Saturday
Jun182016

Meringues with strawberries 

The secret to meringues is that you want them to dehydrate rather than cook.

Serve them with Marks and Spencer strawberries and Cornish Clotted cream

 

Meringues Recipe

 Ingredients

  • 3 egg whites
  • 6oz golden caster sugar
  • 3 - 4 tsp Rose Extract or vanilla

 

Oven 170' Aga floor on bottom oven / Preheat the oven to fan 100C/ conventional 110C/gas 1⁄4.

You can place the meringues on a lightly oiled baking sheet before cooking on a silicon mat or I find using a lined pizza tray or stone works well.

Method

1. Whisk egg whites slowly in an electric mixer or with an electric had mixer, use a high sided bowl, until very firm. You should be able to hold bowl upside down & nothing drops out - children love it when you do this over their heads.

2. Mix in 3/4 sugar on low speed, adding only a little at a time. The mix should look really glossy.

3. Fold in the rest of the sugar using a figure of eight motion

4. Fold in the rose extract or vanilla

5.Spoon large dollops onto a preprepared baking tray ensuring space has been left between the  meringues and then cook

6.  Bake for 1 1⁄2- 2 hours in a fan oven, 1 1⁄4 hours in a conventional or gas oven, and up to 2 hours in the Aga.  The meringues are ready when they sound crisp when tapped hours

Saturday
Jun182016

Rosé Strawberries

Strawberries mean summer to me.  Bowls filled with warm red jewels.

The first Irish Strawberries are in Marks and Spencer's stores.  Their balance of sweetness and acidity changes as the strawberries ripen, the acidity diminishes making them so much sweeter.  I still like to add the tiniest dusting of sugar to them.  My Gran always said this brought out their flavour.  When I saw a tiny drop I mean a pinch or two, only, never more they don't need it.

 

Another thing I like to do with strawberries is let them macerate in rose wine after they have been tossed in sugar.  Macerating strawberries allows them to soften, this should be done at room temperate as when the fruit is too cold it shrinks and hides its flavour which only comes out when it is warm.  You should only eat strawberries  in season, never ever at any other time, because it is only in season that they are luscious 

Flaxbourne Sauvignon Blanc Rosé from Marks and Spencer is big and bold with a clear finish.  Its strawberry flavours means it works well being paired with actual strawberries.  I add one large glass of wine to 500g of strawberries that have been hauled, washed and quartered and sprinkled with a couple of small pinches of sugar.  Levae for 30 minutes to 3 hours, at room temperate but not in a hot room.

Now you can serve these strawberries in chunks or using a potato masher you can mash them together to form a loose almost sloppy like consistency, perfect for scooping up with crusty white bread. Or eating straight from the bowl with a spoon.

You can serve these strawberries with thick greek yogurt swirled with honey, with softy beaten cream, meringues or with ice cream.

That's it for now ...

 

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

 

 

Saturday
Jun182016

Father's Day starter - with wine

Spears of bright green British Asparagus need little doing to them, before you can eat them. Their season is coming to an end but you still have a few weeks to eat this most delicious of vegetables before  you have to wait another year. Remember the Asparagus season is only eight weeks old. Marks and Spencer sell British asparagus and it is the only asparagus you want to eat, don't buy stuff that has had to travel across countries to get to our island.

Did you know - Asparagus is the vegetable that can help cure hangovers and protect the liver against toxins? So that is one to drink the morning after the night before. It is also a rich source of vitamin C, which boosts your immune system.  I enjoy knowing the food I eat is good for me, yet I am not obsessed with it.  I am obsessed with taste.

Apart from all the goodness they contain - they just taste great, crisp and sweet.  They can be cooked in almost everyway - boiled, grilled, BBQ, roasted, steamed or toasted through casseroles or pasta.

I love to serve them grilled or quickly steamed, with lots of ground black pepper and wedges of lemon, of course some Irish country butter always works a treat as well.  My nephew loves to poke his fingers in the butter when no one is looking and the spears of asparagus he finds work well for fitting into the holes made from his fingers.

For Father's Day if like me you serve steak for dinner, your starter should be light and simple.  And, what let me ask you is more simple than a huge platter of asparagus brought to the table for people to help themselves.  I set out Marks and Spencer Irish soft creamy butter, wedges of lemon and lots of sea salt and black pepper.  Simple and sublime, as eating in season always is.  Great produce needs very little fiddling and only one thing to serve with it.

Crisp, clear and clean white wine.  This Les Ruettes Sancerre 2014 vintage, is one of the nicest white wines I have drunk in a long time.  Herby and lightly zingy, this is an elegance wine with a lemony start and a flinty finish.

Marks & Spencer worked closely with winemaker Fabrice Robineau of the Cave des Vins de Sancerre using a 100% Sauvigon Blanc grapes in the Loire valley.  With asparagus you want a wine with minerally lemon flavours not one with big oaky finishes.  

 

 That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

 

 

 

Saturday
Jun112016

Simple, sensational Father's Day dinner

Chefs have mourned my lack of interest in creating perfect plates of food. Yet they celebrated my cooking by eating every mouthful of the food I put in front of them.  And, I have cooked for a lot of chefs some of them so called celebrities others Michelin starred.  

What I do and I do very well is cook food people enjoy eating.  And that is exactly what is the key to a cooking a good meal for your Daddy on Father's Day.

Cooking something he will love eating!  Not simply something you think he will like, something you will know he will like.  And, cooking food like this starts with brilliant ingredients.  Produce from a store that supports our local farmers and artisan food producers Marks and Spencer.

My Daddy likes Shiraz red wine, steak and potatoes.  He's like a lot of Irish Ulstermen of his generation, in fact like many men today - red meat and potatoes.  He loves Shiraz, any other type of red wine is immediately judged against this big bold flavour.  For Father's day I cooked him Marks and Spencer Aberdeen Angus fillet steak from a local farm in Northern Ireland.  Served with comber spuds and  grilled tomatoes.  Mushrooms and sweet onions cooked in butter with chunks of soft garlic.  Served with a very special Marks and Spencer wine made by Belinda King, its a big bold red wine made from his favourite grape Shiraz, from the South of Eastern Australia.

To ease into the meal I served him potato chips and almonds from Spain from the Marks and Spencer range of artisan producers.

When you are cooking huge big and often heavy foods you don't need a starter, something simple to nibble on. Something salty that tantalises the tastebuds and adds a grumbling to the belly, as it smells the scents wafting from the kitchen of grilling meat, and onions sauted soaked in butter with garlic.

This wine is from South Australia's Barossa Valley in Australia where the shiraz grape is a local speciality is one of the most important wine regions in the country.  This Marks and Spencer wine is rich and spicy yet smooth and silky.  The winemaker Matt Gant has aged this wine in American oak barrels which I feel lends to its creaminess.

 

 

 

 


 Boiled baby Comber Potatoes, Bearnise Sauce and grilled tomatoes complete the meal.

 

How do you like your steak?  I used to eat mine blue, my Daddy has always loved his as well done.  In a time honoured Irish way he loves his steak succulent juicy and crumbly.  He does not like red bloody meat.  He loves it almost caramelised on the outside.  The way to cook a steak like this is on the hottest grilled pan ever, letting it cook for about 5 minutes on one side then turning it over for another five minutes, leaving it to rest then under a dome of tinfoil.  Letting steak rest before eating allows the fibres of the meat to relax making it more pleasurable to eat.

Daddy's opinion on his Father's Day dinner 'That a was great feed, really enjoyed it.  I like how Marks and Spencer support our Farmers here in Northern Ireland.'

For ideas on what to serve for pudding on Father's Day check back tomorrow.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Monday
May162016

Sláinte Coconut, lime, Pineapple & Rum Cooler

Summer needs long cool drinks - especially when the weather is hot and sticky, and the journey home from work is humid and yucky - the scent of BBQ and an iced drink in hand, suddenly makes the world feel like a big better place.

This Lime and Coconut Rum from Marks and Spencer is a brilliant base for a long cool drink that couldn't be quicker or easier.

Squeeze four limes into the bottom of a large jug, pack full of ice - pour over 2 cups of this rum to 3 cups of pineapple juice, stir and serve.

Now what could possibly be nicer after work than sitting in the garden chatting with a drink like this as the BBQ smokes.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle  = Life Remarkable

Sunday
May152016

BBQ season begins 2016 with Marks and Spencer - Spirit of Summer

 Summer has finally come to Ireland.  Temperatures have started to rise, rain has been banished and BBQ's have been dusted off and lit.  Hazey skies are filled with sweet smoke and scents of grilling meat.  There is nothing like it.  I would BBQ 365 days a year, it is without doubt my favourite way to cook.  Social, enjoying - outside and relaxing.  If you are new to BBQs or want to brush up on your skills check out my Top Ten BBQ tips - refined and developed in nearly 30 years at the grill.

Marks and Spencer Spirit of Summer range is full of the delicious flavours of the American Southern States - BBQ capitals  - and the South Americas.  The product developers have travelled widely and created a range that is delicious.  Our favourites include the Jamaican spatchcocked chicken which had a pimento chilli and Rum rich spice rub/marinade.  The meat was succulent and well flavoured.

We always serve slices of grilled pineapple at a BBQ.  Not only is it delicious there are health benefits too - the pineapples enezymes breakdown the fatty tissues of meat making it easier to digest. 

 

 The Louisian BBQ Spatchies came with a tangly BBQ sauce that when grilled caramelised and enriched the flavour of the tender chicken.

Marks and Spencer understand BBQ and the need for things to be spatchcocked for easy grilling.

 Always keep an orderly grill - don't just whack everything on in a haphazard method - check out my top ten BBQ tips for more BBQ essentials

 Boys love BBQing - men and fire, it goes the whole way back to ancient prehistoric times ...

 

 

 Eating outside is simply glorious and relaxed.  We aim for chillaxed atmosphere's which creates its own genuine form of perfection.  There is no striving to get everything right.  Marks and Spencer have taken all the hard work out of the cooking - and while I love preparing meat etc for the BBQ from scratch my increasingly busy lifestyle means I have a choice to make.  Be chained to the stove cooking from scratch or enjoy my downtime with the fabulous Spirit of Summer BBQ Range from Marks and Spencer, that allows me to actually chillax, rather than simply create the atmosphere for everyone else.

 Jumping off walls is the perfect way to wait for food to cook.

 Chicken skewers with lemon and bay have a fresh zesty filled sweet taste.

 Smokehouse Pork Links - are a German style sausage, they have a firm texture and a rich flavour.

We cook down several finely sliced onions in a smoke encrusted BBQ frying pan, to create sticky fried onions that are a superb match for the Marks and Spencer Vension Burgers.

 

 Condiments are an essential part of BBQ and this year as always, Marks and Spencer have it covered.  We particularly loved their Amarillo Ranch Chilli - perfect for dipping sausages into.

 

 Waiting for the BBQ to be ready and the food to be cooked is hard work - it calls for a refreshing long cool drink  - try this pineapple and coconut Rum Punch - or Strawberry Margaritas.

I serve big bowls of crisps - like these Marks and Spencer Tennessee Smoked Rib Chips and these Cajun Spiced Plantain Chips, with some Pineapple and Mint salsa, which is also excellent with BBQ'd lamb.

 

 Set up a build your own burger bar - 

Sliced  Baps

Slices of cheese

Little Gem Lettuce Leaves

Sauces

Gerkins

Then add the cooked patties of meat and let folk build their own burgers - Marks and Spencer have a superb range from Salmon to Vension - SteakCheese to Chorizo - there are lots of burgers to chose from.

Pulled pork Burger with salted cured cucumber.

 

 

 Apple Glazed pork rib rack - delicious served with or without its sauce.

 You haven't lived until you have had BBQ'd Halloumi - the chillioumi skewers from Marks and Spencer are a sure fire winner.

Butternut squash sausages - with sweet smoked onions - does it get any better for Veggies at a BBQ - I think not.  Marks and Spencer have it covered. 

After all that meat there is nothing better than a BBQ'D Smoree.  We made ours using Marks and Spencer chilli chocolate cookies and Peanut Cookies, with bbq'd marshmallows skished inside.

 

 

Skewer marshmallows then slowly cook them on the edge of the BBQ on a sheet of tin foil brushed with oil.  

 

 

After all that food in Ireland we always need a cup of tea and a wee bun - these sweet treats from Marks and Spencer, including Lime toffee popcorn are absolutely delicious and a simple elegant way to end the meat feast that is a BBQ.

BBQ is the spirit of summer - I hope you catch the zeitgeist.

Happy BBQing folks - hope you have a summer filled with long lazy hot days, grilled meat and hanging out with family and friends.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Sunday
May152016

Sláinte Strawberry Margarita

Margaritas are my drink of choice - to serve and to sip.


Last year I discovered a fresh pure brand of tequila called Cazcabel and recently got my hands on a bottle of their honey tequlia.

Smokey and sweet with a dry earthy heart, this tequila is delicious neat over lots of ice, with a quick squeeze of lime.

Honey and strawberries are a beautiful mix. The spikey fresh strawberries with their crisp flavour are mellowed with hints of honey.  Using Cazcabel Honey Tequila as the base for these strawberry margaritas meant that I didn't need to add sugar syrup (which all too often kills a margarita in its tracks, I really dislike overly sweet sugary fruit concoctions masquerading as cocktails).

Two cups of new season Irish strawberries in stalks removed mascerated in two cups of Cazcabel honey tequlia for two hours, to really infuse the flavours together.

Where then blended them with ice, 1/2 cup of grand marnier and 1/8 cup of orange juice and the juice of two limes.

Served with a wedge of lime these are great drinks for a summer's afternoon, drinks on the dock, or twilight.

Strawberry Margarita Recipe

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 2 Cups  Cazcabel Honey Tequila 
  • 2 Cups hulled strawberries
  • 1 Cup Triple Sec
  • 3 Cups Ice
  • 1/4 Cup freshly squeezed Lime Juice
  • 1/4 Cup freshly squeeezed orange Juice
  • 4-6 lime wedges one for each glass

Method 

  1. Mix strawberries and honey tequlia - leave to infuse in a covered bowl for up to 24 hours - you can skip this step altogether and get straight to making margaritas if you wish

Regular

  1. Combine tequila, triple sec, lime and ice in a large jug stir until blended
  2. Serve margarita glasses with a wedge of lime

Frozen

  1. To make frozen margarita's combine tequila, triple sec, lime and ice with 1/4 teaspoon of salt in a blender, mix on high until smoothie consistency is achieved, serve ice cold alternatively this can be frozen in the freezer in a sealed container, to serve simply blitz in the blender
  2. Enjoy with friends

 

How do you like your Strawberry Margarita?

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable