Thumbs up for…

April Collage

With only a few days left until Easter, here’s a quick round-up of some of the top products my family have been taste-testing recently, in case you’re on the look out for a few last minute shopping ideas.

M&S Easter Cracking Dessert

MS egg dessertThis ‘Cracking Dessert’ from M&S received a very definite thumbs up from my two girls. It’s a crunchy crumb layered with milk chocolate cheesecake and vanilla mousse, topped with orange and lemon curd.

Usually I find these types of pudding too sickly sweet but this is just the right combination of fruity tang and creamy sweetness.

£1.30 for a 95g single pot.

Hotel Chocolat You Crack Me Up Extra Thick Egg

your-crack-me-up-extra-thick-easter-eggAnother sweet treat that really made my children smile was this luxurious extra thick chocolate egg with its assortment of humorous mini chocolate creations from that wonderful British chocolatier, Hotel Chocolat.

At £28 you might argue this is simply too good for little people but I’d definitely recommend buying them just this one egg and  it’ll keep them going for quite a while. My girls wrote their own review, which you can read here.

thorntons eggThornton’s Masterpiece Easter Egg

If you want good chocolate but Hotel Chocolat is a little out of your price range, then how about this 70% dark chocolate Masterpiece egg from Thornton’s?

The seductively rich and dark chocolate egg comes surrounded by pretty mini masterpieces – chocolate art creations in delicious flavours including toffee, fudge, orange and raspberry. £9.99 for 270g.

Waitrose Ginger Truffle Mini Eggs

ginger eggsGinger and dark chocolate is one of my all-time favourite combinations and when I saw these ginger truffle mini eggs on the shelves at my local Waitrose I couldn’t resist picking up a box. At £3.50 for a 100g they make for an affordable naughty treat.

The truffle centre is gorgeously soft and smooth with a warming hint of soft ginger spice, covered in deep dark chocolate. Perfect as an after dinner chocolate with a cup of strong espresso.

Heston from Waitrose Acacia Honey and Ginger Hot Cross Buns

heston hot cross bunsAnother recent impulse buy from a lunchtime jaunt to Waitrose were these acacia honey and ginger hot cross buns from their Heston Blumenthal range. Beautifully spiced and not too sweet, I think I might be copying this flavour combination the next time I bake my own.

At £1.69 for two, they are much more than I’d normally pay for hot cross buns but they are very good, although possibly more of cake than a tea cake and just fabulous served with thickly spread with butter and a strong cup of tea.

Unearthed Chorizo de Leon

chorizo de leonAuthentically produced in the mountains of northern Spain, with an earthy, spicy and smoky flavour, Chorizo de Leon from Unearthed is great served as part of a selection of Spanish meats and cheeses for cold tapas.

It is also equally good as a cooking ingredient, as in the fantastic chorizo stuffing my husband prepared recently to serve with roast chicken for my Mother’s Day feast.

Available from Waitrose and Ocado, £3.79 for 220g.

Cool Chile Co Mexican Chorizo Seasoning

cool chileThis seasoning pack from the Cool Chile Co is a simple way to create your own wonderfully spicy, tangy Mexican chorizo meat. The kit provides you with chile ancho, chile guajillo, chile chipotle as well as a Mexican chorizo spice mix containing achiote powder, Mexican oregano, thyme, cinnamon, bay leaf and clove. £2.60 for 46g.

I was sent a kit recently to review and was a little dubious as to why I’d bother making my own chorizo meat rather than just buying it ready-made. But I am now completely sold.

I used the seasoning to create a beautifully flavoursome spiced pork mince which I then served as part of a queso fundido – essentially a Mexican take on a cheese fondu – and it was one of the most moreishly delicious dishes I’ve tasted recently.

I’ll bring you the full recipe on the blog very soon, I promise.

Loyd Grossman Lasagne Sauces

grossmanI don’t use packed or jars of sauces very often but this offering from Loyd Grossman is one I think I’ll use again.

My family loves lasagne but while it’s particularly not difficult, it’s not the quickest dish in the world to make either, and so if you’re looking to cut corners but still achieve that proper homemade taste, these sauces are the way to go.

The tomato sauce is rich and full of herbs, while the white sauce is creamy, with a lovely hint of nutmeg, and it isn’t too sweet, which is so often the case with these ready-made sauces. £1.69 per pack.

Bart Mediterranean Mixed Herbs in Sunflower Oil

bart herbsI actually first bought these Bart herbs in oil by accident when I was doing an online supermarket shop. I thought I was buying dried mixed herbs but these arrived instead. And I’ve been a fan ever since.

It’s delicious spooned onto homemade pizzas, stirred into pasta sauces and roast vegetables, and I also rather like mixing it through boiled rice. £1.79 for 85g.

Disclosure: I was sent complimentary samples of Hotel Chocolat and Thornton’s Easter eggs, M&S Easter Cracking Dessert, Unearthed Chorizo de Leon, Cool Chile Co Mexican Chorizo Seasoning and Loyd Grossman’s lasagne sauces for review purposes. No money exchanged hands and all opinions expressed are my own.

You Crack Me Up review

Hotel Chocolat Collage

Hotel Chocolat Easter egg review by Jessie age 9 and Mia age 6

When I told my daughters that Hotel Chocolat had offered to send me one of their Easter eggs to review but that I thought I’d have to turn it down because I was just too busy, you can imagine the look of devastating disappointment on their faces. Then it occurred to us, since many of their chocolate eggs are targeted at little ones, why not get the little ones to do the review? And that’s exactly what we did.

So without further ado, I have great pleasure in handing you over to Jessie…

hotel chocolat

When I was told by my mum that Hotel Chocolat had asked me to do a review, I was thrilled. It would mean tasting delicious chocolate. Yum!!!

They sent us an Extra Thick Egg called ‘You Crack Me Up’ which we thought was a funny name. Inside the thick egg were lots of little chocolates in different shapes and sizes.

hotel chocolat

The first thing I tried was a white soldier. Because there was two of everything, my sister had one too. It was delicious white chocolate on the outside with a mouth-watering scoop of chocolate like Nutella inside. It looked a bit like a piece of toast dipped into runny egg yolk. It was simply decorated but looked good. My rating:9/10.

This is what my sister said: “It was really tasty and delicious and nice. I loved the taste of the yellow bit.” Mia’s rating: 7/10.

hotel chocolat

The next thing I tried was the chocolate brownie. Although its name is chocolate brownie, to Mia and I it did not taste a bit like one. It looked amazing, but funny as well because of its sweet face. Also, it is amazingly smooth on the outside and filled with crunchy nut in the inside. This is my idea of a cute piece of chocolate. My rating: 7/10.

This is what Mia said: “It was really crunchy and sweet, I loved the taste. It was really yummy and nice. I liked the look the best.” Mia’s rating: 9/10.

The third thing I tried was an amazing looking chocolate chick. It looked spectacular, but turned out to be very rich. I loved the taste, but wouldn’t be able to eat too many! My rating: 7/10.

Mia thought: “The chick looks fluffy and looks so tasty and yummy. It was so delicious.” Mia’s rating: 7/10.

Next, we had a taste of the thick chocolate shell. I thought it was a gorgeously tasty smooth, hard shell. It tasted spectacular and was amazing. My rating: 10/10! This was my favourite bit!

Mia said:“The shell looks so yummy and delicious. I love it. It’s so scrummy and yummy.” Mia’s rating: 10/10!

Soon we came to eating the white chocolate fried egg. It was nearly as good as the shell. It looks amazing, tastes amazing, is amazing. My rating: 9/10.

Mia said: “Looks very fried, looks very tasty, it is very good to eat. It is yummy!” Rating: 8/10.

Now we were onto the chocolate rabbit. I loved it, especially the detailed decoration. Also it has a beautifully soft layer of chocolate. Yum, yum, yum!!! My rating: 8/10.

My sister adored it even more than me (as much as the egg shell). “It looks yummy and it looks really tasty and is tasty,” Mia said. Rating: 10/10!

your-crack-me-up-extra-thick-easter-eggNow we come to the final piece of chocolate. The crunchy praline – another cute, smiley face very similar to the chocolate brownie. It had a crispy outside and a spoonful of ‘Nutella’ inside. My rating: 9/10.

Here is what Mia thought: “It looks really crunchy and nice. It looks so tasty I loved it. Rating: 11/10!!! As you can see, this was Mia’s overall favourite!

After tasting this spectacular chocolate, Mia and I are pleased to say we thoroughly recommend this as a posh Easter egg. Enjoy!

Final note from Mum

At £28, you might think this is rather on the expensive side for a children’s Easter egg and I must admit I would certainly think twice about spending so much on chocolate. But a little goes a very long way with this egg. My children absolutely loved it (as you can tell from the frequent uses of spectacular and amazing in their review) but it has actually taken them a fortnight to get through it so I would say it represents good value for money.

Since my girls were kind enough to let me try a tiny nibble, I can confirm that the chocolate is ruddy good too and so much more delicious and attractive than those cheap as chips eggs you can buy in bulk in supermarkets.

Disclosure: Hotel Chocolat provided me with a complimentary You Crack Me Up chocolate egg for review purposes. No money exchanged hands and all opinions are my own (or my daughters’).

 

 

 

Banana, ginger and chocolate cake

banana ginger chocolate cake

I realise there’s been a rather manic, end-of-month flurry of activity on the blog but here’s another last minute recipe, which I just had to squeeze in just in time to make the deadline for this month’s Spice Trail challenge.

The theme for March has been ginger and I’ve received a brilliant selection of ginger goodies; the round-up promises to be a real treat.

This last entry from me is a very easy-to-make banana sponge, featuring delightful chunks of chewy, crystallised ginger and dark chocolate chips, lavishly topped with a gorgeously decadent chocolate buttercream. It’s certainly not one for the weight-watchers I’m afraid, but my family made light work of getting through it, and as the cake does contain three bananas there is a little goodness in there as well as the naughty stuff. Life is all about balance, after all.

banana ginger chocolate

Banana, ginger and chocolate cake

Serves 12

120g soft butter, plus a little more for the tins
250g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 tsp ground ginger
160g caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp milk
3 ripe bananas, mashed
75g dark chocolate chips
30 crystallised ginger, chopped into small chunks

For the chocolate buttercream

150g good quality chocolate (dark or milk, you decide)
225g butter, softened
300g icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla extract

I also used Dr Oetker chocolate hearts to decorate.

Preheat the oven to 180°C / gas mark 4.

Butter and line a 20cm square cake tin with baking parchment.

Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and ground ginger into a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the eggs, vanilla and milk. Fold the wet mixture into the dry mixture, and then fold in the mashed banana, chocolate chips and crystallised ginger.

Pour the cake batter into the tin and bake for 35 to 40 minutes until golden and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Leave to cool for a few minutes before turning the cake out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the chocolate buttercream, melt the chocolate in a microwave on a low setting or in a bowl over a pan of just-simmering water. Leave to cool a little. Beat the butter in another bowl until pale, and then beat in the icing sugar and vanilla. Add the chocolate and mix well.

Spread the chocolate buttercream generously over the cake and, if you like, decorate with chocolate hearts or something similar.

Enjoy!

banana ginger chocolate cake

 

spice trail badge square

 

The Valentine scribble cake

Valentine Scribble Cake Collage

When I want to give my children a treat, I bake them a big chocolate cake.

When I want to show my children how much I love them, I’ll leave them in charge of decorating said chocolate cake.

valentine scribble cake

Et voila! Here you have our Scribble Valentine Cake! Mia came up with the name.

My daughters don’t think Valentine’s Day should be just for their mummy and daddy. Surely it’s a celebration for the whole family; we all love each other, don’t we? Especially when it usually means there are gifts of chocolates involved.

So this year in the run up to V Day, we decided to make a rather large family chocolate cake.

Yes, I know the end result is garish and gaudy but Mia had a blast being given (almost) free rein to decorate it, and all of us were more than happy to eat it.

scribble cake

It is a simple chocolate sponge sandwich, filled with strawberry jam and whipped cream. We then covered it with a white chocolate icing, which was supposed to be coloured a tasteful shade of pink but ended up a very vibrant red. I’d like to blame the children, but to be honest it was my hand that slipped as the food colouring went in.

Mia then went to town creating her own Jackson Pollock style artwork, dribbling first melted plain and then white chocolate on top of the cake, and of course all over herself and the floor at the same time. For the final piece de resistance, Mia added some lovely Thornton’s Valentine’s chocolate truffle cups to spell out I heart you on top. We also had a bag of Thornton’s strawberry jelly hearts but Mia decided against using those as well at it might be slightly OTT. You see, she can be quite a discerning child really. Jess and Mia gobbled up the jelly hearts once they finished licking the bowl out, natch.

valentine scribble cake

If you’d like to attempt creating your own chocolate action art masterpiece with your little ones, here’s how we made ours. It’s a slight variation on the tried and tested chocolate cake I make for most special occasions in our house.

Valentine scribble cake

3 tbsp cocoa powder
200g caster sugar
200g soft butter
3 eggs
200g self-raising flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder
4 tbsp strawberry jam
200ml double cream

For the icing

100g butter
100g white chocolate, plus another 25g for drizzling
100g icing sugar
2 tbsp double cream
red food colouring
25g plain chocolate
plus any other decorations you care to throw on top

Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4. Grease and line the base of two 20cm cake tins with baking parchment.

In a cup mix the cocoa with 4 tablespoons of boiling water until smooth.

In a large bowl, beat the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Take some time with this; keep beating for a good five minutes. Add the cocoa mixture, eggs, flour and baking powder and mix well.

Split the mixture between the two cake tins and bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the oven. The cakes are ready when an inserted skewer comes out clean. Allow to cool before removing the cakes from the tins.

To make the icing, place the butter, white chocolate, icing sugar and double cream into a bowl and place over gently simmering water in a pan. Stir until it’s all melted and blended together. Add a few drops of red food colouring – just one or two if you want a pretty shade of pink, or a good glug if you fancy a slightly more vivid hue like ours. If the white chocolate goes a little lumpy or grainy, as it can do sometimes (white chocolate isn’t particularly easy to work with when it’s melted), you can try stirring in a touch more double cream and/or passing the icing through a sieve into another bowl. Allow the icing to cool a little.

Whip the double cream until it forms soft peaks.

Remove the baking parchment from both cakes. Place one a wire rack, over kitchen towel or newspaper to catch the icing drips later. Firstly spread the cake with jam and then with whipped cream. Place the second sponge on top and press down.

Pour the red icing over the top and allow to set slightly. In separate bowls, melt the white chocolate and plain chocolate and then, using a teaspoon, drizzle over the cake in an ‘artistic’ manner. Finally, decorate with any other sweeties or chocolates you fancy.

valentine scribble cake

As this cake is definitely one to make for and with those you love, particularly those of the younger/smaller variety, I am entering it into February’s Family Foodies challenge hosted by Eat Your Veg and myself, and where the theme this month is LOVE.

family-foodies-valentine

Disclosure: Thorntons provided me with complimentary chocolate truffle cups and strawberry jelly hearts for review purposes.

Love bites! Chilli and ginger raw chocolates

chilli ginger chocolates

It’s no surprise that two of the biggest tags on this blog’s tag cloud are chocolate and chilli. I can’t seem to get enough of either ingredient, and I’m in seventh heaven when the two come together. So this Valentine’s Day, I’m making chilli chocolates for my man. I say I’m making them for him, but of course I’m making them for both of us. Because it would be rude of him not to share…

chilli

I could of course buy him a box of chilli chocolates, and I have done this many times in the past. It’s just that my husband and I are real chilli fiends, and we find the chocolates you buy in the shops never have a strong enough chilli kick for us. When you make them yourself, you can tailor them to your individual tastebuds and make sure they have some proper fiery oomph. I also added a little crystallised ginger to my chocolates for extra flavour and another layer of spicy warmth.

chilli ginger chocolates

I used a raw chocolate making kit from Elements for Life to make these bad boys. The kit provides all the ingredients you need, including Wiltshire grown Habanero chilli, as well as the pretty silicone moulds, and the recipe is a sinch to follow. Although I should point out the crystallised ginger and fresh chilli were my own additions.

If you fancy trying out the kit yourself, there’s a chance to win one at the end of this post.

chilli ginger choclates

Dark and spicy and divinely smooth, I’m a big fan of these chocolates. Even my girls are fond of them – only the ones containing chilli powder; the ones with fresh chilli would be way too hot for them. But then it’s no surprise that our children can cope with a little heat, given their parents penchant. Normally, I’d suggest children stay away from these chocolates. Strictly adults only.

They are dairy free, so ideal for vegans and people who are lactose intolerant, and also gluten-free, so great for coeliacs. Nor do they contain any refined sugar, so perfect for diabetics.

But why raw chocolate? Well, apparently raw chocolate is pretty good for you. With normal chocolate, the cacao beans are roasted, destroying much of its nutritional value. Plus it generally contains refined sugar and fat. Raw chocolate on the other hand is one of the richest sources of magnesium and contains higher levels of anti-oxidants than either red wine or green tea. It’s full of essential amino acids, feel good chemicals and vitamins, and is even said to be an appetite suppressant.

Chilli and ginger raw chocolates

Makes 24 chocolates

120g raw cacao butter
100g cacao powder
around ½ tsp habanero chilli powder
5-6 tbsp Sweet Freedom natural fruit sweetener
20g crystallised ginger, finely chopped
1 or 2 red chillies, sliced

Place a clean bowl over a saucepan of hot water to create a bain Marie). Ensure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water and no water goes inside the bowl.

Add the cacao butter to the bowl and allow it to melt slowly. Don’t keep the water boiling; take it off the heat and just give it a quick blast every so often if necessary.

Next, add the cacao powder slowly and stir in thoroughly with a whisk or fork, until it starts to thicken slightly. The chocolate should be runny and  easy to pour.

Once the cacao powder is mixed into the butter, add the chilli powder and stir in. Go steady here. Start with a quarter of a teaspoonful and give it a taste. Add more if you want a little more fire.

Pour in the Sweet Freedom sweetener and stir in well. Taste and add a little more if you like it sweeter.

Add the chopped ginger and mix in.

Before pouring the chocolate into the moulds, you might like to add a little of the chopped ginger or maybe even a slice of raw chilli into the bottom of each one.

Carefully pour the chocolate into the moulds using a jug or spoon. Place it in the fridge to set for an hour or so, or in the freezer if you can’t wait that long.

Perfect served with a strong cup of coffee at the end of your Valentine’s meal. Enjoy!

chilli ginger chocolates

Win a raw chilli chocolate making kit

For the chance to win a raw chilli chocolate making kit from Elements for Life, simply leave me a comment below. The first name drawn from the ‘hat’ (or whichever receptacle comes to hand first) will be sent a complimentary kit. Closing date for entries is Wednesday 12 February 2014.

Disclosure: Elements for Life provided me with a complimentary chocolate making kit for review purpose. 

Thumbs up for…

decorations

With only nine sleeps until the big day, it’s feeling ever so Christmassy here at Banger Heights. The decorations are up, I’ve shed a tear watching my youngest in the school nativity play and I’m enjoying choir rehearsals for the staff carol service in Wells Cathedral later this week – although I might need to mime the bit when I’m supposed to hit a high G.

And so, this month’s Thumbs Up brings you some top recommendations for last-minute festive foodie gifts, nibbles, treats and ingredients…

Hotel Chocolat Collage

Hotel Chocolat – The Signature Christmas Collection

When you receive a box of chocolates from Hotel Chocolat you expect something special and this luxury Christmas collection did not disappoint. As well as looking visually stunning, the flavour combinations are surprising and masterful; flavours that mustn’t be rushed but savoured slowly. If it takes a few days for my husband and me to consume a box of chocolates, that’s a good sign. We can only stuff our faces with cheap chocolate! And at £25 this is a fairly expensive box of chocolates, but if you’ve got the budget I’d say it’s well worth it.

My personal favourites were the dark chocolate Christmas Stars with rich marzipan infused with orange liqueur, the Nutmeg and Almond Pralines, the Mulled Ports bringing together port, bitter orange and spices, and the delicately perfumey Pistachio Praline Crunch with its hint of rose. Just beautiful. More please!

heston blumenthall chocolate box

Heston from Waitrose – Chocolate Box

More delicious chocolates, this time from Heston Blumenthal’s range for Waitrose. Heston’s Chocolate Box is also full of exciting and unusual flavour combinations, but at £10 is a little more affordable. I adored the Thyme and Rosemary chocolates and the BFGs were rather fun too – transforming the classic 1970s gateaux into chocolate form.

Waitrose have hidden a special ticket in five of Heston’s Chocolate Boxes, and five lucky winners and their guests will be invited to join him for an unforgettable food experience. A sixth ticket is also up for grabs on the Waitrose Facebook page.

meaningful chocolate tree decorations

Meaningful Chocolate Tree Decorations

My children were rather taken with these chocolate tree decorations from the Meaningful Chocolate Company. The box contains five Fairtrade chocolates onto which you place five illustrated stickers, as well as a copy of the Christmas story. The idea is you read the story as you hang your decorations on the tree. A donation from every sale goes to the charity Traidcraft. A lovely concept and the chocolate is good too.

Wonderful Pisachios Almonds

Wonderful Pistachios and Wonderful Almonds

These Wonderful Pistachios and Wonderful Almonds are extremely good and perfect nibbles for festive get-togethers. In a range of delicious flavours, they are very, very moreish and pretty healthy too, as they are dry roasted without any extra oil. The salted almonds were just divine, while my husband and I practically inhaled the sweet chilli pistachios in a single sitting!

heston blumenthall mince pie

Heston from Waitrose – Spiced Shortcrust Mince Pies

There’s only one word for these bad boys – yum! I know we should really be making our own mince pies this Christmas, as they are stupidly easy, but if you want to spoil yourself, these pies from Heston Blumenthal’s range for Waitrose are very good. The pastry is deliciously light, short and crisp and the mincemeat is rich and beautifully spiced but not overly sweet like so many other shop-bought mince pies.

hellmans colmans Collage

Hellman’s Mayonnaise and Colman’s Sauces

Unilever Kitchen sent me a range of products to try – perfect accompaniments to the Christmas meal itself and for the best bits, the leftovers. I’m rather partial to Hellman’s mayonnaise, but I’ve never tried any of their other flavoured mayonnaises. To be honest, they’ve never really appealed but I’ve been pleasantly surprised with what I’ve tried so far.

The other day my children had their Christmas lunch at school, and so that my husband and I weren’t left out, I made us turkey sandwiches at home. I squeezed lots of the mayo with a ‘hint of lemon’ on mine (as well as a good dollop of Colman’s cranberry sauce), and it was absolutely scrummy. My husband tried the garlic mayonnaise on his sandwich, and devoured it in seconds. We also tried the garlic mayonnaise in jacket potatoes later that evening, which were very tasty, and I imagine it would be perfect with chips too. Since my first trip to Amsterdam as a kid I’ve had a thing for chips with garlic mayo.

As well as making a classic mint sauce, I can also recommend the Colman’s mint concentrate as a cooking ingredient. I rubbed it all over a shoulder of lamb before slow roasting it for an Ottolenghi-inspired dish at the weekend (recipe coming soon), which worked very well. I imagine the mint concentrate would be perfect in a dressing for a Greek salad too.

port and cheese

Aldi cheese and wine pairing

Aldi has recently teamed up with Master of Wine Sarah Jane Evans to create some Christmas drinks and cheese matches, perfect for entertaining this festive season. They sent me this Fletcher’s Fine Ruby Port NV to sample, along with a truckle of Wensleydale cheese. Sarah Jane Evans says: “Ruby Port is a great partner for Wensleydale with cranberries: the Port matches the colour of the fruit, and brings a round softness to the creamy crumbly cheese.”

Fletcher’s Fine Ruby Port is a fairly light, easy drinking port, which I’d say is perfect for dinner parties when you don’t want to end on anything too heavy. The Wensleydale has a soft, creamy tanginess with lovely fruity bursts. So each get a thumbs up from me individually. But in my opinion, I don’t think they actually go all that well together. I’d say the port would work much better with a mature Cheddar or a good salty blue cheese. And the Wensleydale needs a dry, crisp white wine. But that’s only me, and I’m no wine expert!

thai green Collage

Kent’s Kitchen – Thai Green Stir In Flavor Shots

Finally, if you’re looking for quick and easy ways to transform turkey leftovers, I recommend you have some of these Thai Green Flavour Shots in your store cupboard. Containing all natural ingredients, these little gel concentrates add an authentic flavour kick to your meat and vegetables; I’ve used them in a butternut squash and spinach curry, as well as a chicken Thai green curry. They can also be used with rice, salad, couscous, jacket potatoes or in wrap.

The Flavour Shots are available exclusively from Ocado. Other flavours are available, although I haven’t tried these out yet: BBQ, Hot & Spicy, Fajita, and Garlic & Coriander. If you’ve tried any of the others, do let me know what you think.

Disclosure: I was sent complimentary samples of Hotel Chocolat’s Signature Christmas Collection, Heston from Waitrose’s  Chocolate Box and Spiced Shortcrust Mince Pies, Wonderful Almonds, Wonderful Pistachios, Hellman’s mayonnaise and Colman’s sauces and the Aldi cheese and wine pairing for review purposes. No money exchanged hands and all opinions expressed are my own.

After Eight ice cream sundaes

Sundae CollageIn the words of Perry and Bing and may other crooners, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Our tree went up at the weekend and suddenly the house feels transformed into a magical, sparkly wonderland. It’s the earliest  we’ve ever put it up. My husband doesn’t think we should have a tree until Christmas Eve, but I’ve been working on him over the years and, having been to the children’s school Christmas fair the day before, it just felt right for it to go up last Saturday.

We also made these After Eight ice cream sundaes at the weekend, which got us into the festive feasting spirit. Wow – they were good. Indulgent, rich and decadent, just like a proper sundae should be. Not of course, something you should eat every day though. But for a Christmas treat, these are just the ticket.

after eight sundae

I must admit, I haven’t eaten After Eight Mints for some years. I associate them with Christmas as a child back in the eighties. I can clearly remember being at my grandparents’ house in Lancashire for Christmas and having them at the end of a meal. As the grown ups were chatting, I pretty much worked my way through the box, and I couldn’t deny how many I’d eaten as the evidence was there in front of me in the form of a pile of those little black envelopes. I’d forgotten how much I like them. And my children seem rather partial to them to. It was a battle keeping the grubby little mitts off them so that I had enough to make this dessert.

The good people at After Eight sent me some of their goodies to experiment with: a box of After Eight Mints and their After Eight Collection, a selection of dark and white mint chocolates. The challenge was to come up with a dessert featuring their chocolate mints. As my children adore mint choc chip ice cream, an ice cream sundae was the obvious choice. 

These sundaes are very simple to make; more of an assembly job really. There are chocolate brownies at the bottom. Feel free to bake your own, but I made things easy on myself by buying some. Next comes a layer of forest fruits, which bring a touch of tartness to the proceedings. You need it to cut through all that rich sweetness. Then there’s the After Eight ice cream. Even if you don’t fancy making the whole sundae, do try making the ice cream – it’s a lovely take on the classic mint choc chip and really couldn’t be easier to create.

after eight ice cream

Melted After Eight Mints combined with a little cream conjure up a wonderful chocolate sauce, which is loving drizzled over the ice cream before topping with whipped cream for that extra level of indulgence.

after eight chocolate sauce

So there you have it – my simple After Eight ice cream sundaes. You’re welcome!

After Eight ice cream sundaes

Makes 4 large sundaes

Half a litre vanilla ice cream
300g box of After Eight Mints
4 chocolate brownies, cut into bite-size chunks
300ml double cream
250g forest fruits (fresh or frozen)
After Eight Collection chocolates for decoration

Place the ice cream in a bowl and allow to soften at room temperature for about 10 minutes.

Chop half the After Eight Mints into small pieces. Fold the mint pieces into the ice cream, spoon into a plastic carton, cover and place in the freezer until it has re-frozen.

To make the sauce, place the remaining After Eight Mints and 100ml of the cream in a saucepan over a gentle heat. Stir until the chocolate mints have completely melted and the sauce has formed. Leave to cool.

Whip the remaining cream in a large bowl until stiff.

Place the brownie pieces at the bottom of four sundae glasses and top with a couple of spoonfuls of the frozen fruits. On top of the fruits place a couple of scoops of the chocolate mint ice cream and drizzle with a generous smothering of chocolate mint sauce. Finally, spoon whipped cream on top of each sundae and decorate with a pretty chocolate from the After Eight Collection. 

Dig in and enjoy to your heart’s content!

Disclosure: this post is sponsored by After Eight who paid me to develop this recipe and provided me with complimentary boxes of After Eight Mints and the After Eight Collection.

As this pudding definitely fits the description of a Festive Treat, I’m entering it into December’s Teatime Treats hosted by What Kate Baked and Lavender & Lovage.

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And these sundaes would be great for parties, so I’m also entering them into Four Seasons Food hosted by  Delicieux and Eat Your Veg.

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My children adored the sundaes, so I reckon they would also make a good entry for December’s Family Foodies challenge over at Eat Your Veg, where the theme is Kids Christmas.

family-foodies

Love heart double chocolate cupcakes

Love heart double chocolate cupcake

There’s been a bit of a baking frenzy in our house recently. There was a PTA cake sale at my daughters’ school last week and we decided to get all creative with these love heart cupcakes with a double chocolate and cream cheese topping. Jess hates buttercream so cream cheese is a good alternative.

Sometimes I just can’t be bothered to bake for the cake sale and at the last minute we’ll resort to buying plain fairy cakes or biscuits, which the kids will decorate with gaudy-coloured icing and a few sprinkles. But other times I go the whole hog. And this was one of those times. I was definitely spurred on by my earlier success with a classic Victoria sponge and also by a big bag of chocolate goodies from the kind people at Dr Oetker. My youngest daughter Mia, who is a self-confessed chocoholic, couldn’t believe her luck when she opened up the parcel.

chocolate

Dr Oetker are running a competition, challenging UK bakers to come up with their most creative chocolate cupcake and I thought I might try my chances. One lucky baker will win the fantastic prize of a trip for two to New York City, the home of the cupcake. The closing date is 17 October 2013 if you fancy having a go too. Pop over to their Facebook page for more details on how to take part. Having seen the other hugely impressive entries, I don’t think I have even the slightest smidgen of a chance of winning anything but it’s the taking part that counts, as they say.

Love heart cupcakes collage

The cupcakes were a big hit at the school cake sale. Admittedly they’re a bit more of a faff than I’d usually go in for when it comes to decorating cupcakes but it was worth it to see the children’s faces when they spied them. And if you fancy a pretty-looking sweet treat, the love heart cookies on their own seem to go down rather well with the little ones.

love heart cookies

Love heart cookies

Makes around 40 cookies – so you’ll have plenty left over to enjoy later

250g butter, softened
140g caster sugar
1 egg yolk
2 tsp vanilla extract
a drop or two of red food colouring
300g plain flour
pinch of salt
25g dark chocolate
hundreds and thousands

Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4.

In a large bowl, beat together the butter, sugar, egg yolk and vanilla extract. Add a couple of drops of red food colouring and combine well.

Sift in the flour and salt and mix thoroughly to form a dough. You’ll need to get your hands in at this point.

Roll out the dough between two sheets of baking parchment until it is roughly half a centimetre thick.

Use a small heart-shaped cutter to cut out your cookies, or work freehand using a sharp knife.

Line a baking tray with more baking parchment and carefully lift the cookies onto the tray, spacing them apart a little.

Bake in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes until just firm to the touch. Remove from the tray and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.

Place the dark chocolate in a small bowl and melt in a microwave. Using a teaspoon, drizzle chocolate onto each love heart cookie and then sprinkle on some hundreds and thousands.

Chocolate chip cupcakes

Makes 12 – six chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate chips and six plain cupcakes with dark chocolate chips

125g butter, softened
125g caster sugar
2 eggs
125g self-raising flour
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp milk
2 tsp cocoa powder, mixed with a few drops of water into a paste
25g white chocolate chips
25g dark chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6.

Put the butter, caster sugar, eggs, flour and vanilla extract into a food processor and whizz until smooth. Add the milk and mix again.

Split the mixture equally between two separate bowls. Into the first add the cocoa paste and mix in carefully. Then add the white chocolate chips and stir until well dispersed through the mixture. Into the second bowl of plain mixture add the dark chocolate chips and again stir in.

Line a 12-bun muffin tin with 12 muffin cases.

Spoon the mixture into the paper cases and bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes until the cupcakes are springy to the touch and just golden on top.

Remove the cakes from the tin and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.

Double chocolate and cream cheese marbled topping

100g cream cheese
200g icing sugar
75g white chocolate
75g dark chocolate

Scoop the cream cheese into a large bowl and sieve in the icing sugar. Beat together until thoroughly combined. Place half the mixture into a second bowl.

Place the white chocolate and dark chocolate into two separate bowls and melt in the microwave. Add the white chocolate to one bowl of topping mixture and the dark chocolate to the other. Combine well.

Place alternate spoonfuls of white chocolate and dark chocolate topping into a piping bag until it is full. Swirl a generous amount onto each of the cupcakes.

And finally, top with one of  your pretty love heart cookies.

Love heart double chocolate cupcakes

Disclosure: Dr Oetker provided me with a complimentary selection of cooking chocolate and cake decorations for this post. No money exchanged hands and all opinions are totally my own.

In the parcel I received 72% Extra Dark Fine Cooks’ Chocolate, 26% White Fine Cooks’ Chocolate, Dark Chocolate Chips, White Chocolate Chips, and Hundreds and Thousands, all of which I used in this recipe.

Cookies with a kick

chilli chocolate and cherry cookies

“Now that’s got a good kick” is a phrase you hear a lot in our house. My husband and I are rather partial to hot, spicy food you see. We are complete chilli fiends. Even our children like things nice and spicy, especially our oldest, Jessie, who enjoys hot chilli sauce on pretty much anything.

Chilli with chocolate is a favourite combination; they really are a match made in heaven. We’re forever trying out different chilli chocolate bars and generally complaining they don’t have enough of a kick. I was thinking about coming up with my own chilli chocolate creation when I came upon this cookie recipe in The Red Hot Chilli Cookbook by Dan May. I couldn’t resist. Dan’s recipe calls for stem ginger, but I didn’t happen to have any in. Instead I found some dried cherries in the cupboard and opted for those, as much for the charming alliteration as anything else.

If you like chilli and chocolate, you really must give these cookies a go. They are absolutely delicious and very, very moreish. The sweet, chewy cherries and big, fat chunks of richly bittersweet chocolate contrast beautifully with the savoury, fiery bursts of chilli heat. They were a little too hot for Mia, our five-year-old, but I’d made her a version using ground ginger instead of chilli, which suited her. But Jessie loved the chilli bad boys as much as her parents.

chilli chocolate and cherry cookies

Chilli chocolate and cherry cookies

Makes 8

100g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp hot chilli powder
50g caster sugar
85g soft butter
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp milk
100g dark chocolate, broken into large pieces
60g dried cherries

Preheat the oven to 180°C / gas mark 4.

Sift into a large bowl the flour, baking powder and chilli powder and stir in the sugar. Add the butter, vanilla extract and milk and mix together to form a dough. Next add the chocolate and cherries and combine well using your hands.

Divide the dough into eight balls and squash down a little until they are about 6cm in diameter. Arrange on a baking sheet covered in greaseproof paper. You may need to use two baking sheets, as the cookies will spread a little as they bake.

Bake in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes until the edges are just beginning to turn brown. Leave to cool and firm up on the baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Dan May says to enjoy them with a big mug of tea, but I liked mine with strong coffee. And apparently they will keep for a few days in an airtight container but ours didn’t last that long.

If you do need to bake a non-chilli version, simply substitute the chilli powder with a teaspoonful of ground ginger.

chilli chocolate and cherry cookies

Salted peanut butter and dark chocolate truffles for Father’s Day

It’s not long until Father’s Day, so if you’d like to make the daddy in your life a little homemade sweet something that’s not too sweet and is, in fact, also a little bit salty, how about some of these…?

salted peanut butter truffle

The lovely people at Lindt recently sent me some of their 70% Cocoa cooking chocolate to try out and so my daughter Mia and I decided to put it to the test by making some chocolates for Daddy.

making chocolates

My husband Jason is a big peanut butter fan and it’s the usual topping for his toast in the morning. Following a rather bizarre tip a few months ago from Chris Evans on his breakfast radio show, Jason’s now taken to combining peanut butter with Marmite on his toast. He loves it – something to do with the contrast of the sweet and salty apparently.

salted peanut butter truffle

So that’s what gave me the idea for the filling for these chocolate truffles. Don’t worry, there’s no Marmite in there – just a pinch of salt to give that deliciously moreish sweet-savouriness, plus they’re topped with a little sprinkle of chopped salted peanuts too. The gorgeously smooth, dark Lindt chocolate works very well with the crunchy, gooey peanut centre, making for rather sophisticated truffles despite the main ingredient being every little (and big) kid’s favourite.

Jason was very happy with his early Father’s Day present. I fully expect the whole lot to be gone by the time I get back home from work this evening. The one thing he said they could do with was perhaps a touch of chilli. He’s a major chilli head as well you see. Maybe next time.

salted peanut butter truffles

Salted peanut butter and dark chocolate truffles

Makes 24 chocolates

4 digestive biscuits, crushed
125g crunchy peanut butter
50g butter, melted
70g demerara sugar
good pinch of salt
200g dark cooking chocolate
25g butter
handful of salted peanuts, finely chopped

In a bowl, combine the crushed biscuits, peanut butter, melted butter, sugar and salt and chill in the fridge for around 30 minutes.

Taking a teaspoonful at a time, shape the peanut butter mixture into balls and place on a baking sheet covered in clingfilm or baking parchment. Freeze for 15 minutes.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a microwave or over a double boiler (a bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water) and mix together well. Using a cocktail stick, dip the peanut butter balls into the chocolate, ensuring it is entirely covered. Place on a plate covered in clingfilm and sprinkle each one with some chopped peanuts, working quickly before the chocolate sets.

Chill in the fridge before placing the chocolates into petit four or mini cupcake cases.

salted peanut butter truffles

And if you want to give Daddy some chocolate this Father’s Day but don’t fancy making your own, we can recommend Lindt’s Strawberry Intense, another sample they sent us, which is rich and dreamy without being overly sweet. You see their full range of Father’s Day chocolates on the Lindt website.

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Disclosure: Lindt provided me with sample bars of their 70% Cocoa cooking chocolate and Strawberry Intense. No money exchanged hands and the views expressed here, as they are throughout my blog, are completely my own.