Give Away # 12: Hotel Chocolat's Ultimate Advent Calendar

The winner was picked by a randomiser and is Bella Watts with her comment #9 -Congratulations to Bella, thank you for all of you for your participation
This year you and I are going to count down Xmas together, thanks to Hotel Chocolat's Ultimate Advent Calendar.
Fellow-bloggers tell me that nothing beats a chocolates give-away so "let's begin" Here are two opportunities to win one Ultimate Advent Calendar as pictured above and reviewed below.
   To win leave a comment  telling me which item you would like to see under your Xmas tree from the Hotel Chocolat Christmas collection

For an extra entry you can
Tweet the following: "I want to win an #Hotelchocolat Ultimate Advent Calendar with @solangeweb" don't forget to leave another comment to tell me that you have tweeted.

Now you could stop reading here or continue to see what I am making of this advent calendar for adults.
To say the least, I am impress by Hotel Chocolat meteoric rise. In 2003, the company opened its first store, 8 years later with  55 UK shops, 5 abroad and its own plantation, Hotel Chocolat is delivering. 

The chocolates are good, the reliable kind. Take our advent calendar, milk chocolate, 40 % cocoa, just what you need for a little bite with your morning coffee. The packaging is great with its almost fractal red and white stars. The sculptures and tablets are no-nonsense and definitely something to look forward to. Moreover an advent calendar for adults is a brilliant idea.
Disclaimer and info
This give-away is open to UK and Irish residents only.
It closes on Tuesday 6 December at 10am, the winner will be chosen with a randomiser and notified via twitter or mail and announced on Pebble Soup
If the winner has not claimed the prize by the 9th December I will draw again.
My thanks to Hotel Chocolat for sending Pebble Soup 2 complementary  Ultimate advent calendars.

Friday's pictures at Fortnum & Mason

Christmas 2011 started on Friday at Fortnum & Mason when the decorations looked like so:

and the nibbles like that:

Lets Make Christmas was a great idea which turned out to be an enchanting event,

where Dan Lepard, the baking guy at The Guardian, cast an expert eye on 50 food-bloggers' handmade Christmas gifts, such as these

Before announcing the winner in each category:
In Pickles and preserves, Botanical Baker for her Blackberry Curd
In Alcohols / Drinks, Jaynerly for her Damson Slivovitz
In Sweets, Orange and Thyme for her Cranberry and Port Mincemeat Pops , below

The best baked goods went to Claire's handmade cakes for her amaretti biscuits....but indeed everybody was a winner as we  each got to take away a gift. What a brilliant idea Vanessa Kimbell had and what work that little dynamo must have put in....thank you, Vanessa, you are a legend.

Tefal® Fresh Express Review

Sometime ago, what looks like a mini alien landed on the kitchen worktop courtesy of Lakeland. "Oh!" is all what he said to express his befuddlement. Oh, indeed, The Tefal Fresh Express looks a little like a bot-dog, it has a very modern design, yet it is reminiscent of the 1950's. Undoubtedly, extremely stylish with its matt burgundy front and 5 colourful drums to jazz the lot up.

This Mini Food Processor comes with on board accessories which are directly stored in the body. Five little colour coded drums to help prep food: red for coarse grating, thick slicing is dark green as thin slicing is light green, not to forget the orange cone for fine grating and last but not least the yellow implement (more about it later).

Click, click. With one click the chosen cone is fitted in the cone holder with another the latter is engaged in the body and off you go.

The Tefal Fresh Express is extremely handy for small portions. The fact that a bowl or even a saucepan can be place under the machine gives it a edge on its large relative. For example, cheese omelette: grate the cheese directly in the beaten eggs, et voila.

And since no kitchen appliance is without a downside, here the main bug could be defined as "showering". Remember the yellow cone, this little helper is a star, it grates fruits finely and when you need to grate two tonnes of apples for chutney, this is a god sent. However when it comes to most other things, the Fresh Express "sprays and spits" some out, so you end up with carrots, cheese and bread crumbs not only in the recipient below but on the worktop too.

Then, there are some tricks to know to avoid frustration: if you press too hard, especially with "tough" vegetables, the plunger is likely to get stuck in and will be difficult to retrieve. When cheeses are too soft they stick to the drum and don't get grated.

Having said this, The Tefal Fresh Express has found proud place in my kitchen, I use it more and more, it looks good, it grates, cuts, shreds and slices all but fingers, it is fast and compact, easy to clean and partly self-storing.

Click here to see it in action
Costs £49.99 at Lakeland,

Three years on, in December 14, Fresh Express broke down, the weak part was the clipping funnel and plastic cone which take a lot of pressure. One of the clip snapped and that was the beginning of the end. It has not been perfect but I'll miss it for quick grating tasks.

Pictures on this post are courtesy of Lakeland

Catherine Wheels Mince Pies

Vanessa Kimbell from Prepped came up with the best Xmas 2011 idea: a food bloggers get together to exchange gifts. The event will take place at Fortnum & Mason. I feel extremely lucky to be able to take part.
My offering will be Catherine wheels mince pies. I will be cooking them nearer the time.  

Till then, I am asking you to close your eyes and picture a cross between a mince pie, a continental pastry and a squashed Chelsea bun. There, you've got it.This recipe is very easy to make and when you think about all what we will have to do before Xmas, this is just perfect

Catherine Wheels Mince Pies
50g/2oz golden caster sugar
1 sheet ready-rolled puff pastry
411g jar traditional mincemeat
1tbsp milk
25g/1oz flaked almonds
Scatter the sugar over the worktop, unravel the pastry and roll it.
Spread the mincemeat evenly making sure to leave a border of 2cm all around
Fold one of the longest edges over the mincemeat and roll the pastry tightly into a sausage shape, when you get to the other edge brush it with milk and press down to seal
Press both ends in and chill for 30 minutes (if you fancy freezing this is the time to do so)
time to preheat the oven 200C/gas 6/fan 180C
Cut the roll into 12 rounds about 3 cm thick
Lay them evenly on a baking tray
Flatten them with your hand

Scatter the almonds on the top and bake for 20-30 minutes until golden brown and the mincemeat sizzle
Leave to cool for 5 minutes
Serve as they are or with ice cream

Is this Really a Tarte Tatin? : Mini Lychee Tarte Tatin

On Tuesday, I attended a Master Class at Waitrose Cookery School. The evening was organised by Malaysia Kitchen, led by Tim Anderson, "The guy in the picture" and the 2011 Master-Chef winner.

It took place on the night after Halloween and would I be so inclined as to believe in wizardry, I would have thought no more of the evening. I probably would have said to myself, "This was a little odd but what the heck." However being quite rational, I started to wonder .....
Now don't get me wrong, there is everything weird with Tim Anderson's approach to cooking but that is what makes him stand out. Plus "his weird" is weird in a good way. 

And I am sure there is nothing bizarre about Malaysia Kitchen but I am not certain that, what was on offer really promoted Malaysian food. Though all of it was delicious and every single dish included typical Malay ingredients.

Take,  the dessert: Lychee Tarte Tatin, completly original idea, looked fantastic, but how can Tatin be representative of Malaysia. Pancakes, fruit salads, fritters, cakes, sweet rice, cookies, fine. But Tatin, nope!.

So sorry to be picky but the terminology is wrong. This was not a Tatin, a basket maybe.

However the combination of flavours was excellent, this is "a Tatin" to impress. I will bake it again.
We also cooked the classic fish custard "Otak Otak" served with Gunard and Scallops. The main was Nasi Goreng with Smoked Mackerel.

Reasons to Like Baking Mad

Sometime ago, in the course of a conversation,  I was asked to take a look at is a website to like and here are some of the reasons why:
  • Its experts' baking tips: from scones to chocolate cupcakes, 
  • not only experts advise, there is also a forum and opportunities to ask direct questions
  • It is full of ideas and inspiration under one roof, classified by occasions and by categories
  • Recipes are easy to follow.
 Part two of the assignment was to choose a recipe and to cook it. I wanted to go for one of my own classics. To me, it seemed much more challenging to reproduce something familiar then an unknown. I went for Quiche Lorraine which strangely enough I have never posted, though I tend to create it regularly.

 Quiche Lorraine
according to the BakingMad recipe

Time 30 minutes
Baking Time 40 minutes
Serves 4-6

For the pastry
200 grams plain white flour
100 grams butter
1 pinch salt
For the filling
150 grams bacon, snipped
3 eggs
150 ml milk
4 tbsp double cream
75 grams grated Cheddar
You will need a 20 cm round, loose bottom flan tin
  1. To make the pastry, place the flour and a pinch of salt in a large bowl. Rub in the butter until you have a soft breadcrumb texture. Add enough cold water to make the crumb mixture come together to form a firm dough, and then rest it in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  2. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured work surface to the thickness of about a £1 coin. Lift the pastry over the rolling pin, then drape the pastry over the tin and press into the base and up the sides. Trim the edges. Place in the fridge to chill for 15 minutes.
  3. Heat the oven to 220c, 200c fan, Gas 7. Line the pastry case with a circle of baking parchment and fill with baking beans. Bake the pastry case for 10 minutes until pale golden. Remove the baking parchment and beans and return the pastry case to the oven for a further 5 minutes until golden and crisp. lower the oven temperature to 190c, 170c, fan. Gas 5.
  4. In a dry frying pan, fry the bacon for 2-3 minutes until just tender and golden. Place in the pastry case.
  5. Beat the eggs, milk and cream together with a little black pepper and pour over the bacon. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake for about 25 mins, or until golden and softly set (the centre should not feel too firm)        

My verdict 
  • Very easy recipe to follow.
  • The quiche was moist and tasty.
  • Completely different taste from my own: this is much lighter, I missed the taste of nutmeg but the addition of cheddar is a good idea
  • Don't be tempted to skip any step, especially the blind baking. There is a lot of butter in the pastry and without baking blind it would get soggy.
NB: BakingMad also has special offers discounts, competitions and its very own famous Chef Eric Lanlard. Eric has a programme on channel 4 about baking and a dedicated page on BakingMad

"Whoo", "Whoo", "Whoo", Whoopie Pies

OK, this is a bit of an easy title for Halloween. Last year or so Whoopie pies were almost unheard of in the UK, now they are the new cake phenomenon or they seem to be.
But what is a Whoopie pie? Amish in origin; I bet you will have no difficulty to guess the reasons behind the name.
That doesn't answer, "What are they?" The reply will look like a cop-out: they are a cross between pie, cake and cookie. They look like two gooey cookies with fluffy icing in the middle.

There is no way of telling what the authentic whoopie pies did taste like. The story is that they were baked for Amish workers and put in their lunch-boxes . But if the Amish men were going "whoopie" just at the sight of them there might have been a reason and that reason is simply that whoopie pies are incredibly delicious.

To feed the little devils, wizards and witches of Greenwich on Halloween night, I used a short-cut and got my whoopies out of a Betty Crocker Whoopie Pie mix. Three simple steps, takes 15 minutes to bake and 15 minutes to mix. It worked a treat, next time you are shopping, you could do worse than grab a packet at £2.15 for 10 whoopie pies- though I managed only 9- comes in two flavours Chocolate and Vanilla or Double chocolate. Impressed.


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