I hope you are looking forward to 2012, I know I certainly am. A new year always comes with the prospect of  new opportunities and I'm looking forward to sharing my new year foodie  adventures with all of you.
Thank you for your loyal support in 2011 and here are some of my foodie highlights for this year.

In January I started to write for The Westmeath Independent. I love writing for the paper as there are many locals who read my column and cut out my recipes that don't have access to the blog. It makes me very proud when someone taps me on the shoulder to say they've tried out one of my recipes.
In March I was completely blown away by winning the Best Newcomer at the Irish Blog Awards. I also got to interview the lovely Donal Skehan while he was recording locally, one of the episodes of Kitchen Hero.


In April I was contacted by the very lovely Emma Parkin, who is the editor of Easy Parenting and she asked me to become their family food expert. This was a great compliment and something that I was so thrilled to be involved with. Also in April I was invited to a very fancy afternoon tea at The Westbury for the launch of Donal's book, Kitchen Hero. A lovely afternoon was spent with some great blogger friends.
In May I entered a recipe competition on TV3. I got to appear twice on Ireland AM and thanks to all who voted I won the competition and went on to do a cookery demo at Taste of Dublin with the lovely Edward Hayden last June. What an amazing experience for both myself and Jack (who was by my side for all the action!).
Also in May I had a really enjoyable evening at The Wineport Lodge in Glasson. A star studded night all in aid of The Irish Heart & Irish Kidney Foundation and the menu was very impressive.
In June I got to demonstrate at the fabulous food festival, Totally Tipperary It was a really great event and I got the opportunity to meet up with many amazing food producers. The demonstration was broadcast live on the Internet which was very exciting. Another important demonstration that I did in June was  for Mount Temple N.S. This is where the boys go to school and even though they have seen me at cookery demos on many occasions they were never so interested, or proud, than when I was cooking in front of their friends.

In July I got the chance to head to Cavan for some work experience at MacNean House with the amazing Neven Maguire. A fantastic experience and one that has proved a great help when I've been putting together new recipes.
Each September I organise a coffee morning, in aid of The Hospice. I'm delighted to say that this year's was my most successful yet, making €640.
I love meeting up with other foodies and in September we were treated to a day of food styling & photography tips at Bord Bia. Later in the month I was asked to contribute to Moate Culture Day. I decided to organise a cookalong here on the blog. On that note I must record a few new video recipes for 2012!
In October I was invited along to a fantastic day out at Kinnitty Castle to go Mushroom Foraging. What fun we had and actually learnt quite a bit about mushrooms.
In November I had the best meal out for the year at Druid's Glenn Resort in Wicklow. It was just scrumptious! November and December are always busy times for me as I run my annual Christmas Cookery Demos. This year's went wonderfully and I loved meeting up with some of the ladies who follow this blog.
This December I was delighted to be asked by Eumom.ie to do some blogging on their wonderful parenting site. So I will be writing up some new posts over there in the next few weeks.

Thanks for reading the blog over the past year. I have had so many wonderful experiences and I love to write about them here and share them with you.Your queries, comments and e-mails are so appreciated and make my experience as a blogger more enjoyable. Best Wishes for the year ahead.
Nessa x
It's New Year's Eve so many of you are probably busy making plans for the evening ahead. Even pre-children I was never really a fan of heading out on New Year's Eve, as everywhere was normally full to capacity which led to a most uncomfortable night out. These days I much prefer to entertain at home which suits quite well as there is no need to disturb the children's routine. If you too are hosting an evening get together, where you don't plan on serving a dinner, you really only need a few plates of finger foods to feed many.


Crisps with dips, such as houmous, are a popular choice for serving with drinks. If you happen to see Keogh's crisps for sale I would definitely recommend that you pick some up. They really are delicious and they have the added bonus of being Irish. A well presented cheese board with some nice cheese biscuits and a tasty chutney makes for a perfect accompaniment to any drinks party. One of my favourite cheeses has to be the locally made Mossfield Organics. My friend Kristin has suggestions for the absolute selection of cheeses to create your own cheeseboard over on her blog Edible Ireland. Some mini chicken kebabs with a scrumptious satay sauce is also something that I like to serve as finger food. They can both be prepared early in the day and just pop the kebabs into the oven 20 minutes before you'd like to serve them. Quesadiilas are also perfect because they can be assembled and refrigerated before your guests arrive and then simply fry them as needed. These are just a few ideas that you may find useful. What ever your plans I hope that you have a lovely evening and tomorrow I will share with you some of my foodie highlights of 2011.
Once Christmas night has come to a close I always feel like the festivities for this year are truly over. I won't take the Christmas tree down just yet, but it will making an exit from the building pretty soon. As a family we really enjoyed the Christmas celebrations, as the children are all getting a little older and can partake much easier in the preparations. As part of the Christmas build-up, last week the boys and I sat down and made a list of foods and dishes that we would like to enjoy over the few days of Christmas. They were each allocated with a few dishes to make on their own {with just a little help from Mammy!}. This made yesterday's meal extra special as they were all very proud to bring their contribution to the Christmas feast.
Unfortunately we were missing a very important member of our family at Christmas dinner. My Dad had been admitted to hospital the day before Christmas Eve but thankfully he's already feeling somewhat improved. A change from our normal Christmas day activities brought us on a visit to the hospital. It lifted Dad's spirits but also was a real eye-opener to the children as they saw just how many were spending their Christmas unwell in hospital.

Baked Ham Carbonara




I am planning on making my Christmas Creamy Leftover Pie for today's dinner. My Baked Ham & Brie toastie will also be enjoyed for lunch in the next few days. Here is another dish that I like to make with some leftover ham is a carbonara. I generally use bacon in this recipe but leftover baked ham also makes a perfect alternative. The carbonara can be rustled up in minutes making this a super speedy supper on a cold winter's night.

Ingredients
25g(1oz) butter
1 onion,diced
250g(9oz) cooked ham, cubed
3 eggs, preferably free range organic.
200mls (7floz) Avonmore cream
50g(2oz) grated parmesan(plus extra for serving)
freshly ground black pepper
500g(18oz) cooked pasta

Method
1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan and add the onion. Saute for 5 minutes over a medium heat until the onions sre soft but not coloured. Stir in the cooked ham.
2. In a jug combine the eggs, cream and parmesan. Turn the heat to low under the saucepan and add in the mix from the jug.
3. Gently stir, making sure not to scramble the eggs, for 2 minutes until the sauce is heated through.
4. Add the hot cooked pasta to the saucepan and combine well, ensuring all the pasta is nicely coated with the sauce.
5. Divide into bowls and grate over a little extra parmesan and a twist of black pepper before serving.


With tomorrow being Christmas Eve all the baking is taken care of, the house is decorated, the presents are wrapped and now our thoughts will be turning to the main event, Christmas Dinner - the most anticipated meal of the year. Times have changed and no longer are shops closed for a week after Christmas, yet we all still tend to pack our fridges and presses tightly in preparation for this memorable meal. In most families there is generally one who takes on the task of the Christmas dinner. Many will have a few extra, so when feeding a big crowd it's always a good idea to plan ahead and give the willing cooks amongst the group some little job. This naturally takes pressure off the 'head cook' and I feel makes the whole experience much more enjoyable when the work isn't left to just one or two. Of course I'm speaking as the 'cook' and not the one who gets to munch on Roses while watching Back to the Future and awaiting their dinner to be served.
 As a child I was always allocated with the job of making the bread sauce for Christmas dinner. I would follow Darina's recipe, from A Simple Delicious Christmas Cookbook, to a tee and naturally after making it myself I had to eat copious amounts of it with my turkey. The comforting smell of the milk, infusing on the hob, with onions and cloves is one of my all-time favourite Christmas scents. I can't remember a Christmas dinner without bread sauce but for anyone who hasn't yet tasted it I'd urge you to give it a try this Christmas. The combination of ingredients may sound peculiar and when cooked it does slightly resemble something that Oliver may of been looking for 'more' of, but believe me that once you taste it you'll love it and ever more will include it as part of your Christmas celebrations.



Bread Sauce


Ingredients
600ml (1 pint) milk
50g (2 oz) butter
1 onion quartered and studded with 8 cloves
2 bay leaves
10 peppercorns
2 thyme sprigs
Generous grating of nutmeg
To Finish
100g breadcrumbs
100ml cream
Knob of butter
Freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper




Method
1.      Pour the milk into a pan, add the onion, butter, nutmeg, bay leaves and thyme, and then bring to the boil. Turn the heat to its lowest setting and infuse the milk for 30 minutes.
2.      If you have time, do this the day before, leave to cool completely, and then chill overnight.
3.      Pass the milk through a sieve and pour into a clean saucepan. 
4.   Add the breadcrumbs, cream and butter and heat through on a low heat for 15 minutes.
5. Taste and season if necessary with salt and pepper. Add a little milk if the bread sauce is too thick.

6. To serve, spoon into a bowl and serve hot with an extra little grating of nutmeg. 


If anyone has any queries about their Christmas cooking feel free to e-mail me or contact me through Facebook or Twitter. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who read the blog and I'd like to wish you a very Merry Christmas with health & happiness for 2012.
Nessa x
I have a really good feeling about this Christmas and the whole build up to this years' big day has been quite wonderful. Like many others, Christmas was always my favorite time of year. I loved every minute of the preparations, the shopping for gifts, the visits to neighbours and friends, the carol services and of course the obligatory Christmas baking. However for the past few years I have found the whole Christmas season to be quite lonely. I imagine for anyone who has lost a loved one would agree that times that been the happiness can be struck with such sadness.  I am privileged to be surrounded by a fantastic family but there will always be a sadness in my heart for my loved one's who have passed. However I really am feeling festive this year and have loved all the prepartions with the children for Christmas. They are so excited and are busy with lots of plans for the week to come, which includes a visit to The Gaiety Theatre to see Robinson Crusoe & the Caribbean Pirates, which should be lots of fun. While in Dublin we may even dine somewhere nice!
The recipe I'm sharing with you today is one you might like to make to accompany your Christmas Roast. I was asked by Kerrygold for a festive recipe using their deliciously creamy butter. As a Kerrygold butter fan I had many to choose from, but decided on this recipe as it is my favourite stuffing recipe.

Sage, Date & Pine Nut Stuffing



A roast dinner of any sort just isn't complete without some stuffing on the side. The basis for any good stuffing are onions diced finely and sautéed in butter, which of course would preferably be creamy Kerrygold. Some breadcrumbs and fresh herbs would make this a very simple yet tasty accompaniment to your Christmas dinner, but the addition of a few chopped dates and a handful of toasted pine nuts makes it a whole lot tastier.

Ingredients
75g/3oz Kerrygold butter
1 large onion, diced
225g/8oz white breadcrumbs
50g toasted pine nuts
2 tbsp freshly chopped sage
6 dates, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Method:
1. Melt the Kerrygold butter in a pan, add the onions and cook for a few minutes until softened but not coloured.
2. Place the breadcrumbs in a bowl with the onion and butter mixture, the pine nuts, the sage and the dates.
3. Mix well to combine and season to taste.
4. Grease an oven- proof dish with a little butter and add the stuffing.
5. Place in a pre-heated oven 190 ̊C/375 ̊F/gas mark 5 for approximately 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to get all the stuffing nice and crispy.
A few weeks back I had the pleasure of heading to Kinnitty Castle for a mushroom forage and then enjoyed a fabulous dinner there. Kinnitty Castle Hotel is a beautiful medieval castle in a fairytale setting at the foot of the Slieve Bloom Mountains in Offaly. Set in 650 acres of beautiful parkland and forests including 60 acres of gorgeously green rolling lawns, the hotel is straight out of a fairytale!




There is an offer for a Magical Pre-Christmas Break in Kinnitty Castle Hotel this Saturday 17th December and I really had to share the details with you. 
Kinnitty Castle Hotel is the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the Christmas rush and they have a wonderful offer for a pre-Christmas break. For just €60 per person sharing you can enjoy a one night stay including dinner and breakfast in this splendid hotel this Saturday 17th December. With roaring open fires and sparkling Christmas decorations, there is no better place for you to unwind before Christmas in truly festive surroundings. So why not treat yourself and a loved one to a night of luxury at this very special price.




Kinnitty Castle Hotel, Kinnitty, Birr, Co. Offaly, Ireland 
Tel: 00353 57 9137318


I have a competition running on Twitter over the next few days. The prize is a Special Edition DVD of Julie & Julia. If you are on Twitter, make sure to enter. http://twitter.com/#!/Nessa_Robins
With Christmas just around the corner the thoughts of presents for friends and family will preoccupy most of us. It's the one time of year that you can give someone a present just because it's Christmas, but the reasoning behind the gift can of course be much more fundamental.  Through the year there are many that cross our paths that are kind and caring. People that can make  a difference just by being part of their company. Christmas is the perfect opportunity to thank those who are most important to us. It's always nice to appreciate those who take time out of their day to make our day a little easier and certainly some sort of a gift is an ideal gesture of thanks. Presents don't have to be expensive and I'm a true believer in the sentiment that 'It's the thought that counts'. Even the smallest gift is accompanied with the best of intentions.


A few months prior to Christmas I generally make some jams and chutneys, more because the garden is packed with fruit and the greenhouse with tomatoes and not because I am super organised! I always keep some to one side and have them as part of my Christmas hampers. If you are planning on giving some edible gifts as Christmas presents there is still plenty of time to put a few bits together. Some nice recycled jam jars, labels and a few pretty bows will make your home produce look even better. A jar of vanilla sugar is so easy to make. Add a vanilla pod to a nice jam jar, fill it with caster sugar and leave for a few weeks before enjoying in a cup of coffee or dusted over some shortbread.
Another really easy edible gift is some flavoured oil. Olive or rapeseed oil can be used. Pour out a little from the bottle, maybe add this to an already opened bottle, and add 3 full cloves of garlic and 2 large sprigs of fresh rosemary. Let this sit for about 2 weeks before use. This will taste delicious as a dip or as an oil for stir frying and it will cost considerably less than a shop bought flavoured oil.


Last year I received some Christmas biscuits from Nick on a gorgeous plate, all wrapped up beautifully with some cellophane and tied with a big bow. Not only were the biscuits home made but so was the plate! What an amazing present and something I'd like to recreate this year for some of my Christmas gifts. Now I'm not much of a potter but a few nice shop bought plates will do the trick.

I came across this recipe for fudge in Lorraine Pascal's new book, Home Cooking Made Easy. Home made sweets without using a sugar thermometer is always a good thing. I made them with the boys, they measured the ingredients and I took care of any of the stove bits. The contents of the saucepan gets very hot so I'd never let the kids even stir this when it's heating up. It took us all of 15 mins to make and then it took about 2 hours to set. We decorated the top with some Christmas sprinkles but any small sweets or chopped nuts would work perfectly. I wasn't a huge fan of this but that actually comes from the fact that I don't really like chocolate fudge. The children, however, loved it and enjoyed some with a hot chocolate while watching Narnia last night.

This is a lovely, easy recipe to make with the children.




One man grating while the other man samples the chocolate. 

Grating the chocolate was proving tricky, so Jack decided to chop it  instead.

Millie would be very offended if she wasn't included in whatever activities the boys are at!!




Ingredients

vegetable oil, for greasing

70g/2½oz butter

300g/10½oz soft light brown sugar

125g/4½oz evaporated milk

225g/8oz marshmallows

300g/10½oz milk chocolate, chopped

75g/3oz dark chocolate (at least 60% cocoa solids), chopped


Method


  1. Grease a 20cm/8in square cake tin with vegetable oil, then line with greaseproof paper.
  2. Put the butter, sugar and milk in a pan over a low heat and melt gently. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the marshmallows and turn up the heat. Boil the fudge for 5-6 minutes.
  3. Take the pan off the heat and add the grated chocolate. Leave for one minute, then stir the mixture together until everything is melted.
  4. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and leave to set for a couple of hours. Once set, remove from the tin and cut into 25 squares.

I've entered this post in English Mum's Great Christmas Bake Off.
I have been trying to be really good recently and made a conscious decision that I wasn't going to make a chocolate cake or bake a batch of cookies unless I was sure that there would be more than me to indulge in the chocolaty goodies. Something that isn't always advantageous to my willpower is the fact that I tend to keep my presses packed with every sort of ingredient. Then the thought of some baked treasure can become a reality in a very short space of time. I really love to bake and making a dish nice and quickly is definitely one great benefit of becoming confident in the kitchen. So I've been trying out some 'healthy' recipes when I feel the urge to bake. A slice of homemade soda with a drizzle of jam is always the better choice for an afternoon snack and can be enjoyed guilt free. But so many 'healthy' dishes can actually be made quite effortlessly. With some really nice fresh ingredients, a healthy meal can be spectacular. When I'm trying to cut down on the calories my frying pan has to be pushed to one side and the reliable wok becomes my old reliable. For the best part of the year I have a great supply of fresh vegetables from our garden, otherwise I normally buy organic. Luckily most are veggie fans in our house with stir fry veg being the cooking method of choice.




Stir Fry Veg with Cashews & Sweet Chilli 
For a real oomph to my stir fry veg I add a few extra little ingredients. This can make me doubt whether my dinner is really low in fat! I'm a huge fan of smoked paprika as it marries well to any meat and is perfect for spicy wedges, but it is also fantastic sprinkled on veg before stir frying. Just before serving I like to add a handful of cashew nuts and a couple of tablespoons of a sweet chilli sauce or jam. To serve a spoonful of crème fraiche and some chopped coriander makes it a meal fit for a king! If I'm trying to be extra good I leave off the crème fraiche but a little dollop on top just before serving adds such a lovely creaminess to the dish that I really cant resist. There are plenty of reduced calorie crème fraiche in stores which have lots of flavour without all the calories.This is such a quick dish to make, it's perfectly healthy and most importantly it is super tasty.


Ingredients
1 tbsp olive oil
1 red pepper, sliced
1 red onion, sliced
1/2 courgette, sliced
125g mushrooms
1 teasp smoked paprika
sea salt & freshly ground pepper
50g toasted cashew nuts
2 tbsp sweet chilli sauce/jam
100g medium noodles, cooked
60g crème fraiche
handful fresh coriander

Method
1. Heat a wok, add the olive oil and all of the prepared vegetables.
2. Sprinkle over the smoked paprika and season with a little sea salt and pepper. Stir to combine.
3. Stir fry over a high heat for about 5-7 minutes, stirring all the time, until the vegetables are cooked.
4. Add the cashew nuts and stir in the sweet chilli sauce.
5. Take the wok off the heat and stir in the cooked noodles, coating them well with the sauce.
6. Divide between two plates and top with a spoonful of crème fraiche and some chopped coriander or sprinkle over a little smoked paprika.

One of my favourite ingredients, Smoked Paprika.
I love cooking for big family occasions and when better to do this than during the Christmas season. The house is constantly busy and good humour is guaranteed when family and friends all come together. Often a lot of planning and shopping is needed to organise a successful family get together, but with the fridge packed with lots of lovely leftovers I normally try to include some of these ingredients when planning what to cook. I know that in recent years many people often opt for the 'anything but turkey' for their Christmas feast, but I must admit that I'm a traditional girl at heart and still have the urge to buy a turkey that can just about fit in the oven and enough ham to keep us in sandwiches for at least a good week after the big day. With the inevitable bowls of leftovers a little thought has to go into the post Christmas meal planning.
For the past number of years I have served a Turkey and Ham Pie for St. Stephen's Day. It's perfect for using up any of the previous days leftovers, which can include vegetables and stuffing. Alternatively some cooked chicken would also be perfect in place of the turkey and ham. If I have some mash potatoes they work wonderfully as a pie topper otherwise a sheet of puff pastry goes nicely with the sauce.
I would have cream in my fridge almost every day of the week, as a little dash of it goes a long way in so many dishes. However around the Christmas season I'm sure there's not a fridge in Ireland that hasn't a pot of creamy goodness tucked away in there somewhere!
This is a really delicious wholesome dish which is sure to warm you up over the holidays. It is scrumptious served with a plain green salad and I'm sure this pie would be welcome at any family meal.


Creamy Christmas Leftover Pie
roux(to thicken)
25g (1oz) butter
25g(1oz) plain flour

For the filling
50g (2oz) butter
200g(7oz) mushrooms, sliced
1 leek, sliced
salt and pepper
800mls(1.5 pints) chicken/turkey/vegetable stock
200mls (7floz) cream

10 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
sprig of fresh thyme

roux
2 teasp wholegrain mustard
100g(4oz) frozen peas
500g(16oz) cooked turkey
250g(8oz) cooked ham

For the topping
400g(14oz) puff pastry rolled to 5mm thick
1 egg, beaten, to glaze
or
1.5kg(3.5lbs) mashed potatoes

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°f/gas 6.
2. First make the roux by melting the butter in a small saucepan over a gentle heat. Add the flour and continue to stir for 2 minutes until the mixture comes away from the saucepan. Pour into a bowl and leave to one side.
3. Add half the butter to a large oven proof dish or saucepan and over a high heat fry the mushrooms for 4 minutes until soft. Remove to a plate.
4. Add the rest of the butter and add in the sliced leeks. Season with salt and pepper. Saute for about 15 minutes until soft but not coloured. Once cooked add to the mushrooms on the plate.
5. Using the same saucepan add the stock, cream, sage, thyme leaves and wholegrain mustard.
6. Bring to a boil, then whisk in the roux. The liquid must be boiling while you add the roux for the sauce to thicken without getting lumpy.
7. Return the cooked mushrooms and leeks to the saucepan. Add the peas, turkey and ham.
8. Either top with the puff pastry and glaze with some beaten egg or top with mashed potatoes.
9.  Place the dish/saucepan on a baking tray in the preheated oven for 30 mins until the top is golden brown and the mixture bubbling hot.


So Thanksgiving will be celebrated in America, later this week. Each year I always feel that we are missing out on a truly wonderful holiday. I understand that the origins of the American & Canadian Thanksgiving are to do with the anniversary of their pilgrims settling in their countries, but the whole idea of having a holiday dedicated to giving thanks, I feel, is something really special. To be aware of all the good around us is paramount for day to day life and to give thanks for this good is ever important. Giving thanks and appreciating others good will, is something that I stress heavily with my children. I always remind them that as a family we have so much to be grateful for. Overall I'd consider myself a positive person. My mother oozed positivity and no matter what happened in life, she would take something positive from any situation. When ever I had a problem she was first I would call, and her ability to rationalise any dilemma always astounded me. I certainly miss my chats with her but her positivity rooted deep and has given me a fantastic outlook on my life. I have so much to give thanks for but most of all I am grateful for my happy and healthy children and a great husband.


I wanted to share with you a sandwich recipe that has become one of my annual favourites. As some of my readers are American I thought these ingredients may already be in your fridge, so that is why I'm posting this recipe early in the season.
I think to pan fry any sandwich makes it automatically tastier than it's grilled alternative. Of course it's not exactly healthier but I still always enjoy it as a real treat and this version would have to be my pan fried sandwich of choice. The kids also love all sorts of pan fried sandwiches, however their ultimate pan fried sandwich would be this smore like treat, which is only made on very special occasions.
The ingredients that are packed inside this sandwich are ones that are typically left in the fridge after Thanksgiving or Christmas. This is a useful recipe to create something delicious from your leftover cheese board, cooked ham and cranberry sauce.

Pan Fried Brie and Baked Ham Sandwich



Ingredients 
2 slices of thick white bread
butter
wedge of Brie or Camerbert
slice of Baked Ham
 1 teasp Cranberry Sauce
few drops of Balsamic Vinegar

Method
 1. Butter the slices of bread. Slice the brie and place on the unbuttered side of one slice of bread. Top with a slice of ham.
2. Add a spoonful of cranberry sauce. Drizzle with a few drops of balsamic vinegar.
3. Put the second slice of bread on top, buttered side out. Fry in a hot pan, pressing down with a fish slice, for two minutes on each side, until golden brown and the cheese is melting.
4. Cut in half and enjoy with a little cranberry sauce on the side.
It's an absolutely beautiful day here in Moate, which makes it hard to believe that we are only a few weeks from Christmas. I've been busy for the past while with cookery demos, but I'll have a new recipe posted in the next couple of days! Thanks to all who enter the competition last week for the Taste Of Christmas tickets. All names were put into the hat and the winner is Rolling Pin Claire. {Photo of the winning 'ticket' is on my facebook page!} I'm sure you'll have a fantastic day!


Today I made a Baked Lemon Cheesecake for dessert. It's been ages since I made one and I forgot just how good it is. Creamy, zesty and so delicious!
It's competition time yet again on the blog and I must say that I'm terribly excited about this one. The team who are working hard behind the scenes of Taste of Christmas, have made two tickets available for me to give to one of my blog followers. The tickets are for Sunday 27th November at 12m/d. The tickets are valued at €24.50 each plus booking fee {and if you have children, under 12's go free to the event}.
Tickets include complimentary mouth-watering mince pies on arrival, full access to the event featuring the chance to browse artisan exhibitors, find gifting ideas, indulge in foodie features, enjoy cooking demonstrations from Ireland’s finest chefs plus take a seat at the MasterChef Ireland Live Theatre Show and receive a Restaurant Loyalty Card. The Restaurant Loyalty Card is a new addition to Taste of Christmas this year, thrilling customers with €100 worth of discounts to enjoy in selected Taste restaurants from January to April next year.  In addition, all Florin booklets include a fantastic €20 off your Christmas shopping at Superquinn.  

Here I am with Edward Hayden at Taste of Dublin, last June.

I always enjoy Taste of Dublin, each summer, and naturally it was extra special for me this year as I won a competition on TV3 and got the amazing opportunity to do a live cookery demonstration with the lovely Edward Hayden. I haven't before had the chance to make my way to Taste of Christmas but that will change this year! The weather won't cause any problems either as the festivals is all indoors at The Convention Center in Dublin. Edward Hayden, Catherine Fulvio and Oliver Dunne will be there sharing their recipes and tips for the perfect Christmas. This year they will be joined by a new attraction, Masterchef Live where Dylan and Nick will host an interactive cooking experience with the audience. Some of the Masterchef contestants will also be donning their aprons and demonstrating a few dishes. There are a large list of food & drink exhibitors that will be there to tempt you into buying lots of foodie presents this Christmas. A full list of can be viewed here. With the Taste tradition there will be some of Dublins top restaurants there to offer you a taste of their menu for a fraction of the price. Taste of Christmas promises to be a fantastic event with so much happening under the one roof. I'm really looking forward to it!

How to enter - The competition is easy to enter just answer the question in the comment box below.
The Question: Which celebrity chef would you most like to meet?
To be eligible to win the tickets you must be a follower of the blog, {if you are not already following,  click follow on the toolbar on the right} then leave your answer under this post.
OPTIONAL:
* Like Nessa's Family Kitchen on Facebook.
* Follow on Twitter.

Please only leave a comment if you are available to travel to Dublin on Sunday 27th November. Closing date for the competition is next Sunday 20th November at 6pm. The winner will be picked at random and I will then forward your name & address to the Taste Team who will send you on your tickets.(No cash alternative is possible)
Best of Luck!

Tickets can be bought here for this year's Taste of Christmas.
Taste on Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/TasteofChristmasDublin
Taste on Twitter - http://twitter.com/#!/TasteofXmas

Last week I headed to the beautiful Co.Wicklow to stay a night at the 5 star Resort & Hotel at Druids Glen. The boys stayed with their Grandparents so it was just Diarmuid, Millie and me. The weather last weekend was extraordinarily good for November and as we drew closer to Wicklow the sights were breathtaking, with trees still displaying their autumn colours. On check-in the staff were warm and welcoming and on arrival to our room a little box of Lilly O'Brien's chocolates with a lovely note welcomed us. As requested we had two queen size beds, which was the perfect arrangement for the three of us. The bedroom and bathroom was spotless and the view from the large window was spectacular.




We decided to get a cuppa before heading out for a walk. To my delight some homemade biscuits accompanied it! They were crumbly and buttery and I must say I was very impressed.

If we're ever choosing a hotel to stay with the children there is a certain criteria that is important. The size of the rooms, if there are adjoining rooms {essential when holidaying with 4 children}, a swimming pool, and if possible  a kids club and playground. Druids Glen resort ticks all of these boxes. On the grounds of the hotel was a newly built playground and it was flawless! Millie certainly enjoyed the roundabout, slides and of course the swings. I know the boys would of loved all of the activity in the hotel.
 To work around Millie's bedtime we choose to have an early dinner. To my surprise there were a large amount of families with young children. To cater for the children was a buffet-style counter which had plenty to offer to the young diners. This is a fantastic option for parents as every parent knows it's very frustrating ordering a dish for a child only for it to be dismissed on arrival to the table. Also once we ordered I could plate up Millie's dinner straight away. With so many families in the one area no parent would feel under pressure to keep the children perfectly quite while out for their meal {which is always an obviously impossible task at a restaurant}. The dining area is large enough to be segregated into two sections. Before leaving I peeped around the corner where the diners where a lot more tranquil! I haven't seen this in any other hotels but thought it a fabulous idea. I'm sure if I was dining with my older children I would choose to eat in the 'quieter' area but while dining with my younger crew I'd absolutely want to be seated in the family area. Dining out with young children can often be difficult and not because the children are particularly naughty but just because they're being children and sitting quietly for a couple of hours is really tedious to them. I loved this idea, the children are happy and the parents get to enjoy a fabulous meal in peace. Another lovely addition to the family dining was that each child received a colouring pack to utilise when their meal was over.
I must say that my absolute highlight of the hotel was the amazing food. Their new menu had just been launched and was devised in partnership with the well known chef, food-writer & cookery school proprietor, Catherine Fulvio. Local lady, Catherine is a great advocater for sourcing local ingredients and her food philosophy is one of 'farm to fork'. This was ever evident in the menu as each dish was a real showcase of the included ingredients. There was so much choice that I had difficulty picking a dish for each course.  Each dish not only tasted fantastic but was presented beautifully. As a Twitter fan I tweeted my way through the meal. It's always nice to share a few photos of a meal enjoyed with other foodies and I even received a 'Bon Appetite' tweet from Catherine herself. I can honestly say that this was the nicest meal we have had out in quite some time.

Kilmore Quey Seared Scallops with a cherry tomato & filo stack, lumpfish roe and basil dressing.
Druids Classic Caesar Salad.
Dunlavin Pork Cutlets stuffed with Fig, Apple & Hazelnut, honey mustard & thyme glaze, Chive mash, Caramelised  Apples{from their own orchard} & cider apple sauce.
Butternut Squash, Sweet Roasted Pepper & Mozzarella Wellington served with purple sprouting broccoli, toasted almonds & sundried tomato sauce.This was the nicest vegetarian dish I have ever had in a restaurant.


 Pear Poached in Saffron & white wine with ginger biscuit, chocolate sauce and Golden Hill Farm praline ice-cream.
Passion Fruit & Orange Tart with Golden Hill Farm white chocolate ice-cream.
There was a great selection of delicious foods and homemade preserves for breakfast.
The boys were well impressed when they heard that delicious pancakes were made to order.

We had to leave early on the Saturday morning, as I was attending a seminar, so we didn't get to avail of their spa or leisure facilities. These will be on the agenda for next time as both looked amazing. Neither myself or Diarmuid play golf but would be encouraged to after seeing their outstanding golf course.
When one is planning a holiday in Ireland the weather always plays such a big part however this needn't be the case if planning a trip to Druids Glen Resort. There are so many activities to do within the resort. Of course it would be a bonus if the weather was good and a walk in the stunning surroundings could be considered.
I was a guest of Host PR and Druids Glen Resort. Thank you kindly to Gillian from Host PR and the lovely staff at Druids Glen Resort who made our stay so fantastic.


 Druids Glen Resort, 
Newtownmountkennedy,
Co. Wiclow,
Ireland.
T- 00 353 1 2870800
Twitter - http://twitter.com/#!/druidsglenhotel
Facebook -http://www.facebook.com/DruidsGlenResortHotel


A few months back I received an email from Eileen at Cafe de Cuba and she asked if she could send me some coffees and teas to try out. As a coffee & tea entuassiast I was more than happy to oblige. Cafe de Cuba/Fixx Coffee are the official sponsors of Cuban coffee for UK and Ireland and also creators of Fixx Coffee. They recently introduced a new Decaf Coffee, an Organic Coffee and some exciting Organic Teas to the market place. 




The name on the packaging of the ground coffee is 'Really Good Organic Coffee' and how appropriately named it is! Imagine the quality of a coffee you get while dinning in a really nice establishment, the sort of coffee youd rarely get from a home brew and this is similar to how good this coffee is but even better as it's organic. It is smooth and rich and it's pungent aroma lingers in the kitchen long after the cuppa is enjoyed. Once I was halfway through my bag I began to save it and limit it for my daily treat. Needless to say I would thoroughly recommend this coffee and even though it is on the higher price margin, of €8.50, it is very much worth it. 
Every so often I like to enjoy a herbal tea. Mostly when I'm reaching for the herbal variety it means I have in some way overindulged and somehow a cup of the herbal stuff can settle the tummy marvelously. There were a nice variety of teas in the pack I received. My favourite had to be the Golden Mango Organic tea. It almost tasted as if a mango had been freshly purrerd to achieve such an exotic flavour and it was so refreshing.
The Decaf Coffee was also quite lovely and there wasn't a compromise on taste either, it proved to be the perfect partner to a biscuit late in the evening. I also received a beautifully presented tin of Pure Green Organic Tea Bags. Green tea is naturally high in anti-oxidants and makes a nice change from regular tea. Another wonderful addition to these superb products is their simple but very attractive packaging
I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed these high quality coffee and tea products. Thank you to Cafe de Cuba for sending them my way.

I will be having a lovely competition here on the blog next week, but for now I'm having a competition on my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/Nessas.Family.Kitchen so if you're on Facebook do check it out. The prize is a signed copy of Darina Allen's Simply Delicious Christmas.

I love any dish that all the family will enjoy however when I first made this risotto I expected Millie to be the only taker, but to my delight the boys also really enjoyed it. This is a recipe I submitted for Easy Parenting as a baby meal but if you haven't a baby in the house you could still try this out. It makes a lovely addition to many different meats but is equally delicious on its own.

As a young baby's palate becomes use to the smooth texture of a fruit or vegetable puree sometimes the introduction of lumpier foods can prove a little tricky. It is natural for your baby to spit out the lump or even sometimes gag in the quest to rid their mouth of what they think is a foreign body. I must admit that I was very nervous when it came to introducing lumpier meals and finger foods to my first boy. It always seemed to evoke gagging which not only turned my little man off lumps but also resulted in me being a nervous wreck at mealtimes. However with some persistence I slowly introduced textures into his meals and soon he began to enjoy this new cuisine. With my other children the transition from purees to lumps didn't seem to take as long. Most children develop at different paces and it's always imperative to give them a chance to progress at their own rate. Given some time your baby will begin to control the lumps of food in their mouth and in turn they will learn how to swallow them. It is important to introduce your baby to textured dishes at an early stage, around 9 mths, as it is paramount for the development of their oral skills and also important in the building of muscle tone.
It can be quite labour intensive to cook meals that will suit the babies, children and adults in a house so with this in mind a recipe that suits all is invaluable to the family cook. Risotto is one dish that my whole family enjoy. The risotto is perfect for the baby/toddler, aged 9-12mths, as all of the vegetables are finely chopped and for the older children it makes a perfect accompanient to some roast chicken or a few good quality sausages. Feel free to experiment with this recipe including whatever vegetables are in season.

Millie enjoying a bowl of Risotto.



Nessa's Family Risotto


Ingredients

1 onion, finely diced
1/2 red pepper, finely diced
1 small courgette, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tomatoes, chopped
225g (8oz) risotto rice, such as Arborio. (Can also use long grain)
1 litre (2 pints) diluted hot vegetable or chicken stock
50g grated Parmesan, plus extra to serve


Method:

1. Saute the onion, pepper, courgette and carrot in the olive oil for 5-6 minutes, until soft.
2. Add the garlic and rice and stir for 2 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes.
3. Slowly add the hot stock and simmer for 20-25 mins until the rice is tender. Adding a little more stock or water if necessary.
4. When the rice is just cooked and tender, add the Parmesan and leave to stand, covered for a minute.
5. When serving grate over a little extra Parmesan.

This article and recipe was published in the Oct/Nov issue of Easy Parenting.
Details are here if you would like to come to one of my demos later this month.
Last week I was invited along to go on a mushroom hunt on the grounds of the very beautiful Kinnitty Castle. Mushrooms are one of my favourite ingredients and I especially love the wild variety. As a child foraging for mushrooms was an annual event, with basket loads of mushrooms collected during the months of September and October. My search for mushrooms hasn't been as successful in recent years, with only ever finding enough to throw in an omelette, so to get the opportunity of a guided tour around the stunning grounds of Kinnitty, with Mushrooms aplenty, sounded fantastic to me.


We arrived at the hotel around midday and were warmly greeted by Gillian and Tim from Host PR, Joanne, the sales and marketing manager and Andrew the general manager of Kinnitty. After a quick chat and a cuppa in the the library we were seated in the Sli Dala Restaurant. We enjoyed a lovely lunch while Bill O'Dea from Mushroom Stuff gave us a very informative chat on wild mushrooms, where to find them and what are and more importantly aren't edible. Bill has travelled world wide in his search for mushrooms and endeared us with many intriguing tales.







There were about twenty of us, so we separated into two groups. There were some of my fellow food bloggers in my group; Donal Skehan, Aoife McElwain and Kristin Jensen. We chose to take the more scenic tour of the grounds and headed into the woods with the hope of collecting a few mushrooms. The grounds of Kinnitty are really stunning with lots of winding walkways through the 650 acres of woodland and forests.




Sofie really had an eye for finding mushrooms and managed to collect most of our groups contribution!

We walked through the forest for about 2 hours and happily managed to find a few different varieties of Mushrooms. Bill had advised us to bring back anything we found and he would then identify them. It was a lovely way to spend a Saturday afternoon, wandering through the woods and chatting with other foodies. We had a great laugh and naturally the topic of food and photography filled our talk.








On arriving back to the hotel we left the muddy boots to one side for a cosy pair of slippers and took a seat in front of a roaring log fire, where we were given some hot toddys. This was the perfect way to warm up after a stroll in the woods.

Bill then examined the different varieties of mushrooms that were picked. Unbelievably there were over fifty varieties retrieved of which a mere five were edible. Bill stressed the importance of never to forage for mushrooms without the guidance of an expert as so many wild mushrooms are poisonous









A few were brave enough to taste a tiny bit of the more unpleasant fungi. Seemingly it didn't taste too good-I didn't  volunteer!


These may look very beautiful but they are actually quite poisonous.
The edible varieties were then handed over to the chef and he simply fried these with a little butter and tarragon and they tasted gorgeous. 




I know this photo is very dark but I just loved the look of the wellies all lined up in the candle light . I think it gives a real feel for the  exclusive atmosphere that is offered at Kinnitty Castle.
All the others in the group were staying the night and once I saw the bedrooms I most certainly regretted that I had opted for heading home after the meal! The furniture in the bedroom was beautiful and each ensuite featured a stunning roll top bath. Kinnitty offers something so different it  would make an Ideal location for a romantic break.
Isn't this room just amazing!


Dinner was definitely a real treat as There were eight courses and each one was paired with a matching wine. I simply loved the room where we were dining and commented with fellow diners that this room would make an ideal choice for an intimate wedding. The dinner was delicious and the company at the table was marvellous.





Kinnitty Castle hotel is so unique, the grounds are magnificent and the staff are so friendly and welcoming. Even though Kinnitty Castle is less than an hours drive from here, I actually had never been there before. After this trip I most certainly will be making a return visit. The children would really love it and if ever myself and hubby get to head away on our own I know exactly where I'll be booking!