So you’ve seen the John Lewis advert, taken a bite of your first Pret Christmas sandwich and you might have even already given up hope of getting whatever is being tipped as this years “must-have” gift. Next step is to start planning your Christmas dinner. Now I’m quite a traditionalist when it comes to Christmas cuisine, there was one year that no pigs in blankets appeared at our festive feast and it certainly didn’t go unnoticed. But with that being said, I’m not normally the one in the kitchen, so perhaps it’s better I bite my tongue on that one. Something about the variety of dishes, the many eager eyes waiting around the table and, of course, the dreaded timings that make the thought of preparing a Christmas dinner quite a daunting experience. But this year I wanted to face my fear of going in the kitchen, so thought a little cookery course first might be a good first destination on my journey.
I was intrigued by the Cookery School on Little Portland Street in London, as it was a door I must have walked by a hundred times – being just off Oxford Circus. So I ventured down the narrow staircase to find out what lay behind. With a tagline of “sustainable learning”, it offers courses featuring sustainable and organic ingredients, and being so central I could easily pop out to finish off my Christmas shopping afterwards.
They have a menu that you prepare, cook and eat within a 4-hour period – and there was not a pig in blanket in sight. It was described to me as an alternative Christmas party, and it certainly lived up to that. The starter was a twice-baked Stilton soufflé served with a chicory and pear salad. For the main we prepared a Rhug organic roast chicken with herbed basmati rice and mulled wine red cabbage. Now I know what you’re thinking – rice for Christmas dinner! Well I was thinking the exact same thing, I remember at one Christmas we were served samosas as an appetizer and I’m still talking about it today (and even writing about it on HuffPost UK). Rounding off with a sticky toffee pudding and custard, we ended in more familiar territory, but still questioning over the disappearance of the classic Christmas cake. Although I suppose we would have had to take the course three months prior to produce that well matured dessert.
The course began with some nibbles and we were split into teams to prep for each of the dishes for the evening. My team were assigned the roast chicken and sides - we learned how to prepare the bird and got to work on the fragrant mulled wine cabbage. It all seemed like a very easy process and no doubt gave me a false sense of comfort. I’m sure if I was to prepare this at home, the fire alarm would have long gone off and I’d be furiously fanning it with a tea towel around now.
As if by magic, all the teams managed to finish around the same moment. We had just enough time to gather round to watch the soufflés be dished out for their second round of baking. When completed, the once kitchen converted into a dining room and we sat down to eat. It all tasted great and you could feel each person’s sense of pride as you approached the course in which they prepared. It felt like an episode of Come Dine With Me, where you felt a duty to finish your entire plate in fear of causing offense to the team behind it.
The whole course was a really fun experience and certainly didn’t feel like it was a daunting experience for even a very amateur cook like myself. I don’t know if it quite convinced me to shelf the Brussels sprouts this year, but I definitely found it an enjoyable evening, leaving me with more confidence in the kitchen. And the early Christmas present came at the end of the meal, when we didn’t have to do the washing up!
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