We joined The Foodworks’ Soup and Salad cookery evening at the start of October, held at their purpose-built venue on the outskirts of Cheltenham. It’s a gorgeous building with state-of-the-art, professional facilities. They host regular evening and daytime classes plus residential courses. For example, you can learn about bread and patisserie, making chocolate gifts for Christmas, cooking curry, healthy meals, 30 minute meals and dishes from a vast menu of worldly cuisines such as Thai, Lebanese, Italian, Spanish, the list goes on! Take a look for yourself here >
After receiving a lovely, warm welcome at reception, we hung up our coats and donned our aprons (complete with name badge) and were given an introduction from our chef for the evening, Erin Baker. Erin’s originally from Vermont and she now lives in my home town of Stroud. Erin is passionate about vegetarian cookery and created a hearty, seasonal menu for us to make.
With hands washed, our group gathered around Erin’s station, a long bank of hobs and preparation space, where she introduced our dishes. Tonight we were cooking three soups and three salads featuring ingredients that are at their best during this time of year and very well suited to autumn.
- Beetroot and tomato
- Lentil, tomato and coconut
- Parsnip and apple
- Marinated carrots with lentils
- Roasted squash with white beans
- Spinach and celeriac remoulade
Erin had already prepared for us a huge pot of golden yellow vegetable stock which was bubbling away and we were encouraged to grab a spoon and have a slurp. Understanding the importance of educating our class on how to make a great stock (the base for all of tonight’s soups), Erin began the session by taking us through the steps. We would often shout out vegetables to Erin like some kind of quick-fire round of a quiz show and she would say whether they would be ideal for a stock or not. Many vegetable tops, tails and skins are great for throwing in, which saves waste. We learnt not to be tempted to add anything from the brassica or cabbage family or very strong herbs like tarragon or rosemary.
Here’s the stock we prepared…
Once the second pot of stock was on the boil, it was time to start prepping the veg to make our six individual dishes. First off we tackled the question of how to chop correctly. This was a skill I’d been eager to learn for some time and with the guidance of a professional, I accomplished the technique! Not only is it safer for my fingertips, but now I can chop faster and achieve even sized chucks of veg!
Here we are focusing really hard on our chopping…
With so many different vegetables to prepare, we each took a couple and Erin would tell us how to prepare each one. At one point I had half a squash to peel and there’s a cracking tip below from Erin which will make your life so much easier when it comes to peeling one. No longer will I scream at the peeler or threaten to throw it in the bin! Check out my squash in the photo below and it hasn’t been hacked to bits…
Once all the veg was prepped and made its way into the cooking pots, we were encouraged to keep an eye on it ourselves and stir regularly. It was also an excuse to go over and smell some delicious aromas.
Throughout the evening we tried many preparation techniques and there was always something to be getting on with. At the start I remember thinking how on earth were we going to make so much in 2 hours, but we did it and the time flew by. Mike got his hands on the blender to puree the celeriac and apple soup and I stationed myself at the hob toasting cashews for the pistou (the garnish for the beetroot soup). Think of any cookery related verb and it was very likely happening during our class. The session was certainly as hands on as I’d hoped.
Eventually we were ready to shout “Service!” and we ladled up and dressed the salads. Erin gave us some brilliant tips on aesthetics and garnishing which were so quick and easy and she finished off our dishes with vibrant edible flowers. A garnish can brighten a bowl, add texture or compliment the taste of a dish. It’s been an area of my cooking I’ve usually neglected through lack of knowhow and possibly laziness or hunger getting the better of me, but I won’t now thanks to the taste epiphany I experienced whilst eating the beetroot soup, with its garnish of feta cheese and pistou. Yes, yes, yes! A combination of the soup with warm feta and pistou was utter deliciousness!
Mike’s favourite soup from the night was the lentil, tomato and coconut which he cooked up last night at home…
Our third soup was the celeriac and apple, topped with a swirl of cream and a crispy sage leaf, another amazingly simple garnish…
It had never really crossed my mind before to have a banquet of soup and salad, but there was so much food to try, all with completely individual flavours and textures. For the last half an hour of our evening the group sat around a large table to feast on the fruits of our labour. As we all had something to relate to, chatting to like-minded strangers was easy and liberating. A few had come alone and others came with a partner. The atmosphere was super friendly and relaxed and got even more so after a glass of wine with our dinner. Happy days!
Here’s a couple of photos of the beautiful salads we made…
Throughout the session I frantically jotted down some the great tips Erin shared with us:
- The chili membrane (the soft, fleshy, white part inside the chili) is often as hot as or hotter than the seeds.
- To check lentils are done, scoop a couple of out of the pot and place them on the kitchen counter. Smush one with your finger and if it smushes easily then it’s done, if there’s any resistance then you know they need to be cooked for longer.
- To bring out more sweetness and reduce down the acidity in your tomato puree, try cooking it down a little before using.
- To make a squash easier to peel, cook it in the oven for 10 minutes. This softens it enough for the peeler to glide easily through the skin.
- Apple cider vinegar is known for having many health benefits, but don’t be fooled by the ordinary bottles you can buy in the supermarket, the only version that has any nutritional value is organic, unfiltered vinegar (look for the debris at the bottom of the bottle, that’s the good stuff, known as the ‘mother’).
- Try a splodge of wholegrain mustard in your celeriac mash.
- Lots of us have sage in our herb gardens. Crisp up a leaf by frying it in a little oil and use this as a garnish for creamy soups.
We came back bursting with inspiration after this class and with new culinary skills and valuable advice and knowledge. Forget YouTube tutorials, sometimes you just need someone to show you how!
Here’s a link their website >