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Thumbs Up January Collage

Here’s a round-up of some my favourite new foods and drinks (mainly drinks to be honest) I’ve tried this month…

Mr Trotter’s Proper Potato Crisps

mr trotter crispsWe don’t buy all that many crisps in our house, as I’ve made a conscious effort to cut back in recent years. But on those occasions when I am in the mood for a salty potato snack, I will be reaching for a lovely big bag of Mr Trotter’s Proper Potato Crisps. Thickly cut and incredibly moreish, they are fried with the skin on and taste almost meaty, although they are suitable for vegetarians. I guess that comes from the yeast extract, listed as one of the ingredients in Mr Trotter’s ‘original seasoning’. My children loved them too but I reckon they are too good for little ones, and next time I’ll wait until they’re in bed before opening another packet.

You’ll find Mr Trotter’s range of crisps and pork crackling in Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Fortnum & Masons, Chatsworth House and a growing number of pubs, farm shops, delis and garden centres. You can also buy them in bulk online.

Korean Ginseng Drink

korean ginseng drinkThis Korean ginseng drink arrived in a recent food box from Kitchen Nomad celebrating Korean cuisine. This was one of my favourite products in the box, along with a jar of delicious Kimchi, a traditional fermented vegetable side dish.

I haven’t actually tried drinking ginseng since I was a child and I recall being rather unimpressed back then. This time I wasn’t sure at first. It smelled a little like boiled parsnip. But when you get past that, it tastes ever so good. Sweet and honey-like, almost like a non-alcoholic mead. What’s more, ginseng is apparently very good for you and a brilliant energiser.

Available from Tradewinds Oriental Shop and all good oriental supermarkets.

Elements for Life Spiced Raw Hot Chocolate

raw hot chocolate spicedThis spiced hot chocolate from Elements for Life is quite simply divine. Featuring cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla, it gives just the right hit of spices without overpowering the luxuriously creamy chocolate.

I make mine with warm milk but the chaps at Elements for Life recommend using oat milk for the ultimate thick and creamy hot chocolate. And since it contains low GI/GL coconut palm sugar, it is also ideal for diabetics due to the slow release of energy from the sugar, unlike most hot chocolates that contain refined cane sugar.

Admittedly it’s not cheap, coming in at £6.75 for a 175g tins but I reckon it’s worth it for an occasional treat.

Elements for Life products are available from a growing number of health food shops, farmers markets and delis across the country (see the list online) and you can also order direct from their website.

Mere Fish Farm Smoked Trout Terrine

mere fish farm smoked trout terrineThis delicious smoked trout terrine is one of the specialties of Mere Fish Farm in Wiltshire, and I think I might be addicted to it. I bought it last week from their stall at Wells Market and had it with a jacket potato that evening for supper, and I simply couldn’t get enough of it. All the next day I kept eating more of it on hot buttered toast, and my daughter Jessie insisted of having some in a roll for her school packed lunch. Honestly, it’s just too good for words.

The terrine is mixed to Mere Fish Farm’s own special recipe, using trimmings from their cold smoked trout, unsalted butter, low fat natural yogurt, lemon juice, fresh herbs and spices. It tastes rich and indulgent without being at all heavy.

If you are based in the West Country, or visiting this part of the world anytime soon, I thoroughly recommend you try to get hold of some. For details of stockists, visit their website. I’ll be back to their stall next week, I think, to sample more of their products and, of course, to pick up some more of this terrine.

Pixley Berries Cranberry & Apple Cordial

pixley berries apple and cranberry cordialThis gorgeous cranberry and apple cordial from Pixley Berries is as good to drink as it looks. It boasts more than 60% fruit, none of which come from concentrates, and not a single artificial ingredient either. It’s a wonderfully refreshing cordial, soft and sweet yet with a marvellous twang from the cranberry.

My children loved it too, but while they liked drinking theirs with chilled water, their Daddy and I rather liked ours poured over iced vodka once they were safely tucked up in bed.

You can find Pixley Berries range of cordials at Waitrose, Ocado and other independent retailers – full details on their website.

Yumchaa Chilli Chilli Bang Bang

chilli chilli bang bang rooibos teaThis rooibos tea from London-based Yumchaa is the perfect cuppa when you need a bit of a pick-me-up. Caffeine-free, Chilli Chilli Bang Bang not only has a fantastic name but delivers a fantastic punch of flavour from cinnamon, ginger, red thistle, sweet red pepper corns, and chilli flakes. It isn’t a fiery brew but it does deliver packs of taste, yet manages to be a lovely soothing tea at the same time.

You can pick up a bag of this, or any of Yumchaa’s fine teas and tisanes, from one of their London shops or market stalls. Full details on their website.

Disclosure: I was sent complimentary samples of Mr Trotter’s Proper Potato Crisps and Pixley Berries Cranberry and Apple Cordial for review purposes. No money exchanged hands and all opinions expressed are my own.

Free pass to chocolate heaven

Congratulations to Jen from Blue Kitchen Bakes, the winner of my recent contest to win a fantastic raw chocolate making kit, courtesy of Elements for Life.

Jen’s prize consists of everything she’ll need to make a batch of gorgeous chocolates:

  • 100g raw cacao powder
  • 120g raw cacao butter
  • 300ml bottle of Sweet Freedom, low GI natural sweetener
  • reusable heart-shaped silicone mould
  • information and recipe card.

On entering the contest, Jen said:

I like being able to make as much of my food from scratch as possible, so the chance to win a raw chocolate kit would be amazing. It’s something I’ve always wondered about doing but haven’t fully understood how to go about it before so thanks for your informative post and great pictures of the chocolate making process.

I really hope you enjoy making your own chocolates Jen, and do let me know how you get on! Congratulations again!

And look, I really did pull the winning name out of a hat…

My weekend in chocolate heaven… plus your chance to win a raw chocolate making kit

Isn’t the sight (and smell) of melted chocolate one of the most beautiful things on the planet? When I see melted chocolate, I want to jump right in, just like Augustus Gloop in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!

In case it you hadn’t heard, here in the UK it is Chocolate Week (8 – 14 October 2012). And in preparation for this, I successfully spent much of the weekend in blissful chocolate heaven.

We had a rare lie-in on Saturday morning as Miss Bangers has had a bit of a cough all week so we didn’t want to chance her with her 9am ballet lesson. In celebration we breakfasted on pain au chocolat, dunked into hot chocolate.

The kids had their usual stuff from the supermarket but J and I went for Fiery Raw Hot Chocolate from Elements for Life. It’s a very grown up hot chocolate, with a tasty kick to it. Despite the name, it’s not overly hot. I love it as an occasional alternative to my morning coffee. So, as you can see, a rather indulgent start to the day.

Once we’d got our Saturday chores out of the way, we headed over to the wonderful Lipsmacking Pop Up Chocolate Shop in Frome, open all this week until Sunday 14 October from 10am to 6pm. The Pop Up Shop in Frome’s Paul Street is a great little venue, and has been home to all kinds of in businesses in recent months, including a tapas bar and a children’s arts and craft workshop.

As well as selling all things cacao, the Chocolate Pop Up Shop is running a number of chocolate-themed events, from chocolate making workshops (see below) to meeting chocolatiers and even creating chocolate-inspired jewellery!

The Pop Up shop is very much a precursor to the Lipsmacking Chocolate Festival in Frome on Sunday 18 November 2012, which as you can imagine I am looking forward to. A lot!

The children enjoyed chocolate milkshakes, while J and I indulged in yet more hot chocolate – this time a warming spiced number featuring cardamom, definitely my spice of the moment.

But the main reason we were there was to meet up with Paula from Elements for Life for a lesson in making raw chocolate.

Based just over the border in Wiltshire, Paula and Dan, the lovely husband and wife team behind Elements for Life, produce a wide range of handmade raw chocolate products. They are all dairy, gluten and wheat free, free from refined sugar, with no artificial additives, and packed full of goodness.

According to Paula and Dan, raw chocolate is much better for you than normal chocolate in so many ways, and having tried a number of their products I can certainly vouch for the fact that it tastes incredible.

The award-winning Yummy Scrummy raw chocolate brownie – one of my personal favourites

With normal chocolate, the cacao bean is roasted, destroying much of its nutritional value. Add to that all the refined sugar, fat and the myriad of other things added to it and you end up with something that’s bad for you. Raw chocolate on the other hand is actually said to be good for you. It is one of the richest sources of magnesium, essential for a healthy heart and clear mind, and contains much higher levels of anti-oxidants than either green tea or red wine. It’s packed full of essential amino acids, feel good chemicals and vitamins, and what’s more it is an appetite suppressant!

But health benefits aside, it tastes fantastic and that is essentially why I jumped at the offer to find out more about making my own.

Paula from Elements for Life melting the cacao butter – the smell was so good!

What surprised me most was just how easy raw chocolate is to make, particularly since, unlike normal chocolate, there is no fiddly tempering required. It’s simply a case of melting the raw cacao butter, mixing in the raw cacao powder, and sweetening with a low GI fruit sweetener.

It didn’t take too long for my two girls to get in on the chocolate-making action!

Once the melted chocolate has been poured into the silicone mould, you simply place it in the fridge for an hour and a half, or in the freezer if you can’t wait that long. Paula’s tip was to pour it into a small jug before attempting to pour into the mould, otherwise it can get very messy indeed. But then when you’re cooking with my children, nothing you do can prevent the mess!

Making raw chocolate would be the perfect activity for a children’s party, or even next time you have your friends over for a couple of glasses of wine. Or as Paula suggested, how about serving the melted chocolate in a hollowed out pumpkin for a Halloween fondue?

Paula shared with us all some chocolates she had prepared earlier and the end result is really very, very good. It’s ever so smooth and creamy, and despite being a dark chocolate, it isn’t nearly as bitter as most dark chocolates I’ve had before.

Paula’s demo made it all look very easy. Question was though, would I be able to recreate the same quality chocolate experience back at home with the kids? That was to be our challenge for Sunday morning.

So on Sunday, once we’d got breakfast and homework and Christmas card making (I know! our school PTA is über organised!) out of the way, our adventures in chocolate making began as we put the Elements for Life starter kit to the test. Simply grating the cacao butter filled the kitchen with the sumptuous aroma of pure chocolate.

The scent increased to even headier heights when we started to melt it.

Holding the little ones back from immersing themselves in the melted chocolate was the only tricky bit!

With one of Elements for Life’s raw chocolate making starter kits, I can categorically say that making your own chocolate is child’s play. It took us less than half an hour to make, and just over an hour later we were scoffing these little beauties:

I added a little sprinkle of confectioner’s glitter to the moulds before pouring in the chocolate. Pretty eh? As we had some leftover chocolate in the jug, I poured the rest out in a metal tray lined with greaseproof paper and sprinkled with some chopped nuts and currants to create my own chocolate slab. Isn’t that such a great word? Slab. Love it!

So there you have it. If I can make raw chocolate, then anyone can. As I mentioned before, raw chocolate isn’t as bitter as the normal stuff, and the other good thing is you don’t need so much either. Just a couple of mouthfuls and you’re satisfied. And coming from me, that says a lot. I can usually eat chocolate until I make myself sick. Trust me, this is good stuff. The kids loved it too, but for them the best bit was licking out the bowl. Isn’t it always?

While the kits themselves would make an excellent gift for the chocaholic in your life, my personal plan is to experiment a little with additional ingredients (such as more nuts and fruit) and give the chocolates themselves as Christmas presents.

During Chocolate Week (8-14 October 2012), Elements for Life is offering 10% off every product bought via their website, so now is a great time to stock up.

Win a raw chocolate making kit from Elements for Life

Now it’s your chance to win a raw chocolate making starter kit from Elements for Life worth £14.99. The kit includes everything you need to make a batch of gorgeous chocolates (and an extra slab too if you like!):

  • 100g raw cacao powder
  • 120g raw cacao butter
  • 300ml bottle of Sweet Freedom, low GI natural sweetener
  • reusable heart-shaped silicone mould
  • information and recipe card.

To be in with a chance of winning, all you need to do is provide a comment below saying why you’d like to get your mitts on an Elements for Life chocolate making starter kit.

Double your chances by tweeting about this competition, linking through to this post and including the hash tag #MakeRawChoc and my Twitter name @bangermashchat. I’ll keep an eye out for your tweets but make sure yours doesn’t slip through the net by also mentioning you’ve tweeted in your comment.

The closing date for competition entries is midnight on Sunday 4 November. The winner will be the first name randomly drawn after the closing date.

Please note: this competition is only open to UK residents due to shipping costs and there is no cash or other product alternative.

Disclosure: I was provided with two complimentary raw chocolate making kits by Elements for Life; one for review and one for a competition prize. No money has exchanged hands, but honestly – would you expect me to want to be paid to review chocolate?