Monthly Archives: January 2012

There’s nothing like Sunday brunch to put a smile on your face

You know how sometimes you get those weeks where everything seems to go wrong…or the simplest jobs become difficult and complicated? Well that’s the way it has been for me last week. It started with a broken wrist (the other half) which meant we were down one driver in the house….and trust me that is dire when you live in a rural area and everything is at least five miles away….this was closely followed by several outbreaks of cold/flu, a locked pin number which left me stranded with a trolley load of shopping and needing to visit the local branch (yep, five miles away) to retrieve cash, plus various other events sent to try me which for the sake of discretion I will not divulge here in public!!

Close to tearing my hair out I also wasn’t sure if our very first Sunday brunch would go ahead. I was on the verge of cancelling when I received several late bookings so changed my mind….and I have to say I’m very glad I did.

Despite the hubby’s broken wrist, self-inflicted hangover and general reticence about getting out of bed to help, we couldn’t have asked for a nicer group of breakfast guests and we relished the rare opportunity to sit down and join them. Before they arrived I was a nervous wreck…by the time they left I was happy, smiling and relaxed. I knew brunch was a good idea. I think a decent brunch can cure anything!!

We didn’t really get going until 12.30. I’d been vague about the time and everyone drifted in as and when they managed to find us, but on this occasion it wasn’t a problem. Those that arrived earlier read papers and drank tea whilst we awaited the arrival of the rest.

The menu was as follows…

  • American drop pancakes with either smoked dry cure bacon and maple syrup or blackcurrant compote and Rachel’s dairy vanilla yogurt
  • Potato and scallion pancakes with smoked salmon (from Llandudno smokery), sour cream and dill
  • Red onion and smoked Welsh cheese frittata, slow roast tomatoes with rosemary and home-baked beans with chorizo
  • Home made blaas (from Niamh Shields book Comfort and Spice) and my own toasted spelt and black sesame bread
  • Home made jams and marmalade

As I got down to cooking pancakes the guests relaxed and started chatting and very soon the sound of laughter and conversation flooded the kitchen, a sure sign everyone had relaxed. Even our three-year old guest Orla had fun; rummaging through the box of toys we provided, tucking into pancakes, sausages and fresh-baked bread and she looked at home sitting round the table with everyone else.

Pancakes consumed we moved on to our second course. The tea and coffee pots replenished we all sat down and had a long leisurely chat. It was perfect. Even the other half enjoyed himself despite his ailments! No one could quite belive it when we looked at the clock and it said twenty to three!

It was such a sociable gathering I forgot to take pictures of the food (except the bread)…totally forgot.

Hosting Sunday brunch seems to impact more on family life. With hubby working full-time sometimes he needs a break at the weekend just to flop, so brunch might not happen weekend …but I think it was far too enjoyable to say never again!

Keep an eye out for ad hoc brunch events…the next one will be in the spring. As everyone left Orla smiled and said thank you for the lovely food….oh and here’s what the grown up guests said about it as well 🙂

Denise, thank you so very much for your hospitality today. I can’t tell you how much we enjoyed everything about our brunch, it really was brilliant and we would all love to come again sometime (Steve)

Absolutely delicious brunch enjoyed today, huge thankyou to Dee, family and the other guests. A dull wet Sunday transformed into a very enjoyable food experience (Mark)

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Lazy Sunday brunch

I love a long drawn out Sunday brunch…whether it aids recovery after a Saturday night out, or sets me up for a day of healthy hill walking there’s nothing better to prepare me for the day ahead.

For me the perfect brunch includes lots of different elements; a bit of sweet, savoury, salty, spicy some carbs for energy (and maybe just a bit of oil to settle the stomach…I swear by a fry up to cure a hangover)..

This weekend will see the first in an ad hoc series of Sunday brunches at which we will be giving you the opportunity to sample some of the sausages from the new range I have created with Johnny 6 the butchers (G Williams & son in Bangor) as well as trying other lovely brunch dishes…dont worry vegetarians, it’s not just a sausage fest…there will be plenty of vegetarian alternatives!

If you’d like to join us for the perfect start to your Sunday the menu is as follows……

 

American style pancakes with bacon and maple syrup or blueberries

or

Potato pancakes with smoked salmon and sour cream

followed by:

Home made baked beans with chorizo (or without if you are vegetarian)

Rosemary roasted tomatoes

Smoky cheese frittata

plus

Fresh squeezed fruit juices

toast and jam if you are still hungry

Pots of organic fair trade coffee or tea

the Sunday papers, a log fire, a big table and a comfy sofa

Donation will be £10 a head…yep thats all we are asking…and if you need a hair of the dog you have to bring your own!! Brunch will be served between 11 and 2 and bookings are essential….its kid friendly so don’t be afraid to ask and we will provide toys.

either email on moelfabansecretsupperclub@live.co.uk I will respond immediately so if you don’t hear back try phoning on 07775 828769

or send a message through Facebook or twitter

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Bringing the Middle East to North Wales

Merguez is a type of sausage made of lamb (or beef) that forms part of a North African or Middle Eastern diet. Flavoured with a mixture of spices including garlic, ginger, fennel, sumac, coriander, cumin, turmeric its highly aromatic and slightly spicy with added harissa or cayenne.

Anyone walking past the butchers on Wednesday probably caught a whiff of spices roasting in preparation for our next lot of sausages, lamb Merguez. The chorizo sold out in a day (but never fear if you missed out, they are making more as I write) and we wondered how long it would take these to go.

All at the butchers looked on slightly bemused as I hand ground (my spice grinder blew up that morning!) the roasted spices and their scent filled the air with what Paul described as

“memories of turkey”

Johnathan was less convinced. Not being a fan of spiced food he said to me

“are we putting ALL of that stuff in?”

“yep” I replied and he shook his head.

Once all the spices were ground to a powder and we had our Merguez spice base, we minced the lamb and mixed it with garlic and ginger, sumac, tomato and harissa…finally we added the spice powder sprinkling in enough water to produce a good mix.

After working the mixture well by hand we fried off a couple of small patties to check the flavours. Not enough heat was the verdict, although everyone liked the flavour (except Johnathan…he still didn’t look convinced). We added more harissa which added a little heat but accentuated the spices already in the meat.

Soaked sheep casings were filled with the spiced meat mixture and twisted into sausages. Unlike the chorizo they didn’t have to hang for a week; they were simply left overnight (to let the flavours develop) and then moved to the shop ready to sell. I brought a small bag of the leftover meat home with me to try out. It made fantastic burgers.

I cooked my little burgers on a griddle pan and served them with a simple couscous dish (the traditional thing to serve Merguez with), a dressed green salad and some grated cucumber mixed with natural yogurt.

Couscous:

I’m not a very accurate cook and usually just put a few good handfuls..or what I think is enough for the family. Maybe between 250 and 300g tipped into a large bowl. Cover with enough boiling vegetable stock to cover. Put a tea towel over the top and allow to stand for 10 minutes or so.

Taste a few grains after 10 minutes to check they are soft and tender. If they are fluff the rest of the grains with a fork, if not add a little more hot water and cover for another 5 minutes…but be careful not to add too much otherwise it will become too wet.

Stir in a couple of handfuls of raisins, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, some fresh coriander or parsley, the juice of a lemon and some toasted pine nuts. Check seasoning.

Green salad dressing:

3 tablespoons olive oil or rapeseed oil

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

1 teaspoon course grain English mustard

seasoning

Shake this all together in a sealed jar and pour over the salad. Toss well.

 

 

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Frugal winter minestrone: recipe

We like soup in our house. In fact that is an understatement: We love it! Not just because it makes a quick, easy to prepare supper and is relatively cheap (very important as we head towards the end of January and we’re all feeling the pinch in our pockets), but also because it is damn tasty!

Kids love soup, even when they declare that they hate vegetables, I like it because it is quick to make, low in fat and stodge (unless of course you pair it with some lovely crusty bread with butter), filling and warming on a cold dark winters evening.

One of our favourite soups is minestrone. An Italian staple it is a peasant dish at heart that can pretty much be made with whatever you have left over, plus some pasta, beans or meat.

We have one vegetarian in the family so I like to keep the soup meat free….and then add more stuff at the end.

Minestrone (the big soup)

1 large onion finely chopped

1 large stick of celery finely chopped

1 medium potato diced

2 medium carrots diced

1 medium leek finely chopped

2 or 3 decent sized cloves of garlic finely chopped or crushed

150 – 200g finely shredded green cabbage, spring cabbage or even the leaves from sprout tops. Use whichever you prefer or is available

a bouquet garni (made by tying together a bay leaf, sprig of thyme, couple of parsley stalks and a sprig of rosemary)

1 and a half to 2 litres of water or vegetable stock with 4 tablespoons of tomato puree dissolved in it

4 large tomatoes skinned and roughly chopped

about 50g soup pasta

finely chopped parsley

salt and black pepper

olive oil

Pour a good glug of olive oil (2 tablespoons or so) into a large pan. Add the finely chopped onion and celery and sweat gently over a low heat without browning for about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the carrot, leek, potato and garlic and continue cooking for another 10 minutes until beginning to soften, but not turning brown.

Put the tomatoes into a bowl and cover with boiling water and leave until the skin begins to split. Remove and cool slightly before taking the skin off. Chop roughly. Add to the pan with the shredded cabbage, bouquet garni and stock mixture. Increase the heat a little and bring to a gentle simmer. Half cover with a lid and allow to cook for about 10 to 15 minutes.

After this time add the pasta. We used a soup pasta that looks like a tiny conchiglie shell (that conch shape) called conchigliette. You can buy it in most supermarkets or Italian delis, but any small quick cooking pasta will do…even macaroni if you are really stuck.

You could also add cooked beans at this time as well. Any kind of white bean is good in this soup (haricot, cannellini) and will add more texture and bulk. If you are using beans you could leave out the potato.

Leave to cook for a further 10 minutes or until the pasta is al dente. Add chopped fresh parsley and check the seasoning.

Serve with some really good bread and if you want to make the dish less frugal you can top with a trickle of truffle oil, or a good covering of parmesan…or even some fried cooking chorizo (which I did).

 

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Filed under British food, family budget cooking, home cooking, Italian food, local produce, Recipes, seasonal food

Chorizo making in North Wales

One of the best things I’ve been asked to do this year (so far!) is to work with one of Bangor’s longest established butchers to help develop recipes for their new range of ‘gourmet’ sausages. I like sausages a lot. In particular I like well made, high quality British sausages and fancy sausages…from Merguez lamb, to pork with caramelised onion, anything with apple and herbs, French toulouse…seriously, I love them all!

Down at the butchers our first attempt was to create a good quality cooking chorizo. For those that don’t know chorizo is a type of European sausage made with pork, sweet and smoked paprika and salt, plus various additions such as herbs, wine and cayenne or hot peppers. Spanish and Portuguese chorizo is generally fermented, cured and smoked and is either sweet or picante (hot). This type of chorizo does not need cooking although you can add it to various dishes. My favourite type of chorizo is the uncooked kind, which is just like a sausage but a little firmer and dryer. I have asked the butchers for ‘proper’ cooking chorizo plenty of times so what better place to begin with our gourmet sausage range than to make us some Welsh chorizo.

On Wednesday, armed with my spice box I trundled off to Bangor. Appropriately (but none too elegantly) dressed in white coat and apron, Johnathan and I set to work. Sausage making is as I discovered, quite an art form. The ingredients must be measured very accurately (not like my usual we need ‘just about’ this amount), otherwise the flavours change too much,  particularly the salt content which needs to be exactly 2.2% of the combined weight of meat and fat. Having measured the required amount of ingredients….sorry I cannot divulge the recipe, it’s a secret…we got stuck in with mixing and kneading the ingredients together.

First Johnathan chopped and minced the pork

next we added salt, sweet and smoked paprika from Derimon, fresh garlic from Pippa and John in Bethel plus a few other ingredients. This was then kneaded into the meat. It was hard work. Johnathan told me that it was essential to work the meat for a good amount of time as this is what breaks down the proteins and helps develop the flavours

and what we were left with was a deep red highly aromatic meat which had stained everything from the bowl to my hands! We made up a small patty to fry on the griddle, just to test the flavours and spices. Although the flavour will have changed considerably by the time they go on sale.

The next step was to feed the meat into casings which had soaked for 24 hours. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall suggests in his online pig course to use hog casings and not the traditional sheep intestines used for sausages. They tend to me thicker and slightly white in colour giving the filled sausages quite a pale colour, but this disappears very quickly as the paprika soaks through and the distinctive red chorizo colour develops

.

Next Paul attempted to teach me how to twist and pinch the sausages. I was all fingers and thumbs and took ages unlike the professionals. They made it look so easy!

The sausages were then hung to dry for a week before going on sale in the shop. This first batch will be on sale as testers, with customers being asked to give feedback.

This was on the Wednesday and by Friday the colour had deepened further.

If you would like to be among the first to sample our Welsh chorizo come along to Williams and Son butchers, Bangor High Street (Gwynedd), LL57 1PA between Monday and Wednesday this week.

You could also give Paul a call to reserve yours on 01248 362146

Alternately you could book in to our Chorizo special Sunday brunch on Sunday 29th January. Sausage and Chorizo tasters plus a full breakfast for £10 a head.

Call 07775 828769 to save a place

Denise x

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Mattar paneer: recipe

It’s funny how many variations there are of this simple indian vegetarian favourite, a mixture of fried paneer cheese, peas and tomatoes with spices. I found three totally different recipes just in the books I received at Christmas! It all gets a bit confusing when you are wondering which to try or what might work best.

I’ve made mattar paneer for years and the first recipe (and still my favourite) I ever used was designer Jocasta Innes’s version published in The Sunday Times Complete Cook Book edited by Arabella Boxer. Published in 1983 it was one of the first recipe books I was ever given ( at the tender age of 17) and it remains often used and a firm favourite (although I do sometimes tinker with the recipes and add or substitute things) as you can see by the picture of my slightly grubby and well-thumbed original.

As I made this the other night I also had Niamh Shields version in Comfort & Spice open at the same time…just to compare her Muttar Paneer recipe with my favourite.

One thing I liked about Shields instructions for making paneer cheese was her ability to make it sound very simple, which it really is.  Innes’s recipe tells you to start making it two days in advance, but you don’t have to and over time I realised this, having experimented with the process myself. Shields obviously discovered the same as she tells her readers, it can all be done in an hour.

The rest of Jocasta Innes’s recipe has stayed with me, although I have modified the process a little. It was a favourite when I was vegetarian and has become a family favourite now.

Jocasta Innes...back in the 80's...designer and bohemian, author of lots of cooking on a budget books

For the paneer:

2 and a half litres full cream milk (it must be full cream don’t try it with low-fat), juice of one lemon.

A large piece of clean muslin

Although Innes also added a small tub of natural yogurt this isn’t totally necessary, it worked just as well with just the lemon juice.

Put the milk in a large pan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice. It doesn’t take long for the curds to separate from the whey. Put a colander over a large bowl and line it with the muslin then pour in the curds and whey. Save the whey as you will need some of it later on. The muslin can then be tied up around the curds and then tied around a kitchen tap to continue draining. Leave to drain in this way for about half to three-quarters of an hour. Then fold the muslin around the cheese, put back in the colander and put a plate on top with something heavy. Press flat for half an hour. When you unwrap you will be left with a perfect pat of cheese.

For the mattar:

2 red or white onions finely chopped, 2 large cloves of garlic, a thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled, 1 teaspoon turmeric, 2 teaspoons coriander seeds, 1 heaped teaspoon cumin seeds, 1 green chilli finely chopped, a tin of chopped tomatoes, 250g frozen peas (or fresh if they are in season) , vegetable oil, pinch of sugar.

In a pestle and mortar (or spice grinder) grind the coriander, cumin and a pinch of sea salt. Add roughly chopped garlic and ginger and chilli and pulverize until you have a think paste, add turmeric and mix that in with a small tea-cup of the reserved whey. You should have a think paste/base to the sauce.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large pan and add the chopped onion. Fry gently until soft but not brown. Add spice paste and cook for a  minute or two to release the aroma of the spices stirring so it doesn’t stick. Add another tea-cup of whey and the tinned tomatoes and bring to the boil. We like plenty of sauce so if it looks as though it may become too dry add another cup of whey.

Simmer for about 5 to 10 minutes then add the peas, a pinch of sugar and another cup of why if needed. Simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes. At this point you can take off the heat until the cheese is ready.

Heat vegetable oil in a heavy pan and when sizzling add the cubes of paneer cheese. Fry until golden brown turning with a slotted spoon. You may need to do this in two batches.

Once cooked add to the mattar mixture and return to the heat. Again if it looks dry add another cup full of whey. Stir and simmer for another 10 minutes so that the cheese (which is naturally quite bland) absorbs some of the spice flavours in the dish. Check the seasoning and serve.

Both Jocasta and Niamh serve their dish with a simple salad. I usually throw together some cucumber, tomato, red onion and peppers ( dressed with some lemon, ginger and garlic) and warm some indian bread or if you prefer you can cook some basmati rice with turmeric, saffron, some lemon and a spoonful of ghee or butter. Enjoy!

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Hot sprout top and flower sprout salad with crispy belly pork, red onion, pumpkin seeds and croutons: recipe

Sprout tops have long been a winter favourite, but as far as new vegetables go flower sprouts are quite intriguing. According to a website dedicated entirely to the flower sprout, Tozers the seed company spent some 15 years developing them as a more subtle alternative to the Brussel sprout. They certainly grow like a sprout, attached to a main central stem, but their little purpley-green shaggy leaves are more akin to curly kale.  Health wise flower sprouts they class as a superfood (both kale and sprouts are superfoods) and are jam-packed with vitamins and iron. Even Marks and Spencer got in on the act when they launched a year or so ago claiming that they would be stocking them.

Market garden manager Paul started growing them this year for the first time and I have watched their development with interest. The tiny fluffy buds have now turned into delicate deep purple flowers pretty much the same size as a sprout and they are just right for picking. I thought it was time to give them a try so I dropped in at Moelyci to collect a bag with a yummy weekend lunch in mind.

Saturday was the first clear day we’d had in a while, no supper club, no rain and no other plans so it was perfect for getting on with clearing the veg plots and doing a bit of pruning and weeding. With the excess of Christmas still fresh I’ve been craving salads and fruit, but with some fresh air in the lungs I’d worked up an appetite for more than a few leaves, so in the kitchen I went to rustle up something with a little more oomph.

For me hot salads are the perfect solution to my salad craving during the chilly winter months and so I came up with this. To my little bag of sprout flowers I added a good helping of sprout tops from my vegetable box, some crisp fried (Moelyci) pork belly and a good handful of croutons to keep up my trength for working out in the cold. An earthy mustard dressing with a drop of truffle oil finished the dish.

To make a hearty lunch for two to three people …or four if it forms part of a meal or you want a smaller serving,  you will need;

250g sprout tops or flower sprouts (I used a mixture of both. Make sure you wash them well as the tiny flowers heads tend to hold the dust and soil)

150 – 200g good bread, cubed and made into croutons.

300g diced pork belly (or you can use bacon, pancetta or even chorizo)

1 small finely chopped red onion

a handful of pumpkin seeds

For the dressing I used: 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, a teaspoon of whole grain English mustard (but Dijon is good too), 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon ground nut oil, half a dessertspoonful white truffle oil (omit if you don’t have this) half a teaspoon honey and seasoning.

Put a large pan of water on to boil. Chop pork belly into cubes and put a frying pan on to heat. You don’t need any extra oil to cook the pork belly as it is already quite fatty and will cook in the fat released.

Make the dressing mixing all the ingredients in a screw top jar and giving a good shake. Don’t forget to taste it for seasoning and balance. If it’s too acidic add a tablespoon more of olive oil.

Once the water comes to the boil add the sprout tops to blanch. Bring the water back to the boil for thirty seconds to a minute and then add the sprout flowers. They are more delicate so blanch quicker. Leave for a minute, but make sure the sprout leaves remain bright green and the flowers keep their purplish colour. Drain and plunge into a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process.

Put another pan of water on to boil or save the first lot of water and keep hot.

Once the pork belly starts to crisp remove from the pan and put to one side. If there is a lot of fat in the pan drain most of it off. Toss in the cubed bread and fry over a highish heat until they start to turn golden. If you prefer you can make your croutons by coating in the remaining fat and then cooking in the oven for 20 minutes (gas mark two, 150 degrees C, 300 F) until crisp and golden.

Towards the end of the cooking time throw in a handful of pumpkin seeds and the finely chopped red onion. The idea is that they are just lightly warmed and not cooked until crisp.

When you are ready to assemble the salad, plunge the leaves into boiling water just to reheat and then drain well. Return to the hot pan and toss over a low the heat to dry slightly. Pour over the dressing.

Return pork to the pan and toss everything together so it is hot. Pile the dressed leaves in warm bowls or on to plates and scatter over the pork and crouton mix.

Eat greedily and feel virtuous about feeding yourself such healthy seasonal produce. Even the nine-year old liked it (apart from “those crispy nut things”…he mean’t the pumpkin seeds) 🙂

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A few of my Christmas books

Being an avid foodie its inevitable that friends and family buy me kitchen inspired pressies. Recipe books are of course a favourite. My shelves groan with the weight of them to the point that i’m convinced they will one day collapse!

In amongst this years array of foodie gifts (jams, sweets, biscuits, pate all lovingly made by hand by various friends plus a random bizarre boobie shaped double lemon squeezer) was a decent scattering of new cook books.

One of these, Niamh Shields Comfort and Spice, has been top of my wish list since it came out. Of course as a food blogger I was naturally curious; she was a serious overachiever last year with the release of her book, an evening standard column, a multitude of foodie doors opened to her and the Observer Food Blogger of the year award. Niamh is what the rest of us hard-working bloggers aspire to (and if I’m honest are just a wee bit jealous of).

I was as you may guess pretty happy to unwrap this book on Christmas morning and I spent a good chunk of the day pouring over it. I love her warm, open and natural writing style and her recipes are inspirational and simple to follow. I would recommend this for the novice cook that wants to branch out into more adventurous waters or the accomplished cook looking for new ideas. Many of the recipes remind me of dishes I have cooked in the past or cook regularly at home (chicken and chorizo pie, lentil shepherds pie, flower salads), but there are also plenty of new ideas that I’m keen to try, especially if her spatchcocked chicken with gremolata (which we had for tea last night) was anything to go by. Another must try is her now famous chocolate mousse with honeycomb, just to satisfy my sweet tooth.

The Bonne maman seasonal cookbook was less impressive for me, although the desserts look absolutely heavenly and the first recipe that caught my eye was for lavender buttermilk scones, which I’m looking forward to giving a try. I’m not sure it is deserving of the ‘seasonal’ tag (tomato and orange soup as a spring dish?) and the liberal use of jam in everything from sweet to savoury dishes doesn’t totally appeal, but it has provided some inspiration already. I decided to try adding a dessertspoonful of home-made blackcurrant jam to my version of baked beans instead of a bit of sugar (to counteract the acidity you sometimes get with tinned tomatoes) and it worked amazingly well!!

I’m always on the look out for authentic indian cook books and The Three Sisters Indian cookbook offers a simple guide to some of the more well-known dishes (chicken Rhogan josh, murgh, korma). There’s nothing like proper, well cooked indian food made with really good ingredients, its a million miles away from the kind you find at the local takeaway! For me the winning recipes are the indian breads and poori. I love making bread and this gives good tips on how to create home-made naan, chapatis, poori and wraps. I’m also looking forward to trying out some of the traditional desserts. I’ve loved indian sweets since my uncle Alan came back from travelling the hippy trail in India when I was a small child! He regularly brought us gulab jamun and barfi which were so appealing (probably where my love of sweet things originated!)

The last book Raymond Blancs Kitchen Secrets is definitely for the more accomplished and braver cook. I’ve been a fan of his since visiting what was then Petit Blanc (now Brasserie Blanc) in Oxford. Sadly my budget has never allowed me to visit Le Manoir…but that would be my dream!!

The book from his BBC series is full of simple classic recipes (moules mariniere, watercress soup) that sit next to those that are distinctly more complex (exotic fruit ravioli, apricot cassolette) some are more detailed than you might find in the average cook book, at times using techniques the home cook might find difficult to pull off. I sometimes think that cook books by chefs are written in a way only other chefs understand and they make the simplest of cooking processes seem extremely complex.

I have already tried out a couple of the recipes from the book with mixed success; the pollack fillet grenobloise with pomme puree was delicious and chicken with morels (which I substituted for wild mushrooms) with sherry wine sauce which was lovely too, but I had less success with the chicken liver parfait despite being a seasoned cook.

There are more I have yet to try such as the wild duck with blackberry sauce and celeriac puree and the desserts definitely deserve a go even if they do sound a bit complicated! I won’t be put off although others might. I wouldn’t say its a book to use to cook tea from though!!

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Cennin: review

After a flat-out week of Christmas markets, jam and chutney making and three back to back supper clubs I thought it was time someone else cooked for me, so as a pre-Christmas treat while my parents were visiting I booked a table at Cennin.

Cennin (meaning leeks in Welsh) opened about four months ago. Owned by Brian and Ffiona Thomas of MooBaaOink local produce deli in Beaumaris with award-winning head chef Aled Williams in charge. Aled won the Welsh heats of The Great British Menu and was the youngest finalist in 2010, he won the acclaim of Gordon Ramsey back in 2006 and seems to have worked everywhere from the Bathers Pavillion in Sydney to Heston Blumenthals Fat Duck at Bray.

Back home in Wales Beaumaris seems to be turning into the gastro centre of the North..I’ve long been a fan of the loft restaurant and brasserie at Ye Olde Bulls Head and The White Lion prides itself on its use of local produce (although i’ve not eaten there recently so can’t comment on the quality) so I wondered whether they had met their match with Aled moving into town.

Back in October I met Aled in passing at Conwy Feast and watched his demo, praise was high amongst the other chefs for this new venture so I’ve been really keen to visit. It was coincidental that on the day we were due to go I discovered MooBaaOink had won the Daily Post food hero 2011.

Cennin is small and personal. It seats less than thirty and booking is essential at the weekend, although on the day we visited it was less busy. It is a simple unpretentious place, comfortably decorated with local art adorning the walls. Of course as it was Christmas we were also treated to a Christmas tree and tasteful decorations.

We were offered three different menu’s to chose from; the a la carte, December special and a seperate vegetarian (with a really nice selection of dishes). We did struggle a bit because we wanted things off the three different menu’s; Rosie wanted a vegetarian starter but a main off the December menu, the parents didn’t want dessert so went for a la carte, it was all so confusing but eventually we managed to work out the best solution, I had a starter from the December menu so madam could have her chicken and Aidan could have a pudding!! In fact I decided to opt for a vegetarian main. I remember when I was a full-time vegetarian I was always hugely disappointed with the selection that supposedly good restaurants had on offer (mostly uninspired and tasteless) so I thought I’d try one out here.

Rosie opted for a tomato and fennel risotto with pesto to start and she actually ate it all! That is reference enough in itself.

Aidan (the nine-year old) chose sweetcorn soup with Anglesey ham hock and basil oil as did my Dad. The soup was deliciously rich and creamy and totally won us over although the sweetcorn somewhat overwhelmed the ham hock and basil oil.

Mum chose scotch egg of Llandudno smoked haddock, king prawn and Anglesey quail egg with braised leeks, watercress salad and sauce vierge which was her favourite dish of the meal. A unusual and unexpected combination that worked well with the leeks and sauce vierge. Balanced to perfection.

I chose the Ballotine of Anglesey ham hock with Welsh honey mustard and celeriac remoulade. I’m a massive fan of celeriac remoulade and this didn’t disappoint, a perfectly combination of creaminess and acidity . The ham hock was cooked to perfection, delicate, light and melt in the mouth but it was perhaps a little overwhelmed by the remoulade and I hardly tasted the honey mustard (I’m a woman who likes to be hit in the taste buds!!).

For main course Rosie chose the roast breast of chicken with pan-fried chestnut gnocchi, sautéed sprout leaves, wilted spinach and thyme leaves which once again she ate (mostly..the chestnut gnocchi was less popular with her), a sure sign that it was good.

Mum chose the pan-fried fillet of Menai sea bass with peperonata, roasted polenta, aubergine puree and marjoram sauce. Of all the dishes on the night I felt this was the least successful, everything was cooked beautifully but polenta is hard to pull off and is not to everyone’s taste and I know mum wasn’t that keen. She also felt that there was a bit too much peperonata for her taste, although I know she loved the fish.

Dad opted for the grilled fillet of halibut with sun-dried tomato and olive crusted Anglesey potatoes, wilted red chard and verjus sauce which he loved and I went for the vege option of field mushroom, spinach and pine nut filo galette with cumin roasted new potatoes…and I have to congratulate Aled because he impressed me with such a strong vegetarian main course. It really was a lovely combination of woody earthy mushroom, crispy filo pastry and a lovely rich sauce.

Aidan went for a burger and chips…oh well!

The food was fantastic, the service friendly and efficient I couldn’t fault it. My usual bug bear…portion size, was not an issue and actually we were so full even I turned down dessert (although I did ‘help’ Aidan out with his). Aidan just HAD to have a chocolate fondant with white chocolate bubbles and mint choc chip ice cream. I have to say it was the bubbles that enticed him but these were the least impressive part of the desert (I’ve never been one for froths, foams and bubbles!!). The fondant on the other hand was sublime as was the ice cream. We almost fought over it and I wished I’d ordered my own.

I have to say I loved Cennin. Everything was beautifully presented, but it wasn’t just art on a plate, it did actually fulfill the role that a meal out is supposed to; it filled me up. I knew I’d eaten well. Okay it might be a bit on the pricey side for most people in North Wales but perhaps that’s also the result of us not being used to having top quality, high-end restaurants around here. His attention to detail, use of high quality local produce and commitment to local suppliers justifies the price tag and although it would stop me from eating here regularly, it certainly wouldn’t stop me from coming back….in fact wild horses won’t keep me from Cennin and I can’t wait until my next visit.

At the end of the evening it was a pleasure to meet and chat to Aled and it was easy to see how much he loves what he does……oh and the little matter of the Daily Post food hero award? Well no competition really…they deserve every bit of their success.

Cennin is open Tuesday til Sunday 6.30pm til 9.30pm

For further information and to make a booking call 01248 811230

13 Castle Street
Beaumaris
Anglesey
LL58 8AP

info@restaurantcennin.com

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Filed under British food, eating out, Eating out with kids, local produce, North Wales restaurants, Uncategorized

….and that was 2011: a review of our supper club year

Now that the dust has settled on Christmas and I’ve had time to sit back and think about the past year, I’ve realised just how much we’ve achieved….and wow its been a real rollercoaster! I thought I’d share a few of the many high’s (and far less low’s) of 2011 with you.

For those in the know we’ve come a long way in a short space of time…there can’t be many supper clubbers with such humble beginnings….I was made redundant, my money had run out and I was signing on…with fifteen job rejections, a mortgage to pay, two kids and a marriage that was under increasing pressure as the reality of living on one salary took its toll it was time to do something. Things were getting really tough and I was pretty down. But then I had this mad idea. “Let’s set up a supper club, there are lots of people doing it now in London”…I knew we could do it and I thought it would be fun at least while I was searching for a ‘proper’ job. The family went along with it and so I chucked the last of my cash and a great deal of dole money into funding and setting up the first Welsh supper club. We scoured charity shops and boot fairs to find plates and dishes as enthusiastically as I put my creative energy and love of writing into this blog. It was a risk but I had little left to lose. I didn’t know if it would work up here in the mountains of Wales, if anyone would read my work or come and eat my food so I gave it a year. That was October 2009 and a year on there was no going back.

Two things happened at the end of 2010 that made me carry on. First Rachel’s dairy emailed me and asked me to sample and write about some of their products; that made me realise that people were actually reading my blog and second ITV contacted me and asked if I would consider being part of Britain’s Best Dish.

2011 began with a whirlwind of auditions and TV filming. Had I anticipated how far I would get in the competition I might have attempted to cook something more exciting than a trifle! But it was amazing to win for Wales and a huge amount of fun. I met some inspiring people (Sarah of Food for Think, Julie who went on to start her own supper club the Raspberry bush supper club in Blaenavon and of course Conor the 14-year-old lad who eventually won over all). At the same time I started a Creative writing MA at Kingston University but as the success of supper club grew and the lack of academic jobs remained I took another bold step and registered as self-employed, this took my catering to a business level. Helped by a small business grant from Menter a Busness and financial help from an old and good friend (you know who you are) I had enough to buy basic equipment, stock and insurance and so I was away!

In between all of this….

the local produce market committee asked me to join them in establishing a monthly market for my town Bethesda (Gwynedd) and to run a pop-up cafe; both have been a roaring success and huge amounts of fun.

I’ve made jam and chutney by the vat-full and people have bought it and come back for more.

I’ve taken our supper club from being a monthly hit and miss dinner to being fully booked a month in advance, usually with a waiting list.

and I’ve cooked some lovely food, found and developed new recipes and surprised myself a lot!

Still our financial fortunes were not great…there were times I had to borrow money from family and friends just to fund supper club and I still had to cancel occasional dates due to low-interest and lack of money. These days we are so well established this no longer happens. I have also built great business relationships and trust with most of our local producers.

I have cooked for some lovely, wonderful people and have forged great friendships (including lots of the wonderful local producers that supply the most amazing produce) and supper club retains the same buzz and excitement it did when I began. I have worked with some wonderful local people…Gemma Brook, designer of my jam jar labels and business cards, she faultlessly transferred my ideas on to a jam label; Sophia Ingham of Phia designs for her wonderful supply of beautiful organic cotton table linen, aprons, bunting etc. and for standing in as waitress and jam seller when we need an extra pair of hands; Sean McClearn for chatting up the local ladies who bought jam in response and the small posse of teenage waitresses that are so keen (Rosie McClearn, Elin Cain and all the others that have helped out).

The summer arrived and through Ellie of salad club I got the opportunity to cook for the wonderful crew and production team at the Green Man festival. I met Delyth from Calon y Gegin in Cardiff. She contacted me when she was setting up her supper club so it was a chance to meet in person and work together. It was hard. Sixteen hours a day of flat-out cooking and a very steep learning curve but it was also one of the best months of my life despite the strain it put on me and the family. It was also the first time I’d paid myself properly since going self-employed so that was a major plus!

This was closely followed by more festival catering, this time Harvest at Jimmy’s where I finally met Ellie and Rosie of salad club after two years of email communication. They were the loveliest people to work with and we had a whale of a time. I also met some of my foodie hero’s; Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Stevie Parle and Jay Rayner.

Conwy Feast invited me to cook up a ‘supper club’  alongside accomplished chef Jimmy Williams. It was amazing to cook on the same bill as Bryn Williams, michelin starred chef Bryan Williams and Aled Williams from Cennin (above MooBaaOink). I also met Morfudd Richards and Sian Lloyd and made lots of new friends and fans, including twitter follows from some of my musician hero’s.

I catered for my first wedding and business lunch, both nerve-wracking and hard work but enjoyable and successful

I finished my creative writing MA with a distinction and hopefully my writing has improved as a result.

I finished the year with a nomination for the Daily Post food hero 2011 and although I didn’t win it was still a great honour to be held in the same esteem as the other amazing producers up for nomination and perhaps a fitting end to a year of hard work. The runners-up, Rhyd y Delyn cheese, Helen Holland from Mon ar Lwy ice cream and the clear winner MooBaaOink in Beaumaris were all totally deserving. They too work damn hard to make the best.

…..and on to 2012. What next you may ask. There are plans….lots of them. I want to write more, visit more people to see what they producing and am planning lots of collaboration! There are new supper club dates with a more formal set-up. We will be doing one weekend on and one-off with Friday and Saturday night dinners. I also have four weddings in my diary during the summer months and who knows what else!

For Christmas I was given a little note-book for writing down my recipes! Hopefully this also marks the beginning of what might eventually become a book on modern seasonal Welsh food (for all the family). All I need now is a decent camera and to remember to take some photos!

Also I’d love it if more readers posted their comments on this blog…a little bit of feedback from readers goes a long way 🙂

So a happy new year to you all and I hope it is fantastic, amazing and prosperous. Maybe I will see one or two of you around the supper club table

Much love

Denise & co xxxxx

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Filed under produce markets, secret supper, Uncategorized, underground restaurant