I'm rather glad to say that we are now the other side of Christmas. Even if Dad had passed away earlier in the year I do think the first Christmas without a loved one is ever so difficult. I'm lucky to have my children around me, who kept me on my toes for the past week and actually got me through the festivities fairly well. I haven't been taking any food photos over the Christmas, however I often have a few recipes and photos in draft. This sausage roll recipe, or porky pies as my boys like to call them, was from my column in last month's Easy Parenting. 

Porky Pies
I love nothing more than lots of canapés served at a party or in place of a starter at a dinner party. They look so pleasing, all lined up on a platter, however these delicate canapés can be rather time consuming to make, especially when faced with a large crowd mostly consisting of children. Homemade sausage rolls or pies make for the perfect canapé for a family get together, as children and adults alike seem to love them. If you can’t get your hands on some sausage meat, buy a few packs of good quality sausages and squeeze the meat from their cases. If you would like to make these in advance of a party, the uncooked porky pies can be placed in the freezer, wrapped in cling film, then simply add an extra 10 minutes to the recommended cooking time. Always ensure that the meat is fully cooked through before serving.




Ingredients
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp butter
300g Sausage meat
150g streaky bacon, finely diced
1tbsp Fresh Sage, finely chopped
1tsp Dijon mustard
Freshly Ground Pepper
1 sheet of ready rolled Puff Pastry
1 Egg, beaten (for glazing)
25g (1oz) sesame seeds

Method
1.     Preheat the oven to 200c/430f/gas 7 and line a large baking tray with some greaseproof paper.
2.     Melt the butter in a frying pan and gently sauté the onions for 5 minutes, until they are soft but not coloured. Remove to a large bowl and leave to cool completely.
3.     Add the sausage meat, streaky bacon, sage, mustard and a few grinds of freshly ground pepper to the bowl. Using your hands, mix together well.
4.     Place the sheet of puff pastry on a floured surface and carefully roll out the pastry until it is thin, using a rolling pin.
5.     Evenly divide the pastry into 4 pieces. Divide the sausage meat mixture in 4 and make them roll the mixture to make it long and sausage like. Place into the centre of each pastry strip. Brush a little beaten egg along one edge of the pastry. Roll up the other side of the pastry to encase the sausage meat and pinch the edges firmly. Using a shape knife cut each pastry roll into even sized pieces, making about 8 from each pastry roll.
6.      Brush each one with a little beaten egg and scatter over some sesame seeds.
7.     Arrange on the baking tray and bake in the pre-heated oven for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown and cooked through.

I would like to wish all my readers a very happy new year. Thank you for following
the blog and for your words of support in 2012. I do hope that you will join me for
what promises to be a busy but very exciting year in 2013. 
Christmas dinner can sometimes seem like rather a stressful affair. In years gone by I often found myself spending the best part of two days preparing and cooking for one meal. But eventually I realised that after all what is it only a family dinner, like I make every other day, but with a few special extras. I know many are beginning to steer away from the traditional turkey dinner, but for me turkey with all the trimmings is the meal I most look forward to over the Christmas season. I always serve gravy, bread sauce and cranberry sauce with the christmas dinner. I posted my favourite bread sauce recipe last year, if you would like to try it out. I'm sure you'll love it as much as I do. Of course a very important part of any turkey and ham dinner is a good serving of stuffing. This year I will make the same as last, my Sage, Date & Pine Nut Stuffing; covered with homemade gravy I could eat this as a meal in itself!
I'm all for preparing some of the dishes well before a big event. Any sauce or gravy will freeze perfectly, only to be taken from the freezer Christmas Eve, popped in the fridge and then reheated just before serving Christmas dinner. Cranberry sauce can be made in advance and doesn't even need to be frozen, as it will keep perfectly in the fridge for 3-4 weeks. I love a good dollop of some sweet and tangy cranberry sauce served alongside any white meat but it also makes a fantastic dipping sauce for breaded brie, which happens to be my boy’s starter of choice for Christmas day. This is a luxuriously delicious dish that would serves well as a starter but it also quite good as a canapé for a Christmas drinks party, minus the salad. The brie can be prepared early in the day and refrigerated until needed. Just two small pieces of brie would be completely sufficient as a starter. After all it is the appetiser to what is normally considered a day’s worth of calories on one plate.



Ingredients
300g Brie, cut into 8 wedges, with most of the thick skin trimmed off
2 eggs, beaten
Seasoned flour
80g Paxo golden breadcrumbs
Vegetable oil for deep frying

      Method
1. Dip the Brie wedges first in the flour then in the beaten egg, then in the breadcrumbs and again in the egg and again in the breadcrumbs. Fill a wok one-quarter-full of vegetable oil and heat to 180C(fan)/390F/gas mark 6 or use a deep fat fryer. 
2.The oil is ready when you drop a breadcrumb in and it sizzles. (CAUTION: hot oil is dangerous; do not leave unattended). 
3.When the oil is ready, add the breaded Brie and deep fry until golden brown on each side and the cheese has melted in the centre -about 2-3 mins. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.

For Salad:
100g mixed salad leaves
1 ripe pear, cut into slices
25g walnuts, roughly chopped
½ red onion, finely sliced
1 tbsp salad dressing of choice

To Serve:
Place the salad leaves, sliced pear, chopped walnuts and finely sliced onion into a small bowl.
Drizzle with a little salad dressing. Divide between four plates. 
Serve with the Deep Fried Brie and a large spoonful of the cranberry sauce{homemade or shop bought} on the side.

Cranberry Sauce
The cranberry sauce can of course be shop bought however as it is so easy to make, I'd recommend to make a little jar of the homemade variety. The sauce can be kept plain if preferred but I like to have a citrus kick from mine. If you are planning to serve this alongside the brie and the turkey, then make double the quantity.

Ingredients
      350g fresh/frozen cranberries
      200g caster sugar 
      75ml water
      Zest of ½ an orange
      50ml Cointreau 

Put the cranberries, sugar, water and orange zest into a saucepan and let it bubble away until the berries start to pop, stirring regularly with a wooden spoon, which will take about 10 minutes. Give the sauce a good stir and crush down any remaining full berries. Stir in the Cointreau. Carefully taste a little of the sauce, to check whether it needs more sugar. Transfer to a bowl and allow to cool. If cooked a few days in advance, reheat a little and give the sauce a good mashing with a fork before serving.

This post and recipe were published in The Westmeath Independent on the Dec 5th. 

Just a week ago my dear old dad, whom I've written about on many an occasion, took his last breath and departed from this world, as we know it. Even though Dad has not been critically unwell, it has been apparent for some time that his body was weakening and everyday tasks were becoming a burden for him. Since my Mam passed away six years ago he has been struggling with maintaining optimum health however his strength of spirit and will to live really kept him going. He was full of plans for the future and only the day before he passed away he was planning on buying more cattle for the land and his tunnels are packed with pots of herbs, to see me through the winter. 
Dad left his home on Saturday night with every intention of returning. This gives me great comfort as he had a great fear of being bed-bound for weeks or months and being fully aware that his death was neigh. His passing came as a great shock to myself and the family, but I am grateful, especially for Dad's sake, that he didn't suffer.

I'm devastated, heartbroken  and oh so lonely, not just for Dad but I also feel like once again I'm grieving for my mother. I know it will take me some time to come to terms with the fact that both of my parents have passed, however I'm ever so grateful that they were a part of my life and were always such a positive influence on me. For the past number of years Dad has been a wonderful part of mine and my children's lives. I'm going to miss him so much; our chats together, his humour and his love. I appreciate that Dad had a good life and left this world peacefully. May he rest in peace.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who sent us words of condolences, who spent time with us at Dad's wake and joined us for his funeral. I'm very grateful for your support.

What Makes A Dad
{Author unknown}

God took the strength of a mountain,
The majesty of a tree,
The warmth of a summer sun,
The calm of a quiet sea,
The generous soul of nature,
The comforting arm of night,
The wisdom of the ages,
The power of the eagle's flight,
The joy of a morning in spring,
The faith of a mustard seed,
The patience of eternity,
The depth of a family need,
Then God combined these qualities,
When there was nothing more to add,
He knew His masterpiece was complete,

And so, He called it ... DAD.

The boys are gone to school filled with such excitement. Tonight is the night they have eagerly awaited for a very long time. At 9.30 this evening we will huddle up on the sofa and surround ourselves with goodies, as The Late Late Toy Show hits our television screens. There are still some similarities between what are my favourite childhood memories and what will be my children's and this is near the top of the list. Jack and Tiarnán love to help with the preparation of the snacks, so everything we're making is pretty easy to prepare. Jack will make us hot chocolate using his own recipe. While Tiarnán, who loves a little savoury at any party,  has planned to make some hummus to accompany a big bowl of Keogh's Crisps.
I love the combination of creamy chocolate with peanuts, popcorn or indeed crisps, so with this in mind I decided to make some nutty chocolate truffles for tonight's feast. They are so easy to make but are totally scrumptious. They would be perfectly placed as an after dinner treat, with a coffee, at a diner party. In fact they would also certainly make a rather tasty gift, for a loved one at Christmas.




Ingredients
200g chocolate, I used 46% cocoa
100mls cream
25g butter
100g Peanuts
cocoa power, for dusting

Method
1. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl, over a saucepan pan of just-boiled water. In a separate saucepan, melt the butter and cream together. Just before it comes to the boil, remove from heat. Very gradually stir into the melted chocolate. Whisk gently, for about 5 minutes, until smooth and thick; chill for about 2hrs.
2. Scoop up a teaspoonful of truffle mix and push a peanut into the centre. The chocolate mix will melt with the heat of your hands so you must work quickly. Shape into a ball, then roll in the chopped peanuts. For the non-peanut eaters simply dust with a little cocoa. Repeat with remaining mix, then chill. These Chocolate Truffles can then be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two weeks.


If you are sitting in for the Toy Show later, I hope you have a really lovely evening.
Thank you to all who entered the competition for the Keogh's Farm goodies hamper. All names from those who commented on the post and re-tweeted, on Twitter, were put into the hat. I'm happy to announce that the winner is Peggy, who commented on Nov 15th at 1.15pm. Congratulations Peggy a lovely hamper will be making its way to you, in time for Christmas. Please contact me with your postal address. NessasFamilyKitchen at gmail.com
Once the hullabaloo of Halloween has passed the children eagerly begin their Christmas countdown. Santa lists are written and rewritten many times, but never quite finalised until The Late Late Toy Show has aired. This is normally the first Friday in December but this year is the last Friday in November, which should leave Santa enough time to make all the necessary gifts, in time for the big day. My own Christmas countdown normally begins too after Halloween. November for me is a month for baking; puddings, the Christmas cake and mincemeat all benefit greatly from being made early and left to mature over a few weeks. Individually none of these are too great a task to undertake, but each can give a wonderful sense of accomplishment on Christmas week. If you have a little time on your hands and would like to get ahead with your Christmas gift list, I'm certain that a homemade pudding, cake or jar of mincemeat would be greatly appreciated by a loved one at Christmas. 

Only in recent years have I started to enjoy mince pies. A pastry case overfilled with boozy fruit never really cut it for me, that is until I started to sample a few homemade varieties. My mother in law is quite the expert at making pastry so a couple of Christmas ago we made a deal, that she would make the pastry and I would make a suitable mincemeat filling for mince pies, to serve at a family get together. These turned out splendidly and each Christmas since I've made these to accompany some festive mulled wine. The quality of the pastry must be good but most importantly the quality of the mincemeat is crucial. I love anything a little zesty, so with added orange zest and some Grand Marnier or Cointreau, these little treats are rather pungent with orange flavours. I greatly welcome nuts, of any variety, in a pie or tart so a few pecan nuts are in the mincemeat, but these can be replaced with walnuts if you prefer. The uncooked mince pies will freeze very well. Open-freeze the uncooked mince pies in their trays, then knock each one out and store in freezer bags. To cook, replace the desired amount of pies in a bun tin. When cooking from frozen, allow an extra 10 minutes cooking time.   
For all the non mince pie eaters I'd urge you to give these a try, as you may be surprised by how much you actually like them!

Ingredients
300g (12oz) raisins
300g (12oz) sultanas
juice 1 orange
6 tablespoons Grand Marnier or Cointreau
175g (6oz) pecans or walnuts, toasted, roughly chopped
200g (8oz) butter, melted
175g (6oz) candied peel, {mixed or orange} finely chopped
finely grated zest 2 oranges
175g (6oz) light muscovado sugar
1 large Bramley apple, freshly grated 

Method
  1. Soak the raisins and sultanas in the orange juice and Grand Marnier or Cointreau for a couple of hours or so until the liquid is all soaked up. I normally leave overnight for maximum soakage.
  2. Add in all the remaining ingredients and combine well. Spoon into sterilised jars, seal tightly, then store in the fridge until ready to use. The mincemeat will  keep in the fridge for up to 2 months.


Mince Pies - Sweet Pastry

Ingredients
180g/7oz plain flour
75g/3oz ground almonds
25g/1oz caster sugar
Finely grated rind of 1 orange
pinch of salt
140g/5oz butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
1 large egg, beaten

Method
  1. Sift the flour into a bowl and mix in ground almonds, orange rind, caster sugar and a pinch of salt.
  2. Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  3. Add the egg and mix into the flour with a knife, then gather into a ball using your hands.
  4. Preheat the oven to 200c/400f/gas6.
  5. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough and line a bun-case. Spoon in the mincemeat. Top each with a pastry disc.
  6. Brush with a little beaten egg or milk and bake for 15-20 mins.

I have mentioned here, on many an occasion, that I'm a huge fan of Keogh's range of crisps. The new variety has hit the shelves, just in time for the festive season. Very similar to Violet tasting the 3-meal chewing gum in Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, these Roast Turkey and Secret Stuffing Crisps were for me the nearest thing you could get to Christmas dinner in a bag. 
With the help of Dustin the Turkey, Keogh's launched the new variety last week. Innovative and entrepreneurial Keogh's Farm are bringing the taste of the much loved Christmas dinner to all occasions with their mouth-watering festive Roast Turkey and Secret Stuffing hand-cooked potato crisp. The Secret Stuffing in the crisps is a closely guarded secret family recipe that has been handed down from generation to generation and uses only the finest ingredients grown in their farmhouse herb garden in North County Dublin.
Keogh's Farm are the only on-farm producers of hand cooked Irish potato crisps in Ireland and the only potato growers in the world who offer fresh potatoes and potato crisps from the same farm side by side in stores both around the country and around the world, having recently secured space in American gourmet chain Dean & DeLuca.

Keogh's Roast Turkey and Secret Stuffing crisps will also feature the ever-popular ‘Spud Nav’ through which the consumer can trace their bag of crisps back to the field it came from, by entering the field name - which is printed on each bag into the ‘Spud Nav’ page on the Keogh's web site, www.keoghs.ie
This competition is now over. Winner will be announced tomorrow - 19th November.
I'm teaming up with Keogh's Farm to give a lovely festive Christmas Crisps hamper, packed with lots of goodies, to one of my readers. To be in with a chance of winning either leave a comment below or retweet my tweet about this giveaway on twitter -  my twitter handle is https://twitter.com/Nessa_Robins
All names will be put in the hat and the winner will be picked on the 18th  November. 

TERMS AND CONDITIONS: you must be a resident of Ireland (north or south); you must be over 18; no cash alternative is possible, the competition will close at 6pm on Sunday 18th  NovemberAll entered names will be put in the hat and the winner will be picked at random and will be contacted on Monday 19th November.

Best of luck! 

One of my little men had a day off school today. He wasn't exactly sick but more completely exhausted from being up most of the night with a rather bad flare up of his eczema. Thankfully this doesn't too often happen, but being unsure whether an accompanied tummy ache was due to the tiredness, or was a sign of an upcoming bug, I decided to err on the side of caution and keep him tucked up and cosy at home.
I always bake on a Friday, to have something in the press for weekend visitors. Today I decided to make one of my favourite cakes this Lemon & Poppy Seed Loaf Cake and top it with a creamy lemon topping. I based the recipe on my basic bun mixture and added some lemon zest and poppy seeds to the cake batter. I also put the fire on early, made a big pot of soup and some homemade soda bread. As the morning progressed Tiarnán started to feel a little more energised and while he tore into his soup and soda bread, by the fire, I thought to myself what a beautiful memory this will be for him of being 'sick' as a child, while also I hoped that it wouldn't encourage a pattern of 'sick days'. However he's a good boy, who adores school, so I can't imagine this ever being the case, for the next few years anyway!

As I was baking my patient was busy colouring.



Ingredients
225g (8oz) butter, softened
225g (8oz) caster sugar
zest of 1 lemon
3 free range eggs
280g (10oz) self-raising flour, sieved
25g poppy seeds

For Icing

30g softened butter
70g plain cream cheese (Philadelphia)
200g icing sugar, sieved
1/2 tsp lemon extract
Icing sugar-to dust

Method
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C(fan)/390°F/gas mark 6.
2. Prepare a 2lb baking loaf by greasing well with some butter.
3. Place the butter, caster sugar and lemon zest into a bowl, saving a little of the zest for decorating, and cream together until it is a pale yellow colour, which takes about 5-7 minutes.
4. Add the eggs, one at a time with a little flour- to prevent the mixture from curdling. Mix well.
5. Add the remaining flour then combine well. Fold in the poppyseeds.
6. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin.
7. Bake in the oven for 35 mins or until golden brown in colour. Cool on a wire tray.
8. Put the cream cheese, butter and icing sugar into a bowl and beat together until smooth and creamy. Stir in the lemon extract. Put the icing in the fridge for 15 minutes to harden slightly. When the cake has completely cooled spread the icing over the cake and smooth using a palette knife.
9. Decorate the top of the cake with some lemon zest and dust with a little sieved icing sugar.



Have a great weekend!
The last few weeks have been extraordinarily busy, as my deadline for handing over Apron Strings was looming. Each and every time I read through the manuscript I found something that I wanted to change, so I must say that I am delighted that it is now out of my hands and safely with New Island. I'm rather glad and relieved to have an experienced eye read through it. I styled and photographed all the photos for the book, which was a fantastic experience but certainly left me faced with a very messy kitchen, for a number of weeks. Last Thursday morning I was genuinely delighted to face into a day of cleaning. 
It hasn't only been a busy few months for me but also relatively hectic for my husband, Diarmuid. Once he was in the house I would either be typing or photographing, so it wasn't unusual for him to bath three of the children while on his tea break from work. We are actually quite different in nature as I'm never happier than when I am constantly busy, however he relishes in taking life easy. Unfortunately for him, this is rarely an option in our house, but when I'm under pressure I know that I can completely rely on him to keep daily life ticking over. My father also became quite involved in the whole book process, planting herbs especially for me to photograph and spending hours on end searching through old documents for family photos and recipes. 
So after spending a few months of working every waking moment, we had a rather welcomed weekend of relaxation. We had plenty of callers, while also taking in a few family visits and even though I have been cooking quite a bit over the past couple of months, this weekend was jam packed with one of the things I most love to do with the children - baking. 

The whole family had a part in bringing the book together. 

I had so many recipes that I wanted to include in the book but had to decide on my favourite and most appropriately placed one hundred. This was something difficult as it meant that there were some which I wanted to include but didn't. However I will always need recipes for the blog and my columns in the Westmeath Independent and Easy Parenting, which means that these recipes that didn't make the cut can still be used. This chicken & stuffing pasta bake is one of those recipes and was one dish that I came up with  purely by chance. One evening I was planning on making a pasta bake for dinner. I would normally top the bake with some cheese, mixed through a few tablespoons of breadcrumbs, but as I was in a hurry I used some leftover stuffing from the previous day’s dinner. The characteristic stuffing flavour of sage was in every bite. When cooked it gave the pasta bake a deliciously crisp and tasty top. I was delighted with the result and have made it a few times since. This pasta bake is very filling so a little on the plate really goes a long way and is perfectly served with a nice green salad.


Ingredients
Stuffing
25g/3oz butter
1/2 onion, finely diced
100g/31/2oz white breadcrumbs
1 tbsp freshly chopped sage
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Filling
50g (2oz) butter
1 onion, finely diced
1tbsp olive oil
4 chicken fillets, diced
salt and pepper
500mls(1 pint) chicken stock
200mls (7floz)  cream
2tbsp freshly chopped sage leaves,
2 teasp wholegrain mustard
100g(4oz) frozen peas
200g cooked pasta

Method:
1. For the stuffing, melt the 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, and the sage. Mix well to combine, season to taste and leave to one side.
3. Preheat the oven to 200°C/430°f/gas 6.
4. Add half the butter to a large oven proof dish or saucepan and over a medium heat fry the onions for a few minutes until soft. Remove to a plate.
4. Add the rest of the butter and the olive oil to the saucepan then add the diced chicken. Season with salt and pepper. Brown the chicken on each side and cook through, which takes about 10 minutes.
5. Add the stock, cream, sage and wholegrain mustard. Return the cooked onions to the saucepan and add the frozen peas.
6. Bring to a boil, then simmer for a few minutes.
8. Stir in the cooked pasta until it is evenly coated then top with the stuffing.
9.  Place the dish/saucepan on a baking tray in the preheated oven for 20-25mins, until the top is golden brown and the mixture bubbling hot.
Serve with a green salad.


Halloween is just around the corner and the boys are exceptionally busy making costumes and practicing Trick or Treat rhymes. The house is suitably decorated and all we have left to do is plan the food for our party. The children love honeycomb and only recently did I realise just how easy it is to make. It's very inexpensive and simply takes a couple of minutes to prepare. The contents of the saucepan get very hot, so I would advise keeping the little ones away, until it comes to bashing it into pieces; a job that my Millie very much enjoyed!


Ingredients
1/2 teasp sunflower oil
120g caster sugar
60g golden syrup
1 teasp bread soda, sieved

Method
1. Prepare a small baking tray by drizzling over the oil and using a pastry brush, evenly grease the tray. Put the sugar and golden syrup into a medium sized saucepan. Give it a stir to combine then place on the heat.
2. Heat gently, until the sugar has melted, gently moving the saucepan if one side is bubbling a little higher. Simmer for 2 minutes being careful that it doesn't burn. Once it darkens in colour, remove from the heat and whisk in the sieved bread soda, very quickly. The mixture will begin to foam.
3. Immediately turn the mixture into the prepared tin. Leave for an hour to set.
4. Remove from the tin and break into pieces by hand or bash a little with a rolling pin. It can then be used sprinkled over ice-cream or dipped in some chocolate it's perfect as a tasty treat. Store in an air- tight container for up to 2 days.

I also have a few suggestions on my Halloween page that I will be making again this year.
Have a Happy Halloween!

Late September-early October happens to be one of my favourite times of the year. Autumn as a season doesn't hold the same expectation as summer, yet in recent years it seems that we have been experiencing fairly similar weather both in summer and autumn. This of course makes autumn the somewhat superior season as throwing on an extra layer of clothing is rarely met begrudgingly, since winter is fast approaching. Also with the slightly cooler weather, it's the time of year for hearty, filling dishes to be re-introduced to the kitchen. The children are now back to school, after their long summer break, but still the evenings are bright enough and not too cold to let them get some fresh air after their homework. I love heading out with the children for Autumn walks in the countryside. The colours on display are so beautiful and at every turn there is the chance to pick a few berries or gather some other foragable goods. Never collecting enough to make even a small batch of jam I generally use the foraged fruit in a crumble or maybe just sprinkled over some pancakes to create a fruity treat. This time of year also sees great preparations for what not only is loved by my children but also by myself, Halloween. I have always been an avid Halloween fan and now that the children are getting older, and even more involved with the party preparations, this is indeed a very exciting time in our house. I never put myself under too much pressure with the party food, once there are a few ghoulish looking goodies and a big bowl of a funny looking drink, for the kids to ladle into big cups or goblets, they are all more than happy. There are a few Halloween party ideas on my Halloween Page.



Cookie Monsters

If you are looking for a cookery based activity, for your Halloween party, creating these hungry cookie monsters will keep children very happy. You could make up a few that will give the children lots of ideas for creating their own little monsters. The cookies can be homemade but for less hassle a few packets of your favourite chocolate chip cookie will do the trick.

Ingredients
16 chocolate chip cookies
Icing-
60g soft butter
40g cream cheese
200g icing sugar, sifted
1 teasp vanilla extract
food colouring - colour of your choice

To Decorate
mini smarties
marshmallows
chocolate chips
liquorish laces

Method
1. Make the icing by combining the butter and cream cheese in a large bowl. Blend well, using a wooden spoon.
2. Slowly add the icing sugar and continue to blend. Add the vanilla extract, blend until pale and fluffy. Divide the icing between three bowls and add a tiny drop of different food colouring to each.
3. Sandwich together two cookies with a spoonful of icing. Do the same for the rest of the cookies and then decorate your monsters using chocolate chips for the teeth and stick marshmallows on the top, using a little icing as glue. 



A home with four children running around the place, an always unpredictable number for dinner and an ever growing outdoor family can be a pretty busy place to spend ones day. However it's important to have hobbies. For some that may be swimming, walking or having coffee with friends. For me I love to write my blog posts and spend time snapping food pics. It's a fantastic hobby that gives me a fabulous outlet from my busy hub. I must tell you, if you haven't realised from previous posts, that I am a dreamer but I genuinely believe that most dreams can be achievable. About four years ago, while I was escorting Jack to his Saturday classes at CTYI, I always had a few hours to spare. I wasn't anyway Internet savy so there was no distraction from Twitter or Facebook and it was also prior to my blogging days. With time on my hands I decided to try and pen a children's novel. I must say that this was one of my least outrageous ideas, of the past ten years and it wasn't going to cost me anything more than my time. After I had each chapter written I would read it to the children. They found this all very exciting and I in turn found myself imagining that someday this would be on the shelves of a book store and my children would read it to their children. I liked to dream! I became quite unwell while pregnant with Millie and could barely perform everyday tasks, never mind write a book, so this was left to one side.


When I started the blog I was giving cookery classes, from my kitchen, so this was a wonderful way to bring together my love of writing with my passion for food. I started to write for the Westmeath Independent and Easy Parenting also blogging events were now becoming a regular occurrence.  I was busy, but the dream of finishing my book or starting a new one was always lurking at the back of my mind. Then out of the blue, earlier this year, I received an e-mail from Eoin Purcell, the commissioning editor at New Island, querying if I had possibly thought about writing a cookbook. To say that I was over excited was an understatement. We met the following week and I've been stuck into writing the book ever since. It's a book that is mostly recipe based but is supported by everything that is part of my everyday life.
The name of my book will be Apron Strings. A name that Diarmuid, my husband, came up with and I instantly fell in love with it. Even though the past few months have been extremely busy for me, and the rest of the family, I've thoroughly enjoying all the writing and the photography{above being one of those photos}, so I sincerely hope that you will all enjoy reading it too. I'm at a very exciting stage as I almost have the manuscript complete, but I still have a bunch of photos left to take. Thank you to all of you who read the blog and to my blogging friends, you give me such great support. This is truly a dream come true for me.
Apron Strings will be on the shelves of book stores {and the boot of my car}, from April 2013.
I'm sure a lot of research has taken place to find out how to get consumers to purchase as much as possible, in a supermarket. The location of the special offers and the sweets near the till, for the tired toddler who's calling the shots after an hour long shop, are all part of the plan to get us to buy more. Many I don't succumb to, however one supermarket tactic that I can't ignore, especially if hungry, is the smell of freshly baked breads and pastries. Many's the time I've been lured to the baking department and a couple of pastries will ultimately make their way into my trolley. Perfect to accompany that momentous cuppa  after returning home from a shopping trip with four children.
One part of Saturday mornings that I truly relish is having the time for a proper sit down breakfast, with all the children. It may just be cereal and juice, but everyone around the kitchen table is always a good start to the day. This weekend I decided I would make some little pastries to have with breakfast. I had some shop bought puff pastry in the fridge so whipping them up was no difficult fate. My absolute favourite pastry is the pecan and maple variety, so these are what I made. They are fairly sweet, and you certainly wouldn't eat them every morning, but as a treat they work out rather nice.

Maple & Pecan Puffs



Ingredients
1 sheet of puff pastry, if frozen thawed
100g pecans, plus a few extra for topping
60mls maple syrup
50g soft brown sugar
25g soft butter

Method

1. Pre heat the oven to 200 C/ 390 F.

2. Roll out the puff pastry and place on a sheet of grease proof paper.
3. Place the pecans in a food processor and blitz for a few seconds. Add the maple syrup, butter and sugar. Blitz to a smooth mixture.
4. Using a sharp knife cut the pastry into 2 inch wide strips from the outer edge of the pastry and about the quarter of the way to the middle of the pastry.
5. Spoon the mixture in the middle of the pastry.
6. Fold the strips of pastry towards the centre, over lapping each of the strips, which will form a plait effect. Brush with a little water and sprinkle over a few chopped pecans.
7. Place on a large baking tray, and bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.
8. While still hot, brush with a little maple syrup, which gives the pasties a nice shine.    
These days my kids, especially the boys, seem to be constantly in search of their next bite to eat. They are active lads and during school time it seems more difficult to keep them contently fed. I tend to pack quite a substantial school lunch for each, with wholesome options that are sure to fill them, yet still they will return from a day of school famished and barely have seatbelts on before they are chanting the 'What's for dinner?' line. If dinner isn't ready I will normally have some snack in mind for them on their return home. One of their favourites are these Packed Potato Skins and what I tend to rustle up if I happen to have the oven already on for a simmering casserole. These potatoes also make a great accompaniment to a spicy chilli dish. This recipe makes quite a few so wrap some in cling film and freeze for up to a week, ready for another days snack. They are delicious and nutritious and will keep little ones going, at least until they finish their homework!



Ingredients

10 baking potatoes
150g Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
200g strong cheddar cheese
3 spring onions, chopped finely


freshly ground black pepper

Method
 1. Preheat the oven to 180°C(fan)/390°F/gas mark 6. Scrub the potatoes well and prick them a few times with a fork. Bake for about 1½ hours, or until the skins are crisp. Once the potatoes cool, cut them in half lengthways and scoop the insides into a bowl and mash well.
2. Put the skins of the potatoes on a tray ready to fill them.
3. Combine the yogurt with the mustard. Grate the cheese, and add 150g of it to the cold potato along with the yogurt, mustard and spring onions. Season with a little freshly ground pepper.
4. Making sure that the potato skins are fitting snugly on the baking tray, spoon the potato mixture into each one. Sprinkle over the remaining cheese, and bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes until golden.



In other news, I am delighted to let you know that I am a finalist in The Irish Blog AwardsThank you to anyone who nominated me and to the judges who voted for me. I am absolutely thrilled and extremely honoured to be in a category with such talented bloggers. 


Best Food/Drink Blog – Finalists



When I was a child it was my father who would read to me each night, even though generally he would only be in the door from a hard days work, this was never made an issue of and he would  deliver each story, mostly from memory, with such dramatic expression I felt as though each night I was at the theatre. I so loved his story telling but only now as a busy parent do I truly appreciate what he gave to me. My children love books and I equally love to read to them. I adore that little magical look that comes into their eyes, when the images of the stories are being made clearer to them. Jack has always been an avid reader and for years it has not been unusual to find him under the duvet, with his flash light, frantically trying to get a few more pages read before sleep. We generally have one rather large and ambitious book to read as a family, of which I or Diarmuid will read whenever we can steal a few spare minutes. We are currently half way through reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Even though Tiarnan, Fionn and even Millie will snuggle up for the story, it is really Tiarnan who eagerly awaits the next instalment from Hogwarts. Fionn's favourite books are ones that require a little interaction from the reader, ones that ask questions at the end of each page, such as the Richard Scary books. Big favourites for Millie and actually all the children, especially when read with varied voices and lots of gusto, are Julia Donaldson's books. No matter how many times the Gruffalo is read laughter will always ensue.
A couple of months ago I was very kindly sent some books by Westmeath author Dolores Keaveney. I was already familiar with Dolores's books as we had taken them on loan, on a couple of occasions, from the library. It initially was Fionn who was attracted to the look of the books, as they are so vibrant in colour but also contain the beautiful illustrated paintings which are familiar scenes of hens, bees and gardens. Dolores is one talented lady as she not only writes the stories but also illustrates each book. She currently has written one spiritual book and four children's picture books including her latest book Beelicious -Recipes with Honey, which is a cookbook for children. The beautiful part to this cookbook is the involvement of Dolores's family, especially her young granddaughter Ellie, who helped devise the recipes. Again this book, no different from the others, is beautifully illustrated and as an added bonus, throughout the book there are interesting facts about bees and honey. A few evenings ago Tiarnan and I made Ellie's Flapjacks from Beelicious and they really worked out a treat. This little cookbook has some real gems of recipes and ones that are especially tailored for the younger cooks in the house.



Ellie's Flapjacks

250g / 10oz butter
100g/ 4 oz soft brown sugar
30 mls honey
20mls golden syrup
350g/ 14 oz porridge oats

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C(fan)/390°F/gas mark 6. Grease a baking tray.
2. In a medium sized saucepan add all the ingredients, apart from the porridge oats, and slowly melt stirring regularly.
3. Take from the heat and stir in the oats.  Turn into the prepared tin and with a wooden spoon press down well.
4. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 -25 minutes. Cool, in the tin, on a wire rack.