The women from the Ministry

If you like Jamie Oliver and you crave more confidence in the kitchen, Rosie McGlade has the very thing

Byker, Newcastle, and a small community centre kitchen, chicken wrapped in bacon sizzling gently over a hob.

An eager group of cooks-in-training watch the demo before having a go themselves with gas camping stoves.

Behind the sliding screen is a meeting of Slimming World, whose dieters will, no doubt, be picking up wafts of bacon, thyme and cheese. What is torture for them is supper-in-the-making on this side.

Jamie Oliver’s Rotherham-based TV series, if you recall, started off a bit car crash, with young mothers unaware how to turn their cookers on, how to boil water, and serving a diet of takeaways and crisps to their offspring.

Then, of course, Jamie’s enthusiasm got the better of all, and they transformed into dedicated family cooks making healthy suppers daily. The Ministry of Food project upon which that series was based is on-going and now in Leeds, Bradford, and Newcastle, where it has been greeted enthusiastically.

Course leader Jackie Ware takes five classes a week at a number of venues around the city. All are popular and fill up quickly, with a maximum of 10 people on each 10-week course paying £5 per session (ingredients and recipe sheet included).

“It’s not all about perfect dinners, but fun, tasty, balanced meals that can be done on a budget,” Jackie explains. “It’s just about teaching basic cooking techniques. And everyone gets stuck in a rut with cooking, so if it expands what you do by five or six meals, it’s really helpful.”

There is a range of abilities and ages here. Rosie is here with her daughter-in-law Mandy and granddaughter Nikita, 10, who does much of the hands-on stuff.

“It’s been great fun and Nikita has got loads out of it,” she says. “It’s about giving people new confidence and it’s fun and friendly. Even if you can cook, it’s great to have new recipes and you’re far more likely to use them if you’ve tried them out in a class.”

Nikita is delighted with the whole thing. “I can make an apple crumble at home all by myself now,” she says, as she takes the lead on the Parmesan Chicken and Crispy Posh Ham, showing particular enthusiasm for the bashing of the chicken. “I do a lot of cooking at home now; it’s been really good. My favourites are the Chinese meal we made, and the pizza.”

Week One of the course is quite basic, looking at different ways of cooking eggs, and is designed to build confidence. Week Two, and things heat up with a pea and mint soup and American-style pancakes and yoghurt dip, while in week Three, the participants move on to sausage fusilli pasta.

“You get a decent herb sausage, mix with fennel seeds and lemon juice and a bit of butter, parmesan, chilli, garlic, oregano and white wine. It’s many people’s favourite,” Jackie says. “We also make butternut squash muffins, which taste a bit like carrot cake, and are a good way of getting children to eat more vegetables.”

In week four they move on to salmon tikka served with a naan bread, cucumber dip and salad. “They make their own dressing so you have to invest in things like balsamic vinegar, but it saves you in the long run. We advise just to buy one new herb or spice every week when you go to the supermarket.”

In week five it’s meat balls with pasta sauce. “So many people are impressed with how easy it is to make things as opposed to opening a jar that costs £2 and tastes nowhere near as nice,” Jackie says. “Using the same basic recipe, they also make a burger.”

Week six is dedicated to chilli and week seven to Chinese beef in black bean sauce with spring onions. “We use a ginger and chilli ready-made sauce, but idea is that if you add coriander and fresh lime it really peps it up.”

Week eight is for pizza dough and tomato sauce made from scratch topped with Parma ham, rocket, lemon juice and basil and in week nine they make fruit crumble and the parmesan chicken with crispy posh ham. Then the last week is for mixed mushroom risotto. “I think it’s one of those dishes a lot of people are scared to make. But all you need is patience really,” Jackie says. “And also in week 10, I demonstrate how to portion a fresh chicken into eight pieces – it saves money, there’s no cutting though bones, you can use the thighs for a casserole, freeze some, and I explain how to make a nice stock as well, which you can use in the risotto or make soup with”.

For more information on Ministry of Food courses in Newcastle, contact Vanessa Lawson or Laura Wallace , tel 07835 836 193 and for recipes, see

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