Friday, 22 November 2013

Week 2 - Fairtrade Dark Chocolate Souffle

What I am learning in this journey is that in cooking it's all about the method and that the tricks that chefs and bakers know is what distinguishes them from us common amateurs. It may seem obvious to you, but it's a bit of a revelation to me!

So, it's not just about knowing a bit about the ingredients and how they go together and following (or trying to in my case!) a recipe... but it's all about the 'secrets of the kitchen', like for a souffle, after reading about many amateur's flops, I learnt that's it's crucial to never use a wooden spoon with the egg whites,to always have a dry clean bowl when beating the eggs and that one must ONLY use a metal spoon to fold the chocolate in... with these newly learnt tricks I am happy to say that my souffles didn't only rise, but they didn't collapse shortly after leaving the oven, and they were actually very delicious.

Here's is how you can do it.

135 grs of fairtrade dark chocolate

- 150 ml of double cream
- 3 eggs + 2 more egg withes
- 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
-3 tablespoons of caster sugar (fairtrade of course)
- 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon (for the African twist)
- Icing sugar for decoration


1) Warm up the oven to 220 degrees

2) Butter the ramekins and coat them with sugar. (Ramekins are basically small dishes that can go in the oven.)

3) Break up the chocolate and put it in a non-stick (a heavy pan if you have one) with the cream on a low heat. Stir with a wooden spoon, until it all melts and is combined together.

4) Take it off the heat and add the 3 egg yolks and the vanilla and cinnamon. 

5) On a clean and dry bowl, with clean and dry beaters, beat the eggs until stiff. Add the sugar slowly as you do.

6) Take 1/4 of the the egg whites and pour it on the chocolate. With a metal spoon, fold them in, just to loosen the chocolate mix.

7) Add the loosened chocolate to the rest of the egg whites, and fold, until it's all combined but still fluffy. DON'T stir... and don't over work it or you will lose all the air bubbles.

8) Quickly pour into the ramekins (almost the the top) and put into the oven, for 7 minutes. 

9) Take out from the oven, quickly dust with powdered sugar and serve.

Tadaaa... Pass the spoons and see the jaws drop. Enjoy.

The verdict

Well, once you know the tricks I mentioned above, it really is a very easy dessert to make, and one that has the potential to cause a bit of drama and high impact. It was really very tasty, although next time I will add a bit more chocolate of try a higher percentage cocoa, and forget the cinnamon, since it just got lost in there.

It's also important not to be tempted to leave it in the over for any longer than the 7 minutes, or you might get a squeaky, quiche like dessert instead of the light and fluffy almost gooey one.

Will I make it again? definitely, my daughter will see to it that I do!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Brief note about cocoa

Well, it is only today that I have the chance to sit down and talk about this week's challenge, and as I did last week, and intend to do so going forward, I'd like to start with a brief note about the chosen ingredient: fairtrade dark chocolate.

Cocoa is one of the commodities that has enjoyed most success in the fairtrade market in the UK, and it's really no surprise since I was reading that we have the highest amount of retail chocolate and are one of the biggest chocolate consumption countries per capita (I'm sure doing my bit there!).

There is a strong fairtrade chocolate brand called Divine (also set up by Twin) which has excellent products and a very appealing brand image, and which I'm sure I will use in future, but you can also find many fairtrade varieties of supermarket own brand products, and even giants such as Cadburys and  Kit Kat have now converted to fairtrade in recent years... in what we have been calling the 'mainstreaming of fairtrade', which again can give rise to much debate on whether is a good or a bad thing, with many alleging that it's just big bad brands jumping in the bandwagon for the marketing value, and diluting the principles that the label represents, but to me, as long as it offers better price and volumes to more producers and it helps consumers to find their well loved brands with the fairtrade mark...It can only be a good thing.

But back to cocoa. One of the things that I learnt about it when I worked with producers, is that its origin is really very important in relation to its taste and that even though that cocoa tree itself seems to have been native to the foothills of the Andes, most of its worldwide production nowadays comes from West Africa. The African cocoa certainly tastes very different to the Latin American varieties and the Europeans seem to favour the taste of the African beans, which is why even though many Latin American coffee producers would like to diversify into cocoa production (which makes sense for many agricultural reasons) they can often struggle to find European buyers for their cocoa's taste profile.

Even so, one can now see the emergence of many 'peruvian cocoa' chocolate bars in UK supermarkets, but  I have to say, that perhaps my palate has become European, because I do find myself preferring the African cocoa varieties too.

Which is why this week I chose a Ghanaian 70% dark fairtrade chocolate bar from the Co-operative's own brand range. The Co-op has been in the news a lot this week and seems to be in great trouble, which I find is a real shame, since it is one the most 'ethical' supermarkets, at least in discourse!

I really wanted to add a Ghanaian twist to the souffle, but another thing that I found is often the case is that many cocoa producers never get a chance to try chocolate!, it seems that sadly it's mainly exported for our enjoyment... so, i couldn't find any recipes of Ghanaian desserts containing chocolate, the only thing I found was a version of hot chocolate with lots of cinnamon and ginger. Therefore I decided to add cinnamon to the souffle... it's not much of a twist this time I'm afraid.

But, enough of that, get your pen an paper ready for this super easy recipe, that can generate great drama and impact!

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Week 2: Ingredient and Recipe chosen

Still riding high on last week's success.I have now decided that the ingredient for this week will be fairtrade dark chocolate, which I'm sure I will be able to find in abundance!

I haven't decided  whether to go for a chocolate with Ghanaian or Peruvian cocoa yet... I think I'll do a bit more research into the recipe and method before I do.

And... just because I'm feeling invincible... I will risk it and aim to make a chocolate souffle! I've never made one before... and know that they are notoriously difficult to make since they have a tendency not to rise... or to collapse as soon as they leave the oven. But hey, it's supposed to be a challenge right?

Depending on the origin of the cocoa, I'll try to add either a Peruvian or Ghanaian twist as either and ingredient or accompaniment.

So.. I've got my ramekins at the ready.... but will they rise????

Here's what they should look like!

Monday, 11 November 2013

Week 1, the results!

KAJU KATLI using Fairtrade Cashew Nuts 

So, Lucas (my 1year old) is down for a nap and I'm sipping some coffee and nibbling some delicious Kaju Katli sweet (yes, they were delicious!) and I'm very excited about telling you about this week's experience.

Well, we had a bumpy start because on Saturday after Chris and I visited our favourite 'Exotic Food Shop' and a couple of supermarkets on the quest to find the ingredients...we just couldn't find the cashews we needed! When I chose the recipe I knew i would have no problem finding baked cashew nuts, (because I know Liberation sells them) but I thought that I would surely be able to find raw fairtrade cashews in supermarkets under their own label products... but I was wrong! there were loads of conventional and organic cashews but no raw Fairtrade ones!!!... so, I had a bit of a panic and even thought about baking something else etc... but I had done so much research into the recipe and to the method that I really didn't want to start again... so I just decided to go ahead using organic raw nuts for the paste, but since I would use Fairtrade sugar and the Fairtrade baked cashews to decorate them...I could just about get by calling them Fairtrade! This will serve me as a lesson for planing and preparation in future and it also made me think that there is perhaps a gap in the market!

Now, to the recipe and preparation method.

My best friend (through thick and thin as she says.. thick being 2 pregnancies and thin... the bits in between!) Sandra always laughs whenever I mention a recipe I've tried, because she knows that I am simply unable to follow a recipe 100%... I always think that there is too much of this, or not enough of that and that surely it would be better to add this... so in this case it's no different!

The basic ingredients for Kaju Katlis are:

1 cup of raw cashews
1/2 cup of Faitrade sugar
1/4 water

But I saw many variations that also added, either Rose Essence, or Cardamon. So I decided to add both and some coconut rum!, so in my version I also used:

1/2 teaspoon of Rose Essence
1/2 teaspoon of freshly grounded Cardamon Seeds
1 teaspoon of Caribbean coconut Rum

Cardamon is I think one of my all time favourite spices, and the smell that most reminds me of India... and reading up about it I found that India is not the main producer and exporter of it... but Guatemala! how random.... especially because I really can't think of any Latin American food that would have  it... but that's something to research in future!

On spices, I should say that I was also kind of hoping to find fairtrade spices... but only saw a ridiculously expensive bottle of vanilla essence (more than £5 for a tiny bottle!) in my quest... again gap in the market?

To the method itself... which was very simple... but had a couple of sticky steps  (literally) that could go wrong:
1) Grind the raw cashew nuts to a fine powder. Now, this is one of the tricky bits. I read I could use a coffee bean grinder... but that was a disaster, because the nuts just became a paste and clogged the whole internal mechanisms of the grinder. So, I then just used a normal food processor, which was fine, but the other tip I read about, was to be careful to grind in just one go, rather than stopping and starting, because if you do, the oil from the nuts starts to cluster in small balls and then you will never get smooth Kajus. Also it's important to use nuts at room temperature, and never from the fridge.

2) Boil the sugar and water on a pan to get a syrup (don't ask why I used sugar cubes... picked up the wring box!). Use a low heat and keep stirring . This is the other sticky point... because you don't want the sugar to burn... in which case you will get caramel. A good tip I found was that if you keep dropping a few drops of water, when they don't dissolve and instead just sit on top, you are there.

3) Add the Rose Essence, Ground Cardamon and Rum. and stir.

4) Add the ground cashews and stir for about 3-4 minutes, until the mixture thickens up. You will know when it's ready when you can take a little bit and roll a tiny ball between your fingers, and becomes a little dough ball.

5) Whilst still hot, you need to transfer it to an oiled work surface. I  used baking  paper.You also need to grease your hands. You can use Ghee (the Indian clarified butter) if you can find it, but I just used sunflower oil, and it was fine.When it's cool enough to handle, you need to knead the dough for a few minutes, and at this point it will lose its grainy texture and become quite smooth.

6) Grease your roller pin as well, and roll the dough to a thin layer. I rolled mine to the thickness of about a pound coin, but I think when I do it again, I'll roll them a bit thicker and perhaps cut them smaller... so that they sit nicely next to a cup of coffee. Then using a knife, draw lines and cut out diamonds. At this point I also added that Fairtrade cashew nuts for decoration.

7) Leave them to cool and ferment, for at least 15 minutes, and then you can remove them and place them in a serving plate. etc. I spent ages trying to arrange mine in the India Star fashion!

Now to the judges for the results!

While I cooked, my lovely husband Chris and (master chef extraordinaire of the Minter family) and mum in law Peter entertained the kids by making individual score boards for us to use every week.

So, what was their verdict (from 1 -5 fingers)

Big smiles from Lucas and desperate attempts to eat them (he tried a little bit of the sweet bit) and Emilia had stuffed her face with 3 before the others got to them... so i think she liked them too!

Chris really liked them, but would add more cardamon next time and Pete wasn't sure she liked the saltiness of the baked nuts on top.

My verdict? To be honest, I've had Indian sweets in the past and have never been able to finish them because they were simply too sweet for me, however that is not the case with them. They reminded me a lot of Baklava... they are sweet, but nutty most of all and yes next time I will add more cardamon and will forget the Rose Essence and Rum, since they just got lost in the mix.

The real test is whether I will make them again... and the answer is YES... I think they were very easy and are fantastic with a cup of coffee... and since they don't have any milk or eggs, they have a great shelf life, so would make excellent homemade food gifts, perhaps for Christmas maybe in a lovely jar or box (there a millions of ideas in Pinterest!).

So 5 from me too!

Sunday, 10 November 2013

About Liberation and FTAK

Before I tell you about the cooking experience, I want to say a little bit about the product I chose for this week's cooking experience: Fairtrade Cashew Nuts, especially because the 2 organisations I will mention are very dear to me.
During my work with a charity called Twin Trading , where I leaned everything I know about Fair Trade and where I met and worked with the most committed, intelligent and wonderful people I could have ever hoped for, I was fortunate to work  closely with smallholder nut producers from all over the world who sell their nuts in the UK marked via a company that Twin and other committed organisations established  in 2007 called Liberation Foods . Liberation is not only special because it's one of the biggest (if not the main) fairtrade nuts importer in the UK, but also because it's mainly owned by nut producers themselves.
The other organisation I want to mention is Fair Trade Alliance Kerala (FTAK), which is a cooperative from Southern India which supplies its cashews to Liberation, and which hosted us in 2008. In particular I want to mention my dear friend Tomy Mathews from FTAK, who is one of my Fair Trade heroes. Tomy has served in several boards (including the Fairtrade Foundation one) over the past few years and I'm wouldn't be surprised if he ended up taking the role of Head of the United Nations!

So, this week it was easy to choose the ingredient, because I am a confessed nut-aholic, who  had the pleasure of working with many other committed fairtrade nutters from all over the world!.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Momories of India

So, I hinted at our trip to India a couple of posts ago, and since then I have been reminiscing about the amazing time we had and about how much the Indian culture and amazing people we met there touched us and I guess in a way changed our outlook ever since.
I remember reading a passage in my favourite book 'Shantaram' just before travelling, where the author said that one has to 'surrender' to India... and I guess I didn’t know what he meant until we got there... I certainly had to surrender my London notion of personal space very quickly and get used to crowds of people having no reservations about touching you!... but more importantly to completely surrender to their genuine smiles and amazing warmness and generosity... I can’t count how many people we met along the way to couldn’t be more hospitable and in one case even kidnapped us to their home and offered us their own beds just so that we could get up early enough to go to their Hindi temple drumming celebration and dressing of the elephants the next dawn.
I also often think about the yoga sessions we had at dawn on the rooftop of the monastery where we were staying with, a ‘real’ Yogi instructor... and sometimes when I am doing my morning Pilates my mind wanders to that place and looks for that sense of calm and well being.
And don’t even get me started on the backwaters and the tea plantations of Munnar... but the list is long and I wont bore you anymore... I’ll just make a quiet promise to return one day.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

What is Fairtrade anyway?

One thing I have been thinking about, is that since many of my family and friends live abroad and might not be familiar with the notion we have here of Fairtrade, I should do a quick paragraph about what Fairtrade is.

Of course you can find a lot of detailed, and probably more technical and precise information on websites such as this one: Fairtrade Foundation UK, but having worked in the field for the last 8 years I will give you my understanding of it.

Fairtrade seeks to help people in developing countries trade their way out of poverty. This means, on the producer side, that people receive a 'fair' minimum price as well as a premium for development. It most cases it also means that they can develop relationships with buyers that often transpires in technical assistance, capacity building and general guidance, all of which helps them improve the quality of their products and to become more competitive and resilient in the international markets in which they trade in.

On the consumer side, people can recognise and choose products which carry (in the UK) the below label:
The label tells consumers that the company that bought and commercialised the product has adhered to internationally agreed Fairtrade standards.  

There are other labels and much debate about other types of 'ethical' trade certifications, but for the purpose of this Blog, I will not go into that and will simply limit my 'cooking experiments' to products that carry this one. 

Week 1: what I will attempt!

I spent a long time yesterday deciding what Indian dessert to make with cashew nuts... in the end I have gone for something called Kaju Katli (Kaju means cashew in Hindi). I have never tried it, but from what i found out about it, its and Indian sweet made for special occasions, especially for Diwali (the Indian festival of lights) which was last Sunday. It's a dessert where my star ingredient: 'cashews' features as the main ingredient and it feels like it will capture this week's festive context.
From what I can see, it's a sort of 'fudge' made from a cashew paste and thickened sugar, made exciting by infusing spices such as saffron, cardamon, ginger and cinnamon into the paste.
I cant wait to make it on Sunday (this will generally be my cooking/baking day).

Here is a photo of what it should look like:

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Ingredient for week 1

I've been up half the night thinking and researching ideas for this week! Not great when it's only 6am and the kids are up and full of energy for the day ahead! But never mind... That's what God made coffee for, right?
But the time was not wasted because I have now decided that this week's ingredient will be Fairtrade cashew nuts... And I'll go for an Indian inspired cake full of different flavours aromas and textures...just like India was to me 5 years ago when I had the incredible opportunity to travel to the southern region of Kerala for the International  Nut Producer Cooperative Global Assembly, where I shared some incredible experiences with Fairtrade small holder producers from all over the world. It was also a very special trip because Chris (my husband) joined me there to celebrate his 30th birthday. I can't wait to dig out and share some photos later today.

What this blog is about

So, in this blog I will try to link 2 things I feel strongly about in a challenge: Fair Trade and Food!...
The challenge is to cook one delicious new recipe each week using at least one Fair Trade product... but preferably more.
I will choose a product, research an interesting recipe for something exciting and hopefully related to the people who produce it or their countries.... but transfer it to the context of rural England (let's face it, there will be a lot of cake in the winter time!)...then I will share the recipe and photos and describe how good or bad the experience was.
When I get followers... I will also ask for suggestions of products and recipes.
Hopefully in some small way this will help promote Fair Trade whilst improving my cooking skills (which I must warn are amateurish at best!)... so here we go!