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.