The anatomy of a real Ham

The modern word “ham” is derived from the Old English ham or hom meaning the hollow or bend of the knee. From the 15th century it began to be referred to as the cut of pork derived from the hind leg of a pig. For years we have been consuming this cut of meat and most popularly and in recent times as part of the sandwich.

I began my quest to find out more…..The Chinese call the pork belly cut as having “5 levels of heaven”. Our fresh Northern Irish ham arguably has four, these being the outer layer of creamy fat, then the three muscles being topside, shank and silverside. These layers were pointed out by the master butcher from The Brady Family at the recent Tesco Taste Festival.

I was also explained that each proper ham is made from one leg which has been cured for three days, slow cooked for 12 hours, rested and then packed and dispatched. This gives the unique moist, succulent, fully flavoured ham. I was presented with pre packaged ham pieces and my favourite, 5 thick slices of ham wrapped in parchment paper.

These slices made me the best ham sandwiches I’ve ever had.

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Hearty meal

As the nights are getting longer and it’s getting colder I decided to make a meal befitting the season.

I oven cooked a scrumptious chicken bake from Cloughbane and a stuffing loaf from TS Foods. The bake and loaf I got from Tesco NI Taste Fest, these can be bought from Tesco NI stores.

The loaf took longer to cook in the oven compared with the bake and when both were cooked they looked appetising. I served them with oven baked mushrooms and a side salad.

The bake and loaf fed 4 (my wife and two kids and I) of us and all four of us thoroughly enjoyed the firm, meaty and well seasoned loaf which complimented the creamy bake, which had generous amounts of chicken and carrots and a delightful crumbly crust.

Definitely worth a trip to Tesco to pick these products up!!

Delicious Doherty’s sausages and white pudding

I was at the #TescoTasteNI festival yesterday and visited the Doherty’s stand. I got to try the sausages and must say they were delicious.

I got a pack of the new Doherty’s Pork sausages (old Irish recipe,454g) and a white pudding (200g).

My two daughters are white pudding converts and so I made a brunch of sausages, white pudding, mushroom and scrambled egg. Suffice to say this was duly gobbled down!!! We had to leave two sausages for my wife (she wanted sausage sandwiches!!).

The sausages and white pudding cooked perfectly in a little drop of Rapeseed oil and slowly!!

These Doherty products are available in all Tesco NI stores.

Winterfell Festival (Game of Thrones)

I visited this fantastic Winterfell Festival at Castle Ward. My 10 and 6 year old daughters accompanied me….and they kept on asking me what is the festival about and what could they do. It’s bit tricky enthusing about Game Of Thrones to young kids!!!

As soon as we arrived we were met by birds of prey (which were fantastic and kids loved) and different medieval weapons, period characters and locally produced honey!!

We then toured the fabulous House and saw some superb architecture and decor.

After a thoroughly enjoyable tour we left the house and had pics taken replicating the Stark Family picture, visited the GOT shop, saw some strange musicians and watched some hair braiding.

The next few stalls demonstrated lost or rare arts such as weaving out of willow, blacksmiths, arrow and bow maker, candle makers-girls made S candle each and old musical instruments-by the way did you know the Harp came from Wales!!

For me, a fan of GOT, the next bit was my pinnacle!! The first series of GOT was filmed predominantly here (80%). Westeros and Winterfell are based here and our guide for the White Walker Trail duly obliged and told us all about the filming of the first series, buildings used, scenes they represented and use of CGI.

On our tour we bumped into a White Walker!! Then it was back to the village and a visit to the tower.

The whole estate was transformed into a trail with quaint wooden signs.

We had built up quite an appetite so we tried the venison casserole by The Cuan which was delicious!! My girls had freshly made chicken goujons and chips and sausage and chips from The Hatch and then I had the Hog Roast Bap from Forthill Farm. For me this was the best hog roast I’ve had. I was amazed to learn that the fat is healthy and that it contains high levels of good fat ie Onega 3 oils!!!

Suffice to say we had an amazing day, walked lots, learned loads and ate well. A big thanks to Alicia for arranging!!

Planet Fun Belfast

Europe’s Largest portable theme park has well and truly landed at S13 on the Boucher Road (formerly the B&Q).

This years Planet Fun runs from Friday 7th September until Sunday 23rd September.

Today we (my wife, two daughters, one of their friends, my sister and her kids and other friends and kids!!!!) tried out all and I mean ALL the rides!!!

From adrenaline fuelled dare devil rides to the traditional and classic ones, we tested them out. My 6 year old handled them well, but my wife was too shy to try!!

Check out the views from the rides in motion below!!

These were all outdoor and indoor there were loads more. Again some real adrenaline junkie rides, kiddies rides and bouncy castle also good old dodgems or “bumper cars”.

There were also stalls where prizes could be won and food stalls although it’s really not advisable to eat and then ride….for obvious reasons!! The best value would have to be buying wristbands which enable unlimited rides, but pay as you ride also available!!! There’s plenty for all the family to see and do!! So make a bee line for Planet Fun.

Special thanks to Michelle for organising our visit!!

24 hours in Portaferry

On Tuesday a group of budding explorers set off from Belfast and our destination was Portaferry.

This is an amazing part of Northern Ireland, about 45 minutes from Belfast and steeped in history. Our base and first stop was the family run The Portaferry Hôtel.

Mary and Cathal have brought a real homely and family feel to this splendid, quaint, compact and nautically themed hotel. On arrival we checked into our well manicured rooms and then congregated in the bar for coffee and freshly baked scones, butter, jam and cream!!

First stop on our whistle stop tour of the Ards Peninsula was the recently refurbished Explores Aquarium which is owned by Kieran and Edel Quinn who also own the Crumlin Road Gaol.

This is a small and very compact aquarium and our guide Pete was a font of knowledge. He explained all about the locally found sea life and then the exotic ranging from clown fish to crocodiles.

This is a great spot for young and old alike!! Also can avail of snacks, refreshments, food and an alcoholic beverage or two!!

We then had a short Ferry Ride from Portaferry to Strangford to lunch at The Lobster Pot which is owned by Steven

Kilgore and run by David Kennedy.

This is a brilliant seafood restaurant but alas we got to eat an assortment of sandwiches and carrot and tomato soup, which was unbelievably delicious!! There sports a homage to Game of Thrones here also!!

From here we ferried back to Portaferry and next stop was Portico.

Now I must admit I had never heard of this place before and was truly amazed at what we saw and experienced. The building itself is listed and was built based on an ancient Greek edifice. It is now a concert, marriage and worship venue. The curator, Verity, showed us around and personally I was amazed by the £280 thousand refurbished organ and the audio visual set up…. I shall definitely attend a concert here!!

The next destination is a truly remarkable one….The Ecklinville Distillery.

For lovers of Jawbox Gin this is the Mecca. Here they also make Echlinville Gin, Poitin and Dunville whiskey as well as the Feckin range of spirits.

We were shown round by Norma, who really knew her stuff!! Interestingly the owner started this venture as his “pension pot” and it has grown rapidly. His first business is in Belfast and his hobby is tank collecting (we saw a number in the shed) and he also wants to make a tank park in the grounds.

Suffice to say there was some sampling and a wee drinking game also!!

We then bussed it to The National Trust Kearney Village.

This homestead is rather unique in that on can buy or rent property off The National Trust and can enjoy the estate and the amazing sea views and landscape which are a geologists paradise!

After savouring the sea views it was back to Portaferry and into the hands of Brendan at the local Butchers B Arthurs for a masterclass in sausage making. Brendan is some character and he made the whole experience very memorable. He showed us how to grind the pork belly twice, add the rusk and spice and the extrude it into sheep casing from New Zealand, before twisting and packing the sausages….some of us even had a go at making sausages!

By now we were all rather famished, so back to the Hotel to freshen up, have an aperitif or two and then on to a superb dinner. For starters I had a smoked salmon and tried a few mussels. This was served with freshly baked bread and butter.

For mains I went for well done duck breast with potato fondant, fresh vegetables, chips and sautéed garlic new potatoes. The duck was just how I liked it, potatoes (3 types) all cooked as they should be and vegetables complimented it well. Dessert was my child hood favourite of bread and butter pudding which was creamy and delicious. The others had lobster salad, beef, veggie and all raved about it. The staff were superb and very helpful and the ambience was perfect.

We then went to the local pub Dumigans for some traditional music and “craic”. The musicians played the fiddle, flute, whistle and bodran and were brilliant. The fun then moved back to the hotel bar and into the wee hours of the morning.

For breakfast there was cereal and juice, tea and coffee and a choice of cooked breakfasts. The star of the brekkie was the Full Irish Breakfast which starred the locally made and meaty pork sausages, although others opted for Eggs Benedict and toast!!

After checking out we were presented with a few wee gifts. Wheaten bread and a bag from the hotel (bread is amazing), gifts from Exploris (my kids love), A large gin glass and a miniature of Echinville Gin and a cooler bag with sausages, which I subsequently cooked up for my family and we all loved immensely.

Then Alas our bus back and the end of a very good 24 hours!!

Special thanks to our guide Brigid Watson Ards Peninsula Tours who was our tour guide and explained all about the local history, Gregory our driver, all the hosts on our trip and of course Michelle for organising it. Last but not least all the guys on the trip…. you all made it extra special.