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

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

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

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

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

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

Baked Ham Carbonara

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

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

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

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

Bread Sauce

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

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

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

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

Sage, Date & Pine Nut Stuffing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One man grating while the other man samples the chocolate. 

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

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


vegetable oil, for greasing

70g/2½oz butter

300g/10½oz soft light brown sugar

125g/4½oz evaporated milk

225g/8oz marshmallows

300g/10½oz milk chocolate, chopped

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


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

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

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

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

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

One of my favourite ingredients, Smoked Paprika.