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

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The Inner bailey, Ludlow Food Festival

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the teen…if she gets stroppy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Entrance to the castle

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cheerful chutney selling ladies from Usk River

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

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

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entrance to the inner bailey

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The teen doing some serious curry and mango chutney sampling

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fit onion seller

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We even bumped into Boysie

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

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

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

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hipster fudge sellers at UFO

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

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strange man from the emporium of all sorts of weird things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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spices at Rayeesa’s Indian cookery masterclass

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

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cookery class participants enjoying their creations

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

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

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

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Masterclasses with Aroma coffee at Ludlow Food Festival

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

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

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

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

coffee beans, pure and unroasted

coffee beans, pure and unroasted

a 'peaberry' coffee bean

a ‘peaberry’ coffee bean

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Andrew showing us the Cafe Feminino beans

Andrew showing us the Cafe Feminino beans

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

 

pouring the beans into the roaster

pouring the beans into the roaster

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

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

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

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

removing a sample to check the roast

removing a sample to check the roast

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

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

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

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

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

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

the cool coffee beans being packaged for us to take home

the cool coffee beans being packaged for us to take home

teen looking very pleased with her special coffee beans

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

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

The sensory pleasure of Bristol

I visited Bristol once for an interview at the university. This was years ago when I was still an academic researcher, searching for a highly sought after PhD place just before I had kids. Despite seeing little of the city I liked the feel of the place; it had a nice vibe and the people were friendly.  I didn’t get the PhD place so never discovered more and was just left with that brief first impression.

Last year the teen started visiting Bristol. She too fell in love with its hippy vibe, its cool vintage shops, eclectic night life and variety of festival loving people. She fitted right in. I promised myself a return visit to see for myself exactly what it was she had fallen in love with, and as several of my ‘Green Man’ crew friends live there (one of whom just a couple of weeks away from having her first baby) I took the opportunity on a rare weekend off work.

It didn’t take me long to fall in love all over again. Precisely half an hour I’d say. As soon as I sat down in the sun outside The Bristolian with a late lunch I knew I didn’t want to go home. One of the friends with whom I stayed lives in Montpelier, arguably the most vibrant, up and coming part of the city where everyone is hip, cool and arty. Essential accessories include a guitar, a skateboard and a beard (although not if you are a woman of course…save that for Eurovision).

I felt at home among the vintage shops, graffiti adorned walls and independent cafes and shops. The share and recycle culture is clear. Just up the road from my friend’s house is the street where locals rioted in protest at a Tesco moving in. I’d probably have been one of them if I lived there. Sadly it didn’t stop the multinational opening shop, but they did make their point loud and clear.

Imagine the slightly stoned crowd of a festival, transplant it back in a city and there you have Bristol. Ok so I happened to visit on a particularly sun drenched weekend, this probably helped, and the Rave On Avon music festival (we went to see a band playing as part of the festival, the Bombs with their soulful, funky trip hop tinged with a bit of rock) was in full swing, but it seems to me that every weekend has a festival of some kind happening just down the road, plus there is street art everywhere, so many local food producers, purveyors and markets, cool community owned and run venues like The Canteen where we watched the Bombs and music hanging in the air. They even have their own currency!! Bristol is a city of sensory overload, but not in the 100-miles-an-hour London kind of way, of community, of recycling…..I could go on but I’ll tell you what, feast your eyes on the pictures instead…they will show you exactly why I love Bristol!

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Thali cafe at the Tobacco Factory Produce market

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Local produce and street art at the Tobacco Factory

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Eli enjoying a gigantic cheese straw

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More Love at the Old Police Station

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Aren’t we all 🙂

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Say No to Monsanto…mural at Stokes Croft

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Glamorgan sausages, a Welsh vegetarian favourite

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January and February are traditionally lean months so I often avoid (or at least restrict) the amount of meat I eat. Stuffed from Christmas and recovering from financial overindulgence its nice to pare things down a bit and appease the vegetarian in me.

As a teenager and into my early twenties I was vegetarian. No fish and no meat. In fact I even made a foray into vegan living, but as a fussy teenager with a mother who had no idea what to feed a girl of such persuasion, it meant eating very little. Not a healthy option for an adolescent girl and after a six months I saw sense and returned to a less restrictive veggie diet.

My mother gave vegetarian cooking a good go. Being quite creative in those days and an avid collector of Sainsbury’s recipe cards (circa 1980 something) she tried out all kinds of strange and wonderful recipes on us kids.  One of her favourite and regular creations was something called “Glamorgan supper”  a breadcrumb, cheese, egg and spring onion mixture, rolled into balls and fried. We couldn’t get enough of them back then, but it was only as I got older I discovered they were in fact a variation on the Welsh classic, Glamorgan sausages.

Now I have my own kids, one of whom is an avid meat hater, Glamorgan sausages have once again become the perfect lunch or supper dish of the day, avidly devoured with a rich home-made tomato sauce..or indeed good old ‘sos coch’ (which translated is red sauce. In other words plain old tomato ketchup). I prefer mine with a nice tomato chutney, or even red onion marmalade and a lightly dressed salad.

Glamorgan sausages: recipe makes approx 8

175g breadcrumbs

110g Gorwydd Caerphilly

1 small leek finely chopped and cooked gently in butter until soft but not browned (or a bunch of spring onions if you prefer)

1 teaspoon of Welsh honey grain mustard

1 teaspoon fresh thyme chopped

a small handful of finely chopped flat leaf parsley

2 large eggs beaten

a drop of milk (if needed)

Halen Mon sea salt

black pepper

To coat:

1 egg beaten

panko crumbs

3 to 4 tablespoons of sunflower oil

To serve:

A lightly dressed salad, some nice tomato relish (or sos coch…tomato sauce…as the kids prefer)

Mix the breadcrumbs, herbs, spring onions (or cooked leek) and grated cheese in a large bowl. Add the beaten eggs and mustard, with a little salt and pepper, to the bowl and mix until you have a stiff doughy mixture.

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Mix breadcrumbs, thyme, parsley and a lovely chunk of Gorwydd Caerphilly in a large bowl

Divide into eight sausage shapes.

Beat the remaining egg in a shallow dish and spread the panko crumbs on a plate. Dip each sausage in the egg, then roll in the crumbs. Heat sunflower oil in a shallow frying pan until quite hot and just sizzling but not smoking, then lay the sausages in the pan in a single layer and cook until nicely browned on all sides.

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nine fat sausages sizzling in the pan…turning a lovely golden brown

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Filed under British food, family budget cooking, home cooking, photography, Recipes, vegetarian dishes, welsh cheese, Welsh food, Welsh produce

Leek and wild mushroom risotto…a quick midweek, singleton’s supper

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There are definitely some positives to being single and one of them is being able to cook exactly what I want when the kids are with their Dad. Mushrooms were always a no-no in our house, especially anything that resembled a wild mushroom, so I sadly forsook my beloved fungi to cook family friendly dinners.

One of my favourite dishes is mushroom risotto ( well, I love all risotto really…its one of my top ten comfort foods). Imagine, lovely oozy, buttery rice with the deep earthiness of wild mushrooms. I also love leeks, another pet hate of the children, especially the teen..although the littler kid will tolerate them blitzed to a pulp in soup, if he has to.

So now when I’m on my own I revel in the opportunity to savour my new favourite mid-week supper which combines leek, thyme and mushroom (dried wild and organic chestnut).

A lot of people seem afraid of making risotto. Its one of those dishes, like panacotta or meringue, that seem far more complicated than they actually are. It only requires one pot (so minimal washing up) and if you stick a couple of simple principles you can’t go far wrong.

1/ Don’t over cook the rice (it should be al dente)

2/ Let it rest for 5 minutes before you serve it. The residual heat of the pan will keep the rice cooking, so even if you think the rice is a little underdone, it will be utter perfection by the time you serve it.

3/ A good risotto is nice and wet. Theres nothing worse than hard, dry rice or rice that isn’t thickly coated in a rich, buttery, deeply savoury sauce. Having said this you don’t want it to resemble rice pudding. The trick is to keep adding hot stock, stirring almost continually until its absorbed by the rice, then add a little bit more. I find that recipes are often wrong and inevitably you need more than stated.  Even if you think you’ve added too much it will mostly absorb as you leave it to rest.

Another trick with this risotto, and any dish that includes mushrooms, is to slice and dry fry them before adding. I learnt this recently from friend, colleague and former Jamie Oliver Fifteen cadet, Tom. He cooked me an amazing risotto explaining that dry frying the mushrooms helps seal in the flavour, and by only adding them to the risotto when cooked it also prevents them turning mushy and formless. He’s right of course, he knows his stuff and this is a tip I have followed ever since.

Leek and wild mushroom risotto: recipe to feed one person

A small knob of butter (plus another 25g)

a dessertspoonful of olive oil

One small leek finely chopped

a sprig of thyme, leaves removed from the stem

half a dozen wild mushrooms, fresh or dried. I used dried shiitake, rehydrated for 20 mins in hot water them roughly chopped. If you are using fresh mushrooms slice and cook them in the same way as the chestnut mushrooms below.

100 g or so of chestnut mushrooms, wiped and sliced

2 – 3 handfuls of arborio rice (I used around 75 g because I have little hands)

a good glug of vermouth

500 ml vegetable stock

salt and pepper

parmesan to serve (if required)

a handful of wild rocket

Method:

Heat the knob of butter and olive oil in a saucepan. Add leek and cook gently until it begins to soften but not brown. Add the fresh thyme and rice and stir for a couple of minutes until the rice begins to turn translucent (i.e. it no longer looks so chalky white). Turn the heat up a fraction and add a glug of vermouth. Within a minute it the rice will absorb it and there will be little alcohol left. Begin to add the hot stock stirring frequently until the rice has absorbed most of it, then add more. Keep doing this until the rice has absorbed most of the stock (you may not need it all, or you may need a little more depending on how much rice you have used) and has reached the desired al dente point.

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While the rice is cooking heat a non-stick frying pan and when hot add the sliced mushrooms in one layer. Cook until beginning to brown then flip over. Remove from the heat and keep to one side.

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To serve:

Once the rice has reached the al dente point add the dried and rehydrated wild mushrooms, the remaining 25 g butter, the mushrooms and check seasoning adding plenty of black pepper. Remove from the heat and allow to rest. If you wish to top with a few slivers of parmesan that’s ok, but it doesn’t need it. Finish with a handful of fresh peppery rocket; it will help make you feel virtuous that you are at least attempting some greenery with your bowl of rich buttery comfort food.

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Filed under home cooking, Italian food, local produce, photography, Recipes, vegetarian dishes

Conwy Rural Producers dinner at Coleg Llandrillo

Back in October last year, before life became a tad fraught, I attended the Conwy Rural producers dinner, a showcase for some of the best produce in the area. Hosted by the catering department at Coleg Llandrillo in Colwyn Bay in their training restaurant The Orme View, the evening brought together selected producers, local businesses, restauranteurs and chefs to try out a variety of dishes made from wonderful local produce and it gave Llandrillo catering students the opportunity to show off their talents. Supervised by the wonderful team of Mark, Glenn and Mike (they pay me to say that you know!) they put together a creative and interesting menu.

I spend most of my time too-ing and fro-ing around Anglesey and Gwynedd so it made a change to head off down the coast in the other direction.  Even though it’s just 20 mins drive away I rarely get up to places like the Bodnant Welsh Food Centre or get the opportunity to meet up with other Conwy Food producers and businesses, so it was a pleasure to venture out of my usual domain.

I’m also lucky that I know the college lecturers well. I’ve worked closely with a couple (Mark being one who regularly joins me on jobs and keeps me in order) and that gave me access to the frantically busy kitchen. I enjoy taking pictures of people when they are busy. The rest of the evening was hilariously surreal. In between speaking to producers and annoying the chef’s and waitresses with my camera, I sat chatting to the other occupants of my table. These included the quiet but friendly owners of a local farm, the pretty blond owner of a local B&B who it transpired was vegetarian so couldn’t eat most of the food, myself, the host of the event John Rooney from Conwy council, and the manager and chef from a local restaurant. The latter of the last two proceeded to order copious amounts of wine, which he tried to ply both myself and the blond woman with. We were both driving so not drinking. We then spent the rest of the evening watching him get drunker and more outrageous. As we got ready to leave he asked me if I was sure he couldn’t give me a lift somewhere….I declined, stating that I was driving. He turned to the blond and asked her the same thing…she too declined. A jokey comment about ‘independent women’ floated around the table, and his passing remark, before his colleague ushered him from restaurant towards the waiting cab...’yes, you independent women…I bet you’ve got toys as well’.…an awkward silence descended over the table, broken only by me dissolving into peels of laughter. Chefs, I know them well. Crude to the last!

The menu

**Pant Ysgawen goats cheese in a ginger crumb with beetroot cake and chutney (produce supplied by Tan Lan Bakery, Cae Melwr Farm and Cegin Croesonen

**Courgette veloute with brioche flavoured with truffle oil (Produce supplied by Cae Melwr Farm)

**Welsh black beef steak tartar (Produce from AL & RO Jones)

**Elderflower sorbet

**Seared loin of pork with slow cooked belly served with braised potato, squash and apples (Produce supplied by Pigging good Pork, Cae Melwr Farm and Bryn Cocyn Farm)

**Carrots cooked in duck fat (Produce from Belmont Farm)

**Lamb Scottadito (Produce from O E Metcalfe)

**Ice cream served with soft fruits (Produce supplied by Bodnant Welsh Food Centre and Bryn Dowsi Farm)

**A selection of Bodnant cheese

**Coffee (supplied by Chris Martindale at Caffi Cristobal/Cilydd)

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The Orme View Restaurant is open to the public. Attending a training restaurant is a great way to try out new food, prepared by the trainess, at a fraction of the price of a restaurant. You never know you might be tasting the early creations of the next Bryn Williams, Angela Hartnett, Jamie Oliver or Tom Kerridge. Opening times and contact details are below.

Lunch: Tuesday – Friday 12:00 for 12:15
Dinner: Wednesday Evening 19:00 for 19:30
Contact: Joan Hammond 01492 542 341

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

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

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

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

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Adele telling us all about Ash keys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Abergavenny food festival (day one)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From the Sea: a salty seafood pop-up

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

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

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

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

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

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mackerel cured with salted limes, pomegranate and cress

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

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Happy guests

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

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“no need to gild a lily”

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

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

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

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