Monthly Archives: May 2011

The perfect paupers present

I make no bones about the fact that I am not well-heeled or over privileged, and since my redundancy in 2009, neither do I have enough disposable income to enable me to constantly experiment with different recipes and dishes (although of course I do, but on a very tight budget!).

Since I also live outside London I am often limited in my choice of varied and exotic ingredients. I would of course love to use the strange array of herbs, spices, vegetables and fruit readily available in the average big city, conjuring new and enticing dishes with which to tantalize my family and friends, to entertain nightly and ultimately to write a recipe book (which requires triple testing and tasting) but sadly at this time it is not to be.

Cupcakes: chocolate with orange frosting; vanilla with chocolate cherry ganache; vanilla cherry with limoncello icing

Birthdays can also be a problem when one has challenged finances: My generosity thwarted (I have big ideas and no bank balance) I turn to my own skills to create individual birthday gifts. Over the past two years I have discovered that there is nothing as satisfying, as personal, or as gratefully received as an item that has been lovingly hand-made. Whether this be a hand drawn card, a candle, a hand-knit, or sewn item or something tasty to eat. I have given a variety of gifts and received them back; jams, chutney, marmalade, sometimes paired with an unusual cheese and wrapped in cellophane, liqueurs made from foraged fruit, sweet tasty fudge and of course the ubiquitous cupcake. I have on several occasions given a massive box of cupcakes as an extra special birthday gift (some of which I have pictured here under the ‘more from the kitchen’ heading) and this is exactly what I did for my friend Sarah’s 40th birthday party over the bank holiday weekend. Decorated with a more unusual choice of icing they make a rather glamorous, sophisticated present

Overjoyed, Sarah exclaimed “oh! you are so kind” before a large posse of children swooped and wiped out the box in less than 3 minutes! I think Sarah got one.

Later, as we left the party we passed one ten-year old splayed on the trampoline...”are you alright Herbie”? we said  “I’m not drunk” he replied “I’ve just eaten several very alcoholic cupcakes” Oops!

Limocello cupcakes: Makes 12 to 14

125g unsalted butter, 125g caster sugar, 2 large eggs, 125g self-raising sugar, a couple of drops of vanilla essence, 6 to 8 glace cherries (preferably organic. These look darker as they don’t have the vivid red colour), a dessertspoonful of limoncello, a tablespoon or two of milk.

Line a muffin tin with cupcake cases. Preheat the oven to gas mark 6/200 degrees C.

Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until smooth (adding a tablespoon of flour with the last one). Add flour and fold or beat in with the vanilla, limoncello and milk. Beat well until smooth. Fold in the finely chopped cherries. Put a dessertspoonful or so of the mixture into each case filling fairly equally. Bake in the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove and allow to cool on a rack. For the icing mix 250g icing sugar with 1 tablespoon limoncello and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. I just kept adding a bit more limoncello and lemon juice until I got the desired consistency, it should be thick enough to spread without dripping everywhere. You could also add a few drops of yellow colouring (I use Langdale which are available in most supermarkets) but it’s not essential.

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Roast duck breast with redcurrant and red wine sauce, hot seared asparagus, pan fried Jersey Royal and sorrel salad

While the southern part of the UK appears to be bathed in perpetual sunshine, we up North (well in Wales anyway) experience weather systems in constant turmoil. One minute it’s hot and sunny, the next 60 mile an hour winds, followed closely by torrential sideways rain. The sort of rain that gets you really soaking and doesn’t care if you are carrying an umbrella.

Like the weather I feel just as confused. Sometimes it’s hard to choose what to eat on a grey day: Should it be something hearty and warming that will help me forget the changeable weather, or stubbornly persist with the summery salads despite their inadequacy in preventing my shivers?

Last night I came up with this recipe and I had to share it. It was an extremely good way of combining seasonal summery ingredients and making them feel somewhat more comforting.

Duck: 1 Gressingham duck (mine weighed about 1.25k) seasoned inside and out and then roasted in the oven for about 40 minutes. The flesh should still be a bit pink. For this dish I just used the breasts and saved the rest of the meat for something else. Once cooked remove the duck from the oven and allow to rest covered in foil. Just before serving carve off the breasts.

Sauce: finely chop four shallots and about 125g mushrooms. Cook until golden brown in a little oil then add 150ml red wine. Cook down briskly until it’s reduced by half. Then throw in four or five juniper berries, 450ml of chicken or duck stock, a dessertspoonful of unsalted butter and 25ml whipping cream. Allow this to bubble away until reduced a bit and thickened. I then added two teaspoons of my homemade red currant jelly. I didn’t want to add too much so it became too sweet so I erred on the side of caution, but you could add more if you did want a sweeter sauce. This amount was just right for me.

home-made red currant jelly

Potatoes and salad: Wash enough potatoes to feed however many there are of you. Cut lengthways and par boil for about two to three minutes. Drain and heat a pan with a little duck fat. Add the potatoes and saute until just turning golden brown; remove and drain on some kitchen paper. Keep warm.

Put a pan of water on to boil. Trim and peel the asparagus. When the water boils plunge in the asparagus for a couple of minutes only. They should stay green, but slightly tender when pierced with a sharp knife. Refresh in cold water. Put a char grill pan on the stove to heat, brushed with a little olive oil. When thoroughly hot add the asparagus and cook until the lines of the pan begin to mark the outside, and they are tender, but not blackened. Toss the potatoes, a hand full of shredded sorrel (central stem removed) and the asparagus together with a little seasoning and a dribble of olive oil then pile  on to warmed plates. Top with the duck breast and a good ladle full of the sauce.

Enjoy with the rest of the wine from the bottle!


Filed under British food, family budget cooking, home cooking, local produce

Fasoulia, frills and fluffy meringue-a weekend at Bangor Aid music festival in aid of local homelessness charities

Bubbles from Dr. Zigs...Dragon bubbles

I’m sure I always begin my posts with the word phew! Closely followed by the phrase ‘what a hectic weekend’, but this was almost a record-breaking attempt as I asked myself exactly how many activities could fit into one weekend? I thought living in the countryside was meant to be peaceful? but I guess since I grew up in London I’ve just transported city life with me! I have lived here 20 years and I guess I’ve slowed down a bit, but blatently not that much!

As I mentioned in my last update, this weekend was all about the Bangor Aid  music festival where I was selling produce, as well as performing in my other guise as a can can dancer and cooking for one of the bands for good measure!

I spent most of the latter part of the week preparing goods to sell on the Saturday; a family and kid friendly acoustic music day, with lots of activities for the small ones. The brief had been not to clash with the kitchen who were preparing hot food and cakes, so I opted to make a variety of sweet goodies that would appeal to children as well as adults. Treats included fluffy light mini meringues, chocolate macaroons (finally I’ve got it sussed!! This was my first ever succesful attempt), fudge, ginger bread people and about 60 child sized cupcakes!

organic gingerbread people

chocolate macaroons with chocolate ganache filling

On Friday evening, while I was finishing off the preparation and packaging,  I also prepared several pots of food to take to my good friends Adam and Iya’s. Adam had ‘booked’ me at the last-minute to do a small impromptu ‘secret supper’ for Thabani, the group headlining  later, at their home just across the valley. I took the opportunity to experiment a little with some different tastes and flavours that still incorporated local seasonal produce. I opted for a traditional Libyan / Middle Eastern stew called Fasoulia, a dish of beans (haricot, cannellini or fava) cooked with tomato and garlic. There are variations such as Fasoulia Baidha made with lamb, and it was this that I finally settled on. One of the band had asked earlier what I was going to cook and when I told it would be lamb they all laughed. Visiting Wales? well it had to be lamb!

As accompaniments I made a cooling dish of minted yogurt, a salad of feta, oak smoked tomato, cucumber, red onion and parsley, and couscous with lemon, olive oil and lots of fresh herbs. The sauce of tomato, beans and lamb was thick and wholesome, perfect for a cool and drizzly evening and its rich, spicy sauce a real taste bud delight. The band certainly thought so (I’m pretty sure one member had four helpings!!).


225g dried haricot or cannellini beans (not soaked over night), 1 large onion, 1k of Welsh neck of lamb (get your butcher to slice it into chops as I did), 150g tin of tomato puree, 3 large garlic cloves chopped, 1 teaspoon of chilli powder or a fresh chilli, or a good pinch of chilli flakes which is what I used, 1 teaspoon of cumin, turmeric, coriander and cinnamon, 1 teaspoon salt.

Wash the beans, drain and put into a large saucepan with 2.15 litres of water and half the roughly chopped onion. Put the pan on a low heat and bring to the boil slowly without covering. Keep on a low heat and cook the beans slowly for 2 hours until partly cooked. I think mine took about an hour and half so test them every now and again. Add the lamb to the pan with the salt and add some more water to cover. Keep simmering slowly for a further hour. In another pan heat the oil and cook the onion gently until tender but don’t brown. Add tomato puree, garlic and spices and cook stirring all the time for about 5 minutes.

At this point check the liquid in the beans, if it seems too watery ladle a little out or if there isn’t enough add a bit more water. Then add one or two ladles full of liquid to the tomato puree before tipping the whole lot back into the pan with the beans and lamb. Cook for another 10 minutes or so until the sauce has thickened. Taste the seasoning adding more salt if necessary and serve.

As soon as the boys were fed sorted I began my own transformation…my second persona of the evening that of a member of the Cheap Frills Can Can troupe. I headed off to join my co-dancers at the venue. It was a great night! Music, dancing and real party vibe. A couple of the band members looked more than bemused to see me again, one minute serving them dinner the next wearing corset and feathers looking like I’d stepped out of a cabaret set!!

Cheap Frills Can Can

Thabani: The band for whom I cooked a special pre-gig supper

Having rolled into bed at about 2.30am gaining little sleep in the process, I was rudely awakened by the teen at 6am getting up for school (yes I know, school on a Saturday is very harsh…but she can’t complain, she’s now off on a climbing holiday with said school in the Rhone Valley!). Forced from my bed more prematurely than anticipated I made use of my time and packed up the car ready for the days next job that of produce stall holder. The weather was changeable, promising first sun, then showers and grey clouds hung ominously over the area. With a variety of indoor and outdoor stages at the Victorian farmyard Hendre Hall (the site for the event) everyone prayed that the day wasn’t a total washout. Of course I was hoping to cover my costs, as well as making enough to give a healthy donation from my sales.

cupcakes and goodies

fudge, meringues, macaroons and gingerbread

My mate Rossi with her Dilys the Sheep brand of Welsh made knitted goods

and more bubbles

The day started slowly and feared I would be eating cupcakes and gingerbread men for the rest of the week, but as the acoustic music kicked off, the sun poked its head occasionally from behind the clouds and rainbow-hued bubbles bobbed and floated on the breeze so sales picked up and by the time I was ready to collapse in a heap at 4pm I had sold everything but a couple of bags of meringues and a bag of macaroons (hidden by the teen so she could take them off to Geneva with her).  It was a good day in all, the kids ran riot chasing giant bubbles around the old farmyard, teens hung out swapping artist wrist bands with each other so they could pinch a free beer from the green room and a whole host of local up and coming talent entertained us including, the fantastic folky Eve Goodman and fifteen year old songstress  Charlotte Starmer, one of my teens best friends. She has just started performing and she’s great.

The whole weekend was a successful whirlwind of frills, feathers and food….hugely busy but great fun and most importantly we raised money for a very worthy cause. Well done and thankyou to Bangor Aid for putting together a packed weekend and of course to all the performers, artists and volunteers who made it happen, I’m glad to have been part of it.

Chocolate macaroons (Nigella Lawson recipe…the only one that works for me!):

250g icing sugar, 25g ground almonds, 25g green and blacks cocoa powder, 4 large egg whites (mine stood out over night…a tip I was given by another ace macaroon maker), 25g castor sugar

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180 degrees C. Line baking trays with parchment. Sift together the icing sugar, almonds and cocoa. Whisk the egg whites until almost stiff then sprinkle over the caster sugar and whisk again until very stiff, but not dry. Very gently fold in the dry ingredients. Fit a piping bag with a 1cm plain icing nozzle and fill with the macaroon mixture. Pipe small rounds on to the baking trays. Leave for about 15 minutes so that the rounds form a skin then bake in the oven for about 15 minutes until they are dry on the outside but still chewy inside. remove from the trays and leave on a rack to cool.

For the ganache melt 150g plain chocolate (I use green and blacks generally or Valrhona if I’m feeling rich and posh!) with 90ml or 6 tablespoons of double cream (Rachel’s dairy) and 3 small tablespoons of unsalted butter (Rachel’s organics) in a bain marie (or a bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water). When the chocolate is just melted whisk everything together off the heat and leave to cool.

When macaroons and ganache are cool spread one macaroon with chocolate and sandwich together with the second. Perfect with a cup of good coffee!

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Bangor Aid music festival (20/21st May) and the Observer food monthly awards 2011

I have a double whammy of creative bookings this weekend (20th and 21st May) in support of Bangor aid, a non-profit making community organisation which is hosting a music and arts festival at Hendre Hall, Bangor to raise money for local frontline homelessness charities.

I will be performing in my other guise as a Cheap Frills can can girl on the Friday night alongside a variety of local and national acts including Thabani, Latin Groove collective, Sonic soul, Quest Rah and our own Racubah DJ’s.

On the Saturday I will be back there with a Moel Faban Secret Supper Club stall, joining other local arts and crafts people for a family friendly day of acoustic music and selling a variety of yummy goodies…meringues, sweets, biscuits and jams in aid of this very worthwhile cause.

Come and pay us a visit

Just in case you can’t make it to our events, but do enjoy reading the blog and the recipes on it,  it would be really lovely if you could take a minute or two to nominate us for this years Observer Food Awards in the “Best Food Blog” catergory. It would be lovely to bring some recognition to us creative types living outside of London, especially as I like to focus on our local producers in Wales so will be good for them too! To vote click here . You never know you might also get to win some yummy prizes too.

Thanks everyone xxxx

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Cookery course update

I have two courses scheduled in the coming months run in conjunction with Moelyci environmental centre, the first takes place this TUESDAY (17th MAY) and on the 7th JULY. If you would like to join either of these classes which include full tuition, hands on experience, recipes to take home and lunch please call Shan on 01248 602793. There a few spaces left for Tuesday but be quick!

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The Underground night market

We came, we saw, we drank cocktails (served by hot bartender Richard from juicology whom my sister took a liking to…I seem to have a lot of photographs of him on my camera strangely enough!), we ate Mauritian street food, I made trifle in the kitchen, bought some fantastic cheeses which I served at supper club on Saturday night from the Deli station and Artisan cheese merchant La Cremerie and generally made merry. Unfortunately I didn’t take nearly enough pictures (as usual).

Richard from Juicology 'he looks like Jude Law' my sister claimed as she went off for her 5th cocktail

Artisan cheeses from the deli station

More cheese, this time from La Cremerie

It was lovely to renew old acquaintances from earlier markets (the lovely Lex from Lex Eats) and make new friends like Ms M from me old china and her covetable vintage goods (her hubby was DJ’ ing in the bedroom which according to my sister made them officially the coolest couple at the market), Laurence from French Made, Sue from the art of puddings and all the other women with whom I shared the front room.

The very glamorous Laurence from French Made with her gorgeous array of meringues, biscuits, macaroons etc.

Lex from Lex Eats

my jam table

me old china

My trifle demo was a little hit and miss; not the prettiest result,  but it was still delicious according to all who got the chance to have a taste and an added bonus being that my jams sold pretty well.

Other interesting moments included chatting to the guys from the Clink, a newly established restaurant based in High Down prison in Surrey; being told in great detail about the cheese I was buying at 11.15 at night after having drunk many cocktails (and of course forgetting it all by the time I got home) and being chatted to by a lovely young woman from Wales whose father just happened to have been one of my lecturers at Bangor University! It really is a small world. I wish I’d chatted properly to the guys from Treflach farm in Shropshire, and Italian artisan food deli and fellow supper clubbers Squisito but I was just too busy trying to sell jam and stop my sister chucking herself at the cocktail man!

The market was a great success, a food rave? Perhaps. We had some top tunes, live music, a bonfire, and it certainly ran way past its planned conclusion. At one point the local constabulary paid a visit (stones being thrown by kids apparently), we pondered over whether they were the adult entertainment…or whether we could bribe them with food to become the adult entertainment…but then gave up. One of them was a bit too Magnum PI although the younger one was quite cute.

Big thanks to ms marmite lover for opening up her home to hundreds of people and I’m sure she can be forgiven for being a touch cranky at times, I think I would have developed a slightly murderous persona with that many people parading through my house!

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The perfect tea time treat-chocolate, almond and cherry cake

I’ve badgered my friend in Germany for this recipe since we returned from our holiday, she claimed it was a secret, passed on from another friend, but I knew I’d prize it from her eventually!! It is a simple cake to make but such a delight; gorgeously rich, but moist and fruity at the same time made all the better for the optional addition of a couple of tablespoons of rum.

You will need;

200g butter, 180g sugar, 4 eggs, 50g flaked almonds, 10og chocolate flakes (I guess grated chocolate would do as well, but you can get these to sprinkle on coffee and I’ve also found them online at Verde’s sold in 1kg bags), 125g plain flour, 3 teaspoons baking powder, 1 and a half teaspoons cinnamon, 1 jar of morello cherries (or in the summer you could try it with fresh pitted cherries)

Butter a 9 inch cake tin and preheat the oven to 175 degrees C.

Mix the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and mix in well. Sift baking powder, flour and cinnamon together and stir into the mixture, then fold in the chocolate and almonds. Put two-thirds of the mixture into the tin then mix the cherries into the remaining third. Put that mixture on top. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes but keep an eye on it, you might need to cover the top to prevent it burning.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool before sprinkling with icing sugar. Serve with cream or just as it comes with afternoon tea!

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Filed under baking, German food, home cooking

Seasonal eating in Germany

I have to say Germany and Kiel were quite unexpected. I’ve been there before, but last time I didn’t really go looking for culinary uniqueness, it was a flying visit but this time was different. I was staying for nine days so consequently I had plenty of time to soak up the traditions, hunt for the unusual and generally eat the way the Germans do.

I’m not saying I ate out much, with five kids between us, four of them under nine and both families fairly skint, plans for expensive and elaborate dining were shelved, so we did what we always do best, cook at home, sharing ideas and preparation until we came up with a variety of hearty, wholesome home cooked dinners, using lots and  lots of local produce. I suppose it was a busman’s holiday really, lots of cooking for lots of people, interspersed during the week with three days English language teaching at Kiel University, but the experience, even the work bit, was totally enjoyable all the same. Some of my students had even googled me before I arrived and discovered my alternative foodie occupation so we spent a great time discussing that as well.

Following our trip to the market on Saturday we were well stocked for the weekend. Easter Sunday began with the obligatory Easter egg hunt followed by a late and lazy breakfast which consisted of lots of different German cheeses, meats and salami, fruit, fresh bread and coffee. This was our friends usual continental routine. During the week muesli, fruit and yogurt started the day, but of course while we were staying there were much more lazy breakfasts like this. While the sun blazed we simply sat, relaxed, ate and even managed a glass of Easter Sunday champagne. Lunch was unnecessary since breakfast ran on forever, in fact it probably only finished a couple of hours before we began to think about the barbecue we were having that evening.

In between this we drank what became known as ‘girly beer’ (basically beer, such as Becks, ready mixed with lemon or lime, or grapefruit) and the occasional cup of tea accompanied by a traditional German afternoon tea cake (cherry and chocolate).

Annette’s secret recipe chocolate and cherry cake…delicious and I’m determined to get that recipe!!

Later more friends arrived; we barbecued trout with herbs, wild garlic and lemon, some extremely phallic looking white asparagus marinated with olive oil and basil, chicken sate, ribs with a honey dressing and German sausages. For pudding the kids made Eton mess, a household favourite, with strawberries, cream and meringues.

traditional Easter bonfire...they seem to have them everywhere!

I feel almost guilty to admit that every day was much the same; fresh rolls, fruit, cheese and salami, followed by cake and a large late dinner. We tried various specialities. At the coast we had Fischbrochen basically freshly caught fish either marinated, with herbs or smoked and served in a bun with mayonnaise or a sauce and salad. I had smoked mackerel with horseradish, particularly yummy. Another night we took the kids bowling. I’ve never seen as classy a restaurant attached to a bowling alley anywhere else, ever. After a couple of games we sat down to eat. Sean decided to try another speciality currywurst. Our local friends did warn him not to choose this but he opted to ignore advice. Currywurst is basically German sausage in a tomato ketchup kind of curry sauce. It’s very popular there although Sean did proclaim that he chose unwisely, I had a taste and it was absolutely foul. Probably the kind of thing you would pick up after the pub when drunk! The kids chose a hearty portion of sausage or fish and chips, whilst the sensible adults that chose wisely went for steak, local white asparagus and a sauce of some kind. Mine came with a generous helping of light, buttery Hollandaise sauce, while one of my companions went for an unusual sounding strawberry chilli chutney. It was certainly different but unexpectedly lovely. A little hint of a chilli kick, but not too much, and still with the distinctive strawberry taste and sweetness. It accompanied the asparagus beautifully. The decent sized steak came with a generous portion of garlicky herb butter and was fantastic, succulent, full of flavour and cooked perfectly medium rare. The asparagus was tender and cooked to perfection. I couldn’t have asked for more.

the bowling alley which adjoined the restaurantThe specials board…this was definitely the list to choose from

Currywurst…the most disgusting thing eversteak with roasted vegetables and chips

white asparagus with strawberry chilli chutney

my steak and asparagus with hollandaise

We ate so much yummy stuff it’s hard to pick a favourite …spiced pork roasts with apple sauce; lasagne made with smoked speck as well as mince; a variety of cheeses and salami and of course a mountain of apple cake, lemon cake, local marzipan and beer. Of course all of that means that my souvenir from Kiel is an extra half a stone, but hey it was worth it.

All of those tastes are still running through my head, but I keep coming back to that white asparagus and hollandaise. My lasting impression that there is more to German food than meets the eye, it’s not overtly elaborate but with so many unexpected high points, discoveries of tastes and flavours, I now know that there is definitely more to German food than just beer and Bratwurst.

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Filed under baking, family budget cooking, German food, travel, Travelling with kids, Uncategorized