Oh wow! Who would have ever thought I’d be writing a blog that included a little cooking in it? They do say ‘do something every day that scares you’ though this time I shouldn’t have been scared and nervous as I loved every minute of it!

When Mid and East Antrim Borough council asked me if I would like to get involved with showcasing some of the fabulous suppliers and produce we have here in the Borough (which covers from Portglenone to Carnlough and down the Causeway Coastal Route to Carrickfergus, and includes the towns of Larne, Carrickfergus and Ballymena) I instantly wanted to get involved though my mums response of ‘do they know that you can burn water’ did give me a giggle and reminded me how out of my comfort zone this could be.

I jumped at the chance to get involved though and had the reassurance of a step by step video from the very talented and fabulous Jenny Bristow, a local celebrity chef that I’ve loved from I was no age. Jenny is Ireland’s Good Food Ambassador and really champions the local farmers, growers and artisans. I got to attempt to rustle up her Christmas Spiced Casserole and her Nutty Winterberry Pavlova.

I feel really proud of the area I live in, the growing businesses from the small to the big and the suppliers that I proudly recognise on the shelves of the large supermarkets. I love to see the area thriving and believe everything you need is within this. So for me to be asked to get involved with the ‘Find Your Christmas’ campaign got me very excited as I love to support local. I’m not biased at all but we really do make the best cup of tea (also known as a ‘wee cup of tea’ and there’s not many a problem it can’t solve), have an amazing and thriving shopping town with a great mix of small independent stores among the big retailers. We have the most stunning landscapes and coastline and do everything with a personal touch. Whatever you need it can be found in the area.

On Thursday morning after a pretty stressful week, (think living room ceiling coming down days after getting it decorated and the boiler packing in 2 weeks before Christmas) I decided to throw myself in to cooking a delicious family meal. I set aside the time, decorated the kitchen and wanted the girls to get involved. After all there is nothing like good food to bring you together and sit around the table to feed both your tummy and your soul.

Going through the basket of goodies there was turkey which is reared locally, the eggs from Ballygarvey (minutes from me), winter berries which are yours for the picking (my mum would be a keen forager) and also Pak Choi that is used worldwide in casseroles and stir fries which is grown right on my doorstep in Ballymena by RJ Cherry and Sons.

The smell of the winter berries and cinnamon filled the house, the Christmas music was playing and while my two very keen helpers were running around I couldn’t help but take a second to recognise how much I was enjoying cooking and actually if I can say so myself, when I give myself the time I actually can cook.

I think in that moment I realised I found my Christmas, here at home, with the people closest to me and good food (the heat working too was a bonus).

I dressed my table with lots of candles and instead of an expensive floral display I spent £8 on eucalyptus and laid it across the table. The eucalyptus I used is grown locally also and I purchased it from Leaf design in Galgorm. I love this florist as it’s like a little mini Liberty London inside and I tend to head there weekly to mix and match the flowers I want and use little jam jars to display them through the house. I spend roughly the same as I would in a supermarket but know I’m getting exactly what a want and something a little different.

Anyway back to the cooking.

I made my meringue the night before, the top caved in once removed from the oven but I knew that it would still work perfect as I could fill it with the fresh cream and poached winter fruits. It was delicious regardless of the caved top and the hazelnut throughout made it so different and set it off from other meringues.

I poached the fruits first and let them cool while I cooked the Christmas Spiced Turkey Casserole which was made in just 10 minutes, the prep was the longest part though I’m sure an experienced cook could chop and prep the veg in no time. I am very much still in the novice category!

The array of colours was stunning and filled the table as I set it in a large bowl to be served at the table. I like the fact that it can just be scooped out and served on a plate without fuss, the colours are decorative enough.

I think the casserole would be a great dish to serve also after Christmas when big dinners just feel too heavy as this was a lovely, light dish that was bursting with flavour.

I’m excited to see what’s next for the local area and intrigued to find out more about the network that is being created by the Mid and East Antrim Borough Council for the food and drinks industry which will include everyone from farmer to restaurant owner. I hope when I hear more on it I will be able to update you too.

I am sure that there are many exciting plans on the horizon, our local community has come so far and I have a real sense of pride in the togetherness that is displayed.

Anna x

If you want to try the recipes check out www.midandeastantrim.gov.uk/festivefavourites and why not share how you and your loved ones enjoyed either making or eating them #findyourchristmas

* this post is kindly sponsored by the Mid and East Antrim council and when they approached me I had decided that due to how busy December is for me at work I wouldn’t be taking on any blogging, however I was so proud to have been asked that I just couldn’t say no. All words, images, opinions and cute children are my own.

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