Making mini meringues Tuesday, Feb 18 2014 

Making meringues can seem really scary. They look so beautiful; surely they can’t be easy?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABelieve it or not, they are.

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It can be messy, but that’s all part of the fun.

I used Rachel Khoo’s recipe for French meringues, which is arguably the method best known to home cooks, where egg whites are whipped until stiff, with a bit of lemon juice added at the start, and sugar added gradually as you whip. An electric hand whisk is essential for this. If you have a good one (I use a Kenwood) then the mix will be ready in moments. To create these delicate shapes, I used a Pampered Chef decorating bottle and star nozzle. You really do need a piping bag or similar for times like this – it makes your life much easier, especially when you’re making large numbers (just two egg whites made 40-60 of these tiny meringues).

I then sprinkled half the meringues with Rachel Khoo’s praline recipe. Hint: buy pre-skinned hazelnuts. I didn’t even make the full amount of praline and was already cursing at the time it took to skin them (they are nowhere NEAR as easy to skin as, say, almonds). You then mix the skinned hazelnuts with caramel, which you make on the stove by melting sugar with a little water and NOT MOVING THE PAN while waiting for it to turn runny and dark (use a sugar thermometer if it helps you). Pour the nut caramel onto a baking sheet, and then once it’s cold, blitz it to granules in a food processor. Even only making a quarter of the amount of praline meant we had loads left over for another day; it would make a great topping for ice-cream, for example. I then sprinkled half the meringues with praline and left the rest plain. (Rachel Khoo sandwiches hers together with a mixture of praline and butter to create Chaumontais Kisses, but this didn’t appeal to me.)

They then had to sit in the oven for two or three hours at a low temperature, including being left to cool in the switched-off oven with the door ajar. This takes time, but not necessarily your time: you can of course go off and do other things while you’re waiting for them to be ready (like washing up your mixer and piping nozzles…!). I couldn’t have been happier with them: they were crisp and dry on the outside and slightly chewy on the inside, just the way I like them. They are compulsively moreish, completely worth the effort, and make a perfect gift for your Valentine at any time of year. Bisous!

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Frightening fancies Thursday, Oct 24 2013 

With Halloween coming, there are 3 types of people:

a) Those who lock the doors, draw the curtains, switch off the lights and pretend it isn’t happening

b) Those who dress up, decorate the house, and delight in handing out spooky sweeties to the little costumed ones

and c) Those who end up scoffing all the sweeties themselves…

 

Were I not a teacher of children who love eating sweets, I would perhaps fall into the third category. But Swizzels-Matlow’s Halloween offerings are equally good for anyone who is searching for handily-sized mini-treats to give out to trick-or-treaters at the end of this month, as well as anyone craving a hit of 90s nostalgia. Observe:

sm1The Spooky Trick Or Treat Mix Tub, on the right, is available at Tesco’s, and contains literally hundreds of mini Parma violet, Fizzers and Love Heart tubes, as well as Drumstick lollies and other Swizzels-Matlow family favourites. The lid could secure a little better, but the handle of the pot is robust and does the job, as well as potentially being reusable. Unfortunately this doesn’t contain any specific Halloween-themed goodies, but you may have better luck with the generously-packed Trick Or Treat Lolly Mix (available at Morrison’s), which includes orange and black Drumstick lollies and pumpkin-themed Fruity Pops, among others. Finally, the Trick Or Sweet bag (not pictured) contains yet more favourites, including new Refresher bars. Both bags are eye-catchingly decorated, with bright colours and designs that are suitably evocative of the trick-or-treating season.

I’d say the selections are a little disproportionate sometimes, with definitely more of the hard sweets than the chewy ones (and hardly any Refresher bars at all, in fact, which is a shame). However, they are without doubt bargainous, and should serve all of your guising necessities – as well as your nostalgic needs – ensuring a happy Halloween for all.

Ferret Food Monthly (November 2012) Friday, Nov 30 2012 

Feeling hot?

We love a good curry here at the Ferret homestead (even to the point of contemplating a pheasant korma for our Christmas meal this year) and it would seem we’re in good company: a new survey conducted by MU and Mumsnet has found that 57% of children are partial to a curry whilst 66% even enjoy the spicy dish from below the age of three, with the biggest fans being in the Midlands, Scotland, and North East. In some ways this doesn’t surprise me, as I was a lover of Bombay mix when I was not even two years old. Long live the spice! (Oh, and PS: we’ll be in London this March, so if you have an Indian restaurant in the capital that you love, let us know.)

Getting kids in the kitchen this Christmas

If you need a few tiny minions to help you in the run-up to your Christmas meal, children’s cookery school Splat Cooking could help you to train your little ones thanks to their Christhttps://i0.wp.com/www.sudocrem.co.uk/antiseptic-healing-cream/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/unique-birthday-party-idea-for-kids-sudocrem.jpgmas cooking workshops. With courses taking place in Princes Risborough and Silverstone, adults can even join in the fun too, with courses ranging from gingerbread chalet workshops to edible Christmas presents. I’m glad to see them making one of my seasonal gift favourites: lavender cookies, which I make with cooking lavender and lavender syrup. Happy tasting!

Sweets for the sweet

I already wrote about Swizzels Matlow’s Halloween collection of candies (even though they refused to send me some on account of my living in the land of the surly – boo hiss!), and now that Christmas is nearly here they’ve pulled out all the stops yet again, putting their https://i0.wp.com/www.femalefirst.co.uk/image-library/land/500/l/love-hearts---gift-guide-image-3.jpgmost iconic brands into 750g tins. Their Sweet Shop Favourites tin (£5) is fab for the whole family, and exclusive to Tesco is the Superstars tin (also £5). Their 324g Selection Pack is even more affordable at £3 and includes such classics as Love Hearts, Drumstick lollies and Refresher bars. The 108g tubes of Mini Love Hearts, Refreshers and Drumsticks are also set to be excellent stocking fillers at the great value price of £1.49. Here’s hoping that Santa will slip a few under my tree!

Win Christmas treats with Visit South Devon

From December 1st until Christmas Eve, you can win a whole host of festive treasures thanks to Visit South Devon. Follow their Twitter and Facebook pages for your chance to win sumptuous Christmas hampers and Mitch Tonks’ book Fish Easy, and benefit from seasonal promotions, such as free mulled wine when you dine at Lyme Bay House Hotel in Dorset. I love Devon thanks to my special university years there and envy anyone who manages to make it there for the county’s traditional Christmas fairs (trust me when I say the French offerings on this front are pitiful).

https://i0.wp.com/www.londonconfidential.co.uk/i/H7K/40V5_M.jpgRaising a glass

Alcohol is often a popular Christmas gift, but you can go one step further with Alchemist Dreams, which allow you to design your own signature flavour of liqueur and give it to everyone you know. You can even tailor each bottle to suit the recipient – and with prices starting at just £15, there is no excuse to not bestow this on the foodie in your life. They can be enjoyed neat (*responsibly!) or lengthened with soda or champagne. House blends can also be ordered if you don’t know where to start – and with names like Jade Dragon and Winter Warmer, what’s not to like? All bottles are topped off by a red ribbon and handwritten message. I’ll definitely know where to order from the next time I don’t know what to buy my dad.

Be mine (and Tesco’s)

You wouldn’t believe that the shops are already thinking ahead to https://i0.wp.com/img.thesun.co.uk/multimedia/archive/00985/SNF12LOVET-180_985264a.jpgValentine’s Day, but they are. Tesco’s offerings in particular are extremely affordable and wide-ranging, with their milk chocolate rose costing £1 and gingerbread hearts costing 90p each. For those who like to get passionate in the kitchen, there’s also their heart-shaped cookie cutters and frying pans, which are also priced from just £1 – so it couldn’t be easier to treat your loved one.

Everybody look left

As possibly the world’s biggest Simpsons fan, I’ve often marvelled at the sheer range of products available in Flanders’ Leftorium. Anything Left-Handed is possibly the next best thing, existing in real life online, and now selling the Left-Handers Kitchen Essentials Set, which contains left-handed kitchen shears, a swivel blade peeler, tin opener, corkscrew, and bread knife.  At £41.95, this promises to be a gift for life, not just for Christmas.

https://i2.wp.com/raymondblanc.com/Portals/14/images/Eurostar/Photo-approved-1-from-Eurostar-Raymond-Blanc-New-LR.jpgGastro-star

Shoddy train food may now be forever a thing of the past aboard the Eurostar thanks to the new appointment of Raymond Blanc as culinary director. Aiming to share seasonal and sustainable food with the train company’s Business Premier passengers, the Michelin-star chef wants to transform travellers’ perceptions of on-board catering. Several Blanc family recipes will feature, including mackerel salad, and chocolate delice with praline custard. I’d hit it…not least because it might be the least expensive way for Mr Blanc to feed me.

Confectionery Review: Quality Street vs. Roses Friday, Aug 19 2011 

The ultimate debate perhaps: Cadbury’s Roses, or Nestlé Quality Street?

I have personally never been bothered about either of these boxes ever since both brands withdrew their coffee cremes some years ago (big mistake, guys. Big mistake.). However, this came up because my husband happened to mention that actually he rather used to like Quality Street when he was smaller. This amazed me because a) he’s French, and for some reason I had only really assumed that Quality Street tins could be found in French supermarkets up here to cater for the expat market living in and around Paris; and b) he’s French, and he generally likes a higher quality of chocolate.

Not wishing to miss this opportunity, I quietly commissioned my sister to bring me a box of each for a serious tasting session on her next visit. So, first impressions: Quality Street initially seems to be mostly comprised of toffees, caramels and fudges, which appear to be more dominant in this box than in the Roses. But the Cadbury box is equally guilty – like the Quality Street, it also contains 6 chocolates along this theme. Actually, this is worse, as the Roses box only contains 10 types of chocolate while the Quality Street contains 12.

First up for testing then was the Quality Street box. Despite the huge popularity of the Green Triangle and The Purple One with the UK market (leading to large versions thereof at Christmas), these both just made me go ‘meh’. Perhaps living in France has led to me tasting nicer praline than that existing in the Green Triangle. There’s no direct equivalent in the Roses box though, so if you like it, you should probably buy QS. As for the Purple One, I was amazed in a blind taste test to find that I actually preferred the Roses version (called Hazel in Caramel). The Purple One seemed more chocolate and very little nut and caramel (perhaps I just got a dud?) while the Hazel in Caramel seemed much more substantial. So as long as we’re working with direct comparisons – Roses 1, Quality Street 0.

Quality Street does offer a greater selection of orange-flavoured chocolate, in the form of the Orange Chocolate Crunch and the Orange Creme. The Orange Chocolate Crunch is surprisingly addictive with its great flavour and generally pleasing crunchy-smooth texture combination, and has no equivalent in the Roses box. The Orange Creme is harder than its Roses counterpart, the more liquidy Tangy Orange Creme. I wouldn’t kick any of them out of bed, though. So for orange-flavoured sweets: Roses 0, Quality Street 1.

Some more direct comparisons: the Roses Cadbury Dairy Milk pwns the QS Milk Choc Block, due to the former’s creamier and more familiar texture and taste. The Strawberry Delight in the QS box is, again, of a harder texture and less sickly taste than the Roses Strawberry Dream, while the quality of the Quality Street Fudge is about equal to the Roses Country Fudge by just about all accounts, although the Quality Street version is arguably of a more pleasing size and shape. Nevertheless, a draw: Quality Street 2, Roses 2.

This is where the Quality Street box begins to get a little silly. Does any sane human being really need a Toffee Finger, a Toffee Penny, AND a Toffee Deluxe? The Toffee Penny just gets stuck to the wrapper, and the Toffee Deluxe is far more satisfyingly chewy than its equally chocolate-covered but wimpier finger-shaped cousin. But equally, does the Roses box really need two caramels (Caramel Velvet and Caramel, between which I could see no discernible difference)? No points for anybody here.

The only remaining direct comparison is that of the Golden Barrel (Roses) and the Caramel Swirl (Quality Street). The Golden Barrel is significantly bigger, giving you more chocolate and caramel for your buck (given that it’s yet another caramel in each box, though, are we not all getting a little bored by now?). The Roses version wins, then. Roses 1, Quality Street 0.

The Quality Street box only has one chocolate type remaining – the Coconut Eclair – and it doesn’t seem to be very popular with anyone. This is a shame as it is one of the few deviating from the box’s general toffee/caramel trend (it’s one of only half the box containing nothing to do with caramel, toffee or fudge). The Roses has two variants remaining – the Brazilian Darkness (yet another caramel, this time with nuts and dark chocolate) and the Hazel Whirl, which is comprised of a praline-type centre incomparable to the Green Triangle, and a whole hazelnut, all encased in a circular chocolate. I didn’t get a chance to try either of these (presumably because my husband and sister snaffled them while I wasn’t looking) but it seems pointless to include them given their similarity to other chocolates in the box. No redeeming features here for either box; nul points.

The overall scores, then, come to Roses 4, Quality Street 3.

This is both surprising and unsurprising. Predictable because I had started out feeling rather pro-Roses, perhaps due to their winning Hazel in Caramel, the inclusion of the Dairy Milk, and the initial impression that they had more variation in the box than the Quality Street (which is a lie – they don’t. In fact, you could argue that they have less due to the lower number of varieties in the box.). My husband and I also both declared that we did prefer Roses (despite him indoors’ initial preference for QS) once both boxes were finished.

However, I am surprised that the Quality Street has been able to defend itself so staunchly (even though they still ‘lost’ in my totally unscientific tests above). They have too many similar chocolates; they have the abomination that is the Coconut Eclair; and the public favourites of the Green Triangle and Purple One just don’t do it for me. However, the Toffee Deluxe on its own gives all of the other sweets of this variant – in BOTH boxes – a run for their money, I could eat a whole box of the strawberry and orange ones on their own, and I probably do prefer the fudge in this box too if forced to choose.

So in a more accurate way, it’s probably a draw. Some suggested improvements for both boxes: have only ONE type of toffee and ONE type of caramel in each box, with the possible exception of the Purple One and the Hazel in Caramel, because that’s different. QS needs to ditch the Coconut Eclair (just who in their right mind put this in?) and Roses’ Hazel Whirl equally can probably be cut. Use the spaces these free up to bring back the Coffee Creme, the Hazelnut/Peanut Cracknell (a discontinued variety in the Quality Street box that seems to still have a loyal online following), the Montélimar nougat (again a discontinued QS chocolate), and/or some of the more interesting varieties from Roses boxes in other countries, such as the Lemon Cheesecake, Turkish Delight and Cherry Ripe. Variety’s the spice of life, you know 😉

Spécialités Rouennaises Thursday, Aug 18 2011 

BEHOLD the cornet de Rouen.

Rouen = in Normandy. This is one of the only (if not THE only) non-winemaking French areas. This means they make a lot of cider and Calvados instead. JOY. Hence why much of the stuff in this cornet is apple-related.

For the princely sum of just over €8, I bagged myself a massive stick of barley sugar (made with apple juice, fwiw), 4 red boiled sweets that look like little red apples (kind of), 4 chewy green apple flavoured candies (NOM), and 2 hard caramel lollies (again, NOM).

I think NOM is fast becoming my word of the year.

Anyway, for a closer look:


The barley sugar (although messy) and the green apple sweets are worth going for. The others I can take or leave. Some shops in Rouen also sell smaller versions of the barley sugar sticks for €1,30 for an altogether more portable option.

I am liking the apple and caramel thing in general though. Time to go and make myself a tarte tatin (another spécialité rouennaise) perhaps?

We Want Candy Sunday, May 9 2010 

Being part of an international population, firstly at Oxford University and now at my workplace (an international school in Paris), showed me the extent to which international food bargaining is rife. By this I mean simply that whenever anyone got wind of someone travelling to a country where they had fond memories of some sort of food product located there, a conversation would ensue along the lines of “I’ll pay you x £/$ to bring me back this much (insert foodstuff here)”/”I’ll love you forever if you bring me back a box of (insert foodstuff here)”…and so on. It was by this token, for instance, that I acquired a much-treasured and quickly-consumed box of Lucky Charms from an American friend (thanks Matt!).

However, while this method of acquiring hard-to-get foreign foodstuffs is still alive and well (as evidenced by the food trades that students in my school seem to make after every major holiday, and even among staff, particularly with Cadbury products), there are also other ways. While the internet is increasingly popular as a method of importing foreign confectionery, the holy Grail of international sweetie lovers in Britain is undoubtedly located on Garrick Street in West London. Even though the Cybercandy store also has outlets in Brighton and Birmingham, the one in London is arguably the true original.

Here you can buy just about anything, from chocolate-covered insects to Pocky to Lucky Charms to Ghirardelli chocolate to Mountain Dew, as well as many other unidentifiable Asian delights. The shop is small but perfectly formed, and instead of baskets to carry your goods in as you shop, they offer brightly-coloured heart-shaped buckets. There’s also a webcam located in the ceiling which you can use to wave to family and friends who know you’re going there. (Sad? Maybe.) Be careful, though – it’s all too easy to spend an awful lot of money in this place. This time I got away with a conservative spend of £7.77, but on a previous visit a friend racked up a bill of over £30 (though he says it wasn’t all for him – that’s what they all say…).

I won’t lie – admittedly this place is expensive at £6.50 for a box of cereal and 50p per square of Ghirardelli chocolate. However, unless you have the (mis)fortune to live in the area, a visit here is usually only an occasional treat for most people – so feel free to go nuts.