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Posts from the ‘Kitchen Skills’ Category

Comfrey Cottage Chervil & Chive Vichyssoise

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I love Tipperary. Especially in the summer.

Despite the drought we’ve been experiencing these past weeks, things are still fairly green. Each day, the sky is an array of gorgeously arranged clouds. My kids run around the yard (well, two out of three of them run… the baby bum-shuffles), playing in their playhouse and making mud pies, Pat is busy fixing things around the farm and helping his dad milk the cows.

And me? I’m on “holiday” from The School of Food. Which actually means I’m run off my feet chasing after children, hosting playdates, writing articles (like this recent one for Irish Country Living on the Keenan Brothers, who grow heritage grain), selling cakes and sausage rolls at the Thurles Farmer’s Market and doing pop-up restaurant nights with Lucy at The Green Sheep.

So I’m still working, I guess. Just not teaching! I will be taking a proper holiday next week and the week after – we will be going “glamping” in County Clare with the kids. We are so excited; can’t wait to tell you all about it.

Lucy and I also recently signed up for Traveling Spoon. If you don’t know what that is, it’s  sort of like airbnb… but for food! Visitors can peruse the website depending on which country they’re visiting and choose from a selection of unique dining experiences. Some experiences are in people’s homes, while others – like ours – are in private dining establishments. When we get a reservation, Lucy and I close up the cafe and prepare the long, wooden communal dining tables for our guests.

We offer three types of experiences: a cooking lesson, dinner and local beer pairings, just dinner, or just dinner with beer pairings. We only take one group of visitors at a time, making it an intimate, unique travel experience.

The menu changes with whatever is in season and tasting good at the time, but last week, when we fed a group of Americans (visiting via Irish Fireside bespoke tours – a fantastic travel experience in itself!) the menu was this:

Comfrey Cottage Chervil & Chive Vichyssoise

Crawford’s Farm Pulled Chicken Empanada

John Lacey’s slow-roast Lamb Shoulder with Buttered Turnip, Crispy Kale and Gastrique

Ripe Cooleeney Cheese with Cherry Consomme, Walnuts and Lavash

Sweet Ricotta Dumplings with The Apple Farm Strawberries and Raw Lavender Cream

The menu featured all local (like within 50km of Thurles) ingredients and the group we had were all so wonderful and fun. They enjoyed their food (and beer pairings from White Gypsy Brewery) and even serenaded us in between courses.

I thought I would share the recipe for our first course because it’s so low-maintenance to make – it actually intensifies in flavour as it sits in the fridge. A classic French Vichyssoise is a chilled, creamy, mild leek and potato soup. It’s lovely.

At this time of year, in Tipperary, my friend Sarah at Comfrey Cottage has an abundance of bright, flavoursome chervil. I love its mellow, refreshing flavour – with a squeeze of lemon and a handful of chives, it literally transforms a classic into something entirely new and exciting.

This will keep in the fridge for up to four days. Do not add the fresh chervil until the soup has chilled – otherwise the lovely green colour will turn grey and the flavour will be less vibrant.

*If you can’t get fresh chervil, you can substitute with: 1 bunch flatleaf parsley, 1 bunch fresh dill, 1 bunch fresh chives, 1/4 bunch fresh mint

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Comfrey Cottage Chervil & Chive Vichyssoise

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp rapeseed (or olive) oil

1 Tbsp butter

3 leeks, pale green and white bits only, finely sliced

1 large onion, finely diced

3 stalks celery, finely diced

4 large potatoes, peeled and cubed (keep submerged in cold water until ready to cook)

4-6 cups/1L hot chicken or vegetable stock (depending on how thick you like your soup)

1 cup/250ml heavy cream

salt and pepper, to taste

Juice of one lemon

1 large bunch fresh chervil (around 200g)

1/2 bunch fresh chives

Directions:

  • In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat 1 Tbsp rapeseed oil and 1 Tbsp butter over medium-high.
  • Gently cook the leek, celery and onion together until pale and translucent – you don’t want them to brown, just soften and cook through.
  • Add the potatoes and gently cook, stirring regularly, for another 3-5 minutes.
  • Add 4 cups of hot stock (reserve the extra for after, in case you want to thin out the soup) and bring to a gentle simmer.
  • Simmer the soup for 20-30 minutes, until the potato is completely cooked through.
  • Add the cream, stir, remove from heat and allow to cool for 1 to 1.5 hours.
  • Once the soup has cooled, transfer for the fridge and chill completely for 1-2 hours.
  • Add the chervil and chives – allow to steep into the soup overnight or for at least 3 hours. Continue to chill in the fridge.
  • In small batched, blend the cold soup completely in a vitamix or good quality blender. A hand blender would probably work, but I haven’t tried.
  • Once completely blended, season with salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste.
  • Continue to chill until ready to serve, Garnish with chive flowers, nasturtium, a drizzle or oil and microgreens.
  • Serves 8-10 people (starter size, approx. 200ml per person).
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Irish-Jamaican Patties… because it’s finally summer!

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Photo by Kirsten Ivors

*In regards to my previous post, for those of you who may not be living in Ireland, I just wanted to let you know the Irish population overwhelmingly voted in support of women’s bodily autonomy and I couldn’t be prouder to live here.

I want to thank those who commented on my Repeal Cookies post and especially those who told their own touching stories. I am so glad we repealed this thing! The day the results were out, my friend and I added a simple “ed” to each cookie of the last batch. We won’t have to bake them ever again.*

*This isn’t a sponsored post, but I was gifted some Kilkenny Rosé Veal which I ended up using in this recipe.

Now that the referendum is over, we can finally celebrate the great weather we’ve been having over the past several weeks. I love Ireland all the time, but especially in May and June, when the sun is out, silage is being cut (the entire county smells of freshly cut grass!) and we can enjoy the outdoors with our girls.

As soon as the weather started to turn, we devoted ourselves to tidying up our back yard and garden. My lovely husband made me a new raised bed which we were able to fill with bales of our very own compost! I’m very proud of that small achievement. That said, my greatest gardening achievement this year will be to keep the caterpillars off my cabbage – I have never been able to deter them, or keep on top of picking them off. I’ll let you know how that goes.

As you might know, I put on a (roughly) monthly restaurant pop-up in partnership with The Green Sheep in Thurles and White Gypsy Brewery in Templemore. We usually pick a theme, I create a menu to match and we gather with up to thirty guests for a night of food and frivolity.

This past weekend, with the weather being so delicious, we settled on a Caribbean theme. Curry Goat (made with John Lacey’s beef – not goat – but still very good!), Tres Leches Cake with vanilla-roasted rhubarb (taken from my garden and not exactly Caribbean, but the theme was still in mind!), White Gypsy Belgian Dubbel-brined Jerk Chicken and – for me – the one thing everyone needs at a Caribbean party: Jamaican Patties.

Now before we go any further I need to confess something: I may be from North America, but I’ve never been south of Detroit. I have never been to the Caribbean, in other words. I am hardly a scholar in Caribbean-style food, but I did live in Toronto for years, and there is a lot of Caribbean representation in that city.

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Photo by Kirsten Ivors

Every August there is a massive festival in Toronto called Caribana. It is a celebration of all things Caribbean – the people, the food, the music – and the party completely takes over the city. Actually, it’s the largest street festival in North America. For this pop-up, I took a lot of inspiration from that festival, and from my Caribbean-Torontonian friends who are some of the warmest, loveliest people I have ever known.

Their food is pretty epic, too.

Although I’ve never been to Jamaica, these Irish-Jamaican Patties are very representative of my time in Toronto. At every major subway stop, you’ll find a vendor selling these tasty morsels and – let me tell you – when you’re on the way home from work and absolutely starving, there is no better snack than a Jamaican Patty.

If you’re in Toronto, you must go to my friend Chef Craig Wong’s acclaimed restaurant Patois for his Jamaican Patty Double Downs. It’s basically a sandwich but, instead of bread, well… I’ll let you figure the rest out.

Made with a turmeric-infused pastry and a deeply spiced meat filling, these patties are like Cornish Pasties on flavour steroids. I’ve had them filled with chicken and ground beef, but for the pop-up I made them vegetarian with spicy stewed greens and diced mango. The recipe I’m sharing today is one with veal – and not just any veal – Kilkenny Rosé Veal, which comes from just down the road.

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Photo by Kirsten Ivors

The ground veal retains a lot of moisture but isn’t too greasy, like you’ll often find with ground beef. Because it is a rosé veal, the calves are ethically raised and freely roam the pastures, which imparts a beautiful flavour on the meat. Combined with a bit of Caribbean spice, it makes the perfect filling for an Irish-Jamaican Patty.

You can make the filling and pastry ahead of time and then just throw them in the oven right before you want to serve them. You can also bake them ahead of time and re-heat – because I’m using a high-fat local butter in the pastry, it’s very forgiving and stays flaky and tender for a long time. This pastry – if you’re using a beef or veal filling – would also be *amazing* made with Tipperary Dexter Beef Drippings.

Irish-Jamaican Patties

Ingredients:

For the Pastry

480-500g/4 cups plain flour

2 tsp salt

1 cup/250g cold Tipperary butter (or beef drippings)

2 tsp ground turmeric

1 cup/250ml ice water

For the filling

2 lbs/900g ground rose veal, or chicken or beef

2 Tbsp coconut oil

2 tsp freshly chopped thyme

1 tsp allspice

1 tsp fresh ground black pepper

1 cup/250g diced onion

1 bunch finely sliced green onion

1 scotch bonnet pepper, or 1 Tbsp Caribbean-style hot sauce if you can find the peppers

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 Tbsp tomato paste

1 cup pale beer, like White Gypsy Belgian Dubbel

1 cup beef stock

Salt, to taste

Directions:

  • Make the pastry: in a large bowl, add the turmeric, flour and salt. Rub the butter in with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
  • Add the ice-cold water and mix lightly with your fingers until a loose dough forms.
  • Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead the dough a few times, just to smooth it out. Do not over-work the dough.
  • Divide the dough into two portions, wrap in cling film and let rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  • Make the filling: in a large frying pan, heat 2 Tbsp of coconut oil over medium-high.
  • Add the onions to the pan and gently fry for 3-4 minutes. Then, add the garlic, scotch bonnet and green onion. Fry for another minute.
  • Add the ground veal and spices. Brown the veal, then add the tomato paste. Stir to combine.
  • Add the beer and gently cook on med-low for 20 minutes. Then, add the beef stock and continue to cook until the liquid has reduced to a sauce (about 30 minutes).
  • Season to taste with salt and let cool slightly.
  • Remove the pastry from the fridge and roll out into a rough rectangle. Using a pastry cutter or pizza cutter, divide each dough half into 6 squares.
  • Add 1-2 Tbsp of filling to each square.
  • Using egg wash as glue, fold each square over the filling and press the edges with a fork. Place the patties on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
  • Egg wash over the tops of the pastries and bake in a hot oven (about 200º C or 400F) for 15-20 minutes.
  • Allow to cool slightly before eating. I like to eat mine with more hot sauce. YUM.
  • This recipe makes about 12 patties. They’ll keep in the fridge for about three days.
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Photo by Kirsten Ivors

What We’ve been Cooking at the School of Food

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Teaching how to make Citrus Curd

I started teaching an 11-Week Commis Chef Training course at Thomastown’s School of Food almost nine weeks ago and, I keep saying this, but I feel like the weeks have been flying! We got so lucky with an amazing group of diverse, very cool students from all walks of Irish life. They are really passionate about food and have made teaching an actual pleasure.

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Dermot giving a steak demo at our BBQ in Inistioge

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Most of the class (plus Dermot) in Inistioge

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Sylvia and her gorgeous citrus meringue pie, Inistioge

Dermot Gannon, my co-tutor, and myself have been teaching the group everything from how to use a knife to how to ferment. We’ve spent days helping the school’s garden caretaker, we’ve gone outside to make wood-fired pizzas, we’ve packed up the school’s massive BBQ and cooked lunch for visitors, locals and even some Failte Ireland reps at the park in Inistioge and we’ve visited some really inspirational food producers.

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Janine Vine-Chatterton taught the class about Kombucha and Kefir

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Mags Morrissey (Hedgehog Bakery) taught the class about sourdough and fresh yeast breads

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Ballinwillin Wild Boar Farm, Mitchelstown, Co. Cork

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Pat at Ballinwillin

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Wild Boar and Venison products at Ballinwillin

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Caroline Hennessey giving a tour at Eight Degrees Brewing, Mitchelstown, Co. Cork

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Beer and Cheese Pairings at Eight Degrees Brewing

At the end of our course, the students will put on a food fair at the school. Over the past few weeks they have excitedly been developing, pricing and marketing a food product to sell. I am really looking forward to the market, but I’m also NOT looking forward to it – it will mean the end of the course, and saying goodbye (for now, at least) to these wonderful human beings who haven’t just been great students – they’ve become our buddies.

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Mozzarella-stuffed meatballs

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Winner for best wood-fired pizza!

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Marian and her prize pizza

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Fresh-made Brioche

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Gateaux Basque

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Kimchi-Brisket Sloppy Joes

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Carrot Sesame Salad

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Fresh Hake Goujons

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Oatmeal Spice Whoopie Pies

Is it weird to love your job this much?

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Planting pea shoots

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Doing something really important

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Taking pride in their work.

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Great, local Camphill produce

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Getting their hands dirty

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Making life-long friends

 

Fluffy Buttermilk Biscuits

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Things are slowing down around here, and just in time, too.

  • The calves are pretty much all born. The eldest are already weaned!
  • The cows are out in the field, loving life (if you’re a cow and you have a choice between luscious, green grass or silage, you choose the grass every time).
  • The weather is brighter. It was chilly this past week, but for the most part Ireland has thawed out from the bitter winter. My garden is growing, we just got our house power-washed (a preemptive move as the house is getting a lovely new coat of paint very soon) and landscaping plans are in motion. We’re hoping for a warm summer with lots of BBQ’s!
  • I’m slowing things down with my small business, The Siúcra Shack. Spending more time with my kids, getting the house cleaned and organized and baking for fun. Just for now!

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This is all because I am totally ready to pop. 38 weeks of pregnancy have flown by, and while I’m thankful for a complication-free pregnancy (and hoping for a complication-free delivery), I am so very ready to not be pregnant anymore.

I’m not being insensitive. I love my babies. I know we’re #soblessed. But three babies in less than four years is a lot for anyone to handle (except for all those women with more kids than me, or moms of multiples, or moms of multiples with other small kids – I’m in awe of those ladies). So, while we are very, very happy, I am also looking forward to a cold beer, getting my body back (in some form), and never being pregnant ever again once we welcome #3 in a few short weeks.

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Did someone say biscuits?

So no cold beer for me just yet, but I have been milking these last weeks of pregnancy for all they’re worth. Entire tubs of ice cream? Yes. Massive bowls of creamy pasta? Absolutely.

An entire pan of these flaky, fluffy buttermilk biscuits?

Um… well… Patrick, Ciara and my father-in-law helped devour these, but I’m pretty sure I ate most of them.

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They were just so good, you see. Especially with a generous schmear of Tipperary butter and a large dollop of strawberry jam. While still warm.

Actually, I made another pan this morning. I forced myself to give half away, but if Patrick is late coming back from work I can’t promise the remaining biscuits will still be here for his tea.

Since I’ve revisited the way I actually make biscuits, I thought I would share this recipe today. I’ve been making biscuits for a long time. I mean… I have no idea what age I was when I made my first pan of biscuits. I’m from Cape Breton. We literally eat these every day. I never thought I could improve on the recipe I already had in my head, but this “stand mixer/fold” method is getting a lot of online traction so I thought I’d give it a try.

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Fold that dough in half!

I can tell you, I won’t be going back to rubbing in the butter with my fingers and rolling out once with a rolling pin. You get better flakes, height, texture and an overall fluffier biscuit with this method!

*For the Irish reading (and anyone else who wouldn’t consider this a biscuit), this is more of a scone for you, I know. BUT it’s not as sweet. You can eat these biscuits with savoury or sweet accompaniments. I like biscuits with fish chowder, casseroles. made into breakfast sandwiches and with baked beans as well as with the traditional jam/butter combo!

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Fluffy Buttermilk Biscuits

Ingredients:

4 cups/500g (weight) plain flour

2 Tbsp baking powder

1 tsp sea salt

1/4 cup/60g sugar

1/2 cup/110g cold, cubed butter

1 1/2 cups/400ml cold buttermilk

Directions: 

  • Preheat your oven to 200∘C (400∘F) and line a large baking pan with parchment. Set aside.
  • In your stand mixer, add all dry ingredients and, using the paddle attachment, mix to incorporate.
  • Add the cold, cubed butter to the dry ingredients and, continuing to use the paddle attachment, mix on med-low for 5-8 minutes, until the butter is mostly incorporated into the dry mixture (some chunks of butter are ok, but most of it should be mixed into the flour).
  • Add the buttermilk and mix just until everything comes together.
  • On a lightly floured surface, dump the dough out of the mixing bowl. Using your hands and a pastry cutter, start to shape the dough. Fold it in half, flatten out, then fold again and flatten out.
  • Cut out the biscuits and place them on the baking sheet. You can shape/fold the remaining dough and do a second cut, but I would discard the leftover dough after the second cut.
  • Bake 15-20 minutes, or until the tops and bottoms are browned and the bicsuits have risen.
  • Eat the same day, if possible. Even better, eat them hot out of the oven. With tea. And butter and jam.
  • Makes about 14 medium sized biscuits.

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Galway City & Dog’s Bay

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This past weekend Patrick and I were treated to a child-free weekend away in County Galway. I say we were “treated” not because this trip was planned or paid for by anyone else, but because my amazing sister-in-law offered to take on our kids for the weekend. With baby #3 mere weeks away, how could we refuse?

We booked into the Westwood Hotel, which isn’t very central but the rooms are comfortable, clean and affordable and the hotel is conveniently located off Galway’s main ring road. I love Galway, but I admit – I don’t like driving in Galway.

The downtown is a tangle of pedestrian-only quays and alleyways. Many of the roads you can drive on are so small and congested I get panic attacks just thinking about them. It’s nice to drive to the hotel, park the car and just take a taxi into the downtown (no designated driver needed, either – not that I’m indulging these days).

We arrived on Friday evening. We needed a babysitter for the kids, of course, but we also needed someone to milk the cows for the weekend (farmers don’t really get days off!) so we were lucky to have people to cover both areas. Patrick helped with the evening milking before we set off – not a big deal, since Galway is just a little over two hour’s drive from the farm.

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Homemade Miso!

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When we arrived, we checked into the hotel and then took a taxi downtown. We had one thing on our minds: sushi. There are a few options for Japanese food in Galway, but I had been following Wa Café on Instagram for some time and wanted to give their fare a try. They recently made the Irish Times’ 100 Best Places to Eat so we knew we were in for something good.

We ordered nearly the whole menu (I’ve said before; we’re Japanese-food deprived here in Tipperary!), consuming several types of maki roll, a big bowl of Toyota-style ramen and a bento box featuring the most addictive, flavourful Karaage chicken and crisp vegetable tempura.

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The next day we were up early, so we did some shopping downtown before brunch at Dela. This cozy restaurant was buzzing with activity. I hate queues, but our meal was so worth the 20-minute wait. I ordered bacon + crab potato cake with poached eggs, hollandaise, toasted brown bread and salad. It hit every mark for me – flavourful, properly seasoned, well-priced and the portion size was perfect.

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After brunch we took a drive out to Connemara. Honestly, the day was so beautiful – sunny and warm – it would have been a crime to not find a beach. I had read about Dog’s Bay in the Irish Independent as it topped Ireland’s 30 Best Beaches, so we thought we’d check it out – even though it’s a full hour and a half from Galway city.

After driving through gorgeous, boggy, barren, mountainous, sheepey Connemara, we turned off the road about 20 km from Clifden. A winding road took us past Ballynahinch Castle and the cutesy village of Roundstone before we reached Dog’s Bay.

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To say this beach is beautiful is an understatement. The coral sand is pure white. The water is so turquoise it looks about 20 degrees warmer than it actually is. This beach could be in the Bahamas or Maldives – you would not expect to see it in the middle of County Galway’s rocky landscape. We’ll be returning here again and again – next time with the kids.

That evening, we indulged in a seven-course tasting menu at Loam. True to it’s moniker, Michelin-starred Loam specializes in the tastes and terroir of the Wild Atlantic Way. They use produce and meat from local farmers, make their own charcuterie and surprise/delight diners like me with interesting and beautifully balanced plates of food.

We loved the “pasta” made from very-delicately-sliced squid, served with a soft egg yolk and a deep roasted onion broth. The local sirloin was served tartare-style, but it wasn’t like any other tartare I’ve had. The earthy beef was paired with anchovy, crispy onion and fresh ramson & sorrel – it was actually refreshing. For one of our two dessert plates, we loved the Chanterelle mushroom ice cream with parsley sponge and chocolate-hazelnut crumb.

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Parting gift: a copy of the evening’s menu (comes in handy when you’re trying to remember each course!)

Those were our stand-outs from that night’s menu, but honestly – I loved the whole experience. We very rarely opt for tasting menus in restaurants because, more often than not, you leave feeling bloated and over-full. If you opt for wine pairings, you often end up with four unfinished glasses of wine you have to chug before dessert. Also? Sometimes. It. Just. Takes. Too. Long. I don’t want to be waiting 30 minutes between courses. We’re parents of young children and we WILL fall asleep at the table.

Loam has its guest experience down to a science. We were finished in roughly two hours, enjoyed the engaging, smart (but understated) service, LOVED the food and didn’t feel overstuffed (but also didn’t need to indulge in any late-night snacks). The one star from Michelin seems a bit stingy, actually.

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We went straight to bed after dinner and left early the next morning. I actually missed my kids; can you believe it? It was another beautiful day at the farm and I couldn’t wait to spend it with them.

Have you been to Galway recently? What were some of your favourite spots?

Nova Scotian Rum Pie

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I’ve worked under and with a lot of great chefs over the years. I’ve had mentors who were patient and generous with their knowledge and experience.

In Toronto I only ever worked for one restaurant company. I never felt the need to go elsewhere – I was treated well, paid relatively well (what cook is ever paid really well?), and enjoyed insurance and benefits most cooks never get. The best part, though, was the variety of my work and the amazing people I got to hang out with and learn from every day.

I wrote the above paragraph because it needed to be said. A cook is only ever as good as their mentor; I was really lucky to have several great chefs to learn from.

So why do I keep going back to my Grandma as my main culinary inspiration? It seems as I get older and have my own kids, I gain more and more respect for that sweet woman and what she accomplished in her life.

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On the outside it doesn’t look like she did much. She married my Grandfather at a young age, had seven kids and kept house. But I know the difference. Now that I have kids (and try to keep house) I understand the difficulties she probably encountered…

Except:

  • I don’t have seven kids. I have two.
  • I’ve never HAD to kill a chicken or grow my food. Those things are optional for me.
  • I’m financially better off than she was.
  • I don’t have a crippling autoimmune disease like she did.

I mean, I’m barely keeping it together as it is. The more I think about my Grandma, the more humbled I feel.

Especially considering the amount of time and money I put into becoming a chef. She was an amazing cook and baker. There may not have been much food in the house, but my Grandma kept all her kids fed and happy. She could take a bit of flour and sugar and turn it into something satisfyingly good.

I was watching The Chef’s Table last night on Netflix and was so inspired by the Korean Buddhist monk Jeong Kwan. Her food looks mouth-wateringly delicious, but, as it was stated in the documentary, as a cook she is completely without ego (which is so rare in our food network/social media-driven society). She lives her life simply, grows what she eats and shares what she has. Her food just happens to look like it was cooked and plated in a Michelin Star restaurant.

It reminded me of the way my Grandma would cook (though my Protestant Grandma would probably raise her eyebrows at being compared to a Buddhist; gotta stay honest). She never tried to do anything fancy, but her food always hit the spot, and she put love into everything she made.

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Before I moved to Ireland, my Aunt gifted me a cookbook of old pioneer recipes my Grandma had given to her years before. I look through it often, but not just because of the recipes – the history of my island is written in between the pages. It starts from the oldest Scottish pioneer recipes (think Dandelion Wine and Athol Brose), has a portion of recipes from New Zealand, where a lot of our descendants also ended up and ends with the kind of soul-satisfying desserts, soups and casseroles I grew up eating.

This pie kept jumping out at me. Maybe, at almost 30 weeks pregnant, I’m just really missing booze; who knows? This rum-tinged custard creation satisfies so many cravings on so many levels, and (thankfully) the booze is for flavour and not cognitive impact, so it’s safe for anyone to pig out on.

The recipe may sound daunting if you’re not used to working with gelatin, but stick with it – it’s actually really easy. The amount of gelatin in this recipe will give the rum custard a wobble, but it won’t be 100% set like Jello. More like a slightly alcoholic, ice-cream flavoured panna cotta (and who could resist that?).

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Nova Scotian Rum Pie

Ingredients:

For the Crust:

1 package digestive biscuits (about 500g), crushed (in Canada, we use graham cracker crumbs)

125g/1/2 cup melted butter

For the Filling:

1 Tbsp un-flavoured powdered gelatin

125ml/1/2 cup cold water

375ml/1 1/2 cups whole milk

2 tsp vanilla extract, divided

170g/3/4 cup granulated sugar

Pinch of sea salt

2 eggs, separated (room temperature is best)

4 Tbsp spiced rum

For the Topping:

250ml/1 cup heavy whipping cream

3 Tbsp icing (confectioner’s) sugar

Shaved milk chocolate (OR here in Ireland I used crushed Flake bars), to garnish

Directions:

  • Preheat your oven to 180∘C (350∘F). Combine the crushed biscuits and melted butter. Firmly press the mixture onto the bottom and up the sides of a springform pan (or any high-sided pan with a removable bottom).
  • Bake the crust for 8-10 minutes, until browned. Set aside to cool.
  • In a bowl, add the cold water and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Do not stir. Set aside and allow the gelatin to bloom.
  • Using a hand/stand mixer, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, salt and 1 tsp of vanilla until well combined (pale yellow, sugar dissolved). Add the milk and continue mixing until everything is well-combined.
  • Pour the milk/egg mixture into a saucepan and slowly bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. When the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, pour it through a sieve directly onto the dissolved, bloomed gelatin/water mixture. Whisk to combine.
  • Allow this mixture to cool in the fridge until it begins to set, about an hour (possibly longer). Whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add the rum to the custard/gelatin mix and then gently fold in the egg whites.
  • Pour this mixture onto the biscuit base and refrigerate overnight or until set. Whip the cream with the remaining tsp of vanilla and the icing sugar. Top the set custard with the cream and shaved chocolate.
  • Serves 8-10 rum-loving people (like Nova Scotians! We love our rum). Store in the fridge and eat within two days.

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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