Review of the High Tea box from The Chocolate Tour

17 Oct

I celebrated a somewhat significant birthday recently, which you can read more about here. As a wee treat to myself, I decided to purchase a chocolate box from my friend Rosa’s inspired business The Chocolate Tour.

Like me, Rosa has always been a foodie. She bakes great stuff, can tell you the exact location of the best custard squares in the land and also loves children’s books. How could I not be friends with her??

Rosa’s latest venture is a chocolate subscription business. That’s right: CHOCOLATE DELIVERED TO YOUR DOOR STEP!! Each month there is a different theme and I was lucky enough that my birthday month (also Rosa’s) was a High Tea theme. Another love of mine. Who doesn’t like a selection of tasty treats on fine china with a lovely cuppa to boot? There’s just something about the ritual of tea that really appeals to me. It’s something I’ll write about in another post so, for now, let’s focus on chocolate. Rosa only uses chocolate made by New Zealand businesses, so this is also a way to support New Zealand-made goods. It’s all craft and artisan chocolate, so you know that a lot of thought, effort and love has gone into the making. It’s not just your bog-standard, sugar-filled, supermarket stuff. It’s truly decadent, work of art stuff.

I ummed and ahhed as to whether I should treat myself, but then thought, why on earth not? There are a few options on the website: monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly chocolate deliveries, or a one-off box. There are also other one-off gift or treat options.

I decided on the one-off themed box; this way I could try out some new treats and support my friend’s business, but not break the bank… I may be able to justify more regular purchases once I’m working full-time again :).

The High Tea Box

Contents: Hogarth Craft Chocolate’s Rose and Vanilla Tea bar, Chocoyo’s bonbons, Baron Hasselhoff’s mallow puffs, Little Blues Chocolates’ strawberry and almond tea cake chocolates, She Universe’s Bula Bean, She Universe’s Chocolate Sweetheart.

I started with the beautiful Hogarth Craft Chocolate’s Rose and Vanilla Tea bar, which is really a block, or a very generous-sized bar. I have to start by saying that this block looks amazing! I’ve never seen a piece of chocolate quite so ornate. When I took my first bite, the slight bitterness of the cocoa hit the sides of my mouth, but was overtaken by rich chocolateyness with hints of tea and vanilla. An orally and visually satisfying block of very good quality chocolate which melted on my tongue and caressed my mouth.

Hogarth's Rose and Vanilla Tea Bar

Hogarth’s Rose and Vanilla Tea Bar

Baron Hasselhoff’s mallow puffs. The name immediately made me think of Baywatch, but I’m sure that these are a much better quality product than that (no offense to any David or Pamela fans). They looked absolutely delicious… Unfortunately, I’m one of those vegetarians that doesn’t eat gelatine, so I had to surrender these delicious looking morsels to the clutches of the BFG. He said that it tasted like “very berry marshmallow”. Such a poet :). In terms of the look, it was very much like a Griffin’s Mallowpuff (if you’re NZ based) or a Tunnock’s Tea Cake (if you hail from the UK), except that it was a little smaller, the marshmallow was pink (not white) and “very berry”, apparently. From my observations (whilst drooling), the biscuity base was crumbly and the chocolate cracked nicely upon biting into it. My final comment is to plea with the Baron to please make a vegetarian/fegan version, as I’d love to try these scrummy little suckers!

Baron Hasselhoff's mallow puffs

Baron Hasselhoff’s mallow puffs

Next were the strawberry  and almond tea cakes from Little Blues Chocolates. These were as delicate as they were tiny. A mouthful of softness with a wee bit of crunch from the outer layer of white chocolate and the almond cresting the top. The only issue was the packaging; it was a little tricky to get past the cellotape and the rigid plastic.

Little Blues Chocolates' strawberry and almond tea cake chocolates

Little Blues Chocolates’ strawberry and almond tea cake chocolates

Chocoyo’s bonbons were also a challenge to get into, due to their rigid plastic packaging, but were the perfect size for David (my Dr Who birthday gift). They were even somewhat Whovian in appearance, with one resembling a delicacy that could have sprung from a Tardis :). Said blue treat had a delicate, glossy shell and tasted like Spring: grassy and light. The other two had a delicate raspberry jam-like centre which melted in the mouth. Fun to look at and to eat!

My almost-favourite was the She Universe Bula Bean. I’ve known of She Universe (formerly She Chocolat) for a while now, first discovering them in Governor’s Bay years ago and more recently happily realising that they also have a cafe and shop at The Tannery in Christchurch.  They supply all sorts of deliciousness and list one of their ingredients as “love”. The Bula Bean was decadent, dark and satisfying, with a coconutty scent. It had the perfect crunch when tackling the outer layer, which gave way to a velvety inner. Bloody gorgeous!

She Universe Bula Bean

She Universe Bula Bean

Last but nowhere near least, my favourite part of the selection: The She Universe Chocolate Sweetheart. This had a sprinkling of salt on the outside, which was a perfect match with (or should I say contrast to?) the caramelly inner. It was nice and big, so I took my time nibbling away at it in multiple sittings and enjoyed licking the salt off my lips, after savouring the inner sweetness. And don’t let the picture fool you: it was almost as big as my hand!

She Universe Sweetheart

She Universe Sweetheart

All in all, this was a very well thought out curation of chocolatey goodness. Rosa really does know her artisan and craft chocolate! I highly recommend getting online and ordering something from The Chocolate Tour as soon as humanly possible. You won’t regret it!

 

 

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Bake away your blues

8 Sep

There are many things in life which can be considered therapeutic: a massage, a run, a good heart to heart with a friend or whanau member. More often than not, I choose baking. It’s easy, the ingredients are generally in the pantry, it is a good way of focussing my energy and narrowing my attention onto one thing. And it makes me feel better: not just the eating of it, but the creating as well.

When I had Little Pud, I was swept up in a world of nappies, breastfeeding, bottle feeding and sleep deprivation and there was suddenly no time for myself or for the BFG. I remember one night going to sleep by his side and saying “I miss you”, because we were like the proverbial ships in the night. I would get up to feed while he slept, or he would get up to bottle feed while I pumped milk and then went back to bed. Worse, I was very anxious for quite a long time. Everything had changed. Life was no longer what we had come to know. It was at once, joyous and terrible, fun and anxiety-provoking, confusing, tiring and just plain hard, but also wondrous. Of course, it got better, but life would never be the same. I’m not saying that this is a bad thing: it just is what it is. However, I had abandoned so much of my old life and, while I (mostly) didn’t actively mourn the particular activities I no longer did, I didn’t really feel like myself anymore.

It was really important for me to get back into baking. I didn’t realise it at the time, but once I started baking again, I felt more like me. Of course, it was still only now and then that I baked, but it was wonderful to once again practise this old, familiar activity that I loved so much.

I started simply with scones or suchlike. I don’t actually recall what I first made now. It helped that I was determined to try making some baby food when it came time for Little Pud to try some solids. I tried my hand at various forms of edible slush and now I’m regularly making “weaning foods” as well as getting the Little Pud to try eating whatever we eat (minus the refined sugar and alcohol :)). There’ll be a post on weaning foods soon here and on my other blog.

Baking is also an activity that I associate with my Mum and her mum, and Grandma (Dad’s mum). It’s nice to maintain that link and know that I’m doing something that they enjoyed as well.

Of course, I’m not the only one who believes in the power of baking to heal the soul. Marian Keyes wrote a lovely recipe book called “Saved by Cake” in which she confesses that baking literally saved her life. Marian was diagnosed with depression and had tried all sorts of ways to alleviate her feeling of being “very, very afraid… like my brain  had been poisoned”. She tried Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, antidepressants, reiki, accupuncture, meditation… the list goes on. One day she needed to make a birthday cake for a friend who was visiting. She was “suspicious of anything ‘crafty'”, but gave it a go and enjoyed it so much she kept baking. After a while, she couldn’t stop. Marian stresses that baking hasn’t cured her, but “it gets me through”. Like me, it helps her to focus, to “concentrate on what’s right in front of my nose”.

And maybe baking can help you. Or maybe it’s getting back into crochet or cross-fit, beat-boxing or backgammon. Perhaps it’s time to get back into karaoke or painting the house, or even painting that work of art you’ve been putting off. Hell, maybe it’s time to just make time for some small pleasures like painting your nails. Whatever it is you choose to do, I hope you begin to find time for some fun and to restore some of the little pieces of you that may have been dormant for a while. Caring for another human is a massive job which requires love and dedication, but caring for yourself is just as important.

To finish, here’s a recipe from Marian’s book that I tried a while ago. It’s something a little different, though if you’ve heard of poke cakes before, it won’t be too unfamiliar to you. It’s moist and sweet and very much comfort food!

Bon appetit!

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Marian's Three Milks Cake

Chocolate goddess

7 Aug

Can I just say, I LOVE NIGELLA! She may be in the news for “all the wrong reasons”  (in some people’s opinion) now and then; she may draw criticism for her avocado on toast (but surely not from millenials!); she may be loved, loathed and envied for her luscious curves. I don’t care about any of that. I love her for her spunk and her recipes! Ok, ok, I admire her curves too, but mostly I love her for her food.

You may not agree with me, but you don’t have to. To me, Nigella is the epitome of sophistication, style and success. She is charming, she is intelligent and I love her pommy accent. And don’t let the dictionary fool you; pommy is generally a friendly and affectionate rather than disparaging term. At least, it is when I use it. Nigella is my culinary idol and domestic goddess.

Due to some strange oversight, I only seem to have one of her physical books. Most likely this is due to the easy accessibility to recipes that the internet brings. The one I own and love is Nigella Express.

My latest baking comes from this very book. I made one of the most delicious batches of biscuits I’ve ever baked: chocolate mint cookies. Don’t let the simple name fool you. They should really be called Awesome Little Nuggets of Chocolatey Minty Gooey Amazingness!

The recipe calls for at least 70% dark chocolate so, of course, my chocolate of choice was Whittaker’s Dark Ghana 72% chocolate.  Since Nigella is one of Whittaker’s spokespeople, I’m sure she’d approve :). Nigella’s cookies don’t actually have mint in them, but instead call for a chocolate mint icing drizzle, but I was a) too lazy to make it and b) decided that the cookies would be rich and delicious enough without it. Fortunately, I was right. To make up for the lack of the drizzle, I added peppermint essence to the cookie batter, as well as the vanilla essence in the original recipe. I doubled the recipe, so I could post some to some friends. It didn’t make double the original quota, but it still made plenty of yums. These were definitely some of the most delicious little biscuits I’ve ever made. They were (it’s worth saying again) Awesome Little Nuggets of Chocolatey Minty Gooey Amazingness! I loved them so much I made a second batch for another friend within days of the first. Here’s the recipe:

Adapted from https://www.nigella.com/recipes/chocolate-mint-cookies

I’ve come to realise that baking is one of my love languages, so I was soooo happy that the two recipients of my biscuity gift were delighted to receive them. I wish I had the time and money to bake for everyone always.

Speaking of Whittaker’s, have you seen they have four new flavours out?!?! Nicaraguan Heirloom 76% dark, Indian Cardamom and Apricots, Italian Piedmont Hazelnut and Pecans Waffle & Canadian Maple. They sound AMAZING!! I’ll be trying them over the coming weeks, so keep an eye out for them in the supermarket.

And hey, we love our avocado on toast in New Zealand, especially in Auckland. I’ve got your back, Nigella ;).

 

With love and chocolate kisses,

 

Christmas Gingerliciousness

21 Dec

Something I’ve been wanting to try for a while is making gingerbread men/women/ninjas, etc.  So, I went on the hunt for the perfect gingerbread recipe. But there are SO many recipes to choose from! There are a few kiwi recipes, for example, Annabel Langbein’s version. Or would something more traditional, like German Lebkuchen be better? The recipe I looked at for this, by the way, comes from the fantastically named website Wives with Knives and describes what a German Christmas market is like, along with very Christmassy pictures. I haven’t been to a Christmas market in Germany, but I did make it to the German Christmas market in Edinburgh a few times and have fond memories of sipping gluwein (spiced, mulled wine) and trying sweet European delicacies.

german-markets_ed

The Edinburgh German Christmas market

Or maybe I could make something less spicy and more treacily like this. I also remember with great fondness the ginger biscuits that Mum used to make, but I didn’t know whether it would be the best consistency for a gingerbread person. In the end I opted for a recipe entitled “How to make perfect gingerbread” as it sounded so promising.

The secret to success with this recipe has two vital elements:

1. Ensure that the dough has been refridgerated for a while. There are several reasons why this is a good idea. For one, it solidifies the fats, meaning they won’t leach out during the cooking process. The recipe says to pop the dough in the fridge for 30 minutes but I ran out of time to make the cookies that day and it stayed there overnight. You will see from the previous link that 30 minutes is ideal, but I found that as long as you give it some time to rest on the bench and get back to room temperature, it should be fine (I wouldn’t, however, keep the dough in the fridge for days).

2. Get the thickness right. The instructions are to roll out the dough to the thickness of a 1 pound coin, as the recipe comes from a British source. If you don’t live in the UK, this is somewhat unhelpful. I cast my mind back to living in the UK and googled just to be sure. So, if you’re a kiwi, you want the dough to be slightly more than the thickness of a New Zealand $2 coin. If you live elsewhere, you’re going to have to ask Uncle Google. But, the important thing is to not roll out the dough too thinly. The suggested thickness means that you get a soft, satisfying mouthful with each bite. Any thinner and they are just too easy to overcook, as evidenced by the ones I made with leftover dough which were edible, but not enjoyable.

I was curious about where gingerbread came from, so I asked Uncle Google. Due to lack of time and space, I won’t go into it in this blog, but you can read about its fascinating history on the Smithsonian website. Traditionally, gingerbread was a romantic gift and used to be shaped like flowers, birds, animals or even armour and there were regular gingerbread fairs in France and England. For my wee gingies, I stuck with the usual people shapes and (since I can’t bear to waste it) I used the dough spaces in between to make heart shapes.

The Sunday before last, the BFG, some friends and I had a Christmas DVD session at our house, so it was the perfect occasion for gingerbread peeps. The recipe I chose did indeed deliver pretty damn good gingerliciousness!! To make it even more fun, we each decorated our own, using writing icing and M&Ms.

Gingerbread creations

Gingerbread creations

The recipe can be found here, but it’s rather a long article, so, in summary:

perfect-gingerbread-people

I have a very talented friend who makes tiny gingerbread houses. I’m not quite at that level yet and I definitely don’t have the patience, so kudos to her!!
I’d love to hear about your gingerbread attempts/failures/successes/hints. And what shapes did you choose?
Merry Christmas to you and yours! I’m looking forward to sharing more baking adventures in 2017 :).
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The Wedding: Part Deux

9 Nov

Sooo…. it’s been over a year now since the actual wedding but, as John Lennon said, life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. Or making babies.

I finally found a few snippets of time here and there (while baby is napping, for example) to put fingers to keypad and get this post done. In The Wedding Part One, I promised that Part Two would dish the deets on “the suppliers, the highlights of the day, the honeymoon, and, most importantly, THE FOOD!” So, here we go.

Since this is (mostly) a food blog, that’s what I’m spending the most time on. However, as the venue were the suppliers of said food, they deserve a mention first.

The venue
Gracehill Vineyard Estate is not only a beautiful setting, it was simply a beautiful experience altogether. From the minute we sat down with Warren Roodt to discuss what he could offer, we felt at ease. Unlike some other venues we visited, Warren spent time going over the options and making us feel like we were important, whether we chose to use their venue for our wedding or not. At Gracehill, Warren and his wife Linda not only presented some lovely options as to how we could use their venue, they did so with a high level of professionalism as well as kindness and humour. We weren’t rushed or pressured and they offered a very competitive winter wedding special. Despite the season, we still wanted the ceremony to take place outdoors. Warren assured us that they could set everything up outside but, at a moment’s notice, could rearrange everything indoors if the weather didn’t hold (fortunately it did). They were open to whatever level of decoration we wanted for the reception and were flexible with the meal selections, which was perfect given that I and several of our guests required vegetarian or gluten free options. They even cooked a special meal just for the BFG-husband-to-be, as he decided he’d like something special for such a festive occasion. The BFG is, decidedly, NOT vegetarian, so they prepared a Beef Wellington for him and even let us have an extra dessert to share :).

We were really impressed with the wait and bar staff and how everything ran seamlessly, including the music (for both the ceremony and the dancing) and the all-important monitoring of the bar tab :). We were also pleasantly surprised by the special touches, such as presenting our Best Man and Maid of Honour (Oh Chief of the Brideslaves) with a bottle of bubbly to celebrate the fact that they had got married at the very same venue, in the same month, but four years earlier.

We can’t say enough good things about this venue and would recommend it to any couple looking to get married somewhere really special.

Blackroom Sarah's wedding blog-21

The food
The food was divine! We had bubbles just after the ceremony along with some delightful canapes: mini BBQ pulled pork burgers with crispy purple slaw; pan seared prawns with garlic, lemon and dill mayonnaise; and mozzarella arancini with tomato and basil coulis for the vegetarians.

For the meat eaters, the entree selections were smoked ham hock rillette with warm mustard veloute and crisp; and grilled thyme and rosemary chicken on a haricot bean and pancetta cassoulet. The vegetarians were lucky enough to enjoy a caramelised shallot Tarte Tatin with roasted peppers and rocket.

The main meal choices for the carnivores were sticky beef short ribs with potato gratin, honey glazed carrots and braised leeks or Marlborough Salmon with a lemon and parsley crumb accompanied by crushed potato and green pea sauce. The vegos supped on potato, leek & mushroom filo pie with baby spinach salad.

Finally, the desserts! Sticky date pudding with caramel sauce and crème fraiche ice-cream or warm chocolate fudge cake with chocolate semifreddo and salted caramel sauce. There was also a spiced apple crumble for the vegan and gluten free guests.

 

Of course, I didn’t try the meaty meals, but the shallot Tarte Tatin was a perfect balance of sweet caramelised shallots and rich roasted peppers with some very tasty pastry.  I was too nervous about my speech to finish the main course but it was cooked to perfection. Having had the chance to try the first two desserts, I can state with great satisfaction that they were decadent and delicious!

The photographer
Megan Blackwell of Blackroom Photography was absolutely wonderful. We chose her not only because she is a friend of ours but because she does beautiful work. And, as it turns out, she is also a pleasure to work with. We were really pleased with how easy she made the whole process: from discussing possible shots before the event, to helping us to compose great photos on the day, to finally putting it all together into albums and onto canvas, Megan was organised, professional, friendly and just plain delightful. It can be a risk engaging a friend in what is essentially a business relationship but, fortunately, Megan did not disappoint. I have since recommended her to many people for their weddings or other special occasion photography and would not hesitate to do so again. She managed to capture some very special moments. All of the photos in these two wedding posts are from Blackroom Photography. Megan’s blog post on our wedding can be found here.

 

Hair and make-up
Elizabeth and her assistant from Face Me Make-up did a smashing job on my hair and make-up and really did help me to feel like I was the most beautiful bride ever. A special mention here goes to my Maid of Honour, who did the bridesmaids’ make-up and one of my other bridesmaids who did the bridesmaids’ hair. You really don’t have to spend a lot of money to get quality work done! Our budget only allowed for professional hair and make-up work for me, so I am just very lucky to have two very talented friends whose hair and make-up skills were second to none (even the professional!).

Blackroom Sarah's Blog-4

The wedding night
We didn’t immediately set off on honeymoon as we wanted to spend the day after the wedding with family at our place. But we did stay somewhere special on our wedding night. Rosebud Cottage was tastefully decorated, warm and cosy. A highlight was the outdoor bath under the stars! Our hosts were lovely and even posted back the tie that the BFG accidentally left behind.

Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, we were not able to have our honeymoon in Thailand, as planned. But we were lucky enough to have two local honeymoons instead: the first in Rotorua just after the wedding, and the second in Wellington a few months later. Highlights of the first included visiting Paradise Valley Springs Wildlife Park, staying in a suite and getting massages. The best bits of the second were the Zest Food Tour, the Weta Workshop tour, and Wellington Zoo, where we experienced a Cheetah encounter.

All in all, we had a perfect day and a lovely pair of honeymoons. What a very lucky girl I am :). And now, we also have a beautiful baby boy. More on this at my other blog The Pudding Club… when he gives me some time to write!

I would love for you to share the best bits of your wedding and any recommendations you might have for those planning their special days below :). Till next time…

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From Blueberry to Clafoutis

13 May

I do love French dishes and this is one of my favourites. I made this dish in celebration of my little uterus dance party-er, otherwise known as Little Pudding, reaching the 35 week milestone. He had miraculously grown from the size of a blueberry at seven weeks to the size of two clafoutis at 35 weeks. If you’d like to read more about Little Pudding’s journey, pop over to the latest Pudding Post on my other blog, Pudding Club Days, for the whole story.

I found one blog that called this dish a sour cherry baked pancake, but that doesn’t really do it justice. Clafoutis, pronounced kla-foo-tee, is a classic French dessert: a kind of sweet, baked, dense custard filled with cherries. I was surprised to find that this recipe wasn’t included in my favourite French patisserie book, mentioned in one of my previous blog posts, so I had to search the interwebs to find a good ‘un. Since I had a special reason for making this recipe, I wanted to try one that used blueberries instead of cherries, plus it’s much easier to find frozen blueberries than to source affordable cherries in my neck of the woods.

Many recipes vied for my attention, including some lovely looking ones from Julia Childs and Jamie Oliver, and even a chocolate-plum version from our own Mrs Cake, which I HAVE to try making next! This Guardian post describes how to achieve the “perfect” clafoutis and explains some of the more time consuming, fiddly parts of the traditional method, but I was looking for something quick and easy. Finally, I found a River Cottage recipe that employed blueberries instead of cherries, which was closer to what I was looking for. But, in the end, my recipe wasn’t exactly the same as any of the above, which is often more fun than sticking to a recipe :). Here’s my version, roughly based on Jamie Oliver’s one. I hope you give it a go.

Little Pudding’s Blueberry Clafoutis

You’ll can make this in a casserole dish or cake tin, but it tends to be quite flat (especially once it’s cut up), so a flan or pie dish is best.

Ingredients

For the beginning and end of the dish

  • Butter for greasing the dish
  • 1 Tbsp white sugar
  • Around 300g of frozen blueberries, thawed
  • Icing sugar for dusting (optional)

For the batter

  • 60 grams plain flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 3 large free-range eggs
  • 60 grams white sugar
  • 300 ml cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • a pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 180ºC, grease an approximately 25cm round pie or flan dish with butter and then sprinkle the tablespoon of sugar over the surface.

Mix the batter ingredients in a food processor until completely smooth, then set aside for 20 or 30 minutes. This seems to give the mixture time to get that lovely chemical rising process going.

Place the blueberries into the dish, trying to get them reasonably evenly spread over the base. If you haven’t made time to thaw them first (I didn’t), then put the dish in the oven for five minutes or so to soften the berries.

Once that’s done, take the dish out of the oven and pour the batter over the blueberries. They should be just covered. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes: the result should be a puffy, browned dessert.

Serve warm, dusted with icing sugar if you like. And, if you’re anything like me, you’ll also add a scoop or two of ice cream to the bowl.

I’d love to hear if you try out any of the recipes and how you get on.  Bon appétit!

 

Naughty New Year Niceties

26 Feb

We were away for the holiday period so I didn’t have the chance to do much cooking or baking, apart from helping out in other people’s kitchens, which mostly involved chopping veges and tasting dishes. I had planned to write about my Christmas recipe experiments, but in the end there weren’t any. Oops. Instead I travelled, visited friends and family, socialised and relaxed.

So, instead of Christmas recipes, I have a couple of New Year recipes for you. One is pretty easy-peasy and the other, a little harder, especially if you are easily distracted like me…

Potato Gratin

This is a favourite of mine because it’s so easy and so damn delicious. As a bonus, it’s reasonably healthy too. The traditional French recipe calls for lots of cream and butter: this is just as delicious but with less of the fatty stuff. Make sure you cook it for at least an hour so that the potatoes are melt-in-the-mouth consistency and the stock has had time to develop into a thick, tasty sauce.

I have made this recipe so many times that it can really only be called a very loose adaptation of the one I originally found in a low-fat cook book, which I sadly no longer possess.

Potato Gratin Recipe

  • 1 garlic clove (ok, so I forgot this this time so I’m going to call it optional, but it does add some flavour)
  • Around 5 large potatoes – how many you use depends on how deep you want the dish to be. Bear in mind that the deeper it is, the more cooking it will need. I usually use 4 – 6 potatoes, depending on their size –  Cut these into thin slices
  • 600ml to 1 litre vegetable stock – the original recipe used chicken stock, but vege stock gives just as much flavour
  • Parmesan cheese, grated – approximately 1 cupful (the original recipe says 3 tbsp but hey)
  • A pinch of nutmeg
  • Salt and black pepper to season
  • A large, oven-proof dish. I used an ovular Pyrex one (see photos)
  1. Preheat the oven to 200° C (392 °F)
  2. Halve the garlic clove and rub over the bottom and sides of your dish, then grease the dish as well. You can use a roasting dish if you don’t have a Pyrex one
  3. Arrange the thinly sliced potato pieces in the dish so they form a layer
  4. Sprinkle with some grated Parmesan and season with salt and pepper
  5. Layer again with potatoes and sprinkle with cheese, salt, pepper
  6. Repeat until you reach your desired dish depth. The original recipe says three layers, but I tend to do a few more
  7. Pour stock over so that it is enough to cover the potatoes but not drown them
  8. Sprinkle with nutmeg
  9. Add a final covering of cheese
  10. Bake at 180 deg for about an hour. You may need to extend this to 1.5 hours, depending on your oven and how much you want to brown the potatoes
  11. Test near the end of the cooking time to ensure that the potatoes are soft and the stock sauce is bubbling and thickened

Beautiful as a main or as a side dish.

 

Russian Fudge

I managed to whip up some Russian Fudge for a loved one’s birthday. As I launched into the fudge making process, I had vague memories of only ever having made this particular treat successfully once, but I ignored that and decided that it was time to give it another crack. Well, in all honesty, it is not the easiest thing to make and it was almost a disaster and I almost had a meltdown, which is not really like me, but I am a little bit more prone to meltdowns at the moment…

I have to confess to not being very good at carefully watching things that are simmering or boiling on the stove top, such as custard, white sauces or… fudge. So, it came very close to being burnt. After attempting to bring the mixture to the boil, I saw some ominous brown flecks float to the surface, pulled the saucepan off the element and declared the project a ruinous mess! But then the BFG (after sticking a finger in the hot-mess-mix and then in his mouth) pointed out that it didn’t taste or look burnt and I should soldier on. And so, soldier on I did, being a lot more careful to SLOWLY heat the mixture and to bring it to a GENTLE boil as the recipe instructs and it turned out pretty perfectly. I think part of the problem is that I get impatient and turn the heat up too high and, not surprisingly, end up burning things. Let’s just say that the BFG no longer lets me grill things in the oven. Well, he threatens this anyway :). So, my tips for good fudge making include:

  1. Keep an eagle eye on the mixture while it’s heating and make sure you’re doing it gradually (read: slowly and gently heating!)
  2. Follow the instructions around the timing of the boiling and the beating of the mixture
  3. Use the soft ball test. It actually works! This is when you test if the mixture is ready by dropping a little bit into cold water and seeing if it forms a soft ball. If it’s just a blob, it’s too soon; if it’s a hard ball, it’s too late!

Russian Fudge recipe

I used the Chelsea Sugar recipe, which is apparently originally a Jo Seagar recipe.

  • 3.5 cups white sugar
  • 125g butter
  • 3 Tbsp Golden Syrup
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 200g sweetened condensed milk (half a tin)
  • 2 tsp vanilla essence
  1. Grease a 20cm cake tin or slice tin
  2. Place all the ingredients except the vanilla into a medium, heavy based saucepan
  3. Warm over a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved, about 10-15 mins
  4. Bring to a gentle boil and cook for about 10-15 minutes, until it reaches the soft ball stage (as mentioned above, but if you have a candy thermometer the temperature should reach 120°C
  5. Remove from the heat and add the vanilla
  6. Cool for 5 minutes then beat using an electric mixer until the fudge is creamy and thick and has lost its gloss (approx. 10 minutes)
  7. Pour into the prepared tin, score the top and cut into pieces when set

A tip from the original website: Cut two sheets of baking paper the width of the tin, criss-cross the paper to line the tin making sure the sheets are long enough to extend over the sides. Use the paper to lift the fudge out of the tin once it has set.

Unfortunately I didn’t take many photos of the fudge: the ones that didn’t end up in the birthday package (along with some of my date truffles) were taken to my Book Club… and devoured! If you’re wondering what the first picture is, it’s my Scottish spoon rest. Brought back all the way from Edinburgh and very handy too!

 

Before I finish, for those who are wondering, there will be a wedding blog part deux, but all in good time, my friends. I may have been a little distracted by another exciting blogject on the go! It was launched a couple of weeks ago and can be read here: Pudding Club Days.