Friday, 27 April 2012

Fussy Eaters

Oh no… what was I thinking? How in the hell could a chef and a foodie wind up with a fussy eater?! I know, I know – but we did. All our own fault of course, but Junior DinnerMadam #1 is quite fussy. Not as bad at 5 as she was at 3 and 4, thanks to some serious work with the star charts / bribery etc., but no angel. And while I didn’t reapeat the same mistakes with her 3 year old sister, she has her moments too.
So, how to handle it? Well, as mentioned above, I got the star chart out. She was already 4 when I did this, I really do think that under 3 is too young and they just don’t get it. I drew the chart myself. Firstly, we chose a ridiculously over-priced piece of tat as the “prize”. My DinnerMadam is totally obsessed with all things pink and, as a result, idolised Disney’s Princess Aurora above all other princesses. A trip to the Disney store came up trumps – a pair of Princess Aurora shoes to go with the Aurora dress (Dunnes version!) she already owned. These shoes gave me a HUGE pain, €24… I could get a pair of Clarks in Kildare Village for that price! But it had to be something she valued highly, so I went with it.

"Home-made" Reward Chart
There are lots of charts available on the internet, but they mostly rely on the written word – my pre-schoolers (at the time) were too young for that. So I got creative, and printed off some pictures, both of the ridiculous shoes and the behaviour I wanted to stimulate; new foods and also general good behaviour. I didn’t make it too easy for her – initially she got stickers for licking food, but as the weeks progressed, she had to eat more and more. Within a month, she had the shoes and I had a little girl who no longer ate only fish fingers, beans, waffles and bread, but now also chicken curry, shepherd’s pie, bolognaise and a few others.
I do remember reading somewhere that takes a child 20 or more “exposures” to a food to be happy / comfortable with it, so perseverance this definitely the key here.
I also used to stress about the fact that she wouldn’t eat any recognisable vegetables. Then I decided to get over that – get her eating vegetables in “hidden” sauces, and I could work on actual recognisable things later. So, the food processor became my friend and I now make sauces with all sorts of stuff blitzed in them; courgette, broccoli, peppers, onion, carrot, celery, mushroom etc. Continued work has resulted in further improvement since – to the point where she will now eat mashed carrots and parsnips! Not mounds of them, and she does still need to be persuaded, but she does eat them. Okay, she has ketchup and mayonnaise on literally everything (ketchup and mayo on her chicken curry, mayo with bolognaise – gross, but hey, who am I to judge? In fact, I just caught her squirting mayonnaise directly into her mouth just now, my stomach did lurch a little, I must admit!).
One thing I did unfortunately notice was that when eating these dinners with “hidden veg” sauces, she had a tendency to eat all the meat and pasta or rice, but most of the sauce was left behind. So I had a brainwave – if I love naan bread with my curry, why not them? So I toasted two pitta breads, chopped them up and got them dipping. Happy days.
I now usually, when blitzing veg, do enough for enough a couple of dinners – it’s hard to do the quantities for just one dinner for two very small ladies. So today I did 3 celery stalks, 3 cloves of garlic, a whole onion, a small bit of broccoli, one whole sweet red pepper and a large carrot. ). As I was only making small portions for the girls (not including us in the pot, as Himself gets home too late to eat with the girls) I fried this off, used 2 chicken fillets and ⅓ of it for the chicken curry, 2 further fillets and ⅓ of it for the chicken with tomato sauce below and the final ⅓ will go in the fridge overnight and will form the basis for a bolognaise tomorrow (I’ll add courgette and mushroom as well.
Anyhow, I’m sure you all have your own bolognaise recipes, so here’s two other recipes that I use for “hidden veg”, the chicken curry is a Delia Smith adaptation, the chicken and tomato is my own creation, the kids love it but it’s a bit bland for me.

Hidden Veg, incl tin of Marigold powder
·       Hidden Veg
·         1 large onion
·         3 cloves garlic
·         3 celery stalks
·         1 large carrot
·         1 large red pepper / sweet red pepper
·         A small bit of broccoli
·         Any other veg you like – courgette, mushroom, whatever works with the sauce your making (I leave mushrooms out for the curry, for example, and add courgette only to the bolognaise and tomato sauce dishes)
1.       Blitz together (usually I need to do this in batches, as my processor is too small to take it all) and fry gently for 5 – 10 mins

Mild Chicken Curry
Chicken in Tomato Sauce
Serves 2 very hungry small girls
Serves 2 very hungry small girls

2 chicken breast fillets
2 chicken breast fillets
⅓ - ½ quantity of hidden veg
⅓ - ½ quantity of hidden veg
½ tablespoon plain flour
Passata sauce (tinned tomatoes are too chunky)
1 rounded teaspoon mild curry powder
Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp each turmeric & ground ginger
Tomato puree
½ pint chicken stock
1 tsp Marigold Swiss Veg Bouillon (see photo)
1 tablespoon cream (or crème fraiche)
Tomato ketchup
Pitta bread and rice, to serve
Pitta bread and rice, to serve

Add the cubed chicken to the cooked veg in the pan and brown gently
Add the cubed chicken to the cooked veg in the pan and brown gently
Add the flour and spices, to soak up the juices
Add the passata
Gradually add all the stock (slowly, to allow it to absorb)
Add a tsp or a squeeze of tomato puree, a shake of Worcestershire sauce, a small squeeze of ketchup (to sweeten it up) and a tsp of the Marigold powder
Simmer for 20 mins, on a low heat
Simmer for 20 mins on a low heat
Stir in the cream / crème fraiche and serve
Curry in the foreground, tomato-ey chicken behind

PS - A big plus for me has been that I love courgette again, I've always found it a bit a slimy, but blitzed into the bolognaise sauce, it's delicious, it really does add a lovely sweetness to it.

Anyhow, good luck with the fussy ones, and expect more on this topic in the future, 

Sarah xx

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Jockey's breakfast; a rasher and a ??

(a bit of a break from our normal type of post, but with the week thats in it...)

The primroses are lining the Craddoxtown Road, there's a buzz about Naas town and the recent weather has changed from balmy days to blustery showers, all of which can only mean one thing - Punchestown is upon us again!

Living in a house situated a bare ten minute walk from the winning post, Punchestown week is something we prepare for weeks in advance. Apart from both taking time off our 'proper' jobs to work up at the track, we also open the house to visiting English stable staff ; a virtual B&B pop up!

I'm sure our friends think we're mad, and in the weeks before hand, when we're knee-deep in bed linen and general spare-room-clearing mayhem, we come pretty close to thinking they're right. As early as Sunday, the first lorry can trundle down our driveway towards our un-usually spotless house and there's always an anxious moment just prior to meeting our 'visitors' for the first time. But every year so far, within minutes of this meeting, I can feel my shoulders relax and I know that yet again, everything is going to be just fine.

For the last five festivals, we've been blessed with our guests. They're pleasant, chatty, and respectful of our home. To be honest, its quite a relief to have visitors that don't mind the Jack Russell under the table, the cat on the couch and the muddy wellies inside the back door. Having said that, this year we did borrow a large crate to put our new amazing door-opening cat in at night time as almost 15lbs of fat white purring fur landing on even an animal lover's chest at night time can be a step too far...

But we've a nice system going, to repay them for the odd animal jumping onto their lap and the occasional child crying in the night, we push the boat out on the hospitality. A lift into the pub at night time, The Racing Post every day and of course, the good old full Irish in the morning!

Sizzling sausages, crispy rashers, hash browns (or Birdseye Potato Waffles!) eggs & mushrooms are all standard on the menu - we've yet to meet an English visitor who liked black or white pudding though we did have a request from an ex-pat for marmalade one year... Heaps of toast, freshly ground tea or coffee and the occasional side order of baked beans, we've been told our breakfast generally negates any need for lunch. Luckily our guests are rarely 'real' jockeys though we did have one poor chap two years ago who was riding in an amateur race on the second last day and so had to sit and watch his colleagues munch away while he was restricted to toast and coffee. But boy did he make up for it on the final morning...

And last but not least is the celebratory bottle of champagne should their horse win its race. This tradition started in 2008 when Air Force One leapt to victory in the Champion Novice Chase to become the first of several of our 'residents' to come home with a prize that year. Of course we didn't anticipate being such a lucky house as we cracked open the first bottle, but it was worth it for the buzz that surrounded the house for the week. Several weeks after the festival had finished we got a surprise present of a picture of Air Force One (shown below in pride of place on the downstairs loo wall) and a really nice letter of thanks from Ben his minder.

Will we have any luck this year? Who knows. But just in case, there's a bottle of something bubbly nestled nicely between the sausages and rashers in the fridge. If all else fails, we can use it to celebrate the end of yet another successful Festival, and the return of everyone (not least one very disgruntled cat) to their own rooms...


Saturday, 21 April 2012

All Things Pink and Barbie (and a Volcano, for luck!)

So, Barbie. Love her or loathe her, chances are those of you with a daughter of a certain are becoming more and more familiar with the pert-breasted, well-endowed plastic one. My own eldest daughter turned 5 recently and happened to spot a confection of Barbie-perfection in the window of a local bakery – a Barbie doll cake. Enquiring within, I hear that these creations sell for close to €50, I remembered seeing recipe for such a thing in Nigella Lawson’s “How to be a Domestic Goddess”. I remember not being able to work out what she meant about plunging a doll into a cone of sponge, and then seeing this in Terenure, I realised what it was; a cone shaped cake with a Barbie doll sticking out the top, the whole thing covered in icing and decorations. So, despite never having attempted any sugarcraft work before in my life, I decided that what with the cost of the party entertainer and presents and whatnot, I would easiIy be able to save myself €50 and make the damn thing myself.
To start with, I had to locate a tin. My usual source, came up blank, but a trawl of the internet sorted me out and there are loads of sites that have them. Kitchen Complements in Dublin’s Chatham St also stock both the basic tin that I got on the internet (they were out of stock, otherwise of course I would’ve supported the Irish economy and shopped local!) and a very fancy kit one, that is a lot more expensive. Expect to pay just under €20 for the basic tin. However, you can also build up your own by layering up cakes and cutting them to shape – there are lots of YouTube clips showing you how.
Which brings me neatly to YouTube. As I mentioned, I’ve never done any sugarcraft work in my life. I remain forever indebted to the fabulous ladies in Kitchen Complements who gave this novice endless free advice. I was about to purchase a small amount of ready to roll and ready coloured pink icing when I thought to ask the shop assistant who’d been advising me about tins how much I’d need to cover Barbie’s skirt. Thank God I asked! She laughed (politely, of course) at the notion that a single packet would be sufficient and she recommended I buy a big block of ready to roll icing in white and colour it myself. There would be way too much, but of course it keeps. So that was another €15. Lots of pink sugar flowers - get them in specialist shops and even in your local supermarket. Colours - luckily I already own colour pastes, so that saved me about €4. (Top tip, it’s much better to colour with pastes, even though they are expensive you use very little so they last literally for years and using so little doesn’t affect the consistency of what you are colouring, whereas the liquid colours will.) She also suggested I check out YouTube for video demonstrations of how to go about using the icing. All I can suggest is that if you are planning such an undertaking, you follow their advice and have a look at YouTube and also do searches on Google Images for “Barbie Cake” to get decorating ideas (I think I’ve mentioned before, I am not very creative and lack imagination, but I am a great copier!).

Anyhow, to steal a phrase I used in every primary school essay I ever wrote, “finally, the big day dawned”. Barbie turned out to be a ROARING success, and the twenty-odd 5 year olds screaming around my house were in awe. I have to say, it was worth it, I felt a million dollars, although the astute accountants amongst you will doubt have worked out by now that it really would have been cheaper to get the cake from the bakery!
Since then, I’ve used the same tin to make a “volcano / dinosaur” cake, using a couple of plastic dino’s from a bucket from the €2 shop (incidentally also the source of my “Barbie” dolls, why pay €6 for a real one when you can save?! Also, it is easier to use a legless Barbie, and believe me – there’s a reason the one I got was €2, it’s much easier to pull her legs off!). For the volcano, I again used Google Images for decorating inspiration, and chose buttercream as the easier option – it worked a treat, although I over-estimated the amount of green I needed and still have lots over, whereas I really needed more red and yellow for the fire – also, my red is actually “ruby”, I might have to invest in something more convincing next time! You can also buy dry ice on the internet and insert that in the top of the cake, add water and have a smoking volcano – IMPRESSIVE!

I’m making another Barbie right now for a friend, so hence the inspiration for the post. This is my second ever Barbie, you can check out the results either side here, between both - #1 on the left, #2 on the right.

Oh, PS, for this type of cake, a basic sponge won’t work, as it is too light and wouldn't hold all the icing. I believe madeira sponge is the most commonly used, although as I mentioned above, Nigella Lawson does give directions for a Barbie cake in her “Domestic Goddess” book, it’s the buttermilk birthday cake. I suggest though, if you choose the Nigella cake, that you use the yoghurt and milk option rather than the buttermilk – again, it’s a UK versus Ireland thing. Buttermilk in the UK is sold in small pots (like cream or yoghurt) and is much thicker than what we use here. My first cake was fairly ropey and slightly under-done in the centre (luckily the 5 yr olds didn’t give a damn as it’s pretty much all about the visuals for them!) so I changed tack to the yoghurt option and it’s working much better.

So, get creative! Do expect your kitchen to look like a volcano exploded in it afterwards, though... Or if you like, you can always get me to make one for you, I won't charge €50!

Sarah xx

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Time to take stock...

Some months ago a blog post from this lady caught our eye, and has stayed with us ever since... How many of us have complained that we've nothing in the larder for dinner? How many of us have dashed into the local shop for something quick for tea, often spending far more than we'd intended? And worse still, how often have we reverted to an expensive and unhealthy takeaway, unaware that the makings of a lovely meal lies deep within the deep freeze... Well, follow the advice set out below and all this waste and expense just might become a thing of the past... 

We are beyond delighted to present our first guest.... Caítríona of !

A guest blogpost and my first one at that. It feels like I should introduce myself.

Hi, my name is Caítríona, I'm a reluctant stay at home mother. Well I was originally a Personal Assistant but thanks to the decline of the building industry I found myself, with a 6 month old, no job and a house to run. Not exactly the way I intended my life to end up.  We depended on my salary to keep us in style.  Holidays, nice gifts for each other, fancy clothes, take away meals, dining out; all of these were second nature back in the day.

Three years on much has changed. We added another child to the brood and we've had to learn to live with what money we have. I remember at one point somebody telling me I should run my household like a business.  It's not bad advice and I'd certainly not be adverse to employing a hygiene subcontractor to take care of the cleaning!  

All joking aside, if you want to take control of the finances of your household the grocery bill is a good point to start. Which is where my stocktake comes in very very handy. Most businesses do a stocktake at least once a year if not more.  It's a great way to assess what stock you have in your "warehouse", what you may need and figure out how much you spend on a weekly or monthly basis. It's also a good idea to rotate your stock so that you don't get stuck with items that are out of date.

You can find the stocktake sheet to download and print here on my blog: Wholesome Ireland 

Grab yourself a pen, roll up your sleeves and get counting and writing. Once you have your stocktake completed then figure out what you need to buy for the week ahead. The idea here is that you only go to the shops the once saving yourself precious fuel and/or shoeleather. Also if you overbuy for 3 other weeks of the month then you should theoretically be able to save yourself the grocery money once a month for major projects.  A holiday? A new pair of designer heels? Or as my husband calls it your "knocko" fund.  

Take the stocktake challenge, check your cupboards, use what you have and only buy what you need.  It's liberating. I promise and it will save you money.  Post back and let us know how you get on!


Footnote from the Dinner Ladies...
Firmly believing in 'practice what you preach' we are going to take on Caítríona's challenge. Keep an eye out for a full report on exactly what we have in our kitchen 'warehouses'....

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Saturday Treats

Well, I was asked (via the comments section below – please feel free to use them for any questions / suggestions you have) to post “my” recipe for Chocolate Toffee Squares. Now, I have to own up; I ain’t all that creative! I wish I was, but of course, the recipe is someone else’s – one of my favourite sources. As readers to the blog might already know, I do like the Sunday Times “Ireland” supplement on the weekend, particularly Mary Carney’s column. This recipe is another of hers, and indeed, one of the main reasons I like her column so much! Anyhow, these are the type of thing that go by various names, usually “Millionaire’s Shortbread”. I’ve always been very, very keen on this confection – I am a bit of a butter addict, so all things toffee and butterscotch really floats my boat. Add in buttery shortbread and chocolate – well, what’s not to like?!
Anyhow, as I say, I’ve tried loads of these over the years, both shop bought, home-made and “artisan” types (you know, the ones you pay €1.50 for a tiny smidgen of something at an over-priced market stall). Generally, the home-made wins hands down. This is the first time I’ve made them at home myself – all the recipes seem just so convoluted. Anyhow, I read this recipe and thought, “hmm, that sounds easy enough” and gave them a whirl. I have to say, I was quite dubious about the pastry layer instead of “proper” shortbread. All I can say is – TRY THEM. That’s an order. They are so, so, so delicious. Your waistline won’t thank me, but your taste buds will! As, indeed, will your friends and family – they are a naughty treat, so when I make a tray of these, I tend to give loads away, so everyone benefits.
And might I add, if you are a tentative cook, give these a go anyhow. There are a number of processes, but it’s fairly straight forward. Also, the batch I made yesterday and have photographed below I made in a complete frenzy. I actually had a job interview* yesterday afternoon, but as it was something a friend put me forward for, I had no job spec and couldn’t “mug up”. So instead, to keep myself busy and as a big “thank you” to the lovely friend who minded my girls despite having visitors herself, I made these. Actually, they are quite a good thing to make while busy doing other stuff, as you need to leave this layer to cook and that layer to set, etc., so I was able to rush off to the shower and do “hair and make-up” in between times. They are not my best ever effort, I really was quite distracted and I didn’t let the toffee cook quite long enough and therefore didn’t set so well, my chocolate started to burn and I ended up improvising / free-wheeling a little, but they turned out good enough to be photographed and certainly, to be eaten! And everyone loved them – even people who’ve tasted them before and know the “good” version. So, for all you reluctant cooks out there, I urge you - give this a go, it’s a real “Domestic Goddess” recipe, in that you will really impress people with it in inverse proportion to how much effort it took … Just don’t blame me if your weighing scales is mean to you the next day!

Here's the recipe:
Pastry Base Toffee Layer Chocolate Layer
170g plain flour 1 x 397g tin condensed milk 100-150g milk (or milk & dark mix) chocolate
120g butter 60g soft brown sugar
60g caster sugar 60g butter

Pre-heat oven to 170ºC / gas mark 3
  • Combine the pastry ingregients using your fingertips (I usually use my grater, held high, dipping it into the flour and sugar as I go, then rub in with my fingertips) to create a breadcrumb texture, then press it into a well-buttered 20cm x 30cm rectangular tray. Do not compact the base too much, but do ensure it's sufficiently firm.
  • Bake for 20 mins or until golden brown
  • For the toffee layer, combine the ingredients in a saucepan and heat gently. I find now that it really helps to break down the sugar with your fingers first, an open packet of sugar can get very compacted, so it's worth sifting through with your fingers and breaking down the lumps. If little lumps get in and don't dissolve in, don't worry; this has often happened to me and it's fine. Stir continuously for 6 or 7 minutes or until it deepens in colour and becomes thick enough to spread with a knife - I find about 10 mins usually better, or even more (make sure to keep an eye that it doesn't burn, esp if not using a non-stick pan, keep stirring!)
  • Remove from the heat and pour onto the pastry base, using a knife to spread it out evenly
  • Cool for 20 minutes
  • Melt the chocolate in a glass bowl over a saucepan of boiling water (I used left over easter eggs this week!). Once melted, pour on top of the toffee layer and smooth with a knife or spatula
  • Harden the result in the fridge before cutting into biscuits - they will remain fresh in an airtight container for up to a week (or so I'm told, mine have never lasted that long!)
  • Also, they are a great thing to make on a Saturday (oh yeah, that’s today!) for a treat. Just remember that the toffee layer contains a lot of sugar and that gets extremely hot, so keep your budding-DinnerLadies out of the way for that part, you don’t want sugar burns.
Now I'm off for another Saturday treat - brunch with toasted bagels, cream cheese and crispy rashers, and the excellent coffee from LovePasta

*PS – no news yet on the interview, but I’m not holding my breath, I just didn’t get the “vibe”


15th March, 2013 - a quick edit, just to say, I tend now to use 150g chocolate for the choc topping layer, as my tin is quite large so 100g was a bit skimpy. I also usually make this up of 125g milk chocolate and about 25g (only 2 large squares) of dark, dark 70% (or more!) chocolate, just to give it a bit of depth and take the cloyingly sweet edge off the chocolate. I thought of this now, as I've just but a batch in the fridge to set, ready for a birthday party tomorrow!

24th June, 2014 - another note; just to say I've added a couple of notes above as well. The more I make these, like with any recipe, the more I get used to it and I notice there are a few things I do now, that I thought I'd share. So the notes above about breaking down the sugar and how long to cook the toffee are "new". I also usually use a mix of dark and milk chocolate now, to reduce the cloyingly sweet element a little. Usually 100g milk chocolate and 50g of dark chocolate (about 70% cocoa solids, or more).
And no matter if there is burnt toffee at the bottom of a the pan, a good long soak in water does all the donkey work for you, it should come off easily enough.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Book Review

Home Cooking - Johann & Tom Doorley (in conjunction with Lidl)

Cookery book reviews were something we have wanted to include on this blog from the outset. I have invested in so many cookery books at this stage that as soon as this damn recession is over, I fully intend to shelve the remaining blank wall in my kitchen, floor to ceiling, to accommodate my ‘stash’… Having said that, if I stopped investing in these books I could probably afford to build my shelves a bit sooner, but I’m an addict and whilst I’ve cut down, I’m still wide open to temptation…

So when I spotted a tweet the other evening mentioning a ‘new cookbook’, ‘Tom Doorley’ and ‘Lidl’ all in one sentence, my eyes instantly went out on stalks. I cheekily butted into the conversation to discover that Tom and his wife Johann Doorley had collaborated with Lidl to produce a book called simply ‘Home Cooking’.

Home Cooking & Lidl – this had to be something right up any Dinner Ladies’ street…right?

And so, with a tenner clenched in my determined fist, I dashed into my local Lidl on my way home, already late, from work.

My impressions of this book from the second I took it off the shelf were good. For starters it’s a substantial volume. I had actually expected it to be something not too unlike a generous leaflet, but I was wrong. The book is a lovely size with 230 pages packed with recipes and, thankfully, pictures. This Dinner Lady eats with her eyes and despises the current trend for page after page of text, without any suggestion of what the end dish should look like. 

Yes, I headed to the checkout a very pleased lady indeed. In fact, so taken was I with my new purchase, I found myself sitting in the Lidl carpark for several minutes, leafing through page after page, knowing only too well that once I collected the girls, the usual teatime mayhem would not permit such luxury.

So what about the review? Well, my initial aim was to select a dish from this book to cook as part of this piece, and that was where I ran into an unexpected problem – picking my recipe. At time of writing, I may have narrowed my list down to twelve, but each time I flick through the book, another catches my eye.To be honest, part of the problem is that there are so many ingredients listed that I would not have expected to be available from Lidl, and so I am planning a trip (without the usual child-related distraction) first thing Saturday morning to facilitate my choice... I still don't know how I'm going to choose between Roast Pork with Black Pudding Compote and Roast Barbary Duck with Fennel, Orange and Red Onion Salad, but I suppose I'll have to... One recipe that did bring a smile to my face was for Waldorf Salad. If only Basil Fawlty had known you could get this illusive 'ingredient' in Lidl...

Of course it helps that these recipes would appear to be written for someone like me. They are not complicated and yes, of course the realization that every ingredient is available from your local Lidl, adds an extra element of ‘do-ability’ that most cookery books can’t provide. But whilst simple, uncomplicated dishes make up most of this book, there are numbered among them several recipes that would not look out of place at a ‘posh’ dinner party and I find myself selfishly hoping none of my friends spot them before I get a chance to show off… 

So for now, all I can do to excuse myself is tell you that is part one of a two part review. For my next trick I will attempt to stop acting like a child in a toyshop with her birthday money, and settle on a dish to cook.

In the meantime, I may be yet another cookery book away from building my shelves, but something tells me my family are going to be eating very well in the coming weeks. And that pleases me far more.

To be continued…


Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Porridge; How Do You Eat Yours?

After a weekend of far too much food and wine, calories a-go-go, it’s time to get back to basics for this DinnerLady. There is enough chocolate here to see the mini-Ladies through till about next Easter, so temptation is all around. However (though requiring remarkable restraint, I must add) even I draw the line at Cadbury’s mini-eggs for breakfast despite the fact that I am absolutely addicted to their pretty pastel crisp shells and chocolate interior.
So, I think it’s porridge this week again. Having always just slung mine in the microwave for 2 minutes, I was inspired recently by Mary Carney's column in the Sunday Times to try slow-cooking my porridge on the hob. Oh my … I have to report that it was “road to Damascus” experience for me. I can only recommend you give it a go, it is just an amazing difference. Just so much creamier, the tastiest porridge I’ve ever had. I would urge you with every fibre of my being to give it a go! I know we all lead busy lives so there is rarely time to slow cook porridge before dashing out the door to work in the morning. Also most modern offices are equipped with microwave but not a full oven, so it’ll be microwave all the way for most of us. But on the weekend maybe think about making it slowly in a saucepan for yourself – it’s just delicious.
PorridgeHere’s my method, for now… As featured on the My City Cuisine wiki, right.

This recipe serves one, or double up for extras! The cup measurements I use are the American cup measures, that you can buy easily in cooking stores like Kitchen Complements or Stock in Dublin or online from sites like, or not – as long as you use double the amount of liquid to oats, I think it is fine. 
Simmering on the hob
·         ₃/₄ cups of porridge oats
·         ₃/₄ cups of water
·         ₃/₄ cups of milk
·         Pour the liquid over the oats – leave it to soak for a few minutes if you can, while making a cup of tea to go with it 
·         Bring to a gentle boil on a medium heat, and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring continuously (the longer the oats have soaked, the less time they  need boiling)

Now here comes the fun part – toppings! What’s your favourite? I love, for a treat, to just sprinkle some soft brown sugar on top and see it sort of melt in – very delicious. And certainly another splash of cold milk, although I know many like cream, I’m not a great cream lover really. But each to their own!

Sprinkled with dark brown sugar
Other toppings that I love are a sliced banana with a squeeze of maple syrup over the top, or a spoon of apple sauce and a sprinkle of cinnamon. My daily topping is usually just a little Splenda and a handful of flaked almonds, or even a spoon of jam stirred in (Follain raspberry with no added sugar is my current favourite). Of course, a handful of any fresh fruit is tasty in porridge – try a tiny drop of vanilla essence with a handful of blueberries, but go very easy on the vanilla, it’s strong stuff. Or sprinkle some raisins in while it's cooking on the hob - they go all plump and juicy, really nice. A sprinkle of cinnamon, a spoon of apple compote, some leftover stewed rhubarb ... It's a moveable feast, it's all about whatever you have to hand and whatever tickles your fancy. my mum used to stay in a B&B when dropping my sister and I back to university in Northern Ireland where your porridge was served with a wee drop of Drambuie in it, and certainly in Scotland, a "wee dram" of Scotch in the porridge is not unusual. Probably not ideal for your daily fare though!

Now, for my last tip before I sign off – the saucepan. It is notoriously hard to clean out the porridge pan, but it is made easier by firstly, using a non-stick pan, and then; as per Sr. May Aidan, who ran our school refectory with an iron fist (to the point where she was usually referred to as BA after BA Baracus from the A-Team)  to soak milk pans in cold water. It works!

PS – if you are passing a health food shop, do nip in and see if they have Kilbeggan Organic Porridge, a real Irish success story, it’s easily the creamiest porridge I’ve ever tasted and it’s great to support a small local business.

Sarah xx

Friday, 6 April 2012

Fishy Fishy Lovely Dishy!

Usually on Good Friday we slope off to our local Italian chipper for a fresh cod and chips... However, in light of Sarah’s recent success with my Lakeshore Pork recipe, this time it was my turn to rise to her challenge - Martin Shanahan’s (Fishy Fishy restaurant) Point to Point Salmon Burgers…

I have to admit to being slightly dubious – mostly because of the cabbage salad. The last time I served cabbage in this house there was nearly a divorce. But, a challenge is a challenge and I duly headed to Swans-on-the-Green this morning to purchase my ingredients where they were very accommodating of my request for only a quarter head of white cabbage. I'd also never heard of Caraway Seeds and did toy with the idea of swapping them with something I had in the larder, but I'm so glad I didn't, their taste is very distinctive and almost addictive...

Anyhow, heres the recipe (which I halved to serve two)

Point-to-point salmon bap

4 escalopes of salmon, 100g each
4 soft bread rolls
Paprika mix:
2 tablespoons paprika
1½ tablespoons ground cumin
1½ tablespoons ground coriander
salt and cracked black pepper
Tomato salsa:
2 ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
1 handful leaf coriander, chopped
juice of half a lime
1 teaspoon chilli sauce
pinch of salt
White cabbage salad
The white cabbage salad is best made the day before.
1 small head Dutch white cabbage (about 500g)
100ml white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
Point-to-Point dressing:
2 red peppers
olive oil
300ml mayonnaise
150ml white wine vinegar
30ml sugar
1 tablespoon pesto
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper

Very finely shred the cabbage using a mandolin or very sharp knife. Stir in the vinegar, salt and the caraway seeds, and leave overnight.

Make the tomato salsa by mixing the salsa ingredients together in a bowl.

To make the dressing, preheat the oven to maximum. Cut the peppers in half and remove their seeds. Brush the skin with olive oil. Place on a hot tray in the preheated oven and roast until the skin blackens (about 10 — 15 minutes). Take out of the oven and place in a bowl, and cover with cling film. Cool for 10 minutes, and then skin the peppers. Place all the dressing ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. Season to taste.

Coat each salmon escalope with the paprika mixture and pat off the excess. Barbecue over a hot grill for two minutes on each side.

To serve, slice the rolls, add the salmon, garnish with the salad and the salsa, and drizzle over the dressing.

Right, this is where the Dinner Ladies step in…

I have to admit to cheating slightly. As recommended by Martin Shanahan himself when he featured this recipe on the Ray Darcy show, I used a taco mix for the Paprika Mix, HOWEVER,  I also went a step further and used a good quality jar of Salsa instead of making my own (Give a Mammy a break - the Egg Hunt in Punchestown went on way longer than anticipated!)

Having toasted the soft white rolls slightly under the grill and oven roasted some baby new potatoes for a relatively healthy accompaniement I anxiously started to plate up. I saw anxiously because the cabbage hurdle still loomed ominously in front of me. (I will admit at this point to switching on the golf in the vain hope of distraction).

I needn’t have worried. These burgers are unbelievably delicious - the words ‘I’d eat another one of those’ from the cabbage-hater says it all.

Now, I can’t help feeling doubly sated. The joy of eating a delicious meal is one thing, but the knowledge that I could have settled for far, far less out of sheer lack of imagination and planning, leaves an even better taste in my mouth!



Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Tarty Lady!

Taking inspiration from Darina Allen’s piece in last week’s Sunday Times (Ireland supplement, dated 1st April) I really think I need to make some pastry. We’ve a busy family Easter ahead – 9 adults and 8 children – and I will, as usual, be on dessert duty. Easter Sunday is easy enough, they are an easy lot to please and pavlova is a sure-fire winner (even if I don’t eat it myself; hmm, maybe that’s a bonus actually, after Dad’s roast dinner calorie overload!) but we’ll need something for Friday and Saturday as well. I had been planning a crumble, but after reading that article I think now it’s time to get back to good old Irish TART. Dad has loads of fresh rhubarb in the garden, so it seems a crime not to take advantage. The beauty of it is, I can make the pastry in advance, then on Friday all I need do is roll it out and get some willing helpers to chop the fruit for me. Then any leftovers can be happily consumed after lunch on Saturday, much better than a shop-bought biscuit.

Now, for my first recipe! Here’s how I make my pastry – it’s mostly Delia’s recipe, but Delia and I disagree on a couple of points. Firstly, my top tip is that the fat should be COLD. Rock hard cold from the fridge. Also, Irish flour is a very different beast to the flour you buy in the UK. We mill our flour much more finely here in Ireland. As a result, this drastically changes how much water you need to bind the pastry. Delia suggests 1 tablespoon, I suggest half a cup!

For a regular sized tart, I use 8oz of flour and 4oz of fat, half lard and half butter for an 8’ round tart tin
·         8oz plain flour
·         2oz cold lard (I use Cookeen or any own brand “baking lard” from supermarket)
·         2oz cold butter
·         Cup of cold water, with a couple of ice cubes if you like

1.       Add the flour to a large mixing bowl
2.       Get your regular cheese grater, and using the regular coarse side, hold it up high and grate in first the lard (as it gets soft quicker) and then the butter – this allows as much air as possible to circulate through the flour, as air is basically another ingredient in the recipe
3.       Once all the fat has been grated in, then use your fingertips and continue to “crumble” the fats into the flour, so that the entire mixture looks a bit like breadcrumbs. You want to move quickly, making sure not to overwork the pastry. Use just your fingertips to achieve this. And continue to hold it high, again aerating the mixture
4.       Add the water – it’s hard to quantify, as each milling of flour is different and will absorb different amounts; however, for this amount of flour, about 200ml would be the max. Add it bit by bit, bringing the mixture together with a metal spoon (I use the heel of my hand, actually) until the dough leaves the bowl virtually clean. If you think the mixture is too sticky, add a tiny sprinkle more flour
5.       Pop the pastry into a plastic bag or clingfilm and leave in the fridge for a minimum of 20mins, to allow the glutens to stretch and making it much easier to roll. I often make it a couple of days in advance. Pastry also freezes brilliantly, so I often make double and leave half in the freezer
When assembling the tart, cut the pastry in half and roll out a disc for the bottom of the tart – making sure to roll the pastry as thinly as possible for this bottom piece, to allow it to cook thoroughly. No need to bake it blind; just fit it in neatly to the tart tin and fill with fruit. When you think you have enough fruit in it – add more. There is never enough! Fill it to the brim of apples (Bramley – regular cooking apples – are best) or rhubarb, remembering that they really do melt down to a lovely, velvety pulp. For apple, I like to add a few cloves or a sprinkle of cinnamon to give extra flavour.
Roll out a lid to fit the tart, allowing an overhang. Brush the lower lid edge with a sparse amount of water, fit the lid and trim (I use a scissors, v handy) and crimp in a tart-type fashion.
Prick all over the top with a fork (to allow the steam to escape) and pop into an oven pre-heated to about 190°C for about 30 minutes. I don’t usually bother, but you can brush the top of the tart with a little milk or beaten egg, to glaze it. PS, if it’s a rhubarb tart, it might be worth sitting the tart on a baking tray, as the juices can bubble out. Here's a picture of the finished article - it was a big one, and really tasty.

In other news, I have also made Nigella’s Easter Egg nests for the kids. We’ll have an Easter Egg Hunt in Dad’s garden after mass and a big breakfast, but they need to come down to something on Easter morning, see the picture below – they are just too cute! Anyhow, I reckon it’s the only way I’ll ever get the girls to eat Shredded Wheat…

This recipe is from Nigella Lawson, “How to be a Domestic Goddess” and is fantastically easy and a fabulous Easter treat to make with you little ones – just make sure to let the melted chocolate cool a little if making it with the budding cheflettes in you life, you don’t want them to burn their little fingers.
·         Melt 100g milk chocolate, 25g of dark chocolate and 25g butter over a double boiler or in the microwave (Nigella suggests 2 mins on medium)
·         Mix with 100g of crumbled shredded wheat
·         Form into about 5 little nests of about 7cm diameter, and leave to harden on a baking tray lined with oiled parchment paper (I use the zero cal spray oil and a plastic pastry brush to spread it on, it’s so handy for greasing any tin as you can just stick the pastry brush in the dishwasher)
·         Once hard, fill with about 4 or 5 mini-eggs

Good luck and enjoy, Sarah xx

Welcome to our blog!

Back in early 2007 two girls gave birth to two little girls and formed an online friendship through parenting site…  They both went on to have two more girls in 2009, and through all these years have shared every laugh, cry, worry and fear that comes with, not just parenting, but all aspects of their lives.

However, over time they discovered they’d something else they wanted to share – their love of food – both cooking and eating, and the trials and tribulations that come along with both.

And so, at the first ever face to face meeting of Margaret & Sarah on 23th March, The Dinner Ladies was born… 

So here we are…

Through this alliance we plan to share our knowledge and love of all aspects of home cooking, using both our experiences and those of our friends on Facebook, Twitter and our original haunt Rollercoaster.
Just like parenting our mutual daughters, we expect this new baby to cause us more than one anxious moment, but we hope there’ll be laughs and more than the odd proud moment too!

We’d love if you joined us on this journey,

The Dinner Ladies

Monday, 2 April 2012

We're nearly there!

As you can see this blog is currently under construction - you will have to trust us that we are far better cooks than we are graphic designers!
However, armed with our super duper logo (huge thanks to we promise to be with you soon...

The Dinner Ladies