Who says salads have to be boring?! One of my favourite dishes, the sexy salad comes into its own in Summer and looks as delicious as it tastes. Packed with nutritious raw veg, fruit, protein and grains in rainbow colours and crunchy textures, salads are more than just a side - and can make a meal come alive. Any of these recipes can be adapted to suit your own tastes - and don't be afraid to add prawns/ tofu/ whatever turns you on to make it a meal in itself.

PS If you decide to trial any of these recipes, do tag me on social and let me know your verdict!  @FWORDSONLINE

 Superfood Salad

Superfood Salad.jpg


  • sprouting broccoli, blanched and grilled

  • butternut squash, sliced and roasted

  • edamame beans, blanched

  • bulls blood leaves

  • shredded red cabbage

  • shredded cos lettuce

  • quinoa, cooked in veg stock

  • crispy quinoa

  • chopped mint

  • chopped parsley

  • alfa alfa cress

  • 1 tsp coconut yoghurt

  • olive oil for seasoning



  1. wash and prep all veg

  2. season broccoli and sprouting broccoli with salt & extra virgin olive oil

  3. Using grill or heavy based griddle pan, grill broccoli florets quickly until lightly marked and leave to cool at room temp

  4. assemble salad in large bowl with all the veg


Dressing: add a squeeze of lemon juice to coconut yoghurt and mix to lightly coat the salad, just before serving.


Cobb Salad with Green Goddess Dressing

Cobb salad is an American classic of chopped tomatoes, avocado, leaves and crisp bacon. This version adds blue cheese, sourdough croutons and a mouth watering green goddess dressing.


·         sourdough 1/4 loaf

·         avocado 1 small, peeled and cut into chunks

·         blue cheese 75g, crumbled

·         mini plum tomatoes 100g, quartered

·         watercress 50g, leaves only

·         smoked streaky bacon 4 slices, cooked until crisp


Green Goddess Dressing

·         spring onions 2, chopped including the green bits

·         lemon 1/2, juiced

·         mayonnaise 2 tbsp

·         basil 1/2 small bunch, chopped

·         chives 1/2 small bunch, chopped



  • STEP 1

Heat the oven to 200C/ fan 180C/gas 6.

  • STEP 2

Cut the sourdough into chunks, toss in olive oil and bake for 10-15 mins until crisp and golden.

  • STEP 3

Whizz all the dressing ingredients to a purée in a small food processor adding 2-3 tbsp water to loosen it (you want to be able to drizzle it) and season.

  • STEP 4

Arrange all the salad ingredients except the bacon in separate piles on a plate. Drizzle over the dressing and break over the bacon.


Herb, Watermelon & Rice Noodle Salad


·         rice vermicelli noodles 2 nests

·         watermelon 400g, cut into large chunks

·         bean sprouts a handful, blanched and refreshed

·         mint a bunch, leaves torn

·         Thai basil a bunch, leaves torn

·         coriander a bunch, leaves torn

·         spring onions 3, finely chopped

·         sesame seeds 1 tbsp, toasted



·         rice wine vinegar 2 tbsp

·         fish sauce 2 tbsp

·         caster sugar 1 tbsp

·         bird's-eye chilli 2, finely chopped



  • STEP 1

Cook the rice noodles following pack instructions and refresh in ice-cold water.

  • STEP 2

Drain, then put in a bowl along with the watermelon and bean sprouts.

  • STEP 3

In a separate bowl, mix together all of the dressing ingredients with 1 tbsp of water, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

  • STEP 4

Add the herbs and spring onions to the noodles and melon along with the dressing, toss well and pile onto a serving platter.


Halloumi with lemony lentils, chickpeas & beets


·         200g puy lentils

·         2 lemons

·         1 red onion, finely sliced

·         3tbsp extra virgin olive oil

·         3 tbsp capers, roughly chopped

·         400g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

·         250g cooked beetroot, cut into matchsticks

·         ½ small pack parsley, roughly chopped

·         250g halloumi, cut into 8 slices


1.     Cook lentils in a pan of boiling water for 20-25 mins or until just done. Meanwhile, squeeze the juice from one lemon into a bowl. Add the onion and scrunch together with a pinch of salt to pickle slightly. Set aside.

2.     Finely zest the remaining lemon and set aside for the halloumi. Squeeze the juice into a jam jar or jug. Add the oil with a pinch of seasoning and the capers – shake well and set aside. When the lentils are ready, drain and tip into a large serving bowl with the chickpeas. Toss with the dressing straight away, then toss through the beets, parsley, pickled onions and their juice.

3.     Heat a frying pan over a medium heat and fry the halloumi for 1-2 mins each side or until golden brown. Toss with the lemon zest, then place on top of your salad to serve.


Grilled Watermelon & Avocado salad with lime & feta



·         3 slices avocados halved, pit removed and sliced into 1/2" thick

·         1/2 large seedless watermelon sliced into 1/2" thick wedges

·         1 slices red onion sliced into 1/4 " thick

·         4 tbsp mint

·         4 oz feta cheese crumbled

·         3 tsp red hot chili pepper seeded, deveined and finely minced


·         2 tsp Dijon mustard

·         2 tsp honey

·         1/4 cup lime juice

·         1/4 cup olive oil

·         Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Preheat grill to medium high heat and lightly grease to prevent sticking.

  2. Add the watermelon, avocados and onions in batches, flipping once you see deep grill marks on each side. Remove from the grill and allow to cool to room temperature.

  3. Once cool, dice the watermelon and avocado and add to a bowl along with the onions. Season with a pinch each of salt and pepper.

  4. Meanwhile, mix together the Dijon, honey, and lime juice. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until completely emulsified and then season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the dressing over the watermelon and avocado and very gently toss.

  5. When ready to serve, garnish the salad with feta cheese, mint and chili peppers. Enjoy at room temperature.

Don't miss my favourite BBQ recipes here!

FOOD | BBQ Recipes for every guest

There's something about cooking and eating out in the fresh air that's makes me feel Summer has REALLY arrived! Whether you opt for a beachside disposable BBQ á deux or fire up the grill for a sophisticated soiree, here's how to make your Summer menu an instant hit!

Prawns, steak, burgers and sausages are a given at most barbecues, but with so many friends and family avoiding certain foods for dietary or health reasons, it's always good to have options. Here are a few of my go-to BBQ recipes to make every guest feel welcome, from vegan to gluten free!

Top tip, when cooking for guests with different dietary requirements, line the grill with foil or clean it between dishes to avoid cross contamination. You can do this by heating the empty grill at the highest temperature and letting it burn for 20 minutes / until all residue has charred, before scraping clean with a brush. I prefer to play safe and simple by using a separate disposable barbecue for anyone with a food allergy or for vegan/ veggie dishes.


Chickpea & Sweetcorn Burgers

Vegan - Chickpea & Sweetcorn Burger.jpg



·         1 x 400 g tin of chickpeas

·         1 x 340 g tin of sweetcorn

·         ½ a bunch of fresh coriander

·         ½ teaspoon paprika

·         ½ teaspoon ground coriander

·         ½ teaspoon ground cumin

·         1 lemon

·         3 heaped tablespoons plain flour , plus extra for dusting

·         rapeseed oil

·         1 small round lettuce

·         2 large ripe tomatoes

·         tomato ketchup

·         4 wholemeal burger buns



  1. Drain chickpeas and sweetcorn and tip into food processor. Add half of coriander leaves and all the stalks to the processor.

  2. Add spices, flour and a pinch of sea salt, finely grate in the lemon zest, then pulse until combined, but not smooth - you want to retain a bit of texture.

  3. On a flour-dusted surface, divide and shape the mixture into 4 equal-sized burgers, around 2cm thick. Place in fridge for 30 minutes to firm up.

  4. BBQ on grill for 10 minutes, or until golden and cooked through, turning halfway.

  5. Meanwhile, wash & dry lettuce leaves and finely slice the tomatoes.

  6. Squeeze a large dollop of ketchup onto the base of each roll (toast if you like) and top with the burgers. Layer over a couple of slices of tomato, a lettuce leaf, a few coriander leaves and finally the burger tops. Delicious served with a fresh green salad.



Halloumi Burgers


  • 250g halloumi cheese, cut into 8 thick slices

  • 1 tbsp olive oil

  • 4 brioche rolls

  • 4 tbsp hummus

  • 1 large ripe tomato, thinly sliced

  • 4 crisp lettuce leaves

  • 4 tbsp fresh tomato salsa


1.    Heat BBQ until coals are glowing white hot. Brush halloumi slices with olive oil and cook each side for 2-3 mins or until golden.

2.    Split the brioche rolls (toast briefly on both sides if you like) and spread the bottom halves with hummus. Add tomato and halloumi, finish with the lettuce and salsa and top with the other half of the roll.



If you want to keep things super simple, gluten free sausages from Corries Butchers in Promise bread rolls (Sainsbury's) go down a treat, especially with kids. For something a little more sophisticated...

Grilled Lemon Chicken with Pineapple Salsa


For the grilled chicken:

·         4 tbsp olive oil

·         2-3 lemons, juiced

·         1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce

·         2 cloves garlic, minced

·         1/2 tsp oregano

·         1/4 tsp salt

·         1/4 tsp pepper

·         4-6 skinless, boneless chicken breasts

For the pineapple salsa:

·         350g diced pineapple

·         1 red pepper, diced

·         35g diced red onion

·         1/4 cup chopped coriander

·         1 lime, juiced



1.    Whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, soy sauce, garlic, oregano, salt, and pepper.

2.    Coat chicken breasts in the marinade and refrigerate for at least 30 mins.

3.    Barbecue 6-8 minutes per side

4.    Remove chicken from grill and let it rest, tented with aluminum foil, for 5 minutes        before serving.

5.    Meanwhile, make the pineapple salsa. In a medium bowl, toss together the      pineapple, red pepper, red       onion, coriander and lime juice until well combined. (Replace pineapple with mango if preferred)

6.    Refrigerate until ready to serve.


 Buffalo Chicken with Wedged Ranch Salad

Gluten free Lemon-Garlic-Grilled-Chicken-Pineapple-Salsa.jpg


·         sea salt flakes 1 tbsp

·         soft light brown sugar 1 tbsp

·         smoked paprika 1 tsp

·         garlic granules 1 tsp

·         dried oregano 1 tsp

·         whole chicken thighs 12

·         unsalted butter 150g

·         4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

·         Tabasco sauce 125ml

·         gherkins/pickles to serve



Meat - Buffalo Chicken with wedged ranch salad.jpg

·         mayonnaise 100g

·         soured cream 100g

·         white wine vinegar 3 tbsp

·         garlic granules 1 tsp

·         Worcestershire sauce 1 tbsp

·         dill - handful, finely chopped

·         flat-leaf parsley a handful, chopped

·         iceberg lettuce 1

·         hazelnuts - handful, toasted and roughly chopped



·         STEP 1

Mix together the salt, sugar, paprika, garlic granules and oregano, put the chicken thighs into a baking dish, sprinkle over the salt-and-spice mix and rub into the chicken really well. Leave to marinate for 1-4 hours.

·         STEP 2

Heat a BBQ to medium-high with the coals banked up one side, or with one of the gas burners on high with the others off (see notes below). Put the chicken thighs, skin- side down, over the coals for 5-10 minutes or until golden and charred, then move to the indirect heat side and cook for another 35-40 minutes with a lid on, turning and moving every 5 minutes until cooked through.

·         STEP 3

Meanwhile, whisk the mayo, soured cream, white wine vinegar, garlic granules, Worcestershire sauce, herbs and some seasoning in a bowl, then chill. Wedge the lettuce and chill.

·         STEP 4

Melt the butter in a small pan, fry the chopped garlic gently for 3-4 minutes or until it smells fragrant, then tip in the Tabasco sauce. Pour out into a large bowl. When the chicken is cooked, tip into the buffalo sauce and toss really well. Serve immediately with the wedged lettuce smothered in ranch dressing and sprinkled with chopped hazelnuts, and pickles on the side.




BBQ Scallops (starter)


·         scallops 4 large, cleaned (keep the shells)

·         butter 4 tbsp

·         shallot ½, finely chopped

·         capers 2 tbsp, roughly chopped

·         lemon 1, juiced

·         flat-leaf parsley ½ a small bunch, finely chopped



·         STEP 1

Heat a barbecue or grill to medium-high. Put each scallop into a shell with 1 tbsp of butter and some seasoning.


·         STEP 2

Put onto the barbecue or under the grill for 5 minutes until lightly charred. Meanwhile, mix the shallot, capers, lemon juice and parsley, then spoon over the scallops and serve.


Smoked Trout Salad (main)

Seafood main - Smoked Trout Salad.jpg


·         golden caster sugar 2 tbsp

·         sea trout 200g fillet

·         fine salt 4 tbsp 

·         small new potatoes 300g

·         natural yogurt 4 tbsp

·         tahini 1 tbsp

·         dill chopped to make 1 tbsp, plus a little extra  

·         lemon juice 1/2 tbsp, plus more to serve 

·         extra-virgin olive oil

·         baby or Lebanese cucumbers 2, cut in half lengthways and halved across the middle

·         radishes 2, finely sliced into a bowl of ice water 

·         edible flowers to serve (optional) 



·         STEP 1

Put the trout in a dish that it fits snugly. Mix the salt and sugar to make a cure and sprinkle it on the trout. Cover with clingfilm and weight down with tins. Chill in the fridge for a couple of hours.

·         STEP 2

Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for 12-15 minutes, or until tender, then drain. Once the trout has been in the cure for a couple of hours, gently wash it under a cold tap and pat dry.

·         STEP 3

To smoke the trout and potatoes, carefully set light to the corner of an egg box and put it in the barbecue. Cover it with 2 handfuls of cherrywood or other wood chips and put the trout and potatoes on a wire rack above it. Close the lid – making sure all the vents are closed, and smoke for half an hour or so (relight if it goes out). Finish the trout in the oven at 130C/fan 110C/gas 1 for 15-18 minutes, or until it’s opaque and cooked.

·         STEP 4

Meanwhile, whisk the yogurt, tahini, dill, 1/2 tbsp lemon juice, 1 tbsp olive oil and a pinch of salt to make the dressing. Set a griddle pan over a high heat and scatter with salt. Put the cucumbers, cut-side down on the griddle and grill, turning once, until char marks appear (about 5 minutes).


With National Prosecco Day just around the corner on Monday (13 August), the Five Star Fitzwilliam Hotel’s expert mixologist James O’Donnell has shared some of the chic hotel’s most popular prosecco cocktails, so you can upgrade your favourite fizz this weekend. 

No other beverage defines the Italian philosophy of la dolce vita, or the good life, quite like prosecco; and National Prosecco Day is all about embracing the remaining days of summer and embracing life’s everyday celebrations.

If you don’t fancy yourself as a master mixologist then you can also enjoy 2 for 1 cocktails any Friday between 4pm - 7pm at the Fitzwilliam Hotel’s award winning bar. Visit for more information.


Prosecco Royale


-        25ml Crème de Cassis

-        Prosecco

-        1 Blackberry to garnish


Method: Pour the Crème de Cassis into the bottom of a prosecco flute and top up with your favourite prosecco then garnish with a blackberry floating on top.  

prosecco royale.png

Fitz Fizz


-        25ml Gin

-        15ml Elderflower liquer

-        Prosecco

-        Ice

-        Mint

-        4 Large Cucumber Slices


Method: Fill a gin goblet with ice, 3 cucumber slices and 3 whole mint leaves. Mix the gin and elderflower liqueur (or elderflower cordial) in a cocktail shaker and pour over the ice. Top up with your favourite prosecco and add sprig of mint and one slice of cucumber to garnish.


Prosecco Rossini


-        25ml Strawberry puree

-        Prosecco

-        1 Whole Strawberry


Method: Pour the strawberry puree into the bottom of a prosecco flute and top up with your favourite prosecco. Cut the stalk off the strawberry and slide the whole strawberry onto the rim of the flute to garnish. 


prosecco rossini.png

Italian 75


-        25ml Gin

-        10ml Lemon Juice

-        5ml Sugar

-        Lemon peel twist to garnish


Method: Mix the gin, lemon juice and sugar in a cocktail shaker. Pour the mixture into a prosecco flute and top up with your favourite prosecco. To create the twist to garnish your cocktail, use a peeler to peel around the circumference of the lemon and then using your hands create a spiral – the peel should hold this shape. Add to the top of the prosecco flute to garnish.

italian 75.png


As many of my regular followers and readers know, I don’t eat a lot of meat (maybe only twice a week), but when I do, it has to be local and fresh and I like to know its provenance. 

So recently I took part in a cookery challenge with NI Pork and their ambassador Andrew Smyth of Great British Bake Off fame - and when I say I took part, for full disclosure, I must admit that I joined the entrants at the beginning for canape making and a pork cooking techniques workshop with Andrew and then opted out of the actual competition as I had to get home to mummy duties… But that said, I did cook up the salad, and the Parmesan crusted pork chop recipe at home using some of the ingredients supplied by NI Pork on  the night (see all recipes below) and they were delicious! You might recall Esme Hogget’s line in the movie Babe, when she said ‘Pork is a nice sweet meat’ - and it really is, especially when enhanced by marinades and paired with great vegetable and fruit accompaniments. 

I was joined by fellow bloggers on the challenge including:  Jayne aka @lifewiththedempsters, Hama aka @indianblonde, Lynne aka @eatingideas, Zoe from @belfastlive and of course Andrew is at @cakesmyth. Check them out on Insta!   

I was joined by fellow bloggers on the challenge including: 
Jayne aka @lifewiththedempsters, Hama aka @indianblonde, Lynne aka @eatingideas, Zoe from @belfastlive and of course Andrew is at @cakesmyth. Check them out on Insta! 


The NI Pork logo on a product means that the animal has been raised locally as well as being processed here - plus, the quality is really optimal. We have some great piggeries and pork companies here, and it is always good to support local farmers. 


It turns out I was supporting local farmers before I even realised it, but in another way. I remember when I was a little girl we’d have a large bucket out the back for food scraps and wastage which ‘Billy the pig man’ would collect once a week to feed the pigs on his small farm. I remember putting cooking apple and vegetable peelings in as I helped mum prepare Sunday lunch, and breakfast toast crusts & egg shells in there on busy school mornings. My mum was so organic and green back then and I didn’t even appreciate it. I know some of you will criticise this for health & safety reasons, but I wish we had more Billy-types now instead of knowing the incredible amount of food waste that exists across Western society. One way of avoiding waste and food miles is to shop for local pork, and you can find NI Pork branded products across all Spar, Tesco and LIDL stores in NI.



 Pork Flatbreads with Mediterranean salad and minted yoghurt

Pork Fillet
Red Onions
Natural Yoghurt
Mint Marinade
Olive Oil




Mix marinade ingredients.
Slice pork into chunk.s
Pork into marinade bowl.  Mix.
Skewer pork.
Onto griddle.  4 mins each side approx.
Yoghurt – into bowl, chop mint. Mix.
Assemble – flatbread. Pork. Onion. Tomato. Yogurt.
Assemble Salad and serve.

Lemon, Basil & Parmesan Pork Chops

4 pork loin chops
Olive Oil
Bunch of Fresh Basil
4 garlic cloves, minced
50 ml lemon juice
1 cup Parmesan cheese (grated)




Mix Olive oil, basil, garlic, lemon juice and salt in a bowl.
Combine well. 
Griddle pork chops few mins each side.
Spread chops on baking tray.
Place herb mix on top of chops – sprinkle parmesan cheese   on top to cover.
Grill for 10 mins until cheese is golden brown.
Serve with salad (griddle bacon, slice avocado, assemble)

Pork medallions with pistachio crust and sauteed apples

2 slices pork tenderloin
2 tbsp pistachio nuts, shells removed, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ Bramley apple, cored, cut into 3 wedges
1 tbsp olive oil
15g/¼oz butter
100g/3½oz sweet potato, peeled and chopped


Place the pork loin between two pieces of cling film.
Flatten out the pork with a meat mallet or the end of a rolling pin, until 1cm/¼in thick.
Place the chopped pistachios onto a clean flat surface.
Press one side of the pork onto the pistachio nuts, to coat, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Heat the olive oil and butter in a frying pan, add the pork, apple wedges and the sweet potato and fry until the pork is golden-brown on the underside.
Transfer the pork to a baking tray and place into the oven to roast for five minutes, or until completely cooked through.
Meanwhile, continue frying the apples and sweet potato, until cooked through and golden brown.
To serve, place the pork in the centre of a plate with the apples and sweet potato arranged around it.



Whether you’re visiting Belfast or a local resident seeking super food in the city centre, then I’d suggest you look no further than the #IrishFlight menu which has recently launched at the traditional surroundings of The Cloth Ear in Waring Street (part of the Merchant Hotel).  The affordable menu, which pairs three small plates of the finest local produce matched with three iconic Irish tipples, costs just £15 per person and features the finest of Irish ingredients.

cloth ear.jpg

Created by head chef Ian McAdam in partnership with the flavour gurus from GUINNESS, Roe & Co. and Hop House 13, ‘The Irish Flight’ has been designed specifically for those who struggle to decide what to choose and invariably end up with food envy when plates arrive at the table. ‘The Irish Flight’ consists of three small plates each perfectly matched with carefully selected premium beers and whiskey which enhances the character and flavours of the food:


Salted smoked oxtail potato croquettes
The rich beefy taste of the oxtail is an excellent match for the rich roast character of the iconic stout.

Vegetarian Option: Chilli and olive arancini
With salty olives and smoked Scamorza cheese from Toons Bridge Dairy in Co. Cork, this dish pairs perfectly with the smooth malty texture of Guinness.


Mini brisket burger
Made from 100% pure Irish beef from Country Armagh, topped with mature cheddar from Fivemiletown Creamery. The rich flavours perfectly complement the refreshing, aromatic extracts of Hop House 13.

Vegetarian Option: Tomato, basil and roast pepper bruschetta
The fresh crispiness of the Belfast-baked sourdough base pairs exceptionally with the sweet fruity aroma of this favourite tipple.


Scotch Egg
Created with sausage meat and Cavanagh Free Range Eggs from Enniskillen, this luxurious mini bite pairs deliciously with the soft spice and warm hints of vanilla from Roe & Co.

Vegetarian Option: Panko crusted avocado
Light avocado with smoked paprika and Achill Island Sea Salt from Co. Mayo, matches superbly with the creamy textured notes of vanilla in Roe & Co.

cloth ear 2.jpg

Seeking a unique way to present ‘The Irish Flight’, this quintessential Irish bar partnered with John Piekaar, a designer and craftsman from Co. Down to create unique handmade wooden serving boards.

Head Chef Ian McAdam said: “We are lucky to have phenomenal local produce in this part of the world and I feel a personal responsibility to champion that. For the authentically Irish flavour combinations in ‘The Irish Flight’ we use only highest quality produce from Moira, Enniskillen and Hillsborough to name just a few. This is an offering that we feel will be appreciated by local food enthusiasts and appeal to the many visitors of our city who would like the opportunity to experience the best of Irish produce. Open to international influences but inspired by local ingredients, ‘The Irish Flight’ offers a modern interpretation of an Irish menu. We look forward to indulging our customers in this special collection of great tasting food paired with premium beers and Irish whiskey.” 

cloth ear 3.jpg

Speaking at the official launch event held last night, Jorge Lopes, Diageo Northern Ireland Country Director said, “We’re seeing record numbers of visitors arriving into Northern Ireland and only recently Lonely Planet named Belfast as one of the top travel destinations for 2018. This exciting new menu from The Cloth Ear offers visitors the chance to taste quality Irish produce at its best – the true taste of Ireland. We are confident that GUINNESS, much loved and known as the taste of home, coupled with the crisp and full-flavour taste of Hop House 13 Lager and the warming notes found in Roe & Co. Blended Irish Whiskey are the perfect match for this new menu. Chef McAdam has worked hard to create a selection of beautiful mini plates that will really tantalise the taste buds and compliment the rich character and flavours found in our drinks.”

This new dish compliments The Cloth Ear’s ever-expanding food offering following the recent launch of ‘The Vegan Supper Club’, another speciality menu consisting of three course vegan selection paired with a choice of vegan wine or beer.

 ‘The Irish Flight’ costing £15, is now available from 12noon until 8:45pm Monday-Saturday and 12:30pm until 8:45pm on a Sunday.

FOOD | La Cuisine Paris

Learning La Cuisine in Paris with 'La Cuisine Paris'

I'm no stranger to a cookery school it has to be said. I did a one day course at Le Foodist, Paris in 2015 and previous to that, I had had a few private chefs in my home as well as several stints at James Street South's Cookery School courses in Belfast. And, throwing it right back to 1997-98 and '99, I was a one time TV co-presenter on two series of RTE's Pot Luck programme, in which I was the on-screen assistant to various top chefs from across Ireland and beyond. On the show, I learnt knife skills and how to make a good bearnaise, a great stock and a cracking pepper sauce, among other basics - and it left me hungry (excuse the pun) for much more. So when we were booked this month into La Cuisine Paris for a half day course including a market trip, I was excited - and very ready.

Our rendezvous with the school chef was on a drizzly morning at the Marché Maubert, which takes places 3 times per week (most Parisian markets are twice a week). Paris is unique in global cities in that it has over 150 markets inside the city perimeters - and each one full of fresh produce from field, farm, sea, lake and river. We were lucky in this market to have some really great artisan food stores based on the square also - a fantastic butcher's, a wonderful boulangerie/patisserie - 'La Parisenne' - and, my favourite - the cheese shop called after its owner Laurent Dubois; which is, apparently, one of the top three fromagerie stores in all France. The counters and shelves were full to brimming with wonderful creations, some looking more like patisserie goods than cheese - except their delicious odour gave them away.

Our chef was Cyril Denis, a private chef-journalist-educator-TV chef and sake enthusiast all rolled into one. He had lived in the USA for a few years and spoke great English - he said this is almost a prerequisite of teaching at La Cuisine, given its popularity with international guests. We were given brollies and bags and set off among the stalls and shops to assess what was there and what was fresh in order to choose our menu.

Cyril moved fast and, on occasion when I found myself lingering at the back of our group of 10 or stopping for food photos, I missed info - and I wanted to take everything in, so I asked lots of questions, which, thankfully, he didn’t seem to mind.

April is the towards the end of the Brittany and Normandy scallop season, so I was pleased to see that our starter choices included some Coquilles Saint Jacques, but alas, our group didn’t vote for those and instead chose the traditional Provencal mini artichokes, known sentimentally as 'Les Petits Violets' which we would do à la Barigoule - i.e. with carrots, lardons and Paris mushrooms and olives.

For main course, the options from the market were:
i) Cornish Hen - which we'd baste with sage & tarragon butter
ii) Cod fillet (le dos de cabaillaud) - the back fillet, which is chunkier than the front fillet and more filling...
iii) A traditional south-western French maigret de canard - using the vaccum packed duck breast from a foie gras bred duck or, lastly,
iv) Pork fillet - done in rich herbs and a meaty jus.

Pudding was going to be one of the following:
i) Creme Brûlée
ii) Clafoutis a la Poire or,
iii) Creme Caramel

We had a diplomatic vote among the ten of us and, as well as the Barigoule starter, we chose the Cornish Hen main course - then we had to decide what to cook with it, roasted celeriac or a ratatouille, plus a gratin dauphinois or Pommes Boulangères.

The pear clafoutis won hands down for the pudding, and so off we set, on a 10 minute walk back to the school, which is located just behind Notre Dame. En route, we had some further titbits of local food knowledge and we learnt how what is now Chatelet Les Halles shopping centre/metro station, was once the city's mass food market. Rusgis - which is located outside Paris, serves this function these days - and to a foodie like me, hearing this story just meant I had to add a visit there to my bucket list.

Once in the school we got apron'ed up and washed down before taking to our stations and starting to cook. It was fast-paced and fun, with lots to do and so much to learn. Cyril demonstrated only once or twice for each task, then divvied up the roles and we each got to work. He helped out along the way with individual coaching around 'reading' ingredients and using taste, touch and smell to cook, as well as helping to direct students to use knives correctly, or teaching them to fold and stir the desert mix or even showing us how to use a mandoline correctly.

Without going into too much detail on how we prepared and cooked each item, we created a wonderful lunch for ourselves - my favourite part was making the herb butter with handfuls of fresh and fragrant herbs, which we got right under the hen's skin to baste it generously before roasting it. I also liked working on the Pommes de Terre Boulangères - sliced potatoes with lardons, onions and a wine reduction. I am Irish of course, so good old trusty spuds feature regularly on my staples list. Cyril's ratatouille was good - although I have my own recipe picked up in Provence from my French friend's half-Italian 'nonna' (who adds any spare Parmesan crusts she has lying in the larder for extra flavour) which is on the blog elsewhere... And I'm afraid to sound boastful or arrogant but my own handed-down recipe is better - in my opinion.

Cyril also showed us a cool way to make a bouquet garni using a spare leek leaf - and we added this to the ratatouille and to the starter dish.

Once the food was cooked (and the timing was impeccable for all dishes), we moved 'a table' and after inhaling the delicious aromas for 3 hours, we finally got to taste the fruits of our labour. It was worth it! The table chatter was fun and convivial. Cyril talked more about food and we asked lots of questions among us all. Wine helped the lunch slip down well and the company was great.

As a cheese lover, I adored the cheese course, which we had zero input into, of course. Between Cyril and the guys at Laurent Dubois fromagerie we ended up with two amazing cheeses in the form of Saint Nectar and Sainte Maure de Tourren. One a goat's cheese and the other, a cow's milk, harder cheese which were both delicious.  I really felt like singing an old song I'd learnt in France as a 15 year old exchange student 'J'ai bien mange, j'ai bien bu, j'ai la peau du ventre, bien tendue!' - which basically means, I'm stuffed!

All in all, the course was a fantastic way to spend a morning in Paris and I would highly recommend! And, as an aside to the food element of this review, I have to point out here that this is a great thing to do as a couple - 'couples who cook together...' and all that. There were 2 other couples on the course besides us, two Chicago sisters and their respective husbands, then one mum & daughter (who were great fun) from Atlanta, Georgia, and then two single girls travelling in Paris - a lovely Moscovite mamma called Anastasia who extended a business trip to include the course as a bit of 'me time' away from her kids; and lastly, a quiet Jersey girl called Emily.
Like Anastasia and Emily, I'd not be afraid to do this alone either - and would love to do it as a bonding exercise with my daughter when she's older, or even my sister if she ever got time away from her job-kids-house cycle. My point is, I suppose, that whatever your circumstances, this is a great thing to do and, like many things in life, you get out of it what you put in...

Next stop Nevin Maguire's course at McNean's In Blacklion (a stone's throw from where my mother grew up) and maybe a course with Rachel or Darina Allen down at Ballymaloe (if we can ever actually get a place!)...

For more info on courses and tours offered by La Cuisine Paris, log onto their website at: Our course costs 160 euro per person.

FOOD | Storrs Hall Restaurant, Bowness, Lake Windemere

After a dawn start and a cold day in walking boots and sports gear we got dressed for dinner and came down from our bedroom to a lovely dining room (not super stuffy formal, just nice with white table linen and good glassware) and loved our meal from start to finish...


We opted out of the ten course tasting menu, but between extra amuse-bouches and other inter-course delights we weren’t far off ten courses anyway, and each one was, in its own way, just perfect with excellently paired flavours and food combinations rarely found outside a Michelin-starred restaurant.


The Scottish Maitre d' (didn’t get his name) deserves a special mention... His service was amazing... The knowledge he imparted was fantastic and he was friendly without being too familiar... I loved how he suggested a glass of Banyuls over a Port for my cheese board (which, by the way, was a choice I will always make from hereon in) and how he talked us through each dish without patrimony nor familiarity and involved himself as much as he thought our interest allowed (we were very interested in most ingredients and cooking techniques it is fair to say!)... He didn't push the tasting menu on us like some fine dining places do - and nor did he push big wines. The food itself was excellent - really Michelin-worthy & a real gourmet treat. This is definitely a place for foodies and gourmands. 


Aside from the restaurant,  we loved the receptionist and the fire in the hall. Our only negative point would be that the hotel needs a good lick of paint to the exterior, but that didn't affect our stay whatsoever...


My partner and I stopped off in Harrogate after a snowy drive from Bowness in the Lake District across the dales and through the mountains. We were en route to York and found this place via a search on Trip Advisor and although it was a teeny bit tricky to locate (it was Sunday and the shop entrance was closed so we found the small entrance beside the phone box on Oxford Street after a phone call to the venue), and it was bloomin' lovely! 


The staff members were super friendly and welcoming... The décor simple and farmhouse-y (which was the overall theme, in fact there was a lovely back story on the table mats - although I would love to know what became of the owner's mum) and the food, well, it was just awesome. 

I had the roasted whole poussin & my other half, the roast beef with Yorkshire puddings and all the trimmings. We weren't disappointed. The roasted root veg were great, almost honey-like in their sweetness, you could taste the purity in flavour and the provenance was obviously local and organic too. The Yorkshire puddings were massive and perfectly puffed. The wines were all organic and really flavoursome. 

All in all I would give an 8/10; and the 2 points off are only because I like a softer seat when I am eating - so I am being super fussy and maybe unkind as I wasn't uncomfortable at all. And the theme was, as I said, farmhouse kitchen - and most farmhouse kitchen chairs are wooden and hard of course... 

In short - our overall rating was... 

Food = 10/10, staff 10/10, atmosphere the same :-) 

Well done team. A lovely simple and wholesome meal.



Anyone who knows me knows that I am a true Francophone-Francophile and, having studied, lived and worked there in the past, I could easily up sticks and move there again anytime if finances and circumstance ever allowed it. Aside from the great art, weather, landscapes and architecture, (oh, and handsome men!), one of my true loves is the country’s food.

The recent UK shortage of courgettes and aubergines has made me realise just how often I use these trusty Provençal vegetable staples, and I missed my regular ratatouille for a while there.

I have made ratatouille for many friends and family over the years - and I am astounded at how people assume it is difficult or complicated to make, when nothing could be further from the truth! It’s a big old peasant pot of wonder - and so full of goodness, as well as being 100% vegan and fantastically paleo, (until you add my extra ingredient of a chunk of cheese) without having to try. Men in my past (and present!) have initially turned their carnivorous noses up at it when I offer it as a dish in its entirety, served with cheese and baguette or just with some Puy lentils; but once tasted, you learn that this dish can be the bride and not always the bridesmaid, on the dinner plate. (It is also, however, exceedingly good with fish or meat it must be said).

I learnt my recipe from the half-Italian grandma of an Aixoise friend when I studied Sciences-Po at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Aix-en-Provence and I have decided to share it here once and for all, to counter any future typing up and emailing off the details to friends after they’ve been for supper, or I’ve brought it along to a BBQ or party.

NB - please note, if you’re a baker and work on exact portion sizes for cooking, this recipe is not for you. I cook with my eyes, nose and mouth - as well as my hands, so the ingredients and the proportions are all about what feels, smells, looks and tastes right to me.

The ingredients required are more or less as follows:
2 x large aubergines
2 x large courgettes
1 x red, 1 x yellow and 1 x green pepper (or orange, whatever colour is fresh and on sale)
2 x large onions
3-4 cloves of garlic
A punnet or two of fresh and quite ripe tomatoes - or 2 x tins of as good a tin of tomatoes as you can find.
A teaspoon (or more) of dried Herbes de Provence if you don’t have fresh rosemary, thyme, and oregano
*Nonna’s extra ingredient is to add any parmesan cheese rinds or leftover bits of cheddar/Manchego or whatever tasty cheese you have lying in the larder.  And believe me, it does make a delightful difference, albeit a sway away from the purists’ recipes.

Basically, the key here is to chop and drop. You chop the vegetables (I would suggest that you do them in the above order) and put them into a large pot with a good dose of olive oil and about half of that of water. As aubergines are more or less like sponges, it may surprise you just how much oil you need, but I would say maybe 20ml at least and add as you stir to avoid any sticking to the pot, especially the sides of the pot. But don’t add too much though, as the excess oil will sit on the top (it’s lovely mopped up with fresh bread if you do make that mistake, however.)

Another mistake that people make is to add mushrooms. These are definitely not on the shopping list of any good Provençal maman that I know.  The texture doesn’t complement the other vegetables at all in my opinion…

Please note that you don’t have to chop everything all together  and then pop them in, because the time it takes to chop the courgettes will be enough time needed to let the aubergines enjoy the pot on their own for a bit, and so on. When it comes to the peppers, I tend to pop the stalk inside the fruit then pull them open with my hands, removing the white flesh and the seeds and just tearing them into rough pieces as opposed to measured chopping. Remember this is a peasant dish and isn’t supposed to be perfect, even if I have tasted and seen some pretty amazing Michelin-star versions of the dish which look like masterpieces.

Keep the pot on a low-ish heat once everything is in there and simmer for about an hour, adding the dried herbs before the hour long simmer, or if you’re using fresh herbs, then add these towards the end of the simmer.  

Add the cheese, if you wish, around now too, once the main cooking is done, then turn everything off and put the pot lid on - the vegetables will continue to stew beautifully and the aubergine will have all but disappeared to give a great texture to the soupy casserole.

If it’s cool enough, leave the pot out and enjoy this dish much later on, when the flavours have merged further.

Personally I prefer to make this a day before as it is a great ‘second day’ dish (like some mums’ lasagne, or other mums’ stews). It can be eaten cold, but I prefer it warm and with Puy lentils for a super-filling, healthy dish. Be warned though, between the lentils and the 100% veg content, you may bloat a little afterwards, but believe me, you should have the flattest tummy everthe next morning as this is wonderful stuff for the metabolism and gut health in general.

If you have kids who claim to not like vegetables or who don’t/won’t eat their veg, then pureeing some of this up and serving with pasta and grated cheese is a good way to get some vegetables and vitamins into them. My daughter absolutely loves it with pasta and also gorges on it with Puy lentils too. The pureed version also makes a great soup too, if you’re cooking for someone who prefers a bit less obvious roughage.

Bon appetit!

FITNESS | Too sweet to be true? The low down on sugar myths

When it comes to sugar, what you don’t know can really hurt you. Kill you in fact. And in my opinion - we are consuming it at unknowingly harmful and alarming rates similar to the way in which our parents’ and grandparents’ generations consumed tobacco products. There is an obesity epidemic across the Western World, and here in Europe (especially in the UK & Ireland) we are only slightly better offthan in the world sugar capital country of the USA, where 2 out of every 3 people are overweight or obese. That is bonkers, really bonkers! But sugar isn’t just killing overweight people, a recent crunching of government health statistics found that 1 in 5 American adults of normal weight were pre-diabetic, that is, had elevated blood sugar. That’s the classic “skinny fat” syndrome.

With the food lobbies working together to hide much of the information on sugar levels in our food, it is easy to ‘stick it to the man’ and blame the food companies for proffering all those sweet and fatty foods that we eat. And we are right to do that - why on earth should we allow companies to strip original food ingredients of all nutrients and process it beyond belief in the name of shelf life (AKA profit)? But people, don’t exclusively blame others - please exert some self-control - and arm yourselves with information! Knowledge = power. And greater knowledge helps willpower!

Here are some myths often associated with sugar - and some views from Dr Frank Lipman (with the odd one of my own thrown in for good measure) on the realities. I am passionate about sugar and try as much as possible to eliminate it from my daily food intake - but with my chocolate addiction I know my 3pm daily bar is way more than I need. And I am quite a healthy person - when I see what my friends, colleagues and family eat in terms of sugar, it makes me realise even more that I need to work to sustain a manageable level for my body’s health, and that of my daughter.

No doubt this will not be my last blog on sugar - there is so much to say!

MYTH #1: To avoid sugar, just read the label.

THE REALITY: Labels benefit the manufacturer, not you.

By law, most foods (with the exception of fruits, veggies, and prepared foods) come with a label that lists their ingredients and nutritional stats. In theory, the labels should make sugar pretty easy to find, but in reality, much of the sweet stuff is “hidden” sugar, buried in the ingredients list and hidden in a pile of technical terms no layman could easily identify. One way of identifying some sugars (but not all) is to look for words ending in -ose. They are usually sugars.

Confused by the ingredients list, your next stop may be the nutrition “facts” list. There you’ll find a very rough estimate of how much sugar is contained in a portion. Where it gets tricky, though, is with portion size: By listing abnormally small portion sizes, the manufacturers can make the sugar counts appear less fearsome, fooling you into thinking you’re eating less sugar. So, that quarter-cup of tomato sauce (who has ever eaten a quarter-cup of tomato sauce?) with 8g of sugar will more likely wind up being closer to 20g by meal’s end. Look out for the per 100g measurement and use that all the time (checking the size of the food pack and/or how much you’re actually using to give you the full multiplier effect). It gets even worse when the sauce is poured over pasta, which is a simple starch that quickly breaks down to glucose in the blood—in short, even more sugar.

BOTTOM LINE: Take every label with a huge grain of salt, (metaphorically of course!) and know what your average portion size looks like on the plate—chances are, yours will be considerably larger than the manufacturer’s. But the absolute best way to avoid hidden sugar? Stick to a whole-foods-based diet and kick processed foods—aka, anything with a nutrition label—to the curb.

MYTH #2: Artificial sweeteners in moderation are fine.

THE REALITY: Artificial sweeteners make cravings worse!

When patients are overly attached to their artificial sweeteners, it’s often a challenge getting them to part with those sweet little packets. They think it cruel and unusual punishment, and in the early stages of a sweet stuff breakup, it can be challenging. Trouble is, sweet begets sweets. Artificial sweeteners can make you feel hungry and actually eat more—and they dull our taste for naturally sweet foods. It’s the definition of the vicious circle. Add to that, the fact that they don’t help with weight loss and don’t taste good either. So dumping the stuff once and for all seems like the sanest route, difficult as it may be in the short term. Cold turkey, people! 

THE BOTTOM LINE: The less sweetness the better. If you eliminate all types of artificial sweeteners from your life, you’ll help liberate your body from the tyranny of sugar in its many forms. In their place, swap in naturally sweet-tasting spices like cinnamon, vanilla, allspice, cardamom, caraway, and nutmeg to support health with tasty, medicinal effects. Get used to drinking your coffee and tea without added sweeteners. If you’re going to indulge, try whole leaf, raw stevia — a small amount packs a big punch.

MYTH #3: Managing diabetes is all about going on a low-fat diet.

THE REALITY: It’s really about sugar and carbs – particularly the processed ones.

The US government is still peddling the low-fat diet as the best defence against high blood sugar and diabetes. Boy, are they out to lunch! The real culprits are carbs, in particular the ones that come in the concentrated form of added sugar or in grain-based processed foods, like bread and pasta, that readily break down to sugar in the system. While losing weight is an excellent way to fight back against high blood sugar, being normal weight doesn’t mean you have a blank check to consume as much sugar and as many carb-rich foods as you like. Even though these adults aren’t eating too many calories, their systems can’t handle the amount of sugar and carbs hiding in plain sight on their plates. They are candidates for the ‘skinny fat’ phenomenon.

BOTTOM LINE: To keep blood sugar in check, cut carbs to the bone (especially the fast-digesting ones), and lose the added sugar. Get moving, keep moving, and drop the excess weight to keep metabolism humming and protect against Type 2 diabetes. And if you’ve crossed the diabetes line, know that you can cross back to the healthy side by following the same low carb diet.