Category Archives: seasonal food

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

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)

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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.

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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.

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

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

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So far this year has proved itself to be tediously wet, scarily windy and showing little respite as we head towards March. The week leading up to my first supper club since spring last year, saw gale force winds, power cuts (Aidan and I played the yes-no game by candle light until my eye sight failed and we gave up and went to bed) and roads looking more like rivers.
Much as I wanted to bring a little light romance to my guests for Valentines day, I also wanted to comfort and soothe with a warm decadent meal. Leaving it til the very last minute (as in the day before!) I settled on a sort of ‘warm and fluffy’ menu, the tropical romance came with dessert, a mango and passion fruit ‘mess’, but this thick, creamy soup (adapted from a Tom Aikens recipe) with its intense flavours, tender scallops and the hit of garlic in the puree got the evening going a treat.

Recipe: White Onion Soup with cider, thyme, seared scallops and parsley-garlic puree

Serves 6 to 8

50g unsalted butter
300g onions, thinly sliced
1tbsp fresh thyme leaves
½ tsp flaked salt
1tsp sugar
300ml vegetable stock
One bottle of organic medium or dry cider
150g floury potato, thinly sliced
75ml double cream
Sea salt and ground black pepper

To finish:
Two scallops per person (so 12 to 16) corals removed and trimmed to remove any dark coloured membrane
half a bunch of parsley
couple of cloves of garlic
sea salt flakes
good olive oil

Add butter to a large saucepan and when its melted add the onions, thyme, sugar and salt. Cook gently until softened and beginning to turn a light golden colour…caramelised but not browned.

Add the stock, cider and potato and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the potato is tender. Blend until smooth adding the cream at the end. Check the seasoning.

For the scallops: heat a little butter in a small non-stick pan until piping hot and almost smoking. Add scallops and sear on one side waiting until they turn nice and brown. Turn and cook briefly on the other side, but don’t over cook otherwise they will turn a bit rubbery.

For the puree: add parsley, garlic cloves some olive oil and salt to a food processor and blitz thoroughly until you get a fairly loose puree. You should be able to drizzle it over the scallops rather than it being thick blobs!

Pour the soup into shallowish bowls, top with two scallops and puree, serve and enjoy!

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Filed under British food, home cooking, Recipes, seasonal food, secret supper, vegetarian dishes, Welsh produce

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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Filed under British food, Food festival, Foraging, local produce, photography, seasonal food

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

Elderflower Presse: recipe

I’ve often listened to my mother regale guests with the story of my elderflower ‘champagne’.  I took them a bottle as a gift on one of my regular trips to London, and although I gave my aging parents strict instructions to unscrew the top slightly every now and again if they weren’t going to drink it immediately they failed to pay heed to my warning.  One day, long after I’d given it to them they discovered the bottle tucked in the back of the cupboard. They decided it was time to give it a try. My father oblivious to the impending danger he was placing himself in unscrewed the cap enthusiastically, swiftly and dramatically the bottle exploded. A highly pressured spray of elderflower champagne shot from the spout covering the walls, ceiling, cupboards, floor and him. He stepped back in shock, dripping from head to foot as the bottle, so full of long contained gas, spun like a dervish on the work surface spraying its contents on to every available surface including the mirror on the opposite side of the room.

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Pretty elder flowers

A less hazardous alternative to champagne is elderflower cordial. It’s one of those things I imagine they made back in the middle ages seeing as the plant has featured in legend and folklore since the early days of Christianity. Text refers to it as the Judas Tree, because Judas Iscariot allegedly hung himself from an elder tree after betraying Jesus, and seen as a symbol of sorrow.

In Scandinavian folklore the elder has more magical connections with goddesses and spirits believed to inhabit its branches, while in Anglo-Saxon stories it’s described as a blessed and protected plant. The belief being that anyone who damages an elder would be cursed, and the only just cause for cutting one down or taking a part of it, was as a cure or to make a protective charm. In this case the dryads, protective spirits of the tree, would be entreated on bended knee and with bowed head, with a request, reciting the words  “Lady Ellhorn, give me some of thy wood and I will give thee some of mine when it grows in the forest” (Trogillus Arnkiel, a 17th century Germanic religious scholar, quoted in Grieve’s Modern Herbal)

Elder flowers have a firmly established place in the repertoire of herbal medicine; often used to treat inflammatory disorders, congestive conditions of the respiratory system especially when accompanied by fever, coughs, colds, flu, asthma and hay fever. The diaphoretic action helping to reduce fever and so ease the symptoms of measles, scarlet fever and other infections. The flowers, were also  added to a bath to soothe irritable nerves and itchy skin,  a tincture of them used as an eyewash for sore eyes, while a poultice made from the flowers could soothe ear ache.

These days the most common reason for collecting elderflowers is to make cordial. It’s sad that there’s such a short window of opportunity to do this. I always plan to get out picking in good time, but as usual life and work conspires against me and before I know it the end of the season is approaching, and I just have enough time to rush out and collect what I can before the sun scorches the remaining blooms to a grubby mucky brown. It’s not as if collecting them is an onerous job around here. Just a short walk around the block rewards with views most dream of, and usually yields more produce than one can cope with. In a half mile stretch of hedgerow and woods I can collect elder flowers (followed by elderberries),  blackberries, sloes, cob nuts plus assorted wild herbs and plants (sorrel, pennywort….the list goes on).

It’s funny how my kids love elderflower drinks but can’t stand the smell of the flowers. Aroma of ‘cats piss’ as the teen describes them, but still they are always happy to have freshly made cordial, which if I don’t hide it away disappears in a flash. This time I used my foraged flowers to make elderflower presse, rather than the slightly more explosive champagne and in addition to some cordial. A presse makes a refreshing drink, with less sugar than the cordial. I use limes instead of lemons, or as on this occasion a mixture of the two which produces a lovely citrussy drink for a hot summers day.

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A walk through the woods to find elder flowers

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bingo! Found a good tree full

I love the folklore and recurring theme’s of protection, mystery, witch craft, healing and superstition that run through every account of the elder in nature, but I guess the real message as I sit in the sun sipping my elderflower presse, is to treat the elder with respect and nature will give back in kind. This is a message that translates to all nature really and is important for us to remember now, at a time when so much of our natural resources are taken for granted, ignored and destroyed (do I sound like a bit of a hippy? Well, I don’t care, its true!)

Elderflower Presse:

about 8 large elderflower heads

8 litres water

2 and a half pounds / 1.2 k sugar

4 lemons

2 limes

4 tablespoons of mild white wine vinegar

You will need a big bucket with a tight-fitting lid and a fine sieve or large piece of muslin.

Dissolve the sugar in boiling water. Leave to cool then add the elder flowers, the juice of 2 lemons, 1 lime and then slice the others up and add along with the vinegar. Cover the bucket with the lid or with a cloth and leave for a day or two. Strain through a fine sieve or piece of muslin and store in screw top bottles. Leave for at least two weeks (but drink within a month or so).

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flowers and lemons steeping in a big bucket

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bottled

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Filed under British food, Food activities for kids, Foraging, home cooking, Recipes, seasonal food

Five food themed activities to keep the kids entertained this summer

So here we go, the school holidays are upon us and if you are anything like me (a bit last-minute) then you’ve barely begun to think about what to do with the kids. Its fine if you are lucky enough to have the summer off, but for me it’s such a busy time. With work most weekends its difficult to plan a big holiday, so what I tend to do is save that big holiday for spring or Autumn and just do day trips, activities and maybe the odd weekend away camping. One of the things that takes up a lot of time is the Green Man festival. My work period stretches for a tiring three and half weeks and I’m away the whole time. That makes for a big chunk of the school holidays, but there is still the odd week where there are no exciting plans and we want something interactive to do, or sadly we have to work. So how to keep my boy entertained?

Well he and I checked out a few ideas for things to do in over the summer …when his boring parents are otherwise engaged and there are no friends about to hang out with. Between us we came up with a list of five fun food themed and outdoor activities (he likes food and this IS a food blog after all) ranging from the most expensive to the almost-free. Reviews are by me, with added comments from Aidan age 10 and a half.

1. Young Cooks Holiday Kitchen at The Bodnant Welsh Food Centre  runs courses throughout the summer. Kids get the opportunity to make their own nachos with refried beans, guacamole, salsa from scratch, a five bean chilli to take home and bananas with chocolate chimichanga sauce.

Courses cost £45 which makes them a more expensive option but this includes all the ingredients. They run between 10am and 1pm and take place on the 30th and 31st July and 9th and 29th August. They do get busy so booking is essential.

Call 01492 651100

On the 27th/28th July the centre will also be hosting a children’s fun festival with games and lots of food themed entertainment for all the family.

If you don’t live in Wales check out your nearest cookery schools online or give them a call to see if they have special activites planned for the holidays.

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Photos courtesy of Bodnant Welsh Food Centre

2. On a similar theme, but a little cheaper…how about spending the day making your own chocolate lollies? North Wales based chocolatiers Baravelli’s are offering bespoke courses where kids get to create their own delights. Prices are £15 per child for an hour and a half session, with a maximum 6 to a group. Kids must be accompanied by a parent (as this is a hands on exercise it’s just as fun for parents to get involved) and at the end you get to take home the things you’ve made….if they last that long!

They also run 3 hour courses for older teens/adults where you can make your own chocolate truffles or learn cake decorating techniques. These run for 3 hours and cost £40 per person and again, you get to take home all you have made (which is apparently a lot).

To book a course call Mark on 01492 338121

3. For a fuller day of child care how about giving the kids a taste of the great outdoors? The aim of  Wonderwoods is to ‘get kids back outside being kids again’ and what kid can resist a bit of den building, some foraging and the lure of cooking on an open campfire?

Sessions will be running on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for the first two weeks of the school holidays starting this Tuesday (23rd July) and then the last two weeks.  Sessions cost £20 a day but they offer a £10 reduction for kids attending all three days (each week). The club runs from 10am until 4pm. For more information call Jon on the number on the poster below.

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My two guest reviewers Aidan (10) and his mate Maisy (11) spent the day and this is what they thought.

“The games at the beginning were a bit babyish for me, but it got better when we made fires and started cooking”. Maisy was the only girl and the oldest in the group. She enjoyed the hands on activities like fire and swing making and cooking pancakes the best but thought that perhaps it would be better to divide the kids in two age groups as she found some of the younger boys a bit annoying.

“I’d never made a swing or a hammock before and that was cool” Aidan was the second oldest, but was less irritated with the younger lads. He’s a laid back fellow generally and enjoyed all of the hands on activites, but agreed the games at the beginning were a little young for him. Nevertheless he want’s to go again so that’s as good a reference as any!

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chopping wood for the fire

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making the fire

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kids just love making fire!…Later they made and cooked pancakes and strawberry jam to go on top!

4. Celebrate fish! On the last weekend of the school holidays (31st August) it’s the inaugural Menai Seafood Festival. Based around the harbour and waterside in Menai Bridge it celebrates all things fishy, highlighting the coast and sea life that surrounds Anglesey and Gwynedd. Dylan’s Restaurant are the driving force behind what should be a busy, action packed, family day out. With rib rides, seashore safari’s with Anglesey sea zoo, educational talks from Bangor University marine biology team, watery themed art workshops, local music and a number of talented local chefs cooking up a  plethora of crustacean and pescatarian dishes to sample there is something for both adults and kids alike. All that and it’s free!

5. Last but certainly not least why not spend an afternoon picking your own fruit? Always fun. It whiles away a couple of hours in the sun (something we have plenty of at the moment), you can eat while you pick and still bring some home for tea. Hunt for your local pick your own farm online or ask at a farm shop, or just take a trip into the countryside surrounding you and see what you find….the two closest to me (one in Tregarth and one on Anglesey) are…

Moelyci Community Farm  is open for picking between 12 until 7pm everyday. They have plenty of strawberries, raspberries, loganberries and huge quantities of currants (red, white and black). Prices are very reasonable and the setting is stunning.

Hooton’s  PYO site is on the A5025 just one mile from Menai Bridge in the direction of Pentraeth – LL59 5RR (Look out for the signs). It’s open between 11am and 5pm during peak season.

Aidan says:”it’s great because it doesn’t cost much, you can eat loads and take stuff home to make all sorts of things like Eton mess” 8/10

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Blackcurrants ripe for picking at Moelyci

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***THIS POST WILL BE UPDATED WITH PICTURES AND COMMENTS AS AIDAN ATTENDS THESE ACTIVITIES. THE SEAFOOD FESTIVAL IS THE EXCEPTION AS IT DOESN’T HAPPEN UNTIL THE LAST WEEKEND OF THE HOLIDAYS

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Simple summer salads #1…tomato, basil, chives and torn mozzarella

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I keep being asked to suggest good ideas for salads; ones that are simple, quick to make and don’t use hundreds of ingredients.

Well this salad is so simple I’m almost embarrassed to blog about it. What’s not to love about this humble tomato, basil and mozzarella combo? It ticks all the boxes for me; its quick, goes with almost anything and is a real flavour explosion with freshly picked basil leaves, chopped chives and a sharp dressing made from rapeseed oil and balsamic vinegar.

The one important thing to remember is that its only as good as the ingredients you use. Don’t skimp or think that out of season tomatoes will give the same depth of flavour. They won’t.

Use fresh British tomatoes, the first of the season, freshly picked basil leaves and good quality mozzarella. Combine with as good a quality balsamic vinegar as you can afford and the same with the rapeseed oil (I use Cotswold Gold). If you do use the best you can afford, it makes a world of difference lifting something as simple as tomatoes, basil and mozzarella to a different level. Eat on the patio, or in the garden in the sun while you can…Enjoy!

Tomato, mozzarella, basil and chives:

Serves two to three people…or 4 to 6 if you up the ingredients…

250 – 500g freshly picked tomatoes (mixed colours, cherry, heritage…all work well as long as they are UK new season)

One or two good-sized balls of buffalo mozzarella (not the hard dry stuff used for pizza)

A handful of fresh basil leaves

3 to 6 tablespoons Cotswold Gold rapeseed oil

1 to 2 tablespoons of good quality balsamic vinegar

sea salt and pepper

chopped chives

Chop the tomatoes into a bowl, tear in the mozzarella and basil leaves. Make the dressing in a jar adding all the ingredients and shaking together. Pour over the salad. Finish with some snipped chives and there it is!! salad in 5 minutes.

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More of the green stuff; a recipe for classic asparagus mimosa

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I’ve tried to find out the history of Asparagus Mimosa but can’t seem to discover exactly when it was first mentioned, or when it became a classic; It’s just one of those recipes I know, but without knowing how I came to know about it.

What I do know is that it originated in France and I’m sure I also read somewhere that it was first mentioned as early as the twelfth century. I turned to my Larousse Gastronomique (my food bible) but even here there is no clue to its origins only a brief description of how it resembles mimosa blossom. One thing I know for sure (because it’s mentioned in Royal Menu’s by Rene Roussin the kings chef between 1936 and 1952) is that Mimosa salad was a dish made for King George VI.

Characterised by its grated hard-boiled egg dressing a mimosa salad does evoke images of the delicate blossom and is really a very pretty dish. It’s simple, visually impressive and makes a great starter or accompaniment to other dishes as part of a buffet. It’s also very quick to make so if you’re a posh mum like me, you could just serve it for tea!!…er, yes that was my attempt at a joke, but joking aside my kids absolutely loved it, so I would recommend it as a family favourite too.

NB: I blanched my asparagus in a pan of hot water with a third of a sachet of smoked water from Halen Mon added to give a very mildly smoky taste.

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Asparagus Mimosa:

1 bunch of fresh asparagus ( I also used some white sprouting broccoli that I’d also bought that day)

2 large hard-boiled eggs (grated)

drizzle of olive oil

a knob of butter

slat and pepper

A small handful of chopped fresh herbs such as chives, wild garlic or chervil (I used wild garlic and chives)

a dessertspoonful of non pareil capers

a selection of edible flowers to finish

Blanch asparagus for a couple of minutes in a pan half filled with boiling water. The stalks should be tender when pierced with a sharp knife but still nice and green. Drain and return to the hot pan with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper and a knob of butter.

Arrange the asparagus while still warm on a serving dish. Sprinkle over the egg, capers, herbs and finish with some edible flowers (I used wild garlic flowers).

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Recipe: asparagus and parmesan souffle gratin

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Better late than never, the asparagus season is finally upon us. That late cold snap left me hanging around, waiting with bated breath for the first few stalks to arrive. I love it when asparagus season arrives. To me its a sign that summer is just round the corner; the weather has warmed up nicely and an increase in daylight hours brings everything to life again. I’ve never had much luck or patience when it comes to growing my own asparagus so I look forward to the time when Hooton’s crops are ready. But then to my horror I heard a dreadful rumour. The whole crop had failed because of the cold wind last week.

Nooohhh!! I rushed to the farm shop (it wasn’t just to check out the authenticity of this claim, I did have to do some other shopping as well….really, I’m not THAT obsessed) and asked in a hushed and slightly worried voice..‘is it true? the asparagus has failed’

The woman in the shop looked at me reassuringly. No, she said. Don’t worry, it’s just running a bit late. Huh! Like everything in my life!

But now it has appeared. The sunny weekend weather sped up the process and so they cut first stalks this week. And typically I missed them, although I did send manage to get some put by for me via a desperate twitter plea.

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When asparagus stems are young and tender they need little accompaniment and no peeling. Naturally sweet, they need only brief cooking (a quick blanch in boiling water is more than enough) and are perfect in a salad, with hollandaise sauce or in the classic dish asparagus mimosa.

Mind you, the day I collected my swag the rain lashed down, the wind blew and I even turned the heat on in the house for an hour! I wanted something warm and comforting and so returned to my old favourite, asparagus and parmesan souffle gratin. It’s a recipe I came up with a couple of years ago. Combining the lightness of a souffle, with the simplicity of a gratin this recipe stops the worry of whether it will rise or not. Topped with briefly blanched stalks of asparagus it is simple, yet sophisticated enough to serve at a dinner party. I’ve made it for supper club guests a couple of times and it’s always been a hit.

Asparagus and parmesan souffle-gratin:

500ml milk

50g flour

50g butter

4 egg yolks and 2 egg whites

1 sprig of thyme, 1 bay leaf, 1 small onion studded with 6 cloves and a pinch og nutmeg

75g parmesan finely grated

24 thickish spears of asparagus, peeled

half a lemon

Butter a large gratin dish and sprinkle in about a third of the parmesan cheese. Place milk in a pan with the onion, herbs, nutmeg and a good seasoning of salt and pepper. Bring gently to the boil then turn off the heat and leave to infuse for about half an hour (or as long as possible).

Make a roux with the butter and flour then gradually stir in the strained milk. Return to a low heat and cook for about 10 minutes stirring constantly until you have a smooth white sauce. Add two-thirds of the parmesan and remove from the heat. Allow to cool whisking occasionally to prevent a crust from forming. When it is lukewarm whisk in the egg yolks then cover with buttered paper until it has cooled completely.

Blanch the asparagus in plenty of boiling water for a minute or two (they should be tender, but still green), drain,  then refresh in plenty of cold water to halt the cooking process.

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Beat the egg whites with the juice of half a lemon and a pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks. Put the souffle mixture into a large bowl and whisk in one tablespoon of the egg white to lighten the mixture, then gently fold in the rest of the egg white with a spatula. Pour the mixture into the greased dish then lay the asparagus in a row on the top (as in the picture above). Bake in a hot oven (230 degrees C, gas mark 8, 450 degrees F) for about 18 to 20 minutes. The gratin should puff up and not wobble when shaken.

 

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