This month’s Bloggers Scream for Ice Cream was a joint challenge hosted by me and Choclette – BSFIC meets We Should Cocoa. We asked you to give us your chocolatey frozen treats and you obliged!

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Image via Big Spud, provided by Waitrose

First up is this rather impressive Chocolate Passionfruit Baked Alaska from Gary at Big Spud. Using passion fruit to cut through the rich flavour of chocolate makes perfect sense.

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Next, Elizabeth over at Law Student Cookbook combines a classic pairing in her Chocolate Hazelnut Ice Cream. She used roasted hazelnuts to provide both flavour and crunch.

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Hannah at Honey & Dough made this lovely Frozen Creme Fraiche Brownie Custard. I love the idea of big chunks of chewy chocolate brownie mixed into the ice cream base, and creme fraiche surely gives a gorgeous tang!

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Janice at Farmersgirl Kitchen took inspiration from ingredients she found in her freezer, to make this White Chocolate Eton Mess Ice Cream. Love the dainty tea cup!

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Fellow host Choclette made these delicious Chocolate Ice Pops – chocolate ice cream in a coat of melted chocolate. Using good quality chocolate makes all the difference in recipes like this.

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Jo of Jos Kitchen made triple sure to get chocolate into her recipe with these Triple Chocolate Ice Cream Sandwiches. To a Jamie Oliver chocolate ice cream recipe, she added chocolate chips, and sandwiched the resulting ice cream between chocolate digestive biscuits.

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I’d never even heard of cake batter ice cream till I read Julia’s post on Something Missing but apparently it’s a thing in San Francisco. Julia used vanilla cake mix along with chocolate chips and folded the mixture into an Italian meringue to create her No Churn Birthday Cake Ice Cream.

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Johanna at the Green Gourmet Giraffe Blog made an amazing sounding Violet Crumble Ice Cream as part of her Australia Day celebrations – the ice cream includes broken up pieces of Violet Crumble, an Aussie chocolate-covered honeycomb bar stirred into a no churn condensed milk and cream base.

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My own entry tastes way better than the photograph might look – it’s an incredibly Rich, Dark & Dense Chocolate Ice Cream. I adapted a recipe I’d made previously on the stove to do the whole thing in my power blender, which worked really well. This mixture would make absolutely killer chocolate ice lollies aka fudgesicles.

Thank you everyone for joining us for our WeShouldBSFIC Mashup!

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I’ll post a theme for January’s BSFIC soon.

 

My initial plan, when Choclette and I set our joint #WeShouldBSFIC challenge for January, was an ice cream sandwich. I wanted to make chewy chocolate chip cookies and sandwich white chocolate vanilla ice cream between them. But every time I started scribbling potential recipe notes, my thoughts turned instead to a chocolate ice cream recipe I shared back in the summer of 2012; a rich, dense and wonderfully dark chocolate ice cream. I still remember the richness of that ice cream!

Like many no-churn recipes, it has a base of condensed milk and double cream (plus regular milk). Unlike most no-churn recipes, it’s not simply a case of folding together whipped condensed milk and cream, adding flavouring and popping into the freezer. It needs the milks and cream to be boiled, the chocolate (and other flavourings) to be melted and thoroughly mixed in, and then a flour thickener added before the mixture is cooked further until it’s so thick you can only just pour it from the pan to a plastic box.

I was keen to see if I could adapt the recipe to make it in my Froothie Optimum 9400. This power blender has such a jet engine of a motor that it not only blends but heats too – there’s no heating element but the friction of the blades at top speed will generate enough heat to make your mixture piping hot. Having already made an ice cream custard base in the Optimum 9400, for my silky smooth white chocolate vanilla ice cream, I was hopeful my adaptation would work.

When I took the ice cream out of the freezer,  I belatedly remembered how dense this ice cream is and how hard it is to scoop. We ended up popping the entire block out of the plastic box and cutting a slice off the end with a knife. It doesn’t look pretty, as the photographed side shows where it slid out of the box and the other side looked even stranger, from where the knife pushed through it.

That’s when I realised this recipe would  be utterly perfect for individual chocolate ice cream lollies, or fudgesicles as Americans call them. As soon as you cut into the ice cream with a spoon, it reveals it’s beautiful smooth texture, utterly silky in the mouth and with a hint of chewiness that reminds of the wonderful mastic ice creams of the Middle East. I took a bite straight out of the slice and oh yes indeed, this would be perfect on a lolly stick! Too bad I didn’t think of that 24 hours ago!

So please use your imagination to see past my appalling photo and trust me when I tell you that you should give this recipe a try.

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Rich, Dense & Dark Chocolate Ice Cream | Made in a Power Blender

Ingredients
200 grams sweetened condensed milk
100 grams whole milk
100 grams double cream
100 grams very dark chocolate, grated or finely chopped*
0.5 scant teaspoon instant coffee granules or powder
1 scant teaspoon vanilla bean paste or extract
Small pinch fine sea salt
1 tablespoon plain flour
1 tablespoon cold water

* Note: To save on washing up, use your power blender to “grate” the chocolate, then pour/ scrape it out of the jug and set it aside.

Method

  • Into the jug, pour the condensed milk, whole milk and double cream. Blend on high power until the mixture is steaming hot.
  • Add the chocolate, instant coffee, vanilla bean paste and salt. Blend on high power again until the chocolate melts and is fully mixed into the cream and milk.
  • In a small bowl, mix the flour and water into a smooth paste, then add to the blender.
  • Blend on high power for 4-5 minutes. The mixture should be thick and glossy.
  • Pour / scrape into a shallow freezer container, or better still, into individual lolly moulds or small paper cups, with lolly sticks inserted.
  • Transfer to the freezer overnight or until solid.
  • To serve, take out of the freezer 10 minutes ahead of scooping (or slicing).

This is my entry for the joint Bloggers Scream for Ice Cream and We Should Cocoa challenge, hosted by myself and Choclette.

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As I’ve mentioned before, I was given my Optimum 9400 along with the opportunity to be an ambassador for the Australian brand, as it breaks into the UK market. Hand on hearts, Pete and I have been enormously impressed with the blender, especially given the price when you compare it to market leaders like Vitamix; (you can read a comparison of the two, here). We’ve made super quick frozen fruit sorbets, delicious vegetable soups (which are blended and heated so quickly that they retain the fresh taste of the vegetables, an unexpected bonus), quick custards (both to enjoy as they are and freeze into ice cream), and we’ve also used it to grate, puree and blend. And yet we’re only at the start of our learning about all that it can do. I’ll continue to share my favourite Optimum 9400 recipes with you here on Kavey Eats. You can access them all via my Froothie tag.

Like this recipe? Here are a few more power blender recipes from fellow bloggers that caught my eye:

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

 

With the exception of long-ago childhood excitement (mingled with dread) about whether (or not) I would receive a card from a secret admirer, I’ve never been a particularly gung-ho participator in Valentine’s day. I guess I’m one of those who tend to prefer the little everyday demonstrations of love and romance over the idea of a societally assigned day of cliché. I have dearly appreciated the romance of an electric foot warmer over flowers, I am thankful for the lovingly made soft-boiled eggs with neatly buttered and cut soldiers when I’ve come home hungry after a late night event and I prefer daily kisses, cuddles and kind words to a showy profession by way of a girly necklace or glittery ring,

I’m particularly glad Pete isn’t given to ostentatiously public displays; gaudy (and visibly expensive) bouquets sent to the office rather than given in person strike me as little more than showing off or worse, proprietarily staking a claim. Since when did romance require grabbing the attention of anyone other than the object of one’s affections?

That’s not to say I don’t like flowers; it’s simply that the unexpected bunch of bright yellow daffodils for no particular occasion is a far bigger delight than scentless red roses on the 14th February.

All that said and done, we never entirely bypass Valentine’s day because of a little addiction of mine. Hey, it’s not a problem, I’m not hurting anyone, I can stop anytime I want, I am totally in control!

Who am I fooling? I’m addicted to greeting cards. Yes, those little folded rectangles of card with cutesie images and anodyne statements;  I adore them. I love buying cards, I love sending cards and I am joyous to receive cards. (In seriousness, I have reined in my habit by agreeing not to buy more if my allocated greeting card drawer is already full. This is more challenging to stick to than you might imagine). So, there must always be cards, on Valentine’s day and through the rest of the year as well.

What else? Let’s take a look at a couple of offerings that have caught my eye.

Chocolate

We both adore chocolate so it’s often part of our birthday, Christmas and anytime gifts to each other. We seldom buy boxes of chocolates (it’s usually bars, far better value), and very rarely on Valentine’s day. But I confess I would be more than happy to be given this big chocolate Hotel Chocolat Love Birds chocolate heart! Featuring a very pretty love birds design, half is salted caramel chocolate and the other half 50% milk praline. (£26; 650 grams).

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Better still, Hotel Chocolat are kindly giving away one beautiful Love Birds chocolate heart to a Kavey Eats reader. Click here to enter.

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Other products that have caught my eye in this year’s Hotel Chocolat Valentine’s range include:

  • The Valentines Goody Bag (containing chocolate and passion fruit truffles; a pack of caramel sweethearts; two 50g milk chocolate Mellow Heart slabs; Champagne Truffles; and a Valentine’s truffle duo of Caramel Gianduja and a Strawberry Cheesecake; £18).
  • This bottle of Cocoa Gin made in small batches in traditional copper-pot stills; roasted cocoa shells contribute to the rich flavour. (£15, 250ml).
  • A box of six balsamic caramel hearts (£3.75).

Drinking In

The last two years have seen a surge of specialist food and drink subscription services (such as the Carnivore Club cured meat and Beer 52 craft beer boxes I reviewed previously).

The latest to come to my attention is Tipple Box, a monthly cocktail subscription created by founder Sonny Charles. After launching just last month with the help of crowd-funding, Sonny is now ready for cocktail lovers to sign up. Each month, he sends out two cocktail recipes with ingredients (spirits, mixers and anything else in the recipe) and mixing jar. All you need to add is the ice.

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Pete and I enjoyed the two cocktails in our Tipple Box, one a combination of gin, marmalade and mixer, the other a blend of vodka, strawberry jam and mixer, though it’s a shame the two recipes were so similar. I’d like to see a little more creativity in future boxes (small batch spirits and mixers, rather than mainstream brands, and the addition of intriguing bitters, fruit and herb syrups and cordials, flavoured salts and sugars – the kinds of things a keen cocktail maker might not readily be able to source themselves in the supermarket).

But it’s a great start for a new business, very nicely presented and a rather lovely idea for an intimate night in making and drinking cocktails together. Of course, you can buy this to give to your loved one in person but I think it would also be a charming gift to send via the post to a LDR lover, ready and waiting to make cocktails the next time you get together.

One box costs £24 including delivery in the UK, with reductions in price for longer subscriptions.

Better still, Sonny is kindly giving away a one month Tipple Box to a Kavey Eats reader. Click here to enter.

Whether you win the competition or not, all readers can make use of discount code KAVEY10 for 10% off the monthly subscription price, valid until end of March 2015.

Eating Out

I can’t think of much worse (in terms of Valentine’s day celebrations) than booking a typical table for two on Valentine’s day. I know, I know, you already thought I was a killjoy when you read my introduction, now you are convinced I’m utterly heartless. But let me explain myself…

The idea of wasting money to order from a limited-choice, overpriced “special” Valentine’s menu, often laden down with so-called aphrodisiac ingredients at the expense of coherence and tastiness… sitting amongst a sea of couples, many of them looking like startled rabbits when suddenly faced with the prospect of actually spending an entire evening talking to their chosen “loved one”, some of them singularly failing to say a word… service rushed as waiters struggle to handle a higher volume of finicky small tables, customers even more demanding than usual as they claw for the evening to live up to their unrealistic expectations… uugh, it really doesn’t bear thinking about!

Our usual habit is to cook a tasty meal at home, settle down on the sofa to watch a good film, or to read our kindles in companiable and comfortable silence.

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Image courtesy of Nick Gibson, used with permission

This year, we shall be making our way with friends to The Drapers Arms, a wonderful pub in Islington. Not only are we guaranteed good food and a merry time, landlord Nick Gibson is once again donating 100% of the night’s takings to Refuge, a charity helping women in need of support. Read his eloquent post on why he’s doing this and book for a non-valentiney Valentine’s dinner with your partner or friends.

 

Kavey Eats received sample products from Hotel Chocolate and Tipple Box.

 

We’re welcoming in the new year with a joint blogger challenge between Kavey Eats Bloggers Scream For Ice Cream and Chocolate Log Blog’s We Should Cocoa: #WeShouldBSFIC!

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Images from Shutterstock

The theme is easy. Your recipe needs to be frozen (ice cream, sorbet, gelato, semi-freddo, ice lolly…) and it needs to include chocolate (white, milk or dark, as you like). That’s it! The rest is up to you! You could create a simple chocolate ice lolly or sorbet, mint choc chip ice cream or vanilla stracciatella, a pile of chocolate cookie ice cream sandwiches or a grand black forest ice cream gateau or baked alaska! Whatever your taste, time and fancy dictates!

 

How To Take Part In BSFIC

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.

Both Choclette and I will post a round up showcasing and linking to all the entries and share posts via Pinterest, Stumble and Twitter.

If you tweet about your post using the hashtag #WeShouldBSFIC and/or #BSFIC I’ll retweet any I see. You are also welcome to share 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.

 

Some people are quick to blame the internet for the downfall of courtesy, culture, community, the breakdown of society… you name it. Social media in particular is singled out as a poor substitute for “real” social interaction, dismissed as a tool beloved by the socially awkward. But many of us know this for the fallacy it so clearly is; having supplemented rather than replaced our real world social lives with a global web of friendships based on shared interests and discussions held online, we understand that the internet has simply opened up more of the world to us. Instead of struggling to find people within our local communities that share a love of the topics that arouse our interests, we can look further afield and make connections with folks from far-flung places. I know that these connections are true and meaningful; having met in real life many very dear friends I first found online. To me, it feels like a modern version of penpals; I enjoyed corresponding with several when I was a little girl.

Celia, based in Sydney, Australia is one such friend. The chances of us meeting in real life are probably remote (though I live in hope), but somehow we connect via our shared love of food, growing our own fruit and vegetables and our family experiences. I adore Celia’s blog, Fig Jam and Lime Cordial. And in the few short minutes that we’re both online at the same time, early morning for one of us, late at night for the other, we exchange a snatch of giggled messages before one of us starts their day and the other heads to bed.

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

Morning lovely Kavey!

My husband Pete and I live with our now adult sons in an old house in the Inner West of Sydney, Australia. We bake our own sourdough bread, have chickens in the backyard and try to make as much as we can from scratch. A few years ago we ripped up the backyard lawn that no-one ever mowed and converted the space to large vegetable beds – we now have a messy, occasionally productive garden with mutant squash, rampant tomatoes and a resident frog.

We share our adventures through our blog Fig Jam and Lime Cordial. It’s an inconsistent rambling record of our lives with recipes, photos and the occasional post about cats pouncing on testicles.

Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

Not really! We were making fig jam and lime cordial the weekend that I started the blog, so that became the name!

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Tell us the story of your most spectacular kitchen failure!

Oh the infamous “Apricot Lamb”. For some reason, I decided that since I’d enjoyed my mother’s apricot chicken as a small child, I was sure to love apricot lamb made with tinned apricots in syrup. It’s become a standard warning now whenever my food combinations get a little too “creative” – “beware the apricot lamb”…

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You blog regularly about bread baking and chocolate-making; what is it about bread and chocolate that appeals to you so strongly?

You know, after tempering and baking for nearly ten years, I *still* feel clever whenever my chocolates pop out of their moulds cleanly, or when a loaf of sourdough rises and browns to perfection. I find it incredibly soul-satisfying – there’s something very rewarding about seeing the finished products lined up on the bench!

Which food writers / chefs do you find most inspirational and in the same spirit, are there any particular cookery books you cherish more than the others on your shelf?

I’m a big Jamie Oliver fan from his Naked Chef days – I find his recipes work consistently well. Adore Hugh FW – his River Cottage series inspired much of our lifestyle. Lately I’ve been drawn to chef authors such as April Bloomfield, David Tanis and Fergus Henderson. Oh, and I’ve always been a Jacques Pepin fan – the very first cooking show I ever watched was his Today’s Gourmet series. In bread terms, I’m particularly fond of Dan Lepard’s The Handmade Loaf and Richard Bertinet’s Dough – both were integral to my baking journey.

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

Ooh, now there’s a question Kavey. Hmm. Chestnut flour brownies for dessert, and I’d work backwards from there. Lots of sourdough, baked that morning. Maybe a pulled pork based main – I’ve been a bit obsessed with pulled pork this year!

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What’s the single piece of kitchen equipment you wouldn’t be without? (It doesn’t have to be electrical)

I had the perfect silicone spoon – it had a wooden handle with a silicone head with *just* the right amount of resistance in it when pushing food around a frypan. Eventually the head cracked and the handle splintered, and I spend a year looking for a replacement. I eventually found the perfect substitute by Chasseur – and bought six of them. As one does.

What’s your kitchen white elephant?

The bloody box grater. It’s not a true white elephant in that it does get used, but we can’t seem to get one that does what we want! The first one was sharp, but all the plastic cracked when it went through the dishwasher, and the one we bought to replace it was rubbish. The quest continues…

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Is there a particular cuisine or style of cooking that you seek out most often when dining out? What about when cooking at home?

When we do dine out, which isn’t very often, we look for culturally interesting cuisine – something new and interesting that we haven’t tried before. I would happily never eat at a fine dining restaurant again – I’d much rather have large shared platters and pots of stew!

Which single dish could you not live without?

Hainanese Chicken Rice

What do you love about eating out?

I’ve finally figured out that I don’t like eating out much at all. I love spending time with friends, but honestly, we could eat in a food court for all I care. I’m rarely excited about restaurant food, and even when I am, I often can’t remember what I ate the next day. Cooking at home is different – those taste memories seem to be stored in a different part of my brain.

What are the biggest turn offs for you, when eating out?

Snobby service first, followed by bland food.

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

I think I’ve become better at structuring a post, but I don’t think the style has changed much. My friends often tell me they can “hear” my voice in my posts, which makes me very happy. I’m not very consistent with content – I’ve always just blabbed on about whatever I’m interested in at any given time, and that’s not always food. Or it might be three bread posts in a row, which probably bores many of my readers silly (the ones I know ring me up to tell me).

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

Playing with crystal beads and turning loops in wire – I’m having a brief jewellery making revival at the moment. I’ve sent out a heap of sourdough starter to friends and we’ve all been baking virtually over Twitter – I’ve been loving that! I’ve discovered the most perfect candied orange segments and have been dipping them in tempered origin dark chocolate – I can’t seem to stop because I keep eating the ones I’m making to give away.

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Spread the love

Blog URL: http://figjamandlimecordial.com/
Twitter handle: https://twitter.com/celiafigjam

 

Enjoyed this interview? Read the rest of my Meet The Blogger series, here.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Winners: 1st prize KellyJo Walters (blog entry), 2nd prize Anna Ibbotson (blog entry), 3rd prize @loeby (twitter entry).

 

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).

 

If you ever attend a blogger event and spot a whirlwind of energy and smiles, a warm and exuberant character with a truly deep love for Indian food, you can be sure that you’ve found Zoe, aka The Spice Scribe. More recently, she also launched a second blog to share her love of chocolate.

Find out more in my third Meet The Blogger interview…

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

I’m Zoe Perrett, or, as most folks know me online, The Spice Scribe. I write about Indian food and the wider culture surrounding it. What perplexes people is that I’m a white, Essex-by-way-of-East-London girl – and my only tie to the country whose cuisine I so love is its food! I also blog about chocolate just for fun – but Indian food is my ‘true culinary calling’.

On Culinary Adventures of the Spice Scribe I share information on regional food, the UK Indian food scene in terms of restaurants, street food and supperclubs (the latter two both big loves of mine), food books, ingredients, produce guides, interesting characters, festivals… basically and broadly, anything related to Indian food that captures my heart and imagination which I think might resonate with readers.

Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

Hours of endless mulling… and a well-documented love for alliteration. The name of its ‘chocolate offshoot’, ‘Culinary Adventures of The Cocoa Nut’ clearly identifies it as a sibling, and, happily, manages to get in a pun to boot!

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Why did you choose to blog about Indian food and culture?

I don’t know if I chose Indian food. Maybe it chose me. Perhaps it was simply ‘Korma, Kheer and Kismet’, as the title of a new Indian food book I can’t wait to read puts it, that drew me in! Indian food just got under my skin. It makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, and for some reason, I feel deeply connected to it. Sometimes just a whiff of a particular ingredient or dish will provoke a deep and unexplainable emotional response in me.

Does blogging about Indian food and culture present any particular challenges?

There’s too much to ever hope to cover if I were to learn – and type – 24/7! Even Cyrus Todiwala, one of the foremost authorities on Indian cuisine, concedes that if one were to devote many lifetimes to understanding India’s endlessly complex and varied kitchens, they would barely be able to scratch the surface.

Then there’s fact I don’t have a natural tie to the cuisine, which I find both a curse and a blessing. On the one hand, it means some are quick to dismiss you as someone who knows nothing on the topic; on the other, it drives me to learn more and better in order to disprove that notion – something that only serves to benefit my own development in the long run!

Thus far, the many who champion what I do far outnumber the few who criticise – fingers crossed that remains the case…

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With Cyrus and Pervin Todiwala

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

Despite the ‘Indian thing’, my strongest memories are of cooking with my paternal grandmother – Nanny Win. More and more I’ve realised that this could be why Indian food ignites the feelings that it does within me.

She may not have used spices or Indian recipes, but when I eat things like keema and the soft, slightly sweet bread rolls called pav; the Indian rice pudding ‘kheer’, or milk-based sweetmeats, it takes me straight back to Sundays spent eating her savoury mince and nutmeg-topped milk puddings made rich with tinned ‘Tip Top’ cream.

I recently wrote a ‘food memory’ piece for my Parsi friend the Bawi Bride – it was all about Nanny Win’s cooking – and how, strangely, it actually had many parallels with ‘Parsi bhonu’.

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

My go-to flavours are generally Bengali or Keralite. For the former, I’ll use mustard oil, dried red chillies, white poppy seeds, the mustard-mango relish called ‘kasundi’, slit green chillies and panch phoron – a mixture of 5 whole spices that speaks to me louder than any Indian masala… except, perhaps, for South Indian sambhar powder.

For the latter, coconut oil and grated coconut meat are ever-present in my kitchen – I’ll make simple vegetable stir-fries – ‘thorans’ – tempered with the oil in which I’ve fried mustard and cumin seeds, dried lentils (interestingly almost used as a ‘spice’ in this manner down South), curry leaves, chillies, and turmeric, and finish them with coconut.

I’m also currently obsessed with ‘pittu’ – a mixture of lightly-fermented rice flour that’s rolled to resemble irregular grains of cous cous, layered with fresh-grated coconut, and steamed in log-shaped moulds. You eat it with coconut gravy, sambhar or relishes. Traditionally it’s a breakfast item but I could live off it!

Which food or ingredients could you not live without?

Mustard oil, ghee, kasundi, curry leaves… there’s more on my own essentials here.

My cupboards are ridiculous, with spices shoehorned into any and every kind of container; multiple masalas; many types of dal, rice, and flour; condiments and esoteric speciality items. I also can’t resist a bargain – so there’s evidence of bulk buying. I might not be Indian, but I think my kitchen might fool you!

Which food writers / chefs do you find most inspirational?

Food writers – Chitrita Banerji. Culinary anthropologist Ammini Ramachandran. Pamela Timms, another ‘outsider’ drawn into India by its edible allures. Chefs – Cyrus Todiwala AND his wife Pervin – who many forget is a great chef in her own right. The family has done great things for ALL kinds of Indian food, but particularly with promoting Parsi and Goan fare.

Palash Mitra (Scarfes Bar), Gautham Iyer (Iyers Cafe), and Ashish Bhatia (Turban Street Cafe) are all doing interesting things and share my obsession with understanding all they can about the history, tradition and cultural issues around Indian food – as do the boys at Brighton’s Curry Leaf Cafe.

I also think streetfood and supperclub chefs deserve to be held in just as much esteem. Jhalmuri Express’s Angus Denoon never stops yearning to learn more from the Kolkata street food-wallas from whom he learned his craft. And working at the Damn Good Curry supperclub, Nilanjani Pai’s devotion to perfecting the last detail of each and every dish so that it’s absolutely as authentic as she can get it never fails to astound me.

Are there any particular cookery books you cherish above the rest of the shelf?

I have about 200 Indian cookbooks and foodie memoirs. They’re all pretty special – but some favourites include Chitrita Banerji’s ‘Bengali Cooking – Seasons and Festivals’; Rinky Bhattacharya’s ‘The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles’; ‘The Calcutta Cookbook’, given to me by my great mate Angus Denoon, owner of The Everybody Love Love Jhal Muri Express street food business; and a load of funny little finds I wouldn’t part with for love nor money. Many are on Indian regional cuisines; priced in rupees and written by Indian housewives. My Ceylonese cookbook from the 1950s is also a treasured gem.

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

I wouldn’t – I’d take you to Nel’s (Nilanjani’s), safe in the knowledge that her version would knock anything I tried to make into a cocked hat! But if I had to, probably poha – a tossed-up mix of flattened rice, spice, and all things nice, followed by Bengali bhapa ilish (river fish steamed with chilli-ed mustard paste), white rice, and a nice ‘dry’ (gravy-less) dish of spinach with a pinch of panch phoron. Dessert would be mishti doi – an amazing Bengali sweet yogurt set in clay pots which absorb the moisture. It develops a crust like clotted cream and is no less lovely.

What’s the single piece of equipment you wouldn’t be without?

I’m really low-tech in the kitchen, but an electric spice grinder (mine’s James Martin brand; I’m not proud!) is a godsend for making masalas. Ideally I want to get my hands on a wet-and-dry grinder soon, too. Other than that it’s a dabba (spice tin) filled with little katoris (dishes) containing my most commonly-used spices and kept close to the cooker. And, of course, a pressure cooker. Once you learn to cook by number of ‘whistles’ rather than ‘minutes’, you’ve cracked it, and dal is near-instant.

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Filming a recipe for charity campaign, Curry For Change

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

Cooking: Picking my way through interesting regional recipes in Pushpeth Pant’s ‘India’. I find preparing a certain ingredient, like pumpkin, in a number of different ways ultimately instils a great instinct for recognising the provenance of a dish.

Eating: As I also blog about chocolate as The Cocoa Nut, I often have some lovely things to try lying around at home – at the moment I’m trying to eke out a box of Marc Demarquette’s ‘African Queen’ chocolates, newly awarded 3 stars at the Great Taste Awards – and I can tell why!

Otherwise, it’s Sri Lankan short eats (savoury snack items) I pick up from the hot cabinet at a local corner shop, or fish vindaye, octopus cari, and £1 fresh-rolled dal puris from the Mauritian guys at a chicken shop in Walthamstow.

Doing: As always, introducing people to new Indian ingredients, regional cuisines, foodie folks, cookbooks and places that make their eyes light up. There’s nothing more satisfying than someone falling in love with something you’ve been able to show them.

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

My Own Mahabharata – an Indian Vegetable Epic’. This is a guide to – and ambitious attempt to demystify – the endlessly fascinating world of the weird and wonderful vegetables (and a few fruits) that you see in Indian stores.

It’s by no means definitive – I still see many, many items that leave me scratching my head today, and people from different regions will use the same name to describe a different beast from their neighbours, or use a totally different name for a common vegetable.

But I do think it’s a useful primer, and I tried to make it as accessible as possible to people from all over so that they’re game to actually buy and try a few of whatever catches their eye in an Indian supermarket!

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?

Probably ‘The Indian food places at which Indian foodies scoff’ where I asked many of my foodiest friends to share their top tips for eating Indian (and Pakistani) food in London.

Lots of lesser-known regional, neighbourhood-y places are mentioned; all endorsed by people that I know know about good food! If you want to know where chefs like Cyrus Todiwala and Vivek Singh eat with their families on their days off, you need to read this post.

 

Spread the love

Blog URL: Indian food: http://culinaryadventuresofthespicescribe.wordpress.com/ and Chocolate: http://culinaryadventuresofthecocoanut.wordpress.com/
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TheSpiceScribe and https://www.facebook.com/CulinaryAdventuresofTheCocoaNut
Twitter handle: https://twitter.com/TheSpiceScribe and https://twitter.com/The_Cocoa_Nut
Instagram handle: http://instagram.com/zoeperrett

Enjoyed this interview? Read the rest of the series, here.

 

This month, Kavey Eats has joined forces with Belleau Kitchen for a Bloggers Scream For Ice Cream – Random Recipes mashup.

Which means that I had to follow instructions to randomly pick one of my cookery books and then randomly pick an ice cream (or sorbet, froyo or other frozen treat) recipe. Rather than trying to make a single pile of all my books so I could pick a book with my eyes closed, I asked Pete to grab a book at random (because, unlike me he, doesn’t know by heart the colours, fonts and titles of most of the collection).

The first two books didn’t have a single ice cream recipe to offer but third time lucky he picked Divine Heavenly Chocolate Recipes with a Heart by Linda Collister. The recipe we ended up with is definitely more to Pete’s taste than mine but that seems fair, since there’s still a little matcha ice cream and yuzu ice cream in the freezer, both of which are much more to my taste!

Although we followed the recipe ingredients as per the book, we changed the technique to use my new Optimum 9400 Blender by Froothie, which I mentioned in my recent Jungle Juice Sorbet post.

It’s a gorgeous, incredibly smooth and creamy ice cream with a really fantastic mouth feel but, as you can imagine, the white chocolate makes it rather sweet. I grabbed my pot of raspberry powder to give it a little fruity tartness plus instant visual bling. Perfect!

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Scroll down for recipe.

Making Custard in an Optimum 9400 Power Blender

I’d already seen custard made in a blender, when my friend Monica made some in her Vitamix. I was really impressed with the speed and simplicity, but put off by the Vitamix Pro 500’s £600 price tag. I had also been bowled over by the Thermomix I was loaned for a couple of months – it has a much wider range of functions including an internal weighing scale and cooking element but is twice the price of the Vitamix! Australian brand Froothie have recently launched in the UK and their Optimum 9400 blender is £329 – still a hefty price tag but significantly less than the alternatives.

In terms of performance, it compares well with Vitamix Pro 500 – the motor is 50% more powerful (2,238 watts against 1,492 watts) which powers the blade to 44,000 rpm against 37,000 rpm. Froothie don’t claim their product is superior – they simply provide a side by side comparison of key specifications. Because I’ve not owned a Vitamix I can’t offer a practical comparison. However, Helen from Fuss Free Flavours is a former die hard Vitamix fan who seems to have been converted after a few weeks playing with her Optimax 9400.

The reason power blenders such as Vitamix and Froothie’s Optimum 9400 are great for making custard is that you can throw all the ingredients in to the blender jug, switch on and gradually ramp up the speed to its highest setting. Simply leave the blender running for several minutes; the speed of the powerful blades generates enough heat to cook the custard. Believe me, after 7 minutes, our custard was steaming hot! And because we had confidence in the power of the blades, we dropped the solid pieces of white chocolate straight into the hot custard and blended again. The Optimum 9400 blades broke the chocolate down quickly and the heat melted and combined it thoroughly into the custard base.

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After that, we left the custard to cool down before churning it in our new Sage Smart Scoop ice cream machine – review coming soon.

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White Chocolate Vanilla Ice Cream, Served with Powdered Raspberry

Adapted from Divine Heavenly Chocolate Recipes with a Heart to use the power blender method of making custard

Ingredients
225 ml milk
225 ml double cream
4 large eggs
60 grams caster sugar
Vanilla beans scraped from 1 pod, or 1-2 teaspoons good quality vanilla bean paste
140 grams white chocolate, in pieces
Optional: Freeze-dried raspberry powder, to serve

Method

  • Place milk, cream, eggs, sugar and vanilla beans into a power blender. Switch on and increase speed to full, then leave running for 6-7 minutes. This will create a steaming hot cooked custard.
  • Carefully drop in the white chocolate and blend again briefly to melt and combine chocolate into the custard.
  • Leave custard to cool.
  • Once cool, churn in an ice cream machine until ready or transfer to freezer container and freeze until required.
  • To serve, a sprinkle of freeze-dried raspberry powder really lifts the white chocolate vanilla ice cream, visually and on the palate.

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This is my entry into August’s #BSFIC #RandomRecipes mashup co-hosted with Dom at Belleau Kitchen.

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Check out the challenge and join in!

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I used beans scraped from fresh vanilla pods provided by Panifolia, a retailer of high quality Mexican vanilla.
The freeze-dried natural powdered raspberries are from Sous Chef, a specialist online food and equipment retailer.

 

Kavey Eats received vanilla pods from Etienne Besse at Panifolia, freeze-dried raspberry powder from Sous Chef, a Heston Blumenthal Smart Scoop review machine from Sage Appliances and an Optimum 9400 blender from Froothie. Kavey Eats is a member of the Froothie brand ambassador programme, but under no obligation to share positive reviews. All opinions published on Kavey Eats are 100% honest feedback.

Special Offer: For an additional 2 years warranty free of charge on any Optimum appliance purchased, follow this link, choose your Optimum product and enter coupon code “Special Ambassador Offer” on checkout.

 

When it comes to tourism in Belgium, Brussels gets a bad rap.

Go to Bruges, they say, for the picturesque canals and mediaeval centre.
Go to Antwerp, they say, for world class art and hipster fashion.
Go to Ghent, they say, for more of the same plus cycling too.
Go to Ypres, they say, for WW1 history.

But Brussels? Brussels is often dismissed as little more than a hub for politicians and lobbyists.

Of course, there’s much more to Brussels than politics! Yes, Brussels is the home of the European Union, NATO and the United Nation’s European office…

…but it is also the capital of a country of two halves – the Dutch-speaking Flemish region of Flanders and French-speaking Wallonia in the South. Multicultural Brussels, the third region of the country, is bilingual though French is now more prevalent than Dutch. These days English is widely spoken as well as many other languages, indeed it’s said that as much as half the population speak neither French nor Dutch as their native tongue.

As a Londoner, one of the things I find most appealing about Brussels is this sense of multiculturalism. Although the issue of language is still a hot potato for many Belgians, especially when it comes to education and cultural identity, Brussels is a city that is very open to the world.  Indeed, we chat to Pierre from the local tourist board who tells us that the people of Brussels refer to themselves as zinneke (bastard dogs), wearing their mongrel heritage with pride. Pierre is himself the perfect example – his mother is gipsy, his father Walloon and Flemish, his wife Brazilian and his sisters are married to a German, a Frenchman and a Czech, respectively!

Brussels is a vibrant city with a historic heart and a modern outlook. And the Eurostar service takes you from London St Pancras to Brussels Midi-Zuid in less than two and a half hours!

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When it comes to sightseeing, you still can’t beat a good old-fashioned guide book, or the website equivalent. I won’t try to recreate that here but suggest that as well as the popular Gothic and baroque buildings of the Grand Place and surrounding narrow cobbled streets, the shiny Atomium housing a variety of exhibitions and the incomprehensibly mobbed corner where the Mannekin Pis resides you might want to look up Jeanneke Pis and Zinneke Pis – the squatting female and doggie equivalents of Mannekin, the Belgian Comic Strip Centre (and the Comic Strip walk that takes you past comics painted on the walls of a number of buildings), an amazing array of grand buildings such as the Cathedral of St Michael and St Gudula, the Bourse (stock exchange), the Royal Palace, the Basilique du Sacré Coeur and the architecture of art nouveau architect Victor Horta. Lovers of literature, art, history and even cars, will also appreciate several excellent museums in Brussels.

Instead, I’m going to share my tips for some great places to eat, drink, shop and sleep.

 

Chocolates and Patisserie

Brussels is awash with shops selling chocolate, but much of what’s on sale is cheap, bulk-manufactured products that are hardly worth wasting suitcase space for. Here are the ones that are worth seeking out.

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Laurent Gerbaud is one of Belgium’s rising chocolatiers and is fighting an uphill battle to move Belgians on from the idea of “Belgian chocolate” to an understanding of the actual origins and varieties available.

Like several chocolatiers I’ve met, Laurent was a chef first; he came to chocolate via chocolate sculpture with an artist friend, and that lead, eventually, to his current career. As a child, he developed an interest in China, perhaps because of several friendships he had with Chinese and Taiwanese families. He worked in Chinese restaurants, took courses in Chinese and, after a university degree in history, finally moved to China for a couple of years. There, he discovered that the Chinese don’t have as sweet a tooth as Europeans and he lost his taste for high sugar sweets. When he came back to Belgium, he had the obvious thought of bringing his experiences in China into his chocolate making but realised he wasn’t inspired by fusion flavours. Instead, he focused on quality ingredients, including some sourced from Asia.

Today, the Chinese influences is perhaps most evident in his logo which is an artistic interpretation of the Chinese hanzi characters for “chocolate” and his name.

Laurent is keen to make chocolate that people love to eat; he says “one of my purposes is to make junk food – you eat one and you want another because it’s really good”. Judging by the chocolates we tasted, he’s nailed it – I could have eaten a whole box of the chocolates made with dried figs from Turkey and candied oranges from Italy. His shop on Rue Ravenstein is also a boutique tea room, with plans to extend the service to offer a savoury menu too.

Tip: Of course, you can visit his shop just to buy some of his excellent chocolate, but for a more personal experience, book a chocolate tasting or chocolate making workshop.

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Pierre Marcolini is one of the few Belgian chocolatiers to make chocolate from bar to bean, before then using it to make a range of chocolates. His chocolate shop at 2 Rue de Minimes is certainly full of temptation but what I recommend above the chocolate is a visit to the address around the corner at 39 Grote Zavel, where his spectacular patisserie is sold. I found the macarons surprisingly disappointing but a glossy strawberry patisserie was a winner.

Other famous chocolate brands in Brussels include Wittamer (a long standing bakery and chocolate business) and Frederic Blondeel (a chef turned chocolatier who also makes chocolate from bean to bar).

 

Speculoos Biscuits

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Speculoos, hailing from Belgium and The Netherlands, are spiced shortcrust biscuits that were originally associated with the feast of Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) in early December. Made from flour, brown sugar and butter with a spice mix that usually includes cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cardamom and white pepper, these days they are popular and available all year round.

Maison Dandoy, established in 1829, makes a range of sweet bakery products but is best known for its traditional speculoos and gingerbread biscuits. These days, it has a handful of shops in Brussels, but its worth making a trip to its oldest remaining store at 31 Rue au Beurre, to admire the beautiful wooden biscuit moulds lining the shelves. The Tea Room on Rue Charles Buls (also known as Karel Bulsstraat) is larger, offering the opportunity to enjoy a wide range of biscuits, pastries and drinks inside. There are an additional four shops in Brussels, plus one in nearby Waterloo.

Having tried several supermarket brands of speculoos biscuit, I was surprised to discover that it’s not just a case of fancy shops and branding – the Maison Dandoy speculoos biscuits are definitely superior!

We also tried Dandoy’s pain à la Grecque, a crunchy bread-cum-biscuit coated with pearled sugar crystals. I was more fascinated by the origins of the name than the biscuit itself – over two centuries ago, the monks of a local Augustine abbey used to support the city’s destitute by giving them bread. The abbey was located near a place known as Wolvengracht (Wolves Ditch); the gracht pronounced grecht in local dialect. Over time, pain a la grecht morphed into pain à la Grecque, confusing generations of shoppers with its erroneous suggestion of a Greek origin.

Tip: If you’re as huge a fan of speculoos biscuits as we are, make a quick visit to a supermarket to pick up a couple of extra large packs of mass-produced biscuits as well. There’s a mini supermarket in Brussels Midi Station.

 

Cuberdons

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I first fell for cuberdons over two decades ago, and if anything, I love them even more today. A purply-dark red colour and conical in shape, the cuberdon is a raspberry-flavoured gummy sweet, firm on the outside with an oozing interior. In Dutch, it’s known as a neus (nose), in French it’s called a chapeau-de-curé or chapeau-de-prêtre (priest’s hat).

You can find cuberdons in quite a few sweet shops in Brussels, several of which sell multiple colours and flavours, a relatively recent phenomenon. But we’ve found that the best prices for regular raspberry cuberdons is from the Cric-Crac sweet shop inside Brussels Midi station, which sells by weight.

Tip: These sweets are best eaten within a couple of weeks of purchase, as the liquid centre can crystallise and harden if left for too long.

 

Waffles

Belgian Waffles fall into two types.

Firm, rich and chewy Gaufre de Liège (Liège Waffle) are made from an adapted brioche-dough and work well both hot and cold. These are usually oval in shape and have a slightly crunchy exterior from the crystallised sugar that has caramelised against the waffle iron. They’re great for eating on the hoof as they’re traditionally eaten plain (though you can buy them with toppings too if you prefer).

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Rectangular Brussels Waffles are made with a leavened batter, resulting in a much lighter and airier texture and are definitely at their best enjoyed hot, fresh from the waffle iron. Traditionally, Brussels waffles are served with a dusting of icing sugar but these days you can choose from a wide selection of toppings including ice cream, chocolate sauce and fruits. But I suggest you ignore all of those and ask for your waffle with a generous dollop of speculoos paste. With a texture much like smooth peanut butter, this sweet spread is the same flavour as the famous biscuit and melts wonderfully into the indentations of a freshly-cooked hot waffle.

Tip: You’ll find waffles on sale all over Brussels, often from hole-in-the wall vendors, but if you want to sit down and eat, try Maison Dandoy’s Tearoom.

 

Beer & Bars

Belgium is world famous for its beers and rightly so, with a rich tradition that goes back many, many centuries. The range of beers produced by Belgian breweries is impressive, including pale, golden, amber, red and dark ales, dubbels and tripels, Flemish sour brown, Champagne beers (which receive a second fermentation using the method now most strongly associated with Champagne), wheat beers and lambics (spontaneously fermented with wild yeasts that are native to the brewery, as opposed to the addition of cultivated yeasts).

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Both Pete and I absolutely love what owner Jean Hummler is offering at his two bars, Moeder Lambic and Moeder Lambic Fontainas, located at 68 rue de Savoie and 8 place Fontainas, respectively. He started the first bar less than five years ago, after a career working for industrial food businesses in France.

He starts off by telling us why he wanted to do something different; “most places are not very selective, they sell coca cola and junk food” and their beer selection is not very inspiring either. He is committed to selling only quality produce and that applies to the beers, the food and even the soft drinks. He has two key criteria, the way a product is made and how it tastes. “Making money and brewing great beer are often not the same job”, he laughs. He looks for products that are made by hand, adding that he doesn’t want “industrial anything”. For a beer to be selected it must be made with craft and it must pass the taste test – it must taste good! Right now, he has approximately 150 beers on the menu of which 46 are on tap. These include beers from around the world, including a number from the UK.

The same principles apply to his sourcing of cheeses and charcuterie (which form the main thrust of the simple menu) and the non-beer drinks menu (which includes some delicious farmhouse apple juice, for those less interested in the beers).

The cheese selection (€12.5) is utterly wonderful; all are raw milk cheeses and range from soft and mild to fantastically pungent, each one a genuine delight. In the centre of the serving board is a bowl of pottekees – a blend of fresh white cheese, onion, pepper and lambic beer. Just as excellent is the meat selection (€12.5) which includes garlic sausage, French sausage, paté made with geuze beer, hâte levée – pork cooked slowly in bouillon with garlic and spices, Tierenteyn mustard, Belgian pickles (which are a lot like piccalilli). Both plates are served with a basket of bread and a superb raw milk butter.

As he introduces each item on the plates, his enthusiasm for the producers and their products is self-evident; “The idea is to offer another selection, another quality, another explanation that most people don’t know exists”.

Two other key policies for Hummler are ensuring that all his staff know and love the product range, and establishing strong relationships with each supplier – and one (of many) ways he furthers both is the Moeder Fucker series of beers brewed by Le Paradis microbrewery not far from Nancy, in France. For each beer he sends two of his staff to the brewery to help make it; they decide which style of beer to make and work with the brewery team to create their vision. During our visit, Moeder Fucker IV was on tap.

As we talked, Pete tried five beers, guided by Hummler through the staggering range available. He drank Taras Boulba by local Brasserie de la Senne (Belgium), Moeder Fucker IV by Le Paradis (France), Mozaic Black by Mont Saleve (France), Cuvée De Ranke by Ranke (Belgium) and Fièvre de Cacao by Thiriez (France).

In the end, Hummler is a man after my own heart. “We all have to decide. Each citizen has to decide what they want to do with their life. I decided for myself that I wanted to eat very good food. I eat less and less meat, maybe once a week but what I eat is very good, like the chicken that is aged 120 days on a small farm. Taste is very important to me.

Tip: Ask staff for guidance in selecting beers for your own beer flight.

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Small and traditional pub La Fleur en Papier Doré was the perfect place to meet local friends for an evening drink. At 55 Rue des Alexiens, it was very close to our bed and breakfast, and also easy to reach by local bus. The menu shares a little of the history of the bar, housed in a small maisonette that dates from the mid 18th century. In the past it housed a convent, which moved to a new home in the middle of the 20th century. As a pub, it became the favoured meeting place of the Surrealist cultural movement with regulars including René Magritte; a few decades later it was a focus point for the Cobra (avant-garde) movement, creators of experimental art and philosophy. Mementos of both remain on the well-worn walls of the cosy pub, protected (along with the façade, the ground floor rooms and some of the furniture) by the local government which has decreed them of historical value.

Stop for a few beers (and some charcuterie) or for a simple meal.

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The Cantillon Brewery welcomes visitors for brewery tours (7 Euros including a beer) or to buy beer. You can buy to drink in or takeaway; lovers of lambic will particularly enjoy a visit. The address at 56 Rue Gheude is only a short walk from the central tourist district.

 

Lunch Stops

My first recommendation for a light lunch is the cheese plate and charcuterie selection at Moeder Lambic, above. Super quality, and each provides a generous portion for the price.

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Another great option is recently opened Peck 47 (amusingly named for its address at 47 Rue Marche Aux Poulets). This all day cafe offers a short menu of home made sandwiches, salads, soups, cakes, fresh juices, smoothies and a small selection of local beers. For just €8, my poached eggs on sourdough with smoked salmon and homemade relish was far more generous than I expected and all the items were of excellent quality. The eggs were perfectly poached, the salad nicely dressed and the home made relish very good indeed. Pete’s sandwich – roast chicken, rocket, lemon and basil mayo and slow roasted tomatoes – also impressed, for €5.

Tip: A particularly nice touch is that the free tap water is stored in the drinks fridge in large bottles stuffed with mint. Ask for some!

 

A Traditional Dinner

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I have to say from the off – don’t go to Restobieres if you’re looking for great service. The three staff on duty ranged from friendly but incompetent through utterly disinterested to downright sullen. That usually stops me from recommending a place but Restobieres is a good option if you’re keen to try traditional Belgian dishes alongside a range of Belgian beers.

Herve Cheese Croquets (€10) were a tasty comfort food, served hot and freshly fried. Homemade paté with Rochefort and foie gras  (€12) was a generous slab; light on the foie gras but tasty nonetheless. My calf’s liver with shallots and Chouffe  (€20) was decent; I really liked the beer and shallot sauce. Pete had satisfactory steak and chips with another good sauce and a generous well-dressed salad. The star of the mains was our friend’s bloempanch blood pudding (€12) which was both tasty and generously portioned for the price.

The only duff note (with the exception of the service) was a scoop of speculoos biscuit ice cream (€4) which we decided could only possibly have been made by a chef who’d never tasted speculoos (and not bothered to look up a recipe for the spices usually used). The texture was unpleasantly gritty too.

Located at 9 rue des Renards, not far from the Jeu de Balle flea market.

 

Brussel’s Modern Dining Scene

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I already explained how much we liked the multicultural vibe in Brussels. This goes equally for the food scene, which has some great restaurants to explore. One such place launched just a few weeks before our visit; located along very trendy Rue de Flandre in the Sainte Catherine district, Gramm is a restaurant offering bold, inventive and modern food. It’s headed up by Chef Erwan Kenzo Nakata, who grew up in Brittany to a French father and Japanese mother, thus explaining some of the eclectic Japanese touches to otherwise modern French cooking.

The evening offering is a fixed tasting menu, 6 courses for €38. Although the courses are individually quite small, we felt very satisfied at the end of our meal, having enjoyed the array of tastes, textures and colours in Nakata’s self-assured dishes.

While I felt the food was good value, I was less impressed with the drinks pricing, for wines, beers and soft drinks (which were served in shockingly tiny glasses) so if you’re on a fixed budget, keep an eye on your drinks orders to avoid a shock at the end of the evening. Also, do set aside plenty of time. Service is very warm and friendly but the wait between courses, even in a nearly empty restaurant, is a little longer than ideal.

Tip: Don’t be shy about asking for more of the excellent bread and butter, by the way, it’s great for mopping up some of the juices and sauces!

 

The Marolles Flea Market

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Usually, I’m not much of a shopper but offer me the chance to browse a car boot sale or flea market and I’m instantly excited, so I was very keen to return to the famous Marolles Flea Market held daily in the Place du Jeu de Balle. On sale is a charming mix of cheap tat and more expensive “antiques”; it’s definitely a case of one man’s rubbish being another man’s treasure. With my love of retro kitchenware, I was in heaven as there’s plenty of it here, at very bargainous prices. It’s actually a miracle I came away with only a couple of ornate old teaspoons and two Nestle branded cups and saucers in amber glass – there was, I think, a complete set of six in the box but most were too chicken-shit-and-feather covered to assess very well, so I just bought the two cleanest ones for a whopping €1!

The market runs every day of the year. Official start times state that it starts at 6 am and finishes at 2pm on weekdays, 3pm on weekends.

Tip: Take lots of small change with you and of course, be prepared to haggle!

Brussels has many more markets to visit including markets for art, food, flowers and vintage clothes.

 

An Elegant Pillow

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X2B Brussels is a family run luxury bed and breakfast in the heart of Brussels, just a few minutes walk from the Grand Place. The three guest bedrooms are each on a different floor – we booked the first floor double and were delighted to discover a vast room with soaringly high ceilings, simple and elegant furnishings and a very generous en-suite bathroom. Do note that none of the rooms have step-free access and, as you’d expect in a private home, there is no lift. Guests are welcomed either by owner Xavier or his mother Monique, who sit down with guests on arrival to share tips for visiting Brussels, personalised to their guests’ interests. Breakfast is excellent: a basket of fresh bread and pastries with an enormous selection of jams and spreads, cheese and cold hams, yoghurt, eggs however you’d like them, rounded off by coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice. The hot freshly made raisin bread pain perdu is a lovely touch. Free wifi is also a boon, for those of us who like to stay connected. From £160 a night including breakfast.

Tip: make sure you jot down the house number as well as the street name; there’s no obvious sign on the outside so we walked up and down the same stretch of road several times, eventually identifying the B&B only by peering at the tiny labels for individual doorbells.

 

Getting Around

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In terms of getting around, the key sites in Brussels are within a fairly small area and its certainly possible to walk. But you can also make use of the metro and tram network, as well as local buses. The Brussels Card gives unlimited use of public transport, free entry into some attractions, discounted entry into many more and discounts in shops and restaurants too. You will also be given a free city map. Available for 24, 48 or 72 hours for 24€, 36€ or 43€.

 

With thanks to Eurostar for the complimentary return tickets between London and Brussels and thanks to the Brussels Tourist Board for their assistance in planning some of our sightseeing highlights and their insight into historic and modern Brussels.

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