Monthly Archives: December 2011

Merry Christmas to you all!

And now the dust is settling on another Christmas day and Boxing day is upon us I thought it a good time to wish you all a very happy Christmas. I hope santa was good to you and you are surviving the festivities. I’m very happy that I’ve done my bit and now I’m looking forward to being entertained by a variety of friends and family, both in Wales and in London when we head off in a day or so.

I find Christmas dinner quite difficult as I live in a house of turkey haters, Christmas pudding avoiders, semi-vegetarian awkward kids. The teen only eats chicken NOTHING else that has lived, no Christmas pud, no cooked vegetables, no custard, mince pies or other Christmas type food… while the little one eats almost anything except Christmas pud. This year saw a change to the traditional Christmas menu. We tried to include everyone’s favourite dishes…..this is what we ended up with

Starters for the teen…

Smoked halloumi salad

We stuck to tradition with our main course opting for

Roast Anglesey capon (from Williams my local butcher) with home-made traditional sage and onion stuffing, sprouts with dry cure bacon and chestnuts, roast potatoes, carrots, vanilla salted parsnips and purple sprouting broccoli

To finish we departed from tradition. Inspired by our recent visit to Cennin (review of which is to come) and at the request of my youngest we decided to have a rich chocolate fondant with home-made mint choc chip ice cream.

We washed dinner down with plenty of Clementine bucks fizz and white wine and followed it up with a doze in front of various Christmas films.

Now I am off to my friends to share our left overs. Take care all and have a lovely few days

Denise and all the Moel Faban family xx

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Best roast potatoes ever!…Sarpo Blue Danube

I recently paid a return visit to The Sarvari Research Trust at Henfaes where David Shaw, the Director of Research gave me a guided tour of the farm and told me about the work they carry out there.

Sarpo varieties

The Sarvari Trust is a not-for-profit spin-off company of Bangor University that breed a new, late blight resistant type of potato. Sarpo (pronounced sharpo) potatoes yield heavy crops, are grown with low chemical and energy input and are GM free, they are also very resistant to virus diseases.

The potatoes were first grown in Hungary by the late Dr Sarvari Snr, who was director of Keszthely Research Institute (now University of Pannonia Georgikon Faculty of Agriculture, Potato Research Centre). At the request of his Soviet bosses he developed a hardy strain of potatoes that could be grown across the USSR and which would survive the ravages of the harsh climate and disease.

Our own climate in Wales although not as harsh as the Russian one, is somewhat inclement, so a hardy blight resistant potato is well needed. They also have a naturally long period of dormancy which means they will keep well without refrigeration and won’t prone to sprouting. They are perfect for the kitchen gardener, or allotment holder that wishes to store their potatoes through until the following spring and who like their crops to look after themselves!

I wondered if this blight resistance would have an effect on taste and David gave me three varieties to take away and try. The Sarpo Mira (a good general purpose floury main crop potato, recommended for baking, roasting and chipping), Kifli (an early main crop, quite waxy and best cooked as salad potatoes in their skins) and the Blue Danube (early main crop, best mashed, chipped, baked and for general purpose).

Blue Danube...with their lovely purpley blue skin colour

I decided to try the Blue Danube first and see how they roasted and oh my goodness! They were delicious. I part boiled them for 5 minutes and then tossed them in hot vegetable oil that had heated in a roasting pan in the oven. This is the secret to good roast potatoes…the oil must be spitting. Sprinkle with a little Halen Mon sea salt and return to the oven on a high gas (6 or 7, 220 degrees) for about 45 minutes until golden brown. Wehen I took them out they were light and fluffy on the inside and beautifully crisp on the outside. I smiled at their perfection and I have to admit I could hardly stop eating them. They didn’t last long. they were also good sauteed, taking on a similarly golden crispiness and the other two varieties were just as good, passing the taste test with flying colours.

sauteed potatoes...golden and crispy loveliness

If you want to try your hand at growing Sarpo potatoes they are exclusively stocked by Thompson & Morgan the gardening experts.  I know I will be sticking a few Blue Danube in my veg patch next year!



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Looking for a last minute Christmas present…how about an exotic cookery course?

I sell both supper club and cookery course vouchers but there are certain cookery skills I do not have and sometimes its better to leave things in the hands of others that know how. Which is exactly what I did for my other half. It was his birthday last week.

Maggie & Sean working together

The other half is not an easy man to buy for and the only two things on his Christmas and birthday list this year were a sea safety course and a chain saw. Great! Just what I want to buy.

In an inspired moment after a chance meeting I decided to buy him a half days cookery lesson. Those that know him will laugh, but it wasn’t any old cookery course in fact it was a West Indian pattie making course. Why? you may ask. Having grown up in and around Moss side in Manchester he grew up eating Jamaican Patties (which for those that don’t know are spicy meat or vegetable pasties). The pastry is quite different; yellow in colour but as I have discovered without the secret of how to do it, an authentic pattie is difficult to recreate….and trust me I have tried at his insistence.

So I decided he could learn the skill for himself so I contacted Maggie from Maggies exotic foods and The Melting Pot Cafe. We had a few conversations and we set a date for her to come and spend an afternoon teaching him.

We managed to keep it secret despite his constant questioning “will I be learning a new skill?” yes we said “do I have to take my clothes off”? um, definitely not!

He only guessed what he would be doing when Maggie arrived. He was nervous as hell but Maggie was a wonderful teacher explaining everything to him patiently. They banned me from the kitchen, which was quite nice but also a little disconcerting. I could hear them chatting and it all sounded very relaxed and basically good fun.

At the end of the session Sean proudly presented his cooked patties….they were delicious and very moreish! He now has the skill to make more and I will no longer get hounded to make them…so we are all happy! Seans verdict? The most unexpected, random but fun and useful present…he was a very happy man.

Maggie doesn’t only cook patties so if you would like to book her for an exotic cookery course she can be found at;

Maggies Exotic foods, The Red Lion, 19 High Street, Penygroes, Caernarfon LL54 6PL

Give her a call on: 01286 880650 or 07949 589736

You can also drop her an email via her website


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I’m back!…Christmas markets & supper clubs

Last week was a whirlwind of activity, beginning with a pop-up cafe and jam & chutney stall at the Ogwen Christmas produce and craft market and finishing with three back-to-back supper clubs.

The market was reasonably simple cooking lovely dry cure bacon baps, home-made Moroccan chick pea and spinach soup and Welsh rarebit (made with strong Welsh cheddar and ale) and chutney:….but it was a busy day. I hadn’t anticipated it being so busy and since we were not allowed to use the bigger chapel kitchen I ended up stuck in a tiny poky kitchen with very little surface space, no electric and a boiler that seemed to take for ever to heat! People queued for coffee and we waited….and waited….but all was well in the end and we sold out of bacon, baps and Welsh rarebit…I also sold out of jam & chutney which pretty much put paid to my second stall at the Moelyci Christmas fair…but Sophie of Phia designs (my wonderful seamstress friend that makes all my table linen, napkins, aprons and the most gorgeous little hemp bags which I used for my Christmas hampers) stepped in to sell her lovely fluffy scarves, hats, bags and other stuff made from recycled organic cotton and materials. All I had left from the market were enough jars and bags to make four hampers; which I also sold.

Jam and chutney depleted and with two days break, it was time for three back to back supper clubs. Now I like a challenge but on this occasion I was just plain silly…I got carried away at the planning stage because I wanted to cook everything, so I ended up not only offering a menu choice but three starters, three mains and three desserts; which I cooked on my own. Crazy woman…yep thats me! The dishes were as follows…but you have to forgive my lack of pictures…cooking and photography were one step too far!


Beetroot soup with creamy goats feta

Classic Conwy moules mariniere

Chicken liver parfait with soda bread toast and fruity chutney


Slow roast Moelyci pork, roast potatoes and slow cooked spiced red cabbage

Chicken breast stuffed with basil butter and wrapped in local pancetta, potato dauphinoise and ratatouille

Wild nantmor mushroom risotto with white truffle oil


Sticky chocolate brownie with mincemeat ice cream

Boozy blackcurrant trifle

Seasonal fruit crumble with creme anglaise

I spent the week cooking in bulk although  the menu was  actually a simple one with lots of scope for pre-preparation. The soup, trifle and brownie were Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipes; the mushroom risotto I adapted from a River Cafe recipe and the chicken from a Jamie Oliver recipe.

The mincemeat ice cream was my own, successful creation and the mussels, crumble, pork, dauphinoise and ratatouille are standard combinations I regularly cook. I made two different pate variations, one my own which I wasn’t totally convinced by and a second (a Raymond Blanc parfait recipe) that I liked even less. Everyone else really liked both, but I was looking for something lighter and creamier and both recipes I used made a rather strong pate.

For those that asked and are keen to know, the ingredients used in the meal came from the following local suppliers….

Smoked salmon – Derimon

Anglesey eggs

Calon Wen butter (salted and unsalted)

Home-made damson vodka, creme de cassis, tomato and tomatillo chutney, beetroot relish, carrot relish and tomato and chilli jam

Bramley apples, beetroot, red cabbage, potatoes, onions, parsley and garlic from Pippa & John at Tyddyn Berth

Sarporo Blue Danube potatoes, peppers, aubergine and tomatillos – David Shaw at Henfaes

Conwy mussels

Moelyci pork (very happy pigs)

Anglesey chicken, Chicken livers and Wrexham pancetta came via Williams the butchers or Johnny six as they are known locally

Nantmor shiitake and oyster mushrooms 

Thyme and rosemary and bay from my garden

raspberries and black currants from Moelyci

Halen Mon salt

Petros olive oil

Perl las blue cheese

Seriol and feta Y Cwt Caws

Caws and Farmhouse cheeses from Rhyd y Delyn

and I think that might be it!!….Truly a 30 mile Christmas menu! Here are a few pictures from the evenings…there aren’t many as we were so busy and no pictures of desserts which is an absolute crime!!

Christmas seduction cocktails (named by Rosie the waitress)...apparantly it was a 'sexy' cocktail that needed an appropriate name!!...

beetroot soup with goats cheese feta
pate with tomato & chilli relish and toast
talking to guests

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Supper club spaces

Just a quick note to say that we still have a few spaces left for our Christmas Secret Suppers…no turkey, just yummy seasonal produce (with a tiny festive twist).

As there is a menu choice for these I need to place orders so the final date by which bookings need to be confirmed is SATURDAY 10th DECEMBER…….so, if you would like to join us please call or text on 07775 828769 and I will get your email address and forward on menu choices and details.

Denise x

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Lunch on the farm

Its brilliant being able to work in an area that I love but sometimes working most weekends is hard, especially for my family who do after all live here too. So it was a pleasant change to have a midweek job away from home, this time a business lunch for fifty.

Cake fest

Yummy Moroccan chick pea and spinach soup

This was only the second business lunch that I’d catered for so I was I admit filled with a certain amount of trepidation as well as a lot of excitement. The menu for the North Wales branch of the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens training day was simple and hearty and included lots of things that I love to prepare; seasonal soups made with locally grown vegetables, home-made bread, cheeses, fruit and lots of cakes! Very fitting seeing as some of my suppliers were actually attendees at the event. At the last-minute I discovered there were several gluten-free people and I had to include dishes for vegetarians and vegans…well i’m always happy to accommodate so I tried my best to give everyone something yummy.

I made an unexpectedly gorgeous Moroccan chick pea and spinach soup, intended for the vegans but it became the hit of the day for everyone. I also made a leek and potato soup for the traditionalists, supplied baps from the local bakery as well as some home-made oat and rye bread spread with plenty of Welsh butter. I tried my hand at gluten-free flat breads accompanied by butter bean and rosemary hummus which also appeared to get the thumbs up.

After this guests tucked into a Welsh cheese board (Dragon cheddar, Y Feni, Perl Wen and Perl Las) with oat cakes and my spiced courgette chutney plus a variety of desserts that included lemon drizzle cake, flap jacks, gluten-free chocolate brownies and baked cheese cake all topped off with some blackcurrant compote and double cream. I hoped they would like it and they did. Its lovely getting positive feedback and makes a fun job even more enjoyable.

Among the familiar faces at this North Wales networking event were plenty of people I didn’t know and it was nice to chat to a few of them and find out what they do, as well as getting the chance to take part in one of the organised workshop home made pizza in a clay cob oven. The builder,  Rik Midgley is a well-known local ceramicist who also makes cob bread ovens and pottery kilns. Some people might have seen his work at festivals across the country (his dragon a Glastonbury was quite outstanding). On this occasion he made a small single chamber bee-hive shaped oven in which a fire was built, allowed to burn for a couple of hours and then removed to make space for the food to cook. The food bakes in the heat that has built up inside the oven.  The speed with which the pizza cooked was amazing…and it tasted fab too. Not having had any of my lunch I was just ready for a bit of al fresco pizza and a cup of tea made over the camp fire!

Topping the part baked pizza dough

pizza in the cob oven

At this point I had to leave but before I did I promised David Shaw, the Director of Research at the  Sarvari Trust that I would pay a return visit to take a look at his Sarpo blight resistant potatoes as well as the other unusual produce he grows down in the greenhouses at Henfaes. More on that to follow.

If you fancy making a cob oven in your garden, or on your allotment they are surprisingly easy to construct and there are directions on Riks website to help you…just follow the links for making bread ovens.

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Recipe: Beetroot tart tatin

One of the hits of supper club this weekend were the little beetroot tart tatin’s I served as a starter. Beetroot is another of those quintessentially English ingredients that have fallen out of favour, but right now it is in season and if people only knew how delicious beetroot is they would be flocking to buy it.

Its lack of popularity these days has a lot to do with the pickled variety. Horrific memories of jarred beetroot tasting of malt vinegar were enough to put a person off for life, but put these thoughts out of your head and look deeper and you will soon discover that there are so many other ways of preparing and eating beetroot. It has a natural sweetness that makes it versatile in so many dishes and has a long growing season which means it retains its place on the menu almost all year round.

In the summer months it is perfect just scrubbed and grated in a salad, you don’t even need to peel it. It makes a delicious and unusual hummus or cooked in a risotto adding a lovely reddish pink colour. If you desperately want to save it for the late winter/early spring when the season ends then you can preserve it, not in the awful malt vinegar but as a chutney or relish, or for a more exotic dish try making the famous Ukrainian cold soup borscht, topped with a little sour cream.

It makes an equally good hot soup in the winter, topped with plenty of crumbled feta or goats cheese, or you can use it in a cake like you would carrots in carrot cake (check out Hugh Fearnley Whittingstalls chocolate beetroot brownies or seek out a recipe for red velvet cake that uses beetroot).

I am a huge tatin fan (it might well be one of my signature dishes!) and as far as i’m concerned anything round or sliceable makes a good tatin topping. Why stick with apple when there are so many other things to try!…I’ve made pear tatin with vanilla salted caramel, potato and cherry tomato tatin and traditional of course traditional apple, but this time beetroot was my ingredient of choice; freshly picked from Pippa and John’s small-holding in Bethel and baked in a case of crisp rough puff pastry (which is much easier and quicker than puff pastry). Served simply with some fresh baby spinach leaves, deliciously creamy goats cheese pearls from Y Cwt Caws and a sweet and sharp apple balsamic vinaigrette. The small tarts made a fantastic and striking starter but you can easily turn it into a larger tatin for a wonderful lunch or supper or supper for friends or family.

Beetroot tart tatin:

For the rough puff pastry I used Hugh Fearnley Whittingstalls recipe in everyday…its a good basic recipe;

300g plain flour, pinch of Halen Mon sea salt and 150g cold unsalted Calon Wen butter.

Cut the butter into cubes and toss with the flour and salt until just coated. Add really cold water drop by drop until the mixture comes together into a stiff dough.

Shape into a rectangle and roll out until it’s about and inch thick then fold into three like I have in the picture below, then give it a quarter turn so the seam is on the left…like a book.

Repeat this procedure 5 times and then wrap the pastry in cling film and place it in the fridge to rest for about half an hour.

For the tatin topping:

500g small beetroot, scrubbed and trimmed. No need to peel.

1 tablsepoon olive oil

25g butter

1 tablespoon soft brown sugar

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 tablespoon apple balsamic vinegar

salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to gas mark 5/190 degrees C. Heat the oil and butter in a frying pan or roasting tin, add the beetroot and toss to coat. Add sugar, vinegar, salt and pepper and taste…it may need a little more sugar or vinegar. Cover the pan with foil and place in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes until tender.

Once cooked remove from the oven and arrange neatly in a large tin….if the beetroot are large they may need chopping in half, or if you are using individual tins like I did, they can be neatly sliced to fit.

Pour over any juices adding a little more balsamic vinegar if desired.

Roll out the pastry and cut a circle slightly larger than the pan (or pans). Place carefully over the pan and tuck in any excess around the sides of the beetroot. Return to the oven and cook for 20-25 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown and crisp. Leave to rest in the tin for a couple of minutes and then place a plate over the top of the tin and quickly turn it over. The tatin should come out pretty cleanly. Stand back and admire the results…they always look so effective and have that wow factor…probably why I love them so much!

For the vinaigrette:

1 teaspoon whole grain English mustard

1 tablespoon apple balsamic vinegar

5 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley

chopped spring onion when in season or a small shallot…finely chopped

Mix the ingredients in a clean jam jar and shake well. Trickle over the tatin and serve with some scattered goats cheese pearls, salad leaves or baby spinach leaves


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