19 December 2012

GUEST BLOG: Christmas dinner for less than two quid!

By guest blogger TRACEY

We had a marvellous end to a marvellous course of six sessions at the Approved Premises on Monday 17 December. Perhaps not surprisingly, the group were slightly daunted by the task of making a four-course menu: lentil, carrot, turmeric and coriander soup for starters, roast chicken Christmas dinner, homemade peanut butter and tangerine stuffed pancakes for pudding, and a slab of carrot cake for washing down with a cup of tea after the session. The guys were two down, but quickly regained their enthusiasm for rising to the challenge and began the all-familiar production line of washing, peeling, chopping and slicing the vegetables: potatoes, celeriac, carrots, onions, sprouts and parsnips. Once this was done, it was time to put the chicken in the oven, first sprinkling with salt, cumin, ground peppercorns, onion and garlic to enrich the taste of the succulent chicken thighs. 

Today’s session really highlighted the versatility of the carrot as it was used in the soup, main dinner and pudding - price wise, it’s a bargain, then nutritionally, you continue to get so much for your money as it's full of vitamins A and C, zero fat and a moderate level of fibre. I’m unsure which I preferred most - watching one of the team plough through the unappealing chore of peeling and crossing the pile of sprouts, or feasting on the fabulous flavours of sprouts mixed with Stilton cheese that Rob introduced us to – the jury’s still out, because it really was good not to be landed with the sprout prep job! I was amazed at half time how the menu was coming together: the chicken was roasting, the potatoes were simmering, the rest of the veg was prepped and the soup was cooked. 

The carrot cake came together so swiftly too. First the flour, mixed spice, nutmeg, cinnamon and oil were added to each other, then the egg and sugar were combined to the mix, and finally the juiciest jumbo raisins were stirred through. The ingredients resulted in a moist but dense texture, evenly flavoured by the wintertime spices. Rob continued to educate and enlighten our tastebuds as the guys crushed unsalted peanuts and mixed them with olive oil and tangerine juice to fill the pancakes with (see above). One participant had a great idea to try it with the roasted chicken like a satay - as I said, it was a great idea! The parsnips and celeriac were a perfectly caramelised, and I was delighted as the parsnip had a distinct flavour of fried plantain - yum.

We were fortunate to have two visitors from the Job Centre join us for lunch and a few of the residents and staff too, so a total of 16 meals were served, costing £1.70 per head... with that kind of price, you really couldn’t fail to have a very Happy Christmas!

There are more photos from this session on our Facebook page. Click here to be redirected.

10 December 2012

GUEST BLOG: Mexican rave

By guest blogger TRACEY

We were dining Mexican style this Monday morning at the Approved Premises. There may have been a shortage of tequila, but the guys shot through the abundance of fresh chillies, onions and garlic with competence, speed and ease. This was the penultimate session in a block of six and it's great to see how their skills, confidence and knowledge have improved, to the point where one minute they're talking football, the next... the amount of onion and garlic they like in their dishes – now that's inspiring stuff!

It was unfortunate that the ‘bargain-priced avocados’ were rock hard! Rob had researched methods of softening them, one being, placing them in a brown paper bag with a banana - this would have been great had it worked. But we had to result to using the microwave to soften them, which took a good while. While they were softening, Rob explained that growing these pears in Mexico is the equivalent of growing apples in the UK. The then artificially ripened avocados were mashed and combined with chopped tomatoes, chillies, onions, lemon juice, seasoning, coriander and olive oil. The result was guacamole and we were each given the option of spicing it up with smoky chipotle.

The Mexican session is the one that really tests the opinion that ‘you eat with your eyes’ as the appearance and visual textures of the dishes can be a completely new experience and challenge! However, I was delighted that the initial reluctance and scepticism towards some of the ingredients were met with a curiosity to try the new tastes and textures - the re-fried beans shocked most and won over many!

Bread, baking powder, salt and warm water were used to make the tortillas, highlighting that these basic ingredients are so versatile, making so many different bread dishes across the continents, such as nan, pizza bases and dumplings. Such a great mix to complete the carbohydrate element of the eat well plate. To cook them, the guys rolled them flat, then dry fried them in a hot frying pan as the grated butter in the dough provided the fat.

I think the cumin-spiced salsa won everyone over this week - the tomatoes, onions, garlic and chilli powder were reduced down to create a slightly sweet and fresh-tasting sauce once the freshly chopped coriander was added. This was a great session, topped off by planning for next week’s store-cupboard session - the guys have chosen to finish with a four-course menu of lentil, carrot and noodle soup with turmeric and coriander, for the main, we’ll have a chicken Christmas dinner, then pancakes and/or!! carrot cake for pudding... Wow, Christmas really has come early!

There is a selection of photos from this session on the CGF Facebook page.

4 December 2012

GUEST BLOG: Talking Italian

By guest blogger SIOBHAN

Monday 3 December saw Cracking Good Food bring together six residents of the Approved Premises for an Italian cooking session, making two pasta sauces: carbonara and puttanesca.

The session began with a short talk about the ingredients that would be used today and a little history about the origins of these dishes. First off, capers: if the caper bud is not picked, it flowers and produces a fruit called a caper berry. The fruit can be pickled and then served as a Greek mezze or used in recipes such as pasta puttanesca. Unripe nasturtium seeds can be substituted for capers; they have a very similar texture and flavour when pickled.

For the carbonara sauce (pictured top), we fried sliced bacon and garlic and chopped mushrooms. These were then added to our creamy sauce, made by adding grated cheese to a roux base (flour was mixed into melted butter to make a paste, then hot milk was added gradually to make a sauce). Puttanesca (pictured bottom) is an Italian hot tomato sauce consisting of: tins of tomatoes, onions, olives, capers, anchovies, chopped parsley, chillies.

Halfway through the session the group split into pairs to work together in completing the dishes, so everyone got to see how both meal was put together, then, once the table was set, it was time to sample the meal. And what a delight it was: rich, tasty, colourful and filling. It was difficult to stop dishing out more helpings - I must confess to having three platefuls, it was so delicious!

Well done to the group, who worked so well as a team today prepping and cooking and helping to clear and wash up.

More photographs from this session can be seen on the Cracking Good Food Facebook page.

30 November 2012

GUEST BLOG: What a curry on!

By guest blogger TRACEY

Rob began the second of his latest sessions at the Approved Premises by reminding the group that the six lessons will introduce them to cuisines from different countries - and this week we were jetting off to sample the culinary delights of India. The importance of having a balanced diet was stressed and Rob explained the nutritional value of the foods we were using: naan bread for carbohydrate, lentils have fibre and chicken was the protein. The guys set to work by sprinkling the chicken thighs with salt and oil, then placing them in the oven to roast. 

Next, the production line for creating the jalfrezi began - lots of red and yellow peppers were sliced, along with four Italian palmero peppers for sweetness. Garlic and ginger were sliced julienne style and lots and lots of red onions were sliced then sautéed. The remaining ingredients were added once the onions had softened. Both Rob and I were impressed with the slick skill and ease displayed while chopping these vegetables - they've obviously being watching Rob very closely! The black mustard seeds, cumin and fenugreek seeds were lightly fried until the seeds started to splatter, then the turmeric and garam masala were added. The mixture was then stirred into the vegetables and left to simmer. Meanwhile, the lentils were weighed and left to cook in water, oil and turmeric for 30 minutes and once they had softened, the same spice mix was added. A coconut block was sliced and added then, just before the dish was served, some chopped coriander was stirred into the lentils. Both changed the appearance and enhanced the taste of one of my favourite dishes! 

The guys were visibly challenged at the thought of making naan bread, but once Rob talked them through the recipe and ingredients, they realised a tandor oven wasn’t needed with his infamous naan in the pan recipe! The delicious aroma of the spices and freshly made bread brought many to the kitchen and all left satisfied with the feast they came to share - and all for £1.70 per head!

More photographs from this session can be seen on the Cracking Good Food Facebook page.

GUEST BLOG: Brith easy

By guest blogger KIM IRWIN

On 17 November, Rob was back, this time showing a group of aspiring bakers the art of festive breadmaking. With the room temperature cranked high and all windows shut, we were ready to start the session. Rob donned his trademark neckerchief and began his fascinating introduction to bread, sharing knowledge gleaned from a keen interest which he said has spanned over 30 years! He doesn't look old enough!  

Soon our participants were weighing out flour, adding yeast and dipping hands in jugs of water to gauge the correct temperature needed for the dough. Once the dough was kneaded, damp teatowels were placed over the top and it was left to rise while we moved on to the traditional Bara Brith… mmmmmmm.  

Rob had pre-soaked a huge bowl of dried fruit and candied peel in rum the night before to save time, and oh my, it certainly smelt like Christmas. The technique for the Welsh teacake was pretty much the same as before so everyone cracked on with weighing and kneading, and before long the xmassy dough was also left to one side to rise.

And rise the dough certainly did. The temperature of the room aided the fast rising of both the dough batches and as soon as they were shaped and in the oven, we were able to open the windows and get some air circulating…

The wonderful aroma of fresh bread soon filled the room and we waited expectantly for the loaves to bake. We weren't disappointed, and the warm slices of Bara Brith with melted butter oozing down fingers was a well-deserved treat. It's definitely a recipe I'll be trying out myself at home. Well done, everyone, and Rob - another Cracking Good Food success.

For more photographs from this session, please visit our Facebook page.

28 November 2012

Treasure hunt

The foraging session with Jesper on Saturday was great. Another smashing group and top notch support from the assistants. We cooked up a selection of six wild mushrooms in butter with wild three cornered leek, and, once crispy, we added an egg and milk mixture to make a tasty wild mushroom fritata. Everyone even went home with some mushrooms to cook up later... we wonder what they made - risotto, pasta, garlic mushrooms on toast? Whatever, with our fabulous foraging finds, we bet it was gorgeous!

20 November 2012

GUEST BLOG: All the pies

By guest blogger TRACEY

It’s not surprising the guys at the Approved Premises left with full bellies on Monday 19 November - they cooked up a right feast of beef and vegetable bean stew, roast potatoes, and beef and seasonal vegetable pie. The production line commenced with the peeling and chopping of the beef shoulder, turnips, beetroots, butternut squash, onions, garlic, swede, parsnips and carrots. A large baking tray was used for the ‘roast potatoes in jackets’ and sprinkled with salt and lightly covered with oil. The guys then sweated the diced onions, while the meat, carrots, beetroot and herbs were put in the pressure cooker to tenderise and be infused with the flavours and fragrance of the thyme and rosemary. The remaining ‘softer’ veg were put on a low heat in the casserole. The veg and meat were mixed together and the black eyed peas and bay leaves were added, then left to simmer for around an hour. Once cooked, the veg and meat mix was split, and a tin of tomatoes was added to the half which was being used for the pie. Rob then shared the magical formula to get perfect pastry - half the amount of butter to flour - so the required amounts of flour, butter, suet, baking powder and water were measured out to make the dumplings and crust pastry lid. Two types of dumplings were made, herby and plain, and the dough was perfect so with the formula proved, both types of dumplings were placed in the stew to cook. The pie lid was rolled out and thumbed into the pie dish, then slit twice for the air to be released. Both the pie and stew had a lovely rustic appearance and a warm and hearty fill perfect for the cold and blustery weather we had to face in the afternoon.

There are more photographs from this event on the official Cracking Good Food Facebook page.

GUEST BLOG: Totally souper!

By guest blogger CHRIS YOUNG

The was a lot of interest for our session at the Eddie Coleman Kitchen at the Salford Student Village at Salford University last Wednesday, with one team filming and another team conducting radio interviews, so we were off to a good start! Cracking Good Food partnered up with Greater Manchester Waste Disposal team (GMWD) and their Love Food Hate Waste campaign, and Rebecca from GMWD was with us for the evening.
We had students in every nook and cranny of the room watching the tomato soup cooking demonstration where we made one spicy and one herby tomato soup. Eight volunteers helped us prepare the tomatoes, garlic, carrots, onions, celery and herbs. Cracking Cook Kim Irwin showed everyone how to safely chop vegetables and, throughout the cooking, she made sure that everyone could follow what she was doing and ensured that everyone was involved by asking questions. Many of the students didn’t know how to cook but felt comfortable asking us questions and there was a great buzz throughout the cooking demonstration.

One student who was new to university life and had never cooked before got stuck in helping Kim make the soups, and he loved it so much he will now start cooking instead of ordering takeout! He may even continue to help us as by being a CGF volunteer - and as you learn so many new things at each cooking demonstration, maybe we have a new chef in the making?
At the end of the tomato soup demonstration, Rebecca administrated a Love Food Hate Waste quiz where Jess and Emelie won two food baskets each!

You can see some more photos from the session in Salford on our Facebook page.

16 November 2012

Waste not, want not #6

We were at Offertons Community Centre in Stockport on Tuesday showing people how easy it is to save up to £50 per month on the average family's food waste.

It was a cold autumnal afternoon, and Kim was showing the group how to make use of limp, tired veggies that may otherwise have been destined for the bin. She showed how to make use of carrots, leeks and parsnips, all in season at the moment, and turn them into a great tasting soup, perfect for this time of year. Adding stock, lentils and some spices, the soup just had to cook, leaving us enough time to make some croutons from stale bread by simply tearing it into bite-sized pieces and frying in hot oil in a frying pan (if you're feeling really decadent, you can drop them into your soup then cover with grated cheese and toast under a hot grill until melted and golden).

 We also cooked up some seasonal English apples that had been sitting around looking a bit bruised and battered. Caramelising them for five mins in a little melted butter and just adding wintry spices ground ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon turned them into a mouthwatering treat, especially nice when served with creme fraiche or ice cream (or with toasted oats for breakfast)!

We did things back to front and had our dessert first, but not to worry - while we enjoyed the apples, our soup was simmering nicely and we soon tucked in, all agreeing it was a perfect way to use up those items that could so easily have ended up in landfill…
Here's the soup recipe:
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
pinch dried chilli flakes
1 leek, sliced
1 potato, cubed
1 parsnip, diced
Handful red lentils, washed
1 bay leaf
1 litre veg stock
Splash lemon juice

Heat oil over medium heat & cook onion for 5 mins, add carrot, garlic & chilli, & cook until onion is soft. Add all other veg, lentils & bay, then  pour over stock.  Bring to boil then reduce heat & simmer for 30 mins. Season & finish with a splash of lemon juice.

There are more photos from this session on the Cracking Good Food Facebook page.

15 November 2012

GUEST BLOG: Frying high

By guest blogger TRACEY

Both Rob and I were delighted to return to the Approved Premises on Monday 12 November. The new group of guys appeared eager to get started, but unsurprisingly deflated that the stir-fry session just included veg! I heard some of them say that they didn’t “do veg”, but Rob got them started with peeling, slicing and chopping the red onions; sharing tips on how to prevent the tears! Next they topped and tailed the garlic and the guys listened to how this little veg has become a part of English cuisine from across the Channel and now grows well in our climate. Once the root and shoot was lost and a slice removed in order to steady the clove, Rob explained that garlic also aids digestion especially when eating meat. 

The concentration in the room was tangible when the guys were cutting the carrots and ginger Julienne style - many were unfamiliar with the term and style, but all improved their chopping skills while working through the stack of carrots. The group were encouraged to taste and smell the raw fennel - some noted and appreciated the aniseedy taste - and the strong celery-like fragrance of the celeriac was also recognised, and Rob informed the group that celeriac is part of the celery family. They were shown the best way to get the flesh from the veg as otherwise there can be lots of waste – some handy tips! All then got involved in peeling, chopping, slicing and deseeding the chillies, peppers and mushrooms for the veggie stir-fry.

Next came egg-fried rice, cheat's seaweed and sweet and sour sauce. The group paired off and busied themselves with their tasks. The egg fried rice had a subtle nutty taste due to the guys using one of Rob’s flavour-enhancing tips of firstly light-frying the rice in a little oil, then adding the water - this worked exceptionally well. My old-time favourite of cheat's seaweed (cabbage!) was steamed then covered in a tahini and soy sauce mix, which really adds to the flavour, and we used some of the cabbage water in the sweet and sour sauce to ensure we all got a quota of vitamin C. 

So we all had a great tasty and nutritious dish which was exceptionally good value at £1.30 per head and, not surprisingly, the guys were delighted with the results and the session was closed with comments such as “I'd have that again”.

There are more photos from this community session on the Cracking Good Food Facebook page.

13 November 2012

GUEST BLOG: Right atta!

By guest blogger HELEN ROADHOUSE

Harjinder told us stories from her childhood and the 12 participants on Saturday - a full house! - were enraptured by the images of a young girl making atta dough for her mother, like the time panic set in when Harjinder had some 'dough jump out of the bowl' while mixing it! She explained how her mother used lots of spices in cooking and her tales about traditional family cooking were thoroughly entertaining.

Harjinder had an anecdote for most of the spices and techniques that she was demonstrating today. They were not all old wives' tales; some had a purpose long forgotten, but when Harjinder dug a bit deeper into why certain habits were passed down, she found out some interesting facts. For instance, she unquestioningly always scored coriander seeds before planting them as her mother had and her mother's mother, and recently she found out that by cracking the seed shell this way, it produced more than one plant from the seed, but that fact had been forgotten by her family until now!

Harjinder also discussed how she had to diversify her cooking to include recipes that would be safe for family members who had allergies and intolerances. She has a grandson who has a severe milk allergy so she clarifies her own ghee as shop-bought ghee is not as pure and still contains the milk proteins that cause his allergy.

We got on with making Harjinder's family recipe masala base for our chicken and lemon pickle curry and also our puréed spinach and alu gajjar curry. The masala base can be adapted to include any kinds of meat, vegetables or spices and each dish can end up tasting completely different even though the base of cumin, onions, tomato, garlic and coriander remains the same. I made sure we had a few extra tava pans as Harjinder's roti demo is always fun and I knew that given a little encouragement the participants would all enjoy a go at making their own chapatis to go with their curries - and they did all get stuck in under Harjinder's expert supervision. 

Everyone, including our brilliant volunteers Vicky and Eva, sat down to a wonderfully aromatic array of flavours with lots of positive comments at the taste of the lemon pickle, which almost none had ever used in cooking this way before. There was surprise at just how tasty the spinach and potato and carrot curries were and also just how inexpensive and easy it was to make this banquet. This was
another successful session and everyone left with a warm glow from Harjinder's heartwarming tales and delicious recipes. Lovely.

There is an album of photos from this session on the CGF Facebook page: click here to view.

12 November 2012

GUEST BLOG: Cheap and cheerful

By guest blogger HELEN ROADHOUSE

Our challenge at the Healthy Lifestyle Expo on 6 November was to show students how to cook a cheap, easy and nutritious meal, so what could be better than Harjinder showing them how to make her Punjabi veggie curry from scratch? The Healthy Lifestyle Expo was in a sports hall and there were various other exhibitors - some food based, like a local veggie box scheme and a Thai food stall, and some sports and wellbeing stands.

We had a schedule of three sessions for students to come along and get involved with the prep and learn from Harjinder exactly how easy it is to put together a tasty, healthy curry - and of course then get to eat the end result! The students were so interested that they crowded close to Harjinder (pictured below) to hear what she had to say and many asked questions about her techniques and all the different spices. We were surprised by how enthusiastic the students were about this recipe - I think it really struck a chord as it fit into their budget and tasted great! We explained that any veggies could be used, including those borderline ready for the recycling bin, so it's great for saving money. The participants were also really interested to learn how healthy the meal is, especially as it's so tasty! It has all the food groups including protein (contained in the chickpeas), so there's no need for meat although that could be included should you choose to. The vegetarians especially were extremely impressed with its nutrition content.

At the end of each session, there was quite a queue of people waiting for a curry portion as the smells wafted round the hall and enticed everyone to come and investigate. It was quite apparent that we would not be taking any leftovers home with us! I think that this recipe was perfect for demonstrating to students in every way. They loved its simplicity and how it could stretch so far without costing much and, of course, they liked that it tasted so good too! Best of all was the almost unanimous agreement that they would be trying the recipe out for themselves - a triumph and exactly what we hoped to achieve. It was a busy day and its success was also helped by our brilliant volunteers Alicja and Jules who were just fantastic and knowledgeable.

You can see more photographs from the Expo on the Cracking Good Food Facebook page.

GUEST BLOG: Rice is nice

By guest blogger SIOBHAN

On Monday 29 October, we held the last in a series of sessions at the Salvation Army premises in Ardwick and a group of 12 joined together to learn about Punjabi cooking. The session started with Cracking Cook Harjinder talking about spices, their smells and benefits in health and cooking, and everyone was able to sniff the aromas as they were passed around the table. This was followed by a demonstration of chapatti dough-making so the group could make their own later on that morning.

We entered the kitchen for vegetable chopping and preparation for the Punjabi lentil dhal and mixed vegetable curry.  The group got stuck in, turning dough into chapattis by kneading, flipping, rolling, heating on a hot tava, then finishing off on the flame. At the end of the session, we all sat down to devour the feast,and the room was silent – always a good sign.

Then a surprise Indian rice pudding was dished up to round off the session perfectly. The dessert was served cold and had been made with basmati rice rather than pudding rice, cooked on top of the stove in a pan instead of being baked in the oven, and flavoured with cardamom pods. It was a pure delight, but I am a big lover of erce pudding, it has to be said!

There are more pictures from this session on the Cracking Good Food Facebook page.

GUEST BLOG: Well bread

By guest blogger SIOBHAN

CGF hosted a Bread for Beginners session at the Salvation Army building in Ardwick on Friday 26 October, with five people taking part. The aim was for them to then go and share their newly learned skills by either demonstrating bread- and naan-making to their client group or to help run a session where their clients could learn to bake bread and naan themselves. 

Rob’s enthusiasm rubbed off on the group which made it a very enjoyable, relaxed, fun, inspiring few hours, full of top tips and information from his many years as a bread maker. We all sat down together at the end to enjoy the hot garlic yoghurt naan bread with cheese and red pepper hummous – what a feast, it was difficult to stop eating!  

The participants took their freshly baked loaves of bread home to enjoy, along with recipe sheets and instructions to help them in the future and pass on what they had learned to others.

5 November 2012

GUEST BLOG: Seasonal meeting

By guest blogger HELEN ROADHOUSE

Pumpkin soup, cheese tart and parkin with fruit and creme fraiche were all on the menu at our session with the Chorlton Good Neighbours group last Tuesday (30 October). We had a lot to cook up for quite a good-sized turnout, so we started on the parkin as it takes the longest to bake. Kim measured out enough ingredients for three cakes and several people wanted to know the conversion to imperial from metric. I was starting to realise that this group were not going to be shy when wanting to know what's what, and questions were asked about the raising agents and whether bicarbonate could be substituted for baking powder - the general consensus is that baking is a science and if the recipe states one or the other, then it's best to stick to it... 

The ingredients for the soup are a different story, however, and can be varied in types of veg and quantities, pretty much to suit your taste. Pumpkin certainly seemed to be a veg that most in the group had never actually cooked with before, so all were very curious as to how it would turn out. We explained that you could use the pumpkin flesh dug out from making halloween lanterns rather than thrown away, so it really is a seasonal veg. 

We blind baked the pastry bases for the cheese tarts to keep them crisp, and Kim explained how she uses beans of almost any kind to keep the bases of the pastry flat. Our volunteer Jim showed us how to make greaseproof paper cartouche to put on the base before the beans to stop the beans sticking to the pastry. The cartouche can also be used as a lid on a pan of veg to stop too much evaporation and limit how brown it goes. There are always useful tips to be picked up at these sessions for all of us, not just the participants! Actually, some of the interesting titbits came from the participants themselves - for instance, Bernard was telling us how as you get older your tastebuds become a little less sensitive so it makes things like mature cheese more desirable and stronger flavours in general. 

Everyone was really getting hungry by now and our cheese tart was running late... Luckily though the tarts were done in time and were delicious, and the soup went down really well. We talked about what herbs and spices could be used and about squashes and what they could be used for. The parkin with the cooked apples and pears in syrup with creme fraiche was utterly yummy, and it was snapped up and eaten there and then or wrapped up to be taken home for later. The volunteers Jim, Louisa and Chris loved the session, and Jim said that so far it was the best one he had been at in terms of atmosphere. I agree, they are great fun those Chorlton Good Neighbours!

There are more photographs from the Chorlton Good Neighbours session on the Cracking Good Food Facebook page.

27 October 2012

Waste not, want not #5

More from our current round of sessions being run in conjunction with Love Food, Hate Waste...

Ashton session – Thursday 25 October at Dukinfield Town Hall with Alison
Tonight we found ourselves in the wonderful building that is Dukinfield Town Hall. We had a full house of attendees from the local area keen to spruce up their cooking skills and learn some really important facts about food waste and ways we can reduce it. We got on with preparing for the curry straight away and everyone gave themselves a job to do. We had a quick demo on finely chopping garlic and chillies, which impressed the group, and we talked about all sorts of ways you can reduce your food waste, saving you money and trying to reduce landfill! Everyone was really chuffed with their Love Food Hate Waste containers and we filled them up with curry and rice with some fresh chopped coriander sprinkled on top for everyone to take home.

Bolton session – Monday 22 October at St Elizabeth Church Horwich with Gideon
As with the previous Love Food Hate Waste cooking sessions, the participants came together to cook a vegetable curry and broaden their knowledge of careful food management at home. Everyone got stuck into preparing vegetables for the curry and were soon chatting about the food they make at home and using up leftovers. The vegetable curry is an ideal dish to use up those limp veggies sitting at the back of the fridge which might get thrown away, as is a hearty soup as suggested by one of the cooks. All were interested in using pulses such as lentils, beans and peas as a great way to bulk up a meal and as an alternative to meat in dishes such as a puy lentil bolognese and lasagne. The most popular and practical plan we discussed was for a roast chicken dinner, stretched to include two more meals. A risotto or chicken curry, followed by a soup and maybe even some extra stock from the last remnants of goodness from the bones. By this point we were all very peckish, but fortunately the curry was ready so we all tucked into a delicious, healthy, nutritious and frugal meal.

Oldham Session – Wednesday 22 October at East Compton St James Parish Rooms with Gideon
With the autumn evenings drawing in, we gathered a group of keen cooks together in a church hall to make a delicious vegetable curry and pass on tips and knowledge of good food management. We discussed using up leftovers and avoiding wasting food by carefully planning meals and writing a shopping list. We also talked about avoiding the supermarkets to find better value ingredients in the quantities required rather than having to buy a whole bag of vegetables such as carrots and ending up throwing half of them away. The group was keen to share their experiences and to learn more, and at the end of it we all sat together to tuck into a delicious vegetable curry.

Rochdale Session – Friday 19 October at The Hub with Gideon
The evening's participants began to arrive and we got on with the preparation of the vegetable curry. We made two versions of the curry, both containing the same ingredients but with a different spice mix in each, one with curry powder and one with garam masala. Before the spices were added, we passed them round the table for all to smell the heady scents, and several people commented on the sweetness of the garam masala. We then went on to discuss the best way to store spices in an air-tight container to maintain the flavour as long as possible. The discussion continued to include discussions of using leftovers and thrifty cooking techniques. After all the talking, the curry was ready and we all tucked in together.

There are more photographs from these sessions on the Cracking Good Food Facebook page here.

25 October 2012

GUEST BLOG: Waste not, want not #4

By guest blogger KIM IRWIN, Cooking Leader

This Tuesday evening saw CGF in Stockport as part of the Love Food Hate Waste campaign, which we are delivering in partnership with Recycle For Greater Manchester. Lots of eager cooks braved the cold autumn evening and turned up ready to don their aprons and get cracking.

Our top tips to cut down on wastage were eagerly received and soon the group were sharing their own… rice-cooking methods from Madagascar, what to do with cauliflower stalks and re-planting herbs on the windowsill were all discussed. We did so much talking, we nearly forgot to cook! Nonetheless, it's so quick and easy to make, our veg and lentil curry was soon bubbling away and the pungent spices filled the air. As the rice steamed, we quickly made a yoghurt riata with fresh mint and cucumber… the perfect accompaniment to any curry.

The room quietened down (always a good sign!) as people tucked in and agreed that they would definitely be trying the recipe at home… even the curry sceptics agreed, it was indeed a lovely dish!

GUEST BLOG: Waste not, want not #3

By guest blogger KIM IRWIN, Cooking Leader

Last Thursday night saw the team in Swinton, Salford at the cosy Lighthouse Community Centre, delivering a curry session as part of the Love Food Hate Waste campaign.
It was a full house with 16 eager cooks, and prepping the raw ingredients was done in no time at all. A quick demonstration of knife skills and people were off, dicing and slicing. Soon the pungent aroma of Indian spices filled the room and mouths were watering. For some, it was a first experience of tasting curry and everyone agreed it was a great way to use up tired veggies that might otherwise have landed up in the bin.
Plates were scraped clean and leftovers taken home. A big success!

23 October 2012

GUEST BLOG: Hearty types

By guest blogger HELEN ROADHOUSE

Autumn was on the menu on Monday for our Food Futures session at Wythenshawe Community Church as we were cooking up some seasonal colours and flavours. Kim had a wonderfully simple recipe for stew and dumplings that she also adapted into a pie using the same ingredients.

Most of our participants would be using what they learned to show others how they could cook healthy but cheap food and without too much difficulty. Kim wanted to show that adaptation was the key and that even if you didn't have specialised cooking equipment you weren't scuppered - there may be something else in your kitchen that you could use or even just do without. For instance, a rolling pin could be made out of a bottle (Kim suggested a wine bottle...!) and today we actually used a metal flask. Also not having scales needn't be an issue as you can just read the weight on a packet then divide the amounts to get an approximate weight. Some recipes do not need complete accuracy, and luckily that applied to our dumpling pastry.

Kim was making good use of seasonal vegetables and used carrot, sweet potato and beetroot. The colours were just gorgeous and so autumnal too plus the health benefits derived from having such an array of coloured foods in your diet are fantastic! No oil was used in the stew, in fact the only fat was some veggie marge used in the dumplings and pie crust so you could just have the stew should you want to go down the ultra-healthy route. Also Kim didn't use any salt so this is also healthy in that respect too.

Kim explained that although this version was following a veggie recipe, it could be adapted by just adding almost any meat. Beef or lamb or chicken thighs would be ideal slow cooked in the stew. Also different veggies could be used should you not be able to get these ones or if you just preferred others.

We sat down to a hearty and colourful lunch and there were many comments on just how simple it was to prepare - even the dumplings and pie crust were very easy and quick to do. A few people also said they were definitely going to make it for themselves later that day - brilliant! We fed 12 people with plenty to spare and Kim had only spent £13 on ingredients so this without a doubt demonstrates how you can cook a no-fuss, healthy and cheap meal... and did I mention that it tasted delicious too?

See our Facebook page for more photographs.

19 October 2012

GUEST BLOG: Causing a stir

By guest blogger TRACEY

Wow, Maz was on fire at her first Cracking Good Food session at the Butler Street Church in Miles Platting. The session was the third of six classes on behalf of Food Futures' Cooking For Cooks programme. The seven participants had varying skills and experience, but all were keen to watch and listen to Maz, share her knowledge and expertise. Sizzling stir-frys with noodles and cheat's seaweed was on the menu.

The group watched as Maz demonstrated chopping all manner of veg - carrots, mangetout, garlic, mushrooms, onions, peppers, ginger, chillies - then each began to prep their own dish. An assortment of vinegars and oils (fish oil, red wine vinegar, groundnut oil, toasted sesame seed oil, teriyaki to name a few!) were available, and each participant was encouraged to sniff, dip a finger and taste to see if the flavour was agreeable. There were three types of noodles to accompany the veg - rice, wholewheat and egg - which got everyone eager to try ones they’d not had before.

Then it was action stations at-the-go as the group started to quick fry their ingredients. The participants were taken with the aroma and the quickness of the dishes, but were delighted that Maz gave them the knowledge and confidence to create their own sauces. Some were even adventurous enough to use the spicy wasabi!

The group left knowing that these are dishes which are easy to recreate with their respective community groups; and healthy, appetising and extremely economical at approximately only £1.60 per head. Thanks, Maz – this session was enjoyed by all!

There are lots of photographs from this session on the Cracking Good Food page on Facebook.

GUEST BLOG: Waste not, want not #2

By guest blogger GIDEON FOSTER, Cooking Leader

On Monday, as part of a Love Food Hate Waste educational programme around Manchester, I led the first of a series of cooking sessions at the Chesham Fold community centre in Bury.

The session was due to start at 7pm and just before the start time there were only a few of us setting up the table and discussing the ingredients to be used for the vegetable curry we would be cooking that evening. But suddenly the room was full and bustling, and we all got stuck in to preparing the vegetables.

We got busy peeling, chopping and dicing as we discussed the importance of not wasting any food and the suitability of a vegetable curry for using up those limp vegetables at the back of the fridge.

With at least one person proclaiming that they didn't like curry, everyone tucked in and enjoyed it, coming back for seconds and taking away the leftovers in their LFHW containers.

We had a fantastic turn-out on what was a cold and damp evening, and it was a very rewarding cooking session, educational for the participants and, I hope, inspiring. 

You can see more photographs from this session on our Facebook page (click here). You can read guest blogger Alison's account of another session we ran with Love Food Hate Waste here.

GUEST BLOG: Waste not, want not #1

By guest blogger ALISON MAUDSLEY, Cooking Leader

Our session in partnership with Love Food Hate Waste at the Inspire Community Centre Levenshulme earlier this week involved cooking a yummy vegetable and lentil curry with rice, with a focus on reducing food waste at home. The free session was attended by 18 people from the local area who all wanted to learn some new cooking skills and share handy hints and tips on their own ways of reducing food waste, such as: cooking in bulk and freezing, eating the leaves on a cauliflower as cabbage (a personal favourite), using the grey caddy bin and food liners for all compostable items (see link), freezing herbs and vegetables, sticking to your budget, only buying what you need, and planning meals in advance. Once it was all cooked, we sat around together and ate the wonderful curry before everyone headed home with leftovers!

You can see more photographs from this session on our Facebook page (click here). You can also read guest blogger Gideon's account of another session we ran with Love Food Hate Waste on the blog.

18 October 2012

GUEST BLOG: Curry on cooking

By guest blogger HELEN ROADHOUSE

On Tuesday, we were at Chorlton High School, cooking up a vegetarian Punjabi menu. Firstly Harjinder explained all the different spices that we would be using tonight. She mentioned various facts and tips regarding some of our most popular spices like the antiseptic qualities of turmeric and how lovage seeds are good for settling an unsettled tum! She also went into detail as to how she creates her own garam masala with black cardamom, cinnamon and cloves, and her own kala masala from black peppercorns and coriander seeds. She also mentioned some of the more unusual spices like aesofetida and there were a few comments on how that can help neutralise the effects of so much dhal and chickpeas!

Harjinder explained how we would be making the masala base that could be used as the base for all meat and vegetable curries with minor variations to change the tastes to suit. There was a minor tomato incident when some participants eager to get going threw the tomatoes into the mix before it was time. Crisis was averted by an emergency tin of toms opened to start again... phew no one was going to go without tonight! Another incident, this time with the frying of the onions and the garlic being added before they were suitably golden brown, a crime against curry! Harjinder expertly coached the participants in the right direction and, although there were quite a few steps and ingredients, it all started to come together nicely.

One participant was concerned about adding salt to the dishes as she was trying to avoid it from a medical point of view. Harjinder explained that the dish needed the salt but each portion would actually contain very little and once you make it at home you can make it to your own taste. Also as we do actually need some salt in our diet and that providing you don't eat much processed food (which always contains loads of hidden salts and sugars and other nasties!), the small amounts added to home-cooked food should be well within most medical guidelines. There was also some small concern with the addition of the fresh chilli and garlic. Harjinder explained that you really would not have an overwhelming garlic flavour to the dishes and she was right. Obviously chilli can be added to taste as it is strong flavoured, but it is also a necessary ingredient.

Harjinder pointed out how little oil or fat was being used, so they are very low-fat dishes and they are healthy because they were all vegetable bases. All our recipes included lentils, chickpeas or mushrooms, and most cost pence to make - another benefit! What's more, the spices last for ages, so they are very cheap to prepare. Harjinder also shared many interesting tips and facts about Indian cooking: karahi refers to the dish the curry is served up in not the actual curry, and that was a new one for me! Also that tarkha dhal, that we refer to as a dish in its own right, was originally made as a starter base for various curry dishes to include different veg or meat.

Once the dishes were cooked and dished up, Harjinder showed us how to quickly fry up the roti or chapatis and then deftly charred them on the gas rings and glazed with butter. We sat down to a very fragrant and tasty punjabi feast and our participants would be definitely trying the recipes out at home. Yum! 

There are loads of pictures of the group and their tasty-looking dishes on our Facebook page: click here to be redirected.

17 October 2012

GUEST BLOG: Fish for compliments

By guest blogger HELEN ROADHOUSE

I had really been looking forward to the fish session with Rob and was not disappointed. Rob had bought mackerel, coley and plaice and had three very different recipes for the three types of fish.

First, the fish had to be filleted. This was greeted with varying degrees of enthusiasm from the participants but, once underway, everyone got involved in the 'yucky' part of cooking fish and it broke the ice and the whole group then gelled really well! Filleting plaice is quite an art and sharp knives are essential to remove the meat evenly from the the bones. The mackerel was gutted, topped, tailed and cleaned, and then put into a roasting dish.

Rob insisted in keeping the white fish heads, tails and skin to make a fish stock - but not the oily fish bits as they make a very bitter stock. All the fish bits were pressure cooked, drained and then milk was added to the liquid which was then reduced down to an almost sticky consistency. This was to go in the Veronique sauce for the plaice. Meanwhile, the coley was cut into fingers and the goujons coated with breadcrumbs and a soya yoghurt and garlic dip was mixed to go with them, and spring onions and veggies were chopped and fried with tomato and reduced down with chilli and Szechuan peppercorns for a spicy Szechuan sauce for the mackerel.

The contrasting sauces are well thought out for the very different fish flavours. The plaice has a very delicate flavour, so the sauce has to be subtle and not overwhelming and the Veronique sauce is perfect for delicate white fish of any sort. By contrast the mackerel can take much stronger flavours hence the fiery Szechuan sauce, though Rob quite rightly warned against going overboard with the powerful Szechuan peppercorns. To go with our fish, our volunteer Kate cooked up roast spuds and crispy cabbage (seaweed in Chinese restaurants!). It was quite a banquet and a fabulously delicious one at that, with loads to go round.

This fish session was brilliantly interesting with some great tips and tasty recipes - and everyone said they would definitely try them again at home. I was also taken with what a lovely group the participants were and how well they all got on as a team. It makes these sessions a fantastically fun experience as well as learning great cooking from our most excellent cooking leader Rob. Everyone thought Rob's expertise and knowledge was inspiring, and the session was a resounding success! Here are some comments from participants...
  • The whole thing was excellent – Cameron
  • Very useful, especially learning to fillet and making a crazy spicy Schezuan sauce – Adam
  • Rob was an excellent teacher and has the manner and guidance to enable us all to work as a team – Karen
  • Rob was a legend! I loved his passion, his knowledge and the fact he explained everything so clearly. The results were amazing too. Loved, loved, loved it! – Eve

10 October 2012

GUEST BLOG: Flour power

By guest blogger HELEN ROADHOUSE

Sometimes I need to remind myself just how privileged we are at Cracking Good Food to have such fantastic cooks and such a vast amount of experience to draw upon to share with other cooks in our sessions so they too can pass on this wealth of information back into the communities. This is what we were doing at the beginners bread-making course we ran on Monday 8 October at Trinity Methodist Church in Miles Platting.

Cracking Cook Rob started by explaining the differences between yeasts and how they work, and how as yeast is a live organism which means the results can be unpredictable.

Rob always suggests using half wholemeal and half white flour as wholemeal does not contain as much gluten. We also found out the reason for using strong flour to make bread rather than ordinary as these wheats are grown especially to produce more gluten, which is necessary for good textured bread. One really interesting nugget of info about flour I learnt is that if you cannot get organic wholemeal flour, it may be more healthy to use white flour. Apparently, all the pesticides used in producing non-organic wheat gets stored in the wheatgerm so it could mean that non-organic wholewheat flour contains more harmful chemicals than non-organic white flour as this has has all the wheat erm processed out! I have worked on a few bread-making sessions with Rob and every time I learn something new from his wealth of experience.

Everyone participating was drawn in by Rob's passion and enthusiasm for making bread and freezing batches rather than buying unhealthy branded breads. I also think participants find the process easier (and more fun) than they expect, and there were lots of positive comments regarding actually trying the recipes at home and at their own community cooking sessions.

There really is nothing better than the smell of fresh bread from the ovens and seeing the beaming smiles of the participants taking their baked prizes home afterwards... another great session!

There are more photos from this session on the Cracking Good Food Facebook page. Click here to be redirected. You can sign up for bread-making classes on 19 February (beginners) and 23 February (next level) at Chorlton High School on our website.

GUEST BLOG: Sustainable sustenance

By guest blogger TRACEY

It wasn't really my cup of tea watching our guest Cracking Cook, Robert Owen Brown from The Mark Addy, skin a rabbit on Saturday 6 October, but I'm glad I attended the session as not only did he inform us about how, if you eat meat, rabbit is now one of the healthiest, leanest and most sustainable meats you can eat, he also he taught the participants how to make some deliciously tasty dishes.

We were treated to rabbit in a wild mushroom and tarragon sauce. Firstly the rabbit legs were browned using olive oil, then the garlic and shallots were added. Once the shallots had softened,  the pre-prepared stock, wine and wonderfully woody fragrant mushrooms (which had been left to soak for hours) were added, which enhanced the depth of flavour to the dish, and I'm pleased to say no shallots were burnt! The ingredients were left to simmer for an hour, repeatedly checking the pan wasn’t sticking and filling the room with a wonderful aroma each time the lid was lifted. The lid was lifted a final time to add the double cream and tarragon, then it was left to reduce by half. 

Once cooked the presentation of the dish varied throughout the room - but the taste was equal for all - delicious. The participants didn’t focus on one dish alone, multi-tasking was afoot - so while the aforementioned dish simmered, Robert had the group rustle up a wee treat of kidney and liver served up with a sliced rustic fried loaf - I'm inclined to agree with Robert that once the herbs and seasoning were added to the flambéed kidneys and livers, they were indeed 'pretty sweet explosions'. 

Howerver, it was the roast saddle of rabbit with shallots and Parma ham that was definitely my winning dish! The ham was cooked and put to one side, while the rabbit and shallots sautéed in the ham's juices. The rabbit stock, bacon, parsley and butter were added to the pan and left simmering, while the plate was prepped for serving using wilted spinach leaves, ham and fondant potato (above). The roasted saddle was then rested on the veg and gravy poured over the dish. The presentation was splendid, but the taste was soooo much better! 

Robert totally deserved the round of applause at the end, the group were well fed, splendidly mentored and amusingly entertained! Everyone went away having learnt a lot about the importance of selecting sustainable meats and the provenance of the food we choose to eat. Natalie pointed out that she felt it was really "good to be this close to my food source: very very rare", so many thanks, Robert!

There are more photographs from the session on our Facebook page.

5 October 2012

GUEST BLOG: Loafing around

By guest blogger TRACEY



It's only our Rob who can inject thoughts of alcohol beverage and the human anatomy into a breadmaking session! Participants at the Bread for Beginners session on Saturday 29 September at Chorlton High School were instructed to make a batch of dough using two-thirds strong white bread flour and one third using a flour of their own choice. The group eagerly embraced the task of selecting and weighing their flour to create their very own "cocktail" loaf... minus the umbrella!

Rob set up an experiment to compare the speed of reaction between the fast action yeast and the dried yeast. Using body temperature water and leaving the mix to activate and form the best 'head' in the warmth of the room, both had the ideal climate to thrive. While the changes occurred, Rob explained how you can use cold, sometimes refrigerated water in place of warm water, but you would need a lot more time. He also discussed the 'science of bread', educating us all on the shape, uses and journey of a grain of wheat - all very enlighting.

The group then mixed the yeast and water in with the flour, adding a quantity of salt to suit each baker's particular taste buds. The dough was then left to rise under a damp tea towel. While the dough was resting, the group got busy peeling garlic cloves to the 'heel and nose' for Rob's famous garlic naan in a pan. Rob demonstrated how to slice and cut the cloves into small cubes, then salt was  sprinkled over the chopped garlic to draw out the moisture and create a dense paste. Natural yoghurt was warmed on the hob, then mixed in with flour, salt, olive oil and garlic paste. The dough was kneaded using the 'heel' of the hand and towards the 'belly button'. The naan dough was split and rolled into tennis ball sizes, then flattened to the size of a plate.

The group's attention then turned to their  loaves, kneading the dough and placing them in well-oiled loaf tins. Once cooked, the 'bottom' was tapped for a slightly hollow sound, then the loaves were left to cool. The session ended with a fabulous collection of freshly baked bread and some delicious garlic naan. The round of applause was well deserved - thanks, Rob!

See our Facebook page for the full photo album of this session. Click here to be redirected.

28 September 2012

GUEST BLOG: Sunday roti

By guest blogger SIOBHAN KELLY

Last Sunday (23 September), Unicorn celebrated its 16th birthday and we were asked to take part and cook. 

Harjinder, one of our wonderful Cracking Cooks, held three workshops outside making lentil tarka dhal with each group of eight making their own roti, finishing them off on the flame. 

The wind was blowing but the rain held off, and even though our gazebo left the ground at one point, a fun and sociable day was had by all.

The tarka dhal was delicious and warmed everyone up - two huge pans were given away to customers and passers-by to taste, as well as the Unicorn’s delicious celebratory cupcakes. What a treat!   

I am such a big fan of dhal - it is a quick and easy meal to make, full of healthy ingredients that can be made almost anywhere, and it’s so cheap to make!

Our three volunteers, pictured here with Harjinder, Cracking Good Food Director Adele and myself, were an incredible help - we couldn’t have done it without them.

For more pictures from the Unicorn day, visit our Facebook page by clicking here.

27 September 2012

GUEST BLOG: Pastry chefs

By guest blogger KIM IRWIN

Tuesday night saw us welcome a guest chef to Chorlton High as part of our ever-expanding public programme. Kevin White, aka The Ginger Kid from Macclesfield, is a pastry specialist and, during the course of the workshop, we got a glimpse into his world.
We started with the formidable task of making our own puff pastry, which was fine as Kevin showed us a slightly easier version to try at home - the 'ruff puff'. With less folds and rolls, and a bit less time spent resting in the fridge, this made it perfect for us to tackle in the workshop. With Kevin's guidance and handy tips, we soon had our puff pastry resting in the fridge. It was a good job everyone had an apron as more flour was on us than on the table! 
We then moved on to making a sweet shortcrust, the basis for some raspberry tarts. Using traditional French techniques, we combined the egg, flour and sugar together, and using cold water we began to work fast… the warmth of the room was against us and it was a race to see who could have their batch chilling first! 
While the pastry was resting, we made a pastry cream for the filling, so easy and yet sooooo delicious, kind of like a custard, but way better. Once our sweet pastry was ready, we rolled it out and, using baking beans (or, rather, dried lentils and split peas), blind baked the cases until brown. Our sweet cases turned out perfectly and we filled them with our pastry cream and raspberries, and topped them off with some decadent buttered almonds. A dusting of icing sugar later and they wouldn't have been out of place in a patisserie window (see the photograph above for proof!).
Meanwhile, we baked our ruff puff tarts and made a red onion jam. Kevin demonstrated some useful knife skills and then our slices of red onion began sweating in the pan before topping off the pastry bases with the jam, a slice of French goats cheese and some dressed rocket. 
There was so much to get through that it turned into a bit of a mad dash towards the end and the smells had everyone's tummies rumbling, but finally we were ready to eat… Kevin had rustled us up a giant couscous salad with slow-roasted tomatoes which we ate alongside our savory tart. Wow, lips were smacked and plates were licked clean - it was indeed a fine feast.  
Our raspberry tarts were carefully wrapped and taken home to show family and friends our new pastry-making skills, and if they were lucky to sample our delicious wares.

All in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable session. New skills and friends were made and we at CGF were delighted with Kevin's guest appearance. We just hope we can entice him back in the future :)

See our Facebook page for lots of inspiring photos from Kevin's session on Tuesday.