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.

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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.

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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.

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

 

(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.

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.

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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.

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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.

rural life & human spirit

 

Welsh Smorgasbord
Lamb Shank with Jones’  Surprise
Seafood Hotfood
Vegetarian Welsh Hash with Poached Egg
Pear Tart

It is St David’s day this Friday, Wales’ National Day. But on Thursday Oren’s bookclub is gathering to discuss ‘The Hundred-Year-Old-Man  who climbed out of the window and disappeared’ by the Swedish author Jonas Jonasson. Thus this week’s menu ended up as a fusion between Nordic & Welsh cuisine.

Quite fashionable, something Nordic. It’s clear, crystalline esthetics are conquering the world. The world’s best restaurant, according to in-the-know-critics, is Noma in Kopenhagen, where you are fed whole ecosystems  on a plate. Best crime fiction seems to come from Scandinavia and after being glued to the television for ‘The Killing’, Sarah Lund’s Nordic knitted christmas jumpers were on everybody’s wish list. And it might not be easy to construct, but the simplicity of Ikea furniture has made it to homes all over the world.

My last holiday (3 years ago,sigh) was to Sweden, this time of the year. The sky seemed blue-er then anywhere in the world, providing a clear & crisp light. Dense forests and heavy clean snow & ice gave me the feeling that something exuberant of life was hidden in it.  Nordic freshness with a heavy beating heart is part of the Scandinavian succes story, I think.

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I enjoyed ‘The Hundred-Year-Old-Man….’. It fits into a tradition of Swedish literature which has produced some of my all time favourite books.  Jonasson’s book is combination of world history and comic road trip, and made me think of Selma Lagerloff’s ‘The Wonderful Adventures of Nils’. That is the best road trip book ever, published in 1906, about a boy travelling on geese, having adventures in all the provinces of Sweden. The book paints a beautiful picture of regional folklore & life in rural Sweden at the beginnning of the 20th century.

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The simplicity of pre-industrial agricultural Sweden forms the backdrop to one of my all time favourites as well, ‘The six Bullerby children’ by Astrid Lindgren. Just the story of day to day life of 7 children on 3 remote farms. A life led by the seasons, which seems so far from these modern times. It might look now that those children were living in a small world, but with their imagination their world might be bigger than that of some children nowadays.

Astrid Lindgren is also responsible for one of my childhood heroes, Pippi Longstocking.  Despite all the technical shortcomings I can see now, I still like to watch the televesion series I was addicted to as a 4-7 year old boy. In honour of this girl of extraordinary fysical strength & human spirit, who showed me as a child the farcical complexity of adult life, a recipe for Swedish Princes Cake.

pippi

http://makeandbakeblog.blogspot.co.uk/2010/11/swedish-princess-cake.html#!/2010/11/swedish-princess-cake.html

The Art of Travel

surprise Hungarian menu

Of course, blogging is part of arm chair tourism.  With modern technology, we can communicate with anybody anywhere who can tell us everything about anything. We can travel the whole world without lifting our ever growing behinds from our seats. We don’t need to go to China, we just read about it on the internet. We don’t need to taste exotic food, we just buy a whole world of cookery books without ever using them.  I wonder how many people will, after reading a recipe in a blog, actually cook it?

As the world is getting smaller, it is getting more & more difficult to submerge yourself into the unknown.  We don’t want to let go of the control we have over our environment.  Instead of stepping into the world, we let the world come to us, through our mobile phones & computers, with more & more apps as new control mechanisms.

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But I like to be surprised. I just love wandering aimlessly in big cities, never knowing what is around the corner. Maybe it is all Budapest’s fault.

In the summer of 1989 I embarked on my first solo travel, a month touring (then still communist) Hungary.  At the eve of the revolution, Budapest was a very vibrant city. There were concerts all over town every night, and because they were so cheap they were attended by people from all different classes. I saw my first Opera. Daytimes I picnicked in parks, discovered a massive variety of little shops  – one specialised in bow ties  – and had cakes & coffee in all the  classic cafés. Ah, Dobos Torte in Café Gerbaud!

It’s funny how food plays such an important role in my memories of that holiday, even though I wasn’t a chef back then. The cold cherry soup I had in scorching summer heat is still ranked among the best things I’ve ever tasted. But Tokaj and Eger Bulls Blood wines, Gundel pancakes and Chicken Paprikas could easily be added to that list.

English wasn’t widely spoken – the older generation spoke a bit of German. So ordering something from an Hungarian menu was a bit of an adventure. But you soon learn the words for soup, chicken & some cooking techniques. And you can’t go wrong with Goulash.

I fancied making Goulash this week. But the rest of the menu will be a surprise. Because I like cooking for people who are willing to take a risk. It adds to the spice of life.  Eating at Oren is rising from your armchair, let go, and go on a culinary travel where you never know what is around the corner.

Email from the Philippines

This week Oren will pop up @ Abel’s House on Friday. If you would like to come, please contact me on 01286 669683, or via our new email adress orencaernarfon@gmail.com

A new email adress, yes. Last Friday hackers used my old email adress, to send around a hoax, telling all my contacts I was stranded in the Philippines after being robbed and needed them to send money immediately. Silly really. Most of my friends and customers know that I wouldnt suddenly hop off to the Philippines.  Never having mentioned it, they will also have been highly surprised of me being there as it is a total black spot on my holiday destination list.

Even as a culinary globetrotter I havent been to the Philippines. It is a  hiatus in my vast collection of cookery books, I can only think of some recipes in Madhur Jaffrey’s masterpiece ‘Eastern Vegetarian Cooking’. So in line with the email scam I thought I should blog this week as if I really had been to this pacific archipelago.

The first stall I try is Wikipedia. It says: ‘Counterpoint is a feature in Philippine cuisine which normally comes in a pairing of something sweet with something salty, and results in surprising combinations’. For example sweet cacao rice porridge with salted sundried fish. Wonder if this is one of the reasons you dont come across many Filipino restaurants in the west.

Next port of call after looking in my google guide is www.sunkist.com, because as a proprietor of an orange themed restaurant I am interested in what a citrus supplier has to offer. Not disappointed. They say:’ Filipino cooks just seem to have a talent for borrowing the best from other cuisines and turning it into something uniquely fresh and delicious’. Somebody just told me recently that a lot of cooks aboard ships are Filipino, because they incorporate easily western en eastern food in their cooking, handy for big ships with a mixed western/eastern crew.

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I also can taste an orange-flavored version of the Filipino national dish Adobo, an easy casserole in which chicken ‘speaks a tasty new language’. Now that might find its way to the Oren table!

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

3/4 cup palm vinegar or rice vinegar ,  1/4 cup soy sauce ,  1 tablespoon minced garlic , 1 bay leaf ,               1 teaspoon sugar ,   1/2 teaspoon salt ,  1/2 teaspoon black pepper ,  4 each chicken legs and thighs ,          3/4 cup water ,  2 tablespoons cooking oil  ,  zest & segments from 1 orange , 2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

Getting Ready

In a 3-quart pan, combine vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, bay leaf, sugar, salt, and pepper. Add chicken and stir to coat each piece with marinade. Let stand for 30 minutes.

Cooking

  1. Add water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover, and simmer until meat near bone is no longer pink when cut, 45 to 50 minutes. Remove chicken with a slotted spoon; pat dry with paper towels. Reserve sauce and discard bay leaf.
  2. Place a wok over medium heat until hot. Add oil, swirling to coat sides. Add chicken and orange zest; cook until browned on all sides, 5 to 6 minutes total.
  3. Heat reserved sauce. Add cornstarch solution and cook, stirring, until sauce boils and thickens.
  4. Return chicken to sauce; and orange segments and stir until chicken is well glazed.
  5. Lift chicken from sauce and arrange on a serving platter. Pass extra sauce at the table.

Adapted from Martin Yan’s Asia (KQED Books & Tapes) Copyright Yan Can Cook Inc., 1997

www.filipinorecipes.org is a restaurant with a very extensive menu. I learn a lot of good dishes there. Some more Adobo and  most interesting Kare Kare – braised oxtail with peanut sauce. Combination of fat but somehow does sound very appealing to me! But also Paella and Empanadas – after all this was a former Spanish colony, the only one in the Far East. There is also a Filipino version of a Spanish cocido, called Pochero. Meat & vegetables cooked together, and the Filipino twist is adding bananas and sweet potatoes at the end.

That brings me back to the 70’s when my student sister brought home a recipe for chilli con carne with banana, by  far the most outlandish dish my mother added to her repertoire of very well cooked traditional Dutch food. As a real holiday this virtual trip ends with evoking good memories.

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

Guided by Angels

Menu:

  • Crema de Garbanzos – Puree of Chickpea Soup
  • Carnitos of Pork with Oren
  • Fish Picadillo Tacos
  • Quesadillas with Mushrooms & Chipotle
  • Tortillas in Ancho Chile and Red Pepper Cream Sauce
  • Tortillas with Egg & Pumkin Seed Sauce
  • Corn & Black Bean Salsa
  • Salad of Greens with Grapefruit
  • Rice Flour Cake with Pineapple & Pomegranate

The day after the fire my friend Henry (a fellow Dutch ex-pat in Caernarfon) knocked on my door. To show her sympathy and – hearing my pop up plans – offer the dining room in the 14th century basement of Totters Hostel, which she and her husband Bob owns. It contains one big dining table, a perfect meeting place for the travelling guests.

dinningroom

www.totters.co.uk

I love the idea of different guests sharing one big table. The social aspect of eating is very important to me. Customers chatting to people on the table next to them is a common scene in Oren and contributes to the buzzing atmosphere. It reminds me of a restaurant in Utrecht (NL)  in my student days. Casa Sanchez was a Spanish restaurant, characterised by long tables, shouting waiters and an abundance of garlic and olive oil. It was one of the first restaurants I came across which was ‘organic’, it wasnt just about the food or the decor but about the whole experience. Looking at the reviews I am pleased to see that I have been able to create that with Oren as well.

This table shouted ‘Mexico!’ at me – I could immediately imagine it filled with tortilla’s prepared in all their varied ways.  There is something fuzz free, loving and social about Mexican cuisine which suits that table.

A famous Mexican dish is ‘Tablecloth Stainer’. It is unavoidable that the chillis in the sauce dirty your linnen with their intense colour.  But who cares when those chillis are so delicous? It is that attitude with which th food is prepared which endeares me so much to Mexican food.

The first time I ever boarded a plane was to fly me from Amsterdam to Cancun. I returned with beautiful memories, not only of all these amazing sights but above all of the food. Huevos Rancheros (farmers eggs) for breakfast and late night Margeritas. Pollo Pibil (steamed chicken) in Yucatan and Chalupines (crickets collected on the cornfields) in Oaxaca.  And in Puebla of course turkey with savoury chocolate sauce, Pavo con Mole. First time it appeared on the menu in Oren, customers were thinking I was cooking the underground digger.

In 16th century Puebla an Archbishop told the nuns in the  Santa Rosa monastery he wanted to visit them. The nuns panicked and didnt know what to feed such an erudite guest. After a bit of praying they started to mash, grind and chop everything they had in the kitchen. All kinds of chillis, tomatoes, almonds, onions, garlic, bread, tortillas, bananas, sesame seeds, sugar, raisins, lard, smoked avocado leaves and countless spices and herbs went into a sauce. And to finish it of a bit of chocolate. The result was presented to the Archbishop with their price possession, a turkey. The Archbishop was exalted and thanked the angels which guided the hands of the nuns in creating such a divine dish. Please try it yourself:

http://www.thelatinkitchen.com/recipe/turkey-mole-sauce-pavo-en-mole-poblano

I am thanking my angels for guiding my hands this way.