Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Change4Life Supermeals Challenge Day 2

It’s the second day of my Supermeals Challenge, in which I try out every recipe in the Change4Life recipe booklet. This booklet has been produced as part of a Welsh Government public health campaign, with the aim of helping people on low incomes eat more healthily.

A quick look through the booklet might have given the impression that today’s (Tuesday) recipe - quick pitta pizza - could have been one of the least successful. However, it proved very popular (more so than yesterday’s pasta, which the kids enjoyed but the adults thought a little bland).
I used a value-pack of pittas for this, with organic vegetables (cost remaining within the £1.25 a head budget). With freshly-sliced tomato, mozzarella, mushrooms and olives (our optional extra) on top, and a generous sprinkling of herbs, the pitta “pizzas” tasted better than most shop-bought frozen pizzas I have eaten recently.

I sliced the ingredients and let everyone assemble them how they wanted. This was a fun part of the dinner for the kids (and me), which added to the appeal. After spreading on her tomato puree, our youngest added everything but the mushrooms (substituting them with some sweetcorn left over from yesterday); while our oldest really piled everything high – and may have invented a new marketing concept in 3-dimensional pizzas (you need the cheese uppermost). If you completely cover all the top surface of the pitta, there is also less chance of the bread overcooking.

The recipe says: “Serve with salad”. Given that it has been cold, I served it up with savoury rice, containing cubes of baked paquito squash, finely-sliced fried onion and dried apricot. As a dinner, the combination worked very well.

On their own, the pitta pizzas would make good snacks, lunch or light dinner. However, served with an imaginative and tasty salad, they can be turned into a very wholesome, cheap and satisfying family dinner. The kids want pitta pizzas again, and the experimental options are endless!

quick pitta pizza
The ingredients: 4 wholemeal pitta breads, 4 tbsp sum-dried or regular tomato puree, 4 thinly sliced mushrooms, 4 thinly sliced tomatoes, 125g ball reduced-fat or light mozzarella cheese (sliced), sliced, 2 tsp dried mixed herbs, ground black pepper.

The method: Preheat oven (190°C). Put pitta breads on a baking tray and spread tomato puree on each. Top with mushroom, tomatoes and cheese. Add optional olives, peppers or onion. Sprinkle with herbs and season with pepper. Bake for 10-12 minutes.

The booklet reckons that pitta pizzas work out at around 218 kcals a portion.


Register with Change4Life online before Friday 10 February and you can get your own free Supermeals booklet.

Change4Life Supermeals Challenge Day 1 (Introduction)

Monday, 30 January 2012

Change4Life Supermeal Challenge Day 1

In the most recent Welsh Health Survey, it was found that only 51% of children eat vegetables daily and only 60% of children eat fruit daily, while a third of Welsh children are classified as overweight or obese.

Wales’ Senior Medical Officer, Dr. Sara Hayes, said: “Parents have cited expensive ingredients and a lack of planning and knowledge of wholesome meals as barriers to being able to keep their families healthy”.

As part of the Welsh Government’s Change4Life campaign, thousands of free Supermeals recipe booklets are being sent out to help people in Wales achieve a healthier diet. The booklet provides a fortnight’s worth of family recipes that are easy to prepare and cost around £1.25 per head.

To obtain your free booklet, register with Change4Life online at www.wales.gov.uk/change4life before Friday 10 February 2012.

I will be cooking all 14 Change4Life recipes for my family, on consecutive nights, as they occur in the booklet.

I started my Supermeals Challenge with the first Monday recipe: tasty tuna and sweetcorn pasta.

We got off to a good start with this. Tuna is a favourite of our youngest daughter, and she left a clean plate. Our oldest daughter also gave it the thumbs up. It provided a fine and wholesome, if unspectacular, adult meal.

This solid family dinner provided us with leftovers. The ‘super tip’ on the booklet page: “This recipe can be served cold as a salad, making it perfect for packed lunches too.” This is what we often do with pasta, and our eldest particular likes taking it to school as a packed lunch. I will microwave what’s remaining for my lunch at home tomorrow (and maybe eat it with some sourdough bread).

If you wanted to spice this recipe up, a bit of Tabasco should do the trick.

The ingredients in the booklet have been selected for their cheapness and easy availability, while the meals are quick to prepare. I will stick with the spirit of this, often choosing value-line supermarket products and good value items from our local independent stores, to stay within the low budget. I have to say (given the general thrust of this blog) that although there is a widespread perception that supermarkets are cheaper (encouraged by clever marketing), this is not necessarily the case (shop around if your budget is tight; don’t assume supermarket products are cheaper).

During my Supermeals Challenge, I’ll keep you posted on how things progress recipe-by-recipe.

tasty tuna and sweetcorn pasta

The ingredients: Pasta shapes (300g), olive oil (1 tsp), red onion, garlic clove, tin tomatoes (400g), tomato puree (tbsp), tinned sweetcorn (150g), dried basil (2 tsp), and two 185g tins of tuna.

The method: pasta is boiled in water. Meanwhile, onion and garlic are fried for about 5 min, when the rest of the ingredients are added, and simmered for 5 min, except the tuna, which is stirred into the sauce just before serving over the drained pasta.

The meal is estimated to provide 406 kcals a portion.


Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The Use-by Date Mystery Solved

We bought some Tesco Juice Drinks last weekend and, while sharing some “Apple & Raspberry Juice Drink” with my 8-year old daughter, noticed that the ‘Use by:’ date appeared to be before she was born. On further examination, it appeared that all the juice drink cartons we have purchased recently from Tesco had dates on them (2003-2011) that would mean we should probably not be drinking the contents.

The juices tasted fine, so I suspected it could be a glitch in the printing on the TetraPaks. After a couple of phone calls to Penarth Marina Tesco, however, the mystery was solved.

Tesco do not put years on their fresh produce: only days, months, hours and minutes. Therefore, the Orange Juice Drink (with Bits), for example, is Display until 8 March and Use by 10 March, and the implication is that it is March of this year. Those other numbers along the ‘Use by:’ line are in fact Batch Numbers and not years at all!

However, can I make just one suggestion? It might be clearer for dim-witted consumers like myself if numbers, say from 2002 to 2015, were excluded from the range of possible Batch Numbers printed along the ‘Use by:’ lines on food products. Thanks for reading.

Monday, 23 January 2012

The Fish on Your Plate

The Fish on Your Plate by Paul Greenberg is a book that might change the way you look at fish.

He approaches the subject as a fisherman, and starts by recounting his own experiences of disappearing fish stocks, and how local fish on fishmonger’s slabs have been replaced by just four globally-traded species.

We have just passed the point where we now consume more farmed fish than wild fish. Soon wild fish may no longer be regarded as economically viable or, more probably, an expensive luxury that only the wealthy can afford. Fish domestication is happening now, rather than in the distant past, and is compared in the book to the domestication of animals (cows, pigs, sheep and goats) and birds (chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese). You might think that the choice of fish to domesticate in this modern age has been governed by scientific and rational considerations. Think again, says Greenberg.

The book is structured around the big four universal fish: tuna, salmon, sea bass and cod. Tuna is described here as the last great gold rush of wild fish. One last sushi binge before wild fishing as we have known it comes to an end. Tuna is a stateless fish, travelling over long distances, and so is difficult to manage in a sustainable manner.

Salmon represents the first wave of aquaculture. The model used was taken from agriculture: industrial monoculture. Salmon farming has been commercially successful, but it has left in its wake a raft of problems. Salmon farms are environmentally polluting, high levels of disease can occur in the farmed fish, escaped fish are breeding with wild salmon to the detriment of wild populations, and high levels of PCB are found in farmed salmon (due to them being fed pellets made from small fish trawled from the sea bed). Government advice is to limit consumption of farmed salmon, for example, to once a week, because of the chemicals it contains. Greenberg suggests that a way forward with salmon, and aquaculture generally, is to move toward less-intensive polyculture farming, involving the cultivation of seaweed, mussels and other species together to strike a more ecological balance and reduce pollution and disease.

Sea Bass is a less than obvious choice for a farmed species. It was, in fact, very tricky to domesticate. Over many years, European scientists worked out that the juvenile diet of phytoplankton could be replaced by rotifers, while artemisia (sold to kids as ‘sea monkeys’) could supplement the diet of just-hatched fish and improve what is naturally a very high mortality rate. Hormone delivery and precise control of photoperiod were other necessary steps to successful domestication. Once the techniques were mastered, however, farmed sea bass quickly became a globally-traded fish. Another upside of all the scientific work done is that there is a framework in place for domesticating practically ever other fish in the seas. On the downside, like salmon farming, adult sea bass are fed pellets made from fish dredged from the oceans, with around 3lb of fish required to produce 1 lb of fish. Sea bass domestication was a great leap forward for fish farming, but Greenberg suggests greater success lies ahead with species that are easier to breed and have better food conversion efficiency.

Cod is the workaday fish that has disappeared. Because it has been so popular, efforts have been made to farm it, using the advances made for sea bass (e.g., rotifers, artemisia). However, cod takes too long to mature and proved very expensive to farm – you just don’t get meat for your money, concludes Greenberg.
Instead of choosing fish for which there is a known market, Greenburg suggests, we need to look at previously unknown species that tick all the right boxes in terms of breeding ease, food conversion efficiency, and ability to thrive in sustainable low-pollution aquaculture. Tilapia is cited as a good choice in many respects. He suggests a number of fish, including barramundi and kahala (Almaco Jack), which you may be hearing much more of in the future.

This is a well-researched (although, note to publisher, geosmin and not geosim on page 182), highly readable, and thought-provoking book. I highly recommend it to anyone who has ever thought about why we eat the particular fish species we do, and not most of the other perfectly edible species in the sea.

Greenberg, Paul (2010) The Fish on Your Plate. Penguin Books.

Another book review you might enjoy:
The Noma Cookbook:

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Taste, Cardiff

My Rockpool was populated with prawns, crab and salmon. I must say I’ve never seen a salmon in a rockpool, but then I am talking about a sandwich here. The Rockpool is a Gourmet Sandwich that can be ordered in Taste, a new species inhabiting Cardiff’s competitive café/sandwich bar ecosystem. The question is: Will it find its own niche in this environment and thereby ensure its long-term survival?

The original Taste can be found in Romford, Essex. Taste Cardiff is an independently-run franchise, and is only the second Taste in the UK, although the franchise is set to expand further. Taste Cardiff was opened on 1 December last year and, so, is less than two months old. Owners John and Penny have, according to their website, backgrounds in airline and industrial catering, so you would expect good things of their office meeting and party platters. John’s homemade coleslaw and relishes are features of the menu.

Taste is a take-away and delivery service, targeting the office worker market (e.g., fresh and delicious lunches for office workers too busy to leave their desks!), but the café has a good number of comfortable tables at the back, some seats at the front, and a few pavement tables (that are sure to be popular in the summer on this pedestrianized stretch of the High Street near Cardiff Castle), and it seems a good place for a leisurely coffee and sandwich.

Alongside the range of 14 Classic Sandwiches, there’s 8 Gourmet Sandwiches that offer something a little different. Rockpool is basically a prawn sandwich, with crab flakes; mine could probably have been enhanced with a little more smoked salmon in the mix. The lemon mayonnaise gave it a lively flavour, while the rocket leaves were fresh and about the right amount.

The dual pricing system on all the sandwiches is not for size but for bread type. There is “traditional bread” (white, granary, wholemeal, bagel or sub) and “speciality bread” (ciabatta, panini, baguette, wrap or bloomer), with a surprisingly large price differential between the two. Each gourmet sandwich comes with a suggestion for type of bread, though they can be ordered with any bread (in fact the whole menu can be seen as a guide given that so much flexibility appears to be on offer).

My partner went with the suggested ciabatta with her Bookmaker Melt (I should probably have gone with the suggested wrap come to think of it on my Rockpool). The Bookmaker was built around a slice of tasty sliced roast beef.

The Sweet Carrot Crunch (with houmous, grated carrot and sultanas) looks the best-sounding vegetarian option (although Taste is mainly catering for the carnivores and piscivores in the food chain). Other Gourmet Sandwiches included Cwmbran Banger (“Best on bloomer!”) and Italian Job (“The ideal panini!”), while the gauntlet is laid down with "Cardiff’s Best Tuna Melt" (contains John’s homemade tomato and onion relish).

There’s homemade soup of the day, good-value breakfast options, daily sandwich specials (a chili sausage today), jacket potatoes, and a salad bar. They serve large mugs of good no-nonsense coffee (not for single estate connoisseurs, but the vanilla and spicy cinnamon flavourings could hit the spot if you’re in the mood).

The décor is relatively neutral and slightly retro (branded with chocolate brown, lime green and white). They have made good use of the long narrow space. I like the large wooden-framed mirrors.

The distinctiveness of Taste derives from it not being a big High Street chain. It’s a little different, although maybe the food is not different enough to immediately set it apart from many other cafés and sandwich shops in Cardiff. However, there is a good vibe in the place, it feels friendly and welcoming, and if the owners can build a solid and loyal customer base, then I can see it surviving in the species pool for many years to come.

Taste, Cardiff

15 High Street
CF10 1AX

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Creating a Community Garden

There is probably a small area of abandoned land near where you live. Maybe you’ve thought it could be usefully converted into a community garden or allotments for local residents. Here in Dinas Powys, we have taken the first steps toward converted an abandoned play area into a community garden. I will outline the process in a series of posts, to demonstrate one way in which it can be done.

With Council spending cuts, the maintenance of children’s play areas has been one of the first things to suffer. There must be numerous former play areas around the UK that are now neglected. Concerns were raised last year about one such former play area, between Nightingale Place and Sir Ivor Place in Dinas Powys. It has become a drinking place for young people, and the resulting antisocial behaviour has become of concern to local residents. Therefore, Elizabeth Millard, Chairperson of the Dinas Powys Residents Group, and Councillor Keith Hatton (Plaid Cymru), initiated a project to secure this area with a fence and turn it into a place where local residents could grow their own food.

The first thing to do is find out who owns the land in question and talk to the relevant people. In this case, the land is owned by the Housing Department of the Vale of Glamorgan Council. Even the footpath past the former play area is owned by Housing, rather then Highways (so Waste Management do not service it, which has exacerbated the poor appearance of the site). After talking to senior people in the Vale of Glamorgan Council, including Mike Ingram (Housing) and Clifford Parish (Waste Management), Elizabeth and Keith got an agreement with the Council for changing the use of the land. The Council will lease the land, free of charge, to the Dinas Powys Residents Group for the purpose of establishing a community garden.

Your local council might have someone employed to help you with community projects like this. Here in the Vale of Glamorgan, Elizabeth and Keith were fortunate to be able to call on Rob McGhee, who works for Creative Rural Communities: a new regeneration and economic development initiative led by the Vale of Glamorgan Council in partnership with various public, private and voluntary sector organisations. The aim of the initiative is to give the people of the rural Vale the power to control the future of their communities. They can provide some initial funding, but Rob’s main role will be to help project manage and obtain funds from Welsh Government sources.

In Wales, funding for the establishment of community gardens on waste ground can be sought from several bodies, including the Rural Development Plan for Wales (2007-2013), a joint Welsh Government and European Union strategy. Funding for the Dinas Powys project will be sought, in the first instance, through Tidy Towns Wales: an initiative launched by the Welsh Government in 2008. Tidy Towns funding is given to local authorities and the Keep Wales Tidy group to empower people to make improvements to their local environment. Projects previously funded have included graffiti and litter clean-ups, fencing, and the transformation of wasteland into community gardens and allotments. Tidy Towns also organize groups of volunteers who can help with clearing wasteland at key stages during projects like this.

In the next few weeks, contractors will be met at the site in Dinas Powys. They will provide estimates for the costs of erecting fencing and clearing the ground. This information will be fed into the grant application process.

The first things to do on the ground will be to fence off the area; take up the rubber surface (which used to be under the play equipment) and the concrete; and remove the weeds, dig up tree roots, and cut back the encroaching hedge. Later, water will be bought into the site at a stand pipe (through Welsh Water) and a communal shed erected.

A first meeting was held this morning (14 Jan) at Murchfield Community Hall, where Elizabeth and Keith informed a group of interested local residents of developments. A core group of local residents will be established as things progress to help establish the community garden.

The layout within the area (920.88 square metres) will be determined at a later date, although it was estimated that around eight plots could comfortably sit within the site. Ideally, the site will be kept flexible to meet the needs of residents. The meeting discussed the possibility of both communal areas (e.g., communal orchard and seating area) and individual plots within the site.

A project like this offers significant improvements in the environment and the quality of life for local residents, especially those living in flats without gardens and those who look to gardening for exercise, recreation, and an extension of their social life.

I will follow progress step-by-step. It may make you look at that piece of derelict land in your own neighbourhood with fresh eyes. Can you envisage beans, potatoes, tomatoes and fruit bushes, instead of those weeds and lager cans?

The next meeting here in Dinas Powys will be held on 18 February at Murchfield Community Hall. I’ll keep you posted.

Further information:
Creative Rural Communities:

Tidy Towns:

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Flannels, Cardiff

A new café opened ten days before Christmas in an underused space on the first floor of the designer clothing store Flannels on Churchill Way in Cardiff. The Alius Modi café is on the first floor, above the in-store Tino Constantinou hair salon.

Alius Modi has been promoted as a new concept salon/café/gallery, but don’t let that put you off. It’s a relaxing place for coffee, with healthy-looking browsing and brunch menus. The coffee is free during their opening promotion offer, which runs until the end of March.

All the food is freshly prepared and reasonably priced (£2.50 to £6). The smaller portions on offer can provide for a light lunch or can be ordered in combinations. There are daily specials, such as the Moussaka on the day we our visited.

My Greek salad had some fine grilled halloumi, with feta and olives. Maybe a little too much cucumber and not enough olive oil for my liking, but it was fresh and hit the spot. My partner's maple pancakes with crispy bacon and scrambled egg proved a better choice (no surprise there) with a well-judged amount of syrup.

I like the unpredictability of the menu. The Browsing Menu ranges from fries, wild mushrooms, risotto balls and salads, to whitebait, mussels and squid; while the accompanying Brunch Menu encompasses omelettes and the AM breakfast (minute steak, wild mushrooms, potato rösti, fried egg and tomato).

The panoramic windows give views onto Churchill Way, and the Premier Inn and offices of Helmont House next door. It’s a different perspective on Cardiff. There’s an attractive wooden floor and wall space for a gallery (e.g., student design work).

Alius Modi may find it difficult attracting people to their first-floor location. However, they will soon have a drinks licence and the outside terrace looks a good place for al fresco drinking and grazing on salads during the summer. Getting people out (and noticed) on the terrace, particularly from the nearby offices, may be key to their success.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Tesco Express Dinas Powys: Day 25

On 14 April 2011, Tesco’s Corporate Affairs Manager Sophie Akokhia attended a public meeting organized by Dinas Powys Community Council to discuss the proposed Tesco Express on Castle Drive.

In an introduction by Sophie Akokhia, she said that the store would help regenerate the former Castle Oak Pub building and surrounding area, the parking area would be resurfaced with no time limit for all shoppers, the store would offer a top-up shopping destination and cut down visits to larger supermarkets, and that at least 20 jobs would be created. Some research from Southampton University was also quoted that showed the potential for more people to visit nearby stores.

In this post, I will just focus on the car park. This is where the most immediate discrepancy between the reassurances given by Tesco and the reality of the store opening occurred (although I plan to touch on other issues in later posts).

Tesco have certainly smartened up the area, especially the area behind the back of The Parade shops, where there has always been an infrequently-used free communal parking area. However, Tesco promptly handed over the running of this car park to Euro Car Parks Ltd and draconian parking restrictions were imposed (see photo), which were totally at odds with what was suggested at the April meeting. The new notices proclaimed a 20 minute limit for shopping in Tesco with fines of £70 for overstaying this short time. The wording was particularly galling, as it suggested residents wanted this because of difficulty in finding a parking place (and would even welcome the £70 fines!). In fact, no one in Dinas Powys wanted this car park privatized (this is a village where no one ever pays to park a car) and it is never full. For several weeks only the manager and staff of Tesco Express have parked in the resurfaced car park.

I pointed out the disparity between the assurance and the reality on a social networking site on 5 January and made sure my comments found their way into Sophie Akokhia’s inbox.

This morning (10 January) the car parking signs were gone and a notice in the shop says: Please note we have a FREE 22 spaced car park at the rear of the store. There is no time limitation at present.

The car park situation most probably arose through a misunderstanding between Tesco and their contractors.

I’ll be posting further on developments, particularly on how Tesco and local businesses are co-existing in Dinas Powys (as lessons learned here are relevant to villages and small towns throughout the UK).

Previous post:

Monday, 9 January 2012

Co-mingling in the Vale of Glamorgan

I put a boxful of empty Tetra Paks out in the kerbside recycling collection this morning for the first time, thereby reducing the rubbish in our landfill-bound black bin bags (mainly apple and orange juice cartons in our case).

Towards the end of last year (week commencing 19 Sept), the Vale of Glamorgan Council introduced co-mingling. It sounds a little tautological and slightly suggestive, but actually involves the mixing of dry household waste for recycling. The decision at first sounded like it might be a step backwards, especially to those who are in the habit of separating recycling (and have the luxury of enough space to do so). However, the decision to opt for co-mingling was the correct way forward. There was a 43% increase in household waste being recycled in the first seven weeks of co-mingling being introduced in the Vale of Glamorgan.

More waste is being put out by existing recyclers (a relatively high 76% of Vale residents were already recycling when co-mingling was introduced), while more people now recycle because it is easier to do so. Instead of alternate weeks for, say, plastics and newspaper, everything is now collected every week.

Co-mingling has also opened the way for further products to be added to recycling boxes. In addition to Tetra Paks (e.g., fruit juice, soup, milk and other waxed cartons), drained aerosols and clean aluminium foil are now also collected weekly in the kerbside collection, along with plastic, glass, food and drink cans, paper and cardboard. This material is sorted by staff at Biffa’s materials recycling facility in Cardiff, so make sure your recycling is washed before it is put out for collection to make their job more pleasant.

Kitchen waste is collected weekly in the Vale from special lidded green food-waste bins. The bio-degradable bags to use in the associated kitchen caddies are available in libraries and other Council buildings. The food waste we would rather not compost ourselves goes into our kitchen caddie. The success of the kitchen waste scheme, which was introduced last year, has led to the company responsible, Cowbridge Compost Ltd, announcing that it will be starting a free compost scheme from April 2012. Compost made from the Vale’s recycled kitchen waste will be free to those who show up at their Cowbridge depot with their own shovels and containers.

Garden refuse is collected fortnightly for most of the year (by request from December to April), on alternate weeks to the black bin bag collection.

The co-mingling of dry household waste is helping the Vale Council meet ambitious Welsh Government recycling targets, which form part of Wales’ Toward Zero Waste strategy. It is also helping the Council reduce its considerable long-term landfill costs.

An indication of how high landfill costs have become can be gleaned from Cardiff Council’s decision to photograph the number plates of all the cars using their main recycling facility. If your number plate does not match the Cardiff resident's database then you will be fined (worth bearing in mind if you live in the Vale and are planning on helping someone from Cardiff move stuff to their local recycling centre). In the Vale, a brand-new Household Waste Recycling Facility opened in autumn 2011 on the Atlantic Trading Estate in Barry.

So, "well done” to the Vale of Glamorgan Council for being on the ball when it comes to household waste management.

Further information:

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Lakeside Coffee Shop, Cosmeston County Park

Cosmeston Lakes Country Park, to the west of Penarth in the Vale of Glamorgan, is a great place for a Sunday walk. I frequently walk or cycle around the park, and use it as a through route to Penarth and the coast at Swanbridge. Today, I stopped off for a hot chocolate in the Lakeside Coffee Shop.

I had previously considered the Cosmeston Café a bit of a lost opportunity, as it used to be somewhat shabby, and had a very limited hot food menu. However, I was pleasantly surprised today. It has been smartened up since I was in last, and it’s rebranding as the Lakeside Coffee Shop is to be welcomed. They do breakfasts, lunches and sandwiches, and cake throughout the day. In summer, they have always shifted a lot of ice creams, but it's good to see more food on offer.

The menu today featured numerous combinations of sausage, ham, egg, chips, beans, jacket potatoes and toast. Today's soup option was Tomato and Basil. Kids are well catered for with an extensive children’s menu. There was a choice of two cakes with the hot drinks today. I had the last apple from the fruit bowl. All the food was very reasonably priced.

Cosmeston Lakes Country Park comprises 110 hectares of woodland, meadow, wetland and lakes, in an area of reclaimed quarry workings. It is a haven for wildlife, especially birds. There’s a network of paths around the park. On a Sunday, the dog walkers, horse riders and parents with pushchairs are out in force. It’s a great facility for local residents and well worth a visit if you live in the Cardiff area and have not already discovered it.

Within the park is the reconstructed 14th-century Medieval Village (a location in BBC’s Merlin); a fee is charged for entry to the village. The best time to visit the village is on special day (e.g., Easter, battle re-enactment days) when the full cast of Medieval villagers are present to talk you through their various occupations (the gruesome medieval medic is particularly good value).

The main news from the park at the moment concerns a herd of at least 40 horses that have appeared in one of the fields. The Vale of Glamorgan Council, who own Cosmeston, wants them gone within two weeks or they are threatening to remove them and sell them. They have put up signs warning of Wild Horses and notices quoting the relevant section of the Animals Act 1971.

Related posts:
Coffee at Nash Point

Forest Café, Porthkerry

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Pieminister: Where’s the Lard?

The cookbook under the Christmas tree for me this year was pieminister: a pie for all seasons (2011) by Tristan Hogg and Jon Simon, who started making pies together in the early 1990s. They opened the first Pieminister shop in Bristol in 2004. They also traded from a van at Glastonbury 2004, and their pies have been available at all good music festivals (e.g., Green Man) ever since.

The book is full of good pie-making ideas and, as the title suggests, is divided up seasonally. It starts with Spring, which includes Posh Paddy’s Pie, Homity Pie, Rhubard and Custard Pie, and St Valentine’s Day Pie. Summer includes Jerk Chicken Pie, The Screaming Desperado, Surfers’ Pie, Pietanic, and Courgette and Chickpea Filo Pie. Among the Autumn selection is Pulled Pork, Cider and Sage Pies, Pheasant and Bath Chaps Pie, Wabbit Roll, Chicken and Butternut Squash Curry Pie, and Blackberry and Apple Pie. Winter includes Stargazing Quail Pie, Rabbit and Chorizo Pork Pie, and The Hedonist Pie.

There is therefore a mix of everyday and more specialist pies. And it’s not just pies; there are recipes for a pan-fried breakfast, smoked aubergines and olive strudel, and other quirky inclusions. There is an appealing home-made, community-based ethos behind Pieminister. The book captures this through sections on foraging, seasonal vegetable patch gardening, music festivals, and throwing a street party.

However, you should not buy this book and expect to turn out pies that taste just like those from the Pieminister van. Firstly, these are not necessarily the commercial recipes. The recipe given for the Pieminister Moo Pie (on page 80), for instance, states: “Sorry, we can’t give the exact Pieminister recipe for this steak and ale favourite (it’s a closely guarded secret), so this one’s a slight variation.”

Secondly, there’s the pastry. The shortcrust pastry recipe in the book (page 10) is made using butter as the only fat source (as is the rough puff pastry). It’s very short, very rich, and not quite the texture or taste of a commercial pie.

Traditionally, shortcrust pie pastry has been made using lard. The recipe for shortcrust pastry in The Good Housekeeping Cookery Book (first published 1944; page 351), for example, specifies half lard and half margarine or butter, while lard is also included in recipes for flaky, flan and rough puff pastry. The book stresses that good results are achieved with a mixture of fats.

Delia Smith in her Complete Cookery Course (1978) uses half lard and half margarine in her basic shortcrust pastry recipe (page 548). She notes that half lard to butter or margarine mixes are easier to rub in and handle, and have the best texture and flavour.

However, in more-recent cookbooks you are much less likely to see lard listed as a pastry ingredient. Lard is just not fashionable. Natural fats have generally been unfairly maligned, and lard especially so (artificial trans fats and hydrogenated fats are another matter, and richly deserve their maligning).

One almost imagines a manuscript arriving at a publishers, with the first recipe calling for half a block or (god forbid) a tub of lard. Alarm bells ring in the poor editor’s head (lard=loss of sales!). The publisher promptly calls the food writer asking whether it’s possible to loose the lard, or maybe loose all that nasty fat altogether. The food writer insists that fat is essential to pastry making, but is talked into replacing the lard with butter or margarine (or anything with a better image than lard). I am not saying that this was the case during the making of this particular book (lard is listed as an ingredient in the hot water crust pastry and there’s plenty of sound pastry-making advice), but I suspect such considerations are a factor in the production of today’s glossy lifestyle, celebrity chef cookbooks.

Our initial experiences with the Pieminister cookbook suggest it may become one of the more well-used volumes in our kitchen library. The Fan-Taffy Pie (page 136) was a big hit with the guests we served it to over the Christmas period. The photo depicts our Leftovers Pie (note to self: don’t do half measures, make full pastry amounts!).