Tag: 2018

Drinks Friday – Cider!

Drinks Friday – Cider!

 

In a poorly judged and frankly completely failed attempt to lose some weight, I decided to stop drinking beer (as much) this month.  As you might imagine, my entirely lukewarm approach to dieting was in part responsible for the failure.  The other contributing factor was that I replaced beer with cider.  There was some logic to this: I tend to drink cider more slowly. I think. Bottom line is I didn’t lose any weight but I did drink some interesting apple based beverages that I hadn’t tried before, so it wasn’t a complete loss.

Here is a run-down of three of the more interesting drinks I drank. Drunk? Drinked? Yay for cider!

 

  1. – Thatchers Leaf Twister

This is a sparkling cider with a clean taste similar to eating a fresh apple, a little sweeter than I was expecting but with enough sharpness to balance it.  The overall effect is very refreshing and deceptively easy to drink.  At 5% it is stronger than it tastes but the cans are small so you can go crazy (drink responsibly).  On the subject of the cans – when did cider makers decide to adopt the weird, matt feel cans that so many craft beers come in? It’s not that I don’t like them, but it’s a really strange, pointless trend.

The name of this drink is a point against it too.  If it was simply named ‘Leaf Twister’, I wouldn’t have an issue, but its full name is: ‘Original cider crafter Stan’s Thatchers leaf twister full-bodied sparkling cider’. I would drink this again, but probably out of a glass so other people couldn’t see what I was drinking and mistake me for a hipster.

 

  1. – Elk Warning – Blackberry

This Swedish cider is similar to Kopparberg and Rekordalig in style using a fairly neutral apple base and allowing the fruit flavours to shine.  I am not normally a fan of this style of cider but actually quite enjoyed this one; the blackberry flavour tastes natural (I find many fruit ciders taste very synthetic) and is allowed to shine.  It is a bit too sweet for my tastes, but has proven to me that I can enjoy this style of cider.  The hipster can makes another appearance here, and this cider is also available in strawberry flavour, but the less said about that the better.

 

  1. – Orchard Pig Hog Father

This is the kind of cider that would get me into trouble. It is dry and crisp, with just enough sweetness to keep it going down easily. It is lightly sparkling – effervescent without leaving you feeling bloated, and it packs a punch.  A very respectable 7.4% ensures that it tastes strong and grown-up.  While I enjoyed the previous two drinks, this is the one that I will keep buying. Of these three ciders,  Hog Father is definitely my top pick: It tastes great, has a sneaky Discworld reference in its name and perhaps most importantly, given that I have apparently got a bee in my bonnet about  little cans, It is sold in big, brown, glass bottles.

 

Have you got a favourite cider to recommend?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.  Next month’s drinks Friday will be a good one – I will be selflessly working my way through a beer advent calendar over the next few weeks ready to review it before December starts.  I know, I’m all heart (conditions).

Visits: 60
Catch and Cook Fishing Trip

Catch and Cook Fishing Trip

At the time of writing this, ‘England’s Seafood FEAST’ is well under way. It is a two week event, running from the 22nd September until the 7th October, celebrating the wonderful array of restaurants, produce, and experiences that Torbay has to offer.  When I looked at the schedule I quickly decided that the one event I had to take part in was the catch and cook fishing trip run by the Cantina Kitchen and Bar in Paignton.  I have been looking for an excuse to go Mackerel fishing for about 3 years. Now was finally the time.

Bad Omens

It’s lucky I’m not superstitious as my journey from Exminster to Paignton would have probably been enough to put most people off going to sea.  An accident on the main road forced me to detour though country lanes and villages, relying on the sat-nav on my phone to steer me through, while also trying desperately to get hold of the bar to let them know I was delayed.  Poor signal and low battery threatened to derail me at any moment.  Queues of cars squeezed past one another as we all inched our way along what we hoped was the lesser of two evils. Each time we came to a halt I peered anxiously at the ETA displayed on the screen, and watched with horror as the meeting time of 5 o’clock became a distant dream.

Upon my arrival in Paignton I ran from the car park to the harbour – desperately hoping that the boat, ‘Our Joe-L’ would still be there. To my horror, as I rounded the corner into the harbour, I spotted the boat just pulling away from the harbour wall. In a last ditch effort, I legged it towards the boat, ready to jump from the wall like a slightly asthmatic, less grumpy Liam Neeson.  Fortunately, no such heroics were required (I do not have a very particular sets of skills). The boat was just picking someone up from the other side of the mouth of the harbour and came back for me moments later.

Quickly getting my breath back, and apologising to everyone for keeping them waiting, I boarded the boat and tried to put the past, profanity filled hour behind me.

Catch and Cook: Out to sea

It didn’t take long.  We were blessed with the perfect evening for a boat ride, with the sun still warm but low in the sky, bathing the sea, coastline and us in a glorious golden glow.  I have always been a fan of autumn, and it is because of days like this one; they feel like a reminder of the summer days that have been and gone, but more valued because of their scarcity.   If we had failed to catch a single fish I don’t think I would have been disappointed.  Fortunately that was not going to be a problem.

I am happy to report that I caught the first fish of the night. This was in no way due to any particular skill on my part however; I was still being shown how to cast the line in when I felt something pull on it. And my fellow fishermen and women quickly got off the mark too.  Shaun, our skipper, was kept very busy helping to unhook fish, but before long everyone was mucking in and helping each other as the fish were reeled in.

Just as the sun was beginning to sink behind the headland we turned for home.  We had caught more fish than we could eat in a week, but none of it was going to waste.  Shaun kept some of the smaller fish to use as bait, but the rest of the catch was strung together and after reaching the harbour we strolled proudly back to the restaurant with our catch.

Dinner

On arrival at Cantina we handed the fish over to the kitchen who busied themselves with prepping dinner.  We had a table reserved for us with a view of the kitchen so we were able to watch them working, while we chatted over a well-deserved drink. One of the highlights for me was the demonstration of how to prepare the fish including gutting and filleting it.  I was given the opportunity to have a go myself and discovered it was actually really simple, and very satisfying to successfully remove the fillets; no more getting the fishmonger to do it for me!

This was followed by a wonderful two course meal that was included in our ticket price.  To start we had a scallop, with pea puree and bacon crumb – a classic combination of flavours that was executed brilliantly: the scallop sweet and succulent, the puree velvety and the bacon crumb providing a little seasoning and a hit of umami flavour.  This was followed by our freshly caught mackerel, served with horseradish mash and Swiss chard. Again the dish was beautifully balanced – the oily fish matched brilliantly with the heat of horseradish.  Undoubtedly this fish tasted all the sweeter for being a part of our own catch, but the skill, care and passion of the chefs was what really made it shine.

When it came time to leave I was genuinely sad to go.  We were looked after in a friendly, informal but diligent way throughout, and felt like we had been not just customers for the evening, but welcomed into the community for a time.  I will definitely be back.

Many thanks to Kate and all her team at Cantina for looking after us and to Shaun for his exceptional fish finding. Also a special thanks to one of my fellow fishers, Tina, who provided many of the pictures above after my phone gave up the ghost!

Links

The boat we fished from, Our Joe-l is available to charter for fishing trips, wildlife observations and more. Click here for more details

Cantina Bar and Kitchen is a gem of a place. Family and dog friendly, the atmosphere is relaxed and informal and the food is excellent.  They organised the catch and cook event as part of ‘England’s seafood FEAST’ but have regular events advertised on their website. They even have their own craft gin, which I will definitely be trying next time I go. Find out more at www.cantinagoodrington.co.uk

There is still lots happenening between now and the 7th October. Find out about the other events that make up ‘England’s seafood FEAST’ by clicking here.

If you are interested in taking part in the Catch and Cook trip, it is running again on the 3rd October and details can be found here

Visits: 72
Drinks Friday: Negroni

Drinks Friday: Negroni

So for tonight’s ‘Drinks Friday’ I am keeping things simple:  the negroni.  This is a cocktail that is fairly ubiquitous right now, appearing on every hipster cocktail menu up and down the country (for the record, I was drinking it long before it was popular).  But here is the secret – it is really easy to make.

To be fair it is not to everyone’s taste; it is bitter and strong, so if your idea of a great cocktail is something made with a ton of fruit juice then a negroni is probably not for you.  But if you do like it then you will probably find yourself making these at home fairly regularly – I know I do.  I have one rule: when I can no longer remember how to make it, it is time for bed!

Tips

  • You can premix the ingredients in bulk – great if you want to serve these as an aperitif for a dinner party. Simply mix in equal parts and store in a clean, sterilised bottle. When you are ready to serve, simply pour over ice and garnish.
  • Try using different gins (and gin-based liqueurs) to change the flavour.  Sloe gin works brilliantly, as does blackberry gin. Just remember that the prominent flavour of Campari is bitter orange – choose something that complements that and you won’t go too far wrong.

The Negroni

Ingredients

35ml Gin
35ml Campari
35ml Sweet vermouth
Orange peel to garnish
Ice cubes

 

Method

  1.  Fill a glass with ice.  Pour the gin, Campari and vermouth into the glass. Stir for a few seconds. Garnish with a piece of orange peel.

 

I told you it was easy.

 

That is it from me – I’ve got a cocktail to drink! Happy Friday everybody – please drink responsibly(ish) and let me know what your favourite variations on the classic negroni are in the comments. Cheers!

Visits: 43
To salt or not to salt?

To salt or not to salt?

The Great Food and Drink Show

At the weekend I spent a few hours at The Great Food and Drink Show, held at Westpoint , Exeter.  Usually when attending these kinds of events I drag my wife and son with me, meaning that keeping a two year old entertained becomes the priority, and meaning that actually sitting down to watch cooking demonstrations is something of a non-starter. Yesterday however, I struck out on my own so was free to soak everything up at my leisure.

Compared to some other food and drink shows, this was on a slightly smaller scale; however it was actually rather nice to be able to take everything in and not have to elbow my way through crowds to get to each of the exhibitors.  It also meant that it only took me 15 minutes or so to shuffle round and see what took my fancy, before turning my attention to the demo stage.

Jean-Cristophe Novelli

Among the celebrity chefs booked for Sunday’s demos was Jean-Cristophe Novelli.  I must confess I didn’t know a great deal about his career or cooking style though.  I have seen him on TV at various times over the years but never paid close attention to his career.  But Jean-Cristophe’s demo on cooking without salt, and using fat and sugar sparingly has really stuck with me.

I am always rather sceptical about fad diets which is why I enjoyed reading The Angry Chef so much. But what Novelli is suggesting is not a detox diet or fad.  He is showing ways to cook that will help to keep salt, fat and sugar consumption down. He is simply trying to stick to levels that are generally agreed to be healthy.

Too much salt

Of particular concern to Jean-Cristophe is the quantity of salt we all consume.  According to the NHS, the recommended daily intake of salt for an adult is 6g. That is approximately 1 teaspoon.  I can confidently state that I regularly exceed that, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Estimates put the average daily consumption of salt in the UK somewhere between 8-12g.

During his demo he produced two dishes – ratatouille served with seafood and steak with mushroom and blue cheese sauce.  At no point in the cooking of these dishes did he reach for the salt pot.  The ratatouille had about half a dozen olives in it, while the blue cheese brought some saltiness to the mushroom sauce, but the fish and the meat were not seasoned at all.  There was fat present in both dishes – oil was used to dress the fish, double cream used as a base for the mushroom sauce – but none was used to fry any ingredients.  This all felt rather counter-intuitive and yet the food that was produced was divine.  I was sure that the ratatouille would taste insipid without salt, but it was fresh and zingy with herbs and the sharp-sweet flavour of tomato. I was convinced that the steak – completely unseasoned – would be crying out for salt, but the quality of the beef and the addition of the earthy, tangy sauce made for a delicious plate of food.

Of course you may be thinking ‘Yeah, but would it have tasted better with salt added?’ and the answer is yes.  Salt does what it does and would have probably turned the volume up on both these dishes. But these dishes demonstrated that it is perfectly possible to get exceptional flavour without adding excessive quantities of salt.

What now?

So am I about to flush the table salt down the loo in a scene reminiscent of Goodfellas? Do a terribly middle-class good deed and donate my smoked Maldon sea salt to charity? Force salt-piety on friends and family whenever I cook for them?  No.  But I will think a bit more carefully about where and when to use it.  If I am throwing a dinner party – cooking for pleasure – then I will probably ignore a lot of this advice. When I am cooking for my family – for health, sustenance and nourishment – these ideas become a lot more valuable.

I spoke to Jean-Cristophe after the demo and he addressed the conflict between this style of cooking and the food that he has made his name with, going so far as to call himself a traitor.  But he seems to genuinely believe in the message he is promoting. That belief extends to considering whether or not food cooked in this way could ever get Michelin’s attention.  It is hard to see his ideas being adopted by the culinary establishment completely, but with the way we eat changing all the time, and talented, driven proponents like Novelli, perhaps healthy eating and fine dining won’t always be at odds.

Links

If you are tempted to see how a dish can taste without added salt, try making my ragù recipe by following the link below.   I created this dish specifically for feeding a toddler, so deliberately avoided adding salt.

 Pork and Beef Ragù.

If you want to find out more about Jean-Cristhope Novelli’s ideas, he incorporates many of them into the courses at the Novelli Academy.

Visits: 29
Pork and Beef Ragu

Pork and Beef Ragu

This ragu is a regular in my house – we eat it at least once a fortnight. My son is really fussy when it comes to vegetables but he barely notices them in this rich meaty sauce, so it’s a great way to sneak them into his diet.  It is also really tasty, so it doesn’t feel like a compromise meal which, for me, many child-friendly dishes do.

TIPS:  Although the cooking time is quite long, it can be made a day or two ahead and then reheated, making it great for a week-night supper. The recipe makes enough to serve 6-8 people (depending on appetites) or it can be frozen in smaller portions to provide two or more meals.  Alternatively you could make a smaller batch by simply halving the quantities listed.

 

Pork and Beef Ragu (serves 6-8)

Ingredients

2tbsp vegetable oil

2 medium onions, finely chopped

2 sticks celery finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

500g pork mince

500g beef mince

2 large carrots, peeled and grated

2 red peppers chopped into 1cm square pieces

200g chestnut mushrooms, halved and sliced

2tbsp smoked paprika

1tbsp dried Italian herb blend

1l beef stock (I use Knorr stock pots)

800ml passata

Black pepper to taste

 

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan or casserole, over a medium heat. Add the onions and celery and cook for 5 minutes stirring regularly, until they are soft and translucent.  Add the garlic and fry for another minute, being careful to ensure the garlic doesn’t burn.
  2. Turn the heat up to high and add the meat to the pan.  With the quantity involved here it won’t brown – just keep stirring until it is all mixed evenly and you can’t see any pink. Next, add the carrots, peppers, mushrooms, paprika and herbs, stir to combine and cook for a minute or two longer.
  3. Add the stock and passata to the pan, stir to combine, bring to a simmer then turn the heat down to low.  Leave the sauce to simmer and reduce for 2-3hours, stirring occasionally. If the liquid reduces too quickly, add a little water to the pan.  The finished sauce should be thick enough to stick to and coat the pasta you serve it with, but still have plenty of liquid.
  4. Serve the ragu with pasta of your choice (I like tagliatelle), salad and, finally, a grating of fresh parmesan to garnish.
Visits: 49
James on Books – ‘Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat’ & ‘The Angry Chef’

James on Books – ‘Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat’ & ‘The Angry Chef’

Although Literary review does not really come within the remit of this blog, the summer holidays have afforded me a little more time and there are a couple of books I have been reading recently that are extremely enjoyable.

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat

If you are reading this (and not related to me – hi Dad!) then odds are you like your food and probably enjoy cooking.  I picked up Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat entirely on a whim – Viv needed me out of Waterstones quick and I was drawn by the fact it was not just a cookbook.  What Nosrat manages to do in this book is break down the fundamentals of cookery into the four elements of the title, allowing the reader to develop a deeper understanding of not just what to do but most importantly why to do it.  There are countless cookbooks out there that will guide you towards creating tasty food, but this will teach you how to create your own dishes.  If, like me, you already experiment in the kitchen, then Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat will prove utterly indispensable as it not only provides valuable tips to improve your cooking but also various beautifully illustrated tables, graphics and guides to help match flavours and styles of cuisine.

The information is presented elegantly too.  Nosrat balances the science of cooking with observations and anecdotes from her own experiences – often her mistakes – to ensure that the content is accessible.  She also does a wonderful job of allaying any fears the reader might have – constantly reminding us that mistakes will happen to even the best chefs but all can be used to learn and improve. The foreword strongly suggests reading the book from start to finish – not something I would naturally do with a cookbook – but it is well worth doing, not only because of how it will develop your understanding, but also because it is a damn good read.

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is, in essence, a book of two halves; in the second half there is a wonderful collection of recipes – many of which are suggested as ways of experimenting with the principles laid out earlier, but all of which give the reader a chance to test out their new-found understanding and eat very well at the same time!  In the spirit of discovery and experimentation that runs through the book, there are numerous variations suggested too, encouraging us to truly play with our food in the best possible way!

As a final endorsement I will take a leaf out of Nosrat’s book (pun intended) and use an anecdote.  In my excitement over the book, I showed it to a friend who had come over for lunch, expecting her to politely flick through a few pages before putting it down.  When she did finally surface, after reading the first 40-50 pages, it was to try out one of the suggested experiments into the effects of salt on bitterness in food. As the book then did the rounds all afternoon we lost person after person to its charms.  Buy this book: read it, enjoy it, learn from it, cook from it – but hide it when people come over for dinner!

The Angry Chef

The second book I have devoured recently is Anthony Warner’s deeply scathing look at pseudoscience in the world of nutrition.  I will freely admit that I bought this book because some very creative swearing in the introduction made me smile, and although there was less profanity than that intro led me to believe, it is a compelling read nonetheless.

Much of what The Angry Chef aims to do is look at the science behind the claims of many of the diets and health advice that is so freely available today, as well as debunking some of the myths that exist around food.  The subject matter has been researched in extraordinary detail, creating a compelling argument against the quackery of many so called wellness gurus.  I should probably say – if it wasn’t already obvious – that with me as his audience, Warner is preaching to the choir. But behind the vitriol and poking fun at high profile proponents of ‘nutribollocks’ (Gwyneth Paltrow takes a pummelling) seems to be a genuine concern – that people might do themselves harm because of following a diet that has no scientific sense.  There is also the message that a healthy diet is not one of restriction and denial but one of moderation and enjoyment.

Warner has managed a great balancing act – the book is informed and informative while being entertaining, scientifically rigorous yet accessible and wonderfully crude while remaining charming.  It is unfortunate that those who probably need this book the most – the fad dieters who jump from trend to trend desperately hoping for some perfect version of themselves to emerge – will probably never even pick it up.

 

 

Have you read any interesting foodie books recently?  Let me know in the comments below!

Visits: 20
Chicken and Chorizo Tray Bake

Chicken and Chorizo Tray Bake

This is barely a recipe – more just something I threw together once and have repeated a number of times since, but it is quick to prepare, cooks in under 30 minutes and is really tasty.  Treat the recipe here as more of a guide – It is great the way I have described but is also a fantastic way of using up a few leftover odds and ends that are in the fridge. This has become something of a family favourite in our house – give it a try and I’m sure you will love it too!

TIPS – Salting the chicken in advance is not essential but worth doing if you can.  If you don’t have time, just follow the method as described, but leave the chicken out while you prepare the marinade and chop the vegetables.

Chicken and Chorizo Tray Bake (Serves 4)

Ingredients

1kg Bone in, skin on chicken thighs and legs
2tsp table salt
2tsp smoked paprika
1tsp herbs de Provence (or similar mixed herb blend)
1tsp garlic puree
Juice and zest of one lemon
2tbsp olive oil
200g chorizo
2 red peppers
1 medium courgette
1 bunch of spring onions

 

Method

  1. Place the chicken pieces into a roasting pan and sprinkle with the salt. Try to ensure you evenly coat all the pieces. Do this job on the same day you are cooking as early as possible – if you can season in the morning before going to work, the meat will be more evenly seasoned and really tender once cooked. Store in the fridge until about 30 minutes before you want to start cooking then leave out to come up to room temperature.
  2. Heat the oven to 190ºC fan (210ºC conventional).
  3. Mix the paprika, dried herbs, garlic purée, lemon juice, lemon zest and oil together in a large bowl to create a marinade.
  4. Slice the chorizo into rounds about 1cm thick, then halve these to create semi-circular chunks. Chop the peppers and courgette into bite-size pieces.  Trim and clean the spring onions.  Cut each one into 3-4 pieces.
  5. Put all the vegetables, the chicken pieces and the chorizo into the bowl containing the marinade. Mix everything together thoroughly with your hands. Make sure the spice and oil mixture has coated everything, then spread the vegetables and chorizo out evenly in the roasting pan and place the chicken on top, skin side up.  Wash your hands.
  6. Place the roasting pan into the middle of the oven and roast for 20-30 minutes. It is ready when the chicken skin is crisp and the juices run clear from the meat if pierced with a skewer.
  7. Serve with whatever takes your fancy – crusty bread and a salad works brilliantly, as do roast potatoes.
Visits: 17
Drinks Friday – G&T Time!

Drinks Friday – G&T Time!

So from now on, the last Friday of each month will be ‘Drinks Friday’  where I will focus on the wonderful world of alcohol and the  multitude of magnificent drinks that it makes possible.  I am going to start with one of life’s simplest and greatest pleasures – Gin and Tonic.  If you haven’t already caught wind of the extraordinary boom in craft gins that has taken place over the past few years then you have probably been living under a very dry rock.  It seems like only yesterday that I was working in the bars and restaurants of Edinburgh and a handful of people in the know would ask for Hendricks and then sneer when I explained that I didn’t have any cucumber to garnish it (I didn’t say I worked anywhere classy).  Now there are bars focussed entirely on gin, like the excellent Crocketts on Gandi Street in Exeter, and enough different varieties of the stuff to suit literally any taste.  Unless you don’t drink at all, in which case, why are you reading this?  Go on – move along.  Nothing to see here…

One gin that has recently caught my attention is Black Dog Gin from the Dartmoor Distillery.  It claims to use 22 botanicals – juniper berries, orange and lemon peel, and ‘Dartmoor botanicals’.  Clearly the good people at Dartmoor Distillery aren’t about to give up their secrets, but the idea that the botanicals used are from the area surrounding the distillery is certainly an appealing one, and it tastes great too.  There are strong notes of citrus, and a heady, floral aroma, but what makes it particularly enjoyable is the finish.  It seems to dance between pine and liquorice, changing from one sip to the next.  I have been drinking this with plain tonic water and garnished with lemon which seems to work very nicely with the citrus flavour of the gin.

So, it’s Friday, the weekend is just beginning – here are my top 5 tips for a perfect G&T

  1. Find a gin you like.  If you are not sure – and there are so many choices out there, it is hard to keep track of and harder still to choose – head to a bar that specialises in gin. Talk to the staff, and try some out.  You will quickly find something you like, and there are worse ways to spend an evening.
  2. Find a nice glass.  Sure, you could drink out of a jam jar or that old ‘world’s greatest [insert relation here]’ mug, but this is about enjoying what you are drinking, and that starts with how it looks and how it feels in your hand.  There is probably some scientific study about what shape of glass best suits gin, but for me this is about ceremony. I like a heavy bottomed high-ball glass. I like the weight and feel of it in my hand and I like being able to watch the bubbles rise gradually and haphazardly through the ice. But if you like to drink your gin in a wine glass or a tumbler or stein then do it.  What’s more, enjoy the fact that others might disapprove.  This is all about taking some time for yourself. And it is always good to stick two fingers up at booze snobbery.
  3. Use lots of ice.  One or two cubes will do little more than dilute your drink.  The ice will melt very quickly once exposed to alcohol, and will likely have little effect on the temperature of the drink.  If you fill your glass with ice the whole drink becomes colder faster and the ice will remain solid for longer.  This has two benefits: your drink stays cold and it doesn’t immediately become diluted.  Which brings me to my next point:
  4. Make it strong.  This is not about getting pissed quickly. If you are drinking a nice bottle of gin, there is no sense in drowning it in tonic water (unless you want to – see Booze Snobbery).  You have spent your hard earned money on something a bit special, make sure you can taste it. I generally pour roughly 1 part Gin (50ml) to 3 parts tonic (150ml).  I find this allows the tonic to complement the gin rather than hide it, while still providing a long enough drink for me to enjoy.
  5. Experiment.  The tips above will provide a good basis for creating a drink that you can take some pleasure in, but there are so many products out there right now, that there is a lot of fun to be had trying new things. Lemon is a good garnish for a G&T but changing the garnish can totally change the drink – try to find out what botanicals have been used and try matching the garnish to one of them to accentuate that flavour.  Try savoury garnishes like cucumber or herbs.  Consider different tonic water or even try other mixers. And of course try other gins!

Do you have your own ‘perfect G&T’? Or suggestions for other gins worth trying? Let me know in the comments below.

Cheers!

 

Visits: 20
Beef, and Shmeji Mushroom Stir-fry

Beef, and Shmeji Mushroom Stir-fry

This recipe is something that I came up with one evening when I was eating alone – I simply threw some of my favourite things together, including some amazing shmeji mushrooms from Forest Fungi.  My first attempt was a little too salty, but the recipe below is the tweaked and (hopefully) improved version. I have also scaled the original recipe up to feed 2 people, but I would advise against trying to double it up to feed four – the pan will likely lose its heat and you will end up with a stew rather than a stir-fry.  Save this one for a cosy date-night!

Tips:  The quantities in this recipe do not need to be followed precisely.  If you buy a bunch of spring onions and there is 7 in there?  Chuck them all in.  Can’t find exactly 300g of steak? A little bit more or less won’t make a lot of difference. In particular check the quantity of oyster sauce that you use – I have found that some varieties are much saltier than others so when you make the marinade, check the seasoning before using it.  For this recipe I used Blue Dragon Oyster Sauce due to its wide availability (most supermarkets).

If you can’t get your hands on shmeji mushrooms, you could use oyster or shiitake mushrooms instead.

You will also need a large wok.

 

Beef, Spring Onion and Shmeji Mushroom Stir-fry

Serves 2

Ingredients

For the marinade:
1 birds eye chilli
2 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tbsp dry sherry or rice wine
1 tbsp tamarind paste
2½ tsp ginger paste
2 tsp garlic puree
2tsp rice wine vinegar

 

For the stir-fry:
300g rump steak
150g shmeji mushrooms
6 spring onions
75g curly kale
3 tbsp water (if needed)
Fresh coriander to garnish

 

Method

 

  1. Finely chop the chilli and place into a glass bowl with all the other marinade ingredients. Mix together and taste. If it tastes too sour add a little more oyster sauce. If it is too salty add a little more tamarind.  Thinly slice the steak and add to the marinade, stir to ensure the meat is coated and leave on the side, covered, for twenty minutes.
  2. While the steak is marinating, prepare the vegetables. Separate the mushrooms and brush off any dirt. Slice the spring onions lengthways, then slice thinly on the diagonal.  Lastly remove any stems from the kale and chop the leaves into bitesize pieces.  Keep these ready for when you start cooking
  3. Heat a large wok over a high heat. When it is smoking hot, add a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil.  Once the oil is hot, lift the meat out of the marinade and place it into the wok. Do so gently as it will spit.  Stir-fry for two minutes or until the meat is just coloured, then add the mushrooms, spring onions, kale and any remaining marinade and fry for a minute or two more. If the pan starts to get too dry, add the water – once the kale softens it is ready.
  4. Garnish with fresh coriander and serve with boiled rice and steamed tenderstem broccoli, which is especially good if dressed with a little sesame oil and soy sauce once cooked.
Visits: 19
Forest Fungi

Forest Fungi

I haven’t always appreciated how lucky I am to live in Devon.  In fact I moved away for over 10 years, adamant I would never return; but when I did, I fell in love with the county in a way I wouldn’t have believed was possible.  One of the things that I really love, as a foodie, is the amazing variety of magnificent produce that can be found right on our doorstep.  It is easy, however, through habit, convenience, or shortness of time and budget, to rely on supermarkets for so much of what we eat.  That is why I have set out to find local producers who are offering products worth spending a little more time and money on.

Forest Fungi are definitely a fitting company to begin my journey with.  I had come across their mushrooms at Dart’s Farm and been really impressed by the variety and freshness of the product, but it was at this year’s Exeter Food Festival that they really caught my attention. In a sea of craft gin and micro-brewed ale their stall held the most enticing array of fungi – a fact not lost on the horde of other shoppers I had to fight through.  I knew that when I launched this blog, I would have to find out more about what they do.

And what a time I chose to get in touch.  This year has seen the business develop new grow space ‘The Shroom Rooms’ that will be open to the public by the time you are reading this, and I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek ahead of the opening, as well as a chance to meet the team behind these magnificent mushrooms.

I was introduced to Dave who was busy cropping in one of the new rooms and he talked me through the new space.  Using an old bungalow that has been gathering dust for many years (I’m told it had a lot of 70s styling still in place), they have stripped out much of the old interior to create a central atrium, with four grow rooms off the main space.  All of these rooms have glass doors so you can see the various mushrooms as they grow. On the walls in both the atrium and the grow rooms are information boards explaining the science behind the life cycle of a mushroom, details about specific varieties of mushroom (including how to use them in the kitchen), and a bit of history about the company.  I won’t go into detail about the boards here – go and have a look for yourself!

The new grow rooms at Forest Fungi

Dave tells me there are currently 9 different varieties they are growing; some will be familiar, like Shiitake and Oyster, while others such as Hen-of-the-woods and Nameko are likely to prove less well known.  I was particularly fascinated by the Nameko mushroom.  It grows with a slimy, gelatinous coating, making it rather unpleasant to eat raw (I was also advised against pickling it – apparently it just gets slimier), but great for use in soups, casseroles and stews, where it will help thicken the soup or sauce and provide a flavour similar to cashew.  This is where opening the grow rooms comes in to its own.  It provides the team at Forest Fungi a wonderful opportunity to educate, encourage and inspire their customers. If I were to simply see these slimy ‘shrooms on a shelf, I would probably walk right by.  Now I am busy pondering recipes I could use them in, confident that I understand how to get the most out of the ingredient.

Pink and Yellow Oyster mushrooms, thriving in their new home

Of course there are details about the business that you won’t find out by reading the signs. But everyone I spoke to was happy to tell me anything I asked about.  For example, Shiitakes continue to be grown in the original grow room.  There are two reasons for this.  Firstly they grow very successfully in that space which is large enough to meet demand (currently).  Secondly, when they are harvested, a reddish brown liquid is released from the substrate on which the mushrooms are grown.  In the old grow room, which does not have the pristine white walls and visitor-friendly glass doors of its newer sibling, this isn’t much of an issue; the mess can be hosed down and washed away. In the new space I’m told, ‘it looked like we had committed several murders.’  You may think that peeking behind the curtain in this way could be off-putting but for me it was exactly the opposite.  Not only did my experience give me a great look at how the mushrooms are grown but also who is growing them.  And what I saw was a group of people who care about and love what they do.

After Dave gave me the tour, I spoke with Scott who founded the company 5 years ago. His passion for the business and for the product is palpable.  At present they supply between 40 and 50 restaurants, but their own farm shop and café remains the biggest customer, in part due to Scott’s determination to maintain control of the quality of the product that is available, and in part due to how successful the shop and café are.  The hope is that the new grow rooms will provide another reason for people to visit the farm and, to my mind, they certainly do that.

During our conversation, Scott spoke about plans for further developments down the line.  There is still some unused space on the site which could be used for additional growing space, or as a way of extending the café.  Having purchased the site this year (they have been renting since 2013), there was a real sense of excitement surrounding what the future of the business could be.  But this is not driven by corporate greed; It is very clear that Scott knows it is the people and the product that have made Forest Fungi a success so far, and he has no intention of losing sight of that.  There is a willingness to adapt the business to best meet challenges and take advantage of opportunities, while maintaining the ethos that the company was founded on and an unflinching position on quality. As Scott put it, ‘There is a concrete plan, but it does change.’

If you have even the slightest interest in mushrooms, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you head down to Dawlish Warren and take a look for yourself.  Even if you don’t, they could probably convert you! The team there are happy to help you choose the right mushroom for whatever you are trying to create if you have a dish in mind, or will suggest recipes you can try.

Follow the links to try their recipes for King Oyster Scallops or Mushroom Risotto (or you could try my recipes: mushrooms on toast and beef and mushroom stir-fry).

The café and farm shop are open year round and offer a great range of products from local producers as well as their mushrooms.  There are also regular stalls at various farmer’s markets and festivals around the county, if Dawlish is a bit out of your way.

The Shroom Rooms will be open for viewing from this weekend (25/08/2018) and entry is free.

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