I'm sure when anyone has lost a loved one they feel similar to myself, when trying to deal with the whole grieving process. Events which where once pure joyous occasions, can be met with some bitter-sweet anticipation. My dad passed away before Christmas, and similar to the year when my Mam passed away, the first time to experience everything without them is rather heart-breaking. The first Christmas, the first birthday, the first family get-together and this week will be the first Easter. It's a holiday that, as a family, we always embraced and enjoyed celebrating. Each year my mother's Easter dinner was as impressive as the Christmas dinner. A wonderful spread was put on, with the roast spring lamb being the star of the show. Growing up I wasn't a fan of lamb, due to the many pet lambs occupying the back doorstep, however I did relish in the array of tasty accompaniments. 

Easter 2012 - Tiarnán, Fionn & Millie decorating eggs with their Grandad. 

In recent times I have really valued my Dad's input into my own children's Easter preparations. Each year he would tell tales of his Easter childhood memories, how there were no chocolate eggs in his home in the 1930's, but instead each child would pick their freshly laid egg, from their hen coop, and proceed to paint it. This was then boiled for breakfast on Easter Sunday morning and was always declared as the nicest egg of the year. For the last number of years, in our house, we would dedicate an afternoon of Easter week to egg painting. "Granddad" was always enlisted as the "expert helper" and he genuinely seemed to enjoy this as much as the children. Together they would decorate their fresh eggs and the children would listen intently to stories of old and were always amazed by how within one lifetime so much had changed. This Easter, even though it may sadden the children or me, my Dad's egg painting tradition will carry on. We'll decorate the eggs, tell his stories and most of all appreciate this wonderful man for sharing so much with us and being such an influential part of our lives. Whatever way you celebrate Easter this year I hope it is with the people you cherish and love. Enjoy the celebrations and have a Happy Easter!

Lemon Frosted Easter Cake

I always find that cake is well suited to every occasion. This lemon frosted cake makes a perfect Easter treat, as yellow themed goods seem to fit nicely with an Easter theme. It's basically a madeira cake which is smothered with a creamy lemon topping and filled with lemon curd; perfect to enjoy with a cup of tea anytime.

225g butter, softened
225g caster sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
3 free range eggs
280g self-raising flour, sieved

For Icing
150g full fat cream cheese (Philadelphia)
50g butter, softened
400g icing sugar, sieved
1 tsp lemon extract/essence
drop of yellow food colouring

To assemble/decorate
2/3 tbsp lemon curd
50g mini chocolate eggs

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C(fan)/390°F/gas mark 6.
2. Prepare a two 8 inch tins, by greasing well with some butter.
3. Place the butter, caster sugar and vanilla extract into a bowl and cream together until it is a pale yellow colour, which takes about 5-7 minutes.
4. Add the eggs, one at a time with a little flour- to prevent the mixture from curdling. Mix well.
5. Add the remaining flour then combine well.
6. Divide the mixture between the prepared tins.
7. Bake in the oven for 30-35 mins or until golden brown in colour and a skewer comes out dry, when stuck into the centre of each cake. Cool on a wire tray.
8. To make the icing; Put the cream cheese, butter and icing sugar into a bowl and beat together until smooth and creamy. Stir in the lemon extract and add a drop of yellow food colouring.
9. When the cakes have completely cooled place one on a serving plate. Spread 1/3 of the icing over the cake and top with the lemon curd. Place the next cake on top and then add the remaining icing. Smooth using a palette knife and decorate with some mini chocolate eggs.

In other news; The Midlands Gathering Festival is taking place in Moate this weekend. As a part of it I will be doing a cookery demonstration in The Grand Hotel, Moate on Easter Saturday from 4 - 5pm. All are welcome!
I'm very proud to be Irish and have always celebrated St. Patrick's day with much affection.  It's the one day that is completely dedicated to appreciating our heritage and celebrating where we've originated from. I always feel it's important to highlight how wonderful Ireland can be to the rest of the world and when better to do this than on St. Patrick's Day. After-all it's a day that so many worldwide will claim to have some sort of an Irish heritage.
 In recent years there seems to be a greater focus on just how wonderful Irish food really is. We are privileged in Ireland to have an abundance of passionate farmers and food producers who provide us with quality products, which are going from strength to strength in the worldwide markets and are steadily being recognised amongst the best in the world. One product that has been making the headlines recently for breaking the American market is the perfectly produced Kilbeggan Organic Oats. A consistently good porridge is always guaranteed, but I've also found these oats, to make particularly impeccable flapjacks or a treat that my children are rather partial to are these oaty cookies. The combination of wholesome oats, along with creamy Irish butter gives a scrumptious base to these cookies. They are lovely plain or even dipped in a little melted chocolate, but especially for St Patrick's day these cookies look most suitable drizzled with a little green icing. 

Irish Oaty Cookies

200g butter, softened
100g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
150g self-raising flour
150g porridge oats
100g icing sugar, sieved
2 tbsp water
drop of green food colouring

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 180C(fan)/200C/Gas Mark 6.
2. Place the softened butter, sugar and vanilla extract  into a bowl and cream together until it is light and fluffy.
3. Sieve in the flour and combine. Stir in the oats, combine and bring the dough together.
4. Divide the dough into walnut sized balls. Press each dough ball with a fork, to slightly flatten each raw cookie.
5. Place on baking trays and cook in the oven for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown. 
6. Transfer to a wire rack and cool before icing.
6. Make the icing by placing the sieved icing sugar into a bowl and slowly add the water until the icing is combined. Add a small drop of food colouring and stir well. Drizzle over each of the cooled cookies.
I am still collecting nappies for Belarus and will be at Moate community centre car park between 11 and 11.30am Saturday, 16th March. 
Happy St. Patrick's Day!

St. Patrick's Day is approaching and it's a guarantee that Irish food will be celebrated worldwide. I think the main perception of typical Irish dining, from those who haven't travelled here, would consist of big bowls of stew with accompanying pints of Guinness. It probably wouldn't be an everyday dinner for most of us, but not a bad dining option all the same. I love nothing better than a tasty stew on a cold, blustery day and this is one of my favourite combinations. I have fond memories of devouring bowlfuls of stew as a young child and there were always little nuggets of gold, in the form of dumplings, which I totally relished. The dumplings my mother made were always very small, which seemed just perfect as a child as each spoonful of stew would carry one or two of these. I generally make dumplings a little larger and my own children also love them. Buried within the flavoursome rich and salty stew they add a wonderful contrasting texture of soft and fluffy. Served with a good helping of creamy mashed potatoes this Beef & Guinness Stew with Dumplings would be welcomed at any occasion but seems especially appropriate for St. Patrick's Day. 

Beef & Guinness Stew with Dumplings

1 kg stewing beef, diced
2tbsp plain flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2tbsp olive oil
180g streaky bacon, chopped
2 onions, diced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
5 carrots, roughly chopped
2tbsp tomato puree
500ml Guinness
300ml beef stock 
2 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs fresh oregano
250g self-raising flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper
125g butter, cold-straight from the fridge
1 tbsp cold water

To Serve:
Creamy Mashed Potatoes

1. Preheat the oven to 200C/fan180C/gas mark 6.
2. Toss the beef in some seasoned flour.
3. Heat half of the oil in a large, oven proof saucepan or casserole dish and cook the beef in batches. Leaving to one side, in a dish.
4. Heat a little more oil in the saucepan and add the bacon, onion and garlic. Cook for five mins until golden then add the carrots and tomato purée. Gradually add the Guinness and the beef stock.
5. Add the cooked beef, thyme, bay and oregano to the dish. Cover and place in the oven for 1 1/2 hours.
6. Meanwhile make the dumplings. Put the flour into a mixing bowl. Season with a little salt and pepper. Finely chop or grate in the cold butter. Gently rub in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add a tbsp of cold water and bring the dough together to form a ball. Divide the dough into 20 pieces and roll each one into a dumpling ball. 
7. Take the stew from the oven and nestle the dumplings on top of the cooked stew, pushing each one down into the stew so that it is half way submerged. Place the lid back on the saucepan and return to the oven for an additional 30 mins.
8. Serve this tasty stew with creamy mashed potatoes.


0n a different note... I am again collecting nappies for a gentleman who will be heading to Belarus this April.

There is still an appeal for nappies, which are badly needed for babies and children in Belarus. I know a gentleman who will be travelling out there with a container in April. I'm planning to get together some nappies to send. I need to have them collected by Thurs 21st March. If you are in the Moate area and would like to donate some nappies please give me a shout, by e-mail nessasfamilykitchen@gmail.com Otherwise I will be at the car park of the community centre Moate from 11am-11.30am this Saturday 16th March, for anyone who would like to drop off a packet of nappies. I'm also at Mount Temple School every day at 2pm. Thanks a million. Nessa. 
In the Midlands, it may not always be noted, but we have some fantastic food producers who are passionate about delivering quality products to their customers. For my column in the Westmeath Independent I'm going to include an interview each month with one of these producers. For the first of these columns I interviewed my local butchers John and Kit Gillivan. 
When I first started to shop in John Gillivan Butchers, trading as Moate Meats, about six or seven years ago, it was not only their quality of meat and their friendly staff that impressed me, but I found their willingness to disclose exactly the journey of each piece of meat from farm to shop very reassuring. Behind the counter they are all very knowledgeable chaps. Both John and Kit Gillivan are master butchers while the rest of the staff are all certified craft butchers. There are nine abattoirs in Westmeath and we are privileged in Moate to have two very fine butchers each with their own abattoirs. Where we source our meat has often been topical within the media. In the past few weeks, with the breaking of the horse meat story, it seems to have never been more enticing to pop into the local butcher for meat, in place of a supermarket alternative. As wonderful as many small butchers are it’s important to note that not all are flying the flag for Irish meat. When it is reported that 2.5 million chicken breasts are imported each week into Ireland we can’t automatically assume that when we’re supporting our local butcher that they are actually supporting Irish. How do we find out where their meat is sourced? We simply ask. Consumers must question and if they are not happy with the answer then there is always the option to move their business elsewhere. One of the best butchers that I have ever come upon has been John Gillivan Butchers, so to find out a little more about the men behind the business I met John and Kit Gillivan for a chat.  

John, Peter, Kit and John Gillivan

How long has Moate Meats been in business?

John: It was my grandfather who first started the business. We are actually opened 100 years this year and I’ve been working here for 58 years.

Has butchery changed much since you started?

John: When I started everything was sold on the bone.  A big difference was that most of the meat use to be hung outside the door. The beef would hang on one side and lambs on the other. Those bars, used for hanging, are still there today.

Which traditional cut of meat would you like to see make a comeback?

John: In recent years it seems that every piece of meat is moving. Stewing meat and all the meats that require slow cooking have really become popular again. However I would really love to see corn beef make a comeback.

Where do you source all your meat?

Kit: All our beef and lamb is sourced within five to ten miles of the shop. All lamb is under a year old and beef is under 24months. All the beef is dry aged for three weeks and we only sell Irish chicken. All our pork is Bord Bia quality assured. The television screen in the shop shows the cattle in the fields, then the meat in the abattoir and then preparing the meat for sale. It helps in telling the story of who we are and where our meat is coming from to the customer. We also have fresh fish delivered 4 times a week. If a customer wants any organic produce we can supply them also. Each Christmas we have a great supply of organic ducks from a local farmer and the quality is just fantastic.

Is it of great benefit having your own abattoir?

Kit: It’s a huge benefit because you are confident about what you are selling. You know and trust the farmer you are buying the animals from. You also have complete control over your own meat that you sell. We actually have one of the lowest food miles in the country from a farmed abattoir to shop.

In recent times have you found customers to question more where their meat is sourced?

Kit: Certainly! We are delighted when people ask any questions about the meat because we can stand by it. We love that we can answer them confidently and honestly. We really value our customers. People have to make a conscious decision to pull up outside and we are very grateful and thankful that they choose to shop with us. Therefore we greet all our customers the same and are always happy to answer any queries they may have.

 Has there been a significant surge in customers since the horse meat story broke?

 Kit: Without a doubt. There have been many new faces and especially we’ve noticed an increase in younger customers. It’s really great. However our prices have always been competitive and we have different meat packs that are fantastic value and each week we have different meat on offer.

What is the most unusual piece of meat you’ve sold here?

Kit: No matter what meat a customer requests we can source it. The most unusual that would be sold fairly regular would have to be tripe.
John: We donate a lot of organs for research to local schools and colleges. Recently we have been working with some UCD students, who are working on a very interesting project about stem cell research. That was a certainly first for us.

What is your favourite cut of meat?

Kit: Rib roast cooked medium served with roast spuds, veg and Mammy’s gravy.

What do you like most about being a butcher?

Kit: The seasons, especially the excitement of working at Christmas. It’s a very important time of year for families and the fact that you can help with the organising of people’s celebrations is always wonderful.

Have you any plans for the future of Moate Meats?

Kit: We have lots of ideas that we are thinking of but we definitely intend to expand the shop later in the year.

Even in recessionary times businesses can thrive and John Gillivan butchers is evidence of this. It’s not however just happening by chance as what they are providing is quite wonderful; quality products brought to the customer by enthusiastic and passionate
food producers.

John Gillivan Moate Meats,
Lr Main st,
Phone: 090-6481127