Summer in America is very different to summer in Northern Ireland, where I now live. You have lovely spring days that lead gradually into ever-increasing warmer days that bloom into those hazy days of summer that are so blissful and relaxing. Here, we get a week or so in May, then a week or two in September of good weather, maybe a high of 23c/75f degrees. Then, our days are pelted with rain, chilly, blustery winds, and the occasional hail shower. Summers are not known for being a great sunny season, hence the abundance of pale skin here in Northern Ireland!
But not all of life is so sour. Or at least it is, but should be celebrated not mourned! The long stretches of sunlight in May caught in between the rain showers are the perfect growing conditions for rhubarb. These jewel-toned stalks bloom within these intense bouts of rain then sun… then more rain. Although you might be tempted to think that rhubarb is only good for stewing and tarts, I invite you to take a closer look at this jewel of the garden and get creative in incorporating it into your dinners, desserts, and snacks this summer! And whatever you do, don’t forget to invite someone round to share in this tantalising, sour fruit!
Rhubarb & Strawberry Curd
Curds are surprisingly easy to make, yet complex and decadent to eat. Enjoy this curd as the filling for a meringue pie or as a topping for Irish scones… Or straight from the jar for a cheeky tart snack!
- 6 ounces of strawberries
- 2 ½ cups juiced raw rhubarb
- 1 cup sugar
- ¼ cup cornstarch
- 3 egg yolks
- 2 tablespoons melted butter (not hot)
- Chop rhubarb into thumb-sized pieces and place into a blender. You will need enough juice to produce 2 ½ cups, which is roughly 6 large stalks. Blend the rhubarb for about one minute.
- Place a sieve over a glass bowl. Pour the juice and pulp from the blender into a sieve and press the pulp against the sieve until mostly dry. Discard the pulp.
- Ensure you have enough juice. If you’re just under measurement, add a drop of water to make up the rest.
- Blend the strawberries and sieve them as well.
- Combine the juices with the sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan, ensuring the cornstarch is incorporated fully.
- Whisking constantly, bring the mixture to the boil and then remove from heat. The mixture should be thickened and glossy.
- In a separate dish, beat the egg yolks. Slowly add a portion of the juice to the yolks, whisking the yolks constantly to prevent scrambling the eggs.
- Once the yolk mixture has been combined, slowly add the mixture into the saucepan, along with the warm melted butter. Return to medium heat and stir constantly until the curd has thickened considerably.
- Sieve the curd and refrigerate for a few hours until set. It will keep for about a week in an airtight container, refrigerated.
- I used my curd as a summery substitute for lemon curd in my meringue pie. The inspiration for this came from the house we just moved into! The house is a lovely cottage on the edge of town, with beautiful trees and plants, including a thriving patch of rhubarb. Andrena, my neighbour who owns the house, gave me the inspiration and history of this pie: Ruth lived in the house we moved into. She made a simple tart by slicing rhubarb into a pie shell and dropping strawberry flavoured gelatine in between the rhubarb. After baking, it was sweet, tart, and gooey! But she didn’t stop there. The real showstopper was a tower of sky-high meringue that floated like a sugary cloud atop the tart. It was Ruth’s father who built the house back in 1927. Ruth was a phenomenal baker, baking regularly until 2 years before she died at 97 years old! It was only fitting to allow her legacy to inspire this recipe.
I know we’re late in the game on this one, but what’s Christmas without a little bit of chaos, right? Don’t panic if you’ve already got your stuffing or dressing sorted. Stuffing is not merely a side dish for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, but a delicious addition to the stick-to-your-ribs dinners that the cold, short winter days invite. This is such an easy dish to make, and this recipe will add a special warmth to any dinner you pair with it. Whether made into a loaf or as loose stuffing, I hope you will enjoy this as much as I do!
Sweet & Savoury Stuffing
- Rapeseed Oil, or any other oil for cooking, plus a few pats of butter
- 2 onions, diced
- 2 carrots, finely diced
- 2 sticks of celery, finely diced
- 2 cooked beets, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 2 persimmons, cut into medium slices, and then halved
- 8 ounces cooked and peeled chestnuts, halved (or find a pack of pre-cooked, vacuum packed chestnuts)
- 1 pound pork sausage meat
- 8 – 10 ounces dry bread crumbs or cubes
- ¼ – ½ dried cranberries, depending on your preference
- Zest of 1 orange
- 1 ounce fresh sage, chopped finely
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Heat the oven to 375f/190c/gas mark 5.
- In a large roasting tray, coat the beets and persimmons in oil, seasoning lightly with salt, pepper, and a dash of nutmeg. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat the oil in a pan. You will use this pan to eventually combine most of the ingredients, so ensure it has a high enough wall to hold it all. Brown the sausage meat, being careful to break up the meat well.
- Once browned, add the onions and saute until becoming translucent. Tip in the carrots and celery and saute for another 5-6 minutes.
- Stir in the chestnuts, sage, nutmeg, orange zest, butter, and cranberries. After mixing well, fold in the breadcrumbs. For a moister stuffing, or to make a stuffing loaf or balls, many people add a pint of stock to the stuffing at this stage.
- Once combined, add the stuffing mixture to the roasted beets and persimmons and stir gently until combined. Taste the stuffing mixture to ensure the seasoning is to your liking and then place the tray back into the oven, finishing off for another 25-30 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are just toasted nicely. If roasting as a loaf, bake in a loaf pan for 45 minutes or until heated thoroughly and crisped on top. Stuffing balls should take 30 minutes.
Although not overly healthy (or even at all), I have to share this recipe. It’s winter and there’s nothing like the scent of warm, cinnamon apples filling the house. Apples are synonymous with the holidays! Between caramel or candied apples, apple pies, apple sauce, or pork and apples, recipes are as plentiful and diverse as the varieties of apples. Although you might have a favourite go-to recipe for your Christmas or other family get togethers, I urge you to try this easy, cinnamony, upside-down comfort cake, even for an afternoon get together with friends over tea and coffee. You won’t be disappointed!
- ½ cup/115g butter, softened
- 2 cups/450g caster sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup/240ml milk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- 3 cups/375g self-raising flour
- 2 apples, peeled, cored, and diced
- A few drops of lemon juice
- 1 ½ teaspoon sugar
- Icing sugar, to dust
Heat oven to 350f. Grease a bundt pan. Sprinkle the 1 ½ teaspoons of sugar along the bottom of the pan. Add a few drops of lemon juice to the sugar and set aside.
Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in vanilla, cinnamon, eggs, and milk.
Fold in 1 cup of flour at a time until completely combined.
Spread the diced apple into the bottom of the bundt pan.
Place batter onto the apples one spoonful at a time. Bake 45 minutes or until a toothpick is inserted and comes out clean.
Once cooked, cool for 10 minutes and turn out onto a serving plate. Dust with icing sugar. It’s best enjoyed warm, fresh out of the oven, sliced with a thick spread of butter on top, a big mug of tea or coffee, and a few close friends.
Tonight starts the prep for my one week vegan/vegetarian keto diet experiment. As some of you know, I follow a moderate ketogenic diet along with my husband, as it has been helpful at managing his epilepsy [Here is a journal article about the benefits of the keto diet on not only epilepsy, but many other heath conditions as well]. Although I completely love meat, I also love vegetables, beans, and grains, and could easily enjoy meat-free recipes many days of the week. Also, I think varying any diet’s intake is healthy for the body and fun for the tastebuds.
Herein lies my difficulty.
After seeing so many delicious vegan/vegetarian recipes, I’ve had to bypass them for fat-filled and [animal] protein-filled meals to fit in with our keto diet. But. I. Love. A. Challenge. So, for dinners only, I decided to try out a vegan/vegetarian keto diet for a week to see how practical it is to follow under keto specifications, and to encourage others if they are interested in keeping up a high fat-low carb lifestyle without meat. And I’m starting tomorrow…!
We’ll be making fajitas with a base of mushrooms, aubergines, paneer, and walnuts. Recipe and ingredients will be provided tomorrow — please check back in! I’m away now to eat my weight in meat!
I’ve had a few requests for this recipe, so here it is! Granola bars are perfect for a grab-and-go breakfast, snacks for the family, picnic treats on the go, and even as a homemade foodie gift for friends. They’re delicious, while still being deemed healthy, so it’s a win-win in my book. I have a base recipe I use and then go mad with add-ins based on cravings, requests, or usually, what we have [or don’t have] in the cupboards.
I’ve made these for breakfast for the kids, as they’ve been getting bored of eggs, toast, cereal, EVERYTHING, etc………. . These look like treats because they’re sweet and biscuit-like, but they’re packed full of fibre, vitamins, protein, and iron, so they kids are starting the day off right with a body full of nutrients!
- 2 cups oats
- 1/2 cup seeds [If you don’t have/want seeds, you can use coconut flakes, cereal, flax, wheat germ, or any other dry ingredient.]
- 1 cup nuts
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1/4 cup natural peanut butter
- 1 ounce butter
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 6 1/2 ounces mixed dried fruits
- Chocolate for the drizzle on top or chocolate chunks to add in. [Optional]
- Heat oven to gas mark 4|180*c|350f and butter a 9×9 pan.
- Place the oats, seeds, and nuts on a baking tray and bake 10-15 minutes until toasted, stirring every few minutes. If you’re using cereal instead of|along with seeds, don’t toast them. Add them in after combining the oats with the honey a few steps later.
- Over medium heat, melt the honey, peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and salt until it simmers, stirring often until it starts a low simmer, then stir constantly for approximately 5 minutes. Then take it off the heat. This heating process not only combines the honey, peanut butter, and other ingredients well, but also will thicken and caramelise the sugars to help your bars stick together, so don’t over heat! Or you’ll make granola brittle.
- Take the baking tray out of the oven and combine the toasted ingredients with the honey peanut butter mixture and stir.
- Add in fruits, cereal, and any other add ins here.
- Pour the blended ingredients into the buttered 9×9 pan and press it firmly into the pan. I used a sheet of baking paper on top of the mix and spread it without getting my hands sticky. Sticky, gooey hands with kids running mad around the house is not a good combination!
- Bake for 20 minutes and let cool completely before slicing into bars.
- These should last a week if stored properly, which means hidden away from sight in our house. These were eaten in 2 days! So much for breakfast.
For the chocolate drizzle on top, you can use this easy chocolate recipe. I used 1/4 cup of the melted chocolate to drizzle on top and set the rest as the bark per the recipe. Or you can just buy some chocolate, melt it up, and drizzle away. I won’t judge.
I hope you enjoy these as much as we did!
We are now well into three years of our 10-year whole-living health and wellness plan. Part of this plan includes cutting out processed foods, eradicating synthetic chemicals and dangerous cleaning solutions from our home, making food from scratch, incorporating healthy routines in food & exercise, AND….. No. More. Sugar.
I had a great moment with my five year-old daughter a few days ago after explaining to her the dangers of bleached foods and of sugar, specifically, as diabetes runs strong in my family. She then, by her own volition, binned the caramel square and diluted orange juice drink someone had bought for her on an afternoon out together. I was so proud! My three year-old followed suit and then wallowed in self pity and grieved over the sweet treats in the bin. Hopefully it will be a step in the right direction for him someday. It’s tough to break away from those feel-good sweet treats, especially when you’re three, let alone 33!
Sugar is so deliciously addictive! In light of the new sugar tax on drinks, and especially because it’s Easter weekend, I thought I’d share my husband’s favourite recipe: Dark Chocolate Bark. Hopefully this recipe can curb your sugar cravings and put down that [insert brand name here]’s sugar-laden, preservative-filled egg!
Now, unless you are a master chocolatier and have molds etc. lying around to makes eggs, chicks, and bunnies, a small baking sheet will suffice. [Spoiler alert: It’s called Bark because I break it up once it’s set. That’s about as creative as I can get with this stuff.] On with the recipe!
You’ll need a few things before you start:
- A pot 1/3 filled of freshly boiled water & a glass bowl to sit snugly over the top of the pot [This is called a Bain Marie or a water bath.]
- A whisk
- A small baking tray. Mine is 8×10 inches.
- Room in your refrigerator to set your tray!
- 1 cup cacao butter
- 1 cup cocoa powder
- 1 cup coconut oil [Optional. I found this a superfluous ingredient to the outcome of the chocolate.]
- 1/8 to 1/4 cup honey
- Any dried fruit, nuts, or other toppings you like to dress the chocolate
- In the Bain Marie, melt the cacao butter, whisking occasionally until completely melted.
- This would be the time to add coconut oil, if you choose to use it. Melt into the cacao butter until incorporated and completely melted.
- Add in the cocoa powder and stir until smooth.
- Stir in the honey to taste. I prefer it sweeter, so I like 1/4 cup. My husband prefers the taste quite bitter and dark, so he only takes two tablespoons. Be careful not to add any more than 1/4 cup of honey – the consistency of the chocolate will change, making it harder to set.
- Pour the melted chocolate into a baking tray and decorate with dried fruits and nuts. We do everything from salted peanuts and raisins to pistachios, dried strawberries, figs, seeds, mixed nuts, and goji berries.
- Set the baking tray on an even surface in the refrigerator for approximately 30 minutes, or until set.
- Once hardened, use a butter knife to gently break the chocolate into shards. The chocolate will begin to melt if left out of the refrigerator for too long, so either eat it up quickly or put it back in the fridge!
You can choose to add flavours to the chocolate by adding a few drops of flavoured oils or the zest of an orange.
I’ve used a baster to divide the chocolate into a mini-muffin tin to make little chocolate buttons with fruit, nuts, and seeds. This is a bit more time consuming, but looks beautiful as a gift or for a party. Let the chocolate stand at room temperature for 3-4 minutes before popping out of the molds, bag them up, then store in the refrigerator until ready to eat. Similarly, you can dip fruits into the chocolate and set on baking paper in the fridge until set. The bitterness and smoothness of the chocolate contrasts the sweetness of the fruits perfectly!
Happy [healthy] Easter!
Food doesn’t just help restore the body; food and the creation of food restores my mind and soul.
Last week, I made pitta crisps for no other reason than to create something. My busy hands creating something of beauty and use is therapy for my soul. I’ve known the ebb and flow of life and death, of eustress and distress – good stress and bad stress. I’ve found that stress in my life can lead to a debilitation of vitality and creativity. Or it forces from the depths of me a need to create for creativity’s sake: stress is a conduit that can lead to creativity. This season of life has led me to the kitchen to create. I have discovered a love affair with food that I’ve always had, but never understood.
Food isn’t just something that keeps my physical body alive. It keeps an element of me breathing, sighing, and laughing, each emotion invisible within the beauty of the creation of food, taste, design, and combinations of ingredients and colours. Sorrow is eclipsed by the beauty of aesthetics and taste; joy and laughter magnified in the flavour and vibrancy it encapsulates. Various forms of creativity have always been a place for me to express my processings of both the life I live and the reflections of the life I observe around me – drawing, painting, printmaking, music, photography, and now, culinary arts.
There is a creative element to all of us – the need to both express and reflect – creative stories of our own telling and retelling. And, food is incredibly social! For the first time, I am not merely creating for my own processing and emotion. Sharing my sorrow or frustrations within a bite to eat lessens the load and soothes my body and soul. And how much more contagious is joy and happiness than when shared over a dinner, whether with one other person or over an evening dinner party? My journey thus far has led me to food: to create, enjoy, and, for the first time in my creative pursuits, to invite others to partake and enjoy this creativity with me.