Dealing with Diabetes: the beginning of a candid journey…week 1

I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes a little over 13 years ago and was told that after my son was born, things ‘should’ return to normal. They didn’t. This led to a long period in my life where I was in complete denial. I knew my sugars were high and made some concessions, however they weren’t nearly enough. Now, finally, after several false starts in recent years I have chosen my path and have been following it for just one week. The thoughts here are my own, based on very thorough research and I, personally, have seen outstanding results in just a few days. I am following a lower carb, higher fat approach, and, after years of constant hunger, I am finally finding contentment in good food and a general feeling of satiety, for body and soul…oh, and my symptoms are easing too.

My great-grandmother was diabetic. Her death at the age of 72 was due to gangrene from a foot wound which wouldn’t heal. By this time she was on insulin and very poorly indeed. Never particularly overweight, she enjoyed a varied diet of home cooked food and brought up her many children to cook for themselves and eat well.

I started researching ways of managing diabetes about ten years ago and many half-hearted attempts followed, which never really lasted more than a day or two. I exercised more, which seemed to put my sugars up further, ate whole grains, as recommended by the NHS, and saw rising figures annually. I’ve always considered medication to be a last resort, once all other options have been discounted, so I’ve never been prescribed the drugs which are commonly used to treat Type 2.

As of last Friday my blood sugars were between 15mols and 23 mols; today they are between 9mols and 14mols, often just half of last week’s results. What have I done? Reduced my carbohydrate consumption to under 60g of net carbs a day. I’m enjoying a full range of nutritious foods; meat, fish, dairy, vegetables, glasses of wine and even dark chocolate. I start the day with bacon and eggs fried in lard, add a small amount of obscenely buttered sourdough and power through. The first few days were difficult. I was tired and had headaches but then something changed, suddenly I was full of energy. I’ve been sleeping better, my vision is improving, the tiredness which would hit me in the mid-afternoon like a brick wall is gone and I’m feeling altogether, more together.

As a food writer, I spend my days immersed in glorious images and descriptions of fabulous foods. I’ve spent hours trying to work out how my experience in this industry can be used to help others in my position and concluded that a candid post and follow ups might well be the answer, so here we are.

Today I’ve had a lovely brunch, full of good fats; avocado, olive oil, bacon, eggs and lard, a late lunch of homemade Steak Hache made from locally, (moderately) fatty beef mince and garlic green beans. I finished with a small bowl of strawberries and a good dollop of mascarpone. Sound like a diet? It’s not, in fact I dislike the word. Let’s call it a lifestyle change. So, having followed this way of eating for a week, here are my tops tips on how to deal with the first few days.

  1. Stock up on good fats and plenty of eggs: butter, dripping, olive oil, lard, coconut oil and remember ‘Fat is Flavour’
  2. Seasonal veg – try and order a veg box or grow your own. Most above ground veg are suitable for this way of eating. Fibrous veg in particular because the body does not process the carbs from fibre, hence carbs (all carbs), and ‘net’ carbs (which are the carbs your body draw on).
  3. Source some good mince from your local butcher (many are offering mail order or home delivery at the moment) – divide into 180g portions, season with herbs, salt and pepper and freeze in individual portions. When you need something quick for lunch, defrost, shape into a patty and fry, serving with a side of green veggies and maybe some garlic butter. This works with beef, pork, lamb, turkey, venison…any meat and is totally delicious and extremely satisfying.
  4. Berries are your friends – keep a stash of berries in the fridge or freezer. A small bowlful topped with double cream, clotted cream or mascarpone feels very naughty, but really isn’t.
  5. If you are going to include bread in your new lifestyle, choose a really good one…seek out your local artisan bakers and find a great sourdough, something really worth eating and tasty. A small 30g slice has only about 14g of carbs and is perfect for adding a little crunch to breakfast.
  6. Invest in some coconut and almond flour. These are so versatile, and scouring the internet you can find recipes for everything from pizza and flatbread, to cookies and cakes.
  7. Buy some Xanthan Gum – often used in gluten free baked goods, Xanthan Gum adds a certain integrity to low carb baking, helping improve texture as gluten normally does.
  8. Eat cheese. Go mad with mail order, find local and regional cheeses. I find I tolerate dairy very well, some people don’t, and it can push up sugar levels but if it works for you, go for it.
  9. Keep hydrated – drink at least two litres of water (in addition to tea, herbal tea and coffee) every day. When low carbing, hydration is extremely important. Buy a reusable bottle and fill and refill.
  10. Relax – stress causes blood sugar to rise, so a little ‘me time’ will help reduce the levels of Cortisone, and remember this is not a sprint, it’s a gentle stroll. What took several years to create will not disappear in a few weeks, there will be ups and downs.

The official line is still to eat whole-grains and base your diet around starchy carbs. For me, this advice is clearly wrong but life’s a learning curve. Low carb diets have been successfully used to treat diabetes since the 18th century, so what’s changed?


The Pheasant Philosopher’s Christmas Diaries: The Big Festive Breakfast

I have always been a great supporter of the ‘Full English Breakfast’. It is one of the few meals that can be almost entirely locally sourced, at any time of the year. A legacy of the great Country House breakfasts which were at their height in the 19th and early 20th century, these were full meals, sustaining enough to take family and guests though a full days hunting with only a picnic type luncheon. The emphasis on breakfast was hearty English food, whilst dinner followed the more fashionable French style of cuisine.

Breakfast was a buffet style meal, buffets laden with everything from Devilled Kidneys, Kippers and Kedgeree through to game, meat and of course breads and cheeses. It was served between 9 am and 11 am, sound familiar? The American Brunch follows this pattern quite neatly, more substantial food than mere toast and cereal, and served later in the morning. So, could you say that the Victorians invented Brunch? Perhaps, but with a little controversy.

The festive period is a great time to go all-out for Breakfast, many of us are out and about during the day, nibbling a mince pie or sausage roll here and there, not really having time for a sit-down lunch so a decent breakfast hits the spot perfectly, also there is a wonderful ritual to Breakfast, a time to chat, sit around the table, light some candles and enjoy the present. Many people are off work between Christmas and New Year and these precious holidays, unlike others in the year, are almost always spent at home, surrounded by friends and family –  and with time on your hands.

Breakfast is also a good meal to get the children to help with, laying the table, easy recipes…perhaps Christmas muffins or homemade bread. Aside from the usual ‘Bacon and Eggs’ there are thousands of recipes suitable for a substantial breakfast, how about waffles with lots of different toppings, pancakes or Spanish Tortilla, baked ham and egg cups, roasted avocado with a little chilli on toasted sourdough, Turkish Shakshouka (spicy baked eggs often served with Merguez sausages) or Mexican Huervos Rancheros  (ranch style eggs) served with soft tortillas?  Or what about designating a different country to each breakfast and tour the world?

I have written about the classic British breakfast before, I have extolled the virtues of locally produced bacon and sausages, decent bread and free-range eggs, personally this combination never bores me, but with a little baking and a few festive touches any breakfast can be made an extra special and memorable experience.


The Pheasant Philosopher’s Christmas Diaries: Day 2, The Butcher’s Order

Today I’m turning my attention to planning my Christmas butchery order. Last year I chose one of Holt-Wilson’s Monmouthshire Turkeys and I was extremely impressed with the bird – it served far more mouths (with leftovers) than recommended, and was firm and img_1976flavoursome – not gamey, but rich and a real treat! I do feel that we so often over estimate the amount of turkey needed – after canapés, starters, fish courses etc you should really be looking at no more than 80g or so per person for the main course, and of course there’s only so many ways one can prepare leftovers.

img_1984Every year I also order a large gammon for Boxing Day, ideally rare breed and most certainly British, as is my bacon and my sausages. I prepare my stuffing separately, the sausage meat cooked with cranberries and orange, whilst the sage and onion goes into the Turkey neck. My sister, who always joins us for Christmas, doesn’t eat pork so a vegetarian stuffing is preferred, I usually add pears to the sage and onion, and roast a few to serve as a cranberry sauce alternative.

My Boxing Day gammon is studded with cloves and sliced clementines and glazed with a little maple syrup and eats well with hot with creamy mashed potato or cold in doorstop sandwiches with plenty of peppery mustard.

img_1983Another tradition in our household is the preparing of Duck Rillettes, this recipe comes from Gascony, where we spend the summer at our holiday home, and is great for those who find liver pâtés a little squeamish. I serve it with a good chutney on crisp toasts and it always goes down a treat – and there’s lots left over for cold plates. I will be sharing my recipe for Rillettes a little later December, and I also have a bit of cheaty method, for those who are really short of time.

One of the simple pleasures of Christmas Eve is queueing at the butchers, knowing that your order is taken care of, and enjoying the friendly banter and festive atmosphere and here in Monmouthshire we are spoilt for choice!

img_1974img_1973


Frontier Style Cherry Skillet Pie

It’s #NationalCherryDay so here’s my recipe for a very simple cherry skillet tart or pie.

Combining cinnamon with the flour gives a delicious crust which, when filled with the kirsch flavoured cherries, is really quite moreish. This pie is very juicy, almost self saucing, and the crisp outer crust can be ripped off and dunked into the cherry juices.

This recipe originated in the frontier days, when families travelled across America by wagon train, with very few personal possessions- perhaps only a griddle, a skillet and a cauldron which formed their kitchen, so, the frugality of the recipe is rather fitting. They would have cooked using communal ovens, Dutch ovens and most often over a wood fire.

Many Welsh mining families emigrated to the ‘wild west’ in the later 19th century – some of my ancestors included – so this is a little homage to them.

Ingredients

100g cold unsalted butter, grated

250g plain flour

1 tsp cinnamon

2 heaped tablespoons of brown sugar

2 eggs

Water to mix

Pinch of salt

250g stoned fresh cherries

1 tbsp kirsch

4 heaped tbls golden caster sugar

Method

Rub the flour into the butter until you have fine breadcrumbs

Stir in the cinnamon and sugar

Add a beaten egg and bring the pastry together, if it’s too dry add a little water or milk, if it’s too wet add a little more flour

Pre heat the oven to 180 degrees c

Roll out the pastry roughly and use it to line a greased skillet or tin. Make sure that the pastry goes over the edge a little as this will form your crust

Add the cherries, then sprinkle over 3 tbls of sugar and the kirsch

Fold the edges up and over to form a rustic pie crust, then glaze with beaten egg,

Sprinkle the crust with the remaining sugar and a dusting of cinnamon

Bake for approximately 30-40 minutes until the pastry is golden and the cherries bubbling

Serve warm with ice-cream, cream or custard – or all three!


Festive Goodies from The Wye Valley and The Forest of Dean

Every year, I do my very best to source my Christmas foods locally – and living in such a fabulously foodie area, it’s surprisingly easy to do. Restaurants place such an importance on food miles and rightly so, but it’s not just about the environmental impact, it’s about supporting those small businesses who a passionate about their products and who are relying on you for survival. So, here’s my guide to the best places to source delicious food and drink for your festive celebrations in the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean.

Party Drinks and Nibbles

There’s no doubt that you’ll find yourself hosting at least one party over the coming

fullsizeoutput_1803

©HannahFreeman

weeks, or at lasting bringing some goodies to a friends gathering. One of the most popular drinks at this time of year, and perfect for the colder weather is Mulled Cider and, being in the heart of the British cider country you’ll find yourself spoiled for choice. I think a medium cider is most suited to mulling, you are then in control of how much sugar or honey you add. I like Awre based Severn Cider, a family business dedicated to its art. I enjoyed a tour and tasting a few weeks ago with other members of The Guild of Food Writers and was extremely impressed by the quality and variety on offer – we were immediately furnished with mugs of mulled cider which was very welcome after a long, and rather, chilly day. I like to add honey, cinnamon, cardamon, apple slices, fullsizeoutput_1814grated nutmeg and a splash of cider brandy (Dymock’s Charles Martell’s is perfect) – but its all down to taste, and you can cheat with one the supermarket sachets, then add some cinnamon sticks and apple.  And what to serve alongside your mulled cider? How about a good old sausage roll – surely an essential part of Christmas! I love the  delicious Wild Boar sausage rolls from Cinderhill Farm in St Briavels, it’s hard to stop at one (and they are extremely generous portions). Served alongside one of Chepstow based, Claire’s Kitchen’s chutney they make a very simple addition to any drinks party or buffet.

Christmas Dinner

Many people look for a simple, no cook starter for their Christmas Dinner, I think that fullsizeoutput_1842really top quality smoked salmon fits the bill perfectly – my personal choice would be the smoked Var salmon from Chaxhill’s Severn and Wye Smokery. Having been lucky enough to tour the factory recently, I learned a lot about the different varieties and curing styles. Having tasted my way though their entire catalogue I settled on the Var which offers a good balance or smokey richness and full flavour. Served alongside some good local bread and a handful of organic leaves, it allows plenty of time to relax with your guests before the main event.

There are the traditionalists who favour a good free range turkey – I have ordered mine from Monmouthshire Turkeys near Raglan – and those who look for a different option so how about a Free Range Goose or Slow Cooked Confit Duck from Madgett’s Farm? Well IMG_1706known throughout the area they offer a really good selection of poultry and game, and make some rather excellent sausages and stuffings to serve alongside.

IMG_0352

Veg is from Organic grower Paul’s Organic Veg. For really fresh brassicas (including those essential sprouts) Paul is your man and he offers veg boxes of various sizes to take all the veg buying hassle away. Next you’ll need some really good sausages and bacon. I think its hard to beat the bacon from Trealy Farm, found in some of the most exclusive hotels and restaurants in the UK, the charcuterie is second to none. For sausages, the Cowshill Herd in Hewelsfield are my first choice, their rear breed pork sausages are perfect for wrapping and serving alongside the bronzed bird.

Pudding, or cheese and pudding?  Of course making your Christmas Pudding is preferable IMG_7705but where cheeses are concerned we are extremely fortunate. A good cheese board should comprise a hard cheese, creamy, goats and blue. A good start would be a wedge of Smart’s Double Gloucester, then a round of deliciously soft Angiddy, a Welsh cheese made from Jersey Milk at Brooke’s Dairy, a slice of the internally famous Stinking Bishop and for a blue…..well, you may have to nip out of the area, The Marches Deli in Monmouth has some excellent and well-kept artisan cheeses and they are always happy to guide you through them. If a heavy classic pud is a little too much why not try some extremely naughty adult ice-cream from Forest and Wye, this artisanal ice-cream comes in flavours such as Baileys and Kahlua, Islay Whiskey and Coffee and Speyside Whisky and Coffee – all remarkably individual and all packing a definite punch. They’re more conventional flavours are pretty fab too – or for those in the Monmouth area its hard to beat Green and Jenks Italian Gelato, take-home packs always available.

So to finish a good meal you need a good digestive and some choccie. Again, I would turn to Charles Martell and one of their devious perry, cider or plum spirits – these are a real treat. The Chocolate Bar in Lydney’s Taurus Crafts is one of the best local makers of fine chocolate, with a moreish selection knowing when to stop buying can be tricky but some good truffles on the table to serve with coffee are essential.

IMG_1852Whatever your foodie preference this Christmas, look about you and explore. Half the fun of the festive season id sourcing all those seasonal goodies that you restrict during the year – indulgence is Christmas and in the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean, you can indulge to your heart’s content!


Bangers and Bonfires #UKsausageweek

Bonfire Night; the air is filled with woodsmoke, a hint of sulphur remains from the sausagesrecently released fireworks. The sparklers have sparkled and now, hunger strikes. What better warming winter dish to turn to than the humble British banger? A childhood favourite, steaming from the barbecue and tucked into a pappy white roll, maybe a few sweet and sticky onions and, of course,  an obscene amount of tomato ketchup, the Hot Dog, ‘English style’ is most synonymous with this time of year. In celebration of this humble foodstuff #nationalsausageweek has been held annually showcasing the best and most inventive sausages around, this year, however it’s #UKsausageweek

There has always been regional variation in sausages, spice blends and the addition of various herbs have been part of sausage culture for centuries however in the past couple of decades flavours have become far more interesting, varying from the sublime to the ridiculous. Personally, I don’t think you can beat a good old breakfast sausage however it depends on exactly what one is serving it with.

For the traditional mash and onion gravy combo I like a flavoursome banger; pork and leek or pork and apple. We are extremely lucky in my region as we have some really excellent butchers, farm-shops and small-holders selling directly to the public. In a previous post I expressed my enthusiasm for the wonderful pork from Monmouthshire’s Decent Company, but within ten miles of my house I can find everything from Gloucester Old Spot and Cider, to Lamb Merguez Style, Wild Boar and I’ve even seen Squirrel. There are those flavoured with chilli, truffle and cheese; one extremely delicious flavour is Black Pudding and Gloucester Old Spot.

There is nothing more depressing than staying in a B and B, or Hotel and being served a fine textured, slurry-esque breakfast sausage with your bacon. I want a decent banger and a good sausage often makes or breaks a weekend break! The supermarkets are coming closer to the mark, and British outdoor bred pork does have a higher welfare standard than the factory farms found in many parts of Europe. We do, of course, have such shameful secrets here, so I try to seek out butchers who provide free-range pork which is local and, in many cases, rare breed or heritage.

These I will pull into the sausage category even thought some are technically a ‘Pudding’ – all certainly deserve a mention. In Northern Ireland, Hugh Maguire’s fabulous Smoked Black Pudding was awarded supreme champion in the much coveted national Great Taste Awards 2017. In Cornwall and the South West Hog’s Pudding is a delicious and now rather rare treat – do seek it out if you’re in the area. Scotland’s famous Lorne Sausage is made with beef, the dense, seasoned,  meaty squares playing a leading role in the Scot’s Cooked Breakfast.

England is extremely famous for the ‘Cumberland sausage‘, coiled and highly flavoured, and often served with the redcurrant and orange based Cumberland Sauce. Each county has its own variety. Amongst others, there are Suffolk Sausages, Wiltshire Sausages and Glamorgan Sausages (a poor man’s recipe of the 19th century where Caerphilly cheese, leeks and breadcrumbs made a tasty, and a now fashionably vegetarian supper dish). One local charcuterie make a wonderfully decadent German-style wild boar black pudding sausage from the wild boar found in the Forest of Dean.

Of course, traditional British cookery and sausages often go hand-in-hand. We have Toad-in-the-Hole,  Bangers and Mash, Sausage Casserole – to name a few. These are real comfort foods and form the basic recipes for many winter suppers.

IMG_2258

Last week I used some fabulous spiced lamb sausages to make a pseudo-tagine with chick peas, preserved lemons and some sweet potatoes to bulk it out a little. The sausages were dense and meaty, no fillers or msg needed.

So, in celebration of #UKsausageweek , here is a little run down of my top five traditional sausage recipe ideas, tweaked for variety;

1) Wrap the sausages in streaky bacon and fry to colour, before adding a Yorkshire pudding batter into which a little sage has been infused.

2) How about trying a chilli flavoured sausage set into a batter of cornmeal and eggs; a Tex Mex twist on Toad-in-the-Hole which works really well with a good dollop of Salsa and Guacamole on the side.

3) Make a creamy root vegetable mash with seasonal parsnips and serve with a fruity banger, Pork and Pear, or Pork and Apple; or a plain well-seasoned sausage and a little apple puree beaten into the mash

4) Skin the sausages and make into tiny meatballs, adding a little crushed fennel seed, bake or fry and add to a traditional Italian tomato sauce. Serve with spaghetti for meatballs sausage style.

5) Skin four different complimentary flavours of sausage, layer into a terrine mould and bake until brown and sizzling for an easy meatloaf. This is also delicious served cold with salads and a good puddle of strong English mustard.

There is no doubt that sausages are a constant crowd pleaser, they weren’t rationed in the war (although were difficult to get hold of), and every country in Europe has their own variation; so this week why not expand your sausage horizon and think out of the box – the British Banger is here for the duration!


This little piggy went to market….then into the freezer…..and it was yum!

decentcompany

This weekend I’ve gone a little bit pork mad. On Friday I took delivery of 1/2 a free-range, rare breed pig from Martha Roberts’ The Decent Company. I was very impressed by the obvious bond she has with her pigs and (so far) I am certainly not disappointed in the quality of the meat.  Rare Breed Pork is quite a bit darker than your usual ‘supermarket’ pork, the fat is creamy and generous and the skin crackles beautifully, the flavour is richer and more old fashioned from when meat tasted like meat.

Martha’s Monmouthshire based smallholding is enchantingly described on her lovely postcards as being high in the hills, and the pictures of her happy sounder (love that word) of swine are a testament to their very ‘decent’ upbringing. I chose 1/2 a pig which is a little over 20 kgs in weight, and costs £160, which when you consider the variety of cuts, is very reasonable. The Pork arrived packed in neat, insulated boxes with lovely little branded cards stashed neatly in a zip lock bag. Within minutes my son had set upon one of the ten packets of sausages and within twenty minutes were sampling some of the nicest sausages I’ve tasted in a long while. They were perfectly seasoned and my 106 year old grandmother, who is staying with us for the week, declared them to, “taste like sausages used to”, which is quite an accolade.

There was an excellent variety of joints, ribs, belly (more on that later), a lovely hock from which I am going to make a pressed parsley terrine, chops not much smaller than my son’s head….the list goes on. We stashed most of it in the freezer, admittedly it does take up most of the freezer….and it’s very likely that within a few weeks we’ll all have grown a curly tail!  Pork is such a versatile meat and you could easily cook a different dish every day for a month and still have dozens of options.

I  have always been a great supporter of the Welsh pig industry. A few years ago I was lucky enough to be invited to a day at Humble by Nature in Monmouthshire, in conjunction with Porc Wales and I learned a great deal about a meat which was very much used in Welsh kitchens. To read more about my experience, click here.

So, this morning, after panicking that I had no bread in the house I knocked up a quick Soda Hedgehog Bread and oven-roasted a few sausages. IMG_0131Served with Tracklement’s Sweet Mustard Ketchup and Proper Tomato Ketchup they went down a treat for Saturday Brunch.

My husband has also decided that now is the time to begin his foray into bacon making and having worked his way through the curing sections of my extensive cookery book library he finally decided to ‘wing it’ a little. The result, which is curing in the refrigerator, is a cider and honey cure with sea salt.

We elected not to use nitrates so we will probably slice and freeze the bacon soon after curing. It is a great ambition of mine to have a proper inglenook fire so that I can hang bacon and hams inside and let the sweet woodsmoke flavour the meat. One day…I keep telling myself. We also made a great slab of crackling with the discarded rind,  which I’ll probably serve alongside bowls of homemade brandied apple sauce with drinks before dinner.

Tomorrow we have guests for Sunday Lunch so I very much looking to sharing this lovely leg joint with them, with all the trimmings of course, and I’m quite sure they’ll all enjoy it as much as I will!

IMG_0075

 

 


Into the woods…..The Forest Showcase Food Festival 2017

IMG_7740As a great supporter of local food festivals, I am always delighted to share my enthusiasm with anyone who cares to listen. It now being ‘food festival season’, I am spoilt for choice. Last weekend I attended a small but perfectly formed festival in The Royal Forest of Dean, about twenty minutes drive from my home.

The Forest of Dean is one of the oldest English forests still in existence and has seen Kings, Princes and Lords ride in the chase under it’s great sprawling oaks. At the heart of the forest is The Speech House, the old Verderers court (click here for the history bit) and last weekend the grounds of this impressive, Carolingian building were packed with producers, musicians, visitors, artists and, of course, food and drink.

 

The Forest Showcase has been fortunate to enjoy splendid autumn sunshine over the past five years, however this year it just wasn’t meant to be.  Despite the rain, and the organisers took extra measures to ensure everyone stayed as dry and mud free as possible, it was a very pleasant way to spend an autumnal Sunday morning. IMG_7745All my good intentions of not going over the top went by the wayside as I was presented with an Aladdin’s cave – in the form of the producers tent.

The marquee was packed, and the atmosphere was convivial.

IMG_7701French-style bread and patisserie sat beside honey producers, cheese makers, purveyors of delicious locally made jams and chutneys, artisan gin, cider and marshmallows, and some rather fabulous pies and pasties from Cinderhill Farm near St Briavels.  There was ice-cream from Forest and Wye, cheese form one of the few PDO Gloucestershire cheese makers, Smart’s   and the eponymous Madgett’s Farm with their excellent free-range chicken, duck and local game. I also discovered a new, extremely local country wine maker and sampled a wonderfully decadent Rose petal wine, the taste of which brought back memories of early summer. I indulged in Fuffle, is a fudge or is it a truffle? Whichever is the true answer, it was delicious. I was offered roasted hemp seeds which were surprisingly moreish, the most exquisite fruit cordials (which would have worked wonderfully in a gin cocktail), cheeses flavoured with honey and fig and cakes in all shapes and flavours.

 

Away from the marquees, there were cider makers, caterers, a craft market, art exhibitions and stalls from various local charities including The Dean Forest Beekeepers, IMG_7700Apple pressing demonstrations were popular and I happened upon a rather good fruit and veg stall where I stocked up on locally grown carrots and broccoli.

Throughout the day a variety of musicians entertained the crowds.

In the demonstration tent, visitors were wowed by cookery demonstrations by, among others, Yvette Farrell who runs the Forest of Dean’s premier cookery school, award winning Hart’s Barn Cookery School.

Very much a family festival, the parent and child cookery classes were filled all day, with healthy eating advisor & cookery teacher Glyn Owen at the helm producing delicious Mezze.

But, if you did miss this year’s event, do not despair….the organisers have a Christmas treat in store!

“We are very much looking forward to our new Xmas event which is at Beechenhurst Lodge on Sunday 28th November…..so those that didn’t make this one because of the weather have another chance to sample and buy the best produce from The Forest of Dean and see some amazing Christmas cookery demonstrations….”

It’s already in my diary, I just hope there’s mulled wine on offer!

 

 

Although I attended as a guest of the festival, all views are my own


Personal Picks for Abergavenny Food Festival 2017 #AFF2017

 

Print

I am so proud to champion Abergavenny Food Festival. Abergavenny is just under half an hour’s drive from my home in Monmouth and (perhaps I am a little biased) but I absolutely love it. It’s an international festival with a wonderfully local feel; I adore the crowds, the sites, smells and of course the tastes.

Having attended for the past few years and having built up a rather encyclopaedic knowledge of my local producers, possibly through simple gluttony;  I thought it would be rather nice to share some of my favourites with you.

My Top Five Local Producers @ Abergavenny Food Festival (in no particular order!)

  1. Green and Jenks (www.greenandjenks.com) Traditional Italian Gelato; based in Monnow Street, Monmouth. This exquisite Italian-Style Gelato in made on site in the cellars of their flagship shop. The owners’ family  were the proprietors of a rather well know dairy in Cardiff in the early 20th century and, having learnt the art directly from Italian Gelato masters in Italy, the owner decided to continue the dairy tradition by opening an ice-cream parlour. The flavours are seasonal; local ingredients are a priority; the Fig and Marscapone is sensational.
  2. Blaenavon Cheddar Company (www.chunkofcheese.co.uk). Several varieties, my favourite being the cheddar aged in the Big Pit mine in the industrial World Heritage Site of Blaenavon, which nestles high in the hills above Abergavenny. All the cheeses would prove excellent additions to any cheese-board, so taste your way to your favourites. The Pwll Mawr (Big Pit) cheddar cheese is also available smoked over oak chips.IMG_4981
  3. Chase Distillery (www.chasedistillery.co.uk) Festival sponsors and internationally renowned makers of Single Estate spirits; one of my absolute favourite Gins is their Pink Grapefruit; but all their spirits provide an elegant base for any cocktail, and there are one or two rather surprising flavours too.
  4. Trealy Farm (www.trealyfarm.com). Monmouthshire based Trealy Farm Charcuterie has made rather a name for itself over the past few years – it can be found on the most distinguished of Charcuterie boards at some of Britain’s finest restaurants. The salami and saucisson are traditionally made from high welfare, free-range, rare breed meat; the flavours immediately transport you back to the France and Italy of summer holidays. Their Boudin Noir is almost too good to merely grace a Full English; I serve it with scallops and bacon for a simple yet delicious first course or light lunch dish.
  5. The Preservation Society (www.thepreservationsociety.co.uk). Chepstow, Monmouthshire, based company specialising in preserves, jams, chutneys and sauces. Perfect to serve alongside any the above. Very local produce oriented; I always return from food festivals with bags of sauces and preserves; they keep so well and make excellent Christmas gifts. Look out for their Blackberry Bramble Sirop which, added to Chase Vodka, is autumn in a glass – or their delicious ‘Not Just for Christmas Chutney’ which partners very well with Pwll Mawr cheese.

 


Chicken Soup….for the tastebuds!

   

Chicken soup – it conjures up memories of childhood; a hearty, warming and sustaining bowl offered with doorstep chunks of bread for dunking. 

There is a lot in the term ‘Jewish Penicillin’ – it does have healing properties, the onions are antiseptic; the chicken, nourishing yet easily digestible.  We make it on a Monday with the leftovers from the Sunday roast, only if somebody’s very poorly do we specifically buy ‘chicken for soup’. No compromises, the chicken has to be free-range, if not organic, and the veg pesticide free. Chicken Soup is so wonderfully versatile, yet there can be no set recipe; as long the stock is good and rich (I rather like a little pool of yielding schmaltz on the top), the vegetable choices can be as simple as onion, carrot and potato to the more exotic squash, pak choi, chilli and coconut…and anything in between.

In medieval Britain chicken was a luxury, a fowl cost four days wages to a general labourer. They were only eaten by the rich or by those with an old hen from the flock who was past her egg bearing days. These, for the most, were stringy and tough and needed extreme cooking, the by-product being an exceptional stock. 

Every farmhouse would have their own recipe, I enjoy adding leeks for flavour and lots of fresh parsley. In south-west France there are Poule au Pot competitions  (Poule au Pot being a whole boiled fowl accompanied by vegetables and served as two courses, broth first, meat and veg second) where chefs compete for the title. Some of these  recipes stem from  the 16th century French King Henri IV who promised all his countrymen a chicken to put in the pot every Sunday.

 Nowadays some of these once  hearty peasant recipes are as far from poor as it’s possible to be, there are truffles, fine wines and even foie gras in some interpretations. But I think, in Wales, as the leaves cover the ground and the trees become, daily, more spindly and unwelcoming, my chicken soup will suit perfectly.

Welsh Farmhouse Chicken Soup

Take one chicken carcass, one large onion, finely diced and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Cover with water and bring to the boil. 
Simmer for an hour and a half over a low heat, remove the carcass and pick off the meat still clinging to it.

 Return the meat to the stock and add 2 finely chopped leeks, three large diced carrots, 3 tennis ball size peeled and diced potatoes and finally a good handful of chopped parsley. 

Cook until the vegetables are tender and serve scattered with more parsley and some crusty bread. 

A cup of the broth on its own is very sustaining