Monthly Archives: November 2012

There’s nothing like home made Christmas pudding

The little un and me showing off our puddings

Everyone is talking about stir-up Sunday…that is, the last Sunday before Advent begins and the traditional day for making the families Christmas pud. I know we’ve just missed it but really it’s not too late. If you can manage it this weekend here is my traditional pudding recipe which I have used for years, well ever since I moved to Wales which is twenty odd years ago. It is a recipe I adapted from one found in a really old Sainsburys recipe book. My Mum’s from back in the 80’s I think.

Sift 175g (6oz) plain flour, 2 teaspoons ground mixed spice, 1 generous teaspoon cinnamon and half a teaspoon grated nutmeg into a large bowl. Mix in 175g (6oz) fresh brown breadcrumbs then rub in 175g (6oz) softened butter.

Stir in 175g (6oz) soft brown sugar, 350g (12oz) sultanas, 250g (8oz) raisins, the same amount of currants and 75g (3oz) mixed peel. Add the grated rind and juice of one orange, 2 beaten eggs and 120ml of brown ale (or stout). Give it a good mix, don’t forget to have a wish and then turn it into a greased 1.75litre (3 pint) pudding basin (or two smaller ones like we did). Cover with a pudding cloth or greaseproof paper and a sheet of foil pleated in the middle and tied on with string. Steam for 6 hours topping up the water as necessary.

Allow to cool and then replace the greaseproof paper and foil with fresh and store in a cool dry place. Christmas puddings can be made up to 4 months in advance and they tend to get better with time. Much better than anything from a supermarket I have to say.

When THAT day comes round and you are ready to eat your pudding, steam again for about 2 hours, turn out on to a warm dish, douse well with warm brandy and then ignite.


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‘Love me truly’ cupcakes (chai, cinnamon and apple infused)

I love receiving goodies through the post, especially when they are so good they act as muse to my naturally creative urges and inspire me to come up with something so delicious it literally makes everyone drool and sigh with ecstasy.

The parcel that arrived at my door was full of Clipper teas. They are my favourite and sometimes I’m lucky enough to receive new products to try. On this occasion it was a box of intriguingly named packages…Zen Again, Rise and Shine, Snore and Peace or Cloud Nine…They form part of the Fruit Infusion range and I liked them all; but the stand out one for me was the Love Me Truly chai infused tea. I’m seriously addicted. I can’t stop drinking the stuff, and if I’m not drinking it I’m dreaming up ways to sneak it into desserts, like these totally heavenly cupcakes. I swear I’ve never seen sixteen cakes disappear so quickly, they were that popular! Light, delicately flavoured, slightly squishy and totally moreish.

Not convinced by chai cupcakes? Here give them a go…I promise, you won’t be sorry.

Love Me Truly cupcakes:

180g butter

180g caster sugar

200ml milk (heated to boiling point with a Clipper Teas, Love Me Truly tea bag and then allowed to stand and cool)

180g self-raising flour

1 medium Bramley apple peeled and finely diced

1 teaspoon Steenbergs cinnamon

2 medium free range eggs

100ml single cream, heated with the same Love Me Truly tea bag (or a fresh one if you prefer)

4 tablespoons icing sugar

Pre-heat the oven gas mark 4 / 180 degree C

Cream the butter and caster sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs alternating each with a spoonful of flour to prevent it curdling. To mix you can use an electric whisk or in a food processor. Add half the milk beating well, then half the flour and the cinnamon. Add the rest of the milk followed by the rest of the flour and this time use the pulse setting (if you have one on your blender) or stir together until just mixed. Mix in the chopped apple by hand. You should have a thick batter and not the usual cupcake mixture.

Put about 16 cup cake or fairy cake cases into a cupcake tray and spoon in the batter. Cook in the oven for about 20 to 25 minutes, but keep an eye on them after about 15 minutes. They should be golden brown and well risen, although these cakes will be slightly spongier in comparison to the to a usual cupcake recipe.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack.

While they are cooling warm the single cream gently with the teabag. Leave to cool and infuse. When cold remove the tea bag and sift in the icing sugar stirring well. Drizzle or spoon over the cupcakes.

You can then decorate them or finish them however you wish. I used some chocolate flakes on the top of mine. Sadly my pictures don’t really do the cakes justice, but you will just have to trust me and go for it!

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Moel Faban Suppers

You may have been wondering (if you were bored for a few seconds) what happened to all that lovely foraged fruit that I collected the other week. Well, its all been put to very good use. You may remember we collected damsons, elderberries, blackberries and sloes.

Well, I’ve been harping on about the damsons ad infinitum and you are probably heartily sick of hearing about the damson fool we  lived off for three weeks (not the same one, I just made it rather a lot). Believe it or not I still had damsons leftover which I’ve been slowly ploughing through. Those not frowzen for the winter months  (when we most need an edible reminder of summer and a bit of extra Vitamin C) were mixed with vodka and left to steep.

As for the Sloe’s, in my opinion there IS only one thing you can do with them…. it has to be…

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Artisan bread making with Alex Gooch at the Bodnant Welsh Food Centre

View through the kitchen window

On a bright sunny Sunday I headed off to the newly opened Bodnant Welsh Food Centre, for a day of bread making in their state of the art cookery school. Set in the beautiful Conwy Valley with views over the estuary and just a few miles from Llandudno and Llanrwst it is the perfect destination for a weekend retreat away from the cities of Liverpool and Manchester. In fact it is less than an hour and a half’s drive from both.

I live somewhat closer and set off with eager anticipation at the prospect of having a day of fun…plenty of cooking, without any responsibility for teaching others!

Now I love baking and make a lot of bread at home so I like to think of myself as a bit of an expert, but a day spent with award-winning artisan baker Alex Gooch. made me realise I’m but a mere novice.

The day began with a small hiccup; the course, which was advertised on the website as advanced, turned out to be a basic one. The confusion appeared to have arisen as a result of the recent change of staff and a break down in communication between the old and new. But what were essentially small teething problems were soon overcome. We were given the choice of rearranging but all participants were very laid back about the mix up and were keen to stay, so we did. Initially I wondered if it would be worth it as the course appeared to focus on stuff I already knew….and that is where I made my first mistake. Not that I stayed, but the presumption that I actually knew all there was to know about making focaccia!

Alex Gooch, our teacher for the day trained as a chef, working in lots of different restaurants and kitchens. Somewhere along the way he discovered and developed a love of bread making. His obsession grew until finally he moved into self-employment setting up his own organic bakery, leaving the world of restaurant kitchens behind. This was clearly a good move because the awards have come rolling in; The ‘Best Producer’ award at the Radio 4 Food and Farming Awards 2011, the Waitrose ‘Made in Britain’ Award to name but two.

Alex spent the morning teaching us some of the tricks that make his bread and bakery in Hay on Wye so successful. Who knew that perfect bread dough should be almost sloppy? It scared me at first looking at the sticky mass in the bottom of my bowl, my gut instinct was to add more flour as I would have done at home but no, he reassured us that all would be fine, and of course it was.

A very sticky dough…but apparantly perfect!

Bun dough ready to prove

More scarily sloppy dough…this time focaccia

Teaming up with Alex is a bit of a coup for Bodnant. He is a great teacher who in the space of a couple of hours talked us through the making of a bun dough,  focaccia dough, a basic spelt and a potato bread. Everything was incredibly easy to grasp, especially for the less experienced baker and he happily answered all the questions we threw at him, at times dispelling the bread making myths that hold people back. I always thought you had to dissolve fresh yeast in water with sugar, but no, we just crumbled it straight into the bowl. There was no lengthy kneading (another lesson learned…don’t knead the bread!) and no fuss. The class wasn’t rushed and everyone was able to work at their own pace.

A couple of people commented that they would have liked to measure their own ingredients. Alex explained it was to make the course run more efficiently and so he knew the measurements were all exact. I can see both points. I guess providing us with all the recipes meant we would be able to practise at home, but weighing would arguably have helped us remember the process more clearly. I suppose having a bit of faith in the classes abilities is necessary, although that is a bit of an unknown quantity early on.  A bit of extra time spent supervising us while we measured would have reduced the risk of baking failures due to inaccurate measurement and  we weren’t short of time, in fact we finished half an hour earlier than timetabled.

Alex certainly did encourage us to be bold and confident and brave with seasonings and extra ingredients. A good spoonful of salt, huge quantities of olive oil, plus tons of rosemary, pecorino, blue cheese, cinnamon or sugar. Once upon a time I would have been more cautious with my flavourings but these days I’m less nervous about it.

Focaccia dough liberally sprinkled with torn fresh rosemary and pecorino cheese

Bun dough with cinnamon and sugar; one half with raisins for buns, the other cut into twists

Buns and twists ready to prove

Spelt dough, divided into pieces and ready to be layered with rosemary and Perl Las, Welsh blue cheese

One plain spelt loaf and one blue cheese and rosemary

Well risen potato baps

Cookery courses are the next step for Alex and the hands on ones like this are always the best. PArticipants experience a childlike pleasure as they compare sticky hands, dough consistency and how much their dough has risen. The satisfaction gained from making, kneading and baking bread is almost primeval.  With very few ingredients we transform what begins as a sticky white mass into a puffy, heavenly scented, golden brown loaf. It’s a magical transformation and one that still gives me a tingle of excitement and brings a big smile to my face.

It struck me that bread making appeals particularly to men; us women were outnumbered five to two. I guess historically bakers were mostly men, while cooks were more often women. Before large industrial mixers took over the heavy arm work, all the mixing and kneading was by hand. Strength and muscle were pretty important and even the little kneading we did on this course made my poor arm ache. Back then I would have been useless…or just developed the arm muscles of a docker!

After a quick coffee break we added our extra ingredients and shaped our bread; rosemary for the focaccia and bread sticks, sugar and cinnamon for spiced buns and twists, blue cheese and rosemary to make spelt loaf and potato dough divided into four beautiful soft rounds. It was then left to rise on a covered trolley in the warm kitchen while we went off for lunch.

Top: foaccia bread sticks and focaccia flatbread

bread rising in the warm kitchen

The cost of the course includes a substantial buffet lunch. As we sat eating the heavenly smell of baking bread wafted from the kitchen (the first lot of focaccia had gone in the oven). I’m sure I ended up eating than I intended because of that smell!

As I sat back in my chair I felt a satiated tiredness creep over me. I could have done with a coffee to perk me up again but instead we headed back into the kitchen where the warm aromatic smell of garlic oil, rosemary and bread hung in the air. Now it was baking time.

We took the focaccia out of the oven and left it to cool, replacing it with spelt loaves and cinnamon buns. The buns cooked quickest and they were soon whipped out and replaced with our potato bread.

Focaccia straight from the oven and finished with a generous drizzle of rocket oil and Halen Mon sea salt

Spelt loaf

Cinnamon buns

Nice baps! Potato bread nice and brown

All in all I had a very enjoyable day. I met some lovely fellow bakers and Alex was a fab teacher. The best bit for me was the opportunity to work with a fellow chef and learn from his skills. I needed less in the way of hands on help but he was great at encouraging and assisting those who were less confident. I’m now looking forward to the rescheduled advanced course in January.

So what did I think about it over all? As usual I have my feet in two camps….I like really loved the course and gained a lot from it, as I think other participants would do. I also like the fact that Welsh produce and producers are becoming more widely known outside of Wales. Profile raising is very important but I wonder if the cost would be off-putting to locals.

At £145 its not a cheap course. Yes, the teaching quality is good (working with experts in the field is a real draw), we took home a lovely bag of swag, recipes and had a great lunch. I still think that perhaps the price might deter a lot of people and I think it is quite expensive compared to other classes of its kind. On the other hand I know participants will come from further afield, which is how it was on the day I visited and as I said in the beginning, what better way to spend a weekend than cooking and visiting beautiful Wales!

To check courses and dates go to the cookery school page on the Bodnant website, or email for further information.

Moel Faban Suppers was a guest of Bodnant Welsh Food.

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Next event: Pop-up 1930’s Berlin dinner and dance

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Moel Faban Suppers

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

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

I love these simple hearty dishes…

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Moel Faban Suppers

It’s rather remiss of me not to have posted this recipe yet. The glitz and excitement of Global Feast, the Olympics and Paralympics have already faded as Autumn kicks us up the backside with its sudden chill and yet more rain.

So what better to refresh the memory than a recipe that transcends that moment, staying with us well into the chillier months of the year. It is aptly seasonal, warming and British, but also light and full of the exotic spices that remind me of that hot and heady night back at the beginning of the Olympic celebrations.

Sponsored by Penderyn Welsh whisky the dish was accompanied by a shot of their Madeira finished single malt. Whisky isn’t always my drink of choice, but this is to die for! Smoother than some whiskies and with the toffee and honey undertones, this is definitely my kind of whisky! So nice…

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Moel Faban Suppers

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…

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Moel Faban Suppers

I hadn’t really thought about Christmas until I rolled up at the local produce market yesterday. As I scanned the stalls it suddenly dawned on me that it is actually getting close! Hand made baubles and decorations, Christmas cards and all nature of gifts adorned the craft stalls, while cake sellers displayed mince pies and Christmas cookies.

It started me thinking about pressie buying, Christmas lists and what I might get for my other food loving friends. Now I’m sure everyone has their very own ‘wish list’ desires that sit like untouchable gems in their imagination, while we share the more practical and attainable suggestions with family and friends. I definitely do.

I share my own Christmas shopping between local suppliers and artists, do some online buying and make lots of my own handmade goods. If I’m buying online I like to have a browse on Etsy. For those who’ve…

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Moel Faban Suppers

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.

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.

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