Tag: local producers

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: 23
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: 26