Friday, 23 May 2014

Half Term Fun

Love them or loathe them, barbecues are a sure sign that summer is upon us. Burnt sausages, charred chicken and rubbery meaty burgers seem to be the delight of many! For me, it's the accompanying salads, the radish, home-grown tomatoes, cucumbers, salad potatoes ... the list is endless. Give me a bowl of freshly picked broad beans, shelled and boiled with a little butter, salt and pepper with crusty bread ... mmm a meal in minutes!
I do love meat, though. Succulent chicken drumsticks marinaded in yoghurt and mint, or in olive oil, chilli and ginger ... or a great piece of fish slowly cooked in a foil parcel in the barbecue charcoals – oh, I could go on, lovely summer time food, eaten outdoors. 
In the early evening, the rolling hills of the Towy Valley cast shade over the Pumpkin Patch Garden at Allt y Gôg Farm, whilst valley below continues to be smothered by evening sun, giving warmth and light well into the evening. For us shade dwellers, we've re- discovered the camp-fire, a wonderful way to enjoy the outdoors well into the night, whilst providing heat and light and an alternative to the barbecue! A few years ago Sam, our eldest son, and an outdoor enthusiast, convinced us to purchase a fire tripod ... what an investment! We now boil, fry and steam a variety of meals for breakfast, tea an supper! Not just for a late night feast either – we’ve even cooked our Sunday morning sausages on the camp-fire – slightly crazy but a delightful and relaxed way to wake up at the weekend! 

For safety reasons The Pumpkin Patch hasn’t been introduced to this way of cooking yet, but I'm sure the teenage class will soon enjoy a camp-fire evening – I can't wait! 
If cooking in the summer months is more of a chore than a delight, and if you can't bear to stay indoors more than you have to, I recommend the “tripod” - your evenings (or mornings for that matter) will never be the same again! Failing that, the traditional charcoal barbecue or a gas equivalent is an ideal way to cook and spend more time in the garden. If you are out and about, I find the quick and easy throw away barbecue in a foil tray also work really well, but they can be small and are only hot enough for a short while. A great alternative is a small gas camping stove and a frying pan. Keep them in the boot of the car for impromptu meals on the beach or in picnic areas.
REMEMBER…Don’t forget to check any rules and laws relating to campfires, barbecue and gas stoves before you start cooking, and always leave the beach or countryside as you find it, and take litter with you. 
Half Term Fun!
This week is half term, and providing that the weather is dry, this is a great time of year to enjoy the great outdoors. Introduce young children to camping by pitching a tent in the garden, and allowing them to play in it during the day. Hours can be spent ‘pretend’ camping and enjoying a teddy bears picnic! Let toddlers prepare their favourite sandwiches, and eat their picnic tea on a rug on the lawn. These simple pleasures are some of the most memorable and can beat expensive days out. 
Things to do with the family this week
  • Make home made fruit juice lollies or flavoured ice cubes for hot days
  • Pitch a small tent on the lawn for youngsters to play in
  • Make some bread dough for home made healthy pizza or tiny pizzeta snacks - see this week’s recipe
  • Go on a country walk and take photographs to make a photo collage on a rainy day 

Fantastic Flat Breads

3 cups of flour 
2 Tablespoons olive oil (or yoghurt)
Lukewarm water (approx 300ml - 400ml)1  teaspoons salt
1  teaspoons dried yeast
  • Place the flour, yeast and salt in a large mixing bowl and stir to mix 
  • Start adding the water, bit by bit, mixing the dough with a spoon 
  • Add enough water to make a very soft and almost sloppy dough 
  • Knead the dough for about 5 minutes 
  • Place in a bowl and cover with a tea towel (or shower cap!!)
  • Allow to rise in a warm place for up to an hour 
  • When the dough is ready, shape into small flat shaped breads 
  • Gently fry in a frying pan for about 4 minutes per side until cooked 
  • Serve with barbecued foods
TIP: These breads can also be made on the barbecue!

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

There’s something fishy going on!

It’s that time of year again…festival season! I’m not talking Glastonbury or V Fest, I mean the ‘foody’ type - the type I get invited to! It’s a great excuse to look for, and think up, new and different recipe ideas to experiment with.

Last weekend I was at the BBC Laugharne Live event at Laugharne Castle, the first of several Dylan Thomas Centenary year celebrations. It was a busy weekend, BBC Radio 2,3,4, Radio Wales and Radio Cymru were broadcasting live throughout the weekend, interviewing and discussing all things Dylan Thomas. 

Being more of a scientist than a linguist (at least that’s my excuse!) my knowledge of Dylan Thomas was and remains fairly limited. Though I must say, my knowledge has probably doubled since last weekend. Wanting to link my cookery to the theme of the weekend, I did a little research…. Google came in handy and saved me hours of reading (which i didn’t have) and I discovered a fair few interesting facts about Dylan. That, coupled with a Radio Wales interview working alongside Jef Towns owner of Dylan’s bookstore in Swansea (and expert in all things relating to DT), I now feel quite knowledgable, if not well versed in the works themselves!!

One thing’s for sure, I knocked up some seriously tasty ‘Dylan’, recipes all weekend. The recipes are also very Welsh ‘seaside’, seasonal and typical everyday fodder for the people at Laugharne in 1940’s. Thanks to the recently opened Towy Fishmongers, I stocked up on live cockles, A couple of kippers (smoked herring), some wonderfully pink salmon fillets and a tub of Samphire and laverbread, all from Carmarthen market, and from the friendly informative Owen.   
My research had uncovered that Dylan was rather fond of a bacon & cockle chowder, and that was a useful discovery because I already had a favourite recipe that was tried and tested. In a great article written by Sion Morgan (Wales on line) he gave me a rather quick insight to where Dylan ate and drank, and what he liked to eat, rather useful information when one’s about to embark on a weekend cookery extravaganza in Laugharne, surrounded by complete DT enthusiasts!
Another easily modified recipe of mine, would create Dylan’s favourite bubble and squeak served with kippers. I love Sweetheart cabbage fried in a little butter & oil, flavoured with chorizo and chilli; so simple but so tasty! I decided to add that to some crushed roast Pembrokeshire new potatoes, and top it all with a grilled kipper. A really healthy, warm comfort food, ideal for a cool summer evening sat outdoors next to the sea. 
Back to the chowder… The ingredients list is very long, but it’s worth it. Basically, fry the shallot, the celery and the bacon in a little butter and oil.  Add the 300ml of chicken or vegetable stock, bay leaf and thyme, then add the potatoes (very finely chopped, for fast cooking), and simmer and then add the cockles, milk, cream & seasoning.  That’s it!! Remember to check the seasoning before adding any additional salt as the bacon may have salted the stock sufficiently. Feel free to thicken the chowder with a little flour and serve with crusty bread.
If you’re not a cockle fan, try a similar dish - salmon or haddock chowder. Once the potatoes are cooked, sink a salmon fillet or haddock into the stock and poach the fish until cooked. Remove the fish from the pan, flake the meat and check for bones. Return the fish to the chowder, add the cream and serve.
Two simple recipes, influenced by Dylan himself! Give them a try this week.