourings and this time I paired them with a combination of shredded fresh ginger and crushed coriander seeds. The fragrant lemon-like zestiness works really well with the almost caramelised quality of the bright orange roots, I also like the warmth from the ginger.

Just peel the carrots and quarter them lengthways, drop them into bowl. Peel a chunk of ginger and cut into thin strips. Take about a tablespoon of whole coriander seeds and pound them in a mortar with a pestle until they become coarsely crushed. Mix the ginger and coriander into the carrots with some salt and black pepper and pour in a slug of olive oil and coat everything well.
Tip on to a preheated roasting tray and pop into the oven, turning occasionally until they become soft and take on some colour.

I like to serve them with roast meats, especially chicken. Maybe they could feature on the Christmas table with the turkey?

Thursday, 14 October 2010

This is My Chocolate: Chocri

Have you ever dreamed of creating your very own chocolate bar? One that has your favourite toppings and flavour combinations, or maybe you'd just like to experiment? I know I certainly have. I'm often thinking up intriguing mixtures of tastes, but I've yet to find something ready made.

Very recently, I was approached by Chocri to try out their unique concept in chocolate, which is a brand new innovation for us here in the UK. Originally founded in Germany in 2008, co-owners Franz and Michael followed their passion for good chocolate to start a company offering a bespoke chocolate bar making service.

The beauty of the process, is that you, the customer have the opportunity to design your very own chocolate bar online. Starting from a choice of plain, milk or white premium Belgian chocolate (which is organic and fair trade) you can choose from over 100 different toppings in any combination and then name your confection.
I was able to design two bars, and at first found the choice mind boggling, but the only difficult thing about using the website is making a decision. Orders are for a minimum of two bars and can have up to six toppings each. It would be easy to go over the top but I managed to exercise some restraint and put together two very different chocolate bars; Cheeky Spouse Craver and Cheeky Spouse Indulgence.

Cheeky Spouse Craver
This is for when you have one of those moments when you want chocolate to comfort the child inside. It is sweet and satisfying.
I opted for the half and half chocolate bar, milk chocolate on one side and white on the other. This was dotted with roasted almonds, caramel chocolate drops, raisins and peanut butter drops.

Cheeky Spouse Indulgence
For my take on something a bit more grown-up, dark chocolate was a must. I chose more elegant toppings; Bourbon vanilla, pistachios, candied rose petals and for an elegant flourish, real gold flakes.

From the moment I placed my order I was kept informed by email as to when my chocolate bars went into production which was all very exciting – I couldn't wait to find out what my chocolate looked like.
The toppings are placed with care so there is an even coverage and the chocolate is smooth with a real depth of flavour. They look very attractive in their personalised packaging.

With Christmas on its way I think Chocri would make a great present for the chocolate lover you know. If you're not sure what toppings they would like, then there are gift vouchers available.

For more information and to buy online visit the website: chocri.co.uk

As part of the National Chocolate Week celebrations, Chocri will be taking part at the Chocolate Unwrapped event in London 
16–17 October 2010. 
Why not go along to see what they're all about? 

Photos: ©childsdesign 2010

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Kitchen Garden Companion

As a keen amateur kitchen gardener, this is the sort of book that I couldn't pass by, so when I was offered the chance of a review copy, the excitement got the better of me and I fired off my response and eagerly awaited its arrival.
I think the postman's arm was aching while he was waiting for me to answer the door – it's a BIG book. Well over 700 pages bound into a spine measuring about two inches thick, with a rather attractive tactile cloth dust jacket, the book is packed with a wealth of gardening information aimed at people just like me. The advice and tips show us how it is possible to grow a multitude of edibles in a small space, an inspiration to all plot-to-plate enthusiasts.

The author, Stephanie Alexander, ran the acclaimed Stephanie's Restaurant in Melbourne, Australia and was a partner in the popular Richmond Hill Café & Larder and together with this experience is one of Australia's most highly regarded food writers. Her expertise runs throughout the book in an informative style with easy to follow gardening advice and related recipes.

Vegetable gardening is an ongoing learning process for me, I've had successes and of course failures. Some of those reluctant or pest besieged crops have even put me off growing them again, but after reading through the pages,
I suddenly felt inspired with renewed confidence, to have another go.
The front section, Getting Started, guides you through the stages of setting up the best environment to get the most from your produce patch. All the basics are there, from creating perfect compost to when to sow and plant out, bug control and there's even a list of useful gardening equipment.

There's nothing nicer than picking your own home grown fruit and veg then eating it right away and each of Stephanie's chosen crops is given a selection of recipes to enjoy your own efforts in the best possible way.
This section is compiled in A-Z format from Amaranth to Zucchini, although I think I would have preferred it to have been listed by seasonality, it just makes more sense to me.

From the simplest Smashed Broad Beans (p.160) to the sumptuous Tony Tan's Beef and Spinach Curry (p.592) all the recipes are uncomplicated in their approach, but most of all they kindle a passion to grow and cook.

I particularly like the fact that families are encouraged to motivate their children into becoming involved in both the kitchen and the garden. Stephanie's philosophy is that there is no such thing as special food for children: if food is good, everyone will enjoy it regardless of age. Following her work with inner-city primary school children, where she set up a kitchen garden to give them the opportunity to learn about food first hand, she continues her work in her book.

Despite its slightly unwieldy size, this book will become
well-thumbed and never left on the shelf as it's set to become my trusty kitchen garden partner.

Kitchen Garden Companion by Stephanie Alexander is published by Quadrille.
Hardback RRP £30.00
Order yours now

Book kindly supplied by Quadrille Publishing

Monday, 11 October 2010

National Chocolate Week 2010

Today sees the start of a week of all things meltingly gorgeous and indulgent, the perfect excuse to celebrate everything that is chocolate.
Whether you like it sweet and milky
or dark, rich and sophisticated,
National Chocolate Week is the time to abandon yourself to the pleasures of the cacao bean.

Throughout the week various events, across the country will be taking place and in particular an entire weekend (16–17 October) will be devoted to Chocolate Unwrapped at London's Vinopolis.
Experience a variety of tastings, talks and treats from some of the best chocolatiers in the country, from top names as William Curley,
Artisan Du Chocolat and Paul A. Young, to name but a few.

Images taken from the National Chocolate Week website

Sunday, 10 October 2010


This was my first cooking acquaintance with fresh quinces. I've eaten them in the form of membrillo paste which is an altogether different experience.
In their raw state quinces are very firm and quite tart – impossible to eat them as an apple or a pear that they resemble, so cooking them is the best option to allow for softening and sweetening.

They are quite tricky to prepare and you must be careful when cutting them in half, as the tough flesh resists the knife most dangerously – all too easily to slip and then, well you know...
The core is as hard as stone so I halved the quinces and set about them with one of those Parisienne/melon baller things, which had the desired effect after some brute force. If anyone thinks I'm doing it wrong or knows of a better way, please let me know.

After the battle, I finally got them into some warm poaching syrup until they became tender. The texture is like pear but the flavour is scented and reminiscent of honey.
They can be eaten in desserts, or as I did, served with meats like pork.
Photo: ©childsdesign 2010

Friday, 8 October 2010

Moomins Cookbook


When I was young I remember watching the Moomins on television, the charming animation about a family of friendly trolls, whose exciting adventures in Moomin Valley had me captivated.
This year, the Moomins are back. They have a full length movie and a cookbook. I'm sure they have always been active in their native Finland, but now at last, we can enjoy them again in the UK.

First published in Finland in 1993, the book is now available in English for the first time. Tove Jansson (now sadly deceased) and Sami Malila have got together to create over 150 different recipes that perfectly capture the favourite dishes of many of the Moomin characters and no doubt human Finns too.

"Everything fun is good for the stomach," announces the intro page, setting the scene of happy Moomins eating together and enjoying good food.
The book's subtitle is 'An Introduction to Finnish Cuisine' and that's exactly what it brings us, traditional recipes that are produced by home cooks all over Finland – I can imagine that many are Tove Jansson's nostalgic memories of what she grew up with – comfort food.

The recipes take us from breakfast through to lunch and on to dinner with a picnic outing and garden party thrown in for good measure. Fish from the rivers and lakes, heartwarming vegetable soups, wholesome meat dishes, rib sticking savoury bakes and a myriad of puddings and cakes using forest berries and spices to keep us cosy in winter.
The book is illustrated with Tove's enchanting black and white line drawings of Moomin Valley scenes, also appropriate text extracts from the Moomin stories further embellish the recipes.

As well as the well-loved-by-Moomins pancakes (p.113), there are many recipes I'd love to try, Fish Solyanka, (p. 36) a substantial soup with an ingredients list that sounds interesting to say the least, Moominmama's Backpack Pie, (p.88) a mixture of boiled eggs, rice and salmon cooked in butter pastry sounded appetising.

Mouth-Watering Onion Pie

However, I settled on two recipes to test. The first being the Mouth-Watering Onion Pie (p. 43). This was easy to make, even the unusual pastry which contains grated carrots. The filling was delicious, the onions sweet and melting held in a cheesy, creamy quiche-like savoury custard.
As with most of the recipes, my main criticism would be that they don't tell you what size dish/tin to use or how many they serve, so I had to use my own judgement. That said, I couldn't fault the results.

Lingonberry and Cardamom Cake

I couldn't resist doing some baking, so chose to make the Lingonberry and Cardamom Cake (p.91). Not having any fresh lingonberries or even cranberries to hand, to make the purée, I used some lingonberry jam and reduced the amount of sugar, which worked fine.
The cake is generously flavoured with spices, as well as cardamom, there is ginger, cinnamon and cloves, which resulted in a cake not too dissimilar to ginger cake or Parkin, but far more complex. It tastes better and better as the days go by.

This a great cookbook for those who adore Moomins and want to learn about Finnish cuisine – a definite collector's item.

Moomins Cookbook by Tove Jansson and Sami Malila is published by SelfMadeHero
Hardback RRP £12.99
Order yours now

Food photos: ©childsdesign 2010
Book kindly supplied by SelfMadeHero
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