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Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Undy Farmers Market the latest addition to Monmouthshire Markets

Undy is the newest of Monmouthshire’s Farmers Markets, but is already building a strong reputation and attracting some good producers.

Started only last Autumn the market is going from strength to strength and, operating on the last Saturday of the month, in the South of the county fills a gap very well.

It had taken a while for me to get there but when I did I was far from disappointed.

The Community Hall is small but had a real buzz about it even though I arrived later than many. Perhaps the new hall, with a site already designated will be a chance to expand even further and provide a real destination market.

Outside Graham Waddington of Native Breeds was grilling burgers, bacon and sausages from his own supply and was virtually sold out as market growers grabbed a special breakfast.

The nice thing about a new market is that different suppliers are there amongst the old faithfuls.

Burren Bakery (@claddaghgal) was next to Elmtree Foods (@elmtreefoods) and virtually stripped of stock though I did get some of Roisin’s Brownies and Collette’s Pork Pies and a quiche for a late lunch. The Pork Pies had a pepperiness to them which enhanced the pork and gave a deep savoury bite whilst the Brownie was crisp yet gooey, rich but light. I was able to offer Roisin a piece of Soda Bread made with my own Buttermilk which seemed to be appreciated and, coming from a brilliant baker, that appreciation was well received.

At the far end of the hall Barbara Warren had Lamb on offer at £63 for a half lamb and , were it not for my allergy to lamb fat I would have snapped it up. Provenance is all important and knowing Barbara’s operation at Court Bleddyn Farm, above Trevethin in Pontypool, I can vouch for the quality of her meats - be they Pork, Lamb or Beef.

As it was, though Lamb was the main focus of her stall on the day, Barbara also had a “secret” cooler full of Pork and I was able to obtain a nice Pork Loin which roasted up a treat the following day!

Vegetables from Whitebrook Organics helped in the Sunday Lunch with the Jerusalem Artichokes roasted alongside Parsnips and Potatoes, whilst Carrots, Broccoli and Peas provided a dash of colour and Apple Sauce and a Sage and Onion Stuffing meant that the plates were fully loaded.

The Parsnipship have a range of vegetarian dishes available but I was not tempted as this was a rather carnivorous market trip.

One of the new suppliers at Undy was Native Breeds. Graham and Ruth Waddington set up their charcuterie business having previously been part of the Trealy Farm organisation and bring a subtle difference to their produce.

Whilst Graham was toiling over a hot grill outside Ruth had the stall inside. Smoked Chicken and Pastrami would a week of tasty salads and sandwiches, whilst a beautifully smooth Boudin Noir begged for good rashers and eggs or inclusion in a Cassoulet style dish. The little tasters before buying and the obvious knowledge of the product and its origins are part of what makes Market shopping special and so far removed from Supermarkets and even some ‘specialist’ shops!

As I said we were later than usual getting out and this worked very much to our advantage as I was offered the last four pots of Native Breeds’ Vanilla Pannacotta made with Jersey milk at a very reasonable price – they went on to form the basis of the aforementioned Sunday Lunch with a little sliced Mango and Papaya and a dusting of home-made Praline.

Of course a good meal demands Coffee and Petit fours to finish so it was great to see the Fudge Fairy had a stall there despite also having a shop nearby. In real life the Fudge Fairy is Helen Beveridge who makes some of the smoothest fudge I have ever tasted and sells it  in markets and from her own retro sweet shop in Undy. The Vanilla and White Chocolate and the Lemon Meringue varieties were tasted and formed part of the coffee and petit four course for the lunch.

One variety with Welsh Whisky Liqueur was definitely reserved for the traditional St David’s Day meal as it had been made especially for that event. Helen will have a stall in the Hayes in Cardiff from 1st to 3rd March as part of the St David’s celebrations and will undoubtedly have all three of the varieties that I bought and many others as well.

Though we had arrived late Undy Farmers Market still had all the ingredients we wanted and will definitely become a regular destination for us. It showcases some of the superb products of Monmouthshire and the immediate surrounds which makes it undoubtedly Local and Great.

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Saturday, 25 February 2012

Usk Supperclub - The Judicial Review

Having thoroughly enjoyed the Raspberrybush Supperclub I was looking forward to the Supperclub run by Foodworkshop ( see post about Co-operation in Abergavenny). Sugarloaf Catering provided the dishes with Mark Coulton demonstrating the skills that he acquired in his career as a chef in hotels and restaurants whilst service was in the hands of Nicholas Snell and the terrific Danielle. 

So on a crisp Friday evening we headed to Usk and the imposing façade of the Old Sessions House. A former courthouse it is now the headquarters of Usk Town Council and has been preserved in all its former glory. We would be dining in the Judges Library, but first would meet fellow diners in the Courtroom.

A choice of Wine, fresh Lemonade or Gin and Tonic was offered as soon as we entered the front door and with G&T in hand I made my way into the imposing, wood panelled, former hall of justice.

Some of my fellow diners were already in the dock whilst others were happily trying the Judges Chair. Mrs K sat on the bench in front of the dock oblivious of the painted indication that this was reserved for Solicitors thus providing a visual pun in that she appeared to be Solicitking. Canapes of Chorizo and Peppers (Trealy Farm of course) and Parmesan and Olive Crisps were passed and the volume of chat increased.

The diners were largely regular supperclub goers, split into two geographic groups, those from Abergavenny and those from Usk but we were welcomed into the group and conversation began in earnest.

Shortly we were invited into the dining room and sat at a long table surrounded by shelves of All England Law Reports, Reports of the Kings Justice Division and Times Law Reports all heavy tomes reminding me of early Law studies at university.

The wines flowed and the first course arrived, a Terrine of Salmon and King Prawn wrapped in Smoked Salmon - step forward Black Mountain Smokery. A small salad of leaves accompanied the dish and a few Capers provided a sharp and salty counterpoint to the soft succulence of the terrine.

The main course of Slow Roasted Pork with an Apple and Sage stuffing and a Red Onion Marmalade came with seasonal vegetables and, unlike the traditional “seasonal veg” which seems to be Mangetout, Carrot and Broccoli irrespective of the actual season, these were. Carrot, Parsnip and Swede cooked just a` point so that they retained their true taste. A rich and creamy Potato Dauphinoise completed the plate with a jus and it was pleasing to be offered additional vegetables and potato.

Dessert offered a choice of Vanilla Mousse with Rhubarb Compote and a Shortbread biscuit, chosen by Mrs K, though I was offered a small tasting, which was creamy well flavoured and contrasted well with the sharp, yet sweet Rhubarb.

I opted for the British Cheese Board which Offered Perl Las, Perl Wen, Caerphilly , Blacksticks Blue and Mrs Kirkhams Lancashire Cheese. A good trip around the British Isles, and a range of taste - from the smooth creamy Perl Wen to the acidity of the Caerphilly, and through the crumbliness of the Lancashire to the contrasting blues of Blacksticks and Perl Las. Served simply on slate boards, soft home-made Oatcakes and Roisin Ballinger’s Wheaten Bread gave a contrasting flavour which enhanced the cheeses and rounded the meal in style. Rhian Short's superb, award winning, Pear-Lilli gave a sweetness and sharpness to cut through the cheesy richness.

With Coffee and conversation  -including the possibility of obtaining the entire judicial library on Kindle thus removing the need to carry huge tomes around in those natty red bags beloved of QCs and Barristers – the evening wound to a finish and we left aware that we had participated in a special evening, good food, good company and a superb location.

Supperclub will be back in Usk soon and plans a murder mystery themed evening there as well, a more imposing background is hard to imagine and places will go quickly. To sign up follow the link Supperclub Wales

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Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Grow Your Own.... Buttermilk Plant

Buttermilk is an essential in cooking and yet is very hard to get hold of in the UK. Sure you can buy cultured buttermilk but this is more of a yoghurt, thick and set.

Ireland, on the other hand, still has real buttermilk available in every shop or supermarket and, indeed, Soda Bread would not be possible without it. On my regular trips over I always buy cartons and cartons bringing them home to freeze and ensure that my scones are light and fluffy and my soda bread is of the right consistency.

My friend Roisin Ballinger of the Burren Bakehouse  (@claddaggal )makes terrific Sodas here in Wales and gets her regular supply of buttermilk locally from Netherend Farm  I obtain mine from their Farm Shop in Chepstow where the brand name is Longley Farm (though this may be theirs with a different branding)  and when I have used it, the results have been impressive. However there is a 20 mile drive to get to the only local outlet so I wanted to make my own and ensure a supply that was consistent and very, very local.

Recently Irish food blogger Mona Wise – who blogs as Wise Words - wrote of receiving a buttermilk plant which began life over 40 years ago in a Wexford monastery, and starting her own. In many ways a buttermilk plant resembles a Sourdough starter, it grows naturally, expands and can be both reused and share.

Mona wrote of  conducting a Google search which turned up several recipes for a plant; so I followed her example and searched myself. There certainly are a lot of recipes out there but all seem to have one thing in common, an initial starter of yeast, sugar and milk. The direction of travel was clear.

But first I wanted to check on Darina Allen’s approach and turned to the ever faithful Forgotten Skills book. This suggested a good way of making buttermilk by combining full fat milk with lemon juice and allowing it 15 minutes to begin to curdle before using, however, I wanted a plant rather than a one-off culture. The omission of a plant from her book is a little confusing as the Cookery School uses buttermilk from their own cows after it has been separated for butter or cheese.

Whilst on the course there Darina had commented on the difficulty of making buttermilk in the UK as our milk tends to rot rather than culture.

A challenge indeed.

Fortunately Wales has Calon Wen (White Heart for non-Welsh speakers) a milk made and bottled in Wales which is not only Organic but not homogenised. I have no firm evidence but I think that it is the homogenisation – blending of the milk to ensure an even distribution of fats that is the problem. I certainly would not try to make buttermilk with a well-known brand that is not only homogenised but triple filtered to ensure total consistency.

So research done it was time to get cracking.

One ounce of fresh yeast was combined with the same weight of sugar and creamed together till it turned into a deep brown liquid.

2 pints of Semi Skimmed Calon Wen was heated gently to tepid. (I used Semi Skimmed to replicate the process of using separated milk and to avoid having to use equal amounts of full fat milk and water.)

The two bowls were mixed and placed into a large Kilner jar which had been sterilised and was then confined to the warmth and dark of the airing cupboard to grow.

This should take two days or so and then the milk will be pored through a muslin lined sieve. The milk should strain through and can be used for breads, scones or any of the many recipes that call for it.

Hopefully there will be a lumpy residue in the muslin which will be rinsed in water and reused to start the next culture in the Kilner Jar - once it has been scalded. Over a number of cultures the residue should grow and grow until it reaches the stage that it can be shared and another cook can make their own Buttermilk.

So it worked!

After a couple of days the milk had turned to a recognisable Buttermilk, a small amount of culture was left after straining and, once rinsed in fresh cold water went back into the scalded container with another quart of milk to restart the process.

One pint of Buttermilk went into a bottle in the fridge and the other fresh pint combined with flour, salt and Bread Soda to make my first totally home-grown Soda Bread.

Certainly Local, tasted Great.

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Tuesday, 14 February 2012


Sourdough Bread is one of life’s better things, currently undergoing a revival and becoming a foodie event rather than just a food.

Actually it is possibly the most artisan of foods, unique to the maker and the one food form that can make an honest claim to terroire.

No yeast is added to the flour but yeasts for rising are airborne and unique to each location, and it is this factor that makes each loaf unique. If you give a starter to a friend a mile away it quickly becomes unique to them. Since some Sourdough starters are over 150 years old and have travelled great distances with their baker owners, and have been divided and shared many times a whole range of starters exist.

So, how does it all work?

Starting with the principle that yeasts are everywhere a Sourdough starter harnesses them, and any naturally occurring yeasts in the flour to start a leaven. Basically strong (bread)flour and water are mixed and left to ferment.

Some recipes use Plain flour in the starter, my preference is for the Strong and I always use good flour such as Bacheldre Mills. The ferment (starter) is fed equal amounts of flour and water on a daily basis until it becomes light and fluffy, full of bubbles and “active”. A yeasty, sour smell will develop and this is just what you are looking for.

Some of the starter is removed and mixed with more flour and water to form the “sponge” which will then be risen for 12-24 hours and mixed with more flour, Water and salt to make the dough. This is then kneaded, shaped and risen for 6 -8 hours before baking.

The unused starter can be rested and reactivated by feeding when next required.
Starter Saved

Saved Starter

One of the miracles of nature Sourdough requires only flour, water and time to develop and bake into a tasty loaf with a good chewy crust and pleasing crumb.

This post will be a step by step examination of baking a loaf.

Firstly 2oz water and 2oz flour are mixed together and placed in a covered bowl to stand for 24 hours at room temperature. The next day another 2 and 2 feed is given and stirred in. Gradually bubbles start to form and rise to the surface as the starter activates.


I usually feed for 4 days so that I have added 16oz to the original 4. By this time the starter has really got going and developed a pillowy texture.

9oz of the starter are removed and mixed in a bowl with 9oz flour and 5oz water and 1 teaspoon of sugar. This is the Sponge which is covered and left for 12-24 hours to activate.

The following day the sponge is mixed with 18oz flour, 2 tbsp. Olive Oil, 1tsp sugar, 2 tsp salt and 5oz water and mixed to a dough then kneaded and shaped. Left for 6-8 hours to rise – or overnight in a cold place (even your fridge will still rise the bread) the loaves are cut on top before baking – use a very sharp knife or razor blade. This allows the bread to swell during the early baking process and gives a decorative top.
Water and OIlive Oil added






Finished Article

Slow rising allows the gluten to really work and produces a better loaf.

So what are you waiting for? Get the flour out, get that starter going and within a week you will have a loaf that is Local and Great, and when the starter looks like it is about to take over the world like a 1950’s Sci-Fi movie spread the love, give someone else a bit of starter and let the process begin again.
Only sharing can save the world

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Friday, 10 February 2012

The English Market No Beef at all

Kinda says it all

I rather concentrated on Corned and Spiced Beef last time I wrote about the English Market, but in reality Beef is just a small part of what makes this Market great. So this blog is an imagined shopping trip (based on my actual shopping experiences) for a dinner party.

3 Fishmongers occupy one large corner, the biggest of which is K O’Connell. Their stall must be 50 feet long and groans under the weight of beautiful fresh fish, and is long enough for whole Conger Eels to be laid out. Fancy a whole Turbot? If they have been caught they will be there.

Ballycotton Seafood are also in this stunning piscine display. With another shop in Midleton and landing their catch in Ballycotton itself they certainly met my criteria for Local and Great.
Ballycotton Seafood

Next to this amazing display of fish is a brilliant example of what can be done with great ingredients, Frank Hederman’s smokehouse takes only the best fish and enhances them with his special smoking. Obviously Frank smokes Salmon, but for me it is the Eel that stands out along with the Smoked Mussels that appear in the Ballymaloe House Friday buffet. Frank also does a great range of fish cocktail dishes – superb for starters – the Salmon and Crab Mayonnaise being my personal favourite.

Frank Hederman

Two really good cheesemongers, Iago and On the Pig’s Back supply a wide range of Irish and Continental cheeses, Iago concentrating on the Italian and French marques. On the Pig’s Back do many Irish Cheeses but also have a wide selection of Charcuterie and sausages.



On the Pig's Back

Caherbeg Free Range Pork and sister supplier Rosscarberry Recipes provide much of the excellent meat range at On The Pig's Back.  I met Avril Allshire Howe, from Caherbeg Free Range Pork back in 2000 at a small demonstration of West Cork Products in a Community Hall in Ballydehob and was immediately struck by the taste and texture of her sausages. Bacon and Hams are other products in their truly tasty range. Caherbeg also operate Rosscarberry Recipe more pork product but using pigs sourced from local farmers as opposed to their own farm in Rosscarberry. Either way, check them out and where better than On the Pig’s Back?

So, meats cheeses and fish down and some bread needed to accompany them. The Alternative Bread Company do a full range from the ubiquitous White Pan – but a properly produced loaf not a Chorleywood monstrosity, through various Wholemeal and Grains to Sourdough. With ABC and Declan Ryan’s Arbutus Bakery Cork is well blessed with good artisan bakers.

Alternative Bread Company

Need speciality foods? Mr Bells provides ingredients from around the world whilst the Olive stall does what it says on the tin - or at least in the wooden pail.
Mr Bells

Poultry is provided by several stalls, the largest of which is the Chicken Inn with whole and jointed birds, pre-marinated cuts and some good Turkey as well. For several years my Christmas trip has included a boned out Turkey which has been chilled to 1c and then vacuum packed for me so that it can make the crossing back to Wales without warming up. One of the things that I love about the English Market is the ability to buy things that are just not available in the UK such as Chicken Gizzards, though the Chicken guy at Usk Farmers Market will bring them - if asked in advance.

Chicken Inn

Other Cork specialities include Crubeens, Pigs Trotters, that I often buy to boost a stock, and Drisheen think Black Pudding but Cow and/or Sheep Blood in a natural intestine casing. Having mentioned Black Pudding it is only fair to state that there are several suppliers in the English Market and that the best Irish Black Pudding almost certainly emanates from Clonakilty in West Cork, though just along the road in Rosscarberry Avril Allshire Howe is mounting a serious assault on that reputation. Clonakilty also produces White and Brown Puddings. The White is nothing like the Scottish version which seems to be mainly Lard and Oatmeal but is a type of sausage made from the lesser used cuts of Pork such as cheek and delicately herbed.’


So just vegetables needed and Paradise Gardens supply some amazing organic veg. The range is wide and the veg look to be at their freshest. Sadly the need to travel with my purchases means that I have never actually bought any though it is very tempting and if I lived in Cork Paradise would be a daily achievement!

Paradise Garden

Just the wines to get so off to Bubble Brothers who have a surprisingly wide range in their small unit and will always give advice on the wines and menu pairings!
Bubble Brothers

One of the great eating experiences in Ireland is upstairs in the English Market where the Farmgate Café holds sway. All the produce is local and seasonal most of it making the short trip upstairs from the Market itself, so if you want to try Crubeens or Packet and Tripe (Packet is Drisheen), a real Irish Stew or the freshest of fish the Farmgate is THE venue. There is a second venue in Midleton popular on Saturdays when the Farmers Market stallholders get together to discuss how the morning went but busy all week with locals and destination diners alike.

Photos of Farmgate Restaurant, Cork
This photo of Farmgate Restaurant is courtesy of TripAdvisor

So when in Cork the English Market is a Must, the produce is Local and Great.

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