I was recently invited to an Eat Clean, Feel Good culinary masterclass with Rachel Allen and Ecover at the Cactus Kitchens Cookery School, Clapham. Situated up in the eaves of an old chapel it is part of the Cactus TV Studios and on our way up we had a little peek into the Saturday Kitchen studio!
We climbed a very windy staircase and were faced with the prospect of cooking in this environment – sometimes I REALLY love blogging!
My work station was like a little slice of heaven, stocked with fabulous knives, delicious ingredients and equipped with a Miele induction hob (it was fantastic) and oven, Kitchen Aid mixer and Green Pan cookware – I was a very happy bunny indeed!
Before we got into the serious business of cooking we learned a little about the background to the day’s event, obviously this is one very close to my heart! Rachel has been working with Ecover to put together a series of Eat Clean, Feel Good recipes all made from the fresh seasonal ingredients so many of us are choosing to feed to our families. Food labelling has improved enormously in the UK over the last few years as more and more of us demand to know what exactly we are putting into our mouths. Many of us have shifted away from the ‘time saving’ ready meals of the 1980s and ’90s and back to home cooked meals packed with nutritious ingredients and flavour. So, if we make so much effort to cook nutritious food free of nasties why do we then wash our dishes in chemicals?
The leading dishwashing liquids contain, on average, up to 10 unnecessary nasties, most of which are not listed on the label but which remain on dishes, plates, cutlery and pots and pans leaving a chemical residue even after rinsing. These chemicals can cause skin, eye and respiratory irritation and are washed into water supplies which is damaging to aquatic life.
It won’t surprise regular readers to know that I have been a long term Ecover user. I diligently return my bottle to be refilled at my local wholefood shop secure in the knowledge that there are no hidden nasties swooshing around my sink, lurking on my plates and making their way into little tummies because Ecover is made from renewable, natural, plant based ingredients.
However, I have to admit that I have strayed into the chemicals aisle from time to time over the years with a guilty look over my shoulder and the hope that nobody has seen me! My guilty forays came at a time when Ecover couldn’t compete with the mainstream washing up liquids and staying faithful took a lot of elbow grease and determination BUT NO MORE!
Ecover has put a lot of work into improving its product range and I can honestly say that it not only ticks my Eco boxes but it now does the job efficiently too. It still doesn’t produce mountains of unnecessary showy bubbles, thankfully, but it does get my dishes clean. The light scent of Pomegranate and Lime while I’m swooshing my pots doesn’t stick in the back of my throat and very noticeably doesn’t waft off my plates when I’m serving dinner. It has the added bonus of being kind to my skin in a way that certain other brands are not, in spite of their claims!
Anyway…on with the event! Rachel had designed a three course supper for us to cook and share. Starting with a Rosemary Focaccia Bread, moving on to a Summer Vegetable Oven Baked Risotto and finishing up with Mangoes and Lime Syrup with Pomegranate (linking in nicely with the washing up liquid we would all be using once we had devoured our supper!)
Being taught how to make Irish Soda bread by an Irish chef has to be one of this year’s highlights for me. I’ve been making soda bread for years but Rachel’s tips meant I produced the BEST soda loaf of my life. Rachel showed me how to hold my hand like a claw and, keeping it stiff, to mix the dough as if I were a food mixer going back and forth rather than stirring and gathering. She also gave me the confidence not to add too much flour and to throw it into the oven sticky as it should be – it turned out a treat! The picture I took on the day doesn’t do it justice, when I have time I’ll make it again and get a better shot!
Rosemary Focaccia Bread
- 1 lb 450g plain flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 350 - 400 mls 12-14 fl oz buttermilk or soured milk
- A few sprigs of rosemary
- A good drizzle of olive oil
- Flaked sea salt
- Brush a baking tray generously with olive oil
- Sieve the dry ingredients and make a well in the centre
- Pour most of the milk in at once
- Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk of necessary
- The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky
- When it all comes together, turn it out onto a floured board and roll it out into a circle
- Transfer it to the baking tray
- Make dimples with the tips of your fingers to make little wells for the olive oil
- Stick the rosemary pieces into the dimples
- Drizzle generously with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt, crushing it a bit as your sprinkle
- Bake in a hot oven 230C450Fgas mark 8 for about 20-30 minutes until cooked. Check its bottom to be sure, it should be nice and golden
I didn’t have time to make the mango dessert and its accompanying shortbread biscuits but, never fear, I shall be tackling them at home and sharing that with you too very soon!
Rachel is quite possibly the nicest chef I have ever worked with; calm and unflustered when it transpired that her hob wasn’t working, adapting easily to the time scale by shifting from a yeast based bread to quick Irish soda bread for her rosemary focaccia bread and whirling around a room full of food writers with a smile and some uncondescending words of advice. I was very chuffed when she told me she was impressed with my kitchen speed and that it was no doubt due to my having to produce food for six every day!
Disclosure: Ecover paid my travel expenses to the event and I received a goodie bag for attending – it contained a bottle of the pomegranate and lime washing up liquid which I was supposed to be using at the event but which is now being put to good use in my kitchen at home!