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The First Recipe I Ever Learned

The First Recipe I Ever Learned

It was on a street in Edinburgh in 2007 that I realised I was finally an adult, a proper grown up. My Mum had just managed to release me from a tearful embrace that in hindsight represented a monumental shift in our relationship. She had dropped me off at my university halls that morning and helped me carry boxes that contained everything I had cherished from home, unpacking and making my bed while I excitedly introduced myself to all my new roommates. Suddenly I wasn’t her baby anymore and I could see my whole childhood flash before her as she began to mourn the chapter of her life as my Mum. I can still remember how tightly she held me and now that I’m older, I realise how difficult it must have been for her to let go and trust that she did a good enough job raising me. I stood on the kerb and waved goodbye for as long as I had to until I skipped off, oblivious to how massive that moment was for both of us.

We were lucky growing up with the mother we have. She was always there to cook us dinner each evening, to help us with our homework and to tuck us in at night. Our meals were never anything hugely fancy, just the typical Irish dinners with about four different recipes in rotation (I haven’t been able to eat a fish finger in about 15 years).

Before leaving for university I had written down a recipe in my notebook in the hope that I wouldn’t completely starve. It was for minced meat, gravy, potatoes and carrots, a dinner most Irish kids would have been reared on and it was just about the only think I cooked in my first semester in between the mass of take away food and snacks (I had a tin underneath my bed filled with treats and after a night out I would wake up with one hand still in the tin!).

Sadly, there’s only so much mince a girl can eat and thankfully that Christmas my sister Amy bought me my very first cookbook. The book was ‘Home Cooking’ by Rachel Allen and it instantly became my bible because it was filled with recipes that reminded me of home. Anytime I felt a little homesick, all I had to do was open those flour-stained pages and cook something that resembled my Mum’s dinner. The recipes were not always executed well (I couldn’t tell you how many pans I ruined) but there was one that I managed to get comfortable with and remains my go-to comfort dish to do this day. It’s a recipe for a chicken casserole with cheesy herb dumplings and it is so yummy and so cosy that it’s impossible to ever have leftovers. It’s the ultimate winter crowd-pleaser because it just takes everyone back to their childhood, to those meals their Mums and Dads used to make for them while their legs were still swinging underneath the kitchen table.

This was the first recipe I was able to own and I remember cooking it for my Mum and sisters when I came back home for the holidays. It was (still is) a running joke in the family that I was a bit of a scatter brain and it was a miracle to them that I was suddenly able to cook and fend for myself. Eventually I learned other recipes too and even started using exotic ingredients that we definitely didn’t eat when growing up (asparagus, who dis?). I could see the relief my Mum had when she knew that I might actually be OK, that I wouldn’t develop scurvy on a Pot Noodle diet and that I would be nourishing myself with at least a few vegetables.

Now that I’m approaching 30 my Mum might even say that I’m a better cook than her (it’s a close one). I might be a little more adventurous or experimental but to me, no one can make mince and spuds like my own Mum.


Rachel Allen’s Chicken Casserole with Cheesy Herb Dumplings

I’ve tweaked the recipe slightly over the years but by and large it remains the same.

Ingredients

  • 4 chicken breasts
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 350 g unsliced rindless streaky bacon, cut into 12cm
  • 1/2 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 large carrots, cut into 2cm slices on the diagonal
  • 700 ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • a few sprigs fresh thyme

For the cheesy herb dumplings

  • 350 g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 300 ml buttermilk or soured milk
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped dried mixed herbs, such as parsley thyme, rosemary or chives
  • 25 g cheddar cheese, finely grated

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4. Cut the chicken breasts in half and season them well with salt and pepper.

2. Pour the olive oil into a large casserole dish on a high heat, add the bacon and fry quickly for 12 minutes or until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Add the chicken in batches and sear on each side until golden, and remove. Add the onion and carrots and fry for 2 or 3 minutes or until golden.

3. Return the bacon and chicken to the dish, pour on the stock, add the thyme and season with salt and pepper. Bring slowly to the boil, cover with a tight-fitting lid and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

4. For the dumplings, sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a large bowl add the herbs, mix, then make a well in the centre. Pour in most of the buttermilk or soured milk (leaving about 50ml in the measuring jug). Using one hand with your fingers outstretched like a claw, bring the flour and liquid together, adding a little more buttermilk if necessary. Don’t knead the mixture or it will become too heavy. The dough should be soft but not too wet and sticky.

5. Tip the dough onto a floured work surface and bring together. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to about 2cm thick. With a scone cutter or cup stamp out 10 to 12 dumplings, or divide the dough into 10 to 12 small balls.

6. Remove the casserole dish from the oven and turn the heat up to 230C/gas 8. Arrange the dumplings on top, leaving a slight gap between them to allow for spreading. Scatter with the cheese. Return to the oven, uncovered, for 10 minutes, reduce the heat to 200C/Gas 6 and cook for a further 20 minutes until the dumplings are crisp and golden and the chicken is cooked through.

 

Raspberry Oatmeal Cookies & Other Healthy Snacks for Work

Raspberry Oatmeal Cookies & Other Healthy Snacks for Work

I work in an open office with mostly men where there is a lot of banter and even more snacks. When I first started working there I loved the daily trips to Lidl for chocolate croissants and the endless supply of chocolate digestives. After about a year though I started noticing my work dresses were getting a little… snug. I was grazing all day and not on anything particularly nutritious. Except for Jaffa cakes because those are definitely one of your five a day.

After a while though I was beginning to feel guilty eating my morning croissant while I was exploding out of my trousers and so I decided I needed to do something. It wasn’t an easy decision to remove myself from the snack club because Gary in particular was a feeder of the highest order but I gradually learned how to say “NO FOR THE LOVE OF JEEPERS CAN YOU PLEASE GET THE FAIRY CAKES AWAY FROM ME!!!”

I’ve a a bit of a routine now when it comes to my work snacks and I’ve definitely noticed a change in myself and also how I choose to snack outside of work as well. I am determined to put on a bikini this summer and feel great knowing I put some effort in to get healthy.

I’ve included a few examples below of some of the healthy treats I pack in the morning along with a sneaky recipe.

  • Almonds – not the salted covered ones ye rascal
  • Sliced cucumber/carrot/celery dipped in hummus or guacamole
  • Dried cranberries – actually mildly addictive
  • Mixed seeds and nuts – when you’re cooking some butternut squash save the seeds and roast those bad boys for the day after
  • Avocado smothered on wholemeal toast – avocados are the bees knees but frig they are expensive
  • Mini fruit salad – ye know berries, chopped banana, grapes – raid that fruit bowl!
  • Protein Balls – it’s easy to eat a bajillion of these – don’t
  • Gluten free popcorn – there’s salty & sweet kind in Tesco’s – get on it!
  • Walkers Sweet Chilli Multigrain crisps – very specific and very amazing

AND…

Raspberry Oatmeal Cookies

I made two batches of these in a week because everyone in work scoffed them. I have since been scolded by Andrew to not share the delicious treats and to keep them at home – what a guy! What’s great though is there is no refined sugar in them – seems to be the buzz words to use these days – and the oats mean that you’re getting sufficient energy for a wee afternoon kick.

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I found the recipe here at Amy’s Healthy Baking and have included it below too. I’ve seen a few other recipes on the site that I’m definitely going to try out  because no doubt I will tire of eating these every day. Or maybe not.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (100g) instant oats (gluten free if necessary)
  • ¾ cup (90g) whole wheat or gluten-free* flour (visit Amy’s website to see how to measure correctly)
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ⅛ tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp (28g) coconut oil or unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ cup (120mL) honey
  • 6 tbsp (53g) fresh raspberries, diced
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Method 
  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the oats, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the coconut oil, egg, and vanilla. Stir in the honey until thoroughly incorporated. Add in the flour mixture, stirring just until incorporated. Fold in the raspberries. Chill the dough for at least 30 minutes. (If chilling longer, cover with plastic wrap, ensuring it touches the entire surface of the cookie dough.)
  2. Preheat the oven to 325°F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat.
  3. Drop the cookie dough into 15 rounded scoops on the baking sheet. (If chilled longer than 1.5 hours, flatten slightly.) Bake at 325°F for 13-15 minutes. Cool on the baking sheet for at least 15 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.

 

Good luck!

xx

Buttermilk Scones with Nanny Moffett

Buttermilk Scones with Nanny Moffett

You would be hard pushed to find a granny in Ireland that can’t make the most delicious stews or a knit a onesie in one sitting. I don’t know if you these skills or bestowed upon you once you reach the age of 60 or that they’re skills that just aren’t that cool anymore but I do know that all grannies have a signature dish which they are famous in the family for. For my granny it’s definitely her chicken soup, known to have cured many colds, flues or just for times when us grandchildren ‘weren’t at ourselves’. For Andrew’s granny it would probably be her buttermilk scones. I tasted them the first time I visited her bungalow in Monaghan and it took all my power not to inhale the whole plate of them in front of me and drink it down with her homemade raspberry jam.

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A while ago Andrew and I drove down to Monaghan to see Ruth and I had plotted a way to ask her for her recipe. I am a massive lover of scones especially the smell they create in a kitchen. But mostly the taste of them. You instantly feel like a successful human being when you have a tray of lovely scones cooling on a wire rack. I was a bit hesitant to ask for the recipe because asking someone for a recipe they are renowned for can go one of two ways:

  1. They could be flattered that you would think so highly of them and be delighted to pass the recipe on; or
  2. They could be quietly horrified that you even asked for it and shift uncomfortably in their chair thinking of ways to get rid of you

Luckily for me Ruth was the former and was more than willing to share her secret however I had forgotten that Irish grannies also don’t use normal measurements. I got out my pen and paper that I just so happened to have on me and began to note down the ingredients and method which went along the lines of: Make sure to use Neill’s soda bread flour and rub in a knob of butter and a fingerful of sugar then whisk an egg in a mug, not a cup but a mug, and then fill it to the top with buttermilk…

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I tried to act unperturbed by these non-specific instructions but I knew I would balls the whole thing up on my own. I thought to myself the only way I would learn would be to watch her and out of some miracle she then asked me if I wanted to make some with her. She must have seen the terror in my eyes; grannies can also smell fear.

I was amazed at how she was able to bake so easily despite her being constrained by arthritis in her hands. She has adapted a canny way of moving utensils so she doesn’t have to strain herself too hard and it’s an incredibly admirable thing to witness because baking along with other domestic skills is something that is so obviously engrained in her. If she lost that ability then I suppose it would be a massive loss to her.

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Fortunately for me the whole recipe was much easier to follow and she taught me some great techniques to ensure the best scones e.g. make sure to get lots of air in when rubbing the butter in to the flour! It was a special moment because it made me feel part of the family and it was so generous of her to share it with me.

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I feel like I’ve almost mastered the recipe although I know they’ll never be quite as good as Nanny Moffett’s. Andrew is fairly happy to play guinea pig in the meantime anyway and the house smells AMAZING.


Nanny Moffett’s Buttermilk Scones

Ingredients:

  • 1lb Neil’s Self Raising Soda Bread Flour (nothing else apparently)
  • 1 – 1.5 oz granulated sugar (or 2 fingerfuls)
  • 4-5 oz soft margarine
  • 2 eggs beaten in a mug (specifically a mug)
  • Buttermilk – add to mug of beaten eggs and fill to the top

Method:

  • Preheat oven at 230 celsius
  • Weigh out the flour and the sugar together
  • Rub in the butter bringing the flour up from the bottom and getting plenty of air through the mixture.
  • Once all rubbed in (your wrists might be aching at this stage – I have to take breaks!) make a well in the mixture and slowly pour in the buttermilk an egg
  • Beat together with a fork – not a spoon – until all the flour is absorbed
  • Put the mixture on to a floured surface and sprinkle some flour on top
  • Pat the dough in to an oblong shape and using a cutter take pieces out around the outside first
  • Put the scones on to a greased tray and brush with some beaten egg
  • Place in over for 10 minutes
  • Let them cool for a few minutes when they’re done
  • Try not to eat them all and get found covered in jam and crumbs.