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

Monday, 1 October 2012

We Need More Cake

Well, it's a while since you had a cake recipe from me (I was aware there was a lot of cake there for a while, so I did make and effort to do more "dinners" for a bit!) so I reckon we could cope with more cake...

Boston Cream Pie
Anyhow the cake in question is Boston Cream Pie. I've been reading this particular recipe for over 12 years - my first ever "bakery" book that bought back in the day, Nigella Lawson's "How To Be A Domestic Goddess" has a recipe and a drool-inducing picture on page 17. 
Last year, the DinnerBabies got Lilly Higgin's "Make, Bake, Love" for my birthday (rapidly approaching again, in December - and this year is a biggie, gulp!) and I instantly recognized the cover picture as none other than a Boston Cream Pie. So it seems like I was being given a message, and that this was a cake I had to make.

Firstly, for those of you unfamiliar with Boston cream pie, it is pretty much the same as the doughnut of the same name that you get - a sponge cake, covered in chocolate with a sort of  custard cream in the centre (think "middle-of-a-crème-brulée" type consistency and flavour here). Nigella tells me that the filling is actually crème patissière and topped with a chocolate ganache icing. Crème patisserie is something that sounds quite scary - like the sort of thing you see the frankly amazing cooks on "The Great British Bake Off" whip up with ease and a slight nod to fear... But in her introduction, Nigella Lawson says "the idea of making crème patissière might seem daunting if you've not done it before, but it really isn't hard - and remember, the flour really does stabilize it, so it's nowhere near as tense-making as custard." I've made custard a few times now - it's a little tense, but as it's never curdled on my (yet!) I thought I'd like to give this a try.

So, I had a couple of recipes and I needed to decide which one to use. Nigella Lawson's recipe suggests Victoria sponge - I've never actually made Victoria sponge before (I usually just do "all-in-one" method, so handy) and I had actually tried the Nigella recipe many moons ago, to very little success (it was, in fairness to me, my very early days of baking but left me very nervous). So I thought that the best thing to do when in any sort of doubt is to check out Delia Smith. I was a little concerned that Delia stipulates 7 inch tins and I only had 8 inch... But off I went. 

The Victoria sponge is a far bit more of an effort - I must admit, I was doubtful that all the faff would be worth it. Not least when I started to fill the tins and realised that the extra inch was a potential dealbreaker - there was in NO WAY enough mixture to fill two tins! So I hurriedly scraped all the mixture into one tin and bunged it in the oven, and got started on the crème patissière. All the while the Galway hurlers were getting into more and more bother in Croke Park, so I found it extremely useful to keep myself busy with only the odd brief glance at the TV, while my sister and husband were glued to it - I was glad of the distraction!

So, here's the recipe, step-by-step. The Victoria sponge is definitely worth the faff! An all-in-one sponge is light and airy ... but the Victoria sponge; wow, it would nearly float away! It is definitely worth it though for this confection, as the filling and topping are so rich, the lightness of the cake really offsets it.

A classic Victoria sponge just has jam and cream (and fresh fruit too, if you like) filling and just icing sugar as a topping and it is, of course, great to have a good recipe to use on it's own, and of course everyone needs a recipe for a chocolate ganache, I use it to ice a lot (for a regular all-in-one chocolate cake, I would usually fill with chocolate butter cream and top with ganache - then stud with smarties, for the children... always goes down a treat!).

One last note - in light of the tin size disaster, next time out I think I will increase the cake recipe to 3 eggs and 6oz of flour, sugar and butter, but listed below is the "2 egg" recipe as that is the one I used yesterday. I know it's annoying to switch to ounces when I use grams for everything, but for cakes it's so easy - 2 eggs, 4oz everything else or 3 eggs and 6oz and easier to see on the scales, so I use ounces for cakes. But I've given grams too!

Victoria Sponge (by Delia Smith)

  • 4oz/ / 110g butter (must be soft - room temperature)
  • 4 oz/110g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4oz/110g self-raising flour
  • Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/gas mark 3
  • You will also need two 7 inch (18cm) round cake tins, at least 1½ inches (4cm) deep, greased and the bases lined with greasproof or silicone baking paper
  1. In a medium sized mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until you get a pale, fluffy mixture (an electric hand whisk speeds this up considerably, but a wooden spoon will do - although there is a fair bit of beating to, so electric is a bonus)
  2. In a separate bowl or jug, beat the eggs thoroughly together, then add them a little at a time, beating well after each addition. For a beginner, Delia Smith recommends just a teaspoon of egg at a time: if you add it like this, it won't curdle (it curdles when some of the hidden air that is beaten into the mixture escapes if the mixture "breaks" and - as the air makes it light - curdling like this will make it heavier). I had the eggs in a measuring jug, so I just poured in small increments at a time, with the electric whisk on the whole time 
  3. When the eggs have been incorporated, take a metal tablespoon, which will cut and fold the flour in much better than a thick wooden spoon. Have the flour measured out and hold it high, adding about a quarter of it to the mix - holding it high will add air to the mixture. Now gently and lightly fold the flour into the mixture (if you beat it with the whisk, you will loose some of the precious air). Repeat until all the flour is incorporated
  4. Now all the flour has been added, you should have a mixture that will drop off the spoon easily when you tap it on the side of the bowl. If not, add some hot water - one or two teaspoons, or, if you are using medium sized eggs, you might need a tablespoon more.
  5. Divide the mixture between the two prepared tins, place on the centre shelf of the oven and bake for 25-30 mins (I found my larger single cake took closer to 35 mins)
  6. When the cakes are cooked, the centre of the top of the cake feels springy when touched with a fingertip, and no imprint remains - it is absolutely crucial to be patient and not to open the oven for a peek halfway through, as the sudden rush of cold coming into the oven can cause the cakes to sink
  7. When cooked, remove the cakes from the oven and leave in the tins for about 1 minute to cool slightly. Then run a palette knife around the edge to loosen and turn out to a wire rack (to let air circulate), peeling off the paper bases as you go.
  8. Leave to cool completely while you get on with rest

Crème Patissière (by Nigella Lawson)Start this while the cakes are baking

  • 125ml full fat milk
  • 125ml double or whipping cream
  • 1 vanilla pod or one teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 15g plain flour
  1. Warm the milk and the cream in a saucepan along with the vanilla pod, split lengthwise. Bring to the boil, then remove from the heat, cover and leave to infuse for 10 minutes (if you are not using the pod, then there is no need to infuse and just add the extract later, when you've combined all the ingredients).
  2. In a large bowl, whisk the yolks and sugar until creamy (I used a balloon whisk to start, then transferred to the electric hand mixer) and then beat in the flour
  3. With the point of small, sharp knife, scrape the seeds out of the vanilla pod and into the milk, then add this warm milk to the egg mixture and whisk until smooth (again, I used the electric mixer here). If using the vanilla extract, add it now
  4. Pour back into the saucepan and stir or whisk gently over a low heat until the custard thickens (think the consistency of a cold crème brulée, quite gloopy)
  5. Remove from the heat and let the custard cool by pouring it into a wide bowl and tearing off some greasproof paper, wetting it, then covering the bowl with it. This stops it forming a skin. Don't put this in the fridge: something goes horribly wrong with the texture if you do, and you want utter, smooth voluptuousness here (says Nigella)

Chocolate Ganache Icing (adapted by Sarah Hassell from Nigella Lawson)Wait for the cakes and crème patissière to cool before starting this step

  • 150ml double or whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 150g dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
  1. Warm the cream, vanilla extract and butter in a small but heavy saucepan over a gentle heat
  2. Bring the cream just to boiling point, and remove from the heat
  3. Add the chocolate pieces, stirring gently but purposefully (you don't want to treat it too harshly, but you want to work quickly) til all the chocolate melts into the cream and it becomes a smooth cohesive whole
  4. Leave to cool a little before icing (although you do want it runny enough to ice with)

To Serve

  1. Tear off four strips of foil or baking paper and place under the edges of one of the cakes on a serving plate (to catch the icing drips, they can then be removed to reveal a perfect cake) 
  2. Spoon the cooled crème on top of this cake and spread out and top with the second cake
  3. Dollop spoonfuls of the chocolate icing on top, letting it spread and drip down the sides
  4. Remove the paper strips from under the cake and serve on a now drip-free plate

PS - I nearly got into a spot of bother when cutting the cake - I had made a deep nick in the side, so I would be able to realign the top and bottom of the cake (a trick learned from my late mother) but once the cakes were cut... i couldn't see the bloody nicks! So I got two cocktail sticks and stuck one in each "tranche" of cake before finally separating them, phew, crisis averted!). Another reason for making a larger cake next time, would be to avoid having to cut the cake in half as there would now be enough mixture to make two separate cakes

Sorry the photos are a little blurry, in our haste to tuck in and taste this gorgeous pile of yumminess last evening, no one would wait for me to get the "perfect shot"


I would like to point out that this is now the TOP (and indeed, only!) contender for the significant-birthday-cake. If you can't blow out on your 40th, when can you?! There has already been a mini-row here this evening, with the mini's scrapping it out over the tail end of leftover cake, I'm sorry now I left my sister and brother-in-law home with a quarter of it, I was far too generous...

Sarah xx

PS - One year later.... Making another Boston Cream Pie today, a year on, give or take, from that first one. I've made a few in the intervening months, and I now use double the Vicky sponge recipe. So that is FOUR eggs, and 225g each of sugar, self raising flour and butter. And honestly - they are much prettier now, after a little practice! Also higher, as I use this larger recipe. And absolutely still the number one tip top favourite cake in our house.