The cooking Journal

Posts in 'Inspiration'

January Blues
The poets say April is the cruellest month, however to me it is January and February.  We’ve had all the fun and glitter of Christmas followed by the hope and commitments of New Year’s Day.  Then January seems to drag on for grey week after grey week and payday is a distant hope.  So what can we do to be healthy and motivated during January, and then February, which is mercifully short!

It is a good idea to ensure you are getting the vitamins you need and not resorting to junk food to boost your mood.  As the days are short and dark, we will be lacking in Vitamin D.  The foods to eat are eggs, oily fish such as salmon, herring which also help with strengthening the immune system and the fish will help you with your levels of brain boosting Omega 3.

By eating more complex carbohydrates such as whole grains and vegetables, you are helping your system with slow release energy rather than the quick pick-me-up of highly sweetened foods. So think about cooking a vegetable stew with grains such as pearl barley, or a risotto.  Make yourself some healthy thick soups, that are super healthy when homemade which can be batch frozen and taken to work for lunch.  These are all great for using up leftovers too!

Keeping active is a great way to keep positive and get through January.  If you’re not a gym-bunny try and walk every day – get off the bus a stop earlier, walk round the block a few times at lunch time to get 20-30 minutes of light.  There are some great initiatives out there to keep you focused.  MIND the mental health charity organise the RED for January initiative.  RED stands for Run Every Day, however it’s just about taking exercise of some sort every day, so walking a mile, swimming, getting the bike out.  There is an online community to offer encouragement and support.

Finally, treat yourself occasionally as trying to stick rigidly to a goal can be draining in itself, and quite boring!  For example once you’ve achieved a goal such as walking a mile every day for a week, treat yourself and then try and walk 2 miles every day for the next week.  The sense of achievement will give you a boost.  So treat yourself to a cake or extra glass of wine.

Good luck!

For more information about RED January for MIND click here 
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Food Innovation & Consumer Insights
In a world where we are bombarded by all sorts of ideas, going back to basics is often a good call.  This is relevant in the food world as much as anywhere else. There are regularly all sorts of new, strange and sometimes frankly baffling flavour combinations. How about Brussels Sprout flavoured crisps (it is the run up to Christmas), or Jalapeno and Tequila crisps?

At The Cooking Academy our ethos is to go back to basics on herbs and spices, exploring flavours and getting inspiration for delicious, healthy and nutritious foods.

We hold events for food and drinks companies who are looking to ‘go back to basics’ in terms of flavour.  The events focus on how nutritional eating and well-being is vital to peak performance, whether it is physical, mental or emotional.  The link between health and success is increasingly recognised as a key factor in workplace and lifetime productivity.

A plentiful display of herbs and spices is the focus and catalyst for the presentations and subsequent discussions.   Ranging from herbs such as parsley and sage to the benefits of garlic, turmeric and chillies, the presentations are a wide ranging journey around the world in herbs and spices, covering their history, flavour, medicinal and nutritional value.  Our presentations are interactive and so the audience will participate by tasting the various herbs and spices in their raw state – some are familiar others not so! We have a number of workshops that explore the use of ingredients in various forms and combinations.

‘The Science of Food’ presentation is a non-jargon analytical evaluation of the relationship between the chemistry in everyday ingredients, its functionality and effects on the human body.  The presentations are highly engaging and thought provoking sessions with audience participation to start the engagement process of why we eat what we eat, how food has evolved and what has influenced our food habits over the millennia.

The objective is to create awareness of the effects of food on our well-being and behaviour, as well as providing a valuable insight into the nutritional benefits of eating certain types of food and why certain ingredients are paired together.  Most importantly we looked at how to incorporate them into everyday diet and snack plans.

Our customer insights programmes are designed to be inspiring presentations aimed at improving understanding of our food choices and make informed decisions when developing products.

Sprout flavoured crisp for anyone…?



Discover how cooking can help your business, download our corporate brochure or contact me on or call me on 01923 778880.

#TheCookingAcademy #nutrition #spices #nutritionalinformation #KumudGandhi #ACupboardFullOfSpices #TheAlchemyOfFood

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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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time to change mental health cooking academy nutrition mind mental health workplace well being nutrition food cooking academy mental health foundation cooking academy food well being workplace
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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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