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Posts from the ‘Holiday Cooking’ Category

Perfect Christmas Sugar Cookies

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Is it even Christmas without cookie decorating?

I know it’s not really a thing in Ireland. The Irish I’ve spoken to about this largely believe an iced sugar cookie, or even gingerbread cookie, is a bit too sweet. I wholeheartedly disagree with this.

In Ireland, kids leave Santa mince pies as a snack. Mince pies! I wholeheartedly disagree with this.

The longer I reside in Ireland, naturally, the more Irish I become in my through process. I’ve noticed this. But there are some things I’ll never let happen; Christmas is a nostalgic time of year. When you think of your happiest times as a child, it’s generally Christmas most of us think of. I definitely do.

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When I was little, my brothers and I always went to Christmas Eve church service with our parents. Then we would go to our neighbour’s for a visit, then when I got a bit older I would go to spend time with my aunt and her family before heading home to my bed.

In the morning, as a kid, we could go down to see what Santa brought us but we were never, under any circumstances, allowed to touch the wrapped presents under the tree until my parents and my grandma, who was confined to a wheelchair, would get up and join us.

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I think my favourite Christmas was the one where I got my cat, Belle. My dad brought her over to me after we had opened all of our gifts. I couldn’t figure out why there was a basket for a pet under the tree and assumed it was for our dog. When my dad went out Christmas morning and came back with a kitten, I was over the moon with happiness.

“Santa got caught in a storm last night and had to leave her at the Scherzinger’s,” he said.

Belle would go on to live for a whopping 22 years, despite (or maybe in spite of) my mother not being a cat person. She was a great cat.

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It’s been hard to adapt to Irish Christmas traditions because my happy Christmas memories are all Canadian. But since my daughters have gotten a bit older, it’s gotten easier to adapt to Irish Christmas. I am at peace with having to make both turkey and ham for Christmas dinner (though I refuse to make Irish trifle, with canned fruit cocktail, jello and store-bought sponge cake). We have started our own Christmas traditions with the kids and it gets more fun every year.

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This year, as always, we will be making loads of gingerbread and sugar cookies. We’ll invite a bunch of kids over to the house and let them go crazy with the royal icing and sprinkles. Their parents will hate me, but it’s all in good fun.

Here’s my recipe for the perfect sugar cookie. A good sugar cookie, in my opinion, should have defined edges, taste better with age (I even like them straight from the fridge or freezer) and it absolutely MUST BE ICED. If the cookie is too sweet, you’re doing it right.

Christmas is all about being too sweet.

Enjoy!

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Perfect Sugar Cookies

Ingredients:

3 cups flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 cup unsalted butter

A pinch of salt

1 cup sugar

1 large egg

1 tsp vanilla

Directions:

  • Whisk flour and baking powder together in a bowl. Add a pinch of salt.
  • In a stand mixer (paddle attachment) or with a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  • Add the egg and mix to combine. Add the vanilla and mix again.
  • Add the flour mixture in by the cup, slowly, until everything is combined. Dough will be crumbly at first and then comes together.
  • Gather the dough by hand. Knead a few times to smooth out the dough.
  • Shape into two discs and wrap in plastic. Chill for 30 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 180˚C and line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • Roll out the dough to ¼ inch thickness, then cut into shapes.
  • Transfer to the baking sheets and bake for 7-10 minutes (you don’t want them to brown too much around the edges – you still want them to be fairly white in colour).
  • Cool and decorate with royal icing, sprinkles or piped buttercream.

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Bacon & Cabbage with Parsley Cream Sauce

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Ah, Paddy’s Day.

Those Facebook memories that keep popping up remind me that St. Patrick’s Day isn’t just a fun family holiday. Things just seem to happen for me around this time of year – good things.

Luck of the Irish? Perhaps. Or maybe we’re all just in better moods because the sun tends to come out in March. The trees start to bud, my garden starts to grow, the end of calving season (and; therefore, around-the-clock cow monitoring) is in sight and the air feels significantly warmer.

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Patrick with some Irish fans in Yogyakarta – our most booze-free Paddy’s Day

This time eight years ago, Patrick and I were embarking on a three-month-long backpacking trip around Southeast Asia. Facebook tells me we were in Java, Indonesia. We just climbed Gunung Bromo, a small active volcano, and were en route to Yogyakarta – a city we absolutely loved.

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Paddy’s Day Parade in Seoul, South Korea, 2008 (strange, no?)

This time four years ago, we were getting ready to leave Toronto for good. I was very excited and a little bit worried. After all, I was nearly six months pregnant and we were both leaving good jobs behind, with no work prospects in Ireland. I loved my work in Toronto but didn’t love living in the city. I couldn’t deal with the prospect of raising my kids so far away from family. Moving to Ireland, as you may have guessed, has worked out brilliantly. We are happy and thriving (and working!).

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Beautiful Porto. Take me back!

This time three years ago we were in Portugal on our first-ever family holiday with Maeve. She was seven months old and we had a wonderful time in Lisbon, Porto and Aveiro. The weather was warm and sunny (but not too hot) and we visited with friends I hadn’t seen in years.

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Maeve and her cousins, eating green pancakes.

And this year? One of my best friends is coming to stay with her 10-month-old baby boy. When they go home, Patrick and I are going to Galway for a few nights to eat, drink and relax sans children. So yeah, March brings good things, and St. Patrick’s Day is just one of them.

I remember Paddy’s Days of the past. In university, in Korea, in (yes!) Yogyakarta and, of course, here in Ireland, I’ve had some crazy times. These days our Paddy’s Day tends to be quieter and more kid-focused. Coffee at a friend’s house, taking the kids to the parade, making green pancakes for breakfast – all of these things are quickly replacing the pub breakfasts and day-long drinking sessions of the past.

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Bacon and cabbage is becoming tradition, too. While North Americans gorge themselves on corned beef, the Irish will generally sit down to a family meal of just about anything (Chinese takeaway? I wouldn’t say no). At our house, I usually make a big feed of bacon and cabbage for us and any other family members milling around the farm.

The parsley sauce is entirely optional, but I like it. A lot of people eat their bacon and cabbage with a schmear of English mustard or the ubiquitous brown sauce, but I think it’s more of a complete meal with the parsley sauce (also, it will impress your friends if you want to make this for a Paddy’s Day dinner party). It tastes fancy but is so easy to make.

The dish is called Bacon & Cabbage, but it wouldn’t be the same kind of bacon you have with your scrambled eggs. Here, a loin of ham is called a joint of bacon. You can get them smoked or unsmoked. Just ask your butcher, or, when in doubt, get some uncooked ham. It’s basically the same thing. Bacon and cabbage is usually served with mashed potatoes, but I love boiling new potatoes with the skin-on this time of year.

Whatever you end up doing for Paddy’s Day, I hope it’s great and full of delicious food, drink and loved ones. Sláinte mhath!

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Bacon & Cabbage with Parsley Cream Sauce

Ingredients:

Bacon & Cabbage:

1-2 kg ham/bacon joint (cured and uncooked, ask your local butcher!)

1-2 large head savoy or green cabbage

4L chicken stock

1-2 bay leaves

2-3 sprigs fresh thyme

Parsley Sauce:

½ cup butter

1 clove garlic, minced

¾ glass dry white wine

1 cup heavy cream

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 bunch fresh parsley, finely chopped

Salt and Pepper, to taste

Directions:

  • In a large pot, bring the ham, stock, bay leaves and thyme to a simmer. Simmer the ham/bacon for about 1 hour – or until the ham is cooked through.
  • While the ham is cooking, prep your cabbage: using a large knife, cut out the core and slice the head of cabbage into large wedges. Leave the wedges whole and set aside while the ham cooks.
  • When the ham is cooked, remove the ham, bay leaves and thyme from the pot. Add the cabbage to the remaining broth and cook until tender, about 10 minutes.
  • Make the parsley sauce: in a hot saucepan, add the butter and garlic. Cook for 30 seconds – don’t let the garlic brown. Add the wine and reduce by half, then add the cream. Let the cream boil and thicken for a few minutes – you want the sauce to coat the back of a spoon.
  • When the cream is thickened, add the chopped parsley and season with Dijon, salt and pepper.
  • Slice the ham and add it back into the broth with the cabbage wedges, just to heat through.
  • Depending on the size of your bacon (I usually buy a 1kg joint), this will feed 4-6 people. Serve hot with boiled or mashed potatoes.

Perfect Italian Buttercream

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Well, the weeks and months seem to be flying by. Suddenly my sleepy little newborn is wide awake and PLAYING WITH TOYS and FOCUSING ON PEOPLE and GIGGLING and generally being adorable. These are all amazing developments, even if they mean less me-time and more baby/toddler-time. The blog suffers, as do my other interests, general health and well being and, sometimes, my sanity. But it’s all good. The Spring has more or less arrived and the sunny weather does great things for the spirit.

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In a little over a MONTH I’ll be flying to Canada with my girls. Ciara really needs a passport. My mom is here in Ireland, which is amazing, and she’ll be flying home with us, as will a friend’s daughter, who will travel around with us in Canada and be a great help with the smallies. I’m looking forward to it. I can’t wait to see all my extended family members and friends at home in Cape Breton, and at the end of our “Canada time” we’ll fly out to Victoria, BC to spend time with my brothers and their kids.

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In the meantime, days are spent on playdates and coffee breaks. The Easter bunny came over the weekend, leaving way too much chocolate for a two year old. Luckily Maeve has her mom, dad, grandad and nana to help do away with the spoils. We spent our Easter having lots of family time. This included a feast of epic proportions on Easter Sunday with a huge roasted gammon joint, garlicky dauphinoise potatoes, spring veggies, smoked trout from the fabulous Goatsbridge Farm in Thomastown, Kilkenny, lots of wine and THIS. This dark chocolate layer cake with vanilla Italian buttercream and chocolate mini-eggs.

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The whole meal was great, but the cake was extra-delicious. Even though we were massively full, everyone managed to save room for a slice. The cake was moist and rich and the buttercream was light, airy and blissful – which is surprising, considering an entire pound of butter went into it. Yes, this isn’t a diet-friendly recipe (are any of my recipes diet-friendly? I need to take a long hard look at my life) but it is the perfect indulgent holiday dessert.

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You don’t need to make it “Easter” or even “holiday”. Top it with chocolate-dipped strawberries, edible flowers, candied orange slices or nothing at all. I like how it looks with the naked-mask of frosting. It would make a really impressive birthday cake for someone.

I used a few tools to make this cake.

  • 4 small sandwich tins
  • a cake turntable
  • a stand mixer
  • a large pallet knife
  • a sharp serrated knife

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If you don’t have any of these things, don’t panic. This buttercream masks the cake perfectly and is very forgiving if, like me, you have a bit of a wobbly hand. I will say that the pallet knife, at least, is important if you like sharp, defined corners on your cake. The turntable helps because you can keep the knife as steady as possible with one hand while turning the cake with the other. But even if you slap this buttercream on with a spoon, or just schmear it in between the layers and leave the sides alone, it will still look great and taste amazing.

This cake was made with my usual Never Fail Chocolate Cake recipe with dark, good quality cocoa powder and hot coffee instead of boiling water. I made the cake in the four sandwich tins, let them cool, wrapped them in plastic and let them sit overnight. That way they were cool enough and retained all their moisture when the time came to ice them.

So here it is! The recipe for the perfect Italian Buttercream (no icing sugar in sight).

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Perfect Italian Buttercream

Ingredients:

5 egg whites, room temperature

1 tsp cream of tartar

1.5 cups/375g white sugar

1/3 cup/90ml water

1 tsp good quality vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

2 cups/454g/1 big block good quality butter (like Tipperary Co-op)

Directions:

  • Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large mixing bowl with a hand mixer). Using the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks.
  • While the egg whites are being whisked, combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan and boil into a thick syrup (soft ball stage). You don’t want the sugar to caramelize. I don’t keep track of the temperature (who has time for that, really) but it’s at the point where the syrup is quite thick and about to begin to caramelize.
  • Turn the stand mixer down to low and slowly pour the hot syrup into the whisked egg whites. Do this slowly enough that the syrup doesn’t splash too much on the sides of the bowl. Touch the side of the bowl. It will be quite warm from the syrup and the egg whites will have gone down in volume.
  • Continue to whisk on med-high until the mixture cools to nearly room temperature – about 3-5 minutes.
  • Take the pound of butter and cut it into small cubes. Once the egg white mixture has cooled, continue mixing while adding cubes of butter, 2 or 3 at a time. Allow the bits of butter to be combined into the mixture before adding more butter. Slowly add the entire pound of butter while constantly whisking. Once all the butter is added, don’t freak out if the mixture looks curdled. Keep whisking for several more minutes until everything is well incorporated. Add the vanilla and beat into the frosting.
  • The finished buttercream should be aerated, totally smooth, slightly thick and off-white in colour. Use it immediately to mask your cake, or pipe onto cupcakes.

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Crossogue Preserves Brandied Mincemeat Oat Squares

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Happy Holidays everyone!

I’m sitting on my new (reclining) couch, still in PJ’s and bathrobe at 10pm (yeah… didn’t bother getting dressed today), my two-year-old is softly singing “Let It Go” in bed along with her new Elsa doll (who also sings – who got her that?!). I love these few days after Christmas and before New Years – there’s nothing to do. Literally!

I don’t have cakes to bake for anyone.

I don’t have any articles to write.

I don’t have a physical job to go to.

With the copious amount of food and snacks in the house, I don’t feel compelled to cook dinner.

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Basically, I can put my feet up for a little while and just relax. Even Maeve seems to be extra chilled out these days, making things like going to bed and getting up in the morning much easier on all of us (8:30am wake-ups are A-OK in my books!).

Of course, this will only last a few days. By New Years Eve I’ll be cooking another massive spread and it will be all hustle and bustle again. But until then I’ll just recline on my new couch, stick my 9-month pregnant belly out and enjoy some quality relaxation time.

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I wanted to share a new recipe with you today – and yes, it’s holiday related – even though Christmas has come and gone. But I’m sure I’m not the only one with lots of leftover mincemeat from making too few pies this year!

Come December in Ireland, mince pies are everywhere. In every bakery, every grocery store, every small shop. They just take over. If you enjoy mince pies, this is a good thing. I’ve never been a fan. Not until I tried Crossogue Preserves‘ Brandied Mincemeat.

Not only is it delicious, it’s made locally in small batches. To me, that’s just quality assurance. Small batches? That means it’s hard to mess up. And I have never had a jam, marmalade or mincemeat from Crossogue Preserves that hasn’t tasted just perfect.

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If you’re ever looking for Crossogue Preserves headquarters, GOOD LUCK. They make their preserves in Ballycahill, Tipperary – a few minutes’ drive outside of Thurles, but still very, very hard to find if you don’t know the area extremely well. And I don’t. I’m still learning. But I got there eventually, and the 5 kilo bucket of mincemeat was so, so worth the struggle.

Because these mincemeat squares are pretty divine. And addictive. And did I mention they’re a great alternative to your average mince pie?

I basically used my old fashioned date square recipe and swapped Crossogue’s Brandied Mincemeat for my usual date filling, making an already easy recipe even easier. 

So even though the season for mince pie is basically over, why don’t we take these few easygoing days between Christmas and New Years to enjoy some crumbly, buttery, brown-sugary squares with a hot cup of tea (or if you’re not pregnant like me, some boozy eggnog!).

Go on. Enjoy your life. Have an extra-boozy drink with me in mind (just a few more days til I can indulge, hopefully!).

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Crossogue Preserves Brandied Mincemeat Oat Squares

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups rolled oats

1 1/2 cups plain flour

1 cup cold butter, cubed

1 cup light brown sugar

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 cups Crossogue (or homemade) Brandied Mincemeat

Directions:

  • Preheat your oven to 350° (180°C, no fan) and line a rectangular baking dish with parchment paper. Set aside.
  • In a bowl, mix the oats, flour, brown sugar, salt and baking soda. Add the cubed butter and rub into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs.
  • Take half the mixture and press it firmly into the bottom of the lined baking dish. Evenly spread the mincemeat over and then sprinkle the remaining half of the flour mixture on top (keep the topping crumbly).
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes. The top won’t look overly browned, but it will be done.
  • Allow to cool completely (I left mine to cool overnight) before gently removing from the baking dish and cutting into squares.
  • Makes 12-16 squares depending on the size baking dish you use. Keep them in an airtight container for up to a week (but they won’t last that long).

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A Belated St. Patrick’s Day Greeting

Hello, friends!

Pussy Willows! In Urlingford, Co. Kilkenny

Pussy Willows! In Urlingford, Co. Kilkenny

We made it to Portugal and back in one piece. Actually, even better than one piece (if that’s possible). We flew out last Friday (the 7th) and returned to Ireland after nine blissful, sunshiney days touring the country with our backpacks and baby in tow. We flew back to Ireland the day before St. Patrick’s Day for obvious reasons – I mean, we couldn’t let Maeve celebrate her first Paddy’s Day in another country. It’s bad enough that Pat had to celebrate Ireland’s huge 6 Nations win in another country (believe me, I’ve been hearing all about it).

The Kennedy Girls at Grandad's

The Kennedy Girls at Grandad’s

It was my first Paddy’s Day in Ireland, too. As we approach my one year anniversary in the country I marvel at the fact that I haven’t been here longer. I feel like I have. Not in a bad way; it just really feels like home. And as lovely as Portugal was (much more on that to come), it was equally lovely to come back – first to Tipperary and then to our little house in Waterford.

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It was in Tipperary that we celebrated Paddy’s Day. Two of Pat’s siblings were home, as were our nieces, so we had a very low-key celebration involving Shepherd’s Pie, Portuguese Egg Tarts (Pastel de Nata) brought back from our travels and tea. Of course, we took the girls to a nearby parade in Urlingford (which is in County Kilkenny – Pat’s small village is right at the edge of Tipperary and doesn’t do a parade). It was a great fun with lots of village “inside joke” floats we didn’t get and other more general ones we did.

Father Ted Parody

Father Ted Parody

A float about emigration - Canada, Australia or Johnstown (down the road)?

A float about emigration – Canada, Australia or Johnstown (down the road)?

Of course, there were two separate floats celebrating rugby star Brian O'Driscoll

Of course, there were two separate floats celebrating rugby star Brian O’Driscoll

Local hurling champs

Local hurling champs

I have so much to say about Portugal, but it can wait – I wanted to wish each and every one of you a Happy Belated Paddy’s Day, however you celebrated and wherever in the world you are.

Sláinte Mhath!

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