Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Thoughts on the River Cottage Cookery Schools

We're back!  It has taken a few days to get the brain moving again, but I think I may be on top of things now.  I just wanted to write a few notes on the cookery schools we did at River Cottage in Axminster.

The first one was Gluten Free Cookery, which was run by nutritionist Naomi Devlin, who has celiac disease, so it was a very informative course about nutrition, rather than just substituting wheat flours for cheap starchy flours, void of nutrition.  Some of it I knew already, so it was good to have these ideas confirmed.  It hadn't occurred to me that I should be fermenting other gluten free grains with sourdough or yoghurt first before cooking them though.  So I need to source some more Teff flour, and make a new gluten free starter.  Here is a link to her blog with the reasons why we need to ferment.  We made a gluten free bread (which was VERY filling), some gingercake muffins, some choc chip cookies, pasties, and had a few things demonstrated to us.

The second one was chocolate skills and cookery, and it was run by Claire Burnet of Chococo (we bought her book above).  It wasn't a day of sickly indulgence in wicked foods, but a very informative and practical day that will make you never want to look at poor quality chocolate again.  We started the day taste testing small pieces of chocolate, and really tasting them with eyes closed, slowly melting them in our mouths.  We tasted all types of chocolate with various percentages of cocoa, cocoa butter, vegetable fat, and sugar, as well as chocolate grown in different parts of the world.  We were asked to thinks of chocolate like wine or coffe- I'm not into either of these, but I guess it's like comparing cask wine with a good vintage, or instant coffee with a good single origin.  It was clear that what is readily available, and what we are used to is not real chocolate.  Real chocolate costs a lot more, but you only need a little bit of it and you are satisfied, so a small block could last you quite a while.  You will also be eating a much healthier product that is not full of sugar or vegetable fat.  The chocolate to look for should be at least 65-70% cocoa solids, and made with cocoa butter.  Commercial chocolate processors use vegetable fat and more sugar to keep costs down.

Another thing to mention is that really good quality chocolate won't have a Fairtrade symbol, and that's not because it's unfairly traded.  The simple explanation from what I understand is that the big chocolate manufacturers (the ones that typically don't pay the growers very well) can pay extra to be Fairtrade certified, and we can only hope that the extra money goes to where it is supposed to.  Your block of Fairtrade dairymilk may not have any fairtrade chocolate in it at all, it might be in some other chocolate in the range.  I guess they buy a certain number of fairtrade units you might say.  The smaller businesses that make excellent chocolate work directly with the growers, and pay them fair wages.

At Chococo, they use Grenada Chocolate, which is not available here (we tried to find some to bring home, but were already in the airport lounge to come home when we realised there was some in the Liberty shop in London where we had been earlier that day).  I have since found Spencer Cocoa in Australia, which I'd like to try.

It is Claire's personal mission to beg people not to feed white chocolate to children.  It teaches them that chocolate is a very sweet confection.  Milk chocolate is ok, but dark even better.  I know my kids will eat chocolate in whichever form it comes, so better to get them used to good dark chocolate.  I've never liked the idea that you give children the cheap stuff, or (gag) compound chocolate.  Quality over quantity.

We made ganache balls, that we dipped in chocolate and added nuts, freeze dried berries etc to, chocolate lollypops that had transfers on the back (very fancy!), and gluten free brownies made with mashed pumpkin, and no butter.  So after 2 days of cooking, we had a lot of snacks for the rest of our travels, and managed to bring a few lollypops home for the girls.

I don't think I'm a fan of long haul air travel, but could be enticed back to River Cottage!

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