Category Archives: cookery courses

A final look at Ludlow Food Festival…the bits I didn’t show you before

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The Inner bailey, Ludlow Food Festival

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the teen…if she gets stroppy

The teen and I saw and did a lot more than just get high on coffee at last months visit to Ludlow Food Festival. From Egyptian and Indian cooking to the sampling of a variety of wonderful products (everything from smoky cheese to absinthe marzipan and hot chocolate recipes from the 1600’s) we pretty much did it all.

As a food festival organiser it’s always great to get out and see how others do it. No, its more than great, its essential and not just as a demonstrator but also as a guest, as I was on this occasion. The one problem with running a food festival is that you never get an opportunity to really get out and see what’s happening ‘on the streets’, this is why I also really enjoy visiting food festivals (and I’ve been to a few!). They all have their own character and personality, whether small or large they all have something slightly different and distinctive about them. As an example, Conwy Feast (where I am demoing next Saturday) has the arts and lights programme, late night live music and a harbourside setting, Ludlow is in the castle itself and although it doesn’t have music, it does have a variety of daytime workshops and classes all based within the castle walls. Abergavenny has a bit of everything! All these different facets help keep them fresh and up to date.

This is most noticeable in the case of festivals like Ludlow and Abergavenny that have run a while. Our Menai Seafood Festival is a baby compared to twenty year old Ludlow, or even seventeen year old Llangollen, which despite being a lot smaller than the others, plays to that strength.

The longer established festivals are more polished, confident and often a bit more adventurous. They know who they are and what they are doing which in the case of Ludlow, is why it can successfully run for three days and still pull in the crowds (which total around 20,000 over the weekend).

Friday is the day that most media and catering professionals visit. Dubbed ‘top chef’ Friday its the day the bigger names appear. This year chefs included one of the UK’s top female chefs Emily WatkinsDaniel Doherty , private chef Frank Pontais (who we caught the tail end of) and Ed Kimber (The Boy Who Bakes) who gave a French patisserie demo on the Graeme Kidd demo stage. It was late in the day when we arrived and after Ed’s demo we just had time for a short wander around,  booking into Saturday’s workshops and generally doing a bit of a recce. By the end of the day we’d planned our Saturday agenda, so sloped off for a bit of dinner at the newly opened Wildwood Kitchen. We were lucky, we hadn’t booked a table anywhere and predictably most of the restaurants were full. The Wildwood had space, possibly because it was so new. It felt new, but the food while not being wildly inventive (it may have been a special ‘festival’ menu), was tasty. The teen and I weren’t taken by many of the main courses and my choices were limited because of my gluten intolerance (it’s already getting on my nerves!!). Instead we selected a mediterranean platter, a superfood chicken salad and an onion and tomato salad which we shared. We’d worried we wouldn’t have enough but in the end it was plenty especially after dessert (mango sorbet for the teen and an Affogato ice cream for me. The caffeine shot perked me up and we wandered off to meet some friends for a drink.

Saturday was busy. We had a lot to pack in before heading back to Wales and we did just that. I’m just going to share with you a few of our highlights and things we loved, suggest some things you should check out if you can, and give a quick round-up of what we thought …I will be brief, but with lots of pictures.

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Entrance to the castle

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cheerful chutney selling ladies from Usk River

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Beautiful packaging and delicious chocolate at Sue Gilmour’s Wonderful World of Chocolate

Ed, who previously worked in a bank, won The Great British Bake Off in 2010. He gave up the day job to bake full-time, has two cookbooks out already (The Boy Who Bakes and Say it With Cake), with his new one out now. He made a chocolate and passionfruit curd tart topped with chocolate ganache.

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entrance to the inner bailey

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The teen doing some serious curry and mango chutney sampling

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fit onion seller

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We even bumped into Boysie

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The lovely coffee lady who gave us some of her coffee…from the little coffee bag company

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Cheese’s with their own names from Orsom…little cheese, big personality…Woodew? we defintely would…we took one home with us

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Tasting hot chocolate with the chocolate man from The Copper Pot...we brought two bags of hot chocolate and a recipe book home..my favourite has to be the chilli and orange recipe from 1685

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hipster fudge sellers at UFO

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Steam punk treats from the travelling emporium…that’s where we bought our Absinthe marzepan

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strange man from the emporium of all sorts of weird things

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Cooking Like Cleopatra class with Egyptian born Marina Ibrahim...simple techniques with a bit of fun thrown in

Cooking Like Cleopatra class with Egyptian born Marina Ibrahim…simple techniques with a bit of fun thrown in

Marina’s mantra is “you can’t be wrong, if your recipe is cooked with love the food is going to be good!” I like this mantra, totally get where she’s coming from. Her cookery class focused on two traditional Egyptian dishes, Shakshuka and a beetroot salad. The class was simple, fun and practical. Even the fez wearing girls at the back, who appeared to have sampled one or two of the local ales managed admirably.

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eager participants getting into the spirit of it with fez’s

From one female chef to the next…this time Rayeesa and her southern Indian Secrets masterclass. Encouraging her class to be liberal with the spices she demonstrated how to make a traditional dahl, sharing handy tips (don’t add salt to the lentils til later or they won’t cook!)

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Rayeesa from Rayeesa’s Indian Kitchen in Hertfordshire running her Indian Vegetarian class (the teen’s choice)

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spices at Rayeesa’s Indian cookery masterclass

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we swooned (a little) over Marcus Bean (from ITV This Morning….although I never watch it)

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cookery class participants enjoying their creations

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…and I swooned even more over Chris Burt…who is genuinely lovely guy and a very talented chef committed to keeping it local. A trip to Shrewsbury to visit his restaurant Momo No Ki is on my bucket list of food places I must visit…soon!

We finished the day with THAT coffee masterclass and bounced off home happy, both agreeing that it was one of the best food festivals we’d ever attended. We even managed not to argue!

A big thankyou to Ludlow for their hospitality and friendliness and producers that gave us lots of lovely things to eat and drink, this was our swag from the day….some purchased, some freebies! I’ve mentioned a few of our favourites, but we also loved the Merangz from The Little Round Cake Company and Granny Tiggs sauce

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Daily post video, Bodnant Cookery school and a recipe for mussels with cider, leeks and chorizo

Bodnant Welsh Food

Once more in the press, this time the North Wales Daily Post website. A couple of weeks ago I and a number of other local chefs spent a slightly nerve-wracking, but fun morning making a series of 3 minute recipe videos in our role as Bodnant Cookery School tutors. I cooked up a really simple dish of Menai mussels with chorizo, leeks and Welsh Cider which you can watch here and grab the recipe for yourself.

The spec was to create super quick dishes that demonstrated the kind of things we would be teaching in our classes as well as show casing our talents. My general ethos on life is to share and teach. In my classes I aim to teach skills to home cooks, or those wanting to become better home cooks and who perhaps want to learn a few tricks of the chef trade. I’m not a Michelin star chef and that is my strength. Although I trained as a chef I have spent many years as a home-cook so I have learnt to improvise and do it my way and not be constrained by the way it ‘should’ be done……but for all that I know how food works and what goes together well.

My first course at Bodnant was yesterday. A fully booked event exploring different flavours, spices and techniques in my easy to follow ‘One pot wonders’ session. Hands on, relaxed and good fun. Everyone got to make their own dishes, then take them home for tea…including me!

My next session is on NEXT SATURDAY ( 3rd May) where I will be showing participants how to make creative marinades for their home BBQ plus a few inspiring accompaniments. There are still spaces so check the website for more details.

After this courses are fairly frequent, the next being Saturday 10th May (fresh local fish) click here for more information and to book, then Saturday 24th May (all things asparagus), again see the website for more details and check out the Daily Post website for videos showcasing the other courses and tutors.

Bodnant Welsh Food

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Five food themed activities to keep the kids entertained this summer

So here we go, the school holidays are upon us and if you are anything like me (a bit last-minute) then you’ve barely begun to think about what to do with the kids. Its fine if you are lucky enough to have the summer off, but for me it’s such a busy time. With work most weekends its difficult to plan a big holiday, so what I tend to do is save that big holiday for spring or Autumn and just do day trips, activities and maybe the odd weekend away camping. One of the things that takes up a lot of time is the Green Man festival. My work period stretches for a tiring three and half weeks and I’m away the whole time. That makes for a big chunk of the school holidays, but there is still the odd week where there are no exciting plans and we want something interactive to do, or sadly we have to work. So how to keep my boy entertained?

Well he and I checked out a few ideas for things to do in over the summer …when his boring parents are otherwise engaged and there are no friends about to hang out with. Between us we came up with a list of five fun food themed and outdoor activities (he likes food and this IS a food blog after all) ranging from the most expensive to the almost-free. Reviews are by me, with added comments from Aidan age 10 and a half.

1. Young Cooks Holiday Kitchen at The Bodnant Welsh Food Centre  runs courses throughout the summer. Kids get the opportunity to make their own nachos with refried beans, guacamole, salsa from scratch, a five bean chilli to take home and bananas with chocolate chimichanga sauce.

Courses cost £45 which makes them a more expensive option but this includes all the ingredients. They run between 10am and 1pm and take place on the 30th and 31st July and 9th and 29th August. They do get busy so booking is essential.

Call 01492 651100

On the 27th/28th July the centre will also be hosting a children’s fun festival with games and lots of food themed entertainment for all the family.

If you don’t live in Wales check out your nearest cookery schools online or give them a call to see if they have special activites planned for the holidays.

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Photos courtesy of Bodnant Welsh Food Centre

2. On a similar theme, but a little cheaper…how about spending the day making your own chocolate lollies? North Wales based chocolatiers Baravelli’s are offering bespoke courses where kids get to create their own delights. Prices are £15 per child for an hour and a half session, with a maximum 6 to a group. Kids must be accompanied by a parent (as this is a hands on exercise it’s just as fun for parents to get involved) and at the end you get to take home the things you’ve made….if they last that long!

They also run 3 hour courses for older teens/adults where you can make your own chocolate truffles or learn cake decorating techniques. These run for 3 hours and cost £40 per person and again, you get to take home all you have made (which is apparently a lot).

To book a course call Mark on 01492 338121

3. For a fuller day of child care how about giving the kids a taste of the great outdoors? The aim of  Wonderwoods is to ‘get kids back outside being kids again’ and what kid can resist a bit of den building, some foraging and the lure of cooking on an open campfire?

Sessions will be running on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for the first two weeks of the school holidays starting this Tuesday (23rd July) and then the last two weeks.  Sessions cost £20 a day but they offer a £10 reduction for kids attending all three days (each week). The club runs from 10am until 4pm. For more information call Jon on the number on the poster below.

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My two guest reviewers Aidan (10) and his mate Maisy (11) spent the day and this is what they thought.

“The games at the beginning were a bit babyish for me, but it got better when we made fires and started cooking”. Maisy was the only girl and the oldest in the group. She enjoyed the hands on activities like fire and swing making and cooking pancakes the best but thought that perhaps it would be better to divide the kids in two age groups as she found some of the younger boys a bit annoying.

“I’d never made a swing or a hammock before and that was cool” Aidan was the second oldest, but was less irritated with the younger lads. He’s a laid back fellow generally and enjoyed all of the hands on activites, but agreed the games at the beginning were a little young for him. Nevertheless he want’s to go again so that’s as good a reference as any!

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chopping wood for the fire

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making the fire

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kids just love making fire!…Later they made and cooked pancakes and strawberry jam to go on top!

4. Celebrate fish! On the last weekend of the school holidays (31st August) it’s the inaugural Menai Seafood Festival. Based around the harbour and waterside in Menai Bridge it celebrates all things fishy, highlighting the coast and sea life that surrounds Anglesey and Gwynedd. Dylan’s Restaurant are the driving force behind what should be a busy, action packed, family day out. With rib rides, seashore safari’s with Anglesey sea zoo, educational talks from Bangor University marine biology team, watery themed art workshops, local music and a number of talented local chefs cooking up a  plethora of crustacean and pescatarian dishes to sample there is something for both adults and kids alike. All that and it’s free!

5. Last but certainly not least why not spend an afternoon picking your own fruit? Always fun. It whiles away a couple of hours in the sun (something we have plenty of at the moment), you can eat while you pick and still bring some home for tea. Hunt for your local pick your own farm online or ask at a farm shop, or just take a trip into the countryside surrounding you and see what you find….the two closest to me (one in Tregarth and one on Anglesey) are…

Moelyci Community Farm  is open for picking between 12 until 7pm everyday. They have plenty of strawberries, raspberries, loganberries and huge quantities of currants (red, white and black). Prices are very reasonable and the setting is stunning.

Hooton’s  PYO site is on the A5025 just one mile from Menai Bridge in the direction of Pentraeth – LL59 5RR (Look out for the signs). It’s open between 11am and 5pm during peak season.

Aidan says:”it’s great because it doesn’t cost much, you can eat loads and take stuff home to make all sorts of things like Eton mess” 8/10

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Blackcurrants ripe for picking at Moelyci

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***THIS POST WILL BE UPDATED WITH PICTURES AND COMMENTS AS AIDAN ATTENDS THESE ACTIVITIES. THE SEAFOOD FESTIVAL IS THE EXCEPTION AS IT DOESN’T HAPPEN UNTIL THE LAST WEEKEND OF THE HOLIDAYS

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Sourdough and brioche at Bodnant Welsh Food Centre

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There is one thing I have to say……that Alex Gooch has singlehandedly ruined my post-Christmas diet.

Attending part two of his bread making course (this time the advanced class) was always going to be a struggle. It appears now that my resolution to cut out bread and cakes for the month of January was premature, especially as I seem to have given up smoking and drinking too. Smoking because I have long had a rule that I will only smoke if here is tobacco in the house and now everyone else has given up smoking too, so by default so have I and alcohol because it doesn’t mix with hefty doses of Cocodamol I’m taking for my back pain.

Now here we get to my other struggle, my slipped disc is not healing well and I knew I wouldn’t be able to lift, knead or stand for a long period but rather than cancel my place on the course, I took a helper along with me. That helper was none other than my teen.

You may laugh and raise an eyebrow as I know most teens would rather die than go make bread with their mother, but she did not scowl, moan or swear at me. She came totally of her own volition and even appeared to enjoy herself! It was also interesting for me to see how the course might appeal to someone who isn’t necessarily the ‘target audience’. Would she be bored or not keep up with instructions?

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looking slightly miserable as still not fully awake

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It is testament to Alex’s easy-going style and excellent teaching that she remained totally engaged (if a little monosyllabic early on, claiming that it was far too early for all this). Nothing was too complicated, it was well explained (even if she didn’t always listen or follow his instructions….but that is just being seventeen….clearly she knew better than anybody, even the expert!)

As a team we barely even bickered although she had the rest of the class tittering as she claimed I was sooo over controlling. She actually did most of the work while I sat watching and a bloody good job she did too.

But I have gone off on a tangent and you are probably still wondering why Alex ruined my diet….its totoally down to that apple brioche (this is where I sigh and drool in ecstasy) which was totally addictive. The teen and I ate our first chunk, still warm from the oven, glistening with the lemon, vanilla syrup in which it was doused and powdered with icing sugar in the car on the way home….and we haven’t stopped since. I promise I will share the recipe in my next post.

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I’m not sure yet whether Bodnant has sorted itself out organisation wise. Again we had to help ourselves to tea and coffee and there were no drinks provided during the day, in the end Alex had to find jugs and fetch drinks for lunch.  Lunch itself was enjoyable, although there was nothing there that Rosie liked except potato salad and coleslaw (but as a vegetarian that hates mushrooms that was just unfortunate). Alex however has been consistently good and if anything this was even better than the last, more relaxed and comfortable, although that might be because most of us had been at on the earlier course together.

We once again whizzed through the making of three different types of bread; rye sourdough, light rye sourdough, olive and rosemary sourdough and that fatal apple brioche.

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sticky brioche dough

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sticky hands!

Teen handled all of them exceptionally well, regressing to a child like state as she worked the sticky dough on the table (a memory of play dough perhaps!). If anything she played around poking and prodding the dough a little too much so that our light sourdough did not rise as much as it should. A lesson learned.

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sourdough in proving baskets

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the olive and rosemary sourdough in the proving baskets…this one didn’t rise so well due to too much teen prodding and not enough resting!

I told her to listen carefully as she might learn something when we discussed sourdough starters. Alex told us he’d had his sourdough starter for seven and a half years!! Deb, the only other woman on the course, told a story of how sourdough starters are often passed down through the generations from grandmother to granddaughter, a beautiful historic link to the past and a way of life that has slowly been eroded by the modern world. Sometimes they are given as a wedding present to daughters to carry on a family tradition….Rosie looked totally horrified at the thought of being passed on a sourdough starter. I said she could have it as a wedding present….to which she replied “What for? It’s not like I’m EVER going to make bread again in my life! ” I’m now looking forward to the day when she comes to me and says “Remember when we went to that bread course…what did that bloke say about…”

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Alex’s seven and a half year old sour dough starter

Her concentration only waned as the marathon bread baking began and we all stood chatting. She couldn’t be bothered talking to us boring lot so went to read her book, nipping back now and then as the next loaf came out of the oven.

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dark rye sourdough

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beautiful light sourdough

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almost a full set

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Rosie’s piece de resistance…..apple brioche, with run soaked prunes

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coating the brioche with syrup

She finally returned to wrap all the baked bread carefully in tissue and greased proof paper. Back at home she carried the box into the house with great pride “I made that” she said. I hope one day she will return to this memory and come back for her sourdough starter.

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A box of carefully wrapped bread to take home

A course with Alex is a joy. Although there does tend to be a ‘typical’ audience (very male) don’t let this put you off, the course is fun for everyone…even a stroppy teen!!

To check courses and dates go to the cookery school page on the Bodnant website, or email reception@bodnant-welshfood.co.uk for further information.

Moel Faban Suppers and Rosie McClearn were guests of Bodnant Welsh Food.

 

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

View through the kitchen window

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

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

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

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

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

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

A very sticky dough…but apparantly perfect!

Bun dough ready to prove

More scarily sloppy dough…this time focaccia

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

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

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

Focaccia dough liberally sprinkled with torn fresh rosemary and pecorino cheese

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

Buns and twists ready to prove

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

One plain spelt loaf and one blue cheese and rosemary

Well risen potato baps

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

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

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

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bread rising in the warm kitchen

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

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

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

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

Spelt loaf

Cinnamon buns

Nice baps! Potato bread nice and brown

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

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

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

To check courses and dates go to the cookery school page on the Bodnant website, or email reception@bodnant-welshfood.co.uk for further information.

Moel Faban Suppers was a guest of Bodnant Welsh Food.

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Bodnant Welsh food centre and the Hayloft Restaurant

Although it opened in the summer, its only in recent weeks that I’ve had a chance to explore the Bodnant Welsh Food Centre. A twitter follower mentioned it was coming at the beginning of the year and later I received a couple of emails telling me to keep an eye out for the opening. I followed development with interest and hoped to attend the opening, but typically I was mad busy and away working so its only now that I’m becoming acquainted with the place.

Bodnant Welsh Food Centre is more of a Welsh food hub and has lots of different parts. The first thing you come across when entering the courtyard is the Furnace Farm Shop which sells an extensive array of Welsh food. They produce and make a lot of what they sell in the shop and serve in the tea room, plus a wide variety of goods from local suppliers.

The tea room across the courtyard has spectacular views over the Conwy Estuary and Carneddau mountains. You can sit and admire them with a warming drink, from a comfy sofa, knowing you are sitting where the cattle once stood. You also know that just next to the old cattle byre talented artisans are baking and making the ingredients for your lunch. The centre boasts its own dairy, butchery and bakery. You can’t get produce much more local than that!

The National Beekeeping Centre of Wales purpose-built visitor centre is just next to the tea room. You can visit and speak to the dedicated expert staff, visit on site apiaries, view bees in their natural environment at work via the live webcam and generally learn all you need to know about keeping bees. I always thought you needed lots of land and  plenty of distance from other houses, but I’ve since discovered that you can pretty much have a bee hive anywhere, apparently they have them on the top of the Waldorf Astoria in New York!

For a more substantial lunch you can visit the The Hayloft Restaurant. Its situated above the Furnace shop and has its own entrance and outside seating area (for when the weather warms up again). If you climb the stairs again you come to the The Bodnant Cookery School where a variety of cookery courses are held, usually at a weekend, although there are some midweek too. Of course since the centre is only in its infancy the programme is still under development ( I have recently attended a course there, but that deserves a post of its own!).

If this wasn’t enough there is also guest accommodation, a training/event room for hire and of course the most stunning views you can imagine!

Personally I’m thrilled that these once run-down farm buildings have a new lease of life . Their restoration has been sympathetically carried out and they are beautifully styled and decorated having retained every bit of their earthy traditional charm. You can sit by the open fire in the restaurant lounge and view original beams throughout, while little unique touches such as the antler chandelier on the stairs and the reclaimed wood tables give a modern yet rustic feel. It’s also good to see the place so busy. The quietest time was when I first visited midweek; small amounts of building and finishing work were still going on and you could tell it was still not yet complete,  but now that is all done and at the weekend it’s absolutely packed!

I recently dropped in for lunch at the Hayloft restaurant, eager to try their food after hearing good reports from friends. I booked a table just in case it was busy, but there was no need. I guess at the weekend it might well be fully booked, but on a Thursday lunchtime there was plenty of space. This may of course change as their reputation grows.

The lounge area is beautiful and the refurbishment project has really brought out the best in the buildings. The roaring open fire and comfortable sofas create a homely relaxed atmosphere. I could have sat there drinking gin and tonic all day and not felt any pressure to move on.

The restaurant itself is bright, modern and pleasant. My dining companion dislikes music in restaurants, he finds it distracts from good food and conversation so he was pleased at its absence, although I thought the jazz in the lounge was rather nice. I also liked that there was a variety of clientele; families with young children sat alongside retired couples, others had clearly dropped in for lunch after having a walk but no one looked out-of-place and staff were friendly and attentive, helpful and polite.

The lunch menu is not extensive, but offers enough choice for everyone to find something they like. I opted for Menai mussels in white wine, cream and garlic and my dinner partner chose pan-fried pigeon breast with orange and beetroot salad with ginger dressing.

Menai mussels with cream and garlic

Pigeon breast with orange, beetroot & ginger salad

The mussels were creamy and delicious. The sauce was quite rich and heavy and could have been too much had the portion size been larger, but it was spot on leaving me plenty of room for my main and not over filling me. The rich gamey-ness of the pigeon breast worked nicely with the sharpness of the salad. The contrast of sweet, bitter, sharp and meaty worked very well, although there could have been a little more ginger in the dressing as it wasn’t so obvious.

For my main course I chose Bodnant steak burger with juniper and morello cherries, salad and root vegetable shavings and my dinner partner chose a slow cooked shoulder of lamb on mashed potato, with garlic and rosemary sauce. I have to say my dining partner was very happy, no miniscule portions here! A really good hearty lunch put a big smile on his face; the vegetables were perfectly cooked, the lamb fell tenderly from the bone and his only gripe was that there wasn’t more sauce to soak into the mash.

My burger was sweet and juicy, well-flavoured with the juniper and cherry and the root vegetable shavings were deliciously crisp with a hint of sweet and salt. A small salad accompanied and a bun baked on site. The only thing missing was a dressing or relish for the burger. A home-made burger without any relish can veer on the dry side and as the salad not dressed either it just needed a little something. I wondered if I would be offered anything but after a minute or two I decided to ask the waitress if there was anything to go on the burger, or if she had any dressing of any kind. She offered a mustard dressing for the salad, which was very tasty.

Of course we couldn’t resist dessert, even though we were pretty full. I went for a lighter choice, the white chocolate and lemon parfait with raspberry coulis and home-made tuille while my partner (to my amazement after all that lamb) chose blackberry and apple crumble with fresh egg custard. Apparently he just HAD to go for all the winter options because it was cold outside. That’s his excuse!

The parfait was light and delicate but I could hardly taste the lemon in it. The coulis matched beautifully with the white chocolate and the crisp tuille finished the dish perfectly. The crumble was nice and crunchy, the apple well cooked; still holding its form so it had a good texture but not too crunchy, however it was quite tart (which I like, but others with a sweeter tooth may find a little too sharp). The egg custard was, well eggy and delicious.

The only criticisms we had, as I said above, were quite minor things really and mostly related to the finishing touches and rather cautious use of flavourings. They certainly didn’t detract from quality or our enjoyment of the meal.  As for cost, we both had three courses, a drink each and I finished with a coffee. The total bill came to £42.00 which I think is excellent value for money.

As a whole Bodnant Welsh food centre has impressed me. It makes a great stop off while exploring the surrounding area, a fab lunch destination and an interesting place to visit in its own right. I’m looking forward to checking out the Bee Centre and what courses they have on offer and I’m already booked on a course in the new year. I think there are still some pricing inconsistencies that might put people off; yes the restaurant is excellent value, but some of the products on sale in the shop are quite expensive in comparison to other outlets in the area, and courses are not cheap either. I know it’s still early days, but I suppose my hope is that Bodnant Welsh food centre becomes widely known both in and outside of North Wales. If it can make itself accessible to more than just those in a particular wage bracket or the tourist industry and raise awareness among locals of the food we have on our doorstep its on to a winner. Hopefully then we will see this rather unique centre thrive and grow.

Bodnant Welsh Food is open from 10.00am – 6.00pm, Monday to Saturday & 11.00am – 5.00pm on Sunday.
Hayloft Restaurant is open Mon-Wed 12pm-3pm, Thurs-Sat 12pm-9pm and Sun 12pm-4pm
Bodnant Welsh Food, Furnace Farm, Tal-y-cafn, Conwy, LL28 5RP T: 01492 651100
E: customerservices@bodnant-welshfood.co.uk

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Spicing it up with Steenbergs at Conwy Feast

Conwy Feast is my most favourite food festival. Official.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Sugar-free strawberry jam:

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

1 vanilla pod split in half

juice of one lemon

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

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

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

Tomato chilli jam:

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

a small chunk of fresh ginger (finely grated)

3 cloves garlic finely minced

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

1 blade of mace

1 star anise

half a teaspoon of crushed coriander seeds

500g granulated sugar

200ml cider vinegar

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

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

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Preserving workshops, Morrison’s magazine, BBC Radio ‘Wales on the Menu’ and a simple plea

So, another busy week ends and I have lots more exciting things to report, plus a heartfelt plea to my readers.

But lets start on a high note! Last week, as some people have mentioned to me already, there was a little piece in Morrison’s supermarket in-store magazine about supper clubs. Moel Faban was one of four mentioned and asked to contribute to the article. I’m not a big fan of supermarkets as most will know and tend to only use them for basics, so it’s slightly strange being written about by one, but also nice at the same time. It’s only a small mention mind (and they spelt Faban wrong), but its nice to have some recognition for starting the trend in Wales 🙂

On that note, it will be our third birthday this coming October. How time flies!! Keep an eye out for dates as we might have to have a special celebration!

The other thing that happened last week was that BBC Radio Wales’s Wales on the Menu programme contacted me. In it Simon Wright challenges home cooks to get their speciality dish on the menu of a top restaurant.  I like this programme myself, so when they asked me to pass the word out to my followers, or anyone that might be keen to take part in the new series I was happy to oblige. Lets see a few more North Walean cooks getting themselves on the map!

If you want more information about taking part, or know anyone that might be up for a challenge, you can email them at walesonthemenu@presentable.co.uk 

I finished the week catering for a big birthday bash on Saturday, followed by a day of preserving workshops on Sunday. Organised  by Moelyci Environmental Centre and the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens, they were a way of welcoming Autumn and celebrating the harvest.

Workshop photos taken with my camera by Emily @Moelyci: picture 1 showing a less than glamorous me (oh how I wish I was a little photgenic) with the morning group; then measuring out the fruit, Moelyci strawberries frozen during the summer months and then defrosted for jam making; and finally everyone in action!

When I say harvest it is with a little sadness that our British one is rather depleted this year. It is noticeably thin on the ground with the apple yield down (my tree only grew two very small apples), hardly any black currants in comparison to last year and most soft fruit faring badly in the face of a deluge of rain with little sun to even things out. Earlier in the year my Mum complained about the ruined Kentish cherry crop. Usually her little tree is positively bowed under the weight of fruit. This year they failed to grow…and when they did get going they failed to ripen. I missed out totally and have had little to turn into jam. The only thing I have plenty of is gooseberries which I picked and froze before I went away for the summer. They will soon be turned to jam and made into other lovely desserts.

On the day of the festival the heavens opened again and drowned us all day. Thankfully my two preserving groups (eight in the morning and eight in the afternoon) and I remained dry in our little catering marquee, warmed by three gas stoves and cheered by a heavenly aroma of fruit and spices which greeted the senses of anyone entering. We didn’t care about the rain.

When asked to run the workshops I doubted my own abilities. I thought that seasoned preservers would know more than me and put me to shame, but I surprised myself with the amount of jamming knowledge i have stuffed away inside my head. I not only passed on basic tips but encouraged experimentation and bravery. Each little group chose different spices and seasonings for their chutney; a little indian pickle spice here, some chilli flakes there, a bit of star anise and mustard seeds a plenty. In our jam session we tried different quantities of sugar (to see if it affected the set) and ways to tone down the sweetness of strawberry jam. Most of all we had fun. Which is what cooking is all about after all!

Moelyci is a regular host for such events but sadly it is, like many small organisations in the UK, being threatened by the recession. In recent months it has lost income streams that make proactive fundraising approaches necessary to make sure it survives.

Moelyci was once an industrious Welsh upland sheep farm owned by Penrhyn Estates. In 2003 the last tenant moved out no longer able to make a living from the farm. The farm was at risk of being sold and developed into a holiday home complex which would have destroyed the natural landscape (250 of its 340 acres now have SSSI and SAC European status). Instead the community got together, raised the income and a mortgage and saved the site for the local community. These days Moelyci has received critical acclaim for its conservation management, its social enterprise principles, educational opportunities, preservation of the areas natural heritage, market garden and abundant fruit fields. It’s been visited and filmed by Iolo Williams for S4C, BBC Countryfile and is a small hub of cultural opportunity. Everyone involved with Moelyci (not just myself) would like to see this grow and expand.

Sadly critical acclaim doesn’t pay the mortgage (which is a large one), or staff to run the place and take these plans forward. The centre is run by a small paid workforce, plus a dedicated band of volunteers who help with its upkeep and development. An elected group of volunteer ‘directors’ (of which I am one) help make and drive plans forward. Readers will know that I get a lot of produce from the market garden there and have been a visitor to the place long before I became a director. I have a vested interest of course, as do the employees who are keen to continue working there, but this is a valuable natural resource for the whole community too. Better this than a holiday home complex?

So why am I writing about this? Well this is the heartfelt plea I mentioned earlier. Anyone can become a member of Moelyci Environmental Centre. It has Industrial & Provident Society (IPS) status and it’s  co-operatively owned by its members. Like the Centre for Alternative Technology you can ‘buy’ non-profit making ‘shares’ which brings you membership. You will receive regular information, discounts on courses and the opportunity to rent an allotment on the site. If you don’t wish to do this you can make a one off donation, or just come along and buy produce from the market garden (they run a small veg box scheme) or bring along your green garden waste for composting. Moelyci is also an open access site so you are welcome to go for a walk across the hills and in the woods that surround the farm. All of this support will help make sure that Moelyci Farm, the land and the Mountain survives and develops for the benefit of the community, the environment and the future generations that will learn about its heritage. For more information email office@moelyci.org or phone 01248 602793 or simply pop in and visit this historic farm.

Thanks all xx

Image courtesy of Steve Jones @ Ultra(lazy)runner blog

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I’m back! Plus some new dates

I feel as if I’ve been away forever. After a brief holiday (a lovely family trip around Ireland) I spent one day at home before heading off to Global Feast in London.

I spent the week planning, preparing and cooking at what was a hugely rewarding event. I loved it. Met lots of amazing people including other supper club hosts from around the country and generally enjoyed a bit of city life and the buzz around the Olympics.

After this whirlwind I returned home for two days before disappearing once again, this time to Crickhowell and The Green Man festival. This was the most intensive period of cooking of the summer. Up at six thirty every day and not finishing until nine at night. I, plus one helper, prepared, cooked and served four meals a day to the hungry crew and production team for a grand total of fifteen and a half days. In between I got to enjoy the festival plus a few extra days camping before it began.

Now I’m back! Its taking a while to recover so sadly I am cancelling Saturday’s planned supper club. We will restart a bit later in the month. With hindsight I think I was a little over ambitious believing I would have it in me to plan and shop so soon after my return, but I am looking forward to the Autumn and all the exciting jobs and supper clubs I have coming up. I’m already booked to run a couple of school based mentoring sessions and two private dinners, but there is plenty of room for open events. Planned dates so far are….

Sunday 16th September – Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens: Harvest at Moelyci: Preserving the Harvest

I will be running two sessions (morning and afternoon) on jam and chutney making. This will include my own personal tips on how to get the best from the fruit and vegetables we collect, plus practical sessions where I will teach you how to make two of my best-selling preserves. There will be recipes and sheets for you to take home.

These sessions will be fun and interactive and are free but registration is essential. Please register here

Our first two supper clubs will be on….

Friday 28th September – Supper Club – Open to all

Saturday 29th September – Supper Club – Singles night

Possibly we will stick with the Indian Summer theme….a fusion of spices, dishes, incorporating Indian flavours with a Western twist…but this has yet to be confirmed.

Look forward to seeing you soon xx

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Keeping it raw

I’ve never been one for food fads although I once did one of those ‘detox’ diets back in the 90’s when they were THE big thing to do. My dad and I embarked on it together; a seven-day programme of toxin free eating to purge our bodies of the impurities of modern life. In all honesty we were rubbish. On day five I found my step-father head in fridge, guiltily stuffing chunks of cheese into his mouth at half past twelve in the morning. Meanwhile I walked around ready to kill, driven crazy by the lack of nicotine entering my system.  We both cracked. Totally unable to cope without our morning shot of caffeine or hefty dose of protein during the day. We decided together that the toxins weren’t that bad after all.

It’s not that I’ve ever had a particularly unhealthy diet. I was, until I started living with my then boyfriend (now husband), a strict vegetarian. I’d even dabbled with veganism for about six months, but that was in my late teens when I wasn’t so keen on vegetables and there just wasn’t the variety of products on the market tailored to vegan living. It was only when my teen was little that I started to eat a bit of fish and occasionally chicken. Back then I shopped in the supermarket and couldn’t afford organic meat so it was easier and cheaper to eat vegetarian most of the time.

My knowledge of raw foodism (is that the correct term?) was pretty sketchy. I’d always imagined raw foodists as a strange sub-group of vegans; pale and unhealthy looking hippy types (yes I’m just going to generalise wildly here so please forgive me) eating salad for breakfast lunch and dinner. These days it seems that more and more people are choosing a raw way of life…and for the most part they look pretty damn good doing it. It’s still not totally mainstream but people like Mike Nash (buff American author of Aggressive Health), David Wolfe (curly-haired ‘rock star’ of superfood) and chef Chris Massamba from Sundia foods (opening night chef at Global Feast 2012) are doing their best to pioneer the trend and tell all about the benefits. If you think it’s just another fad diet I think you would be wrong, it’s a lifestyle (they do all look incredibly wholesome, toned and squeaky clean…which is enough to put me off and make me feel quite grubby). This lifestyle they espouse doesn’t seem to have much room for moments of stodgy cake, booze, cocktails or dare I say it, the odd cigarette but there are plenty of people following suit and lots of websites with recipes and tips on how to do it.

This week I received an invite to Raw Dave’s night of raw food.  A three course raw food dinner with talks and demonstrations. I wasn’t sure what to expect (what with my sweeping generalisations and large chuck of cynicism) but with so few food events (let alone interesting and different food events) cropping up in these parts I knew I’d kick myself if I turned it down. In any case I know the chef, Raw Dave (as he is known locally) so I was genuinely interested in what he had to say and prepare for us.

You’d be forgiven for imagining Raw Dave as a gruff feral man, part Tarzan part Neanderthal, emerging from the undergrowth after an extended forage. In contrast Dave is a gentle, laid back self-effacing guy who clearly loves food, experimenting, preparing and eating. He does have a hint of the clean and glowing about him but  along with his lovely and massively enthusiastic assistant Gill (for whom all of life is AWESOME. Favourite adjective of the night) they managed to enthuse all the guests with the same amounts of bounce and anticipation.

The totally awesome Raw Dave and Gill

The evening was hugely interactive, well planned and I learnt masses. Guests liberally fired questions across the table which Gill and Dave answered with relaxed honesty and openness. It felt like a cross between a supper club (I had that feeling of deja vu witnessing the birth of a new foodie project) and a food lecture. I’d never have guessed that this was the first time they’d run such an event. They were fun, entertaining, enlightening and interesting. I sat with Jules (from the Incredible Edible Hedgerow project) and a couple of her friends, plus Pete who is a veteran supper club guest. The conversation and debate provoked by the food, how we eat, grow, shop and what the effects of eating such a nutrient rich, unusual diet might be on our systems were definitely a highlight of the night.

Clearly there are long-term health benefits to such a diet. Dave explained his own journey. He’d always been fit but a big guy and as he approached his thirties he felt himself becoming lethargic, achey and slowly he piled on the weight. As he topped 23 stone his Mum developed hypertension and his dad had a heart attack. He found he was developing the same symptoms so decided it was time to make a change. He didn’t become a raw foodie over night (in fact Dave strongly advised against doing anything so drastic and so suddenly…as he said it’s not about putting yourself through withdrawal and feeling crap it’s about improving the diet and feeling healthy), he started by drinking green smoothies and slowly replaced unhealthy snacks with healthy ones. Over a three to four year period he became almost totally raw. In the process and without watching what he ate (raw chocolate plays a massive part in his life) his weight dropped to an astounding 12 stone. He looks healthy. He brims with energy and he no longer aches in the morning.

We started our meal with one of his famous green smoothies. A dark green high chlorophyll (which makes you feel buzzy and uplifted) concoction of 1 juiced apple, 1 juiced pear, a hand full of spinach and a stick of celery juiced, spirulina, sea algae (high in Omega 3), agave nectar.

It was more tasty than it might seem, although Dave had put plenty of Agave nectar in it to make it more palatable. The apple and pear flavours were strongly in evidence and not over powered by the celery and spinach at all. We were also treated to some raw chocolate bites to go with it. High in phenathlamine (among other things!) they offer a natural high and topped with dried fruit (I can’t remember what Dave said the dried fruit was on top, something like kumquat I think) they were very nice.

raw chocolate: coconut oil, raw cacao powder with a dried kumquat like fruit on top

One of the purported benefits of eating raw is that it boosts your energy levels. With the high nutrient content, added Omega 3 (spirulina), natural ‘good’ bacteria in algae, natural caffeine and chemicals in the raw chocolate I certainly felt quite buzzy and high after the chocolate and smoothie appetizer.

We moved on to starter; a mixed leaf, herb, flower salad with mixed seeds and Green Dragon dressing.  Leaves and flowers were harvested from the on iste permaculture garden and the dressing made from half a scotch bonnet chilli (which apparently helps to open up the cells inside us, replacing the bad stuff-toxins, with good stuff), half an onion, a handful of coriander (good for the detox of heavy metals), 7 fl oz tamari soy sauce (a wheat free variety), a couple of dropper full of flax oil (Omega 3 rich, it’s very good for reversing a deficiency but if used too much can cause an imbalance), nine fl oz apple cider vinegar (lower in ascetic acid than balsamic vinegar), good olive oil and pink Himalayan salt (the purist kind and most contaminant free apparently). These were all blitzed in a blender.

The dressing had real punch (from the chilli) but was also slightly sweet and sour. The sweet came from a drop of agave nectar (from the blue agave plant; the same thing they make tequila from…something else I learned that night).

Main course was courgette spaghetti with a marinari sauce and raw pesto. To make the courgette spaghetti Dave used a spiraliser, a Japanese gadget, that Gill demonstrated (after bouncing up and down saying “can I do it, can I, can I” )

Gill using the spiraliser (not the best picture sorry)

This was my most coveted piece of kit for the night. I have to get one of them!

Courgette spagetti with marinari sauce and raw pesto

I don’t think I was paying attention when the demonstration was going on as I didn’t make a note of the ingredients. I think we were too busy being excited by the spiraliser and passing round vegan parmesan substitute. Made by Marigold it looks a bit like fish food and has a yeasty kind of taste, but isn’t unpleasant. It comes into its own when it’s added to dishes. Dave used it in the pesto, which was very nice.

Pete’s extrodinarily long piece of courgette pasta

Although it is supposed to be summer, the sauce would have benefitted from lightly warming as it wasn’t the warmest evening, although this did not detract from the taste; perfectly flavoured and seasoned.

Dessert was raw tiffin with mint sauce. The ‘biscuit’ part (which can also be used as a cheesecake base) was a combination of walnut halves, dates and pink Himalayan salt, blitzed together in a blender until it begins to hold together.

Next coconut oil warmed in a bain marie was mixed with melted raw cacao powder and what we arrived at was, in the words of Gill

“chocolatey joy in a bowl”

Thank you Gill, that is exactly what it was. Once set they cut the tiffin into chucks and served it with a simple pureed minty sauce and a strip of strawberry fruit leather. I’m rarely defeated by dessert but this was so rich half of it made me feel like I’d over eaten!

During the evening my dinner companions and I came up with two questions. Would we be able to sleep after so much buzzy food and would we feel full at the end of the meal? I asked one more silent question of myself. What would it do to my insides? This seems a strange question to ask, but I’m not used to eating solely raw food. As Dave said, “you’re not just getting five a day, you’re getting twenty-five a day”.

Question two was answered easily. Yes we all agreed we felt full and I continued to feel full for a long time afterwards.

The first question was answered later…no I couldn’t sleep. Apparently Sean listened to me talking at him in an over elated fashion while we lay in bed. He listened for a while before he finally fell asleep. He was sure I carried on even then.

My own question was answered the following day. The over abundance of vegetable made me feel quite bloated. The following day my stomach spoke to me in gurgles. Now, without getting too grim about the details, suffice it to say I couldn’t have felt more purged if I’d had a colonic irrigation. Despite this I didn’t feel ill, I felt rather light and energetic until I started getting a headache and a craving for a really big ham roll. Sorry Dave, my toxins rule my body.

Lizzy Hawley and the girls behind the newly revamped Hendre Hall Arts Cafe and Permaculture Garden hosted the evening. It’s a fab place which is now being used as a base for lots of local craft people as well as a venue for weddings, special events and a monthly local produce market. If you would like to attend future events they are mostly advertised through Facebook or word of mouth, so its worth checking their page for news.

Thank you to lovely Lizzy, resplendent in Green taffeta, and the rest of her glamorous assistants for all their hard work and of course to Gill and Dave who were truly AWESOME!

 

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