Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Ethicurean cookbook…review and dinner

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I don’t usually base a whole supper club menu on a recipe book however this dinner was an exception. Back in May I wrote a recipe review for the Food Travel Website. It came from The Ethicurean Cookbook but as it was  a blind tasting I didn’t know that when I cooked it. I wasn’t that impressed with my particular recipe, although in its defense I struggled to find some of the listed ingredients and components of the dish were in different sections of the book (bits I didn’t have). After the reviews were published a copy of the book came winging its way over to me.

Now that I have had time to read through the book and get a feel for it I understand better the ethos, ingredients and techniques used by the team at The Epicurean. I like their approach and their commitment to traditional British production methods, artisan ingredients and seasonal produce. As a book for an experimental, confident cook or chef its great but it’s not for the faint hearted. There are some things I don’t like about the book (which I will return to later) but I really wanted to try out a few of the other recipes and wanted to know what other people thought of them.

I chose dishes that really caught my eye. Negroni cocktails made with gin, vermouth (my vermouth is not yet ready, but I’m going to give it a go soon. The process is a complicated one and takes time) and Campari bitters nearly blew my head off

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Next came a choice of salad…either fresh crab, new potato and paprika mayonnaise salad, or for those not eating seafood, chargrilled little gem lettuce, blue cheese, roasted peppers and edible flowers. I’d already made the latter for a previous dinner so knew it worked well. Both tasted delicious. Added edible herb flowers were visually very attractive and eye-catching, and except for a little more cider vinegar in the home-made smoked paprika mayonnaise and the use of Perl Las instead of Blue Vinney in the salad we stuck faithfully to the recipe and the flavours were spot on. Our favourite bits were the pickled carrots (in the crab salad) and the Perl Las dressing.

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Edible flowers and bronze fennel from the garden

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Perl Las and flame roasted peppers with charred little gem (page 178)

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Crab salad with New Potatoes, pickled carrots and smoked paprika mayonnaise (p.96)

…our least favourite bits were picking over the crabs which is laborious job and a painful one, it left my hands covered in tiny little nicks and scratches (and I didn’t even do most of the work; Mark my new assistant chef did it!).

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removing crab meat from the shells…a slow, laborious process

For the main course I chose a slow cooked spring lamb. The recipe in the book called for ‘salt-marsh lamb’ which was hard to find here in Wales (there are salt marshes where sheep graze so that is something I can look in to later) so I settled on shoulders of spring Welsh lamb served with simple sides of buttery new potatoes, new season carrots, foraged marsh samphire, new season broad beans and wilted chard and kale. The skin of the lamb was pierced with a sharp knife and anchovies inserted into the slits producing a salty (but not at all fishy) flavour. The book told me that it would give the lamb an ‘umami’ flavour and it wasn’t wrong! The lamb was then browned in a pan, placed on a bed of vegetables and laced with plenty of Vermouth before being slow roasted in the oven for five hours.

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Early morning, low tide, off for a spot of foraging

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Tiny fronds of marsh samphire

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Tender, buttery soft shoulder of Welsh lamb with wilted chard and kale, marsh samphire and baby broad beans

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family served main course

The samphire, lightly pan-fried with baby broad beans, was our highlight…along with the lamb that simply fell apart and melted in the mouth. We hardly changed the recipe; just opting for kale and chard rather than the ‘Tidal Greens’ mentioned in the recipe and it all worked so well together.

A friend offered me a glut of rhubarb earlier this week. Never one to turn down free produce I rushed over to collect, visit, drink tea, play with her new baby and then head off with a boot full of swag. This collection helped with my decision-making on what to make for dessert. The book offers an ‘alternative’ version of rhubarb and custard; a cross between a jelly and a terrine and the most time-consuming of all the dishes on the menu. It involved steaming rhubarb for an hour, straining juice, making custard, adding lots of gelatine, layering and refrigerating for hours in between layers. The recipe irritated both Mark and I with over complex directions but in the end we were very pleased with the results (as were our supper club guests). The only thing we tinkered with was the compote; it was very tart so we added a little more sugar, but not too much as the terrine was very sweet and the sharpness counteracted this beautifully.

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rhubarb and custard (p. 124) a pleasingly striking result

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served with a sharp and tangy rhubarb compote.

As a final treat I made the chocolate and salt caramel brownie recipe again, this time cut into bite size pieces to go with tea and coffee at the end of the meal. I didn’t follow their method in the book as I have my own tried and tested way of making brownies, but the recipe was the same. I actually find these get better the day after making them (and for the next two or three subsequent days after) becoming denser and squidgier as they are left.

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Chocolate and salt caramel brownies (p. 127)

As a parting shot these were a winner.

So, back to the book. All the recipes were well received by our table full of supper club guests, but we did need to tinker with a couple until they tasted as we wanted. The success of the dinner has geared me up to try more from the book as initially I was rather put off by the sometimes overcomplicated instructions.

Let me leave you with a few thoughts (positive and negative) of my own…

  • I like the Ethicurean ethos; they clearly care a great deal about what they are doing but at times it verges on pretentious. I like an understated, down to earth approach and unfortunately they do at times come across as posh, well-healed, over zealous, well-meaning hippies.
  • The book is not for the novice cook, or someone looking for a quick recipe. The unnecessarily complex instructions do at times make things seem much harder to do than they actually are! Both Mark and I who are chefs struggled to make head or tail of some of their instructions, often simplifying things between us.
  • Having said this I also love the way they explain and use old, underused techniques (like clamping) and discuss traditions (wassailing) and the histories of some of the produce they use (look out for little snippets at the bottom of the page).
  • Although I whole-heartedly support and love their focus on seasonal, local produce (I’m well-known for banging on endlessly about Welsh produce), the recipes are very county-specific…i.e. based around the Bristol area and they don’t always offer advice on what the best alternative ingredients are should their suggestions not be available.
  • I see the book as more of a show case for the restaurant, and while there is nothing wrong with that (I’d really like to visit) it may mean the book sadly has a somewhat limited audience.

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Filed under British food, in the press, local produce, photography, recipe books, reviews, secret supper

The wonderful world of wedding catering…behind the scenes at our latest gig

If you’d said to me when I started running my little supper club back in 2009 that in three years time I would be catering for two hundred people at a wedding I’d have laughed. Now, as the weddings get bigger, more intricate, stylish, particular in their tastes, its hard to see life without such full on, demanding and monumentally satisfying jobs. These days cooking for twelve at supper club is like making an intimate family evening meal, all be it an experimental and slightly exotic one.

The one down side of it is that it takes up so much of my head space; planning, prepping and cooking become my life while writing and everything else gets pushed to one side. I’m only so good at multi-tasking and I get to the point where even family shopping is beyond me. The kids rifle through the ‘home’ fridge asking if there is anything to eat while the ‘work’ fridge overflows with cheese, salmon and pate and stacks of cakes line the counter of my prep room.

This weekends wedding was the biggest i’ve ever catered for. A sit down meal for two hundred. Starters served family style, hot buffet and plate served desserts. Rules learned from earlier jobs helped make it work….

1. Employ a good team that you trust

2. Over estimate the food and not under as big eaters will always want a bit of everything

3. Big flavours always hit the spot

…But there are always lessons learned from every job.

Considering the numbers the kitchen ran pretty smoothly. No real stress and only when the salads started to run short ( a surprise as there was a lot of salad!) did we feel rather pressured.

Offering a choice of desserts proved our downfall making service slow and I guess that is the main lesson for next time….don’t offer a choice of desserts (or at least get people to choose in advance if you do)…All in all the best reference of the day was this email received from the mother of the bride..

What can l say! You did great and given the numbers involved that was a pretty big great! Thank you so much. The food was lovely and it all passed beautifully despite the fact that it must have been an enormous piece of work for you to organise and complete on.

 Thank you Denise and team for helping to give Nonn and Chris and all their family and friends a day to remember with so much pleasure for years to come.

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View from the venue

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Working the young chefs hard….while my second chef drinks coffee!!

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staff dinner break

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Boxes of chocolate torte…we made fifteen in total

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always bad when the waiters and waitresses get hold of the camera….

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…don’t ya just love them 🙂

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the bride’s mum just heading off for the service

and last but not least…..the beautiful bride Nonn…before the ceremony

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….and later during the evening with Chris

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Filed under British food, event catering, photography, private catering, Wedding catering, Welsh food

The Oyster Catcher restaurant and the Timpsons connection

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Last week I attended the graduation evening for the trainee chefs completing their training at The Oyster Catcher restaurant in Rhosneigr (Anglesey). It was an honour to be there because this was no ordinary graduation. For the nine young chefs it marked an enormous transition and a huge achievement. For these lads, who could have ended up stuck in North Wales with few opportunities for training or employment, it was a real celebration of what a young person can do with the right guidance, motivation and support. To see the pride on the faces of their families and friends almost brought me to tears (I am a bit emotional at times). It was a very special night.

Most of you will have heard of Jamie Oliver’s restaurant Fifteen, well, The Oyster Catcher runs along the same lines taking on disadvantaged young people and providing them with the training and life skills necessary to help them find a rewarding career in the food industry.  Established by The Timpson Foundation, which has a long history of philanthropic work, it is still in its infancy but it has already set two lots of graduates on the path to a successful career.

A bit of history about the Timpsons then; they are a family firm established in 1865 by 16-year-old William Timpson. William’s first shoe shop opened in Manchester and from there the organisation grew, adapted and diversified. They opened more shoe shops and then heel bars. Business continued to grow, then waned as modern cheaper shoe manufacturers entered the market. Some areas of the business were more successful and although John Timpson (the great-grandson of William) who heads the organisation today, finally sold off the shoe shop part of the business in 1987, the shoe repair business remains hugely successful. They carry a  reputation for being caring and easy-going employers and an organisation that puts high value on a good quality service and customer care. They offer their staff lots of perks, even free holiday accommodation in one of the homes they own across the North West and Wales.

As a Cheshire family they have a history of holidaying in North Wales. John and his wife Alex have owned a holiday cottage close to Rhoscolyn for years. Their first food related business buy in the area was The White Eagle when it closed down in 2004/2005.  A love of good food and sadness at not finding anywhere decent to eat locally fuelled their purchase and later refurbishment, making The White Eagle a place of good repute in the area.

The Timpsons initially bought the old Maelog Lake Hotel in 2009 with plans to create more holiday accommodation for their staff, but around the same time James Timpson (chief executive and John’s son) visited Jamie Oliver’s restaurant Fifteen. He began to think about doing something similar and slowly those plans for the Maelog changed. James decided the site was the perfect place for a North Wales chef’s academy and so The Maelog Project and The Oyster Catcher were born.

The Timpsons demolished the original building which was looking rather sad and dated and employed Huf Haus, a German company, to build a modern, airy glass fronted, environmentally friendly building that allows diners to view the stunning scenery through the huge windows, while introducing energy-efficient features such as bore holes with a ground source pump to provide hot water and heating, and clever computers that keep energy use to a minimum.

Although I have been aware of The Maelog Project and The Oyster Catcher since the projects start this was my first visit. My personal background in psychology, youth work, counselling and prison research. plus my voluntary directorship of another local Social Enterprise project make the Oyster Catchers Ethos one that’s close to my heart and whose progress I have followed closely and with great interest (despite always being too busy to eat out!)

The building has undergone some refurbishment since it opened. Since this was the first commercial Huf Haus the builders were entering unknown territory. They weren’t entirely sure how it would all work and so, after living with it for a while, a few issues came to light. Noise levels were high due to the open plan nature of the building and some people were not so enamoured by the decor and design. They took measures to introduce sound proofing, laid carpet and carried out a refit. Now the decor and layout is smart and trendy, with elements that fit well with the beach side location. I particularly like the little beach huts on the balcony and the new seating alcoves within the restaurant. I know once they also displayed art work from The Koestler Trust (another organisation I follow closely as my sister, artist, photographer and art blogger is a strong supporter of their work) but I admit I was so busy talking and taking photographs that I forgot to have a look!

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In 2011 the first wave of sixteen cadets began their training, spending their first year in the local catering college (Coleg Menai) gaining basic skills, then moving into the restaurant to work with The Oyster Catcher chefs (notably head chef Roger Gorman from The White Eagle and motivational chef Eamon Fullalove, previously head chef at Fifteen) gaining practical skills and experience. With mentoring and further support provided by The Timpson Foundation. Nine of those chefs completed the course and started work full-time at the Oyster Catcher. Since then a second wave of cadets has started. I had the pleasure of working with one of this years graduates (Matt) and one of the new intake (Elfed) on a recent job; both worked their arses off!…Festival catering is hard going, but a great opportunity for a young chef looking for new experiences. This time it was a pleasure to see them on home turf; one where I didn’t look as if I’d crawled from a hedge in chef’s whites, having slept for less than six hours over 3 days. Elfed almost didn’t recognise the nicely scrubbed up version of me.

As I hadn’t visited the Oyster Catcher I wasn’t sure what to expect food wise. I’ve heard mixed reviews from friends, mostly related to expensive food and small portion sizes. This is a bug-bear of mine, but my visit was quite the opposite. There was so much food we were bursting at the seams! As the waitresses wandered round asking “would you like another mini-burger? Or maybe some more chips? we wondered if we would be able to manage pudding. By the time it arrived I think the guests on most tables had eaten one too many mini burgers leaving many bowls barely touched. We had no trouble on our table. Hearty appetites all round!

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The meal was cooked by the latest intake of chefs and this was probably reflected in the menu. Dishes were simple, well cooked and beautifully presented. Choosing to serve family style made the meal a much more interactive and communal experience, which I liked.

All in all my experience of The Oyster Catcher was a good one. I strongly support the project and will hopefully return to eat again soon. I also hope it grows and gains support in the way Fifteen has. It’s so much more than just a gimmick (which is what I thought Jamie Oliver’s place was when I first heard about it) and it really does offer young people like Matt (who has now been employed full-time at The Oyster Catcher), Kyle (who is off to do a stint at The Fat Duck) and the rest of the graduates a fighting chance. And really, hats off to the Timpsons for giving them that.

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Filed under British food, eating out, in the press, local produce, North Wales restaurants, photography, reviews, social enterprise, Welsh food

Japanese fish two ways: sticky sesame and deep fried with panko

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I love fish, but I don’t eat enough of it for my liking. The main reason being that the teen hates it (in the same way she hates most things that are good for her; with a passion) and so I always end up cooking family friendly meals that everyone will eat and enjoy (while saving myself extra work cooking several different things). Fish is, as you can imagine, generally off the menu!

This weekend was different. No teen. Lots of fish.

I made both of these dishes to go with the noodles in smoky broth I made a few weeks ago (see post here). The first was inspired by a group of Korean families I met crabbing at the beach. They’d travelled over from Birmingham for the day bringing calor gas stoves, pots pans and lots of ingredients, hoards of kids and crab catching apparatus made from bread baskets and old kitchen sink drainers. Our kids looked on fascinated, not quite believing they were going to cook up shore crabs to eat! My kids friend, who knows stuff about the seashore because her parents are ecologists, stated categorically and rather disparagingly that “you can only eat EDIBLE crabs you know” . She had to eat her words later.

As the family cooked up the spoils of their fishing trip they tucked in to kimchi, rice and tiny sweet, salty and slightly sticky fried whitebait. They invited us to join them and taste the crab stock with noodles giving us handfuls of these tiny fish while we waited. The kid (who likes fish) couldn’t get enough of them, and I also found the sweet-salty sesame flavour totally addictive, and so decided to recreate them.

I had a little search around and found a recipe that looked promising on Meemalee’s Burmese food blog. She used scallops and something called Shichimi togarashi. Off I went in search of said Japanese spice in my local Asian supermarket. I wandered aimlessly looking at incomprehensible letters, pots and jars. I found the Japanese section but nothing labelled Shichimi, eventually I gave up and asked the shop keeper. He wasn’t sure either so searched on his computer. Together we discovered it has several names, but is commonly known as Japanese seven spice.

For my fish dish I used Cornish Sardines which I meticulously filleted with a very sharp knife leaving small thin pieces and not whitebait which is currently off the sustainable list. Sardines are a good alternative as are anchovies, herrings or sprats.

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Sticky sesame Sardines:

250g small fish, either eaten whole or filleted to make small strips

A knob of butter

dessertspoonful  of sunflower oil

a handful of black sesame seeds

a sprinkle of Japanese seven spice

a drop of soy sauce

a teaspoon sugar

Heat the butter, oil and soy sauce in a large non-stick pan. When hot and bubbling add the fish giving the pan a good shake after a couple of minutes. Be careful not to break the fish when turning and moving about. Add the sesame seeds, seven spice and sugar and keep moving about the pan until cooked, slightly crispy and a lovely brown colour.

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My other dish was an immediate kid favourite. Monkfish tail (another sustainable option), dipped in Japanese seven spice seasoned flour, beaten egg and panko  breadcrumbs, then deep-fried in sunflower oil until golden and crispy. What could be simpler?

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Filed under Asian cookery, family budget cooking, home cooking, Recipes, Seafood recipes

Part II of my North German adventure…eating in, out and on the street

Here I am. Back to writing after a brief hiatus (well, crew catering in a field at Kaya Festival to be precise).  Now I’m back and here is part two of my trip to Northern Germany. This time it’s all about the food.

My North German guide was in her element feeding and cooking me local dishes and getting me to taste all kinds of strange and wonderful things. When friends heard I was visiting North Germany their standard response was ‘have a beer and currywurst for me’. Clearly that’s what our perception of German food is, but I soon discovered there is much than this. OK its true, they do like sausages and beer, and yes I did have both, although I stayed as far away from currywurst as I could! (Once experienced forever avoided). I did eat a fair bit of ham and salami, and lots of bread and cheese, but since Kiel is on the coast seafood makes up a big part of the local diet plus it was the peak of the white asparagus season so there was lots of that too.

On the first night of my stay my host excitedly cooked up the traditional white asparagus dish which consists of a rich hollandaise sauce, steamed white asparagus, new potatoes and smoked ham, which looked to me like uncooked bacon but she assured me it was the traditional way to eat it. The ham, which tasted like the Bavarian stuff back home in the UK was thickly sliced on to the plate and everything else layered on top. Plenty of heavy, buttery, artery hardening sauce coated the asparagus and potatoes and it was just heaven on a plate. We finished our meal with a tiny glass of ice-cold Kummel Schnapps, a traditional caraway flavoured schnapps to clean the palate, which was refreshing after all the richness.

Determined to recreate this at home I packed the ingredients in my suitcase and they survived the flight…

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My first meal out was at elMovenschiss a lovely little terrace restaurant overlooking the sea at Schilksee and a mere 5 kilometres from where I was staying. The food joined traditional Northern German cooking with dishes of Mediterranean influence with a heavy emphasis on seafood.

Loosely translated the name means el seagull shit and with that bit of German wit won us over. It was actually recommended to me by Shropshire supper club host Kerstin Losch (Kerstins kitchen). I trusted her. She is German and knows about food and her recommendation proved a good one.

It was a sunny evening and as the restaurant was busy and full we sat outside overlooking the marina. Folded blankets lined our seat and kept us warm as the evening drew on. I felt like an old woman with my blanket over my knees, but even the kids wrapped themselves up after they’d finished running around the beach in-between courses.

We loved the greeting page of the menu…lost in translation?

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Apart from the kids in our party (who of course chose the ubiquitous sausage or currywurst) we all ordered fish dishes and hefty portions of well cooked food arrived promptly (as one might expect in Germany!). My guide ordered a traditional Northern German dish of  herring, cream sauce potatoes and salad, while my other companion chose Zander and salmon fillet, pan-fried and served with roasted potatoes, spinach and mustard sauce. I opted for a tomateoey Mediterranean fish soup, with prawns, scallops and white fish. All were delicious and very filling.

I managed to save a little room for dessert as i’d already spotted that they had a favourite of mine on the menu, Crema Catalana. It didn’t disappoint with its perfect crispy sugar topping and beautiful orangey cream underneath. We left as the sun set over the harbour, watching the boats all lined up for the sailing event at the weekend and feeling full, but pleased with our choice.

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busy open plan kitchen…checking out portion sizes before we ordered!

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currywurst

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traditional German Fare…herring, cream sauce and potatoes

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Mediterranean fish soup

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Lights twinkling in the harbour as we prepare to leave

Saturday arrived and we headed off early to the market. The market in Kiel like the rest of Germany isn’t like the pokey little farmers markets we have in the UK. This one is huge and runs twice weekly. People come and do all their shopping, meet friends, drink coffee and generally make a day of it. Its a great place to browse, do a bit of tasting and some people watching. Here you can everything from beautiful ceramics, household goods, plants and general bric a brac to vegetables, fruit, cheese, bread, meat, cake, sweets and anything else you could want to eat. We tasted, drank coffee and cake bought a bit of everything.

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smoked fish counter at the market

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Kieler sprotten….a local speciality. Whole smoked sprats eaten head ‘an all.

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Horse butcher….sausages, salami the works…I brought some home

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White Asparagus

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all the fruit and veg stalls were busy…lots of local produce

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cheese!

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market coffee

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drinking coffee and watching the world go by…it was very busy

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salami stall

Next we wandered off past the Rathaus and Opera house to a small artisan brewery  in Kiel for lunch (yes I know, we just had coffee and cake..but I was on holiday!). The Kieler brewery only makes one beer. Kiel Beer. Nothing flash, but very nice. We indulged in a small glass and ordered a plate of cold meat (or cold cuts they call it) to share.

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cold cuts….the circle of meat on the left turned out to be raw pork…or spreading meat as my host called it. Traditionally eaten on dark rye bread with raw onion and pepper. she didn’t tell me it was raw until I’d eaten it. She said “you British are funny about that sort of thing”

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fermentation in one of the large vats

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the brewing room in the basement

Our day of food wasn’t done. Next we headed back to Danischenhagen where my hosts kids were playing in a German/Scandinavian football tournament. The first thing that caught my eye was the German ‘street food’. I thought of the greasy burger and chip vans that line British streets when football matches are on. The doughnuts, candy floss…but not here. Ok, there was a barbecue van, manned by parent voulunteers…but look what else I spotted

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fish in a bun

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lots of different types of fish in a bun…street food stall

…it might be traditional but a few kids were heard giggling and saying “eeuukk fish in a bun” …once again the German sausage ruled

ElMovenschiss can be found at….

Soling 36

24159 Schilksee

T 0431 / 888 05 14

info@elmoevenschiss.de

The Kieler Brewery can be found or contacted here……

Kieler Brauerei am Alten Markt GmbH & Co. KG
Alter Markt 9
24103 Kiel

Telephone: +49 431 – 906290
Faximile: +49 431 – 906290
E-Mail: info@kieler-brauerei.de

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Filed under Food travel, German food, photography, Travelling with kids