Sunday
Oct282012

To Ready Meal or not? - Day 28 - 31 Days of Food

Ready Meals get a bad rap.  

Sometimes deserved, sometimes not.  

It all depends on what is in them, where they are sourced from, and if you trust the source.  

Eating them everyday or relying on them for every meal, is not a good idea if you want to be strong and healthy, or connected with your food.  

Connectedness with food comes from cooking.

But then, there are days like today - 

When I am just to bushwhacked to do anything in the kitchen, in fact, not eating is as good a choice a eating, for me when I feel like this.  As I just don't have the energy to stand up, let alone chop, cook etc.

But I also know when I feel this drained, eating, something good and nourishing is exactly what I need.

As it is food that will feed my body, and and restore my cells.  Denying my body because I haven't the energy to cook is unhealthy.

So at times like this, I look to ready meals.  A purtian part of my psyche barates my choice, stirs guilt, and shame in my food choice, in my inability to cook.  

I shake it away because I know that my choice today, will enable my choice tomorrow to cook.

But what to choose and where to chose a ready meal from?

My answer lies in one of my favourite shops - Marks and Spencer Food Department, because here I know I can chose a dish, that is not only healthy, but that will taste good, and provide me with the nourishment I need. With Marks and Spencer, I feel confident I can rely on how their food is sourced, the research and development that goes into the dishes, and the fact that their food is not filled with needless chemicals.

Tonight I chose a dish from their new Asian Range. The Peanut Chicken, which was served with mangetout, carrot, pak choi, rice noodles, chilli, lime, ginger, garlic and other crunchy veg.  

It was good.  Very good.

The chicken was moist, and it held the layered flavours of the aromatic herbs and spices.  They in turn brought a zingy freshness that tingled on the palate, with some heat that wasn't overpowering but showed a balance of chilli and ginger. The peanuts brought a dry creaminess but didn't overwhelm the other flavours.  

This layering of flavour is difficult to achieve and I feel Marks and Spencer have done it well.  There was a lightness to this dish, that made my tummy happy.  A combination of flavours, that weren't too salty, filled with preservatives, or MSG, the bandit of many a Chinese takeaway - but instead were light, and easy to eat.

To me this dish, that needed little more than three minutes in my wok, was a far better option, than telephoning a takeaway, and it comes in at around 600 calories, compared to a takeaways  average of 2000 calories per person.  This is a dish I know I will buy again, and again, when I have days like today.

That's it for now ...

 

Nics

Salt and Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Saturday
Oct272012

Pumpkin Recipes - Day 27 - 31 Days of Food


Have you carved your pumpkin yet?  If you have, you may be wondering what to do with all the flesh you scooped out from the inside.  I have some brilliant recipes for you which you can read, on the Northern Ireland Tourist Board Blog.  

The thing I love about pumpkin is that it goes well with lots of flavours, which in turn brings out a richness in the bright orange flesh.  I have been using a lot of spices recently in my cooking.  The aromas of mustard, fennel, cumin and coriander seeds as they release in a dry pan fill my kitchen with fragrance, and I find myself wanting to cook more and more, with these soothing and rich aromas.

I hope you will enjoy these recipes, they are warming, which I think is exactly what is needed as the colder weather draws in.

Happy Hallowe'en.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Friday
Oct262012

Cipriani – Day 26 – 31 Days of Food

We walk down steps into Cipriani’s mellow darkness, one that sits comfortably with the evening’s sunset.  Soul funk beats played at just the right level, create a laid back atmosphere.  We sit near the open kitchen, watching the chef spin pizza bases, and prepare orders.  For a Tuesday evening, the restaurant feels busy, with couples and parties all enjoying the atmosphere and the food.

So much has been written about Italian food, what it should be, how it should be cooked, served, eaten – the lists go on and on.  What stands out about Cipriani, is that while the roots of all the dishes are in Italy, and Sicily, there are some nods to Northern Ireland.  Owner Salvo Liberante, clearly understands his customers palates.  The food is well cooked and of the traditional Italian trattoria nature, relaxed and enjoyable, without formality.


We sit down, and a basket of bread is brought to our table.  It is white bread that has been rolled around a red pesto.  It is sweet and tasty.  Olive oils and vinegars sit on the table to dip into.


Mirko takes our order, he is friendly and pays polite compliments to my dining companion and I.  We warm to him immediately.  He knows the menu intimately, and is very helpful, in suggesting dishes.  Following the maximum that diners eat with their eyes first, we order a rosemary, garlic bread, that I have seen others eating.


While we wait for it to arrive, pizzas arrive for the couple beside us.  I can’t resist asking them, what they taste like, and promptly I am given a piece to try.  The dough is light, and chewy, with a slightly gritty texture, it tastes fresh, and the topping is meaty and rich.  Our garlic bread is made of the same dough and it is very morish, we nibble on it throughout dinner.

I start with a salad of provolone cheese and artichoke hearts, with a herby rocket salad, and bitter olives, I like the mixture of sweet cheese, earthy artichoke and sour olives.  My companion has chicken wings, that have been cooked in a herby tomato sauce, more reminiscent of a good pasta sauce, as opposed to a sweet BBQ, eaten with the blue cheese it is a winning combination. 


For main I have pasta with pancetta and arrabbiata sauce, there is a tingly heat from the chilli, but it is not overpowering and I find it a comforting pasta dish to eat, simple without fuss, but with plenty of flavour.  My companion has pork chops cooked in cider and served with apples, it is the perfect dish for early Autumn because of the sweet meat, and the bitter apple, that bring a taste of hedge brambles.


Upstairs Cipriani has a bar area, where spuntini, an Italian appetizer will be served, with a superb choice of wines by the glass or cocktails.  Mirko brings us some Arancini fried rice balls.  These are absolutely delicious, and like Salvo the owner come from Sicily.  The sticky rice has been breaded and fried, and has a firm taste.

The tiramisu is light, and not sickly sweet, and a sorbet is refreshing and cleansing, after eating rich food. 

Cipriani, is a smooth restaurant with a grown up vibe, that serves good homely Italian food, that are well cooked, nicely presented and served by pleasant and friendly staff.  This is a dining experience that isn’t trying to be cutting edge, or serve the latest trends in Italian food.  Instead it is a good place to go for unpretentious, wholesome, and filling Italian food.

Let me know what you think when you try it, as always I look forward to hearing from you.

 

That’s it for now …

 

 

Nics

 

 

Salt and Sparkle = Life Remarkable

 

 

Thursday
Oct252012

Speaking-Day 25- 31 Days of Food

Ingredients speak to me

I listen ...

Then create

What do you do?

That's it for now ...

Nics

Wednesday
Oct242012

Making Naan Bread - Day 23 - 31 Days of Food 

'This is great, I love it.' He said hands full of dough, and flour puffing around us like smoke.

We were making naan bread. No bowl just flour, yeast, sugar, and salt mixed together on a work surface, with a well made in the middle & milk and oil added.

We had to work quickly to make sure the liquid didn't flow onto the floor and instead when worked into the flour became a pliable dough.

Completely absorbed in kneading the dough Mr T sprinkled more flour on his hands and the work surface to stop sticking. Pushing with the heel of his hand he prodded and pushed the dough, working it into an elastic ball.

'This is the best fun'

As I heard these words I thought your right, it really is fun to make bread, but its even more fun to be allowed to do it as a child.

Seemly random ingredients when weighed and measured, and worked with in a certain way, create a new form. If you've never cooked before as many 21st Century children haven't then being allowed to make something and make what seems to be a mess, as part of the process is magical. To see ingredients come together and take a new form we can eat is astounding if you've never done it before.

In fact it still astounds me. The sense of creation. The thrill of knowing I made that with my own hands.

Making bread is connecting, therapeutic and brings a peace to the mind because regardless of what else may happen in our lives, or how crazy our day, the simple welding of the most basic ingredients together will every time make dough which can be baked into bread.

Showing & in turn teaching a child to make bread is perhaps one of life's greatest simple blessings both to the adult and the child. The sense of passing on a skill and the thrill of learning a new skill is compelling to the giver and receiver.

After all why cook if we don't give it away.

We used this fantastic receipt for Naan Bread.

Ingredients
SR Flour 250g
Plus more for dusting
Quick yeast 1tsp
Caster Sugar 2 tsp
Salt 1 tsp
Milk 140- 150 ml
Olive oil 2-4 tbsp

Method
Weigh and mix dry ingredients well
Place on a clean lightly floured work surface
Make a well in the centre
Add the oil to the milk whisk well
Pour 1/2 into the flour & work Quickly to bring it into a dough adding the rest of the liquid as you go
Knead lightly but well for 10 minutes
Place in an oiled bowl &
Cover with a dampt tea cloth for up to an hour
Knock back the dough on a Clean work surface & roll into 8 very thin disc like shapes
Cook directly on the floor of the top oven of the Aga with the door open for up to 3 minutes per side
If you don't have an Aga heat your oven to its highest temperature, then per hear a pizza stone or baking tray
Cook the naans one disc at a time, when the dough rises into largish bubes turn it over using a palate knife
Serve immediately with curry or as a dipping bread, or cover with garlic butter & place all in a large platter in the middle of the table.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt and Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Monday
Oct222012

Carving a pumpkin with Mr T - Day 22 - 31 Days of Food

 

 

Jack O'Lanterns originate in a Irish mythology where stingy Jack makes a deal with the devil & ends up in neither heaven nor hell, just joining the other wandering souls. The Irish being a superstitious people began to place carved turnips or potatoes with frightening faces at their doors to stop spirits from entering their house.

When the Irish began to immigrate to America in the 19th Century because of the famine they like other immigrants brought their customs with them. However pumpkins being a native squash to the USA where easier to
Get and carve than turnips and were used in their place.

When I grew up Dad would always hollow out turnips for us to create Jack of Lanterns, it was hard hard work, but a lot of fun. Pumpkins first began to appear in our shops only a decade or so ago as they are much easier to work with than turnip.

And wonderfully for me there is a lot more that can be done with their flesh.

Today Mr T, my brother and me carved a pumpkin. It was a great activity to do together full of thoughts, planning, sketching out ideas for the face and then of course the carving and lighting of the candle.

Not to mention using the pumpkin flesh to make muffins. I am trying out a spice blend or cinnamon, freshly grated ginger and finely chopped fresh rosemary.

Recipes to follow after a little more tweaking.

But expect cinnamon scented cream cheese frosting & savory pumpkin soup.

When carving pumpkins always ensure an adult is present when sharp knifes are being used by children.

Send me a photograph of your pumpkin!


That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Sunday
Oct212012

Taking Tea @ Titanic Belfast - Day 21 - 31 Days of Food


Da

Afternoon tea is the most elegant of dining options. It is a ritual that cannot be bettered - the combination of good tea, properly made in a teapot, and served in china cups, crust less sandwiches, a selection of patisserie and the conversation that taking tea sparks – is one of the most civilized ways to spend an afternoon.

It was the Duchess of Bedford in England, who started a craze for afternoon tea - that would see the people right across the British Empire stop for tea in the middle of the afternoon - during a visit to Belvoir Castle asked for the servants to bring her Darjeeling tea with cakes and sandwiches in the 19th Century.

Today afternoon tea has become terribly trendy.  With every type of eatery and hotel jumping on the bandwagon and serving stuff far removed from afternoon tea.

Titanic Belfast, the world’s largest Titanic visitor attraction, sitting on the quayside of the Belfast docks, is one of the few places, in Northern Ireland to pay afternoon tea the respect it deserves.

Tea at Titanic Belfast is taken in the ballroom at the foot of the replica Titanic Ballroom staircase, made infamous by the movie Titanic.  The room dressed with palms and vases of flowers, feels personal although vast in scale.  A harpist playing an Irish Harp, fills the room with a sweet and peaceful sounding music, creating a warm ambiance, that is pleasant to sit in.  Waiters dressed in starched navy mandarin collared ship like uniforms are welcoming, ever attendant, and friendly, but not overbearing.  The tables are pleasantly spaced, allowing personal conversation without fear of eavesdropping.

We begin our afternoon Tea with a glass of 2002, Heidseck Monopole Champagne - the Official champagne of R.M.S. Titanic, a dry firmly bubbly fizz, that is very easy to drink, and cuts nicely through the richness of the cakes and finger sandwiches.  Our choice of Green, Peppermint, and Titanic Luxury House tea are brought to our table, and poured from a great height, to release the perfumes of the tea as it hits the cup.  The menus range of loose leaf teas are specially blended for Titanic Belfast, by Northern Irish company, Punjana Tea and other teas on the menu include Earl Grey, Irish Breakfast and a Red Berry Cocktail.  

My Uncle, a French Chef de Patisserie, always told me an afternoon tea could rise or fall on the quality of the cakes alone.  Titanic Belfast’s selections have the highest Patisserie standards with a balanced sugary sweetness, matched by fresh cream, and fruit. Tiny cakes such as Victoria Sponges, Chocolate Gateau, Apricot tarts, Chocolate Éclairs, and my favourite – perfectly made pretty pastel raspberry macaroons, sat on top of the cake stands, which used pretty blue and white or pink and white printed china plates, while finger sandwiches and scones with organic damson jam, and a rich clotted cream, sat on the next two levels. 

The cakes have a soft and very fresh crumb, while the éclairs have a gloriously shiney chocolate coating, hiding a crisp pastry and rich cream.  The scones are moist, soft to the bite and filled with raisins.  But those little macaroons are simply divine; a tiny crisp shell gives way to a soft spongy filling, with just a hint of raspberry jam.

The bread for the sandwiches is both brown and white, and is crust less and soft.  The fillings perfectly sized, so they don’t ooze all over when bitten into are rich and fresh.   We have a selection of vegetarian sandwiches, of which the egg mayonnaise is particularly good, and a range of meat, cheese and salmon sandwiches, of which the smoked salmon locally caught and smoked in Belfast at the top of the Skanhill Road, by Walter Ewing stands out for its delicious flavour.  

Tea at Titanic Belfast can be taken in parties of two, or more, (with larger parties being accommodated as necessary), seated around starched linened tables, with sparkling cutlery and glassware.   It is a thoroughly relaxing experience, completely devoid of the pretence or stuffiness that sometimes accompanies this ritual.

This juxtaposition of the formality of the ritual of afternoon tea, and the beautiful surroundings of the Titanic Belfast Staircase and ballroom sit comfortably together, creating a tranquil ambiance in the room.  Some guests are dressed in jeans and shirts, while others have on their Sunday best, and yet, looking around, no one is out of place, and everyone is enjoying the experience, and the opportunity to have their photograph taken on the grand replica staircase, just like Kate and Leo, in the film Titanic.

The staircase itself was handmade by craftsmen in Northern Ireland, and is as close a replica as possible to the original one on the ship.   As we took tea, it was lovely to watch everyone from couples, to Grandparents, children and families have their photographs taken on the stairs, faces filled with delight. 

Taking Afternoon Tea at Titanic Belfast is an elegant and enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.  One I would highly recommend to everyone, especially those who are bringing visitors to Northern Ireland, it is an experience that I have not seen bettered.  The sense of history created by the grand staircase, and the Titanic Belfast building itself, as well as peoples deep interest in RMS Titanic bring a unique, soothingly charged atmosphere to Afternoon Tea at Titanic Belfast, that make it very special.  It is one I hope you will take the opportunity as soon as you can, to experience for yourself.

That’s it for now …

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable