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

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, 16th 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


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


  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


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

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

  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

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

  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

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Hand Blender Give-Away

This week's Irish Country Living sees the latest instalment of my Home Nurse column. The topic is 'fussy eaters'. Of course this is neither an ailment or a sickness, however it is an issue that many parents with little ones have to deal with. I have mentioned here before how I relied on my trustee hand blender to assist me in combating dinner time battles, so when House of Fraser offered me one of their cordless blenders for one lucky reader it seemed like the perfect giveaway for this week. To be in with a chance of winning this Breville Cordless Hand Blender all you have to do is leave a comment below. All names will be put in the hat and the winner will be picked at random. I will announce the lucky winner in my next blog post. 

TERMS AND CONDITIONS: the competition is open to residents of Ireland the U.K. only. You must be over 18. No cash alternative is possibleThe winner must email/contact me within 7 days of them being announced as the winner, or another name will have to be drawn from the hat. 

Best of luck! 

Monday, February 2, 2015

A Few Shots from Lens & Larder 2014

Last October I had the opportunity to partake in Imen McDonnell's Lens & Larder Retreat. The magnificent Ballynahinch Castle & it's surrounding area was the location for our retreat. An ideal spot, as at every turn there was the opportunity to capture a perfectly beautiful photo. I've been meaning to share a few of those pics, but with cookery classes, columns & Christmas, I'm only now getting the chance to pop them on here for you to see. 
A retreat based around food styling & photography was the brainchild of the wonderfully talented Imen McDonnell. By her side were Cliodhna Prendergast of Breaking Eggs and her husband, Patrick O'Flaherty, the manager of the castle, and together they created the perfect food lovers retreat. Our teachers were Beth Kirby, of Local Milk fame, and Susan Spungen, who happens to be one of Hollywood's top food stylists. I learnt much from these ladies and thoroughly enjoyed simply being a part of their company for the few days. From mushroom foraging to candlelit dinners in the castle, we were truly spoilt. 

Susan demonstrating how to cook and style a galette. These delicious galettes were packed with mushrooms we had just foraged from the near-by woods.   

The Old School House, Inishlacken - our shoot location for day two of the retreat. 

Susan and Cliodhna preparing the lobsters for their photoshoot. 

Beth setting up one of our scenes for photographing. 
There were so many opportunities to photograph something pretty, but I loved the simplicity of the old stone walls of the school house, they made for a wonderful backdrop. 
Imen has indicated that there may be another retreat planned for the near future, so keep an eye on her blog for updates. Even three months on, I'm still mulling over all that I learnt on the retreat, naturally from Susan and Beth, who were ever generous with their teachings, but also through the conversations I had with my fellow Lens & Larder participants who each, in their own right, are inspiring creatives.