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Una O’Dwyer’s Black Pudding & Thyme Sausage Strata

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Before we found out I was pregnant with our third child, I was in the best shape of my life.

When we got back to the farm after our 2016 Pan-Atlantic/Cross-Canada Adventure, I took up running. Actually, I took up running while I was home in Nova Scotia. The longer evenings and milder temperatures in June gave me a bit of energy. I started tracking my progress (and my caloric intake) on my smartphone. I started the Couch to 5k app and slowly, ever slowly, went from barely being able to run for a minute at a time to running for 25 minutes straight, without stopping.

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I was eating stuff like this pre-pregnancy/pre-strata.

Some runners may scoff at a mere 25 minute run (a jog, really) but for me – as someone who absolutely hated running; who swore she would never, ever be a runner – it was the biggest deal. I never thought I’d be able to do it, but I did.

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Then I got pregnant again. And the extreme exhaustion started creeping in, usually around mid-afternoon. And I started letting my three year old watch endless episodes of Paw Patrol so I could nap on the couch while Ciara napped in her room. And I started craving Big Macs every day at 2pm.

Yes, the calorie-counting went out the window, as did my tri-weekly run – even though my doctor told me I’d be fine to continue. It was just a bit too much.

But I miss it. 25 weeks into this pregnancy, I’m excited to meet our new baby and get back into some kind of exercise regime.

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But the calorie-counting? I don’t miss that. Especially when I can eat things like this decadent black pudding sausage-laden strata, made with Irish cheese (I used Derg Cheddar – they make their cheese using only raw, summer milk here in Tipperary), without feeling guilty.

Una O’Dwyer (aka The Butcher’s Daughter) makes really great sausages. She has a shop in Cashel, Tipperary – about a 40 minute drive from the farm – and sells a wide range of her sausages nationwide. I made this strata with her black pudding & thyme sausages. The earthy flavour of the black pudding went really well with the creamy farmhouse cheddar.

Oh, and thanks to all that pre-pregnancy running, my BMI went down an entire 3 points and I lost more than 15 pounds. We’ll see what the scales say post-pregnancy, but in the meantime I’m going to have a second helping of strata – with a generous dollop of herby sour cream.

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Una O’Dwyer’s Black Pudding & Thyme Sausage Strata

Ingredients:

1 loaf crusty bread, cut into thin slices

1 package Cashel Fine Foods Black Pudding & Thyme Sausages, casings removed

500g button or chestnut mushrooms, sliced

1 large onion, diced

500g cherry tomatoes, cut in half

250g/1 cup aged cheddar cheese (I used raw Derg Cheddar), grated

1 Tbsp rapeseed/olive oil

1 Tbsp butter (for greasing)

10 large eggs

200ml/3/4 cup cream

2 tsp Dijon mustard

2 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

To Serve:

Chopped, fresh herbs (parsley, thyme or chives)

250g/1 cup sour cream

Directions:

  • Preheat your oven to 400∘F (200°C, no fan). Grease a large casserole dish with 1 Tbsp of butter.
  • Heat a large skillet to medium-high on the stovetop. Add the olive oil, then add the diced onion.
  • Cook the onion for five minutes, or until translucent. Add the mushrooms and sausages and continue to fry until tender and caramelized (about 8-10 minutes). You’ve removed the casings from the sausages, so at this stage you can break up the sausages with a wooden spoon.
  • Take half the sliced bread and layer it evenly on the bottom of the buttered casserole dish. Add the sausage/mushroom/onion mixture over the top, then sprinkle that with half the cheddar cheese.
  • Sprinkle the halved cherry tomatoes over the cheese, then layer the other half of the bread over top.
  • In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, Dijon, salt and pepper. Carefully pour the egg mixture over the casserole, ensuring each area is well-coated. Sprinkle the remaining cheddar over the top.
  • Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes, or up to 24 hours, before baking for 45-55 minutes. If you stick a sharp knife in the strata and some egg oozes out, you’ll know it’s not ready. Cook for another 10-15 minutes.
  • Serve hot with a dollop of sour cream and fresh herbs. This casserole serves 8-12 regular people, or 3-4 pregnant ladies.
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Simple Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies

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Maeve turned three last August. These days, she seems to change without me or her dad noticing. Every now and then she makes me stop in my tracks and admire the little human being she is becoming.

Last night over dinner, she started to sing a song. This in itself is not unusual – she is constantly singing. The song choice wasn’t even surprising. She has been regaling us with Christmas carols since November, and Christmas being over for weeks has done nothing to stop her from singing them. It was the language in which she was singing that made me pause and ponder.

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She was singing Away in a Manger in Irish. My little baby. Broken, badly mispronounced Irish, but Irish nonetheless. I thought she was singing in gibberish – Pat corrected me. I knew her playschool teachers had been teaching the students some Irish words, but I thought “bed” and “tree” were the bulk.

I am so proud. Not just of her, but of our community. Our local school is extremely small and fights for numbers as the population dwindles but it has great staff and a fabulous playschool attached. Maeve races in every morning and barely stops to say goodbye.

She has learned so much from her patient, gentle teachers. At three, she has become a truly integrated member of society – a society I didn’t even know existed ten years ago. It makes me really happy.

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OK, maybe having her back at playschool five days a week after a long, shack-happy Christmas break makes me happy, too. Gotta stay honest.

Anyway, yesterday was her first day back. When she got home, I asked her if she wanted to do some baking. I already knew her answer. She always wants to do some baking.

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She asked if we had any chocolate chips for cookies. We didn’t; we had something even better. I had reorganized our massive bookshelf while she was in school (I know!) and found THREE WHOLE BARS of Belgian milk chocolate I had purchased on my weekend away in Brussels that we had somehow forgotten to eat (I know). Coarsely chopped, the creamy, aromatic chocolate was perfect for our chewy cookies.

But, you know. Chocolate chips are fine, too. If you can’t get to Belgium.

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In other news, cookies are a great way to introduce your small child to baking. Mostly because:

  1. It’s really difficult to screw up a cookie. Even when they’re bad, they’re still good.
  2. If the child wants to mix, mix, mix, you won’t end up with a tough, overworked mess. Cookie dough is very forgiving.
  3. Cookies taste good. Everyone likes ’em.
  4. If your kid insists on cracking the eggs herself, you can pick half a shattered eggshell out of cookie dough more easily than, say, cake batter (half the batch eaten and we haven’t found any pieces yet!).

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Ciara was eating chocolate overseeing the cookie-baking from her highchair, in case you were wondering. She’s a tough boss, but luckily she approved of the final product.

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Simple Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Ingredients:

1 cup/250g softened butter

1 cup/250g soft brown sugar

1/2 cup/125g white sugar

1 tsp vanilla

2 eggs

1 cup/250g rolled oats

2.5 cups/625g plain flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp flaky sea salt

1 cup/250g chopped chocolate or chocolate chips

Directions:

  • Preheat your oven to 375∘ F (190∘C). No fan. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • In a large bowl, cream the softened butter with the brown and white sugar. You want the butter to be completely combined with the sugars.
  • Add the vanilla and eggs. Mix until well combined.
  • Add all of the dry ingredients to the bowl and mix. The dough will be slightly sticky, but if you think it’s too sticky you can add more flour (if you like a more robust cookie – I like mine thin and chewy).
  • Fold in the chocolate chunks/chips.
  • Drop cookie dough by the spoonful onto the baking sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes.
  • Cool baked cookies on a wire rack before eating. They’ll keep for days (but definitely won’t last long if your husband, father-in-law and children are anything like mine). You can freeze them, too – they’re great homemade treats to add to lunchboxes!

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48 Hours in Brussels

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Ah, Bruxelles. I fell in love with that charming city over a dreary, cold weekend in November and I’m only now able to tell you about it! Happy new year, dear readers. 2016 was really great for me in lots of ways (like that time my second daughter was born) and really bad in other ways (like that time Donald Trump…).

I think 2017 is going to be really great. Especially for my family, because we’re expanding yet again! Ciara will be 18 months when our third child is born this coming Spring so our two latest babies will be just shy of official “Irish Twin” status, but that won’t make our lives any less hectic. I’m just gonna embrace the craziness and be as kind to myself as possible.

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With that said, why wouldn’t I jump at the chance of a weekend away in one of Europe’s coolest cities? A few girlfriends and I bought cheap Ryanair tickets (€40 return) and rented an apartment for the weekend (which also worked out to about €40 per person). We were as close to the downtown core as you can possibly get, so our accommodation was a steal (and very clean, and very charming – here’s the link to the Airbnb).

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Our group was split between girls who wanted to party and girls who wanted to sleep (aka the pregnant ladies with kids at home). We all wanted to shop and eat. The location suited everyone’s tastes – just steps away from the Grand Place, the pedestrian shopping streets and the bar district. Artisan chocolate shops, French patisseries, waffle kiosks and proper Belgian friteries were absolutely everywhere. A real food heaven.

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On Saturday morning we gathered with other poor backpackers for a free walking tour of the city. Our guide (Oriane from Viva Brussels Walking Tours) was absolutely brilliant. I don’t normally like guided tours – it’s difficult to escape if the tour is really boring – but Oriane was funny, knew her history and gave good tips on where and what to eat/drink in the city. It was a cold, clear day but we were dressed warmly and enjoyed the exercise.

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I spent a lot of time buying chocolate and eating waffles. I must have averaged three waffles per day. The best thing about a true Liège waffle (the term “Belgian” waffle is incorrect since there are two types of waffle in Belgium – the Brussels waffle and the Liège, which is the one we tend to associate with Belgium) is that you can eat it on the go. Most shops will offer all kinds of sweet toppings, but DON’T – it’s just overkill. A proper Liège waffle is already sweet. Wrap it in a napkin and eat while you take in the sights.

As mentioned, there is no shortage of great quality Belgian chocolate on offer in the pedestrian areas off Grand Place. Your biggest problem will be deciding what to buy and from which shop. I bought several types of chocolate from different places and even bought some generic Belgian chocolate at the supermarket – all delicious.

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Other food and drink options worth exploring in Brussels include the famed Speculoos biscuits (my faves came from Maison Dandoy), traditional double-fried frites and, of course, Belgian beer. I know I’m pregnant, but I still bought a small bottle of Gueuze – an old-style Lambic beer which is fermented by particles in the air found only around Brussels. It had a sour, cidery taste. Really nice.

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And the frites? Oh my GAWD the frites. Our apartment was just around the corner from one of Brussels’ best friteries – Friterie du Café Georgette. The frites are triple-fried in beef fat, giving them an addictive flavour and perfect texture. They put Irish chips to shame. With a bit of mayo on the side, these frites made a good, cheap meal for us on more than one occasion.

I wasn’t so crazy about our final meal. Our tour guide had mentioned that Chez Lèon – an old-school Belgian restaurant – served great moules frites. Since the restaurant wasn’t far from our apartment we thought it would be a good place to go for dinner. The ambiance was wonderful. We had an older waitor with flawless tableside service. He was also a shameless flirt and a born entertainer. Unfortunately, my mussels weren’t nearly as vibrant; both moules and frites were disappointingly bland.

Dessert was a different affair (probably since most of the cooking was done tableside). I had a Normandy-style pancake. It might be the best dessert I’ve ever had (a hefty claim, but it was just that good – done simply, served hot – delicious).

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I’d love to go back to Brussels, or explore some of Belguim’s other cities, with my husband someday – preferably when I can drink beer again. The flight is an easy 1.5 hours from Dublin and the city is breathtaking. Don’t get hung up on terrorist threats; just don’t. Life is too short, and Brussels is too beautiful and fun to miss.

And those frites…

*This is not a sponsored post; no freebies were had. Just good times with friends.

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