If you are in search of something easy to make with the children, chocolate apples are a great choice. I find forks make the decorating and eating of the apples a lot easier than the traditional lollipop sticks. Pop the apples into the fridge the night before decorating them. The cooled apples allow the chocolate to stick to it with more ease.


Chocolate Apples


Ingredients
4 apples, rinsed and dried 4 forks 200g milk chocolate 50g white chocolate Toppings: sugar sprinkles


Method

  1. Refrigerate the apples for several hours or overnight.
  2. Dry any condensation from the apples with some kitchen paper. Insert a fork into each apple. Place some greaseproof paper on a plate. 
  3. In a heat-proof bowl over some simmering water melt the milk chocolate.
  4. Let the chocolate cool slightly for 2 minutes. Dip each apple into the milk chocolate, covering each apple completely. Allow excess to drain. Place on the greaseproof paper and leave to set, which will only take a few minutes.
  5. In a clean bowl, over some simmering water, melt the white chocolate.
  6. Once the chocolate on the apples has set, drizzle over the white chocolate.
  7. Sprinkle with toppings of your choice. Place the apples back on the paper and leave in a cool place until the chocolate hardens.

This is a regular chocolate truffle mixture, which I would normally scoop into balls and dip into chopped nut, however, since it is the spooky season, I’ve moulded the mixture into mouse-like shapes. With the addition of little eyes, ears and a tail, these tasty little creatures would make a welcome addition at any Halloween party.


Chocolate Mice

Ingredients
Makes 20 mice
200g chocolate, good quality, approx 46% cocoa
100ml cream
25g butter
40 flaked almonds
A strip of liquorice rope, cut into 20 1-inch pieces
40 white chocolate drops or white candy coated mini sweets

Method

  1. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl, over a saucepan of just-boiled water. In a separate saucepan, melt the cream and butter together. Just before it comes to the boil, remove from heat. Very gradually stir into the melted chocolate. Stir gently, for about 5 minutes, until smooth and thick. Cover the bowl with cling film and chill for about 2hrs.
  2. Place a sheet of greaseproof paper on a baking tray. Scoop up a teaspoonful of truffle mix and using two spoons quickly mould into a ball, before gently moulding one side a little pointy to create a ‘mouse’ shape. The chocolate mix will melt with the heat of your hands so you must work quickly. Place on the tray. 
  3. Add two almond silvers, to each mouse, for their ears. Repeat with remaining mix, and then chill for another hour.
  4. Take from the fridge and with the assistance of a toothpick, guide the liquorice tail into place, and stick the white chocolate drops/white candy coated sweets on for the eyes.
  5. Pop back into the fridge to set. These Chocolate Mice can then be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 7 days.

Happy Halloween!


Young children love to make these spooky cookies. The biscuit base is a simple shortbread, but any round biscuits, such as digestives or rich tea, could take their place if time wasn't on your side for baking a batch. The shortbread dough is perfect for little hands to manipulate, and they tend to always turn out rather well, even if the ‘cook’ hasn’t the lightest touch. The cooled cookies can be easily decorated with a little icing and a few sweets to fit in perfectly at any Halloween buffet.



Halloween Cookies
Ingredients
Makes about 25 cookies
100g icing sugar
200g butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
300g plain flour

Icing
250g icing sugar
2 tbsp water
15-25 liquorice allsorts circular sweets
1 tsp red food colouring, placed in a small bowl
1 tsp black food colouring, placed in a small bowl

Method
  1. Preheat the oven to 190°C/fan 170°C/gas mark 5.
  2. Using an electric mixture, beat the icing sugar and butter until soft and well combined, which should take about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the vanilla extract and with the mixer on a low speed gradually add the flour. Don’t overbeat and once combined bring the dough together into a ball. Place it on a sheet of greaseproof paper, cover with cling film and place in the fridge for 30 minutes, to harden slightly.
  4. Sprinkle a little flour onto a work surface and roll out the dough to your desired thickness. Using a cookie cutter, or a glass, make circular shapes out of the dough.
  5. Prepare two baking trays with a sheet of greaseproof paper on each. Transfer the raw cookies to the trays and place in the preheated oven for 8-12 minutes, depending on their thickness.
  6. While the cookies are cooking prepare the icing. In a medium sized bowl combine the icing sugar with the water. Add a few more drops of water if required.
  7. Take the cookies from the oven and place them on a wire rack to cool, which will only take a few minutes.
  8. Top each cookie with a teaspoon full of icing and smooth the top using the back of a knife. Place a circular liquorice allsorts into the centre and using a toothpick and the red food colouring draw a few lines to represent veins. For the ‘Jack Skeleton’ cookies simply use the black food colouring and another toothpick to draw the face. Allow the icing to set before serving. The cookies will keep in an airtight tin for up to 3 days.


The traditional Halloween barmbrack was a fun way to tell someone's fortune for the coming year. As a child, I remember inside each brack would be a pea, a stick, a piece of cloth, a small coin and a ring. Each item was individually wrapped in greaseproof paper, as each would carry a meaning; the pea, the person would not marry. The stick, the person would have a year of disputes. The cloth, the person would be poor. The coin, the person would be rich. The ring, the person would be wed before the following Halloween. Most shop-bought bracks still come with a ring inside, but if you're baking your own this Halloween, just for fun, add the extra 'fortunes' but ensure each one is well wrapped with greaseproof paper and to avoid any chipped teeth always let the brack-eater know of these additions.

Barmbrack

Ingredients
200g sultanas
150g raisins
25g mixed peel
300ml tea, cold
250g self-raising flour
125g caster sugar
1 tsp mixed spice
1 egg, lightly beaten

Method
  1. Place the dried fruit into a bowl. Pour over the cold tea. Cover with cling film and leave to soak overnight.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180°C/ fan 160°C/gas mark 4. Line the base of a 2 lb loaf tin with parchment paper and grease the sides with a little butter.
  3. Sieve the flour into the bowl with the soaked fruit. Add the sugar, spice and lightly beaten egg. Using a wooden spoon, stir well to combine.
  4. If using the 'fortune teller' items, tightly wrap each one in greaseproof paper and carefully add to the mixture.
  5. Transfer to the loaf tin, and place in the preheated oven for 1 1/2 – 1 3/4 hours, or until the brack has risen well and is cooked through.
  6. Cool on a wire rack. When cold, cut into slices and spread each with a thin layer of butter.

No matter how many children we have, whether we leave the house to work or are tied to the school-time runs, I think most parents have a similar approach to weekday family meals. Dinner needs to be nutritious enough to sustain the busy lifestyle a modern life dictates. They must be filling enough to carry us, and especially energetic little ones, to the next meal. But, rather important for the designated cook, it's paramount that the family meals we make can be rustled up with ease using as few pots and pans as possible. Stews, casseroles and any one-pot dish fit best into this category, simply served with a big pot of creamy mash, pasta or rice. This tasty fish dish will be prepared and on the table in just over half an hour. I like to serve it with some brown rice, but creamy mashed potato would also be delicious. I've listed cod in the ingredient list, but feel free to use your favourite fish of choice. 



Cod in a Rich Tomato Sauce

Ingredients
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 red pepper, finely diced
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
Sea salt and pepper
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
4 cod pieces, approx. 200g each
100g mature cheddar cheese, grated
A handful of fresh basil leaves

Method
  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C /Gas mark 6. Drizzle the oil into a frying pan and place over a medium heat. Add the onion and pepper. Turn the heat to low and sauté for 5 minutes, until the veg is soft.
  2. Sprinkle over the smoked paprika, season with salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Add the tomatoes and Worcestershire sauce. Simmer over a low heat for 10 minutes.
  3. Place half of the sauce at the base of a medium-sized, oven-proof dish. Place the cod pieces on top, and add the remaining sauce over. Place in the preheated oven for 20 minutes.
  4. After this time, take form the oven and sprinkle over the grated cheese. Return to the oven for a further 5 minutes.
  5. To serve, tear the basil leaves and sprinkle over the fish. Serve with boiled brown rice or mashed potato and steamed peas.
Pancakes are so easy to make, and this is one of the reasons I have loved making them with the children over the years. The pancake recipe below is a little different from the standard pancake mix, but it's still very tasty. These wholesome pancakes contain lots of goodness and nutrients from the porridge oats, eggs and banana. Within the pancake mixture, there's no need for any added sugar, as they're naturally sweetened by the ripe banana. These oaty banana pancakes make for a delicious low-sugar breakfast treat any day of the week.


Ingredients
50g porridge oats
2 eggs
1 ripe banana, mashed
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp olive oil

To Serve
Fresh berries & a drizzle of maple syrup or honey

Method

1. Combine the oats, eggs, banana and cinnamon using a Nutri-Bullet, a hand blender or in a food processor. Blend for about 1 minute or until the mixture is of a smooth consistency. Leave the batter to sit for 10 minutes to thicken slightly.
2. Place a large, non-stick pan over a medium heat. Add a drizzle of olive oil. Add 6 small ladlefuls to the pan. If using a small pan, do this in two batches. Cook for about 2 minutes on each side, or until golden in colour.
3. Serve immediately with a few fresh berries.   
Last week, I was delighted to appear on an episode of Ear to the Ground. In the kitchen of The Merry Mill, I baked some gluten-free, oaty fruit muffins. This is the home to the Scully family, and together they grow, harvest and mill their oats on the family farm. These oats are organic and completely gluten-free. Isn't that fantastic! Both the Scully family and the crew from Ear to the Ground were so welcoming to me and Jack, and they were really lovely to work with. If you missed this episode of Ear to the Ground, and you'd like to see this family farm in action, you'll find the episode on the RTE player.



Here is the recipe for those tasty fruit muffins I made.

Oaty Fruit Muffins

These oaty muffins are packed with nutrients and flavour. Not all oats are gluten-free, so check the packaging to ensure they are packed in a gluten-free environment.  

Ingredients
225g gluten-free oats
1tsp gluten-free baking powder
2 small (150g) bananas
2 eggs
75ml sunflower oil
75ml milk
50ml honey/maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
75g raspberries
50g blueberries
2 tbsp oats


Method

1. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C/ fan 170°C/gas mark 5. Line a muffin tin with 12 paper cases.
2. Place the gluten-free oats in a food processor and blitz until fine, which will take about a minute. Add the gluten-free baking powder and blitz to combine.
3. Mash the bananas and add to a jug with the eggs, sunflower oil, milk, honey/maple syrup and vanilla extract. Add to the processor and blitz together for 1-2 minutes, stopping at intervals to scrap the mixture from the side.
4.  Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cases. Top each one with either a few raspberries or blueberries and gently press to ensure they stick. Sprinkle some oats over each muffin.
5. Bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer to cool on a wire tray. These muffins will keep for up to 3 days in an air-tight container. 

Some of the 'behind the scenes' pics.