Chocolate Extract

I wouldn’t say I was a hoarding type of person, but when my shelves are falling down with cookbooks and I just can’t finish the cocoa nibs – there’s got to be some squirreling away tendencies there.

Going on my Amazon wishlist makes things worse, as it’s simply full of new cookbooks on whatever phase of cuisine has taken my interest at the time. So right now, as you can guess, it’s bulging with manuals on French pastry.

Some of my recent buys have been pretty good value for money. My copy of Ottolenghi’s first cookbook is well worn already, and I still have a great deal of affection for the Hummingbird Bakery’s first opus – which introduced me to the bejewelled American style cupcake, giant cheesecakes, and the alien world of pumpkin and key lime pies (still haven’t made either).

The great thing about the internet, and food blogs is apart from encouraging you to buy and hoard cookbooks and ingredients – they also come up with ingenious ways of using up your bounty. I’ve been trying to make chocolate extract with some of the cocoa nibs, stewed in vodka, much the same way I make vanilla extract, which should add a nice extra chocolatey flavour to any future baking. David Lebovitz mentions on his blog that he uses chocolate extract, so I am holding out hope.

So if you are interested, here’s how to make your own chocolate extract, although I’ll have to wait a few months to see how it turns out!

Chocolate Extract

  • 1 clean jam jar with lid
  • handful of cocoa nibs
  • cheap vodka

Toast the cocoa nibs, and let them cool completely. Crush them roughly, and tip into the jam jar. Fill the jar almost to the brim with vodka. Screw the lid on tightly and shake. Put somewhere dark and cool for several months to mature.

On a completely unrelated note, there has been loads of excitement about caramelised white chocolate, with a lot of food bloggers raving about the results. I tried a bar of the new Valrhona blond chocolate, which set me back £5 poorer. It was alright. Nice and sweet, a bit biscuity and caramel-y ….nothing life altering.

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Southern Paradise

The South Island of New Zealand, is without question, a scenic gem. Full of lush greenery, snowy mountains and miles of unspoilt scenery, it is a veritable heaven for hiking. Or hobbits, if it comes to that. You can definitely see why this is a popular location for filming.

I arrived in South Island by ferry by crossing the Cook Strait from Wellington. This part of the sea is infamous for storms and treacherous waters so thankfully my crossing was quite the opposite with clear sunny skies and calm seas. It was a treat coming into Marlborough Sounds.

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My first destination was the sleepy coastal town of Picton.

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Then onward bound to the nitty-gritty of my trip – deep into the beautiful regions of Mount Cook and Westland National Parks.

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I was lucky to get good weather while I was here although mist and cloud sometimes meant taking great photos wasn’t always possible!

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All the trails and walking routes are very clearly marked and maintained. They really range in difficulty too, you can walk anywhere from 10 minutes on a covered path, to a whole day on rough and rocky terrain. I’m not a very experienced hiker so I stuck to the middle, with easy-paced rambles of anywhere between 2 and 5 hours.

There were so many regions of the South Island I wish I had more time to explore. The glorious abundance of glacial lakes, wildlife watching, and the fjords of Milford Sound, for instance. There is an area near Lake Tekapo which boasts some of the clearest night skies in the world, making seeing the Milky Way a doddle. What could surpass that?

The reason all this is so difficult to fit in is mainly down to the fact that South Island is not easy to travel around. Roads are not built to take you anywhere quickly. I travelled by coaches,which have a very sparse timetable involving early mornings and long journeys. It also doesn’t give you much flexibility in travelling. If I came again I would definitely hire a car.

That’s not to say that the coaches weren’t still an excellent way of travelling about. Good opportunities to take a nap, an informative driver pointing out sights of interest en route, and pickups/drop offs right at the door of your youth hostel.

The youth hostels in New Zealand are friendly, clean, and well equipped, particularly the ones in the remoter parts of the country! Meeting other travellers was one of the highlights of my travels and swapping tales of all sorts of comedic mishaps whilst scrambling over rocks in the dark, peering for glow-worms was great fun!

For the wildlife lovers, there’s plenty to take in, from dolphin spotting, seal spotting, and swimming with whales if that takes your fancy!

I’d love to come back again, who knows?

Windy Welly

I arrived in Wellington on an overcast, grey sort of day, but the beauty of the contoured terrain still astounded me. I was greeted at the airport by some of the friendliest airport staff I’d ever met, which was already an excellent sign of what was to come! 🙂

The ‘Windy’ part of Welly didn’t really live up to its name when I was there. It was sunny, clear and the air was gorgeously warm and still. The harbourside was a buzz of weekend activity, and I got the chance to explore the stalls clustered around a small food market, polishing off a delicious lamb roti wrap on the way. Near the harbour is the renown Te Papa museum, and it was fantastically informative, full of interesting exhibitions on Maori culture, and the colonisation of New Zealand in the last couple of centuries.

Wellington’s parliament buildings are also worth a visit, especially to see the ‘Beehive,’ an unusual circular structure which is set in pretty garden surroundings. For a throwback of what train stations might have been like two hundred years ago, Wellington train station in all its unaltered simplicity is stunning.

I couldn’t leave Wellington without indulging in some movie geekery by paying a trip to the nondescript suburb of Miramar, and getting lost amongst warehouses and second-hand dealers. Miramar being home of the Weta workshop, which is most famous for the creation of the costumes and cinematic effects in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

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You’re not actually allowed entry into the workshop itself due to film confidentiality contracts, so the main visitor area is a small shop known as the Weta Cave attached to the side of the building. It is crammed full of exciting paraphernalia, and they screen a 25 minute behind-the-scenes film, which is a rather nice touch, but does also give yout the overwhelming urge to purchase a full size replica sword. I only managed to resist temptation by reminding myself that the airline wouldn’t have been too impressed by it.

Next post….exploring South Island….

Inside London Part 3 – Shopping

Shopaholics, delight! This is YOUR day out in London.
  • Begin the day early exploring Borough Market before all the tourists ram it packed. Don’t buy too much though, you need those arms for carrying more shopping bags later. If foodie shopping isn’t your thing, start the day off at Spitafields Market. Quirky stuff galore.
  • Admire the view of the Shard then head westwards to St Paul’s Cathedral. It’s worth a look, but don’t bother paying to go inside.
  • Head towards Covent Garden – it’s clustered with all manner of shops, quirky and posh. Don’t forget the shop dedicated to Moomins. There’s also a Laduree outlet here if you want to pick up some macarons.
  • From Covent Garden head up to Piccadilly circus. You can head towards Regent Street and Oxford Circus from here, where shops like Topshop have their flagship stores. Also Selfridges.
  • If Oxford Street or Regent’s Street don’t float your boat, head on the Underground and get the train to Sloane Square. You’re heading for the King’s Road in Chelsea.
  • Shop on the street where the rich and famous shop along. If you want to go for the big name designers, take right when you exit Sloane Square tube station, and head up Sloane Street. Gucci, Prada, Anya Hindmarch….you name it, they’ve got it. Harrods and Harvey Nichols are within walking distance.
  • Stop by the Saatchi gallery on the King’s Road if interested in art.
  • Stop at the Bluebird Cafe, or Beas of Bloomsbury along the King’s Road for a stylish spot of lunch, and to catch a breath.
  • Ready fuelled, head further along the King’s Road to West Brompton station.
  • Catch the overground train to Shepherd’s Bush, and head to Westfield Shopping Centre.
  • Then, exhausted with all that spending, finish the day off with dinner in one of the many many restaurants in Westfield.
  • Dump all your purchases home, and collapse!

Inside London Part 2 – Eating

So, this is the more Foodie Version, given that I do nom my way around London a fair bit. Still plenty of other tourist sights packed in for good measure though!
  • Again, begin the day early exploring Borough Market before all the tourists ram it packed, getting baking inspiration, and carrying away a loaf of gorgeous artisan bread, and something for lunch later. Or pay a trip to Maltby Street market, which is less touristy.
  • Then head for a appetite-inducing walk along the river towards Westminster. Head up the OXO tower and admire panoramic views of London.
  • Admire the quirky shops of Southbank, and the Houses of Parliament.
  • Cross Westminster Bridge, and head over towards St James Park. Have a nice picnic lunch here and feed any leftovers to the ducks and squirrels (but they are fat enough).
  • Admire Buckingham Palace and take some touristy photos.
  • Hire Boris bikes and head across Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens towards Notting Hill. Find a blue door and take a photo in front of it, pretending you are searching for Hugh Grant.
  • Wander the streets of Portobello Road Market, and pop into the Hummingbird Bakery or Primrose Bakery, or Ottolenghi for a slice of something sweet. Take back to Kensington Gardens, and nibble, keeping an eagle eye out for Kate Middleton strolling past.
  • Head down to South Kensington, and get a bit of culture at one of the museums there.
  • Head along Brompton Road towards Knightsbridge, and Harrods.
  • Find the Laduree boutique at the back of Harrods, and pick up a beautiful box of macarons as a tasty albeit French souvenir of your London trip.
  • Finally, finish off the day with fine dining at one of the many recommended restaurants that central London has to offer, including The Hawksmoor (Covent Garden), or The Harwood Arms (Fulham).
  • Walk off that wonderful dinner with a gentle stroll along the Thames.
  • Perhaps fit in a cheeky gelato from Oddono’s on Bute Street before they shut at 10/11pm.

Inside London Part 1 – Sightseeing

I love taking friends and family around the capital, and have a well established tourist route that I take them along. It’s great! I’ve given a very thorough example below, don’t feel like you have to do all of it, or you will be totally exhausted. But it gives a lot of ideas for the main attractions and a good geographical method to get around efficiently.
  • Begin the day early exploring Borough Market before all the tourists ram it packed, getting baking inspiration, and carrying away a loaf of gorgeous artisan bread, and something for lunch later.
  • Admire the view of the Shard, then head across the river to climb up Monument and admire the panoramic view of London.
  • Pop by St Paul’s Cathedral out of interest, but not worth paying the extortionate fees to go inside.
  • Picnic lunch in the form of goodies procured from Borough Market.
  • Ready fuelled, head over to Trafalgar Square, and soak up the atmosphere at the National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery. Or if you are more gorily minded, head over to the Hunterian Museum.
  • Then give your legs a break by popping into the cafe under St-Martin-in-the-Fields and definitely try their apple crumble with generous dashings of custard. If apple crumble isn’t your thing, and you still have some energy in those legs, pop along to Chinatown, grabbing some bubble tea and a slice of Pandan chiffon cake on your way.
  • Then hire a Boris bike and cycle through Green Park and Hyde Park until you reach South Kensington. Admire Buckingham Palace along the way.
  • Get even more cultural education from the V&A, or the Science Museum or Natural History Museum.
  • Dinner somewhere like the Dutch Pancake House near High Street Kensington
  • Finally, an evening concert at the Royal Albert Hall, or a trip to the Piano Bar just further along High Street Ken to call the end to a busy busy day!