Snow Days and Sort-of Bruschetta

As you may have heard on the news (or noticed by looking out the window!), the UK is currently enjoying typical balmy springtime weather. Not. Belfast is currently being blown away by crazy winds and hiding under a foot or two of snow – which mightn’t sound too awful, but almost all our electricity sources are above ground, and the aforementionned crazy winds are playing havoc with our lecky system and a lot of the city is without power.

My dad and I were lucky enough to have the day off work yesterday, and my mum was even luckier to have been granted a snow day, so the whole fam were enjoying the day being snuggled up under copious blankets and drinking countless cups of tea. I was feeling very lazy and, come lunchtime, felt an assembly-job, rather than a gourmet meal, was in order. So I produced this little belter, which is just continental enough to make Belfastian unfortunates who are also snowed into their domiciles feel better. Close your eyes, take a bite and think of Sicilian sun. Aaaah, much better!


Sort-of Bruschetta

Serves three hungry hermits

  • One bake-at-home ciabatta loaf
  • 2-3 tbsp basil pesto
  • 6 slices Italian ham (I used prosciutto but choose what you like)
  • 2 salad tomatoes
  • 1 ball mozzarella

1. Bake your loaf according to the instructions on the packet and leave to cool slightly. Preheat the grill to 200⁰C while you assemble your bruschetta.

2. Slice the bread in six and set flat. Spread the pesto on each slice, then pop on the ham. Slice the tomatoes and mozzarella and top the bread with them, with the cheese on top.

3. Place the slices on a baking sheet and grill for 5mins or so, until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

4. Munch away and think of summer.





Steak and Guinness Pie

A few weeks ago, the boyf and I made our second weekend trip ever to Dublin. The first time, we got a Groupon to stay in a village called Leixlip, which is very quaint and about 20mins outside the city centre. We discovered when we were there that Leixlip is the hometown of Arthur Guinness, who, everyone knows, created the delicious beverage and gave it his name.

Now, I have a confession to make; I never liked Guinness. This might make me a bad Irishwoman, but there you have it. I like my beer girly and golden, preferably Spanish and with a wedge of lime stuck in the top of the bottle to make every sip zesty-fresh. So when, during our more recent second trip to Dublin, I suggested to the boyf that we visit the Guinness storehouse, he (and a small part of myself) thought I had taken leave of my senses.

“You do realise that all you do is learn about and drink Guinness when you go there?” he said to me, a look of confused incredulity on his face.

“Yes, but you can have my pint,” I said blithely, and off we trotted, happy in our touristy cliché.

To cut a long story short, I now LOVE Guinness, and feel justified, after four hours wandering awed-ly around the storehouse and quaffing several pints, in proclaiming that the boyf and I are now Guinness connoisseurs.

When we got back, I decided to incorporate my new favourite tipple into my cuisine. And so, just a little late for St Patrick’s Day, but nevertheless excellent, my post today is another savoury one, and the first of a few Guinness-inspired recipes.

Steak and Guinness Pie

(serves four)

For the pastry

  • 300g plain flour
  • 150g cold butter
  • pinch salt
  • 4-5tbsp cold water

For the filling

  • 500g diced beef or stewing steak
  • 2tbsp butter
  • 2tbsp plain flour
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 can Guinness (I used draught, but feel free to use extra stout for a more punchy flavour)
  • 1 beef stock cube
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten, to glaze
  • 1tbsp cornflour
  • water

You will also need a 24cm pie dish; I used this one.

1. Start off by chopping the onions and frying them in butter, in a casserole over medium heat. While they’re cooking, dust the steak with flour and shake off any excess. When the onions are soft and transparent, add the steak and brown all over.

2. Next, add the garlic and carrots and sauté for a minute or so. Pour in the Guinness (yes, the whole can!), crumble in the stock cube and add the rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper. Bring it to the boil, then lower the heat, cover and simmer gently for 45 minutes, until the carrots are soft and the steak is cooked through and tender. Add a few drops of water to the cornflour, enough to dissolve it and create a smooth mix, then pour into the filling and simmer for another 5mins, until the gravy is rich and thick. Set aside to cool slightly.

3. While the filling is cooling, make your pastry. Dice the butter and combine it with the flour and salt in a food processor. Blitz until you have a sandy mixture, then, with the processor still running, slowly add your water until the pastry begins to come together. Remove and work into a ball with your hands, then divide in half.

4. Now, preheat the oven to 180⁰C. Flour your work surface and roll out each half of the pastry until about 3mm thick, then line your pie dish with one half and trim the excess. Brush the pastry with beaten egg (this stops a soggy bottom – thanks, Mary Berry!), then add your steak-and-Guinness filling. Brush the edge of your pastry with egg, then top with the other half. Press the top and bottom edges of the pastry together, then trim the excess. You can use a fork to press the edges together more thoroughly and leave a pretty pattern!

5. Brush the top with egg and slice a hole (or few) into the top to allow steam to escape. You can use any excess pastry to create pretty decorations for the top – just remember to brush them with egg after! Pop your beautiful pie in the centre of the oven and bake for 30-40mins, until the pastry is golden brown and the filling piping hot. Serve with mash and peas, and – of course – a pint of the black stuff to wash it down!


Pollo Alla Pinot Grigio

In hindsight, the title of this blog is a bit inaccurate. I should have called it, “Bake AND Cook in Belfast”, since, if I’m honest, I prefer cooking to baking. I feel slightly ashamed to admit this, but it is a sad truth. Baking is much more precise and scientific than cooking, and I was never much of a scientist; I feel my chosen subject area – modern languages – is much more suited to cooking than baking.

I learned how to cook when I was living in France; I spent eight months in the Centre region as part of my degree, and was fascinated by the French attitude towards cooking. My colleagues kindly invited me to dinner at their houses on a number of occassions, and made everything look so effortless; one lady whipped up an INCREDIBLE chocolate mousse for dessert in five minutes flat, casually informing me, “pas de souci” (loosely translated as, “no worries!”), when I exclaimed over her culinary skills. Every meal had three courses, with wine to match each one, and they casually tore bits of bread off a loaf and munched them down with gusto throughout the evening. And nobody was stressed! The meals all lasted about three hours (I was never home before midnight when I went to someone’s house), and the wives meandered around the kitchen, making casseroles or soups or assembling cheese boards while the husbands chose the wine and carved the meat.

I was in awe. I longed to be like these women; I longed to be French. Or Nigella Lawson.

Nigella is the other reason why I love to cook. She is a true Domestic Goddess. And, burkini aside, I think she is amazing. She, like my French colleagues, makes entertaining effortless, and I hope, one day, to be as casually cool as she is while making dinner for endless friends every Friday night after a 40-hour week.

(I realise this isn’t how Nigella really spends her time, but still, a girl can dream).

So, for my last soiree with the boyf, I decided to channel Nigella, but put an Italian twist on things, just to mix it up a bit!


Pollo alla Pinot Grigio

(serves 6; adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Coq au Riesling)

  • 12 skin-on chicken thighs on the bone
  • 175g pancetta
  • 1 leek, finely chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 300g button mushrooms
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 bottle (750ml) pinot grigio
  • salt and pepper
  • tagliatelle, to serve


1. In a casserole, fry the pancetta over medium heat; once they begin to crisp up and release yummy fat, pop in your chicken thighs, skin side down (you may need to do this in batches). Brown the thighs to get the skin nice and crispy, then take them out of the casserole and set to one side.

2. Add the leek and onion and fry with the pancetta until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and fry for one minute.

3. Pop in your carrots and mushrooms, then add your chicken thighs, bay leaves and the wine. Season well with salt and pepper, cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Serve with tagliatelle, or your favourite pasta.