Monthly Archives: July 2011

Rosie’s afternoon tea

Teenagers are notorious for their high boredom threshold and now that were well into the school holidays that threshold is often reached. Unless there is constant entertainment, or a posse of friends about, they seem to go into a mope crying “im bored” like all they’ve done all summer is sit on their own doing nothing.  I begin to feel old as I wonder about the youth of today. Whatever happened to self entertainment and the pursuit of solitary activities like book reading, diary writing, drawing, cooking, sewing? Maybe I am just old!!

Rosie's tea

Actually, my teen is beginning to rediscover the joy gained from at least some of these things. She has become a bit of a bookworm lately and has started writing a journal (although claims she would only be truly inspired if she lived in the eclectic surroundings of London!!). She also enjoys a bit of cooking, as long as it is to her specification. Today in search of a bit of excitement she insisted she make everyone a proper afternoon tea. I wasn’t going to argue.

I like to think that her sudden longing for the perfect afternoon tea harks back to her younger days, where hoards of teddy bears sat around cups and plates enjoying their imaginary goodies. The tea she made tea today was a more adult affair with a careful attention to detail. Perfect vintage in every respect…cups and saucers, steaming tea-pot, delicate milk jug and delicious home-made scones served with my strawberry and red currant jam and loads of clotted cream.

She set the table, arranged the chairs taking great care that the crockery matched and then told me firmly to sit and eat. I didn’t take much persuasion. It was a lovely intimate girly moment of decadence as we polished off three scones each and took some time to chat and giggle over her grumpy little brother who refused to join us.

I love these moments, so rare at her age that I relish each one. I only wish she was so good at tidying up afterwards!!

Rosie’s scone recipe:

250g plain organic unbleached flour

50g butter

1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon cream of tartar, 1 teaspoon caster sugar and a pinch of salt.

Enough milk to make a soft dough.

Sieve flour into a bowl and rub in the butter. Add remaining ingredients and enough milk to make a soft dough. Roll out to a thickness of about 1 inch. Cut into small rounds. It should make about 12 scones. Bake in a hot oven gas mark 7, 220 degrees for about 10 minutes or until nicely browned on top. Serve with lashings of jam and cream (clotted preferably).

 

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North Wales Daily Post food hero nomination and Welsh blogging awards

I was very excited to find myself nominated as a Local Food Hero in the North Wales Daily post on Tuesday.

It was a lovely piece that made me feel rather proud to have started my little supper club. I still love doing it as much as when I started, which unbelievably will be two years in October. We’ve come a long way since our first dinner. I’ve learnt many things; tried many new recipes, making up many of my own along the way as part of the journey and I’ve met some wonderful people from across Wales and further afield (Belgium springs to mind!) who I would never have met had it not been for these dinners in my living room.

There have been lots of nice articles about us in the press and of course the infamous Britain’s Best Dish appearance, which came about by an ITV researcher reading my blog.

Of course that’s not all, so many other things have sprung out of the experiment: I now sell my own jams and chutney (that have always been so popular at supper club) at the Ogwen local produce market and run a monthly pop-up brunch there, I have an increasing number of requests for private dinners and have bookings to cook for two weddings!

What next you ask? Well on the third of August I’m off to Crickhowell for ten days to cook for a very hungry Green Man festival crew, followed by another 5 day stint after the festival. More on this to follow. This will take me to the end of August when I will take my well-earned holiday!!

In the meantime, for those of you that enjoy reading my blog, have read my reviews or used my recipes, it would be fantastic if you could drop a line to the Welsh blog awards suggesting little old me!

Thanks everyone…keep reading and enjoying my foodie ideas and supper club dinners

Denise x

 

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I love my Big Chopper

A little while ago I entered a competition run by food for think. I’d almost forgotten about it until I received a message to say I’d won. Excited I awaited the arrival of my prize, a new chopping board. Not very exciting you say? Well this is not any old chopping board, on the contrary, The Big Chopper is in fact two chopping boards that very cleverly clip together to form a rather interesting and eye-popping shape. One part is red for your meat and the other… well you’ve probably put two and two together and guessed its for your veg!

Not only is the suggestively shaped item ingenious and well designed, it is also a very special chopping board since 50% of proceeds from online sales go to the male cancer charity Orchid.

Despite the teens mock horror ‘Mum!! Its penis shaped’ we’ve all used it every day since it arrived. For food preparation in the domestic kitchen it really is very useful. Its much more functional than many of my larger sized catering boards since it fits more comfortably inside the top of a saucepan to scrape vegetables from. The two parts unclip to make sure there is no cross contamination when preparing meat and vegetables and they both fit on my work surface side by side…which makes cooking dinner so much easier. They are also easier to wash in the sink and in the dishwasher being smaller than most of my other boards too.

I would definitely recommend this as a quirky and cheeky gift for a double entendre loving friend. One who likes to cook and appreciates useful and worthwhile gadgets. At £19.99 you can’t argue!

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Supper Club menu for the 29th and 30th July

This month we will using all the lovely seasonal produce available now to make some dishes synonymous with summer and those with an Italian / Venetian theme.

Inspired by my lunch at Polpo I’ve made some changes to the menu originally suggested. We start with traditional strawberry Rossini cocktails, alcoholic fruit in a glass….and then there will be plenty of fresh herbs from the garden; some will marinate good quality buffalo mozzarella, then served with fresh and oak smoked local tomatoes (from Moelyci…simply the best I’ve ever tasted outside of France or Italy) …then I will making my variation on Polpette (either meat or vegetarian versions) served with a fresh fennel and pea and herb salad and some home-made rosemary and garlic topped focaccia.  This will all be served family style so you can help yourself to more and more.

We will finish with a hearty and traditional Loganberry vodka infused summer pudding with clotted cream.

Coffee will be served with the usual choice of local cheese and chutney and I might even get round to making some chocolate salami

To save your place email moelfabansecretsupperclub@live.co.uk or text 07775 828769

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Polpo

It’s not often I get to totally indulge myself, but on a rare free day (meaning no kids) during a visit down south to see my parents, I took a trip into the city for a lovely lunch, before a meeting with my writing mentor. It’s no secret that I miss eating out and that there is little opportunity for leisurely lunches back in Wales and since i’d read several glowing reviews of Polpo and sister restaurants Polpetto and Spuntino in the past few months I thought I’d pay the first of these a visit to check it out.

I wasn’t entirely convinced I’d like the ‘small plate’ concept as usually my leaning is towards a good-sized serving of hearty country fare, but since none of the reviewers appeared to have left the place hungry I guessed I should put my faith in their comments.

Polpo is beautifully laid back and full of understated style. Modelled on the traditional Venetian bacaro but housed in a traditional 18th century London building, it exudes its own rustic charm. My table faced a pretty little internal courtyard, bathed in sunshine and overflowing with scarlet geraniums I could almost have been in Venice. Well maybe not, but it certainly succeeded in reminding me of some of the places I visited when I was there many years ago.

Thankfully I got there early enough so that I didn’t have to wait for a table; fifteen minutes later the place was packed out. The young friendly waiters and waitresses were attentive and helpful and very ready to answer my questions “what are polpette”?  and the menu was adequate without being too extensive.

I ordered smoked salmon, horseradish and dill crostino to begin and then Polpette (meat balls), fennel and endive salad with almonds and some grilled focaccia to follow. I wasn’t sure how big the small plates would be so I erred on the side of caution not wishing to leave hungry! In the end I found that I had over ordered and couldn’t manage the last piece of focaccia.

Smoked salmon, horseradish and dill crostino

I was pleasantly surprised at the good chunky crostino with its generous helping of smoked salmon and the dollop of horseradish was as I like it, creamy and with a kick, but not too overpowering.

The polpette were deliciously rich and tomatoey, tender and juicy while the fennel and endive salad was sharp and fresh. The two complimented each other beautifully and I really didn’t need the focaccia, which was the only disappointing thing about the lunch. I like a chunky, earthy focaccia liberally strewn with rosemary and garlic, which is how I make it, while this was a rather thin and more ciabatta like bread.

I'm a rubbish food photographer...my stomach got the better of me and I layered everything on to my plate before I photographed it!!

While I still had time to spare I finished with a Machiatto and some chocolate salami, one of my favourite coffee accompaniments and one not often seen on restaurant menus. The waitress and I had a long conversation about it and I ascertained that this was a sugarless version made with figs. It certainly wasn’t as sweet as when I make it using cranberries or cherries, but was just as nice, with its slightly salty, earthy taste derived from the nuts and figs. It went very well with the dark chocolate and coffee.

Machiatto and chocolate salami

Russell Norman and Polpo definitely won me over and gained another fan. I have to admit that it really wasn’t a hard job; I am already a lover of good Italian food and all they had to do was give me that and plenty of it.  I want to go back. I want to take friends, but I will now have to wait until my next visit to London to try one of the other restaurants in the group.  I can’t wait!

My lunch cost me £20 for 3 courses and coffee. This included service. Bookings can only be made for lunch.

Polpo
41 Beak Street
London
W1F  9SB

020 7734 4479

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It’s those simple things…

A simple supper

I can cook up the most extravagant, adventurous feast, using every exotic ingredient known to create something really special for supper club and dinner guests.  I take my time, take extra care to produce something that looks as beautiful as it tastes and really give it my all. I love doing this. I love experimenting and trying out new things, but there are times when less is definitely more. Sometimes its the simplest of things that leave a lasting  impression. No fuss, complex dressings, drizzled sauces or coulis, just fantastic fresh unadulterated food.

A MASSIVE (half eaten) Manchego from Spain...yum with some home-made onion relish

As I lazed in the sun on Sunday afternoon, with a Tanquaray and Tonic clutched in my hand, it was simplicity that I craved. The lingering heat and appearance of some fiery Welsh sun shine inspired a supper with a distinctly Mediterranean feel…. some Spanish Manchego brought back as a thank you present by friends whose boat we looked after while they were away, some seriously strong black bomber left over from Saturday’s produce market; home-made onion marmalade and beetroot relish, new potatoes with lashings of butter and mint, herb-marinated mozzarella and tomatoes and a hearty salad of lettuce from the garden, cucumber, olives, very lightly steamed mangetout from the weekly veg box, crisp chorizo and a good glug of Welsh Rapeseed oil.

The food disappeared in no time and even the little-un steamed in for more. At the end of supper I was about as satiated and happy as I would have been if I’d eaten something more elaborate.

Marinated mozzarella and tomato: An Ottolenghi inspired favourite (serves 2-3)

250g good buffalo mozzarella

A couple of large ripe local tomatoes

half a teaspoon fennel seeds, zest of a lemon or a teaspoon of white wine vinegar , small handful of shredded basil leaves, 2 teaspoons fresh oregano leaves, 2 tablespoons Welsh Rapeseed oil 1 crushed clove of garlic and a pinch of Halen Mon salt and black pepper.

Dry roast the fennel seeds until they begin to pop. Transfer to a pestle and mortar and grind roughly. Place in a bowl with the other ingredients. toss the sliced or roughly torn mozzarella with the marinade and leave for 10 minutes or so, Serve with sliced or wedges of tomatoes as a starter or part of a cold supper.

mmmmmm....dinner 🙂

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The pop-up brunch club

My very first pop-up event and wow!! I’m totally overwhelmed by its success.

Supper club packed its bags and moved into the new Llys Dafydd square on Bethesda High Street, for the first of many monthly produce markets which will be held on the site. Llys Dafydd is almost a work of art in itself with many members of the community (artists, builders, gardeners) involved in its construction. From the beautiful wrought iron gates, to the stenciled slate designs, Bethesda has a rich history. A history so closely entwined with the slate industrythat it was only fitting that this be commemorated in its design.

My little slate kiosk and menu board...bilingual of course

My little slate kitchen was a pleasure to work in even though all the fixtures and fittings hadn’t quite arrived in time. The two ring electric hob was painfully slow to heat up and wasn’t big enough for a frying pan and a big saucepan side by side. Pete, my helper for the day went home and fetched his electric George Foreman griddle thing…which needed a drip tray, but we didn’t have one. We wedged tea towels round the base, which are now in the bin!. We couldn’t fit a coffee pot under the tap of the urn (so had to fill the coffee pots cup by cup). The stainless steel work surface hadn’t arrived so we used a trestle table, which was far too low to chop vegetables on and I made three times as much soup as I needed since the sun came out, making soup less desirable.

Other than these few teething problems the day went amazingly well. So well in fact, that we ran out the local butchers lovely dry cured bacon so had to run up the road to get more, 5 minutes before he closed for the day.  The butchers apparently had a huge queue of people outside, that had gone to him from the market. Many of the stall holders had sold all their stock by 11.30am (we only opened at 10) including myself (my jam and pickle reserves have run dry for the rest of this month) and I ran out of coffee in the cafe. One person said

“wow! proper fresh coffee from a pot, you don’t get much of that round here”. Half an hour later it had gone.

My suppliers really need a mention as they were fantastic for getting me the best local produce, at a great price. Moelyci that provided lettuce and onions, Pippa and John for carrots, coriander and beetroot, Mintons wholefood wholesalers in Llandrindod Wells for organic tea, coffee and sugar and Pobty Cae Groes, (Pobty is bakery in Welsh for all you non-Welsh speakers), the most local bakery anyone could wish to have at the end of their street and providers of the most ENORMOUS rolls and baps. So kind are they that they threw in a free bara brith (Welsh fruit bread), pack of lemon and poppy-seed muffins and loaf with my order. Green Fox supplied all of my environmentally friendly / biodegradable packaging and finally a massive thank you to Gavin at the local Londis who helped me out in my hour of need (after I’d been let down by a supplier) with Welsh butter, milk and Snowdon Black bomber cheese which made up my Welsh ploughman’s in a bun along with lettuce and my onion marmalade.

We had giant bubbles from Dr Zigs and music from local musicians Gwibdaith Hen Fran and of course a timely visit from the sun, which we’d feared would not appear at all, as we erected the marquees in torrential rain the night before.

As for food, the local community go for hearty fare. We are country folk and like to eat well, so tea, coffee and  bacon baps went down a storm. The BLT mawr (Welsh for large) and ploughman’s in a bap did OK too. Even though we will be eating carrot and coriander soup for the rest of the week, I don’t mind at all. Those that had it, loved it and I will be a better judge of quantity next time.

The one sad thing about the day was that I hardly took any pictures. I’m just hoping I can get a few from others that did and then I will share them with you.

Market dates for the rest of the summer are:

13th August

10th September

8th October

and then hopefully we will find an indoor venue for two pre-Christmas markets before we end for the winter.

Other dates for Moel Faban suppers and the supper club are as follows:

22nd, 23rd and 24th July: Pop-up cafe at  Gwyl Gardd Goll festival a lovely little festival on the Faenol Estate with Gruff Rhys, Badly Drawn Boy, Echo and the Bunnymen and Cate le Bon,  plus a host of my favourite local musicians…Mr Huw, 9Bach, Gwibdaeth Hen Fran.

29th/30th July: secret suppers…spaces still available so book soon to secure a place

Then for the duration of August I will be off on a little jaunt to Crickhowell as crew caterer at The Green Man festival followed by what will be a well needed holiday eating my way around Ireland.

Dates for September have not yet been set as I have other plans that need firming up, but don’t worry supper club fans, I know I sound horribly busy but we will be back with a vengeance by the end of the month.

 

 

 

 

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A summer lunch for friends

I’m afraid my blog has been somewhat neglected over the past week or two. First it was jam making that took my attention, then a visit from friends over from France, the teens end of term shenanigans and a visit from granny. The week was rounded off with some ‘proper’ work (two days of non-food related teaching to prepare for next week). Wearing so many hats is a tiring business!!

Finally, I have reclaimed my computer (from the teen and my mother) finished my teaching presentation and now I can get back to the thing I do best, talking and cooking food.

Busy or not I gain great pleasure from playing host and sharing good food with good friends. We started the week with a scorching barbecue at another friends house. Bloody Mary burgers (a la Hugh FW) with creamy horseradish, mackerel caught on the Saturday with lime and herbs and chicken and maple kebabs. I made a box of lavish cupcakes for the kids, of which there were many, but they almost had to go to war with the adults to get a look in.

Two days later it was back to mine for lunch. There are times when I really don’t want to slave over a hot stove, especially on a lovely sunny day, so on this occasion I wanted to keep things simple. With a tired 18 month old and a new baby in the house, quick was definitely best. Not just that, but neither did I wish to be chained to the kitchen when I really wanted to spend as much time as possible holding the baby!! In fact the last thing any of us needed was a long drawn out lunch, particularly our friends as they had so many people to catch up with.

I opted for a couple of hearty salads, two tarts and an easy but decadent pudding of chopped strawberries, macerated with a few glugs of home-made loganberry vodka and a tablespoon of caster sugar, which have been left for at least an hour and served with a good dollop of thick double cream.

These offered the perfect solution; filling, yet light; simple, but full of delicious flavour.  I prepared the tarts the night before, which made things even easier.

For the fillings I used ricotta, Isle of Wight tomatoes and fresh basil from my veg box and for the other with smoked bacon, chorizo and Dragon Caerphilly cheese. Both were as good the next day and all I had to do on the day was warm them quickly in the oven. The salads assembled in no time, which left me free to chat and cluck and coo over the beautiful Alexia (even better I could give her back at the end!!)

Alexia and Dad

For two 7 inch tarts I used 150g  plain flour and 50g spelt flour (which I like using because it makes a nice crisp case) sifted with a good pinch of salt. I then rubbed in 100g butter, mixing to a loose dough with some ice-cold water. Wrapping it in cling film, it was then placed in the fridge to rest for half an hour.

I then lined two tart tins with pastry, cut two circles of greaseproof paper just larger than the tins and placed them on top of the pastry and filled the tins with baking beans. It’s not essential to buy packs of special beans, mine are simply a mixture of dried pulses, rice and a lentils, now baked a hundred times!! Bake for about ten minutes on 200 degree, then remove the paper and beans and cook for another 10 minutes until set and beginning to brown slightly. Allow to cool a little while you make or prepare the fillings.

For the bacon and chorizo tart I fried a few rashers of chopped bacon and half a mild chorizo (skin removed) in a little olive oil.  I spread this over the base of the first case then sprinkled over some crumbly Caerphilly cheese. For the other I covered the base of the case with sliced tomatoes, spooned over a few tablespoons of ricotta cheese, then added a layer of roughly torn basil leaves.

My measurements and quantities for the egg and cream mix are always a bit make-it-up-as-you-go-along. I used five large eggs whisked together in a jug and then topped up with enough single cream to make enough filling to fill both tarts. I seasoned this with salt and pepper, gave it a good whisk and then poured it into each case until pretty much full.

Serve with salads of your choice as a lunch or supper dish, or as part of a bigger buffet or summer meal.

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