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Monday, 2 June 2014

Guest Post - The Cookery School by Shannel Watson

I quite vividly remember home economics classes with the aptly named (and aptly rounded) Mrs Cook.  I remember pineapple upside down cake with tinned pineapple rings and stale glacé cherries from the school larder, baking in rusty tins in old temperamental ovens. Fruit flans made from packaged supermarket bases topped with tinned fruit and 'quick gel', and a meat cobbler consisting of a Pyrex dish brimming with grey mince and peas, randomly topped with scones. 
Whilst I overcame my early introduction to home cooking, becoming quite obsessed with baking home made goodies, I  never really lost my disdain for group cooking, so when I was invited to The Cookery School, my curiosity was piqued but my expectations were not extremely high.
The Cooking School has taught thousands of students over the last decade in its modern kitchen, located a stones throw away from London's bustling Oxford Circus. The institution prides itself on using simple, mostly organic, locally sourced ingredients of premium quality, commonly found in most home kitchens. This is the only cookery school in London to have been awarded the maximum 3 stars for sustainability from the SRA.  No BOGOF bulk purchases for this school, oh no. We were presented with West Country fresh cream, organic asparagus, locally sourced eggs and fair trade chocolate - all measured out and ready to roll.

Oooh. Rum!
To start we were welcomed in with organic wine and canapés, whilst our welcoming teacher Rosalind talked us through what the evening had to offer.  We were shown how to make fresh pastry dough before being divided into teams of six and thrust in front of a Kitchen Aid (a very posh kitchen appliance - for those of you not in the know). We were then told to flatten the pasta to prepare it for shredding.  After dusting down the dough with plenty of semolina to keep it from sticking, we started to feed the dough through the pasta press (note to self - Google proper name) until it came out so thin that it was virtually see through.  The main risk here was that it would tear or fall apart, so before it got too long, we were advised to cut it in half and 'press' separately.  My overly ambitious group decided we would not be beaten by a strip of paper thin pasta and refused to cut it, mucking in with all hands available. 

We will never stop. Never!
Next it was time to prep dessert.  We were informed that normally, pudding is prepared first, whilst the kitchen is cool, however an unfortunate incident involving some blackened sponge fingers slightly changed the order of the day. We were making Tiramissu. Perhaps my most loathed dessert after lemon syllabub (or any dessert with a big acidic lemon as the main flavour profile)

Damn I'm good at whipping...

This was fairly easy to put together, once we knew what we were doing.  Fellow cook Marcela's overzealous whipping technique proved so effective that we actually whipped our double cream all the way to butter leaving us to start again with a fresh bowl of double cream. We began alternately layering cream with rum and coffee soaked biscuits before topping them with cocoa powder.  Our sweet creation was then ready to take away  in little labelled containers.  I already had a few friends in mind who would be grateful for such a dish. 

Marcela described my Tiramisu as 'perfect', the cooking school welcomes beginners and amateurs as well as experienced cooks.  This is not a competitive cooking class, but it was...

Next on the Menu was tagliatelle with asparagus and wild garlic leaves...

We were taught a quick way to remove the stem of the asparagus for minimal waste (these can be put aside for a stock). We then beheaded and sliced them into thin slivers.  At this point I noted how blunt my knives at home were and how much easier it was to prep food with adequate utensils.  We added sliced garlic and fragrant garlic flowers into the mix, before being suitably plied with chilled organic wine.  I had already decided to avoid alcohol this evening, so I did miss out on this tempting offering, standing narrow eyed with a glass of ice water whilst listening to murmured exclamations of how delicious the wine was. Regardless, I was having a great time without the need for booze.
Whilst we were standing around drinking (and not) drinking delicious wine, the team whisked away our cooking stations and replaced them with a long table adorned with fresh white linen table cloths and silver cutlery. The lights suddenly dimmed and we all oohed - as if a light dimmer was a rare and special thing.  The scene set, we scrambled to get a seat with our new found team mates and settled in to taste the fruits of our labour, laughing at how we thought we would be scrubbing out mixing bowls and wiping down work surfaces. Oh how wrong we were.  
The tagliatelle was served to us with a dusting of Parmesan, a seasonal salad and yet more wine.  It was divine.  My first taste of fresh pasta, and although I have recently taken up a zero carb lifestyle, I was prepared to demolish this gluten-rich offering in the name of education. Afterwards, I noticed that rather than the usual bloated, heavy feeling I experience after a big bowl of pasta, I felt comfortably sated.    
As well as tiramisu to take home, we were served generous portions with a choice of tea or coffee.  Just to be polite I took a bite. The coffee and rum mixture swilled out of the sponge as my spoon delved in and by the third bite I was starting to feel quite intoxicated.  'I'm meant to be avoiding alcohol tonight' I complained to my new cooking buddy, 'I don't even like tiramisu!' 'You don't have to eat it you know,' she responded matter of factly with a wry smile. Of course she had missed the point here. Of course I had to eat it. 
The combination of West Country cream, mascarpone, rich espresso and rum soaked sponge layers was far too tempting for even the strongest will to resist. By the time I rested my spoon in the thoroughly excavated bowl, I was awash with that familiar warmth you get when you have dined well in good company. On second thoughts, this could have been due to the copious amount of boozy pudding I had just devoured. 
Go on. Delve into my bountiful foodie wares
Worries of tiramisu  wedges being squelched in handbags soon evaporated when we were given generously laden bags of exciting produce to nestle within our kitchen cupboards, including enough space to ferry our perfect puddings to husbands, kids, friends or whomever else was lucky enough to be at home when this heady dessert arrived.  

When I finally made it home, happy and cheered by a good evening, hoping that the dessert would remain in its perfect form to be shared with others at a later date, something inexplicable occurred.  I ate the whole sweet, stodgy delight all over again.  It just happened!

Hair-extending guru Shannel Watson is the owner of Secret Extensions and a recent convert to the religion of fine cheeses. Follow her on Twitter @SecretExtension and Instagram - shannelwatson for more of her foodie and hair-related shenanigans

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