It’s beginning to taste a lot like Christmas…

Freezing temperatures are the new norm here in Dublin, so my family and I have spent the last few weeks hibernating…we’ve been eating lots of hearty soups with brown bread, and slow-cooked delights such as lamb shanks in red wine and pulled pork.  (We’ve also become COMPLETELY addicted to Masterchef: The Professionals. Best cooking competition on TV, hands down!)

I had to peel myself off the couch, pull out the baking paper, and turn  on my Christmas brain though, as the countdown is now well and truly on! Most of my shopping is done now (my husband and I come from small families!), but there is still some gift-making ahead of me – neighbors, teachers, and co-workers are all taken into account as I begin my annual gift-making bonanza. I began with some sugar cookies for my office cookie tray (now conveniently awaiting their fate in the freezer), and had some very special decorators in to help me!


The vast majority of the gifts that I give are food related, but not all involve hours slaving over an oven. One year, I filled gift bags with  jars of homemade chutney, Carr’s water biscuits, and a beautifully wrapped wedge of comté cheese. Another year, I filled mugs with a cocoa mix, marshmallows, and candy canes and wrapped them with cellophane and ribbon. Then, about 3 years ago, I discovered a recipe for the most wondrous thing of all: Winter Bark. The first year I gave it as an accompaniment to what I thought was a lovely gift – cashmere scarves for my son’s teachers. They all thanked me for the gifts, but no one actually mentioned the scarves…only these delicious, salty-sweet, totally addictive chocolate treats. The next year, I gave cinema vouchers and  more winter bark – same reaction! The thing is, Winter Bark is EMBARRASSINGLY easy to make, and not even particularly costly! The key is to use good dark chocolate (not necessarily expensive stuff though – I buy mine from Aldi)  and to make sure you buy salted peanuts. I will be making at least 4 batches of this stuff to give to friends and neighbors over the next week or so. It’s also great to have on hand in case someone pops in with an unexpected gift, or if you’re having a drinks party. It’s also a very good last minute gift if you just stock up on the ingredients.

Speaking of drinks parties, my family and I plan to restart our open house tradition this year. We took a year off last year, as we traveled at Christmastime, but we like to invite friends, neighbors, and colleagues over on the Sunday before Christmas for mulled wine, mince pies, and general merriment. I’ll hold my hands up and say that I just don’t have the patience to fuss with a load of handmade mince pies, so I let Marks and Spencer do the honors, but I do put together a few homemade touches. One of my favorite snacks for a get together (aside from a giant cheese platter…) are these Rosemary Brown Sugar Walnuts from one of the most gorgeous food blogs on the web. Sometimes I substitute dried cranberries for the figs, and occasionally I skip the dried fruit altogether, depending on the state of my pantry. You can also swap the walnuts for pecans.

One of the last things I bake every year is a coffee cake for Christmas morning. My mom has made this for Christmas breakfast as long as I can remember; it’s not Christmas morning without it, in my opinion! Perfect with tea or coffee, its nutty, cinnamon flavour is the essence of the holiday season.

Coffee Cake
4 oz. butter
8 oz, sugar
8 oz. sour cream
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
16 oz. flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
For topping:
4 oz. chopped nuts (I think walnuts are nicest!)
4 oz. sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 180/350. Cream the butter, eggs, sugar, sour cream, eggs, and vanilla.  Add flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Pour batter into one 9×13 inch cake pan, two 9 inch cake pans, or one 10 in ch springform pan.  Swirl the topping throughout the batter and bake  –   time depends on the size of the pan, but the top should be golden brown and springy to the touch. Enjoy!

Frozen Assets

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m producing a show in the Absolut Fringe Festival. It’s keeping me on my toes ( along with the day job and family life) so I’ve been trying to use my time wisely and plan meals in advance. I had some quality time at home this weekend, so I decided to do some bulk cooking and freezing. This evening now finds me relaxing in front of The Sunday Game with a glass of wine safe with the knowledge that this week’s meals are done & dusted.

I started off by thinking about breakfast. Cereal is all well and good, and I do love my Special K, but it always leaves me wanting. I find that if I don’t have some kind of bread with my breakfast, I give in to the morning munchies and end up having a pastry with my eleven o’clock coffee – not good for training. So I used up the last of the garden’s summer bounty and baked a lovely batch of Rhubarb Muffins from Rachel Allen’s Food at Home and some Zucchini Bread from her brilliant Bake. The loaves of bread were sliced in half, double-wrapped  in cling film, and popped into the freezer. Muffins were popped into Ziploc bags and frozen as well. I’ll take them out the night before, leave them to defrost on the counter, and voila – breakfast!

On the savoury baking front, I also made two loaves each of brown soda bread and cheddar & bacon bread, which I’ll save for nights when we’re having some of the Minestrone and Lentil & Onion soup that I whipped up. (Seriously…I spent my entire weekend cooking…I barely ate!) Finally, I made the piece de resistance…an enormous lamb tagine a la Rachel Allen’s Easy Meals. (Do I have a Rachel Allen addiction? Maybe, but if admitting a problem is the first step to solving it, I don’t wanna!) This tagine will do us for at least three separate meals, and makes my entire family enormously happy. Served with cous cous, the ultimate fast food, it’s a great freezer treat. Here is one version of it, although if you have Easy Meals, which I highly recommend, give that recipe a try, as it uses dried apricots, which I love.

Last, but certainly not least…I also made a sweet treat to have on hand in case I need to brighten an upcoming production meeting, thank a co-worker, or keep the hubby sweet as I keep some looooong hours at work: these Peanut Butter and White Chocolate Blondies. They pretty much speak for themselves – super easy and sinfully delicious…try them. But don’t make the mistake of just making a single batch – double the recipe so you have some left for the freezer, because you will eat several straight from the oven…guaranteed.



The Best Pasta Sauce in the World. Seriously.

I really don’t think that I’m understating things here. In fact, I can’t believe that I haven’t written about this recipe before. It’s the one I always share when I get a recipe exchange e-mail, or need to whip up something to drop off to a sick friend. (It’s a better cure than chicken soup – honestly!) I was reminded of it tonight when I arrived home tired and famished from the launch of the Absolut Fringe Festival*, and realized that I had never written about it.

This recipe is from a brilliant cookbook that I reference all of the time – Keeping It Simple by Gary Rhodes. This lovely cookbook is chock full of great recipes, but is also a great reference for things like cooking times, ideas for what to do with a veg box, and how to do the classics. It also houses my go-to roast chicken and rib of beef recipes…couldn’t do Sunday lunch without it!

The recipes that I want to share today though, is a weekday staple in my house…ladies & gentlemen, I bring you…Bloody Mary Sauce. It pretty much does what it says on the tin…it’s a rich, but zingy tomato sauce with a little kick, and it’s delicious over any kind of pasta (I prefer spaghetti myself, but really, anything will do…) Perfect if you have a cold or a hangover, or if you want a quick, substantial meal that’s full of flavor. In short, AMAZING.


With these ingredients, how can you go wrong?


Bloody Mary Sauce from Keeping it Simple by Gary Rhodes

serves four

a large knob of butter

1 onion, finely chopped

3 tomatoes (I have made it with a 400g tin of tomatoes to a fine, but slightly less fabulous result)

500g/1lb 2 oz passata

a squeeze of lemon

1 t. Worchester sauce

a dash of Tabasco

a pinch of celeray salt

a splash of vodka (optional)

Melt the butter in a saucepan and gently fry the onion until soft. With the point of a knife, remove the eyes from the tomatoes. Place in a bowl and cover with boiling water for 10-15 seconds before placing under cold running water/ Peel away the skin, then quarter the tomatoes, de-seed and cut the flesh into cubes. Add the passata & tomato cubes to the onions, simmer for five minutes. Add the lemon juice, Worcester sauce, and the Tabasco. Season with celery salt & a twist of pepper, finish with a splash of vodka.

While making the sauce as above, cook the pasta until tender, drain and add to the finished sauce. Eat while making unseemly, very happy slurping noises.**


*Click here or here to learn more about my involvement with the festival!

**Not in the original directions…I may have editorialized a bit. Sorry Gary.



Dinner Dash

I was having lunch with some friends a while back when the topic of weeknight dinners was broached and a collective groan landed on the table next to my French onion soup. Everyone at the table was a working parent trying to juggle our own diary demands, plus those of our kids and partners’, while trying to satisfy our desire to sit down for tranquil family meals. It’s one hell of an equation…how can I bring child x to child y’s birthday party  whilst preparing a dinner that includes at least 2 of our 5 a day AND allows me to leave the house at 7 to dash off to colleague z’s leaving drinks? High school algebra was easier! (And that’s a strong statement coming from me…) In fact, I’ve had a draft of this blog post sitting on my computer for ages, but just haven’t had the time to proof and post it between meetings, appointments with the public health nurse, and managing the laundry.

Not everyday is like this in my house of course…I love to come home from work and lovingly stir a risotto,  roast chicken with spring vegetables, or make homemade cornbread while a pot of chili con carne simmers on the stove. In reality though, this happens a lot less often than I would like, so in order to keep dinner a budget-friendly, relatively nutritious event, I have a few recipes on stand by that I’d like to share. I can almost make them with my eyes closed at this stage, but no one has ever complained when they pop up on the table – tried and true family favorites.

The first is a lovely, summery pasta dish from Neven Maguire, one of my all-time favourite chefs. (his restaurant, McNean House is one of my happy places – get there if you can…)  This is a veggie dish with great substance and flavor without getting weighed down in too much cream, cheese, or butter.

Fettucine with Melting Courgettes (from Home Chef by Neven Maguire)

4 T. olive oil

2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped

450 g/1 lb courgettes (zuchinni where I come from!) or yellow squash

2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

2 tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped

1/2 t dried chilli flakes

250g/9oz dried fettucine

25g/1oz butter

2T flat leaf parsley, chopped

4T. grated Parmesan cheese

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-based frying pan over a low heat. Add the shallots and saute gently for about 5 minutes. Add the courgettes& garlic, then saute for a further 15 minutes until a light golden colour before adding chili flakes & thyme, then season with salt and pepper. In the mean time, cook your pasta according to the directions on the packet. When the courgettes and pasta are both finished toss together with the butter & parsley, serve in bowls with Parmesan.

Another last minute favorite of mine is from Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals and is called (for whatever reason) Jools Oliver’s Pregnant Pasta. (In my house we just call it  Yummy Sausage Pasta –  it’s easier to sell it that way…) I omit the chillies, as my little guy thinks that anything spicier than chorizo is an attempt to poison him, and I’ve often used a yellow onion instead of a the spring onions listed. (Side note: If anyone in Dublin is wondering where to buy the best sausages, my absolute favorites are the breakfast sausages from  the butcher counter at Fallon & Byrne)

These fishcakes from my home cook guru, Rachel Allen are also a crowd-pleaser in my house. You can serve them with any green veg/spud combo for a very healthy meal. In my house we favor steamed broccoli and wedges with a light dusting of paprika. Sometimes I stick them into burger buns with a bit of mayo and sell them as ‘fishburgers’ – not that they need much selling!

Spicy Salmon Fishcakes (from Rachel Allen’s Favourite Food at Home)

350g filleted & skinned salmon, roughly chopped
50g butter
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
100g white breadcrumbs
1 egg, whisked
2tsp dijon mustard
2tbsp lemon juice
2tbsp chopped coriander
6 spring onions, chopped
2tsp Worcestershire sauce
1-2tsp Tabasco sauce or 1 deseeded chilli, chopped (optional)
Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and whiz to combine. Taste* for seasoning add salt, pepper, lemon juice, or Tabasco if necessary. Shape into patties with a 3 inch diameter. Pan fry in olive oil for 3-4 minutes on each side.
*I never do this because I dont like to taste the raw mixture, but it’s in the original directions! I eat raw salmon all the time, as I’m a big sushi fan, but for some reason tasting the pulsed mixture makes me shudder…
Well, I hope that offers a few dinner dash solutions. If all else fails, I call these guys or call into Marks and Spencer for their dine-in for two special, which can generally be split 3 ways. I have a hectic week ahead, so I’ll take notes on what I come up with and let you know if I find any other gems!

Doing It for the Kids

Parenthood is full of small, joyful moments that remind you how much fun it was to be a kid. It’s a second chance to experience the amazing little things that make life worth living…jumping in muddy puddles, Saturday morning cartoons, looking for snails and slugs in the garden. So when my brilliant friend Dee posted a Facebook status about baking cupcakes in ice cream cones, my inner child started doing cartwheels. I confess, my first thought was ‘Nom, nom, nom!’ My second thought was, ‘Oh, I suppose my thre year-old might like those.’ I made a mental note to stash the idea away for a future play date which, happily, was only two days later.

Dee pointed me in the direction of this brilliant blog that inspired her own baking. The web abounds with recipes like this and this, but I took the easy route by buying a packet of Odlum’s chocolate sponge mix, some flat-bottomed cones, and toppings galore. Then, my kitchen helper and I donned our aprons and went to town. It’s a story best told in pictures…

Ummm….I think it needs more chocolate, Mom.

Ready for the oven

Let the games begin!

Really, what I need is more sprinkles. More sprinkles!

Happy days!

For the sake of the children, give this one a try…


The clouds have settled back over Dublin today, but it’s still relatively warm and I’m not giving up hope that this weekend is going to be full of sunshine. It’s a three day weekend, and I plan to make the most of it by packing up the car and heading to Wexford for some sun,  sea food, and strawberries. I adore Wexford strawberries and eat them by the truckload from April-September. I like them sliced over cereal, as a topping on my yogurt, on toast spread with ricotta and drizzled with honey, with a slice of madeira cake, tossed with baby spinach leaves and a light vinaigrette…the list is endless, but below is one of my all-time favourite creations – Boozy Berries & Cream.

Boozy Berries & Cream (serves 4)

This dish is the very definition of summer. It also has the added bonus of being ridiculously easy to prepare while looking extremely impressive – what’s not to love? I like to layer this dessert into individual martini glasses, but it could also be served in a trifle dish and spooned into bowls at the table.


4 meringue nests

250-300g of ripe strawberries, rinsed

2 tablespoons of your favourite liquor/liqueur (I have used everything from bourbon to triple sec to cognac)

250 ml cream

1 teaspoon icing sugar

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


Slice all but four of the strawberries in half. Place them in a bowl, pour over your liquor of choice, and cover the bowl with cling film. Set aside and leave to marinate at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. Gently break the meringue nests into chunks – try not to crush them too firmly because they will just turn to dust and you want a nice, crunchy texture to contrast with the gooey cream and slippery strawberries. Whip the cream with the icing sugar and vanilla extract until it forms soft peaks. By now, the marinated strawberries be basking in a lovely, boozy syrup. Begin layer the dessert with some meringue chunks, a spoonful of strawberries, a spoonful of cream, and so on. When finished the layering process, drizzle the syrup over the top and garnish with the whole strawberries and mint leaves.

Boozy Berries

Magic Mushrooms

The blog has been quiet lately due to a fairly overactive social and family life, but I’m returning with a vengeance and tonnes of motivation to write about all the food I’ve been eating/cooking over these past weeks. I could write for days about all the beautiful food I ate in Lanazarote. Equally, I could wax lyrical about the summer produce starting to make its way into my kitchen (mmm…Wexford strawberries…). Instead, this will be just a quick post inspired by the fabulous weather that has FINALLY descended upon Dublin – that’s right, it’s BBQ season!

If there’s one thing that I have learned after ten years in Ireland, it’s that Dublin is the most fabulous city in the world on sunny days. Sidewalk cafes and parks are fully of smiley, happy people, beer gardens are bursting, and everyone you meet is either eating an ice cream or en route to the shop to buy one  – it’s almost impossible to be in a bad mood. Unfortunately, these legendary days don’t happen as often as we’d like, so I’ve also learned that you have to make the most of them. If there is sun, one must BBQ. This was the inspiration behind last night’s dinner – that, and a little competition some of my co-workers and I have going on at work called Operation Slim Jim. It’s not quite as structured as Biggest Loser or Operation Transformation, but a few of us who are trying to shift a few pounds or generally be a bit fitter have banded together for a bit of group motivation. There are formal weigh-ins and friendly eyebrows raised when cake and crisps make their way into the office, and a little bit of Wednesday morning smugness if one achieves the weekly goal – all good. Trying to marry my deep-seeded desire to BBQ and newfound healthy eating regime seemed challenging until lightening struck while I wandered through the produce section of Fallon & Byrne – enter the Portobello Mushroom.

Since I’m trying to shed a few pounds, but don’t really believe in the idea of dieting, I’ve been trying to follow Michael Pollan’s creed, ‘Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.’ A few years ago, I could not have imagined a BBQ without a big, juicy burger or a fat Toulouse sausage (and I still love them both). With a little creativity and a good green grocer, however, it’s easy to put together a super fast, veggie friendly meal. This one is my own creation…my husband and I were too famished to take pre-feast photos – oops – so you’ll just have to trust me – they looked good!

Portobello Burger A La Grecque

1 Clove garlic, smashed

5 T. Olive Oil

1 T. fresh lemon juice

1/2 t. dried oregano

2 Large portobello mushrooms, brushed

50 grams feta cheese, crumbled

1 large tomato cut into thick slices

2 hand fulls of rocket (baby spinach would also work)

salt and pepper

2 whole grain burger buns (optional)

About an hour before you plan to start cooking, place the smashed garlic clove into 2T. of olive oil and leave to infuse. If you’re BBQing, give your grill time to heat too about 220, or, if it’s charcoal, until your coals are white hot and smoking. If you’re cooking indoors, use a very hot grill pan, or turn your oven grill up to 220.

Brush the mushrooms all over with the garlicky oil, season with salt and pepper, and place on your heat source for 4-5 minutes each side.  When flipping the mushrooms, pop the tomato slices on as well. While the vegetables  are cooking, mix a simple dressing with the remaining 3T. of olive oil, lemon juice, dried oregano, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss the dressing with the rockett and set aside. Toast your burger buns and take everything off the heat. Place your mushrooms on the buns upside down, fill them with the crumbled feta before layering on the grilled tomato slices and topping with rocket. Pop the on bun top and and voila!

Obviously this works just as well as a veggie stack without the bun, but I like the juicy burger feel of it. I served this with grilled asparagus tips, but sweet potato wedges or corn on the cob with chili and lime butter would also be winning accompaniments.

King of Tarts

A busy schedule and a new found interest in training for cross country races like this have led me astray from blogging, both because I haven’t had much time on my hands, and I’ve been doing a lot of basic, functional cooking (lots of poached eggs & asparagus on granary bread, veggie fried rice, and  tortilla pizzas). This past weekend, however, I was laid up with a strained foot and having friends around for drinks, so I decided to flex my culinary muscles…in the form of the most delicious, sinful, time-consuming dessert I have ever made – Rachel Allen’s Salted Caramel Chocolate Tart.

It pretty much speaks for itself…flaky pastry,  gooey chocolate, and sticky caramel with a tang of sea salt that tickles your taste buds in the best possible of ways. Amazing. It was completely worth the substantial investment of time and if you’re looking for a showstopping dessert to end your next dinner party on a high note, this is definitely it. I probably should have served it with Irish coffees instead of neat bourbon, but my guests just about survived the boozy sugar high in time for the last bus!

My next post will probably be about all of the salads I  make this week to counteract the effects of this tart and help me back on the training wagon…in the mean time, there’s one slice left, so, ahem, excuse me while I wander off to the kitchen and put the kettle on…

Love In The Oven

I feel like I was writing about Christmas last week, and all of a sudden, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner! I thought I’d put together a few ideas for simple, romantic meals to cook on the day.

Cooking a romantic dinner on a Tuesday night after a day at work and toddler bath time/bedtime madness does seem like a challenge, but it is entirely possible to whip up something special in just a few minutes.  I might borrow a page from Rachel Allen and cook a meal that’s a bit posh, but quite simple to put together – Spaghetti with Caviar.  This recipe is adapted from Food for Living.


(for 2 people)

200g/7oz spaghetti

1/2 tsp salt

100 ml fish stock

60ml/1oz creme fraiche

1tbsp caviar, plus extra for garnishing

2 tsp chopped fresh parsley

2 tsp snipped fresh chives

How To

Cook pasta according to directions on packet in a large pot of boiling, salted water. While pasta is cooking, place fish stock in a smal saucepan and boil, uncovered, for 2-3 minutes until reduced by half. Take stock off the heat, whisk in creme fraiche, stir in caviar and chopped herbs. Once the pasta is cooked, drain and mix with the caviar sauce and serve.

This dish is lovely served with dry champagne (or the bubbly of your choosing – I’m a big fan of this prosecco, but am also a firm believer that you can never go wrong with Veuve Clicquot’s Yellow Label – if there’s any night of the year that worth splashing out on the good stuff, this is it. For dessert, something citrusy hits the spot after all of the salty herbiness of the pasta – lemon macaroons from this shop, or these lemon puddings, from, again, Rachel Allen. You could even make them in these sweet little ramekins from Tesco. I picked up a set last week…it’s hard to beat the value – two for €2.50!

If you have a meat-lover in your life, steaks are actually a great week-night meal, as they take relatively little time to cook. I love this recipe for Strip Steaks with Red Wine Sauce. I’ve made it with rib eye steaks as well as strip steaks, and I think it works well with both. Serve with Caesar salad (yes, the pre-pack is fine!) and baked potatoes and you’ll be lucky in love for sure. This lovely red is ticking all of my boxes these days and is fantastic value if you can get your hands on it. I love to follow a nice steak dinner with a tiny bit of rich chocolate – this cake hits the spot.

Another quick and easy meal that can be romantic is one of my favourite no-cook options – a mezze. I absolutely adore the food of the Mediterranean & Middle East and love eating with my hands, so I’m a big fan of laying out a spread of nibbles from that part of the world, pouring 2 large glasses of red and calling it dinner. Most items are usually served at room temperature and can either be made far in advance or popped out of a jar at the last minute –  olives, almonds, pitta (or other flatbreads), hummus, vegetables roasted or grilled in olive oil (think peppers, aubergines, courgettes), feta wrapped in mint leaves, grilled halloumi, and if you’re feeling fancy, some falafel and babaganoush.  I’ll be honest here and admit that I usually warm some shop-bought falafel in the oven, but this recipe will also do the trick if you want to make it from scratch.

If you’re looking for a wine pairing, I highly recommend a bottle from this Lebanese vineyard. I’ve had a few of their reds over the years and they are absolutely gorgeous. For afters, some clementines accompanied by a few squares of dark, almost bitter chocolate is happiness defined.

And if all else fails, there’s always Dine-In delights from Marks and Spencer, who have a slightly more expensive, but very appealing offer on in their Food Hall this week. Who knows…I could end up there myself on Tuesday afternoon depending on how my calendar looks. Happy dining, lovebirds!

Rainy Day Baking

There’s been some shocking weather in Dublin over the last 36 hours – pretty steady rain with some fog and chilly mist thrown in for good measure. While I’m a big supporter of throwing on the wellies and going puddle jumping, there is only so much rain two parents and one toddler can take and only so many hours of Peppa Pig that can be watched. Fortunately, my little man has developed an interest in the kitchen, so that kept us entertained for a while yesterday.

Maybe it’s the fact that I’m always chopping something, or the fabulous set of kiddie cookware that his godmother gave him for Christmas, but he’s gotten very curious about pots bubbling on the stove and loves anything that involves cracking an egg. Here are two store cupboard recipes perfect for rainy day baking with a small person.

The first is this genius recipe from Food52 founder Merrill Stubbs. With only five ingredients and an opportunity to use the electric hand mixer, this is the perfect recipe to occupy little hands, fill your house with a sweet, buttery fragrance, and accompany the necessary rainy day cup of Earl Grey.

The second recipe is even easier and the one I went for yesterday, as it only has three ingredients. Seriously. Just three. My friend Monica posted it on Facebook not too long ago and it has become my go-to emergency cookie. I’m not sure of its origins, but it’s this easy:

1cup/200 grams sugar
1cup/250 grams peanut butter
1 egg

Mix ingredients. Roll into balls. Flatten with fork, bake on parchment-lined try for 10 minutes at 350F/180C degrees. Try not to eat them all in one sitting. It’s a struggle.