Rachel’s Favourite Food for Friends by Rachel Allen

Well worth a browse First there was Myrtle Allen who was responsible for raising the profile and quality of Irish food through her work abroad and in her country house hotel at Ballymaloe. Daughter-in-law Darina backed her up, beginning the Ballymaloe Cookery School and, with her Simply Delicious television series and books, started pushing the message through to the wider public in Ireland. Now it’s the turn of a third generation and Rachel Allen is successfully following in the television footsteps of mother-in-law Darina.

Not having a television set for a few years (and spending the last 12 months in New Zealand!) I haven’t yet managed to catch any of Rachel’s programmes but I have got my hands on her second book, Rachel’s Favourite Food for Friends, based on the series of the same name.

My mother hasn’t been impressed with her television persona, describing her as “very milk and water” (another way of saying wishy-washy) but, based on her book, it is easy to see why she’s so successful. Rachel is not inventing the wheel but she is re-introducing it to a new generation.

Darina, at first, focused on traditional Irish cooking – soda bread, raspberry jam, roasts and scones – but she also ventured into then-exotic (I’m talking early 1990s Ireland here!) Mediterranean foodstuffs like pasta and Peperonata. Rachel, who like many of us in our 30s, has travelled throughout the world, takes inspiration from a variety of further afield sources. Her recipes for dishes that we might have tasted on our own travels – Tom Yum, Moroccan Chickpea Soup and Kulfi – are all simple and manageable.

Rachel endeared herself to me by starting off many of the chapters with soups (Chunky Smoked Haddock Chowder, Cannellini Bean and Chicken Soup with Basil). When you’re reading her book on the DART on a cold dark winter’s night, that’s exactly what you want to see. There are plenty of useful tips scattered throughout the book and I particularly loved her comment that caramelised sugar is ready when it turns the colour of whiskey. That’s not a tip that you’re going to forget in a hurry. Her sweet pastry technique – untouched by hand, lots of resting, rolled out between clingfilm – seems to be exciting a lot of interest too and, judging from personal experience with my aunt’s apple tart, I know that it tastes delicious.

Rachel’s Favourite Food for Friends is perfect for home cooks anxious to expand their repertoire and well worth a browse for everyone else. I’m sure it’s going to feature in many a Christmas stocking this year.

Rachel’s Favourite Food for Friends by Rachel Allen is published by Gill & Macmillan. Thanks to the publishers for the review copy.



Food writer. Broadcaster. Blogger. Author. Married to Eight Degrees Brewing. Member of the Irish Food Writers' Guild, founder of Irish Food Bloggers Association and co-author of Sláinte: The Complete Guide to Irish Craft Beer & Cider (New Island)

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9 Responses

  1. Anna says:

    I would have agreed with your mum (hello Rena!) that Rachel’s on screen persona left me less than enthused. She seems so totally blasé and lacking in any passion that I found myself turning off. I wouldn’t have dreamt of buying the cook book after seeing the show, but reading this review I’m inclined to give her another go. Some of those soups sound great and I’m never a woman to ignore tips on easy ways to get dishes right.

  2. Suzy says:

    Now I’d agree with your mother on the persona stuff. Her programme leaves me feeling cold and I have felt a bit guilty about my lack of enthusiasm given that I liked Darina’s programmes and books. The programmes just don’t do it for me, maybe the book will. Welcome home by the way, I have been reading your blog for a few months now and am generally addicted to food blogs!

  3. Caroline says:

    From your comments and what other friends have said to me, it looks like there’s quite a few people out there who do indeed agree with my mother! Despite my non-watching of television, I’m going to have to see what you’re all talking about. Is the programme still being shown?

    Anna – the soups do indeed look good. When I get a kitchen of my own (as opposed to messing around in your one!) I’ll try out the recipes and let you know how I get on.

    Suzy – thanks for your kind comment! I too love Darina’s programmes and books and her Ballymaloe Cooking School Cookbook is something that I constantly reference. Have you seen her new Easy Entertaining one? I’m wading through it at the moment so watch out for a review at some stage in the near future.

  4. Suzy says:

    The programme is on BBC2 most saturday mornings following Saturday Kitchen (one of my favourite moments of the week, breakfast and Antony Worral Thompson, old Keith Floyd reruns and some interesting new cooks) Anyway Rachel appears at about 11.30 if the cooking focus has not been bumped by sport or other news.I think it was being repeated on RTE of late but I flicked else where when I saw it. Ah yes according to the website (http://www.rte.ie/tv/rachelsfavouritefood/) it is on wednesdays at 7.30 and is her second series.

  5. Caroline says:

    Thanks for the tip Suzy. I’ll have to get the kids at home to tape it for me – I don’t have a television myself. I used to love those Keith Floyd programmes when I was growing up. Glass of wine in one hand and skillet in the other – what’s not to like!

  6. caroline.penman says:

    I would just like to comment on Rachels Favourite food series which i am watching on Sky tv at present i find it simple refreshing and with a different slant of other tv cooks its the sort of food many working woman and men could knock up and feel quite able to do well done Rachel you are going to reach the top

  7. Caroline says:

    Thanks for your comment, Caroline. I do agree that Rachel’s food isjust the sort of thing that you could put together in the evening after work without too much hassle. I did manage to catch one of her programmes and, although she personally doesn’t do a whole lot for me, I liked the kind of dishes that she cooked.

  8. bernard says:

    After reading some of the cutting remarks by some of the women I detect a little jealousy in the ranks. She is definitely a remarkable chef and whats more a very beautiful women.Meeow!

  9. Caroline says:

    Each to his – or her – own, Bernard!