Sausages should be mega meaty, full of flavour and in plentiful supply during the summer BBQ season – whether or not the weather is BBQ friendly. It’s these firmly held beliefs that led me to snap up the chance to get stuck in to some sausage making of my own with the Northumberland Sausage Company. My friend, colleague and frequent recent blog-partner-in-crime, Hannah from My-first-house, found a great deal on Groupon that got us a decent discount on a group sausage making session over in Hexham.

Review of Northumberland Sausage Making Class

Fast forward a month and Hannah and I were heading to Hexham for a morning of sensational (and innuendo-fulfillingly saucy) sausage making. The lesson took place in the food court of department store Beales, where the knowledgeable and very enthusiastic Tim guided us through both the story of the company and the sausage making process. Now, Hexham is a very scenic town – beautiful in fact, but one thing it doesn’t do well is parking. Despite setting off for Hexham extra early I ended up a little late for class and extremely hot and bothered on an exceptionally sunny day after whizzing around the idyllic Norhumbrian town trying to find anywhere that would let me park for more than an hour at a time. Luckily, I wasn’t too late for the main event and had just enough time to put on my pinny and assume my position next to the sausage machine before things got going.

We spent around two hours sausage making in all and got to make two lots, which for me and Hannah meant getting a good whack of hot and fruity flavour into our meaty treats.We took turns at performing the different (and slightly giggle inducing) tasks, but as Hannah is far more photogenic than me she will be demonstrating her superior sausaging skills via the photos in this post.

Sausage making started with a mountain of meat – pork meat to be exact. Having tasted some of Northumberland Sausage co. sausages before I was not surprised to learn that their recipes go far over the 30 per cent pork meat needed to define something as a pork sausage, in fact, this is the breakdown of the sausage recipe we used at the event:

recipe for Northumberland pork sausage

The stuff in our sausages

Before mixing things together and choosing the special sausage ingredients that would give our sausages a superior taste, it was time to mince the meat and Hannah took this task very seriously as you can tell from her concentration face. The company use pork leg or shoulder in their sausages to guarantee the mega meatyness a sausage should have.

mincing pork meat for homemade sausages

Pile of pork

Mincing the meat required a good pumping action, but Hannah handled it like a pro

pork mince for sausages

Our mountain of mincemeat

Tim advised us to keep our recipe simple during our first round of sausaging, but we couldn’t resist getting handsy with the table of ingredients and set about creating a spicy sausage made with red wine, chilli powder, onion, garlic, barbecue sauce and a small amount of fresh chopped chilli. For our second lot of links we headed down a more traditional route and created sausages with apple, sage and cider. Before squirting the sausage meat into its skin, plenty of smooshing was required to mix the ingredients evenly.

mixing sausage filling

Smooshing the sausage meat

Smoosh completed. It was time for the interesting bit. The sausage skin we used was actually a pig intestine, which you hydrate in water and smooth onto the end of the sausage machine (to mutterings of innuendo and laughter, obviously).

Hannah took the lead with the attachment, while I focussed on keeping the sausage flowing as Hannah pumped the meat mixture into the sausage making machine, at this point we needed to avoid bubbles entering the sausage.

pumping sausage meat

Me, handling the sausage pipe

I performed the task adequately and we soon had a lovely ring of spicy looking sausage

ring of spicy homemade sausage

Our ring of sausage

What I wasn’t so good at was turning our sausage ring into actual sausages. Not only did I make our sausages so short and stubby that they wouldn’t link inside each other, I also found the whole linking process akin to tackling a rubics cube. Be warned; sausage making is for the mathematically gifted – if you’re an engineer it’s a hobby for you. Anyway, despite my errors they looked non-too shabby at the end.

spicy sausage links

Our fat stubby spicy sausages

We were advised to wait a little while before cooking our sausages as it takes a few days for the liquid content to lower. Sausages with high liquid content bang and sizzle a lot, which incidentally is why they first became known as bangers – something I was reminded about during the class. I froze my half of our hefty heap after three days and I’m waiting for the perfect (or adequate) BBQ weather to bring them back out. However, Hannah has already consumed both lots of hers and declared the first lot ‘very hot and meaty’ and the second ‘fantastic and fruity’. I therefore declare our sausage making a success!

Overall this was a really fun class, though it didnt last quite as long as we’d expected and the venue was a bit out of the way for us. That said, it would be easy to combine with a lovely day in Hexham (if you can find parking!) or you could try and book on to one of the other venues. If you prefer sausage eating to making, you can order sausages direct from Northumberland sausage company (the goat and chilli ones are good), or you can try the hottest sausage in the world they have made exclusively for the Battlefields Beer Festival, July 26th-28th (see here for details).

A review of Lulu’s Chinese cookery class, Newcastle

I’ve been dying to write up my review of this Newcastle cookery class since I went along a few weeks ago because the evening was simply too good to keep to myself. It was the perfect Friday evening – there was food, new friends, laughs and a real belly-bloating serving of seriously sensational carbs.

This is no exaggeration: every single day since I went to the Xi’an noodle making class held by the very lovely Lulu at her home in Newcastle, I have found myself drifting off and dreaming of these noodles. Several times I have found myself salivating at the wheel on my drive home from work as I replay the eating of these noodles in my mind  – they tasted that good!

The handmade noodle class is just one of the events Lulu, originally from the Xi’an region, holds at her home. It’s a cross between a supperclub and a cookery class and you can find out about other classes/events she has coming up on her website here. You’ll also find lots of easy to follow recipes on her blog and details of her appearances at regional food events with her authentic street food.

My friend and I paid £36 each to attend the Friday night class, for which we received an extraordinarily warm welcome into Lulu’s home, a hefty starter, several hours of extremely hands-on cookery tuition, a shed load of giggles, some new friends, a superior supper and a take home goody bag too! As with my previous review of Maunika Gowhardan’s Indian cookery class at Blackfriar’s – I won’t be sharing all the secrets of Lulu’s class here as it’s very much in your best interests to head along and experience it for yourself, but I will be touching on some of the simple things I learnt and sharing some snaps I took on the night. it’s also worth  noting that the recipe we cooked didn’t require lots of hard to find ingredients and Lulu gave insiders tips on where to buy items we might need in the future.

Chinese ribs and cucumber at Lulu cooks Chinese

A truly lip smacking starter

The evening started with a pile of ribs and a truly lipsmacking cucumber salad, which Lulu prepared before our eyes. Cucumber as the feature of a dish is a strange concept, but we couldn’t stop eating it, despite it being seriously difficult to pick up with chopsticks. The secret was the garlic, chilli and oil Lulu poured on the dish to flavour it. The chilli, which came from Xi’an had a heat that made your lips tingle and tickle but wasn’t so hot that it overwhelmed everything else, it did make you pout a lot though. The ribs were soft and sticky and I stopped eating them only because I was afraid I wouldn’t have room for my noodles.

Lulu cooks Chinese style bolognese sauce at her home

Lulu adds her meat to the sauce

Lulu started the cookery demonstration by showing us how to make the sauce that would accompany our handmade noodles. The dish itself was a little like a Chinese bolognese and she explained there was some shared ancestry for the dish. Rather than cooking the meat first (pork mince and shredded chicken) she added it directly to the sauce base, which is a tip I’ll be using to keep my meat sauces more moist – Chinese or otherwise.

The very laborious task of kneading the noodle dough for the class was performed by Lulu in advance of our arrival, though she did demonstrate it for us – armed with a chair to allow her to put all of the weight of her petite self behind it while working on her wooden work surfaces (which I eyed enviously).

Perfectly prepped handmade noodle dough

Perfectly prepped noodle dough

The main task of the evening – which somehow locked both my shoulders and had us all in fits of giggles – was the noodle slapping. The process of stretching Chinese noodles is all in the wrist action and involves tapping (or more slapping for me and my fellow pupils) the dough off the bench. Here’s my friend Danielle making it look easy:

Handmade noodle making

Danielle shows us how to slap ’em

I’m not sure how long I was slapping my noodles for but it felt like hours and I certainly worked up an appetite doing it. Whether it was my poor technique or just my general arm weakness – by the end of this activity I felt a bit like I’d taken part in the Oxford-Cambridge boat race. However, my efforts were rewarded when Lulu served up my bowlful of noodles topped with sauce and a generous helping of the lip-smacking chilli that transformed that cucumber. This topping with the hot oil dripped through it added a whole other level of flavour to a dish that had been slow cooked with Chinese spices.

Pork and chicken noodle dish at Lulu cooks Chinese

I just can’t get you out of my head, noodles

My noodles came in a proper deep bowl, as noodles should and though I did eat them with chopsticks at first I was soon shovelling them in with a fork. They were moist, almost sweet and with that slight tingle from the chilli. As a real greedy guts I managed to finish my plentiful portion but some of the other pupils took leftovers home in boxes Lulu thoughtfully had on hand.

For those looking for authentic Chinese food or a different dining experience, Lulu Cooks Chinese will really hit the spot. It’s a bonus that you can take along your own booze to make the evening even cheaper and the teaching group is so small (6-8) that you get a lot of individual attention and very generous servings of food. I’m watching Lulu’s website closely (in a friendly non-stalker fashion) to see where she’s appearing next in an effort to get my hands on some of her street food. Meanwhile, I’m once again daydreaming about these noodles.

Confession: Why I’m now Newcastle cookery class mad

I like to pack as many things into my life as I can and a lot of these things (as my expanded waistline pays tribute to) are food based. I hate feeling like I’m not being productive in some way and though I love socialising – more often than not I’ll try and tie in testing out a new restaurant or a new bar if I’m meeting with friends and as I edge out of twenties (ouch) I find myself looking for options other than gannin oot on the lash at the weekend. Recently I’ve translated my geekery/food love and fear of hangovers into a hunt for food-based learning fun and first on the list was a cookery class with the exceptionally talented Maunika Gowhardan.

I headed along to one of Indian chef and food writer Maunika’s classes held in the workshops at Blackfriars on a cold evening at the end of last month and it was money exceedingly well spent. Not only did I get to eat some fantastic food, which was much appreciated during the month of bland dairy-carb overload, but I also picked up some tips and advice I know I will be able to use whenever I cook with Indian flavours from now on. The class itself was extremely good value at £40 for three hours tuition, a three course meal, wine, recipe car and a goody bag to take home and instead of picking up a nasty hangover I caught the cookery class bug (can anyone recommend any in the area?).

I won’t be revealing all of the secrets Maunika shared during the course of the evening – it would probably take me a week to write a post long enough. The class itself was very relaxed and interactive and Maunika covered everything from tackling people’s personal indian cookery issues right through to recommending her favourite Indian restaurants across the country and she did it all with infectious enthusiasm. I might be gushing a bit as I think I have a bit of a girl crush on Ms Maunika, but not only was she incredibly helpful and friendly but she was a cooking neat freak!

All prepared for the Maunika Gowardhan Class: ingredients

Maunika is a neat cook

As a bit of a newcastle newb I was slightly late to the class, but when I did get there I was greeted by some fabulous indian pancakes and chutneys including a mint pickle, which was almost like a pesto and so very different to the raita usually served in restaurants.

On the menu at the Maunika Gowardhan class

  • Bengali Murgir
  • Mattar Paneer
  • Spiced Cabbage Thoran
Maunika guided us through the preparation and cooking of each dish, answering questions along the way – even covering where to buy ingredients or possible alternatives to use. One of the best bits of advice I picked up was concerning the addition of heat to a curry. For too long I’ve been adding extra chilli powder or spice near the end of cooking, which is a big no-no that results in a powdery taste and I’m thankful to Maunika on shining some common sense on this by pointing out that powdered spices need to be cooked through.
Maunika Gowardhan during her curry class

Maunika at work

When the various curry dishes were cooked we were quickly served up a generous portion and I was sorry to be missing out on the delicious smelling Bengali Murgir with it’s tender looking chicken, until I tucked into my paneer along with some roti, cabbage thoran, rice and chutney.

A plateful of mattar paneer

Creamy mattar paneer

I did brave a lot of dairy in this particular dish but it was worth it – the full fat yoghurt gave the sauce a creamy taste without feeling too heavy and though I’d never had paneer not in a light batter (and it is soooo good in a light batter) I’m a complete convert and will be eating it in batter-free guises from now on.

Dessert came in the form of a kulfi and spiced barfi, which slipped down effortlessly despite the hefty amount of food that came before. I’d never had barfi before and found it delicious – somewhere between a sweet and a cookie and thoroughly moreish.

Pistachio ice cream and Indian cookie

Pistachio ice cream and barfi

And there were even some essentials from the class to take home to help us recreate the evening in our own kitchens.

Maunika's spice mix and damson chutney

Take home treats

If you fancy a fun, tasty and hangover free activity or are looking for an original gift – I’d strongly urge you to give the class a go. I’ve got a fair few Indian cook books but the insight Maunika gave into why you need to do a particular process at a particular time or why a specific ingredient is used was very helpful – as were her restaurant recommendations, which I’ll be signing friends up to try out as soon as possible. I’ve now well and truly caught the cookey class bug and went along to another class Lulu cooks Chinese this weekend  and i’ll be posting my review on that soon!