16 July 2010

GUEST BLOG: Arriba to vegetarian Mexican tapas!

By guest blogger ROS SWEENEY

As a veteran of the Tuesday Cracking Good Food sessions (I've been to five out of six!), it was with a touch of sadness that I attended the last one of this series: Mexican Tapas. Still, I was very interested to see what would be made in this vegetarian tapas class (and how tasty the results would be!) as tapas, to me, has always involved huge quantities of meat and fish. Fernanda was the cooking teacher for the full class of 12, and as she's from Mexico we knew staight off that we were in capable hands.

First of all, Fernanda got everyone chopping and dicing onions and peppers - meanwhile a pan of black turtle beans were simmering in the pressure cooker (a brilliant ultra-quick way to cook dried beans - cheaper and tastier - from scratch!). Some beautiful smoky chipotle chillis were added to this and, once the beans were cooked, they were mashed and part of the onion and pepper mix added along with some veg stock. It wasn't the most attractive dish, but the taste was wonderful.

The bean dish was the first of many. Next up were potato and millet tacos. Soaked millet was added to mashed potato along with some more of the onion and pepper mix.
The more daring among us heated through some tortillas - which involved putting five in a hot pan (no oil) and turning them over with a quick flick of our fingers! Once cooked, these were made into tacos by filling with the potato and millet mixture and securing with cocktail sticks.

Salsa and guacamole were also made, along with tortilla chips. Fernanda said how important coriander is in Mexican cooking and the flavour of both these dips was amazing and totally unlike any supermarket bought ones. They were relatively easy to make too. To make the tortilla chips, we simply cut the tortillas into triangles and deep fried them... I'll never buy a pack of Doritos again!

Next was the best bit. By now, we were starving and we all sat down to what was simply a wonderful feast. The tacos had been deep fried, the refried beans, salsa and guacamole were all put in bowls and we tucked in. It completely changed my idea of vegetarian tapas. Each individual dish was superb. Even better, despite our hunger, there was so much left over that we all got to take huge helpings home... I had it for my lunch at work the next day and it tasted even better!

I have enjoyed the Tuesday CGF sessions immensely. Not only have they shown me simple and easy ways to cook, but it's also been fun. The informal approach and small groups work really well and it's great that all the ingredients can be found in local shops. I'll miss the groups over the summer and look forward to the next round come September - I recommend anyone to join up. I went on my own to all the classes and the atmosphere in every one was so friendly that by the time we sat down to eat, it was like being among old friends!

Fernanda is running a second Mexican Tapas class tomorrow (Saturday 17 July), 11am-2pm at St Ninian's Church Hall.

11 July 2010

Cooking session #6: Mexican Tapas with Fernanda

Cracking Cook Fernanda Alvarez (pictured on the right, during one of our training sessions led by Rob) works at Unicorn Grocery, where she cooks up the fabulous creations for sale from the deli counter.

Fernanda will be leading two sessions teaching you how to make delicious Mexican delicacies from scratch using fresh flavourful ingredients, from tacos and tortillas to re-fried bean, salsa and guacamole dips. The first class is on Tuesday 13 July at Chorlton High (6-9pm) while the second takes place on Saturday 17 July at St Ninian's (11am-2pm).

All details on the June and July sessions, which cost just £15 for three hours (£10 concessions), are on the Cracking Good Food website here.

**On Saturday 4 September, Unicorn will be the location for one of our famous Cooks On The Hop events. Pop it in your diary and make sure you say hello between noon and 4pm!**

7 July 2010

GUEST BLOG: Our thoughts turn saucy...

By guest blogger CLARE DEGENHARDT

Nine of us gathered in Chorlton High School’s spacious food technology room to learn about real Italian cooking from Jay Hickson, food lover and co-owner of Chorlton’s latest foodie destination, Hickson & Black's delicatessen.

Before opening the deli with Steve Black, Jay's job for over 10 years was sourcing cheese. For him, cooking is less about ‘food tech’ and lots more about sharing his passion for good fresh ingredients, put together with loving care to create something really tasty and satisfying. His knowledge and enthusiasm for cooking were infectious, and he was a mine of information as he talked us through the cooking of three gorgeous pasta sauces.

Using the ‘holy trinity’ of onions, carrots and celery as a starting point, Jay showed us the legal way to make ragu (spag bol) – yes, in 1982, the citizens of Bologna were so incensed by the motley array of sauces passing themselves off as Spaghetti Bolognaise that they decided to resort to the law to protect the reputation of the dish. They made it illegal to cook ragu in any other way.

For our ragu, we used three different kinds of meat, including Shropshire sausages (see photo). We sizzled the meat separately, until it was brown and crispy, then added wine to dissolve away the sticky brown goo on the pan – the smells by now were stomach-growlingly good. Jay advised cooking the vegetables and the meat separately to stop the meat steaming away its flavour in the vegetable juice.

We also made Puttanesca sauce, the Italians' classic leftover recipe – in this case, olives, chillies and capers. These, we discovered, are the flower buds of the caper bush, and much tastier when bought salted rather than preserved in vinegar (don’t forget to soak them first).

Jay gave us so many great tips, and we learnt how to bash cloves of garlic with the flat side of a knife so the skins simply slip off and they're easier to chop – no more cleaning out pulp from your garlic crusher either! You can do the same with olives to de-stone them – which is good to know, as the tastiest part of the olive flesh is next to the stone, so ready-pitted olives have lost the best bit.

For boiling pasta, the Italians use quantities of water, pasta and salt in a ratio of 100, 10 and 1. We didn’t quite have pans that big, but nevertheless we were amazed at the large handful of salt Jay threw into the water. Salt water boils at a higher temperature, which helps to achieve perfect results – together with using the best pasta, made from durum wheat. It stays al dente for longer, rather than going from crunchy to slimy in seconds like cheaper pasta. It costs more, but the results were so satisfying – the pasta was lovely and chewy and absorbed the sauces beautifully.

To make a very simple savoury dish of Pasta All’Amatriciana, we heated a couple of tiny dried Italian chillies with chopped pancetta until the chillies started to toast, then removed them before adding the other ingredients – they give the oil a nice kick. This packed quite a punch – we could feel the chilli vapour prickling our eyes! Jay talked about making pancetta: apparently you don’t need mountain air to dry your pork – Jay makes it in his shed in Chorlton, where he hangs his salted pork to dry.

Unlike the dried chillies, Jay advised never adding lemon juice or freshly ground pepper until the very end of cooking, as their essential oils evaporate if heated for too long. And while in most cases good food costs a little extra, he divulged that the best beef stock cubes are either the cheapest ones, or the organic ones. The rest are to be avoided because of all the additives they contain. And the only herb he advised using dried was thyme. The rest are best used fresh for flavour (and we had rosemary, bay leaves and sage, all from his garden).

We were all Jay’s apprentices for the evening, absorbing his knowledge and appreciation of good food as we cooked. And despite nine of us sharing a kitchen to make three different dishes, the evening was fun, relaxed and calm: a million miles from my memories of cookery (or domestic science) lessons at school.

We sat down together to enjoy the fruits of our labour, washed down with what was left of the cooking wine. We all agreed that the ragu was unlike anything any of us had cooked at home – and sooo flavoursome. Spag bol will never be the same again.

There is a second Pasta Plus class on Saturday (10 July), which will be led by Jay's Hickson & Black's partner Steve. It starts at 11am-2pm at St Ninian's Church Hall, and costs just £15 (£10 concessions). To book your place, call 0845 652 2572, email adele@crackinggoodfood.org or pop into Hickson & Black's deli.

4 July 2010

Cooking session #5: Pasta Plus with Jay

Jay is the Hickson behind new Chorlton deli Hickson & Black's, where his colleague and co-founder Steve recently ran a Cooks On The Hop event. As part of the Pasta Plus cookery class on Tuesday 6 July at Chorlton High (6-9pm) of, if you prefer, Saturday 10 July at St Ninian's Hall (11am-2pm), Jay will be introducing you to some of the fabulous continental flavours on sale in the shop and helping you rustle up some Italian-inspired dishes. He'll teach you the secrets of a basic ragu, the essential tomatoey start to many a great pasta sauce, along with a traditional All'Amatriciana, with chillies and pancetta, and a vegetarian version of Putanesca, using olives and capers. You get to eat what you make, but don't forget to bring a container if you want to take some home with you!

All details on the June and July sessions, which cost just £15 for three hours (£10 concessions), are on the Cracking Good Food website here.

2 July 2010

GUEST BLOG: Hot ideas in the Something Spicy class

By guest blogger JULIET LAWSON

We had a great night on Tuesday cooking all sorts of spicy loveliness perfect for the glorious weather we were having. It was a lively evening, with 11 or so talkative and enthusiastic ladies led by Kate. We were at Chorlton High School again, in one of the domestic science rooms – sorry, food science labs (showing my age)! It’s a great space for cooking in a group but there are so many cupboards full of equipment, it can be a proper challenge trying to remember where everything is kept.

We got off to a good start with yummy spicy bean burgers. There was lots of chopping and grating to the soundtrack of foodie questions and chatter. Wonderful aromas of cumin and coriander began filling the room and very soon there were a lot of bright red hands (Kate varied her recipe with fresh grated beetroot because it’s in season) as we all shaped our burgers ready for the oven.

Next we moved onto the paste for the green curry, with lots of herbs and spices including galangal, garlic, lemon grass and all things pungent and savoury going in for a good old whizz up in the food processor. We were practically transported to Bangkok on the wafting smells. After adding lots of lovely veggies and coconut milk, a few more bits of sweetness and savouriness, the green curry sauces were ready. We made one with shrimp paste and fish sauce and the other without, as a veggie option, and they tasted so different, it was startling.

To go with the spicy bean burgers, Kate showed us how to make a gorgeous thick sauce using roasted peppers, tomatoes, garlic, roasted almonds, olive oil and delicious sweet hot smoked paprika - and one last mystery ingredient, bread! A great tip for using up leftover stale crusts. The peppers and almonds went into the oven to roast, while big cubes of bread were fried in a little oil, before adding the garlic and the paprika. Mmm, talk about the most delicious smelling big fat croutons - I could have snaffled the lot there and then! They went into the food processor with some oil and vinegar, the roasted peppers and almonds, and the tomatoes, and soon we had the most tasty and stunning looking orange sauce.

Keeping with colour, we cooked some red rice to go with the curry and rustled up another vivid explosion of a salad to go with our burgers – strips of yellow courgette, grated carrot, rocket and chunks of fresh juicy tomatoes.

A quick bit of ‘interim’ washing-up and we were ready to feast. We may even have had our ‘five a day’ in one meal, and every mouthful was scrumptious! After a good old clear-up, it was time to go home to digest and rest, most people with a little parcel or two of curry paste to cook at home, or leftovers for loved ones. All in all a very successful and enjoyable evening.

There is a second Something Spicy session tomorrow (Saturday 3 July), at 11am-2pm at St Ninian's Church Hall. Cracking Good Food classes cost just £15 for three hours (£10 concessions). To book your place, simply call 0845 652 2572, email adele@crackinggoodfood.org or pop into Hickson & Black's deli.