Fearless in the Kitchen Cookery School meat-free meal classes

PUBLISHED: 00:00 19 February 2020

Katy, Andy and Charlotte Mackie, Katherine Hardy, Diana Hickox, Alice and Sue Davies, Stuart Fullerton, and Sarah and Jen with their Harissa Baked Peppers

Katy, Andy and Charlotte Mackie, Katherine Hardy, Diana Hickox, Alice and Sue Davies, Stuart Fullerton, and Sarah and Jen with their Harissa Baked Peppers

Maureen McLean

Sarah Rodi attended Jen Roach’s meat-free meals course, providing ideas to inspire people to eat more plant-based, home-cooked, easy and delicious food for their health. Here’s how she got on

The baskets were full of fresh ingredientsThe baskets were full of fresh ingredients

I'll admit, I'm not the best cook in the world, but I can whip up a lasagne, a bolognese or a chicken dish for my girls' weeknight tea. But this year, along with so many others who watched The Game Changers, worried about climate change and wanting to reduce our consumption of meat and dairy, I'd like us as a family to eat more plant-based meals. So, when 
I came across Jen Roach's cooking school in the beautiful Berkshire countryside, I signed up for a course.

The Fearless in the Kitchen school is set on 4 acres in Warfield, near Windsor and Bracknell, with an orchard, herb and vegetable garden.

I pulled up outside the picture-postcard cottage, with its white picket-post fence, and anxiously knocked on the door, not knowing what to expect. But Jen instantly put me at ease, welcoming me into her lovely kitchen with a hug and a cup of coffee. I was introduced to the other eight people attending the course, and they all seemed friendly and eager to learn some cooking tips.

Jen was 100% vegan for 15 years, but she's now plant-based, which means she occasionally eats dairy and meat but mostly plants.

Jen Roach in her pantryJen Roach in her pantry

"My vegan period for 15 years was actually during the '80s -'90s....some of you may remember macrobiotic diets, pescatarians and what was then known as 'non-dairy vegetarianism' - there just wasn't the vegan products around that there is now. I turned to a lot of Middle Eastern and South Asian cuisines (think Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese) for vegan food, and I recommend you get to know chickpeas, hummus, falafel, lentils, tahini, Za'atar, Dukkah, pomegranate molasses, miso and tofu.

"My mum was never the best cook, so I developed a love of cooking from an early age," says Jen. "I enjoyed a corporate career until I took early retirement, and then I decided to dedicate time to my passion: sharing wholefood recipes and meal ideas that have maximum flavour and health benefits. I have been running my cookery classes for four years now."

Jen introduced the course, explaining that it would help us to try new things, make veg the centre of our lunches and dinners, and would introduce more healthy combinations and variety to weekday meals. Jen believes what we eat is key for improving our individual health.

"When people come to my cooking courses, they often remark they cook the same meals routinely, so you may find it daunting to know what to cook instead. First thing that comes to mind? A veg curry is easy and accessible, but you will soon tire of that as your go-to vegan meal. To get your family over the line, you need to make meals they are familiar with and get to know plant-based sources of protein that can replace meat and dairy in your burgers, pizza, pasta, pies, tarts, roasts, casseroles," she says.

The Veg and Apricot Bake with Pistachio CrumbThe Veg and Apricot Bake with Pistachio Crumb

First off, we began with Jen's Harissa Baked Peppers With Tofu recipe. She says: "Tofu is a good source of plant protein - an excellent source of all nine amino acids, iron, calcium and other micronutrients - magnesium, copper, zinc and vitamin B1."

We were each given a tray, and could help ourselves to the abundance of vegatables in the baskets, and Jen showed us a clever trick for how to de-seed and chop peppers, and demonstrated how to make the Harissa dressing before we each gave it a go. Then we popped our dishes in the oven to roast, and before long, a delicious waft filled the room. I couldn't believe how easy it had been to make a balanced and nutritious meal, and I felt I'd be more likely to give it a go once I got home, having made it myself once already.

Next, we took a turn around Jen's garden, overlooking the countryside, and we hand-picked some herbs. "My intention is to give you a taste of country life and nature's bounty over the course of the year," says Jen. 
"The menu changes according 
to attendees food preferences 
and the seasons."

Everyone was engrossed in making their dishesEveryone was engrossed in making their dishes

Back inside, Jen's assistant, Sheryl, had cleared up and made sure we had the right equipment for recipe number two: Squash, Mushroom and Sage Tarts with Broccoli Pastry. Broccoli pastry, I hear you ask? Yes, really. And it was so simple to make... just chopped broccoli and cauliflower mixed with pea flour, almond flour, parmesan and eggs, all pressed into a baking tray. We then filled the pastry with the squash, mushrooms, eggs, greek yogurt and goat's cheese, and then decorated them with the sage leaves from the garden. In the oven they went, and my stomach started to rumble.

Fortunately, Jen's courses combine eating with the hands-on practice, and it was time for 
a delicious snack. We watched Jen make Braised Little Gem, Asparagus and Peas with a Pea Guacamole, and she served this on sweet potato pizza bases. I could not believe how good these tasted. I felt excited. I wanted to try these myself when I got home. Who knew nutritious plant-based food could taste so good?

"If you want to go vegan, you need to understand that you will be cooking a lot of meals from scratch to ensure freshness and to ensure you get the nutrients. A lot of processed 'fake meat' vegan food has excess levels of sugar and sodium, artificial ingredients, preservatives and processed 
oils," says Jen.

Speaking to the other attendees, some had been gifted the course for Christmas, and others wanted to attend because of their conscience about climate change, or to broaden their repertoire of weekday recipes.

Fearless in the Kitchen Cookery SchoolFearless in the Kitchen Cookery School

Our third recipe was a Veg and Apricot Bake with Pistachio Crumb and Chickpeas. "Buy your grains in a 500g packet, boil the whole packet in veg stock in one go and then freeze them to use later," says Jen. "Pulses can be purchased pre-cooked in tins or in packets. When you're tired and faced with feeding a family, having these to hand will make roasting some veg and adding plant-based protein a lot easier."

Lastly, we divided up into two teams to make the Coconut and Red Lentil Dal. One team was mild, the other spicy! We were a big group and yet we navigated around the kitchen wonderfully well, all feeling comfortable with each other now we had cooked together for the day. Once it was ready, we sat down at the table to enjoy the meal we had prepared. It was delicious - really comforting.

"You can eat delicious vegan desserts, as well," says Jen. "But ready-made vegan desserts can be full of saturated fats, starches, gums, coconut oils and sugar to replace dairy and eggs to achieve a similar consistency and texture, so be careful."

I had such a wonderful time with Jen and the other attendees, but it was soon time to leave. I came away proud that I'd learnt some new skills, and feeling fearless and inspired to cook some different things from the usual dinners I make. Best of all, we got to take home the dishes we'd made throughout the day, so dinner was sorted for the night! The perfect finish to a fantastic day.

Jen also offers healthier baking, vegan cooking and gut health courses with fermenting, including kombucha and kefir. £90 per person. Discounts are available for groups, and Jen is offering the first three Berkshire Life readers who contact her a two-for-one offer in March on any available dates. Call 07470431280; visit fearlessinthekitchen.co.uk

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