I  love a dish that the whole family or at least most of the family will eat. When I made this for dinner on Monday I wasn't expecting this to be one of those dishes, but to my surprise the boys and Millie loved it. Of course, a few bits had to be fished out for each one of them but as it's mildly spiced the flavours weren't too overpowering. Both Donal Skehan and Clare from An American in Ireland are regularly tweeting pics of gorgeous noodle dishes that always look fabulous so I'm on a mission to introduce more of these dishes to our family meals. This recipe for a noodle and bean soup will certainly be on the menu again as it's so delicious as well as being very nutritious. 
I got this recipe from a blog called 101 Cookbooks which always has the most amazing photography. This recipe was posted in early January and, in turn, was called New Year Noodle Soup. As soon as I read the recipe I wanted to try it out. After Christmas, most in our house were suffering from some sickness or other so this was a good time to make a lovely comforting soup. It was nice but I made one mistake as I used rapeseed oil to caramelise the onions and it really didn't work. Now I am a big fan of rapeseed oil and love to use it for frying meat or drizzling on veg before roasting or even in place of sunflower oil in my carrot cakes. However, when it comes to frying onions and to sauté mushrooms they really don't work well together. This time I used olive oil, as indicated in the recipe, and it worked perfectly. I actually changed very little to the original recipe. I added double the quantity of noodles as the boys love them but feel free to add less, for more of the soup and less of the noodles! I also didn't have any cilantro leaves so I substituted these with flat leaf parsley. The recipe called for walnuts and as we prefer toasted hazelnuts this is what I added. A delicious feel-good dinner - try it out.

Feel Good Noodle Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 long red chilli finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 1/2 cups / 2 litres good-tasting vegetable stock/broth
1 tin/350g mixed beans, rinsed
1 tin/400g cooked chickpeas, rinsed
300g medium egg noodles, cooked
3 1/2 oz / 100g fresh spinach leaves, finely shredded
2 tbsp finely chopped flat parsley leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
juice of one lime

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 large onion, thinly sliced
100 ml sour cream or crème fraiche{use low-fat if watching calories}
50g /2 ounces of toasted, chopped hazelnuts


1.   Heat the oil in a large, thick-bottomed soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and the chilli and cook until they soften, a few minutes. Add the spices and cook for another thirty seconds, just long enough for them to toast a bit.
2.   Stir in the stock. Bring to a boil and add the split beans and chickpeas to the pot. Cook for about 15 minutes. Season with salt to taste.
3.   In the meantime, you can prepare the toppings. Heat the olive oil and butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Cook the onion, stirring occasionally, until golden and caramelized, for about 10 minutes. Set aside.
4.   Just before you're ready to eat, add the cooked noodles to the simmering soup and cook until al dente. Stir in the spinach, parsley and dill. Add a big squeeze of lime to the pot or serve wedges along with each bowl of soup. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking.
5.   Serve right away, each bowl topped with a big spoonful of caramelized onions, some crème fraîche, and a sprinkling of hazelnuts.

This summer there are so many amazing food festivals cropping up all around the country. A few weeks ago I got the opportunity to demonstrate at one in Cloughjordan in Co. Tipperary. A food festival which was very much focusing on local food producers. There wasn't only food stands and cookery demonstrations but also butter making, butchering demonstrations, organic food debates and so much more. Previous to this I was forwarded a list of the participating producers and in turn I devised the recipes I would demonstrate incorporating as many of these foods as possible.
At the festival I got the chance to visit each of the food stalls, sampling their produce and chatting with those responsible for bringing many delicious goods to our kitchen tables. Instantly it was apparent that these hard working producers held a real passion and belief for their product. Each displaying such a genuine entuasism for good food that it was incredible. Many had found their passion for artisan food production merely by chance. What initially started as a way to make a little extra cash over time would  become so much more than a job, a devotion to deliver something to the public that they truly believe in.
I certainly appreciate the time and effort that goes with making produce to sell at markets etc as I have made jams, chutneys and baked goods to sell at my classes. As a consumer there are just so many benefits to choosing a hand made Irish product in place of a cheaper supermarket alternative with the quality and taste of home-made products generally being superior to the mass produced substitute. Most importantly when you choose to buy one of these products you are supporting an Irish company and in turn you are helping to keep jobs in Ireland, encouraging a brighter future in the agriculture and food sector. So when at all possible we should try to shop local.
Here is the recipe for one of the dishes I demonstrated at Totally Tipperary. It's a Summer Berry Crumble which makes perfect use of the beautiful Irish fruit that is on sale countrywide. Any combination of berries is perfect but if you wanted to substitute the berries in the crumble it would also work well with rhubarb or apples. Enjoy!

Summer Berry Crumble

125g (5oz) caster sugar
250ml (9fl oz) red wine
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 whole star anise(optional)
Squeeze of lemon juice
450g (1lb) fruit -125g gooseberries 
                                  125g raspberries
                                  125g strawberries
                                  125g blueberries
75g (3oz) butter
150g plain flour
75g (3oz) soft brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
50g (2oz) sunflower seeds

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. To prepare the fruit, place the sugar in a heavy-based pan with the red wine, vanilla extract, star anise (optional), and lemon juice.
2. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes, until slightly thickened and syrup-like.
3. Stir in the fruit and then remove from the heat and leave to cool.
4. To make the crumble, place the flour in a bowl and rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar, cinnamon and sunflower seeds until well combined.
5. Spoon in the berry mixture into four individual ovenproof dishes or large ramekins. Sprinkle over the crumble mixture and arrange on a baking sheet, then bake for about 20 minutes, until the crumble topping is golden brown and bubbling around the edges.
Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.

This article was published in The Westmeath Independent on  6th July 2011.
Photos & styling by Nessa Robins.
So many wonderful opportunities have come my way through this blog. As a result I have met many individuals who are truly lovely and I know I will be friends with them for life. This was something wonderful that came about without the influence of the blog. The prospect of availing of a few days work experience at MacNean House and Restaurant came about when I met the ever lovely Neven Maguire at The Ploughing Championships last September. I had been looking forward to these few days since he casually suggested it and believe me I was in no way disappointed with the whole experience.

I arrived at MacNean House at 12noon last Thursday to be warmly welcomed by Neven. He introduced me to Zara who showed me around, she then gave me a seat in their drawing room where I was treated to a large pot of tea and some freshly baked pastries. This was certainly a good start to my work experience! Soon after, the head chef Glen Wheeler was out to me with a quick introduction, I donned my chef whites and soon he familiarised me with the kitchen. For that hour of the day the restaurant was buzzing with staff, each with their own schedule of jobs all in their own areas busily prepping. After five minutes in the kitchen a large box of peppers were propped in front of me to char and scrub in preparation for the evening meals. Ever conscious that what I was prepping would be later on a plate as part of a meal in one of Ireland's top restaurants made me quite fearful. I soon realised that I needn't worry as there was constantly someone at hand to guide me with instructions on how to perfect different techniques. Over the few days I learned so many tips from the chefs that will come in very useful in my own kitchen. Even if I was simply chopping vegetables I was always in the heart of work, watching and listening to the professionals. At any opportunity I was scribbling notes in my notepad in the hope of remembering everything that was being shared so generously. I have to say that I was completely overwhelmed by how kind and helpful Glen and his staff were to me. Essentially I was interrupting their day's work, they still had to have all ready for service but each would take the time to explain carefully how food is prepared to perfection at MacNean's. Many times I considered that they would be most certainly quicker doing it themselves but they understood that I was there to learn and at no time did they make me feel apologetic for that.

Neven has such a relaxed temperament and the great respect he has for his staff is evident. His head chef Glen has been working there for the past 8 years. He is highly efficient and similar to Neven he is passionate about good produce and sourcing the kitchen's food locally. He keeps check on everyone's work without being invasive and his friendly nature and good humour is constant. All the staff appear to get on marvellously and in a kitchen that is so busy there is plenty of time for friendly banter. They work in such a close proximity to each other they have no option but to get long but these guys seem to genuinely like each other, to the point that out of work they do sports together and socialise together. This of course is reflected in the meals that's plated as each dish is a team effort. Before service starts at 6pm there is a staff break for an hour where they get to enjoy a meal cooked by one of their colleagues. This along with regular cuppas add to staff moral as personally I think that people always work better on a full stomach!

Neven and Glen are constantly tasting everything to ensure it's perfectly cooked and seasoned before reaching the diners. If they're not completely happy it must be redone but this is always delivered so graciously. What I noticed more over the few days was that each chef was so meticulous about what they were cooking. They are cooking for perfection and this is ever evident when you see the whole dish being created on the plate. I got a little taste of all the different dishes which was just wonderful as some ingredients I had not encountered before.

Naturally service was busy, as each night there were around 80 covers, but still all ran smoothly with each dish leaving the kitchen was overseen by Neven. His perpetual  message of using good ingredients and supporting local is firmly evident in his menus. His wife Imelda, who is a real lady, works front of house and was also so welcoming to me. Having spent time with both Neven and Imelda it is no wonder that they are running such a succesful business, they are both real 'people' people so focused on delivering a tremendous experience for each guest and diner. As one of Ireland's top celebrity chefs,  author of many best-selling cookbooks and the face of many food events country wide, Neven has no airs or graces. His friendly nature is engaging and I'm sure this has contributed greatly to his success.

 I'm now 33 so obviously it's been a while since I've had any sort of work experience but I can still remember where I would leave a placement less than enthused by the prospect of a career in this field. This of course was rarely the job in question but more whoever's experience I was being guided by! I can guarantee that if anyone has an idea that they may enjoy working in a kitchen after a few days at Mac Nean this idea will be nurtured into a reality.
What an amazing few days and I'm so looking forward to a return visit when I will get to sit back and enjoy a meal cooked by Neven and his team!

I returned home yesterday after three fabulous days of work experience at MacNean House and Restaurant. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it and I will tell you about it later in the week.
First I must ask you to make a wish! Something magical has been happening of late where a Fairy Hobmother has been visiting blogs and granting wishes. After leaving a comment on Babaduck's blog the fairy came right this way to grant me my wish of an impressive new hand blender. For the past few years, I have used my blender on a daily basis, for smoothies, soups and kiddie meals, so at this stage, it is a little battered. I had been meaning to purchase a new one for some time so for one to a arrive on my doorstep for free was a wonderful surprise. On receiving the email I realised that the Fairy Hobmother is actually a very nice man called David from Appliances Online. The wonderful part of this story is that he wants to sprinkle a little more fairy dust and make some more wishes come true for the readers of this blog. All you have to do is leave a comment below stating what you would like to wish for. It can be something electrical, some books, tableware, kitchenware, really anything you please. He will be keeping an eye on the comments and in a couple of weeks he will contact the lucky winner. This wish isn't just limited to Ireland, you can make your wish from anywhere in the world. Also, you don't need to have your own blog either so anyone is eligible to enter. So best of luck and start wishing!

I included the above photo of Chocolate Soup as quite simply it's been on my mind to make, as it's so totally delicious.

What a beautifully hot day it was today. We had our annual Cemetery Sunday and for the first time in about 4 years, we didn't need to have an umbrella in hand heading out to it. I always enjoy Cemetary Sunday as it's a chance to bump into some family members and neighbours who's paths we don't cross on a regular basis. Each year, as I grow older, there are many more names that I recognise on the list of who has passed since the previous year. It deeply saddens me that this year my Aunt Judy was included on this list. She was someone that I really cared for and for as long as I can remember she was always so giving of her time and kindness. This time last year she stood next to me without a care in the world. I suppose that's life and none of us know what is in store for us in the future. It's so important that we concentrate on what is good in our lives and try to forget about the negative. Personally, I have so much to be grateful for and I like to encourage my kids to appreciate the everyday things, that we can so often take for granted.

Before heading out to the cemetery I picked a basket of delicious strawberries from the garden. I have been eating many bowlfuls of these with Greek yoghurt and toasted hazelnuts, all drizzled with maple syrup. I have also made many jars of jam, so for something different I decided to grill them. I had half a tub of Boulaban Strawberry Ice Cream in the freezer, which I had picked up at Totally Tipperary and thought that these would go perfectly together. This is an ice-cream which is handmade in Tipperary using organic milk from Kate and Michael Cantwell's farm. They have won numerous awards for their ice-creams and sorbets and after tasting many of them it's not a bit surprising. They have a fabulous range of the most delicious creamy deserts in a tub. One of their range, which I can't wait to taste again, is their Bubble Gum ice-cream, it was like no ice-cream I have ever tasted. With one spoonful I felt like Violet in Willy Wonka when she got her hands on Wonka's three-course meal gum. It was really an experience and so totally scrumptious. The Cantwells are a wonderful example of some of the hard-working artisan food producers that we are lucky to have in Ireland, completely passionate about their product from start to finish.
This is such an easy dessert that it hardly warrants a recipe, but it is so yummy that I would be afraid that if I don't jot it down I will forget what a treasure it is!

Grilled Strawberries with Digestives & Ice Cream

500g strawberries, washed
2 tbsp Cointreau 
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp sugar

4 digestives, crushed finely in a plastic bag
ice-cream of your choice
sprig of mint

1. Preheat your grill to high. Hull the strawberries with a knife, cutting off a bit of the flesh too so you get a flat base and place them in a bowl.
2. Add the Cointreau and vanilla extract. Toss together, then place the strawberries on their flat bottoms in a snug-fitting shallow oven-proof dish, tips pointing up. Pour over the juices from the bowl and sprinkle over the sugar.
3. Place under a heated grill for 5 - 7 minutes until bubbling.
4. Serve with some ice-cream, a sprinkling of the crushed digestives and a sprig of mint.

So today I headed to Birr with Millie and the boys. One of my sisters has lived there for almost 20 years so it's a town that we are well acquainted with. On the first Saturday of each month, there is an antique auction held at Purcells Auctioneers. My father has a great interest in antiques so this is one outing that he rarely misses. I have always had a liking for old bits and bobs but it was really since I started the blog and was in constant need of props for my photos did I really become an avid fan of the auctions.

As I had Millie on my hip I didn't get a good root through all the lots today but upon glancing around the room a few pieces caught my eye. At these auctions, it is always paramount to check out any item that you intend bidding on. As blemishes, cracks or woodworm are only really noticed when a full inspection is carried out. There appeared to be a lot of copper pans and pots there today, which I love even as ornaments in the kitchen. I picked up a few but then Millie declared that she had enough. In fairness to her, she did sit quite contently for 2 hours just watching the goings on and chatting with her Grandad! I had a few more items that I was really interested in including a little box of teaspoons and a hand painted biscuit jar. Dad stayed for the rest of the auction and did the bidding for me, as well as picking up a few more items that were going for the right price.

While in Birr I had to take a trip to the organic store to pick up one of my favourite cheeses, Mossfield Organic. I have mentioned it before but it is such an amazing product and that is best enjoyed in a large chunk completely on it's own. Totally delicious!

On returning home the boys remembered that if the sun was still shining there was a promise of painting boards, as my props for food photos. This wasn't as stressed an activity as I had imagined and really a fairly relaxing way to spend the afternoon - once everyone kept to their own board!

All are now in bed, most asleep, and I'm having the nicest cuppa of the day with a slice of homemade white soda topped with a slice of Mossfield Tomato and Herb cheese.

Mossfield Cheese on top of one of my newly painted boards.