Pineapple Smokies

Are smokies just a Belfast thing?

A Belfast childhood can best be described as character building. One of the plus points was that every now and again you would get to have a smokey!

A smokey was normally served in a tall glass and consisted of pineapple lemonade, vanilla ice cream and a chocolate flake.

I’ve never been able to track down who started serving these in Belfast, although there was a well known Italian ice cream shop in Castle Street where I got mine. Give this a go, it’s really scrumptious. If anyone does know the origin of smokies please let me know.

Serves 4

Ingredients

4 Large scoops of vanilla ice cream

1 Litre Pineapple lemonade

4 chocolate flakes

Method

Get 4 tall glasses, and a scoop of ice cream to each glass and top up with the pineapple lemonade and stick the chocolate flake into the ice cream when floats to the top.

Mmmm super delicious!

Coastal Food Foraging

I’m fortunate enough to live in a part of the world where you are never far from the sea. Despite this as a nation we don’t eat enough sea food. We definitely don’t take advantage of the absolute heaps of sea vegetables and edible coastal plants we have access to

On a mild but rainy day, the immensely knowledgeable David (former National Trust Ranger, with a passion for coastal flora and fauna), was kind enough to share a small portion of his encyclopedic knowledge with me and a small bunch of other food nerds.

To make things even better David’s partner Celia, an extremely talented and well known chef in her own right, treated us to a fabulous meal centered around foraged food.

Who knew that trendy foods like sea purslane can be collected for free!, and scurvy grass was used as far back as the Romans to give sailors a massive hit of vitamin C on long voyages, (it also tastes like wasabi).

Other top discoveries were pepper dulse, which tastes somewhere between an oyster and black truffle, OMG it tastes so good.

All sorts of terrestrial plants such as sea spinach, sea radish, wild peas and orach all make amazing salad vegetables, and sea vegetables like channel wrack, and sea spaghetti are super tasty when lightly steamed and are bursting full of iodine, and other trace elements that are really good for you.

Who would have thought of baking fish in sea weed. Celia treated us to hake wrapped in sugar kelp and it was properly delicious. She also made us a feast of breads seasoned with seaweeds, dulse butter, wild garlic pesto, and great salads.

Get out and get foraging, make sure you check what you are picking, and don’t be a d’ck and over pick plants that are scarce. Other than that, go forage!

Red pepper and cannellini bean dip

I love dips, along with crudités, oat cakes, tortilla chips etc. (usually with something alcoholic).

Red pepper and cannellini bean dip

Most shop bought dips are pretty awful, and this dips is quick, and, easy to make and tastes so much nicer than the gloop most supermarkets try to pass off as dip.  If you’re having friends round, it’s also something you can give the poor vegan who has to miss out on the cheese based scrumptiousness that usually goes so well with drinks.

Ingredients

400gm Can of cannellini beans

Juice of half a lemon

2 Roasted red peppers (I use the ones in jar, but you can roast your own peppers if you prefer)

1 Clove garlic

1 tbsp Olive oil

Salt

Method

  1. Drain the beans, and retain some of the water the beans came with.
  2. In a blender or food mixer, add the beans, peppers, lemon juice, olive oil and garlic and blitz until the mixture is smooth
  3. If the mixture is too dry, add a little of the water the beans came in.
  4. Taste the mixture and season with salt if necessary

Quail’s eggs with rock salt and roasted cumin

These beautiful speckled little eggs may sound posh, but they can be bought pretty cheaply (I get mine from an Asian supermarket).

This is a really simple canapé if you want to impress dinner guests, or go down pretty well with a few cold beers. They can also be made well in advance so that you’re not running around like a crazy person. (Just remember to leave an extra dish out for your guests to throw their discarded egg shells in).

Method

  1. Put a medium sized pan of water on to boil
  2. Put a small frying pan on to heat
  3. When the water is boiling, add the quail’s eggs and boil for 4 minutes. 
  4. After the 4 minutes, take the eggs out of the boiling water with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl of iced water to stop the cooking
  5. In the frying pan add the cumin seeds and toast until you can smell the cumin, remove from the heat and mix with the salt
  6. Serve with eggs in a dish, with the cumin and salt alongside to dip the eggs in

Spectacular St Petersburg

When an old friend suggests going to Russia, sometimes you just have to say yes.

So with newly acquired visas, a rudimentary knowledge of Russian and the Cyrillic alphabet and a couple of clean pairs of under crackers we set off. (Do your research on getting a visa, depending on the type of passport you hold it can be really straightforward, or a total faff)

St Petersburg is a riot of multi-coloured buildings

St Petersburg is like no other European city you’ve seen before.  It’s sometimes called the Venice of the North because of its canals and grand architecture.  It has buildings in every style from Rococco, Art Nouveau, traditional Russian churches and palaces, through to vast soviet monolithic mega structures. The scale of the place and buildings will take your breath away.

How it all started

Around 1703 Peter the Great decided he wanted to create a European style capital city and navy. Not one to be wait about, he hired, European, architects, scientists and engineers, and enlisted 40,000 serfs to make this happen. The results are pretty impressive.

Onion domed churches hide in little side streets

Catherine the Great and the Hermitage

Catherine the Great deposed her husband (and heir to the throne) in a military coup in 1762. She then declared herself empress and set about fancying up the existing Winter Palace which is now the state Hermitage museum.

Catherine also started a world class art collection, modernised Russia and introduced education for girls, so in fairness there was a bit more to her than being just a power hungry little minx with a penchant for interior design.

One of the entrances to the Hermitage, tradition says that it’s good luck for couples to rub the toes of these statues on their wedding day.

If your taste in art is more 20th century, then you should allow plenty of time for the galleries in the General Staff Building (across the mains square from the Hermitage Palace, but part of the same complex).  The art collection has more Picassos’, Matisses’, and Kandinskys’ than you can throw a stick at.  Honestly, it could eat and sh*t any gallery in Paris, London or New York.

Catherine the Great’s private chapel in the Hermitage

You can buy tickets online to visit the Hermitage, and I would recommend this to avoid queues at busy times. Foreigners are charged more to visit the Hermitage. In fairness most Western visitors earn more than the average Russian, so I don’t have a problem with it.

Church of the Saviour of the Spilled Blood

An other fabulous building is the Church of the Saviour of the Spilled Blood.  This might be most beautiful church I’ve ever seen. Surprisingly small inside, it’s covered in intricate mosaics that glitter in the candle light.  It’s probably what heaven is like, if it didn’t have 40 tourists invading your personal space.

Coffee and dessert at the Kupetz Eliseevs Food Hall

Honestly, the food was simple, cheap and basic with very little that jumped out, apart from one place.  On a wet evening on Nevsky Prospect, mainly to get out of the rain we stumbled into Kupetz Eliseevs Food Hall.  Think of a Russian Fortnum and Mason, but in one of the prettiest art nouveau interiors you’ll ever see.  Not especially cheap, but if you’re a foodie, you’ll love the selection they have on offer.  I could have spent hours in this place.