Best-selling author and TV chef Rachel Allen first became interested in cooking when, as a child, she would bake Victoria Sponges, oatie flapjacks and meringues with her grandmother at home in Dublin.
“They were lovely and simple,” she explains. “Growing up, I wasn’t a fussy eater, so it was an incentive for me to make delicious food myself. It wasn’t until much later when I realised I could make a career out of my love for creativity and design through food.”
After studying at the world-famous Ballymaloe Cookery School in the village of Cloyne, Rachel worked at the Ballymaloe House Hotel and as a caterer in Vancouver before returning to teach at her alma matter.
Seven years ago, at the age of 32, Rachel was thrust into the spotlight with her first TV programme, Rachel’s Favourite Food, and since then she’s released eight best-selling cooking and baking books, the most recent being Easy Meals.
“The ethos for this book was the best fuss-free route for a recipe without compromising on flavour or good produce,” says Rachel.
“It doesn’t mean chucking everything in a pot and letting it bubble away, as that’s not necessarily fast. It’s often about making the tastiest meals possible with what you’ve got to hand.”
Rachel Allen’s favourite meal
Rachel’s favourite meal is roast chicken with chorizo stuffing. “I love the whole Middle Eastern way of cooking with lemon and subtle herbs and spices, like coriander,” says Rachel. “Italian food is going to be the next big boom area and I like nothing better than buffalo mozzarella - I think Toby Simmonds’ is the best - with heirloom tomatoes and basil.”
Prepare in advance
Rachel believes the key to entertaining is preparing as much as you can in advance. “You want to enjoy your friend’s company, rather than breaking out in panicky sweat! People need to have the confidence to serve simple, but delicious food. My mother-in-law starts with new season asparagus with buttery hollandaise sauce, served with a glass of Chablis. Divine!
“Do a running order of the timings so you see how things co-ordinate, rather than hope for the best. It’s always good to serve a cocktail or a drink when people arrive, so it takes the pressure off. I’ll use whatever fruit’s in season, say raspberries or strawberries, liquidize it with a bit of sugar and lemon juice, push it through a sieve so you’re left with a fruit syrup. Then I put this in the bottom of a glass and top with sparkling wine.”
Top tips for bakers
Rachel’s hit book, Bake offers some top tips for bakers:
- The night before making a sponge, cupcakes or biscuits, leave the butter out on your counter. Having soft butter takes all the heartache out of mixing the eggs, flour, and sugar together, and the result is a much nicer sponge texture. If I’ve forgotten, I’ll grate the butter on the coarse part of my microplane.
- Also, if you’re beating something to soften it, use a wooden spoon, whereas is if you’re stirring something in, such as flour, you don’t want to beat it because of the gluten, so that’s where a metal spoon or spatula is best. You should always use a metal spoon if you’re folding in egg whites because you want to do it without breaking down any of the structure.
Low fat cooking for kids
One issue that Rachel feels very strongly about is low fat foods. “In those cases, the fat has simply been removed and replaced with even more undesirable fillers like saccharine. Your focus should be eating a good, balanced diet, focussing on seasonal simple food, preferably sourced locally bursting with flavour.
“The key to getting kids on board is to start them early with a variety of flavours and textures, introducing them slowly, otherwise unhealthy habits will set in. Of course, I’d never deny them going to fast food places with their friends because that would be unrealistic.”
Rachel’s top five essential store cupboard ingredients
Rachel says there are five store cupboard ingredients a foodie should always have. They are:
• Extra virgin olive oil
• Fresh eggs – Luckily we have hens in the garden, so I have an omelette most mornings
• Onions and garlic – They add a great depth of flavour, especially caramelised onions
• Chorizo – Incredibly versatile in pasta, soup or a casserole
Rachel’s top three kitchen items
There are also three simple kitchen items that Rachel says are essential: a big wooden chopping board (‘plastic ones just aren’t the same’), good knives (‘cooking with a blunt knife is difficult and dangerous’) and a microplane (‘it makes easier work of zesting lemons and parmesan cheese’).
Also worth of your attention
Recipes from Rachel Allen
Rachel Allen and the Kerrygold Community Cookbook