Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Foodie Parcels in the Post - July 2014

Time for my monthly Foodie Parcels in the Post round up. Lots of lovely goodies have been delivered by Mr Postman throughout July. So much better to receive something eatable or drinkable than bills and junk mail. Any brands or producers who'd like to have their product featured here, please do get in touch 

I'm a sucker for a pretty package and this one from Mistry & Co certainly fitted the bill. A fantastically colourful array of Masala Spice Shots. Each box contains 3 shots of authentic spice blend created for a specific purpose - meat, vegetables, seafood or paneer. The packaging is gorgeous as are the cute little tubs that the spices come in. I expected the shots to be a dry mix but they're more of a paste. We first tried the Masala Chicken recipe that comes on the pack. Fantastically easy to make, very flavoursome but not overpowering. As we're currently in the throws of #projectnewkitchen the next dish was an alfresco affair. Based on the same basic on pack recipe but with the addition of broccoli and using one meat shot and one vegetable shot. Looking forward in particular to giving the Paneer one a go in my new kitchen.

Elizabeth from Capability Brown's in Inverness got in touch with me via my Foodie Quine Facebook Page to ask if I'd like to try one of her Plum Duffs. She's currently in the process of making 500 of them for the BBC Good Food Show in Glasgow having been selected as one of their Good Food Champions. As I'm originally from the Black Isle, just across the firth from her, I said I'd pop in past next time I was in the area. The views from her croft high above Inverness are amazing. As is the array of fruit, vegetables, bees and chickens on the smallholding. Capability Browns supplies a huge range of homebaked, homemade and homegrown products via a box scheme, through local shops and via a weekly Sunday afternoon "Wee Croft Shop"
The Plum Duffs are a cross between a Clootie Dumpling and a traditional Christmas Pudding. Elizabeth makes them in three flavours Traditional, Chocolate and Marmalade and Wild Highland Berry. My traditional one ended up as part of a Footplate Fryup at Deeside Railway on the shovel of salmon the steam train. You'll find the other 499 on sale at the Scottish Good Food Show in October.

Claire from Percy's Vodka Iced Teas got in touch with me via @foodiequine on Twitter and I was immediately taken with the concept and look of her products. The 1920's styling of the bottles and labels is just gorgeous and totally reminded me of The Great Gatsby. Percy's is a quintessentially British Brew with a twist and a kick - 4.5% abv Vodka. The range of flavours are Black Tea with Pear & Ginger, Black Tea with Apple, Lemon & Lime, White Tea with Pear & Raspberry and White Tea with Apple & Elderflower. My preconceptions were that the Elderflower would be my favourite but the Raspberry won the taste test hands down. I reckon it would work ever better with a splash of Prosecco in the mix. All four flavours are very distinct and the still refreshing blends make a sophisticated change from overly sweet and sticky drinks.  Percy's would be the absolutely perfect tipple for a Summer Wedding, Garden Party or BBQ. 

I was send a selection of All Bran cereals to try as part of the #RealMumsAllBran 5-Day Challenge in association with Britmums. Golden Crunch, Red Berry Crunch and new Chocolate Wheats, all of which were a far cry - in a good way - from traditional All Bran. I duly had a bowl each morning for my breakfast for 5 days upon returning from a fortnights holiday in Italy. The perfect way to get back into a routine - in more ways than one! In terms of taste my favourite was the Red Berry Crunch with the Golden Crunch a close second. Both of these contain tasty little multi-grain clusters. Alas the new Chocolate Wheats didn't impress, none of us are fans of shredded wheat type cereal and even the chocolate couldn't convince the kids to give it a go.

I'm much more of a tea jenny than a coffee lover and do like to try out different flavours but I'm somewhat picky in that I'm not keen on overly floral brews. Tea tasting at Around the World in 80 Teas opened my eyes to some flavours I'd never tried before but Coconut Tea was still a new one on me. As for Power tea? Anything that could possibly provide a bit more get up and go of a morning has got to be worth a try! The Green Tea with Coconut was totally up my street. Very refreshing and not too overpowering but a definite taste of coconut. As the for Power tea its very different to any other tea I've tasted before. There's a mintyness to it and also a slight spicy savoryness. The blend combines yerba mate, spearmint, cocoa shells and ginkgo. 

A giant strawberry shaped cocktail mug? Whats not to love! This juicy beauty from Bespoke Barware just screams out summer. Handmade in East London by the unique barware creators and importers these are hot out of the kilns for Summer 2014. I've been drooling over the huge range of barware available from their online shop and and summer pop up. There was a whole lot of love for the big berry on my Facebook page where I asked likers to sugest what I should fill it with - Bellini, Daquari, Pimms, Strawberry Float and Strawberry Champagne were just some of the suggestions. Alas girl had the final say and opted for a - non boozy - strawberry smoothie.

Disclosure : Thanks to Little DabbasCapability Brown'sPercy'sAll BranHigher Living Tea and Bespoke Barware for providing the above products. I was not obliged to review positively in return. All views expressed are my own. If you're a brand who'd like to have your product featured here, please do get in touch 

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Prehistoric Cookery Weekend at Wild Rose Escapes - Day One

It was last October when I was on my Highland Foodie Road Trip that I picked up a leaflet for Wild Rose Escapes on a visit to the Bog Cotton Cafe at Cannich. Wild Rose offer a range of interesting courses including natural dyeing, felt making and relaxation. But the one which immediately grabbed my attention was Prehistoric Cooking. Fast forward to Christmas morning and a voucher duly arrived in my stocking for a weekend course. Much to his delight, boy was getting to come as my plus one.
Foodie Loon dropped us off at Higher Crochail and headed off to spend some quality time with girl which included hunting for Nessie. It turned out that we were the only two enrolled for the weekend. Would that mean undivided attention or would we have to do all the hard graft by ourselves?!
We were made very welcome by Rosie and Alex and their daughter Thora and baby Martha. Time for a quick look around with a chance to drool over their amazing roundhouse and meet some of their livestock before it was time to get to work digging the pit to roast our dinner in. We used a combination of bones, antlers and modern day picks and spades to dig out our giant hole.
It was a scorcher of a day so a break for some refreshing nettle tea and homemade flapjacks was most welcome. With the pit almost dug it was time to seek out the perfect stones. Large flat ones to line the bottom and sides and smaller round ones to heat up in the secondary fire.
With the pit dug and two fires alight, food prep could begin. A big batch of dough was required to seal in our meat and veg. A cast iron casserole dish was filled with root vegetables and topped with foraged greens. Meanwhile a leg of hogget was parcelled up with dough. Both needed to be really well sealed to keep in the juices and the dirt out.
The fires need to burn for a couple of hours before you clear out the oven and brush away any ashes and carefully lower in the food. Next the hot stones are taken from the second fire and placed over the feast below. Earth and turf fills in the gaps and 4 hours later dinner will be ready.
After a hard mornings graft it was time for lunch which was a spring greens stew made with foraged sorrel, nettles and chickweed. Bulgar wheat provided the carbs and hazelnuts the protein. All washed down with Nettle Beer and served on wooden platters which after use on each side got burnt in the fire. Plenty more plates where they came from.
Foodie Loon and Girl were to be joining us for dinner. In addition to our pit roasted main course we set to making a batch of sweet dumplings for desert containing oatmeal, dates and apples. These were to be cooked by stone/pot boiling. Stones were heated in the fire and then dropped into a pot of water containing the dumplings wrapped in muslin and tied with reeds. The effect was instant, spectacular and very effective. It was also fantastic fun.
Time to open up the pit and see if our dinner was cooked. Still a tremendous heat as we carefully unearthed our dough encrusted food. It was cooked to perfection and we sat down to enjoy a fantastic meal of lamb and veggies finished off with rowan jelly and an amazingly good bread sauce scraped from the inside of the dough that surrounded the meat.
Even girl cleared her wooden plate, turned it over for desert and then threw it on the fire. A fantastic first day had been had at Wild Rose Escapes. So much learnt in such wonderful surroundings. Time to head to our bed for the night at Cannich Campsite in preparation for day two. 
Despite our prehistoric feast there was room for toasted marshmallows before bedtime, plus a wee refreshment around the campfire. A hearty cooked breakfast the next morning was of course essential preparation for what was still to come...

Day 2 - Clay baked fish, gorse flower pancakes, fireside flatbreads and a chicken called Mary on the blog soon. 

Monday, 21 July 2014

Jammy Memories for the World Jampionships #jamjourney14

My Granny made jam. It was kept in a tall dark musty smelling cupboard with a key in the door and a creaky hinge. I can't recall ever seeing her actually making it but I can still picture the jars and jars lined up on the shelves in the dark with their cellophane tops and neat labels. Raspberry, Strawberry and Bramble are the only three I recall. No out-there flavour combinations in the 70's and 80's. My Grandma Corntown's Jam features in a traumatic childhood incident. I was staying the night at at her house and a raspberry seed got lodged in my tooth from a jammy piece. So uncomfortable was it and so distressed was I that I had to be taken home for my Dad to dislodge it. 

Do you jam? Or is it the preserve of the older generation? Whether you're an absolute beginner or an accomplished artisan the World Jampionships are inviting you to join them on #jamjourney14 Team Jam are gearing up in their search for the best homemade Jams and Jellies in the World. Full entry details can be found on their website with categories including Jammy Men, Junior Jam Makers, Women's Institute and First Timers. The class list includes strawberry, raspberry, blackcurrant, interesting additions, merry berry, jam with chocolate, chilli jam, savoury jam, my favourite jelly and think outside the jam jar. There are lots of hints, tips and recipes to help you on your sticky journey.
As a "less mature jam maker" I was invited by the World Jampionships to blog about my own #JamJourney. Its something I've always enjoyed making but last summer provided me with a bumper crop of fruit and and I managed a particularly large range of self preservation. However upon reading up on jam making on the Jampionships website it would seem that I'm a bit of a fraud as I use jam sugar. I fear I may be excommunicated for that admission. I must learn how to make pectin stock.
There's a wee bit of mystery and ceremony to jam making. I recall well my mum placing a saucer in the freezer to cool before testing the set of jam by dripping on a small amount, placing it next to an open window and checking for the wrinkle. The jam jars warming in the oven. Jam spoons and Crystal Jam Pots. The Jeely bag handing precariously balanced on stools and a walking stick. Dire warnings not to touch it or the jelly would be cloudy. Stained fingers, mouths and scratched legs and arms from bramble picking along the old railway.
For my own Jeely making the walking stick has been replaced with a hockey stick to hold Grannies Jeely Bag. My own kids are now the ones being warned not to touch it. They are happy to come berry picking with me and I have trained them up well in the art of assembly line production with waxed disks, saucer of water, cellophane and rubber bands. My friends keep all their old jars for me and are well used to texts requesting emergency supplies of jars with payment in preserves.
I'll be encouraging some future jammers at a forthcoming Blaeberry Bash family food and foraging event where we'll be boiling up some tiny pots of Blaeberry Jam. Thanks go to Patteson's Glass who are the principal sponsor of Jampionships and have provided 100 mini jam jars. I'm going to have to investigate the pectin content of Blaeberries to avoid having to go down the evil jam sugar route to ensure a set.
I love sharing my jammy makes with friends but at a recent comedy gig I learned that perhaps my pots of preserves may not be being received quite as well as I had hoped. Josh Widdicombes Jam routine had me crying with laughter. But it hasn't put me off making jam. I shall continue to adorn my jars with raffia and chequered cloth. Alas no Jampionship entries from me this year as I don't currently have a kitchen. However with the closing date not until 15th August there's still plenty time to get YOUR entry in. Don't worry. Mr Widdicombe isn't on the judging panel.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Breaking Bread and Baking Bad with #GBBO James Morton

I was very excited when I spotted that Great British Bake Off runner up James Morton (he of the Fair Isle Jumpers and Gingerbread Barn) was to be demonstrating and taking part in a Q&A session at the 2014 Aberdeen University May Festival. I immediately snapped up tickets to both events for myself and boy. Even more excitement a couple of weeks later when I received an email from the University Events Team asking if I would be interested in chairing the events. Without wishing to seem too keen I sat on my hands and waited for at least 5 minutes before replying in the affirmative.
Slight disappointment when James arrived as no sign of any Fair Isle. I duly gave him a telling off. Kyle was delighted to get his very own hands on masterclass before the audience arrived for the morning demonstration session. The demo had long since sold out and an enthusiastic and knowledgeable crowd joined us for an informal bake off followed by some time for questions, bread tasting and the chance to receive a blob of 9 year old sourdough starter. The salient points were - wetter is better, no need to knead and prove it in the fridge. 
The afternoon Q&A session took place in the grand setting of the Kings College Conference Centre. The set up is very reminiscent of the Scottish Parliament with each audience member having their own desk, light and microphone. Thankfully no voting taking place on this occasion. James was very candid about the whole Great British Bake Off experience and shared some top tips for any aspiring contestants. He also confirmed that Mr Hollywood's eyes really are as blue as they appear on the TV. We chatted about everything from his early life in Shetland, medical school, supermarket bread, baking disasters, breadmakers and soggy bottoms.
With our new pet fully house trained and ensconced in the kitchen it was time for some breadmaking of our own. Good job I'd taken Kyle along to the May Festival as I was so busy chairing the events and concentrating on what I had to do that all the technical bread making bits must have gone in one ear and out the other. Thankfully he had been paying close attention and had definitely benefited from his one to one with James.
First attempt was a basic white loaf. A slightly random shape but tasted great and he was rightly very proud of it. Additional equipment was required so I duly ordered up some goodies from Bakery Bits. A proving basket, flexible dough scraper, stainless steel dough cutter and lame blade.
First attempt with our proving basket didn't really hold its shape and turned out somewhat Ciabatta like. Still tasted good with lashings of Ardross Kitchen Raspberry Jam. Diagnosis via Twitter from @bakingjames was overproving. The sharpness of the lame was confirmed by the need for a Peppa Pig plaster. 
Following Kyle's successes I decided that I should really have a bash at this bread making lark myself. Under his expert eye and tutelage I managed to produce a reasonable looking and tasting loaf. Tremendously satisfying but I definitely need to exercise some restraint if I'm to continue making my own bread. How on earth do you resist the temptation to eat it slathered in butter all in one go?
It would seem that James's knowledge of bread is indeed brilliant. Confirmed by the Guild of Food Writers awards where Brilliant Bread won best cookbook. Definitely better value than a breadmaker. Book two's manuscript has already been submitted. Watch this space for Baking Bad.

May Festival Photographs reproduced with permission of Aberdeen University

Friday, 11 July 2014

Coast & Glen Fish Box, Online Food Subscription

A box of fish arriving by post sounds like a rather strange and potentially smelly concept. But the folks at Coast and Glen in Inverness are onto a good thing with this innovative online subscription scheme. Much like a veggie box you choose a frequency, value and state your likes/dislikes and voila - fresh Scottish seafood delivered directly to your desk or door. Made in the Sea by Scotland.

I was intrigued to see how the process worked and jumped at the chance to sample a box. Firstly the cost - you can opt for a £25, £35 or £45 box which can then be delivered on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis. The contents of your box is always a surprise - for me that's part of the fun. You can of course choose preferences from the "catch" list on the website but are encouraged to be as adventurous as possible in the first instance. Try something new and reduce the strain on popular species.

Fishboxes can be delivered to any address on mainland UK. You don't need to sign for it, just specify a safe place for it to be left if you're not around. My box arrived well packaged with no sign of any leaks or smells. The insulated pack contains a polystyrene box in which the fish are packed with frozen gel packs. My £35 pack contained Salmon, Turbot, Smoked Haddock and Haddock. All are vacuum packed and have come straight from the boat so are suitable for home freezing.
Pan Fried Turbot Fillets
Crispy Skinned Salmon with Seaweed Flakes
Smoked Haddock and Parsley Flan

I loved how you knew the provenance of everything in your box. Wester Ross Salmon and East Coast Turbot. I was secretly hoping for some lobster, crab or langoustine but alas not on this occasion. Time to cook up the contents of my box. The salmon was sprinkled with Mara Seaweed shony flakes and pan fried to produce a crispy skin. I'd never cooked Turbot before so kept it simple by coating in seasoned flour and frying in  Mackintosh of Glendaveny Rapeseed Oil. Both variants of Haddock went into a delicious Smoked Haddock and Parsley Flan.
Having seen one end of the process it was time to visit the sharp end on a trip the the factory in Inverness. The fish is bought straight from Scottish fishing boats and markets mostly from Kinlochbervie and Shetland. Even the team don't know the contents of mixed boxes until they arrive in the factory ready to be filleted and packaged by hand. This also helps the fishermen as there is no pressure for them to catch certain species, helping to reduce fish being discarded at sea. Because the fish is sourced from smaller, independent fishing boats rather than deep sea trawlers that go to sea for weeks at a time, its not been held in the hold of a boat for a long time thus it has longer 'best before' dates.
Coast & Glen's owner Magnus used to be a fishermen, hence the sourcing of all the fish and shellfish is done from a fishermen's perspective. There's no waste in the factory either as the fish carcasses are used by the fishermen as bait or by chefs as stock. It was great to see first hand the whole process of the boxes being made up ready for dispatch. Customers have the option to add a note to their order for any special requirements and the hands on nature of the whole process makes it possible to accommodate such requests.
A seawater tank in the factory is home to live lobsters, crabs and oysters with the water being changed on a weekly basis brought in all the way from Cromarty. If you get any of these critters in your box fear not as there will be additional instructions. Everything else arrives portion sized, vacuum packed and clearly labelled with no scales or bones for you to deal with. Ocean to plate in less than 48 hours. That's pretty much as close to straight off the boat as you're going to get without putting on your wellies and waders.

Disclaimer : Coast and Glen provided me with a £35 Fish Box. I was not obliged to review positively in return. All views expressed are my own.