Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Aberdeen Fungi Forage with Galloway Wild Foods

Another amazing weekend of Foraging and Wild Food in Aberdeenshire with the wonderfully knowledgeable and inspirational Mark Williams of Galloway Wild Foods. This is the third event that we've teamed up for and they just keep getting better and better. We had 40 folk joining us over the weekend, some of whom had been on our previous Dunnottar Woods or Spring Coastal Forage and others completely new. Some had been dragged along reluctantly by partners, others were chefs, foodies and outdoor enthusiasts. Lots of combined knowledge to be shared. 
The location for our foray was Tollohill Woods overlooking Aberdeen. Despite being very close to my home I was completely unaware of its existence. The views it provides over the city are amazing. It's clearly very popular with dog walkers and families out for a weekend stroll. Hopefully we didn't upset too many folk by filling up the small car park with foragers. 
Every walk requires some tasty treats along the way. Mark provided his famous Hogweed Seed Parkin and Hedgerow Fruit Leathers whilst I brought along Bramble and Apple Flapjacks and Crab Apple and Rowan Jelly Thumbprint Cookies. Recipes for both to follow at the end of this post.
Mark was as always slightly nervous about what we would - or wouldn't find - on our walk. It’s been an oddly dry autumn (though getting wetter by the moment!) so there was no guarantee what fungi we would find. Thankfully there was plenty of interest to discover although nothing in any huge quantity. Any gaps in between the mushrooms were filled in with edible and useful autumn plants.
We also indulged in some botanic booze along the way, some of which had been created in advance by Mark and myself and our own special 'Tollohill Tot' cocktail, the drink of our walk. Into the Cauldron (nitrous oxide infuser) went edible plants and berries such as brambles, dandelion, sweet cecily and sorrel. 
Our halfway stopping point at the Tollohill Monument (In remembrance of the visit of H.R.H. Albert Prince Consort to this spot 1859) provided further spectacular views over the city. Time to snack on thumbnail cookies, hedgerow fruit leather, sloe gin and mushroom booze infused with chagga, chanterelle, cep and truffle. 
We even dug up truffles on our foray. But before anyone gets too excited they were inedible deer truffles growing beneath the wonderfully named Snaketongue Truffleclub. We found the real deal in terms of Chanterelle along with is false counterpart. Contrary to popular belief the false chanterelle isn't poisonous but its taste will leave you sorely disappointed.
All too soon we were back at base camp in time for hot drinks, flapjacks and a browse through Mark's collection of fungi foraging books. Gas stove fired up he then cooked up a creamy Fungi Fricassee enjoyed on top of sourdough loaf. Porcini, Hedgehogs and Chanterelle were the stars of the show.
I bet Tom Cruise can't shake up a cocktail in the woods. With the Cauldron full of botanticals from our walk it was time for some magic and shaking. Not sure if our walk was all that tasty but with some clever additions from his bag of tricks Mark made it very tasty indeed.
The pink "Tollohill Tot" certainly looked more appetising than my somewhat specimen like Whin Gin. We'll definitely be teaming up next year for a Botanical Booze Forage. Fear not there will be no need to argue over who is the designated driver as we'll make sure its on a bus route.
Thanks to all who joined us over the weekend and a big thanks to the weather which was exceptionally kind. There are definitely more foraging events in Aberdeen/shire being planned for next year with Mark and myself. Spring Coastal, Botanical Booze and Autumn Fungi are the three most likely. Drop me an email if you want to go on the mailing list and be informed when places go on sale claire@foodiequine.co.uk or if you have any suggestions for locations or content we'd love to hear from you. Meanwhile enjoy identifying the reproductive organs of an invisible network.


Bramble and Apple Flapjacks
350g Butter
175g Demerara Sugar
500g Porridge Oats
pinch salt
Tbsp Cinnamon
Jar of Bramble & Apple Jam (or any jam/jelly of your choice)

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees. Melt butter in a large pan. Remove from heat and add the sugar, oats, salt and cinnamon and mix well.
Place half the mixture into a greased on lined tray bake tin. Spread the jam over the base.
Carefully spread the remaining half of the oat mixture on top.
Bake for 30 minutes until golden brown.
Slice, Cool and Serve.

Crab Apple and Rowan Jelly Thumbprint Cookies
225g Butter (softened)
150g Caster Sugar
1 Tsp Almond Extract
250g Plain Flour
Jar of Crab Apple and Rowan Jelly (Or any jelly/jam of your choice)

Preheat the oven to 175 degrees.
In a food processor (or large bowl) cream together the butter and sugar until smooth. Add the almond extract and flour and combine to form a dough.
Roll the dough into 1.5" balls and place on a baking sheet. Use your thumb to make an indentation in the middle of each ball.
Bake for 10 minutes.
Remove from oven and use a teaspoon to indent the thumb imprint before filling the hole with jelly/jam.
Return to the oven for a further 10 minutes of cooking time.

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