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Another Year Over

So, that was May and what an interesting month it was. A month that I had set aside and cleared to allow myself the space to figure out what I do next, and to sort my life out a little bit. I cleared every single weekend except one. I need to do it more often.

Head cleared and getting back in shape, life is starting to feel quite good again, instead of just chaotic and a little crazy. I was trying to do too much, and it was all getting a little silly. When I wrote that post about the major downside of being a food writer, I had reached as far as I was willing to go (actually much further). It was time to change things. I wanted my life and my body back.

I started to think about this past year. It was great in many respects. My first book, Comfort & Spice, was published by Quadrille. It was an intense period writing it. My body took a battering for it, and my head a little bit too. I am proud of that little book though, it was worth it, and I have learned a lot about how to do the next one (not commissioned yet but working on ideas before you ask :)

When I finished, I needed to get out of my flat and out of London, so I went to Argentina for a month, and kick started almost a year of reasonably intense travel. I won the OFM Blog of the Year Award, was short listed for the Red Hot Women Award. Recently, I was short listed for the Guild of Food Writers Blog Award (hearty congratulations to Poires au Chocolat who won last night). Absolutely wonderful and so flattering, there were a few tears.

It was a really good year but I worked very hard and I got so tired. I have written this blog for over 5 years without a single break. So I have decided that I am going to take one, and come back refreshed and energised.

Not just yet, as I have a few things that I want to share with you, but I won’t be blogging as often as before, just for a little while, and then I am going to take a break. Maybe for a month, I need to think about it. I want to love writing here again and enjoy every post as I write it, and I want to feel inspired by what is around me.

I will still be running my cooking classes, which I really enjoy doing. I hope to see some of you there. There are still places available for all of them. People assume they book out immediately but there are always places so, come along, and join in the fun.

For now, I am off to celebrate my birthday. Just a little, as despite the queen trying to steal my thunder with her big jubilee celebrations, I will celebrate properly over the weekend with friends. Of course I haven’t organised it properly yet, it is all a bit last minute. There will be no procession of gold boats going down the Thames for me, but I do have lots of lovely drinks and lovely people to share them with too. There may be some food.

Older, not much wiser, and hugely looking forward to it. Have a lovely day, people. Thank you, as always, for reading.

PS. that bird that was keeping me awake in my recent post? Well, one morning I didn’t wake at 5 and thought, great, I must be used to them! I plodded about waking slowly while inhaling coffee. Later on I went out into the garden, only to be greeted by a traumatised bird corpse. A local cat or similar had killed it. I felt terrible. I only wanted them to be a little quieter, I never wanted something to kill them. Poor birds. The cheeping now is less frequent, and sounds lonelier.

PPS. Voting has opened for the OFM Awards again. Vote for all your favourites, and don’t forget the little blog category in there too :)

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Comfort & Spice Cooking Class & Next Classes Available to Book

This blog has become a little cooking class obsessed, which must be annoying for those of you outside of London. They have slightly dominated my life this last few weeks. Planning them, setting them up, teaching them. Working out the kinks, figuring out the best way to do them. I think I am there now. Normal service will resume promptly.

Candied Maple & Tamarind Bacon Fudge

Bacon class was fun and very tasty. People often look a little confused when I mention bacon fudge (there are now two versions: candied maple & tamarind bacon fudge and bacon jam fudge), but when they try it, without fail their faces become joyful. So wrong it is right, and before you know it you’ve eaten it all. A few of you have requested the recipe by email or twitter. I have decided not to share these recipes until later in the summer, as I want them to be unique to the class. I will share them eventually though.

Blaas & Homemade Butter

Comfort & Spice Cooking Class (with recipes from the book and at the request of the students also bacon jam and bacon jam fudge) was a lot of fun and we cooked lots. Maybe too much in reality as the class became 5 hours instead of 4. We made blaas (fluffy Irish bread rolls), homemade butter, 2 hour roast pork belly (using Ginger Pig pork belly) with puy lentils, chocolate mousse with honeycomb, bacon jam and bacon jam fudge (made with Denhay bacon). Intense but nonetheless fun and delicious and everyone had a good time.

2 hour roast pork belly

We had lunch at the end and washed it all done with some fino and cava. I was worried that maybe it had been too much but charmingly, on Sunday morning, I had emails from everyone who had attended the class saying how much they had enjoyed it, and they all want to come back. Which is so encouraging – thank you.

I kept costs low to begin with as I wanted the pricing to be accessible for everyone. I still do, but I use only the best ingredients and rent a lovely cooking school to host them in which costs a lot of money. I am going to keep them low for the next lot of classes, I think it is important, but I think that realistically I will need to raise them after this in order for the project to be sustainable, if I decide to continue with them.

Central St Cookery School

I am only releasing Thursday dates right now. Soon some Saturday dates, later in the summer and also some dates for Brunch Club which will be resurrected soon. I have also been asked to provide private cookery classes (in homes and in alternative schools outside of London) and have been scheduling some of these. I am open to pretty much most things, so if you have an idea, just get in touch and we can work something out I am sure :)

Upcoming Cooking Classes – to book please email me at niamh at eatlikeagirl dot com

Thursday 14th June – Bacon Masterclass
6.30 – 9.30, £60
Recipes: Candied Bacon, Bacon Jam, Bacon Jam Fudge, Bacon Vodka

Thursday 21st June – Comfort & Spice Bread, Butter & Homemade Cheese Class
6.30 – 9.30, £60
Recipes: Soda Bread, Soda Farls, Blaas, Homemade Butter, Paneer, Ricotta

Thursday 12th July – Bacon Masterclass
6.30 – 9.30, £60
Recipes: Candied Bacon, Bacon Jam, Bacon Jam Fudge, Bacon Vodka

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Welcome Summer & Hello Elderflower

Lovely elderflower

Isn’t it lovely to have summer finally arrive? Just glorious! But like all good things, it comes and then you remember the things that are slightly annoying about it. Like the sunburn, the hay fever, the heat rash and those terribly chirpy birds in the hedge who wake with the light and go CHEEP CHEEP CHEEP. Tiny and sharp and irritating (at 5am), like little chirpy pneumatic drills that invade your head and your sleep.

This bird, and her chicks, wake me up every-single-morning. Sleepy.

But I do love summer. Even though I am Irish and pale and my body can’t actually cope with the heat. I think we operate best between 10 and 16 deg C.

Spring is best. When the flowers start to peep out and release their gorgeous fragrance, when the parks rush towards lush and green. The evenings are longer and people are happier. I love to wander in the local park, especially in the mornings.  If I can motivate myself I will even go before I start work. I always have a bag so that I can forage all of the delicious things like nettles and elderflower.

Elder tree at the end of the garden

This year is even better. Some of you will know that I have moved Saf, as we say here. South of the river in London that is. A new departure for me, I have always been a creature of the North and the East. There are many new things to discover, a gorgeous local park and woodland, lots of wild parakeets (really!) and at last, my little flat has a lovely little garden. In that garden is an elder tree. Perfect.

Elderflower, picked and ready to become cordial

I love elderflower. It brings me back to childhood and possibilities. Our hedgerows were full of elderflower, and I was easily amused so I would spend hours making elderflower cordial and trying to make elderflower perfume. The perfume never really worked for me, but the cordial has stayed. I would also make turkish delight in the microwave – a long story for another post – so I think it is only right that the two should finally meet.

So elderflower a go-go it is here right now. I have been making cordial for cocktails – bellinis and elderflower collins – as it is my birthday next week and I like a little excuse to party. I am also about to fritter some and dust them merrily with icing sugar. Tomorrow I will make that elderflower turkish delight. I can’t wait for the gooseberries to arrive so that I can make gooseberry and elderflower turkish delight which will be just gorgeous.

My elderflower cordial and bellini recipe are in my book, but the others are new to here. I will carry on perfecting them, and I will be right back with them for you to try at home on a glorious sunny evening.

Bye for now! Enjoy the lovely evening.

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Natural Wine at the RAW Fair (and food and wine at the Georgian Supra)

RAW Fair at the Truman Brewery

I love natural wines, and I love Georgia, so it is no great surprise that I should be pretty excited when the two collide in London. It’s a great week to be here, with the RAW Fair, Real Wine Fair and the London International Wine Fair all going on.

Terrific rich reds from Roagna – becoming a firm favourite

Natural wines, for the uninitiated, are wines that have had little interference – chemical or technological –  in the growing of the grapes and making of the wine. They can have a little sulphite in them, which acts as a preservative. Lots don’t even have this.  Some say they are the purest expression of terroir.

My wine of the fair from Batič

For me, at a very basic level, I just really enjoy them. I like life to be eclectic and interesting and I like my wine to be eclectic and interesting too. I like to eat food that hasn’t been mucked around with too much, why not the same with wine? Some say they don’t taste good. True, some don’t. There is good and bad natural wine, just like there is good and bad everything.

Loved this Hungarian Pinot Noir

RAW fair, organised by Isabelle Legeron – otherwise known as That Crazy French Woman and a Georgian Food & Wine obsessive – was on at the Truman brewery this past Sunday and Monday. It was a brilliant venue streaming with light and bright white walls. There were so many producers there, I could only really scratch the surface but it makes me excited to try more. I was very happy to see some of my favourites there: Roxanich from Istria and Batič from Slovenia. In fact the Batič Angel Grand Cuvee was my wine of the fair, full bodied and rich with a lovely elegance and ripe fruit. I could drink it every day.

Georgian Supra at RAW fair

The Supra was everything a Georgian Supra should be. Abundant delicious food, lots of singing and toasting and lots of wine. All of the leftover wine from the fair was placed on the floor at the end of the room, and we all dug in.

The cat who got the cream – foraging for wine at the Supra at the RAW Fair

I must dash now to the Real Wine Fair which finishes today. I will be back with a video of the Supra and details on the food amongst other bits and pieces.

Enjoy the sunshine folks.

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Bacon Masterclass: Some Photos

Bacon Masterclass

Bacon Masterclass has been and gone. It was as much fun as I hoped it would be. I worry sometimes that maybe people will think I have stepped too far away from where food should be, but last Thursday everyone was agreed that all things bacon were good. Everyone got to bring home two large jars of bacon jam, a big box of candied bacon fudge and lots of bacon vodka.

We made 4 bacon recipes with delicious smoked streaky Denhay bacon (only the best – without good bacon to start with, why bother?). We made bacon jam, maple syrup and tamarind candied bacon, candied bacon fudge (new favourite thing) and bacon vodka (with Grey Goose vodka).

Bacon Masterclass

Before you ask, the recipes won’t be made public for a bit, the only way to get them is to come to the class. Is that a bit mean? Maybe I will cave and blog them sooner. I have so many bacon recipes now, I might change the recipes for the bacon class quite often. I have received a lot of emails requesting them.

Bacon Masterclass

I will be starting my brunch club again soon on Sundays. I have found a great little location on Petticoat  Lane market in London. It will be bacontastic – bacon bloody mary, bacon fudge –  but it won’t be all about the bacon and there will be plenty of food and drink for veggies too. I will announce details this week once we have decided how it will go.

Just some of the Bacon Masterclass spoils

For those interested in a cooking class, my next one is this Saturday 26th. It is 4 hours and is £90 (including lunch and wine). The school is more expensive at the weekends so my prices must go up, I am afraid. I was going to keep it Comfort & Spice style with homemade butter, 2 hour pork belly, chocolate mousse with honeycomb and other treats. I now think it needs a lot of bacon action too – so bacon jam and bacon fudge.

One other thing, several have asked if I will do bespoke classes for groups, the answer is a firm YES, so please just get in touch. I am happy to come to your homes too.

If you fancy next weeks class, or any of the above, email me to book or enquire on niamh@eatlikeagirl.com.

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ANNOUNCING: Comfort & Spice Cooking Class on Saturday May 26th

OK folks! Cooking class number 2 is ready to book (the first is my Bacon Masterclass this Thursday- I have had 2 cancellations so email if you’re interested!).

Comfort & Spice Cooking Class

My second class will be on Saturday 26th May for 4 hours – from 10am to 2pm – and will include lunch and a glass of wine.

Recipes will include homemade butter, homemade paneer, blaas (fluffy Irish bread roll), two hour pork belly and chocolate mousse with honeycomb. The cost is £90, to reserve a place please email me on niamh@eatlikeagirl.com

Stay up to date on classes by emailing me to add you to my Cooking Class mailing list, and by keeping an eye on the new Cooking Class page on this site.

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Recipe: Black Pudding, Bacon & Egg Empanadas

Black Pudding, Bacon & Egg Empanadas

I am getting dangerously close to the jumbo breakfast roll. I know, I know. But trust me, this is a little more refined.

This month, I have planned to dedicate my time to sorting all my crap out – which is a lot of crap. I have had a brilliant time travelling post book writing etc., I definitely needed it after the intensity of the previous year. Lots happened in all areas of my life and I felt like I needed a breather. So I grabbed one.

Now, I want to be in London a little more. I want to finally sort out all of my stuff, and start my cooking classes and other things that have been in the pipeline for a while (there are still spaces for Thursdays bacon class by the way!).

So, if I haven’t lost you yet, yesterdays sorting out primarily consisted of me trying to change a light bulb. For ages. On my own. Productive, eh? I am rather short and the ceiling rather high.

It was beyond me for a while (I was a little sleepy after a reasonably late Saturday night), but I needed to do it as it was a shouty symbol of my disorganisation. That bulb blew a while back you see. So eventually, I dragged the dresser over, climbed on it and changed that bulb. I am my own DIY hero now (the bar was set very low for those surprised).

After all that exertion I was starving and deprived of any stimulation (do I have ADHD?). So, I started moving stuff around, disgruntedly, and found lots of photos of when I went to Argentina. I saw pictures of empanadas, had a very happy recollection of a lovely day, and that was it, attempts at organisation over. I had to make some.

Fantastic Empanadas in Mendoza

Empanadas, for the few of you not aware, are small packages of glory. Blistered pastries filled with deliciousness. The classic Mendocino empanada – which is the best for me – is filled with beef, olives, eggs and other loveliness. For the very best, you need to cook them in a wood fired oven. We stopped at a random house in Mendoza and bought 8 from an old lady. I thought, EIGHT! How will I eat all those? I made quick work of them. They are still one of the best things I have ever eaten.

I asked lots of people for tips on making empanadas when I was in Argentina, particularly when I was in Mendoza. The top tip was lard. It absolutely has to be lard or pig butter I believe one called it (can’t we change the name to that?). Flour, baking powder, lard and salt with enough chilled water to bring it together. Some people use half butter / half lard, but I have some Iberico lard in the fridge (rendered fat from the delicious Spanish pata negra pig), and I decide to use only that.

Empanada Filling

Filling? Well I have no beef but I do have lovely black pudding (Irish of course), I have tomatoes, I have eggs, onions and a few other bits. I spy the makings of a rather delicious empanada, a little fusion born of an Irish lass inspired by a lovely trip to Argentina. It worked a treat.

Empanada Pastry

Learn from me: try to plan a little in advance. I nearly drove myself crazy with hunger waiting, and ate half the filling before the empanada dough was fully chilled. Still delicious though, and that is the main thing.

Making Empanadas

Black Pudding, Bacon & Egg Empanadas

Ingredients

Empanada Pastry

450g plain flour
2tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt (good sea salt)
125g Iberico lard (or normal lard, or butter, or half and half)
enough chilled water to bring it all together
2 eggs for sealing & glazing

Filling

350g black pudding
1 tin tomatoes
1 red onion, finely chopped
5 slices streaky bacon
small pinch of chilli flakes
4 eggs
handful of chopped flat leaf parsley

Method

First of all make your pastry. I have warm hands so I use my mixer. When making pastry it is really important that you are as hands off as possibly. You really just want to bring it together and have the pastry figure out the rest. Chop the lard into small cubes and mix with the other ingredients until you get a breadcrumb texture. Then add your chilled water bit by bit until it holds its shape (without being too wet). Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for an hour.

While this is refrigerating get on with the filling. Sauté the bacon (in its own fat) for a few minutes over a medium hear, then add the onion (there should be enough bacon fat but if there isn’t add a little oil), until soft. Then add the chopped black pudding and cook for a few minutes so you get a little crust. Then add the tomatoes and chilli and cook gently for 20 minutes or so. Allow to cool.

Boil the eggs for 6 minutes (by adding them to boiling water). Refresh under cold water, peel and dice.

Add the eggs and the parsley to the cooled black pudding mixture and stir gently. Leave to the side.

Preheat your oven to 180 deg C.

Roll the pastry thinly on a floured surface, and gently (don’t over roll – be as hands off as possible). Cut circles of pastry with a saucer (I prefer as small as possibly so actually used a little bowl

Fill each empanada with approximately a tablespoon of filling (depending on the size of your empanada) and brush the edges with some beaten egg. Bring the edges together and crimp with a fork. Pierce the empanadas with the fork so that air can escape while they cook.

Glaze the empanadas by brushing with beaten egg and bake for approx 12 – 15 minutes, until they are golden and crisp. Eat hot and enjoy!