Monthly Archives: February 2013

Baravelli’s…the Welsh chocolatiers

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During half term Rosie the teen and I took a drive along the blustery Welsh coast to visit Street Food vendor Jon from Providero coffee.

We bought coffee, cake and a minted hot chocolate for the teen and stood chatting about the wonderful local produce we get to source from. We discovered that his chocolate sticks are from somewhere not that far up the road, so decided to drop in and see the suppliers, Welsh chocolatiers Baravelli’s,on our drive back home along the coast.

Our first mistake was going to visit a chocolatiers on Valentines Day…what was I thinking!!? As Rosie and I opened the door of their workshop in Conwy Industrial Park (not the most glamorous place) the smell of sweet cocoa filled our senses.  Our eyes lit up as we spied the array of chocolate hearts, truffles, chocolate sticks and cakes laid out around us. Suddenly the teen wrenched the camera from my hand stating firmly that she HAD to take some pictures of their amazing cakes. I let her get on with it as I chatted to Mark, the owner.

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I have to admit I was slightly embarrassed. Mark and Emma remembered me from a brief meeting we had a couple of years before at Conwy Honey Fair….my only excuse for not recalling the earlier encounter is that I have a memory like a sieve. When Jon had mentioned Baravelli’s I didn’t make the connection as back then they ran a small delicatessen.

Since that first meeting the deli has closed but the chocolate business which they started in 2010 has grown into the ‘bean to bar’ operation (the first in Wales) and in 2012 they moved into their new premises. Now they are firmly focused on full-time chocolatiering.

Trademarking their Chocstix product (extra-large chocolate shots for stirring into hot milk) is their first priority and rightly so. Although there are other people doing similar products, theirs are larger shots and come in a range of flavours from the straight up milk, white and dark chocolate to all kinds of strange and wonderful combinations…mint, strawberry, caramel, mocha, spiced orange, hazelnut and white rice pudding.

Hhhmmm…well, it did get me thinking about my market stall and whether people might buy proper hot chocolate and I’d prefer to sell the locally made stuff! My customers are a discerning bunch and love to try new local products, so to help me decide what to go for Mark gave me some samples to take home.

The following afternoon my avid team of taste testers had a great time trying our six samples which included, a spiced orange, hazelnut, dark chocolate, white rice pudding, milk chocolate and strawberry.

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We all loved the milk chocolate, hazelnut and orange. They were rich and creamy, the flavours were not too intense and they had just the right level of sweetness. Rosie the teen snuck off with the strawberry later that day so I didn’t get a taste…but she declared it delicious. Only two failed to hit the spot. The dark chocolate was rather bitter and not sweet enough for our tastes, but then none of us are big dark chocolate fans and we really weren’t keen on the white rice pudding which had an overpowering nutmeg flavour and was quite sickly. It turned out this view was unanimous, none of my taste test team were very keen.

As for the rest of their products, well I didn’t get to test their truffles or preserves while we were there but if they are half as good as the Chocstix i’d highly recommend them…also, you can call me a silly romantic but a girl could just fall in love with someone who presented her with one of those Valentines creations (instead I spent two days making heart-shaped cupcakes and biscuits with my ten-year old son…at least he’s in tune with his romantic side!)

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Baravelli’s website is still under construction but they do have an online shop up and running. You can also call to discuss their products (especially if you want something special for Easter).

They are also planning chocolate making courses…so keep an eye on the website for details (as I will be!)

T: 01492338121

M: 07854905485

E: sweetstuff@baravellis.com

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Filed under British food, local produce, Sources and suppliers

Recipe: Easy, home-made lasagne (no added horse)

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If you can bear with my quick tirade about supermarkets and processed food, you will come to my really straightforward lasagne recipe. Stick with it, its worth it!

And I must have a rant because all I’ve heard this week are exclamations of horror about the discovery of horse DNA in pre-packaged and ready-made beef products (lasagne being one with the highest profile) and pig DNA where it really shouldn’t be. Who knows what’s next…actually I don’t even want to consider, but nothing would surprise me.

Don’t you think it’s about time we took a long hard look at ourselves and the crap we buy?….and I ask when exactly did we stop cooking real food at home?

As I child there wasn’t the vast array of  ‘convenience’ foods on the market. We didn’t have huge supermarket monopolies undercutting shops on the high street, telling us to trust them with their ready-made dishes and we didn’t have it forced in our face that we were too busy to cook. I look at the shelves of any supermarket and I’m ashamed at the gluttony and waste of this country.

In my butchers view there is plenty of good meat on the market…but not enough cheap meat to satisfy the demands of the meat industry. Supermarket own brands and other cheaper brands don’t use good meat. They go for the cheapest possible option. Why would anyone want to settle for that? People eat this rubbish because they live in ignorance about what goes into their food…they arev told its OK and believe unquestioningly. I think its time to open our eyes and ask questions….do we really need supersized Tesco’s with its racks of prepacked food and are we really happier now that we have supermarket ‘convenience’ and no longer have to nip into town to the butcher and greengrocer to shop?

Actually no. I’d rather travel to four different shops, where the sales staff are friendly, knowledgeable and interested, know the provenance of the food they sell, know you by name and what you like and have a chat about the family,  than have to face a half asleep teenager that can’t look you in the eye and that doesn’t know an Avocado from an artichoke.

So why don’t people cook? I could offer many reasons but then my rant would go on forever. I learned to cook in domestic science (and then Home Economics) lessons at school, but even then was already familiar with fresh food made at home. My mother cooked lasagne back in the early 80’s. Revolutionary almost for the time, but it was probably one of the first dishes I learned to make without a recipe. So simple that at eighteen I was making it at home and I reckon my ten-year old would have a fair stab at it today!

So, lets leave the packet food alone. Cooking is not hard…no really, it isn’t. Even if you don’t think you can cook I’m sure everyone can master six or seven dishes that can feed the family…..and here is a really easy lasagne to get you started.

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Fry onion, carrot and best quality beef to make a ragut

Lasagne:

1 pack of fresh or precooked lasagne sheets

500g beef mince (I used Welsh black beef from Beef Direct who sell at my local farmers market….it cost me £3.50 and tasted superb)

1 large onion chopped

2 small carrots grated or chopped small

2 cloves garlic crushed or chopped

1 bay leaf

1 tin chopped tomatoes

half a pint beef stock

a sprinkle of dried oregano

salt and pepper

50g butter

2 tablespoons plain flour

generous half a pint of milk

salt, pepper and grated nutmeg

Grated parmesan to cover the top

Preheat the oven to gas mark 5, 190 degrees C

Finely chop the onion and either grate or finely chop the carrot. Put about a tablespoon olive oil in a pan and heat gently. Add onions and carrot and fry gently (without browning) for about 10 minutes. Turn the heat up to medium and add the mince. Continue to fry, breaking up the mince with a wooden spoon, until nicely browned. Add garlic, a teaspoon of dried oregano (everyone seems to have a small selection of dried herbs in their house) and one bay leaf. Give everything a good stir then the tin of tomatoes, fresh beef stock (or made with a couple of good quality stock cubes…Kallo is a good make) and a sprinkle of seas salt (Halen Mon for me!!) and pepper.

Simmer until the sauce has reduced to a lovely rich thick consistency. At this stage you can use the sauce just as a bolognaise sauce with spaghetti.

To make the white sauce (bechamel) melt the butter in a small saucepan then stir in the flour. Cook for a minute then remove from the heat and slowly stir or whisk in the milk. Once you have a smooth sauce return to a low heat and stir continuously until it thickens. Season with salt and pepper and a grate in some nutmeg.

To assemble: Spoon a third of the meat sauce over the bottom of a large shallow oven dish (about 30cm square), cover with a layer of the lasagne sheets and a couple of spoons of the bechamel sauce.  Repeat the layers with a third of the sauce, a layer of lasagne and two more spoonfuls of bechamel. Finish with the rest of the meat sauce, a layer of lasagne and top with the bechamel. Cover the top with grated parmesan and bake in the oven for about 40 minutes or until golden brown and bubbling and a knife penetrates easily.

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Filed under baking, family budget cooking, home cooking, Italian food, local produce, Organic meat, Recipes, Uncategorized

Recipe: really easy, multi-purpose, egg free cheesecake

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This easy egg free cheesecake recipe came about while planning a wedding menu. I tend to design my menu’s with the person I’m cooking for, tossing ideas too and fro until we reach a final decision. For one couple cheesecake was their ‘must have’ dessert,  but endlessly worried because a couple of guests couldn’t have eggs and thought that cheesecake automatically included them. They naturally wanted them to enjoy everything on offer and so I assured them it was possible to have egg free cheesecake.

Hmmmm. I’d never actually made an egg-free cheesecake at this point, so having said it would be no problem I set off to do a bit of research and testing.

Mercifully I discovered that there are lots of cheesecake recipes out there, even egg free cheesecakes, so I didn’t see any point in totally reinventing the wheel. I looked at a couple, tweaked and modified them, and finally came up with a winning formula. I tried and tested different combinations of flavours and ingredients until settling on this quick and simple, hugely adaptable recipe that makes the perfect base for a whole host of flavours and toppings, depending on what you fancy and what is in season.

Cooking for large parties and buffets demands a degree of simplicity, especially as the dish has to appeal to up to 150 people!! My tip then is to keep things simple; go with maybe two or three flavourings such as, strawberry and vanilla, apple and blackberry compote, vanilla with blackcurrant and cinnamon compote, rhubarb and ginger. You could also give it a little kick by pairing with booze; a nice complimentary liqueur enhances whichever fruit you have used…raspberry and Framboise, or as with my last variation Morello cherry and Kirsch, finished with stemmed fresh cherries it almost created a sort of ‘black forest’ cheesecake. You can even try adding fragrant petals such as orange blossom or rose as a flavouring or decoration. If a fruit version doesn’t tempt the taste buds how about chocolate and vanilla, with some salted caramel swirled into it and decorated with chocolate dipped strawberries?….Really the list is endless. Once you begin to think about it tis easy to get carried away!!

You could also experiment with the biscuit base. Digestives are the common choice, but how about substituting with ginger biscuits, a rhubarb cheesecake mixture, decorated with a sprinkle of rose petals, or perhaps crunchy butter biscuits, almond ratafias…..as long as they have a good crunch they should work ok.

Egg-free cheesecake recipe (makes one large party size 28cm cheesecake…or two smaller cheesecakes)

300g crunchy biscuits…degestives are the conventional choice…but experiment)

150g very lightly salted butter…I use Calon Wen

700g cream cheese

150g icing sugar

300ml double cream or creme fraiche

1 jar of Morello cherries (drained…reserving a tablespoon of the juice)

1 tablespoon Kirsch

fresh cherries or rose petals to decorate

(NB: In the picture above I used 350g chopped strawberries, 1 generous teaspoon good quality vanilla extract and finished it with strawberries dipped in caster sugar.)

Grease a loose bottomed 28cm cake tin or flan tin (or two 15cm) and line with a circle of non-stick baking parchment.

Put the biscuits into a large clean bag and crush with a rolling pin…try not to trap any air in the bag or it will explode and there will be crumbs everywhere! Make sure there are no large bits, you want fine crumbs but not powder. Tip into a bowl

Melt the butter in a small pan then pour over the crumbs in the bowl. Mix well then press into the cake tin to make a tight even layer. refrigerate for about an hour or so.

In a clean bowl whisk together the cream cheese, cream, sugar and liquids (vanilla, alcohol, cherry juice or whatever liquid you are using).  With a large spoon or plastic spatula fold in the fruit or other ingredients gently swirling into the cheese mixture.  Be careful not to break the fruit up and over mix, you really need a light hand.

Spoon the mixture over the biscuit base and smooth the top. Place in the fridge again for at least a couple of hours.

To serve loosen the cake tin base and gently ease out. Carefully remove the baking parchment and slide out on to a serving plate. Decorate with a sprinkling of petals….or fresh fruit

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Filed under baking, cakes & Baking, family budget cooking, home cooking, Recipes, seasonal food

TEDx Holyhead

I’d been expecting a quiet January but suddenly it became a very exciting few weeks. If cooking for artists at my local recording studio (and getting a sneak preview of their new albums) wasn’t exciting enough, I then found myself preparing to speak at my first ever TEDx event.

When I first announced at home that I’d been asked to speak at a TED event my teen was very impressed; “You’ve been invited to do a TED talk?…whoa, you need to be amazing, awesome and funny…. and entertaining and inspiring” she said incredulously as if there was no possible way on earth I could do that. No pressure then.

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To be honest when asked I had little idea what a TED event was. I’m very used to speaking at schools and colleges in my role as a Dynamo Role Model but this I discovered was something very different. Slightly daunted I dutifully went off to do a bit of research to find out what it was all about. For all of you as unfamiliar with TED conferences as I was, they are in short ‘Ideas Gatherings’…which bring together a group of (hopefully) inspiring people to share stories, visions, ideas and plans.

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design. The idea to bring together people from these three arenas took shape in the US, but since its start in 1984 the scope of TED has grown considerably. They hold two annual conferences in the US and a TED Global event in Edinburgh. In addition local independently run TEDx events are held. All of the talks and videos are then uploaded to their website for a wider group of people to get access to and so they are consequently often used for training.

The TEDx Holyhead event was put together by a team of local ‘thinkers’ from a range of disciplines, with talks based loosely around a central theme ‘Brave New World’. They asked me to talk about my path from redundancy and despair at being unable to find a job to becoming a supper club host, freelance food writer, blogger, chef and general promoter of local producers and Welsh/British produce. They wanted me to describe how I created my ‘Brave New World’ through entrepreneurship and sheer desperation to earn a living!

This said it was not an easy job to describe that journey in 10 minutes!! I was a nervous wreck before the talk and even though I prepared cue cards and a plan I ended up throwing them to the side and just went for it! I’m dreading watching the video as I cannot remember a single word of what I said, but I was only a minute over so I did pretty well!

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photo courtesy of The Performance Consultant

The event itself was wonderful and I met lots of inspiring people, listened to some amazing stories and journeys by the other speakers and loved the illustrations by graphic illustrator Eleanor Beer (see my one below…she catches perfectly the otherworldly look of a woman off her head on pain killers…which I was at the time of the conference!!)

If you get the chance I would highly recommend attending one. Just as a networking event it proved really useful and I gained so much from meeting like-minded people. I hope it becomes a regular fixture in the calendar of the hosts, the Ucheldre Centre in Holyhead.

If you can’t make it to one then check out the website both of the Holyhead event (where you can laugh at my video!) and the central TED site where a variety of talks and events can be viewed. Then after that? Who knows, you might even be inspired to set up your own TEDx event!

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