Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Hearty Soup For a Change of Seasons

Even with a drop in temperature and the evenings drawing darker by the day, I'm eager to welcome all that winter has to offer. I'm never too dismayed when brisk, winter chills replace our milder autumnal climate. With a colder spell upon us the opportunity to light up the stove arises, and evenings sitting cosily under a blanket on the sofa is suddenly within our reach. Along with the change of season comes the excuse to indulge in quintessential comfort foods. When we’re in search of warmth from the inside out, stews, soups and carbohydrate-laden dishes become top of our dinner menus again. For someone who gains great pleasure in devouring a bowl of dumpling topped stew or using a crust of toasted bread to savour that last morsel of soup from a bowl, this change of menu can't but make me happy. I also happen to live in a household where Halloween is much celebrated, so the plotting and planning for the scary season brings much delight. Of course I miss the late evening walks or gardening until late, but I do so appreciate the somewhat calmness that winter dictates, and as it arrives I embrace it with open arms.*

Hearty Tomato Tortellini Soup

A big pot of soup is one of the best ways to feed a family. To make it into a more substantial meal a few spuds or some pasta is a great way to bulk it up. Tomato soup is a real favourite in my house, and with the addition of some fresh tortellini, this easy to prepare soup is not only filling but also extremely flavoursome.

Serves 4
1tbsp olive oil
knob of butter
1 large onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled & crushed
1 red pepper, finely diced
2 tins of tomatoes (400g each)
500mls vegetable stock
Sea salt & freshly ground pepper
1 tbsp sugar
1tbsp balsamic vinegar
Pinch of dried chilli
Handful of fresh basil, plus a few leaves for serving
250g tortellini


  1. In a medium sized saucepan add the olive oil and the knob of butter. Over a gentle heat sweat the onion, garlic and red pepper until the onions are soft but not coloured, which will take about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the tomatoes and the vegetable stock. Season with a little sea salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar. Add the balsamic vinegar and a pinch of dried chilli. Bring to the boil, and then turn down the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
  3. Add the basil and using a hand blender or processor, purée until smooth. Place the soup back in the saucepan, add the tortellini and on a medium heat simmer for a further 8 minutes.
  4. Pour the soup into serving bowls and garnish each one with a few small basil leaves. Serve with a few slices of garlic bread.

Before popping up this blog post yesterday, I decided to take advantage of our glorious Autumnal weather, and head outdoors with the camera. A shot couldn't be got without the inclusion of a cat, a hen, a duck or an alpaca, so here are a few pics of our beautiful pets.

Millie has named most of our animals, and this little kitty goes by the elaborate, Oz-influenced, name of Pippy Dorothy. 

Always camera-ready, two of our beautiful alpacas, Goldstar and Caesar.
Delilah the duck. 
The ever inquisitive Caesar.

I also picked the last of our apples yesterday, which makes me feel like winter is certainly on the approach. 
*Excerpt from my column in the current issue of Easy Parenting.

Friday, October 10, 2014

NEW Cookery Classes

This November will see me returning to my role as cookery teacher, as I have just finalised plans for a five-week intensive, practical cookery course, for adults, which I will host in my home-town of Moate. Even-though, in the past few years, I've travelled the length and breadth of the country giving cookery demonstrations, it has been three years since I ran my part-time cookery courses. Now that I have a course devised I'm very much looking forward to delivering it.
We'll start each evening with a cuppa and a sweet treat, while I run through the programme for the class. Using the state of the art facilities of the Home Economics room at Moate Community School, each course participant will have their own work station where they will prepare and cook their dishes, before bringing home the fruits of their labour to enjoy with their family and friends. Each evening I will also demonstrate a number of dishes for the class to taste. The chosen recipes will focus on cooking techniques and methods, while the merit of these recipes won’t be solely on taste, but also on the seasonality and health benefits of the included ingredients. From quick family suppers to a special weekend get-together, over the five weeks we will cook sweet and savoury dishes to suit all occasions. I'm strictly limiting the number of participants for the course, so that each one will gain the optimal amount of experience over the five weeks. At the end of this course participants should be armed with the confidence needed to take control of their family mealtimes.

Class Dates:
Wednesday 5th, 12th, 19th, 26th November
Wednesday 3rd, December

Time of class:
7pm - 9pm

Home Economics Room, Moate Community School

€ 200 for the five evenings. Recipe packs and all ingredients needed are included.
A 50% deposit is necessary to secure your place when booking. 

For enquiries and bookings drop me an email at NessasFamilyKitchen@gmail.com

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Galway Bake Fest 2014

This Saturday and Sunday will see a baking extravaganza taking over Leisureland, Galway, as baking enthusiasts from around the country will meet for this year's Bakefest. From cake displays to 'bake offs' it's guarenteed to be a great day out for all the family. I'm delighted to join the line-up of chefs and cooks who will be demonstrating in the kitchen theatre. My slot is from 2pm-3pm, so if you're at Bakefest, do stop by and say hello. This marvelous event is organised by Goodness Cakes and ACT for Meningitis. ACT for Meningitis is such an important charity. It was set up by Siobhán Carroll, after the heartbreaking loss of her daughter, Aoibhe, aged 4, to meningitis. ACT for Meningitis helps to support those affected by meningitis, while also raising awareness of the signs and symptoms of meningitis. Check out their website for more information.What makes Bakefest so special is the fact that it is a not for profit event, meaning that all monies raised will go directly to ACT for Meningitis. Isn't that just marvelous?! 

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Seasonal Treat - Blackberry Brandy

At this time of the year, countrywide, the hedgerows are sparkling with free autumnal berries. Sloes, rosehips and elderberries are all making an appearance, but it’s the bountiful blackberry that takes centre stage for most foragers. This autumn there seems to be an abundance of berries free for the picking. Rich in antioxidants and packed with vitamin C, these luscious berries are best eaten straight from the bush. They do, nonetheless, make the juiciest of fillings for tarts, pies and crumbles. 

Some evenings there is neither the time nor the need for indulging in puddings, so on that particular evening, where a good bounty of blackberries have been retrieved, I take the opportunity to make my annual Blackberry Brandy. As sophisticated as it may sound it is incredibly easy to make. Freshly picked blackberries, sugar, brandy and ideally a kilner jar are all that is needed to create this deliciously fruity liqueur. However, you do need a little patience, as it will be a number of weeks before you get to sample a sip of this tipple. When made in mid-autumn, this blackberry brandy will be ready just in time to serve at a Christmas feast. It can be drank with just ice, included in a cocktail mixture {I would love some suggestions, on this one} or used as a rather impressive pudding ingredient. After straining the brandy an added bonus are the beautifully preserved blackberries, which are perfect to be used in a Christmas pudding mixture or simply served over pancakes with a dollop of yogurt, as a very grown up breakfast treat.

Blackberry Brandy

250g blackberries
125g caster sugar
400mls brandy

1. Sterilise a medium sized kilner jar or a large, wide-necked jar.
2. Very carefully wash the blackberries, then dry them using a paper towel.
3.Place the blackberries in the jar and top with the sugar. Pour over most of the brandy. 
4. Close the lid and gently shake the jar, helping the sugar to dissolve and topping up with the brandy as it sinks into the berries.
5. Place the jar in a cool, dark place and take it out daily, for the first 2 weeks, to give it a little shake. After this, just give it a shake once a week for 6 weeks. The blackberry brandy can then be left at the back of a dark press for another few weeks.
6. When ready to use, strain the brandy, using a muslin-lined sieve, into another sterilised bottle or jar and reserve the berries, which can be used as part of a dessert or popped into a glass as a tasty addition to a blackberry based cocktail. The strained blackberry brandy can be kept in a cool, dark place for at least a year.

The Blog Awards Ireland 2014 Finalist

blog awards ireland

It's with great delight that I can proudly announce I'm a finalist in two categories of this year's blog awards. I'm truly honored, as the standard of my fellow finalists is simply staggering. If you would like to familiarise yourself with a few new blogs, take a read through some of the blogs of the listed finalists, and be prepared to be impressed. I would just like to take this opportunity to thank you, the readers of my blog, the judges, who kindly voted me in as a finalist, and the organisers, who work tirelessly each year to make these awards happen. The awards ceremony takes place on the 4th of October, in the Westgrove Hotel and tickets for the event are available to buy over here. It's sure to be a great night out.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Irish Blueberry Compote

It never ceases to amaze me that when one fruit goes out of season, in our garden, another can take its place. I had but a few days of yearning for fresh berries, when I spied the first of our blueberry crop, already ripened by the summer sun. For the past number of years we've successfully grown blueberries in pots filled with soil, acidic compost and the odd shovelful of rich compost, from our compost container. The blueberries are deliciously juicy, and even seem to thrive without the benefit of a sunny summer. Rather surprisingly, they are the only fruit in the garden that the blackbird isn't drawn to, leaving all the more for us to enjoy.

One of our old, large pots that we filled with soil and acidic compost before planting the blueberry plants.

This little lady is a big fan of blueberries, and loves them best when she has picked them herself for her morning cereal. 
I was recently sent a few punnets of blueberries from a relatively local grower in Ballyteague, Co. Kildare, called Kildare Blueberries. Here they have a farm shop selling their berries, but visitors can also pick their own, if they’d prefer to have a hands-on fruit picking experience. Like my own blueberries, these were remarkably bigger and juicier than many of the foreign, shop bought varieties. We mostly munched on these berries as they were, but with one punnet, in a matter of minutes, I made a tasty compote, which served nicely on that morning’s pancakes. This flavoursome compote also made a perfect accompaniment to a few afternoon scones. When blueberries are at the height of their season, now is the time to buy a few punnets of them, pop them into the freezer and enjoy them winter long in smoothies, jams and delicious compotes, such as the one in the recipe below, (just increase the cooking time by 5 minutes when the berries are frozen).

Blueberry Compote

250g blueberries
zest of 1 orange
2 tbsp soft brown sugar
2 tbsp water

1.      Place 225g of the blueberries into a medium sized saucepan, along with the orange zest, sugar and water.
2.      Place over a low heat and allow to simmer for 10 minutes, stirring regularly. After this time stir through the remaining 25g of blueberries, and let the saucepan remain on the heat for a further minute, and continue to stir well.
3.      Allow to cool slightly and serve with pancakes and a dollop of yogurt. Otherwise allow to cool completely and keep in the fridge for up to three days. 

In Other News
I'm thrilled to announce that my blog has been shortlisted for three categories in this year's Irish Blog
Awards. Thank you so much to anyone who nominated me and to the judges who shortlisted this blog.
Also a big congratulations to all my fellow nominees. Best of luck. xx
* Móna Wise has written a great blog post all about blogging, and the opportunity of
gaining employment as a result. I was delighted to contribute to this. Have a read here - http://www.wisewords.ie/index.php/2014/08/blog-awards/

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Beauty of East Cork

We're not long back from a week of holidaying in East Cork, and even though we have taken many a holiday there it's somewhere that we tend to return to again and again. There really is no place more beautiful than Ireland, once the sun makes a bit of an appearance, and we were ever so fortunate with the weather. The temperatures were just perfect for basking by the beach, as we kept an eye on the children, as they tried to outdo each other with their castle creations. For each of these beach visits much fuel was needed to optimise our energy levels. Rather conveniently, the ever impressive Midleton market made light work of filling the picnic hampers. It must be the best Farmer's market in the country, with each and every stall holder a true artisan. I even managed to have a cuppa with my blogging buddy, Lilly Higgins, who's lucky enough to have this beautiful market as her local shopping ground each Saturday morning. 

In between beach visits and market shopping I managed to take in a visit to the Ballymaloe Cookery School. My eldest boy, Jack, and I spent the afternoon at the most enjoyable cookery demonstration, guided by Rory O'Connell, who founded the school in 1985, along with his sister, Darina. The food he demonstrated was eloquent, but most of the ingredients were simply sourced from the school's impressive gardens and glasshouses. One such dish was a tomato water served with ripe peaches; perfect as a canapé or as a starter for a dinner party. The flavours reminded me of my Tomato & Feta Salad, which I tend to make lots of while Irish tomatoes are at their ripest. So, the day after our demo Jack and I put together a big bowl of this salad, and generously packed it into an Arbutus ciabatta, which we had picked up at the market. With flavours true to summer, this was the perfect picnic sandwich for that day's outing.

Tomato, Basil & Feta Ciabatta

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 clove garlic, crushed
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
4 tomatoes, thinly sliced
Bunch of basil leaves, roughly torn 
100g feta, crumbled
1 large Ciabatta

1. First make the dressing by combining the balsamic vinegar and the olive oil. Add the garlic and season with a little sea salt and pepper.
2. To a large bowl, add the tomatoes, basil and feta. Drizzle over the dressing and combine well.
3. Cut the Ciabatta in half and stuff with the tomato and feta mixture. Wrap tightly with tin foil and refrigerate until ready to go on your picnic. 

While in East Cork, we also spent a day at Fota Wildlife Park and paid a visit, and of course a kiss, to the Blarney Stone. This year's holiday was extra special as the children had the company of all of their O'Donovan cousins. I know for sure that the fun memories they made together will last a lifetime.

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