Blend Cook Along.

Blend is a community project with a tasty difference.  Yep, you guessed it; it’s all about food.  From an interactive cook along to a relaxing supper club, Blend is about getting people together over a good meal.
The cook alongs have been going since June 2010 and with the aim of being an event accessible by all, attendees can do as little or as much cooking as they wanted.  More to the point, Blend is a not for profit organisation and with prices set at £2 for an adult and £5 for a family, and with dinner thrown in, it is excellent value. 
Organiser Chris Hanson, a trained chef with experience at Staindrop Lodge and Whitley Hall Hotel, left his apron at the restaurant about three years ago when he started getting involved with his local community.  Wanting to share the enjoyment of food with everyone, not just those who can afford fancy restaurant prices, he hasn’t looked back.  And as Blend is a product born out of work carried out by Shipshape and the Sheffield Well Being Consortium there is a strong focus on healthy food too.

I went along one night, for a Moroccan themed evening.  It’s held at the Old Junior School in Sharrow and the old school hall was set up with three different tables; one for each of the three Moroccan dishes we were going to cook.  I was asked whether I’d just want to stand by and watch, or get stuck in.  Needless to say I went for the latter option and pulled up a pew as the room filled nicely.
Out of the three tables I fancied giving the sardine tagine and around my table, there was a real mix of people, from families with young kids to groups of friends and a few students.  Chris and his team of trusty volunteers handed out the recipes and organised each group so that everyone had a task.  From chopping the tomatoes to peeling the garlic; there was a job for everyone and it didn’t take long for our table to turn into a little hive of activity.
Thankfully for us the sardines were already prepared (they are very fiddly to fillet) so we just had to blitz the fillets in a blender with some cooked rice, garlic, coriander, parsley, cumin, paprika, olive oil and salt & pepper.  We then dusted our hands with flour and formed balls out of the mix and these were then cooked in a tomato based stew with garlic and cinnamon.

As our dish was safely cooking away I wandered around the room checking out what everyone else was up to.  One table was busy making chicken and olive patties where chicken had been chopped up with olives, garlic, coriander, ginger and cumin and formed into small balls before frying off.   The other table was dedicated to the veggies with an aubergine and tomato stew and some carrots cooked with lemon garlic and cumin.  The dishes were made from fresh, healthy ingredients with little fat being used.
It was nice to see everyone work together to get the meal ready.  Even the kids helped out; although there was a play area for any not quite ready for their chef’s whites.  Of course the old saying ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ still rings true and some passionate wannabe Ramsays had a bit of a heated debate over how much water the carrots should be cooked in, but this just added to my experience of the night!
Once everything was cooked and ready for serving, we moved all the tables to form larger banquet tables.  Given that this was an old school hall there was the perfect serving counter separating the kitchen from the dining room and our dinner was served up here; the only difference from our school days was that we formed an orderly queue for our dinner this time!
Sitting down to the meal, I got talking to a couple of young mums who had been to a few events before.  They loved the chance to get out with the kids, knowing that there was somewhere for them to play safely, whilst they caught up with people their own age over dinner.  Praises were sung of a recent French cook along night and the Saturday morning baking club where you can relax over the papers and coffee whilst as your homemade bread bakes away.

I left with a warm glow inside.  There’s something about food that brings the best out of people and helps to bring people together.  More than anything I loved seeing the kids getting involved, learning the basics.  As everyone left with a copy of the recipes to take home with them, and they’ve already had a cookery lesson in preparing the dish, the meals can easily be repeated at home.
Check out their website for details of their future cook alongs; they’re held on the last Thursday of every month.  For those who are after something a bit more advanced, the advanced cook along on the first Tuesday of every month might be more your cup of tea. 
Maybe you think you’ve got something to offer to Blend and would like to volunteer.  If so there’s more information on their website.

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