Variation and Fermentation

Flaedlesuppe – vegetable broth with pancake rolls
Pork Schnitzel
Blue Cooked Trout
Zwiebelkuchen – onion cake
Horseradish Coleslaw
Apple and Leek Salad
Wild Garlic Spaetzle
Rhubarb Cake

This week a German theme, Sometimes I feel that German cuisine is slightly underrated. Instead of making fun of their love of wurst, we should  take note of the creativity behind the enormous variety of sausages. Because  it is a challenge to turn a cheap ingredient like pork off cuts into something different all the time.

image

It is a challenge I recognize at the moment, with wild garlic, growing in abundance in the countryside around here now. I like the fresh pungent spring taste of it, but I have to use it sparingly, and in different ways, because you don’t want everything have the same garlic taste all the time.
Wild garlic grows in shaded places like woodlands and riverbanks but poisonous lily of the valley might be mistaken for it. Just tear a bit of a leaf and smell, and you will immediately know which one you’ve got in your hand.
It is a cross between chives and garlic, and as such is a perfect combination with creamy flavours and eggs. My neighbours who recently went on a trip around Europe said that the best thing they had was a Pretzel with cream cheese and wild garlic. It is a fantastic addition to an omelette. You can make a classic pesto with it, and I would use sunflower seeds instead of pine nuts then.

image

In this week’s menu I use it to flavour Spaetzle,  the German version of egg pasta.  Basically make a batter of 4 medium eggs, 125 g of flour and 2 tbsp of milk. The batter should be thick, but drop off the back of your wooden poon. Then press it through your spaetzle maker (see above) or through a colander with wide holes which is placed on top of  a pan with plenty boiling water.
My favourite way with Spaetzle is to cool them down and then fry them till golden and crunchy in plenty of butter.

As with pasta, there are plenty of discussions about the right way to make spaetzle.  But if you’ve put your heart in it you’ll love this doughy worms, even if they haven’t been made technically perfect. I found this blog helpful:  http://www.smittenkitchen.com/blog/2011/03/spaetzle

image

Kraut is another association with German food. I love sauerkraut,  it has that gentle flavour of fermentation, which can also be found in Korean Kimchi and Japanese Miso. Strange how refreshing these things can taste and feel, while they basically have started rotting. It makes me realise how much food and cooking (a pre digestion aid) are part of the cycle of life.
No better example then the medlar tree I will plant this week, of which the fruits first have to rot -‘blet’- before you can eat them. Life is a continuous process, from planting a tree, harvesting the fruit to consuming it.
It is the ripening of the fruit, the pre digestion nature does itself, which makes it all te more sweeter and refreshing.

And so it is with memories and experiences.  A bit of ripening and digesting, and they turn out sweeter. Therefore I think of my dad with fondness this week, when I am producing Schnitzels the seize of a plate, which were the summit of German cuisine for him.

Eat Home Made

Parsnip and Cider Soup
Chicken poached in Mead
Salmon with Whisky Sauce
Lentil and Ale Pie
Guiness Brownies

A Celtic menu for st. Patricks Day,  full of booze,  so you can cook with it, if you have given up drinking it for Lent. I’ve got no problems with alcohol, as long as you don’t take too much it. But that is the case with a lot of things we eat or drink. I remember having a rash (gall related) after eating too many strawberries as a child. Eating varied and well balanced is the answer, I think. Nothing wrong with salt, sugar or a bit of butter at the time. Superfoods? Everything is. Food is just super, don’t be afraid of it.

image

The addictive side of alcohol for me is mostly psychological. Drinking to forget. It numbs the brain. Almost the opposite effect to Oreo cookies, whereof the high sugar and fat content stimulate pleasure centres in the brain, and as such are as addictive as cocaine, recent scientific research has shown.
Convenience shopping in big supermarkets with shelves full of mass produced addictive salt-sugar-fat rich food lies at the heart of the growing obesity problem.  No matter how often they put low fat or all natural ingredients on the label, basically it is all the same. We can only change it by having a more hunter gatherer approach to getting our food on the table. Shop local with your baker and butcher. Get your eggs from a local farm. Grow your own herbs and salad. Go out and pick some wild garlic or other frehsh spring leaves which have sprung out of the ground early here this year because of the non winter. Eat home made.

image

It might take a bit of an effort but in the end the satisfaction of a home baked cake way surpasses the instant stimulation of a pack of chocolate biscuits. Have a go at these brownies for instance, I am happily reblogging the page here where I found them.

http://www.bitchincamero.com/2010/03/guinness-brownies/

By orencaernarfon Posted in food

Memories in a Jar

 

  • Chantarelle mushroom soup
  • Liquorice lamb with roasted vegetables & sweet carrot jus
  • Fish frikadeller with curry remoulade
  • Open pie with rye crust and rice & smoked cheese filling
  • Pancake tart with apple & rosehip sauce and blackberries

Finally time to do some contemplative writing again, after a busy summer. It’s been good, making friends for life over breakfast while running a B&B, enjoying all the fresh local produce in the restaurant & having manic days while popping up with Oren at festivals as Gwyl Arall and Gwyl Gardd Goll.
Now, with the wind blowing around the house, autumn has definitely arrived and brings a bit of melancholy with it. Nature is starting to show its more sorrowful colours in the deep red & purple of aubergines, plums, blackberries, elderberries & grapes. I would love to spend some time in a vineyard in Southern France to experience the buzz of the harvest and the anticipation of the wine it will make.

012
The chill in the air and the first yellow leafs are telling us to hurry up, gather our produce and preserve the summer for the dark days to come. It is the season of jam & chutney making. No wonder there are no jam jars left in Caernarfon’s hard ware shop as we bought the last ones for the green tomato chutney I made. No point in waiting for the perfectly glossy full bodied but hard & green tomatoes to get some colour. Better off putting them in a jar where they will remind me of the good summer I had growing them.

trekker
Of all the jams, rosehip must be my favourite. Ever since one summer as a small boy I helped pick Mrs. Blauw lots of them from our bushes, and she gave me a Matchbox Ford tractor as my reward. Mrs. Blauw was one of the few people to recognize the value of these fruits of the flower of love. They need a bit of work, with their little devils of thorns and millions of rock hard seeds. But after a good cooking you end up with a scented syrupy goodness – full of vitamin c.

001

All in all a good symbol of the sweet memories I am left with after the hard work this summer.

 

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.

veggiestan

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.
UTRECHT-KRACHTWIJK-LOMBOK
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.
006
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.

003

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.

004

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.

Tiny Morsels & Great Conversation

 

Dates in Duvets
Devilled Chicken Liver & Tarragon Vol Au Vents
Welsh Lamb Meatballs in Tomato & Leek Sauce
Radishes with Anchovy Sauce
Curried Oren Bach with Smoked Haddock (fried rice balls)
Potted Crab with Harissa
Mini Rarebit
Spring Green Salad
Home Baked Oatcakes
Potato Salad with Wild Garlic Mayonnaisse
Lemon Trifle

Spanish cooking has always had a special place in my heart since my first job as a chef, in a Spanish restaurant in Utrecht. I have got good memories of that job. The restaurant had recently opened and the staff formed a good motivated team (complaining about everthing the managers did wrong of course). Waiters greeted me in the morning with cafe con ponche (coffee with a bit of sweet brandy on the side). The dishwasher, a Spanish student from Barcelona, taught me how to make the perfect tortilla, potato omelette. The trick is to cook your sliced potatoes in plenty of olive oil, then drain them and mix the eggs with the warm potatoes.

Spanish-Tortilla-Recipe

There is something about Spanish cooking which suits me very well. Maybe it is because it is a rustic cuisine, heavily influenced by the people of the land, instead of fine dining influenced by palaces & aristocracy. Tapas are Spain’s biggest contribution to global cooking. Somebody had the idea to put food on the little plates which were used to cover glasses, to ward off greedy flies. There is something to be said for a cuisine which regards food as a tasty bit on the side. It is that what endears me most about Spanish cooking. The food has a supporting role to a social occasion. Most important is that people have a good night, and having some nice little snacks on plates are helping to realise that.

012Inspiration for this week’s menu comes mostly from ‘My kind of cooking’ by Mark Sargeant, one of the most inspiring cookbooks I read the last couple of years. It does really contain easy recipes, based in British tradition. I read the book and thought, oh, I’ll put that on the menu, and that, and that… So it is back to the table buffet formula at Oren this week. I realise now why it is always such a succes, because it goes back to the important role food has as a social medium.

(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.

007

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.

bamboo

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.

 

Triumph of Simplicity

St. Patrick’s Day on Sunday, so Oren turns Gwyrdd (Green) for a week.   Yes, the grass is definitely greener in Ireland. Havent been there for 15 years now, but it was my travel hotspot in the nineties. In fact, Ireland is the reason that I am where I am today. After deciding I wanted to leave crowded and overregulated Holland, living in Ireland seemed a perfect plan. It didnt work out completely, I got as far as North Wales. Although I am perfectly happy here now, I stll think the emerald isle. Especally of  the Aran Islands on the West Coast, which is the most beautiful spot I have been to.

inish

So time to put my love for Eire into a special menu.

  • Brotchan Roy
  • Braised Oxtail
  • Cod with Cream & Bayleaves
  • Vegetarian Buckwheat Balls & Guiness Stew
  • served with Wild Garlic Champ
  • Rhubarb Pie.

I am leaning heavily on recipes from Darina Allen’s Irish Traditonal Cooking. They are examples of the triumph of simplicity.

Brotchan Roy – Broth for a King – is a soup made of Leeks & Oatmeal. Yep, basically just that. Sweat leeks in butter, add stock or milk, stir in oatmeal, cook for 45 min. Ancient recipe but you end up with the most flavourful soup, which has a beautiful celtic mist colour. Darina suggests a bit of mace for flavour, but  I guess thyme (my favourite bedfellow for leeks) or white pepper will do as well.

Ehm…Oxtail isnt particularly Irish, but I just fancied cooking it before winter is really over.

013

It feels so good to have something fresh green on the menu again. Yesterday I went for a walk to my secret spot for picking wild garlic, and discovered that despite the wintery temperatures of  the last couple of months it had already come up in abundance. I got enough to use for the champ – potatoes mashed with milk which has been infused with the wild garlic. Not only it has the fresh Irish green colour, but for me, the taste of wild garlic anounces the arrival of spring. It cuts through the stodgyness of wintery food.

The acidity of rhubarb does the same, and that makes it one of my favourite spring ingredients. The recipe from’ Irish Traditional Cooking’  for Rhubarb Pie, with a bread-cake base (using baking soda as a rising agent, in combination with buttermilk). This recipe works perfect, as the base soaks up the juices from the rhubarb.

014

I was surprised how good these simple dishes tasted. But it is a good reminder that Ireland once signified a life of simplicity, and that I am still striving to lead that life.

Imagination & Silent Force

 

 

Indonesian Menu for this week:

  • Sweetcorn Cakes with Fruit & Vegetable Salsa
  • Soto Ajam – Chicken in Broth with Noodles
  • Mackerel with Green Beans & Cauliflower in Spicy Coconut Sauce
  • Lotek with Petjil sauce (vegetables with peanut sauce)
  • Bananas, Ginger & Cream with Sesame Cookies

It is World Book Day and where better to spend it then in my local bookstore, Palas Print. Caernarfon is lucky enough to have this excellent independent bookshop.

For me, as a wanderer, it is a lovely place to browse through the selection. I feel strangely old fashioned to go into a bookshop and wanting to discover the next book I will be reading. Instead of knowing what I want and ordering the cheapest copy through the internet.

Today I have cooked some dishes out of cookery books which are currently on the shelf of Palas Print and serve them in the shop for lunch. Most intriguing for me is a Ploughmans Pie from the Fabulous Baker Boys. My cooking is described as imaginative but I have never thougt of cooking cheese & chutney in a pie.

http://www.channel4.com/4food/recipes/tv-show-recipes/the-fabulous-baker-brothers-recipes/ploughmans-pie-recipe

The evening menu this week is Indonesian, a cuisine which is to the Dutch like Indian to the British. In the Netherlands most Chinese takeways serve a mix of Chinese & Indonesian cooking adapted to Dutch taste. Take away favourite Babi Pangang for instance is Char Siu pork with a sauce which seems to be a mix of Chinese Sweet n Sour and Indonesian Satay.

sukarno

Since my childhood I’ve eaten Nasi Goreng. But I didnt connect the dilluted Dutch version  with the spice islands.  The image I had of Indonesia (evoked by stamps I collected as a child) was of  a far flung exotic place, where deep and dark  forces are at work. Smouldering heat, rice fields and waving palms. Parts of that image I found back when I started to cook more authentic Indonesian food, heavily spiced and aromatic dishes as Nasi Rames (beef) and Soto Ajam  (chicken).

A famous Dutch novel set in colonial Indonesia is called ‘The silent force’. It is to you to discover to nature of this force working through all these spices, when I put the food on the table this weekend.