thegrumblingtummy

"No love sincerer than the love of food"


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State of Play

chips

The Grumbling Tummy does not often use this blog to actually grumble  …. but I am going to make an exception!

Before I had my beautiful daughter BC and I ate out regularly in a wide range of restaurants. Some were posh and some less so but  it was always a very adult affair.  Once ‘mini me’ came along I swore that we would continue to frequent the lovely restaurants and not a thing would change.  In the same breath I also swore that I would not set foot in the type of place that was full of screaming kids and substandard food.  I shall pause for a moment whilst parents of small children reading this recover from laughing at my naive delusions.

Ok so now we know that this is not how it works in the real world.  Often we have found that going to a really nice restaurant with toddler in tow involves you both indulging in the pretence that you are enjoying the experience whilst your two-year old lobs pasta across the room, attracting disapproving looks and tuts  (not totally unjustified either)  from other diners.  You never actually finish a conversation with your partner and when you pay your bill you both feel a little resentful about the entire experience.  Of course your kids may be angels – HA!

Don’t get me wrong there are lots of restaurants around that are really child friendly and I will be talking about some of them in a future blog for Visit St Andrews.  But my gripe today is not really about restaurants and whether they are child friendly or not,  it is specifically about soft play facilities and the large chain restaurants which house soft play areas –  the types of places ONLY frequented by parents and their offspring.

Lets face it soft play centres are a bloody godsend – they keep the kiddiewinks happy as sandmen and allow parents to actually talk in complete sentences.  The massive downside is that more often than not the environment is tired, uninspired and quite frankly a little mucky. The service is routinely dreadful and the food often deplorable.  I have been to three soft play centres in my local area and whilst the kids are in heaven, I find the experience more than a little challenging. The dining choices seem to centre around chips, pom bears, sausage rolls and chocolate (pack a sarnie!).  Sure you don’t have to go along at lunchtime but it is nice to have something decent to eat and drink whilst waiting for them to wear themselves out.

The restaurant chains that incorporate Soft Play are at least more attractive to sit in,  but to be honest the food still leaves a lot to be desired.  We recently took ‘mini me’ to Home View near Kirkcaldy which is actually really pleasant with a fantastic kids soft play area.  However I found myself sending my beef chilli back to the kitchen as I found  it hard to locate any beef in the sloppy gravy.  This is not unusual.  Sad thing is I won’t stop going there because I actually quite like talking to my husband sometimes, without a constant distraction – they have you by the short and curlies.

I find myself getting more and more frustrated.  Why should parents have to put up with this? For the love of the big man, can somebody not see this gap in the market and open a soft play facility which is totally child AND parent friendly.  Imagine the scene.  A clean and fresh soft play area where the wee ones can have fun with minimum supervision.  Now imagine if you will that alongside this is an attractive, tasteful seating area with nice lighting, waitress service (not compulsory) and a menu which includes HEALTHY and homemade kids choices and lovely seasonal home cooked choices for the adults ( perhaps wine is going too far but you can dream). I am not suggesting Michelin standards here just an environment which values the food and service as well as the soft play element.  Somewhere that is not drowning in chips would be nice.

The only exceptions I have found are the Ceramic Experience in Dunfermline, they have a tiny little soft play area (not their main objective really).  You can however have a decent toastie,  some healthy kids snacks and  hold an adult conversation.  The other is Clayton Caravan Park near St Andrews which has a small soft play area next to a very nice restaurant (but you can’t really supervise the kids and eat at the same time, unless they are a wee bit older).

You may say that it’s all about the kids and as long as they are having fun then we should just suck it up but I don’t really see why it is too much to ask to have a facility where you can have the best of both worlds.

So please if you have a pot of cash handy and are just looking for a great idea then open a nice clean soft play with a restaurant area that is fresh, tasteful and serves lovely food – pretty please!

Perhaps in your area such a mecca exists and you are outraged at my ranting – if so then please let me know where it is…

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Spiced Pears with Honey and Cinnamon Cream

pearsI am very pleased with myself as I have created my very own dish!  Neither taken from a recipe book, nor tweaked from an existing recipe, but from my very own head.  I have also made it sound rather sophisticated don’t you think? Plus I actually served it at a dinner party and they liked it.  Ok they  had consumed several bottles of wine by that point in the evening but I think their mutterings of pleasure were fairly genuine.

As you know I have been trying to avoid eating my usual diet of cakes, pastries and chocolate.  I have been doing extremely well but it was all threatening to go to hell in a hand cart if I didn’t come up with an after dinner alternative to sticky toffee pudding and clotted cream.  I am keen to be healthy and slimmer but I am neither a martyr or a masochist.  And so I decided that fruit was the way to go and started experimenting, I must say I was very pleased with the result.

I fear that those of you who are blessed with the enviable ability to create brand new dishes willy nilly will not think much of this creation – it is very simple after all, but it is mine …  all mine and I am just a teeny bit proud.

Ingredients

4 large ripe pears peeled and cut into vertical slices

Teaspoon of vegetable oil

Cinnamon for dusting plus a 1/2 teaspoon for the cream

Double cream (now I used a big pot but there was oodles left.  For some reason we decided to add  this to  mugs of coffee along with a shot of Jack Daniels – odd but nice.  So unless you fancy trying to make bizarre liqueur coffees then go for a small pot of cream)

A generous teaspoon of runny honey

Blueberries to serve

Method

Whip up your double cream and simply add the cinnamon and the honey – god is it really that easy!

Heat the oil in the griddle pan (you can use a frying pan but then you won’t get the nice stripes, will still taste the same however)

When it is nice and hot add the pear slices, cook until lovely and browned on both sides.  Dust both sides with cinnamon whilst cooking.  you might have to cook in batches so have your oven warmed to keep the first batch good and toasty until you serve.

Serve up the hot slices or spiced pears with a handful of blueberries and the cream

Hopefully your guests will purr with delight at having one of their five a day in such a pleasant way.


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A Review of The Wee Restaurant

forth bridgeDespite what some may think (yes it’s you lot over the water I am referring to) Fife has some cracking restaurants, cafes and farm shops.  In hubs like St Andrews you are tripping over great places to eat, but right across the region there are hidden gems to be found.

The Wee Restaurant, nestling beneath the Forth Bridge in the sleepy village of North Queensferry is a gem right enough,  but it’s great reputation ensures that it is not so hidden, with foodies from Fife, Edinburgh and beyond flocking to sample the food served up by Craig and Vikki Wood.  The Wee Restaurant has been around since 2006 and since opening has won a clutch of awards including the Bib Gourmand Award from Michelin for restaurants offering “good food at moderate prices”  one of only a few restaurants to currently have this award in Scotland.

As I live in Fife it is scandalous that I have not visited The Wee Restaurant before now but to be honest its Michelin recommended status led me to assume that the prices would match and as I seem to  be continually on a budget I have always sidestepped it for somewhere I believed to be more in my price range. My assumptions were way off the mark and as the award suggests, they are indeed very reasonably priced.  Besides these days (thankfully) you can eat at the most posh restaurant in town for a decent price if you are going for lunch and going for the set menu – hurrah!

The occasion was a girls lunch. I did think North Queensferry was an odd venue for the girls (where are the cocktail bars!!) but it was a Sunday and wild drinking was not on the menu due to a mixture of hangovers from the night before and that fact that my companions are a little more sensible about drinking on a school night than I am.

The Wee Restaurant isn’t ridiculously ‘wee’ as I feared it might be.  Seating 40 on two different levels, it felt very spacious.  The walls of the interior are painted brightly, there are wooden floors and white-painted wood with wooden tables and brown leather chairs.  The overall effect is charming, bright and contemporary.  The restaurant was busy but didn’t feel crowded, there was a really nice buzz about the place without anything too loud or obtrusive getting in the way.

THE STARTERduck egg

Fried Duck Egg on Toast with Mushroom Duxelle and Micro Herb Salad

All four of us opted for this starter.  The presentation was beautiful – a large proud duck egg perfectly balanced on top of the Duxelle,  which is basically a very tasty mushroom and shallot mix,  all topped off with little fronds of greenery.   I don’t normally like  runny egg yolk  due to the slightly bitter taste (don’t know anybody else who finds yolks bitter).  To my surprise there was no bitter after-taste to this lovely big duck egg, it was a bit of a revelation truth be told.  This was a tasty, rounded dish which made me excited about the main event.

THE MAIN COURSEvennison

Roast Kirrimuir Venison with a Tortellini of Venison  on Puy Lentils & wilted spinach with a cep jus

I love Venison so I was onto a winner and this was a double Venison whammy.  The portion was on the small side (or am I just greedy) but absolutely perfectly formed and the taste did not disappoint.  The venison was juicy and tender, just as it ought to be and the ‘paste’ in the tortellini was divine.  Apologies to the Wee Restaurant if I make the filling sound like something from Shiphams , not my intention. It was just one of these really well put together dishes whereby every flavour stood out yet no flavour overshadowed another – really beautiful.

THE NON DESSERT

The Mellis Cheese Board

cheese boardHarumph!  Still on my ‘I am not eating anything sweet’ bandwagon (I have got to fall off sometime soon – it’s getting beyond a joke!) I, SHOCK HORROR, opted for the cheeseboard.  I NEVER opt for the cheese board. To me it is just the most dull thing on a menu, and thats from a cheese lover.  I do think I would have enjoyed the sweet treats on offer more but the cheese board was not actually dull.  I didn’t note down the types of cheese but they were all delicious and served up with a lovely chutney and mini oatcakes.  I won’t be quite so dismissive of cheese boards in future.

We left the Wee Restaurant happy and for a change not tipsy in the slightest (next time!).  Although a nice venue for a girls lunch this time around I think I would rather return with BC for a more romantic tryst.  The location next to the bridge is stunning and the restaurant is intimate and perfect for an evening of romance – if you are reading this BC – this is a hint!

The Wee Restaurant also does 4 course wine tasting dinners for only £45 which is an absolute steal (again BC – are you listening?)

http://www.theweerestaurant.co.uk/


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Souper Food

BOWL OF SOUP

Sophisticated soup with swirls of this and shavings of that, hearty thick soups which flirt on the boundaries of stew, homely soups that transport you back to childhood, fusion soups which embrace exciting global flavours, chilled soups to refresh the palate – don’t you just love soup?

Anybody who claims not to like soup is simply talking nonsense in my opinion.  With such a range of flavours and textures available it is simply impossible not to have at least a few favourites.

Soup is bloody brilliant, not only can it taste amazing but it is almost always cheap, quick and simple to make and best of all it is light on the old calorie front. I declare soup an official Souper Food.

There are very few things in life that I genuinely think I am good at, but making soup is one of them.  I do use recipes but this is one of the few areas where I am truly comfortable freestyling.  Here are some of my favourite soups at this moment in time.

red lentilsHAZEL’S LENTIL SOUP

This was the first soup I ever made and I am afriad the recipe is sketchy as truth be told I have no idea of quantities, it most likely changes a little every time I make it.  It seemed rather foolhardy to embark on my first soup making attempt with no recipe book to guide me but I thought I had tasted enough lentil soup to give it a bash.

 Ingredients and Method  

Melt a generous amount of butter in a pot with onions and  one or two bulbs of garlic and then added red lentils, tomatoe puree and some rosemary from the garden.  Covered the lot with stock for half an hour or so then blend.  Voila! 

It was a lentil soup that sang.   I think the ridiculous amount of butter, lots of garlic and tomato puree give it a slightly different flavour to some others. This is a family favourite and has received a big thumbs up from all who have tried it.

SPICY LENTIL, SWEET POTATO AND COCONUNT SOUP coconuts

I tried this out a few weeks ago for the first time when a friend popped round for lunch.  It’s taken from a recipe book but there was no coconut involved in the original.  I think my addition improves the taste and texture immensely. The book is called GI Meals Made Easy by Dr Barbara Wilson (yes I am still on that particular wagon!)

Ingredients: tbs olive oil. tsp mustard seeds, 1 onion, 2 cloves garlic, 400g sweet potato chopped up, 1 red chilli chopped, 1/2 tsp fenugreek, 1/2 tsp ground ginger, 1tsp turmeric, 150g red lentils, can chopped tomatoes, 400 ml veg stock, can of light coconut milk, small bunch of corriander.

Method:

Heat oil in pan and add mustard seeds until they pop then add onion and garlic and cook for 5 minutes or so.

Add sweet potato to pan along with chilli and spices and cook until you get that lovely aromatic smell.

Add the lentils and tomatoes and pour in the stock, season and simmer for 20 minutes.

Add the coconut milk at the end and cook for a few minutes before blending, sprinkle with fresh corriander.

butternut squashROAST SQUASH AND SAGE SOUP

I made this soup for the first time just this week after buying an extra squash in the weekly shop.  I happened to have a bundle of sage kicking about in the fridge and reckoned that these lovely wintry flavours would compliment each other beautifully.  The result was a lovely thick soup with a gorgeous sweet flavour.  I hope I can replicate it again in the future as it is absolutely delicious.

Ingredients:  one squash chopped up, 1 onion, bundle of sage, clove of garlic (squashed), vegetable stock (mmm sketchy on the amount of stock but enough to cover everthing and an inch more).

Method: 

I popped the squash, squashed garlic and sage leaves into a roasting tin with some olive oil and cooked at 180 for around an hour, until they were all roasted, browned and sticky. 

Once roasted chop an onion and cook in a little oil until nice and soft, then add the roasted squash along with all the residues of garlic, sage and lovely juices

Add the vegetable stock and simmer for around 20 minutes then blend.

porciniWILD MUSHROOM SOUP

Despite being a soup lover I am one of those people who in the past has always thought that soup didn’t hit the mark for special occasions or dinner parties.  However my no nonsense approach to Christmas dinner over the last few years (see Easy like Christmas Morning post) has led me right back to soup and made me realise that it can be just as stunning as any other  starter.  Just before Christmas a good friend gave me a huge bag of porcini mushrooms which her grandmother had picked and dried herself  (what a treat!!).  I was beyond delighted and decided that it would be the basis for my Christmas day starter – wild mushroom soup.

The recipe for this soup can be found at – http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/4756/cream-of-wild-mushroom-soup   I only used chestnut mushrooms and porcini for this recipe which calls for a mix of wild mushrooms.  It tasted absolutely devine though and I have since wheeled it out for friends on several occasions where it has met universal approval.

I hope that you will try one of these lovely soups. I am also really keen to find out what your favourite soups are and maybe gather some new recipes along the way too.

PHOTO CREDITS – PHOTOPIN

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/sea-turtle/4263484153/”>sea turtle</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/artizone/6822011617/”>artizone</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/yumievriwan/1809832118/”>yumievriwan</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;