thegrumblingtummy

"No love sincerer than the love of food"


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My Highland Show

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A week has gone by since I donned my wellies (just in case) and headed off to the Royal Highland Show, searching for a festoon of foodie delights.

Shamefully by-passing many of the wonderful things the show has to offer,  we headed straight for the food hall.  Only one stall  stopped me in my tracks en route and that was the Rocpool restaurant from Inverness, who were serving scallops and Mediterranean cous cous.  The aroma was divine and it was only the fear of peaking too early that stopped me from tucking in.

The Food Hall at the Highland show is busy, noisy and brilliant.  Lovely husband agreed to take the mini grumbling tummy on an adventure for an hour to give me time to try & buy to my heart’s content.  The timer was on and posh supermarket sweep began.

great glen game

First stop was Great Glen Game http://www.greatglengame.co.uk/    Great Glen Game sustainably source wild venison from estates located in the Great Glen.   I have tasted their products before and admit to being a  bit of a fan.  After trying out their venison chorizo, venison salami and a venison & pork mix salami, I settled on a packet of the latter and the beginnings of my Highland Show tasting dinner was born.

essential sauces

Sharing space with Great Glen Game was Grantown and Spey based company Essential Sauces  http://www.essentialsauces.com who were flogging their spectacularly wonderful range of tomato based sauces. These guys blend the freshest tomatoes, chillies, garlic, ginger and lemongrass and make them into a variety of spicy sauces ideal for dipping or marinading.  Unable to choose I bought three bottles.  Spicy Ketchup which has a wicked Scotch Bonnet kick,  Special Ketchup which is similar but with a gingery warmth and finally the Saucy Chutney which is as it says a lovely date and apple chutney in a sauce form.   Its been a week since the show and I have used the spicy ketchup as a dip on quite a few occasions – it went very well with my lamb koftas.

Heck

it wasn’t long before I was accosted by the smell of freshly cooked  sausages.  Heck sausages http://heckfood.co.uk/sausages/ are made by the Yorkshire based Keeble family and they are bloody tasty.  They have eight products including ‘chicken Italia’,  ‘Pork and Proud’ and ‘Smoky Chorizo Style’ and I had to try a few  …. really quite a few before settling on smoky Chorizo.  They are a  sausage to be reckoned with and were devoured back at base with a bowl of hot buttery cous cous which complimented them perfectly.  I am told that you can buy these in Tesco and even if you are not a Tesco shopper these sausages are worthy of a special trip.

best lunch

Time for a bite to eat.  This was easy!  I headed straight for the stall selling hand dived Islay scallops on a black pudding roll.  I don’t need to say anything about this.  Check out the picture, it says it all.

Gusto

I have a bit of a thing for flavoured oils for drizzling and dipping and was delighted to come across two stands which ticked all of the oily boxes .  Mackintosh of Glendendaveny http://www.mackintoshofglendaveny.co.uk/ and Gusto http://www.gusto-catering.com/ who are based in Leith.

mackintosh ofglendevanay

Extra Virgin “cold pressed” rapeseed oil  from Mackintosh of Glendaveny is grown, pressed and bottled on their farm in Aberdeenshire.  There are lots of health benefits to rape seed oil which is great but to be honest I would buy it even if it had the health properties of a doughnut – it is very tasty stuff.  After spending far too long dipping wee bits of bread in a multitude of flavoured oils including chilli and ginger – I elected for a lemon infused oil.  I often use olive oil and lemon juice as a simple salad dressing and this seemed like a sensible short cut.  I used this oil a few days ago when hosting a girls lunch and it got the thumbs up all round – I do declare that it can bring any salad to life.

Gusto lovingly makes a selection of dressings, aromatic oils and specialist vinegars using local Scottish ingredients. I didn’t need another oil did I?  Probably not but I couldn’t resist their chilli oil which had a real kick.  So far I have drizzled it on hummus and dipped half a blooming loaf in it.  It really is yummy and has a multitude of uses.

bread

My Highland Show tasting dinner had lost focus – oils, sauces,  venison salami – I needed bread to bring it back on track.  Mhor Bread based in Callander was my next stop.  Mhor http://mhor.net/bread/  makes “artisan bread at affordable prices”,  I actually think they are a wee bit pricey but the bread is hand-made using flour milled from Scotland and besides that  it tastes pretty good.  There are so many varieties to choose from but I settled on a sour-dough which was used to dip into my various oily acquisitions later that evening.

Organic Blend

Last but not least, one the stars of my Highland Show …. drum roll!  The Organic Blending Company http://www.organicblending.com/.  Their product is just so damned clever.  The blends look like jars of dried herbs and spices which is pretty much what they are.  You can use these blended herbs and spices for marinading, cooking and the like  BUT that was not the clever part.  The stand displayed small pots of  mayonnaise which each had a teaspoon of blend mixed in to make a tasty dip.  So simple, so clever and honestly so tasty.  I ate my bodyweight in bread sticks dipped in a mix of mayo, yogurt and Italian Herbs and Spices Blend that night.  I love this concept of an instant and easy dip.

So with a full tummy and an empty wallet we emerged from the food hall of the Royal Highland show and made our weary way home.

We love you Royal Highland Show – see you next year

neave at show


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Hi Ho Hi Ho – to the Highland Show we go

Highland Coo

I am not a fan of tractors or coos and was never keen on the idea of going to the Royal Highland Show. For some inexplicable reason the sheer enormity of the show had entirely passed me by. That was until one sunny weekend (they can be a bit of a rarity at the Highland Show) a few years back, when I was kindly given a ticket and thought, ‘what the hell’.

Have you been to the Highland Show? If not then you really must go. Feel free to bypass the coos and the tractors and the impossibly cute little sheep, but please do not pass any of the amazing opportunities to stuff your face full of the most splendiferous of Scottish produce. It is definitely one of the best food shows in Scotland and I for one am very excited about going along this year.

I will be returning fresh from a week of eating my way round Northumberland and will probably be as fat as a pony, but that will not stop me taking full advantage of all the foodie treats the show has to offer.

A little birdie tells me that the Highlands & Islands region forms the central theme for the food area this year. So what does that mean for my grumbling tummy?

First  I plan to visit a whole host of fantastic artisan producers from the Highlands & Islands who are showcasing the luscious larder of their region. Particularly exciting is Great Glen Game ( fingers and toes crossed that they have some of their salami left for me to taste). Cheeses, pies and preserves are other weak spots for me as well as some beautiful smoked salmon. The trick is to enjoy the samples but leave enough room for part two.

This will involve sourcing lunch from one of the many  ‘Street Food’ stands dotted around the showground and choosing will be tough. Helping showcase this produce are a host of great chefs from the Highlands & Islands involved including Muji Rahman from the Michelin recognised Cafe India in Dingwall and Steven Devlin of the highly acclaimed Rocpool Restaurant in Inverness. Mmm.

If there is time then I will also try to catch some of the chefs cooking up a storm on the cookery stage – this is a particular favourite of the mini grumbling tummy, who will be in attendance. Hates food but loves watching people cook – odd child but we love her.

Finally I will hit the plethora of stands selling innumerably lovely products  and moon over lovely trinkets before heading home – full and happy.

So roll on the weekend of the 22nd June and everybody please please do a sun-dance for the day!

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/rainbirder/4694795906/”>Rainbirder</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>


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FESTIVAL DATES FOR YOUR DIARY

festival pic

Festival season is upon us, but forget T in the Park, we are talking food here.

As soon as the sun puts his hat on (okay okay …  I am sure he will soon) it’s time to get out and about in the fresh air and sample the fabulous local produce Scotland has to offer.

Here is a list of just some of the fantastic foodie events going on this summer and beyond.  So grab your diary and get planning.

Apologies to my friends south of the border –  your events are too many to catalogue!!  Maybe these Scottish events will encourage you to pack your weekend bag and take a trip …

I will set up a special events page on the blog so that this information is easily accessible – if  you want me to include any festivals that I have missed then let me know and I will add them.

TASTE OF GRAMPIAN 1 JUNE  THAINSTONE CENTRE, NEAR ABERDEEN  http://www.tasteofgrampian.co.uk

One day event giving you the opportunity to meet local producers and sample the food from Grampians larder.  Expect beautiful smoked salmon, creamy fudge, shortbread and much more.

OPEN FARM SUNDAY  9 JUNE  http://www.farmsunday.org 

This is free and takes place in locations across Scotland.  Farms open their doors or should I say gates to allow visitors to experience the smells of the farmyard and really get in touch with the land that feeds us. So come and feed your senses on Open Farm Sunday. At a farm near you.

CRAIL FOOD FESTIVAL 15-16 JUNE  http://crailfoodfest.co.uk/

This great two-day festival includes an indoor food market, music events, local producers and a lobster shack at the picturesque harbour PLUS wild food walks and foraging.  It’s a cracking one to go along to and this blogger has been part of their innovative 2013 blogging project this year (very proud!)

AFTERNOON TEA ON A STEAM TRAIN – throughout the summer http://www.bkrailway.co.uk/

Ok so not a festival but a great thing to do and worthy of a mention on my summer food list.   Enjoy a traditional afternoon tea of freshly made sandwiches, cakes and homemade scones with clotted cream and Scottish jam served with a pot of coffee or tea aboard a lovingly restored steam train.

FALKLAND FESTIVAL  – 17 – 23 JUNE

This festival in the charming village of Falkland includes a family picnic, street fair and tea dance amongst other family fun activities.

ROYAL HIGHLAND SHOW 20 – 23 JUNE http://royalhighlandshow.org/

Its an institution!  I tend to bypass the tractors and the coos and head straight for the food hall where there are almost 100 companies featuring their quality products as well as a line-up of some of Scotland’s top chefs demonstrating their culinary skills.  The Highland Show is a fantastic day out (especially if the sun shines)

PITTENWEEM ARTS FESTIVAL  3 – 11 AUGUST http://www.pittenweemartsfestival.co.uk

Calm down I know it’s not actually a food festival BUT it is one of my favourite festivals of the year (not only because it was where I grew up long before  there was a sniff of an arts scene).  In between seeing the art EAT some food.  There is a big tent selling top-notch grub down at the harbour and various fabulous places to hang out for cake and coffee too.  Finish your day off with fish and chips from Pittenweem’s chippy.  It was always known as the best in Scotland when I was young.  Just as good as the now famous Anstruther Fish Bar‘s suppers but without the queues and the price tag.

FOODIES FESTIVAL 9,10,11 AUGUST http://foodiesfestival.com/event/edinburgh-inverleith-park/

Not to be missed! This huge event held in Edinburgh’s Inverleith Park is into its seventh year now and it really is a stonking day out for any foodie.  As well as hundreds of stands showcasing fabulous local produce there is a cake and bake theatre, chefs theatre, a children’s cooking theatre,  pop up restaurants and so much  more.  I am hoping they have their little beach in situ again this year and mini grumbling tummy loved it.

CRIEFF BERRY FESTIVAL 10 AUGUST http://crieffberryfestival.co.uk/

I love a berry I do and where best to taste berries than smack in the middle of fruit farm country.  This one day event is held in Strathearn at the peak of growing season.  As well as a large selection of berry based produce you will find breads, chutneys, baking and more – it’s a good un’.

FLAVOUR FORTNIGHT 31 AUGUST – 15 SEPTEMBER http://www.flavourfortnight.co.uk/

Dumfries & Galloway’s celebration of local food and drink returns on 31st August till 15th September 2013, giving you 16 days of delicious experiences to indulge in.  The full programme is not available just yet but keep an eye on the website.

DUNDEE FLOWER AND FOOD FESTIVAL 6 – 8 SEPTEMBER https://www.dundeecity.gov.uk/event/42

This is one I definitely shall be attending!  This three-day (ticketed) event  is Tayside’s top lifestyle event.  The Festival offers the best in food, horticulture and live entertainment, with a packed weekend programme including free cookery and gardening demonstrations, children’s activities, a craft fair, live music and TV celebrities. Now what’s not to love about that.

ABERDOUR FESTIVAL  JULY 29 – AUGUST 4 http://www.aberdourfestival.org.uk/

This is the second non specifically food festival I have included. I briefly lived in Aberdour and really liked this festival and it does include food – honest.  There is a beach day where you can partake of the BBQ whilst watching the fabulous regatta, the great Aberdour Bake Off is a highlight this year and it is always nice to watch people struggle on the Donkey Brae Run whilst you sip on pimms and munch a puddledub burger (hope Puddledub are there this year – they normally are!)

LOCH LOMOND FOOD AND DRINK FESTIVAL 14 & 15 SEPTEMBER  http://www.lochlomondfoodanddrinkfestival.co.uk/

This festival, now in its eighth year promises “tasty trials, sumptuous suppliers, festival fun and interesting information” .  20,000 folk flock to the area for this festival  – that in itself speaks volumes.  Definitely going into my diary.

SCOTTISH FOOD AND DRINK FORTNIGHT 7 – 22 SEPTEMBER  http://www.scottishfoodanddrinkfortnight.co.uk/

A luscious fourteen days celebrating all that is fabulous about Scottish produce.  There are tastings and special events across the country so keep an eye out on the website for more details nearer the time.

GOLDEN SPURTLE PORRIDGE MAKING CHAMPIONSHIPS  5 OCTOBER http://www.goldenspurtle.com/

The 20th annual World Porridge Making Championships will take place in the Scottish Highland village of Carrbridge. So good it has to go on the list.

BBC GOOD FOOD SHOW 18 – 20 OCTOBER  http://www.bbcgoodfoodshowscotland.com/

Head over to this blinding event at the SECC. Its huge and you should get your elbows at the ready but I wouldn’t miss it for the world.  It is one of the best places to try and buy the best of Scotland.  Gregg Wallace and John Torode are among the celebs there this year which to be honest is enough for me to buy a ticket!  I blogged about it last year – have a read.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/jlt/5804898499/”>j l t</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>


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Currywurst – the way to my man’s heart

Whilst milling around our local branch of Aldi last Sunday B came upon a packet of Bratwurst.  I was not overly impressed by the look of the Photo 24-04-2013 20 56 28chunky shrink wrapped German sausages,  but the sight of them seemed to send B into a tail-spin of excitement.

B has developed a fondness for all things Germanic having visited both Cologne and Berlin in the last year or two and part of the appeal seems to centre round the popular street food – currywurst.

With pleading eyes B begged for a reprieve from our daily diet of rocket, parmesan shavings, puy lentils and black turtle beans.  He wanted Currywurst and more than that he wanted it with chips.  How bad could it be?  I agreed and his eyes twinkled – it was akin to telling a child they could have Happy Meals every day of the week.

So what is the big deal about Currywurst?

Well the Germans seem to like it, that’s for sure – over 800 million currywurst are sold every year in Germany.

It was invented in 1949 by Herta Heuwer in Berlin after she obtained  curry powder, Worcester sauce and ketchup from British soldiers. She mixed these ingredients with other spices and poured it over grilled pork sausage. She went on to sell her snack on a street stand in Berlin where it became popular with construction workers rebuilding the city.  It is now sold all Photo 24-04-2013 20 35 02over Germany but in Berlin you can pick one up on virtually every corner, served with chips of course.

My favourite currywurst fact proves beyond all doubt that Currywurst is indeed a German national treasure:  the Volkswagen plant at Wolfsberg has its own butchery producing 3.5 million Currywursts a year, serving 1.6m employees.  Wowzer!

So …. I had the sausage and I had the chips and a little browsing online furnished me with a recipe for the sauce.

Recipe for Currywurst sauce

460 ml of ketchup, generous tablespoon of medium curry powder, tablespoon of smoked paprika, scant tablespoon of sugar, medium onion minced, dash of oil

Bratwurst sausages (as many as you fancy eating)

Chips (you have to have the chips)

Method

Cook the onion for a few minutes in the oil then add the ketchup,  curry powder, paprika and sugar, simmer for about 15 minutes whilst you cook your Bratwurst and chips.

Cut the bratwurst into chunks (very important apparently ) and smother with the saucePhoto 24-04-2013 20 33 32

Serve with chips and a good German beer

THE VERDICT

Well to be honest I am surprised that there was enough sauce to go onto the Bratwurst as I couldn’t stop eating spoonfuls of it during cooking .  Its hard to belive that a few simple cupboard staples can result in such a rich and utterly scrummy sauce.  I absolutely loved it and think  that everybody should try it at least once.

The Bratwurst was from ALDI who are of course German so not surprised that they lived up to expectations.  Don’t often shop in ALDI but will be dipping in for Bratwurst in the future.

We accompanied our traditional German fayre with a German bier called Bitburger (available in 500ml bottles from Sainsbury) for that authentic Berliner experience.

The whole meal was delish and could only have been improved perhaps by serving it in a little cardboard carton rather than a plate.  It is street food and it felt a little odd eating it from Denby (I never understand those who transfer their fish supper onto their best china!)

Guten Appetit!


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Eating Northumberland

On Thursday the Grumbling Tummy ensemble headed down to Northumberland to spend some time with the lovely Pettinger-Thomson’s who were holidaying for a week in Embleton.  The PT’s are brilliant at sharing their  holidays with us and food and wine always plays a starring role in proceedings.

The weary travellers arrived at 6 on Thursday to the welcome call of “cheese straws anyone” from Senior PT,  who has a  penchant for these buttery treats.  Cheese straws down the hatch, followed by a much welcomed glass of red and it was time to get the kiddy’s  to bed and tuck into the feast being prepared.

I am a strictly one pot cook who flaps at the idea of juggling timings of several dishes.  Cat, chief cook of the PT brigade is however the queen of cooking many dishes at once and producing an array of scrumptious dibbley-dabs.  The whole kitchen was bathed in the aroma of exotic spices as Cat nonchalantly cooked up an Indian feast.

Photo 28-03-2013 20 35 40Using a lethal Delia/Jamie combo we were treated to two different types of rice, home-make vegetable pakora, chicken and chickpea korma, red onion salad, chappatis and naan bread.    It was to quote the youngsters “amazeballs”.  Spicy, zingy and moreish!  The pakora had some surprise hunks of chilli lying in wait to blow your head off but that was brilliant too and there was plenty of the red stuff to dilute any spice shocks we encountered.

Photo 28-03-2013 20 34 44 Photo 28-03-2013 20 35 20

After staying up till 2am putting the world to rights over far to many glasses of red wine with Cat, I was what one might call crispy the next day, otherwise known as hungover to buggery!  Food was going to be a kill or cure experiment.  Following a bracing walk along Embleton beach we found ourselves in Seahouses which is a slightly faded wee Northumberland coastal town.  Extreme temperatures mixed with tiny tots led us to the indoor play area, much to the horror of senior PT!  Soon however there was happy faces all round as we sipped hot chocolate and watched our mad children throw themselves around the soft play area.  Too hungover to move we decided to stay in the indoor play emporium to eat.  This may surprise you considering my horror of food in soft play areas but this was an entirely different proposition.  You see,  it was owned by the same folk that had the fish and chip shop next door and guess what the soft play menu consisted of?  Result!

Three fish and chips and one scampi and chips set things right for the weary troops.  I had the scampi which was crisp and golden on the outside and all roasty toasty and soft on the inside, with oodles of tartar sauce to dip.  The chips weren’t the crispiest but I was hungover so they were a gastronomical delight as far as I was concerned.Photo 29-03-2013 13 24 36

A quick look at the beautiful Bamburgh Castle and it was time to bid farewell to the PTs.  We had only travelled a few miles however when we felt the need to stop off once again for re-fuelling.  This time in a tiny and rather odd little farm tearoom called ‘The Oxford’.  It was off the beaten track and the sunny conservatory was empty but for one lovely local couple.  This little tearoom was a gem – tea served in lovely big flowery pots and a limited but tasty choice of sweet and savoury treats all made on the premises, using produce from the farm.  Millionaires Shortbread for me which hit the spot and a rather  impressive meringue and ice-cream with a strawberry coulis for B.

We were so impressed with the beauty of Northumberland that we are looking at going back in September for a week of  beaches and gastronomic pleasure!


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Do You Remember the First time?

As you grow up your life is full of  firsts that leave their indelible mark – first kiss, first love …

But this of course is a blog about food so I am going to take  you along with me on a nostalgic journey,  revisiting some of the foodie firsts that have made their mark on me.

One of my very first food memories is of Ketchup, which I discovered aged 4. I have no idea why I hadn’t experienced Ketchup before then, perhaps my family were just HP junkies.  Mum had rather bravely taken me on holiday to Jersey on her own for a ten-day break in a lovely hotel in St Helier.  Amongst the memories of feeding orangutans in the zoo, mum contracting food poisoning, choking on an ice cube,  and my beloved ‘Jersey Ted’ is the memory of my saucey discovery .   I can’t  really remember if I loved the taste of it back then but  that is almost irrelevant – I was 4 and it was a truly wonderful thing that came in a red plastic squeeze bottle.  I can take or leave tomato sauce these days, but sometimes when I dip a chip in it I see that little girl with the funny little page-boy haircut being excited about the discovery of   this exotic brightly coloured condiment on  (almost) foreign soil.

In common with many kids I hated vegetables.  The unimaginative use of veg in the early 80’s didn’t aid the cause much,medium_27079122 boiled to oblivion and plonked onto the plate as a necessary evil.  Mum and dad being good parents would ensure I got my veg quota by employing ingenious yet devious methods such as blending them with more palatable foods.  My status as committed veg hater was about to change when we attended a  family wedding at the Grosvenor in Glasgow.  Adorned in a straw boater and lace gloves I felt quite the thing as I took my place at the kids table.  We were served tender roast beef,  crisp roast potatoes and a curious green bundle which was totally unfamiliar to me.  Despite my trepidation on discovering that this was indeed a vegetable, peer pressure made me taste it.  It was amazing, I loved a vegetable, and that vegetable was BROCCOLI .

Zip forward to my 20’s – I once accompanied my manager in a London trip to attend a meeting, and we were taken out  to a lovely Thai Restaurant for lunch.  I had never tasted Thai food, seen Thai food or even considered Thai food before –  I had no idea what to expect.   My first thought when the Green curry arrived was that they were a bit off the mark on their rice cooking (surely it ought to be fluffy) and that their sauce could probably do with a dab of cornflour (so thin).  Then I tasted it – OH MY!  I was stunned by Thai food and still am.  I adored the delicate yet spicy flavours, the sweetness of the rice, the creamy coconut milk.  Thai became my favourite type of food there and then and I am pleased to say it is still up there.

medium_265546693Friends can be great for introducing you to new experiences.  My mate Charlotte has taught me a lot about food over the years, and  although I have caught up now, her tastes were much more sophisticated than mine when we were in our 20’s and early 30’s.  She introduced me to the dark art of shelling prawns  (which had always terrified me) Over a lunch at Browns in Edinburgh a combination of wine and Charlotte gave me the courage to order a plate of the critters, which she then taught me to expertly shell.  Doesn’t seem like a big thing but for me it was a revelation. I bloody love big fat juicy prawns with lemon juice squirted all over them , eating with my hands and getting acceptably messy.  I can’t quite believe I was approaching 30 before I tried them.

I had always “quite” liked black pudding but Stornoway Black Pudding is something else entirely.  I first tasted this on a trip home from Skye around 6 years ago.  We stayed over in a tiny place called Dornie and got ridiculously drunk in a local bar.  The next morning I was possibly the most hungover I have ever been in my life,  but somehow made it down to breakfast.  I vividly remember tasting the black pudding on the full Scottish breakfast served up to me that day –  it was bloody marvellous.  The slightly purple hue devoid of all these horrid little white fatty bits on other black puddings.  I thought that this smooth textured delight tasted divine – onion and pepper and gorgeous black puddingy puddingness – YUM.

I could go on forever boring with you with my first tastes and experiences: why the taste of parsley transports me back to my home economics class, my first taste of sticky toffee pudding in the Breadalbane Arms in Dundee and why a scotch pie has to be served with a buttered morning roll, brown sauce and a cup of tea.  But I will quit whilst I am ahead.

I would love to hear about some of your foodie memories, we all have them.

Drop me a line!


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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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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;


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Confessions of a Sugar Junkie

It is mid January and I am still on my Low GI diet.  My main struggle has been that it cuts out a major food group – cakes! I am ashamed to say that in the last 3 or 4 months my sugar addiction had spiralled out of control and action had to be taken.

cakes colourSaying I have a little bit of a sweet tooth is like declaring the Pope a little bit Catholic, therefore giving up my beloved cakes, biscuits and puddings has proved to be particularly challenging.

It wasn’t always this way.  Up until about ten years ago I could take or leave your chocolate fudge cake and would happily choose a starter over a dessert (I was also a lot slimmer). What changed?  I tell you what changed, I met the love of my life, who does have an incredibly sweet tooth.  All of a sudden a whole range of chocolates, cakes, muffins, jelly babies and all sweet treats in between came into my house,  and so I started to eat them …… and eat them ….. and eat them.  I honestly believe from the bottom of my  ever-increasing bottom that sugar is addictive and I became a hopeless sugar junkie.

jelliesAt first I could handle it,  but in recent years the situation has escalated and brought me to where I am today – cold turkey. You probably don’t believe that I have a problem but here are some lovely examples which illustrate my point perfectly:

ROCKY ROAD GATE

Not long after having my little girl I invited two shiny new friends round for coffee.  In a bid to impress I made a whole batch of Nigella Lawson’s Rocky Road.  Over coffee we enjoyed one slice of the tray bake each  ( I didn’t know them well enough at that point to reveal my true colours).  Now a whole batch of this gorgeous Nigella creation probably equates to 15 pieces of  Rocky Road.  How much do you think was left by the end of the day?  Well let me tell you NONE.  I sat all day and just ate and ate and ate, It was so darned good I just couldn’t help myself.

JELLY BABY GATE

To cheer up my somewhat grumbly husband one evening I picked up a family size bag of Jelly Babies as a present, before getting a train home. Ten minutes into the journey the box was open the cellophane compromised and jelly infanticide had begun.  The commute was only half an hour so at least I can say it was not a long drawn out demise.  I alighted the train and presented BC with a packet of two jelly babies, shame faced and feeling very sick.

TRUFFLE GATEcake eating

I can’t make truffles every again.  Same story as above really.  BC desperately wanted me to get his mum’s truffle recipe from his sister.  I obliged and set about making a huge batch of truffles – half rolled in vermicelli and half rolled in desiccated coconut.  Oh my god, the very thought of them …….. anyway,   I wolfed down around 20 truffles in one day, was consumed by guilt, destroyed the recipe and ruined BC’s chance of rekindling fond cakey memories.

It’s not just what I eat but the way in which I sometimes approach cakes and other treats.  I will hide them from myself around the house and when I outfox myself and find them I eat them like bulimia without the vomiting.  It is not a pretty sight.

So my completely dysfunctional relationship to all things sugary is out in the open and though like an alcoholic I can never be fully cured, I feel I am on the road to a recovery of sorts.  You might have noticed that there is a whole page on this site dedicated to a cake of the month and to achieve this I do actually have to eat cake.  So it is with a heavy heart , for the service of this blog,  that I pledge to begin the reintroduction of cake sometime in February.

Onwards and upwards to another cakeless day for the Grumbling Tummy.


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Loaves and Fishes

baked AlaskaThere have been 5 main loves in my dad’s life to date –  his family, his “wee dug”,  the North Sea, Michael Schumacher and food.

You could say that food was in his blood.  His Father Jimmy was a baker with his own shop in the fishing village of Pittenweem, both sons were trained  in the family business. Dad didn’t follow the floury career path in the end but the skills he learned stayed with him and fuelled his life-long passion for food.

Instead of loaves Dad concentrated on fishes,  trawling the North Sea every week for most of his working life.  Although  no gourmet he was a naturally good cook and was in charge of  keeping the hungry crews he sailed with over the years happy with wholesome and simple dishes such as mince and tatties, cullen skink and skirlie.

skirlieRecipe for Skirlie (great with a chicken dinner or with mince and tatties).  Melt 50g of butter and add a finely chopped up onion.  Cook till the onion is soft.  Add in 175g of oatmeal and season well.  Cook on the hob for about 15 minutes and away ye’ go.

Mum and I did not eat fish! I  didn’t like fish simply because my mum didn’t like fish (makes sense when you are 6).  A  fisherman’s family who won’t eat fish –  it really was ludicrous. I did like fish fingers but they didn’t count.  They were a banned substance in the Taylor household amid many tales of fish eyes and guts. Dad did finally get me on board so to speak with a simple version of Cullen Skink.

Dad’s easy Smoked Fish in Milk – Pop a piece of smoked fish  in a dish, cover with milk, add some onion slices, a knob of butter and a wee bit of tomato. Cook in the microwave  and serve up with lots of fluffy white bread to soak up the juices.  Simple and satisfying. Sometimes we added a potato or some grated cheese!  It was a flexible affair.

Like most homes in the 70’s and 80’s tastes were pretty simple – roast beef and yorkshire puddings, mince and tatties, steak, chips and onion rings, stews (I am sure it was the same in your house).  Sole Veronique was not a family staple,  but it was what mum and I decided to  prepare in a bid to impress Dad one Saturday evening.  His reaction was a bit like Peter Kay’s Garlic Bread sketch.  You know the one,  Garlic ……….. and Bread!!!  Same scene Fish… and Grapes… and Wine!!!   Not a raging success but as cooking entered celebrityville, Dad did embrace the new and it became our new shared interest.

Baking was where he really excelled.  He was and is an avid fan of all things sweet as it rather evident from his substantial girth.  You don’t get to be on first name terms with the staff of Fisher & Donaldsons for no reason!

He is most well-known for his shortbread, little round beauties dusted in sugar. Hard to stick to one or two and brilliant dunked in your tea.  He has always been a bit Machiavellian with his baking in my opinion.  Is taking shortbread to the reception staff in the Doctor’s surgery, the traffic wardens who walk the streets of St Andrews and the ladies who work in the bank a form of bribery? You decide!

shortbreadDads Shortbread Recipe.  4 0z butter, 2 0z sugar, 5oz flour, 1 oz semolina.  Cream butter and sugar together until light, fork through the flour and semolina.  Draw the mixture together with your fingers to make a dough. Roll out and cut into rounds.  Prick all over with a fork and put in an oven at 170 for 40 minutes or until the colour of pale straw.

He is the only person I personally know who has successfully made Baked Alaska.  Cue another Peter Kay moment  –  Ice Cream …. in the oven.  What’s that all about?  It was as I remember gorgeous but not something I would be brave enough to contemplate making even now.  Hats off to Mr Taylor for impressing us with this remarkable feat.

Even when things did go wrong on the baking front it was often so very right.  My love of toffee stems from his attempt to make tablet.  We never did get tablet but we did get a tray of amazingly gooey toffee.  Much better than tablet in my opinion and probably why I can’t pass a packet of Thornton’s special toffee to this day.

On most weekends we  trooped off to either St Andrews or Kirkcaldy  when I was a kid. Both of which were home to The Pancake Place..  The Pancake Place was a sweet tooth haven.  I believe there were savoury options available but my family swiftly bypassed them, tucking into sizeable american style pancakes with our favourite teeth rotting toppings.  Lemon and sugar for mum, maple syrup and cream for dad and chocolate sauce with nuts and cream for me. We loved these pancakes so much that Dad mastered making even bigger versions at home.  We would have them on a Saturday night with lashings of maple syrup and too much cream whilst watching Dusty Bin (3-2-1).  The pancakes became legendary!

I could write a book of memories of my Dads cooking and baking and probably a sequel on my Granny who was a demon baker.  But I will stop here …. for now!

Unfortunately Dad can no longer bake which is sad (though my hips give a sigh of relief) so it is nice to remember all the fabulous “tasty bites” he is famous for.

I am not a baker, principally because I am also a sugar addict and I eat EVERYTHING that I bake.  But perhaps I ought to at least try to keep the family skill alive and haul out the Kenwood Chef he gave me recently to give it a go.  Wish me luck!