20 December 2015

From Bean to Bar: Ethical Chocolate with a Healthy Twist

I KNOW THERE are many chocolate lovers bracing themselves for a hefty gym schedule in the New Year.  Selection boxes and sweets – mandatory Christmas indulgences – are a neverending pursuit at this time of year.  If I were to tell you there is indeed a chocolate that is good for you, you’d probably believe me as much as one would a tubby bearded man flying through the sky with a troupe of reindeer.

However, research recently conducted by Queen Margaret University has shown Scottish chocolatier The Chocolate Tree has a ‘bar-to-bean’ range produced using ethically sourced cocoa beans that will alleviate some of that guilt.

Nutrition experts at the university have found that when eaten in moderation, the premium chocolate produced by the Edinburgh-based company contains high levels of polyphenols that offer certain health benefits that include lowering the risk of heart disease.

Credit: Erik Hammar
Dr. Mary Warnock, Senior Lecturer in Dietetics, Nutrition, and Biological Sciences at QMU, explained: “Polyphenols actively work in the body to prevent certain disease mechanisms occurring. Polyphenols are antioxidants from plant foods and it is generally believed that they may reduce the risk factors of cardiovascular disease and can help protect the body from chronic disease.”

Importing cocoa beans from Madagascar, Ecuador and Peru, the company focuses on highly ethical sourcing, using only the finest raw ingredients to create their chocolates.  The minimal processing of such fine produce not only leads to a high-end, premium product, but also maintains the natural qualities of the raw ingredients to maximise the natural polyphenols and antioxidants.

Dr. Warnock added: “The study recognised that the great care taken by The Chocolate Tree to apply minimal processing methods in the creation of its high-end chocolate ensured the preservation of naturally occurring attributes within its final product.”

Credit: Erik Hammar
The Chocolate Tree was founded out of sheer passion by Ali and Friederike Gower in 2005 when the couple travelled around music festivals in a solar-powered geodesic dome tent, nourishing weary festival goers in their organic chocolate café serving cakes and hot chocolate.

The feedback inspired them to combine Friederike’s love of baking and Ali’s ambitions to run a business and they graduated to selling their chocolate bars at farmers’ markets, independent retailers and farm shops, gradually growing the reputation of The Chocolate Tree brand.  The success saw their first shop open in Bruntsfield in 2009, and their chocolate now sells to ethical, independent and high-end retailers around the globe.

The key factors in creating these exquisite chocolate treats compared to a typical bar you find on a supermarket shelf is largely down to the processing method, as well as the standard of ingredients.

Credit: Erik Hammar
Ali explains: “The difference cannot be understated. Techniques used to create mass produced chocolate are vastly different from those used by craft chocolate makers. It comes down to attention to detail in every step of the production, from the steps taken at origin to ferment and dry the cacao and the difference in the genetics of the cacao. At our end, it means obsessive sorting of the beans, gentle roasting, adding ingredients in a certain order and using specific techniques and equipment during conching (flavour development) to create flavours the mass produced market can’t touch.”

Now, chocolate this good does come at a price, with the average craft chocolate bar priced at around £6 for 80g, and there needs to be an obvious reason to convince people it's worth it. Ali elaborates:

“I’ve conducted taste tests that compare our bars to supermarket 'finest' ranges, and people are genuinely impressed. It’s important for me to show this, as the price difference is significant. It’s not too different from a blended whisky vs. a single malt, or a cheap wine vs. a good vintage.”

The Chocolate Tree’s ethos in terms of responsibly locating their ingredients and the importance of strong links with growers is highly commendable, and although this essential relationship contributes to the price, it offers numerous other benefits on top of the health ones.

Credit: Erik Hammar
“Working directly with the growers allows us to encourage agricultural techniques which benefit the environment, as well as introducing people to truly excellent chocolate, the likes of which many consumers have never tried before. It’s a great benefit for the farmers to work with people who really care about what is coming from the land. The most important thing is that they are paid a premium for the crops.

“A premium means a significantly better price than the typical market price or Fairtrade certified price. Craft chocolate makers will pay as much as $10 per kg for well-processed beans, while the New York Cocoa Price (standard market price) can be around $3 per kg. This money goes into social improvements and better post-harvest facilities to care for the cocoa.”

The Gowers made full use of the excellent facilities at the new Centre for Food Development and Innovation at Queen Margaret University, where they used the research not only to enhance their products' appeal and learn of its nutritional values, but also to showcase their principles in working ethically with organic farmers across the world.

Credit: Erik Hammar
“Queen Margaret University was able to provide scientific evidence of the antioxidant profile and mineral content of our organic certified ‘bean-to-bar’ range and provide professional guidance on the health and nutritional aspects of our products. This is helping us develop accurate information for labelling and marketing purposes.

“Ultimately, we hope to use Queen Margaret’s research to help us campaign for better transparency in the chocolate industry. It will also allow us to showcase how companies can work ethically by supporting organic farmers in Peru, Madagascar, and Ecuador by sourcing cocoa directly from the growers for the manufacturer in order to make ‘bean-to-bar’ chocolate.”

Having sampled the merchandise, the differences in Ali and Friederike's chocolate compared to more commercial brands is truly worlds apart. The depth of character from each different variety and knowing that this craft is conducted with superb passion and skill means that I'll be looking forward to a guilt-free, choctastic Christmas with added health benefits.

Credit Erik Hammar
With a delightful range of chocolates to complement their ‘bean-to-bar range’, The Chocolate Tree offers quirky creations incorporating some of Scotland’s other outstanding foods and drink, such as Haggis Spice, Bramble, and Cardamon and Beer chocolate.  There is also a very special Christmas range on offer; what better festive gift can be found now that you can explain to loved ones the inspirational story behind these local, handmade goodies?

Web: www.choctree.co.uk
Twitter: @Choctree
The Chocolate Tree,
123 Bruntsfield Place, Edinburgh, EH10 4AQ
11 Hardgate, Haddington, EH41 3JW

For further information on the Scottish Centre for Food Development and Innovation visit: http://www.qmu.ac.uk/business_industry/scottish-centre-food-development-innovation.htm

Special thanks to Lynne Russell at Queen Margaret University and Ben Gould for his invaluable time

17 December 2015

Review: Bread Meats Bread, Edinburgh

POPULAR GLASGOW BURGER joint, Bread Meats Bread, has joined the Edinburgh burger scene, occupying the site on Lothian Road recently vacated by Yummi Tori. No doubt hoping to emulate the success of Burger Meats Bun, who opened their second restaurant in the capital last year, we popped in for a late afternoon bite to see what all the hype was about.

If first impressions are anything to go by, a full restaurant as early as 5pm on a Tuesday shows there is plenty of intrigue surrounding this opening.  The pristine new interior features a busy open kitchen, and I find the restaurant is more spacious than I initially thought after taking our seats to peruse the menu.  The menu speaks of the quality of ingredients proudly used and offers up a range of different sandwiches and hot dogs alongside the burger options. They also serve carafes of wine - I like that, and don’t know why more places don’t.

I was intrigued to try poutine for the first time having had a chat recently with a chap looking to start a new business called The Poutine Wagon. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a sort of comfort food consisting of chips, cheese curds and gravy that originates from Quebec, Canada.

BMB serves up a few different versions, but I stuck to the classic version, on offer for £4.  Now, it seems pretty standard with this sort of establishment that you require a side dish along with your burger, but it’s different here; these, along with Sarah’s side, which I’ll get to, were mammoth.portions.  A huge bowl of chips swimming in a sweet, yet beefy gravy topped with oozy, rich cheese was a stonking dish on its own, and I hadn’t even touched my burger yet! Having sized up the menu, 
I went for the Spartan burger, which included salami, tzatziki, crushed chillies, tomatoes and harissa mayo (£7.50). Brimming with meaty flavour and cooked pink, the peppery salami was met by a dash of soothing tzatziki and bite of fresh tomato, encased in a steamed bun, robust enough to manage the entire sitting without wilting away. My only criticism is that I didn't get any chilli heat, which would have scored an extra point, but a satisfying eat overall.

Opting for a simple cheeseburger (£6.50), this would be a decisive test for any burger establishment worth its salt, and Sarah was impressed with the well-seasoned patty, the freshness of the salad components and molten cheese.  Her side of sweet potato fries (£3) were crispy and, as with my side, a portion you could easily share.

I’m confident Bread Meats Bread will be a hit in this neck of the woods and certainly avoid the fate suffered by previous tenants.  The food is good quality, at a competitive price that's ideal for a casual evening bite before catching a movie at one of the various nearby cinemas. Another interesting addition to the capital’s burger scene.

Web: breadmeatsbread.com
Phone: (0131) 229 2206 (BMB do not reserve tables)

Opening hours: Mon-Sat 11:00 - 22:00
                          Sun 11:00 - 20:00

Bread Meats Bread Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

11 December 2015

Recipe: Garlic, Olive and Parmesan Fougasse

MAKING BREAD IS one of my favourite things to do in the kitchen.  From making a mess with flour to the therapeutic kneading of the dough, and the wonderful yeasty aromas from the oven; I just love knocking up a loaf. Although things are getting better slowly in the UK, a recent trip to Spain reminded me how far away we are of providing quality bread for the masses in this country.  This one is ideal for sharing and is quick to make, as it requires little proving.

I have a ton of new season garlic from Gascony in the kitchen, so that was always going in, as well as a few left over olives I found lurking in the fridge.  I couldn't make this without Parmigiano Reggiano - just a perfect ingredient that every kitchen should have.

You can vary toppings as you please.  Chorizo, red onion and Manchego cheese is another favourite of mine, but a simple Cheddar filling is just as satisfying.

INGREDIENTS (makes one, as pictured)

350g strong organic bread flour, sifted
20g fresh yeast or two sachets of fast action yeast
2 tbsp sugar
175mls lukewarm water (blood temperature)
1 pinch sea salt
Glug of olive oil
6x cloves of garlic, half grated, half thinly sliced
250g Parmigiano Reggiano, 100g grated, the rest shaved
Handful of olives, sliced


1) Pre-heat oven to 180C.  Add the yeast to the water and stir.  If using sachets, just add straight to the flour. In a bowl, add the salt, sugar, olive oil, grated garlic and Parmesan to the flour.  Gradually add the water and mix to a smooth dough.  Knead for about three minutes until the dough can just about hold its shape when pinched.

2) Cover with clingfilm and place in a warm place for 15-20 mins to prove.  The dough should rise in size slightly and give off a beautiful yeasty, beery smell.  Lightly flour your surface, and knead again for a couple of minutes.  
3) Punch the dough out to around an inch thick. Start studding it with the olives, remaining Parmesan shavings and sliced garlic.  Fold the left-hand third into the centre, and repeat with right-hand side, Then fold both into each other.  Take a rolling pin and roll to about half an inch thick. 

4) Place on a lightly oiled tray, but before placing in the oven, put a glass of water in another tray on the shelf below to create steam.  Bake for 25-30 mins. 

1 December 2015

Review: 1051 GWR, Glasgow

I CAN’T SAY that I have many gastronomic memories of Glasgow.  Everywhere I seem to turn, the city reminds me of my (failed) attempts to conquer the music world rather than the culinary one.  It wasn’t that my band (Calm as the Colour) weren’t any good or didn’t achieve success; we just didn’t become the biggest band in the world as I had dreamed.  Luckily, I have this restaurant reviewing gig to fall back on, and tonight we dine at the newly opened 1051 GWR.

The building was designed by the renowned Glaswegian architect Sir J J Burnet, and is steeped in history.  Opening in 1897, the building originally functioned as Kelvinside Station, part of the Glasgow Central Railway Network, but closed in 1942 when it was deemed “too remote”.  In recent times, the structure has hosted various restaurants, but now returns to its roots.  As it transpires, this is no bog-standard train station caff.

Tastefully decorated inside, the lighting is warm without being too low, which was appealing given the atrocious weather of late. A diverse mix of young and old customers alike created a positive atmosphere you could feel a part of, with the layout affording you privacy at the same time.  A passion for craft beer, particularly Glasgow brewed, was obvious, with a long range of shiny new taps jostling for position behind the bar, and a regularly rotated railway station-style menu board installed to assist with your selections.

I begin with hot smoked salmon with potato salad (£5.95) from a starters menu that doubles as a small plates one.  It’s an extensive offering that caters for all needs whether it be bar bites to the more refined, gastropubby options such as scallops with black pudding or moules marinères. The presentation was neat and the portion size ideal to start a meal.  The moist fish was tamed perfectly by the creamy mayo, with a little mustard dressing seasoning the dish whilst adding a little warmth at the back of the palette.  The potatoes and crunch from the chives popped up to bring texture and complete a simple, well-balanced plate of food.

Sarah opted for king prawns in tempura batter with mango, ginger and chilli salsa with sweet chilli dip (£5.95).  This is one of these dishes that always promises so much, yet gets massacred time and time again, so much so that I just never risk ordering it.  However, faith was restored when three plump shellfish in an impressively light-looking batter arrived.  I like seeing knife skills displayed on a plate and that was apparent in the neat little salsa accompanying those deliciously sweet prawns.  
The batter was as good as it looked with the meaty seafood juicy and flavoursome.  I’m impressed.

The mains menu comprises of both a grill and mains section with specials displayed above the bar.  I select pan-fried bavette of Scotch beef with café de Paris butter and beef dripping chips (£15.95).  Bavette can be a tricky customer if not given due care; thankfully it was on this occasion, with pink meat bursting with notes of beefiness that my knife sailed through with consummate ease. The butter tasted sublime, but it was clearly just retrieved from the chiller, meaning the temperature of the beef wasn’t maintained as long as I’d have liked.  Nothing a quick flash under the salamander or a couple of minutes out of the fridge wouldn’t resolve. It did make a mean sauce to dunk the crispy chips in, which was an added bonus to an enjoyable dish.

Over the table, Sarah mix and matched grill options, ordering two lamb cutlets, a featherblade steak with a side of gratin dauphinoise, and red wine jus for £13.95 all in.  The lamb was sufficiently caramelised on the outside and perfectly medium-rare in the middle, with the featherblade executed just as accurately.  The quality of the meat throughout was obvious from the depth of flavour from each product.The real star was the side orders: the dauphinoise was a rich, indulgent portion of heaven with a wonderful cheesiness to them, with the honey roasted carrots (£2.95) a sweet and earthy indulgence in themselves.  We loved the hint of caraway that just added another well-thought out dimension.

Exemplary service will clearly be a major part in the success of 1051 GWR.  There has been clear investment front-of-house, with waiting staff clutching iPads along with their new POS system.  The staff had a calm efficiency about them and I liked that they dispensed little samples of beer to customers; extras go a long way, and even more so when the restaurant is practically full.

All good things must end and I left with a sticky toffee pudding (£4.95) that I’d be pretty proud of.  It was so light and fluffy that I could have made room for another slab.  Sarah enjoyed caramelised apple tart tatin with salted caramel ice cream for just under £6. The pastry was crisp on the outside with a little soggy bit in the middle that I actually enjoy more.  The apples held up well rather than being reduced to mush, while the sweet and saltiness from the ice cream harmonised with the sharp fruit.

If you had told me beforehand that this place had only been open for a few weeks, I wouldn’t have believed you. There were certainly signs of a slick operation here with focus on service and good, solid cooking.  When I think gastropub, I think fresh, unpretentious food at affordable prices in a welcoming surrounding; that is the clear vision here and it was impressively achieved on this occasion. Rock ‘n’ roll may be dying, but 1051 GWR is tuning up to reach the top of the Glasgow food scene charts.  Restaurant reviewing is the new rock ‘n’ roll, right?

1051 GWR Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - ZomatoOpening times: Mon-Sun 10am-12am

Web: 1051gwr.co.uk
Address: 1051 Great Western Road, Glasgow, G12 0XP
Phone: (0141) 339 5575