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The World’s Best Hotel

September 25, 2009 Leave a comment

Hotel Chocolat, let me count the ways in which I love thee…

Well, firstly, there’s my Chocolate Tasting Club solid selection box which arrives through my door every month, and I’m, along with the OH, steadily working my way through the latest package of goodies which arrived last week.

Secondly, there’s your amazing quality chocolates, including your high cocoa percentage milks and your seriously tasty darks.

Thirdly, there’s your Rocky Road mini slab. Enough said.

And you’re kind of ethical too. Well done.

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‘Good, shop-bought vanilla ice cream’

August 28, 2009 Leave a comment

Green & Black's Vanilla Ice Cream

‘Good, shop-bought vanilla ice cream’ is a phrase I often stick on the end of a recipe, and I’m not alone, but what does this mean? Vanilla ice cream is a great accompaniment to so many desserts, particularly warm puddings (apple pie anyone?), especially chocolate based ones, is useful for tarting up something shop-bought, and is a great dessert standby all of its own. But, look down the freezer aisle in the supermarket, and there is such a huge variety, what constitutes good?

A traditional (read ‘proper’) ice cream is essentially a frozen custard – a mix of cream and milk, sugar, egg yolks or eggs, and flavouring, and this sort of ice cream is what I would recommend – look at the ingredients, and if they’re mostly dairy, sugar, eggs and natural flavourings, and probably a few other bits and pieces like stabilisers, then you’re on to a winner. An ice cream like this will have the desired creamy texture, and a rich flavour.

Of course, the better ice creams are more expensive. The cheaper ones are likely to have far less dairy, no eggs, unnatural flavourings, and essentially be whipped oil with loads of other stuff in. After all, which sounds tastier, ‘cream’ or ‘partially reconstituted whey protein concentrate and coconut oil’. They are also more likely to be bland and without flavour, and develop ice crystals really quickly in the freezer. Think of it as a good investment – a little more outlay will reap huge rewards, by which I mean a nicer texture, and a better flavour – and don’t think that vanilla ice cream is ‘plain’ or without flavour, because the best ones are far from this.

So, a few recommendations, and of course these are just my favourites and you may have other brands you like. Try a few out, go by the ingredients, and see what you think.

Green & Blacks Organic Vanilla Ice Cream is at the top of my list – it’s delicious. A quick glance at the ingredients list tells you all you need to know – all of the contents seems sensible, and you get a smooth ice cream with the taste of vanilla. (Incidentally, they do more flavours now – try Vanilla Caramel Nut. Go on, try it. Now.)

Ben & Jerry’s Fairtrade Vanilla is another good one. And it’s Fairtrade, so you’ll be doing your bit. And I don’t think there’s a flvaour of their ice cream that isn’t amazing.

Lots of smaller, independent producers make some great ice cream too. Perhaps try your local farm shop. Ooh, and look out for ice creams made with Cornish clotted cream, they’re fantastic. M&S does a good one.

And finally, Wall’s Carte D’Or is nice too. While it breaks some of the ingredients ‘rules’ I’ve talked about above, probably placing it somewhere between cheap ice creams and ‘proper’ ones, it’s a good enough freezer standby, with a nice flavour.

What’s your favourite ice cream?

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All in a pickle

August 24, 2009 Leave a comment

I was going to start this post with ‘Is there much in life better than a cheese and pickle sandwich?’, but actually, I realised I could start so many posts with this line (‘Is there much better in life than a really good dark chocolate, creamy, buttery mashed potatoes, perfect roast chicken, sweet, juicy, ripe tomatoes…’ the list goes on…) that it could be construed as fairly meaningless.

But, as ever, I digress. A cheese and pickle sandwich is great – good, crusty bread, topped with tangy, super-duper mature cheddar and a thick smear of pickle. Delicious. Branston’s is my pickle of choice, and recently they seem to be expanding their range. Their beetroot pickle is great, and has been a regular in my fridge for a while – quick cheese and beetroot sandwiches, with something more, and perhaps a little safer for eating in a white shirt.

You’ll perhaps already know that I adore red peppers and tomatoes, so how could I resist their latest offering – Red Pepper and Tomato pickle. And it delivered! The wonderful tang you’re looking for with pickle, the sweetness of tomatoes, the right amount of spiciness. So, it passed the cheese sandwich test, next up – smeared on toast, topped with thick rounds of mozzarella and grilled until the cheese is runny. Yum!

Branston Red Pepper and Tomato Pickle – £1.29 / 360g, Tesco

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Tesco Finest Raspberry Brulee Cheesecake

August 4, 2009 Leave a comment

Tesco Finest Raspberry Brulee Cheesecake

Even the most hardcore foodie shouldn’t feel guilty about buying a good pudding. I mean, sometimes, if you’re getting home from work and cooking dinner, especially one requiring more than  a mild amount of effort, you might not be in the mood or have the time for the extra work involved. You may, of course, disagree – some puddings are easy to make, some are worth the effort, and some can only be homemade – it is a rare supermarket cake that stands up to something you’ve baked yourself, or isn’t full of tut you wouldn’t put in at home.

Everyone’s idea of what constitutes a ‘good’ shop-brought pudding will be different too – for me it is probably going to be about trying new flavours, or something far to complicated for me to even comtemplate making, and probably won’t be full of strangely named ingredients that I don’t know the purpose of.

And so, I present to you a recent discovery and my freezer standby of the moment – Tesco Finest Raspberry Brulee Cheesecake. Very delicious, with its ‘Madagascan vanilla cheesecake’ and ‘Heritage’ raspberries, the highlight of this is its brulee style hard caramel topping. Yum. Having worked my way through much of Tesco’s Finest frozen dessert selection recently, (they all look so delicious!), this is the winner for me, and I encourage you to try it.

Overexcited by the novelty of a cheesecake with brulee topping, or, indeed, anything with a hard, sugary crust, my plan is to explore in what direction I can take this concept, so hopefully home-made bruleeing reports to follow.

Tesco Finest Raspberry Brulee Cheesecake – £3.49 (475g), Tesco.

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Simply Divine

July 29, 2009 Leave a comment

I like chocolate. A lot. Who wouldn’t? So much deliciousness to be had. I cook a lot with chocolate, and in fact, despite recent branching out into other areas (and a recent lemon meringue pie was so good, I’ll no doubt cook again soon and wax lyrical here), the vast majority of my puddings seem to be chocolate based.

The good news then, is that recent years seem to have resulted in an explosion in the availability, variety and quality of chocolate available to buy, especially 70%+ dark chocolate, the backbone of most of my cocoa bean based baking. There is also a much better range of milk chocolate, with higher than standard cocoa content, sometimes useful in cooking and always welcome in eating.

Traditionally, my personal favourite for eating has been Green & Blacks – what could possibly go better with a steaming mug of freshly brewed coffee than a slab of Maya Gold. Or  Dark & Ginger. Or Dark & Cherry. Or Milk & Butterscotch. You get the picture.

For cooking, I’m somewhat less fussy. Of course, dark has to be a minimum of 70% cocoa solids, but other than that, until someone educates me to the contrary (perhaps my palette isn’t as discerning as I’d like), as long as it’s good, it doesn’t make a lot of difference. So one of the deciding factors will probably be the price. Lots of ‘own-brand’ (usually the ‘finest’ or ‘taste the difference’ or ‘doesn’t the shiny, expensive looking packaging make this more tempting’ type ranges) available in supermarkets are really quite good, and clearly, when faced with the choice you’d have to be mad to buy chocolate for cooking from the ‘home baking’ aisle rather than the confectionary aisle, the difference seemingly lower quality, more expensive and less choice. (And, for me, there is something alarmingly off-putting about Doctor Oetker’s 70’s cream-and-stripe packaging, which might be shallow but I’m swayed by pretty boxes.)

So, when stocking up and looking for the bright shelf-edge labels indicating a potential bargain to be had (and for ‘multi-buy’ type offers, do quickly calculate that it is a genuine bargain and you aren’t just saving three pence, feeling smug for it and buying warehouse-type quantities of something you won’t use) I came across Divine Chocolate. And it is. It’s delicious, the milk bar is really creamy, and the dark bar has the telling ‘snap’ of quality. It worked great in cooking, and, it’s Fairtrade too. Now, I must confess I am a wanabe ethical shopper – I support the principles of Fairtrade, and the products usually are of good quality, but if shopping in the weeks before a payday, sometimes find the price-tag a little prohibitive. Good news then! Divine is really competitively priced, cheaper in fact that some similar quality, non-ethical (and I’m not suggesting for a minute that non-Fairtrade stamped products mean the manufacturers must treat their producers like dirt), so winners all round.

I’m also going to enthusiastically recommend Divine’s Milk Chocolate and Orange bar. My orange chocolate of choice, as I’ve already said and will no doubt crop up again, is G&B’s Maya Gold, but for a milkier, creamier treat, or for those of you that don’t like the spice of Maya, or indeed, dark chocolate as eating chocolate, this is a star. Much nicer than a certain foil-wrapped spherical version produced by a chap called Terrence.

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Dorset Cereals Tasty Fruit and Fibre

July 27, 2009 Leave a comment

Breafast cereals and I have a problem. The cause, of course, is entirely selfish. As you’ll hopefully get a sense of as I add to this blog, I like variety. (Or at least, I like to think I do. The spice of life and all that!) With limited time, and limited desire to make much of an effort, early on weekday mornings, having a stash of cereal seems like a sensible thing to do, but eating the same thing each morning doesn’t appeal, so often a box of cereal, greedily opened for an evening snack after an impromptu trip to the supermarket, sits in the cupboard for a while with just a few bowlfuls eaten.

And so we come to the reason for this particular entry – Dorset Cereals Fruit & Fibre. Don’t be put off by the name, for this is a long way from the traditional plain dusty flakes and dull dried fruit, but a fantastic mix of cereal flakes and a generous helping of really good dried fruit. It was the pineapple and papaya version which I tried, although I suspect the other offering (dates and almonds) will be just as delicious. Great with milk, but (in my opinion) even better mixed with a roughly equal quantity of yoghurt. Great box too – although do heed the advice to open the bag with scissors, which I read after I had hastily (and, as ever, clumsily) torn open the tough plastic liner rendering me unable to pour the cereal into my waiting bowl.

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