Fionn stirring as fast as he can to combine all the ingredients.
With all the chocolate that is lurking around, I thought I would share with you a slightly healthier treat! As cakes go I think if one were to choose a 'wholesome option' Carrot Cake would have to top the poll. There certainly is less guilt about tucking into a slice of cake that has one of our ' 5 a day', well at least this is what I tell myself!

When I first made a Carrot Cake with my children they were amazed to see how the humble carrot could be transformed into this delicious baked treat. I always find that children have such a thirst for knowledge and question everything. While making the cake they asked me something that really got me thinking. I love to find out the origins of the recipe but I actually hadn't wondered before about this one before. They couldn't understand how someone decided to make up a cake recipe whose main ingredient is a vegetable. With modern technology, this query was of course easily answered. Amazingly carrots were used in European sweet cakes since the Middle Ages when other sweeteners were almost impossible to find or just too expensive. Beets are also found in dessert recipes as along with carrots they contain more sugar than most other vegetables. I have always been aware that carrots are promoted as a 'super veg' due to their especially high level of Vitamin A. This vitamin is essential for good eyesight, especially in dim light. During World War II the British championed this belief by declaring that British pilots improved their night vision by eating vast amounts of carrots. They were, however, only trying to encourage the eating of carrots as it was one of the few foods that were not in short supply during the war. 

Vitamin A is found fortified in many food products such as cereals and bread but to eat the raw version, as in carrots, is much more beneficial. Shockingly according to the World Health Organisation some 1.4 million children worldwide are blind solely due to the lack of accessibility to any form of Vitamin A. So little did I know that this unassuming vegetable had such a significant past and this recipe for Carrot Cake showcases the carrot perfectly!

If you are looking to try out a cake with children then this is the one to experiment with. It is so simple to make, all is required is the combination of all the ingredients before pouring into a well-greased tin. The cake can then be topped with the Creamy Icing and some toasted nuts. For a truly special Easter Cake top with a little bunny decoration and some tiny carrots made with marzipan.



For Cake-
Butter (for greasing)
125g (4½ oz) wholemeal flour
125g (4½ oz) self-raising flour
2 teaspoons ground mixed spice
250g (9oz) light muscovado sugar
250g (9oz) Carrots (peeled & grated)
4 free range eggs
200mls (7fl oz) sunflower oil

For Icing
125g (4 ½ oz) cream cheese
25g (1 oz) butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
250g icing sugar (sieved)
20mls milk
walnuts or pecans (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C(fan)/390f/gas mark 6. Lightly grease a 20cm (8in) square cake tin and then carefully line the base with baking paper.
2. Sieve both types of flour into a bowl, adding any bran left in the sieve. Stir in the mixed spice, sugar and carrots until they are thoroughly combined.
3. Crack the eggs into a jug. Use a fork to lightly beat them together. Then pour the eggs into the bowl with the flour mixture.
4. Add the oil and then stir until all the ingredients are mixed together. Pour the mixture into the tin and smooth the top with the back of a spoon.
5. Bake the cake for 50-60 minutes until it is risen and golden. You may need to cover the top of the cake with tin foil for the last 20mins, if it has browned too quickly. Remove it from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning it out.
6. Carefully turn the cake out on to a cooling rack.
7. Put the cream cheese, butter and icing sugar into a bowl and beat together until smooth and creamy. Stir in the vanilla 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.
8. If desired sprinkle with some chopped walnuts.

Last week, for Diarmuid's parents anniversary, I made two round carrot cakes and sandwiched them together with the icing and packed in some roasted hazelnuts. I love that this mixture works well in any well greased tin. However I won't be winning any prizes for my decorating. Rustic is in though, isn't it? :)

This article was published in The Westmeath Independent on  13th April 2011.
Photos & styling by Nessa Robins.
Even though my father is supposed to be retired from farming he still keeps a few cattle on the land. He loves farming and has always said that he could never give it up completely so it has now become more of a hobby for him. These few cattle that he does have are minded like babies. They never seem to need the vet and the land is completely fertilizer free. Last summer these gorgeous cattle would always gather by my vegetable patch keeping an eye on all the activities. Then the time came for the selected few to head off to the local meat factory. At the same time I was buying all my beef from my local butcher. We are lucky in Moate that our butcher has beef that is of fantastic quality but it is even better to have a hand in the raring of the end product. So I bought one of these beasts off my father and my butcher, who has his own abitor, did the nessecary.  It was delivered back to me all packed and labelled ready for the freezer. We have been feasting on this amazing quality beef for the past few months so I have had to come up with a few variations of my regular beef recipes.

Last week I posted my Chocolate Soup as my starter for the monthly Irish Foodies Cookalong. Previously I had a post about my Chocolate Chip Chilli which turned out beautifully, with the chocolate being a delicious addition to the dish.  I decided to come up with another beef dish that may benefit from a little added chocolate. I made a Chocolate Glazed Beef Stir Fry for the main course of the cookalong. So why add chocolate to a stir fry I hear you ask! Well not until I tasted it was I sure if it would work. Only a little chocolate is needed to perfectly coat the beef leaving it with a sllky venier and it was actually quite nice!

350g beef steaks {I used Fillet}
100mls red wine
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, crushed
sprig rosemary
1 bay leaf
black pepper
20ml olive oil

1 red pepper sliced
1 red onion
handful sliced mushrooms
1 square dark chocolate
50mls cream
handful peanuts

To Serve - Spagetti or egg noodles

1. Marinate the beef: Put the beef in a medium non-metallic bowl and cover with the red wine, red wine vinegar, olive oil, garlic, rosemary, bay leaf, black pepper and olive oil. Leave to marinate for 20 minutes, or if you have the time, overnight.
2. Stir fry: Heat a small dry wok until it's very hot. Tip in the beef, marinade, red pepper, red onion and the mushrooms, stir fry for 5 minutes.
3. Add the cream and the chocolate and stir to coat well.
4. Serve with cooked spagetti or egg noodles and sprinkle over some crushed peanuts.

Photos & styling by Nessa Robins.

We had a fair bit of chocolate as part of the Chocolate Cookalong, which was April's Irish Foodies Cookalong so I thought when it came to making a dessert another chocolate dish would just be a little too indulgent. However, we can always manage a couple of biscuits with a cuppa so I decided to make a few to have as dessert. As I was growing up we seemed to finish most meals with a biscuit and a cup of tea, which is a real 'Irish' thing to do therefore these biscuits aren't out of place when it comes to dessert.

These are great for making with children as they can decorate them as they please. I melted dark, milk and white chocolate separably for drizzling over the cooled biscuits. I also decorated a few with some salted peanuts, which were really tasty!

375g (13oz) plain flour
150g (5oz) caster sugar
200g (7oz) butter, chilled and diced
1 large egg, lightly beaten
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
200g (7oz) milk chocolate or 50g (2oz) milk, dark and white chocolate, broken into pieces for dipping

1. Preheat the oven to 200C/fan 180 / gas mark 5. Line 2 baking trays with parchment paper.
2. Sift the flour into a bowl. Add the sugar and butter and either blend in a food processor or rub between your fingertips until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Add the egg and the vanilla and blend again or mix together with your hands, until the mixture comes together as a firm dough.
3. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 15 minutes.

4. Roll out on a lightly floured board to a thickness of about 1/8-inch. Cut out the cookies using a fluted cutter.
5. Place on the baking tray and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly golden. Cool on a wire rack.
6. Once the cookies have cooled, melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. If using one flavour of chocolate only, select a bowl that you can fit your hand into so you can dip the cookies into it. If you are using a variety of flavours of chocolate, once you've melted each one, pour the individual chocolates into separate plates and dip the surface of each cookie in the chocolate before returning them to the wire rack to set.
7. The cookies can simply have one surface dipped in the chocolate or you could decorate further by drizzling with contrasting coloured or flavoured chocolate. Enjoy.

Photos & styling by Nessa Robins.
Last week I was delighted to be invited to Afternoon Tea at The Westbury by the wonderful Donal Skehan.  His new book Kitchen Hero has just hit the shelves of all the major book stores and Donal had organised a celebratory Afternoon tea with fellow food bloggers.

I have always been a massive fan of Afternoon Tea -  What could be better than a trip back in time when a platter of tasty fancies and copious amounts of tea were always on the menu. The Westbury is just the perfect setting for a truly decadent meal. Beautiful seating made up of comfortable sofas with large cushions and winged chairs. Each table was set perfectly with spotless white linen and crockery and patterned silver cutlery. The staff were friendly and the service was splendid.

The Westbury had approached Donal to use some of his delicious recipes to serve as a special Kichen Hero Afternoon Tea. It has the perfect selection of sweet and savoury dishes.

It consists of Bacon Avocado and Sundried Tomato Sandwich, Seared Beef Crostini with Rocket Pine Nuts and Parmesan, Blueberry and Lemon SconesCranberry and White Chocolate Muffins, Pink Berry and Almond Swirly Buns, Peanut Butter Snicker Squares and Mint Chocolate Whoopie Pies. The cost is 40 euro per person and this includes a copy of Kitchen Hero.

Some of the staff of The Westbury expressing their delight at having Donal's involvement with the hotel's Afternoon Tea Menu.
Here is Donal with food stylist Sharon Hearne Smith.
It is great to get the opportunity to meet up with other Irish Food Bloggers. Here is Aoife from Babaduck Babbles and Claire from An American In Ireland and The Hollywood Craic.

Donal's new book Kitchen Hero is wonderful. He has a very fresh approach to cooking, delivering recipes that can easily be recreated at home. How many of us have cookbooks that have many delicious recipes but we have yet to try them out? This is because many of the dishes have the tendency to be complicated and really we would need a special occasion to warrant a new, extravagant dish. This certainly isn't the case with Kitchen Hero. The recipes will appeal to so many as they are easy to prepare with easy to source ingredients. There are also plenty of dishes that would work well for feeding a crowd. As always, Donal's food styling and photography is marvellous! I tried out a few of these lovely recipes from the book this week.

Stuffed Chicken Breast with Balsamic Roast Peppers{pg 34} one of Donal's meals in minutes. This is a great way to serve chicken and so tasty - I loved this dish!

Slow Roasted Cherry Tomatoes {pg 77}. These are fabulous served as a side dish or chopped up and added to some cooked pasta.

Blueberry and Lemon Scones{pg190} which are part of The Westbury's Afternoon Tea. These are yummy especially with some homemade jam and cream!

Photos & styling by Nessa Robins.
The first Friday of each month is on the foodie calender as the monthly Irish Foodies Cookalong  organised by Sarah from Cake in The Country. It brings many foodies from different back rounds together to cook a meal in their own home all using the same theme. Even though I don't always take part I always read the participating posts. The cook along can be followed on Facebook but to be right up to date on all the kitchen shenanigans on the night you would be best to follow the twitter feed under irecookalongs.

This months theme was Chocolate which was greatly received by many participants. I wouldn't consider myself to be a devote chocoholic. I do like chocolate and would enjoy the occasional slice of Chocolate Cake however as I tend to suffer from Migraines and chocolate {or the over indulgence of it} is something that most certainly can trigger an attach. Therefore I try to limit my intake of chocolate and if it is at all possible to avoid a day consumed by a headache, with associated nausea, then steering clear of any triggers is always advised.

For this cook along I decided to make a starter, main and dessert. In this post I will share with you my chocolate starter. I had received Green and Blacks Chocolate Recipes cookbook  at Taste of Dublin in 2009. It is packed with many delicious recipe, some which I have tried before . I had earmarked a dish called Chocolate Soup which was recommended as a starter so this was the perfect opportunity to try it out. It sounded more like a dessert to me but who am I to disagree with the Green and Black's expertise. Either way as a starter or dessert this Chocolate Soup is utterly delicious, light, fluffy and bursting with flavours. It sits well in the fridge and tasted equally as good the next day.

Chocolate Soup adpted from Green and Blacks Chocolate Recipes
Orginally created by Michelin Star chef Eric Charot for his London based restaurant, Interlude de Charot.

725ml (11/4 pints) milk
250ml (9fl oz) double cream
500g (18 oz) dark chocolate {60% is recommended but I used 46% as the children prefer it}
50g (2 oz) caster sugar
1 tbsp water
8 large free range egg yolks
200ml (7fl oz) whipping cream
6 tbsp skinned and roasted hazelnuts
6 teasp Grand Marnier or Cointreau

1. Bring the milk and double cream to the boil and add the chocolate. Set aside.
2. Heat the sugar with the water to make a syrup. When the sugar has melted, bring to the boil and boil for 1 minute.
3. Start to whisk the egg yolks with an electric whisk, then gradually pour the syrup over the yolks, whisking
4. Once the sugar has been incorporated, continue to whisk until the mixture is cold. The mixture will double in volume.
5. Whip the cream and fold it in.
6. Mix the egg mixture with the chocolate sauce.
7. Distribute the mixture between individual bowls or ramekins.
8. Chill the soup for at least 2 hours.
9. Coarsely chop the hazelnuts and then sprinkle them and the grated orange zest over the soup and drizzle sparingly the Grand Marnier/Contreau before serving as a starter.

Photos & styling by Nessa Robins.

As I have previously mentioned I love cupcakes or buns, as they were more commonly known when I was a girl! No matter what the occasion buns always make a very suitable treat! I always use my Mother's flawless basic Bun Recipe and then the options are endless as to how I top them. One that is a big favourite in our house is my Creamy Lemon Topping which can then be decorated with sprinkles, little sweets or pretty edible flowers. 

This vanilla buttercream is so versatile as a bun topping. In this recipe I am pairing it with some of my home made Strawberry Jam to make adorable Butterfly Buns. 

Butterfly Buns with Vanilla Buttercream

125g softened butter
250g icing sugar, sieved
1 teasp Vanilla Extract
20mls milk

To decorate
Strawberry Jam
Icing sugar, for dusting 

1. Place the softened butter in a large bowl and blend well.
2. Slowly add the icing sugar and continue to blend. Add the vanilla extract and milk, blend until pale and fluffy.
3. Put in the fridge for 15mins.

4Slice the tops off each bun and fill the cavities with a little buttercream and jam. Cut each sliced top in half and arrange on top of the filling to resemble butterfly wings. Dust lightly with icing sugar.

Photos & styling by Nessa Robins.
Donal Skehan is the new Irish Celebrity Chef who will be hitting our screens with his new cookery show, Kitchen Hero, this May. Donal was recently in the area, to film an episode of his show and to my delight, I got the opportunity to catch up with him, in the beautiful surroundings of Grouse Lodge! Donal, who already has two cookbooks published, seems to be appearing at every foodie event for the past year or so. I was keen to find out how a 24-year old guy entered into this food business and how such early success is imminent for this young Dubliner.

This is not Donal's first trip to Grouse Lodge, only a few years previous Donal had also been staying there, but for more conventional reasons, as he was part of the Irish pop band Industry and they recorded some of their songs along with their music video here at this Co. Westmeath location. On leaving school, Donal commenced a Degree in Media and Arts at Dublin Business School however distraction came his way with a chance to audition for a boy band in London. He recalls that when he broke the news to his parents, that he made the cut and he was destined for stardom, their reaction wasn't excitement but more disbelief as if he was leaving college to 'join the circus'!

This lead to a four-year singing career which he admits was extremely hard work but he claims that it sure made him grow up fast. From this Donal presented a show on Bubble Hits, Ireland's first music channel. Even as an 18-year-old pop star food and healthy eating were always paramount. Donal spent his summers working with his food stylist aunt, Erika Ryan, he helped out with his families fruit and veg business and worked part-time in restaurants. Surprisingly working in the food business wasn't an automatic career choice for him. However, things changed in 2007 when Donal started a food blog, The Good Mood Food Blog. He used the blog as a way to catalogue the recipes he most enjoyed to cook. Within a year Mercier Press contacted him with the idea of a cookbook and one based on the blog came into play. At last, his love for good food and his many years of experience were finally being channelled into a career that he truly loved and felt comfortable with!

Even though Donal isn't a professionally trained chef he has a vast range of experience. He certainly isn't apologetic for this fact as he is proud to promote himself as a home cook. He notes that many of his readers are home cooks, therefore, he delivers dishes that can be recreated by even a novice chef. All of his dishes are easily rustled up once you have a well-stocked store press! Donal claims that he doesn't cook to impress but more to enjoy a satisfying meal! This is why he is such a huge fan of Nigella, as he loves that she isn't hesitant about throwing in a tin of something into a recipe if it's a shortcut and tastes good well then why not? Like Donal, she too is a self-taught home cook who appreciates the value of a home-cooked meal.
Donal's other passion in life is photography which is evident in the stunning photographs on his blog and website. Donal styled and photographed each dish for both of his books. He admits that he is really loving the fact that he is getting paid to do things that he enjoys so much, but he certainly works hard enough. When asked if he has any hobbies or how does he relax he smirked and replied that this is it, he lives and breaths cooking, photography and food writing and there actually isn't any room for a 'downtime'. However, he does keep many of his family and friends close. While I was chatting with him, his girlfriend of many years, Sofie pottered in with his new book, to give me a sneak peek. The following morning his aunt Erica would be assisting him with some behind the scenes cooking for the new show. Maybe this constant family presence is what keeps this young man so grounded. He was happy to chat about all aspects of his career and is very gracious about receiving so many compliments from the media with regards his cookery demos, book deals, television appearances and numerous food-related campaigns. This year he was delighted to be asked to be the Great Irish Bake Ambassador which is in aid of Temple Street Hospital.

 Donal's biggest inspiration would have to be Jamie Oliver and to his delight, Chris Terry, who photographed one of Jamie's recent books, was the photographer who took the cover shot of Kitchen Hero! Donal has been dubbed by the press as 'Ireland's answer to Jamie Oliver' and there certainly are similarities. In recent years Jamie has begun to focus more on cooking for the home chef with a great focus on feeding a family and especially young teenagers. Jamie has travelled all over Britain in the hope to convert the way that children are fed in schools and Donal would love to be involved in a similar project with Irish school.
Donal is proving to be a huge success not only here in Ireland but also in the U.K and France. He has a wonderfully upbeat attitude. His good humour is infectious and as a young man, his passion for encouraging home-cooked meals is truly inspiring. He is already working on his third cookbook and has many more projects in the pipeline.
If hard work and passion merit success then Donal Skehan is only at the beginning of a long and flourishing career with food!

Donal's book Kitchen Hero is available to buy in most Irish bookstores. It is also available from

Photos & styling by Nessa Robins.