Category Archives: Cooking

Another feast from Dai’s Shed

My father is visiting and I promised him fresh mackerel.  There were only small ones left at Dai’s Shed, so we took six and treated them like large sardines, oiling them, barbecuing them and serving them with a Greek-inspired salad.  My Greek salad is rather more extravagant than a normal Greek salad.  As well as loads of feta, capers and olives, and a good amount of diced tomato, I chuck in some finely sliced spring onion, shredded little gem lettuce and, from the garden, finely chopped giant chives, mint and lovage leaves.  It was accompanied by baby new potatoes boiled and tossed in Welsh Dragon butter, chives and flat-leaf parsley from the garden and the whole lot was served with chunks of lemon.

Oh those little mackerel were divine!  Firm, moist and full of flavour, and they folded off the bone perfectly.  I am going to go into mourning when Dai shuts up the shed in October.

I grow my giant chives from spring onions.  When I buy a bunch of spring onions with the white roots still attached, I cut off about 3cm of the spring onion at the root and put it in water for a couple of days, until the roots start to grow and produce new white tendrils and then stick them in a pot of compost, with the top just sticking out.  Job done.  They start to grow immediately and within a couple of weeks you have a healthy crop – one giant chive per spring onion.  And by giant, I mean that the ones I have out there at the moment, which are about a month old, are now nearly 2ft tall.   The ones shown in this photograph were exactly two weeks old.

 

Experimenting with Glamorgan sausages

I’ve never made Glamorgan sausages before, and there’s a good argument for saying that I haven’t made them today either.  I walked down into Aberdovey, expecting the Bank Holiday Monday to be bedlam, but at 1045 it was surprisingly quiet, perhaps because the weather was unencouraging, but perhaps because a lot of people were driving back home after their holiday.  I had a look around the craft fair, which was in the marquee by the Information Centre, and then went to do some odds and ends of shopping.

My first port of call was the lovely Aberdovey Butcher where I bought a lamb steak for the stew that I was planning, and then went to collect what I needed for my Glamorgan Sausages.  Having sourced a leek earlier in the week, I walked with great confidence into the delicatessen, Coast Deli and Dining, on the corner of Copper Hill Street and Sea View Terrace, and stopped dead.  Disaster!  The cheese counter had gone!  No Caerphilly for the Glamorgan sausages, and no Perl Wen for me (but the lunches looked seriously wonderful, so I’ll be back!).  This meant that my Glamorgan sausages were destined to be stuffed with cheese leftovers from the fridge, including Cheshire, Cheddar and fresh flaked Parmesan.  I also, unaccountably, had no English mustard, so used wholegrain French instead.

I read several recipes and took what I wanted from them, adding an extra stage to all of them.  Whilst some recipes went straight from manufacture to rolling in egg and breadcrumbs and then straight into a pan of hot oil or butter, others added a 30 minute period in the refrigerator after rolling and before cooking.  I added an additional 30 minute period in the fridge between making the sausages and rolling them, because mine were rather on the wet side.  The 30 minutes did the trick delightfully.  I rolled them in the egg and then the breadcrumbs, and put them back in the fridge until they were needed.  The photos show the three stages in the process of completion:

  • top – the newly manufactured sausage;
  • middle – 30 minutes later rolled in egg and breadcrumbs;
  • bottom – cooked after another long spell in the fridge and then left out to reach room temperature.

They were far too big to eat three, so one ended up on my plate and I’ll experiment with reheating the other two, seeing if they are viable cold and finding out whether they can be reheated whole or mashed into potato.

The ersatz Glamorgan sausage  was accompanied by chopped lamb steaks from the Aberdovey Butcher, who raises his own sheep, which I had cooked for an hour in a pan with carrots, shallots and mushrooms, some home made lamb stock, a slosh of red wine to add richness rather than flavour, and a lot of fresh thyme.  Some tender stem broccoli finished the plate.  Great fun.  Having eaten the local lamb many times before, I knew that that would be excellent and it was.  The sausages were rather strongly flavoured in the cheese department, unsurprisingly given the Cheddar and Parmesan, but they worked well enough, although for some reason they were a little angular rather than tubular!  Next time, it will definitely be Caerphilly, which will give them just the right balance between flavour and subtlety.

Dai’s Shed and the Aberdyfi Village Stores

Having moved in on a permanent basis only last month, it has been great to find that the local shops are useful resources, not just souvenirs, ice cream and fish and chips.

I had a lovely little shopping spree at Dai’s Shed on the wharf this morning.  Dai has a fishing boat moored in Church Bay and goes out daily, weather permitting.  I bought a tub of cockles in vinegar, a beautifully prepared dressed crab (I was presented with a huge tray and allowed to pick one out)  and a gorgeous fresh mackerel, an absolute beauty.   I always gut my own fish just before cooking because I think that it helps to retain both shape and flavour, but I seriously appreciated the offer to do it for me.  I always cook mackerel on the day I buy it, but was contemplating a second one for the freezer.  However, Dai told me that, like strawberries, mackerel turns to mush in the freezer.  Very welcome advice.  I still haven’t psyched myself up to coping with a live lobster, but he had plenty of live lobster and crab in a tank.   The shop closes at the end of October and opens at Easter.

I went afterwards into the Aberdyfi Village Stores at 4 Seaview Terrace, and was so impressed by what I found.  It has a Costcutter logo over the window so I wasn’t expecting much, but it is a little treasure trove of very good quality products on wooden shelves and fresh goods in refrigerated units, many Welsh and some with a distinctly continental twist.  There is a nicely presented vegetable selection with good, fresh produce.  The asparagus that I bought looks really super – fit healthy spears – and the locally made fresh bread is gorgeous.  My other purchases included fresh double cream, natural yogurt, a pack of couscous, a jar of Welsh Lady Hell’s Mouth Mustard that has paprika, garlic and chilli to liven it up (yet to try it but wow), a pack of dried juniper berries in the excellent Green Cuisine range and some eggs.  A great mix of the basics as well as a generous supply of some more exotic items in tins and jars.

Some of today’s haul from Dai’s Shed and the Aberdyfi Village Stores in Aberdovey

The expedition was somewhat tainted by the £3.30 minimum charge for parking in the big car park on the seafront for over three hours.  There’s not much choice at this time of year when it is so busy and all the short-term parking spaces are taken.  Why does Gwynedd Council not provide a 1-hour charge for quick visits?  Such a heavy fee just to dump the car for half an hour doesn’t really offer much incentive for local people to shop in Aberdovey when parking in Tywyn at the Spar and Co-Op is free.  It is like imposing a penalty fee for using local shops.  All very well to take exercise and enjoy the view by walking down into the village on a dry day, but it was chucking down when I left the house.

Here’s what I did with the mackerel from Dai’s Shed:  Gutted it, cut slits in it on both sides, rubbed in a mixture of garlic, paprika and olive oil and baked it stuffed with lemon slices in foil painted with olive oil in the oven.  I served it with lemon slices (should have been limes, but I didn’t have any), the juices from the foil poured over the top and a salad made of diced purple onion, mint leaves from my garden, diced salad tomatoes, capers, shredded little gem lettuce, giant chives from the garden, a home made mustard vinaigrette and a good shake each of salt, pepper and piri piri.  Spot the deliberate mistake with the layout of the cutlery 🙂  Couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it until I started trying to eat!

 

The genuine wonders of plant feed – spectacular growth between 1st and 19th August 2018

Spring onions / chives

Just for fun, this is the difference between my mint and my spring onions just over two weeks apart is extraordinary.  On the 1st August I used Miracle-Gro plant feed (irritating name, brilliant product) on my tiny collection of herbs on the decking, and it has really given a massive hit of energy to my pot plants, seen here on the 19th August.

The mint had suffered awfully when I was unable to get away from London during the move, and was ragged.  Water and Miracle-Gro combined to revolutionize it!  When I first arrived I had bought some spring onions.  When the white roots survive if you stick them in water for a few days they start growing, and can be transferred to a pot to grow what look and taste like massive chives.  Again, they were sad little things when I went away, but on my return they are substantial!  Bent due to wind and rain, but perfectly usable.

Mint

I am rather missing all the flowers in my London garden.  Although the raised decking is in full sunshine, my garden here is largely in shade, so although I am about to engage in a major project to cut down a lot of the overgrown trees, the decking will probably remain the best place to bring on herbs and I have some stored at my father’s house to bring over in the next few weeks.   Funny to be working with such small pots – my London ones are great tall things, which retain water beautifully.  These will have to be upgrades as soon as I get my act together.

 

Cooking with Seabreeze hake and samphire from the Aberdovey Food Festival

Day 2 of working joyously through my treasure trove from the Aberdovey Food Festival 2018, I used the second fillet of hake and the rest of the samphire, both from Seabreeze, together with some clams in their shells (from a Portuguese shop in Wrexham) and some prawns to make myself a cataplana (a Portuguese cooking method that combines steaming and poaching in a single tightly sealed metal device, also called a cataplana) in a cream, white wine, saffron and marsala stock.  Served it again with cubes of sautéed maris piper spuds, because they needed using up, lots of black pepper, a drizzle of tabasco and lemon slices.  Dipped a chunk of the tomato focaccia from the Mountain Road Bread Collective into it, and what it lacked in elegance it compensated with amply with pure flavour.  I’ll halve the white wine and double the saffron next time, and chuck in a few slightly under-ripe tomato chunks.  Another happy Festival outcome.

Aberdyfi Food Festival, 18th August 2018

My haul from the Food Festival: seeded wholemeal bread, apple chutney, mangalitza sausages, two types of focaccia, a pain au raisin, a chelsea bun, a bag of fresh samphire and two stunning fillets of hake

I was in Chester for most of last week with my father, but I ensured that I was back in time for the Aberdyfi Food Festival 2018, the fourth anniversary of the event, which takes place in a field, at one time the school playing field, next to the station.  It was superb!  It was a grey day, with drizzle, but everyone dressed up for the weather and it was packed, with a great atmosphere.  There must have been about 30 stalls.  Some sold food and drink in packets and bottles to take home, whilst others were providing a wide range of consumables to eat and drink on the hoof, including paella, hog roast, pizza, oysters, Pimms, cider, beer, coffee and much more.  Straw bales were scattered around to sit on, and there was a marquee where events were taking place.  These included: Welsh lamb at its best / Fizz Masterclass / Something fishy! / Cocktails / Foraging and syrups.

I bought a lot of wonderful food.  My two bags were stuffed to capacity.

I went slightly mad at the Mountain Road Bread Collective stall, acquiring various products for the freezer because I love artisanal bread.  A seeded loaf, two types of focaccia (one of which was vegan), a pain au raisin, and a Chelsea bun made up my haul.  I was lucky to get near the stall because I had passed it twice when it was three deep with customers, and I pounced in a quiet moment.  The Mountain Road Bread Collective (Andy’s Bread and Rye and Roses), a member of the Real Bread Campaign.

Welsh Mangalitza and Butchery

There was so much to select from the Welsh Mangalitza and Butchery (best of show in 2016) that I was struggling to choose what to buy.  In the end I chose Hungarian sausages and some black pudding, but there was so much else that tempted me.  Unfortunately my freezer is stuffed to the gunwales or I might have gone mad.  Husband and wife team Angela and Stuart are based in Llanddewi Brefi in the Cambrian mountain foothills, and both breed the wonderful Mangalitza pigs.  The mangalitza breed is from Hungarian breed of domestic pig, the result of cross-breeding in the 19th century, with woolly coats that are ideal for Welsh winters.  The pigs are free-range and all meat is butchered, processed and cured on the premises. They apparently attend Aberystwyth Farmers’ Market on a regular basis, so that’s something to look forward to.  Unfortunately they don’t have a website, so there is no online ordering facility, but their Twitter page is @mynyddmawrherd and they have a Facebook page.

Seabreeze’s excellent fish stall in a van

With a particularly happy heart I approached the Seabreeze restaurant stand and bought two slabs of hake, a bag of samphire.  They have an excellent mobile stall that enables them to sell seafood out of the back of a van which had been cleverly adapted to offer a superbly designed fish counter.  There was also dressed crab, glorious looking plaice, huge pieces of haddock, whole fresh mackerel and a range of other wonderful produce.  Bliss. If only I had had more room in my freezer!  The pop-up kitchen to its side was doing a roaring trade in paella.   I have been worried about acquiring fish in the Aberdovey area since the fishmonger closed down years ago, but chatting with the lady running the stall my mind is now at rest – Seabreeze, where I’ve eaten many times, not only sells fish in Tywyn on a Saturday morning, but if you walk into their restaurant during the day you can buy fish directly from them.  Happy!

I bought some pure white goats cheese from Caws Teifi Cheese from Ceredigion.  It is glorious stuff – delicate but full of flavour.   I was tempted to buy more cheeses, but I had come back with quite a bit of Perl Wen and Mrs Bourne’s Cheshire cheeses from my recent trip to Chester.   Caws Teifi Cheese was established by Dutch owners who arrived in Wales “with dreams of organic farming . . . . using raw milk and local ingredients to make high quality artisanal cheese.”  Happily they sell online.

My final purchase was apple chutney from the Mrs Pooks Kitchen tent.  Again, there was a mind-boggling choice of jams, marmalades and chutneys, but I had some cold pork in the fridge that was calling out for an apple chutney, and when I put the two together it was a marriage made in heaven.  They are based in Ciliau Aeron, just outside Aberaeron in Ceredigion, but I have been unable to find any online presence for them.

I tried some sparkling wine made by a Welsh vineyard called Llaethliw,  and it was gorgeous but at 26 squids a bottle out of my league.  In  the 1990s I worked on a British wine project, and retain familiarity with a lot of the vineyard names and grape varieties to be found in Britian, and am a great enthusiast for sparkling wines, but this was new to me.  They are located in Llaethliw Vineyard at the foothills of the Cambrian Mountains in Neuaddlwyd, Aberaeron in Ceredigion.  Their website explains how Richard and Siw Evans bought Llaethliw in 2008 after investigating the new possibilities provided by climate change and 6500 vines were planted in 2009.

I would have loved to have tried one of the spicy Kurdish meat pasties from Kurmang Rashid’s tent, but he had sold out!  Good for his bottom line, sad for my taste buds 🙂  He’s based in Blaenau Ffestiniog but as with some others mentioned on this page, no online presence is discoverable.

The leaflet advertising the event, which I actually picked up at the festival itself, has a Village Food Trail, which says that a hut has opened on the wharf to sell seafood caught in the area, which I will go and find during the week.  I know most of the other businesses on the list, restaurants, pubs and shops, but seeing them all listed together makes for impressive reading.

My happy efforts with Seabreeze hake fillet with steamed Seabreeze samphire, rather too many sautéed maris piper potatoes and a caper, lemon and butter sauce

I almost never eat breakfast or lunch but today was an exception.  The Mountain Road Bread Collective’s seeded loaf was married with leftover cold shoulder pork from the Aberdyfi Butcher and the Mrs Pooks apple chutney, and I have rarely been happier!   I lightly fried one of the Seabreeze’s hake fillets in butter and served it with steamed Seabreeze samphire, sautéed potatoes and a caper, lemon and butter sauce.  The hake tasted super-fresh and was full of flavour.  There were rather too many spuds, but hey ho!  What a splendid culinary adventure, thanks to the Aberdyfi Food Festival.