What to eat in New York City

Thursday, 29 June 2017
Post in collaboration with Netflights

95 Times Square visitors, 7296 coffees drank, 1003 hot dogs eaten, 187 tweets and 83 Instagram posts. Would you believe that all this happens in a New York Minute?

New York New York. So good they named it twice. A visit to The Big Apple has long been on my bucket list. In the back of my mind I had it down as being something that I'd do for my 50th birthday (which is scarily only 5 years away!) however fate intervened by way of a hurricane. To cut a very long and rather stressful story short, last October we were heading to Orlando for a fortnight to do the whole Disney/Universal/Florida thing. Hurricane Matthew came along and put a stop to all flights into the area and we got stranded in NYC. There are undoubtedly worse places to be stranded in the world but I really would have preferred the opportunity to meticulously plan for my first trip to the NYC rather than have it thrust upon me! 

Despite being thrown in at the deep end somewhat, we managed to squeeze a lot into our short time in NYC. It's not called the city that never sleeps for nothing! The folks at Netflights have crunched the numbers to see what the world's most fast-paced city crams into 60 seconds. The results are absolutely fascinating and we certainty contributed to some of the statistics. A lot can happen in a New York Minute. From their What Happens in a New York Minute List we managed to tick off...
  • Coffee - my daughter was very surprised that they have Starbucks in America too!
  • New York Airport - although the taxi driver got lost when we were heading back there...
  • Taxi Ride - see above, but also some more successful ones!
  • Times Square - it's not actually a square which surprised me, more of an area.
  • Bridge Crossings - there seemed to be loads on the way to/from the airport.
  • Tweeting about NYC - obviously!
  • Central Park - alas no skating in October.
  • NYC Instagrams - double obviously!

Still to contribute towards...
  • Buy a copy of the New York Times - we saw the vending machines that sell them.
  • Eat a Hot Dog - can't believe we never had one, but saw loads of hot dog carts.
  • Use the Subway - nope.
  • Buy a ticket to a Broadway Show - if only! Definitely next time.
  • Trade on Wall Street - will leave that to Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen.
  • Eat Pizza - is it bad that I can't remember of we ate a slice or not?!
  • See a NYC Sports Teams - alas no Nicks, Yankees or Mets for us.

Our whistle-stop tour covered Times Square, Central Park, Top of the Rock and a nigth time boat trip out to the Statue of Liberty. We never made it as far as any of the Museums or to Ground Zero. Got to leave something to do next time. Of course there was also the food, but again I had no time to plan so we had to go for iconic rather than quirky and off the beaten track. However, NYC foodie must dos that we managed to tick off were

Hershey's Chocolate World
Ellen's Stardust Diner

And on the list for next time.. (oh yes there WILL be a next time!)D

  • Hot dogs 
  • Doughnuts and Cronuts 
  • Pastrami on Rye 
  • Milkshake & Ice Cream 
  • Chicken & Waffles 
  • Pizza 
  • Bagels with Lox (smoked salmon) 
  • Burgers 
  • Tacos 
  • Something from a Food Truck 
  • Barbecue 
  • Cocktails in a Speakeasy

Dylan's Candy Bar
Junior's Cheesecake

Have you been to The Big Apple? What did you eat and are there any foodie must have's that I've missed out on?

For further NYC inspiration check out the following posts...

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www.foodiequine.co.uk Must eat foods in New York City - hot dogs, bagels, cronuts, cheesecake, pastrami on rye... Plus find out what happens in a New York minute.

Disclosure: This is a commissioned post for Netflights. As always, all views expressed are my own. 
Thank you for supporting the brands who make it possible for me to continue to share my Edible Scottish Adventures with you. I’m super choosy and promise to bring you only the cream of the crop.


BBQ Steak and Shrimp Kebabs with Maple and Mustard Glaze

Friday, 23 June 2017
Post in collaboration with Iceland Foods

Succulent and tender Shrimp & Steak Kebabs glazed with Maple Syrup and Wholegrain Mustard will raise your grilling game. BBQ made easy with the help of frozen food plus my top five tips for successful barbecuing.

When the sun shines everyone loves a BBQ. However as far as British Barbecues are concerned you really do have to grab the chance when the weather plays ball. This is where studious stocking of your freezer can play a part. The #PowerOfFrozen combined with sunshine can make for a perfect BBQ. Since I've been working with Iceland on their Power of Frozen campaign my eyes have really been opened to the quality and variety of frozen food they stock. Yes there are the basics of peas, fish fingers, garlic bread and pizza but I've also discovered specialty meats and fish, convenient fruit and vegetable medleys, rice, grains and superfoods. Oh and plenty of barbecue favourites! A well stocked freezer helps to avoid a last minute dash to the supermarket when barbecue weather beckons (and the disappointment of finding the supermarket shelves bare as everyone else has had the same idea!)

So you've been to Iceland (or used their convenient online ordering and home delivery service for which they've just won a Gold Grocer Award) and now it's time to fire up the BBQ. Whether you are using charcoal, gas or a disposable BBQ here are my top five tips for success...

1. Bin the firelighters and lighter fuel
They will taint the flavour of the food with a nasty chemical taste. Instead get yourself a Chimney Starter and don’t ruin a BBQ with lighter fluid flavored steaks.

2. Use a digital thermometer
Charred doesn't mean cooked and just because something looks done on the outside doesn't mean it is on the inside. A thermometer gives you peace of mind and ensures you can cook steaks exactly to personal preference whether that be rare, medium or well done.

3. If you're looking it ain't cooking
Try not to peek and don't keep lifting the lid - keep it closed while you grill. With the lid on heat works on the food from above as well as below. Take the lid off and all the hot air escapes and the food cooks from below only.

4. Practice good food safety
You want your BBQ to be memorable for all the right reasons. Use different utensils, plates and chopping boards for raw and cooked food. Keep cold foods below 5°C and hot foods above 63°C and don’t leave food that you would store refrigerated standing around in the warm before serving.

5. Sides should never be an afterthought
Accompaniments served with BBQ are often second rate at best. Don't let this be the case. Get inventive with your vegetables, salads and sauces. Upgrade humble burger buns to brioche and flatbreads. Put as much effort into the sides as you do with the chargrilled protein.

For today's recipe I've used a couple of premium products from Iceland's freezers. I'd previously tried the Extra Lean Belgian Blue Beef Steaks as there was a pack in my bag for the May Mystery Challenge however the Argentinian Red Shrimp were a new product for me. These wild caught Red Shrimp are responsibly sourced in the Southwest Atlantic Ocean. They are raw, headless & shell on. The flavour is amazingly sweet and succulent and the shells are pre-split for easy peeling - this is such a good idea and takes away all the hassle associated with eating prawns with no need for asbestos fingers! Whilst the quality of these ingredients mean they'd be perfect cooked 'au natural' I chose to combine them with a piquant glaze made with sweet maple syrup and tangy wholegrain mustard. This works a treat with pretty much anything on the grill so don't be afraid to also give it a try with chicken, sausages or salmon. To accompany I used one of my favourite Iceland products. Cous Cous with Vegetables. This takes only 7 minutes in the microwave to cook. I served it cold with some fresh herbs stirred through. 

The sun is out, the BBQ is lit and the heavens open. Fear not you can still make the recipe below indoors under the grill or on a griddle pan. Either way - rain or shine - I'd advise optimism and stocking up your freezer! Fingers crossed for a BBQ summer. 

BBQ Steak and Shrimp Kebabs with Maple and Mustard Glaze

1 Tbsp Pure Maple Syrup
1 Tbsp Wholegrain Mustard
Salt & Pepper

Serving Suggestion - Cous Cous with Vegetables 

Shrimp - Defrost at room temperature for approximately 2-4 hours or overnight in refrigerator. 
Steak - Defrost in a fridge for 24 hours. Allow the steak to rest for 10 minutes at room temperature before cooking.

Cut the steak into bite sized chunks and thread onto skewers alternating with the red shrimp.
Mix together the maple syrup and mustard in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper. 
Brush the glaze onto the steak and shrimp skewers.
Cook on a hot barbecue for 3 minutes on each side or until the steak is to your liking and the shrimp are cooked through. 

For further #PowerOfFrozen alfresco BBQ inspiration check out the following recipes from my fellow bloggers and go forth and stock up your freezer so you are ready at the drop of a hat when the sun does put in an appearance.

Diana at Little Sunny Kitchen - Piri Piri King Prawn Skewers
Jane at The Hedgecombers - Surf & Turf Kebabs
Katherine at Veggie Desserts - Mexican Grilled Chipotle Salad in Tortilla Bowls

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www.foodiequine.co.uk  Succulent and tender Shrimp & Steak Kebabs glazed with Maple Syrup and Wholegrain Mustard will raise your grilling game. BBQ made easy with the help of Frozen Food plus my top five tips for successful barbecuing #PowerOfFrozen

Disclosure: This is a commissioned recipe for Iceland Foods. As always, all views expressed are my own. 
Thank you for supporting the brands who make it possible for me to continue to share my Edible Scottish Adventures with you. I’m super choosy and promise to bring you only the cream of the crop.


24 Hours in Glasgow #PeopleMakeGlasgow

Wednesday, 21 June 2017
People Make Glasgow. 24 hours in Scotland's second city discovering it's food, drink, culture and humour with a focus on the resurgence of Merchant City's Miller Street.

My first experience of Glasgow was back in 1988 at the Glasgow Garden Festival. I have amazing memories of this family holiday and vivid recollections of the Rotundas, Finnieston Crane and the Bell's Bridge. Another major experience was the Commonwealth Games in 2014 where we saw gymnastics, athletics and the cycling road race. In the intervening years my sister studied for 4 years at Strathcyde Uni in Glasgow and I've visited on various occasions for gigs, shopping, the world pipe band championships, my hen night (Victorias Nightclub!) and even to sing with Rock Choir at the Royal Conservatoire. Over the years Glasgow's branding has had various reincarnations. Glasgow's Miles Better, Glasgow City of Culture, Glasgow – Scotland With Style and the current People Make Glasgow. Whatever the tagline the city always has a real buzz about it, there's plenty of weegie banter, humour, warmth and friendliness to be found in Glasvegas.

I travelled to Glasgow on a Scotrail train along with fellow Aberdeen blogger Anastasia of Natbees. Rail is my absolute favourite way to travel from Aberdeenshire to the central belt. It takes all the hassle out of driving and parking, the onboard wifi enables me to catch up with work and the train takes you straight to the city centre, in this case Glasgow's Queen Street Station. The itinerary for the weekend was to explore the 'Miller Street Massive'. Miller Street lies slap bang in the middle of the Merchant City area of Glasgow and is undergoing somewhat of a renaissance. To find it, come out of Queen Street Station at the George Street exit, turn left into George Square, then right at the Sir Walter Scott Column crossing the square into Hanover Street, cross Ingram Street and you'll be in Miller Street. Literally 5 minutes from the station so a perfect central location. Out hotel and three eating/drinking venues were all within stumbling distance of a couple of hundred yards. Time to check into Ibis Styles Glasgow.

The hotel reception is located on the first floor and it's contemporary Glaswegian vibe hits you as soon as you step into the lobby with the greeting of 'Have a Belter'. A lift with graffiti depicting the Glasgow skyline took us to check in at the open plan reception come bar/restaurant/breakfast room which is adorned with iconic emblems of the city and its people. Fantastic artwork on display from Hee-Haw, loved the highland cow! Our twin room continued the theme with traffic cones, tunnock's teacakes, finnieston crane and police phone box. Plenty of photo opportunities to be had and some lovely goody bag and basket treats both from Ibis and People Make Glasgow. The welcome message on our TV was spot on, although I do wonder what non Scots may make of the lingo!

Our 7th floor room was modern and practical with comfortable beds and an excellent shower. The air conditioning was spot on - nothing worse than a stuffy hotel room. There were power points in all the places that there should be - next to the bed for your phone and beside the mirror for your straighteners! USB ports too. We didn't hear any outside noise which being so central was surprising - but very welcome. Breakfast is included in the room rate and was continental and plentiful in style, there's also self service pastries, fruit, tea and coffee available 24/7 in reception which is a nice touch if you get peckish. Most definitely a hotel I would return to without a doubt. 

The first scheduled stop on our itinerary was Afternoon Tea at Cup Merchant City. Cup is located in Virginia Court, just off Miller Street. By day it is Cup and by night Gin 71. My interest was instantly multiplied! Regular readers will know that Gin is VERY much my thing. They offer a selection of Afternoon Tea menus including vegetarian, children's, teenage and gluten free. Cost per head is £20 with upgrades available to include prosecco (+£2.50) gin or cocktail (+£5) or Champagne (+£7.50) They also do Gin based sharing Cocktails served in a Teapot. We tried all three of these before moving on to Breakfast Blend Tea. An embarrassingly conservative choice seeing as they serve over 40 speciality teas.

Our Afternoon Tea Sandwiches consisted of Roast Beef with Wholegrain Mustard Mayo, Smoked Salmon with Lemon and Dill, Cucumber with Cream Cheese and Cracked Black Pepper and Coronation Chicken. The cakes were Lemon Pistachio Loaf, Cupcake of the day, Raspberry Meringue Tartlet, Strawberry Mousse and Billionaire Shortbread. For me it's all about the savouries so I cleared the bottom level completely and only had the tartlet from the top tier before moving onto warm from the oven Blueberry Scones with Jam and Cream. We'd all made a really good attempt at what was on offer, but there was still a lot of food left, however it doesn't go to waste as Cup provide take out boxes so you can enjoy the remainder later, a really great idea as at this point after such a wonderful feast I felt like I wouldn't need to eat again for a very long time.

We spent the remainder of the afternoon exploring the city on foot and by open top bus. Number one on my list was to track down the recently unveiled Sir Billy Connoly Murals commissioned to celebrate The Big Yin's 75th birthday. These join a diverse range of existing street art within easy walking distance of the city centre. with all three tracked down and duly Instagrammed we jumped on a City Sightseeing Gasgow tour bus. I always think that these are a fantastic way to get your bearings and see as much of a city as possible in a relatively short space of time. We stayed onboard and listened to the live commentary for the whole circuit but you can hop on and hop off at each stop if you so desire. I was surprised and delighted to discover how many of Glasgow's Museums have free entry. Kelvingrove, Riverside, People's Palace and The Tall Ship are now firmly on my to do list. The sun was shining with not even a hint of west coast rain and it was lovely to see the city in its full glory thanks to the 'taps aff' weather. Only wish I could have sampled dining in the sky suspended 100ft from a crane in George Square.

As the sun began to disappear it was time for pre-dinner drinks a couple of doors up from our hotel at SoHo. (84 Miller St) Clearly a popular place for both cocktails and eats. I opted for a rather wonderful Salted Caramel White Russian (£6) while my plus one went for Pear, Ginger & Raspberry Mule (£6). By this time our afternoon tea had worn off and bellies were beginning to rumble. Time to move next door.

I must admit that when I saw that dinner would be pizza my heart sank a little. Was this really the best the city could offer me? However Paesano (94 Miller St) was as far as it is possible to be from the stereotypical image of Glaswegian deep fried pizza. Clearly a very popular place to dine as there were queues out the door (they don't take reservations) of folk waiting for a seat or to collect take away orders. There's is a lot to be said for a limited menu that's done really well and that's most definitely the case here. No starters, 8 Pizza's (£5-£8), a couple of specials and a handful of sides (£2-£4). However they do let you mix and match the toppings to create a bespoke pizza - but definitely no pineapple! Some confusion over a rather exotic sounding ingredient followed by much hilarity only to find out that evvo is simply extra virgin olive oil. I went for a Number 3 - tomato sugo with capers, olives, anchovies, mozarella, garlic and evvo. I couldn't resit adding pancetta and asparagus. 

My prosecco arrived in a tumbler which surprised me somewhat, but I can live with it's rustic presentation as it suited the situation. Very shortly afterwards our Pizza's and sides began to arrive. The artisan built wood fired ovens from Naples cook at an intense heat of 500c which means your food is ready fast. We'd already made a start on the sides which included absolutely amazing balsamic onions. These I'm going to have to try and recreate. However the Pizzas were undoubtedly the star. Thin puffy crusts, just the right amount of topping and absolutely amazing flavours. Normally I'd avoid the crusts, but not these. Sourdough proofed for 48 hours mean they are moist, light, digestible and absolutely amazing dipped in a side of fresh ricotta. Now I knew exactly why all those folk were queueing outside. Stupidly we all ordered desert, big mistake, much better just to stick to a coffee. Another top tip for future visits.

Glasgow you were pure dead brilliant so you were. I'll be back to see more of you and next time I promise to stay longer and bring Foodie Loon and the Bairns. (Meantime we'll see you 12th August on a day trip to The Worlds)

For further information on booking your trip to Glasgow visit www.peoplemakeglasgow.com
To book a stay at ibis Styles Glasgow, please visit www.ibis.com or call 0141 428 3400

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www.foodiequine.co.uk People Make Glasgow. 24 hours in Scotland's second city discovering it's food, drink, culture and humour with a focus on Merchant City's Miller Street.

Disclosure: We stayed, ate, drank and explored as guests of Glasgow Life, Ibis, Cup, Soho and Paesano.
As always, all views expressed are my own.
Thank you for supporting the brands who make it possible for me to continue to share my Edible Scottish Adventures with you. I’m super choosy and promise to bring you only the cream of the crop.

Strawberry, Almond and Chocolate Chip Muffins

Friday, 16 June 2017
Post in collaboration with Scotty Brand

Fresh, delicious Scottish strawberries that taste and smell of summer combine with almonds and dark chocolate to make the perfect muffin. So quick and easy to make and perfect for breakfast, with a cuppa or as a dessert with a scoop of ice cream on the side.

Strawberry season is here! These days we're used to seeing them on the Supermarket shelves all the year round but local and seasonal really is best. Whilst it's great to get out and indulge in some 'Pick Your Own' action at a local farm, we all love the convenience of being able to buy berries in the supermarket. For those of us in Scotland the next best thing is available thanks to Scotty Brand. All their berries are grown by Bruce Farms in rural Perthshire, run by a family who have been farming since 1898. The gentle climate and the light, fertile soil of the region make for excellent berry growing conditions. 

Scotty Brand only use select strawberry varieties for optimum taste and they are strictly seasonal (June - September) so their customers only ever enjoy the very best fruit. Find them on sale in Scottish Asda and Morrison stores. Just one bite and you'll see that they are proper tasty Strawberries bursting full of flavour.

How do you like you eat your strawberries? Au natural? or with a dollop of cream or ice cream ? or my own personal favourite - condensed milk! Whilst strawberries are undoubtedly delicious by themselves they are also a very versatile fruit for a variety of desserts, baking and drinks. In my recipe today I've combined them with the classic flavours of almond and dark chocolate in a quick and easy to make muffin which is perfect for breakfast, with a cuppa or as a dessert with a scoop of ice cream on the side.

Strawberry, Almond and Dark Chocolate Chip Muffins
Makes 10 large/12 medium muffins

175g Plain Flour
3 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Salt
75g Caster Sugar
50g Ground Almonds
60g Porridge Oats
1 Free Range Egg
240ml Milk
90ml Vegetable Oil
1 punnet/300g Scotty Brand Strawberries, diced
75g Dark Chocolate Chips
25g Flaked Almonds

Preheat the oven to 190c and place paper cases in a muffin tin.
In a large bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Then add the ground almonds and porridge and stir to combine.
In a separate bowl beat the egg with a fork before adding the milk and oil.
Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry mixture and stir until just combined. Add two thirds of the strawberries and the same of the chocolate chips and gently mix. 
Spoon into the prepared tin and top with the reserves strawberries, chocolate chips and flaked almonds. 
Bake for 25 minutes or until tops are lightly browned and spring back when pressed gently.

For further inspiration of what to do with your Scotty Brand Strawberries here are some more of my recipes which incorporate them

I've even commissioned a new seasonal logo from mimihammill.com to celebrate summer. The Strawberry takes pride of place alongside my haggis, christmas pudding, pumpkin and easter egg variants. 

I've also just published a fantastic selection of Strawberry recipes in my new role as BritMums roundup editor plus there's plenty of Strawberries to be had in my Wimbledon Recipe Roundup from last summer. You'll be berry spoiled for choice! 

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www.foodiequine.co.uk Fresh, delicious Scottish strawberries that taste and smell of summer combine with almonds and dark chocolate to make the perfect muffin. So quick and easy to make and perfect for breakfast, with a cuppa or as a dessert with a scoop of ice cream on the side.

Disclosure: This is a commissioned recipe for Scotty Brand . As always, all views expressed are my own. 
Thank you for supporting the brands who make it possible for me to continue to share my Edible Scottish Adventures with you. I’m super choosy and promise to bring you only the cream of the crop.


Scotch Beef, Cheese and Haggis Burgers

Wednesday, 14 June 2017
Post in collaboration with Expedia

Only three ingredients yet full of flavour. Scotch Beef, Mature Cheddar Cheese and Haggis combine to create a succulent burger that is undoubtedly greater than the sum of it's parts.

Food and travel are inexplicably linked. I'll hold my hands up and admit that many, if not all of my holidays are planned around food. I reckon that's not a bad thing especially given my recent edible adventures to Iceland and Singapore and upcoming ones to Italy and France. However you don't need to leave the UK to enjoy a fantastic foodie trip as there's a year round wealth of food and drink-themed activities and events around the country, from major food festivals to celebrations of local produce. Expedia have created a UK Food Map to highlight the best of these events. This handy guide allows you to use their month-by-month filters to explore what's on where and when you spot something you like you can click the ‘find a cottage’ link to see the range of holiday cottages nearby. For me a holiday cottage is absolutely the best option for a foodie adventure as it offers me the the freedom to dine out and sample local restaurants combined with the facilities to cook for myself with goodies bought from local farm shops and producers. It really is the best of both worlds. 

The event in June that caught my eye on the Food Map is The Royal Highland Show. Described on the Expedia map as 'Scotland's annual agriculture showcase www.royalhighlandshow.org attracts up to 190,000 visitors. For foodies, the highlight is Scotland's Larder Live, which is packed with talks, tastings and food stalls.' As a farmer's daughter the Highland Show in Edinburgh has been an annual pilgrimage from a very early age. I didn't quite know how early until I quizzed my Mum about my first visit. Turns out I went as a bump in her tummy. A slight bleed resulted Mum being taken from the showground by ambulance and admitted to hospital. Meanwhile Dad stayed at the show for the rest of the week and never even mentioned to their fellow Young Farmers Club friends that Mum was in hospital! Typical farmer.

Whilst the Highland Show has always been a must do for the farming community, over the years it has expanded to provide something for everyone. Of course farming is still the main event but it also includes an outdoor living and countryside area, shopping & fashion, entertainment, children's activities, renewable energy and food & drink. However for me its the stocklines that really encompass what the show is about. That combined with the Scotland's Larder area shows off the whole ethos of Farm to Fork. When it came to creating a recipe inspired by the show it simply had to be Scotch Beef. To complement it I've used two more fantastic Scottish products. Haggis and Cheese. These three ingredients come together to make a fantastically tasty and succulent burger that is even greater than the sum of it's parts.

Scotch Beef, Cheese and Haggis Burgers
Makes 8

500g Lean Scotch Beef Mince
454g Haggis
200g Mature Scottish Cheddar, coarsely grated

Remove the haggis from its outer cover and cut into small cubes - approx 1cm. Place in a bowl along with the Scotch Beef Mince and the Grated Cheese. No additional seasoning is required. 
Mix until everything is blended together, the best way to do this is to use your hands.
Divide the mixture into 8 even portions and shape into patties or use a burger press. 
The burgers can then be cooked in a frying pan, under the grill or on the barbecue for about 10 minutes or until nicely browned and cooked through. Turn them halfway through the cooking time.
Serve in a bun with your favourite condiments and sides.

When it comes to choosing your beef, the logo and wording you need to look out for is Scotch Beef PGI. PGI stands for Protected Geographical Indication. It’s an EU scheme to protect and promote high quality traditional and regional food products unique to a geographic area. Scotch Beef has long held this coveted PGI status and is specially selected and only sourced from Scottish farms that adopt best practice regarding animal welfare and natural production methods. When you see the PGI badge with the Scotch Beef logo, you can be confident that all cattle were born, reared and processed in Scotland and hold whole life quality assurance.

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Disclosure: This is a commissioned recipe for Expedia. As always, all views expressed are my own. 

Thank you for supporting the brands who make it possible for me to continue to share my Edible Scottish Adventures with you. I’m super choosy and promise to bring you only the cream of the crop.

Fine Dining at Douneside House in Royal Deeside

Friday, 9 June 2017
A relaxing visit to an historic and luxurious country house hotel in the heart of Royal Deeside. Douneside House offers fine dining, a range of leisure facilities, stunning gardens and impeccable levels of service.

One of the many things that I love about my blogging journey is that along the way I've had the opportunity to discover some fantastic places to visit, eat and stay that I simply wouldn't have known about otherwise. Last weekend we headed out to Royal Deeside on one such edible adventure. I'd been contacted by The MacRobert Trust to tell me about a property they own called Douneside House which has recently been upgraded and re-opened as a luxury country house hotel. I'll admit that whilst I'd heard of the MacRobert Trust and the fantastic charity work that they support in this area and further afield, Douneside House wasn't on my radar at all. 

The history of Douneside is both tragic and inspiring. The MacRobert family purchased the Douneside Estate as a holiday home in 1888 adding extra rooms and a tower to transform it into the spectacular country house and gardens which are to be admired today. Sir Alexander and Lady MacRobert had three sons, all of whom died under tragic circumstances. The eldest, Sir Alasdair, was killed in pre-war times during a civil aviation accident. His younger brothers were both commissioned in the Royal Air Force, Sir Roderic as a pilot and Sir Iain as a pilot officer. Both of them were killed within six weeks of each other during the Second World War. The MacRobert family were well known locally as significant philanthropists, which is why, following her sons’ deaths, Lady MacRobert decided to set up a charitable trust in their honour. Today, Douneside House is owned and run by the MacRobert Trust in memory of Lady MacRobert, who wished for the House to remain a place of tranquillity and peace. All surplus profits generated at Douneside are either re-invested into the Estate, or donated to charitable causes. In addition Douneside House extends a warm welcome to military guests, with exclusive accommodation periods and discounted rates

Douneside is located in the heart of Royal Deeside on the outskirts of the village of Tarland, 7 miles from Aboyne. The house itself has 14 bedrooms and there are also a range of apartments and cottages on site which are dog friendly. Much to my daughter's disgust we don't have a dog but never-the-less our accommodation was in the Gatehouse Cottage. This charming property located 300 yards from the main house has three ensuite bedrooms (two doubles and a twin), a sitting/dining room, small kitchen and a patio area. It was cosy and comfortable with views across the infinity lawn and pitch and putt. One of the things that we'd been eagerly anticipating about our stay was the opportunity to partake in putting, croquet and badminton on the immaculately manicured Douneside lawn. Fierce competition ensued in all the events - particularly the croquet! We also took full advantage of the swim, sauna, steam and jacuzzi facilities in the adjacent health club (plus pool, table tennis and table football in the games room!). Plenty to keep our teenage kids occupied - and if that failed there was always wifi.

The house sits in 17 acres of stunning gardens which are maintained and nurtured by the MacRobert Trust’s expert horticultural team. These range from formal areas to rock pool gardens, an arboretum, greenhouse and a walled kitchen garden. There are a multitude of nooks and crannies to discover with bridges, seating areas, streams and stepping stones. Organic vegetables, salad leaves, herbs and fruit produced in the walled garden makes its way to the kitchen and onto the menu. Head Chef at Douneside is David Butters. He joined from Gleneagles and has also worked at various other high-end properties, including the five-star Longueville Manor. Non-residents are welcome for lunch, afternoon tea or dinner with advance reservations.

After a busy afternoon we were more than ready for a pre-dinner drink and canapes in the bar. Our stay was inclusive of a set three course table d'hote menu (£35). A six course taster menu (£60) is also on offer which I looked at longingly (even moreso as it was being brought out course by course to fellow diners complete with matched wine pairings!). A colourful selection of canapes was served including an olive surprise, haggis bon bon, smoked salmon and beetroot and goats cheese meringue. A real taste of what was to come. Girl not being the most adventurous of eaters ordered fruit salad, pasta and sticky toffee pudding from the kids menu. Boy meanwhile asked if he could use his paper round earnings to upgrade to six courses. With our dinner order taken and canapes eaten we were led through from the bar into the light and bright dining room which was at Saturday night full capacity. 

There are only two choices for each course although any specific dietary requirements can be catered for with advance notice. Having spotted rather a lot of bunnies causing havoc in the gardens I'd joked about there perhaps being 'Casserole de Lapin' on the menu. It was a case of be careful what you wish for as one of the starters was Wild Rabbit and Foie Gras Terrine! Two of us went for the terrine which was served with a-la-grecque vegetables, parsley, mayonnaise. My son opted for Salmon Gravalax, quail egg, lemon, cucumber, rosemary toasts. The starters both looked and tasted amazing and were accompanied by a selection of delicious homemade breads and whipped butter. Girl surprised us all by devouring four slices of Guinness, Fennel and Rye bread. Perhaps I'll make a foodie of her yet?!

My main was Butter Roast Loin of Monkfish Tail, Pancetta, Pea, Beetroot and Bacon Foam. Another stunning looking and tasting dish. The boys went for the vegetarian option which was Rotolo, Wild Mushroom & Goats Cheese, Garden Herbs, Wilted Spinach. To be truthful we had no idea what it actually was when we ordered it! Turns out Rotolo is a lesser known Italian pasta dish where a filling is rolled up in pasta sheets then rolled like a roulade, poached, sliced then served. Every day's a school day! The presentation was much more rustic than all the other dishes but the flavours were amazing.

Cheese is always going to win over chocolate so whilst boy opted for the Milk Chocolate Delice, Candied Orange, Pistachio Ice Cream it had to be the Artisan Cheese Board for myself and Foodie Loon. A wonderful selection of Scottish and French cheese accompanied by quince, celery, oatcakes and frozen grapes. Whilst the kids headed back to the Gatehouse for the Britain's Got Talent Final we retired to the bar for coffee and drinks accompanied by homemade marshmallows and fruit pastilles. A Gin and a Whisky from an extensive choice of both was the perfect end to a wonderful evening.

We headed back to the main house on Sunday morning for breakfast prior to our 11am check out, however they weren't getting rid of us that easily! We'd still to have a croquet rematch, a game of tennis and do some more exploring in the gardens. We even managed an alfresco coffee before the heavens opened which we took that as a sign to head home. Douneside House is a real gem that's full of history and with a high quality food offering combined with impeccable yet unobtrusive service it's sure to quickly cement it's place in the Aberdeenshire hospitality scene. Next time I'll be sampling all six courses. 

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www.foodiequine.co.uk Fine Dining at Douneside House, Aberdeenshire, Scotland.A visit to an historic luxury country house hotel in the heart of Royal Deeside. Fine dining, a range of leisure facilities, stunning gardens and impeccable levels of service.

Disclosure: We stayed and dined as guests of The MacRobert Trust and Douneside House. As always, all views expressed are my own.
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