Category Archives: slow food

Recipe: asparagus and parmesan souffle gratin

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asparagus and parmesan souffle-gratin:

500ml milk

50g flour

50g butter

4 egg yolks and 2 egg whites

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

75g parmesan finely grated

24 thickish spears of asparagus, peeled

half a lemon

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

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

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

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

 

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Filed under British food, family budget cooking, home cooking, local produce, photography, Recipes, seasonal food, slow food, Sources and suppliers, vegetarian dishes

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

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

Swiss dark, rye and black sesame loaf: recipe

I’m a big fan of home-baked bread and tend to make quite a lot. I also love to experiment with different flours and added ingredients so I recently treated myself to several different types from Shipton Mill a long-established British mill in the Cotswolds. Along with the standard strong white bread flour (which I tend to buy in 15kg sacks) I also grabbed a few extras; one in particular, the Swiss Dark, caught my eye. It’s not a flour I’ve ever used before so I had a little hunt around for recipes. Nothing really grabbed me apart from a sourdough recipe on the Shipton Mill website, but that was too time consuming for the dinner I was due to cook that evening (a business dinner for a group of 25 doctors).

I was also looking for a recipe that didn’t produce a solid heavy bread and while I hunted I noticed that several recipes used a mixture of several kinds of flour, including white, so that is what I decided to do. I used a mixture of dark Swiss, Rye from Bacheldre Mill (a Welsh mill in Powys) and white with an added a handful of black sesame seeds for a bit of added bite (which one taster suggested gave the bread a hint of spice). I’ve never thought of black sesame as being spicy but the flavours worked well together. I also omitted fat from the recipe to accommodate any vegan guests. The resulting bread was light and springy, with a slightly nutty taste and a soft crust, not like many whole wheat breads that can be a bit heavy and leaden.

The recipe:

250g Swiss Dark flour

125g Rye flour (from Bacheldre Mill in Powys)

125g strong white bread flour (again from Shipton Mill)

a teaspoon of Halen Mon sea-salt

a sachet of fast acting yeast

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl and add enough luke warm water (around 250-300ml) to make a dough. If it is too stiff or dry keep add a little more water, or if it’s too wet add a bit more flour until it makes a firm but not too sticky dough. Knead well for about 5 minutes or until its fairly smooth, but not too perfect! Put back into the bowl and leave in a warm place with a tea-towel placed over the top for an hour to rise.

After an hour it should have almost doubled in size. Knead again and shape into a loaf and leave again to rise for half n hour to an hour.  Bake in a fairly hot oven (about 220 degrees) for 20 minutes or until nice and brown and has a hollow sound when tapped.

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Filed under baking, British food, home cooking, local produce, Recipes, slow food, Uncategorized

*WIN* a gourmet Nantmor mushroom selection & grow your own shiitake block

Tucked away deep in the heart of Snowdonia, just a couple of miles outside Beddgelert in the Aberglaslyn woods is Nantmor; a sleepy village that is home to The Mushroom Garden, a wonderful, innovative company, that cultivates and sells Welsh grown exotic mushrooms. I’ve been meaning to go visit the owners Cynan and June for about two years now and yesterday I finally got round to it!

Just on the edge of the village you might just see their specially designed, temperature controlled units as you drive past, but you would never know just by looking what wonderful secrets lie hidden within. The green unprepossessing lock-ups contain lots of specially prepared fruiting blocks. They start their growing cycle in the “summer” container where the air is warm and humid. Once they begin to produce small popcorn like swellings (the beginnings of the mushroom fruiting bodies) they move into the “Autumn” container which is kept damp and cool and allows the mushrooms to grow in a ‘natural’ temperature. Within a couple of weeks the mushrooms are ready to harvest.

Cynan started The mushroom Garden in 2004 after taking part of a project which aimed to diversify agriculture in North Wales by looking at alternative crop options. The project flourished and the company has since won awards, including a bronze medal at the True Taste of Wales awards in 2011 and The National Trust Fine Farm Product Award in 2009 and fans UK wide. They are permanently on the menu at Castell Deudraeth (the Portmeirion restaurant) and have also been used by Peter Jackson at Maes y Neuadd and Aled Williams at Cennin.

Cynan has himself gained the moniker “the mushroom man” and is often used by the media as a fungi expert.

picure courtesy of The Mushroom Garden

Picture used with permission of The Mushroom Garden

I use these mushrooms all the time, whether its part of a supper club dish, a formal dinner or in my cooking at home. They are fantastic in a risotto where their earthy flavour is predominant, or added as a subtle undertone to a casserole. Last year they formed part of my Conwy Feast dish; slow cooked Venison with wild mushrooms, herbs and local dry cure bacon. It was a winner.

As a special treat, The Mushroom Garden and I have teamed up to offer one lucky reader the chance to win three tubs of  dried gourmet mushrooms, plus their very own mushroom growing block (complete with instructions).

To win just follow the instructions below.

Competition details

You can enter by any of the following methods…but only do it once per method!! If you enter using all four, you have a higher chance of winning. Good luck!

This competition is now closed. The lucky winner was Olivia Bier from Devon. Well done Olivia!!

TERMS & CONDITIONS
The winner will be randomly chosen by the Random website
The competition is only open to residents of the UK & Eire
If the winner hasn’t replied within two days to the organiser’s email, a new winner will be randomly drawn.

If you are not lucky enough to win this time and don’t live close enough to visit any of the produce markets where they are sold, The Mushroom Garden are now in the process of setting up an online shop which you can reach by clicking here.

Good luck!!

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Filed under British food, local produce, produce markets, seasonal food, slow food, Uncategorized

Hot sprout top and flower sprout salad with crispy belly pork, red onion, pumpkin seeds and croutons: recipe

Sprout tops have long been a winter favourite, but as far as new vegetables go flower sprouts are quite intriguing. According to a website dedicated entirely to the flower sprout, Tozers the seed company spent some 15 years developing them as a more subtle alternative to the Brussel sprout. They certainly grow like a sprout, attached to a main central stem, but their little purpley-green shaggy leaves are more akin to curly kale.  Health wise flower sprouts they class as a superfood (both kale and sprouts are superfoods) and are jam-packed with vitamins and iron. Even Marks and Spencer got in on the act when they launched a year or so ago claiming that they would be stocking them.

Market garden manager Paul started growing them this year for the first time and I have watched their development with interest. The tiny fluffy buds have now turned into delicate deep purple flowers pretty much the same size as a sprout and they are just right for picking. I thought it was time to give them a try so I dropped in at Moelyci to collect a bag with a yummy weekend lunch in mind.

Saturday was the first clear day we’d had in a while, no supper club, no rain and no other plans so it was perfect for getting on with clearing the veg plots and doing a bit of pruning and weeding. With the excess of Christmas still fresh I’ve been craving salads and fruit, but with some fresh air in the lungs I’d worked up an appetite for more than a few leaves, so in the kitchen I went to rustle up something with a little more oomph.

For me hot salads are the perfect solution to my salad craving during the chilly winter months and so I came up with this. To my little bag of sprout flowers I added a good helping of sprout tops from my vegetable box, some crisp fried (Moelyci) pork belly and a good handful of croutons to keep up my trength for working out in the cold. An earthy mustard dressing with a drop of truffle oil finished the dish.

To make a hearty lunch for two to three people …or four if it forms part of a meal or you want a smaller serving,  you will need;

250g sprout tops or flower sprouts (I used a mixture of both. Make sure you wash them well as the tiny flowers heads tend to hold the dust and soil)

150 – 200g good bread, cubed and made into croutons.

300g diced pork belly (or you can use bacon, pancetta or even chorizo)

1 small finely chopped red onion

a handful of pumpkin seeds

For the dressing I used: 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, a teaspoon of whole grain English mustard (but Dijon is good too), 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon ground nut oil, half a dessertspoonful white truffle oil (omit if you don’t have this) half a teaspoon honey and seasoning.

Put a large pan of water on to boil. Chop pork belly into cubes and put a frying pan on to heat. You don’t need any extra oil to cook the pork belly as it is already quite fatty and will cook in the fat released.

Make the dressing mixing all the ingredients in a screw top jar and giving a good shake. Don’t forget to taste it for seasoning and balance. If it’s too acidic add a tablespoon more of olive oil.

Once the water comes to the boil add the sprout tops to blanch. Bring the water back to the boil for thirty seconds to a minute and then add the sprout flowers. They are more delicate so blanch quicker. Leave for a minute, but make sure the sprout leaves remain bright green and the flowers keep their purplish colour. Drain and plunge into a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process.

Put another pan of water on to boil or save the first lot of water and keep hot.

Once the pork belly starts to crisp remove from the pan and put to one side. If there is a lot of fat in the pan drain most of it off. Toss in the cubed bread and fry over a highish heat until they start to turn golden. If you prefer you can make your croutons by coating in the remaining fat and then cooking in the oven for 20 minutes (gas mark two, 150 degrees C, 300 F) until crisp and golden.

Towards the end of the cooking time throw in a handful of pumpkin seeds and the finely chopped red onion. The idea is that they are just lightly warmed and not cooked until crisp.

When you are ready to assemble the salad, plunge the leaves into boiling water just to reheat and then drain well. Return to the hot pan and toss over a low the heat to dry slightly. Pour over the dressing.

Return pork to the pan and toss everything together so it is hot. Pile the dressed leaves in warm bowls or on to plates and scatter over the pork and crouton mix.

Eat greedily and feel virtuous about feeding yourself such healthy seasonal produce. Even the nine-year old liked it (apart from “those crispy nut things”…he mean’t the pumpkin seeds) 🙂

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Filed under British food, family budget cooking, home cooking, local produce, Recipes, seasonal food, slow food, Uncategorized

Apple day

In my view British apples are one of the best things about the Autumn. With their varying hues of red, green, russet and gold and different textures and tastes their diversity is really something special….so special that they have their very own day!  Apple Day is on October 21st and although we didn’t manage to celebrate it, we did get to enjoy our very own apple day the following weekend.

Anyone of a certain age that grew up in Britain will have eaten apples as part of their diet. We had them in our lunch boxes, as an after school snack or in  crumble or pie for dinner. Many of us will no doubt, remember being told by our parents that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”. These days it seems their advice was correct! For a start they really do have a lot of purported health benefits  (offering preventive effects against all kinds of conditions from cancer and Alzheimer’s to detoxifying the liver and calming irritable bowl syndrome). They are great for the teeth and if this wasn’t enough they are delicious, amazingly versatile, cheap, plentiful and with so many varieties (according to the British food website in excess of 1200!!) that’s a lot of different apples to choose from.

Once upon a time we all loved our native fruits and appreciated they came in all shapes and sizes, but these days the supermarkets bombard us with shelves full of artificially ripened second-rate imports, all are a uniform size and shape which make todays consumer think that anything not conforming to this notion of  ‘perfection’ is no good. My mother always said waste not want not and when we were growing up we certainly couldn’t afford to waste a thing. We grew our own produce and picked fruit from the hedgerow…and that was on the outskirts of London! We didn’t care about car fumes, we were just excited about finding free food. So what if it grew by the side of the road, we just washed it when we got home. Todays throwaway generation seem to be missing out on those simple pleasures. They have no idea how to live a sustainable way of life, they think its money that grows on tress and food only comes from the supermarket!. Does that make me sound old and grumpy?  Probably. But I do think we should bring back hedgerow picking and scrumping…While I  hope nobody ends up with an ASBO for scrumping, I really think it would do our kids good to learn about and treasure our natural and local resources and how to live a simpler way of life.

You’ve got the idea that I love apples, so I was really excited to be invited to the Dros Y Fenai, slow food group apple day, hosted by Alison and David of Halen Mon salt. The information sent to me said to bring along leftover apples which would be put into the apple press and turned into fresh squeezed apple juice. Great for my apple juice loving kid!

In fact the day was much more than this, it also taught our kids about our native apples, how they differ in flavour  and to love them in all their forms, from the stray windfalls that blow to the ground, to the small unloved and rejected ones and the ones that look decidedly ugly. David and Alison have about 25 plus apple trees on their property and every year they harvest enough fruit to press and sell a couple of hundred bottles of juice. It was lovely being part of the juice making process and the kids got involved without hesitation. They really got stuck in with enthusiasm. First they washed the apples

then fed them into the apple chopper which turned them into a mush ready for the press

feeding apples into the chopper

apple mush in the bucket

the mush was then scooped out into special gauze wrappers. These were piled one on top of the other in the apple press

before being pressed to squeeze out the juice into a massive bucket.

We also got to use the small juicer. Our apple supply was small in comparison to the hundreds stored in Davids barn, so it was much easier for the kids to use a smaller machine to produce their own bottles from their own fruit..

Once squeezed we eagerly tasted our juice. The Bramley produced a much sharper tasting juice that Davids mixture of Peasgood’s nonsuch, Bramley seedling and Adam’s Pearmain which was much sweeter.

The juice had a brownish look to it where it had started to oxidize so David added a teaspoon of vitamin C to restore its greenish colour. He explained that most people “drink with their eyes as well as their mouth”, they like to see apple juice that’s green, but its addition isn’t totally necessary.

The kids then bottled their juice and popped it into the boiler to pasteurize (which meant it would keep for a year….well thats if they didn’t drink it the minute they got home!). To pasteurize the bottles needed to heat in a covered pan to 75 degrees for 20 minutes.

While this was doing and before heading in for lunch we took a walk around the walled garden where most of the trees were. The kids went off to forage for good-looking wind falls. One tree, a Newton Wonder, another fab British cooking variety (only sweeter than a Bramley) had been left unpicked and so they swiftly set to clearing the branches and filling the basket provided (actually we all got involved).

The weather turned drizzly and we all headed into the warmth of the kitchen where Roger (retired chef) had prepared a lovely lunch. Pumpkin soup, bread, cheeses, salads, toffee apples for the kids, tart tatin and of course as much apple juice as we could drink!

Really delicious pumpkin soup with pumpkin seed pesto

The day was fantastic fun and the kids loved making their own juice to take home. They talked about it for several days afterwards and Aidan’s friend returned home full of praise and excitement.

It was equally successful for the adults and I’m sincerely hoping someone gets me a Dros y Fenai family membership for Christmas so we can enjoy many more hands on events for kids and adults.

A days apple pressing followed by lunch cost £5 a head for adults and £3 for children. You can find out more information about Slow food UK here or email alison@halenmon.com

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Conwy Feast & Blinc in pictures: just a few of my favourite things

I think you will see a few posts popping up here over the coming week about the fantastic Conwy Feast. There was so much to see, hear and taste that it was a weekend that fed all the senses. With both Conwy Feast and Blinc (Wales’s first digital arts festival) running concurrently its no surprise that the usually sleepy, walled medieval town of Conwy saw around 25,000 people visit over the weekend. Even the sun shone for us!

And what a weekend it was!.Since it began in 2003 the Conwy Feast has rapidly grown into the second largest food festival in Wales. It attracts a wide array of foodies from all over the country and its patron Bryn Williams of Odettes in London returns to demonstrate year after year. Other regular visitors include the two Sian Lloyd’s (from BBC and ITV), chefs Aled Williams (of Cennin in Beaumaris) and Hywel Jones (Michelin starred chef from Lucknam Park) who like Bryn have flown the flag for Wales as part of the Great British Menu and Bryan Webb, chef and patron of Tyddyn Llan Michelin starred restaurant in Llandrillo near Corwen. This year also saw Morfudd Richards attend for my ticket only supper club event, where Jimmy Williams from Signatures restaurant and I cooked a three course tasting menu with wine. More on this in my next post.

For now though I want to share some of the sights and images that summed up the weekend for me. From the huge array of fantastic Welsh produce just waiting to be tasted, the great array of local musical talent that played across two stages and culminating in the amazing Blinc projections on Conwy Castle on Saturday night. What more can I say…we had a brilliant time.

Conwy mussel boats in the harbour

my little jam stall in Fresh: the new producers tent

Vegan cupcakes from Aderyn Melys...taste totally divine and look beautiful as well

yummy truffles on my next door neighbours stall

Pretty patterns on the handmade butter, churned on site from the Victorian Farm Food Co. in Shropshire

Gemma looking pleased at punch to see the labels she designed for me on the jars

Welsh produce from around the festival, old favourites and new discoveries

Pen-y-Lan sausages…very very moorish

The outdoor cafe with its ’30 mile menu’. Three courses made with exclusively local produce.

Apples and honey at the Anglesey Apple Company…they do the most fab fresh pressed apple juice

Cynan selling his local shiitake and oyster mushrooms from The Mushroom Garden…now regularly bought by Michelin star restaurants. I used his mushrooms in my supper club menu, they are the best.

Beautiful bread from Scilicorns bakery in Llanrwst….their polish bread is my favourite.

everything you always wanted to know about apples from Ian Sturrock grower of rare, organic, Welsh fruit trees and discoverer of the Bardsey Island Apple (which led to a resurgence in interest in rare breeds). I have two of his trees in my garden.

A bar full of Welsh draught beer

Charcuterie from Trealy Farm….Love by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall I can see why; I loved their sweet chorizo and venison chorizo so I just had to buy a selection while I had the chance.

Fantastic shutters in Elizabethan town house Plas Mawr, one of the fantastic locations for some of the Blinc digital installations.

And the grand finale….

Blinc: projections on Conwy Castle

Blinc projections on Conwy Castle

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Slow food

Only recently has the term slow food entered my foodie vocabulary. I’d heard it mentioned but never knew much about it, didn’t really know what it meant and it was only when one of my supper club guests Mari asked me if I knew about the slow food network in Wales, that I thought it was time I did a bit more research.

The Slow Food network is a relatively new movement, but actually not as new as I’d envisaged. It started in Italy back in 1986, spearheaded by Italian food activist Carlo Petrini. The aim of the organisation was to support and promote the love of good fresh food, an enjoyment of eating and ‘a slow pace of life’ something we really know about living in Wales, but which has slowly been eroded in most major cities. Slow food I guess is the antithesis of fast food and i guess it’s no surprise that the network started at a time when fast food was taking over. Another aim is to help people connect with where their food comes from, to understand how it’s produced and why it is better to go for quality, even if the price is a little higher.

Carlo Petrini. Picture courtesy of the slow food network website.

Over the years the remit of the network broadened ‘to encompass a wider quality of life and sustainability and environmental issues’ and in doing this it promotes the buying of sustainable local produce and going with the seasonal flow, something which is close to my heart.

Since its conception the movement and its ethos has spread worldwide and now there are more than 100,000 members in 150 countries. Supporters include a growing number of chefs including Richard Corrigan, a renowned lover of no fuss, good old-fashioned British food.

Growth of the movement is timely since there is increasing awareness of the need to return to a simpler way of life and more and more people are rejecting supermarket mass marketing as they rediscover small producers and what is available on their own doorstep. It’s not just the older generation who remember what its like to grow their own and buy locally. I remember very well the veg patch in my grandparents and mothers garden. We grew potatoes by the sack full, had fruit trees

My mother and sister clearing and digging our veg patch

veg growing at Moelyci environmental centre, market garden. One of my main suppliers and less than a mile from my home.

The closest group to us in North Wales is Dros-y-Fenai. Set up by David and Alison Lea-Wilson (of Halen Mon salt) they host regular networking events where avid food lovers get to celebrate the seasonal treasures we produce in Wales. For more information about the group or future events email alison@halenmon.com. I’m looking forward to their apple day next weekend!

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Conwy honey fair

Last week I took a trip over to the Conwy honey fair. I went off feeling all excited, in the hope that I’d come across lots of different local honey producers and with strict instructions from the kids (who are honey connoisseurs) to buy all the honey I could find!!

I have to say I was a little disappointed. There was plenty of Shropshire, Cheshire and even Lancashire honey, but very little sourced locally. I was surprised as well because I’m pretty sure there are more than 3 local producers in the area, so either they weren’t participating in the festival or they had nothing to sell on the day.

One of the producers I did chat to was Jenny Shaw who, together with her husband Wally (secretary of Anglesey bee keepers association), produces honey on Yns Mon. Her bees are kept in various locations around Dwyran (the South West corner of Anglesey) and the honey I tasted reflected the different habitats in which they live (Bees kept in the marshland areas in the middle of Anglesey produced a deeper flavoured honey, compared to the Bees kept in her orchard and areas where there were brambles, which produced a sweeter, lighter honey).

I bought 3 different types and opened them up for my young honey connoisseurs to try….their verdict was that they were all their favourites, but the lighter one would be best for the honey and Lavender ice-cream I plan to make.

Jenny and Wally only sell their honey in two places, Hooten’s Homegrown Farm Shop in Brynsiencyn, Yns Mon and Station bakery Criccieth.

Jenny and Wally's honey

Jenny and Wally’s honey

Jenny with her Dwyran honey....selling very well!

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