Monthly Archives: March 2011

Review: Three days, three dinners (Part I)- Oren

Tucked away down the aptly named ‘Hole in the Wall Street’, facing Caernarfon Castle is Oren. Run by Gert (former chef at popular local eatery Y Caban, it’s a bit of a cross between a secret supper club, a pop-up restaurant and a conventional cafe.

During the day (Wednesday to Saturday 11.00-15.00pm) they offer a hearty lunch for £5 and on Friday and Saturday night a three course set menu dinner for £15. The menu constantly changes and their advertising flyer claims that they make an eclectic selection of simple seasonal dishes using as much local produce as possible, serving traditional food with a twist.

pretty tables with mismatched crockery were lovely

unusual stain glass ceiling

On the night we attended this wasn’t the case.They were offering a Persian menu and apparently theme evenings were also due to take place over the coming weeks (Spanish, Japanese etc). I found this a little disappointing actually as I was hoping to find a local restaurant that genuinely encompassed local, seasonal British cooking (OK the bread was from Bethesda Bakers, the goats cheese was probably local…but the courgettes, aubergines, cucumbers were definitely not).  I love experimenting and indulging by cooking new and unusual foods but I would always try things out before giving them to guests (well usually) and I was really hoping for something more traditional ‘with a twist’ especially as the kids were with us and they are less tolerant of anything different.

Now I don’t know much about Persian food so have little with which to compare our meal, so I can only go on my personal tastes and impressions. We started with a noodle soup made with lots of fresh herbs (mint, dill, chives, parsley and tarragon I think). The broth itself was universally popular, having  a fresh summery taste, although the noodles seemed out-of-place somehow. The thick consistency didn’t work and for me they needed a little more cooking as some of mine were still stuck together. I wonder if perhaps thinner more delicate noodles would have worked better, although Gert did say it was a traditional dish.

The main course consisted of a number of dishes; a broad bean hummus with ramsons, sweet mildly spiced carrots with dates, a dish of cucumber with dill, aubergine with goats cheese, a leek omelette, lamb stew and rice.

The kids weren’t too sure about all of this although my other half tucked in quite happily saying “it’s not bad, I like it”. We then proceeded to discuss the ways in which we view and eat food, he didn’t like my tendency to critique everything saying ‘just eat it and enjoy it’….I think that’s harder as a cook or a chef, because you are always considering how it could be done better, or why something works or doesn’t work.

 

food served family style so we could help ourselves

 

 

 

a bit of everything

I think perhaps I also had a slight problem with Oren because it seems to have a bit of an identity crisis. If it were a supper club offering good experimental home cooking it would work, because this is what the food struck me as: good home cooking. But as a conventional restaurant, with a chef, for me it didn’t quite come up trumps.

 

That’s not to say there weren’t dishes that I liked very much and that worked well (the aubergine with goat’s cheese, the cucumbers with dill and the courgettes with date syrup and pistachio). But the broad bean humus was a little bitter (they must have used frozen, unpeeled broad beans as of course they are not in season), the omelette was bland and under seasoned and the lamb needed something to give it a little kick, it was too rich and without the spice such a dish might deserve. The rice also had too much bite to it (even though I appreciate Persian rice is cooked differently to the way we are used to).

Unfortunately the chick pea flour fudge and frozen yogurt also underwhelmed. I like a sweet hearty pudding and this did not push my buttons, although hubby loved it.

I think I appreciate what Gert is trying to do with Oren and I applaud him for giving it a go in Caernarfon (not exactly the gastro hub of the universe), but I still think he perhaps needs to decide what it is exactly he is trying to create. Is it an experimental cafe, a pop-up restaurant or a place to celebrate local, British, seasonal foods, but that’s not for me to decide.  I have been through this myself with supper club and it has taken me a year to really understand what local people want and like.

I also think he needs to either focus on being the chef or running the front of house as it’s extremely difficult to do both.  Getting someone who is a natural with the customers would allow Gert to focus on the food coming out of the kitchen and not meeting and greeting guests. All this said I liked Oren and I will go back. It was astoundingly good value, a beautiful environment and I want to support this venture. Hopefully as time progresses some of these issues will get ironed out in order for the place to be a long-term success.

Oren can be found at 26 Hole in the Wall, Caernarfon LL55 1RF. It does not have a website so to make a booking either phone 01286 674343 or email oren@btinternet.com

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Date changes and upcoming events

Sorry all but our dinner planned for 3rd April is cancelled due to family illness. On a more positive note we have added a new dinner date on Saturday 9th April instead…lots of lovely new season produce as per the Sunday dinner menu added before….

We will then be taking a little Easter break. Things have been very hectic lately what with filming commitments in London, plus many interesting opportunities under discussion. These are exciting times for Moel Faban, but we still need a little rest and time to reflect on where we want to go. That all sounds very enigmatic so sorry about that, but really you will just have to watch this space to see what emerges!!

Our next dinner dates after Easter will be on Saturday 14th May, then Saturday 4th June

If they seem rather spread out I will also be selling home-made produce at the Moelyci spring fair on Sunday 17th April and the first Ogwen farmers market (planned for 28th May in Bethesda). I will also be giving a talk and a trifle making demo at the Underground Farmers Market (at msmarmitelovers Underground Restaurant) on Friday May 6th.

Other events or dates will be added as and when they arise so do keep an eye on the blog / facebook for up to date information

Denise x

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Menu update for the 3rd April

Quick update on the menu for the 3rd….

Glamorgan sausages with red onion chutney and steamed purple sprouting

New season lamb with lemon and rosemary, new potato and sorrel salad and butter bean mash (vegetarian option also available)

Rhubarb tart with ginger ice cream (in honour of my BBD competitor…it was wonderful!)….Coffee and biscuits to finish.

If you fancy this contact me soon to save your places xx

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Two quick ice-cream recipes to cheer on a sunny spring day

Since the sun has generously bathed us with its warm spring rays for almost a week now, I have optimistically shed my coat, donned my sun glasses and begun to fantasies about warm summer afternoons eating ice cream in the garden. In the light of world events it serves as a small and pleasant distraction from the catastrophes unfolding and my heart goes out to anyone with family and friends in Japan and the Middle East. Events on home turf are fairly disturbing  too, what with both threatened and real cuts to public services and the NHS,  rising fuel prices, unemployment at its highest since 1996, and forced evictions and enforced homelessness of travellers, costing the local council £8 million (at a time of public service cuts). All of this is convincing me to return to my protesting roots and I have joined 38 degrees where I let my own little rant be heard in the form of petition signing!

Anyway back to my ice cream fantasies and two new recipes I came up with recently. The first was a grown up sorbet experiment using a new liqueur called Aeronia made from Aronia (choke) berries. I’m a sucker for unusual liqueurs and I make plenty of my own so I was keen to try this new one out. The Aronia berry, which looks like a cross between a blackcurrant and a sloe, is a native of North America and dubbed by the Daily Mail Online the ‘healthiest fruit in the world’. They are now being grown here in Wales by Hazel and Gwilym Jones and used to create a deep red fruity liqueur which has a taste not dissimilar to Ruby Port, although is sweeter but with a slight dryness on the palate, that you might find in a Sloe gin or in red wine. It’s not sickly sweet so I like to drink  it  mixed with chopped fruit and lemonade, Pimms style. It makes a refreshing summers day drink but also is very good for macerating red fruit really bringing out the full flavour of the berry.

For this Red fruit and Aeronia sorbet I mixed 350g of frozen mixed red and black fruit (black currants, blackberries, cherries, which is what I had leftover in the freezer, but you could buy a pack from the supermarket if you wanted) with a couple of good glugs of the liqueur (maybe about 150ml) which I left overnight, but you don’t really need to do this. I then added a dessert spoon of lemon juice and about 100g of icing sugar, pureed and then sieved the mixture. I added about 50ml double cream and then turned it into my ice cream machine to churn until it was frozen.

The second recipe came about due to my excessive custard exploits this weekend in practise for BBD filming next week. I needed to have a tinker with my quantities of milk to egg yolks so it has been custard with everything. The kids are now begging for me to ease off so the last lot was used in this recipe for Gooseberry ripple ice cream. I made a vanilla custard (creme anglaise) from 6 egg yolks and 500ml whole milk which I then mixed with 250ml lightly whipped double cream. I then poured this into my ice cream machine and allowed it to churn for about 10 minutes. I then poured in about 200ml of sweetened gooseberry puree (made from gooseberries from my garden. This was the last tub left over from my winter stocks) and allowed it to churn until frozen. It should have a slightly marbled finish, which can also be created just as well without an ice cream machine. Just turn it into a rigid tub and place in the freezer. Take it out ever couple of hours and give it a good stir to disperse any ice crystals until it is frozen.

Ice cream made with cooked ingredients should be eaten within two weeks; but I can’t imagine it will last that long if my kids reaction to it is anything to go by!

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Tray bake, potato cake, crumble and custard: The joy of the communal dinner

Much as I love cooking, entertaining and running supper club, it is very nice sometimes for someone else to do the cooking. But unlike many city dwelling singletons, I haven’t always got the time or the money to splash out expensive restaurant meals. Bangor doesn’t really have a big eating out culture and much of this is due I believe to the lack of good eating places. It’s not just variety for which we yearn but just anywhere reasonably priced and offering food cooked with a bit of thought put into it.

What we do a lot of around here is home dining and often the best kind of dinners are the last-minute impromptu suppers. Here everyone contributes a bit,  brings a dish or helps to prepare. The event is a labour of love and it doesn’t matter if its perfect, or gourmet, it’s just unpretentious hearty home-cooked food.

I was busy enjoying a peaceful weekend for a change. Between filming and working I haven’t had many days off recently, so I took the opportunity to grab an hour or two with Sean to pootle off to the farmers market where we somehow managed to acquire as many freebies as we did purchases.

Maisy mixing and spreading crumble

We returned home later and dropped in to visit our friend Molly (previous waitress at supper club and as readers will know, a dab hand with bottle tops and rowan jelly). She suggested a small evening get together since we hadn’t seen each other for a while (what with work, illness and general end of winter fatigue) so it was the ideal opportunity to catch up. The event then proceeded to take on a life of its own, snowballing from a nibbles and drinks affair to full on dinner; numbers increased, until finally it turned into a huge meal for fourteen! Well if anyone could do it Molly could, she too is an accomplished home-cook; mistress if the big hearty dinner, the generosity to feed all and sundry and an ability to assemble a feast at almost a moments notice.

We pooled resources; I brought olives, cheeses from the farmers market and made (fresh) custard, Molly made pizza tray bakes, salad, baked potatoes, guacamole and a massive rhubarb and apple crumble, Iona (another friends daughter) brought along her home-made chocolate cake, some lovely buttery potato cakes and falafel. The effort was a communal one with kids and adults alike chopping, spreading, rolling and mixing. The house fast became a melee of raucous excitement, small boys charged about shooting rubber darts across the table with nurf guns whilst the adults engaged in their various jobs around the kitchen table, the wine flowed, and the soundtrack, a bizarre mix of 80’s ska, Underworld and Mumford and sons played around us!!!

 

Jim chopping

Molly's new shredding implement...she made me photograph it since she was so impressed

A feast is served

 

 

By 8 O’clock we all sat happily tucking in…dinner tasted so much better for the cooperative effort involved in its preparation.

Molly’s Simple tray bake to share…we had six kids as part of the group and they just loved this simple cross between and pie and a pizza. For 14 Molly used…

2 defrosted packs of all butter frozen puff pastry, rolled out and used to line two greased baking sheets

2 sliced red peppers

mushrooms washed and sliced

cherry tomatoes halved

a handful of pitted olives

two to three tablespoons of tomato puree mixed with two tablespoons green pesto

enough grated cheese (mozzarella or cheddar is perfect) to cover both trays

I barely need to give the method!! Simply cover the pastry base with the tomato puree mixture, liberally scatter the mushrooms, peppers, olives and tomatoes over the base, then top with cheese. Bake in a medium hot over until the pastry has risen well and is nice and brown and the cheese has melted.

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Boeuf Bourguinion recipe for a Saturday supper with a hint of France

Every supper club we host is enjoyable, I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t, but Saturday evening was particularly lovely. I’m not sure if my joy de vivre was down to the return of the sunshine bringing with it the expectant promise of approaching spring, or the cooking some of my favourite foods (boeuf bourguignon, chocolate mousse…mmmm) but the evening was definitely very upbeat and I was much more relaxed than of late. It was a remarkably stress free evening, apart from the need to calm two giddy teenagers, the preparation was in hand and Sean even got the chance to relax with a beer and watch the rugby! Unfortunately our celebration of all things French remained with the food seeing as they did not do so well in their game.

Friday was a most productive day with all the food orders being collected in good time, even though the day began with a visit from the environmental health department. I knew that sooner or later this would happen but still I was filled with equal amounts of confidence and trepidation as I awaited their arrival. I was relieved to find the woman who visited most helpful and supportive. She was very happy with what she saw and I passed with flying colours. The issue of licensing was raised and it remains a rather grey area. Initially I was under the impression that it was fine to give an alcoholic drink as a ‘gift’ to start the meal but I have since heard from another supper club host that giving ANY alcohol is illegal if money changes hands. I queried this with the woman who said she would ask licensing and get back to me. So for now at least cocktails are off the menu!

We started our French supper once our guests arrived with a mixed olive tapenade made with Petros Olives (grown on the family estate in Cyprus and then imported and sold locally) on toasted Pain de Seigle sur Levain by Bethesda Bakers makers of naturally leavened sourdough breads, followed by a Soupe au Pistou (a classic French peasant soup) using as much seasonal vegetables as I could find, cannellini beans and which was then flavoured with a kind of French pesto (the pistou bit).

For main course I made my favourite boeuf bourguignon: a flavoursome reminder of French camping holidays in the Vendee with our then very young kids. We spent hot days at the beach, touring small towns with bustling markets brimming with saucisson, cheeses and olives, having the occasional night out to eat local seafood. Mostly we cooked in our tent, or bought in the boeuf bourguignon from a local cafe which sold large tubs to take away. The kids ate theirs with frite (and sometimes we did too!).

Boeuf Bourguignon (serves up to 6)…This is my tried and tested recipe which is almost as good as the dish I remember…but sorry there is no picture, my photography skills rubbish as usual…the problem is I need a dedicated supper club photographer, I just don’t have the time and everyone else forgets unless I remember to remind them!!!

100g fatty dry cure bacon cut into dice

2 large onions finely chopped,

1.2kg piece of beef (you can use shin, topside, chuck or whatever cut the butcher recommends) cut into chunks,

a bouquet garni made with a couple of bay leaves a large sprig of thyme and some parsley stalks tied together with string

a good glug of olive oil

a bottle of burgundy

200ml good beef stock,

1 and half tablespoons plain flour,

couple of crushed garlic cloves,

200g button mushrooms

12 baby onions, shallots or pickling onions.

Chopped parsley to finish.

Marinade the beef, onions and bacon in the wine with the bouquet garni over night. The next day, remove the meat and onions and strain the wine putting to one side.

Heat the oil in a pan or casserole and fry the onions, bacon and meat in batches until browned. Stir in the flour and cook for a minute or so, then add enough wine to deglaze the pan. When it turns slightly sticky pour in the rest of the saved marinade and the beef stock ( I made my own the day before with some bones from the butcher and chopped vegetables and herbs). Add salt and pepper and throw the bouquet garni back in. Bring to the boil and turn it into an oven proof casserole dish. Cook in a low oven (gas 3, 160 degrees C) for a couple of hours. After an hour add the button mushrooms and onions.

I served this with the perfect seasonal accompaniment part-boiled and then olive oil roasted pink fir apple potatoes and local purple sprouting broccoli. The knobbly uneven appearance of the potatoes closely resembles the Jerusalem artichoke, although the taste is very much spud, set off by that hint of extra virgin olive oil.

The rather knobbly pink fir apple potatoes

For dessert I made a chocolate mousse trio courtesy of my Green and Blacks cookbook (a Christmas present from my good friend, but terrible waitress Molly). The deliciously rich, smooth flavour of the white chocolate and cardamom, dark chocolate and coffee and bitter chocolate and blackcurrant complemented each other perfectly and since they were served in small pretty cups and shot glasses the quantity of chocolate was not too overwhelming. A simple Rosemary flavoured shortbread finished the picture.

Rosemary biscuits.

I used 250g organic Rachel’s dairy butter, 125g  Billingtons golden caster sugar, 300g self-raising flour and couple of tablespoons chopped rosemary.

Cream the butter and sugar, then mix in the flour and rosemary. Knead on a lightly floured board until a stiff dough forms. Ideally leave in the fridge for half an hour to rest. Roll out  to about and eighth of an inch and cut shapes. Put on a greased baking tray and bake in a medium over for about 6 to 8 minutes or until golden brown.

I don’t think I threw one bit of food away; I’ve never seen such clean and empty plates! One guest asked for a spoon so she didn’t leave any of the gravy behind and several people accepted the seconds I offered. Even the cheese board served with the coffee at the end of the meal was fairly depleted (I chose my favourite Camembert from Rhyd y Delyn, soft creamygoats cheese balls with garlic and herbs and a hard mild goats cheese from Y Cwt Caws). We ran out of biscuits (which I think the kids must have nicked) and did several rounds with the coffee pot.As is a quirk of North Wales (and probably other close knot areas) several of our guests that arrived with different groups knew each other which meant the evening was all the livelier with flowing conversation between the tables. Perfect!

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Food the British Way

Food the British Way.

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Food the British Way

George Orwell once wrote “It will be seen that we [the British] have no cause to be ashamed of our cooking” *, but it seems to have taken about 50 years for us to actually realise this.

Over the past five to ten years Brits have started to realise that the produce on their own doorstep and the recipe books lining their shelves, passed down from parents and grandparents, (Mrs. Beeton, Good housekeeping etc) are just as good (if not better) than those in the ‘exotic’ cook books that stand next to them. Orwell decried the demise of good old British cooking when rationing was still in operation. He stated that as a country we did ourselves no favours with our lack of decent eateries serving traditional British food, but this was in the post-war era when Britain’s were becoming upwardly mobile and aspiring new and greater things.

The cold austerity of rationing was followed by a desire for the new and exotic. For the moneyed set, it was the French restaurant, offering ‘class and sophistication’, while the less well off, but similarly experimental, sought out the new influx of Greek, Chinese and Italian restaurants that were popping up on the High Street corners of our major cities, offering cosy niches and a taste of warmer climes.

Meanwhile, Orwell craved kippers, yorkshire pudding, muffins and crumpets, treacle tarts, Oxford marmalade and a variety of very traditional pickles and preserves.

British food hadn’t exactly disappeared, it was simply hidden behind closed doors, replaced on the high street by the new and exciting. British traditional food became the preserve of the poor working classes, while those that could afford it were looking for a new trend. Additionally the post-war period saw the American influence leave its mark in the form of fast food; burgers, milkshakes and fries hit the streets and so saw the dawning of a fast food generation.

Now as the young affluent middle classes begin to return to their roots, have children and hanker after the home comforts of their own childhood, there is a rediscovery of British traditions and a recognition that buying local and cooking fresh seasonal produce is better for  the pocket as well as the planet. It is a choice based on conscience as well as necessity in the current economic climate.

We are seeing more people choosing to eat ‘Modern British’, more restaurants fusing traditional dishes with diverse elements from other cultures, more growing our own produce and a greater celebration of what Britain has to offer.

This essay by Orwell was a major inspiration to me as I returned to cooking traditional British food, although like any cook I still love top experiment and make dishes from across the world. Over the years I have collected quite a few cookery books and plenty have simple British recipes much used in my kitchen.  My favourites are Hugh FW, Nigel Slater, Gordon Ramsey and of course Nigella’s cakes.  Two of my favourite books (which will be used for two very British secret suppers) are not by any well-known chefs but are simple reflections of British fare. The 1980’s book The Taste of Britain by Kim and Marc Millon, bought for me years ago by my rather eccentric uncle and Eating for Victory a stocking present from my hubby. A tongue in cheek gift due our skintness at the time and my assertion that we did actually live on war-time rations!! The former has been well used and I just love looking over the 80’s pictures and modifying some of the recipes for fantastically named dishes such as Tweed Kettle, Cruibins, London Particular, Bubble and squeak, Toad in the hole, Star gazey pie, Kentish Huffkins and my favourite Angels on Horseback. I’m sure there will be similar experiments with the latter when I get a minute.

Loving the pink 80's get up and budgie smugglers

All this reflection is down to the fact that I’m cooking for the new series of Britain’s Best Dish and of course having a show that celebrates British food is another testament to the Brits return to celebrating their own. As far as I’m concerned there’s no better British Dish than trifle and I hope my Scottish variation, Tipsy Laird, comes up trumps! It uses the best of my own local produce and fuses Scottish, Welsh and English elements…can’t get more traditional than that eh?

* George Orwell Shooting an Elephant and other essays (2003) Penguin Books

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Thank goodness for Byron: review

I discovered Byron hamburgers by accident. I hadn’t planned on a burger for dinner, on the contrary, I was really looking for something light, healthy and with zero calories in the unrealistic hope that I would seem slightly slimmer on TV (yes, we can all succumb to a bit of silliness when faced with the prospect of cameras filming your every move). Usually I check out good places to eat in the Hardens good food guide but with so much on my mind I just forgot, not only did I have filming to stress about, I also had the teen wanting to go on a shopping trip with me and I had college lectures to prepare for. It was a busy day and I didn’t get back to my hotel in Gloucester Road until almost 8.45pm. Tired and hungry I Initially booked myself into the hotel restaurant ignoring my gut instinct that hotel restaurants are a bad idea, but these concerns came back in abundance as I sat down in a deserted room. I should have walked away there and then but stupidly I ordered. I’m think I’m going to gloss over the contents of the plate placed in front of me but suffice it to say I did not even attempt to eat it, I sent it back and left the room promptly. What surprised me was that the hotel staff knew there was a large group of good amateur cooks staying there yet there was no effort made to offer even half edible food. When asked by the reception staff what the problem was I simply said “the chef”.

Anyway, tired, hungry and now rather grumpy I wandered off towards Gloucester Road tube looking for a saving grace. Opposite the tube I spied Byron. Packed to the gills and with people queuing I guessed at least the food was good. I asked a bloke sat at one of the outside tables what he thought of his meal

“pretty good if you like burgers” he said. Well right at that moment burgers were all my rumbling stomach could think about, so in I went. I waited for a table (which took about 10 minutes, having let a couple go before me as I hung around for a smaller table) but this was fine as the lovely waiter (tall, dark, painfully cool and looking as though he should be on stage in THE latest band) brought me a drink while I stood there and in the end it was well worth it as I ended up getting one of the retro 50’s booths all to myself.

Right then I could have eaten everything on the menu but eventually opted for a cheeseburger with Monteray Jack and french fries. Service was quick and I entertained myself by subtly chatting up the waiter (who was very friendly and willing to be chatted up), food was excellent. Byron pride themselves on their no fuss approach, making proper burgers from Scottish beef, cooked medium and served in a soft bun with salad. I have to agree that they do this very well. My burger didn’t feel too heavy and the french fries were perfectly crisp and just the way I like them. Byron was an oasis in the desert and seeing as I will be back for a bit more filming I may pay them another visit….even if it’s just to flirt with the waiter again!

simple, well cooked and very tasty

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