I’m loving Wales…I had forgotten how easy it is to pop onto the ferry at Rosslare and after a few chilled hours’ drive off in Fishguard. How charming is Fishguard…then off into the Welsh countryside.
I had also totally forgotten how beautiful the Welsh countryside is, some wide roads but lots and lots of windy lanes edged with wildflowers, native bluebells, pink campion, jack of the hedge, stitchwort, and Queen Anne’s lace…Is this the most beautiful time of the year in Wales? I don’t know, I haven’t been here for over a decade. And NO I am not in the pay of the Welsh tourist board, I am just enchanted….Many of the towns and villages are old-fashioned, lots of antique and charity shops, estate agents and sadly some empty premises too.
We are on our way to fforest farm, an eco-development just outside Cardigan, part glamping, part shacks and a beautiful farmhouse, but super chic. Our Onsen dome overlooks a field of dandelions edged by a deciduous wood, out of which deer amble nonchalantly in the early morning. A really comfy bed and a stove which makes everything toasty warm even on chilly April nights. There is a cute little kitchen plus an outdoor kitchen, a barbecue, a hot tub, several Adirondack chairs and a lovely lounge banquette seat, we’re not exactly slumming it…
We tuck into the picnic that we never leave home without.
Dinner…it’s Pizza Night at fforest – a very convivial outdoor affair with a choice of 5 or 6 pizzas with gorgeous fresh toppings from the wood burning oven. Just tuck into slice after slice of whatever you fancy, help yourself to a salad of leaves from the garden, all around the brazier…all ages.
We drove to Lampeter, still in Wales, to visit friends who make Hafod, a wonderful organic Cheddar cheese from the milk of their beautiful herd of Ayrshire cows. We talk into the night around the kitchen table, meet many inspirational farmers, educators, researchers and share thoughts and ideas about food production, farming sustainably and supporting those on a journey towards regenerating farming.
Then on to another farm, just over the Welsh border into Shropshire, this time 2,500 acres in conversion to Organic Farming. Another stunning landscape, sheep grazing the hills and woodlands. Walled garden and greenhouses bursting with beautiful healthy organic vegetables and fruit trees in full blossom.
We cook supper together, make a salsa verde from the gorgeous freshly picked herbs from the garden and Béarnaise sauce with some of the most luscious fresh tarragon I have ever seen. All this served with a beautiful fillet of beef from the local butcher and some purple sprouting broccoli from the garden. A little feast followed by delicious poached plums saved in the freezer from last year’s harvest.
Next, we’re on our way to the Cotswolds, wending our way through those idyllic sandstone villages to Southrop to stay at Thyme, a particularly lovely country house hotel in the midst of gardens and grounds…
That’s all for this week, if you are looking for some inspiration for a trip this summer, Wales is definitely worth considering.
Here are a few recipes
to tantalise your taste buds…
Roast Fillet of Beef with Béarnaise Sauce
A fillet of beef is an expensive cut and a real treat, so do take care with the cooking time to ensure it will be exactly as you would like it.
Serves 8 – 10
1 whole fillet of well hung dried aged beef 2.6kg (6lb) approximately
a few cloves garlic
pork caul fat (if available)
sea salt and freshly cracked pepper
extra virgin olive oil
Béarnaise Sauce (see recipe).
Trim away the chain if it is still attached, use the meat for Beef Stroganoff. Double over the meat at the tapered end and tie the fillet securely with fine butcher’s cotton twine. Alternatively ask your butcher to do the ‘butchering’ for you.
Rub the fillet all over with a cut clove of garlic, season well with lots of freshly ground pepper and wrap loosely in caul fat if available. Season well with sea salt.
Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8.
Alternatively, rub the fillet all over with the cut clove of garlic as before, season well on all sides with salt and freshly cracked pepper and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Heat a cast iron pan grill to very hot. Sear the beef until nicely browned on all sides. Transfer it to a roasting tin and tuck a couple of sprigs of thyme underneath.
Roast for 25-30 minutes. If you have a meat thermometer, the internal temperature should read 50°C/125°F for rare or 75°C/167°F for well done. Alternatively the meat should feel springy to the touch and the juice should be a pale pink when the meat is pierced with a skewer. Remove from the oven to a carving dish. Cover and allow to rest for 15-20 minutes by which time the juices will have redistributed themselves and the beef will be uniformly medium rare.
Serve cut in 5mm (1/4 inch) slices and serve
with Béarnaise sauce.
The consistency of Béarnaise sauce should be considerably thicker than that of Hollandaise or beurre blanc, both of which ought to be a light coating consistency. If you do not have tarragon vinegar to hand, use a wine vinegar and add some extra chopped fresh French tarragon.
4 tablespoons tarragon vinegar
4 tablespoons dry white wine
2 teaspoons finely chopped shallots
pinch of freshly ground pepper
2 organic egg yolks
110g (4oz) butter
1 tablespoon freshly chopped French tarragon leaves
Boil the first 4 ingredients together in a low, heavy-bottomed, stainless-steel saucepan until completely reduced and the pan is almost dry but not browned. Add 1 tablespoon of cold water immediately. Pull the pan off the heat and leave to cool for 1 or 2 minutes.
Using a coil whisk, whisk in the egg yolks and add the butter bit by bit over a very low heat, whisking all the time. As soon as one piece melts, add the next piece; it will gradually thicken. If it shows signs of becoming too thick or slightly scrambling, remove from the heat immediately and add a little cold water. Do not leave the pan or stop whisking until the sauce is made. Finally, add 1 tablespoon of freshly chopped French tarragon and taste for seasoning.
If the sauce is slow to thicken, it may be because you are excessively cautious and the heat is too low. Increase the heat slightly and continue to whisk until all the butter is added and the sauce is a thick coating consistency. It is important to remember, however, that if you are making Béarnaise sauce in a saucepan directly over the heat, it should be possible to put your hand on the side of the saucepan at any stage. If the saucepan feels too hot for your hand it is also too hot for the sauce!
Another good tip if you are making Béarnaise sauce for the first time is to keep a bowl of cold water close by so that you can plunge the bottom of the saucepan into it if it becomes too hot.
Keep the sauce warm in a Pyrex bowl over hot but not simmering water or in a Thermos flask until you want to serve it.
Rory O’Connell’s Salsa Verde
This is one of the most useful sauces and pairs perfectly with the beef. Can also be served with lamb, pork or oily fish such as mackerel or mullet. It keeps for several weeks in the fridge.
1 bunch of rocket, about 100g (3 1/2oz)
1 bunch of flat parsley, about 100g (3 1/2oz)
6 large sprigs of mint
6 sprigs of tarragon
1 tablespoon of capers, coarsely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed to a smooth paste
8 anchovies, very finely chopped
1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard
225ml (8fl oz) olive oil
finely grated zest of 1 lemon and a little juice
freshly ground black pepper
Maldon sea salt to taste
Remove all of the stalks from the herbs and chop to a texture halfway between coarse and fine so as the individual flavours of the herbs stand out in the finished sauce. Immediately add the rest of the ingredients and mix. It is unlikely that the salsa will need salt, but very occasionally a pinch might be needed. In any event, taste and correct seasoning adding a little lemon juice if the salsa needs sharpening up. Chill until ready to serve.
Many people now peel potatoes before they boil them, however, it’s worth remembering that they have considerably more flavour if cooked in their jackets. Plus, there’s less waste, and most of the nutrients are just underneath the skin.
900g (2lb) new potatoes such as Jersey Royals or Pink Fir Apple
3 teaspoons of salt to every
1.2 litres (2 pints) water
extra virgin olive oil
flaky sea salt
Put the potatoes in a deep saucepan, cover with fresh, cold water and add salt. Cover and bring to the boil and continue to cook over a medium heat for approx. 15 minutes, until three-quarters cooked. Pour off all of the water.
Crush the potatoes lightly and place on a roasting tray. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and roast in a hot oven at 230˚C/450˚F/Gas Mark 8 until crusty all over.
Serve immediately in a hot serving dish with a sprinkling of flaky sea salt.
Crumbles are comfort food, vary the fruit according to the season.
This is an old favourite using rhubarb which I adore at this time of the year.
700g (1 1/2lbs) rhubarb
110g (4oz) sugar
1-2 tablespoons water
110g (4oz) white flour, preferably unbleached
50g (2oz) cold butter
50g (2oz) castor sugar
25g (1oz) chopped almonds or hazelnuts (optional)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
1.2 litre (2 pint) capacity pie dish
Cut the rhubarb into 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces and turn into a pie dish. Sprinkle with sugar. Add the water.
Rub the butter into the flour just until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs, add the sugar and cinnamon and chopped nuts if using. Sprinkle this mixture over the rhubarb in the pie dish. Bake in a preheated moderate oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4, for 30-45 minutes or until the topping is cooked and golden. Serve with whipped cream and soft brown sugar.