Maybe it’s the bacon fudge. Or the hearty chuckle. Or the Irish brogue you could just melt into. But whatever way you slice it, it’s pretty damn hard not to be tremendously fond of Niamh Shields, writer and cook behind acclaimed food blog Eat Like a Girl. But where do you find Niamh? Now that she’s back in London (for hopefully more than two minutes this time), she’s pretty busy. What with being a published cookbook author and the best food blogger in the world, and all. But part of her new agenda in the big smoke allows for really anyone to catch her in her prime, by coming along to her cooking classes and brunch club, starting soon.
I had the great pleasure of attending her Comfort & Spice Cooking Class at The Central Street Cookery School this Saturday just passed. I came late; a trifle flustered and worried my classmates would all be cutting up vegetables julienne with obscenely sharp Japanese knives already, or elbow deep in some elaborate bacon-based concoction. But I was glad to see Niamh and a small gaggle of women calmly sipping coffee in the corner. A sigh of relief, ‘of course.’ Of course they weren’t having high heat sauté-offs already – it was 10.30am on a Saturday, and Niamh’s cooking classes are naturally akin to her blog: warm, accessible and downright delicious. But don’t think for a second that means we didn’t get our hands dirty.
We made food very close to Niamh’s heart; blaas, a fluffy white roll from her native Waterford, Ireland, two hour roast pork belly (an ELAG favourite) with puy lentils, homemade butter, chocolate mousse with honeycomb, and her newest, fantastic foodie ventures - bacon jam and bacon fudge.
They may sound outrageous – these bacon combinations – but, believe me, the only thing outrageous about them is that you haven’t tried them. Niamh has taken the salted caramel trend and gone a step further on the savoury side by adding meat to the mix, to create an even deeper, richer, more absurd contrast. And it works! I’m not one to differentiate, but men go absolutely mad for it. There were almost tears from my male housemate when I suggested giving one of the jars of bacon jam away to a poorly neighbour. Niamh is onto something, and I felt quite privileged to be given a personal tutorial.
But the bit that took the biscuit for me was the homemade butter. Niamh demonstrated how to make this household staple, but between the bacon jam and fudge, chocolate mousse, honeycomb, etc. my interest in this simple spread at the time was minimal. That is, until I tried it. Even slathered between mouth-watering slow-roasted pork belly and a fresh-from-the-oven blaa, this butter completely stole the show. Unbelievably clean, fresh and moreish; butter suddenly switched from a blasé accompaniment to a beloved essential. Although perhaps the itinerary was a tad ambitious given the four-hour time slot, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute. Niamh is a natural teacher; encouraging, constructive and always keeping her cool despite a billion bubbling pots and an unsympathetic late May climate.
Everything was so bountiful, the produce so well sourced and so delicious, that at £60 per person, Niamh is giving readers the best resources she can provide while always remaining accessible. Which speaks volumes about her character. Even if you’re not into cooking, you can definitely appreciate this woman.
She’s one of those people who finds the joy in every crevice of life. After I interviewed her for the magazine last week, we spontaneously foraged for fresh bay leaves in the bushes of a posh Mayfair hotel, she introduced me to a life-size elephant head made entirely of chicken wire at Waterloo station (did you know that was there?!) and took me to the very top of the Royal Festival Hall for the view. Looking out, I appreciated the sight in front of me: the tangerine-splashed sunset, the herds of city-slickers knocking back post-work G&Ts, the illuminated London sites…until my mind turned to cocktails. And crisps. But Niamh stood gazing for a good while. Only when she was ready did she turn around, as if she had bottled up the loveliness of the scene, to enjoy later with her bacon jam.