Venison nuggets in wild gravy

I love having lunch on the days I’m working from home. This 10 minute recipe is venison nuggets in porcini and blackthorn epiné gravy. With a side salad (not foraged in the pic), lemon soy dressing and toasted nuts. Fabulous!

Venison nuggets are fried 2.5 minutes on each side in olive oil. Add a few sliced mushrooms when on the second side which will quickly take up any excess olive oil. Then a cup of water, porcini and seaweed powders (no need to add flour), and sauté for 4 minutes, until starting to thicken and almost caramelise. Add a slug of epiné and serve.

The seaweed in this version was pan-toasted and crumbled laver (Porphyra umbilicalis). If you don’t have any, crumble a toasted nori sheet from making sushi. The two species are closely related. Not hugely high in iodine but a big vitamin B12 hit. You could substitute fried tofu instead of venison and you’d have an excellent vegan version!

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Marinated Dandelion Roots

A delicious variation on the marinated burdock roots that are popular in Japan. These are exceptionally tasty and make a lovely wild antipasti. Dig up your roots in the autumn and spring. First year roots are always less woody but this is less of an issue with dandelion than it is with burdock!

Dandelion Roots

Ingredients
12 dandelion roots
50 ml rice or white wine vinegar
50 ml miso or stock
2 tablespoons medium soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
Nettle seed (traditionally sesame seed)

Directions
Scrub the dandelion roots to remove any dirt. Scrape off any stubborn dirt. Halve the roots and soak in water for 3 minutes.

Boil in a pan with water for 5 minutes, while you make the marinade, until just tender but still crisp.

Add the rest of the ingredients (except for the nettle seed) to a small saucepan and heat to dissolve the sugar. Bring to the boil. Remove from the heat.

Remove the dandelion roots from the heat after 5 minutes. Strain. Put them onto a chopping board (some people also put them inside a plastic bag) and pound them with wooden rolling pin so that the roots soften. The object is to soften and flatten them, not to mash them!

Put the bashed roots into a bowl and cover with the marinade for at least half a day or, ideally, overnight. Turn them occasionally to ensure the marinade covers them all.

Serve cold as an antipasti, sprinkled with dry toasted nettle or sesame seed.

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Bone Stock with Seaweed

We’ve got out of the habit of making stock but at one time they were an indispensable part of cooking. Nowadays there are stock cubes and gravy powders, cup-a-soups and instant miso but still nothing beats the deep, rich flavour of a good, slow simmered stock. It’s not difficult. It just takes a little time. You can make stock with fresh bones, roast bones or just vegetables.

Here’s a roast lamb bone stock with vegetables and seaweed.

Ingredients
1 roasted leg of lamb bone
1 onion quartered
3 cloves of garlic
1 parsnip root chopped
2 carrots chopped
1 red chilli pepper whole
1 cm ginger root sliced
2 sticks of celery chopped
8 black peppercorns
6 x 6cm sticks of dried kelp
3 litres (12 cups) of hot water

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Directions
Put all in a large saucepan together and bring to the boil.

Once boiling cover and turn to a low heat, allowing it to simmer for 2-3 hours until everything is tender.

When cool strain off the liquid. Store in the fridge until used in soups, stews, casseroles, or freeze in ice cube trays for instant stock cubes.

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What is Hair Ice?

Hair Ice or Haareis is a strange winter biological phenomenon. It’s a type of ice only found on fallen branches on the ground. It exudes from the microscopic pores in bare wood, almost as if they had been emitting tiny streams of steam that have snap frozen into fibres of ice. They are very delicate and will melt away in a minute if placed on the palm of your hand!

Dr James Carter of Illinois State University explains it as “Hair Ice is ice that grows outward from the surface of the wood, as super-cooled water emerges from the wood, freezes and adds to the hairs from the base.” It is not frost which results from moisture being deposited onto objects and ten frozen.

It is also now thought that fungi have something to do with it! This was first speculated in 1918, and was certainly my first suspicion on seeing it for the first time. In 2005, researchers Wagner and Mätzler confirmed the link. Pretty much all dead wood contains fungi, often many different species. However, if you kill off the fungi, the hair ice no longer grows. They think that the metabolic activity of fungi inside the dead wood generates carbon dioxide that pushes water to the surface and out of the pores in the wood as rays. This water then freezes and is spun into hair ice. It’s similar to a frosty morning when you exhale and can see your breath. Hair ice seems to be the exhaled frozen breath of fungi!

There is also some organic content in this exuded water causing the hair ice to be slightly sweet and attractive to insects. A sort of insect iced candy floss!

(Wagner, G. & Mätzler, C. (2008) Haareis auf morschem Laubholz als biophysikalisches Phänomen [Hair Ice on Rotten Wood of Broadleaf Trees – a Biophysical Phenomenon]. German, with English abstract.)

The pictures of Hair Ice (Haareis) below were taken in a wood in Central Scotland between Christmas and Hogmanay (28 December 2014).

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Sea Buckthorn Caramel Sauce

Sea buckthorn caramel sauce

Sea buckthorn caramel sauce

This can be made with any wild juice. I have tried this with guelder rose berries, wild blackberries and barberries. This is lovely dribbled over ice cream, seaweed pannacotta or a wild berry and carragheen cheesecake.

Ingredients
300 ml sea buckthorn juice
300 grams white sugar
30 grams butter
100 ml double cream

Directions
Measure out all the ingredients. Put the juice and the sugar into a saucepan and, over a low heat, stir to dissolve using a clean wooden spoon that has not been used for making soups and stews. (Old spoons can release old flavours into your sweets!)

Once the sugar is dissolved, stop stirring and turn up the heat a little. As the toffee solution heats it will start to darken in colour. Stir only occasionally. Let the temperature reach 110°C (230°F) when measured on a sugar thermometer. This is the thread stage. When you drop the syrup into a glass of ice cold water it will hang in soft threads and not dissolve.

Remove from the heat and add the butter, stirring to dissolve. As the temperature drops, stir in the cream. Return to the heat.

Now reheat again to 110°C (230°F). At this stage pour immediately into a warmed ceramic jug and serve with dessert. If it is cold and served later you may wish to stand the jug in a bowl of warm water to increase viscosity again.

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Sea Buckthorn Toffee

This recipe for sea buckthorn toffee can also be made using crab apple verjus. These cold or pressed, tart juices make a fabulous sweet and sour, tangy toffee. For tips on picking and making sea buckthorn juice follow this link. Juices such as rowan berry juice and hawthorn juice which are made by extracting the juice in a little water have a more delicate flavour so use as little water as possible. See Rowan Fudge recipe for more about juice extraction.

Rowan berry toffees

Rowan berry toffees

Ingredients
300 ml sea buckthorn juice
300 grams white sugar
30 grams butter
100 ml double cream

Directions
Line a 20cm square baking tin with greased parchment paper and put to one side. Measure out all the ingredients.

Put the juice and the sugar into a saucepan and, over a low heat, stir to dissolve using a clean wooden spoon that has not been used for making soups and stews. (Old spoons can release old flavours into your sweets!)

Once the sugar is dissolved, stop stirring and turn up the heat a little. As the toffee solution heats it will start to darken in colour. Stir only occasionally. Let the temperature reach 120°C (250°F) when measured on a sugar thermometer. This is the hard ball stage when drops of the toffee solution dropped into a cup of ice-cold water will remain as firm balls of toffee.

Remove from the heat and add the butter, stirring to dissolve. As the temperature drops, stir in the cream. Return to the heat.

Now heat to 140°C (280°F) when measured on a sugar thermometer. The toffee solution will have become much darker and the bubbles have become smaller and closer together. This is called the soft crack stage when drops of toffee solution dropped into a cup of ice-cold water will separate into hard threads that will flex a little before snapping. At this stage pour immediately into your lined baking tin.

You can also use silicon moulds. Here I used Little Kitty ice cube trays but they made enormous toffees and kept my foraging guests quiet for a very long time!

Sea buckthorn toffees

Sea buckthorn toffees

Sea Buckthorn Caramel Sauce

Another thing to note is that this recipe will also make a delicious wild juice caramel sauce if you remove from the heat at both stages at a temperature no greater than 110°C (230°F). This is lovely dribbled over ice cream or with fruit.

Sea buckthorn caramel sauce

Sea buckthorn caramel sauce

More Notes on Making Sweets with Wild Berries

Caramel = White Sugar + Cream
Butterscotch = Brown Sugar; cooked to 140°C / 280°F
Toffee = Brown Sugar + Butter; cooked to 150°C / 300°F
Fudge = White Sugar + Milk (+ Butter); cooked to 110°F / 230 °C
Nougat = Water + Corn Syrup (+ Whipped Egg White (+ Sugar + Corn syrup (+ Butter + Vanilla)))
Brittle = Water + White Sugar + Syrup (+ Butter + Baking Soda); cooked to 150°C / 300°F

Sugar Candy Table

(From Justin Dunham)

Stage Temperature (°F) Temperature (°C) Sugar
Thread 230–233 °F 110–111 °C 80%
Soft Ball 234–240 °F 112–115 °C 85%
Firm Ball 244–248 °F 118–120 °C 87%
Hard Ball 250–266 °F 121–130 °C 92%
Soft Crack 270–290 °F 132–143 °C 95%
Hard Crack 295–310 °F 146–154 °C 99%
Clear Liquid 320 °F 160 °C 100%
Brown Liquid 338 °F 170 °C 100%
Burnt Sugar 350 °F 177 °C 100%
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Rowan Berry Fudge

Ingredients
75 grams butter
700 grams granulated sugar
100 ml evaporated milk
100 ml rowan berries
200 ml water

Directions
The juice can be made in advance. If you want to make more and freeze or pasteurise it, just add double the amount of water to rowan berries by volume.

Put the rowan berries and the water into a small saucepan and simmer until the berries are tender. Mash them in the pan with a potato masher. Remove from the heat.

Place a square of muslin over a sieve and strain the juice from the berries into a measuring jug. Once most of the juice has drained through, and the berries are cool enough, draw the edges of the muslin together to form a bag and give the bag a good squeeze.

Use the butter wrapper to pre-grease a large 25 cm baking tin.

Return the juice to the saucepan. Simmer on a medium heat to evaporate some of the liquid until you have reduced it to 100 ml of fairly strong rowan berry juice concentrate.

Keeping the saucepan over a medium heat, now add the evaporated milk to the 100 ml of rowan berry juice. When it is warm, add the sugar. Once the sugar has dissolved, increase the heat and bring to a rolling boil. Stir it continuously with a wooden spoon.

Once boiling, adjust the heat so it does not boil over, and boil for exactly 8 minutes. Alternatively, if you are using a sugar thermometer, boil it until the temperature reaches 113 degrees C (235 degrees F), but do not boil it for more than 9 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Stir in the butter until it has dissolved and then pour into the pre-greased tin.

Cool on a wire tray. When half cool, score lines in the fudge with a cake knife. When fully cool, remove from the tin and break along the scored lines. Store in a tin lined with greaseproof paper or a plastic food saver box.

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Winter fungi

Between Christmas and New Year, it’s so nice to get outside for a crisp walk & forage, even at zero degrees. Today I found some velvet shanks (Flammulina velutipes) edible mushrooms. They are cultivated in Japan as enokitake. There were just a few here, enough for an omelette, growing on a fallen branch.

They like hardwood trees such as beech. If you catch them at the right time you can harvest several feet at a time. They survive a light frost fairly well but catch them before extreme temperatures. You can find velvet shanks in the cooler months from November through to February.

One of the most notable features is their black woody stems which are too tough to eat.

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Winter Solstice 2014

Today, 21 December at 22:03 GMT the North Pole (with the earth’s axis at 23.5 degrees) tilts its furthest away from the sun. This is the shortest solar day of the year and we call it the winter solstice.

For thousands of years, people in the Northern hemisphere have noticed it and celebrated. The pagan festival of Yule marks the rebirth of the sun and start of winter on the solstice. Druids would sacrifice animals under the sacred plant mistletoe as part of their Yule rituals.

The Romans held the week-long Saturnalia at this time and decorated their homes with holly wreaths to ward off evil spirits.

Christmas was established in late December in the fourth century, deliberately to override the attraction of the pagan festivals.

Another curious thing is that although you’d expect the shortest day of the year to have the latest sunrise and the earliest sunset, this isn’t the case. The latest sunrise does not occur until around the 2nd of January and the earliest sunset has already happened – around the 10th of December.

However, after the solstice each day is getting lighter every day. This is because solar days in December last around 24 hours and 30 seconds, while we still measure each day as exactly 24 hours. Because of this, the sun cycle on each day is about 30 seconds later every day, until the solar days shorten again. It’s hard to notice it at first, as to start with it is only by seconds a day but soon a minute, then 2 minutes a day. However, the evenings are getting lighter again as we set the course for summer!

In Edinburgh, today is 10 hours, 39 minutes shorter than on the June summer solstice.

Next year winter solstice will be on 22nd December at 04:38 am.

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Air Fresheners cause Allergic Reactions

 

 

From today restaurants now have to declare any allergens in food on their menus. Supermarkets and other places that sell prepackaged food must also declare them. However, although foods and cosmetics must now warn you of potentially harmful and fatal allergens, there is one area that is completely a law to itself and unregulated!

I wrote the following letter to the BBC:

Dear Have Your Say

There is a certain irony in the news that restaurants have to declare allergens of food they serve – very helpful – but when you then use their toilet facilities you are likely to be sprayed with allergy causing chemicals from an automatic ‘air freshener’.

These ‘air fresheners’ produced by companies such as PHS are absolutely everywhere these days. They are known to contain allergy causing chemicals but unlike food and cosmetics are completely unregulated. I had an allergic reaction in a Tesco supermarket recently and the staff showed me the inner canister in our attempt to find information on its contents.

It carried the following advice:
Warning: May cause allergic reaction
And advised that it should only be used outdoors or in well-ventilated areas!

There are numerous reports (I can provide citable sources) of allergic reactions to ‘air fresheners’ that end up causing asthma and heart attacks. The parents of children developing asthma are advised to stop using plug in fragrance dispensers in their homes. Care homes have seen huge rises in respiratory complaints after ‘air freshener’ installations.

Why is it legal to pollute the air in toilets and not declare it, while illegal not to provide allergen declarations on food and cosmetics?

I may have the choice to plan ahead and now avoid ever using a Tesco or Costa Coffee toilet but in a place like Gatwick Airport, having passed through security unable to leave the airport, there is no choice.

Using a public loo for a fundamental need, where a PHS canister lurks on the wall automatically spewing out allergen-causing ‘fragrance’, does not just mean relieving myself, it also means risking an allergic reaction with potential anaphylactic shock and even death.

Kind regards
Monica Wilde

The PHS canister that caused the allergic reaction (apologies for the bad photos but it was hard to tea the at the time).

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Here is a link to the Food Standards Agency directive on allergen declarations in food: http://www.food.gov.uk/business-industry/allergy-guide

Here is a report of heart problems caused by Glade Air Freshener:

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This is what an anaphylactic shock looks like.

The Effects of Anaphylaxis on the Body

Courtesy of Healthline.com

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