How to run successful school events

How to run successful school events

I’m not teacher trained. Everything I have learned is from hands-on experience working in the many schools I’ve visited around the UK.

Empty classroom with desks and a blackboard

Primary, secondary, state, private, and specialist schools have been good enough to book my services over many years. Specialist schools might be for excluded children, unable to stay in mainstream education or those with learning disabilities for example.

This week I was lucky enough to be invited to run chocolate tasting workshops at a secondary school as part of an Enrichment Day. I ran the same workshop five times for five different classes. Hard work but the children loved it and feedback has been really positive. 

Here are my tips on how to run successful school events:

Be safe and follow protocols

Ensure you know what is expected by the school and what is required legally for your own protection and that of the school and children.  

DBS certification, Health and Safety information/certification if relevant, your safeguarding policy for example. Please do your research and find out what is required from the relevant authorities.

Types of events

The school will have booked you for a specific event. Ensure you have understood the outcomes they expect from the day and clearly communicated these.  

After sending over the initial information, I will try and arrange a phone call with the school contact to ensure I fully understand their expectations. It’s a chance for you to explain in your own words how the event will work too.

Remember, say yes and then work out how you are going to deliver what they want. You have the chance to tweak and advise what would work best for them.

Thanks to being asked to do things, I’ve developed workshops for primary schools that included chocolate making and tasting. I offer the same for secondary schools, as well as Enterprise Days.

Enterprise Days

I will typically work with a whole year group. When I was first tasked with putting on this type of day, I knew I had 180 pupils and I had to make it relevant and interactive for all. My aim was to get to smaller working groups.  

I started the day with a plenary session. Speaking to the whole year group and setting them up for the challenge before sending them back to their classrooms.  

Each class became a new chocolate company. Within each company were five departments. Every department had to communicate with each other to complete a business plan for a new chocolate company concept. Once this was submitted, they got to work on a presentation.  

We all came together to hear their pitches and a winning company was announced.

What the pupils create, their imagination and their enthusiasm is truly inspiring.   One lad once said to me, “I might run my own business as then I could really make a difference in the world.”

It’s all in the preparation

Prep within an inch of your life! Go over everything you will be doing with a fine toothcomb and ensure you are ready to deliver. You don’t have any time once you are in the classroom.

If you are going to be catering for any special needs, ensure you are fully aware of how best to handle things. Ask the teacher for advice if necessary.

The school may have informed you about any special dietary requirements (if relevant). I recommend checking again once in the classroom in case someone has been missed.

There is often hardly any time to even visit the loo on a school day, so have everything you need to hand. Include your drinks, snacks, and lunch.

Have the right mindset

You genuinely have to like the children.

They are enthusiastic, inquisitive, creative, and funny. You may find their behaviour a little challenging at times, but remember they are just kids. There is usually a reason for their behaviour and it’s your job to make everyone feel included and able.

You need to be on their side and want them to have a good time.  

If you can’t manage that, they will spot it a mile off.

Show your expertise

Demonstrate passion, enthusiasm, and interest in your topic. Bring it alive.

Dipping chocolates into a tank of chocolate

Think about the audience and how best they will receive the information. Engage the children with questions and allow them to interact. Bring props, visuals, hand things around.

However tired or trying some situations maybe, you need to be professional at all times.

If you are faced with a situation that you have not encountered before, use other experts to help you get this right. If you will be dealing with specific special needs, go seek advice on how best to communicate with your audience for example.

I recommend Next Page Books in Hitchin for some special needs advice and relevant reading material.

Control the room

Think about the age of the children in terms of room control. Clapping patterns might be ideal for primary school children, but inappropriate for older ones.

Be in charge, be firm and fair.

Work with the teacher. 

Different coloured chalks on a blackboard

How do they control noise in the class, emulate their methods, or introduce your own?  

Get buy-in from the pupils at the outset. Explain what you will be doing to ask them to stop talking and do that. Don’t start shouting over the class – you will lose your voice and control.

Rarely some teachers are not great at class control. I’ve been in classrooms where the teacher shouted all day and was disrespected by the class.  

Feel free to impose your own class control methods and ensure you get the class to listen.  

Who are the stakeholders?

The teacher may have booked you and wishes to demonstrate to the head or governors that it was a good investment.  

Help them achieve this. 

If they visit the classroom to see what’s going on, include them in activities if possible. Perhaps you could leave something behind, to demonstrate what the children have been working on. Gain feedback from the teachers/children to help justify the investment.

To every teacher out there who runs successful school events every day, I take my hat off to you. I’m in awe of the amazing things you do with our children every day. Be a teacher for a day and you will get to see how hard they work. Very rewarding work and worth all the effort.  

Wishing you good luck with your school events.

The best hot chocolate?

The best hot chocolate?

The leaves are turning, the nights are drawing in – it’s officially hot chocolate season once again. 

Chocolate milk with cream on top with autumn leaves scattered around the plate

I’m going to give you my simple tips for the best hot chocolate (in my opinion). Including a bit of history, I’ve shared a recipe for Aztec-style hot chocolate too.

Read on for a review of a new hot chocolate outfit that is a must-visit next time you are up North.

What do you consider the best hot chocolate? Here are my tips:

A simple recipe

Ditch the pre-made chocolate drinks.

Take some of your favourite chocolate, add milk, and heat for the best results.

Hot chocolate in tall glass with cream and sprinkles with a separate pot of mini marshmallows on the side

25g – 30g of chocolate in button form or chop into smallish chunks.  

Measure milk of your choice in the mug you will be serving it in.

Add the cold milk to the chocolate and gently warm in a pan, or in short bursts in the microwave.

Stir frequently, preferably using a whisk.

Serve with adornments of your choice (cream, mallows, grated chocolate, cacao nibs) or leave and drink straight.

Use 50/50 milk/water if you prefer something lighter.

It’s all about the chocolate

squares of white and dark chocolate in a pile

I prefer a good quality dark chocolate for the best hot chocolate. 70% or more in strength would be my preference. Remember the quality of the chocolate is not always reflected in the percentage of cocoa. It may be that you like chocolate that has a good hit of flavour, but has a lower cocoa content.

Remember the milk will sweeten the mixture, so try and go a little darker in your chocolate choice for more chocolate flavour.  

Mix chocolates. If you are not a fan of dark chocolate, then use milk and add a little dark to mix. It will enhance the flavour and add more depth to your delicious hot chocolate drink.

If you want to try something different, strong, and spicey, then try this……..

Aztec-style Hot Chocolate

This is a water-based hot chocolate recipe with lots of added spices.

100g dark chocolate (in button form, or broken into small pieces)

 25g brown sugar

 20g cocoa powder

Spices of your choice – I tend to add lots, including chilli, ginger, cardamom, clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon.

Heat 500ml of water, add the sugar and the cocoa powder, and bring to a simmer, stirring, for three to four minutes. Remove from the heat and leave for one minute. 

Add your chocolate and spices and whisk vigorously. Return to the heat bring back to the simmer for a further two to three minutes – it’s then ready to serve.

For some, this is an acquired taste, but I love the depth and spiciness of this drink. Your kitchen will smell wonderful with a heady aroma of chocolate and spice!

Cocoa Joe’s

Cocoa Joe’s, a small independent company is currently based in York and Patetley Bridge only. On a recent visit to Pateley Bridge, a local recommended I try out their hot chocolate. It was a fab experience.

There was a chocolate menu. 

Hot chocolate drink in white cup and saucer

You chose your hot chocolate drink based on the chocolate it would contain. An outfit after my own heart!  

The server was really helpful and let me taste various options before I decided on the strength I wished to go for. From white, ruby, milk, and many dark varieties of chocolate up to a 100% option. 

There were chocolates from various regions, single-origin chocolate and the server was knowledgeable about all the chocolates on offer.

Chocolate chosen, the buttons were melted into hot, frothy milk, some grated chocolate added to the top and that was it. Silky, full chocolate taste and completely satisfying and delicious. It’s up there as one of my best hot chocolates.

How do you take yours?

Please come and share your top tips and photos on my Facebook page!

What a fab idea for a new business!

10 tips to keep them coming back

10 tips to keep them coming back

As a small business owner, you have a unique opportunity to provide a passionate and dedicated service for your customers.

Get this right and your customers will sing your praises to others. Most importantly, they will stick around to do more business with you too.

This is why you need sticky customers. Read on for 10 tips to keep them coming back for more…..

Great customer service will make the world a better place

Imagine all those happy customers.

Maya Angelou quote "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you make them feel."

You have helped create a warm glow for them instead of the usual huge frustrations. Too many of us are treated poorly, without respect, and just not listened to. Become their ear, make them feel better, just simply CARE.

There will be less moaning (except for the weather perhaps). Customers will start to share their feel-good stories instead.

Little by little it may help to lift the mood of the nation.

Let’s start the customer service revolution

Great customer service has such massive potential.

Exceptional service makes you stand out from competitors. You will gain loyal followers, repeat business, build strong relationships, and subsequently grow your business.

I believe it’s more than that, it’s our bigger purpose.

We have a duty to get good at this because your customers really do matter. Be thankful they choose to do business with you. Without them, you don’t have a business anyway.

We can set the tone for others to follow in our footsteps. By doing this well, there will be no choice in the end. It will become what consumers expect. Do or die for businesses!

Here’s what I recommend you need to think about…….

10 tips to keep them coming back:

  1. Be YOU. People want authentic – customers will spot bullsh*t a mile off.
  2. Get in the right mindset. Care about your customers and about the service you provide to them, no matter what is going on for you.
  3. Map the whole journey a customer might take with you (including before you know who they are) and do exactly what you promise you say you will. Just doing exactly what we promised can be a win-win situation. Imagine the possibilities if you can exceed expectations.
  4. Provide something useful/helpful/interesting for them – think about what they need, want, have to solve, and try and be a solution.
  5. Own it. It’s all your fault. Even if it was your employee that did the wrong deed. You didn’t train them properly, or you hired the wrong person. Tough, but in the eyes of the customer none of that matters to them.
  6. Gain testimonials and/or press coverage to help build credibility. Ask for feedback to understand what you can hone and improve.
  7. Act quickly. If you can’t, get in touch and explain when what and why.
  8. Keep in touch. It’s not your customers’ responsibility to remember to do business with you. Let them know about what’s coming up, special offers, loyalty schemes. Provide more value to help them.
  9. Demonstrate your values. Display and explain them if relevant. Be charitable and the reasons behind your choices.
  10. Be energetic, can-do – say YES.
A group of people at a hen party
I don’t just cover mine in chocolate, but it helps!

If you want to get a head start in the customer service stakes adding chocolate into the mix is a great idea. If you want some more, try my 100 Ways to WOW.

What I learned from saying YES

What I learned from saying YES

Not long along I gave you 5 reasons to say NO, and here I am encouraging you to say YES!

Confusing, maybe? The thing is both are valid, and it will be about building confidence in your decision-making.  

Firstly, having a clear ‘why’ will matter the most, as that helps you decide if it’s worth your time or effort. Are you someone who gets a gut feeling about things? If you are, trust yourself and act accordingly. Sleep on something rather than make a snap decision and see what comes up the next day. Write out a list of pros and cons and make a proper evaluation.

Sometimes you just need to have a go – here’s what I learned from saying YES:

Grow your Confidence

I can't written on a piece of paper with someone cutting off the 't to read I can.

An opportunity presents itself and you immediately say no. That’s it, opportunity over, do you ever examine why that was your response?  

Are you scared of change?  

Do you find it easier to stay within what you know, and prefer never to challenge yourself?  

Many of us do prefer to play safe but say YES once in a while and you will be forced out of your comfort zone. We all know that’s where the magic really happens. 

In a toilet in a bar in Shoreditch the wallpaper read “your comfort zone will kill you” and while that’s a bit dramatic, there’s a lot of truth in that. You will find it does amazing things for your confidence in the end.

Hidden Opportunities

Once upon a time, there was a blog about sheds. I tweeted the guy responsible and told him I made chocolates in my shed, so what was the most interesting thing he’d discovered people doing in their sheds? He said I was pretty interesting and did I want to be featured on his blog. Yes please, I said!

Large shed in the garden with the double doors open

 A few weeks later I was contacted by The Sun newspaper and formed part of an article on what business people did in their sheds (they had seen my feature on the Shed Blog). Some months after that I was contacted by The Independent on Sunday and had a full-page feature on my shed for a gardening article.  

I also won an iPad for a social media competition using this story and of course gained credibility and awareness for my business.  

You will find a way

Someone makes a proposal to you. At the time of speaking to them, you don’t know how you are going to deliver what they are asking of you. If the answer is no, it’s job done, no further thought is required. Say yes and then your brain needs to work out a way.

It may be you need to have a conversation with someone who does know a way. They may be able to help, or certainly point you to where to find out more. A bit of research is undertaken. Sometimes it’s as simple and sleeping on it and in the morning you have a solution! Once you have said yes to something then you will find a solution – even if it’s not quite what was asked for in the first place!

New Possibilities

People at the forge.  Once hammering on an anvil and one in the fire on a team day experience

You simply can’t think of everything, even if you thought you have covered off all bases in whatever context that might be. I guarantee someone will ask you something that you had not considered. Is that a better option for you? Might it be something worth exploring further, a new avenue or offering?

When I started my chocolate business, I always intended to offer workshops to adults and children

I still do that to this day, but my events have evolved so much over the years. I’ve added in workshops specific to hens, schools, teams, customer service, running a business, and collaborations with my blacksmith hubby. Usually, because I’ve been asked by a customer to deliver a specific theme.   

Shiny new object syndrome is a real thing – you can end up going down the wrong path from time to time, but being open to explore new possibilities is worth consideration at least.

Good Vibes

Being willing to consider ideas, saying yes to opportunities creates a can-do positive attitude to life in general. I think that’s a really good thing.

What are you going to say YES to? Come and tell us your story.

5 reasons to play tennis

5 reasons to play tennis

Unless you have been hiding under a rock, you will have heard of the amazing achievements of a young 18-year-old tennis player that just won the US Open Tennis Tournament.  

Tennis ball spinning with water

She had to win three rounds of qualifying matches before being able to play in the main draw. Ranked 150 in the world on arrival (having been ranked in the 300’s only weeks beforehand).

No one who came through qualifying has won a grand slam tournament EVER.

What a belief, what a story, it truly is the fairy tale of New York! Emma Radacanu we salute you.

Yours truly has been playing tennis for years, not particularly well, but regardless – I love it. 

If Emma might have inspired you to pick up a racket here are 5 reasons to play tennis:

It’s sociable

You can’t play tennis on your own. Well, you can hit a ball against a wall for a bit, but you need at least one opponent eventually. If you are a bit of an old bird like me, then doubles it is!   

You are needed to form part of the quartet, so once you’ve committed to play you need to show up or you let everyone down.

A post-match coffee and catch-up are great too!

It’s exercise that never feels like exercise

Tennis balls all gathering at the base of a tennis net with racket leaning on net

That’s my experience of tennis. I’m not a fan of gyms or running and tennis is something I love that never feels like exercise at all.  

Warming up with a series of stretches first is a must. You don’t want to injure or damage muscles. 

Once in play, you are running around after the ball. Increasing your heart rate and using your arms and legs in equal measure. Hopefully, you are winning some points along the way.

Professional tennis players have a great all-round physique. Good muscle tone, with no over-emphasis on any part of the body. At their level, they wear out and have injuries of course, but plenty of members of my tennis club are still playing into their 80’s!

Play regularly and get better

Admittedly some tennis clubs can be expensive to join or feel a little cliquey. There are friendly options and different price ranges out there, as well as plenty of free courts around too. You need to find what works for you and your budget.

I find a commitment to pay my monthly membership fee motivates me to play multiple times a week to ensure I get value for money.

Whether you are brand new and joining a beginners class, or you have been playing for years but want to get better? There is always a chance to improve your game through regular play.

You may wish to focus on a better serve, volley more and spend more time at the net, improve your hitting with drills. Improving your game will motivate you to carry on.

Challenge yourself

Tennis racket and ball on the floor by the lines of a clay court

Once you’ve mastered the basics, sign up for leagues or play in friendly matches.  

This can feel very daunting, especially if you are worried you are the worst player on the court. I think everyone can feel this at times, but you need to push yourself and have the confidence to have a go. If you are new to matches, other players are usually supportive and helpful and will give you good feedback if you ask.

Some seek a more competitive group as this suits their needs, others wish to join something more fun and friendly. If it’s not quite right for you, try something else, don’t just give up.  

There is nothing like the experience of playing different players to improve your own game.

Challenge yourself to get out of that comfort zone and try playing different people. It’s amazing how much good it makes you feel once achieved.

Become a tennis bore

Talk about your achievements and good shots on the court with those that are interested! It’s great to meet with like-minded people to chat about your tennis experiences.  

Whether you are discussing your latest match or waxing lyrical about the future of Emma Raducanu – you are allowed to be a tennis bore and enjoy every moment!

AND surely the more you play the more chocolate you are allowed? That’s my theory anyway!

Anyone for tennis?  

A new sport could be just the thing if you are recently experiencing empty nest syndrome?  

If you love 5 things – previous blogs have included working with chocolate, businesses you could start tomorrow, must-do’s in Mull – more to come soon……..

How to deal with Empty Nest Syndrome

How to deal with Empty Nest Syndrome

It’s that time of year when young ones are stretching their wings and preparing to move on.

They may be starting school for the first time, moving onto ‘big’ school, or indeed leaving home to start Uni, college, or even a real job!

Whatever the reason, it’s hard for us to adapt to these big changes and see them growing up too fast. 

Here’s how I tried to deal with empty nest syndrome (I hope they might help you too):

Acknowledge your feelings

three faces with happy, neutral and sad, with tick boxes beside

Accept that you can’t make Empty Nest Syndrome go away. These feelings are valid and real.  

You have spent years nurturing, supporting, cooking, cleaning, and clearing up after your little angels and now they don’t need you in the same way anymore. That is a huge adjustment to make for starters.  

I felt really bereft when my eldest first left home for Uni, and I kept laying the dinner table for all five of us before realising he wasn’t here and getting upset (again). My other kids laughed at me and told me to a grip. 

The joys of family banter!

Give yourself permission to be sad, tearful, thoughtful, reflective. Make some time and be kind to yourself. Whatever you are experiencing is not going to last forever.

Do something new  

Tennis ball

There should be a little more space in your life with your responsibilities shifting. What might you decide to do?  

Is there a hobby or craft that you have neglected for too long?  

Perhaps there is a new skill or experience you would like to try?

What about taking up a new sport or joining a club to play a sport that’s been neglected for a while?

Start baking or cooking up a storm in the kitchen. Chocolate always helps – here’s some inspiration.

Take on a challenge

There are many opportunities to join challenges. They might relate to health, fitness, personal growth, or mindset. You might decide to support a charity and take part in an organised event.  

Magic wand

I offer a free 6-day challenge called Creating Magic – where you focus on you for a change and find out how to bring some sparkle into your life.

Think about starting your own business. This can be something on the side, earning from a hobby or craft, or something more serious. Having my own business to focus on during these times has been genuinely helpful. Being my own boss also means if I’m struggling and need time out, I can take it.

This is the ultimate for a great challenge and distraction!  

Plan your trip

A pile of recently washed up dishes and other kitchen utensils

This is just for you with the older ones, heading away from home. Obviously, they need some time to settle in, but get a date in the diary when you can visit and take them out for dinner, buy a huge food shop, do the heaving pile of washing up and a huge load of washing for them!

It really helps to have visits planned. We have really enjoyed exploring new locations in the UK as part of this process.

It’s good to talk

A cuppa or a glass of wine with friends and family is definitely a help. They may be experiencing similar feelings to you if they have children of the same age. Don’t forget to reflect on the opportunities and achievements of your children. They will have worked hard to achieve a place at Uni in really difficult circumstances. Maybe heading to a new school without all the usual visits and reassurances.  

Here’s to our kids and their super resilience – they are amazing!

I once met a lady at a craft fair, she had gone out and bought a job lot of scarves, so she could spend her evenings selling them and not sitting at home sad that her children had left. She told me that it felt like her arm had been cut off. I think I can totally relate to that. You do feel like something is missing. When they come and go, you experience that time and again, but it does get a little easier and if they are happy, then you are allowed to be too.

If you have some top tips to add, please pop over to my Facebook page to share.

Best of luck.

6 reasons that stop you from being your own boss – and how to overcome them

6 reasons that stop you from being your own boss – and how to overcome them

How are you?  

We’ve been through (and are still going through) a bit of an ordeal. There has never been such an opportunity to really examine our lives and decide what is most important to us going forward.

Are you happy to return to life roughly as it was before, or have our recent experiences made you think about a change, especially in the way that you work?  

You may have been forced into a different work situation, lost your job, and would love to consider running your own thing.

6 reasons that stop you from being your own boss:

 1. Fear 

2. Lack of confidence 

3. Lack of financial security

4. Competition (someone else already does it, and likely better than I could)

5. Lack of business know-how

6. Change of personal identity (fear of success)

And here’s how you might overcome them:

Overcoming Fear

Someone cutting a piece of paper with I can't written on it, to make I can

Everyone feels fear when they decide on a life change, will you let fear define you, keep you small and safe, or are you willing to live with an element of fear while you step up and say yes?

Standing up and saying out loud – buy this thing from me is daunting and scary and feels too difficult.

You just have to take a leap of faith. 

Try something smaller at first. Think up something you feel a bit scared of doing or trying and do it. Notice what happens afterwards. How bad was it really? Do you now feel a sense of achievement? Even if it didn’t achieve what you hoped, you faced a fear and stepped up?  

Building Confidence

The only way we can ever build our confidence is to stretch our comfort zone. If what you are doing now is not serving you, then you need to change the routine, try something new or different and get a little uncomfortable.

A test I use is TV. I may have been super-busy for a period, really stretching and growing and I need a bit of downtime. I’ll allow a bit of trash TV, late afternoon quizzes, etc, and will switch on to watch around 4/5 pm. At first, it’s a bit of a treat, to chill and take my foot off the pedal. Then I notice I start to get bored and twitchy. 

That’s when I know it’s time to step up again and get creative or do something more productive or I will start to lose confidence.  If tackling this alone feels too hard, check out my building confidence programme

9 points in round blue circles to help you boost your confidence

Financial Security

Do you have financial security with your job? Is your job safe? 

Have you considered that you might be able to do both – keep your job and build a small business on the side?

Can you ask for reduced hours at work, a part-time contract so that you can have some financial security while you build your business? 

Sometimes we have to believe that anything is possible to free us enough to get creative and dare to explore our business ideas.  

Putting a huge financial strain on your new business is always going to affect how you perform. Try and get creative with your finances and think about possible ways to support your new venture (taking in a lodger, creating and space to let in your home via AirB&B, a part-time job on the side).

Competition

How many independent coffee shops do you have near you? 

They didn’t let the fear of competition stop them from getting started, they understood that there was a market for what they had to offer and jumped on the bandwagon. 

You choose to support the ones you like the best, your friend you meet in the coffee shop may have a different favourite to you, so you meet there sometimes too. People choose to buy from you because of the same reasons you choose to buy from others. There is something about what they have to offer that appeals to you, the ambiance, the vibe. 

Once you build a following, you build a reputation through offering the best possible customer experiences and you gain word-of-mouth recommendations. In other words, people buy YOU and there is no one else out there that does you.

Lack of Business Know-How

Say you’ve been in nursing or teaching all your life and you tell yourself that you don’t know the first thing about business, so you’ve dismissed running your own. 

Hello! Your life experiences are totally transferable. The juggling, management, caring, and creativity are all fabulous assets for a business. 

It’s the fear of what we don’t know that can make something feel insurmountable. This does not have to be true. It’s just a story we tell ourselves (and why you might invest in training to learn the bits you don’t know and fill in the gaps). 

Fear of Success

I did a poll not that long ago asking people if fear of failure or a fear of success would be the biggest factor for them. Fear of success came out as the more scary option. 

Do we find that surprising? Think about yourself and your role in your family/society. 

Everyone you know has put you in a pigeon-hole of some sort. It may be related to the work you do, your position in the family, etc. If you suddenly say you are going to do this or train to become that – those close to you can struggle. They may experience fear of losing you, you changing, not having time for them perhaps.  

You do this too. We have our version of ourselves and believe we need to stay that way to fit in with what we know, what others expect from us.

Are you willing and able to be successful? Do you deserve to turn your new business idea into something credible and enjoyable? 

What about the service or products you offer? Do your customers deserve to interact with a business that is going places and future-proof to look after their needs. 

Help Yourself

As you can see most of the fears/worries we will encounter require us to shift our mindset and dare to try what might be possible.  

We only have this one life, you decide.

Procrastination, overwhelm and fear will come along for the ride. I run a free Creating Magic Challenge where we can explore what might be possible. Pop over to Facebook and find out more.


These might help – what business is right for you, 5 business ideas to start tomorrow.

How to taste chocolate

How to taste chocolate

We are not talking about your everyday chocolate treats here. The taste of these is familiar to us and we tend to shove it all in without thinking too much!

How to taste chocolate properly, like a professional connoisseur is what we are going for here:

What chocolate?

It will likely be dark chocolate. There are many ‘notes’ to chocolate. It is a wonderful ingredient that can produce many flavour experiences such as nutty or fruity.

chunks of white and dark chocolate on a board with a wooden spoon filled with grated chocolate

There are, however, some fabulous examples of milk and white chocolate too at the gourmet end.

Don’t think just in terms of cocoa content. Quality is not necessarily about the cocoa content, but about the quality of the bean. Some dark chocolates have been highly roasted to disguise a poorer quality bean.

Raw chocolate has unroasted or very lightly roasted beans to really showcase the bean’s properties. There are some interesting (and slightly more challenging) options to try, depending on your taste.

Be prepared to pay a lot more for your gourmet chocolate bars.

Where do I go for gourmet?

Visit a posh chocolate shop and they should be knowledgeable about what they are selling and help you choose according to your taste.

High-end chocolate shops will often offer tasting sessions. These are well worth it, as you can try a few and find out what chocolate you enjoy the most.

A good supermarket will also have a decent amount of quality chocolate bars on offer too.

There are good online retailers such as Cocoa Runners. They offer a tasting club and have a fantastic array of chocolate bars on offer. When I’m running a gourmet tasting, these are my go-to suppliers.

Chocolate Guru

I’m going to share the wise words of a chocolate guru – Chloe Doutre-Roussel. The chocolate buyer for Fortnum and Mason’s for a number of years. Doutre-Roussel is highly regarded in the chocolate world. I believe she is around a size 6 and used to taste her way through a 1lb of chocolate every day. She would get up early, swim, and drink only water until her tasting was completed. Nothing was allowed to taint her tastebuds and ruin the full effect of the chocolate.

Here’s how to taste chocolate
(taken from The Chocolate Connoisseur- By Chloe Doutre-Roussel)

When presented with a square of chocolate:

  1. Look at it: what do you see? Colour? Shine? Texture? Blooming or discolouration?
  2. Touch it: what do you feel? How does the broken surface look: smooth or rough and bubbly? Sticky?
  3. Listen to it: what do you hear as you snap a square in half?
  4. Smell it: what do you find?
  5. Taste it: put a tiny piece in your mouth, chew it, then stop and allow it to melt.
  6. Concentrate on how you feel, and if there is any change in flavour of what your tongue feels over time.
  7. Look for flavours:
    • do you recognise them?
    • perhaps they evolve over time?
    • interact with each other, or do they seem to come in separate phases?
      is one more present and clear than the others, or do they combine?
    • rate their intensity.
  8. Good chocolate has three distinct phases. Try to distinguish them:
    • what you feel in the first seconds
    • what you feel while it slowly melts
    • now swallow, what you feel now. This phase is called the ‘end of mouth’.

The Finish

chocolate making

Like many, I only used to eat the cheapo chocolate that we find everywhere. Since I made chocolate my business, I’ve learned to really appreciate the finer chocolates out there. I find the everyday chocolate a little too sweet these days. I still enjoy a naughty treat now and again, but prefer the better quality stuff. It has so much more to it.

I want you to notice the finish – when you enjoy good dark chocolate, the flavour will stay in your mouth so much longer. We want a nice long finish!

Come us tell us what good chocolate you have been tasting over on my Facebook page.

Imagine if tasting chocolate was part of your business. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it!

5 Must Do’s in Mull

5 Must Do’s in Mull

I’ve just returned from a holiday on the Isle of Mull* in Scotland with family and friends.

View of loch and mountains on Mull, Scotland

It was one of the best holidays we have enjoyed together for ages. After being delayed by a year, due to the pandemic we were all really up for an adventure and Mull did not disappoint.

Here are my 5 must do’s in Mull:

Stay in a fabulous location

To be honest, this is not difficult on Mull. Everywhere is so beautiful, with stunning scenery, wonderful wildlife, and exceptional beaches.

You have the option to be completely off the beaten track (our preferred choice), or to stay somewhere where you can eat out or visit the odd shop (in and around Tobermory).

We were armed with anti-midge bracelets, spray, cream, and nets are we received dire warnings of non-stop rain and midges. In reality, we had great weather and I’ve seen more midges on my local dog walks in Hertfordshire than I ever experienced on Mull!  

View of Loch Usig and hills from Craig Ben Cottage, Isle of Mull
View from our bedroom window of Loch Uisg

That may influence when you wish to visit. We were incredibly lucky with our good weather, as the area has a very high rainfall rate. The good weather must have kept the midges at bay. Win, win!

Our accommodation was booked through Isle of Mull Cottages and was fab.

Book a wildlife tour

Mull is all about the wildlife.  

A friend recommended Nature Scotland’s Wilderness Tour to us, so we booked a day out and it is such a worthwhile thing to do. As well as spotting some white-tailed eagles, golden eagles, and red deer, we were fascinated by the smaller natural details too. 

Burrowing wasps, tiny carnivorous plants, butterflies and so much more.

Not only do you learn so much on the tour, but you will also then be tuned into seeing things for the rest of your stay.

On our travels around the island, we also managed to see many more birds, otters, and even some dolphins from the ferry on the way home.

It’s great to invest in a decent pair of binoculars, they will be well used!

Don your walking boots

You may wish to climb a mountain, Mull has one official Munro (mountain), Ben More, but many other wonderful climbing options too.   

If you take a drive to Fionnphort you can grab a foot ferry to Iona. It is only 1.5 miles wide by 3 miles long. Iona is known as being ‘The Cradle of Christianity’ in Scotland with its much-visited Abbey and Nunnery. 

Wonderful walks and beaches are on offer here too.

Maybe ditching your walking boots at this point, you can wander along a deserted beach. We had a beach to ourselves at one point, but even if others are there too, it will never be busy.  

Laggan Sands beach on the Isle of Mull
Laggan Sands, our local beach

Most of us went swimming too. Our holiday cottage was based next to a freshwater loch. I enjoy a bit of wild swimming and presumed this would be a challenging option due to the coldness of the water. It was one of the warmest wild swims I’d ever enjoyed!

The sea loch was a little more bracing (we went swimming from Laggan Sands), but still manageable and refreshing!

Enjoy some seafood

There was a mussel farm not too far from our house. It is operated by an honesty box, so if you got the urge to eat mussels at any point, you could drive up, pop your pennies in and grab your mussels to munch. They were the freshest, sweetest, tasty morsels!

Dishes and plates of mussels on the table

We also managed to order some langoustines, which we got straight from the boat as they were landed. 

I can honestly say I would prefer a chef to prepare them for me. However, it was down to us, and once prepped we popped ours on the bbq. They tasted wonderful, so sweet again and obviously as fresh as it’s possible to be.

In Tobermory, we enjoyed some fish and chips on the harbour. We actually saw the fish being delivered to the café, just a bit before we ordered. 

Totally delicious. There is a real fresh theme here!

We didn’t manage to eat out at any restaurants – they were a bit too far of a drive from us.  

We did enjoy some lovely cakes (and wonderful farm shop meats) from a local cafe.  

Take what you need with you

There are a couple of small local shops on the island – and a small supermarket in Tobermory. As we were an hour’s drive from there, we needed to take all the food and drink that we needed for our week’s holiday.

Talking of driving, the roads are an experience in their own right. Singletrack roads mostly with passing places – sometimes it could be quite challenging depending on who you met coming the other way!

Tobermory

It’s quite a feat doing a shopping list for a large household of hungry people. All the meals and snacks required. How many bottles of wine or gin and tonics are you going to need? 

All important questions. Allow plenty of planning time.

I would not wish to put you off supporting local businesses as this is a must, but you will not be able to do a giant shop – so make sure you bring a decent general shop at least.

There are some cafes, hotels, and the odd pub here and there – but we were surprised how little was on offer. This is a little different in Tobermory with several eateries and gift shops on offer too here.

I even found a chocolate shop in Tobermory and have bought home some dark chocolate whiskey squares to try!  

You may wish to take some chocolate with you or make your own treats.

I’m sure this would not be a holiday that would suit everyone – but if you do fancy a trip, I hope my 5 must do’s in Mull will provide some inspiration.  

Come and tell me your tips over on my Facebook page.

*The Isle of Mull or just Mull is the second-largest island of the Inner Hebrides and lies off the west coast of Scotland in the council area of Argyll and Bute. Covering 875.35 square kilometres, Mull is the fourth-largest island in Scotland – and also in the United Kingdom as a whole. (Wikipedia)

5 simple business ideas to start tomorrow

5 simple business ideas to start tomorrow

Want to start your own business, but still struggling with a good idea?  I’ve compiled 5 simple business ideas that you could get started on straight away.

Each of these ideas is something I’ve popped on a list to consider, or I’ve heard about being a success from others.

Here are my 5 simple business ideas to start tomorrow:

Gin Tours

Two balloon glases and one tall glass each with gin and tonic, ice, lemon and lime

In my local town, there are ghost walks and history tours. I thought a gin tour would be a fab little one to add to the mix. There are plenty of distillery visits on offer, but I didn’t notice any specific tours (although I’m sure some of you will have been on something of this type!).

Speak to some local hostelries and see who would be up for a visit from a group of gin enthusiasts.  (That would at least cover off the licensing laws).  

If you wish to investigate getting licensed yourself so you could serve up the gins in different locations, speak to your local authority and see what’s involved.

Learn the history of gin (mother’s ruin?), brush up on your gin facts and intersperse these throughout your tour.  

Discover what’s produced locally and showcase some local gins, and well as some of your favourites or some wacky new flavour combos.  

Wander around with your group, drinking the odd gin, and having some fun!  

You may need to stick to tonics if it takes off, as I wouldn’t recommend several gins a day as a healthy option, hic!

Treasure Hunts in your local town

These are already in existence, but you could add in your own twists.

A group of people in a huddle on the street each wearing a deerstalker hat

What are your favourite spots in town?

What historic landmarks can you incorporate?

Are there some fascinating history or legends to weave into the game?  

Why not make it child or family-friendly?

Sell packs online or deliver hunts in person.  

Have package options – a short one, a medium one, and a more challenging one. You can charge accordingly. You could add food or drink options and picnics into the mix to maximise your profits or collaborate with other local establishments in your town. People love a package.

Handy Pandy

A younger person's hand over an older person's hand in care/support

So many people need help and support for those odd jobs, running errands, picking up stuff, a bit of good company, and generally you being their handy pandy.

Print some leaflets, pop them through doors, ask friends to tell friends about your services. Do the best you can for each client and watch the word-of-mouth recommendations flow in.

I bet you will be too busy before too long.

You might need to learn quite quickly when to say no.

Book a market stall

Sell something you’ve made.

Piles of pottery small plates in different patterns

If it’s food-related, you will need to register with your local authority and get a number to trade legally. Don’t forget your basics like food hygiene, insurance, etc.

If it’s craft-related and sales are going well, why not consider setting up some workshops teaching others how to do what you do?

Or simply buy stuff and sell it online (Esty, Not on the High Street, eBay etc) or on your market stall.

It can just be a hobby, something you do for fun that earns a few pennies on the side.

It might just turn into something else.

 Run chocolate workshops

 I had to include this one as I have a business opportunity where you can do exactly what I do where you live. 

Two people making chocolates

I’ve created a huge manual of procedures (you don’t have to remember everything). There is a comprehensive training course that includes how to work with chocolate and all the business elements too. Finally, there is ongoing support and encouragement on hand while you navigate your launch and beyond.

It’s a business in a chocolate box – who wouldn’t want to work with chocolate?

If this has made you think I want to do one of the above, but you don’t quite trust yourself to make it happen, I can hold your hand, badger you, convince you when you wobble and generally be a good thorn in your side to get your idea off the ground. Check out my New Dawn programme and see it if might suit you.

What business is right for you?

What business is right for you?

Many people are coming out of the pandemic ready to make a big change, and some of them are looking at starting their own business as an option.

Time for change written in chalk on a blackboard

I’d love to be my own boss, but I don’t know what to do” I so often hear you say!

Let’s explore what business is right for you:

What do you need to stop?

Something is driving your decision to seek to work on your terms.  

Grab a pen and paper or fire up the laptop and sit and write out a list of everything that drives you nuts about what you do now. Work out why you are getting disgruntled and fed up with your current situation.

It doesn’t have to be work-related. Maybe it’s about the lack of flexibility to explore hobbies or be more creative. 

Could it be related to family and wanting more time with loved ones?

Are you unfilled? 

Losing confidence in your abilities? 

Know it’s not the place for you to be anymore?

When does time cease to exist?

Go to that happy place. 

The moments when time hardly exists, you are so absorbed in, and enjoying what you are doing.

Who are the people you are spending time with? How are you interacting with them? What tasks do you manage to complete with great satisfaction? Which hobbies or special interests do you do that fill you with joy or a sense of satisfaction?

What are they, when are they? Write them down and think about exactly what it is you are doing when you are loving the moment.

If you are not sure, keep a diary for a while and identify those things you like to do. Notice those moments and make a note of them.

You dared to dream

Let’s cast your mind back to those days when the world felt like your oyster, you had ideas and ambitions and you always dreamed you would………..

Now fill in the blank.

What jobs/careers/people inspired you and made you want to grow up to be like them?

Add all the jobs/roles/people/industries you ever dreamed of working in.

What have you learned?

Since those early days, you have followed a path, chosen a career, or experienced various roles. You may have also raised a family, been a supporter, carer, played sports, entertained family and friends.

How many skills do you bring to the table?

What do your friends always say you are good at?

Why do they come to you, what advice do they seek?

Write a list of everything you have done and can do and add this to your notes too.

What do you believe?

I’d love to do something but:

  • someone already does it
  • it’s been done before
  • I don’t think it has legs
  • no one would buy that would they
  • I’m a bit too scared
Hugh Laurie quote

How many excuses can you think up to convince yourself not to try a business venture?

What if you dare to try?

Write a simple plan or what you are going to do, how and when, and stick to it. Give it a go and see what happens. You don’t have to leave the day job.

Here are some surprising things you learn about yourself from running your own business.

Imagine it starts to become a success. It may enable you to leave a job you don’t enjoy anymore and focus on doing more of what you do.

When you do decide, let us know what it is and how we can buy it from you.

Still stuck? Here are some great reasons to consider chocolate? These other ideas might also provide some inspiration.

Good luck.

5 reasons you need to say NO

5 reasons you need to say NO

You have started a business. 

Keen to not miss any opportunity, you are agreeing to all sorts of things.  

Here are 5 reasons you need to say NO to make your business a success:

Your time is valuable

Value yourself and your time.  

Lots of stopwatches in a pile in different pastels shades

You will never get a day back again and nothing is as priceless as your time.  

We often waste time and energy on something that doesn’t work out. Learn and move on. Don’t beat yourself up for time wasted but do take the lessons from what you don’t wish to repeat!

Set Boundaries

Set regular time in your diary for growing and developing your business and honour this as if it was the most important event EVER.  

Family and friends do not always appreciate how disciplined we need to be working for ourselves and may think you are available. It’s your job to educate them as to when you are free and when you cannot be disturbed (except in a real emergency).

Some people are just time vampires. Make sure you set boundaries with them and personally. Stick to them.  

Set start and end times for meetings, let the other person know how long they have with you.

Be a good time-keeper, so you are not on the back foot apologising for being late and allowing this to blur boundaries.

Stick to your principles

Why did you start your business?

If you went through my start-up training this is the first module we cover. Without knowing your why, it’s difficult to plot your path, keep to your long-term strategy.

It’s never just about the money. The money is a lovely bonus, but you didn’t start what you are doing just for money. 

There were other reasons involved.

Take a moment to remind yourself of what you want to achieve, and where you want to go.

Are you allowing someone or something to dictate the direction of your business?  Do you need to say no to someone or something, so you stay true to your path?

It’s your choice

You get to choose. 

One of the most wonderful things about running your own business is you get to do things the way you want to.

I work Monday to Saturday but in a flexible manner. Except in exceptional circumstances, I don’t work on a Sunday, as that is my family time. 

During the week, I take time out to do things like play tennis or meet with friends. It’s not full-time Monday to Saturday, it’s when I want to work, factoring in what works for my customers too of course (like a weekend option). Some years ago I stopped offering evening workshops as they made me too tired. I want balance in my life.

You choose when you say no.

Look after yourself

Most importantly, take some time for yourself.  

Flowers

If you need to re-charge it’s so important that you allow some time each week doing those things you love. Exercise, nature, good food and hydration, sleep, quiet time. Whatever it takes – make sure you say no to those things that stop you from looking after yourself.

It’s empowering to say NO. You may find it a little worrying or difficult initially. If you focus on what you want to achieve and stick to your guns, you will find the decision process becomes more obvious.

Until you need to say YES!

How to work in some WOW

How to work in some WOW

As a small business owner, you are in a unique position to create some wonderful customer experiences in your business.

Quotation about customer service from Maya Angelou

Make it a top priority, it will reap rewards. 

Here’s how to work in some WOW for your customers:

The J word!

Yes, your customers are embarking on a journey with you.

This experience starts before you know they are looking at you. 

Your business personality, via your website and social media platforms, is providing an impression of you and your services/product.  

Have you created the right impression to attract your ideal clients?

Is the journey to purchase something clear, correct, and delivers exactly what is promised?

Not everyone is ready to buy right now.

How can you ensure you encourage further interaction?

Create a strong business personality

Be you. You may be providing or selling something that many others do too, but no one else is you, so you will bring something unique to the interaction.

People see through fake and quite frankly, we have had enough of that sort of thing – be authentic and customers will love you for it.

Feel the fear often. If you are sharing a story or posting something that brings a little fear into your being, then you are most likely hitting the right note. We are programmed to be reserved, especially in a business setting, but bring your whole self and your customers will feel they have got to know the real person behind the brand.

Keep in Touch

Provide some useful information.  

Write a blog!  

Send out a fact sheet or relevant information that would prove useful for your customers.

Invite them to subscribe to a newsletter – then regularly write to them.

Not everyone is ready to buy when they first meet your business. They may be ready to buy some months down the line.

Keeping in touch provides an opportunity to strengthen a relationship with a potential customer. It may also provide an opportunity for previous customers to buy again.

Be Disciplined

Post regularly on social media channels.

 Deliver the newsletter when you said you would.

Respond quickly to enquiries.

ALWAYS do what you said you would, or explain why you can’t.

Gain Feedback

Ask what people liked and didn’t like about working with you.

Listen to what is being said.

Hone and improve where you think it’s necessary.

Talk about what you have learned, inform clients of changes you are going to make.

Get the basics right

You can provide fancy gifts and make grand gestures as much as you like. If you are not providing exactly what you said on the tin in the first place, then this will fall very flat.

Review the whole journey a customer will experience with your business and ensure that everything works properly.

If you employ staff, make sure you train them properly and empower them to be able to make the right decisions.

The right mindset

As soon as we mention customer service, you start to be bombarded with examples of disasters and sob stories. They might be amusing, or we may learn a lesson or two – but this is not the right mindset for creating some WOW.

Let’s give examples of how a company turned a disaster into a success. Let’s get thinking positively. Most importantly, let’s try and get in the mindset of our customers and focus on their needs and what would make them happy.

A wonderful opportunity

Here’s the great news. You only have to do exactly what you say you will do to win some brownie points from your customers.

Then, and only then can you start to add in some WOW. 

These are little extras that make you stand out from the crowd.

I recently came back from a camping trip. Each night the owner would drive around and deliver giant marshmallows on sticks for the guests to toast on their firepits. She did it with such joy and enthusiasm, we all looked forward to the marshmallow run each evening. Inexpensive, a bit of fun, but a huge tick in the WOW department.

Word-of-mouth recommendations are the holy grail of marketing. Nothing says buy from this company than a friend talking about a great experience.

Here are 100 Ways to WOW that you might find useful!

Chocolate Works Wonders

Heart drawn in chocolate

Add a little chocolate into the mix and you have a wonderful recipe for success.

My Getting Sticky Customers workshop works with teams and business owners wishing to focus their efforts on customer experience and of course, includes chocolate.

“Having time out from everyday work to focus on what we do and why we do it was amazing! The session has reinvigorated my desire to help and wow customers and to make a difference to someone’s day. Dawn is excellent at making you think about things in a different way – lots of light bulb moments for me!”  Sarah Henson, delegate, Solihull

What customer experiences have been positive for you – come and share your story on my Facebook page.

Or maybe this has inspired you to start your own business because you know you’d be brilliant at creating some WOW moments for your customers? Why not give us the opportunity!

7 reasons to try camping

7 reasons to try camping

We love a bit of camping in our family and have travelled all over Europe with our trusty tent.

Two tents, one small, one large with awning.

It was one of the main reasons I started my business.  

I wanted to be able to take the summer holidays off and enjoy them with the children. Camping was an affordable and fun activity that made this possible. We didn’t quite achieve the whole six weeks in our tent, we did have regular three or four-week holidays to wonderful locations. It has created some fab family memories.  

We still love camping!

Here are 7 reasons to try camping (and some of my fav campsites):

You can enjoy nature at it’s best

The top of the list has to be the campsite setting. You are in nature. It’s totally good for you to experience living outside. Enjoying a slower pace of life in wonderful surroundings with all that fresh air. Even if it’s raining, you can sit inside listening to the rain on the tent, playing cards, or reading your book.  

Sunset over sea, with tent in the foreground
Photo courtesy of Troytown campsite

Sunrise, sunsets, watching the wildlife – what’s not to love about that? 

Favourite spot for a glorious sunset – St Agnes, Isle of Scilly – Troytown Campsite.

It’s affordable

Admittedly you need to get your kit together and this can be a bit of an investment at the outset. We opted for a huge tent to accommodate our family of five. We each had a bedroom (more than we had at home at the time) and a huge living space for those rainy moments.

It has given us 10 years of fun and memories (so far) so it was well worth it.

You can stay in wonderful locations, for a fraction of the cost of a holiday rental. The shores of Lake Garda, the mountains in Austria, stunning beaches in Spain!

View of lake, boats and mountains

The best value campsite in a wonderful setting goes to Camping Le Brec in Entrevaux (South of France). 

A natural lake, with a cool bar, swimming, free boats, mountains all around and very reasonably priced!

It’s worth the extra effort

Now, all that wonderfulness comes at the cost of a little more effort.

You need to plan where and when you want to go. In normal times, I will spend January pouring through books and choosing my favourite campsites. Then it’s plotting a route, trying to take in all those things we want to visit/see/do.

Getting all your ‘stuff’ together takes some effort too.

We have boxes of kit stored in our shed now, so we just take it out, give it a quick check, and pop it in the car.

A checklist is a great idea.

We swear by the people that are behind Cool Camping. Such accurate descriptions of sites, really well-researched, in great locations. There are helpful descriptions of the vibe and energy of the site included too. Something for everyone either on their website or in their guide books (I use both).

Although there are lots of more expensive Glamping sites covered now, you can still find affordable gems!

Best books/website:  Cool Camping

Enjoy the community spirit

A friend once quoted a wonderful line:

“If everyone could camp together, the world would be a better place.”

I couldn’t agree more. 

There is such a friendly, community spirit on a campsite. People wandering by, stopping for a chat. Sharing bathroom facilities and chatting while brushing your teeth (that takes some practice!)

We got chatting to a family on one campsite and he was a real gin enthusiast. He revealed his extensive gin bar and send us some samples over one evening. It was just like visiting the cocktail bar, with nice glasses, ice, and all the trimmings!

Most campsites will organise some activities like volleyball, boules, pizza nights, etc. It’s fun and friendly and you can mix in as much or as little as you want.

two marshmallows on sticks in front of a firepit

Camping is a real leveller. 

Everyone is the same and that’s just great.

Most friendly campsite: 

Parke Farm Campsite, Pembrokeshire (free tea/coffee and marshmallows delivered each night)  

The world is your oyster

You pack up the car, and you take off and you can go wherever you are willing and able to drive to.

We’ve visited sites in the UK, France, Germany, Austria, The Netherlands, Spain. When you drive to your destination you get a sense of your bearings, the accessibility of other countries and cultures.  When you jump on a plane and arrive at your destination, you just don’t get the same sense of where you are in the world.

We add the odd hotel stop en route for the longer journeys. You appreciate the luxury of your hotel room for the odd night here and there. We love a quirky hotel stop and try and avoid chains where possible.

Saying that some of the campsites we have stayed in have bathrooms posher than most hotels.

The prize for this has to go to a wonderful site in Austria, Grubhof. The gorgeous site is surrounded by mountains (lift passes up to explore the mountains are free) and with stylish, private bathrooms included too.

Campfire cooking tastes great

Nothing tastes as good as campfire-cooked food! 

We haven’t worked out why, but cooking outside is a lovely experience, and whatever you make it seems to taste better.

We tend to go for one-pot wonders. When you have only two gas rings, you need to get a little creative when you are feeding a crowd.  

There are some fab camping cookbooks you can pop into your kit too.  

A great tip is to make some treats before you leave so that you have some lovely cakes and bakes to hand. 

I have some wonderful chocolate recipes to inspire you.

Spend quality time together

There’s plenty of space, so you can invite your family or friends along too. The great thing is you can enjoy each other’s company and have a lovely sociable time. Eating, drinking, and playing together but then head to your tent for your own space.

Two glasses on a table with a view of the sky

Our great friends have been our camping buddies for many years. We cook independently (there are just too many of us) but time things just right that we can all sit and eat together.  

Cheers to that

You miss the outdoors when you get home, all that fresh air is so refreshing. Having your own bathroom and being back in your bed is very welcome too. It makes you appreciate what you might take for granted otherwise!

Is there anything you’d add to the list? Pop over to Facebook and share your top tips.

Happy Camping.

How to get great results with chocolate

How to get great results with chocolate

It’s all about the chocolate

So many of the problems that people face in their home chocolate creations are because they started with the wrong ingredient!  

They bought chocolate – but not the right kind of chocolate!

If you want to get great results with chocolate, you need to buy great chocolate.

What type of chocolate should you buy?

squares of white and dark chocolate in a pile

Now we’ve all heard about the magic 70%; buying chocolate with 70% cocoa content means that it must be a quality bar. Well in some cases that will be true of course. Just because it has more chocolate in it, doesn’t mean the chocolate is of good quality. Please don’t be fooled by numbers – it’s really about what you like the taste of!

Saying that numbers are important!  You are looking to buy chocolate with a minimum of 30% cocoa content – any less, and you will have real troubles trying to get it to ‘temper’, especially if it contains vegetable fat!

Where can you buy the right chocolate?

I recommend the supermarket’s own brands for home chocolate cooking, they have some really good and more interesting chocolate bars in stock. If you are looking for gourmet, Willie’s Cacao and Valrhona are two quality brands that can be found fairly easily at Waitrose and often good deli’s too.

Gourmet chocolate is making its mark, so if you want to explore some fantastic bars, read my interview with Master Chocolatier Paul A Young for some top tips on the best artisan producers and bars around on the market today.

Can you work with different chocolate?

If you are looking to work with either white or milk chocolate, then you need to ensure that it has a minimum cocoa content of 30%. if you are working with dark chocolate, then usually you will be looking at around 70%.  

chunks of white chocolate

It does depend on the flavour profile of the chocolate, one of my favourites is a 64% cocoa Ecuadorian chocolate which has a great depth of flavour. Taste it first, and see what you think!

You can use 100% cocoa (such as Willie’s cacao) to which you would add more sugar to the recipe! Here’s a dark chocolate cake recipe to try.

Experiment and see what you like best. Use the cheap stuff and you will always struggle to get decent results (your average Cadbury bar has only around 20% cocoa content). If you experience a chocolate disaster, take a look at some tips to remedy things.

Too hot to handle!

Temperature is everything with chocolate!  

Molten chocolate and spoon

If the room is too warm then it will not set properly and you will see dull and streaky results. “Ah, I shall pop it in the fridge then” – I hear you cry! NO! Cool too quickly and this can also ruin your finish!

So, the key thing is to work at a cool temperature, but not too cool! Your room needs to be 20° or below. If you go much above 20° you will start to have problems setting your chocolate.

If you were thinking of making those truffles on the hottest day of the year, think again – or get up very early!  

Chocolate does not like humidity either, so a very wet day can also cause problems. Don’t have the kettle on too often and fill your kitchen with steam!

Once you have made your chocolate creations, leaving them to set at room temperature (provided your room is at the right temperature), in a cool pantry, a shed, or even garage is ideal.

When you have properly tempered your chocolate, leave it to cool at the right room temperature, it will start to set fairly quickly.  

Leave it for around 30mins at least to make sure it’s fully set (more for thicker creations). 

You should see a nice smooth, shiny finish and chocolate that easily pops out of moulds or comes off the surface easily, without any hassle!

Losing your temper with chocolate!

Now chocolate is a fickle friend, and the way we handle the chocolate will be key to getting great results. It’s all about getting a good temper on the chocolate – and each chocolate will have a different tempering point!

Two tanks of chocolate

Tempering chocolate changes the structure of the crystals within chocolate so that we get a nice shiny finish and snap to our chocolate when set. To do this we heat the chocolate to 45° to melt away the main crystals, then cool quickly to a very specific point (usually around 30° to 32°) to make the right crystal present. Sounds very scientific and rather complicated, doesn’t it!   

As chocolatiers, we will usually use tempering machines, temper traditionally on marble, or the seeding method (my preferred choice) where we add fresh chocolate to heated chocolate to cool the chocolate mixture to the right point.  

You are not likely to have access to such expensive equipment, or indeed work with such quantities of chocolate, so read my secrets to successfully ‘tempering’ chocolate at home.

Show us what you made! Come and share your creations over on my Facebook page. Let’s talk chocolate!

7 tips for dinner party panache

7 tips for dinner party panache

In the final part of my guide for hosting the best dinner parties, we are looking at ideas for showing off, some cheats and drinkies darling.

In part one we covered off your pre-event planning. We got down to the menu in part two.

Here are my 7 tips for dinner party panache:

Pre-dinner drinkies

A glass of fizz, a gin and tonic, craft beer, a cheeky cocktail?

What is going to set the mood for the evening?

Bloody Mary cocktail with lime and celery

Which drink will complement your nibbles, or which nibbles will go with your drinks?

For a special occasion, I personally love a cocktail. Have this ready-mixed in a jug to serve, as it can take quite a while to prepare. I’m partial to a Bloody Mary. This is a bit out there as it is not the first choice for many. I even have a wonderfully chocolate-inspired recipe!

 With so many artisan gins on the market, you could buy local and experiment. Don’t forget to get a good tonic – as the advert says, most of a G & T is the tonic!

Depending on your budget, champagne is obviously very glam and definitely show-off! I love many of the fizzes out there. Have you tried pignoletto brut? An excellent Italian sparkle!

Wine & Booze

I’m no connoisseur of wine. 

Four glasses of rose wine on a table

I like to drink it, I’m happy to try things and listen to the advice of others and I know what I don’t like. You can resort to the experts, the supermarket write-ups, do some research if necessary.  

Typically, I tend to stick to white for lighter foods (fish/salads, etc) and red for meat & cheese.  A lovely rose on a summer evening

There are always exceptions – light, chilled reds for example.  

Show-off style is to have your wine paired with each course. Include a dessert wine to go with pud, some port to hand round with the cheese, and a tipple to round off the evening. This might be a single malt, some brandy, baileys, or the latest on-trend tipple.

Some guests will go all out and drink away, others are conscious of the next morning and drink accordingly.  

Which leads us to how much wine you need? Half to one bottle per person is a reasonable guide. If you know drinking habits that will help. How many drivers? Don’t forget some soft drinks for those that are driving home.  

It’s all in the detail

 If you really want to gain wins in the show-off stakes, try some of these:

a loaf of sourdough bread
  • Make your own bread
  • Buy posh butter (the one that costs double and is full of salt crystals)
  • Serve something to cleanse the palate between each course and/or an amuse-bouche (a bite-sized morsel of something delicious before your main course)
  • Include a pre-dessert (little sweet treats which you have before pudding)
  • Ensure all accompaniments are home-made (mayo, mint sauce, chutneys, etc)

Cheating

Buy from the right outfit and you can still show off, even when you cheat.

brownies and raspberries on a platter

I’ve mentioned our local baker already. He makes the best lemon tart I’ve ever eaten. It’s tart, sharp and the pastry is to die for. Only made to order. You can’t walk in a buy one, you have to pre-order it. So we do, and we try and keep it to a special occasion.

You can still add in some homemade biscuits, biscotti, chocolate truffle, even if you have cheated with buying something.

I cheated the other day with some of his brownies and just threw on some raspberries!  

If you have a fab deli, baker, or farm shop why not showcase their wares and treat your guests to something you recommend.

The ambiance

Don’t have every light in the house blazing! You will want to create an ambiance. Some soft lighting, candles, music.

candle in a rounded holder

If you want to show-off you can really go to town on the table. Think about all that you are going to eat, have all the right cutlery in place. Use all your lovely nic naks to make the table look fab. Include a little table gift for each guest, have place names, flowers. 

Don’t forget all the different glasses you need for your drinks (fizz, white & red wine and water). Include butter knives, serving equipment, pretty pots for condiments.    

 Like everything there will be trends for the way to lay a table – take a look online and see what takes your fancy.

Themes/Games

You could theme your dinner party. You might choose to showcase food from a specific culture or country.  

Ask guests to come in costume or fancy dress to support your theme if that would work for you all.

Host a murder mystery party and play the game whilst enjoying your dinner party.

Enjoy Yourself

People touching glasses of various drinks in a cheers motion

Finally, revel in your hostess with the mostess status. You’ve earned it. Be confident in your evening and all the hard work you have put in. Put your glad rags on, don your going-out shoes and enjoy.

Here are 7 tips for dinner party panache:
  • Set the tone – start with a killer cocktail or fancy fizz
  • Pair wines to each course
  • Show-off with the little things
  • It’s OK to cheat – but do it in style
  • Create some WOW with your table
  • Theme your food
  • Enjoy!

 There, you have all my top tips for planning a great dinner party. Have you got any special tricks up your sleeve? Why not pop over to my Facebook page and share your story.

7 tips for planning the best dinner party menu

7 tips for planning the best dinner party menu

In part two of my guide to hosting the best dinner parties, we are dealing with the big deal – the menu.

It’s a bit dry – not a drink in sight. Please don’t worry as tipples, and some great ideas for showing off (and a few cheats) are covered in part 3.

Here are my 7 tips for planning the best dinner party menu:

Canapes/nibbles

Smoked salmon and sour cream on crackers

Push the boat out or open a posh bag of crisps and some nuts? This will depend on what (or if) you are doing for a starter.

If you are just opening some nice crisps, you could make a dip or two to serve with them to make nibbles a little more exciting.  

I sometimes just do posher nibbles/canapes at this stage and go straight to the main at the table rather than a starter too.

What do I mean when I say a posh nibble?

Well, it can be easy like smoked salmon and cream cheese blinis (you can cheat on buying the blinis. 

They are quite simple to make though if you want to be totally home-made).

We have a wonderful local baker that does the best crostini ever. I love to make toppings for these and hand these around with drinks. This might include homemade pesto, crab cocktail, smoked mackerel pate, or tapenade for example.

 There are some really elegant ideas for canapes, and you can spend a lot of time making gorgeous bites of delight for your guests to enjoy. Your call – but it can set the tone for the evening.

Remember to keep things small so they can be popped in, in one bite.

Starters

three dips in white bowls with bread

What’s for main – this will determine what type of starter you want to create?

I love a fishy dishy. 

I would probably avoid this if I’m having fish as a main (although I have been known to opt for double fish when ordering off a menu). I’m the daughter of a fish merchant from Billingsgate. What else would you expect?

 Veggie is perfect as it tends to be lighter and will not likely clash with what’s coming next. Beetroot, mushrooms, salads, fruits and cheese are all great. Don’t get too cheesy if you have planned a cheese course.

Go a little daring with a souffle?

Get ahead with beautiful little tarts, terrines, or a pate?

You can make or buy some wonderful breads and simple dip into quality oil and vinegar.  

I love to make dukka (a middle eastern nut and spice blend that is so simple to make and super-tasty). 

You dip your bread in oil (go for something like rapeseed for this) then into your dukka.

All rather rustic and a bit of fun.

Mains

The star of the show.

Why not take the opportunity to splash out and go full-on farm-shop meat fest, or something special from the fishmonger?

It’s an excuse to try that cut you would never add to the Sunday lunch. Go gourmet with your fish, which is a bit too extravagant for every day. 

If this is the case, you will wish to work the rest of your menu around your very special main. Keep other courses lighter if this will ensure that the main doesn’t get overwhelmed.

I still love to focus on what I can make ahead here, especially with the main course.

Beef goulash in a bowl with a wooden spoon containing pepper

A posh fish pie, a wonderful stew or casserole, a large roast joint, a whole fish. I love to bring something big and beautiful to the table. 

Your sides need to sing in harmony too. What goes well together? Think about colour and textures, what do you need on the plate? Will a decadent potato dish will make the grade? Remember less is more here. 

If you are serving lots of other courses, you don’t need lots of accompaniments too.

You may decide there will not be a star, but a whole host of supporting acts working wonderfully together – a buffet of delights?  

If you need to factor in special dietary requirements – go to tip 7.

Puddings/desserts

If chocolate is your go-to pud, take a look at my top of the chocs for some inspiration. Let’s face it, finish a meal with chocolate and your guests will love you forever.

Is pud your thing or not? 
Chocolate pudding in a glass with blueberries and raspberries

I would probably focus more on the other courses to be honest. I think you can legitimately cheat here too! More on this in the next instalment…..

Make sure the pud compliments everything else. What textures would work well with the rest of the meal? Have you had any pastry yet for example? Do you need something refreshing, something lighter and fruity perhaps?  

You may wish to offer a choice. Have one or two big puds, or instead, a range of mini puds. A trio works well. Make sure each of the puds is a good contrast, nothing too samey.

If they are really good friends, you may find they bring a pud with them and you are totally off the hook.

Cheeseboard

Two cheeses, one soft and one blue cheese

I LOVE CHEESE.  

I also love a good cracker, some like a bit of bread. Don’t forget the grapes, the celery, the chutney, chilli jam, or gorgeous quince paste (membrillo). Have you tried your cheese with cake – this is also delicious. You can get some interesting cake-flavour crackers. There are some really good quality crackers out there, don’t skimp on these if you are showcasing some great cheese.

You can decide if you are being British or French in the order you serve your cheese course.  

I find guests often nibble at cheese throughout the rest of the evening. I often serve cheese last and leave it in the middle of the table. 

If you prefer ‘du fromage’ – then serve your cheese course before pudding.  

It may be that you decide on only fruit and nuts and something nice with coffee, without a big pudding option if you are going all out on the cheese. Yum.

So if I’m being a generalist – I will ensure I have a blue, something soft and smelly, a bit of goat, and something hard like manchego, gruyere, or a really strong cheddar.  

If you can, pop to a local deli and ask their advice about what wonderful cheese they have to recommend. 

Coffee/teas & Petit fours

espresso coffee, biscotti and sugar cubes

I’m partial to a decent coffee and like many have invested in a coffee machine at home. If offering espresso’s these are so nice from the machine – full of wonderful crema. You might wish to go Italian-style and serve in a Moka pot, or a cafetiere. Please don’t serve the instant stuff. After all your hard work in the kitchen, we don’t want the coffee to let us down. Remember to grab some decaf, as some will not want caffeine that late in the evening.

Peppermint/jasmine/camomile teas are lovely and refreshing at the end of the meal. If mint is in season, pop some in your pot/individual cups and pour on boiling water – fresh mint tea is the best.

Even though everyone is full, you can’t beat a little sweet treat with your coffee. Make some truffles, buy a posh box of chocolates or after-dinner mints to hand round.

The veggies (or vegans) are coming

We eat vegetarian food most of the time. At first, I wasn’t overly confident and tended to ‘cheat’ a bit with veggie alternatives. Now I’ve learned to make the veggies the star of the show.  

Salad leaves, pear, lentils and beetroots

I often make a series of smaller veggie things to enjoy together. In the summer, I love to put up a range of salads for example. If I can, I will try and get a little adventurous with ingredients. The dressing can make or break a dish.

 Vegan diets I do find a little more challenging because I can tend to panic about what I can’t do. With a bit of planning and a calm head, there are many wonderful options you can make. There is no excuse not to find great recipes to cater for all dietary requirements and lifestyle choices.

You need to decide if you will serve up different menus or decide on courses that everyone can eat. (I did try to look up the etiquette for this but did not find a definite answer.) It’s about making everyone comfortable, included, and providing a warm foodie welcome.

Check on dietary requirements, allergies, etc, and ask their advice if you are not sure.  

Happy eating – here are 7 tips for creating the best dinner party menu:
  • If you have a fav dish you are dying to try, work the menu around that. Something that you want to do will jump out at you, be that starter, main, or pud. Once you have this element, you have something to work with.
  • Are you having nibbles or canapes?
  • What’s for starter/main/pudding?
  • Any cheese, please?
  • Care for coffee and chocs?
  • Does everything flow, compliment, and go together – do you need to add any texture or colour to the menu?
  • If you are having trouble with inspiration, look at food bloggers and food magazines and get some ideas for what’s on-trend!

In part one we got all your pre-dinner planning underway – now you have inspiration for your menu. Tune in for tipples, showing off, and cheats in the third and final part of my guide.

What are you putting on the menu – come and share on my Facebook page and let’s get chatting about all things food! 

7 Tips for Planning the Best Dinner Party

7 Tips for Planning the Best Dinner Party

As we are allowed to invite guests into our house again, it’s time to dust off those cookbooks and get planning some foodie gatherings.  

There is so much to say, so I’ve broken it down into a handy three-part guide. This is our starter. What to plot and plan before we even get thinking about the actual menu (covered in part two).  

In the final part of my guide, we will finish our dinner party with a flourish. We tackle the booze, some cheats, and most importantly how to enjoy yourself.

Here are my 7 tips for planning the best dinner party:

Confidence Levels

Kneading dough on a floured board

How are you feeling about your forthcoming dinner party? Really on it and ready to show off, or feeling a little rusty in the dinner party cooking department? Be honest with yourself and devise a menu that might push you a little out of your comfort zone, but not too much. If you are worried, then keep it simple (but not too simple, see tip 3 below).

It’s not a Competition

My best friend is one of the best cooks I know. Whenever I go to hers for dinner it is amazing. She’s ambitious in her choice of menu. She creates outstanding food, and she is such a natural at it. I’m not as good as her in the kitchen. I’m more than fine and I do a fab job, but she is just better at it than me. I can find myself worrying about what to serve her when she comes to us. We are not in competition. I have to do my thing, my way.  

Remember it’s not just about the food. It’s the fact that you have been invited out, the ambiance of the evening and blimey, someone is cooking your dinner. Don’t try and be something you are not, your guests will be delighted to have been invited! 

Banish the Spag Bol

plate of spaghetti bolognese

If it’s something you serve up all the time for family dinners, don’t put it on the menu. It’s likely your guests will be eating the same at home too. Let’s change it up a bit. Be a little bit more ambitious in your food choices. Your guests won’t want to come out to eat something they have at home every week. You don’t have to do something super-complicated, but you can try something new(ish), trendy, fresh, and still keep it fairly simple.  

What’s for dinner?

pile of cookery books

This is my absolute favourite bit (as well as seeing friends of course on the big night). Getting out the cookbooks, pouring over recipes, and coming up with the menu is as much fun as the big night for me. I can spend hours pouring over stuff. When I’m happy with the whole thing, I just know. I have to tweak and fiddle until I get that feeling that it’s just right.

Don’t panic, help on menu planning is at hand. I’m going into more detail on the specifics of your menu in part two. You want to aim for balance, texture, interest, variety, colour. For example, you don’t want to serve a monster pie for the main course, followed by a pastry pudding. Think about what accompaniments you can add to the main course to ensure you are not serving up 50 shades of beige!

Most important, and key to the success of the whole thing, is my next tip…….

They came to see you

You have to decide how much time you are willing to be in the kitchen at your dinner party. Maybe you are hosting the outlaws, or your partners’ colleagues and the kitchen is feeling rather appealing!

For me, planning a menu that gives me maximum time with my guests is imperative. I will often not add a dish to the menu if there is too much last-minute faffing. If I’m set on serving up something which does require some effort in the moment, then I will ensure that my other dishes are make-ahead or minimum effort so that I minimise my time in the kitchen overall. It can hamper your choices a bit. That will be your call, however, the more you can do ahead, the more you will feel in control on the big night.

The table plan

Lady laying dinner table

Who are the people you are inviting? Will they get along? Are you aiming to mix in some new friends? This element can be a little out of your control (yes, we’ve all had that awkward experience). You may have every good intention of mixing new people, but you can’t guarantee the chemistry. If you want to ensure a good atmosphere, make sure you mix in some good friends who will come to your aid should the conversation dry up a little.

 Formal/informal on where people are to sit – it’s up to you. You will want to be closest to the kitchen with easy access to and from the table. 

You may wish to mix couples up, so they get to talk to different people.  

Use name places if you want to be more formal about it – there are some lovely and fun options around. 

I have a set with names on like ‘stud’, ‘flirt’ etc, so if you know them well enough that can be a bit of a giggle to get started!

Timed to perfection

Two cartoon chefs beside a clock with an fried egg in the centre

Many years ago, I went to a lovely Sunday lunch, hosted by a London socialite friend who had got a great bunch of interesting people together. It was a lovely summery lunch, with a whole salmon and all the trimmings – but she got her timings so wrong. I don’t know if she forgot to switch the oven on, or if the oven wasn’t working properly. She had oodles of gin of offer and everyone was completely plastered well before lunch was served. We even got sent to the pub for an hour while she got back on track. Needless to say, most of us couldn’t remember the lunch. 

We did have a fabulous time and a real laugh about it and here I am still talking about it today.

You need to decide when you wish to eat your main course and work backward from there.

How long will you allow for drinks/nibbles?

Are you serving a starter? 

Factor in the time required for this, plus a little rest time between courses.

Bear in mind you usually eat later, and people have saved themselves for a bigger meal. You may find you don’t want too many drinks before you eat. I love a pre-dinner drink, nothing tastes quite as lovely. I am conscious I’ve still got to get the meal out!

Once you have served your main course, you can relax and take things a little slower. I sometimes pop the rest on the table all at once. It may not be quite the done thing? If I put the puddings and cheese on together, I can sit back and take a deep breath – all the hard work is done!

In summary, my 7 tips for planning the best dinner party are:
  • How are you feeling?
  • Who are you going to ask along?
  • How much showing off are you going to want to do?
  • What are you not going to serve (maybe you done it before and want something new)?
  • Work out how much time away from your guests is involved.
  • Think about your timings for the night.
  • Get a long list together of potential menu options

In part two of my handy guide to hosting the best dinner parties, we shall be looking at the main event – the menu – in more detail.   

 If you want to discuss food, drinks, and chocolate then please pop to my Facebook page.

Top of the Chocs – five recipes to make at home

Top of the Chocs – five recipes to make at home

I’m sharing my top five fav chocolate recipes for you to make at home:

Sweet and salty crunchy nut squares

Nutty chocolate bars with marshmallows

In at number five, my son’s all-time favourite and the easiest thing to make in the world. The original recipe is by Nigella Lawson from her Kitchen cookbook. You know they are going to be decadent, extremely naughty but so nice! She mentions being inspired by sitting on the sofa simultaneously eating a mixture of salted nuts and chocolate.

You melt a mixture of dark and milk chocolate with butter and golden syrup, then pour this over crushed crunchie bars and salted peanuts – mix, leave to set then cut and eat! It’s totally delicious and sooo simple!

Full recipe

Everyone’s favourite – chocolate brownies

Chocolate brownies

If you’re anything like me, you’ve made 100’s of brownies over the years and probably tasted a fair few too. I like Nigella’s (Lawson again) recipe from her ‘How to be a Domestic Goddess’ cookbook for the best results.

Mix it up and experiment with different flavours. I add white chocolate buttons, or perhaps a mix of white chocolate and cranberries for Christmas! The current fav is to put some coffee, cardamom and caramel choc in the mix. It’s really a really good combination. What would you put in yours?

Full recipe

A truly decadent chocolate cake

Dark chocolate cake with white chocolate shavings

Did you see the documentary about Willie Harcourt-Cooze some years ago on Channel Four? It’s worth a watch – entitled ‘Willie’s Wonky Chocolate Factory’ I don’t know about chocolate enthusiasm, he has a chocolate obsession!

This cake is inspired by one from Willie’s book, Willie’s Chocolate Factory – a Cloud Forest Chocolate Cake. It uses Willie’s 100% cacao (Waitrose currently stock this in their baking section). It’s a solid block of pure chocolate you grate into the cake mix.
It makes a truly deep and wonderfully flavoured chocolate cake, which has no flour!

Full recipe

Mocha mousse

Espresso cups

A little get ahead dinner party treat served in cute espresso cups! My inspiration for this came from the founder and co-owner of Chococo (award-winning chocolate biz based in Dorset) – Claire Burnet. I have a copy of her first book, ‘Chococo – chocolate cookbook’!

It’s rather a rich pud and just a small amount goes a long way. The finished effect is like a little macchiato – and sprinkling the tops with a little coffee powder and some cocoa nibs* mixed together is a very nice finish!
*Cocoa nibs are chopped roasted cocoa beans that you can buy in most supermarkets or a good chocolate shop.

Full recipe


Dinner party wow pud

Chocolate tart
Photograph: Anders Schønnemann/Kyle Cathie, The Guardian

This comes in at No 1 – top of the chocs. Inspired by Master Chocolatier *Paul A Young’s sea-salted chocolate and pecan tart. it really does taste as good as it looks.

I’ve made this a few times, and it never fails to delight. Taken from Paul’s amazing book ‘Adventures with Chocolate’. Go the whole hog, make the chocolate pasty, follow Paul’s directions and use fantastic chocolate and you will be totally bowled over with the result.

*Paul A Young is my favourite chocolatier – read my interview with him!

Full recipe

I hope you enjoy making these. Why not share your go-to chocolate recipes and I can re-create a readers list!

Love to do more than just play with chocolate? My previous blog, five reasons to work with chocolate, may just inspire you!

For further recipes and inspiration pop to my Facebook page

Five reasons to work with chocolate

Five reasons to work with chocolate

Here are five reasons to work with chocolate, although the first one is glaringly obvious, the others you may not have considered:

The biggest and best reason to work with chocolate is that you are…… working with chocolate!

You will never look at chocolate in the same way again – you will discover the amazing world that opens up to you – festivals, experts, academics, tastings, blogs, magazines, events, travel, education, history and developments. 

It’s a funny thing isn’t it, that as soon as you start to pick up on something new, you suddenly see or hear it everywhere.  So, imagine a world where chocolate is your main focus – how good does that sound? 

Once chocolate is your ‘business’ you can legitimately go on tastings, sign up for tasting clubs, go to chocolate events, seminars, talks – visit new shops, try out new products, champion master chocolatiers, understand weird, wacky and wonderful pairings of flavours from the best in the business.

There are always exciting developments too – producers who are supporting farmers to cultivate rare and flavoursome beans, producing exquisite chocolate that tastes like nothing you’ve ever experienced before.

Five reasons to work with chocolate - make some truffles

Supermarkets are selling good quality own brands of chocolate, making it accessible and affordable for all.  The quality chocolate shops are more visible on high streets, and we as consumers are being exposed to more gourmet options (as well as all our old favourites too).

The chocolate world becomes your truffle!

Work with chocolate and notice the amazing affect it has on others

The Latin name for cocoa is ‘theobroma cacao’ which literally means ‘food of the gods’.

It contains tryptophan, a chemical in the brain that is used to produce the neurotransmitter, serotonin.  High levels of serotonin stimulate the secretion of endorphins and produce feelings of elation.  (Serotonin is found in the anti-depressant Prozac, and the designer drug ‘ecstasy’.)

Five reasons to work with chocolate - make people happy

Chocolate also contains a chemical called phenylethylamine – high levels of this neurotransmitter help promote feelings of attraction, excitement and giddiness!

So, working with chocolate and encouraging more people to eat the good stuff actually will make you, and the world, a happier and seemingly more attractive place to be!

We need more chocolate in our lives right now!

Say ‘chocolate’ and it will (almost) sell itself

How do you feel when someone tries to get you to change utility provider?

What about when someone knocks on the door and tries to sell some double-glazing, or cold calls, or leaves a message about that accident (you never had) for claiming compensation?

If you are anything like me, you wonder how anyone does their job if that’s what they have to sell?

Five reasons to work with chocolate - it's easy to sell, we heart chocolate

Now think chocolate!

How easy is it to sell chocolate?  Let me tell you, you don’t have to, it sells itself.

When people ask me what I do and I tell them I work with chocolate, I watch their reaction and it’s totally predictable.   They get all animated and excited and start telling me what chocoholics they are.

They’re sold, just by me telling them what I do, without even having to ask them to consider buying!

At the bank, at the make-up counter, at the hairdressers, at the supermarket, buying a car, the dry-cleaners, shops, schools, travelling.  Everywhere – these are all genuine places I’ve discussed chocolate and people have asked me for my details!

Next time someone asks, “What do you do?”, how cool will it feel to say, ‘I work with chocolate!”

The chocolate calendar is ideal for family life

So how many weeks holiday can you take a year?  What with holiday entitlement and fitting in with colleagues and if you have little ones it’s a constant juggle, a total guilt-trip at times, especially over the long summer holidays. 

the excitement of children making a bag of chocolates

What if you worked to your own timetable?  Being your own boss means you can take holidays to suit the whole family, but here’s how the chocolate calendar works:

  • January:        quiet time to plan the year ahead
  •  February:      Valentine’s Day
  •  March/April: Mothers Day/Easter
  •  May/June:    Birthday and hen party season
  •  July/Aug:      More hen parties and the wedding season –it’s also often a bit hot for choc so ideal for time out with the family!
  • Sept/Oct:     Birthdays/treats and Halloween
  •  Nov/Dec:     the build-up to Christmas

Ideally suited to maximising chocolate sales and enjoying quality family time too! 

Unleash your creative side working with chocolate

Working with chocolate, you can do something totally creative and earn money doing so too.

the wonderful creativity chocolate inspires

Chocolate is luxurious, it’s always been seen as a special treat since it arrived in London in 1650 – definitely not a fad and guaranteed not to lose popularity anytime soon.

People just love chocolate.

It’s tricky to work with, so an amateur at home will experience difficulties, especially when tempering chocolate.   There will always be people looking to a trained ‘expert’ like you for help. 

What you can do with chocolate is endless – making chocolate creations, running workshops, offering tastings, tutorials, cocoa ceremonies and so much more.

What would you do with chocolate?

I’ve covered five reasons to work with chocolate…… why not pop to my facebook page for more chocolate inspiration!

We need to choose to do things that make us happy and fulfilled – everyone deserves to do a job that they enjoy, you may even start blogging about it! What’s not to love about working with chocolate?

History of chocolate

History of chocolate

Chocolate has a fascinating history.

Used as currency and later badged as liquid gold, such was its value!

At one time it was for MEN ONLY (but thankfully women have made up for that since).

It was only enjoyed by royalty and society’s elite for many years as it was too rare and expensive for the common people. We owe gratitude to the Quaker families, who decided chocolate was a better alternative to gin and made it more accessible for all.

Here’s a brief history of chocolate

Origins

Botanists believe that the first cocoa trees grew wild in the Amazon Orinoco approximately 4,000 years ago.

Cocoa beans were first cultivated by the Mayans when they migrated to the Yucatan peninsula in the 7th Century AD.



The Aztecs

Mayan writing for the word Kakau referring to chocolate

Aztecs conquered large parts of Mexico 700 years later and imposed a feudal system on the Mayans and other tribes.

All taxes were paid in cocoa beans! Cocoa beans became the common currency:
4 nibs (or beans) = a rabbit
100 nibs = a slave
Fraudsters would fill hollowed-out cocoa bean shells with earth.

Chocolate was consumed in liquid form – mixed from a block of prepared nibs (crude chocolate tablet). Chillies, other spices, and flowers were mixed with dried, roasted, and ground cocoa nibs, they also added cornmeal as an emulsifier (to absorb the greasy cocoa butter).

Ruling Emperor of the Aztecs, Montezuma would consume huge quantities of chocolate at ceremonies – often a 1,000 jugs in a night!

Who drank it?

Native Aztec with chocolate equipment and weapons

Chocolate was strictly reserved for men only!

It was only available for the ‘elite’ – and acted to show their prowess and standing as a tonic aphrodisiac!

Referred to as Xocolatl – which literally means ‘bitter water’.

The first Chocolate Entrepreneur?

Hernan Cortes, who conquered the Aztecs and introduced chocolate successfully to Europe.
Hernan Cortes

Tenochtitlan (now known as Mexico City) was the Aztec capital – which was invaded by the Spanish Crown in 1519, led by Cortes.

Cortes was intrigued by the Aztec’s consumption of chocolate.

Columbus introduced the cocoa bean and Aztec drink to Europe 20 years prior to Cortes, but at the time it was intensely disliked. European palates were not used to the spices and chillies used in the drink.

Cleverly, Cortes added sugar and vanilla to the brew and recounted tales of Montezuma imbibing the sacred drink. Cortes realised the possibilities of exploiting this ‘liquid gold’. He established plantations in Mexico, Trinidad, and Haiti. African slaves became as important to cocoa cultivation as the sugar industry.

Chocolates reaches Europe

For the first 100 years after Cortes’ discovery, the drink remained a preserve of the Spanish Court – it was extremely expensive and only afforded by aristocrats.

News of the drink spread to Germany, Austria, Flanders, Italy, and then France in the first half of the 17th Century.

Chocolate appears to reach London around 1650 – when it was branded as a nourishing drink.
Pepys describes the drink as a hangover cure in his diary notes.

There were two varieties – ordinary and royal (royal with a higher cocoa content and little sugar).

During the 18th Century, Europe saw a rapid increase in consumption. Still, only wealthy people could afford it as it was heavily taxed.

Chocolate Pioneers

By 1852 taxes decreased due to merits promoted by Quaker industrialists and larger imports. In 1850 1,400 tonnes were imported, by the 1900s this had multiplied nine-fold!

Most of the early cocoa entrepreneurs are household names:
Hershey, Cadbury, Fry, and Rowntree – owing their success to Swiss pioneer inventors: Caillr, Suchard, Peter, Nestle, Lindt, and Tobler.

Fry was the first to create a chocolate bar-shaped mould for chocolate.

Rudolphe Lindt was responsible for creating the process of conching to ensure we have smooth chocolate to enjoy.

In the UK, four great Quaker families: Cadbury, Fry, Terry, and Rowntree became involved with cocoa as they saw it as a healthy alternative to the menace of gin! They played a large part in making chocolate a food of the people, creating model working environments and housing for workers.

Fry was the first to put chocolate in a tablet form in the shape of the bar as we know it today (sadly no relation to Dawn Fry, but a good name to start a chocolate workshop business with!)



Food of the Gods

Cacao beans

Chocolate has today become part of a daily culture for all levels of society in the Western world.

“Theobroma cacao’ is the Latin name for cocoa. Theobroma literally means ‘food of the gods’. It contains ‘theobromine’ which is a natural anti-depressant!

Hurrah for chocolate – if all this history has made you crave some of the good brown stuff, then here are some delicious chocolate recipes to make at home.

It is good for us to take a moment to realise how easy it is for us to access chocolate in today’s world and be grateful that we can enjoy this wonderful food stuff whenever we choose. Its history may have inspired you to try some more expensive chocolate, here’s how to taste it properly.

Enjoy!