Wales on the Menu - Series 2

Programme Six: The Home Cook


"In the last of the present series of Wales On The Menu we have a first," says food critic Simon Wright, "our first vegetarian dish."

Getting the best out of the finest Welsh organic produce is Alex Vines. The 26-year-old from Cardiff now works in a vegetarian co-operative in Manchester and is passionate about the ethics of food production.

"I was brought up in Cardiff as a vegetarian and have always been passionate about food. I learnt to cook by helping my mum in the kitchen from the age of 12. My Mum is allergic to most grains, including both wheat and rice, but she is an excellent cook so from an early age I became aware that with a bit of creativity you can make some amazing dishes from what many would view as limited ingredients. I grew up having a vegetable box delivered to my house from Pencoed every week. This really fuelled my interest in cooking, as each season would bring exciting opportunities in the kitchen."

Alex had ambitions to be a chef but was forced to change direction. "My time working in a kitchen was short lived as I broke my back in a snowboarding accident," he explains. "This left me lying down in bed for three months and out of work for six months, during this period it became clear that the long hours on my feet in a high pressure kitchen were not for me.

"I now feel my future lies in the ethics of food production, it is common knowledge that many of the food systems in place are unsustainable and in many cases just straight wrong. I have always had a passion for food, yet now it is not just for cooking and eating it; it is about the whole production process and so I'm looking to apply for a masters in food policy."

Simon takes Alex to London to the only vegetarian restaurant to make the Michelin Guide in a bid to put Wales On The Menu.

Carrot & Goat's Cheese Charlotte with Gwynt Y Ddraig Potato Dauphinoise

This recipe feeds 6 people

In the words of Alex

Start by cooking the potatoes.

Gwynt Y Ddraig Potato Dauphinoise

1 kg waxy potatoes
1 large onion
1 bottle of Gwynt Y Ddraig Cider (I use the gold medal variety)
200 ml double cream
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
6 bay leaves
Fresh nutmeg
Salt and pepper
Butter for greasing the dish

Grease a large baking dish and preheat the oven to 220 degrees. Now thinly slice your potatoes and onions, around 5mm thick (a mandolin or food processor will save time!). Keep your potatoes seperate from the onions. Layer up your potatoes in the dish, between each layer add onions, garlic, nutmeg, 1 or 2 bay leaves, and a liberal coating of cream and cider. Also don't forget to season each layer with salt and pepper. I usually use about three quarters of the cider in the dish, so whatever is left is the cook's treat!

Now tightly cover the dish with a sheet of buttered kitchen foil (this stops it sticking to the potatoes on the top) and place in the oven. Once the potatoes are in the oven you can start to prepare the Charlottes.

After about 1 1/2 hrs check the potatoes. When they are beginning to caramelise and colour, you can put your Charlottes in. Turn the oven down to 180 degrees and place the potatoes back in the oven without the foil, this will make them crisp up on top. Keep an eye on it but it should take about half an hour which is how long the Charlottes need.

Carrot and Goats Cheese Charlottes

1lb carrots and an extra carrot for lining the ramekins (organic carrots have much more flavour and are really worth using)
1 medium onion
50g butter
180 ml veg stock (I use boullion powder but make it weakly)
2tbsp chopped parsley
2 large eggs and 3 extra yolks
150g soft goats cheese (I use the logs from Cothi Valley goat farm)
A little freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper
Butter to grease six ramekins

Using a potato peeler, cut strips of the extra carrot and place in a bowl of boiling water for a few minutes to soften. Butter six ramekins and line with your carrot strips. Blend your carrots and onions in a food processor. In a pan melt the butter and sweat the carrot mixture for a few minutes until it glistens. Add the veg stock and simmer on a low heat until the liquid has nearly gone, now return the mixture to the food processor and blend with the remaining ingredients. Test the mix for seasoning (if you are happy to taste a mix with raw egg) before dividing between six ramekin dishes.

Place ramekins in a bain marie in the oven (the boiling water should come about two thirds of the way up the ramekins) which should now be at 180 degrees, and cook for around 30 mins. While they are in the oven make the cream sauce below.

When the Charlottes are slightly coming away from the sides of the ramekins turn out onto hot plates and serve with the potatoes, the sauce and maybe some buttered leeks.

Cream Sauce

280ml vegetable stock (see above)
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 tomato, peeled and chopped
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Touch of honey
2 tbsp chopped herbs (I used parsley, oregano and lemon thyme)
Salt and pepper
140ml double cream
50g butter

Put all ingredients except the cream and butter into a small pan and reduce by a half.

Add cream and butter and simmer until the butter has melted. Now pour through a fine sieve so you have a smooth sauce.

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