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!

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.


Afternoon treats with Andrew Ingredients

Last week I was invited along to Kingspan Stadium by Andrew Ingredients, a Lisburn-based business which provides products to the baking industry across Ireland.

The event was to showcase their extensive range of goods, as well as launch a new rugby-inspired bread product, NO 8, in partnership with German ingredients supplier IREKS.

Throughout the afternoon, Andrew Ingredients discussed the latest bakery innovations and advice, as well as offer an unbelievable choice of samples.

I’m not joking when I say I tried breads, buns, muffins, baps, donuts, brownies, cookies, pizza…..the list goes on!

Check out the rugby ball bread, if you get the chance!

Launch of NO 8

Musgrave Healthy Twitter Tasting!

Tonight I was invited by Musgrave Marketplace to try and make some healthy snacks in real time, following the recipes live on Twitter!

I’d never done something like this before and I’m pretty slow when cooking and baking, (checking and double checking the recipe books that I’m doing it right) so I was looking forward to trying it out as quickly as the 140 character Tweets were flowing.

I was sent the ingredients (and the hat!) from Musgrave and the blender from Kenwood and at 6pm I was ready to go!

On the Twitter menu…? A Nutty Banana Smoothie, Hummus and Protein Bounty Balls, all recipes from three time Olympian and cookbook author, Derval O’Rourke!

So how did I get on? Well here are the pics and recipes! It was a thumbs up from the family!

Thanks again to Musgrave- what a interesting way to learn!

Nutty Banana Smoothie


1 banana, peeled
1 tbsp nut butter
3 tbsp porridge oats
1 tbsp milled flax seeds
200 ml almond milk
1 scoop Kinetica chocolate protein powder

Makes one tall glass.


Place all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth.

Pour into a tall glass and serve, or pour into a BPA-free travel cup and take on the go.




1 tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
zest and juice of 1 lemon
4 tbsp good quality extra virgin olive oil
1-2 tsp tahini
1-2 tsp tabasco sauce
salt and pepper

Makes four large portions.


Place all of the ingredients in a food processor and blitz until you have a smooth consistency.

Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve with crackers.

Store any leftover hummus in an airtight container and keep in the fridge.


Bounty Bar


3 scoops Kinetica chocolate protein powder
25g raw cacao powder
1tbsp agave/honey
40g porridge oats
40g unsweetened desiccated coconut, plus some for rolling
75ml almond milk
pinch of salt

Makes seven to eight bars.


Mix all ingredients together in a bowl.

Scoop out onto parchment paper and form into a flat (about 2cm tall) square. Cut into squares or rectangles, roll in remaining desiccated coconut, and enjoy.

Best stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator


IMG_7864And relax and enjoy!


Forestside Cookery School

Last week I was invited to try out a new cookery school at Forestside Shopping Centre. Having lived in Newtownbreda throughout my teens and twenties, Forestside is the only placed I used to venture for shopping, so jumped at the chance!

The cookery school opened up last month, hosted by chef Stephen Jeffers (formerly Belfast Cookery School) and is located on the 2nd floor of Forestside, near the Sainsburys’ end of the mall.

The custom-built space accommodates sixteen fully equipped work stations and one demo station. Visitors to the cookery school work in various stages, watching the chef’s demo first, and then recreating this course or part of the course. This is under the guidance of the chef who continually walks around the room making sure everyone is getting on ok!

Class members then get to eat the course before the next demo and the chance to cook again!

My mum and I visited the school last Wednesday night where a three course meal was in store- 2 cooked by our very own hands and the final course cooked by Chef Jeffers.

The starter was hot smoked salmon with garlic potatoes and salad. The salad was a mixture of chicory leaves, baby watercress, fine green beans and beetroot, drizzled with our homemade vinaigrette consisting of rapeseed oil, sherry vinegar, Dijon mustard, horseradish, lemon zest and chives. The salmon, which we flaked over our salad and garlic potatoes, was cooked for 1 minute on each side. The first course was incredible (if I do say so myself!) and it was great to see that such a delicious dish was really quite simple to make.

After scoffing down our first course, we then moved on to the mains- fillet of beef, with cep butter and leek and truffle potato cake. We made the potato cake with mash potato, flour, egg yolk, baking powder, truffle oil and chives or scallions. We also made the cep butter with butter, dried ceps, tarragon, whole grain mustard and flat parsley. It was then time to cook the star of the show- the 120g Irish beef fillet. Mum and I both like well done beef so we cooked ours for about 6 minutes on each side.

Once again, the course was perfect and I was surprised I had cooked such a tasty dish! For the last course we were treated to a wonderful cheesecake made by Chef Jeffers!

The whole night was brilliant craic, as well as being educational. Stephen was friendly and helpful and made you feel at ease when cooking. Anyone can do it! All the food on the night was provided by Musgrave Marketplace, leading retail and food service wholesaler. (Thanks for such tasty produce!)

We liked the evening so much that my mum and I are already looking at another class in the next few months before the baby arrives!




James Street South Cookery School

I was recently given a voucher for James Street South as a present and was pleased to see that it could be used against the restaurant’s cookery school.

I wanted to improve my dessert-making skills (something I openly admit I’m not very good at!) and so booked myself into the ‘Sweet Treats’ class. I booked back in January and the next available class wasn’t until April so places are snapped up quickly.

The cookery school is based just above the Bar and Grill and hosts a couple of classes a week- everything from bread classes, Italian classes, curry classes, cocktail classes, BBQ classes and the one I had booked, baking and desserts.

I went on Wednesday evening, quite nervous because I’d come on my own, thinking that it might go disastrously wrong! I was one of ten participants and we had time for a quick tea/coffee and introductions before we met our chef for the evening- David Gilmore, James Street South Head Chef. (And recently named the best chef in Ireland, might  I add!)

So, then it was time to make our way over to the kitchen area where we each had our own work station and hob, apron and towel. David talked us through the evening’s plans which consisted of making 4 sweet treats- Raspberry ruffles, honeycomb, Peanut Butter fudge and Pate de fruit. (The type of treats you would find in a petit four dessert.)

We had an recipe book which gave how much of each ingredient we need to make the dessert again ourselves, but for handiness on the night, our ingredients were already weighed out for us – so it was just a matter of following David’s instructions.

We started with the raspberry ruffles, followed by the pate de fruit, then the honeycomb and ended with the peanut butter fudge. I’m not a huge fan of peanut butter so David was happy for me to try my hand at chocolate fudge. I even drizzled some melted chocolate over the honeycomb to make a Crunchie-like treat. (Don’t worry, David said we could- I wasn’t being greedy!)

Normally for the classes which involve making meals, you sit down and eat each course after it’s made, but because we were making the treats to take home, we were treated to a nice snack of breads, prosciutto and cheeses, served with wine, during a break in between baking. Lovely!

After 2.5 hours or so, all was revealed. Our treats had set/cooled down and we sampled our creations! Gorgeous! I have to say I was pretty impressed with myself (and so is my husband who cannot stop eating the chocolate fudge!)

I had a fantastic night and never felt like I didn’t know what I was doing. David stood in the middle of us all and kept us right. He was attentive and helpful and I can honestly say I loved every minute!

The class costs £65 mid-week (which includes your three course meal) and lasts three hours. Groups are never more than 12 people so the chef can really keep a watchful eye on everyone. Can’t wait to try out some of the other classes!

Cookery School

Raspberry ruffles and (chocolate) honeycomb

Pate de fruit and chocolate fudge

My sweet treats plated up







Asda’s Wonky Veg!

Asda has extended its Wonky Vegetable brand to Northern Ireland, with a family sized box which includes nine in-season misshaped vegetable lines, priced at £3.50 per box – 30% cheaper than standard lines.

The supermarket led the market by introducing imperfect vegetable into a number of its GB stores in January 2015 with the move championed by Jamie Oliver and Jimmy Doherty.

During the recent series of the show, Jamie and Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast, the foodie stars revisited Asda’s wonky veg and challenged the supermarket to extend the range even further, which led to the new development.

By reviewing standards around superficially damaged veg, over 340 tonnes of carrots and 300 tonnes of sweet potatoes that would have previously been rejected have been put on shelf at Asda.

Asda’s new Wonky Veg boxes will land in each of the 16 NI stores this week with stock available on a limited basis to see if the box is a hit with local customers. Each box has enough produce to feed a family of four for an entire week for just £3.50 and includes vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, peppers, cucumber,cabbage, leeks, parsnips and onions.

The ‘wonkiness’ element of the veg changes by product. Currently, 15% of potatoes do not meet specifications because they’re too big, too small or blemished and 15% of parsnips don’t make the shelf because they’re odd shaped or have superficial defects.

Similarly, 10% of onions that are the wrong shape and size, and 8% of carrots grown with knobbles and bobbles are excluded. However these are the types of products that will be included in the Wonky Veg box.

Have you picked up a box yet?

Wonky Veg 2.jpg


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