Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 : What A Year

12 months seems like such a long time but for me, 2013 has flown by in the blink of an eye.  So much has happened, mainly good with some sadness, and this is a chance for me to do a month-by-month roundup of what was memorable for me in 2013.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas Dinner Made Simple

Oh no, it's Christmas next week and if you're like 99.9% of the population who has to cook Christmas Dinner, then I've no doubt that you've an acute case of The Fear.  The Fear is normally reserved for mornings after the night before when you've overindulged on the grape juice but at this time of year, it includes the thought of cooking for a crowd.  Relax, it's just a meal.  You manage to cook loads of them throughout the year, so why are you getting your knickers in a knot over another one?  I've loads of tips to help you get through the next week without pulling your hair out in chunks.

First things first, channel your inner Santa Claus and make a list.  This is a godsend as you can take your time, write it all down on paper and start prioritising.  I know it's a bit old school, but use your tablet or phone if it makes you feel better.  Once you've made a list, have a good read through it and make sure you cover everything you need.  Think about what you're going to cook and if you're missing any ingredients, write a shopping list.  Don't do what I did one year - forgot to buy red cabbage and there wasn't one to be had in Dublin or Wicklow on Christmas Eve.  I had my little brother running up and down Moore Street with strict instructions to not return home without it.  He eventually got one and Christmas was saved!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Raspberry Vanilla Cake with Baileys Chocolate Icing

Sometimes, a picture tells a thousand words.  Sometimes words help though!  This is my entry for our office Great Ground Floor Bakeoff competition.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Babaduck in Brilliant Baking Magazine

A few weeks ago, I got an email from Andrea and Leigh, the founders of Brilliant Baking Magazine asking if they could feature one of my Christmas recipes in their launch edition.  How could I refuse?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Veggie Tomato Pasta Sauce

Every now and then I take a look inside my giant fridge and realise there's an awful of vegetables lurking in the salad drawer.  And they have to be used because throwing out food is a big no-no.  I have various way of using up the sad and lonely vegetables like Chicken and Aubergine Parmigiana or Carrot & Courgette Spaghetti.  This time around, I had onions, courgette, aubergines and fennel to choose from so I decided to make a veggie-packed tomato pasta sauce which I could use or freeze for other dinners. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Alicia's Double Vanilla Superstar Cake

Vanilla.  No, not chocolate or anything else.  Just vanilla please.  These words were uttered by my niece Alicia, who last year wanted a seven layer Rainbow Cake.  I was stunned.  I tried to cajole her into having a bit of colour or some extra flavour, but being the stubborn mule that she is (she gets it from her father...) it was vanilla or nothing.  Well, if I have to make a vanilla cake, I'm going to be certain that it's absolutely, positively the best vanilla cake ever. 


Friday, November 29, 2013

Chicken and Rice Vermicelli Salad (FODMAP friendly)

A low FODMAP diet can be complex and boring if you are not sure about the right foods to eat. This salad is worlds away from bland and boring - vibrant, colourful and zesty, it combines Eastern flavours like ginger, soy and sesame with tangy and sweet mandarin pieces. Rice vermicelli noodles absorb flavours well and add to the eastern feel of the dish, not to mention that they will satisfy any appetite! The contrast between the greens of the spring onions and salad leaves and oranges of the mandarins and carrots really brings this dish alive.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Great Outdoors - Being Active Over Winter

Being active over the winter season can be quite challenging. If you can’t stand the thought of going to the gym (me) but would prefer a gentle form of exercise that you can fit into your day or at the weekend (me again) - Walking is the perfect answer and, wherever you live, you can get started straight away. Winter walks are the perfect way to get to know your local area, exploring the countryside and taking in the scenery. Avoid the worst of the weather, and you could enjoy the amazing scenes of the changing seasons, from the shafts of sunlight breaking through the bare trees to the crunch of frost on the grassy fields. Hopefully not too much frost though. Not a fan of the old ice myself...

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Review : Lunch at Jamie's Italian, Dundrum

Jamie’s Italian opened just over a year ago in Dundrum Town Centre and has been a mecca for diners wanting a taste of the Jamie Oliver experience.  Set out over two levels, one at bar level with cosy booths, the other at street level with varying sizes of tables, it’s a cavernous space which works against the odds.   Tables are simply set with white Jamie-branded tea towels, cutlery and water glasses.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Apple and Pear Brownies

I promise this is the final mention of that giant basket of pears I was gifted by my parents.  Listen, there were so many of them, you're lucky that I only have four recipes...  Pears and chocolate have a natural affinity and I love to match them up together whenever I can.  This time, I used two different types of fruit - a healthy helping of my Pear Puree and a bag of fantastic Apple and Pear pieces from Urban Fruit.  I'm a big fan of their products because they work perfectly when I'm baking.  The trick to using dried fruit like this is to separate it gently by hand and if it's a bit sticky, dust the pieces in some of the flour from your recipe.  This stops it clumping together and it will disperse evenly through your cake. 

Anyway, back to the brownie.  Lots and LOTS of chocolate makes for a squidgy, luscious brownie and this recipe literally feeds the five thousand.  You'll need a very big deep pan for baking.  If you don't have one, use a roasting tin that you've washed scrupulously and lined with baking parchment.  See, you can make these bad boys.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Chocolate, Pear and Mascarpone Cake

A coupe of week ago, I put a bucket of pears from my parents' garden to very good use.  I made a huge batch of Pear Puree which I froze in batches, knowing I'd find something very delicious to make with it all. The first recipe was a Pear Frangipane Tart and that was very well received indeed.  Because I've been away a good bit, I had temporarily lost my baking mojo but I soon rediscovered it last weekend.

The recipe to get me back in the groove brought together a delicious soft chocolatey sponge cake, a batch of the pear puree and some creamy mascarpone cheese (with a slug of pear liqueur for the grown ups).  You can make this in the afternoon and have a very impressive cake with not very much effort at all by teatime.  What's not to love???

Sunday, November 10, 2013

My Top Books for Christmas Cooks

Books about food have definitely replaced socks and gloves as to go-to Christmas gift.  Not sure to buy for your office Kris Kindle?  Sure, a cookery book will do the job nicely.  A quick last minute gift for a friend who can't burn water?  There's a book for that too.  I read an awful lot of cookery books during the year and here's my list of Top Books for Christmas Cooks that I think will suit somebody you know, or even better, as a little treat for yourself...

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Italian Sausage Stew

I'm cold.  I need warming food. And I need it now (or within an hour...).  I've made variations on sausage casserole loads of times before but finding a bundle of Cavolo Nero in the supermarket led me down the Italian route.  Cavolo Nero is a black Italian cabbage, some would call it kale, call it what you want but it's a great addition to any stew or casserole as it's really robust and tasty.  This quantity serves 4 hungry people easily, even more if you stretch it out with creamy mashed potatoes and some extra vegetables or pulses.  If I had it to hand, I would have added a can of cannellini beans too.  Yum.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

No Angry Birds on Ryanair

Love them or loathe them, you can't deny that Ryanair have given the travel industry a kick up the rear end over the past 20-odd years.  Prices have come down, foreign travel is more accessible than every and most of us have adapted to their like it or lump it approach.  I know that in recent weeks, they've started to become a little more customer-focused and this can only be good.  Speaking of good, did you know that Ryanair have published a Cabin Crew Charity Calendar which has raised over €600,000 since it started in 2008?

Last week, Ryanair unveiled the 2014 Ryanair Cabin Crew Charity Calendar, which it’s hoped will raise over €100,000 for Teenage Cancer Trust.  Shot on location in Chania, Crete, the 2014 Ryanair Cabin Crew Charity Calendar features 13 fabulous cabin crew.  Charities applied for the partnership in record numbers, with over 400 applications received, and in the end Ryanair’s cabin crew selected UK charity Teenage Cancer Trust to receive the entire proceeds of the 2014 calendar.  

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Baking Is The New Cool

Here's a little question for you.  Do you get enjoyment from food?  Do you find that your troubles melt away when you sink your teeth into a delicious treat?  The idea that cakes and other goodies can promote the feeling of wellbeing is not unheard of, but just why does it happen and how can you get on board? If you've a busy life and feel that spending a couple of hours in the kitchen is a waste of time, please think again! Baking can be incredibly therapeutic which helps to keep you feeling fit, healthy and happy.  There's nothing like kneading a lump of dough to ease the tensions of the week. Combine the therapy of the baking process with the fact that you’ll be able to eat what you’ve created and you can understand why baking is considered ‘the new cool’.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Smart Shopping at Kildare Village

It's a well known fact in our house that I can't resist a bargain, be it online or in store.  I hate paying full price for anything and now that we're entering the darkest months of the year, it's time to think about buying some gifts.  I was away for the night at Savour Kilkenny with some very lovely friends and the car decided not to go home the usual way, but to take a little detour via the M7, Junction 13 to be precise.  Actually, the car knows it's own way to Kildare Village at this stage. Usually I'm accompanied by The Hubs who has no patience for shopping whatsoever, so I'm allocated 5 minutes per shop before he gets grumpy.  This time, I was on my own so I could wander around at my leisure without the little voice in my ear.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Pear Frangipane Tart

As you've seen from a previous post, I was gifted with lots and lots of pears from my parent's garden recently. I turned most of them into pear puree but the pear givers also wanted to receive them back, in the form of a cake or a tart.  "A nice one" was the instruction issued to me.  Hang on there, all of my stuff is nice.  "Oh, but no chocolate, I can't be doing with that".  Drat, no brownies for you then, ungrateful wretches...

Monday, October 21, 2013

From The Garden: Pear Puree

The Parentals have a very well stocked garden and I take advantage of their fruit and vegetable bounty as often as I can.  Sharing is caring and all that...  Last week, there was a glut of pears and Dad told me he "put a few" in the boot of my car.  A few?  There was a giant garden bucket brimming with fresh organic pears, complete with stalks, leaves and the odd snail, just for a bit of protein.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Dine in Dublin 2013 Is Here!

It's that time of year again and as I'm away next week, I thought I'd give you a heads up because Dublin’s food festival, Dine in Dublin, is once again bringing a feast of cultural delights to the city this October for a fantastic 9th season. From Monday 21st to Sunday 27th October, the festival will see top restaurants throughout Dublin city centre get involved with giveaways, special events and of course, great value offers on meals in a wide range of the city’s best eateries.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Healthy Cooking Made Easy

Balancing the books and the nutrition in your family’s diet isn't easy at the best of times.  It’s so important to cover the five food groups – dairy, fruit, protein, starchy foods and small amounts of fat and sugar – while keeping it simple to alleviate time and financial pressures.  After all, most of us have busy lives and can’t spend all day in the kitchen (I wish...).  All that's needed is a plan.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Review : Lunch at Michie Sushi, Sandyford

Birthdays are a communal affair in work, with three of us celebrating ours on two consecutive days.  Naturally, such auspicious occasions must be marked, so we wandered across the road to the newest branch of Michie Sushi in Beacon South Quarter.

Monday, October 7, 2013

A Probing Issue

One of my essential pieces of kitchen kit is a thermometer.  No, not for me, for the food!  There's loads of different types from simple sticks with a dial, a bit like the clapometers from TV talent shows back in the day, to high-tech digital food meters.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Sainsbury's Magazine and Little Old Me...

The English branch of our family (Hi Uncle John, Auntie Pat, Nic & Si) have a long and illustrious career in retailing.  Ok, so it was only a summer job for some of them but it was in a supermarket that we didn't have here in Ireland.  Staying in my Uncle and Aunt's house on holiday was always a treat for me because they had totally different food from us and I loved going around the shops seeing new things and bringing home sweets like Raspberry Ruffles for Mum.  Mind you, I tasted one of those sweets the other day and it was rank.  They've definitely tinkered with the recipe and things ain't what they used to be.

I digress.  My cousins Nic & Simon worked in Sainsbury's and I have been a fan for years.  I love a good old browse through the aisles when I get a chance, I even have a Nectar card for my shopping trips up to Belfast and I positively adore their magazine.  It's one of the few supermarket magazines that doesn't read like a giant big ad for product, and instead focuses on food.  I have quite a few of them under the coffee table in the sitting room, as I like to hoard them and refer to them for inspiration.  I'm particularly fond of the Christmas editions and these are hidden away where The Hubs can't mistake them for recycling.  Yes, he's chucked out some treasured magazines on me in the past so once bitten and all that.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Sticky Lemony Gingerbread Cake

I don't usually talk about the day job but last week was great fun.  I've been working on a cake project for work for the past few months - doing it professionally is a lot more difficult than nipping into my kitchen and whipping up a cake - and a box of new samples arrived on my desk.  Being the caring sharing person that I am, I broke them out and got the highly qualified taste testers to give me their expert opinions. The cakes were universally well received (phew!) and then a little voice piped up "that would be even better if we could merge the two of them together".  Well JP, thanks for the suggestion!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Vanish : The Ultimate Stain Slayer

As you know, I cook and bake a lot of dishes at home so I can create delicious recipes for you here.  All of this experimentation isn't without risks as I am the queen of dropping spoons, creating splatter and generally covering myself in stains that can be pretty tricky to remove.  You name it, I've been coated in it : tomato sauce, chocolate, curry, oil, salad dressing, mustard.  And usually when I've forgotten to don an apron.  Clever...

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Review : Ouzos, Dalkey, Co. Dublin

It's part and parcel of modern life that your friends and family members emigrate in search of a better or different life.  Luckily, not too many of our gang have left these shores but one wanderer returned from his new life in Australia for a visit home recently.  Being mature and mainly married, the lads decided that a sit down dinner instead of a night boozing was the appropriate manner to welcome Dave The Rave back home and a large table was booked at Ouzos in Dalkey.  Ouzos is part of a very small group of two small but perfectly formed restaurants, with the other being in Blackrock, Co. Dublin.  Owner Padraic Hanley is very proud of using the best local meat and fish to give customers great food at accessible prices. The Dalkey restaurant is a two storey long l-shaped room with windows to the front both upstairs and downstairs. The night we dined there was very warm so we were delighted to be sitting upstairs facing the three open windows and enjoying the breeze.

Image courtesy of Ouzos

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Raspberry and Coconut Sponge Cake

One of my favourite Irish brands, Brodericks, make the most delicious raspberry and coconut slice.  It's so good that I have to stay away from the local shop in work otherwise I'd be eating one every day, and although that would be great for their profits, it wouldn't be so great for me!  As it's coming to the end of the soft fruit season, I decided to bake a cake as an homage to Barry and Bernie bringing together juicy fresh raspberries and a mixture of dessicated and toasted coconut to create a truly amazing cake.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Childerbeasts Bake A Birthday Cake for ME

Good things happen in threes.  It's my birthday today (yes, I do look at least a decade younger than my real age, you're SO kind) and I thought it would be rather a low-key affair, being as it's not a major one ending in a zero.  This just goes to prove that even I am wrong sometimes, as the past few days have been very much a cakey love filled celebration.

There's nothing quite like teamwork...

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Normandy Pork Casserole with Cider and Cream

One of my favourite things to do when I'm out food shopping is to have a good rummage through the Reduced to Clear areas of a supermarket.  It's all the rage now but I've been doing it for years - nothing gladdens my heart more than a yellow sticker on something really useful.  The advice of "shop after 5pm" for the best bargains isn't necessarily true - I've found some of my best buys at lunchtime or on a Saturday night.  So why am I waffling on about frugality?  Well, this casserole started with a packet of Stir Fry Pork Strips reduced from €4.50 to €2.  It languished in my freezer for a few weeks but was liberated from the icy depths for a Sunday evening dinner - the posh ones amongst you might call it supper...  I didn't have anything remotely stirfry-able in the fridge so I created a lovely casserole.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Review : Le Puits d'Enfer, Chateau d'Olonne, France

When we go to France on holidays, we usually rent an apartment or stay in a mobile home campsite.  We love the freedom on being able to cook or go out to try the local food.  Usually, the accommodation isn't very central and somebody (that would be me...) has to drive to find anywhere to eat.  Not this year.  We were absolutely blessed with our accommodation in Chateau d'Olonne because not only did it overlook the sea, but it was 200m from the nearest restaurant which happens to be Le Puits d'Enfer.

It was the start of the summer season and we decided to eat out on Saturday night, so we locked up the apartment and set off for the long 200m stroll to Le Puits d'Enfer for dinner.  Because the resort was quiet, we assumed that we'd have no problem in grabbing a table.  Wrong.  The restaurant was absolutely packed to capacity.  Dreams of my "cooked for me by somebody else" dinner were fading fast until I had a brilliant idea.  We could eat outside on the deserted terrace.  The waitress clearly though we were totally bonkers until I explained that we were Irish and to us, the temperature outside was positively tropical.  She relented and led us to a table overlooking the sea so we were entertained by waves crashing against the rocks below.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Beef and Stout Hotpot

Better than Betty's Hotpot, this is a wintery dish, but have you seen the weather recently?  Our poor BBQ is swaddled in a soggy protective coat and my sun lounger is folded up in the corner of the patio waiting for a sunny day.  My freckles are fading!  I made these pies with delicious tender Irish beef, lots of rainbow carrots and really thinly sliced potatoes over the top.  Make a big one for a family dinner or individual ones for a cosy supper a deux or a dinner with friends.  My recipe serves four people so you can scale up the ingredients to serve 6, 8 or even 12 people.  Because it spends a lot of time in the oven, you can get on with reading the papers, painting your nails or whatever you like to do to relax...

Beef and Stout Hotpot

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Review : le bouche à oreille, Les Sables d'Olonne, France

We rarely go out for lunch on holiday, preferring to laze around the apartment and pool during the day, unless it's dull or we're planning a little excursion.  The morning was damp and drizzly so I made an executive decision to head out for lunch as I was planning to make dinner that night.  Naturally, the moment we parked the car, the sun came out and we realised that we were not slathered from head to toe in SFP 50, so we needed to find somewhere shaded for lunch, stat!. After doing our usual promenade involving checking every restaurant menu along the harbour and saying "naah", we returned to a restaurant with an enormous shaded sun terrace and a perfect view of the boats puttering their way past us.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Ethan's Skull Birthday Cake

I can't believe that another year has passed since my handsome nephew Ethan cut into his Blue Birthday Cake.  That means he wants another cake, even bigger and better because he's now into double figures at the ripe old age of 10.  Hitting that milestone means that his tastes are changing too and he politely requested a red cake with a skull on top.  Heavens to Murgatroyd, what has happened to the little boy who ran around at our wedding with a soother firmly shoved into his mouth - a SKULL???

Being the lovely, ever obliging Best Aunt In The World Ever that I am, I said yes and immediately started to fret over how I was going to make this scary cake happen.  After a restorative drink (draw your own conclusions as to what it was...) I started to surf d'interweb for inspiration and I found a skull which turned into a perfect stencil to adorn the top of the cake.  After that, it kind of fell into place.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Review : Vietnamese Home Cooking by Charles Phan

Regular readers of my blog will know that I'm not a lover of coriander (the leaf, not the seeds).  And on holiday in San Francisco in 2011, we quickly discovered that The Hubs dislikes it even more intensely than I do.  When I opened a large envelope to discover a copy of Vietnamese Home Cooking by Charles Phan inside, I couldn't stop laughing.  Charles Phan is the chef-owner of The Slanted Door restaurant in San Francisco.  He also owns Out The Door in the Ferry Marketplace, where we bought that infamous coriander-strewn dinner!

Monday, August 19, 2013

It's The Little Things

There are times when I shouldn't be allowed within an asses roar of the internet, or a credit card.  Combine them both and I am lethal... eBay, Etsy and Lakeland are my usual ports of call when I want to splash my non-existent cash and I'm very good at hiding my purchases from The Hubs.  Honestly, if he knew about half of the stuff I bought on the sly, then I'd really be in hot water.  Oh, I forgot that he reads the blog too.  Never mind...

A few months ago I saw some very dotey little cookie cutters on another website and bookmarked them, together with a millionty other items I couldn't possibly live without, even though the house is crammed to capacity.  And I bought them.  To save on postage, I used Parcel Motel - another site that gleefully enables my shopping habits - and they were very very cute indeed.  They sat on the kitchen table for about a month waving at me from their cute little wrappers but I was on a blog hiatus due to Dodgy Back so I ignored them.  Until last night.  You see I had forgotten to put the butter back into the fridge and it was at the stage that is best described as malleable.  Perfect for making the sweetest, shortest, butteriest biscuits in the world.  And here we are.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Review : Cicchetti by Lindy Wildsmith and Valentina Harris

Everybody is familiar with Spanish tapas and pintxos from the Basque region at this stage.  Italy isn't exactly renowned for its range of little bites to accompany an aperitivo, right?  Wrong.  Venice is the home of the cicchetti, a refined range of special snacks.  Called spuntini, piccoli cibi and stuzzichine in other parts of Italy, these delicious little snacks are the perfect accompaniment to an early evening aperitivo or in larger quantities as a light lunch.

Cicchetti: And Other Small Italian Dishes To Share is co-written by Lindy Wildsmith and Valentina Harris.  Lindy has written several books about Italian food and loves all things Italian.  Valentina Harris is an acknowledged expert on Italian food, having written over 30 books on the subject and has appeared on many television programmes sharing her food philosophy of using local seasonal produce to make dishes with maximum care and minimum fuss.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Thanks Happy Badger For Paying It Forward

A few weeks ago, I got an email from a lovely Happy Badger but I put it on hold because of Dodgy Back.  When I re-read the email, I was intrigued and then incredibly touched.  Happy Badger isn't an animal who roams through the woods but an entity who wants to spread happiness across the blogosphere.  In return for this blogpost, Happy Badger is going to give £50 (€58) to a charity of my choice.  How could I refuse?

Let me tell you a little bit about my chosen charity:  The Blackrock Hospice provides specialist palliative care to people experiencing the impact of a life-threatening illness, to assist family and caregivers through this experience and to bring solace to those grieving the death of a loved one.  the Blackrock Hospice delivers palliative care through four different services - the inpatient unit, the day hospice, in acute hospital settings and through the homecare team.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

I'm Back with Plum, Vanilla and Almond Cake

Well I'm back from my enforced break.  The back is settling nicely and it's time to start cooking.  It's summer fruit season once again which means lots of berries or stone fruits for dessert with cream or icecream.  Sometimes you want to make a sharing dessert instead and this luscious teatime treat ticks all the boxes.  It's a very simple sponge with ground almonds and lots of aromatic vanilla extract topped with sweet juicy plums.  The plums sink to the bottom of the sponge and become very sticky (which is why you need to line the cake tin base with baking paper).

Plum, Vanilla and Almond Cake

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Normal Service Shall Resume Shortly

When I came home from France,  I brought home a little extra thing that I wasn't expecting.  I had managed to hurt my back and was scuttling around like a crab, with a temperament to match.  I don't really like anything that interferes with my daily life so this was most unexpected.  When I couldn't get out of bed without swearing like a trooper, I knew I needed to visit the doctor.  He was pretty unhappy and sent me for an MRI (no, they didn't find a brain) which showed up the aftereffects of an injury from when I was 16. Stop counting back right now, it's just rude... I had broken a bone in my lower back which is pretty unbreakable and spent a few months in a haze of morphine injections into my spine (ouch) and was pretty much bedbound for that summer. But memories fade and I hadn't paid it much heed since. To quote Jim Steinman, It's All Coming Back To Me Now.  With a vengeance.  I've a lovely gap between my vertebrae where one should not be, hence the current crab status and dose of sciatica.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

In The Name of Love : My Pride Rainbow Cake

Last weekend was the Dublin Pride 2013 festival where men and women from across Ireland came together to celebrate LGBT life.  It's actually the largest Pride festival in the country and has grown from a one-day event in 1983 to a ten-day festival with a huge arts, social and cultural content.  It's loud, it's proud and it's colourful.  Speaking of which, my work friend Ms. Katona (not her real name but we  know who she is) collared me back in January to make her a cake for a Pride party.  It had to be big, brash, bright and most of all, delicious.

I based it on the birthday cake I made for my niece Alicia last year but ramped up the flavours to suit an adult palate.  The actual cake mixture and method was identical, but I changed the icing to a white chocolate sour cream because it's more adult friendly.  Katona was ever so slightly happy with the cake and it was cut long in advance of the actual party.  Some people have no self-control!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Review : Clodagh's Kitchen Blackrock

Clodagh's Kitchen Blackrock is a new development for Clodagh McKenna, who has created a cosy niche in Arnotts on Henry Street in Dublin 1.  Located on the upper floor in the Blackrock Shopping Centre (on the same level as Superquinn) the restaurant is quite Avoca-esque in its decor, with comfortable banquettes and booths, marble topped tables and pretty cottage style flowers in water glasses.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Cooking on Holiday : My Experience

As you might have gathered, myself and The Hubs swanned off to France for our annual holidays at the start of June.  Most people go on holiday with the purpose of doing absolutely nothing in the cooking department apart from opening a packet of peanuts or a bottle of wine.  Not me.  I'm one of those odd people who actually likes to cook when we are away.  There's two reasons for this : I'm a big fan of wandering around the supermarkets and markets, picking up things, planning lunches and dinners and generally enjoying the experience.  The Hubs is usually enjoying his third snooze of the morning at this point, he's not a fan of shopping, just of eating.

The second reason is that we bring the car.  That means absolutely no space restrictions so I can pack whatever I like without some hatchet faced witch scowling at me over my big fat obese luggage.  I have a kitchen crate which fits everything I want to bring with me.  Despite promising to streamline it every year, the crate gets fuller and fuller.  This year it contained my newly sharpened kitchen knife (a blunt knife is a dangerous knife and I don't trust the ones in rented accom!), chopping board, frying pan, tongs, teatowel, condiments, ice bags, my trusty corkscrew, cleaning wipes, kitchen roll, a measuring jug and whatever else is to hand while I'm packing.  I know this sounds a bit excessive but I've been doing self catering in France for 10 years now and I've worked with some pretty dodgy kitchen equipment and appliances in the past.  So, I come prepared!

Our lovely apartment in Residence l'Estran

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Roasted Butternut Squash Fritters

Last week, I was being very clever and not just using my oven for cooking one single thing.  I had a lemony garlicky chicken roasting for weekday lunches and I spied a Butternut Squash in the vegetable rack that had survived the pre-holiday cull.  It looked perfectly serviceable so I decided to roast it and do something with it later.  I just split it, scooped out the seeds, gave it a brush of olive oil and sprinkled it with a Romanian herb and spice mix called Mititei - a gift from Little Sis's other half and roasted it at 200c/Gas Mark 6 for an hour.  Mititei is traditionally used to make meatballs but I love it sprinkled over roasted vegetables so out it came.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Buttery Balsamic BBQ Asparagus

Home, home from the holidays and my word, I'm depressed.  The visa bill has already landed, leading to many "holy crap, what did I buy there" moments and to top it all, I'm absolutely and utterly crippled with sciatica.  Damn you, substandard apartment mattress.  Oh well, nothing that a cocktail of drugs and an MRI scan won't cure (hopefully).  Tonight I was feeling a little more mobile than in recent days so I decided to break out the BBQ and cook up some dinner.  Ribeye steak was the dish du jour, together with some delicious new potatoes.  But the part I was looking forward to most was a giant pile of green asparagus, anointed with butter and balsamic vinegar, cooking away alongside the steak.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Review : Les Trois Mâts, Les Sables d'Olonnes, France

We were hungry and the restaurant was busy, so we took it as a good sign that it was going to be a good evening.  Seeing a set menu for €14 per person sealed the deal - we were going to have dinner at Les Trois Mâts.  On the quay overlooking the river in Les Sables d'Olonne, this restaurant has a large sunny verandah which was crowded at 8pm on a quiet Tuesday evening.  We were shown to the last table on the verandah where we could watch the little ferryboat cross between the two harbour walls.

The set menu for €14 contained a host of what we would consider expensive luxury dishes : prawns, oysters, mussels, steak and fish and I was looking forward to a treat at a really reasonable price.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

French Strawberry Pudding

I'm sitting on the patio outside our apartment in the very sunny Vendee in France. I've managed not just one but two visits to the supermarket even though we only got here 48 hours ago and I've had so much fun wandering the aisles with a trolley marvelling at the array of fresh fruit and vegetables.  It's strawberry season at home and I've still to buy my first punnet of ruby red Wexford strawberries but it's also the start of the season here and I discovered beautiful long and pointed Claudette strawberries, grown locally.  Their perfume stopped me in my tracks and I had to buy some.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Things I Loved In May

Wow, it's the end of the month again (that means payday and holidays for me, thank heavens) so that can only mean that I'll be telling you about what I loved in May... and April because I got a bit distracted in work with travelling and catching the Lurgy of All Lurgies.  Anyway, sit back, pour a large drink because it's nearly the weekend and read on.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Review : Mourne Seafood Bar, Belfast

Sometimes you get a feeling about a place before you've even sat down and looked at a menu.  Often, it's a "oh lord, I'm not liking the look of this place and everybody seems miserable and oh, what have I done".  And then there's the Mourne Seafood Bar in Belfast.  Tucked away on a very innocuous side street mere steps away from Castle Street and Royal Avenue, this restaurant appears remarkably unprepossessing from the outside.  Inside is entirely a different story.  You enter through a single doorway into what appears to be a fish shop, with empty, briny scented tanks to your left.  Another door takes you into a dining room, packed with happy customers but the journey isn't over.  There's more to see upstairs.  We were very lucky to get a little table just opposite the kitchen so we could see what everybody was ordering before we made our own decision. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Babaduck in the Bray People

A lovely piece in our local paper the Bray People about my demo last week in St. Fergal's School.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Day I Went Back to School with Innocent & GIY

Going to school is an experience you generally never want to repeat.  The smell of PE kit, the well intended knitting projects (it was a frog that doubled as a pincushion, honest), nature walks and generally wanting to keep moving to the next class, the next school and generally being older than you actually were. Looking back now after a few, ok a decade or three, years, I wonder why I was ever in such a rush. I went to a mixed primary school in Bray called St. Fergals which began as what would now be commonly known as a start-up in the two parochial rooms in Queen of Peace, where my Mum bribed me with a mini KitKat to get into class on time.  I actually really enjoyed school when I was little, particularly my teachers Miss Maguire, Mrs. Gillespie (who rocks into The Hubs in work every so often to tell him how lovely I was... I love her lots), Ms. Maguire who always caught me messing, and Mr. Dodd who went to school with my Dad and therefore had my instant respect. School back in the days of black and white was rather fun.  I always loved reading and singing, two things that make me happy to this day.  Cookery, to be honest, had no interest for me.  I was a child of the '70's where the most exotic thing we consumed was Vesta Risotto or Beef Curry.