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 ...


Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Photographs taken by Aaron at Harrisons Photography, Belfast



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)


  • 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



  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 ...




Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable



Top BBQ Picks from Marks and Spencer's Summer of Flavour


My love for BBQ burns brightly, glowing like a hot sweet smoky hickory chip.

 BBQ is my favourite way to cook and to entertain.  Nothing else comes close to cooking outdoors, the meat and veggies infused with woodsmoke and that smoky taste of charcoal.  There is something primal and ever quite hardcore about cooking outside over an open fire (but if you grill with gas, well that's just great too).


'How can you be bother Nicky?' that's a question frequently asked, when I rave on about my love for the good old BBQ.  It's quickly followed up with - 'there's so much mess' and 'where do you find the time'  well let me let you into a little secret - I choose to make the time, and I am not shy about sharing my love of pre-prepared products from brilliant food retailers, like Marks and Spencer.

Repeat after me there is NO SHAME in not preparing everything from scratch.  It is perfectly acceptable to get pre-prepared food products, as long as you buy products of great quality, where thought and time have been spent developing the items.  Products like this can always be found at Marks and Spencer, especially in their Summer of Flavour Grill Range.

When I was in London this spring, I had the opportunity to meet several of the Marks and Spencer Food Developers, and we had some fascinating conversations about the amount of work that goes into the store's product ranges.  

For the summer of flavour range these guys travel across the world, sourcing produce, developing flavours with world renouned experts in BBQ.  And, they have brought to our table some real good'uns.

There are a range of burgers - beef, veggie, venison, salmon - and then a selection of toppings.  My favourite are the Grill Pickles and Polish Dog Relish.  Both of these are as good as I have had anywhere in the southern states of the USA.  They have a tangy finish which merges with sweetness and a satisfying crunch.

Marks and Spencer have strong tangy Mature Cheddar slices with red chilli pepper flakes in them.  This cheese melts easily and brings a bit of ommph to your burger.

The burgers are the best you can buy on the High Street.  The meat is succulent, full of flavour and locally sourced in the UK.  Cooked with just a hint of pink in the middle, or in traditional Northern Ireland style - well done - they still pack a punch.

Edgy Veggie burgers - fooled some of my team into believing they were actually eating meat, the texture and flavour, of these puy lentil and soy based burgers, flavoured with earthy thyme, beetroot porcini mushrooms, sweet caramelised onions and black pepper.  They are a definite on my summer table - not only for veggie's but for those who want to cut down on their meat intake, and eat something lighter.

The Vension Burgers are made from Northern Irish Venison are full of flavour and a great option for those who want to eat red meat and burgers but don't want the high cholesterol worries that come with eating normal beef burgers.  Venison is high in protein, B vitamins and iron, and is one of the leanest red meats available, with a light gamey taste.  It's important as you cook these fellas, to brush on a little olive oil across the meat as they grill, to stop them drying out.


The Maple marinaded flank steaks grilled easily, their sweetness enhanced as the meat caramelised over a smoky grill.  

Serving steaks as big chunks of meat can be very masculine, not to mention offering one big piece of meat, stops people eating some of the other meaty options you have been grilling.  Cutting these Maple Flank steaks across the grill after they have been cooked, and tossing them with the Grill Range Sweet Potato Wedges, with chipotle a flick of parsley and sour cream, allows people to have a piece of steak, without feeling they must chomp their way through a full chunk.

To get a really smoky flavour on the wedges, cook them in the oven indoors, then toss in a holey wok, allowing the scent of the hot coals a chance to quickly interact with the potato flesh.

Good kebabs are absolutely wonderful, and the selection at Marks and Spencer, this summer is authentic and tasty.  Arranged on a large platter with a few dips in the middle, you can offer kebabs as a first bite of BBQ while other meat is cooking or place on the centre of a table for people to help themselves family style.

Tandoori Lamb Kebabs are little balls of lightly spiced lamb mince, with pieces of green pepper and cherry tomatoes.  They are bite sized and perfect for serving as appetisers with drinks.  Should you wish to do this, they can be BBQ'd a head of time, then kept warm until serving in a low oven.

Chicken Souvlaki are pieces of chicken fillet are packed onto skewers alongside bay leaves, red onion and chunks of lemon.  There was a freshness and a depth to these Souvlaki, as the meat as soon as it came into contact with the lemon, onion and bay began to marinade in the packet, then when placed upon the grill, the lemon released its sugars, bringing a sweetness to the critusy meat. 

Lamb Shish Kebabs have a good depth of flavour with cumin, smoked paprika and chilli.  The meat has a sweet lamb flavour and is not overly greasy.

Vegetarians often object to having a hard time at BBQ, but really it jsut takes a little thought and consideration, and they are very easily catered for, as vegetables and grillable cheese, also take on new caramelised flavours when they are cooked over hot coals.

Hallumoi red peppers, and courgettes are skewered together providing a pop of colour on the otherwise meat heavy grill.  I brush these kebabs with a lemon oil, and turn them regularly while cooking to allow them to cook evenly.  The firm cheese blisters on the outside, then is soft firm goo when bitten into.

I don't think there is anything better than grilled sweetcorn.  A hot grill enhances the flavour of sweetcorn, because natural sugars of the corn caramelise.  Whereas with boiling the flavour pours down the table in the water.  Grilling sweetcorn is simple the secret is to not let it burn so don’t walk away from the grill once you start, at least not for too long. 

 Rib Ticklers are authentic southern BBQ ribs, that have been broiled.  We heated ours in the oven, then transfered to the BBQ for a dose of smoky flavour, then back to the oven with the thick sachet of BBQ sauce poured over.  

Good ribs need to have layers of flavours which begin with a complex spice rub, hardwood smoke, a tangy sweet sticky sauce, held together with the pork.  Marks and Spencer have got this process perfectly, and it would be hard to find better ribs in a restaurant.  The meat falls off the bone, and is so succulent, the sauce is sticky but neither too sweet or sour.

Pulled Pork - is making a huge entry this summer into Ireland and Britain's foodie landscape - is American BBQ at its best.  Cooked long and slow, tenderly even over low coals, the meat can be gently pulled apart by hungry hands.  It is smoky, juicy, and served with a sharp tasting sauce which stimulates the palate.  The particulars of the sauce change from state to state, and a fierce battle wages at BBQ competitions as to who has got it right.

Marks and Spencer pulled pork has a gorgeous deep, smoky tang with a sauce just balanced on that blend of sweet and sour.  Shredded we added it to the top of burgers, mixing pork and beef to create an enormous carnivore sandwich.

Lamb Lollipops - that attracative name makes me smile.  These little slices of trimmed rack of lamb come in a thick citrusy marinade and lightly cooked so the lamb remains pink are melt in the mouth gorgeous.  They can be served as part of a platter and also make perfect pre-dinner nibbles served with glasses of fizz.

Butterflied Chicken fillet marinaded in ginger, soy and chilli have a lovely sweet sour flavour, which paired with light smoke makes them very morish.

Marks and Spencer have worked wonders with this Grill Range, the products have been carefully developed and thought out.  They use top quality ingredients - local produce from carefully selected farms.  The tastes are authentic and allow you to have excellent BBQ without the stresses and strains of endless preparation.  

And that's what BBQ is all about  - great food, friends and enjoyment, and M&S's grill range allow you to do this.

Happy Grilling friends.

That's it for now ...



Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable









Get Your Grill On – with the Marks and Spencer New Grill Range


There is nothing better than the sweet smoky smell of meat as it cooks over hot coals.


Tastebuds are tantalised.  Senses are heightened. Our history pumps through our veins.


There is something so intrinsically instinctive about Barbecuing to me, and it goes deeper than the taste of the food, it is a hark back to ancient times. Barbecuing flings open our legacy as humans for survival.  The primal senses of our ancestors awakened, as we cook in the simplest way possible – using fire to grill our food.

What I especially love about the new Grill Range from Marks and Spencer’s is the fact the meats are marinaded, the chicken skewered, the fish filleted, vegetables cut and the accompanying sauces provided.

Marks and Spencer has done all the BBQ preparation for you. 

Which means in our time strapped lives, especially mid –week, we can eat sensational BBQ, without so much as mixing a marinade.   Allowing us to relax, and have our senses reawakened as meat sizzles over hot coals, enjoy the evening sunshine, after a day at work, and take part in the UK and Northern Ireland’s National BBQ Week.

The Marks and Spencer Grill Range is in my opinion without doubt their best selection of BBQ products for several years.  Everything has been thought of – all we need to do is light the grill, and cook, then enjoy the tasty results.

My absolute favourite dish in The Grill range is the Pork Belly with Hoisin Glaze. 


Pork Belly has become incredibly popular lately, in the foodie scene, especially among chefs who loves its low cost, high sell ratios, it is on every menu from here to Timbuktu.  However, getting good pork belly is another story. Rarely is it ever as packed full of flavour as this piece of British Pork from Marks and Spencer.

I have been served pieces, which are oozing fat, rubbery, greasy, and altogether unpleasant, the only cuisine in my opinion who really know how to cook Pork Belly are the woks of the Far East.  And it is to those flavours that Marks and Spencer have looked when preparing this dish.

The pork has been marinated in garlic and chilli as well as aromatic spices – and the flavours of clove, cinnamon, fennel, star anise really come through no only in the meat but muddling with the BBQ smoke to create a lingering scent of warm spice in the air as the meat cooked.


The smell of crispy pork skin, warm spices and juicy meat rose from the lump of meat as it fell apart under my knife when I shredded it.  The skin had caramelised, and the strings of meat where as succulent as could be.  The Hoisin Sauce that accompanies the dish was as thick and rich and the flavour of the meat.  Outside of a Chinese Restaurant I have never had better Pork Belly, than this piece from Marks and Spencer.

My sister-in-law is Vietnamese and she knows a good Pork Belly when she tries one, this is how she described The Grill, Pork Belly and Hoisin Sauce. ‘Incredible, I love the textures, and the flavour is outstanding.


Sausages are the staple of the Northern Irish BBQ, they are easy too cook, relatively cheap to buy, and taste fantastic.  Marks and Spencer Grill Range, have created a new sausage, using outdoor reared British Pork, which has been smoked while it is cured.  These are big juicy sausages, flavoured with sage and nutmeg, and with a very high meat content – 85%, which in the sausage world is unusal, considering some sausages only have 50% meat. 


These firm and weighty sausages suit their name ‘Posh Dogs’, we served them in the new Posh Dog Sub rolls, with mustard, ketchup, and salted coriander onion.   I like to cook my sausages until they go a deep walnut brown, and start to

Caramelise around the edges, when I bite into these Posh Dogs, I was struck by the firmness of the meat, its succulence, and it sweet smokey flavour, which contrasted nicely with the earthy flavours of the nutmeg and sage.


Souvlaki I learned in Greece last summer, means meat cooked on a stick.   The Grill Range Chicken Souvlaki brought me back to my summer holidays were meat was BBQ’d each evening over roasting hot coals, the smells mixing with the salty sea air and the scent of Gardenias and Eucalyptus.  . 


The Grill Souvlaki have edges of chicken fillet are packed onto skewers alongside bay leaves, red onion and chunks of lemon.  There was a freshness and a depth to these Souvlaki, as the meat as soon as it came into contact with the lemon, onion and bay began to marinade in the packet, then when placed upon the grill, the lemon released its sugars, bringing a sweetness to the critusy meat.  Just before cooking I sprinkled some dried oregano, over the souvlaki, and onto the coals, before serving them when they were cooked with some humus and a feta cheese salad.


Rib Racks are a staple of the southern diet in the USA, and it was from an American chef, I learned the secret to good ribs is not only a cutting marinade, but also tenting the ribs in tin foil, and broiling in their marinade, in a baking tray over the BBQ before putting them over the coals.  Marks and Spencer The Grill Hickory Smoked Rib Rack, come already broiled,  and rubbed with smoked salt and pepper, so all that needs to be done is to place these bad boys over the coals to let the smoky salty flavours come alive, then serve with accompanying tub of sticky Hickory BBQ sauce. 

These ribs are finger lickin’ good, and my fingers were sticky after eating them.  The flavour is balanced by the combination of Chiplote chillis bringing smoky heat, while mustard, garlic, pimentos and lemon juice add sharpness, sweetness comes from the cane molasses (any southern will tell you this is absolutely crucial for any kind of BBQ and they are right, no other sugar gets the same depth of flavour) and roasted onion puree and depth from the Paprika.  Eating these ribs brought me right back to South Carolina, all the while never leaving my backyard.


Vegetarians never are left out at a Marks and Spencer BBQ.  Thick chunks of red and yellow peppers, deep green courgette and wedges of Halloumi cheese have been skewed together into rainbow kebabs, that are as pleasing to the eye as they are to the palate. Vegetables take on new flavours as the hot coals caramelise their natural sugars, making them both firm to the bite, with a little hint of crustiness but soft and silky to eat.  Halloumi ’s rubbery texture when barbequed completely changes, to something not unlike great toast, the outside is crispy, while the inside is fluffly and soft.  The mixture of sweet vegetables with salty Halloumi infused with smoke as they cook is a combo that is difficult to beat.  


All this protein needs a carb combo, which the Marks and Spencer The Grill range have in the form of thick spicy potato wedges.  These come in a foil tray which I pierced some holes into the bottom of then cooked directly on top of the Barbeque grill.  The little holes allowed some BBQ smoke to infuse into the rosemary, cayenne, garlic and thyme seasoned potato wedges.  The sugar and starch from the potato oozed slightly in the warm heat and began to caramelise, adding a sweetness to the savoury smoky, flavour of the wedges.


Small pieces of Rump Steak need only a simple seasoning of freshly ground salt and Pepper, before being grilled.  When the steak is cooked as you like it, in our case medium, all that needed to be done was to place the steaks on a platter to rest and pour the sachet Chimichurri over them.


The Grill Range also have a great range of pre-made marinades, I am particularly partial to the ‘Hot Hickory Smoke’ one, which I mixed with a little Coca-Cola and left some chicken fillet pieces in overnight before cooking the next evening, so they had a good 17-20 hours soaking in the sweet smoky sauce.  When marinated meat or chicken is cooked the flavour has already permeated into in this case the chicken, bringing what can be quite a soulless meat to life, then the marinade that coats the outside of the skin, will caramelise over the coals, resulting in soft flesh with a slightly chewy outside.


My other favourite item in Marks and Spencer Grill range, are the BBQ flavour sprays, I used the soy, chilli and garlic one as a glaze for pieces of chicken fillet which had been marinated in lime, ginger and chilli.  These nifty little sprays can be used inside over stirfries, salads, and vegetables, as well as a baste for oven cooked meat.


This week is National BBQ week across the UK and Northern Ireland and, we are actually having a week of reasonably warm weather, so there is no excuse not to pop into your local Marks and Spencer store, pick up a selection of The Grill range (which by the way are on a super offer of 3 for £10) and get your grill on!


How do you like to get your grill on?


Enjoy the sunny weather, and the sweet smoky smells of your BBQ.


That’s it for now …




Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable


Exhale - Five Minute Friday

Their eyes met.  Tears were falling down both their cheeks.  The pain in the room was palable. She was shouting twisted, sick words at him, hardly taking a breath before her words assaulted his body 'because of him, it's all because of him.  The torment, its all his fault.'  her gut twisted and she ran to the sink and wretched.  Her body shuddered in big sobs.

He went to her rubbed her back, pulled back her hair.  But he didn't speak.  Pouring her a glass of water he handed it to her, and she took it.  The water shook in her hand, splashing over her grey V necked teeshirt.

'I can't look at you right now.  All I see is him and I feel sick.'  She wretched again, this time the glass of water fell onto the slate tiles and smashed into thousands of pieces.  Slipping down the cupboards because her legs would no longer support her she fell beside it. 

As her chest constricted she felt panicky like it was impossible to exhale, all she could do was gasp in short little tight breaths.

He lifted her up, wrapped her shivering body in a blanket and said, 'I love you.  It doesn't make it all better, or change what's happened.'  He looked deeply into her eyes, and held her pale frightened face in his hands, 'I love you.'

'I will love you through this.'


Today, I have shared a little bit of my fiction writing with you - just a five minute free writing snippet, as I join the wonderful community of writers over at Lisa Jo Baker's for Five Minute Friday, I hope you'll come along too and share your five minutes of words with us.  You'll find acceptance and encouragement here.

That's it for now ...


Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable


Marks and Spencer's Summer of Flavour

When I watch this add from Marks and Spencer, I see myself living in the teepee (preferablly near a beach) grilling all summer long.  

I'm dancing in the forest, waving flags without shoes, and relaxing with friends, as we cook around the fire.  This add makes me want to get out and start cookin' day or night.  I feel relaxed, and I know from tasting the Marks and Spencer Grill range that the food looks as good as it tastes.

Over the next few weeks, we'll be bringing you lots of ideas for the BBQ, starting with the lowdown on Marks and Spencer Summer Grill range next week.

Until then remember, here at Salt and Sparkle we're always grillin' never chillin'!

Happy Weekend,

That's it for now ...


Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable



Happy 4th July 2014

We drove North from Coldwater until we reached the shores of Lake Michigan through farm country, with homesteads and flags lining our route.  We were heading to the lake shore for the 4th July Celebrations. People thronged the streets of the tiny village we arrived in.  Picnicing families and friends covered every available patch of grass and shore.  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 Trailmix.  

I filled what little room I had left in my luggage when I returned to Ireland with bags of this badboy.

But I degress.

The warm summer night flickered with lighting bugs before the sky lit up in a shower of sparkle.  Fireworks that seemed unending popped and sizzled above the lake.  


How my American friends celebrate their identity on 4th July or at Thanksgiving makes me smile because the very celebration of identity here in Northern Ireland is frought with difficulty, flags marking you out as belonging to one side of the other, and violence erupting on the streets.  

For me there is something very freeing about a celebrating of identity that everyone can share in the USA.  The same star spangled banner flying from porches and poles.  A sense of reverence to the flag that means so much to so many.  Not only is the celebration itself joyful, it appeals to me because there is no hatred behind the flag, which sadly is something I see on a day to day basis. Where joining the celebration behind one flag marks you as different from the other.  Giving you an identity you may not claim for yourself.  

When I visited Washington DC on another visit, I spent ages looking at the Star Spangled Banner on show at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.  Here I truly began to understand the love a person could have for a flag, outside of a flag being used on streets to mark them out as one religion or another.  Here I got the sense of what it really meant to be an American, of what that flag truly represented to people.  I stood with tears running down my face when I realised that a flag could be celebrated for bringing people together, rather than pulling them apart.

Over this past few week, I have loved seeing beautiful Independence Day inspired food on the blogsphere,  here are a few of my favourites.

There's just such a sense of excitement to cut into a white cake, and find a flag inspired centre.  I found this cake on Betty Crocker's website.

I love the look of Smitten Kitchen's flag cake no icing, glazes or excess sugar, just fruit and cake.

This Berry Splash from Southern Living, has me dreaming lying in a of a hammock surrounded by lush pastures.

This Blueberry, Strawberry, and Jicama Salsa from Two Peas and their Pod just looks sooooooo good, and healthy too.  I can't wait to try it.  Aren't the colours amazing, I can almost dip in through my screen to pick up the berries.


This Patriotic Cheesecake from Eat Yourself Skinny makes me smile - lots of goodness and flavour and only a tiny amount of calories.  So it's all good!

No time to put together a pudding from scratch well Mavis at One Hundred Dollars a Month has the answer, in this rather awesome layered cream, cake and fruit trifle.

What are you cooking today?  Whatever you are up to HAPPY 4TH JULY.


That's it for now ...




Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable