Monthly Archives: April 2011

An Easter postcard from Kiel

coloured eggs on Easter Saturday

Easter in Germany is a far different experience from the one back home. One of the traditions I like the most is the dying and painting of eggs, an activity carried out by children all over Germany in the run up to Easter.  Common in schools, kindergartens and at home, the eggs they create end up decorating the house for Easter Sunday. I think it’s a shame that these kind of activities have died out in Britain and that there is very little creativity left. These days consumerism has taken over and everyone has fallen into the trap of buying large quantities of huge expensive branded eggs. Here in Germany however there is great excitement, but without much of this consumerist obsession; the Easter egg hunt is the thing, with lots of little eggs and chocolate treats being hidden around the house or garden. The children love the search, running off in eager anticipation clutching their baskets determined to find as many as they can. I liked this a lot and although secretly I wondered if my kids would miss their large trashy Easter eggs, I don’t think they did since both rushed around with mad enthusiasm, scrabbling through plants trying cramming their baskets to the brim before bringing them back to add to the stack ready for sharing at the end of the hunt. As well as chocolate eggs, each child had their own papier-mache egg filled with a special gift just for them. In the case of the teen it was jewellery and a leopard print belt, while the kids had a wealth of lego and toys.

home painted eggs

Easter traditions were in abundance at the local produce market in Kiel on Easter Saturday. Coloured eggs adorned stalls, Easter baskets for sale everywhere, as well as the usual range of predominantly local produce. The farmers markets in the UK are a quarter of the size of these places and sell a tiny choice of produce in comparison. Here local farmers sell their own goods as well as buying and selling produce from their close European neighbours. Local German cheeses share a counter with those from France, Holland, Switzerland and Austria; Dutch tulips sold along with those grown closer to home. It was a great start to the Easter weekend, providing an opportunity to discover the tastes and specialities of Northern Germany and shopping with friends who are locals, gave an even greater insight into the amazing seasonal produce available.

In some ways it’s not that different to Britain particularly the kind of produce on sale, although everything seems ready a little earlier. This may just be a fluke due to the particularly hot weather, (since Kiel probably has the same kind of climate to Britain, especially North Wales), but there certainly were things in greater abundance than in Wales. White asparagus for example was well and truly in season and we bought a big bunch for barbecuing on Sunday. There was also lots of rhubarb, Feldsalat (or field salad in English) which looked pretty much like lambs lettuce to me, Baerlauch or ramsons (wild garlic in English which has been in for some weeks back home) and a variety of early salad leaves. We got a bit carried away stocking up ready for our alternative Easter Sunday celebrations. We bought not only fresh salads but also a variety of cheeses, meats, german bread, sweets and even meringues for dessert.

I love markets in Europe and it was a brilliant way to spend Saturday morning. Laden with produce and chocolate we headed back home in preparation for a trip to the beach.


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Baking, birthday dinners and spring fairs

I always say it but it has been a busy week. This weekend saw two big events take place, the first a private birthday supper club and the second my first ‘official’ produce stall for which I have slaved over a hot stove for the last two months. Planning and prepping for supper club, as well as the stall proved a challenge in itself, but on top of that I have worked with my marketing and publicity expert (the lovely Gemma) on jam jar labels (in the printers in time for the fair) and business cards. To make life that bit more complicated my broadband went down on Wednesday hence my lack of blogging and the need to do all things by blackberry (very fiddly and annoying).

As Friday afternoon approached I wondered if I had taken on too much yet again, but just as it always does everything worked out well in the end. We collected the cards and labels at four and were back home in time to watch me embarrass myself on national TV. Oh well, every programme needs stockings, lace and tears…if only it hadn’t all been added by me!

I spent the rest of Friday until about midnight labelling jam and writing ingredients in not one, but two languages (I am resolutely bilingual when it comes to selling produce locally). I gave up at about midnight having fretted over how to say ‘best before’ in Welsh and guessing that my friends would not take kindly to a text at that time asking this.

Saturday started with an early trip to the farmers market for cheeses and fresh vegetables and then a visit to Moelyci for the rest. Gemma (mentioned above) had made some specific requests for her birthday dinner: Beef, halloumi, celeriac, purple sprouting broccoli,lots of garlic and cheese. She was less specific about dessert, stating

“I’m all about the main course”

but she did say she liked dark chocolate…and maybe chocolate mousse. The menu went like this

Smoked halloumi salad (compliments of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall)

Braised fillet of beef with garlic, rosemary and Copa di Parma

Celeriac gratin

I then added to that mashed potato with wild garlic and an amazing asparagus and parmesan gratin which was basically a souffle mix with asparagus laid into it. This was for particularly for the lone vegetarian, but it went down well with the others too and as this was the first of the new season asparagus, I was unable to resist. It wasn’t cheap, but it was certainly worth it. The light delicate tips and thin spears perfectly fused with the parmesan, encased in light and fluffy souffle.

local asparagus, first of the season

table setting

cocktails

plating smoked halloumi salads

basic souffle mix with asparagus and parmesan ready to go in the oven

beef fillets wrapped in Copa di Parma braising on red Barolo wine with red onions and celery

plating beef and wild garlic mash

Dessert was a bit of a disappointment for me even though everyone seemed to love it . Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason why something works perfectly one day and doesn’t the next and on this occasion the dark chocolate mousse, which I have made many times before,  resolutely refused to set perfectly, remaining stubbornly gloopy much to my annoyance. It was served with some buttery home-made shortbread which at least made up for the annoying mousse. While I was at it I made a good batch of biscuits for the Moelyci spring fair the following day.

chocolate mousse with raspberry sauce and shortbread

This was by far the most glamorous dinner I have hosted. Gemma and gang pushed the boat out turning up in their best long and floaty summer dresses, hair adorned with flowers and sporting sky-high heels oblivious to the uphill trek to my house. They all looked gorgeous. Dinner itself was, apart from that damn mousse, a great success. At one point Gemma was overheard making loud noises of appreciation…I said “well I think that’s gone down well” as she appeared in the doorway and exclaimed  “oh my God, that is the BEST bit of beef I have EVER had”. The next day I spotted comments on Facebook stating that “I am never eating anywhere else again” which confirmed that she’d had a great night.

cheese board of local produce and home-made chutney

Cheese and coffee were followed by birthday cake, made not by me but one of Gemma’s friends, in the shape of a giant Jaffa cake, complete with orange and Cointreau jelly in the middle and I giant flamethrower, firework, candle thingy on top. I feared for my safety and watched the low beams in the living room for signs of charring but mercifully the fire alarms stayed silent and the beams remained white and unburnt. I like the fact that all the stray kids that littered our house gathered to peer through the banisters, probably in the hope that something very dramatic would happen.

highly dangerous flamethrower candle

you can see the kids in the background waiting for it all to go wrong!

By about 11.30 they all teetered off down the very steep hill in their very high heels. I watched and wondered if my insurance covered broken ankles.

The following morning started bright and early and as glorious sunshine beamed down, I packed the car up with Jams, biscuits and fresh meringues for my first day as a produce seller at the Moelyci spring fair. I hoped the good weather would mean that everybody would be out for a day in the sun and I wasn’t wrong. The beautiful mountain surroundings of Moelyci farm on a hot sunny day appeared to bring out half the local population: kids, dogs and every hippy within a 10 mile radius turned out for a picnic on the hillside. Giant bubbles drifted on the breeze, morris dancers with jangling bells and silly outfits entertained, as well as a variety of local acoustic musicians. Even though us stall holders were somewhat confined to our covered marquee, we still had a very good day, so good that in fact I sold 52 jars of jam, marmalade and lemon curd. Amazing!!!

the stall

a few other goodies

All in all it was a fantastic weekend!

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Gardening, farms, markets and wild dining

Unfortunately due to a lack of bookings, supper club didn’t take place this weekend. It’s a shame as I do look forward to it, but hey every cloud has a silver lining and the lack of supper club simply meant more time in the garden, pruning, digging, planting up the veg patch and thinking of new ways to use the free wild produce growing there.

purple sprouting

spring cabbages

last of the winter lettuces, amazingly survived the snow and the cold protected in the polytunnels

On Friday afternoon I’d already taken advantage of the sunny weather and extra time on my hands to spend an hour at Moelyci environmental centre with the little one, the teen and their mate. I’d originally popped in to see if their rhubarb was ready (which I wanted to use to make rhubarb and ginger jam for my produce stall at the Moelyci spring fair this Sunday 17th April) and by chance also got the opportunity to visit their six new residents. The teen was less than enthusiastic so in honour of her swinish behaviour we named one after her….the littlun had a whale of a time pig herding and chasing them round a rather muddy enclosure, but was very sad to learn that in due course we would be enjoying Moelyci bacon!

Aidan pig herding

Roisin the pig, named after the teen 🙂

My love of local produce doesn’t end at Moelyci and I spend lots of time hunting down new and exciting goodies. The markets (at Ysgol David Hughes on Anglesey and Conwy RSPB reserve) are a must, whether its to pick up some well-loved favourites or to hunt out something new, like the Rhyd y Delyn Caerphilly (not for sale yet but got myself a sample and its pretty damn yummy).

Derimon smokery
locally cultivated shiitake mushrooms

Back in the garden my wild garlic and sorrel patches expand every year, as do the nettles. While trying to keep them from creeping across the rest of the garden I also keep in mind that they are a very useful addition to the garden and a great free natural resource for cooking. Nettles are apparently high in iron and natural histamines and are a diuretic so good for detoxifying. They are probably the best free spring tonic you can get, although whether their histamine properties mean they ward off hay fever (which is just starting to kick in now the sun is out and the blossom is on the tress) I don’t know…but its worth a try! So off I went armed with a pair of thick gloves and a carrier bag to collect enough of the tips (it’s just the young tops that you want) for a big pot of soup. Today then on the menu was rhubarb, nettles and ramsons.

nettles and ramsons for the soup

For my nettle soup I melted 50g butter in a pan and sweated a large chopped onion, 2 sticks of celery and half a small head of fennel for about 10 minutes. I then added a large peeled and chopped potato (about 400g) half a carrier bag of nettle tops and a litre of chicken stock (but you could use vegetable stock) and allowed it to simmer for about 15 minutes until the potato was cooked. Once cooked I chucked in a small bunch of chopped wild garlic (ramsons) and salt and pepper then blitzed in the blender until smooth. Finally check the seasoning and add about 100ml cream. The soup has a light, delicate flavour, a bit like pea soup. I didn’t want to over do it with the wild garlic for fear of smothering the taste of the nettle (like a mild spinach) but you could add more if you wanted a stronger chivey sort of taste. All you need to enjoy is a sunny spot and maybe a glass of something cold.

creamy nettle and wild garlic soup

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Fishy Friday

Choosing fish is a tricky business these days with so many endangered species and unethical fishing methods its hard to keep up! According to Hugh’ s fish fight (to which I am fully signed up) “half of the worlds fish stocks are fully exploited and another quarter over-fished” which means we need to be a bit more picky about what we choose and a bit more adventurous. This is  no mean feat when your nearest fish monger is a 20 mile drive away and I often only have the supermarket to rely on. Take last week for example; I’d gone off in the hope of purchasing some Pollack (line caught) for tea and having trawled (excuse the pun) all of my local supermarkets (Tesco, Waitrose and Morrison) was totally out of luck.

The MCS Pocket Good Fish Guide gives an idea to what fish are sustainable and acceptable. Somewhat disappointed at the lack of British sustainable fish in my local supermarket, I opted instead for a fair pollack substitute; line caught, farmed Tilapia. OK it’s not British (although I do know someone who rears Tilapia locally) but it is a lovely, light, firm fleshed white fish perfect for any dish which requires white fish!

So, in the absence of the vegetarian, fish hating, teen we filled our boots with a lovely Raymond Blanc meets High Fearnley-Whittingstall inspired dinner of crispy coated Tilapia grenobloise with potato puree and steamed and buttered spring cabbage.

Coat your fish fillets (skin removed) with seasoned flour, egg and breadcrumbs mixed with some fresh chopped thyme leaves. For the sauce I used about 50ml water with a little fish sock added, half a lemon segmented and roughly chopped (saving the juices), I dessertspoonful capers, half a small shallot finely chopped and a handful of parsley chopped. I simmered all of this together seasoning with a bit of salt and pepper. Ideally its made in the pan in which the fish was cooked,  but I was unable to do this as I fried the fish in breadcrumbs (as requested by the smallest member of the household). 1kg of desiree potatos were cooked, pushed through a mouli then mixed with 170ml warm milk, 60g butter, salt and pepper until a creamy puree is created. I then shredded and steamed some spring greens, which were finished with a some salt and pepper and a little knob of butter. Our fish was delicious with the sharp acidic sauce (while the little one had his with ketchup, oh well can’t keep everyone happy!)

 

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Review: Three days, three dinners (part III)- Viajante

Portuguese chef Nuno Mendez earned his culinary stripes at Jean Georges in New York, the Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe, via a quick stint at Michelin starred El Bulli in Roses, Catalonia, before opening his own restaurant Bacchus in Hoxton market which received much praise and plaudits. When this closed he started running his own innovative private secret supper club, The Loft Project, which Mendez used as a platform for experimentation before the opening of his new ‘official’ restaurant Viajante.

I admit that Viajante is the kind of place that is generally out of my price range and it certainly doesn’t serve the kind of food that I would usually cook or find myself eating. Tasting menus don’t usually hit the mark for me; they are as they sound, just a taste and If I like something I want more than a taste and if it’s not something I like then it’s a waste of money! However, since I was staying just five minutes’ walk away and Mendez’s culinary skills and style have intrigued me for a while, I decided to pay a visit and see what all the fuss was about.

Viajante is based in a unprepoposing part of East London, 2 minutes from Cambridge Heath station and five or ten minutes from Bethnal Green tube. I walked from my hotel past rough and ready looking shops and warehouses wondering where this amazing place might be. Suddenly, there it was, Patriot Square and the grand Town Hall where Viajante is located.

The two guys that greeted me at the door were as painfully hip as I expected. I’m not sure which one was the Maitre D but they were both really friendly, explaining in great detail the type of menu’s available (I opted for the six course blind tasting menu at a fairly hefty £65). I then had to wait almost 40 minutes for a table (amazing on a quiet Monday night, but testament to Viajante’s popularity) but in the meantime he was  happy to listen to me prattle on about supper clubs, food blogging and life in Wales (apparently he’d studied here) and he was very sensitive to the fact that I had to get up at 5am to get a train back to Wales.

Having directed me to the stunningly decorated bar (designed by award-winning architects Rare) and including installations from fashion and lighting designers and local up and coming East End artists, I settled down with a Tanqueray and tonic and soaked up the environment (I was particularly taken with the beautiful lamp shades, stunning and exquisite beading lining each one).

The Maitre D made a point of bringing me my first dish as I sat in the bar, to speed up the process and once ensconced in the restaurant my waiter continued to bring me the other courses at a steady consistent pace. At the end he claimed he’d never served a tasting menu so quickly, but I was still there for an hour and a half.

 

strange shaped bread with two butters, I can't remember what was in both but I know one had black pudding in it. It was rather nice

salsify in milk, with brown butter and truffle, this was one of my favourites

duck heart and tongue with celeriac and pine....my least favourite

Roasted squab with beetroot and pistachio

The six courses were supplemented with bread, entrée and petit fours and although a taste is all they were I didn’t leave hungry because many of the combinations were quite rich, all you really needed was a taste. I didn’t photograph everything as I got carried away with eating so I missed the squid and ink with radishes and sea lettuce which I quite liked and the entrée’s and petit fours.

 

My highlights though were the salsify in milk with brown butter and truffle (rich, meaty flavours from the beef jelly contrasted with the woody truffle and delicate salsify), the roasted squab with beetroot and pistachio (pistachio, beetroot…all my favourites combined with the tender roast squab, kind of sweet and rich but also a little sharpness from the beetroot reduction) and being such a lover of desserts and ice creams, the frozen maple with Shiso (a herb from the mint family) and green apple which arrived as a palate cleanser before the main dessert  was a beautiful combination of sweet (the frozen maple) and sour (the  crisp green apple). The meal concluded with petit fours and a tiny shot of what was I think Crema Catalana (although I’m not totally sure as there wasn’t obviously caramelised sugar on top).

 

Frozen maple with shizo and green apple

parsnips and milk...sounds weird but the milky ice cream with olive and the tapioca were nice...couldn't handle the parsnip cream though!

 

 

As much as I loved these dishes I can’t say everything worked for me. The langoustine and lardo I found rather slimy and it almost made me gag (texture as opposed to taste got the better of me), the duck heart and tongue with celeriac and pine was just too unusual a combination and I found the duck too rich, and the lobster and potato with confit egg yolk and saffron was rather sickly (plus I have a thing about runny egg yolk and try as I might I couldn’t suspend my usual aversion for the sake of a gastronomic experience). I did like the fact that the waiters were genuinely interested in what the diners thought and were happy to discuss our feelings about the dishes.

Was it worth the money? Well, yes and no. I’m still not sold on tasting menu’s because when I go out for dinner I like to eat! I’m a girl who likes a decent helping of food. There were some amazing taste and texture combinations, and ingredients I hadn’t tried before, or in the combination presented and as I said before I didn’t leave hungry.

Did I enjoy it? I think enjoy might be the wrong word. Again, it was a fantastic experience, a great chance to experiment with flavours, but at the same time I found some of the combinations quite a challenge. I know what I like and I have pretty eclectic tastes….so I don’t think I’m old fashioned or less open to new ideas, but to be honest I didn’t enjoy it all; so that said I’m not sure if I would go again, but at the same time I’m glad I tried it to come to that decision.

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In the press: The Western Mail

Nice piece about the C4 TV programme ‘the secret supper club’ in the Western Mail today…linking it with our own Moel Faban secret supper club

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Review: Three days, three dinners (Part II)-Hoxton Grill

the family

Sunday, and this time somewhere quite different; a stark contrast to the quiet intimacy of the previous nights meal at Oren, was the bustling, vibrant Hoxton Grill. My second birthday dinner of the weekend, this time shared with the parents and sister. The lovely surroundings were perfect for a big family dinner and although the parents baulked at the prices I assured them that they wouldn’t regret it. This lovely East End restaurant was busy, trendy, good value and our waiter was about as attentive as we could have hoped for; perhaps inspired by my camera and surreptitious note taking and he must of over-heard our conversations about my being a chef because at the end of the meal he asked “how was every thing and did it receive the chef’s approval?”


Whether that was the case or not, the service didn’t disappoint and neither did the food. By the time we got there we were starving. I had travelled from Wales that morning (having forgotten to put the clocks forward, it was a mad dash not to miss my train) and by 4pm was happily browsing the Nancy Spero exhibition at the Serpentine with my sister and step dad. We then hot footed it over to Hoxton to meet my Dad and step mum for dinner, before I headed down to my hotel on Hackney Road.

We skipped starters and went straight for the main course of which there was a good choice. The typical American grill style food appealed to the parents, while still offering a good range of dishes that made my mouth water and managing to tip a nod to seasonal produce (kale, beets, rhubarb for example). We ordered a couple of bottles of house white (which was very good for a house white; a crisp, fresh tasting Griffin Ridge) to keep us going and relaxed in our comfy banquette seats while I opened birthday pressies and we tucked in to fresh bread still warm from the oven (in fact our waiter refilled our basket for us as well).

Dad the traditionalist ordered a 10oz rump steak with fries and a Roquefort sauce, step mum was more adventurous and ordered salt beef with beets and horseradish. She ordered a side of creamy smooth mash to go with it which we shared. I ordered sea bream with brown shrimps and kale, which was perfectly cooked with a light crispy skin and delicate flesh, which contrasted nicely with the shrimp, kale and mash. The Kale had a lovely earthy flavour and was just lightly cooked so it retained its dark green colour perfectly.

smoked duck, chicory and radish salad

sea bream with brown shrimp and kale

Dad's chicken and bacon salad

salt beef with beets and horseradish

Step dad and sister ordered salads; the former blue cheese, avocado, chicken and bacon with a side order of corn on the cob and the latter, smoked duck, chicory and radish, with a side order of honey roast carrots.

Everyone was happy with their choices. My sister’s duck salad was light and delicate and she was pleasantly surprised at the amount of duck she got on the top.  My step-mums salt beef was tender and well-flavoured, the combination of beetroot and horseradish working really well with it.

The only minor criticisms were that my Dads steak was rare and not medium as he had ordered, but that didn’t detract from the flavour or the fantastic Roquefort sauce. Also my sister would have liked a side plate for her bread.

For dessert my sister ordered New York cheesecake with blood orange. She loved the creamy cheesecake which contrasted with the sharpness of the blood orange, but thought that the cheesecake was a little heavy. Step mum ordered rhubarb and ginger crumble with ice cream, which was lovely but she could barely taste any ginger in it and two of us ordered pecan tart with Jack Daniels ice cream. I’m a sucker for alcoholic ice cream or sorbet so that really hit the spot, but I would have liked a more substantial pecan tart. It was nice though.

cheesecake with blood orange

rhubarb and ginger crumble

Jack Daniels ice cream what more could a girl ask for on her birthday!!

All in all a very enjoyable family meal with few complaints: I will definitely go back again for more, next time i’m down that way!

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