Chicken and Gnocchi Traybake

On cold days you want eat something wholesome and delicious with very little effort, and this is perfect. Roast chicken veggies and potato dumplings mmm.

What’s even better is that everything is cooked in the same tray, so you have fewer dishes to wash.

I use shop bought gnocchi, as most of us don’t have time to make them. This helps make this a really easy dish, that just needs to be assembled and then the oven does the work.

Ingredients

8 Small or 4 large chicken thighs

1 Leek (cut into chunks)

1 Red pepper (cut into chunks)

100 Grams Spinach

1 Tsp Smoked paprika

1 Tbsp Olive oil

1 Tbsp White wine or cider vinegar (I promise you won’t taste vinegar, but it will help bring out the flavours)

500 Grams Bag of Gnocchi

Salt and pepper

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees (Celsius)
  2. Sprinkle the olive oil on the base of a large roasting tray
  3. Place the chicken, Leeks, peppers and gnocchi in the tray and sprinkle with smoked paprika, salt and pepper
  4. Bake for 30 minutes, and remove from the oven. Sprinkle the vinegar over vegetables and add the spinach and mix through the contents of the tray
  5. Bake for a another 15 minutes and the serve. Double check that the chicken is cooked (the juices should run clear, cook for longer if they aren’t)

Blackberry Muffins

When it’s cold and wet outside its nice to have a recipe that you can rustle up something yummy out of what you have in the cupboards. These are great for brunch, lunch boxes, or just because you want something nice with a cup of tea or coffee.

I’ve used frozen blackberries and orange zest to flavour these. This can be swapped for blueberry and lemon, which is also delicious. Dried fruit works well too.

Makes 12 Muffins

Ingredients

300 Grams Self raising flour

100 Grams Sugar

100 Grams Butter

2 Eggs

150 Grams Blackberries (defrost first if using frozen)

1 Tsp Vanilla extract

1 Tsp Baking powder

Zest of one orange

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees (Celsius), line a muffin tin with paper cases
  2. In a mixer or with an electric whisk, cream the butter and sugar together
  3. Add the eggs and mix well before adding the flour (set aside 2 Tbsps of flour), baking powder, orange zest and vanilla and mix until combined (it might look a bit lumpy, but that’s OK)
  4. Toss your fruit in the flour you set aside (this will stop it sinking to the bottom of your muffins). Gently fold the fruit through your muffin mix
  5. Spoon the mix into your muffin cases as evenly as possible and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown

Ottolenghi’s Cauliflower Cake

I love Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes, he does some amazing things with vegetables. He’s able to avoid the usual criticisms of vegetarian food, that it can be a bit rabbit foody and uninteresting.

While a lot of people are vegetarian for health reasons, there are times you still want something rich, unctuous and indulgent.

I’ve filed this under Pure Filth due to the amount of cheese involved. The original recipe calls for just Parmesan cheese. I didn’t have enough, so I used half strong Cheddar. This recipe would probably still work well as a way to use up cheese you have hanging about the fridge. The original recipe recommends that it should be served cold or room temperature (I’ve also eaten it hot, as I couldn’t wait on it cooling and it was yummy). I used a mix of nigella (onion seeds) and sesame seeds on the outside, but you could swap out this for just sesame seeds (I think using just nigella seeds would be too much)

Line the bottom of the cake tin and then coat the sides with nigella and sesame seeds

Ingredients

1 Cauliflower

2 red onions

1 Tbsp Olive oil

7 Eggs

1/2 Tsp Rosemary (optional)

15 Grams Basil

120 Grams Plain flour

1 1/2 Tsp Baking powder

1/2 Tsp Turmeric

Salt and pepper

Melted butter (for greasing)

1 Tbsp Nigella (onion) seeds

1 Tbsp Sesame Seeds

75 Grams Parmesan (grated)

75 Grams Cheddar cheese (grated)

Method

  1. Break the cauliflower into florets and simmer in hot water until soft (but not mushy), drain well and allow to cool
  2. Peel the onions, slice half the first onion into 1/2 cm thick rings and set to one side. Coarsely chop the remaining onions.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and fry the onions over a medium heat for 10 minutes, allow to cool
  4. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees (Celsius), and line the base of a 24cm x 24cm spring form cake tin with baking parchment. Brush the sides of the tin with melted butter and sprinkle with the nigella and sesame seeds
  5. Transfer the cooked onions to a large bowl, add the eggs, herbs, and turmeric and whisk in the flour and baking powder
  6. Stir in the cheese, and then add the cauliflower and mix until the cauliflower is coated in the batter (be careful not to break up the florets, as you want to keep some texture)
  7. Add the batter to your prepared cake tin, making sure you spread it to the edges. Top with the onion circles you set aside earlier and bake for 45 minutes

Almondina

After Christmas many of us want a break from big heavy sit down dinners. With cheese and grazing boards becoming popular, almondina are the perfect addition to lend some interest if you’re bored of crackers.

This is also a great recipe to use up any left over nuts or dried fruit. I actually think it’s better to have mix of fruit and nuts.

Ingredients

175 Grams Nuts (I used a mix of almonds, walnuts and pecans, but any mixture will work)

125 Grams Plain flour

25 Grams Brown sugar

125 Grams Dried fruit (I used roughly chopped apricots and dates, if you are using smaller fruit like raisins or sultanas, keep an eye in them during the second bake as they can catch quickly)

1/4 Tsp Baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)

1/2 Tsp Salt

175Ml Milk

Method

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees (Celsius). Grease a loaf pan
  2. Add all the dry ingredients to a large bowl and combine
  3. Stir in the milk with a wooden spoon and when thoroughly mixed transfer to the loaf tin and bake for 60 minutes
  4. Remove from the oven and allow to cool
  5. Wrap in cling film and freeze for 1 hour. This will help you slice the almondina thinly. Do not freeze for longer than this
  6. Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees (Celsius) and line a baking sheet with parchment
  7. Take the almondina out of the freezer and remove the cling film
  8. With a bread knife, slice the loaf into 1/2 cm thick slices and place on the baking sheet for 12-15 mins (until they brown around the edges), before cooling on a wire wrack
  9. These will last in an airtight container for up to a week

Vanillekipferl (Almond Crescent Cookies)

About a million years ago I lived in Germany, and nobody does Christmas or Christmas confectionery like the Germans.

These rich buttery cookies are the perfect Christmas cookie. I have used pistachios but you could use any type of nut you prefer. These are quite rich, but they aren’t something you’ll be eating everyday. They also make great Christmas gifts.

You could also swap out the vanilla extract for almond essence or pistachio paste if you want to experiment with different flavours.

(Makes 24 cookies)

Ingredients

95 Grams Ground almonds

75 Grams Sugar

270 Grams Plain flour

25 Grams Pistachios (chopped)

225 Grams Butter (chilled and cut into cubes)

1 Tsp Vanilla extract

Method

  1. Add all the dry ingredients to a mixing bowl and combine
  2. Add the vanilla extract and butter, and rub the butter into the dry mix (you can also use a food processor to do this)
  3. When the butter has been rubbed into the dry mix, start pressing together to form a dough
  4. Wrap the dough in cling film and chill for 30 minutes
  5. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees (Celsius), and line a baking sheet with baking parchment
  6. Take the dough out of the fridge and turn out on a lightly floured surface
  7. With your hands, roll the the dough into a sausage and divide into 24 equal parts
  8. Shape each section of dough into a half moon shape with your hands and place on your prepared baking sheet
  9. Bake for 12-15 minutes until the cookies start to brown at the edges
  10. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire wrack
  11. When cool, dust liberally with icing sugar
  12. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for 2-3 days

Cranberry and Orange Shortbread Cookies

I love baking at Christmas, something about the smell of delicious things coming out of the oven adds to my Christmas spirit.  It’s also brilliant way to keep little hands busy if you have kids at home.

Fresh out of the oven and cooling on a wire wrack.  Your kitchen will smell fabulous!!!

Shortbread can be fiddly to cut out, but these cookies just need slicing into rounds.  What’s even better, you can make the shortbread dough up to 72 hours in advance and let it chill in the fridge and then take the log of dough out to slice and bake them just before you need them.  They can be stored in airtight box for up 3 days (they won’t last that long).

Shortbread dough rolled into a sausage ready to be chilled

I used a food processor to make these, which makes them super quick and easy.  If you don’t have one, you can chop the cranberries and mix the butter and flour together using the rubbing in method.

You can also dip or drizzle with dark chocolate if you’re feeling particularly indulgent. However they are still delicious just as they are.

If like me you can’t be trusted to moderate your consumption of these, they also make great gifts.

Makes around 30 cookies

Recipes

70 Grams Dried cranberries

100 Grams Sugar

230 Grams Butter (chilled and cut into cubes)

340 Grams Plain flour

1 Orange (zest and juice)

100 Grams Dark chocolate (optional)

Method

  1. Add the cranberries and about a third of the sugar into a food processor and pulse for about 30 seconds, until the cranberries have started to break up (the shouldn’t be too finely sliced)
  2. Transfer the sugar and cranberry mix to a bowl.  Add butter and flour to the food processor and pulse until they look like fine breadcrumbs.
  3. Add the butter and flour mix to the cranberry mix with the rest of the sugar and the orange zest and mix well
  4. Start adding the juice of the orange a little at a time (how much you will need will depend on your flour). Get your hands in the bowl and start pressing the mix together to form a dough
  5. Turn out onto a large sheet of cling film and squeeze into a sausage shape about 4-5cm in diameter.  Wrap tightly in the cling film, you can also give it a little roll to help it look a little neater
  6. Chill for at least 30 minutes (but the dough can live in your fridge for 2-3 days if you want to make ahead of time
  7. When you are ready to bake, pre heat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Line a cookie sheet with baking parchment. Remove the cling film from the dough and cut into 1cm thick slices and put on the baking parchment (they will spread a little, so allow some space between them)
  8. Bake for 12-15 minutes, and allow to cool
  9. If you want to dip or drizzle the cookies in chocolate, make sure they are cool. Break the chocolate into small pieces into a microwave proof bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds at a time until melted and then either dip the cookies or drizzle with a spoon

Potato Latkes

Food is one of the best ways to nurture people but also remember those who we loved.

We are in the middle of the Jewish holiday of Hanukah. I’m not Jewish, but my much loved sister in law Bobra Fyne was. She was great at describing the customs surrounding the holiday and was a brilliant story teller (she was one of my favourite people in the world).

She also shared my family’s love of carbs and was an amazing cook, and so I made these as a way to remember her.

Squeeze your grated potatoes in a clean tea towel to remove as much liquid as possible

This is a simple recipe from Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food. While grating the potato is a bit of a faff the results are delicious served the traditional accompaniments of sour cream or apple sauce. Similar to a potato rosti, they can be served as an appetiser or side dish.

Ingredients

1kg Potatoes

2 Eggs

1 Tsp Salt

Oil for frying

Method

  1. Peel and grate the potatoes, rinse in cold water to remove the starch.
  2. Drain in a colander. Depending on the type of potatoes you use, you might need to put the grated potatoes in a clean tea towel and squeeze out the excess liquid. Transfer to a large bowl
  3. Lightly beat the eggs with the salt and add to the potatoes. Mix until combined
  4. In a large pan, add just enough oil to cover the base and heat over a medium heat
  5. Add a tablespoon of the potato mixture to the pan at a time and flatten slightly so they cook evenly, (they should be thin enough to make sure you don’t have raw potato in the middle)
  6. When brown, turn with a spatula and cook until brown on he other side
  7. Drain on kitchen paper and serve while hot

London – Covent Garden and Dinner at the Ivy

Covent Garden

You could visit London twenty times and never see the same thing twice. However, there are some places that draw you back.

Monmouth Street

Covent Garden and the Seven Dials area are probably thought of as pure tourist areas, but I’m OK with that.

Neal’s Yard

If gorgeous buildings, quaint shops, street performers and bustling nightlife are your thing then you’ll love it.

I visited last week when the area was being decorated for Christmas. Little outdoor pods are popping up everywhere to allow people to enjoy outdoor drinking/dining.

The Ivy

As a birthday treat, my friend Bronagh booked us into the Ivy for dinner. There are several Ivy restaurants in London, but the original is in the heart of theatre land and has always been a favourite haunt of acting luvvies as far back as Noel Coward.

Seafood bisque

Smaller than I expected, the service was immaculate from the minute you walk through the door until you leave when the lovely coat check lady slips your coat on and artfully arranges your scarf for you.

Veal Holstein

The gorgeous art deco interior is classy but understated. The lighting is the perfect mix of being flattering to anyone over 30, bright enough to let you celeb spot (you can often catch sight of a Hollywood A lister), and dark enough for people who want to dine ‘discreetly’. It’s the perfect restaurant for people watching.

Chocolate fondant and hazelnut ice cream

The food is also excellent, you don’t survive for as long as the Ivy has in a city with so many restaurants if your food isn’t up to scratch.

The Ivy knows its audience, the food is rich and comforting, with dishes like cottage pie and steaks seeming popular. Classic dishes done well, you won’t find infused foams and molecular gastronomy on the menu.

Pisco and Yuzu Sour
Elderflower and Lychee Martini

It may not be somewhere most people would visit weekly, but well worth visiting for a treat. There are also fabulous watering holes nearby for pre or post dinner cocktails.

London – Borough Food Market

I have visited London lots of times, but it never fails to show me something new.

I visited recently, and heard great things about Borough Market along the South Bank.

The place is a foodies dream, serving street food from around the world, as well as specialist retailers selling everything from sea urchins to hand made pasta and pastries.

If you’re eating from one of the street food vendors you’ll be spoiled for choice, but seating is limited. The market also has good bathroom facilities.

Some vendors are only there on certain days but the market will definitely have something for everyone.

Pierogis (Polish Dumplings)

Potato and cheese pierogi

I visited Krakow recently, and loved everything about the place. What I really fell in love with were pierogis, served in pretty much every restaurant.

Our food guide told us the it’s really common in Polish homes for members of the family to get together and make huge batches of pierogis, especially at certain times of year, like Christmas.

This weekend I got together with my Krakow travel companions to drink maybe more than we should and make pierogis.

A few cocktails while cooking with friends. If you’re entertaining family over the holidays I would recommend this as a great way to get everyone involved and keep them entertained.

Pierogis are fairly easy to make and we worked in a kind of production line which made it even easier. I would definitely recommend getting your friends together and giving communal cooking a go. By the time you chat, laugh and have a few drinks you can make loads of them. I didn’t have a recipe for these so we used the BBC Good Food recipe and the dumplings tasted exactly like what he had in Poland.

Pierogis freeze well, double up on the recipe and you can pull them out of the freezer for a quick week night dinner. You can also make a sweet version by simply replacing the filling with raw blueberries and serve topped with sour cream.

Blueberry pierogis with sour cream

Ingredients

For the dough

250 Grams Self Raising Flour (sifted)

1 Tsp Salt

3 Tbsp. Vegetable oil

250-300ml Warm Water

For the filling

250 Grams Mashed potatoes (this is a great way to use up left overs, make sure the mashed potatoes are cold before using)

50 Grams Butter

1 Onion (finely chopped)

250 Grams Cottage Cheese

Method

  1. Add the flour and salt to a bowl, add the oil and then gradually add water and mix until you have a soft dough. Gather into a ball, knead for 5 minutes, wrap in cling film. Chill for 30 minutes
  2. While the dough is resting, melt the butter in a frying pan and cook the onions over a medium heat for 10-15 minutes until they are golden brown
  3. Mix the potatoes and cottage cheese together and stir in two thirds of the fried onions. Mix until thoroughly combined
  4. Roll the dough out as thinly as possible (nobody wants a thick doughy dumpling). Use a cookie cutter or class to cut 4-5 cm circles
  5. Put a teaspoon of the filling in the centre of the circle and lightly wet the edges of of circle. Fold over to create a half moon and press the edges closed tightly
  6. Heat a large pot of water to just before boiling, add the pierogi, about 6-7 at a time (depending on the size of your pot, just be careful not to overcrowd the pot)
  7. When the pierogi start to float, lift out with a slotted spoon and drain in a colander. Keep cooking the pierogi until all the dumplings are cooked.
  8. Serve on a large plate, and sprinkle the remaining fried onions over the top

Herb Walk at Helen’s Bay Organic

Red Dead Nettle

If you’ve followed this blog you’ll know I’m a bit of a foraging nerd. I was really lucky to go on an amazing herb walk with 2 fantastic and highly qualified herbalists (Sarah and Luke) down at Helen’s Bay Organic farm.

The weather was bracing to say the least, but Luke and Sarah were so passionate about their subject that you almost didn’t mind the rain showers and wind.

In my part of the world we’re fortunate to have a brilliant variety of wild plants that are delicious and amazingly good for you. To make things even better, they’re free!

Rose hips

When picking wild food it’s advisable to not pick from roadsides (because of all pollution from passing cars). If you’re picking herbs at low level it’s also worth remembering that dogs might have pee’d on them (so give them a quick wash if you’re not sure).

Rose hips from wild roses

The first wild food we were shown were rosehips, the seedpods of wild roses. It’s not advisable to eat the whole thing as the seeds are an irritant. They make a tasty syrup packed full of vitamin C. In fact only 3 rose hips, has the same amount of vitamin C as a large orange.

Raw dandelion roots produce latex that can be used to treat warts

Dandelions are seen as a scourge by most gardeners’ but has a range of uses. The young leaves can used in salads, the roots make a decent coffee substitute, and it makes a very good diuretic, that removes sodium but not potassium from your body.

Chick weed

Chick weed (so called because chickens go mad for it) is good in salads and tastes quite like spinach and packed full of vitamins. This herb is also great for your skin and can be used in baths as a little treat for your skin

Speed well

Speed well was apparently used as far back as ancient Greece, and helps with muscle injuries and fatigue.

Red Dead Nettle

Red dead nettle (even though the flowers are pink) is a member of the mint family. A powerful anti spasmodic, it’s useful in the treatment of IBS and period cramps.

Shepherd’s Purse

Shepherd’s Purse, can be used to reduce inflammation and can help treat heavy periods and intestinal issues.

Stinging Nettles

Stinging nettles are a pain if you brush up against them, but are an almost perfect super food. Packed with vitamins, minerals and trace elements the young leaves can be picked all year round and eaten in soups and stews. Medicinally they are high in iron, and has proved effective in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and kidney problems.

Dock Leaf

As a kid I was always told if I was stung by nettles to rub my skin with a dock leaf, which proved to be absolutely no use. But it turns out there was something in the old wive’s tale that obviously got jumbled over time. If you ignore the big leaves and look towards the root there are little new almost spiky leaves. If you pick these leaves they release a gel similar to aloe vera, which as it turns out can sooth skin irritation. The roots can also be dried and used to treat skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.

Plantain

My favourite herb of the day was plantain, which tastes a little bit like dried mushroom, but in a good way. This was traditionally made into a poultice to help wounds heal more quickly. If drunk as a tea about 20 minutes before taking certain antibiotics it can boost their effectivness by 3-4 times.

Ivy

Ivy is also seen as a pest by most gardeners’ but can also be used to make a tea. The tea helps treat lung problems like hooping cough and bronchitis.

Just part of our yummy lunch

We were also treated to a tasty lunch of home made nettle soup and nibbles. Sarah and Luke run these walks several time a year based on the seasons. I’m not including a quarter of the fascinating stuff they told us. If you like to geek out a little bit about foraging, this is the experience for you. I would definitely recommend it.

Croque Madame

This is a kind of a pimped up Croque Monsieur (fried cheese and ham sandwich).

I first had this years ago in France in a little café, when I was nursing a particularly rabid hangover and it was miraculous.

It also makes a super quick and easy meal at any time of day. If you’re vegetarian you can leave out the ham, and maybe swap it for some sauteed mushrooms (also delicious).

There are fancier recipes that involve bechemal sauces etc. I have stuck with the simple version I first ate years ago and it literally takes 5 minutes.

Per person

2 Slices of bread

Enough sliced/grated cheese to cover a slice of bread (gruyer is traditional, but use what you have)

1 slice of smoked ham

1 Egg

1 Tbsp Oil

1 Tbsp Butter

(Plus a little extra oil to fry the egg)

Method

  1. Add the oil and butter to a pan and heat over a medium heat
  2. Lay the ham and cheese over a slice of bread and top with the other slice before carefully adding to the pan
  3. Cook for a few minutes and press down gently with a fish slice/spatula until the bottom is brown and crispy, and the gently turn the sandwich and cook on the other side
  4. In a small pan, add a little oil and heat before frying your egg until the white is cooked but the yolk is still soft
  5. Transfer the sandwich to a plate and top with fried egg, and voilà

Michael’s Easy Cannelini Bean Soup

My brother made this soup for me and I loved it.  He only gave me the recipe on condition of a name check, so thanks Michael.

This is proper comfort food, and while the recipe is Vegan friendly it’s a really hearty stick to your ribs meal in a bowl.

I’m not vegetarian, so I topped the soup with some bacon I had left.  But in fairness it’s equally delicious with out it.

Serves 2-3

Ingredients

400 Gram Tin of cannelini beans

2 Stalks of celery (fine chopped)

2 Carrots (grated)

1 Onion (finely chopped)

1 Vegetable stock cube (or tablespoon of buillion powder)

2 Cloves of garlic (crushed or very finely chopped)

1 Tbsp Oil

500 ml Boiling water

Method

  1. Add the oil to a deep sauce pan and heat over a medium heat
  2. Add the onion and fry gently for 5 minutes until the onion softens but doesn’t colour
  3. Then add the carrot and celery and cook gently for an other 10 minutes
  4. Stir in the garlic and beans (including half the water they came in), crumble in the stock cube, add the boiling water and stir well.  Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper if you feel it needs it
  5. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until the the vegetables are soft and then serve with crusty bread

Herb Crusted Hake

Fish is something most of us don’t eat enough of, mainly because we think it’s complicated.

I was lucky enough to attend a fish masterclass at Belfast Cookery School a couple of years ago (I would definitely recommend it for anyone who is a little intimidated by fish) and this is one of my favourite dishes I learned how to make and I love it.

This is super easy and quick enough for a mid week family dinner, but is tasty enough to impress guests if you’re cooking for friends.

I used hake, but any firm white fish will do. One of my kitchen hacks I bore people with is to make and keep a big bag of breadcrumbs in the freezer, as breadcrumbs can be used in so many dishes.

If you want to switch up the flavours you can try different herbs, or try adding a little lemon zest or finely chopped chillies if you enjoy a little bit of heat. This is also a great dish to get kids cooking.

Serves 2

Ingredients

250 Grams Hake (I used steaks, but fillets work too)

50 Grams Breadcrumbs (thaw them first if you are using frozen ones)

25 Grams Parmesan cheese (finely grated)

2 Tbsp Herbs (I used parsley and coriander, but use the herbs you like)

2-3 Tbsp Oil (a neutral oil like rapeseed is good)

Salt and pepper

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees (Celsius), take your fish out of the fridge (like meat, fish is best when it is not introduced to heat while its still “fridge cold”), try to let it come up to room temperature. Run your finger along the fish and remove any bones you find (if you’re using a fish monger, you can ask them to do this)
  2. In a bowl, add your breadcrumbs, herbs and parmesan, gradually add the oil and combine until the breadcrumbs are lightly coated but not greasy (different types of bread will absorb different amounts of oil). Taste a small amount and add salt and pepper if you feel it needs it.
  3. Place your fish on baking parchment in a baking try and pat the breadcrumbs on top. Bake for 10-15 minutes until the breadcrumbs are brown and toasted. If you’re cooking a particularly thick piece of fish you make need to give it a little longer but be careful not to over cook

Crostini with Whipped Feta and Roasted Grapes

I love dishes made with ingredients I usually have in my kitchen. No part of this recipe is difficult, just break it into 3 steps, bread, feta and grapes.

The cheese, oil, yoghurt and spring onions before whipping

This is a pretty fancy starter but all the elements can be made well in advance and assembled at the last minute. If you want to make delicious canapes this also works brilliantly on wafer thin slivers of sour dough bread or those tiny little croustad cups you can buy in some delicatessens It’s also great for a lunch dish.

Straight from the oven, perfect once the grapes start to look s little shriveled

I love whipped feta, and it can be used in salads, wraps, sandwiches or as a dip. It’s also really good with roasted vegetables or sun dried tomatoes.

Feta, once it has been whipped

The roast grapes are something you might not have tried before, but their sweetness works really well with the saltiness of the feta.

Ingredients

For the bread

1 Ciabatta loaf (you can use other breads like sour dough or French baguette if you prefer), cut into 1-2cm thick slices

1-2 Tbsp Olive oil

1 Clove of garlic

For the grapes

250 Grams Red grapes

1Tbsp Oil

1 Clove of garlic (finely chopped)

1/2 Tsp Salt

1/2 Dried thyme, or 3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme

Black pepper

For the Feta

200 Grams Feta cheese

2 Tbsp Yoghurt

1 Tbsp Olive oil

2 Scallions/spring onions (Optional), finely sliced

Black pepper

Method

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees. Remove the grapes from the stem and add to an oven proof dish along with the other ingredients. Swirl the grapes around to make sure they are coated with the oil, thyme and garlic. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the skins start to blister, remove from the oven and allow to cool
  2. Place the sliced bread on a baking tray and drizzle with oil on each side. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes, remove and rub each slice with a clove of garlic
  3. In a large bowl, crumble the feta, and add the other ingredients and whip with an electric whisk for 5 minutes or until creamy.
  4. When the bread is cool, spread with a layer of whipped feta, and top with the roasted grapes

Galgorm Resort and Spa

Galgorm Spa Village

Life in lockdown meant most of us had pretty sucky birthdays this year. I had a big birthday in the middle of lockdown, which was c*ap. However, I’m lucky enough to have a great friend (Bronagh), who treated me to a fantastic night at Galgorm Spa and the 5 course tasting menu in their restaurant.

Spa area

Galgorm is about 30 minutes from Belfast (although we took the scenic route because we got lost). Set amongst 163 acres of mature parkland with the river Maine flowing through the resort, the main hotel reception is a large characterful old house with beautiful open turf fires. The hotel has more modern additions for accommodation, self catering lodges and annexes that cater to weddings and conferences.

I have really been missed travel since Covid hit and visiting here really made me feel like I had proper holiday. The spa facilities are international standard offering a range of treatments and I had one of the best massages I have ever had. The resort has what it calls a spa village which was amazing.

When we arrived we dropped our bags which were taken to our room and all we had to do was change into our swimsuits, and then relax in the robes and flip flops that were provided. Everyone wears these at the spa (it was a but like being in a cult), but with facilities this good I’d be happy to join.

These look like little hobbit houses, but are saunas dotted along the banks of the river.
Just take a rest from all that relaxing

There are a range of indoor and outdoor pools, hydro jets, saunas, steam rooms and a salt cave. It was perfect to sit in the beautiful gardens enjoying a mojito and watch the waterfalls that run beside the hotel.

That evening, totally chilled out we had the fabulous tasting menu in the hotel’s River Room restaurant. The restaurant prides itself in sourcing local artisanal ingredients and grows a lot of what they use in the hotel’s own gardens.

The resort is really luxurious, and the staff who are obviously trained to within an inch of their life are warm and engaging and go out of their way to make your stay feel special. The resort is a destination in itself, but is also close to the gorgeous North Antrim coast if you want to explore . All I can say is thank you Bronagh for an amazing gift.

Crab Claws in Garlic Butter

Some ingredients are so good that you need to do very little with them. Crab claws are one of these ingredients.

Butter and garlic can make most things taste better but match them up with sweet meaty crab claws and within 5 minutes you have one of the most delicious things you’ll ever eat. It might seem like a lot of garlic and butter and you can scale it back if you prefer, but this isn’t an everyday dish, so I think it’s worth the splurge.

If you don’t cook fish at home because you think it can be a bit like hard work, this is really quick and easy. Crab claws usually come ready cooked so there is no preparation, All you’re really doing is heating them.

Ingredients

250 Grams Crab Claws

50 Grams Butter

3 Cloves of garlic

1 Tbsp Parsley (finely chopped, optional)

Method

  1. In a large pan heat the butter, when it starts to melt, add the garlic and the crab claws
  2. Cook over a medium heat for 3-4 minutes until the crab claws are heated through. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with a salad or crusty bread, yum!

Rowallane Gardens

The National Trust has some amazing properties around Northern Ireland. Rowallane is just outside Saintfield village (about 20 mins outside Belfast).

Rowallane consists of a beautiful old house (I forgot to take photos), stable block, walled garden, toilets and café, established gardens and woodlands.

Spring is an amazing time to visit, as everything is in full bloom, including the amazing blue Himalayan poppies. The gardens and woodlands are pretty fabulous at anytime, and with the easing of Covid restrictions a full calendar of events will hopefully be back on soon.

The gardens are popular with dog walkers and families, and are generally accessible for anyone with mobility issues. Kids will love the woodlands with plenty of trees to climb and a meadow to run crazy in.

Sweet Potato and Spinach Curry

I love a good curry, and this is a really tasty and satisfying curry that can be enjoyed by vegans and meat lovers alike.

Coconut milk adds a lovely creaminess to this and I serve with rice or flat bread, to make it even better sweet potatoes and spinach are full of flavour and vitamins. I top this with some toasted cashew nuts for some extra crunch and protein, but it will still be delicious without them.

It’s also quick enough to be a great midweek meal and is packed full of lovely spices without being hot (unless you love chillies, in which case add as many as you like).

Ingredients

500 Grams Orange sweet potatoes (cut into 3-4 cm chucks, I leave the skins but peel if you prefer)

250 Grams Spinach (you can use frozen spinach if this is what you have)

2 Onions (roughly chopped)

1 Red chilli (cut in half, and seeds removed, add more if you like a hot curry)

3 Cloves of garlic (peeled)

Thumb sized piece of ginger (peeled and roughly chopped)

1 Tbsp Oil

1 Tsp Ground Cumin

1 Tsp Ground Tumeric

1 Tsp Ground Coriander

1 Tsp Salt

Juice of 1 lime, or half a lemon

400 ml Tin of coconut milk

400 ml water

2 Tbsp Fresh coriander (chopped, optional)

2-3 Tbsp Cashew nuts (toasted, optional)

Method

  1. In a food processor, add your onions, chilli, garlic and ginger, and blitz until it makes a smooth(ish) paste
  2. Heat the oil in a large pan and add the paste you just blitzed in the food processor, and cook for 5-10 minutes
  3. Add the spices to the pot and cook for another 5 minutes before adding the sweet potatoes, coconut milk and water. Cook for another 10 minutes (or until the chunks of sweet potato are soft)
  4. Add the lime juice, and spinach and cover until the spinach has wilted. When the spinach has wilted check the seasoning, adding salt if needed, and sprinkle with copped coriander, cook uncovered for another 5-10 minutes if you prefer a thicker curry
  5. If you’re adding cashew nuts, toast them in a dry pan for 2 minutes (it will make them even more delicious)

Hummingbird Cake

I’ve loved this cake ever since I tasted it in the States years ago. Not only does it have a cool name but your house will smell unbelievable.

This is also a good way to use up over ripe bananas if you can’t face banana bread (this is much nicer). Cinnamon can be swapped for ground ginger if you’re not a fan.

Ingredients

For the cake

130 Gram Tin of pineapple in natural juice (chop the pineapple finely, and keep the juice)

2 Ripe bananas (mashed)

280 Grams Caster sugar

210 Grams Self raising flour

2 Tsp Ground Cinnamon

60 ml Pineapple juice (from the tin of pineapple)

170 ml Oil

2 Eggs

For the frosting

60 Grams Butter

120 Grams Cream Cheese

180 Grams Icing sugar

75 Grams Pecan nuts (Chopped)

Grated zest of one lemon (optional)

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees. Lightly grease a 20 cm (8 inch) cake tin and line with baking paper
  2. Add the banana, chopped pineapple and sugar to a large bowl and mix until combined. Add the flour and cinnamon and mix well
  3. Whisk the oil, eggs and pineapple juice together before adding to the banana mixture. Stir until properly combined
  4. Transfer the cake mix to the baking tin and bake for 1 hour or until you can insert a skewer in the centre and it comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tin for another 15 minutes. Allow to cool completely before topping with icing
  5. To make the icing, whisk the butter and cream cheese together (I use an electric whisk). Gradually add the icing sugar and orange zest.
  6. Spread the icing evenly over the top of the cooled cake and sprinkle with pecans

Roast Vegetable Couscous

Autumn sometimes sees a glut of great vegetables as growing season comes to end.

I love to roast these vegetables up to bring out their sweetness. Then it’s time to decide if I’m making a soup with them or a side dish like this.

If like me you like roast big batches of vegetables this can be even quicker to make as you’ll have these made already. This is really versatile, you can swap out different vegetables as they come in season.

If you’re vegan, you can enjoy this along with roasted chickpeas. I like it with griddled halloumi, or roast chicken and Greek yoghurt. It can be served hot or cold, and it’s ideal for lunch boxes.

Halloumi with roast vegetable couscous

Ingredients

200 Grams Couscous

Vegetable stock

1 Large courgette (Sliced)

100 Grams Cherry tomatoes

1 Red pepper (Sliced)

2 Tbsps Olive oil

3-4 Cloves of garlic

1 Tbsp Red wine vinegar or lemon juice

1/2 Tsp Cumin

1 Tsp Dried mint, or 2 Tsps fresh mint (chopped)

50 Grams Pomegranate seeds

Salt and pepper

Method

  1. Add the oil, sliced courgette and pepper to an oven proof dish, mix to make sure they are coated and bake in an oven pre-heated to 200 degrees. Include the garlic gloves (left whole with their skins on)
  2. After 20 mins remove from the oven. Stir and add the cherry tomatoes and sprinkle over the vinegar. Bake for another 15 mins (or until the edges of the peppers starts catch)
  3. In a heat proof bowl add the couscous cumin and mint. I recommend checking the instructions on the packet about how much liquid to add. (Then add the corresponding amount of vegetable stock)
  4. Once you have removed the vegetables from the oven, take the roasted garlic and squeeze out the soft centre and stir into the couscous
  5. Stir the vegetables into the couscous and serve

Red Pepper and Chorizo Gnocchi

The Summer has pretty much been a wash out, (when I made this I was watching torrential rain battering my window). So comfort food was the order of the day. Chorizo makes anything taste good, add some gnocchi and cream and you have a little bowl of heaven.

Bursting with flavour

Ingredients

500 Grams Gnocchi (I use shop bought)

75 Grams Chorizo (finely sliced)

1 Onion (thinly sliced)

1 Large red pepper (cut into 2cm cubes)

50 Grams Sun dried tomatoes (finely chopped)

2 Tbsp Olive oil (I sometimes like to use the oil that the sun dried tomatoes comes in, as it has loads of flavour)

1 Tbsp Tomato puree

125 ml Double cream

Salt and pepper

Method

  1. Heat 1 table spoon of oil in a large pan, and fry the chorizo, red pepper and onion until soft, remove from the pan and set to one side
  2. Add the rest of the oil to the pan to heat, add then and the gnocchi, and brown gently all over.
  3. Stir in the tomato puree and cook for another 1-2 minutes, add the sun dried tomatoes and the chorizo and peppers and onion you removed from the pan earlier
  4. Add the cream and stir well ensuring everything is well coated, check if you think it needs salt or pepper. Cook for another 2-3 minutes to reduce the cream if necessary

Pork Chops with Sauerkraut

I know this recipe might divide opinion and I’ll admit sauerkraut isn’t something I normally buy. I ended up with a monster sized pack of it from my vegetable box delivery as a substitution.

I asked round family and friends if there was anyone who was a sauerkraut lover, and couldn’t find a taker. One of them come back to me to explain that I should try to do something with it, as sauerkraut along with other fermented foods like kimchi are amazingly good for your gut health and we should all be eating more of these.

The only recipe I could think of was one I tasted about a million years when I lived in Germany. Kathy, the love lady I worked for made this dish for me once. It might sound a bit strange, and I know sauerkraut and pineapple aren’t two ingredients you would naturally think of together, but give it a chance. When they’re teamed up with pork chops, it works kind of like sweet and sour pork. The sauerkraut also helps make the pork really tender. This makes a great uncomplicated mid week dinner.

Ready for the oven

Ingredients

4 Pork chops

500 Grams Sauerkraut (drained)

350 Grams Can of pineapple rings

Method

  1. Place pork chops in an oven proof baking dish
  2. Cover with the drained sauerkraut, and top with the pineapple rings
  3. Cover with foil and bake in an oven pre-heated to 200 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for a further 20 minutes

Lemon Tiramisu

Before tiramisu purists start, I know this is not strictly speaking a tiramisu. I’m a card carrying coffee fiend, but I’m not a fan of coffee flavour in sweet things.

Delicious slice of tangy tiramisu

What I do love is lemon flavoured desserts. This recipe gives you the creamy unctuous texture of a tiramisu, with the refreshing tang of lemon that stops this being sickly sweet.

The coffee flavour is replaced with lemon and ginger tea, and a shot limoncello gives an extra zing of flavour. This is a good recipe if you’re entertaining, you can make it the day before and it’s easy to plate up.

(N. B. This recipe contains raw eggs and is probably best not served to potentially vulnerable groups like pregnant women, the elderly and very young children)

Ingredients

500 Grams Marscapone cheese

250 Grams Sponge fingers (lady fingers)

2 Eggs

125 Grams Caster sugar

1 Lemon and ginger teabag (you can use other fruit teas if you prefer, but I think this works well)

1 Lemon (juice and zest)

1 Shot of limoncello liquor (optional)

250ml Boiling water

200 Grams Lemon curd

Method

  1. Soak the teabag in the boiling water for 5-10 minutes before removing the teabag. Allow the tea to cool and add the limoncello to the tea
  2. Separate the eggs. Add the caster sugar, lemon juice and zest to the egg yolks and whisk with an electric whisk until light and fluffy. Add the marscapone and whisk again until the ingredients are combined
  3. In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites until they reach firm peaks. Fold the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture with a metal spoon, making sure its thoroughly combined
  4. Briefly dip half the sponge fingers in the lemon tea mixture and line a layer in a 9 x 12 inch dish. When you have a layer of dipped sponge fingers, spread this layer with one third of the lemon curd
  5. Top this layer with half of the marscapone mix
  6. Dip the remaining sponge fingers in the lemon tea mixture and lay on top. Spread this layer again with one third of the lemon curd
  7. Top with the remaining marscapone mix, dot the top with the remaining lemon curd and then drag a knife through it to create a marbled effect
  8. Cover with cling film and leave to chill in the fridge for 3-4 hours, or ideally overnight

Rendang Beef Curry

It may not be beautiful, but it tastes unbelievable

I love Indonesian food and how brilliantly spiced, fresh and fragrant everything is. Rendang can be found across Indonesia, Malaysia and as far as Singapore. According to a CNN poll it was voted one of the most delicious foods of all time, and you’ll probably agree once you try it.

Base ingredients

If you’ve been following this blog you’ll know about my love of Asian supermarkets. You can create a really good store cupboard at a fraction of the price you’d pay at a standard supermarket. So when you look at the list of ingredients and think when am I ever going to use things like tamarind paste, be brave and it will open up a whole realm of possibilities.

Galangal is a member of the ginger family but I think it has more of a citrus like flavour. Substitute this with more ginger if you can’t find it

A good store cupboard means you can experiment with new flavours and will be able to whip new and interesting dishes without any drama.

Anyway, lecture over. This takes about 10 minutes effort at the start, and after that you leave it to cook long and slow for a couple of hours while you get on with something else (ideal weekend cooking). Because of the long slow cooking, this dish can transform cheap cuts of beef into something delicious. I had this made with duck when I was in Bali and it was delicious, but I definitely think beef works better. This is quite a dry curry so don’t worry if most of the liquid evaporates. If you think it’s getting to dry for you, just add a little water.

All your base ingredients, whizzed up and smelling amazing.

Ingredients

500 Grams Chuck Steak (chopped into bite sized chunks)

400 ml Coconut milk

1 Tbsp Tamarind paste

1 Tsp Salt

5-6 Kaffir lime leaves

2 Tbsps Vegetable or coconut oil

1 Tsp Brown sugar (palm sugar is used traditionally, but I didn’t have this)

1 Tsp Ground Coriander

1 Tsp Cinnamon

For the curry paste base

3 Onions (peeled and quartered)

3 Chillies (roughly chopped, and seeds removed if you prefer less heat)

6 Cloves of garlic (peeled)

2 Stalks of lemon grass (outer woody stalk removed and roughly chopped)

Thumb sized piece of ginger (peeled and rough chopped)

Thumb sized piece of galangal (peeled and roughly chopped). If you can’t find this you can substitute this with extra ginger

Method

  1. Load the ingredients for the curry paste base into a food processor and blitz until you have a reasonably smooth paste (it will smell great but your eyes might water due to the onions and chillies)
  2. In a large pan with a lid heat the oil and add your paste. Cook for 5-10 minutes over a medium heat, stirring occasionally
  3. Add the meat to the paste (you don’t need to brown it), and the rest of the ingredients. Stir to make sure all the ingredients are thoroughly combined
  4. Reduce the heat and cover the pan. Cook for two and a half hours, stirring occasionally. About 2 hours in, you may want to uncover the pan to help the liquid evaporate to help thicken and intensify the sauce
  5. This is traditionally served with rice but it’s also great with flat breads. Like most curries I think this actually tastes better the next day.

Mock Crab

It may not be pretty, but OMG it’s tasty.

I have no idea why this is called mock crab, as it isn’t remotely fishy. But, what it is, is a really quick and tasty filling for sandwiches, toasties, and maybe controversially baked potatoes.

My Mum made this mix of corned (chipped) beef, tomatoes and onion for slightly fancier lunches. I love her, but she wasn’t especially adventurous, this was one of the things she knew we all loved.

Someone told me that this was devised during World War II, because people had to rely on tinned food as there could be shortages of fresh food. However it came about, it’s really delicious.

Ingredients

340 Gram Tin of corned beef

1/2 Small onion (finely chopped)

2 Small tomatoes

2 Tbsps Mayonnaise (you can increase this if you want a creamier texture)

Method

  1. Remove the corned beef from the tin and either chop finely or mash with a fork
  2. Finely chop the onion, and chop the tomatoes into 1 cm chunks (you can makes the mix a bit chunkier if you prefer)
  3. Add the mayonnaise and mix well, before filling sandwiches or baked potatoes

Goats Cheese and Beetroot Salad

I have vegetarian friends who scream at the thought of this, because it’s often the only vegetarian option available in restaurants.

I do sympathise, but done well there is a reason why some things are classics I understand that goats cheese is like kryptonite for some people, so I went with a really creamy soft cheese (that wasn’t too “goaty”), but this also works well cheeses like Gorgonzola.

Do you think you’re not keen on beetroot, I was an adult before I actually discovered that I liked it. I was put off by being made to try disgusting pickled beetroot as a child, and having horrible purple vinegar run into the other food on my plate. I’m probably over sharing my personal childhood trauma, but I know a lot of people have been put off for the same reason. When roasted, beetroot is sweet and earthy and goes really well with the soft cheese. I was lucky enough to get little beetroots in my farm box ranging in colour from gold, pink to deep purple, the range of colour is nice but they all taste the same, so give them a go.

Ingredients

150 Grams Soft goats cheese

200 Grams Roasted beetroot

200 Grams Salad leaves (I used rainbow chard, but use what you like)

25 Grams Walnut (Optional, I actually for forgot to add these, but they add some extra crunch to your salad)

2 Tbsp Olive oil

1 Tbsp White wine vinegar

Method

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees, wrap your beetroot in tin foil and place on a baking try. Bake until you can stick with a knife into the beetroot and an its soft. Set to one side and allow to cool, remove the skin with a knife, and cut into bite size pieces
  2. Spread your washed salad leaves across a platter, top with the beetroot
  3. Scoop teaspoon sized dollops of the cheese across the platter and sprinkle with walnuts if you are using them
  4. Mix the oil and vinegar together and drizzle over the salad and serve immediately

No Churn Toasted Marshmallow Ice Cream

This is inspired by a recipe I saw from Katie’s Cucina, and I knew I had to try. I’ve tweaked the proportions of her recipe but it’s pretty straight forward. The hardest thing about it will be not going back and forth to the freezer to “check it’s OK”.

Spread the marshmallows evenly on a tray before placing under the grill

It has only 3 ingredients, and doesn’t need all the faff most ice creams recipes involve, like needing stir it constantly or having to have an ice cream maker.

Remember to keep an eye on these so they don’t burn

This tastes spectacular as it is, but teams really with anything chocolate related. Really the taste of toasted marshmallows is something else. This is definately a pure filth recipe. But there is always room for a little filth in your life.

Ingredients

200 Grams Mini marshmallows

250 ml Condensed milk

125 ml Double cream

Method

  1. Line an oven proof tray with tin foil and rub this with a thin film of oil
  2. Turn on your grill to high, spread the marshmallows evenly across the tray
  3. Put the tray under the grill and watch closely. You’re looking for toasted but not burnt, and this can happen in a matter of seconds if you don’t watch out
  4. In a bowl with the cream and condensed milk together with an electric whisk until it thickens. You can use a stand mixer if you have one
  5. Add the toasted marshmallows gradually (they’ll want clog up the whisk otherwise) and whisk at a medium speed until thoroughly mixed. You’ll see little flecks of brown from the toasted parts of the marshmallow but this where the flavour is.
  6. Freeze for 8 hours (and do your best not to eat it all yourself)

Croquetas de Jamon Serrano (Spanish Ham Croquettes)

Crunchy coating and molten melting centre.

I first had these a couple of years ago in Madrid. The Spanish have an incredibly civilised social life. When going out for the evening you can order plates of tapas to snack on while enjoying a cold beer or glass of wine. Most bars will give you a little snack or tapas if you order a drink, and each bar has their own specialty.

So with a little bar hopping you can taste some great food if you don’t fancy a big sit down dinner. The tapas also helps you slow down to enjoy your drink and is also meant to help line your stomach to help prevent you getting drunk (I honestly didn’t see a single drunk person on my nights out, so maybe they’re on to something)

These croquetas are made with ham, but this can also be substituted with a cheese like manchego, that has a good flavour. While these are a little bit fiddly, you’ll be rewarded with highly addictive tapas that you’ll love.

Makes 10-12

Ingredients

30 Grams Butter

2 Tbsps Olive Oil

1 Small onion (finely chopped)

70 Grams Serrano ham (finely chopped)

500ml Milk

60 Grams Plain flour

2 eggs

Extra flour for coating

Breadcrumbs for coating

Salt and pepper

Bite into the crunchy croquetas to the creamy tender ham flecked centre

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a pan, and fry the onion over a gentle heat (so it doesn’t colour) until until translucent
  2. When the onion is cooked add the butter
  3. When the butter is melted, stir in the flour. Add the milk and stir continuously to make sure there are no lumps
  4. The sauce will start to thicken, keep stirring and simmer until the sauce no longer tastes “floury”
  5. Stir in the ham, and remove from the heat. Check the seasoning, I like to add a little black pepper, but because the ham is salty you shouldn’t need to add any. Place a layer of cling film on top of the sauce (it will stop a skin forming), and allow to cool
  6. Separate out the flour, eggs and breadcrumbs in different bowls
  7. I usually take a good table spoon of the the cooled sauced mixture (which should now be firm), and roll in to a small oblong shape (wetting your hands is a good way to stock them getting sticky)
  8. Once you have rolled all the cooled sauce mixture into little sausages, heat vegetable oil (I usually wait the oi is hot enough for a cube of bread to fry quickly, i know this is low tech but I don’t own a deep fat fryer)
  9. While the oil is heating, roll the little sausage you made first in flour, then egg, and finally roll in the breadcrumbs
  10. Once coated with breadcrumbs add the croquetta to the oil and fry for 2-3 minutes ensuring the brown on all sides (don’t add too many to the oil all at once)
  11. Drain on kitchen paper and eat while hot.

Sausage Rainbow Tray Bake

Loaded with packs of colour and flavour.

OK, the name of this dish is maybe a bit flouncy, but this is a really tasty and colourful dish, so I decided to go a bit whimsical.

One of the few upsides of the whole pandemic is that hopefully people’s behaviour is changing. More and more people are trying to support small local businesses, to help sustain them and avoid the lines in supermarkets.

I’ve starting going back to my local butcher, and found that they offer great value meat parcels. Part of the meat parcel I bought contained sausages, and I had to think about what I could do with them that was a bit more exciting than a sausage sandwich.

While I love food I don’t think you have spend hours slaving away to eat well. This recipe needs about 5-10 minute prep time at the start, and then the oven does most of the work while you get on with your life.

Throw it all in a dish and let the oven do the work

Ingredients

500 Grams Sausages (whatever flavour you like)

500 Grams Butternut Squash (cut into 2 cm cubes)

2 Red peppers (cut into 2 cm chunks)

1 Large or 2 small courgettes (cut into 1 cm think slices)

2 Large red onions (each cut into 8)

2 Tbsp Olive oil

1 Tsp Dried Thyme

Method

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees
  2. Add the oil to an oven proof dish, and then add the butternut squash and time to the dish and bake for 20 minutes
  3. After 20 minutes remove the dish form the oven and add the other vegetables. Mix the vegetables to makes sure they are coated with the oil
  4. Lay the sausages on top of the vegetables and bake for 20 minutes, give the vegetables and sausage another mix and bake for another 10-15 minutes or until the sausage are browned. I like this served with crusty bread, but it also tastes good with mashed potatoes or rice.

Celeriac and Apple Remoulade

Clean, fresh and crunchy

If you’re wondering what remoulade is, the best way to describe it is a fresher, less gloopy, fancier version of coleslaw.

I’m trying to support local businesses and keep my food miles down (so I don’t feel guilty about my travel miles). So I ordered a vegetable box from a local farm. The vegetables were great, but in the middle of the box was celeriac. I had eaten it before but had never cooked with it.

It may not be pretty but it tastes great.

I decided to make remoulade, because it’s a fantastic Summer dish. This is perfect with barbecued meats, but also goes really well with fish. For vegetarians it’s a great addition to salad bowls to add some tang and texture, I also like to use it sandwiches as alternative to coleslaw. This is quick and easy to make, and will in the fridge for 3-4 days.

Great with barbecued meat or fish.

Ingredients

200 Grams Celeriac (roughly grated)

1 Large apple (roughly grated with skin left on)

Juice of half a lemon

1 Tbsp Grain mustard

3 Tbsp Mayonnaise

Method

  1. Remove the course outer skin of the celariac, and grate along with apple before adding to a bowl
  2. Cover the celeriac and apple with the lemon juice.
  3. Stir in the mustard and mayonnaise until thoroughly combined, refrigerate if not eating immediately

Sunnyside Supper Club – Is it ever coming back?

One of the previous supper clubs

Hi Folks, I think this week has seen everyone reach peak cabin fever and I’ve had loads of people in the last couple of weeks asking if I have plans to run any more supper clubs.

The answer is absolutely yes! I was really disappointing at having to cancel supper clubs I had scheduled during the lock down, but thankfully everyone working together has meant COVID 19 is in retreat.

Everyone enjoying dinner at a communal table.

If you’ve ever been to the supper club, you’ll know it’s cosy. Part of the ethos behind supper clubs is that everyone sits at a communal table, and this way you get to eat and chat with people you normally wouldn’t do this with. Usually supper clubs welcome mixes of couples, solo diners, and friends who enjoy good food and the chance to meet new people.

Welcome drinks mmmm.

With this in mind, I have to wait until Public Health Agency guidance around social distancing says that its safe to run events like this. The last thing any of us wants to do is risk the health of others.

So, please be patient. Hopefully it won’t be long before we can enjoy getting out “out” again, speak to people we don’t know, and enjoying meals we haven’t had to shop, cook, and clean up after.

As soon as restrictions are lifted I’ll advertise details of the next date. If you have been to one of the pre lock down supper clubs I hope to see you again soon. If you haven’t been to one yet I promise some cracking nights ahead.

Tropical Rice Pudding

Scrumptious served with ripe mango or pineapple

I’ve mentioned before that when I was a kid, my Mum wasn’t a great cook (I love you Mo, but we both know the truth). Dessert in my house was usually shop bought, and when I was really young one of favourites was tinned creamed rice with a big spoonful of jam.

Fast forward God knows how many years, and I taught myself how to cook. I was also lucky enough to go out into the world and try some amazing flavours. So I decided to try and experiment with some of my favourites. Coconut, ginger and lemon grass gives a new twist on this traditional dessert.

I like this chilled and served with mango or pineapple, but it’s also really good warm, and you can enjoy it with whatever fruit you prefer.

I used milk in this recipe, but you can substitute some of this with cream if want to make a really indulgent dessert. If you want to make a vegan version, swap cow’s milk for almond milk. I’ve tried both versions and they’re both delicious.

Coconut and spices bring a new twist to an old classic

Ingredients

400 ml Can Coconut milk

250 Grams Pudding rice

40 Grams Sugar

500 ml Milk

1 Large stalk of lemon grass (kept whole but bruised)

1 Thumb sized piece of ginger

Method

  1. Cut your piece of ginger in half length ways, then smack your lemon grass with the back of a knife (or pot if you want get some frustration out). Bruising the lemongrass helps release the flavour. The ginger and lemon grass are kept big to make it easier to fish out when the rice pudding is cooked
  2. Put all the ingredients in a pot with a lid and heat until just before the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer over a low heat stirring regularly. Each type of rice is different, so cook until the rice is soft. (mine took about 30 minutes). Different rices will absorb different amounts of liquid so if you think the mix is looking too dry add a little milk/water
  3. When the rice is cooked you can scoop out the ginger and lemon grass. The rice pudding can be served hot or cold. I like it served with fruit

Paneer Masala

Serve with rice or flat breads

This might look like a lot of ingredients, but getting yourself a good spice cupboard opens up a world of food possibilities. Find a good Asian supermarket and you can do this much more cheaply than buying them from a big supermarkets.

My love for cheese that you can fry has been well documented on this blog. Add it to a fragrant and well spiced masala sauce and it’s a little slice of vegetarian heaven.

Ingredients

1 Onion (finely chopped)

1 Tsp Cinnamon

2 Cardamon pods

2 Cloves garlic (finely chopped)

1 Tsp Fennel seeds

3-4 cm Piece of ginger (grated)

4 Cloves

1 Tsp Tumeric

1 Tsp Chilli Powder

1 Tsp Ground coriander

1 Tbsp Tomato puree

2 Tbsp Chopped coriander

Knob of butter

250 Grams Paneer ( cut into 2cm cubes)

2 Tbsp oil

Taking time to set out your spices saves time while you’re cooking, and you can tidy as you go.

Method

  1. In a large frying pan add the butter and fry the onion, then add the cinnamon, cardamon pods, cloves and fennel seeds
  2. Cook for 5 minutes before adding the ginger and garlic, and cook for a further 5 minutes, stirring occasionally
  3. Add the turmeric, tomato puree and chilli and fry for another minute, and 250ml hot water
  4. Bring the sauce to just before the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer on a low heat for 20 minutes
  5. In a non stick frying pan, heat the oil and fry the paneer until browned on all sides
  6. Add the paneer to the sauce and cook for another 10 minutes, allowing it to absorb the flavour.
  7. Top with chopped coriander. Serve with rice or flat breads. This keeps well in the fridge for 3-4 days

Corned Beef, Potato and Onion Pie

Simple and delicious dinner.

I first had this as a teenager when a school friend’s Mum made this one night when I was at their house. It was a taste revelation to me. Up until then I had only had corned beef (chipped beef in the US) in sandwiches.

I had the idea to make this when looking in a cupboard I found the strange shaped tin with the stupid little key and strange opening mechanism. Honestly, after all these years, why does corned beef have to be stored in these weird shaped tins. And don’t even start me about the stupid key thing you need to open it, that you cut yourself on every single time. I mean it, if anyone knows why this still happens please tell me.

Cheap and simple ingredients make a really delicious filling

Anyway, rant over. You can make this with ready made pasty if you want this to be super quick. I have included details for anyone who prefers to make their own pastry. It’s a good way to use up left over potatoes, and makes an easy inexpensive meal.

Use a loose bottom pie tin to make it easier to remove the pie.

Ingredients

For the pastry

225 Grams Plain flour

100 Grams Butter (cut into cubes)

Cold water

For the filling

300 Grams Potatoes (cooked)

1 Onion (finely sliced)

340 Gram Tin of corned beef

Salt and pepper

Method

  1. My hand are always really warm, so I’m not best suited to make pastry, this is part of the reason I add the flour and butter to a food processor and pulse until I get a mix that looks like bread crumbs (you can also use the traditional rubbing in method, but generally I’m too lazy for this).
  2. When your mix looks like breadcrumbs, start by adding a little cold water at a time until the mix comes together to form a ball. Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for 30 mins. If you’re stuck for time or just can’t be bothered, it’s totally fine to use shop bought pastry
  3. Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees and put a baking sheet in the oven to heat. Grease a 9 inch loose base cake/pie tin and set to one side, ready for your pastry
  4. Remove your pastry from the fridge and let it sit for 5-10 minutes so it isn’t too stiff to roll out. While you wait on this, chop your onion finely, and cube your cooked potatoes (which should be cold), after you have wrestled your corned beef out of the tin and tried really hard not to scream f*ck at it, you should cube this as well
  5. Mix the potatoes, corned beef, and onion together and season with salt and pepper
  6. Put the pastry on a floured surface and cut approx 1/3 off and set to one side (this will be the lid for your pie)
  7. Roll the remaining pastry out as thinly as possible, and make sure it’s big enough to fit your pie tin. Line the tin with the pastry, making sure that you have pushed into the edges
  8. Put your corned beef mix into the lined pie dish, and then roll out the remaining pastry to form a lid. brush the edges of the pastry lining the tin with beaten egg and then place the lid on top. I press down the edged with a fork to make sure it’s sealed
  9. Brush the pie with some more beaten egg (it will help it look pretty when it’s cooked) and add a couple holes to allow steam to escape. Place the completed pie on top of the baking sheet that has been heating in the oven (this help ensure the base if cooked).
  10. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the pastry is a deep golden brown

Five Spice Pork Belly

Crispy and deeply delicious.

I love pork belly. If I go to a restaurant (remember those). I’m really predictable, if pork belly is on the menu that’s what I’m ordering.

If you haven’t tried it before, it’s pretty rich and can be fatty, but it’s also really tasty. I enjoy it, cooked long and slow, and then crisped up in the pan.

Pork belly lends itself particularly to Asian flavours. I like to marinade the pork, usually over night but at least for an hour.

This is really versatile, and freezes well. It’s great served with salad (if you’re following a keto or low carb diet), or sliced in sandwiches with coleslaw. Its also really good sliced and served with noodles. You can crisp it up on a barbecue instead of the pan for a delicious smokey flavour.

Marinade the pork for at least 1 hour

Ingredients

500 Grams Pork belly strips

2 Tbsp Soy sauce

1 Tbsp Sesame oil

2 Tsp Chinese five spice powder

1 Tsp White wine vinegar (or what ever vinegar you have, just not something really strong like malt vinegar)

1 Tbsp Sesame seeds (optional)

Method

  1. Cut the pork belly into 2-3cm thick strips
  2. Add the oil, soy sauce, vinegar, and five spice powder, to an oven proof dish and mix.
  3. Coat the pork strips with the marinade. Cover the dish and refrigerate overnight (or for an hour at least)
  4. Preheat your oven to 160 degrees, put the covered dish in to cook for 90 minutes,
  5. Remove from the oven. Heat a frying, and add the pork to pan.
  6. Crisp for a few minutes on each side, and then sprinkle with sesame seeds

BLT Salad with Homemade Ranch Dressing

Every bite is totally yum

This is the perfect salad for people who think they don’t like salads.

What makes it so good is the ranch dressing. I’m warning everyone in advance, this isn’t a salad for the diet conscious. Ranch dressing is rich and creamy and makes just about anything taste fantastic. It’s doubles as a dip, and is also fantastic in sandwiches with tortilla chips, chicken wings, or if you’re one of those people who like to dip their pizza, (FYI the Italians are horrified by this and have threatened to take pizza back if the rest of the world doesn’t behave itself. I won’t tell them if you don’t).

The salad hits all the bases, soft chicken, crispy salty bacon, sweet cherry tomatoes, and a rich creamy dressing. You can always use the shop bought ranch dressing if you don’t have time or the ingredients, but do yourself a favour and give it a try. This is great for anyone following low carb or gluten free diet.

Serves 2

Ingredients

For the salad

2 Cooked chicken breasts or chicken thighs (shredded or cut into cubes)

4 Rashers of streaky bacon (cooked until crispy and cut or crumbled into 2cm strips)

2-3 Scallions/spring onions (finely chopped)

Handful of cherry tomatoes (halved)

2 Handfuls of salad leaves

For the dressing

2 Tbsp Mayonaise (I use shop bought)

2 Tbsp Sour Cream

1/2 Tsp dried dill

1 Tsp Chopped parsley (or 1/2 tsp dried parsley)

1/2 Garlic powder

1 Tbsp Lemon juice/ or 1/2 Tbsp white wine vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

Milk to loosen the dressing to the consistency you like (for people following a keto diet they can use cream)

  1. In a jar with a lid, add all the dressing ingredients except the milk/cream. Check the flavour and add salt and pepper if you think it needs it.
  2. When you are happy with the seasoning add a little milk/cream to loosen the mixture and shake the jar. Check the consistency, and add more milk/cream if you want a runnier dressing
  3. Combine all your salad ingredients and drizzle with the dressing before serving
  4. The dressing will keep quite happily in a sealed jar in your fridge for 4-5 days

Crab and Avocado salad

Soft sweet crab meat, fresh crunchy vegetables, and delicious tahini dressing

I never thought I would say it, but after weeks stuck at home. I was finally fed up with carbs.

The antidote was a quick and easy salad. I used tinned crab meat because it was what I had, but fresh or frozen would also work.

Like most salads, use what you have or what you like, I added nectarine because it’s what I had, but mango but would be great too. Lemon and tahini are great in dressings. I usually add garlic to this dressing mix, but left it out this time so that it wouldn’t overwhelm the delicate crab flavour. Fresh herbs like parsley or corriander would be great in this salad too.

Mix colours and textures

Ingredients

Serves 2

1 Carrot (grated)

50 Grams Endame beans (frozen)

6 Radishes (sliced)

1/2 Avocado (cubed)

1 Nectarine (cubed)

145 Gran Tin of crab meat

2 Handfuls of rocket or other salad leaves.

For the dressing

1Tbsp Tahini

Juice of 1 lemon

1 Tbsp Rapeseed oil

Salt and pepper

Method

  1. Add the tahini, oil, and lemon juice to a bowl. Mix well and season with sat and pepper, loosen with a little water if it’s too thick
  2. Combine all the salad ingredients in large bowl, add the dressing and serve with crusty bread

Soda Bread with Dulse

Most people from Northern Ireland will remember grandparents trying to force dulse on them as a child. If you were lucky enough to escape this and don’t know what dulse is, it’s deep purple seaweed gathered around the coast of Northern Ireland (and other places too). As a child I found it too salty, and the long strands too chewy (I wasn’t a fan).

The reason most grandparents tried to make kids eat it is because it’s amazingly good for you. It’s jam packed full of iodine, calcium, potassium, and all sorts of vitamins and anti oxidants.

I know apart from the health benefits, I’m not really selling dulse as something you can cook with. However, like the big food nerd that I am, I went on a coastal foraging day last year which was amazing, and ended with a fantastic meal cooked by Celia Sponcer (brilliant local chef). She used different seaweeds as seasoning for breads like focaccia and they were delicious, so she inspired me to try this. Dulse provides a saltiness to dishes, but also a deeper flavour that reminds you of the ozone smell you get when you’re at the coast.

Dulse before it has been finely chopped

In Northern Ireland dulse is sold in most greengrocers, but if you aren’t able to get hold of it you can buy it online from a lot of health food retailers or online (because it’s so good for you).

This recipe calls for buttermilk, which i never have, so if you don’t have it use ordinary milk and the juice of half a lemon (the acidity from the buttermilk/lemon juice is needed to cause the chemical reaction that makes the bread rise).

If you can’t find dulse, or aren’t brave enough to try it, this still makes really delicious and healthy bread. If you’re not using dulse replace it with 1 teaspoon of salt. It’s great served with soups, but my favourite way to enjoy this is sliced with cheese.

Enjoy with butter, or cheese and chutney

Ingredients

375 Grams Wholemeal flour

75 Grams Plain flour

1 Level Tsp Bicarbonate Soda

2 Tbsp Dulse (finely chopped)

325-350 ml Buttermilk (or use ordinary milk with the juice of half a lemon added to it)

Method

  1. Add the flour, bicarbonate of soda, dulse and baking powder to bowl
  2. Stir in the butter milk/milk and lemon juice mixture until it’s s soft dough
  3. Handle as little as possible, but make the dough into a ball
  4. Turn onto a sheet of baking parchment
  5. With a sharp knife, cut a cross (about one third of the depth of the dough) across the centre of the bread
  6. Bake in an oven pre-heated to 180 degrees for 45 minutes or until the base sounds hollow when you tap it

Halloumi Fajitas

It’s not totally authentic, but it is totally delicious.

Like everyone else I’m trying to go out as little as possible at the moment. I took a craving for fajitas and didn’t have the chicken I would normally use, or tortillas.

What I did find in the fridge was halloumi, which worked brilliantly. The saltiness of the cheese is yummy with the sweet peppers and onions, with little kick of chilli heat. I didn’t have tortillas, but I substituted these with Carribbean flat breads, I made using a recipe provided by the fantastic Debbie at D Rum Pot. Fusion cooking by accident rather than design.

The fajitas take 5 minutes to prepare, before popping in the oven. You have a delicious meal in less than 30 minutes.

Mmm Melting cheesy goodness

Ingredients

200 Grams Halloumi (cut into 1,1/2 cm strips)

1 Onion (sliced)

1 Red pepper (sliced)

1 Yellow pepper (sliced)

2 Tbsp Vegetable Oil

1/2 Tsp Cumin

1 Tsp Smoked paprika (I used the hot version, but if you are using sweet paprika then use a 1/2 teaspoon, and add a 1/2 teaspoon of chilli powder

Method

  1. Add the spices and oil in a bowl and mix until thoroughly combined
  2. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees
  3. Add the chopped vegetables and halloumi, to the oil and spices and mix until coated
  4. Transfer to a baking sheet, and bake for 15-20 minutes (or until the halloumi is golden brown)

Nasi Goreng (sort of)

Not just for breakfast, delicious any time of day.

I’ll start by apologising in advance to the Balinese people (undoubtedly the loveliest nation in existence). When I visited Bali previously I loved the national dish of Nasi Goreng. This is a dish of fried rice, vegetables and sometimes chicken or fish, topped with a fried egg. I’ve made the vegetarian version. I know what I’ve made isn’t 100% authentic but was the best I could do with the ingredients I had. So apologies again to the Balinese nation, but it still tasted really good.

I had dreamt of visiting Bali this year, but since Covid 19 s*it all over that plan, this is my way of recalling happier times.

This is often eaten as a breakfast dish, but can be eaten at any time of the day. The real version would have galangal. I didn’t have this, but used ginger I had in the freezer which worked well.

What makes this really tasty is the Kecap Manis, this is a thick sweet type of soy sauce used widely used in Indonesian cooking.

I’ve shown what I used for one serving, but you can increase the quantities if you’re making this for more people.

dav

Recipe

1 Cup of cold cooked white rice

1/2 Onion (finely sliced)

1 Carrot (grated)

Handful of finely sliced cabbage

1 Clove of garlic (finely sliced)

2 cm Piece of ginger (grated)

1 Tbsp Oil

1 Tbsp Kecap manis

1 Egg

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a pan, and add the vegetables, cook until softened slightly
  2. Add the garlic, ginger and rice, and continue to fry until thoroughly heated
  3. Stir in the kecap manis, and plate up, and top with a fried egg

Vegetarian Moussaka

Vegetarian Moussaka

I’ve loved moussaka ever since I first tasted it. But it can be very rich, so this version even though it’s still packed with protein is a little lighter.

This is based around a Jamie Oliver recipe and it’s proper comfort food. I added some roast red peppers, as I think it brings a little bit more freshness to it. There’s still enough cheese to make it still taste decadent.

The only draw back is that this is a time consuming recipe. I usually wait to make this at the weekend when I have more time, but it’s worth the time and effort, and tastes so much better than some gloopy supermarket version. This is also a great dish if you have a group of people to cook for.

Serves 8-10

Ingredients

4 Aubergines

4 Roasted red peppers (I used a jar of red peppers to save time)

500 Grams Potatoes

2 Tins Chopped tomatoes

2 Tins Chick peas

1 Sprig Rosemary

1 Small bunch of sage

100 Grams Green lentils, boiled until soft (or 1 can of lentils)

2 Onions, sliced

400 Grams Feta cheese

50 Grams Butter

50 Grams Plain flour

500ml Milk

25 Grams Parmesan (or other strong, hard cheese)

Olive oil

Salt and Pepper

Method

  1. Heat your oven to 200 degrees, peel the potatoes and cut into 2cm slices. Rub the potatoes with a little olive oil, place on baking trays and bake until tender and golden brown
  2. Peel strips into the aubergines, and then cut into 2 cm rounds before sprinkling with salt and leaving to drain a colander for an hour
  3. Wipe off any excess moisture and the salt, and sprinkle the aubergines with a little olive oil and place on baking trays and bake in the oven until tender, just as you did with the potatoes
  4. Add 1 Tbsp of oil to a large frying pan and add the onions and herbs to pan. Cook gently until the onions have softened (I keep the herbs on the stem so that they are easier to fish out of the sauce later.
  5. Add the cooked/tinned lentils and chick peas to the pan along with the tinned tomatoes. Simmer over a medium heat for 10-15 minutes until the sauce has thickened, check the season and add salt and pepper if necessary
  6. When the vegetables have finished roasting and the sauce is ready, it’s time to start assembling the dish
  7. Spread a thin layer of the sauce on the bottom of a large oven proof dish, then top this with a layer of the cooked potatoes and crumble over some of the feta cheese. Top this with another layer of sauce and then add a layer of roasted peppers sprinkle with some of the feta cheese. Top again with the sauce and add the cooked aubergines and any left over feta
  8. To top this you will need to make a white sauce, in a medium sized saucepan, melt your butter over a medium heat, then stir in the flour to make a smooth paste. Continue to stir as you add the milk (if you find that you are getting lumps there is no shame in breaking out a whisk to beat the living daylights of the sauce to get rid of rid of them).
  9. The sauce will start thicken as it heats, so continue stirring and reduce the heat and allow to cook for another 5 minutes or until the sauce no longer tastes “floury”. Add the grated hard cheese and mix well
  10. Top the layers of vegetables and with the white sauce and bake at 200 degrees for 30-40 minutes of until all bubbly, brown and delicious

21st March Supper Club, the Italian menu is the winner!

I couldn’t decide between menus for the next supper club, so I put it to a vote on Facebook. For a week or two the French menu had a strong lead, but got pipped at the post by the Italian menu. So thanks to everyone who voted.

February’s supper club sold out weeks in advance so remember to book early.

The menu for the 21st March will be

Starter – Gnocchi with Hazelnut Pesto

Main – Chicken Marsala, (Vegetarian Option-Aubergine Parmesan), Italian Salad, Homemade Italian Bread

Dessert – Tiramisu

The ethos behind the Supper Club is simple. Everyone eats the same menu at a communal table, with the chance to meet new people, chat and enjoy a bit of craic.

We greet everyone with a welcome drink in front of an open fire and you’ll enjoy 3 courses for only £25 (with a little treat or two). We’re also BYO.

21st March Supper Club

3 course Italian Menu

£25.00

October Supper Club

N.B. We have a 24 hour cancellation policy.

Tayto Sandwich The official taste of a Belfast childhood. It has to be Nutty Crust bread, real butter and Tayto crisps. Perfection in simplicity.

Christmas Goodies from D Rum Pot

Who doesn’t love a surprise batch of goodies.

The very lovely Debbie from D Rum Pot (check out her delicious Caribbean food on Facebook) dropped off some amazing treats with a Trinidadian flare. Debbie also runs a great Caribbean supper club, and like me can’t wait for restrictions to lift to get back to it.

Yummy spiced sweetbread, rum punch, homemade raspberry sauce, and Caribbean sweets. The diet can start tomorrow!