Monthly Archives: October 2012

Spicing it up with Steenbergs at Conwy Feast

Conwy Feast is my most favourite food festival. Official.

I admit I am somewhat biased. Conwy Feast has a lot going for it. It’s set in the most stunning surroundings, within the walls of Conwy Castle and overlooking the Conwy Estuary, and is right on my doorstep. This of course makes it even more personal because a lot of my friends attend, as do many of my regular supper club / food suppliers. I can’t move but end up in conversation and I love that!

What makes it even better is the superb variety of local music, performance and  entertainment from folk to reggae, latin, capoeira and giant bubbles (yes, lots of friends again…Bandabacana and Tacsi were my two must-see bands this weekend) to enthrall between the tasting and drinking and then just as it starts to get dark and you think it’snearly all over comes the grand finale; Blinc digital arts festival which uses buildings and spaces around the old town as a massive art installation.

Conwy Feast is the second largest food festival in Wales (the biggest in North Wales) and attracts the likes of Bryn Williams of Odettes, Hywel Jones of Lucknam Park and this year Laura Coxeter, vegan and raw food chef from Coxeters Fayre, who cooked along with several well-known local chefs; Jimmy Williams, Elwen Roberts, Angela Dwyer & Ian Watson…plus Gareth Jones, Great British Menu finalist and me!

With this year’s focus on seasonal foods, vegan cookery and local produce I suggested a preserving master class. I’ve run a few designed for beginners and the more advanced, but I wanted to make this one a bit different. For this demo I introduced a variety of more unusual spices kindly provided by the wonderful Steenbergs, UK specialists in organic and fair trade products. I love them and they certainly know their stuff not skimping on quality or beautiful packaging!

I used chilli flakes, mace, star anise, ginger, pink pepper corns and yellow mustard seeds to enhance the flavour of my tomato chillijam and pumpkin marmalade  and a sneaky vanilla pod (plus apple pectin) to pep-up my sugar-free strawberry jam.

I wasn’t sure if the latter was brave or foolhardy as I’d never gone completely sugar-free before, but I thought it was a good opportunity to test it out to see if it would work. In front of a live audience!!

Helped by Stephen, one of the very capable kitchen team from Llandrillo College, compered by Rhun ap Iorwerth BBC journalist, broadcaster and presenter and with my own personal photographer in tow (Kate W photography), I was so busy coordinating chopping, talking to Rhun and stirring three bubbling jam pots simultaneously that I was barely aware of how quickly my demo zoomed by. Before I knew it I had three set jam’s and tasters had been served out to the audience. The pumpkin marmalade was a big hit, the strawberry set even without sugar (proving you can, even if it is a little tart…I’m sure I saw Rhun wince as he tasted it). My one cock-up… testament to my total concentration on stirring and talking… one keen-eyed audience member said to me at the end,

“did you put the cider vinegar in the tomato jam?” to which I turned pale as I realised I hadn’t. Oh well, I’m only human and there was an awful lot to concentrate on. Everyone seemed to like it even without the cider vinegar, although in contrast to the strawberry this one was a bit sweet!!


At the end of the demo I promised the recipes, so here they are

Sugar-free strawberry jam:

1 kilo fresh ripe strawberries (mine were frozen ones from Hootons homegrown)

1 vanilla pod split in half

juice of one lemon

half a jar of Ciro apple pectin (available from any large supermarket)

Put all the ingredients into a large pan. Warm gently over a medium heat until it begins to bubble, then turn up the heat so it bubbles a little more fiercely. Stir occasionally until it begins to thicken. Don’t let it stick on the bottom. Test for a set by dropping a teaspoonful on a cold saucer. If it sticks and doesn’t run off it it’s set enough to jar.

** This jam is more volatile than one containing sugar so should be stored in the fridge. It’s more like a compote than a jam really, so you can eat it with toast or stirred into yogurt. If you find it a little too tart and you want to sweeten it with something, perhaps add a dessertspoonful of Agave nectar as I did when I made it again at home. It cuts through the sharpness just enough and has a lower GI than refined sugar making it a better alternative for those avoiding it.

Tomato chilli jam:

1 kilo ripe tomatoes (I used a selection of Moelyci heritage tomatoes)

a small chunk of fresh ginger (finely grated)

3 cloves garlic finely minced

1 fresh chilli minced or a couple of pinches of dried chilli flakes

1 blade of mace

1 star anise

half a teaspoon of crushed coriander seeds

500g granulated sugar

200ml cider vinegar

Warm the tomatoes, ginger, chillies, garlic and spices in a wide preserving pan with the sugar and vinegar, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Simmer over a medium heat so it bubbles quite briskly, stirring regularly, for about 20 minutes or until the jam has thickened. Pour into sterilised jars and store.

All photographs copyright Kate W photography. Kate is a London based freelance photographer and is available for commissions. Her photographs have been published in The Stage and The Voice magazines.


Filed under British food, cookery courses, festival food, Food festival, home cooking, local produce, preserving, Recipes, seasonal food, slow food, Uncategorized

Preserving masterclass at Conwy Feast

Just a very quick reminder that Conwy Feast open’s tonight with music, cocktails, champagne and a sneak preview of Blinc, the amazing digital arts festival that runs concurrent with the food festival.

I will be talking preserving tomorrow morning at 11.20 in the True Taste kitchen…jam making without sugar, spices to enhance flavour and vegetable marmalade…we will be exploring all of these together, so come and visit armed with those burning questions you always wanted answered..

see you there xx

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Coconutty corn cobs with peanut and chilli (and sort of Jollof rice)

On a recent visit to one of my suppliers (Hootons Homegrown on Anglesey) I was pleasantly surprised to discover sweet corn on the shelves. Not just that, but locally grown sweet corn fresh from their farm. Of course I couldn’t resist; we all love fresh sweet corn, so I picked up four.

My only concern at this time of year was that they might lack sweetness and tenderness. It’s not been the hottest or sunniest summer so rather than risk disappointment I chose to cook them in a African (ish) inspired sauce of creamy coconut milk, roasted spices, fresh ginger, peanut to give a bit of texture and crunch, a little chilli for heat and some fresh coriander. I’m sure it would make a great side dish for grilled meat but we had a vegetarian supper so I paired it with some stir fried spiced eggplant and a sort of Jollof rice (no chicken in this version).

For the coconutty corn cobs you will need:

4 fresh corn cobs cut in half, or thirds if they are large, 1 large tablespoon of groundnut oil, 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds, 1 teaspoon of mustard seeds, 1 finely chopped red chilli (or a good pinch of chilli flakes), 500g fresh tomatoes, skinned and roughly chopped or 1 tin of tomatoes, half a 400g can of coconut milk, 100g of coarsely ground peanuts, a knob of peeled and grated ginger, seasoning

Heat the oil in a large saucepan then add the cumin and mustard seeds. Roast lightly until their aroma fills the kitchen, but do not burn them as they will taste bitter. Add the corn cobs coating well with oil and spices. Add the tomatoes, coconut milk, chilli and ginger.

Put a lid on the pan and allow to simmer gently for about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring now and then. Add a little salt and a bit more coconut milk if the sauce seems dry.

Serve sprinkled with a finely chopped handful of fresh coriander.

Sort of Jollof rice:

1 tablespoon sunflower oil, 1 red pepper, 1 yellow pepper de-seeded and thinly sliced, 1 sliced onion, 2 bay leaves, 2 cloves of garlic finely chopped, a pinch or two of chilli flakes, 3 fresh tomatoes skinned and chopped, 2 tablespoons tomato puree, sprig of fresh thyme, 400g basmati rice, 600ml of chicken or vegetable stock

In a large saucepan sweat the sliced onions and peppers gently in the sunflower oil for about 10 minutes or beginning to soften but not turn brown.

Add garlic, chilli flakes, bay leaves, thyme, tomatoes and tomato puree. Stir for a minute or so, then add the hot stock. Allow to simmer gently for about 15 minutes.

In the meantime wash the rice a couple of times to remove some of the starch, but there’s no need to soak it really.

After the sauce has simmered for its 15 minutes add the rice. Put a tight-fitting lid on the pan (or cover with foil then a lid so no steam escapes), turn the heat down low and cook for about 20 to 30 minutes or until the rice is tender and cooked.

**NB: There are several methods for cooking rice. I usually favour the Caribbean way (learnt from my Trinidadian step-father). He brings a large pan of plenty of water to the boil, tips in the rice and simmer until cooked, as you would if you were cooking pasta. No pre washing or rinsing is necessary and it always works for me. Some would argue that only brown rice warrants cooking in this way but I use all kinds; You just have to stay on the ball because if you over boil it you end up with mush.

In the African method used in this recipe I have added basmati rice to the sauce, placed a lid  on top and left it to cook slowly until the liquid has been absorbed. The result is a stickier dish, but perfect when combining sauce and rice.

There is one other approach. The oven method often favoured in Indian cooking, where rice is to all intents and purposes baked. This produces a dryer textured dish, such as pilau rice.




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

Ginger, orange blossom and vanilla salt cookies

Excited and inspired by my delivery of Steenbergs Organic Fairtrade spices and sad that we had no sweet treats in the cupboard, I was overcome with an urge to bake. Immediately. No hanging around.

There is just something about the prospect of using high quality ingredients that perhaps inspires more than the average brand. The packaging of Steenbergs products is he first thing to catch the eye. The beautifully labelled little jars just make you want to open them up there and then to see what is inside. In my package were an array of ingredients supplied for my Conwy Feast demonstration next Saturday, but being a bit of a child I couldn’t resist having a sneak preview. First I opened the ginger, where you could actually see proper strands, not a mixture that resembled floor sweepings, next came the rose petals, their fragrant aroma filled my nostrils and I imagined other dishes (recipe’s to come another time) but it was the delicate aromatic jar of dried orange blossom that sucked me in. Hmm I wondered, ginger and orange blossom…with just a hint of Halen Mon vanilla salt…and so this cookie was born.

I say cookie, but its more of a ginger snap and is the perfect accompaniment to a nice cup of tea or coffee at three in the afternoon when lunch has worn off and a sugar hit is needed….Ok I should have some fruit, but these salty-sweet, gingery snacks (with the merest hint of orange) tick all the boxes. They are so moorish I dare you not to have more than one!

For the cookies you will need:

150g golden syrup, 120g butter, 350g plain flour (Doves Farm or Shipton Mill is best), 275g golden castor sugar, 2 heaped teaspoons of Steenbergs powdered ginger, 1 teaspoon of bicarb of soda, 1 teaspoon of Steenbergs dried orange blossom, 1 beaten egg  and a good pinch of Halen Mon vanilla salt.

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4, 180 degrees C. Grease a couple of baking sheets as you will need plenty of room for the cookies to expand as they cook.

Melt the syrup and butter in a small saucepan. While this is doing mix the flour, sugar, salt, ginger, bicarb of soda and orange blossom in a large mixing bowl. Add the beaten egg and syrup mixture and mix well. You should have a smooth dough. Roll teaspoons of the dough into balls between your hands and place on the baking sheets, well spaced to allow for spreading during cooking. Bake for about 15 minutes until golden brown. Leave to completely cool on the baking sheet then remove and store in an airtight tin.



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A quick lobster starter

Some girls other halves bring them flowers, others bring chocolate, jewellery, wine, underwear….mine, what does he bring home to woo me? A lobster which he’d named Vinny.

Thanks babe.

Actually, it does sort of impress me, in a weird kind of way. The fact that in true hunter-gatherer style he wrestled it from the sea with a rod and line, while other fishermen looked on open-mouthed in a style reminiscent of the MAN V SEAL escapade in Ireland (see earlier post)…this time MAN V CRUSTACEAN.  He brought it home, claws taped and still alive.

The kids had a field day with it. Opening and closing the fridge every five minutes, insisting it be ‘saved’ and returned to water only to almost kill it by putting it in a bowl of unsalted water. A narrowly escaped disaster as this would have been the height of cruelty, plus from a chefs point of view lobsters really should not be consumed after they have died, particularly if you want to retain their flavour.  So, Vinny the lobster sat in the fridge for a day until the other half and I decided it was time for our lobster supper.

The problem is I have a thing about lobsters. I love the taste of them but after a close encounter with a large bucketful while working in a restaurant as a teenager and later watching them boiled alive I just can’t bring myself to eat them (or certainly not deal with a live one anyway). Watching poor Vinny wave his dopey tentacles around the fridge made me realise that I still have a thing and so when that pot of water came to the boil and it was time to throw Vinny in I couldn’t do it.

I had to find a kinder way to avoid further trauma. There are now RSPCA guidelines on humane ways to kill crustaceans before throwing them in the pot, so reducing their suffering and saving the poor chef dispatching them from PTSD. They recommend electrical stunning, but of course the equipment is expensive and if like me you only end up with one randomly and very occasionally, its unlikely you will have it knocking around the house. The best option for the home cook then is to follow the RSPCA piercing through the brain method. First put your lobster in the deep freeze for 15 minutes. This renders it ‘unconscious’ (if you leave it too long it starts to destroy the flesh as it begins to freeze and too little time just gives you a rather chilly lobster). At this point it should be ready to plunge into boiling water although some lobsters will wriggle still. In this case you may still feel the need to finish it off before boiling so just use the RSPCA method to pierce the brain and mid-point.

Of course the other option is to calm your crustacean with lobster hypnosis, do feel free to try!!

For my part I ran and hid and let the other half dispatch the poor creature! Pathetic I know.

An insensate Vinny was eventually plunged into boiling water for a couple of minutes…drained, basted with butter, sprinkled with salt and pepper and wrapped in a double thickness of baking parchment tied with string. He was then baked in a preheated hot oven (230C) for about 30 minutes. I think we probably over cooked him a little, but he still tasted delicious served with some salted parsley and lemon (Maitre D’hotel) butter, bread and a rather nice Pinot Grigio for a very simple but decadent supper starter.

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Love foraging…How about a fungi foray this weekend?


fungi found at last years forage

…Well if you do come along to Moelyci’ Environmental Centre’s annual Fungi Foray this Sunday the 14th October.  This year is a special 10th anniversary edition and as its one of the most successful events in their yearly  calendar you’d be a fool to miss it! Its great fun, family friendly and hugely educational!! What John Harold (Moelyci ecologist) and Nigel Brown (of Treborth Botanic Gardens) can’t tell you about fungi really ain’t worth knowing!

The afternoon kicks off at 2pm with a brief introduction to fungi and their importance for the planet, after this eager foragers will be let loose around the farm, hill and woods to search the rich habitats of Moelyci for fungi large or small. The record for this event was set in 2006 when 126 different species of fungi were found in a single afternoon, lets see if we can beat this on Sunday!

Foragers should bring with them a shallow basket or tray to keep your precious finds in perfect condition. Once collecting has finished the resident experts will help foragers identify their finds and learn a little about the different life cycles each specimin represents.

The event is free and runs from 2pm til about 5pm. Knowing our weather it would be wise to bring wellies (an absolute must) and waterproofs, plus a shallow collecting basket or tray. This really is a great family friendly event for all ages but children must be accompanied by a responsible adult.

Directions to Moelyci can be found here


Images courtesy of Moelyci Environmental Centre

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New Products from The Mushroom Garden

As I live in deepest North Wales it’s not often I get invited to new product launches and the like, but this week was an exception. This week I’d received an invite to what my teen dubbed a “wild mushroom party”. Yes, it conjures all kinds of images but off I went on a wet and windy evening to Beddgelert, home of The Mushroom Garden, one of Wales’s, if not the UK’s foremost wild mushroom producers. I also dragged along the other half and a friend staying with me from London. They are both food fans so really needed no dragging!

Nantmor mushrooms grow and sell fresh cultivated shiitake and oyster mushrooms and a variety of other foraged seasonal wild mushrooms. If you are not lucky enough to live close by, they also sell a variety of dried mushrooms and antipasto via their online shop.

I’m sure you regular readers out there will already be familiar with The Mushroom Garden. I have blogged about them before, I use their produce a lot and a little while back we even joined forces to offer a ‘grow-your-own’ block as a prize. I don’t need to say then that I was very excited about spending an evening with them trying out their new range of products.

This year The Mushroom Garden have certainly branched out. The evenings tasting menu offered guests the opportunity to try mushroom caviar, shiitake beer (made by A small micro brewery run by Rob Linford), antipasto and Umami powder. I remember a couple of years ago when Laura Santini brought out her Taste No.5 (Umami paste) it was all the rage, but many people found they were intolerant to some of the ingredients, well this is a more natural, concentrated, flavoursome, versatile alternative, made in collaboration with Halen Mon salt.

We tasted everything from mushroom caviar canapes (great combination of flavours, herbs and fab as a taster on oatcake), mushroom ravioli (light, delicately flavoured), ballotine of chicken wrapped in parma ham and stuffed with the mushroom caviar (beautifully tender chicken, the mushrooms worked very well as a stuffing), beef, shiitake and purple moose pie (lovely puffy pastry, and great robust flavour from the Purple Moose) and finally Umami chocolate. The powders versatility was amply demonstrated by Welsh specialists Cariad chocolates, who added Umami powder to dark chocolate to produce a sweet, salty stunningly decorated mouthful. It ticked every box for me!

Ballotine of chicken

Beef, shiitake and Purple Moose pie

I wasn’t convinced by the mushroom beer, but then I’m not really an ale fan. The other half liked it. He could taste the slight hint of mushroom, just a note in the background and not overpowering, but at 5.1% he couldn’t have as much as he would have liked as he was driver on duty!
My friend was similarly impressed with all the produce and has ordered a job lot of antipasto to take back to India with her at the end of the month!

To contact Rob Linford’s micro-brewery email

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