Monday, December 19, 2016

Coconutty Banana Bread

Since I've been on sick leave, one of my favourite breakfasts is peanut butter & sliced banana on toast. Just add coffee and I'm happy.  However, I invariably buy too many bananas which then linger in the kitchen transforming from bright happy yellow to sullen brown spottiness.  It's use them or lose them time, so I decided to seal their fate by baking a deliciously tender banana loaf, full of crunchy walnuts and dessicated coconut to sweeten the deal.  I wonder what a slice will taste like if I slather it with peanut butter...

Monday, December 12, 2016

My Christmas Books for Cooks List

There's nothing I like more than opening a new cookery book, flicking quickly through the photos & mentally noting the ones that immediately appeal to me, before reading the contents list.  It's always a voyage of discovery, with some recipes I am familiar with, together with many new and exciting ones.  I am a huge fan of ebooks and my Kindle is crammed with books to enjoy, but I can't imagine ever completely moving from the traditional cookery book to an electronic version.  There's nowhere for flour encrusted slips of paper to mark my favourite recipes and my indelible buttery fingerprints on the cover - my cookbooks all happily bear traces of my presence. Today, I'm bringing you some of my favourites from 2016 which might bring you some gift inspiration, either for yourself or for somebody you love.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

It's (been) oh so quiet

Eagle eyed readers might have noticed that Babaduck came to a screeching halt three months ago, so I thought I should explain myself.  Since my early 20's, I've had endometriosis which was controlled by all sorts of treatments : hormonal, medical, surgical, you name it, I've tried it, but I seemed to be fighting a losing battle.  A chat with my GP sent me back to my consultant, the super glamorous Sharon, and after scans, tests and an MRI, it was decided that I'd be better off without my bits as they weren't fit for purpose any more.  A hilarious chat followed where Sharon declared that she didn't do enough hysterectomies to keep her hand in, so to speak, and I fell off the chair laughing.  That's me, always finding the funny and sniggering inappropriately.  So off I went to her colleague Dr. K.  He wasn't as glam, and would have looked ridiculous in Sharon's heels, but he certainly knows his stuff.  More scans, the discussion that I could also possibly have cancer, and a biopsy was needed to be sure, to be sure.  Dr, K is not a man to walk into a situation unprepared, and I'm all the better because of it.

My nurse.  Napping on the job...

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Wine Society at Hayfield Manor

Hayfield Manor is an oasis of calm in the middle of bustling Cork City.  Hidden from view by an innocuous driveway, this family-run hotel delivers a five star luxury experience with charm and grace.  Not only does it offer guests a beautiful place to stay, but Hayfield Manor loves wine, with a subterranean wine cellar and dining room in the basement.  The Vine wine cellar not only contains a collection of exceptional wine, curated by sommelier Sandra Biret Crowley, but also hosts their Wine Society evenings.

I was invited to attend the May dinner which featured Rustenberg Winery from South Africa, represented by winemaker Murray Barlow and whose wines were chosen to complement the five course meal created by Executive Head Chef Mark Staples.  Founded in 1862, the Rustenberg Estate is a family winery in the valley of the Simonsberg Mountain, right in the heart of Stellenbosch. Peter & Pamela Barlow purchased Rustenberg in 1941 and have worked with nature to create a range of truly exceptional wines, some of which were showcased at the Wine Society dinner.  Their son Simon took over in 1987 and his son Murray, who holds a Masters in Oenology, has now joined the team, both making wine and marketing it globally.  What a fabulous job to have!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Review : Summers Under the Tamarind Tree

There are some cookery books that merit more than a quick glance and a once over of the recipes, especially ones which tell a story about life in a faraway land full of recipes handed down through generations. Karachi-born Sumayya Usmani has written such a book, with a lovely foreword by the iconic Madhur Jaffrey. Based in Glasgow, she is a former solicitor who wrote about her nostalgic childhood recipes on her blog My Tamarind Kitchen.  She has now written her first book : Summers Under the Tamarind Tree, a collection of recipes and memories from Pakistan which offers a great understanding of the spirit, passion and flavours of her homeland.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Airfield's Festival of Food

Airfield Estate is hidden away in a corner of south Dublin, just a few minutes from the busy Dundrum Shopping Centre. You may have driven by the gates many times without realising what was within - a 38 acre working urban farm, cafe, gardens and heritage experience. Established over 40 years ago in 1974 by the Overend family, Airfield offers visitors a unique opportunity to experience food, farming and nature, just steps from the Luas.

Airfield's Festival of Food returns from Friday 9th - Sunday 11th September to really inspire people to think about where their food comes from and how they can protect their environment. It will offer visitors (like you) the very best of Irish food and drink over a weekend packed with workshops, talks, food markets, unique dining experiences and activities for all ages. Entrance to the festival is free but some events are ticketed.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Apricot Frangipane Tart

I know, I know... enough with the stone fruits and almonds.  Yes, I'm guilty of creating as many variations of the classic frangipane tart as possible but they're all so delicious and really easy to make.  They look really impressive too, so it's the perfect dessert at any time of year.  With stone fruit in season, it's very hard not to make the most of them.  And I promise, this is the last one I'll bring you for ages.

You're right, there's some nectarines in this tart too.  Truthfully, it's because I ran out of apricots and had to make an emergency substitution.  However, this means you can use any stone fruit - try plums, greengages, peaches, mangoes... they'll all be equally delectable when smothered in almond cake batter and baked until tender.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

My Splashy Flashy Garden Fence

Let me start by apologing (once again) for the radio silence of late.  Life has been a little bit hectic for the past few months because the day job has become twice as busy as I planned and my spare time usually involves sleep, sleep and even more sleep.  Honestly, I'm not complaining because I really do love my day job and it gives me the chance to travel and do some phenomenal things, but when you're juggling everything, something's got to give.  Whoops, that was Babaduck hitting the ground with a thud.  Right, enough apologies and explanations for now.

The finished masterpiece

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Chimichurri Lamb. Easy Tasty Fun*

A traditional Sunday roast, rich Greek moussaka, a warming bowl of Irish Stew. They'd all be nothing without delicious, tasty lamb.  It's not just for special occasions or celebration meals - there's a multitude of lamb cuts which are quick, simple and very easy to cook.  Given how busy our lives have become, anything which gives us a chance to create something delicious in moments has to be worth a try.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Nectarine & Cherry Upside Down Cake

When we were kids, an upside down cake was an exotic American creation, baked by a friend of my parents.  It was a world away from Victoria sponges and apple tart on a plate, and we couldn't get enough of it.  Pineapple was usually reserved for gammon steaks and glace cherries for buns or Christmas Cake, so to bring the two together with syrupy sponge was a complete revelation.  Nowadays I like my pineapple barbequed, my cherries fresh and my cake a little less sweet.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Tipperary's got Great Taste

If you've ever been in a shop and spotted a little gold and black sticker with one, two or even three stars, it's been the recipient of a prestigious Great Taste Award. Over 10,000 products are entered into Great Taste annually, with only a tiny minority being awarded coveted 3 star accolade. Last year, Tipperary butcher Pat Whelan won not just 3 stars, but also the Supreme Champion award for his sublime Beef Dripping.

The Shrine to Divine

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Super Cheesy Parmesan & Chive Scones

There is nothing nicer than a fluffy scone, liberally spread with good Irish salted butter and perhaps a dollop of raspberry jam.  Until you make a savoury scone crammed full of cheese and fragrant herbs and realise what you've been missing out on.  I'll be honest, scone making has never been my special skill and when I was learning to bake in Home Economics class in school, mine were usually an unmitigated disaster.  Overworked, dry and tough, my scones could have been used as a hockey puck.  Not now however, I have a secret weapon to transform my scones into little fluffy angels - my food processor.  It blends butter and flour together in an instant and means that anything that uses the rubbing-in method turns out as light as air.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

It's OK not to feel OK

For the past few months, I've been organising the local leg of Cycle Against Suicide 2016 which came to my adopted home of Arklow on Friday May 6th.  Rather than a fundraising exercise, the main objective of the Cycle is to raise awareness of the considerable help and support in place for people battling depression, self-harm, suicide or those bereaved by suicide.  I initially volunteered because of the suicide of a friend last year, seeing the devastation of their family and hoping that we would never be in a situation like that again.  I did write about it at the time but it was too raw to publicise and I wanted to do something practical to help instead.

Some of the TY students of St. Mary's College

Sunday, April 10, 2016

It's Spanish Wine Week!

The very first Spanish Wine Week starts tomorrow with a feast of fabulous wine events all across Ireland.  Organised by Wines from Spain, this week long event is designed to give food and wine lovers the chance to feel the passion and learn more about Spanish wines in a series of tastings, talks, restaurant offers and competitions.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Chocolate Pear Sponge Pudding

I'll be frank, I bought a punnet of pears with absolutely no idea what to do with them, until Ru wandered into the kitchen on Saturday evening wondering what we had for dessert.  I'd like to point out that I hadn't even started on cooking dinner yet so yes, he is also a greedy sod like me,  I had plenty of ideas running around my brain - poached pears, Poire Belle Helene, pear gingerbread... but I fancied something warm and gooey and full of chocolate.  The pears I bought were actually Conference, perfect for baking as they soften brilliantly with heat so I had a solution.

I made an all in one chocolate sponge batter, peeled and cored the pears and threw it all together into the oven.  15 minutes to prepare and 30 minutes to bake means that it's not an enormous effort and there's only one bowl to wash up afterwards, so it's one of the best no fuss desserts you can pull together at minimum notice.  If you don't have fresh pears, tinned ones are perfect (it's my usual failsafe) and this would be delicious with tinned apricots.  And if the chocolate sponge isn't enough, you could tuck a square or two of chocolate into the hollow of the pear.  Adding a shot of espresso to the sponge batter would also really ramp up the chocolate flavour.  And add some Poire William liqueur to some softly whipped cream for a grown up dessert.  We drowned ours in creme anglaise which we brought back from France and it was so delicious that I forgot to take a photo.  Whoops...

Chocolate Pear Sponge Pudding

8 ripe Pears, peeled, cored, trimmed and halved
190g Plain Flour
190g Caster Sugar
240g Butter, very very soft
40g Cocoa
1.5 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
1 tbsp Vanilla Extract
1 tbsp Milk
3 Eggs

Prepare the pears and leave to one side

Generously grease a large baking dish with butter and preheat your oven to 170c / Gas Mark 4

Beat all the other ingredients together in a food mixer until really well combined.  If it looks a little dry, add another drop of milk.  It should be a floppy consistency rather than either stiff or pourable.

Arrange the pears roughly in the base of the dish and pour over the chocolate sponge batter.  Level out and bake for 30 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.

Allow to cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.  You can make this ahead and reheat it for 10 minutes at 150c/Gas Mark 3

Friday, March 25, 2016

Easy Moroccan Lamb Tagine

I'm having a lot of fun at the moment restocking my freezer by cooking one pot meals like my Beef and Ale Stew - they're so easy to do and as they're cooked in one pot, cleaning up is a doddle.  Best of all, stews and casseroles use the most inexpensive cots of meat so are ridiculously thrifty.  Actually, Simply beef and lamb have a whole heap of slow-cook, frugal recipes on their LivePeasant pages and I've adapted one of theirs to create my version of a Moroccan Lamb Tagine Traditionally, this is served in a tagine dish - you know the one with the cone shaped lid - but you can do it in a casserole dish and nobody will know.

My Easy Moroccan Lamb Tagine

Friday, March 18, 2016

One Pot Beef and Ale Stew

There's nothing quite like the smell of a stew simmering gently in a pot on the hob to bring everybody to the table, especially when the weather is so changeable and can't decide if sun or snow is on the way.  Sunday afternoons are the perfect time to make a stew as you've time on your hands and chopping a pile of vegetables is remarkably therapeutic.  Stews are perfect lazy food as they're always easy one pot meals, saving on a mountain of washing up.  Just team them with a pile of creamy mashed potatoes and dinner is sorted.  I love that they're great value for money as you're using inexpensive cuts of meat, which, when slowly cooked, turn into a deliciously tender meal.  We're basically going back to peasant food, but in a modern style.

You can also turn a stew into a pie filling - make sure you reduce the sauce if it's a little thin* and just top with your favourite pastry.  Traditionally, Guinness is the beer of choice in a stew like this, but I decided to keep it local and use a red ale from Wicklow company O Brother Brewing.  It's the perfect match to beef and mushrooms.  Why not make this stew with a local beer or ale from your area?

Friday, March 11, 2016

Gooseberry Cloud Cakes

When I was a little girl, I used to go to work sometimes with my Dad where I'd be put to work filing invoices.  Slave labour, eh!  I was always distracted by the giant gooseberry bushes outside and used any excuse to disappear outside and pick as many as I could carry.  I learned pretty quickly that they weren't like regular berries and needed to be cooked first.  Holy moly, the sourness of a raw gooseberry is pretty unforgettable!  Something you rarely see now is Gooseberry Jam and I came across a jar in Danish home store Søstrene Grene last week which I simply couldn't resist.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Review : Flanagan's Restaurant, Dublin 1

O'Connell Street rarely trips off the tongue when recommending restaurants, unless you like your food fast and cheap.  Thankfully there's now a real option for well cooked, great quality food on this once fine street with the arrival of Flanagan's Restaurant.  Just steps from Henry Street and the GPO, it opens for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a very tourist-friendly menu featuring Irish ingredients such as Jameson infused salmon and Irish Stew.

Friday, February 26, 2016

French Apple and Almond Galette

Sometimes you just want something sweet and easy to make.  Well, I certainly do. In the freezer was a sheet of all butter shortcrust pastry left over from Christmas and there were some cooking apples lurking around in need of a home.  I couldn't be bothered to go hunting for a tin in the cupboard so I made a freeform tart, also known as a galette (ooh la la).  It's remarkably simple to put together but looks very impressive when it emerges from the oven, full of tender apple and bronzed almonds.  If you're really gilding the lily, a drizzle of salted caramel adds an extra touch of sticky sweet decadence.  Go on, you know you want to...

Sunday, February 21, 2016

I Wish I Was As Thin As That Sauce...

I've been watching The Restaurant for years, sniggering at the pretentious commentators and sometimes in awe of the food that the celebrity chefs created in the kitchen.  Usually however, I was very grateful to be at home watching from a distance  Last summer, I was invited to participate in the latest series as a featured diner which involved an audition interview - I was almost expecting to outline where I see myself in five years time*

Our Celebrity Chef, Rory Cowan from Mrs. Brown's Boys
with The Restaurant maître d' John Healy

Friday, February 5, 2016

Romantic Chocolate Raspberry Sponges

I'm a total sucker for anything heart shaped and when I came across some heart shaped foil tins in Tiger, I was sold.  And as Valentines Day is just s few days away, why not create a romantic little cake for the one you love?  The dark chocolately sponge with ruby juicy raspberries are always a match made in heaven.  You could adorn it with a chocolate ganache icing or perhaps some whipped cream spiked with Creme de Framboise liqueur for a very decadent treat.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Crispy Cheesy Baked Omelette

Do you know what the best thing is about potatoes?  Leftovers.  Whether it's mash to make colcannon or potato cakes, roast for dousing in gravy or my favourite, steamed for practically everything else.  I always cook more than I need because next day's lunch or dinner is just as delicious.  Take my Crispy Cheesy Baked Omelette.  With leftover potatoes, it's ready in 20 minutes.  Starting from scratch, add an extra 15 minutes - I promise you that it's worth it.  Baked omelettes are great for using up anything that's sitting in the fridge but my firm favourite is ham, spring onion and parmesan.  I'm lucky to have an enormous chunk of Italian heaven in my fridge, so any excuse to grab a grater and add it to anything I can.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Single Syn Cottage Pie

I'll be honest with you, I am full of good intentions but sometimes lack the killer instinct to carry them to fruition.  Late last year, I was invited to speak at one of the Dream It, Do It events hosted by my friend Fiona Dillon and her friend Nicola Carolan.  Nicola is also known as The Naked Blondie and has basically changed her life by documenting her weight loss journey with Slimming World.  While I was waiting for my turn to talk (and you know how much I love to talk...) I was inspired by how Nic has revolutionised her life and since then we've kept in touch, particularly on Snapchat where there's lots of banter and fun in equal measure.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Speedy Sizzling Suppers at M&S

Yes it's Friday!!  Weekends are all about spending time doing things you love or just relaxing with friends and family (in our case, it's me, Ru and the fluffy dog too).  Sometimes you'll cook, sometimes you'll order a takeaway - it all depends on how much effort you want to put in.  I'm rather fond of the Marks and Spencer Asian stir fry meal deal which is on at the moment.  For just €10, you can create 650 stir fry combinations for two - and it's a great way to get part of your five a day.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Baked Brunch Frittata

We love brunch in our house at the weekend.  Anything that has bacon tends to qualify so hello Eggs Benedict, Pancakes with Maple Syrup and Bacon, a dirty fry and this delicious object.  Omelette or Frittata?  Technically this is a frittata as it's baked in the oven and there's no watching of pans or flipping of eggs required. Either way, it's incredibly easy and a great Sunday brunch with very little fuss. Use whatever's lying around your fridge - change the cheese, add peppers (shudder), leftover cold potatoes, peas - anything goes here.  It's ready in 20 minutes and you'll look like a culinary genius.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Toffee Apple Crumble

Welcome to 2016 everybody.  I'm not one for long lists of resolutions, so I'm just going to try and follow the French advice to "manger, bouger" which basically means eat less and move more.  If I manage to achieve that, then I'll be a happier person. Anyway, enough of the fluffy stuff, back to the food.  On New Years Eve, I wanted to make us a nice warming storm-proof dessert because the weather outside was filthy.  Cooking apples were on special in the local supermarket so I bought a pack of 4 for 49c and decided to go back to basics with a comforting Apple Crumble...