I posted that I’d been at Betty’s Cookery School for a week. The course, Advanced Kitchen Skills, was brilliant. It was a lot of work, and I came home every evening utterly wiped, but very happy, and feeling that I’d learnt a lot. The staff, from the tutors to administrators and housekeepers, are all friendly and efficient, and my fellow students were a great bunch. I was one of the slower ones (which I’d not expected), but I was far from the only one who got cross with themselves when they couldn’t get something perfect first time. I guess it’s that sort of course, and attracts that sort of person!


Monday was bread day – pretzels, ciabatta, croissants, pain au raisin with crème patisserie, and a sweet bread from Belgium called Craquelin, which was delicious. The croissants were too much work for me to try them again at home, I suspect. There’s a real skill to keeping the layers through all that rolling and folding, and I think I’ll leave it to the professionals. I will do the pretzel dough again, though, and probably the ciabatta and Craquelin for special occasions.

Tuesday was the hardest day of the lot, but we ended up (at about 7pm) with melt in the mouth oxtail suet puddings, red cabbage, and a nearly-finished hot water crust pork pie. We also made chilli jam and cucumber pickle to go with the pie, and red cabbage to accompany the oxtail puddings. Those are in my freezer, awaiting a visit from my Dad in May.

Wednesday was fish day – we filleted a whole salmon, then cured parts of it two ways (gravadlax was one, and the other was beetroot and vodka) and smoked some it over lapsang souchong tea leaves. The final part went into our lunch – a delicious mussel and langoustine broth, with bean sprouts, carrot and mange tout. I can see me adapting that one into a diet-friendly version. :-)

Thursday was butchery; we watched half a pig being expertly dissected by Brian Noon of Sykes House Farm, which supplies Betty’s with their bacon and sausages. We then had a go ourselves, but on a slightly scaled down level – rabbit! We stuffed the loin, rolled it in Parma ham, and served it with carrots, beans, fondant potatoes and some curly kale with pine nuts and raisins. Here’s one I made earlier! We also got to try making sausages, and I discovered that I am actually rather good at working them into those long ropes of sausages that you see hanging in butchers’ windows. If I ever lose the day job … :-) I’m toying with the idea of trying some home-curing in the garage. It’s not as hard as I’d have thought, and it would be lovely to have some decent bacon and ham. I hate how watery shop-bought bacon can be.

Day five, Friday, was my birthday, and it was such fun, one of the best birthdays I’ve had in years. My colleagues on the course surprised me with a card and flowers, and the tutors gave me a little cake with my name on it, which was really kind. We spent the whole day making desserts – six ways with apple, and some chocolate curls and spun sugar. What better way to spend your birthday than playing with chocolate and making puddings all day? I particularly liked the apple, vanilla and cinnamon ice cream and the apple and honey soufflé, but it was all yummy. :-)

I learned a lot of culinary skills from the course, and, as always, when trying a new thing, something about myself too. I forget, between times, how much fun it is to learn new things, and I will try to remember that more often. I think I will also try to practice getting faster at food prep whilst keeping some precision. I was unhappy that I was slower than most of my fellow students. On the other courses I’ve been on, I have been one of the quicker ones, and it’s clear this was a course for people at a different level. Being stretched is a good thing, though, and it’s given me something general to work on aside from just the recipes and techniques we were taught.

Thank you, Dad, Adie, Tan and James for buying me such a great present. I’ll be cooking you all something yummy from the long list of new and delicious scoffs I’ve learnt, promise. :-)