Saturday, 3 November 2007

Covent Garden Night Market

We're out in the country spreading the word at the moment but will be back for the Twelve Days of Christmas at Covent Garden - 11th-23rd December. Come and get a hot chocolate par excellence!

Sunday, 29 July 2007

Aldeburgh Food Festival

This week: We're off to sunny Suffolk! The 2nd Aldeburgh Food & Drink festival at Snape Maltings - and Mark Hix will be there and I've got important stuff to discuss with him....

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

As I drove out one summer's day...

What craziness is this?! It’s pushing 2.30am and tomorrow marks the kick-off to a ridiculous six weeks of ten festivals…I have two massive vehicles lined up and loaded with Choc Star stuff, a team of chocolate enthusiasts and milkshake mavericks at the ready with scooping arms aloft and large amounts of ice cream to plough through…and here I am, having one of my little competitions with myself to see how long I can stay up and faff around while everyone else slumbers on.

I’ve had a monumental week of Doing Stuff and am maxed out on all levels - yet, I feel as though I’m in the eye of a particularly wonderful storm which often overwhelms, but sometimes swoops me up and over a crest of pure ALIVENESS that can’t be topped.

More news from the festis soon - Jimmy’s doing the smaller gigs whilst the new spangly, silver gazebo will morph into a Choc Star tent of the highest, most choc-iest order.


Friday, 8 June 2007

The Secret Life of Ice Cream

I’m feeling a touch frazzled after the mayhem of the weekend. It has been so busy and hot and hectic. I scooped my little heart out and even detected the rumblings of a callous on the fleshy part of my palm. It’s that pesky Mexican chocolate ice cream…
Here’s the thing, all of our ice creams have different personalities. You’ve got the white chocolate & chili which is a joy to scoop - all smooth and yielding. The mint choc crisp is similarly accommodating, whilst the raspberry sorbet is an obtuse character that you have to launch into confidently, clearly demonstrating who’s boss, otherwise he’ll start messing with you. But the Mexican…Dios mio! this one requires some serious charming. He’s tough and strong and gives very little away, but if you coax him, letting him know you want only the best from him, he’ll come through for you on a level that is…incendiary.

We did a job for Darphin down in Dorset the other day. It poured with rain all the way there and all the way back, yet somehow, for the duration of our stay at the Summer Lodge Hotel in Evershot, the clouds took to the wings and the sun entered to tear the roof off the house.
We served Triple Chocolate Malted Bliss and Iced Mocha milkshakes, Malteser muffins and Gateau Lawrence - a dark, flourless, super-moist chocolate cake. The ladies from Darphin went wild for the chocolate delivery and had to be escorted down the lawn for a painting lesson by way of a calmant. I was then shown round the hotel by Kevin, the business coordinator. The classic English country hotel. The place was done up to the nines - a promenade of tuilles, puffs, roses and flounce. Everything was decorated, everywhere, and you just want to throw yourself down on one of the giant sofas and submit to the sumptuousness. Particularly as the place was festooned with great trolleys groaning under the weight of some serious bottles of booze.
But back to the city we did go…and on to the Whitecross Street Food fair off Old Street. Hundreds of peckish workers filled the walkways between all the different stalls - pork pies, cakes, frozen yoghurt, chorizo, chilis, jerk chicken. And there we were…right opposite an organic ice cream trailer! I’d never been put so close to the competition. Ok, so we sell cakes and milkshakes and frozen choc-dipped bananas and hot chocolate floats and…well, not just ice cream, but nevertheless, we shared a very similar product (and I tried their chocolate ice cream and found it very good). But it seems that the good folk of EC1 needed the Choc Star treatment on that day and no stand-off needed to occur.

Friday, 18 May 2007

Chocolate Guinness Cupcake Moment

It was warm and wanton in my hand. I was busying myself with the transferring of cakes from tin to cooling rack and this one just seemed reluctant to proceed. I did have the cream cheese frosting cooling in the fridge so could well imagine how the warmth of the fresh, dark cake would work with it in all the right ways.

A knife plunged in to the frosting and slathered on top of the newly liberated cupcake was all it took. There it wobbled for a moment, getting used to its new surroundings, before spreading languidly over the cake’s welcoming curves.

I captured the moment for posterity and then dived in for a piece of the action. Soft and dark. Creamy and cool. I actually had to sit down to get the most out of it. At one point it became too much and I cut the cake in half with a spoon, just to watch the one side tumble, softly, like a cushion.

I’m mad about moments like these…

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Dark & Moist

A cheeky little slice of Baked Chocolate Fudge (taken from the Donna Hay Magazine) for a hearty supper cooked by my brother Ferdie the other night.

Night time at Choc Star

love the way Jimmy looks at night - all purrty and lit up. I took him down to Putney Embankment the other evening to furnish rampant lawyers with as much chocolate as they could handle…we guessed they were lawyers when we heard one of them, a way back in the queue, declaring “This makes a change - seeing all these powerful people standing in line so obediently”. They were certainly well behaved. It wasn’t to do with them being tame though, more that chocolate obviously meant a lot and they weren’t about to blow their opportunity for free reign once reaching the chocolate counter.

Wide-eyed faces would step up, assess the options - pouring over each plate and cake-stand laden with treats (”What’s better, the chocolate terrine or the chocolate Guinness cake?”. “Why not have both? Just putting it out there”, I’d offer. At this, the eyes would grow wider - a childlike incredulity - an ice cream added to the equation and off they’d slide with their booty of delight, back to the party and the band and the no-holds throng of a Saturday night far, far from the Bar!

Monday, 30 April 2007

Gennie from the box

First it was Gennie from the Cage. But the little super-silent power behind the creation of endless milkshakes, hot chocolates and fairy light configurations seemed all wrong for the old contraption. That had been built to keep the Big 6.5kva Beast (inherited from Eddie) at bay. The new generator, I finally decided, needed something a little more elegant to house…’her’. A market trader buddy of mine recommended Steve down in Shooters Hill…and therein started off the most classic case of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.

I wanted a stainless steel number, with a roller mechanism whereby you could take the entire shelf off, with the generator on it, thus losing unwanted space for festival pitches, etc (and also so as to be able to open the rear doors and retrieve all manner of treasures lost down the back during enthusiastic milkshake sessions). ‘Yep, no problem’ said Steve and then proceeded to take the most unimaginable length of time to produce the thing.

When it finally arrived (after one aborted attempt at delivery involving a crucial section not having been welded properly…and near destruction of the long-anticipated masterpiece) it was the most beautifully constructed little box you ever saw. Bits flipped up here and hinged over there, holes were strategically placed, air vents in place and the whole thing shimmered and seemed right at home bolted onto Jimmy’s rear bumper.

And then I used it. We had a job to do for a store in town. The staff had all been working super hard and needed treats. I baked Black & White cupcakes, Millionaire’s shortbread and some chocolate chip cookies, loaded in the ice cream, fired up the gennie and off we went. Further into our journey, as the record-breaking April heat beat down on us, so, unfortunately, was it beating down on the steel cage. There wasn’t exactly an explosion but there might have been one if I hadn’t heard the choked, rasping sounds of the little caged gennie gasping for help from its hot hellish box.

I managed to style it out and carry on, no harm done to the ice cream thanks to my very handy eutectic plates in the freezer. But now, as I investigate further, not only will I have to impale the box with a series of heat rescuing holes, but the gennie is absolutely screwed. It sounds like a dying tiger, belching out pained involuntary growls. And the only person who can fix it is in Nottingham.

Did I ever mention that these sort of problems are not in any way my bag? What I need is a little practical person living in the corner cupboard of the van and who comes with me wherever I go, drilling holes and fixing stuff along the way. If anyone knows someone….?

Something from the weekend

It’s official - April 2007 has been the hottest ever since they first started counting 348 years ago. While Australia and other hot countries freeze, we tromp down to the beaches, bracing our skin for a good roasting…well, kind of.

The sun fanciers (AKA everybody) were out in full weekend mode - on Saturday in Acton and then yesterday at Brick Lane. Gees, what a difference a few miles makes. In the West we have the most extraordinary bunch of people I’ve seen in a while. Some perfectly regular, others, not so much…

nd over East we’re talking about an all day runway show of looks that you can’t quite believe are happening. Speaking of fashion, I was rung up by Vogue the other day. They are doing a piece on lady van drivers and wanted to set up a shoot with me and Jimmy. ‘Brilliant!’ I said, ‘who else have you got?’ and was thrilled to discover there’s a company called Lady Gadriver - an all female team of handywomen (I could use some tips).

They wanted to shoot me somewhere urban and found a place under the Westway. A make-up artist arrived at 6.30am to do my hair and slap and then we drove to meet the others at the location. Most of the (four hour) session was spent taking pics of me eating my wares with a big cheesy grin on my face. The most challenging shot being up on the roof (hadn’t tried that one before and it gave me the opportunity to relieve Jimmy of a cheeky little teabag that seemed to have taken root up there) - I had to clamber up with three ice creams (chocolate, Mexican chocolate and mocha FYI) and lay into them lasciviously. After about half an hour of this, a few ice cream changes and a whole network of brown sticky lines streaming down my arms, I felt a bit sick (I don’t recommend it).

Oh, and now let me introduce you to the latest in deliciousness on wheels - my friend Simon has decided to bring Latin American street food to town with Jesus, the mint green dream machine. Look out for Luardos cruising around this summer!

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Onwards and upwards...

Hey choc-van fans, I haven’t penned any e-words in eons. There is the dubious matter of my being rendered delirious and near-hospitalised by a bout of pneumonia. My granny blames me going ‘galavanting to Dublin without an overcoat’. She thinks I don’t put enough clothes on, but then she is fairly old school - with a tendency for rather Dickensian viewpoints. She’s absolute gold dust though, with a fire in her eyes and a teflon sensibility that I hope to have some of when I’m 90…must be the Irish in her!

Alanna and I headed off for a weekend of shenanigans in stag party city. I have never seen anything like it - save for, perhaps New Orleans in the French Quarter. A city centre so rampantly amuck with binge drinking, quick fixing out of towners that the whole thing felt like being in a particularly booze-sodden theme park. Temple Bar sure was heaving with heavers but, once we’d managed to navigate our way around the piles of chunder that lay dumped in steaming mounds at every turn, we soon found our radars and headed North.

On the South side of Dublin the idea of hanging out on the other side of the river is unthinkable - a sense that the North side doesn’t tally with the city’s new and prosperous image. Well, that’s great, but there was a football match on - a really poignant one - and the only place we wanted to watch it was in a boozer close to Croke Park. We walked the entire length of Lower Dorset Street, entering every pub along the way, wanting to find the right one until, there it was, our oasis - The Auld Triangle.
For the next seven hours we were inducted into the ways of the stronghold group inside. Derek and Sean and Paddy and Aiden. Mickey, Alfie, Johnny and Paul. We emerged astonished, frankly, to be still sentient. My doctor tells me she thinks I had already caught my infection before I went to Ireland but, between me and you, I doubt if my jingle-jangle in the Auld Triangle was especially helpful…

And now here in London all is summery. The ice cream is back in action. The hot chocolate cravings have retreated and been replaced by a demand for iced mocha milkshakes, scoops of mint choc-chip (new flavour!) and almond, orange and brandy chilled chocolate torte. Come and get some if you’re around!

Wednesday, 14 February 2007

Take me home, country roads

Here’s Jimmy hanging out in Lavenham a few days ago. I picked him up from the wilds of North Suffolk and we bounced along at our usual leisurely pace - taking in a bit of Bury St Edmunds to see what was new (not a great deal, but everything just looks so much smaller than I remember), then down to Lav’nam and on to the village of 100 people where I grew up.The winter sun fell steady on the ravaged countryside. A sludgy, untidy looking time of year anyway, the storm of the other week had really been busy - uprooting trees that had been around for years, churning up fences, shooting holes in the roofs - all things I hadn’t been aware of in London. I pottered around quite happily for a bit, then went over to Tash and Noches to catch up after their two month stay over in Jamaica. My three year old god-daughter Zahara goes around singing Buju Banton and talking in her new little patois chat and her sister Mya tried to show me some of the dances, but came over all shy and giggly halfway into it…I’m not surprised! There’s one called the Dutty Wine which involves some pretty vigorous neck spinning - apparently it’s common to see girls being carried off after fainting from giving it too much turn!

So anyway, I left Suffolk after a few days and returned Jimmy to London. We’ve got back into the flow of things at Brick Lane and done a couple of really fun parties. While the chocolate martini shots have been seized very heartily by all who come near, so too has the Venezuelan hot chocolate…there’s a bit of a beast to be fed here and I’m a touch nervous as the supplies are dwindling. My Chuao connection, Willie, is in the midst of setting up his very own mini chocolate factory down in the West country and the beans are en route…but not processed. It’ll be worth it in the end though as I’ll have access to a magical supply of pure, single estate cocoa liquor - the things I want to do with that stuff set my heart a flutter! (So please be patient if I have to cross the Ven Hot Choc off the board for a couple of weeks).

Now, one more thing before I go. On Monday night I was invited to a steak extravaganza at Hawksmoor. I’ve been in there enough times before, propping up the bar, munching on the thrice cooked chips and getting intimate with many different bourbon based drinks (courtesy of the lovely Lucas and the hilarious Jorge), but their steak and me had not yet met. Well, we have now and it’s all rosy. Great juicy slivers of Sirloin and chunky discs of Chateaubriand kept arriving on my plate, whereupon I’d gather them up on my fork with some Bearnaise sauce and proceed to enter That Place. You know the one - where voices and noise fade away, the eyes close and, for a moment…you can’t be reached. Joyous, indulgent escape.

And then came this little fella - the Chocolate Sazerac. I’m a big fan of this cocktail anyway, but when they made it with chocolate-infused bourbon and creme de cacao I could barely contain my delight. I usually stay away from anything too sweet with drinks, but this guy is bad. It’s Sean Penn in a glass with a Jay-Z twist and I’m going to be hunting down that recipe and executing it at home, in the van and wherever else I can find.

Saturday, 20 January 2007

Double-frosted six-layer Devil’s Food cake

So, I’ve just learnt how to put pics up by myself (bit of a break-thru) and thought I’d take the opportunity to showcase my birthday cake.

The odd thing was that I made it myself - and check this out (because it must mean I’m growing up), I volunteered to do it. Christmas had been chaos with my (deeply Catholic) uncle arriving with five of his six kids who swarmed the tree like a pack of hungry coyotes, licking their chops and sidling off with other people’s pressies to secret corners of the house. Little piles of par-opened gifts lay pillaged and forlorn and no-one really knew what was meant for whom. Still, at least the Balmoral Flings proved a winner on the booze front and anything chocolatey was sent my way.

People usually avoid giving me chocs these days for fear of getting it wrong. I’m open to all sorts though, as long as….actually, I am a bit of a nightmare, unless we’re talking about M&S chocolate cornflake mini-bites - a tub of which I’ve just polished off very happily. Anyway, the point is that by the time my birthday rolled around I didn’t want the cake to be jeopardised by the wanton chaos of the rest of the house, so I put on my pinny and got baking…

Delicious. Beautiful moist layers of Devil’s Food cake, joined in paradise by the deepest, darkest ganache I could muster (a combo of Green & Black’s 72% cooking choc and some Cote D’Or 85%) with cream from down the lane. The white American frosting that held this tidy package all together was like a magical edible cloud billowing around in my mouth.

Then there were more celebrations back in town, a (very lucrative) trip to the dogs, a misjudged karaoke performance to a crowded bar, an endless conveyor belt of dodgy drinks and finally, I emerged on January 2nd, bursting into ‘07 (not sure what happened to the 1st) feeling AMAZING!

I don’t know what it is but, after a couple of months of wintry indecision and lacklustre feelings, I have got my head around a few fundamental truths with which to find my focus. People say that after your first year of business there is often a really tough patch of not knowing what direction to take things next and that many businesses lose their way - and I love hearing stuff like that, it gives me back the fight. I’m excited about the next year because I’ve lifted my gaze from where it was fixated and now have a much calmer view.

I have so many ideas for Choc Star and am looking forward to getting them going. Jimmy’s down in the country at the health farm, having a bit of pampering before being brought back to London for more adventures. We’ll be back on Brick Lane either Jan 28th or Feb 4th, depending on the roadworks scenario - see you there!