I love you too

Gwyl Arall menu
Broadbean and Dill Hummus
Caws Rhydydelyn and Purslane Salad
Terrine with Pickled Cammomile Peaches

Rice Bowl with Beef or Tofu
and Strawberry Ketchup,  Russian Kale,  Coffee Beets, Creamed Rosemary Courgette

Gooseberry  Pie

Often I get asked what my speciality/favourite cuisine is. And always I forget to answer: the joys of June. The soft whites and pinks of May, the month of expectancy, have made way for the blood red fruits of love. My heart skips a beat when I spot the first real sun ripened strawberries, raspberries and cherries. For me, it is as with these fruits  nature is saying ‘I love you  too’.
Its is the sparkling burst of abundance which I so love about these last weeks. The vegetable boxes which my local farm has started again are overflowing with green leafs and crisp new carrots, potatoes and onions. Tasting a freshly picked cucumber you realise how much flavour is lost with wrapping it in plastic and transporting it.

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June is the month for haying. The smell of freshly cut grass is loved by so many people I think because it makes them feel right in the middle of summer, when the sunshine is still sparkling. Strawberries in Ginger Ale Jelly are the optimal foodification of this sparkling sunshine in a glass. You could use champagne but I like the extra zing of ginger.

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Gorfennaf is the Welsh for July, and it means the end of summer. That’s a bit premature I hear you say, are summers in Wales that short? But it harbours a grain of truth. Nights are shortening. From now on summer is ripening, drying out. The next few months are all about harvesting, and conserving the crops for winter. Not long before combines almost cowlike graze the fields of golden grain, and digest it, seperating the wheat from the chaff.
The revitalising sparkle has left summer. It is about maturing now. That is why I like pickles so much. The vinegar adds the bit of zing which got lost. Recipes for the peaches and coffee beets on this weeks menu I found in the very inspiring ‘Smoke and Pickles’ by Edward Lee.

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Preparing for next weeks Welsh cultural festival Gwyl Arall I talked to Carwyn Jones, who set himself the challenge to live of the land and the sea for a year. While I am jubilating the abundance of vegetable and fruit produce, for Carwyn these are difficult months. There is not much to hunt and fish for. He’s trying hard to catch that shyest of fishes, sea trout. Although there is an element of sport, achieving the catch, it is mostly about becoming one with nature, feeling almost what the trout is doing, and simulating with your ‘fly’ the movement of small fish it is hungry for.

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If you eat it, you have to be able to kill it, is Carwyns  motto. When you kill an animal for meat, it should be done with respect. That is the word which ressonates with me most. Cooking is not an art, sport or nutritional necessarily action, but paying respect to what nature is giving you. Your way of saying ‘I love you too ‘ to the earth and all what it is providing you with.

The Flavour of Life

A Dutch farm menu this week.
Dutch  Farm Salad with Cheese and/or Cured Sausage and Buttermilk Dressing
Dutch Beef Burger with Fried Liver Sausage and Mustard
White Asparagus with Egg and Lime Tree Blossom Sauce
served with Sautéed New Potatoes, Broad Beans and Aniseed Carrots.
Dutch style Semolina Pudding with Camomile Cream and Stewed Strawberries

June is my favourite month. Spring is over. Woken up after winter, all its detoxing fresh green leafs were like a refreshing morning shower. All its flowers and blossoms were a dawn chorus of better things to come. But it is in June that these promises are kept, as it is the month of real first harvesting. Ah, the taste of freshly dug up new potatoes, planted at Easter, with some butter and mustard. Strawberries, rose blossoms turned into a sweet juicy fruit of love. Cherries, gooseberries, currants, peas, broad beans.

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It is the month of my birthday, and sometimes it feels like the whole month is a birthday, being given all this fresh fruit and veg. And as on the morning of a birthday, there is the almost exhilarating anticipation of more things to come. Went for the hills on this early summer day, a lark singing high in the sky, surrounded by heather and llus bushes (bilberry). Couldn’t help but checking how many berries there are on the bushes, hoping the sheep will leave them alone, and that I will be able to pick my fair share in a month or so. Looking out below me I noticed the wheat is already starting to turn into fields of gold, and I could already almost smell a freshly baked bread.

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A friend of mine lost his farming father earlier this year. Living in the city himself he told me that he felt he lost more then his father. He missed the connection with the land, his father came from a way of life which is gone now. I guess he felt that the rhytm of his life has changed. For centuries food, and producing food, gave structure to our existence. Nowadays it seems more and more that food is just something nutritious. Instead of seeing it as a way of connecting, we separate  it by wrapping it in as much plastic as possible. In restaurants the distance is created  by turning food into some kind of art.

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I feel blessed that I can see golden fields and wild bilberries growing where I live. The importance of food as the flavour of life is also shown in the brilliant novel I recently read by Manon Steffan Ros: the Seasoning. It tells the story of Peggy, living in a village in the Welsh hills.  Each chapter centers around a different person and starts with a recipe of food they enjoyed together. It is the food that gives her memories some extra spice.
I applaud the concept of this book. I wish everybody the excitement of baking a cake, picking homegrown strawberries or the waiting for the right moment to pick wild blackberries. You can feel natures pulse through it, and that makes life so much tastier.

Kashba & Farm

 


Chicken meatballs with lemon Harissa relish

Grilled seabass with herb & raisin salsa and Chermoulah marinade
Broad bean burger
Poached asparagus & carrots with caper mayonnaise
Jersey Royal salad
Vine leaf, herb & yoghurt pie
Bulghur wheat Kisir
Roast rhubarb with sweet labneh

Time to celebrate Ottolenghi’s recipes again. His ‘Plenty’ is one of my favourite cookery books, and after it good damaged in the fire a customer gave me a fresh new copy, hoping that I would use it as often.

Most of the recipes have got a modern Middle Eastern flair – Ottolenghi is originally from Jerusalem. Reading his recipes it strikes me that the love for fresh ingredients almost jumps of the page. Images of a Middle Eastern Kasbah come to mind, with piles of watermelons, tomatoes, aubergines, the scent of fresh coriander & mint, and a spice bazaar full of yellow & red and all the colours between them.

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I’ve never been to such a place, but reading the words ‘pomegranate molasses’, ‘zumac’ and ‘za’atar’ brings me back to the Kanaalstraat in Utrecht, where I lived close by for years. It is in a multicultural neighbourhood, which is regarded as an example of integration. You’ll find an abundance of Halal butchers, Moroccan greengrocers, Turkish bakeries, Iranian supermarkets next to a an excellent wine shop, a Dutch cheese specialist and a well stocked fresh fish monger. A couple of Surinamese shops selling a unique mix of Oriental & Caribbean ingredients make it complete.
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I know realise how fortunate I have been to have all this on my doorstep in my beginning years as a chef. Still remember that I first discovered a bottle of pomegranate molasses and asking the shopkeeper what to do with it. And after reading about it in some cookery books, spotting a vegetable like cardoons (blanched thistle) a couple of months later.

Being able to do all the shopping in one street was perfect– on the bike of course! It is not only the variety of produce that drove me there time and time again, but also the cheap prices and certainly the quality of the products. Whatever fruit I would buy, it would be ripe and sweet & juicy. I am always disappointed if I buy fruit in the supermarket now – never really right. Maybe that is because it’s all part of one big logistic nightmare process. Fruit is grown industrially to an order placed months before, then picked way before it is ripe because it will take a long time (travelling, being packaged) before it ends up in the supermarkets where it has to have a bit of a shelf life.

No, I’d rather have the piles of darkest red cherries which I remember from the Kanaalstraat. Ripe & ready, yes some a bit blemished, but they need to go, so are flogged at low prices. And of course I realise that they might have been picked under not very nice circumstances in Turkey, and brought to Holland overnight in the back of an old lorry.

Here in Wales the situation is dire. No greengrocer or fish shop in Caernarfon, or in even within miles from it. A couple of good local butchers, selling Welsh beef & lamb. Bangor, a university town, has a couple of ethnic shops, an oriental supermarket and a place with Middle Eastern goods – where I hope to find my special ingredients for this menu.
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But better than buying it from the shop is buying it straight from the farm. Luckily there is quite a few of those around! I might not be able to do my shopping on the bike anymore, but driving through the beautifl Welsh countryside and see your vegetables grow and the hens who lay your eggs potter about, is an experience I wish every chef could have.

Gentle Expectation

 

  • menu May 10th and 11th:
  • Daisy Soup
  • Duck & Shitake Pho
  • Gratin of Laverbread & Oysters
  • Nettle, Ground Elder & Goosegrass Burger with Wild Garlic Hummus
  • Served with Dandelion & Potato Salad with Toasted Pumpkin Seed Oil and Hawthorn Salad with Soy Honey Dressing
  • Gorse Flower Charlotte

I have got a favourite stroll through some fields just outside Caernarfon and then back along the Menai Straits. Recently, in the middle of a field full of dandelions & daisies, the thought ‘Isn’t spring one big egg’ came to my mind. Everywhere nature was showing yellows and whites. Being in Wales, all the daffodils for instance. And the sloe bushes in the hedgerow in their white blossom haze.

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Finally after a long cold & dry period, trees are showing their fresh, limegreen coloured new leaves. It makes me want to eat them. And fortunately, you can. A wild food menu for Oren is on the cards for this week.

May is the month of expectation. Not a vibrant and overexcited one, but more a serene looking forward, reflected in those yellows and whites nature is showing, and the gentle blues and pinks (forget-me-nots, bluebells). Yesterday I saw my first cabbage white butterfly of the year frolicking through the sky. That movement captured my mood exactly.

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Summer, the season of freedom, is around the corner. I will be able to walk barefoot soon, or in sandals, instead of having them tied into shoes. And there is a new dawn for Oren, after moving it from the Hole in the Wall Street to the cozy environment of my kitchen at Abel’s House. Personally I feel relieved, having no longer the restraints of a separate restaurant premises. And I am grateful the growing stream of returning customers feel as much as home at Abel’s as I do.

(con)fusion and principles

 

 

  • Buttermilk-soaked Chicken with Croutons, Butter Beans & Brazil Nuts
  • Prawn & Mandarin Soup
  • Chilled Cashew & Black Olive Soup
  • Baked Sausages with Tomato, Balsamic & Cumin
  • Grilled Sardines with Beetroot, Grapefruit and Parsley
  • Baked Aubergines Crumbles with Szechuan Pepper
  • White Grape & Bay Leaf Bavarois

I do have principles when it comes to food. ‘Eat as much from your direct environment’ is the first one which comes to my mind. It is branded ‘local & seasonal’ in todays food marketing. Basically you should eat the food which grows around you, suitable to climate you live in. Two weeks ago I picked some wild garlic, and it brought the very fresh cleansing taste to my plate of food, which I had been looking forward to after the stodgy winter. Nothing brings me more pleasure in early summer than the first local strawberries.Looking at the little red darlings in the suppermarkets now, I can easily refrain from buying them, because I know it will be nothing compared to the real thing.

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But local food in wintery Wales is scarse. I guess if you really wanted to eat local all the time, you have to resolve to traditional conserving methods, with the additon of the freezer. Dry your beans, salt your meat, smoke your fish, jam your fruit and freeze lots of vegetables when there is an abundance of them. That would all be ok, if society hadnt moved from an agricultural village to the ‘global village’.

Sometimes I wonder if part of me is reincarnated Far East Asian. I have an enormous fascination for Chinese, Japanese & Korean food. After seeing Ang Lee’s film ‘Eat Man, Drink Woman’ years ago (starting with the father cooking a meal) I immediately went out the next day and bought bamboo steamers and seasoned a carbon steel wok. Ever since, from time to time, I yearn for some Asian food.

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So, as an excuse for wanderings into foreign cuisines, maybe my biggest principle is to eat as varied as possible. I dont mean the fake variation suppermarkets are offering, of isles of different kind of chocolate biscuits, breakfast serials and the newest out of space flavour crisps. No, more the one day pasta, next day potato and the following day rice variation.

This week though, I have taken the eat varied theme one step further. All because I read Vicky Bhogal’s cookery book ‘Flavour’. There are a lot if dishes with sometimes far sought combinations of food. Scallops with lychees and bitter lemonade anyone? Well, strangely enough I fancied it.  I realise writing this that it is working for me, because the book shows aprreciation of ingredients. With that, it is grateful for what the earth is giving us. And that is probably my biggest principle of all.

 

St. Dwynwen

Menu:

  • Salad of Roasted Leeks with Olives & Thyme 
  •  Cream of Swede & Nutmeg Soup
  • Matelote of Pigeon 
  • Crab & Salmon Fish Cakes with Local Chutney 
  • Vegetarian Lentil & Celtic Mead Pie 
  • Welsh Cheeses, Home Baked Oatcakes 
  • Welsh Cakes, Sloe Gin Jelly, Salted Caramel Walnuts & Cream

It is St Dwynwen night this week in Wales, on the 25th. St Dwynwen is the Welsh patron saint of lovers.  How a nun became the equivalent of St Valentine you can read on

http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofWales/St-Dwynwens-Day/

I have never really understood the stories about her. But then again, I am a convinced bachelor. To me, it looks like she was disappointed in love and then sulked for years on a forgotten corner of the island of Anglesey. I can understand why she chose that place though, because nowadays there is still an air of serene tranquility at Newborough beach. You can reach Landdwyn island at low tides from the beach. For me, there is always something magical about places like that, as if I am on a pelgrimage and the island allows me to come in, by lowering the water.

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We use Penceunant Tea Rooms (www.snowdoncafe.com) as a location for Pop Up Oren this week. An 18th century traditional cottage, on the slopes of Snowdon. It will take a little climb to get there. But it might remind the guests of the pelgrimage they are on together, lovers or not. The little effort they have to take will be rewarded with a warm fire and good food. Lowering my waters and welcoming the pilgrims in (as LLanddwyn island) is one of the nicest parts of being a cook for me.

So instead of an evening where couples stare into eachothers eyes over  pink and heart shaped afrodesiac dishes, we use this day as an excuse to comfort our ‘pilgrims’ and serve excellent Welsh food in a beautiful Welsh Cottage.

On the menu Welsh cakes baked on a griddle, this recipe is from Penceunant tearooms.

Ingredients:
   
1 lb/450g Plain Flour
8 oz/220g Butter
5 oz/140g Sugar
2 Eggs
3 oz/85g Currants
1/4 Teaspoon of Cinnamon
Method:
    
Cream the butter, sugar and eggs in a bowl for a couple of minutes. Then add the flour, cinnamon and currants.  Mix well.  Dust a breadboard with some flour and knead the dough for about 2 or 3 minutes.  Flatten the dough with a rollin pin until it’s about 1/4 inch/5mm thick. Use a pastry cutter to make 3-4 inch/8-10cm circles.  Grease a heavy pan or griddle with some butter and put over a medium heat.  Cook for 2 or 3 minutes each side until golden brown on both sides