Tuesday, 28 October 2014

The Food and Drink Show NI 2014

Saturday was an incredibly entertaining day for me. As you all know by now, for sure, last weekend from Friday to Sunday, the Food and Drink Show Northern Ireland was on show at Kings Hall Pavillion.  As a food lover, spending the day in a Food Show is always a great plan. But it is even better to have such a great experience thanks to the guys from Food and Drink NI. 

I missed it last year. But this year I was lucky enough to win two VIP tickets from their Baking Challenge.  So, on Saturday, I invited my friend D. and we spent the day discovering the products from NI, watching cook demos and enjoyining the great shows from Rachel Allen and John Torode at the Moy Park Theatre. 

Below you will see just a sample of the show:


Some of the great fresh fish from Silver Fin.

Great tomatillos from Love Olive, New Olive  Company.  Linda was simply brilliant talking about her products and her company. The Majorcan conection also had something to do, here ;-)

Belfast Craft beer looked great. It was probably a bit too early in the morning and we could only take a photo of it. Willing to try it, though, as I have heard so much good about it!

Granny Braid's handmade fudge

I actually bought some duck eggs from Earl's Abbey Farm. They had also the traditional stuff, and quail eggs. I have used quail eggs before, but I should say I was really surprise by the ducks' ones. I had never tried them. I am looking forward to test them.

The girls from Bite to savour were also brilliant on explaining their  products and their new winter/Christmas boxes. I should say I particularly liked her logo and her packaging. It is simply so cool! Loved it.

2014 has been an absolutely brilliant year for NI at the Great Taste awards. Quite many of the products I had heard of were all in the same place at the same time for us to taste. It was simply great to taste the carchoal matured cheese with its deep black colour and its intense flavour, from The Four Seasons.

Craft cheese maker Julie Hickey, form Dart Mountain Cheese, knows her business so well. I loved her Dart Mt. Dusk , an ash coated semi hard cows milk cheese that she served at perfect room tempearture and I could appreciate in all its flavour. Simply great.

There is room for water in the middle of all of this food and drink. David, from Glacier, though I was kidding when I took his photo. Well, here you are.

Buchanan's Turkey is another of the Great Taste 2014 awarded products (well, and also 2013 for what is worth) that we have at hand. Anyone in need of any suggestions for where to buy your Christmast Turkey? Well, now you know... 

To be honest, I am not a cider girl. I am much more into beer. But, having said so, I should admit that I absolutely loved Long Meadow Cider, and I guess that my friend D. who is more an expert than myself really liked this stuff. Made from Armagh apples, from a family business, you can taste the clean, honest artisan process in every sip. Another must for me, really.

I admit this is one of my regrets of the day. Even on Saturday, it was far too early for us to test this great Gin. The girl in the stand was simply brilliant at explaining all the scents that we could identify in this artisanal gin. I will definitely buy this. And what do you think of the overall look of the bottle, the label and so? Could you get cooler than that? I really, really liked this stuff. 

I should admit this is another of my many limitations. I am quite useless to appreciate a good baklava. I am afraid I do not have a sweet tooth. And for baklava you really need a very sweet one. I tried those ones above from Nuts in Bulk and even for a non-lover as myself, they were really good.

 GreenMount Farm was also awarded  a Great Taste Gold for their game pie. I am really sorry, the photo does not make justice to the pie at all (by the way, the light for the photos was terrible inside, sorry for the poor quality of the photos, in general-). You can find them on Friday and Saturday at ST Geroge's Market if you do not plan to do all the way to Richhill. 

The guys in the stand at Neary Nogs told us the wonders of their artisan chocolates. I really fancied the Espresso chocolate, and we were the last 2 people in trying (at least for the day) their raw chocolate. Being a chocolate lover myself, I should said I was particularly happy to be offered something I have never tried before (which, at certain point in your life, and when you are so obsesed as myself for chocolate, I would say it is a good thing). I was happy to provide my feedback to this product under development. Looking forward to see the final version on sale, guys!


Being Irish products undoubtely attractive, it is clear that the other focal point of the day was in the cooking demos. I would only suggest a bit more of early information from the organizers. In my view, disclosing the program so late, is simply contraproductive. Tomake the most of it, it really makes sense to plan your day ahead. I could attend 2 demos at Safe Food Open Kitchen. First, Asha Chada (above) guided us to a chicken curry with chapatis in 30 minutes. It was really nice to follow her demo, and her worries for the short time for the dish to be properly cooked in so little time. I have kept those heads in the photo as the man on the left is her husband, and at some point in the presentation I really felt as if I were sitting at their kitchen, with them talking to each other as if we were a group of friends they wanted to entertain at their place. So authentic! She really catched me with the chapatis. I am trying them at home sooner than later. 

The other demo at the Safe Food Open Kitchen was conducted by Andy (I guess that's his name, so please, correct me if I am wrong) from Mourne Seafood Bar. He provided a 30 minutes masterclass in oyster preparation. Being that interesting, I have to admit that he simply got me while he was preparing the demo and opened all those oysters so easily.... I guess he had opened one or two before Saturday.

I attended Rachel Allen demo, and we were so lucky to have such good places! (Thanks again for the tickets!!!). 
She cooked in front of us 4 recipes from her last book on baking, "All things Sweet". Of course you need more time for that, but she managed to do a brilliant (and so, so, fast) presentation that we really felt like in a live TV show. As it could not be other way, we went right away after the demo to buy her book and had it signed. She was really kind and professional! 
It felt really strange for me. I moved to Ireland only 1 year ago, but I had been frequently visiting Dublin for the last 8 years or so. I remember perfectly the first time I saw one of her books, and when I bought it. I did not even know who she was back then. And there I was, several years after that, a lot of baking and blogging, and cook book reading after, having my new book signed by her. It felt really, really strange. In a very nice way, but strange.

The last demo we attended (and the last of the day) was the one from John Torode. What can I say? He is a profesional entertainer, he has done this so many times before he could do it sleeping. He was the last of the day, and there were only a few of us in the theatre. I learned that he is also producing his own brand new wine as he higlighted several times. Apart from that, well, I should admit that cooking a steak (as perfect and juicy as it could be) and some pasta did not impressed me much, and probably did not impress most of the audience, either. It is not that you expect that extra mile from these demos (of course not, it is more than anything about the celebrity and the TV character, and we all know that), but do you really need a chef to cook a steak and some pasta? Really?

I could not finish this post without her photo. I am only so sorry to have missed her name. Because this no name lady was as gorgeous as you see in the photo with us. After a long day at the reception she was simply great with us when we asked a couple of things! Thanks a million, really.

I am planning already for next year's show. Will you join me then? 

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Pure chocolate cookies

Last year I started running. With no conviction at all, I just desperately needed it. I needed to do some exercise. My body and my head were screaming it out loud. I could not afford back then to go to the gym, which is what I had done very happily at other moments in my life. But I was simply unable to make it work in my crazy schedule. -and no, these are not excuses, I know far too well what I mean-; so while running is something I'd always hated, at that time it was all I could manage, so I decided to give it a go.

For a few weeks I was improving my aerobic capacity (well, basically I was creating it, because I have never had it), returning home breathless, flushed like a tomato about to explode, supporting the ironic comments of my hubby, -who can be really annoying-; seeing my daughters’ looks, as they could not believe my face could get that color.

But gradually my husband’s bad jokes began to stop as he develop a bit of healthy envy on my stamina and my tomato face just got grapefruit red instead. I did never run long distances or high pace, but I started to get into shape.

In the middle of that, I had to move houses, have a new job, in a new country, in a new environment, and running went again to the bottom of my priorities list. 

It's been a busy year, but it looks like things are back to routine. That is why some months ago, when I had that feeling of having been here long enough, I decided I had to start running again. 

Just as summer started I went back to running. I started and I slowly got in shape. I even took my running shoes on holidays –and used them- and, at some point some weeks ago, I was running for 30 minutes at a really good pace. And of course, I did it once, and then again, and again, and again. And I did more km in a week that I had done in my entire life. The feeling of accomplishment by running faster and faster, more comfortably every time; the anticipation of the joy of running – I was totally hooked. But for better or worse, it might be my over-excitement, or my absolute lack of technique, but right now my left knee is keeping me tied to the chair. I probably trained a bit too much a bit too soon, overloaded with excitement and recklessness.  

So I'm frustrated. Waiting for my knee to fully recover seems to be taking forever.
You are warned, guys: Injuries are not good. But being injured because you've tried seems to me the most healthy of exercises.

So, since I am injured it was inevitable fall back into temptation. And the temptation for me is shaped almost exclusively chocolate. Black. Bitter. Intense.
These cookies are a shot of chocolate when you need it. They're easy, they're fast, and they are simply perfect. So whether you're injured or not, when you need some good chocolate, here are some cookies to draw a huge smile in your face, sure.

Pure chocolate cookies
100 grams of plain flour
125 grams of cocoa powder
1 pinch of salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
80 grams of butter
170 grams icing sugar
1 small egg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Sift the flour, cocoa, salt and cinnamon in a bowl. Put the softened butter in another bowl with the icing sugar and mix with a wire whisk for about 3 minutes until pale and foamy. Add the egg and vanilla and mix again. Gradually add the flour, cocoa, salt and cinnamon mixture until you have a dough. Wrap in kitchen plastic and put into the refrigerator at least one hour.
Preheat oven to 180 degrees and prepare a tray with a silicone sheet or baking paper. Make small balls of the size of a teaspoon. I put a couple of drops of oil in my hands and work the dough quickly into balls of a similar size. Put them in the tray well apart because they will spread in the oven and we do not want to stick.
Take them to the oven for about 8 minutes. Remove them carefully with a spatula while still hot, and place them in the tray to cool on wire rack until completely cool.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Sauteed shrimp, green apple and strawberry salad

From time to time, in between so much baking I have been through lately, you simply need to have a really simple, clean, fresh and light meal. I love the idea of putting a few ingredients together and having a full meal in one dish. I particularly enjoy warm saldads. I still remember my first warm salad, quite many years ago, at a time when I thought that a salad could only be made from some vegetables and really little more.

A long time since then, quite many salads and many other food experiences after that, I particularly like this salad. It has a bit of a Spanish way of preparing  the shrimps that is so simple but so tasty. The tangyness of the green apple and the straberries in really thin layers make a perfect light lunch, for when you want (or need) to feel virtuous.

You will enjoy it time after time, so you will really like to have it now!

Sauteed shrimp salad, green apple and strawberries

100 grams shrimp (fresh or frozen, whatever you want / can)
1 clove of garlic
1 dried chilli
1 Granny Smith apple (or any acid and green variety you like)
50g of strawberries
Pink Pepper
A few leaves of fresh parsley
Half lemon
Extra virgin olive oil


Cut the apple into slices and place in a bowl with water and the juice of half a lemon. This will prevent them form getting dark while adding some light lemon flavour that goes great with this salad. Cut the strawberries into slices and reserve. Put a little oil in a pan and sautée the garlic and chili pepper over medium heat, taking care of not burning it. Add the peeled shrimps and saute just until they lose their raw color. Discard the  garlic and chilli. Distribute the apple and strawberry slices in the serving dishes, arranging on top the sauteed shrimps, and season with a vinaigrette made with 3 parts of extra virgin olive oil to 1 part vinegar. Finish with a little parsley and crushed pink peppercorns on top.