While lockdown forced many of us to slow down, life actually sped up for Clodagh McKenna.
The chef found herself spending even more time in her kitchen as she experimented with recipes to share with her Instagram followers.
The response to Clodagh’s no-fuss but delicious and nutritious meal ideas was incredible and, seven months later, led to the publication of her seventh cookbook, Clodagh’s Weeknight Kitchen.
Her collection of simple but tasty recipes, designed to be easily and quickly thrown together after a long day, shot to the top of the bestsellers’ list in her native Ireland.
No one was more surprised and thrilled than the chef herself, who said her supportive followers were key to her latest batch of recipes.
“On the first week of lockdown No. 1, I started doing daily recipe videos. The momentum picked up so fast I went from 30,000 followers to 100,000. I was getting hundreds of messages about the dishes every day,” said Clodagh.
“I realised people were crying out for simple, delicious and fast dishes to cook during the week with accessible ingredients you could stock up on. People’s feedback helped shape this book. It was the best research I could have ever done.”
Clodagh’s Weeknight Kitchen marries convenience with delicious cuisine. Her stress-free recipes include quick fixes that can be on the table within 30 minutes, one-dish recipes such as stews and casseroles, store cupboard saviours, Friday night feasts and speedy desserts.
The key, she says, is organisation, taking time on a Sunday night to plan five meals and a shopping list: “It takes the stress out of a stressful time. People have enough to worry about, so having a nice home-cooked dinner planned for the evening after a busy day makes things easier.
“Eating well is linked to mental health. I firmly believe that cooking during the week, in a non-stressful way that’s easy, can make you feel better mentally and physically. Certain dishes, like a coconut and spinach dahl or fish pie in a baked potato, have really perked me up when I was feeling a bit down.”
Clodagh, from Blackrock, now lives in Hampshire on Broadspear estate, near Highclere Castle – better known to millions of TV viewers as the setting for Downton Abbey – with her fiancé and Highclere heir, Harry Herbert, and their two dogs, Alfie and Nolly.
Maintaining Broadspear with Harry, including their bees, chickens and walled vegetable garden, has been a positive distraction.
Clodagh said: “We’ve been so busy planting vegetables, growing the orchard, managing the bees and hens, as we work towards creating a completely sustainable homestead. We’re lucky to have all this space and access to the outdoors but I really do miss my family, friends and life before all this.”
While Clodagh, whose career has taken her to France, Italy and New York, was less than thrilled to enter another lockdown, she takes comfort from her book’s publication at the perfect time.
“The best cooking advice I’ve ever been given? Keep it simple. Perfect a few good recipes you can always fall back on and gradually try out new ones to add to your repertoire,” she added.
“We’re all busier than normal, and thinking about a meal at the end of the day can just add more stress.
“None of us need that but I think lockdown has also taught us all how to cook in a new way.
“I think that’s part of why the book is a bestseller, because it’s based on dishes people actually want to cook right now.
“I could have written it a couple of weeks ago, it feels so current.”
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