Ten years ago today a competition changed my life.
As an avid ‘comper’, I was checking my emails one afternoon, when in amongst the generic emails was one that stood out. The email asked me to make a call regarding a competition I’d entered with Richmond Sausages. I quickly came to learn that I was being invited down to London to cook the recipe I’d submitted as part of the competition and that I’d be in the running to win a HUGE £10,000.
Honestly…I felt sick. At that point I was someone who ‘got by’ where cooking was concerned. It was mainly for the enjoyment and the love of learning new techniques than anything else. However, this competition did not strike me as the type of situation to ‘get by’. I mean, this was no Masterchef or Great British Bake Off, but with £10k to lose, the nerves were enough to stop me being able to eat properly in the days preceding the competition.
Almost every fibre of my being was telling me to decline the opportunity but it was exactly that, a MASSIVE opportunity. I had just got engaged that March and we were saving for our first home and a wedding so this would have been a ridiculous waste of a once in a lifetime kind of deal. After clearing things with work there were no more excuses, I needed to do this.
Speaking to my mam, she reassured me that if nothing else it would be a great experience. In context, it was going to be incredible whether I won or not. I was getting my train paid for, a stay in the beautiful K West hotel and the chance to cook at Leith’s School of Food and Wine. The runners up would also win £500 for taking part so there wasn’t a negative, I just had to not let my nerves get the better of me.
Aside from my family, my boyfriend (now husband) and my boss, I didn’t tell anyone I was going. I HATE the added pressure of people knowing big things like that and for that reason I also went alone.
The day rolled round quickly and the anticipation and terror were overwhelming me. That evening I checked into the hotel and sat in the room all night intending on getting a good rest for the crazy day to come but not actually managing to sleep very well.
We were collected from the hotel the following morning and taken to Leith’s where we were put through hair and make up before doing a few photos and making sure we had all our ingredients. Then it began.
The ladies judging were James Martin’s mum and Lesley Waters’ mum who were both very encouraging and warm. James and Lesley also came along and truly, I was a bit star struck. I really admire both of them so it was a big treat to actually meet them. I cooked a ‘Sausage and Herby Dumpling Pie’ – read ‘ simple but yummy stodge’ – but it fit the brief of a simple to make, wholesome family meal.
After we had cooked our dishes, the food was photographed and tasted and then judging commenced. I honestly couldn’t believe it when they announced I was the winner. It meant so much to have this incredible experience and it really assisted James and I starting the next chapter of our lives. I still regard this as one of my proudest moments as it was completely out of my comfort zone and really changed things for us.
What happened next?
The following April, James and I found an absolute wreck of a house which we instantly knew had enormous potential. My winnings (minus the £85 for a memento of the day from Tiffany & Co) were used towards the extensive renovations we had to carry out on what is now a beautiful family home.
Here’s the recipe if you would like to make the dish yourself:
Ingredients – serves 4
8 chipolata sausages 1 medium onion (diced)
2 tbsp sunflower oil
2 x 415g cans baked beans
A generous dash of Worcestershire sauce (to taste)
300g self-raising flour
2 tbsp of mixed herbs;
8 tbsp milk
Preheat oven to 220C.
Fry the the sausages and onion in the oil for 5 mins.
Cut the sausages into chunks. Take the pan off the heat and add the beans, Worcestershire sauce and water. Mix well and spoon into a casserole dish.
Put the flour and herbs in a bowl. Rub in the butter with your fingers and stir in enough milk to make a soft dough. Divide into even size dumplings and place on top of the bean mix.
Bake for 10 mins, then reduce the heat to 190C and bake for a further 15 mins.
Serve piping hot for a comforting, cosy meal!
Let me know if you make the dish and what you think of it!