Friday, June 19, 2015

A Father's Day Book & Cake


The marketing for Father's Day gifts has really upped its game in recent years. Gone are the days when socks, cufflinks or gardening shears were the only available options for Dads around the country. Nowadays you needn't worry about what gift to get Dad, as each big store has worked out a present to suit every taste. If you are still searching for that perfect gift, one I would wholeheartedly recommend for Dads, but really for all beer and cider enthusiast alike, is an Irish published book called Sláinte. It gives the most wonderful introduced to the world of Irish craft beer and cider, and it is beautiful produced and extremely informative. As well as being the ultimate guide to choosing what beers and ciders to enjoy, Sláinte goes behind the brands and shares the stories of the hard working small brewers around the country. For anyone who has the slightest interest in craft beer or cider, then this is the ideal book for them.



The authors of Sláinte are two well-known food writers, Caroline Hennessy and Kristin Jensen. Through the book they use their expertise to include the most scrumptious recipes, each of which benefit from being cooked with either beer or cider. One of my favourite recipes from the book, which I've made countless times, is the Baked Irish Brie with Red Ale Caramel and Pecans. It's a must when having a little feast with a movie! I'm thrilled to say that one of the included recipes in Sláinte is from my own book, Apron Strings. My original recipe is a chocolate cola cake but, of course, for this version the cola is substituted with porter. However, feel free to use either cola or porter, whichever you prefer. This easy-to-make cake would make the most delicious treat for celebrating Father's Day.


Sláinte is available to buy Nationwide, in most bookstores and also directly from the publisher, New Island.



Chocolate Porter Cake with Strawberries & Cream

Ingredients

250g chocolate, 60% - 70% cocoa solids
150g butter
150ml porter or stout
6 eggs
175g caster sugar

To Serve
200mls cream 
1 tsp vanilla extract
1tbsp icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
Strawberries
1 tsp cocoa powder

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/ fan 180°C/gas mark 6. Prepare a 26cm baking tin by lightly greasing the sides and placing a disk of parchment on the base.
  2. Place the chocolate, butter and porter into a medium-sized saucepan over a low heat. Stir continuously until the butter and chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth and silky. Remove from the heat.
  3. Using an electric mixer and a large bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar together for 5-7 minutes until the mixture is light and foamy.
  4. Slowly pour in the chocolate mixture and gently fold through. Pour into the prepared tin. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 30-40 minutes. The outside will be crisp with some moistness in the centre.
  5. Remove the cake from the oven and leave to cool completely in its tin on a wire rack.
  6. Softly whip the cream and then gently fold in the vanilla extract and icing sugar.
  7. Once the cake is cold, remove from the tin and place onto a serving plate. The cake may collapse in the centre or crack a little, so simply smother over the vanilla whipped cream and top with plenty of berries. Before serving dust with a little icing sugar and cocoa powder.



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In other news

My latest 'Home Nurse' column, is in this week's Irish Country Living {Farmers Journal}. I'm discussing hayfever.
Also, in this month's Easy Parenting my column and recipes are focused on family-friendly summer dishes. It's in shops now.
Apron Strings is available to buy in shops nationwide, but it is currently for sale for €15 from New Island

Have a great weekend.

Nessa x

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Using up the last of the Rhubarb


Rhubarb is generally first to peep its head from the soil in my garden, and after a winter long fruit-free season the rhubarb is rightfully met with a wondrous welcome. Rhubarb is perfectly suited to Irish soil and it is terribly easy to grow. I’d urge any rhubarb fans to plant a few stalks. You won’t get to use it this year, but you will reap the benefits from these few stalks for many years to come. Our rhubarb season will soon be coming to an end, but I, for one, am still celebrating its deliciousness, by including it in our diet as many ways as possible. I recently made my first batch of rhubarb chutney. Though it won't be at its peak of flavour for a few months to come, I was rather impressed with how suitable an ingredient it was for a savory preserve. The element of tartness from the rhubarb allows it to match quite well with a chunk of strong cheddar. My yearly stash of rhubarb jam is also made and stored away for slathering over some brown bread, scones or as a filler for a nice cream sponge. That's the thing with rhubarb; it's just so versatile.


The recipe I'm sharing with you today is one that evolved from a simple pot of stewed rhubarb, which was intended to be paired with some custard, but upon finding a pot of cream in the fridge it took a little turn and developed into a rhubarb fool. To serve, I simply popped it into serving bowls and sprinkled over crushed gingernuts, but for a fancier option, layer the fool along with the crushed gingernuts into a cocktail glass, chill in fridge and dust with some icing sugar just before serving. Whatever way it is served, it makes a very tasty, seasonal dessert.


Rhubarb & Vanilla Fool with a Gingernut Crunch

serves 4
250g rhubarb, sliced
75g granulated sugar
25mls water
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
80mls cream
1 tsp icing sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
75g gingernut biscuits

Method
  1. Place the rhubarb, sugar and water into a small saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir through 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Transfer to a bowl and allow to cool completely.
  2. In a large bowl, gently whip the cream and fold in the icing sugar and vanilla extract. Add the cooled stewed rhubarb and stir to combine. Transfer into four serving bowls.
  3. Place the gingernuts into a small plastic freezer bag and with a rolling pin give it a few whacks until they are crushed. Divide the crushed gingernuts between the four bowls of fool. Top with a mint leaf and dust with a little icing sugar.


Friday, May 8, 2015

Ballyboy's Beautiful Cookbook



A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the launch of a charity cookbook in Kilcormac. The book was compiled, styled and photographed by the fifth and sixth class students of Ballyboy N.S. and their wonderfully enthusiastic teacher Michelle Egan. As I flicked through this little book it stuck a cord with me. Each and every recipe has been included for a reason. One of the young men included his granny's eclair recipe, as everyone in parish has tasted these eclairs through the years, and they are loved near and far. There is a Christmas cake recipe which has been passed through three generations of a family. There is also a recipe from a young girl, for a Mars bar biscuit cake, as it's one that she has memories of making with her late aunt. This is what makes a book like this ever so special. Each recipe earns it's place due to the memories it accumulates.




The children on the day of the launch were full of pride, and so they should be. They have created something so special that will have a treasured place in their kitchen and in the community for ever more, while also earning a significant amount of money for their twin school in Ewuaso, Kenya. What a wonderful, inclusive fundraiser for any primary school. I for one will be mentioning it at my children's school as a possible fundraiser for the next school year. The title of the book is 'Recipes & Remedies' and is available to purchase in shops in and around Kilcormac, but it is also available from the school's website


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In other news

In the next instalment of my 'Home Nurse' column, in Irish Country Living, I'm discussing morning sickness. This will run in next week's Farmers Journal, 21st May.
In this week's Westmeath Independent I've included a delicious, one pot beef dish, perfect for entering a crowd.
Also, in this month's Easy Parenting my column and recipes are focused on healthy dishes in a hurry. It's in shops now.
Apron Strings is available to buy in shops nationwide, but it is currently for sale for €15 from New Island

Have a great weekend.

Nessa x

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Wild Garlic & Baked Ham Champ


A big bowl of creamy champ, just on its own, is my quintessential comfort food. As a child my mother would serve it piled high on the plate and each potato tower would have a well of melted butter in the centre. There are many additions that work well with mashed potatoes, such as fresh herbs, roasted garlic or mustard, but one of my favourite ways to serve mashed potato/champ is with the addition of some finely chopped wild garlic leaves. If you are lucky enough to have access to a patch of wild garlic, this is the time of year to harvest it. If you have never picked wild garlic before, there is a helpful guide to identifying, picking and using wild garlic on Brooklodge's blog. Wild garlic leaves make the most delicious pesto, but they can also be added to cooked pasta or to any dishes where you would normally use spinach. Adding some finely chopped wild garlic to mashed potatoes gives a seasonal twist to creamy champ, and if you happen to have some leftover baked ham it too makes a tasty addition to the mash.


Wild Garlic & Baked Ham Champ

Ingredients

2kg floury potatoes, such as Maris Piper, Roosters or Kerr’s Pink, cut into even-sized chunks
50g butter
150mls of cream or milk
4 scallions/ spring onions, finely sliced 
50g wild garlic leaves, finely chopped
Handful of leftover baked ham, approx. 100g, roughly chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Butter, to serve

Method

  1. Steam the potatoes until cooked.
  2. Over a low heat, add the butter and the cream/milk to a large saucepan. Once the butter has melted add the cooked potatoes into the saucepan. Mash well until they are lump free and have a smooth consistency. Using a wooden spoon beat the mash until smooth and creamy. Stir through the scallions, wild garlic and baked ham.
  3. Season to taste with salt and pepper, stir well and serve immediately with a little knob of butter on top.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Hot Cross Scones



As far back as I can remember my mother would have hot cross buns ready to serve straight after the Good Friday ceremonies. I was never too keen on them as there always seemed to be too many sultanas and too little of the actually ‘bun’, for my liking. I'm now a great fan of these traditional cakes, but my children would share the opinion of my childhood self.                                                       

Little hands make easy work of scone-making!
 So, in a bid to uphold a long-standing Good Friday tradition a few years ago I decided to create a scone recipe that would encapsulate the familiar flavours of the hot cross bun, with mixed spice and orange zest. Of course, they could hardly be offered as hot cross anything if not for the cross on the top, so a little paste made with flour, sugar and water, and piped onto the uncooked scones, gave the appropriate look to these Good Friday bakes. They worked out a treat and were declared a hit with both adults and children alike.





Hot Cross Scones

Ingredients

For the Cross:
50g plain flour
25g caster sugar
50mls water

For the Scones 
450g plain flour, plus extra for the work surface
1 tsp baking powder
50g caster sugar
½ tsp mixed spice
100g cold butter, cut into cubes
100g sultanas
Zest of 1 orange
250mls milk
1 egg, lightly beaten

For Glaze:
30mls milk
25g granulated sugar

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/Gas mark 6.
2. First make the mixture for the cross, by combining the flour and caster sugar together in a small bowl. Gradually add the water until it turns into a thick paste. Spoon into a piping bag with a small nuzzle. Leave to one side.
3. Sieve the flour, baking powder, sugar and mixed spice into a large mixing bowl and mix well with a wooden spoon.
4. Add the cubed butter to the flour mixture. Rub in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the sultanas and orange zest. Combine well.
5. Make a well in the centre of the mixture and add the milk and the egg to the dry ingredients.
6. Mix together with a wooden spoon, and then use your hands to make a soft dough.
7. Turn dough out onto a floured board. Wash and dry hands. Knead lightly- not too much as the scones will become tough. Roll out the dough and cut out using a medium circular cutter, making about 12 scones.
8. For the cross mix the flour and sugar in a bowl.
9. Place the scones on a floured baking tray and pipe a cross onto each one. Brush the un-piped area of the tops with a little milk and then sprinkle each with a little granulated sugar.
10. Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown. Remove and cool on a wire tray. Best served warm with a good smothering of butter.




Wishing you all a very happy and peaceful Easter!
Nessa x

Monday, March 2, 2015

Immune-Boosting Nutri Juice



A great way to include essential vitamins and minerals into one’s diet is through juicing fruit and vegetables. Juicers can be bought at a reasonable price these days and it will last you years. However, recently I was introduced to the ‘Nutri Ninja’ {variant of the Nutri Bullet} and I must say, in the matter of a few weeks, it has steadily become the most used utensil in my kitchen. As opposed to a juicer the Ninja blitzes every bit of the fruit and vegetable, allowing you to obtain their optimal nutritional benefit. There are so many great combinations to make, but the one I’m sharing with you today is our current favourite. I try to include lots of kale in our diets as it is filled with powerful antioxidants, it is especially rich in iron and vitamin K as well as being a great source of calcium, vitamin A and vitamin C. It can be a little bitter when juiced/blitzed so paring it with some sweet bananas and pineapple will certainly counteract this. I'm a huge fan of avocados and the creamy texture of one which is perfectly ripe adds a certain smoothness to this finished drink. As the children prefer their juices as lump-free as possible I've added milled chia seeds, but ordinary seeds also work perfectly in their place. If you don’t have a Nutri Ninja, a blender can be used, and if you would prefer it without any bits then strain the contents through a sieve. 


Immune-Boosting Nutri Juice

Ingredients - Serves 2

2 large leaves of Kale, washed and leaves roughly chopped
1 small orange, peeled and cut into segments
1 red eating apple, cored and chopped into chunks
2 rings of pineapple
½ ripe banana, roughly chopped
½ ripe avocado
1 tsp milled chia seeds
handful of ice
water


Method
  1. Make sure to wash the vegetables and fruit before blitzing. Fill the large Nutri-Ninja container with all of the ingredients, making sure to finish with the ice. Top up with cold, filtered water and do not pass the ‘max fill’ mark.
  2. Blitz for one minute. Pour into two glasses and enjoy straight away.  
As per the rules of the giveaway, I had to pick another winner for the hand blender, as I had no contact details for the original winner and they never contacted me within the fortnight of them being announced. So, the new winner of the Breville Cordless Hand Blender is MKConlon. Thank you so much to everyone who entered the give-away.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Ultimate Brunch Bap


With four children, of a school-going age, our weekday breakfast is rushed, to say the least. However, the only advantage to this is the learned appreciated that I now have for the weekend breakfast. Without the threat of the imminent school bell, our weekend breakfast is a whole lot more relaxed. Valentine's day falls on a Saturday this year, so if you're planning on starting the day off well, and earning a few brownie point, treat your loved one to an extra special breakfast, or brunch. This bap can be assembled in minutes, and the combination of flavours are simply scrumptious.
We’re very fortunate to have eggs straight from our garden from our lovely hens, but if you’ve to buy eggs seek out some true free-range, organic eggs. How delicious this bap really is, completely depends on the quality of the eggs. Brioche buns are for sale in M&S and Aldi, but if you can’t get your hands on them, any bread buns will work in their place. Enjoy!


Chorizo, Avocado & Poached Egg Brunch Bap

Ingredients
Serves 4
4 free range eggs
½ tsp white wine vinegar
2 ripe avocados, thinly sliced
1 tsp olive oil
100g chorizo, thinly sliced
4 brioche buns
Tomato relish of your choice
Smoked paprika, optional

Method
  1. To poach the eggs, bring a saucepan of water to a bubbling boil, add the white wine vinegar. Using a spoon quickly stir the water to make like a whirlwind in the saucepan. Crack the egg into a cup, and with the water still swirling gently add the egg into the centre of the saucepan. Depending on the size of the egg it will take between 2 and 4 minutes to poach. Once cooked, remove to a plate lined with kitchen paper and cover with additional kitchen paper to keep warm while the rest of the eggs are cooking. You can cook two eggs together, but repeat this process for the rest of the eggs.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan. Add the chorizo slices and fry for about 1 minute on each side. Remove to a plate.
  3. To assemble the bap, cut the bun in half and over the bottom half spread a thin layer of relish, top with the slices of avocado, an even layer of fried chorizo and top with the poached egg. Season with a few grinds of black pepper and a sprinkling of smoked paprika, if you have it to hand. Add the top of the brioche bun and sandwich together. Enjoy straight away.

Happy Valentine's Day!
Nessa x