#HiddenGems Ballathie House & Tasting Menu

Wednesday, 27 August 2014
The timing could not have been better. An invitation to head off on a #HiddenGems Press Trip in beautiful Perthshire and get away from the stress, dust and chaos of #ProjectNewKitchen for a couple of days. I wasted no time in replying in the affirmative. 2014 Food & Drink had lined up a excellent showcase for us of food products not traditionally associated with Scotland, namely sushi, wine and chilli.

Our accommodation was the the CIS Award Winning Independent Hotel of the Year Ballathie Country House Hotel and Estate. Located on the banks of the River Tay it provides an idyllic and picturesque country retreat. Charm oozes from the magnificent building and spectacular grounds. My bedroom with adjoining turret bathroom had a touch of Downtown Abbey about it. Despite its looks there was absolutely no stuffiness about Ballathie and there was a warm welcome and unobtrusive service from all the staff.

And so to the #HiddenGems. We visited Lov Sushi and Chillilicious to learn about, taste, make (sushi) and grow (chillis) their wonderful products. Separate blog posts on both to follow. Our Scottish wine came to visit us with Linzey Cairns from Cairn O' Mohr Fruit Winery and Ciderhouse. I'd previously briefly met Linzey on a visit to Craigies Farm so I already knew a wee bit of the story behind the business.
Our taste buds were tantalised with Gooseberry (medium), Strawberry (medium sweet) and Bramble (dry & spicy) wines all of which were eminently quaffable. The fruit used in the wines comes from as locally as possible and the quality and provenance of ingredients is very important. Good quality berries make good quality wine. The fruit used in every single bottle can be traced back to source if required. Foraging has a big role to play in both the early and late season with foraged elderflowers, oak leaves and elderberries. It was very interesting to hear the role that community goodwill plays in their business success an example of which being foraged goods repaid in kind (i.e. wine!) This kind of support and community spirit is something that tends to feature a lot in the Scottish food and drink community.
Following on from our wine tasting we headed downstairs for pre-dinner cocktails. Gin isn't so much of a hidden gem in Scotland these days but you may still be surprised to discover that 70% of all UK Gin is produced in here. Our cocktail was a delicious mix of Strathearn Distillery Heather Rose Gin and Ginger Ale. Gin and Ginger Ale was a new one on me but it worked really well.
Our host for the evening was General Manager of Ballathie Jody Marshall. With his relaxed and endearing style he guided us through the evening and shared his passion for Ballathie, working in the hospitality industry, Scottish produce and wines from around the world.
A further #HiddenGem had appeared at our place setting. A Scottish Fortune Cookie from Cracking Cookies. Mine was Mint Chocolate but they do a huge range of flavour from Pecan Pie to Chocolate and Chilli. My fortune was a conversation starter. What piece of advice would you give your younger self? An excellent question that certainly broke the ice around the table.
Our five course dinner was created, prepared and introduced by 2014 Food and Drink ambassador chef Tom Lewis of Mhor. A vivacious character with a real passion for food Tom kept us entertained and wonderfully fed throughout the evening ably assisted by his Head Chef Marysia. My photos undoubtedly don't do this wonderful meal justice but we were treated in both looks and taste to a fantastic showcase of the very best of Scottish produce.
Hunthill Estate Grouse, Garden Runner Beans, Arran Mustard and Anchovy Dressing
Pinot Noir Eradus 2013

Balquidder Chantarelles, Crisp Monachyle Hens Egg, Rapeseed Oil, Hazlenut
Lofthouse Riesling 2010

Smoked Inverawe Eel, Tamworth Pork, Apple, Nettle Puree and Watercress
Pinot Blanc Auxerrois
Cave De Cleebourg 2012

Puddledub Buffalo, Spicked Aubergine, Clyde Valley Tomato, Arran Blue Cheese
Chateau Bel-Air Graves de Vayres 2009 Fut De Chene

Warm Invergary Brambles, Heather Hill Honey, Sourdough Crisp, Katy Rodgers Creme Fraiche and Brown Bread Ice Cream.
Chateau Septy 2010

After so much delicious food and drink the sensible thing would have been to retire to bed. But the hotel bar beckoned for a nightcap and it was the early hours before we all finished up. After a fantastic nights sleep the smells of cooked breakfast beckoned. Despite the previous nights indulgences it would have been rude not to have gone for the full Ballathie Scottish Breakfast with lashings of tea and toast. What better to stave off any hint of the morning after the night before and prepare for the day ahead at a Scottish Chilli Farm.

To be continued...

Disclaimer - Press Trip courtesy of Scotland Food & Drink 2014. Any views and opinions expressed are my own. 

Project New Kitchen - Work In Progress

Friday, 22 August 2014
I blogged back in June that I'm getting a new kitchen. Work has been in full flow for the last 7 weeks but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Photo heavy round-up of how things are progressing so far. We were on holiday for the first two weeks of demolition and rebuild hence no week 1 photos. Below is what were were faced with after a fortnight in Italy. Back to reality with a bump!

End of Week 2

End of Week 3

End of Week 4

End of Week 5

Jam Jar lights arrive www.jamjarlights.com

The kitchen fit begins...

Kitchen Fit Complete! www.kitchensinternational.co.uk

Glass Splashback being made www.steverobinsonglass.com

New Bar Stools www.johnlewis.com

A huge change from start to finish but still a wee bit to go. Flooring to be fitted, taps to be swapped out and boiling water tap installed as the wrong ones were ordered, jam jar lights to be fitted, splashback to be delivered and be fitted, snagging list to be tackled. Only after that can the cleaning and putting everything back commence. Once that's done I might just get round to some cooking.

Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons - Seven Course Dining Experience

Tuesday, 19 August 2014
A guest blog post from my Foodie Sis. I am VERY jealous...

I recently had the pleasure of dining at Le Manoir aux quat’saisons in Oxfordshire. It is located in a beautiful village called Great Milton (where the properties have high price tags) and is owned by the delectable Raymond Blanc. The country house setting is idyllic and the grounds feature a croquet lawn, orchards and a well stocked kitchen garden with beautiful rows of herbs, fruit and veg, perfect for picking and using in the restaurant. The restaurant has held two Michelin stars for the last 29 years, an accolade that they clearly know all about how to retain.
Beautiful setting for le manoir
Rows and rows of gorgeous fruit, veg and herbs ripe for the picking. Puts my allotment offerings to shame.

We were all warmly welcomed to the venue, and sat in a beautiful lounge with our menus to peruse, and an epitome of a wine list promptly appeared. I avoided looking too closely at the wine list as I had elected to drive; it’s probably just as well as I might have then been tempted, although the prices were appropriately high. I did succumb to a cheeky wee gin and tonic as I figured I was going to be there for quite some time. Another guest couldn’t resist ordering a glass of a wonderful Australian red wine called Ten minutes by Tractor which I did have a sneaky sip of, and it was amazingly good. The Sommelier informed us that the wine takes its name from all of the vineyards being no more than ‘ten minutes by tractor’ from the winery where they are produced. 

We all opted to go for the ‘Dining experience’ menu (don’t look mum… £154/head), described as ‘Seven exciting courses, with unexpected flavour combinations which make this menu a real culinary adventure’. I did have a look down the list of courses within this and was marginally dismayed by the desert which was offered ‘Textures de noix de coco et grand cru de chocolat du Ghana’ or Textures of coconut and Ghana chocolate Grand Cru’. I am not a coconut fan, and neither do I value chocolate particularly, so I opted to ‘upgrade’ (+ £15) my desert for one from the a la carte menu which was entitled ‘cassoulet d’abricot’. Well if I’m already spending so much money, I might as well add more to get something I’d like n’est pas? 

Our foodie delights started with our amuse bouche. Tastefully served on dark grey slate and consisted of something like the following (but with posher names) a bit of guacamole on something crispy, a tasty ball of either saffron or turmeric stuff, a smoked salmon bite and a goats cheese ball with black olive. One guest was given an alternative board as he’s allergic to chili and the restaurant were very obliging at providing an alternative for him.
We were then moved in to the dining room, a rather informal setting with glass windows looking out on to the lawns and gardens. The dining room was very unstuffy, but perfectly comfortable (which also pretty much sums up the waiters and all staff for the evening, attentive but not in your face). I was delighted to not be offered a ‘table stool’ for my handbag when I placed it by my chair (seriously has anyone ever thought in a posh restaurant ‘I don’t want to put my bag down on the floor in here’!?).

And so the main event began. We were offered a wide selection of breads, rolls, ciabatta, baguette, tomato bread, wholemeal delights, AND in the middle of those descriptions the waiter slipped in ‘bacon bread’, and ‘mashed potato and ale bread’ and we were all sold! Bacon bread! Bread with little bits of bacon in it! What’s not to love? (I’m now going to try making my own bacon rolls, in order to then add more bacon, and possibly ketchup as well to them!). Actually I did resist the bacon bread but tried some from another guest (and yum!) and I went for a baguette, and then tried the mashed potato and ale roll which was delicious. All served with both salted and unsalted butter (on a grey slate with a sprinkling of sea salt next to the salted as a reminder) 

Our first course was ‘Gazpacho de tomate, olive, basilica’ or Chilled tomato gazpacho with olive and basil. Deliciously rich, with a beautiful tomato flavour served with an olive oil mayonnaise (?), and a tasty skinned cherry tomato with basil and olives on the side, hopefully from the kitchen garden. There was obviously a hint of chili in this course as one guest got a different starter of Salade de betteraves, sorbet au raifort, (salad of baby beetroot with a horseradish sorbet) 
‘Gazpacho de tomate, olive, basilica’
‘Salade de betteraves, sorbet au raifort’

We then moved on to the Mi-cuit de saumon, raifort, concombre (Warm confit of oak smoked salmon, horseradish, cucumber) that was served on shredded mouli, the cucumber was lightly pickled with dill and the salmon was beautifully melty in the mouth. 
‘Mi-cuit de saumon, raifort, concombre’

Our next offering was ‘Agnolotti de fromage de chevre, miel, artichauts, olives (Agnolotti of goat’s cheese, honey, artichokes and olives). Oh my! This was amazing, so delicate but super tasty, the agnolotti (something akin to a small ravioli) were deliciously packed with goats cheese and crumbled dried olives gave a wonderful unexpected crunch to the dish.
This was one of my favourites ‘Agnolotti de fromage de chevre, miel, artichauts, olives’

Just as we were thinking our ‘main’ must be next, we were treated to ‘Crabe, fleur de courgette du jardin, puree de crabe’ (Devonshire crab, garden courgette flower, crab puree). This was very delicate, arranged on the plate to resemble a fish and the courgette flower was stuffed with much deliciousness in the shape of a light crab mousse. 
‘Crabe, fleur de courgette du jardin, puree de crabe’

And it was here! Finally the main, ‘Filet de boeuf Aberdeen Angus, cresson, champignons sauvages, essence au vin rouge’ (Roasted fillet of Aberdeen Angus beef, braised Jacob’s ladder, watercress, wild mushrooms, red wine essence’. Wow, this was melt in the mouth tasty, perfectly cooked beef (not that I expected anything less, especiallly from a good Aberdeen Angus), a delicate red wine sauce, wonderfully orange wild mushrooms and then, I tried the braised ‘Jacob’s ladder’. I must admit to being unfamiliar with a ‘Jacob’s ladder’. It’s a rather traditional cut of beef also known as ‘short ribs’ and benefits from slow cooking. It was one of the best pieces of beef I have ever tried, totally dissolved in to your mouth with a wonderfully rich flavour. I think I might just have to investigate cooking with a Jacob’s ladder in the future! 
‘Filet de boeuf Aberdeen Angus, cresson, champignons sauvages, essence au vin rouge’

And so our thoughts were turning to all things sweet, and our pre-desert of ‘Raviole de Peches et D’abricots, verveine citronne’ appeared (Peach and apricot ravioli, lemon verbena). Oooh I love all things fruity and this was a total delight! Not too sweet, an amazing tangy abricot and peach sorbet served on top of a whole apricot which was stuffed with a beautifully light filling, served with a hint of pistachios. Definitely my kind of desert!
‘Raviole de Peches et D’abricots, verveine citronne’

It was then that our menus began to diverge a little, two of us had opted to ‘upgrade’ our desert, whilst one stuck to the coconut and chocolate option. I must admit to not having considered that my pre-desert was going to be apricot-y prior to ordering my ‘Cassoulet d’abricots’, I probably wouldn’t win any awards in menu planning with this but I was totally delighted when it arrived! This was most definitely the best desert I have ever had in any restaurant, totally delicious! A beautifully delicate tuile bowl (with lid and gold leaf handle), crammed with fresh apricots, abricot puree, a floating light as a feather meringue, topped with some flavoured icecream/cream with praline nuts and super tasty wild strawberries. It was just perfect for me!
‘Cassoulet d’abricots’

The other guests went for the beautifully sculpted ‘Chocolate manjari et crumble a la framboise’ (manjari chocolate and raspberry crumble) and one stuck to the original desert from the Dining Experience menu, the ‘Textures de noix de coco et grand cru de chocolat du Ghana’ or Textures of coconut and Ghana chocolate Grand Cru’. Both were announced delicious by the other guests, although I think it would have been better if we’d all upgraded our deserts, as there was a substantial size difference in portions! (not that we really needed more food by this point!) 
‘Chocolate manjari et crumble a la framboise’
‘Textures de noix de coco et grand cru de chocolat du Ghana’

And so we eyed up the cheese trolley, YUM, a wonderful selection of cheeses, all perfectly ripe and ready to devour. We were sensible and opted to share one cheese board portion between us which was perfectly enough for us all. Served expertly with some grapes, and sweet chutneys and an assortment of crackers.
Le fromage!

With our night drawing to a close, we adjourned back to the lounge for teas, coffees and petit fours. A HUGE menu of teas and infusions were offered and it was hard to chose between them. I eventually opted for a spiced tea, which was served in a glass teapot with lots of little morsels of sweet delights, lemon macarons, nougat, Turkish delight, and fruity mousse. A perfect ending to a delectable evening.
Petit fours, teas and coffee from a huge tea menu!

Overall we all had a wonderful evening, amazing food in a wonderful setting. We also inevitably had a much lighter wallet than when we started however, the attention to detail and the quality of the food and service was second to none. If you were ever feeling the need to splash out on the Dining Experience at Le Manoir, I’d heartily recommend it. I think their Michelin stars have nothing to fear.

Outdoor Cooking in the Woods. Forest School & Blaeberry Bash.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014
I've been out and about in the woods this summer helping out at Kincardine Forest School and with 160 big and little kids over 4 sessions of the Mud Pies and Foodie Quine Blaeberry Bash. Nothing beats the fun of foraging, cooking and eating outdoors. 

Campfire Popcorn with Sieves
Popcorn over the campfire was a big hit with the Forest School participants. Fire gloves are essential to hold on tightly to a couple of metal sieves which make the perfect cage to contain the popcorn. Spray them liberally with oil before adding a small handful of popcorn kernels. It will take a wee while and a bit of patience over the campfire but once the popping starts it all happens very quickly. 
Campfire Popcorn with Sieves
Next to hit the fire bowl were Chocolate Brownie Oranges. These are very simple and taste amazing. Cut the lid off the oranges and scoop out the flesh. Make up a pack of Chocolate Brownie mix and spoon it into the cavity to no more than 2/3 full.. Wrap in tinfoil and carefully place in the fire. Ideally you want to have them nestled right in so there is heat both above and below. 
Campfire Chocolate Brownie Oranges
Campfire Chocolate Brownie Oranges
The time taken to cook is somewhat imprecise but around 20 minutes should do it. Occasionally check to see how they are doing and move those from the edge to the middle and vice versa. The end product is a squidgy, gooey, chocolately delight with a hint or orange and smoke. 
Campfire Chocolate Brownie Oranges
Campfire Chocolate Brownie Oranges
Our four Blaeberry Bashes completely sold out and we were joined at Countesswells Woods by an intrepid bunch of big and little adventurers all kitted out for a couple of hours of foraging and food fun. Bertha did her best to stop our second day but it takes more than a hurricane to put us off. 
With our base camp established it was time to head for the woods and seek out the berries. Blaeberries (Billberries) can be elusive wee things at first but once you started to spot them and get down to their level they were everywhere. They are however tiny and it takes a long time to time to get any amount. Wild rasps were much easier and we even found some yellow ones. 
Scottish Blaeberries Billberies
On our way back to camp we stopped to nibble from a veritable carpet of Wood Sorrel. A mixture of thumbs up and thumbs down for its sour taste. Some liken it to lemon but for me its a very distinct apple peel flavour hit.
Wood Sorrel
Our berry haul of wild rasps and blaeberries was pooled and decanted from bags and tubs into a communal jam pan. We boiled it up with sugar and amazing smells and colour ensued. Grateful thanks go to World Jampionships sponsors Pattesons Glass who provided us with mini jars for our outdoor jammy adventures. Our wildberry preserve was hailed a huge success. 
Wildberry Jam Making. Raspberries & Blaeberries.
Wildberry Jam Making Outdoors
Anyone who thought that the jam making was a sticky business ain't seen nothing yet. Bring on Toasted Marshmallow Fluff Strawberries. Definitely one of your five a day. Marshmallow Fluff is an American invention that's now widely available in UK supermarkets. Pop a large strawberry on the end of a carefully selected cooking stick, spread with fluff and toast over the campfire. Your life is now complete.
Campfire Toasted Marshmallow Fluff Strawberries
Campfire Toasted Marshmallow Fluff Strawberries
Last but by no means least it was pancake time. Scotch pancakes, bannocks, dropped scones call them what you will. Our sophisticated woodland recipe was 
1 cup SR flour 
1/3 cup caster sugar 
Pinch salt 
1 egg 
enough milk to blend to a dropping consistency
These were baked over the fire and eaten until tummies were full spread with an assortment of butter, honey, syrup, Nutella and our very own Wildberry Jam. Lots of lovely feedback from those who attended. Watch this space for a bramble ramble...

We had a brilliant morning, my daughter hasn't stopped talking about her adventures.
We had a fantastic time in the afternoon thanks and the kids were so delighted to mix up pancake batter in the woods then cook them on a fire!! We are greatly enjoying our jam and keen to go foraging again very soon
Thank you for such fabulous jam possibly my favourite now! Was great fun and the kids enjoyed it too we will definitely be back again
Just a note to say how much we enjoyed this morning’s Blaeberry Bash. We all had a great time, and thought it was a fantastic event. I hope we’ll be able to come to another Mud Pies/Foodie Quine event some time soon.

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