It is a huge privilege to spend an entire weekend learning ‘how’ to do something. Miss Reeve’s Recipes are, as you will have seen, a tad light on the ‘how’ to do things. She wrote the recipes for herself and she knew how to do what was necessary. So, despite the reputation of the Women’s Institute as being one of frightening women of a certain age with bosoms of a certain shape and shoes of a certain type wearing skirts of a certain fabric…. I enrolled on a WI ‘Modern Vegetarian Cooking’ course. I am not a vegetarian but I only eat meat if I can be assured it is ‘kindly lived and kindly killed’. So off I trundled, with friend Sarah, for a weekend away.
Sarah is a vegetarian. Of the 9 of us on the course, she was the only veggie. We were joined by a great bunch of folk, ranging from the late 30s I would think to a fabulously lively 82 year old. Our knowledge was wide ranging and our interests also wide-ranging. We were ‘as one’ though when it came to wanting to learn more about cooking. Our course leader – Sue Ashworth – more about her later.
So – Denman College made us very welcome. Beautiful building and scenery:
With flowering plants (at the time we were there, nothing – and I mean absolutely nothing – had grown in my garden in terms of spring plants).
The bedrooms were lovely – en suite and each decorated by a particular WI area. Mine was decorated by the Leicestershire and Rutland WI. Beautiful patchwork quilt AND a teapot for my tea together with a china cup and saucer. That to me is the essential part of a bedroom. None of these chunky pottery mugs for tea. And a teapot is a must. Call me fussy…
So – to the cooking. The last time I was in a kitchen like this was at school and I was most certainly remedial. Teachers ‘barked’ orders. There was no joy in it. At all.
If I had had a teacher at school like Sue Ashworth, I would have by now been one of the foremost cooks in the Universe… Sue is young, energetic, engaging, not ‘above us’ but ‘with us’ in our quest to not make a mess of things! Not a tweed skirt in sight. She is a cookery writer and well-known author of books for Weightwatchers, for corporates who produce food and she is a food stylist (so she’ll hate my photos on this blog!). She is also involved in the Government’s Change For Life project. In particular, she is involved in the Be Food Smart part of the project. Some really good (and easy to make…) recipes on there. Check it out if you can. It is a good site in terms of content and it is a fun site in terms of colours, branding and layout. At the end of a busy tiring day, it is quite nice to click on it and get a buzz of colour AND ideas for recipes.
Under her guidance we made:
Chilli-spiced roasted vegetable lasagne
Giant couscous salad (Have never tried giant couscous before – I liked it – but I didn’t take a photo!); Avocado, pink grapefruit and halloumi salad; and, Asian noodle and shredded vegetable salad (this is lovely).
And, my favourite, spinach, stilton and hazelnut roulade.
Baked coriander and chick pea samosas (who knew they were so easy to make AND so low in fat…)
And, finally, something really tasty and so rich you only need a little of it (so it’ll feed the five thousand):
Tips I picked up, courtesy of Sue and the others:
- If you have bought waxed lemons, hot water will get rid of most of the wax
- Use measuring spoons – not your cutlery. And the measure must always be level.
- Lemon juice, added to red onion, softens the onion and brings out its colour.
- To ripen an avocado, put it in a brown paper bag with a banana.
- If you have a chargrill pan and are using it, always oil the food not the pan.
- To make your lemons/limes soft, roll them with your hand or put them in the microwave for a second or two.
- Vegetable oil is better at reaching a higher temperature so, if you are using olive oil/sesame oil/some other oil for a stir fry – always add a little vegetable oil too.
- Extract of vanilla is better than essence.
- To make soured cream, add lime or lemon juice to a tub of single cream.
- And, finally, if a ‘making cheese’ recipe calls for a muslin cloth, don’t wait for years to make cheese because you haven’t got a muslin cloth – you can use a clean tea towel… (that’d be me who has done that!)
So – what did I learn overall?
Lots of tips
Not to let my friend park her husband’s swanky car under the trees where birds nest as… well, you can imagine.
Denman is a great place for a weekend’s very comfortable stay, to meet new people and to do new things without being called ‘you stupid girl’ if things go awry…
I really do enjoy learning new things.
And I love cooking.
Miss Reeve would be most pleased. Even if my tupperware wasn’t up to scratch when it came to carting all that I had made home. Miss Reeve you see liked tupperware. Just as she loved cooking. And now, so do I.