Tales from the Chocolate Tank (part 1)

Tales from the Chocolate Tank (part 1)

I’m not so keen on telling this story, as the re-telling brings back ‘bad’ memories.

Two tanks of chocolate

Most of the tales from my chocolate tanks bring back happy memories, inspiration, and joy. I will be sharing more tales in future blogs, so watch this space!

I’m kick-starting my tales with a total chocolate-disaster though darling!

It’s all in the planning

I was booked for a corporate chocolate team-build, and I always check the venue and access beforehand. I had some concerns as there was no on-site parking, but I was assured of a loading bay for access.

On arrival, the loading bay was blocked. As time was ticking on, I had to find somewhere else to park. The nearest alternative was a multi-storey car park. I found a spot and told the venue I had arrived. I was unloading my car when it all went very wrong!

Disaster struck

In case of access issues, I had bought a trolley (premonition on my part?). Including my large chocolate tank, I loaded up the trolley and set off.

Two paces from the car, the whole trolley load fell to the ground. My chocolate tank toppled off the top, spilling all its contents (eight kilos of molten chocolate) all over the car park floor.

Not only did it spill, but it also splashed all over my body and clothing leaving me dripping in chocolate and a total mess.

I couldn’t deliver the event for the client at all. Even if I had gone along and ‘made do’ with the other chocolate activities we had planned I was unfit for purpose. Covered head to toe in chocolate is not the best look!

Honesty is the best policy

I phoned and explained what had happened, and to my shame I even found myself getting upset on the phone. It was only a fun thing for them, but I always wish to deliver what I promise and I was truly devastated to let my client down.

Of course, I offered their money back and to do the event on another day. To their utter credit, they just asked me to make the chocolates on their behalf and deliver them at a later date. No question of me giving them a refund. How kind is that? Of course, I bought an extra treat for each of them and popped that in their bags of chocolates too.

Meanwhile…..

Back at the car park, kind people were coming up to me and asking if I was OK. Snivelling, covered in brown ‘stuff’ – how brave were they to approach me at all!

The icing on the cake came when a lady driving a huge 4 x 4 drove straight through the chocolate puddle and got me covered in even more chocolate. Without even a backward glance – it was the final straw!

So I packed up my wares and headed out of the multi-storey, only to find that I had forgotten to validate my car park ticket in the mayhem. Getting out of my car to go and see the attendant, he saw me approach, took one look at me immediately opened the barrier. I thanked him and said, “I think you will find there is a bit of chocolate on Level 3”!

It was a great to experience how good people are when you are honest, open, and do your best for them, despite the difficulties you are facing! I have also definitely learned from this rather messy mistake.

It’s also provided a good few laughs at a dinner party or two – you can borrow it if you like, but I don’t recommend repeating the experience!

Come and tell us your funny stories over on my facebook page.

Chocolate’s on the menu

Chocolate’s on the menu

Of course chocolate’s on the menu, but usually as your favourite dessert.

Have you considered trying chocolate in all your dishes, both savoury and sweet?

Rabot 1745

Head to Borough Market in London and you will find this little chocolate gem of a restaurant.

Restaurant Rabot 1745 is part of the Hotel Chocolat empire, and in fact there is a shop and cafe beneath the restaurant if you just want a hot chocolate and a chocolate treat.

Book a table at the restaurant and you will find every course includes chocolate, even the mash! It’s a wonderful experience and well worth a trip.

Read on to see what I chose from the menu…..

One for the Bucket List

The London restaurant is inspired by the original, located on the island of St Lucia in the Caribbean. You can visit the Rabot Estate, stay in the boutique hotel, book yourself and tree to bar experience, and eat in the restaurant.

It’s definitely on my bucket list when the world opens up again. In the meantime, if you can make it to London you can try the next best thing.

Head to the Toilets!

If you want to get into the mood, then firstly head to the toilets. You can hear cicadas (piped into the loos) and (almost) imagine you are in a rather more exotic location.

A great first impression

Once you sit down you are greeted with a small plate of freshly roasted cacao beans from the St Lucia Estate. They are wonderful, and really set the tone of the evening.

The menu

I started with a bread and dip selection, that included cacao pesto & cocoa infused oil. It was really tasty.

Next I opted for some fish that included a cocoa nib crust. Chocolate is quite savoury in it’s natural state, so it did not seem odd for the fish to have a cocoa addition at all.

We had to try the mash as we’d heard it talked about by others. A white chocolate-infused mash sounds quite disgusting, but i can confirm it was delicious.

A trio of chocolate mousse

Of course, by the time you get to pudding, it’s all very familiar territory, but I opted for a trio of mousse which showcased different strengths and styles of chocolate and it was truly decedent and another scrummy dish. Sorry that I took the picture after I’d eaten a bit too much, there definitely should have been a before shot!

The menu changes with the seasons, so why not take a look and see what you would choose!

If you decide to visit, don’t forget to pop to my facebook page and tell us about your experience.

What’s was on your chocolate menu?

Chocolate disasters and how to fix them

Chocolate disasters and how to fix them

We’ve all experienced that moment. You spent a fortune on some lovely chocolate, and you ruined it when you took your eye off the ball.

Or did you?

Here are some tips on what to do when you experience a chocolate disaster and how to fix them:

Burning the chocolate in the microwave!

The bad news is there is nothing you can do. If you put too little chocolate in to melt, put the heat on for too long, then you are likely to burn your chocolate and you will need to throw it away and start again.

I do have some good news though. Follow these instructions for how to work with chocolate in the microwave, and you will avoid future disasters.

If you get water in your chocolate (over the bain-marie)

This will cause the chocolate to ‘seize’ and go into a thick, grainy lump.  

You will not be able to use this chocolate for tempering but you don’t have to throw it away. Rescue the chocolate by adding more water to the mixture and mixing well. You may find a hand-held mixer is a great help here to really move the chocolate around and incorporate the extra liquid. 

Now you can use the chocolate as a sauce or in your baking.

There are white streaks or ‘bloom’ on the surface of your chocolate

chocolate callets that have bloomed and are covered in streaks of white

This means that the chocolate has come out of temper. 

It was either not tempered properly at the outset and/or cooled at too warm (or too cool) a temperature.  

The chocolate is fine to eat but obviously doesn’t look its best. You will not be able to remove the bloom, but you can cover it up by adding toppings such as cocoa powder, icing sugar, or chocolate curls.

Follow my tips for working with chocolate at home to avoid this happening again.

Your ganache has ‘split’

Ganache is simply chocolate melted into hot cream.

If the mixture has split, the cream was likely too hot when you poured it onto the chocolate.

To avoid this happening again, you need to adopt the magic minute rule!

Once your cream has come to a boil, remove it from the heat completely. Put the timer on and don’t use it at all until a minute has elapsed.

Pour onto your cream and stir like crazy. Before it goes glossy and shiny it does look as if it may have ‘seized’ but keep going, we often give up too early on the mixing stage when it’s not a fail at all!  

Again, here you could try using a hand-held electric whisk for a minute or two on the mixture if you are still not seeing a nice glossy finish, and that will often do the trick.  

Finally, if all that fails, you could try adding some liquid glucose (ratio approximately 30ml to each litre of ganache) to save the day. 

What about all that excess chocolate?

If you have any leftover chocolate, store it in an airtight container in a cool, dark place and use it again!

If you have experienced a chocolate disaster that is not covered here, come and share your story on my Facebook page and let’s see if we can help.

How to ‘temper’ chocolate at home

How to ‘temper’ chocolate at home

This method is not strictly tempering the chocolate – it’s more mindful melting!

It still produces great results if done properly, with the right sort of chocolate.  

All you need is a microwave! You may have burnt chocolate in the microwave before but follow these simple steps and you will have great results from now on!   If you do have a disaster with your chocolate, take a look at some tips for fixing things.

Here’s how to ‘temper’ chocolate at home:
  1. Always use a plastic bowl (glass bowls hold too much heat and will eventually overheat the chocolate). 
  2. Use a minimum of 300g of good quality chocolate – chopped into small even-sized pieces. You can save any leftover chocolate you don’t use in an airtight container for another time. Buy your chocolate in button-form, it will save all the chopping!
  3. Put the chocolate into the microwave on full power for very short bursts at a time. Initially 30 secs to 1 min (or slightly longer for bigger volumes). Between each burst stir your chocolate, even if it has not started to melt yet – still give it a good stir. 
  4. It’s very important to get a lot of movement into chocolate – so keep stirring away, it will work wonders for the finished look!
  5. As the chocolate starts to melt, reduce the bursts in the microwave to 10-15 seconds. Stir every time you stop to see how the chocolate melt is progressing. 
  6. When the chocolate has almost melted, but there are still some un-melted lumps present, stop putting the bowl into the microwave. Now stir until the heat of the chocolate has melted the remaining lumps in the bowl. 
  7. Another good ‘temperature’ test is to put your hands around the outside of the plastic container. You should feel almost no heat whatsoever. The chocolate should be about the same as the temperature of your skin. 
  8. If the melted mixture feels too warm, then add some more chocolate and stir to melt the freshly added chocolate. Use the residual heat of the melted chocolate. Don’t put the bowl into the microwave again! If you can’t melt all of the freshly added chocolate, then pop the bowl into the microwave again for just a few seconds and repeat as above.
  9. The chocolate will not last very long in this state, it will start to get too thick to work with. Pop it back in the microwave for a few seconds to bring it back again. Be careful, it’s very easy to overheat! 
  10. If you make the chocolate too hot, you can add more fresh chocolate to the mix to bring the temperature back down again, as mentioned in point 8 above. 
  11. This will produce chocolate that you can use for moulds, piping, or dipping. It will seem quite thick in consistency – the bigger the quantity of chocolate, the longer you will have to ‘work’ with it.  
  12. Remember to leave your chocolate creations at room temperature to set (in a room that is not above 20°).
  13. You should ideally store chocolate in a cool, dark place and not in the fridge. Putting chocolate in the fridge can cause it to ‘bloom’ – where you will see white marks forming on the surface where the sugar and/or cocoa butter comes to the surface. 
  14. Bloom occurs because the chocolate has not been tempered properly, or the room is too warm when it is setting, or indeed it is cooled too quickly. It is still safe to eat, it just doesn’t look as appetising – ‘see what to do when it goes wrong for some tips on recovering from this scenario!
chocolate callets in a plastic bowl with stirrer
even-size chocolate
Chocolate callets in a plastic bowl
Keep stirring
Melting chocolate in plastic bowl
Melting callets
Melting chocolate in a plastic bowl
Almost there

Finally, come and share your creations with us all on my Facebook page! Enjoy

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!

10 surprising things you will learn about yourself from running your own business

10 surprising things you will learn about yourself from running your own business

Ever dared to dream about running your own business? 

All your focus is on how good you are at making/doing your thing. You will be feeling some fear, wondering if you are good enough to attract people to buy from you. Are you brave enough to take it further? 

Starting a business is much like becoming a parent for the first time. You will have had time to prepare and get ready to ‘birth’ your business idea, read books and listened to sound advice, and some not-so-sound advice too (how many people have told you starting a business is a bad idea? More on this below….). Start running your own business and you will be amazed at the things that are about to happen. 

Just like parenting, we have no clue what is about to unfold, we learn as we go. No child behaved as per the book, and no business journey will be just as you planned.

Here are 10 surprising things about running your own business. Things you’ll come to realise about yourself. Personal growth. The wonderful opportunities. The sheer magic that will open up to you…

YOU are BOSS material

Lady holding a large white mug that says 'Like a Boss'
 Step up and discover your true potential…

Say goodbye to the old you and unleash your vision and passion onto the world, your way. You will:

  • Set the tone and ‘personality of your business.
  • Make all the decisions.  
  • Take total responsibility for everything – good and bad.
  • Decide what you do, when and with whom

Once you become the boss there’s no going back!

YOU can live with FEAR

A bubble containing words of encouragement
 Everything you’ve ever desired is on the other side of fear…

Understand that however uncomfortable it feels, it’s a sign that you are doing things right.  

You are growing and stretching comfort zones and on the other side of fear is learning, growth, fulfilment and an incredible sense of achievement.

Recognise fear as your friend and you will fly.

YOU can change your STORY

 Forget one day, it’s day one…

You’ve been telling yourself so many stories about what you are able to do. Or, more likely, not able to do. As time goes on you realise that’s all they are – stories.  

What do you tell yourself you’re rubbish at?

Or not willing to do? 

Tell yourself a new story. 

Instead of saying “I’m rubbish at presenting”, or “I never do lives – I hate them.”

Say instead, “I’m going to follow some experts and improve my presenting skills.”  

Or “I challenge myself to do one live each week and see how I get on.”

Hey, you might even learn to love the thing you’ve avoided the most!

YOU can say NO

 Empower yourself to do what you truly want to…
Blackboard with the words time for change written on in white chalk

Running your own business, you get to stick to your principles. You decide who to work with. And you decide when it’s not worth the time and effort.

You find yourself agreeing to everything, scared to turn work down at the outset. Remember why you started, what you wish to achieve, how you intend to get there, exactly what don’t you want to do – and stick to it! 

It’s very powerful to say no when you are saying it with good reason. You are not missing an opportunity if it’s not what you want. Saying no means you are freeing time to do the stuff you love.

YOU can take a RISK

 If you win, you win, if you lose, you learn…

Can you spot potential? 

Will this opportunity lead you down a new path that you have not thought of before?  

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, and we learn so much from our mistakes.

Say ‘yes’ – without knowing exactly how you will achieve what you have been asked to do. You will find a way. Once you have committed to deliver, you will be amazed at how your brain goes into overdrive. You find who and what you need to make it happen. You make that thing you thought impossible – possible.

YOU can be PROUD

 Even if it’s a disaster darling, you are at least trying…
Woman in tutu jumping into the sky with a wand in her hand

You are about to be featured in the press. Invited to speak on a radio show. Appear on TV. Give a talk or presentation to a large group. Enter that competition and win awards. These are all things that have happened to me, so now it’s your turn.

I gained some fabulous PR by writing off to the local press. I engaged with journalists on social media and got featured in The Sun and The Independent. I have won several Entrepreneurial and Customer Service awards and been on numerous radio shows and TV. Go make yourself proud.

YOU have PURPOSE

 Sometimes s**t happens – you have something meaningful to get lost in…

This wonderful tapestry we call life, has a habit of throwing a curveball. Bereavement, separation, illness, hardships – we all face them at some point.  

Running your own business means you have something to focus on and dedicate yourself to when things are really difficult. It can be a wonderful and welcome distraction. 

It’s absorbing and interesting and all yours and you can put as much (or as little) into it as you wish. 

When life happens, you have something to distract you or engage you or something you can leave alone for a bit. 

Whatever it takes.  

YOU will GROW

 No more shrinking to fit things you’ve outgrown…
Picture of a small yellow bird on some purple flowers in nature

Running your own business is an education. You will expand your mind, grow and develop yourself as much as your business.  

You will find mentors, organisations, and groups that support and challenge you. You will learn new skills, move with technology (you have no choice), speak, write, and create new products/offerings for your business.

You will begin to support and mentor others too as they seek your counsel.  

There is no standing still, you are either shrinking or growing.

YOU will build your IDENTITY

 It emerges from within when you dare to show up…

What’s your purpose?

What now that the all-consuming responsibilities have changed?

Did you lose yourself and your confidence along the way?

Running your own business builds your identity. You become known as the ‘whatever you are doing’ lady or man. You achieve goals. You gain a sense of achievement. You are working in a way that you enjoy. You are authentic and true to your values. It builds your confidence and you discover yourself again.

YOU will have FUN

 Time flies…
Disco glitter ball

It’s not all about running the business. 

You work and play on your terms.  

A day off to do something you fancy. A long lunch and catch up with a friend. Holidays when it suits, longer trips, or lots of smaller trips instead – pop them in the diary and work around it.  

You don’t need permission from anyone but yourself.

You may have to work longer or ideally smarter to achieve/afford your time off but honour yourself and protect your fun/leisure time. 

If running your own business means conquering fears, exploring opportunities, growing as a person, and realising just some of your amazing potential – how could you not give it a go?

As mentioned earlier, so many will try and put you off starting at all….. 

They might believe it’s a risky strategy.  

They might believe it’s the wrong time.  

Or have you simply made them jealous because they’ve never dared to try?  

Doing this alone is never easy. We are prone to overthink, procrastinate, listen to the doubters and give up.  We are always better together, as long as we choose the right people to support and encourage us along the way. Visit my Facebook page for more inspiration!

I started my business journey with chocolate. Imagine if you worked with chocolate, how tasty might that be?

Chocolate Vodka

Chocolate Vodka

Chocolate vodka can be used in various ways – my favourite is using it in a Bloody Mary!

This is a very easy recipe. You can buy cacao nibs from a good supermarket or chocolate shop. The only difficult part is the patience you need! It takes about a month to really infuse all those good chocolate notes into the vodka!

Bloody Mary cocktail with lime and celery stick


Chocolate Vodka Recipe


1 litre bottle of vodka
200 – 250g roasted cacao nibs


Remove enough vodka from the bottle to accommodate the cacoa nibs.
Add the nibs to the vodka and leave to infuse for about a month
Shake every day
Strain the infused mixture to remove the nibs

Use this is a cocktail of your choice to really add something different and interesting to the flavour profile.

I love to use it in a Bloody Mary!


Chocolate Bloody Mary


Make up a jug of spicey tomato juice to use in your cocktail(s)!

To the tomato juice add:

  • a few drops of Tabasco
  • a slug of Worcestershire sauce
  • celery salt
  • fresh lime juice to taste
  • (some like to add a little dash of sherry – I tend to leave out this element for the chocolate version)
  • If you have any, grate in some fresh horseradish for an extra spicy twist!

Mix well

Put lots of ice into your glass and pour on some chocolate vodka (to taste)

Add your spicy tomato mix

Add a good grind of black pepper and finish with a lime wedge and a stick of celery as the perfect stirrer!

A great cheat!

Buy some Big Tom tomato juice (from the supermarket) which is perfectly spiced and finish as above.

It will make one of the most delicious Bloody Mary’s you’ve ever tasted!

What would you make with a bottle of chocolate vodka? Why not pop over to my Facebook page and let us know.

I like to offer one of these at the start of a dinner party. Why not follow some of my other tips in my guides to hosting the best dinner parties!

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.

From the Master’s Mouth

From the Master’s Mouth

It’s a total honour for us to have some words of wisdom from my own personal chocolate hero and Master Chocolatier Paul A Young!

Paul A Young Master Chocolatier
Paul A Young

When I set up my business in 2009, I was lucky enough to go and enjoy a chocolate tasting with Paul at his original shop in Islington. 

He was totally inspirational and hugely talented and knowledgeable. He was featured in the Financial Times round-up of the top eight chocolatiers in the world. I’ve followed him avidly ever since. 

I’m the proud owner of a signed edition of his first book ‘Adventures with Chocolate’. I’ve heard him talk at various events about his amazing flavour pairings and his multi-award-winning creations.

chocolate truffles by paul a young

I can’t visit London without a cheeky stop off at one of Paul’s outlets. Rarely can I escape without an award-winning sea-salted caramel either (I’m sooo predictable!) 

Paul now supplies this in jar form too! Read on for some great ideas of what to do if you are lucky enough to grab one!

Thank you so much Paul for taking a few moments from your extremely busy schedule and agreeing to answer some questions

Over to you……

How do you come up with the inspiration for your very original and amazing flavour pairings? 

Paul: “I don’t have a clear-cut answer for this as I work in a very sporadic and chaotic way at times. When I’m feeling creative ideas flow and it’s quite easy, at busy hectic times I can barely think of anything new! But saying that, I’ve still not run out of ideas and new things to create. I also consult my team from time to time to get new ideas and opinions about my ideas.”

Who is producing the best and most interesting chocolate bars at the moment?   

Paul:  “My list of must-have bars, Duffy Sheardown (Red star chocolate), Mast Brothers (Williamsburg, Brooklyn), Pacari ( Ecuador), Pump Street Bakery (Wood bridge), Dandelion ( San Francisco) and Dick Taylor (California) All amazing.”

I’m such a huge fan (like most of your devotees) of your multi-award-winning sea-salted caramel. I know we can purchase a whole jar from your shops (if we manage to resist the urge to eat the whole lot with a spoon) what would you recommend we do for best results?

Paul:  “It’s incredibly versatile as it’s a tart filling, a sauce, a dip, a spread and can be used in so many cakes, desserts, and ice cream. No limits to the creative uses. Mix it into whipped cream and serve with meringues, chopped chocolate, and chopped toasted hazelnuts for a salted caramel and hazelnut mess.”

What’s best to drink with our chocolate?

Paul:  “No one answer, but I can tell you what I love; whisky, bourbon, Rare tea company Rooibos or Silvertip jasmine tea, Aqua Riva tequila, it’s 100% pure agave and stunning with Madagascan chocolate.”

 There’s talk of chocolate becoming scarcer and definitely more expensive, as the Eastern cultures get a taste for chocolate, and the world can only produce a finite amount. What are your predictions for the future of chocolate?

Paul:  “The price will only rise and we all need to buy chocolate in a different way going forward. I buy some of my beans direct from the grower, this is called Direct Cacao and a new organisation has been formed to increase awareness. The result is the grower really will get the right price, the price to enable him/her to cultivate and increase their plantations.

Cheaper chocolate will become more expensive and be produced in a smaller size to compensate for the higher cacao prices, this is already happening. 

We will all have to spend more on our chocolate but the finer our tastes become the better quality cocoa we desire, if it’s bought and sold in the right way then this can only be of benefit.”

About Paul A Young

Paul A Young is a groundbreaking and inspirational chocolatier who is at the forefront of the British chocolate scene. He trained as a chef before moving into the world of chocolate. Paul’s passion for his craft and his cutting edge creativity have won him numerous awards including Best Sea Salted Caramel in the World two years running. Paul is now ranked amongst the world’s best chocolatiers. 

In 2014 paul.a.young fine chocolates became a bean-to-bar chocolate producer. Paul now a member of a select group of UK bean-to-bar chocolate makers (there are less than 10 throughout the country). His bars are also Europe’s first whole bean chocolate bars, conching the shells as well as the nibs of the bean.

Paul’s first book ‘Adventures with Chocolate’ won the World’s Best Chocolate Book at the Gourmand Cookbook Awards in Paris. Paul regularly appears on television including on This Morning, Sunday Brunch, and Alan Titchmarsh, and has appeared as an expert on Gordon Ramsay’s Ultimate Cookery Course, The Apprentice, and Mary Queen of Shops. He also regularly headlines at exhibitions including the Cake & Bake Show, Ideal Home Show, and Grand Designs Live. 

Thank you again Paul for your inspiration and words of wisdom on all things chocolate.   

If you want to recreate my fav show-off chocolate desert from Paul, you must try his chocolate and pecan tart!

I hope it has inspired you to visit one of Paul’s special chocolate shops the next time you are in London. You will be delighted and amazed at what you find and taste there!  

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!