Thursday
Jul102014

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 …

 

Nics

 

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Friday
Jul042014

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.'

ends

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 ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Friday
Jul042014

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 ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

 

Friday
Jul042014

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 ...

 

Nics

 

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Thursday
Jul032014

Lemon and Sugar ... 

It all started with a question - 'Nicky will you bring one of your lovely cakes tomorrow?' 

My friend Helen was having a small gathering of ladies in her house by the coast.  Her house is built for entertaining with a bright large square kitchen which opens onto two ajoining rooms.  Shutter doors can be opened or closed to create the right space for the amount of people.  There is always a feeling of being welcome.  Helen does entertaining with charm and skill, a large strawberry cloth clothed table, covered in platters of food, drinks at the end of the sink, and people help themselves.  This is my kind of entertaining, relaxed, hospitable - generous.

Wandering around my own kitchen, having just watched Dolly perform at Glastonbury - her performance of a gospel version of Bon Jovi's 'Lay your hands on me' with Richie Sambora - playing in my head, I wondered what I was going to bake to bring to Helen's.  

 

Opening and closing cupboards, I looked forlornly at ingredients.  Almost resigned to the fact I would need to pop into my car and head to the shops, to pick up some provisions, my eyes fell on a large bowl of lemons, left over from my work on my new Whiskey Lemonade - recipe coming very soon.

Without thinking about it, I was measuring sugar, and zest lemons.  My hands worked in union with my mind, and thoughts seemed secondary.  I was creating and lost in the thrill that only that sharp smell of freshly zested lemon can bring.

Normally I use my trusty and favourite mircoplane grater (a tool as essential as wooden spoons in any kitchen) but for some reason I picked up the zester I was using to make cocktail garnishes.  The intensity of the zest far outreached anything I had ever added to sugar and eggs before.  This was warming and sharp, at the same time.

I'd a lot of lemons so I zested four into my sugar, then left it to sit on the top of aga, the warmth of the cooker allowing the lemon scent to waft and intensify.  Cracking in eggs, and using my hand mixer, I whisked until the pale egg sugar had doubled in size, then added soft butter, flour, baking powder and the juice of three lemons.

 

The batter poured slowly into a sheet tin, and baked for 15 minutes.  I made a syrup using a scant teaspoon of honey, the juice and zest of two lemons and four tablespoons of sugar.  

While the cake was still warm, I poured over, gently pressing holes with a skewer into the cake, and patting the glaze into the holes, with the back of a metal spoon.

The crumble was as light as a feather, with the most intense lemon flavour, one you wouldn't expect from something so soft and weightless.

Extra Lemony Sheet Cake Recipe

 

  • 6oz golden caster sugar
  • 3 large Free Range Organic Eggs
  • 8oz sifted self raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3oz butter
  • 3oz margarine 
  • zest and juice of three large lemons

 

Glaze

 

  • Two lemons
  • 5 tbsp golden caster sugar
  • 1 scant tsp honey

 

Method

 

  1. Zest the lemons into the sugar, leave in a warm place for 5-30 minutes
  2. Add the eggs and whisk until the mixture has doubled in size
  3. Add the butter/marg which should be so soft its almost melting whisk until well incorporated on high speed
  4. Add the lemon juice
  5. Sift the flour into the mixture, add the baking powder
  6. Whisk for three minutes until well combined
  7. Pour into a lined sheet tin (I used a 6x12'' rectangle) and bake for 15-20 minutes at 200' until the cake has stopped singing, and a skewer comes out clean. You'll notice the lemons have bleached the colour of the cake to a golden white
  8. While the cake is baking, make the glaze combining all ingredients but reserving 1 tbsp of the sugar
  9. Put kitchen paper under the cooling rack, turn the cake out to cool, punch holes across it with a long skewer - about 20/30 holes
  10. Pour the warm gaze over the warm cake, smoothing it into the cake softly with the back of a metal spoon
  11. Scatter the reserved tbsp caster sugar over the cake
  12. Leave to cool and serve 

 

It will keep for three to four days in a tightly sealed tin, and can be eaten alone or with greek yogurt and blueberries/raspberries. 

And, there you have it folks, a perfect recipe for the best lightest lemonyest cake you will ever eat!  Enjoy

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

 

 

Wednesday
Jul022014

Are you watching Wimbledon - Quotations of the Day 2 July 2014 from Andre Agassi

“There are many ways of getting strong, sometimes talking is the best way.” 
― Andre AgassiOpen  

“How beautiful to dream. But dreams, I tell Gil, in one of our quiet moments are so damned tiring. 
He laughs.
I can't promise you that you won't be tired, he says. But please know this. There's a lot of good waiting for you on the other side of tired. Get yourself tired, Andre. That's where you're going to know yourself. On the other side of tired.” 
― Andre AgassiOpen 

Andre Agassi's autobiography Open is one of the best sporting memoirs I have read.  Taut, gritty pros, full of takeaway knowledge and inspiration, urge us on our own individual journey to push through, and keep going, even when we are tired.  Andre writers with stunningly honesty about what it took for him to become one of Tennis's greatest players, and he does it in a way not normally associated with these sort of books.  

Even the descriptions of his tennis matches are engaging.  The book reads like a thriller, there is that urge to turn the page and find out what happens next.  Andre's words on the physical and mental toil it takes to make it, are inspirational to us no matter what our walk of life.

For dreams to become reality it takes alot of work, energy, support and grace - discipline, and there are times when it all seems to much and tiredness takes over, but it is in the tiredness, when you hold onto the deal, you reach your own personal Wimbledon final.

“Life will throw everything but the kitchen sink in your path, and then it will throw the kitchen sink. It's your job to avoid the obstacles. If you let them stop you or distract you, you're not doing your job, and failing to do your job will cause regrets that paralyze you more than a bad back.” 
 Andre Agassi, Open 

That's it for now ...

 

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

 

 

 

 

Tuesday
Jul012014

Summer to do list 2014

Well, it’s finally summer. With that comes gloriously long days, feet in flipflops, the touch of sun on bareskin, the smell of cutgrass and the ocean.

Here are just a few of the things I am planning to do ...

Visit Rathlin Island I have looked at this island for years from Ballycastle but never made it across the seven miles of sea, this year it’s time for a visit.

Spend as much time as possible in or on the water – boarding, sailing, swimming, attempting to surf – the voice of the sea speaks to my soul.  The salty air and infinite horizon captivate me, pulling me to the water’s edge and into or over its depths.  Water symbolises new life, and the ocean refreshes, grounds and rejuvenates me.  There is nothing like the feeling of the rush of a quickly building white crest, as my board meets it, and I seemingly fly on the waves to the shore.

Listen to - Van the Man

Hark, now hear the sailors cry
smell the sea and feel the sky
let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic
-Van Morrison

Read, read, read and then read some more.  Just a few of the books on my summer reading list - #GirlBoss, Saigon, Maine, The Invention of Wings, Man’s Search for Meaning, The Trader of Saigon, Beautiful Outlaw, Waking the Dead, Free to Live: The Utter Release of Holiness – my stack grows and grows ... anything you would recommend for me to add to it?

Go on holiday – a week, a beach, heat, the sea, swimming and me

Celebrating Naomi and Jake’s birthdays – did anyone say PARRRRRRRTY! Yes, that’s right I did

Beyond excited for our family Roadtrip with Brian Sarah and Nomes to see Garth brooks in Dublin

Take the 12 flights of stairs daily to my office – there’s nothing like building a bit of exercise into one’s daily activities

Make – cocktails using these wonderful spirits – Dingle Gin and Dingle Vodka and hopefully get a visit to Dingle, one of my favourite places in Ireland – Dingle even the word makes me smile 

Bake - a sugar free birthday cake for Jake, and a crazy M&Ms cake for Naomi

Take – this daily exercise challenge for 60 days I am very excited about this, as I get pumped and happy when I do this form of exercise

Drink - water and Whiskey Lemonade (new recipe coming very soon)

Write – 200 words a day on my novel – its summer afterall and I want to be able to keep this ticking over, without putting myself under too much pressure – expect to see a dramatic word limit jump come Autumn.

Spend as much time outside – reading, laughing, walking, in silence and conversation alone and with friends (preferably by the ocean) - as possible

Catch the dawn and the sunset

What are you getting up to?

That's it for now ...

 

Nics

 

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable