Spiced Plum Cake

Soft sweet plum topping with gentle spices.

Whenever possible I like to eat seasonally, it’s usually cheaper, and usually better for you, and better for the planet. Autumn has some great fruit and vegetables. One of my favourites are plums. Usually inexpensive and really versatile. I love this plum cake, no only because its relatively straight forward to make, but the cinnamon and cardamon add a whole other level of flavour. The addition of sour cream adds a tenderness to the sponge. This will also live quite happily in a cake tin for 3-4 days. I love it with whipped cream, but it’s also perfect comfort food served with custard.

Ingredients

300 Grams Plain flour

1, 1/2 Tsps Baking powder

1 Tsp Ground cinnamon

1/2 Tsp Ground cardamon

1 Tsp Salt

3 Eggs

100 Grams Butter

200 Grams Sugar

60 Grams Sour Cream

4-5 Plums

Ready for the oven

Methods

  1. Mix the flour, salt, spices and baking powder together
  2. In a separate bowl cream the eggs and sugar together with an electric whisk (hold back 2 tablespoons of sugar to top the plums with)
  3. Add the eggs and sour cream to the butter and sugar and whisk until light and fluffy
  4. Gradually whisk in the flour mixture until you have thick cake batter
  5. Grease a 9 inch spring firm cake tin, and pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees
  6. Transfer your cake batter to the cake tin and spread evenly.
  7. Cut the plums in half, remove the stone and cut each half into quarters
  8. Starting in the centre of the cake, arrange the slices of plum in a circle (or any type of pattern you like) and sprinkle with remaining sugar
  9. Bake for 35 mins, or until a skewer comes out clean when stuck in the cake

Foraging at Navan Fort and walking through history.

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.

Elderberries, packed with vitamins and antioxidants

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).

Celtic round house

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.

Iron Age fire pit

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.

Inside an 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.

Tripod cooking
Celtic bread oven

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.

Robert’s plant or herb Robert

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.

Rainbow Salad with Walnuts

Like a lot of people I’m prone to getting stuck in food ruts. You buy the same thing every week, and you cook the same thing all the time, it’s easy but it is boring.

I started getting vegetable box deliveries and sometime I choose an option that’s a bit of a luck dip so that I’m forced to make something different, and you’re forced to work with new ingredients. (This week’s box came with a packet of sauerkraut!, but that’s a whole other recipe).

I had been over indulging in the “pure filth” recipes lately and wanted to feel I was eating something good for me for a change. So with a box full of lovely colourful ingredients I made this fresh crunchy salad with a dressing made with creamy tahini, tangy ginger and a little bit of chilli heat. I like to sprinkle it with nuts, for extra protein.

This is a great vegan dish ( I eat big bowls of this on its own), but is also a great side dish. I used the vegetables I had in a vegetable box, but the beautiful thing about this is that you can adapt the vegetables depending on availability and what’s in season.

Do yourself some good and enjoy a delicious crunchy multi-coloured big bowl of fibre and vitamins.

Ingredients

2 Carrots (grated)

1/2 Red pepper (finely sliced)

1 Large gold beetroot (grated)

2-3 Radishes (finely sliced)

4-5 Stalks of Rainbow chard (finely sliced)

1 Small Celeriac (grated)

For the dressing

1 Red chilli (finely sliced)

2 inch piece of ginger (grated)

3 Tbsp Tahini

Juice of one lemon

Method

  1. I was lazy and used a food processor to grate many of the ingredients. If you don’t have one a box grater does the same job, it will just take a little longer
  2. If you’re using celeriac make sure to cover this with the lemon juice as soon as you grate it to prevent it from discolouring
  3. Combine all your ingredients in a bowl (once you have grated or sliced your vegetables).
  4. In a separate bowl add the dressing ingredients and mix well. You want to add a little water to loosen the dressing, depending on how thick your tahini is.
  5. Add the dressing to the salad and mix thoroughly
  6. Top with walnuts, or toasted cashews or pine nuts also work well.

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

Breakfast Wraps

I used seeded wraps, but use whatever type you prefer.

I love these for breakfast but they also make a great lunch/brunch dish.

I can pretty much kill any plant at 10 paces, but I have a faithful mint plant that needed a trim, so this is why I used mint. Basil or parsley also works really well if you prefer.

This is quick, easy and full of fresh clean flavours and different textures.

Serves 4

Ingredients

4 Wraps

2 Avocados (cut into chunks)

200 Grams Halloumi (cut into strips)

12 Cherry tomatoes (halved)

12 Mint leaves (torn)

1Tbsp Olive Oil

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a pan, and fry your halloumi until it is brown on both sides
  2. In each wrap assemble the ingredients, and roll up, it really is that simple

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.

OX, Belfast

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.

An OX Martini to kick things off

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!

First half of the taster menu

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).

Canap├ęs of delicate little tartlets with eel and horseradish and gougere (think warm savoury cheese profiteroles)

OX prides itself on using the best local and seasonal ingredients. Some of the herbs used are grown the Chef’s own garden.

Velvety smooth artichoke veloute, with salty crispy chicken crackling

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).

Broad beans, soft cheese with truffle and sour dough crisp

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.

Lobster with courgette
Part 2 of the taster menu

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.

Cote de Beouf
Sheep milk yoghurt with apricots
Blackberry and white chocolate sable

Champ

Buttery champ, the ultimate comfort food.

Northern Ireland has many unique dishes like potato bread, soda farls, fifteens etc. The place has world class scenery and is luscious and green, but that’s mainly because it rains pretty much every day. We have numerous types of rain that range from soft pillowy drizzle, to sideways stingy rain that feels like someone is pinging your face with rubber bands.

Because of our unique weather system, we love carb heavy comfort food. The king of comfort foods is champ. Champ is basically mashed potatoes with milk made smooth and velvety by milk infused with with scallions (spring onions). Traditionally it’s served in a big mound with a well in the middle where you melt a knob of butter. I’ve heard of a few tweaks, like beating a raw egg into the potatoes and most families will make it how their Mum taught them. This is how my Mum made it. I love this just on its own, but champ and sausage is a really popular family dinner. There is basically nothing this doesn’t go with. In a lot of recipes fancy chefs tell people not to use the green part of the scallion. Champ is peasant food, so nothing is wasted. The green part of the onion is what gives the champ the distinctive green flecks.

Allow the milk to infuse with the taste of the scallions.

Ingredients

1Kg Potatoes (pick a floury variety rather than waxy potatoes)

1 Bunch of scallions (spring onions)

250 ml milk

Salt and pepper

Butter

Method

  1. Peel the potatoes and cut into equal sized chunks
  2. Put in a large pot of cold water and salt. Bring to the boil and simmer until the potatoes are soft
  3. Trim the tops and ends of the scallions, cut into 1cm slices and add to a pot along with the milk. Heat on a low heat for 5- 10 minutes (do not allow to boil)
  4. Mash the cooked potatoes. Gradually stir in the milk and scallions until you get a consistency you’re happy with
  5. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper if it needs it. Spoon a mound of the champ onto a plate and make well in the centre and add a knob of butter which will then melt into a gorgeous pool of golden deliciousness