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…

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Filed under Kid-friendly, Quick & Easy, Sweet Stuff

Fruitylicious

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.

Ingredients

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

Method

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


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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.

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Filed under BBQ, Quick & Easy, Weekday

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…

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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.

Ingredients

(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!

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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.

20120130-160405.jpg

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Deskfast

Today’s post is inspired by a great article by Roisin Ingle in this week’s Irish Times about dining al desko – a popular activity these days, as post-Christmas credit card bills loom and desires to book a summer holiday blossom. We’re all looking for a way out the sandwich rut and her article as well as this post and this piece offer some great suggestions that I will definitely be trying over the coming weeks, especially the Easy Duck Pie in Ingle’s article and Peanut Chicken Noodle Salad in Usborne’s – yum.

No matter how hard I try, I will never be a morning person, even if I am an early riser these days, and I need to be up and about for an hour or two before I really develop an appetite for breakfast, so Monday-Friday I often eat breakfast at my desk. I’ve been trying to keep breakfast a bit more inspired recently, as a result of a great Christmas gift. My husband bought me a fantastic insulated coffee mug, which turned out to be the gift that keeps on giving. We had a million plastic ones lying around the place, but this stainless steel beauty keep liquids hot for up to four hours. This means that I can brew a pot of filter coffee at home, pour it into my mug, pop it into my bag, run around like a mad woman dropping my son off at creche and chasing buses, and arrive at work with a lovely, hot cup of coffee to savor – all for mere pennies! A quality cup of coffee deserves an equal partner, so I’ve made an effort to trade my slice of toast, bowl of Special K, or (I’ll be honest here…) my Cuisine de France Pain au Chocolat for something a little more upscale. Here are two recipes that I love…

The first is Bill Granger’s Cinnamon Crunch Muesli. This is not yo mama’s muesli…it’s rich, crunchy, and so delicious that it feels a little too naughty for breakfast, but it’s chock full of oats and nuts. (He uses almonds, but I have also used hazelnuts – pecans would probably be nice too). The recipe makes loads and it keeps for weeks in an airtight container. I like to make a batch and leave it in a jar on the counter. I tip a few spoonfuls into a little container while my coffee is brewing, throw it in my bag with a yogurt (this is my current favourite brand). Happy days!

Museli Ready for the Oven

Muesli for the Week

Yogurt and Muesli Parfait with a Honey Drizzle

The second recipe is one that I’ve been making as long as I remember. I’m not sure of its origins, but it’s my mom’s favourite recipe for blueberry muffins. They are super easy and delicious to a ridiculous degree. I like to make a batch on Sunday night and bring them to work or stick them in my son’s lunchbox throughout the week. They’re a lot better than store bought muffins because despite the fact that they contain a bit of butter, they’re relatively low in sugar and have tons of blueberries (antioxidants!) in them. I’ll include metric and American measurements in the recipe.

Blueberry Muffins a la Peggy

2 1/2 c. (300g) plain flour (if you’re feeling virtuous you can use whole wheat pastry flour)

1/2 c.  (100g) white sugar

1 T. baking powder

1/2 t. salt

1 c. (280ml) milk

6T. (80 g) unsalted butter, melted

1t. vanilla

1 egg

1 cup (140g) blueberries

Preheat oven to 400F/200C. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. In a separate bowl, beat milk, egg, and vanilla. Mix the wet with the dry and fold in blueberries. Spoon batter into muffin cups and bake for 20 minutes. Voila!

Blueberry Goodness

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Filed under Breakfast/Brunch, Quick & Easy, Uncategorized