Category Archives: Recipes

Three gluten free and dairy free Christmas desserts

In the run up to Christmas I have my annual date with the Portmeirion Food and Craft Fair . Now in its sixth year the market combines all that’s best of our local crafters, small businesses and food producers.

I have a love hate relationship with Christmas. I detest the corporate grasp, on what was once a pagan festival to mark the shortest day and a turning point as the light creeps back in. Even the Christian story is the antithesis of what Christmas has become. On the other hand I love a traditional family Christmas; I love small handmade presents, gifts with meaning and sentiment, carefully chosen or made. I love to make my own presents, food gifts wrapped in tissue and ribbon, bottles of home-made liqueur, chocolates and Christmas puddings and I love browsing the stalls of Christmas markets; eating mince pies and drinking mulled wine as Christmas carols drift along on the breeze.

My kids are now older; both wish for nothing more than hard cash towards a fight to India (the twenty-one year old) and a new drum kit (the fifteen year old). But I still take pleasure in getting them little presents to go along with this distinctly unromantic Christmas gift.

This was my fourth year presenting on the demo stage at Portmeirion. I tend to stick to dessert making as the stage is always heavy with meat offerings, so its nice to provide a contrast, something different that can be recreated at home. I’m also very aware that more and more people have special dietary requirements, myself included, so I concentrated on some tasty alternatives. On the menu this year was traditional Christmas pudding (but a quicker, Gluten free version), mulled wine oranges and fruit and nut dairy free chocolate fudge. The oranges are an awesome accompaniment to the Christmas pudding, on their own with dairy free ice cream (or normal ice cream) and the fudge is a great alternative to pudding if you end up too full to eat Christmas pudding, but want something sweet with coffee. The fudge also makes a great present for anyone avoiding dairy.

Let’s begin with the mulled wine oranges..

To serve four

  • 4 medium oranges
  • 190ml red wine
  • 40g caster sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 star anise
  • 3 allspice berries
  • 6 black peppercorns

Peel off 6-8 thin strips of zest from one of the oranges

Put the wine and sugar in a saucepan and heat gently, stirring, until the sugar dissolves.

Add the pared orange zest and remaining ingredients. Bring to a simmer, then bubble gently for about 10 minutes until the wine is reduced by about half and is lightly syrupy. Leave to cool completely.

Slice the peel and pith away from the remaining oranges. Slice the oranges horizontally into 3mm thick rounds, then put them in a large bowl along with any juice.

Pour the cooled mulled wine syrup over the orange slices. Cover and leave to macerate in the fridge for at least a few hours for the flavours to develop.

Take them out of the fridge half an hour or so before serving, to bring to room temperature. You could also warm them again gently. The oranges and their sweetly spicy liquor are delightful just as they are – but a little ginger biscuit or two on the side is rather good, as is ice cream, or use to pair with Christmas pudding.

IMG_2396 (2)

Easy Christmas pudding

175g gluten free plain flour

2 teaspoons mixed spice

1 teaspoon ginger

Half a teaspoon nutmeg

175g gluten free breadcrumbs

175g butter

175g brown sugar

850g mixed fruit

75g mixed peel

Rind and juice one orange

2 eggs

120ml gluten free brown ale

Mix the dried ingredients together (the first five on the list)

Rub in the butter until it resembles course breadcrumbs. It doesn’t have to be perfect)

Stir in the sugar

Add the fruit and stir to combine then mix in the wet ingredients (orange zest and juice, eggs and beer. I used a beer from Cwrw Ogwen, our local micro brewery, which I’m aware is not gluten-free. But there are several gluten-free ales now on the market that can be substituted).

Turn into a pudding basin (3 pint) and cover with greaseproof paper or a pudding cloth and foil

Steam for 6 hours topping the pan up with boiling water if it gets low

Cool, change the paper and store in a cool dry place. It will keep for months!

When ready to use steam for another 2 hours.

***For the speedy version: Make smaller puddings and use individual pudding basins then cook in the oven. Set the oven at 160 degrees/ gas mark 3. Fill a roasting tray with water and cover the puddings as above. Stand the bowls in the tray so the water comes half way up the sides. Cook for two and a half hours. Cool and rewrap as before. When you want to use them reheat in the same way, heat the oven to 180 degrees/gas mark 5 and reheat for 30 minutes.

IMG_2397 (2)

Dairy free Chocolate fudge

375g very dark chocolate (at least 75% cocoa solids)

1 can of full cream coconut milk

Icing sugar

(Chopped pecans / fruit soaked in rum or brandy/cinnamon/vanilla)

Break chocolate into a bowl

Heat sugar and coconut milk in a saucepan until just bubbling

Pour over the chocolate and stir briskly to melt

Add cinnamon or spices / vanilla (feel free to experiment!)

50g of fruit and 50g nuts (I used a berry and cheery mix soaked in rum overnight and chopped pecans but you can experiment with your favourites)

Turn in to a dish lined with greaseproof paper  and refrigerate. Cut into chunks and serve. Or package in neat little boxes and send as presents.

I couldn’t pay a visit to Portmeirion without adding to my photo collection, or getting fuelled up on Poblado coffee. It must be one of THE most photogenic places I’ve ever visited; even in the mud, rain, or on a cold dull Welsh winters day I see a new angle, a new view… a wander with the camera and a warm, smooth coffee from one of our best Welsh producers (they roast their own coffee) and my afternoon wound up perfectly.

 

1 Comment

Filed under British food, Christmas, Christmas menu's, Food festival, Food travel, home cooking, local produce, photography, Recipes, travel, vegan cookery, Wales tourism, Welsh produce

Thai turkey and shiitake meatballs with spinach and coconut

IMG_20171017_194358_298

Finding the oomph to create new and inspiring recipes when life conspires against you is hard. The last couple of years have been something of a roller-coaster, one where I’ve barely recovered from one crisis before the next comes along. We all have periods like this in our life; times when we feel things will never calm down and our creative or vibrant spark proves elusive. I guess its like a form of writers block, or a creative grey patch where new ideas are impossible to muster. Instead of creating I find myself rushing through family dinner preparation, or shoving something together quickly while the hungry boys clamor to be fed. It’s a place where cooking is less, leisurely relaxing pursuit and more race against time. Does this all sound familiar?

Happily I am beginning to return to the old me and have started to experience the odd brain wave moment. Give me some random ingredients and a bit of head space and I’m in my element and now that work is winding down for the winter I’m returning to my roots. Experimental cooking, writing, photography (and possibly even a supper club!).

For added incentive I’m on a self enforced weight loss programme. I’m trying to ditch the carbs and refined sugars in a bid to drop a dress size. Now I’m not generally prone to following fad diets, but despite making excuses for my weight gain (contentment, new relationship, etc) I have to admit that its most likely down to menopause (a bastard to women in their forties) and despite being pretty fit all my life I’m no longer able to rely on my metabolism and exercise. Its crap. But I’m looking for ways to eat well without piling on the pounds.

I’ve ditched potatoes, pasta, rice and bread. I’m limiting sweet things and trying to stick to fruit and nuts as snacks. It’s hard to come up with interesting things when my partner is picky as hell, but at least my fourteen year old eats anything put in front of him (an understatement…the boy never stops eating. He can clear a fruit bowl in one sitting..oh, except if its mash potato apparently; because mashed potatoes taste different to boiled ones. Yes that one confused me too..go figure).

Anyway, with this new and rather limited remit I set off on an experimental journey. What I came up with ticked everyone’s boxes: A cheaper and lighter meat, my favourite Thai ingredients, mushrooms to keep the other half happy (they are his favourite food in all the world) and just lots of it (for the teen). The boys ate their meatballs with rice and I made myself some courgette noodles with my spiralizer.

For the meat balls:

500g turkey mince

Half a medium onion finely chopped (save the other half for the sauce)

2 cloves garlic finely chopped

4 shiitake mushrooms finely chopped (from a 125g punnet)

an inch of fresh ginger finely chopped

1 teaspoon fish sauce

1 teaspoon Thai curry paste

1 egg

Groundnut oil

For the sauce:

1 small red bell pepper thinly sliced

the other half of the onion

the rest of the shiitake mushrooms

a handful of shredded spinach or chard

2 cloves of garlic

tin of coconut milk

Thai curry paste (enough for your own taste) I used a teaspoon because I can’t tolerate too much chilli

Juice of one lime

Chopped coriander to finish

For the meatballs: Either in a food processor, or by hand, pulse the onion, mushrooms, ginger and garlic until finely chopped. Add the turkey mince, fish sauce, curry paste and egg and pulse again until combined. Form into small balls the size of golf balls.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a pan and fry the balls in batches until browned all over. Put to one side in a bowl while you make the sauce.

Add the remaining onion, red pepper, garlic and stir fry for one minute. Add the remaining shiitake mushrooms and the Thai curry paste and stir fry for another minute. Add the coconut milk and lime juice and return the meatballs to the pan. Simmer until the sauce has reduced and meatballs are cooked. Stir in the spinach or chard right at the end and allow to wilt into the sauce. Finish with a good sprinkling of coriander.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Asian cookery, home cooking, local produce, Recipes

The Christmas countdown: Pudding series #2..triple chocolate and brandy

IMG_6751[1]

If you are all about the chocolate, but like the idea of Christmas pudding you can always opt for this ‘fake’ version that includes not one, not two, but three different types of chocolate! It has the rich density of a Christmas pud but without the fruit and are like a cross between a cake, a brownie and a muffin.

They are also quick, straight forward, no fuss and very popular. I prefer to make individual puddings that are generous enough for two (or one person with a very sweet tooth and plenty of room!!)

 

On this occasion I made loads as they also make very nice presents!

Double chocolate chip ‘fake’ Christmas pudding (Makes one 17cm cake, or six very generous ‘puddings’)
150g plain chocolate broken into squares
175g muscovado sugar
120ml double cream
75g butter softened
3 eggs beaten
25g cocoa powder
150g plain flour
100g breadcrumbs
150g white chocolate chips
100g milk chocolate chips
100g mixed peel
Brandy
Grease and line a 17cm cake tin with baking parchment, or grease individual large muffin tins.
In a small pan melt the plain chocolate with the cream and half of the sugar. Beat the remaining sugar, eggs, butter, cocoa and flour until smooth. Stir in the breadcrumbs and chocolate mixture then add the chocolate chips and mixed peel. Stir well. Spoon the mixture into the cake tin (or tins) and bake in a medium oven (180 degrees C / gas mark 4) for 45 minutes. Serve hot with cream or brandy butter.

IMG_6744[1]

Leave a comment

Filed under baking, cakes & Baking, chocolate, Christmas, home cooking, Recipes

The Christmas countdown: Pudding series #1 Date and pecan with salted caramel sauce

christmas food 2014 016
See! It’s not all bah humbug. And so begins a Christmas countdown of my favourite alternative Christmas puddings, especially for those that loathe the traditional, dense fruity stuff.  According to Unilever and Love Food Hate Waste 5 million Christmas puddings get thrown away every year, I’m not sure if this is through over consumption and over enthusiastic purchasing or just because there are a lot of people who don’t like the stuff. Instead why not try something different?

There are plenty of alternatives to Christmas pud that are cheap, easy to make, have as much wow factors as a blazing steamed pudding and will bring many more gasps of appreciation.

To begin this brief, last-minute series one of my all time favourite desserts. Sticky toffee pudding with a twist, and a handful off chopped pecan nuts, a bit of spice and a salted caramel sauce with vanilla salt and there you have it, perfection in a dish.

Sticky date and pecan pudding with salted caramel sauce (makes 6 to 7 puddings, depending on the size of your dishes)

270g dates
50g pecan nuts (chopped)
half a teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
150g unsalted butter
185g self-raising flour
125g soft brown sugar
2 eggs
200g golden granulated sugar
120ml double cream
Vanilla sea salt

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180 degrees C. Grease six muffin holes or individual tins.
Place the dates and 250ml water in a saucepan. Bring to the boil then remove from the heat and add the bicarbonate of soda. Add 60g of the butter and stir until melted.

When you add the bicarbonate of soda the pan will fizz. The addition helps soften and 'break down' the dates which may remain a litle hard otherwise

When you add the bicarbonate of soda the pan will fizz. The addition helps soften and ‘break down’ the dates which may remain a litle hard otherwise

Sift the flour into a large bowl, then add 125g of the sugar and stir well. Add the date mixture and egg and stir well. In the bottom the dishes add enough pecan nuts to make a pattern then spoon over the batter and bake for 20 minutes.
christmas food 2014 007
christmas food 2014 009
christmas food 2014 011
For the caramel sauce place the granulated sugar in a heavy based saucepan and cook over a medium heat stirring constantly until it turns into a thick amber coloured liquid. Once you reach this point all the sugar should have melted so you can stir in the remaining 90g of butter, still stirring constantly. Then trickle in the cream whisking as you do. The mixture will spit and bubble rapidly. Boil for 1 minute, it will rise in the pan as it does so make sure it doesn’t boil over. Stir in a teaspoon of vanilla salt and allow to cool slightly.

Leave a comment

Filed under baking, cakes & Baking, Christmas, Christmas menu's, home cooking, Recipes

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.

food festival Ludlow 2014 273

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.

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

20140830_121606 20140830_121731 20140830_121617

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

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

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

 

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

Scallop tartare and French conger eel stew

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

Scallops tartare with blue poppy seeds

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

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

French eel stew (for two people)

Ingredients:

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

Flat leaf parsley to serve

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

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

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

Leave a comment

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

One for midweek..Moroccan lamb and spinach balls with harissa tomato sauce (couscous and minty yogurt)

Sometimes my decision-making skills seem distinctly lacking. There are times when I endlessly dither over the tiniest details, instead of going with my instincts, until I drive myself (and others mad) with my inability to make up my mind. I know it’s an infuriating trait and its so stupid when I can make monumental life changing decisions, big business choices,  but can’t decide if I want meatballs for dinner or something with some Moroccan spice.

I hope for divine inspiration, umm and ah for a while, running ideas by the boy who seems impressed and so we eventually come up with Moroccan spiced meatballs. Throw in some fresh spinach (which I have in good supply now my local veg box is running again) and there. How easy was that?

A family feast ...Moroccan lamb and spinach balls, couscous and minty yogurt

A family feast …Moroccan lamb and spinach balls, couscous and minty yogurt

Moroccan lamb and spinach balls, harissa tomato sauce (couscous and yogurt with mint): recipe for up to four (although Aidan and I were very hungry after our Sunday run so ate three-quarters of them!)

For the meatballs:

500g lamb mince

100g finely chopped spinach

clove garlic finely minced

2 teaspoons ras al hanout

1 teaspoon cumin

1 egg beaten

zest of 1 lemon

salt and pepper

1 tablespoon oil to fry

For the sauce:

small red onion finely chopped

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

1 teaspoon harissa

150ml chicken stock

one dessertspoonful sun-dried tomato paste

salt/ pepper and a pinch of sugar if the sauce seems a bit tart (tinned tomatoes are often quite acidic)

**

Mix the lamb, spinach, spices, garlic, seasonings, lemon zest and egg in a large bowl. Use your hands to knead it all together so the spices are completely distributed. Form into bite size balls.

IMG_4072[1]IMG_4073[1]

Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the lamb balls and fry over a medium heat until nicely brown all over. Remove and keep to one side. Add a little more olive oil if necessary (you will probably find that enough oil remains) and turn the heat down a bit. Add the onion and garlic and sweat gently for about five to ten minutes. Add the tomatoes, harissa, tomato paste and stock and turn the heat up again. Bring to a gentle simmer and return the balls to the pan cooking gently for about 25 minutes, or until the sauce has cooked down and thickened. Check the seasoning adding salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar if the tomatoes are a bit acidic.

Serve with couscous (try Yotam Ottolenghi’s Green Couscous from his book Plenty it’s an absolute favourite…or make a variation as I did below..

Serves 4

150g couscous
160ml vegetable stock
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
sml tsp ground cumin
3 spring onions, finely sliced
30g rocket, chopped

juice of half a lemon
handful of coriander finely chopped

Place the couscous in a large shallow dish and cover with the stock. Cover the dish with cling film and leave for 10 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, fry the onion in olive oil on a medium heat until golden and completely soft. Add the salt and cumin, and mix well leaving to fry for a minute. Stir onion mixture into the couscous, fluffing up the grains with a fork as you go. Add the remaining ingredients mixing together well.

To finish mix a handful of finely chopped mint into a small bowl of Rachel’s low-fat natural yogurt with a pinch of sea salt.

IMG_4076[1]

Leave a comment

Filed under family budget cooking, home cooking, local produce, middle eastern food, Recipes, salads, seasonal food

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

Bodnant Welsh Food

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

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

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

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

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

Bodnant Welsh Food

Leave a comment

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

French onion soup with a bit of oomph!

Supper club and food Burmese 2014 011

Yes I know, I slightly burnt my toast…but it didn’t matter with all that Gruyere and once it has soaked into the soup…anyway they were my last slices of bread!

I’m fast becoming the queen of soup! What with running pop-up soup kitchens at festivals and events, making soup for lunches (The Green Man crew love their lunch time soup) and quite a lot of soup recipes under my belt, I guess I have to admit, I really like soup. And so do the kids which is an important factor in the equation. If the kids will eat it, its quick, nutritious and tasty it’s on my menu list.

French onion soup is an absolute favourite but for the past few years I’ve avoided making it. This is of course because the kids won’t eat it, but now things are changing. The teen has discovered she likes onions and the boy will eat almost anything these days so I’ve joyfully rediscovered this glorious decadent,  peasant dish.

I’m not sure  ‘glorious’  ‘decadent’ and ‘peasant’ should go together in the same sentence. For all the fancy ingredients and recipes out there its the old ones, the ones made by the poorest, with the fewest ingredients that satisfy the most. The basis of this soup is just onion and stock, but I’ve chucked in a bit of butter, vermouth and some Gruyère which but takes this recipe from its firmly peasant origins to something quite luxurious.

Recipes for French onion soup vary from cook to cook but at its base is a simple formula; slowly cooked and lightly caramelised onions, good quality beef stock, wine and finished with a cheesy topped crouton. Inevitably chefs add their own touch, Felicity Cloake follows Anthony Bourdains lead adding balsamic vinegar plus a splash of brandy, the latter I approve of strongly (I usually add a dash of cognac to mine) but as the soup already has a sweetly savoury flavour, the vinegar adds little in my opinion. Delia Smith adds sugar to her French onion to help the onions caramelise. She recommends cooking in a very hot casserole, stirring until the edges turn dark, which should take all of 6 minutes! The cooking time is a huge underestimation, while sugar is wholly unneccessary because the onions are sweet enough to caramlise. As to the high heat, well slow is best, probably around 30 minutes slowly.

Another pet hate is adding flour to soup which both Nigel Slater and Raymond Blanc do. Having often made soup for friends with a range of allergies and dietary issues, I like to keep mine gluten-free and I don’t feel it lacks depth for doing so.

Like Delia I like to add a bit of garlic and as Felicity does, a bit of thyme. I would guess that these are fairly authentic additions so I don’t feel like I’m straying too far from the peasant origins.

The choice of stock is a hard one if you are vegetarian. Most of the recipes I’ve come across favour beef stock for its richness, although there are those that use chicken stock. The most important thing is that its good stock. Even if you choose to use a vegetable stock use one of those stock pots and not powdered varieties, they are a cut above and used by chefs, so that has to say something.  I wouldn’t recommend the Raymond Blanc approach to just use water. Having given it a go once I can vouch that it produces a fairly insipid soup and I prefer something with big banging flavours. The beef stock certainly gives it that.

Alcohol is crucial. Most chefs stick to dry white wine although Felicity uses cider, which is an option. I would go with the wine option, although once when I had no wine and couldn’t be bothered to go to the shop I tried it out with dry vermouth (my usual addition to any risotto) which is after all begins life as wine and to my relief it worked well, adding a somewhat deeper, heavier flavour. I balanced it by using slightly less than recipes using wine ask for, but it was a perfectly adequate substitution working along with so many other intense flavours. I rather liked it.

The other essential to component to a French onion soup is the cheese topped crouton. I wouldn’t argue with any recipe that calls for toasted baton, rubbed with a clove of garlic and topped with Gruyère. No substitutions will suffice, although the night I made my soup I was using house leftovers (as usual) and only had a crusty loaf from which I cut thick slices toasted them and cut them in half.

Of course as I already mentioned I also favour the addition of Cognac at the end, as does Lindsey Bareham and Simon Hopkinson in The Prawn Cocktail Years. It adds that last bit of oomph that the original peasant version may well have lacked.

French onion soup recipe: Serves four.

800g white onions

50g butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 fat cloves garlic finely chopped

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

250ml vermouth (or 300ml white wine)

700ml beef stock

salt and pepper to taste

A glug of cognac

8 slices from a baguette

a clove of garlic

about 100g Gruyère, grated.

Peel and thinly slice the onions. Peel and finely chop the garlic.

Add the butter and olive oil to a large saucepan and when melted and just beginning to bubble add the onions. Allow to cook gently (for about 30 minutes) until very soft. Add the garlic and thyme and keep cooking, stirring occasionally so they don’t burn. Cook until a nice golden caramel colour. They will begin to stick to the bottom a bit at this point but keep stirring until they turn a nice golden brown.

Supper club and food Burmese 2014 006

Add the vermouth and stir scraping any stuck bits off the bottom of the pan then add the stock. Allow to cook on a low heat for about 50 minutes to an hour.

Meanwhile, toast the baguette on both sides then rub with the garlic clove. Grate the cheese.

When cooked add the glug of cognac and taste for seasoning. Ladle into warm heatproof bowls, top with the croutons and sprinkle over the cheese. Place under the grill until the cheese begins to melt then serve.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under family budget cooking, French food, home cooking, local produce, recipe books, Recipes, reviews, Welsh produce

MSN food: twice in one month!

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

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

supper club 1 2014 034

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!

 

 

Leave a comment

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