Food, Life, Laughter and a little Cooking

Start Planning- Order your Hampers!

Even though it’s still November, it’s good to get ahead of the posse. You can, of course order any Christmas food from me in the usual emailly way.  But this post is specifically about HAMPERS.

I LOVE getting hampers.  They are usually filled with all the things that you secretly crave- but feel guilty if you buy them for yourself. My favourite ones are those with cheeses and wine.  Two of my not-so secret guilty pleasures at Christmas.

Christmas Hampers

Christmas Hampers

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A Taste of Halloween

Although not a particular fan of dark evenings, Halloween is a mega excuse to go all out with the baking. Taste is important, but at this time of year the decoration is also important, but remember no style over substance!  Last year we made the chocolate graveyard cupcakes.  They exuded taste and style.  So no pressure for this year.

A Taste of Halloween 2016

A Taste of Halloween 2016

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Sitting in the Dark

This month I have been very aware of all the talk around Mental Health. And of how lucky we are in Ireland (and Europe) to be relatively unaffected on a day to day level, by extreme weather conditions.  We are never in the dark for very long. And never more was the below quote more relevant to both situations.

The Dark Side

I, like most people, have my dark days.  Usually when I’m tired. And I feel out of control. And need to “get my affairs” in order to right myself. Luckily I have a few friends who are quite happy to sit with me in the dark.  And I would like, in return to offer myself to my friends and acquaintances to also, be that silent sitter. Just being with someone, not offering advice, just simply being there, can make all the difference.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m also one for a bit of a rant.  The phone is often burning.  But that real low can sometimes be difficult to tackle when all the balls you’ve been juggling in the air come crashing down around your head.

Then, for example, the hurricane hits, and not the metaphorical one that has been building in your head.  The actual horror of a hurricane.  As I work in Cork now I decided to travel from Waterford to Cork on the Sunday night so as to avoid travelling during the storm. And suffice to saw after 24 hours, most of it without power, and any means of communication with the outside world, I was incredibly thankful to see a sunrise.

But we were all safe, the buildings relatively intact and apart from the unfortunate side effect of long term lack of electricity, we were all fine.  Good even. And that’s sometimes how it is.

There’s a storm, then darkness, then the light starts slipping in again.  We feel  a bit shook, but ultimately come out the other side. But for many, it’s not that simple.  If that’s you, I’m here.  Ready to sit with you in the dark.





Tackling a Blueberry Mountain Part 1

My better half came home from work recently with a veritable mountain of blueberries that just needed to be used. And no, not planning on Blueberry pancakes. SOS as they say. So in my recent trend of making traybakes, I decided on making a beautifully coloured and blueberry filled bake. This cake is equally delicious made using fresh or frozen blueberries.  And I’m sure, that it would be equally as good with blackberries.


The Blueberry Mountain

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Sunrise- Sunset

And as the song says- swiftly go the years. Suddenly it’s 2017. And so much has changed. One less in the house. (Eldest gone to college). No longer working in Accounting Software (17 years later). Growing our New Business. Two now actually in college, the better half has gone back to do a Masters.  One still in school. And me, teaching in a cookery school.

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Anyone for Torta di Risa Dolce (Rice Cake!)??

Now if you know what’s good for you- you’ll say yes! I just love risotto and when I found this little gem I was delighted to make it my own.  And this is just perfect to have with a coffee at 11, or with some creamy vanilla ice cream as a dessert.  Warm of cold, it makes no odds.  Just simply divine.

There is no food richer in meaning than rice: life, wealth, and prosperity accompany this grain, a cornerstone of Italian cuisine. It was already a common ingredient in ancient China and India. According to archeologists, rice originated 15,000 years ago on the Indian side of the Himalayas!
Rice is an extremely important ingredient for the populations of the Far East who base their diet on this white cereal. Alexander the Great introduced the grain to Persia and then scientists brought it to the Middle East. Over the centuries, it finally made its way to Europe, first in Greece, then in the Roman lands, where it was never cultivated, rather imported. Rice remained an expense food for the rich Westerners who used it in small doses as a cosmetic or to fight against intestinal disease or fevers!

Risotto Rice, milk, sugar and dried fruit go into this delicious gluten-free cake originally from the city of Bologna.

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The Best Chocolate Birthday Cake- EVER

I often get orders for chocolate birthday cakes, but have never been requested to make a Grey’s anatomy themed cake before.  Sometimes broken biscuit cake ones, sometimes sponge.  This time it was the youngests very belated birthday cake.  We decided on chocolate and raspberry, and i thought about a cheesecake type filling, with three layers.

Next issue was the decoration. Gone are the days of unicorns or ballet dancers.  This summer will forever be known as the “Grey’s Anatomy” summer. I love it, and she happened to watch a couple of episodes of season 13 with us after her exams were over. And that was it- she was addicted. So we got the first goodness knows how many series for her to watch. And I’ve had to re-live some of the most sob worthy story lines.  But some really good sound tracks with it.  So when it came to the cake decoration- if she couldn’t have Patrick Dempsey on the cake it had to have a Grey’s Anatomy theme. Ahem. No challenge there so.

As a note, when I put pictures up of the finished cake I was asked for a gluten free version, simply substitute the plain flour for gluten free plain flour.  Just as delicious.

Chocolate Birthday Cake with Raspberries

125g Butter, very soft

150g cocoa powder

300g plain flour

225g caster Sugar

pinch of salt

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

2 large eggs

220ml of buttermilk


For the Icing:

250g mascarpone cheese, soft

200g butter, soft

500g of icing sugar



For the ganache:

250g dark chocolate drops

250ml double cream

10g Liquid Glucose (Optional)



The Cake:

Heat your oven to 160oC.  Brush three 6” sandwich tins with sunflower oil and then line the bases with greaseproof paper.

Add all the ingredients to your mixing bowl and beat on low until all is combined and you are not likely to get showered with flour if you turn it up.  Then turn it up to quite high and mix for 3 minutes.  It should get much lighter in colour.

Grey's anatomy

Chocolate cakes cooling in their tins

Measure carefully into the three tins and bake for 15-20 minutes until the skewer comes out nearly clean.  Leave in the tins to cool.

The Ganache:

Heat the cream until just boiling.  Add the chopped chocolate/ chocolate drops and leave sit for 2 minutes- without stirring.  Then slowly using a spatula and starting in the middle gradually combine the chocolate and cream.  You can add 10g of liquid glucose at this stage to give a luscious shine. Leave to cool and thicken.


Mix the butter and the icing sugar, slowly unitl combined- again you are wainting for the snow storm to pass.  Then beat the bejazus out of it for 3 minutes.  Add in the mascarpone, but slowly, until combined. If you over-whip this it tends to get runny.

Release the cakes from the tins.  When completely  cold, sandwich the cakes together with this, adding halved raspberries to each layer.  Finish with a crumb coat and stick in the freezer for ten minutes.  You should have enough icing to cover the whole cake again.  The crumb layer is just a thin layer of icing that holds the cake together in a nice shape and gives a nice base for the final layer of icing.

After the time in the freezer carefully, using your palate knife, add the last layer of buttercream icing.  When it is even and complete return to the freezer for 30 minutes.

When your ganache has started to thicken it is ready to use.  Place the cake on a wire rack over a bowl or rimmed plate.  Pour the ganache over the cold cake, turing it so that you get an even coat.  Leave to set before adding a final flourish of raspberries.  Serve with some softly whipped cream.


Grey's anatomy decorated Chocolate cake

Grey’s Anatomy decorated Chocolate cake


A theme park named Efteling

When you think of theme parks there are the usual contenders that roll off the tongue.
Disneyland- be it Paris or Florida, Legoland – and then the New Irish entry- Tayto Park. Rarely Efteling Park.

Roller coasters are the main attraction for families in Efteling for the most part, and to be honest, that was the reason we were going.  But the only other rollercoaster theme parks we had ever visited were Disney and Lego land Windsor.  And they have both gone down extremely well with all family members. So I got the tickets with some trepidation for Efteling.

I had found out about this park from a Facebook Group, and read the reviews at length.  The park was about 1.5hours away from Maastricht, so we were planning it as a day trip. The cost of the tickets were €37 each, with parking extra at €10.  BUT by buying the tickets in advance (we did it the night before) we got a substantial discount.

We arrived a little later than expected due to an accident on the road.  As an aside travelling by car/ foot or bicycle in The Netherlands is EXTREMELY easy, so the road delay was unusual.

The parking was VERY well stewarded, and we were only a 10 minute walk from the park.  There are maps in many languages, and although I knew from the reviews, and from their website, that it IS all in Dutch! I was concerned about tickets, especially the parking one, but the gentleman at the gate had excellent English and was VERY helpful at putting my technophobic mind at rest.

Herself had plotted out route, so we marched swiftly to a roller coaster at the rear of the park.  A wooden roller coaster, two “racing” dragons, with full turns and twists. I had downloaded an app for the Efteling Park on my phone, and it was VERY handy for checking queue times.


Love this idea for an ATM!!!

We came off the ride, shook.  We probably should of, in hindsight, done a less violent ride first! However, it was done,  and we pulled ourselves together.  It was AN excellent experience to be fair.

And that was the way the day went, we looked at the app, went to the closest ride with the shortest queue time.  I did all, except one.  It looked just terrifying.

We had brought sandwiches, but purchased some hot dogs and doughnuts to munch which were VERY good, and reasonable.  We were lucky with the weather, which always helps.


We meandered around the park, there were some excellent rides, some not so good, but lovely trees etc and things to look at.  On MY to-do list was a “pagent” for all the world.  We had visited, a couple of times, the French park- Puy Du Fou. ( Which isn’t a park with rollercoasters, but lots of pagentry- romans, birds, jousting etc.) They had supplied the horses and birds for a good v’s bad pagent that we had to get tickets for, even though they were included.  I just LOVED it, despite there being technical difficulties with the English. Of course, there were horses, fire, water, goodies and baddies!

All in all, it’s worth the trip.  Will we go back? Maybe, but not next year.  The roller coasters and rides were excellent, shorter queues as compared to Disney and Legoland. but the lack of English explanations were difficult at times.


Pear Loaf Cake

When it’s apple season it also happens to be pear season.  My Grandmother always grew pears aswell as apples and always kept a fruit paring knife in her apron to dole out fruit to the hungry grandchildren.  She always kept the pears on the windowsil to ripen. And for me, often, pears are like avocados.  A 10 second window of ripeness that often happens, apparently, in the middle of the night, so that they go from rock- diamond hard to mush in 12 hours. This cake uses pears, but they are nearly better when not quite ripe.

Pear Loaf Cake

Pear Cake
200g Plain Flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
200g sugar, plus more for sprinkling
100g butter, melted and cooled, plus more for brushing
80ml plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 large pear, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon minced crystallized ginger

Preheat the oven to 180°C and butter and line a loaf tin. In a large bowl, whisk the flour with the baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar with the melted butter, buttermilk, eggs and vanilla. Using a wooden spoon, mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, then fold in the pears and ginger.

Pear Cake

Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake in the centre of the oven for about 45 minutes until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean; loosely cover the top with foil during the last 15 minutes to prevent over-browning.

Pear Loaf Cake

Pear Loaf Cake

Transfer the cake to a wire rack and let cool completely in the pan. Invert the cake onto a plate and invert again.  I like to “paint” the cake top with sugar syrup and I scatter some sugar crystals. Slice the cake and serve with some softly whipped cream.
Pear Cake

Tomato and Bread Soup Recipe

Who doesn’t love a ripe tomato? Unfortunately those that you buy in a supermarket, with some exceptions, are just NOT nice AT ALL. This recipe should ONLY be made with the ripest of tomatoes. And in this case, not even tinned tomatoes will do.
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Tomato and Bread Soup

Handful of fresh basil
1 head of garlic, cloves separated, peeled
25g Parmesan with rind
3 slices thick day-old or stale country-style bread with crusts, torn into 1-inch pieces
75ml olive oil, plus more for drizzling
salt, freshly ground pepper
1.5kg ripe tomatoes, cut into large pieces
Pluck basil leaves from stems. Place stems and any larger or not-so-beautiful leaves in a large saucepan along with 2 or 3 larger garlic cloves; cover with 3 cups water. Set aside remaining smaller, prettier basil leaves. Cut Parmesan away from rind and add rind to pan; set cheese aside. Bring liquid to a bare simmer over medium heat, then reduce heat so mixture is steaming. Let ingredients steep while you start the soup. This step may seem like a lot of faff.  But is totally worth it.

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Preheat oven to 200°C. Spread out 1 cup bread on a small rimmed baking sheet, drizzle lightly with oil, season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Toast until edges are crisp but centres are still chewy, 8–10 minutes; set croutons aside.
Meanwhile, slice remaining garlic cloves. Heat ⅓ cup oil in a medium pot over medium and cook garlic, stirring occasionally, until evenly golden brown and softened, about 2 minutes. Season generously with salt and pepper. Add tomatoes to pot and cook, stirring energetically with a wooden spoon now and then, until tomato juices are bubbling, 6–8 minutes. Taste and season with more salt and pepper, then add remaining 3 cups bread.

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Stir to coat, then strain basil stock into tomato mixture and bring to a simmer. Cook, whisking occasionally, until bread disintegrates into a porridgelike texture and soup is velvety and thick, 10–12 minutes. (The whisk helps break the bread into smaller pieces; if you like your soup rustic, stick with the spoon. If you want it to be very smooth, use an immersion blender.)
Finely grate reserved Parmesan and whisk half into soup along with reserved basil. Cook, stirring, until soup is thickened and looks shiny, about 2 minutes. Taste and season with more salt and pepper as needed.
Divide soup among bowls and top with reserved croutons, remaining Parmesan, and a drizzle of oil. Divine!

Tomato and Bread Soup

Tomato and Bread Soup