Category Archives: seasonal food

Quick guide to finding and buying locally grown veg…(and what is in my 30 mile radius)

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This week I wrote a piece for the New Bangor Plus website about where to buy locally grown vegetables and it got me thinking about how we find out where to shop. I often hear people say that they would buy local seasonal veg but it just isn’t possible because it’s not in the supermarket, or isn’t convenient to go hunting elsewhere, or just that they don’t know where to go to get it. So how do we find out about local supermarket alternatives?

I guess the place to start is your local produce or farmers market. Most places now have one fairly close by and its a great way to get to know what is grown locally. Although they don’t always run on a weekly basis and you can’t necessarily base your weekly shop around them, they are great places to get chatting to sellers and to find out what farm shops or box schemes are in operation in your area. For me word of mouth was all important when it came to sourcing local veg!

If you are lucky enough to live in a place abundant with markets and shops it’s not so much of an issue (in London you can find pretty much anything!) but what if you live out-of-town, or in a small suburb that isn’t near a market or farm? But how can you be sure the produce you are buying from your ‘farm’ shop is genuinely local? Out of interest I paid a visit to my mother’s ‘farm’ shop with her over Easter. She lives on the border between London and Kent…so you’d think she would be close enough to the countryside to pick up plenty of local produce…Kent is the ‘Garden of England, right?’ Not so. The owner of the farm shop did in fact also run a wholesalers and this is where most of the fresh produce came from. It wasn’t British let alone Kentish. I questioned her about this and she explained that they struggled to get small amounts of veg from local farmers as they preferred to sell their stock in bulk to the London markets (better price etc.). So, the farmers are more concerned about getting the highest price. Well, I can understand this to a point, business is business. She also said that local custom was poor with not enough people buying it to make it worth their while. This farm shop competes with three large supermarkets in one town centre so I can see why. The old breed of greengrocer has been slowly edged out.

Ok, in some places its hard to find local produce, or get to a farm shop or produce market. What if you are busy and don’t have much free time? Well if you want to avoid the supermarket the next best thing is to search online. There are websites that will help you find markets and contacts like Local Foods or Local Farmers markets nationally, plus lots of local markets also have their own website like the Bethesda market I sell at.

If you are still stumped try one of the well established suppliers that sell veg boxes online, the two most popular companies being Abel & Cole who also stock and deliver a variety of other British products and Riverford Organic. Both companies sell a variety of boxes in different sizes, prices and with different content. Most contain staples (potatoes, carrots, onions) plus a variety of seasonal vegetables. I find that in most cases prices are less than you would pay in the supermarket and the produce of a higher quality.

Even with this information I admit it’s not always easy at this time of year.  As a parent sticking to my principles often causes all out warfare as the kids rebel over my seasonal choices. The leafy greens and root vegetable diet can also become a little tedious leaving a yearning for something light and summery…what harm in the odd mango or citrus fruit? My other constant worry that drives me to non-seasonal buying is that my daughter will end up with scurvy if I stubbornly avoid buying the things she ‘likes’ (mostly only available in the supermarket).

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New seasons seedlings @Tyddyn Teg

Still, buying local makes sense. I don’t want my food to have travelled a million miles before it  arrives in my local supermarket. I want my veg fresh. Its tastier, better for you (as it hasn’t been force grown, picked when unripe, refrigerated and only ripening once it hits the shelves) and better for the local economy, because yes, however much we try to ignore it, money spent in supermarkets is not re-invested in the local economy. So I hear you say, how can we change things? How is it possible to eat locally grown fruit and veg? Well, with a bit of flexibility and the creation of new shopping habits it is possible. Just think how many people have returned to buying meat from the high street butchers after the horse meat scandal. What if we were to find out exactly what supermarket veg is sprayed with? Would it take a scandal to start buying local again?

There are several farms around the Bangor area that do grow and sell local produce on a largish scale and sell weekly veg boxes to a growing list of customers. Here is a list of the best farm shops that are open in addition to the local farmers market ….(sorry, this is the local bit, especially to keep my home readers happy. Just look at it as the niche post bit, i.e. only for those that live within a 30 mile radius of Bangor, North Wales).

Moelyci even now has a polytunnel full of spinach, winter leaf lettuce, kale, chard and the more unusual kohl rabi (use grated in salads or coleslaw; looks like a Sputnik and tastes a bit like a radish with a white cabbage hint) despite the late cold snap. Slowly the last of the winter produce is fading out (celeriac, leeks, purple sprouting broccoli) and as May creeps in so does the brief but delicious asparagus season. Hootons grow their own and I buy as much as I can before it disappears just as quickly as it arrived.  I’m also addicted to wild garlic (which is very late growing in my garden) and rhubarb, which will be in abundance at Moelyci soon. All of these signal the beginning of the summer growing period and hope of bright new things to come.

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Kale and Chard @Moelyci

Moelyci market garden

Moelyci is a community owned farm that has grown in stature over the past few years and is now firmly established as a great place to buy fresh local vegetables. Paul, the market garden manager is a talented gardener and grows the kind of produce you won’t find in a supermarket (heritage tomatoes, purple beans) and produces a weekly vegetable box during the summer months. This year it is due to restart in June (due to the late growing season).

As a community farm Moelyci also provides volunteers with the opportunity to get hands on with volunteer days, courses and be part of creating their own food. They also have a pick your-own fruit field which sells a variety of berries throughout the summer (and frozen during the autumn/winter months).

Although the farm, like many co-operatives is ailing in the current financial crisis, it is still up, running and preparing for the summer season. The market garden shop is normally open for business from Thursday until Saturday. Drop in and pick your own veg.

Moelyci Farm, Lon Felin Hen,
Tregarth, Bangor Gwynedd LL57 4BB UK

Phone: 01248 602793  

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/111101588937283

Twitter: @Moelyci1

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planting seeds for the new season @Moelyci

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plant nursery @Moelyci

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Young tomato plants enjoying the warm weather in one of the polytunnels

Hooton’s Homegrown

Hooton’s are a very well established farm shop and local produce supplier. They opened their farm shop in 1998 having outgrown their roadside farm stall and later opened a second shop in Fron Goch Garden Centre in Caernarfon.

The farm shop is a haven of local produce, but their locally grown veg is for me the main attraction.

Gwydryn Hîr, Brynsiencyn, Anglesey, LL61 6HQ

Phone: 01248 430644

Farm Shops opening hours
9.30am to 5.30pm (Sunday 10am – 5.30pm)

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Hootons-Homegrown-Farm-Shop-Cafe/407744002633289?fref=ts

Twitter: @HootonsFarmShop

Village veg

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picture courtesy of village veg facebook page

Based in Waunfawr near Caernarfon, they run a vegetable box and bag delivery scheme which aims to offer the quirkier seasonal vegetable, such as purple carrots, blue potatoes and flower sprouts.

To order your veg box and find out where they deliver check their website here. They definitely deliver in Bangor so there’s no excuse! To order and discuss contact Emma Duffy, Tyn Cae Newydd, Waunfawr, Caernarfon, LL55 4BX

Phone: 01286 650369 / 07962214314
E-mail address villageveg@sky.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/villageveg/

Tatws Bryn

Chris sells his own locally grown produce mixed with other seasonal produce and delivers in and around the villages surrounding Bangor.

Check his website for details and to contact call Chris on 01248 605027 or

email: tatwsbryn@yahoo.com

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Filed under British food, local produce, seasonal food, slow food, social enterprise, Sources and suppliers

Recipe…i’ve finally cracked it! Perfect falafel

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I love Middle Eastern food and one of my most frequently made staple snacks (mostly because the kids love it to) is falafel.

Falafel originated in Egypt and is another one of those recipes that varies wildly, although like many does have some basic principles.

Many seem to use broad beans although I prefer to make them with just chick peas.  In Ottolenghi and Tamimi’s book Jerusalem (Ebury) they recommend using only one clove of garlic..while other recipes use up to six! During wild garlic season I use a handful of this instead, but otherwise I would use about 3-4. I like a good hit, but not so I OD on it.

Cumin is the standard spice in most recipes and I don’t differ in that respect. A good teaspoon or two is enough for me along with a handful of fresh flat leaf parsley and a handful of coriander.

Some recipes use onion or spring onion but I like to use a small red onion…its sweeter and varies the flavour.

The mixture should be roughly blitzed in a food processor. A good sturdy model is essential. In the past my attempts to make perfect falafel with a small domestic food processor proved futile.  My all singing all dancing Magimix 5200XL is the best machine I have ever used for the job…no amount of chickpeas can daunt it!

Once ingredients have been blitzed I, like Ottolenghi and Tamimi, add a teaspoon baking powder and a spoon full of flour and leave it to rest in the fridge (I have to say I don’t always leave the mix for an hour though).I roll the balls in sesame seeds which give a nice finish and lovely crunchy texture when deep-fried.

The Perfect Falafel Recipe

Ingredients
500g chickpeas, soaked overnight with half a teaspoon bicarb of soda

3-4  garlic cloves, crushed or a handful of wild garlic leaves

a small red onion, chopped finely

a handful of fresh coriander leaves, chopped

a handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped finely

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon salt

a sprinkle of paprika

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 tbsp plain flour

sesame seeds for rolling the balls in

vegetable oil for deep-frying

Combine the drained chickpeas with the garlic, onion, parsley and coriander leaves. Blitz in a food processor until roughly chopped.The mixture should not be a puree, but should retain texture.  Add your spices, baking powder, flour, salt and about four tablespoons of water. Leave to rest in the fridge for up to an hour.

Either heat up a deep fat fryer (which is safest) or half fill a large heavy-based saucepan with vegetable or sunflower oil.

Form the falafel mixture into small golf ball sized portions and roll in sesame seeds. When the oil is hot drop in falafel carefully.

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Don’t overload the pan/fryer…cook about 5 or 6 at a time then when golden remove and drain on paper towels.

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Filed under home cooking, middle eastern food, Recipes, seasonal food, vegan cookery, vegetarian dishes

My favourite Irish stew recipe for St. Patricks Day

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Like all good stews this simple Irish stew is warming, comforting, hearty, cheap and leaves you feeling extremely cheerful.

I will be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day on Sunday along with every other person of Irish descent and ancestry! I have an Irish father….and of course my husband is a full-blown Paddy so we will be sporting our green shirts, having a wee drink and eating this as we attempt to ignore our Welsh neighbours celebrating winning the Rugby 6 Nations (I know that is a little pre-emptive…but its a sea of red round here and expectation is high!)

I’d also recommend mutton, a much overlooked meat it produces a deeper richer flavour when cooked slowly and gently.

Irish stew

2 tbsp sunflower oil

50g  butter

1.5k mutton, whole on the bone

500g diced onion

2 sticks of celery

500g peeled chopped carrots

500g peeled sliced potatoes (keep them quite chunky)

Bouquet garni with a couple of bay leaves, a sprig of rosemary and a good sprig of thyme tied together.

Two good handfuls of pearl barley

1 pint lamb or chicken stock or just water.

Chopped flat leaf parsley

Heat the oil and half the butter in a large pan. When hot add the mutton and brown well. Spoon out and put to one side. Add the rest of the butter, diced celery, carrot and onion and sweat gently for about 10 minutes.  Add the bouquet garni and continue cooking for a minute or so. In the pan add a layer of potatoes, then a layer of meat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Repeat the layers finishing with a layer of potato.

Throw in the barley then pour over the stock or water. Slap on a lid and allow it to cook gently for about two and a half hours.

When the meat is very tender and the sauce rich and slightly reduced remove the mutton and place on a chopping board taking care not to lose any sauce. Cut the meat from the bone in hefty chunks and return to the saucepan. Add a good handful of chopped parsley and serve in big bowls.

PS. for a treat you could make Nigellas Guiness cake and my version of Irish Mule.…both are very good

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Filed under baking, family budget cooking, Food in Ireland, home cooking, Recipes, seasonal food

Street Food North Wales

I was recently asked by Richard Johnson , Food Journalist, Independent and Guardian columnist, and author of Street Food Revolution (a book about the emerging street food scene in Britain) if I would like to review for the new British Street Food website and app. Of course I said yes, but having done so started to wonder if we actually had a street food culture here in North Wales.

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Providero’s coffee van…battered by the waves on a blustery day

A few years ago there wasn’t much of a Street Food culture in the UK at all. Burgers and chips selling from catering vans, Mr Whippy drove up and down playing tinkly child catcheresque music and doughnut stalls were actually quite exciting. That’s not to say there was never a culture of street food. Historically food was always served on the streets…in Norman times there were cookshops that sold hot food from market stalls and in London street-sellers strode about hawking their goods. This continued into Victorian times (think Oliver Twist and the who will buy? scene) where they sold all manner of food; everything from jellied eels to fruit pies, muffins to pea soup it was all there.

So why did it all disappear? Perhaps it was the ever more stringent food hygiene regulations that slowly crept in, or the lack of cash that crippled Britain after the war. Rationing and food shortage must have played a part with only the wealthiest able to eat out…and that would have been at the fancier restaurants in town. Average Joe Blogs couldn’t afford to buy ingredients to make the food let alone have enough customers that could afford to buy it. My essay on the decline of British food can be found in this earlier post, but I can imagine that street food was viewed as one of the worst examples of dull British food and shunned in favour of the new fad…French cuisine!

Now, with inspiration from exotic food vendors in the USA this is beginning to change. The British food scene has woken up and a new breed of food lover taken over. They are younger, more in tune with both British and world cuisine, less hampered by rules and regulations, more entrepreneurial and  inventive. Most couldn’t afford a shop rental in London so have found ways round it so they can bring their ideas to life….and its spreading. Major cities from Birmingham to Bristol, Cardiff to Manchester are following suit with their own crew of vintage van, quirky wagon and market stall sellers vending the kind of cheap and exotic dishes once only found in restaurants and cafes.

There are websites too…EatStreet (now Foodhawkers) set up by Petra Barran of Chocstar, lists markets and independent street food traders in London, while Richards new website (which should go live in the next couple of weeks) and app (due for release in April/May) will list traders across the UK giving fans the opportunity to seek out something cheap tasty and unusual.

Sadly here in North Wales we are still a little behind the trend and street food is still the domain of the old school burger and chip van outside the football ground, and the doughnut wagon on the trading estate.

Pinpointing ‘good’ street food is hard, like looking for a needle in a haystack since the area is wide and rural stretching from the borders of Cheshire all the way down to Aberystwyth. it would probably be something like a two hundred mile round trip to check out the area. Not easy then to nip about reviewing street food.

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Jon from Providero

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One thing I quickly discovered when I started talking to vendors is that they are strictly governed by the rules and regulations of the rather old-fashioned town councils. As Providero told me, licenses are limited on the grounds that there are plenty of ‘local’ cafes (albeit some not particularly great ones) and business should go to them and street sellers forced into ‘hidden’ spots. For traders like Providero: Fine teas and Coffees this has not been a problem. As a travelling barista, selling great coffee and home-made cakes from their converted vintage Citroen van they are much in demand and people travel to find them.

They advertise their location via Facebook and Twitter – one update states “North Wales Weekly News now, followed by North Wales Police office’s approx 3pm and Old Colwyn Prom from around 3.30pm” . Their Old Colwyn pitch (at the end of the promenade and just under the railway bridge) seems bleak and isolated but there was a steady flow of passing trade. From dog walkers and cyclists, to joggers and an enthusiastic crowd of regulars, they all seem to flock to their van to pick up a welcome, but generally hard to come by, ‘proper’ coffee, and at between £1.50 (for a 8oz cup) and £2.00 (for a 12oz) who could deny they are good value. Their coffee and cakes are worth seeking out if you are passing that way.

The best quality street food is still mostly found in and around the local produce and farmers markets and food events that pop up across North Wales. Unlike bigger cities, the area lacks the high density population, good weather and disposable income to have a burgeoning street food scene, but look closer and in the right places and you will find a few hidden gems. Small local markets with a regular clientele are friendly and welcoming with interesting food on offer, but don’t expect anything too experimental or fancy; a nicely cooked locally produced lamb burger, pulled pork or bacon bap attracts more attention than falafel, spicy wings or a bento box ever will (not saying there aren’t those among us that wouldn’t welcome this).

I run my ‘street food’ stall (or pop up cafe…however you want to look at it) and tend to stick to seasonal soups, local bacon and sausage buns and dishes made from ingredients sold at the Ogwen produce market. Good quality fresh coffee made by local roasters always goes down well, plus dishes such as spicy Welsh-made chorizo stew or wraps. It’s worth noting though, that  customers often prefer a nice leek and potato soup!

Dylans

Dylans bread van

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Robin and the sourdough bread selection

Another member of the cool van brigade is Dylan’s, a local seafood restaurant and pizzeria in Menai Bridge, Anglesey. Owners David and Robin also run a street food stall selling artisan bread and freshly cooked ‘dishes of the day’ found primarily on the third Saturday of the month at  Anglesey Farmers market.

Robin was on duty on the day I visited, but they didn’t have hot food just their artisan bread which is extremely good. Rows of sourdough, focaccia, buns and wholemeal grace the shelves of the van, all made by a lad that looks like he just stepped from the set of TOWIE… he is actually from Essex, but moved to Wales as a child (hence the hint of Essex/Welsh accent).

It was a shame I didn’t get to taste their famous fish chowder or lob scouse which I’d heard so much about from regulars at the market.  Robin explained that they only bring out the hot food and marquee during the busier market periods. But I picked up a bag of sourdough buns to bring home for lunch. They were beautifully soft and fluffy, with the distinctive sourdough tanginess and at 30p each were something of a bargain. The bread is pricier at £3 a loaf which might be a little steep for this area, but is definitely worth it.

Dylans restaurant is on  Twitter @Dylanspizzeria and their van, although mostly at the Anglesey market, they hope to move around to seaside areas such as Rhosneigr during the (hopefully) warmer months this year.

Mags and Maldwyn are not new kids on the block. They have sold their organic Welsh mountain lamb and mutton online for almost ten years and have run their mobile catering outlet Oen Aran lamb for around eight. They stick to a simple principle; to only sell quality meat produced on their own farm (which for your information is in Bala, North Wales). The menu is small and features just a handful of tried and tested dishes; dry cure bacon or sausage baps, roast lamb and lamb burgers which have something of a local reputation for being pretty damn good.

Mags and MAl Aran Lamb

Mags and Maldwyn of Aran lamb

Aran lamb burger

Brunch!

Aran lamb are part old school burger van, part local produce pioneer. The grease and chip fat are nowhere to be seen, replaced by their own high quality organic meat. It’s slightly disturbing, but also reassuring that they knew every single animal now being served in a bun.

Of course I had to try their famous lamb burger for myself. I’d skipped breakfast and moved straight to brunch…and oh what a brunch it was! Juicy, full of flavour and the quality of the meat shone through. Topped with lots of freshly cooked onion and a fab home-made mint sauce it was just what I needed to cure my stomach grumbles.

Mags and Maldwyn don’t do facebook or twitter, but they can be found at most local food events, from the Farmers market in Menai Bridge, Anglesey, to Porthmadog produce market on the last Saturday of the month. They certainly get about!

On another trip, this time to the Conwy Farmers market at the RSPB reserve I came across Harvies Ltd, a Mold based artisan bakery that sells rustic pies across North Wales and Cheshire. I didn’t manage to meet the owner Carole Harvie, but I was lucky to meet any of them at all; this was their first time at this market. I spoke to the woman running the stall and she explained that at some markets they sell hot pies but due to our wonderful Welsh regulations, this time those of the RSPB reserve which has an on-site cafe, the sale of hot food is discouraged.

It was a shame, the day I visited was freezing and I could have done with a hot pie but still I decided to pick up a selection to take home for later. With flavours such as ham and pheasant, steak and ale, courgette, feta and pine nut I was spoilt for choice. I eventually took one of each plus a hefty slice of macadamia brownie and lemon frangipane cake. Pies ranged in price between £3 and £4 which I think is pretty good value, considering the size of them. Pasties and sausage rolls cost slightly less and cakes were about £1.50 which was exceptionally cheap. Later, I warmed the pies in the oven and ate them for tea. They were delicious. Tasty filling, perfect pastry and I’m sure they would even be nice cold (on a less freezing day).

Harvies

Harvies pies

Harvies artisan pies….and cakes…

Now I know street food trade increases in the summer months and in some ways it’s a shame I was asked to do this review in the winter.  My visits to both Porthmadog and Dolgellau were hampered by snow and a number of markets close until March. I will try again later this month.

In the meantime if you know where the best street food is in North Wales drop me a line….email:moelfabansuppers@gmail.com or just leave a comment and watch out for the launch of the new look British Street Food website later this month.

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Filed under British food, event catering, home cooking, local produce, produce markets, seasonal food, street food

Recipe: really easy, multi-purpose, egg free cheesecake

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This easy egg free cheesecake recipe came about while planning a wedding menu. I tend to design my menu’s with the person I’m cooking for, tossing ideas too and fro until we reach a final decision. For one couple cheesecake was their ‘must have’ dessert,  but endlessly worried because a couple of guests couldn’t have eggs and thought that cheesecake automatically included them. They naturally wanted them to enjoy everything on offer and so I assured them it was possible to have egg free cheesecake.

Hmmmm. I’d never actually made an egg-free cheesecake at this point, so having said it would be no problem I set off to do a bit of research and testing.

Mercifully I discovered that there are lots of cheesecake recipes out there, even egg free cheesecakes, so I didn’t see any point in totally reinventing the wheel. I looked at a couple, tweaked and modified them, and finally came up with a winning formula. I tried and tested different combinations of flavours and ingredients until settling on this quick and simple, hugely adaptable recipe that makes the perfect base for a whole host of flavours and toppings, depending on what you fancy and what is in season.

Cooking for large parties and buffets demands a degree of simplicity, especially as the dish has to appeal to up to 150 people!! My tip then is to keep things simple; go with maybe two or three flavourings such as, strawberry and vanilla, apple and blackberry compote, vanilla with blackcurrant and cinnamon compote, rhubarb and ginger. You could also give it a little kick by pairing with booze; a nice complimentary liqueur enhances whichever fruit you have used…raspberry and Framboise, or as with my last variation Morello cherry and Kirsch, finished with stemmed fresh cherries it almost created a sort of ‘black forest’ cheesecake. You can even try adding fragrant petals such as orange blossom or rose as a flavouring or decoration. If a fruit version doesn’t tempt the taste buds how about chocolate and vanilla, with some salted caramel swirled into it and decorated with chocolate dipped strawberries?….Really the list is endless. Once you begin to think about it tis easy to get carried away!!

You could also experiment with the biscuit base. Digestives are the common choice, but how about substituting with ginger biscuits, a rhubarb cheesecake mixture, decorated with a sprinkle of rose petals, or perhaps crunchy butter biscuits, almond ratafias…..as long as they have a good crunch they should work ok.

Egg-free cheesecake recipe (makes one large party size 28cm cheesecake…or two smaller cheesecakes)

300g crunchy biscuits…degestives are the conventional choice…but experiment)

150g very lightly salted butter…I use Calon Wen

700g cream cheese

150g icing sugar

300ml double cream or creme fraiche

1 jar of Morello cherries (drained…reserving a tablespoon of the juice)

1 tablespoon Kirsch

fresh cherries or rose petals to decorate

(NB: In the picture above I used 350g chopped strawberries, 1 generous teaspoon good quality vanilla extract and finished it with strawberries dipped in caster sugar.)

Grease a loose bottomed 28cm cake tin or flan tin (or two 15cm) and line with a circle of non-stick baking parchment.

Put the biscuits into a large clean bag and crush with a rolling pin…try not to trap any air in the bag or it will explode and there will be crumbs everywhere! Make sure there are no large bits, you want fine crumbs but not powder. Tip into a bowl

Melt the butter in a small pan then pour over the crumbs in the bowl. Mix well then press into the cake tin to make a tight even layer. refrigerate for about an hour or so.

In a clean bowl whisk together the cream cheese, cream, sugar and liquids (vanilla, alcohol, cherry juice or whatever liquid you are using).  With a large spoon or plastic spatula fold in the fruit or other ingredients gently swirling into the cheese mixture.  Be careful not to break the fruit up and over mix, you really need a light hand.

Spoon the mixture over the biscuit base and smooth the top. Place in the fridge again for at least a couple of hours.

To serve loosen the cake tin base and gently ease out. Carefully remove the baking parchment and slide out on to a serving plate. Decorate with a sprinkling of petals….or fresh fruit

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Filed under baking, cakes & Baking, family budget cooking, home cooking, Recipes, seasonal food

A recipe top ten for 2012

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Funnily enough my most popular posts for 2012 weren’t recipes at all, they were either restaurant (Cennin, Vijante) or product reviews (Magimix, Sarpo potatoes).

My most popular and sought after recipe of 2012 was (quite fittingly after all the preserving demo’s I held last year) one for Pumpkin Jam. But, like many of my well used recipes on the blog it isn’t new at all; its nice to see that they are still in demand!

TOP TEN:

1. Pumpkin Jam

2. Tipsy Laird Trifle

3. Roast Potatoes

4. Winter Minestrone

5. Roast duck breast with redcurrant and red wine sauce

6. Lamb Merguez stew

7. Apple and cinnamon tart with bara brith ice-cream

8. Ginger, orange blossom and vanilla salt cookies

9. Orange, herb and wild garlic flower salad

10. Beetroot tart tatin

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Filed under baking, British food, family budget cooking, home cooking, Recipes, seasonal food, Uncategorized

Mussels with cider, leeks and bacon

Following on from my last post…here’s a little video of my trip to sea mussel collecting, plus what is one of my favourite mussel recipes. Now that it is peak mussel season this dish would make the perfect Christmas dinner starter.

James (of Menai Mussels) sent me off home after our day out clutching a bag of freshly caught mussels, which I promptly cooked with finely shredded leeks, smoked bacon and  a good helping of medium dry cider. Voila! they were transformed into a gorgeously creamy and beautifully warming supper served with french bread (home-made if possible) and a couple of finger bowls.

Mussels with cider, leeks and bacon recipe:

2k Menai mussels in their shells, very well washed, debearded and scrubbed. I like to rinse at least four times under cold running water.

1 tablespoon or so of olive oil, a knob of butter

half a red onion finely chopped

1 finely chopped clove of garlic

150g finely chopped smoked streaky bacon

1 finely chopped medium leek

a sprig of fresh thyme

500ml medium dry cider

300ml single cream

salt and pepper

a handful of finely chopped flat leaf parsley

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large pan. Add the onion and leek and cook gently over a low heat for about 10 mins. Turn the heat up to medium and add the bacon, garlic, thyme and cook briskly, stirring so that the onion and leek don’t burn. The bacon should just be turning golden when it is time to add the mussels.

Tip the mussels into the pot and pop on the lid. Give the pan a good shake to combine with the leek and oil. Remove the lid and pour in the cider, giving the pan a shake again. Turn the heat up a little more, keep the lid tight on and allow to cook for about 5 minutes or until all the mussels have opened up in the pan. Once cooked add the cream, parsley and some salt and pepper.

When you have eaten all mussels and dumped the shells to one side you will be left with all the luscious creamy juices, mop up with plenty of bread and a soup spoon.

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Filed under British food, home cooking, local produce, Recipes, seasonal food, sustainable fish, Uncategorized

There’s nothing like home made Christmas pudding

The little un and me showing off our puddings

Everyone is talking about stir-up Sunday…that is, the last Sunday before Advent begins and the traditional day for making the families Christmas pud. I know we’ve just missed it but really it’s not too late. If you can manage it this weekend here is my traditional pudding recipe which I have used for years, well ever since I moved to Wales which is twenty odd years ago. It is a recipe I adapted from one found in a really old Sainsburys recipe book. My Mum’s from back in the 80’s I think.

Sift 175g (6oz) plain flour, 2 teaspoons ground mixed spice, 1 generous teaspoon cinnamon and half a teaspoon grated nutmeg into a large bowl. Mix in 175g (6oz) fresh brown breadcrumbs then rub in 175g (6oz) softened butter.

Stir in 175g (6oz) soft brown sugar, 350g (12oz) sultanas, 250g (8oz) raisins, the same amount of currants and 75g (3oz) mixed peel. Add the grated rind and juice of one orange, 2 beaten eggs and 120ml of brown ale (or stout). Give it a good mix, don’t forget to have a wish and then turn it into a greased 1.75litre (3 pint) pudding basin (or two smaller ones like we did). Cover with a pudding cloth or greaseproof paper and a sheet of foil pleated in the middle and tied on with string. Steam for 6 hours topping up the water as necessary.

Allow to cool and then replace the greaseproof paper and foil with fresh and store in a cool dry place. Christmas puddings can be made up to 4 months in advance and they tend to get better with time. Much better than anything from a supermarket I have to say.

When THAT day comes round and you are ready to eat your pudding, steam again for about 2 hours, turn out on to a warm dish, douse well with warm brandy and then ignite.

 

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A vegetarian Ken Hom classic…teen friendly, home-made super noodles (Singapore noodles)!

I seem to find it more and more of a struggle to find meals that will tick all the boxes for my carb addicted, vegetable dodging daughter. I swear she gets worse with every year. I often wonder why I even bothered with all those pureed organic vegetables, fresh fruit compotes and sugar-free yoghurts. My endeavours do not seem to have created a discerning gourmet and any influence I might have as a chef falls on deaf ears.

Anyway, her latest addiction is supernoodles. Cheap, yucky packet ones, the worst kind of junk.

‘Please Mum, they only cost 36p in Lidl’ she cries, as I sigh with resigned horror.

Since I can’t keep her from them I have set out to create my own healthier version of her beloved dish, ones with proper added protein (a bit of chicken; I think I’ve mentioned more than once she won’t eat any other flesh…she is now known as a chickenarian), real vegetables and more recognisable spices and flavourings.

My latest attempt to transform a junk food dinner into something resembling real food was a Ken Hom vegetarian classic; a version of Hong Kong or Singapore Noodles. Quick to prepare, made from store cupboard basics and with a few added vegetables is even vaguely healthy, very tasty and teen friendly.

Vegetarian Singapore noodles:

300g rice noodles (I used some super quick straight to wok ones by Amoy but you may have to pre-cook them if you are using dried noodles)

50g Welsh shiitake mushrooms, soaked for 20 mins and then drained and finely diced…(so the teen doesn’t realise they are there!!)

250g fresh or frozen peas/petit pois (if using frozen cover with water in a bowl and allow to thaw, then drain before use)

250g finely shredded chinese leaf cabbage

couple of tables spoons of groundnut oil

3 cloves of garlic crushed and finely chopped

1 dessertspoonful grated fresh ginger

a couple of fresh or dried chillies finely chopped

1 teaspoon of salt

a small tin of drained water chestnuts, sliced

4 spring onions finely chopped

For the curry sauce:

2 tablespoons of light soy sauce

1 tablespoon of Pataks curry paste, I used madras

2 tablespoons of rice wine or dry sherry

2 teaspoons sugar (optional)

400ml tin coconut milk

Fresh coriander to serve

extra salt and pepper if necessary…season to taste

To make: Heat the oil in a large wok over a high heat until it just starts to smoke. Add garlic, ginger and chilli and stir fry for about 30 seconds.

Then add cabbage, mushrooms, water chestnuts and salt and stir fry for another minute. Next add peas and rice noodles and stir fry for another 2 minutes. Add all the sauce ingredients and allow to bubble for about 5 minutes until the sauce cooks down and starts to evaporate. Serve sprinkled with chopped spring onion and coriander. Eat immediately.

NB: This is real cold weather comfort food that according to the teen is ACTUALLY better than supernoodles!

NNB: If you want to make a meaty version chop 250g chicken or lean pork into thin strips and stir fry with the garlic and ginger at the very beginning.

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Filed under British food, family budget cooking, home cooking, local produce, Recipes, seasonal food, Uncategorized, Using leftovers, vegetarian dishes

Spicing it up with Steenbergs at Conwy Feast

Conwy Feast is my most favourite food festival. Official.

I admit I am somewhat biased. Conwy Feast has a lot going for it. It’s set in the most stunning surroundings, within the walls of Conwy Castle and overlooking the Conwy Estuary, and is right on my doorstep. This of course makes it even more personal because a lot of my friends attend, as do many of my regular supper club / food suppliers. I can’t move but end up in conversation and I love that!

What makes it even better is the superb variety of local music, performance and  entertainment from folk to reggae, latin, capoeira and giant bubbles (yes, lots of friends again…Bandabacana and Tacsi were my two must-see bands this weekend) to enthrall between the tasting and drinking and then just as it starts to get dark and you think it’snearly all over comes the grand finale; Blinc digital arts festival which uses buildings and spaces around the old town as a massive art installation.

Conwy Feast is the second largest food festival in Wales (the biggest in North Wales) and attracts the likes of Bryn Williams of Odettes, Hywel Jones of Lucknam Park and this year Laura Coxeter, vegan and raw food chef from Coxeters Fayre, who cooked along with several well-known local chefs; Jimmy Williams, Elwen Roberts, Angela Dwyer & Ian Watson…plus Gareth Jones, Great British Menu finalist and me!

With this year’s focus on seasonal foods, vegan cookery and local produce I suggested a preserving master class. I’ve run a few designed for beginners and the more advanced, but I wanted to make this one a bit different. For this demo I introduced a variety of more unusual spices kindly provided by the wonderful Steenbergs, UK specialists in organic and fair trade products. I love them and they certainly know their stuff not skimping on quality or beautiful packaging!

I used chilli flakes, mace, star anise, ginger, pink pepper corns and yellow mustard seeds to enhance the flavour of my tomato chillijam and pumpkin marmalade  and a sneaky vanilla pod (plus apple pectin) to pep-up my sugar-free strawberry jam.

I wasn’t sure if the latter was brave or foolhardy as I’d never gone completely sugar-free before, but I thought it was a good opportunity to test it out to see if it would work. In front of a live audience!!

Helped by Stephen, one of the very capable kitchen team from Llandrillo College, compered by Rhun ap Iorwerth BBC journalist, broadcaster and presenter and with my own personal photographer in tow (Kate W photography), I was so busy coordinating chopping, talking to Rhun and stirring three bubbling jam pots simultaneously that I was barely aware of how quickly my demo zoomed by. Before I knew it I had three set jam’s and tasters had been served out to the audience. The pumpkin marmalade was a big hit, the strawberry set even without sugar (proving you can, even if it is a little tart…I’m sure I saw Rhun wince as he tasted it). My one cock-up… testament to my total concentration on stirring and talking… one keen-eyed audience member said to me at the end,

“did you put the cider vinegar in the tomato jam?” to which I turned pale as I realised I hadn’t. Oh well, I’m only human and there was an awful lot to concentrate on. Everyone seemed to like it even without the cider vinegar, although in contrast to the strawberry this one was a bit sweet!!

 

At the end of the demo I promised the recipes, so here they are

Sugar-free strawberry jam:

1 kilo fresh ripe strawberries (mine were frozen ones from Hootons homegrown)

1 vanilla pod split in half

juice of one lemon

half a jar of Ciro apple pectin (available from any large supermarket)

Put all the ingredients into a large pan. Warm gently over a medium heat until it begins to bubble, then turn up the heat so it bubbles a little more fiercely. Stir occasionally until it begins to thicken. Don’t let it stick on the bottom. Test for a set by dropping a teaspoonful on a cold saucer. If it sticks and doesn’t run off it it’s set enough to jar.

** This jam is more volatile than one containing sugar so should be stored in the fridge. It’s more like a compote than a jam really, so you can eat it with toast or stirred into yogurt. If you find it a little too tart and you want to sweeten it with something, perhaps add a dessertspoonful of Agave nectar as I did when I made it again at home. It cuts through the sharpness just enough and has a lower GI than refined sugar making it a better alternative for those avoiding it.

Tomato chilli jam:

1 kilo ripe tomatoes (I used a selection of Moelyci heritage tomatoes)

a small chunk of fresh ginger (finely grated)

3 cloves garlic finely minced

1 fresh chilli minced or a couple of pinches of dried chilli flakes

1 blade of mace

1 star anise

half a teaspoon of crushed coriander seeds

500g granulated sugar

200ml cider vinegar

Warm the tomatoes, ginger, chillies, garlic and spices in a wide preserving pan with the sugar and vinegar, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Simmer over a medium heat so it bubbles quite briskly, stirring regularly, for about 20 minutes or until the jam has thickened. Pour into sterilised jars and store.

All photographs copyright Kate W photography. Kate is a London based freelance photographer and is available for commissions. Her photographs have been published in The Stage and The Voice magazines.

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Filed under British food, cookery courses, festival food, Food festival, home cooking, local produce, preserving, Recipes, seasonal food, slow food, Uncategorized