Travel: Colstoun House

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I AM an avid reader of recipes and dreamer of effortless meals that taste as good as they look, however, my enthusiasm often outstrips my ability.

On the odd occasion I do cook, I can generally be found in a last-minute flap in the kitchen, fervently wishing I’d made a trip to M&S and simply hidden any incriminating packaging.

My mum, on the other hand, does cook and doesn’t flap and she seems to enjoy it. So, with Mother’s Day around the corner,­ I decided to improve my skills and spend quality time with mum doing something we could both enjoy, and booked us in for one of Colstoun Cookery School’s day courses.

Colstoun House itself is more than 900 years old and, along with the surrounding estate in the pretty East Lothian countryside, is used as a venue for weddings and corporate events. The cookery school, launched in November 2011, is housed in buildings nearby.

Taking the wrong country road was not the best start to my quality-mum-time day, but ruffled feathers were soon smoothed by coffee and homemade brownies as we eventually met with the rest of our ten-strong group.

Cordon Bleu-trained head chef Fiona Misselbrook started us off in the demonstration area, where she ran through what our day of Smart Kitchen Suppers – dinners that will impress your guests withut exhausting you – would entail. Friendly, knowledgeable and with an obvious love of food, Fiona discussed how to prepare (read your recipe twice) before showing us what to do.

Our menu was Stuffed Chicken Legs with Pea Ragout, and Rhubarb and Lemon Baked Cheesecake, which we would prepare ourselves and then eat for lunch, before tackling Pork, Garlic Sausage and Bean Casserole, and Almond and Apple Pancakes.

Getting straight down to business, being shown how to bone a chicken leg took me by surprise. I thought I’d be throwing a few things in a pan, but actually there was a good bit of hands-on learning and we decamped to the kitchen to don our pinnies.

Working in pairs, our kitchen stations were compact but well equipped. One partner handles the main course and one the dessert, swapping roles for the afternoon menu. I jumped at the chance of dessert-making, in the hope that all the leg boning might fall to Mother. I realised one was being saved for me at roughly the same time I noticed my rhubarb boiling over… Unfazed, Fiona set me back on track.

We were all pretty pleased with ourselves by the time we carted laden plates through to the dining room. A delicious lunch – prepared by our own fair hands and not a panic-stricken look in sight – and a glass of wine set us up for the afternoon. This time we prepared and cooked the meals, which we then packed up and took away with us.

The afternoon session felt easier and whether or not that had anything to do with the lunchtime wine, a growing confidence, or simply knowing my way around the work station a little better, it was encouraging. It is also all very good fun. Cooking for pleasure, rather than at the end of a long work day or attempting to feed kids who don’t want to eat, is actually enjoyable. And even if my pancakes did resemble wrinkled elephant skin rather than the fine crepes I was aiming for, neither my enthusiasm nor sense of achievement were dampened. Mum and I both agreed we had learned something and we would attempt all of the recipes again at home. As for the chicken boning (which I did manage to do), we might just leave that to the butcher.

THE FACTS

Colstoun Cookery School, Stables Cottage, Haddington, East Lothian, EH41 4PA. Full-day cookery courses cost up to £119 per person. The school also runs week-long residential foundation cookery courses. Flower-arranging classes plus day flower courses cost £79. For details or to book, tel: 01620 822922, www.colstouncookeryschool.co.uk

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