Fionn with the hens

About a year ago we got six hens and I would highly recommend them to anyone who has even a little room in their back garden. Every day we get 5-6 fresh organic eggs that taste so much more delicious than anything you could buy in a shop. Diarmuid has perfected poaching eggs, and one placed on a slice of hot buttered wholemeal toast would have to be my favourite breakfast.
Eggs are a nutritious concentrated source of good quality protein with a wide range of vitamins and minerals. An adequate protein intake is vital for the day to day working of the body. Eggs are an excellent source of protein. A standard portion of eggs (two eggs) provides nearly one-third of the daily protein required by an average woman and almost one-quarter of an average man's requirement.
Eggs contain substantial amounts of vitamins A, B, D and E.They are also a good source of Iron, Phosphorous, Selenium and Zinc.

In the past, we were recommended to eat only 3 eggs per week however recent scientific studies on the effect of eggs on blood cholesterol levels conclude that there is no evidence to show that eating eggs as part of a healthy balanced diet raises blood cholesterol levels and that a healthy adult can eat up to seven eggs a week.

This is a recipe from Rachel's Food for Living. This is a delicious way to cook eggs for breakfast or for supper and lovely served with buttered toast or homemade scones. The chorizo is salty so I don't add salt when seasoning. This is my son Jack's favourite egg recipe.

Baked Eggs with Chorizo, Cream & Cheese

2 tsp tomato purée,
4 tbsp double cream
freshly ground pepper and sugar
16 thin slices chorizo
8 eggs
2 tbsp grated cheese, such as gruyere or cheddar
buttered toast, to serve

1. Preheat the oven to 230C/gas mark 8. Mix the tomato puree (if using) with the cream and season with pepper and a pinch of sugar. Spoon half of the cream mixture into the base of four ovenproof cups, bowls or ramekins. Add two slices of chorizo to each dish, then crack two eggs into each, season with a little more pepper, and top the cups with the remaining two slices of chorizo.
2. Spoon over the remaining tomato cream, then sprinkle each portion with the grated cheese. Bake for 9-12 minutes, or until the whites are set and the cheese is bubbling. Serve the eggs on their own or with fingers of buttered toast.

Last night, His and Hers won Best Documentary at the IFTA awards.

'His and Hers is a cinematic mosaic that tells a ninety-year-old love story through the collective voice of 70 ladies at different stages of their lives.

The hallways, living rooms, and kitchens of the Irish midlands become the canvas for the film’s rich tapestry of female characters. The story unfolds sequentially from young to old, and the characters are charmingly unabashed; while the younger contributors are animated in discussing their relationship with their other halves, the older women describe their love, and often their bereft love, with grace and candour.

His and Hers celebrates the ordinary moments that add up to the extraordinary. Individually each piece works on its own, but together they create an emotional portrait that explores the way we share life's journey with others.'

I was lucky enough to be one of those ladies who participated in this documentary and what a wonderful experience it turned out to be. The team at Venom film were so friendly and yet so professional. I went to a screening of the film last July which I have to say, of course not being biased, I thoroughly enjoyed. I found the scenes with the older ladies particularly moving as they gave the viewer an insight into their lives, sometimes showing vulnerability but also amazing strength.

His & Hers was also the winner of the World Cinema Cinematography Award: Documentary at The Sundance Film Festival 2010. It will be screened thought Ireland later this year.

This is a dish I cook quite regularly as my boys love it, it is so quick to make and it tastes delicious. It's a recipe from Rachel Allen's first book. I usually serve this dish with a green salad and some crusty bread. Otherwise, I would serve it with a big tray of veg such as peppers, onions, mushrooms and courgettes seasoned and drizzled with some olive oil then oven-baked for about 15 minutes. I love the addition of chorizo as its smokey taste really enhances the dish. Of course, you could alternatively add ordinary cooked sausages or some cooked chicken. Just leave out the sausages for a vegetarian pasta sauce and maybe add some smoked paprika to give the sauce a little extra kick. Chorizo can be picked up in most supermarkets. The leftover chorizo can be used in a risotto or omelette. If you don t have fresh rosemary stir in some basil pesto before serving. This sauce also freezes well.

Pasta with Spicy Sausage and Cream

25g butter
700g ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped (or use 2x 400g tinned tomatoes)
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp rosemary, chopped
1 pinch fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp caster sugar
225g chorizo sausages, or kabanossi sausage, cut into ½cm slices
1 pinch dried red chilli flakes
175ml cream
2 tbsp parsley, chopped
500g penne, or use rigatoni or farfalle
50g parmesan, grated

1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan, and add the chopped tomatoes, garlic and rosemary. Season to taste with salt, freshly ground black pepper and the sugar (the sugar will help bring out the sweetness of the tomatoes).
2. Cook for about five minutes, until the tomatoes have just begun to soften.
3. Add the sausage to the pan with the chilli flakes, cream and half the chopped parsley. Simmer until the mixture has reduced by half, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and adjust the seasoning, as necessary.
4. Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water, until al dente. Drain and toss with the sauce.
5. Transfer the pasta to a large heated serving bowl and scatter with the grated Parmesan cheese and the remaining parsley.
Last weekend was the anniversary mass for my mother. She passed away on the 10th Feb 2007. It doesn't seem like three years, however when I think of all the different events in my life that she hasn't been here to be a part of, it nearly seems longer. Mam was diagnosed with Myeloma on the day Tiarnan was born, in June 2005. She went through all the recommended treatments, trying anything that had some promise of recovery. After 19 months of treatment, she lost her battle with cancer. She was such a strong lady, very positive in all aspects of her life. We had a wonderful relationship and I desperately miss her every day. There is a definite void that can never be filled. I truly believe it when they say, when somebody close to you dies a piece of you goes with them. However, I am privileged that we were such good friends and the memory of our times together I will forever treasure.

After the mass, we had dinner at my sister's, and I provided the desserts. I love having the excuse to spend a morning baking and with help from my three boys, we made a variety of sweet treats. One cake I made was this Nigella Lawson chocolate cake. I have made this for different family get-togethers and have been asked many times for the recipe. Sometimes I change how I present it. As a birthday cake, I filled the cooled cake with some Maltesers, topped with the cream filling, then placed a cardboard cutout of Ben 10 and decorated with a few more Maltesers. This was more appealing to the attending children and as it is so rich a tiny slice is sufficient. The cake is fairly easy to make but there is a lot of washing up after. Make sure to use a high cocoa content chocolate and whisk the egg whites and sugar until they are fairly stiff.

Chocolate Cloud Cake
Makes 1 cake

250g dark chocolate, minimum 60 -70% cocoa solids
125g unsalted butter, softened
6 eggs: 2 whole, 4 separated
175g caster sugar
23cm springform cake tin

For the Cream Topping
500ml cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons icing sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon cocoa powder for sprinkling over the cream topping

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C(fan) / 390F / gas mark 6.
2. Line the bottom of the cake tin with baking parchment.
3. Melt the chocolate either in a bowl over boiling water or a microwave, and then let the butter melt in the warm chocolate.
4. Beat the 2 whole eggs and 4 egg yolks with 75g of the caster sugar, then gently add the chocolate mixture.
5. In another bowl, whisk the 4 egg whites until foamy, then gradually add the 100g of sugar and whisk until the whites are holding their shape but not too stiff.
6. Lighten the chocolate mixture with a dollop of egg whites, and then fold in the rest of the whites. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 35–40 minutes or until the cake is risen and cracked and the centre is no longer wobbly. Cool the cake in its tin on a wire rack; the middle will sink as it cools.
7. When you are ready to eat, place the still tin-bound cake on a cake stand or plate for serving and carefully remove the cake from its tin. Don’t worry about cracks or rough edges. Whip the cream until it’s soft and then add the vanilla and icing sugar and continue whisking until the cream is firm but not stiff.
8. Fill the crater of the cake with the whipped cream, easing it out gently towards the edges of the cake, and dust the top lightly with cocoa powder pushed through a sift.

As it's Pancake Tuesday I wanted to post a simple, basic pancake recipe belonging to Jamie Oliver. My boys love pancakes with a variety of fillings. Tiarnan has already requested four different fillings for today's pancake party. Everyone has their own favourite filling, mine would have to be maple syrup and whipped cream, however, I do love butter melted over a hot pancake with a squeeze of lemon. For a fruity alternative, the fruit of your choice, such as blueberries, raspberries, banana or grated apple be added to the pancake batter.

1 cup self-raising flour
1 cup milk
1 egg
pinch of salt

1. Put the flour and salt in a bowl.
2. Add the egg and combine with the flour.
3. Slowly add the milk, whisking well with a hand whisk or fork.
4. When the batter is nice and smooth, cover with cling film and refrigerate for at least an hr. (The batter can be used straight away but tends to have a better consistency when left to rest)
5. Heat the frying pan and add a little sunflower oil.
6. Pour a thin coating of batter into the pan. When golden, turn the pancake over and brown the other side.
7. Add a filling of your choice, roll and enjoy!!
This is another one-pot recipe using store cupboard ingredients. I would advice using good quality, high pork content sausages, (at least 70%). We are lucky enough in Moate to have a butcher that makes their own award-winning sausages but most supermarkets have their own premium brand. This is a nice twist to bangers and mash as the sausages are lovely and moist and the addition of the beans/peas add to the nutritional content of the meal.

This recipe was in a recent edition of the Farmers Journal. Neven Maguire has a weekly column which I always enjoy reading. I was on the organising committee for a cookery demonstration with Neven for Mount Temple N.S. so I had the pleasure of meeting him in person. He is certainly as nice and sincere as he appears on television. His family restaurant, MacNean house and restaurant in Blacklion, Co.Cavan has won numerous awards and speaking to many, who have been lucky enough to enjoy a meal there, a superb culinary experience is reported by all. I have given enough hints so hopefully, I will be treated to such an experience some time some!

Jack and I with Neven at the Taste Of Dublin Festival last June. 

Sausage Cassoulet

4 tbsp olive oil
8 large sausages
1 large onion (peeled and finely chopped)
2 celery sticks (finely chopped)
400g (14oz) tin of haricot beans or chickpeas (drained and rinsed)
2 garlic cloves (peeled and finely chopped)
1 red chilli (deseeded and finely chopped)
1 tbsp chopped sage
2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
1 tsp smoked paprika
Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
chopped flat-leaf parsley (to garnish)

To Serve
Crusty bread
Creamy Mashed Potatoes

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4.
2. Heat 1 tbsp of the olive oil in a large, heavy-based frying pan. Add the sausages and cook gently for 1-2 mins or until they are just sealed and lightly browned on all sides. Transfer the sausages to a plate and set aside until needed.
3. Wipe out the pan and then add the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onion, celery, garlic, chilli and sage and then saute very gently for about 10 mins until the onion is completely softened but not browned, stirring occasionally.
4. Add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer, then cook for about 10 mins stirring occasionally, until the sauce is slightly reduced and thickened.
5. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
6. Transfer the tomato mixture to a small casserole dish- the mixture needs to fit quite snugly. Then stir in the haricot beans and smoked paprika and arrange the sausages on top, burying them down into the mixture.
7. Roast for 20-25 mins until the cassoulet is bubbling and the sausages are cooked through and tender. Scatter the parsley over and serve straight away with mashed potatoes and a basket of crusty bread.

    I was in Super Valu yesterday and they had punnets of plums for 50 cent. As I love a bargain and with this Tuscan Plum Tart in mind, I bought 2 punnets to make an afternoon treat. This is a recipe from one of my favourite cookbooks - Darina Allen's Ballymaloe Cookery Course. I first tasted this tart after a spicy meal while on a course with Rachel Allen in Ballymaloe. It is quite a light dessert, very moist, and lovely served hot with a blob of cream, but equally delicious cold with a cuppa. It is very easy to make but looks very impressive. You need a frying pan that can be used in the oven as on a ring. I have a heavy-based frying pan, about 25cm or 10in that I use for this recipe.

    Tuscan Plum Tart

    275g (10oz) sugar
    150ml (5fl oz) water
    900g (2lb) plums
    150g (5oz) soft butter
    175g (6oz) sugar
    200g (7oz) self-raising flour
    3 eggs


    1. Preheat the oven to 170°C.
    2. Put the sugar and water into the pan.
    3. Stir over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves, then cook without stirring until the sugar caramelises to a golden brown.
    4. Meanwhile half and stone the plums, carefully arrange cut side down in a single layer over the caramel (this will be the top of the cake when it is cooked).
    5. Put the butter, sugar and flour into the bowl of an electric food processor, whiz for a couple of seconds, then add the eggs and stop as soon as the mixture comes together. (If you don’t have a food processor, just cream the butter and sugar, add the eggs one by one, then mix in the flour).
    6. Spread the mixture in an even layer over the plums in the pan.
    7. Bake in the preheated oven for about 50mins-one hour.
    8. The centre should be firm to the touch and the edges slightly shrunk from the sides of the pan.
    9. Run a knife around the edges to make sure it has not stuck anywhere.
    10. Leave it to sit for 3 or 4 minutes before turning out.
    11. Serve with whipped cream or crème fraiche.