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Published April 27th 2014
Aprons on, everyone, and knives at the ready
Meatballs are a popular form of comfort food. Jamie's Ministry of Food image.
I've searched high and low for a pizza dough recipe that delivers thin, crispy, textured bases and I think I finally have it. I'm kneading dough and listening to our instructor at Jamie's Ministry of Food in Ipswich explain why we must keep going for at least 10 minutes. "This kneading action breaks down the gluten in the flour so the dough becomes flexible ... you'll see it starts to look glossy and it bounces back when poked."
[ADVERT]We top the bases with a home-made tomato sauce and are advised that when it comes to toppings, 'less is more'. I select some sliced mushroom, cherry tomatoes and a light sprinkling of pizza cheese. Less than 15 minutes later, I am thrilled to tuck into the freshest, healthiest and, frankly, easiest pizza of my life. No more takeaways or home deliveries for me.
Securing the rights to host Australia's first Jamie's Ministry of Food cooking centre was something of a coup for Ipswich. This once-prosperous mining city had fallen on hard times. But now, as it stands on the brink of a renaissance, it's not averse to a bit of name-dropping to boost the cause - and Jamie Oliver is one of the most well-known celebrity chefs in the world.
First launched in the UK, Jamie's Ministry of Food cooking centres were designed to tackle the looming crisis posed by obesity and diet-related disease. Their aim is to 'get people cooking again' by teaching them basic cooking skills, from how to grocery shop through to how to nourish the family (both nutritionally and emotionally) with simple meals such as roast chicken and vegetables served with home-made gravy.
The vehicle is a 10-week course of 90-minute hands-on cooking classes designed for anyone aged 12 or older. The $100 ($50 concession) cost of the course includes all ingredients, instruction and recipes so you can replicate the dishes at home. You also get to feast on, or take home, the meals that you create, which makes these classes superlative value.
Eggs form the foundation for both sweet and savoury dishes. Author image.
The first week commences with the basics - eggs - which Oliver describes as 'cheap, easy and nutritious'. If you're thinking, like me, that surely there can't be that much to learn about eggs, think again. Our instructor demonstrated how to assess the freshness of an egg and why you needed especially fresh ones for poaching (the white stays in a single perky mass rather than dispersing in wisps throughout the pan). We made creamy scrambled eggs without using cream (it's all in the whisking technique) but the real surprise piece de resistance was the humble omelette, filled with parmesan cheese, parsley and cherry tomatoes.
Other dishes we learned to cook included minestrone soup, a Thai green curry, sizzling beef stir fry, salmon fishcakes with buttered spinach, risotto bianco, and fruit crumble. The recipes change from time to time, but always with an emphasis on budget-friendly basics.
What I like most about the course was the emphasis on simple, cheap ingredients - for example, there are no demands to secure triple-cream cheese from some obscure region of Normandie in France. Jamie's Ministry of Food has a no-waste, watch-your-wallet philosophy that manifests in students using every last shred of celery, the white roots to the green tips of spring onions, and cans of corn spears and tips ('they're the cheapest'). And as for peeling potatoes, carrots, or any other vegetables? Pfft, that's for people who don't value fibre in their diet.
All the recipes can be achieved using supermarket ingredients or, better still, what you grow in your own garden. For instance, we are encouraged to take home the ends of spring onions to plant in our own vegetable patches at home. "Who's got their spring onions growing?" our instructor asks half-way through the course. My right hand shoots up in the air. "I am!"
My teenager, who is doing the course with me, makes the observation that Jamie's Ministry of Food cooking centre is like 'a shrine to Jamie Oliver'. I can see his point. On the first day, we are greeted with a video of Jamie welcoming us to the course, his cookbooks lie around the bench tops, there are photos of him and plaques mentioning him, and lots of instruction that starts with 'Jamie says...' But given the enormity of the task he's taken on, surely a little hero-worship isn't out of order?