Thursday, October 11, 2012

Vego Cooking Class (and Giveaway) - Hopewood Health Retreat, Wallacia

Miss Piggy attend the Hopewood Health Retreat cooking class as a guest of Hopewood. THANKS!

Part of my becoming an “ethical carnivore” is about wanting to eat less meat.  I want to plan my part in reducing the demands on the meat production industry (it’s this HUGE demand after all that’s led to factory farming in the first place), and also because we really shouldn’t be eating meat every single day - it's not so good for your insides.

I want to be able to cook more vegetarian meals at home, but I really REALLY struggle in cooking a meal that doesn’t have meat as the main star.  My mind draws a mental blank at a dinner that doesn’t involve meat. I find this kind of astounding really considering I was a vegetarian for quite a number of years in my early 20s. I mean what did I eat???  I was FAT(ter) back then so I was obvious eating something.

So with all of that in mind I was STOKED when VegeTARAian and I were invited to attend a Vegetarian cooking class at Hopepood Health Retreat, in the rural residential suburb of Wallacia. Where’s Wallacia I hear you ask? Why it’s in Western Sydney of course...where ALL the good stuff is.

Hopewood has been operating as health retreat for 52 years in a gorgeous old art-deco building that was formerly a guest house.  The focus here is on rejuvenating body, mind and soul. It’s not  a flash resort where you’ll find the Kardashians hiding out and “detoxing”’s where regular people go to restore some equilibrium in their lives and just “get away from it all”.  You can come for a day and partake in all the activities, stay overnight...or for as long as you want really. It’s such a tranquil place I imagine the guests find it hard to leave.

I had monstrous amounts of envy over Hopewoods kitchen garden!

The cooking class is run by Hopewood’s head chef, John Estival – who is one of the nicest guys you’re ever going to meet.

John isn’t a vegetarian, but he took on the gig at Hopewood as it was a professional challenge, and he is clearly very passionate about food, health and nutrition. John really drilled into us the importance of eating food that is in season.  Apples that have been stored in Colesworth freezer for 10 months have no nutritional value to us...we may as well be eating dirt. His food message is similar to that of Michael Pollan – eat fresh food, avoid processed foods, don’t eat too much meat, eat mostly greens. Throughout the class he was constantly giving us tips on how to best retrain the nutritional value in our food – DON’T PEEL THE SKIN OFF YOUR FRUIT and VEGIES PEOPLE, it’s where all the good stuff is.

The cooking class was part demonstration, part hands on - a style that I've come to like as I've realised half the fun of learning to cook is getting your hands dirty (after washing them first of course). We start off by making a batch of Coconut + Tahini Balls which we'll eat with dessert later in the night. These type of things are a good option for when then 3pm munchies hit at work - better than chocolate or a packet of chips, and just as tasty.

We each take part in preparing our entree of Stuffed Mushrooms with a Feta, Spinach + Nut filling.  I make Stuffed Mushies at home fairly regularly (with bacon of course *tut tut*) but John suggests using the filling to stuff zucchinis, tomatoes and even capsicums.  As you all know from my constant Zucchini Tweets - I'm growing a monster crop of (five) zucchinis on my balcony so I'm glad to have another idea of what to do with them.

The main meal was a delicious Vegetable + Lentil Curry crammed to the hilt with fresh spices, carrots, potatoes and celeriac (that weird blobby vegetable that smells like celery but which I had NO idea what to do with). I've always been daunted by curry recipes that list a million different fresh spices that you need to grate, chop, grind, blend, whoosh, whiz and smash - but honestly it just didn't seem to be all that hard and the results were well worth the bit of extra effort.

And what meal would be complete without dessert - especially a dessert that involves ice-cream?  This was no ordinary ice-cream mind you, it contained no eggs and no diary - just frozen strawberries + bananas that are blended together with a splash of coconut milk, honey and vanilla extract. So simple - so TASTY!

And now (drum roll please) it's time for a giveaway - the second ever on my blog. I came away from the Hopewood cooking class with an extra copy of the hopewood@home cookbook that I'd like to give to one of my readers.  To enter simply leave a comment below telling me what your favourite vegetarian dish is to cook. The winner will be the person with who I think the tastiest sounding dish. I'll probably be bugging you all to send me your recipes too! I'll pick a winner 2 weeks after this publication date of this post.

Hopewood Health Retreat is at 103 Greendale Road, Wallacia.  Phone them on (02) 4773 8401.


  1. I loved the easy recipes, so tasty and filling. The fruity ice cream was a real hit, I must try it at home ;)

  2. i loooove stuffed mushrooms and a good lentil curry. you know we eat vego meals at least once or twice a week?
    my favourite vego dish is actually super simple- honey roasted vegetables served with sour dough and goats feta.....

  3. Oh, beautiful beyond description!

  4. Oh snaps! I absolutely love meat but lately I've been feeling the need to go meatless a bit more often for a bit of a change.. Sadly I need a bit more inspiration but the other day I made a nice pasta dish with a sauce made from toasted pine nuts, currants and baby spinach leaves (fried in a little garlic oil and then some vego chicken stock). Pour that onto fresh pasta and top with parmesan, yum!!

  5. This class looks awesome. I have been thinking for awhile about removing meat from a couple of days in my week. My favourite veggie-centric dish to make is sang choi bow sans mince - I am able to pack loads of different flavours, colours and textures into one dish. I think it was a Kylie Kwong recipe but now I just improvise whatever I have in the garden or fridge. Great write up Mel!

  6. This class looks awesome. I have been thinking for awhile about removing meat from a couple of days in my week. My favourite veggie-centric dish to make is sang choi bow sans mince - I am able to pack loads of different flavours, colours and textures into one dish. I think it was a Kylie Kwong recipe but now I just improvise whatever I have in the garden or fridge. Great write up Mel!

  7. Vietnamese vegetarian fermented fish hotpot :) otherwise known as Mam Ruoc Chay

    -, katie

  8. I need those mushroom stacks in ma belly now! This is going to sound super boring but at the end day, it's going have to be a vegetarian pizza. So hearty, so easy and you just can't go wrong.

  9. Have you checked out the cookbook "Plenty" by Yotam Ottolenghi. I have only made one dish from it so far which was spiced red lentils, the ingredient list is long but the dish is easy to make and very tasty.

  10. This all looks so wholesome Miss Piggy, what an interesting and fun day you must have had. I love the look of the coconut and tahini you have the recipe for them? The curry looks great too.

    Honestly, as sheep farmers we don't cook or eat much vegetarian food but I do love to cook a good, thick pumpkin soup!

  11. How fab!!! Stud and I have been vegetarian for a little over two weeks now :) This place looks awesome to learn so new vego skills.
    I think my fave so far is a tofu, pineapple and quinoa dish I found a week or so ago. It was delicious! Even Stud was a fan and wants it again. For someone who hates tofu, its def a keeper.

  12. wow even vegetarian looks so good! my mum has recently started to incorporate vegetarian days in her diet and its working wonders!

  13. Wow, those stuffed mushies look great! I always try and incorporate at least one meat free meal into my day - and I never peel my vegies (mainly due to pure laziness!)

  14. my fave veg recipe which i cook all the time is lemony lentils with butternut squash pumpkin..its so easy to cook, literally throwing all the ingredients in a pot and waiting for them to cook - also has no oil/very low in fat so fab for the wasteline...i have this dish alot in winter...
    the lemon, lentils, squash plus the spices make this one tasty dish...

  15. Sounds like a great cooking class - I have days when I just don't know what to cook but I think there are more days when it is hard to choose from all the great veg recipes out there!

    Re putting bacon in your zucchini - if you want to do more cooking without bacon but with some of the smoky flavour, I highly recommend some smoked paprika.

    Please put me in the draw for the cookbook - I struggle to give you a favourite veg dish because I love so many - nut roast is one of my favourites (but I have heaps of nut roast recipes) and I love lots of soups and salads. As I think I am right in assuming you like easy quick recipes and a bit of smoky flavour my recommendation is Smoky Potato Bean and Corn Salad -

  16. My Favourite vego meal to make at home is hands down "sausage" rolls. I use lentils or chickpeas instead of meat. It's always a hit!

  17. My favourite vego dish is spanakopita , or spinach pie for you anglos. I have a great recipe for it and I love the balance of fresh dill and shallots with the salty creaminess of the cheeses...

  18. ...and....the winner is...Leah from The Home Empress! Now I'm going to hit you up for the recipe for your vego sausage rolls as it's something I've always been wanting to cook.


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