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

Broad Beans with Mint

I’m guilty of falling into food ruts, making the same thing or using the same ingredients.  The great thing about Summer is that so many gorgeous vegetables like broad beans come into season.

Yes it is a bit more fiddley to shell the beans, but it’s a good job to do while chatting in the phone or even better if you have kids, little fingers are made for jobs like this.

As a kid I wasn’t a fan of broad beans.  I’d only ever had them with the tough whitish green slightly bitter layer left on and boiled to within an inch of their life.  Fast forward and while visiting a friend her Mum made this dish.  With the outer layer removed the beans are  sweet and tender.  Add a mint dressing and you have a really light Summery salad.  This is also great in wraps and sandwiches.

Ingredients

1Kg Grams Broad beans in pods

2 Tbsp Oil (I used rapeseed oil, but any neutral tasting oil will do)

1 Tbsp White wine or cider vinegar

2 Tbsp Fresh mint (finely chopped) or 1 Tbsp dried mint

Method

  1. Remove the broad beans from their pods, and then peel off the whitish outer coating. This will show the tender green bean inside, gently pull the two halves apart
  2. Once you have shelled all the beans, blanche in boiling water for 1 minute and then transfer quickly to a bowl of cold water (this will help keep them bright green
  3. Add your oil, vinegar and mint to a large bowl and stir, add the beans and make sure they are well coated
  4. Season with salt and pepper if you feel it needs it

Chicken with Lemon and Orzo (pasta)

Do you hate washing dishes? me too.  What I do love are simple one pot recipes that you can throw in the oven and forget about.

Orzo before it’s cooked

If you haven’t come across orzo before, its a type of pasta that looks like big fat grain of rice.  I discovered it by accident ages ago when I wasn’t concentrating in the supermarket and thought it was rice.  It’s fantastic in soups and stews because it’s smaller than other pastas, but you can treat it like normal pasta.

Topped with lemon slices and herbs before going in the oven.

You can tweak this dish to suit what you have in the fridge.  I used thyme and dill because I had some in my window box, but use what herbs you like.  The thyme, dill and lemon gives it a really nice flavour that reminds me of Greek dishes.

Ingredients

1 large, or 2 small chicken thighs per person (I use ones with skins on and on the bone but boneless ones are fine too)

2 Carrots

1 Leek

2 Stalks of celery

350 Grams Orzo (dry weight)

800 ml Chicken or vegetable stock

2 Lemons (juice of one lemon, and the other sliced)

2 Tbsp Herbs (I used dill and thyme)

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees, and heat an oven proof dish on your stove top before adding the chicken thighs
  2. Seal the chicken on each side, and then remove the thighs and set to one side.
  3. Add the vegetables (chopped into 2cm chunks) to the pan (if using skinless thighs, add a tablespoon of oil to the pan) and fry gently for 5 minutes.  Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed
  4. Add the orzo, lemon juice and stock to the pan and stir well to make sure any delicious chicken brown bits from the bottom of the pan are stirred into the stock
  5. Place the chicken back into the dish and top with the slices of lemon and herbs.
  6. Cover the dish and place in the oven for 30-40 minutes

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.

Carnitas (Mexican Pulled Pork)

Everyone loves Mexican food, and while I make no claims that someone from Mexico would say this is just like their Mum would make, I think it tastes amazing. If you like pulled pork but never thought of trying it at home, you should give this a go. It really is simplicity itself, all you need is time, so perfect for the weekend when you kick back or get on with other things while the oven does all the work for you.

I love this in tacos but you can add it to burritos or sandwiches. While this does take some time, it’s a simple recipe and is ideal to feed a group of people cheaply. I used pork shoulder which is inexpensive and really benefits from being marinated and cooked long and slow.

Delicious in wraps too.

Ingredients

1 Kg Pork shoulder

100 ml Orange juice (I used the juice of 2 oranges)

1 Tbsp Tomato puree

1 Tsp Oregano

1 Tsp Chilli powder

2 Tsp Smoked paprika

1 Tsp Ground Cumin

1 Tsp Ground Coriander

1 Tsp Minced Garlic

Method

  1. Cut your pork into 4 chunks
  2. In a sealable freezer bag add all the other ingredients and squish together to make sure they are well mixed
  3. Add the pork to the bag and seal, rub the bag to make sure the marinade covers the pork and then put in the fridge. If you can marinade this for 24 hours this is ideal. If you don’t have that sort of time try to marinade for least an hour
  4. Pre-heat your oven to 160 degrees (Celsius). Put your pork and the marinade in an oven proof dish with a lid and place in the oven for 3.5 hours.
  5. Remove from the oven and shred the meat with two forks and mix in with the cooking juices for super tasty pulled pork

Key Lime Pie (with an Oreo crust)

Like everyone else I have been binge watching TV series during lockdown and had got back into Dexter, and an episode put Key Lime Pie back in my head.

The pie is usually made with a digestive biscuit (graham cracker) crumb base, but I’ve made mine with an Oreo crumb base mainly because I just like the contrast in colour (please don’t be tempted to add green food colouring the lime layer) . I’ve also added a whipped cream topping which you can leave out if you don’t like creamy desserts. A traditional pie apparently never had cream because it was difficult get and keep cream fresh in the Florida Keys where the pie originally came from. I also used supermarket own of Oreos which worked out to be much cheaper. Some places sell ready made Oreo pie cases, so if you’re short on time you could also use one of these.

Feel free to revert to the original pie, but I’ve only ever had thumbs up for this version. It’s really good as a dessert that you can make a head and take out of the fridge when you are ready to serve, or treat yourself and enjoy a slice with your afternoon coffee.

Ingredients

For the Crust

400 Grams Oreos

70 Grams Butter (melted)

For the Filling

1 x 397 Can of Condensed milk

3 x Egg yolks

4 x Limes (juice and zest)

300 ml Fresh Cream (whipped)

1 Tbsp Icing sugar

Extra Lime zest to decorate

Method

  1. Add the Oreos to a food processor and whizz until you have fine crumbs. I had to do this in 2 batches but it will depend on the size of your processor. Transfer the crumbs to large bowl and stir in the melted butter. Pre heat your oven 180 degrees (Celsius)
  2. Line the base of a 21-22 cm spring form cake tin with baking parchment and grease the sides of the tin with butter.
  3. Pour the Oreo mix into the tin and with a glass or the back of a spoon press the crumbs up the sides of the tin, until there is a crust of around 4-5cm. Make sure the base is well covered too. Bake for 15 minutes and allow to cool
  4. Add 3 egg yolks to a bowl or mixer and whisk until the yolks lighten in colour and increase in volume
  5. Add the condensed milk, and lime juice and zest and whisk for 2-3 minutes
  6. Pour the filling into the cooled pie base and bake at 160 degrees (Celsius) for 15 minutes before removing from the oven and allowing to cool
  7. When the pie is completely cool, whisk the cream and icing sugar together until it forms soft peaks. Spread over the top of the baked pie and add some finely grated lime zest for a finishing touch

Slow Roast Cherry Tomatoes

Do you ever get a bit over zealous when shopping and have stuff hanging about the fridge that you forget about. I do this more often than I should. I recently found a tub of cherry tomatoes that I had forgotten about and were starting to go a bit soft. I decided to cook these long and slow and they tasted fantastic.

I used these as a side dish, but they would be fantastic stirred into some freshly cooked pasta, or served cold in salads or on some crusty bread with some soft cheese. These are every bit as tasty as sun-dried tomatoes. I made quite a small batch of these (because it was a small tub of tomatoes), but I’m definitely going to make bigger batches next time. These can live in your fridge for 3- 4 days in an air tight jar.

Ingredients

250 Grams Cherry tomatoes (halved)

1 Tbsp Olive oil

1/2 Tsp salt

2 Cloves of garlic (roughly chopped)

3-4 Sprigs of thyme or 1/2 Tsp dried thyme

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees
  2. Place all the ingredients on a baking sheet and mix well to ensure the tomatoes are coated in the oil. Bake for 20 minutes
  3. Reduce the heat to 140 degrees and cook for a further 30-40 minutes, until the tomatoes start to look wizened up and starting to char

Baked Feta with a Hazelnut Crust

I love super simple recipes, that don’t require dozens of ingredients or loads of time.

This is really simple and delicious and is perfect as a lunch to share or as a sharing starter. You can cut the feta into smaller pieces if you prefer to make these single serving.

The hazelnuts should be kept fairly chunky (I crushed these in a mug with the base of a rolling pin to stop them rolling all over a cutting board). I also like a light drizzle of honey at the end, as I think its a nice contrast against the saltiness of the feta, serve it with salad and some crusty bread.

Ingredients

200 Gram Feta/Greek salad cheese

40 Grams Hazlenuts

4-5 Sprigs Thyme/1/2 Tsp Dried thyme

1 Tbsp Oil

1 Tbsp Honey (Optional)

Method

  1. Take the cheese out of the fridge about 30 minutes before your plan to bake it (if you forget to do this its no biggy), pat dry with kitchen paper and rub with the oil. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees (Celsius)
  2. Coat both sides of the cheese with the crushed hazelnuts and thyme, move to an oven proof dish and bake for 20 minutes or until the hazelnuts and toasted and brown
  3. Remove from the oven and drizzle with honey (if honey isn’t your thing don’t worry it will still be delicious)

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!

Pineapple Salsa

It’s barbeque season and although I do love meat, the side dishes can take your barbeque to a whole other level.

I first had this years ago in a restaurant with barbecued pork and I fell in love. It’s one of those Summery side dishes that goes with pretty much every thing. I use it in wraps, in salad and rice bowls and could eat a bowl of it on its own.

I use fresh pineapple in this recipe, but if you can’t find it, canned pineapple will also work. This takes 5 minutes to make, but I like to leave it in the fridge for 30 minutes to allow the acid in the pineapple to help soften the raw onion flavour which works well. You can leave the out or increase the chilli depending on your taste.

Ingredients

500 Grams Pineapple (cut into 2cm chunks)

1/2 Red pepper (cut into 2 cm chunks)

1 Red chilli pepper (seeds removed and finely sliced)

1/4 Red onion, or 2-3 scallions/spring onions (finely sliced)

2 Tbsp Coriander (mint also works well)

Juice of 1/2 Lime

Method

  1. In a bowl combine all the ingredients and stir well. Chill for 30 mins before serving.
  2. This will keep in a sealed container in the fridge for 3-4 days