Showing posts with label Food. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Food. Show all posts

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Happy Valentine's Day

Just a very quick post today,  mostly to share this recipe with you and tell you about an upcoming event. This really isn't recommended for children on account the booze, instead, arrange into Martini Glasses for an elegant end to a romantic meal for two (recipe serves 4, but you can always keep some). It makes use of store ingredients, which are so handy at this stage in the winter, and as it's made in advance it means you're not slaving over anything too intricate and can enjoy your meal. The best thing about this, is the pumpkin isn't the main flavour component, it's just a base, so if amaretto isn't your thing you can try different flavour liqueurs such as cherry, coconut etc, garnishing with matching bits and pieces.

Chocolate, Pumpkin and Amaretto Mousse 

500g of tinned pumpkin
50ml of Amaretto Liqueur
50ml of Creme de Cacao
50g of Caster Sugar
1 tablespoon of Cocoa Powder
5 large egg whites
Some Amaretto Biscuits

In a bowl mix the sugar, shifted cocoa powder and pumpkin until smooth. Add the Amaretto and Chocolate Liqueur, stirring rapidly to ensure that mixture is not too runny or curdled (it should resemble the consistency of a thick lentil or pea soup at this stage). If it seems a little too runny, you could always add more coca powder or some icing sugar to stiffen.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until white and stiff. Once done, fold into your pumpkin mix. Do this slowly and methodically, as rapid mixing will knock some much needed air out. In some glasses, crumble a few amaretto biscuits, them add the mousse. Chill for 4-6 hours, or overnight if you have time. Once done, sprinkle over some chopped almonds and grated dark chocolate (even use a heart stencil if you want to be really soppy).

So if this recipe has got your sweet tooth going and you are in the Belfast area, The Lawrence Street Workshop will be celebrating International Cake Day on Saturday, inviting people to bring cake and taste cake. The event will run at workshop, just off Botanic Avenue, from 4pm to 7pm and is open to all ages, with prizes for some of the most inventive cakes. Click on the Facebook link below for some details.

Image: nuttakit /

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Just a Little Green...

Well, Christmas done and dusted, New Year out of the way, time to get back on the old posting horse. And what better way to start January, the month traditionally associated with fresh starts, detox, resolutions and revised healthy eating, than to take a look at the Little Green Allotments in Lisburn.

These private allotments, located on the top of Whitemountain (three miles out of Lisburn itself) make the most of organic soil, great views and a thriving local flora and fauna, and are ideal for individuals looking to grown their own and even voluntary groups and clubs, with plots and packages ranging from standard size: 20 ft x 30 ft £280/pa, larger plot size: 20ft x 40 ft £300/pa and corporate packages/voluntary sector packages. If you've ever fancied getting in on the allotment malarkey, but are exhausted by the wait for local authority plots, then the cost can be reduced by clubbing in with a few friends.

Little Green will also be starting up their Food and Craft Market from February to October this year and are currently looking for traders to take up stalls. This indoor and outdoor market is looking for people who can bring unique, fun, quirky and delicious stalls to market, at a cost of £15 per table. It starts on Saturday 4th February (10am to 1pm) and anyone interested in getting involved in the first one, should get in touch by 28th January. Each monthly market will also have a theme, so if your talent or craft relates to any of those listed below, you can make a point of getting in touch. 

FEB: Valentines Saturday 4th 2012
MAR: Mothers Day Saturday 3rd 2012
APR: Easter Saturday 7th 2012
MAY: Europe Saturday 5th 2012 
JUN: Fathers Day Saturday 2nd 2012 
JUL: Independence Day Saturday 7th 2012 
AUG: National Relaxation Day Saturday 4th 2012 
SEP: Comic book Day Saturday 1st 2012 
(October's Halloween date TBC)

Places are filling up fast and a short online booking form is available on request by contacting Grainne Philips and for more information, as a trader, grower or potential market goer, check out the Little Green website and Facebook pages below. The market is free entry.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Responsible Meat Eating This Christmas: Game and Wildfowl.

Eating meat responsibility can seem like an ethical battle. Whether it’s trying to source locally and understand the conditions in which your meat was reared, or making the most of an animal to ensure that waste is a minimal, things are not nearly as simple as going to the supermarket and picking something straight off the shelves. However at this time of year, with seasonal festivities on the way and increased meat intake highly likely for most people, it makes sense to start considering the best ways to eat reduced impact meat.

No carnivorous diet is ever going to have the same reduced environmental impact as a vegetarian or vegan diet, but there are ways of improving your current habits and recently I've been looking at game and wildfowl as an alternative.

There are two types of game/wildfowl; farmed and wild. Much of what is readily available in the UK and Ireland today will be farmed, normally still in wide open spaces (essentially free range), but with more population control, health monitoring and depending on where you are talking about, more regular and structured means of slaughter than that of wild hunted game.

So what are the pros and cons? Nutritionally there is evidence to support that game is a healthier alternative to farmed meat; the animals are more active that domestic animals, so the meat tends to be leaner and lower in saturated fats, as well as free from growth hormones and additives associated with intensive farming. It’s not without its risks though, wild animals are still susceptible to disease and infection, and it’s always worth checking with your local wildlife authority to ensure that the local population is healthy and fit for consumption. There have also been some concerns raised as to lead exposure from the shot used to kill the animal. Hunters are advised to either switch to non lead ammunition, or to discard the portion of meat where the shot is found.

If not hunting yourself, game can be a little bit more pricy and difficult to source compared to other meats, which is perhaps a good thing for those who want to reduce intake but don't want to give up altogether. But you’d be surprised what you can get for your money, especially if you’re willing to buy in bulk and it’s also important to be efficient with the cuts you get. An independent butcher may be able to get game for you, but you can also ask any local restaurants that you know that serves game for their supplier details; chances are, if they are in the area delivering to that establishment, they may stop off at your place too, providing you are willing to meet their minimum orders (and if you really fancy pushing your luck, you could ask the restaurant to order something for you within their own).

Vennison and Mushroom Goulash

I’ve cooked this a couple of times for the Shugmeister and children seem to really enjoy it, perhaps because of its sweet tomatoey base. It is ideal for tougher cuts that require extra tenderising such as loin chops and neck, but it could also be used for left overs. Obviously, if the meat is pre-cooked it needn’t be stewed for as long, simply add towards the end of the process and ensure that everything is heated through. For a vegetarian alternative, simply increase the yield of mushrooms and throw in a few extra vegetables such as peppers or courgette. If you don’t have/like venison, this sauce can easily be applied to other meats.

In this recipe I make use of the different kinds of paprika that a relative brought back from Bulgaria, and some markets will sell different varieties over here - but don’t worry about it too much if you can only get hold of the basic, it'll still make a good base.

Serves 4-6

500g of Vennison
1 large onion (chopped)
2 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped
1 ½ pints of game or beef stock
1 Tin of Chopped Tomatoes
300g of chestnut mushrooms (chopped)
4 teaspoons of hot paprika (when cooking for children I use sweet paprika or a combination of both).
1 tablespoon of tomato puree
1 table spoon of black treacle
3 table spoons of plain flour
Oil for frying

In a large pan fry the onions on a medium heat until turning translucent. While this is ongoing, in a separate bowl, add chopped tomatoes, tomato purée, paprika, treacle and flour and hand whisk until smooth. Set aside.

To the onions, add the venison and garlic, turning until sealed. Once the meat is browning, add the mushrooms, then after about 5 minutes the stock. Bring to the boil, before adding the tomato mix, stirring until combined and returning to a low simmer. Cover and cook for around 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Serve with ribbon pasta.

Image: Adam Hickmott /

Monday, 17 October 2011

Musical Food (organic, get it..?...I'll get me coat)

Root and Branch Organic is a means of bringing fresh, local and organic produce to people in Northern Ireland. Working with key organic farms across NI (Helen’s Bay Organic Gardens, Orchard Organics, Roy Lyttle, Farmlay Eggs and Hamilton Kee) Root and Branch works under the three principals of community, earth and wellbeing; supporting a sustainable, low carbon approach to food production.

Boxes of seasonal fruit, vegetables and eggs varying in size and price (including soup boxes and boxes designed especially for babies and infants) can be purchased online and delivered, but in keeping with the low carbon pledge, customers are offered a discount if they can pick up from collection hubs close to places they would frequently visit anyway, such as the farm shop in Helen’s Bay or Hedonist Hair and St George’s Market in Belfast.

And for those who are in the area this weekend, the Root and Branch Harvest Festival will be taking place this Saturday at Helen’s Bay Organic Gardens, featuring family yoga (thanks to the excellent Flow studio in Belfast) and live music in the afternoon, and Pot Luck organic dinner and Pumpkin Carving in the evening. Doubled up with the following day's conservation event in the Ormeau Park, it's a perfect green way to spend the weekend. For more information, visit the Facebook Event Page.

I’d also recommend checking out their excellent website for more information on produce, deliveries and a blog sharing recipes, nutritional and lifestyle advice. In the meantime, enjoy this Eilis Philips music video filmed in the grounds of the organic garden, from the Root and Branch YouTube channel.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Easy Apple Crumble

The British and Irish Apple season is just about under way, with early season harvests hitting the shops right now, and much more to come. Apples and Pears are something we do very well on these shores, and there is really little need to be sourcing apples from overseas at this time of year. This week my local Sainsbury's had British Bramley apples on offer, so I spent yesterday afternoon getting the wee man involved in making a crumble. Crumbles are incredibly easy to make, and are great fun for kids to get involved with, as a the crumble topping itself is made by rubbing by hand, so you can con them into thinking it's mucky, playful work. You can also make it dairy free by replacing the butter with vegan spread. For a twist on the traditional topping, I replace half the flour with some porridge oats.

750g of peeled, cored and chopped cooking apples (or pears if you prefer)
75g of caster sugar
100g of plain flour
100g of oats
75g of butter or spread
Half teaspoons of ground cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger (optional according to likes/dislikes)
1 tablespoon of Demerara Sugar

Place the apples in an oven proof dish and sprinkle with 25g (aprox 1 tablespoon) of the caster sugar and the ground spices. Mix and set aside. If you want you can add a small glug of apple brandy at this stage for a more grown up touch.

In a mixing bowl add the flour, remaining caster sugar, butter and oats and rub through your hands until it resembles course breadcrumbs. Press onto the apple mix and sprinkle over the Demerara sugar.

Bake in an oven pre-heated to 200° C for 40 minutes until the sugar on top is browning. 

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Fairtrade Awards 2011

Belfast City Council are currently searching for the best people, businesses, dining establishments and employers who have done the most to promote and advance the spirit and ethos of the Fairtrade concept over the past year.

Nominations are now open, and you can recommend the following in the Belfast City Council Electoral area:

  • Best Fairtrade independent retailer
  • Best Fairtrade supermarket
  • Best Fairtrade café
  • Best Fairtrade employer
  • Best Fairtrade bar or restaurant
  • Outstanding individual contribution to Fairtrade
The closing date is 31st August, and you can nominate online at

Friday, 24 June 2011

Breastfeeding Awareness Week

As Breastfeeding Awareness week draws to a close, I want to write about my own personal experience of the most sustainable and environmentally friendly way to feed your baby in the early months.

I was incredibly relieved when I was able to breastfeed. Both my mother and sister had difficulty doing so, and the first day in the hospital after having Shugs, I tried, but he simply wasn't taking. The direction I was given was okay I suppose, but I saw a different nurse on every occasion and wasn't given the chance to relay any concerns or issues with the same person twice. I was also disappointed with my level of pain relief, which was making sitting and lying in certain positions for any length of time extremely uncomfortable. After nearly 24 hours of trying and getting incredibly frustrated (not to mention having to contend with a rather awkwardly placed nipple blister on account of him latching onto to the wrong bit) I was almost in tears when the night nurse offered to take him away and give him a bottle so I could get some rest. At first I saw this as defeat, but she assured me this didn't have to be the case, and being tired and emotional I took her at her word.

It worked. In the early hours of the next morning I was able to give him what I considered my first proper feed. It was such a relief, and while the next few feeds weren't easy, once my milk came in fully we were on our way. I found feeding lying down on my side a far easier way, and that wasn't recommended to me until I was almost ready to leave hospital. It meant that both me and Shugs could excuse ourselves from a room and relax, occasionally having a wee snooze together. It actually felt like a break, rather than a chore and the angle meant that he needed very little burping (a fine family tradition of extreme arse trumpeting has been passed on, I can assure you).  I did use a feeding ring occasionally and expressed a little after a while, but for the most part I fed exclusively by breast for the first couple of months.

Not having to worry about cleaning and sterilising bottles in those early stages was such a relief, as was not having to buy tubs of food and deal with the rubbish afterwards. I did use bottles of expressed milk when Shugs got a little older, as I'll admit I was never able to get comfortable enough to feed out in public. Not a modesty issue you'll understand, rather not being able to position myself right. And when at about 5 months we started to wean the wee man, we also started to wean him off breast milk.

So the pros and cons? Well as mentioned there was less clutter and mess feeding by breast, and for Shugs it seemed to do him the world of good (he get the sniffles like most kids occasionally, but is in great health otherwise - nothing slows the wee bugger down). He also has a fantastic appetite and is a good sleeper, both of which I put down to good habits picked up in the early stages. The cons? Well for me it was exceptionally tiring, especially in the 3-6 month period as he got bigger and increased in need, and despite being told the weight would fly off me, I found the opposite to be true. I was too tired to get much exercise and constantly starving. In a mixed blessing sense, it was also starkly apparent when at 4½ - 5 months Shugs needed weaning. His need for milk sky rocketed, interrupting his sleep and affecting his mood. No matter much I fed it was never enough, but I had been told over and over of WHO recommendations to wait until 6 months before weaning. Thankfully, I finally saw sense and listened to my mother for the first time in twenty years and started weaning at that point.

I know it's not for everyone, but I'm glad I was able to make it work for me for as long as I did. So to everyone currently, trying or hoping to breast feed, all the best. 

*In other news, central funding for Breastfeeding Awareness Week is withdrawn after 18 years. Very disappointing.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Strawberry, Balsamic and Poppy Seed Muffins

Despite the rubbish weather, local and localish strawberries are on the market if you look hard enough, so today here is my dairy free recipe, which makes twelve large cakes in the bigger muffin style cases.

Okay, so these aren't the most healthy snacks for kids, but the occasional treat at parties and summer BBQs won't kill them. You can also add some extra goodness by adding some flax or linseed to the mix (a teaspoon) and being selective in your choice of flour and oils. Most oils will other than olive oil will work in the context of this recipe.

230g of plain flour (+1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda)
210g of light brown sugar
300g Strawberries (if choosing to do so, set aside 6 small strawberries for decoration)
150ml of oil
2 tablespoons of poppyseed
1 tablespoon of Balsamic Vinegar

Preheat the oven to 180C. Coarsely chop the strawberries and place in a bowl and mash until soggy with occasional lumps.  Beat in the sugar, oil and vinegar, then add the poppy seeds and sieve in the flour and bicarbonate of soda. Mix slowly, making the figure eight with the spoon until combined. Spoon out into twelve muffin cased and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven when done and allow to sit in baking tray for a few minutes before setting out on a wire wrack.

Optional topping: Two large table spoons of dairy free spread, mixed with several large tablespoons of icing sugar. I haven't given specifics here as you can make this to personal taste in terms of consistency. Spoon on or use a piping bag to add a generous blob to each cake. Cut your reserved strawberries in half and add to each of the cakes. Finally sprinkle over a few poppy seeds.

Image: Grant Cochrane /

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Available in Kid Size

A new campaign is under way to encourage hospitality establishments in Northern Ireland to improve the family dining experience. Available in Kid Size is urging restaurants, cafes and food serving pubs to promote healthy children’s options, the chance to order smaller portions from the existing menu and to emphasize a commitment to seasonal and local produce.

It is hoped that the campaign will promote a culture of family dining that relies less on the typical goujons and chips staple of the average children's menu, will encourage children to try new things, help parents maintain the good eating habits of the home when eating out, while at the same time help businesses appeal to parties with young children and reduce food waste. 

The group aims to see the values of the AiKS Stratagem adopted and supported by both businesses and parents and you can sign up to support the following points at

  • Offering parents the chance to opt for children’s sized options from the main menu
  • Sensible portion sizes, to reduce left overs and waste
  • Option of children’s starters or canapés, so that parents and children can eat together in the same sitting.
  • Choice of children’s side orders such as vegetables and salads, as alternatives to chips.
  • Children’s table activities that encourage healthy eating, such as puzzles and colouring sheets with a fruit and vegetable theme
  • Children’s meat free options
  • Child friendly (non- breakable), reusable cups and glasses
  • Smaller/beginners cutlery on request
  • Seasonal and local produce incorporated into the children’s menu and clearly identified as such
  • Free tap water to anyone who asks
  • Any new or on-going projects recommended as a means of improving the family dining experience

Meanwhile businesses, parents and consumers can find out more about Available in Kid Size, by visiting the website, which includes news, information and resource tools for encouraging healthy eating habits in children. 

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Big Lunch Weekend

In 2009 the Eden Project started the Big Lunch, a national event aimed at getting as many people as possible across the whole of the UK to have lunch with their neighbours in a simple act of community, friendship and fun. This year, due to a change in date, Northern Ireland is getting in on the act, with around 100 street parties, picnics and community events planned across the country this Sunday, the 5th June. 

Below are just a few of the featured events. You can check out the rest by visiting the Big Lunch website

Big Lunch, Big Picnic (12-2pm, Ormeau Park, Belfast)

The 5th June is also World Environment Day, and this Picnic in the Park will have an eco theme. Participating in the Big Lunch Big Bunting challenge, children and parents will have the chance to create unique and alternative bunting from old material, and spot prizes will been given out to those who can offer some of the best tips and ideas for green living. There will be music, story telling and demonstrations and samples from local businesses, traders and producers.

For more information check out the Facebook event

Playtrail Big Lunch Fun Day, (Starts at 12-5pm £5 per family, Racecource Rd, Derry)

Playtrail will host their 1st 'Big Lunch' Event to bring families together to inspire a deeper sense of community and build on existing community activities. The event will have a Family Fun Day appeal, offering something for all, from toddlers to grandparents. Activities will include play activities, bouncy castles, clowns & face painters, themed Forest School activities, international cookery demonstrations, team challenges and wildlife & well being projects.

The Consortium hopes to work closely with a range of local community groups and Derry City Council to highlight the wealth of local talent and the diversity within the rich and vibrant local community. The focus is on children & young people. Details are available through the Playtrail website and Facebook page.

Parkanaur Garden Centre, Dungannon

Parkanaur GC are organising a little get together as a Grow your Own Big lunch event. Along with the local college they have organised a day where people can learn a bit more about growing their own vegetables and get some free gardening advice. Please contact 07801 849884

Friday, 8 April 2011

Sneaky Cupcakes

At the Children’s Book Swap Event that I attended last week, I sold a number of Fruit and Veggie Cupcakes and had a couple of requests for recipes, so here over the next few days are a few of my tried and tested methods for making what I like to describe as sneaky cakes - where you can shove in a whole lot of goodness in without the kids knowing about it. It's also not a bad idea to consider individual cupcakes for kids birthdays. You can still decorate them to theme, but you normally end up with a lot less left overs and waste.

Each recipe makes around 12, but you will get variations on that depending on how big your cake cases are and the consistency of each cake mix. You can make all of these cakes without an egg if you want them to be completely free of animal products. However, two things tend to happen if you're not using egg and you have decide if you can live with it. Either you have a smaller, crumblier cake, or you have a denser cake that is harder to get our of it's wrapper.

Standard Content
115g of plain flour
115g of sugar
75ml of oil
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder

Butternut Squash and Ginger

Use golden caster sugar and sunflower/rapeseed oil for this recipe.

Take 120g of thinly sliced Butternut Squash and a large finger sized amount of root ginger, very finely sliced. Lay on a baking tray with a touch of oil and bake at 190C for around 30 mins, with a loose foil cover, until soft (turn your oven down 180C) Add to a blender or mash until a chunky salsa like texture (you can puree to smooth but this can make your mix a little on the sloppy side.

In a bowl add the sugar, oil and squash mix, and 1 egg if you are using. Beat together to avoid curdling then slowly shift in the flour and baking powder, making a figure eight shape until combined. Take a tablespoon and put heaped amounts into cake cases. These cakes are perfect with a soft creamy icing (see below), but he you choose not to ice, add a little sprinkling of ground ginger to the tops of your cakes at this stage.

Bake in the oven for 15mins, turn out on to wire rack to cool.

Simple Dairy Free Icing.

Using a Vegan or Dairy Free Spread is an incredibly easy way to make a simple soft icing for most cakes. Spread is a lot smoother than hard butter and you don't have to spend as much time beating out the lumps. Measurements are always a bit hit and miss and will depend on the texture you want. I normally start off with a heaped spoon of spread and two heaped spoons of icing sugar, with a small squeeze of lemon, and go from there.

Tomorrow: Apple and Courgette Cakes

Friday, 25 March 2011

Raw Meal

Sign up for Earth Hour
Many of you might be taking part in the Earth Hour Big Switch Off this Saturday and might be choosing to mark the occasion with a meal for family and friends. But there is a way you can make the event even more low tech - by opting for a raw food feast.

Raw food is becoming a popular trend here in the UK, with people realising the benefits of not roasting/boiling the shit out your food and draining it of important nutrients. It's certainly something I'm trying to do more often, if for no other reason than a lot of raw food is quick and easy to prepare, which is very handy if you're busy.

Some of the stuff mentioned below might not be entirely classified in the raw food range, due to pre-purchase preparation and processing. If you have an interest in eating raw and want to know a little bit more, I suggest you check out Karen Knowler's Raw Food Coaching Page for the basic introductions and Raw Amazing for some great recipes.

And while I've said this meal is low tech, some of it might require pre or post refrigeration. Don't worry though, no one expects you to switch off your fridge for Earth Hour. It is after all about making a statement of intent and commitment to energy saving habits.

Starter: Pink Grapefruit and Carrot Salad

Great as a side salad or starter, this can be dressed up with a few small leaves or herbs such as cress, lemon thyme or rocket.

2 grated carrots
1 Pink Grapefruit, peeled, sliced and cut into bits (a bit like toblerone triangles)
1 tablespoon of rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon of wholegrain mustard
1 teaspoon of olive rapeseed oil

Drain off any excess juice from the grapefruit in a sieve or colander. Put into a bowl with the rest of the ingredients and mix with your (clean) hands. Feel free to up the mustard dosage, but taste first as this combination should be enough. Add any desired leaves and serve.

Main: Tabbouleh Stuffed Sweet Peppers

The Bulgur Wheat used for tabbouleh needed be pre-cooked so long as you soften and clean it of starch first. Steep it in lots of cold water for around 30 minutes - 1hour, depending on how much time you have. Then place in a fine sieve and run under the cold tap until the water running off it runs clear. Break up with a fork and set aside.

4 large sweet peppers
200g of Bulgur Wheat
2 large beef tomatoes, chopped
4 spring onions, chopped
75g of fresh parsley
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Cut the tops off your peppers and remove any internal seeds or flesh. Mix the prepared bulgur wheat with rest of the ingredients. Add a glug of olive oil and pack the tabbouleh into the peppers. You could add a clove of garlic to the miss, but be careful as some people really can't stand raw garlic.

Dessert: Apple, Almond and Apricot Glory

Again this recipe can use yoghurt or a soy based alternative, and depending on whether you're cooking for children or adults, you can sharpen things up a bit by swapping the apple juice for apple brandy for those who like their fruit a little boozy.

2 large apples, peeled and chopped
400ml of yoghurt or vegan alternative
100ml of apple juice or apple brandy
100g of rolled oats
50g of ground almonds
50g of Fairtrade dark brown sugar
60g of dried apricots, blitzed in blender
1 tablespoon of almond oil

Peel, corr and chop the apples. Sprinkle with roughly half the brown sugar and the apple juice and leave to steep for around 30 minutes. Afterwards, drain the excess and divide into four separate into glasses, such as Martini or Champaign glasses. Top up with the yoghurt, leaving at least 2 inches of space at the top of the glass. In a bowl mix the oil, oats, almonds, chopped apricots and the remainder of the sugar until it forms a coated, flap jack type mixture. Add this as topping to glasses.

Image: Suat Eman /

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Spring into Action Week 2: Get Festive

In the second part of Spring into Action I'm encouraging families to get festive. Yes, as the nights grow longer and the sun heats up, festival and carnival season is approaching. There are tonnes of child friendly events here in Belfast, though we're sadly lacking this years Children's Festival, which will return in March 2012 (don't worry though, Young at Art are still staging a few events this year, including the awesome Baby Rave).

Tomorrow is of course St Patrick Day and Belfast will be staging their annual carnival parade in the City Centre, and there will be events held in other cities across the world to mark the occasion. There will also be a Leprechaun Hunt taking place in the Ormeau Park in South Belfast on Saturday, proving that there is more to St Patrick's Day than major piss ups and can be about families too.

And on Sunday (20th March) why not dance away that hangover and experience Ireland's largest Holi Festival at St George's Market. The traditional Indian festival marking the arrival of Spring is organised by Arts Ekta and will feature a packed, show-stopping, fun-filled day of entertainment including live music and dance, international food and a craft market. Among the performers are Desi Brave Hearts, Scotland's top Bollywood fusions group, Balle! Shava!, an energetic Punjabi folk dancing group, as well as ArtsEkta's very own South Asian Dance Academy.

The main highlight of the event will be the colour powder party, where visitors will get the opportunity to throw brightly coloured powder at one another in a party atmosphere among friends. So don't be wearing anything fancy, for things will get bright and messy.

The event runs from 1-6pm and admission is £1 (under 16s must be accompanied by an adult and you are advised to come early to avoid disappointment).  

You can find out more by visiting the Arts Ekta Facebook Page

Photos used with kind permission by Arts Ekta

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Organic Brews, just for you's...

After last weeks focus on local booze, I've been doing a bit of research into beers that market themselves as organic, traditional method or natural ingredients. And by research I mean me and the husband sitting in last night and chugging down on a few bottles while giggling at the Prince/Batman hybrid presenting on QVC (don't ask).

Anyway, in all our infinite wisdom, here's the low down. I haven't included any prices as I imagine this will vary from place to place and be dependent on whether you are paying bar prices or off sales. I've also tried to keep local once again - all these beers are brewed in the UK.

(from left to right)

Ingredients: Barley, Hops, Spring Water

Claims to use only natural ingredients from sustainable sources and is brewed in small batches in a traditional tower brewery. Not unlike the Brew Dog also sampled, this had a fruity taste, though it was a far lighter affair. Pleasant enough.

Lincolnshire Best Bitter (Exclusive to M&S)
Ingredients: Malted barley, Malted wheat, Hops, Water. 

This was the only beer we tested that had the Vegan stamp of approval. Though one might assume that all beers should be free from animal products, many contain Isinglass, a substance obtained from the dried swim bladders of fish, while others fail to be awarded the stamp due to using animal based glues on the labels. So this was actually quite a find.

It had a definite caramelly (again, I'll defend this word, it's in Rebenectionary) light taste. Personally I found it a little on the bland side, though Damien liked sweetness, and the fact that it left no noticeable after taste. Out out of all drinks tested this was what we deemed to be the most palatable, in the sense that you could drink this all night and not feel sickened.

Unusually didn't have a traditional ingredients listing (I thought everything had to these days?) but it noted as being made from malted barley hops.

This brew carried the soil association stamp and is prepared to 'organic standard'. It was light and golden in colour, more like a lager or European beer. Best bottle design of the night by a country mile, like a big medicinal bottle you'd expect street urchin's to be swigging their gin out of in a Dicken's novel. Kudos for that alone.

Ingredients: Water, Malted Barely, Malted Wheat, Dried Thistle, Dried ginger and Yeast 4.5%

This dark ale had a really distinctive ginger taste, without technically being a ginger ale. It was fresh and crisp but had a denser flavour than you'd expect given the percentage. I've never really chowed down on thistle before, so I couldn't honestly tell you if that came through or not, though there was a noticeable twang in the after taste, so perhaps that was it. Damien thought that is had quite a weird smell, but I didn't notice it. It was certainly my favourite of the night. I'd recommend this if you like ginger ale, but find the sweetness get too much after a while. This has the flavour without the sugar.

Ingredients: Barely Hops, Yeast and Water

Light amber in colour, this had an initial apricotty (it's a word, really it is) taste and aroma, and a dry/bitter after taste. Both Damien and I agreed that it reminded us of something else, I thought a special edition Oktoberfest brew I'd had a few years back. It was strong, but not overwhelming in flavour; as Damien put it, 'like Arnold Swartz in a teddy bear suit.' Now that  he's in his 30s, old man Damien was put off by the packaging initially, it's not traditional enough for his liking, but it didn't sour him against it and I rather liked it.

South Wold Winter IPA (another M&S exclusive - this doesn't make me posh by the way, it's just my local shopping centre only has a Sainsbury's and a Markseeees)
Ingredients: Water, Malted Barley, Wheat, Hops, Yeast, Carbon Dioxide

Not bad, a fruity pale ale, with a slight sharpness. Was drank last and as a result didn't really make that much of an impact.

The morning after the night before...   

One thing you're often told, especially when you're a student and will drink pretty much anything, is that the additives and artificial ingredients in a lot of drinks, especially the likes of alcopops, cheap cider and drain cleaner, can lead to worse hangovers. So how did we feel this morning? Well admittedly we didn't drink that much (but lets face it, since having a baby all it takes is a pint of water and packet of wine gums and I'm half cut), but there was no noticeable hangover. I did however feel thirsty most of today and received a text from Damien complaining about noxious gasses - perhaps that's the price to pay for a clear head.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Local Liquer

St. Patrick's Day is just a week away and while I'll be posting nearer the time about some pre-session stomach liners, I thought I'd take a moment to celebrate the very best in local and environmentally friendly alcohol.

Buying local reduces the travel miles of your drink and also supports local industry. I'm a firm believer that all pubs and bars, regardless of brewery agreements, should make the effort to stock and promote some local samples. In the meantime I'm happy to champion those bars that do, so feel free to leave recommendations in the comments section.

Of course Guinness is the big drink on the 17th March and my personal tipple of choice. The best pints I've had have come from the Pavilion Bar and Rose &Crown, both on the Ormeau Rd, Belfast - the worst was served in an excessively tall glass in Honolulu Airport and was all kinds of wrong (seriously, some places just shouldn't bother). When down in Kerry years back Murphy's was actually the nicer option for a lot of places in and around the Dingle Bay area, but you'd be hard pushed to find this on draught in Belfast these days. Then we have local whiskey's of which there are a shit loads. Can't think of any? Then click here.

If stout or whiskey isn't your thing however there are plenty of other local options available. Whitewater Brewery, an award winning micro brewery in Co Down, produces a good range of ales and lager, including Snake Drive, a special pale ale brewed especially for St Patrick's Day. A few of the range, Belfast Ale and Coltworthy Dobbin in particular, I've seen in a couple of bars around town, but you can contact the brewery direct for a more comprehensive list:

If you're one of those sick in the head people who actually prefer cider, then of course we've Magners, the geniussssess who realised that if you encourage people to water down their pint with ice you can single handedly rejuvenate the apple fizz business and make a fortune. Why? I've no idea, I assume the sugar rush achieved by drinking the stuff makes people forget that they live in Ireland where it's cold and pisses down all the time, instead fooling them into thinking that they're in the tropics where ice is essential.

For the more refined pallet we have drink of champions and all awesome people, Buckfast Tonic Wine. You'll get this served by the glass in one or two bars, though it is definitely more of an offy drink. A fortified wine, it's localish - produced at Buckfast Abbey in Devon. It's not for the faint-hearted, and if you're a first time taster, don't let the initial foulness put you off. Drink through the nastiness, as it's about to get soooo good. And if you've ever been curious about the difference between the green bottled normal stuff and the different (and therefore wrong), brown bottle concoction drank predominately in the ROI, then wikipedia has the low down here.

Of course not everyone is from the same local area, so you've probably got your own favourites and feel free to give them a shout out in the comments section. You can check out your local breweries by licking on the following directories:

But it's not just the travel miles attached to booze that concern the eco friendly drinker, there are more and more producers starting to offer organic and Fairtrade options. I'll be doing a taste test of a few of these over the weekend and will report back.
Oh and it goes without saying: Always drink responsibly!

Monday, 7 March 2011

Fair Trade Pancakes

Well we're about half way through Fair Trade Fortnight, and what better way to show your support than by making this Pancake Day, a fair trade event. When you can't buy local, try and buy fair, for a better deal for workers across the globe. Here are two fantastic recipes for pancakes with a twist and an extra treat for anyone planning to put their sweet tooth on hold for lent. The basic batter recipe will make approximately between 4-8 pancakes, though this will of course vary depending on pan size and you often have to allow for a few spoils.

Fairtrade Banana Pancakes with Raisins and Madeira:

100g of plain flour
225ml of milk
1 egg
Good Pinch of Salt

3 large Fairtrade Bananas
100g of Fairtrade Soft Brown Sugar
Good handful of Fairtrade Raisins, nuts of other dried fruit
60ml of Madeira Wine
50g of butter

Sift together the flour and salt into a bowl. Make a well in the middle and add the egg, lightly beaten. With a balloon whisk, slowly combine the flour/egg mix, while slowly adding the milk. You should get a batter of thin to medium consistency, perfect for crepes, as opposed to American style or Scotch Pancakes. If you have time, chill the batter in the fridge for about 30 minutes prior to use.

Peel and slice the bananas in half. In a shallow pan melt the butter, sugar and Madeira until a caramelised sauce (around 5 minutes), then add the raisins and bananas, cooking for about 1 minute on each side.

Remove from the heat, cover in foil and set aside. In another frying pan, ideally one suited to crepes,(or remove the bananas completely, quickly clean the pan and reuse if you're short on utensils), add some oil or butter on high heat until pan is very hot. A ladle or jug is the best way of doing this, you only need a little and you should spread it our on the pan as much as possible. I mentioned 'spoils' earlier, as it might take a few turns to get best results.

When done, place a banana, some raisins and syrup into each pancake and roll up. You can serve as it is, though this would be extra nice with some Fairtrade Vanilla Ice-cream, such as Ben and Jerry's which uses 100% Fairtrade Vanilla and Sugar.

Fairtrade Chocolate Pancakes

Using the same batter recipe and preparation method as the Banana Pancakes, you can make a wide range of Fairtrade Chocolate Sauces to complement. If you have a microwave, a very simple means of making a chocolate sauce is simply adding 100g of Fairtrade Chocolate  (broken up) and 100ml of milk into a jug and heating for 1 minute. Some mad bastards even use condensed milk, these tend to be American and don't have to rely on being able to find a NHS dentist. If you don't have a microwave you can melt chocolate easily in a pan, rested over a pan of simmering water, adding any cream, butter or even a touch of almond oil to thin out.

The key in all of these sauces is choosing your favourite chocolate flavours. Here are some of the most tempting Fairtrade Chocolate offers I've come across online, though many will be available in stores such as The Co-Op and other supermarkets.

Seed and Bean's Organic Fairtrade Chocolate with Chilli and Lime: Yum

Palmil Fairtrade Organic Chocolate: A Gluten and diary free alternative to milk chocolate, suitable for Vegans. For information on dairy free pancake recipes, check out the this site

Plush Fairtrade White Chocolate Petals with Raspberry. Gorgeous and with their own cute packaging. If you can't bring yourself to 'waste' these on a sauce, they would make an ideal gift or wedding favour.

Green and Black's Maya Gold: The first UK product to be awarded the Fairtrade stamp in 1994.

You can find out more about Fairtrade Fortnight by going to

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Celebrate... St David's Day

This warming Leek and Soba Noodle Broth, is the perfect meal for the 1st of March St David's Day Celebrations (the leek, along with the daffodil being the symbol of Wales). It's also the perfect type of dish to signify the move into spring; hot, but a lot less stodgy than most winter staples. Also, due to it's small ingredient selection, it really doesn't take that long compared to other vegetable based soups.

Serves 4

Two Leeks, washed and chopped
Two bunches of Soba Noodles, broken up into small shards
1 red chilli pepper
2 cloves of garlic
1 thumb sized piece of garlic, crushed or finely grated
1 stalk of lemongrass, finely chopped
2 tablespoon of light soy sauce
A few mixed pepper corns
1 pint of vegetable stock (or chicken if you prefer)
75ml of dry white wine

Add the leeks, garlic, chilli, lemon grass and ginger to a pan with a little oil on a medium heat. Stir occasionally until the leeks begin to soften, then add the white wine, turn down the heat to it's lowest setting, cover and simmer for five minutes.

Then add your soy sauce and pepper corns, stirring well before adding your stock and bringing to the boil for five minutes. Cover and turn down the heat, leaving to simmer for approximately 20 minutes and adding the broken up soba noodles in the last 5 minutes.

Serve with rice or cream crackers.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Celebrate... The Superbowl

The Packers are in this years Superbowl - just under 12 hours time ( a sociable 11.17pm kick off time here in the UK for those who are wondering) and to celebrate here's a selection of game snacks, ideal for small parties. Green Bay is of course in Wisconsin, Americas Dairyland, so there are a few dairy and cheesy snacks included. There's also a very definite colour scheme going on, some of the best best Green and Yellow dishes I could think of, to really get in the spirit.

Mix and Match Snack Platter:

If you have a large serving plate or bread board, simply arrange the following, with the dips in the middle. Make as much or as little as you like, depending on party size, though the dips have a set amount and will make a small bowl full.

Cheese and Pesto Toasties, with Leek: The nicest bread to use for these toasties is a good quality seed bread, such as Burgen's Soy and Linseed Loaf. Spread green pesto onto one side of each slice of bread, add grated cheese of your choosing and some finely sliced Leek. For extra crispiness, spread a little butter or spread on the outside of each sandwich before adding to the toastie maker. Cut into quarters when done.

Guacamole with yellow cherry tomatoes:

  • Scooped out pulp of 2 ripe avocados
  • Small bunch of scallions, chopped
  • 2 medium green chillis, chopped (seeds optional, included they make a spicier dip)
  • 2 gloves of garlic, crushed
  • Juice of half a lime
  • Pinch of  salt
  • Pinch black pepper
  • 5-6 small yellow cherry tomatoes, chopped
Fire all ingredient into a blender and until mixed, you can choose your own level of smoothness. To bulk out the Guacamole for a larger party, or to make extra smooth, you can add 50g of cooked peas (or a great cheat, add 50g of tinned mushy peas). However this can dilute the heat, so you may want to add some additional chilli powder.

Yoghurt and Cucumber Raita:  If hot and spicey isn't your thing, then this cooling dip makes a welcome alternative.

In a bowl place 300ml of natural yoghurt, 200g of finely chopped cucumber, a pinch of garam masala and a good pinch of salt. Beat with a fork, garnish with thin disc or two of cucumber and sprinkle with cracked black pepper.

Homemade Bread Sticks: I've never attempted my own home made bread sticks as yet, but I feel that they would be fitting with this platter (you can of course buy some if you can't be arsed). I therefore point you in the direct of Lorraine Pascal and her Big Fat Salt and Pepper Bread Sticks, which look extremely tempting.

Stuffed Green Peppers with Yellow Rice:

Two versions of this dish, one for veggies, one for carnivores. Both use pre cooked rice, as this is the most effective way of turning the rice an even yellow. Simple add one teaspoon of turmeric, or saffron if your rolling in money, to your rice while it is on the boil.

8 Green Bell Peppers, tops cut off and seeds and white flesh removed.
350g of yellow rice.
Around 32 slices of cheddar cheese

Meat Version
400g minced beef or lamb cooked to you usual bolognese or tomato based sauce recipe for twenty minutes. If you don't have a usual recipe, the standard is 1 white onion, 1 glove of garlic, 1 can of chopped tomatoes, and optional spices such as 1 teaspoon of oregano, 1 teaspoon of medium chilli powder, 1 teaspoon of HP Sauce or Marmite and 1 teaspoon of ketchup. You can of course play around with this recipe, but make sure you taste often and don't add too many spices or they will cancel each other out.

Veg Version
1 can of Adzuki beans cooked with 1 can of chopped tomatoes, 1 white onion, 100g of chopped button mushroom1 teaspoon of medium chilli powder and 1 teaspoon of Marmite (optional) for around 10 minutes.

Half your cooked rice, mix half with the meat mixture and half with the beans mix.

Place Bell Peppers in a roasting dish with a good glug of oil. Into each pepper add around two tablespoons of rice/bean or rice/meat mix, followed by a slice of cheese. Repeat this process until all pepper are full and topped with a final slice of cheese. Into the pan add three tablespoons of water. Cover with foil and add to a hot oven for around 45 minutes on 200°C, removing the foil and finishing uncovered for the last 10 minutes.

Smother in warmed BBQ Sauce to serve if you're feeling well dirty.

There are of course some other essentials you may feel you need, such as: Loaded Nachos, Potato Skins, Chicken Wings and for the sweet tooth Lemon Meringue Pie and Grasshopper Pie, so just click on the links.


Friday, 4 February 2011

MITCH SPINACH …The Veggie Superhero!

There's a certain transition period that loads of kids go through between the post weaning/early toddler phase where they will eat just about anything, and the starting to talk, starting to say 'no' to certain things period. This is of course very natural; boundaries are pushed, authorities asserted and habits formed, but you may very well despair if your child suddenly starts to push their peas aside, cast out their carrots and turn their noses up at turnip. After all, you know it's good for them and if you're hard up, like many of us are at the moment, you don't really want them wasting food.

There is very little reasoning with a toddler and the temptation to wait until your child grows up a bit before you try and push the veg agenda is one that most of us will probably give into. However this is very much a catch 22 situation, wait 'til they're older and yes you can explain the importance of vegetables and a healthy diet, but by that stage they can be stubborn little buggers and all to quick to explain in their own genius logic why they don't do green.

But we will try nonetheless. And there are plenty of resources out there to help. A recent example being Mitch Spinach, the brainchild of children's authors Hillary Feerick and Jeff Hillenbrand, in collaboration with family physician and best selling author Joel Fuhrman, M.D. The series is designed specifically with the idea of creating a positive message in regards to a healthy eating and an aspirational hero who practices what he preaches and the books relate to everyday situations such as school meals, albeit with a superhero twist. There are also some great illustrations by Andrea Vitali.

The books are available through the Mitch Spinach Website and (no UK outlet yet as far as I can see), however even if you're not ordering books, I urge you to check out the website, which is a great source of information and very child friendly, with loads of games, activities, food facts and some amazing recipes, including Super Smoothies and a healthier take on chocolate cake.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Celebrate... Chinese New Year

I really love Chinese food, and making your own at home can be a great way to keep an eye on sodium and additive levels. The following are two ideas for popular family friendly Chinese dishes, and great way to get some fresh vegetables into the kids.

Sweet and Sour Sauce

With a heritage in both Chinese and Southern States cooking, there are loads of variations on sweet and sour sauce, but I'd say this definitely one from the Chinese camp. Obviously chicken and pork are the meats best associated with sweet and sour dishes, but if your not a meat eater this can make a great glaze for vegetable kebabs (perhaps add a dollop of honey for extra stickiness). Pineapple seems to be one of those love/hate ingredients; personally I love it, but if you're a hater, this recipe will do fine without. This will do enough sauce for four people.

100ml of soda water
2 tablespoons of rice vinegar or failing that, white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons of light soy sauce
2 tablespoons of dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons of tomato purée
2 tablespoons of sherry
1 tablespoon of corn flower 
Zest and juice of half a large, unwaxed lemon.

Optional Stir Fry ingredients
50g pinapple, cut into chunks
1 Green Pepper, sliced
1 small onion, finely chopped

In a bowl mix together the cornflower, lemon zest and soda water with a balloon whisk or fork until combined. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix until smooth.

In a wok, stir fry the onion and any meat you are using until browned (extra crispiness can be achieved by tossing the meat in a little seasoned cornflower first). Add the peppers and pineapple and cook for an additional 5 minutes on medium heat. Finally add your sauce, stirring continuously until thick and shiny. This should only take a few minutes.

Spinach Fried Rice

A great accompaniment to Sweet and Sour dishes, and an excellent means of vegin' up the dish. Normal rice cooking instructions would say 50-75g per person and will have range of cooking times depending on what type of rice you use. Follow the packet's instructions and have the rice just cooked, drained and ready to go into this dish. When cooking your rice, in order to get a great flavour and fluffiness, I recommend covering in plenty of cold water, bringing to the boil, squeezing in the juice of half a lemon or lime, giving a rapid stir, leaving the lemon or lime in pan, putting the lid on and turning right down for the remainder of the cooking time.

Cooked rice for 4 people
Four handfuls of fresh spinach
Two cloves of garlic, crushed.
Four or five scallions, finely chopped
Generous amount of rape seed oil (aprox 4 tablespoons)

When cooking use a good quality non stick pan or wok. Fry your scallions and garlic on high heat in about half the oil until soft. Add the remainder of the oil and add your cooked rice. Immediately turn down the heat to a low setting, stir the rice continuously, making sure it is all being coated and absorbing the oil. If the pan and oil are hot enough this should only take a few minutes - any longer and you risk burning the rice. Finally remove from the heat and stir in the spinach. Put the lid on the pan, let rest for a minute or two before serving, breaking it up with a large fork before hand.

If you can, make an event of celebrating Chinese New Year. Use chopsticks, which the kids will love and is a great skill to pick up at a young age. There are many variations when it comes to using chopsticks, in terms of regional etiquette, dining location and chopstick design. Asia Recipe has a great 'how to guide' that is worth checking out. Put more than anything, enjoy the family event and maybe slip the kids a bit of lucky money if they've been good (perhaps as a reward for trying something new?).

Image: Carlos Porto /