Review: Cooking & Carafes Cookalong
If you're stuck in a foodie rut or lack a bit of confidence in the kitchen, Cooking & Carafes' virtual cookalongs offer a relaxed way to up your skills and have fun while you're at it. I logged on to give one a try.
I reckon I’m alright in the kitchen – an average home cook, who can can rustle up a few family favourites from scratch without having to Google the recipe.
However, I’m sure I’m not alone in saying my repertoire gets a little dull, and I tend to stick to the same few meals on loop. I do the supermarket shop on auto pilot, rarely adding anything new to my basket, because I haven’t got time to pore over recipe books (of which I have MANY!) or spend hours slaving over a hot stove with two little people nipping at my ankles.
Cooking & Carafes’ Zoom cookalongs piqued my interest… not only because Kate, founder and foodie blogger, is an expert in Italian food (tick!), but also because she basically does the hard work for you – talking you through the steps as you go, so you can just follow her lead (perfect for knackered zombie-like mums) without having to think or study a recipe book. Oh and it’s practically compulsory to enjoy a nice large glass of wine while you’re at it, too (another big tick).
Kate offers Italian-themed cookalongs for total beginners (and more experienced cooks) to pasta making workshops for those who fancy a bit more of a challenge. You can read more about what she does here.
I was invited to join a Spring Risotto cookalong. A few days beforehand I was sent a box of rice from Riso Gallo (THE gold standard in Italian grains, so I’m told). Now, I cook risotto at home but usually it’s with butternut squash and a tonne of Parmesan and cream, so I was interested to try Kate’s healthier version with spring veg and to see if I could pick up some new risotto-making tips.
The first difference was the rice itself. I usually go for supermarket own brand arborio rice, but we were sent carnaroli – known as the King of risotto rice and part of Riso Gallo’s new semi-wholegrain range (meaning it’s a bit healthier too).
Kate also emailed us a list of ingredients that we would need to add to our weekly shop, but the beauty of her cookalongs are that participants are encouraged to use ingredients that they already have and adapt the recipe to suit personal tastes and dietary requirements (as well as reducing food waste). I was in luck as I had everything I needed in my fridge and store cupboard already – win!
I propped up my laptop in the kitchen and followed the link to meet my fellow cooks (there were eight of us) and Kate, before we cracked on with the prep. We had plenty of time at each stage to ensure we were all keeping up and had chance to ask any questions. Kate used two cameras so we could see her face as she explained everything, as well as a close-up of what she was doing.
We chopped, stirred and chatted as we guzzled our wine, and had a good giggle as one of the group got off to a false start by pouring balsamic vinegar into her pan instead of olive oil – oops! Kate was super relaxed and it was all very light-hearted and informal which put the whole gang at ease. Some had obviously done some of her cookalongs before and others, like me, were newbies.
After an hour of cooking (that went in a flash), we all showed off our dishes to the camera. The result was a light and vibrant risotto packed with green veg and cherry tomatoes, a little al dente but silky smooth and deliciously satisfying, thanks to that wholegrain.
A couple of really useful takeaways I learned were how to cook asparagus into a dish without the stems being hard and the tips becoming mushy – chop up the spears into rounds to cook through, then add the tips at the end to steam by covering the pan for a few minutes.
I also discovered that adding fats (parmesan and a few chunks of butter) right at the end of the cook can give the risotto a deliciously silky texture, so I’ll definitely be doing this from now on.
Finally, the addition of lemon zest and juice gave it a really fresh and zingy touch and brought out all the flavours of the fresh veg, plus it meant we really didn’t need to add much seasoning.
For those who are daunted by the idea of cooking this sort of food, this is the perfect ‘in’ to break down those barriers as it really couldn’t have been simpler.
Kate also emailed us all after the session with the recipe to refer back to – but the best part about trying a new recipe in this hands-on way is that the steps are more likely to stick with you in future, giving you the confidence to have a go recipe-free.
I, for one, now have an extra healthier take on risotto to add to my repertoire – next to tackle some pasta making perhaps?!