Potatoes were always a steady staple in my house. Coming from a farming background they were an essential part of our daily meals. If there weren't a few spuds on the plate my father would be rather certain he had gone the day without any dinner. Growing up in Ireland in the eighties you'd have to be fierce posh to be eating the likes of pasta or rice, so the original 'superfood', the potato, was never in fear of being knocked off its number one spot. Even though every sort of a carbohydrate is now available to plate up for dinner, my heart has always remained with the humble spud. They're incredibly versatile, making them a marvellous base for something scrumptious. When trying to please a household of different likes and dislikes versatility and a little creativity is key to clean after-dinner plates. One of my son's have followed in his Granddad's footstep and no matter what the dinner, be it a creamy chicken dish, a bolognese, or even a korma, he's happiest when spuds are somewhere in the mix. While for me, there's not much a bowl of steaming, creamy mashed potatoes can't comfort. 

Roosters tend to create the very best mashed potatoes, so when we're choosing which varieties to plant in our garden each March, they're always top of our list. One of my long-standing measures to encourage my children to become excited about their food is to include them in the planting and care of the produce in the garden. This worked especially well when certain fussy stages were progressing. It turns out that children are much more likely to eat their dinner, if they've put a little of their own manpower into producing the meal in some way. Even as an adult, it's ever so exciting to have a successful yield of any vegetable or fruit form the garden. Something that we're always guaranteed to produce almost perfectly is our crop of potatoes. Potatoes are incredibly easy to grow in our rich, Irish soil, and since they can start to be harvested after a short 10 weeks, their progress can yield great excitement and anticipation for any little gardener.

A fun, plant your own spuds project:
If you are limited for space, potatoes can even be planted in a large shopping bag. It's a very simple method and all that is needed is a bag of compost and a few potatoes that have gone to seed. A not so thick layer of compost is placed at the bottom of the bag, before adding two or three seeded potatoes and topping with another thin layer of compost. Keep the extra compost to one side. Now, this is the exciting part for the children, because with a daily sprinkling of water, the potatoes will sprout up little leaves, another thin layer of compost has to be added to the bag, or indeed large container. This process is repeated until the compost has filled the entire bag and once this happens it won't be long before the potatoes are being harvested. Bord Bia have some very useful guidelines on their site for planting a school garden, and of course potatoes feature, but this would also make for a marvellous home project with little ones. It's now a little late in the year for planting spuds, but if using this bag method indoors in a sunny spot, possibly in a greenhouse or conservatory, you can plant them as early as February.

Even if you don't get the chance to grow your own, we are fortunate to have many great growers in Ireland, who are passionate about producing something special for our dinner table, so let's support their good work. Potatoes have always been immersed as part of our history in Ireland and this long standing merit should be celebrated. If you have slipped out of the routine of including potatoes as part of your diet, and are wondering how to make the most of the spud, head over to Potatoes: More than a bit on the side where there are many delicious and interesting potato-based recipes. Along with Bord Bia and AHDB they have launched a big campaign to increase the profile of the potato, and I'm delighted to be working with them in highlighting this.

Potato, Cod & Cauliflower Gratin

This dish can be prepared in minutes, making it a great choice for when time is a little sparse. The creamy coating of sauce over the potatoes, cod and cauliflower lends a little luxury to this nutritious mid-week dinner. It's one dish that young and old will enjoy.

Serves 4
800g Potatoes
½ head of cauliflower, divided into florets
50g butter
50g plain flour
600ml milk
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
150g cheddar cheese, grated
500g cod, boned and cut into bite-size pieces (ask your fishmonger to do this)

To Serve
1 lemon, cut into wedges

1. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/Gas 6. Peel and thinly slice the potatoes. Add them to a large saucepan, with the cauliflower florets. Cover with boiling water. Bring back to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain in a colander.

2. To make the  sauce, melt the butter, over a low heat, in a medium sized saucepan. Once melted, using a wooden spoon, add the flour and stir for 2 minutes to allow the flour to cook a little, but be careful that it doesn’t burn.
3. Turn up the heat and very slowly whisk in the milk, using a hand whisk. Stirring constantly, bring to the boil then immediately turn down the heat and simmer for a minute. Season with a little sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Take from the heat and stir in half of the cheese.

4. Add the par-cooked potatoes and cauliflower to a large casserole dish. Top with the bite-size pieces of cod.
5. Pour over the cheese sauce, making sure to cover the potatoes, fish and cauliflower. Sprinkle over the remaining cheese.
6. Place in the pre-heated oven for 20- 25 minutes, until the cheese is golden and bubbling and the fish is cooked through.
7. Serve straight away with a little slice of lemon, for squeezing over the dish.