Monthly Archives: March 2012

Competition update!

Congratulations to our randomly selected Nantmor mushroom competition winner Olivia Bier.

Well done Olivia, your mushrooms will soon be on their way to you

A big thank you to everyone that entered

Denise x

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St Patrick’s Day dinner

With St Patrick’s Day falling on a Saturday this year it would have been rude not to invite people round to celebrate our household ancestry with us. Even though the diners were (with one exception I think) not Irish at all, it was fun to cook and serve lots of traditional dishes made with a few authentic ingredients ..a bit of Clonakilty black pudding, some white pudding, Cashel Blue cheese, Guinness and rather a lot of Jameson’s whisky…mixed with the best of Welsh produce thrown in for good measure.

Making soda bread

Irish blaas fresh from the oven…to go with the soup

With home-made soda bread and Derimon smoked salmon plus a generous ‘Irish Mule’ to begin, the party got off to a flying start.

IRISH MULE MOEL FABAN STYLE (I looked at a few versions of the Irish Mule but the best version came from the Jameson’s website)

Half fill a tumbler with ice, add a drop of Angostura bitters, a double shot of Jameson’s, juice squeezed from a quartered lime (the quarter added to the glass as well) and topped off with either ginger beer or ginger ale

We continued in true Irish fashion with hearty, belly warming portions of some of the most well-known dishes…plus the odd cry of ‘aah go on..are ya sure ya wont have more now?‘ when people declined seconds!

I’ve never visited the family in Ireland without being plied with enough tea to float a ship and enough ‘sangwiches’ to sink one! Eating, drinking and being merry (in the happy sense) are three Irish imperatives and it of course it would be rude not to offer.

Not a mouthful was left of the creamy potato, leek and onion soup, topped with black and white pudding and a sharp lemony wild garlic puree, although of course I forgot to take a picture….as usual!!

Next came a gorgeous beef and Guinness pie, topped with a rough puff pastry crust and accompanied by colcannon, purple sprouting broccoli and chard (veg supplied by Pandy farm & Moelyci…neighbouring farms in Tregarth). Apart from the colcannon needing a little more butter it was perfect…even if I say so myself! This almost did for our guests who were pretty full already by this point.

Individual beef & Guinness pies ready for the oven

Cooked and served with Colcannon and purple sprouting broccoli

But for me the piece de resistance was the sticky dark chocolate and Guinness cake, topped with a cream cheese frosting and served with confit orange and vanilla cream. I searched high and low for Guinness cake ideas and finally came cross this Nigella recipe. It was unbeatable. Not a bit of tinkering necessary, except to add the bitter-sweet confit orange, which complimented the cake perfectly. I loved the way it looked like a pint of Guinness, although there was only a hint of it in the cake itself.

Chocolate Guinness cake

I think a few people left feeling rather fuller than they’d expected, but then Irish cuisine is not on the light side after all! The cheese was barely touched….pretty unusual for a supper club.

Apart from our waitress going AWOL and not turning up the night went without hassle or incident. It was a rather chilled St Patrick’s night…although I definitely felt as though I’d been kicked in the head by a ‘Irish mule’ when I woke the next morning (they did slide down a little too easily!!)


CAKE: 250ml Guinness, 250g unsalted butter, 75g cocoa, 400g caster sugar, 1 x 142ml pot sour cream, 2 eggs, 1 tablespoon real vanilla extract, 275g plain flour, 2 1/2teaspoons bicarbonate of soda, half teaspoon baking powder (I didn’t add this but I will in the future as my cake sunk slightly in the middle)

TOPPING: 300g Philadelphia cream cheese, 150g icing sugar, 125ml double or whipping cream

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180°C, and butter and line a 23cm springform tin.

Pour the Guinness into a large saucepan and begin to warm. As it does add the butter a slice at a time until the butter’s melted. It will be quite hot so remove from the heat and whisk in the cocoa and sugar. Next beat the sour cream with the eggs and vanilla in a jug and then add to the brown, buttery, beery mixture in the pan. Finally whisk in the flour, bicarb and baking powder.

Pour the cake batter into the greased and lined tin and bake for 45 minutes to an hour. Leave to cool completely in the tin on a cooling rack, as it is quite a damp cake.

To make the icing lightly whip the cream cheese until smooth, add the icing sugar a spoonful at a time and beat together. Add the cream and beat again until it makes a spreadable consistency then spread over the top of the black cake so it looks like the frothy top of the famous pint!

Thanks Nigella for a fab cake!!


Filed under baking, British food, cakes & Baking, home cooking, living room restaurant, local produce, Recipes, seasonal food, secret supper, Uncategorized

*WIN* a gourmet Nantmor mushroom selection & grow your own shiitake block

Tucked away deep in the heart of Snowdonia, just a couple of miles outside Beddgelert in the Aberglaslyn woods is Nantmor; a sleepy village that is home to The Mushroom Garden, a wonderful, innovative company, that cultivates and sells Welsh grown exotic mushrooms. I’ve been meaning to go visit the owners Cynan and June for about two years now and yesterday I finally got round to it!

Just on the edge of the village you might just see their specially designed, temperature controlled units as you drive past, but you would never know just by looking what wonderful secrets lie hidden within. The green unprepossessing lock-ups contain lots of specially prepared fruiting blocks. They start their growing cycle in the “summer” container where the air is warm and humid. Once they begin to produce small popcorn like swellings (the beginnings of the mushroom fruiting bodies) they move into the “Autumn” container which is kept damp and cool and allows the mushrooms to grow in a ‘natural’ temperature. Within a couple of weeks the mushrooms are ready to harvest.

Cynan started The mushroom Garden in 2004 after taking part of a project which aimed to diversify agriculture in North Wales by looking at alternative crop options. The project flourished and the company has since won awards, including a bronze medal at the True Taste of Wales awards in 2011 and The National Trust Fine Farm Product Award in 2009 and fans UK wide. They are permanently on the menu at Castell Deudraeth (the Portmeirion restaurant) and have also been used by Peter Jackson at Maes y Neuadd and Aled Williams at Cennin.

Cynan has himself gained the moniker “the mushroom man” and is often used by the media as a fungi expert.

picure courtesy of The Mushroom Garden

Picture used with permission of The Mushroom Garden

I use these mushrooms all the time, whether its part of a supper club dish, a formal dinner or in my cooking at home. They are fantastic in a risotto where their earthy flavour is predominant, or added as a subtle undertone to a casserole. Last year they formed part of my Conwy Feast dish; slow cooked Venison with wild mushrooms, herbs and local dry cure bacon. It was a winner.

As a special treat, The Mushroom Garden and I have teamed up to offer one lucky reader the chance to win three tubs of  dried gourmet mushrooms, plus their very own mushroom growing block (complete with instructions).

To win just follow the instructions below.

Competition details

You can enter by any of the following methods…but only do it once per method!! If you enter using all four, you have a higher chance of winning. Good luck!

This competition is now closed. The lucky winner was Olivia Bier from Devon. Well done Olivia!!

The winner will be randomly chosen by the Random website
The competition is only open to residents of the UK & Eire
If the winner hasn’t replied within two days to the organiser’s email, a new winner will be randomly drawn.

If you are not lucky enough to win this time and don’t live close enough to visit any of the produce markets where they are sold, The Mushroom Garden are now in the process of setting up an online shop which you can reach by clicking here.

Good luck!!


Filed under British food, local produce, produce markets, seasonal food, slow food, Uncategorized

Something for the weekend?…Lamb Merguez stew for the boys

Sorry to have abandoned you all for a couple of weeks, life has been pretty busy on the cooking and teaching front, which of course is very good, but sadly it leaves less time for writing and blogging. Over the past three weeks I have taught year 10’s doing GCSE home economics how to make pizza from scratch and Danish Pastry; I’ve trained with Dynamo role models and cooked for talented local musicians performing at  Cho Coppock Whittle’s benefit gig (raising money for leukemia research). More on that in a subsequent post.

This week was just as busy as I’d been booked as a private chef by Outreach Rescue to cook for one of their groups for four days, to help out their resident chef Chris. Based in a lovely holiday cottage (Yr Hen Weithdy) in the village of Llanllechid I cooked a three course evening meal for nine fit fireman / search and rescue chaps!…I know, it’s a hard life this catering lark…but someones gotta do it!!

View from one of the windows

Good hearty home cooking was the order of the day as these guys were out on the chilly Menai Straights training from early in the morning. The weather was sunny, but bitingly cold so I opted to make them hot soup, cheesy frittata, spinach and ricotta crepes, which made great starters; followed by big, slow cooked one pot stews and finally hefty man-size portions of cake. Cooking once again on a four ring electric oven (all my ‘Green Man’ demons came back to haunt me!!) where cakes burn in seconds, pots never boil and everything sticks to the bottom, was the only down side.

As the week progressed there were lots of questions…”how did you make that chocolate cake so light”? “What did you do to that meat to make it so tender”?…and comments “I never thought I liked couscous til last night”….”nice baps” and plenty of wind-ups and mickey taking…”yes, it was very average”, “you’re not using a recipe book are you? That’s cheating”!Plus the inevitable…”Britain’s Best Dish…where’s the trifle then?”

I ended up feeling like the wife of nine…especially when one called “Hi darling, I’m home!” as he walked in the door one evening.

Everyone had their favourite dishes, but the undisputed hit of the week was the lamb Merguez stew which I cooked for them on Tuesday. I think it was Si that said “do you give out your recipes?” and I told him I’d just made it up…but here, just for the boys, is the recipe (as I remember it. Sorry if it’s not exactly the same…I didn’t write what I put in and I was too busy to take any pictures!)….

Lamb Merguez stew to feed nine hungry firemen:

2-3 lamb Merguez sausages per person (I got mine at Williams & Sons butchers in Bangor or Johnny 6 as most people know them) cut in half.

2 large red onions diced finely

3 cloves garlic crushed or finely chopped

thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled and grated

2 to 3 medium carrots chopped into batons

couple of potatoes, small egg-plant and a medium courgette cut into chunks

large teaspoon turmeric

large teaspoon cumin

large teaspoon paprika

level dessertspoonful Ras al Hanout

a small teaspoon harissa (depending how hot you like it)

1 small stick cinnamon

1 bay leaf

1 tin chopped tomatoes

olive oil

1 tin cannellini beans

plain flour

1 litre (or so) chicken stock

salt and pepper

fresh coriander

Heat olive oil in a large pan and add onion. Cook gently for 5 minutes until beginning to soften then add carrot, garlic, ginger, potato, eggplant and courgette. Stir in the pan and coat with oil and allow to cook gently for another five to ten minutes without colouring. Add spices and a tablespoon plain flour and stir so everything is well coated and the spices begin to release their aroma. Stir in the tin of tomatoes and stock and bring to a gentle simmer. If it looks too thick add some more water or stock. In a separate frying pan heat a little more oil and add sausages to brown. They only need browning so don’t worry about cooking them all the way through. You may need to do this in two batches. When browned add to the gently simmering stew along with the tin of drained beans and continue to cook slowly for a good half an hour although you can leave this really gently simmering for longer.

If the sauce is too thin you can bubble it a little more vigorously (unless you have an electric cooker like me as it will probably stick to the bottom of the pan!!). Season with salt and pepper to taste and a couple of handfuls of chopped fresh coriander. Serve with a lovely lemony, herby couscous.

I have to finish by saying a big thank you to the nine gorgeous guys that left me speechless with their pressies of flowers, chocolates, wine…oh yes and a book!

Cheeky buggers!!! 😉


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