The weather this week has been absolutely amazing. I can hardly believe that its only the end of March and I'm covering the children in sun-cream, before they head out to school. With this beautiful weather comes Al Fresco Dining and this evening we are having our first barbecue of the season. Some meat is marinading, the burgers are made and all I've to do now is rustle up a few salads. What an easy way to feed a crowd -  I just love this way of dining! 

All this sunshine has been very beneficial to the garden and it's really starting to show some growth. Our rhubarb is already growing at an accelerated rate. It seems that every time I cut a stalk, two grow back in its place. At this time of year rhubarb should be available fairly cheap at a farmer's market, so buy it when Irish rhubarb is in full season. If like me you have an abundance of rhubarb, wash it, slice it and pop it in the freezer ready for use all winter long. Otherwise you can use it up by making some very impressive jam for home consumption or to give as a gift.  There is something very satisfying about serving up your own homemade jam to accompany a scone. It is also delicious as a filler for a sponge cake or in jam tarts.  

For the past few years I have been making a variety of jams. I'm certainly no expert and I'm ever in search of ways to perfect my recipes. However it seems to be trial and error and even if the jam doesn't set perfectly it will still have a flavour that's far superior to any shop bought variety. When making jam it is important that the fruit is fresh and in the case of rhubarb jam it's best made when rhubarb is in full season and not yet thick and tough. 

In recent years Jam making has come back into vogue, making it very convenient for the novice jam maker to get their hands on the necessary supplies of jars and covers. I tend to collect any food jars that would be suitable for jams and simply give them a good wash and sterilize them in an oven at 220 degrees centigrade for 5 minutes and allow to cool a little before filling with the hot jam. 
If you have yet to give jam making a go, try out this recipe and you will be surprised by how easy it really is!

Rhubarb and Ginger Jam

Makes 8 x 1 lb (450 g) jars 

4 lb (1.8kg) trimmed rhubarb,
3 lb (1.36kg) granulated sugar
1lb (450g) Jam sugar
2 lemons,
grated rind & juice
ozs (50g) bruised fresh ginger or 1 teasp ground ginger

1. Wipe the rhubarb and cut into 1 inch (2.5cm) pieces. 

2. Place the rhubarb in a large bowl layered with the sugar, the lemon rind and juice. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave to stand overnight. 
3. Next day put the contents of the bowl into a very large saucepan, add the bruised ginger tied in a muslin bag{or the teaspoon of ground ginger}. Steadily bring to the boil until it is a thick pulp, which will take about an hour.
4. Test a teaspoonful on a cold saucer, place in fridge for 30 seconds, it the jam wrinkles when pushed by a finger the jam is set. If not repeat this process every 5 minutes.
5. Skim the jam and allow to cool slightly.
6. Remove the bag of ginger and then carefully ladle the jam, using a funnel to help, into hot clean jars.
7.  Cover with a waxed disc and allow to cool completely before screwing a lid on tightly. Stored in a dry airy cupboard, this jam will keep for many months!

The Jacob’s Creek ‘Wine & Dine Experience’ is back for another year, but this time they are hitting the road and will be visiting DublinCork, Galway and Waterford. Last year's event, at the magnificent Christchurch Cathedral, was met with huge praise and anyone who attended the event was treated to a truly unique and special dining experience. This year's event promises to be just as impressive. This amazing night out is actually being offer, to enthusiastic foodies, for free and to be in with a chance of getting your hands on some tickets just go to the end of this post. Do put your name in the hat as you could be one of the lucky ones!

Official Press Release
This March and April, award winning Australian wine brand, Jacob’s Creek is encouraging food and wine enthusiasts across Ireland to ‘See Beyond The Label’. The brand is inviting guests to let their senses run wild to explore the true character of wine and food at a special free ‘Wine & Dine Experience’.

The Jacob’s Creek ‘Wine & Dine Experience’ Roadshow will visit DublinCork, Galway and Waterford during the months of March and April. For one night only, 50 guests in each location will be given the opportunity to take part in a free wine tasting masterclass and delicious dining experience, which will encourage them to ‘See Beyond The Label’ and discover the true character of the wine and food on offer.

Using only their senses as a guide, guests will be taken on a virtual whistle stop tour through the Jacob’s Creek winery by top wine expert TV3’s David Whelehan, who will use the quality portfolio of Jacob’s Creek wines to reveal classic tips like how to understand a wine label and how to identify different grape varieties and wine styles. Throughout the evening, David will conduct blindfolded wine tastings to help guests develop their sense of smell and recognise the aromas of different wines. An award winning chef in each county will create a three course dinner menu using the Jacob’s Creek wine range for inspiration. Food on the night is guaranteed to tickle the taste buds and further tantalise the senses.

Aimee Milne, Jacob’s Creek Brand Manager, Irish Distillers Pernod Ricard, said “Last year’s event in the Crypt Christchurch, Dublin was a great success and we saw a great demand from Facebook fans to bring the event closer to them. We decided to take the ‘Wine & Dine Experience’ on the road and offer food and wine fans in four locations around Ireland the opportunity to take part in the event. In keeping with the theme of seeing beyond the label, guests this year will enjoy wine and food in the unique surroundings of a contemporary art gallery, a 19th Century Jail, a museum and a Georgian Guild Hall. The Jacob’s Creek ‘Wine & Dine Experience’ is a fun and interesting way for consumers to learn something new about food and wine while enjoying Jacob’s Creek.”

The Jacob’s Creek ‘Wine & Dine Experience’ will take place over the following dates: Dublin 27th March, Cork 4th April, Galway 19th April and Waterford 26th April. To request a reservation at these special culinary events, logon to and enter your details on the ‘The Wine and Dine Experience’ tab or email jacobscreek@idl.iewith Jacob’s Creek ‘Wine & Dine Experience’ in the subject line, your name, date of birth (as drinks will be served), and contact details for you and a guest. Also please include which county event you would like to attend. Places are limited and guests will be chosen at random.

I think as a child, St. Patrick's Day was actually one of my favourite celebrations of the year. For the weeks preceding, many hours were spent making flags, banners, brooches and hats, all sporting green, white and gold. Of course, nowadays, all these can be bought for little or nothing, yet I feel for the children to experience the 'real' St. Patrick's Day a few homemade flags are completely necessary! The local parade was the highlight of the day where we got to stand at the side of the road for a couple of hours, mostly in the rain, waving frantically as neighbours passed by in their tractors and trucks. A couple of brass bands and some energetic Irish dancers would complete the lineup, and each year on the journey home we'd decide that the previous year's parade had actually been better. As simple as this day was, I have so many fond memories of St. Patrick's Day. I think the fact that it was a family day out really made the experience special and all the nicer.

Potato Cakes

Each year my Mother would serve a big fry up before we went to town, and my favourite part to this would be my mother's fluffy potato cakes. A big knob of butter placed on top before serving allowed the potato cake to don a silky buttery glaze. Only in recent years have I started to make potato cakes myself and the children love them. I have added some finely chopped scallions to my potato mix but if you prefer you can leave these out and make them plain or even add a handful of grated cheese. Enjoy!

450g (1lb) cooled mashed potatoes
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 egg, slightly beaten
75g (3oz) plain flour
2 scallions, finely chopped
1 tbsp oil
Knob of butter

  1. Place the mashed potato in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper and add the egg. Stir in the flour and finely chopped scallions. Combine well to form a dough.
  2. Transfer the dough onto a floured work surface and lightly knead. Roll out the dough, about 3cm thick.
  3. Cut into circles using a pastry cutter making approximately 8 potato cakes.
  4. Place the oil into a pan and place over a medium heat. Add the potato cakes and cook for about 3 minutes on each side or until golden brown.
  5. Serve hot with a knob of butter on top.

A couple of weeks ago I was invited along to lunch at the new Avoca in Monkstown, Co. Dublin. A new venture for the family run Avoca as the full premise is solely dedicated to food. There is a cafe which hosts an exciting seasonal menu, which certainly left me spoilt for choice. There is also a lavish food hall which is impressively stocked with fresh fruit and veg, cheeses, rotisserie Irish chickens, fresh breads and cakes, a craft butcher and many delicious Irish products. It's a food lovers haven, which has many of the best artisan products in the country all under one roof.
In the last number of years I have really come to appreciate the value of well produced, good quality food.  Lucky for us in Ireland there is an abundance of food producers that are truly dedicated to developing products that are held in high esteem world wide. We are blessed in this country to have fabulous land and in turn our animals are served an excellent diet, which results in premium meat and milk. The quality of Irish cheeses, yogurts, butter and meat all goes back to the land and how well that our animals are treated by the farmers.
As well as some well known Irish companies there is now an increasing amount of Irish artisan products appearing in our shops. Indeed these artisan products can be expensive but there is little comparison between them and their supermarket equivalent. It has never been more important than now for us to shop local and buy Irish. International studies have confirmed that 45c of every euro spent with local companies re-circulates back into the local economy. There was a fantastic campaign last year asking us to substitute even one product in our basket for an Irish equivalent. It has really made me think, so now when there is an Irish alternative to something on my list, I generally pick it up. 

White Soda Focaccia with Caramelised Red Onion & Cooleeney

Here is a recipe that is based on a bread I once saw Rachel Allen making in Ballymaloe. It's a recipe for a traditional Irish white soda bread but instead of popping it into a loaf tin it is cooked in an oiled swiss roll tin. The orginal recipe had some Cashel Blue and sliced garlic sprinkled over the dough, which was also delicious. I've topped it with some red onion that I caramelised on the pan with a little olive oil, some creamy Irish Cooleeney, a little grated cheddar, a drizzle of olive oil over the top and the result is a very tasty White Soda Focaccia. This makes the perfect accompaniment to soup but also often when I'm entertaining I will have one cut up into lots of cubes to enjoy with wine, cheese and olives. 

Olive Oil
450g plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon salt
400ml buttermilk
75g (3oz) soft cheese,  such as Cooleeney,  Brie or Camembert
handful grated cheddar
3 tbsp caramelised red onion
Olive oil

1.    Preheat an oven to 200 ̊C/ 430 ̊F/gas mark 7.
2.    Brush a swiss roll tin or baking tray generously with olive oil.
3.   Sieve the plain flour, salt and the bread soda into a big bowl.
      4. Make a well in the centre, pour in most of the buttermilk, and with one hand stiff and your fingers spread out like a claw, start mixing in a full circle once the butter milk has gone in.
  5. Keep mixing like this until you have a soft dough. Do not knead it but work it very gently to bring it together.
  6. Transfer to a floured surface and roll it out to about 35x20cms (14x8inches), and transfer it to the oiled tray.
  7.  Drizzle the top with some more olive oil and sprinkle evenly with the cheese and onions. 
  8.  Put it in the oven and cook for 18-25 minutes, depending on how thick it is. 
  9.  When cooked, it should feel firm in the centre and be gorgeous and golden brown on top.
  10.  Transfer it to a wire rack and cool for a couple of minutes, then cut it into squares and serve.