August 26, 2016

Learning To Cook

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 17.47.52

I don’t hate cooking. I just don’t always enjoy it.

I love travelling and I wonder if that’s because I don’t have to cook. (My Instagram used to be mainly just full of beautiful Italian pizzas. Like this picture, taken in one of the coolest Air B’n’Bs I’ve ever stayed in last month in Lisbon with some best friends. We did no cooking all week.)

Over the years I’ve realised something. If you’re openly not “into” cooking, you get branded as “the one that cannot cook” and then no one really gives you a chance to redeem yourself. You get let off the hook and people don’t bother asking too much of you in the kitchen. I’ve been “organising the drinks” at parties for years. It’s as though you have to brand yourself as “a good cook” by the time you are in your twenties otherwise you won’t get a look in. Even if you secretly can follow a recipe if you need to, your confidence has been well and truly knocked. Every one will carry on making the same joke about you being Bridget Jones with the blue soup. The one who can only make one thing at a dinner party. The one that asks stupid questions. The one that gets given a cookbook every year for your birthday with a little knowing and sympathetic wink.

I don’t hate cooking. I just don’t feel confident at it. I don’t do it to “unwind”. I’d rather read a book than bake a cake.

When I’m allowed to experiment, allowed to get things wrong, allowed to learn, I really like cooking. I believe that like all things that take an element of skill, you also need confidence otherwise you will struggle to improve.

There is a real joy that comes with making something yourself from scratch and sharing it with others. And I’m really getting into it.

So when River Cottage got in touch, offering a One Day Cookery Course for me to try cooking things from scratch and learning to make things I’ve never done before, I said yes. And I was really excited at the idea of learning some tricks to impress my unsuspecting guests.

Image source: ribaj.com

Image source: ribaj.com

So what is River Cottage?

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 17.48.16

River Cottage HQ is based on the Devon / Dorset border near Axminster and is home to an award-winning Cookery School, a state of the art Chefs’ School, unique dining experiences, events and weddings. I went along with my Mum as my family home is in Exeter so it was about a 40 minute drive. You might recognise the name from some of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s restaurants or products. The original River Cottage was a former weekend and holiday home, originally a game-keeper’s lodge in the grounds of Slape Manor, Netherbury, Dorset. There were a few people on the course who said they had heard about it from the TV show presented by Hugh.

What we made:

14068290_10157308057640317_9104338453322461249_n

1. I learned how to bake bread FROM SCRATCH: 

1kg wholemeal flour
10g powdered dried yeast
20g fine salt
700ml water

Warning: it took all day. You’d need a day of listening to podcasts and pottering around the kitchen to see the process through, but I wholey recommend it. It felt AMAZING hold my loaf in my arms like a small baby.

2. A spring onion galette

I learned how to make a buttery puff pastry from scratch, adding in the spring onions, olive oil, Parmesan, mature Cheddar or hard goat’s cheese, grated Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Perfect lil dinner party starter perhaps.

3. Chinese fish parcels

YEP I learned how to fillet a fish.

I practiced on a flatfish (a plaice) so others might be trickier. Point the head away from you. Your first filleting cut should run from the middle just below the head, straight down through the middle of the fish to the centre of the tail. You should aim to cut all the way through the upper flesh to the bone, and with a bit of luck you’ll be cutting right down the central backbone ridge of the skeleton. You’re unlikely to miss it by more than a millimetre or two. From here, the spiky bones that will guide your knife radiate out to the edges of the fish.  Now flip the fish over and repeat the technique on the other side, to give you two white-sided fillets.

We then placed them in little parcels with carrots, leeks, ginger, garlic, chillies and sesame oil. DELISH and really easy.

Eating the fish I just filleted myself (with wine)

Eating the fish I just filleted myself (with wine)

4. Jerk Chicken

Chicken is fabulous flavoured with this aromatic, spicy Jamaican marinade for the barbecue or grill. Traditionally served with rice and peas. This was something I’ve always wanted to try and make. The marinade included a small bunch of thyme, leaves only, 6 spring onions, 3 chillies (medium heat), 1 tbsp dark brown sugar 1 tsp salt, 2 tbsp dark soy sauce and the juice of 1 lime. And breathe.

5. Pannacotta

I can’t believe how easy it is to make Pannacotta and it’s the perfect light dessert. Literally all you need is:

100ml milk
100ml double cream
1 leaf of gelatine
1⁄2 a vanilla pod (seeds removed) 25g sugar

Then you infuse them all together in a pan.

Want to go?

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 17.48.06

I’m unable to re-produce all the full recipes on the blog, but I’ve given a little taster of what we did and how much we did in day. I was impressed to have learned so much and cooked all these various things in just one day and each one challenged me in different ways. We had small breaks for lunch and afternoon snack and then dinner outside with a glass of wine, so you definitely don’t feel like you’re “at work” ALL day. It’s fun. The chef was happy, helpful and made it all really interesting, throwing in fun facts and little tips that will definitely help with my day to day cooking. I recommend if you’re totally a beginner in the kitchen or you just want to brush up on some “skills”. I’m not quite ready for the Bake Off yet, but since this course all my friends are going to be much better off when they come round to my house.

So for the good news: River Cottage are offering YOU a discount.

River Cottage would like to offer readers 15% off any One Day course at HQ. Click here for the list of availability and enter RCLOSTCITY at the checkout.

T&C’s: Valid until 31.07.16. This promotion cannot be used in conjunction with another offer.

 

*This is not a paid for post, but I did receive a complimentary course in exchange for a review of the course.*

My Book

“In love with Emma Gannon’s Ctrl Alt Delete. So funny & smart, and reminding me of some of my own cringe teen Internet exploits!”

– Anna James, former literary editor of ELLE

"Funny, honest, and nostalgic!"

– The Debrief

“Emma Gannon is a bright spark of light in the world. I seriously dig everything she makes”

– Elizabeth Gilbert, bestselling author of Big Magic