Wednesday, 7 March 2018

JUST JULIA TRIES: The Mixing Bowl Spotlight on Food event: Review (Aberdeenshire)

The North-east is blessed to be the home of numerous incredible food producers, not to mention the talented people driving these independent businesses forward. From local food markets to cooking events, to festivals and tastings, producers across the City and Shire work tirelessly to create delicious products which us lucky individuals get to enjoy a taste of.

One community food group looking to put Aberdeenshire on Scotland's food and drink map is The Mixing Bowl Aberdeen. A committee of passionate people, The Mixing Bowl actively aims to bring people together to learn, discover, and share everything to do with food.

Offering talks, tastings, demonstrations and workshops, local individuals get the opportunity to attend events organised by the group to share their love of good food with others, and even share their skills and different recipes that they cherish too. Not only does the group offer various food and drink events throughout the year, they are also behind the successful Deeside Local Food Festival which has grown in size every year since first establishing in 2015. Now an annual highlight for the local community and foodies from afar, it's no wonder over 3,500 visitors attended to seek out the 49 local food and drink producers exhibiting from across Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.

Another main event the team at The Mixing Bowl Aberdeen organise is its Spotlight on Food event which was held at The Barn and Buchanan's Bistro in Banchory just under two weeks ago. Having been invited along by Rachel Gambro, Chairperson of The Mixing Bowl and Co-founder of Deeside Local Food Festival, I was intrigued and excited to see what the event was all about.

Consisting of an Aberdeenshire producers market which saw over ten producers showcase their offering for two hours, and a seven-course producers dinner which followed, I knew this event was a recipe for success before even stepping foot into it.
Arriving with my good friend Ellie from The Veg Co, I happily helped her set up ahead of the event opening and set off to chat to some of the producers before the public arrived. Getting the opportunity to speak to the people behind the business' and find out where the drive and passion for their business comes from was truly fantastic. Very often do you get to speak to the individuals out milking the cows or growing the crops, so to get the chance to do so and really spend time with them was brilliant.

After opening, it didn't take long for the room to fill up, and it was great to see such a good turn out for the event. Kicking off at 5.30pm, many people had decided to make an evening of the event and had also booked to attend the dinner. The producers market which took place from 5.30 - 7.30pm,  was free to attend for everyone, however, there was a small and very reasonable charge for the evening meal.

Producers at the market included:
As well as showcasing the different businesses at the producers market, The Mixing Bowl Aberdeen also arranged for a showing of the producer's video - which had been created for the Deeside Food Festival - to be aired, outlining a day in the life of some of these fantastic local producers. 

A local Scottish harpist also played music throughout the producers market, creating a relaxing ambience as customers meandered from one stall to another.
Katy's Eggs
Rora Dairy
Bakery Lane
Louise's Kitchen Farm
HM Sheridan
Udny Provender 
A Taste of the Wild
Hungry Squirrel
Pasta Mia
Letty's Preserves
The Alexander Smokery
The Veg Co.

After spending two hours sampling, tasting and experimenting with new flavours and products, it was time to pack up the market stalls and head through to Buchanan's Bistro to enjoy the seven-course producer's dinner Val Buchanan had designed for everyone.

Two of the drinks producers had also created a cocktail together which was available for those attending the market to try out. 
The drink was called 'Deeside Royale' and featured Lost Loch Distillery's Eenoo gin and Haroosh, as well as the Udny Provender's shrub.

Alas, it was now finally time to showcase the food in all its glory.

First up was The Alexander Smokery's traditionally smoked salmon, garnished with Katy's free-range Eggs and accompanied by Calum's bread. The eggs were absolutely gorgeous and the yolks were a beautiful bright orange colour. I'd heard great things about Katy's Eggs and was delighted to finally be getting the chance to try them. They were the perfect size for the dish and went very well with the fish and bread. The salmon paired well with it, and the squeeze of fresh lemon I added heightened the taste of the dish overall.
The second course was Louise's Farm Kitchen's shredded pork served with a chilli and honey dressing which had been created by using The Veg Co's sweet chilli jam, and the Udny Provender's homemade honey.

The dressing had a lovely kick to it and worked very well with the tender pork. It wasn't overly sweet at all like I had envisioned due to the sweet chilli jam and honey being mixed together, it just worked wonders together and created a very unique and tasty sauce. The pork was sublime and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Next up was hand-made tagliatelle pasta made by Pasta Mia, tossed in Hungry Squirrel's ABC Mix nut butter.

The pasta was divine and you could tell instantly the high quality of it. The nut butter had not been something I had considered adding to pasta, however after trying it, it worked so well together that it made perfect sense to pair the two. I finished it in no time and once again, my plate was empty.
The fourth dish was the lightest and most fragrant out of all the offering. The carpaccio of venison from Taste of the Wild was dressed in a vinegar by Letty's Preserves and served with tomatoes grown by The Veg Co. The carpaccio was very tender and melted in your mouth. The raw meat was extremely succulent and dispersed almost immediately on my tongue.

The tomatoes were beautiful and tangy, whilst being extremely juicy and sweet all at the same time. The carpaccio was good, but it was the ripe, thinly sliced tomatoes that stole the show for me with this dish.
For what I would outline as the main course of the marathon dinner, we were served HM Sheridans of Ballater smoked rump which came topped with dauphinoise potatoes and was served on a bed of puréed parsnips from Vital Veg. The dish was finished with a curried yogurt dressing made with Rora Dairy yogurt and Nino's Marsala.

The rump was cooked to perfection and was served medium/rare which I very much enjoyed. I loved the parsnip purée and the addition of the dauphinoise potatoes rounded off the dish in the most spectacular way. The curried yogurt dressing was also a nice touch and really added to the tender rump's flavour.

Our fifth course of the meal, I was starting to get full, but I was very much enjoying the whole concept of getting to indulge in small dishes which truly showcased how the food from the local producers could be presented. It was great to see what you could actually create with them and was inspiring me to think about buying these different products to re-create some of these dishes at home myself.
The sixth course was something sweet. A boozy smoothie with Haroosh ice cream, however, we weren't served ice cream, but instead, we received a ball of semolina. 

The boozy smoothie was made with yogurt from Rora Dairy, milk from Forrest Farm and Lost Loch Distillery's Haroosh. I'm not really a big fan of yogurt so this wasn't really my cup of tea, but a lot of the other guests around me seemed to enjoy it. I'd also never tried semolina before so this was a first, and probably last for me. On this ocassion, semolina and I did not agree, but everyone's tastes vary.

The dish looked stunning and was served along with a homemade oaty biscuit which I was very keen to try it out too. Unfortunately, it boasted aniseed in it - one of the only foods I detest - so I decided to give the biscuit a miss.  

Had the dessert featured anything other than a smoothie and an aniseed biscuit, I'm sure I'd have dominated it too, but I was glad to have had the opportunity to try it and broaden my horizon of trying new ingredients and flavours too.
The final course was an array of local artisan cheeses from Cambus O'May Cheese Company. Specialising in cheddars, we were treated to mature and light cheddar cheeses and they were both incredible. Both kinds of cheese were extremely soft and the cheese was super smooth and was very creamy in your mouth. 

The Bistro spelt oatcakes were created with spelt flour from Westfield Farms and were also very tasty. I very much enjoyed this and for me, it was the perfect way to end the meal.
To finish, we were treated to homemade fudge by Lisa Jayne's Kitchen which accompanied the teas and coffees. She had created a salted caramel flavour and her gin and lemon flavoured fudge for the occasion. It was hands down the best fudge I've ever had, and I was taken aback at just how good it was. It was so creamy and rich, packed full of flavour and deliciously sweet, exactly what you'd want out of a sweet treat. I scoffed the salted caramel one and ended up sneaking a piece of the gin and lemon flavour too because when there's the opportunity to treat yourself to a second piece of the best fudge, you've got to take it.

I was very impressed with the event as a whole and thoroughly enjoyed my time at Spotlight on Food. Not only did I get the opportunity to meet a variety of very different local producers, I also got the chance to have dinner with them and truly see their products in action. The Mixing Bowl Aberdeen had worked tirelessly to ensure the event was a big hit, and that it was. Rounded off with a raffle which gave individuals the chance to win prizes it ended on a real high.

The dinner was very well priced and I thought a seven-course meal for £32 was exceptional. I'd love to see this event travel across the City and Shire, showcasing various other producers as it makes its way across the region. This is definitely something I would want to introduce to my friends and family, and I know they would absolutely love it. Hands down to the team at The Mixing Bowl Aberdeen, I can't wait for the next one!

  For Now...

Just Julia

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

JUST JULIA TRIES: Spider on a Bicycle: Review (Aberdeenshire)

Whilst out on my big Audi A5 adventure a few weeks ago, my other half (and my sat nav for the day) Calum had suggested that we make a wee stop to Spider on a Bicycle for lunch.

I hadn't heard of the eatery before and was quite shocked he knew of a foodie establishment that I didn't, so thought it was only manners to give him a chance in picking the place we ate. I'm so glad I did because I really, really enjoyed my time there.

We were both pretty hungry by the time we arrived at the eatery which is owned by two sisters whose aim was to create a home away from home, so we nose dived into the menu to see what was on offer.

Its small menu focuses on good ingredients and simplistic foods, and it also boasts produce from a number of small local businesses which they create delicious breakfasts, lunch and bakes with. Spider on a Bicycle is cosy and homely and provides the perfect sanctuary from the elements on a cold afternoon.

Not only is this place a great pit-stop in the winter, but I can guarantee it will be hugely popular in the summer with its outside seating area and stunning interiors. And the fact they welcome dogs into the venue too will be a huge bonus for those walking in Deeside too.

I was intrigued to try and find out where the name of it came from so once we'd placed our order I sat reading the menu which revealed all. A long story short, there was gin involved, and children's stories too, but I'll let you discover the story behind it for yourself when you visit...
I usually only ever order water at lunchtime (unless I'm drinking cocktails) but I decided to go for a bottle of the cloudy lemonade after seeing Calum's organic cola. The designs of the bottles were super quirky and both tasted very nice. Calum's cola was quite sweet, whereas my lemony lemonade had a slight bitterness to it. And looking back, I'm pretty sure I've tried both before.

For lunch I'd decided to order the Spider on a Bicycle platter. The platter was beautiful and boasted an array of colour to it which I adored. I don't think I've had a lunch this bright and bold in a long time! The platter came with avocado, pickle, hummus, chutney, salad, apple and red cabbage salad, oatcakes and handmade bread. Both the bread and the oatcakes were gluten free. 

I tucked in immediately and it was absolutely divine. The hummus was incredibly rich and smooth, and the chutney went extremely well with the avocado and pickle on the bread. I couldn't get enough of it. The avocado was so soft and melted in my mouth. I savoured it for as long as I could. The seeds also gave the dish a nice additional crunchy texture to it which I really enjoyed. 

There was a lot of it, so it took me a while to get through it. I couldn't finish all of the bread and oatcakes, but Calum soon swooped in to help polish it off.
A fan of a good ol' toastie, Calum opted for the Cheese Roastie. A toasted sandwich on white farmhouse bread with  salad and chutney on the side, this was his sort of lunch. After much deliberation, he tried out the Monarch camembert with free range bacon. The cheese was lovely and melted, and the bacon was cooked really well. I could tell by his face he was enjoying it, and the fact he cleaned his plate of the salad, chutney and boiled potatoes too told me everything.
Just popping in for a quick bite, I had been very tempted by the delicious looking cakes, but alas, decided against it seen as I was already full from the platter. Although there's a slice of pecan brownie and lemon drizzle with my name on it for next time I visit.
Located where the old Aboyne train station once operated, it's great to see that the owners of Spider on a Bicycle have kept all of the original features from the building. It's a cosy, warm, welcoming space and there's lots of shabby chic furniture inside too. Upcycling seems to be a big thing within the cafe, and they seem to be very conscious about recycling and sustainability too which is also a big thumbs up from me. I loved the way the eatery looked and I think the array of beautiful furniture really finishes it off perfectly.
Having visited just two weeks ago, I've already sent three of my friends out to visit the cafe who all reported how good it was. 

It's so refreshing to see eateries like this popping up across the City and Shire as this is exactly the types of places Aberdeen is screaming out for. Local people, supporting local producers by using local products and providing an incredible offering for local residents to enjoy. I love the ethos behind this place and I think it's going to continue to be a huge success as the space is just as gorgeous as the food.
  For Now...

Just Julia

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