Celebrate Welsh food!

St David’s Day is the 1st March, and a great day to celebrate the glories of Welsh food & drink. Whilst perhaps not having the most well known cuisine in the world, Wales can be justifiably proud of the quality of its produce. Welsh lamb is legendary, and their beef is pretty spectacular too.  A great chunk of Wales is coast, so not surprisingly, the seafood is excellent, often served with Laverbread – a type of seaweed, which is also added to a traditional Welsh breakfast. Sea salt, harvested in Anglesey, was recently given protected status by the EU, lining it up beside Champagne, Prosciutto di Parma and Stilton as a product  only allowed to be identified as genuinely originating in that region. Check out www.halenmon.com for details of their lovely sea salts, including  smoked, vanilla, celery & plain.

Cheese is another fabulous Welsh product – Gorwydd Caerphilly – a citrussy, mild cheese; Organic Perl Las – softly blue and creamy; Cenarth Brie – a buttery brie ; Snowdonia Extra Mature Cheddar – rich creamy & salty; & Harlech  – flavoured with horseradish and parsley; are just some of the delicious cheeses produced here. Have a look at www.liverpoolcheesecompany.co.uk for details of their Welsh selection. Of course, cheese leads me onto the wonderful Welsh dish – Welsh Rarebit aka posh cheese on toast.  I make it old school style, melted in a pan and then poured over the toasted bread and browned – see below for the recipe.

What would St David’s Day be without a leek? A traditional symbol of Wales, this lovely onion relative has a milder flavour and is the main component of the velvety textured Vichyssoise soup, made with leeks & potatoes and served chilled in summer. As summer is yet some way off, I’ve given a recipe for a hearty leek & potato soup instead!

Bara Brith is a traditional Welsh tea bread, made with dried fruit and tea, and sometimes yeast but I confess to a weakness for Welsh cakes, a sort of griddle scone with spices and fruit, best served warm with lashings of butter…

Recipes:

Welsh Rarebit

Ingredients:

25 g butter

25g plain flour

100ml strong dark beer (Welsh)

150 g mature Cheddar, grated (try the Snowdonia)

1 tsp English mustard (yes, English.. sorry!)

1 egg

Melt butter in a small pan, add the flour and cook over a gentle heat until it’s starting to go golden. Slowly add the beer, stirring well to prevent lumps, and then add the grated cheese. Take off the heat and stir until all the cheese has melted into the beery sauce. If it’s not melting, put back on heat but don’t let it boil. Add the mustard and mix well. Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then add the egg, well beaten.

Toast 4 slices of bread on both sides, then spread the cheese mixture over the bread and put back under the grill until golden and bubbling.

Hearty Leek & Potato Soup

Ingredients:

50g butter

1 small onion, chopped

3 large leeks, cleaned well (!) and chopped into quarters, then slices

3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

900ml of chicken stock

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves (1/2 tsp if using dried)

salt & pepper

100ml double cream

Melt the butter in a large pan, and add the onion and leeks. Cook over a gentle heat, stirring to keep from browning, until the leeks and onions are softening. Add the thyme and chopped potatoes, stir well and add the stock and bring to a simmer. Put a lid on the pot and let the soup simmer for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes are very tender. Take off the heat and use a potato masher to break up and thicken the soup (you can use a hand blender if you prefer a smoother texture). Add the cream and adjust seasoning to taste.

Welsh cakes  (recipe from: www.visitwales.com/explore/traditions-history/recipes/welsh-cakes)

Ingredients:

225g plain flour

100g butter

75g caster sugar

50g currants (or mixed dried fruit)

½tsp baking powder

¼tsp mixed spice

1 egg

A pinch salt

A little milk to bind

Sift the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, mixed spice) together into a mixing bowl. Cut up the butter and rub into the flour. Stir in the sugar and fruit, pour in the egg and mix to form a dough, use a little milk if the mixture is a little dry. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to about the thickness of a biscuit. Use a pastry cutter to cut out rounds. Cook the cakes on a greased bake stone or griddle until golden. The heat should not be too high, as the cakes will cook on the outside too quickly, and not in the middle. Once cooked sprinkle with caster sugar and serve with butter.

Lovely Leftovers

This is one of my favourite times of year – the in-between bit of Christmas and New Year. There is no necessity to rush about, the sofa and books beckon, with tea and slices of Christmas cake. New Year’s resolutions are days away, so the guilt over calories and inactivity can take a back seat.

It’s a time when I enjoy being extra creative in the kitchen – if you’re anything like me, you’ll have over-catered for the festive period, leaving you with a fridge and larder full of random leftovers and odd items. I can never throw food away – it’s hard wired in my DNA via my frugal Scots grandparents and my Hungarian father who lived through a time of great food shortages when young. Have a look at the excellent www.lovefoodhatewaste.com for more ideas to use up your leftovers. Current items in my kitchen include parsnips, egg whites, pecorino cheese, Stilton, Brussels sprouts, carrots, stale bread, ham, honey roasted nuts and Christmas pudding.

So, what’s for lunch today?

Parsnip Soufflé with a bread crumb gratin topping, with a side of carrots, Brussels and nuts.

Parsnip Soufflé

picture of souffle

Parsnip Souffle

2 parsnips, peeled and chopped into small pieces.

Half a pint of milk

1 bay leaf

100g butter

100g plain flour

seasoning

4 eggs

250g Pecorino, Gruyere, or cheddar cheese – something full flavoured

100g breadcrumbs

 

Put parsnips, milk and bay leaf into a pan and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook until the parsnips are soft and tender. Drain, reserving the milk to make the base for the soufflé. Puree the parsnips and put aside.

Pre heat oven to 400F/200C/ GM and butter a 4 person soufflé dish or 4 individual ones.

Melt butter in a saucepan, and add flour to make a thick roux. Gradually add the milk from earlier and cook until you have a thick, smooth sauce. Fold in the parsnip puree and season with white pepper and a pinch of salt. Grate the cheese and add 200g to the parsnip mix. Separate the eggs (unless like me you are just using up egg whites), and add the egg yolks to the parsnip sauce. Whisk egg whites until stiff, and fold into the parsnip mix in three lots, being careful to keep as much air as possible in the mixture.  Spoon into your dishes. Sprinkle over the remaining grated cheese mixed with the breadcrumbs and put into the oven for about 30 minutes until the top is golden brown and puffed up. Serve immediately.

 

Variations on a theme – use thyme or sage, add chopped ham or use carrots instead of parsnips.

 

Carrots and Brussels Sprouts

Brussel sprouts & carrots

Brussels & carrots

1 small onion or 2 shallots, finely chopped

1 tbsp butter

1 tbsp olive oil

1lb carrots, peeled and sliced into ½ inch pieces

½ lb Brussels sprouts, halved lengthways

60ml water

1 tbsp cider vinegar

50g honey nuts

Cook onion in butter and oil in a heavy pan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Add carrots, Brussels sprouts, ¾ tsp salt, and ½ tsp pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to brown, 3 to 4 minutes.

Add water and cover pan, then cook over medium-high heat until vegetables are tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in vinegar, honey nuts and season to taste.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perfect Pâté? – homemade vs. commercially produced

Perfect Pâté? – homemade vs. commercially produced

Thinking about what to write about, I was musing on autumn, and all the lovely fruits and vegetables that are available now. Then I was given a gift. A block of Ardennes Pâté. “How nice!” I hear you say?  Well, yes and no. The thought behind the gift was lovely, but the actual pâté itself was terrifying.  Let me explain.

The ingredients listed for this product contain:

Pork Liver, Chicken Fat, Chicken Meat, Chicken Connective Tissue (mmm, are you hungry yet??), Wheat Flour, Salt, E301, E326, E330, E472C, Onions, Milk Protein (?), Sugar, Tomatoes, Spices, E450, E452, Yeast Extract, Rice Flour, E250, E261, Gelatine.

photo

Now, call me fussy, but that little lot is really not something I want on my toast. However, in the interest of research, I did try it. Bleurgh. Fatty, unidentified chewy “bits”, and a very strong liver flavour. Much as I seriously HATE to waste food, that went into the bin. I know I can do better and cheaper without compromising on taste and adding weird bulking ingredients and strange chemicals.

I plan to add to this post with a “proper” coarse cut pâté recipe, but that will involve me toddling off to the butcher in search of the right ingredients, plus a group of mates to help eat the results (as Simon Hopkinson says, it’s not worth making a small terrine).  So instead I’ve rummaged in the freezer for a pack of chicken livers – costing all of 60p for 250g, and made this:

 

Chicken Liver Pâté

 250g chicken livers

2 shallots or ½ an onion

1 garlic clove

1 rasher of smoked bacon

thyme – leaves stripped from 3 sprigs

rosemary – leaves from half a sprig, chopped

tomato puree

English mustard

sherry or Madeira

salt & pepper

cream

butter

Start by draining the chicken livers in a sieve and giving them a quick rinse in cold water, then tip out onto kitchen towel and pat dry. Remove any gristly bits and set aside (use scissors if you’re squeamish about handling them)  Chop up the bacon and put in a wide shallow pan on a low heat for the fat to melt. Finely chop the shallots or onion and garlic, add to pan and gently cook over a low heat until translucent – don’t brown. Tip in the chicken livers, and add the thyme and rosemary. Cook over a low heat for approximately 5 minutes, until the livers go from dark wine coloured to a rosy grey colour and smell very savoury.

Add a splash of sherry or Madeira (or wine or port or brandy – whatever’s at hand really) and cook a little more to remove the raw alcohol taste. Take off heat. Add a tsp of tomato puree , a tsp of English mustard and two dsp of double cream. Stir well. Put back on heat and allow to bubble, then remove again and cool slightly.

Tip everything into a food processor and whizz until smooth.  Taste and add salt and pepper to suit. Whizz again and if you have the patience, push the whole lot through a sieve – this will give the pate a beautifully smooth texture but isn’t essential. Put into ramekins, and smooth top. In a clean pan, melt 3 tbs of butter gently until it separates. Spoon the clear yellow liquid butter over the top of the pâté to cover the surface. Make sure the butter completely covers the pâté, as this will form a seal to keep the contents fresh for up 4 days until you eat it. Set aside to completely cool before putting in the fridge to set. This also freezes very well.

Eat on toast in the sure knowledge that you have made something wholesome, delicious and cheap. No connective tissue required….

 

chicken liver pate

 

 

 

Hungover or just Hungary??

It’s the day after my birthday and I’m feeling a tad, ahem, delicate. Maybe that fourth Ginny Hendrix cocktail at Camp and Furnace’s food slam wasn’t such a good idea. So. What to make to soothe my pounding head and settle my somewhat disturbed internal organs? I’m going straight to my comfort zone – my Hungarian family’s recipes. A great big steaming pot of Gulyás is needed.

This isn’t the goulash some folk will be familiar with – a Western version of this Hungarian classic turns it into a thick beef stew with all sorts of unnecessary additions. No, this is what I consider the proper version – a hearty soup with chunks of potato, meltingly tender beef and a spicy paprika kick designed to feed, soothe and invigorate. It’s hugely economical as well. I used 250g of lovely organic shin beef from Forster Organics (based in St Helens – www.forsterorganicmeats.com), which cost me all of £1.81.

The Antal Gulyás recipe (see end of post for a veggie version)

250g shin beef

1 large onion

1 red pepper

2 large baking potatoes

1 litre of beef or lamb stock

1 tsp caraway seeds

2 tbsp paprika

1 dsp of lard

Halve, then slice onion thinly til you have a tangle of half moon slices.  Do the same with the pepper. Heat the lard in a deep, oven-proof casserole dish and add the caraway seeds.Once they start to pop and release their scent, add the onions and cook for 5 minutes over a low heat.

onions  stockpotato

Cube the beef and add to the pot. Stir well to brown the meat and then add 2 tablespoons of paprika. Keep the heat low – be careful not to burn the paprika and add the red pepper.  Season with salt and white pepper. Stir well and add the stock. Bring to a simmer, then cover and put into the oven to cook on a low heat – 160C/ 140c fan/ GM 2/ 325F for an hour.

Peel the baking potatoes and slice into thin chunks. Add to the soup and stir well. Leave to cook for another hour until the potatoes are tender. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Serve, steaming hot with a hunk of bread to dip. If you are feeling the need, add a heaped tablespoon of sour cream to each serving. Eat and feel much, much better.

 gulyas2

Ps, haven’t forgotten the non meat eaters – you can make a fab vegetarian/vegan version substituting veg stock for the beef stock, olive oil for the lard and 500g of field mushrooms (the big chunky ones) for the beef. Use 1 tsp of dried dill instead of the caraway seeds and follow the recipe above.

 

 

Summer Sunday Lunch

Just need guests

It’s too hot to cook. I’m looking longingly at pictures of summer kitchens from the US and wishing I had one. Next best thing is to get up stupidly early to take advantage of the cooler mornings. I’ve invited my sister and her family for lunch, so my cunning plan is to get as much of the prep done in advance so I can spend Sunday morning wafting round the garden picking flowers and setting a table rather than slaving over a hot stove. So with that in mind I’ve planned a slow roast lamb, to be done overnight in a cool oven, accompanied by a selection of salads.  Strawberry jelly and home made ice-cream for pud.

Trawling round Sainsbury’s – it’s air conditioned, don’t judge me – I found a pack of Albert Bartlett’s Purple Majesty potatoes. Potato salad beckons. Off to the butchers for the lamb – a lovely Welsh lamb shoulder that will feed us and leave plenty of leftovers.  I do love leftovers. Super satisfying to make more than one meal from an ingredient.

Home to prep. I’m making my grandmother’s potato salad – a Hungarian recipe that uses a vinaigrette dressing with sour cream. First boil the potatoes whole, until knife tender. Drain and rinse quickly under cold water, then remove the skins. It’s a bit of a faff, but the flavour is so much better. Thickly slice the potatoes  and toss, while still warm in the dressing. This is made with a tablespoon of smooth dijon mustard, mixed with 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar and 6 tablespoons of olive oil. Add 2 teaspoons of sugar and season with salt and pepper. Whisk well and then add 150ml of sour cream. Taste and adjust seasoning to suit – it should be sweet/ sour & creamy.  Add chopped parsley, and half a red onion, chopped finely. Mix well with the potatoes and set aside to cool.

perfectly purple potato salad

Onto the next item – strawberry jelly. I’ve totally cheated and used a jelly packet, but I  added masses of local strawberries. I have in my possession a gloriously retro piece of tupperware – a jelly mould with interchangeable lids to create patterns.  This was the final result – fab isn’t it?! I served it with homemade strawberry ice cream.

Retro jelly

Onto the lamb. It’s still super hot here, hitting 30C by lunch so I’m cooking the lamb overnight using Nigella Lawson’s recipe from Nigella Bites. Super simple, and super delicious.  Get a heavy based roasting tin and heat it on the hob. Put the lamb shoulder, fat side down and let it brown – about 5 minutes. Remove lamb and add 6 cloves of garlic, peeled; 6 shallots, halved; and 2 carrots, halved. Cook for 5 minutes on a high heat, then put lamb back, meat side down this time. Season with salt and pepper. Add 500ml of boiling water and bring to a simmer. Cover loosely with foil and put in a slow oven – 140C (120C fan/ GM1) as you go to bed. In the morning, the lamb will be beautifully tender and as an added bonus, there will be an amazing lamb stock to put aside for another day. Remove lamb from roasting tin – and place on a plate and shred with two forks. At this point, you can recover with foil and leave in the still warm oven. It’s a dish that benefits from being served warm, so that the fat remains juicy and not solidifying.  When ready to serve, arrange a plate with baby spinach/ watercress/ green leaf of your choice; pile on the shredded meat and then add a handful of torn fresh mint leaves and the juice and seeds from a pomegranate. Easiest way to deal with the pomegranate is to halve it, then hold it over the meat and bash the back of it with a spoon. The seeds will rain down, leaving the pith behind.

To add to the rainbow lunch I seemed to be creating, I made a shredded carrot salad – using a recipe I was given in the Ivory Coast. It’s very simple. Crush a clove of garlic into a paste with a pinch of coarse salt. Add the zest and juice of a lemon, and olive oil to form a dressing. Grate 6 carrots, season with salt and pepper and toss with the dressing. Add chopped mint and set aside for an hour before serving to let the flavours develop.

Rainbow Lunch

Lunch is served!!