Floral Creams – to love or hate?

I know a lot of people have either a love or hate relationship with floral flavours – rose, violet, lavender and geranium –  these flavours seem to represent a collective niche of individuals who buy chocolate as they are ‘someone’s particular favourite’ or they bring back a nostalgic childhood memory. ‘Oh, these remind me of spending weekends at my grandparents years ago when I was little’.

I hear this sentiment expressed by a lot by people who are looking to buy chocolate. They are influenced by happy memories and of course chocolate can be the master of creating emotive feeling! Nothing can ensare the senses more. My grandfather would often give me either a pound or a piece of chocolate secretly if I was standing behind him and I used to love the surprise gesture! Nobody else knew he had given me chocolate (I wasn’t allowed any in case it spoiled my dinner) but the day had become a little brighter!

It is funny the things you remember. That is one of clearest and happiest memories of my grandfather and still today….I love violet creams! For some, they are a little too sweet and sugary but for me, the mere smell of them makes me happy. Perhaps we all associate something positive with the food we enjoy eating….a memory of a feeling maybe when we first tried something. Taste and smell can take you back years.

The traditional English Creams are maybe not everyone’s cup of tea but there is something comforting for me about trying one from time to time. It is just a simple fondant centre with essential oil, nothing complex but within that simplicity comes an appreciation of traditional and perhaps more conservative taste. Not a bad thing overall but as always, it is important to try new things.

Preserving tradition without innovation and experimentation only instills a sense of unoriginality and stifles creativity. Both must exist in equilibrium. As much as we love the things we do, we must make room to explore new ideas and tastes. Favourites will always be favourites but until you try something else, nothing else has the potential to be a favourite. What we relate to changes over time. Lets try something new!

What is your favourite chocolate and why and most importantly, what would you love to try?

 

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What’s so good about Grenadian Chocolate? (Everything!)

Grenada 60% Nibilicious

Now – I am a great believer in trying new (and good) things. When you end up absolutely loving something, the tendency is to keep buying the same bar of chocolate over and over again. Who doesn’t have their favourite preference? My guilty pleasure is rose in milk chocolate. I only allow myself to have it when I feel I really deserve it (or if it is pouring with rain outside and I want to feel better).

I have to say that Grenada Chocolate bars are fast becoming some of my number one choice if I want to have some dark chocolate. If you were familiar with my last post, I talked a bit about the late Mott Green and how he founded the Grenada Chocolate Company which is a bean to bar operation. The profits generated from making the chocolate go back to the people who produce it.

If you have never tried the Grenada 60% Nibilicious bar, I would urge you to do so. I think what I love so much about it is that there is a great variety of flavour and texture here. Within this bar, the entire process of making chocolate is encapsulated. We have the nibs combined with what would be finished product after the nibs have been ground and conched – (of course then, after a few more steps we have – chocolate as the end product!) The crunchy nibs combined with the rich and fruity floral notes ensures the palate detects every nuance of flavour found in the bean which is precisely what I love about this bar. Crunchy, fruity and incredibly moreish, this is high up on my list. There’s just so much going on!

Grenada 100%

Of course, the Grenada 100% is a  popular bar with so many people (my husband included) who could eat it in abundance and without guilt ( if I let him!) Within a tiny square, you have to brace your palate as there is going to be what I would call a firework display of taste. It is like having the chocolate equivalent of a double espresso. When someone said, ‘You have to try this’, I thought to myself – ‘Sure, OK. I mean I’m pretty safe, there’s no sugar after all. It’s not like I will really enjoy this and become addicted or anything.’

Famous last words of course!

I didn’t really think I would enjoy it. Biggest mistake ever. I love it. This is a bar which is bursting with the natural flavours of the bean. What a fool I was to believe that I needed sugar to make it taste palatable. (This is coming from someone who growing up always needed to have a massive dollop of ketchup on her plate). Of course, saying that, this bar is very intense and not everyone’s cup of tea. What I would say is if you could allow your palate to recover from the initial shock and allow yourself to really explore the taste, you will not be disappointed. Sharp, tangy and bursting with rich floral notes, this is a bar that allows you to discover Grenadian chocolate in all its natural glory.

Stay tuned for more reviews coming soon!

© Christina McDonald 2014.

 

Having a ‘wee’ bite to eat at ‘Attendant’!

My friend and I discovered an interesting little place recently and it isn’t one you would feel a natural inclination to visit (unless you had a call of nature). I suppose this is a call of a different kind – hunger! ‘Attendant’ is a Victorian public toilet that has been converted into a downstairs cafe in Fitzrovia, Central London. When I first heard about this place, I wasn’t sure if it was something I really wanted to visit. Food and toilets just don’t mix right? All the years of washing my hands before I eat didn’t seem to make sense here! I had to give it a try – for the sake of curiosity!

We made our way downstairs into the ‘loo’ and I have to say I was really impressed with what had been done with the space. It was a bustling, lively, vibrant little hot spot where people could come in and buy a latte or a cappuccino to stay or go. The food was tasty and the service, very efficient. The staff were polite and friendly and seemed to really enjoy working there which was great to see. I would urge you to check this one out and if you want something a bit different, this is the place to visit. This is exactly why I have stayed in London for such a long time – discovering places like this! Sitting at a urinal eating and drinking is quite surreal but in an enjoyable way!

The atmosphere, even though it was very busy was pretty chilled out and people seemed to spend a lot of time in there just reading, chatting and writing. This place has a very special character and it really makes you appreciate the hard work and effort that has gone into transforming space and what potential there is do something extraordinarily different.

One thing is for sure – it works!

You have GOT to try the salted caramel brownies as they are too delicious for words. I would have to say they are some of the best brownies I have ever tasted. If the frantic pace of London is getting you down, it is a great little place to hide away in for a few minutes! It can get very busy and at meal times, the place is heaving. I have no complaints at all. There is also a message board where you can leave a note – whatever you like – about your experience. This was a very fun diversion, very much off the beaten track from what you usually expect from a cafe in Central London.

The only thing is – they don’t have a loo! It felt weird leaving and having to look for a toliet.

A definite must see!

© Christina McDonald 2014

 

Not a morning person? A piece of dark chocolate might do the trick…

Alarm clock goes off. You feel instantly startled, fumbling with your eyes still half-closed searching for the ‘off’ button wondering what the urgent problem is until you realise ‘oh yes, time to get up..again.’ Another week is here. Not long after, I start craving something to banish the Monday morning blues. I thought it would be good to try an experiment. Instead of having a cup of coffee every morning before I go to work, I am going to have a piece of dark chocolate instead.

Apart from wanting to feel human again, you also want to feel naturally uplifted and happy if your mood is otherwise. The stimulant called ‘theobromine’ which can be considered as one of the ‘feel good’ effects of eating chocolate, can give you a boost not unlike the effects of caffeine. I’m not sure there will that much of a difference as far as feeling that happy buzz is concerned if I’m honest. I would like to see if I actually really do need that cup of coffee in the morning or if I could substitute it for dark chocolate instead without too much effort.

Addict that I am.

How do you feel when you eat a piece of chocolate? For me, I feel instantly relaxed. The entire experience begins visually and then, if I smell the chocolate before eating it, I feel as though I am already experiencing the benefits. When I am at work, just inhaling the aroma of the chocolates is intoxicating in itself and I find myself craving chocolate yet again. Strangely enough, it seems to be the dark chocolate I crave more through the aroma.

I often find myself desiring a piece of milk chocolate but it is the dark chocolate I find myself craving more these days. There are many different nuances of flavour simply found within the aroma of chocolate and it can in fact influence the entire perception and interpretation of the actual taste. There is no doubt about it. The very thought of eating a piece of chocolate does not exist in isolation on its own. How it looks, how it is presented, the aroma, etc. is just stage one of the process.

The memory of how good a piece of chocolate is that we had previously can trigger a positive reaction to future experiences. What we expect to feel and what we actually end up feeling may be of a mutual influence when it comes to tasting the food we eat and even more so when it comes to chocolate I would imagine.

Perhaps imagination is the key here. From the early creative stages of making a chocolate bar or a truffle and to how we interpret the taste and flavour, you could say that it is a work of art unfolding constantly and in a multitude of different ways. Similar to looking at a picture in an art gallery, we are all going to feel and experience something completely different to each other based to an extent on the sum of our own experiences.

And that is what makes it so fascinating.

© Christina McDonald 2014.

When it comes to Chocolate – what do you prefer?

This is a tricky one. Dark or milk? What are you in the mood for? Being an absolute addict, I tend not to discriminate between the two. I am a fan of both. I think as time progresses, I am leaning towards enjoying dark chocolate more. I never thought I would enjoy it but my palate has been educated thoroughly over the years. As far as tasting dark chocolate is concerned, I have learned to detect a wide variety of subtle flavours. Is it earthy, fruity or acidic? Is it sweet or sour? Is it floral or nutty? You would be quite surprised at what you can detect when you actually allow yourself to taste chocolate instead of swallowing it in one go (which I still do sometimes if I am enthusiastic enough or I have skipped a meal!)

Milk chocolate is something that I am learning not to crave so much, the simple reason being that when I start eating it, I cannot stop until the whole bar has been demolished. With a square if dark chocolate, I find that I actually enjoy and savour it so much more as for some reason, I can experience a variety of different flavour notes. This is not the case when it comes to tasting milk chocolate for me. I find the sweetness overrides the majority of the taste. Chocolate actually has well over 300 flavour notes which is even more than wine surprisingly! It is hard to believe but apparently, this is true. This would be attributed to many factors such as the kind of beans used to make the chocolate in question, how long fermentation and drying in the initial stages have affected the quality and taste of the bean, the conching time and even how it has been tempered influences the final product.

Badly tempered chocolate loses that brilliant sheen, it doesn’t have an audible ‘snap’ when you break it in two and it can bloom (which is when moisture causes the sugar in the chocolate to crystalise giving it a greyish, dusty pallor). The chocolate will still taste fine regardless. Throughout the different stages of making chocolate, whether it is from the starting point of roasting and drying the beans or in the final stages when it is being tempered, every step of the process will influence the taste. As far as taste is concerned, the natural flavours of the bean are susceptible to the entire chocolate making process and an experienced chocolatier will know how to bring the best out of the beans they have.

When you consider the cacao tree and how difficult it is cultivate, (it needs a very humid environment and only grows in the tropics with the right amount of moisture all year round), it is a wonder how we can sustain the world of cocoa production when you consider how intricate the process from bean to bar is – the threat of disease, volatile and unpredictable changes in climate and not forgetting economic and political factors, all of which can drive market prices soaring. When you eat a piece of chocolate, don’t just focus on the flavour but allow yourself to consider the journey that has transformed cocoa beans into the finished product – and what a journey it is!

© Christina McDonald 2014

Organic Produce – The cost of eating well (or not).

Is it better to buy organic food or not? I am still undecided on the issue if I’m honest. We’re always told to eat healthily but what does eating healthily really mean when push comes to shove? When we buy organic produce, our minds should be set to rest for a number of reasons. We know the food we buy is free from the majority of harmful chemicals and pesticides and the treatment of animals is safeguarded in accordance with high (and naturally healthy) animal welfare standards.

To me, when I think of the word ‘organic’, I really feel that there is (or should be) an extra level of care involved when it comes to how food is treated and sourced. That level of care should not only be in relation to the above mentioned but it should also be there to educate people about how food is grown and what processes are involved. It isn’t simply about buying food which is labelled organic: it should be a movement which helps people truly connect with the natural environment.

A way of life. It is unfortunately an expensive choice but is it the best (or the only) choice?

I had written previously in regards to how it is so easy to take the food we eat for granted. We walk into the supermarket, we select the product we want and hey presto, we buy it and take it home. The thing is – just what is it that we have taken home with us? A disregard for our own health and the natural environment in favour of keeping some spare change in our pockets or have we made a choice that supports the economic and environmental welfare of the society we live in? If we invest in organic food, it will invest in us in turn – surely?

I believe so but there is a problem – there are millions of people to feed on the earth and there is simply no way we can provide the land to grow organic produce for so many people. It is simply impossible. Economically, it costs too much money to invest in it as it is more time consuming to grow organic produce and the cost of manual labour is higher because less chemicals are used for production. Everything has an extra degree of expensive when it comes to eating organic produce and really, from what I can see, it is all a matter of practically, demand and efficiency.

I think when possible, it is always good to buy organic produce as it is better for the environment and hopefully, your own health. Supporting local farmers and buying their produce ensures you buy food that is produced naturally – that sounds a little bit too obvious when you think about it but it makes sense. When you consider how food production for mass consumerism has been treated (the amount of packaging and chemicals used for example, the pollution caused by vehicles in the transportation of food), it makes sense to buy from local farmers who are putting in the extra effort to produce food that is nutritious, tasty and good for the environment. Not only that, but it keeps community spirit and togetherness alive too.

Sounds like a ‘win, win’ situation to me. In theory, yes it is but the reality (as always) is a little bit different. There are so many mouths to feed and not enough time to produce it in a way that benefits everyone. As demand increases, all that matters is that we meet those demands in whatever way we can unfortunately. The sad truth is that there isn’t time for much else. As far as choice is concerned, it all hinges on survival really. A default response to living in a world where the freedom to choose is something of a luxury. Although, we could also say that we can make better use of the land. When you think of how much is used for the rearing of animals for slaughter, perhaps if we ate less meat, we could use the land to grow vegetables. But – we all want to have the freedom to choose, so there we have it. Some of us want to eat meat and some of us choose to be vegetarians. That’s the way it goes.

Like a balloon expanding, it also becomes weaker as it stretches. We could say the same thing is happening when it comes to the consumption of food and how we choose to live. As far as the future is concerned, we are writing it through some of the choices we make and in other ways, the choice has already been made for us – determined by the very same freedom behind making those choices. The freedom we have all come to expect and need could one day spell the demise of our general standards of living and health. You could say that we have become too successful in destroying our own lives without us even knowing it. Freedom wears a cunning disguise sometimes….

© Christina McDonald 2014

Persian Cuisine – here I go!

I’ve just bought a Persian Cuisine cookery book! I was thinking about the food I really do enjoy eating and I thought I would enjoy making it in equal measure. The recipes are delicious and too tempting for words.

I think what attracted me to Persian food (still being a total beginner as a cook) were some of the ingredients used in the cooking – saffron, pistachios, cardamom, rose water, lime, etc…simply delicious! I don’t think I have felt this positive about cooking food in a long time so I feel I am finally on the right track. I once had a boyfriend years ago now who used to spoil me with some of the most amazing Persian food and dining when we were in the throes of our new relationship together so even that could be influencing my decision – is there anything more nostalgic than food?

Interesting, sensually appealing, exotic and so appetising! What’s there not to like? It is interesting and different and that’s what I’m looking for.

I will ease myself in gradually with something simple to start with! One step at a time. In all honesty, I don’t understand why it has taken me this long to become so interested in preparing something like this – tiredness, stress and empty excuses I think – no more of that! If you find something you’re passionate about doing, then the rest doesn’t matter – you make room to pursue it if your heart is in it.

I want to use recipe books as a guideline for now but I hope one day soon that I will be able to make dishes by simply following my intuition as to what I feel would work well together. I am sure there will be some interesting combinations selected along the way (and the occasional slip up – ahem!)

Nothing ventured, nothing gained! I’ll try my hand at my own creations soon and let you know how I get on but for now I have a great incentive which will hopefully inspire my creativity in the kitchen.

© Christina McDonald 2014