21 November 2013

GUEST BLOG: Christmas is coming...

By guest blogger CORIN BELL

We kicked off the seasonal events at our cookery school with a Cracking Christmas dinner on Saturday at Chorlton High, a delicious vegetarian alternative to turkey and all the trimmings. The menu consisted of a butternut squash, leek and cashew loaf with Parmesan crust, served with cumin and honey-glazed parsnips, pot-roasted cauliflower, steamed curly kale with lemon, and a red wine and balsamic jus… and as if that wasn't enough, we also made beetroot and truffle cream cheese tarts as an appetiser! 

Our participants ranged from those who "could barely fry an egg" (his phrase, not mine!) to those who wanted to learn some new skills and get some inspiration in preparation for Christmas Day. It was great to demonstrate a full vegetarian menu for Christmas, and prove that Christmas dinner doesn't have to mean meat. It was also lovely to show off some seasonal veg too, leeks, cauliflower, kale and squash all being in season in the UK from now until January. 

Kim introduced the session and talked us through the menu and the skills we'd be learning along the way. If you don't cook very often, it can feel like a big job and a bit daunting when you do take on a challenge, so a helping hand with things like safe and quick chopping skills, which bit of each veg to remove, and how to cook for maximum taste and super presentation were also on the cards for the day.

One of the great things about this session was that the group got to put together a fairly complicated meal, with a number of different elements. So as well as learning the skills to cook each part, Kim also guided the group through how you could make Christmas Day a breeze by preparing some of the dishes in advance, and some that needed to be prepared last minute - such as the kale, to avoid the pain of soggy greens! As you can imagine, it was a lively session with lots of top tips and information passed around, both by the Cracking Good Food crew and by those who came along. 

It was lovely to hear some of the group utter genuine surprise at how wonderfully the dish came together, and how simple it was to create some really amazing flavours. The red wine and balsamic jus added a real wow factor to the meal, yet has just three ingredients and two steps: add to a pan and heat until reduced. Cooking really is a confidence game! A veg and nut loaf is a great alternative to meat for Christmas day, and has a lot of the same characteristics - it goes great with gravy (or jus), it's warming, filling and full of protein, and it's lovely cold on a sandwich with a big dollop of pickle the day after! 

The highlight of the session for me was learning that you could cook a whole head of cauliflower  in a pan with absolutely no water… and that it would taste better than if you oven baked or steamed it! If you want to know the secret, you'll just have to book on a session and ask Kim… Thanks to all the lovely guys and girls who came along for the day, to Kim for her wonderful instruction, and to Claire our amazing volunteer who seems oddly addicted to washing-up…

There are more photos from this session on the CGF Facebook page here.

And if we've accidentally put you into a Christmas tailspin, don't panic: Cracking Good Food gift vouchers make great stocking fillers and can be ordered online, so it's easy as pie. For full details, just visit our website by clicking here.

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