Cardiff has changed beyond all recognition in the last ten years. My last visit about 25 years ago was when we were exporting a large quantity of mushrooms from Imokilly Orchards in Shanagarry to Wales every week. Cardiff was singularly uninspiring and there didnâ€™t seem to be any carrot to entice one to return. All thatâ€™s changed and how?
Billions of EU and developersâ€™ money has been poured into a variety of projects to revitalize the city. The Millennium stadium in the heart of the city is already familiar to the many Irish rugby fans who pour into town to cheer on the lads in the Six Nations tournament. That, plus the waterside development on Cardiff Bay, with its bars, restaurants, shops, galleries and beautiful theatre, has transformed the Welsh capital from industrial city into a lively modern metropolis with a deep sense of its own identity.
Most bizarre, and best fun of all, Cardiff seems to be the stretch limo capital of Wales, we counted eight limos in the space of five minutes, plus a converted pink fire engine with the driver dressed up in full fireman regalia. They are hugely popular for parties in the evenings and come with built in cocktail bars and some tasty eats. According to our taxi driver one limo even has a built in open-air hot tubâ€“ Some seat 16 people, a mere snip from Â£200 a night!
On a recent visit to the Soil Association Conference I attended a Slow Food dinner in the Coal Exchange, Gareth Johns chef of the Wynnstay Hotel in Machynlleth, Lavinia Vaughan of Porth Farm, and a group of Welsh Slow Food volunteers, cooked a meal for 450 delegates which celebrated the organic produce from farmers and artisan producers all over Wales.
For the very first time I tasted the sweet little tiny cockles of Penclawdd, and the famous laverbread, a seaweed that grows on the rocks along the shoreline. Other canapÃ©s included Welsh Rarebit, Pickled leeks, Lady Llanoverâ€™s Salt Duck, Welsh mountain mutton, Ham with Anglesey Cream Cheese, Maldwyn cure air dried Welsh Black Beef from Powys and Halen Mon, the Sea Salt from Anglesey.
For main course each guest was served a thick slice of superb Welsh Black Beef with a delicious red wine sauce and a mixture of Winter vegetables and organic greens from local growers. The beef was truly superb and it was a delight to see the Welsh farmers and chefsâ€™ appreciation of this traditional breed. That was followed by a selection of delicious Welsh cheese, a crumbly Wensleydale, a Cothi Valley goat cheese called Caws Valley with homemade crackers. There were three desserts, a delicious rice pudding, a tangy lemon posset, and an apple and cinnamon tartlet which rounded off this celebration meal of slow and organic food in a most delicious way.
For the past three years at the Soil Association Annual Conference, Slow Food has collaborated with the Soil Association to produce Slow Food lunches which have been a showcase for organic artisan producers in different parts of the UK.
At the conference lunch I had some other tastes of Wales â€“ Glamorgan sausages, Leek Pie, Welsh Onion Cake, Welsh Cakes, Cawl and Monmouth Tart â€“ so in just a few days I had the opportunity to taste many of the traditional dishes from Welsh miners cottages, farmhouses and mansions. Tables were decorated with daffodils, a traditional outdoor variety from the Vale of Glamorgan, and after dinner there was Welsh story-telling.
If you find yourself in Cardiff for the weekend donâ€™t miss the terrific Riverside Real Food Market on Sunday morning, on the Fitzgammon embankment opposite the Millennium Stadium. Look out for the FreshFishWales stall which sells cockles, laverbread, and the Bake my Cake stall which sells the yummiest pies and cardamom, lemon and polenta buns. Young gardener Tom Bean sold little pots of snowdrops and daffodils and a rare Arugula called Friarielli which Iâ€™ve never before seen outside Italy.
Great place to buy local food and a delicious picnic for the plane.
Welsh Onion CakeÂ
- Teisen Nionod (from British Food by Jane Grigson)
A dish that resembles certain French gratins. It can be cooked and served on its own or with roast lamb and laver sauce.
1kg (2lb) firm potatoes
500g (1lb) onion, chopped
125-150g (4-5oz) butter
Peel or scrape the potatoes, as appropriate. Slice them paper-thin or close to it, using a mandolin or a processor. Swish the slices about in cold water to get rid of the starchy juice, then dry them.
If you want to turn the cake out, use a cake tin: grease it with a butter paper, then line it with greaseproof or Bakewell paper to make the turning out easier. If you want to serve it as a gratin, use a shallow ovenproof dish, and butter it well with some of the butter in the ingredients list.
Put in a layer of potatoes, then bits of butter, seasoning and a layer of onions. Repeat, finishing with potato. According to whether or not you intend to turn it out, take great care arranging the bottom or the top layer. Do not worry if the potato mounds up above the dish: it will cook down.
Bake for an hour at gas 6, 200C (400F), covered with foil. For the last 10 or 15 minutes, remove the foil so the potatoes can brown. This works well if you are serving it with a rack of lamb or a guard of honour. If you are cooking a more solid piece of lamb, at a lower temperature, the cake will have to cook for a longer time. If it is ready before the lamb, remove it and keep it warm.
Note: A little liquid does not come amiss â€“ say 150ml (Â¼ pt) beef stock or the same quantity of single cream, plus 6 tablespoons of water.
Macaroon Lemon Posset
From The Duchess of Devonshireâ€™s Chatsworth Cookery Book, published by Frances Lincoln
For the macaroons (makes about 20)
60g (2Â½oz) ground almonds
125g (4Â½oz) caster sugar
1 tablespoon ground rice (fine)
2 egg whites
A few drops of vanilla essence
Almond flakes for decoration
For the Posset:
425ml/Â¾ pint double cream
Juice and grated zest of 1Â½ unwaxed lemons
125g/4Â½oz caster sugar
1 tablespoon rum
Start by making the macaroons. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Line two baking trays with silicone paper.
To make the macaroons, combine the dry ingredients and stir in the egg whites and vanilla essence. Using a 1cm/Â½in plain nozzle, pipe the mixture onto the trays in small mounds of about 2.5cm/1in in diameter, leaving a space between each one because they will spread. Place a few almond flakes on each and bake in the oven for about 25 minutes. The macaroons harden as they cool down, so using a palette knife, transfer them to a cooling rack as soon as you take them out of the oven.
To make the posset, combine the cream, grated lemon zest and caster sugar in a pan and bring to the boil for a minute. Take off the heat and stir in the lemon juice and rum Strain the mixture into a jug to remove the lemon zest.
Place a macaroon in each of six 100ml/4fl.oz ramekins, and pour over the posset mixture, filling each ramekin to the top. Cool and refrigerate for 2-3 hours to set and chill.
Helen Holton a student on our current 3 month Certificate Course is from Caernarvon in Wales and she kindly shared this recipe with us.
10oz (275g) self-raising flour
5oz (150g) mixed fruit
5oz (150g) castor sugar
2oz (50g) butter, melted
1 egg (beaten) and enough milk to make up 6 fl.oz (180ml) liquid
Sieve the flour, add the sugar and mixed fruit and combine.
Add milk and egg mix.
Finally add the melted butter.
Put the mixture into a lined loaf tin.
Bake in a slow oven 300F/150C/gas 2 , on the middle shelf for 1 hour approx.
When cool slice thinly and spread with butter.
This traditional Welsh soup is another of Helenâ€™s recipes. Some recipes use also use smoked ham or gammon instead of lamb. According to Jane Grigson in her book â€˜English Foodâ€™ â€œthis kind of dish has no â€˜correctâ€™ version or original recipe. It varies from region to region, according to the local resources, and from house to house within the same village, even from day to day in the same houseâ€. â€œFor most people it was a case of putting into the big iron pot water, and as much else as they could find to flavour it and give it substance.â€
Scrag end lamb
Potatoes â€“ not floury type â€“ eg King Edward or Desiree
Bring meat and onion(s) depending on size to boil â€“ skim.
Add carrots and stock. Season and slow cook (if using an Aga its on for hours or overnight).
Add potatoes and when they are nearly cooked, add the leeks.
Sprinkle with lots of chopped parsley at the end.
It can be served as whole soup or traditionally the meat and vegetables are taken out and served as a separate dish.
Serve with good bread and Caerphilly cheese.
â€“ from Sue Lawrence on Baking, published by Kyle Cathie
Welsh cakes are traditionally cooked on a bakestone. This was originally a large slab of stone, heated up on a peat fire or a log. Today, however, bakestones are usually made of iron or some other heavy metal. The cakes are no longer placed on the fire but on a gas or electric hotplate. A large heavy frying pan will do instead, although it is less easy to maintain an even temperature.
There are many variations of this recipe, using different combinations of spices and fruit.
Makes about 12.
227g (8oz) self-raising flour
A pinch of salt
Â½ teaspoon mixed spice
Â¼ teaspoon ground mace
57g (2oz) butter, cut into cubes
57g (2oz) white vegetable fat, in cubes
85g (3oz) caster sugar
85g (3oz) dried fruit
1 egg, beaten
Approx. 1 tablespoon milk
Caster sugar to sprinkle (optional)
Sift the flour, salt and spices together into a mixing bowl.
Rub in the fats until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
Stir in the sugar and dried fruit.
Add the beaten egg and just enough milk to form a soft dough. The result should be firmer than a scone dough. Roll this out on a floured board to a thickness of about 5mm/Â¼in. Using an 8cm/3in pastry cutter, cut into rounds.
Lightly grease a bakestone or griddle and heat to medium-hot. Cook the Welsh cakes (in 2 batches) for 4-5 minutes on each side, or until golden brown on both sides, but still soft in the middle. For a crunch exterior, sprinkle with caster sugar. Eat warm.
Welsh rarebit makes a delicious snack and also can be a lunch or supper dish or served with a salad.
2 oz (15g) butter
1 teasp. plain white flour
1 fl.oz (25ml) milk
1 tablesp. Dijon mustard
8 ozs (225g) mature Cheddar cheese, grated
2 fl.ozs (50ml) Murphy or Guinness or beer
freshly ground black pepper
1 teasp. Worcestershire sauce
1 egg, free range if possible
4 slices of white bread
Melt the butter in a small saucepan, add the flour and cook over a low heat for 1-2 minutes. Whisk in the milk and cook until it thickens. Add the mustard, cheese, stout or beer. Season with freshly ground pepper. Stir with a wooden spoon over a low heat, bring the mixture to the boil, take off the heat. Add the Worcestershire sauce and beaten egg. Allow this mixture to cool.
Toast the bread lightly on both sides. Spread the mixture thickly on top and pop under a hot grill until bubbly and golden.
American buttermilk pancakes
â€“ you could even try them out for Sunday brunch this weekend!
American Buttermilk Pancakes with Crispy Bacon and Maple Syrup
Seves 4-6 depending on the size or helping
Makes 14 â€“ 3â€ pancakes
250ml (8 flozs) buttermilk
1 free-range egg, preferably organic
15g (Â½ oz) butter, melted
75g (3oz) plain white flour
Good pinch of salt
1 teaspoon bread soda
12-18 pieces crispy bacon
Maple syrup or Irish honey
Mix the buttermilk, egg and melted butter in a large bowl, until smooth and blended. Sieve the flour, salt and baking soda together, stir into the buttermilk until the ingredients are barely combined, donâ€™t worry about the lumps. Do not over mix or the pancakes will be heavy.
Heat a heavy iron or non-stick pan until medium hot. Grease with a little clarified butter. Spoon 2 generous tablespoons of batter onto the pan, spread slightly with the back of the spoon to a round about 17.5cm (3in) across. Cook until the bubbles rise and break on the top of the pancake (about a minute). Flip over gently. Cook until pale golden on the other side. Spread each with butter.
Serve a stack of three with crispy streaky bacon and maple syrup.
Cardiff Restaurant Scene - is also on the ascent.
Le Gallois in Romilly Crescent, Canton, 029 2034 1264 probably serves the most interesting food and is certainly an â€˜offaleatersâ€™ dream. I enjoyed lambsâ€™ tongues with salsa verde and beef cheek with roast winter vegetables.
Brazz in the Millenium Centre on Cardiff Bay 029 2045 9000 and Le Monde on St Maryâ€™s Street, 029 2038 7376 are also worth a visit.
Laguna Restaurant in the glitzy sounding Crown Park Plaza Hotel served a delicious risotto with Jerusalem artichokes and Welsh Rarebit with Branston Pickle toasts.
Failte Ireland, the National Tourism Development Authority
Will be running a series of continuing professional development programmes in all areas of tourism and hospitality in 2007 â€“ courses are run nationwide â€“ for details of courses in each area â€“ Cork 021-4313058 firstname.lastname@example.org Dublin 01-8847766 email@example.com Galway 091-561432 firstname.lastname@example.org Midlands 01-8847766