Monthly Archives: September 2011

A late middle eastern summer lunch….and a dessert of spiced poached pears & blackcurrant friande.

When supper club fans Antonia and Gail asked me to run a middle eastern/Ottolenghi inspired cookery session for their friend Liz’s birthday, the one thing they couldn’t predict was the weather. As we approached the end of September in Wales it appeared winter was well on its way, it was becoming rather damp and grim, but just when I’d pulled out those chunky jumpers from the back of my wardrobe, it all changed.

We couldn’t have asked for a more glorious day to cook and what better way to celebrate the beautiful middle eastern/mediterranean theme than lunch served on the sun-baked patio.

I rolled up and took over Antonia’s kitchen at about 9.30 unpacking two crates of equipment, fresh local veg and a plethora of exotic spices commonly used by Ottolenghi in his book Plenty. Z’atar, sumac, nigella seeds, cumin, black sesame, white sesame, smoked paprika, star anise, in their packages lay scattered across the table for my four ‘pupils’ to sniff as we discussed their common uses.

As part of the package I provided printed notes/recipes and working around Antonia’s island we shared the making and preparing of four different salads; a butterbean and rosemary hummus (which has now become my hummus of choice) and carrot and beetroot slaw with nigella and sesame seeds, courtesy of Ellie and Rosie at salad club and a Farro and roasted pepper salad and a green couscous from Ottolenghi’s book Plenty, plus his savoury tart tatin. We then made some simple flat bread and a spiced poached pear, blackcurrant friande with amaretto cream all of my own for pudding.

assembling the tatin watched by my 'pupils'!

hands on....removing the charred skin of grilled peppers for the farro salad

Gail enjoying the smell of rosemary, garlic and lemon emanating from the food processor as we made the hummus

Each lady took responsibility for preparing a salad while I tried not to take over, did a lot of washing up and tried to impart some tricks of the trade. I encouraged everyone to taste as we went along commenting on seasoning and flavourings (does it need anything else? Was my frequent question) something that we often forget to do but is very important. The only demo’s I really did were making a caramel for the top of the tatin and its construction and the sponge for the friande.

friandes coming out of the oven

It was a really communal day with a great sense of achievement at the end. Everything worked beautifully; the salads looked fantastic served Ottolenghi style on a big platter, the colours stunning in the lunchtime sun. The breads were beautifully speckled and the tatin sweet and rich. Pudding was sublime!

the table set for lunch in Antonia's garden

The lunch guests arrived to whom the ladies showed off their fantastic creations and Antonia laid the table in the garden. They wanted me to stay for lunch and of course I wasn’t about to refuse…if only could have drunk more wine, but just as we finished it was time for me to nip round the corner to pick Aidan up from school and head off home in the car.

dinner guests arriving

I’m hoping the ladies will have learned a few tips for making quick, easy and striking middle eastern feasts. First; be brave about experimenting with strange ingredients or combinations of spices and then don’t hold back with those spices and seasonings and second, most dishes (even if they seem off-putting because they have lots of ingredients) are actually quite straight forward and totally worth the effort. Personally I am taking notes for the future on how to lead a decadent retirement!!

For the poached pears I used:

800g sugar

400ml water

400ml red wine

Cinnamon stick, star anise, vanilla pod and a couple of sprigs of thyme

8 pears

Place the sugar, water, wine and spices in a pan. Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and boil rapidly for 5 minutes. Peel the pears leaving the stalks on and place in the prepared syrup. Cover and simmer gently for 20 to 30 minutes until translucent (or pierced easily by a sharp knife or skewer).

Remove from the syrup and place in a serving dish. Boil the syrup hard until reduced by half and syrupy. Spoon over the pears which can be served hot or cold with cream.

The Friande is a light almondy sponge. For mine I used:

200g icing sugar

50g plain flour, plus extra for dusting

130g ground almonds

6 x egg whites

Zest of 2 lemons

2 tsp vanilla essence

170g salted butter, plus extra for greasing

3 tbsp black currants or other berries.

For the Amaretto cream: 250ml double cream, 20g icing sugar, 20ml Amaretto

Preheat the oven to 200C / gas mark 6.

Grease eight moulds and dust with flour. Melt the butter.

Sift the icing sugar and flour into a bowl and stir in the almonds.

Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks then gently fold them into the dry ingredients with a metal spoon and a really light hand. Be careful not to over mix as the air will be lost and the sponges will flop!

Add the lemon zest and fold in the melted butter and vanilla essence, still stirring as lightly as possible. Finally, fold in the fruit.

Fill the prepared moulds and place the friandes in the oven for around 20 minutes until light, well risen and firm when pressed on top with a finger.

To make the Amaretto cream:

Whip the cream with the icing sugar until quite firm then fold in the amaretto. Keep in the fridge until ready to serve so it’s almost like serving ice cream.


Totally sinful, but undeniably blissful!

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Old English Fidget pie

So many old traditional British dishes have wonderfully quirky and obscure names and Fidget (Fitchet or Figet) pie is one of them. I’ve seen it called Shropshire Fidget pie, Cambridgeshire or even Huntingdon fidget pie but I believe its origins may date back to Anglo-saxon times. As for the name; it’s been suggested that it was given because of the way the ingredients ‘fidget’ about inside the pie.

Fidget pie is a traditional farmers pie which was most often made for the farms harvest workers. Its main characteristic is the marrying of pork, onion and apple and sometimes potato: Meat, two veg and fruit (dinner and pudding all in one go!). I’ve seen recipes that use minced pork, ham or gammon, but I used my favourite dry cure bacon which gave it a slightly salty, smoky flavour, counteracted beautifully by apples, cider and cream.

I love these simple hearty dishes (see the Orwell inspired essay in wrote back in March) many of which had until recently dropped out of favour. But now, as we return to our traditions and once again embrace the national dishes and that characterise our changing seasons. I reckon its time Fidget pie made a come back!

Another reason for my decision to include it on the menu of last weeks wedding was that I found a fantastic variation in a wonderful recipe book I was given last Christmas. Elizabeth Hodder’s The Book of Old Tarts (yes, ha, ha, a friend with a sense of humour!) has I’m ashamed to say sat disregarded on my book shelf for far too long, not because there is anything wrong with the  recipes, some of them look far too tempting, but primarily because my teen hates ‘Quiche’ and it’s not particularly good for the waistline.

I really love crisp, buttery well made pastry though and pies and Quiche really come into their own when cooking for a big function or large buffet. They are hearty and filling and when there is no skimping on the filling, are absolutely sublime.

The bride wasn’t totally convinced when I ran it by her, but in the end she let me go with it and I don’t think anyone was disappointed and the simple Fidget pie won the day. It brought the most compliments out of the three different Quiche I made with its  unexpected and strangely unusual taste (which sounds strange seeing as it is such an old and simple dish). I have to say though, full credit goes to the fantastic local produce that went into its making…..which included apples straight from my tree!

Fidget pies on the table at the wedding...the unexpected success of the weekend!

Figet Pie:


225g plain organic flour

1 pinch of Halen Mon sea salt

115g Calon Wen unsalted butter

a small amount of cold water.


2 tablespoons olive oil

2 large red onions

225g smoked, dry cure bacon chopped

450g eating apples, peeled, cored and sliced

1 tablespoon sage and 1 of parsley

2 eggs

150ml double cream

150ml organic Welsh cider (Taffy apple I used)

a grate of nutmeg, salt and pepper


Rub butter into flour and salt until it resembles fine bread crumbs. Add water a trickle at a time until the dough comes together in a ball. Wrap in cling film and put in the fridge to rest for at least 15 minutes.

Cut the pastry into two pieces, one larger and one small. Roll out the larger part on a floured board and use to line a 23cm/9inch loose bottom flan tin. Prick the bottom and line with foil or greasproof paper and baking beans. Bake in the oven gas 6/200 degrees C for about 15 minutes then remove the foil/beans and bake for another 5 minutes until set and firm. This prevents your pie developing a soggy bottom.

Heat the oil in a pan and fry the finely chopped onion gently until softening. Add bacon and continue to cook for a another couple of minutes stirring occasionally.

Put a layer of apples in the pre-baked case, then top with half the bacon and onion mixture, half the fresh herbs and some salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Add another layer of apple, followed by bacon and seasoning.

Mix the eggs, cream and cider in a bowl season lightly and pour over the top.

Roll out the remaining pastry to make a lid. Dampen the edges of the case and pinch the top and bottom together to seal. Make a couple of slits in the top and brush with some extra beaten egg. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes, then turn the heat down to 180 degree C/gas 4 and cook for a further 35 minutes until golden brown.

You can serve this as a dinner pie with potatoes, vegetables and gravy or cold with coleslaw and chutney as part of a picnic…or buffet.




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December Supper Club’s: A quick update

I’m excited to tell you that in the run up to Christmas Moel Faban Secret Supper club will open everyday for a two period offering a set 3 course lunch with coffee and a full five course dinner in the evenings. Between Monday 5th December and Sunday 18th you have the chance to join us for a lovely freshly cooked meal with a group of  up to twelve friends or colleagues any day of the week. Remember booking is essential!

If you would like the opportunity to attend a supper club, hold a work Christmas dinner here or generally have a lovely time with friends having a pre-Christmas gathering please come and join us, we’d be happy to see you.

Please book via the usual Moel Faban email address or if you’d like to discuss further give me a call on 07775 828769….but don’t hesitate! I an anticipate that demand will be high and it will be a busy two weeks!

Normal supper club’s will be held on Friday 9th December and Saturday 17th December for individuals, couples and small groups of six or less.

Look forward to hearing from you

Denise xx

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Not a vol-au-vent in sight…wedding buffet for 70

Catering for my first big wedding was as you can probably imagine both nerve-wracking and exciting (in equal measures). It wasn’t as bad as it could have been though. I’d already given myself a good grounding in larger scale cooking with my little summer jaunt around the festival circuit and this really helped with the step up from domestic cooking and supper club numbers to what was at times industrial quantities! Not only did it teach me that there is more to cooking for large numbers than just tripling the recipe but also that it takes just as long to make a cake for 6 as it does a cake for 56!!

Armed with this invaluable knowledge and experience I came back to plan the buffet for Cath and Scotts wedding, a job they had asked me to take earlier in the year after the supper club dinner I cooked for Cath’s parents wedding anniversary.

Over the past few months we ploughed through the planning tinkering with ideas here and there until we settled on a lovely modern British menu, with a bit of European thrown in for good measure. It was all made with my trade mark local ingredients and produce, herbs from my garden and bits and bobs I picked up from Harvest and Borough market. Luckily we were still in time for the last of the summer produce and I collected lots of cucumbers and tomatoes from Moelyci, plus red onions and pink fir apple potatoes which were delicious. I sourced gammon and chicken from my local butcher (Williams in Bangor) and the salmon from Mermaids in Llandudno, the best seafood suppliers for miles around. Blas ar Fwyd were my knights in shining armour as I struck a last-minute wholesale agreement with them for Welsh cheese, milk, cream and butter. They couldn’t reach me with their van so we arranged delivery at the local Londis who are always very willing to support me. So a big thank you to them all.

Finally Four Seasons wholesalers were very helpful with my fruit order especially as I bent their ear mercilessly about its provenance. OK so usually it goes against the grain to buy pineapple, mango and passionfruit but it’s not like I do it all the time and I’m not into depriving myself, or my customers unnecessarily but when it comes to seasonal fruit I do expect it at least to be from the British Isles. Why would I buy plums from Spain when they are plentiful here at the moment? So I did insist that the apples, pears and plums were at least from Britain, if not Wales. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

salmon and herb tarts, Orzo salad, cheese and gammon

The menu comprised;

Home cooked local gammon with English whole grain mustard

Herb and sumac coated roast chicken

Poached salmon side with caper and dill mayonnaise

Salmon and herb tart

Tomato, red onion, basil and cheddar tart

Old English fidget pie

more buffet

A simple bowl of locally grown tomatoes. So sweet and juicy they needed nothing more to accompany them

Orzo and oak smoked tomato salad

Couscous with lemon, roasted garlic courgettes and herbs

Winter slaw with Nigella seeds

Potato salad two ways

Local beef tomatoes with buffalo mozzarella, basil and balsamic vinegar

Welsh cheese board with home-made chutney and crackers

Tropical fruit Pavlova’s

tropical fruit pavlova' guest confessed "they were so nice I had to have 3"

Blackcurrant and Cassis baked cheesecake

fresh fruit salad

Mon ar Lwy vanilla ice-cream

and not forgetting the obligatory wedding cupcakes!

If you have an event you would like catered for or would like more information please contact me on the usual Moel Faban Secret Supper Club email address, or phone number….or alternately refer to the new private dining and event catering heading above for more on the types of events we can cook for…

Look forward to hearing from you

Denise x

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Alex James’s Harvest: the full foodie round-up

The Salad Club looked so pretty at night with all the fairy lights lit much more alluring than many of the big food stalls

Another weekend another festival…well that’s kind of how it feels at the moment!  This time though I was working with award-winning food bloggers Ellie and Rosie of Salad club on their street food stall. There were four of us, helping the two of them, making a jolly band of six. The team members included Kirstin whose day job is at Jamie Oliver’s restaurant Fifteen, Izzi, who writes Shepherd Market Sweet Tart food blog, Clare, a friend of mine who stepped in at the last-minute after a helper dropped out and myself. It was a lovely gang and we all got on immediately, sharing our passion for good food and promptly adopting the role of protective foster parents over Ellie and Rosie’s ‘baby’. I don’t think I have ever been surrounded by so many avid foodies (with the exception perhaps of my appearance on Britain’s Best Dish) and it was a great feeling just being on the same food loving wavelength.

The festival itself was a strange one. Not at all typical or what I expected. It was predictably all about the food, while music from the likes of Fat Freddy’s Drop, the Kooks, KT Tunstall, Benjamin Francis Leftwich (the ones I got the opportunity to see) provided an added bonus. It was clean, polite and considerably posher than the usual festival I tend to frequent. Wellies were more a fashion accessory than necessity. I guess all this was understandable since the Cotswolds is a pretty affluent area and food festivals tend to attract visitors with a higher than average disposable income. It was clear that many of the visitors lived in the Oxfordshire and Cotswolds area as indeed did most of the traders. It’s not a festival than I would have chosen to go to had a not been working there, but we had fun all the same.

It was on the Friday evening as we got ready to open for business, that it all became a bit weird. Rebekah Brooks (of News International phone hacking scandal) wandered past the stall and Alex James, once cool bass player with Blur stood at an inflatable tent flogging cheese on toast, the cheese being from his less than convincing Asda range.  Jeremy Clarkson rolled up in his Range Rover and on Saturday David Cameron wandered past baby strapped to his chest. So having got myself all excited over hugging and being photographed with Alex I promptly went off him, after seeing his choice of friends and tasting his curry flavoured cheese (heavy on the cumin and not much else). You can call me fickle if you like, but I like a man with taste and a high moral code.

Alex chatting to Rebekah Brook.....unfortunately didn't manage to snap her and the PM cosying up in the same field..he appeared on Saturday

As a few of us stood around his stall tasting samples from his range, while being given the hard sell by his publicist. I felt quite depressed about the fact that people actually want to buy bread shaped cheese slices flavoured like tomato ketchup. I wondered what was the matter with ‘normal’ cheese, good old-fashioned mature cheddar and when did we lose the ability to cut our own cheese or add tomato ketchup when it’s cooked? As for curry flavoured cheese….less said the better I think.

The chefs table...which sadly I didn't get to sit at

I guess Alex’s cheese, and not getting the chance to eat at the chef’s table (a rather lovely festival ‘restaurant’ featuring dishes created by Stevie Parle and Yotam Ottolenghi to name two), were the two culinary low points of the weekend but the rest of the foodie stuff was just fantastic.

So good in fact that I don’t know where to begin: Brewed Boy selling the smoothest, creamiest Square Mile coffee…..

Real proper burgers from Meat Wagon…thank you Yani for keeping us fed….

Meat Wagon

Real proper burgers

Brownies and ice cream from Choc Star gave us just the sweet kick we needed as we grew tired on the Sunday afternoon…perfect with yet more coffee, this time from the Little Green Coffee Machine, our lovely adrenalin and caffeine fuelled, pirate themed, hoolahooping next door neighbours….

choc star menu

fudge brownies yummy

brownies and ice cream...even more yum!

The Little Green Coffee Machine

I came home with a whole smoked Brie offered at traders price by Hall’s Dorset Smokery. It was absolutely delicious, possibly even subtler in flavour than from my usual provider…..the excellent Prosecco from Saltyard….beautiful dried rose petals and buds for the wedding i’m cooking at this weekend from Herbal Pantry and Fair Trade chocolate from Plush.

Whole Smoked Brie from Halls Smokery

beautiful dried flowers and herbs from the Herbal Pantry

I was like an excited schoolgirl meeting Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, which as some readers might have gathered is my strange foodie crush and watching him cook and tasting the food from his demo made my day. Yes I did become a touch giggly, tongue-tied and a hot and bothered imbecile when I actually got to talk to him. I was slightly more composed meeting Stevie Parle from the Dock Kitchen and even managed an intelligent conversation about visiting his restaurant and the lovely Tamarind sorbet he made. Sadly I didn’t get to meet Yotam Ottolenghi, but I did watch his demo and taste one of his dishes, a simple prawn and feta topped stew which was lovely. He really is the master of spices.

Stevie Parle's demo

photo opportunity with Stevie

Yotam Ottolenghi

diving into his dish as it was passed to the audience


Hugh with phallic vegetables

me getting all hot and bothered

Jay Rayner Observer food critic and friend of Ellie and Rosie’s paid us a visit at the stall on Sunday. I didn’t tell him I knew his mother (having once worked with her in my earlier career) and I’m ashamed to say I totally abused my position mercilessly bending his ear about Moel Faban Secret Supper Club and thrusting my card into his unsuspecting hand while serving him wraps. I couldn’t resist. It was an opportunity not to be missed. He was very gracious but got his own back when I insisted I HAD to take a picture of him (for the blog of course). When he left the girls laughed at me and told me I was shameless. Oh well, you don’t get anywhere by being coy!!

Jay Rayner at the that two wraps you wanted? 🙂

It was also great to catch up with Charlie Beldam of Cotswold Gold. He’s come a long way since we first met at Ms Marmitelovers produce market two years ago, now having no less than nine Michelin starred chefs using his Rapeseed oil! It was great to discuss our personal triumphs and long may his continue, he has a great product.

All in all it was a brilliant, if slightly surreal, weekend. We all worked hard and the salad club wraps flew…the Saturday rush left us feeling like we’d been hit by a truck! It must have been one of the most popular foods on sale at the festival (it certainly felt like it) and deservedly so. We ate a few ourselves. The simple combination of flavours worked perfectly; hot smoky chorizo or halloumi, a creamy butterbean and rosemary hummus, fresh beetroot and carrot slaw with sesame and Nigella seeds and sharp salsa verde with a little kick of chilli…all wrapped up in a holy land bakery flatbread.

filling the wrap

finished and wrapped up...ready to eat

Ellie and Rosie had worked hard to perfect the formula and it was spot on. They were also the loveliest people to work with and for and they looked after us well; they fed us, kept us in beer, tried to make sure we had plenty of fun time and bought Prosecco for us all to celebrate. Even the sun shone, a nice little bonus considering the forecast had promised rain, storms and hail….which finally arrived on Sunday night…as we headed home after a  fantastic weekend.

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For the love of food and music

The Green Man

Food, as you might have guessed is my main passion in life, but this is closely followed by my love of music. What better way to combine the two than a music festival, with a taste for good grub.

The Green Man festival (yes, I know, this is my third Green Man post, and I’m sorry if I’m getting boring, but there was so much more to my time there than just cooking for the crew) ticked both the boxes for me and I thought I’d just share a few of my musical and gastronomic highlights from the weekend. With so much to choose from it was hard to know what to eat; chorizo, smoked produce, Goan fish curry, falafel, Italian…mostly we ended up choosing from the stall that was closest to whichever stage we were at!

olives, garlic and dolmades to nibble

I felt truly spoilt to be awarded the festival ‘off’ and so I had the privilege of whiling away my time eating great food and listening to some amazing music…certainly a few drinks also passed my lips…you really can’t top a hot brandy chai on a chilly Sunday evening, particularly when accompanied by some amazing electroswing from the up and coming band The Correspondents.

Another Sunday highlight was the roast dinner my sister and I had promised ourselves, from Harefields Bakery and Roast. Owned and run by Davey Chambers, last seen on The Great British Bake Off, who assured us of the quality and provenance of the grub they serve.  We weren’t disappointed as we tucked into a massive plate of gammon, roasties and fresh veg, washed down with a glass or two of red wine as we watched Laura Marling, who held as rapt with her beautifully haunting voice and melodies. A strong follow-up to the bass heavy, Mercury music prize nominated, James Blake, one of my personal favourites of the weekend

Harefields...purveyors of fine festival roast dinners

With the heat of the sun on Friday we consumed plenty of ice cream and icy cold smoothies whilst lazing on the grass by the Green Man pub stage where we took in a great performance by The Ramshackle Union Band and nibbled on olives, dolmades and preserved garlic…phew I’m sure we reeked by the time we moved over to the far out stage for Admiral Fallow and Lia Ices. The highlight of Friday night for me was Bellowhead. I’m a great lover of rousing folk and a bit of sea shanty thanks to my acting and shanty singing step-father Brian. They didn’t disappoint one bit and there was a great deal of jigging about done by all.

A quick trip to the fantastic Thali cafe followed for a post band snack (which they very kindly gave me for free as crew caterer…the owner said “well if you feed them, we’ll feed you” …they’ve always been a favourite of mine and now I know why. Not only are the thalis fantastic, they are just bloody lovely people) before heading back to Chai Wallahs for more dancing, this time to Featurecast and Don Headicutz. My memories are vague about when I returned to my tent, I think I went round in a circle for a while, but suffice it to say I didn’t feel too well on Saturday morning.

Social interaction skills eluded me the next morning as I donned dark glasses to head to the main stage to watch the angelic voiced Lisa Jen Brown and 9Bach. Perhaps not quite enough to blow the cobwebs away, but a lovely start all the same. It was only a beef and onion pie, with lashings of gravy from pieminister, that made me feel slightly human again, as I headed off for a bit of Chailo Sim at the far out stage. A perfect set, by a perfect band. Ropey as I felt, there wasn’t much that could top that mornings music.

All hail hangover cure ever!

Later we returned to the far out stage for a sadly disappointing Polar bear and some jerk chicken.

jerk chicken rice and peas

I wasn’t ready for spicy and it nearly killed me off, nice as it was, while Polar Bear failed to hit the spot either. The highlight of Saturday for the teens was Noah and the Whale and Fleet Foxes…i’m not a massive fan of either but both were good.  I only made it through a small part of the Fleet Foxes before lack of sleep the previous night caught up with me and my tent and blow up bed called…

Of course Sunday was a different matter and following our lovely Sunday dinner….our main stage encampment moved up to Chai Wallahs yet again for the sublime Submotion Orchestra (another massive hit with all of us), followed by far out stage headliner Gruff Rhys. Poor Aidan, determined to stay up for the fireworks slept curled under a blanket, until it was time for the burning of the Green Man.

The Green Man burning

At half past midnight there was just enough time to stop off at the tea and toast wagon, a Green Man institution, for a tomato, basil and mozzarella toastie…the perfect end to the best festival weekend.

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