September 28, 2012

Sophie Kooks: A Cookbook Review and Interview

Sophie Morris is the co-founder of Kooky Dough, an Irish food company which started in her kitchen, and whose products are now sold in the UK, France and the United Arab Emirates. She has built up a successful business, writes a great blog, has just released her very first cookbook 'Sophie Kooks Quick and Easy Feel Good Food' and she is only 28!! 

Sophie is not a chef and she doesn't claim to be. Like a lot of us she works 9 to 5  and even though she is busier than ever, she takes the time to eat well every night and to cook from scratch. She believes this is the key to staying on top of a hectic life.

The cookbook is beautiful to look through, so much so, that I read it from cover to cover picking out recipes I want to cook! It is cleverly laid out with the contents page broken down into recipes for each month but Sophie does point out that you don't have to stick to it but can pick and choose as you please. There is also a great section called 'What's Wow Now' which will help cooks take advantage of seasonal produce. At the end of the cookbook there is a recipe index by course so you can bake a whole three courses easily if you wish to!

The boyfriend also had a look at it and he spent the whole time nodding and muttering 'I totally agree with her', as the recipes use ingredients which are readily available and which aren't too expensive. A few of them also used one of his favourite meats - chicken thighs - which he thinks are highly underrated. The recipes aren't too complicated and with a bit of planning and a stocked store cupboard you will be flying with the meals during the week. 

So far I have had a chance to try the Crispy Caramelised Chicken Thighs (much to the boyfriend's delight!). The method was so easy and the result was really tasty. The house also smelt amazing for the rest of the evening!! This is a great cookbook and will give you loads of new, quick ideas for your evening dinner and will help to make the evening dinner process after work that bit easier!

I wanted to find out a bit more about how 'Sophie Kooks' came about so Sophie very kindly took time out of her very busy schedule to answer a few questions about her new cookbook. Thanks Sophie!
Congratulations on your first cookbook ‘Sophie Kooks’. You are already a busy young woman with your very successful Kooky Dough Company so what made you decide to write a cookbook?
I grew up in a family of great cooks and was always surrounded by fantastic cooking, so the fascination with food was naturally passed onto me! In my teenage years myself and my mum would spend hours on the sofa looking through cookbooks and picking out recipes we wanted to cook. Since then it has been a huge dream of mine to write my own cookbook! Of course I never imagined it would actually happen but when the potential opportunity first arose through meeting and chatting to Nicki Howard from Gill & Macmillan, I just went for it 100% and put together a proposal for a concept I really believed in. One thing I’ve learnt from Kooky Dough is to chase any potential opportunity that comes my way, no matter now farfetched it may seem, because anything is possible and you just never know what can happen! This is certainly true in the instance of my cookbook being published, I’m still pinching myself that it’s happened!

Can you tell me a bit about it and what the main inspirations behind the book were?
When I first started thinking about concepts for a cookbook, I really wanted it to be true to the type of cook I am on a daily basis. As you can imagine my life in Kooky Dough means working very long hours and not much time to myself so when I get home in the evening I tend to cook very speedy, convenient meals. Something I kept hearing from friends and other peers is they tend to be at a loss in the evenings of what to cook, and are too exhausted after long days at work to even think about it so they’re living off things like beans on toast or ready meals. I realised that one of the main issues for them was that recipes in cookbooks would have some ingredients that they didn’t have or they didn’t have the time to go to the supermarket for, so they would give up before they even started! This is what inspired my concept. I wanted to strip back all my recipes and have really short ingredient lists, using only very accessible ingredients. I have a jam-packed store cupboard with an abundance of spices and things but I’m aware that the majority of people wouldn’t and so I don’t use any ingredients that aren’t easily available. In fact most of the ingredients  you could actually pick up in your local shop if you had to.

I also decided to break the book up into monthly chapters to give it a seasonal element. The recipes in each month aren’t strictly seasonal by ingredients, they’re more about the type of food that you would feel like eating in those months. This should help with the dreaded dilemma that I kept hearing my friends talk about  - “I can’t even think of what to cook!” – because instead of having a daunting 100 recipes to choose from in a book you can simply open it up at the month you’re in and you will have just 8 recipes to choose from!

Why is home cooking and starting from scratch so important to you?
As  I mentioned I grew up in a family of brilliant cooks where cooking always took central stage in our home, so I suppose cooking from scratch was ingrained in me at a young age. Apart from tasting SO much better than any processed food, home cooked meals are really the key to staying healthy. When you’re cooking from scratch you can see exactly what is going into your food and you can be rest assured that it is all good, nutritious ingredients. It is scary to think of some of the unnatural things that are in processed foods these days and the only way to avoid these horrible things is to cook from scratch! I also find cooking very therapeutic and a lot of fun, and it’s the one time of the day where I forget the stresses of work and completely chill out and unwind. It really helps me to stay on top of things!

You have so many great recipes in ‘Sophie Kooks’ how did you decide which ones to include?
I have a few folders with loads of random pieces of paper with recipes scribbled down from over the years, which was a great place to start! I had to stay true to the philosophy of the book though so only the simple recipes using basic ingredients made the cut! I then spent a long time testing new ideas and tweaking other recipes to make them quicker and more convenient. I’m really happy with all the recipes that have ended up in the book.

Which of the recipes are you most proud of? Do you have a favourite that you cook all the time?
Eek I couldn’t say I have one that I’m most proud of, I’m proud of so many!! Quite a lot of them are firm favourites… when I’m craving a stew but don’t want to wait too long for one I turn to the Chorizo, Bean and Cabbage stew in the February chapter  - It’s a crowd pleaser! I also make the chicken laksa a lot as it’s just so quick!

Have you ever had a terrible kitchen cooking disaster?
I was making a birthday cake for a friend recently and dropped half of it when it came out of the oven… I wanted to cry!!

I would think that running a company and trying to write a cookbook at the same time can be quite demanding! Did you enjoy the experience and what’s the best part about writing a cookbook like this?
I won’t lie it was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve done! Luckily I started writing it over Christmas last year which is the one time of year that is less hectic in work. In food retail everything works so far in advance so we’re planning Christmas around now and by the time December comes around nothing more can really be done! So it was a great time for me to be able to get stuck into writing the book and recipe testing. I really enjoyed the experience, it was certainly very challenging and there were plenty of times I worried and stressed, but once the manuscript was finished, and I got great feedback from Gill & Macmillan, I relaxed and was just over the moon! Then the process of getting the book ready for print was a whole new experience and a lot of fun, the food photography shoot which lasted 5 days where I was cooking 18 recipes a day to be photographed was absolutely mental! It was so much fun though and I’m thrilled with the photos, Jo the photographer is incredible and has become a great friend, she’s fab!  The best part of the process is seeing the finished book in my hands.. it was the proudest moment of my life.

What are your future plans? Any more cookbooks or will we see you on TV next with your own cookery programme!?
Haha god only knows what’s next! I find everything pretty wacky at the moment, if someone had said to me this time last year that I would have a cookbook out in a year’s time I would have laughed at them! But there’s been quite a lot of moments like that in Kooky Dough too, we just started exporting to the United Arab Emirates which I find crazy still! I would absolutely adore to write another cookbook and have already started thinking of new recipes, so fingers crossed this book does well first! TV would certainly be a bit of craic too I’d love to give it a go!

Who would be your ideal dinner guests? And what would you cook them?
One would have to be Jamie because he was the first cook I loved to watch when I was younger and he definitely inspired the way I cook… plus I think he’d be great craic!! And Michael McIntyre because he’d have me in stitches the whole way through the meal… and that’s what I think good meals are all about – the laughs!

Sophie you are only 28 and have a successful business and a cookbook out. You are a very inspiring young woman and I believe a great role model for young people out there. What advice could you give fans who may like to follow in your footsteps?
Wow well that’s certainly a huge compliment so thank you. I would say to anyone that no idea or vision is too farfetched, and to not let what other people may think get to you. I know when I started selling rolls of homemade cookie dough in a farmers market, after having a Degree and Masters in Economics, that a lot of people laughed at me but I had a vision and I believed 100% in it, and that’s what made us progress the way we have… and now those same people ask me for advice! So believe in yourself and go for every single opportunity that comes your way because you just don’t know what’s around the corner… 

Sophie Kooks is out today in all good bookstores and is priced at €22.99. 

September 27, 2012

Cake and Gossip: Become a Cake Clubber!

Ever since series three of the Great British Bake Off started off a few weeks our house has been groaning under the weight of cakes, buns and puddings! Not that anyone is complaining mind you. I have always loved to bake as I find it therapeutic and you can't argue with the end result! In tandem with the Great British Bake Off, Catriona from Wholesome Ireland is running a fun Irish Bake Off where people can take part in a challenge from that week. It is a great excuse to try something new and to work on technical skills that you may not have attempted before. There is even a prize for the weekly winner from Dr. Oetker. So far I have tried a Key Lime Pie, Crème Caramels, Sticky Toffee Pudding and this week it is Chelsea buns. All the photos/yumminess are up on Facebook

Soon though the Great British Bake Off will be over and no doubt we will have to wait a while to see what TV3 does with their promised Irish version. So in the meantime here is a great idea from Odlums for all bakers. Let me introduce the Cake Club a fun way for you and your friends or colleagues to learn how to bake cakes and feast on the yummy end results together. Don’t worry if you’re not an accomplished baker there are recipes to suit all skill levels. The whole idea of Cake Club is that it gives novice bakers the chance to roll up their sleeves and give something a whirl and it gives experienced bakers a chance to show off their skills.  

Taking part is easy – all you have to do is get a group of friends together, pick a day and then each week a different Cake Clubber bakes their own choice and everyone gets to eat it!! Sounds like my kind of club. There are a few easy rules to follow, my favourite being rule 3 ‘Despite the fact that it might seem like a good idea, it’s usually best to invite more than just yourself to be in your Cake Club. Otherwise, it’s just gluttony’. I am tempted to break it, so so tempted!! There is also a handy blagger’s guide to Cake Club in case you feel out of your depth, a list of recipes, A Cake Club Bible and a handy planner. So who knows this time next year you might just be entering yourself for series two of the Great Irish Bake Off!!

September 26, 2012

Dining in Killarney: The Smokehouse, Pay as You Please and Murphy's Icecream

During our holiday in Kerry we ate out quite a bit. This is unusual for us as we enjoy buying local products and cooking with them. Kerry is such a big county to get through though and there are so many lovely walks to do that you would collapse with the hunger by the time you get round to making dinner. Well that’s the excuse I’m sticking too anyway!!

I found Killarney quite different to Kenmare. It is bigger and has a much more touristy vibe to it which might explain the high prices of some of the restaurants there. Some of them seemed to be stuck in Celtic Tiger times. After wandering through Killarney for a while we settled on The Smokehouse. The place was packed at nine in the evening and after our phone number was duly taken we were sent over to the opposite pub to have a drink while waiting. Having to wait in a pub is no hard task in Kerry as the music and craic are mighty as the locals might say! Though you have to be a fan of trad music as it spills out of the pubs and onto the pavements and follows you everywhere!! 

Tralee Crab Claws

The Smokehouse itself has a very laid back atmosphere to it and the clientele were a mix of ages, some dressed up for a night on the town, others like ourselves slightly ruffled from walking up mountains all day!! For starters the boyfriend got Honey Glazed Chicken Wings while I choose Tralee Crab Claws with Garlic and Herb butter. Both starters were lovely and quite large; indeed we hadn’t finished eating them when our main course arrived!! This is one of my pet hates but we were almost done so we got her to put them down rather than send them back to the kitchen.
For the mains we both ordered a Rib Eye steak which came with a baked spud, sour cream & chives and local leaves. The steak was done perfectly to order and the accompaniments made it a good value meal. 

Then it was on to dessert which had been teasing me since we arrived and I had seen six desserts being brought out to a table! So even though I was fairly full, curiosity got the better of me. Our waitress brought all of them to our table which I thought was a really good idea as instead of sharing one like we would normally do we both decided to get one each because they looked so good! The choices were mandarin cheesecake, double chocolate mousse, pannacotta, tiramisu and parfait. The last dessert was sold out. He got the tiramisu and I got the double chocolate mousse. Both desserts were light and not too sweet which can be quite difficult to achieve with both of these desserts. We did find out that the desserts were made by a local hotel but we couldn’t find out which one!


Murphy’s Ice cream offers lots of different and unusual flavours such as Brown Bread, Peanut and Sea Salt. I got myself a giant scoop of sea salt while he went for the more normal flavour of honeycomb. All the ice cream is made from scratch and a huge amount of effort goes into making the flavours such as in the Sea Salt flavour where Dingle sea water is collected and boiled down to make the ice cream. All the hard work pays off with a wonderful creamy and flavourful ice cream but it also comes with a hefty price tag. Two one scoop cones cost us €7 which is a big difference from Kenmare Ice cream. They are  worth a go though and are the ultimate treat.

As our last place to visit Pay as you Please has to be, without doubt, one of the most unique dining concepts I have ever encountered. Here customers pay what they believe is a fair price for their food. The venue is down a laneway and it one of those trendy, quirky places that if it was in Dublin would be full of hipsters. It has mismatched chairs and a toilet cubicle covered in comics. Here though it was filled with families and tourists. 

The menu is short and filled with a range of items including pizza, soup, salads and bruschetta. One of the only things that annoyed me was that the brunch menu was only available on a Sunday. We had chosen the dishes we wanted only to be told that we couldn’t get them even though it was Saturday! Even with this blip we were left with a lot of choices. Between us we ordered Butternut Squash and Curry Soup (in a bread bowl or a jar), Mushroom Bruschetta & Roasted Tomato and Goats Cheese Bruschetta. The food was simple but fresh, tasty and very moreish. 

Butternut Squash and Curry soup
Roasted Tomato & Goats Cheese
Mushroom Bruschetta
We couldn’t leave without trying some cake and we were given a massive piece of lemon and poppy seed cake to share. It was moist and had a wonderful lemony tang. 

Lemon and Poppy Seed Cake
No scrounging on the tea and coffee here!!
The concept of paying what you wanted led us to a good discussion of what we thought the food was worth. We could have left anything we wanted as all you do is put the money in a box and walk away. I think though (or I hope) that no one ever just walks away as the food is too good and the effort the owners put in is very apparent. So whatever your budget this is one place you can definitely afford! And just in case you are wondering we left them €30!