15 December 2011

GUEST BLOG: A good grilling

By guest blogger JULIET LAWSON

We’ve just completed our second course of six sessions at the Angel Centre in Salford in conjunction with Social adVentures, and I was the cooking leader for the burgers and wedges class. We made delicious burgers from lean minced steak, smoked paprika seasoned wedges and a Mexican salsa, and served it all up with a green salad. We had a veggie among our ranks, so we also made a tasty spicy sweet potato and kidney bean version of the burger which everyone agreed was also very tasty.

We had a great session, although I’m clearly not much of an expert with a George Foreman ‘lean mean grilling machine’ and I think we overdid the burgers a bit! I’ll know for next time!

It was a really successful session though: we looked at cheap shop-bought frozen burgers - the ingredients, the fat content, the meat content and what that actually means, the additives - and we did a taste test. Everyone agreed that the homemade ones were so much nicer, and they were so much healthier too, and hardly any more expensive to make, which was the clincher!

The smoked paprika wedges went down a storm. The frozen chips we compared them to were clearly not even in the game.

And the salsa was also a big hit, and so cheap and easy to make and full of healthy stuff. Everyone agreed that it was far nicer than the salsa you can buy in the supermarket, and more of it for a fraction of the price. Apart from a bit of fresh coriander, which you don’t have to put in anyway, it’s all stuff you’ve probably got in your cupboard.

So all in all, we ate well and had a lovely evening. Here’s to the next one when we will cook the burgers to perfection!

30 November 2011

GUEST BLOG: Middle Eastern and Mediterranean Mezze

By guest blogger SARAH-CLARE CONLON

Last Tuesday evening (22 November), Deanna from North Star Deli in Chorlton divulged the secrets of making a marvellous Middle Eastern spread to an enthusiastic group of eight cooks, both experienced and - by their own admission - somewhat less experienced. Everyone wanted, however, to learn something new, and the recipes on the menu were all new to me. We made lamb kofta meatballs, stuffed vineleaves, spanakopita, houmous and baba ghanoush, so we also went on a flying visit to various countries round the Med from Greece to Egypt!

It was quite a complicated affair with so many dishes, and we had to keep our eye on the ball (and the clock) to make sure nothing got missed out. But all went smoothly and we got everything done with enough time to have a relaxed sitdown at the end to plough our way through the mountain of delicious food before tackling the washing-up and tidying.

The meatballs were a little on the spicy side for me (I would have taken the seeds out of the chillis), but they were tasty and surprisingly easy to make. I was intrigued to see how the vineleaves were put together, and how such a small amount of filling (rice, onion, sultanas, herbs and seasoning) went such a long way. They were quite a fiddle to roll up, but as long as you have the time, it could be quite therapeutic! Also a bit of a fiddle were the spanakopita - filo parcels with feta cheese, spinach and spring onions - but they were so gorgeous that I would definitely attempt them again.

Much easier, despite Deanna's worry over the lack of hand blender, was the homemade houmous and baba ghanoush; the first, a chickpea dip, the second an aubergine dip. Deanna had all kinds of interesting tips for us, including putting the aubergine on the actual flame on the hob to cook through and also to make taking the skin off easier and giving the end result a really lovely smoky flavour. Really yummy!

For more photographs from the Middle Eastern Mezze session, visit our Facebook page: click here.

29 November 2011

Day at the museum

Cracking Good Food were back at Manchester Museum recently to cook up soups, stirfrys and frittatas using fresh veg from the new allotment just near the entrance. It's a really wonderful growing space, and the shed even has a green roof!

For more photographs from the day, see our Facebook page: click here.

24 November 2011

Fabulous festive feast

On Saturday, Christmas came early in Chorlton, as Kim from Islington Mill Cafe showed how to have a festive feast with a difference - there wasn't a turkey crown in sight! The slap-up vegetarian meal consisted of an absolutely delicious mushroom wellington, honey-roast parsnips and lemony kale, all drenched in a gorgeous rich gravy. As you can see from the picture at the bottom, there were some very satisfied customers!

For more photographs from this session, visit our Facebook page: click here.

23 November 2011

GUEST BLOG: Thanks for the funding!

By guest blogger JULIET LAWSON

The whole team turned out on Thursday night at Chorlton Baths for the Chorlton U Decide event, where we all had to do presentations on our projects explaining why we deserved a share of the £7,500 that was up for grabs from Manchester City Council. There were 13 presentations in all, with some really interesting projects including Envirolution’s pop-up farms and Transition City Manchester’s fascinating garden exchange scheme which aims to connect fruit and veg growers in Chorlton with people who have a bit of garden to spare. I’ve put my name down for that one myself.

Cracking Good Food were asking for funding to run workshops again at Chorlton's Big Green Festival in March 2012. Our Cracking Cook and Masterchef finalist Jackie Kearney has agreed to run the workshops but our grant funding will have ended by then, so we couldn’t be there without some new cash - especially as we want to give half the workshop places for free to people who are not in work. Jackie’s sessions at Chorlton High continue to be really popular but there are plenty of people who will struggle to afford the booking fee at the moment and since she cooks fantastic but actually very cheap street food, we want to open it out and give away some free places, so that more people can learn to cook amazing food really cheaply.

Our presentation was a bit different. We did it in the style of a cookery programme, with all four of the team (Adele, me, Fiona and Ragna) chipping in. Fiona was the star of the show, putting in a very convincing Fanny Craddock-style performance! It definitely got a few laughs and we managed to throw in a few key messages as well.

After all the presentations, everyone there who lives in the Chorlton ward voted for the projects in order of preference then, while the votes were counted, we had delicious sandwiches and cakes courtesy of Barbakan, and entertainment in the form of an excellent children's singing group from Oswald Road Primary School and a folk band. Very impressive for a Thursday night at Chorlton Baths!

And then the announcements... we were absolutely flabbergasted, but really really pleased when it turned out that ours was the most popular of all 13 projects. It means our Green Festival future is secure, at least for next year, so see you there on 31 March. We thought it appropriate to celebrate with a swift half over the road at Pi. Thanks to everyone who voted for Cracking Good Food!

15 November 2011

Currying favour

By guest blogger JULIET LAWSON

Jackie Kearney - one of the finalists in BBC One’s MasterChef earlier this year - took our Asian vegetarian cooking class on Tuesday, getting the group to make some delicious yellow butter dhal, brinjl bhajee (aubergine curry) and stuffed parathas. You can read more from Jackie on her website The Hungry Gecko.

We had a fascinating session with Jackie last week, making a wonderful buttery dhal with three different pulses and plenty of spices and flavours. We learnt about tempering and how to get the right consistency to our dhal. Then it was on to a simple but really flavoursome aubergine curry where we all learnt a whole new way of cooking: lots of oil is the secret to bringing out the best in an aubergine and, as Jackie put it, "making it into the vegetable it deserves to be". There were a few raised eyebrows as everyone was told to pour half a cup of oil into their pans, but the secret is in the serving, where most of the oil is then drained off but none of the flavour is lost.

And then on to the seasonal stuffed paratha, where the bread dough was made with aromatic ajwain seeds and stuffed with a grated cauliflower mixture made with chilli, coriander and an unusual ingredient, dry mango powder, which has a fruity, almost sherberty sharp kind of flavour. Certainly an ingredient I hadn’t used before and I was straight out to get some for my next foray into Indian cuisine.

Watching Jackie make up the paratha was poetry in motion, the way she folded it into a kind of camera shutter shape, it looked amazingly skilful but it was surprisingly easy to replicate. You just have to remember to roll it very gently afterwards and all is well!

The whole lot made a wonderful balanced plateful of food, packed with a whole host of contrasting flavours - and what’s more, it was pretty healthy to boot.

See our Facebook page for more photographs from the session: click here.

14 November 2011

From feast to yeast

By guest blogger TRACEY

I think we all enjoyed an enlightening time with Harjinder Kaur last week. On the menu was saag panner curry, puri, lentil tarka dhal and aubergine parkorah (see previous blog post for more). Never did I think I would be witness to watching one of the finest Punjabi cooks create such visually enticing and ‘oh my goodness’ such delicious dishes. I was both impressed and inspired to make all these dishes at home, because all you need are the spices and the know-how… I’ve got the knowledge, so I’m off to the shops!

Rob had a captivated audience on Saturday when baking bara brith festive bread, his now infamous ‘nan-in-the-pan’ and some lovely crusty-top loaves. Participants were pleased to learn about the science of bread with regard to kneading and how the yeast reacts to ingredients such as alcohol, sugar and air. Fortunately, we had some well-behaved yeast, which resulted in a blooming marvellous batch of deliciously fruity bara brith, tasty bread and some garlic nans which would make Dracula think twice!

For more photographs from both sessions, visit our Facebook page: click here to be redirected.

10 November 2011

Hot stuff

On Saturday 5 November, Harjinder led another of her popular classes divulging the secrets of Punjabi cookery, getting the group to make - and eat! - aubergine and potato pakaorahs, saag paneer, tarka dhal, puris and mint sauce.

You can see more on her blog Harjinder's Kitchen - click here to be redirected.

See our Facebook page for more photographs from the session: click here.

18 October 2011

In a pickle!

Last Friday saw the team joining forces with Marcus and Katy of Trove Foods for a chutney- and jam-making workshop as part of Manchester Food & Drink Festival. We got there bright & early as we wanted to catch Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s demo set before we kicked off our workshop at 3pm.

Things are often not straightforward in Cracking Good Food Land though and we discovered that because of the gas explosion earlier in the week, we weren’t allowed to use our (very safe) gas hobs. But never fear, there was a solution and we got to use the demo kitchen on the stage, at least until the next demo started at 4.30. We managed to get one apple and damson chutney workshop in and everyone went home with their very own jar of delicious chutney, complete with beautiful handmade label, and the recipe to make lots more now they knew how to do it. What great Christmas presents they would make!

We even managed to persuade Hugh over after his book-signing for a quick chat and a photo with the group. But what a shame we had to cancel the second session for lack of a hob. On the bright side, Katy gave me some of the leftover damsons and I made the most glorious looking damson gin with them on Saturday afternoon. Can’t wait for Christmas when it’ll be ready...!

10 October 2011

GUEST BLOG: Feeling chilli

By guest blogger TRACEY

What a menu! Cooking leader Alison created a trio of treats for our Mexican-themed night for the last session out of four at Didsbury Sure Start Centre on Thursday 6 October.

I think all our dreams came true when we started by whipping up a five-ingredient vegan chocolate and chilli mousse (tofu, cocoa, vanilla extract, chilli, date syrup): the result, a sumptuous, velvety melt-in-the-mouth mousse that could be made sweeter and naughtier by an extra dollop of date syrup!

We then made tomato and onion salsa, which had the chilli chipotle (see picture with Priscilla) to give a full-throttle kick! Re-fried beans were made using aduki and http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifpinto beans; they were ‘effortlessly’ mashed, then added to the mix were chopped red onions and garlic, then the whole lot was fried. Fresh coriander was chopped and sprinkled in at the end, adding some much needed colour!

Our meal was garnished with lime then the salsa and refried beans were put to bed inside a corn tortilla. The result was tasty, delicious and authentic, although one thing was missing... tequila!

Check out our Facebook page for more photos from this event.

9 October 2011

GUEST BLOG: Veggie good

By guest blogger AMY WRIGHT

We had a great turn out again on 29th September, all eager to improve our culinary skills... this time we were in the hands of cooking leader Ian Mackenzie, a local chef who specialises in vegetarian and vegan food and who runs Manchester Vegan & Vegetarian Festival. The dish for this - the third of our weekly sessions running over a month at Didsbury Sure Start - was a root vegetable and bean one-pot with mashed potato - a true vegan dish!

We started with the mashed potato, boiling potatoes then adding some vegetable oil spread. Then there was plenty to get our teeth into... lots of chopping and discovering new vegetables... we used: beetroot, parsnips, red onions, garlic, chilli, squash, sweet potato, carrots, leeks and not forgetting the all-important parsley to add in at the end (best to do this so as not to lose flavour). All these ingredients went into a pan of boiling bouillon stock, alongside a tin of brown chickpeas and some black-eye beans, and the stew was cooked until the vegetables softened, but not too much!

The result was fantastic... 'delicate and fresh' were the comments in the room. The beetroot made it for me but I think everyone discovered new flavours and some were definitely surprised by how easy and tasty it was... not to mention healthy!

Visit our Facebook page for more photos from this session and previous ones.

29 September 2011

GUEST BLOG: Rookie cooks

By guest blogger AMY WRIGHT

The second session for rookie cooks at Didsbury Sure Start Centre, on the evening of Thursday 22 September, kicked off with a great tomato pasta sauce It was the simplest thing to cook - tins of tomatoes laced with garlic, served over pasta and with fresh basil - food of the gods! Everyone was impressed with just how quickly this was put together and how tasty it turned out to be! Cooking leader Alison also added some chopped-up vegetarian majoram and sage sausages to the sauce which added to the flavour and gave it a bit more bite!

We then moved on to learn how to cook a vegetable curry - the thing that puts people off trying and cooking vegetables is often how to prepare them but Alison showed the group how to chop and peel perfectly, which gave everyone confidence in the preparation stage. The group peeled and chopped onions, garlic, chillies and ginger, adding dried coriander, garam masala, turmeric and cumin, which soon had the whole room licking their lips with the fabulous smell! Added to the spice mixture were sweet potatoes, spinach beet, chickpeas and tinned tomatoes, and this was cooked until the potatoes softened. Served over a bed of rice with a delicious home-made raita (cucumber and mint in natural yoghurt), it was tasty and healthy... Everyone sat down to eat and we even managed to feed the security guards!

Check out our Facebook page for loads of lovely photos from this session: click here.

27 September 2011

GUEST BLOG: Mushrooming idea

By guest blogger TONY

Thanks to Cracking Good Food and herbalist Jesper Launder for an interesting evening foraging on Chorlton Ees on Wednesday! It was amazing to find so many different varieties of mushroom on the doorstep and great to be with someone who can identify the tasty ones! The event drew an enthusiastic crowd, and not even the rain could dampen our spirits.

20 September 2011

GUEST BLOG: Starting off stir-frying

By guest blogger TRACEY TORLEY

A cracking session was had by all last Thursday at Didsbury Sure Start Centre. Although most of the people taking part arrived after a hard day's work, all were keen to get chopping and stirring up a delicious stir-fry. Cooking leader Alison shared lots of tit-bits about the best veg to use, the order to add them and the different types of topping to enhance the flavours, such as coriander, satay sauce and cashew nuts. Amanda's contribution ensured we were all aware of the effects our cooking had on the environment and how to be more energy efficient within our homes while cooking. It was a fab fun session... can't wait for this Thursday when we'll learn about growing your own food and tomato-based sauces.

To see more photographs from this session, visit the album on the Cracking Good Food Facebook page.

16 September 2011

Preservation society

Saturday 10 September saw OTAGS (Old Trafford Amateur Gardeners' Socety) hosting a preserving workshop in association with Cracking Good Food. The aim of the session was to show how you can manage gluts of produce without spending hours cooking chutneys! Vicki Leng (pictured below dehydrating tomatoes), local cook and preserving enthusiast, took participants through how to dehydrate apples, salt beans, pickle cucumbers and dehydrate tomatoes, all in the three-hour session.

The essential piece of equipment we used during the day was a dehydrator. It has 14 square feet of drying space, and is designed to run on a low heat (the temperature range can be set between (29-68°C) while at the same time running a fan to dry the food out. So unlike dehydrating food in your oven, it's energy efficient and you can then store food in jars without the need to run a freezer. Food preserved this way will keep for at least nine months, so you can be eating sun-ripened tomatoes that you've grown long after the UK tomato-growing season has ended. If they are really really dry you can just jar them once they've been dehydrated. Or, if they have some moisture remaining, pack them into small jars and cover with olive oil.

Similarly, apple rings are really easy to process with the dehydrator - simply core, thinly slice, dip into some water with lemon juice to stop them from discolouring, load into the dehydrator for three hours then pack into sterilised jars.

We also salted beans, which was quick and straightforward. We tasted some salted beans that Vicki had de-salted earlier in the day and while they didn't taste like freshly cooked (boiled or steamed) beans, adding them to soups, stews and chillis would certainly work... once you've rinsed them to remove as much salt as possible. Rather its one way of managing part of your bean glut that doesn't require freezer space or use of fossil fuels. Very simply, using a clean sterilised jar, we packed sliced green beans (French or runner) in layers with salt. A layer of salt followed by a layer of beans, then another layer of salt until the jar was full. After the beans and the salt have been in the jar overnight you can top up the jar packing more beans and salt in, as the salt draws the water out of the beans which makes them shrink.

The session was funded by the Local Food Fund grant for the Orchard 49 community orchard. Thanks to Laura for organising the workshop and to Vicki for sharing her knowledge with us.

15 September 2011

GUEST BLOG: Conference call

Guest blog by Cracking Good Food Director Adele Jordan

This week we attended a conference for Let Nature Feed Your Senses, a Big Lottery Fund project run in partnership between LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) and Sensory Trust. This engages people with nature, food and farming on a network of farms and nature reserves across England. The project is working with people who currently cannot or do not access the countryside because of age, ability or social situation. The conference was based at Reaseheath College in Nantwich, Cheshire, and the college allowed us to use their food technology rooms to run our sessions, which meant donning such things as white coats and hair nets… something we’re not used to!

Cracking Good Food ran two sessions twice, with Beth cooking up sweet and savoury pancakes and Jesper cooking up a tasty soup using greens he foraged from the college grounds that morning.

We made all shapes and sizes of sweet and savoury pancakes together with mouth-watering fillings like blackberry and raspberry cranahan made with oatmeal, cream, honey and whisky layered up between latticed pancakes (ingenious!), pancake parcels with pears cooked in butter served with walnut and blue cheese sauce, and mini pancakes like blinis topped with delicious rhubarb cooked in the juice of freshly squeezed oranges. Absolutely delicious. I don’t think anyone realised quite how versatile pancakes could be!

Jesper showed everyone how easy it is to cook up a foraged abundance of nettles, fat hen, chickweed and comfrey leaves. The soup was so lovely it had everyone gasping in amazement. Who’d have thought it could have tasted so good? The best bit was how he showed everyone how to pop Himalayan balsam seeds from the highly invasive non-native species, pretty much seen everywhere now (with the pink flowers always close to river beds). By dry roasting these seeds and scattering them over your soup, it not only makes for an incredibly tasty, nutritious nutty flavour, but most importantly stops them from germinating to make yet more plants! Members of The Wildlife Trusts were particularly keen to roll that idea out!

More pictures on our Facebook page soon!

12 September 2011

GUEST BLOG: How homemade is healthier

By guest blogger JULIET LAWSON

Last Thursday evening, we ran our third session of our healthy eating course at the Angel Centre in Salford. On the menu were homemade healthy burgers with paprika potato wedges and salad, and a slightly spicy salsa.

It was a lively session with everyone getting stuck in right away. We got the potatoes washed and cut into wedges and talked about why oven-baked wedges are much healthier than chips but very delicious: it's all about how you cook them and what you season them with. We got the wedges on the stove for a parboil while we got on with the burgers. We finely chopped some onion and mixed it with lean steak mince, which is a lot lower in fat than what shop-bought burgers are made from. We made some plain burgers and some with chilli flakes, chopped coriander and a drizzle of tangy lime juice. Once we'd got them shaped and onto a tray, they went into the fridge while we drained and seasoned our parboiled potatoes. We tossed the wedges in smoked paprika (which everyone agreed smelled lovely and BBQ-y - it reminded someone thought of smoky bacon crisps!) and tipped them onto the vegetable oil-drizzled baking trays which went into the oven to roast. Boy, those commercial ovens are so hot they nearly take your eyebrows off! I hadn't realised what a hot business it was working in a commercial kitchen!

While the wedges were cooking, we got straight on with the salsa. After more onion-chopping (a few eyes streaming!), we added them to a frying pan with some oil and chopped garlic (everyone was happy to load up the garlic - lots of flavour), cumin, chilli and tinned tomatoes, then let this simmer for 10 minutes before taking the pan off the heat and adding chopped fresh coriander. So easy and so much cheaper and nicer than the salsa you buy in the shops. If you have a few spices and a tin of toms in your storecupboard, all you need is an onion and a bit of garlic and you've got enough for eight people!

Then it was action stations. The wedges were nearly ready and we still had the burgers to cook and the salad to prepare, so we split into groups. The plain burgers went on first. We were a bit nervous about using the big grill so we pan-fried them using a very small amount of oil in a non-stick pan. And we had a lovely bright salad with local lettuce, strips of red pepper, cucumber and tomatoes, tossed with a balsamic vinegar and mustard dressing.

We over-ran a little bit (oops) but nobody really minded and we tucked into our burger and wedges feast with gusto at the end. What's on the menu next week, Kim? Whatever it is, I'm sure it will be delicious.

6 September 2011

Day at the museum

Nicola (pictured in the red apron) spent the day cooking up seasonal tortillas and salads with passersby at the really amazing allotment plot just outside Manchester Museum on Oxford Road. Nicola and the team are back on 15 October as part of Manchester Museum’s Weekender and on 12 November too so the Cracking Cooks look forward to seeing you there.

5 September 2011

GUEST BLOG: Natural high


Despite August's terrible weather, it was a beautiful sunny morning which heralded the start of another Cracking Good Food feast, this time at Syrian House in Sale. We all gathered in the sensory garden, where residents and staff of Natural Recovery have created a space overflowing with garden art and luscious vegetables.

We picked seasonal, homegrown courgettes, peas and garlic for our natural noodle dish, then created a simple sweet and sour sauce using pineapple juice and wine vinegar. Fresh ginger and chillies were used in abundance!

Natural Recovery is a community group that aims to use nature as a way of aiding in the recovery of people with mental health conditions. Syrian House is a care home for adults with enduring mental health problems and Natural Recovery welcomes anyone who would like to join the art/gardening party there. Go to www.naturalrecovery.org.uk for more details.

26 August 2011

New community programme: Social adVentures

Kim from Islington Mill Cafe kicked off our new collaborative six-week programme with Social adVentures based at the Angel Centre in Salford on Thursday 18 August, then ran a second session at the Angel Cafe a week later on 25 August. Kim's first session, one of the local estates, involved cooking up a stirfry outside. This spectacle never fails to impress and everything got off to a great start.

Social adVentures is an exciting social enterprise jointly owned by service users, employees and local Salford people. Social adVentures aims to support all local people to lead happier and healthier lives; they define happiness as enjoyment of a full and meaningful life and health as a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing. Social adVentures has three centres - the Angel Centre, The Creative Media Centre and Garden Need - all of which provide a massive range of activities, courses and events all year round.

Cracking Good Food are collaborating with Social adVentures, who are preparing to run a social prescribing scheme to get people into activities to improve their health and happiness. People attending would be referred from their GP, Social Prescribing Navigator or by self-referral. Our healthy cookery sessions with Social adVentures aim to bring positive change to the local community.

Cracking Cook Kim Irwin will be running these weekly courses with members of the local community for the next four weeks. For more information see the Social adVentures website or contact simone@socialadventures.org.uk.

15 August 2011

GUEST BLOG: Curry favour

By guest blogger TRACEY TORLEY

We had a really enjoyable outdoor cooking session at the Lost Plot allotment this Saturday. The children who attended were already familiar with some of the more exotic vegetables we were using, but they still lapped up the opportunity to pick their own vegetables from the plot. They really enjoyed seeing and smelling how some of the beautiful aromatic herbs and spices were used to create a delicious, colourful and healthy curry dish (above). Mums were on hand to help chop, peel and stir, and there was some great team spirit! Jobs done, we all sat in the sun and savoured the wonderful food!

2 August 2011

GUEST BLOG: Great bakes

By guest blogger NICOLA CLANCY

On Saturday 30 July, I volunteered for my first event with Cracking Good Food and was happy to help out with a community event for Southway Housing at one of their properties, Buckthorn House.

The event was coordinated by nutritionist Elizabeth Wells who seemed to have everything very organised and ensured that all policies and procedures (such as health and safety and food hygiene) were understood and adhered to. Sarah who was cooking on the day seemed very knowledgeable about the community and confident in her skills, and encouraged the people taking part to be confident in their cooking. Sarah was also very informative about the costings of the meal and about the food she was cooking with to make the tasty Aubergine Cheesy Bake.

It was nice to hear that the produce she and associates had grown on Action for Sustainable Living's nearby community allotment The Lost Plot were being used within the meal. We all had a chance to taste the various ingredients as we went along. The gorgeous weather meant the group was quite small, but the people who did attend were genuinely interested in the cooking and ingredients and there was a good mix of young and older people.

19 July 2011

GUEST BLOG: Out and about

By guest blogger SARAH FANTHORPE

Southway Housing has kindly funded another three cooking sessions and we held our first one on The Lost Plot Community Allotment, which is run by Action For Sustainable Living (AfSL).

Under a stormy sky, we prepared the pizza dough and left it to rise in the poly- tunnel. We then created a simple tomato sauce. Maz demonstrated her dough-throwing techniques and we handpicked our toppings from a selection of the vegetables growing on the plot. The pizzas were then baked in the special clay oven, which was expertly managed by Paul (a member of The Lost Plot.)

Here are some quotes from the people who took part from Nell Lane Estate.

“It’s amazing how these sessions have brought everyone together."
Mal, Nell Lane Resident of 30 years

“Loved the community feel and the fact that it was outdoors.”
Bridget, dance teacher at Chorlton High School

“Picking and cooking spring onions straight from the ground was my daughter's favourite part of the day.”
Samantha, a recent tenant of Southway Housing and mother to Isabella, aged four

You can see more photos from this event on our Facebook page.

18 July 2011

Getting your fair share

On Saturday 16 July FareShare NW and 100+ friends leapt off the Imperial War Museum North for fun and to support those in need! From 10am-5pm people used a zip slide to get from the 30m high tower at the Imperial War Museum across the 250m Ship Canal and Salford Quays, landing at The Lowry.

The Zip Slide Challenge was open to anyone wishing to help raise funds to help combat food poverty locally. Monies raised will directly help FareShare, a charitable scheme redistributing surplus in-date food to people in food poverty in the North West region. Many communities in the North West have high levels of unemployment and low-income households. Manchester, Liverpool and Blackpool have the highest number of children living in poverty in the UK. Organisations such as Cornerstones, providing hot meals to people on very low incomes in Moss Side; Mustard Tree, who operate a soup run for the homeless; and the George House Trust, who help refugees, are typical beneficiaries of FareShare; other examples include hostels, school breakfast and after-school clubs in deprived areas, day centres for the sick, elderly and infirm, and organisations helping the vulnerable and those in poverty.

Cracking Cooks Kath and Kim used surplus food from FareShare to cook up vegetable jalfrezzi and risottos for the Zip Slide Challenge participants. How delicious did they look!

Thanks to Martyn Dawson for the photo. There'll be some more up on our Facebook page soon.

15 July 2011

GUEST BLOG: Spice world

By guest blogger ELIZABETH WELLS

On a stiflingly July day (Saturday 2nd), we Cracking Good Fooders plus an array of willing participants undertook the challenge to learn (and hopefully reproduce!) the secrets of Punjabi home-cooking from Harjinder (pictured centre).

The day was veggie in theme and half the fun was getting to grips with the specialised equipment that enabled us to transform roasted aubergines into tasty bhartha or smoked aubergine puree. On flat iron chappati pans, called tavas, we turned the aubergines until they sizzled and the skins went soft- a technique that required asbestos fingers, as one participant remarked! Later the same pans were used to make the famous chappatis, a process we admired with awe, as Harjinder gently coaxed the air into them as they cooked and browned. The dough required another specialist instrument - the chackla - which looks like a rolling pin but moves a lot more fluidly, and made light work of the task.

The other tasty main dish was the methi pakora - a toothsome, lightly spiced fritter with fenugreek (or methi) which is shaped into balls and dropped into hot fat. Harjinder’s knowledge of spices was second to none, and we learned how easy it is to make simple spice blends using whole spices such as black peppercorns, coriander seeds, cardamoms and cinnamon. All you need is a coffee/spice grinder - much fresher and more flavoursome than shop-bought mixes.

Visit our Facebook page for pictures from both Punjabi cooking sessions, vegetarian and meat and fish.

13 July 2011

GUEST BLOG: Spice magic

By guest blogger LIZ STIRLING

While pondering what birthday present to get a girl who dresses impeccably, has an already stunning house and well, an awful lot of other good stuff, I stumbled upon the Cracking Good Food stall at Chorlton’s Big Green Festival. Surreptitiously sliding a flyer into my bag I managed to distract her from booking a session right there and then.

A few months later and it was time for our course. We four girls, filled with anticipation and fear of making complete fools out of ourselves, strolled to Chorlton High School to be wowed by Harjinder, her dazzling array of spices and generations worth of advice, not to mention the odd Hairy Bikers name drop! The warm greeting from the Cracking Good Food team put everyone at ease and working in groups of four filled us with relief - thank goodness nobody would be solely responsible for a complete disaster! With the thought of the need for back-up cereal bars for lunch put firmly behind us we began to chop the fresh ingredients for the tarka which would form the base for our dishes.

In all we made a Curried Salmon dish, a Rustic Chicken Curry and Kedgeree (a delicious rice accompaniment, but not the eggs and fish combination often associated with the name). All turned out to be fairly simple to make - Harjinder encouraged us that the secrets were in the preparation and being patient, taking care to add spices bit by bit, not the ‘chuck it in, it’ll be reet’ method traditionally favoured by one of our group. Instructions and advice followed carefully, we tested our dishes in order to make adjustments, while we were pretty impressed by our efforts we awaited Harjinder’s expert seal of approval. With ‘fantastic’ and ‘perfect’ echoing around the room we were sure our efforts could not have met the standards of the other teams. It seemed however that they did and if we can do it, then anyone surely can!

There were many highlights of the session, the delicious ingredients, the friendly banter and camaraderie and of course the delicious outcome. Top however has to be Harjinder herself and her insights into Punjabi cooking. Her mother’s Kala Massala recipe and her father’s tip of soaking methi leaves were just two of the nuggets that we came away with. The fact that she gave out her number so that we could call her for advice really illustrated her passion for cooking and food that we were so lucky to share with her.

Harjinder, the only advice I need now is, what shall I get Danielle for her birthday next year?

Keep checking our Facebook page for photos from the session.

11 July 2011

GUEST BLOG: More stirring!

By guest blogger HARJINDER

On Wednesday 29 June, Chorlton Good Neighbours enjoyed a flavoursome stir-fry served with noodles and drizzled with a tangy peanut sauce made with lime juice and soy sauce. To follow was a summer fruits dessert topped with yoghurt and home-made granola.

There were a host of in-season vegetables, with a celeriac that tip-toed in too! The garlic and ginger gave the stir-fry a flavoursome kick with mild chillies turning a little hot once cooked. The tofu added protein, making it a good all-rounder.

Everyone enjoyed the food as we cleared away the nearly empty plates (the noodles were quite filling). It was a healthy lunch - with wholesome food that you could rustle up quite quickly.

The dessert again was something you could chuck any 'in season' summer fruits into, and with no stodge and the homemade granola adding a healthy crunch, it was totally delicious!

Read Harjinder's blog Harjinder's Kitchen here.

30 June 2011

GUEST BLOG: Stirring things up

By guest blogger JULIET LAWSON

Yesterday (Wednesday 29 June), we ran another busy session with community group regulars Chorlton Good Neighbours, cooking stir-fry followed by summer fruit compote topped with yoghurt and granola.

Time is always tight at these sessions, as we only have a two-hour slot to rustle up a two-course meal for everyone, so we got down to some serious team veggie-chopping before the session started. It was a riot of colours with sweet potato, broccoli, red and yellow peppers, courgette, mushrooms, celeriac and carrots. There was plenty of flavour going in with the chilli, garlic, ginger, sesame and soy. We had about 25 people to feed, so it was a mad wok cook-off! It turned out a bit spicier than we expected – those cheeky chillies tasted ever so mild when they were raw! – but it went down well and then it was a nice gentle warm summer fruit compote for dessert, full of all sorts of summer berries. Thanks to the team for their hard work!

17 June 2011

GUEST BLOG: On a roll

By guest blogger JULIET LAWSON

Well, I’ve just finished having one of my very own bread rolls for breakfast that I made at last night’s Breadmaking for Beginners session. Delicious!

What a great session! Rob is an inspiring teacher and he taught us all the really important things that you need to know about breadmaking, that you just don’t really get from a recipe. We learnt all about yeast and wheat and gluten and temperatures and consistencies. He made it all really straightforward while at the same time making sure that we understood that there is no substitute for good old experience, and that this is just the start of our breadmaking journey.

First of all, we each made a big bowl of a basic brown bread dough. Rob had brought a variety of brown flours to use in the mix and we also had different types of yeast to try. We all made our own - it’s the only way to learn, so that you know exactly what consistency you’re aiming for. Rob scooted round the room helping everyone out so that we were all confident that we’d got the right consistency. Then we did kneading and dividing up into whatever we wanted to make. I made a loaf, a plait and a half dozen rolls. While that was rising, we then worked in pairs, rustling up a garlic naan bread mix, using gorgeous fresh garlic and soya yoghurt.

Then into the ovens with our main breads, and once it had risen, into the pan with the naan breads! The smell of baking bread and garlic naan was heavenly.

At the end of the session, we brought our naan breads to the main table and had a well-earned munch, along with a selection of hummous that Rob had brought along with him. And then after the clean-up, we all went on our way with enough bread for a week! And what’s more important, the confidence to make some more when it’s all gone!

I think tonight I’m going to make a massaman curry to go with those naan breads... mmmm.

Some comments from other people taking part...

'Tried to think of something to improve, but I think this is the perfect
beginners course .' Chris Hirst

'It was great finding out how easy breadmaking is and Rob was very enthusiastic and entertaining!.' Hannah Niblett

'I really enjoyed the session! Can’t believe we got to make so much bread, and also of different types. Rob was a great tutor.' Sophie Cunningham

15 June 2011

GUEST BLOG: Marvellous mezze

By guest blogger JUDITH KATHRENS

On Saturday 12 June, Deanna took 12 people through a whirlwind of wonderful Middle Eastern food which included lamb koftas, stuffed vine leaves (dolmades), spinach and feta parcels, and a lot more besides. I really didn't think that so much food could be produced in one morning but thanks to her it all went without a hitch.

There was a lot to pack into three hours and every one of the participants was gainfully employed chopping, soaking, drying, frying, rolling and folding. Some of the work was quite fiddly but everyone made really neat little rolls of vine leaves stuffed with rice, pine nuts and sultanas which were then steamed with lemon juice.

The spinach had to be dry to go into the filo pastry for the feta and spinach parcels, and Max proved to be a spinach-squeezer extraordinaire - I think he has found his calling!

For the koftas, chilli and coriander were added to minced lamb which was then rolled into balls and fried, while Deanna demonstrated how to make tomato houmous and a delicious aubergine dip.

The day was a great assault on the senses, full of amazing smells and tastes. A big thank you to everyone who took part - and ate! - with such enthusiasm, and thanks too to Alicia who was volunteering for the first time.

Some of the coments from participants...

'I really enjoyed the session – really friendly and interesting, and clear that the aim was for us to enjoy the session. Loved the eating together at the end – a really excellent lesson.' Chloe Brew

'Really interesting and flexible format.' Emilly Beir

'I found the session very interesting and useful and would defo do it again and recommend it to someone.' Charlie Hall

'Learning new techniques, getting wise words from the chef! Nothing could be improved – genuinely nothing. Thank you very much for a fantastic, cheap but invaluable course.' Dannielle Peet

'The general cooking tips (cutting an onion etc!) were great and I really enjoyed making dolmades and spinach and feta filos.' Jenna Sharman