Doing Valentine’s Day with style

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Valentine's Day with taste

 

I’m not a great lover of Valentine’s Day, for its over-commercialised predominance of pink and red crap. And never mind the idea that romance is just for one day a year.

But there are some tasteful, not to mention tasty, options around, if you look now, and avoid the last minute trip to the supermarket!

 

The Modern Pantry Perfect Breakfast Hamper

 

For instance, I wrote last year about the lovely hampers from The Modern Pantry, and this year would be no exception. I love their collections, and sure any food lover would too. Also worth checking in on Ottolenghi as well.

 

 

For chocolate lovers, I would try Drop Dead Chocolates or Amelia Rope, as my favourites. Oh, but then there’s Rococo. Not to mention my last great find of The Chocolatier, who would definitely have lots of tasty choices.

 

Heart shaped box from Pong

The only cheesy gifts I’d think about giving on Valentine’s Day would be good cheese ones. Pong are still one of my favourite suppliers of interesting cheese, whether you choose a single cheese or a hamper.

 

Burleigh Pink Edition Gin

And then there’s fizz. Or not fizz. I love Adnams for something a bit different on the wine front, but it might also be a good time to give a pink gin. Burleighs have a limited edition pink edition if you can still get hold of it, or Edinburgh Gin have a very pretty looking rhubarb one.

So, as always from me, my recommendation is go for taste first and foremost, design second, and pre-made Valentine tat only in very ironic, last minute desperation!

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What to buy for those with a sweet tooth this Christmas

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Christmas gift ideas for those with a sweet tooth

 

I’ve admitted many times that I have a sweet tooth, whether cake or chocolate, or pretty much anything in between. I definitely consider this one of my specialist subject areas when it comes to gift recommendations. So whether you’re looking for something for them to eat, make or read, then these are some of the best.

 

Dark chocolate salted caramel honeycomb

 

Like a posh Crunchie

Ok, we have to admit, MFL and I demolished a box of this recently. It was research, honest. But this was amazing tasting, and you have to admit it looks beautiful. There’s a whole range of these beautiful gift boxes from Artisan du Chocolat, and you’ll be hard picked to choose between them. But I’d not turn down another box of this Dark Salted Caramel Honeycomb.

 

Sally's Candy Addiction

 

Inspiration for Making Their Own

Oh my word, where to start with Sally’s Candy Addiction? There wasn’t a page I turned and didn’t want to immediately rush into the kitchen and make. Maybe add some chocolate into their stocking too so they can head straight into the kitchen themselves. It’ll brighten up Christmas Day when the Ferrero Rocher have run out.

 

Vodka Cocktail Pastilles from Smith & Sinclair

 

Sneaky tipple in sweet form?

And no, this is not a box of liqueur chocolates! I love these cocktail pastilles from Smith & Sinclair. Warning, these are not for the kids, they do contain proper alcohol. So, if the boss is reading this, no, these are not what’s on my desk. Honest. But heaven knows, there are some days a sneaky vodka cocktail wouldn’t go amiss!

 

Pale Lemon & Sea Salt Chocolate Skis from Amelia Rope

 

Fun chocolate but with style

I’ve written several times about how much I love Amelia Rope’s chocolate. There isn’t anything on her site that I don’t think someone would be thrilled to receive. Unless good chocolate for them stops at Dairy Milk. For Christmas this year then I love these chocolate skis, which are pale lemon and sea salt chocolate. My kind of skiing!

 

Go full on retro with A Quarter Of

 

Go full on retro in your sweet choice

I love A Quarter Of, they were one of the first people I came across in the whole online retro sweet thing, and I think they do it really well. If Christmas isn’t made for a trip down memory lane, then I don’t know when is. Bring on the Fruit Salads, a Sherbet Fountain and some Love Hearts. Sophistication can be overrated!

 

Safari Animal Chocolate Lollipop Kit

 

In case there’s no selection box from Santa

I love this kit from Chocolate At Home, which you could give to an older child, or a big kid, and it could be a great activity for over the Christmas holidays. There are simpler ones, and more chocolate bar based ones, so really something for everyone.

 

In case you can’t get hold of any of these, then maybe a box of Matchmakers will do. Or you could just get organised now!

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My heart belongs to…

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My heart belongs to

Well, possibly my chocolate loving heart anyway, and it would be a close run thing between a bar from Amelia Rope and something from Artisan du Chocolat. And if you’re going to have a Valentine’s selection, then this is rather lovely.

I like that it’s a mix of things, delicious flavours and not all chocolate. And I know it’s pink and red but it’s not too twee. To be honest, they had me at the rose scented candied and chocolate coated almonds.

And if that strikes you as too twee or you don’t want to go with the Valentine’s theme, then I don’t know many people (or not people with taste) who would turn down their famous salted caramels. I know I wouldn’t!

Great place to shop though, not just at Valentine’s Day.

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Treat yourself to great Christmas chocolate first

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It’s really getting to peak gift buying season, but just before the madness of Black Friday and Cyber Monday sets in, then I’d treat yourself to some great chocolate to settle down with whilst you do the shopping.

 

Dark Winter Flavours

 

Now, I’ve written several times about how much I love Amelia Rope’s chocolate, and I could certainly be very happy with the Dark Winter Flavours Duo. Dark Raspberry and Dark Sea Salt, sounds perfect to me!

 

Gold Frankincense & Myrrh

 

But if you wanted to get into the Christmas spirit, then for me it would have to Rococo’s Gold, Frankincense and Myrhh bar. Dark chocolate with the precious oils plus some sweet orange oil to balance it up, and then the visual impact of some gold leaf.

No, if that’s not a treat, I don’t know what is!

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The height of chocolate sophistication

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When I was a kid, there was one kind of chocolate that really wasn’t for sharing, was just for the adults. I didn’t even know what it was called, but it seemed so grown up with its gold foil and outer red and white cellophane wrapper.

To us, I think they were called elephants, and I know now they do appear to have little feet to them, and that the elephant is the brand mark of Côte D’Or. So maybe not such a random name as it seemed as a kid.

 

Cote D'or Bouchees

 

And oh the heaven when a small sliver did make it our way. Such creaminess, such sweetness, all wrapped up in even more delicious chocolate. Truly the adults got the best thing. And as I got older, and made my own trips to France, then I could at last acquire my own Bouchées.

I suppose they could have become an ongoing thing in my life, those little elephants of praline delight. After all, I’ve done many trips to France, and putting the words in Google will reveal nearly 63,000 entries. And I can afford to buy my own.

But somehow, some years later, they never have been a regular fixture here. Thinking of one now doesn’t fill me with longing, although admittedly a little nostalgia. Time has moved my tastes to the less sweet, not to mention the slightly more unusual.

For me, the stuff I would hide is less likely to be praline based, but a bar of something good. I have been known to hide a bar or two of the good stuff from Amelia Rope, in fact a hidden bar of the dark Hazelnut and Sea Salt was a small rebellion during the dying days of my marriage. Really a bad sign when you won’t share the good stuff!

I hope I’ve brought MGG up to enjoy all kinds of chocolate, although we’re still working on the dark stuff. I do think it’s something you only get a taste for as you age, a bit like my relationship with red wine and blue cheese. But like in many things in life, some things are worth waiting for.

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Blowing the trumpet for The Foodie Bugle Shop

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I love this site, so many beautiful looking things. It’s new to me, not sure how long it’s been around but gosh, I hope it’s around a long time. I can really imagine covering a lot of different gift giving occasions, and recipients, from this site.

The food sections have some great choices. Even the first page, top row, shows three things I’d be happy to give to anyone: Arganic Oil, Righteous Cold Pressed Rapeseed Oil and The Fine Oil Co Aged Balsamic Vinegar. That’s a great gift right there!

 

Righteous

 

Dig in a bit further and you’ll find things like jams from The Artisan Kitchen (toffee apple jam anyone) and England Preserves. If you wanted something a bit more savoury or unusual, then I love the sound of the Masala Monsoon Floral Garam Masala blends. And they also stock pretty much my favourite chocolate, from Amelia Rope.

If you need liquid refreshment, they have everything from great tea and coffee through to hedgerow liquers and cordials. Need something great to eat off or drink from? They’ve got that covered too. But the bit that is going to be a tempting for me will be the pre-read, pre-loved food and cookery books.

Oh, and then there’s the vintage cake tins, and the jelly moulds…the list could go on!

I would definitely say this is a site worth stopping by, bookmarking, subscribing to the newsletter. I am sure you’re going to find it useful!

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Valentine’s Day with taste

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Those who know me will know I’m not going to be big on Valentine’s Day and, unless I have a very deep cover secret admirer, then it’s a two way thing with neither giving or receiving going on. But if I was going to be on either end of this equation, then these are things that would make it seem tasteful, tasty and not tacky for me!

 

Pale Sea Salt Collection from Amelia Rope

 

* Forget heart shaped, red foil covered, if it’s about chocolate, then I’d choose Amelia Rope every time. Restrained design, but bursting with colour and taste on the inside, it’s like a beautiful hidden surprise. Which is quite romantic even in my slightly cynical book. And it’s unexpected and shows thought, so more ticks in the right boxes. I really like the Pale Sea Salt Collection, unusual colours and unusual flavour.

Heart Shaped Box of fabulous cheese from Pong

* Ok, it’s about as twee as I’m going to get, but the only reason for including the Heart-Shaped Cheese Box from Pong is that they are actually good cheeses, in spite of the shape. If your Valentine is a savoury lover, then this may be just the thing.

 

Nyetimber - for a patriotic fizz for the British food lover

 

* If there’s going to be fizz, and I rather feel there should be, then break with the monopoly of the French stuff and support the homegrown version. To me, Nyetimber is up there with the best champagne I’ve drunk, and is far ahead of many of them. I’d be happy with the Classic Cuvee or the Rosé. One of each would be really pushing the boat out.

 

Smoked Scallops from the Hebridean Smokehouse

 

* Smoked salmon might be lovely, but also a bit, well, normal. I would love to have something like the Smoked Scallops from the Hebridean Smokehouse. Different but gorgeous, and something that is just ready for a simple but special meal. Would go really well with a glass of the Nyetimber too.

So, these are not wildly unusual, more like interesting twists on a theme. It’s about indulgence, and quality. No bad things in my book, at any time of year. What will you spoil your loved one with?

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How will you celebrate Chocolate Week?

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I may have mentioned before that I am rather fond of chocolate, and do a reasonable amount of “testing”. So a whole week devoted to chocolate in all its variety is probably right up my street. Here’s a few things I might want to think about doing:

 

Amelia Rope White Edition 3

 

* I have three favourite chocolate companies that I would quite happily offer to test for on a regular basis! Amelia Rope got me loving white chocolate again, Artisan du Chocolat held a fabulous tasting that I was at and Rococo have been responsible for a few detours along Marylebone High Street.

 

The Boutique Chocolate Hotel

 

* I could consider booking into The Chocolate Boutique Hotel in Bournemouth. I lived in Bournemouth for a number of years, and it seems to have improved a lot since I left. It certainly never had a fashionable Soho quarter, which is where this hotel is. All named in suitably chocolate style, there’s chocolate on the menu every day, and you could even have a chocolate fountain of your own in your room. There are chocolate weekends to enjoy, so even if it’s awful British weather outside, you can enjoy chocolate treats inside.

 

Champneys Forest Mere

 

* For the lowest calorie version of chocolate, then I’d book in for the Chocolate Wrapper treatment at Champneys. This smells just like a Terry’s Chocolate Orange, and leaves you with lovely soft skin. I’m very lucky in that I’ve stayed at all of the Champneys resorts for work over the years but if I had a choice then it would have to be Forest Mere. Feels like a fabulous liner afloat in the middle of an enchanted forest. And that was before the Chocolate Wrapper! Blissful escape.

How ever you choose to enjoy your chocolate this week, choose great chocolate from great people and take a moment to really enjoy it.

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Definitely my favourite new chocolate

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Just a very quick post to say I am in love with a new chocolate. It’s no secret that I do love my chocolate, and I’ve written before about Amelia Rope’s amazing chocolate.

 

Amelia Rope White Edition 3 - perfect gift for a food lover who loves great white chocolate

 

Well, now I finally have managed to get hold of some of the White Collection and, oh my! Now, I’m not necessarily a big white chocolate fan, but Edition No 3 is incredible. A combination of pistachios and Maldon sea salt, I am finding it hard to resist! I love a sweet salty combo and this has that, plus the luxury of the melting white chocolate with the crunch of the nuts.

It’s also visually stunning, as you can imagine, with white chocolate studded with little jewels of green pistachios. Just beautiful!

You can buy online from Amelia’s site but I bought mine in Liberty, and yes, I left you some! Unless the guy from the beauty counter who took for my chocolate and lipstick purchases (my favourite indulgences) went mad, as I raved about the chocolate and he was keen to go try!

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Valentine’s Day Chocolate to really make them smile

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So, one of the worst nightmares of Valentine’s Day, after plastic red roses or those awful teddies clutching satin hearts or red silk underwear, has to be the last minute, quarter pound box of Roses bought at the garage. Possibly only topped by all four of those awful gifts combined. Given that you still have a little time to get organised, here are a few to replace the box of Roses with:

 

Amelia Rope Valentine's Day - chocolate with taste at every level

 

* I love Amelia Rope’s chocolate, both for the fabulous flavour combinations in beautifully smooth chocolate, and also for the design as well. I love what she is doing for Valentine’s Day, where you can choose from either a little additional crystal heart for the front, or a lovely handmade gift tag. Messages written for you, so chances to be anonymous are high. But when you are sending chocolate this good, why not tell? I love the Dark Hazelnut and Sea Salt, but wouldn’t turn any of them down!

 

William Curley Red Gift Box for Valentine's Day

 

* William Curley have some lovely looking heart shaped boxes, which is not imaginative but it’s all about the chocolate inside. You could send the couture collection or framboise truffles, or even champagne truffles. All of which are significantly more likely to be well received than any amounts of Roses.

 

Mini heart salted caramels from Artisan Du Chocolat

 

* One of my happiest days was being at an event where the team from Artisan du Chocolat came in to do a tasting, and very generous they were too, with a great many delicous favours being nibbled at. But for Valentine’s Day I think there would be many great recipients of these mini heart shaped versions of their original Salted Caramels. Delicious!

 

Montezuma's Valentine hamper

 

* I’ve always been a fan of Montezuma’s, ever since their early days, and a hamper from them is a great gift for those who like their chocolate with, well shall we say a little less finesse? Big dollops, big flavours, generous portions. For some, heaven in a hamper!

So, be organised, and step away from the garage quarter pound selections. Be generous, it will repay you!

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