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 canapĂ© 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

Ingredients
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

Method
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.


Friday, July 18, 2014

Chicken Fajitas with Caramelised Red Onion & Peppers


In my house the meal times tend to be a little more irregular during the summer holidays. The structured routine during the school term allows for set dining times and, in turn, I find myself having a pot of stew, curry or soup always ready for the return of the school goers. As much as I love the continuity of the school day routine, I’m always ready to embrace the more relaxed mealtimes once July is upon us. Naturally I still like to serve dishes that are nutritious, as well as tasty, but time is generally the essence, so my summertime meals are ones that can be rustled up in a hurry. Like in many households, our old reliable barbecue is ever ready at the back door, throughout the summer months. Even though I still find myself predominantly cooking at my stove, that barbeque vibe of handheld meals is still prominent for my summer months. Burgers, fajitas and hot dogs, of sort, all work wonderfully well when you're trying to make the most of our Irish summer sun.


Chicken Fajitas with Caramelised Red Onion & Peppers

Summer or winter alike, fajitas are one of my all time favourite fast, family dishes. To enhance the flavour of the chicken I generally like to leave it marinating for a few hours, however if you're pushed for time you can cook the coated chicken straight away. Fried onions and peppers are a must for my fajitas, but simply adding a little balsamic vinegar and brown sugar, towards the end of cooking, transforms them into something very special.

Ingredients
½ lemon, juiced
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
A few twists of black pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
4 chicken fillets, sliced into strips

Caramelised Red Onion & Peppers 
1 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, cut into slices
1 red pepper, cut into thin strips
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp soft brown sugar

Harissa Spiced Sour Cream Topping
150g sour cream
1 tsp harissa
Sprinkle of smoked paprika

To Serve
4 large flour tortillas
Lettuce
Grated cheese

Method

  1. Combine the lemon juice, smoked paprika, ground coriander, ground cumin, black pepper and olive oil in a large bowl. Add the chicken strips and combine well, making sure that all the chicken is coated. Cover and place in the fridge to marinade for at least 4 hours.
  2. Place a large pan or wok over a medium heat. Add a tablespoon of olive oil. When hot add the onion and pepper and stir fry, until they are cooked through. Add the vinegar and brown sugar. Stir well and continue to cook for 2 minutes. Over a very low heat keep warm, until the chicken is ready to be served.
  3. Heat a large griddle pan. Dry fry the flour tortillas, one at a time, for a minute on each side. Remove to a warmed plate.
  4. Next, add the chicken strips and stirring regularly, fry the chicken until cooked through and nicely charred.
  5. To make the topping combine the sour cream together with the harissa and then sprinkle over a little smoked paprika.
  6. To serve, add some chicken, caramelised onions and peppers to each tortilla, along with some lettuce and a little grated cheese. Top with a dollop of the harissa spiced sour cream.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

My New Column in Irish Country Living


I feel very privileged to be building a career out of something that I gain so much pleasure from. I love all the different elements to writing my columns; the recipe development, the styling, the photography and the personal introductions. I have a weekly column with the Westmeath Independent, a bi-monthly column with Easy Parenting magazine, and I'm ever so proud to announce that I now have a new column, starting this week, in The Farmer's Journal, Irish Country Living. Coming from a farming background, The Farmer's Journal was the best read paper in our house each week. Both of my parents were such loyal readers, and as I grew older I too became a fan of this ever informative publication. On the back of a chapter from Apron Strings, which was titled 'Home Nurse', I was asked by Mairead Lavery, the editor of Irish Country Living, to write a four part series last winter. I received lots of lovely positive feedback from these features so, earlier this year, when I was asked to write a regular 'Home Nurse' column I jumped at the opportunity.
I trained as a nurse, and completed my degree at Trinity College Dublin, before working in many varied areas of nursing. My nursing background has certainly aided me in writing these columns, but I'm very much writing them from a carer's perspective, basing them on my experience as a 'home nurse', in a home setting. For many years I cared for my Dad, who was convalescing from different complaints, and previous to this my dear Mother, who was living with Multiple Myeloma. Without even having a family member seriously unwell, at some point we all take on the role of the home nurse. As a mother, the role of the home nurse can frequently be called upon, from sniffles and fevers, to eczema and grazes. Through this column, I want to share with you all that I've learnt through the years. The recipes that I've developed may be nutrient-specific to someone, for example, nursing a fracture, however within a busy family home it's fundamental that the dishes are pleasing to the entire family. As I learnt, it is a huge worry when a loved one is sick, and you certainly don't need the hassle of cooking two or three different meals. I have many different topics planned for my upcoming columns and I'm very much looking forward to sharing them with the readers of Irish Country Living. They also have an on-line subscription option, so you don't have to feel left-out, if you're not residing in Ireland.


Saturday, June 7, 2014

A Summer Cold


Over the past couple of weeks, we have been treated to a number of intermittent days of heat and sunshine. The heat of the mid-day sun always has the ability to trick me into thinking that this warmth will last the evening long. However, as soon as I decide to leave the house, without the winter jackets in tow, a blistering cool breeze seems to blow and I find myself, yet again, complaining of the cold. I've two young men who keep me active will all things GAA related, so this scenario is normally at the side of a football pitch. Therefore, after a busy weekend of cheering from the sideline, it was no surprise that I found myself with a touch of a cold this week. 





As a child my mother’s first line of action, for any sort of snuffles, was freshly squeezed oranges & lemons. To this day, I maintain the same approach to everyday colds. I use quite a few lemons in my cooking and baking, so I normally have a couple in my fruit basket. To some freshly squeezed lemon I add a bunch of whatever herbs that I can get my hands on, and this concoction normally eases the symptoms of a croaky cold. If there is an advantage to a summer snuffle, it’s that my lovely herb garden is in full season, so I'm spoilt for choice as to what herbs to include in this nutritious drink. Mint or lemon balm pair very nicely with the lemon; however if I'm hoping for a little anti-inflammatory action I normally add a few sprigs of fresh thyme. This tonic won’t cure a cold, but it will ease the symptoms. I plan on arming myself with a little flask of this tea, the next time my cheer-leading qualities are needed at an under ten’s match.



Lemon & Thyme Tea

Ingredients
½ lemon, juiced
2 sprigs of thyme
250mls of recently boiled water
1 tsp honey

Method
  1. Using a bowl, flask or teapot, add the lemon juice and the sprigs of thyme. Cover with the 250mls of recently boiled water.
  2. Pop a saucer on top and leave to infuse for 10 minutes. Then pass through a sieve and stir in a teaspoon of honey. Enjoy straight away.

These days, this little lady hasn't had as much time to help me out in the garden. She has three new kittens that she's taking great care of non-stop. We have a good few kitties, at this stage, so she has agreed that two of them can take up residence with a very nice new family. I know that there will be tears when that day comes. However, we're planning to extend our outdoor family, here at Killachonna, over the next few months, so this animal-loving lady will be kept very busy. 
Have a lovely weekend. Nessa x 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Flora Women's Mini Marathon Ambassador


Over the past few months I've been proudly working as an ambassador with the lovely team that's behind the Flora Women's Mini Marathon. Each Wednesday in The Herald, along with Flora dietician, Harriette Lynch, we've been answering food and diet related queries for the mini marathon participants, while also hosting facebook live chats on the Flora Women's Mini Marathon facebook page. The race date is fast approaching, but if you have any questions, regarding your diet or nutrition, send them to us via flora@uniquemedia.ie. and they'll be answered.
On race day, each year, the participants of the Flora Women's Mini Marathon raise thousands for their chosen charities. This year Flora gave the participating ladies an opportunity to win a Flora Taste Team Fundraising Event and also add €1,000 to their charity’s total. This year's winner was Headstrong and this exciting event will take place this evening in Powerscourt Theatre. I'm very much looking forward to speaking at this event. It's free for all to attend, but as spaces are limited, just simply register here to secure your spot. 
Also this weekend I'll be giving a couple of cookery demonstrations at the Women's World Show in the RDS. My time slots are 3pm-4pm on Saturday 31st, and 12-1pm on Sunday 1st June. If you are attending the show, make sure to pop by and say hello. Otherwise I'll be at the finish line of the marathon next Monday, to tempt the participants with a few sweet treats. The best of luck to all the ladies who are participating in this year's race. See you there! Nessa x

Monday, May 12, 2014

Lemon Rhubarb Crumble



A number of years ago, when I immersed myself into the world of food blogging little did I realise what a wonderful and significant step this was going to be for me. My love for photographing and writing about food naturally deepened, but what has come as the greatest surprise to me are the friends I have made, as a result of my musing on the computer. This coming weekend I'll have the opportunity to catch-up with many of my blogging buddies, as The Kerrygold Ballymloe Lit Fest of Food & Wine is kicking off on Friday. It has to be the most anticipated food event of the year, and I'm proud to say that I'm parttaking in two seperate panel discussions. If you would like to book a spot, head over to the Litfest website. It's sure to be a truly memorable weekend. If you can't make it to Cork, but would like to keep up with some Litfest related news, I'll be tweeting all about it at @Nessa_Robins or follow the hashtag #litfestie.


One of my blogging friends, that I'm looking forward to having a good chat with this weekend, is Kristin Jensen. Kristin is the wonderful writer of the blog ‘Edible Ireland’. She is based in Louth but originally hails from America. Kristin and I have become great friends, through our mutual love of food, but we also have children of a similar age, which makes for the organisation of perfect play dates, while we catch-up. On one such occasion Kristin gifted me with a lemon blueberry buckle. A buckle is a traditional American dessert which has a thick crust, is filled with fruit, and finished with a crumble topping. With so many delicious elements it’s a truly splendid dessert. My recipe I'm sharing with you today, even though it’s really just a simple crumble, resembles many elements of Kristin’s Buckle. For that zingy lemon undertone I’ve added some lemon zest to both the rhubarb and the crumble. To exaggerate the lemon flavour even more, I’ve included a few sprigs of lemon thyme to the rhubarb while it stews. The lemon thyme grows in abundance in my garden, but if you can’t get your hands on any, simply add a little extra lemon zest. One marvellous tip I received from Kristin was to part-freeze the crumble topping, which ultimately leads to a crunchier crumble top. So now whenever I make a crumble, of any variety, I pop the topping into the freezer, while I prepare the filling, and I’m always reminded of the value of friendships, old and new.



Lemon Rhubarb Crumble

Ingredients
Crumble
150g butter
250g plain flour
150g caster sugar
zest of 1 lemon

Filling
600g rhubarb, sliced into bite size pieces
100g caster sugar
zest of 1 lemon
4 sprigs of lemon thyme
2 tbsp water


Method

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/Gas 6.
2. To prepare the crumble, place the flour in a bowl and rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar and the lemon zest, and combine. Place the crumble mixture into the freezer until you have the rhubarb stewed.
3. Place the rhubarb, sugar, lemon zest, lemon thyme and water into a medium sized saucepan. Bring to the boil, and then turn down the heat, cover and allow to simmer for  two minutes, until the rhubarb has slightly softened.
4. Scoop out the sprigs of lemon thyme. Spoon the stewed rhubarb into a large ovenproof dish. Sprinkle over the chilled crumble mixture and place the dish on a baking tray. Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 35-40 minutes, until the crumble topping is golden brown and the rhubarb is bubbling around the edges. Serve with freshly whipped cream or custard.


Friday, March 28, 2014

Mother’s Day Meringues & Memories


Mother’s Day is one of those occasions that I find most difficult to face since my mother passed away. Even though I am a mother myself, and my little people always spoil me something rotten on this day, I can’t but feel desperately lonely. Mother’s Day always makes me reflect on the past and in turn I yearn for my mother’s busy kitchen, packed to the brim with chat, delicious food and love. My mother was one my greatest inspirations in life, and in so many ways I still aspire to make her proud. For those who are lucky enough cherish the time you spend with your Mother this Mother’s Day. And for those immersed in grief, even if like me you are a few years on, let’s take this day as an opportunity to give thanks for the women who helped to mould us into the people we've become.






Meringues Sandwiched with Lemon Curd & Cream

My mother had a real soft spot for meringues. Whether celebrating or commiserating, meringues seemed to always be a suitable treat. They are so simple to make and I'd happily crunch on them without any topping, however when paired with softly whipped cream and tart lemon curd they really turn into something special. For me, these are the perfect treat to make for Mother’s Day.

Ingredients
3 large egg whites
150g caster sugar

To assemble
150mls cream, whipped
100g lemon curd

Method
1.    Preheat the oven to 140°C/ fan 120°C/ gas mark 1. Line two baking trays with parchment paper.
2.   Place the egg whites into a clean, stainless steel mixing bowl. Using an electric whisk, on a high speed, beat them until they become thick and fluffy.
3.   Continue to whisk the egg whites and very gradually add the sugar. Continue to beat for at least 5 minutes, or until the mixture can form stiff peaks.
4.      Using a dessert spoon scoop a spoonful of mixture and scrape it off with another spoon onto the lined baking trays. This amount of mixture should make 12 meringues.
5.      Place in the preheated oven for 1 hour. After which time turn off the oven and open its door and allow the meringues to cool.
6.      When completely cooled sandwich two meringues together with a spoonful of lemon curd and some freshly whipped cream.




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