Saturday, March 31, 2007

EASTER EGGSTRAVAGANZER





I’ve been very lucky recently and I have received three wonderful Easter Eggs to review. The eggs, and the lucky tasters, had been waiting patiently for some time to get to work on this project. I decided the best thing was to host an Easter Egg Tasting Event at home. We would like to thank the manufacturers of the Easter Eggs for allowing us to carry out this difficult task!!
I did some research on chocolate and we all had a checklist. Not wishing to eat one Easter Egg after another, this tasting took place over two days.
All of the Easter Eggs are quite beautiful in their own unique way and have been reviewed on their merits.


Hotel Chocolat



Hotel Chocolat Exuberantly Fruity Egg was gratefully received. The packaging was so well thought out that you just knew the egg was safe, which was a relief, especially as I had received such an amazing egg to review.
The gift packaging was quite plain, but the attached label with a photograph, told quite another story about the contents within.
The egg came silver foil wrapped in two parts and we all waited in anticipation for the opening ceremony. Then gasps of wow!! The aroma!! The colours!! Oh my goodness!! The list goes on and on.




We all had the tasting list, but it just had to go, we were all hopelessly seduced by the excitement of the egg!!
One of the first things you notice is the thickness of the 40% milk chocolate shell. The fruit filled shell is crisp when you break into it with small pieces of raspberry. Within the egg are raspberry and peach, apricot, blackcurrant, strawberry, redcurrant and mango truffles, these are inside crisp chocolate shells that have been rolled in real fruit powder. These eggs stimulate the senses - sight, taste, smell, different textures, even the sound of the chocolate snapping.
We all thought this was an Easter Egg for lovers to share, or, if you have just been chucked by your boyfriend, you will feel much better after devouring one of these.
If you don’t live within easy reach of a Hotel Chocolat shop, the postage costs are very reasonable.




Hotel Chocolat has everything right with this egg, from the packaging to the eating experience and well done to them.





Green & Black’s



I received Green & Black’s Organic Dark 70% Chocolate Egg with Smooth Praline Mini Eggs.
The packaging for posting and the gift box is constructed from 100% recycled board. The gift box was well packed in bubble wrap.

The dark brown gift box depicts Springs fresh growth of wild flowers with a scattering of birds, dragonflies, bumblebees and a rabbit, all in different shades of brown and gold.
The egg had a bittersweet flavour and melts beautifully in the mouth with a smooth texture. A long lingering aftertaste is experienced with this chocolate. The chocolate also has a very clean snap.





The small eggs were filled with smooth praline, and the dark chocolate and praline were perfect partners.
This Easter Egg will be appreciated by dark chocolate lovers who know how to make chocolate last a few days. Certainly not to be eaten all in one sitting!!
Green & Black’s Easter Eggs have two entries in the Top Ten Best Selling Easter Eggs list this weekend, which has been compiled by Tesco's, and I really think this says it all.


Bettys by Post



Bettys sent me their Milk Chocolate Foiled Egg to review and this was also packaged superbly and received safely.
The egg was enclosed in pleated gold foil and stood on a small gold coloured stand, this was then wrapped in clear cellophane and tied with a small Betty’s ribbon. The egg is made using Swiss chocolate with 38% cocoa solids. The egg was in one piece and the inside was hollow.

The chocolate was smooth in both texture and flavour and was quite mild.
Although on our notes it said to do the snap test on a bar of chocolate, we still proceeded, and the chocolate had a good snap.
If you like to eat an egg greedily at one sitting, then it is very easy to do so with this particular chocolate.
We felt Aunts and Grandmothers would appreciate this egg, and particularly if they had been to Bettys Teashops and experienced the ambience surrounding this very British experience.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

VANILLA SCENTED
HOT CROSS BUN PUDDING


Johanna over at thepassionatecook is running the challenge Waiter, there's something in my ... Easter Basket!

Hot cross buns! Hot cross buns!
One a penny two a penny - Hot cross buns.
If you have no daughters, give them to your sons.
One a penny two a penny - Hot cross buns.


I am sure we all learnt the above as school children, but I don't think Hot cross buns were ever made into a pudding or at least I don't have any knowledge of this.

Making sure the custard is not cooked too much is important here, I like my custard to have a wobble! The custard layer was very deep, and for all egg custard lovers this pudding will be a delight.

This is quite a substantial pudding, one for the boys maybe? On looks this would be far more attractive if it had been made with mini Hot cross buns and then a smaller portion or second helpings could be enjoyed by all.

A couple more Hot cross bun recipes I have seen recently are - James Martin's new cookery book Desserts and also in the April issue of Delicious Magazine.

Note: The original recipe came from Bart's Spices Website and unfortunately they have removed the recipe from their site. I didn't make a copy of the recipe but I believe it is a rich custard mixed with vanilla and cooked in the usual way.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Hotel Chocolat


Hotel Chocolat are running an Online Easter Egg Hunt competition to win one of 20 luxury hampers http://www.hotelchocolat.co.uk/Easter-Egg-Box-P460006/
The competition is open to everyone (UK and abroad) and closes 2nd April 2007. To enter http://www.hotelchocolat.co.uk/chocolate-easter-egg-hunt-Aegg_1/
Why not have a go, you may be one of the lucky winners. You will then be able to sit back, watch a film, and indulge!!!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

LANCASHIRE HOT POT


There are numerous recipes for Lancashire hot pot and the only thing they have in common are the main ingredients of lamb, onions and potatoes. In some recipes kidneys, black pudding and even oysters are used.
In the photograph you can see I have used lamb chops and this is the way I prefer to eat mine.
Brian Turner in his book Favourite British Recipes uses lamb chump chops and Mark Hix in his book British uses lamb neck fillet.
I haven't called this dish Traditional Lancashire Hot Pot for the very reason I do not come from that part of the world and even in Lancashire I am sure everyone has their own particular way of making this wonderful dish.
This recipe is very simple and requires good quality ingredients. I use lamb from my local Q Guild butcher, organic carrots and herbs from my garden. For the stock I buy a Beef concentrated bouillon.


LE CORDON BLEU - HOME COLLECTION CASSEROLES

ISBN 1853917303 - PAGE 35

SERVES: 4 people

Skill Level: Easy

Taste Test: The lamb is meltingly tender and the stock is very flavoursome.

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C(350°F/Gas 4). Melt 20g butter in a frying pan and over a high heat, quickly fry 1kg middle neck of lamb chops until lightly browned. Remove from the pan.

2. Slice 900g peeled potatoes into 2mm thick discs and cover the base of a casserole dish with about a third of the slices, season lightly. Place the lamb on the potato, scatter with 2 large onions which have been finely sliced, 2 carrots sliced into 2mm thick discs, ½ teaspoon of fresh thyme and a bay leaf, season lightly with salt and pepper. Put the remaining potato slices on top. Pour 500ml of brown stock to come up to just under the top layer of potato, by pouring the stock down one side of the dish, so that the top layer doesn't get wet. Brush with 60g melted butter and season. Place a few sprigs of thyme on top. Cover and cook for 1½ hours.

3. Remove the lid, then add more stock if required. Return to the oven for about 45 minutes, uncovered, until the potato top is browned. Serve hot with a green vegetable.

Kitchen Equipment Used: Le Creuset Casserole Dish

Cake Flavourings


I love baking and have accumulated several essences and extracts that I just couldn't live without.
My favourite and most used is vanilla extract, this transforms a plain sponge just by adding a teaspoonful to a basic cake mixture.
Vanilla paste purchased from www.vanillaworks.co.uk is a gourmet grade made with real vanilla seeds. This is perfect to use in custard, icecream etc.
How about using almond extract in a simple sponge fruit cake topped with toasted flaked almonds.
Lemon extract is wonderful, it helps lift lemon cake by giving an extra hit of lemon, or use it sparingly in lemon icing.
Orange flower water is wonderful in a syllabub, cream or just simply add to cake mixture.
One of my new discoveries is coconut essence, which can be purchased from www.jane-asher.co.uk and was first introduced to me through reading Nigella Lawson's cookery books. In How to be a Domestic Goddess it is used in coconut macaroons and there are a couple of recipes in Feast where she also uses this. This essence is also wonderful in any baking where you use coconut.
It is important to buy good quality extracts and to use them sparingly.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

MINI GINGERBREADS


The photograph in the book from the people at Delicious Magazine looked so pretty I just had to make these. I am always looking for opportunities to use my small loaf tins, and this recipe didn't disappoint.

5 OF THE BEST BY VALLI LITTLE



ISBN 9781844004454 - PAGE 247

Makes: 6 - 10 mini loaves.

Skill Level: Easy

Taste Test: The sponge was soft textured and the lemon in the icing along with the ginger, complimented each other perfectly.

The recipe says this will make 6 small loaves but I found it made 10 and my loaf tins were the same size as specified in the recipe.

I found it best to leave these cakes until the next day to eat, they will then become sticky and the sponge becomes moist. If you eat them straight away they are a little dry.

The amount of icing specified coated the 10 little loaves.

Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3. Grease and line the base of the 185ml mini loaf tins.

1.Take 200g unsalted butter, 160g dark brown sugar, 60ml golden syrup and melt them over a low heat. Cool for 10 minutes.

2.Whisk 2 eggs and 165ml milk in a bowl to combine, then stir into the cooled sugar mixture.

3.Put 300g sifted self-raising flour, 2 tsp ground ginger and a pinch of salt in a separate large bowl. Beat in the egg mixture and 1 tablespoon of chopped crystallized ginger.

4.Divide among the loaf tins, place them on a baking sheet, bake for 35-40 minutes or until cooked. Cool slightly in the pans, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

For the icing, stir 150g sifted icing sugar and 2 teaspoons of lemon juice until smooth, adding a little more juice or water if needed. Drizzle the icing over the cakes. Decorate with the 3 tablespoons of chopped ginger.

Store in an airtight container. Can be served warm by heating in a microwave for a few seconds.

Kitchen Equipment Used: Mini loaf tins.

The Cafetiere Dilemma


I own a couple of cafetieres - a large one to use for after dinner and a one cup cafetiere.
The large cafetiere is called a 'Smart Cafe' and was designed by Sebastian Conran. The only difference between this and the usual cafetiere is you fill a 'capture pod' with ground coffee and then you place this inside the cafetiere. After you have finished your coffee you then withdraw the plunger, unclip the pod and tap out the used grounds, straight into a bin. Unfortunately, this is quite a messy task.
I am not sure why, but I have to say this cafetiere does make a really good cup of coffee.
The small cafetiere works in the usual way, where you put the ground coffee straight into the inner jug and obviously, have to pour the used coffee into the sink and rinse away.
I think we are still waiting for the 'no mess' cafetiere to be invented!

Friday, March 02, 2007

COQ AU VIN



This recipe is by the wonderful Anne Willan, who runs her own cookery school in France and is also a prolific cookery writer. Her recipes are fabulous, it is worth looking out for her books and trying out some of her recipes.
Obviously, there are a lot of Coq au Vin recipes around and so we are spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing which one to cook. The chicken is marinated from 1-3 days and this in its own right makes this recipe a winner.


COMFORT FOOD - BBC GOOD FOOD

ISBN 0563488492 - PAGE 85

Serves: 4-6 people (can easily be scaled down)

Skill Level: Moderate

Taste Test: The chicken was succulent and the sauce was quite rich in flavour.

A must for this recipe is to use a decent bottle of red wine otherwise all of your hard work will just go to waste because the end result will be very disappointing.
I wouldn't season this dish with salt because there is enough in the bacon, otherwise it will be unbearable to eat.
I only marinated the chicken for one day because I didn't think about making it very far in advance. Next time I will try to be more organized and go for the three days marinading.
I cooked Delia's Coq au Vin last time, with good results, but I think this particular recipe is my favourite so far.

1 roasting chicken, 2.25kg/5lb, cut into 8 pieces, 1 tbsp vegetable oil, 175g/6oz chopped rindless smoked bacon or lardons, 500ml/16fl oz chicken stock (plus more if needed), pepper, 2 shallots-chopped, 2 garlic cloves-chopped, bouquet garni (tied sprigs of bay leaves, thyme and parsley), 25g/1oz butter, 20 baby onions or small shallots-peeled, 250g/9oz button mushrooms-quartered, 1 tbsp chopped parsley.

Marinade: 1 onion-sliced, 1 carrot-sliced, 2 celery stalks-sliced, 1 garlic clove-peeled, 1 tsp black peppercorns, 75cl bottle of red wine, 2 tbsp olive oil.

Beurre Manie: 25g/1oz softened butter, 25g/1oz plain flour.

At least the day before make the marinade by combining all the ingredients, except for the olive oil, in a saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Let it cool completely.
Put the chicken in a deep non-metallic bowl, add the marinade and spoon the olive oil on top to keep the chicken moist. Cover and chill for 1-3 days, turning the pieces from time to time.
Remove the chicken pieces from the marinade and pat dry with kitchen paper. Strain the marinade, reserving the vegetables separately.
Heat the vegetable oil in a flameproof casserole and fry the bacon until browned and the fat runs. Scoop out the bacon, leaving the fat. Add the chicken in batches, skin down. Brown well over a medium heat for at least 10 minutes. Turn, brown the other side and remove from the pan.
Add the reserved marinade vegetables to the casserole. Fry until starting to brown, 5-7 minutes. Pour in the marinade liquid, bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the stock, season (no salt) and then add the chopped shallots, garlic and bouquet garni. Add the chicken, pushing it into the sauce. Cover and simmer until the pieces feel tender when pierced with a fork, 45-60 minutes.
While that cooks, melt the 25g/1oz butter in a pan and add the baby onions. Brown for 5-7 minutes, shaking every so often. Remove and set aside. Add the mushrooms and fry until tender, 3-5 minutes. Set aside with the bacon.
To make the beurre manie, mash together the butter and flour with a fork.
When the chicken is cooked, strain the sauce and discard the vegetables. Wipe out the casserole, add the sauce and bring to a simmer. Add the beurre manie a little at a time, whisking thoroughly between each addition to prevent lumps. Add the onions and simmer for 5-8 minutes, until almost tender. Add the bacon and mushrooms, and simmer for 3-5 minutes.
Replace the chicken and gently heat for 5 minutes. Adjust the seasoning. Transfer to a serving dish or serve in the casserole, sprinkled with parsley.
Serve with mashed potatoes or noodles and a green vegetable.

Because I want to serve two people, I make the recipe as above, halve it and put the rest in the freezer for a rainy day!!

This recipe is fabulous and would be great for a dinner party or Sunday Dinner, as a change from your usual roast. I have made this for friends, much to their delight and they said the same again please!!!

It does take a while to make but is worth every last minute.

Kitchen Equipment Used: Meyer stainless steel casserole dish.

Well Oiled!?


The photograph shows a selection of oils I use on a regular basis. I'm not an expert on oils, so I buy the ones I've found to be fit for purpose.
Balsamic vinegar isn't something I use very often, I got fed up with balsamic vinegar being added to all sorts of food, often unnecessarily. I've tried it on strawberries, made strawberry icecream with balsamic vinegar and I'm still not totally convinced. However, I do love to dip good bread into extra virgin olive oil and then into thick balsamic vinegar. Heaven!!
I use sundried tomato oil when I am making a Parmesan and sundried tomato loaf, extra virgin olive oil also for breadmaking and salad dressings. A mild olive oil is used for frying and roasting, and vegetable oil for deep frying and high temperature cooking.
Sometimes, I think I love the oil bottles more than the oils inside of them - but thats girls for you!
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