I love love love mushrooms of any kind. I usually stick to regular field mushrooms, as the fancy ones are usually pretty expensive. Mushrooms are a fantastic source of vitamin D, are low in fat and carbohydrates and provide texture and a great savoury kick for vegan dishes.
Due to the recent lockdown I was able to buy a mushroom block from a grower who normally supplies restaurants.
Two days after I ordered it a large lump of compressed saw dust wrapped in plastic arrived. I was a bit sceptical, but my love of oyster mushrooms spurred me on. I hate gardening and pretty much kill every plant I come in contact with. But these were super simple, basically it’s a stump of pressed sawdust impregnated with fungi spores and it just needs sprayed with water once or twice a day.
In less than a week later I had my first crop, and it’s still going. Like most mushrooms these can be added to pretty much anything. My favourite way to eat them is just fried in a little butter.
If you love mushrooms and want to give your loved ones a gift idea I would definitely recommend trying this. It’ll bring out your inner nerd and you will love it. It’s also a great project with kids and helps them understand where food comes from.
Even though I was raised in the city, one of the things my Dad loved to do was to take us on nature walks. During these he would point out trees and plants and let us pick wild blackberries and hazelnuts.
Foraging isn’t practical for everyone but when you get the chance I would recommend it. It helps ground you to where you live, and best of all it’s free. It’s also a fantastic activity to do with kids (just make sure to watch what they’re eating).
Recently Navan Fort and Visitor Centre in Co. Armagh, ran an event which provided a guided foraging walk and demonstration of the food and cooking methods our Celtic ancestors would have ate. I’m a big history nerd, so this was right up my street.
The staff in full Celtic regalia complete with spears really brought history alive, showing not only what the Celts ate, but how they cooked and lived, complete with a genuine Iron Age round house.
The staff were brilliant at getting younger visitors involved and having banter with the participants. They’re also extremely engaging, knowledgeable , and were really interesting.
We were then treated to the foraging element led by Fergal. It was great to be back in nature and learn the history and use of local plants.
I have to admit in being remiss at not taking more photos of the edible berries like haws, rosehips, and sloes (yes the things they make sloe gin with). One of the more interesting plants was Robert’s plant/herb Robert. Apparently this will be one of the most important cancer fighting drugs in the next decade. If you want to put it in a basin of warm water and soak your feet it also has great antioxidant properties.
I honestly couldn’t recommend the place highly enough. We were also treated to nettle soup (packed with iron and surprisingly tasty), pork and apple stew (we were in the orchard county after all), and a dessert of toasted oats and nuts, local honey, and berries and cream. The charming and entertaining Ita not only cooked all this but demonstrated how our ancestors would have made bread. The foraging events are coming to an end due to the time of year, but the place has different events all year round and is still well worth a visit at any time.
Usually when it comes to food I believe you don’t have to slave away for hours to make something that tastes amazing.
However, occasionally you have to push the boat out and treat yourself to something that is really extraordinary.
The food scene in Belfast has changed massively in the last 10-15 years, and the city now has three Michelin star restaurants. As a special treat I visited one of them, OX. Located in Oxford Street in the city centre and overlooking the river Lagan, and the art installation known locally as “Nuala with the hula”
The interior is paired back Scandi chic, with lots is white washed walls and dark wood, making it minimal but also warm. The staff are knowledgeable, and have the gift of leaving you alone when you’re in the middle of a conversation and appearing as if by magic before you knew you needed something. They were also very accomodating when we asked for a rest between courses. I take this as a sign of a good Chef in control his kitchen. A couple of years I was in another pretty fancy restaurant in London (which was half full) and asked for brief break between courses, a shame faced server came back to apologise and say that the Chef was busy and would basically be sending the food out as it came!
We had been waiting patiently since the start of lockdown to go to OX, and decided to go for the six course taster menu (there is the option of an additional cheese course, and wine pairing with each course).
OX prides itself on using the best local and seasonal ingredients. Some of the herbs used are grown the Chef’s own garden.
The restaurant has long been a hit with visiting foodies (I met a German couple last year who when visiting Ireland, made a special trip to Belfast just to eat in OX because they had heard such good things from other foodies).
It will take time before foreign visitors come back to Belfast in any great numbers due to travel restrictions. However, it was heartening to see that the place was fully booked with locals on a Friday lunchtime.
A lot of fine dining restaurants can be intimidating for people who don’t eat in them regularly. Like the best of these types of restaurants, OX has found the perfect balance of making you feel that you’re eating somewhere special without being stuffy or pretentious.
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.
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.
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)
Add the flour, bicarbonate of soda, dulse and baking powder to bowl
Stir in the butter milk/milk and lemon juice mixture until it’s s soft dough
Handle as little as possible, but make the dough into a ball
Turn onto a sheet of baking parchment
With a sharp knife, cut a cross (about one third of the depth of the dough) across the centre of the bread
Bake in an oven pre-heated to 180 degrees for 45 minutes or until the base sounds hollow when you tap it
I’ve always steered away from cooking fish. The honest reason is that I was never really sure how to. Growing up, my dear sainted mother was an awful cook (sorry Mo, but you are). She would cook fish until it had no flavour and was like a piece of cardboard.
I’m lucky enough to live on an island with amazing sea food, which it turns out we mostly export. I’m convinced the reason for this is that most of us don’t know how easy it is to cook, so we avoid it.
As a birthday present, I was given a voucher for Belfast Cookery School. They have a fantastic range of classes, but I decided to up my fish skills.
The class cost £60 for 3-4 hours, and is in central Belfast with about 10-12 people in each class. Staff are friendly and welcoming and the class includes a welcome drink and tea/coffee throughout the class.
Once settled in, Ian our chef expertly demonstrated how to fillet and skin both flat fish (brill), and round fish (salmon). He also gave members of the class a chance to try this as well.
I love squid/calimari in restaurants, but they always looked a bit like aliens in the fish market, (I’ll admit I was intimidated). We were shown how to prepare squid, and make one of my all time favourite seafood dishes, salt and chilli squid. Which once you know how to deal with squid, is surprisingly straight forward.
We all got to sample some of the demonstrated dishes, the brill cooked in a beurre noisette (browned butter), and salmon with caponatta (slow roasted red pepper, onion, tomato and garlic).
After trying all these we were shown the the dishes we would be cooking by ourselves. First was mussels cooked with fennel, cream and white wine. Again, super delicious and pretty straight forward once you know what to do.
The second dish was cod topped with herbed breadcrumbs, served on top of a shellfish ragu (fancy name for a stew), topped with a Dublin Bay prawn. It turns out they aren’t prawns at all, but micro lobster, 90% of which are shipped abroad.
The whole class was excellent, and I have now faced my fear of fish. I may even break out my newly gained fish skills at a future supper club. Everything we ate and cooked was beyond delicious and I left unable to eat another bite and in serious danger of slipping into a food coma. I’ll definately go back to the school, but they are currently so popular they’re booked up months in advance. It’s definitely worth the wait, so check them out.
Well folks, I know everyone is super busy in December, and then generally broke in January. With this in mind I’ve scheduled two new dates for the new year. This should allow everyone time to put this in the diary, sort baby sitters etc.
The first supper club of 2020 will be on Saturday, 01 February. The theme will be Greek food. Because it’s delicious, and at that time of year we probably need something that reminds us of sunshine.
The second date will be 21 March, I haven’t decided on a menu/theme but I’m open to suggestions.
As always, we provide a welcome drink on arrival, and a few extra treats, and the night is BYO.
I’ll be posting the menus and how to book shortly, so stay in touch. Supper club tickets also make a great Christmas present for the foodies in your life, or anyone who might just like to try something new.
I’ll admit I was late to the party when it came to Bia Rebel. A small ramen bar, 5 minutes from me on Belfast’s Ormeau Road. I was afraid it might be one of those places that opens to alot of hype but can’t sustain it. But this place is a little gem, and has had glowing reviews for food critics like Jay Rayner.
The place is tiny, but has become a local sensation. They’re best known large steaming bowls of noodles and vegetables, with different options for carnivores, vegetarians and vegans.
I didn’t have time to sit in, but seating is limited, so I ordered my food to go. Noodles bowls are the things people travel miles for, but I was food bullied by a friend who raved about their Bimimbap. She wasn’t wrong! This is a Korean dish of slow cooked pork rice and vegetables. It was amazing, the pork was well flavoured sweet and tender. The vegetables and herbs were fresh and delicious and offset the gentle heat of the dish. Honestly, it took take away Asian food to a whole other level.
Unfortunately for my waistband, I think I’m going to become a regular.
Well the October Supper Club was a brilliant night (even if I say so myself). We had a lovely range of people from their 20s to their very young at heart 60s. The food was good, the craic was better, and there were a few people feeling a little delicate the next morning.
I’m not a fan of platitudes like strangers are friends you just haven’t met yet. But really, don’t you get fed up meeting the same people! However since it’s Northern Ireland (the largest small village in Europe) we still had two guests who had never met before, but were able to work out that their family members worked together!
Try something different, meet a couple of new people and have a slap up meal.
If you haven’t been to a supper club before, the concept is simple. Everyone eats the same 3 course menu, (plus a couple of treats), at a communal table. We’ll greet you with a welcome drink and a roaring fire, and you’re welcome to bring you’re own beer or wine. (We’re more than happy to look after vegetarians/vegans, or people with food allergies, but please let us know on advance. This way we can make sure we have something delicious for you)
Menu – November Supper Club
Feta, pecan, and pomegranate salad
Porchetta (crispy roast loin of pork, with apple and fennel stuffing ), roast potatoes, seasonal vegetables.
Triple chocolate verrine, and shortbread
November Supper Club
Cost per person is £25
Come along, kick back, eat some good food and meet some new people.
Ts & Cs Sorry but refunds can’t be made for cancellations made within 24 hours of the event.
One of my favourite places to visit in Northern Ireland is Newcastle Co. Down. There are lots of things to love, breathtaking scenery, amusement arcades, seaweed baths, a lovely promenade, and the world class Tollymore forest Park. I visited recently and tried to find a little bakery that used to sell the most amazing date and walnut wheaten bread. Sadly the shop is gone but the visit inspired me to come up with a version of it which isn’t half bad.
This bread is great just sliced and slavered in butter/jam. It’s also savoury enough to taste great when topped with cheese, or along side soup. You can also devide the bread mix into eight to make little wheaten rolls.
275 Grams Plain flour
200 Grams Wholemeal flour
175 Grams Dates (chopped)
75 Grams Walnuts (chopped)
50 Grams Butter (melted)
1 Tsp Baking soda
1/4 Tsp Salt
250ml Buttermilk (I didn’t have buttermilk, so you can improvise as I did. I used normal milk and added 1 Tbsp of lemon juice and left it to sit for 10 minutes)
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees
Add the flours, walnuts, dates, salt and baking soda to a bowl and combine
Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture, add the egg, and melted butter. Add the milk a little at a time until you have quiet a moist dough.I like to use my hands to mix the ingredients, but you can also use a wooden spoon.
Turn the dough onto a floured surface, and shape into a circle, around 14-16cm in diameter
Put the loaf onto baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cut a cross across the loaf, about a third of the depth of the loaf
Bake for 45 minutes, check the loaf is ready by tapping the bottom to makes it sounds hollow
Come and join us for great food, a good night’s craic, and every likelyhood of a slight hangover in the morning.
At the Supper Club you’ll eat at a communal table, and everyone enjoys the same 3 course set menu (we’re happy to cater for vegetarians). The cost is £25 per person, but you can bring your own wine or beer (should save you a fortune compared to restaurants). We’ll have the fire lit and will welcome you with a drink, and a few extra treats on the night.
Seaneen’s Sunnyside Supper Club
Supper Club, 19 October 2019
Menu for the night will be as follows
Starter – Pear, Cashel Blue Cheese (we’ll have other cheese available if blue cheese isn’t your thing), and Walnut Salad.
Main Course – Braised Beef cooked in Belfast Stout with Cheddar Cheese Scone Dumplings (vegetarian option available) , Potatoes Dauphinoise, Buttered Greens.
Dessert – Apple and Blackberry Galette, and Custard.
The Supper Club will take place in Sunnyside Street, close to the Ormeau Road. We’ll kick things off about 7.30 for 8pm. You’ll be provided with the address when we have your booking.
Ts & Cs
No refund on cancellations made within 48 hours before the event.
Allergies, we cannot guarantee food will be free from nuts, or prepared in a nut free environment.