I first made butternut squash soup with candied bacon last autumn, after watching a masterclass episode of MasterChef Australia in which Matt Preston shared his recipe for an easy pumpkin soup garnished with pepita (squash seeds) and bacon candied in brown sugar. I simplified his recipe further to come up with the version I shared last year.

Since then, I’ve changed the way I candy the bacon pieces for a crunchier texture; I think it’s more accurate to call this version bacon brittle. The recipe produces twice as much bacon brittle as you need for two bowls of soup but it’s very hard to resist adding more so the extra soon disappears. It will last a day in the fridge in an airtight container or feel free to halve the amounts.

Pete and I like the subtle warming flavours of the mixed spice, but you can certainly omit the spice if you like. I’ve made it both ways and we like both versions.

Vegetarians can substitute pumpkin seeds for bacon, toasting them gently before mixing them into the hot caramel and allowing the brittle to set.

This year, I’ve been able to use our homegrown butternut squash for the first time and just love them so we’ll definitely be growing more next year.

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Butternut Squash Soup with Bacon Brittle

Serves 2 (with extra bacon brittle)

Ingredients
150 grams cubed pancetta/ lardons or chopped streaky bacon
100 grams caster sugar
1 butternut squash
1 teaspoon mixed spice
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (or bacon fat drained from cooking the bacon)
100 grams caster sugar
0.5 litres homemade chicken or vegetable stock (or water)
Salt and pepper
Optional: 2-3 tablespoons double cream

Method

  • In a frying pan, dry fry the cubed bacon until it the fat starts to colour a little, about 5-8 minutes. I like my bacon to still have some chew, but you can cook a little longer for a more crispy finish if you prefer.
  • When the bacon is cooked to your liking, scoop out the bacon pieces and set aside. Optional: retain the bacon fat left in the pan, to use when cooking the squash.

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  • Before starting the bacon brittle, get a baking tray ready by lining it with greaseproof paper or a silicon mat.
  • In a clean heavy-based frying pan evenly sprinkle the sugar across the surface area and cook over a medium heat. Do not stir, and keep a continuous watch.

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  • When most of the sugar has melted into a clear liquid, shake and swirl the pan gently to mix hotter and cooler areas and help the rest of the sugar to melt. Do not stir!
  • As soon as the melted sugar begins to brown, watch like a hawk.
  • Once the sugar takes on a decent caramel brown colour, remove from the heat and immediately add the bacon pieces. Mix thoroughly and quickly.
  • Immediately pour out the mixture onto your prepared baking tray and poke any lumps flat with a wooden spoon, if needed. The brittle will start to set very quickly, so you won’t have much time. Leave the bacon brittle to cool and harden.

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  • Preheat the oven to 180 °C.
  • Peel the squash and remove seeds and fibres from the centre. Roughly chop the flesh into chunks, about an 3 cm or so in size and spread them out in a baking dish.

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  • Sprinkle a teaspoon of mixed spice (if using) and a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil or bacon fat (or a mixture of both) over the squash.
  • Bake until soft, 30-40 minutes.
  • Heat the stock in a pan or the microwave, or boil the kettle if using water.
  • Put the baked squash, stock (or water) and a little salt and pepper into a blender and blitz until smooth. Add double cream, if using, and briefly blend again.
  • Taste and add more seasoning if required.
  • Serve the squash immediately, with broken pieces of bacon brittle on top.

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Looking for more inspiration? Try Nazima’s Winter Squash Veloute with Chipotle Lime Roasted Seeds & Apple, Camilla’s Spelt and Butternut Squash Cake and Becca’s Paneer Stuffed Butternut Squash.

I’m entering this into Ren’s Simple & In Season (hosted this month by Katie) and Michelle & Helen’s Extra Veg challenges.

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I made this soup using my lovely Froothie blender, which is fast becoming one of the most frequently used appliances in our kitchen. It’s so powerful and quick, it’s a pleasure to blitz fruit and vegetables. We also enjoy using it to blend and cook really quick soups from scratch, such as this recipe for courgette and blue cheese soup, and a simple tomato soup made with fruits picked only seconds before – making this in the Optimum 9400 resulted in an incredibly fresh tasting soup. It’s also a doddle to make custard from scratch, which is excellent news for ice cream making!

Kavey Eats received a review Optimum 9400 power blender from Froothie. All opinions are my own. Please see the right side bar for a special offer on buying the Optimum with an extended warranty via my affiliate link.

 

I first met Ren a few years ago at a blogger event and have been an admirer of her blog ever since. Her recipes are always appealing, her writing is warm and engaging and her photographs show off a her very elegant personal style.

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Hello and welcome, plea­se introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.

Hello, my name is Ren, and I’m the writer and blogger behind RenBehan.com . My blog has just turned four years old, which is quite unbelievable really, given that I started it as a hobby/creative outlet whilst on maternity leave with my second baby. We’ve now got three children and the blog is growing from strength to strength.

Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

There is a bit of a story behind my blog name, in that it used to be called Fabulicious Food! – though the URL was always renbehan.com. For various reasons (mainly spelling issues and a book being release in the USA called Fabulicious) I decided to re-brand to my name, which meant that my blog name and domain name matched. I do slightly miss having a quirky blog name, but as I have gone on to become a professional food writer, I think it has helped to use my personal name across the board.

RenBehan

For those who specialise in a particular cuisine, diet or technique why did you choose to blog about your niche and does it present any particular challenges?

The biggest challenge for me has been narrowing down the topics I write about! When I first started my blog, I wanted to write about cookery courses I’d been on and about places that I had eaten. I quickly also decided to focus on seasonal and local food, as I had always enjoyed shopping at local independent places and food markets. I launched a community blog event called Simple and in Season, which attracted (and continues to attract) entries from all over the world. Hosting a blog event is always a great way of generating a community feel.

As a mum of three, I also share family-friendly recipes – really, the food we eat at home. And, since I also have Polish heritage and a love of Eastern European food, I have sometimes blogged my Polish family recipes and I’ve hosted a few pop-ups under the banner of My Polish Kitchen. As it happens, my Polish recipes are the ones that tend to attract the most attention, and I’ve had recipes published in delicious. Magazine, in BBC Good Food Magazine and more recently on my weekly features column for JamieOliver.com.

In 2015, I’ve decided I’m going to place a bigger emphasis on my Polish recipes as I love sharing them and have been receiving lots of positive feedback. However, at the same time, I don’t want to lose readers who enjoy the seasonal and family-friendly aspects of my blog so there’s a fine balance to be found.

I think that in order to stand out, it can help to focus on one topic or type of cuisine, but equally, I’ve been very keen not to box myself in. Plus, I just love any food so I will always have more things to write about than I have time to write!

What inspires you to keep blogging regularly?

The hardest aspect of blogging for me is being short on time! I’m constantly playing catch up with posts, there is so much more I’d love to write about and a whole bunch of recipes that I simply never seem to find the time to post. Also, writing for external platforms now takes precedence, which means that I have a bit less time for my own blog. However, what I would say is that blogging has opened up so many doors for me and so many opportunities. A blog can be many things; a personal diary, a place to share recipes, a creative outlet and increasingly for me, a professional portfolio. The work I do now (food writing, photography and styling) is flexible and I mainly work from home.

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Polish apple cake for BBC Good Food

What are your earliest memories of cooking? Who or what inspired you to cook?

My earliest memories of cooking are at home with my Mum (Mama) and Grandmother (Babcia) who loved cooking and used it as a way to hold onto memories of their homeland in Poland. We kept Polish traditions (for example, a huge twelve course meal on Christmas Eve called Wigilia) and food was always central to any family gathering or celebration – and still is.

What are the biggest influences on your cooking at the moment?

At the moment, I’d say my children are the biggest influencers of my cooking. I want them to be healthy and to have a good appreciate of food and of varying cuisines. My mother always tells me that I was weaned on Polish beetroot soup, so at the moment I’m just debating whether or not to feed our youngest baby some beetroot as his first taste at six months. It didn’t seem to do me any harm!

Tell us the story of your most spectacular kitchen failure!

Gosh, I’ve had lots of kitchen failures. There have been a fair few #bingates in my time! Most recently, I baked a cake I’d seen on a friend’s blog and forgot to check whether the middle was cooked. When I took the cake out of its tin it collapsed into a big sloppy mess. I had a second go at making it and it turned out fine – my oven settings are not particularly reliable and I should have checked the middle. Baking and cooking disasters happen to us all!

Which food writers / chefs do you find most inspirational and in the same spirit, are there any particular cookery books you cherish above the rest of the shelf?

I adore cook books and have amassed quite a lot of them over the last few years. If I had to pick one author, I’d say that Diana Henry is incredibly inspirational – she’s a cook and writer who always pens and creates the most interesting recipes and anecdotes. A big ‘blog’ highlight for me was meeting Diana at her home and interviewing her. She gave me some very sound advice about food writing and has always been very encouraging.

I think I own every cook book written by Nigel Slater, Nigella Lawson and by Jamie Oliver – who were very much my early inspirations and they are the most thumbed and well-used books on my shelf.

For Polish cookery books I like ‘The Polish Kitchen’ by Mary Pininska, ‘Rose Petal Jam’ by Beata Zatgorska, and ‘From a Polish Country House Kitchen’ by Anne Applebaum and Danielle Crittenden.

I also love keeping up with ‘up and coming’ food writers and I’d say that Sabrina Ghayour’s ‘Persiana’ has inspired me the most this year.

If I were coming for dinner, what would you cook for me?

Ooh I’d love to have you over for dinner Kavey. I think I’d cook you a Slavic feast and introduce you to some hearty Polish food. We’d start with either a very rich and velvety beetroot soup or autumnal mushrooms soup, then I’d serve up some Polish Kopytka – little dumplings similar to gnocchi, with bacon and sweet onions, then we’d move onto either duck or venison with a vodka and cherry sauce. For dessert, we’d have a baked Polish cheesecake.

My Polish Kopytka recipe was recently featured on my column for JamieOliver.com.

Kopytka

What’s been your favourite destination thus far and why did you love it so much? Can you share a favourite memory from the trip?

I adore travelling, but having three small children has meant that the majority of our family holidays most recently have been spent in North Wales, which is where most of my childhood holidays were spent. However, I’ve also had some great opportunities through blogging, including a trip to Martell’s Chateau de Chanteloup to follow the process of making Cognac. That was really an amazing trip, a particular highlight being a Martell-inspired meal where I sat next to David Lebovitz.

I also flew to Seattle last year to join in with IFBC – an International Food Blogging Conference. Seattle is very special to me as I have a sister who lives there and I met my husband on a plane flying over there, so we’ve visited quite often. I loved visiting Pike Place Market and I still crave ‘Seattle Dogs’ – a street food made with Polish sausages. I also loved visiting my other sister and her family in Emilia-Romagna last year; the foodie city of Bologna was a particular highlight.

Which destination is at the top of your foodie travel wish list?

Next on my list is most certainly Poland. I’ll be working on a big Polish project next year and I’m very much looking forward to getting some more trips in.

Ren_Work

What are you absolutely loving cooking, eating, doing right now?

At the moment, the burger trend has really caught my attention as a lot of new restaurants have opened up in St Albans featuring really good burgers. I also love street food, things like pulled pork, steamed buns, meatballs and so I look out for that type of thing, especially linked to farmers’ markets. I’m also hoping that Polish food will make a bigger impact, as it has always been huge in America, with big Polish communities – Pierogi restaurants and stalls for example. I also love a good mooch around a Christmas Market – mulled wine, Nutella crepes and roasted chestnuts all make me feel very warm and cosy!

What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

The single most popular post on my blog is my Polish Spiced Christmas Cookies – Pierniczki. I’m hoping to give them a bit of a revamp in time for Christmas this year!

PolishSpice

What’s the one question you wish I’d asked you but didn’t?

Would you recommend starting a food blog and what advice would you give?

Please go ahead and answer it!

Absolutely, I’ve managed to forge a new career path by starting a blog – having left the law behind during my first stint on maternity. It’s quite a change, but I love what I do now and I find it allows me a great deal of creativity. My blog has enabled me to travel, make new blogging friends, meet chefs and writers I hugely admire and take on paid recipe work.

My advice for anyone starting a food blog would be to focus on a skill and to try to improve it. Don’t focus on trying to make money, or on getting free stuff, and don’t give up your day job! What pays is improving your skills, investing in yourself and working hard.

When I started my blog, I did so because I enjoyed writing and wanting to be a better writer. I found an online writing course and gained a Diploma in Food Journalism. Then I moved onto wanting to improve my food styling, so I took a short course at Leiths School of Food and Wine. Most recently, I’ve focused on developing my photography, so I asked a local family photographer to spend a couple of hours with me to teach me how to use the manual settings on my camera. Building a successful blog takes a lot of hard work, too, so don’t expect it to happen overnight, but do enjoy the process and only blog because you love it!

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Blog URL http://www.renbehan.com
Facebook page www.facebook.com/renbehanfood
Twitter handle www.twitter.com/RenBehan
Pinterest profile www.pinterest.com/RenBehanFood
Instagram handle www.instagram.com/RenBehan

 

Every year, I’ve had great fun choosing prizes from Hotel Chocolat’s Christmas Gifts range to giveaway to readers. This year, the choice was just as hard, as there’s so many tempting products that it’s hard to narrow down to three fabulous prizes.

I’ve chosen a Collection box jam-packed with goodies, the impressive Christmas Truffle Tree, which I think would make a lovely dessert centrepiece, and the adorable red and white stocking filled with moulded chocolates.

Christmas Collection Christmas Collection-2

The Christmas Collection is a generous selection of Hotel Chocolat treats. It contains an H-Box of Christmas Chocolates, a bag of Butterscotch Puddles, the Dasher’s Dream slab, a Hazelnut Bûche and 6 Christmas Eton Mess truffles.

Truffle Xmas Tree Truffle Xmas Tree-2

The Christmas Truffle Tree is a rather impressive solid chocolate centre piece. The alternating layers are 50% milk praline feuilletine chocolate and sea salted caramel chocolate. On top are baubles of milk, vanilla white and dark chocolate.

Mini Stocking Mini Stocking-2

The rather sweet Dinky Christmas Stocking has a ribbon hook to hang it up on the tree, mantelpiece or a bedpost and is filled with caramel chocolate presents, milk chocolate santas and white chocolate bells.

COMPETITION

It’s my pleasure to give away these three prizes to readers of Kavey Eats!

  • First prize is Hotel Chocolat’s  Christmas Collection (£35).
  • Second prize is a Hotel Chocolat Christmas Truffle Tree (£26).
  • Third prize is a Hotel Chocolat Dinky Christmas Stocking (£10)
  • Each prize includes delivery within the UK.

HOW TO ENTER

You can enter the competition in 3 ways – the more ways you enter, the higher your chances of winning:

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment below, sharing your favourite story about wrapping or unwrapping presents.

Entry 2 – Twitter
Follow @Kavey on Twitter. Existing followers are, of course, welcome to enter! Then tweet the (exact) sentence below.
I’d love to win @HotelChocolat Christmas prizes from Kavey Eats! http://goo.gl/DzymeS #KaveyEatsHotelChocolat

(Do not add my twitter handle into the tweet; I track entries using the competition hash tag. And please don’t leave a blog comment about your tweet either, thanks!)

Entry 3 – Instagram
Share an image of your favourite Christmassy wrapping paper (opened out, not rolled up!) via your Instagram feed. In the caption include my username
@Kaveyf and the hashtag #KaveyEatsHotelChocolat.

RULES & DETAILS

  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 5th December 2014.
  • Kavey Eats reserves the right to alter the closing date of the competition. Changes to the closing date, if they occur, will be shown on this page.
  • The 3 winners will be selected from all valid entries (across blog, twitter and instagram) using a random number generator. The first name selected will win the first prize. The second name selected will win the second prize. The third name selected will win the third prize.
  • Entry instructions form part of the terms and conditions.
  • Where prizes are to be provided by a third party, Kavey Eats accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of that third party.
  • First prize is Hotel Chocolat’s  Christmas Collection. Second prize is a Hotel Chocolat Christmas Truffle Tree. Third prize is a Hotel Chocolat Dinky Christmas Stocking. Each prize includes delivery within the UK.
  • The prizes cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
  • The prizes are offered and provided by Hotel Chocolat.
  • One blog entry per person only. One Twitter entry per person only. One Instagram entry per person only. You may enter all three ways but you do not have to do so for your entries to be valid.
  • For Twitter entries, winners must be following @Kavey at the time of notification. For Instagram entries, winners must be following @Kaveyf at the time of notification. Blog comment entries must provide a valid email address for contacting the winner.
  • The winners will be notified by email, Twitter or Instagram so please make sure you check your accounts for the notification message. If no response is received from a winner within 7 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

Kavey Eats attended the Hotel Chocolat Christmas preview event and received samples of items in the range.

 

One of the pleasures of a holiday in France is simple, classic meals in inexpensive local restaurants serving the same dishes they have been serving for generations. They are all about delicious food; familiar rather than innovative. Service is warm and friendly and you wish you could visit more often. You feel envious of the locals who are able to enjoy such a place as their neighbourhood joint.

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Images courtesy of Le Garrick gallery

Having often been disappointed by French restaurants in London I no longer expect to come across a place like this here in the UK. Even less so in the Tourist Heartland between Leicester Square and Covent Garden. So it was with a little trepidation that I accepted an invitation to visit Le Garrick, now celebrating its 25th anniversary.

The offering is simple – classic regional French food in a cosy, casual setting. Reading the menu is a stroll down memory lane for any of a hundred happy trips to France over the years.

There are a few tables upstairs but most are down a (rather terrifying) spiral staircase; the underground space is atmospheric but too dark for me, especially at our table which lacks an overhead light anywhere close by. Eating by candlelight may be romantic but when it’s difficult to read the menu, it’s time to dial it up just a notch or two.

My little point and shoot camera struggled as much as we did. The only one that could “see” at all was my SLR using my 50mm lens wide open at f1.8 – sorry, that’s for fellow camera geeks! Luckily, the wonders of technology allows me to pull the details out and make the colour less candlelight orange, so you can actually see what we ordered much better than we could!

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A basket of bread. Freshly cut so the surfaces are still soft – should go without saying but is so often not the case!

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La Soupe à L’Oignon (£4.95) is excellent. Full of all the really deep beefy flavours and dark, dark onion that you could ask for. Top marks.

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The presentation of the Foie Gras Du Sud Ouest (£8.95) could be a little slicker – I’m not looking for extra frills on the dish but there’s something a little forlorn about an enormous plate with a slice of terrine at one end and two pieces of toast at the other. Of course, that’s irrelevant next to taste and texture, which are very good indeed and I love the homemade fig jam as well.

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We both order steaks – the Onglet Sauce Au Poivre (£12.50) for Pete and the Faux Filet Sauce au Béarnaise (£17.95) for me. All the steaks can be ordered with either pepper sauce or Béarnaise, by the way.

The service is let down a little by the steaks being delivered and identified by the sauces on the plate and not the cut of steak, so I accept the one with Béarnaise and Pete the one with pepper. Since they’ve put the wrong sauce on both plates, it takes us a few moments to notice the error and swap back, which is fine when dining with your partner or close friends, but less so if you don’t know your companions quite well enough to swap once you’ve already started eating.

That minor quibble aside, the steaks are tasty and the sauces particularly so. (Be warned, the Béarnaise is made with plenty of tarragon so choose pepper if you can’t handle a heavy punch of aniseed). We assume the anaemic-looking fries must surely be undercooked but actually, they are perfect to eat.

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We stick to personal favourites for dessert with a Crème brulée (£5.50) and the Petit pot au chocolat (£6.95).

Pete’s enthusiastic about the generous layer of properly bruléed sugar on top but feels the texture of the custard is closer to what you’d usually find in a crème caramel, a little too firm for his preference. Tasty though.

My pudd has that splendid almost chewy texture of a really dense pot au chocolat. It’s a touch too sweet for me, but my chocolate tastes have changed so much over the years. I’d prefer a little more bitterness from a good dark chocolate. It’s very nice though, and we finish the lot!

Throughout, service is friendly and warm to all tables, with the staff engaging in friendly banter with everyone, newcomers and regulars alike. I like that!

The bill is more reasonable than I expected for both the location and the quality of food. With our dinner we have a 500 ml carafe of red (wines are reasonably priced for London) and Pete has a Bruichladdich whisky instead of coffee. Our bill comes to just over £80 plus service. Of course that’s more than you’d pay for the equivalent in a rural neighbourhood restaurant in France, but property rents, rates, wages and food costs are much higher here too.

We are happy to have discovered a restaurant that does credit to our familiar French favourites and will definitely be back soon.

 

Kavey Eats dined as guests of Le Garrick restaurant.

Le Garrick on Urbanspoon

 

Today, I welcome another friend to participate in Meet The Blogger. Please say hello to Sian Reynolds, who writes the wonderfully named Fish Fingers For Tea.

FFFT header Kavey Eats

Hello and welcome, please introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.

Hello! I’m Sian from Fish Fingers for Tea. I’m a huge fan of the Meet the Blogger series so it’s a real honour to be here today. Fish Fingers for Tea is all about family friendly, time friendly and budget friendly food. I blog what we eat so what you see is the kind of food we dish up on a regular basis. I used to be a parent blogger, setting up yet another blog when Izzy was born but over time it was taken over by recipes for cake so I took the plunge properly into the world of food blogging.

Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

The name refers to one of our all-time favourite teas – a fish finger butty (which has to be with pappy white bread and ketchup), though I am often asked if it has any connection to Dr Who!

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What are your earliest memories of cooking? Who or what inspired you to cook?

Food and cooking seem to have been in my life for as long as I can remember. Weekends at my grandparents meant bowls of thick porridge and brown sugar, piles of fluffy scrambled eggs and always a roast on Sunday. Both of my parents cooked from scratch and threw regular dinner parties. No matter where I was I was always given little jobs to do and that’s how I learnt – just watching and having a go. I think perhaps that’s the best way. Cooking was just what you did but it more than just a way of getting something to eat, it was time together to chat and laugh.

What are the biggest influences on your cooking at the moment?

I think the biggest influence on my cooking at the moment is the weather! It’s my favourite time of year food wise – there’s little better to me than the comfort of autumn and winter food – steaming bowls of soup, thick stews and tasty pies. Izzy is also developing a liking for spicy food so we’re experimenting a lot with comfortable levels of heat for her.

Tell us the story of your most spectacular kitchen failure!

Oh god, so many! We waited hours for a joint of beef one Christmas after I got my timings completely wrong and was battling with an ancient cooker. Stuck cakes, burnt offerings and dodgy combinations have all happened on a regular basis – I get distracted easily. I did melt a plastic sieve at school once as well, that didn’t go down very well.

Which food or ingredients could you not live without?

Ingredient wise it would be Maldon sea salt, I throw it on and in everything and hot pepper sauce if I’m cooking for Rich. You will always find an abundance of cheese and chocolate in our fridge as well.

Which food writers / chefs do you find most inspirational and in the same spirit, are there any particular cookery books you cherish above the rest of the shelf?

I’m a huge Nigella Lawson fan, I like her relaxed style of cooking and How To Be A Domestic Goddess is one book I turn to time and time again. My parents often cooked from Elizabeth David and I have a complete set of her books and though I rarely cook from them myself I wouldn’t be without them on my shelf, purely for sentimental reasons. Strangely though I rarely cook from cookery books. I have a large collection but I read them more like novels and to gain inspiration rather than following a recipe.

If I were coming for dinner, what would you cook for me?

Can we cheat and get a takeaway? No? Ok. I’d probably throw together an oven baked risotto – they’re always tasty but I wouldn’t be stuck in the kitchen. Oh, and I would have made a batch of my gluten free hazelnut brownies earlier that day so that’s pudding sorted.

leftover gammon roast frittata 3 ingredient nutella cookies

Since you started blogging, has your style and content changed over time, and if so, in what ways?

I think the blog is constantly evolving. As our eating habits as a family change then so does the content. I’ve reached a place where I’ve developed my own style of photography (something that I’m always working on) and my own way of talking to my readers. I work with brands and on recipe commissions much more now so that obviously has some effect on the content, I try to only work with brands that fit into my own ethos though. A year ago I may have shied away from admitting that I use packets and tins in my own cooking, there is, I think, some pressure to cook everything from scratch but now I’m more than comfortable in showing that shortcuts are welcome in most family kitchens.

What is the hardest aspect of blogging for you?

Time. Life is busy for everyone and some weeks finding that half an hour to write a post is incredibly difficult, not to mention the time it takes to photograph each dish.

What inspires you to keep blogging regularly?

The never ending subject matter and feeling quite passionately that feeding your family well doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, one thing that I know a lot of readers worry about. I’ve had the occasional time when I’ve considered stopping but I usually find myself camera in hand, snapping photos of a dish within a day or so.

 date walnut granola basic meatballs and tomato sauce

What are you absolutely loving cooking and eating right now?

I took the slow cooker out of the cupboard a couple of weeks ago so we’re dishing up a lot stews and casseroles packed with seasonal veggies. I’m looking forward to my first bag of Brussel sprouts so I can demolish a plateful of them roasted with parmesan and lemon juice and of course cake is always to be enjoyed!

What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

For a long time it was one for an oven baked risotto but crispy oven baked courgette fries have taken over now!

Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?

Marmite is very much a love hate thing but I thought these puff pastry marmite whirls might be more popular. But we are very much a marmite loving family so I suspect my judgement is clouded!

courgette fries marmite and cheese whirls

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Blog URL: http://fishfingersfortea.co.uk
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/fishfingersfortea
Twitter handle: https://twitter.com/fishfingers4tea
Pinterest profile: http://www.pinterest.com/fishfingers4tea/
Instagram handle: http://instagram.com/fishfingersfortea

 

One of the many things I enjoy about blogging is the social aspect – forging friendships with fellow bloggers, talking online, meeting in person. And when good things happen for the friends one has made, it’s really wonderful to be able to share the news.

Miss South, one half of North South Food, is not only a fellow food lover and inventive cook but she is also a very talented and articulate writer. Her posts on cooking on a budget, and the realities of living on the poverty line should be taken as a wake up call not only by politicians who are wildly out of touch, but also by food celebrities who mean well but haven’t got a clue either. For more about Miss South, read my recent Meet The Blogger interview with her, here.

The good news I wanted to share is to spread the word about Miss South’s latest book, one that I’ve been really excited about seeing in print. It’s called Slow Cooked and has over 200 recipes to make in a slow cooker.

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Back when Miss South was recipe testing, I was quick to step forward and delighted to volunteer my services in helping her with some of the Indian recipes. Some tips gleaned from my mum about making your own garam masala made it into the book, as did the method I recommended for making keema. It’s a lovely feeling to contribute, even in such a tiny way, to someone’s book – I know it was a project that Miss South poured vast energy and effort into and the result is a super resource.

Using a slow cooker is a boon for many cooks. It’s great for those evenings when you’re so hungry by the time you get home you just want to walk in to something delicious, hot and ready to eat. A little prep in the morning, or the night before, and that’s exactly what a slow cooker can give you. It’s also a very economical way of cooking, using far less energy over several hours than a conventional oven or stovetop for a few. And if you are cooking in limited kitchen space (or perhaps no kitchen at all), it can be a lifesaver.

Of course, cooking in a slow cooker is not the same as cooking in an oven or on the stove. For those who’ve made slow-cooked stews or casseroles before, their first experiences cooking with a slow cooker can be disappointing. Food tastes bland and watery and it’s easy to give up.

One of the best aspects of the book is the excellent and detailed introduction Miss South gives to cooking in a slow cooker, spelling out the adaptations you need to make to ensure that you achieve great flavours when cooking this way. It’s immediately clear that Miss South has used her slow cookers (she has various models in different sizes) a lot and in this book she passes on all the tips she’s learned along the way. After the introduction, dive in to a fabulous range of slow cooker recipes, ranging from hearty meat stews to fish and vegetable dishes, soups and curries. There are even chapters on preserves and other pantry staples, cakes and breads and puddings.

Most recipes don’t have accompanying photos, but a good selection of dishes are showcased just inside the front cover. Usually, I’m a fan of having an image of every recipe so I can see what it should look like but most of the dishes in the book are classics that most of us are familiar with, so I find that I don’t actually miss them in this book. What I’m more interested in are the adapted versions that allow me to make all these recipes in my trusty slow cooker.

Not every recipe is to my taste – I was disappointed by the butternut squash curry which needs more spice, more punch, more flavour. But there are many recipes which more than make up for that one, such as the fantastic carbonnade, Miss South’s slow cooker adaptation of a Belgian beef stew made with beer, onions and mustard. I particularly love the mustard toasted baguette on top, though do note you’ll need use of a grill to toast the slices before sitting them atop the stew.

Note, Miss South isn’t as greedy as Pete and I – she lists the recipe as serving 4-6 with leftovers whereas I’d say it serves 4 with none leftover.

Miss South’s Carbonnade

Serves 4

Ingredients
500 grams stewing steak or beef brisket, cubed
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons plain flour
2 onions (preferably caramelised, recipe provided in the book)
1 carrot, diced
2  large flat mushrooms, sliced
1 heaped teaspoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
350 ml ale or stout
4 tablespoons wholegrain mustard
1 tablespoon room-temperature butter
1 demi baguette
chopped fresh parsley, to serve

Method

  • Place the beef, mustard powder, salt, pepper and flour into the slow cooker, toss well to coat the meat. Add onions, carrot and mushrooms and onions (we used raw), then sugar, vinegar, bay leaf, thyme, beer and half the wholegrain mustard. The meat should be about two-thirds submerged by the liquid.

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  • Give a stir, to mix in the mustard, then put on the lid and cook on low for 6 hours.

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  • After 6 hours, beat together the butter and remaining wholegrain mustard, 6 six thick slices from the baguette and spread the mustard butter on one side. Toast under a grill (butter side up) until the edges start to crisp and the mustard butter darkens.
  • Transfer the mustard toasts to the slow cooker, setting them gently onto the stew and pressing down just a little so the gravy soaks into their bases.
  • Replace the lid and cook for another 2 hours.

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COMPETITION

I have 5 copies of Miss South’s Slow Cooked to giveaway to Kavey Eats readers! Prizes include delivery within the UK.

HOW TO ENTER

You can enter the competition in 3 ways – the more ways you enter, the higher your chances of winning:

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment below, telling me about your favourite slow cooked dish.

Entry 2 – Twitter
Follow @Kavey on Twitter. Existing followers are, of course, welcome to enter! Then tweet the (exact) sentence below.
I’d love to win a copy of @northsouthfood’s Slow Cooked from @EburyPublishing and Kavey Eats! http://goo.gl/Ny79Lh #KaveyEatsSlowCooked
(Do not add my twitter handle into the tweet; I track entries using the competition hash tag. And please don’t leave a blog comment about your tweet either, thanks!)

Entry 3 – Instagram
Share an image of your slow cooker (empty or full) via your Instagram feed. In the caption, tell me about your favourite slow cooked dish. Make sure you include my username @Kaveyf and the hashtag #KaveyEatsSlowCooked.

RULES & DETAILS

  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 21st November, 2014.
  • Kavey Eats reserves the right to alter the closing date of the competition. Changes to the closing date, if they occur, will be shown on this page.
  • The 5 winners will be selected from all valid entries using a random number generator. The first name selected will win the first prize. The second name selected will win the second prize.
  • Entry instructions form part of the terms and conditions.
  • Where prizes are to be provided by a third party, Kavey Eats accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of that third party.
  • Each prize is a copy of Miss South’s Slow Cooked, published by Ebury Press. Free delivery within the UK is included.
  • The prizes cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
  • The prizes are offered and provided by Ebury Press, Random House.
  • One blog entry per person only. One Twitter entry per person only. One Instagram entry per person only. You may enter all three ways but you do not have to do so for your entries to be valid.
  • For Twitter entries, winners must be following @Kavey at the time of notification. For Instagram entries, winners must be following @Kaveyf at the time of notification. Blog comment entries must provide a valid email address for contacting the winner.
  • The winners will be notified by email, Twitter or Instagram so please make sure you check your accounts for the notification message. If no response is received from a winner within 7 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

Kavey Eats received a review copy from Random House.
Slow Cooked is published by Ebury Press and currently available on Amazon for £13.48 (RRP £14.99).

 

This week I’m introducing another beer blogger that I once again met through Pete Drinks. Matt is an exuberant lover of beer, which is evident from his blog Total Ales and in his responses below.

Total Ales Banner

Hello and welcome, plea­se introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.

Hello! My name is Matt Curtis and I’ve been writing a beer blog called Total Ales for almost three years. I started writing the blog because I was boring my friends by talking about beer all the time as I became more and more obsessed with it. I though it would be a good way to curb my enthusiasm a little but in fact it only served to reinforce it! I try to write about my personal experience of beer rather than just straight reviews of what and where I’m drinking and there is a healthy dose of both comment and opinion in there too. Hopefully people find it entertaining, enjoyable and informative as that’s the balance I’m trying to achieve.

Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

The blog is called Total Ales because when I was visiting the town of Fort Collins in Colorado, a true beer paradise, I went to an incredibly huge liquor store called ‘Total Beverage’ which was the base for the inspiration. It’s also a small homage to the video games magazines I read in my youth such as Total Play and Total Amiga.

Matt Curtis Headshot

Why did you choose to blog about beer?

I’d started blogs on other subjects I love before but they always seem to fall by the wayside. Something about beer just keeps the fire, the desire to write, burning away inside me. There are so many stories waiting to be told, I literally can’t wait to get home from work and start writing about beer. Sometimes just a single sip can inspire me to write thousands of words!

Does blogging about drink present any particular challenges?

Trying to vary the pace of the writing and keep things fresh is always on my mind, I think this is something that all bloggers deal with regardless of their subject matter though. I think the biggest problem outside of the writing is that I blog about alcohol and this leads to a lot of drinking (what a nightmare) which is something I have to think about. It also takes up a lot of my time, especially as I get to attend a few press events but I’d rather be doing this than anything else.

Total Ales 1

Is there a particular style of beer you seek out most often?

I like hoppy American style pale ale and IPA and there are lots of good ones but I’m mostly seeking ones with clean, balanced and distinctive flavours that have a well-rounded juiciness and these are at the pinnacle of beer for me.

Which single beer could you not live without?

At the moment it’s Beavertown’s Gamma Ray pale ale. It’s my fridge staple and one of the best beers being brewed in the UK right now. Thankfully the brewery is only 10 miles from my flat!

Are there beer styles you don’t like or think are overrated?

I’ll try anything once, there can easily be good and bad examples of the same style. I mostly struggle with sweeter beers such as malt forward bocks or marzens. Another struggle is going to the pub with friends who aren’t interested in beer at all and finding something decent on the bar I want to drink. Thankfully great beer is exponentially rising in popularity so this is become less and less of a problem.

Total Ales 3

What are the current trends in the beer scene? How do you feel about them?

Right now the beer scene is more exciting than it’s ever been and I still think it’s going to get even better! Since the late 80’s craft beer has been slowly bubbling away, gaining gradual momentum. Now this has spread all over the world and the UK is perhaps one of the most interesting places to be a beer lover. We have a strong traditional beer scene and a modern craft beer scene that’s growing incredibly quickly. This is now spilling out into the mainstream with even the Wetherspoons chain completely updating their offering. The trick is, like with great beer, finding the perfect balance.

Tell us about your pet controversy in the beer world.

I think my biggest problem is with breweries trying to cash in on the hard work of those that ‘get it’. People stealing anything from branding through to falsifying their own ethos so they look like another brewery. A common thing I see is that a lot of new breweries have a ‘Brewdog Complex’ where they copy the in your face marketing tactics of the cheeky Scottish brewery. This is in fact the antithesis of what Brewdog did in creating something quite different, in the UK at least (it could be said that Brewdog simply copied the ethos of their favourite American breweries.) I think a lot of newer breweries (and some older ones) would do better to find their own path rather than walk somebody elses well trodden one.

Total Ales 5

What are your top three criteria for a great pub? Do you have a favourite pub? Why?

Great beer, good food and vibe. The first two are obvious but the third is really the trick. It’s tough to create the perfect atmosphere that ebbs and flows with the mood of your patrons, few really have it but the best example in the UK is probably North Bar in Leeds. It just has a certain magic that makes it hard for me to leave when I’m in there.

What are the biggest turn offs for you, in the pubs you don’t like?

Sticky tables, smelly toilets and bar staff that are selling craft beers but have little interest in having a conversation with me about what I’m drinking. If you don’t want to chat you could at least be wiping down the tables.

What’s the strangest / funniest thing that’s happened to you in a pub?

I once drunkenly haggled with Masterchef winner Tim Anderson when he worked behind the bar in the Euston Tap. My friend picked a bottle of imported American beer that wasn’t priced on the till so he said we had to haggle for it. I think we probably paid over the odds but we were pretty drunk and didn’t care too much!

Total Ales 2

Since you started blogging, has your style and content changed over time, and if so, in what ways?

I think my writing has improved markedly since I began this blog in particular. I always feel like I’m learning and improving but this blog has dramatically improved my writing. I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned it how to edit a post properly and cut the crap that no one wants to read out! I’ve also learned that the most important thing is to blog for yourself, if you’re happy with what you’re creating then people will come and read what you’ve created and share the experience with you.

What is the hardest aspect of blogging for you?

Keeping things fresh and keeping the momentum going can be challenging. As with any creative pastime sometimes you can write for days on end and sometimes you have nothing. I try and keep writing through the dry spells, which have been thankfully few and far between, just to keep the momentum constant. Blogging moves so quickly that I find you can soon fall by the wayside if you stop writing.

What inspires you to keep blogging?

Beer! Honestly the beer scene is so vibrant at the moment that there is so much to write about and I’m constantly discovering stories or tastes that I have to write about.

Blogging killed the newspaper star. What do you think bloggers bring to the arena that differentiates them from traditional journalists?

The best bloggers are a combination of a great journalist, a great editor and a wonderful storyteller. The best blogs are the newspapers of the future!

Total Ales 4

What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

I wrote a post on the price of imported American craft beer coming into the UK. This was picked up by the US beer blogging scene which is exponentially larger than the one we have here and it got a lot of attention and started a lot of conversation.

Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?

I wrote a short story based on an experience I had out in Colorado a couple of years ago when I had some absolutely incredible pulled pork at a roadside diner. No other pulled pork I’ve tasted since has come close but a lot of that was to do with the experience. It’s probably the piece of writing I’m most happy with and I still enjoy reading it. http://totalales.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/the-best-pulled-pork-i-ever-had.html

What’s the one question you wish I’d asked you but didn’t?

What’s the best beer in the world?

Please go ahead and answer it!

Russian River Pliny The Elder of course! Except its nearly impossible to get hold of outside of California. It’s exactly what I look for in a beer; clean, bright, distinctive flavours of grapefruit and pine resin and a booming aroma to match. Perfection!

 

Spread the love

Blog URL: http://totalales.blogspot.com
Twitter handle: https://twitter.com/totalcurtis
Instagram handle: http://instagram.com/totalcurtis

 

I have a personal definition of the four seasons which is somewhat at odds with the official one, which assigns three months of the year to each season. In my 2-4-2-4 view, Spring covers the months of March and April, Summer stretches across May, June, July and August, Autumn is the months of September and October and Winter is with us from November right through to the end of February.

So as far as I’m concerned, we’re in Winter now.

Here in the UK, that means cold days and long dark nights but also crackling fires, a warm blanket, comforting food. Ice cream might not be the obvious sweet treat at this time of year but as long as the heating’s on and I’m feeling cosy in a lovely warm house, I am happy to enjoy ice cream all year round.

And don’t forget that the season to be merry is upon us, which gives us an extra excuse to indulge!

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Images of ice cream cakes, sundaes, baked alaskas and semifreddos from
Shutterstock

For this month’s Bloggers Scream For Ice Cream, I’m calling for Ice Cream Showstoppers – think ice cream cakes, baked alaska, ice cream sundaes, ice cream sandwiches, semifreddo terrines or any other extravaganza of ice cream or sorbet.

And you’re welcome to use shop-bought ice cream for this challenge, by the way. I’m always a supporter of maximum effect for minimum effort!

How To Take Part In BSFIC

  • Create and blog a suitable recipe any time in November or December. The deadline is December 28th.
  • In your post, mention and link to this Bloggers Scream For Ice Cream post.
  • Include the Bloggers Scream For Ice Cream badge (below).
  • Email me (by the 28th of the December) with your first name or nickname (as you prefer) and the link to your post.
  • Please include in your email an image for my roundup, sized to no larger than 600 pixels on the longest side.

You are welcome to submit your post to as many blogger challenge events as you like.

If the recipe is not your own, please be aware of copyright issues. Email me if you would like to discuss this.

I’ll post a round up showcasing and linking to all the entries and I’ll also share your posts via Pinterest, Stumble and Twitter. If you tweet about your post using the hashtag #BSFIC I’ll retweet any I see. You are also welcome to share the links to your posts on my Kavey Eats Facebook page.

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For more ideas, check out my my Pinterest ice cream board and past BSFIC Entries board.

 

The latest Bloggers Scream For Ice Cream challenge was open for two months and had a wide open theme of Anything Goes.

It’s my pleasure to welcome regulars and newcomers alike to #BSFIC. It’s nice to see bloggers from outside the UK join in too. Here’s the round up of everyone’s tempting creations:

slowcooked

Corina from Searching for Spice made a delicious Vanilla Ice Cream and Affogato, inspired not only by her love of vanilla ice cream but waking up one morning and discovering that her husband had used the very last of the milk for his cereal and realising that a scoop of vanilla ice cream would be the perfect alternative for her morning coffee! In her post, she shares a recipe for a classic custard-based vanilla ice cream.

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I love the pretty pastel of this Strawberry Vanilla Bean Coconut Ice from Elizabeth’s Kitchen Diary. Although her ice cream machine died last year, Elizabeth has the same power blender I do (see my post here for more about the Optimum 9400 Blender). Eschewing the high-fat, high-sugar recipes she found online, Elizabeth developed a healthy alternative using coconut milk, vanilla, frozen strawberries and maple syrup. It was so good her family and friends deemed it the best ice cream she’s ever made!

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Manion is definitely a blogger after my own heart – I love bourbon and I love brown sugar! In Manion’s case, this combination is also the name of her blog! Her Bourbon and Brown Sugar Ice Cream is a non-churn recipe, which is a technique I use regularly too. Win win! When you visit her blog, check out her recent recipe for ginger cookies – I reckon an ice cream sandwich of this ice cream between those cookies could be a match made in heaven!

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Two bourbons in a row? Don’t mind if I do! The idea for my Burnt Apple & Bourbon Ice Cream came directly from a recipe I spotted on my beloved Pinterest but I developed my own version with a different ice cream base and pushing the apple roasting farther for an edge of bitterness against the sweetness of the custard. Not only is it delicious, the spiced fruit gives it an unexpectedly Christmassy flavour profile.

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Kate, the Gluten free alchemist, used the last of her home grown rhubarb to make this Rhubarb, Blueberry & Honey No Churn recipe, and preserve the summer for just a little longer. There’s also a little pomegranate syrup in the mix too, which must surely give a wonderful depth of flavour. It may be dark outside but this pretty pink ice cream is the perfect antidote!

GingerBSFIC

For our latest #BSFIC, Julia over at Something Missing has created a Ginger and Blackberry Swirl Ice Cream which replaces cream with a little milk powder to create a rich texture and volume without the fat of cream. A handy trick to balance the increased calorie intake that is almost inevitable at this time of year.

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Laura lives up to her blog name, how to cook good good, by translating a classic combination into ice cream. Her Figs and Honey Ice Cream was inspired by the Mascarpone figue she and her husband so enjoyed in South West France this year.

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Monica lives the perfect balance between healthy eating (check out the rest of her blog for recipes and inspiration) and occasional hedonism. I’d place this fabulous No-Churn Zabaglione Ice Cream firmly in the hedonistic camp – it’s simplified tiramisu in a frozen format! The best thing is that it’s far quicker and easier to make than homemade tiramisu, so no excuses not to make it!

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I’ll be posting the next #BSFIC event soon. In the meantime, enjoy the recipes above and thanks to all the participants.

 

Like many in the UK, I celebrate Christmas as a purely cultural tradition. Although I am interested in the origins of the ways we celebrate, it’s about history rather than religious significance for me.

On a religious level, Advent is a period of anticipation; indeed the word itself comes from adventus; Latin for “coming” and marks the weeks of preparation for celebrating the birth of Jesus and looking ahead to his second coming. It is also the beginning of the liturgical year – that is the Christian calendar that determines the dates of various feast and fast days, celebrations of Saints and other observances.

For me, a nostalgia-loving Humanist, Advent is all about Advent calendars, and the ones I love best are chocolate ones! Who can resist the nearly-month-long ritual of finding the right number, carefully opening the door and revealing that day’s chocolate inside?

Twenty years ago, I was happy with a really cheap version; a couple of quid in Woollies (RIP) and I was sorted. But over the last couple of decades, my chocolate tastes have changed enormously and the really cheap stuff – more sugar and vegetable fat than actual cocoa content – just doesn’t cut it. The first time I bought a Hotel Chocolat advent some years ago, it felt outrageously expensive (and compared to my Woollies ones it was!). But nowadays, I’m happier to spend more on quality chocolate and I’ve also realised that £12.50 for a box of 24 tasty chocolates is actually perfectly reasonable.

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Hotel Chocolat’s Advent Calendar to Share (£26) is a rather charming way of sharing the advent fun without having to share the chocolate treat. I think of it as a Couple’s Advent Calendar but of course, it would work for siblings or friends too, as long as they don’t mind taking turns to open the door! Behind each window are two baby truffles and there are a range of flavours to find including simple milk and dark truffles, salted caramel, gingerbread, almond and nutmeg, cinnamon, raspberry and hibiscus, and mulled wine.

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For those who don’t want to share, Hotel Chocolat’s one-person Advent Calendars (£12.50) come in dark, milk or white chocolate versions. Behind each door is a cute moulded chocolate sculpture.

COMPETITION

I have two prizes to giveaway to Kavey Eats readers!

  • First prize is a Hotel Chocolat Advent Calendar to Share.
  • Second prize is a Hotel Chocolat Dark Chocolate Advent Calendar.
  • Each prize includes delivery within the UK.

HOW TO ENTER

You can enter the competition in 3 ways – the more ways you enter, the higher your chances of winning:

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment below, sharing your favourite way of enjoying chocolate at Christmas.

Entry 2 – Twitter
Follow @Kavey on Twitter. Existing followers are, of course, welcome to enter! Then tweet the (exact) sentence below.
I’d love to win @HotelChocolat Advent Calendars from Kavey Eats! http://goo.gl/80jVag #KaveyEatsHCAdvent
(Do not add my twitter handle into the tweet; I track entries using the competition hash tag. And please don’t leave a blog comment about your tweet either, thanks!)

Entry 3 – Instagram
Share an image of your favourite Christmas Tree decoration via your Instagram feed. In the caption include my username @Kaveyf and the hashtag #KaveyEatsHCAdvent.

RULES & DETAILS

  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 14th November, 2014.
  • Kavey Eats reserves the right to alter the closing date of the competition. Changes to the closing date, if they occur, will be shown on this page.
  • The 2 winners will be selected from all valid entries using a random number generator. The first name selected will win the first prize. The second name selected will win the second prize.
  • Entry instructions form part of the terms and conditions.
  • Where prizes are to be provided by a third party, Kavey Eats accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of that third party.
  • First prize is a Hotel Chocolat Advent Calendar to Share and second prize is a Dark Chocolate Advent Calendar. Free delivery within the UK is included.
  • The prizes cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
  • The prizes are offered and provided by Hotel Chocolat.
  • One blog entry per person only. One Twitter entry per person only. One Instagram entry per person only. You may enter all three ways but you do not have to do so for your entries to be valid.
  • For Twitter entries, winners must be following @Kavey at the time of notification. For Instagram entries, winners must be following @Kaveyf at the time of notification. Blog comment entries must provide a valid email address for contacting the winner.
  • The winners will be notified by email, Twitter or Instagram so please make sure you check your accounts for the notification message. If no response is received from a winner within 7 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

Kavey Eats attended the Hotel Chocolat Christmas preview event and received samples of items in the range.
Winner of the first prize is Nikki Greene (blog comment). Winner of the second prize is @CaffeineCatty (twitter).

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