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Posts in 'Inspiration'

Blackberry and Chambord Jam from foraged fruits
Foraged Fruits  - by Sarah Leary 

My recent move to a village has unexpectedly turned me into a forager overnight. A grimly determined one at that, no fruit or berry is safe from my plundering paws, anything vaguely edible is in danger of being preserved, pickled or fermented.

Only recently I stumbled upon a huge bounty of juicy blackberries quivering enticingly in the hedgerows very close to my house. There’s something intensely satisfying about picking your own fruits returning home with your haul and immediately turning it into something else, somehow you feel more connected to the ingredients.

Foraging can be a great pastime, getting one out into the fresh air and often learning surprising things about quite unassuming plants. The humble nettle for example can be transformed into a flavoursome soup or even beer and chickweed is similar to spinach and can be used in winter salads or stews.  It is of course vitally important to know what you are picking and to forage responsibly. The UK’s wildlife relies on wild food, so only pick from plentiful populations and bear in mind that the plant needs to propagate itself for future generations.

I plan to continue foraging fruits responsibly and am delighted to share my recipe for foraged blackberry and Chambord jam. Watch this space, there will be more…..

Blackberry and Chambord Jam

Makes 4-59 450g jars- this recipe is easily halved


1kg blackberries

Juice of 1 lemon

1 x 1kg packs jam sugar (with pectin)

3 tbsp Chambord liqueur

Cooking Instructions

  1. Before you begin you will need to sterilise your jars and lids. Heat the oven to 120c/ gas mark ½. Wash the jars and lids thoroughly in hot soapy water and leave to drain. Place on oven trays and dry in the oven for 10-15 minutes. Put a couple of small plates in the freezer.

  2. Put the berries, lemon juice and sugar into a preserving pan. Heat gently to slowly melt the sugar and release the juices from the fruit.

  3. Bring to the boil and boil rapidly for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and using a teaspoon drop a little of the mixture onto one of the chilled plates. Push your finger through the jam, it should wrinkle and have started to set (the wrinkle test). If it doesn’t, boil for 2 minutes more, keep testing and repeating until setting point is achieved. Make sure you remove the pan from the heat each time you test so that the fruit doesn’t overcook.

  4. Stir the Chambord liqueur into the jam and leave to settle for 10-15 minutes, this will help to prevent the fruit from floating to the top of the jars. Carefully skim off any scum that rises to the surface.

  5. Pour or ladle the still hot jam into the sterilised jars, top with a wax disc and seal. The jam will keep for 1 year unopened, but once opened, store in the fridge.

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Mental Health - What’s food got to do with it?

Mental Health - What’s food got to do with it?

Mental Health is finally on the agenda and not before time; yet I find myself slightly nervous about putting the word ‘Mental’ Health in the subject title!  Why is that, even though I am a food scientist and have studied brain physiology in detail.

So what is it about the term ‘mental’ health that makes us a little uneasy about things?  Historically the term ‘mental health’ has had negative connotations, conjuring up images of extreme depression and people who ‘can’t cope’.  Perhaps it’s also something that we think won’t happen to us.

Research from the Mental Health Foundation suggests that two thirds of us experience a mental health problem at some point in our lifetimes.  Mental health is a broad term covering a range of conditions and experiences, and can affect people at any age.  Just as we can have physical health problems – we can also suffer from a range of mental health problems and they don’t all necessarily look like depression.  Social anxiety, PTSD and stress,  work or family related is thought to be the most prevalent form of mental health and whilst some people thrive on the adrenaline of stress, for others it can be debilitating.

We are what we eat

The brain is essentially a chemical factory wired with neurotransmitters, the chemical messenger that relays thoughts and actions, so essentially that controls our behaviours. Research and experience prove without a doubt that there is a connection between how & what we eat and how we think and act. The bio-chemical basis of this ‘food-mood’ relationship lies in the neurotransmitters.  Since food directly affects neurotransmitter action, changes in neurotransmitters are thus responsible for changes in our brain chemistry, and therefore changes in moods, ergo food does affect mood.

Furthermore, it is proven that food affects some people's moods more than others; some people are simply more vulnerable than others due to the way in which their brains are wired and how they process chemicals in the brain.  Such people are equally more sensitive to junk foods in their diets, while others seem to breeze through fast-food with little or no effect on mood change.  These signs may be more easily identified in children, so we say that children who eat sweets may suffer a sugar rush and behave abnormally. Yet when adults have poor nutrition we don’t make the same correlations.

Junk in Junk out

Further research from the Mental Health Foundation demonstrates that people who report some level of mental health, also eat fewer healthy foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables, meals made from scratch; relying instead on crisps and chips, chocolate, ready meals and takeaways.

After the skin, the brain is the biggest organ in our bodies and requires good nutrition and hydration.  To ensure our brain is functioning and benefiting from the food we eat, our diet needs to include complex carbohydrates, essential fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins and minerals, and of course lots of water to stay hydrated.

Good food and a nutritious diet is a path to improved mental and physical health, thus leading to improved wellbeing.  In our busy lives it may seem easier to reach for convenience foods and snacks however such foods contain higher amounts of chemicals that are harmful to the body, tricking the brain in the short term to feeling good but can quickly affect the brain bio-chemistry and negatively impact mood.

By eating a healthy diet with fresh ingredients, together with exercise and good sleep will benefit your mental health and general wellbeing.

Most importantly, just as we seek medical help for other illnesses and ailments, we should do so for mental health related issues. However, if mental health remains a taboo subject, then people will be inevitably be reluctant to seek help about their illness that will without doubt lead to a worsening of the condition.

Look out for the next blog on food and mental health.

The Cooking Academy provides a variety of courses specifically related to nutrition.  Our chef tutors provide advice and information on the nutritional benefits of ingredients and seasoning.  Our Wellness in the Workplace provides services to organisations to help develop health eating goals in the workplace to build a ‘Fit for Work – Fit for Life’ workforce.


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Finding the cream of the crop
The recruitment and selection process can be a challenge on both sides of the interview room.   Psychometric testing, presentations and textbook questions to test the candidate’s abilities in line with the skills required for the role profile.  But do they really tell you what you want or need to know for the business and for your team?

When I worked in the corporate world, the strangest question I faced during an interview was about which people, preferably famous, I would invite to a dinner party.  Certainly not a question I’d prepared for.

So what is the best way to find out about candidates’ skills?   Assessment centres are often used in recruitment as a way of seeing how people approach a task, communicate and behave under pressure.  I would say taking this a step further and introducing a task that is removed from what they would do at work – such as cooking a set number of dishes within a specified time frame.

Now you are thinking how would you apply this to recruitment?  It is an excellent way of putting everyone on a level playing field.  Whether they are external or internal candidates as they are all in a strange environment and faced with the same non-work related task.   For recruiting manager and HR, the non-work environment and task means they can be more objective when observing the candidates’ interaction and behaviour.

What you see in a cooking event is a very good idea of how candidates approach a task, how they behave, work in a team (or not) and what skills they display to achieve the task including strategy development, planning, time management, leadership, presentation skills.   Click here to find out more.

They can also have some fun, so you will see the candidates more relaxed than in a formal assessment centre.    For those candidates who are not successful in getting the role, they will have learnt new skills and had a more enjoyable time than being grilled across a table.   It will probably enhance your company brand value.  Most people want to work for an innovative business that is fun and quirky.  Breaking out of the norm and demonstrating your bold approach to finding the hidden gems will certainly make you stand out of the crowd.

And who did I invite to my dinner party?  Raymond Blanc of course!

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The Alchemy of Food

The Alchemy of Food by Kumud Gandhi.

Kumud Gandhi, the Food Alchemist - is the founder of The Cooking Academy, a unique cookery school that puts the beneficial properties of ingredients at the heart of everything we teach. We call it the ‘Alchemy of Food’.


Kumud Gandhi trained in food science, and her ethos is to combine the science of food, nutritional value and great taste to create wholesome, nutritional and delicious recipes. Her passion for bringing food and science together to create the ‘Alchemy of Food’ stems from her family heritage, where her mother’s family are chemists and her father’s ancestors were spice merchants.  And so as a child she grew up surrounded by what she calls ‘The Alchemy of food’.


Kumud has put much of her knowledge and understanding of spices into her bookA Cupboard Full of Spices which will be published in October.  The book is a go-to reference book for recipes as well as a beautiful cookery book including many favourite family recipes dating back through the generations.


The Alchemy of Food, teaching ethos at The Cooking Academy explores the chemical composition, Ayurvedic and herbal values of food so that recipes and eating plans can be matched to meet dietary requirements and individual lifestyles.


Heading up the Academy, Kumud and her team teach the health benefits of different herbs and spices used in all genre of food. For example if you suffer from indigestion or heart burn, try incorporating fennel, both fresh and fennel seed into your diet; or if you suffer from poor circulation then you should increase the use of chillies and in particular ginger in food; Ginger is in the ‘super food’ category packed with antioxidants, it is an anti-inflammatory, circulation stimulator, and an antiseptic. It is also hugely beneficial for the digestion of food.


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So many common everyday ingredients can provide relief for existing conditions and working with these herbs and spices into your daily diet can actually prevent many common ailments and allergies.


For Kumud it is a realization that the kitchen cupboard promises to offer more effective solutions to our health problems than the medicine cabinet; after all, prevention is better than cure. Our objectives at The Cooking Academy are to make people aware of the nutritional value of simple, everyday ingredients, the effects it has in our bodies and how we can use them in food. Many of the everyday cupboard spices have excellent effects on these issues and they have been used by early ancestors and ancient civilizations – and yet forgotten in today’s world.

Kumud regularly runs master classes on the history of spices named ‘The Spice Trail’ which explores the origins of spices and their importance in the global trade around the world.  It charts the use of spices in modern medicines and in culinary use for good health.

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Spice Cookery Book - A Cupboard Full of Spices
My spice cookery book, “A Cupboard Full Of Spices”, has finally gone to press.  It has been a labour of love and 10 years in the making.

The book describes my journey in food, and all the influences I have had from childhood in a traditional Indian home in the UK to the present day.  It is a compendium of spices, explaining their uses and medicinal properties.   In the book I bring these together to create “The Alchemy of Food” which is at the heart of all the cookery classes we hold at The Cooking Academy and the corporate wellness programmes and team building events we run throughout the world.

Exploding the myth on Spices

Having taught many hundreds of people to cook both Asian and European cuisines over the years, the overwhelming evidence is that that the challenge has always been understanding the use of spices in recipes, of any genre. Furthermore, the medicinal value of cooking with herbs and spices has been lost over the generations.  I have therefore made it my life’s mission to explode the myths on spices, the correct way to use them so their health benefits and flavours are utilised. This book is about sharing this very useful knowledge to create great food and improve your health in the process.

I am a passionate believer that good nutrition is essential to a healthy working life as well as home life.  Good nutrition means our brains are being fed the right nutrients and vitamins to ensure it functions, making us more alert, more motivated and therefore more productive.

The Ultimate Spice Cookery Book

The book contains a wealth of information about spices and their qualities.  Each recipe has been annotated to show the nutritional benefits of the ingredients, alongside easy to follow instructions and fabulous photographs of the food.

The book will be published in mid October and you can pre-order it on the website today A Cupboard Full of Spices


Kumud Gandhi is Founder of The Cooking Academy in Rickmansworth, Herts.  She is a published author, food writer and broadcasts on TV and Radio commenting on food and nutrition.


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