Category Archives: Food festival

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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Filed under British food, cookery courses, Food festival, photography

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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Filed under festival food, Food festival, local produce, photography, Sources and suppliers

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

…hello 2014!..Favourite recipes and future plans

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Hello and happy new year! Welcome to the first day of 2014, a day of new beginnings, plans and looking forward.

After the turmoil of the latter half of 2013 I spent new years eve quietly. Eighteen years ago yesterday my daughter was born: eleven twenty, new years eve, 1995. My one and only plan for the day was to spend as much time as I could with her, opening presents, drinking champagne and eating cake, before she went off partying with her mates. New years eve is a hard time to have a birthday, so we have saved our celebrations until next weekend. Other than that I wanted to hang out with my son. It was a great day, we drank and made merry, but I really didn’t have the urge to go partying afterwards. Instead I listened to the fireworks at midnight from the comfort of my bed and a good book.

This has been a hard year in many ways. With work commitments and business building, juggling finances and making difficult and painful decisions my feet have barely touched the ground. Its been a year of buckling down. This has left little time for relaxation…(this year I need to figure in a bit more of that). Sadly, I feel that many of the highlights of my year were overshadowed by difficulties I’ve had to face…but still, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with some lovely, amazing people, being part of some great food events, and being given an opportunity to get paid for my writing! These were my highlights.

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I’ve travelled a lot around Britain, cooked on a huge scale, trained, demo-ed, mentored and employed.

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I’ve cooked at home and for myself less, written less and spent less time developing new recipes. That hasn’t stopped readers following the blog. My most viewed recipes of 2013 were all ones written and posted over the past year; the top three were for perfect falafel, egg-free cheesecake and my mum’s now famous smoked mackerel pate. I want to give more time to writing in 2014, to cooking and working on new recipes and looking at starting on a book. Not a standard recipe book, but something more related to food stories.

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So what’s in store for 2014? I have so many ideas and plans that I’m still trying to get to grips with what is do-able. What I do know is that I like being my own boss, but at the same time I am a social creature who works best with other creative people throwing in their ideas, inspiration and talents. I don’t have the time or the energy to do it all. So, this year will see more collaboration.

I am also scuppered since I lost my home and my business; so rather than running a regular supper club (which I can’t do in the house I am currently renting) I am planning ten exciting pop-up events in different (secret) locations, with interesting menu’s and different people taking the helm at front of house. These may include visiting chefs, music, amazing decor, or some kind of installation…..watch this space for dates.

I did a lot of cooking in other people’s homes this year and that will continue, as will my current ‘residency’ at The Oyster Catcher in Rhosneigr. Incidentally the other two most popular posts from 2013 are related to visits here (The Oyster Catcher project) or events which involved their staff and cadet chefs (A salty, sea food pop-up….run by Eamon Fullalove, former motivational chef at the project).

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In 2013 I employed a full-time chef. Mark Burns worked with me through the crazy summer period, then as business tailed off I helped him get some work experience with other local restaurants. As Christmas approached and his contract was due to end he secured himself a full-time, permanent post in The Black House Grill in Chester. A successful outcome and one we were both very happy with! This year may see new additions to my team, which is pretty huge now! I’m overwhelmed at how many people want to work with me on jobs (chefs and waitresses) and they are all fantastic! But a personal assistant is probably what I need most!

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We will also be getting a new ‘look’. For the latter part of 2013 I have worked with a very talented art director who has tried to brand me!! Not an easy job and I have been very specific about my desires. Nina Farrell art directed Felicity Cloakes book Perfect so I’m in very good hands and she’s done a great job! The new look is all set to launch this month…so watch this space.

Finally, a big thank you to everyone who has supported me, booked me, stuck with me, trusted me, eaten my food, enjoyed my recipes, read my blog, cut me slack when life has been hard and made me smile with their lovely comments. I appreciate you all.

Keep coming back; comment more (its nice to read what people think) and have a wonderful 2014 🙂 xx

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Filed under Christmas, Food festival, in the press, photography, Recipes

Adore Naturals Christmas ebook and other stories

Hello hello!! Yes I’m still here despite going AWOL for a while. Looking at the blog the other day I realised I hadn’t written or posted for a whole month! That’s a long time without writing for me.

There are significant reasons for my sluggishness. Writers block is not something to be forced away, or overcome easily especially when life is already full to the point of bursting.  I guess that’s the point; life has been at the point of bursting and so many other things have taken precedence over the writing (which I love, but it doesn’t pay the bills!!).

So, its cooking, eating, attending food events and training that have kept me busy, while the stormy seas of life raged around me. I know I don’t do things by halves, but this month I’ve experienced more than my fair share of major life changing events. These are the things that have taken over my thoughts and time. Separation from my partner after twenty years has been a traumatic wrench along with, a house move and a new chapter in my life as a chef.

Although for now supper club is on hold, I’ve suddenly found myself back in a restaurant after more than twenty years this time as pastry chef at The Oyster Catcher training academy, a role that also involves cooking for the restaurant,  training and mentoring the cadets.  I’ve also been all over the place with cookery demo’s…Conwy, Portmeirion, Abergavenny which also meant little time spent in my new house.

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One piece of writing I did manage to concentrate on was a commission by Adore Naturals. Their festive guide to a natural, stress free Christmas includes ideas for making home-made gifts, family craft projects, health tips, perfect presents and my vegetarian Christmas dinner menu. The book went ‘live’ a while ago and you can access it here if you are looking for last minute inspiration

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The dessert recipe was recently trialled on the specials menu at The Oyster Catcher and was a bit of a hit!

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Beetroot tatin with goats cheese and balsamic glaze from the Adore Christmas ebook and it can be found here

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A rather melted mincemeat and marzipan parfait…studio lights and all that with orange and cinnamon syrup

For now I’m sad to say that supper club is having a break, although I am still cooking private dinners at different locations and am available for private bookings. Don’t worry though, it’s not a permanent break…just to give me enough time to take a breather while I regroup, review where I’m going with business and work out our next move for 2014. Exciting ideas are flying about…collaborations, new venues and opportunities….all I can say is have a great Christmas and watch this space closely!

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Filed under British food, Christmas, Christmas menu's, Food festival, home cooking, in the press, local produce, recipe books, Recipes

Burmese spiced fish, Conwy Feast and writers block

Writers block is a terrible thing. I want to write. I have lots to say and many stories to write-up of events I’ve attended and people I’ve spoken to in recent weeks. But as soon as it comes to sitting down and transferring my thoughts to paper its like the shutters come down in my head and the words wont flow. This is the reason for my recent silence. Writing, even food writing, needs a bit of mental space and freedom so my thoughts can roam and explore ideas. If I feel stressed, upset, preoccupied with problems or constrained my thoughts are otherwise engaged….no mental space, no writing. Its frustrating. So rather than spend weeks on a full essay, here are some pictures from my Conwy Feast demo and the recipe for the Burmese inspired spiced fish I cooked at the Feast.

Bear with me…I will be back with a vengeance soon….once some of the chaos going on in my life has subsided.

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Burmese spiced fish with coconut milk (to serve 2 people): Takes 20 mins to cook

The prominent flavours that you find in Burmese dishes are heavily influenced by the countries that border it. With Thailand on one side and Bangladesh on the other, both Asian and Indian flavours fuse to create a distinctive and colourful cuisine. This is a favourite dish that I’ve cooked for years and although of course I’ve added to or tinkered with the original ingredients it remains true to the original recipe I found in an old cookbook. These days I often use Thai / sweet basil to enhance the Asian flavours, while of course the vivid yellow colouring created by the turmeric is specifically Indian in origin.

2 thick white fish fillets (monkfish, cod or haddock)

Sunflower oil

1 small onion

1 clove of garlic

Half a thumb sized piece of ginger

Teaspoon turmeric

A small red chilli (home-grown)

Salt to taste

Half a can coconut milk

A small handful of Thai sweet basil (home-grown)

1 juicy lime

Finely chop the onion. Mince garlic, ginger and chilli (seeds removed).

Heat 2 tablespoons sunflower oil in a pan until hot. Add onions and fry quickly over the heat moving continuously for about 5 to 10 minutes, it doesn’t matter if they brown a little. Add garlic, ginger, chilli and turmeric and stir for one minute. Move the onion and garlic mixture to the side of the pan and add the fish fillets skin side down. Fry for 5 minutes or so until the skin starts to turn a golden crispy brown. While its cooking coat the top of the fish with the onion and garlic mixture.  Turn the fish briefly and add the coconut milk and salt to taste. Allow to bubble for about 10 to 15 minutes without covering. Check seasoning and then finish with the juice of a lime and a sprinkling of Thai basi. Serve with plain white rice and perhaps a minty cucumber and tomato salad.

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This fragrant plateful was divided up and between all the avid tasters at the demo!

Photographs courtesy of Kate Withstandley …photographer and art blogger at Exploring Art in the City

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Filed under Asian cookery, Food festival, home cooking, in the press, Indian cooking, local produce, Recipes, Seafood recipes, sustainable fish

So long til next year: A few last pictures from Abergavenny Food Festival

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Giant onions in the Market Hall…and below more giant veg adorning the ceiling

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Beautiful jewelled tomatoes from The Tomato Stall

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A mean and moody looking Alex Gooch caught doing a photocall; and his wonderful bread below

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Alison, Jess and David from Halen Mon….deliberately taking a step left because she hates having her picture taken!!

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The mushroom man (a familiar sight from the Green Man Festival)

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Busy stalls along the one of the side streets

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Omar Allibhoy from Tapas Revolution ranting about Spanish Food for Rude Health 

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Alice in Wonderland inspired ceiling in the kids kitchen

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smouldering looks and big smiles from Joe & Sephs gourmet popcorn sellers…I rather liked the gin and tonic version!

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Chef’s favourite Cotswold Gold director Charlie Beldam busy selling out of their newly launched mayonnaise….I brought back some amazing white truffle oil.

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I want one!!! Too big for me to carry….I did buy a giant wooden spoon from the same people though.

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Filed under British food, Food festival, Food travel

Abergavenny Food Festival day two (From Indiana Jones to James Bond)

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Abandoned 18th Century Ironworks at Clydach Gorge, the site of our forage eexpedition

Day two of the Abergavenny Food Festival dawned and I decided to escape the bustle of town for a while. The weather was beautiful and the lure of a forage tour entitled Forgotten Landscapes drew me in. Much as I love town/city life I guess I’m a country girl at heart and I keenly grasped the opportunity to explore around Abergavenny, something I’ve not had the opportunity to do, despite working at the Green Man Festival for the last three years.

The tour was led by hedgerow guru Adele Nozedar, author of The Hedgerow Handbook and enthusiastic exponent of getting outside to collect wild food!  It turned out to be the perfect start to the day, a hill walk to get the circulation going, with stunning views to waken and  enthuse the senses, combined with words of plant wisdom from Adele.

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Adele telling us all about Ash keys

I think of myself as a pretty avid forager. I pick a variety of seasonal fruit from the hedgerows; sloes, blackberries, elder flowers and berries, rosehips, ramsons and sorrel. Occasionally I manage to grab crab apples when they have a good season. Adele on the other hand knows the secrets of more than just the most popular plants. As we ambled up hill she regularly cried “STOP!” and drew our attention to plants like coltsfoot, plantain, horsetail, ground elder, and hedge woundwort. Who knew that woundwort stems the flow of blood so efficiently? A few leaves applied to a cut and hey presto! bleeding stops. She is a goldmine of useful information on plant history and folk tales and has an extensive knowledge of medicinal as well as culinary herbs. Inspired, I picked up her book, which I know will prove a very valuable addition to this forager’s library. It’s easy to get stuck in a groove cooking the same foods and making the same things so I’m looking forward to trying out some of the recipes in the book.

Watching Adele in action reminded me of a friend of mine, Jules Cooper from the Incredible Edible Hedgerow project who has the same enthused approach to explaining nature and loves sharing her knowledge. I secretly wondered what it would be like to throw the pair of them together, and then sit back and listen to the conversation.

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The view from the top (above) and pointing out ancient trees (below)

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We had such a lovely day we ran over time, so it was a brisk walk downhill to our coach with just enough time for a bit of tasting. Adele gave everyone two sweets, having us guess what ingredients she’d used. The flavours of the first were an easy guess for me – jellies made from a distinctive mix of elderberry syrup and elderflower syrup. She’d already given the game away as earlier she told me she’d get me liking elderberry (which I find quite harsh normally). The second was a creamy centred chocolate. Adele informed me no one had ever guessed the secret ingredient. The centre had a caramel taste, but not sweet and sugary. She gave me a clue that it was a common plant found in the garden. I had a feeling I knew what it was. Is it a weed? Has it got a yellow flower? Is it Dandelion? It was, but not the flower. I was very pleased with myself for getting it right. Something in the back of my mind reminded me that dandelion root is often used in coffee substitutes, as it has a caramel taste when roasted.

Back in Abergavenny time was short. I missed lunch, did a quick bit of shopping for gifts to take home and headed off to The Borough Theatre for a talk/tasting with Xanthe Clay and William Chase (the man behind Chase Vodka and Tyrells crisps), entitled The Spirit of Enterprise. I love to listen to stories of succesful entrepreneurship. Triumph over adversity where you start with nothing but an idea, and then building, creating, facing defeat, riding the hard times and finally making something work. They are the stories that drive us new entrepreneurs with small or growing businesses. They inspire and motivate and tell us that nothing is impossible with a bit of hard work and commitment.

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Will Chase farmed potatoes for years. He didn’t shy away from talking about bankruptcy and starting over. His father made him buy the farm, no inheritance for Will, and I guess that taught him that nothing comes for free. He sold potatoes as a commodity but it didn’t work out and didn’t inspire him. Then came what he calls his “eureka” moment. He saw the potential for his potatoes not as a commodity but what they could become. This was the moment he came up with the idea to turn them into crisps and in 2002 he formed Tyrrells.

With Tyrrells growing fast Will went looking at other avenues. In 2004 while travelling the States he stumbled across a small distillery that made potato vodka. A seed was planted. Will returned home, had a think and the idea matured and grew until he decided that vodka making would be a lot more fun! Production started and it soon transpired that you actually need a lot of crop to produce a small amount of vodka  (16 tonnes of potatoes made only 1000 litres of alcohol!). Disheartened initially, he soon realised that this produced a higher quality product than the other mass-produced vodka on the market.This heralded the birth of Chase Vodka

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While we listened to Xanthe and Will we were treated to arse-kicking cocktail tasters mixed by bar manager Dominic Jacobs and served by the exceptionally glamorous mixettes, dressed head to toe in beautiful vintage outfits provided by a local shop. For a few minutes I sat musing over the contrasting experiences of the day, like stepping from an Indiana Jones movie set to full on James Bond. As I sipped dry Martini and rhubarb and ginger gin I rued the decision to skip lunch, the slightly glazed expression I wore as I left the theatre testament to an empty stomach.

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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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From the Sea: a salty seafood pop-up

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To close the inaugural Menai Seafood Festival a very special pop-up charity supper took place. Inevitably salt and sea were its principal themes; the salt provided by Halen Mon (Welsh sea salt specialists) and every course focusing on a different type of seafood, provided by local fish monger Matt White and with local farmed sea bass from Anglesey Aquaculture.

Now I get little opportunity to attend supper club’s or pop-ups as generally there are none locally, and my forays out of Wales don’t always coincide with supper club dates or events elsewhere. This, as you can imagine was a massive treat for me! I also took my mum along to say thank you for looking after the kids over the holidays and I think she was just about as excited as I was. She’d seen the menu online thinking how delicious it looked before I told her I’d booked for us both. It wasn’t a  cheap night, but as it transpired it was the perfect, decadent end to a busy day.

Jess Leah-Wilson, glamorous owner of Shop Cwtch hosted the event. Her shop, transformed into a stylish intimate dining room for the evening, has a lovely vibe by day, and is the sort of place where you just want to buy everything (during the festival I think my Mum did!). She has great taste, an eye for detail and scatters the shop with so many beautiful things that it was destined to make the perfect backdrop for this dinner. The food, a seven course tasting menu with paired wine, cocktails and Prosecco was designed and cooked by Eamon Fullalove (yep, that IS his real name) with the help of three young aspiring chefs; my assistant chef Mark Burns helped out along with Elfed Roberts and Dion Hughes from The Oyster Catcher Restaurant, where Eamon is the motivational chef and a tutor. Waitressing and helping introduce the food and wine was Nia Williams, also from The Oyster Catcher. All proceeds from the event were donated to Hope House children’s hospices who give specialist nursing care and support to life-limited children, young people and young adults from Shropshire, Cheshire, North and Mid Wales.

Eamon’s background is impressive. Former head chef at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, he has years of high-end restaurant experience and this supper was the perfect platform for his skills. It offered the young chefs an opportunity to experience food preparation in a very different environment (i.e. in an open air kitchen outside the shop in Menai Bridge). They survived the onslaught of questions from relentlessly curious passers-by and later drunken hangers-on slumped over the kitchen wanting to taste the food!

I cannot make a single gripe about the evening, friendly, informal, great conversation, stunning food. At the beginning of each course Eamon introduced the dish and the matched wine. By the end of the meal we’d tasted many incarnations of Halen Mon salt…from  smoked water used to cook the puy lentils, spiced salt in the bisque,  plain sea salt to cure the salmon and vanilla salt to crust the glasses for the watermelon margarita….as Eamon introduced dessert he simply said “there’s no need to gild a lily” before bringing in warm chocolate brownie’s, vanilla ice cream with salted caramel sauce. He was right, it needed nothing more. Simple pleasures.

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mackerel cured with salted limes, pomegranate and cress

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Perfect scallops, puy lentils cooked with smoked water and unsmoked bacon to top…”Chefs hate unsmoked bacon, but here the smoke is in the lentils”….one of my favourite dishes of the night

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Happy guests

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four different salts…spiced, vanilla, plain and smoked. We were invited to use them to season our own seabass…which had not been seasoned at all. In fact I didn’t need anything extra, the samphire brought enough saltiness to the dish along with the olive tapenade. The fennel, cooked until it broke down, is referred to as Trufillo (to be like truffle) in Italy. There is no alternative translation in English so Eamon told us…its just fennel mush….apart from dessert this was my other favourite dish of the evening

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“no need to gild a lily”

We finally staggered off home at almost midnight….with a glass of wine matched to every course, a couple of Margareta’s and two glasses of Prosecco I almost carried my mother home. I smiled to myself as I escorted her to bed with a glass of water that this was a great night and one to remember.

Matched wines were sourced from Llyn Wines and were as follows:

  • Di Maria Prosecco
  • McPherson Verdelho
  • Yalumba dry white
  • Cher et Tendre Vouvray sec
  • Torre de Menagem Vinho Verde
  • Gavi La Battistina
  • Bacalhoa Moscatel de Setubal

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Filed under British food, eating out, Food festival, in the press, local produce, photography, seasonal food, secret supper, sustainable fish, underground restaurant, Welsh food