31 May 2012

Certified goodness!

Once again, Southway Housing residents gathered together at what we affectionately call Buck House to cook up a delicious vegetable stew with herby dumplings. This was our final session in the second programme Cracking Good Food has run on the Arrowfield Estate, just off Nell Lane.

Kim reminded us of the nutritious goodness in the beetroot and sweet potatoes used in this recipe and we sat back and let the class prepare the ingredients for our final feast. As this was a dish we had prepared earlier in the programme, everyone had something to contribute and different herbs and spices were added after careful tasting. The dumplings were light and fluffy and subtly flavoured with fresh rosemary from The Lost Plot, our community allotment. Black-eyed beans added protein and fibre, and the stew took on a pink hue from the beetroot, which made the dish even more appealing. All agreed that such an appetising meal was surprisingly economical and simple to prepare.
As it was such a glorious evening, the group decided to eat al fresco in the grounds of Buck House. This is in fact a tiny garden!

Here is some of the feedback we received about the course...

"Since cooking with Cracking Good Food, I have become more confident in the kitchen. I have introduced beetroot and sweet potatoes into my diet and am currently preparing a small piece of ground in my garden to enable me to grow some of the vegetables we have used in our recipes.  Thank you, Cracking Good Food."
Vicky Garlick, Arrowfield resident for 17 years. 

There is an album on our Facebook page containint more photos from this session. Click here to view.

GUEST BLOG: Flowered up

By guest blogger ANGELA CONNELLY

What a day to go hunting for elderflower! It's the end of May and Manchester is baking hot - what better way to spend a few hours than walking around Chorlton Water Park. Thank goodness the weather was fine since we had some people come all the way from sunny Bristol to learn about elderflower and all the beautiful things to do with it. Unfortunately, a temperamental spring has delayed the growing season somewhat so not all of the flowers had yet arrived. Jesper supplemented the elderflower talk with some insights into what else grows down the Mersey banks as we ambled around.

Having worked up something of a sweat, the picnic blankets came out, along with a selection of tipples. Wine made from oak leaf or Himalayan blossom? I didn't believe it either, but both went down very well, as did some of last year's elderflower cordial. To top it all off, Jesper brought some prepared elderflower champagne mix, explained how to make it and then siphoned a bit off for people to take home. After everyone had gone, I slowly inched back towards Chorlton, stopping en route to pick a few more flowerheads for home. This drew quite a few glances, comments and requests for my future elderflower vintage wine. Ahem... !

There are more of Angela's photos on our Facebook page.

GUEST BLOG: New breads on the block

By guest blogger HELEN ROADHOUSE

A lovely group came all the way from St Helens to Chorlton High School on Saturday (26 May) to learn from Rob how to make a classic loaf as well as focaccia and naan bread.

The group were volunteers from a community food group called Shoots who work not for profit and locally source and pack affordable veggie packs. This was originally to be for more disadvantaged groups and individuals to promote healthy eating but as it is so successful apparently anyone can buy the packs now. What a fantastic idea and certainly one that sits well with our own ethos here at Cracking Good Food.

We got started on the basic loaf. It was really interesting to learn from Rob that baking your own bread is so much healthier than buying supermarket bread. He explained that by allowing breads to prove for longer, like soda breads, the process makes the bread more easily digestible and often people who cannot tolerate mass-produced breads can eat some homemade breads. Also of course you know exactly what ingredients are going into it instead of the dizzying array of chemicals that help preserve the shop-bought breads. Rob explained the live nature of yeast and that it could have slightly unpredictable results and occasionally some doughs don't rise as well as others even though you use the same packet of yeast.

Rob had some great tips on kneading and using 'bakers mate' tools and while that dough was left to prove we started on the dough for the focaccia and naan. They both started off the same with the flour, olive oil and yeast quantities. The naan was mixed with garlic paste and yoghurt while the focaccia was stretched into baking trays to prove. The naan was divided to make six balls rolled thin to fry in sunflower oil in a frying pan. The focaccia was drizzled with oil from the olives and sun-blush tomatoes and then liberally decorated with an assortment of delicious ingredients - red onion, garlic, salt, rosemary, sun-blush tomatoes, olives and blue cheese, but the list could go on and on - then these were put into the oven.

The smells from the baking were more than enough to get mouths watering in anticipation and it was well past lunchtime so everyone enthusiastically divided up the different types of breads to taste. There had been one or two of the group who admitted they weren't overly keen on quite a lot of the ingredients we were adding to the focaccia, and one lady didn't like garlic. What was lovely was that they all tried ingredients they wouldn't normally eat and some even enjoyed foods they had previously said they didn't like. One lady said she was not a fan of curries but would use this naan bread with other meals instead plus she tried and liked hummous with it, which was a first for her.

Everyone learned something new from the class plus most were trying new flavours and discovering new ideas for using breads. I think sometimes breadmaking can seem a daunting task but Rob helped all of us understand that it really isn't something to be worried about and we all agreed that we would be trying out these recipes at home. It also helped that he could demonstrate exactly when a loaf was cooked to perfection not only by how it looks but also by how it sounds when you tap the bottom. A springy drum sound!

It had been a hot day for baking but no one minded as we were all thoroughly absorbed with the baking, learning and creating and everyone went home with bags bulging with delicious warm, fresh aromatic offerings. Another Cracking Good success!

There are more photographs from this session on the Cracking Good Food Facebook page. Click here to be redirected.

We're running this session again, on Saturday 30 June, so if you missed out this time, you can sign up here.

GUEST BLOG: Fab fast food

By guest bloggger TRACEY

Time fries when you’re having fun, and there was lots of fun and food to be had at the last session at the Approved Premises on Wednesday 23 May. The group finished on a high, leaving with a fill of homemade beefburgers, Spanish tortilla, smoky sweet potato wedges and a simple green leaf salad. They all seemed keen to reflect over the dishes cooked over the six-week programme and were overwhelmed when they took stock of the amount of information learnt, experiences gained and the growth in confidence they’d got over the course period. Not only did we massage their mental culinary skills, but Cracking Good Food also equipped them physically… a set of cooking utensils and saucepans were given to each participant to assist them in their lives going forward so they can go on to recreate some of the amazing dishes.

So, it was all hands to the pump, with chopping, grating, slicing and mixing of ingredients. The aroma of the onion and potatoes frying for the tortilla got the tastebuds going and, once the remaining ingredients of egg, garlic and parsley were added and the tortilla started to set, the distinct sound of tummy rumblings was heard (or was that just mine?). The group formed the beef into personalised and memorable shapes for the burgers, choosing whether to use the plain mix or the one with the added onion. The sweet potato wedges looked and tasted amazing as they were sprinkled with paprika before baking. Then the plates were finished off with salad and a lovely mix of the traditional burger relishes. A great end to a great course. Thanks guys!

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

26 May 2012

GUEST BLOG: Nature's way

By guest blogger ANGELA CONNELLY

Spring has well and truly sprung for an enjoyable forage around Fletcher Moss Park with Jesper Launder. Who can resist the lure of free food? Particularly when found in abundance in the local park. I’ve been on some of Jesper’s forages earlier this year. What’s been really enlightening is seeing the changing seasons and learning how to use every aspect of one plant. Back in April, we were treated to the heady aroma and taste of young wild garlic leaves. This time round, the same plant was awash with beautiful flowers which make an equally good addition to the salad bowl along with the small punchy, green seeds. I was forced to reconsider my previous position on commonly held ‘weeds’, such as dandelion and ground elder. To top it all off we had baskets full of mushrooms, mint and other delights. Back at the range, our tipple of choice was dandelion wine and some rather scrumptious wild garlic flowers and hogweed fritters along with Jesper’s now famous garlic wild mushrooms. Three forages in and I’m beginning to sense some confidence at recognising and harvesting plants. And, alongside the cooking skills, I have learned much, much more about what is good for my health the natural (and free!) way…

You can find out more about Jesper on his website here.

There are lots more of Angela's great photos from the forage on our Facebook page here.

22 May 2012

GUEST BLOG: Talking about a revolution

By guest blogger HELEN ROADHOUSE

As part of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution Day on Saturday 19 May, we set up a stall outside the Alexandra Worsley Health & Wellbeing Clinic in Bramhall just at the entrance of the Square shopping precinct - in prime position to catch the Saturday shoppers!

Harjinder was demoing how to cook tarka dhal and chapatis from scratch and it wasn't long before the lovely smells from the spices were wafting through the streets and starting to entice people to come and see just what was making their tummies rumble!

The point of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution Day is to promote healthy eating that is cheap, simple and tasty, and tarka dhal is a perfect recipe. The passers-by were impressed by the fact that it only takes 12 minutes  to cook once the ingredients are chopped and a family of four can be substantially fed for as little as £1.90! Most people have the spices already or they can be bought very cheaply and, as we all know, lentils are a very cheap staple that goes a long way. As we are all hit by today's austerity measures ways of stretching budgets are welcomed by everyone.

A few people had preconceived ideas about tarka dhal and believed it to be very oily, and one lady dismissed it immediately saying she had high cholesterol. Once Harjinder explained that the whole meal could be prepared with no oils or fats whatsoever, the lady was very pleasantly surprised as were most of the onlookers!

We struggled to finish on time as the shoppers kept coming up asking for samples and wanting more info, and how could we refuse when there was such enthusiasm for what we were promoting! Harjinder's deft skill with making and charring the chapatis had people enthralled and the demo was great entertainment for children, who loved to try the food and ask questions.

It really was a successful session and the people of Bramhall seemed keen to take on board the Food Revolution ideal and the cooking-from-scratch ethos of Cracking Good Food too. The girls from Alexandra Worsley were brilliant allowing us to use the facilities in their lovely clinic and they too loved the tarka dhal. I can only imagine any other future Cracking Good Food projects would be welcomed with open arms in Bramhall.

You can see more photographs from this event on the Cracking Good Food Facebook page. Feel free to "like"!

21 May 2012

GUEST BLOG: Rising to the challenge

By guest blogger SIOBHAN KELLY

Saturday morning (19 May) bought together a group of 12 at Chorlton High School to make naan breads and a loaf, as part of our latest season of paid cookery sessions (see the CGF website for details of the next classes you can sign up for). 

We started off with an interesting brief from Rob of what the session would consist of and then we were straight into mixing yeast, flour and water to make the dough. Top tip from Rob – always add too much water rather than too much flour when making dough. The first is easy to rectify and the latter nearly impossible to change in the dough-making process.

While the dough was rising in the warm grill area of the cooker, heated only from the oven below, it was time to begin making the naan. Today, Rob had bought some amazing looking garlic from the Unicorn Grocery which was larger than life and such beautiful colours. I have never seen such large cloves. Fun was had chopping these and adding salt to make a fresh garlic paste. For the naan making, the group split into pairs to work so that there was not a “tsunami of naans” at the end of the session – an amusing bit of visualisation there Rob which made me laugh. Yoghurt was heated up in a pan ready to add to the flour mix, then we were busy kneading the dough ready to roll out before frying in a pan.

Wonderful smells of baking bread and fried naans filled the air, and I found myself getting very hungry indeed! This was a great session, which ran really smoothly due to the help and hard work of our two lovely volunteers.

See our Facebook page for more pictures from this session. Click here to be redirected.

Rob will be running another bread-making session on Saturday 30 June, when he'll be sharing the secrets of fabulous focaccia. Details of how to book can be found on our website. And if you fancy treating your sweet tooth, we have a cake-baking session on the evening of Tuesday 12 June, with Erika from Black Cat Cakery; details here.

18 May 2012

GUEST BLOG: Mexican wave

By guest blogger TRACEY

It was sombrero time at Approved Premises on Wednesday 16 May as the group came together to create a feast of traditional spicy and cool Mexican food: fajitas, guacamole, salsa, salad, tortilla and re-fried beans.

Instead of the commonly used chicken in the fajitas, Alison showed us how moist and tender turkey can be: by cutting it into strips, the taste is then enhanced by marinating the goujons in lime juice and cumin, then quickly stir-frying them. Most participants came to terms with the unattractive appearance of the re-fried beans, when they tasted how flavoursome the dish was after adding red onions, garlic, cumin and the lovely smoky scent of chipotle chilli to the mix. One participant even suggested shaping the mix into patties and coating them in fine breadcrumbs and then frying…great idea for a cheap and easy veggie burger! The guacamole provided another hurdle as many didn’t like the texture of the avocado, but most sampled it and said they may try it again, adapting the ingredients to their personal taste. The salsa proved a hit with everyone, and provided a lovely aroma to chop, peel, deseed and grate to! A first for everyone was making fresh tortillas. It's such a great basic recipe: just mix flour, warm water, butter, baking powder and salt, separate into small dough balls, then roll them into a flat sideplate-sized circle. Some irregular shapes formed but only the regular sounds of enjoyment were heard when the different dishes were wrapped up inside… gracias, un plato delicioso, Alison!

More images from this session can be viewed on  the Cracking Good Food Facebook page.

GUEST BLOG: Aroma therapy

By guest blogger SIOBHAN KELLY

A ‘small but perfectly formed’ group of five met on Tuesday (15 May) at Buckthorn House on the Nell Lane Estate to cook fishcakes, feta cheese potato cakes, salsa verde and beetroot and carrot salad.

It was a lovely sociable evening spent chopping and preparing ingredients, chatting about preparation/methods, favourite tastes in foods and preference of vegetables, sharing personal tips for cooking, and just enjoying cooking as part of a group in a relaxed and sociable environment.

Top tips from Kim this eve - to buy the ‘fish pie mix’ at Chorlton’s fishmongers: it's a cheap, good-quality mix of fish ‘off-cuts’ which are perfect for a fish pie or fishcakes. Another great tip we picked up: while the potatoes are boiling in the pan, steam the fish in a colander over them with a lid on top. This reminds me of how great steamers are for saving fuel and for healthy cooking.

I realise each time I take part in a cooking session what a pleasure it is to prepare meals from scratch. It is inspiring as each ingredient is cut and chopped and the aromas spread through the air. The chopped fresh mint wafted under my nose from the other side of the room and other memories of smells this evening are of fresh garlic, chopped red onion, fresh basil, spring onions, freshly squeezed lemon, chopped cucumber, grated deep purple beetroot, grated bright orange carrot, dry fried green pumpkin seeds, mashed potatoes, chopped capers, gherkins and green olives, and gently steamed fish: salmon, cod, coley and monkfish.

The finished feast was really a delight of colours, flavours, smells and tastes. Each dish deserved its place on the plate, and they all complimented one another - you can tell how much I enjoyed eating the finished meal! 

The whole group were very generous with helping and clearing up – a delight to share a meal with. I hope they were all as inspired by this evening as I was.

There are more photographs from this event on our Facebook page.

15 May 2012

A good pasting

On 8 May, we ran our latest session with the residents of the Southway Housing Association properties on Nell Lane in Chorlton. This time round at Buckthorn House, we were cooking up Thai green curry with plenty of fruit. Kim demonstrated how to make authentic curry paste and included all participants in the process.  Using food from FareShare, Kim was able to explain how Emerge divert and distribute unwanted short-dated food away from landfill to community groups instead. What a great job they do… and Kim, too, for showing people how to cook it! 

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

11 May 2012

GUEST BLOG: Pasta times

By guest blogger TRACEY

A controversial mix of flavours were used this Wednesday (9 May) at the Approved Premises session and some weren't to everyone’s taste!

Anchovies, olives and capers were used to create Puttanesca – a spicy, tangy and somewhat salty Italian pasta dish. Alison assured us that the anchovies, which were already wee, would melt into the sauce (they did), and that the capers would give a balanced saltiness to the dish (which they did), and that the olives were chopped to ‘re-moveable sized’ chunks – which I did! The group familiarised themselves through taste and smell with the ingredients before cooking, resulting in some participants being under keen on trying the end result. Once the cooking started and the aroma of the plum tomatoes, garlic, chilli, and peppers filled the room, however, the reluctance to try abated and eagerness to finish the dish grew.

The sauce simmered to reduce, whilst the group began making a cheese and ham sauce (above) for their second dish. A fairly strong cheese was used and some delicious thinly sliced ham was ribboned. The group were quite content savouring the smell of the fried mushrooms and onions, taking time to note Alison’s tip of frying the mushrooms down to avoid increasing the water content in the cheese sauce. Freshly chopped parsley and the juice of a lemon were added to the Puttanesca sauce then combined with al dente penne pasta. The cheese sauce was combined with the mushroom and onion mix, then added to cooked thick ribboned pasta. The end result was wonderful and enhanced in texture with Alison’s fresh tomato, lettuce, cucumber and grated carrot salad dressed in olive oil and lemon with crunchy sesame and sunflower seeds mixed through. We all sat and ate together to enjoy the fruit of everyone’s labours.

More photos from this session can be viewed on our Facebook page. Click here to be redirected.

9 May 2012

GUEST BLOG: Cracking Good Love Food

By guest blogger SIOBHAN KELLY

Cracking Good Food took part in the Love Food Festival, which took place at Manchester Museum on Saturday 28 April and was organised by the Sustainable Consumption Institute at Manchester University.

The Love Food Festival says it "aims to encourage people in Manchester to eat more sustainable and fresher food by supporting local growers, learning how to grow your own food and how to cook delicious healthy recipes that won’t break the bank".

We had fun cooking outside, with changing skies and a healthy breeze, and were very lucky as the rain held off all day.

Our cooking session was aimed at 16-19 year olds. Three groups of eight people had the chance to chop and prepare vegetables for a healthy stir-fry meal using mushrooms, spring onions, onions, garlic, fresh ginger, yellow peppers, courgettes, carrots, broccoli, mangetout, beansprouts, fresh lime, soy sauce and toasted sesame oil. It was a delicious, fresh, quick, cheap and healthy meal which each group enjoyed eating together after the preparation and cooking.

We had been given four boxes of vegetables: celery, cucumbers, yellow peppers and broccoli from FareShare, which is an organisation that redistributes short-dated food to community groups and saves it from going to landfill. We used some of the broccoli and peppers in the stir-frys. The rest of the vegetables were given away to passers-by and we encouraged as many people as we could to take what they wanted, resulting in many delighted people. Everyone got a recipe sheet too so they could try/repeat the stir-fry at home.

I was thrilled that all the vegetables were taken away and not put into landfill - how wonderful to see four empty boxes at the end of the session. Maybe there’s a new career for me out there on a market stall somewhere!

See the Cracking Good Food Facebook page for more photographs from the Love Food Festival.

GUEST BLOG: Jalfrezi joy

By guest blogger TRACEY

Wow, Alison was on fire sharing her curry tips at the Approved Premisies session on Wednesday 2 May! The group prepped the veg for the jalfrezi, using spoons to scoop out the butternut squash seeds, chopping the ginger into Julienne strips, and top’n’tailing the fresh green beans for added texture and colour. The room then filled with the delicious aroma of popping dry-fry cumin and onions and both staff and residents were drawn to the kitchen to observe and place orders! Some stayed and watched how the addition of tomatoes, chilli, onions and carefully measured spices created an amazing base sauce for most curries. The pork was cubed and fried in spices and then left to one side. Meanwhile, the cauliflower and sweet potatoes simmered and spinach blanched. Finally, all ingredients came together in the wok where spring onions, chickpeas and green beans were added, which resulted in an appetising and hearty jalfrezi.

The group also created a tarka dhal using washed split red lentils and were introduced to asafoetida (a spice used as a flavour enhancer alongside turmeric). The cumin seeds were popped again and oil was added instead of ghee (the clarified and traditionally used fat) for its health properties. Onion, garlic, ginger, chilli powder, coriander, garam masala and fenugeek were fried, and the softened  lentils added. Just before serving, freshly chopped coriander was sprinkled in. I think the group were pleasantly surprised how substantial and nourishing this meat-free and extremely cheap dish could be.

Group members particularly enjoyed making the ‘naan-in-the-pan’, although the smell of the yeast was not to everyone's taste! But again the group were self-impressed that they had made something so authentic and comparable to what they’d get from a takeaway! The chopping line regrouped to make Alison’s refreshing and tasty salad of tomatoes, cucumber and coriander - the perfect accompaniment to our lunchtime meal fit for a king… and a few other subjects!!

There are more photographs of these tasty dishes on our Facebook page.

Wholesome types

Cracking Cook Kim is back with a new programme of healthy eating sessions for attendees of the Angel Centre in Salford. On Thursday 3 May, she had the group making fishcakes with salsa verde and a poached egg (pictured below), while the previous session had seen them cooking up beetroot stew with butterbeans and rosemary dumplings.

These Cook 4 Life community classes, in conjunction with social enterprise Social adVentures, are all about sharing our tips on how to cook healthy meals that are also flavoursome and inexpensive, and will run for another four weeks. People can be referred by their GP, Social Prescribing Navigator or by self-referral. For more information, contact: simone@socialadventures.org.uk and/or kim@islingtonmill.com.

You can see more photographs from this session on the CGF Facebook page: visit http://www.facebook.com/crackinggoodfood 

3 May 2012

Rising stars

Rob was back with his popular breadmaking for beginners class, this time with a new extended four-hour session. Not only did the extra time allow those who needed more kneading time to master the art of breadmaking, it also enabled Rob to extend his repertoire by adding focaccia (above - more photos on our Facebook page) to the menu for the day! And how delicious and masterly was that? In fact, it was so successful, Rob is now running another breadmaking session on 30 June from 10am–2pm, so more people can add them to their menus at home too.

He’s also, due to popular demand (we listen to your feedback!), back with his Discovering Fish course on 23 June, 11am–2pm. Full details on the website: www.crackinggoodfood.org  

We look forward to cooking with you!