Category Archives: Organic meat

Robust venison goulash for an Autumn supper

food festival Ludlow 2014 276I know it hasn’t been particularly Autumnal of late, but as the nights start to draw in and the evenings are beginning to cool, I’ve found myself craving  the dishes I associate with this time of year. With back to school and work routines now in place I long for comfort food. Out go the summer salads, BBQ’s and light meals designed for hot evenings and in come roast dinners, casseroles and hearty flavoursome stews (although this weekend was perfect BBQ weather!).

The Autumn and winter months also herald the beginning of game season, and although these days Venison is available across the year it’s still associated with the hunting, shooting and fishing season, and this might be why it’s overlooked. It’s often seen as a bit expensive for ordinary folk and just for those ‘posh’ people who wear red jackets, riding hats and have an expansive wallet. There is also of course the emotional, “poor Bambi” reaction which I often hear from people,while others aren’t sure they would like the taste, thinking it’s too strongly flavoured.

Some of this fear of venison is related to previous experience. If it was a bad experience then the obvious reaction is to avoid, or perhaps it was nice first time round and the flavour was different the second time. Production methods and labelling were less consistent in the past, plus the label never distinguished between types of venison, red deer for example tastes different to fallow deer. These days however many local butchers and game specialists routinely stock venison, and opinion is slowly shifting. Why? because production methods have improved, the processing of wild venison is quicker, there are more deer farmers out there and in both cases improved methods produce meat with a more consistent flavour and quality.

Venison is so similar to beef the two are often confused but it differs in that it is leaner, has more protein, more iron and B vitamins making it a good health choice. Also, because wild deer lives on wild and pasture food there is a minimal fat content in the meat and what is there has higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid (a possible protector against heart disease and cancer). Because it is like beef it also cooks in a similar way. Steaks are best cooked fast on a high heat or a BBQ, while diced venison takes well to slow cooking and robust sauces. I used diced venison to make a rich Goulash, a family favourite. Its quick and easy to prepare and although it takes a long time to cook you can stick it in the oven and go do other things while you are waiting.

If you want to give venison a try, now is a great time. The deer have spent the summer feeding on wild food and pasture so the meat is top quality and not very expensive. I purchased my venison from my butcher (G Williams & Son in Bangor). It came pre-packed in a 500g tray and cost £4.00.

Venison Goulash:

Serves four as a lunch dish (served with some rye bread or similar) or 2-3 as a main course dinner with lightly steamed vegetables

1 tablespoon vegetable oil (plus a knob of butter)

500g diced venison

1 large onion finely sliced

2 cloves of garlic (chopped or crushed)

1 teaspoon caraway seeds

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon plain flour

350g fresh tomatoes chopped (or tinned in the winter months)

300ml beef stock

400g small potatoes, washed, peeled if necessary and chopped into chunks

salt and pepper

Preheat the oven gas mark 3/160 degrees C

Heat a large non-stick pan and add the oil. Add venison when its nice and hot and brown over a medium heat. Once browned tip into an oven proof casserole dish. Add the butter to the pan and tip in the sliced onion. Cook for about 15 minutes until starting to soften and change colour. Add the garlic, caraway, paprika and stir for a minute then sprinkle over the flour, add tomatoes and stock. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer then tip over the venison in the casserole dish.

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Pop on a lid and put in the oven for an hour. After an hour tip in the potatoes and cook in the oven for a further 30 mins.

Once the potatoes are tender serve with a glass of red wine (unless its lunch time and you have to work afterwards) and some hearty rye bread to mop up the sauce.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under British food, Butchers, family budget cooking, Game recipes, home cooking, local produce, Organic meat, Recipes, seasonal food

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

Recipe: Easy, home-made lasagne (no added horse)

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If you can bear with my quick tirade about supermarkets and processed food, you will come to my really straightforward lasagne recipe. Stick with it, its worth it!

And I must have a rant because all I’ve heard this week are exclamations of horror about the discovery of horse DNA in pre-packaged and ready-made beef products (lasagne being one with the highest profile) and pig DNA where it really shouldn’t be. Who knows what’s next…actually I don’t even want to consider, but nothing would surprise me.

Don’t you think it’s about time we took a long hard look at ourselves and the crap we buy?….and I ask when exactly did we stop cooking real food at home?

As I child there wasn’t the vast array of  ‘convenience’ foods on the market. We didn’t have huge supermarket monopolies undercutting shops on the high street, telling us to trust them with their ready-made dishes and we didn’t have it forced in our face that we were too busy to cook. I look at the shelves of any supermarket and I’m ashamed at the gluttony and waste of this country.

In my butchers view there is plenty of good meat on the market…but not enough cheap meat to satisfy the demands of the meat industry. Supermarket own brands and other cheaper brands don’t use good meat. They go for the cheapest possible option. Why would anyone want to settle for that? People eat this rubbish because they live in ignorance about what goes into their food…they arev told its OK and believe unquestioningly. I think its time to open our eyes and ask questions….do we really need supersized Tesco’s with its racks of prepacked food and are we really happier now that we have supermarket ‘convenience’ and no longer have to nip into town to the butcher and greengrocer to shop?

Actually no. I’d rather travel to four different shops, where the sales staff are friendly, knowledgeable and interested, know the provenance of the food they sell, know you by name and what you like and have a chat about the family,  than have to face a half asleep teenager that can’t look you in the eye and that doesn’t know an Avocado from an artichoke.

So why don’t people cook? I could offer many reasons but then my rant would go on forever. I learned to cook in domestic science (and then Home Economics) lessons at school, but even then was already familiar with fresh food made at home. My mother cooked lasagne back in the early 80’s. Revolutionary almost for the time, but it was probably one of the first dishes I learned to make without a recipe. So simple that at eighteen I was making it at home and I reckon my ten-year old would have a fair stab at it today!

So, lets leave the packet food alone. Cooking is not hard…no really, it isn’t. Even if you don’t think you can cook I’m sure everyone can master six or seven dishes that can feed the family…..and here is a really easy lasagne to get you started.

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Fry onion, carrot and best quality beef to make a ragut

Lasagne:

1 pack of fresh or precooked lasagne sheets

500g beef mince (I used Welsh black beef from Beef Direct who sell at my local farmers market….it cost me £3.50 and tasted superb)

1 large onion chopped

2 small carrots grated or chopped small

2 cloves garlic crushed or chopped

1 bay leaf

1 tin chopped tomatoes

half a pint beef stock

a sprinkle of dried oregano

salt and pepper

50g butter

2 tablespoons plain flour

generous half a pint of milk

salt, pepper and grated nutmeg

Grated parmesan to cover the top

Preheat the oven to gas mark 5, 190 degrees C

Finely chop the onion and either grate or finely chop the carrot. Put about a tablespoon olive oil in a pan and heat gently. Add onions and carrot and fry gently (without browning) for about 10 minutes. Turn the heat up to medium and add the mince. Continue to fry, breaking up the mince with a wooden spoon, until nicely browned. Add garlic, a teaspoon of dried oregano (everyone seems to have a small selection of dried herbs in their house) and one bay leaf. Give everything a good stir then the tin of tomatoes, fresh beef stock (or made with a couple of good quality stock cubes…Kallo is a good make) and a sprinkle of seas salt (Halen Mon for me!!) and pepper.

Simmer until the sauce has reduced to a lovely rich thick consistency. At this stage you can use the sauce just as a bolognaise sauce with spaghetti.

To make the white sauce (bechamel) melt the butter in a small saucepan then stir in the flour. Cook for a minute then remove from the heat and slowly stir or whisk in the milk. Once you have a smooth sauce return to a low heat and stir continuously until it thickens. Season with salt and pepper and a grate in some nutmeg.

To assemble: Spoon a third of the meat sauce over the bottom of a large shallow oven dish (about 30cm square), cover with a layer of the lasagne sheets and a couple of spoons of the bechamel sauce.  Repeat the layers with a third of the sauce, a layer of lasagne and two more spoonfuls of bechamel. Finish with the rest of the meat sauce, a layer of lasagne and top with the bechamel. Cover the top with grated parmesan and bake in the oven for about 40 minutes or until golden brown and bubbling and a knife penetrates easily.

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Bodnant Welsh food centre and the Hayloft Restaurant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Menai mussels with cream and garlic

Pigeon breast with orange, beetroot & ginger salad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Green Man cheese list

Supper club regulars will know that I love my cheese. At the end of every meal I serve a Welsh cheese board to go with coffee (if anyone isn’t already full!!). I love the rich variety of cheeses. The tastes, textures and added ingredients used to make them distinctive and unique. It never ceases to amaze me how many fantastic cheeses come from dairies within the Welsh borders; more than enough to keep a person happy for a year (at least!!)

It is inevitable then that my love of cheese spills over into all of my catering jobs including the lunch time cheese board now routinely served to the crew of the The Green Man festival. It was a huge hit last year and they loved our best-of-Welsh choices so of course it had to return with several new additions.

This year I was constantly being asked ‘what cheese is this?’

There were regular overheard conversations around the table about which was the best cheese, or which was the favourite

‘that one with the blue rind…which one is that?’ or ‘That green one is fantastic, that’s the best’ .

I reckon we should start a Green Man Welsh cheese club with the number of fans I have created.

At the end of my cooking stint this year I promised to make a list of all the cheeses I have served and where to buy them. At The Green Man Festival we source from the fantastic Cashells in Crickhowell; a fabulous deli, great choices of meat and cheese, lots of local produce (and a rather cute butcher too)….us girls know we’d be fools not to use them!

So here it is, the definitive Green Man cheese list….

Snowdon Black Bomber ( a strong creamy cheddar with a black wax rind. A regular on our cheese board and highly distinctive when used in a cheese sauce, macaroni cheese or as a topping for pasta and meat sauce. Beats any cheddar on flavour)

Snowdon Green thunder (that extremely popular green rind cheese with garlic and herbs)

Snowdon pickle power (cheddar cheese with pickled onion)

All of these are from the Snowdonia Cheese Company who have an online shop and sell widely across the UK.

Then there were Perl Wen (Brie) and Perl Las (blue cheese) from Caws Cenarth, Y Fenni (a cheddar with mustard seeds and ale, made very locally in Abergavenny) which is widely available in supermarkets across the UK, and several Blaenafon cheddar’s the most popular of which were the whisky and ginger (with the blue wax rind) and the taffy apple which we didn’t manage to get this year despite asking for it!! Last year we also served Gorwydd Caerphilly

So there you have it! Since I am already booked to return next year I’m sure there will be a few additions and I might even try a goats cheese!

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The Real Food market at the Southbank Centre

Another day, another market! Even on holiday I can’t resist. This time it was the special Easter Sunday market on the Southbank and since I was heading to the Festival Hall to see Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf with my little man, mum and sister it was the perfect way to while away an hour before heading inside.

The Real Food Market is held every week on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and celebrates the best of British Produce and small producers…and what a variety there was! From food busker John Quilter (who sadly I didn’t get to chat to as he’d just nipped to the loo…maybe next time!)

There were local organic pork sausages cooked on the griddle and meat from farmers such us Galileo organic farm in Warwickshire

Plus a handful of bigger companies such as Riverford organics. Imagine my surprise when the first stall I came to was Petros Olives & Olive oil, a company totally familiar to me as their base is in North Wales. On the stall was owner Ari’s nephew and granddaughter! Petros is a family owned business importing olives and oil from their groves in Cyprus. They have regular stalls at the local produce markets in my area, but judging by this they are getting out and about and sharing their amazing olive oil and olives with more than just the Welsh foodies! We had a good chat about how small a world it is, but I wasn’t there to buy olives on this occasion, just a few snacks before the show.

What we did buy was a delicious creamy courgette dip from Arabica Food & Spice, a couple of filo pastry strudel (chosen primarily by my sister who wanted try everything!) filled with spinach and feta and red cabbage and ricotta which we shared. Served warm they were utterly delicious.

My sister bought a bag of pasta sauce seasoning and some almond pesto Calabrese from Breadtree, but I’m still waiting for her to experiment and report back! I didn’t get a picture of their exquisitely coloured pasta, the one below is from their website, but the rainbow colours were beautiful and I stared at it enviously wishing I had the skill to produce such amazing pasta.

Aidan wanted fresh lemonade and turkish delight and being nine years old of course he was allowed. As an adult I sensibly went for savoury sustenance over a big bag of sweet, tooth sticking cubes, but my how I wished I was nine again! I eyed the variety of cakes, patisserie, churros and chocolate on display around the market and even convinced myself that the wholesome looking Outsider Tarts would be better for me (check out those fab coloured whoopie pies)

..but then my sister reminded me that the performance only lasted an hour and in two hours we would be sitting down to eat a huge Easter Sunday dinner followed by lemon meringue pie. Instead I nicked one of Aidan’s turkish delight and forlornly forewent the sweet taste I craved. A gin and tonic in the festival hall cheered me up though 🙂

Due to other events taking place,  the next market will be held over the May bank holiday weekend (May 4th to 7th). In the meantime you can find a list of producers here

Go, enjoy and eat whoopie pies!

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To Market, to market..

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few pictures from the day…

Wendy from Johnny 6

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

cooking chorizo!

Cariad chocolate

Rhyd y Delyn cheese

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

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Slow roast shoulder of Moelyci pork with apple and sloe gin jelly

Earlier this year visitors to Moelyci environmental centre were surprised to stumble across six very large, happy pink pigs, brought in to turn over the land as a precursor to planting. They were a popular addition and Aidan loved them. He braved the electric fence (very low voltage worried parent readers) to climb in and make friends with them and in one delightfully malicious moment named one of them Roisin (after his beloved sister!!)

Roisin the pig

We paid those pigs a few visits over the summer so imagine our dismay when one very wet and windy day, while showing my Peckham dwelling cousin and his family the joys of mountain life we found the pigs were gone!

“oh no, they must have escaped” Aidan said…but us adults all caught each others eyes and inside we all knew the truth.

So did Aidan after we paid a visit to Moelyci at the end of the summer, for there in the freezer we found those happy pigs packaged and ready for buying.

I think its important for kids to know where their food comes from. Despite spending many years as  vegetarian I am I suppose, quite unsentimental these days. If we are going to eat meat then having some awareness of where that meat is produced, reared and slaughtered helps us make informed decisions about what we eat and where we buy it.

I watched Country file the other night and discovered that Britain imports 60% of the pork we eat. British pig farmers are apparently losing around £7 per carcass due to rising feed costs and the lack of appreciation in pork prices making it hard for them to continue producing, although pork remains the most popular meat globally taking up 42% of the market. Some of this is down to a continued lack of confidence in British pork following two foot and mouth bouts and an export ban, but also because European production methods are not so stringent. Intensive pig farming and lack of welfare guidelines in Europe mean that costs are kept low; they can cram more pigs into a smaller space, cut the energy they expend by not letting them run around and therefore feed them less.

In 2013 things will change as new regulations come into effect bringing European production into line with us, so levelling the playing field. But in the meantime we in Britain can be discerning consumers. If we buy locally, or at least British, not only will it help our struggling pork farmers, but at least we know our meat has come from happy, well cared for animals, not ones forced into pens with little room to move and no chance for exercise!

Our pork shoulder was totally delicious. It was quite fatty which made great crackling, which I simply rubbed with plenty of sea salt and some crushed and ground spices.

As we sat down to eat we wondered whether it was Roisin we were having for dinner….the real Roisin (an on-off vegetarian) looked less than pleased and Aidan said “that’s sad”, before tucking into a plateful. I’m now looking forward to receiving my half a pig for Christmas.

Slow roast pork:

I used two cloves of garlic, some pink and black peppercorns, coriander seeds and fennel seeds which I ground to a paste/powder in a pestle and mortar. I then rubbed it over the fat pushing it into the slits. Preheat the oven to gas mark 8 / 230 degree C. Place the pork on the top shelf uncovered. Roast for about 20 to 30 minutes until you can see the skin starting to puff up a bit and harden into crackling then turn the oven down to gas mark 3/170 degree C for about 3 and a half hours. If the crackling gets too dark or begins to burn cover with a piece of foil and wrap loosely.

Move the pork to a serving dish to rest and cover with foil. Pour off all but a tablespoon of the fat from the tray then put it on the hob to make the gravy. Add vegetable stock to the meat juices and bubble away until you get a nice dark gravy. Strain and serve with the meat and crackling.

I served mine with some potato and swede colcannon, roasted parsnips and hone-made made apple jelly. The perfect Sunday dinner.

Apple and sloe gin jelly:

2 kilo of cooking apples (I used mostly windfalls which are fine for this)

1 pint of water

rind and juice of a small lemon

454 grams sugar to each 500ml (1 pint) juice

Cut and trim the apples removing any bad bits (you need to do this as adding them will cut the shelf life of your jelly) and put in a large preserving pan. You don’t need to peel and core them. Add the water and the grated lemon zest (make sure not to add the pith as this could make the jelly bitter).

Simmer until the apple is soft and mushy. Line a large sieve or colander with muslin or a jelly bag and put to stand over a clean bucket or pan. Fill with the apple pulp and allow to drip into the container. I often fold over the muslin and put a plate on top with weights just to help the process.

The following day, remove the plate and weights and with a pestle, end of a rolling-pin or your hand, give the muslin a good squeeze to get as much juice out as possible. Some say don’t do this as it makes the jelly cloudy but to be honest I don’t mind cloudy jelly and I would rather squeeze out as much flavour as possible. Measure the juice into a jug and pour into a large pan adding the proper amount of sugar and lemon juice. Heat gently stirring occasionally until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and boil rapidly for five minutes before testing for a set. If it needs longer continue to boil until it wrinkles when you put a teaspoon full on a cold saucer.

Once you have reached the setting point switch off the heat and leave to cool for about five or ten minutes. Add a good glug of slow gin (or two) and transfer to warm sterilised jars. It should keep in a cool dark place for several months and store in the fridge once open.

 

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Conwy Feast & Blinc in pictures: just a few of my favourite things

I think you will see a few posts popping up here over the coming week about the fantastic Conwy Feast. There was so much to see, hear and taste that it was a weekend that fed all the senses. With both Conwy Feast and Blinc (Wales’s first digital arts festival) running concurrently its no surprise that the usually sleepy, walled medieval town of Conwy saw around 25,000 people visit over the weekend. Even the sun shone for us!

And what a weekend it was!.Since it began in 2003 the Conwy Feast has rapidly grown into the second largest food festival in Wales. It attracts a wide array of foodies from all over the country and its patron Bryn Williams of Odettes in London returns to demonstrate year after year. Other regular visitors include the two Sian Lloyd’s (from BBC and ITV), chefs Aled Williams (of Cennin in Beaumaris) and Hywel Jones (Michelin starred chef from Lucknam Park) who like Bryn have flown the flag for Wales as part of the Great British Menu and Bryan Webb, chef and patron of Tyddyn Llan Michelin starred restaurant in Llandrillo near Corwen. This year also saw Morfudd Richards attend for my ticket only supper club event, where Jimmy Williams from Signatures restaurant and I cooked a three course tasting menu with wine. More on this in my next post.

For now though I want to share some of the sights and images that summed up the weekend for me. From the huge array of fantastic Welsh produce just waiting to be tasted, the great array of local musical talent that played across two stages and culminating in the amazing Blinc projections on Conwy Castle on Saturday night. What more can I say…we had a brilliant time.

Conwy mussel boats in the harbour

my little jam stall in Fresh: the new producers tent

Vegan cupcakes from Aderyn Melys...taste totally divine and look beautiful as well

yummy truffles on my next door neighbours stall

Pretty patterns on the handmade butter, churned on site from the Victorian Farm Food Co. in Shropshire

Gemma looking pleased at punch to see the labels she designed for me on the jars

Welsh produce from around the festival, old favourites and new discoveries

Pen-y-Lan sausages…very very moorish

The outdoor cafe with its ’30 mile menu’. Three courses made with exclusively local produce.

Apples and honey at the Anglesey Apple Company…they do the most fab fresh pressed apple juice

Cynan selling his local shiitake and oyster mushrooms from The Mushroom Garden…now regularly bought by Michelin star restaurants. I used his mushrooms in my supper club menu, they are the best.

Beautiful bread from Scilicorns bakery in Llanrwst….their polish bread is my favourite.

everything you always wanted to know about apples from Ian Sturrock grower of rare, organic, Welsh fruit trees and discoverer of the Bardsey Island Apple (which led to a resurgence in interest in rare breeds). I have two of his trees in my garden.

A bar full of Welsh draught beer

Charcuterie from Trealy Farm….Love by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall I can see why; I loved their sweet chorizo and venison chorizo so I just had to buy a selection while I had the chance.

Fantastic shutters in Elizabethan town house Plas Mawr, one of the fantastic locations for some of the Blinc digital installations.

And the grand finale….

Blinc: projections on Conwy Castle

Blinc projections on Conwy Castle

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Alex James’s Harvest: the full foodie round-up

The Salad Club stall....it looked so pretty at night with all the fairy lights lit up....so much more alluring than many of the big food stalls

Another weekend another festival…well that’s kind of how it feels at the moment!  This time though I was working with award-winning food bloggers Ellie and Rosie of Salad club on their street food stall. There were four of us, helping the two of them, making a jolly band of six. The team members included Kirstin whose day job is at Jamie Oliver’s restaurant Fifteen, Izzi, who writes Shepherd Market Sweet Tart food blog, Clare, a friend of mine who stepped in at the last-minute after a helper dropped out and myself. It was a lovely gang and we all got on immediately, sharing our passion for good food and promptly adopting the role of protective foster parents over Ellie and Rosie’s ‘baby’. I don’t think I have ever been surrounded by so many avid foodies (with the exception perhaps of my appearance on Britain’s Best Dish) and it was a great feeling just being on the same food loving wavelength.

The festival itself was a strange one. Not at all typical or what I expected. It was predictably all about the food, while music from the likes of Fat Freddy’s Drop, the Kooks, KT Tunstall, Benjamin Francis Leftwich (the ones I got the opportunity to see) provided an added bonus. It was clean, polite and considerably posher than the usual festival I tend to frequent. Wellies were more a fashion accessory than necessity. I guess all this was understandable since the Cotswolds is a pretty affluent area and food festivals tend to attract visitors with a higher than average disposable income. It was clear that many of the visitors lived in the Oxfordshire and Cotswolds area as indeed did most of the traders. It’s not a festival than I would have chosen to go to had a not been working there, but we had fun all the same.

It was on the Friday evening as we got ready to open for business, that it all became a bit weird. Rebekah Brooks (of News International phone hacking scandal) wandered past the stall and Alex James, once cool bass player with Blur stood at an inflatable tent flogging cheese on toast, the cheese being from his less than convincing Asda range.  Jeremy Clarkson rolled up in his Range Rover and on Saturday David Cameron wandered past baby strapped to his chest. So having got myself all excited over hugging and being photographed with Alex I promptly went off him, after seeing his choice of friends and tasting his curry flavoured cheese (heavy on the cumin and not much else). You can call me fickle if you like, but I like a man with taste and a high moral code.

Alex chatting to Rebekah Brook.....unfortunately didn't manage to snap her and the PM cosying up in the same field..he appeared on Saturday

As a few of us stood around his stall tasting samples from his range, while being given the hard sell by his publicist. I felt quite depressed about the fact that people actually want to buy bread shaped cheese slices flavoured like tomato ketchup. I wondered what was the matter with ‘normal’ cheese, good old-fashioned mature cheddar and when did we lose the ability to cut our own cheese or add tomato ketchup when it’s cooked? As for curry flavoured cheese….less said the better I think.

The chefs table...which sadly I didn't get to sit at

I guess Alex’s cheese, and not getting the chance to eat at the chef’s table (a rather lovely festival ‘restaurant’ featuring dishes created by Stevie Parle and Yotam Ottolenghi to name two), were the two culinary low points of the weekend but the rest of the foodie stuff was just fantastic.

So good in fact that I don’t know where to begin: Brewed Boy selling the smoothest, creamiest Square Mile coffee…..

Real proper burgers from Meat Wagon…thank you Yani for keeping us fed….

Meat Wagon

Real proper burgers

Brownies and ice cream from Choc Star gave us just the sweet kick we needed as we grew tired on the Sunday afternoon…perfect with yet more coffee, this time from the Little Green Coffee Machine, our lovely adrenalin and caffeine fuelled, pirate themed, hoolahooping next door neighbours….

choc star menu

fudge brownies yummy

brownies and ice cream...even more yum!

The Little Green Coffee Machine

I came home with a whole smoked Brie offered at traders price by Hall’s Dorset Smokery. It was absolutely delicious, possibly even subtler in flavour than from my usual provider…..the excellent Prosecco from Saltyard….beautiful dried rose petals and buds for the wedding i’m cooking at this weekend from Herbal Pantry and Fair Trade chocolate from Plush.

Whole Smoked Brie from Halls Smokery

beautiful dried flowers and herbs from the Herbal Pantry

I was like an excited schoolgirl meeting Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, which as some readers might have gathered is my strange foodie crush and watching him cook and tasting the food from his demo made my day. Yes I did become a touch giggly, tongue-tied and a hot and bothered imbecile when I actually got to talk to him. I was slightly more composed meeting Stevie Parle from the Dock Kitchen and even managed an intelligent conversation about visiting his restaurant and the lovely Tamarind sorbet he made. Sadly I didn’t get to meet Yotam Ottolenghi, but I did watch his demo and taste one of his dishes, a simple prawn and feta topped stew which was lovely. He really is the master of spices.

Stevie Parle's demo

photo opportunity with Stevie

Yotam Ottolenghi

diving into his dish as it was passed to the audience

 

Hugh with phallic vegetables

me getting all hot and bothered

Jay Rayner Observer food critic and friend of Ellie and Rosie’s paid us a visit at the stall on Sunday. I didn’t tell him I knew his mother (having once worked with her in my earlier career) and I’m ashamed to say I totally abused my position mercilessly bending his ear about Moel Faban Secret Supper Club and thrusting my card into his unsuspecting hand while serving him wraps. I couldn’t resist. It was an opportunity not to be missed. He was very gracious but got his own back when I insisted I HAD to take a picture of him (for the blog of course). When he left the girls laughed at me and told me I was shameless. Oh well, you don’t get anywhere by being coy!!

Jay Rayner at the stall...is that two wraps you wanted? 🙂

It was also great to catch up with Charlie Beldam of Cotswold Gold. He’s come a long way since we first met at Ms Marmitelovers produce market two years ago, now having no less than nine Michelin starred chefs using his Rapeseed oil! It was great to discuss our personal triumphs and long may his continue, he has a great product.

All in all it was a brilliant, if slightly surreal, weekend. We all worked hard and the salad club wraps flew…the Saturday rush left us feeling like we’d been hit by a truck! It must have been one of the most popular foods on sale at the festival (it certainly felt like it) and deservedly so. We ate a few ourselves. The simple combination of flavours worked perfectly; hot smoky chorizo or halloumi, a creamy butterbean and rosemary hummus, fresh beetroot and carrot slaw with sesame and Nigella seeds and sharp salsa verde with a little kick of chilli…all wrapped up in a holy land bakery flatbread.

filling the wrap

finished and wrapped up...ready to eat

Ellie and Rosie had worked hard to perfect the formula and it was spot on. They were also the loveliest people to work with and for and they looked after us well; they fed us, kept us in beer, tried to make sure we had plenty of fun time and bought Prosecco for us all to celebrate. Even the sun shone, a nice little bonus considering the forecast had promised rain, storms and hail….which finally arrived on Sunday night…as we headed home after a  fantastic weekend.

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