Category Archives: cakes & Baking

My Global Feast dish: Apple and cinnamon tart with bara brith ice-cream and Welsh Penderyn whisky

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 was it that I kept making people try it (even though it was only 10 am!!), most claimed it was too early for whisky, but Kerstin (msmarmitelover) happily joined me for a taster.

I’m no going to pass over the recipe for everything I served on the night. A simple slice of apple and cinnamon tart, a bit of ice cream and some salted caramel sauce is more than enough to satiate the sweetest tooth and topped off with a shot of that damn fine whisky the dish is complete.

For one loaf of Bara Brith….of which you will need about 100g

200ml Strong Cold Clipper English Breakfast tea

50ml of Penderyn whisky

175g mixed fruit

200g brown sugar

425g Doves Farm self-raising flour

2 beaten eggs

A large teaspoon mixed spice (I used Steenbergs. Their spices are probably the best I’ve ever used!)

Soak the fruit in tea and whisky for at least an hour.

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl then put into a 1 litre greased, lined loaf tin. Bake for about an hour and a half gas mark 5/150 degrees C

For the ice cream:

1 litre double cream

1.2 litres single cream

8 egg yolks

200g caster sugar

3 vanilla pods split lengthways

Put the cream in a large heavy bottomed pan and heat gently. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pods out with a sharp knife and add to the pan along with the pods. Heat until it just starts to come up to boiling point then remove from the heat and allow to infuse.

Beat the egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl for about 5 to 10 minutes until pale and thick.

Remove the vanilla pods from the cream and pour a little of the cream on to the eggs. Whisk slowly to mix in then continue adding the cream until it is all combined.

Return the pan to the heat and cook slowly stirring constantly until thickened. Once it has thickened pour the mixture into a large cold bowl. It needs to cool quickly to stop the egg over cooking and to speed up this process you can also stand the bowl in a washing up bowl full of cold water or ice. When cold transfer to an ice cream machine and churn until almost frozen.

Once the ice cream starts to thicken crumble in about 100g of cooled bara brith, plus an extra shot of whisky (if required). Serve with the apple and cinnamon tart.

Vanilla salted caramel sauce: ….for decorating the dish really…

150g unsalted butter

400g caster sugar

100g golden syrup

250ml double cream

A couple of pinches of Halen Mon Vanilla Salt

Melt the butter, sugar and syrup in a heavy based saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 3 or 4 minutes.

Add the cream and vanilla salt and give it a quick stir. Test to see if it needs more salt. Cook for another minute or so and then remove from the heat and transfer to a jug.

Swirl some of the sauce on a plate and top with a slice of apple and cinnamon tart and a scoop of ice-cream

Apple and cinnamon tart:

Now, this isn’t really a Welsh recipe, but it does reflect my Kentish origins. I grew up in the garden of England before decamping to Wales so I suppose in a way i’m fusing food from my English upbringing with the Welsh produce that influences my cooking now. This recipe is really a variation on Canterbury tart, very traditional down that way!

400g sweet short crust pastry (200g plain flour, pinch of salt, 100g butter, 60g caster sugar, 1 egg yolk, iced water: Mix the flour and butter together, add sugar when the mix resembles fine breadcrumbs. Make a well in the centre and add egg yolk and a couple of tables spoons iced water. Mix with a flat knife until it forms into a ball. Rest for about half an hour then roll out to fit a 9 to 10 inch tart tin. Bake blind for about 15 mins gas mark 6/200 degrees C. Remove from the oven and take out the baking paper and beans then return for a further 5 minutes.)

6 or 7 good-sized dessert apples (Discovery & Worcester Pearmain are early UK varieties although the apple harvest isn’t so good this year)

2 lemons (finely grated zest and juice)

2oog caster sugar

50g butter

125ml double cream

3 large eggs

40g demerara sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon (plus 1 extra)

Coarsely grate the apple into a large bowl and mix with lemon zest and juice.

In a separate bowl beat the eggs and caster sugar together for a couple of minutes. Add the melted butter, cream and apple mixture and a couple of pinches of cinnamon.

Carefully fill the pre baked pastry case (see above) with the mixture.

Mix the Demerara sugar and extra cinnamon and sprinkle it on the top of the tart. Bake in the oven gas mark 6/200 degrees C for about 40 minutes (maybe less) until the apple looks soft and the top is golden brown and set.

All photo’s courtesy of Kate Withstandley freelance photographer

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The Green Man cake diaries (part one)

Curry and tins of lemon cake photo courtesy of Lizzie Morrell

If there is one thing the crew of the Green Man love as much as their cheese its cake. Lots and lots of cake.

During my cooking stint I made more cake than I probably make at home in a year. I baked cake with fruit, cake without, steamed sponge cake, plain sponge cake, cake with jam, cake with cream, cake with caramel sauce and cake with chocolate. We made cake for lunch, for afternoon tea and various sponges for dessert after dinner. If we didn’t make cake we made pudding (bread pudding, sponge pudding) or flapjacks. We even made dairy free cakes (more on the challenges of that in another post).

Cake became such a fixation that it even penetrated the radio system used by the crew to communicate with one another….at four o’clock a lone voice could be heard crackling across the airwaves, “cake or death”? (For anyone unfamiliar with Eddie Izzard’s cake or death’ sketch check it out here…this is my nine-year old son’s favourite version).

Huge tray of Apple sponge photo courtesy of Lizzie Morrell

Anyway, now you understand how much they love cake you will perhaps get some insight into just how many we had to bake. It’s hard to keep the choice varied and although we are full of good ideas at the beginning this becomes increasingly difficult as the days roll on and our cake repertoire becomes depleted, our energy levels droop and our enthusiasm for baking cake begins to wane.

To ease the burden we bought in a few staples (bara brith and Welsh cakes from Askews bakery) but that crew are a picky bunch and they inevitably chose the ‘posh’ freshly made cakes over the simple buttered bara brith (even though it is delicious) leaving it rejected on the side of the tray.

At home I make dessert maybe once or twice a week and bake cakes even less often (unless required for supper club). At the Green Man there were times we made three cakes a day! And not just any normal sized cake either, but industrial quantities, six times the usual recipe, in huge trays. We made so much cake that Kate, from the production team really did start a cake diary!!

Over the past two years I have discovered that the crew have a few favourites….so with that in mind here is our very own cake diary with a list of our top festival bakes (with recipes for all of those that asked!)

1. Rich chocolate cake or chocolate mousse cake with strawberries and cream or chocolate brownies

All a variation on a theme, that theme being chocolate. Whether it be Nigella’s chocolate mousse cake or Hugh FW’s chocolate brownies (recipe below taken from his book Everyday), everyone loves something with chocolate in it and this version is very hard to beat!

  • 250g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 275g dark chocolate (about 70 per cent cocoa solids), broken into pieces
  •  3 medium eggs
  •  125g caster sugar
  • A pinch of sea salt
  • 150g self-raising flour (I use wholemeal, but white works well too)
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence

Grease a shallow baking tin, about 20 x 25cm, and line with baking parchment. Put the butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Set the oven to 180 degrees C/Gas Mark 4 and put the bowl in it until the chocolate and butter start to melt. Stir, then put back in until completely melted. Meanwhile whisk the eggs and sugar together in a large bowl until combined. Next beat in the melted chocolate and butter until smooth then fold in the sifted flour and salt gently with a large metal spoon. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake for 20-25 minutes. The top should be firm but the underneath should still be a little moist. The heat will help finish the cooking process and if you leave it in too long they will become dry.  Remove from the oven and leave on a wire rack to cool before cutting into squares.

2. Lemon trickle cake

Recipe taken from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s book Everyday as well. Its pretty similar to most other lemon trickle cake recipes, or in fact any Victoria sponge cake recipes.

175g unsalted butter, 175g caster sugar, zest of three lemons, 3 eggs, 175g self-raising flour, a pinch of sea salt and a drop of milk or lemon juice if needed.

Grease and line a 1 litre (2lb) loaf tin and preheat the oven to gas mark 3/170 degrees C.

beat together the softened butter and caster sugar with a hand blender. It should be very pale and creamy. Add the lemon zest and eggs one at a time with a spoonful of flour each time to prevent the mixture curdling.

Fold in the remaining flour and salt. If the mixture is a bit stiff add a drop of milk or lemon juice to make it looser. Turn the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the oven for about 45 to 50 minutes. It should have risen quite well and started to split on the top.

While the cake is still warm pierce the top with a thin skewer  making lots of little holes all over the top. Mix together 200g icing sugar with 75ml lemon juice. Pour this over the warm cake slowly, so that it all soaks in. Leave in the tin to cool then cut into slices.

Lizzie icing lemon trickle cakes

3. Apple sponge with vanilla salted caramel sauce

For the apple sponge:

Peel and core 1k dessert apples and place in a pan with a couple of pinches of cinnamon, a tablespoon of brown sugar and a couple of tablespoons honey. Cook gently until pulpy and almost a puree. Spread this over the base of a deep oblong or square dish.

Cream together 200g caster sugar, a few drops of vanilla essence and 200g unsalted butter until light and fluffy. Beat in 4 eggs one at a time adding a little flour each time so the mixture doesn’t curdle. Fold in the remaining flour. Spread the mixture over the apple puree and smooth the top. Cover lightly with a piece of damp baking parchment and cook in a preheated oven, gas mark 4/180 degrees for about 25 mins. To ‘steam’ it in the oven place a tray of water in the bottom, this helps keep it slightly damp and prevents it drying out too much. Cut into squares and serve on top of some vanilla salted caramel with the apple puree on top.

For the caramel sauce: 150g unsalted butter, 400g caster sugar, 100g golden syrup, 250ml double cream, a couple of pinches of Halen Mon Vanilla Salt

Melt the butter, sugar and syrup in a heavy based saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 3 or 4 minutes. Add the cream and vanilla salt and give it a quick stir. Test to see if it needs more salt. Cook for another minute or so and then remove from the heat and transfer to a jug. Pour a little over the sponge

4. Jamaican rum and ginger cake

Another Hugh FW recipe. The reason I’ve used his book so much is that the cake recipes are very simple, don’t have too many ingredients, are quick to prepare and are effective. Hugh knows his stuff so why change it? As they say ‘don’t fix it if it isn’t broken’.

This cake I did tinker with a little (by adding more stem ginger, Morgans spiced rum and a little cinnamon too)

100g unsalted butter, 125g dark muscavado sugar, 150g black treacle, 150g golden syrup, 75ml Morgans Spiced Rum, 2 eggs, 225g self-raising flour, 1 teaspoon allspice, 1 teaspoon ginger, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, a pinch of sea salt, 6 to 8 balls of preserved stem ginger finely minced (plus some of the syrup)

Prepare a loaf tin as per the lemon cake recipe. Preheat the oven gas mark 4 / 180 degrees.

In a saucepan melt butter, treacle, syrup and sugar. Leave to cool a little then mix in the rum then eggs.

In a large bowl sift the flour, salt and spices. Add the butter and syrup mixture and stir until smooth. Mix in the ginger plus some of its syrup. Pour the mixture into the loaf tin and bake in the oven for about 50 minutes or until a skewer stuck into it comes out clean.

If it starts to go too brown on top you can cover it with a piece of foil. When cooked remove from the oven and allow to cool. Brush the top with a bit of extra ginger syrup.

This cake gets better after a couple of days. Warp in foil and keep in a sealed tin.

5. Banana and walnut loaf

200g soft butter, 200g soft brown sugar, 2 tablespoons maple syrup (optional), 4 eggs, 200g plain or wholemeal flour, 4 teaspoons of baking powder, 4 large mashed bananas, 150g chopped walnuts or pecan nuts

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one by one adding a spoonful of flour with each to prevent curdling. Fold in the rest of the flour and baking powder, followed by the bananas and nuts.

Spoon into two 1lb loaf tins, greased and lined with baking parchment. Level the top and bake in a preheated oven (gas mark 5 / 190 degrees C) for 20 to 25 mins. It should spring back when pressed lightly.  Leave to cool in the tin for a few mins before turning out on to a wire rack.

This keeps well wrapped in foil and is quite versatile. Spread with butter, or eat warm without.

6. Carrot cake

I made a couple of versions of carrot cake during my cooking stint but this is by far the best recipe I have ever used and modified

300g plain flour, 175g soft brown sugar, 175g muscavado sugar, 3 large eggs beaten, 175ml sunflower oil, 2 teaspoons vanilla essence, half a teaspoon grated nutmeg, 2 good teaspoons cinnamon, 1 teaspoon bicarb of soda, half a teaspoon salt, 300g grated carrots, zest of one orange and juice of half, 60ml sour cream (omit if dairy free)

For the icing: 120g cream cheese, 50g unsalted butter, 50g sifted icing sugar, juice of half a lemon or orange

Preheat the oven to gas mark 3 / 150 degrees C. Line and grease a 20cm cake tin.

Mix together eggs, oil, vanilla, orange juice, zest and sour cream (if using) with a whisk until well combined. Add the sugars and mix well ensuring there are no lumps.

In a separate bowl mix flour, nutmeg, cinnamon, bicarb and salt. Fold dry ingredients into the wet and mix well. Then mix in the carrots. Spoon into the cake tin and bake in the oven for about an hour and a half. To see if its cooked insert a skewer, if it comes out clean its done.

7. Apple and orange sponge

  • 6 granny smith apples,peeled,cored and cut into quarters
  • 2 oranges,rind and juice
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 200g unsalted butter,softened
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 4 eggs,large
  • 350g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4.
Put the sugar and butter into a mixing bowl and beat until light and soft. Beat in the eggs one by one. Sieve the flour and baking powder into the mixture and mix well. Add the apple quarters, orange rind and juice and honey and stir together with a spoon. It will look rather chunky but don’t worry.

Butter and a small roasting tin. Pour the mixture in to the tin. Bake for 25-30 minutes until well risen or until nice and golden. The apple should now be nice and soft although still visible in the sponge, which will have risen around the chucks. Serve with whipped cream.

8. Cup cakes for which we managed to enlist some help. In between manic cooking we opened up the kitchen to a few of the kids for an impromptu baking session. Their fab efforts were greatly appreciated at tea time, with each crew member having their very own bespoke cake!

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Four weddings and a festival (part two – wedding number four)

Plas Gwynfryn, Harlech

And so we progress to our fourth and final wedding. This was the biggest and most elaborate of all. A barbecue menu, table service, tapas, all in a big marquee. Not only was I preparing a three course dinner, but for some reason I thought it would be a great idea to say yes to making a cupcake wedding cake as well!

This time we were keeping our fingers crossed for sunny weather and for a while things did seem to improve. A few warm and bright days made us all hope for the best, until we saw the weather forecast. Rain and high winds. Great. Just what we needed catering in a marquee.

I’d also lost two helpers so spent the beginning of the week stressing over staff. I contacted a couple of people who had emailed me at the beginning of May and eventually met up with Ursula. She was my fab front of house organiser for the day, which was just what I needed, someone to take the strain off me and let me get on with cooking and be able to organise and manage my two waitresses Rosie and Amber. I also found Jacky, an experienced local chef (runs The Bistro in Caernarfon) who was an absolute god send. I could never have managed three barbeques on my own and plated and prepped salads and tapas dishes.

I knew the event would be a challenge. I’ve worked in the odd field kitchen but never had to cook and prep like this so I was very nervous. I wanted to do a good job (obviously) but it did feel like everything was against us.

I’d initially planned to finish prepping and packing the van by two on Thursday. It’s a long way to Plas Gwynfryn in Harlech, nearly an hour and a half drive and further than my usual range. It’s also a long way to come back if anything crucial is forgotten. We rammed everything into my little van adding more and more as we went on. Vintage china, tapas dishes, trays, tongs, knives, bowls, jugs….on and on I went but I still didn’t feel ready. I realised early on that I’d not fit everything plus an extra waitress in the back, but Rosie ever the optimist kept saying “don’t worry Mum it’ll be fine”. She kept saying this until we shoved the last box in and it dawned on her that actually it wasn’t fine. We’d run out of room.

The van now contained one hundred cupcakes, trays of part-roasted chicken, freezer boxes of salmon and minute steaks, a ton of salad and fruit, boxes of meringues (all hand-made), a tray of bread (half of which was hand-made) plus half the contents of my kitchen. But just as we were ready to go drama struck. Now don’t get me wrong, I like a little pressure in my life (otherwise I wouldn’t be doing this job) but really I wish it would give me a break sometimes. We discovered that our hens who had sat on eggs for 21 days without result now had two little chicks.

one of our little chicks

They flapped about the garden in a panic while Steve the cat watched, licking his lips. This led to emergency action one of the day. Phone Len. “Help” we cried. Len arrived with a wheelbarrow full of wood, wire and tools and restored calm. He put together a chicken run, added a base to the house, chucked in straw and various other bits and bobs to secure our little babies. Safe in the knowledge that we’d protected our babies we left for Harlech, an hour late. We still had to take a detour via Bangor station to put a parking ticket on Sean’s car (he hadn’t had time that morning before he left for another mates wedding in London) and collect waitress number two, who squeezed into the front seat with Ro in a highly illegal manoeuvre (don’t tell the cops!!).

The journey was slow and I was nervous of every bump, hill and bend. When we arrived at Plas Gwynfryn preparation was well under way in the main marquee, but my gazebo looked a touch flimsy. I’d had a call that morning to say the earlier one had blown down in the night so this was a replacement, but now the wind was picking up and I wasn’t convinced it would withstand a gale. Having unpacked the contents of my kitchen, the girls and I moved in to our over night caravan at the neighbouring Plas Gwynfryn Farm cottages.

The girls were as excited as two nine-year olds on their first camping holiday until they realised that Rosie’s idea of packing food for our tea consisted of a tin of tomatoes, some tomato puree, a pot of chopped fruit and the end of a loaf of bread plus the three remaining cupcakes. In the worsening rain I headed back to the venue, minus a raincoat which I forgot to pack, to fetch provisions that would make us a dinner. An hour later we made what Rosie christened “French bread pizza slices”…this consisted of a quickly rustled up tomato and herb sauce, some basil leaves, a few slices of mozzarella and a small salad of cherry tomatoes and red peppers.We didn’t starve at least.

As the wind picked up and the rain increased in intensity I popped back again to check on the gazebo. It was just as well that I did because it flapped about, minus tent pegs and with one guy rope snapped. I guessed it wouldn’t be long before this one took off as well. Fearing the safety of my vintage china and all the food we made an executive decision to dismantle it. At ten O’Clock at night emergency action number two took place. A small team of helpers moved all the food, china and equipment into the neighbouring barn (including a full and heavy fridge) and I returned to the caravan wet and tired, poured a large glass of wine and shortly after headed to bed to shiver and listen to the pelting rain on the roof.

Five AM the next morning and I was wide awake listening to the quiet. The wind had mercifully died down during the night and it even looked quite bright. By about eight the gazebo and kitchen had been reinstated and by the time I arrived at 8.30 everything was back in place, albeit in need of a good clean.

From then on in it was full steam ahead. Jacky, Ursula and I got to work on the salads, ceviche, and halloumi kebabs. We stuffed the peppers (with the filling I’d made the earlier…in the caravan!) and assembled the dishes for the tapas starters. With the rain lashing it was hard to open the sides of the gazebo for ventilation so once all the barbecues were lit it became really hot and smoky. Our eyes watered and we had to keep going outside to cool down.

My main aim was to make sure everything was perfect inside the marquee, whatever was going on outside. Caroline and her team from Plas Gwynfryn, plus the bridesmaids and best man took responsibility for setting up and decorating the tables and marquee. We took charge of the food, with Ursula out front ensuring it all ran smoothly and that Rosie and Amber knew what they were doing and felt supported and confident. Caroline’s team cleared the tables, while my girls served. There was a gelling of both teams and at the end of the day I think we achieved this.

Tapas starters on the table

The buffet table for the main course

Cupcake wedding cake

If you are wondering about the bat theme…Sam, the groom is an ecologist specialising in bat services.

Pudding was a choice of Eton mess (home-made meringue naturally) or fresh fruit salad. The Eton mess was most popular, waitress served, which left no time for photographs sadly.

Overall the day went without major mishap, although we learned many lessons from the small cock-ups along the way…

  • I couldn’t find kebab skewers for love or money and had to get the groom to phone a friend to bring them
  • The tablecloths (that I commissioned) arrived late and were not right. The couple ended up having to hire eight extra round cloths from the venue. I was rather mortified as I hadn’t checked them when they were delivered to my house.
  • Small items were forgotten…the blades for the hand whisk, a lemon squeezer…just little things
  • We had no waste water bucket for the out-pipe of the sink (I’m afraid we left a rather waterlogged lawn for Caroline) but when I asked what other caterers did she told me that no one else had ever ordered a sink unit. I asked her what they did then for washing up, hand washing etc? She didn’t know but stated that the food was already prepared when it arrived on site. I felt rather proud of our little team and the fact that everything was freshly made.
  • I think also I would need to check that I am in a professional catering marquee. Some of the stress came from not knowing whether I would have anywhere to cook in the morning.
  • Caroline will hate me because I forgot to take our bin bags home with us
  • And finally there was the coffee debacle. Our waitresses, plus Caroline’s must have toured the marquee pot in hand a dozen times. Still people came out saying they’d had no coffee. The problem was the sun came out briefly so people disappeared from the tables. We made tea and coffee until the boiler ran out of water and STILL people said they’d not had coffee! We could have stayed serving and making coffee all night but at 7pm the hog roast man arrived to set up for the evening so we had to call it a day and finish packing up.

Bev looked radiant and her day was (I hope) perfect…except the damn rain which we couldn’t have predicted. At the end she hugged me and said “oh Denise, thank you”….which meant the world to me.We arrived home at about 9pm. Too wired to sleep we ordered pizza (which we sat eating at 11pm with a couple of glasses of wine) before collapsing into bed after midnight slughtly drunk, very tired but happy we’d done a good job.

Its been a crazy month, but totally worth it. I love this job 🙂

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My new love…..a Magimix 5200 XL and a recipe for vegan chocolate mousse cake

My husband has this theory. He says that there a male power tools and female power tools. Male power tools go in things (like big powerful drills) while things go in the female equivalent (like food processors and vaccum cleaners). I think he’s talking a load of sexist crap myself, cement mixers (male tool) have stuff put in them and hand blenders (female tool) goes into stuff. He does have a point though when he says I have developed a very male obsession with my new power tool (because, while were on the sexist crap theme, men do become rather obsessed with their tools, don’t they?)

My new obsession borders on love actually, and my brand new girly power tool, a lovely new Magimix 5200XL food processor, is the object of that love. From the moment it arrived, as I ripped open the packaging to see its sleek, shiny, good-looking body, I was in awe. It looked good in and out of its packaging, but at the same time its strong, sturdy and practical design (like the perfect man perhaps? the perfect combo of substance and style) suggested it would stand the test of time. Yep, you got it, I’ve fallen for it big time!

For years I’ve wanted a Magimix. I’ve stared in desolation at images online longingly desiring that unattainable bit of eye candy for the kitchen. I’ve seen other serious cooks use them and tried them out myself. It made me want one even more. Now that I actually have my own I’m like a giggly, nervous teenager experiencing my first crush.

Of course like every new relationship it has to be tried and tested, and this weekend I certainly put through its paces. I’ve grated, shredded, blended and pulsed. Since it is an extra-large model, designed for catering as well as household use, it has three bowls in one, all of differing sizes. I’ve tried out each. The smallest is perfect for smaller quantities of blended sauce or puree. I made a sauce verde with parsley, coriander, mint, a squeeze of lemon juice, some salt and some olive oil. I only needed enough to marinade my chicken for the barbecue and the machine managed it admirably.

The next size bowl is designed for use with a grater or shredder attachment, I guess it’s so you don’t have to wash the large bowl every time. My lovely machine grated and had plenty of room for 500g grated carrot (and I could have fitted in more). It also grated it in super fast time compared to my poor old machine that has been on its last legs for a while, and took forever. The teen watched,

“Woah, has it done it?” she said, not quite believing how quick it was.

For its next test I let the teen have a go. Smoothies are her favourite. I’m sure she would live on them given half a chance, but as my smoothie machine blew up a while ago (after she used it I might add) she’s been sadly deprived and longing for an adequate replacement. This was the perfect opportunity to see how it fared.

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We threw some mango, strawberries, banana and a handful of frozen blackcurrant’s in to the largest bowl along with a splash of semi-skimmed milk and some apple juice. If you like it sweeter you can also add a trickle of agave syrup or honey. I clicked the lid in to place (even doing this feels smooth and efficient) and the machine switched on. Less than two minutes later we had four glasses of perfectly smooth, thick smoothie.

For our last test of the weekend I decided to experiment. With another wedding coming up, for which I need to cater for half a dozen vegans, I thought I’d have a go making a vegan chocolate mousse cake. I’d recently been sent a couple of blocks of Willie’s Cacao (made by Willie Harcourt-Cooze) and thought it the perfect opportunity to try it out. Willie’s cacao is a serious cooks chocolate and not for the faint hearted. Its strong, pure cacao, quite expensive, but I love it and its worth it. Plus it sounds like you are buying something elicit with names like Madagascan Black and Venezuelan Black!! It’s not a chocolate you can eat straight from the wrapper so don’t even try! Its sharp and bitter because it has no added sugar or sweeter like other chocolate and although the hint of fruitiness is still in evidence, it’s strictly for adding to dishes.

I found a recipe on Vegan.com that I tinkered with to create something that suited our palate. It consisted of a thin cake layer topped with a chocolate mousse, plus a layer of fresh fruit.

For the sponge I used:

100g flour (I used dark rye but it made the cake too heavy so I would use half rye and half white next time)

half a teaspoon bicarb of soda

a good pinch of salt

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

95g caster sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

3 tablespoons sunflower or ground nut oil.

1 teaspoon cider vinegar

up to 100ml cold water

Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Make a well in the centre then add oil, vanilla and cider vinegar. Stirring lightly with a fork, add enough cold water to make your cake batter. Turn into an oiled and lined 7 inch loose bottom cake tin. Bake in a preheated oven gas mark 4, 180 degree C for around half an hour. Keep checking after 25 minutes.

In a the large bowl of the new food processor in placed 1 block (about 300g) silken tofu, 1 teaspoon cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon vanilla essence, a pinch of sea-salt, 2 tablespoons vegan milk (soy milk) which I blitzed for a couple of minutes. To this I added 1 block of Willie’s cacao (I used the Madagascan Black) which I had melted in an oven proof bowl on the lowest shelf of the preheating oven and between 1 and 4 tablespoons (or as much as you need) Agave syrup.

The texture was fantastic. Mousse like, smooth and creamy. My old processor would never have managed to blend the tofu so effectively so I was over the moon with this.

The mixture was then smoothed over the cooked and cooled cake base which was then placed in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Finally I removed the mousse cake from the tin and decorated it with sliced strawberries.

The verdict? Well, apart from the base being a little firm, it was a great hit!. The mousse itself was light and creamy with enough dark chocolate taste to satisfy the hard-core chocolate lover. Hubby was less impressed. He’s not that keen on very dark chocolate, but then he doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth anyway. Teen loved it, as did the kid. Sadly we didn’t find any vegans to help us out, but it would never have lasted that long anyway.

So a weekend of success? Yes very definitely. I would recommend a Magimix to anyone. Perhaps not such a large model for the average kitchen, but they do lots of smaller models in gorgeous funky colours. Is my affair going to last? Well so far so good….but I will let you know after I’ve made hummus and salad to feed 500 next weekend!!

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The Irrational Season

No, i’m not referring to strange voting strategies, Olympic hype or Jubilee madness when talk about what Madeleine L’Engle calls the irrational season, instead I refer to marriage.I read this passage at the last wedding I attended, my brothers last year,

But ultimately there comes a moment when a decision must be made. Ultimately two people who love each other must ask themselves how much they hope for as their love grows and deepens, and how much risk they are willing to take…It is indeed a fearful gamble…Because it is the nature of love to create, a marriage itself is something which has to be created, so that, together we become a new creature.

To marry is the biggest risk in human relations that a person can take…

If we commit ourselves to one person for life this is not, as many people think, a rejection of freedom; rather it demands the courage to move into all the risks of freedom, and the risk of love which is permanent; into that love which is not possession, but participation…It takes a lifetime to learn another person…

When love is not possession, but participation, then it is part of that co-creation which is our human calling, and which implies such risk that it is often rejected.

We kicked off our very own ‘irrational season’ this weekend with the first big function of the summer.

Jonathon and Viv’s wedding was held at Nant Gwynant, a campsite with a stunning complex of converted barns in the middle of North Wales. The beautiful, dramatic, lakeside location is undeniably scenic, surrounded by a circle of  craggy mountain peaks rising and falling and is the perfect backdrop for a wedding. Having said this, the location is not for the faint hearted and only the brave and hardy would take a risk on the weather so early in the season. This is because the ample guest accommodation is in tents, camper vans or the bunk house above the barn! You could reasonably predict that a mid-summer wedding would have warm dry weather, but not so early May.

Luckily for the wedding party the weather was good to them. It was dry and mostly sunny, although the temperature was not so forgiving. We all shivered even in the kitchen where our hands went numb chopping tomatoes and avocados. Eventually we decided to light the open fire which warmed us up a little.

In the main barn a fire roared, but it needed a room full of bodies to really stop it being so chilly. The hall and kitchen acted as a wind tunnel funneling an icy breeze through the building. Ladies in strappy dresses shivered, including the bride who looked beautiful in her blue flowered dress but stood wrapped in a cosy shawl by our kitchen fire as she took a few moments to compose herself.

I didn’t envy the guests their tents.

The menu for the event was a two course vegetarian feast for 100. The bride and groom shunned the meat since they and lots of their friends were vegetarian, opting instead for a hearty choice of universally popular Vegetarian favourites and a few specials of my own.

We served a range of tapas style starters, plus home-made bread and extra buns. A white bean and traditional hummus sat side by side, a platter of marinated olives from Petros, goats cheese pearls with chill & garlic and herbs from Y Cwt Caws, semi-dried tomatoes with garlic/oak smoked tomatoes from the tomato stall, guacamole, baba ghanoush with smoked derimon paprika

One of five huge mezze platters

I made so many tarts I was sick to death of rolling pastry….Nantmor wild mushroom and thyme; asparagus and parmesan; tomato, red onion, basil and Welsh cheddar; Savory tatin with potato, cherry toms and feta from Y Cwt Caws, garden herbs and wild garlic with feta and a section of very hearty salads…..oasted beetroot, goats cheese and pomegranate, potato salad with French dressing, Moroccan couscous with fresh herbs, roasted vegetables, sun dried tomatoes and toasted pine nuts, Green salad, Italian farro with pesto (pearled spelt) salad.

A sample of dishes on the table

Guests baked cakes to bring for dessert, each labelled and served on one of what seemed like a hundred cake plates.I briefly wondered where they’d got them all. Surely no one person can own so many!

Cakes galore

We provided the Welsh cheese board served as either an alternative to cake, or an additional main course choice. On it were our favourites; Snowdonia black bomber, Green thunder, Y Fenni (mustard seed and ale), Camembert and Smoked brie from Derimon and green tomato chutney and red tomato relish from the tomato stall.

The piece-de-resistance was the enormous wedding cake. A huge three-tiered  chocolate creation adorned with the most amazing chocolate roses. This is a skill I have yet to master being a rather heavy-handed chef so I totally admire those with the ability and patience to create such masterpieces.

The meal finished with a selection of Clipper teas and coffee.

I was very happy with the finished table and we presumed we had plenty. It was only when my helper came into the kitchen in a panic saying

“there’s a man out there demanding more Quiche”

that we realised we’d been a victim of our own success. We made enough for a hundred and thirty, but everyone wanted some of everything!!

Lessons learned:

  • If the weather is a bit chilly people eat more.
  • No one sticks to one or two pieces of Quiche (if it looks nice and if they are eating it instead of meat)
  • bake more bread
  • and one for me…try not to cut your finger so badly it needs stitching the day you are starting wedding prep (in the end I didn’t have time for stitches so it was constantly wrapped in blue plasters and plastic gloves…but it hurt like hell and still does).

As we knocked off work and the guests (and my waitresses) ceilidh’d into the night all the stress melted away. I knew then we’d done a great job. The bride and groom were over the moon and we even got a round of applause for the food! I was extremely proud…How often does that happen at a wedding?

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Super sexy brownies….for adults only!

This Welsh spring weather is proving to be a real misery. Rainy, cold and dreary its left me feeling uninspired, lethargic, unmotivated and in need of a quick kick. What better than a heady blend of pleasure inducing ingredients all rolled into one rich, moist, sticky chocolate brownie.

This is not a brownie for the kids mind; in fact it is a decidedly grown up brownie and uses not one, but four reportedly aphrodisiac ingredients. A wickedly decadent combination of chilli, chocolate, stem ginger and cranberries. I guessed that would wake me up and put a spring in my step!

Chilli is a fantastic waker-upper. It’s an anti-bacterial, anti-carcinogenic, analgesic and anti-diabetic ingredient that gives you a real zing as it releases natural endorphins in the brain.

Chocolate also has a long-standing reputation as a natural aphrodisiac. The Mayans apparently used cacao beans to pay prostitutes and of course they were the first to use chocolate in a drink, often with a pinch of chilli added (read more on eat something sexy a blog all about..well eating sexy foods!). When we consume chocolate the chemical phenylethylamine which it contains, acts on serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is responsible for feelings of happiness and wellbeing. So when you hear people say chocolate is better than sex? Well it does work in a similar way and both make you feel good!

Ginger is a another ingredient that works on our serotonin levels, primarily the circulatory system and acting as a natural antiemetic. My other half swears by ginger and claims he feels better (generally) after eating it.

Cranberries, while high in antioxidants, are more likely to keep your urinary tract in good working order than take you to the heights of pleasure and passion. Having said this they do contain plenty of vitamin A & C, both of which act on the areas responsible for sexual activity and reproduction. Hopefully then the tiny sweet-sour berries really do help you keep your pecker up (so to speak!).

In this recipe added stem ginger and sour-sweet berries hide within the squidgy chocolate centre and make a pleasant little surprise and perfect counterbalance for the rich chocolate and chilli. If you’re not keen on cranberries you could try cherries (as Jamie Oliver does in his brownie recipe here) or even the original “happy berry”, the goji berry.

Sexy brownies:

100g Montezuma chilli chocolate & 150g Green and Blacks dark chocolate (or use 250g of Montezuma if you fancy a bigger kick)

250g unsalted butter

175g caster sugar

4 tablespoons Green & Blacks cocoa powder

4 tablespoons self-raising flour

2 chunks of finely chopped stem ginger plus 1 tablespoon of the syrup

4 medium eggs

125g dried ready to eat cranberries, goji berries or cherries

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180 degrees C. Line and grease a baking tray.

Put the chocolate and butter in a bowl in the oven to melt. Mix sugar, cocoa, flour, a pinch of sea salt and the finely chopped ginger in a bowl and mix together.

When the chocolate has melted, remove from the oven and give it a stir. Leave it to cool for a few minutes before pouring into the dry ingredients. Mix well.

Break the eggs into the bowl one by one and thoroughly combine everything. Finally stir in the berries or cherries and the tablespoon of ginger syrup.

Spoon on to the baking tray smoothing the top with a spatula until it is flat and even then bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes until set, but not over done. Mark out squares and leave to cool for as long as you can bear the temptation…then tuck in. I guarantee you will be smiling and bouncing again…as long as you don’t over do it!

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Rachel’s Organic and two kinds of muffin

With the arrival of my Rachel’s Organic parcel and the chance to try their new fat-free range I decide to embark on a muffin making afternoon. You can’t go wrong with muffins. Ok, so it might be defeating the object of buying fat-free, but you can use yogurt in lots more ways than just as an accompaniment to granola, or eaten as it comes from the tub. Muffins are practical and versatile. You can make them sweet or savoury, fill them with cheese, bacon, or any kind of sweet treat from fresh or dried fruit to luscious home-made jam. They make a great breakfast, a healthy lunchbox addition or just the perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea (I love my tea and cake, in all its guises!).

Muffins are also more filling and substantial than a plain old fairy cake. The fact that they are somewhat heavier makes them more akin to bread; a little mini loaf in a cake wrapper. Having said this you do still need to take a bit of care when mixing. A heavy hand produces a rather solid mass of bun, not the light and airy one that you are aiming for.

The other thing about muffins is that they positively demand you add yogurt. It is this that gives them their distinctive less sweet and slightly sharpish, taste.

I used two tubs of Rachel’s Organic yogurt to make two very differently flavoured muffins; natural yogurt with home-made lemon curd in the first batch (al la Hugh Fearnley Whittingstalls recipe) and peach and passionfruit (with one mashed banana) in the second. The former are most popular with Aidan and consumed by the bucket load, but the teen prefers the latter (she hates lemon curd!!)

Hugh FW’s lemon curd muffins (makes about 12):

225g plain flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, a pinch of Halen Mon seas salt, 100g caster sugar, 1 medium egg, 125ml Rachel’s organic low-fat natural yogurt, 125ml milk, 75g unslated butter (melted), 150g lemon curd.

Line a muffin tin with 12 cases and preheat the oven to 180 degrees C / gas mark 4.

Mix flour, baking powder, salt and caster sugar in a large bowl. Combine the egg, yogurt, milk and melted butter in a jug and pour on to the dry ingredients mixing very lightly until just combined. If you over mix you will get those heavy muffins that you want to avoid. Add the lemon curd a few dollops at a time and marble in to the mixture roughly. Again avoid over stirring.

Spoon the mixture into the paper cases and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes or until golden brown on top. Transfer to a rack to cool and eat, preferably while still warm, but they should keep for a day or two as lunch box essentials for nine-year old boys!

Tropical peach, passionfruit and banana muffins:

Use the same recipe as above but substitute 125g of fat-free peach and passionfruit yogurt for the natural yogurt and a large well mashed banana for the lemon curd. All the other stages remain the same. You could also use the blackcurrant yogurt along with a handful of blueberries, or black currants when in season….or the strawberry and rhubarb with a tablespoon or two of freshly cooked pulped rhubarb (which is now in season)…most importantly once you have that basic recipe to follow, let your imagination run wild, what could go wrong!!

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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!!)

NIGELLA’S CHOCOLATE GUINNESS CAKE RECIPE;

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!!

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Aderyn Melys cakes

Aderyn Melys, or Sweet Bird to non-Welsh speakers is a 100% vegan cupcake company. Vegan! you butter lovers exclaim, surely not. But trust me, these are no ordinary cupcakes. These cakes would put a smile on the face of the most hardened dairy worshipper and knock spots off most  ordinary cupcakes.

Aderyn Melys is based in Anglesey and run by Lynwen Lloyd Hughes. One of very few cupcake manufacturers in the UK that solely produce vegan and allergy free cakes….its by far and away the best. With her commitment to quality, organic and local ingredients and her attention to detail and presentation Lynwen is carving out something of a reputation for herself and a loyal fan base here in Wales.

Imagine the pleasure of biting into a soft, sweet, almondy Bakewell tart cupcake and discovering a secret pocket of jam in the centre, a delightful bit of buried treasure hidden beneath an almost obscene amount of rich flavoursome icing…all fluffy swirls and pretty understated decoration and perfectly finished with a cherry and some slivered almonds…you would almost be forgiven for calling the icing ‘buttery’…but there isn’t a hint of butter in sight.

The family adores them, cake with everything we say!!! So what better way to celebrate Valentines Day than to receive a special bespoke delivery of delicious and beautiful cupcakes.  I used the excuse of ordering them for my other half…and the kids…but I was tingling with anticipation at their arrival.

When they arrived, beautifully boxed and labelled, we all had big grins on our faces.

As a vegan Lynwen knows how hard it is to find delicious cakes and treats, so she made her own. Now she has a fabulous array of exciting flavours with which to entice cake lovers; think vanilla, chocolate, lemon, apple crumble, apple and blackcurrant crumble, victoria sponge, chocolate orange, chocolate raspberry, strawberry and vanilla, blueberry lemon, carrot cake, chocolate banana, banana and chocolate chip, chocolate mint, strawberry lemon, lemon and blackcurrant, lemon and raspberry, lemon curd, cherry Bakewell.

You’ll find it hard to make a choice with all that lot!! Lynwen offers bespoke cupcakes for all occasions and events and she also hand delivers within a 15 mile radius of Llangefni.

My box of four cakes plus delivery cost £8.00 an absolute bargain!

If you would like to order cupcakes or discuss a special occasion you can give Lynwen a call on 07759 576739 or

email:  lynwen@aderynmelys.com

or you can pop down to the Ogwen Produce market, Bethesda on the second Saturday of the month and pick some up there.

 
 

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To Market, to market..

We didn’t go to buy a fat pig or a fat hen….although we did cook some lovely dry cure bacon and chorizo!

We missed the Ogwen Produce market, Bethesda during the January break, so it was with great joy that I packed up my boxes and headed off early Saturday morning to cook for the market faithful. Usually I sell jam and chutney and run the pop-up cafe, but this month I was giving myself a bit of a break and just sticking to the cafe, which gave me time to take some pictures, an unusual feat for me…and how nice it was to have time to browse and catch up with other producers.

The Bethesda market is lovely because it combines local crafts and food. You can pick up your Sunday dinner and buy a few extra treats and gifts and this month, with Valentines day being just round the corner there were so many pretty bits and bobs to buy. They had everything from heart-shaped biscuits at Cegin Brysur, to felt hearts, cards, red heart jewellery from DyfalDonc, gorgeous cute egg cosy’s, chocolate at Cariad chocolates and those beautiful valentines cakes that I’d seen on Aderyn Melys’s FB page…I made a beeline for them!

As well as sweet treats, crafts and the usual vegetables, cheese (from Rhyd Y Delyn), local honey and bread, two local butchers joined us for the first time.  Johnny 6 came along with their Welsh made chorizo, lamb merguez and other gourmet sausages, while I cooked up samples in the kitchen. I’m loving their Welsh dragon (leek and chilli) variety at the moment. We also had Tom Pritchard, from Parc Farm (in the next village to us) selling his home reared pork and lamb. It was good to have fresh meat on sale.

It was a cold day and I’m sure the hall was chillier than it was outside. But we kept ourselves warm with plenty of hot tea and coffee, plus bacon and sausage baps, chorizo and chick pea stew and spiced parsnip and apple soup.

Here are a few pictures from the day…

Wendy from Johnny 6

Sophie from Phia designs with her lovely fluffy scarves and wraps, recycled fleece slippers and hats and totally cute and gorgeous egg cosys…a perfect gift for Easter

cooking chorizo!

Cariad chocolate

Rhyd y Delyn cheese

Paul from Moelyci environmental centre in the foreground and our cafe at the back

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