It's that time of year when our thoughts, well mine anyway, turn to what we're going to whip up in the kitchen over the festive season. Last year I put together some of my favourite festive recipes, and my wonderfully clever son, Jack, brought them together to create a mini Christmas eBook. The recipes included are fresh updates on some of the traditional holiday favourites, and I really hope that these recipes will be enjoyed at your family table, as much as they're enjoyed at mine. 

Nessa's Christmas Kitchen, is fully illustrated with colour photos and it includes 14 easy-to-follow recipes.

Recipes Include:
Potato Cakes with Smoked Irish Salmon
Poached & Butter-Basted Turkey Breast
Sage, Date & Pistachio Stuffing
Creamy Potato & Leek Gratin
Mulled Berry Trifle
Lemon Meringue Pudding

The winner of the The K Club Cookbook is Colette {comment number one}. Thank you so much to everyone who entered the give-away.

I received a copy of The K Club Cookbook: Producer to Plate, a few weeks back. Before I even opened this impressively sized book, the title itself drew me in. I'm always ever eager to find out more about the food we're eating, and rather importantly more about the people who passionately produce it, so this book immediately appealed to me. The author of the book is Finbarr Higgins, and there would be none better to give us an insight into the kitchens of The K Club than Finbarr, as he has been the head chef there since 1996. As this is a  collection of recipes from a working kitchen not all would be entirely suitable for the home cook, however there are many recipes included which are rather straight forward, and with Finbarr's detailed instructions, they would certainly be manageable in a home setting. As well as the recipes for the dishes served in The K Club there is a substantial section dedicated to the hotel's magnificent wine cellar. This is presented by award-winning Chief Sommelier Lisa O'Doherty. This book would very comfortably sit on a coffee table. The imagery is quite beautiful, while the information on each of the producers and the insight into their wine cellar, makes for an easy, but equally an educational, read. 

I have a copy of this monumental book to give away to one lucky reader. To be in with a chance of winning, answer this question in the comment box below; In which county is The K Club situated?

All names with the correct answers will be put in the hat and the winner will be picked at random, next Friday 20th November. I will announce the lucky winner in a blog post next week.

TERMS AND CONDITIONS: The competition is open to residents of Ireland only. You must be over 18. No cash alternative is possible. The 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! 

Potatoes were always a steady staple in my house. Coming from a farming background they were an essential part of our daily meals. If there weren't a few spuds on the plate my father would be rather certain he had gone the day without any dinner. Growing up in Ireland in the eighties you'd have to be fierce posh to be eating the likes of pasta or rice, so the original 'superfood', the potato, was never in fear of being knocked off its number one spot. Even though every sort of a carbohydrate is now available to plate up for dinner, my heart has always remained with the humble spud. They're incredibly versatile, making them a marvellous base for something scrumptious. When trying to please a household of different likes and dislikes versatility and a little creativity is key to clean after-dinner plates. One of my son's has followed in his Granddad's footstep and no matter what the dinner, be it a creamy chicken dish, a bolognese or even a korma, he's happiest when spuds are somewhere in the mix. While for me, there's not much a bowl of steaming, creamy mashed potatoes can't comfort. 

Roosters tend to create the very best mashed potatoes, so when we're choosing which varieties to plant in our garden each March, they're always top of our list. One of my long-standing measures to encourage my children to become excited about their food is to include them in the planting and care of the produce in the garden. This worked especially well when certain fussy stages were progressing. It turns out that children are much more likely to eat their dinner, if they've put a little of their own manpower into producing the meal in some way. Even as an adult, it's ever so exciting to have a successful yield of any vegetable or fruit form the garden. Something that we're always guaranteed to produce almost perfectly is our crop of potatoes. Potatoes are incredibly easy to grow in our rich, Irish soil, and since they can start to be harvested after a short 10 weeks, their progress can yield great excitement and anticipation for any little gardener.

A fun, plant your own spuds project:
If you are limited for space, potatoes can even be planted in a large shopping bag. It's a very simple method and all that is needed is a bag of compost and a few potatoes that have gone to seed. A not so thick layer of compost is placed at the bottom of the bag, before adding two or three seeded potatoes and topping with another thin layer of compost. Keep the extra compost to one side. Now, this is the exciting part for the children, because with a daily sprinkling of water, the potatoes will sprout up little leaves, another thin layer of compost has to be added to the bag, or indeed large container. This process is repeated until the compost has filled the entire bag and once this happens it won't be long before the potatoes are being harvested. Bord Bia have some very useful guidelines on their site for planting a school garden, and of course potatoes feature, but this would also make for a marvellous home project with little ones. It's now a little late in the year for planting spuds, but if using this bag method indoors in a sunny spot, possibly in a greenhouse or conservatory, you can plant them as early as February.

Even if you don't get the chance to grow your own, we are fortunate to have many great growers in Ireland, who are passionate about producing something special for our dinner table, so let's support their good work. Potatoes have always been immersed as part of our history in Ireland and this long standing merit should be celebrated. If you have slipped out of the routine of including potatoes as part of your diet, and are wondering how to make the most of the spud, head over to Potatoes: More than a bit on the side where there are many delicious and interesting potato-based recipes. Along with Bord Bia and AHDB they have launched a big campaign to increase the profile of the potato, and I'm delighted to be working with them in highlighting this.

Potato, Cod & Cauliflower Gratin

This dish can be prepared in minutes, making it a great choice for when time is a little sparse. The creamy coating of sauce over the potatoes, cod and cauliflower lends a little luxury to this nutritious mid-week dinner. It's one dish that young and old will enjoy.

Serves 4
800g Potatoes
½ head of cauliflower, divided into florets
50g butter
50g plain flour
600ml milk
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
150g cheddar cheese, grated
500g cod, boned and cut into bite-size pieces (ask your fishmonger to do this)

To Serve
1 lemon, cut into wedges

1. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/Gas 6. Peel and thinly slice the potatoes. Add them to a large saucepan, with the cauliflower florets. Cover with boiling water. Bring back to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain in a colander.

2. To make the  sauce, melt the butter, over a low heat, in a medium sized saucepan. Once melted, using a wooden spoon, add the flour and stir for 2 minutes to allow the flour to cook a little, but be careful that it doesn’t burn.
3. Turn up the heat and very slowly whisk in the milk, using a hand whisk. Stirring constantly, bring to the boil then immediately turn down the heat and simmer for a minute. Season with a little sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Take from the heat and stir in half of the cheese.

4. Add the par-cooked potatoes and cauliflower to a large casserole dish. Top with the bite-size pieces of cod.
5. Pour over the cheese sauce, making sure to cover the potatoes, fish and cauliflower. Sprinkle over the remaining cheese.
6. Place in the pre-heated oven for 20- 25 minutes, until the cheese is golden and bubbling and the fish is cooked through.
7. Serve straight away with a little slice of lemon, for squeezing over the dish.
Last month I had the pleasure of going on a day trip with the Irish Food Writer's Guild. Kilkenny was our destination, and we were met with open arms by so many of the county's most enthusiastic and passionate food producers. Our day started in the beautiful Highbank Organic Farm. Julie and Rod treated us to a tour of their farm and their new distillery, where they produce the most delicious organic apple gin, schnapps and orchard spirit. While in Highbank we had the opportunity to meet, and have a chat, with some more Kilkenny food producers. We then popped by Thomastown's remarkable School of Food. They have an incredibly impressive facility and recently have launched their professional Level 5 certificate course. Our next stop was Goatsbridge Trout Farm, where Mag and Ger gave us the history of the farm and we even had the chance to catch a glimpse of their splendid school of trout. Our outing finished with a truly scrumptious meal at the magnificent Mount Juliet. Each bite of our meal was delectable. Kilkenny certainly is a stunning part of our country, with so much good food to offer. As a group we agreed we really had a marvellous time. I'm currently the social media officer for the Guild, but in general for any event my camera is always to hand. Here are just a few of the photos I captured on our memorable trip to Kilkenny.

As a child my parents had a fruit farm, so for the summer months there was always an abundance of berries in our kitchen. Many were made into jam, but when time allowed my mother would make either a flan or a sponge cake, and in turn would pack it well with our home grown berries. A sponge is one of the easiest cakes to make, but if you are a first time sponge-maker it's important to tell you that you should beat the sugar and eggs together, using an electric mixer, for at least seven minutes. This allows the addition of plenty of air into the batter, which will help the cake to rise and it also produces an ever so light result. I'm sandwiching the cake with vanilla cream and lemon curd, but any summer jam will work well in the curd's place. It isn't necessary to top with melted chocolate, a dusting of icing sugar would do just fine, however the chocolate does add that extra touch of indulgence.

Summer Sponge filled with Lemon Curd and topped with Summer Berries

5 fresh free range hen or duck eggs, weighing approx. 350g in their shells
175g caster sugar
175g plain flour, sieved

200mls cream
25g icing sugar, sieved, plus extra for dusting
1tsp vanilla extract

3tbsp lemon curd
150g raspberries
150g blueberries
handful of pistachio nuts, roughly chopped 
25g milk or white chocolate, melted
sprigs of mint


1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/gas mark 6. Butter and flour two 8” sandwich tins then carefully line the base with two circles of parchment paper.
2. Whisk the eggs and sugar together for about 7-10 minutes until thick and fluffy.
3. Carefully fold in the sieved flour.
4. Divide the mixture between the prepared tins and bake in the pre heated oven for 25 minutes, or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
5. Turn the cakes out carefully onto a wire rack and leave to completely cool.
6. In a bowl softly whip the cream and add the icing sugar and vanilla extract.
7. Place one cake on a serving plate and spread with a layer of lemon curd. Then top with half of the sweet vanilla cream.
8. Place the second cake on top. Top with the remaining sweet vanilla cream, raspberries,  blueberries and pistachios. Drizzle over the melted chocolate. Dust with a little icing sugar and decorate with a few mint leaves. Serve straight-away, otherwise place the cake in the fridge where it will sit comfortably for a few hours.

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


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
1 tsp cocoa powder


  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.


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

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

  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.