Niamh Doherty

Archive for April, 2010|Monthly archive page

Oatmeal and Raisin Cookies

In Baking on April 30, 2010 at 21:25

This recipe comes courtesy of, erm, Rachel Allen. Okay, okay – I might as well admit to being utterly enamoured of the whole entire Allen family.

This cookie recipe – along with the one for my most favourite and oft-cooked dinner of all time, which I will share soon – are taken from Rachel Allen’s Bake. Thery are utterly delicious, and outrageously quick and easy – I decided to make them on a whim, and had them in the oven in less than 10 minutes. It’s my second time making these cookies, and this time I think I’ve cracked it. I made them larger than specified by Rachel, and removed them from the oven when they were a pale, sandy gold; the outside slightly crunchy and the interior still crumblingly light and moist.

Previously, when making cookies, I waved aside all mentions of vanilla extract, dismissing it as an expensive and unecessary addition. Having since baked a vanilla-breathed cookie mix from the Milk & Cookies bakery in New York, I realised that it not only fills my kitchen with a wafting, warming scent, but imparts a subtle sweetness to all it touches, and it has become a store cupboard staple of mine.

I’ve discussed my love of cinnamon before, and couldn’t but add it to these cookies. Cinnamon and raisin are a classic combination, and one which really works in these tasty cookies. The recipe seems to specify an erringly-large amount of oats, but they will mix evenly, I promise. Rachel says that she gets 30 cookies from this recipe, but I got 20, and I prefer them that bit bigger as they give a good ratio of crunch without to melting softness within. I advise eating them while still warm and buttery, and feel that a glass of cold, creamy milk is the only proper accompaniment.

Oatmeal and Raisin Cookies (adapted from Bake, by Rachel Allen)

Ingredients:

110g softened butter,

110g caster sugar

110g soft light brown sugar

1 egg

2 tbsp water

1 tsp vanilla extract

250g porridge oats

110g self-raising flour

1 level salt

110g raisins

1 tsp cinnamon

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 180 Celcius.

2. Cream the butter in a large bowl until soft. Add the sugars and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy.

3. Add the egg, water and vanilla (I put them all in a jug, for ease of swift, stressless addition) while still beating.

4. Reduce the speed and mix in the oats, flour, salt, raisins and cinnamon to form a dough.

5. Use your hands to roll pieces of the dough into walnut-sized balls and place spaced slightly apart on two baking trays (no need to grease or line).

6. Bake for 15-25 minutes, or until light golden brown but still slightly soft in the centre.

7. Allow to cool on the trays for a minute before removing to a wire rack to cool for a minute or two while you pour a cool glass of milk to enjoy them with.

Pasta with Spicy Sausage and Cream

In Supper on April 28, 2010 at 21:15

Also known as, “Another Day, Another Chorizo Recipe”…

This is a beauty of a recipe from Rachel Allen’s first book, Rachel’s Favourite Food. It’s quick, easy, delicious, multplies well for those times when you’re faced with a hungry crowd and is just as easily halved when dining à deux. There is no onion to chop, no simmering for hours, and requires little more from you than some light chopping and the occasional stir. This recipe also has the bonus of freezing well, and, since it’s just as easy to make twice the amount if you’re making it at all, is just the thing to keep stashed in the deep freeze for when hunger renders you incapable of even thinking about what it is you’d like to eat.

Any kind of spicy sausage is good here  – pepperoni, chorizo, kabanossi…the sky’s (or, rather, the pig’s) the limit. This is best made in summertime when tomatoes are really fresh – again, a bonus of its freezing capabilities; make it in bulk when the tomatoes are sweetly, juicily at their best – but I’ve always made it with tinned and it still tastes great. The smokiness of the sausage and the heat of the dried chili add a subtle warmth to what would otherwise be a basic pasta sauce.

You can swap the cream for creme fraiche if you’re feeling virtuous, which will lend an extra sharpness to the sauce. You can, of course, skip the cream/creme fraiche entirely, but it does impart a lovely richness, so it would be a shame to omit it altogether. If you’re not planning to freeze this sauce, make sure to  pop it into the fridge as soon as it’s cooled as the cream could turn otherwise.

Pasta with Spicy Sausage and Cream (taken from Rachel’s Favourite Food, by Rachel Allen)

Ingredients:

700g fresh, ripe tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped, or 2 x 400g tins of tomatoes

25g butter

4 garlic cloves, peeled and grated

2 tsp chopped rosemary

salt, pepper and sugar

225g spicy sausage

pinch dried chili flakes

175ml cream

500g pasta (rigatone, penne etc.)

4 tsbp grated Parmesan

Method:

1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan.  Add the tomatoes, garlic and rosemary.  Season with salt, pepper and sugar (the sugar really helps the tomatoes, especially if they’re tinned, so don’t be tempted to skip this step!). Cook for about 5 minutes, until the tomatoes have just begun to soften.

2. Add the sausage and chili flakes to the pan. Allow to simmer with the lid off for 10-20 minutes, or until the sauce has reduced by half, stirring frequently. Take off the heat and check the seasoning.

3. Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente, drain, and toss with the sauce. Divide among your dishes and top with Parmesan.

Chocolate Orange Cupcakes

In Baking on April 26, 2010 at 23:03

Tower of cupcakes, anyone?

Flicking through my cookbooks this weekend, looking for a cupcake recipe on which to practise my icing, I stumbled across a recipe for Chocolate Cake in Rachel Allen’s Bake. Featuring a sinfully rich buttercream icing, when she mentioned that this could also be adapted for cupcakes, I was sold.

With my friend Dara’s (very good) taste in mind, I decided to play with the flavours a little and added grated orange zest to the icing. Before I’d even tasted the cakes themselves, a licked, icing-dipped finger had me rolling my eyes in paroxysms of ecstasy – it’s that good.

Making the cake itself is pretty easy – my butter and sugar could have been fluffier for a lighter cake, but overall I was happy. There is some folding-in of ingredients involved, but nothing too taxing. I used Dairy Milk chocolate, my old favourite, instead of dark chocolate, hoping it would counter the very dark cocoa that lives in my cupboard. Next time, I think I’ll use dark chocolate, or a mixture; the cakes, though tasty, could have been darker, I think. Rachel says that these quantities will make 12 cupcakes, but I half-filled my paper cases  – easier to ice – and got 18 in all. These are definite crowd pleasers – bring a plate along to a party to ensure that your glass stays topped up all night.

Chocolate Orange Cupcakes (adapted from Bake, by Rachel Allen)

Ingredients:

For the cake –

125g dark chocolate

3 tbsp milk

150g softened butter

150g caster sugar

3 eggs

200g plain flour

1 tbsp cocoa powder

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda

For the chocolate orange butter icing –

75g softened butter

Grated zest of 1 orange

1 tbsp cream (and have more to hand should you need to thin out the icing a little)

175g icing sugar

1 tbsp cocoa powder

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 180 Celcius, Gas mark 4.

2. Put the chocolate and the milk in a bowl sitting over a saucepan of gently simmering water and heat until then chocolate has melted.

3. Beat the butter until very soft. Then add the caster sugar and continue to beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, before folding in the melted chocolate mixture.

4. Sift in the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and the bicarbonate of soda, and fold in gently to mix. Spoon the mixture into the your paper cases, half-filling each of them.

5. Pop in the oven and bake for 18-20 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for a few minutes before putting them on a wire rack to cool.

6. While the cupcakes are cooling, make the chocolate butter icing. Beat the butter, cream and orange zest until very soft. Gradually sift in the icing sugar and the cocoa powder, beating all the time, until it is all added. Continue to beat until very soft, then whisk the mixture until it is light and fluffy. If you think that the icing is too thick, add another 5mls or so of cream at a time, whisking between each addition until you are happy with the consistency.

7. Ice the cupcakes by slathering on the icing, or using a piping bag and nozzle to create pleasing designs. Remember, these are small cupcakes, so they don’t need too much icing. Decorate with strips of orange peel, if feeling so inclined.

Frittata with Oven-Roasted Tomatoes, Chorizo and Goat’s Cheese

In Lunch, Supper on April 21, 2010 at 20:26

I’m a sucker for anything with chorizo – I love, love, love the stuff. I love it as part of a tapas plate with some olives, interesting cheeses and a glass of red wine. I love the kick it gives pasta sauces, and the way it adds smokey depth to stews. So when I cooked this dish in Ballymaloe recently, I knew it would be reappearing on my kitchen table soon.

A frittata is an Italian omelette, cooked slowly over a low heat and finished in the oven. As with omelettes, you can put almost anything into a frittata – roasted peppers instead of the chorizo would make this a delicious, vegetarian-friendly dish – but don’t use it as a means of clearing out the fridge; really think about what flavours would work well together and complement each other.

I omitted the herbs specified in favour of drizzling over some home-made pesto when the frittata came out of the oven – a tasty alternative. As I detest parsley, I would leave it out entirely and go heavy on the basil instead. Feel free to halve the quantities listed below – that’s what I did and it’s enough to feed two people, with a salad and some crusty bread alongside. It’s perfect for a simple weekend lunch or stress-free but tasty weekday supper.

Frittata with Oven-Roasted Tomatoes, Chorizo and Goat’s Cheese (taken from Ballymaloe Cookery Course, by Darina Allen)

Ingredients:

450g cherry tomatoes

8 large eggs

1tsp salt and freshly-ground black pepper

2 tbsp parsley, chopped

4 tsp thyme leaves

2 tbsp basil, mint or marjoram

110-175g chorizo, cut into four lengthways and each piece cut into thick quarters

40g Parmesan, grated

25g butter

110g soft goat’s cheese

Method:

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 Celcius/Gas Mark 4.

2. Cut the tomatoes in half around the equator, season and put in the oven for 10-15 minutes until almost soft and crinkly. Remove from oven and cool.

3. Whisk the eggs in a bowl, season and add the fresh herbs, chorizo and grated Parmesan and mix. Add the tomatoes and mix gently.

4. Melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan. When it starts to foam, tip in the eggs, and immediately turn the heat down as low as it will go.

5. Divide the goat’s cheese into walnut-sized pieces and drop onto the surface of the frittata.

6. Leave the frittata to cook gently for about 15 minutes, or until the sides are beginning to set but the top is still runny.

7. Put the pan into the oven to finish cooking for another 10-15 minutes, or until the top is set and golden brown.

8. Slide the frittata onto a warm plate, slice and serve. This recipe feeds 6-8 people, depending on their self-restraint (or lack thereof).

Updates

In Life on April 20, 2010 at 22:45

Since starting this blog all of 10 days ago, I’ve been updating and posting new recipes daily. That’s all about to change, unfortunately, as I’ve gone back to work after a couple of weeks off, and don’t have as much time to cook or bake, let alone post. So, instead of updating daily, I’ll be blogging on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays instead.  Thanks to everyone who’s checked out my blog so far, I hope you enjoy it and I promise something quick and tasty tomorrow night to start us off!

Alton Brown’s Granola

In Breakfast on April 19, 2010 at 22:54

When I took the plunge and moved out of home last May, my good friends Polly and David gifted me a mix CD of weekend music, some really good coffee, and a Kilner jar full of delicious granola. A couple of weeks later, the jar was empty, so I decided to find the recipe online and make more. And more. And more.  I don’t like not having this in the house, and start to fret when the large jar I store it in dips below half-full.

As always, I’ve meddled with this (I can’t not), and the recipe detailed below is what I usually use, substituting different types of nuts depending on what I’ve got to hand. Pecans are delicious, as are hazelnuts and whole almonds instead of the flaked nuts that Alton specifies. The original recipe is here if you’re curious; I omit the shredded coconut, finding it too throat-catchingly dry to be enjoyable straight from the packet, let alone after it’s been in the oven for an hour. The stipulated raisins could easily be replaced by dried cranberries, sour cherries or juicy sultanas. Cinnamon’s warm breath would also be welcome here. The one ingredient I urge you to include is the soft, dark, brown sugar – don’t use any vaguely-buff-coloured sweet stuff lurking at the back of your cupboard as the granola just won’t taste the same. You need the dark, treacley presence of this particular sugar to caramelise in the oven’s heat, and lend a little extra something to this breakfast treat.

This recipe makes enough to fill one large and one medium-sized Kilner jar. It’s delicious served for breakfast with seasonal fruit toppings – poached rhubarb in late winter, chopped strawberries in early summer, raspberries and blueberries tumbled over in the July heat, blackberries or faintly cinnamon-scented stewed apples in autumn – and a dollop of Greek yoghurt, refreshing with milk for a quick weekday breakfast, gives a textural crunch when sprinkled over ice-cream, and serves as a guilt-free, kitchen-pottering snack, to be eaten by the handful whenever you pass by the jar. Might I add – as Joe and I will testify – when presented in a be-ribboned jar it makes a wonderful gift, and will be gratefully welcomed by those lucky enough to warrant its bestowal.

Alton Brown’s Granola

Ingredients:

3 cups rolled oats

1 cup flaked almonds

1 cup cashews

1/2 cup mixed seeds

1/4 cup whole hazelnuts

1/4 cup & 2 tbsps dark brown sugar

1/4 cup & 2 tbsps maple syrup

1/4 cup vegetable oil

3/4 tsp salt

1 cup raisins

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 120 Celcius/Gas Mark 1/2.

2. In a large bowl, mix together the oats, nuts and seeds.

3. In a jug, mix together the sugar, oil, maple syrup and salt. A whisk is ideal for this as it will break up any sugary clumps.

4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and stir to combine. It will seem as though there isn’t enough of the oil mixture to coat the oats and nuts, but trust me, and keep stirring.

5. When thoroughly mixed, divide the mixture between two baking trays and pop in the oven.

6. Bake for approx one hour (or until golden), stirring the contents of the trays every 15 minutes or so to achieve a uniform light brown hue.

7. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Add the raisins and mix through, before decanting to storage jars.

Spiced Sweet Potato Soup

In Soup on April 18, 2010 at 21:16

This recipe is an adaptation of Bill Granger’s Spiced Carrot Soup with Lime recipe, which features in Feed Me Now. I’d made it before and loved it, but decided to try my own version when faced with a plate of leftover sweet potato wedges after dinner one night.

This soup is gorgeous – sweet, warm, tangy and hugely comforting. If you’re a spice wimp, don’t worry; the soup is spiced rather than spicy, and is therefore headily aromatic as opposed to uncomfortably hot. To serve, add a dollop of creme fraiche or yoghurt, and provide some lime wedges for squeezing over, too. This serves 4 people, and when I’ve eaten my fill I freeze the leftovers. The soup reheats perfectly, straight from the freezer, and is great to keep on hand for days when there is – or it feels like there is – nothing in the house. I can’t tell how comforting it is to realise, when on the verge of rage-filled, hunger-induced tears, that this soup is waiting patiently in the freezer, leaving you mere minutes from sublime succour.

Spiced Sweet Potato Soup (adapted from Bill Granger’s Spiced Carrot Soup with Lime, in Feed Me Now)

Ingredients:

500g sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

1 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for drizzling over the sweet potatoes

1 onion, diced

1 garlic clove, crushed and chopped

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

3/4 tsp ground cinnamon

750ml chicken or vegetable stock

Juice of 1 lime

salt & pepper

Method:

1. Firstly, preheat the oven to 190 Celcius. Put the chunks of sweet potato on a baking tray, season, and drizzle with olive oil. Place in the oven and roast for 20-30 minutes, or until the sweet potato is tender to the point of a knife. Remove from the oven and set aside.

2. Heat 1tbsp of olive oil over a medium-high heat in a large saucepan, and add the diced onion. Cook gently, stirring occasionally, until translucent.  Add the garlic and spices, and cook until fragrant.

3. Tip in the cooked sweet potato and pour over the stock.

4. Bring to the boil, and set on a low simmer for 5 or 10 minutes to let the flavours infuse.

5. Allow the soup to cool slightly before pureeing with a hand-held blender.

6. Add salt and the juice of 1/2  a lime to taste. Add more lime juice if necessary.

7. Ladle into serving bowls and garnish with a dollop of creme fraiche or yoghurt. Serve with extra lime wedges to squeeze over.

Simply Nutritious Brown Bread

In Baking on April 17, 2010 at 10:51

Everyone needs a quick and tasty bread recipe under their belt, and this is it. It’s a more modern version of soda bread – it’s baked in a loaf tin as opposed to in a round, flat cake with a cross marked in it –  but is just as delicious and probably more versatile. This was the first recipe that Darina Allen demonstrated last Monday, and she had it mixed and in the loaf tin in about three minutes flat. I couldn’t wait to try it myself, but was expecting it to take me a little longer – after all, Darina’s been making this bread for years. I turned on the oven, got all my ingredients together, and honestly, the oven had only just finished pre-heating by the time it was ready – it really is that fast. Next time you run out of bread, give this recipe a go – I promise you’ll have it in the oven before you’ve even walked to the shop to buy a plastic loaf.

When adding the buttermilk, keep back between 50-100mls of the liqud to add later if need be – depending on the flour, it may not need the full amount of liquid specified, and it’s easier to add more liquid to bring it together than to put in more flour. I scattered some sunflower and sesame seeds across the top of my bread before popping it in the oven to give it some more texture. Next time, I’ll press them in a little bit as some of them fell off when I was trying to prise the loaf out of the tin. You can also add some seeds into the breadmix itself, but be careful not to add too many as they’ll sink to the bottom. Finally, I usually ignore instructions about lining or oiling loaf tins or cake pans, dismissing them as time-wasting faff,  but you really do need to oil the tin here or you’ll never get the bread out when it’s cooked.

Simply Nutritious Brown Bread (taken from Forgotten Skills, by Darina Allen)

Makes one 2lb loaf or 3 small loaves

Ingredients:

400g stone ground wholemeal flour

75g  white flour

1tsp salt

1 level tsp bread soda, sieved

1 egg

1 tbsp sunflower oil

1 tsp honey

425ml buttermilk

Sunflower or sesame seeds to decorate.

Method:

1. Prehat the oven to 200 Celcius/Gas Mark 6.

2. Put all the dry ingredients into a large bowl and mix well.

3. Whisk the egg, oil and honey together, and measure the buttermilk. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and add the egg/oil/honey mixture, and most of the buttermilk.

4. Mix well, adding more buttermilk if necessary. The mixture should be soft and slightly sloppy.

5. Pour the mixture into an oiled pan and bake for approx 60 minutes (though start checking it from 45 minutes onwards – mine was ready at around the 50-minute mark). The bread is cooked when it is nice and crusty, and sounds hollow when tapped.

6. Remove from tin and leave to cool on a wire rack before slicing and slathering with butter.

Pecan Cinnamon Sticky Buns

In Baking on April 16, 2010 at 11:07

These are divinely, deliciously, to-die-for, over-the-top sticky buns – and boy are they good. You make a yeast dough, roll it out, smear it with butter, sprinkle it with cinnamon sugar, roll it up, cut it into pieces and put it into a cake tin full of pecan-strewn caramel. Needless to say, these babies had me at hello.

They do take some time to make, but it’s not your time. The dough needs to rise twice, but you’re not expected to stand over it while it does. Take a nap, go for a walk, have a long bath, meet a friend for lunch, read a book – and then come back to tend to your dough baby.

It’s best to start these in the morning, as they need two long rises (3.5 hours in all, but this will be quicker in hot weather, or if the dough is left in a warm place), so it’s best to start them in the morning. I, being overeager and completely devoid of time management skills, started them last night, before realising that it would be bedtime by the time they were cooked and ready to eat. I put them in the fridge overnight for the last rise, and baked them this morning. It probably wasn’t the ideal way to do it, but they still turned out fine. And for anyone scared of working with yeast dough, I would like to confess that I added more liquid when the dough wasn’t coming together which made it too sticky, didn’t knead it enough, and  burned the top when baking them…and they still tasted delicious.

These are divine with a cup of tea or coffee as a mid-morning pick-me-up. I adore cinnamon – and take Jerry Seinfeld’s stance that it should be on tables along with salt and pepper – so these are heaven in a bun for me. Walnuts can be used in place of the pecans, but I’m not a huge walnut fan, and relentlessly use pecans in their stead (unless I’m making a coffee and walnut cake – some things just aren’t meant to be messed with).

This recipe makes 9 portions, but it really depends on the size of your tin. Mine is larger than the 9-inch square tin specified, so I cut the dough into 12 pieces to make sure they fit snugly. This recipe also multiplies well, so it’s handy for anyone in the catering/cafe business. The recipe calls for fresh yeast, but if you’re using dried or fast-action yeast, use half of the specified amount. Fresh yeast can be bought from a baker in varying-size blocks. Anything you don’t use can be frozen, and used straight from the freezer. As always, when using yeast, the water needs to be at blood temperature – too cold and your dough won’t rise; too hot and you’ll kill the yeast. Finally, this dough is a basic yeast bun dough, and can also be used to make doughnuts, cherry buns, Bath buns and Chelsea buns.

Pecan Sticky Buns (taken from Forgotten Skills, by Darina Allen)

Ingredients:

25g fresh yeast/12.5g dried yeast, dissolved in 150ml warm water

800g strong flour

10g salt (omit this if using salted butter)

350 ml warm water

125g unsalted butter

150g dark brown sugar

150g pecans, roughly chopped

65g granulated sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

50g unsalted butter, softened

Method:

1. Sponge the yeast in 150ml of warm water and leave for 5 minutes. In a large, wide bowl, mix the flour and salt (if using) together. Make a well in the centre, pour in the sponged yeast and the other 350ml of water. Mix well to form a dough.

2. Turn out onto a lightly-floured work surface and knead for about 5 minutes. The dough should be quite soft. Cover with a large mixing bowl and leave on the work surface to rest for about 20 minutes.

3. When rested, gently knead the dough until it is smooth and shiny. Put it in a lightly-oiled, large mixing bowl, turning the dough over in the bowl to coat with the oil. Cover with clingfilm and leave to rist for about 1.5-2 hours, or until it has doubled in size.

4. Meanwhile, melt 125g of butter over a low heat and add the brown sugar. Whisk to combine. Pour this caramel mizture into the cake tin, tilting the tin so that the mixture spreads evenly over the base. Sprinkle the chopped pecans over the caramel, and press them down lightly. Put the tin in the fridge to chill.

5. Mix the granulated sugar and cinnamon together in a bowl. Set aside.

6. When the dough has doubled in size, knock it back. Roll it out into a 33 x 25cm rectangle. Spread the remaining 50g of butter evenly over the dough (I used my hands), leaving the top 1cm of dough unbuttered.

7. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar evenly over the butter, again leaving the top 1cm bare. Starting at the bottom (i.e. the longest side which is nearest to you), roll the dough up like a Swiss roll. Divide the roll into 9 (or however many you need to fit your tin) pieces. Arrange them cut-side down in the tin. Cover with a clean tea-towel, and leave to rise for 1-1.5 hours, or until the rolls are peeping over the top of the tin.

8. Preheat the oven to 190 Celcius/Gas Mark 5, and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the buns are golden brown and crusty. Leave to stand in the tin for 5 minutes before turning out onto a serving plate, and spoon over any of the golden caramel that spreads down the sides. Allow to cool slightly before applying to face.

Niamhy Luvs Darina 4-Evur

In Life on April 15, 2010 at 10:03

Yup, that’s me with Darina Allen. Be still my beating heart!

Regular readers (Hi Jen!) will have noticed a drop-off in posts over the last couple of days. This is because I was doing a cookery course in the world-renowned Ballymaloe Cookery School in Shangarry, Co. Cork. It wasn’t cheap, but it was one of the best investments I’ve ever made – I think I learned more in my two and a half days there than in all my previous years of baking put together. The level of teaching is incredible – the tutors were all very hands-on and more than happy to help all of us newbies who were floundering around their professional kitchen.

Darina herself is a force to be reckoned with – she is one of the world’s most recognised, respected, talented and passionate chefs, but still remarkably down-to-earth. She joined the other chefs in pouring teas and coffees, serving lunch to us students, and even popped up at my elbow in the kitchen yesterday morning to offer advice, before disappearing into the ether on one of her missions. Warm, and with an easy laugh, more than happy to pose for photos and delighted to sign any number of cookbooks thrust at her, she was the complete antithesis to celebrity. Getting to meet someone I so admire, whose recipes I have relied upon and whose shows I have watched since childhood with my mother furiously scribbling notes beside me was definitely one of the high points of my life!

Ballymaloe Cookery School is set in the middle of a 100-acre organic farm, and is one of the most peaceful and charming places on earth. The students stay in a variety of renovated outhouses a stone’s throw from the school, and are woken by the rooster every morning. Each day, they eat salad from the greenhouse, cook with free-range eggs from the flock of hens who wander around the school grounds, and pour cream from Darina’s Jersey cow on their porridge. Stepping through the farm gate really is like stepping into another world, a world where the focus is on great food that is locally sourced, simply cooked and, crucially, enjoyed.  The most wonderful thing about Ballymaloe, though, is the people. Their ethos – buy local, support farmers, and cook nutritious but delicious food – is utterly inspiring. They are so proud of their local produce, and go to great lengths both to source it and to make sure that the producers are paid a fair price for it; something that, sadly, is the exception as opposed to the norm for the majority of farmers and food producers in this country. Their passion and enthusiasm for what they do is just incredible, and has spurred me make some career changes in the next couple of years.

In the meantime though, stay tuned for some delicious baked goodies over the next couple of days, as I plan to be up to my elbows in flour, dough and icing nozzles before going back to work on Monday!