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So long til next year: A few last pictures from Abergavenny Food Festival

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Giant onions in the Market Hall…and below more giant veg adorning the ceiling

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Beautiful jewelled tomatoes from The Tomato Stall

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A mean and moody looking Alex Gooch caught doing a photocall; and his wonderful bread below

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Alison, Jess and David from Halen Mon….deliberately taking a step left because she hates having her picture taken!!

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The mushroom man (a familiar sight from the Green Man Festival)

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Busy stalls along the one of the side streets

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Omar Allibhoy from Tapas Revolution ranting about Spanish Food for Rude Health 

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Alice in Wonderland inspired ceiling in the kids kitchen

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smouldering looks and big smiles from Joe & Sephs gourmet popcorn sellers…I rather liked the gin and tonic version!

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Chef’s favourite Cotswold Gold director Charlie Beldam busy selling out of their newly launched mayonnaise….I brought back some amazing white truffle oil.

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I want one!!! Too big for me to carry….I did buy a giant wooden spoon from the same people though.

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Abergavenny food festival (day one)

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As the summer wanes and the hectic music festival and wedding season draws to a close, Autumn arrives with a glint in its eye offering a whole new wave of food festivals to keep me busy.

First came the Menai Seafood Festival. As one of the organising committee this was a biggie for me. It was the first time I’d stage-managed a chef demo tent, booked chefs, set out the itinerary etc. I was kept busy, as you can imagine, ironing out problems, filling gaps and firefights when things didn’t go according to plan but it was a buzz watching all the chefs do fantastic demos and seeing the crowd have such a great time. The down side of working at events like this is that you get to see very little of the festival. I only managed the briefest of walks around the site and that was at the end of the day once all the stall holders had sold out!

Last weekend was different as I paid my first visit to Abergavenny Food Festival, this time as a visitor rather than as an organiser or presenter, so I was able to enjoy the full array of events, activities and food sampling on offer. In earlier years I looked on with envy as fellow bloggers and food producers wrote and Tweeted about the weekend but this year I got to do it! What an amazing weekend it was. I was bowled over by the scale of it all, the excitement, bustle and general feeling of good will around the town. In three words, I loved it!

Abergavenny Food Festival is so much bigger than other food events I’ve attended. With demonstrations, master classes, tutored tastings and inspiring talks spread across four different venues around the town, I found it hard to decide what I wanted to see and do. There was also a fifth demo kitchen featuring local and regional chefs (I didn’t manage to spend any time there at all), plus a series of walks and forays around the local area. There just weren’t enough hours in the day to take it all in.

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Unlike smaller festivals where most of the demos are free and open to all, the bigger events here (tutored tastings, masterclasses and talks) are ticketed and many had sold out on the day. As a guest I was lucky enough to attend any I wanted, but it was impossible to fit in more than three or four in a day. On day one I managed three, plus a food debate that went on until about 6.30 pm. I finally left for the refuge of my friend’s house in Crickhowell at 7.30, totally exhausted.

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The day’s highlight was Tom Kerridge’s Proper Pub Food masterclass at The Priory Centre. I love the simplicity of his food. Proper British dishes cooked without fuss, focusing on great ingredients and clarity of taste. His masterclass was entertaining and inspirational and under it all he seems a genuinely lovely, down to earth bloke. I came away an even bigger fan and a bit star struck having had a brief conversation with him about his visit to North Wales. I wanted to talk more but felt like a stalker as he was ushered off to sign books.

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From here I took a walk over to The Angel Hotel Ballroom to join Martin Morales’ Ceviche tutored tasting session. I love South American food and especially enjoy making ceviche, so Martin’s Peruvian menus have always appealed (along with a good Pisco sour). Martin is an inspiration. Just at a time when he was a successful DJ and music producer he had a sudden urge to change career, a move driven by a passion for his native Peruvian food and the wish to share it with others.  His ethos is one of sharing (it’s no surprise he began his journey with supper clubs) and his aim is to leave a healthy legacy. This is clear in his commitment to and links with Amantani, a charity focused on helping the poorest children in Peru.

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He Tweeted me earlier this year to invite me along to his Cardiff pop-up and I was gutted I couldn’t attend (it was the same weekend as FBC13, the food bloggers conference in London) but his restaurant in Soho should be top of everyone’s list to visit. Again the event was in great demand. I sat on the press table at the back wedged between his wife and children, photographer and publisher. They were all lovely as we sat chatting food and kids over the delicious tasters; Cancha, Pisco sour, Don Ceviche (with sea bass) and it was great to finally meet Martin, who gave me such a warm heartfelt greeting that I was a little taken aback!

Next up was another tutored tasting, this time with master chocolatier Marc Demarquette. Apart from a love of chocolate I also wanted to see Jess from Halen Mon and Shop Cwtch who acted as his glamorous assistant for the demo. Her cheeks turned a little pink as she saw me taking photographs! Marc demonstrated how they make their 85% chocolate truffles (dark and rich and tasting as if laced with rum…although it isn’t. It’s a trick of the chocolate, something I’ve discovered when making my chocolate torte). Marc’s aim is to create chocolate with length and depth – a chocolate that’s smooth and rich but without the sugar hit and crash afterwards. A chocolate that stays with you. His velvety ganache (71%) was as it should be, silky smooth with a hint of orange (although again this may have been a trick of the chocolate) and the fresh strawberry caramel, my particular favourite, just dissolved on the tongue, flavour trickling down the throat, neither too sweet or too sharp, an almost erotic experience. I could have eaten a bucket full! To finish we drank hot chocolate made of full fat milk and pure chocolate. Heaven in a cup. The last sample was a Halen Mon salted caramel with a dollop of cream on top. The perfect finish to a truly heavenly tasting.

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By the time I wended my way back to the Market Hall for the Big Debate with food writer, presenter and bug eating fan  Stefan Gates Director of the Environmental Justice Foundation Steve Trent, biologist and farmer Jonathan Herrington and fruit farmer Anthony Snell, I was already shattered.  It was hard to concentrate as I was tired and to a certain extent I felt it was a missed opportunity; the conversation firmly focused on GM versus non GM and intensive farming and not the issue of food waste which I think is key when we talk about feeding future generations. With food poverty on the increase in the Western World, discussion of food grown for export or animal feed, rather than to feed the indigenous population and the reduction of animal farming needs to be to the fore. But then that is my favourite soap box rant!

…oh and the weirdest thing I put in my mouth over the weekend (courtesy of Stefan) ? Just so you know, they weren’t alive….they were crispy, salted and with a hint of smoked paprika.

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From the Sea: a salty seafood pop-up

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To close the inaugural Menai Seafood Festival a very special pop-up charity supper took place. Inevitably salt and sea were its principal themes; the salt provided by Halen Mon (Welsh sea salt specialists) and every course focusing on a different type of seafood, provided by local fish monger Matt White and with local farmed sea bass from Anglesey Aquaculture.

Now I get little opportunity to attend supper club’s or pop-ups as generally there are none locally, and my forays out of Wales don’t always coincide with supper club dates or events elsewhere. This, as you can imagine was a massive treat for me! I also took my mum along to say thank you for looking after the kids over the holidays and I think she was just about as excited as I was. She’d seen the menu online thinking how delicious it looked before I told her I’d booked for us both. It wasn’t a  cheap night, but as it transpired it was the perfect, decadent end to a busy day.

Jess Leah-Wilson, glamorous owner of Shop Cwtch hosted the event. Her shop, transformed into a stylish intimate dining room for the evening, has a lovely vibe by day, and is the sort of place where you just want to buy everything (during the festival I think my Mum did!). She has great taste, an eye for detail and scatters the shop with so many beautiful things that it was destined to make the perfect backdrop for this dinner. The food, a seven course tasting menu with paired wine, cocktails and Prosecco was designed and cooked by Eamon Fullalove (yep, that IS his real name) with the help of three young aspiring chefs; my assistant chef Mark Burns helped out along with Elfed Roberts and Dion Hughes from The Oyster Catcher Restaurant, where Eamon is the motivational chef and a tutor. Waitressing and helping introduce the food and wine was Nia Williams, also from The Oyster Catcher. All proceeds from the event were donated to Hope House children’s hospices who give specialist nursing care and support to life-limited children, young people and young adults from Shropshire, Cheshire, North and Mid Wales.

Eamon’s background is impressive. Former head chef at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, he has years of high-end restaurant experience and this supper was the perfect platform for his skills. It offered the young chefs an opportunity to experience food preparation in a very different environment (i.e. in an open air kitchen outside the shop in Menai Bridge). They survived the onslaught of questions from relentlessly curious passers-by and later drunken hangers-on slumped over the kitchen wanting to taste the food!

I cannot make a single gripe about the evening, friendly, informal, great conversation, stunning food. At the beginning of each course Eamon introduced the dish and the matched wine. By the end of the meal we’d tasted many incarnations of Halen Mon salt…from  smoked water used to cook the puy lentils, spiced salt in the bisque,  plain sea salt to cure the salmon and vanilla salt to crust the glasses for the watermelon margarita….as Eamon introduced dessert he simply said “there’s no need to gild a lily” before bringing in warm chocolate brownie’s, vanilla ice cream with salted caramel sauce. He was right, it needed nothing more. Simple pleasures.

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mackerel cured with salted limes, pomegranate and cress

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Perfect scallops, puy lentils cooked with smoked water and unsmoked bacon to top…”Chefs hate unsmoked bacon, but here the smoke is in the lentils”….one of my favourite dishes of the night

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Happy guests

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four different salts…spiced, vanilla, plain and smoked. We were invited to use them to season our own seabass…which had not been seasoned at all. In fact I didn’t need anything extra, the samphire brought enough saltiness to the dish along with the olive tapenade. The fennel, cooked until it broke down, is referred to as Trufillo (to be like truffle) in Italy. There is no alternative translation in English so Eamon told us…its just fennel mush….apart from dessert this was my other favourite dish of the evening

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“no need to gild a lily”

We finally staggered off home at almost midnight….with a glass of wine matched to every course, a couple of Margareta’s and two glasses of Prosecco I almost carried my mother home. I smiled to myself as I escorted her to bed with a glass of water that this was a great night and one to remember.

Matched wines were sourced from Llyn Wines and were as follows:

  • Di Maria Prosecco
  • McPherson Verdelho
  • Yalumba dry white
  • Cher et Tendre Vouvray sec
  • Torre de Menagem Vinho Verde
  • Gavi La Battistina
  • Bacalhoa Moscatel de Setubal

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Smoke me a kipper!…..(and some cheese, butter, salt, and even WATER…) plus a recipe for smoky Udon noodle soup

Smoking has slowly taken over from traditional barbecuing is now something of a trend. This is back to basics barbecuing but brought thoroughly up to date. Forget the charcoal briquettes; were talking oak, maple, or cedar chippings, hickory, tea, rice or anything really that will produce an interesting taste and aroma. Things have clearly moved on from a good old-fashioned camp fire although that too has seen a recent resurgence; probably dictated by our modern desire to get back to basics ( its no surprise that foraging and wild cooking are very popular now..food for free that evokes childhood memories of camping in the woods is always good).

It seems that nothing is immune from the smoke treatment; and really, I mean nothing.

There are two ways to smoke food; hot and cold. Hot is by far the quickest and simplest. Cold smoking is a complicated process and generally requires time and proper equipment. I say this but my other half attempted to build a cold smoker out of an old metal ballot box once. It kind of worked, but the fish ended up a little too smoky. I guess it just takes a bit of practise and experimentation and if you don’t mind some wastage (in my other half’s case he’d been out fishing and caught 70 mackerel…this is before they were OFF the sustainable list you understand…and they wouldn’t all fit in the freezer, so he had a go at smoking them).

I’ve hot smoked a fair bit using a small Cameron’s stove top smoker, mostly chicken, wild salmon, mackerel, trout, a variety of vegetables, garlic and mussels. They are also incredibly easy to rig up using a wok with a rack in it. Basically you line a wok with foil, put in your smoking ingredients (chippings, tea or other flavourings), then use a wire rack or tray that fits neatly inside the wok but doesn’t touch the base. Cover with a tight lid or foil to cover the top. Fish usually takes about 20 mins to cook through, chicken longer. Basically its an experiment.

Anyway, these days smoking has moved way beyond bacon, mackerel and haddock (although these are good). I’ve also tried smoked salt, cheese, butter, paprika, mushrooms and duck. Now I hear smoked beer and smoked vodka are on the market, while cookery programme contestants are coming up with smoked yogurt and chocolate! What next I hear you say?….well what next is SMOKED WATER.

The product, hailed as THE culinary sensation of the year since Heston jumped on the smoked water bandwagon, but I’ve been aware of it since its launched last year at the Abergavenny food festival. This unlikely product, made by none other than our very own Halen Mon salt who are just a few miles up the road from me, has taken off and orders are pouring in, but its taken me this long to get round to trying it..

This week I nipped over to visit them and picked up a few sachets while I was there.  I was a wee bit nervous and sceptical at first. Some smoked products are quite overpowering and at first sniff the smoky aroma seemed quite intense. The instructions on the packet suggest that it is best used in stocks, for marinading, in risotto and Heston uses it to give seafood and potatoes a smoky taste, but it doesn’t suggest the amount to use so I proceeded cautiously. I first tried it out by adding it to a pan of hot water to blanch asparagus. I only used a third of a sachet, just to see how intense the flavour would be, but the outcome was pleasing. The very mild smoky hint  didn’t overwhelm the flavour of the young fresh asparagus and turned out just right.

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I got a bit braver so I decided to try it in a traditional udon noodle dish, using Schichimi Togarashi ( or Japanese seven spice), lemongrass, ginger, garlic, fish sauce, chilli and coriander. Again I used about a third of a sachet to see if it tasted stronger in a soup base. It did, but still not overpowering. The combination of spice, smoke and fish was delicious and proclaimed a winner…although not by the teen who said it was too fishy.

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Udon noodles with a smoky spicy broth (enough for 3 to 4):

1 stick lemon grass finely chopped

2 cloves garlic finely chopped

a thumb of ginger peeled and grated

half to one teaspoon schichimi spice

a quarter of a sachet of Halen Mon smoked water

1 dessertspoonful of vegetable oil

a quarter of a teaspoon shrimp paste (optional…it has a very intensely fishy taste and aroma)

1 teaspoon fish sauce (the pale coloured Blue Dragon brand is best)

1 litre and a half of good vegetable stock

2 to 3 small packs of Udon noodles

1 medium or 2 small pak choy finely shredded

2 handfuls of bean sprouts

half a small tin of bamboo shoots (optional)

half a small leek finely shredded

4 medium spring onions finely chopped

1 red chilli finely chopped

a good handful of chopped coriander

a squeeze of lime juice to finish

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Heat the oil in a wok and add the ginger, garlic, lemongrass and stir fry for no more than 30 seconds. Add the schichimi spice, smoked water and stock and bring slowly to the boil. Reduce the heat and leave to simmer.

Dd the noodles to the broth and cook according the instructions on the packet (probably 3 to 4 minutes if they are fresh noodles).

In a bowl put a smile pile of bean sprouts, pak choy, leek and bamboo shoots (as in he picture below)

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Once cooked and piping hot, pile the noodles on top of the vegetables and then pour over the stock. Finish with a good sprinkle of spring onion, chilli and coriander and serve with some crispy sesame fish (recipe to follow) although it works just as well with some cooked chicken, or as a healthy fresh tasting bowl of noodles.

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New Products from The Mushroom Garden

As I live in deepest North Wales it’s not often I get invited to new product launches and the like, but this week was an exception. This week I’d received an invite to what my teen dubbed a “wild mushroom party”. Yes, it conjures all kinds of images but off I went on a wet and windy evening to Beddgelert, home of The Mushroom Garden, one of Wales’s, if not the UK’s foremost wild mushroom producers. I also dragged along the other half and a friend staying with me from London. They are both food fans so really needed no dragging!

Nantmor mushrooms grow and sell fresh cultivated shiitake and oyster mushrooms and a variety of other foraged seasonal wild mushrooms. If you are not lucky enough to live close by, they also sell a variety of dried mushrooms and antipasto via their online shop.

I’m sure you regular readers out there will already be familiar with The Mushroom Garden. I have blogged about them before, I use their produce a lot and a little while back we even joined forces to offer a ‘grow-your-own’ block as a prize. I don’t need to say then that I was very excited about spending an evening with them trying out their new range of products.

This year The Mushroom Garden have certainly branched out. The evenings tasting menu offered guests the opportunity to try mushroom caviar, shiitake beer (made by A small micro brewery run by Rob Linford), antipasto and Umami powder. I remember a couple of years ago when Laura Santini brought out her Taste No.5 (Umami paste) it was all the rage, but many people found they were intolerant to some of the ingredients, well this is a more natural, concentrated, flavoursome, versatile alternative, made in collaboration with Halen Mon salt.

We tasted everything from mushroom caviar canapes (great combination of flavours, herbs and fab as a taster on oatcake), mushroom ravioli (light, delicately flavoured), ballotine of chicken wrapped in parma ham and stuffed with the mushroom caviar (beautifully tender chicken, the mushrooms worked very well as a stuffing), beef, shiitake and purple moose pie (lovely puffy pastry, and great robust flavour from the Purple Moose) and finally Umami chocolate. The powders versatility was amply demonstrated by Welsh specialists Cariad chocolates, who added Umami powder to dark chocolate to produce a sweet, salty stunningly decorated mouthful. It ticked every box for me!

Ballotine of chicken

Beef, shiitake and Purple Moose pie

I wasn’t convinced by the mushroom beer, but then I’m not really an ale fan. The other half liked it. He could taste the slight hint of mushroom, just a note in the background and not overpowering, but at 5.1% he couldn’t have as much as he would have liked as he was driver on duty!
My friend was similarly impressed with all the produce and has ordered a job lot of antipasto to take back to India with her at the end of the month!

To contact Rob Linford’s micro-brewery email Rolant.tomos@menterabusnes.co.uk

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Family al fresco dining and a very full tart

Wales is well known for its high rain fall, so whenever we are blessed with a little window of sunshine we take the opportunity to soak up every last ray. That means we have been eating an awful lot of dinners on the patio (now that it’s finished) and doing much more al fresco entertaining. The experience is even better in the knowledge that much of the food on our plate is there growing around us and all we have to do is nip to the bottom of the garden to pull a few lettuce and rocket leaves for our salad, or to the hen-house to collect a few eggs for a tart. I don’t know about you? but I think free food tastes so much better!

a vegetable, ricotta, feta 'pie', salad and new potatoes

So at the tail end of the half term holidays I ended up with a couple of visiting (vegetarian) teenagers, the little one, and us (and no money left having been eaten out of house and home). I needed to use as many of these free resources as possible.  A Ottolenghi inspired tart / Quiche/ call it what you will (I called it a vegetable ‘pie’ because the teen doesn’t like Quiche!!) with a couple of hearty salads did the trick!

“Did you like it”? I inquired at the end of the meal…I noticed that the teenagers had all pushed their vegetables to the side of the plate, eating just the pastry and filling…

“It was nice, but I’m not keen on vegetables said Erin. I do like the pastry bit of Quiche though” she said with a smile.

“I thought you were vegetarian?” I asked

“I am” she replied bluntly.

My teen glared at me “Was that Quiche then?” she frowned. “You told me it was pie and you know I hate Quiche. Why do you always try to trick me?” .

I looked at her plate, she’d eaten the same amount as her friend. Once again her teenager logic left me lost for words.

A very full, Ottolenghi inspired pie (tart in disguise!!):

serves 6

1 red and 1 yellow pepper, 1 eggplant (aubergine), couple of small courgettes, 2 red onions, 2 bay leaves, a hand full of thyme sprigs, leaves picked from them, a handful of washed shredded spinach, chard or even kale whatever if ready to harvest, 150g ricotta and 120g feta cheese, a handful of cherry tomatoes, halved, 3 medium to large eggs, 200ml double cream, salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 230 degrees (gas mark 8). Chop peppers into 4 removing the stalk and seeds and chop the eggplant into largish chucks. Place in a roasting tin and toss in a little olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the chopped and washed courgettes to the tin  and toss in the oil and return to the tin to the oven. Cook for a further 10 to 15 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked and the peppers are beginning to turn brown/blackish in places. Remove from the oven and allow peppers to cool a little before removing the skin and tearing into strips.

While the vegetables are roasting finely chop the onion and cook with the bay leaves and a pinch of salt on a medium heat, in a couple of tablespoons olive oil for about 20 minutes until turning soft and just golden brown. Set to one side.

Turn the oven down to 180 degress (gas mark 4). Line a 22-24cm loose bottomed greased tart tin with pastry (shortcrust pastry recipe below) so it just hangs over the rim, then line with baking paper / parchment and fill with baking beans. Bake blind for 30 minutes after about 20 minutes remove the paper and let it bake for a further 10 to 15 minutes until just turning golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Spread the base with cooked onion, roasted vegetables, herbs, shredded spinach and then scatter the cheeses and tomato halves on top. Whisk the eggs and cream together and add some salt and pepper. Pour carefully into the tart case adding a last sprinkle of thyme and then bake in the oven for about 30 minutes until cooked through and golden on top. Leave it to rest for a 10 minutes before removing from the tart tin and serving. I added a small handful of torn basil leaves to finish.

*Basic shortcrust pastry: The rule of thumb is equal parts flour to fat….so for this I used 200g Shipton Mill plain flour, a good pinch of Halen Mon sea salt, 100g Rachel’s dairy butter, 100g lard and enough cold water to bind into a dough.

Rub the fat into the flour and salt, then gradually add cold water a little at a time until the pastry just comes together into a ball. Do not over work the pastry as it will become dense. Wrap in cling film and rest in the fridge for at least 15 minutes before using.

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