Since I ventured into the world of blogging, many years back, Imen's blog, Farmette, and formerly I Married an Irish Farmer, has always been one of my favourites. It's certainly one of the most visually pleasing blogs I've followed through the years. Lucky for me, I've had the pleasure to meet, eat and chat with Imen on many an occasion, so I can truly call her a friend. I do, however, also consider her to be marvellous mentor, who is ever generous with the sharing of her knowledge of writing, styling and photography. Imen's recently published cookbook, The Farmette Cookbook, has all the appeal of her blog with delicious dishes and beautifully styled and photographed shots, but Imen also shares with us many snippets of her journey from an American city to the Irish countryside. Intertwined between these farmyard tales and the most delectable recipes is a very beautiful love story. One about a girl who loved a dashing farmer from the moment she set eyes on him. Not to spoil the ending for you, but many years and adventures later their love is still strong. It's the delivery of these stories with such heart and emotion, and a lot of wit in between, that makes this book so special.       


I'm always amazed by Imen's stunning shots of farm and food, and each one shared in The Farmette Cookbook are frame-worthy. The accompanying recipes are just as magnificent, so I gave the children the option of choosing the first recipe we would attempt from the book. As flapjack-fans, it was no surprise that Imen's Oat-Millet-Chia-Banana Flapjacks was the chosen one. These flapjacks were so scrumptious, they've now become a regular bake in our house. I have read this beautiful book from cover to cover and with so many splendid sounding recipes I'm eager to try them all.



Jack, Tiarnan and I were privileged to get the opportunity to attend Imen's book launch in Dublin, which is where we bought this wonderful book, so this post is much more of a heartily recommendation, then a review. I can guarantee there are recipes for all to enjoy and stories shared you'll become completely immersed in. You can buy The Farmette Cookbook here and in any good bookstore. 


For the past couple of years I have written my 'Home Nurse' column for Irish Country Living. It's a column I thoroughly enjoy writing, as on one hand it is recipe focused, while on the other it keeps me in touch with my former nursing career. Even though I trained and worked as a nurse, I mostly write these columns from a careers perspective, in the hope they can give a little helping hand to those caring for a loved one at home. The topics are always varied. Last month it was PMS, while I focus on gastroenteritis/ vomiting & diarrhoea in this month's column. In the coming months, I intend on sharing some of my old columns here on the blog. I hope you find them useful and enjoy the read.

Nessa x

Convalescing to Strengthening The Body

When we think of convalescing, the image of a frail, elderly relative, who's overcoming a bout of illness, is always at the forefront of our minds. However, there are so many other times, even from a young age, that our bodies implore us to convalesce. Certainly subsequent to a flu, gastroenteritis or an injury, there is a need to recuperate. Equally post pregnancy, trauma and even while grieving, our body and mind needs to be dedicated some time to strengthen. All too often, as soon as a hint of improved health is upon us we immerse ourselves in the demands of daily life again. Most times this is long before our body can afford it. In turn, we prolong our ailments, which ultimately extends us being under the weather for an undue amount of time. Post illness our immune-systems are low, which fundamentally makes us more vulnerable to a reoccurrence of the illness, or more susceptible to picking up other infections. The key to convalesce is to slow down and embrace some proper relaxation. Forget about work for an extra few days, and allow the immune system the opportunity to rebuild. As well as rest, prompting the body back to health through nutrient-rich foods is paramount. When in recovery mode food can sometimes seems less than appealing, but it's essential that the food we choose to eat is nutritious and in turn this will aid recovery. Porridge, chicken broth or a simple homemade soup are all nourishing and nutritious, and they are also easily digestible. When the body is in need of additional energy, including iron-rich foods such as beef, lamb and dark leafy greens will encourage an optimal Haemoglobin (Iron) level. Vitamin C is an important anti-oxidant which strengthens the body, and also aids in the absorption of Iron; rich sources include berries and freshly juiced citrus fruits. All-in-all a balanced diet that includes nutrient-rich ingredients will aid recovery. It does takes time to rebuild the body to optimal health after an illness or injury, but with plenty of rest, fluids and good food, the reinstatement of a clean bill of health will be a whole lot easier to obtain. 



Coconut Rice Pudding with a Berry & Chia Compote

A creamy and nourishing rich pudding is one of the easiest desserts to make. Coconut milk is naturally sweet and in turn allows for less sugar to be added to the pudding. I love the addition of the coconut milk, but if you're not keen on using it, simply substitute with regular milk. The vitamin-rich berry compote is further enhanced nutritionally by the addition of the omega-rich, antioxidant-boosting chia seeds. This pudding and compote is delicious served with a scoop of ice-cream on the side, but for a healthier alternative top with some frozen yogurt.

Ingredients 
75g arborio or short grain pudding rice
400ml coconut milk
300ml milk
50g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Berry & Chia Compote
125g blueberries
75g strawberries
1tsp honey
1 tsp chia seeds*

To Serve
Frozen yogurt/Ice-cream
Sprinkling of chia seeds*
Drizzle of honey

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 150°C/Fan 140°C/Gas 2 and grease a 1.5 litre ovenproof dish with a little butter.
2. Place the rice in the dish. In a large saucepan over a low heat, gently heat the coconut milk, the milk, caster sugar and vanilla extract together. Once it begins to simmer take from the heat and pour over the rice. Stir well to combine. Cover the dish with tinfoil.
3. Place in the oven for 1 1/2 hours, taking from the oven every 30 minutes to give it a stir. After an hour take the pudding from the oven, remove the tinfoil and return to the oven for a further 30 minutes. 
4. Prepare the compote by adding the blueberries, strawberries, honey and chia seeds to a blender and blitz for about 30 seconds. If you don't have a blender, simply mash all the ingredients together until they are well combined.
5. To serve, divide the rice pudding between four bowls, add a spoonful of the berry & chia compote and top with either a scoop of frozen yogurt or vanilla ice-cream. To finish, sprinkle over a few chia seeds.


*My chia seeds of choice are from Waterford-based company Chia Bia. Chia seeds are extremely versatile, so when Chia Bia asked me to create a few new recipes for them I was delighted to take on the task. Check out their blog for some of my Chia Bia inspired recipes.

My children are now back to school after the long Easter break, and I'm sure they're settling into work as normal. A little different to the weeks preceding the holidays, when their school was buzzing with the publication and launch of An Grianán's own cookbook, Templelicious. I thoroughly enjoyed working on this project, so I was ever so proud when the day to launch the book actually arrived. To bring more excitement to this momentous day, Neven Maguire joined us to officially launch the book. The school was packed to capacity with the children, their parents, extended family, community members and many guests, including Westmeath GAA star Kieran Martin. Local newspaper photographers were taking snaps at every opportunity, while Midlands Radio 3 reporter Ríona Cleary took the time to have a few words with me, the children, staff and, of course, Neven. This was broadcast the following Monday, and I've attached the piece below, for anyone who'd like to have a listen. 
Once all the formalities and speeches were taken care of it then came the time to sample some of the delicious dishes from Templelicious. Many of the children, and their parents, helped to bring the cookbook to life by bringing their dishes along to the launch for the guests to sample. I'm glad to say, the day went by without a single hitch. It was such a special occasion. I know it will be fondly remembered by all involved for many years to come. 
My fourteen year old son, Jack. The designer and typesetter of Templelicious. {On a side note -Any parent of teens can probably relate to me - How tall are teenagers these day? I'm wearing four inch heals in this pic!}


Being the gentleman, that Neven Maguire is, he took the time to chat with the children involved in the project. My son, Tiarnán, and nephew, Eoin, were thrilled to meet Neven.

Neven with members of our hard working committee.


Principal of An Grianán, Master McGowan.




We're overjoyed with the feedback we're receiving about the book. Many of the local press took the opportunity to feature Templelicious, and we even have a featured article in this week's Farmers Journal - Irish Country Living. 


Templelicious is priced at €15 and is available to buy in many local shops. It can also be purchased directly from the school on 090-6481085.

For the past few months I have been working on a very exciting project. It's a cookbook with my local national school, An Grianán N.S., Mount Temple. I'm delighted to say it is now back from the printers and it's looking splendid. 'Templelicious' is a collection of recipes, from the 4th, 5th and 6th class students and the staff of An Grianán, but there are also recipes from some well known celebrities, such as Neven Maguire, Robbie Henshaw, John Heslin and James O' Donoghue, as well as plenty of inspirational quotes from some of the children's sporting heroes. Additionally, the book includes words of wisdom, including kitchen tips, remedies and old wives' tales, from the local active age group. All in all, this is so much more than a recipe book, it’s a glance into moments the school children hold close to their hearts, while also being reflective of the community of Mount Temple as a whole.


This project has been incredibly rewarding for the entire school. From choosing the title of the book to styling and photographing the food photos, the children have been involved every step of the way. The older end of the school submitted their recipes, while the younger end had the opportunity to recipe test these recipes before the book went to print. The book was compiled and edited by the school's cookbook committee, comprising of my good self and staff members, Ambrose McGowan, Anna Cahalin, Áine Curran, Catherine Claffey, and Carmel Keogh. My eldest son, Jack, took on the role of designer and typesetter, and, I must say, he did a marvellous job.



My son, Tiarnán, is in 4th class, so his chosen recipe for the book was Sweet Scones. Like so many of the other children, he chose this recipe because it's one of his absolute favourites. This is part of the wonder of a book like this; for these children, in years to come it will be a little snapshot of their childhoods.


The book will be launched by Neven Maguire, in the school, this Wednesday, the 9th of March, at 2pm. On the day, members of the Westmeath Senior football team will also be making an appearance. Tea and samples from the book will be served, and all are welcome to attend. The book will retail at €15.



If you would like to buy a copy of the book please contact the school on 090-6481085.

In the not so distant past consuming too much fat was considered the main catalyst to the decline of one's health. However, in recent years medics and researchers alike have taken a bit of a u turn and have deflected the focus off fat and are now declaring war on sugar, blaming it for a host of health problems and highlighting it's part in the current obesity crisis. In general, the over-consumption of anything will never do us any favours, but a poor diet and the over indulgence of sugar has long been the number one risk factor for developing diabetes. The most common form of diabetes is Type 2, and this develops when the body does not produce sufficient insulin to function properly. Insulin is a hormone which helps with the breakdown of sugars and carries them from the bloodstream into the cells. If continuous over consumption of sugar occurs, we put our insulin supply under severe pressure and leave ourselves at risk of developing diabetes. 

As well as regular exercise, establishing and maintaining a healthy diet can be the most beneficial way to avoid or control Type 2 diabetes. Cutting down on sugar can drastically improve our health, while also aid in encouraging a healthy weight. Even without having a major risk of developing diabetes, we all need to be aware of hidden sugars in our foods.We know that biscuits or cakes are laden down with sugars, so we can consciously choose how much of these we eat. However, it's the hidden sugar in our food which is the real problem. Many of our everyday foods, such as yogurts, breakfast cereals and sauces, are overloaded with sugar. While food products that are marketed as the 'healthy' or 'low fat' option quite often are high in sugar or salt, or both. The World Health Organisation recommends that as adults we should consume no more than 50g or 12 teaspoons of sugar a day, which for some experts is still too much. Wholesome foods are the best choice when trying to avoid excess sugars in the diet. The glycemic index (GI) was first developed to help people with diabetes choose foods that maintain a steady blood sugar level. Foods with a low glycemic index, should be prominent in all of our diets, as they release their energy slowly and help us to avoid sugar highs. Beans, lentils, sweet potatoes, oats, leafy greens, unsalted nuts and seeds, are all among these wholesome, low GI foods. Whenever possible, we should incorporate these foods into our diet. They help to maintain a consistent blood sugar and encourage fullness, which in turn can aid in steering us away from those sugar-laden foods.

Cheesy Beany Stuffed Potatoes

Beans are a great addition to the diet as they are high in fibre, high in protein and are rich in vitamins and minerals. They also happen to be the perfect choice for a low sugar diet, as they rate impressively low on the glycemic index. These stuffed potatoes are packed with flavour and are best served with a simple green salad.

Ingredients
4 small-medium sized sweet potatoes
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 yellow pepper, finely diced
1x400g tin of chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
100g butter beans, from a tin, drained and rinsed
100g kidney beans, from a tin, drained and rinsed
sea salt & freshly ground pepper
Handful of basil leaves, plus a few extra to serve
50g cheddar cheese

Method
  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C /Gas Mark 5.
  2. Pierce each sweet potato several times with a fork. Place on baking tray lined with parchment paper. Bake in the oven for about 45 minutes, or until tender.
  3. Place a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the olive oil, once hot add the onions. Gently sauté, stirring regularly for 5 minutes. Add the yellow pepper and garlic. Stir to combine and cook for a further 2 minutes.
  4. Add the tomatoes, balsamic, butter beans and kidney beans. Season with a little salt and freshly ground pepper. Tear in the basil. Stir to combine. Turn down the heat to low and simmer for 25 minutes.
  5. Take the cooked potatoes from the oven. Carefully, diagonally split in half, and scoop out most of the flesh into a bowl. Mash with a fork and add to the cooked bean mixture. Stir to combine.
  6. Fill the centre of the scooped out potatoes with the cooked bean and sweet potato mixture. Top with a sprinkling of cheddar cheese. Return to the oven for 5-7 minutes, for the cheese to melt. Serve with a few fresh basil leaves on top.

    Excerpt from my Home Nurse column, printed in Irish Country Living, 8th October 2015. 

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


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

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


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

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



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

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


TERMS AND CONDITIONS: The competition is open to residents of Ireland only. You must be over 18. No cash alternative is possible. The winner must email/contact me within 7 days of them being announced as the winner, or another name will have to be drawn from the hat. 

Best of luck!