This post is sponsored by HARIBO.
 
From an early age, my children have always loved a picnic. If a trickle of early morning sun light ever threatened to peek through the bedroom blind I knew the proposal of a little alfresco dining, be it even in the back garden, was sure to be on the cards. Teddy bears always played a pivotal role at these picnics, and sometimes would even place their own orders of what should don the picnic mat! The older the children have grown the urgency of setting up a picnic on a sunny morning has eased, but their love and nostalgia for picnics hasn’t seemed to diminish in any way. From birthdays to end-of-school farewells, we have shared many a celebration around a picnic blanket. 


The catering for these outdoor feasts has never been fussy. Something savoury; normally a batch of little sandwiches, wraps or maybe a slice of quiche, if I’ve due warning for this outdoor event. Something fruity; slices of melon, an apple or a container filled with grapes. Something to drink; water, fruit juice or perhaps even a flask of tea if sitting on the grass on an Irish summer’s day is a little over ambitious. Finally, the piece de resistance, something sweet. This can simply be the addition of a few packets of our favourite HARIBO’s to our basket, but other times a cake of some depiction will also take centre stage. 


To celebrate HARIBO’s new fruitier mix, now with added fruit juice, and as part of their #MyStarmixFavourite campaign, they kindly asked me to #ShareHappiness and develop a recipe showcasing one of their five iconic pieces. Have you a favourite HARIBO piece? Let me know in the comments below. I chose the cola bottle to showcase, as it has always been my absolute favourite. As a dedicated cake-lover my creation of choice had to involve some sort of a bake, so after a little deliberation, I decided to make an indulgently rich chocolate cake, not just a regular chocolate cake, but one infused with cola and coated in a chocolatey cola frosting, echoing the flavours of the cola bottles which I planned to pile on top. As you can see, it’s a real showstopper of a cake, and one which would easily earn its place at any celebration.


As the summer holidays approach, picnics and outdoor dining are once again on the cards. If you’re planning to enjoy this gorgeous cake as part of your picnic under a sunny blue sky, pop it into a tin and prop it up in a bag or basket surrounded by a few ice packs, which should keep it sufficiently cool on its journey to your picnic destination. 

This recipe and post were sponsored by HARIBO, but Millie and I thoroughly enjoyed setting up our Gummy Bear Picnic and it’s safe to say the cake was happily approved and devoured by the whole family. For more details about the fruitier HARIBO Starmix, visit https://www.haribo.com/en-gb.


This cake is indulgently rich and moist. Even though it contains cola, there isn’t a hugely distinctive cola flavour, however what the cola does add to the cake is a caramel undertone and this delicious sweetness is so much more pronounced when paired with the HARIBO cola bottles. This is the perfect cake to make and enjoy at any celebration this summer.


Chocolate Cola Cake with a Cola Frosting and Topped with HARIBO Cola Bottles

Ingredients
Cake
225g butter, softened 
225g light brown sugar
275g self-raising flour 
50g cocoa powder
3 free-range eggs, lightly whisked
125ml whole milk
250ml cola
Chocolate Cola Frosting
125g butter
100g dark chocolate, approx. 50% cocoa solids
2tbsp cola 
Small pinch of sea salt
250g icing sugar, sieved
To Decorate
HARIBO cola bottles

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C/gas mark 4. Line and lightly grease 2 x 20cm baking tins. 
2. Using a mixer, or a large bowl and wooden spoon, cream the butter and sugar together until soft and pale in colour, which will take about 5 minutes.
3. Sieve in the flour and cocoa powder and stir until combined.
4. Next, add the eggs and gently combine, before gradually adding in the milk. A little at a time, mixing well in between each addition. 
5. Pour in the cola and gently stir through the batter until well combined.
6. Divide the batter between the two prepared tins. Place in the preheated oven for about 35 minutes. 
7. While the cakes are baking, make the frosting. Place the butter, chocolate, cola, and pinch of sea salt into a small saucepan over a low heat. Once the butter and chocolate are almost melted, remove from the heat, and stir well to combine. Allow to cool before adding to a large bowl with the sieved icing sugar. Beat well with a wooden spoon to combine. At this stage, the frosting may look as if it has split, but let me assure you, once it is left to sit and cool, on the countertop not the fridge, for approximately an hour, it will look and taste perfect. Simply, give it a good stir every fifteen minutes or so. 
8. When the cakes are baked, leave in the tins for a few minutes to cool slightly, before turning out on to a wire rack. 
9. Once completely cooled, assemble the cake. 
Hold back two tablespoons of the frosting and place in a piping bag, for decorating the top of the cake. Place one of the cakes on a serving plate, top evenly with some of the frosting, before placing the other cake on top. Cover the top and side of the cake with the remaining frosting and smooth using a palette knife. To decorate, pipe a few nozzles of frosting on top of the cake and decorate, as generously as like, with HARIBO cola bottles. Slice and enjoy.
10. The cake will keep well for about three days. Simply pop it into an airtight tin. 

For anyone who practises lent, the forty days of abstinence from sweet treats ceases over the Easter weekend, making chocolate goodies an integral part of the Easter celebrations. Certainly, in a house with children under its roof, chocolate eggs are always aplenty, and once that first one is cracked open, an easter egg-eating marathon is inevitable for hours, or sometimes days, to come. For most, indulging in a few chocolate eggs won't cause any harm, just maybe some tummy aches. However, such an abundance of chocolate on offer can cause serious temptation to those who are either on a strict diet or must avoid chocolate and sugar for medical reasons. If chocolate is your vice, one of the best ways to survive the temptation of Easter treats is to stock up on goods that allow for a chocolate hit, yet are somewhat guilt-free. A good quality, high-cocoa (at least 70% cocoa solids) dark chocolate is great to have in the press, as nibbling on a square can quash a chocolate craving, and dark chocolate also works well as an ingredient for chocolate cakes and bakes. Cacao powder can be used in many dishes, and little of it is needed to give an intense, chocolate hit, along with the benefit of a nutritional, disease-fighting anti-oxidant, boost. For a soothing, hot drink, a spoonful can be added to a cup of warm milk, but as cacao powder can be slightly bitter, a little honey, or your regular sweetener, can be added to taste. Cacao powder is also a delicious addition to a smoothie mix. While a nutritious, chocolatey, ice-cream can be made by blitzing a few frozen bananas, with a drizzle of maple syrup or honey, and a little cacao powder. 

If your house is like mine, and a tsunami of chocolate eggs is imminent, before the first one is cracked put a little time aside to make or buy a few less-guilty treats to enjoy over the Easter season. At least when everyone else is tucking into their chocolate egg you'll be prepared by having something healthier, and possibly even tastier, to appreciate with an afternoon cuppa.

 



 

Easter Energy 'Eggs'

 

If you are planning on making some tasty treats to gift this Easter, this mixture makes enough for two half dozen cartons; one for a friend and one for your fridge. Each one is fairly filling, so it should keep any chocolate cravings at bay. A combination of nuts can be used, but I find hazelnuts and cashews work particularly well.  


Ingredients

Makes 12

200g dates, pitted

4tbsp natural peanut butter

70g roasted hazelnuts

50g unsalted cashew nuts

25g sesame seeds

25g sunflower seeds

 

Method

1.     You will need two empty egg carton. Add six cupcake cases to each.

2.     If the dates are dry, soak in warm water for 10 minutes, then drain and pat dry. Add the dates to the processor and blitz for a few seconds, until the pieces are very small.

3.     Add the rest of the ingredients and blitz to combine, but be careful not to over process. Don't fully blitz the mixture. Leave some roughly chopped up bits in place.

4.     Remove the blade from the bowl. Take a spoonful of mixture and careful mould, with the heat of your hands, into an egg shape. Repeat this with the remaining mixture, making twelve 'eggs'.



Text and recipe taken from my 2019 Irish Country Living Easter column.

Since we moved into our current home, almost fourteen years ago, we've always had many different pets fighting for a little space against the backdoor. Dogs, cats, ducks and hens have all stated their claim over the years. Like all families, some days their personalities have caused them to clash, but overall they live quite happily in the outdoors together. Throughout the years, we've been ever so lucky to have a steady supply of fresh eggs, and somehow the ones gathered from the garden always seem to taste the best. A little fresh egg is also ever so nutritious, and when paired with brown soda bread it's rather filling too. This baked egg recipe, I'm sharing today, only takes minutes to prepare, and makes for a tasty breakfast, lunch or supper.  



Baked Eggs with Spinach & Soda Bread

Ingredients
Knob of butter
4 slices of brown soda bread, without the crust
100g spinach leaves
4 eggs, free-range organic
40g cheddar cheese

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C / fan 180°C / gas mark 6. Grease the inside of four small ramekins with a little butter.
  2. Put the spinach into a colander, then pour over a kettle of boiling water to wilt the leaves. Once cool enough to touch, squeeze out any excess water.
  3. Using a scone cutter, cut out 4 circles from the bread that will fit the bottom of the ramekins. Butter each piece and place one, buttered side up, in each of the ramekins and press into place. From the remaining scraps of bread line the sides of the ramekins to make a thin wall.
  4. Divide the spinach between the four bread-lined ramekins, and press down well.
  5. Carefully crack an egg into each. Grate over a thin layer of cheese.
  6. Place on a baking tray and then into the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes. Enjoy.



 


Our NutriBullet must be at least seven years old, and out of all the gadgets we have in the kitchen it's the one most used. Daily juices and post-workout shakes, for the exercise-enthusiasts in the house, are what it's used for most, but I also grab it when I want to whip up a hummus, breadcrumbs or even the odd cocktail. Generally, we don't stick to a recipe when we're making a smoothie, as it's dependent on what is in the fridge, freezer or fruit bowl, but this recipe I'm sharing with you today is one combination everyone in the house enjoys. The creamy citrusy flavour is somewhat reminiscent of an old-style super split ice-cream, making it a deliciously refreshing and nutritious start to the day for the digestive system.


Morning Juice Boost


Ingredients

75g greek yogurt

1 orange, peeled and pips removed

1 banana, peeled and chopped

½ lemon, juice only

Handful of ice cubes 

 

Method

1.     Add all the ingredients to a high-powered blender and blitz until smooth.

2.     Enjoy straight away.

The dawning of a new year normally sparks something within us to begin afresh, whether it’s in the form of a healthier diet, exercising more, altering a career path or taking up a new-fangled hobby. After the year we’ve all experience, I think we can be forgiven for not embracing the whole resolution ritual with as much gusto as we may have in previous years. However, without it even being a conscious pledge, our health and that of our loved ones will most likely be what’s at the forefront of our minds as we apprehensively embrace this brand-new year.

Thankfully, in recent times, press and social media platforms have become less focused on promoting the diets which hold the promise of the illusive, flawless figure, and concentrate more on endorsing the strong body and mind, and along with it an acceptance that bodies do indeed come in all shapes and sizes. If you have suffered from any sort of ill health in the past, I'm sure you'll agree with me, the desire for the body to heal and become stronger will always outweigh those extra couple of pounds on the scales.

Eat less, move more, is a long-standing mantra for a healthier lifestyle, and makes perfect sense for those striving for a little weight loss. Nevertheless, if we’re trying to strengthen our bodies, along with increasing our level of exercise, we also need to eat a little more too, taking particular attention to boost our intake of fresh foods which are nutritionally dense. When adapting to a more nourishing diet it can be helpful to consider, whether a particular dish or food is filled with the sort of nutrients which will help to fuel the body efficiently. With this to the forefront of the mind, we can more often make better food choices. A nutrient-heavy meal need not be extravagant nor costly; a simple poached egg served alongside a slice of wholemeal soda bread is packed with vital vitamins and minerals. Add to it a serving of wilted spinach and a grating of cheddar cheese and it becomes a rather nutrient complete meal. 

It is important to fuel our bodies with delicious wholesome foods, yet still not deny ourselves the occasional slice of cake or treat, when the need arises. Keeping well hydrated and getting a good night’s sleep will also play their part in promoting our bodies into a stronger and healthier state. 

 

 




Turkey Meatballs with Spaghetti 


With all the turkey consumed over the festive season, I’d forgive you for bypassing this recipe during the month of January, but as an ingredient turkey is so impressively nutritious it should be celebrated all year round. High in protein and packed with vitamins and minerals, these turkey meatballs are a great addition to this tasty tomato sauce. 

 

Ingredients

For the meatballs

50g oats

450g turkey mince

1 onion, finely grated 

1tbsp sweet chilli sauce

1 egg, lightly beaten

Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

For the tomato sauce

1-2 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 tin cherry tomatoes

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 tsp dried herbs

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1tbsp sugar

Sea salt & freshly ground pepper

350g wholewheat spaghetti

100g baby spinach leaves

 

To serve

Parmesan or vintage cheddar cheese 

 

Method

 

  1. Using a food processor, blitz the oats for a few seconds until finely chopped.
  2. Add to a large bowl along with the turkey mince, onion, sweet chilli sauce and egg. Season well with salt and pepper. Mix together to combine. 
  3. With a small bowl of cold water by your side, using damp hands, roll the mixture into about 20 meatballs. Chill in the fridge until ready to cook. 
  4. To make the sauce, heat a large frying pan over a medium heat and add some olive oil. Add the chopped onion, turn down the heat and sauté for about 10 minutes until soft and slightly coloured. Stir in the garlic and continue to cook for about 30 seconds. Add the tins of tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, dried herbs and sugar. Season with salt and pepper and increase the heat slightly under the pan. Allow to simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Heat some olive oil in another large frying pan. Fry the meatballs, turning them occasionally, until they are golden brown and cooked through. Check by cutting one in half to make sure there are no signs of any pink meat. Add the meatballs to the sauce and cook for a further 10 minutes. 
  6. Meanwhile cook the spaghetti according to the instructions on the pack.
  7. Remove the sauce from the heat. Stir through the spinach and add the cooked spaghetti. Combine well with the sauce and the meatballs.
  8. Divide between four bowls, and grate over a little parmesan or some vintage cheddar cheese. 

 

This recipe and introduction were taken from my January 2021 Home Nurse column, in Irish Country Living.