Category Archives: festival food

Masterclasses with Aroma coffee at Ludlow Food Festival

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September 29th was apparently international coffee day, a day for people to celebrate their love for the dark liquid. I totally missed it as I do most of these ‘international’ days. There are so many of them we’d be celebrating something every week if we remembered them all. A couple of weeks ago the teen and I had our own coffee celebration at this years Ludlow Food Festival (there will be more on this in a future post) where we joined a coffee masterclass run by Andrew from Aroma tea and coffee merchants in Shrewsbury.

Both the teen and I love coffee, not the cheap instant stuff; proper, rich, creamy coffee.  But its something of a love/hate relationship. The teen has ADHD (caffeine + hyperactivity  = bad combination) and can’t tolerate too much, while I am somewhat sensitive to too much caffeine as well. If I drink it after three in the afternoon I can’t sleep at night. Generally speaking I am more of a tea addict, being raised in a typically British family where hot sweet tea was the solution to everything, it could cure any angst, shock, upset and always, in my granddad’s house, came in half pint mugs (his was often laced with whisky, which I have never succumbed too). Even with tea if I drink too much I find myself suffering a caffeine crash when it wears off. We anticipated that the effects of all this coffee tasting could be interesting!

Although I know the taste of good coffee and know what I like, I am no coffee expert. I was the perfect attentive student, wanting to understand and know more. The class was expertly run, fun and very informative and I soon learned the difference between Arabica and Robusta varieties; Arabica beans are longer in shape and a generally more desirable bean, while Robusta beans are wider and fatter and often considered the poor relation. I also learned that beans come from the pod or cherry, either ‘pea’ shaped or as two separate beans. I now know that beans from different countries and environments differ considerably; Columbian (high consistency of flavour), Kenyan (peaberry coffee, almost sweet, with lemony, citrus hints) and Indian beans  (high humidity, slow dry, lighter, smoother, richer coffee) and have their own distinct personality. We travelled through the process from bean to perfect roast in the search for the best cup of coffee, and imbibing plenty along the way.

We examined beans, discussed oil content, texture, shape and flavour. Andrew then tipped the beans (sourced from Cafe Feminino, an organisation which supports women working in the coffee trade) into the small roaster he’d set up in the marquee, heated to 200 degrees. The smell of roasting coffee, the caffeine hit we’d already had, made us feel slightly euphoric. I tried hard to concentrate but was beginning to feel the effects!

coffee beans, pure and unroasted

coffee beans, pure and unroasted

a 'peaberry' coffee bean

a ‘peaberry’ coffee bean

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Andrew showing us the Cafe Feminino beans

Andrew showing us the Cafe Feminino beans

More tasting next, we sampled different roasts of coffee and could easily distinguish the difference,  then we looked at different grinds and the best method to prepare them for drinking. Fine ground for Turkish style, coarser ground for Italian stove top pots and cafetierres. By now I had to cut my tasting to a sip for fear of bouncing around the tent like a drug crazed loon.

 

pouring the beans into the roaster

pouring the beans into the roaster

small roaster with drum for turning and cooling the beans once roasted

small roaster with drum for turning and cooling the beans once roasted

another small variety of roaster...this copper one is for using on the stove top

another small variety of roaster…this copper one is for using on the stove top

removing a sample to check the roast

removing a sample to check the roast

once the beans reach the desired level of roast they are released from the drum into the bottom container to cool

the beans are released into the bottom drum to cool once they reach the desired level of roast

demonstrating the different ways coffee can be prepared and how it affects the flavour...caffetiere coffee is very different to Italian style, Turkish, or filter

demonstrating the different ways coffee can be prepared and how it affects the flavour…caffetiere coffee is very different to Italian style, Turkish, or filter

I tried to keep writing notes but my eager concentration from earlier in the session had left me. As finished up and awaited our complimentary bag of coffee (mine coarse ground for my favoured preparation method and the teens roasted beans), we admitted we were caffeine-d out; dilated pupils, muddled brain, barely able to string a sentence together, all of it.

When I finally returned to some level of normality I realised I had taken it all in, I now had a greater understanding of the coffee-making process and the science behind it. So hopefully when I speak to the one or two coffee roasters I know locally I can sound vaguely knowledgable. I’m never going to make a high-class barista, but I’m content that I know a bit more about what I’m drinking.

the cool coffee beans being packaged for us to take home

the cool coffee beans being packaged for us to take home

teen looking very pleased with her special coffee beans

teen looking very pleased with her special coffee beans, if slightly dazed after the amount of caffeine consumed

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I’m back! …with two recipes from the Menai Seafood Festival: Scallops tartare and French Eel stew

Its been a long and busy summer. I know this because I haven’t written a thing on here since 9th June. Such a long time for me! So what have you been doing with yourself?I hear you ask. I’m sure some of you have followed my exploits through Twitter or Facebook so already know I’ve barely kept still, or stayed in one place for long.

I have fed crews at three festivals, cooked for five brides and grooms, been a private chef for a couple of dinners, and helped co-ordinate one food festival. I’ve also been busy fitting a new business premises ( I now have my very own kitchen and hopefully soon cookery school) and visited schools running seafood demo’s across Anglesey as part of the Menai Seafood Festival.

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In between all of that I’ve tried to have a life and spend time with my kids! It all sounds like hard work, but I can’t complain. Its fun work. Work I adore and I consider myself fortunate (if not rich) to be working at something I love and have a passion for.

Now that Autumn approaches and the whirlwind of activity is calming a little its back to those other things I love. Writing, food festivals and teaching. My mission for the winter is to find, beg, borrow, the finances I need to refit the cookery school and get it up and running. I will return to this in another post as it deserves a full explanation.

I also made a promise at the Menai Seafood Festival that I would post my two French themed seafood festival demo recipes. I stood in at the last-minute due to another chef dropping out. I said I wouldn’t because I was coordinating the two tents, but actually on the day it wasn’t that stressful and I’m so glad I did because it was such good fun!

 

So here to get you going and mark my return to writing are the two recipes of the day, sadly I have no pictures but all the testers gave the thumbs up! As you can see there were plenty in attendence.

Scallop tartare and French conger eel stew

I wanted to introduce visitors to a different way to prepare scallops and a new fish. In the case of the latter, conger eel is a little used fish which people often overlook. Daunted by the way it looks, full of preconceived ideas about how it will taste they don’t even consider it as an option. Many immediately think of jellied eels when you say eel and I could see plenty of the crowd watching my demo cringe when I said I was cooking eel. Several said they tried it and hated it. I’m always up for a challenge so my aim was to change their mind. Eel is not overfished, it is sustainable and it is cheap. Yes it has a large central bone, but its easy to remove the meat in neat chunks for a simple stew.

Scallops tartare with blue poppy seeds

Ingredients:
Dozen scallops
1 teaspoon blue poppy seeds
Juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons olive oil
Drop of soy sauce
Sea salt

2 white plates to serve
Remove the coral from the scallops, we only want to use the white part. Slice and arrange in a rosette pattern on a plate. Zest the lime and make a dressing mixing the olive oil, soy sauce, lime zest, a teaspoon of lime juice and salt.
Baste scallops with the dressing and sprinkle with poppy seeds. Leave to stand for 5 minutes and then serve.

French eel stew (for two people)

Ingredients:

Eel (2k) killed, skinned cleaned and cut into chunks.
3 large shallots
12 baby onions
200g chestnut mushrooms
Bouquet garni
30g plain flour
30g butter
300ml fish stock
300ml red wine
12 small new potatoes
Seasoning

Flat leaf parsley to serve

Get your fish monger to skin and clean the eel. At home you can run a sharp knife along the central bone which is thick and gently cut the flesh away making sure you remove any of the remaining bones as you go. They are easy to find as eel bones are pretty big.

Melt the butter and brown sliced shallots. Add flour, then fish stock followed by the red wine. Add bouquet garni, onions, mushrooms and halved potatoes. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until the potatoes begin to cook through. Add the chunks of eel and simmer for a further 10 minutes until the potatoes are tender and the eel cooked through. Season well and serve sprinkled with plenty of chopped flat leaf parsley.

A big thank you to Wayne at Mermaid Seafoods for supplying produce for the demo tents and indulging my demand for conger eel

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Filed under festival food, Food festival, French food, home cooking, local produce, Recipes, Seafood recipes, sustainable fish, Uncategorized, Welsh produce

Abergavenny food festival (day one)

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As the summer wanes and the hectic music festival and wedding season draws to a close, Autumn arrives with a glint in its eye offering a whole new wave of food festivals to keep me busy.

First came the Menai Seafood Festival. As one of the organising committee this was a biggie for me. It was the first time I’d stage-managed a chef demo tent, booked chefs, set out the itinerary etc. I was kept busy, as you can imagine, ironing out problems, filling gaps and firefights when things didn’t go according to plan but it was a buzz watching all the chefs do fantastic demos and seeing the crowd have such a great time. The down side of working at events like this is that you get to see very little of the festival. I only managed the briefest of walks around the site and that was at the end of the day once all the stall holders had sold out!

Last weekend was different as I paid my first visit to Abergavenny Food Festival, this time as a visitor rather than as an organiser or presenter, so I was able to enjoy the full array of events, activities and food sampling on offer. In earlier years I looked on with envy as fellow bloggers and food producers wrote and Tweeted about the weekend but this year I got to do it! What an amazing weekend it was. I was bowled over by the scale of it all, the excitement, bustle and general feeling of good will around the town. In three words, I loved it!

Abergavenny Food Festival is so much bigger than other food events I’ve attended. With demonstrations, master classes, tutored tastings and inspiring talks spread across four different venues around the town, I found it hard to decide what I wanted to see and do. There was also a fifth demo kitchen featuring local and regional chefs (I didn’t manage to spend any time there at all), plus a series of walks and forays around the local area. There just weren’t enough hours in the day to take it all in.

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Unlike smaller festivals where most of the demos are free and open to all, the bigger events here (tutored tastings, masterclasses and talks) are ticketed and many had sold out on the day. As a guest I was lucky enough to attend any I wanted, but it was impossible to fit in more than three or four in a day. On day one I managed three, plus a food debate that went on until about 6.30 pm. I finally left for the refuge of my friend’s house in Crickhowell at 7.30, totally exhausted.

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The day’s highlight was Tom Kerridge’s Proper Pub Food masterclass at The Priory Centre. I love the simplicity of his food. Proper British dishes cooked without fuss, focusing on great ingredients and clarity of taste. His masterclass was entertaining and inspirational and under it all he seems a genuinely lovely, down to earth bloke. I came away an even bigger fan and a bit star struck having had a brief conversation with him about his visit to North Wales. I wanted to talk more but felt like a stalker as he was ushered off to sign books.

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From here I took a walk over to The Angel Hotel Ballroom to join Martin Morales’ Ceviche tutored tasting session. I love South American food and especially enjoy making ceviche, so Martin’s Peruvian menus have always appealed (along with a good Pisco sour). Martin is an inspiration. Just at a time when he was a successful DJ and music producer he had a sudden urge to change career, a move driven by a passion for his native Peruvian food and the wish to share it with others.  His ethos is one of sharing (it’s no surprise he began his journey with supper clubs) and his aim is to leave a healthy legacy. This is clear in his commitment to and links with Amantani, a charity focused on helping the poorest children in Peru.

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He Tweeted me earlier this year to invite me along to his Cardiff pop-up and I was gutted I couldn’t attend (it was the same weekend as FBC13, the food bloggers conference in London) but his restaurant in Soho should be top of everyone’s list to visit. Again the event was in great demand. I sat on the press table at the back wedged between his wife and children, photographer and publisher. They were all lovely as we sat chatting food and kids over the delicious tasters; Cancha, Pisco sour, Don Ceviche (with sea bass) and it was great to finally meet Martin, who gave me such a warm heartfelt greeting that I was a little taken aback!

Next up was another tutored tasting, this time with master chocolatier Marc Demarquette. Apart from a love of chocolate I also wanted to see Jess from Halen Mon and Shop Cwtch who acted as his glamorous assistant for the demo. Her cheeks turned a little pink as she saw me taking photographs! Marc demonstrated how they make their 85% chocolate truffles (dark and rich and tasting as if laced with rum…although it isn’t. It’s a trick of the chocolate, something I’ve discovered when making my chocolate torte). Marc’s aim is to create chocolate with length and depth – a chocolate that’s smooth and rich but without the sugar hit and crash afterwards. A chocolate that stays with you. His velvety ganache (71%) was as it should be, silky smooth with a hint of orange (although again this may have been a trick of the chocolate) and the fresh strawberry caramel, my particular favourite, just dissolved on the tongue, flavour trickling down the throat, neither too sweet or too sharp, an almost erotic experience. I could have eaten a bucket full! To finish we drank hot chocolate made of full fat milk and pure chocolate. Heaven in a cup. The last sample was a Halen Mon salted caramel with a dollop of cream on top. The perfect finish to a truly heavenly tasting.

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By the time I wended my way back to the Market Hall for the Big Debate with food writer, presenter and bug eating fan  Stefan Gates Director of the Environmental Justice Foundation Steve Trent, biologist and farmer Jonathan Herrington and fruit farmer Anthony Snell, I was already shattered.  It was hard to concentrate as I was tired and to a certain extent I felt it was a missed opportunity; the conversation firmly focused on GM versus non GM and intensive farming and not the issue of food waste which I think is key when we talk about feeding future generations. With food poverty on the increase in the Western World, discussion of food grown for export or animal feed, rather than to feed the indigenous population and the reduction of animal farming needs to be to the fore. But then that is my favourite soap box rant!

…oh and the weirdest thing I put in my mouth over the weekend (courtesy of Stefan) ? Just so you know, they weren’t alive….they were crispy, salted and with a hint of smoked paprika.

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One day in Menai Bridge: The Seafood Festival in pictures

Today is the fourth anniversary of my blog. My very first post was a recipe for courgette chutney, (quite apt considering I currently have a glut in my fridge) but today I will mostly be writing about my amazing weekend.

What can I say? I keep finding myself smiling at random moments as I think back over Saturdays first ever Menai Seafood Festival. We thought people would come, we hoped it would be worth all the effort and hard work. We expected maybe three, four thousand but in the first hour we clocked 1,500 and stopped counting when numbers reached 8,500. We were gobsmacked (for want of a better phrase, but this perfectly describes our open-mouthed observations of the crowd that streamed into Menai Bridge). It didn’t just catch us, the organisers, off guard. Stall holders sold out in two hours, car parks overflowed and my demo tent had queues of people waiting to get in!

The total number of visitors was undoubtedly closer to 10,000. I’d call that a success, don’t know about you!

Sadly I didn’t get out to see much as I was so busy stage managing the demo tent, but here is small selection of the pictures I managed to snap on the day (between rounding up chefs, ingredients and getting the washing up done in-between demo’s)…I think the pictures speak volumes about how good our day was and how professional the event was.

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Demo tent at 10.30am packed already

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Rob Alexander from The Black Lion, cooking razor clams

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Aled Williams, Cennin….and his beautiful crab risotto served in a stunning Welsh slate bowl

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Neil Davies, Dylan’s Restaurant cooking clam chowder and drunken mussels

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The boatyard

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Rowan Clark, Coleg Menai tutor overseeing their demo

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Backstage discussions

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Young chefs Jake and Ioan do a double act as they cook up two mussel dishes….they had the audience in stitches. It was their first ever demo and they loved it (both are third year Coleg Menai students training as they work…one with the Bulkeley Hotel in Beaumaris and the other at the Hayloft Restaurant, Ye Olde Bulls Head in Beaumaris.

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Visitors enjoying the event

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The air sea rescue helicopter and boat do a quick fly past…

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Crowds in the boatyard give them a wave as they pass over head

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Bryan Webb from Tyddyn Llan, made four stunning dishes in just three-quarters of an hour!!

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Our wonderful compere Elliw Williams from ATOM PR…dropped in it by me, she did a truly wonderful job especially as it was her first time compering

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Matt White and I also did a double act…Matt is one of very few local fishmongers (he runs MJWhite Fishmongers) . He demonstrated how to fillet seabass and turbot

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…while I demonstrated how to hot smoke at home, then pan fry turbot and make a simple white wine and cream sauce to go with it. 

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mum watches on enthralled

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smoked seabass with beetroot slaw and a lime and ginger cream…the healthy option!

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….while Elliw enjoys the turbot dish

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Filed under British food, festival food, Food activities for kids, Food festival, Food travel, in the press, local produce, photography, Seafood recipes, sustainable fish, Welsh produce

Menai Seafood Festival: this Saturday August 31st!

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So, moving on very swiftly from the Green Man I’ve barely had time to draw breath before its full steam ahead with preparation for Saturdays Menai Seafood Festival, a day of FREE activities and entertainment for adults and children.

I’m booked to help team lead the chef demonstration tent where I will be introducing a host of talented chefs including Michelin star chef Bryan Webb (Tyddyn Llan), Aled Williams (Cennin), Rob Alexander (The Black Lion), Neil Davies (Dylan’s) and Rowan Clark with her team from Coleg Menai. They will be sharing tips on how to cook and prepare a variety of local seafood dishes. To conclude proceedings I will be doing a joint demo with local fish monger Matt White who will show you how to fillet fish while cook up two quick fish dishes. Recipe cards will be available to take home and lots of tasters handed out to try.

The demonstrations will be swiftly followed by live music performances by The Gentle Good, Gwyneth Glyn and Trwbador

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and this ain’t all folks…on Saturday night there will be a very special charity supper club hosted by Jess Leah-Wilson at Shop Cwtch with celebrated local chef Eamon Fullalove (previously head chef at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen and now at The Oyster Catcher, Anglesey) cooking up a superb seafood menu…

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…and finally to finish the weekend and wind up this inaugural Seafood Festival there will be one last night of live music on Sunday 1st September. Six local bands will close the festival with an eclectic mix of music. The Victoria Hotel, Menai Bridge are hosting this FREE event, although donations will be collected during the night which will go to supporting local community projects. What a great way to end a fab weekend….Hopefully see you there!!

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Black pudding regrets and other Green Man food stories…

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Early morning haze over Glanusk

Every August I disappear into the hills of Brecon to cook for the crew and production of the Green Man Festival. It’s a fantastic, frantic, hard-working month filled with highs and lows, time spent catching up with friends and making new ones, parties, hangovers, sleepless nights, topped finally by one big festival in the middle. Every year I intend to catch up with writing over the few days I have a break, but always I fail. Tiredness catches up and my brain just can’t compute.

This was my third consecutive year so I’ve pretty much cracked the routine bit and so with Lizzie my assistant from last year we ran like a well oiled machine! We even had an extra pair of hands to help with washing up! This gave me more time to think about being creative with the cooking. Even though we work to a budget I still like to experiment and try new dishes. Old favourites, big one pot meals and hearty pies make up the staple diet but it doesn’t take much to create well-flavoured, tasty grub and as ever our efforts are greatly appreciated. In fact even as we sat down to dinner at The Bear (our traditional first night on site evening out) talk turned to what was on the menu for my first week of cooking and everyone has their special request….fish pie, cottage pie and a good curry, which along with the Welsh cheese board, honey baked gammon and vast array of cakes, have become standard Green Man fare. I try to vary the menu to keep things fresh. This year I cooked my first crew roast dinner, finally getting over my fear of screwing up the timings for so many people so I braved it.

Spiced pulled pork with crispy crackling followed by warm chocolate torte with ganache was the triumph of the week…and the dinner that saw me peak too soon! The torte, as expected, was so good it broke a few grown men. Ben arrived in the morning claiming he would not be eating cakes and puddings this year..before devouring two lots of chocolate torte the same evening. Another was overheard declaring “holy shit!!” as he took a mouthful….I took that as a compliment).

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Spiced roast pork

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The cake that broke a thousand men…warm chocolate torte with ganache and strawberries

By Monday the numbers had increased and I never quite reached the heady heights of that dinner again.  Embarking on a lemon meringue pie for fifty with home-made pastry, nearly gave me a nervous breakdown as I struggled to get it ready on time and my battles with a temperamental Aga raged over the week…its constant use meant it cooled down rapidly refusing to cook the food. Fair enough if you have all the time in the world, not so good if you have half an hour until dinner and the carrots still haven’t come to the boil. We peered despondently into the pot willing them to be ready in time….they weren’t, and dinner was half an hour late.

Still, we hit a few high’s; poached pears with rum and cinnamon caused our dairy free crew member to come over all unnecessary, potato pancakes at breakfast got everyone a bit excited and of course cake formed the basis of everything…even a bit of sculpting to mark out the stage set-up

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Hi-tec design: main stage and speaker lay out in cake

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“How will I live without potato pancakes” (Tash)

and lots of black and white pudding was consumed…over heard from the kitchen…

“I’m having black pudding regrets”

“From eating it?”

No, from not eating it”

Being part of the Green Man experience is unique. It’s hard to explain to others the family feeling this festival evokes. As a group we spend time with people we might only see once a year, live closely together and share the excitement, the highs and the lows of building a festival. We see the love, care and attention that goes in to every bit of the build and the dramas that go with it. We gear ourselves up for the party, almost to the point of elation and then its over in a flash and we find ourselves on the other side tired, broken and bereft as the family goes its separate ways. Its hard and emotional but worth every second.

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The Green Man team (for the build): Claire, me and Lizzie

And as the tiredness creeps in, it gets harder to stay creative and on the ball. One kitchen, an Aga blasting out its heat twenty-four hours a day as the sun beats down outside, it’s easy to end up a bit hot and bothered, distracted and lacking focus…although to be fair on this occasion I can’t just blame that on the heat in the kitchen ….but that’s another story altogether.

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Abersoch Makers Market

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It’s a few weeks since I took a little trip down to the Abersoch Makers Market, but as usual I’ve been busy with other jobs, trips and recipe development but I wanted to say something before the experience passes into the hazy mist of my memory and I forget all about it.

I don’t think the weather could have been better for this inaugural Abersoch market. The latest in a series of Makers Markets taking part across the North West, this was the first in Wales bringing together a host of local food, drink, art and craft producers and those from further afield. On the day I visited there were a variety of stall holders, some were local artisans while others were members of the Makers Market collective who run regular events in Bramhall, Cheadle and Winsford. Several participants had indeed travelled from Cheshire.

Abersoch is one of the best places to get a summer market going. The population in the area swells between May and September with a mixture of affluent city dwellers (Cheshire and the Wirral being the main culprits) decamping to holiday homes, short visit holidaying tourists plus a hoard of day trippers and weekenders from Manchester and Liverpool that flood in during sunny weekends. The small quiet town, popular with surfers and sailors almost turns into a mini city and this was almost the case on the day I visited. The Saturday marked the beginning of a bank holiday weekend which was luckily graced with blazing sunshine (although still bitterly cold) and as a result, a huge crowd. Throw in some live music, a beautiful harbour side location and you are on to a winner. I was very glad I’d travelled down early, browsing and grabbing some lunch before heading back out. As I drove along the A487 I watched the lines of traffic grow. I breathed an inward sigh of relief that I wasn’t stuck in it.

The market itself was buzzing and several stall’s were buzzing with customers. ‘Shabby chic’ and ‘vintage’ craft stalls drew the most attention, clearly popular among the market visitors while other stalls selling hand-made soaps did less well.

In terms of fresh produce, I think they could have done with a bit more variety. I know one or two traders that held back this time (my other reason for visiting was to do a rekkie for Moelyci to see what it was like before they forked out a hefty £35 pitch fee; a high price for some of our local producers). Perhaps others were also being cautious and waiting to see how the market did before signing up, but hopefully more suppliers will join in as time goes on.

While there was a conspicuous absence of fresh produce such as locally grown veg, plants or bread it was rather heavy on the pie and cake. Nothing jumped out at me as being really artisan or unusual (there were several familiar faces that attend a few markets) while much of what was on offer was predictably expensive. Even the hot food was rather samey…artisan, locally made sausages from Buster’s Bangers (which were very nice I might add), local lamb burgers that kind of thing. It’s the kind of market that encourages you to buy things you don’t need rather than going along to do a weekend shop (the main reason I like to visit a market). Sure its nice to get a few treats, but if we want to encourage people to buy local produce and not hit the supermarket, the products must be on offer.

The market was enjoyable, had a great feel to it and will probably do very well with the tourist trade…but as an artisan market, or as a local farmers market? Well, it felt much the same as other markets in the local area so I’m not sure I would regularly drive for an hour  once a month to visit.

But still,  in my eyes all artisan markets are good so I hope they do well!

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A busy food marquee, even quite early in the morning

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Pies, pies and more pies….sold by men in skirts!

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…and lots of tarts and cakes

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and bizarrely tucked in among the craft stalls were oysters and champagne….bu unfortunately not local Welsh Oysters

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Nice home-made sausages from Busters Bangers

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Shabby chic and bunting

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Real Street Food at the South Bank

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How time flies. Its weeks since the kid and I were sampling the delights of the Real Street Food festival in London. I really really wanted to go especially as I get precious little opportunity for this kind of thing in Wales. It was only on a whim, at the last-minute, on Easter Monday that I managed to shoe horn a trip in to our busy schedule. I saw ‘our’ busy schedule but I actually mean my sons. Unluckily for me the market visit wasn’t  the main attraction of the day, nope it was the other excursion to see Potted Potter at The Garrick theatre that took precedence. The market trip became a whirlwind one; we only stopped at the stalls where there was food the kid wanted to taste and I ended up hurrying along in his uncompromising and short attention spanned wake.

Still, I enjoyed my brief trip but it did make me a little bit sad that on my return to Wales I would no longer have such luxuries as road side dosa’s to tempt me. We simply don’t have that kind of thing here and those that are lucky enough to set up in business are so widely dispersed that you often don’t know they are there. Sadly they are not to be found in the centre of town only in areas where they can side step council policy (i.e. whereaver kind and forward thinking people grant permission for street food vendors to park vans on their land).

This does boil down to local council policy and what appears to be a general reluctance to grant licenses to street traders, unless the stall is part of an organised ‘market’. Even where there is an organised market it isn’t filled with local street food traders, instead the council seems to ship in cheap and cheerful noodle stalls and churro stands with a uniform look and unappetising looking food. The French sausage stall at the last market was genuinely from France. I tried to hold a conversation with the owner, in very broken French and English; we didn’t get very far and I was left wondering where our own local traders were? Back in London we had a lovely time. Torn between a dosa from the Dosa Deli or something from The French Revolution creperie (the chestnut mushroom, spinach and garlic caught my eye) but I dithered too long; the kid moved fast. He started eyeing up these giant sausages, but finally opted for a cheese burger and fries from Bleecker St. Burger. When asked if he wanted it medium i.e. a bit pink, he frowned and said no I want it cooked properly. He devoured it along with the fries which were crisp and delicious.2007-06-10 23.55.40

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I eventually settled for a cevapcici from Balkan street food vendors Karantania simply because it was the closest stall to where the kid was sitting and he didn’t want me to disappear from his sight. It was a little big for me so I was unable to finish it all, but the meat had a great flavour.

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After all of this I longed for a Sipsmith gin and tonic from the Wondering wine company but instead settled for a spiced cider from to warm me up. Don’t be fooled by the sunshine, the weather was positively Baltic! Slowly we ambled off across the river towards the theatre, warmth and the kids highlight of the day.

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Since my return to Wales I have tried in vain to make contact with the local council. I phoned and was told to email. I emailed and have as yet received no response. I’d like to have a conversation about licenses and open a discussion about how we can get more local street food vendors in business, but at the moment this is looking unlikely. In the meantime I have also given assistance to another local entrepreneur with interesting ideas and information to enable him to put together a plan for his own street food business. I’ve yet to have a response from the council but….watch this space.

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Filed under British food, Eating out with kids, festival food, Food festival, local produce, street food

Happy New Year! A round up of 2012 and a fresh start for 2013

So that was 2012, the year of the Dragon, a year of change. Well, the world didn’t end, but for many including myself a new chapter of life began. Last year was certainly a busy, interesting and highly enjoyable journey! All that I hoped for happened and lots that I could never have anticipated.

My goal for 2012 was to build Moel Faban Suppers into a business with a good reputation and one that paid the bills. A simple wish really and something I have worked hard to make happen. It was a slow and inauspicious start. January was quiet and I worried that work wasn’t coming in. Had I made a mistake believing I could build a business in a recession? I fretted a lot as we lived a very frugal family life. I hadn’t anticipated how quiet the month would be and I cursed myself for not saving more the previous year.

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There were odd moments of fun though as we hosted our first ever Sunday brunch which was a great success and I indulged in a bit of sausage making with my local butcher. I also had more time to cook and develop recipes and I had three summer wedding bookings to plan for.

By February and March things started to pick up. The local produce market and supper club restarted with a St. Patrick’s Day dinner. I also had a few nice private chef jobs and demo’s booked in. One was for nine very lovely firemen, while one of my demo’s was in a local secondary school.  Following on from this Big Ideas Wales contacted me and asked if I would like to join their list of Dynamo Role Models. I did and so now I go out to schools and colleges in the area to talk to students about entrepreneurship and starting a business.

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I still had just about enough time to visit some of my local producers; The Mushroom Garden were kind enough to sponsor a competition.

April saw the arrival of lots of goodies in the post. It was like Christmas all over again as I spent the month creating recipes and reviewing products for the blog. From Montezuma and Green and Blacks chocolate to Rachel’s Organic Yogurt and Clipper teas, my family and friends enjoyed being recipe testers. I also got out and about visiting various foodie destinations; a trip to Brixton Market and lunch with French and Grace and a visit to The Real Food Market at the South Bank.

By May the festival and wedding season arrived with a vengeance. I didn’t know it at the time but the Spanish supper club held early in the month would be our last for the year, but all of a sudden weddings just took over. As well as the three bookings I already had, I received another two. One for last-minute canapes and another mercifully for later in the year.

I zoomed into another frenetic gear as the first of five weddings arrived. This was rather too closely followed by a food stall at Kaya Festival that coincided with the Jubilee weekend, a teaching trip to Germany and another three weddings on consecutive weekends. At the end I was fit to drop. It was a fantastic learning curve and I hope I did justice to each wedding despite my relative lack of experience. I know that at three of the weddings my team got a special thank you and round of applause for the food which totally made our day! This year I will remember that two weddings a month is more than enough for me!

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I took no bookings for July as I intended to take a long family holiday. I did manage a week in Ireland but out of the blue I received an email from Kerstin Rogers (AKA ms marmite lover). She and Alex Haw of Latitudinal Cuisine had joined forces to host an event that coincided with the Olympics. Global Feast 2012 was a kind of food olympics, held over 20 consecutive nights and with a different chef/world cuisine each night and seated around an amazing world map table designed by Alex’s Atmos design team.

Alex and Kerstin were looking for supper club hosts and up and coming chefs to cook on each night. They asked me to cook on British food night, serving dishes that represented the best of Wales. I made tiny tarts as canapes and crammed as many Welsh products into my dessert as I could manage!

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This was one of my best experiences of the year. I was buzzing before, during and after it. Stressful as it was, I loved every minute of it. It gave me the opportunity to meet other supper club hosts and chefs and work on a unique collaborative project. I knew then that I wanted to do more pop-up events (and later in the year I did exactly that!)

I was back home a week before I hit the road again, this time to cook at The Green Man festival for the second year running. A new assistant accompanied me this year, lovely Lizzie, who became the fried egg queen and serial washer upper and we were all sad when our ten-day opening stint came to an end. On the out my sister Kate (freelance photographer and art blogger at exporingartinthecity) helped but this may well be her last year as she heads for new horizons.

As we headed into the Autumn more cookery demo’s and my last wedding of the year awaited. Conwy Feast and Moelyci Harvest Festival were highlights, topped only by the five stars awarded me at my environmental health inspection. Its likely I am the only five-star domestic property in the vicinity!

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My wish for more pop-up events came true in December with a three course, 1930’s German themed cabaret supper. Tickets for the collaborative Weimar Productions event sold out. Guests came clad in their 1930’s finery and we Charlestoned the night away to some absolutely fantastic music. It really did cap a wonderful year.205128_122144001281111_1138279861_n 430807_494225723955258_1313142107_n

So now we are back in January and like last year it is quiet. This time I’m ready. I have jobs a plenty to keep me busy; lots of paperwork (yuk, but it has to be done!) and planning and organising for the rest of the year. It’s nice to have a clear month to think about what I want to focus on and where I need some help. More weddings, festivals and more private jobs are on the horizon so there will probably be a few additions to the Moel Faban team, but I also want to get back to basics. Supper club is where I started and I don’t want to let that go despite having a very quiet year.

Dinners will therefore restart on January 26th and we will return to small events for up to eight people at £25 a head. The last Saturday of the month will become a regular slot with the produce market taking place on the second Saturday of the month. I’m also hoping to make a return to selling jam and chutney as that has fallen by the wayside this year.

For now though all I can say is happy new year and I look forward to seeing some of you in my home, at the market or elsewhere….

 

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Filed under British food, event catering, festival food, in the press, local produce, Uncategorized

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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Filed under British food, cookery courses, festival food, Food festival, home cooking, local produce, preserving, Recipes, seasonal food, slow food, Uncategorized