Easter Holiday and 70th Birthday in Gairloch

Wednesday, 30 April 2014
I spent many happy childhood summer holidays at Big Sands caravan park in Gairloch. What better place to return to for a family holiday to celebrate my Mum and Dad's 70th Birthdays. No slumming it in a caravan this time. We rented a luxury holiday house also owned by the Sands Caravan and Camping Park. The views and beach were even better than I remembered. Moreso with the selection of G&T I brought.
The holiday house was absolutely perfect for our needs. Luxuriously fitted out with plenty of space for the 7 of us in 4 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms. A large kitchen diner with underfloor heating was well kitted out. Mum's big birthday was the day after our arrival. Foodie Sis had been charged with the job of baking and decorating a cake and she did an amazingly good job especially considering it had to travel from Luton to Inverness in hand luggage. Elmer the Patchwork Elephant on a Patchwork Quilt atop a Battenburg Cake. 
Can't celebrate a birthday without Champagne and I also sneaked a virtual gin into the mix. Virtual by the fact that the distillery isn't yet built. The first small batch of Rock Rose Gin should be ready towards the end of May. Dunnet Bay Distillers up in the far north of Scotland in Caithness have reserved bottle number 44 to reflect Mum's 06/04/44 birthdate.
For the birthday meal we headed into Gairloch to Na Mara Restaurant. The meal was a perfect end to a day of celebrations. Interesting menu, great seafood and a good selection of Scottish Vodkas and Gins. It would have been rude not to sample at least some of them in a cocktail. 
The morning after the night before boy and girl decided that they would cook up a very speacel breakfast menu. A fantastic selechan to choose from. The food and service was great but some work needed on the spelling. I can highly recommend a quasong and dick egg followed by a jin and tonik as the perfect start to the day.
Our travels throughout the week took us to Gairloch, Ullapool, Inverewe Gardens, Rua Reidh Lighthouse and the Corrieshalloch Gorge. We even encountered Feral Goats. In all my years of living in the highlands I honestly thought that they were a myth. Plenty of highland hospitality eating and drinking opportunities along the way including shellfish from Dry Island, butchery from Kenneth Morrison and coffee at Mountain Coffee Company.
Weather during our stay was mixed but thankfully no sign of the dreaded midgie. On one particularly driech afternoon we headed for Gairloch Museum followed by coffee and cake at recently opened Barn Cafe. Absolutely loved the Lobster and Langoustine crockery from Tain Pottery. Treated myself to a mug but I have aspirations for more. 
Couldn't go to Gairloch without catching up with Michelle from Snow Marketing. She'd given us some recommendations of where to eat in the area and I noticed that one of her suggestions, The Steading Bistro, had just started doing an evening Tapas menu. A table was duly booked and 9 of us sampled pretty much every item on the menu. Fab food, drink and conversation. Being the last folk to leave always signifies a good night.
On one of the glorious sunny days we visited the Isle of Ewe Smokehouse and stocked up on crab, smoked salmon and trout, smoked brie and Smoked Blarliath Truckle. A beautiful setting on the shores of Loch Ewe. An amazing location in terms of view and history.
West coast seafood featured heavily during our week and we particularly enjoyed local langoustine, scallops and crab. Unfortunately windy weather meant that we couldn't get out on a Shellfish Safari to haul in our own creels. We also failed in our search for spoot clams. Apparently the tides were not in our favour. They were neep and we needed spring. All the more reason to return. Not that any real reason is ever required to visit Gairloch.

Wild Garlic Bear Hunt - Family Food and Foraging Fun in Stonehaven

Saturday, 26 April 2014
Have I got a fantastic family food and foraging event for you!  Why should the grown ups have all the foraging fun? Do you and your small humans fancy joining me on a a delicious Spring adventure at Dunnottar Woods, Stonehaven? In conjunction with Mud Pies, Foodie Quine presents...

We’re going on a…
Garlic Bear Hunt!

Join Mandy from Mud Pies and Claire the Foodie Quine for a Family Wild Garlic Wander and some hands-on Foodie Fun in Dunnottar Woods, Stonehaven.

We’ll be foraging for wild garlic, seeking out the perfect cooking stick, lighting a camp fire, making and baking dampers, shaking up wild garlic butter, pounding pesto, popping corn and feasting on nettles.

Sunday 25th May
10.30-12.30pm or 2-4pm
£15 for 1 adult and 1 child. £5 for each additional adult/child
Suitable for age 3+

Book online at

If you go down to the woods today you're in for a big surprise! Don't worry there are no real bears hiding in the trees. Only stinky Bear Garlic. 

Meeting point is the car park in the MIDDLE of the wood - the one nearer to Dunnottar Church, NOT Glasslaw car park up by the dual carriageway!

Places MUST be booked in advance via the Mudpie Adventures Website 

Any questions email Mandy info@mudpieadventures.co.uk or myself claire@foodiequine.co.uk


Grand Opening of the new AGA Shop, Back Wynd, Aberdeen

Thursday, 24 April 2014
What's your thoughts on AGA's? I'm guessing it's a subject that all foodies have preconceptions and opinions on. I know I certainly had. In a nutshell I thought that they were slightly scary, tricky to regulate the temperature of and difficult to cook with, but came in some gorgeous colours which looked stunning on the pages of glossy homes magazines. I also knew that Mary Berry was a big fan. That surely says something for them. No soggy bottoms in an AGA due to the radiant heat.

There's been an AGA shop in Aberdeen's Rosemount for the last 17 years. I knew it was there but had never ventured in. Surely you would have to already have one, or be seriously considering purchasing one, before you would cross the threshold. I've also spotted them at shows and events where the open frontage of the stalls have made them much more accessible to wander over and have a drool and dream about how amazing one could look in the right setting.

As a self confessed AGA virgin, I was excited but slightly apprehensive when I was contacted by shop manager Nathalie who invited me to visit the new Aberdeen showroom. The granite city team have relocated to new premises at 12b Back Wynd. Slap bang in the city centre just a couple of doors down from Nick Nairn Cookschool. The two floor 90 square meter shop provides a fantastic setting to showcase the full range of products. A far cry from the abandoned Hope shop on the Haudagain roundabout where AGA's were originally sold from in Aberdeen.
First surprise was that they stock so much more than just AGA and Rayburn cookers.There's a range of cool refrigeration, cosy stoves and a fantastic colourful collection of cookware, textiles, kettles, bakewear, KitchenAids and accessories. I immediately fell in love with the AGA Iconic range featuring a repeat print of six funky enamel shades. Even if you can't have the real thing right now you can aspire by way of a mug, oven gloves or apron covered in cute little mini AGA's.
The AGA itself is a true British design icon, instantly recognisable and still being made to this day in Shropshire, England. Each AGA is handmade for you to your chosen specifications. They have fantastic green credentials with 70% made from recycled materials such as car gearboxes, lamp posts, drain covers and old cast iron cookers. How lovely to think of an old much loved and well used AGA being reincarnated as part of a new one.
When you enter a kitchen with an AGA in you are immediately physically drawn towards its warmth and comfort. No moreso than within the first floor of the new Aberdeen showroom which has been kitted out with a beautiful fully operational demonstration kitchen from local Aberdeenshire company Lethenty Cabinetmakers
A few of my preconceived myths were immediately busted. They are always ready to use at exactly the right temperature, there's nothing they can't cook and lots of interesting things that they can do that a conventional cooker would struggle with. My mind was somewhat blown by the fact that you can get an AGA with a 13 amp plug. It was even more frazzled when I discovered that there's one that you can control remotely with your iPhone.
It's definitely not a case of one size fits all when it comes to AGA's. There's a whole host of specifications to choose from when finding the one perfectly suited to your kitchen and lifestyle. Whilst they all have the traditional boiling and simmering plates and simmering and roasting ovens, the bespoke options afterwards are plentiful. 2,3,4 or 5 ovens. Gas, oil or electric fuel. AGA Total Control with state of the art control panel and independently controlled hotplates and ovens. AIMS - AGA Intelligent Management System. Stand alone or integrated modules to provide the additional versatility of gas or ceramic hob cooking.
I was very intrigued to learn some pretty amazing things that they can do. Make criss-cross toast on the boiling hotplate with the wire toaster rack, cook pizzas straight on the oven floor and fat free fried eggs on the simmering plate with the aid of Bake-o-Glide. Flavours of dishes won't merge in an AGA oven, you can open the door and your cakes won't drop, you can even use it to air and iron your washing. 
The store had its official grand opening event today (24th April) where Dawn Roads, AGA Food Editor, cookbook author and AGA expert was on hand with a fantastic array of AGA cooked treats. Savoury Palmiers, Marmite & Cheese Whirls, Smoked Salmon Pesto Blinis, Cossack Potato Bites, Boursin Croistini, Coffee Marscapone Mini Meringues and Tipple Chocolate Mini Cupcakes. All washed down with celebratory fizz. 
The opening event showcase continues over the next three days (Friday 25th - Sunday 27th April). Dawn will be demonstrating alongside a range of local producers and retailers including Around the World in 80 Teas, Haigs Food Hall, Sunnyside Home Farm, OCaykx and Oryza Sushi. They will be serving up duck eggs, tea tastings, sushi making and sake tasting, cupcakes, sausages and barbeque pulled pork.
Dawn will be whizzing through two demos on both Friday and Saturday. The Introduction to AGA menu includes sweetcorn pancakes with grilled bacon, oatmeal porridge, roasted finnan haddock, steamed rice, asparagus and goats cheese tart, AGA dried tomatoes and Aberdeen angus beef, mushroom and lettuce cups. For those with a sweet tooth there will be marmalade and poppy seed traybake, poached apricots and lavender shortbread. The Time for Tea with AGA demo includes beer bread, finnan haddock frittata, toasted brie and grape sandwiches, rhubarb and almond cake, rose petal roulade and coffee mascarpone meringues. 
Do pay a visit to the new AGA shop in Aberdeen's Back Wynd. I can guarantee that you'll get a warm welcome. They might even let you cosy up to one. The big question remaining has to be if you were to get an AGA, what colour would you choose? I'm torn between Heather and Duck Egg Blue. 13 colours to choose from may be considered unlucky but any AGA owner will be sure to tell you that they are the lucky one.

Disclosure : I was commissioned by AGA to write this post. All views expressed are my own.

Canapés and Cocktails at Pinnies and Petticoats

Tuesday, 22 April 2014
A Cocktails & Canapé remit for the April Pinnies and Petticoats baking club meet couldn't have been more up my street. It was the exact theme that I had for my 40th Birthday Party. No penguins making an appearance on this occasion but I opted to make another novelty animal featuring olives. I give you Ladybird Cracker Canapés.
Ladybird Canape. party food, cute food, nibbles


Ritz Crackers
Philadelphia Cream Cheese
Black Food Colouring
Cherry Tomatoes
Black Olives

These are a bit of a last minute assembly job as you don't want your crackers to go soggy. 
Mix together some cheese and food colouring for the spots. Be warned - you will need a LOT of black to colour the white cheese.
Spread your cracker with cheese and top with cherry tomato quarters for the wings, an olive head and chive feelers. Do ladybirds even actually have feelers?!
Pipe on the spots and your ladybird is ready to fly away home.
250g Self Raising Flour
50g Marg
100g Mature Cheddar Cheese Grated
mustard powder
1 Egg
Bunch of Wild Garlic

Sieve together the flour, salt, cayenne and mustard powder. Add these to your own taste - anything from a small pinch to a teaspoon.
Rub in the marg until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
Stir through the grated cheese.
Finely chop wild garlic and add to the dry ingredients. Again the quantity used  is very much to your own taste
Crack the egg into a jug and lightly whisk. Make up to 150ml with milk.
Make a well in the dry ingredients, pour in the egg and milk mixture and combine with a knife.
Tip out onto a floured surface and kneed very lightly before rolling to a 1.5-2cm thickness.
Cut out your scones, glaze with milk and bake at 200 degrees.
These canapé sized ones only took 8 minutes so increase cooking time accordingly for larger scones.
Wild Garlic and Cheese Scones
We had a big turnout of bakers for this event including a new gentleman in our midst. He immediately put us all to shame with his amazing sponge, creme pat and strawberry mousse canapé. Our new abode at Amicus Apple had a fantastic Cocktail menu befitting of the occasion. Needless to say I left the car at home for this one.
Pina Colada Cake - I reckon Del Boy would LOVE this!
Strawberries & Cream Scones
Genoise Sponge with Creme Pat and Strawberry Mousse
Enriched Sweet Crust Tartlets with Mocha Mousse, Mango Mousse and Strawberry Mousse

Pesto Pastry Twists
Smoked Salmon Mini Muffins
Parma Ham and Sage on Polenta Toasts
Smoked Salmon & Cream Cheese Crescents

Mint Aero Treats
Almond Cookies
Mudslide, Bloody Mary, Pina Colada and Lady Godiva Cupcakes

Ladybird Canapes
Smoked Salmon Mousse Blinis
Sage and Parmesan Palmiers
Red Onion, pepper and Crynoch Blue Cheese Tarts

Olive and Artichoke Poppers
Parmesan Baskets filled with prosciutto, soft blue cheese and balsamic pears
Salted caramel and Apricot Florentines

Parmesan Profiteroles with Bacon and Cream Cheese
Sundried Tomato Buns with Chilli Pesto & Goats Cheese
Hot Chilli Cheese Straws
White Chocolate & Cranberry Truffles rolled in Coconut
Chocolate Meringues with Fresh Cream
Mini Yorkshire Puddings with Goats Cheese and Caramelised Red Onion

The next meet is scheduled for Wednesday 14th May where the theme will be CHEESE. This is the second time we've had this theme. Check out our first fromage feast for some cheesy inspiration and sign up on our Facebook event page if you'd like to come along.

Foodie Parcels in the Post - April 2014

Sunday, 20 April 2014
A long overdue roundup of the foodie parcels I've been receiving in the post over the last month, two months. Where is this year going? Was it really February when I did my previous roundup?! It's always nice to receive a parcel in the post but even nicer if its edible (or drinkable). Here's what Mr Postman has been bringing me of late...

These goodies were sent to me for Fairtrade Fortnight which ran from 24th February until 9th March. I do try to buy Fairtrade products when I can - particularly in relation to bananas, sugar and chocolate - but its always good to be reminded of where else you can make a real difference with your purchasing decisions. There are some fantastic stories behind these products. Take a look at Nadali Vanilla Pods, Liberation Nuts and Equal Exchange Coffee and be inspired. The campaign this year focused specifically on Sticking with Foncho to make Bananas Fair. Whilst around one third of bananas sold in the UK (by value) are Fairtrade, only three supermarkets currently stock 100% Fairtrade bananas, namely Sainsbury's, Co-Op and Waitrose.

I'm not normally one for RT and follow competitions on Twitter but I make an exception where Gin (or cheese) is involved. Blackwoods had actually been on my Gindar for a wee while being as its one of the many small batch Scottish Gins. It hails from the very far north on the Shetland Isles and is made to a slightly different recipe each year depending on the quality and quantity of local botanicals available at harvesting time. I was out when the postie delivered this parcel. I suspect that never has anything so wonderful ever been left under a wheelbarrow. The citrusy flavour works well with a premium tonic and lots of ice. Very smooth. I really must try the suggested Shetland Storm cocktail. 

Does lightening ever strike twice? It would appear so and I got lucky in another twitter Gin comp. This time receiving samples of Opihr Spiced Gin. This was one a new one that I'd spotted, on social media primarily due to its funky elephant branding. The miniatures came in a cute hessian sack complete with ingredients and a recipe for Opihr Chai Brew. If its too early to legitimately drink gin - pour it in your tea. I've not tried the cocktail yet but have sampled the elephant with tonic. Perhaps a wee bit heavy handed on the cardamom and light on the juniper for me. But if you like your G&T spicy this may well be the one for you.

My truffle oil from Supenature didn't arrived in the post but rather in person at a food writers and bloggers event that I attended at Craigie's Farm. Lynn of Supernature Cold Pressed Rapeseed Oil was there to tell us all about its health benefits, provenance and versatility. Supernature is light in colour and taste and works very well with infusions. They have an impressive range of 13 flavours. I requested the White Truffle for my take home sample. Its flavour is intense and instantly transported me back to our Tuscan holiday. I'm been sparingly using my 100ml bottle to drizzle on risottos and pasta and for crusty bread dipping.

I attended an event at the Marcliffe Hotel towards the end of February promoting the Taste Our Best quality assurance scheme. Always great to catch up with local producers and suppliers who are passionate about their products. One such person was Anne Thompson of Bouvrage (the old Scottish word for drink) and Ella Drinks. Based near Brechin in Angus their range of juices are made solely with local berries and fruit. Their Angus Apples is most probably the best Apple Juice I have ever tasted. Such a fresh, crisp, tart taste comprising 100% pressed juice. The apples are picked from the walled gardens of country houses in Angus. There they find many long forgotten orchards containing ancient varieties of apples that were previously going to waste. A win win situation.

More rapeseed oil. It's pretty much my favourite thing to both cook with, marinade and drizzle these days. Olive Oil has taken somewhat of a backseat in my cooking. The high smoke point makes it perfect to use for roasting and stir frying. These are from Mackintosh of Glendaveny based right here in Aberdeenshire near Peterhead. They are extra virgin and cold pressed. Garlic and Chilli are my usual purchases in terms of flavoured oils and I really wasn't too sure about lemon but it worked really well drizzled on salads and pasta. Great to catch up with local loon MD Gregor Mackintosh at the Taste Our Best Event. 

Disclosure : Thanks to Fairtrade Foundation, Blackwoods, Opihr, Supernature, Bouvrage and Mackintosh of Glendaveny for providing the above products. I was not obliged to review positively in return. All views expressed are my own. If you're a brand who'd like to have your product featured here, please do get in touch claire@foodiequine.co.uk
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