new year new skill


How about starting this year with a resolution to learn something new? It’s really easy to get stuck in a rut, always cooking the same things. Is there something that you have never made, that you’d like to try?


The Great Pie Bake-Off


At the end of last year I was asked to judge a Home-made Pie competition by Rupert and Kathy Evershed. Their idea was to invite friends and family over one afternoon, and everyone had to bring a pie to share. It didn’t matter what was in it, whether savoury or sweet, but you had to make everything yourself, including the pastry. I was asked to help judge the results, which meant trying over 20 pies. I applied myself with due diligence and the winner was Nicola Hayes with a Sweet potato, sultana and chestnut pie, which wowed us all. But what made an impression on me was that although there were some very good cooks in the room, most of them had never made a pie before. Everyone I spoke to really enjoyed having a go at something for the first time.

Cookery classes

If you would like to learn some new cookery skills, there are several options in the local area. You don’t need to head in to London and worry about how to carry back your delicious new loaf or curry.

The Local Kitchen

If you would like to go back to basics or learn classic or modern British Cookery, have a look at The Local Kitchen. Run by Liz Marcy, ex-Waitrose Food Illustrated and myself, we use local and seasonal ingredients in our classes and workshops. We offer a range of classes including Family Everyday, Sunday Lunch Clinic and Sociable Baking. If you want to know how to make really good Yorkshire Puddings, how to joint and use every part of a chicken, or just get some new ideas for family meals these may be for you.

Workshops take place in your home or work venue, and prices start at just £30 per adult for a group of six. We come to you, with everything needed, and you learn new skills and ideas in a fun, sociable and practical class. Anything you make you get to enjoy afterwards with your friends with a coffee or a glass of wine!

In the Sociable Baking class you roll up your sleeves and learn how to make a range of breads from scratch that you can use for weekends, breakfasts, brunches or entertaining. Everyone gets to try the bread fresh out of the oven, and take lots home too. Private lessons are also available, and you can choose what is covered, whether you want to go over the basics or how to prepare a special meal.

If your child has dreams of Junior Masterchef or Great British Bake-off, start them in training this year! We teach cookery classes for children including teenagers, which would be fun for a birthday or as a leaving home present. For more information email us at or call 07799 064057.

 A pinch of spice

If you love to eat Asian food, but would love to know how to make a delicious curry yourself, A Pinch of Spice, run by Nosheen Yunis can show you how. Held in Harpenden at the Public Halls on Wednesdays and Park Hall on Fridays, you watch a three hour demonstration by Nosheen, and then taste everything for lunch. You could learn how to make Pakora, Lamb and Potato Curry, or Orange, Mango and Pomegranate Salad. You will leave with a copy of the recipes and the spices used, so you can recreate the dishes at home. Nosheen offers four classes, Starters, Curries, Salads and Dips and 10-minute Family Meals, and you can go to one or all of the sessions. Visit for dates, or call Nosheen on 07722 253972.

Cocktails and Cupcakes

Popular St Albans cocktail bar Mokoko can arrange for you to learn how to mix your own cocktails, perfect if you have a party coming up. You can also head to the bar on special Cocktail and Cupake evenings, to learn from Heaven is a Cupcake how to ice you own cocktail-themed cupcakes. These workshops are already very popular with groups of friends for birthday treats.

Nicky’s winning pie recipe: Mushroom and Chestnut Pie

This was based on a recipe from BBC Good Food – Nicky made it into one pie, but the original makes individual, and is given here.

200g leeks, sliced thinly

25g butter

100g mushrooms, chopped finely

4 pinches ground mace

4 pinches chopped thyme leaves

100g potatoes, grated

100g puy or green lentils, from a can, rinsed

100g cooked chestnuts, chopped finely

8tbsp double cream

4tbsp cranberries, plus extra to decorate

1 egg, beaten, to glaze

2tsp redcurrant jelly

for the pastry

200g plain flour

100g light vegetarian suet

8tbsp milk

  1. Gently fry the leeks in the butter until softened. Add the mushrooms, mace and thyme, and turn up the heat a bit to soften the mushrooms and drive off any liquid that comes out of them. Stir in the potato for 2 mins, followed by the lentils, chestnuts and cream. Cook for 2 mins more, then take off the heat and stir in the 4 tbsp cranberries.
  2. To make the pastry, put the flour and suet in a food processor with 1 tsp salt. Whizz together until you can’t see any big suet lumps, then keep pulsing while you add the milk, a spoon at a time, until the pastry comes together.
  3. Roll out a quarter of the pastry on a lightly floured surface, then use 4 individual pie dishes to cut 4 pastry lids – we used 4 x 250ml ramekins. Use a small star cutter to cut out a star from each lid, then keep stars and lids covered with cling film.
  4. Cut 4 strips of baking parchment and use a little butter to stick one in each pie dish, so the ends of the strips stick outeach side to help you remove the pies when baked. Gather lid scraps with the remaining pastry and divide into 4 equal pieces. Roll out each to £1 coin thickness and use to line each pie dish with an overhang. Divide the filling between the dishes. Top each with a lid, and roll down the overhang to meet the lid. Use a fork’s prongs to press and seal edges. The pies can now be covered and chilled for up to 24 hrs before baking.
  5. To bake, heat oven to 220C/200C fan/ gas 7. Brush each pie with beaten egg and bake for 30 mins. Lift pies from dishes and sit directly onto a baking sheet. Mix 20 cranberries with the redcurrant jelly and divide between the star holes on top. Brush pastry stars with beaten egg, add a small thyme sprig to each, then add to the pie baking sheet and put back in the oven for 5-10 mins, until pies and stars are golden and crisp. Top each pie with a star and serve.



About thelocalfoodie

Food writer for The Herts Advertiser.
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