Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Cocoa - Sue Quinn

The problem with my kitchen drain continues, the consensus amongst the 7 men who have so far been to look at it being that it's complicated, and will probably be expensive to fix. It's work that should be covered by the building service charge and the management company that deals with that are in no particular hurry - though they do at least seem to be accepting that it comes under their remit.

Meanwhile I've been reminded that much worse things can happen, and am adjusting to the inconvenience (as is my mother, who is taking my laundry which is amazing of her, and readers - she irons everything. Even pyjama trousers, which I have never done). It also helps that I'm off work this week, having time on my hands makes everything better.

I've also got Sue Quinn's 'Cocoa' which is exactly the book I needed to cheer myself up with. I picked it up after seeing Diana Henry recommend it a couple of times, and fell in love on the spot. It bills itself as an exploration of chocolate with recipes - but has more recipes than I think that suggests, and they're good ones.

Is also worth saying that if you have a mother who enjoys cooking, or are looking for something more interesting than a supermarket Easter egg* to give this year, you want to look at this book.

The background information about chocolate and the industry is interesting. The explanation about quality and what to look for on labels is really useful, and the description of how to taste chocolate was illuminating. It's basically exactly the same process as for wine, which I hadn't fully appreciated.  The flavour descriptors are particularly similar, which makes sense now I've thought about it, I'm also thinking  this is something I can use as a training tool. There will be times when it'll be a lot easier to use different chocolates to teach a tasting skill set than it is wine.

If I needed that further underlining I got it in spades when I opened a bag of cocoa nibs and inhaled - it was almost intoxicating. Cocoa nibs feature a lot, which is good because they're both really versatile, but also the kind of thing I find I buy, use once, and then linger unloved at the back of a cupboard.

The recipes are the real hook for me with this book. Quinn explores the savoury end of the chocolate/cocoa flavour spectrum as well as the sweet, things like prosciutto with bitter leaves and a nib vinaigrette, or soft cheese salad with blackberries, mint, and nibs sound particularly good. That said it's sweet stuff I've made so far.

A delicious Jasmine infused 'Medici' hot chocolate inspired by Cosimo III Medici's favourite, and jaw droppingly extravagent, drink. Quinn's version mixes milk chocolate with milk and jasmine tea bags and makes something unusual (at least if for most of your life hot chocolate has meant Cadbury's sugary drinking chocolate powder) refreshing, and slightly addictive.

Just as addictive is a sweet dukkah, the sweetness mostly comes from honey and is subtle, nibs give a cocoa depth of flavour, pistachio and rose petals make it extraordinarily pretty, cumin and fennel add another dimension that increases its versatility - and that's only half the ingredients. It creates a minimum of washing up and is going to be a store cupboard staple.

Chocolate, olive oil, almond, and Rosemary cookies also turned out to be every bit as good as they sound. Not to sweet, rich, and a brilliant flavour - worth washing up in the bathroom sink for.

All of those recipes feed back to the basic ethos of the book which centres on ethics and quality. Chocolate is a luxury, and we can all "choose chocolate for flavour, quality, and provenance not the cheapest price tag." That doesn't mean paying a fortune, just taking care to make sure something is at least fair trade, and taking the time to look at the label to see what it is we're actually eating.

*We love chocolate in my family but aren't big Easter egg fans. I dislike the packaging and the premium price for an ordinary product, mum can't resist the temptation of eating them before she's given them away, Dad hates anything he considers too commercial, my stepmother doesn't like cheap chocolate, and so it goes on.


  1. There is a lot to be said for real chocolate.

    1. There really is. Finding something that has the right balance between quality, cost, and ethics is a great thing too - we're currently enjoying Tony's Chocolonely a lot in my family.