I have to give props for the recipe to Deborah Robertson @lickedspoon, who I think got it turn from Martha Stewart (I love recipe family trees).
These cookies are a bit of a faff but they are well worth it. You need to chill the dough for at least 4 hours. I made the dough in the morning, then got on with my day while it chilled. You can do this, and by the time you bake them your house will smell devine and you’ll be worshipped as the domestic God/Goddess that you are.
You can make the dough a day or two in advance if you’re busy and it also freezes well. (freeze the dough before you roll it in sugar). These are pretty indulgent, but it is Christmas.
The original recipe says to add Kalhua or Tia Maria. I was making these for kids so I left it out, but definitely looking forward to making the adult version next time.
120 Grams Good quality dark chocolate
180 Grams Plain flour
50 Grams Cocoa powder
100 Grams Butter (room temperature)
2 Tsp Baking powder
1/2 Tsp Salt
200 Grams Brown sugar
2 Tsp Vanilla extract
80 Mil Milk
2-3 Tbsp Castor sugar
2-3 Tbsp Icing sugar
Melt the chocolate in the microwave, giving it 30 second blasts, and stirring regularly (be care not to burn it). Allow to cool slightly
Cream the butter and brown sugar together in a stand mixer or with an electric whisk until light and fluffy
Mix all your dry ingredients together
Gradually add the vanilla and eggs to the butter and sugar and whisk at medium spead. Then gradually add all the ingredients and mix until it comes together as a dough, don’t over mix
Put a good sized sheet of cling film on your counter, empty half the dough onto it before forming it into disk. Wrap with the rest of the cling film and refrigerate it for 3-4 hours. Repeat with the second half of the dough
When the dough has chilled, preheat your oven to 180 degrees (Celsius), and line a couple of cookie sheets with parchment paper
Place the castor sugar and icing sugar into two separate bowls (your hands will get sticky later on, so it’s also a good idea to have a bowl of cold water too).
Remove the dough from the fridge and unwrap it, and break of lumps about the size of a walnut and roll into a ball. Roll the ball in the bowl of castor sugar, making sure its well coated. Then roll it in the bowl of icing sugar and place on the baking try
Make sure to leave space between the balls of dough as they will spread.
Bake for 10 minutes and allow to cool before trying to move as they will very soft until they cool
Kyoto was the historic capital of Japan, and is pacted full of history but is also incredibly modern. This is where Super Mario was developed!
There are lots of fab places to see a short train ride from the city but the city itself has plenty to keep you occupied, largely because it escaped bombing during WW2
Kyoto is the home of the Geisha culture. The Gion District with its super discreet and exclusive wooden tea houses are still their stomping ground. There were about 250 Geisha entertaining patrons before Covid. No one is quite sure how many of the Geisha and Maiko (apprentice Geisha) will return.
You might be lucky to spot one if you are around the Gion, (I wasn’t) They are literally works of art, with their kimonos alone costing up to £10,000. I’d definitely recommend watching Memoirs of a Geisha to get an idea of the place. It’s really common to see young couples in traditional dress (you can rent kimonos) while site seeing and being given tours in rickshaws.
The city is awash with breathtaking palaces (the imperial palace is located here) and temples. We visited Nijo-Jo Castle, which is a UNESCO heritage site. It was built 400 years ago by the first Tokugawa Shogun, who’s family ruled for 14 generations and was also a samurai garrison. The castle complex is made up of graceful gardens and richly decorated audience halls with fabulous gold murals (unfortunately photography is not allowed inside). The buildings have what are referred to as “nightingale floors”. The floors are laid in such a way so that the chirp when walked upon, as an early warning system so they could hear intruders.
Food is also fantastic in Kyoto, and a speciality of the region is kaiseki. This is a multi course meal and these can be up to 11 courses, many are less than this but all are beautifully presented and change with seasons.
We treated ourselves to one of the more modest versions that included the usual miso soup and rice, as well as sashimi, marinated whitebait, tofu, and a beef hotpot. We decided to go native and the restaurant we visited served the food on low tables and we sat on cushions on tatami mats (not be recommended if you’re full of aches and pains from 2 weeks non stop site seeing) .
Nishi food market and the surrounding shopping district is also worth visiting, but go early because it gets extremely busy with locals and tourists. It’s a great place to pick up food souvenirs or try new things like squid lollipops.
After two busy days in Tokyo, we took the Shinkansen bullet train to Osaka. If you ever get the chance to do it, please do.
It cost just under £90 per person to travel 319 miles (514 km) and took around 2.5 hours, with an average speed of 200 miles an hour. You can reserve seats with luggage storage in advance. On a good day you can see Mount Fuji, but we were out of luck. There is a drinks and snack service on board but most people opt to buy an ekiben (traditional bento box lunch) at the station before boarding. These were delicious and beautifully presented and cost on average £5.
Osaka has a population of 2.6 million, but according to locals they feel they are more laid back and friendly than Tokyo and everyone we met was lovely, including the world’s sweetest and most excitable bar maid that we almost adopted.
One of reasons I wanted to go to Osaka was to see Osaka Castle, which is really impressive. Easy to reach by metro, the castle has largely been rebuilt, so inside is more like an exhibition space rather than being able to see original parts of castle and how people lived.
There is a lift for anyone with mobility issues which will take you to the 5th floor but there are 3 floors above this that can only accessed by steps. The castle is set in gorgeous park land, and with Autumn arriving it was beautiful, but spring is when it’s really popular at the cherry blossom festival. The castle dates back 450 years and if you’re a history nerd like me, you’ll love the descriptions of various feuds and downfalls of Shoguns, it also has a great displays of samurai armour.
We stayed close to the Dotonbori area, named after the river that flows through it. This is a busy and cosmopolitan area with high end designer shops on one side of the river and local shops, bars and restaurants on the other. Street food is really big in Osaka and squid balls are the local favourite.
By the river you’ll find the oblong Ferris wheel, which is built around a 24-hour discount shop locally known as Donki (formal name is Don Quijote). This may have been the busiest shop I’ve ever visited and if you plan to go early because an average Friday evening felt like the January sales. But there is literally everything a human being could ever need in this shop.
Another local speciality is okonomiyaki, this is a very thin pancake stuffed primarily with fried noodles and shredded cabbage and leeks/onion. Other toppings can include pork, fried egg, bonito flakes, nori seaweed. pickled ginger or kimchi, this is then drizzled with a rich savoury sauce and mayonnaise. I realise my description is not selling it, but it was one of the nicest things I ate in Japan (and I pretty much loved everything).
Dotonbori never stops. In early evening families are out with their kids enjoying the waterfront and street food. Later in the evening “Salary Men” (office workers) get stupifyingly drunk in the hostess bars, and the local petrol heads hang out and compare cars. People are friendly and the area feels very safe and a lot more pleasant than most UK and European city centres late at night.
I like to think of myself as an adventurous eater, but I stalled at some of the local offerings which included “fish abductor muscle” and “beef nerve”, but maybe next time.
Japan has always been on my bucket list, but after a 13 hour flight from Paris and standing in a Customs line for 2 hours, I was less than impressed to find out Air France had lost my suitcase.
Being on average 6 inches taller, and a foot wider than most Japanese women, finding clothes for 2 weeks in Japan was a challenge. But when these things happen you can choose to let it ruin your holiday or just get on with it and that’s what I did. (Air France are still a pack of d*cks though).
Tokyo is amazing, a city of just under 14 million people, with every square inch of space used. It really is open 24 hours a day. I was so impressed that the place is spotless you will not find litter anywhere. You won’t see rubbish bins on the street either, the Japanese will carry their rubbisish until they dispose of it. You’ll also be impressed at how courteous and polite they are to each other.
English is not widely spoken, if I can make any recommendations its to learn a few key words or phrases i.e. please, thank you, hello etc. Then make sure you arrange a bolt on with your mobile phone company (or you can buy a Japanese sim card). Google maps and Google translate will make your life much easier. WiFi availablity can be bit patchy otherwise.
Japan has only recently opened up to travellers again after Covid and you are required to wear a mask when inside shops, on public transport etc., most people still wear them on the street. Given how densly populated Japan’s cities are, this makes sense to curb the spread of the disease. As always when travelling, be a good guest and respect even the unofficial rules of the country you’re in.
When you’re out sightseeing the metro system is excellent. A two day pass cost just under £8 and the longest you’ll wait on a train is 5 minutes. Signs in the station and announcements on the trains are both in Japanese and English. Station staff are very kind and helpful and this is the time to use your Google translate if you get turned about. Tickets can be bought at machines or at tickets offices (the offices only take cash). I would avoid rush hour if possible as the trains are really packed (personal space isn’t really a thing on the Metro), you’ll also be expected to remain quiet out of respect for other travellers.
We stayed in the Shinjuku area which is very central for most things. Just up the street the local temple was having a festival and the streets were lined with stalls selling cheap fantastic street food. We were also only a few streets away fron the Golden Gai district. This is a little warren of streets made up of tiny izakayas (bars) that are often only a counter than sits 6-8 people. There is usually a small cover charge per person and staff and locals were friendly.
A few stops from Shinjuku you can find the Senso – Ji temple complex. The approach to the temple has a busy shopping area if you want to shop for souvenirs or street food. You can have your fortune told at the temple by shaking a box containing sticks, the one that pops out will have a corresponding fortune)
Foodies should visit Tsukiji fish market, which has brilliant seafood spots, and for a tasty sushi lunch with a beer we paid about £10 per head (and we had a lot of sushi). You’ll find fruit in Japan is surprisingly expensive, with specialist types being given as gifts as a show of status.
Food is unfailingly fantastic in Japan, and even convenience stores (Konbini) sell low cost tasty food. Unless you’re wanting want to go fine dining you can get a filling main meal for £5-6 per per person in most restaurants
If you want to see where the cool kids hang out, you should visit the Harajuku District. Full of quirky shops, and places to eat, drink and shop. If you’re interested in visiting a ferret cafe, or have always wanted to buy a Cosplay Bo Peep outfit this is the area for you.
This was my first visit to Japan and some differences that immediately leapt out at me were, cyclists ride on the pavement, not the road and it’s important to be aware of them. Japanese toilets are unbelievable, with heated seats and water jets. You can choose to play birdsong if you want to cover the sound of doing your business, some will even blow dry your nether regions (an unexpected, but not unpleasant sensation).
Smoking is still permitted in many bars, but it’s illegal to smoke in the street. The place feels incredibly safe, and I would have no hesitation to travel alone in Japan (taking the usual sensible precautions).
With colder weather and darker evenings coming in all I want is comfort food.
This was one of my favourite desserts from school and is basically an apple sponge. Whatever you decide to call it, it’s delicious and even better with custard, or ice cream.
I’ve used eating apples, but you could use cooking apples if this what you have (just remember to add some extra sugar if the apples are very tart).
You can also use different fruit, like plums, pears, or rhubarb.
120 Grams Butter (plus extra for greasing the baking dish)
120 Grams Sugar
120 Grams Self Raising Flour
1/2 Tsp Vanilla Extract
6 Dessert Apples
Icing Sugar (optional)
Peel and core the apples, and cut into 3-4cm cubes. Put in a pot with a splash of water and cook over a medium heat for 5-10 minutes until the apples start to soften. You can cook the apples for longer if you prefer, but I like them to still have a bit of texture. Allow to cool slightly
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees (Celsius)
In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until it becomes light.
Add the vanilla and one egg to the butter and sugar and continue mixing. Add a couple of spoonfuls of flour and the next egg and gradually add the rest of the flour while mix (this should stop the cake mix looking like it has curdled. If this happens don’t panic, just add a spoonful of flour and keep mixing
Transfer the apples to an oven proof dish (about 1-1.5 litre dish should be fine). Drain off any excess liquid and top with the cake mix before spreading it evenly across the top of the apples
Bake for 40 minutes, stick a skewer or toothpick in the middle of the pudding. If the skewer comes out clean the your pudding is ready, if not cook for a further 5 minutes and try again
Allow to cool slightly, and dust with icing sugar if you’re feeling fancy
I usually find sandwiches a bit meh!, but I love these. I make these as pinwheel sandwiches, which is basically a tortilla rolled up and cut into slices. They are nice for parties, or just because you want to fancy up your lunchbox.
The filling is packed full of flavours from America’s South West, black beans, corn, coriander (cilantro) etc. This makes it full of colour, crunch, fibre and flavour.
I used full fat sour cream and cream cheese, but you can use lower fat versions. This sandwich filling also makes an amazing topping for baked potatoes, or stirred into left over pasta to make a salad.
400 Gram Can Sweet Corn (drained)
400 Gram Can Black Beans (drained and rinsed)
1 Large red pepper (chopped into 1cm cubes)
2-3 Scallions/spring onions (finely sliced)
2 Tbsp Coriander (Finely chopped)
150 Grams Cheddar Cheese (grated)
2 Tsp Smoked Paprika
1 Tsp Chilli Powder
1 Tsp Salt
200 Grams Sour Cream
200 Grams Cream Cheese
Add all the ingredients to a large bowl and stir until well combined
Spread 2 large spoonfuls of the filling on a tortilla, and roll the outside edge inwards tightly
My friend Mags has been raving about this recipe for ages. We both have a serious bread addiction and this recipe is from a slimming club site. So when she shared the recipe I had to make it. If you’ve ever had Irish wheaten bread this is similar in taste.
It takes two minutes to knock together, can be enjoyed by those who have issues with gluten and is pretty cheap to make. If you want something to keep kids busy this also something to do with them on a rainy afternoon and the will be super pleased with themselves.
It’s not the lightest fluffiest bread, but it is packed full of fibre and perfect served with cheese and chutney or buttered along side soup. I topped mine with some pumpkin seeds for a bit of crunch, but you can also sprinkle with porridge oats.
180 Grams Porridge oats
1 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Bicarbonate of Soda (baking soda)
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees (Celsius). Grease a load tin, you can also line it with baking parchment if want to (but I just greased the tin really well and it was fine)
Mix the yoghurt, salt and baking soda together, before stirring in the porridge oats
In a separate bowl, crack the egg and whisk with a fork until light and fluffy. Stir into the porridge mix and stir until we’ll combined
Transfer the mix into the loaf tin and bake for 50 minutes. Test with a tooth pick, when it comes out clean it’s ready.
Who doesn’t love sometime away with your besties. It was one of my oldest friend’s birthday, so we decided to get out of the city and treat ourselves.
About a 30 minute drive from Belfast, we stayed at Dolly’s Farm, just outside the village of Seafordepq. The farm has beautifully converted old farm buildings into luxurious self catering accommodation. The Hay Loft sleeps up to four and the Farm House sleeps up to seven people.
Both have their own wood fired hot tubs and sitting relaxing looking over gorgeous lush farmland listening to the cows moo was heaven.
William, the owner was great and arrived with snacks just after we arrived and the package we booked also included a fantastic 3 course dinner from a French’s restaurant in Clough that evening. We also had breakfast delivered to us the next morning including hot croissants, breads and fresh fruit and juice. If you want to get away from it all and not have to worry about a thing this the break for you.
The next day we drove about another 20 minutes to the seaside town of Newcastle at the foot of the Mourne mountains. Tollymore Forest Park can be accessed here to and if you haven’t visited before, you’ll be a convert.
We decided to treat ourselves to a little bit of self care at Soak. They specialise in seaweed baths but also offer beauty treatments and self-catering accommodation.
The ritual for the baths starts with a good 10 minute steam to open your pores. You can opt for the original Victoria steam boxes, or other rooms have more modern steam rooms. You can choose to have rooms with 2 baths (popular with couples) or single rooms.
After steaming, you step into an original Victorian roll top bath with local seaweed and soak for around 40 minutes. If you haven’t done it before, lying down in a bath full of seaweed might feel a bit strange at first, but you’ll soon realise it actually feels great. The seaweed has all manner of health benefits and helps detox your skin and leaves it incredibly soft.
The seaweed baths are one of my guilt free pleasures. A great way to just bliss out, the staff even let you pick an album you want to listen too and pipe the music into your room.