Wednesday
Jul232014

How to make Trail Mix

A blend of fruit, nuts and seeds high in fiber, protein and natural sugar, with the odd M&M thrown in for a hit of choclate, Trail mix is a nutritious and sustaining snack.  And, it's my favourite.  I don't travel anywhere without it.  Making it up huge ziplock bags before hitting the road. As I am heading to the airport tonight, it seemed only natural to share with you my love of Trailmix. 

Sitting on a blanket on the sand,  was offered a packet, taking a handful of what I thought were nuts, I was overjoyed to discover something altogether more lovely.  Salty peanuts, dried cranberries and chocolate drops, mixed with M&Ms.  TrailMix! A lifelong loveaffair had begun.

In the USA its easy to buy Trailmix pre made in large packets, but here in Ireland, harder and more expensive.  But that's really okay, as this lightweight, portable and full of energy dense ingredients is as easy to make, as it is to munch.

One of the great things about Trailmix is you can create your own version with ease.  It's simply just a case of mixing and matching ingredients that tingle your tastebuds.

I like the combinatin of salt and sweetness, but I don't want to eat nuts drenched in salts or sugar, so I add some salty pretzels to raw nuts.

You can make a whole variety of blends - it really is just about finding what works for you, and mixing accordingly.  Now what could be better, being told to do what works for you, I'll have more of that, yes please!

In a large bowl I mixed a 500g bag of pecans, with one of cashews, pistachios and a mixed bag of hazel and brazil nuts, with a 300g bag of peanut M&Ms, and two large handfuls of salted pretzels. Then I decanted the mix into various zip lock bags.  Dang, I was done, and it didn't take longer than five minutes.  When travelling to hot places, I recommend if using chocolate to keep your bag in a cooler.  Otherwise don't add chocolate, or it melts and your hand becomes gooey and messy.

Trail Mix Recipes

Nuts - these are the commando of nutrition packed full of protein, unsaturated fats, , fibre, antioxidants, vitamin E, and other essential vitamins and minerals.  Go raw or add salted, sweetened nuts.

Dried Fruit - such as cranberries, raisins, bananna chips, currants, cherries, blueberries, pineapple, mango, papaya

Chocolate - dark, white or milk chocolate drops, M&Ms, chocolate/yogurt covered raisins or berries, mini marshmallows or nuts.  Dark chocolate will boost the antioxidiants the Trail Mix

Seeds - Basically the same nutritional benefits as nuts, adding an extra punch to your mix

Extras - Wasabi peas, pretzels, dried ginger, coffee beans, edamane beans, coconut flakes, bread sticks, bran flakes, shredded wheat cereal, puffed rice, granola and toasted oats

Trail Mix Recipe Combinations

Almonds, dried cherries, & dark chocolate chips

Brazil nuts, dried mango, dried pineapple cashew, coconut flakes, & banana chips

Raisins, peanuts & M&Ms

Dried cranberries, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate chips and cashews

Almonds, pumpkin seeds, & sunflower seeds

Pecans, M&Ms, dried cranberries, chocolate-covered almonds, & cherries


Let me know your favourites. Happy Mixing.

 

That's it for now ...

 

 

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

 

An extra - If you are about to travel Seth Godin's article 'A Checklist for the Anxious Traveller' is brilliant, full of helpful information and ideas.

Tuesday
Jul222014

How to Serve Tapas - the ultimate finger food

It was late when we began to catch up on our day, neither of us had had dinner, but a) the thought of cooking was enough to send me running for the hills, and b) we weren’t hungry for a large plate of food.

It was the time of night when hunger is for something not insubstantial but can be nibbled, eaten with hands or a cocktail stick.  This is the time for a glass of wine, comfortable seats and food eaten in little mouthfuls. 

Spanish Tapas fits the bill.  They are the ultimate finger food.

Tapa means lid or cover.  Tapas as we know them today began their life as pieces of bread used to cover jugs of wine, to protect the wine from flies, served to farm workers as a sort of elevenses, to provide a little sustenance during the gap between breakfast and lunch.  Then people got creative and started adding small pieces of cheese or ham to the bread.

Tapas are tiny bites hot or cold bites served as an appetiser with a glass of wine or sherry, or a beer.  They range from simple items such as slices of ham or salami, cubes of cheese or tortilla, meatballs or pieces of fish, small glasses of gazpacho, pieces of fried bread, clams in chilli sauce, dates wrapped in bacon. 

Lidl have always sold some of the best cured meats on the High Street, and their new Sol & Mar range of Iberian foods is one of the most bona fide selections of Spanish food, I have eaten outside of Spain.

On a large platter I arranged a selection of Lidl’s Sol & Mar products -

  • Pata Negra Ham from outdoor black Iberian pigs, has been dry cured for 20 months
  • Dates wrapped in the thinnest bacon
  • Slices of Chorizo and Paprika Salami
  • Cubes of warm Spinach Tortilla
  • Bread Sticks with sunflower seeds – these had the most incredible flavour, and have a more flavourable taste than similar products I have eaten at several times the price.  The buttery saltiness gives a good crunch to the biscuit, with a sweetness lingering on the palate from the sunflower seeds, which also add texture.
  • Slices of Manchego Cheese – matured for three months this young sheep’s milk cheese had is supple and moist texture, with a hay and grass flavour, leaving the slightest tang on the palate.
  • Olives
  • Salted Sunflower Seeds

We drank glasses of really cold Navarra Rose wine, which is a full bodied rose without any of the overegged sweetness which is so common in the glut of roses that hit the shops this time of year.  There are flavours of cherries and strawberries, in this dry wine, which has a silkily round and balanced nose, that lingers on the palate.

There is something wonderful about serving pudding as a Tapa, which appeals to me,  possibly because it allows people to help themselves to lots of sweetness or just a bite of two.   I placed a whole Torta Imperial Nougat with just a few bits broken off in the centre of a plate,  a dish of Magalenas, and some slices melon and we helped ourselves. 

The Nougat comes covered in rice sugar paper.  The circle when broken has an almond and honey brittle with a warm and morish flavour.  While the Magalenas have a light airy crumb with a subtle sweet lemon flavour.  They really are delicious.

Lidl have really surpassed themselves with products of such quality and excellent taste they could easily have come from the finest deli.


How to Serve Tapas

Decide what role tapas will play in your evening – is it a grazing plate for two instead of dinner, a late night snack, appetisers at a drinks party where, food to accompany a pre-dinner drink or as dinner?  Also consider will people eat the tapas sitting or standing.

Three to six types should be prepared for appetisers, or party food, whereas if you are using Tapas to serve as dinner, you should prepare up to ten different types.  Multiply the amount dependant on the number of people, and always serve more than you think you will need, any leftovers can be sent home with people or eaten the next day.

Buy excellent ingredients, serve the tapas on platters and bowls, and leave out plenty of napkins and toothpicks for people to help themselves.

Remember Tapas aren’t hard to prepare and can mostly be arranged in advance - you can make them as complicated or simple as you have time for.  Some of the best Tapas I have eaten have come straight from packets, and placed onto plates.

·         Slices of cured meats laid out on a platter
·         Little bowls of olives, salted sunflower husts and nuts
·         Cubes or slices of cheese
·         Shot glasses of gazpacho or salmorejo
·         Clams
·         A whole chorizo with a knife for people to cut slices for themselves, a good tip here is to cut the first few slices off, so people know what they are expected to do
·         Bread sticks
·         Little bowls of olive oil and sherry vinegar
·         Cubed fried potatoes
·         Tiny Anchovies in small bowls
·         Deep fried squid
·         Pieces of melon, figs and grapes

The Lidl range of Iberian foods is superb, I highly recommend it.

Hope you will get the chance to eat Tapas style this week - let me know what you put together.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

 

 

Monday
Jul212014

Sláinte its Monday, time for some Bushmills Whiskey Lemonade

Whiskey Lemonade is a study in simplicity.  We are talking three ingredients here - Lemons, Whiskey and sugar .  

And, that's it, simple, sensation and sazzy. Not to mention perfect for serving in large pitchers at parties and BBQs.  

Good Whiskey Lemonade needs lots of lemons! I use the juice of 2 and sometimes three lemons per long glass.

What is it about squeezing lemons by hand, that is so satisfying.  The zingy scent makes me smile, and I sense I fresh rush of energy, just from inhaling the aroma.  I love the smell of lemon which lingers on my hands hours after juicing.

Lemonade: tart, refreshing, simple, with the slightless sweetness, add some 10 year old Bushmills Whiskey, and you bring the tiniest hint of smokiness which comes from the fact this Whiskey is matured for 10 years seasoned Bourbon barrels mainly from Kentucky.  The finishing notes of verbenna and the dry nature of this whiskey, open up when its stirred over lots of ice with lemon and a dash or two of sugar syrup.  I prefer this made with 10 year old Bushmills, but it is just as lovely made with Bushmills Original or Bushmills Honey.

Whiskey Lemonade is a summer drink at its finest, (although note to self it can be drunk anytime of year) it's freshness makes it ideal to sip at after a long day at the office.  Or actually just to enjoy over the course of an afternoon as  you watch the world go by.

The most simple way to make this for pitchers is 1/2 whiskey, 1/2 homemade or still lemonade poured into a jug packed with ice, then stir.  

Trust me it's unlikely you will want to make just one glass, but if you do, here's the recipe.

Whiskey Lemonade 

Ingredients

 

  • Bushmills Whiskey (two measures at least per person) 
  • Lemon juice (allow juice of two lemons per person)
  • Sugar Syrup to taste 

 

Method

 

  1. Fill a large highball with ice
  2. Pour over the Bushmills Whiskey
  3. Add the lemon juice and sugar syrup
  4. Stir and serve

 

 

That's it for now ...

Nics

 

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Monday
Jul212014

Quotations of the Day - July 21, 2014

'A bore has feelings. Very often he will interrupt something boring he is saying to comment that he is a bore. His wife comes over and inquires sweetly, "Is he boring you?"

If he is, maybe it's your fault. "Being interested makes one interesting," Dr. Erich Fromm observed, to which I would add that you generally get out of a conversation what you put into it.'
Barbara Walters

Did you ever think about the fact that there is only one letter difference between “anger” and “danger”? When you get angry, you are in dangerous territory. You are about to hurt others — and yourself — with your own anger.
Pastor Rick Warren

 
“Success in business requires training and discipline and hard work. But if you're not frightened by these things, the opportunities are just as great today as they ever were.”
David Rockefeller

The truth is that we will never have more of what we truly desire until we become fully thankful for what we have.

“There is no spectacle on earth more appealing than that of a beautiful woman in the act of cooking dinner for someone she loves.”
 
Eyes are more accurate witnesses than ears.
Heraclitus of Ephesus, 535 – c. 475 BCE

Just a few of the thoughts I have been thinking about over the past week.
That's it for now ...

Nics
Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable
Thursday
Jul172014

Top Ten BBQ Tips

It's around this time of year we tend to go BBQ crazy.  When we feed our  primal instinct to get outside and cook over fire.  Things seared, BBQ'd, grilled, smoked, charred and sometimes burnt things are everywhere!  The scent of outdoor cooking lingers over garden hedges, beaches are filled with popup BBQs.  And, in anticipation of the big event fridges are stacked with ribs, steaks, burgers, sausages and ready for any opportunity to cook and eat outdoors.  Large pots of rubs are blended and marinades made.

I've been BBQ crazy since I was a child and its my favourite way to cook.  Coming from a family of BBQ enthusiasts there have been a few lessons learnt over the years, which I am going to share with you today, to get you outside and BBQing with ease.

 

Tip One - FIRE! 

This is the first thing to get right. Get the fire wrong, and your BBQ is sunk.  

Most people tend to put food onto coals too early, when the fire is still flaming, the coals haven't had a chance to heat up properly, and the BBQ is too hot.  This results in burnt outsides and raw insides, and a nasty case of food poisoning.  

A BBQ is ready to cook when the coals are all white, and you should not be able to hold your hand over the grill, because the heat is so intense.

When I light a BBQ I start with scrunched up paper, and plenty of it, then lots of kindling (you can pick this up drift wood on a beach, or sticks from a forest) or just buy a bag of sticks. Light the kindling first and get a good flame going, before pouring over the charcoal.  Some people are fans of lighter fluid at this point - I'll leave it up to you whether you want to use it or not.  All I would say is use it with extreme caution as you don't want to get burnt, or burn other people.  Certainly if you are BBQing with children do not leave the lighter fluid anywhere near them.

Depending on the size of your BBQ the coals can take up to 45 minutes to one and a half hours for them to be ready to cook on.

Light the BBQ well in advance of guests arriving and remember grill times and temperatures are guidelines. 

Things like the type, age and dampness of the charcoal, weather conditions and the core temperate of the food all affect how long it takes to grill a piece of food.  BBQing well relies a lot on feel, touch and commonsense.

Tip Two - Choose what to cook 

Use the best ingredients you can afford.  You can make up everything from scratch but don’t be afraid to cheat by buying great products already prepared from the High Street.  It’s not always practical, but it is easier if you can purchase your ingredients the days before – don’t forget things like ketchup, cheese, ice and napkins.

Think about who you are serving and how many people there are when deciding what to BBQ.  Do you want to BBQ lots of meats, chicken and fish, chops, sausages or do you want to settle on one type to grill.  Different meats need various cooking times, and all meats need space on a BBQ to cook, so don’t crowd the grill.

I’ve thrown parties where I’ve just cooked Steaks, another time it was burgers, and then for a Friday night BBQ with about 20 people sitting to eat, I choose to just cook marinaded butterflied chicken fillets.

Have fun when your choosing what to cook – experiment with pre and post cooking marinades, smoking, use dry rubs, cook in parcels and even slow cooking (I know people who BBQ their Turkeys at Christmas and Thanksgiving).

Think about your accompaniments to what has been BBQ’d.  I always recommend serving family style with several big salads, slices of bread, jars of pickles and sauces open with spoons in the middle, and either a large bowl of rice, or a bowl of tinfoil wrapped baked potatoes which you have cooked in the fire of the BBQ (don’t forget to have plenty of butter to serve with them).

My favourite salads are – Vietnamese Carrot Salad, Beetroot and Goats Cheese, Tomato and Broccoli; or mango, pomegranate and rocket. 

Tip Three – Be Prepared

Clean your BBQ and grill the day before, stock up on charcoal and sticks, and make sure you have some matches. Make your marinades the day before and leave the meat to soak.

Put a table beside your BBQ with everything the BBQ King or Queen will need when cooking – a knife, a tray to place cooked meats, somewhere else to place raw meat, oil and brush, BBQ tools, cloths and wipes.  

Before your guests arrive prepare your salads (dress them at the last moment), set the table, string the lights, get your drinks and glasses ready, garnishes cut.  Prepare everything as much as possible in advance, leaving you with more time to relax and enjoy the party atmosphere on the day.


Tip Four - Oil in a cup with a heatproof brush 

Food can dry out quickly if you just leave it there to grill.  One of the best ways to keep flavour and in the meat, and to allow it to stay succulent is to gently brush, just the meat with a little olive oil, a dash of lemon juice, salt and pepper in a cup.  Be careful just to brush the meat, or the oil will hit the coals and flare up.  You can also do this with marinade, but be careful not to brush cooked meat with a marinade were raw meat has been.

Never let a rain shower stop you from BBQing.  Here are my brother and the boys keeping it real under an umbrella.

Tip Five – Remember Food Hygiene

It is wishful thinking and seriously unhealthy to think it’s okay to let the BBQ burn off any charred  food scraps from your last grill, therefore you don’t need to clean.  Nonsense!

Clean your grill - after washing I use halved raw lemons, which I rub over the metal.  If your grill had a hard night last time you used it and is crusted with charred remains, rub a lemon over it before washing, you will be amazed at how easily the black food comes off.  But wear gloves!  I have warned you.

Have separate dishes for cooked and raw meats.  Do not place cooked meats/fish/chicken etc on plates were raw meat once rested, and never add marinade used for raw meat to cooked meat.

Your grill will be hotter in the centre and cooler at the edges, use a rack system or move food around from cooler parts to hotter ones as necessary or place food on foil to prevent it burning.

Don't cook cold meat - allow your meat to come to room temperature before cooking.  Otherwise if chicken, meat, fish or vegetables are too cool in the middle the edges and outside will burn, and look done, whilst the meat remains raw. 

Use a small sharp knife to cut into the centre of meats to check the flesh is cooked and juices run clear – juices virtually always need to run clear - unless you are eating blue or rare steak.


Tip Six – Marinades

Using marinades is easy, it just requires a little bit of thought to get the meat into the marinade preferably over night but at least 30 minutes before cooking.  Marinades flavour and tenderise meat

For example if you have a piece of meat you have spent serious money on – its well hung, preferably organic etc etc etc – then just lick a brush with oil over it, and then a little freshly ground salt and pepper.  However, if your meat or veggies are from a regular shop, then they definitely need to be marinaded in order to get maximum flavour.

Some of my favourites are –

Coco Cola, garlic, honey, soy and ginger for chicken; lemon, garlic and oil for steaks, wholegrain mustard, honey and a dash of cider vinegar for sausages, yogurt, mint, lemon, cumin, and coriander for lamb, and my sister in law’s outstanding Pork Chop Marinade – soy, scallion, brown sugar, fish sauce and garlic.

There are also some great pre-made marinades available, my favourites are Piri Piri and Smokey BBQ.

They say you shouldn’t marinade for too long, but on my travels I have seen meat marinaded for up to a week.  Do what works for you. 

Tip Seven - Seasoning

Seasoning is essential when cooking meat.  Don’t neglect it!  Never add salt to an overnight marinade, it can only be added a maximum of two hours before cooking, or it will dry out food.  Pepper and spices are grand overnight.  Season meat with salt just before grilling, and don’t be shy about it, season well. 

Tip Eight – Vegetarians

Veggies love BBQ’d food too, and there are plenty of ways to grill food that will make them smile.  Think grilled corn, Hallmoui and Pepper Kebabs, sticks of Asparagus served with grilled lemon wedges, veggie burgers made from lentils and chickpeas, there are also some great meat alternatives on offer, I’ve been known to enjoy the odd Linda MacCartney veggie sausage! 

Tip Nine – Pudding

BBQ’s tend to be Meatfeasts so for pudding you don’t want anything to too heavy.  I recommend serving a big bowl of sliced watermelon, and slices of pineapple that you have grilled for a few minutes each side on the BBQ.  Samores, BBQ Brownies, toasted marshmallows, cookies and an ice cream are fantastic other options.


Tip Ten – RELAX and ENJOY yourself!


What are your top BBQ tips?

That's it for now ...

 

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Monday
Jul142014

Spar Summer is 100% Northern Irish

Supporting local producers is very important.  In doing so we sustain jobs, help our economy and encourage producers to keep providing and creating great products.  This is something Spar Northern Ireland do very well.

Talking to the Henderson Group’s Fresh Food Director, Neal Kelly, I discovered, that Spar's

'Summer eating range this season is 100% sourced from farmers and growers in Northern Ireland, from the farms of Ballyclare to the lush grounds of Killinchy; all our meat, poultry, sausages, salads and fresh accompaniments are 100% made in Northern Ireland.”

The Henderson Group works with suppliers including Willowbrook Foods in Killinchy, Fred C Robinson in Ballyclare, Rockvale Poultry in County Armagh, Avondale Foods in Craigavon, and Around Noon in Newry. 

This is good news!  As our support of the local Agri-Food industry in Northern Ireland, makes a positive and significant difference to the lives of people who work really hard in this sector.  

I love to BBQ, as you will well know, and serving on my table food that has been grown and harvested in Northern Ireland, is one of my greatest pleasures.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Photographs taken by Aaron at Harrisons Photography, Belfast

 

Friday
Jul112014

Sláinte it's Friday, join me for a cocktail - Smirnoff Gold spiked Ginger Lemongrass tea

 

Standing golden flecked and proud, a bottle of Smirnoff Gold sits before me on the table, I have been staring at it for some time, wondering what to create.  Apple seems the natural mixer - but it doesn't feel right for summer, a little to reminiscent of the fallen leaves and Apple tarts in Autumn.

It's warm out.  Humidity is high, and nothing seems to quench thirst.  I think of my time spent in Southern Carolina, and the numerous glasses of iced tea I drank.  

Iced tea - doesn't have to be made with actual black tea, maybe there is an iced team combo that would work with the Smirnoff Gold.

I pour a timbal full and taste.  Swirling the thick liqueur around in my mouth.  Lemon, ginger they are flavours that would work with cinnamon.  The zingy freshness of the lemon and ginger would sit well with the sweet spice notes from the cinnamon.

 

I look at the tea cupboard do I have anything that would work, and I lift out a box of really refreshing Lemongrass and Citrus Tea.  In a large saucepan I make several cups, then leaving it to cool I pick up one of the books from my summer reading list.  When I finish the book the tea still isn''t cool.

In a large jug I place slices of ginger that I have bashed with a cleaver to smash them slightly, which allows their firey flavour to be released.  I then add thin slices of lemon and pour over the Smirnoff Gold.  Letting the flavours mingle for a moment, my patience has worn thin waiting for the tea to cool, so I add a large bag of ice, to speed up tht process.

Filling the jug with ice, I pour the now cooled tea over the top, until its about 3/4 full, then I top the mixture off with some old fashioned lemonade.

 

Filling up some small glasses with ice, I pour the Smirnoff Gold spiked Ginger Lemongrass tea  I garnish with pieces of lemon and freshly cut ginger.  The result is a smooth clean, fresh taste, which easily quenches thirst, with its sweet sharp scent uplifting the spirits.  

Recipe - Smirnoff Gold spiked Ginger Lemongrass tea (makes one two litre jug)

Ingredients

  • seven 35ml measures Smirnoff Gold
  • one lemon sliced
  • one bulb ginger sliced and smashed
  • one litre of traditional Lemonade
  • one bag of ice
  • one litre of lemongrass citrus tea - cooled
  • Lemon and Ginger slices to garnish

Method

 

  1. Place lemon and ginger slices in the bottom of a jug, cover with Smirnoff Gold
  2. Fill jug with ice about 1inch from the top
  3. Fill jug 1/2 way with cold Lemongrass tea
  4. Top up with traditional Lemonade mix and leave to sit for five minutes
  5. Serve in glasses filled with ice with a slice of ginger and lemonade

 

 

Now that is a cooling drink for warm days.

Sláinte it's Friday!

That's it for now ...

 

Nics

 

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable