Cooking masterclass with Rachel Allen

Ballymaloe relish is a staple in our house and it’s now one of those items in the “Did you forget…?” section when I’m ordering online groceries!

I was, therefore, delighted when I got invited to a cooking masterclass with Irish celebrity chef Rachel Allen from Ballymaloe Foods.

Rachel is a famous face in the culinary word and a regular on RTE. She’s all about quick but healthy and tasty family foods, which is definitely how I’ve been cooking lately. So, I couldn’t wait!

The masterclass was at Forestside Cookery School, which is run by chef Stephen Jeffers, which I’ve been to before and is brilliant.

When we arrived I was delighted to see it wasn’t simply a demo but that we would be getting stuck in and getting our hands dirty!

First up, we made brown soda bread/ wheaten bread. I make wheaten bread now and again but this recipe was different- this time using butter, eggs and a mixture of seeds on top of my usual recipe.

Everyone was working in pairs but there must have been an odd number because I ended up having to do it all on my own- which doubled the pressure!

The recipe for the brown soda bread/ wheaten bread is: 

  • 225g whole wheat (wholemeal) flour
  • 225g all-purpose (plain) flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
  • 3 tablespoons (50g) mixed seeds, such as sesame, pumpkin, or sunflower, or golden flax seeds (linseeds) (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons (25g) butter, softened (optional)
  • 1 egg
  • 375–400ml buttermilk or soured milk
  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C).
  2. Sift together the flours, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl and mix in the seeds (if using). Add the butter (if using), and rub into the flour mixture with your fingertips until it resembles bread crumbs. Make a well in the centre.

  3. In another bowl, whisk the egg with the buttermilk and pour most of the liquid into the flour mixture. Using one hand with your fingers outstretched like a claw, bring the flour and liquid together, adding more of the buttermilk mixture, if necessary. The dough should be quite soft, but not too sticky.

  4. Turn onto a floured work surface and gently bring the dough together into a round about 1 1/2 inches (4cm) thick. Cut a deep cross on top and place on a baking sheet.

  5. Bake for 15 minutes. Turn down the heat to 400°F (200°C) and bake for 30 minutes more. When done, the loaf will sound slightly hollow when tapped on the bottom. Remove from the baking sheet and place on a wire rack to cool.

Once the bread came out of the oven, we topped it with cheese and Ballymaloe relish and it was perfect. I have a loaf home with me so I’ll be eating that over the next few days! 🙂

Next up was a take on the Mexican favourite, quesadillas.  Obviously, cheese is the main ingredient (as the name would suggest), but you can fill the quesadilla with whatever you like! For the purpose of the masterclass, we went for cheese, ham, and the Ballymaloe jalapeño relish to give it a feisty kick.

The recipe for the quesadillas is:

  • 4 x 8cm (7 inch) flour or corn tortillas
  • Salt and pepper
  • 100g Cheddar cheese, grated
  • 100g Bacon or ham, cooked and finely chopped
  • 1-2 tsp chives, chopped
  • 1-2 tsp parsley, chopped
  • Créme Fraiche or Ballymaloe jalapeño Pepper relish
  1. Lay a tortilla in an 18cm/7inch dry pan and place the grated cheese bacon, parsley and chives on it, spreading the filling evenly to within 2cm of the edges
  2. Spread a thin layer of relish over a second tortilla and place, relish side down, on top of the filling
  3. Place the pan on a low heat and fry until the quesadilla is crispy and golden on the outside and the cheese has melted in the middle
  4. Slide the quesadilla onto a chopping board and cut into wedges.

This worked really well and the relish was a lovely addition to the dish. Once we’d finished cooking, Rachel showed us how to make some family favourites, including potato salad with Ballymaloe French dressing, and a chicken and blue cheese salad with Ballymaloe cranberry sauce.

I loved the masterclass and came away inspired. Rachel kindly gifted us her cookbook and some Ballymaloe relishes and sauces, so I’ll be getting to work!

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Belfast Masterchef- who was crowned winner?

If you were asked to make your signature dish, what would it be?

That was the challenge laid down to budding chefs at the recent Belfast Masterchef competition.

Part of the Feile an Phobail festival,  this competition was open to amateur cooks across Belfast who wanted to show off their culinary skills and, of course, be crowned champion!

I was invited along to the final earlier this month at Balmoral Hotel where the five finalists had to cook in front of a live audience, and then wait anxiously as renowned judges and the hungry crowd tried out their dishes.

So who were the finalists and what did they create?

First up was West Belfast councillor Matt Garrett who made Chicken Korma with home-made naan bread. There was a lot of banter on the night as he had, apparently, used shop-bought naan in the semi-final (shock!) but I am pleased to report that the bread was definitely made live on the night. It resulted in a very strong start with delicious flavours!

Next up was Paddy Tierney, a sports journalist from Armagh, who created Beef Stifado, a traditional Greek casserole. Paddy said he was inspired by a dish he had eaten numerous times on holidays. He had received some flack for the length of time it took him to make the dish in the semi-final but thankfully it was ready on the night and we tucked into lovely, tender beef.


Third to the table was local MP Paul Maskey, a party colleague of Matt Garrett so there was fierce competition between the two! Paul went for a Balsamic Glazed Caprese chicken which was set on a bed of sweet potato. This sweetness worked very well with the balsamic vinegar- nice one Paul!


Next up was Nisha Tandon, CEO of arts organisation ArtsEkta. Nisha delighted us with a Chicken Handi which she said she learnt how to cook from her auntie. This popular chicken curry is made in a handi cooking pan. This dish was delicious, full of the aroma of Indian spices!


Last up was Belfast woman Emma Sloan who works in the Controlled Schools’ Support Council. Of course we had to end with something sweet and Emma went for Tuile baskets dipped in dark chocolate, filled with diplomats cream and raspberries. This was finished with bitter chocolate savings and fresh mint! Wow! This dish not only looked professional, but the taste was amazing!


So, now it was time to pick my favourite! I honestly couldn’t decide between Number 1 (Matt Garrett) and Number 5 (Emma Sloan). So, in the end I bought two ballot tickets which meant two votes and I went for one each! The easy way out.

Soon the votes were counted and the winners announced:

The judges’ winner was….. Emma Sloan!

The audience winner was…… Matt Garrett!

My two favourites! Always knew I had good taste.

What a great night and well done to the winners. Check out my video for all the action from the night.

 

Launch of SuperValu’s Ambassador Chef

This week I had the pleasure of tasting some amazing food from renowned Northern Irish chef, Noel McMeel.

Noel is the Executive Head Chef at Lough Erne Golf Resort and Hotel in Enniskillen and has just been named as SuperValu’s Ambassador Chef. Over the next few months, Noel and the retailer will work in partnership to share their passion for fresh, quality produce with consumers, while encouraging us to “shop local.”

The launch of the partnership took place last Wednesday at Tedfords Kitchen in Belfast where guests from the worlds of tourism, media and blogging were treated to an unbelievable seven course dinner prepared by Noel McMeel, with a great range of spirits, wines and beers to match the delicious food.

I have to say I was so lucky to attend this event, because it’s not often you get to sample such a vast array of food from the very chef who has cooked for the world leaders at the G8 summit, as well as the wedding feast of Sir Paul McCartney and Heather Mills! (What a CV!)

So what was on the menu? Below is the delicious range of food and drink we tasted, courtesy of SuperValu.

Course 1: Succulent 21 day aged local prime Rib Eye steak with warm tarragon butter

Course 2: Northern Ireland Gammon Fitters

Course 1 and 2 served with Pokertree Ghrian Golden Ale

Course 3: Pressed NI chicken with leek, baby onion terrine and celeriac slaw

Course 4: Fillet of local pork with cured bacon, confit rhubarb and caramelised nuts

Course 3 and 4 served with Pouilly Fumé Foucher  

Course 5: NI mince meatballs with tomato and fresh herb sauce and a range of breads

Course 6:Goats cheese, oakwood smoked cheddar and brie from Fivemiletown Creamery, with Hollah Chutneys

Course 7: Rhubard Cranachan (Whites oatmeal, meringue, rhubarb, Bushmills whiskey, honey and double cream)

Course 5 was also served with a red wine, SuperValu’s specially sourced, Sartori Valpolicella Ripasso, while we ended our meal with a Bushmills Single Malt Whiskey (10 year old) and Punjana Tea/Johnson’s Coffee.

As you can see, it was such a feast and a really well put together event. The real surprise of the night was that every single ingredient Noel used to make this seven course dinner, and all the drinks, are available at SuperValu stores- so they are not ingredients you have to go hunting for to replicate the meal yourself! (Why not treat your loved ones to their own seven course dinner?!)

There are 35 SuperValu stores across Northern Ireland so I’m definitely going to get along to one and try to whip up one the recipes! The fact that I won Noel McMeel’s cook book, The Irish Pantry, on the night means I have no excuse!! Thanks to SuperValu NI for a great night.  Winning prize: Signed copy of Irish Pantry