Monday, Monday

Bah-da bah-da-da-da Bah-da bah-da-da-da Bah-da bah-da-da-da

Monday, Monday, can't trust that day Monday, Monday, sometimes it just turns out that way Oh Monday mornin' you gave me no warnin' of what was to be Oh Monday, Monday, how could you leave and not take me

Every other day, every other day Every other day of the week is fine, yeah But whenever Monday comes, but whenever Monday comes A-you can find me cryin' all of the time

We hold this truth to be self-evident: Monday is the most rotten day of the week. Maybe you are an optimist, or perhaps you do a job that you love, but I’d still challenge if you said you’ve never had a bad Monday. If you have had a primary education, if you ever had a job solely for the funds it provided, if you’ve ever taken a week of holidays only to return on a Monday – then you know the feeling I am talking about.

A week ago I awoke to find myself firmly entrenched into one of those Mondays. Mondays of packed public transport, empty bottles of milk, spilt tea and butter-side down burnt toast. The Monday I was facing wasn’t even particularly bad looking on paper. There was an event at work that took me away from my desk and emails, it even had a free lunch thrown in. But when one of those Monday’s finds you there is almost nothing that will bring you round, except sleep and Tuesday.

The only balm that will soothe on such a day is comfort food. I don’t mean junk, at least not for myself, I mean food that fills, food that makes you feel happy, that hugs you and says it’s OK and it will be Tuesday soon.

It may be a good mac’n’cheese, or a toastie with all the trimmings, perhaps it’s a bowl of pasta or meatballs to your Nonna’s recipe, or miso, or nice big creamy curry. Mine would probably be any of those things but the memory of being greeted by my Mum’s fresh banana bread after school is especially comforting. I made this bread on Monday and as the smells of baking banana wafted through the flat I felt better instantly.

The sad fact is that Queensland, as with the rest of Australia, is going though it’s second banana drought in five years with the reported price of banana being up to AU$18.99 per kilo! Friends have tales of banana starved cravings of going out to the shops in rabid delight to buy and savour one single banana at the price of AU$2.99. But they just HAD to have it.

Luckily I’m not a huge fan of the yellow devil but if I didn’t have access to the beloved banana I would miss Mum’s banana bread.

Banana Bread (a la Mum)

1/2 cup butter

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

2 cups S.R.flour

3/4 teasp. bicarb.

4 or 5 mashed bananas -*"mature " ones are fine.

 

Mix or blend thoroughly.

Put in a loaf tin.

Bake in a mod. oven - 150 deg. C - for an hour.

Slice when cold and spread with butter if preferred.

 

Lucky you to have cheap bananas!

Love from

Mum

*NB: “Mature” means black – almost to the point where you can pour them out of their no-longer-yellow skins.

Eat more clafoutis!

B and I have been taking art classes with a lovely and very talented gentleman since early spring. It's been a fantastic treat to spend such a good amount of time one-on-two with a tutor with such experience. I haven't taken art classes since high school but I enjoyed them then as much as I do now.

The British summer seems well suited for prolonged periods of concentration and creativity. Nothing gets too hot or too cold and in summers like the current one, there is little rain.

The other wonderful thing about our art classes is that they take place in a family home, full of art and memories and the most intriguing trinkets. We sit, we talk, we learn and on most occasions most we have a leisurely lunch of salads and antipasti, bread and hummus or some such dip. It's time out.

I always like to contribute something to the repast and cakes or pudding of some sort seem to go down very well. As it's summer and you can get bowls of ready-ripe fruit for a quid most street corner stalls I could help but grab a bowl of deep red, juicy cherries from Berwick Street in Soho. And all this talk of Petersham Nurseries had me poking around in Skye Gyngell's second book My Favourite Ingredients for a cherrie clafoutis recipe I had spied.

OK, so I struggle to pronounce the thing correctly but it's still delicious and can be made with the summer fruit of your choosing. I guess it's kind of a big fruit pancake.

60g/21/2oz unsalted butter 500g/16oz of sweet cherries 100g/31/2oz caster sugar 1tsp of kirsch The grated zest of 1 lemon 2 medium eggs, separated 3tbsp plain flour 1tsp vanilla extract 120ml/4fl oz double cream 1tbsp ground almonds A little icing sugar for dusting

Heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4. Grease and flour a 23cm (9in) baking dish. Melt the butter in a pan over a gentle heat and, when the butter is foaming (but not coloured), add the first 100g (31/2oz) of sugar, lemon zest and kirsch. Cook over a low heat for 5 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. When finished, the cherries should be tender when prodded with a fork.

Beat the egg yolks and sugar together (ideally in an electric mixer) until light and airy. Fold in the flour and vanilla extract and the ground almonds. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form soft peaks. Fold the whites gently into the batter until just blended.

Pour the cherries into the tin. Pour over the batter and bake in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes or until the batter is puffed and browned. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.

To serve, dust with icing sugar and put on a plate with a thick dollop of unpasteurised cream.

 

 

 

 

Summer at The Petersham Nurseries Cafe

I recently had the great pleasure of dining at Heston Blumenthal’s super-hyped London restaurant Dinner and while I enjoyed the experience it had me wracking my brain for my top 10. Needless to say I didn’t get very far into the list before coming to Skye Gyngell’s fabulous Petersham Nurseries Cafe.

I was lucky, or generous, enough to accompany my significant other to lunch at the Nurseries last year for a birthday treat. And what a treat it was.

The Petersham, who were awarded a Michelin star in the most recent guide, are only open for a three hour window Tuesday to Sunday in the summer months, so when they say ‘bookings essential’ they mean it. Booking are also essentially a month in advance and you’ve got to be quick! I imagine even quicker these days.

Although booking can be a palaver I can only reassure you that it’s well worth it. Our lazy summer lunch was a hazy dream of intriguingly and intelligently matched flavours and textures and a complete delight. Looking back over the photos (yes, I was one of ‘those’ people with a giant camera snapping away) it brings it all back.

Perhaps some (my father included) might describe a bare-floored nursery an unorthodox place for a Michelin starred eatery and certainly compared to the expensive and expansive fit out of Dinnerbyheston it’s a far cry. It doesn’t have floor to ceiling glass or a multi-thousand pound 16th century remodel of a pulley system to roast pineapples. In fact, Gyngell commented in an interview with BBC Woman’s Hour that her kitchen wasn’t even connected to the gas or sewage mains. It’s a completely different kettle of fish but for me it’s an utter inspiration.

Gyngell’s cooking is also a revelation. And this is no exaggeration, having cooked from two of her three cookbooks, and although there is a lot of effort involved the flavours never fail. On that sunny day in May 2010 we gobbled our way through three courses containing a rainbow of flavours; from soft and creamy ricotta di bufala, tomato and sweet salty basil oil, a peppery kick of good chorizo combined with young squid caramelised from the grill, a tender and developed blend of flavours from slow cooking lamb with red peppers, paprika and black olives.

Gyngell’s cooking dialogue makes good use of roasted spices, vert juice, herb oils and other complex arrangements but rather than add a pretention to the meals they leave you with a depth of flavour you really can appreciate.

Dishes on the current menu that have me salivating include: Crab Cakes with Rocket, Lemon Mayonnaise & Chilli Oil, Whole Dover Sole with Jersey Royals, Asparagus, Tardivo & Fontodi Olive Oil, Pannacotta with Alphonso Mango Granita.

Part of the beauty of the Petersham is the friendly egalitarian feel to the experience - but don’t get me wrong, you will still walk away spending £100+ on lunch for two. If you can’t quite squeeze to that the good news is the Nurseries have a lovely tea house with light bites, a good range of teas from the pot and rather good coffee. It really is a lovely adventure to walk over Petersham meadows down the lane and into the cultivated oasis of the nurseries.

Gyngell, hailing from Sydney originally, was awarded Australian Woman of the Year in 2011, an accolade well-earned, but it seems, humbly accepted.

Cookbook review: Fiona Cairns - Bake and Decorate

Honestly, is there anything nicer than biting into a slice of fresh cake that has been lovingly baked especially you? For those who bake, the act of making said cake is equally satisfying. There really is such joy in having something prepared for you and sharing it amongst friends. Many of us hold special childhood memories of parents, grandparents or even special friends making us our ideal birthday cake. I guess the ultimate example of this is the wedding cake and it's lovely to know that in times of rationing, world wars etc, communities and families would club together to make the best cake they could to celebrate a special occasion.

As royal wedding fever hits the UK it feels as though the whole country, and perhaps beyond, is clubbing together to bake a celebratory cake for Prince William and his Catherine. I'm sure even those royal wedding humbugs would accept a slice of homemade sponge.

I cannot pretend to be a 'baker', but I do very much enjoy the act of baking and the look on a friend's face when you deliver their perfect cake. Indeed I have already baked two wedding cakes this year including, unbelievably, my own! And yet, until two weeks ago my little kitchen library did not feature a single cookbook devoted exclusively to baking. Somehow I had consigned this genre to the same desolate wasteland that 'scrapbooking' occupies (I'm sure some of you love scrapbooking but I can't think of anything more useless - sorry). How wrong was I?

Since exploring the world of Fiona royal-wedding-cake-baker Cairns' Bake & Decorate I can already see that this tome will occupy a well thumbed place in my library. Fiona, obviously a baker of high regard, also produces cakes for UK supermarket institution Waitrose, and design and style icons the Conran Shop, Harrods, Selfridges, and Fortum and Mason. She's a baker to the stars and Bake & Decorate is her first book.

As the name suggests Bake & Decorate is a book of two halves. The first, Bake, gives the home cook a stock of great cakes - from a basic sponge to a decadent chocolate beetroot cake - from which can be crafted beautiful celebration cakes from the Decorate section of the book. Baking is a creative process and the book encourages you to decide for yourself what you want the end product to look and taste like. 

She begins, though, by introducing the reader to the glories of dipping a finger in the mixing bowl, the language of baking: butter cream, piping bags, scales, the importance of the correct cake tin etc.

The book does well to demystify the world of home baking and the bright pictures always serve to inspire. Don't be daunted by the long lists of ingredients in some of the recipes; once you have the staples (flour, baking powder, icing sugar) you'll be able to grab a few choice ingredients when you finally choose which cake to try.  

Perhaps, cakes such as summer berry and rose-scented meringue or strawberry, mint and balsamic cheesecake. Or why not try one of the many fun seasonal cakes and biscuits, and of course the now ubiquitous cupcake? Perhaps chilli chocolate is your thing? The variety of recipes in the book also demonstrate how baking can make great personalised gifts for any occasion - cakes crafted into tiny fancy hats anyone?

 Finally, yes, the book does venture into the logistics of 'big' tiered cakes, sugar paste flowers and royal icing. And, yes, it does contain a recipe for fruit cake by which you can recreate your own version of Fiona's royal wedding cake. Personally I'll be attempting the fresh petal confetti cake, a riot of colourful fresh petals from lavender, cornflower, rose, marigold, pansy, sunflower, daisy and primula - now that's a cake!

#orangewatch

*London Underground has, to date, not recovered the body of said orange of #orangewatch and I will continue to monitor it's slow decay. It's daily ripening continually reminding me to secure my fruity snacks properly.

CrumbsAnne Giacomantonio
Cookbook review: José Pizzaro - Seasonal Spanish Food

For me some cookbooks get mentally archived and re-introduced as and when the season dictates. Although José Pizzaro’s heartfelt tomb had arrived on my doorstep a year ago I had archived it mainly due to the Spanish penchant for Jamón and my partner’s penchant for vegetarianism. But this Spring the rust red cover of the book called me and I delved into its pages filled with warm Iberian sunshine and tasty food.

Seasonal Spanish Food moves through a year of seasons beginning with a good introduction to particularly iconic ingredients and techniques, such as olive oil, chorizo, and the making of the perfect tortilla (frittata/Spanish omelette), peppered throughout. We are all, or think we are, familiar with Spanish cuisine so it’s nice to have the traditions and intricacies explained in more detail. It gives more meaning to the dishes and really helps you comprehend the reality of eating through the seasons. A detail we are so sorely divorced from in our day-to-day culinary habits.

As it is almost Easter and lamb is jumping round the fields - and with any luck swiftly onto my plate - I was particularly interested in Jose’s roast and bbq’d lamb recipes. I had grand ideas about bbqing a leg of lamb but, as expected the 12/24 marinating time proved too much for my little head to plan in advance and I trialled the slow roast (with only 2 hours marinating). After about four hours of roasting and constant loving care the meat was soft and juicy and easily pulled from the bone, it was also incredibly scrummy. I accompanied the lamb with a first attempt at tortilla. I have always known the recipe was incredibly simple but it’s the technique and, crucially, the leaving overnight that improves this dish. My first attempt was OK but the following week’s second attempt was much more of a success. I honestly think this is a dish well worth mastering as it’s so versatile and portable once cooked. I’m having visions of picnics, friends’ bbq’s and having it as a stand-by fridge snack or emergency lunch with a little salad. I promise I will work on it Mr Pizzaro.  José says in his book that Brindisa, Borough Market’s popular tapas bar, uses 15 kilos of potato’s a day making tortillas!

The following week I attempt chicken pepitoria in the entirely wrong season, according to the book. José says the dish is a popular Christmas or celebration dish and as this is a celebratory thank-you meal for a very good and talented friend I reasoned that it’s appropriate. It’s also really simple and very, very, richly tasty. I use joints of chicken as instructed and it reminds me of the huge pieces of chicken my Nonna would always dish up at family celebrations. A long languid lunch means the bones are picked clean by the end of the meal. The added bonus with this recipe is the gravy – it’s fantastic and we mop it up with piping hot flat breads fresh from the bbq.

Over both meals I trial a selection of salads: orange salad, green bean salad with anchovies and courgette salad. All are well balanced and make great substantial sides for hungry vegetarians.

I also attempt crème Catalan to the delight of the lunch guests. The recipe is a resounding success with the guest-of-honour more than happy to go back for seconds of the citrusy chilled custard and fig combination. Even if I don’t own a blow torch to create the perfect sugary crust.

José also goes through the details for Spanish classics such as paella and gazpacho. I have a go at the latter and although it’s reasonable it really is worth investing or begging/borrowing/stealing some well grown tomatoes because the insipid, pale, watery supermarket variety just don’t cut it. I once read in Greg Wallace’s veg cookbook that leaving the nasty supermarket variety in the sun for a bit improves them considerably – I am dubious but I guess it’s worth a try.

I guess one of the key lessons learned from José’s book is the importance of quality ingredients. Whether it be good cheeses, meats or vegetables – if you source the good stuff you’re half way there. Although those of us inner city dwellers have  great access to traditional Spanish ingredients from specialist retailers we perhaps have to try a little harder to find fresh seasonal ingredients that might be easier to source out in ‘the countryside.’

Overall the book is a great inspiration, and there are many more recipes I am longing to try in the near future. I am also reliably told that if I don’t fancy trying them out in my own kitchen the man himself is opening his first solo venture/s in Bermondsey, London mid-May. Initially there is a tapas and sherry bar called José followed by a restaurant call ‘Pizzaro’ and although José appears to be splitting himself in two I’m sure his punters will be chuffed to be able to sample the tasty morsels  from Mr Pizzaro’s kitchen.

 

A foray in the fields

You know how it happens. It’s one of those ideas you’ve always thought about looking into or having a proper go at but it never quite eventuates. That is until a stroke of fate or twitter and you find yourself nibbling freshly picked wild greens on a hillside two hours out of London and close to the Bristol channel.

That is exactly where I found myself this past Sunday with a few fellow foodies: @sabrinaghayour + her dear Mum (well it was Mother’s Day after all),  @nicmonks@donalde and @stewed. In a way it felt quite dream-like but this was probably in part due to the 6am start and two hour drive – very capably executed by heavily-caffeinated @donalde.

We had all gathered at a ridiculously early hour – OK, 10am’s not that bad – to glean some knowledge from our host @sarty1, Mr Wild Food Larder, about foraging for the wild foods of the British Isles; where to find, what to gather, what to taste (and what not to). I’ve done a little gathering in my time, mainly from the Thames riverbank near my house for sorrel, a little wild garlic, elder flowers and enough berries for a nice little 2010 vintage batch of jam, but I’ve always wanted to be a little more certain of what I am collecting. Foraging can be a bit of a mug’s game after all and one wrong mushroom or leafy green and you could be in real trouble.

@sarty1 is a fountain of knowledge and his wild food forays, including a very promising sounding mushroom foray in autumn, are very popular. Ours, being the inaugural event for the season, was mainly in search of luscious greens and came with the promise of as much wild garlic as we could carry. Which of course I took to the extreme bringing my lovely large French market basket.

Fortunately @sarty1 is also a dab hand at a spot of charcuterie.  So, greeted with a fresh cup of freshly plunged coffee and a home-cured bacon roll we embraced the damp Sunday morning adventure.

‘Wild food’ has had a resurgence of popularity over the past year or so with the celebrated cooking style of ‘the best restaurant in the world’ where delicate foraged herbs, greens and flowers form a dominant part of the menu. And let’s be honest we all like a bit of free food, don’t we?

Spring is a fantastic time for gathering the fresh salad green types of wild foods and we commenced our day with a wander down the drive to see what we could find. Once you know what you’re looking for it’s clear that there are edible goodies all around. From the tiny delicate fronds of Common Vetch that taste of sweet pea shoots, the citrus bite of Sheeps Sorrel (not to be confused with the poisonous Adders Tongue), to dandelion heads w/ the sunny heads on show and a familiar tasting and weedy looking Garlic Mustard. We all nibbled, ummed and ahhhed trying to guess the identifiable flavours. It really is an exercise of the mind and it’s amazing just how hard it is to recall, on demand, the name of the flavour you know is familiar. It was on the tip of the tongue in the most literal sense.

The flavours of wild food seem to be both delicate and striking at the same time. By its nature it’s hard to gather in large predicable amounts, barring, of course, wild garlic which, in early spring, the term prolific does not begin to describe. But the flavours of the various greens once collected deliver the type of punch that cannot be delivered by mass agriculture. In short they are a delight and an intrigue to the palette.

An additional delight of the day’s foray was foraging by the seaside where we were taught how to identify Rock Samphire – Marsh Samphire’s higher cousin, wild fennel, sea spinach, Alexanders, wild chives, salad burnet and scurvy grass with its sweet white flowers. The wispy tails of fennel are a hit and have us scaling rock faces and dreaming of risotto.

At last the combination of exertion and sea air gets the better of us and we buzz back to our secret-ish location for a locally-sourced lunch including cheeses, venison burgers, hot smoked ham, wild garlic risotto, dips, sauces and spreads of various hues of green and pickled this and that.  It is all an utter delight. To finish things off we are lucky enough to pick up some fresh morels which I pop straight in my oven for drying when I get home.

After a day’s foray I can honestly say I am knackered but brimming with excitement and recipe ideas for my lovely foraged foods. Now the work and the washing begins!

Huge thanks to Andrew (@sarty1) for the foray, to the Mrs for the back-up and the risotto, to Molly for the canine company and all my fellow foodies – may you all have full stomachs and sound sleeps.

You can find recipes for all your lovely foraged goodies at www.thewildfoodlarder.co.uk

Spring, at last.

Spring and International Women’s Day has brought the memories of someone from my past flooding back in my mind.

She.

Was my boss.

Was a great cook and style queen.

Was deeply unhappy most of her life.

Was Iranian – although she called herself Persian.

Is greatly missed.

It’s a funny one really, I spent only a year under her employ but working v. closely through a v. tough time in her life. Consequently, we knew each other v. well but by the time I left to pursue a ‘dream job’ temping at the Independent Newspaper (later to become full-time) we didn’t speak for another year or more and then only briefly. Our relationship burned hard and fast and then there was nothing left but memories.

But what fantastic memories!

Having grown up in Iran before the revolution, as the member of an aristocratic family, she had v. refined taste in fashion, men and food but she also knew the value of life and freedom. She wanted, and usually got, the best but she also had a great talent for creating something out of nothing as well.

She deserved better than her lot in life but it was also her choice.

Anyway back to the good stuff. Her finesse was in the detail. If she did something she did it with care and perfection. And this is how I would describe her madeleine’s – the joyous mouthful sized French cakes. As an Australian of the Italian persuasion I had missed out on this little delicacy, and being introduced to it was such a joy.

The wee shell-shaped cakes go so well with tea (or coffee) I really don’t know why they aren’t more widely celebrated.

Ingredients:

¾ cup of flour

1 teaspoon baking power

3 large eggs

A pinch of salt

100g butter melted

1 teaspoon of vanilla essence/or not

1 tablespoon of rose water

½ cup caster sugar

Instructions:

1.       In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt.

2.       In a separate bowl beat eggs and caster sugar until combined well and light in colour. Add vanilla essence.

3.       Fold in the flour mixture. Fold in the butter a little at a time. Chill for 30 mins (DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP)

4.       Pre-heat oven to 220 degrees C/425 F/Gas mark 7 and place rack in the centre of the oven.

5.       Butter and flour your madeleine tray and dollop the mixture into moulds – half full! Do not over fill as they should rise quite high.

6.       Bake for 5 mins at 220 degrees C/425 F/Gas mark 7 then reduce heat to 200 degrees C/400 F/Gas mark 6 – this makes the little cakes rise up and then cook though with only slight tan.

7.       Turn out on a cooking rack shell side up to avoid ruining the shell pattern.

8.       Repeat for the remaining batter - pop batter back in the fridge between batches.

Makes 28 depending on tray size.

* original recipe from Martha Stewart

She would make them with orange flower water or a touch (literally a touch otherwise it tastes like soap) rose water. She would dust them with icing sugar and hand them out, packaged in glistening clear plastic bags, to her favourite people. I was so lucky and honoured that I happened to have been one of them. At least for a bit.

RIP

 

Excerpt from "Remembrance of Things Past" by Marcel Proust

… when one day in winter, as I came home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called 'petites madeleines,' which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim's shell. And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate, a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. … this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was myself. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, accidental, mortal. …

 

 

 

thoughts on JPN

I took this photo last week as the cherry blossom on Kew Gardens Station finally started coming into flower after what seemed like a forever winter. It's such a fleetingly beautiful floral display. The blossom is already at full flower and starting flutter away in the spring gusts of wind.

It's brief, fading, beauty seems in sympathy with the terrible events in Japan.

We all hope the recovery will be swift and we grieve with the citizens of Japan for lives and livelihoods lost.

Donate to the Red Cross for Japan Tsunami Relief

CrumbsAnne Giacomantonio
The extraordinary three course pie supper

To welcome in British Pie Week I decided to fulfil one of my lifelong cuisine based ambitions – A three course Sunday supper consisting only of pie. I realise this may seem like a slightly odd ambition to most people. I mean, learning now to bake a croissant, make your own fresh pasta, bake a three tier cake – all these are wholly more sensible and probably useful but a three course pie supper it was for me. The pie is such a versatile dish really – it was in the name of science that I test this theory.

Now of course we all know that British Pie Week is entirely an invention of marketing. Other such culinary celebrations include British Sausage Week, Love Chip Week, Bacon Connoisseurs' Week… are you seeing a trend? I’m pretty sure it’s a PR company that ordains these things but if it inspires you to try a new recipe or simply enjoy a big social meal with friends and family there are worse things in the world really, aren’t there?

Pie was my aim, and in a vain attempt to assert some authority on proceedings I went in search of a definition. Unfortunately I could only find Wiki and Collins.

Wiki says: pie dish baked in pastry-lined pan often with a pastry top.

Collins says: pie n 1 a sweet or savoury filling baked in pastry.

I know this doesn’t exactly assert the authority I was hoping for but it’s a start. I do however realise there is a bone of contention over whether pies need a bottom or not. I personally prefer a pastry bottom on my pies – it’s something about the juices combining with the glutinous dough that delights me. The discussion around the supper table was that they were perhaps wholly unnecessary ‘wasted calories’, that a pie can be just as enjoyable without a bottom as long as it has a top. As you might expect all of the pies featured on the three pie supper menu had bottoms and tops.

The other important consideration was pastry. Filo, puff, shortcrust, oil based, water based – it’s a whole world of decision making and that’s without bringing potato into the equation. As I enjoy pretty much all pastries I tried to fit as many variations into the menu as possible. Two homemade and two shop brought.

Accordingly the menu developed as follows:

1st Pie– Salmon or King Oyster (eryngii) filo w/ caper butter

2nd Pie – Torta Pasqualina (c/o Helen Graves of Food Stories) +  Vegemite, Beef and Ale Pie (c/o Katie Quinn Davies of What Kate Ate )

3rd Pie - Chocolate Hazelnut Pithiver (c/o Delicious Magazine April issue)

First pie – This course I found the hardest to choose. Knowing what was to follow I didn’t want anything too heavy but the pie had to be something to get the tastebuds excited. Filo and salmon was the conclusion, a small nod to an all-time fav, the Fish Pie. Baked in caper butter and enveloped lovingly in filo, it perhaps wasn’t what most would recognise as pie but it did conform to the rules of play. For the vegetarian I swapped out the salmon for King Oyster mushroom pre-fried in a little butter. Both served with a squeeze of lemon, it had tummy’s grumbling for more!

Second pie – As an Australian it would be impossible to host a supper devoted to pies and not include the typical steak, mushroom, ale option. As soon as I saw Katie Quinn Davies, of What Kate Ate, Rustic Beef and Ale pie I was in love. And for bonus points it included Vegemite! The overall result was delicious even if I underestimated the seasoning because of the vegemite factor. I subbed in Hot Water Pastry for the recipe based puff. I really wanted that stand alone effect you get with pork pies.

Second pie (veg option) – Veg pie can be a bit of a tough one I’ve found although the Canteen cookbook does have some excellent options including, cheddar and shallot and an excellent root vegetable version. They have a recipe for Summer Tomato and Basil I am dying to try when it finally gets to picnic weather. When I saw Helen Graves, of Food Stories, Mighty Pie I had to try it. Ricotta (I did the more traditional version) and spinach are a classic combination but the addition of artichoke really gave it the extra oomph it needed. Like most egg dominant pies it took just that little bit of extra time in the oven but the result was tasty and satisfyingly pie-y. The most rewarding part of cooking this pie however was the pastry. Those not keen on kneading would probably disagree with me but the olive oil based pastry had the firm, cool, smooth texture of marble (without the hardness obviously).

Third and final pie – Obviously we were full to the gills by this point. But as I’d pre-baked the dessert pie and had it sitting on the sideboard when my pie-eaters arrived it could not and would not go by the wayside. I spied this recipe for Chocolate Hazelnut Pithivier in the April issue of Delicious Magazine. Unbeknownst to me this puffy pie’s origins lie in France, although the provenience of the combination of dark chocolate, hazelnut and rum for the filling is a little unsure. Despite this the Pithivier style of flat pie works well as a vehicle for this rich and solid filling. Served slightly warm with the suggested whipped cream it was declared a “Pieumph” by my cousin and fellow pie baker and eater Angela.

Overall I would have to say I would not recommend a three course pie supper on a regular basis but what the night did prove was the combination of pastry and filling does work exceedingly well. As a once a year celebration why not? And if you don’t fancy constructing one there are plenty of places to indulge this week – or any week!

 

 

@SpaghettiWednesday

This isn’t the first time the head-chef of L’Anima and almost-Michelin stared Francesco Mazzei has appeared at this blog (nor will it be the last I suspect) but this appearance is definitely a special one.

When I caught wind of an event, catch-ily titled SpagWednesday, organised by the foodie and all around good guy Mr Daniel Young of youngandfoodish happening around my 29th birthday I couldn’t resist the temptation to have Mr Mazzei cook me my birthday supper. Mazzei was ‘popping-up’ at a 1950’s greasy spoon style caff on the northshores of the City of London for one night only, serving the classic spaghetti vongole (clams+chilli+parsley+garlic+oil +long strands of spaghetti).

For my Australia readers who may not have had the privilege of visiting a London working caff they are special breed of hospitality. All welcoming and warming without any fuss or finesse.  Usually the location for a morning-after-the-night-before full English breakfast or a simple plate of heartwarming food usually accompanied by chips. Décor usually includes laminate flooring and tables and black board menus – the tea is usually great, the coffee is almost without exception terrible, the toast is hot and white and slathered in margarine.

Spaghetti Wednesday was held at Andrew’s which sit’s happily on Gray’s Inn Road and myself and five of my crew to were delighted to come along  to goggle-up three delicious courses of Italian favourites matched with some ‘cult’ wine. Masi Masianco 2009, a pinot grigio/verduzzo blend.

I do so enjoy events such as this, the atmosphere in the room is infectious, the venue’s always a tad ridiculous and the food ALWAYS delicious. I guess it’s the combined effort and enthusiasm (and expert organisation) that makes them such good value and great fun. Delicious food in unexpected places.

First course was pizza in the focaccia tradition, more northern with a more bread-like crispier base.  One slice of Pizza con i Carciofi alla Romana and one sandwich of Pizza con Porchetta di Ariccia which we all oooh and aaahed over long after it had disappeared from our plate and into our bellies. We are told the portchetta itself is  imported ‘illegally’ straight from mama Italy  - where ever it hails from the marriage of slow roasted pork and rosemary is not a flavour easy forgotten.

But what were here for, the main event, Vongole was next and with Mazzei & co (L’anima’s Lelo and Claudio) buzzing away in the kitchen, the plates began to wiz out onto tables. And after watching a few tables of people dive into their dinner our plates were delivered. It was a vongle where the pasta was al dente and the flavours of the shellfish and parsley were complimented by a buzz of chilli that tempted you to lick your place. It was all too soon slurped away and all you had left was a pretty pile of shells.

The cherry on the SpaghettiWednesday cake was of course a dessert course of tiramisu (pick-me-up). Even though we were told by Mr YoungandFoodish that he had been unsure about the selection of tiramisu for the menu because ‘it was a bit naff’ it is my favourite dessert and L’anima’s execution was perfection. The mascarpone was so light, the hint of masala laced coffee was sweet with the finish of bitter cocoa. Yum!

Thank you to Mr & Mrs YoungandFoodish, Francesco & team from L’anima as well as the hard working staff of Andrew’s (who I saw working away the next day when I popped my head in) and my dear friends helping welcome in my 30th year of life in style.

Ps. Check out the video below ;)

EventsAnne Giacomantonio
Death by burger

Last night I had the enormous pleasure of paying a visit to #MEATEASY, the celebrated static version of the Peckham/London lunch favourite The Meat Wagon. #MEATEASY brings all the deliciousness of the burger, chilli dog, onion ring or fry to the upstairs room of the The Goldsmiths Tavern while it’s being renovated. They have the space till mid March so far so get in quick.

My chilli burger was a big, sloppy, delicious, mess of a thing on the American theme of a burger. Or at least my idea of what an America burger would be like - this idea having been formed from a prodigious education of American teen movies and the briefest of stays in Houston, Texas. I digress, the #MEATEASY burger was fantastic and the jalapenos left my lips tingling to the point of distraction. Juicy does not cover it and it was/is not a burger for the faint of heart or the meat-nervous. I’m not the biggest fan of ‘the onion ring’ generally but it being ‘the done thing’ I indulged and very happy I did too. I gobbled down five crispy, light and wonderfully greasy hoops and went back for the crumbs. Fries and mac’n’cheese are also available and having pinched morsels from my fellow diners plates I can confirm they were just as yummy. But the burger really does take pride of place.

Growing up in Australia the burger came from one of two places. The BBQ or the local fish’n’chip shop. Defining local as local to where ever you are at the time. The best kind of local was by the beach where we would then ate our burgers, that came with egg and pineapple, wrapped in paper, sitting at a picnic table listening to the sea.

I had a conversation with a New Zealand friend of my recently and he practically jumped out of his skin on the mention that burger ‘could’ come with tinned beetroot. For him it was a *must* not a perhaps.

The burger as a food item does happen to be one of those things that incites great personal passions in people. With clamouring return of the The Big D to London chain Byron Burger and the fabled meaty delights of Hawksmoor as contenders for best burger in London tell me how you like your burgers? Juicy and meaty with very little adornment or perhaps with added herbs and spices? Does salad feature, just lettuce and tomato or indulgences such as coleslaw? Cheese or no cheese? And don’t even get me started on the vegetarian option!

Tell me pleeeeease.

At my #MEATEASY supper I had the pleasure dining with @AndreDang @SabrinaGhayour @sloLondon @pausefortea @aurumpress and a few others and we all left groaning with meaty delight and just the slightest satisfying touch of indigestion.

EventsAnne Giacomantonio
Wedding peaches

Memories are funny elusive things aren’t they?  How the mellow and change over time, forming and reforming to produce something you swear you remember exactly as it happened.

When I was a child growing up in Brisbane the food from the Italian side of my immigrant 2nd generation Italio/English family stood apart from that of some of my classmates at school. My Nonna lived up the road, still does, and would be first in line for babysitting. I grew up with her baked version of risotto and didn’t realise it could come in its more porridge-like form until I was 20. Lasagne and ravioli were frequently served for supper – always the home made version. But there was one lady in our extended family who was the queen of baking – cakes, biscuits, waffle like creations, desserts anything sweet and sponge-like! My brother and sister and I knew that visiting Zia would mean cake – every time.

My memory is dull on the detail of what specific occasion when these cakes was served but boy, do I remember the cakes themselves. *The* most exquisite little creations I had ever seen. Peaches, actual peaches made out of soft sponge with a leaf and little chocolate coated liquorice stems. I kid you not! There were perfectly confectioned peaches, or at least they were to my juvenile eyes. Plumb and sweet with a sunny blush on one side – I remember them like a dream.

So when my partner and I decided to take the plunge and do ‘the wedding’ thing I could think of no better way to commemorate the occasion in cake than these little creations. Unfortunately my dear Zia had passed away earlier that year and taken her baking secrets with her and so we had to experiment ourselves. Five practice runs later and we had an approximation of her beautiful peach cakes but I still, and will always, remember Zia’s as utterly perfect.

Zia Faustina’s pesche dolci (makes approx. 24 depending on the size of you moulds*)

For the cakes:

75 g butter

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1-½ cups flour

½ teaspoon salt

2 tbl spoons baking powder

90 ml milk

1 tbl spoon of peach brandy/liquor or ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 bunch of fresh healthy looking mint

For the custard:

3 egg yolks

½ cup of sugar

¼ cup flour

1 cup of milk

2 teaspoons peach brandy/liquor or ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tbl spoon butter

For the coloured sugar coating:

2 cup caster sugar

Red food colouring

Yellow food colouring

2 jars or containers with lids

Instructions:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C/350 F/Gas mark 4
  2. Cream butter and sugar together until pale yellow and add eggs. Mix well.
  3. Sieve in flour and baking powder and add salt. Mix well.
  4. Add milk and peach brandy or liquor (or vanilla if you’re sans booze).
  5. Mix well.
  6. Prepare your moulds by greasing and flouring them – you want the peach cheeks to remain un-blemished.
  7. Using a dessert spoon carefully drop one spoon of mix into each mould – do not over fill!
  8. Bake for appox. 10-15mins keeping an eye on them – remove when slight raised and just starting to colour on top.
  9. Gently turn out (you might need to use a spoon to coax them out of the moulds) onto cooling rack.
  10. Take a sharp knife and working your way around the circular edge of each cheek careful remove the sharp edge. Finally cut an angled wedge slice off the flat bottom of the cheek.

For the custard:

  1. Combine the all the ingredients in a saucepan and stir over a low heat until combined.
  2. Stir! Stir! Stir! This could take while but the slower the better – you don’t want it to burn. You need the custard to be quite a thick consistence to cold its shape inside the peach.
  3. Set aside to cool.

For the coloured sugar:

  1. Put 1 cup of sugar into one jar along with a few drops of red colouring. Then the other cup into the other jar along with a few drops of yellow colouring.
  2. Shake the jars with all your might until the colour is evenly distributed. Great fun!
  3. Pour a little of the yellow sugar into the red jar and shake some more – you need a pink peach colour – this isn’t an exact science.

Assemble!

  1. Set up your construction surface with the coloured sugars spread on a plate or shallow bowl, squirt a little red colouring onto a small sandwich plate and have the cake cheeks and custard within easy reach.
  2. Take one peach cheek and, with your finger, dab a little red colouring on one edge of the curved surface (to imitate a sun blush). Don’t worry if it looks a little odd right now it will blend once you’ve coated it in sugar.**
  3. Roll the curved surface in the pink and yellow sugar until you have a covering resembles a peach (you may want to have a real peach on hand as a model).
  4. Do the same with the other side mirroring the blush colouring.
  5. Now take one half, and with a teaspoon, dollop a spoonful of custard in the middle of the ‘pit’ of the peach cheek.
  6. Using the other cheek work the custard to imitate a cut piece of fruit.
  7. Pop in the mint leaf stalk and set aside.  (if you’d like to use choc coated liquorice instead now’s the time)

*I sourced my peach moulds from a specialist cake supply shop in Richmond-upon-Thames but I have also seen larger versions at profession chef supply shops.

**To make these little beauties extra boozy you could paint the insides liberally with liquor before assembling the peaches.

RecipesAnne Giacomantonio
So Jamie Does... Australia …

Or more specifically Ipswich, the renowned backwater to Brisbane, the capital of north eastern state of Queensland. Incredible. Hailing from beloved Brisbane myself but having resided in the UK for nei-on 6 years I like to reflect on diet in good ol’ Oz as quite healthy. There is no lack of accessible and affordable fresh fruit and veg or land to grow it in, the Aussie pride and joy, the backyard. But on my last few visits home the bf has commented on how big Australians/Brisbanites had become. I have to admit I didn’t see it myself and I guess that’s part of the problem, we see what we want to see. Now Jamie, off of Jamie Oliver, sees things differently to the point where he is bringing his Ministry of Food brand campaign to the Brisbane satellite city of Ipswich in 2011. According to the engaging little press release posted on his global site, “60 per cent of adults and 25 per cent of children in Australia are overweight or obese.” What happened Oz, when did we get fat? When did we stop going outdoors and start eating all the sugar-filled American themed junk that’s advertised on TV? I know the rest of the English speaking western world do it but they don’t all have our sunshine, wealth and freedom. Get off your arse Oz!

Further investigation revealed that other indicators of a fat nation are appearing where they simply weren’t found before such as weight loss surgery such as lap-banding. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare recently released figures showing an increase in hospital admissions involving bariatric rose from 500 in 1998 to 17,000 in 2007-2008.

Jamie’s advice, as always, is sound, and with any luck his method of personal tuition and well-meaning advice will work but only time will tell. He has certainly taken a lot of flak here in UK. I guess people don’t like being told what to do no matter how sound the advice.

Jamie’s Ministry of Food Australia is working with the Good Foundation and the Queensland State Government who have committed AUD$2.5m to the cause of bringing food education to Queenslanders over 4 years. I honestly didn’t realize we needed it and it such a shame we do. I hope it makes a difference – go Jamie!

IssuesAnne Giacomantonio
Viva la Recreación

One whole month after returning from a two-week jaunt to Cuba I am still struggling to construct an accurate statement of my experience that doesn’t undermine any aspect. It’s an almost impossible task (even for this supposed journalist)

Just the country’s name conjures up a myriad of different images; perhaps it’s bearded revolutionaries and a romantic 50’s tinged version of communism, the music of the ubiquitous, and now mostly deceased, Buena Vista Social Club, perhaps it’s decrepit leaders hanging on to power and ‘American imperialism.’ For most English travellers it also paints a picture of heat and the all inclusive resort.

And you know what, all of these images exist in Cuba, they are all correct in their own way but they are part of a whole that is much more complex.

My trip took the form of a 10-day, three city Santiago de Cuba/Trinidad/Havana overlander, with a few days trekking the hallowed mountain-sides of the Sierra Maestra for good measure. As it happens this was probably my favourite part of the entire trip. The electric-green tropical slopes with their small communities and slice of a preserved past really felt like a get away and an enjoyable eye opening experience.

Being a self-confessed food lover I tried to do my research re: cuisine before going but what I was amazed to hear repeated over and over again is the mantra that the “food was/is BAD!”

The reality is that the cuisine has suffered terribly from the conditions within the communist system. To say they live seasonally is an understatement. Poverty and rationing means you eat what’s available and you supplement with black market goods when you can. For myself and my fellow travellers this mean a tropical fruit fest supplemented with chicken or por or ‘illegal’ seafood when eating in the homestays or ‘casa particulars’ and the odd dodgy peso pizza if out and about. Avocado’s the size of a baby’s head, fresh guava juice and bright bananas are fine for two weeks but any more and we might have gone mad.

Working our way east to west to Havana meant the availability of variety improved exponentially as we went and we did have quite a nice ‘middle eastern’ style mezze meal in Havana Old town itself. But ultimate the standard was reasonable to poor.

What seemed to me to be missing from the cooking itself was herbs and spices and seasoning other than a little salt. At a guess this is due to the lack of ability to trade freely which is such a shame. I can’t help thinking back to my Italian heritage and how they managed to create amazingly tasty meals within the cucina povera tradition with very little at all.

Still, one thing the Cubans and the Italians have in common is their love and divine execution of coffee. Granted Italians can do a thousand things with the stuff but both nationalities knock out a BRILLIANT espresso and appreciate good grounds.

It’s really in this realm of the beverage that Cubans come into their own. Their love of cocktail is something else. Perhaps it was the intense sweaty heat that made their piña colada extra rewarding or the Latin rhythms (or most likely the rum) that made the mojitos SO more-ish and finally the queen of them all the daiquiri. Whether with blended ice (as us westerners are more used to) or without the daiquiri with its lemon tang and intense hit of Havana’s best Ron hits the spot. And give me a Bucanero or a Cristal lager over an Australian beer any day.

Cuba was an amazing experience and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in going – just do your research. And one last piece of advice, NEVER be tempted to try their dessert speciality of marmalade and cheese (TRULY  TERRIBLE) especially on a hot day.

Ps. Our group of four included two vegetarians, who despite getting a little sick of eating eggs in all their forms, did not go hungry buy any means.

TravelsAnne Giacomantonio
¡MEAT FEAST!

The other day I was invited to the celebration, a great party, a party with a Michelin starred chef and a glorious amount of food and bubbly drinks. There was a lot of laughter and kissing of cheeks and smiles. It was they type of party you would take someone special, someone you really wanted to impress and enjoy their company. Only one thing, that someone could not be vegetarian!

Unfortunately/fortunately my someone special is. He is the best type of herbivore, quietly spoken, non-judgemental and completely incapable of sermonising on the benefits a meat-free diet. But for me this event proved one thing:

I could NEVER EVER be a vegetarian.

The event, organised by the Istiuto Valorizzazione Salumi Italiani IVSI, was a celebration of all things cured and carne in Italy. And my, what a celebration it was.

For meat lovers out there, there is no need to explain the smooth unctuous (apologies in advance for adjective usage) salty taste that slides round your mouth when eating good meat products. I hate to be coarse about it but it’s the combination of fat and muscle flesh that combines in a beautiful marriage of flavours. For this reason it is the salame that is top of my favourites list. It was the most prized inhabitant of my school sandwiches along with some cool lettuce and puffy white bread when I was a child and it is the mainstay of any antipasti platter as an adult now. It is also partly why I have no image of the delicious salame on tasting at this event. There wasn’t nearly long enough between the plate to my bocca to photograph its deliciousness.

I did however manage to capture some other tasty meaty morsels and the spectacular carving implement used to shave them from their bulk.

Item 1: Prosciotto di Parma PDO (yes that is Francesco Mazzei of L’anima)

Item 2: Miniature speck and pomadoro pizza  bites.

Item 3: Fried polenta w/ prosciutto di Parma

Item 4: Mortodella (My Mother’s favourite)

Item 5: prosciutto di Parma w/shaved black truffle drizzled oil, honey and vinegar.

Strange chocolate

xmas chocolates loose big version2

Believe it or not some people, strange though they might seem, claim they don’t like chocolate. Yes, chocolate. The delicious creamy, sweet, smooth mood-lifter loved by generations of people. From that first foil-covered chocolate Easter egg, to the sophisticated rich and bitter adult concoctions we crave after dinner, chocolate has a place in most people's hearts.

My first encounter with one of these very odd anti-chocolate types, was my father but he is by no means the only one. From as a far back as I can remember he has claimed to not like chocolate. It did of course mean my Easer egg collection was safe (well, from my father at least if not from my siblings) but I always wondered if there was a chocolate flavour he would like.

With so many opportunities to gift chocolate during the year – Valentine’s day, Easter, father’s and mother’s day - I decided to try and find a flavour of chocolate that might appeal to a non-choc’s taste buds. I was surprised to find that along with the now not-so-unusual ingredients such as chilli, there are a rainbow of tasty concoctions that would make perfect present. And if your non-choc recipient doesn’t like them, well, it’s the thought that counts and you can scoff them down yourself.

Claire Burnet, chocolatier and owner of award-winning chocolate mail order company Chococo, has her own views on why some people say they don’t like chocolate. One of the main reasons people (and men in particular), say they don’t like this gorgeous treat is because it’s too sweet, she says. “Most chocolate in this country is stuffed full of glucose syrup or huge amounts of alcohol to extend the shelf life", she adds. "You end up with something that is very sweet by definition.”

Burnet says that by adding sugar or neutral alcohol to chocolate, it can be stored for months, then boxed and kept on a shelf for almost a year. The sugar and or alcohol will “kill bugs and extend shelf life, but you ruin the mouth feel, you ruin the taste, the flavour, the palate everything. It’s all wrong.” She meets people all the time who say they are chocoholics but when she quizzes them about what they are eating, it’s usual industrially produced. “It’s a completely different animal", says Burnet. "You’re getting a sugar fix, not a chocolate fix. There’s not enough chocolate in it to get a chocolate fix.”

She goes onto explain that quite a large number of premium brands are guilty of adding these ingredients as well. “There are relatively few in the country that are making chocolate that is packed, dispatched and designed to be eaten fresh.” Chococo chocolates are a classic ganache-based chocolates made with fresh Dorset cream and Venezuelan chocolate. Chococo have no need to add butter as the cream is so rich. All the chocolates in the range are just a blend of cream chocolate and natural flavours, with a crisp shell and a soft centre.

It’s decided that the only way to test this theory is to find a chocolate-hating tester and ply him with the good stuff. The victim, Darren Christie, 33, agrees that if he has to eat the stuff it’s the better quality stuff that he can stomach but he would just rather not have it at all. Darren has proclaimed loud and clear to all his relatives and friends that he doesn’t like chocolate, this however doesn’t seem to stop him receiving it on a semi-regular basis. “If I do get given chocolate I usual give it away to someone else or it just sits in the cupboard until my girlfriend eats it,” he says. You see this is the problem, even if you don’t like chocolate you still inevitably receive chocolate as a gift. It’s the easiest answer to the ‘what do I get them for their birthday?’ question.

I set Darren to work on some of the most unusual and still accessible flavours in the UK.

1. Chococo – The Purbeck Chocolate Co.

We start with a selection box form Chococo including their Cider with Fifi (Cider brandy with chopped dried organic apples). For Darren, this particular one is too sweet but he liked the apple. He also tries Gold Great Taste award winner Black Strap Harry, judged as “alright but liquoricy.” Surprisingly it’s the Gorgeous Ginger, another award winner, that turns his fancy. He does like the idea of a selection however as he says, “you don’t feel as though you have to have the whole bar in one sitting. You can have one and really examine the taste of it and if you don’t like it there are all the others.” He adds it’s also easy to share with others.

2. Rococo - Arabic Spices Organic Dark and Cardamom Organic White from Natoora

The beautifully packaged Rococo bars have a strong perfume which creates quite a festive air. Darren likes the spice of the Arabic bar but interestingly says there’s too much cocoa. The cardamom bar has a good texture but tastes a bit like a cough lolly to him.

3. Moser Roth Finest Dark Chocolate Chilli from Aldi

Darren doesn’t mind this one. He’s a recent convert to the chilli chocolate combination. Moser Roth’s chocolate is probably a little full of fats and quite processed for Claire’s liking but it has a nice warm mouthfeel without being overpoweringly hot with chillies. It’s the cheapest of the selection.

4. Chilli and Ouzo Chocolate Truffles and Salt Caramel Truffles from Terre à Terre

Fascinating flavour combinations in this range of fresh truffles that hail from a vegetarian restaurant in Brighton. Darren didn’t get to try these but the salt caramel is a delightful combination of sweet and salt. A grown up salt water toffee. Chilli Ouzo would go down well with someone who likes their chocolate boozy and rich.

5. Bara Brith from the Welsh Chocolate Farm

Bara Brith is a tea-infused cream and tastes similar to eating soild chocolate tea-cake complete with raisins. Unfortunately Darren didn’t try this one either but I deduce from his previous tastings that it wouldn’t be his cup of tea. The chocolate is quite sweet and he’s not a huge fan of raisins.

These are just a few of the crazy flavours out there but there are many more. Rosmary and Chimi Chimi from Perfectly Tempered, Marmite Truffles from Paul a Young or even ethical chocolate such Organic Meltdown or Dubble. The result of this experiment highlighted that chocolate is a simple pleasure that can be enjoyed by everyone when chosen correctly. In the words of the chocolatier Claire Burnet, chocolate is “a sensory delight” whose flavours and textures should be clean and clear. If you're buying for someone who is unsure of chocolate, go for a good quality gift box and you’ll have something to talk about whilst you stuff your faces.

IssuesAnne Giacomantonio