Tuesday, 29 December 2009

A Fond Farewell to 2009!

I had all kinds of posts planned for the last couple of weeks of the year:-

  • I had such a great response to my twitter survey on which foods and drinks people were most and least looking forward to over the Christmas period that I had decided to share some with you.
  • I thought I'd join in with those journalists and bloggers providing lists of their favourite cookery books of the year.
  • And of course, I wanted to cook and share some more festive recipes with you before the year was out.
Instead, I've been struck down by yet another cough/cold lurgie which has rendered this Christmas a bit of a wash out! Ma, thank for getting that lovely, lovely boned rib of beef for Christmas, sorry I couldn't eat more than a few bites, but I did manage some of the leftovers you sent us home with, thank you!

Which is my excuse for not posting any of those ideas, above...

So what shall I do to see out 2009 - the year I joined the mushrooming ranks of food bloggers?

Review my year in food, via my blog posts, that's what! Whilst sharing a few photos from our recent trip to Lapland!

(Although I didn't start the blog until April, I copied over content I'd shared in my personal blog as well as reviews I'd shared via email or in food discussion boards, hence the archive of older content).

In my first post dated for 2009 I shared my favourite banana bread recipe - thank you Mr Charles Campion. A moist, gooey affair, this is far more cake than bread which is just as I like it!

I also posted a review of the lovely La Trompette restaurant in Chiswick.

Not long afterwards, I visited sister restaurant Glasshouse, in Kew Gardens, also very good.

I also attended the filming of Market Kitchen, an interesting experience, not at all how I'd imagined it! I went once more, later in the year, to see some different chefs and presenters.

I'd idly thought about starting a food blog many times over the years, having enjoyed reading many of the earliest ones for so long. Somehow, attending the Guardian Word of Mouth blog's Chocolate Tasting Event proved to be the catalyst and I began creating the blog on getting home that evening, tweaking the formatting and copying across the archival content the next day.

With the zeal of a newbie, that first month was prolific!

I posted recipes for hot cross buns and real fast stroganov.

I visited and reviewed Oliver Rowe's Konstam restaurant.

I eulogised the alphonso mango.

I fell further in love with Paul A Young's chocolates.

And I got to grips with a slow cooker, since when we've made home-made stock far more often (and more easily) than ever before.

As May came around my sister and I made The Cookies of Dreams for the first (but not last) time.

Twitter friends helped me choose a boston baked beans recipe for pork belly slices.

I shared Pete's cheesey potato bake - such a simple recipe and yet so incredibly delicious and comforting and fantastic!

A tale of two crumbles closed the month of May.

Having a blog - even a small, recently created one such as mine - helped open doors. The first of which were those of the new Artisan du Chocolat store in Westbourne Grove.

I thought it about time I told my readers a little more about myself. The Wonder Years was the first installment.

By June I was really enjoying meeting wonderful new friends in the world of food (both fellow bloggers and the wider food industry).

As summer rolled in we enjoyed eating more and more garden bounties.

In July I discovered the great affinity of coriander and mango!

We continued to enjoy eating lovely produce from our garden.

And my mum and cousin helped me make vast quantities of pickles, chutneys, ketchups and jams in readiness for my one-off market stall the following month.

I finally shared the second part of the "who am I?" posts.

And I enjoyed some very fine cheese!

The rest of the month was spent preparing for the big day at Covent Garden and enjoying a week's holiday in Dorset.

And, once I'd recovered, I shared our experiences of hosting a market stall at Covent Garden's Real Food Market.

In Dorset, I'd had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Mat Follas, winner of Masterchef 2009, at his new restaurant, The Wild Garlic, which we then visited for dinner with friends.

I attended a photography workshop at the Scandinavian Kitchen.

Pete and I had a marvellous weekend in Bristol including a really fine meal at Bell's Diner.

October's excitement in the food world was for Pierre Koffman's pop up restaurant - I was lucky enough to visit for the first lunch on the first day of opening (and again a few weeks later).

My sister and I celebrated our (shared) birthday with a lovely evening at Jun Tanaka's Pearl restaurant.

I met one of my favourite food bloggers for lunch at Leong's Legend.

I realised that I'd developed a bit of an obsession with preserving - making even more jams and chutneys (and I didn't even blog the spicy tomato ketchups I made more than one batch of!).

I spent a week on a photography course in Inzigkofen, Germany and shared this tragic romantic story.

I had a really most fantastic evening with Paul A Young - charming, passionate, sweet and funny.

And I became involved in the Blaggers Banquet through which food bloggers raised money for Action Against Hunger.

In November I fell for Paganum - their meat that is! Here's a recipe for boneless leg of lamb braised in red wine and garlic and how about some curried beef marrow bone?

I reviewed some cookbooks including The Ultimate Student Cookbook and Michel Roux's Sauces.

I found out more about organic versus free range chicken with a fun (but yes, statistically irrelevant) taste test.

The main night for the Blaggers Banquet came and went and was rather splendid (after which I invested a shocking number of hours during the next several weeks running the online auction and payments phase of the fundraiser).

I had fun participating in a christmas pudding cookery competition, creating a home-made custard-based ice-cream with chunks of Christmas pudding that came out better than I'd dared to hope for.

And I recommended some fine tea gifts for Christmas lovers.

It may have taken a few months but I was finally able to cook for my friend, Daisy (better known as Dan from FoodUrchin) for his Where's My Pork Chop? project.

I was thrilled to be able to learn about Fair Trade from Divine Chocolates. I went on to use their chocolate in a fantastic stem ginger & chocolate chunk cake recipe from their own book as well as my own Cookies of Dreams recipe (which worked fantastically well).

Pete and I found another great way to use leftover roast chicken in these nifty croquettes.

And I ended the year with my face on a box of Jordan's Country Crisp Cereal!

I also wanted to tell you how very, very much I have appreciated the wonderful comments left by friends and strangers alike. Thank you for visiting and reading and especially for taking the time to let me know you're here.

Wishing all of you the very best for 2010!



Friday, 18 December 2009

Kavey Country Crisp Cereal!

Serial Cereal Eater!

When it comes to cereal I'm a creature of habit! I flit between three favourites like a serial trigamist!

My sister and I developed such an addiction to General Mills Lucky Charms, during frequent childhood visits to family in Florida, that we would bring back boxes upon boxes in our suitcases. And woebetide any Florida relative who dared to visit us in the UK without bringing some over! "Magically delicious", says the Lucky Charms leprechaun. It certainly is! Of course, I don't get to enjoy this American cereal very often, here in the UK.

Kellogg's Crunchy Nut is, as their marketing slogan so insistently declares, "ludicrously tasty"! Crunchy nuts and sweet honey adhering to corn flakes of deliciousness. Even the most lacklustre of hotel breakfast buffets can redeem themselves by having some Crunchy Nut on offer! I love the taste of the cold milk, towards the bottom of the bowl, after the flavours of the cereal has infused into it!

After a night of strange alcoholic concoctions at a friend's party a few years ago, I raided his kitchen cupboards for breakfast and discovered a bag of Jordan's Original (now called Crunchy Oats). I was immediately hooked and can't begin to tell you how many bags of the comfortingly solid clusters of sweet, crunchy, generously raisined cereal I've munched my way through since then! As this cereal makes a good snack without milk it's doubly handy to have in the cupboard!

Occasionally I'll philander with other options - a generously-fruited muesli, a thick, warming porridge or naughty Cinammon Grahams (now called Curiously Cinammon) but these flirtations seldom last long and I quickly return to my true loves.

Leith's Cookery School

So when I was invited to the Jordan's Country Crisp Appreciation Society food bloggers event, to be held at Leith's Cookery School, organised by PR company Wild Card, I could not resist! How would their Crispy Crunch compare to their Original/ Crunchy Oats?!

The team preparing ingredients for the cookery session

The pounding head, bloodshot eyes and woolly thinking hangover symptoms from the previous night's work Christmas party could not dampen my enthusiasm. Despite the early start, I was the first to arrive at the cookery school (what a shame that Leith's have moved away from central London and out into the boonies, west of Shepherd's Bush). With a very welcome coffee in hand (and headache pills quickly swallowed) I watched the Wild Card and Jordan's team prepare for the event, weighing out ingredients for the recipe we'd be making together and arranging each blogger's cooking station with everything we'd need.

A quiet moment; the film maker

I also took the opportunity to take some early photos (including one of the guy filming the event) and soon enough, my fellow bloggers arrived.

Food Urchin

Jordan's Cereal - Past and Present

After an introduction from Rachel, Jordans' Brand Communications Manager, we heard from Bill Jordan who told us a little about this family business and how they came to develop their original Crunchy Oats cereals and, more recently, the Country Crisp range.

Bill Jordan's talk

The family had been in the milling business for over 150 years but it wasn't until 1972 that they branched out into the world of cereal. Having spent some years travelling the world and playing in a rock & blues band, Bill finally made it home and asked his brother David to join with him to launch the cereal business. Looking West for inspiration they brought what the Americans call granola to the UK market. That was their first cereal and it went down well; the range has expanded considerably since then.

Happy with the popularity of the early products, Jordan's have kept a careful eye on the changing tastes of the consumer which has lead to their Country Crisp range, a lighter cereal than the orginal granola. They've also introduced lots of new ingredients from morello cherries to pumpkin seeds, from mango and papaya to flame raisins, from cashew nuts to pecans.

Talking about new flavours, Bill pointed out that sometimes the ingredients you think will work well, such as peaches, really don't! So it's a huge amount of trial and error and fine tuning for each product.

Referring to the Chocolate Country Crisp, "I'm a bit of a luddite" he exclaimed, and found the idea of chocolate in cereal quite strange! But went on to explain that chocolate is a popular breakfast ingredient in France and repeated requests from their French customers, who account for 25% of the company's sales, encouraged Jordans to bring out this Country Crisp flavour.

Conservation Grade

Bill also told us that the cereal itself is all grown to Conservation Grade which means that all 50,000 acres, farmed by more than 50 farmers, are managed to encourage biodiversity - planting wildflowers, clover and other plants to provide pollen, nectar and food for insects and birds, providing grassland habitat that will shelter spiders, beetles and small mammals and supporting wildlife by retaining hedges, ditches, old barns, ponds and woodland. I'm very supportive of any initiatives that encourage the conservation and protection of wildlife so was particularly pleased to learn about this (and have visited the Conservation Grade website to learn more).

Cereal Cakes

Before too long we each took our place at one of the cooking stations and got to work on making the pear cake recipe we'd been provided. All the ingredients had been weighed out ready and Nishita from Wild Card even buttered our cake tins for us, as we got to peeling and slicing our pears.

Bloggers at work

I looked on enviously as Ginger Gourmand quickly produced thin, even slices of pear whilst my pear slid an unceremonious dance around my chopping board - luckily she showed me what I was doing wrong and my pears were quickly reduced to (messy) slivers.

Still at work

We cooked the pear in butter and sugar on the cookers around the edge of the room before returning to our stations and making up our cake mixes. Failing to achieve smoothness whether I employed the electric whisk or a wooden spoon, I decided not to worry too much the lumps in my cake batter! I poured it into the cake tin, scattered over some Country Crisp cereal, topped it messily with the pear slices (eating a few as I went) and then threw on more cereal (as per the recipe). Another glance over to Ginger Gourmand's beautifully fanned pear layer, Greedy Diva's smooth batter and Food Urchin's artistic cereal scattering made me realise I'd never win any awards for baking finesse! Still, I did find some extra chocolate curls to sprinkle over mine, so at least it would have the honour of being the most chocolatey!

Cakes, before and after baking

As we cooked, Bill Jordan hopped around the room, gleefully shouting out how much time we had remaining à la Ready Steady Cook! Sadly, he had to leave before the cakes were cooked, so didn't get to taste them!

Product Development

Cakes into the oven, we gathered around to learn about the complexities of developing the Country Crisp range from Kirsten Hoskisson, the Head of Taste at Jordans Cereals.

Kirsten's talk

Having developed and delivered training for a food product development tool used by one of the main supermarket chains a few years ago, I had a good idea of how much effort goes into perfecting a recipe – lots of trial and error, refinement after refinement, taste test after taste test. But still it was interesting to listen to Kirsten's explanations of how they developed Country Crisp.

The aim was to produce a much lighter cereal than the traditional granola range. She included different varieties and sizes of oats from powdery small ones that help the cereal to bind, to larger ones that provide crispness. She experimented with cluster size, deciding that a combination of sizes gives the best eating experience – they sieve to ensure the specified mix of cluster sizes in each batch. She threw in rice flour which puffs up into sticky crescent shapes to which the oats bind and added some barley which helps give a creamy texture as well as a little astringency to balance the sweetness. Eventually, Kirsten created three different bases that are used across the Country Crisp range - known as nutty, vanilla and honey. All three include hazelnut and coconut plus the addition of almond, vanilla and honey, respectively.

Of course, as well as ensuring the crispy base was just right, it took a lot of experimentation to decide on the extra ingredients from freeze dried fruits to chopped nuts to seeds to chocolate. And not just a matter of finding the right tastes but chopping them into different sizes and shapes to create the correct balance – the chocolate is in curls, for example, because this melts quickly in the mouth whereas chips would give a hard bite. On a similar note to Bill's comment about peaches, she said they'd been sure they were on to a winner with dried banana, and the taste tests went well. But the final feedback was that, whilst consumers liked the taste, they'd probably not buy it given how easy it is to slice fresh bananas into their cereal bowls!

Country Crisp ingredients

As Kirsten talked bowls of the various Country Crisp cereals were passed around for us to munch and we darted forward to taste the ingredients in the various bowls in front of her.

Kavey Country Crisp

And then the bit I'd most been looking forward to – making my own cereal mix! With a large stainless steel bowl in our hands, first we scooped up generous servings of the base clusters before adding in our personal choices of fruit, nuts and seeds. I am a greedy, greedy glutton so mine had an exceedingly generous amount of dried strawberries, dried raspberries, dark chocolate curls and huge, delicious Chilean flame raisins!

Making our own cereal mixes

We proudly transferred our creations into sealable plastic baggies before being presented with our personalised Country Crisp cereal boxes to put them into! Fantastic!

Kavey Country Crisp

And some of the others...

Finally, it was time to taste the cereals, a very welcome breakfast as the cooking smells had made us all hungry!

Breakfast time!

All to soon, the session came to an end and it was time to make our way home, weighed down with our steaming hot cakes (popped out of the oven, allowed to cool for a few minutes and transferred into takeaway boxes), our personalised cereal plus a few other cereals from the Country Crisp range! A huge thank you to Jordans and Wild Card for such a fun morning!


So what did it say on my cereal box? "Kavey Favelle is a chunky nutster with a warm heart and juicy fruit clusters!"

Cringe-worthy and embarassing, yes, but you try and come up with a short character description of yourself that ties in to the Country Crisp cereal range! It's harder than it looks!

I'll send a box of Country Crisp Chocolate out (mainland UK only) to the best Country Crisp character description (of yourself) left as a comment by midnight December 31st. (Note: this will be a regular box, not a special edition one).


Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Divine Cookies of Dreams (Cooking With Divine: Part II)

As I mentioned in a recent post, now I've learned more about Divine Fairtrade Chocolate and Kuapa Kokoo, I am keen to incorporate it into my cooking. And something about this time of year gives me the urge to bake sweet-smelling, great-tasting goodies. Maybe it's the wintery cold weather? Maybe it's the run up to Christmas? Whatever it is, when the results are as tasty as this, I'm not complaining!

Previously I tried a recipe from Divine's cookbook: Heavenly Chocolate Recipes with a Heart

This time I thought I'd use my favourite chewy chocolate chip cookie recipe, which I have blogged about previously under the heading The Cookies Of Dreams.

I used exactly the same recipe as before but halved the mixture before stirring in the chocolate. Into one half I mixed 100 grams of Divine coffee milk chocolate. Into the other half I mixed 100 grams of Divine dark chocolate with raspberries.

As there are only two of us, I baked just 3 cookies of each type, rolling the rest of the dough into two cling-filmed sausages and popping them into the freezer for another time.

Pete reckons the coffee chocolate cookies are better. I prefer the dark chocolate and raspberries variety. Both are absolutely delicious and I really like how using different flavours of chocolate makes it so easy to ring the changes in an already much loved recipe.

If you try this recipe with other types of chocolate, do let me know how you get on! I'm sure, once you bite through the crunchy exterior into the soft, melting interior, you'll be hooked!

P.S. I'm not being sponsored by Divine. They were simply kind enough to respond positively when I wrote asking if they'd be willing to talk to me about Fairtrade, Divine and Kuapa Kokoo. After our meeting, they kindly gave me some extra chocolate bars to add to my existing stash as well as a copy of their recipe book. (I didn't realise they had one, but had mentioned my chocolate mousse failure which occured the a few days before I went in to see them and they took pity on me!)


Saturday, 12 December 2009

Nifty Thrifty: Chicken Croquettes From Leftover Roast Chicken

Lately, every time we've had a roast chicken dinner, we've made stock from the carcass, skin and giblets (except the liver, which I've fried as a snack). And the next evening we've enjoyed a tasty risotto made with some of the stock and leftover roast chicken.

But last time we had roast chicken, we'd had a pancetta and parmesan risotto (made with home-made stock out of the freezer) the night before.

So we fancied trying something different to use up the roast chicken leftovers.

We started flicking through our cookery books for inspiration. The first one I picked up was a book I'd not even read yet - Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's The River Cottage Meat Book, which I bought only recently.

In the chapter on dealing with leftovers, after the many pages on making home-made stock, I found the suggestion of chicken croquettes. It's not a detailed recipe; it simply advises to "Chop the chicken fairly small and mix with a roughly equal quantity of course fresh breadcrumbs. Mix in enough beaten egg to get a sticky but spoonable mixture and season well. Shallow fry spoonfuls in hot oil, turning occasionally, until golden and crisp."

Bingo! Just what we fancied. And we had some ageing bread to make into breadcrumbs too!

Leftover Roast Chicken Croquettes
Equal volumes of leftover roast chicken and breadcrumbs
Eggs to bind
Vegetable oil for frying

  • We used our Magimix to blitz slightly stale white bread into breadcrumbs and to chop unevenly sized chunks of leftover chicken into tiny, evenly-sized pieces. (Just a brief blitz will do, you don't want to make puréed chicken meat!)
  • Combine the chicken and breadcrumbs and then mix in enough beaten egg to bring the mixture together without it getting too sticky to handle.
  • Form the mixture into balls and flatten slightly into patties.
  • Fry gently in about half a centimetre of cooking oil until brown on bottom side. Turn over to brown other side. Don't let the oil get too hot or the outsides will burn before the insides heat through.
  • Drain on kitchen paper and eat whilst piping hot.

We enjoyed ours with some of my home-made spicy green tomato ketchup!


Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Cooking With Divine Chocolate: Part I

Having found out all about Divine Fairtrade Chocolate (and Kuapa Kokoo) I was keen to use some of the chocolate in cooking.

The Bad (But Not Ugly)

My first attempt did not go well. I wanted to make a light coffee chocolate mousse using Divine coffee milk chocolate, the flavour I've consumed so many kilos of over the years. A friend passed on a link to a Raymond Blanc video in which he makes an egg white mousse instead of the usual egg yolk, butter and cream version. Of course, in his recipe he uses a completely different kind of chocolate. But I thought I could surely adapt the idea so I went ahead. The first problem I had was melting the chocolate. I use the microwave to melt chocolate these days and usually it does a fantastic job. For some reason, in this case, the chocolate seized up and the only way I could persuade it to melt was to add some boiling water and beat it into submission. Worried the egg white wasn't stiff enough, I am sure I over did it, beating it in the Magimix. With a sinking feeling, I went ahead and mixed together the melted chocolate, a tiny bit of sugar and the beaten egg white and poured it into some pretty dishes and popped it into the fridge. Sadly, it never did become any more solid than the thick liquid I poured from the mixing bowl and whilst it tasted very nice, it was a big fat failure.

The Good

So, for my second attempt, I was determined to use a recipe. And not just any old chocolate recipe but one from Divine's own recipe book, Heavenly Chocolate Recipes With A Heart.

Divine Chocolate's Stem Ginger & Chocolate Chunk Cake Recipe

This is a lovely, rich ginger chocolate cake. The flavours of the black treacle and honey both come through clearly and I like the little burtst of ginger flavour as you bite down on a piece of stem ginger. Having the chocolate in chunks is also a nice change from using cocoa powder in the cake mix. This one's definitely a keeper.

50 grams light muscovado sugar
2 tablespoons black treacle
75 grams honey
85 grams unsalted butter
100 ml milk
75 grams chopped glacé ginger (also known as stem ginger)
1 large free range egg, beaten
225 grams plain flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1oo grams Divine milk chocolate

1 pound loaf tin
butter and flour to line tin

  • Preheat the oven to 180C/ 350F/ Gas 4.
  • Place the sugar, black treacle, honey, butter, milk and chopped ginger into a large pan and heat gently until melted together.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool for a couple of minutes before stirring in the egg.
  • Sift the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda into the pan and mix in well.
  • Break up the chocolate into small pieces and stir in.
  • Transfer the mixture to the loaf tin and spread evenly.
  • Bake for 45-50 minutes until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  • Leave to cool in completely in the tin before turning out.
  • Store in airtight container. Will last up to a week.

Amazon has a great offer on the Divine cookbook at the moment. It's available at £12.47 instead of the RRP of £19.99.