Autumn Harvest

Autumn is the time when the best selection of fresh fruit and fruit and vegetable are available to harvest. All the different berry crops are in fruit, salads are available and there’s a full selection of leafy vegetables and root crops available.

As we all head for winter, there’s never been a better time to boost your immunity with the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that are freely available in fresh fruit and vegetables. The fresher they are, the higher the vitamin content, so choose local produce whenever you can.

We have a number of coaches to help the team, the head coach, defence coach, scrum coach, and many others including a nutritional coach. Her strategy for us in terms of staying healthy is to eat as much fresh fruit and vegetables as possible.
Broccoli is one of my favourite vegetables, and I like to dress it up a bit by sprinkling lemon juice and sesame seeds over steamed broccoli as a side dish with a main meal. I’m a fan of carrots as a healthy snack.  I also like adding raw broccoli and cauliflower to salads.
Keep up with the healthy eating!

Pass me the potatoes! Please….

Pass me the potatoes! Please….


Despite what you may have heard, potatoes represent good nutritional value for your money and merit some space on your plate! Like the avocado and banana, the potato is often maligned AND it doesn’t deserve to be.


New potatoes are fresh, natural and versatile, plus you know the whole family will enjoy them. Let’s face it – they taste far better than flavourless processed white rice or unappealing slippery pasta shapes. Nutritionally speaking, they punch above their weight too. They are a gluten-free coeliac’s dream and a better source of vitamin C, potassium and fibre than either brown rice or pasta.


In fact 150g of new potatoes provides about 24mg (out of our RDA of 60mg) of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant which helps to stabilise or eliminate free radicals, which in turn helps to prevent cellular damage. Vitamin C is also important for collagen production, and wound healing. Finally, vitamin C assists the absorption of iron and may help support the body’s immune system.  Although potatoes don’t have anywhere near the vitamin C levels found in citrus fruits and peppers, they do contribute significantly to our daily vitamin C needs.


They contain as much or more potassium (620 mg) than bananas, spinach, or broccoli (important for a healthy blood pressure). Research suggests that diets rich in potassium and low in sodium seem to reduce the risk of hypertension and stroke.


Interestingly if you want to feel full on less food, 150g of new potatoes contributes over two grams of fibre per day. Dietary fibre is part of the plant material that cannot be digested and absorbed in the bloodstream.  It has numerous health benefits, including helping to regulate our blood sugar levels, and increasing satiety which may help with weight loss. In moderation potatoes can be part of a weight loss plan.


And another thing – potatoes is a natural source of resistant starch. This starch is ‘resistant’ to enzymatic digestion in the small intestine. It is fermented instead in the large intestine. So it’s really more like a prebiotic fibre in that it can help stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria in the colon. Resistant starch may protect colon cells and is linked in many scientific papers to less genetic cell damage (which can lead to cancer).

Lastly new potatoes contain trace amounts of thiamin, riboflavin, folate, magnesium, phosphorous, iron, and zinc — all for only 99 calories in  a medium serving and little or no fat.

New potatoes fill you up, not out!  Potatoes are power on the plate. Rich in starchy carbohydrate, potatoes are a fantastic fuel for our bodies. Unadulterated and unprocessed, they are probably the best source of starchy energy in our diets. In a world where many carbohydrates are so processed that they are devoid of essential nutrients, the potato stands head and shoulders above the rest.


Potatoes are always on the menu

It may be July but my holidays are over for now, I’m back in pre-season training already with Ulster so I have to start watching what I eat again. Some might say it’s easier for me as we get a lot of expert nutritional advice but it’s up to me to keep a diet that gives me lots of energy while maintaining a healthy weight. Luckily, for me because they are one of my favourites, potatoes are always on the menu and we are now in new potato season!

Rich in carbohydrates, potatoes are a fantastic fuel for an athlete or anyone really, they are a great source of starchy energy in our diets. Potatoes contain some protein, little or no fat and have almost twice the amount of fibre as you would get from a similar portion of brown rice. I also learnt recently that they are a source of potassium, important for a healthy blood pressure, and contribute a significant amount of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant and important for immune health, to the diet.

That’s the science bit but the best thing about new season potatoes is that they taste great and they are quick and easy to cook – always a bonus in my view!

Don’t overcook them though, put them in boiling water, cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until they are tender. Drain and leave to cool slightly – they carry on cooking while this happens.

If you are like me and get cravings for good old chips you can opt for the healthy alternative with new season potatoes by creating your own homemade wedges. Simply cut potatoes into wedges with their skins, parboil them for about 10 minutes, drain and transfer them to a baking tray, season with a little salt and pepper and bake in the oven with a little olive oil. I sometimes add a little of garlic or chilli to spice them up a little!

Marvellous Mushrooms

I like all types of mushrooms but Shiitake mushrooms are my particular favourite! Mushrooms really are marvellous for adding so much flavour and texture to soups, pasta dishes or casseroles.

Best of all they need very little in the way of seasoning to prepare them, so you can leave aside the salt cellar. They taste quite assertive really….much more so than button mushrooms and I often mix the two together for that added  punch of flavour. Yum ….an excellent accompaniment to grilled lamb chops or to the Sunday roast.
Mushrooms are very low in calories, packed with nutrients, and contain B vitamins and small amounts of various minerals, including selenium, copper, potassium, phosphorous, zinc and manganese.  Selenium is an important nutrient for a healthy thyroid and metabolism. It’s in short supply in many people’s diets, especially if they don’t eat seafood.
Mushrooms also contain a powerful antioxidant called L-ergothioneine. Shiitake, maitake, oyster and king oyster mushrooms contain the highest amount of L-ergothioneine, but portabellas and button mushrooms are also pretty good sources. In Asia, they’re celebrated for their immune-boosting properties.
They also contain a little more protein than most other vegetables, so their meaty texture makes them a good option for not only the vegetarian, but for anyone wanting to use less meat without missing out on the flavour.
Store mushrooms in brown paper bags, but if you find them, as I sometimes do, hidden and forgotten about in the bottom of the fridge – don’t toss them out if they’re just a bit dried out.  Mushrooms have a remarkable ability to reconstitute themselves,  and although they won’t look as appealing  as firm fresh ones, they’ll cook up just fine.  Drizzle in olive oil, add garlic and herbs, cook and then toss over your pasta or spoon the mix over fish or chicken breasts.
For 4 servings
Ingredients : 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 lb fresh button mushrooms cut into thick slices, 2 tablespoons chopped shallots, 1 large garlic clove, ½ cup dry white wine, 1 ½ tablespoons tarragon, black pepper.
Start with a hot pan, add oil and mushrooms and cook without stirring until they begin to release moisture after 3 minutes. Add some black pepper and stir briefly. Then no stirring until cooked. Reduce the heat and add shallots. Add the garlic  and cook for a minute. Next add the wine and turn up the heat for 5 minutes. Stir in tarragon and voila.


Brusselsprouts with Smoked Bacon and Lemon

Serves 4

Adding lemon gives a great fresh zing to the traditional Brusselsprouts. Prepare the Brussels in advance and have all the ingredients to hand and this should be easy and time saving on the day itself. 

250g Brusselsprouts, halved and blanched
4 slices smoked Irish bacon, cut into lardons
2 garlic cloves, diced
100ml vegetable stock
Zest of 1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 tbsp toasted pinenuts

1. To blanched, place the Brusselsprouts into rapidly boiling water for about 7 – 8 minutes until just tender, take out and immerse into cold water with ice. Then strain well.
2. Heat a large wok or frying pan and add the smoked bacon lardons and fry until crispy.
3. Add the garlic and fry on a high heat for about 30 seconds.
4. Toss in the blanched Brusselsprouts, lemon zest and stock
5. Stir fry for about 2 – 3 minutes.
6. Season with salt and pepper.
7. Sprinkle over the pine nuts and serve.
Tip:  For a vegetarian option, omit the pancetta and add 100g fresh beans, chop the ends, blanch for a minute or so.   



There’s a lot of attention given to foods that may help boost our immune systems. Sometimes they are referred to as ‘Superfoods’. While there’s no legal definition of a Superfood, scientific research has discovered many beneficial nutrients in certain ‘everyday’ foods we enjoy. One of these is Brocolli.

Apparently the word broccoli comes from the Italian plural of broccolo, which refers to “the flowering top of a cabbage. I suppose they looks somewhat similar, so it’s probably no surprise to you that broccoli  shares many of the health benefits attributed to other cruciferous vegetables like kale and cabbage.

A fully functioning immune system is one of the most vital aspects of a healthy body, helping to prevent and combat disease. However in many people, the immune system does not function as effectively as it should.

Exposure to potentially toxic substances in food, water, air, dietary deficiencies, use of prescription and over-the-counter medications, and other lifestyle practices can result in a level of oxidative stress to our bodies that prompt our inflammatory system to work in overdrive.

In some people this combination of inadequate detoxification, chronic inflammation and oxidative stress put them at greater risk for developing cancer.

Broccoli, out of all vegetables, stands out as the most concentrated source of the antioxidants vitamin C, and carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene.

The unique combination of antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, and detoxification components in broccoli make it a pretty interesting food in terms of cancer research. Studies are strongest in showing decreased risk of prostate cancer, colon cancer, breast cancer, bladder cancer, and ovarian cancer.

Recent research has also provided us with a much better idea about the amount of broccoli that we need to lower our cancer risk. At the lower end of the spectrum, it looks like just a 1/2 cup of broccoli per day (only 22 calories) is enough to provide some measurable benefits. Few people have broccoli on a daily basis. But a 2 cup serving twice a week would still meet this minimum average amount. It’s good to remind ourselves how little this amount actually is, within the context of our week’s food.

So dig out your favourite broccoli recipe and get cooking!

Barbeque vegetables

August can be the best of the summer weather with long evenings and warm clear days. The long evenings are a perfect excuse to fire up the barbeque and use it to incorporate your 5 a day.  One of the great things about this time of year is that lots of local produce are in season right now and they all go great with barbequed food. In particular onions, peppers, cherry tomatoes, courgettes, mushrooms and aubergines all taste delicious char grilled or in a salad.  My favourite way to eat them is char grilled on a skewer; you can try different combinations of vegetables, haloumi cheese or even chicken for extra flavour.
Vegetables not only taste delicious but have huge health benefits too; they contain high levels of vitamins, minerals, nutrients, fibre and antioxidants, all essentials in the efficient functioning of the body. The immune systems benefits as well from a diet rich in vegetables. They also improve sleeping patterns which leads to better concentration, which will help me with my on pitch performance.  These are the kinds of foods that I’ve been eating to keep me healthy and helped me secure a place on the plane to New Zealand!
Fruit and vegetables are low in calories too, so they are a healthy tasty addition to any barbeque meal. If you need inspiration Catherine Fulvio has some great recipe ideas for you to check out!

Dining Al Fresco

What is it that makes a meal cooked outdoors so much more appetising? I just love the spaciousness and expansiveness of the sky! Of course attempting to eat outside can sometimes feel like wicked intemperance. But you can’t beat the waft of a sizzling steak and the smell of freshly cut grass, despite our sometimes uncooperative Irish weather.
There is definitely something about cooking outdoors that makes it more of a shared experience too. Everyone seems willing to do a stint of turning with the tongs – help that is rarely offered in the kitchen! And of course the barbecue itself doesn’t have to be a terribly sophisticated piece of equipment, a simple grill will do. It’s far better to focus on foods and ingredients which lend quality, freshness and great taste to the eating experience.
Don’t forget to buy some skewers – that way you can add a rainbow of colour to your plate – peppers, whole cherry tomatoes and chunks of sugar snap peas. Key barbeque in-season vegetables such as courgettes, red onion, aubergines and mushrooms and some dark green leaves can transform your side salads into mainstream colourful crunchy nutrient-packed delights. Perfect with your beef steak or your chargrilled fish.
So as we face into the last few weeks before back-to-school, what could be better than chilling out doors with family and friends with some really good food. You can barbecue almost any food you like, even cheese like halloumi. It’s a lower fat cheese that keeps its shape when cooked so it’s ideal. If you’re having chicken, try marinating chopped up pieces in some natural yogurt with a little curry paste, then thread them onto skewers with some vegetables like red onion and courgette.
Just a little word of caution – over cooking and charring your food can make it unhealthy. You can avoid this problem by using marinades, especially on your meat. Here are a couple of my favourites.

Tikka Marinade
• 2 tablespoons natural yoghurt
• 1 teaspoon tikka paste
• 2 tablespoons chopped coriander
Mix the yoghurt with the tikka paste and add some chopped or whole chicken fillets and half of the coriander, making sure all the chicken is coated in the marinade. Leave in the fridge for at least one hour, or overnight, then cook on the barbecue. Sprinkle the remainder of the chopped coriander over the dish when cooked.
Lemony Mediterranean Marinade
• Juice and grated rind of 1 lemon
• 2 crushed garlic cloves
• Freshly ground black pepper
• 1 stem chopped fresh rosemary
Mix together all the ingredients. Marinate your chicken for up to 12 hours and fish for just 1 hour before you barbecue.
Fennel, rocket and cherry tomatoes with barbecued sardines  (for 4)
Sardines are oil rich, making them ideal for the barbecue.
 4 good sized sardines
 1 bulb fennel, sliced thinly as possible
 Fresh thyme , a few sprigs
 2 garlic cloves, chopped finely
 4 small bunches cherry tomatoes on the vine
 Olive oil
 4 slices thick crusty bread , toasted to serve
 Wild rocket for four
 Squeeze of fresh lemon juice

When the barbecue is ready lay the sardines on the rack and season with thyme and garlic. Lay the tomatoes on top. Drizzle with a little more oil and grill for 4-6 minutes, until cooked through.
Place the sliced fennel in a bowl of iced water and leave to soak for 10 minutes to crisp up.
Put the crusty bread on plates and top with the sardines and tomatoes when cooked. Drain the fennel well and toss in a bowl with the rocket, lemon juice, 4 tbsp olive oil and some seasoning. Serve with the sardines.
Just a few food safety tips for the barbecue this summer……..
Barbecuing is a quick and tasty way to cook when the weather is warm, but it’s important to follow a few simple rules to ensure your food stays safe and healthy.
 Poultry, pork and your homemade burgers should be cooked until they are piping hot all the way through, with no pink meat left and until the juices run clear. This is because these types of meat can contain harmful bacteria throughout, so they must be cooked thoroughly to make them safe.

 To ensure your meat is thoroughly cooked, cook meat indoors in and finish it off on the barbecue for added flavour.

 When you reheat food on the barbecue, always make sure it’s piping hot all the way through before serving.

 Never put cooked food on a plate or surface that has been used for raw meat or fish.

 Don’t add sauce or marinade to cooked food if it has already been used to marinate raw meat or fish.

BBQ Portobello Mushrooms and Red pepper Wedges with a Broad Bean Pesto

BBQ Portobello Mushrooms and Red pepper Wedges with a Broad Bean Pesto
Serves 4

I just love vegetables chargrilled. You will be so surprised how many different vegetables can be used. Try using courgettes and aubergines sliced diagonally and grilled, place in a soft wholewheat roll with lots of your favourite salad leaves to enjoy a veg burger that is quick.  BBQ beetroot wedges are also delicious with an orange tarragon dressing served with a lovely summery glass of wine. 
For the pesto
150g fresh broad beans
2 garlic cloves
8 large basil leaves
4 tbsp parmesan, grated
½ lemon, juice and zest
100ml olive oil, extra virgin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

for the marinade
1 lemon, juice and zest
1 tbsp butter, melted
 1 ½ tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin
1 tbsp chives, chopped
3 tbsp olive oil

4 red peppers, sliced lengthways into wedges
4 Portobello mushrooms, stems remove, brushed to clean
8 tsp broad bean pesto (recipe above)
4 generous slices mozzarella

1. Blend all the pesto ingredients in a food processor until a fairly smooth paste is formed.  Check for seasoning, you may need to add a little freshly ground black pepper.  If the pesto seems too thick, loosen with more extra virgin oil.
2. For the marinade, combine the marinade ingredients in a bowl.
3. Preheat the BBQ to a medium heat.
4. Brush the mushrooms and peppers slices generously with the marinade and place on the BBQ cut side down.
5. Grill for about 3 – 4 minutes and turn over.
6. Then place 2 tsp of the pesto into the mushrooms and top with the mozzarella.  Place the BBQ cover down and allow the cheese to melt.  This should take about 3-4 minutes. Meantime, when cooked, remove the peppers and set aside.
7. Place the mushrooms in the centre of a large serving platter, arrange the peppers slices around the edges.  Drizzle over the pesto and serve immediately with slices of warm ciabatta. 

Tip: Roughly dice the peppers and thread cap mushrooms and bay leaves onto a skewer, brush with the marinade and BBQ for an alternative.  Just remember to soak the skewers if using wooden ones.


New figures from Bord Bia show that fruit and vegetables purchases by consumers have increased – Fresh Produce Retail Market valued at €1.19 billion

New figures from Bord Bia show that fruit and vegetables purchases by consumers have increased – Fresh Produce Retail Market valued at €1.19 billion

Rugby Ace and Best in Season Ambassador Tommy Bowe encourages kid’s to score “5” this Autumn

19th August 2011:

Figures released today by Bord Bia show that the retail value of the sales of fruit and vegetables to Irish consumers have increased. The annual value of the total retail fresh produce market was €1.196 billion in June 2011, up 4.2% on the value to June 2010. The total volume of produce purchased over the same period saw an increase of 2.4%.

The figures released today by Bord Bia demonstrate that consumers are buying more fruit and vegetables but also serve as a reminder of the strong nutritional benefits of fruit and vegetables as part of a balanced diet and the importance of consuming the recommended 5 or more daily portions of fruit and vegetables . As the holiday season comes to an end and kids and adults re adjust to the back to school routine achieving 5 a day not only contributes to overall health but helps to improve sleeping patterns which leads to better concentration.

Mike Neary, Bord Bia, commented, “Ensuring that you eat your recommended daily portions of fruit and vegetables is an essential part of a healthy diet. This time of year, a lot of fruit and vegetables come into season so fresh local produce is in plentiful supply. There’s no better time than now to increase your daily intake by trying different types of tasty fruit and vegetables. The start of the new school year and the end of the holiday season is a perfect opportunity to get into the habit of adding fresh fruit and vegetables to the kids lunchboxes!”


While consumers are buying more fresh produce, according to the recent National Health Nutrition Survey by IUNA Irish adults are still not getting the full daily intake of fruit and vegetables as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Fruit and vegetables are consumed daily but not at the level that they should be the average Irish adult is currently consuming approximately half the daily recommended amount.

Irish Rugby player and Best in Season ambassador Tommy Bowe believes that consuming 5 portions of fruit and veggetables a day is essential. “By having to watch what I eat I know all the different types of fruit and vegetables and the contribution each makes to a healthy balanced diet and ultimately a fit body. One way I try to pack more in is by snacking on ready to eat produce like apples, cherry tomatoes and even carrot sticks. I actually have to have more than five portions a day – especially if I want to secure a place on the plane to New Zealand!”

5 facts about your 5-a-day you may not have known

Fruit and Vegetables:

• Contain high levels of vitamins, minerals, nutrients, fibres and antioxidants, all essential in the efficient functioning of the body.

• Are low in fat, calories and salt; eating them helps maintain a healthy heart and weight.

• Contain fibre which help you feel full for longer.

• Contain lots of water which is essential for the body

• Portion Size is equivalent to one medium apple; one medium tomato or 4 heaped teaspoons of green vegetables.

As with all fruit and vegetables, they taste their best and are at their most nutritious when they are in season, and Bord Bia’s Best in Season website tells you when is the best time of year to be able to purchase fresh and tasty produce.