The best Xmas presents ever!

While it’s too early to give away what everyone is getting this year, if anyone is stuck about what to give friends and family for Xmas / Reyes / other suitable festive celebration this year, here is my top tip based on last year’s success:

Make and give everyone *hand made chocolate truffles*!!

All the ingredients can be bought from the 3 shops in Sant Pere and the Born mentioned in previous articles, and you probably have similar shops in your own barrio. This recipe is from Delia Smith and is super super easy:

Ingredients
Basic truffle mixture:
150 g very best quality dark chocolate (at least 75 per cent cocoa solids) (You can get this, like nmost of the ingredients, in all the shops mentioned in the blog so far)
150 ml thick double cream
25 g unsalted butter
2 tablespoons rum or brandy (Try the fair trade versions in the Xarxa Consum)
1 level tablespoon Greek yoghurt

For the plain truffles:
1 level dessertspoon cocoa powder

For the ginger truffles:
20 g preserved ginger, very finely chopped, plus some extra cut into small pieces (this is definitely available in ‘Be Organic’)

For the toasted almond truffles:
25 g flaked almonds, very finely chopped and well toasted

For the chocolate-coated truffles:
50 g dark chocolate (at least 75 per cent cocoa solids)
a little cocoa for dusting

Method

For the basic truffle mixture, break the chocolate into bits until it looks granular, like sugar. Now(If you have a food processor then you can use this, but I did it by hand). Put it in a heatproof bowl and steam this over water in a saucepan – bain marie style – until it melts. You can stir it to help it along.

Next place the cream, butter and rum or brandy in a small saucepan and bring these to simmering point.

Add the two liquids together bit by bit until you have a smooth, blended mixture. Now add the yoghurt and stir again for a few seconds. Next transfer the mixture, which will be very liquid at this stage, into a bowl, allow it to get quite cold, then cover it with clingfilm and refrigerate overnight. Don’t worry: it will thicken up after several hours.

Next day divide the mixture equally among four small bowls, and keep each one in the fridge until you need it. Then proceed with the following to make four different varieties. Make sure you have all the little paper cases opened out ready before your hands get all chocolatey!
Plain Truffles
For these, you simply sift 1 level dessertspoon of cocoa powder on to a flat plate, then take heaped half teaspoons of the first batch of truffle mixture and either dust each one straight away all over, which gives the truffle a rough, rock-like appearance, or dust your hands in cocoa and roll each piece into a ball and then roll it in the cocoa powder if you like a smoother look. Place it immediately into a paper case. Obviously the less handling the better as the warmth of your hands melts the chocolate.

If – like me – you have little hot hands, you may find you need to run them under the cold tap or stick them in the freezer for a few seconds between every few truffle-rollings so the chocolate doesn’t end up more on your hands than in the truffles.

Ginger truffles
Mix the finely chopped ginger into the second batch of truffle mixture using a fork, then proceed as above, taking small pieces, rolling or not (as you wish), and dusting with cocoa powder before transferring each one to a paper case. (These are my favourites!).

Toasted almond truffles
Sprinkle the very finely chopped toasted almond flakes on a flat plate, take half a teaspoonful of the third batch of truffle mixture and roll it round in the nuts, pressing them to form an outer coating.

Chocolate-coated truffles
For these you need to set the chocolate in a bowl over some hot but not boiling water and allow it to melt until it becomes liquid, then remove the pan from the heat. Now spread some silicone / greaseproof paper on a flat surface and, dusting your hands with cocoa, roll each truffle into a little ball. Using two flat skewers, one to spike the truffle and one to manoeuvre it, dip each truffle in the chocolate so that it gets a thin coating and then quickly transfer it to the paper. If the chocolate begins to thicken replace the pan on the heat so that it will liquefy again. Leave the coated truffles to set completely then, using a palette knife, quickly transfer them into their waiting paper cases.

Now arrange all the truffles in a box or boxes and cover. Keep them refrigerated and eat within three days. Alternatively, truffles are ideal for freezing.

Ta daaaaaaa! Your friends and family will be so impressed!

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Call Valls – Organic Fruit Products from Catalunya and Beyond

Almost all the shops I have mentioned so far stock the ‘Cal Valls‘ range of fruit juices. I’ve tried a few – the Mandarina in particular is superb – so I thought I’d try and find out more about them:


Cal Valls is a family business – they have been farming organically since the 1980s, making them pioneers not only in Catalunya but in all Spain, and they are certified organic by the ‘Consell Català de la Producció Agrària Ecològica’.

They have their own farm in northern Catalunya although they also buy in raw materials – mainly fruit – from other organic suppliers, particularly in the south of Spain where the growing conditions for certain fruits are more suitable. The production and packaging is all done at their facilities in Vilanova de Bellpuig.

The website http://www.calvalls.com is really informative – it appears in Catalan, Spanish and English – so I recommend you have a look, and I recommend even more strongly that you try their products as they are yummy!

I recently noticed that Buenas Migas are selling small bottles of Cal Valls juices; the bottles I have seen in shops are 1-litre size and priced between 2.50 and 3.50 euros, so not cheap…more along the lines of buying a carton of Tropicana rather than a tetrabrik of Dia/Eroski el cheapo OJ.

I rather like the fact that the juices are sold in glass bottles instead of cartons – however this does make your shopping rather heavy, so consider taking advantage of the delivery service at Be Organic! Then don’t forget to recycle them.

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More ‘friendly’ cleaning products:

I wrote about the fabulous Lympha brand of eco-friendly, fair trade cleaning products here, however more recently while researching the post on local independent shops selling ethical products I discovered that my most local of locals actually stocks a different brand – ‘Sonett’.

Sonnett are a Germany-based brand. They don’t have their own distribution network so they work with local partners. In Spain they have an on-line partner Bio-Bio, although there is no list of retail stockists – you just have to check out what your local shop sells, and ask them about it. In the UK they work with Greenfibres, a West Country UK-based company that otherwise sells a range of fabrics and fabric-based products using organic and fair-trade textiles.

The Sonett range is really broad, with laundry detergents, household cleaning products, soaps and even dishwasher detergents. Their approach is ‘modular’ in that you buy laundry-detergent, softener and whitening agents separately – this allows you to combine doses at the amounts you need rather than the quantities put together by the manufacturer. A clever idea if you don’t mind taking the 10 seconds extra to consult the recommended dosage chart and add your ingredients accordingly!

Sonett laundry detergent on it’s own has worked for me so far on mixed, lightly soiled laundry. It is runny not gloopy, so be careful when pouring. It has a faint herby smell…rosemary or lavender or something; they also do an entire ‘neutral’, scent-free range which I intend to try out on Dr DTS. I’m also planning to experiment with the whitening agents later this week, on some of my white clothes that are distinctly yellow-stained through a mixture of dirt, suncream and sweat. Gotta love those Barcelona summers!

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