Tag: Food and Drink

Reducing Food Waste: 5 tips for reducing waste at home

Reducing Food Waste: 5 tips for reducing waste at home

Food waste is an ever growing concern.  Huge quantities of perfectly edible food get binned for various reasons: expectation that food should look ‘perfect’, poor storage and misunderstanding of best before dates to name a few.

A 2015 study by The Waste and Resources Action Program (WRAP) estimated that in the UK, 7.1 million tonnes of household food waste was produced. Of that, 5 million tonnes was edible waste. The study also estimated that household food waste accounts for more than two thirds of the total food waste produced.

Why is food waste a problem?

In simple terms, because our planet’s resources are being stretched too thin by human overpopulation.  Growing and rearing our food requires vast amounts of time, space and natural resources (water and feed).  So much so that many people believe that in the not too distant future, insects will become a major source of protein in our diets as we will no longer have the resources to rear meat.

For those of us fortunate enough to live in first world countries, and earn enough to be able to eat how we like, it can seem like there is little we can (or need to) do.  But by reducing our personal waste we can all contribute towards a more efficient food production system which will ultimately benefit everyone.  To put it another way, the longer we can go before having to eat centipede sausages, the better. It will also save you money, so there’s that too.

A big part of making a difference is taking some time to think about where you waste food, and how you can change that. To get you started, here are my top 5 tips for reducing your food waste.

  1. Plan your meals.

This might seem obvious but if you head to the shops with no idea what you are going to buy then inevitably you will find yourself with stuff rotting in the back of the fridge.

Plan your meals for the week the day before you go to the supermarket and stick to your plan.  This is a good time to have a look in the fridge to see what you need to use up.  Also, depending on how many people you are cooking for, you may often find you only need half a pack of something to make a recipe so decide now how you will use the other half.  Can it be used in another dish? Cooked off and used to make sandwiches for lunch? Or perhaps it will freeze?  If you plan ahead it is far less likely to wind up in the bin.

Finally, think about how long different items will keep when you get them home.  There is no point buying a bag of salad when you go to the shop on Monday, if you are not planning to eat it ‘til the weekend. At best it will be wilted and unappetising, if not completely inedible.

  1. Shop sensibly.

When you are in the supermarket, think carefully about the items you are picking up.  A lot of fresh meat, fish, fruit and vegetables won’t last the whole week in your fridge, so check the ‘use by’ dates*.  If you are looking for something to last 5 days in your fridge, check behind the most visible items on the shelf.  Supermarkets rotate their stock so the old stuff sells first (they want to reduce waste too) but often there will be newer stock hidden at the back.  That being said, rummage responsibly.  If you need it to last two days, don’t leave perfectly good food on the shelves in favour of the same item with a week’s shelf life.

Furthermore, resist the temptation to buy items that you don’t need because they are on offer. Buying more of something than you plan to eat might seem like good value at the time but will ultimately wind up costing you when the excess winds up in the bin.

*A side note on ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates.

Generally, meat, fish, dairy and fresh ingredients/products will be stamped with a ‘use by’ date.  Eating the product after this date could be harmful so should be avoided.  ‘Best before’ dates are simply an estimate of how long the item will be at its best.  Once expired, the product will be less tasty but unlikely to be harmful. So that jar of curry powder hiding at the back of your cupboard that passed its ‘best before’ date ten years ago is unlikely to make you ill, but will probably make your curry taste more like dust than dhansak.

  1. Befriend your freezer.

One of the best ways to preserve your food is to freeze it.  If something won’t last in the fridge until you plan to eat it, stick it straight in the freezer. Freeze sausages, burgers, chicken breasts, even steaks then defrost in the fridge the day before you plan to eat them.

Bread

Bread – probably one of the most wasted items in British homes – freezes brilliantly.  Sliced bread can be toasted from frozen.  When you make sandwiches for a picnic or lunch-box, bread can be used still frozen and will have defrosted completely by lunchtime. In addition, virtually all supermarkets sell a decent selection of part-baked bread. As well as having a longer shelf life than its fully baked brethren, It can be cooked from frozen in almost exactly the same amount of time.

Batch Cooking

Batch cooking food and freezing portions is another great way to reduce food waste. It can be a huge time saver too.  Make large pots of pasta sauces, stews or casseroles, then portion and freeze whatever you don’t need right away. Next time all you need to do is defrost and reheat.  Even if you have only a few spoonfuls of Bolognese left after dinner, pop it in the freezer.  Then next time you make the dish, chuck the old batch in with the new.

My final tip on freezer use is to buy a whiteboard pen. While the freezer is a great tool for keeping food fresh, it is easy to forget what is in there. Label the bags and Tupperware you use with the contents and the date. Keep things in a logical order.  Take a little time when putting stuff into the freezer and you will get a lot more out of it!

  1. Keep a well-stocked larder.

Most of the tips I have given so far have been about avoiding leftovers and needless purchases. In real life however, there will always be odds and ends that don’t get eaten. Plans change, leftovers happen, life gets in the way. Finding a way to use up these stray bits of food can be a real challenge.  Keep a cupboard stocked with canned and dry goods like rice, pasta, lentils, tinned tomatoes and other non-perishable items. This creates a toolbox of ingredients that can be used to turn odd scraps into decent meals.

  1. Find recipes that use the ingredients you often throw out.

There are all sorts of recipes that can make use of food that is perceived to be past its best. Try my banana bread recipe, which uses overripe bananas or mushrooms on toast – stale bread is perfect for toasting.  Keep an eye on future recipes on this blog for more ideas on how to use odds and ends.  Recipes will include tips for using spare/alternative ingredients wherever possible.

  1. Bonus Tip: Don’t be too hard on yourself.

Any reduction in waste, however small, IS making a difference. If every person in Britain were to reduce their food waste by just one kilogram per year (roughly equivalent to half a banana per month), then as a nation we would reduce our food waste by 63000 tonnes. It may take a little effort to change your habits, but the long term benefit will be felt by everyone. There will always be some waste. Picky children, droppages, culinary disasters, fridge malfunctions – the list goes on. So if a block of cheese goes blue or a lettuce goes limp, don’t fret. Food should bring us pleasure, not be a source of stress.

Have you got any food waste tips of your own?  Share them in the comments below!

 

Visits: 239
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: 78
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: 45
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: 31
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: 20
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.

Visits: 10
King Oyster Scallops and Mushroom Risotto

King Oyster Scallops and Mushroom Risotto

During my visit to Forest Fungi earlier this week, I had to find out what their recommendations were for mushroom dishes.  Jess was kind enough to share the following two recipes with me.  If you are inspired by these, head on down to their farm shop and café in Dawlish Warren to get hold of the star ingredients, and perhaps get some more ideas from the extensive list of mushroom dishes on the cafe menu.

Also click the link to read all about my visit to Forest Fungi to see the new grow rooms

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Visits: 9
Smoked Halibut and King Prawn Kedgeree

Smoked Halibut and King Prawn Kedgeree

Kedgeree is often thought of as a breakfast dish, but I can tell you categorically that I have never, nor will ever, make this for breakfast.  To me, the combination of smoked fish and spicy, fragrant, curried rice, with the added bonus of sweet, succulent prawns in this recipe, is definitely something to be enjoyed with a glass or two of white wine, and even I draw the line at drinking wine at breakfast.

This recipe is inspired by one of the fantastic products on offer at Southwest Smokehouse.  The method is a little different to many recipes for kedgeree as the fish doesn’t need to be poached before being added to the dish.  Don’t be put off by the length of the ingredients list; most of the ingredients are really common and everything except the Halibut can be found in all good sized supermarkets.

TIPS: If you want to use smoked haddock (the typical choice for this dish, and more widely available) it will need to be poached first, but can then be added to the dish at the same step. That said, it is well worth getting your hands on the smoked halibut I used – it is divine.

Smoked Halibut and King Prawn Kedgeree

Serves 2

Ingredients

3 eggs
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2tbsp vegetable oil
½ tsp Ground coriander
½ tsp Ground turmeric
1½ tsp medium curry powder
½ tsp ginger paste
150g Basmati rice
1tsp salt
100g frozen peas or petit pois
150g raw peeled king prawns
Small bunch parsley, finely chopped
Small bunch coriander, finely chopped
1 lemon – half juiced, half cut into wedges
100g smoked halibut
A few twists of freshly ground black pepper
1 med red chilli, finely chopped (optional)

 

Method

  1. Rinse the rice under running water then soak for 20-30 mins in cold water.
  2. Hard boil the eggs by placing in boiling water for 7mins. Strain the boiling water off and run refill the pan (with the eggs still in it) with cold water. When you are ready to peel the eggs they should be cool enough to handle without being cold.
  3. Heat the oil over a medium heat in a large saucepan then fry the onions until soft and translucent. Add the ground spices and curry powder, fry for another minute or two before adding the ginger paste and frying for a further minute.
  4. Strain the rice and add to the pan, together with the salt and stir gently to coat the rice in the spices. Don’t over work the rice. Add 275ml of boiling water. Bring back to the boil, then turn down to a gentle simmer and cover with a heavy lid or seal up tightly with tinfoil. Leave the rice to simmer for 10 minutes then turn off the heat and leave the rice with the lid on for a further five minutes.
  5. While the rice is resting, cook the peas by blanching in boiling water for a minute or two. Strain and keep to hand.
  6. When the rice is finished, remove the lid and add the prawns. Push each one down into the rice – the residual heat will cook them.  Cover with the peas and put the lid back on the pan.
  7. Chop the fresh herbs, setting a little aside for garnish, juice half the lemon, and flake the smoked halibut. Once this is done, add these ingredients to the pan along with some black pepper, then stir in gently with a fork (using a fork will help to fluff the rice rather than breaking it).  Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary.
  8. To serve, put the kedgeree on a large serving platter or bowl, garnish with the eggs, halved; lemon wedges; reserved herbs and fresh chilli (if using). Then get stuck in!
Visits: 23