[In photos]: Salon du Chocolat 2013

Chocolate. I cannot count the number of times it has kept me going, especially during stressful exam periods, or long days at work. We have a special relationship, chocolate and I. I always have a stash of various chocolate bars in the kitchen – you never know when you will have the craving for it! (Or so I say).

Which is why I knew I jumped for joy when I heard Salon du Chocolat was coming to London, in conjunction with Chocolate Week. It is said to be the world’s largest chocolate show, with exhibits from various top UK and international brands – including Artisan du Chocolat, Paul a Young, Rococo, Valrhona, Bonnat and Lindt. Various demonstrations and workshops from chocolatiers and chefs were also on offer, as well as a display of chocolate inspired couture outfits (which were modelled live on the first evening of the show). There were many French stalls (complete with French speaking exhibitors), unsurprising as this show has been going strong for many years in Paris.

I always discover new brands during food shows, and this time was no exception. I chanced upon the Leeds-based Lauden chocolate stall, lingered, and eventually tried one of their rather attractive chocolates – and really liked it! I felt that their strength was the intensity of flavours, and especially liked the tanginess of the passionfruit chocolate. I bought a box, naturally.

I’ve never been one for words, so I’ll let the photos do the talking. They are mostly close up (ish) shots of the chocolates/sweets on offer, I got a little over excited and forgot to take wider framed shots!

A selection of 12 chocolates from Lauden Chocolate.

Stephen, one of the owners of Lauden Chocolate.

I wouldn’t be able to wear this without eating my way through the cupcakes…

Too pretty!

I first tried these Venchi chocolates when I went to Italy in my first year of uni – Loved them then, love them now.

Chocolate ruffles, anyone?

I think this was a chocolate/pistachio combo…

A selection of sweets and candies, in extremely pretty boxes.

Chocolate heels. Every girls dream…

A very fancy Advent calendar!

Henri Le Roux caramels. Best caramels EVER – especially the CBS (caramel beurre sel), salted butter caramel.

salon du chocolat 10

A range of spreads – mostly chocolate based, of course.

Rococo mini chocolate bars

Giant slabs of nougat, made from mostly-French ingredients.

More nougat. Because it was pretty.

Not chocolate… but I loved the stand!

White chocolate & orange slabs. I wonder how long it would take one to eat their way through a slab of that…

Extremely attractive chocolate slabs from chocoMe. Loved these.

Paris, je t’aime.

Salted caramels from Melt.

More chocolate.

Not chocolate – but very good. Caramel spread from Henri Le Roux, usually near impossible to get outside France! So good on warm toast. Mmmmm.

Salon du Chocolat in a nutshell:
– Definitely worth a visit if you are a chocolate fan.
– Be prepared for the prices, as good chocolate always comes at a price.
– Sample, discover new brands, and have fun!

Salon du Chocolat is running from 18-20 October at Olympia National Hall, Kensington, London.
http://www.salonduchocolat.co.uk/

Disclaimer: I attended Salon du Chocolat as a guest, but all the opinions above are my own.

[instagrammed] Homemade granola

I am not a morning person. In fact, if I had the choice my day would only begin at 12pm. As this isn’t actually possible, I try to find ways to make my mornings a little more bearable. Enter homemade granola.

I’ve tried many granola recipes over the years, but this one is currently my favourite. It’s an (adapted) recipe from one of my favourite restaurants, Eleven Madison Park – so it really wasn’t much of a surprise when it turned out so well.

I tend to use either dried strawberries or cranberries in the granola, depending on what I have lying around. But feel free to use any dried fruit that takes your fancy – that’s the beauty of homemade granola, you get to personalise it and make it your own. Add in a dollop of Greek yogurt and milk = perfection!

granola 2

Homemade granola
Makes approximately 6 cups
Adapted from an Eleven Madison Park recipe

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 3/4 cups rye flakes
  • 1 cup shelled pistachios
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1⁄2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3⁄4 cup dried strawberries

1. Preheat your oven to 145’C.
2. In a large bowl, mix the oats, rye flakes, pistachios, pumpkin seeds and salt. Set aside.
3. Place the brown sugar, maple syrup, and olive oil in a small pan. Heat the pan over low heat, until the sugar has just dissolved.
4. Remove the pan from the heat, and pour the warm mixture over the dry oat mixture – be sure to coat the oat mixture well.
5. Spread the granola mixture on a baking sheet (lined with parchment paper, or a silicone baking sheet). Bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes, until it is lightly browned. Stir the granola every 10 minutes or so to ensure even browning.
6. Remove the granola from the oven, and mix in the dried strawberries.
7. Once the granola has cooled completely, transfer to a storage container (an airtight one is preferable).

Pear & chocolate cupcakes

I love my food. I find any excuse imaginable to snack, and sometimes worry about how much I am seemingly able to eat! To ensure I maintain some sort of balance, I do try to sometimes snack on fruit rather than something errr… less healthy. I also like using fruit when baking, subsequently declaring it “healthy”.

Which is why I welcome the idea of office fruit boxes, which appears to be the new “in” thing. Fruitdrop are one of the companies that offers this service, and supply a selection of fruit to your office – each box contains a selection of 50 fruit, and you can choose from either the “Essentials” or “Seasonal” Fruitdrop office fruit boxes. Prices appear to be fairly competitive, and start at £20 per box. R gets a fruit box where he works, and I am perpetually envious that I don’t, and have to bring in my own fruit!

fruitdrop box

I was recently sent a “Seasonal” box – and was pleasantly surprised at the variety of fruit included within. The site didn’t state how many varieties would be supplied, so it was all a bit of a mystery until I received the box. As you can see from the photo, there were a few seasonal fruits e.g strawberries and plums, alongside the ever present bananas, apples, clementines and so forth.

As I had an abundance of fruit, I decided to experiment and bake with them. Eating them as they are gets boring after a while you see…

fruitdrop pear chocolate cupcakes

fruitdrop pear chocolate cupcake

So yes. I uhmed and ahhed about which fruit would be my first victim, and finally decided to make some pear and chocolate cupcakes. I tried to make these a little healthier than the average cupcake, so these were made with yogurt and oil (no butter). Shocking, I know. And there isn’t any icing because I honestly am not a fan of cupcake icing – I find it way too sweet for my taste.

The only thing I’d do differently next time would be to sprinkle some demerara sugar on the tops of the cupcakes, as this tends to give a very pleasant crunchy top to bite into. And I like crunch.

fruitdrop pear chocolate cupcake

Pear & chocolate cupcakes
Makes 24 small cupcakes

  • 150g caster sugar
  • 200g plain flour
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 125g corn oil (or any other flavourless oil)
  • 280g Greek yogurt
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 180g pears, chopped into 1cm pieces, and tossed lightly in 2 tbsp of plain flour*
  • 100g dark chocolate chunks/chips
  • demerara sugar, for sprinkling

1. Preheat the oven to 170’C (fan assisted).
2. Sieve the caster sugar, plain flour, ground almonds, baking powder and baking soda into a large bowl.
3. Add in the corn oil, Greek yogurt and the egg yolks, and mix until just combined.
4. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks.
5. Gently fold in the egg whites into the cake mixture, in two additions. Take care to not overmix, as this may result in a dense cupcake.
6. Gently fold in the pear pieces and chocolate chunks.
7. Spoon the mixture into a cupcake tin lined with cupcake cases. Sprinkle the tops with demerara sugar if you wish.
8. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown on the top.
9. Cool slightly, and enjoy!

* Tossing the pear pieces in flour prevents them from sinking to the bottoms of the cupcakes.

fruitdrop pear chocolate cupcake

Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by Fruitdrop.

In photos: Norman Musa & Ning London

I was never much of a cook until I came over to England. I always wonder if I’d be where I was today (cooking-wise) had I not left home – as one of my main aims of cooking has always been to recreate the food of home. What else can one do when there is a lack of good Malaysian food in London?

Which is why I was intrigued when I heard about Norman Musa‘s Malaysian London supperclub venture, aptly named “Ning London” after his restaurant in Manchester. I’d heard good things about Norman through the Malaysian foodie grapevine, as he is one of the more well known Malaysian celebrity chefs, and had always wanted to try his food. Another plus is that Norman hails from Penang, which is of course the best place in Malaysia for good food. Maybe I’m a little biased, but… it’s true! Ha.

All the photos in this post were taken with my phone, so please excuse the rather grainy photos (oh the plight of taking food photos in mood lighting). In my defence, I didn’t really feel like whipping out my dSLR in front of a crowd of people I had never met (it’s totally different for friends and family who are used to my photo taking, naturally).

Kerabu nonyaKerabu Nonya. This Malaysian “salad” (kerabu) incorporates a wonderful mixture of herbs – including the fragrant (and hard to find in London) ginger flower, or bunga kantan as we call it back home. I wasn’t expecting it come with rice noodles (bee hoon), but it worked really well. I might even have to borrow the idea for a quick summer meal – if summer ever comes, that is.

otak otak 2 Otak Otak. I still don’t know how this dish got it’s name, as “otak” translates to “brains”. But despite the slightly odd name, this Malaysian take on fishcakes is one of my favourite things to eat. The fish is marinated in spices, galangal and lemongrass; then wrapped in banana leaves (to add fragrance); and cooked on the grill.

Assam pedas ikanKari Kapitan Ayam. (Kari = curry, Kapitan = captain, Ayam = chicken). An old-school Malaysian chicken curry with a complex blend of herbs & spices,  that was a favourite of captains in the ancient port of Malacca.

Kari limau udangKari Limau Udang.  (Kari = curry, Limau = lime, Udang = prawn). This sweet and sour prawn curry is cooked with coconut milk, tumeric, chilli and a hint of lime. This was my favourite dish of the night.

Kari Kapitan Ayam
Assam Pedas Ikan. (Assam = sour, Pedas = spicy, Ikan = fish). We Malaysians like spicy and sour flavours, and this is a dish that showcases it well. The key ingredients in this dish are assam (I can’t for the life of me think what it is called in English), bunga kantan (ginger flower), and daun kaduk (polygonum/laksa leaves). Salmon was used in this, which is a little atypical (salmon isn’t eaten all that commonly in Malaysia), but I would imagine that this was to conform to the British palate.

Kangkung belacanSayur Goreng Belacan. (Sayur = vegetable, Goreng = fry, Belacan = fermented shrimp paste). This is a very classic vegetable dish – belacan is renowned for it’s strong smell, and those who are not used to it may find it rather unappealing. But believe me when I say the final product always tastes fantastic… why else would we use it as an ingredient in so many dishes?

yee kwan lemongrass and lime sorbetLemongrass & Lime ice cream. This was sourced from Yee Kwan – who by the way, makes the best black sesame ice cream ever. I tried it at a food fair a few years ago, and have yet to try a better version since.

CendolCendol. This is a very popular dessert, which comprises of pandan (screwpine leaf) flavoured “noodle strands”, red beans and shaved ice; served in a coconut milk base; and topped with palm sugar (gula Melaka) syrup. If I remember correctly, there weren’t any red beans in this version, which was a shame.

Seri mukaSeri Muka. (Seri = happy/smiley, Muka = face). This is a traditional Nonya kuih (sweet dessert) that showcases pandan, glutinous rice, and coconut milk. Lots of coconut milk. As a child I used to only eat the green (pandan) bit of the kuih, but I now happily scoff it all up. The more carbs the better, eh?

ning london teamThe service from the team (pictured above) was wonderful, and Norman himself is a charming host. He worked his way around the room and ensured he said hello to everyone who was there. I also thought that their service of offering pick up/drop off from/to the station was a nice touch, as it caters to those who do not know the area well.

norman musa chocolates Norman also has a range of spice-inspired chocolates – my favourite is obviously the pandan, as it totally appeals to my obsession for it. (I incorporate pandan into anything I can…)

All in all, I had a lovely evening at Ning London. I think that the standard of food was high, but it wasn’t always completely authentic. I suspect that this is because Norman had to cater to a range of palates – he mentioned how he had to tone down the chilli to ensure everyone could enjoy the meal.

Let me put it this way – it is not the best Malaysian food I’ve ever eaten, but it’s certainly the best Malaysian food I’ve had in London. Would I return to Ning London? Most definitely.

p.s. Norman is hosting a ‘Malaysian Street Food‘ themed supper club on May 24th & 25th, featuring the very famous roti canai (Malaysian flatbread), satay (chicken skewers), and most importantly – nasi lemak bungkus. I am rather upset that I am working that weekend, or I would be there in a heartbeat.

Ning_logo®-02

Ning London
£35 per person, BYOB
http://www.normanmusa.com/restaurants.htm

Disclaimer: I attended the supper club as a guest of Ning London, but all views expressed are my own.

[instagrammed] Pandan bundt eggwhite cake

I first made this pandan bundt cake when I realised I had an ever-growing stash of leftover eggwhites in my freezer. I’m not a huge fan of meringue/macaron baking, and was trying to figure out what I could do with all those leftover eggwhites. And I have yet to purchase a chiffon cake tin.

I then came across this recipe for “Munavalgekook”, an Estonian eggwhite cake. I was intrigued, and not just because I couldn’t pronounce the name of said cake! So I made it. And absolutely loved it.

pandan bundt eggwhite cake

This cake has a slight pound-cake like texture, but has a beautiful delicate crumb due to the volume created by the whipped eggwhites. I personally prefer whisking eggwhites separately in cake recipes (even when the recipe calls for a whole egg), as I find cakes made this way result in a finer crumb.

And in keeping with my aim in life of putting a Malaysian twist on all my baked goods, I added a dash of pandan (screwpine) extract into the cake mix.

pandan bundt slicedNot a very good slice through the cake, is it? I really need to sharpen my knives… Oops.

Pandan bundt cake
Adapted from this recipe for Munavalgekook, from Nami-Nami

  • 6 large egg whites
  • 2 tbsp + 100 g caster sugar
  • 160 g plain flour
  • 1 heaped tbsp potato starch or cornflour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 100 g melted butter, cooled slightly (I use salted butter)
  • 2 tbsp pandan extract (I never measure, I plonk in as much as I feel is necessary on that particular day…)

1. Preheat your oven to 170’C (fan assisted).
2. Sieve the flour, potato/corn starch, 100g of caster sugar, and baking powder into a bowl. Set aside.
3. Place egg whites and 2 tbsp of the caster sugar in a clean bowl. Whisk until the egg white/sugar mixture forms soft peaks.
4. Gently fold in the sieved flour/sugar mix into the whipped egg whites, until it forms a smooth mixture. Be careful when doing this as you do not want to knock the precious air bubbles out of the egg whites.
5. Slowly trickle the melted butter and pandan extract into the mixture, and gently fold until just incorporated.
6. Pour the cake mix into a bundt tin. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-45 minutes, until the cake becomes golden brown. A toothpick inserted into the cake should come out clean.
7. Remove from oven and let stand for 5 minutes.
8. Turn the cake out onto a wire rack to cool, then eat!

Plum Valley Restaurant, Chinatown

I’m a creature of habit. I not only frequent the same restaurants, but I also order the exact same thing most of the time. Unsurprisingly, I have my list of favourite Chinese/dim sum restaurants in London. In fact, I don’t think I have tried dim sum at any place that isn’t on that list in recent years.

Having said that, I do like discovering other good restaurants, and had the opportunity to do so recently, courtesy of Cox and Kings. Cox and Kings are one of the world’s oldest travel companies, and pride themselves on specialising in high quality cultural (both group and private) holidays all over the world. In particular, they have a wonderful selection of holidays to China (a country I am yet to explore!). In line with the whole “China” theme, they invited a group of bloggers to review a selection of restaurants in Chinatown – with the aim of showcasing the range and standard of Chinatown eateries.

So this is how I ended up at Plum Valley.

Plum Valley offer both an a la carte and dim sum menu, but we chose the latter as it would allow us to sample a wider variety of their dishes. It also enabled me to perform a fairer assessment of the food, as dim sum offerings tend to be fairly standard (with a few exceptions, naturally!)

plum valley har kau

Prawn dumplings (Har kau). These steamed dumplings are a dim sum staple, and are personally a must order for me, especially in a new restaurant. These were good, with thin skins and a succulent prawn filling.

plum valley siu mai

Pork & prawn dumplings (Siu mai). Whilst the prawn dumplings were good, the siu mai unfortunately fell a little short. The pork used for the dumpling fillings seemed a tad too gelatinous, which resulted in a rather chewy texture.

plum valley black cod dumpling

Black cod dumplings. I was intrigued by these, as it was something that’s not seen commonly on dim sum menus. I was rather excited when they came to the table, as they looked rather intricate and pretty! Unfortunately they did not taste as good as they looked – the dumpling skin was very doughy, which led to a rather sandy texture. The black cod filling also seemed to be slightly overcooked. A shame, because this held much promise.

plum valley crispy eel cheung fun

Crispy eel cheung fun. I am a huge fan of contrasting textures, and this certainly delivered. The crispy fried eel worked well with the soft cheung fun – although it admittedly tasted a little more Japanese than Chinese!

plum valley scallop dumpling

Scallop dumplings. I was surprised to see them using some gold leaf on the top of these – pretty yes, but rather un-Chinese really. These tasted fine, but I would have preferred a larger piece of scallop – I suspect a whole scallop had been sliced into three to top these, which is a little stingy. I would prefer to pay more and get a whole scallop, but perhaps that is just my greed talking.

plum valley chicken feet in black bean sauce

Chicken feet in black bean sauce. This was cooked well, and had good flavour.

plum valley venison yam puff

Venison yam puffs. A slight tweak on the classic yam puffs. The ‘yam puff’ bit was rather well executed, but the venison filling lacked that ‘oomph’ I was hoping for.

plum valley xo fried rice

XO fried rice. The humble fried rice, which should be easy to whip up, is in reality quite a hard dish to get right. One of the most important aspects of any wok-fried dish is something called ‘wok hei’, which not-so-literally translates to “breath of the wok”. This dish had plenty of this, and was something I’d order again. Doesn’t look like much, but it delivered on taste.

A quick note on other aspects of the restaurant: Service (which is often poor or non-existent in many Chinatown restaurants) was actually pretty good – the food arrived in good time, and all requests were promptly dealt with.

Lastly, decor was fairly modern, with a decent amount of space between the tables. A little too posh perhaps, but in all fairness they market themselves as a ‘fine dining’ restaurant. I would have preferred it if the dining area was slightly better lit though – this is purely a personal preference stemming from the fact that I never saw a dimly lit Chinese restaurant growing up!

pplum valley dim sum

So yes – there were highs and lows of the meal. I cannot say I would rush back to dine here, but I would not rule out returning to try other offerings on their menu. At the end of it all, I feel that the quality of food is similar to the other Chinatown restaurants I have tried – but I maintain that better dim sum can be found outside Chinatown itself.

plum valley

Plum Valley
20 Gerrard Street
Chinatown
London W1D 6JQ

Disclaimer: I dined at Plum Valley courtesy of Cox and Kings, and also received a wine voucher as a token of appreciation. However, all views expressed above are my own. This review will also be published in ‘Compass’, their in-house travel magazine.

[instagrammed] – Asparagus & avocado pasta

avocado asparagus pasta

I almost forgot about my grand plans to chip at the backlog with some ‘instagrammed’ posts.. So here’s one.

This asparagus & avocado pasta is something I’ve made many (many) times, especially on a weekday when I cannot be bothered to make something too involved. Am so glad I happened to have both asparagus and avocado in my fridge at some point, or I might have never discovered this delightful combination.

You can find me on instagram as @breadetbutter – where I post a lot more regularly than I do here. ;)

Asparagus & avocado pasta
Serves 2 (generously)

  • 250g pasta of your choice (I usually use linguini or spaghetti)
  • 2 avocados
  • 150g asparagus (I use asparagus tips), cut into 1cm lengths
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Bunch coriander (approx 30g)
  • Salt & pepper to taste
1. Cook pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente. 1 minute before the pasta is done, add the asparagus to the pan. When draining the pasta, reserve some of the pasta cooking water – you may need it later.
2. Whilst pasta is cooking, halve and peel the avocados. Chop one avocado into small 1cm cubes, and the other into larger chunks.
3. Place the large chunks of avocado into a blender, along with the coriander, lime juice, and olive oil. Blend until it forms a thick smooth paste.
4. Place drained pasta and asparagus back into the (same) pan you were using earlier. Add the blended avocado mixture. The mixture may be quite thick and gloppy, if so, add some pasta water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until you reach your desired sauce consistency. The sauce should coat every strand of pasta.
5. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
6. Serve pasta onto plates. Top with small cubes of avocado. Other ingredients you can use are pine nuts, extra coriander, sesame seeds, chilli flakes.. An endless list really! Drizzle with some olive oil (if you wish), and eat.