Bonamargy Friary, Ballycastle

On our trips to Ballycastle we often pass ruins of an old Francisan friary.

At the end of September we decided to explore them a little more, as you are able to walk in and around them which I thought would be fascinating.

Bonamargy Friary was built around 1500, but many of the features are well preserved, including the cloister, gatehouse, altar and church.

The remains of Sorely Boy MacDonnell, a Scots-Irish chieftain, are said to reside there.

The friary is also supposed to be haunted by the “Black Nun” Julia McQuillen, who lived there alone in the 17th Century after it was no longer in use.

Some say she fell to her death while others say she was pushed and that’s why her ghost still haunts the grounds. (Thankfully we didn’t experience anything sinister!)

It was a really interesting place, full of  history. Have a look at some of my pictures:

Tomb from 1630

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Brunch at The Gallery

The Gallery cafe and bar opened its doors on the Dublin Road in Belfast a few months ago.

Since then, I have seen many pictures of its stylish interior, elegant crystal chandeliers and most importantly, mouth-watering food!

I was invited down to try out the new breakfast menu which is served from 8am. My mum and I went at 11am on a Wednesday morning and were shown a seat beside the window.

The place was relatively busy with locals drinking coffee, as well as three American tourists who were praising the food. Good start!

The breakfast menu is priced between £4.95 for the Gallery Organic Porridge which is served with a mixed berry compote and honey, to £9.95 for the New York Breakfast, which was to be my choice after a recommendation.

Other breakfast dishes include French Toast, Homemade stacked pancakes, Smoked Salmon and Eggs, Poached Eggs and Avocado, and of course, the Gallery Ulster Fry.

I was torn between the Ulster Fry and the New York Breakfast, but I was told the New Yorker was really good – so I put my trust in them!

The New York Breakfast is two poached eggs served on a toasted bagel, with baby spinach, smashed avocado, Halloumi, cream cheese, sun blushed tomatoes and pastrami.

When it came I wasn’t disappointed in my choice- it was filling, it looked elegant, it combined different flavours and textures and most of all, it was really, really tasty!

My mum went for the Eggs Benedict which is two poached eggs served on sourdough toast, with honey roast ham and Hollandaise Sauce. She, too, was impressed with her brunch and said the Hollandaise sauce was zingy and creamy but not too thick.

The Gallery is chic with an impressive arty decor, and fits in really well on the Dublin Road. I’m looking forward to seeing what else it has to offer.

New York Breakfast

Eggs Benedict

Stylish arty interior at The Gallery

Stix and Stones at Balmoral Hotel

I’ve been to Stix and Stones in Belfast City Centre numerous times since it first opened just over 3 years ago and always loved the “steak on a stone” experience. What better way to get your steak just how you like it by cooking it yourself!

At the start of August I visited the Balmoral Hotel for the Belfast Masterchef Challenge where we told the exclusive news that Stix and Stones Part 2 was opening…in the very place we were sitting! Yes, Balmoral Hotel!

I thought it was a fantastic idea. There are loads of people who want to experience Stix and Stones who don’t necessarily want to go into Belfast city centre, who prefer to eat locally, who want ample parking or who want to have dinner and a few drinks and be able to stay over too!

So, when I was asked if I would like to try the new restaurant last week, of course I couldn’t say no!

We arrived at 6pm so were able to avail of the Pre-theatre menu which is available Monday to Friday from 5pm to 6.30pm. You can get 2 courses for £15.95 or three for £18.95.

The starters include Minestrone Soup with warm bread, or Goats cheese with pickled pears, pear gel and filo pastry.

I went for the Stix and Stones Chicken wings which are served with a creme fraiche salsa, while Barry choose the miso glazed salmon with fennel, blood orange, quinoa and rocket.

I loved the starter- the chicken wings had a slight sweetness to the glaze which worked very well with the tangy sourness of the creme fraiche. Barry said his salmon was beautifully cooked and coated with the simple and delicate miso dressing. He said the hints of fennel were mild but enough to come through on the palette.

Then it was time for the main course. You can choose from the “On the Stone” selection and the “Off the Stone” selection. The “On the stone” menu includes the rump steak and the rump of Lamb, while the “Off the Stone” includes pan roast supreme of chicken, chorizo and three bean stew, or Gnocchi served with wild mushroom ragu, smoked garlic and pea shoots.

We both went for the ‘cook-your-own’ experience and I selected the 7oz matured rump steak which comes with a flat cap mushroom, slow cooked tomato, balsamic glazed beetroot and sauce.

Barry selected the 6oz Yellowfin Tuna steak which was served with roast butternut squash, chilli, soya beans and quinoa.

Soon we heard the loud sizzle of the meat as our waitress brought the hot stone down to our table and explained the best way to cook the meat, from the size of the strips to the time we should each strip for.

I just love doing this- I think it is novel and fun and a different dining experience! My steak was gorgeous- a big juicy bit of meat which I cooked medium-well and devoured every bit. Barry thought his Tuna steak was fresh and delicious, and cooking it quickly over the high heat meant it didn’t dry out. Great!

Finally, we both went for dessert to round off a lovely meal. The desserts include Strawberry semi-freddo, Vanilla rice pudding or Lemon posset.

We went for our firm favourites- cheesecake, which was White chocoloate and Passionfruit- and anything with chocoloate in it, picking the Chocolate Tart served with a salted caramel macaroon and ice cream.

The tart is not the way to finish if you are looking for something light!! It was rich, dark and oh so chocolatey! Right up my street. The cheesecake was much lighter and more to Barry’s taste!

Overall, we had a great night out at Stix and Stones in Balmoral. It has only been open for a few weeks but I am already hearing that it has been very popular with both locals and people traveling from further away.

The atmosphere was lovely and the food was great so perhaps we might hear about Stix and Stones Part 3 in the future!

Starters- Chicken Wings and Miso glazed salmon

Mains- Rump steak and Yellowfin Tuna Steak

Dessert- White chocolate and Passionfruit Cheesecake and Chocolate Tart

Disclaimer: I was invited along to the Balmoral Hotel so the food was complimentary. I paid for all the drinks. All views expressed are my own. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tesco Taste Northern Ireland- Thompson’s Tea

As I write this I have just finished my first week back at work after maternity leave. I was off for seven months after having a beautiful baby girl Niamh on New Years Day.

As any new mums know, having a cup of tea, never mind a hot cup of tea (!), can be a real luxury. Quick, she’s sleeping- put the kettle on! So, when Tesco NI asked if I would like to try some Thompson’s Tea, of course I had to say yes.

Thompson’s Tea is a Northern Irish tea blender whose range includes Punjana Original Blend, Titanic Blend and Irish Breakfast Blend. I received the Thompson’s Signature tea and Green Tea with Lemon.

Stocked up with the tea bags, I decided to host an afternoon tea party on my last day of maternity leave to say thanks for all the help I had received over the past few months. It was also my birthday so another perfect excuse for cake!

I’ve written on my blog numerous times about my love of afternoon tea so I wanted to give my own a go, including baking for the occasion.

To start, for the savoury layer, I made wheaten bread to be served with honey roast ham, mature cheddar and tomatoes. While the wheaten bread was in the oven, I whipped up some vanilla scones, which I served with butter and jam.

To finish Tesco kindly supplied me with some lovely sweet treats from local producers, Howells Florence Cake and Genesis Crafty buns.

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But of course, the best bit of any afternoon tea is…the tea!

I opted for the Signature blend which was a strong, full bodied cup of tea, without being too bitter. Thompson’s Tea have stated it is “tea like it used to taste”, because they have recreated the family’s original blend from way back in 1896. It’s a rich, flavoursome cup of tea and actually reminds me of loose leaf tea. Lovely!

The verdict? Well the afternoon tea went down a treat! Even my baking got some rave reviews!

Now, quick she’s sleeping, I’m off to enjoy another warm cuppa!

 

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Post originally appeared on Tesco NI website: https://www.tasteni.com/eat-me-drink-me/belfast-travels-takes-a-tea-break-from-motherhood

Day out at Victoria Square- TGI Friday’s

Once we had explored the pop-up museum at Victoria Square,  we headed to TGI Friday’s for our lunch.

TGI Friday’s is an American diner, well known for its exclusive Jack Daniels range and, of course its cocktails, but as I had my 7 month old daughter with me, we couldn’t indulge in those!

The menu is all about big portions, big flavour – think burgers, wings, fajitas, ribs, steak!

We went straight for mains and it was the Mexican menu which caught my eye. I was torn between the Grilled Sirloin Mexi Bowl and the Blackened Chicken fajita (Cajun-spiced),  but it was the Mexi Bowl which won it for me.

The Mexi Bowl is grilled sirloin, crisp bacon, roasted corn, black beans, cherry tomatoes and pico de gallo on a bed of rice pilaf.  It is garnished with Feta cheese, Sriracha aioli, green onions, coriander and lime wedge.

I’m so glad I went for this. I love coriander (I know it divides opinion!) and it, alongside the lime, really enhanced all the gorgeous Mexican flavours for me. A winner!

My mum wanted to try a dish from the Jack Daniel’s menu I had been telling her about so she went for the Jack Daniels salmon. This is chargrilled salmon fillet served with seasonal vegetables and cheddar mashed potatoes.  Mum said she was impressed by the interesting sweet and smoky glaze.

The other two in our party decided they couldn’t resist a big burger! Go on, it’s Friday!

They both choose the ‘BBQ Burger’ which was a char-grilled burger covered with Colby cheese and Cajun-battered onion rings, and drizzled with Fridays barbecue sauce. Again they both enjoyed their meal with nothing left on the plate.

Just two of us went for dessert (of course one of them was me). I went for the Brownie Obsession while mum went for the Caramel Apple Pie.

The Brownie Obsession is a warm brownie covered in chocolate fudge sauce, vanilla ice cream, caramel sauce and chopped nuts. Seriously delicious!

The Caramel Apple Pie is a deep dish apple pie topped with warm caramel and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I tried some of her dessert and it was really good too!

Overall, I was very impressed by my lunch. I maybe had it in my head that it would be another typical American diner but I really loved both my Mexi Bowl and Brownie. A lovely way to end our day out to Victoria Square!

Disclaimer: this meal was complimentary from TGI Friday’s and Victoria Square but all views are my own

Day out at Victoria Square- Pop up museum

I’m back to work now after maternity leave but am doing a phased return so I’m off on Fridays for a few weeks.

I’ve missed getting out and about every day so I make sure I always have something planned for my days off.

Last Friday that was a trip to Victoria Square in Belfast, not just for a spot of shopping but because the complex has teamed up with National Museums Northern Ireland to host a museum!

Throughout the month of August different historical activities will be popping up around the centre including a transport zone, craft zone and games zone.

So, what’s there to do?

Old craft and skills: Different workshops every day such as lace making, wool weaving and story telling.

Discover Old Belfast: What was Belfast like before Victoria Square was there?

Belfast Street Games: What did kids do for fun in days gone by? Experience hopscotch and “What’s the time, Mr Wolf?”

Experience Transport: Celebrating the life of NI inventor Harry Ferguson, famous for the development of tractors and the Ferguson monoplane

Docks in the Dome: Explore the history of ship building in Northern Ireland whilst looking at the H&W cranes

Check out the pictures below to see what it was like!

A nice day exploring our heritage and culture, and Niamh loved getting on the old transport!

Old craft and skills- Harvest Knot making and mystery objects

Discover Old Belfast

Belfast Street Games

Experience Transport

Docks in the Dome

Oh…and some dragons!


 

 

Belfast Masterchef- who was crowned winner?

If you were asked to make your signature dish, what would it be?

That was the challenge laid down to budding chefs at the recent Belfast Masterchef competition.

Part of the Feile an Phobail festival,  this competition was open to amateur cooks across Belfast who wanted to show off their culinary skills and, of course, be crowned champion!

I was invited along to the final earlier this month at Balmoral Hotel where the five finalists had to cook in front of a live audience, and then wait anxiously as renowned judges and the hungry crowd tried out their dishes.

So who were the finalists and what did they create?

First up was West Belfast councillor Matt Garrett who made Chicken Korma with home-made naan bread. There was a lot of banter on the night as he had, apparently, used shop-bought naan in the semi-final (shock!) but I am pleased to report that the bread was definitely made live on the night. It resulted in a very strong start with delicious flavours!

Next up was Paddy Tierney, a sports journalist from Armagh, who created Beef Stifado, a traditional Greek casserole. Paddy said he was inspired by a dish he had eaten numerous times on holidays. He had received some flack for the length of time it took him to make the dish in the semi-final but thankfully it was ready on the night and we tucked into lovely, tender beef.


Third to the table was local MP Paul Maskey, a party colleague of Matt Garrett so there was fierce competition between the two! Paul went for a Balsamic Glazed Caprese chicken which was set on a bed of sweet potato. This sweetness worked very well with the balsamic vinegar- nice one Paul!


Next up was Nisha Tandon, CEO of arts organisation ArtsEkta. Nisha delighted us with a Chicken Handi which she said she learnt how to cook from her auntie. This popular chicken curry is made in a handi cooking pan. This dish was delicious, full of the aroma of Indian spices!


Last up was Belfast woman Emma Sloan who works in the Controlled Schools’ Support Council. Of course we had to end with something sweet and Emma went for Tuile baskets dipped in dark chocolate, filled with diplomats cream and raspberries. This was finished with bitter chocolate savings and fresh mint! Wow! This dish not only looked professional, but the taste was amazing!


So, now it was time to pick my favourite! I honestly couldn’t decide between Number 1 (Matt Garrett) and Number 5 (Emma Sloan). So, in the end I bought two ballot tickets which meant two votes and I went for one each! The easy way out.

Soon the votes were counted and the winners announced:

The judges’ winner was….. Emma Sloan!

The audience winner was…… Matt Garrett!

My two favourites! Always knew I had good taste.

What a great night and well done to the winners. Check out my video for all the action from the night.