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You can cook

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Sarah Green’s cooking classes are a far cry from the sterile home economics labs of adult education courses. Here, there are fresh-cut roses in Queen Anne teacups, bone-handled cutlery and cloth napkins. There are no dirty hands, just soft lighting and wine that is topped up without the need for a request.

There are no aprons, no furrowed brows, and no raised voices – except in laughter.

It’s all very civilised. The basic gist of Green’s class is to show how darn easy it is to cook – and to cater for both expected and non-expected guests – using preservative-free ingredients. Sure, given the rise and rise of the all-sustainable all-organic bandwagon, it might be a case of preaching to the converted, but chances are even the converted need a reminder it’s easier – and more enjoyable – to whip up a poached chicken salad than it is to order MSG-packed takeaway. And, more often than not, it’s cheaper too.

The night begins with Green’s spiel to the group of 20-odd around the table.

How many times a week do you go to the supermarket, she asks. Three? Maybe four? So why do you need things in your fridge with a shelf life of four months? Go home and take a look at the ingredients list on anything you’ve bought of late (you might have to, she warns, look very closely – often they’re not easy to find!). Chances are, you’ll be mortified to see how many numbers are here.

As anyone who struggled through high-school maths will attest, too many numbers aren’t good for you – and Green herself if proof of it. For her, healthy eating is not simply a professional concern, it’s a personal one born from what turned out to be an endocrine disorder. This made her too weak to walk, let alone work. After several misdiagnoses – and with two children to care for under the age of six – she took matters into her own hands, cutting out all processed foods, sugar, alcohol and caffeine in an effort to get well. After a short period, she was back on track. While her diet is not as strict these days – Green happily admits she’s partial to a few wines on the odd occasion – it’s evidence that eating well equates with living well.

There are no surprises, says Green, in her recovery. It’s a common sense, back-to -basics philosophy. But that doesn’t mean it’s boring, by any stretch. The good old days, she assures, really weren’t that bad.

“We can learn a lot from the past. Our parents and grandparents had fabulous lives: they ate well and very simply, they enjoyed a few ‘quiet’ drinks and desserts, and they looked amazing.”

Not surprisingly, given her persuasion and her props, Green also has a vintage jewellery shop in Paddington’s William Street – her walls sport framed Vogue spreads and glomesh is the order of the day.

So, Green assures, ‘healthy’ doesn’t instantly equate to ‘boring’.

She subscribes firmly to the 80/20 rule – if you’re good 80 per cent of the time, there’s nothing wrong with being not-so-good 20 per cent of the time. Think guilt-free glamour.

Despite this equation, in Green’s kitchen there are no hard and fast rules. You don’t have to follow the recipe to the letter (even if they have been presented to you in a recipe book fastened with pink ribbon).

Over the night, Green shares many must-know recipes – from a basic vinaigrette to beetroot hummus to miso-crusted salmon (just remember to use the light miso, the dark is too strong). All of them are easy and impressive – even if they, at first, seem more in keeping with the latter than the former.

With Green, even poaching chicken is simple. In a deep-ish baking tray, cover your chicken breast in cold water (the ‘cold’ part is key) and put it in the oven at a rough 180 degrees for around 40 minutes. When this time is up, if it springs back to the touch, it’s done, but if you’re finger leaves an indent it needs a little longer.

In the same relaxed style, Green shows the group how to julienne carrots without losing a finger, then how to blanch vegies without losing colour or firmness (afterwards, immerse them in cold water – iced if you can manage it).

Want to sun-dry your own tomatoes? Also not much of a push – simply halve grape tomatoes and lay out in a tray covered in olive oil, sea salt, thyme, and –here’s the trick – a sprinkling of caster sugar. Once you’ve left the oven run for a while on a low heat, turn it off and leave it – yes, unsupervised – overnight. Perfect for salads, sides or antipasto plates.

Mayonnaise? Who knew it didn’t come in a jar? On this front, just steer clear of olive oil – it’s too heavy.

Caramelised onions? Stray from the stovetop to the oven. Chop them up, douse in olive oil, and once they’ve browned up, add a rough tablespoon of brown sugar.

It’s these kind of rough directions that give Green’s students confidence in the kitchen. Green proves you don’t have to be Donna Hay – cooking with military precision within strict brand guidelines – or Gordan Ramsay – swearing, stressing and sweating – to impress your dinner guests. Instead, over a glass of wine (or four), she takes the stigma out of home cooking and shows you how to serve it up in style. 

 

Published on: Monday, May 31, 2010

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