I absolutely love cooking and happily refer to myself as a “one-handed cook”; the knife in my right hand and a glass of wine in the other. Lately I have been reminiscing about my Year 7 Home Economics class. In terms of cooking and learning new culinary skills, I was fearless. I remember making my own choux pastry, Chelsea buns from scratch, brioche and all kinds of dough concoctions, then coming home and wreaking havoc in Mum’s kitchen, trying hard to recreate all the things I had learned.
About four and half years ago, I signed up for a Tapas cooking class at Spice Bazaar, as a way to prepare myself for an upcoming trip to Spain. Since that first day, I’ve had a lot of fun cooking different cuisines and learning new techniques under Jill and Patrick’s expert tutelage, with the added bonus of making new friends as we all prepare the ingredients and recreate the recipes together. My friend Adrian posted some beautiful pictures on Facebook from the new Fresh Style Tapas class that he went along to on his birthday, and after I had recovered from the severe case of food envy, I enrolled as soon as I could.
The new menu that Jill has devised for the Fresh Style Tapas class includes Gazpacho shots, a lighter style Tortilla made with zucchini, Jerez style Garlic Prawns, crispy grilled chicken marinated with harissa, lime and garlic, Spanish meatballs served with a traditional almond sauce, Moorish lamb skewers, accompanied by sautéed garlic mushrooms and roasted pumpkin cubes with a honey dressing, followed by a delicious White Chocolate Mousse topped with passionfruit jelly to finish.
There were a total of eight participants in the Fresh Style Tapas class, so after we made our introductions, donned on our aprons, it was literally time to sharpen the knives and start preparing our dishes. Due to the length of time needed to ensure that our dessert would be ready in time, we got to work on melting the chocolate and preparing the ingredients for our mousse. Although I profess a deep love for chocolate mousse, I’ve never actually made one myself and Jill’s recipe is very easy and simple to make. After whipping together a yoghurt, cream and chocolate mixture and spooning it into small glass containers, we made a jelly using gelatine powder and passionfruit juice which once cooled, covered the mousse. Once that step was completed, the mousse went into the fridge to set.
Cooking in two teams of four, whilst I finished off the dessert, the other team members got to work on preparing for the other dishes to be eaten during our entrée course. Instead of a potato based tortilla, Jill has come up with a light and healthier alternative using zucchini, similar to a frittata. Together we chopped our way through the list of ingredients and as one person cooked on the stove, there was an opportunity to start preparing the harissa, lime and garlic marinade required for the chicken dish to be eaten during the main course.
More chopping, grating, zesting, measuring and spice throwing to create the marinade and allow the flavours to infuse through the chicken, then we repeated a similar process for the Moorish lamb skewers using a blend of Chermoula, Sweet Paprika and Smoked Paprika mixed together with oil, garlic, chilli, herbs and lemon juice to marinate the lamb. One of the things I love about cooking in the Spice Bazaar kitchen as opposed to cooking at home, is that all the ingredients, cooking implements and utensils are right in front of me, and then I get to put all the dirty dishes and knives into the sink where they get magically washed and put away by Cheryl, the kitchen assistant. It makes cooking a breeze and not at all like Year 7 Home Eco when you had to clean up after yourself while the teacher was yelling at you to hurry up!
With the tortilla warming in the oven, its time to create a classic Spanish gazpacho soup to be served as a shooter. After blanching the tomatoes, and preparing the other ingredients, we tested our trigger skills on the blender and prepared the soup with a little of oil drizzled in to create a silky, smooth texture. Once the mixture is strained over a bowl, the soup is served in small glasses and garnished with some finely chopped cucumber. Whilst the finishing touches are applied to both the tortilla and gazpacho, its almost time to plate up for entrée, as one of our teammates is slaving over the hot grill and cooking the Moorish lamb skewers to order.
Cooking is thirsty work and another thing I love about Spice Bazaar is the opportunity to take a breather and enjoy what you have just created over a nice glass of wine, expertly matched to the dishes on the menu. The gazpacho was lovely with a creamy texture with the cucumber giving a light, fresh finish on the palate. I enjoyed the lighter style tortilla which looked stunning when served in the colourful tapas crockery. The chermoula in the lamb skewers provided a touch of heat to our dishes but was lovely and rich to taste. With the plate of skewers in front of you, it’s hard to resist at one but you need to be mindful of the next wave of dishes to be made and enjoyed for the main course.
After half an hour or so of grazing, chatting and drinking, it’s time to get up, wash the hands again and start preparing the rest of the menu. While someone strong starts carving up the pumpkin into bite size cubes, there is the opportunity to start preparing the balsamic and honey dressing or start chopping the ingredients for the sautéed garlic mushrooms and start finely dicing more gloves of garlic for the Jerez style prawn dish.
One of the highlights of the menu, is the exotic sounding Spanish meatballs served with a traditional almond sauce. The meatballs are made with pork mince, chopped garlic, onion and parsley, seasoned and mixed with egg. While the meatballs were being formed, I rolled them in flour and started on creating the almond sauce, which involved gently frying almonds and bread in a frypan, adding wine and stock, before processing the mixture in the blender or food processor. A word of warning – make sure you do this in a glass vessel as the mixture is very hot and the quantity expands. Once puréed into a creamy, smooth and frothy mixture, the almond sauce is poured over the cooked meatballs and placed in the oven to finish.
Feeling a little bit like a short order cook, I got to work on grilling the marinated chicken fillets over high heat on the stove, while my other cooking companions cooked the prawns and started assembling the pumpkin and mushroom dishes. Many hands make light work and it all seems very easy when you have three or four extra pairs of hands helping prepare the ingredients for when they are required. Whenever I enjoy a cooking class or lesson, I find the best thing to do is practice the recipes at home within a week or two so that you don’t forget the sequence of ingredients and techniques that have been learnt, and that you actually have a go at the steps that someone else might have completed for you during the day.
Three and a half hours seem to disappear very quickly when you are having fun! With the chicken looking crispy and cooked to perfection, and all the main course dishes and garnishes prepared and resembling the same quality as Masterchef, its time to kick back, throw off the aprons and enjoy the rest of meal with another glass of wine.
Finished with lemon juice and chopped parsley, the flavours and texture of the pork meatballs cooked with the almond were astounding and its very easy to prepare when you know how. The prawns were fresh and lightly cooked with a Spanish sherry vinegar, cayenne pepper and garlic. The pumpkin dish was beautiful and the roasted flavours with dried rosemary and a thick, rich honey glaze is delicious on its own or can be enjoyed with the meat dishes. I’m not a fan of mushrooms at any hour of the day so I didn’t go near that dish!
My favourite dish of the day was the harissa, lime and garlic marinated chicken which again is easy to create. The chicken thigh meat was light and juicy and the harissa and lime flavours really work well together, especially when grilled on the barbecue. And just when I thought that I couldn’t possibly eat another thing, the pièce de résistance was served. Once your spoon cuts through the passionfruit jelly and you savour the slighty sweet white and fluffy chocolate mousse, it really is game over.
Another fantastic four hours spent learning new recipes, making new friends and over indulging in fabulous tasting food that I had helped to prepare, and so it was time to say good-bye to everyone, roll home and plan the next dinner party.