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Thursday, 29 November 2012

chocolate: an education

A coffee worth the 60-mile round-trip.
But then, I wasn't driving.
Good coffee is notoriously tricky to find outside of the M25 * (and if any of you are even tempted to mention Starbucks, please, just- don't) and so as ludicrous as it sounds, the Husband and I quite often trek over to DunneFrankowski's Protein in Shoreditch for a decent one. This might seem a bit OTT, but a) we're both unashamedly snobbish when it comes to coffee, and b) we're good friends with Rob (Dunne) and Vic (Frankowski), so the 30-mile mission isn't quite as ridiculous as it might first appear. I've always considered these two to be crusaders of a sort- essentially, they're on a mission to get people drinking proper coffee (not low-fat, toffee nut soya lattes), and I suppose they realised that chocolate suffered the same break- people have long since forgotten what it actually is, how to make it, and how to eat it. And so after chatting to Michael Lowe from chocolatier Paul A Young over a coffee, they asked him to arrange a chocolate tasting (read: re-education) one Sunday. I'm not one to say 'no' to chocolate for breakfast, so that's where we found ourselves.

Sure beats coco pops...
I've already confessed my gender-driven compulsion for shopping, and yes, I do enjoy a crap rom-com every once in a while (especially if Jennifer Anniston pops up somewhere), but really I think it goes without saying that, like most girls, I'm quite fond of a good bit of chocolate. Whilst I'm just as snobbish about it as I am my coffee, I have to admit I'd never given the stuff much thought beyond 'well this stuff's obviously better- it's twice the price, and in nice paper...' which is arguably the same yardstick I apply to a lot of my purchases.  I know the American stuff is shit, the Belgian stuff is good, and Cadburys... well, they're a bit like Starbucks. But that was the extent of my chocolate expertees, so I was quite keen to learn more.

Cocoa nibs. An acquired taste...
Chocolate is the only edible substance to contain more aromatics than coffee. If I'm honest, I thought 'aromatic' was just a flowery term used to describe wine, Thai food or candles, but as it turns out, it's a bona fide scientific measurement of certain compounds. On average, coffee has about 850 aromatics compared to chocolate's 1600- hence why Rob and Vic were so interested in the first place. The similarities between coffee and chocolate don't end there- both are grown in a relatively limited geographical region, both are roasted, and, importantly, both are hugely misunderstood everyday commodities. Paul A Young are one of only three chocolate producers in the UK to buy and roast their own cocoa beans (though admittedly this is no guarantee of quality, as Cadbury are one of the others), and they make everything on site, and by hand, the old-school way. So if this makes for a good chocolate, what makes a bad one? Plenty, apparently. Cocoa beans are fermented and roasted to develop flavour; the levels of each required to get the perfect taste vary hugely bean-by-bean, but if you're a mass-producing chocolate conglomerate, then it's tricky, time consuming and expensive to get a consistent product at the end of the process. Unless, that is, you under-ferment and over-roast your beans. This way everything tastes bad, but at least it tastes consistently bad. And it's OK, because you have emulsifiers, sugar, veg oil and artificial flavourings handy anyway.

Every bean is about 45% cocoa butter, and it's this that is actually the costly part of the bean. A lot of the 'crap' chocolate manufacturers remove the majority of this, sell it (to The BodyShop, presumably...) and replace it with milk solids and veg oil- normally Palm oil. This, in turn, hurts Orangutangs. And trees. Plus, I really feel that if you are extracting the essence of the bean from your chocolate, then it isn't really chocolate. It's fake chocolate.

So let's talk about good chocolate- this is where my breakfast comes in. I tried a few, but I'll run you through three...

The Venezuelan 72%
First up was a Madagascan 50% cocoa. Yes, a milk chocolate, but Galaxy it aint. Creamy just doesn't do it justice- it melted in the mouth, and had none of that chalky texture of the cheap stuff. Then, just to liven up my tastebuds a bit, I nibbled on some cocoa nibs (also referred to as pate or chocolate liquor). This was 100% raw, hand picked, hand dried cocoa from Madagascar. Having not been fermented or roasted, and containing no sugar, it's unsurprisingly pretty bitter. However, it's smoother than you'd expect, and oddly cooling on your tongue. It's also strangely addictive, and apparently great for baking with. However, my favourite of the half a dozen or so I tried was the Venezuelan 72%. Now without sounding like too much of a ponce, it managed to taste floral and earthy at the same time, and wasn't as bitter as many chocolates I've eaten with a lower cocoa content. It's supposed to be quite good for tempering, too.

There we go. I do hope this doesn't all seem like too much of a rant. Yes, good chocolate is more expensive than shit chocolate- if you want to gorge on an entire bar of the stuff in front of X-Factor, then cool- stick to the Cadburys. But if you like real chocolate- the stuff you can still taste two hours later, and has actually seen a cocoa bean, then I'd say it's worth shelling out the extra pennies. The Orangutangs will thank you for it.

* So to make it easier, I'll tell you where to go: any Wyombeites reading this need to visit to The Pantry (@thenewpantry). It's proper coffee, and they pay their tax bill.

mrs hunt.x

An Orangutang. He's happy.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

autumn leaves, salad leaves

The leaves are golden, the Coca Cola ad has been sighted, and leaving the house in fewer than four layers is, frankly, silly. What better way to celebrate the onset of the chillier months than a warming, hearty... salad. Yes, stews are comforting, stodgy, and arguably more seasonally appropriate, but if you eat hotpot for dinner every night, you'll have a coronary by Christmas. Besides which, this is a very seasonal salad, and because it's healthy you can follow it up with a sticky toffee pudding (or three) and sleep soundly.

A Winter Salad with Beetroot-Roasted Chicken:

What You Need:

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, from happy chickens. 
  • Raspberry vinegar. I use Womersley because I'm a sucker for a nice-looking bottle, and it's the best tasting I've found.
  • Cooked baby beetroot
  • Chilli flakes
  • A squeeze of lemon juice
  • Decent quality olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground back pepper

  • 1 red onion
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Apple (I used Pink Lady for a crisper taste than most others)
  • A handful of walnuts,  lightly crushed
  • 1 medium-soft British goat cheese round, sliced
  • Salad leaves (I used baby spinach and rocket)
  • Flat leaf parsely, to garnish

What You Do:

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees if it's fan assisted, 200 degrees otherwise. In a pestle and mortar (or something to that effect), bash up the beetroot with a hefty pinch of salt, lots of pepper, and chilli flakes. Do so carefully- the beetroot are slippery little buggers.

2. Once mashed to a pulp, add a good glug of olive oil, a touch of raspberry vinegar, and a squeeze of lemon juice. Don't go too crazy with either, since the pickled beetroot will already be quite acidic. The consistency should still be fairly thick, and it should taste sweet, tangy, with a noticeable kick from the chilli.

3. Dice up your chicken thighs. I use this cut because the darker meat is naturally a lot juicier, and develops a stronger taste from being so close to the bone. Breast meat is comparatively bland, dries out very quickly, and is more expensive. Aim for bitesize pieces- it's always nice to have a salad you can eat with just a fork; it feels more refined, somehow. Place these in an ovenproof dish, and rub all over with your beetroot mix. Use gloves if you'd like your hands to remain the colour they are.

4. Give your chicken a final sprinkling of salt and pepper, and pop in the middle of your oven for 20-25 minutes. The meat turns a glorious pink colour, which looks lovely but can disguise undercooked chicken. Check the centre of your largest piece at the 20 minute mark, but don't just panic and cremate the whole thing regardless.

5. While the chicken is in the oven, halve your red onion and slice thinly into slivers. Put a generous knob of butter into a non-stick pan, and cook the onion on the lowest heat possible, stirring regularly and watching like a hawk to ensure it doesn't catch. While you're doing this, put your salad leaves into a nice-looking bowl, crunch your walnut halves, and slice up the apple as thinly as you can manage. Don't do this too early, as it will start to go brown.

6. Slice your goat's cheese, and arrange on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle over a few more chilli flakes if you enjoy a bit more spice. This only needs about three minutes in the oven, so check on your chicken first.

7. Add a generous splash of balsamic vinegar to your onions, and crank up the heat. They should turn sticky and slightly crisped after a minute or so, but do make sure they're not burning.

8. Once the goat's cheese has melted slightly, remove from the oven with the chicken. Dress your salad with some olive oil, a touch of the raspberry vinegar and seasoning, and toss with the apple and walnuts. Then arrange your chicken, and place the melting goat's cheese slice on top. Spoon over the red onion, and garnish with parsley.

This can be served with whatever you fancy- toasted sourdough bread and butter is always nice, as are sweet potato chips. This served two of us, but with a bit of tweaking could stretch as far as you like.

And don't forget the sticky toffee puddings, eh?

mrs hunt.x