Jen's Kitchen offers a fresh approach to home cooking with exciting recipes and blog posts that emphasise hands-on cookery using local and organic produce.

My foray into Macarons

I have made macaron before, twice in fact.  Once successfully, and once not.  This week a good friend asked would I make them for her daughters birthday party, along with the cake.  I gave an immediate disclaimer that it’s not in my usual repetoire, and that if successful they were hers, if not, well, the family were eating macaron for dinner.  The ones we came across while visiting the Cake and Bake Show in London were truly works of art.

Beautiful Macarons


And while we are on it- these are macaron, macaroon are not so finesse in looks.

A bit of History

The macaron cookie was born in Italy, introduced by the chef of Catherine de Medici in 1533 at the time of her marriage to the Duc d’Orleans (who became king of France in 1547 as Henry II). The term “macaron” has the same origin as that the word “macaroni” — both mean “fine dough”.

The first macarons were simple biscuits, made of almond powder, sugar and egg whites. Many towns throughout France have their own prized tale surrounding this delicacy. In Nancy, the granddaughter of Catherine de Medici was supposedly saved from starvation by eating these delicies. In Saint-Jean-de-Luz, the macaron of Chef Adam regaled Louis XIV and Marie-Therese at their wedding celebration in 1660.

Only at the beginning of the 20th century did the Macaron become a “double-decker” affair. Pierre Desfontaines, the grandson of Louis Ernest Laduree (Laduree pastry and salon de the, rue Royale in Paris) had the idea to fill them with a “chocolate panache” and to stick them together.  Ta da.

Raspberry Macarons


3 Egg Whites

50g caster sugar

180g icing sugar

115g ground almonds

pinch of salt

¼ tsp cream of tartar

Pink food colouring


(Eventually you will need to preheat your oven to 150oC, but I wouldn’t do that first thing. After everything is mixed and you’ve piped them onto the cookie sheets is a good time to start your oven preheating.)

Sift ground almonds and icing sugar.  You want a really fine powder mixture to create a smooth and pretty top to your macaron.

Beat egg whites until foamy, then add salt, cream of tartar and caster sugar for 8-10 mins. NOTE: eggwhites should be room temp.

Whip until they form a peak that stands upright.  Then add the food colouring. Colour does fade as it cooks, so do a shade or two darker than you want them to be.

Fold your flour/sugar mixture into the egg white mixture.  This part is really critical. Under mix and your macarons will be lumpy and cracked when they bake with no feet, over mix and your macarons will be flat and won’t have feet.

Transfer mixture to a pastry bag pipe out 1 inch rounds on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Once you’ve filled your cookie sheet, rap the pan on the countertop hard at least 2-3 times to release the air bubbles. This will prevent the tops of your macarons from cracking.  Let them sit out for 20 mins, or up to an hour if you want. This will allow them time to dry out a bit before hitting the hot oven. They should be “tacky” to the touch, but not stick to your fingertips. This is when I preheat my oven.

Only put one tray of macarons in the oven at a time.  This will ensure that each tray gets in the ideal spot of the oven.  The macarons sitting out waiting for the oven won’t mind, as they’re supposed to sit out for a while anyway.  Bake for 20 mins.  If they stick to the tray, they’re not done.  They should slide right off the parchment paper.  If they’re still sticking to the paper after 20 minutes, add 5-7 minutes to the cook time and see how they’re doing then.

macarons resting after baking

macarons resting after baking


While you’re baking all your macarons, you can make the filling

Raspberry buttercream

55g butter

110g icing sugar

1 punnet of raspberries, sieved.


Whip butter until pale and fluffy. Slowly add sugar.

Add your raspberry to the buttercream, and whip until combined.

Take one of the baked cookies and pipe a small mound of buttercream onto the flat side, then grab another one and slightly squish the butter cream between the two.


If not eating within 12 hours, put them in the fridge.

Tomato Soup- perfect Autumn comfort

We have lots of tomatoes, which is great, and I’ve frozen lots, so the time had come to make Tomato soup.  I find it’s a bit more fiddly than some other soups.  This is really only due to the fact that you have to sieve it, so the seeds are removed at the end.


Freshly picked off the vine

I use Tom Kerridge’s recipe for posh tomato soup, and even though it’s not a one pot wonder, the result is wellbeing in a mug.  But there are a myriad of recipes, some easier than others. Another recipe that is very simple and tasty, is a roasted tomato soup.Which simply roasts halved tomatoes with some garlic and onion, then this gets blitzed when the tomatoes are turning mushy.  This is also good as a tomato base for homemade pizza.

Tomatoes are easy to grow.  Any place in the sun will nuture a cherry tomato plant.  We are very lucky to have a small greenhouse attached to my father in laws garage.  The horses provide the manure, the eldest provides the manual labour.

The Greenhouse

The Greenhouse

The buzzword for tomatoes at the moment is Heirloom.  With a lower yield than commercially produced seeds, they are not commercially viable but we find less prone to disease.  They do taste good, amazing in fact.  Thankfully genetic modification of tomatoes wasn’t a runner, so we have escaped that catastrophe, their molecular make up is to complex to modify.

A tomato can take up to sixty days to ripen, once the green chlorophyll degrades in the sun, the red colour  indicates the acidity decreasing, and the full flavour develops.  Once a fully ripened tomato is picked, its flavour deteriorates quickly. There are more than four hundred compounds, aromatic as well as flavourful, in the fruit. They all act in concert to let you know you are eating a tomato rather than a turnip.

Oh, and yes, it IS a fruit….

To get the recipe for my gorgeous tomato soup, subscribe to my latest newsletter








Smoothies. A legacy. My Nutribullet

My mum in law swore by smoothies.  Green ones.  Not so sweet- filled with dandelion leaves or nettle types.  Not really my thing.

But I felt I had to try it, if only for the kids! So I purchased a nutribullet.  Rachel had done a quick demo on hers, and my friend Mary SWEARS by hers.  So I, bit the bullet, so to speak.

To  be honest, I hadn’t even opened the book when I started using the bullet, which is unusual for me, but I watched my in-laws make “green smoothies” for years, and although I have held off on the addition of nettles or dandelion leaves, I think the essence of green; spinach/ brocolli, and something sweet; banana/ apple/ other soft fruit, is the optimum combination for sweetness and goodness.

Smoothie with chard, raspberries and banana

Smoothie with chard, raspberries and banana





passionfruit prep for the smoothie

And on a day where the vegetable content on the dinner might not be as high as normal due to time constraints, the smoothie ensures the vitamin and mineral daily allowance box is ticked.

I’ve even used it to make wild garlic pesto, quite successfully.

Pinenuts, freshly grated parmesan, and wild garlic

Pinenuts, freshly grated parmesan, and wild garlic

The finished pesto

The finished pesto

Not everyone in the house is a convert, and I probably need to work on the flavour. But practice makes perfect as they say.

Green Smoothies

Green Smoothies

But enough of the greenness.  And in the interest of balance, and testing, I did try other ways of using the bullet too.

Nutribullet for cocktail making

Nutribullet for cocktail making

Mojitos on a weekend night are made so simply, if not very authentically!  lots of mint and lime are the key flavours.

When mint jelly was requested I used it to blend the mint and hot water, simply then adding some sugar, white wine vinegar, whizzing again, then adding some gelatine leaves.  Leave it to set, and simple as (ode to Rory)

Nutribullet for mint jelly

Preparing the mint

Tonight’s smoothie will have to feature a few superfruit additions I think as we are all feeling a little tired! And although I believe it is essentially better to get the full nutritional value from fruit and veg i.e. the fibre that comes from the skins etc, I think coming into winter the need for extra vitamins and minerals outweighs this negative.  It’s all about balance after all.





Book Review: Lolas Forever

Lola's Forever

Lolas Forever

I got this book as an offer with my new Peggy Porschen “Love Layer” book.  And really I have no idea why it’s taken me so long to bake something from it.  I set my youngest the task of choosing what to bake, and we actually both came up with the same idea.  Banofee Cupcakes.

Banoffee Cupcake

Banoffee Cupcake

Bananas √

Cream Cheese/ Mascarpone √

Salted Caramel √

All in all it was going to be a winner.

As always when I’m making a recipe for the first time, I followed the recipe religiously.  When I got to the part about filling the muffin cases I ran into a little difficulty.  The method said to use an ice cream scoop to put the batter in the cases.  But my batter was VERY licky, so I just poured.  Then injecting the salted caramel (I bought some- I know, I know- but it was late!) was tricky, even with my filling nozzle.

"Filling" nozzle

“Filling” nozzle

They went into the oven with a bit of a prayer, and soon the kitchen smelt just fabulous.  Family members casually walking into the kitchen sniffing the air.

Lola banoffee cupcakes

Banana cupcakes

The icing was just SO good, a creamy blend of mascarpone, cream cheese, and icing sugar. Decadence, and not cheap either- relegating them to special occasion cupcakes. I should have mixed the salted caramel through the icing, but followed the recipe, to “drizzle” it over after piping.  My caramel was too thick, and although I could have warmed it, it was very late at that stage, and the wolves were circling for tasting.

Decorating in progress

Decorating in progress

To be honest, my food photography was seriously lacking.  Maybe the smell of goodnesss overpowered me.  But judging by the number of likes on FB when I posted the half eaten one- they did look good!

Lolas cupcakes

Banoffee Cupcakes

I would definitely make these again, and am thinking of trying the recipe as a cake next time.  I think because there are so many bakeries in London doing a similar thing, for me Lola’s gets a bit lost.  But if I spotted them as I was passing, I would go in and try one!

Homemade Hamburgers with all the trimmings

Homemade Hamburgers are always a favourite in our house.  Although Nigel and I have completely different recipes that we use.  He likes to mix his meats- e.g. lamb and beef, whereas I like to use just beef.

I always start by lightly sautéing finely chopped onions, which I cool, then mix into the minced beef, mixing it all together with some seasoning and a lightly whisked egg.  I would love to tell you that I always mince my own beef, but not on a school night darling- there’s just too much to do.  This night the emphasis was all on the trimmings… grilled streaky rashers, freshly picked sliced tomatoes and homemade onion rings (for a little naughtiness).  And honestly, with homemade hamburgers you can make them exactly the way YOU like them.


Hamburger Trimmings Prep

Hamburger Trimmings Prep

Onion rings, the perfect accompaniment to homemade Hamburgers

While the burgers were “gelling” in the fridge, I got on with slicing the onions into rounds, soaking them in buttermilk and setting up my fryer.  I do have a deep fat fryer, but have only used it twice as it is a complete PAIN to clean, and is kept boxed up and away from sight.  I simply now use a medium sized high sided pot with a little “chip basket”.  I don’t even use a thermometer as I feel that I can judge well enough for something like fried onions.

Homemade Fried Onions

fried onions

I pre- grilled the rashers and left them draining on kitchen paper in the warming drawer, trying SO hard not to taste them to check they were up to scratch!  Then the burgers went on, the addition of either brie or cheddar once they were turned.  The oil was up to heat so I quickly dipped the soaked onions in batches into seasoned flour then fried them until golden.







There’s quite a lot of last minute prep, but you might aswell by standing at the stove doing two jobs, as doing one.  The finishing touch of a duck egg on top was very well received, and not a word was said throughout, just murmurs of enjoyment!

Homemade Hamburgers

Homemade Hamburger

Burnt Butter Crumble Cake

Burnt butter doesn’t sound particularly appealing, does it?  But this simple cake uses it to impart an almost nutty flavour to what is really just a basic sponge.  The weighed butter is melted on a medium heat until the solids start to catch and “burn”, you just have to hold your nerve.  Remember though that once you turn off the hob the residual heat in the pan will keep cooking the butter, therefore it needs to be taken off the heat just before the butter is brown enough.

Butter- nearly burnt

Butter- nearly burnt

This is then put into the freezer to cool for a while.  Meanwhile I made the crumble portion, which I also stuck into the freezer.

Burnt Butter Crumble Cake



110g butter

150g plain flour

75g caster sugar

½ teaspoon baking soda

Pinch of salt


175g butter

300g plain flour

200g caster sugar

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 ½ baking powder

Scant ½ teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

2 eggs

110ml of sour cream (or plain yoghurt)


Combine the crumb ingredients in your mixer and pulse until they look like breadcrumbs. Freeze until required.

In a small saucepan cook the butter (cake ingredients) over a medium heat until the solids start to turn brown.  Transfer to a freezer proof bowl and put into the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180oC,  and line a 23cm loose ring tin.

Mix the flour, salt, sugar, baking soda and baking powder.  Scrape in the butter and mix well.  Add in the sour cream, eggs and vanilla essence and mix well again.

Transfer into the prepared tin and add the crumb to the top using a spoon, leaving it in clumps.

Cook for 50 minutes or until golden brown on top and a skewer comes out clean from the centre of the cake.

Leave to cool in the tin, serve with a dollop of softly whipped cream.

Burnt Butter Crumb Cake

Burnt Butter Crumb Cake

I subscribe to far too many online cookery newsletters, and this cake is based on one I found in Food & Wine, another good one is Bon Appetit, both are American publications as it happens (I also follow some French and UK ones too for balance!), but find it takes my a few goes at making them to get them right, probably as I’m converting the units of measurement badly!

Burnt Butter Crumb Cake

Burnt Butter Crumb Cake

The GROWfest Demo Tent 2015 -Saturday!

This year, the Harvest Festival in Waterford was all singing and dancing- sometimes in rain.  Nigel and myself volunteered this year to help out in the GROWfest Demo Tent- and what a weekend it was.

The GROWfest Tent

The GROWfest Tent

There were four demos on the Saturday, and three on the Sunday.  So we were quite busy! The demo area was, for the main, set up under the tent in Blackfriars.  And the wash up area was a “little” rustic, but that made it all the more enjoyable.

I helped with the demos in the Ballymaloe Cookery School during the Litfest this year, and just loved seeing all the different chefs/ styles and recipes.  So when the opportunity arose again I just jumped at it.

First up was Pip and Pear, a local company who are passionate about good quality baby food, and teaching parents to involve their children in the process of cooking.  Irene spoke from personal experience about raising children and trying to cook for them in the best possible way.  It was very well received by the audience- no mean feat as many of them were small!

Next up were my teachers, Darina and Rory from Ballymaloe.  I was delighted to see Tracie was their gorgeous assistant, and although expectedly manic, it was a packed house and an amazing atmosphere.

Together again! GROWfest Demo

Together again! GROWfest Demo

Despite the challenging back of kitchen facilities….

The view from the wash up- Demo Tent

The view from the wash up- Demo Tent

I admit I had never heard of Chef Adrian, and he will admit himself he looks rather young to be cheffing at all, but he is so relaxed, prepared and friendly.  He was a complete professional.  And had a very enjoyable way of giving the demo.  His steak was pretty good too.

Demo tent side of stage

Demo tent side of stage

Ros, my demo chef partner was in charge of the Lilly Higgins demo, I was very glad at that stage to be just washing up, and the demo went as smoothly as the others.  We were packed up and home by 18.30hrs, feet a little sorer, but both of us in great spirits.  Mind you, I was very glad I’d put lamb shanks on the timer in my oven as cooking for ourselves might have taken a while!

All the GIY guys are so enthusiastic, it made our volunteering a complete joy.  Karen is a complete breath of fresh air, and we were constantly chatting with Amanda and Shona as we all frantically got everything to run throughout the day!



Music in our Lives- Shut up and Dance

We all need music in our lives.  I tend to associate certain songs with certain events.  I listen to the radio mostly when I’m in the car, and sing along all the time.  I was thinking of what my “summer of 2015″ song will be.  And I think because of my trip to New Orleans it has to be “Shut up and Dance” by Walk the Moon.

They closed the Sage Summit in a spectacular fashion, and its such a catchy tune!  But what I really love is the dance mash up that some very clever person, with far too much time on their hands, put together.  (Kudos MsTabularassa)

It appeals to me as I love movies and dance aswell.  We had great fun competing with each other to see who got the most films.  It brought back memories of films watched, and made us want to watch others.  For me? I think I’d like to see Les Untouchables.

I won’t list the films, have a go at it a few times…. they are listed in the comments on the youtube post.

Soundtracks can also make or break a film, and I’m not talking about the Mamma Mia type film! Certain films you remember nearly more for the music rather than the film.  Dirty Dancing is almost iconic for it’s blend of 60’s classics and 80’s emotional songs.  The films title music owes its timelessness to the sultry vocals of Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes and the closing saxophone riff that brings the smouldering chemistry of Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey to life.  Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone re-enacting it in Crazy Stupid Love didn’t do it any harm either!

Then there’s The Bodyguard, which features Whitney Houston singing and starring.  Some of these songs really take off, even if just written specifically for a soundtrack, take Bryan Adams’ “Everything I do” from Robin Hood Prince of Thieves.  That was popular for so long I can’t even bear, to this day, to listen to it.

Footloose is memorable for a number of things, not only it’s music.  Bonnie Tyler is a good one to bag for a soundtrack, as every song gives passion and umph.  Saturday Night Fever is another film that is almost as iconic for it’s music as it’s dancing.  John Travoltas wardrobe is also worth a look at!

Nowadays most people are looking to see who’s singing the theme tune to Bond Films nearly before they look to who is playing Bond!

An although I’ve never seen 8 mile, “Lose yourself” from Eminem is famous for being the first rap song to win an Oscar for Best Original song.

8 Mile

8 Mile- Music with attitude

I think I’d better stop.  But as a gesture of love I’ll have to mention his Purple Greatness. Despite being the title track and centerpiece of its own movie, Prince’s “Purple Rain” isn’t, in my opinion, the best song on the soundtrack. Listen to “When Doves Cry” for my favourite.  However it is, I think, the most well known and quoted track in his repertoire, an easy mix of soul-searching gospel and sultry pop-rock that’s romantic, thoughtful, and endearing while also totally lewd and sex-obsessed, just like Prince.

Feeding your family- good habits for life

While walking through the supermarket the other day I was struck by the amount and variety of food available, and that’s not including the different types of baby milk formula.

Getting the right nutrition for babies can ensure a lifetime of good health, the start of good eating habits, which in turn reduces the risk of obesity and heart disease and even improves skills such as reading and writing.

There are many excellent books available, Neven Maguire has a new book out at the moment, and although I do not have it, his other books are nicely presented with recipes that are easy to follow.

Although I am long past feeding babies, I still follow a few basic rules when feeding everyone, be they old or young!!!

1. Watch the salt.  This is very important.  Too much salt (>1g per day) can start the damage, and most baby milk/ breastmilk covers the majority of this amount. When you taste the food it may taste bland, but a baby’s palate is not as developed.


Season the food with spices or herbs instead if you really feel the need to season, garlic and a tiny amount of black pepper is a good idea, these will also GIVE health benefits.

Be extra vigilant with bought stock cubes and sauces, they can contain a lot of extra salt.

2. Make sure there’s lots of colour and variety. I always try to give family dinners with at least one green, and another vegetable. Sometimes it is frozen peas, but they are the best frozen veg you can get, and sometimes it does need to be quick. Colour and variety means lots of different vitamins and minerals, very good for us all.  If your toddler objects to broccoli, then try three cubes of butternut squash, and one sprig of broccoli, once both have been introduced, rather than just giving broccoli.


Roast Chicken dinner- awaiting gravy

Roast Chicken dinner

3. Cut down on sugar.  This really applies to us all. But other healthy eating advice- 5 portions of fruit and veg a day- doesn’t help.  Fruit naturally contains a high amount of sugar, all be it natural.  So try to offer fruits low in sugar; strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, as opposed to those fruits high in sugar; grapes, melon and pineapple. Whole fruits are better than processed, as the fibre from apple skin is good for the digestion and helps negate the sugar content.

Keep an eye on food labels. Sugar is often called other names on the ingredients list. For example: concentrated fruit juice, fructose, golden syrup, inverted sugar syrup, molasses, and sucrose.

4. Try not to cook separate meals, not everybody loves everything, but they very rarely refuse everything, so if you are feeding a child that is not eating fish at the moment, then if you are serving fish, make sure there are adequate veggies etc, so that they will not go hungry if they don’t eat the fish.  Obviously it is desirable to have a balanced diet every day, but that’s not always achievable or realistic, so don’t beat yourself up over it.

Baby Food aisle in the supermarket

Baby Food aisle in the supermarket

5. Portion sizes are always an issue.  My eyes are usually bigger than my tummy, and I really have tried to cut down the portion sizes for the whole family, unless its salad!  I find this hardest when eating out with the family, portion sizes are really out of control, how do they make any money???

Other than that, go with your gut feeling, especially if they are not well, a piece of jam on toast may not be ideal, but if that’s all they will eat when under the weather, then go with it.

I’m not going to recommend any particular brand or type of food for babies or toddlers, but did come across a Waterford company Pip and Pear at the weekend who do seem to know what they are doing, the company owner herself is passionate about nutrition and also how cooking for young ones fits in with family life.





harry’s Shack- worth the trip

When we travelled to Portstewart last weekend, I never expected to be dining in style.  But a facebook friend said to visit Harry’s Shack while we were in the area, and we suddenly grinned from ear to ear.

Harry's Shack

Harry’s Shack

We had visited harry’s restaurant, Bridgend in March 2014, and “knew ” Donal from Twitter.  We had the most amazing meal, and knew that when the sister establishment opened the summer of 2014, that we would have to visit.

Donal with supporting Pims in harry's

Donal with supporting Pims

We were heading into Coleraine to do some shopping and were hoping to get to Portstewart Strand in time for lunch, but with the air show on in Portrush, we were unsure about the traffic and subsequent restrictions. but the eating Gods were with us, and we arrived in perfect time, and got a fabulous table overlooking the strand.

The view from our table

The view from our table

The menu, from the looks of it, is changed daily, and with specials made for good reading.  We shared the battered white bait to start, but very nearly ordered the prawns.

Whitebait with fresh salad and marie rose sauce

Whitebait with fresh salad and marie rose sauce

For main course I asked permission of the bill payer as to whether I could have my choice of half lobster.  Of course he agreed as he was going to be getting a taste.  Nigel tried the recommended whole sole special, which just tasted fabulous, and was served with a bowl of mashed potato.

Half Lobster mecca

Half Lobster mecca

Whole Sole on the bone- DIVINE

Whole Sole on the bone- DIVINE

As we are both trying to “Be good”, dessert was to be shared, mind you I was absent when it arrived to the table, and was very surprised that it was still there when I came back.

Chocolate Pot

Chocolate Pot

We had been tweeting with harry’s throughout the meal and they said not to go without trying the pistachio macarons.  But I just couldn’t fit another bite.

Pistachio Macaron at harry's Shack

Pistachio Macaron at harry’s Shack

It does give a reason to come back- see you at the end of October!!!