Category Archives: in the press

Food waste and Bristol Skipchen

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In May 2009 I was made redundant. I suspect many of you readers will already know this and it’s no secret that I started writing this blog and running my supper club as something fun to do while searching for a job.  What you may not know are the realities of living on a suddenly reduced income. Within six months I dropped from a very cosy salary of £30,000 a year as a health psychologist, to £72.40 a week income based job seekers allowance (once the redundancy money and ad hoc freelance work dried up).  This was before my marriage ended and my husband and I still lived together. He was working full-time and had a similar wage, which should be pretty good, but once you factor in all the trappings of the ‘middle-class’ professional lifestyle; hefty mortgage which he had to take over paying, credit card payments, household bills plus two hefty overdrafts (which we could no longer afford to pay off), the descent into debt and virtual poverty was swift. This is how people end up bankrupt and homeless. At one point my monthly bank charges topped £150 because I couldn’t pay in enough money to cut my overdraft. The wonderful HSBC bank refused to freeze the account, or stop charging me, which compounded my woe month on month.

Advisors from the CAB told us the only way to freeze charges and cut payments was to default (except the mortgage, council tax and utilities). They told us that store card companies couldn’t make us pay and couldn’t send around bailiffs. Luckily we didn’t lose the house, we kept paying the essentials but we did default. It was stressful and we still struggled to keep our heads above water, often not having enough money to put fuel in the car or buy food for the family. It was scary how all that could happen. I have a PhD,  but I couldn’t get a job. I was skint. I now have a terrible credit rating, but have learned what is important in life, what I can live without and just how precarious that capitalist lifestyle is.

I joined forces with my friend Sophie who was in similarly dire straights. Sophie relied on the tried and tested student practise of ‘skipping’ as a way to top up her food cupboards.  Skipping, for those not aware, is where people collect discarded supermarket food from the skips and use it to feed themselves. Technically its illegal (although not as immoral as chucking away perfectly good food or throwing bleach or rat poison over the contents of the skips so people can’t raid them and use the food…which happened in my area) and many supermarkets now keep their ‘discarded’ food under lock and key. Of course this makes it incredibly difficult to make use of the rejected goods, 90% of which is perfectly edible, safe and reusable.

With food banks, foodcycle, and soup kitchens on the increase, it’s not just those on benefits who are struggling to feed their family.  Barnardos reports that there are around 3.5 million children living in poverty in the UK (almost a third of all children) with 1.6 million in severe poverty . In the UK 63% of children living in poverty are in a family where someone works. There is a massive discrepancy in income, living conditions, outlook, perceptions, and I have lived this myself.

But it’s not just about food poverty, it’s about the relentlessly wasteful planet we now inhabit, the supermarket controlled world that has drained people of their cash (don’t kid yourself, everything is over priced, even those things they tell you are on ‘special offer’, you only need to take a trip to Aldi or Lidl to see that) and their common sense when it comes to buying food.  This has long been one of my favourite soap-box subjects and food rants (along with no cookery in schools), but I’m not the only one banging this particular drum, enter The Real Junk Food Project.

According to their figures around 1.3 billion tons of food gets thrown away globally each year. This amounts to nearly 40% of global production. 40%!!! That’s huge. Unimaginable. In the UK alone we waste around 15 million tons of food a year and this is predominantly due to stringent and confusing food safety legislation.

The Real Junk Food Project began life in February 2013 in Melbourne, Australia. Founders and co-directors Adam Smith and Johanna Hewitt were horrified by the amount of food waste they came across so set up pay-by-the-minute barbeques on the banks of the River Yarrow using discarded food. Later, when parenthood beckoned, they felt the lure to return home and back to Adam’s home town of Leeds with the aim of continuing the project. They hunted about, found lots of support and were finally offered  access to a struggling community kitchen in Armley, a particularly deprived part of Leeds. Meanwhile, at a local food activist meeting Sam and Conor (co-directors to-be) heard about the project. They too were  making their own discoveries about commercial food waste as they, and a cohort of other friends from university dined on the proceeds of supermarket bin raids. They heard about the project and approached Adam and Jo with food to exchange and a relationship was formed.

The Leeds Skipchen opened its doors for its first trial in December 2013 when the couple cooked Christmas dinner for the homeless population of Leeds. In the same month it became a Community Interest Company and has thrived and grown since sparking support and interest from all sectors. Now open 7 days a week the project is spreading and growing; new cafe’s are popping up across Leeds…and now, this, the first one in Bristol.

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The other interesting feature of the Skipchen is the Pay-as-you-feel (PAYF) policy. This is what their website says about it. I couldn’t have put it any better, so over to them….

As well as the positive environmental impacts of reducing edible food waste the project also has clear social benefits through operating a strictly Pay-as-you-feel (PAYF) policy . PAYF offers an alternative to the conventional the payment system as there is no price on any produce of the café. Our system transcends monetary transactions and liberates people to use their skills and attributes as well as money to pay for their meals. Furthermore, we aim to highlight the absurdity that the produce we use has been stripped of its monetary value but still retains its nutritional value. By making people think about what they wish to contribute for their meals, the idea is to get society thinking about how they value food as a resource.

The pay-as-you-feel policy makes sense and takes me back to the early days of supper club, when we asked for donations. Later, this later changed to ‘suggested’ donations because people needed more guidance, they wanted to know ‘how much’ was OK. Although the supper club is based on a different concept (I was buying top quality ingredients for those evenings which was in fact pretty much the only time I did any proper shopping) and costs had to be covered, it was still a not for profit exercise. I liked being able to offer people a restaurant experience without charging the earth, bringing in customers that wouldn’t normally go to a top flight restaurant, making them feel welcome and relaxed, where hippies with dreadlocks could sit next to university lecturers and all would get on and find common ground.

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So, on a damp Wednesday afternoon five of us plus a baby in a pram jostled for space and a place to sit inside the busy Bristol Skipchen. Initially we dithered, confused, trying to work out what was the skipchen cafe menu and what belonged to the bar that ‘loans’ them space during the day. Once we’d sussed it out we chose a variety of dishes; vegeburgers, salad with mozzarella and a lovely lime dressing, watercress and spring onion soup, roast cauliflower. The cafe was happily chaotic with a vibrant group of diners leaving the counter with loaded plates of everything. I guess that for some this may well be their main, or only meal of the day. Conversation about the project surrounded us, and there seemed to be a keen interest locally.

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I spoke to Sam who runs the Bristol Skipchen and he told me how it worked. He emphasised two points; first that the project is independent of the big supermarkets. Food Cycle and many food banks, are run in conjunction with, or hosted by supermarkets…ironic since they are the ones that create the problems in the first place. By staying free of their input its easier to challenge their stranglehold. Second, it deliberately avoids the supermarket skips around Bristol which are already used by many of the cities homeless population.

Food donations come from a variety of sources; a local homeless hostel that receives a surplus, a restaurant that over ordered mozzarella, a food PR company that couldn’t use a whole box of watercress, and is sometimes topped up with discards collected from skips in more affluent areas outside of Bristol, where the food would simply be thrown away.

Bristol Skipchen is run by volunteers, all young, enthusiastic and committed food activists and has a lets all-muck-in-and-help-yourself kind of feel to it, which is what they hope to encourage. I love that the Pay As You Feel policy got us all talking, discussing what we’d eaten, what we thought the food was worth, weighing up the time and skill put into its preparation, using our judgement and what we could afford (my visit took place whilst on a severely pared down budget). Some visitors there can’t afford anything, and in that way its fantastic for providing a square meal. We could afford to pay, so did so according to our means. We loved it; the concept, the buzz, the enthusiasm and the commitment. It was good to see it busy. The food was pretty good, if not cooked with total gastronomic expertise (sorry, I’m a chef and hard to please 100%) and there was plenty of it.

One of our group was my eleven year old son. Initially bewildered and perhaps slightly disgusted by the concept of eating food reclaimed from bins, he soon understood what it was all about, realised that I’d given him reclaimed food at home and so tucked into his lunch with no more hesitation. We were sad that there was no pudding, but they have to work with what they’ve been given  (a donation of cake ingredients please). So thankyou The Real Junk Food Project and Bristol Skipchen, you have restored my faith in human nature just when I’d given up hope, and you’ve inspired me. So yes, I will be returning there. Soon I hope and perhaps  the other side of the counter. I will make cake.

Bristol Skipchen is based in the Stokes Croft district of Bristol. Give them your support and your food donations and they will give you a delicious lunch.

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Filed under eating out, Food issues, in the press, social enterprise

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

Bodnant Welsh Food

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

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

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

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

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

Bodnant Welsh Food

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Filed under British food, cookery courses, in the press, local produce, Recipes, Welsh produce

MSN food: twice in one month!

I’m really not very good at taking compliments. I have this irritating tendency to get flustered when people greet me with praise. I look for the nearest thing to hide behind, embarrassed, not quite knowing what to do with myself and turning a lovely shade of scarlet (not the most becoming colour). Despite this I am unbelievably proud of my supper club and how well its done. Despite my squirming-at-praise tendencies, like most people I like being recognised for my hard work and achievements (as long as its not too public!!). This is probably why I prefer being safely hidden behind the camera and not standing in front of it. It’s a case of thank you for recognising my work and talents, but please don’t make a big deal of it (as well as being horribly unphotogenic and terribly vain!)

I’m quite at home with my strange, psychological insecurities (in which I’m sure I’m not alone). I always doubt myself, find fault, waiting to fuck up. My second chef Mark summed it up when he announced to his students (that I was mentoring and giving a talk to) that I was a highly strung perfectionist. I wasn’t sure whether to take issue with the highly strung bit, but I guess he is correct in some ways, but then aren’t all chefs?

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This month I have received not one, but two nice little accolades from MSN. The first  was a MSN food review of Britain’s Best Home pop-ups.  I am now not only listed among the pioneers of the supper club scene (I started in 2009) but one of the stalwarts since I’m one of few that are still running since the early days. My formula has changed little; I have a laid back and intimate style with sometimes quite simple grub, while at other times it can be wildly experimental. With the former style in mind, it was with pleasure that I contributed to MSN again, this time as an ‘expert’ in my new role as a freelance tutor at Bodnant Cookery School. Contributing simple ideas for cooking, guidance on what to choose and recipes for Welsh lamb. Check out the article here.

Roast lamb (© Sainsbury's)

Image from Sainsbury’s courtesy of MSN

And now i’m off to cook for tonight’s Earth Hour Supper Club…see you on the other side!

 

 

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Filed under British food, in the press, living room restaurant, local produce, Organic meat, Recipes, reviews, secret supper, Sources and suppliers, Welsh food, Welsh produce

Branding, Guardian review’s and new supper club dates

January is supposed to be a slow quiet month. It arrives with false promise, new years resolutions swiftly broken as the month creeps through endless dark nights, rain and gloom. Like many I often feel lethargic and slightly despondent, lacking in vitamin D gained from a bit of natural sunshine. This year its different. The new year arrived with more of an explosion than I expected. Instead of drooping about the house I felt renewed, invigorated and ready for action. New year, new me. I had a feeling life was going to be different from now on, and I soon discovered I wasn’t wrong.

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Bursting with excitement I launched my ‘new look’. A fresh logo, new pictures and design graced my blog and Facebook page and received an enthusiastic response from readers. I’d procrastinated over branding and identity for a long time. Being a picky perfectionist i’m hard to please but wonderful artist and designer Nina Farrell at &Agency (who was also Felicity Cloakes art director at Penguin books) took up the gauntlet. She did so admirably really capturing the essence of ME! She merged colours that reflected my Welsh rural life, images that showed my love of local produce and foraged food, with a thoroughly modern, yet also kind of vintage logo.

A warm feeling of contentment crept through me with wedding and private dinner bookings rolling in, interesting discussions and plans for future supper clubs and just when I thought it couldn’t get any better I received a text from my neighbour saying

“Den, CONGRATS on being in the Guardian mag under 5 of best supper clubs Xx”

I read the text wondering what the hell she was on about. I called her back. Are you serious? I asked. I searched on-line and there it was…how about that to start the year?!!!!

Guardian article on starting a supper club and top 5 supper clubs in the UK

Guardian article on starting a supper club and top 5 supper clubs in the UK

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As January rolled into February life increased its pace. As I mentioned January and February are traditionally lean months in the catering world, no festivals, no weddings and very few parties, but this article kickstarted something. I suddenly found myself inundated with bookings for supper clubs I didn’t yet know I was going to hold, people wishing to collaborate, offering venues and wanting to help. It was overwhelming. My landlord gave me permission to run little suppers in my new house.

The article was a metaphorical kick up the jacksy. I knew I wanted to work with more people, engage more with the local community, use more interesting spaces. Last year I wanted to branch out but plans had to be put on the back burner…now i’m off into the unknown…time to be brave!

And so to dates….there is plenty going on this year and on Friday the first of those events came to life.  A mini supper for six VERY different people in my new house.  I was nervous as hell. I felt like a new supper club host doing it all for the first time. All those old fears of will it work? Will people like my house, feel comfortable, get on with each other!

I don’t know why I worried so much, everyone got on well, conversation flowed as did the wine and cocktails. What better way to christen the new house and enjoy Valentines evening than to have four supper club regulars and two ‘virgins’ (one of whom I have known for over 20 years…ever since I made Wales my home).

The evening finished relatively early (about 10pm which is a first) as people went off to other events or battled their way home through the foul weather, but that didn’t matter…it was lovely. Rosanna had no idea where her boyfriend was taking her for Valentines night, she looked terrified when she arrived  (she’s quite a shy person)….I looked at her and said “he didn’t tell you did he?”

“No” she replied “and if it was anyone other than you i’d have run away”

At the end I suggested it was  a romantic thing to do to. She agreed claiming it was probably was the most romantic thing he had ever done! Aahhh, how sweet!…just because I have no romance in my life right now, doesn’t mean I can’t bring it to others 🙂

Supper club table all ready to go

Supper club table all ready to go…sorry about the poor quality, I only managed to get a few quick pics on my phone!

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The table decorated with rose petals, hearts and a menu with cupid wings

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White onion soup with cider and thyme, seared scallops and parsley-garlic puree

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A full table of happy guests

AND SO ON TO THE NEXT EVENTS:…

8TH MARCH……pop-up supper club at Cafe Seren, Bethesda. The aim is to use local spaces when they are generally not in use. Cafe Seren is open during the day and hopefully this will be the beginning of a regular collaboration.

The evening features live acoustic music from John Lawrence and Jaci Williams…check out John and Jaci’s collaborations here. The menu will have a wild woodland theme…I saw John and Jaci play recently and they were fantastic!! ..(limited spaces so get in quick!! We have room for 24 and we are HALF FULL ALREADY)

21ST MARCH……Equinox Bal and French Feast (pop-up cafe). Another live music and food event this time at Mynydd Llandegai Community Hall and with folk band Mouton  …this is a ticketed event and prices are £11 in advance with food (purchased from Wegottickets here) or £5 on the door without food.

Feast menu: Two courses to include either…

Boeuf bourguinon or beetroot bourguignon with roast new potatoes and a mixed leaf salad with roasted nuts and seeds (meat or vegetarian/vegan)

Traditional French crepes with orange and lemon syrup and cream

29TH MARCH…..Celebrate Earth Hour with a candlelit supper at Ty Bryn Adda; the old laundry and drying house on The Vaynol Estate, Bangor.  This is a collaboration with the owners Kim and Martin who run personal coaching workshops, but would like to see the space used for some different events. She is also a supper club fan!…. To get an idea of what the venue is like watch this video on Youtube or check out their website

This is a rare opportunity to spend time in a very unique space. There are also three rooms available in the house and bed and breakfast can be booked by those wishing to make a weekend of it (this can be discussed directly with Kim). More details regarding the menu will follow shortly.

5TH APRIL….pop-up event (details will be confirmed shortly)

26TH APRIL……mini supper club (spaces for 6 to 8 people)

18TH MAY…..mini Sunday lunch (spaces for 6 to 8 people)

To find out more about any of these events please email me on moelfabansuppers@gmail.com, send me a message on Facebook, Twitter or give me a call on 07775828769

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Filed under home cooking, in the press, North Wales restaurants, reviews, secret supper, underground restaurant, Welsh food

…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

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

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

Food Bloggers Connect…a weekend to talk, listen, meet and eat

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Ren Behan’s pop-up Polish

I don’t often get the opportunity to meet fellow food bloggers. They are something of a rare breed here in North Wales so I was very excited about my trip to London for the Food Bloggers Connect conference.

I do little networking with food bloggers outside of Wales so it was this, and the invite to speak, that were my main motivations for attending. Usually I am the first to introduce myself, strike up conversations and generally get chatting but I felt strangely shy. It didn’t help that I’d been suffering from a stomach bug earlier in the week and hadn’t totally recovered, that humidity levels were through the roof, the heat was almost unbearable and my hay fever terrible. I felt lethargic, out of breath and generally out of sorts. Consequently I was extremely lazy with my photography, I ran out of business cards on the first day and it was all I could do to hold a conversation.

A missed opportunity? Definitely not. I made the very most of what was an enjoyable and valuable weekend. I strongly believe that every experience in life is a chance to learn and grow, and I listened to some wonderful speakers who inspired me. I picked up tips, met some fantastic people and if I had been in the mood for eating would have stuffed myself silly. I gave it a good go anyway.

It was great listening to David Lebovitz talk about how he started his blog back in the 90’s. He made his name with his genuine, warts and all approach. He focuses on his successes and failures in equal measure, keeps it real, personal and writes from the heart; something that I empathise with. I tried to have a chat with him after the session but ended up feeling like an irritating groupie among all the others wanting to talk to him, so gave up and let the man move on.

It was also great finally getting to meet Niamh Shields. Her blog has long been an inspiration to me. Like David she keeps it real. Her Eat Like A Girl blog is down to earth and funny, and so is she in the flesh. With her southern Irish accent and dry sharp wit it was like being among my family down in Cork, I felt at home with her. Sadly, I only got a brief opportunity to talk to her; mostly about Cork, random tweets and a love for Canada. She wooed me with the divine maple syrup brought back from her travels, then nearly killed me with a shot of pear au de vie. Her talk about travelling Canada was frank and funny, with lovely images to match. It  made me want to go back and see more.

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Niamh with her lethal pear au de vie

I listened avidly to the Food Cycle talk from Kelvin Cheung and Aine Morris from the Sustainable Food Trust. Later speaking to both about my attempts to cook and live in a sustainable way, and my own adventures in ‘Freeganism’. Further conversations with other bloggers led to an interesting meeting of minds; talk of local produce, growing our own and hatred of supermarkets plus a nice glass of cold Prosecco perked me up at the end of a long hot day.

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Kelvin Cheung talking food poverty

Saturday morning started with a talk by Penny De Los Santos. Penny is one of the most inspiring food photographers I have ever seen. Her pictures are expressive, vibrant stories of food, culture and for me verge on being works of art with their vivid colours, honesty and ability to make me salivate just by looking at them.  Her pictures are most often seen in The National Geographic and Saveur magazine and she has won many awards. It’s easy to see why. These are pictures I would love to take. Again I tried to strike up a conversation but felt like a blustering groupie so left it at a compliment at how much I love her photography.

Next up was MsMarmiteLover (Kerstin Rogers) who’d been booked to talk about monetisation and launching a food career. I guess it was inevitable she would include running a supper club, although she almost sailed through much of my talk. Kerstin gave me advice when I set up my supper club back in 2009 and I have remained in contact with her since, working with her on Global Feast event in London last year. She is funny, outrageous, enthusiastic and her frank, ‘don’t give a toss’ attitude has won friends, enemies and admirers (probably in equal numbers). Whatever you think of her she is a great raconteur and good to listen to.

By the time I stood up to do my talk I was feeling pretty exhausted. It was almost quarter to six, I had stomach ache and although the heat had started to subside I felt quite drained. Then the computer network started playing up making my presentation unplayable. I began to think it would all be a disaster. Then somehow it all came together; the adrenalin of talking to a group of people kicked in and suddenly I was up there telling my story. I can’t remember much of what I said, but it all went well in the end.

There were other presentations that I liked too. Aoife Cox of The Daily Spud, Ren Behan and Emily Jonzen with her shocking stories of food styling (I will never look at a roast turkey on a TV advert in the same way again….that’s all I’m saying, but you other bloggers that listened to her talk will know what I mean).

By Sunday I was done in. Plus my prodigal teen called with tales of woe and stolen purses from Glastonbury (where she’d been working) and needed rescuing from Paddington station on Sunday morning so I missed Regula Ysewijn from Miss Foodwise (who I really wanted to listen to).

I also met some wonderful people with whom I had some great conversations. Karen Burns-Booth from Lavender and Lovage , Jane Sarchet from The Hedge Combers and Louisa Foti from Chez Foti were among that first ‘meeting of minds’ group that chatted after the Food Cycle and Sustainable Food Trust talks, Regula with whom I talked British food history (anyone remember Gypsy tart?) and Rachel Brady from Well Worn whisk who became my partner in crime on day two…sneaking off like two naughty school girls for a fag behind the bike sheds and talking about how hard it is to juggle kids, family and food blogging. We definitely clicked and it will be nice to meet up again on her turf or mine.

As for the food…my highlights were Bethany Kehdy’s table of Persian, Moroccan and Middle Eastern delights. ‘Please come and join me for my book launch after this…I’ve been cooking for it for two weeks!’ she implored us. How could I resist when I adore middle eastern food.  Bethany is the author of Dirty Kitchen Secrets and her first book The Jewelled Kitchen is out. I will have to get a copy, which I should have done on Saturday evening, but what with one thing and another I just wanted to collapse in a heap. I did try the food and I only wish I could have eaten more. I loved the tiny pastries, but anything else was beyond my stomach at that point. It was so bad I couldn’t even manage a glass of wine!

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Delicious food from The Jewelled Kitchen

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More delights from The Jewelled Kitchen…beautiful, light nests…I didn’t manage to try one so can’t remember what they were topped with

On Friday Ren Behan’s Polish pop-up had me drooling over beautiful light plum-cake and traditional polish stews and canapes, while in-between we snacked on Pig a Chic skewers, Chobani yogurt and fruit, Luchito with cheese, salami and crackers. I took home some of their wonderful chilli paste.

On the last day I took home a goodie bag so heavily laden I could barely lift it. Predictably the beer, chocolate and drinks disappeared quickly. Dove chocolate was a hit with the teen and the amiano choco Bella fair trade chocolate spread has been well used; I particularly liked the sundried tomato puree from the Olive Branch Greek Mezze range which has been liberally added to all kinds of dishes.

I leave you with a few pictures….not as good as I would have liked due to my tardiness on both days, but a small taster of a great weekend.

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Ren Behan again…with delicious plum cake

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Pig a Chic working hard to feed everyone

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delicious cheese from La Fromagerie….I love that shop!

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Giant cookies

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Luchito stall with lots of toppings and wonderful chilli paste…their chilli honey was delicious

 

 

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Filed under Food festival, in the press, middle eastern food, photography, Pop-up cafe, reviews, street food