Tuesday, 13 March 2018

The Original Solid Chocolate Egg since 2012 (and why we do it!)

In 2012, a chance comment by a friend triggered an idea: Easter eggs were always hollow, and as a child - as an adult, even - you still hankered after the fantasy that one day you'd pick one up and bite into it to find not more air, but more chocolate. A solid, filled, no-bubbles, not-in-chunks, not-full-of-truffles Solid Chocolate Egg.


So, as with many projects before and since, and knowing very little about Easter egg production, we went ahead and made it a reality. We had a history of creating chocolate products as giveaways, promotion and uprated business cards, so we commissioned 50 eggs from a local chocolatier, designed some robust, no-nonsense packaging and an appropriately working-class blocky logo for them, and sold the lot. To our delight, mates, colleagues and strangers alike thrust money at us in exchange for the childhood fantasy of this non-hollow egg. From idea to sold-out product in 5 weeks!








We initially gave no thought to doing it again, but six years on, Solid Egg is not so much a product as an annual event. We're quite good at events - Leigh and I were putting on events within the first few weeks of meeting each other - so treating it as such feels more native than 'selling a product'. The planning starts before Christmas and the packaging is designed, the ads are plotted and the eggs made as close as feasibly possible to Easter sales time, in order to keep them as fresh as possible. Then with eggs inside packaging and the web shop stocked, we're off, on around six weeks of mentally and physically challenging work on top of whatever else we're working on in the run up to Easter. The Internet can make selling look easy, but it's bloody hard work bringing a hand-made, personalised product to market and even harder actually persuading people to part with their hard-earned cash.




But, with a cult following worldwide, the eggs sell out every year, and we've sold them as far afield as Manhattan, LA, Canada, Korea, Japan, and all over Europe. Every year we're surprised at their geographical reach. The only thing that's stayed the same since 2012 is the logo; the eggs have increased significantly in weight and quantity, the packaging is re-designed every year, advertising routes and looks change; we've designed our own, bespoke moulds.











We've consistently had the eggs made in the UK, with ingredients chosen for their flavour, ethics and origin. People buy our eggs for far-flung relatives as Easter gifts; as thank yous, as presents for themselves; they hide them from their children, buy them for their children, treat their work colleagues with them and keep them on shelves for months, chipping away at a bit of Easter all year round (their average shelf life is around 16 months).




Of course, what happens when you do something that's popular and appealing? It gets copied. There's a big blog coming up about that happening in a much wider context - copying and imitation has been a growing issue in the last 18 months - but, in the time since we've been doing this, another bloke's come along and set up a company selling what he describes as 'solid chocolate eggs', complete with a logo described, when we sought advice on it, as 'uncomfortably close' (you'll see what I mean if your Googling is terrier-like enough to find it!) His egg is, in reality, an egg shape made up of lots of little bits held together by its plastic packaging - so purely in terms of physics alone, not at all solid.
There's room for all styles of chocolate egg in the world of course, and we even laughed and looked the other way when we realised he'd nicked chunks of our copy too (our assistant wasn't so chill about it, she had to be talked down with a nice cup of hot chocolate) and even kept our heads when we noticed he'd dissed our actual egg on his website. But. As long as we keep reinventing and making our egg better and different every year, we're happy to let him have his corner of the chocolate egg world. We know our market, and we know where the motivation for making it comes from - and it's not from the desire to make a few extra quid on Amazon. (There's also no plastic in our egg. Thanks Blue Planet II!)


The other thing we've always done is made vegan eggs. Way ahead of the massive surge in vegan eating, we knew there was a market for a big greed-based hunk of chocolate for people who happen to avoid dairy, and 'inclusive chocolate' was a thing we both sought out and pursued with our own products. As vegans since the late 90s, it would have been insanity not to. Since then we've made a gluten and nut free one too.

So it's all good, and we're quite proud of keeping this project running for all this time. But people still ask us why we do it, since it's hard work and a risky thing to do - after all, what if you don't sell through? There are only so many chocolate eggs you can eat*. The supermarkets are awash with less costly, pretty, or fancy, or character-led, decorated eggs; vegan eggs are even in Aldi now, and for the amount you spend on one of our eggs, you could go mental in Lidl's Easter aisle and still have change for a treat from the 'Seasonal Clothing Bargains' section.

We've come to think it's because people trust us, and the product, and our reasons for doing it. We're not quietly building up an egg-shaped retirement stash - a nest egg, if you will - but we do make a modest profit which is fed into other projects. We don't claim to make the biggest egg, or the fanciest, or the cheapest - it's what it says on the tin (and yes this year, the eggs are coming to you in tins!) - just a solid block of beautiful-tasting no-nonsense chocolate made with love and care. And heavy enough to break a window, or replace your favourite kettlebell.

You can keep track of this year's Solid Egg on EggstagramTwitter (chicks, baby hens innit) and Facebook.

*Theory yet to be tested.


And, you can buy them at solidegg.co.uk




Tuesday, 13 February 2018

PANCAKES. Of course.




Of course vegan pancakes are possible, silly.

This is my preferred recipe. I can't take credit for it - it's based on legendary vegan-punk-chef Isa Chandra Moskowitz' recipe, with a couple of tiny tweaks developed through repeated makings.

it claims it makes 6 pancakes, but that depends how big you like them - I tend to double the recipe for Full Greed Mode.

They use only the kind of stuff that's knocking around in most reasonably practised vegan kitchens.

Here we go.

Tips to start:
~ Don’t use an electric mixer for the batter. Overmixed pancakes tend to result in a dense pancake. I just use a fork to get everything mixed.
~ You have to let the batter rest for ten minutes or so. The vinegar and the baking powder need to react with each other and the gluten needs to settle in and rest.
~ Don’t crowd the pan. Don’t make more than two pancakes at once. Seriously. Have a warm oven and a hot plate waiting for your freshly-cooked ones, if you're not shovelling them straight into mouths hungry-chick style.
~ Don’t use too much oil in the pan. It will result in a tough exterior. A very thin layer of oil is what you want and a spray can of oil works perfectly for this.
~ Preheat the pan for a good ten minutes. I use our wok, and put it on moderate low heat, but you will probably need to adjust a little to get the temp just right. Remember, the temerature is not set in stone. Lower and raise in tiny increments as needed. Even tiny increases can result in big changes.
~ Use a measuring cup (with a rounded bottom if possible) to scoop out the batter. And remember to always spray the cup between pancakes, to prevent sticking.
~ Once you drop the pancake in, refrain from fiddling with the batter too much. But don’t be afraid to delicately nudge the batter a tiny bit with your fingers to get a more circular shape and more even cooking. But the batter should spread a tiny bit and puff up all on its own. LEAVE THEM ALONE.
~ And DO stick to the cooking times - the system works!
You will need:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour~
(to make gluten-free versions, use the same quantity made up of equal parts of rice flour, coconut flour and teff flour)
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup almond milk or soy milk
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon cornmeal (or Teff flour for a browner, slightly more wholemeal taste)
1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons oil - rapeseed oil is good
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
In a large mixing bowl, sift together flours, baking powder, salt and sugar. 
Make a well in the center.

Measure the milk into a measuring cup. Add vinegar and and use a fork to vigorously mix the ingredients until foamy. This will take a minute or so.
Pour the milk mixture into the center of the dry ingredients. Add the water, oil and vanilla and use a fork to mix until a thick, lumpy batter forms. That should take about a minute. It doesn’t need to be smooth, just make sure you get all the ingredients incorporated.
(Note: we like to add a vegan protein powder - like this one - instead of the cornmeal sometimes, for EXTRA GAINZ.)
Preheat the pan over medium-low heat and let the batter rest for 10 minutes.
Lightly coat the pan in oil. Add 1/3 cup of batter for each pancake, and cook for about 4 minutes, until puffy. Flip the pancakes, adding a new coat of oil to the pan, and cook for another 3 minutes or so. The pancake should be about an inch thick, and golden brown. Don't mess about with them too much; when you're hungry, 4 minutes can FEEL LIKE AN ETERNITY. We understand.
Rest pancakes on a warmed plate in a gently-heated oven until ready to serve. 
To reheat, place pancakes in on a baking sheet covered with tin foil in a  300 F degree oven for 5 minutes or so. Ha, like THAT'S going to be a scenario.



Sunday, 25 June 2017

Matt's Flapjacks


The recipe for these was given to us by Matt Thornhill, aka Monkichi, who'd come to play on our radio station (Real FM) in a Birmingham tower block in the late 90s. He'd brought with him his mate Manish and these delicious flapjacks made to his Grandpa's recipe, and the week after he'd been, from his long-winded early globalnet email address at Timebomb in Bristol, he sent us the receipe.

This is the only flapjack recipe we've used since. In the years since he committed this recipe to email and I printed it out on the back of a Beggars Banquet record reaction sheet (which I have to this day, it's the only record of the recipe I have) Matt's become Head of A&R at XL Records, nowadays heading up the Young Turks record label, and is a busy lad. Recently a Dad, I like to think he still makes these!

This is Leigh's slight riff on the original. He adds a layer of salted chocolate on top and cooks them as individual flaps in cake tins, turning them upside down and putting the chocolate on the bottoms.
The robust, dark salty chocolate works really well with the sticky sweetness underneath - these flaps, after all, use both black treacle and golden syrup as well as sugar!

It is typed, apart from Leigh's additions, exactly as Matt wrote it.

Once again, many many thanks for having me and the keener up for the night., Both had a damn fine time, only wish I could have stayed a bit longer...

Here's that flapjack recipe. it's from my Grandfather so it's imperial...

5oz margarine (we used Suma dairy free)
3oz black treacle
3oz golden syrup
2oz demerera sugar
8oz porridge oats, rolled oats, whatever
really healthy pinch of cinnamon
salted dark chocolate

He also likes it real gingery and adds 2tsp. of ginger powder.
Then chopped apricots if you want.

Melt sugar, marg, syrup etc. in pan. Stir in oats & additionals.

Spread into greased baking thing and give it:

- 20-30 minutes if cooking on one large batch (for example baking tray) - check after 20
- 12 minutes if cooking as individual flaps (for example like we did in fairy cake/muffin tins)

at Gas Mark 4 / 160C.

(They might still be soft to the touch when you remove them, but they'll harden as they cool.)

Once cooled, gently melt salted chocolate in a metal basin over a simmering saucepan (don't let any of the water get in) and pour over the upturned flapjacks. Allow to cool thoroughly.

Think that's it.

Hope it works out...and don't reply to this one cos I shouldn't be spending my day at work writing out recipes really.

All the best,
Matt Monkichi.


Here's Matt spending his day at work not writing out recipes.



Here's the flyer we made when Matt came to play.













Thursday, 22 June 2017

Peanut Butter Curry





I made this curry a couple of days ago and it was unbelievably delicious, as well as being very nutritious and protein-heavy.

Like an idiot, I was so busy stuffing it in my face I failed to take a single picture, either while I was making it or when it was finished.

So - imagine it! Think creamy, fatty, with orangey-pink colours, pops of chilli slices and the little black specks of mustard seed, poured over fluffy brown basmati.

TIP:
You don't have to include the sweet potato, plain spuds will do, but you could stir any robust vegetables into it.

To make the paste:

2 tsp coriander seeds (toasted)
2 tsp cumin seeds (toasted)
1 tsp sesame seeds (toasted)
2 tbsp dessiccated coconut (toasted)
1 inch ginger
6 cloves garlic
4 tbsp peanut butter (crunchy or smooth, doesn't matter)
1/4 cup vegetable oil


To make the rest:
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp mustard seeds
1 large onion (finely chopped)
2 tsp salt
1 green chilli (finely chopped) 
2 tsp fenugreek powder
2 tbsp tomato paste
4 tomatoes (chopped)
1 tin coconut milk

handful green beans
handful kale
handful mangetout 

3 sweet potatoes (roasted & cubed) or one massive one

To Serve:

Basmati Rice

Garnish:

Coriander
Crushed peanuts

To make:

1 Put toasted seeds in a food processor & whizz them u into a powder.


2 Add the garlic, ginger, peanut butter, vegetable oil & whizz it all up into a thick paste.


3 Warm the vegetable oil in a pan, add the mustard seeds & wait until you hear a light popping sound.


4 Add the onions & cook them until they’re well done (not burnt). 


5 Add the salt, chilli, fenugreek powder and stir it together.


6 Add the tomato puree & stir that in too. 


7 Add the chopped tomatoes & stir that in so they’re softening and losing their structure. 


8 Add the paste you made a little earlier and cook it until the aromas from the paste are well released.


9 Add the coconut milk & stir it in so you have a lovely creamy sauce.


10 Add the spring greens, stir them in & then stir in the sweet potato chunks.


11 Serve immediately over basmati rice and finish with crushed peanuts and coriander.


It's especially good a couple of days later - put a lid on and keep it in the fridge.

Friday, 28 April 2017

MUDDY MUDSKIPPER CAKE



If you have any leftover Solid Egg (lol) you can bash it up into little bits with a rolling pin, or grate it, and add it to THIS recipe.

You need do only this:

Mud Base;
3/4 (three-quarters) cup plain flour
1 cup cocoa powder
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tbsp vanilla
1 cup maple syrup
1 cup almond or soya milk
Fistful of small chocolate chunks - good for any good leftover chocolate from Easter!

Blend.
Pour into 2 oiled or greaseproofed shallow cake tins.
Bake for 30 minutes at 180 degrees C.
Remove Cakes 1 and 2 and leave to cool.


Mud On Top:
1 cup cocoa powder
1.5 cups brown sugar
1/3rd tbsp marge
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 (half) cup almond or soya milk

Blend.
Smear over Cake 1.
Put cake 2 on top.
Smear over Cake 2.

EAT.









Sunday, 12 February 2017

Cocoa Gravy

This version of our classic Vegan Gravy was created after a tip-off from Pete Gardner at Cocoa Amore, Leicester's independent chocolate boutique.

You will need:

- 1 teaspoon of oil
- half a medium sized red onion, finely chopped
- 5 finely sliced medium sized mushrooms (you don't want big slices)
- a healthy pinch of freshly ground pepper
- half a pint of cold veg stock, preferably kept over from veg cooking
- one Kallo mushroom stock cube
- two heaped dessertspoons of fine cornmeal
- 2g 100% pure cocoa/cacao* (no added sugar, milk etc. - pure cocoa) - more if you want, after you've tasted

Do this:

Add the finely chopped red onion and mushrooms to the oil, and sautée gently till the onion's going clear and the mushrooms floppy and cooked through. Add the black pepper.

Crumble your Kallo mushroom stock cube to the (cold) veg stock, mix thoroughly.

Stir in the cornmeal, and pour gently into the onion and mushroom mix. Stir well.

Bring to the boil till it starts to thicken, then turn down and simmer gently.

Break the cocoa/cacao* into pieces and add to the gravy, stir till it melts, and stop cooking when it's as thick as you like it!





VEGAN TOAD IN THE HOLE. Yes.

You thought the Yorkshire Pudding mix was the Holy Grail, and it was - but this is the discovery of King Richard III under the car park...sort of. Well he had strong connections with York...

Tonight we made Toad In The Hole by pre-heating the oven to 220 degrees C (VERY HOT), adding a significant lump of vegan marge (you can use an oil if you prefer, it'll be a little greasier) to a metal pan and placing it in the oven to pre-heat.

After 5 minutes, add 4 un-meat sausages (Fry's are good, we don't recommend Linda McCartneys' for this) to the heating pan. Put it back in the oven.

Meanwhile, mix up our vegan Yorkshire Pudding Mix. For four sausages, divide the mixture's quantity in half. The quantity of batter mix in the original recipe will be good for 6+ sausages.

Once well mixed, take out your pan with sausages (don't leave more than about 10 minutes).
The fat should be smokin' hot and the sausages starting to brown.
Pour in the batter mix, distributing evenly over the sausages, quickly, and put back in the oven.

Cook for 20 minutes, and check nay poking the a sharp knife into a fat bit after 20 mins - it's OK for it to be a bit sticky inside!

Serve with Cocoa Gravy, roast spuds and plenty of green veg.


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