Cooking masterclass with Rachel Allen

Ballymaloe relish is a staple in our house and it’s now one of those items in the “Did you forget…?” section when I’m ordering online groceries!

I was, therefore, delighted when I got invited to a cooking masterclass with Irish celebrity chef Rachel Allen from Ballymaloe Foods.

Rachel is a famous face in the culinary word and a regular on RTE. She’s all about quick but healthy and tasty family foods, which is definitely how I’ve been cooking lately. So, I couldn’t wait!

The masterclass was at Forestside Cookery School, which is run by chef Stephen Jeffers, which I’ve been to before and is brilliant.

When we arrived I was delighted to see it wasn’t simply a demo but that we would be getting stuck in and getting our hands dirty!

First up, we made brown soda bread/ wheaten bread. I make wheaten bread now and again but this recipe was different- this time using butter, eggs and a mixture of seeds on top of my usual recipe.

Everyone was working in pairs but there must have been an odd number because I ended up having to do it all on my own- which doubled the pressure!

The recipe for the brown soda bread/ wheaten bread is: 

  • 225g whole wheat (wholemeal) flour
  • 225g all-purpose (plain) flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
  • 3 tablespoons (50g) mixed seeds, such as sesame, pumpkin, or sunflower, or golden flax seeds (linseeds) (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons (25g) butter, softened (optional)
  • 1 egg
  • 375–400ml buttermilk or soured milk
  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C).
  2. Sift together the flours, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl and mix in the seeds (if using). Add the butter (if using), and rub into the flour mixture with your fingertips until it resembles bread crumbs. Make a well in the centre.

  3. In another bowl, whisk the egg with the buttermilk and pour most of the liquid into the flour mixture. Using one hand with your fingers outstretched like a claw, bring the flour and liquid together, adding more of the buttermilk mixture, if necessary. The dough should be quite soft, but not too sticky.

  4. Turn onto a floured work surface and gently bring the dough together into a round about 1 1/2 inches (4cm) thick. Cut a deep cross on top and place on a baking sheet.

  5. Bake for 15 minutes. Turn down the heat to 400°F (200°C) and bake for 30 minutes more. When done, the loaf will sound slightly hollow when tapped on the bottom. Remove from the baking sheet and place on a wire rack to cool.

Once the bread came out of the oven, we topped it with cheese and Ballymaloe relish and it was perfect. I have a loaf home with me so I’ll be eating that over the next few days! 🙂

Next up was a take on the Mexican favourite, quesadillas.  Obviously, cheese is the main ingredient (as the name would suggest), but you can fill the quesadilla with whatever you like! For the purpose of the masterclass, we went for cheese, ham, and the Ballymaloe jalapeño relish to give it a feisty kick.

The recipe for the quesadillas is:

  • 4 x 8cm (7 inch) flour or corn tortillas
  • Salt and pepper
  • 100g Cheddar cheese, grated
  • 100g Bacon or ham, cooked and finely chopped
  • 1-2 tsp chives, chopped
  • 1-2 tsp parsley, chopped
  • Créme Fraiche or Ballymaloe jalapeño Pepper relish
  1. Lay a tortilla in an 18cm/7inch dry pan and place the grated cheese bacon, parsley and chives on it, spreading the filling evenly to within 2cm of the edges
  2. Spread a thin layer of relish over a second tortilla and place, relish side down, on top of the filling
  3. Place the pan on a low heat and fry until the quesadilla is crispy and golden on the outside and the cheese has melted in the middle
  4. Slide the quesadilla onto a chopping board and cut into wedges.

This worked really well and the relish was a lovely addition to the dish. Once we’d finished cooking, Rachel showed us how to make some family favourites, including potato salad with Ballymaloe French dressing, and a chicken and blue cheese salad with Ballymaloe cranberry sauce.

I loved the masterclass and came away inspired. Rachel kindly gifted us her cookbook and some Ballymaloe relishes and sauces, so I’ll be getting to work!

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Portglenone Sunflower Field

This week we went to visit an unbelievable sunflower field in Portglenone.

I’d seen a few pictures on social media and couldn’t believe how many sunflowers there were (175,000!) and how tall they were (the tallest reaching 7ft!) I just had to get along while they were still there.

The sunflower display, on the Gortgole Road, is attracting people from all over Northern Ireland, including Niamh and I who traveled 45 minutes from Cushendun and my in-laws who traveled 40 mins from Belfast!

The three acres of sunflowers have flourished due to the very warm weather we experienced between May and July.

Entry is £2 per adult and free for children and all proceeds are going to the family’s local chapel. There’s also an opportunity to buy sunflowers to take home with you.

I talked to the family while I was there and they are due to close the field to the public next week so make sure you get there this weekend if you don’t want to miss it!

This video of Niamh wandering through the sunflowers was picked up by Cool FM’s Facebook and it has already had 46,000 views! My wee superstar!

 

Whitehead Railway Museum

Niamh has recently started taking a interest in trains and in her ‘First Words’ book always points to the train and says “choo choo!”.

So, when I was invited along to the newly opened Whitehead Railway Museum, which would include a ride on a 100-year-old steam train, I thought we should go and see if she would enjoy being on trains, “in real life”, so to speak!

The attraction opened in October 2017 by the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland with the intention of opening up to the public some historical railway items, including and engine from 1879 and a carriage from 1911.

I’m not, by any means, an avid fan of the heritage of railway travel, but I was interested to see what the old trains looked like and the current restoration work being undertaken.

We headed down on Saturday and our first stop at the attraction was the renovated Edwardian tea rooms situated in the Station Building. We had some tea and tasty cake in the period-style cafe while watching the steam train pass by.

Once finished we only had to wait a few minutes before we were ready to board the train ourselves. The 100-year-old steam train is running every 15 minutes between 12-4pm each Saturday this summer. The locomotive is known as the 3BG Guinness as it worked at the Guinness brewery in Dublin. Niamh loved it and was in her element waving at the people on the platform!

After our train ride we then met our tour guide Colin for our hour-long tour around the museum. We heard about the history of the station, visited the Signal Box, and saw a wide range of old trains, engines and carriages (even some that we could hop on and look around.)  There is even a section where children can dress up in Victorian period-style costumes.

Niamh was too young to appreciate the tour so I think it would be better with older children, or those with an interest in trains beyond knowing what a “choo choo” is! But I enjoyed experiencing the steam train and seeing some rail history come to life! Thanks for having us!

Our day at Whitehead Railway Museum- round up video 

Tea Rooms at Whitehead Railway Museum

3BG Guinness

Signal Box

Museum Tour

Family day out to Tayto Park

Last Halloween I had my first experience of Tayto Park in County Meath. The theme park was running special Halloween-themed evenings and it was there I faced my fears and went on rides I’d been too afraid to go on before. See here for the evidence!

Therefore, when I was invited down last weekend with my family, I was intrigued to see what it was like from a very different perspective- i.e for families, with a 1-year old toddler, during the day, no ghosts or ghouls jumping out at me!

So, Barry, Niamh and I made on way down on Saturday, which incidentally was the opening weekend (due to a delayed opening because of stormy weather conditions the week before) and also the launch day of Ireland’s first driving school for kids, a joint venture with Nissan and Tayto Park.

We headed off at 7.30am and arrived at 9.00am (so a relatively short drive from Belfast) and went straight for a sneak preview of the driving school which was to open to the public later that morning. All kids enjoy a short video demo where they will learn the rules of the road before negotiating the traffic course. Now Niamh is obviously too young to drive (she’s just learnt to walk!) but she did enjoy seeing the other children whizz by and I got her in a car to get a quick snap.

We then had some breakfast in the Lodge Restaurant (there are numerous places to eat and drink around the park) before we headed out to explore what Tayto Park has to offer.

Our first stop was the zoo, home to a diverse animal collection, from chickens and goats, through to tigers and monkeys. Niamh is obsessed with animals and has already mastered quite the catalogue of animal noises so she was in her element. I think her favourite were the meerkats who popped up to say hello. There are a number of different shows such as the “World of Raptors” and the park also opens up the Farmyard petting area to visitors in the summer.

Once we’d spent an hour to two in the zoo, with Niamh shouting hello to every animal, we headed back down towards the attractions. Unfortunately Niamh was a little too small for some of the kids’ rides (you have to be 84cm) but we were aware of this before we went and had already looked up which attractions she could go on (there is a “How tall are you” sliding scale on the website. These included the traditional-style Steam Train which takes you around the park which she loved!

But, Barry and I were able to go on all the rides so we just took turns. Yes, I went on the very same rollercoaster I was scared off last time by myself! The Cú Chulainn is Europe’s largest wooden rollercoaster and reaches speeds of 100km per hour and a drop of 31 metres…gulp!

There is also a 5D cinema, extreme climbing wall, Viking Voyage water ride, as well as other attractions such as the truly scary “Rotator” (soaring 31 metres in the sky!)

We spent over 6 hours at Tayto Park and really could have spent longer had Niamh been able to go on a few more rides, so you can make a full day out of it.

The verdict? It is a totally difference experience with a toddler as I did things I hadn’t done before, like visit the zoo or go on the steam train. I loved seeing her face light up with excitement which made for a wonderful day out!

Disclaimer: We were guests of Tayto Park so received free entry, wristbands and breakfast. We paid for all other food, drinks and gifts.

Timescape Belfast- can you escape?

Locked in a room and having to figure out how to escape in just one hour? Now, does that sound exciting or slightly terrifying?!

Well, that’s what we experienced at Timescape Belfast, a new escape room where the aim of the game is to work out how to ‘get out’ before it’s too late.

Escape rooms have become huge in recent years, with players using different rhymes, puzzles and codes to work out the next move. Think a mix of ‘Crystal Maze’ and ‘The Krypton Factor.’ It requires skill, logical thinking and most importantly, team work!

The theme of this Escape Room is Titanic- the Final Hour. Can you escape before the ship sinks? It may seem somewhat of a strange theme but it isn’t crass or insensitive. It could be the inside of any ship.

I went on a Thursday night with 2 other complete novices (teams are anything between 2 and 6 people) and we were locked in the room with one clue to help us on our way.

To be honest, for about 10 minutes we didn’t know where to begin! We just kept looking around us for inspiration.

But soon, we got the hang of it and we were cracking the codes together and apart. When we were stuck, we were able to avail of some clues which popped up on the screen, but players are asked beforehand if they would like them or not in times of need.

The time starting ticking away and when it got to 50 minutes I started to panic. Can we do this?! Or are we going to fail miserably?

Thankfully, we did it! With just 4 minutes to go…..phew!

It was such good fun and really got me interested in escape rooms. It’s great craic and perfect for team building. The high score to beat when we were there was just over 30 minutes….can you do it?

Indus Valley by Safa

Last week I was invited to the relaunch of Indus Valley restaurant in Coleraine.

Indus Valley was recently taken over by Ali Askar, who owns one of Belfast’s most popular Indian restaurants Safa and is the founder of the Irish Curry Awards, so my expectations for the place were high.

We were welcomed to the restaurant with a Tanqueray Gin reception (great start!) and we had a look around the refurbished premises before it was time for dinner.

I was delighted it was a buffet so I could try lots of different dishes rather than sampling one meal.

The starters consisted of Vegetable Pakora and Poppadoms, mains included Chicken Karahi, Chicken Tikka Masala and Vegetable Bhuna, while we were served Pilau rice and Naan Bread for sides.

I did try it all and have to say, it was really delicious, particularly the Chicken Karahi. I would definitely order this as a full dish next time.  (Oh, and I went up for seconds on the Vegetable Pakora too!)

It was great to get chatting to Ali as he made his way around each table and the service was great. I had a really enjoyable night so if you’re up in Coleraine, make a point of calling in!

Harry’s Cushendall

I live in Cushendun at the weekends and always enjoy checking out the local food and drink offering in the Glens.

Last weekend we were invited to try Harry’s restaurant situated in Mill Street in the heart of Cushendall.

I had eaten in Harry’s before (last year), but was keen to try it out again as it was recently taken over by the restaurant’s chef Alistair McGregor.

Husband and wife team Alistair and Liane have been in charge for 10 months now, with a revamped menu and a new look and feel for the place.

We went for the lunch menu which is served from 12-5pm and offers a range of starters, main courses, burgers, salads and sandwiches.

The starters (priced from £4.75 to £6.50) include the Chef’s Soup of the Day, Duck spring rolls, and Hot and Spicy chicken wings.

As a cheese lover, it was the Crispy breaded brie which caught my eye, and my dish came served with a light salad and sweet and sour sauce. The warm brie oozed out once cut open – just how I like it.

The competition for the best Seafood Chowder is fierce in the Causeway Coast and Glens so Barry had to go for the Chowder served with wheaten bread. He said the Chowder, which uses local seafood, was delicious with large chunks of fish.

For mains I decided to go for a dish on the ‘Daily Specials’ board. It was the start of December and I was yet to have my first Turkey and Ham of the season.

In hindsight I didn’t need a starter as well as the Christmas dinner because gosh, was it huge! Talk about good big country portions! I couldn’t finish it, I’m ashamed to say!

Barry went for a much more sensible lunchtime offering- the colourful Harry’s open prawn salad.

Other mains include Beer battered scampi, 8oz rump steak, creamy chicken carbonara and Harry’s veggie burger with chilli jam.

We really enjoyed our lunch and the comfortable, homely setting of Harry’s. If you’re visiting the Glens over the festive period and fancy a good feed, then try out their Christmas dinner!

Crispy Breaded Brie

Seafood Chowder

Harry’s Open Prawn Salad

Turkey and Ham Christmas Dinner