Monday, 20 October 2014

Mudpies and Foodie Quine Autumn Bramble Ramble

I was delighted to team up again with my friend Mandy from Mud Pie Adventures for our third family food and foraging outdoor event. Following on from our Garlic Bear Hunt and Blaeberry Bash, it was time for an Autumnal Bramble Ramble. 90 adventurers joined us over two sessions in the woods at Hazlehead Park. The weather could have been kinder in the morning but all came equipped with wellies and waterproofs. Takes more than a downpour to dampen our enthusiasm but it does make everything just that little bit trickier. 
Mudpies and Foodie Quine Autumn Bramble Ramble
We were slightly concerned as to how many berries may be left at the end of the season. I took along an emergency supply from my freezer to supplement any shortfall but there were still plenty to be found.

Brambles - Mudpies and Foodie Quine Autumn Bramble Ramble
Brambles - Mudpies and Foodie Quine Autumn Bramble Ramble
On our way to base camp we stopped off to try another tasty foraged treat. Beech nuts. They are hard work to harvest as not every case contains a nut and they are rather fiddly to open. More of a wayside snack than a bountiful wild food feast.
Beech Nuts - Mudpies and Foodie Quine Autumn Bramble Ramble
Our camp had been established surrounded by plenty of hills, dens, trees, rocks and muddy puddles to explore. We had three fires going, two in dustbin lids and one in Foodie Loon's trusty washing machine drum fire pit. 
Mudpies and Foodie Quine Autumn Bramble Ramble
Washing Machine Drum Fire Pit - Mudpies and Foodie Quine Autumn Bramble Ramble
Dustbin Lid Fire - Mudpies and Foodie Quine Autumn Bramble Ramble
First on the menu were Apple and Bramble Parcels. Lots of fun peeling, coring and slicing on the Apple Master from Lakeland. I've had mixed results with this gadget on odd sized and misshapen apples from the garden but it worked very well on perfectly apple shaped ones. 
Apple Master - Mudpies and Foodie Quine Autumn Bramble Ramble
Apple Master - Mudpies and Foodie Quine Autumn Bramble Ramble
The chopped apple was placed in a square of strong tinfoil along with some brambles, demerara sugar, butter and cinnamon. These were formed into parcels before being tucked into the charcoal embers on one of the campfires.
Bramble & Apple Parcels - Mudpies and Foodie Quine Autumn Bramble Ramble
Bramble & Apple Parcels - Mudpies and Foodie Quine Autumn Bramble Ramble
Next up was bramble butter to spread on brioche toasted over the campfire. We shook up double cream in jam jars - a great workout for bingo wings - added brambles and honey or sugar for a bit of sweetness. After mashing it all together we had a fantastic pink butter to spread on our toast.
Mudpies and Foodie Quine Autumn Bramble Ramble
Making Butter - Mudpies and Foodie Quine Autumn Bramble Ramble
The final menu item was bramble smoothies. The last of the berries were squished up in a ziplock bag before adding natural yogurt, honey and milk and squishing a bit more. The resulting smoothie looked and tasted great. 

Bramble Smoothie - Mudpies and Foodie Quine Autumn Bramble Ramble

Time to rescue our bramble and apple parcels from the firepit and sit down to enjoy our foraged feast. Being outdoors certainly works up an appetite and there were clean plates and cup all round plus some leftover butter to take home and enjoy later. Thanks as always to all those who joined us - we hope you all had as much fun as we did.

Washing Machine Drum Fire Pit - Mudpies and Foodie Quine Autumn Bramble Ramble
Bramble & Apple Parcels - Mudpies and Foodie Quine Autumn Bramble Ramble
Our next joint event will be a Shortest Day Brunch and Brinner in the woods. Keep Sunday 21st December free if you fancy joining us. 
Mudpies and Foodie Quine Autumn Bramble Ramble

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Donald Russell Butchers Favourite Selection and Butchery Masterclass

Based in Aberdeenshire, Donald Russell are an award winning and royal warrant holding online butcher. As an existing customer and fan of their quality produce I was delighted to be offered a Butchers Favourite Selection to cook with. My parcel arrived in a sturdy polystyrene box packed with dry ice. Everything is vacuum packed and ready to transfer into your own freezer. You can choose the date for your delivery and leave instructions of where it should be left if you are out, the insulated coolbox will ensure that the contents remain frozen. The accompanying 'How to Meat Perfection' booklet is my go to guide for how to cook each and every cut of Beef, Pork and Lamb.
The selection contained : 
2 Ribeye Steaks, individually packed (pack weight 270g)
1 pack Minced Steak (pack weight 440g)
1 pack Diced Steak (pack weight 440g)
1 pack Beef Stir Fry Strips (pack weight 440g)
4 Pave Rump Medallions, 2 packs of 2 (pack weight 270g)
8 Pork Sausages, 2 packs of 4 (pack weight 280g)

And here's what I made with it...

Smoked Paprika, Beef and Vegetable Casserole - Diced Steak
Perfect comfort food and amazingly tender beef. My only slight issue was that the diced steak was in huge chucks so I had to fish it out from my pan and cut it up further. Smoked paprika adds a fantastic colour and flavour to any dish. Its one of my favourite ingredients.
Toad in the Hole - 8 Pork Sausages
The pork sausages were fantastic but our toad was somewhat solid and flat. Not quite sure what went wrong? It was a Delia recipe that I've used before. Anyone got one that's fail safe?
Moussaka - Minced Steak
There aren't many foods that I don't like but one of them is aubergines. Hence this was a slightly cheats version of moussaka made with courgettes. I absolutely love Donald Russel Mince. Its made from offcuts from their top quality steaks and you can really see and taste the difference.
Mexican BBQ Wrap - Beef Stirfry Strips
Again these were much more substantial in size than I expected and would have benefited from being sliced finer. I added Pitboss BBQ sauce and served them on a wrap with refried beans, green tomato salsa, soured cream and cheese.
Ribeye Steaks
Quality steaks don't need messing about with. I cooked these rare on the Optigrill and served them up with Potato Crush, Peppercorn Sauce and mixed beans and peas. Delicious!

Stir Fried Vegetables and Noodles - Pave Rump Medallions
You'll see from the photo that I really do like my steak rare. Mooing is good for me and well done is sacrilege. But each to their own. These wee medallions are so versatile and unbelievably tender. These steaks are expertly cut from the centre of the rump. You can see Donald Russell Head Butcher, Mark Farquhar, explaining the step by step process in the masterclass video below. The whole beef fillet is expertly butchered into Chateaubriand, Centre Cut Fillet Log, Fillet steaks and Fillet tail.



Disclaimer : Donald Russel provided me with a Butchers Favourite Selection and have compensated me for my time in writing this post. All views expressed are my own.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Gin Journey to Caorunn to celebrate 1 year in Business

A few weeks ago I spotted that Foodie Loon had been looking through my diary and Wednesday 1st October had been blocked off 8am-5pm. The date didn't mean anything to me so I wasn't sure what plans he had up his sleeve. All was revealed when I was presented with a box of Caorunn Gin goodies. To commemorate my first year in business as a self employed Freelance Foodie he'd organised for us to visit the Balmenach Distillery in Speyside where Caorunn is made.

Visit to Caorunn Distillery, Balmenach, Speyside. Celtic Botanicals. Simon Buley. Small batch Scottish Gin.

We took the scenic route from Aberdeen through Banchory, Ballater and over the Lecht. Thankfully the snow gates were open between Cockbridge and Tomintoul. The distillery isn't open to the public and outwardly you would have no idea whats brewing in its scenic location. 

Visit to Caorunn Distillery, Balmenach, Speyside. Celtic Botanicals. Simon Buley. Small batch Scottish Gin.

Visit to Caorunn Distillery, Balmenach, Speyside. Celtic Botanicals. Simon Buley. Small batch Scottish Gin.

Visit to Caorunn Distillery, Balmenach, Speyside. Celtic Botanicals. Simon Buley. Small batch Scottish Gin.

We were welcomed by Gin Master Simon Buley. He explained how Balmenach was one of the first distilleries in Scotland to be licensed in the production of whisky. In comparison Gin is a relative newcomer launched in August 2009. Caorunn is made in the former whisky cask filling store which has been re-purposed as the gin den.

Visit to Caorunn Distillery, Balmenach, Speyside. Celtic Botanicals. Simon Buley. Small batch Scottish Gin.
Visit to Caorunn Distillery, Balmenach, Speyside. Celtic Botanicals. Simon Buley. Small batch Scottish Gin.
The Doors to Heaven?!

Caorunn is a small batch distilled gin infused with five Celtic botanicals. A vapor infusion method is used as opposed to steeping. This takes place in a unique Copper Berry Chamber that was made in the 1920s in the United States and originally used for the production of perfume. The round barrel like chamber contains four perforated trays onto which the 11 botanicals are spread. For each batch the botanicals are personally weighed by hand by Simon. When we question him on quantities he says he could tell us but then he'd have to kill us.
Visit to Caorunn Distillery, Balmenach, Speyside. Celtic Botanicals. Simon Buley. Small batch Scottish Gin.
6 Traditional Botanicals
Juniper Berries
Coriander Seed
Orange Peel
Lemon Peel
Angelica Root
Cassia Bark

We get to have a good look, sniff and taste of the six traditional botanicals. Juniper is of course the unmistakable one that makes gin, gin. It's the coriander seed that gives Caorunn much of its citrus flavour. Bite into a seed and you get an unmistakably spicy citrus as opposed to the sweet from the orange and lemon peel. Angelica root is indeed the root of the crystalised green stuff used extensively in cake decoration in the 70's and 80's whilst cassia is reminiscent of cinnamon.
Visit to Caorunn Distillery, Balmenach, Speyside. Celtic Botanicals. Simon Buley. Small batch Scottish Gin.
5 Celtic Botanicals
Rowan Berry
Bog Myrtle
Heather
Coul Blush Apple
Dandelion Leaf

These are the ones that make Caorunn special. All of which can be foraged in the locality of the distillery. Rowan lends its name as well as its flavour. Caorunn - pronounced ‘ka-roon’- is the Gaelic word for Rowan Berry. As well as featuring in gin, Bog Myrtle features in midgie spray. Drink enough Caorunn and keep the wee nippy beasties at bay?! What could be more Scottish than the purple Heather which adds a floral honeyed tone. I was interested to hear the story of the Coul Blush Apple. They were raised by Sir George Mackenzie at Coul House in Contin, Ross-shire (not far from my childhood home in The Black Isle) in 1827 and are the most northerly, and hence hardy, apple variety in Scotland. Surely dandelion leaves must be one of the easiest things to forage for? Providing a hint of sharpness they are also a good source of iron. Move over Guinness. Gin is good for you.
Visit to Caorunn Distillery, Balmenach, Speyside. Celtic Botanicals. Simon Buley. Small batch Scottish Gin.
I knew the Rowan connection (coincidentally also my daughters middle name) and that the 5 star asterisk of the Caorunn logo represented the 5 Celtic botanicals. However it hadn't clicked with me that the distinctive bottle is a 5 sided pentagon shape. I also didn't know that there is a five pointed star on the base of every rowan berry. Lots of myth, superstition and magic encompass the Rowan which features heavily in folklore and witchcraft.
Visit to Caorunn Distillery, Balmenach, Speyside. Celtic Botanicals. Simon Buley. Small batch Scottish Gin.
Each batch starts with 1000 litres of neutral grain spirit which is infused through the 4 trays of the copper berry chamber. The whole process is very hands on. Gin Master Simon is there from start to finish of the 8 hour process. As the alcohol vapour passes through the chamber it picks up the flavour from the 11 botanicals in a long slow process. The large surface area and enclosed chamber enables every last drop of flavour to be captured. The vapour then returns to liquid and once all 1000 litres have passed through, the process begins again for a second time. The resulting Gin is at this stage is 96% proof and has reduced in quantity to around 945 litres.
Visit to Caorunn Distillery, Balmenach, Speyside. Celtic Botanicals. Simon Buley. Small batch Scottish Gin.
So where are the missing 55 litres? The 'anges share' of gin! The answer is in the berry chamber. At this point I wish there was scratch and sniff internet. The smell of the waste botanicals is absolutely amazing. The taste of the infused Coul Blush Apples even potently moreso. The used botanicals are then dumped. Surely this is sacrilege?! Its got to be the best smelling pot pouri ever. I swithered about speaking out of turn but plucked up the courage to ask Simon if I could take a bagfull home. Best souvenir ever.
Visit to Caorunn Distillery, Balmenach, Speyside. Celtic Botanicals. Simon Buley. Small batch Scottish Gin.
At this point in the process the Gin leaves the highlands and is transported to Caorunn HQ where it is diluted with purified Scottish water to a bottling strength of 41.8% ABV. We head to the tasting room to try it for ourselves. First we sample it at 96% as it comes out of the berry chamber. This is the strength that Simon samples it at during the production process. He is quick to point out that he's not knocking it back but merely dipping in a finger and tasting. 
Visit to Caorunn Distillery, Balmenach, Speyside. Celtic Botanicals. Simon Buley. Small batch Scottish Gin.
Next comes the Caorunn perfect serve with Fentimans Tonic, Ice and a slice of red apple. Absolutely no lemon allowed. I'm no stranger to its clean, crisp and aromatically smooth taste but somehow it manages to taste even better having just learned how its made. The witchcraft influence of Rowan berries perhaps?
Visit to Caorunn Distillery, Balmenach, Speyside. Celtic Botanicals. Simon Buley. Small batch Scottish Gin.
We head home with the brown paper bag of waste botanicals creating a heady scent in the car. I am slightly concerned that my designated driver may become drunk on the fumes. There's got to be a gap in the market for a Gin Magic Tree air freshener. Back home I get to work creating my own Caorunn art instillation by filling an empty bottle with the 11 botanicals. But there's only 10 as I've eaten all the boozy coul blush apples! 
Visit to Caorunn Distillery, Balmenach, Speyside. Celtic Botanicals. Simon Buley. Small batch Scottish Gin.
Thanks to Caorunn and in particular Gin Master Simon Buley for welcoming us to the distillery which is not open to the public. When or if it ever goes down the visitor centre and shop route I'll be first in line for manufacturing a range of Foodie Quine botanical pot pouri.


One part Copper Chamber
One part Celtic botanicals
One part Scottish Highlands
One part expertise
One part heritage

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Baked Potato Recipes with Bannisters' Farm Littl'uns

I've recently been working on a recipe development project for the Bannisters' Farm range of frozen baked jacket potatoes. These have now gone live on their own website so I can share them with you here too. They are all perfect for quick after school weekday suppers when you're rushing to get the kids in from school, homework done and out to an activity. 

Bannisters' Farm Baked Jacket Potatoes Recipe Ideas

Littl’uns Fajitas
Give your Littl’uns a Mexican twist with these Chicken Fajita Baked Jacket Potatoes. Those who want a really spicy kick could add Jalapenos to the mix!
Bannisters' Farm Littl’uns Fajitas Chicken Fajita Baked Jacket Potatoes
Serves 6
INGREDIENTS
1 box of Bannisters’ Farm Littl’uns 6 Small Baked Jacket Potatoes
450g Mini Chicken Breast Fillets
30g packet of Fajita Seasoning Mix
2 Tbsp Rapeseed/Olive Oil
1 Onion
A selection of Chiquino Peppers or 1 red and 1 green Pepper
Optional - Salsa, Guacamole, Soured Cream, Mozzarella Cheese to serve
Bannisters' Farm Littl’uns Fajitas Chicken Fajita Baked Jacket Potatoes
METHOD
Cook the potatoes in microwave or oven according to pack instructions (12-1/2 mins 700w, 11-1/2 mins 900w, 35 mins 220C/425F/Gas mark 7)
Meanwhile slice the chicken into thin strips and place in a bowl along with the oil and fajita seasoning. Mix well to ensure the meat is evenly coated.
Thinly slice the onion and peppers. 
Heat a heavy based frying pan until very hot and add the coated chicken. Fry for 3-5 minutes until well browned.
Add the onions and peppers and cook for a further 2 minutes or until the meat is cooked but the vegetables still retain a crunch.
Slice open the Littl’uns on their pre-cut crosses and top with the fajita chicken. Serve with your favourite Mexican accompaniments.
Bannisters' Farm Littl’uns Fajitas Chicken Fajita Baked Jacket Potatoes

Cheesy Beany Potato Hedgehogs
A twist on the traditional topping of baked beans and cheese these Hedgehogs have crispy potato spikes.

Serves 6
INGREDIENTS
1 box of Bannisters’ Farm Littl’uns 6 Small Baked Jacket Potatoes
125g Grated Cheddar Cheese
415g tin Baked Beans
Salad to serve
Bannisters' Farm Cheesy Beany Potato Hedgehogs Baked Jacket Potatoes
METHOD
Preheat oven to 220C/425F/Gas mark 7
Partially cook the potatoes in the microwave (6 mins 700w, 5 mins 900w) or oven (18 mins)
Next slice the potatoes width wise to form the hedgehog spikes being careful not to cut all the way through.
Place grated cheese in between the spikes, pop onto a baking tray and cook for a further 10 minutes in the centre of the oven or until the cheese is melted and the prickles are crispy.
Serve the Hedgehogs nestled on top of warm baked beans surrounded by salad.
Bannisters' Farm Cheesy Beany Potato Hedgehogs Baked Jacket Potatoes

Tuna Ni├žoise Tatties
The classic French salad dish in Baked Potato format. Leave out the olives and tomatoes for those who aren’t keen or add in green beans and anchovies for complete authenticity.

Serves 4
INGREDIENTS
1 box of Bannisters’ Farm 4 Ready Baked Potatoes
Salt & Pepper
Knob of Butter
4 small free range eggs
160g Tin Tuna in brine
4 Tbsp. Mayonnaise
Salt & Pepper
40g Black Olives chopped
12 Cherry Tomatoes quartered
Bannisters' Farm Tuna Nicoise Tatties Baked Jacket Potatoes
METHOD
Preheat oven to 220C/425F/Gas mark 7
Cook the potatoes in the oven or microwave according to the pack instructions (16 mins 800w, 14 mins 900w, 45 mins 220C/425F/Gas mark 7)
Slice the top 1/3 off each potato and cut it into two wedges. 
Scoop out some of the inner flesh from the bottom 2/3 of each potato to give you enough room for an egg. 
Add salt, pepper and a knob of butter to each cavity before cracking in an egg.
Place the egg filled potatoes and wedges on a baking tray and cook in the centre of the oven for 12 minutes until set.
Meanwhile mix together the drained tuna and scooped out potato flesh with the mayonnaise, olives, tomatoes and seasoning. 
Serve the potatoes topped with the tuna mixture and use the wedges as soldiers in the dippy egg.
Bannisters' Farm Tuna Nicoise Tatties Baked Jacket Potatoes

Disclosure: This was a paid recipe development project. Bannisters' Farm provided the ingredients and have compensated me for my time.