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.