Abel & Cole

Om nom nom :)
The mother lode of delicious organic fruit and veg courtesy of Abel & Cole

I’ve been with Abel & Cole since autumn 2014 (hence the Halloween-themed decorations in the background of the size comparison shot) and I absolutely love it.

For those of you who have somehow remained unaware of the veg and recipe box craze that’s sweeping (or at least gently dusting) the nation (Cambridgeshire), here’s the lowdown: you can sign up to a subscription service that will deliver a box of veg or meat or ingredients (usually supplemented with various household goods) on a weekly or fortnightly or monthly basis.

In practice this is super convenient as you don’t have to be at home when the box arrives since the delivery people just leave it outside, and then you’re set for the week. The contents of the veg boxes also change depending on the week and season, so you also get to discover some new foods (like the kohlrabi, which I am now intimately familiar with (it’s like a big greeny-white radish)).

I first signed up after being handed one of these vouchers by an already-enlisted friend:

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Alongside the voucher, which entitled me to a free fruit and veg box, were the codes ‘FREEMEALS’ and ‘EATVEG’ which, when entered at the checkout, also gave me a free Abel & Cole recipe book and my fourth box free! I forget which code does which, so enter both if you sign up.

Naturally, for my first free box I ordered the biggest fruit and veg box I could find, which was worth £26! Here is a size comparison pic from the morning that it arrived:

ROAR
Ziggy is helping to illustrate the size of the large fruit and veg box from Abel & Cole

It was brilliant and made me more excited about vegetables than I’d ever thought I would be. All of the veg from Abel & Cole is organic and responsibly sourced. The meat and fish are also ‘responsibly sourced’ or ‘high welfare’, and the site gives you little descriptions of the people who supply everything. They also have a YouTube account with videos that introduce their suppliers: I watched a few piggy ones and the piggies do look well and looked after, which is good even if I don’t agree with eating them.

Anyway, my fruit and veg certainly looked pretty happy:

happy veg

A large one of these is meant to feed 3–5 people for a week, with three types of fruit and nine seasonal veg. It lasted me and my partner significantly longer than that. Since then I have had a medium veg box and a Christmas fruit and veg box (which was amazing and sorted me and two others basically for the duration of the holiday, and was also free as it was my fourth box!), and have supplemented my orders with some Ecover products and smoked salmon and rainbow trout and delicious smoked mackerel.

AbelandCole recipe book

The recipe book that came free with the order is lovely and colourful, explaining what loads of various vegetables go well with and giving ideas for preparing them.

The only downside to Abel & Cole is the price. Because of the quality of their food, it’s usually significantly more expensive than buying veg at the grocer’s, so this week I’m getting a few select things rather than a whole box of veg.

Saying that, Abel & Cole do frequently give you extra goodies along with your shop, like the occasional loaf of bread, jar of jam, milk, eggs, etc. They also give you money-off codes from time to time – the last one I got was a ‘£5 off when you spend £10’ on fish, poultry or meat.

And if all that isn’t reason enough for you to try them out, they just seem like really nice people. They’ll often throw in little extras, like a calendar and mistletoe at Christmas, and just nice messages and recipe cards along with your order.

Also, they really pile on the food-based puns, which is spud-tastic! (…sorry.)

Check them out at www.abelandcole.co.uk 🙂

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Recipe: Stuffed Peppers with Artichoke

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A good friend and colleague of mine recently took up a strange diet that requires you to “fast” two days a week (I think for the purposes of the diet this means consuming less than 500 kcal a day), not over indulge for another two days a week (less than 1,500 kcal) and eat normally for the rest of the time. Yesterday and today are her fasting days, so she’s mostly just been grinding her teeth and looking faint, and her talk of low-fat food and dieting has had the inevitable side effect of making me feel ravenous (despite the four packs of Hula Hoops I’d just eaten – seriously, I have a problem. Every time anyone mentions dieting this happens…).

However, our talk of low-fat foods did bring us around to stuffed peppers. Now, I usually love the idea of stuffed peppers, but whenever I’ve actually eaten one I’ve found it to be bland and disappointing. That is, until last night.

After browsing numerous recipes online to see what was or was not acceptable to shove inside a pepper, and to gauge plausible cooking times, I threw caution to the wind and just used every delicious vegetable I could think of that I had to hand, together with some seasoned rice. And it was excellent! Not dry, not overcooked and floppy, not bland – not like the peppers I’d had before.

(I also got some pre-made stuffing mix in case my stuffing turned out horrible, but I didn’t end up using it because a) it smelled weird and b) I accidentally set it on fire.)

Naturally, my next thought was to share it with you, dear reader.

Note: The artichoke gives a taste reminiscent of vine leaves – so if you don’t like rice-stuffed vine leaves, maybe try a different recipe (I’d say just leave the artichoke out, but I think it’s the artichoke that stops the peppers from being dry). Also, if you want this recipe to contain very little fat, cut out the olive oil (use a bit of water instead) and make more of the veggie mixture, leaving out the rice.

Ingredients*

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  • 4 bell peppers (go for chunky and fresh, market or farm shop peppers are ideal) – I found that red peppers were nicest as they’re sweeter, but it’s up to you
  • 1 large white onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 5 inches of courgette (more if not using rice)
  • Up to 10 mushrooms (more if not using rice)
  • 1 tin artichoke hearts
  • 1 tomato
  • 1 tsp sugar

If using rice:

  • 100g rice, give or take depending on how rice-y you want these
  • Seasoning for rice (I use a dried mix of oregano, basil, garlic, tomato, chilli flakes, salt and black pepper, with a bit of tabasco thrown in)
  • 1 tsp vegetable bouillon powder

* Don’t fret about getting measures spot on – taste as you go along alter quantities/seasoning accordingly! We don’t all have the same preferences  

Step 1:

Turn on oven to Gas Mark 4/180°C/350°F.

Step 2:

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If using rice (and I think it tastes better and is definitely more filling when using rice, if slightly higher on the kcal scale), put around 100g into a preferably non-stick saucepan and cover with double the amount of boiling water as there is rice. Add 1 tsp of vegetable stock powder and whatever seasoning you’re using. Go on to the next step, but always keep an eye on the rice – whenever the water is almost completely absorbed, test to see how hard the rice is and add a bit more water if you want the rice softer. I think, overall, I ended up adding another 200 ml of water, but keep trying it until you get it to the way you like it. If you think it needs more seasoning, add more!

Step 3:

Chop up 1 large white onion and 1 garlic chopclove and fry these on a medium heat in a large frying pan with a bit of olive oil. Meanwhile, cut up around 5 inches of courgette into small cubes (roughly – no need for precision here) and add that to the mix. Then tear up up to 10 mushrooms (I used 7 as that’s how many were in my house) into the pan as well. Mix it all up so that it’s all cooking evenly.

Step 4:

Once the frying pan veggie mix looks like it’s well on its way to being cooked, chop up 1 tomato and throw that in as well. Then drain your tin of artichoke hearts, chop them up and put those in the frying pan too. (Don’t forget to check your rice, it’s probably done by now!)

Step 5:

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While that’s finishing up cooking, cut the tops off your 4 peppers, gut out the seeds and give them a wash. Arrange the bottoms of the peppers on a non-stick ovenproof thing/dish (if it isn’t very non-stick then you may want to oil it up a bit).

Step 6:

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Once the veggies are cooked, add the (cooked) rice to them and mix it all up. Taste it. I suggest adding a small teaspoon of sugar and mixing again, and then tasting it again. If you think that it could do with more seasoning, by all means add more! Then scoop the mixture into the pepper vessels and replace the pepper tops on top.

Step 7:

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Cook peppers in the oven for between 10 and 20 minutes, depending on how firm you want them. I suggest going the full 20 as the peppers do retain a little firmness and crunch (without collapsing or setting on fire) as well as becoming deliciously juicy. And you’re done!

I felt pretty full after 1.5 of these peppers and took one of the leftover peppers to work for lunch the next day (1 minute in the microwave and everything was great again). I also found that I liked these best when left to cool a little post-oven, so that the outside of the pepper becomes cool enough to hold and you can eat it plate-free.

Let me know what you think or if you come up with some variations of this recipe that work particularly well!

 

The Town and Country Show

 

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So this was the weekend of the annual Town and Country Show, which takes place on Parker’s Piece and plays host to tonnes of adorable animals, raucous fairground rides and delectable delicacies, among other things like antiques and furniture.

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I didn’t have very long to sample everything on offer this year, but here is a quick roundup of a few of my favourite feed-things:

The Ely Gin Company

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The company makes a good mix of flavours: raspberry, pink grapefruit, blackberry, orange, lemon, star anise, dark chocolate, ruby chocolate and ‘special dry’ gin.

I tried a bit of the raspberry and the pink grapefruit varieties, mixed with a little tonic. And they were absolutely delicious. The raspberry, as the friendly man at the stall forewarned, was a little dry, but not so much so that it bothered me (I generally find dry drinks to be too much of an oxymoron to enjoy), and it had a very smooth texture. It had the desired sweet-but-not-too-sweet fruitiness to it, and in fact I was ready to buy a bottle then and there, had I not been entirely remiss in remembering to bring my wallet.

It was then suggested that I try the pink grapefruit flavour. I was about to refuse as I’m not really a fan of grapefruit (too bitter for my liking), but as it had already been poured I threw caution to the wind and had a sip. And then another. And then basically licked out the bottom of the glass. It was absolutely delicious! Very sweet – sweeter than the raspberry, oddly enough, even though the website lists both as being ‘medium’ sweet – with only a very subtle bitterness to it and smooth as satin. I should hasten to add that I do rather like very sweet drinks, so it may be a bit too sweet for some – although I was told that the pink grapefruit is the company’s best-selling flavour, shortly followed by raspberry, so perhaps not.

A fairly new business, having started operations in 2012, the Ely Gin Company makes its flavoured gin by steeping fruit in it for about a fortnight, at which point the spirit is about 90% proof. It is then taken down to about 30%. I’m not sure how they make the chocolate varieties, but I’d be eager to find out.

The gin is sold in three sizes and can be bought directly from the company’s website, or from the distributors listed here.

  • Small (100 ml): £5
  • Medium (250 ml): £12.50
  • Large (500 ml): £22.00

Magic Mead

Magic Mead and Fruit Wines imports all of its stock from Germany, due to the country’s “greater yields” of honey (the modest About section of their site reads). What immediately struck and drew me to their stand, however – aside from my general love of mead – was the shape of their bottles. Just look at them!

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And once they’re empty you can use them to store your potions

“Once the mead’s finished, I stick some herbs and chilli in there and use them for keeping olive oil,” the man at the stand told me.

I tried some of the light honey mead at 12% (and now I wish that I’d paid more attention to what else was on offer given that the Magic Mead site doesn’t list the varieties). And it was lovely. It tasted more or less how I expected, quite similar to the normal Lindisfarne mead but perhaps a bit smoother and a little more floral. I certainly enjoyed it, and given the combination of the taste and the excellent bottles, I think I will be finding my way to some in the near future.

And now for something a little less alcoholic.

Original Olive Oil Company

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The misleadingly named OOO Company deals with olive oil rather than ghosts, but my disappointment was short lived when I discovered that the olive oil is of the elusive ‘Cyprus’ variety, normally difficult to get hold of outside of the Mediterranean island.

The ‘secret’ to a lot of great dishes, as I’m sure you know, is a good olive oil, and that’s exactly what this one is. The OOO Company’s cold-pressed oil is made from handpicked olives and is left unfiltered, meaning that it retains all the good bits. All of their oil is 100% authentic (according to the company, of course) and extra virgin – which is the best quality and most expensive class of olive oil as it tastes fresh, mildly fruity and is certified to contain no defects. And of course, extra virgin olive oil has countless health benefits.

The OOO Company is run by Rob Marsden and Pam Pantazi, and you can read their story here. Their stockists are listed on their site also, and they also have an online shop.

The prices are:

  • 500 ml: £10 (or 2 x 500 ml for £15 at the moment)
  • 6 x 100 ml: £18 (currently on offer for £15)
  • 4 litres: £60 (currently on offer for £40)

Did you make it to the show? Did you see something else there that you just want to rave about? Let me know in comments below or send me a message!

So salsa (and guacamole)

Guacamole

As yet, I do not own a blender so I tend to opt for crude, lumpy guacamole, which nevertheless ends up delicious. Here is how you throw together a tasty guaca-dip with minimum effort and ultimate result. IngredientsGUAC

  • 2 avocados
  • 1 white onion
  • 1 chilli pepper
  • 1–2 handfuls fresh coriander
  • 1 tomato
  • A bit of lime or lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste

Mash up the flesh of the avocados as best you can with a pestle and mortar or, failing that, a bowl and spoon. (The above video is actually pretty helpful in showing you the easiest way to deal with avocados.) Chop up the rest of the ingredients as finely as you can and mix them into the now-gooey avocado shlop. Add a bit of lime or lemon juice while tasting. Serve.

Salsa

For the salsa, I like to use a couple of fresh tomatoes (nice ones, mind, not those anaemic ones you find in the supermarket – make sure you smell them first and if they don’t make your mouth water, don’t use them). IngredientsSALSA

  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1 red onion
  • A couple of handfuls of fresh coriander (go easy on this if you aren’t as into it as I am)
  • Fresh chopped chilli pepper to taste
  • The juice of 1/2 a lime
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Just chop all of these up nice and fine (I normally get a bit lazy with the tomatoes) and combine. Leave to stand for at least twenty minutes before serving. TIP: I find that you can make the onion extra delicious by chopping it up quite finely and then putting it into a bowl with a few teaspoons of lemon juice and a teaspoon of sugar for around 20 minutes. This works with shallots and white onions as well, and just really brings out the flavour – I basically just do this when using onion in cold salads or dips. There are many variations on both of these recipes, so do browse around and don’t hesitate to throw in extra ingredients.

Crème de la cheese and the Brie of infamy

Président's Crème de Brie
Président’s Crème de Brie

Ok, so this post isn’t a recipe or a review of an eatery, but I just had to share this with somebody. I have finally found the cheese that I’ve been looking for for 5 years!!

My mum bought this cheese spread years ago and when I tried it I basically died. It’s super creamy and wonderfully more-ish, to the point that I have literally dreamt of this cheese in the intervening what-seemed-like decades. Of course then none of us could remember what the stuff was called and it seemed that the fabled spready cheese of fair was doomed to go the way of the Vicks bubble bath (which I have not seen in any shops for far, far too long).

Ok, I know what you’re thinking and yes, perhaps I do need to get out more. (But then I’d likely just end up at the nearest ASDA stocking up on more of this stuff.) But before you dismiss my claims as the ramblings of a notorious cheese-guzzler, go out and find this cheese.

Opinions online seem to be split over whether Président’s Crème de Brie is delicious or disastrous – I am sat firmly in Camp Delicious. I warn you now that no, it doesn’t taste entirely like regular Brie, but I have a feeling that it tastes a lot like melted Brie (I will give you an update about how accurate this assumption is shortly!). The main adjectives it evokes for me are ‘creamy’ and ‘sweet’ (in a delectable, cheesy way). I think the only way for you to know whether you like it is to eat as much of it as possible, as soon as possible.

I have only seen Crème de Brie in ASDA so far, but the internet tells me that it may be spotted at Waitrose and Ocado as well, so be vigilant and may the cheese be with you.

Review: Crêpeaffaire

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Otherwise known as my new favourite eatery. This place opened up in Cambridge earlier in 2014, but I only visited it last weekend. And it is incredible.

Now, Cambridge isn’t exactly short on crêperies – there’s Benets Café on King’s Parade, the other Benets on Benet Street and the Cambridge Crêpes van on Sidney Street (and probably others that I’ve yet to discover). But, to date, Crêpeaffaire is my favourite.

My Significant Other and I strolled into Crêpeaffaire on the Saturday morning before last looking for breakfast, which on that day meant a cheese and mushroom crêpe for me and a banana split waffle laden with whipped cream and ice cream for SO. Neither disappointed.

Om nom nom

My crêpe was filling without being too weighty, which was great as I had four hours of wandering around charity shops ahead of me, and the waffle was apparently very good – I say ‘apparently’ because it was demolished pretty quickly and with unreserved enthusiasm.

The coffee was nice but unspectacular (read: classier than Starbucks’, less rich than Cafe Milano’s), though lets face it, you won’t be going there for the coffee.

In terms of price, everything seemed fairly reasonable, at least compared with most crepe places I’ve been to in the UK, including the Benets Café(s) in Cambridge, with crêpes starting from around £3.35 to eat in. My criticism of Crêpeaffaire would be that they don’t seem to stock condensed milk, which is absolute heaven drizzled alongside nutella inside a sweet crepe and also the reason for my every visit to Benets Café.

The menu also lists a few different combo and breakfast deals – You can have a look at their generic menu here (which actually lists a salmon crêpe, the ‘New York Deli’, as being vegetarian – come on Crêpeaffaire, you’re better than that!). There’s a lot available, meaning that I can stop of there whether I’m looking for a drink, a snack or a meal (there are milkshakes, smoothies and freshly squeezed orange juice to boot).

The place is also really nicely decorated in a style that I don’t know the term for, but which make me think of words like ‘al fresco’ (although it isn’t) and ‘chic’ (which it kinda is). There are plants and trellises on the walls, dangling light features, and furniture that resembles picnic benches, which I guess is what gives the place a slightly outdoor-y feel. The service was fine and friendly, not too speedy on the actual crêpes but not so slow that I actually minded.

Overall, I can’t wait to go again! If my opinion of the place changes I’ll update this page, but frankly I hope that I just become further infatuated with the place.

Incidentally, if you go onto their site and sign up for their newsletter/updates thing you’ll get a printable voucher for a free lemon and sugar crêpe when you buy a savoury crêpe (it is dated 2013 but I have been assured that it will still work and that they will be updating this date asap). Bon appétit!

UPDATE 27/June/2014: Having visited the shop a few more times, I have to add that the service is quite frequently a bit slow. Also, my SO has told me that he went there once on his lunch break, and not only was the service very slow but they forgot his drink order – I don’t know how busy it was at the time, but whatever way, that’s not great. Also, you will see that a comment has been posted here by Fiona saying that she felt ill after eating the garlic mushroom crépe there. So, it’s been a bit hit and miss! I’ll update again if I hear more – and if you’ve been, do leave a comment to tell me about your experience!

Recipe: Salat Olivier

salat olivier

Salat Olivier (Салат Оливье), frequently referred to as ‘Russian Salad’ outside of Russia, is one of my favourite foods in the entire world. My mum makes it, alongside several other salads, for every special occasion and it becomes an instant favourite with everyone who visits.

There are many variations of Olivier salad, but this recipe (my mum’s) is, in my opinion, the best. The main difference here is that everything is chopped quite finely, which really helps the different flavours work together. The seafood sticks can be replaced with anything you like, though traditionally ham, crab or chicken is used – I have yet to try a veggie alternative but will update this page when I do (if you have any suggestions let me know!). Also, I left it out this time, but I think dill or perhaps parsley would also work well in this.

One thing about the ingredients: do not use fresh carrots or full fat mayo, and by no means substitute gherkins that have been pickled in vinegar for the cucumbers in brine – I tried this once and it totally destroys the taste. This salad is the only reason I ever buy tinned carrots and peas and I urge you to do the same. As for the mayonnaise, I use the Sainsbury’s own brand low-fat version rather than Hellmann’s. Again, trust me, this works far better!

Ingredients

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  • 1 tin petit pois and baby carrots (400g)
  • 1/8 fresh cucumber
  • 1 small white onion
  • 2–4 small cooked potatoes
  • 1/2 jar approx. cucumbers in brine (I used half a 890g jar from Krakus – sold in larger supermarkets and Polish shops)
  • 16 seafood sticks
  • 5 hard boiled eggs (boil for ten minutes then cool in cold water)
  • 500ml low-fat mayonnaise

This recipe makes around two litres of salad (or one big bowl – I’m scale-less at the moment).

There isn’t much point in listing steps for this recipe as all you have to do is chop all the choppable ingredients to approximately the size of the petit pois (with the exception of the onion, which you should chop up even finer, and the carrots, which will end up being very slightly bigger unless you cut them width-ways first). I would recommend starting with the petit pois and carrots and you’ll have to locate all the carrots and chop them up. Add the egg and mayonnaise last and mix thoroughly (don’t worry about adding every last drop of mayonnaise – so long as everything is covered and resembles the photo at the top of this entry you should be good to go!).

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Serve with rye bread and, if you feel so inclined, vodka. We tend to just have this alongside other salads, caviar and smoked salmon as a first course of a celebratory meal.

Recipe: Baked Camembert

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Using garlic clove halves and dried rosemary. Post-oven and delicious.

This is one of my favourite mid-week snacks (though perhaps not everyone would count a 250g slab of baked cheese a ‘snack’) as well as an excellent sharer. It’s been around for generations and there are so many variations that it’s difficult not to find at least one you’ll love. The recipe below is of the extra-savoury persuasion but basically everything, apart from of course the Camembert, can be substituted for something else – honey and nuts, for example, are a sweet alternative.

Super easy to make, delicious and remarkably cheap, I present to you the baked Camembert: your new favourite food.

Ingredients

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  • Camembert, any size, though I tend to go for the regular 250g wheel, usually Président
  • Garlic
  • Rosemary
  • Olive oil (pref. extra virgin)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Baguette, for dipping

Preheat oven to around Gas Mark 4/180C/160C fan oven

Step 1:

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Undress your Camembert from its wrap and place it back into the bottom half of the wooden case it arrived in – if you have a special Camembert baking dish then, of course, use that

Step 2:

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Stab several slits into the Camembert – I usually find that six evenly spread cuts, or a six-pronged snowflake shape sliced pizza-style into the cheese, works well. These cuts will nestle the garlic and allow the olive oil, salt and pepper to permeate the Camembert.

Step 3:

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I used to use whole garlic cloves for this but that made the whole affair super garlicky, so I would advise using just one or two cloves and slicing them lengthways before inserting them into the slots you made in Step 2. If you want it more/less garlicky, adjust garlic quantity accordingly. Stick a few sprigs of fresh rosemary into the cuts alongside the garlic – if you don’t have any to hand I suggest checking your neighbours’ front gardens for some (there are three houses on my street alone that grow rosemary and consequently garnish many of my meals) or sprinkling dried rosemary onto the top of the cheese. Drizzle olive oil on top and follow with salt and pepper, all to taste – I put on quite a lot as most of this stays on the “rind” of the cheese, making for a delicious contrast to the creamy and garlicky centre.

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Using whole cloves of garlic and fresh rosemary. Pre-oven.

Step 4:

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Bake uncovered for around 20 minutes – before taking out, poke with a knife to make sure the cheese is melted throughout. You may want to put some foil between the Camembert-box and the baking tray as some cheese will inevitably leak out. Serve with warm baguette/dipping implement of your choosing.

As I said, basically everything in this recipe can be substituted and I’ve seen some pretty tasty looking suggestions out there. Let me know how you fare and if you have any tantalising substitutions!