Monday, 22 August 2011

Hotel Chocolate - Adventurous Chef's Collection Part 2

In my previous post I told you about the arrival on my doorstep of a Hotel Chocolat Adventurous Chef's Collection hamper and my adventures with the sweet items included in the box. This time, it's the turn of the savoury items.

First up is their Cocoa Honey & Mustard Dressing, which is a classic mix of honey, dijon mustard and balsamic vinegar with the addition of some crushed cocoa nibs.

I used this in a salad recipe I found on the label, which combined salad leaves with cooked chicken and peppers. This turned out really well and the dressing added great flavour to the dish, although it was quite heavy on the mustard.

Next up was a jar of Chocolate & Chiptole Chilli Sauce, a ready-t0-use sauce that be used in a number of ways - in hot dishes, as a salad dressing, in sandwiches etc.

I used this first of all as a dip to accompany some grilled pork steaks with roasted vegetables and potato wedges. The sauce had lots of smoky, spicy flavour and really added interest to an otherwise quite plain dinner.

I also added it to a marinade for chicken that I found in Thomasina Miers' book, Mexican Made Easy, together with a sprinkling of the cocoa bean shavings that were also included in the box. The marinade gave the chicken loads of delicious flavour and I could definitely taste the smoky chilli sauce in the background.

Chicken Adobado (Marinated Chicken)
(adapted from Mexican Made Simple by Thomasina Miers)

For the marinade
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
8 cloves of garlic, chopped
4 heaped tablespoons tomato puree
juice of 2 oranges
45ml red wine vinegar
2 chiles de arbol, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Chocolate & Chipotle Chilli Sauce
30ml soy sauce
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
30g brown sugar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
1 tablespoon cocoa bean shavings
a few teaspoons of sea salt and some black pepper

1 medium-sized free range chicken, segmented, or 12 chicken pieces

1) Whiz all the marinade ingredients together in a blender and pour over the chicken pieces. Marinate overnight or for at least a few house in the fridge. Remove the chicken from the fridge at least half an hour before cooking to allow it to come to room temperature.

2) Either grill or barbeque the chicken until cooked through and nicely coloured (approx 6 minutes on each side).

Serves 4

Finally, I tried out the Chilli & Cocoa Glaze for Fish & Poultry. At first I thought this would be a sauce but it is simply unsweetened cacao chocolate with added chillies. It was very straightforward to use - I just added a tablespoon or so to the fish cooking in the frying pan and it melted away into a smooth sauce.

To be honest this was probably my least favourite item in the box as I found the flavour a little too dark and spicy for my tastes however my other half tells me he liked it.

Overall, this collection of goodies would make an excellent gift for any keen chef, especially one who likes their food with a bit of extra kick.

A big thanks to Hotel Chocolat for providing me with this fantastic selection to sample.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Hotel Chocolat's Adventurous Chef's Collection - Part 1

A few weeks ago I was very excited to receive a large parcel from Hotel Chocolat which contained one of their amazing hampers from their Cocoa Cuisine range. This particular hamper is their Adventurous Chef's Collection and contains a range of both sweet and savoury products beautifully presented in a large white box bound with black ribbon.

The first, and most intriguing, product I tried was their Penne Cocoa Pasta. This is just traditional penne with unsweetened cocoa powder added to it and can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes. The uncooked pasta had a lovely chocolatey smell but when cooked I found the flavour a bit more subtle than I expected, hence the addition of the chocolate chips to the recipe below.

Not surprisingly I decided to use it in a sweet dish rather than savoury and created a dessert version of a pasta bake, inspired by a favourite Cheesecake Brownie recipe. This turned out really well and the chocolate pasta worked really well with the rich cheesecake topping and sharply sweet raspberries.

Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake Pasta Bake

125g penne cocoa pasta
handful chocolate chips
1 egg
200g cream cheese
75g caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Handful of raspberries

1) Preheat the oven to 180c/gas mark 4. Cook the pasta as normal until cooked then drain and empty into a small oven-proof dish. Sprinkle with chocolate chips.

2) Beat the cream cheese, egg and icing sugar together until smooth then pour over the pasta.

3) Top with the raspberries and bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes until just firm.

Serves 2

Next up was a packet of Pure Cocoa Bean Shavings. This is just pure cocoa, with nothing else added to it, and it can be used in sweet or savoury dishes.

These are ideal for adding to savoury dishes to add some depth of flavour or to sweet dishes for an extra chocolatey kick and were perfect for a smoothie recipe I tried out recently. Have a look here for the recipe. I also added some to a chicken marinade I made using another of the products from the hamper and the recipe for that will appear in my next post.

The third and final sweet item was a packet of 70% Dark Chocolate Drops. I've used these before and they are definitely one of my favourite Hotel Chocolate products, mostly because the chocolate drops are so practical for cooking with and they come in a generous 400g bag so will usually last for two or three recipes.

Most of this particular pack were used to create a fantastic marmalade version of the classic chocolate brownie. Have a look here for the recipe - this is definitely one of my favourite recipes so far this year!

As I mentioned above, the hamper also contained three products designed for savoury dishes and the details of these items will follow in a separate post in the next couple of days.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Chocolate Butterscotch Biscuits

I seem to be making a lot of biscuits at the moment. Mostly because they're just so handy for the large number of packed lunches and picnics I'm preparing on a regular basis, with it being the summer holidays. Oh, and of course they're yummy too!

The following recipe is an adaptation of my go-to biscuit recipe that I decided to try out following the discovery of these in Saisnbury's the other week.

For some reason I though they would be chewy and a bit fudge-like but they turned out to be quite crunchy - a bit like the middle of Daim Bars (can you still buy those? I must find out). Yum! In the absence of any chocolate chips they seemed like a good addition to a batch of biscuits together with some cocoa powder for an extra chocolatey kick.

They didn't turn out quite as I had expected as the butterscotch pieces completely melted, leaving small holes in the tops of the biscuits and little bits of butterscotch oozing out of the sides. Ignoring their slightly odd appearance though, they tasted delicious. The butterscotch pieces added lots of caramel flavour and I'll definitely be making a chocolate version again, maybe using white chocolate chips next time.

If you want to make regular chocolate-chip biscuits just substitute the cocoa powder for an extra ounce of flour and use a 100g bag of chocolate chips instead of the butterscotch pieces.

Chocolate Butterscotch Biscuits

5oz/150g self raising flour
1oz/25g cocoa powder
3oz/90g butter at room temperature
3oz/90g brown sugar
3oz/90g caster sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
4oz/100g bag butterscotch pieces

1) Preheat the oven to 180c/350f. Line a couple of baking sheets with baking paper.

2) Put the butter and sugar and beat together until pale and creamy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat well. Mix in the flour and cocoa powder until well incorporated then fold in the butterscotch pieces.

3) Spoon dessertspoonfuls of mixture onto the baking sheets and flatten slightly. Bake for 10-12 minutes. If you want chewy biscuits then it's important not to overcook them, in fact they should seem quite undercooked when you take them out of the oven. The edges should feel just done but middles will still feel quite soft.

Makes about 20, depending on the size of biscuit you make.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Delia's Strawberry and Vanilla Pavlova

We've passed the peak of the strawberry season now (sadly, as they are my favourite fruit by a long way) but you should be able to get British ones in the shops for a few weeks yet. The following recipe is the perfect use for them.

This is another of those recipes created by Delia Smith for Waitrose and if you can't find the recipe card instore you can find all the details on the Waitrose website here.

I have to admit that I struggled a bit with the meringue at first as it was too runny and refused to stay in the neat and tidy peaks I was hoping for. In the end I realised that I probably hadn't beaten it enough so I just put it back in the bowl and set to it with the whisk for several minutes longer. Eventually it seemed to be the right consistency and I manage to achieve a reasonable shape.

I was quite sure what to expect from the mascarpone and fromage frais combination and was worried that it might not be sweet enough. I worried for nothing though as it turned out to be delicious and the balance of sweetness was just right.

The recipe says it serves 6, however I served it to 4 people and we devoured the lot with no trouble at all. If cooking for 6 or more you might want to consider scaling up the quantities!

Monday, 8 August 2011

Bill's Cafe - Cambridge

So, following on from my post yesterday, the second no-cooking-required event I wanted to write about was a trip I took to Bill's Cafe in Cambridge. I'd seen it reviewed by a couple of local bloggers recently (The Secluded Tea Party, for one) and thought it sounded like a good destination for lunch during a rare, solitary shopping trip.

Bill's Cafe is located on one of Cambridge's lovely back streets, in a building that used to house a Slug & Lettuce pub, one of those slightly bland chain pub/restaurants that I never found particularly appealing. My first impression of the new occupant was a space full of colour with the walls lined with shelves and crammed with various tins, bottles, jars and bags of food (Bill's also sells a wide variety of foodstuffs, a lot of which are own-brand products such as jams, chutneys, salad dressings etc). It was only just noon but the place was already very busy and it wasn't long before they were turning people away.

I was sat at one of the communal tables, which was decorated with pots of red flowers and metal buckets providing cutlery, napkins etc. There was also a "menu" of the aforementioned foodstuffs so diners could tick off the items they wanted to take away with them and hand it to a member of staff. Their shopping would then be gathered together, with the cost added to the bill, ready to take away at the end of their meal - quite a clever touch I thought.

The menu offered lots of tempting choices (have a look here) and after much umming and ahhing I plumped for the Halloumi and Hummous Burger. You can't really tell from the picture below but it arrived on a smallish rectangular wooden board topped with a sheet of greaseproof paper. Quite a novel method of serving but not ideal for those of us prone to losing half the contents of their burger during the eating process! Luckily I managed to get through with the minimum of mess and I had definitely made the right choice as the burger was delicious. Slices of halloumi were sat on top of some nice, chunky hummous, with salad, mayo and sweet chilli sauce, all served in a brioche bun. The chips were served in a metal pudding mould which made the portion look a bit on the small side but looks can be deceiving and I had more than enough.

I'll definitely be back here when I'm next in Cambridge. If nothing else I have to try their Chocolate Brownie Milkshake, topped with a mountain of cream, which I enviously watched being served to someone else while I was there.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

The Secluded Tea Party - March 2011

You may have noticed that this is my first post in a while. A combination of the start of summer holiday season and a few days away resulted in me taking a bit of a break from blogging for while but I've still been cooking and have accumulated a fair number of new recipes to tell you about.

I'm going to start, though, by writing about a couple of occasions where I haven't been required to do any cooking at all.

First up is a shamefully overdue post. You've probably heard about the ever increasing number of supper clubs popping up around the country where enthusiastic food lovers invite people into their home and provide them with dinner in exchange for a small fee. Earlier in the year, though, I heard about a very appealing new variation on this theme - The Secluded Tea Party.

Instead of dinner, participants attend an afternoon tea party hosted by the creator of The Secluded Tea Party, the lovely Miss Sue Flay (say it out loud!) and held in a secret location somewhere in Cambridgeshire or the surrounding area. Tea parties are held on a regular basis and each has it's own theme and special, secret, location. The lucky guests are served with a fabulous selection of goodies as you can see in the pictures above and below. Some of the many things on offer were savoury red onion tartlets, a variety of sandwiches (ham with garlic jam were my favourite), fruit & spice scones with jam and cream, Oreo truffles (yes, they were as good as they sound) and finally, the most enormous Victoria Sponge stuffed with vanilla buttercream and jam. All of this was accompanied by a glass of zingy lemonade and a wide selection of tea. Needless to say I didn't need much dinner that evening.

The location for this indulgent interlude was right up my street, being one of Cambridge's hidden gems - Plurabelle Books. Sitting right in the heart of Cambridge, Plurabelle Books is a second hand bookshop and an absolute haven for any book lover. And best of all, when the guests had finished tea we were invited to browse the bookshelves and take one or two books home in exchange for one or two of our own books that we no longer wanted.

For more pictures and Miss Sue Flay's write-up of the the event have a look here.

Since I attended the book-themed party in March, Miss Sue Flay has been very busy hosting other parties - the Vintage Tea Party and Zombie Tea Party (which sounded huge fun), to name but two. And there are many more to come - have a look at The Secluded Tea Party website to read more and find out how you can join in. Alternatively, you might want to take advantage of Miss Sue's new offering - the Private Tea Party.

All in all it was a fabulous way to spend a Sunday afternoon and I'd highly recommend it to anyone.