Category Archives: seasonal food

Coconutty corn cobs with peanut and chilli (and sort of Jollof rice)

On a recent visit to one of my suppliers (Hootons Homegrown on Anglesey) I was pleasantly surprised to discover sweet corn on the shelves. Not just that, but locally grown sweet corn fresh from their farm. Of course I couldn’t resist; we all love fresh sweet corn, so I picked up four.

My only concern at this time of year was that they might lack sweetness and tenderness. It’s not been the hottest or sunniest summer so rather than risk disappointment I chose to cook them in a African (ish) inspired sauce of creamy coconut milk, roasted spices, fresh ginger, peanut to give a bit of texture and crunch, a little chilli for heat and some fresh coriander. I’m sure it would make a great side dish for grilled meat but we had a vegetarian supper so I paired it with some stir fried spiced eggplant and a sort of Jollof rice (no chicken in this version).

For the coconutty corn cobs you will need:

4 fresh corn cobs cut in half, or thirds if they are large, 1 large tablespoon of groundnut oil, 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds, 1 teaspoon of mustard seeds, 1 finely chopped red chilli (or a good pinch of chilli flakes), 500g fresh tomatoes, skinned and roughly chopped or 1 tin of tomatoes, half a 400g can of coconut milk, 100g of coarsely ground peanuts, a knob of peeled and grated ginger, seasoning

Heat the oil in a large saucepan then add the cumin and mustard seeds. Roast lightly until their aroma fills the kitchen, but do not burn them as they will taste bitter. Add the corn cobs coating well with oil and spices. Add the tomatoes, coconut milk, chilli and ginger.

Put a lid on the pan and allow to simmer gently for about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring now and then. Add a little salt and a bit more coconut milk if the sauce seems dry.

Serve sprinkled with a finely chopped handful of fresh coriander.

Sort of Jollof rice:

1 tablespoon sunflower oil, 1 red pepper, 1 yellow pepper de-seeded and thinly sliced, 1 sliced onion, 2 bay leaves, 2 cloves of garlic finely chopped, a pinch or two of chilli flakes, 3 fresh tomatoes skinned and chopped, 2 tablespoons tomato puree, sprig of fresh thyme, 400g basmati rice, 600ml of chicken or vegetable stock

In a large saucepan sweat the sliced onions and peppers gently in the sunflower oil for about 10 minutes or beginning to soften but not turn brown.

Add garlic, chilli flakes, bay leaves, thyme, tomatoes and tomato puree. Stir for a minute or so, then add the hot stock. Allow to simmer gently for about 15 minutes.

In the meantime wash the rice a couple of times to remove some of the starch, but there’s no need to soak it really.

After the sauce has simmered for its 15 minutes add the rice. Put a tight-fitting lid on the pan (or cover with foil then a lid so no steam escapes), turn the heat down low and cook for about 20 to 30 minutes or until the rice is tender and cooked.

**NB: There are several methods for cooking rice. I usually favour the Caribbean way (learnt from my Trinidadian step-father). He brings a large pan of plenty of water to the boil, tips in the rice and simmer until cooked, as you would if you were cooking pasta. No pre washing or rinsing is necessary and it always works for me. Some would argue that only brown rice warrants cooking in this way but I use all kinds; You just have to stay on the ball because if you over boil it you end up with mush.

In the African method used in this recipe I have added basmati rice to the sauce, placed a lid  on top and left it to cook slowly until the liquid has been absorbed. The result is a stickier dish, but perfect when combining sauce and rice.

There is one other approach. The oven method often favoured in Indian cooking, where rice is to all intents and purposes baked. This produces a dryer textured dish, such as pilau rice.

 

 

 

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

A trip around West Cork

I’d hoped for something of a gastro tour of Ireland but clearly with a family of four (including a picky teenager and an easily bored nine-year old) and a tight budget it was not the cheapest or easiest option. But really that didn’t matter because we had a never-ending expanse of coastline to explore and plenty to do without actively seeking out foodie experiences and boring the kids to death, we called it ‘stealth foodie-ism’. Armed with some tips from Niamh (eat like a girl) and a few of her twitter followers, plus local knowledge from the in-laws we were able to eat very well and very cheaply.

My in-laws live just outside Clonakilty which is about half an hours drive from Cork city. They’d organised a place for us to stay (two minutes along the lane from them) and filled our fridge with local produce. Clonakilty black and white pudding, local bacon and sausages, eggs from the farm up the road, salad, ham, bread and organic milk. All local, all fantastic. We topped this up with local strawberries and raspberries, Glenilen Farm cream, Gubbeen cheeses and tapas tubs of olives, tapenade and stuffed sweet peppers from the award-winning Scally’s supervalu in Clonakilty. Packed lunches, fruit, plenty of juice and water were the mainstay of our holiday, with a couple of dinners at the in-laws helping keep our costs down.

We hardly ate out at all apart from a couple of trips to the chippy (freshly caught and cooked fish is far superior to the stuff bought at home) and a late lunch at a gorgeous pub on the harbour at Crookhaven. This followed a dramatic, bracing and windswept walk along the cliffs at Mizen Head, the most westerly point in Ireland making the most of the afternoon sun after a drizzly start to the day. Kids generally hate walking but this included just enough adrenaline pumping scenery and plenty of interesting lighthouse facts (Fastnet lighthouse is just visible to the south) to keep them happy.

We finished the afternoon with a pint of Murphy’s, some ham ‘sangwiches’ and Tayto crisps (for the kids) and a gloriously rich and creamy bowl of seafood chowder for me at O’Sullivan’s bar.

We also took a trip to Kinsale. Another undoubtedly pretty harbour town but I found it rather twee in a very touristy kind of way. It wasn’t our cup of tea. It was very anglicised, full of coach parties and the ‘sailing set’ (not that I have anything against those that sail. We had our own afternoon on the sea later in the week) but because of the clientele everything just that bit more expensive. I prefer places off the beaten track where I can live like a local and tucked well away from the very touristy haunts, as do the rest of the family.

We had a quick look at fishy fishy, a well-known, award-winning seafood restaurant which was recommended by Niamh, but with four of us it would have proved too costly (plus the teen hates fish). Instead the kids opted for an enormous ice cream from a really lovely ice cream parlour and we headed out-of-town to James Fort for another bracing cliff walk. Far more enjoyable for a nine-year old boy and much more spectacular than a fish dinner in an expensive cafe.

As the weather improved over the week we gravitated towards the sea and beaches more. There were plenty to choose from and we were spoilt for choice. With dramatic rocky coastlines at Dunworly to blue flag beaches at Inchydoney and the Warren at Rosscarbery. The Warren proved a little windy on our first trip, although that didn’t stop our nine-year old stripping off and running for the sea.

On another day we took my father in law’s boat out to sea. It hadn’t been out for a year so it was an opportunity to give it a run and do a bit of fishing. We didn’t catch anything, but sailing with seals was a fantastic experience for the kids. On an earlier trip to Ireland we took a charter trip out from Union Hall (there are plenty of boats going out, but check and book in advance. Easiest to go down to the pier and ask the harbour master or one of the fishermen) to do some sea fishing and look for seals, dolphins and whales. It was a little early for Whales but we saw plenty of seals, who tend to chase the fish into the harbour on the tide. That was a bigger boat. This time our boat was much smaller and the seals swam really close to us.

Friday was our one dedicated foodie day as we headed to the farmers market in Clonakilty. Gubbeen cheese nestled beside home-made cakes, chorizo, preserves and great coffee. Dips, basil hummus, chorizo and mozzarella, plus a bit of salad made a great supper (we’d taken some wraps with us which came in handy). The sunshine, buskers and a throng of people gave it a real festival atmosphere as we sat eating local organic lamb burgers. Later that evening we headed back into the town for the Random Acts of Kindness Festival where our kid got to show off his giant bubbling skills as part of a ‘bubble flash mob’ followed by live music and an absolutely hilarious Ceilih at the famous De Barras folk club. Money raised was for the Clonakilty Flood Relief Campaign.

We spent our last day in scorching sunshine. We followed up a huge lunch with the in-laws at the West Cork hotel (the food wasn’t that much to rave about but again the produce was all local and the meat and fish was delicious) with a trip to Lough Hyne. We sat in the sun looking over the small deserted harbour watching people dive off their boats into a clear warm sea longing for a yacht of our own.

Loch Hyne

Once we’d thoroughly depressed ourselves with our longing for a boat and lack of resources to do anything about it we headed for the beach at Inchydoney.  Here we whiled away an hour or two swimming in gloriously warm sea before taking a last trip to Rosscarbery pier and a bit of fishing (the fish had been elusive so far so this was our last hope).

As high tide approached fishermen lined the sea wall on one side and a gaggle of kids threw themselves off the pier into the sea on the other.

The teen somersaulting into the sea…crazy girl that she is!

Diving into the sea at Rosscarbery pier

Fishing off the sea wall…I didn’t get a pic of the seal

Once again the fish were elusive, this time scared away by the diving kids on one side and seals chasing every fish on the other. It’s not that the fish weren’t there, plenty bit, but it was impossible to land them with Mr. seal lying in wait to grab them off the hook as we reeled them in. In fact the fishing went on longer than anticipated as it became a real battle of wills. Man against seal. Every fish was a fight to the death. Those feckin seals became public enemy number one. We eventually left at 9.30pm tired, hungry and with two tiny pollack, the landing of which received huge cheers all along the pier!

Pollack

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Filed under Eating out with kids, family budget cooking, Food in Ireland, local produce, seasonal food, Travelling with kids, Uncategorized

Keeping it raw

I’ve never been one for food fads although I once did one of those ‘detox’ diets back in the 90’s when they were THE big thing to do. My dad and I embarked on it together; a seven-day programme of toxin free eating to purge our bodies of the impurities of modern life. In all honesty we were rubbish. On day five I found my step-father head in fridge, guiltily stuffing chunks of cheese into his mouth at half past twelve in the morning. Meanwhile I walked around ready to kill, driven crazy by the lack of nicotine entering my system.  We both cracked. Totally unable to cope without our morning shot of caffeine or hefty dose of protein during the day. We decided together that the toxins weren’t that bad after all.

It’s not that I’ve ever had a particularly unhealthy diet. I was, until I started living with my then boyfriend (now husband), a strict vegetarian. I’d even dabbled with veganism for about six months, but that was in my late teens when I wasn’t so keen on vegetables and there just wasn’t the variety of products on the market tailored to vegan living. It was only when my teen was little that I started to eat a bit of fish and occasionally chicken. Back then I shopped in the supermarket and couldn’t afford organic meat so it was easier and cheaper to eat vegetarian most of the time.

My knowledge of raw foodism (is that the correct term?) was pretty sketchy. I’d always imagined raw foodists as a strange sub-group of vegans; pale and unhealthy looking hippy types (yes I’m just going to generalise wildly here so please forgive me) eating salad for breakfast lunch and dinner. These days it seems that more and more people are choosing a raw way of life…and for the most part they look pretty damn good doing it. It’s still not totally mainstream but people like Mike Nash (buff American author of Aggressive Health), David Wolfe (curly-haired ‘rock star’ of superfood) and chef Chris Massamba from Sundia foods (opening night chef at Global Feast 2012) are doing their best to pioneer the trend and tell all about the benefits. If you think it’s just another fad diet I think you would be wrong, it’s a lifestyle (they do all look incredibly wholesome, toned and squeaky clean…which is enough to put me off and make me feel quite grubby). This lifestyle they espouse doesn’t seem to have much room for moments of stodgy cake, booze, cocktails or dare I say it, the odd cigarette but there are plenty of people following suit and lots of websites with recipes and tips on how to do it.

This week I received an invite to Raw Dave’s night of raw food.  A three course raw food dinner with talks and demonstrations. I wasn’t sure what to expect (what with my sweeping generalisations and large chuck of cynicism) but with so few food events (let alone interesting and different food events) cropping up in these parts I knew I’d kick myself if I turned it down. In any case I know the chef, Raw Dave (as he is known locally) so I was genuinely interested in what he had to say and prepare for us.

You’d be forgiven for imagining Raw Dave as a gruff feral man, part Tarzan part Neanderthal, emerging from the undergrowth after an extended forage. In contrast Dave is a gentle, laid back self-effacing guy who clearly loves food, experimenting, preparing and eating. He does have a hint of the clean and glowing about him but  along with his lovely and massively enthusiastic assistant Gill (for whom all of life is AWESOME. Favourite adjective of the night) they managed to enthuse all the guests with the same amounts of bounce and anticipation.

The totally awesome Raw Dave and Gill

The evening was hugely interactive, well planned and I learnt masses. Guests liberally fired questions across the table which Gill and Dave answered with relaxed honesty and openness. It felt like a cross between a supper club (I had that feeling of deja vu witnessing the birth of a new foodie project) and a food lecture. I’d never have guessed that this was the first time they’d run such an event. They were fun, entertaining, enlightening and interesting. I sat with Jules (from the Incredible Edible Hedgerow project) and a couple of her friends, plus Pete who is a veteran supper club guest. The conversation and debate provoked by the food, how we eat, grow, shop and what the effects of eating such a nutrient rich, unusual diet might be on our systems were definitely a highlight of the night.

Clearly there are long-term health benefits to such a diet. Dave explained his own journey. He’d always been fit but a big guy and as he approached his thirties he felt himself becoming lethargic, achey and slowly he piled on the weight. As he topped 23 stone his Mum developed hypertension and his dad had a heart attack. He found he was developing the same symptoms so decided it was time to make a change. He didn’t become a raw foodie over night (in fact Dave strongly advised against doing anything so drastic and so suddenly…as he said it’s not about putting yourself through withdrawal and feeling crap it’s about improving the diet and feeling healthy), he started by drinking green smoothies and slowly replaced unhealthy snacks with healthy ones. Over a three to four year period he became almost totally raw. In the process and without watching what he ate (raw chocolate plays a massive part in his life) his weight dropped to an astounding 12 stone. He looks healthy. He brims with energy and he no longer aches in the morning.

We started our meal with one of his famous green smoothies. A dark green high chlorophyll (which makes you feel buzzy and uplifted) concoction of 1 juiced apple, 1 juiced pear, a hand full of spinach and a stick of celery juiced, spirulina, sea algae (high in Omega 3), agave nectar.

It was more tasty than it might seem, although Dave had put plenty of Agave nectar in it to make it more palatable. The apple and pear flavours were strongly in evidence and not over powered by the celery and spinach at all. We were also treated to some raw chocolate bites to go with it. High in phenathlamine (among other things!) they offer a natural high and topped with dried fruit (I can’t remember what Dave said the dried fruit was on top, something like kumquat I think) they were very nice.

raw chocolate: coconut oil, raw cacao powder with a dried kumquat like fruit on top

One of the purported benefits of eating raw is that it boosts your energy levels. With the high nutrient content, added Omega 3 (spirulina), natural ‘good’ bacteria in algae, natural caffeine and chemicals in the raw chocolate I certainly felt quite buzzy and high after the chocolate and smoothie appetizer.

We moved on to starter; a mixed leaf, herb, flower salad with mixed seeds and Green Dragon dressing.  Leaves and flowers were harvested from the on iste permaculture garden and the dressing made from half a scotch bonnet chilli (which apparently helps to open up the cells inside us, replacing the bad stuff-toxins, with good stuff), half an onion, a handful of coriander (good for the detox of heavy metals), 7 fl oz tamari soy sauce (a wheat free variety), a couple of dropper full of flax oil (Omega 3 rich, it’s very good for reversing a deficiency but if used too much can cause an imbalance), nine fl oz apple cider vinegar (lower in ascetic acid than balsamic vinegar), good olive oil and pink Himalayan salt (the purist kind and most contaminant free apparently). These were all blitzed in a blender.

The dressing had real punch (from the chilli) but was also slightly sweet and sour. The sweet came from a drop of agave nectar (from the blue agave plant; the same thing they make tequila from…something else I learned that night).

Main course was courgette spaghetti with a marinari sauce and raw pesto. To make the courgette spaghetti Dave used a spiraliser, a Japanese gadget, that Gill demonstrated (after bouncing up and down saying “can I do it, can I, can I” )

Gill using the spiraliser (not the best picture sorry)

This was my most coveted piece of kit for the night. I have to get one of them!

Courgette spagetti with marinari sauce and raw pesto

I don’t think I was paying attention when the demonstration was going on as I didn’t make a note of the ingredients. I think we were too busy being excited by the spiraliser and passing round vegan parmesan substitute. Made by Marigold it looks a bit like fish food and has a yeasty kind of taste, but isn’t unpleasant. It comes into its own when it’s added to dishes. Dave used it in the pesto, which was very nice.

Pete’s extrodinarily long piece of courgette pasta

Although it is supposed to be summer, the sauce would have benefitted from lightly warming as it wasn’t the warmest evening, although this did not detract from the taste; perfectly flavoured and seasoned.

Dessert was raw tiffin with mint sauce. The ‘biscuit’ part (which can also be used as a cheesecake base) was a combination of walnut halves, dates and pink Himalayan salt, blitzed together in a blender until it begins to hold together.

Next coconut oil warmed in a bain marie was mixed with melted raw cacao powder and what we arrived at was, in the words of Gill

“chocolatey joy in a bowl”

Thank you Gill, that is exactly what it was. Once set they cut the tiffin into chucks and served it with a simple pureed minty sauce and a strip of strawberry fruit leather. I’m rarely defeated by dessert but this was so rich half of it made me feel like I’d over eaten!

During the evening my dinner companions and I came up with two questions. Would we be able to sleep after so much buzzy food and would we feel full at the end of the meal? I asked one more silent question of myself. What would it do to my insides? This seems a strange question to ask, but I’m not used to eating solely raw food. As Dave said, “you’re not just getting five a day, you’re getting twenty-five a day”.

Question two was answered easily. Yes we all agreed we felt full and I continued to feel full for a long time afterwards.

The first question was answered later…no I couldn’t sleep. Apparently Sean listened to me talking at him in an over elated fashion while we lay in bed. He listened for a while before he finally fell asleep. He was sure I carried on even then.

My own question was answered the following day. The over abundance of vegetable made me feel quite bloated. The following day my stomach spoke to me in gurgles. Now, without getting too grim about the details, suffice it to say I couldn’t have felt more purged if I’d had a colonic irrigation. Despite this I didn’t feel ill, I felt rather light and energetic until I started getting a headache and a craving for a really big ham roll. Sorry Dave, my toxins rule my body.

Lizzy Hawley and the girls behind the newly revamped Hendre Hall Arts Cafe and Permaculture Garden hosted the evening. It’s a fab place which is now being used as a base for lots of local craft people as well as a venue for weddings, special events and a monthly local produce market. If you would like to attend future events they are mostly advertised through Facebook or word of mouth, so its worth checking their page for news.

Thank you to lovely Lizzy, resplendent in Green taffeta, and the rest of her glamorous assistants for all their hard work and of course to Gill and Dave who were truly AWESOME!

 

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Filed under British food, cookery courses, eating out, Pop-up cafe, raw food, Recipes, salads, seasonal food, secret supper, Uncategorized, vegan cookery

Fabada Asturiana (Spanish pork and bean stew)

** Just to begin…I composed this post last week when the household was fully engrossed in a nightly dose of European football. My internet crashed on Tuesday evening and I have been without access to the cyber world since. Of course the European Championships have now come and gone (for those not watching the final was last night) but the post was written and awaiting publication so here it is…

I know football isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but I’ve enjoyed watching the European Championships, especially some sexy football from some equally sexy players (yes cliché I know, but I’m a sucker for a man with strong thighs and dark-eyes…all those Mediterranean Lothario’s win me over any time!). So to celebrate some sexy Spanish football, here is a recipe for one of the most popular dishes served at supper club over the Spring. Fabada Asturiana is a traditional Spanish pork and bean stew (Fabada typically large white beans and Asturian region where it originates).

It’s simple, but still strong, robust, full of depth, authentic and very tasty (like a Spanish footballer perhaps!). Despite its simplicity it’s not a shy retiring stew; it really is full of meaty oomph! Served as a smaller starter or as a main course it is definitely not for the vegetarian; it’s a real celebration of all things pork. To recreate this great dish, which I didn’t get to take a picture of (but I will add one next time I make it) I used the very best local ingredients from some of my favourite suppliers.

Ingredients:

450g dried haricot or cannellini beans (soaked over night), olive oil, 150g dry cure smoked bacon cut into cubes, 2 cooking chorizo cut into small chunks, 1 morcilla (a Spanish type of black pudding, but I used a locally made black pudding instead), 700g lean pork fillet, cut into small chunks, 1 large red onion finely chopped,  4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced or crushed, 2 teaspoons smoked paprika, 2 bay leaves, a good pinch of chilli flakes, pinch of saffron, 200g shredded swiss chard, spring cabbage or spinach

The day before, place the beans in bowl and cover with cold water. Leave to soak over night.

The next day rinse the beans and place in a pan with cold water. Bring to the boil and then immediately drain and rinse with cold water again. Do this again then leave to drain.

In a large clean pan heat the olive oil then add the onion, bacon lardon, pork fillet and chorizo. Fry for a few minutes until beginning to brown then add the garlic, chilli, bay leaves and paprika. Stir fry again for another couple of minutes then tip in the drained beans saffron and about a litre and a half of water (or light vegetable stock). Bring to the boil then turn the heat down low to simmer.

Keep the heat very low so the ingredients can simmer gently, for anything between one and a half (the length of the average football match) to three to four hours (if it goes to extra time and penalties!). You want to make sure the beans are cooked and the stew is nicely thickened but basically you can leave it as long as you need to.

When the beans are almost done add the morcilla and let it simmer for about fifteen minutes more, then add the swiss chard or spinach. Once this has wilted down you are done! Check the seasoning (you may need a little more sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste) and serve with some crusty bread to mop up the juices.

This is great on a cold damp day (we’ve had a few of those lately!) but it is also good served along with a fresh summery salad and a glass of Spanish red wine or traditional Asturian Cider.

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Filed under family budget cooking, home cooking, local produce, pork, Recipes, seasonal food, Spanish food, Uncategorized

Four weddings and a festival

Apologies for my tardiness, I’m sure you’ve thought I’d abandoned you all over the last month, but really I’ve been so busy doing that I’ve had little time for putting my endeavours down on paper. Now that the craziness has died down I have plenty of time to update you all with what we’ve been up to and what is still to come this year…

I knew May and June were going to be hectic. With four weddings, a festival and a few other jobs thrown in for good measure it was inevitable. As you will know from my earlier post my first wedding went well. Despite the almost arctic temperatures and prematurely running out of Quiche, we still received a round of applause for the food (I didn’t actually hear it, but my waitresses did).We started the season on a high.

Sadly the weather was no kinder for the remaining four events. Imagine biblical scale flooding, a months rain in a day and high winds that levelled two marquees and you will get an idea of what we’ve had to deal with.

Our little festival cafe…full of wet & cold people on Sunday

Our first event was Kaya festival which had its fair share of dramas (mostly due to chaotic organisation) . This was a brand new festival put together by a team of novice promoters with the aim of celebrating music, diversity and arts. They certainly had big ideas, an impressive list of acts, interspersed with a range of exceptionally good local artists and it all looked good. For my part I’d been asked to do some cookery demonstrations and had several conversations with them about local suppliers and producers.  Sadly this, like a lot of things over the weekend didn’t quite run to plan. The demonstrations didn’t happen as no kitchen was organised. A lot of workshops didn’t happen either although this was in part due to the atrocious weather conditions on Sunday which saw a lot of local people head for home. With hindsight it was a good thing they didn’t happen as I ended up having plenty of other problems to  sort out. On Friday I arrived to unload, I didn’t know where I should set up and neither did anyone else. After five hours of trying to work out what was going on I finally phoned a friend, borrowed their marquee and put it up myself in a spot I quite liked. The organisers appeared happy to let me solve my own problems although security (or site management i’m not sure which) glared at me and spoke intensely into their radios for a while before leaving me in peace. It also emerged that I was the only person on site doing decent veggie or vegan food. Consequently I sold out three times and had to go home every night to prepare more for the next day. Making hummus at midnight on a Saturday and chick pea stew at 5am on Sunday is not good for the energy levels.

When the heavens opened on Sunday a lot of cold damp people that remained on site flocked to me for a warm lunch and a marquee to stay dry in. We’d sold out of stew by tea time…again. I didn’t have the energy or ingredients left to make more but I did nip home and make hummus and get more feta for wraps and buns.

Despite selling out three times I was left with about two hundred pounds worth of meat (I’m saving the last bag in my freezer for the next produce market). Numbers on Sunday were low and as we weren’t doing breakfasts (which with hindsight we should have done) we just couldn’t get rid of it!  I wasn’t out-of-pocket before you fret on my behalf, but I certainly didn’t cover my costs for three sixteen hour days, plus preparation for the cooking demos, plus helping out other stall holders source local produce and find staff as well as doing costings for the organisers.

On a more positive note, Friday and Saturday were lovely days. The music was great and the production team did a fantastic job. Lots of attendees had a wonderful time (I’ve seen the reviews). There were some lovely touches; the baby chamber, the healing field, Dr Zigs giant bubbles, James and the syrcus circus tent that played host to some great acts,  the ‘market’ run by Emma at Ysbryd y Ddraig, plus a run of lovely visitors to our stall for wraps, baps and hot stew. Over the weekend we fed Bandabacana, The Pistols, (Johnny Rotten’s reference...”the chorizo was bang on” ) plus Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and his musicians and members of Drymbago…and i’m not sure who else because I was very busy!! The funniest moment was watching Rosie my teen waitress climb on stage with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry

If the organisers can sort out all that ‘behind the scenes’ stuff that let the festival down and learn from their mistakes this has the potential to be a great little festival.  I’d like it to happen again. It’s a beautiful setting, in a great part of the world. Hopefully next year will be more polished and will have grown from this years experience. I know I have!

Moving swiftly on (and it really was a swift transition) to wedding two and three;. The heavens opened at Kaya and didn’t really stop. I’d lost two working days due to the Jubilee celebrations (which mercifully I slept through) and I was seriously playing catch up by the time Wednesday arrived.

With my kitchen helper ensconced I set to preparing canapes for thirty for delivery that evening. Blinis with smoked salmon, tomato and basil brushetta and tiny oak smoked tomato and black bomber tarts were put together at a rate of knots and delivered to Llanberis at the foot of Snowdon in the worst torrential rain you can imagine. From there I zoomed off to Caernarfon to give a talk about my experience of running a supper club and setting up in business at a Chwarae Teg event.

Friday morning and the rain continued. Preparation for wedding three was complete. At four pm we drove to the venue to deliver the food through a flooded Ogwen Valley. It was like a scene from Indiana Jones. I imagined myself driving through water falls while rocks fell from above. The platter of dressed salmon shot from one end of the van to the other as I braked suddenly. Then a box fell on top of it.  I was on the verge of tears. At the venue the guests and wedding party wore head to foot waterproofs and wellies.

On the day itself the bride had planned to canoe across the lake Hiawatha style to arrive at her wedding. Instead she drove herself there in her white van and entered the venue protected by a huge umbrella. The salmon survived. The bride remained dry and at least by the afternoon the rain had subsided and a hint of sun allowed the guests to go outside and the kids to play in the field.

Inside everything was beautiful. Yellows and greens gave the venue a fresh summery feel despite the weather outside. As with our first wedding we provided a hot and cold buffet, this time with waitress service to make sure portions were strictly controlled. With vegan food put to one side we couldn’t risk the meat eaters helping themselves. I felt like a food fascist as one man said “could I have some tart please” my response being “are you vegetarian or vegan”? “No” he replied, “well you can’t” I responded at which point he moved a long and had some lamb looking a bit sorry for himself. ).

Putting it all together in the kitchen…vintage china, which was also used on the tables and for tea and coffee

Cakes galore!

The menu of over night roast shoulder of lamb with rosemary and honey (lamb from Gerlan), marinated chicken with gremolata, cold salmon with dill mayonnaise, wild mushroom and leek croustade (vegan), plus a selection of salad, bread, Welsh cheese board and chutney went down a treat. The desserts (baked cheesecake with blackcurrant coulis, chocolate torte, chocolate cake (vegan) made by the best vegan cake maker I know, Lynwen from Aderyn Melis, fruit salad and mango-passionfruit sorbet) also disappeared so quickly some barely got a look in!

A beautiful wedding cake made by the brides mother and sisters graced the table later, along with two huge vats of stew and couscous to go with them. It always amazes me how quickly food disappears…no matter how much you put on the table!

This wedding was of friends of ours so Sean and Aidan joined me for the evening and we Ceilidh’d the night away, until I had one too many glasses of wine and tiredness caught up with me. I abandoned the van and Sean drove us home, me nodding with tiredness in the front.

You might have hoped the last wedding was less dramatic but sadly you would be wrong. This makes a story on its own which I will regale you with in my next post! For now though I feel obliged to thank all those people that made all these events possible…Rosie the teen waitress; as ever, beautiful, stroppy, over dramatic, but always there when I need her (except at Kaya cos she was too busy having a good time ;-)…for the weddings…Elin Cain (singer with Vintage Magpie), Lhotse Sounds (get well soon honey), Lee Watson (The Beach House Kitchen), Amber Green (our newest lovely waitress)…..for Kaya; Zion Stuart (bassist with Dinosaur Garden…next time try not to scare the customers away :-)), Sam Cuthbertson, Swyn Anwyl Williams and Sadie Medhurst

….I love you all and thank you xx

Last but not least I have to thank Magimix for my new blender….10 kilo’s carrots, 5 kilos beetroot, three buckets of hummus (using 50 cans chick peas), cheesecake and chocolate cake mix for 60 plus 100 cupcakes,  40 onions finely chopped, 20 heads of garlic, plus bunches of parsley, mint, coriander all finely chopped….would have been beyond the capabilites of my poor old machine so my new machine truly was a LIFE SAVER!!

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Orange, herb and wild garlic flower salad

This salad is a variation on a recipe sent to me by Lee from The Beach House Kitchen. He helped us out at supper club the other weekend and since he’d spent a time living in Spain, I thought I’d ask him to create a traditional type of salad to go with the rich meaty main course for our Spanish themed evening.

He did a bit of research and came up with this. A riot of colours and flavours it complimented the pork and bean Fabada Asturiana perfectly, the citrus, garlic and herb elements cutting through the deep earthy flavour of the stew and refreshing the palate before dessert.

Lee’s salad made with wild garlic for the first supper club

First time round we substituted wild garlic for mixed leaves as it was still running riot in our garden. On Saturday we went for early lettuce (which is just as good) as the wild garlic has just about finished and all that remains are the flowers, tiny white balls of petals which still give a big garlicky kick, but with added attractiveness.

This is a perfect spring or summer salad and now that we finally have a little bit of sun it makes an ideal healthy lunch or barbecue accompaniment.

For the first salad you will need:

Mixed salad leaves or wild garlic

As many oranges as you want (one to two per person depending on size of orange), de-segmented and juice reserved (see instructions below)

a handful of garden herbs (We used fresh marjoram, mint and flat leaf parsley) chopped roughly

1 pomegranate separated from all the bits that hold it into the skin

Bunch of spring onions chopped finely

Kalamata olives, halved, stones removed

A dessertspoonful of sesame seeds

a simple dressing made from juice of half a lemon, olive oil and salt and pepper.

For the second: We left out the sesame seeds and olives but added more orange and herbs. Our dressing was an orangey french dressing made with

85ml olive oil

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

half a teaspoon Dijon mustard

a small clove garlic crushed

half a teaspoon honey

some of the reserved orange juice

Put into a screw top jar and shake well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To make both:

Lay the leaves on a large platter or serving dish.

To de-segment an orange use a sharp knife and cut off the top and the bottom. Place on a chopping board and hold firmly. Cut down each side of the orange removing the skin and as much of the pith as you can. You don’t want any skin or pith in the salad as it will make it bitter. Cut each segment from the skin that holds it in place holding it over a bowl so you catch the juice. Toss the segments over the mixed leaves.

Then simply scatter over the rest of the ingredients, only adding the sesame seeds (if using) at the last-minute before serving.

You can also add a couple of peeled and sliced avocado’s.

Our mixed lettuce and wild garlic flower variation

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An in-between salad

Ok so it’s supposed to be spring. The sun is out but it’s just not that warm yet. Part of me wants to dispense with the winter dishes as I crave fresh light summery salads, but my body stills yearns for a warming and comforting dinner. I am a creature of habit and I like a nice roast dinner in the Autumn and Winter and maybe a barbecue and salad in the spring and summer, but that is just not happening yet. Apart from a few hardy friends who have braved the chill I’m not quite ready to brave al fresco dining.

This Sunday was just such a day. The sun was shining but a chilly wind blew. I wanted to eat light, but I had all the ingredients for a roast and it was that for which I yearned. But I couldn’t go the whole hog so instead I decided to go half and half with a salad that was both spring like, but also most importantly,  hot. I used the last of the purple sprouting broccoli from the garden which I combined with early Jersey Royals, red onions and peppers. It was perfect. Served with a rare pan braised fillet of beef and mini yorkshire puddings. Best of both worlds I’d say.

Winter / Spring / in-between salad:

500g Jersey Royals

1 red pepper and 1 yellow pepper deseeded and thinly sliced

half a red onion

200g purple sprouting broccoli

juice of half a lemon

four fat cloves garlic

olive oil, salt and pepper

Wash the potatoes and put in a roasting tin. Pour over a good glug of olive oil, some salt and pepper. Toss well and roast in a hot oven gas mark 7/200 degrees C.

Finely slice the onion and pepper. Wash and trim the broccoli. After 45 minutes of the potatoes roasting heat some more oil in a pan. Toss in the onion and peppers and cloves of garlic which have been lightly crushed with the blade of a knife. Fry gently until starting to soften. Add the broccoli and fry for another five minutes or so depending how thick it is. My broccoli was the last from the plant and was quite thin stalked. When they are all half-cooked take the roasted new potatoes out of the oven and throw in the vegetables. Return to the hot oven for about 6 to 10 minutes. Tip everything on to a serving plate and dress simply with some salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Trust me it ticks all the boxes.

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The Irrational Season

No, i’m not referring to strange voting strategies, Olympic hype or Jubilee madness when talk about what Madeleine L’Engle calls the irrational season, instead I refer to marriage.I read this passage at the last wedding I attended, my brothers last year,

But ultimately there comes a moment when a decision must be made. Ultimately two people who love each other must ask themselves how much they hope for as their love grows and deepens, and how much risk they are willing to take…It is indeed a fearful gamble…Because it is the nature of love to create, a marriage itself is something which has to be created, so that, together we become a new creature.

To marry is the biggest risk in human relations that a person can take…

If we commit ourselves to one person for life this is not, as many people think, a rejection of freedom; rather it demands the courage to move into all the risks of freedom, and the risk of love which is permanent; into that love which is not possession, but participation…It takes a lifetime to learn another person…

When love is not possession, but participation, then it is part of that co-creation which is our human calling, and which implies such risk that it is often rejected.

We kicked off our very own ‘irrational season’ this weekend with the first big function of the summer.

Jonathon and Viv’s wedding was held at Nant Gwynant, a campsite with a stunning complex of converted barns in the middle of North Wales. The beautiful, dramatic, lakeside location is undeniably scenic, surrounded by a circle of  craggy mountain peaks rising and falling and is the perfect backdrop for a wedding. Having said this, the location is not for the faint hearted and only the brave and hardy would take a risk on the weather so early in the season. This is because the ample guest accommodation is in tents, camper vans or the bunk house above the barn! You could reasonably predict that a mid-summer wedding would have warm dry weather, but not so early May.

Luckily for the wedding party the weather was good to them. It was dry and mostly sunny, although the temperature was not so forgiving. We all shivered even in the kitchen where our hands went numb chopping tomatoes and avocados. Eventually we decided to light the open fire which warmed us up a little.

In the main barn a fire roared, but it needed a room full of bodies to really stop it being so chilly. The hall and kitchen acted as a wind tunnel funneling an icy breeze through the building. Ladies in strappy dresses shivered, including the bride who looked beautiful in her blue flowered dress but stood wrapped in a cosy shawl by our kitchen fire as she took a few moments to compose herself.

I didn’t envy the guests their tents.

The menu for the event was a two course vegetarian feast for 100. The bride and groom shunned the meat since they and lots of their friends were vegetarian, opting instead for a hearty choice of universally popular Vegetarian favourites and a few specials of my own.

We served a range of tapas style starters, plus home-made bread and extra buns. A white bean and traditional hummus sat side by side, a platter of marinated olives from Petros, goats cheese pearls with chill & garlic and herbs from Y Cwt Caws, semi-dried tomatoes with garlic/oak smoked tomatoes from the tomato stall, guacamole, baba ghanoush with smoked derimon paprika

One of five huge mezze platters

I made so many tarts I was sick to death of rolling pastry….Nantmor wild mushroom and thyme; asparagus and parmesan; tomato, red onion, basil and Welsh cheddar; Savory tatin with potato, cherry toms and feta from Y Cwt Caws, garden herbs and wild garlic with feta and a section of very hearty salads…..oasted beetroot, goats cheese and pomegranate, potato salad with French dressing, Moroccan couscous with fresh herbs, roasted vegetables, sun dried tomatoes and toasted pine nuts, Green salad, Italian farro with pesto (pearled spelt) salad.

A sample of dishes on the table

Guests baked cakes to bring for dessert, each labelled and served on one of what seemed like a hundred cake plates.I briefly wondered where they’d got them all. Surely no one person can own so many!

Cakes galore

We provided the Welsh cheese board served as either an alternative to cake, or an additional main course choice. On it were our favourites; Snowdonia black bomber, Green thunder, Y Fenni (mustard seed and ale), Camembert and Smoked brie from Derimon and green tomato chutney and red tomato relish from the tomato stall.

The piece-de-resistance was the enormous wedding cake. A huge three-tiered  chocolate creation adorned with the most amazing chocolate roses. This is a skill I have yet to master being a rather heavy-handed chef so I totally admire those with the ability and patience to create such masterpieces.

The meal finished with a selection of Clipper teas and coffee.

I was very happy with the finished table and we presumed we had plenty. It was only when my helper came into the kitchen in a panic saying

“there’s a man out there demanding more Quiche”

that we realised we’d been a victim of our own success. We made enough for a hundred and thirty, but everyone wanted some of everything!!

Lessons learned:

  • If the weather is a bit chilly people eat more.
  • No one sticks to one or two pieces of Quiche (if it looks nice and if they are eating it instead of meat)
  • bake more bread
  • and one for me…try not to cut your finger so badly it needs stitching the day you are starting wedding prep (in the end I didn’t have time for stitches so it was constantly wrapped in blue plasters and plastic gloves…but it hurt like hell and still does).

As we knocked off work and the guests (and my waitresses) ceilidh’d into the night all the stress melted away. I knew then we’d done a great job. The bride and groom were over the moon and we even got a round of applause for the food! I was extremely proud…How often does that happen at a wedding?

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Wild garlic and thyme

Wild garlic,ramsons, Allium Ursinum, bear’s garlic, devil’s garlic, gypsy’s onions and stinking Jenny are all names given to a plant that grows widely in damp woodland around Britain and in Europe. Despite its many pseudonyms I’m sticking to plain old wild garlic because that is what I (and many others in the UK) know it as.

Wild garlic only has a short season. It’s almost a case of blink and you’ll miss it in Wales. It only really starts to show itself at the end of February (depending on how mild the weather is) but now the signs are that the season is coming to an end (you can tell when it begins to flower). I have a huge wild garlic patch in my garden and while its there I like to take full advantage of it.

There are many reasons for eating wild garlic and it has so many reported health properties (good for the heart, the blood, high blood pressure, digestive cleansing among them) although I just think it tastes damn good. But then I am a big fan of garlic, which generally is good for you anyway. The only group who should avoid wild garlic are breastfeeding mothers…but only because it supposedly makes the breast milk taste of garlic! Breastfeeding didn’t stop me eating garlic and now they both love the stuff!!

I use wild garlic in lots of things. I’ve blogged about making wild garlic puree before (it makes the perfect finish to a delicate creamy soup) and I often add a chopped handful to a home-made minestrone. Salads cry out for a few added leaves and of course the flowers are edible too, so they can be used for flavour and prettiness.

This weekend I tried them out in a Spanish tortilla along with some fresh thyme, which is just starting to wake up in the garden too.

Wild garlic and thyme; they make such a perfect combination. Mixed with potatoes, red onions and olive oil they create a dish of perfect simplicity. Add the eggs and bake in the oven and hey presto you have an easy, tasty supper…or in this case a dish that when cut into squares made the perfect addition to our tapas menu at supper club.

For your tortilla which will feed six (very hungry) to eight people you will need:

700g waxy potatoes (such as charlotte, maris peer), peeled, washed and cut into thinnish slices, 1 large red onion finely sliced, 500ml of olive oil, a handful of fresh thyme leaves, a handful of finely chopped wild garlic, 8 large eggs, a couple of good tablespoons full of finely chopped parsley, salt and pepper.

preheat the oven to 200 degrees/gas mark 5.

Warm half the olive oil in a large pan. Layer the potatoes and onions, thyme and wild garlic in the pan. Pour over the rest of the olive oil (yes I know it uses a lot but the aim is to poach the potatoes in it. You can save it and use it again afterwards), cover the pan and cook gently for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.

Beat the eggs, parsley, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Drain the potato and onion mixture saving the olive oil for another day. Add potatoes to the eggs and mix together. Transfer it all to the pan and put in the oven for about 20 minutes or until set and just turning brown on top.

You can serve this hot or cold and it’s best accompanied by a salad dressed with a sharp acidic dressing.

NB: Choose a pan that can be used on the top of the stove and in the oven.

Another NB: Take care when picking wild garlic. If you are not sure what you are looking for ask someone who knows…Wild garlic can easily be mistaken for Lily of the Valley…which is poisonous (although really, if you crush the leaves and they smell like garlic you’ve probably found it correctly).

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A trip to market, a French supper, a mini croquembouche and a chicken liver and cognac parfait to die for

It was our first day back outside with the Ogwen produce market and hooray!! The sun shone bathing us in a few glorious rays. Outside was warmer than it had been inside the church hall (our winter home), so we were happy to be back there; and so it seems, were the market visitors. All of a sudden we were busy again. On such a gorgeous day though who wouldn’t enjoy whiling away an hour or so; picking up some great local produce and soaking in a bit of vitamin D over a panad (that’s cup of tea to you non-Welsh speakers…but our coffee is popular too!).

The market square with its wrought ironwork and raised flower beds has become the ‘heart’ of Bethesda and no one was happier to be back than I. Once more ensconced in my purpose-built kitchen and out of the ‘cupboard’ at the front of the church hall. I was happy. You can tell from the picture as I’m smiling for a change.

As usual the market was an eclectic and sometimes eccentric mix of food and local crafts

There was local veg from Tatws Bryn, and Moelyci who had loads of spinach, rainbow chard and kale (pretty much the only thing that’s really great in the garden at this time of year). There was fab bread from Becws Alun and Model Bakery, who also tempted us with Kurdish pasties laced with piri-piri sauce. They were huge enough to sustain even the hungriest hiker!. Of course Lynwen was there with her amazing vegan cupcakes from Aderyn Melys, plus more traditional cakes, flapjacks, Madeline’s etc. from Cegin Brysur;  there was cheese from Caws Rhyd y Delyn, traditional greek pastries, meat from Tom at the local farm (his pork and tomato sausages are our favourites) and chocolate from Cariad.

On the craft side there were my usual favourites; all kinds of pretty things made with buttons from Miss Marple Makes, cards, badges and jewellery from Dyfal Donc and Phia Eco plus cards, cushions and lots of lovely bits and bobs.

…and then there was me, back at home in my little cafe selling local bacon baps, tomato and pork sausage baps with red onion marmalade and simple vegetable soup with wild garlic puree and creme fraiche, plus organic fair trade tea and coffee

Back home I didn’t have time to collapse in a heap, I had plenty to do for the evenings supper club. A private party for twelve with a French themed menu. I wouldn’t normally do two jobs back to back, God no…some would say I’m a masochist, but it was the only date our guests to make and the market is always the second Saturday…what could I do! I decided to go with it. You probably think me insane (and after doing it I’d probably agree!)

I prepped a fair bit the day before to get a head start. I made chicken liver and cognac parfait, red onion marmalade and the bread. All of which would be good the day after. But I still had to make the mini bite sized wild garlic and balsamic red onion tarts (Amuse Bouche) served with sloe gin slings…not very French I know. Gin sling hadn’t been the intention. I was planning on making Damson Martini’s but I discovered much too late that the last drop of Damson vodka I’d used to experiment with, was in fact the last bottle in the house. I thought I had more hidden at the back of the cupboard (away from the teen), but clearly I was mistaken. Instead we cracked open the sloe gin.

Starters all plated up and ready to go.

As a special birthday treat I decided to make a croquembouche for dessert (a French dessert made from cream filled profiteroles and caramel piled into a cone shape).  I’ve made profiteroles lots of times so didn’t think it could be that hard. I studied the pictures in my Raymond Blanc book (even though I wasn’t expecting to emulate his effort!) and decided how I was going to decorate it. I’d read somewhere that you shouldn’t attempt to make one if it’s raining…so I prayed for the weather to hold up. I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to make it…or how soon in advance I should make my choux pastry so on Saturday afternoon, when I hadn’t even started, everyone else was panicking and telling me I was an over-ambitious fool… but I held my nerve and got to it. It was far from perfect and was much smaller than I’d anticipated, but I was quite proud of my effort, even though it looked more like a small hillock than a mountainous cone.  Still, the orange patisserie cream filled profiteroles glistened with golden caramel, as spun sugar wrapped the choux pastry balls in a delicate web. I finished the little mound with a sprinkle of edible gold stars. At least it was too small to collapse!

I’m not sure if it was the promise of help for the evening (from a keen friend), or tiredness from a day of cooking, but I remained remarkably calm throughout, much to the surprise of all those around me.Our  guests loved the food and this is a snippet from the email they sent me the next day…

"the food was way way out of the ordinary, and in that category of one off meals that you never forget 
as they stand out so obviously from the rest and the most !....the best pate I've ever tasted in my life!
...and I would probs say that that was the yummiest dessert I've ever had........I was so full but yet it
was SO light and slid down so easily that I had seconds"

I think towards the end of the night I got a little too comfortable with the bottle of wine in front of me and didn’t end up going to bed until 1.15am….I regreted it the next morning I can tell you…Clearing the last of the debris with a hangover was definitely not what the doctor ordered…but it was a damn good Saturday.

Chicken and Cognac pate (the best pate ever…allegedly. Serves 12 in small ramekins, or make one large dish)

1 large Echalion shallot finely chopped

2 cloves garlic finely chopped

1 teaspoon walnut oil

500g chicken livers (washed, cleaned and drained well)

4 tablespoons cognac

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

150g melted butter (plus 25g for cooking and 50g or so to finish)

a teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

a pinch of cinnamon, salt & pepper

Sweat the shallot and garlic gently in 25g butter and teaspoon walnut oil. When soft and turning golden add the well-drained chicken livers. Cook over a medium heat until browned all over, it should take about 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the chicken livers with a slotted spoon and put in the bowl of a food processor. Add the Cognac to the hot pan and cook down until thick. Scrape any stuck bits off the bottom of the pan as these will add flavour. Adds this to the food processor with mustard, thyme, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Melt the 150g butter and add this to the processor too then blitz everything well until smooth. Transfer to a terrine dish or individual ramekins. Melt another 50 g butter and use to finish the pate pouring over the top to create a lid. This will stop it discolouring.

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