Rated: M&S’s Apple, Asparagus & Lemon Juice.

Lemparagapple? Anyone?

Lemparagapple? Anyone?

What? The bizarrest-sounding combo I have seen this year – and, strangely, one of the nicest.

I should explain: though a die-hard lover of vegetables, I’m not generally keen on the drinking variety (a revolting glass of Beetroot Smoothie saw to that one day in India). This creation from M&S, though, I can dig.

For starters, the colour is amazing – the kind of green you’d expect from a glass of juiced Braeburns, but would never get.

And while it doesn’t smell particularly appetising (neither on the way in or way out), I assure you the taste is quite superb.

Not one of the three main ingredients masks the others, creating an overall effect that is zingy – like sherbert – and thankfully not too sweet.

Collectively, it tastes like a whole new fruit – more citrussy than anything – and is so darn healthy it apparently counts as two of your five-a-day.

I call it the Lemparagapple.

And I suggest you try it forthwith

Where? Find this juice at an M&S Food near you

How Much? £2.39 for a 750ml bottle (or 3 for £5 if you’re really thirsty)

Rating?

9/10

That’s nine of your ten-a-day. ACE

The Pud-Hog’s Pud of the Year: Top 10 Homemade Puddings.

Yes, I have my share of disasters in the kitchen. But sometimes – sometimes – things work out rather well.

Below are this year’s classic home-cooked champions (excluding the Christmas Buns, that is – they arrived too late in the day).

With the exception of Numbers 5 and 8, all the recipes are available on this website – so if you like the sound of them, get into the kitchen and BAKE.

10. Pud-Hog Slob Slop

Mush

It’s hardly the most beautiful of bowlfuls – but is definitely the quickest lump of comfort food I’ve ever made.

Gooey, milky, warm and sweet, all it takes is a microwave and some very basic ingredients.

Customise with a dollop of Jam, Honey or Salted Caramel, and your stomach will greet it with glee.

Get the Pud-Hog Slob Slop recipe here.

9. Yum Rum Balls

Salvation!

Baking gone bad? Don’t throw your cake crumbs away: recycle them into a box full of chocolatey, boozy balls.

Good for presents – even better for personal piggery.

Get the Yum Rum Balls recipe here.

8. Marmite Chocolate Cupcakes

ChocMar3

An invention of supper club hostess MsMarmitelover, I tried these out a few months ago and promptly fell in love with them.

Along with the richness of those moist sponge bases, their indulgent Marmite-flavoured cream and frosting make these more like miniature puddings than cupcakes – have more than one and you’ll probably need to lie down.

Perfect for lovers of salty sweetness (and die-hard Marmite fans).

Get the Chocolate and Marmite Cupcake recipe from MsMarmitelover’s website (it’s the second one down on the page…)

7. Dessert Tortillas

Banana Tortilla

SURELY the next sweet sensation?! A warm, freshly made Tortilla (plain- or Cinnamon-flavoured), stuffed with whatever you fancy.

I ate mine with Chopped Banana, Cinnamon Cream and Brown Sugar and it was AWESOME – quite possibly my favourite breakfast treat of the year.

They even freeze well too…

Get the Dessert Tortilla recipe here.

6. Orange and Dark Chocolate Buns

Finito

As you regular Ogglers know, in the last few months I’ve become rather obsessed with making Buns. These Orange and Dark Chocolate bad boys were my first yeast-based experiment, and boy did they do me proud.

A super soft dough, thick chunks of Dark Chocolate, and the zing of Orange extract…

Who wouldn’t want to shove one in their Bun-hole?

Get the Orange and Dark Chocolate Bun recipe here.

5. Cinnabon Substitute

Cinnabon

This recipe was introduced to me by my pal Mimi after both of us caught the Cinnabon bug.

In an effort to recreate that gooey Cinnamon goodness at home (avoiding the high prices – and at least some of the naughtiness), she found an alternative on the web and brought round the results.

They were truly wonderful: so squishy and well lubricated (both with Cream Cheese and Cinnamon Butter) that they squelched with every bite.

Trust me, folks: if you don’t have a Cinnabon in your vicinity, these are the next best thing.

Get the Cinnabon Substitute recipe from the All Recipes website.

4. White Chocolate and Cranberry Blondie

The beast lies dormant. Don't be fooled.

This could well be stickiest, naughtiest thing I’ve made (nay, eaten) since embarking on this blog. Even when cooked it comes out part-baked, with a strata of White Chocolate syrup beneath its caramel-coloured crust.

Even so, in my humble opinion, it’s the texture that Blondies should be: wet, crisp, and chewy – with added textural variation from the jewel-like Cranberry chunks.

Just make sure you have a spoon ready – or things could get very messy.

Get the White Chocolate and Cranberry Blondie recipe here.

3. Raspberry Cheesecake Blondie

Blondie LayersIf No.4 wasn’t exciting enough, how’s about serving your Blondie as part of a Cheesecake?

Overkill, you say?

You couldn’t be more wrong.

This majestic creation consists of three of the tastiest tiers you can imagine: on the bottom, a gooey White Chocolate slab; on the top, a tart Raspberry Cream; and between them, a layer of thick cooked Cheesecake.

Having toned down the levels of sugar involved, the final product was thankfully not oversweet – more a complementary balance of Berries and Chocolate.

Though I say so myself, It looks rather splendid too…

Get the Raspberry Cheesecake Blondie recipe here.

2. Hot Buttered Rum

Golden Delicious

This recent addition to my repertoire blew my mind back in October.

Being my first encounter with sweet buttered drinks, it was destined to make a pretty big impression.

Having entered my world via Choc Tales (a Chocolate and Cocktail event held in Dean Street) its creators (Manhattans Project) were kind enough to keep it there by passing the recipe this way.

If you haven’t yet tried it, you must. Every mouthful is like nectar: a beautiful blend of Rum, Butter, Apple Juice, Golden Syrup and warming Spices.

On Christmas Day, it’ll be my tipple of choice.

Heck. On every day it’ll be my tipple of choice.

Get the Hot Buttered Rum recipe here.

 

1. Peach, Almond and Goat’s Cheese Cheesecake

Regardez... and try not to dribblez

LOOK AT IT.

Isn’t it glorious?!

I still can’t believe this was made with my own fair trotters – but made with my own fair trotters it was.

The Pud-Hog Blog aside, this is by far my proudest creation in the last twelve months, and not just for its snazzy yellow pattern.

Inspired by food from the south of France, its ingredients work in (surprisingly) perfect harmony: the Almond Biscuit bottom, the sweet Goat’s Cheese, White Chocolate and Honey insides, the juicy slivers of Peach adorning the top…

SUPERB.

While Goat’s Cheese is usually not my favourite flavour, in this it works wonders – but I guess you’ll have to try it to believe it.

Light, creamy and full of zing – get the recipe here and feel free to send me the results.

HAPPY HOGGING!

Recipe: Hot Buttered Rum.

Best of the bauble-warmers

Best of the bauble-warmers

Remember that time I wrote about Choc Tales? And that barrel of hot Buttered Rum?

Well, as I mentioned on the bottom of that post, the recipe came from a place called Manhattans Project – and, to my utter delight, they were nice enough to let me put it on here (thanks, guys – I am indebted!).

If you make it, you’re in for a treat: the resulting Cocktail tastes just like warm liquid Toffee Apples, with the added extra bonus of salt (from the Butter) and booze (from the… er… Rum).

Serve it up on a cold, crisp night – or all through Christmas Day if you have to (beats Mulled Wine hands down, as I’m sure you’ll agree).

So rich and delicious is the Syrup and Apple Juice mixture, you could even get away with making a Rum-free version (an excellent choice for underaged Butterbeer enthusiasts – or folks with a tight drinks budget).

Anyway, that’s enough of an intro, methinks…

TO THE RECIPE!

Hot Buttered Rum (makes enough for 5-6 decent glasses…*hic*…)

Golden Delicious

Golden Delicious

Ingredients:

  • 1ltr apple juice (the best quality you can afford)
  • Approx 250ml rum (I used white – but brown would be scrumptious too, no doubt)
  • 125g butter (salted, ideally)
  • 100ml golden syrup
  • 25ml treacle
  • 1tsp allspice (mixed spice works well too if your cupboards are lacking)

Method:

  1. In a large pan, heat the apple juice over a medium-high flame, stirring gently with a wooden spoon to stop anything burning
  2. As it warms, add the butter in chunks and stir the syrup and treacle into the mix
  3. Once everything’s melted in, add the spice
  4. When the drink gets to around 80 degrees (i.e. hot but not quite simmering), turn off the heat, start ladling it into glasses and add the rum. The ratio is 4 parts mixture to 1 part rum (in other words, 1ltr of mixture needs about 250ml of booze). WARNING: be extra careful pouring the hot liquid in at this stage – if the glass is too thin there’s a risk it might break. If you don’t think your kitchenware can take it, try mugs instead
  5. Use cinnamon sticks as fancy stirrers, and GET MERRY

NOTE: If you don’t use all your mixture in one go, keep it in the pan with the lid on and reheat as and when required. Just make sure you stir it well when you’re ready to serve.

Happy Grogging!

P-H x

Choc Tales from Dean Street.

Chocolate got your attention? Good. Then gather round…

Imagine a house; a large house with numerous floors and a swanky Georgian interior. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

Next imagine that five of its rooms are full of Cocktails and Chocolates. I think you’ll agree, that sounds even nicer.

In fact, let’s dispense with the niceties. It sounds pretty gosh-darn awesome.

Five rooms, each containing the best of British Chocolates, plus a fabulous drink made by top-notch mixologists? It almost sounds too good to be true – but last night this became a brief reality.

In one of the major highlights of Chocolate Week – and for yesterday evening only – 68 Dean Street became a veritable palace of delights; the home of a one-night Chocolate/Cocktail experience, known to the masses as Choc Tales.

It certainly wasn’t the cheapest event of the year (at £45 for a two-hour session – or the equivalent of £9 per room). Then again, this was a unique occurrence.

What’s more, in a life-affirming quirk of fate, your humble Pud-Hog scoped the joint for free.

If you happened to miss it (or lacked the funds) then don’t be envious: I made it my aim to sup sweet treats on your behalf.

Feel free to thank me later.

In the meantime, here’s a low-down of what went on…

Choc Tale the First:

Damp as I was from the driving rain, this glorious room was a welcome sight. In it, you see, was a barrel of hot Buttered Rum.

Just what the doctor ordered

I’ve never had Buttered Rum before but, blimey, it was delicious: thick, appley, warm and spiced – like Butterbeer for grown-up, guzzling muggles.

To be sampled with this was a Dark Rum Truffle from the luxury Chocolate company Rococo. With its slightly salty soft Ganache filling, it tempered the sweet drink perfectly, slip-sliding down the throat almost as quickly as the Rum.

Now you see it, soon you won’t

Choc Tale the Second:

Concerned that I should continue before the Buttered Rum fugged my senses, I soon trekked up to the next room I could find. There was Paul A. Young (he of the recent Truffle Tasting Session) with two exciting products to be sampled with a cooling Margarita.

Created with Aqua Riva Tequila, Agave Syrup and Lime, this Cocktail was not to be drunk before the first spot of gourmet Chocolate: a Parmesan Micro Bar.

See it to believe it – Parmesan Choc on the right-hand side

That’s right, Ogglers, you heard me: Parmesan-flavoured Chocolate.

Leave it on the tongue and, for a while, all seems normal… then POW, in comes the Cheese. Salty, sweet, and oozing with Umami.

After washing it down with the Margarita (so light and refreshing it felt like July was back), next up for gnawing was Paul’s Aqua Riva Margarita Truffle: a product which took four years in the making.

Completely sugar-free (and therefore fine for diabetics), it was basically the Cocktail in Chocolate form: alcoholic, but by no means harsh on the tongue.

Choc Tale the Third:

a.k.a. The Champagne Chapter

Tempted as I was to get a second Buttered Rum, or tipsify on Aqua Riva Truffles, room number three was beckoning: a collaboration between Aperol and Artisan du Chocolat (they of the Salt Caramel Sauce). Not nearly as experimental as its predecessors, it was nevertheless a tasty pairing: Grapefruit Champagne Spritz with a thin Salt Caramel Disc.

No time to linger though. Downstairs we go, to

Choc Tale the Fourth:

A room filled with plates of an utterly gorgeous Dessert.

So beautiful it deserves its own shrine

Creations of William Curley – a boutique Chocolatier – these were pretty much edible sculptures: a Chocolate Mousse filled with Crème Brûlée, dotted with Whisky-soaked Raisins, and perched on a Chocolate Sponge – not to mention a fruity pool of Vanilla and Apricot sauce.

Normally I can’t do Chocolate Mousse – too many of them contain gelatin – but this one was Pud-Hog friendly: rich, gooey, and vegetarian to boot.

If I’d downed the Whisky it came with, I might have killed my taste buds at this point. Instead, after only a tentative sip, I trotted towards the finale…

Choc Tale the Fifth:

I knew this was going to be good as soon as my feet crossed the threshold. Within moments, Damian Allsop (another of England’s most expert experimenters) had beckoned me to one side: ‘Welcome to the Energy Room,’ he said. And rightly so: there was no chance of losing pep here.

As with room number two, my final experience came in three parts. First: thin discs of Pacari, a raw Ecuadorian Chocolate. The best on the market, said Mr Allsop, and I could well believe him: despite being small it was smooth and bursting with flavour.

Proof that size doesn’t always matter

Next came something I’ve not seen before: an Open Truffle, smeared with a quiff of Ganache. This was Willy Wonka food: inside were two bright stripes of Meringue; one of Green Tea and one of Blackcurrant.

Observe: two stripes (but soon to be zero)

Nibbling it every way I could (both stripes at once, one at a time) I soon found my Truffle had disappeared.

Never mind though. On the very next table, to help me drown my sorrows, was a drink called the Deconstructed Bramble: another wacky (yet oh so drinkable) offering made with Gin and Blackcurrant ‘Caviare’ (i.e. small gel balls of Blackcurrant Juice).

Let the deconstructing commence

The rim was smeared with Ganache and Matcha, so by the time my glass was empty my chops were all smeary and green.

Did I mind though?

Did I heck.

After five Cocktails and five Chocolate chow-downs this Pud-Hog was feeling fine (if somewhat creaky on the floorboards).

Twas a tasty tale, as I’m sure you’ll agree – and a very happy ending.

[POSTSCRIPT:

Since writing this piece I have had some exciting news: the folks behind most of these cocktails – a Broadway-based bar called Manhattans Project – are more than happy to share their Buttered Rum recipe.

It’s in my inbox now, Ogglers, so WATCH. THIS. SPACE.]

Recipe: Jelly Bean Vodka.

Vodka and Beans? You know what that means…

I’ll be honest, the last time I experimented with Jelly Belly Beans in the kitchen – baking them into a batch of cookies – things didn’t turn out so well. And that’s an understatement.

Still, I was determined not to let them get the better of me. No more heating them up mind you: instead, I would cool things down.

It was time to make some Jelly Bean Vodka.

The ingredients were minimal: one bottle of cheap (yet inoffensive) Vodka, and a box of Jelly Belly Beans. The possibilities, on the other hand, were endless. We could flavour our tipple with Buttered Popcorn, Cinnamon, Green Tea, Mandarin, Strawberry Jam – even Birthday Cake – not to mention any of the other multitudinous flavours.

Deciding turned out to be half the fun. Together, the Man and I spent some time debating just how to taint our precious booze. In the end, we  opted to make two small (and very different) batches.

For the Hog, a mix of Dark Chocolate and Plum.

For the Man, a medley of Green Apple, Lemon/Lime and Kiwi.

Pud-Hogs always eat their greens

The actual making took minimal effort. Just chucking some beans in a measure of Vodka, and giving the whole thing a jolly good shake.

The transformation was speedy. Within minutes, the beans were bleeding colour, turning the Vodka chocolate brown – or, in the case of the fruity one, neon green.

Behold!

After a couple of hours – with a vigorous shake every now and again – the beans began to deteriorate, turning pulpy and white.

After a day, we decided to sample the Chocolate and Plum, straining the mottled gunk using a sieve. Not that it worked – pickled Bean flakes still found their way into our glasses.

Looks like somebody’s bean sick. BLEURGH

In the absence of anything else, we next tried pouring the Vodka through a sheet of kitchen roll. Almost nothing came out the other side – and fearing a drink with added paper, we gave up the challenge and drank our new drink as it was.

First impressions were that it was still extremely vodka-y. This ought not to have surprised me, I know, but I was expecting some sort of alcopop – something sweet and flavoursome.

I wanted to taste the Dark Chocolate and Plum, but the whole thing was rather drowned out and quite bitter with booze. Even a scoop of ice cream (my attempt at a grown-up milkshake) was not nearly enough to sweeten the deal.

Hmm. Hardly the most appetising of all my ideas…

In the absence of decent filters, the bean bits floated around like pond scum – another off-putting result. Worse still, for the first time ever, it struck me that I actually didn’t like Vodka that much.

Oops.

Fearing our green concoction would taste no better, we decided to give it more time to brew.

And so the experiment continued. Given a few days longer, the porridge-like bean bits dissolved entirely, leaving nowt but a layer of white sediment.

We took it out and shook it every day, but the sediment got no smaller. Time for a decent investment: a packet of coffee filters, to ensure our next effort went down more smoothly. With that in the bag, and a few more days of deliberation, we were finally ready to try it all again.

I have to say, the colour alone was pretty impressive – as if the Incredible Hulk had drained his sweat into my glass.

Filtered Incredible Hulk sweat, mind

Taste-wise, the extended brewing time had worked a treat. This time the Vodka was sweet and fruity and – to my surprise – at last extremely drinkable, even to a Pud-Hog who would rather have a Gin.

Now there’s a thought…

Perhaps that’ll be my next experiment: Gin infused with Jelly Beans, flavoured by something like Melon or Juicy Pear.

Mmm.

In the meantime, here’s a recipe for you.

Give it a go and get crazy with flavours. After all, responsible drinking doesn’t have to mean responsible drinks…

Jelly Belly Bean Vodka (makes 5fl oz, or enough for 2 double-sized shots – upscale for larger quantities)

*May* contain colours and preservatives…

Ingredients:

  • Approximately 20 jelly beans (in whatever flavours you fancy)
  • 5fl oz of half-decent Vodka

You will also need a paper coffee filter

Method:

  1. Pour the Vodka into a clean plastic bottle, add the beans and shake vigorously for a minute or so
  2. Shake vigorously every now and then until the beans have begun to dissolve, then leave in a warm (yet shaded spot) to speed up the fermentation
  3. For optimum colour and flavour, leave to brew for at least five days, shaking at least once every day
  4. When ready to drink, pour through the filter straight into a jug, chill, then decant into glasses with some ice

Your filtered Vodka can be stored in the freezer, for extra added coolness.

Happy Grogging!

P-H x

Monday Night Cocktails.

Don’t mind if I do…

Ah, Monday. Scourge of the weekly worker. It’s a miserable day on the whole and yesterday was no exception. In London it was rain, rain, rain. Not to mention the upward struggle of four days still to slog…

It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom though. In fact, I may have found a solution; something to get you to Tuesday without sinking into a pit of depression.

That’s right, Ogglers: alcohol.

Not just any booze, mind you. I’m talking swanky, fancy, all-singing, all-dancing cocktails.

What better way to overcome the stumbling block of Monday than with a spot of sociable swigging? Of course you should drink responsibly (blah, blah, blah) – and I am aware that alcohol isn’t the answer to all life’s problems – but from time to time it certainly doesn’t hurt.

Last night, to see if we could make our Mondays any better, the Man and I pushed the boat out and paid a visit to Dirty Martini, a plush cocktail joint in a basement at Covent Garden.

I was keen to try a spot of liquid pudding – and so were quite a few others, it seemed (we turned up during Happy Hour, when loads of the drinks were half price). Apparently I’m not the first to cotton on to the wisdom of spoiling yourself on a Monday night…

Ever the soft fruit enthusiast, the Man had a Raspberry Bellini – a bubbly mixture of peach, raspberry puree and champagne (he had planned on a strawberry and rhubarb one but they’d sadly just run out).

Impressed as I had been by Terre a Terre’s version, I had hoped for a Chocolate Martini, but once again the bar missed a key ingredient. Instead I plumped for my first ever Almond Martini.

Enjoying the show as each one was mixed up, it was soon time for us to get tasting.

While the Man’s was perfectly nice and berryish, it was much like Bellinis I’d tried before.

The Almond Martini though: POW!

Gimme more-tini!

Like an almond macaroon on steroids, it was fluffy with egg white, zingy with lemon, punchy with gin, and nutty with amaretto and orgeat syrup (a sweet mixture made with almonds, sugar and rose water).

So excited was I by its gorgeousness, I promptly spilled half of it over my notepad and coat. Darn. At least they now smell pretty tasty, I suppose…

The remaining half was enough to get me to the verge of tipsiness. But being a Hog I still wanted more.

With over fifty cocktails on the menu, it was rather tricky choosing my next move. In the end we both turned to the ‘Signature Cocktails’. For the Hog: a Ginger Haze. For the Homme: a Shanghai Sour.

Some Shanghai Sour Happy Hour Flower Power

Both were rather tasty – mine a mixture of sloe and normal gin, blueberries, lemongrass and ginger; the Man’s a citrus cocktail of orange vodka, mandarin liqueur and lemon.As far as pudding replacements go, this time the Man’s had the edge – it was just like an upmarket jelly, or a filling from one of those Famous Names chocolates you get in your Christmas stocking.

I’d hoped mine would be like a well-spiced pie. But all I could really make out was the sloes.

Sloe well…

Not that that’s a bad thing, of course. It’s just that after the success of Bubbleology last week, I was thinking that liquid puddings might be an adequate substitute for your average cake or bowl of sponge.By the time we left Dirty Martini, however, I decided I might have to tweak that theory.

While drinks like Milkshakes and Bubble Tea might hit the spot after a big heavy meal, alcoholic cocktails – while still delicious when done this well – just give the old Pud-Hog the munchies. What’s more, at £8-£9 a pop, they’re pricier than even the fanciest Chelsea Bun.

Speaking of Chelsea Buns, that’s just what I ate when I got back home (I tell you, I was ravenous). Afterwards, fuelled by sugar and booze, I danced for a good half an hour.

That miserable Monday Feeling? Boogied and boozed to oblivion.

Tuesday, on the other hand…

Bubble Tea.

It’s tea, Jim, but not as we know it

Have you ever tasted Bubble Tea? Have you ever even seen it?

Until last year, my answer to both of these questions was no. Then I stumbled across an exciting joint in Soho, which sold almost nothing else. The place was called Bubbleology and I was very much intrigued…

Bubble (or Boba) Tea, it turned out, was a tea-based drink with chewy tapioca balls. Part refreshment, part snack, it was first developed in Taiwan in the 1980s, and has since spread across the globe. Now it had arrived in London.

Sadly for me, at the time we first encountered it, the Man was not up to sharing a cup – and I was too nervous to spend almost four quid on something I might not like. My hopes of having a taste were dashed, only to be reawoken when, on the streets of San Francisco, I found a cheap vendor in Chinatown.

A couple of dollars later and I had myself a ‘Thai’-flavoured Bubble Tea. And you know what? It was rank. Clearly, I’d not chosen wisely. While I enjoyed the feel of the tapioca blobs, the tea itself was bright orange, bitter and weird.

I crossed it off my To-Chew List, suspecting I’d not done it justice.

Flash forward to a fortnight ago. I had heard there was a new Bubbleology store opening in Notting Hill – and when I found out they wanted some people to give it a try I jumped at the chance so readily that my head almost hit the ceiling.

The Man and I finally popped in last night and were treated to several intriguing varieties. There was no sign of ‘Thai’ for some reason – instead we were treated to milk-based Rose and Taro flavours, along with the fruitier Apple, as well as Cucumber/Passion Fruit.

You’ll be pleased to know (but perhaps not as pleased as myself) that it was a vast improvement on my previous Bubble Tea experience.

The Man, whose preferences usually lean towards the fruitier things in life (no comment), was not too keen on the milk-based varieties, preferring the Cucumber and Passion Fruit to all the rest.

I, however, was firmly on the side of all that is creamy and rich. The Apple was a bit too sweet for me – more like a Jolly Rancher than something you’d pluck from a tree. The Cucumber and Passionfruit-flavour (exclusive to the Notting Hill branch) was, I think, much nicer – although all I could really taste was its Jasmine Tea base.

No, sir. In this Pud-Hog’s mind, the milkier drinks were where it was at.

Trust me…

It might have looked more like frogspawn, but the Rose (another Notting Hill exclusive) was unmistakeably rosy – lightly sweetened and fragranced.

And the Taro. The Taro! A revelation.

Until that point I’d only ever heard about Taro through a cousin who lives in Hawaii (jealous? me?), but turns out it’s all the rage in Southeast Asia (and when I say ‘all the rage’ I mean ‘cultivated to the max’).

A tropically-based root vegetable, used in both sweet and savoury dishes, it wouldn’t have been my first choice off the bat – but I was very impressed.

Thicker than its rosy counterpart, it was more like a milkshake than anything else, with a flavour that’s pretty darn hard to describe. This being a blog post however, and not a store giving out free samples (sorry), I suppose I should try and describe it anyway…

Think viscous, faintly perfumed, very milky – almost nutty…

That’s probably the best I can do. But basically, if you’re a fan of things like condensed milk, this drink’ll be right up your street.

Talking of condensed milk, one thing I was seriously sad about was the lack of ‘Condensed Milk and Icing Sugar’ Toasties. I’d seen them on the Soho menu, but apparently they have now been discontinued.

They say it was lack of interest. I say, let’s start a petition…

But before we get to that let’s talk about the bubbles themselves – or ‘Boba’, as they’re also known. They were just like I’d had in San Francisco: very chewy – quite a lot like jelly (while still being vegetarian) – and fun to suck up through a giant plastic straw.

As far as I could tell, the Boba in our drinks were pretty much flavourless, but that didn’t stop them being ultra satisfying. With one in almost every mouthful, there was plenty to keep the ol’ tongue well amused.

They even made weird face-shaped shadows! Hours of fun, I tell ya!

Should even that not be enough to thrill you, however, there was also the option of paying 50p extra for ‘Popping Boba’.

Goodness knows how they’re made, but they look like caviar and feel rather like swollen segments of fruit: transparent orbs with a thin, bouncy outside which ruptures between the teeth and bursts with fruity liquid. Two flavours in just the one drink.

We tried Lychee… and both reckoned it would be ace in a cocktail…

Seems like the next logical step now I think of it: get those Bobas in some alcohol and double the fun-quota instantly.

The Man, you see, can’t fathom how these drinks can appeal as more than a novelty purchase – or ‘novel-tea’ (as he so ‘witt-tea-ly’ described it. Sorry. That’s the last pun for now, I promise).

In a way, I get what he means – they are pretty novel and not too cheap (£3.75 for 500ml/£4.25 for 700ml).

BUT…

If you’re in the mood for something sweet, that’s not too heavy and has some bite, I’d say these drinks could well fill a gap in the market.

More importantly, they could also fill a gap in your stomach.

10 Dribblesome Ways to Use Up Salt Caramel Sauce.

Got a jar or two of salt caramel sauce in your fridge? Wondering how best to eat it? It’s a hard life, I know, but don’t panic. Sit back, moisten your chops, and allow the Pud-Hog to give you some tasty ideas…

1. Make a sweet sandwich. Honestly, Ogglers, nothing goes better on fresh white bread than a layer of thick salted caramel sauce. If you want to push the boat out even further, try adding peanut butter, chcolate spread or jam (or even all three, if you’re that way inclined). After that, take a seat and wait for the sugar crash.

Oh no! This bread is wounded! Better put it out of its misery…

2. Quickly jazz up your summer desserts by drizzling salt caramel sauce on your ice cream. See what crazy combos work the best. My favourite so far? Salt caramel on Mince Pie ice cream. Probably not the most summery of solutions, but there you go.

3. Pimp up your hot chocolate. Also not necessarily something you’ll be racing to do in July (mind you, this is England, so it’ll probably snow next week). Anyway, whatever the time of year, how could you not want to give this a go? I’m talking luxury, Ogglers – something like the classics I raved about in February. Take some dark chocolate, melt it and stir in warm milk (perhaps even a smidgen of double cream). Stir in a dollop of caramel sauce and toast yourself on a job well done.

4. Take a leaf out of the Kooky Bakes book and use it for the filling of a cake. Now strictly speaking, the one you can see in the following picture is filled with a salt caramel buttercream (also something you could use your leftover sauce for). If the mood takes you, you can be so much lazier. Big cakes, little cakes, whoopie pies… Just spread it on like you would with jam and accompany with whipped cream if need be. A twist on the classic Victoria Sponge? A wicked addition to chocolate cake? I assure you, you won’t regret it.

Whoop whoop! Whoopie Pie!

5. Channel your seventies wild child and make a salted caramel fondue. It might well be the quickest and easiest thing you ever do. Dunk chocolate/fruit/pretzels/whatever you fancy straight into the jar, eating it up like nachos and salsa. Should you fancy making more of an effort, warm the caramel sauce over a very low heat until it softens, and serve in a swanky bowl. Just don’t let it get too hot. Nothing spoils a party like third degree burns.

6. Create your own filled salt caramel chocolates. I’ve heard it can be tricky – and you might not be as adept as some of the pros – but if you’re ever lacking in gift ideas, you can be sure they’ll go down a storm. As far as I know, all you need are chocolate moulds and chocolate. Perhaps one day I’ll give it a go myself…

7. Pay homage to Paul A. Young’s marvellous Billionaire’s concoction and cook up your own Salted Caramel Shortbread. Not that you have to do too much cooking. I tried it myself the other day: make a base by melting butter and syrup/salted caramel with broken biscuits (any cheesecake base recipe will do). Press the mixture into the bottom of a greased tin or plastic container. Leave to cool in the fridge before spreading on salt caramel sauce and topping with melted chocolate. Tailor the thicknesses to your own taste.

And swoon

8. Got a packet of bog-standard biscuits? Finding it hard to face them? You can probably guess what I’m going to say next: slather those biscuits in salted caramel (as in the vein of blog posts past). Alternatively, you could use them to go with suggestion number 5. Or 7. Blimey, biscuits are versatile, aren’t they?

9. Here’s an idea purloined from the folks at Chococo (yes, they of Jubilee Cream Tea fame). Next to their shop they serve cream tea with chocolate chip scones, dulce de leche, and clotted cream. Replace the dulce de leche with salt caramel sauce and Bob’s your uncle. The uncle who’ll be knocking at your door, demanding a portion of salt caramel cream tea

10. Should suggestions 1 to 9 have failed to take your fancy, there’s always the Caramel Purist’s option: get your finger, dip it in, and eat like there’s no tomorrow.

Trust me. It’s much tastier than it looks

Failing that, just send your jar on to the Hog House.

I’ll be sure to take good care of it.

Promise.

Top of the Chops (at the International Fair).

Some of you may already know this, but my main ambition in life is to try ALL the puddings the world has to offer. Could be a tough one, I know, but by golly it’s worth a shot.

To my utter delight, my dreams of total domination received a massive boost last night, in the form of the CFAB International Fair. It was the preview – the public event is today – and I was fortunate enough to have an invite from one of my colleagues.

For those of you who don’t know what it is (like me, just a few days before), the fair is an annual event held in London, in order to raise money for CFAB (‘protecting Children and Families Across Borders’).

Bundles of embassies and diplomats get involved, with each country running a stall selling food, jewellery, clothes – and whatever else they can muster – from their homelands. Plenty were offering samples too, so naturally I spent a good deal of time snaffling around (all in the name of this blog, of course).

With approximately 75 countries represented – and an International Restaurant area selling home-cooked and restaurant quality cuisine from every corner of the globe – there were plenty of rich pickings to be had. I didn’t take photos of everything – most of the time I was too busy chomping. Still, for your pleasure and perusal, here is a rundown of the most memorable, weird and wonderful tasters on offer – everything sweet that I tried, in fact (plus a few of the ones I didn’t). We’ll call it Top of the Chops (and we’re moving towards Number One)…

13. Quality Street (Switzerland)

Last on the list – and for good reason. I mean, come on, Switzerland. You make some of the best chocolate in the world. Yet you cover the bulk of your stall with boxes of Nestle Quality Street? Nil points for originality (so boring). Actually, to be fair, the Swiss contingent weren’t sampling these chocolates at their stall, but they were selling them. For that they have been named and shamed (after all, everyone knows that Cadbury’s Roses are far superior).

12. Crispy Roll (Kuwait)

OK, I admit: I’m sure the Kuwaitis don’t call it a Crispy Roll, but I didn’t have time to find out all the names. Essentially it was a faintly sweetened pastry roll, comprised with dozens of wafer thin biscuity layers. Probably made to be had with coffee, on its own it was far too dry. A little on the boring side (as per my usual thinking, it really could have done with some goo)…

11. Mango Cupcakes with Lime Icing (Fiji)

These receive an honorary mention – they weren’t available to sample, but they looked so good that I thought it’d be wrong to miss them out. Not particularly revolutionary, but what an excellent-sounding flavour combo!

10. Praline Chocolates (Ukraine)

Who knew Ukraine would be so good at chocolate? A really tasty morsel from our friends in Eastern Europe. Switzerland, I say again, for shame! This could have been you, you know… Quality Street, indeed. Harumph.

9. Dried Dates (Iraq)

Juicy, healthy, YUM.

8. Aubergine Jam; Young Walnut Jam (Armenia)

As with the mango cupcakes, it pains me to say no samples were available. But don’t they both sound crazy? I imagine the Aubergine Jam might be a tasty addition to cheese on toast. But Young Walnut Jam? Cor. The mind boggles. Why can’t our own British Jamhounds be more inventive? I think I might have to visit Armenia soon…

7. Chocolate Bread (Macedonia)

There might well have been booze in this too – it tasted slightly naughty. A very fresh, very nice treat: bread with huge swirls of nuts and chocolate goo. Kind of reminded me of the Chocolate Panettone I had a couple of weeks ago. Except not freezing cold!

6. Rice Pudding with Cinnamon (Iraq)

Another entry from the land of dates – and not your typical rice pudding either. Bright yellow, lightly spiced, warm and milky, I could see this winning the (imaginary) prize for Best Comfort Food. Mmm.

5. Green Coconut/Brown Sugar Pancake (Indonesia)

A feast for the eyes – and the tastebuds

Now here’s an eye-catching treat. The fleshy green ‘pancake’ was very soft and squidgy with a texture not dissimilar to fresh pasta. Inside, the coconut/brown sugar filling was lovely and juicy. Extremely satisfying.

4. Pineapple Rice Drink (Panama)

Again, I know this has a proper name, but I cannot for the life of me remember what it was. Anyway, it’s irrelevant. The fact is, this was the most gorgeous thing I’ve drunk for a really long time. Like liquid rice pudding with zingy fresh pineapple. Thick and dreamy (and surprisingly non-alcoholic).

3. Rassogamon (Bangladesh)

Sweet Bangladeshi balls

My favourite Indian sweet in all the world is Ras Malai (as you may remember from previous posts). These sweet balls were not dissimilar – no wonder I liked them so much. Warm, smooth and spongy, they tasted of cardamom and condensed milk. A pool of lukewarm syrup made them extra drippy and sweet to boot. AWESOME.

FINALLY, IN JOINT FIRST PLACE…

1. Chocolate Caramel (Peru) and Syrup Ball (Qatar)

I’d never have guessed that these countries would make great puddings, but they were hands down THE BEST I tried. I don’t suppose I can really do justice to either one, but I’ll give it a go.

The Chocolate Caramel was immense: a dense, almost fudge-like exterior, with a generous slick of super-smooth caramel. Available in white or milk chocolate, I only tried the latter (but the Man bought the former for a future night of indulgence). Again, Switzerland has been well and truly trounced.

As for the Qatari Syrup Ball… woah. A warm round of dough (with a texture halfway between choux pastry and a doughnut), absolutely saturated with golden syrup. The crowd around these was so massive, it took me three minutes to get one. Now I know why.

So there you have it, Ogglers: my International Rundown is now in your hands. What you choose to do with it is up to you (of course), but seeing as the Fair is on until tonight, if you can, I’d take it there and let the Pud-Hog be your guide.

Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall, £5 for adults, £1 for students – proceeds go to CFAB. Failing that, there’s a Round the World Ticket with your name on it. Just leave room for me in your suitcase.

P-H x

Absinthe Chocolate Cake.

Here it is: the Green Fairy… only brown, and in cake form…

Once upon a time, while on holiday to Ayia Napa with Ma Hog (of all the places), I came across a cheapo bottle of Russian absinthe. It was just under a litre of clear 55% proof alcohol, and I bought it for seven quid – a bargain, considering there was probably enough there to floor a deck of sailors (and you never know when that might come in handy, eh Ogglers?).

I had grand ideas for this absinthe (flooring sailors excluded) – I could picture myself in a polo neck, taking sips to see inside my soul; penning poems in the style of Kubla Khan; connecting with a whole new level of reality.

In actual fact, on the rare occasions I plucked up the courage to drink it neat, all I got was a burning throat and a headache. Still, I enjoyed my fast-track to drunkenness on the whole, until one miserable evening when I drank five shots before a house party – and felt so sick I was back at home before ten. Never again, I said to myself as I stopped the taxi to vom. Actually, I’m not sure I had the strength to speak or think that clearly, but still, I gave the remainder away as soon as I could.

At that point, I thought my relationship with absinthe was well and truly over. Though I still liked the aniseed taste in theory, my sickening binge had removed all the pleasure, and every time I took a whiff I felt the urge to wretch. Nevertheless, the thought of it continued to appeal…

Fast forward to just a few days ago. It was Man Ma’s birthday, and what should appear in the kitchen but a Seggiano Absinthe Chocolate Cake. I’d seen it around in the shops before, and been drawn to it every time – the only problem was that, after my nasty experience, I was far too afraid to take the plunge.

Now was my chance to test the water.

Lest we forget, Seggiano is the company that sells those awesome White Chocolate Figs I mooned about in March. Specialists in importing ‘the most delicious, genuine and naturally produced Italian regional specialities’ (or so their website tells me), I felt I was probably in safe hands. Still, the question remained: would my bad associations kick in? Would I throw up all over the dinner table?

Thankfully, the answer was no. Far from it. In fact, the cake was delicious: a gorgeous crispy crust underneath which lurked a gooey seam of booze-spiked chocolate. Unlike the filthy 55% proof stomach-stripper I’d bought from Ayia Napa, it soothed my tongue rather than burning it. The best of the flavour was in there too: a definite liquorice kick. Pretty darn exciting, for a cake that looked so plain.

From first bite to last, it was a pleasure. But like its liquid counterpart, probably best consumed in moderation. You heard it here first, folks: five hefty portions of anything is probably going to make you queasy.

Four, on the other hand…