Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Real Bread Campaign

I am starting a bread strand on the blog, with a post today pointing you toward the Real Bread Campaign: "fighting for better bread in Britain". Real bread, according to their website, can be crusty baps, sourdough, bagels, bara brith, baguettes, chapattis, ciabatta, naan, tortillas, pitta …the list goes on. The important thing is that it is kept simple. The only essential ingredients for bread are flour, water, yeast and salt. Other, natural ingredients can be added, including nuts, seeds, herbs and cheese; but not processing aids, flour "improvers", preservatives, or anything artificial. Sufficient fermentation time, organic certification, one continuous process (no part-baking or freezing) and other factors determine whether a loaf meets the Campaign's Gold Standard.

A series of initiatives are coming up this year, including Real Bread Maker Week (9-15 May). The Cardiff area is a hub for Real Bread action, and this will be the subject of a future blog post.

The Real Bread Campaign's website:


Monday, 18 April 2011

Krispy Kreme Cardiff Launch Party

I took Juliet along to the Krispy Kreme Cardiff Launch Party tonight. We got there as it opened at 5.30pm and she got a lot of attention, being the only child amongst the invitation-only after-work VIPs.

We worked our way through the doughnut menu. Juliet’s favourite was the Chocolate Dreamcake, mine was the Lemon Meringue. The Cookies and Cream was different, with an almost biscuit texture in the ring topped with cream and chocolate chips; probably the one to go for if you’re really hungry. We also sampled the Maple ring, the Butterscotch Fudge, and the Strawberries and Cream. They seemed to get progressively sweeter!

Krispy Crème are doing a few Easter specials – we had a Chocolate ring with additional Easter Eggs in the middle. I passed on the Cinnamon Apple, as I usually go for them when I encountered a Krispy Cream Coffee Bar, and the Original Glazed, which they have been giving away for weeks in the city centre.

We washed the doughnuts down with the orange juice rather than the champagne. Picasso Griffiths, the cartooning artist, drew both our pictures, while Juliet was photographed for the Krispy Kreme Facebook page. She left with colouring book, balloon, and chef’s hat, and was fairly hyper.

The shop opens for business at 10am tomorrow morning. They have done a very good job raising awareness, although it was not exactly a tough sell - shoppers at St David’s 2, surveyed after it opened, named Krispy Kreme as one of the additional brands they would most like to see come to the centre. But will they still get queues around the block now that the good people of Cardiff have to pay for their doughnuts?

Saturday, 16 April 2011


In my old dictionary the meaning of chickenfeed is given as: an unimportant amount of money. However, this meaning is now looking very dated.

The farmer who supplies eggs to our local shop in Dinas Powys is cutting down the size of his flock due to the rocketing price of chicken feed; this is in turn due to the rocketing price of grains generally, especially maize. He reckons he will be spending an extra £300 a month if he keeps his flock at its existing size. The increase in price in feed explains the increase in the price of chicken in the shops.

Breakfast this morning was crunchy nut cornflakes (maize) [I have just been given a splendid black and yellow promotional Crunchy Nuts Cornflake cereal bowl - thanks Chris]. I cooked scrambled eggs for lunch. Tonight we had chicken legs in a spicy sauce with rice and salad. Grain and chicken feed.

Chicken feed is no longer chickenfeed.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Wetherspoon’s Curry Club

Prior to the Jonathan Powell album launch at Clwb Ifor Bach last night, we decided to eat on Womanby Street, Cardiff. Disappointingly, the club’s sister bar Y Fuwch Goch no longer serves Pieminister Pies, so we went through the back doors of Wetherspoon’s The Gatekeeper, because Thursday night is their Curry Club night.

Wetherspoon's do around ten different curries and two luxury curries on Curry Club night, with a 5-star rating as to hotness (curry plus drink £5.99). I had Lamb Rhogan Josh, with a pint of Hoppy Otter (a guest ale from the Otter Brewery in Devon). My partner had Chicken Bhuna with a Thatcher’s Gold cider. My partner’s was the better of the two curries – serves me right for choosing the more boring option.

Good on J.D. Wetherspoon’s for furthering the British pub curry tradition. The names of the other Wetherspoon’s pubs in Cardiff are: The Crockerton (Greyfriars Road), The Prince of Wales (St Mary Street), The Great Western (St Mary Street), The Central Bar (Windsor Place), The Ernest Willows (City Road), The Ivor Davies (Cowbridge Road East) and The Aneurin Bevan (Caerphilly Road).

We had previously seen Jonathan Powell at last year’s Green Man Festival, where he bravely soldiered on despite losing his voice. He was in fine voice last night. Look out for my review on newsoundwales.com

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Wayne Rooney Spice Cupboard

Today the Food Blog has gained exclusive access to Wayne Rooney's spice cupboard.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

The mussels at Ashton's

I am cooking pasta with seafood and smoked salmon in a cream sauce tonight, so dropped by Ashton’s in Cardiff’s covered market. After choosing the prawns, I looked across to where the mussels should have been, but to my surprise they were not there. I liked buying mussels here out of their tall flow-through tank. Now they are in a dry tray, which wasn’t the same. Something has been lost. Apparently, Environmental Health inspectors have told Ashton’s they can no longer display their mussels in this way.

E. Ashton Fishmongers Ltd has operated from Cardiff’s indoor market since 1890. The business has had only three owners in 200 years. Since 1973, the business has been owned by the Adams family, with the present management being fifth generation fishmongers. Fourth-generation owner John James Adams was awarded an MBE (Member of the British Empire) in this year’s New Year’s Honours List “for services to the fishing industry in south Wales”. The fish stall has long been renowned for the freshness and quality of its produce.

The Ashton’s website lists the impressive range of wet fish, shellfish, smoked fish, and poultry and game they sell, along with some recipes.

Ashton's Fishmongers, Central Market, Cardiff CF10 2AU

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Edible Insects

Welcome to the 100th Food Blog post. Today I want to start a strand of the blog dedicated to edible insects. I worked for many years as an entomologist, although I was trying to stop insects eating crops rather than eating insects (I have swallowed a fair few accidently in the field though).

Last week at the Oxford Museum of Natural History, UK, a Banquet of Insects was organized to highlight their nutritional value and to promote  them as an alternative to eating meat. Entomophagy makes environmental sense. For example, insects can be raised using far fewer resources (e.g., water) than livestock and are a more sustainable source of food. Chef Thomasina Miers cooked a three-course meal at the event. Starters were worm crisps. The main course was grasshopper salsa tacos and cricket tostados topped with pecorino, radish and orange. Pudding was chocolate-coated locusts.

Insects are eaten all around the world - even in the UK. Here's Heston Blumenthal taking a historical look at edible insects in Victorian England.



Fiona Dodwell sent me some of her photos of chilli crickets and "different flavours" of edible insects taken at a market in Oaxaca, Mexico. Thank you Fiona.

Monday, 11 April 2011

The Milkman

It is reassuring that, in the age of supermarket dominance, we still get milk delivered to our door by a local milkman. In fact, two rival electric milk floats compete for custom here in Dinas Powys. We use Jones & Sons Dairies, Barry.

Milk was originally delivered to houses daily because homes had poor refrigeration. This is no longer the case, but having food delivered to your door seems to have gained in popularity in recent years. When I was a lad it was mainly either regular pasturised or very creamy 'gold top' Channel Island milk. Now there's a wider choice of skimmed, low-fat milks, and organic milk; of course, all milk used to be organic.

I remember the returnable glass milk bottles. The birds used to peck the aluminium caps off, if you didn’t cover them, and when the milk froze it rose up out of the bottle. We used to have a bottle holder on the doorstep with a dial to tell the milkman how many pints we wanted each day.

Plastic containers are convenient for larger amounts of milk, of course, and plastic is now collected from the kerb fortnightly for recycling down our way. The thing I miss the most, however, is the creamy bit on top, because most milk is homogenized these days.

Here’s a song by Benny Hill about the life of a milkman called Ernie. I cannot show the original Benny Hill video here for copyright reasons, but if you go to YouTube and type in "Benny Hill - Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West") you can watch it:

J. Jones & Son (Dairies) Ltd., Dock View Road, Barry, Vale of Glamorgan CF63 4JP.

Saturday, 9 April 2011


I picked and stewed the first rhubarb of the year from the garden this morning. Hopefully, our two patches will keep us self-sufficient in rhubarb over the summer, as I am very partial to it.

Our rhubarb is mainly consumed in four ways: in rhubarb crumble, with yoghurt and honey or maple syrup, dolloped onto breakfast cereal, or alongside smoked mackerel for lunch.

Technically, Rheum rhabarbarum is a vegetable, and it has historically been used as such in Asia and Poland. It is native to Siberia or thereabouts. The only edible part of the plant is the stalk, which has a distinctively high acidity (2.0-2.5%) and a particularly high but harmless concentration of oxalic acid. The leaves are poisonous because of a dangerously high concentration of oxalic acid and other chemicals (McGee, 2004).

Niki Segnit notes, in The Flavour Thesaurus (2010), that the intense sourness of rhubarb needs to be countered with sufficient sugar, “then the flavour becomes fascinating – a combination of aromatic, candied strawberry notes with a cooked-apple fruitiness, plus a strong thick note redolent of a greenhouse full of ripening tomatoes.” Among the flavour combinations she suggests are rhubarb and almond, rhubarb and mango, rhubarb and vanilla, and rhubarb and cucumber. The latter mixes rhubarb and cucumber with salt; an Iranian salad, for example, adds rocket leaves, lemon juice and a little mint just before serving.

Harold McGee on Food and Cooking (2004). Hodder & Stoughton. Page 367.
Niki Segnit (2010) The Flavour Thesaurus. Bloomsbury. Pages 254-256.

Friday, 8 April 2011

RHS Show Cardiff

This year’s annual Royal Horticultural Society Spring Show in Cardiff (8-10 April) is the best yet. I was there as it opened at 10am today and particularly enjoyed the first couple of hours in the two floral marquees and the show garden area before the crowds built up.

The food area - Café Quarter – has expanded this year. First Cafes cater in the covered marquee, from their mobile units: Fish and Chips, Posh Baguettes and Posh Roast Carvery (I had the pork with stuffing and apple sauce), and Posh Coffee. There was good live folk music from the bandstand to listen to from the outdoor tables. In the Farmers Market Area, there were cookery demonstrations from the True Taste of Wales van and nearly forty stalls, mainly representing small local businesses. Here you could buy, among other things, lamb and beef; smoked fish; a range of cheese; samosas and bhajees; jams and pickles; bread; pies; beers and cider; fudge and ice cream. Raspberry and rhubarb crumble ice creams seems to be popular (why?).

A new feature this year is the allotment section, where tips can be picked up from demonstrations. Always popular are the wheelbarrows decorated by schools in the Cardiff area (below). Visitors could vote for one of the 72 entries. I voted for Dinas Powys Infants.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Food on Film: Nine and a Half Weeks

Regular readers of this blog will know I have been revisiting films about food, and films with memorable food scenes. So, probably needing no introduction, here's the scene from Nine and a Half Weeks (directed by Adrian Lyne; 1986) in which Micky Rourke feeds Kim Bassinger the contents of his fridge:

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Plough and Harrow, Monknash

My choice for lunch, on my birthday, was The Plough and Harrow in Monknash, in the heart of the Vale of Glamorgan.

The pub dates from 1383. It was part of a Cistercian monastery complex, under the jurisdiction of Neath Abbey, until 1536; then a “lobby entrance house” owned by the Stradling family of St. Donat’s. It was reputed to be the home of the "Wreckers of Wick" who tied lanterns round the necks of sheep on the cliff tops to lure ships onto the jagged rocks where they would be plundered.

On entering the pub, there is the welcoming sweet-smoke smell of a log fire. On the walls are historic photos, old musical instruments (they have live music on Saturdays) and assorted old-pub bric-a-brac. The food, beer and cider menus are written along the ceiling beams and on blackboards. I had a rich beef and ale casserole (with steamed vegetables and chips). My partner had the Glamorgan sausages.

The Plough and Harrow supports microbreweries, so in addition to the regular house ales (e.g., Bass, Wye Valley and Hancocks) they serve an interesting selection of real ales from smaller breweries. Today, I sampled PG Steam from the RCH Brewery (Somerset) and Amber Glider from Newman’s Brewery in Caerphilly.

The management has changed recently, but the very high standards are being maintained.

The Plough and Harrow
Monknash, Vale of Glamorgan CF71 7QQ

Tel: 01656 890209

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

TV Dinners

TV dinners used to be cool. Meals in individual trays were marketed to families who liked to sit and watch this new form of entertainment together. Prior to this, listening to a radio was compatible with sitting around a table.

The TV dinner, however, gained a poor reputation. The quality of the food was not all it could be. Meanwhile, families, like mine when I was growing up, thought it important  to sit around a table when eating as a family.

Nowadays, food is increasingly consumed in front of a computer. In a recent survey in the UK, 20% of people said they ate their evening meals in front of their computers. I have been known to eat lunch at my laptop, while amusing myself writing rubbish like this blog. Unlike the TV, computers (i-player, games, Facebook and so on) are sat at in solitude (although it can be social in networking terms).

I see an opportunity to reinvent the TV dinner, as the laptop dinner. Borrowing innovations from high-end airline food, and with healthier options and a bias toward finger foods, there must be a market for 3-course meals in one ergonomically-designed tray, so you can keep on with what you’re doing. Every pack could also include a specially designed cloth to wipe food off the screen and keyboard.

Here’s the benchmark for TV dinner advertising:

Monday, 4 April 2011

The Sand Martin: What's in a name?

What’s in a pub name? Nothing really, according to Marston’s Inns and Taverns, whose new “family dining pub restaurant” The Sand Martin opens today next to Cardiff City Stadium. They have also recently refurbished The Old College in Barry and renamed it The Cherry Orchard.

Once, pub names reflected local geography, history, culture or community. However, this is no longer the case. Marston’s policy is to choose “neutral” pub names, just like town councils naming roads around arbitrary themes on new housing estates.

The Sand Martin joins McDonalds, KFC, Subway et al. around the stadium that is home to Cardiff City Football Club and Cardiff Blues rugby club. Letters were sent to Marston’s suggesting names for the pub; for instance, The Leckwith to reflect the pub’s location, The Fred Keenor after the cup-winning Cardiff City captain (the road by the pub is already called Fred Keenor Avenue), The Gareth Edwards or other Welsh rugby legends, or The Bluebird after the football club’s nickname. Indeed, the latter suggestion fits with Marston’s nature theme (e.g., see also Otter at Newbridge, The Willow Tree at Brynmawr, The Dragonfly at Merthyr Tydfil and The Bumble Bee at Blackwood). However, in an open letter published in Jan 2011, Marston’s defended their pub naming policy by stating they always choose non-partisan names for their outlets so as not to offend anyone.

The Old College in Barry was opened around 1986 on the site of a recently demolished college. To my knowledge, there has never been a Cherry Orchard in Barry. A link to the past has been lost.

So, meaningless “neutral” names for family dining experience pubs are the order of the day. On a more positive note, Marston’s have put interesting local photographs around their establishments (e.g., a large panorama of Porthkerry viaduct in The Cherry Orchard and numerous Cardiff scenes in The Sand Martin), they are child-friendly (The Sand Martin has a play area), there are no TVs showing sport (makes a change these days), they have some good beers (not always the case in family dining pubs) and, as long as they keep the 2-for-1 and other offers, the food is good and reasonably-priced.



Sunday, 3 April 2011

Coffee at Nash Point

A Mother's Day family walk from Nash Point in the Vale of Glamorgan. By car, take the turn by the Horseshoe Inn, Marcross, down to the lighthouses. The car park (£1.50 for day) and the small café are run by a couple who are attuned to the local weather (if they look across the channel and say it’s going to rain in ten minutes, don't leave your raincoat in the car). From the clifftop here there are great walks East (St Donat’s and Llantwit Major) and West (Southerndown and Ogmore).

The café does big mugs of tea and coffee. Don’t miss their speciality - thick and spicy Welsh cakes. They will be well stocked for ice creams come the summer. From the seats outside the café you can study the interesting rock formations and hear the atmospheric tolling of the bell on the buoy offshore.

A short walk takes you past the foghorn to the old and new lighthouses. Today, however, fortified by coffee and cakes, we walked in the other direction, along the cliff tops and onto the beach at Cwm Nash.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Cross Keys, Dinas Powys

Football day. Up early for daughter’s 9am kick-off - Dinas Wolves U-8s against Barry Celts (1-1 draw ). Pizza for lunch. Freshly-made donuts from Candy Shack in funfair outside Cardiff City Stadium. Daughter and I watch Cardiff City beat Derby County 4-1 from our season ticket seats in the family stand. Whole family walk to the Cross Keys Inn – home of Dinas Powys Football Club. Dinner. Main meals from just £3.99. Simply Steak, Basket Cajun Chicken, Curly Fries, Burger with Cheese and BBQ sauce. Football on the big screen (Arsenal vs Blackburn; the Milan derby), and post Cardiff City game analysis. Pint of Brains.


Friday, 1 April 2011

The Cardiff Story

The Cardiff Story - a museum dedicated to the city's history - opened today in The Old Library in The Hayes, so I went along to take a look.

A previous museum on this site closed 80 years ago. The new museum incorporates around 600 objects from that museum, which have been in storage, together with newly-donated objects and interactive multimedia presentations.

I particularly liked the Object Theatre, where a series of short films accompanies objects displayed below the screen. You can dip in and out of these films, but I recommend staying for the whole 40 minute sequence. These excellent films include the history of Clark’s Pies, the rise and fall of the J.R. Freeman cigar factory on the Penarth Road, and the story of Tommy “the fish” Letton. Tommy took his mobile fishmongers stall around Tiger Bay for about 50 years. He died in 1991, aged 90; the city renamed a road after him (Letton Road). Nearby, on a listening post, fishmonger Chris Bloom describes life on the Ashton’s fish stall today in Cardiff's indoor market.

The rotating doll’s house wittily depicts family life, including dining, over the years. Spiller’s Records, the oldest record store in the world, is represented through objects and reminiscences from owner Ashli Todd. If you want an olfactory workout, the docks section has evocative smells to sample – garlic, tar rope, fried fish, Turkish cigarettes, oilskins.

Museum Manager Kathleen Howe has stressed that what opened today is only phase 1 of the museum, with phase 2, which will focus more on culture and sport, opening soon in an upstairs gallery.

Don’t miss a trip downstairs to look at the City Lab, especially if you have children with you. It has been designed for kids, with interactive activities and dressing up opportunities. Like the rest of the museum, it’s very well done.

The Cardiff Story, The Old Library, The Hayes, Cardiff CF10 1BH
Tel: 029 2078 8334