Cooking Class near St Paul's

I am a self confessed foodie. But the usual combination of skint, lack of time and winter means my cooking repertoire has been sadly monotonous of late. So I was quite excited to see L’atelier des Chefs offering a Cook, Eat & Run class near my work.

The idea is clearly targeted at time-poor city workers; a half hour cooking class at lunchtime and then you can eat the result. Perfect.

I chose the Chicken Jalfrezi class, where we would be making a tomato based chicken curry. The curries I normally cook are vegetarian (I’m not, but my wallet is decidedly empty and meat is expensive…and may contain horse), so this was the perfect extension pack for me.

A couple of gripes. Cook, Eat, Run is designed to be over and done with in a lunch time – so city workers can fit it in to their busy schedules. But it does not really pan out like that in practice. They ask you to show up 15 minutes early to get you situated, so already we are up to 45 minutes. Then at the start of the class the chef happily tells us ‘these classes normally overrun’, um… for a target audience with client meetings and performance reviews this lackadaisical approach to time keeping is not ideal. Even if the cooking does not go past half an hour, you still have to have enough of your lunch-break left over to sit down to eat it afterwards.

So what I imagined would take half an hour, as promised on their website, will actually take a minimum of an hour. When you add that to the time it takes to get from the office to L’atelier des Chefs and back, it is way longer than a normal lunch-break and left me making up time at the end of the day. Not ideal.

The class itself was fine, but not exactly a great one if you want to extend your cooking skills. You prepare and cook the meal as a group (of around 6), so it ends up being a cooking demonstration with a little bit of participation from you.

It might just be me, but I find the best way of learning to cook is by doing it yourself. So you get a feel for the different ingredients, smells, colours and textures. But in order for that to happen you need to be in a cooking class with a maximum of about three people working per dish.

With six people making one curry I got to grate the garlic, put the oil in the pan and stir for a bit when the chicken went in. Hardly enough to give me the confidence to make the entire recipe from scratch. I could watch YouTube clips for that level of interaction.

But I do think that L’atelier des Chefs fills a brilliant niche in the city. If you have a team building event to organize for your office, or want a dinner with a difference for a group of friends, one of these classes would be ideal. You work in a team, get everyone talking, and produce something tasty at the end.

Bread by runawaykiwi

If you have been reading runawaykiwi for a while, you will know of my ongoing battle to try and find a bread recipe. I didn’t think I was asking for much, bread is a staple and surely couldn’t be that hard to make.

However if you have ever tried to search for a simple bread recipe online you will know that is far from the case. There are more variations then there are stars in the sky.

Thanks to the DK ‘a little course in baking‘ book, I had somewhere to start.

Many many loaves later, I present to you the definitive bread recipe. You can make it with normal plain flour, but bread flour is best (and surprisingly cheaper than normal flour).

2tsp sugar
2tsp active yeast (the kind you have to reactivate in water)
200ml warm water
500g flour (white or brown, plain or strong bread)
3/4tsp salt
1tbsp oil (I use olive oil)

Combine the sugar, yeast and water and set aside until it froths up (just a couple of minutes should do the trick). Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl, if you don’t have a sieve you can get the same effect by whisking the flour for a bit.

Add the oil and yeast mixture to the flour and then get your hands dirty. I do all the kneading in the bowl itself (pressing it from one side to the other with my knuckles and then folding it back on itself), mostly so I can watch tv while I do it. There are lots of techniques on YouTube, but just make sure you keep going until it is smooth and has a bit of a shine. I would say around 5minutes is a good bet. Cover with a tea towel and put in a warm spot for about 45minutes or until it has doubled in size (how quickly this happens depends on how warm it is so just keep checking the first time you make it).

Now for the best bit of the entire adventure – punch that sucker in the middle of its bloated belly. Then kneed it again for a little less time then before. Pop it in the loaf tin or tray that you are going to cook it in/on. Cover and pop back in the warm place for half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 220C (fan bake). Put the dough in and cook for ten minutes, turn the oven down to 180C and cook for another 20 minutes. You know it is done when you tap it and it sounds hollow.

Take out of the oven and out of the tin straight away (otherwise it will get all sweaty).

And there you have it…BREAD.

I have also tried a seeded version, exactly the same as above except you also add a tablespoon each of linseed, poppyseed, sunflower seed and a handful of crumbled up walnuts.

Life mission completed.

I saw a post about home made Nutella on Pinterest (sorry I can’t find the original pin!) and it piqued my interest. From my knowledge there isn’t any thing chemically horrendous in Nutella, however I do question the amount of sugar that is in it.

More than anything, it is the flavour that I want to play with. I can eat Nutella right from the jar, but I normally prefer dark chocolate to milk. Is is possible to make a dark chocolate Nutella at home? Yes. Oh my god yes.

I used 100g of hazelnuts and lightly roasted them. After waiting for them to cool I put them in the hand blender and whizzed them until they turned into butter. I know it will seem like it is never going to be more than crumbs, but trust runawaykiwi and keep going. Soon it will be beautiful hazelnut butter.

Hazelnut butter

Melt your chocolate in a glass bowl over a pot of boiling water. I used 30g of 85% proof chocolate – beware only use chocolate that you like the taste of (if you like milk – use milk).

Then add the melted chocolate to the butter and whizz. It will be VERY liquid, but just throw it in the fridge for a bit and it turns into magic home-made Nutella. I.e. like Nutella except with chocolate flavour up the wazoo.

And yes, I totally put it in an old Nutella jar so NO ONE WILL KNOW.

Home-made nutella

The recipe I saw on Pinterest also added sweetened condensed milk, but I didn’t have any in the cupboard…so nope. To be honest, although it would make it more mourish, the current deep flavour is ideal.

My 100g of nuts made about this much of hazelnut goodness…

Home-made nutella

runawaykiwi oat cakes

I have been getting the delightful ‘bonnie wee oatcakes‘  snack pack from Graze. I was curious to see if it was easy to make myself. Essentially oatcakes are savoury crackers that are perfect with cheese and relish.

I tried this recipe and it was a total dream. I halved it and modified it a bit so it read:

100g oats
30g plain flour
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
25g butter
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar
20-40ml hot water

 You need to combine all the dry ingredients and then rub in the cold butter (just like scones). When the butter has disappeared pour in the water a little at a time, I would go very gingerly with this because it does not take much at all. It will form into a thick dough, from there you just need to roll to half a cm and cut into desired shapes.

Then bake at 190C for 20 minutes or until they are golden brown.

The above quantities made about 14 little crackers. They were too rich to eat on their own – but with a sharp cheese and tangy/sweet relish they were perfect.

The only downside was the supermarket bought balsamic onion relish that I had. It didn’t have the best flavour, but I just didn’t have time this weekend to make my own!