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The heat is on for budding cooks: Our children's culinary competition judged by celebrity chef Paula McIntyre

Chef Paula McIntyre’s love of cooking began as a child and now she’s inspiring youngsters here to get into the kitchen — and they could win a fabulous prize in our special competition, as Rachel Dean finds out

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Top chef: Paula McIntyre is judging our cooking competition

Top chef: Paula McIntyre is judging our cooking competition

Kitchen fun: creating tasty bites is fun for kids

Kitchen fun: creating tasty bites is fun for kids

Chocolate buttermilk cake with coconut cream

Chocolate buttermilk cake with coconut cream

Potato, soda bread focaccia with garlic and cheese

Potato, soda bread focaccia with garlic and cheese

Frozen yogurt and berry sundaes

Frozen yogurt and berry sundaes

Tacos with crispy buttermilk chicken, sour cream, cheese and salsa

Tacos with crispy buttermilk chicken, sour cream, cheese and salsa

Banana pecan muffins

Banana pecan muffins

Top chef: Paula McIntyre is judging our cooking competition

Now that the summer holidays have begun, well known chef Paula McIntyre is inspiring young Belfast Telegraph readers to don their aprons, pick up their spatulas and get busy in the kitchen.

The food writer and broadcaster from Aghadowey, Co Londonderry, has teamed up with the Dairy Council for Northern Ireland to create simple recipes for parents and their children to cook together at home. All of the recipes include tasty local dairy products with both savoury and sweet options to satisfy even the pickiest taste buds.

Cooking should always be fun, which is why the The Dairy Council for NI has teamed up with the Belfast Telegraph to offer each of the three lucky winners a £100 One4all voucher.

For Paula (53), a love for all things food and cooking started at an early age as she found herself surrounded by great cooks, including her mum Rae, aunt Doreen and even her next-door neighbour, Mrs Hunter.

"When we went to my aunt Doreen's house, she did the cooking and it was a real treat," she says.

"Mrs Hunter, our next-door neighbour, was the same. I would have gone there after school and she would make pancakes straight off the griddle for me and her grandson.

"But it was my mum who encouraged me to cook. She baked pancakes every Saturday and she would have baked wheaten breads and things like that.

"Mum very much encouraged me to start reading cookbooks - she owned loads of Le Cordon Bleu cookbooks - and I worked my way through those. If I needed a hand, she would be there to help, but she also encouraged the independence side of cooking.

"I would have had an independent streak anyway, and I was quite adventurous from a very early age. I remember making a cherry clafoutis from one of mum's cookbooks when I was just 10."

A trip with family friends to an Italian delicatessen, Valvona & Crolla, in Edinburgh, was a turning point for the then eight-year-old Paula.

"The first time I had real parmesan cheese was from a deli in Edinburgh which I still go to," she says.

"That was my first taste of proper Italian food and that's something that still lives with me. I still love Italian food. I love Italy and I love that culture.

"And I love how Italian people are with their kids as well. I love the way kids there are involved in cooking and they know what all the vegetables are. There's no kids' menu in Italy - they eat off the main menu but in smaller portions. I think that's the way it should be everywhere."

It was then that Paula realised she wanted to be a chef, and at age 14 she got a job in the kitchen of MacDuff's restaurant in Aghadowey while she was still at school.

"I didn't do home economics at school because I felt it was too regimented for me," she explains. "I liked the whole flair of working in kitchens.

"And then I worked in the Ramore restaurant and that was another sort of turning point for me because it had just opened and it was quite adventurous.

"I learnt so much then, especially old-fashioned basics like filleting fish, making stocks and making sauces. Absolutely everything was made from scratch."

Since then, Paula has worked in top restaurants in London, published two cookbooks and is a resident chef on BBC Radio Ulster, bringing listeners a recipe every week. So, what's the chef's favourite thing about cooking?

"Taking an ingredient and transforming it into something that is really impressive," she says.

"I love taking our amazing local ingredients and making it a little more adventurous. I think we've got the best dairy products in the world.

"I've travelled a lot and yes, you get great cheeses in France, but our milk and cream here is second to none."

Paula says she believes lockdown has had a positive effect on home cooking, with more families taking to their kitchens to cook and bake with their children.

Getting busy in the kitchen will not only help kids learn important life skills but will also help younger children grow their vocabulary and increase their maths ability by using new and fun recipes with different measurements.

"That has been the great thing about lockdown; everyone's been baking with their kids," Paula says.

"It helps with home-schooling as well because maths, English and science is all tied in with cooking.

"I think if your kids have learnt how to bake a cake, make bread or a couple of dishes during lockdown, it hasn't been a failure.

"If they've been outside, seen a bit of nature, not been tied to their iPads and have been cooking with their mum and dad, that's a positive.

"I've heard people saying, 'We actually sit down as a family now because we want to talk about what we've made together' and that's lovely. I hope that continues."

How to enter this fantastic cooking competition...

To be in with the chance of winning one of the three £100 vouchers all you need to do is get stirring and send us a picture of one of Paula's recipes, published on these pages, that you have recreated with NI Dairy products.

There are three age categories, 4-7 years, 8-11 and 12-15, with one winner for each group chosen by Paula receiving a £100 One4all voucher and the chance to have their image shared in a follow up feature in the Belfast Telegraph. To enter simply email your photo of the recipe you've recreated at home to featureseditor@belfasttelegraph.co.uk with the age category and your contact details in the email. Entries close on July 31. Good luck, and happy cooking!

Competition terms and conditions

  • There will be three winners selected, one for each of the three age categories (4-7, 8-11 and 12-15) who will receive a £100 One4all voucher and the chance to have their image featured in the Belfast Telegraph.
  • To enter images must be emailed to featureseditor@belfasttelegraph.co.uk with contact details and ages supplied in the email.
  • The competition is open for entry by individuals who reside in Northern Ireland, excluding employees of the Dairy Council for Northern Ireland and the Belfast Telegraph, their families, agents or anyone professionally connected with the competition.
  • All entries must comply with the entry specifications.
  • The winners will be required to take part in publicity in conjunction with Belfast Telegraph and the Dairy Council for Northern Ireland. Images will be used on the Dairy Council for Northern Ireland's website and social media channels.
  • Paula's decision is final, and no correspondence will be entered into.
  • The competition closes on July 31 and winners will be notified by telephone as soon as possible after the closing date.

Chocolate buttermilk cake with coconut cream

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Chocolate buttermilk cake with coconut cream

Chocolate buttermilk cake with coconut cream

Chocolate buttermilk cake with coconut cream

WHAT YOU'LL NEED

275g caster sugar

125g chopped dark chocolate

90g Northern Ireland butter

175ml water

225g plain flour

¾ teaspoon baking soda

100ml Northern Ireland buttermilk

2 eggs

500ml Northern Ireland double cream

50g desiccated coconut

2 tablespoons icing sugar

METHOD

Set the oven to 170°C. Line a 23cm cake tin with parchment paper.

Place the sugar, chocolate, butter and water in a saucepan and cook gently until the chocolate and butter have melted. Cool.

Whisk in the buttermilk and eggs.

Sift the flour and baking soda together and fold into the mixture.

Spoon into the cake tin and bake for 45 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Cool the cake.

Sprinkle the coconut over a tray lined with parchment paper and cook for about 5 minutes in a 200oc oven or until golden brown. Cool.

Whisk the cream to soft peaks, whisk in the icing sugar and 40g of the coconut.

Split the cake in half and spread over half the cream. Top with the remaining cake. Pipe the remaining cream over the top.

Sprinkle with the remaining coconut.

Potato, soda bread focaccia with garlic and cheese

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Potato, soda bread focaccia with garlic and cheese

Potato, soda bread focaccia with garlic and cheese

Potato, soda bread focaccia with garlic and cheese

WHAT YOU'LL NEED

350g plain flour

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

325ml Northern Ireland buttermilk

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, finely sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium potato, scrubbed

125g Northern Ireland mature cheddar

METHOD

Set oven to 200°C.

Fry the onion and garlic in a tablespoon of the oil until soft and golden. Cool.

Mix the flour, salt and baking soda together. Make a well in the middle and add the buttermilk and a tablespoon of the olive oil.

Mix to a dough. Place on a floured surface and roll out to fit rectangular, roughly 20cm x 30cm, lightly oiled baking tray. Slice the potato as thinly as you can - on the wide bit of box grater works well. Scatter the onion mixture over the top of the bread. Arrange the thin potato slices on top. Drizzle over the remaining oil. Scatter the cheddar evenly on top. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden and bubbling on top. Serve straight away.

Tacos with crispy buttermilk chicken, sour cream, cheese and salsa

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Tacos with crispy buttermilk chicken, sour cream, cheese and salsa

Tacos with crispy buttermilk chicken, sour cream, cheese and salsa

Tacos with crispy buttermilk chicken, sour cream, cheese and salsa

WHAT YOU'LL NEED

For the crispy buttermilk chicken:

350g chicken breast cut into 2cm thick strips

100ml Northern Ireland buttermilk

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 clove garlic, minced

½ teaspoon cracked black pepper

30g plain flour

¼ teaspoon sweet smoked paprika

½ teaspoon fresh or dried thyme

Light olive oil or rapeseed oil for brushing

For the tomato salsa:

1 punnet cherry tomatoes, halved

1 small red onion, finely chopped

Juice and zest 1 lime

2 finely chopped scallions

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon chopped red chilli

To serve:

4 soft flour tortillas

200ml sour cream

2 finely chopped scallions

150g grated Northern Ireland cheddar

Tomato salsa

METHOD

Mix the chicken breast with the buttermilk, Worcestershire sauce and garlic. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.

Set oven to 220°C and line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Mix the flour, black pepper, smoked paprika, thyme and salt. Take chicken from marinade, roll in the flour mixture and place on parchment paper lined tray. Brush the chicken with oil lightly and place in oven. Cook for about 20 minutes or until crispy and cooked through.

To make the tomato salsa, mix the ingredients (stated above) together, season with salt and pepper to taste.

Mix the scallions into the sour cream.

Cook the tortillas in a dry hot pan for a minute each side.

Take a tortilla and spread a quarter of the sour cream in the middle.

Scatter a quarter of the cheese, and top with a quarter of the crispy chicken. Spoon a quarter of the salsa on top and garnish with some fresh coriander if you wish.

Frozen yogurt and berry sundaes

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Frozen yogurt and berry sundaes

Frozen yogurt and berry sundaes

Frozen yogurt and berry sundaes

WHAT YOU'LL NEED

For the berry frozen yogurt:

500ml Northern Ireland Greek style yogurt

3 tablespoons honey

300g frozen mixed berries

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the berry sauce:

200g frozen berries

1 tablespoon honey

50ml water

To serve:

Assorted fresh berries - strawberries, raspberries and blueberries

METHOD

To make the frozen yogurt, place all the ingredients in a jug blender and blend to a smooth puree.

Pour into a plastic container and freeze for a couple of hours.

To make the berry sauce, simmer the frozen berries in a saucepan until they have defrosted. Blend, with the honey and water, to a smooth sauce and then pass through a sieve.

Place a scoopful of yogurt into a sundae glass, add a tablespoon of the sauce and some of the mixed berries. Repeat with 2 other scoops and berries and sauce. Serve.

Banana pecan muffins

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Banana pecan muffins

Banana pecan muffins

Banana pecan muffins

WHAT YOU'LL NEED

2 large ripe bananas

2 eggs

75g Northern Ireland butter melted, cooled

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

125ml Northern Ireland whole milk

1 tablespoon honey

250g self-raising flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 and a half teaspoons baking soda

100g dark brown sugar

40g porridge oats

60g chopped pecan nuts (or any other nuts such as walnut or hazelnuts)

METHOD

Set oven to 190°C and line a muffin tray with muffin cup liners.

Peel bananas and place in a bowl. Mash until smooth with a fork.

Add eggs and mix well. Add the butter, vanilla, honey and milk and mix well with the fork. In a separate bowl combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, oats and pecan nuts. Make a well in the middle and add the wet ingredients. Mix well to a smooth batter.

Spoon into muffin cups. Bake for 20 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Belfast Telegraph