Butternut Squash revisited – The best soup recipe

I have shared a basic, simple and low fat butternut squash soup before, but I have since discovered a more.. well, shall we say a more luscious recipe. Not one to go by if you’re counting the old calories- I’d suggest my alternative, which you can find here! On the other hand- for guests, for a dinner party, for the height of luxury, you NEED to make this. It is phenomenal. Creamy, rich, almost buttery, and so warming, not to mention tasty delicious- please try it. This recipe was one I looked for for ages- after my trip to Salon des Saveurs – where I had this on my tasting menu. It is a Conrad Gallagher soup. That should be enough to make you immediately check the ingredients, leap to your feet and scoot to the shops in a blizzard of butternut squash, cream and deliciousness. I adapted this from a pumpkin based recipe, so you can always change that right back if it is in season- unfortunately when I went to my local shop, the pumpkins had been stolen from right under my freckley nose. Without further ado- I present to you a shopping list! This recipe is adapted from the one posted on the TV3 site during season 1 of Head Chef. Boy oh boy was I happy to find it!

What you need

  • 1 butternut squash
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (1 for squash, 1 for onion)
  • About the same amount of butter (again, 1 for squash, 1 for onion)
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/8 pint chicken stock
  • 1/8 pt cream
  • About half an ounce of good parmesan, grated finely
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • A few drops of white truffle oil (Optional, but so worth it)
  • What to do:

      1. Cut the butternut squash in half, scoop out the seeds and set aside. (I wash, dry, toss in soy sauce or chilli powder and roast these at about 160 degrees until really crunchy).
      2. Rub each half with some olive oil and butter, sprinkle with salt, and roast on a tray in oven until soft enough to stick a fork through easily.
      3. Leave the squash aside, and take your onion and 2 cloves of garlic. Dice them finely and fry in the butter and olive oil until soft.
      4. Scoop the squash out of it’s skin and add to the saucepan. Add your stock and cream, and cook on a low heat for 30 minutes.
      5. Season to taste, and then put all the soup in a blender and blend until really smooth.
      6. Pass the soup through a strainer or sieve to make sure it’s completely silky and smooth. Taste,add your parmesan and adjust seasoning as necessary.
      7. Ladle into serving bowls, and add a scant drop or two of truffle oil to each bowl.
      8. Finish by dotting some cream into each bowl and swirl it, just for presentation.

    Enjoy this. It’s really really beautiful. I hope you love it as much as myself and my friends did 🙂

    Irish food: A look at some of Ireland’s salad producers…

    One thing that has struck me since I started this site is that I have become some much more aware of where our food comes from. Sadly, this leads to some serious disappointments. The next time you go to your local shop – look at the origin of the fruit, vegetables and meat. An unfortunate amount of it comes from somewhere other than Ireland. It’s understandable that some food doesn’t grow so well in Ireland in large amounts, but for those fruits and vegetables that do grow here, I cannot for the life of me understand why we import them. Considering the serious job shortage here, surely the more produce that comes from our own country the better? It’s going to be fresher (it won’t be in transit for days), it’s going to create more jobs for people who need them here, and let’s face it, we do food well here in good old Ireland.

    A few months ago, a group of us got a first-hand view of the setup of some of the salad producers that are based near Dublin – our own lovely Irish producers. They grow their food here, they employ more of our lovely Irish people, and they get their food to the shelves in record time.

    We mixed it up, ‘salad style’ (Oh yes, I said it), by visiting the lovely Hugh Clarke, who grows the most beautiful fields of lettuce. Hugh grows his salad out behind his house, and has greenhouses and a few acres of land planted. Hugh was great, he willingly gave up some of his precious Saturday hours to entertain some eager foodies with a plethora of cameras. What struck me about Hugh, apart from his dedication and fantastic setup, was that he really changes his crops based on what people like. A few years ago, there was a lolla rossa craze, so he grew a large crop of it. This year he found a delicious (I speak from experience) continental selection of lettuce that has none of that bitterness I’ve come to expect from anything other than iceberg- a sign of how little I’ve deviated from what I had been used to.

    Talking to Hugh, as he led us through his greenhouses and fields, was an eye opener. This was a man who loved what he did. His enthusiasm for his lifestyle (it’s clearly more than a job for him) was palpable, and clearly contagious- his sons are now becoming involved in the business! He takes pride in getting his food, packed and delivered to the shops within 24 hours (sometimes in as little as a few hours), and he checks on it himself regularly to see how well the shops have handled it- ensuring that his product isn’t sold in dire condition- an extra step I’m sure you’ll appreciate if you’ve ever bought a semi rotten head of lettuce (so disappointing). Hugh was great. His setup was fabulous, especially for such a small, family run business!

    But as I said, we mixed it up somewhat. We also had the pleasure of visiting Keeling’s greenhouses.

    Keeling’s are probably more of a household name in Ireland- they produce most of the country’s strawberry supply (I think I single handedly kept them in profit in June during exams – the girls will vouch for this – we ate 1-2 containers of their fabulous fruit every night as we talked through every clinical exam known to man and promptly forgot them with stress of impending DOOM of exams)(It’s ok. I passed. So did they). But when we were there, we took a look at their peppers. Keelings grow a massive amount of peppers in their magnificent greenhouses in Dublin. The rows upon rows of different coloured peppers were beautiful to look at, and even more beautiful to eat!

    They also grow lettuce, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries amongst others.

    I think it’s great- there’s a huge supply of fresh and delectable fruit at our fingertips now, that all comes from Ireland and supports the Irish economy. It’s been an eye opener for me. I’m so much more aware of where my food comes from. Since I’ve started sourcing local and Irish produce, I’m enjoying cooking much more. I know that the quality is always going to be amazing, that it could have been picked only a few hours ago, and certainly hasn’t been lying in a truck for days just to get here! I hope that this inspires you to check where exactly your food comes from, because meeting all these food producers and cooking with their food has certainly inspired me. Let’s keep up the support for our Irish producers, and enjoy our food as always!

    A simple snack – mix it up a bit
    So this isn’t so much a recipe as a new way to eat strawberries – but you must try this!

      Wash and cut up some yummy Irish strawberries.
      Finely grate some parmesan cheese into your bowl.
      Grind some black pepper over the top, and taste.
      I know it all sounds a bit unexpected, but it’s only gorgeous as they say! Enjoy 🙂

    P.S. I’m sorry about the lack of posts recently- but this whole doctor shenanigans takes precedence!

    Irish food: Hallowe’en is approaching, here’s to the traditional Irish Barmbrack

    Hallowe’en for me brings back a flurry of memories. From blustery nights of trick or treating in costumes that were mostly made of black bin bags with no fewer than 8 neighbours, to our kitchen table groaning under the weight of sweets, chocolate, nuts and fruit, with a healthy dose of bobbing for apples, sparklers, spooky stories and cracking nuts with a hammer because we never did get a nutcracker, Hallowe’en was one of my favourite nights of the year. Generally we’d have three to four sets of neighbours at our house. We would all go out, taking in two or three of the areas around the place. It was a long process that necessitated 2 to 3 cars, as it wasn’t possible to walk to everywhere – a down side of living in the depths of the country. We also never seem to find a pumpkin, so a turnip became our go to for a scar- no.. it never really did look scary. To give you an idea of what it was like, I’m going to share a picture of our pre trick or treating state – with my sister (baby) and ‘adopted sisters’ in this photo.

    This really makes me miss being a kid. As for what we were- I believe I was a cat (black bin bag, weird mask, black face paint, tights/swim cap on head), and I have NO notion as to what the other two were, but you’ll notice the costume (black bin bag, weird mask, black/white face paint, tights/swim cap on head), and you can’t deny it is frightening! Hannah was just Hannah, which is a pretty scary picture, admittedly. In future years she was to be a witch, inspired by her idol, Sabrina the teenage witch. I think for most Irish kids growing up, this is what Hallowe’en consisted of. Black bags and terrible face paint. The odd plastic mask which inevitably tore and cut the bejaysus out of your hands, with elastic catching in your hair. Life was good. And very simple. And not very fashion conscious. Tricks didn’t really happen so much, although later I discovered that red food colouring in fairy liquid and dripped all over the door and doorbell makes a really good slimy blood like substance to freak some youngsters out (it is Hallowe’en after all). I also discovered candles, and that didn’t work out so well for the old tv that went on fire, but that’s a story for another day. I think I’d give anything to go back and get some of the antics on video!

    When we got back from relieving all neighbours of ridiculous amounts of chocolate (and the odd apple, raging), we would ceremoniously upend our plastic bags on the table, and cause our respective parents faces to crumple as they would mentally begin totting up the dentist’s bills after this escapade. After an obscene amount was gobbled – seconds it took, seconds – we would launch into the games. The old apple on a string game was the first up- I don’t really know why this game was so entertaining then, but God help us we just loved it. Then to the apple/money bobbing. Everyone went for the money of course- a 50p piece being the grand prize. What made it harder were the thousands (or so it seemed) of monkey nuts (peanuts in shells), floating around. Ironically, the apples were promptly ignored by all. A few years running, we also called to another neighbours house early in the evening. One of their games involved a bucketful of flour being turned upside down, everybody taking slices out of it with a knife, and the poor person who knocked it would get their face dunked into it. Very suited to hallowe’en, very ghostly indeed when you came away. But back to our house, where we would retire to a candlelit living room to tell horror stories. Rebecca, a neighbour, would generally be the victim of an annual prank where Dad would leave under pretences of getting more food (believable, after all), go out the back door and sneak round to the patio door, which would have been pre-opened and curtains drawn in front of it. I don’t know how she fell for it every year, or why she sat in the couch with her back to the patio door, but as I lauched into my usual horror stories, told in a low and shaky voice, she would gradually get more and more terrified, edging up on the couch to a crouching position and gripping the arm of the poor person beside her, until, right before the big ending, the scariest bit of the story, Dad would burst out from behind the curtain with an almighty roar, and she (and most of the other kids and adults) would screech and leap off the couch and to the other side of the room. At which point I would be rolling around on the ground laughing, as would Rebecca as soon as she got over the initial shock. She generally threw a good few punches at Richie to get him back.

    Good. Times.

    Post horror stories, the tea would come out – let’s not forget, this is Ireland after all, and with tea came a barmbrack, or tea brack. I’ll confess, I was never a fan of it, except for… the ring. (Insert LOTR music here)

    Traditionally a barmbrack is baked with a ring (and some other bits and pieces) in it. If you get a ring (the ultimate Hallowe’en prize for a youngster), it signifies marriage within the year. Given that we were all under the age if 15 or else married, it seems a bit unlikely, but tradition and whatnot. Apparently myself and Peter were married at some point anyway in a delightful ceremony up a mountain, so perhaps tis true. Dad would cut the brack, and each person called their slice before he cut it, so that whoever’s slice it was got the ring if he hit gold, as it were! They were generally pretty poor affairs – a plain silver (not real) band etc, the odd one would have those thin gold (definitely not real) bands with a ‘diamond’ on it – Jackpot. However, we rarely made our own brack, which I always thought was a shame. So the last few years I’ve been making it, putting an old or cheap ring in it because you can’t bake one without, of course.

    I found there were a lack of good recipes around on the old interwebs though, and tried a few which led to the ultimate hallowe’en horror of a dry brack, as they say. So I found this tea brack recipe on the odlums website, and it’s an immediate hit with my family. It is quite a wet brack, so bear that in mind. It also cooks pretty slowly, and I would definitely recommend keeping some baking paper over the top for the first 40 minutes, but I was pretty happy with the result. Nobody has found the ring yet! Oh the suspense.

    Irish barmbrack

    What you need

  • 375g of dried fruit. I am not a fan of mixed peel, so I leave it out.
  • 1/2 pint of tea (next time I might drain about 50 mls off it) Also, I used warm tea, rather than cold.
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 225g self raising flour
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • One ring (without plastic, something that can stand up to an hour of cooking) wrapped in a few layers of baking paper
  • What to do

      1. This takes planning ahead, as you need to soak the fruit in the tea in a large bowl overnight, or for at least 6 hours.
      2. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees (160 in a fan oven).
      3. Grease and line a round baking tin. I use an 8″.
      4. Take your fruit mixture, add your egg & sugar to the bowl
      5. Sift in your flour and mixed spice
      6. Mix gently until combined. You don’t want your fruit to break up too much, so take it easy on it!
      7. Pour into your tin, and add your well wrapped ring. You may want to also add a coin wrapped in some foil or paper (signifies wealth), I think I’m in desperate need of it!
      8. Bake for approximately 1 hour. Mine took 1 hour 10 mins until fully done. If in doubt, test your cake with a skewer, and make sure it comes out reasonably clean and without batter.
      8. Leave in the tin for about 10 minutes, then remove and cool on a wire tray. This brack keeps well in an airtight container for a few days. It probably won’t last that long though.

    I miss old school Hallowe’en, but glad I have the vivid and hilarious memories of some good years gone by! Have you any good Hallowe’en customs or stories you’d like to share? Were things very different in your house? Please do share below in a comment!

    Win a €50 Groupon voucher from Cakeinthecountry

    The news: I now face the prospect of being stuck in the countryside (ish) with no internet, as mine isn’t working. For 4 weeks. You heard me. So I’m taking advantage of some rare internet access, and giving you all a chance to win a €50 voucher for Groupon. I don’t know about you, but I do rather like finding deals for restaurants I hadn’t been to and had been dying to try out. You’ll find the odd relaxing massage for an evening off after a day of slaving over the kitchen stove, too. To see what’s on today, check out http://www.groupon.ie/

    So now I have teamed up with Groupon to give you a chance to take a night off, try something new, be it food or something crazy altogether! They often have quite massive discounts so you’re destined to find something amazing. Deals are added daily, so try signing up to their newsletter to keep up to date. Not to mention the fact if you sign a friend up, you get credit on your account (not for me via this competition, just in case you thought I had an ulterior motive!)

    To enter – I’m giving you 3 chances – you need to leave A SEPARATE COMMENT FOR EACH ENTRY:
    1. Follow me on twitter @cakeinthcountry, and tweet a link to the Groupon deal of the day along with the hashtag #grouponcakeinthecountry. Make sure you get that # right so we can pick it up. Then leave me a comment telling me you’ve tweeted.
    2. Like Cakeinthecountry on facebook. Leave me a SEPARATE comment telling me you’ve done so.
    3. Leave yet another comment on this post telling me about a great deal you found on Groupon!

    So that’s 3 separate ways to enter, and if you do all, you’ll be leaving 3 separate comments on this post. Sound good? Hop to it! Competition closes on Novemeber 4th.

    MacNean house & Happy Birthday to my Granny.

    Now a belated happy birthday!

    I don’t usually put up pictures of my family – I tend to stick to the embarrassing anecdotes, but I think if ever one were to go up- it should be of my Granny Peg (As she is known to all). I’m pretty sure that she is one of- if not the- best person I know. At Christmas, we all congregate (Kids, plus multiple grandkids and now great grandkids) at her house, where the fun and games never end. I think the best way to describe Peg is that she embodies the ideal lady. She’s always patient, completely generous, remembers 25 grandchildren’s birthdays every year and never fails to send a thoughtful card, and yet, she is completely and utterly up for the craic. Towards the 11pm mark, at least 7 or 8 people gather round for a game or twelve of 25, playing with money of course, sure otherwise where’s the fun in it. And every year, Granny cleans us out. She inevitably ends up sitting to the right of my Dad or one of the uncles, and takes the utmost pleasure in waiting until we’ve all gone around the table after he has laid down the jack of trumps, and very gently and with an expression of complete innocence, slipping down the 5 of trumps- the only card to beat it. The table erupts every time, and it’s become the traditional Christmas pattern for the past 10 or 15 years. She also has the most infectious laugh of anybody I know, and it is the funniest thing ever. So Granny gets a mention in this post, honourable mention at that. If there were medals going, she’d have the monopoly, without a doubt. Happy Birthday Granny, here’s to the next one!

    So on to the most delectable Sunday lunch I’ve ever had…

    Having booked a luncheon many many months ago for the famous and much talked about ‘Peg’s 87th birthday’ (yes, 87 and still a trooper) a while back (3 weeks I believe), the thought of going to Neven Maguire’s top restaurant MacNean House this weekend had me unable to sit still all week. My plan is now to get back there ASAP, and I’m hoping that my exams will all go to plan and I will be graduating (holy moly) in June, so I’m thinking of booking in for a night the day after. Why not, sure!

    We went for the Sunday lunch sitting. The actual restaurant was beautiful- with a gorgeous stone front, we entered through the front door and took a seat in the bar/waiting area – which was lovely and cosy. We relaxed there and waited for the 20 people to turn up (I have a moohassive extended family, all nutters similar to myself), and when we gathered them up we were escorted through to the dining room where we took up the two biggest tables in the place. The dining room was lovely- it had a homely feel to it, it wasn’t too big, but didn’t feel cramped in the slightest. There were a few children about so it seemed family friendly, and they looked happy as a food blogger in MacNean house (that’s a saying, right?) so it was a great atmosphere. Having already perused the menu in the waiting room (I love that, it’s all about spending as much time as possible thinking about the food that is coming) I knew what I was getting..

    Now, the photos are mostly iPhone, so quality not the best in the west, but here’s an idea of what went down…

    Irish food

    Oh. Dear. Lord. Amazing.

    Hello beautiful carbohydrates..

    Starters - The sweet potato soup with ham hock; gratin of cod, pak choi & thai broth; and my DELICIOUS Ryefield goat's cheese, beetroot carpaccio, and toasted brioche.

    Mains - Braised feather blade of beef, mushroom a la creme pearl onions; Breast of guinea fowl, confit leg ravioli, garlic & veloute, didn't get the other options as they were devoured before I got near them!

    Be still my beating heart- Dessert

    Peanut delice, roast banana & malteser ice cream; Passionfruit posset, marinated berries & pineapple sorbet; Classic Tiramisu, jammy dodger & vanilla ice cream

    There was also an amuse bouche & pre dessert that I didn’t get snaps of, silly Sarah.
    What can I say about this food? There was nothing I didn’t like. Nothing. Everything I ate or tasted was bursting with flavours- both complex and simple. Each component of each plate was carried out to perfection. I know why there’s waiting lists to get into this place- the food is flawless. Not only that, but our water glasses were never empty, the waiting staff were quiet, polite and attentive, and the head lady figured out it was a birthday and presented Granny with a signed copy of Neven’s new book. She also, as you can see above, had her photo taken with him, and had a bit of banter whilst she was at it!

    As I said, I want to get back there. Sooner rather than later. From now on – every birthday may have to involve this restaurant. Not this year as I travel back to college the day of my birthday- worse luck for me, but from here on in. It’s a pleasure to see local ingredients being used to create some of the most tasty and beautiful dishes I’ve tasted in the last few years. I honestly have no problem paying any amount of money (as a treat of course) to go and eat this food. I live in envy of the people who eat there regularly!

    A word about Neven – we met him after the meal, where he wished Granny a Happy Birthday. Myself and my cousin Jason – chef in training – also had the opportunity to talk to him and we had a picture taken with him. He also gave us our own signed copy of his books. He was a lovely lovely person, and I can understand why – the satisfaction in knowing that you just served up food made from local Irish ingredients to that standard, making everyone so delighted to have made the journey, must be incredible.

    Fair play Neven, I’ll be back in no time at all.

    When Cake in the Country makes Chocolate Praline Truffles. Irish food style.

    A day spent at Bord Bia is a day spent well, in my humble opinion. So when the lovely Maeve contacted us about a day to learn some new photography and style skills I jumped at the opportunity. Our last visit to the Bord Bia headquarters resulted in a fantastic day, a serious improvement in my photography skills, and lots of new friends. And today resulted in the same. Today also resulted in SERIOUS food loot. I think Maeve thought she was chancing her arm when she suggested we could always bring a few baked treats for tea. Little did she know the Bord Bia tables would soon be groaning under the weight of insane amounts of sweets and treats. (Now I am groaning under the weight of said sweets and treats. Happy…)

    I’m going to put the photos up in a separate post, I didn’t take too many as I was, as always, (pffft) being an attentive and eager student. Heh. So for now, I am going to bequeath onto you my mostly made up but pretty darn good chocolate truffle recipe. I made these at christmas for presents, and for my last coffee/tea course in my Come Dine With Me night, and boy are they tasty.

    Irish food. Handmade Chocolate praline truffles

    Without further ado…

    What you need:
    Makes about 15 2 bite truffles per 200g chocolate. Depending on how many or who you’re serving, you can do more or less!

  • 400g chocolate of choice. This can be milk, dark, white- totally up to you. I tend to use Bourneville for these, rich but not too dark for all to enjoy. The first time I used 70%, and while I loved them, some didn’t
  • 200mls of good quality cream. Not whipped, just from the carton. Or cow.
  • 2 tbsp soft salted butter- I use Irish Creamery butter. Because I’m worth it.
  • Optional: 2-3 tbsp of Baileys. You could also use rum, or mint flavouring etc. I’m going to test a few odd ones soon and update.
  • Optional: Maldon sea salt or good quality sea salt flakes for sprinkling over the tops of the truffles. This is delectable. Don’t overdo it though.

    For the praline coating/filling

  • 1 cup of hazelnuts. Roughly.
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1/4 cup of water
  • Alternative coatings: Tempered chocolate for covering the truffles, some dutch process cocoa, grated or shredded chocolate, chopped nuts
  • What to do

      1. Break your chocolate into small pieces and put into a heatproof bowl along with your cream.
      2. Making sure the bowl isn’t touching the water, melt over a pan of simmering water. Don’t worry if it looks bitty and grainy, give it a good beating with a whisk or wooden spoon and the two will combine to make a delicious looking amalgam of chocolate creamy goodness
      3. As soon as the chocolate is melted, remove from the heat, make sure it’s evenly mixed, and add your spoons of butter and your baileys to the chocolate. Give a good stir so that the butter melts and baileys gets distributed into the mix. Taste after each spoon to make sure it tastes amazing. It will.
      4. Now comes the impatient part. Leave in a cool place for mixture to chill out and harden slightly. You don’t want to freeze it, and you may get away with chilling it in the fridge if your house is warm. Every 20 minutes or so, give it a good stir so that it all chills evenly.
      5. I’d say don’t go eating it but you should probably test it. In spoonfuls. Yummy yummy spoonfuls. For quality control of course. Not because it’s delicious.
      A. This is when I usually make my praline. First, get some tinfoil or baking paper and line a tin. Spray a little oil (just a little) to prevent sugar sticking. Ok. Now. Add your sugar and water to a pan, give a quick stir and then put away the spoon, put on a medium heat, and leave to melt. I use a thermometer for this but you don’t have to. You want to get it to caramel stage- which is when it turns deep golden but not burnt red. Keep a bowl of ice water near the pan in case of sugar burns, which are horrific, so be careful. I speak from experience. As it’s melting, work with your hazelnuts.
      B. Put your hazelnuts on a baking tray, and pop under a medium grill for about 3-4 mins, give a wee shake, and put back in. You want them toasted, not burned. Alternatively, you can pop them in a 180 degree oven for 5-10 mins. Take out carefully, and take a few sheets of kitchen roll. With a piece or two of kitchen roll in each hand, take a small handful of nuts at a time and roll between the paper until the skin flakes off. You can be rough here, nothing is going to hurt those hazelnuts, hardy nuts they are. Do this until all the nuts are skinless or mostly skinless. Set aside and wait for your caramel to be cooked.
      C. When your caramel is cooked, take it off the heat quickly, and add your hazelnuts immediately and stir to coat them all. Empty on to your prepared tin, and spread out so that it’s about one hazelnut thickness. This makes it easier when it comes to the fun part. Leave to cool/harden
      D. When the praline is hard, wrap it up or put it in a ziplock bag, and proceed to bash the living daylights out of it. This is fun. Enjoy it. You can leave it chunky, or blitz it to a finer powder in a processor. Beware though, it’s hard on the blade of your processor. This gives you a wonderful golden powder. And lot’s of it. But that’s the way I threw stuff in the pan and it’s yummy over everything, so put about half into an airtight container and store it for desserts. The other half you can spread on the sheet where your truffles are going to rest. You’ll be rolling them in it and preventing sticking. Suhweet. Literally. Set aside for laters
      6. Now. You want to work with your chocolate when it’s just setting. If it’s too warm, they’ll turn to mush. If it hardens too much, the outside will melt in your hands and you still won’t actually be able to shape it into anything. Whilst licking your fingers after is super fun, it’s quite unproductive as a method. My advice is that when it begins to get difficult to stir, but you still aren’t just scraping at hard chocolate, start shaping your truffles. If they do get to hard, leave in a warm place for a few minutes, give a good stir and set to work when they’re the right consisitency
      7. Shape into balls, or your preferred shape. Sometimes I just scoop out a spoonful and shape into pyramids by scooping it off with another spoon. Don’t bother trying to make them too regular shaped, homemade truffles aren’t perfect by a long shot, and they do look nice when they’re craggy or irregular. In my humble opinion. Top tip: I use a mini ice cream scoop for massive truffles, or a teaspoon measuring spoon for smaller cutesy ones. But that way they’re about even sized at least
      When you are happy with your shape, then roll in your previously prepared praline powder, or perhaps one of the alternative coatings above. You can also leave them plain, but hey, where’s the fun in that. Leave to set as they will have melted somewhat in the making. I generally store in an airtight container in the fridge (I don’t know if that’s the wrong thing to do, but it works for me, and there’s cream in them). They’ve never lasted more than two days. Oh actually no, there were a few that got forgotten about and were still good after about 5. To me anyhow. But they won’t last 5 days. They rarely last 5 hours. Eat them. Yum.

    Irish food - Praline Truffles

    Well there you have it. Home made chocolates, and easily made. Despite the essays for each point above. Sorry. But I tried to cover any possible questions. Should you have any, feel free to leave me a comment below, and do let me know if you try them and how you liked them. I sure do love a comment.

    I’m off to eat chocolate. I like chocolate. I don’t know if you noticed. It may come as a shock, I know. Enjoy your truffles!

    Great Pink Run? Done!

    So the reason I have been ridiculous with this whole blog shenanigans is that every last second of my time has been taken up with Colaiste and with running. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I started running with Run with Tina. Now as you MAAAY have noticed I am a procrastinator. So I knew I needed motivation to keep myself going. I was shocked halfway through when I started running the week 1 schedule with Louise as well as doing my own week 4s,5s, and found it so easy in comparison. It was fantastic. But I had my doubts- serious doubts, that I’d ever be able to run all of a 5K. I justified it to myself- I said ‘Sure look, try running it and you can take a breather halfway through or something’. However, I am the most stubborn person ever at times, and I knew if I didn’t run the whole thing, I would have just been disappointed. But the last week- having just done my 30 minute run- I knew I still hadn’t run for a full 5km. But everyone was so supportive- in particular the lovely Tina, the old family, and of course my second family- Louise, Sinead and Kitty.

    So I went today to the Great Pink Run, and met some of my lovely class beforehand, all of whom are seasoned runners. Like roadrunner they are, doing this race. There were loads of people there, some fantastic costumes and all kinds of every age. The Great Pink Run is to support funding for breast cancer research nurses, which I think everyone will agree is a fantastic cause.

    The course was nice and flat, and not completely unfamiliar to me in some parts, but I was quite nervous. Off we all went at 2pm. The first kilometre flew by, which was nice, and according to my running app I was running a faster average than usual, but I decided to keep to that pace, it felt comfortable. It can be a bit disconcerting seeing people fly by you running, but in the end I think quite a few were alternating between running and walking. I was really happy with my time, my only aim was to run the whole thing, preferably within 45 minutes, and I did it in 38 adn a bit. 41 maybe? I’ll check tomorrow. That’s a time I can improve on I think! But considering I could not run 60 seconds 13 weeks ago, I’m really happy with that 🙂

    In other news, I haven’t been cooking as the first week back is completely and utterly exhausting. I barely pulled myself off the couch once I was home, only to look over exam stuff, so I apologise. I am a bad blogger, bad! Hoping to get back into a good schedule this week and get cooking. I think there’ll be a lot of cheap and quick meal ideas upcoming.

    Thank you to all that sponsored me for the run, really appreciate it. Bring on the next one…

    Best double chocolate cookies ever?

    Yes. Yes they are.

    After a rather painful and unsuccessful day of trying to find a grad dress with my sister, we got home late and I was in dire need of a sugar fix. With no cookbooks downstairs due to the cleanup for our Come dine with me night a la Hannah (more later), I decided to check out some of my many food apps (personally recommend Nevens and Nigellas!). Well I tapped straight to a chocolate section in Nigella’s app, and lo and behold, lurking at the end is a recipe for double chocolate cookies. These cookies looked… amazing. I mean, these are the kind of cookies that dreams and 50lbs overweight are made of. I stared at the picture, dumbfounded, and made up my mind. These cookies were going to be made, goshdarnit.

    Straight from Nigella’s ‘Quick’ iPhone app, I give you ‘Totally chocolate chocolate chip cookies’
    WARNING: Not suitable for chocoholics on the dry, will lead to relapse.

    You will need:

      125g dark chocolare
      150g plain flour
      30g cocoa powder
      1tsp bicarb of soda
      1/2 tsp salt
      75g light brown sugar
      50g white sugar
      1tsp vanilla extract
      1 egg, cold from fridge
      280g chocolate chips (was originally 350g but that is a LOT of chocolate and I ran out. Also, I used 60%)

    What to do

  • Preheat oven to 170C. Melt the 125g dark choc in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water
  • Sieve all of the dry ingredients in a bowl
  • Cream butter and 2 sugars until light and creamy, and add in the melted chocolate
  • Beat in egg and vanilla
  • Mix in the dry ingredients, and finally, add your chocolate chips and mix well
  • I used a small ice cream scoop to make about 36 cookies (I won’t say how many are already gone), scooping them out, not flattening them out, and leaving a few centimetres between each one so that they can spread out
  • Cook for 18 minutes until a skewer comes out without wet batter. Let cool for about 2 mins on the tray, then slide off with a spatula and leave on a wire tray to cool, where your sister will promptly steal at least 5 for her bf and his family
  • As always, enjoy them and try not to devour all 30. Again, I’m not going to say how many are left. Let’s just say I have eaten enough chocolate to last me at least 2 months. Sigh. Serve with cold milk and a cute straw!

    And now for something completely different – Irish Nettle Soup by Cake in the country, an old Irish food

    So recently (actually quite a long while ago but I’m nothing if not a procrastinator), we had a 20 mile cookalong. I had Jennifer down to sample all the delights of the locality, but whilst we had a gap in the cooking time, we decided to have a wee stroll around the gardens. It just so happened that in the garden/field beside oour veg patch had quite the patch of rather green and young looking nettles. So I donned a pair of rubber gloves and with extreme care and absolutely no stings (woohoo) I gathered a bagful. Foraging within 100metres, great fun.

    I used a recipe from one of my (if not my alltime) favourite books of the moment: Forgotten skills of cooking, by Darina Allen. If you don’t own this book, for the love of food go and get it. I’ve kindly linked you to Amazon in the title there!

    Without further ado, this is what you need

      45g butter
      110g chopped onions
      150g of potatoes, chopped and peeled
      Salt and pepper
      1litre of chicken stock
      150g young nettles, which you should wash well and chop up
      150mls full cream milk (we have the best milk in the north west, I swear!)

    What to do:

  • Melt your butter in a large saucepan.
  • Add your chopped onions and potatoes, and sprinkle in some salt (sea salt) and pepper.
  • Cover with a butter wrapper and put lid on and let them sweat over a low heat for about ten minutes or until tender.
  • Add the stock and boil until the veg is just cooked.
  • Next, add the nettle leaves and simmer uncovered for a few minutes.
  • Add the milk and then liquidise. I had to liquidise for quite a while to get it nice and smooth.
  • The result is a startling green and amazingly fresh flavoured soup. I personally think a cube of feta crumbled over the top makes it rather beautiful!

    In other news, at the request of people needing cute fix:

    Kitteh can FLY

    Kitteh can FLY!

    'S'ok, I haz this'

    ‘S’ok, I haz this! Go ahead… Make mai day’

    Seasonal raw vegetable summer salad with baked beetroot chips and honey mustard dressing

    Hello hello my lovely readers. You may not recognise me any more, but I’m still here! I’ve been ridiculously busy lately, and thus haven’t been trying many new recipes, and haven’t had a minute to blog! However, am finished on my attachment at the minute so I plan to get this back on track. I do think, however, given my new priorities, the blog will also include my new getting fit schedule!

    At the end of exams, I decided to finally bite the bullet and do something about my long awaited want to start running. Now I have tried and tried, but I always always end up with shin splints a few weeks in and having to stop. It’s gotten to the stage where it even hurts to walk. Now I’ve read in many places that there are a few contributors to this pattern. One is tight calves and hamstrings, and another is not running correctly. So I decided to do this properly and go to the lovely Tina – who runs classes all around Dublin. I went for a private consultation as I didn’t have time to go to classes, with exams taking up all of my spare time. Tina went through all of the basics with me, and we decided on a schedule to start me off. I’ve been in touch with her via twitter and email and she’s just been fantastic. I’m now on week 6 and have signed up for a 5k run in Sept to have something to aim towards. Moral of the story – Go to Tina! I’m really happy with how it’s been going. I never thought I’d run for 7 and 8 minutes straight, but not only am I running it, I’m not even out of breath because I’ve learned how to run properly and control my breathing. And at the minute, let’s just say all these cakes and treats I’ve been showing you are quite evident on my figure, so if I can do it, you most certainly can too! I’ve also been running some of the earlier weeks with my lovely friend Louise, who’s also doing fantastically- Louise, should you read this, see you Weds!

    My other favourite thing ever is my shiny new bicycle. Look at it!

    Don’t you just adore it? It has a basket that fits my camera perfectly. So far I’ve been doing from 3.5 to 7.5k cycles depending on who tags along, half mostly uphill, and it’s getting easier. Have found another safe road to add some extra k to it now! I have a variety of cycling buddies, including Louise (as mentioned above)- who accompanies me post run (applause please), Sinead – who has been dying to go cycling forever, and my mum, who is now thinking about getting her own bike and not stealing my sister’s to go out! I love it. I’ve gotten so much fitter and my family has been mentioning the effects are visible! Hurrah.

    Now, for some reason, I cannot for the life of me think of what recipe to give you, so I’m going to give you a nice simple one that was part of our #20milecookalong in June. The veg I could get that was all local included the most glorious mushrooms, courgettes, and lettuce that was grown about 7 miles from me, and stocked in the lovely Kate’s Kitchen. There were also some mangetout and lovely looking beetroot. I decided to do a very simple super fresh local salad with beetroot chips and an local honey (&mustard) dressing!

    Seasonal raw vegetable summer salad with baked beetroot chips and honey mustard dressing

    What you need:
    Any fresh produce from your locality, I used

      Red onion
      2 beetroot
      Olive oil
      Dijon or wholegrain mustard, depending on your own favourite
      Lemon juice
      Rapeseed oil has become widely available in Ireland. I use the Donegal rapeseed oil and love it in dressings.
  • Firstly, preheat your oven to 170C. Wash and thinly slice your beetroot (I used a mandolin). Brush some non stick baking paper with olive oil, brush the beetroot slices with olive oil, and grind some good sea salt on them. Bake for about 20 minutes until they’re crisp and have slightly shrivelled up. Depending on the thickness of your beetroot, you may need to bake until up to 45 minutes! Mine were very thin and were just lovely after 20. Set them aside for your salad, or eat as they are!
    Wash and slice your vegetables as thinly as possible. I love paper thin raw mushrooms in a salad. The courgette from my local veg grower was the best I’ve ever tasted! Here’s my ingredients getting ready before I chopped them up. The beetroot chips were ready at this stage. Mix everything in a bowl and set aside.

    Dressing: Add 3tbsp rapeseed oil, 4 tbsp honey, 1.5 tbsp mustard, and about 1 and a half tbsp lemon juice in a jar, screw on the lid, and shake well to mix. Add a little more lemon juice to taste if it needs it!
  • Here’s my salad, sorry about the bad light!

    I had it with a fabulous pulled pork sandwich on ciabatta- recipe upcoming! I also made nettle soup (can’t get more local than that!), some ice cream from local cream (I collected myself from up the road, a lovely farmer let me have some of his fantastic cream), some local beef with a homegrown onion and mushroom stuffing, and a gooseberry crumble made with our own gooseberries. All were amazing. Recipes all upcoming (I regret just throwing things together for the crumble because it was amazing and I’m not sure of the exact quantity now!)

    Phew, that was a long and complex post! Anybody else out there on a workout and fitness schedule, do find me on twitter, there are a few of us keeping each other motivated there and on the forums at http://www.beaut.ie, so come along and say hi there or here!