There are festivals, events and celebrations for every type of food and ingredient these days. It's hard to keep up. But sometimes I like to mention a celebration – and we certainly couldn't miss the Salon du Chocolat at the National Hall, Olympia in London, which started yesterday and runs until Sunday. Take the kids and have a nice day out, learning all about proper chocolate from national and international aficionados. The highlight of the salon is apparently going to be the couture fashion show, with outfits made from chocolate. Hopefully it doesn't get too hot in there.
As our food palates get more sophisticated, something which was previously seen as a cheap and fast snack, or a novelty item, now has far greater respect. We want to know much more about it, and chocolate is now not so much about being a guilty pleasure to tempt grown-ups and children, but is an ingredient that can be experimented with in lots of interesting recipes.
Chocolate and orange ice-cream
The secret to good chocolate ice-cream lies in the quality of the chocolate. Buy a pure, dark chocolate with at least 70 per cent cocoa solids. Use good-quality, bitter-tasting cocoa powder, not drinking chocolate. You'll have such an intensely chocolatey ice-cream that a little will go a long way. One scoop after dinner is perfect, and because of the slightly bitter taste the kids will probably keep their fingers out of the tub. The recipe can be altered by adding coarsely-grated chocolate while it's churning. Chocolate cookies or broken-up brownie also make a good addition.
An ice-cream maker is required for this.
The grated rind and juice of 4 oranges
25g glucose syrup
100g good-quality cocoa powder
300g extra-bitter chocolate, at least 70 per cent cocoa
Bring the orange juice to the boil and simmer until you have about 3-4 tablespoons, then add the zest, remove from the heat and leave to infuse. Bring the milk, sugar, glucose and cocoa powder to the boil, stirring occasionally to ensure the sugar has melted.
Pour on to the chocolate and stir until all the chocolate has melted, then stir in the orange juice and zest. Leave to cool before churning in the ice-cream machine – it will be ready to serve immediately, but obviously put some in a tub in the freezer and save it for later treats.
Makes about 20
Is the macaroon fad here to stay or was it a flash in the pan, I wonder? My guess is they are stronger in the marketplace than the cupcake fad which will surely exhaust itself.
For the macaroons
110g icing sugar
10g good-quality dark chocolate powder
50g ground almonds
2 medium egg whites
40g caster sugar
For the filling
70g good-quality 70 per cent dark chocolate
20g unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
50ml double cream
First, make the chocolate cream filling: put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl, separately bring the cream to the boil and pour it over the chocolate; stir with a spatula or wooden spoon until the chocolate has melted, then stir in the butter until the mixture is smooth. Lay a sheet of clingfilm over the surface of the chocolate and leave to cool at room temperature for an hour or so, but don't put it in the fridge.
To make the macaroons: preheat the oven to 160C/gas mark 3. Sift the icing sugar and cocoa powder into a dry, very clean bowl, then add the almonds. Next, make thef meringue. By hand or with an electric hand mixer or machine, whisk the egg whites and caster sugar in a separate bowl until the mixture forms stiff peaks. Carefully fold a third of the meringue into the icing-sugar mix with a large spoon until it's well incorporated, then stir in the rest until mixed well.
Line a baking tray with silicone or greaseproof paper. Clean a piping bag with boiling water to remove any grease and wipe dry. Load the mixture into the piping bag and pipe 10p piece-sized blobs, or larger, with a plain nozzle. Drop the tray on the work surface from about 10cm high to help spread the mixture evenly. Leave the macaroons uncovered for 15-20 minutes before cooking.
Bake the macaroons for about 10-12 minutes. You'll know they are cooked when they come away from the paper with a spatula or palette knife. Put to one side and leave to cool.
To assemble, spread about half a teaspoon or more of the filling on the flat side of a macaroon and sandwich with another half. Serve at room temperature.
Roast woodpigeon with raisins and chocolate sauce
Yes, pigeon and chocolate, together at last. Actually, in South America it's quite common to use pure chocolate in savoury dishes so don't be frightened off by such a combination.
4 oven-ready woodpigeons
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
500g beetroot, boiled in their skins and peeled (they need cooking for about 1 hour)
For the sauce
A good knob of butter
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
½tsp tomato purée
350ml beef stock
100ml red wine
15g raisins, soaked in warm water for 5-6 hours
60g good dark chocolate (preferably 100 per cent cacao), grated
First make the sauce: gently cook the shallots in the knob of butter for 2-3 minutes, until soft. Add the flour and tomato purée and stir well.
Gradually add the red wine and port, stirring well. Bring to the boil and reduce by two-thirds. Add the beef stock and simmer until the sauce has reduced by half and thickened, then add the raisins.
Preheat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7. Season the pigeons and rub all over with the butter. Roast for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and leave to rest.
While the birds are roasting, mash the beetroot and reheat in a pan with a knob of butter. Season with salt and pepper and put a lid on to keep it hot.
Reheat the sauce and whisk in the chocolate, until dissolved.
Remove the breasts and legs from the pigeon. Spoon the beetroot on to the centre of warmed plates, arrange the pigeon on top and spoon around the chocolate sauce.
Bitter chocolate granola crunch
Makes about 20-30
Though I've been making more elaborate dishes, it's still great to make some chocolate-based snacks, too. These are very easy to make and equally easy to munch on.
You may well want to double up the recipe as they are pretty moreish. And keep them away from the kids.
200g good-quality granola
1250g good-quality 70 per cent dark chocolate, broken into pieces
Put the chocolate in a clean, dry, heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, stirring every so often until the chocolate has melted.
Remove the bowl from the pan, leave to cool for a few minutes, then stir in the granola and again leave to cool for a few minutes.
Meanwhile, line a tray with clingfilm or greaseproof paper. Using a teaspoon, drop spoonfuls of the mixture on to the tray a few centimetres apart, then leave to set in a cool place or in the fridge. Store in an airtight container until required.