Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Adrenalin and Heights - The Best London Experiences

London with teenagers. What's going to impress them? We've been to the UK's capital city with the kids a few times now and ticked the main touristy bits off the list. London Eye, Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Open Top Bus Tour, London Bridge and so on. Now at 13 and 15 what was going to impress? Adrenalin and Heights! 

You may already have read about our trip down and back on the Caledonian Sleeper. Not sure the height of the bunk bed and the adrenalin of the bumps over the tracks count, but do give our review of Aberdeen to London on the Caledonian Sleeper a read. For the real deal on the best adrenalin and heights London experiences here's what we tried out during out time in the big smoke.

There's a reason that Thames Rockets are #1 in their category on Trip Advisor. They provide an absolutely amazing experience that combines sightseeing, speed, thrills and music. This is the first thing we headed to following disembarkation from the sleeper train and a hearty breakfast in Borough Market. Priced at £39.50 per adult (when booked online in advance) the Thames Rocket rib boats depart from the London Eye Pier right next to, you've guessed it, The London Eye. The weather was fab for our Ultimate London Adventure trip but if it's inclement they have waterproofs and goggles for you to wear alongside your lifejackets. The trip lasts for 50 minutes and to start with is rather sedate. We had skipper Andy at the helm and tour guide Joseph giving us an informative and humourous rundown of the sights pitched at just the right level for all ages - even the teenagers were enthralled! 

You really do get a different perspective of the city from the water but this whistle stop tour was only the warm up act. Once under Tower Bridge it’s time to tighten your grip as the engine revs, the speed whooshes up to 35mph and the sound system kicks in. AMAZING song choices which only added to the experience (lots of which I sing at Rock Choir so I was most definitely singing along) The twists and turns make it a thrilling white knuckle ride through the docklands whilst pretending you are James Bond. 

This is an absolute London must do, which I would happily do again and wholeheartedly recommend. My son reckoned that those that we sped past on more sedate river cruises were green with envy. On the trip back down the slower part of the river Joseph went round everyone on the boat finding out where they came from, the purpose of their visit and offering to take photos. Such great customer service really does make a difference. We disembarked feeling totally pumped with wide smiles and dishevelled hair. 

A trip to the top of The Shard (Western Europe’s tallest building) is something that I've wanted to do for a long time. It's become such an iconic building on the modern London Skyline, however a trip to the top doesn't come cheap. Standard price for an Adult is currently £30.95 so keep your eyes peeled for deals. With a pre booked time slot we were whisked quickly to the top and London’s highest viewing gallery via two lifts. Once up there, there's really not much to do apart from admire the views and enjoy a drink. We were lucky to get a clear and bright day so could see all the sights and also made use of the interactive Tell:scopes. A glass of Champagne was a must for the obligatory selfie and Instagram worthy capture. 

There were a couple of Virtual Reality experiences available which my son paid extra to participate in (£10 each or both for £15) I'm unsure if these are a permanent fixture or not. His verdict was a big thumbs up for The Slide but don't bother with Vertigo. We had to wait quite a while until his turn and to be honest we wouldn't have hung around so long otherwise. There's no time restriction once you're up but you'll have seen it all in 30 minutes. It's worth noting that restaurants at The Shard are entirely separate, they are located halfway down with no access to The View from The Shard. I'm glad to have ticked it off my list but it's not something I'd particularly rush to do again. However I do quite fancy spending a night there after reading my blogging colleague Helen's review of Shangri-La Hotel at The Shard.

Created by Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond the magnificent looping structure of the ArcelorMittal Orbit is an iconic symbol of the London 2012 Games. Located in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park it was home to the BBC Sport Studio. It's the UK’s tallest sculpture and home to the world’s longest, fastest, tallest tunnel slide. Pretty much a giant red metal helter skelter. An adult combo entry and 'Ride The Slide' ticket costs £16.50 (when booked in advance online). It's located in Stratford right next door to the enormous Westfield shopping centre. Alas my teens aren't shoppers but we enjoyed lunch in the food court. On arrival the kids were keen to get on the slide as quickly as possible. Be aware that you need to leave all possessions in a locker at the base of the sculpture including phones/cameras/go-pros. Before sliding you are kitted out with head and wrist/elbow protection and you slide down in a giant body bag. 

The actual ride is really thrilling with plenty of twists and turns and was much, much longer than I expected it to be. We all really enjoyed it. The kids were absolutely desperate for a second go but tickets only include one ride. After collecting our belongings we travelled up to the top viewing platform. Rather disappointingly there's nothing at the top apart from the views and for us it wouldn't have been worth visiting if it wasn't for the slide element. Rather than take the lift back down we opted for the 455 stairs with their specially designed soundscape soundtrack of London. I'd absolutely recommend this method of descent as I found it fascinating. The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park itself is well worth exploring. We hired 'Boris Bikes' for this - best bargain of our visit! 

I LOVE a cable car and no matter where we are in the world if I spot one I want to travel in it. The Emirates Air Line is actually part of the Transport For London system but I suspect it is used much more by tourists than by commuters. It worked really well for us to travel one way between Royal Victoria Docks and Greenwich Peninsula. A single adult ticket is £3.50 (when booked online in advance) or you can use Oyster pay as you go. We were lucky to get a car to ourselves so plenty room to move around, admire the views and take photos. Commentary would have been good to add some context to the sights. Worth doing if you can tie in as a method of travel but possibly not as a stand alone experience. 

I never made it to the Millennium Dome in 2000 and until climbing over it I'd never even visited. A few weeks before our climb I was flying home from London City Airport and from the plane spotted a group of people climbing over the top. Eek! That was soon to be us. The original climb costs £30 per person for a 90 minute experience. You are kitted out with everything you need including boots. Personal possessions are left behind and get transported to the finish point. You can bring a phone or compact camera which gets zipped into a pocket and can only be used on the top viewing platform. 

Once kitted up with harnesses etc we made our way to the start of the climb with our instructor Victoria. She talked us through all the safety procedures and explained how all the equipment worked, time for some officiial photos and we were on our way. You are climbing on a 380m long fabric walkway suspended 2m above the surface of The O2 roof, 52m above ground level. To mirror the surface of the tent there is a slight bounce underfoot with an incline of 28° on the way up and 30° on the way back down. You are clipped on via your harness at all times. It really is a challenge to complete although you get slicker with the equipment as the climb progresses. At the summit, there is an observation platform where you spend 20 minutes and can take in spectacular views of London and get your phones and cameras out. The climb down is even steeper with some finding it easier to descent backwards. Up at the O2 was a great challenge to undertake and something really different to do on a city break. 

The views from the top are very different from those from The Shard and Sky Garden as you are adjacent to a different part of the Thames. We were really pleased with our official photos and purchased them in the gift shop - something we very seldom do. I'd love to do this again for a sunset or twilight climb. Was also interested to hear that they offer accessible climbs for wheelchair users which sounded like an amazing experience for all involved with a specialist wheelchair and four guides using a pulley system to assist. FAB-U-LOS was the verdict from the teens for this and it was their favourite of all the experiences we undertook. 

The big plus point for the capital’s highest public garden is that it's free to visit. However, you do need to book ahead to get a time slot which become available 2-3 weeks in advance. It was only when we actually got to London that I realised that the Sky Garden is in the building better known as the Walkie Talkie. Despite the booking system, there was quite a large queue to get in but it moved relatively quickly. 

Unlike The Shard the restaurants at Sky Garden are on the same level as the viewing area and if you have a restaurant booking you can skip the main queue. Again once you are up at the top there are no restrictions on how long you can stay. The actual space is much, much larger than the Shard and you have 360° views. Unfortunately for this we weren't lucky with the weather and because of this the outside area was closed. At the top you have plants, restaurants, cafe, bars but strangely no gift shop! Definitely worth a visit as a free alternative to The Shard. The Unlimited Brunch at Darwin Brasserie as reviewed by my blogging collegue Emma sounds like a tempting reason to return. 

♥ Pin me for later... 
www.foodiequine.co.uk Checking out the best of London's Adrenalin and heights expeiences for adults and teenagers. Including Thames Rockets, View form The Shard, The Slide at the ArcelorMittal Orbit, Emirates Air Line Cablecar, Up at the O2 and Sky Garden.

Disclosure: We experienced Up at the O2, The Slide at the ArcelorMittalOrbit and Thames Rockets as guests. 
All other experiences and extras were at our own cost. 
As always, all views expressed are my own. 
Thank you for supporting the brands who make it possible for me as a passionate Scottish Food Blogger to continue to share my Edible Food and Travel Adventures with you. I’m super choosy who I work with and promise to bring you only the cream of the crop.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Boozy Gin Mincemeat

Have yourself a Merry Little Ginmas with my recipe for Boozy Gin Mincemeat. Perfect for all those festive cakes and bakes and would make a great Christmas gift for a Gin lover.

We're into November. Halloween and Bonfire night have been and gone with a bang and we're now officially allowed to mention the C word. Yup I'm talking Christmas. Have you put your sprouts on to boil yet?! Of course in with all the shopping, parties and general festivities food (and drink!) plays a huge part. For me nothing says Christmas quite like a mincemeat pie. However I have to limit myself as once I start on them I literally can. not. stop. Last year I created quite a stir with a couple of Gin infused festive recipes. Yup, I'm talking about my Mulled Gin and Ginger Beer winter warmer and my Gin Butter - perfect for your Christmas Pudding and Mince Pies. This year I'm going a step further with my own homemade Boozy Gin Mincemeat. This means you can have a Gin Mincemeat Pie with a dollop of Gin Butter on the side all washed down with a warming glass of Mulled Gin. Sounds like a very Merry Ginmass to me!

There is no minced beef in mincemeat and if you use a vegetarian suet rather than the traditional beef you'll have a Vegan Gin Mincemeat. When it comes to the dried fruit you can either mix up 650g to your own specification or use the same quantity from a pack of dried mixed fruit. I've used raisins, sultanas, currants and craisins but you could also add more exotic flavours such as apricots, cherries, pineapple, ginger, or prunes. If nuts are your thing they too could also be added to the mix - almonds, pecans and pistachios work really well. When it comes to the Gin the world is quite literally your oyster! I used one of my favourite Scottish Gins - there are SO many to choose from. You could even use Sloe Gin or a Mulled Gin for a further festive twist. Slainte! 

Boozy Gin Mincemeat

150g raisins
150g sultanas
150g currants
100g craisins (dried cranberries)
100g mixed peel
OR 650g Mixed Dried Fruit instead of the above five ingredients
200g Shredded Suet (regular or vegetarian)
250g Soft Dark Brown Sugar
1/2 tsp freshly grated Nutmeg
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Mixed Spice
1 tsp Ginger
1 Lemon - zest and juice
1 Orange - zest and juice
2 Apples, cored and chopped (no need to peel)
150 - 200ml ml Gin

Prepare and mix all of the ingredients - EXCEPT the Gin - in a large ovenproof bowl/dish.
Cover with tinfoil and leave overnight.
The next day preheat your oven to 100c. Once it is up to temperature place the bowl/dish of mincemeat into the oven - still covered with the tinfoil.
Bake for 2 hours 30 minutes.
Remove from the oven and stir well (Don't be alarmed if it looks rather greasy at this point)
Once the mixture is cool stir in the Gin.
Spoon into sterilised jars, packing it down well.
Cover with waxed discs and seal.
Ideally, allow the mincemeat to mature for a fortnight before using.
It will keep in a cool dark place for up to 1 year.

Note from Delia: To sterilise jars, wash the jars and lids in warm soapy water, rinse well, then dry thoroughly with a clean tea cloth, place them on a baking tray and pop into a medium oven, gas mark 4, 350°F, 180°C, for 5 minutes.

♥ Pin me for later...
www.foodiequine.co.uk Have yourself a Merry Little Ginmas with my recipe for Boozy Gin Mincemeat. Perfect for all those festive cakes, bakes and mince pies and would make a great Christmas gift for a Gin lover.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Win a Golden Goose for Christmas Day

Go for gold this Christmas with Donald Russell's 23 carrat golden goose. Priced at £89 this is the ultimate in luxury for a truly showstopping Christmas Day centerpiece which is topped with edible gold leaf. Hand reared in spacious free-­range conditions for the highest quality as you would expect from Royal-warrant holding Aberdeenshire butcher Donald Russell.

The 3kg goose has a wonderfully rustic texture, unforgettable taste and a hint of gaminess reminiscent of good old-fashioned poultry. Topped with crispy skin and edible 23 carat gold leaf for ultimate indulgence. Putting an innovative twist on a much-loved classic, Donald Russell has created the perfect show-piece to sit proudly at the heart of your table. Feeding 4-6 people and taking just three hours to cook, the goose is best basted with a honey glaze to retain its shine. Dedicated to always delivering on excellence, Donald Russell’s exclusive and dedicated flocks of traditional White Feather Geese are hand reared in spacious free-range conditions by the exceptional farmers of LouĂ©, France. 

I'm delighted to have teamed up with Donald Russell to make your Christmas sparkle with a Golden Goose. Entry is via the Rafflecopter widget below. The Goose will be delivered on 21st December 2017. Good Luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Terms & Conditions
Entry into my giveaways will be deemed as acceptance of these terms and conditions. 
The winner will be announced on the Rafflecopter widget after the prize has been claimed. 
There is ONE prize of the item listed above. 
There is no cash alternative and the prize is not transferable. 
This giveaway is open to UK entrants only and runs until midnight on 03 December 2017. 
The winner will be picked at random and then contacted via email. 
Foodie Quine, as the promoter, reserves the right to cancel or amend the prize, giveaway and these terms and conditions without notice. 
Entrants must be over 18 years old. 
If the winner doesn’t respond to the email within 5 days, another winner will be picked. 
The prize will be delivered to the winner by the brand directly on 21st December 2017 

Disclosure: Donald Russell have compensated me with product in return for running this giveaway and are supplying the prize. 

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Jack Skellington Pumpkin King Quesadillas

Celebrate Halloween, Dia de los Muertos (or Christmas?) with the Pumpkin King himself. The one and only Jack Skellington. Quick and easy to make but SO effective these Vegetarian Mexican Quesadillas are sure to be a spooky sensation.

I feel like I'm running out of time. Halloween is looming and I still have recipes that I want to share with you. Admittedly some of them are still in my head but some have actually been made, eaten and photographed. Today's Jack Skellington Pumpkin King Quesadilla is more of an idea than a full blown recipe but I'm so chuffed with how he turned out that I'm going to share how I made him. No need to make it like Jack - you could easily carve out whatever you like on your Quesadilla - just like you would on a real life Pumpkin. He would also work really well for any Dia de los Muertos - Day of the Dead celebrations. 

There's always a wee bit of discussion in this house as to whether The Nightmare Before Christmas is a Halloween or Christmas Movie. I reckon it counts as both. If for some reason you have absolutely no idea who Jack Skellington is then I'm afraid we can no longer be friends. Seriously if you don't know it, do check out the 1993 film. Quick synopsis is that Jack is to Halloween what the Easter Bunny is to Easter and Santa to Christmas. As the Pumpkin King he's MC for Halloween Towns annual celebrations however he's becoming somewhat depressed about his role and decides that instead he'd like to be Sandy Claws. Cue much shenanigans including bogeymen, unrequited love and mortal peril but it all works out for the best in the end.

I used Sweet Potato tortilla wraps to make Jack but you could easily use standard ones. I've also recently spotted fantastically coloured Beetroot and Spinach wraps in the supermarket which would also work really well for this. To make Jack I used a Jack Skellington Stencil from Pinterest. I had to scale the size down a wee bit on my printer/copier to get it to fit on the wrap and then cut out the shape using a combination of knife and scissors. There are loads of great pumpkin stencils out there which you could use or just go freehand. 

In addition to my Jack Skellington Pumpkin King Quesadilla 'recipe' I'm also going to take the opportunity to re-share some of my other Halloween recipes with you. Please do tag me @foodiequine or #foodiequine if you make and share on social media. 

www.foodiequine.co.uk Seven Spooky Halloween and Pumpkin Recipes. Pumpkin Pasties, Peanut Butter Ghosts, Traditional Toffee Apples, Pumpkin & Goat Cheese Tart, Pumpkin, Cauliflower & Chickpea Korma, Spooky Chocolate Candy Bark, Jack Skellington Pumpkin King Quesadillas.

Jack Skellington Pumpkin King Quesadillas

Tortilla Wraps (I used Sweet Potato, plain, Spinach or Beetroot would also work really well)
Refried Beans
Grated Mozzarella
Smoked Paprika and/or Chilli Flakes
To serve - tomato salsa, jalapenos and soured cream. 

Cut out Jack Skellington's face from your tortilla wrap (see instructions & template above)
Dry fry 'Jack' on both sides in a frying pan - a crepe pan works well for this - until crispy.
Set aside and dry fry a second wrap.
Warm through the refried beans in the microwave.
Spread the refried beans over the uncut wrap and top with a generous handful of grated Mozzarella.
Sprinkle with smoked paprika and/or chilli flakes to taste.
Melt the cheese under a preheated grill and top with the 'Jack' tortilla to make a Quesadilla.
Serve accompanied with tomato salsa, jalapenos and soured cream.

♥ Pin me for later...
www.foodiequine.co.uk Celebrate Halloween, Dia de los Muertos (or Christmas?) with the Pumpkin King himself. Jack Skellington! Quick and easy to make but SO effective these Vegetarian Mexican Quesadillas are sure to be a spooky sensation.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Pumpkin, Cauliflower and Chickpea Korma

Veggie curry has never tasted so good. Vegan and Gluten Free this recipe is perfect for using seasonal Pumpkin innards - we need to realise that pumpkins are a valuable source of food and not just for decoration. It can also be made year round using fresh or frozen butternut squash. 

It's pumpkin season, possibly my favourite time of the year. Despite my Scottish upbringing and Halloween being all about Neep Lanterns and Guising I've fallen hook line and sinker for Fall. My home is currently adorned with autumnal and pumpkin decor of all shapes, sizes and types. I've got cushions, candles, wreaths, garlands, plates, mugs and more. Pumpkin spice and everything nice, that's what Autumn is made of! This time last year we were on holiday in Orlando and needless to say lots of autumnal bits and pieces came home in my suitcase. You can read all about it my Pumpkin Pasties and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter post. Of course this time of year is also the perfect excuse to unearth my rather amazing Staub pumpkin cast iron cocotte. Isn't she just lovely?

Sadly there is a scary amount of Pumpkin waste at this time of year. We need to realise that pumpkins are a valuable source of food and not just for decoration. 1.8 million pumpkins were carved in Scotland for Halloween last year with over 1.1 million thrown away. That’s enough pumpkins to stretch from Edinburgh to Stornoway - a frightful amount of food waste. Seven out of ten pumpkins carved for Halloween didn’t get eaten, please don't let yours be one. The recipe I'm sharing today is actually one that I make all year round using butternut squash but works equally well using the innards of a Pumpkin that you're going to be carving. Butternut Squash is a bit of a nightmare to prep so for year round convenience I've taken to buying bags of it frozen. Peeled, deseeded and chopped you can chuck it straight into a roasting tin or casserole.

Using frozen squash alongside frozen cauliflower and onions this becomes a quick store cupboard meal as I've always got coconut milk and cream to hand. It's also accidentally vegan and gluten free which I only actually realised after the first couple of times that I made it! I've tweaked the recipe to add additional texture with chickpeas and toasted almonds to avoid it being too mushy and I reckon it's pretty much the perfect veggie curry served up alongside some brown rice. If you have them available spinach and/or kale also make great additions. Of course you can pimp up the spice content to suit yourself. I'm a mild and creamy girl when it comes to curry. Ain't no Pumpkin Vindaloo going to get past these lips!

Pumpkin (Butternut Squash), Cauliflower and Chickpea Korma - Vegan & GF

Splash of Rapeseed or Vegetable Oil
1 Onion, diced
2 cloves Garlic, crushed
1 Tsp Cumin
1 Tsp Coriander
2 Tsp Turmeric
1 Tsp Salt
1/2 Tsp Ground Black Pepper
50g sachet of Coconut Cream
500g Squash or Pumpkin, cubed
400ml tin Coconut Milk
500g (or 1 head) Cauliflower, broken into florettes
400g tin Chickpeas, drained
25g Toasted flaked Almonds
Chopped Fresh Coriander to garnish

Heat the oil in a large heavy based pan/casserole and cook the onion and garlic over a low heat for 10 minutes or until soft and lightly golden.
Add the cumin, coriander, turmeric, salt and pepper and cook out for a couple of minutes before adding the sachet of coconut cream and allowing it to melt down.
Pour in the Coconut Milk and add the cubed Pumpkin or Squash, turn up the heat, bring to the boil and then pop the lid on and reduce to a simmer.
Cook for 15 minutes before adding the cauliflower florets.
After a further 15 minutes check to see that both the pumpkin and cauliflower are tender (if not allow extra time) add the chickpeas and warm through.
Serve topped with the toasted almonds and chopped fresh coriander.

For further ideas of how to use up your Pumpkin innards check out the following recipes from some of my fellow food bloggers and join the Love Food Hate Waste pumpkin rescue trail this Halloween.

♥ Pin me for later...

www.foodiequine.co.uk Veggie curry has never tasted so good. Vegan and Gluten Free this recipe is perfect for using seasonal Pumpkin innards - we need to realise that pumpkins are a valuable source of food and not just for decoration. It can also be made year round using fresh or frozen butternut squash.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Aberdeen to London on the Caledonian Sleeper Train

Post in conjunction with Caledonian Sleeper

The Caledonian Sleeper train is the most civilised way to travel between Scotland and London allowing you to travel by night and save a day. Definitely a great railway journey to add to your bucket list with new rolling stock scheduled for Spring 2018. 

Those who follow me on social media will have spotted that we've been on somewhat of a foodie adventure in London for the first five days of the October half term. On this occasion our mode of transport was the Caledonian Sleeper train. We've travelled on the sleeper previously when the kids were younger and I've also traveled on my own as a first class passenger for a business trip. The Caledonian Sleeper is an overnight train service which runs between Scotland and London. There's something kind of magical about going to bed in one country and waking up in another. I'm sure it must be up there as one of the world's greatest railway journeys. Our point of departure was Stonehaven station where we boarded at 22:01 and arrived the next day in London Euston at 07.47.

There are three choices of accommodation on board. First class, standard and seated. Upon boarding you are greeted by a host and shown to your cabin. Travelling as a family of four in standard class we were in adjacent cabins. Your host can open an interconnecting door between them for you which logistically works really well. At this point they'll also take your breakfast order for tea, coffee or juice. (If traveling first class there's the option of cooked breakfast in bed!) The cabins are small and space is tight to say the least. They are equipped with bunk beds, a sink, USB charging points (bring a long cable for these) and not much else. Cat swinging could indeed prove difficult. However literally all you are going to be doing is sleeping, washing your face and brushing your teeth in them. Before hitting the sheets if you wish to indulge in something to eat or drink you can head to the Lounge Car which is a wonderful place to socialise with your fellow passengers.

In the Lounge you can pretend to be onboard the Orient Express whilst tucking into some Scottish food and drink (or you can practice your quickstep - did you see Kevin and Susan from Strictly on the sleeper train?) We didn't eat onboard on either leg of our travels but the menu looked enticing with a great selection of Scottish produce. Rock Rose Gin and Mackies Crisps were the perfect night cap before heading back to the Cabin. (Foodie Loon did ask what time the bar closed - the answer is that it doesn't!) A sleep pack is provided containing eye mask (alas not the unicorn ones that Kevin & Susan had), and ear plugs and there's also a bottle of water, soap and a towel. Male and Female toilets are located at the end of each carriage.

But the big question is how did we sleep? Not too bad would be the answer. The earplugs and eyemask definitely help. I'd say ear plus are essential and you may wish to bring your own or use noise reducing headphones. There is a constant rumble of noise from the train, the tracks, tunnels and bridges. Plus the train splits and connects during the journey which can be a bit of a thunderous jolt to say the least. But in comparison to a long haul flight in economy you're lying flat, have sheets, duvet and pillows and no one pushing past you or hogging the arm rest. Not my best nights sleep but far from my worst. A morning knock on the door from our host woke us all up with our choices of breakfast drinks and the most amazingly crumbly shortbread from Reid's of Caithness. With that we were all set to head off on our Edible London Adventures.

On the way home you can board the train in Euston from 20:30 and it departs at 21:15. Heading home the train seemed very long with the Aberdeen bound section right at the end of the platform. This is because it splits into three at Edinburgh Waverley in the early hours of the morning. The three sections then arrive later in the morning in Aberdeen, Inverness and Fort William. Don't go wandering through the train in the middle of the night or you could end up in the wrong place come morning! Top tip when travelling from London is to board early and head straight to the lounge car as it gets very busy and seats are at a premium. We disembarked at Stonehaven just before the scheduled arrival time of 07:15. If you're not going to the final destination you do need to make sure that you are ready to get off in plenty time as there are no announcements.

There are definitely pro's and cons to the Caledonian Sleeper but for us as a family it worked well and here's why.

The pros... 
  • Ability to travel from our local station, 15 minutes from home, where we can leave our car with no parking charges 
  • No need for the early check in and security procedures of airport travel 
  • No restrictions on luggage 
  • Arrive bright and early right in the centre of London with no need for transfers 
  • Enjoy a full first and last day of your trip (meant we could have 5 full days in London with only 4 nights in a hotel) 
  • More freedom to move about than on an aeroplane 
  • Great value for money when booked in advance 
The cons... 
  • If travelling alone in standard class you may have to share with someone of the same sex 
  • Can't lock doors of cabins from the outside 
  • No plug sockets in cabins 
  • No wifi 
  • Not the best for light sleepers 
  • Decor is somewhat shabby and showing its age 

CGI of Suite in the new Caledonian Sleeper

When it comes to the cons many of these are about to be tackled with a brand new £150m fleet of trains set to come on track from spring 2018. The new trains will offer a range of accommodation options including Suites (double bed with en-suite), Club Rooms (twin or single with en-suite), Classic Rooms (twin or single) and Comfort Seats. There will also be hotel-style key card entry system, more accessible rooms, upgraded panels for phone and gadget charging, and wifi throughout the train. Follow the journey of the new sleeper service at newtrains.sleeper.scot  I for one can't wait to try out the reincarnation. 

CGI of Club Car in the new Caledonian Sleeper

♥ Pin me for later...
www.foodiequine.co.uk The Caledonian Sleeper train is the most civilised way to travel between Scotland and London allowing you to travel by night and save a day. Definitely a great railway journey to add to your bucket list with new rolling stock scheduled for Spring 2018.

Disclosure: We traveled to/from London as guests of the Caledonian Sleeper. 
As always, all views expressed are my own.
Thank you for supporting the brands who make it possible for me as a passionate Scottish Food Blogger to continue to share my Edible Food and Travel Adventures with you. I’m super choosy who I work with and promise to bring you only the cream of the crop.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Meet the Producer - Talking Turkey with Barra Bronzes

Meet the Aberdeenshire producer. Talking Turkey with Craig Michie of Barra Bronzes. Great Taste award winning free range slow grown Scottish turkeys for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Last year our turkey came from Aberdeenshire's Barra Bronzes. My whole family agreed that it was the best we'd ever eaten. So succulent and flavourful and so much meat in places I've never seen meat on a bird before. Absolute 5* Quality and super quick and easy to cook. Before and since then I've been following Craig Michie and his birds on both social and traditional media. He created quite a stir with Countryfile and The Mart appearances, both Craig and the turkeys proving to be natural TV stars. 

As a foodie, cooking at Christmas is of course one of the main events. Over the years I've served up a variety of birds for the big day and tried pretty much all the methods of cooking them. The quest, particularly when it comes to turkey, is to avoid it drying out. Easier said than done. I must admit that last year when Craig told me that no basting, brining, bacon, butter or tinfoil was required for my Barra Bronze I was somewhat sceptical. However undeterred we collected our bird from the farm where it had been expertly trussed, wrapped in greaseproof paper and individually boxed. Inside the box was a pop up thermometer and a sprig of herbs. All I needed to add was an onion in the cavity and follow the cooking instructions provided. Nothing complex, season with salt and pepper and cook breast side down for all but the last 40 minutes. The upside down thing is because most of the fat is on the back of the turkey so this allows it to percolate through the breast. This self basting makes the meat juicy and also allows the bird to cook much, much quicker. 

After having tasted the product I wanted to find out more about what made it so special, so on a bright Autumnal day I headed to the outskirts of Inverurie to meet the Turkeys. All 2,000 of them. What an amazing sight to see - and hear. Boy are they noisy! They are also very inquisitive and quickly surrounded me and followed me around the field like the pied piper. Strangely I didn't feel at all threatened by them, they pecked at my boots but weren't in any way wild. They seemed very contented, healthy and happy with plenty of freedom and room to roam. I'm not sure how intelligent they are but they definitely all seemed to have their own personalities, not to mention looks.

The birds arrive on the farm at the end of May at a day old which by Christmas time makes them the slowest grown in the country. To begin with they need constant monitoring night and day which is hugely labour intensive. They remain penned indoors with a heat source for the first few weeks until the beginning of July when they get outdoors. Here they can sup up the scenery with views of Barra Hill to the East and Bennachie to the west. During the day they have free range to forage and are fed on a home mix of cereals all grown on the farm. Two huge mesh sided tunnels house the turkeys at night and throughout the day should they wish to shelter from the elements. These are equipped with automated feeders, fresh water and roosting platforms.

The turkeys grow slowly over a 26-27 week period to ensure optimum quality in terms of flavour and texture. This is almost 3 times as long as a standard turkey. To keep them safe throughout this time two Alpacas look after the flock and will make short work of any badgers or foxes. They scared me a lot more than the turkeys did! When it comes to Thanksgiving and Christmas the Turkeys are processed onsite at the farm butchery which ensures minimum stress to them and greatly improves the quality of the meat. They are dry plucked and finished off by hand before being hung in a cold store for a fortnight which allows the meat to mature and develop even more depth in flavour. Time to say goodbye to the turkeys but as we were leaving I suddenly realised I hadn't heard any 'Gobble Gobbles'. Turns out that it's only the males that say this and they are seriously outnumbered by the girls. Every day's a school day.

Meet The Producer

What's your name and where do you come from?
Craig Michie from Lochend of Barra, Inverurie

How did you end up farming turkeys for a living?
I had a real passion to produce something special, something different and with that Barra Bronzes was formed

What's the best and worst thing about your job?
The best thing about the job is seeing happy customers leave on Christmas Eve with a Barra Bronze.
Worst is working against the clock to pluck lots of turkeys - Christmas can never be delayed!

What makes Barra Bronzes different? 
There is not one thing that makes a Barra Bronze different - there are many. Our birds are the slowest grown in the country which gives you a fuller flavour. They are all female as the eating quality is better. They have twice the space of the free range standards to ensure the best welfare and final product. We also feed them on a special diet from the cereals we grow on the farm. This ensures they grow really slowly to enrich flavour.

Where and how can people buy your products? 
People can buy our product online at www.barrabronzes.co.uk for both home delivery and farm collection

Lastly, share the love and recommend another Aberdeen/shire producer? 
Esker Gin (great choice Craig - check out my recipe for Gin & Tonic Mussels made with Esker Gin)

♥ Pin me for later...
www.foodiequine.co.uk Meet the Aberdeenshire producer. Talking Turkey with Craig Michie of Barra Bronzes. Great Taste award winning free range slow grown Scottish turkeys for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Disclosure: This is not a paid post however I have been and will be compensated in Turkey! As always, all views expressed are my own. 
Thank you for supporting the brands who make it possible for me as a passionate Scottish Food Blogger to continue to share my Edible Food and Travel Adventures with you. I’m super choosy who I work with and promise to bring you only the cream of the crop.