Once the summer holidays are here my kids think daily ice-pops are obligatory. In a bid not to spend a small fortune on summer ice-creams, I like, when time prevails, to keep a stash of the homemade variety in the freezer. Ice- pops are ever so easy to make. If you haven’t the little ice-pops moulds, a disposable cup and an old, clean, lollypop stick will give the same result. Throughout the summer months the boys and Millie tend to take over at least one shelf of my freezer, and pack in their own homemade ice-pops. These are normally made with simply water and a drop of cordial. They’re a real novelty for the hot days, and I’m always glad the children are getting an extra bit of hydration. At the moment, I’ve an abundance of strawberries in the tunnel, so a few handfuls are often used to make these strawberry yogurt pops. They're made in minutes, taste great and they're considerably more nutritious than a shop-bought variety.

Ingredients
Makes approx 6 pops
200g strawberries
50g icing sugar
200g Greek yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract

Method


  1. Using a blender, blitz the strawberries and icing sugar until smooth. Add the Greek yogurt and vanilla extract and blitz until combined.
  2. Divide the mixture between six ice-pop moulds. Freeze for at least 4 hours, or preferably overnight, when the pops will become solid.



At the age of ten, I had a life-changing (for a ten year old anyway) talk with a lorry driver. A herd of cattle, many of whom I was rather fond of, were being transported away from our farm. As I always imagined, like many before them, they were about to embark on a trip to a nice farm in another town. However, to my horror, this lorry driver disclosed to me that there was no farm or happily ever after at their final destination. Now, I did realise where meat actually came from, however I somehow never considered my beautiful bovine friends were amongst those destined for someone's dinner table. I cried for hours that day and the only consolation I could give myself was that never again would I eat meat. That evening, I declared myself to be a vegetarian. I was rather proud of myself, but it was a decision which left my mother with a bit of a dilemma. In 1980's Ireland, dinner options were few and far between when meat wasn't taking the leading role on the dinner plate. I had always been an avid mushroom fan, but their versatility really took charge when my mother needed some dinner inspiration for a fussy pre-teen. From mushroom omelettes to mushroom vol-au-vents (posh nosh in the eighties), mushrooms became a reliable stable in my house. To this day, I still embrace all the goodness of the simple mushroom. My weekly shop wouldn't be complete without a sufficient supply in my trolley. And even though I'm not dealing with any cow-loving vegetarians, many of our weekly dishes happen to be meat-free, and the addition of mushrooms always add a certain amount of cost-efficient meatiness. Mushrooms are rich in vitamins, a good source of protein and a portion of mushrooms also count as one of our 5-a-day, so they really are a champion ingredient to be celebrated all year round.

BBQ Mushroom, Cashew & Sun-dried Tomato Stuffed Mini Peppers

When there is the chance of sun and the barbecue is hot, one of my favourite ways to cook mushrooms is simply smeared with a combination of butter, garlic and fresh herbs, popped in a little foil pouch. They're prepared in minutes and utterly delicious especially when placed on slices of buttery brioche, which have also graced the heat of the barbecue for a few seconds. When entertaining a crowd alfresco-style, I try to keep the menu simple and have as many of the dishes prepared in advance, ready to serve or cook on the barbecue.These mushroom stuffed peppers are ideal, as they can be prepared early in the day and stored in the fridge ready for popping on the barbecue whenever needed. They can be served as an accompaniment to barbecued fish or meat, but they have enough gusto to hold their own when served with a simple green salad.


Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Serves 4

Ingredients

2 tbsp olive oil
250g chestnut or closed cup mushrooms, finely chopped
Sea salt
2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
75g raw cashew nuts, roughly chopped
50g sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped
2 tbsp sun-dried tomato pesto
12 mini peppers

Method
  1. To make the filling, heat one tablespoon of the oil in a large frying pan. Once hot, add the mushrooms and cook over a high heat for 3-4 minutes.
  2. Reduce the heat, season with a little sea salt and add the thyme leaves. Add the cashew nuts, sun-dried tomatoes and pesto. Stir to combine and take from the heat.
  3. Prepare the mini peppers by slicing through two-thirds of the top, leaving the rest of the top and stem in place to form a cap over the filling. Gently, scoop out any seeds.
  4. Stuff each pepper with the filling and secure the cap back in its place.
  5. When the barbecue is hot and you're ready to cook, lightly brush the outside of the stuffed peppers with a little olive oil. Place the peppers on the hot grill and cook, depending on the heat of the barbecue, for about 8-10 minutes turning regularly.
  6. Serve with some other tasty dishes from the barbecue and salads of choice.





If, like me, you're mad about mushrooms, there are many more tasty recipes to be found over here: www.justaddmushrooms.ie

To keep up to date with the Just Add Mushrooms campaign, follow them on their Facebook page More To Mushrooms and over on Twitter at MoreToMushrooms using #MTMSummer.

Disclosure: All views, and memories, are my own, but I was commissioned by the people behind the Just Add Mushrooms campaign to create and share this delicious mushroom recipe with you.   
Bloom in the Park is kicking off this Thursday, June 2nd, in The Phoenix Park, Dublin, and will run until Monday, June 6th. For the past few years I and the children have been amongst the thousands of visitors to this marvellous event, so I'm thrilled to say this year I will be taking part in the festivities. On Saturday morning at 10.30am I'm doing a cookery demonstration on The Quality Kitchen Stage. I'm ever so excited to be taking part, but I'd love to see a few friendly faces in the audience, so if you're planning on visiting Bloom on the Saturday, do pop by and say hello!
I'll be cooking up some delicious, family-friendly, dishes using Bord Bia Quality Assured ingredients. Each morning of Bloom, at the Quality Kitchen Stage, during the 10.30am demonstration (which happens to be my time slot for Saturday) a hamper of cookery books will be up for grabs. So, come early to be in with the chance of winning this lovely prize. 

  
Bloom is a marvellous day out for all the family, and not too pricey as children go free. It seems to get bigger and better each year, so I can't wait to see what's in store for Bloom 2016.

Since I ventured into the world of blogging, many years back, Imen's blog, Farmette, and formerly I Married an Irish Farmer, has always been one of my favourites. It's certainly one of the most visually pleasing blogs I've followed through the years. Lucky for me, I've had the pleasure to meet, eat and chat with Imen on many an occasion, so I can truly call her a friend. I do, however, also consider her to be marvellous mentor, who is ever generous with the sharing of her knowledge of writing, styling and photography. Imen's recently published cookbook, The Farmette Cookbook, has all the appeal of her blog with delicious dishes and beautifully styled and photographed shots, but Imen also shares with us many snippets of her journey from an American city to the Irish countryside. Intertwined between these farmyard tales and the most delectable recipes is a very beautiful love story. One about a girl who loved a dashing farmer from the moment she set eyes on him. Not to spoil the ending for you, but many years and adventures later their love is still strong. It's the delivery of these stories with such heart and emotion, and a lot of wit in between, that makes this book so special.       


I'm always amazed by Imen's stunning shots of farm and food, and each one shared in The Farmette Cookbook are frame-worthy. The accompanying recipes are just as magnificent, so I gave the children the option of choosing the first recipe we would attempt from the book. As flapjack-fans, it was no surprise that Imen's Oat-Millet-Chia-Banana Flapjacks was the chosen one. These flapjacks were so scrumptious, they've now become a regular bake in our house. I have read this beautiful book from cover to cover and with so many splendid sounding recipes I'm eager to try them all.



Jack, Tiarnan and I were privileged to get the opportunity to attend Imen's book launch in Dublin, which is where we bought this wonderful book, so this post is much more of a heartily recommendation, then a review. I can guarantee there are recipes for all to enjoy and stories shared you'll become completely immersed in. You can buy The Farmette Cookbook here and in any good bookstore. 


For the past couple of years I have written my 'Home Nurse' column for Irish Country Living. It's a column I thoroughly enjoy writing, as on one hand it is recipe focused, while on the other it keeps me in touch with my former nursing career. Even though I trained and worked as a nurse, I mostly write these columns from a careers perspective, in the hope they can give a little helping hand to those caring for a loved one at home. The topics are always varied. Last month it was PMS, while I focus on gastroenteritis/ vomiting & diarrhoea in this month's column. In the coming months, I intend on sharing some of my old columns here on the blog. I hope you find them useful and enjoy the read.

Nessa x

Convalescing to Strengthening The Body

When we think of convalescing, the image of a frail, elderly relative, who's overcoming a bout of illness, is always at the forefront of our minds. However, there are so many other times, even from a young age, that our bodies implore us to convalesce. Certainly subsequent to a flu, gastroenteritis or an injury, there is a need to recuperate. Equally post pregnancy, trauma and even while grieving, our body and mind needs to be dedicated some time to strengthen. All too often, as soon as a hint of improved health is upon us we immerse ourselves in the demands of daily life again. Most times this is long before our body can afford it. In turn, we prolong our ailments, which ultimately extends us being under the weather for an undue amount of time. Post illness our immune-systems are low, which fundamentally makes us more vulnerable to a reoccurrence of the illness, or more susceptible to picking up other infections. The key to convalesce is to slow down and embrace some proper relaxation. Forget about work for an extra few days, and allow the immune system the opportunity to rebuild. As well as rest, prompting the body back to health through nutrient-rich foods is paramount. When in recovery mode food can sometimes seems less than appealing, but it's essential that the food we choose to eat is nutritious and in turn this will aid recovery. Porridge, chicken broth or a simple homemade soup are all nourishing and nutritious, and they are also easily digestible. When the body is in need of additional energy, including iron-rich foods such as beef, lamb and dark leafy greens will encourage an optimal Haemoglobin (Iron) level. Vitamin C is an important anti-oxidant which strengthens the body, and also aids in the absorption of Iron; rich sources include berries and freshly juiced citrus fruits. All-in-all a balanced diet that includes nutrient-rich ingredients will aid recovery. It does takes time to rebuild the body to optimal health after an illness or injury, but with plenty of rest, fluids and good food, the reinstatement of a clean bill of health will be a whole lot easier to obtain. 



Coconut Rice Pudding with a Berry & Chia Compote

A creamy and nourishing rich pudding is one of the easiest desserts to make. Coconut milk is naturally sweet and in turn allows for less sugar to be added to the pudding. I love the addition of the coconut milk, but if you're not keen on using it, simply substitute with regular milk. The vitamin-rich berry compote is further enhanced nutritionally by the addition of the omega-rich, antioxidant-boosting chia seeds. This pudding and compote is delicious served with a scoop of ice-cream on the side, but for a healthier alternative top with some frozen yogurt.

Ingredients 
75g arborio or short grain pudding rice
400ml coconut milk
300ml milk
50g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Berry & Chia Compote
125g blueberries
75g strawberries
1tsp honey
1 tsp chia seeds*

To Serve
Frozen yogurt/Ice-cream
Sprinkling of chia seeds*
Drizzle of honey

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 150°C/Fan 140°C/Gas 2 and grease a 1.5 litre ovenproof dish with a little butter.
2. Place the rice in the dish. In a large saucepan over a low heat, gently heat the coconut milk, the milk, caster sugar and vanilla extract together. Once it begins to simmer take from the heat and pour over the rice. Stir well to combine. Cover the dish with tinfoil.
3. Place in the oven for 1 1/2 hours, taking from the oven every 30 minutes to give it a stir. After an hour take the pudding from the oven, remove the tinfoil and return to the oven for a further 30 minutes. 
4. Prepare the compote by adding the blueberries, strawberries, honey and chia seeds to a blender and blitz for about 30 seconds. If you don't have a blender, simply mash all the ingredients together until they are well combined.
5. To serve, divide the rice pudding between four bowls, add a spoonful of the berry & chia compote and top with either a scoop of frozen yogurt or vanilla ice-cream. To finish, sprinkle over a few chia seeds.


*My chia seeds of choice are from Waterford-based company Chia Bia. Chia seeds are extremely versatile, so when Chia Bia asked me to create a few new recipes for them I was delighted to take on the task. Check out their blog for some of my Chia Bia inspired recipes.

My children are now back to school after the long Easter break, and I'm sure they're settling into work as normal. A little different to the weeks preceding the holidays, when their school was buzzing with the publication and launch of An Grianán's own cookbook, Templelicious. I thoroughly enjoyed working on this project, so I was ever so proud when the day to launch the book actually arrived. To bring more excitement to this momentous day, Neven Maguire joined us to officially launch the book. The school was packed to capacity with the children, their parents, extended family, community members and many guests, including Westmeath GAA star Kieran Martin. Local newspaper photographers were taking snaps at every opportunity, while Midlands Radio 3 reporter Ríona Cleary took the time to have a few words with me, the children, staff and, of course, Neven. This was broadcast the following Monday, and I've attached the piece below, for anyone who'd like to have a listen. 
Once all the formalities and speeches were taken care of it then came the time to sample some of the delicious dishes from Templelicious. Many of the children, and their parents, helped to bring the cookbook to life by bringing their dishes along to the launch for the guests to sample. I'm glad to say, the day went by without a single hitch. It was such a special occasion. I know it will be fondly remembered by all involved for many years to come. 
My fourteen year old son, Jack. The designer and typesetter of Templelicious. {On a side note -Any parent of teens can probably relate to me - How tall are teenagers these day? I'm wearing four inch heals in this pic!}


Being the gentleman, that Neven Maguire is, he took the time to chat with the children involved in the project. My son, Tiarnán, and nephew, Eoin, were thrilled to meet Neven.

Neven with members of our hard working committee.


Principal of An Grianán, Master McGowan.




We're overjoyed with the feedback we're receiving about the book. Many of the local press took the opportunity to feature Templelicious, and we even have a featured article in this week's Farmers Journal - Irish Country Living. 


Templelicious is priced at €15 and is available to buy in many local shops. It can also be purchased directly from the school on 090-6481085.

For the past few months I have been working on a very exciting project. It's a cookbook with my local national school, An Grianán N.S., Mount Temple. I'm delighted to say it is now back from the printers and it's looking splendid. 'Templelicious' is a collection of recipes, from the 4th, 5th and 6th class students and the staff of An Grianán, but there are also recipes from some well known celebrities, such as Neven Maguire, Robbie Henshaw, John Heslin and James O' Donoghue, as well as plenty of inspirational quotes from some of the children's sporting heroes. Additionally, the book includes words of wisdom, including kitchen tips, remedies and old wives' tales, from the local active age group. All in all, this is so much more than a recipe book, it’s a glance into moments the school children hold close to their hearts, while also being reflective of the community of Mount Temple as a whole.


This project has been incredibly rewarding for the entire school. From choosing the title of the book to styling and photographing the food photos, the children have been involved every step of the way. The older end of the school submitted their recipes, while the younger end had the opportunity to recipe test these recipes before the book went to print. The book was compiled and edited by the school's cookbook committee, comprising of my good self and staff members, Ambrose McGowan, Anna Cahalin, Áine Curran, Catherine Claffey, and Carmel Keogh. My eldest son, Jack, took on the role of designer and typesetter, and, I must say, he did a marvellous job.



My son, Tiarnán, is in 4th class, so his chosen recipe for the book was Sweet Scones. Like so many of the other children, he chose this recipe because it's one of his absolute favourites. This is part of the wonder of a book like this; for these children, in years to come it will be a little snapshot of their childhoods.


The book will be launched by Neven Maguire, in the school, this Wednesday, the 9th of March, at 2pm. On the day, members of the Westmeath Senior football team will also be making an appearance. Tea and samples from the book will be served, and all are welcome to attend. The book will retail at €15.



If you would like to buy a copy of the book please contact the school on 090-6481085.