Love Affair with a Lentil

Love Affair with a Lentil

One of our clan became veggie a while ago and we played along. We cheated quite a bit, using veggie substitutes like bean burgers and veggie sausages a bit too much I feel.

Then lockdown happened. 

A family of five (all grown up and with huge appetites) needed feeding on a drastically reduced budget. Both hubby and I were unable to operate our blacksmithing and chocolate workshops for the foreseeable, and changes to the food shopping were required. 

We decided to eat mostly vegetarian from that moment on.

So started my love affair with a lentil.

Large lentil cottage pie in ceramic oval dish
Lentil Cottage Pie

Proper Veggie

It was time to embrace veggie eating properly. No more substitutes but good proper cooking from scratch.

I learned to think differently about cooking vegetarian food. With meat or fish, you have a star of the show with veggies as the side act. 

Cooking veggie meant that dishes needed to work together, there might be two or three dishes making up the ‘main’ element, working in harmony to create a feast.

Veggie food usually takes longer or a bit more effort to prepare. In my experience, there is more work in creating a tasty dish and making the veggies sing.

One of my veggie foodie heroes is Ottolenghi. Stock the spice cupboard with different ingredients and leave some time for cooking up a feast. You will never be disappointed but be prepared for smoky kitchens and prepping for a couple of days in advance!

Ottolenghi is very generous in sharing his recipes, check out social media, or find him writing for The Guardian.

Batch Cooking

Life is set to get considerably more expensive in the coming months. Eating well doesn’t have to be super expensive, but it will take up a bit of your time. Cooking is my therapy, so I really enjoy a bit of batch cooking and the sense of achievement when all the meals are prepped for a later date.

Lentil and spinach bake in large and small greeen ceramic oval dishes

That’s why I like to cook up a huge batch of green lentils. I boil them in vegetable stock to add a bit more flavour.

In a separate pan, I sauté onions, garlic, carrots, and celery then split this into two. With half the lentils I recently made a cottage pie mix, adding bay leaves, fennel, cumin, tinned toms, and a spoon of magical yeast extract. 

Marmite is so good for adding colour and great flavour to your veggie dishes.

The other half got the spice treatment. Adding chipotle chillies, lots of smoked paprika, passata, and a tin of red kidney beans.

The results: a family-sized cottage pie, two individual cottage pies to pass on to an elderly relative, and a vat of chilli. This was made from about half a pack of green lentils with just a bit of time and effort thrown in.

Once you have your base, you can make spag bol, lasagne, curries – all those family favourites for a fraction of the cost of meat or veggie substitutes. It tastes great and they are good for you.

Posh Lentils

You can go all Puy and go a bit posh with your lentils. I love these in a salad. I usually just have something crunchy like an iceberg, Puy lentils, and some goat’s cheese with a lovely lemony dressing. Great to go a bit posh if you have having people for dinner.

Texture

Split lentils are great for dhals or thickening soups or purees. They will go soft on cooking. If you want more texture, then stick to whole lentils. There is no need to soak lentils you can rinse and cook straight away. They will happily sit in your store cupboard for ages, with a long shelf life until you are ready to release them into something tasty.

Dhal is another family favourite – you can take your base and add lots of other lovely spicey veggies to make it a meal in its own right. Or add in some coconut milk for a lovely creamy twist.

Here’s a dhal recipe from a member of the BBC Good Food community.

Lentil Inspiration

Olive magazine shares their best lentil recipes here, including vegetable slice and an aubergine dhansak as well as some using Puy lentils too.

Jamie Oliver has some lovely lentil inspiration, whether as an accompaniment or a delicious meal in their own right. He shares some great salad ideas too.

How about this one from Delicious magazine, a halloumi-topped lentil stew – yes please!

And if you think I’ve forgotten about chocolate, then fear not. Add some cacao nibs or dark chocolate into your lentil chilli, delicious!

Are you going to start a love affair with a lentil?  

Why All Relationships Matter

Why All Relationships Matter

We are talking business relationships here, but it’s personal too.

The most obvious relationships are those we have with our customers. The customer is king in every business. However, there are so many more to consider for a successful business to survive and indeed thrive, including the one you have with yourself.

Let’s explore why all relationships matter:

What relationships?

Meeting at a desk, with notebooks, drinks and laptops (you can't see their faces, just there arms writing in their books)

Sometimes we focus so much on the obvious (our customers) we overlook other opportunities.

Who do you have relationships with?

Customers, employees, contractors, suppliers, competitors, family, friends – are all key relationships within your business.

Another thing to consider is your potential relationship with someone where you are simply making an enquiry.

Maybe you are looking at a business opportunity?

How you behave will reflect on how you are perceived by the vendor.

Do you ask, realise it’s not for you (right now) and then ignore all the follow-ups? What if you later change your mind. If you didn’t go back to them explaining not right now, have you burnt your bridges for a potential transaction in different circumstances?

Send a simple reply explaining it’s not for you and why, and come across as professional and considered.

Supplying the Goods

Think about the importance of getting your supplies for example.  

Cacao beans

You are spending money with your suppliers and may think that you need do no more than hand over your hard-earned cash. What about a shortage in supplies (something that we are often facing in these difficult times).  Your supplier may have to choose which customer to send limited supplies to.  

What if you need a rush job and will need a supplier to go the extra mile for you?

Might your supplier recommend your services/goods to another customer if you are great to do business with?

A good relationship can reap unexpected benefits.

Money Matters

How do you pay for your supplies?  

Pink piggy bank

Cash flow can be an issue at times, so you may leave certain suppliers waiting for payment.  

Is this something you accept personally?  

Are you willing and able to wait for payment from a service or goods you have delivered?

What are your terms, and do you act with the same integrity with everyone else you do business with?

If you do hit on difficult times and you need to speak to your suppliers about extending credit for a limited time, your payment history will come into play. Have you built credibility with your supplier to afford you some leeway when it might be most be needed?

The Competition

Hide your head in the sand, feel threatened and defensive, or completely oblivious – what is your attitude to the competition?

Competition can be a good thing. If more people are offering what you do, there must be a demand for it. Always check out the competition and keep an eye on what they are doing. Is there an opportunity to work together, to collaborate?  

No one can do things the way that you do them. You are what makes your business unique.  

Make friends with the competition where appropriate and explore ways of potentially working together. 

The team

If you employ people or use contractors, then they are representing you and your business.

Do they clearly understand and operate by your values? Have you adequately trained and equipped them to achieve their tasks properly?

If there is one big lesson I’ve taken from running my own business, it’s all my fault. If an employee/contractor makes a mistake, then the buck will stop with me. Choose good people (we need to part ways with those that are not the right fit) and train them well.

Build good strong relationships with all members of your team and it will reap rewards.

Customers are King

Without customers, we don’t have a business.  

Building strong relationships with your customers and providing the best possible service matters. I like to create sticky customers (ones I cover in chocolate, but also stick around for more). Working with chocolate is a good hook for building rapport, but you don’t need to work with it to use it to your advantage! Here are 100 ways to make your customers go WOW.  

You

Nothing will test you like running your own business. It is the best personal development programme you will ever encounter. You will experience highs and lows, but the benefits of being your own boss far outweigh the difficult bits!  

Be YOU. People buy authentic, tell your story, be yourself. 

If you do not it will be exhausting and not something that you can sustain long term.

Set boundaries for yourself and stick to them. Respect yourself and others will follow suit. Treat everyone in the way you expect to be treated yourself.

The relationship with yourself will be tested and you need to know who you are and what you stand for.

All relationships matter.

Secret confessions of a chocolatier

Secret confessions of a chocolatier

I’m saving my biggest confession for a bit later. Please read on to the end of the blog where all will be revealed…..

I’m not sure how secret my confessions are, but here goes:

Dawn Fry

Sexy Job Title

For years I worked in offices, I might have had a bit of a fancy title like General Manager at a Professional Body. No one really knew what you did though, unless you bored them with lots of detail.

Asked my profession now and I answer ‘chocolatier’, it feels exciting, a bit different, certainly tasty, and definitely a talking point.   

Confession No 1:
I love it when someone asks what I do.

Tales from the Tanks

Two tanks of chocolate

The title of this blog implied I would be giving away my secret confessions, in reality, I think you do more of that than me. In my workshops, there are a group of people leaning over a vat of molten chocolate. 

The air is thick with the aroma of chocolate.

People are dropping fillings into the tank, retrieving them, and then moving their forks up and down rhythmically, removing the excess chocolate. They start to talk and share their stories. As much as we have fun and a laugh together, we also share some difficult times. It’s a real privilege to be a part of that with my groups.  

Confession No 2:
Chocolate therapy is the way forward.

The wonderful world of chocolate

Working with chocolate is a wonderful way to earn a living, but the actual world of chocolate is amazing.

The fascinating history, the way it’s grown and manufactured. Many artisan producers play with flavours and create new and exciting pairings. Creativity, tastings, competitions, cakes, puddings, bars, truffles, and everything in-between. It’s great to be part of something so innovative and varied.

Confession No 3:
Since working with chocolate, I’ve gone properly over to the dark side, I love something really strong and bitter.

The downside

Cleaning up is the worst bit of the job. Chocolate really does get everywhere. On the upside, you can nibble a bit of chocolate while you work and I do reflect on the fact that someone could be telling me what to do. Even when I’m cleaning I love being my own boss.

Confession No 4:
I save up all my chocolate mats to wash in one go, I can’t face them otherwise. You need loud music and lots of tea towels.

People are the spice of life

A group of people at a hen party

From the outset, I never stood on my own making chocolates to sell. Workshops and experiences were my intentions and one I’m happy to have stuck with. It was a little tricky in lockdown, but thankfully we are back together again. I’ve never been so busy, so you must be up for experiences in person again too.

Confession No 5:
I love the people as much as I love the chocolate (sometimes even a little bit more). That’s my biggest secret. You make chocolate so much more fun, and it just wouldn’t be the same without you.

The not-so-secret confessions of a chocolatier!

What’s the plan, Stan?

What’s the plan, Stan?

I’m not a great fan of New Year resolutions. They tend to be a bit flash in the pan. However, now is a great time of year to reflect and work out something more meaningful and relevant for the following months and beyond.

Let’s hope there are not too many more weeks of restrictions and compromise to come. At the time of writing this, it seems that we have a bit to go yet. 

This is the moment between Christmas and New Year. Usually the calm between two busy periods. For us, Christmas had to be cancelled, so it’s been exceptionally quiet for a time. The perfect opportunity to work on what’s the plan, Stan!

Dawn Fry

Why make a plan?

You may feel the need to make some changes in your life, these are more achievable if you think about what needs to be different and attempt to tackle them at some agreed point.

Perhaps, pandemic permitting, you would simply like to travel or see friends and family further afield. While these last two years have taught us that plans can’t be set in stone, it’s great to think about how & when you might do such things and plot them in the diary.

What do you want?

We are so often on the treadmill of doing stuff, getting through each day, and not thinking much beyond the daily grind. There’s nothing wrong with that but now and again it’s good to check in and make sure we are doing some of the good stuff too.

So rarely do most of us sit down with a pen and paper and work out what matters to us most. 

Let’s break it down

Take a moment to think about each of the following areas of your life.

Work

Home
Family
Friends
Health
Fitness
Leisure/fun

Describe the absolute best-case scenario for each of those categories.

What does work look like if you are doing the dream job for example? Perhaps you have always dreamed of being your own boss? Is it time to explore making this a reality, you might consider turning a hobby into something more serious?

Here are some of the reasons I chose to work with chocolate!

Now go over each area again and describe where you are now. Be honest with yourself, it’s your life, and time is ticking on.

Mind the gap

What/where are the gaps from the dream scenario to what you are actually doing now.

Do you need to focus more on your health and fitness to achieve some of your dreams?

Is it time to factor in more fun as you have not had time/energy to focus on this area of your life and you feel a little stale/bored?

Maybe you feel lacking in confidence and need to work on this first?

Identifying what’s holding you back, or feeling a little fearful is important. You are giving it air time and yourself the opportunity to work through issues.

Once you have identified the gaps – this will form the basis of your plan.

Write up the headlines and put some dates against when you wish to achieve them. It does not have to be done overnight. Some things will be longer-term.

What is most exciting on that list to you?

Do something towards that first.

Come back to your list throughout the year, or at agreed intervals (every quarter, six months, annually) and rinse and repeat.

You can change a plan – nothing is set in stone.

Come and tell us your plan Stan and inspire us all over on Facebook.

Do you have the KIT for business?

Do you have the KIT for business?

There have been some perfect examples of where the right KIT has resulted in sales this week.

In one case without the KIT a sale would have fallen through.

Do you have this in your business?

Dawn Fry

What’s KIT? 

KIT is simply ‘Keeping In Touch’ – do this properly and it will help your business no end. Let’s explore if you have the KIT for business

Firstly, I want to tell you a little story…….

How my KIT resulted in extra sales

A customer had been in touch regarding purchasing a gift voucher. They had lots of specific questions, which I answered but it had gone quiet. 

After a few days, I sent another email, asking if I had answered all the questions they had and could I help any further. For some reason, the original email had ended up in the junk folder and had not been read. 

From the customer’s perspective, it looked like I had not bothered. A follow-up and the customer was completely apologetic about not seeing my original response. The result – gift voucher purchased. Very gratefully received and all because I bothered to go back and check-in.

KIT for business

There are a few simple things you can do to keep in touch with your customers, build good relationships, and hopefully help to boost sales.

Rapid Response

If someone sends you an enquiry, get back to them as quickly as possible. When you are in the mood to buy something, you want to achieve your goal. 

Go back to a customer quickly while they are in buying mode. Leave it too long and they may have gone to someone else or changed their mind.

The number of times I hear ‘thanks for coming back to me so quickly’ backed up by the booking – it’s worth a rapid response.

Keep it Simple

How easy it is for someone to get in touch with you? Is it obvious and simple for someone to hit a button, drop you a line, DM, email or call whether it’s your website or social media?  

Sometimes we overlook the absolute obvious. Check your customer’s journey and ensure they can easily make contact if they wish to enquire or buy from you.

Make a Note

Who has been in touch, and have they bought from you yet? If not, have you gone back to them to help further? Can you send them something relevant and useful that will help build your reputation with them and encourage them to purchase in the future?

Whether you keep a database, have a sophisticated system, or simply put a note in your diary – keep a note to touch base.  

Newsletter

A great way to keep in touch is to drop existing and potential customers a line with all your news, or relevant information that they would find interesting. A newsletter is a fab way to do this.  

Be mindful of data protection and do things properly. If you subscribe to a proper newsletter service, there will be an opt-in and unsubscribe service in-built. There are some free services for this too, such as Mailchimp. Act professionally and respectively at all times, but do tell people about what you do regularly. It’s not their business to remember, it’s your business to remind.

NO often means not now, it’s not the right time. Keep in touch and you will be around when the time is YES.

KIT Opportunities

What other opportunities are there in your business to keep in touch?

Mum’s book children’s parties with me. I offer pre-printed invitations, which I send to mum on booking. That ensures that all the mums/dads or carers of the attendees have my details. When their little one comes home full of chocolate and asks if they can have a chocolate party – it’s easy to get in touch and book.

Recipe cards are another keep in touch tool I give out at my adult parties.

If you wish to up the ante a little, here’s how you can work in some WOW.

Daily Disciplines

It takes effort and energy to run your business, and you need to set yourself some daily disciplines to ensure you make keeping in touch a priority.

Explain to your potential customers when you are around, and when you might be taking a moment for family, leisure, or pleasure.  

It’s your rules and you can run your business how you wish, as long as you communicate clearly and act exactly how you say you will.

What would you add to the KIT – do come and share any extra tips with us over on my Facebook page.

If this has made you want to run your own business, here are some potential ideas for you. You might even consider working with chocolate!

What I’ve learnt from running events

What I’ve learnt from running events

Whether you run your own business or not, you will come up against running an ‘event’ at some point. The Christmas lunch, a party, or something work-related – you can’t escape!

A group of people at a hen party

I’ve been running chocolate workshops for over 12 years, and I love working with chocolate and people. 

A workshop, dinner party, or having a table-full at Christmas, the same principles apply to whatever event you might be planning.

Here’s what I’ve learnt from running events

Who’s it for

Who’s your audience?  

My events span primary and secondary schools to team building – so the audience is very diverse. 

Put yourself in the shoes of the attendees. What will make it interesting and relevant for them? If you are working with small children, there can be no gaps (have some colouring up your sleeve to keep them occupied for example).

Here are some specific tips on running successful school events.

What are the expected outcomes?

If you are being hired to deliver an event, this may be easier to achieve. Ask! It’s best to request a phone call or a face-to-face meeting if possible as you can drill down into expectations and ask specific questions. This allows you to manage expectations too.

Even if it’s a family gathering, take a moment to reflect on the guests and what would be suitable for all, bearing in mind there could be different ages and abilities.

How can you achieve expected outcomes?

Have an open mind. Sometimes a request can seem almost impossible. 

I can't written on a piece of paper.  Someone is cutting off the 't so it reads I can

Hold that thought for a while and think to yourself I would like a solution to this. See what comes up.

Trust yourself and your previous experiences, don’t be afraid to put your own stamp on something.

Think about yourself and your needs too. Don’t promise something that is at such a high cost to you it will go wrong, cause you too much stress or make you feel resentful.

What’s plan B?

This is not always possible but having a backup plan is a great strategy. It might just be for elements of the event, where you think there could be stumbling blocks. If a crisis happens on the day, you will find a way through. As long as no one is in actual danger, own up, explain, agree to move on – whatever it takes to get things back on track.

Run it through

This is the best way to ensure your event is a success. Imagine the moment the first person arrives, to the moment the last person leaves, what will be happening and when. Then go through exactly what will be required for each element of their time with you. 

Make a list as you go.

Prep within an inch of your life

Someone laying the table

Once you’ve run it through you will know what needs to be prepped beforehand. Do as much as possible. You can’t be too prepared as once your event is underway your attention is required, and time disappears.

Know your limits. Think about what others can bring to the party if you need to have someone on hand to help. Play to your strengths.  

Act like a pro 

This is not meant to be confusing – you need to be authentic and yourself, but you do need to be the best version of yourself you can be. This does take some energy and it may not feel totally comfortable at first.

Sometimes you have to fake it a little until you make it. This is not being dishonest or inauthentic, it’s acting a little more confident than you feel. It’s about NOT over-sharing how nervous you are or all the things you are worried about that might go wrong. Act like it’s all fine, and if it doesn’t feel fine just yet, keep the faith that it will.

It’s your event, you are responsible for creating some atmosphere, be engaging and interesting, and put lots of energy into making it a success. You can only do so much though, and sometimes your best is not good enough for everyone. We don’t always know their story and will need to chalk it up to experience.

Gain valuable feedback

Find out how your event was received. A corporate-style event makes this a little easier as you can supply feedback forms. 

Talk to people, make a call, go over elements of the event with them, especially if you felt it could have gone better at certain points. Listen. 

You will pick up little nuggets at the event itself if you are open to hearing how people are experiencing their time with you.  

Review and improve

Go over the event in fine detail. Think about those things that worked well, do more of them. For the things that didn’t work quite as well, or you gained insight from feedback, tweak. Keep honing as we can always improve.

squares of white and dark chocolate in a pile

Seriously, if you really want to know what I’ve learnt from running events, add chocolate! You don’t have to be a chocolatier, you could just throw in a tasting for fun, everyone will love it.

Every event is hard work as it will take effort and energy to make it work well. Hosting a great event is such a buzz, one that you will learn and grow from too.

Be confident in your event and others will follow suit. Enjoy and don’t forget to come and tell us all about it.

The best chocolate to buy this Christmas

The best chocolate to buy this Christmas

It wouldn’t be Christmas without chocolate.

chocolate truffles by paul a young

There is plenty already on offer in the shops. What bargains are out there for some of the old favourites? Let’s also look at some mid-range and posh chocs if you want to change it up a bit this year.

What is the best chocolate to buy this Christmas?

Advent Calendars

You pop the same version in your basket each year and try not to eat the whole lot before you give it to the kids!  

How about something a little alternative?  

The Evening Standard has compiled a brilliant list of different advent calendars which include vegan, artisan chocolatiers, charity options, green, free-from, and even some alternatives to chocolate!

The Trusty Favourites

What do you have in your house?  

Quality Street, Roses, Celebrations?

That big bowl filled with shiny wrappers is too tempting, and even when you are full of turkey you can’t help dipping in on the way past!

Aldi currently seems to offer the best deal on Quality Street and Celebrations, with the price reduced to £3.50 for 650g. Morrisons are offering Roses at £3.99 for 600g or two tubs for £6.99, Tesco £4 for 600g or £7 for two tubs with a Clubcard (at the time of writing).

Mid-range Chocs

A couple of years ago we decided to ditch the chocolate tubs (we ate too many of them) and go for a little less in quantity but a little more up-market in quality.

We opted for a smaller bowl of Lindor chocolates instead. Now comes a real dilemma – what flavour(s) do you choose?

White, Strawberries and Cream, Milk, Salted Caramel, Hazelnut, Pistachio, Mint, Coconut, Orange, Dark or go for an assorted box?

If you are lucky enough to live near one of their shops, you can go grab some pick and mix.

Another good chocolate shop to consider is Hotel Chocolat. I love choosing their selector packs for each person sitting at my Christmas table and will offer these at the end of our meal. They are currently £12 for three.

Chococo, an independent company based in Dorset, has a fantastic range of chocolates on offer and a good online shop. Chocolate festive wreath cake (vegan option available) or a festive chocolate salami anyone?

Posh Choc

If you really would like to go, gourmet, this Christmas, then you might consider buying some chocolates from artisan chocolatiers.

William Curley, Pierre Marcolini, and Paul A Young are some of my personal favourites. Many of their creations are like works or art, they almost look too good to eat!

The Chocolate Society also has a wonderful selection of gourmet chocolates on offer. Cocoa Runners showcase brilliant and alternative chocolate bars, which you can buy as a one-off or sign up for a subscription.

If you are in London, a visit to Fortnum and Mason is well worth it for chocolate treasures. Or pop to their website where they say it how it is…… ‘Welcome to Chocolate Wonderland’.

The posh chocolate world is a wonderful delight to explore. Enjoy!

Chocolate is the easy bit of Christmas
Chocolate Christmas pudding on green mat

If you are feeling a little frazzled, here are some great tips to get ahead this Christmas.

If you want a bit of chocolate therapy, you may wish to come and make your own treats – to keep for you or pass on to loved ones. Gift vouchers are also available.  

Do come and share your fav chocs with us all – we want to know what you have?  

Happy Chocmas everyone.

7 tips to make Christmas a cracker

7 tips to make Christmas a cracker

I love Christmas. The chance to be with loved ones, eat great food, take a break from work, enjoy twinkly lights and a roaring fire.

Christmas tree with twinkly lights swirling into the sky

Christmas can be a sad and lonely time too. It’s a time when we think about those we have lost, those that might be struggling. It’s not for everyone.

Some of us take on too much and come Christmas time are stressed and exhausted. Perfection is overrated, but preparation is key.

Here are some tips on making your Christmas a cracker (part one):

Food

This is one of the best bits for me. Planning the big day and what we might eat. We never (or rarely) have turkey. Some of the family can take or leave it, so we try and have something special and different each year.  

A few months prior, I will start to pour over my cookbooks or trawl around the internet, getting a feel for what might make the menu. Do this well ahead of time and you are not panicking about what to make when things get busy.

Once you have your menu down, you can start to plan how you will get the food element done.

It’s all about the people

My hubby says that he can’t understand the fuss around Christmas food. The main point, he felt, was to be with the people on the day, and so many spent hours in the kitchen stressing about the meal. He’s a real eat-to-live person, so he doesn’t get the foodie thing. 

Christmas is so about the food for me, but he does have a point. I do consider a menu where I can get ahead and minimise my time in the kitchen on the big day. Kitchen-time is treasured by me too – a bit of cooking therapy and a quiet moment can be lovely.

Christmas cake covered in chocolate and sprinkles and topped with holly

Get ahead

Christmas cake is an easy one, I’m cooking mine next week (October half-term). I do a Delia – and we cover ours in marzipan and chocolate. Who do you use?

What element of your meal can be made ahead and frozen?

Par-boil roasties, open freeze, put into freezer bags, and pop them frozen into hot oil on the big day. 

Snowball cocktails with cherries and small cakes on a checked tablecloth

The crispiest version of roasties and no kitchen full of steam.

Red cabbage/cauliflower cheese/bread sauce – whatever you can, make ahead and freeze.

Pudding – last year I used a fantastic Delia recipe for frozen brulees. We didn’t eat them on the big day, but as they were in the freezer, we ate them when we fancied instead! Here are some of my fav choc puds.

Booze – it doesn’t go off, so you can definitely get ahead on your booze buying. Snowball anyone?

Cards on the table

Christmas cards are not really my thing so mostly I don’t send them. Especially if I am seeing the people I might send them to on a regular basis. 

Much prefer to make a charitable donation in lieu of sending cards and paying postage. I think many appreciate this and it’s important to me to be charitable, especially at Christmas.

Presents

Buying presents for people is one of my favourite things to do.  

I usually start this around the end of August and ensure I’m done by the end of October, early November.  Usually, I’m super busy with chocolate workshops on the run-up to Christmas, so having this element done nice and early works well for me.  

That may sound ridiculous, but it takes all the pressure off. Buying in dribs and drabs over the weeks means there is no last-minute rush. 

No huge pressure to fight around the shops with everyone or rely on deliveries turning up in time.

Keep a list of everyone you have to buy for. Write what you have bought for each person as you buy it, so you can refer to your list and know what you have yet to buy. Each year I copy the list over, I can go back over the years and see what I bought previously if I want inspiration or to avoid buying the same old thing each year.

I might well buy an experience rather than a physical present. People love doing things together and creating memories. PS: Hubby and I can help with chocolate or blacksmithing!

As well as the main pressies, I especially love a table pressie. Buying a tiny token for each person seated at the table to open after dinner. It might be a mini bottle of booze, some chocs or make-up for example.  

One thing that worked well was each having some posh chocolates as table presents one year. 

We enjoyed these instead of a pud!

Have conversations with loved ones and decide on a budget, so it doesn’t get silly. Put all the names in a hat and only buy for one person from a group if you have lots to consider. Agree on a price limit and go and buy for one person instead of everyone.

Make your own gifts – now is the time to make chutneys, jams, and jellies. Good Housekeeping always has some great make-ahead ideas.

As much as it’s lovely to choose a gift for someone you love, it’s definitely the thought that counts, not the amount you spend.

It’s a wrap

Buying the pressies, great! 

Cardboard box tied with red string, on a table with twinkly lights and tree decorations

Wrapping the pressies, boo!  

One of the worst jobs of Christmas for me. My sister is the best wrapper I know, she manages truly beautiful creations. However, in the spirit of trying to be more eco-friendly, we have ditched the wrapping paper and re-use bags, or even newspaper. 

We also ditched the crackers for the same reason.

I will rope in Hubby to help and we often have a wrapping blitz and get it all done in one go.

Sharing is caring

What are you having for the big day? Let’s share top foodie tips and menus.

What do you do for presents? 

How do you come up with inspiration?

I’d love to know how you celebrate Christmas. Please pop over to my Facebook page and share your tips for a great Christmas.

There is so much more to say, so head over to part two (covering breakfast, timetables, party games, and your guests).

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!

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!