Tag Archive: chocolate


Brussels Autumn 2013

We had some Euros left over from our foreign holiday from a couple of years ago so I decided to use them up on a brief trip of a couple of days in Brussels capital of Belgium. I say I decided as I was the most eager from our family to make this trip. I had visited many years ago and had fond memories not least because my godmother used to live there.

So we took the Eurostar the day after the great storm put our watches forward and arrived in Brussels.

My “must see” was the Atomium which is north of the city centre quite close to the Heysel football stadium (it’s the same Metro station). Judging by the number of photos I took I think it was my favourite place – at least from the outside! I think it fair to say that the rest of the family were largely underwhelmed and I could see why. Built with optimism in the late 1950’s the exhibition space had a clunky feel to it. I found that I was more interested the structure of the building – intended to resemble 9 iron atoms in a crystal layout – with its reflections of the surroundings and of itself. The contents felt dated even though the theme was ‘innovation’.

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Nearby was “Mini Europe” which delighted the rest of the family but it just wound me up. It was a park consisting of various models of famous buildings and locations chosen to represent all the countries of the European Union. The other two delighted in the work and enjoyed finding things out about Europe. The models were as good as anywhere else and the booklet was very informative. School children could profit from spending a morning there. I took a couple of photos but the first page in the information booklet put me out of sorts. You see, it said that Brussels is the capital of Europe.

Now, I like Brussels, and Belgium generally. On a spectrum between Euro-skeptics and Euro-enthusiasts I am somewhere in the middle, perhaps more pro than anti. However, Brussels is the capital of Belgium just as London is the capital of the UK. OK so the European Parliament is in Brussels (see below) but sovereignty still resides with the constituent countries of the EU. The result was that I looked at this “fun” park through a lens of mistrust that was not entirely fair. It was noticeable that not all countries were treated equally – I half expected the original six members of the Treaty of Rome to feature prominently. Actually the larger countries with the larger populations had more space so it seemed relatively fair. I realise I was being petty and took it in my stride when I accepted that there was no intention to give a balanced view about the merits of the EU – controversies were for elsewhere. The park was about explaining and celebrating the European Union; and that it did quite well .

Naturally we visited the Grand Place and enjoyed Belgian waffles (there are two basic types), frites (the Belgians are said to have invented them, not the French) and chocolate.

Other places included the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate, the Comic strip museum, the Natural History Museum (science) and a view of the European Parliament. Unfortunately our last day was spoilt because we didn’t realise that it was a National Public holiday (nor had our travel agent realised this) which meant we didn’t see the Smurfs nor did we visit the Magrite Museum.

I wouldn’t mind going again but there are other cities and countries to visit first.

… and thank you to Mandy who made it. It is fair to say that I am fairly fussy about what fudge I eat (not keen on the glucose syrup which is often used in commercial types and which I think ruins the texture). However, this particular homemade fudge with its unusual ingredient, beetroot, worked well both in taste and texture. Had I not been told, I would never have guessed that there was any vegetable in it.

Unfortunately, I do not have the recipe to share with you.

Fairtrade Maltesers

I like chocolate a lot but I wouldn’t say that it is something to get overly excited about. However, at breakfast as I perused the latest edition of the Radio Times and I come across an advert declaring “from now on, every pack of Maltesers will be Fairtrade certified.” I am delighted. I have supported and bought Fairtrade goods over many years – to the point of trying to avoid companies with a poor track record for workers’ rights, environmental responsibility etc etc. Unfortunately, it has also meant fretting over some of my favourite chocolates which are not Fairtrade certified. I either don’t buy them (and feel mildly resentful) or, if I do give into temptation, do get them but do not enjoy them as much. It is hard to stick to ones principles when the alternative tastes nice.

So I am really pleased that one of my favourite chocolates is now Fairtrade certified.

Soft chocolate

I needed to do something constructive (a distraction from a situation which was winding me up quite nicely – I was “irritated” – please note that was British understatement).

So I undertook an experiment with chocolate. You see, these days I find I still find plain (dark) chocolate too bitter for my taste but most milk chocolate not chocolatey enough. I have, in the past tried melting some of each, perhaps with a tablespoon of water or a knob of butter, but with varying degrees of success. This time I decided to melt the chocolate into an already-warm liquid, namely marshmallow and milk. I doubt if I’m the first with this idea but it did work – at least other members of the family agreed. They don’t like marshmallow so the idea of the recipe did not appeal to them but when they tried some their only critical comment was that the chocolate was ‘sticky’ rather than just ‘soft’ – and then they took another piece.

Here’s what I did:

Into a microwaveable glass bowl I put four pieces of marshmallow and a splash of milk (it was what was left over in the bottle so I guess it was about three tablespoons’ worth). I microwaved it on ‘high’ for 30 seconds – that was all that was needed. Then I added a knob of butter (about an ounce? 30g?) and stirred it about a bit. Next I added eight squares (50g or nearly two ounces) each of plain chocolate (50% cocoa solids) and milk chocolate (30% cocoa solids) and stirred them in until it was obvious that the mixture had cooled a bit. I heated the mixture for a further 30 seconds (that was enough) and stirred it again until it was smooth. The mixture was soft but not too runny. I poured it onto some baking parchment (anything non stick would have done, foil even) in a tin and left it to cool. It was kept in the fridge – at least it was until it was “discovered”.

One lesson I have been learning is that it is OK to do something you enjoy without having “deserved” it. That is not a licence to be selfish but permission to take a step back from our troubles from time to time. Hence this recipe. It has the virtue of having worked and is easily repeatable.

York

We didn’t know that they were having a chocolate festival until after we got there – honest! We arrived at the end of the weekend so I wonder whether we did miss some stuff. There was a kind of market with various stalls including small-scale businesses that made chocolates as well as a franchise offering melted chocolate to drink or poured on cake or fruits. I tried some of that melted chocolate and although it was nice it didn’t take too much to have enough. Under a marquee there was a demonstration (and tasting) of chocolate truffle-making. Although we arrived part way through the demonstrator was happy to answer our questions as well as catch us up with the bit we had missed.

Meanwhile, when we visited the Castle Museum in York (incidentally rather better value for money than the Jorivc centre even with the joint ticket to include DIG) we saw chocolate being tempered and had an informative talk about the right temperature for melting and working with chocolate. That’s the sort of thing an amateur cook might like to know as well as any chocophiles present. Elsewhere in the museuam there was also some interesting social history as well as some obvious pride in the role the Rowntree family played in making poverty an issue that had to be and could be addressed.

The view from the city walls allowed us to see the top of the old “Terry’s of York” chocolate factory.

One of the best places for us was the National Railway Museum. Entry was by donation but even if it had been priced like the Castle it would still have been good value for money. As well as trains, locomotives and carriages etc from the early “Rocket” to the modern “Bullet” train, there was a miniature railway, a science show for children, and a short play that told the story behind a huge painting of Waterloo Station in its hey day (1967). Worth a repeat visit I would say.

Although we were only there for a couple of days, we enjoyed our visit and would like to go again.

Chocolate homework

Our homework this week was to write a poem about chocolate. After two squares of chocolate, one milk, one white, this is my attempt. We tried an on-line rhyme finder but it wasn’t very helpful, though. No rhymes were offered for ‘gooey’ or for ‘chocolate’, for example. Here’s my (half-hearted) attempt:

Chocolate poem
Sweet, sticky, gooey, smooth.
Parakeets don’t eat chocolate.
I have a collection of chocolates;
it’s my chocolate suite.
 
 

Not going to win any prizes, I think!

Bible chocolate

A little while ago I mentioned the idea that the Bible might be like chocolate (see Chocolate Bible) . It wasn’t entirely tongue-in-cheek but a way of recognising that the Bible is made up of different kinds of writing and that people may prefer different parts of the Bible even though it all needs to be taken together if we are to make the most of it.

Having described the Bible as a multi-chocolate bar, I decided on having a go at making one. The idea was that I would take some different sorts of chocolate, melt them down one by one, add a few extra bits and pieces and leave the resulting mega bar to set.

Things did not turn out as straightforward as I had hoped.

For a start getting workable Fair Trade white chocolate is nigh on impossible. There is some nice stuff out there and it is rather tasty but I’ve yet to find any that melts well without turning dry and grainy. Even the supermarket stuff I compromised with wasn’t much of an improvement.

A year or so ago we went to “Cadbury World” (about the time the company was being sold to another one) and there I purchased a special chocolate melting machine. It works a treat except that the pan is about the size of a cup and what I planned needed to be a little bit bigger. Despite never being quite sure of the timings, I used a microwave to melt the chocolate with. At least I followed the expert advice of a friend of mine by remembering to put just a table spoon of water in with the chocolate (I’m afraid I hedged my bets and added a knob of butter too). Then I stirred the chocolate and put dollops of it on a piece of non-stick (the stuff I’ve got really is) baking paper. I repeated the process with Fair Trade milk chocolate (less grainy) a mixture of FT milk and plain chocolate (OK) and finally plain FT chocolate (melts rather well). With the plain chocolate I added a few sultanas which had been soaked in vanilla essence and cold tea. Yes, cold tea. It works quite well in plumping up dried fruit like sultanas provided the tea is not too strong and you use just a spoonful or two. When I added the sultanas there was too much liquid mixed in with the chocolate so I left as much of it behind as possible when I spooned out the choc and sultana mix on to the sheet. I then put the rest of the bar of plain chocolate in, melted it with that liquid and added some cerealy bits before adding that to the growing mess that was supposed to resemble a marbled bar of chocolate. In fact it looked more like someone had been fly-tipping  on the kitchen work surface.

I should perhaps explain that the “cerealy bits” are the crumbs you get at the end of a box of cereal which can clog up the bottom of the cereal bowl. As we get to the end of the packet we put those little bits into a separate container to be used as an ingredient in cooking later.

Altogether I used two bars of milk chocolate, one of plain and most of one of white chocolate, also a handful of sultanas and about half a dozen roast hazel nuts pressed into the still soft white chocolate.

The result looks like an awful mess and I’m glad it’s chocolate I’ve been reworking rather than the Bible!

However, the recipe has passed the bowl test. That is to say, licking the spoon and the bowl of the last little bits of chocolate rather suggest that the “Bible chocolate” will taste OK. The bowl will not need much washing up!

Howsoever it turns out, I don’t plan on making our own Easter Eggs. At least we managed to get a “Real Easter Egg” today.

Chocolate Bible

There was a TV programme last December where an esteemed scientist invited his audience to join in an experiment using chocolate. Yes, folks, you can try this one at home (unless you’re allergic to chocolate). The point was to demonstrate how the different ingredients worked. You place a piece of chocolate (any sort according to taste, milk or plain) on your tongue and leave it there. Try to resist the urge to lick or swallow it for a little while.

Firstly, the chocolate begins to melt. That’s the cocoa butter and other fats which melt at body temperature. As the chocolate melts on your tongue it cools it slightly in a pleasant manner. Exactly how this feels will depend on the blend of fats and whether it is milk or plain chocolate. Next you might notice the sweetness on your taste buds. Eating the chocolate this way allows you to notice each sensation as it develops. Then the aromas are released, you might notice vanilla amongst them, and you have the smell of the chocolate too. And finally there is the texture of the chocolate itself, the cocoa solids, which also varies according to the qualities of the ingredients.

Although it was hard to do, maybe half a minute or so, the point was well made – at least among those who were able to resist eating the piece of chocolate straight away. I did try joining in but it doesn’t really work with a Malteser.

Please bear with me, but I think you can liken the Bible to chocolate. There is an ancient tradition, called Lectio Divina, which is a way of reading the Bible. In this you’re not reading it for information, you’re not studying it – not looking up a favourite verse. Nor are you listening to it in a service. What you do is to read a particular passage slowly, taking time over it, savouring it if you like. It means taking time enough to allow God’s word to do its work. A bit like that experiment with the chocolate (Gerard Hughes compares it to sucking a boiled sweet) or taking a throat lozenge. In both cases we get more out of it the more time we take over it. With reading the Bible this way it is best not to try to read too much – maybe just a few verses.

And if the Bible is like chocolate, then it is made up of more than one sort of chocolate: some of it is sweet and mild like milk chocolate, some of it is dark, it also has some fruit in it and even the occasional nut. It is not something that can be easily consumed all in one go. Too much too quickly of any good thing is liable to give you indigestion.

Joking aside, another way of ‘reading’ the Bible comes from the Bible Society, who have produced an audio series of the New Testament called “You’ve got the time”. The idea being that during Lent you can hear the New Testament read over the course of 40 days. Each episode lasts about half an hour which hopefully means that most people can find the time to listen to them if they want to. Whether or not you’ve decided to give up eating chocolate for Lent, you may wish to give “Bible chocolate” a go in either of the ways suggested here.

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