Saturday, 22 December 2012

Christmas All Wrapped Up

Oh I had SUCH a lovely dinner last night - the DinnerHusband made piadina wraps. He makes them at work, for a living (at LovePasta, just off Hatch St in Dublin city centre) and as we weren't too hungry last night, he tried them out on me. I think he also wanted to see would they work for Christmas with the leftovers.

Anyhow, what can I say - they were flamin' FAMOUS! Really gorgeous. Huge things, not limp little flat affairs. They would work brilliantly with the Christmas leftovers, so I thought I'd share the love with you all, as a break from the traditional Chrimbo sandwich (although a thing of beauty in itself, it must be said - stuffing in a sandwich, and two types of meat, mustard, chutney and cranberry sauce - fabulous!).

Of course, yet again greed got the better of me so I have no picture... Although I am tempted to do a "Maeve Binchy" and post a picture of a boiled egg* (see below) but instead I've picked some off the internet.

A piadina is an Italian flatbread sandwich from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy looking something like the sort of pictures here either side; although for the Dublin lunchtime trade, they are fully wrapped, and flour tortilla wraps are used (by all means, go ahead and make the flatbread from scratch, but as you know already - the DinnerLadies isn't really that sort of fancy-pants blog and we know a good, sensible shortcut when we see it!). Obviously you can fill them with whatever you like, but rice and / or chickpeas bulk them out. The ones served at LovePasta are nearly reminiscent of a good burrito, bulging with fillings and rice.

So, last night's filling consisted of:

  • 1 small onion, roughly diced
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • Chilli flakes (or powder - Himself used 1½ tsp chilli powder)
  • 1 tin chickpeas (we only had a small jar last night so added rice as well, great addition)
  • 70g rice, cooked
  • 75g bacon lardons
  • 1½ chicken fillets, diced
  • Mature cheddar cheese, about 60g
  • Mayonnaise
  • Sweet chilli / chilli sauce etc.
  • 4 tortilla wraps

  1. Lightly fry the onion and spices in the tiniest drop of oil, just to warm the spices through then add the drained chickpeas and cook that off for about 3 or 4 minutes, til the onion is softened and translucent, then take off the heat and set aside, stirring in the hot cooked rice first
  2. Cook the bacon lardons in a large pan for a couple of minutes, then add the chicken and fry it all off til crispy (this could be easily done with leftover turkey and ham, although obviously the process would be much quicker as you just heating them up and cooking from scratch)
  3. Get the piadina or wrap and toast it in a dry pan for a minute either side to warm (or 30 seconds in a microwave)
  4. Place the wrap on a plate and put a quarter of the rice and chickpea mix in the centre of the wrap, then sprinkle a quarter of the meat mixture on top, then a quarter of the cheese and add chilli sauce or mayonnaise (or cranberry sauce!) to taste ps I think the cheese needs to be at least mature cheddar, or else stronger again, as otherwise you don't taste it, but it goes all melty and you can get the flavour of it coming through and it's fab
  5. Fold the wrap - the most efficient method to help avoid leakage is to fold the end bits in over the filling, then take the flap of tortilla facing you and fold it on top of the wrap, so it's covering the end bits and then tuck the edge of that under some filling, to hold it in, then roll the whole thing over onto the last extending bit of tortilla that is facing away from you, and it should be snug and secure
  6. Repeat the process with the other three wraps, cut in half and serve
Of course, you can use any combination of fillings you like, or you can buy one from LovePasta any lunchtime from January 2nd!

* PS - here's the Maeve Binchy story...
While working as a journalist for the Irish Times, Maeve Binchy mistakenly used a file photograph of heart surgery to accompany a recipe about beef stroganoff! The paper's editor realised as the paper was going to press and hauled Ms. Binchy back to the office, instructing her to find a suitable picture and fix the problem PRONTO. In those pre-digital era days, of course, finding a picture the right size was quite difficult and the only one of a suitable size in her files was a picture of a Wedgewood eggcup, complete with boiled egg. With little option, the esteemed author used the picture and turned it to her advantage with a caption along the lines of "on a cold winter's evening, why have a boiled egg when you could enjoy this delicious stroganoff instead"!!

Thursday, 13 December 2012

AGH! less than TWO weeks to go!

Sorrowful Halloween Deco!
Oh golly DL fans - apologies for the lack of posts, but it really has been so busy here at DL Towers that there has been a serious lack of posts. Very remiss, and something to be remedied asap. Anyhow, the "Significant Birthday" has been and gone now, so I have no more excuses (apart from the lack of Christmas decorations up in my house - in fact, there is still a single, solitary, sad and lonely Halloween decoration lurking in my hall, half up and half down - so at least I'm slacking on all fronts, eh?!).

Anyhow, just a thought on Christmas desserts. As planning is the key to Christmas joy and cheer, you need to think about this now, a week or two in advance, and plan accordingly. Now, I'm not talking Christmas pudding here; if you are a traditionalist in the pud department, you will know that your pud should be made a good month or more ago, or you will have sourced a high quality one from a reputable source by now and at the least it is ordered. (Although in a side bar, there is the whole question of sauces to go with - for me, the answer is simply "brandy butter", so I'll give a recipe for that below.)
Chocolate Roulade & Strawberry Pavlova
No, what I mean here is the "secondary" dessert. In our house, at least, Christmas dinner is a "two dessert" sort of affair. So there has to be a second one made. Also though, there are the other days... There is often a large family dinner Christmas Eve night too, when the family finally gathers, and despite the protestations on St. Stephen's Day about how you ate so much yesterday you couldn't manage another morsel - well, I find you usually do want something other than just a mince pie after you've managed to cram that turkey, ham, stuffing and cranberry sauce sandwich into you (oh, I think the Stephen's Day sandwich is nearly my favourite part of the Christmas dinner, do you know that?!).

So here's a few options for you: a chocolate Christmas roulade (looks very festive too, although quite heavy along side the Chrissy Pud, so I tend to leave this til Stephen's Day, or even the day after again, when the brothers and their families usually arrive). A pavlova - perfectly light antidote to the richness of the traditional pudding and all the rest of the massive dinner. And tiramisu - simply because I love it. Of course the traditional "second dessert" is a proper, old fashioned trifle; Margaret, my DL partner (and brains behind the whole operation, if truth be told) is a GREAT trifle maker and her trifle post will be along shortly.

Chocolate Ameretto Roulade
Both this recipe and the recipe below (pavlova) are fully gluten free, so a bonus for those who have wheat issues or suffer from coeliac disease

  • 5 large eggs
  • 8 oz caster sugar
  • 6oz best dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids or more)
  • ½ pint double cream, whipped
  • 2 tablepoons of Ameretto di Saronno (liquer) 
1.     Line a swiss roll tin / baking tray with silicone / parchment paper and pre-heat the oven to 180C
2.     Melt the choc with 3 tablespoons of hot water, in the usual way (bowl sitting on top of gently boiling pot of water, not touching) stirring gently, then set aside to cool slightly
3.     Seperate the eggs, then combine the yolks and sugar and beat til they go pale and nearly white
4.     Whisk egg whites to stiff peaks
5.     Add the melted chocolate to the egg yolk mixture, then gently fold in the egg whites
6.     Pour into the lined tin
7.     Bake for 20 mins at 180C
8.     Leave to cool overnight in the tin
9.     Next day, whip the cream to stiff peaks, then gently add in the ameretto
10.   Remove the cake from the tin as follows: Place more parchment paper on a tray (or a waxed bread wrapper, like Brennans or Irish Pride etc. will work perfectly too) then place this tray over the tin with the cake in it, flip over so the cake is now on the tray. Remove the paper liner, spread the cream on top and roll - use the bread paper / other parchment paper to help (if you're unsure, google it - there will be loads of YouTube clips showing you how - it's not hard you just need to go for it!)
11.   Don't worry that it all cracks, just dust it all with icing sugar and it is good to go - my FAVE choc dessert and my 5yr old's fave dessert too!

This is the Delia Smith method – she doesn’t use any cornflour or vinegar as she says that on balance, there is no need. My mum always did use both … but no one in my family has yet noticed that I don’t! Also, this recipe scales up very easily and I have made massive ones. However, on balance, I now prefer to make two medium sized ones instead of one massive one, so I’d use maybe 5 eggs and 10oz sugar in each. I’d pop them in the oven at the same time, on a shelf each. Bob’s your uncle!
  • 3 large fresh egg whites
  • 6oz caster sugar
  • 10fl oz whi[ing cream
  • Fruit, to decorate
  • Preheat the oven to 150C / 300F / gas mark 2 (for a fan oven, 140C is probably enough)
  • Prepare a baking tin by lining with parchment paper and drawing a circle about  8 inches / 20cm round, as a rough guide
1.     You need to be very careful when separating the eggs, as the merest drop of fat (the yolk) will mean that the egg whites don’t .whip up enough, so use two cups and transfer each egg white into a large bowl one at a time. I also use a metal bowl for this, but I’ve often used a plastic bowl to equally good effect. Do also make sure that the eggs are fresh – it is much easier to separate fresh eggs, the yolk is much less likely to break. However, if the yolk does break and even one drop gets into your egg white, bin it and go again – hence doing each one singly over a cup rather than into the bowl, you really don’t want to be starting from scratch as Murphy’s Law does state that it will the very last egg yolk that breaks…
2.     Using an electric hand whisk (honestly, your arm would fall off otherwise!) whip the egg whites to soft peaks, so that when you lift out the beaters the egg peaks droop a little
3.     Now you need to start whisking in the sugar – go ounce by ounce (about a dessertspoon full each time), whipping well each time and slowly you’ll see the egg whites transform into meringue, as it becomes all shiny and velvety
4.     Once all the sugar is incorporated, use a metal spoon (to keep the air in, makes a cleaner cut) to spoon about half the mixture or more onto the prepared baking tray and smooth it out to about 8 inches
5.     Now use the spoon to pop little blobs of the mixture round the edges of the pavlova – on top of the base part, not outside them, then use a metal skewer to make a swirl in the top of each blob, pulling it out sharply each time to leave a tiny peak
6.     Pop the pavlova in the oven and immediately turn down the heat to 140C / 275F / gas mark one and leave for one hour (no matter what size pavlova you are making, an hour is plenty) then turn off the oven and leave the pavlovas in it til the oven is completely cold – handiest is to make it the night before and go to bed after switching the oven off and leave it in the oven overnight. This allows to meringue to dry out nicely, while still retaining that lovely squidgy-ness in the middle. Incidentally, pavlova is the one thing my mother always cooked in the electric oven rather than the range, as the electric is a “dryer” heat. Pavlova will last for up to a week, if stored in an airtight container (unfilled though, once you add the cream, it starts to go soggy)
7.     Before serving, whip the cream to stiff peaks and fill the cavity with it (I usually sweeten the cream slightly before whipping) and then fill with fruit – for Christmas, I like a mix of raspberries, strawberries and blueberries, I think it looks a little more seasonal than just strawberries (my “summer” choice). Kiwis also work very well, as the tartness cuts through the sweetness of the meringue. Banana and a grating of chocolate / sprinkle of crushed flake works well too. Nigella Lawson suggests a Christmas version with pomegranate, here’s another blogger’s blog post on it)


I usually double up on this, although I just make the same number of layers and give smaller portions, as it is very rich

·         300ml / ½ pint very strong coffee
·         60g / 2oz sugar
·         2 large eggs, separated
·         1 tsp vanilla extract
·         225g / 8oz mascarpone cheese
·         4 tbsp Tia Maria
·         About 12 Savoiardi biscuits (gross under estimation – I usually use about twice this… whatever you need, but not too many or there won’t be enough cheese mixture to go around)
·         1-2 tbsp coca powder
·         Serves 4 – 6 people

1.     Sweeten the coffee with half the sugar and reserve
2.     Cream the egg yolks together with the remaining sugar until pale and light, then gradually whisk in the vanilla extract and the mascarpone
3.     Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks, then throw a spoonful into the mascarpone mixture to lighten it, then fold in the rest with a metal spoon with a scooping motion while turning the bowl (I do this about a third of the egg at a time), folding gently to maintain the air and keep it light
4.     Pour the cold sweetened coffee and the Tia Maria into a shallow dish and, one at a time, briefly turn the biscuits in it.  You do not want them too soggy (this is the key, I think! You want them damp but not soggy – immerse one to “soggy point”, to get the gist of what’s too far).  Arrange these like the spokes of a wheel in a 25cm / 10 inch round springform tin (I don’t have this size tin, so I use a bowl and rather than gapping out the biscuits like wheel spokes, I lay them together, so that’s why I use more biscuits – whichever you prefer)
5.     Spoon on one-third of the mascarpone cream into the tin, then a add second layer of moistened biscuits.  Repeat with a second layer of mascarpone and third layer of biscuits, by which time you will have used 12 sponges (according to the recipe!), maybe more, and finish with the remaining cream mix on top
6.     Chill for at least 8 hours (this is key too – I “pre-tasted” once, tasted of nothing… so I stick cling film on and leave it overnight in the fridge)
7.     Remove from the fridge and dust with cocoa powder before serving

Brandy Butter

This is basically just regular butter icing, made with brandy instead of milk and vanilla extract to bring it together
  • 150g butter, at room temp
  • 300g icing sugar (or maybe 50g less, if you find it too sweet)
  • 2 tablespoons brandy
  1. Beat the butter til creamy, then beat in the icing sugar
  2. Beat in the brandy, til it all comes together
  3. Cover with clingfilm and refrigerate until ready to serve
Enjoy the calorie overload and think about exercise in the new year!

Sarah xx

And PS - I did, finally, take the Halloween sign down yesterday evening, promise

EDIT: - Monday, 17th Dec

What was I thinking - I nearly forgot! I meant to suggest a chocolate fudge sundae for the junior members of the team. This is really just an assembly job - all you have to do is make the chocolate sauce. It's also a great dessert for a summer barbecue, or any other time of the year either! The suggested assembly comes from the Sunday Times "Style" magazine, who's chocolate sauce is basically the same as mine. The chocolate sauce recipe is the recipe that sparked my interest in cooking, all those years ago. It is my Aunt Angela's, we were staying with our cousins for a few days one summer and Mum came to collect us, I was telling her she wouldn't believe how good the chocolate sauce was and she had to get the recipe from Angela - and Mum suggested that I ask for the recipe. So I did. The recipe is still written into my mother's recipe notebook in my 7 or 8 year old hand writing... You can, of course, alter this as you see fit, adding more or less of what you fancy. You will be very popular. Sorry for the photo - it is, literally, a photo of the picture from the Sunday Times recipe that is stuck into my scrapbook ... The real thing never lasts long enough in our house to be photographed, you see!

Chocolate Fudge Sauce

  • 2oz butter
  • 2oz caster sugar
  • 1oz golden syrup (about 2 - 4 dessertspoons - if you run warm water over the spoon first, the syrup should easily run off the spoon)
  • 2oz chocolate (best dark chocolate - the extra ingredients mean that even the children love it)
  • 3 tablespoons of water

  1. Melt all the ingredients together over a low heat

Chocolate Sundae(Called a "Chocabocker Glory" in the Sunday Times)

  • A handful of toasted chopped hazelnuts (you can also toast blanched hazelnuts yourself, in a dry pan over a medium heat for about 3-4 mins, til tinged with brown, then chop)
  • 150ml cream, whipped
  • 1 quantity of chocolate fudge sauce, above
  • A tub of good vanilla ice cream
  • 8 oreo cookies
  • 2 Cadbury's flakes (or 4 mini ones)
  • Serves 4

  1. Put a scoop of ice cream in a suitable glass (a large tumbler would do fine, if you don't have sundae glasses)
  2. Pour over some of the hot sauce, then crumble in a couple of the cookies
  3. Add another ball of ice cream and then pour more sauce on top
  4. Finally, add a generous blob of cream, sprinkle with some nuts and stick half a flake in the top
  5. Serve straight away!


Sunday, 25 November 2012

Like it or not, its on its way...

For more reasons than I care to go into here, this Dinnerlady hasn't been having the best of months. I'm putting it down to November blues, and the probably more relevant December-is-coming blues... But then, one too-dark-too-early evening this week, I received our new DinnerLadies Christmas logo and within seconds I could feel the fog lifting...

Christmas is coming folks and love it or loathe it, there's definitely no avoiding the oncoming season of goodwill...

At Dinnerladies HQ, we have lots of plans for the next few weeks.

We want to share our traditions (and test out some new ones) in addition to helping anyone who might be feeling a bit overwhelmed at the thoughts of what is, essentially, only a meal involving a rather large chicken. And you know, thats all it is, whatever else you want to add is completely up to you. Starters, vegetables, desert and leftovers... we'll share our thoughts and you pick whats relevant.

On that note, please don't be afraid to contact us with any questions you might have, we have a trained chef on retainer so we can practically guarantee that nothing we suggest we lead to you killing the in-laws (unless you want to, of course...!!)

 There will be talks of timetables, planners, notebooks and a clip board (from me) and probably a million types of desert options (from Sarah) but most of all, we hope to have a bit of craic.  

Christmas can be stressful for loads of reasons. We can't guarantee that you won't fight over the remote control, or that Auntie Pauline won't get merry on the sherry trifle, but we can certainly try to take the stress out of the food element and maybe even save you a few bob at the same time...

Its just a dinner folks, stick with us...


Saturday, 17 November 2012

Plain and Simple Sponge Cake


A scaled up birthday cake
I've covered this before, when I posted about my coffee cake in the post "Yet More Cake", but I was honestly recently surprised by some friends who are both very good cooks and confident bakers mentioning that they were not sure with this type of sponge cake, and never really make it - but a basic, straight forward cake is one of the easiest things in the world. It is so gorgeously old fashioned that you really do feel like a domestic goddess for being able to rustle it up, so I URGE YOU ALL to give it a go. And I thought a post on ordinary, honest to goodness sponge cake was required.

The first thing you need to know is that a sponge cake is massively simple. The simplest cake to make is the one using the "all-in-one" technique, and; as the name implies; it couldn't be simpler. You literally bung everything into a bowl and mix it and that's pretty much that.

Now of course, there are couple of secrets. But they're neither that hard nor that secret. I know you might know some of it already, so sorry for the repetition, but it's worth repeating anyhow. Here goes:

  1. You must preheat the oven, even if (like me) you normally shove stuff in regardless. For cake (and baking), it must be preheated. Not so bad with the frozen pizza, but for baking you preheat.
  2. Secondly, ALL the ingredients need to be at room temperature. I don't even bother storing eggs in my fridge, I just leave them out all the time. Think about it - when you buy them in the shop, are they on the shelf or in the fridge? The shelf, correct. They will be fine and do not need to be refrigerated. Take the butter out of the fridge the night before or, if you forget or decide on the spur of the moment (me, again!) then weigh it out, cut it into smallish cubes and leave somewhere warm. In my house, the window sill above the radiator is perfect, or the table in front of it. DO NOT stick it on the rad or into the microwave, if it melts it is too oily and greasy and not what you want at all. If the recipe says melted butter, then fine; but if not, then don't.
  3. You need the right tins. Two round 8 inch tins. That's 8 inches. NOT 7 and not 9 - they would need either less or more ingredients.
  4. Line the bottom of the tins with parchment paper (also called baking paper).
  5. DO NOT open the oven while it's cooking. Stand firm, it will be fine. DO NOT check until the time is up. If you really really must, then check it 5 mins from the end - BUT NO SOONER!
That's pretty much it. Oh, one thing - although I usually use the metric measuring system, for cake I always use imperial (pounds and ounces) coz it's so so simple; literally 6-6-6-3. That's 6oz each of flour, butter and sugar and then 3 eggs; then beat them together for 1 minute with an electric mixer, and that's more or less it! After that, you can flavour it - a bit of vanilla for a plain sponge, cocoa powder for a chocolate cake, a bit of coffee and a few walnuts for a coffee cake.... 

So, here goes (see below for variations):

All-In-One Sponge Cake

  • 6oz caster sugar
  • 6oz self-raising flour
  • 6oz butter, at room temperature
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract (for a plain cake)
  • 2 tbsp milk (optional)
  • Preheat the oven to 170C
  1. Put all the ingredients except the vanilla and milk in a large mixing bowl, and then go in with your electric hand mixer (or Kenwood Chef or Kitchenaid, if you have fancier kitchen equipment than me - kitchen envy, **sigh**) and mix for about one minute, til all the ingredients are well combined
  2. Beat in the vanilla extract, and then give the beaters a sharp tap off the edge of the bowl - if it drops off, then this is called a good "dropping consistency", and your mix is ready. If not, add a tablespoon or two of milk, and beat in
  3. Divide the mixture between the two prepared tins (level out with a knife) and pop in the oven for 30 mins at 170C, the cakes are done when they feel springy to the touch in the centre
  4. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tins for 5 mins, then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely (removing the paper from the bottom)

Once cool, you can ice them. If it's a plain sponge, then cream and jam and the corresponding fruit to match the jam is the perfect filling, just dust the top with icing sugar. If it's fancier cake - well then, the sky's the limit. I usually make a buttercream icing, which is pretty easy

Buttercream Icing

  • 150g butter, at room temperature
  • 250-300g icing sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp milk
  1. Beat the butter til creamy, then beat in the sugar. It will often be all lumpy - so add the liquid, the vanilla and milk, and beat again til you get a cohesive mixture.

Don't ice the cakes til they are fully cool (this only takes a half hour or so) as they will disintegrate on you.

Variations are easy - for a chocolate cake, keep the vanilla extract in both the cakes and icing, but just remove a spoon of flour and add a tablespoon of good cocoa powder instead. For the icing, also leave in the vanilla, and again add a spoon of cocoa powder. You can add melted chocolate for a more intense chocolatey hit, but I prefer this milder one, and then to ice the top with chocolate ganache icing, that's a great chocolate hit!
For coffee cake, leave out the vanilla and add a tablespoon of Irel chicory essence to the cake mix, and instead of the milk and vanilla in the icing, just add two tablespoons of Irel. You could also add in about 3oz / 60g of chopped walnuts - seriously good. See my original coffee cake post here.

Chocolate Ganache Icing

Chocolate ganache, with Smarties and paper for drips

  • 150ml whipping or double cream
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp butter
  • 150g of best, darkest chocolate, chopped into small pieces
  1. Bring the cream, vanilla and butter to a slow boil over a low heat (a non-stick pan is best), remove it from the heat as it starts to boil (you can spot this as the bubbles around the edge form a ring)
  2. Add the chocolate, chopped into small pieces (best done with a kitchen scissors, I find, but whatever works for you) and stir in - you need the chocolate to be chopped small, so it will melt as you stir it in
  3. Allow to cool slighty before use, but obviously not to harden, you want it still liquid enough to use
  4. If you sit the cake on a few strips of greaseproof paper, you can remove them later to have a clean base to your cake

Coffee Cake, my own favourite

Once you are confident, you can upscale the recipe, as I have done with the square birthday cake, or new ideas - add some lemon and orange zest to the cake, and a small bit of juice, and the same to the icing, or try fillings / icings made with mascarpone cheese, or colour the icing pink by adding a couple of strawberries to the icing instead of milk, or whatever takes your fancy.

Whatever you like - just know that your mother-in-law will be SO impressed with a lovely, light, fluffy freshly homebaked sponge cake... and so will you!

PS - it really is at it's best on the day it is made, although of course it will last beautifully for a few days in a tupperware style container. But if it is to be for some one's birthday or to impress some one, then make it fresh that day.

Sarah xx

Friday, 16 November 2012


Apparently, these are quite well known in the US. But I first came across them in my beloved introduction to baking that is Nigella Lawson's "How To Be A Domestic Goddess". After some research on the internet, it appears that the "proper" US snickerdoodle is something slightly different - something much more biscuity and flatter. However,  it's very own Wikipedia page page seems to concur with the Nigella version.

Many hands make light work?!
Anyhow, whatever, we make them regularly. My kids can be fussy and often prefer shop-bought commercial products (the little horrors - they will learn, in time!) but for some reason, they love these snickerdoodles. Which is odd enough, as they include nutmeg, which is not usually something that appeals massively to small children. Whatever, these are great - the girls love to help make them; rolling them between their palms and dipping in cinnamon sugar, a perfect occupation (Mum needs EAGLE EYES though, to stop too much dough going into their little mouths!). But when cooked, they have the bonus of being a brilliant biscuit/cakey hybrid thing. Small, the perfect size to have with a cuppa in the afternoon, they are also grown up (for that, read "less sweet") enough to be served with coffee after a dinner party.

So, the elder of the DinnerBabies (5½) is having a friend over for a playdate. I don't want to make cake - that's too grand, and anyhow, I want to make a fresh one in the morning for the weekend, so what to do to entertain the girls and be nice for the mums to have with a coffee before hometime? I had a brainwave and remembered the snickerdoodles. Perfect! There is also something evocative of Christmas about them, I think it's the nutmeg and cinnamon that make them slightly Germanic and therefore lends that Christmassy air (and Wikipedia tells me that the name is thought to come from the German "Schneckennudlen", describing a snail-like shape). Whatever, I like to eat them any time of the year.

I am sorry to report that only TWO solitary snickerdoodles survived the night, and as Friday is "treat day" in school, these were duly dispatched in lunchboxes this morning. But what better accolade can a cook have, than an empty plate?

So bake and enjoy - here's the recipe.

From Nigella Lawson's "How To Be A Domestic Goddess", page 58

  • 250g plain flour
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ¾ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 125g butter, at room temperature
  • 100g caster sugar, plus 2 extra tablespoons for dipping
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 2 baking sheets, lined or greased
  • Preheat oven to 180°C
  1. Combine the flour, nutmeg, baking powder and salt, and set aside for a moment
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter with the 100g of sugar, until light in texture and pale in colour, then beat in the egg and vanilla
  3. Now stir in the dry ingredients until you have a smooth, coherent mixture
  4. Spoon out the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugae and the cinnamon onto a plate or shallow bowl
  5. Now, with your fingers, squidge out pieces of dough and roll between the palms of your hands into walnut-sized balls
  6. Roll each ball in the cinnamon-sugar mixture and arrange on your prepared baking sheets
  7. Bake for about 15 minutes, by which time they should be turning golden brown
  8. Rake out of the oven and rest for about 1 minute before transferring to a wire rack to cool
    makes about 32

Nigella also suggests a variaton that I haven't tried so far - replace 25g of the flour with cocoa to make what she calls "chocodoodles".

Anyhow, it's something new to try for your weekend.

Sarah xx

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Christmas is coming....

... And the goose is getting fat,
Please put a penny in the old man's hat,
If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do,
If you haven't got a ha'penny, then God bless you!

That was our childhood Christmas rhyme, and in these recessionary times it rings true. So, in the spirit of Christmas and saving a bit of money, this year, I decided not just to make my own mince pies, but also the mincemeat with which to fill them - a few jars of luxury mincemeat with added brandy and apple and lemon juice is definitely more expensive that a few packets of raisins and things.

For those of you having paroxysms because I mentioned the dreaded "C" word let me remind you that, as per our rhyme above, Christmas is indeed coming and this day 6 weeks is the very day - so it is time to start at least thinking about it, and if you are into baking, it's time to start the Christmas baking.

For most of us, Christmas is a time of tradition, both old and new (there is a lot of fun to be hand in creating your own traditions for your own family and cherry-picking what works for you and ditching those that don't). For me, I like to have the tree up relatively early as my birthday is in early Dec, and I like to have it up around then (the 8th by the way, and it's a very significant one this year, so if anyone wants to buy me a present, far be it from me to stop you!). I have a fresh tree though, and it's been getting a bit droopy by the end of the season, so I think I might wait a week longer this year.

Our biggest family tradition is that we spend Christmas with my Dad, at my family home in Ahascragh, Co. Galway. It's a big house, there are lots of siblings and grandchildren now too - not all will be there for Christmas Day, but they will be there for a day or two at some stage, and it's great for the little DinnerBabies to spend some time with their cousins.

When it comes to the food, we all do our bit. Dad made the puddings last night, and my job is the mince pies. These are A HUGE DEAL in our house - every year, there was so much discussion about my mother's homemade mince pies and how far superior they were to any shop bought creation and all that jazz. So, after my mother's untimely death ten years ago, it became my job to do the mince pies, as I was the baker in the family and also the one that could make mum's pastry. Turns out that the pastry was really the key, for us anyhow - the sweetened, thick and extremely buttery pastry of the shop bought versions are what the family object to the most, it seems. So, I consulted my sources (Nigella Lawson and company) and felt confident. I know that my own mother hadn't made her own mincemeat in years, and Nigella's Christmas chapter in her book "How to be a Domestic Goddess" had very practical advice - if you are using shop bought mincemeat, turn it into a bowl and grate over a good bit of sharp cooking apple (at least one cooking apple), a good squeeze of tart lemon juice (the juice of at least one lemon) and add a good slug of cooking brandy. This sharpens up even the sweetest and most cloying mincemeat and makes the world of difference.

A word on pastry - I just use regular, shortcrust pastry. Nothing fancy, just plain old hardworkin' shortcrust. It's my favourite and I think it works the best here; not just because it's the way my mother made them; but also because the mincemeat filling, although scant, is so sweet and intense that you don't need anything fighting with them. Heavy, buttery pastry just totally overwhelms the poor little pie and all you taste is the chewy case, not the Christmassy filling.

I do like an "aide-memoire"!
I've covered pastry before here, so just a quick note on quantities. As you can see from the picture, I like to make notes in my cookery books! But it makes sense, I only make mince pies once a year, I always check out this book, so where better to make my notes and ensure they don't get filed somewhere obvious that I'll never find again? So my notes tell me that pastry made with ½lb of flour and 2oz each of butter and lard would make about 24 mince pies if I roll the pastry thinly enough (also key, you don't want too much pastry, just "enough"), so I usually use 1lb of flour and get about 46 mince pies out of it.

I actually thought I might make my own mincemeat last year, as Nigella Lawson always suggested you could make an easy, suet-free mincemeat and then I read a recipe by Eunice Power in a Saturday edition of the Irish Times around this time of year that seemed to tally with that, so I thought - why not?! But I never quite got round to it. However, in the spirit of the true "Recessionista" that I have become though, I decided this year was THE year and I was going to go for it. So, I did my shopping and gathered my ingredients, and got going this weekend.

Eunice Power's Christmas Mincemeat Recipe
"Many mincemeat recipes don't involve cooking, however, when it is cooked it makes it much more digestible, so no seasonal heartburn. You can of course substitute cranberries, diced glacé cherries or diced ready-to-eat apricots for any of the dried fruit. I tend to use smaller raisins and sultanas in my mincemeat, especially if I want to make tiny mince pies. You would be surprised how much room a jumbo raisins takes up.

A motley collection of jars, but makes LOADS
  • 350g raisins (I used 300g raisins & 50g dried cranberries)
  • 350g sultanas
  • 100g currants
  • 450g grated apple (this was about 3 to 4 cooking apples)
  • 150g brown sugar
  • 175ml brandy
  • 100g butter
  • Juice and rind of 2 lemons
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp mixed spice
  • 50g chopped almonds
  • 50g chopped walnuts
  • 100g mixed peel (I added in an extra 50g diced glacé cherries too)
  • 2 tbsps marmalade
  1. Mix all the ingredients together in a large saucepan
  2. Simmer for 30 minutes, then store in sterilised jars for up to one year
And it really is that simple! I found that it got a bit dry, so I added more brandy and a little water as I went, but the recipe made LOADS, which is just as good as I've offered to make the mince pies for the school coffee morning that the Parent's Association is running before Christmas - eek!

The fantastic thing about mince pies is that you can make them all up now, cook them off and freeze them. Yes, sure - they defrost on the car journey down to my Dad's, but they usually get eaten in about 2 or 3 days anyhow, so I just leave them in the back kitchen and reheat as required - I'm sure you have a utility room or somewhere else that is cooler, especially this time of year. 

Just a quick last note about the actual pies themselves. I make small ones. I think that is the perfect size; just a bite or two and they should be gone. Mine are quite "rustic", but that is part of their charm, so to that end I don't glaze them with egg-wash or milk - feel free, if you wish. I make mine in my regular bun trays, no need to grease them out as the pastry is buttery enough to stop them sticking. 
I also usually use a smaller size cutter to cut out the lids. A little brush of water helps to stick the lids on, and then I pierce the top with a fork, to let the steam escape. Cook in a hot oven - about 220C - for about 15 minutes. Use up the leftover pastry scraps by making a freeform pie ... collect all the scraps and roll out together, use a slightly larger cutter and fill one side with mincemeat, then fold over and crimp in the fashion of a Cornish pasty or similar.

Mince pie pictures will be added when I get round to making them - for now, mincemeat is enough Christmas prep for this house!

**EDIT** I found a picture of last years mince pies - as I say, rustic, but all the more charming for that, no?!

Sarah xx

Friday, 26 October 2012

More Vegetables - this is NOT a beige dinner!

Hmm... am definitely on a veggie kick at the moment! There's a couple of reasons for this - firstly, there's that recession thing - we blame everything on it, but honestly, we have a five week month in this house this month (who in the hell invented that evilness?!) and you can get a whole load of veggies for the price of a couple of chicken fillets. Secondly, it's winter and there is something warming and hearty about these dinners, they are lovely. And lastly - what could be healthier? I am definitely on a little health buzz at the moment; Christmas is rapidly approaching and I want to be able to eat what I want over the festive season, so that means keeping an eye on things in October and November. And then there's that "Significant Birthday" in early December... I want to look as good as possible (and, to that end, I will be attempting my first ever 10km race the week before - gulp! I can't tell you how big a deal this is, as I am easily the least sporty girl in Ireland... I remember once persuading my PE teacher that I couldn't do PE that day because my friend had an ingrown toenail removed and needed looking after!).

Gorgeous vegetables
So last night, it was time for a veggie crumble. I can't tell you how much I was looking forward to it. I even had so much fun shopping for my vegetables - Lidl came up trumps on most fronts (and it really helps that my DinnerBabies really love the local Lidl; the underground carpark is extrely echo-ey, so it's known as "echo-Lidl" in our house, and then there's the added lure of the freshly baked croissant they get to walk around the shop with - they are a bit disgusted there are no Bavarian pretzels in the last few weeks!) and then our local greengrocer topped up the things I forgot / couldn't get.

Nearly there - crumble mix to the rear
The recipe comes originally from a book called "Cranks Recipe Book", via my Welsh friend Fiona - apparently it was a staple of hers in university (undoubtedly again because it is cheap). This is a great recipe, because you can adapt it to what you have or what you fancy. I didn't bother with peppers, I didn't think that would work, and forgot to add the potatoes even though they were sitting beside me on the counter, as you can see from the photo. It really could've done with something green too - Himself suggested leek, but that's only because he really dislikes broccoli, I think broccoli would have been perfect. It would also make a good side dish with a roast dinner - particularly a rich beef. But it is a very filling meal in itself (even more so if you remember the spuds!).
Anyhow, here's the master recipe, you can add what you like. The main recipe serves 6 - we did a small one for two last night, so I'll give you the veg quantities for that in brackets as well. And again, crumble topping freezes easily and can used more or less from frozen, so it's handy to make a large amount and keep the excess in the freezer for another occasion. 

Vegetable Crumble

For the topping:

  • 100g butter
  • 175g 100% wholemeal flour (I use white or mix or white & wholemeal, as I find all wholemeal too heavy)
  • 100g grated cheddar cheese
  • 50g chopped mixed nuts (I only had hazelnuts last night, it was perfect)
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds

For the base:
  • 675g mixed root veg, chopped into cubes (for 2 of us last night, I used 2 carrots, 1 parsnip, 400g butternut squash, 400g turnip, 2 smallish onions - diced, 3 cloves of garlic - crushed, I meant to add 2 potatoes and also a handful of mushrooms - 5 or 6)
  • 50g butter
  • 25g wholemeal flour (again, I used white)
  • 300ml vegetable stock
  • 140ml milk
  • 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  1. Begin by making the crumble topping - rub (or grate) the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs, then stir in the cheese, nuts and seeds and leave to one side
  2. Chop the vegetables - you want them all to be in similar sort of cubed size. Dice the onion and finely chop the garlic
  3. Melt the butter in a large saucepan and sauté the onion gently, til translucent. Add the chopped vegetables and cook over a gentle heat, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes
  4. Stir in the flour, then add the remaining ingredients, then bring the whole thing to the boil, reduce the heat, cover with a lid and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the vegetables are just tender
  5. Transfer everything to an ovenproof dish, cover with the crumble topping and press in loosely (you don't want it too compacted)
  6. Bake in an oven preheated to 180º C for about 30 minutes, until golden
I would think that you could also easily flash-fry the vegetables, then stick them in the oven with a generous amount of fresh thyme and rosemary (good strong robust flavours) to roast for 20 minutes at 180º C until tender, and then proceed to make the sauce with the roasted veg - so step 3 above, melt the butter and add all the veg, without the need to either cook the veg for 10 minutes in the pan nor simmer it for 15 minutes after, just bring to the boil and then transfer to an ovenproof dish, top and bake and it would be even more delicious.

Ready for the oven
Out of the oven

And the best news is, there is even a small portion left over my lunch today - yum... And it keeps me away from the bread / dreaded carbs. I guess I shouldn't have finished off with a toffee square, then?!

Ready to eat!

Enjoy - and enjoy that slightly smug feeling you get from knowing you've hit your five-a-day.

Sarah xx

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

"Proper" Veggie Dinners

In light of my frankly half-baked attempts to write a post about vegetarian dinner (I think the inclusion of bacon lardons makes a bit of a mockery of the whole thing!) The DinnerLadies have invited our good friend, fellow "Rollercoaster Mum" and proper, dedicated vegetarian to do some guest posts for us. She regularly has us drooling at the frankly amazing vegetarian meals she throws together (especially lunch - as I sit down to another unappealing limp ham sandwich, and make the mistake of asking "what's for lunch" to be met by some mouth watering list of fresh ingredients and complex flavours). So I'd like to introduce Abina to you all...

Here’s a quick & easy veggie curry put together from items most of us would have in the cupboard.  Some veggie recipes can have an endless list of vegetables but I like this one as it’s so quick & easy.  This is a well balanced meal with plenty of protein and fibre from the chickpeas and calcium and iron in the spinach.

PS - Coconut oil should be available from your local supermarket, I get mine locally, €5 for a 500ml jar of organic virgin coconut oil. I use it mainly for the flavour and health benefits, I find it's great for frying and really doesn't let food stick to the pan. Personally, I prefer not to use olive oil (although of course you can, if you wish) and would use rapeseed oil in general instead, when not using coconut oil. As a matter of interest, it is also a great moisturiser (I use it at night time) and great for your skin in general. I use it also as a nappy cream for the baby (a separate jar, of course!).

Chickpea and Spinach Curry, with Tortilla Crisps

Patak's paste, and coconut oil
  • Coconut oil (for frying)
  • 1 onion
  • 200g frozen spinach or a bag of fresh baby spinach leaves
  • 1 can of chickpeas, rinsed & drained
  • 1 can of coconut milk
  • ½ Jar of Patak's curry paste (I used tikka masala here, as you can see, but I use whatever is in stock)
  • A good squeeze of tomato purée
  1. Heat 1 tsp of coconut oil in pan & add chopped onion, then reduce heat, cover & allow to cook for 5 mins
  2. Add frozen spinach and cook until any water has been cooked off
  3. Add Patak's curry paste and cook for 3 mins
  4. Add chickpeas and stir
  5. Add in coconut milk, tomato puree, sprinkle of chopped coriander and leave to simmer for 20mins

Tortilla Crisps

  • Tortilla wraps
  • Hot paprika or chilli powder
  • A small bit of oil
  1. Cut tortilla wraps into 8 triangles, brush with oil and sprinkle with paprika or chilli powder
  2. Bake in the oven for a couple of minutes, until golden crisp.  Serve warm, with the curry & rice

I've also listed below some other useful recipes I use frequently; handy for lunch and / or dinner


Homemade Beans on Toast:  Mix a tin of haricot beans with equal amount of passata, 1 tsp of black strap molasses, bay leaf and some fresh thyme. Mix the ingredients in an oven proof dish, cover with tin foil and bake at 180C in the oven for 90 minutes.  Any leftovers can be frozen.  I served it with toasted crusty brown bread from the most delicious bakery, Boulangerie la Francais in Applewood, but any good crusty bread would work!


Chilli sin Carne:  
Recipe from Mexican Cooker, Chancellor Press 

  • 5 dried red chillies
  • 3 tablespoons of boiling water
  • 1 tin tomatoes
  • 4 tablespoons oil
  • 3 onions (roughly chopped)
  • 2 cloves of garlic (roughly chopped)
  • 3 tablespoons of tomato purée
  • 1 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1½ tablespoons of white wine or cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp of sugar
  • ½ pack of Quorn mince
  • 1 tin red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  1. Blitz the chillies and water in a blender
  2. Heat the oil in a pan and gently sauté 2 of the onions and the garlic with the tomatoes, tomato purée, spices, vinegar and sugar til soft
  3. Put into the blender and with the chillies and water, then blitz til smooth
  4. Sauté the 3rd onion in 1tbsp oil, add the quorn mine and sauté for a minute more, then stir in the kidney beans and the chilli-tomato mixture from the blender
  5. Simmer for 20 minutes on a gentle heat
  6. Serve with rice, or in wraps or tacos with avocado and creme fraiche / sour cream

Root Vegetable Bake:
I like this dish and usually have it during the winter, when the rest of the family are having a roast. They would usually have a small portion to accompany their meat. Any combination of root veg can be used; if you don't have a particular one either leave it out or substitute if for something you prefer - it's a very versatile dish. The recipe is from the BBC "Good Food" book 
  • 100g butter
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 3 tbsp fresh thyme
  • 3 oz gruyere cheese, grated
  • 1 lb waxy potatoes, peeled
  • 8 oz celeriac, peeled
  • 1 lb carrots, peeled
  • 1lb parsnips. peeled
  • Veggie gravy to serve
  • Preheat oven to 190C
  1. Use 1 oz of the butter to grease an 8in tin
  2. Mash the remaining butter with the lemon zest, garlic, thyme and cheese
  3. Thinly slice the veg and layer one third of the spuds, then celeriac, then carrots, then parsnips in the tin and dot with some butter.  Repeat the layers, then season the whole thing with black pepper and dot with butter
  4. Cover with tinfoil and bake for 45 minutes  
  5. Remove foil and bake for further 45 minutes until veg are tender
  6. Serve with some veggie gravy poured over

Lentil Shepards Pie:

  • 1 tin of puy lentil, rinsed & drained
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 carrots
  • ½ courgette
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 carton passata
  • 1 veggie stock cube
  • 1lb potatoes, peeled

  1. Saute the onion in a little oil, then add a little water and the carrots, letting them cook for a few mins before adding the pepper and courgette, then cover and simmer for a few mins until tender
  2. Add the carton of passata and veggie stock cube and season to taste (I sometimes add some balsamic vinegar, fish free Worcestershire sauce and honey to flavour or a drop of soya sauce)
  3. Then blend it all until smooth (to hide the veg from fussy eaters, not always necessary if serving only to well-behaved adult types!)
  4. Add the puy lentils and leave to simmer
  5. Boil spuds and mash
  6. Pour lentil mix into an ovenproof dish and cover it with the mash and bake for 30 minutes at 180C
Please feel free to request any specific veggie requests you might have, and we'll do our best to accommodate! 

Abina, Sarah and Margaret

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

A New Venture

Hi there DL fans,

I wanted to share with you a new venture that I am - hopefully - embarking on. While my lovely partner Margaret has some exciting ventures of her own bubbling away (see what I did there?!), I have been out of work since then end of 2010.

Now, at the time, redundancy seemed like a great idea, but if you'd told be then that I'd still be out of work nearly 2 whole years later, I'd have probably laughed. I suppose, when you are working, it's easy to ignore how bad the recession is as it is not really affecting you that badly...

Anyhow, 2 years on and it's biting HARD. The cleaning lady went pretty much straight away, but have since been followed by all sorts of things that I used to consider necessities - Estée Lauder make up (Rimmel is quite good, actually!), expensive highlights in my hair - all the usuals.

My usual field of work is customer service, but as I working in quite a niche area (somewhere between customer service, training, support and sales, but yet none of those things, exactly) I thought I had loads of experience and would be snapped up. Instead I find that employers today are so spoiled for choice with candidates that they can pick and choose a candidate with almost spot on experience, and unfortunately that's never me.

I have also loved being at home with the mini DinnerLadies, bringing my eldest daughter to school everyday is a luxury, really.

So I've been trying to think laterally - if I can help it, I don't really want to go back to the grind of 9 to 5, 5 days a week (before I left, I was doing three days, it's very hard to back to full time when you have small children and I guess that probably came across in interviews too).

As you know by now, I LOVE food and cooking and baking. I also have a strong background in training, and I do love helping people - as you can see from some of my "step by step" posts on here.

So, after a disappointment with the HSE and their food training programme, I decided that maybe I'd branch out on my own. I started by investigating children's parties and classes, and while I am still pursuing that option, it is going to take a long time - the Garda vetting process alone will take a long time (even though I've already been through it to join the school Parent's Association... You need to re-submit for each venture, who knew?!)

So, after listening to the Ray D'Arcy show on TodayFM last week and hearing all the tales of people who left home unable to cook (as I did, myself - I was interested, and tried and had a bit of a notion from watching my Mum, but I never did "domestic science" and didn't even know how to boil an egg, really), I thought that maybe ADULTS might like a cookery class.

Young people starting out, leaving home for the first time (maybe starting college and away from home for the first time) and unsure of the basics - give me a call! Nutritious, budget-savvy meals are at your fingertips.

Ladies - are you fed up cooking every night and do you long for your other half to surprise you with an even halfway edible meal some night, for your birthday or just a Saturday night "date night" at home? Send him along!

Unsure where to start with baking? I could tailor a lesson to cakes, or sponges, or pastry, or buns, or simple desserts, or whatever you like.

Flummoxed by what to plan when having friends over for dinner? Again, a "dinner party" themed lesson might suit.

Classes would be small - a couple of hours, 2 or 4 people max (my kitchen is small!) here in my house, or alternatively I could do a lesson in your own kitchen... It's up to you.

While away a winter's evening, or squeeze something super-productive into that couple of hours while the little ones are at school - I really am open to what suits the client and my diary, at this stage, is completely empty.

I have my insurance quotes in and I am now good to go - if people are interested! So please email to or just give me a call on 086 9795054.

Many thanks,
Sarah xx