True Taste Food and Drink Awards 2011

16 Jun

The other day I had the opportunity to do my bit for Wales. Granted this was not too arduous a task as it involved eating lots and lots of delicious food all day long.

As a judge for the celebrated True Taste Food and Drink Awards I sampled some of the very best food Wales has to offer. Some truly superb entries in all categories, it illustrated just how far Wales has come as a producer of top quality foodstuffs. With the odd bizarre exception, the entries were well prepared and of a very high standard. From salami to sirloins, and pies to preserves, it was a complete gastro-feast. These awards are an excellent opportunity for producers to showcase their talents and gain the recognition they deserve both locally, and UK wide.

This was a great experience with some very knowledgeable foodies and chefs making up the the judging panel. My entire day was spent smelling, savouring, indulging and discussing…heaven!

If you want to know more about the True Taste Food and Drink Awards please take a look at their site www.truetaste.tv

The winners of the True Taste Food and Drink Awards 2011-2012 will be announced later this year.

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Perfect Pork

6 Jun

When a quick fix Sunday lunch is required this pork fillet is the easy way to make a special roast without fuss. The sage and juniper add great flavour and the sauce can be taken two ways. Either follow tradition with a quick reduction for gravy or add a little cream to make something more sophisticated. Serve with lots of scuffed roast potatoes and some steamed greens tossed in butter.

Pork fillet with sage and cider

You will need:

Pork fillet (allow 3 medallions per person)
Celery, Carrots, Onions roughly diced
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
50g Unsalted butter, cut intosmall cubes
3 rashers of Smoked bacon, cut into 1″ pieces
2 Cox’s apples sliced
Sage leaves
1 tbsp Juniper berries
I can Dry Cider

  • Preheat your oven to 180c
  • Arrange your carots, celery, onions and garlic in the bottom of a roasting tin
  • Place the pork medallions on top of the veg
  • Put a piece of bacon onto each medallion
  • Top with the butter and a sage leaf
  • Season the whole tin and sprinkle over your juniper berries
  • Pour your cider over the top
  • Cook for 25-30 mins
  • Once cooked place your medallions onto a serving dish and keep warm
  • Heat the remaining cooking liquor
  • Strain your liquor, return to a clean pan
  • Reduce to create a delicious gravy or if you want to go posh add a splash of cream.

Spring barbecue…

23 Apr

Spring has definitely sprung, and in true brit reaction to the weather our furry coats have been swapped for a bikini top and shorts. The heatwave means we can hit the garden with our lily-white bodies and get some Vitamin D exposure.

With this in mind last weekend saw the Davies household’s first barbecue of the year. After a quick trip to Slade Organics just outside Wick in the Vale of Glamorgan, we came home with fantastic fillet steak from prime Aberdeen Angus cattle. How do I know they were Aberdeen Angus? Because Slade Farm labels tell you so, including the age of the animal, what they ate, their provenance, (bred, born, reared and fattened on Organic holding based at Southerndown), where they were slaughtered and how long the meat was hung for. This is the sort of info which should be standard and gives you a much more personal connection to what you are eating. Added to which, and most importantly, the end product is rather fabulous.

We even picked up boot-full of manure for my veg patch courtesy of some very cute Gloucestshire Old Spot pigs which are also raised on Slade Farm.

Great steak is best kept simple, rub with a fruity olive oil and season well with sea salt and cracked black pepper. Once your coals are hot, pop on your steaks and open something red and fruity (note: to avoid barbecue burns, limit the red and fruity to just a glass until you put the tongs down).

Cook your steak as you like it (mine’s seared, smoky and pink) and then leave it to rest with a knob of herb butter on a warmed plate. Alongside your steak try a quick baby gem salad, the sweet and crisp leaves will hold their own against ripe tomatoes layered with basil and red onion. In true boy scout style you could add a crispy skinned baked potato sliced open with some salty butter to cool the inside. With the sun fading and probably your first sunburn of the year just starting to glow, eat, drink and enjoy it while it lasts people.

Roasted root salad

3 Jan

It’s January and after the blow-out that was Christmas this is a brilliant winter salad. Comforting for the dark nights ahead, but sufficiently nutritious to make you feel you’re doing something healthy and virtuous for the New Year.

Root vegetables are fabulous during the winter months and once roasted take on a brand new personality, which is deep, rich and sweet. The chillies add an extra heat which works well with the cool, creamy feta. The final addition of rocket, with a drizzle of balsalmic and olive oil, gives the right level of peppery crunch. Plus the greenery is a beautiful contrast to the deep reds and oranges of the root vegetables.

The combination of our best seasonal produce with the mediterranean flavours of rocket and feta cheese is heavenly. I have suggested some root veg that works well roasted in the salad but feel free to add any others that take your fancy. The balsalmic gives the final touch to make your supper sing.

You will need:

2 beetroot
1 butternut squash
2 parsnips
2 red onions
2 whole large chillies
3-4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
A few sprigs of thyme and rosemary
1tbsp balsamic vinegar
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
200g or 1 block of feta

  • Preheat your oven to 180c/gas mark 4
  • Peel and cut your root veg into wedges, place in a large bowl
  • Scrunch the thyme and rosemary to free the oils and then add them to the bowl
  • Add some olive oil plus the garlic cloves, salt and pepper
  • Tip into a roasting tin and spread your veg evenly
  • Roast for 20-30mins until soft but lightly caramelized
  • Arrange your roasted roots on a serving platter
  • Crumble your feta over the vegetables
  • Sprinkle your rocket leaves around the plate
  • Finally drizzle you balsalmic and olive oil over your salad
  • Serves 4

This is a great supper dish to serve on a chilly night either on it’s ownsome, or with grilled lamb or a quality pork sausage plus lots of good red wine.

Pesto-licious

31 Dec

Perhaps one of the quickest, and most popular, things I make is pesto. Once you have a batch whizzed up the possibilities are endless.The peppery basil combined with roasted pine nuts, pungent garlic and nutty parmesan, married with some great olive oil. It’s a combination made in heaven and one which can elevate your store cupboard essentials to something stunning.

You will need:

2 large bunches of basil
1 large handful of pine nuts
I large handful of coarsely grated parmesan
1/2 or 1 clove of garlic
A generous glug of olive oil
Salt and pepper

  • Lightly toast your pine nuts in a dry frying pan, leave to cool
  • Bash your garlic and pine nuts in a pestle and mortar or if you prefer use a food processer
  • Add your basil and bash/blend
  • Add the parmesan
  • Finally pour in the olive oil until you have rough sauce
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste then give it a final mix and taste
  • If not using immediately put the pesto into a jar and cover top with a thin layer of oil. This will keep in the fridge for at least a week if covered with oil.

Now you have your excellent homemade pesto here are a just a few ideas of what you can create.

Green Spaghetti

Number one favourite with kids and adults alike, it is pesto in it’s most simple form. Stirred through hot pasta, loosened with a little olive oil and garnished with a few parmesan shavings, this is fast food at it’s best. If you feel the need, add some pan-fried smoked bacon, or a handful of fresh spinach leaves which will wilt with your hot pasta. This is excellent comfort food and perfect for those days when you want something quick but satisfying.

Pesto Tart

This is a complete cheat but I love it, and so does everyone who eats it. It is quick, simple and you can adapt the toppings to suit any occasion. I have made one large tart here but you can divide the pastry into six or more to create individual tarts if you’re having a party for New Year.

You will need:

I block puff pastry
3-4 tbsps of your very scrummy pesto
A handful of cherry or plum tomatoes halved
I ball of mozzarella
A few basil leaves
A drizzle of olive oil
Salt and pepper

  • Preheat your oven to 200c/Gas mark 6
  • Grease a baking tray
  • Roll out your puff pastry on a floured board to about 4mm thick and rectangular in shape
  • Place your rolled out pastry on the tray
  • Spoon on your precious pesto and spread out leaving a one inch edge
  • Scatter your tomatoes evenly
  • Tear your mozzarella into chunks and place across tart
  • Take your basil leaves and rip into shreds and scatter
  • Drizzle the olive oil over the tart and season well.
  • Brush the edges of your pastry with a beaten egg or milk
  • Place in your oven for approx. 20 minutes or until edges are risen and golden and the cheese is bubbling
  • Serve as a starter or with green salad for a superb lunch or supper
  • Feeds 6 as a starter or four as main

Haddock love?

27 Oct

Okay, I’ll admit I have never been a huge fan of fish. Give me prawns, langoustines, mussels, oysters, clams or any other crawly from the sea and I’m there. Langoustine marinated and grilled on the barbecue, meaty mussels nestling with spaghetti, fresh tomatoes and basil, shucked oysters with a tart lemon dressing, delicious every one. However…cod, plaice, salmon, haddock etc. have always left me a bit cold in the fish sense. But I am determined to rectify this as I know (or at least people keep telling me) there is great joy to be had from eating truly fresh and fabulous fish.

So last night I tried a quick and easy fish supper. Some great haddock fillets from the excellent, Ashton’s Fishmongers in Cardiff market. This is super simple. Preheat your oven to 190C/Gas mark 5.  Just arrange your fillets on an oiled baking tray, season well, then scatter fresh mozzarella, parmesan, cherry tomatoes and basil over the fish. A squeeze of fresh lemon over the top and a generous swirl of olive oil and it’s ready for the oven. 20mins is all you need. So grab some salad, dress it, and your supper is served. The verdict… these fish lovers might just have a point, next step salmon folks!

Pizza baby…

23 Oct

Getting kids cooking from an early age is not just fun, it shows them just how fantastic home-made food can be. For my son’s 4th birthday we had a pizza party. I made a big pile of dough, handed out mini rolling pins, bowls of cheese, tomato sauce, pineapple, sweetcorn, ham and peppers and stood back. The twenty, four year olds had the best time ever creating their own mini-pizza masterpieces complete with lots of squidging, nibbling and finger-licking.

Pizza-making is still a regular occurence in our house, and one which both my son and daughter love to be a part of. Last weekend, Joe and I decided to make some dough and use up the fresh tomato sauce I had made earlier. This recipe is simple and can be used to make bread or rolls, as well.

You will need:

1kg strong white or wholemeal bread flour
3 sachets dried yeast
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp salt
1 pint warm water

Homemade tomato sauce
Mozzarella
Basil

Any toppings you fancy.

Making your dough is easy. Place your flour into a bowl, create a well in the centre, pour in your yeast, sugar and salt. Gradually pour in some of your water. Using a fork stir the contents together, keep stirring and adding your water until everything is nicely mixed.

By now you have the beginnings of a stretchy dough. Time to get messy, get your hands in and work the dough until it becomes smooth and round. Get it out on to a floured surface and work out your anxiety with lots of pulling, stretching, kneading, pulling and pushing. Once it feels smooth and almost silky it’s ready to prove. Leave in a bowl in a warm space.

After about an hour your dough will have doubled in size. Preheat your oven to 220 C/ Gas mark 7.

Divide the dough into large fist-sized balls. Each ball will make one large pizza. We tend to make a selection of sizes suited to whoever is going to eat the end result. Flour you work surface and start rolling out your dough. Thick or thin it’s personal preference. Once you have a rough circle the fun begins. Place your pizza base on a baking sheet (a bit of flour or oil will stop it sticking during cooking).

Bring on the toppings! Tomato sauce and mozzarella are your staples, but from there on you choose…

Delicious gravy without the stress…

13 Oct

After years of wrestling with gravy creation I have recently cracked it. In the past I would have simply taken meat juices, combined them with some flour and then gradually added stock or vegetable water to the desired consistency. The results were often not what I was looking for. Sometimes in a flash of good fortune, the gravy would be blinding but on other occasions there would only be a couple of precious tablespoons for each diner. Other times I just didn’t get enough flavour into the gravy, so after lots of experimentation, with lots of  ingredients, I began a new method….

You will need:

2 large carrots
1 large onion
2 sticks of celery
Garlic, fresh herbs, peppercorns etc
Lge glass Red or white wine, Cider depending on your meat
I heaped tbsp flour
plus 1 pint of water (plus a bit extra if you need it)

Right at the beginning I prep up the the holy trinity of carrots, celery and onions, roughly chopped and scattered in enough quantity to cover the base of your roasting tin. Add a couple of bay leaves which are essential to all stock bases. A thicker bottom on your tin is best so you can use it from beginning to end to make your gravy.
From here you decide the direction you want your roast to go… add garlic cloves unpeeled but bashed, with whole sprigs of rosemary to add a great background flavour to lamb gravy. For pork add some juniper berries or fennel seeds and lots of fresh sage leaves. For beef, add parsley, garlic and black peppercorns. For chicken add preserved or fresh lemons, lemon thyme sprigs and a whole head of garlic sliced across the middle.


So you have your base, you have your flavourings, now place your meat on top of your veg and herb mixture. Rub your meat with olive oil and season well with sea salt and black pepper.

Finally add some liquid. For beef or lamb a good sized glass of red wine. Chicken loves white wine and cider is fantastic for a great pork gravy.

Place in your oven and roast according to weight and type. Check with your butcher and he can tell you precisely how long and at what temperature you need to cook your meat. If you’ve picked a supermarket joint they are pretty well labelled with cooking times and temps. Keep an eye on your liquid; if it starts to look dry add a small cup of water. When your joint is done and ready to come out of the oven and rest a while, cover it in foil, and place to one side while you crack on with your fantastic gravy.

Take your roasting tin and place on the hob. At this point the pan should contain your soft roasted vegetable mixture, some rich meat juices and ideally a sticky reduced liquid from your alcohol. If it seems a bit dry, loosen the mixture etc. with some hot water.

Turn your hob onto a low/medium heat and stir to lift the fab juices off the base of the pan. Then add a tablespoon of flour and stir quickly to combine all the ingredients. At this point decide if you are looking for a thicker gravy or if you want something lighter. A heaped tablespoon of flour will give you a generous pint of gravy the consistency of single cream. If you want it thicker add a little more and likewise if you want it lighter, add a little less. Remember it is easier to reduce a gravy that is too thin, and therefore thicken it, than it is to thin a thick floury-tasting gravy and get it back to something edible.

So you’ve added your flour and you now have a lumpy mixture in your pan. Stir to combine well.

Gradually add your water. Initially the mixture will thicken a lot, don’t panic just keep adding the water and stir with a wooden spoon combining the ingredients. As you stir, mash the roast vegetables with the back of the spoon, crush any roast garlic cloves so that they release their lovely caramelised contents. Continue adding water according to the end quantity you require. At this point you can add more wine or cider if you prefer, just adjust the quantity of water accordingly. If you want a pint of gravy add a pint and a bit of water/wine etc. and so on. The extra water allows for the reduction in liquid. The combination of the stirring and the heat should start to give you a rich smooth gravy. If there are a couple of lumps don’t worry you are going to sieve the gravy just before serving. Taste your gravy and season with salt and pepper as required.

The key at this point is to gently simmer your gravy to let all those flavours cook through together. The more time you have for this bit the better. Gradually your gravy will darken and thicken. Chicken gravy is always much lighter than red meat gravy but if you’re desperate for the brown stuff add some gravy browning, ultimately the flavour will be what makes this your best gravy ever. For extra flavour pour any juices from your rested meat into the gravy and stir.

After 20-30 mins you should have something very sumptious and velvety bubbling in your pan. It will still have bits of veg in it but all their lovely flavours will be totally embedded in the gravy. If it’s a bit thin keep simmering to reduce it, if it is a bit thick add a splash of wine or cider to loosen it. Okay, you are now ready to sieve the gravy. Get a fine mesh sieve over a large glass bowl. Carefully pour your precious gravy into the sieve. Don’t rush, you don’t want to waste a bit. Pour the liquid through the sieve and give the contents an extra push with the back of the spoon to squeeze the last bit of flavour out. Transfer your gravy to a warmed serving jug and you are ready to rock.

Figgy Supper

25 Sep

At the end of the week we’re tired and desperate for food therapy, so on these occasions we often go for Picky Supper. Picky supper basically consists of cheeses, cold meats and some bread revived in a hot oven, with perhaps a small salad, olives, pickles and any leftover homemade houmous.

The centrepiece of our feast last night was the fabulous bread I picked up at the Abergavenny Food Festival. Hobbs House Bakery create excellent fresh bread which can be delivered straight to your door. Our Fig and Walnut loaf came courtesy of my freezer, but after some oven rejuvenation it was delicious. Large pieces of fig and chunks of walnut studded the light wholemeal loaf . It worked brilliantly with a soft goat’s cheese and some sliced air-dried ham from another AFF exhibitor, Trealy Farm. With a large glass of red this was a total treat.

Put together a few select ingredients and you can quickly create a delicious dinner. I am a huge fan of assembly style meals where you simply arrange some ingredients that work well together introduce some flavours in the form of herbs, spices or oils and food heaven is all yours in a flash.

  • Arrange a plate of fresh salad leaves, some sliced tomatoes, a few basil leaves torn on top, a round of goat’s cheese crumbled over and some great rustic bread roughly torn into chunks, then drizzle with olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon, season and serve.
  • Layer sliced cooked beetroot, pecorino shavings, basil leaves, fresh chopped chilli, a squeeze of lemon and olive oil. Serve solo or on top of cous cous soaked in stock, chicken or veggie both work well to invigorate the couscous with much needed flavour.
  • Marinade some chunky lamb chops with garlic, rosemary and olive oil. Season and cook quickly either on a griddle or under a hot grill. Serve with steamed purple sprouting broccoli great this time of year with some anchovy blended butter.I try to keep my food simple using quality ingredients from butchers, grocers and deli’s combined with some supermarket store-cupboard essentials.

Spiced Apple Chutney

25 Sep

In a bid to chase the last bit of sunshine I went out into the garden today to collect windfalls from our ancient but fruitful apple tree. Each year it yields giant cooking apples, normally too high up to pick, but frequently blown down in the autumn winds. My favourite chutney recipe from Nigella Lawson uses these up. Taken from How to be a Domestic Goddess it is simplicity itself. The resulting chutney is excellent with cold pork, sausages and stirred through soups and curries to give them a sweet and spicy kick. I normally double the recipe quantities to make about two litres of chutney, spooned into assorted jam and kilner jars this is enough to see us through until the next year.

500g cooking apples, peeled and roughly chopped
1 med onion, finely chopped
2 bird’s-eye red chillies, seeded and chopped
250g demerara sugar
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp sea salt
black pepper
1 heaped tbsp chopped ginger
1 tsp turmeric
350ml cider vinegar

Makes 1 litre

Approx. 4 x 250l jars or equivalent

Place all the ingredients in a pan and bring to the boil. Cook over a medium heat for about 40 mins, until the mixture thickens. Ladle into the jars and leave to cool.

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