27 July 2012

GUEST BLOG: Mexican magic

By guest blogger TRACEY

We regrouped for the last session of our course at the Approved Premises on Wednesday 18 July. The guys were keen to get started and, knowing the drill, began peeling, chopping and slicing the salad and vegetables for the final feast, which was Mexican in theme. 

The chillies were deseeded and the garlic was chopped really fine and salted to draw the water out. Chicken pieces were sprinkled with salt and a dash of oil was added to the tin, then placed in the heated oven to roast. The guys were keen to try the refried beans, so thoroughly washed and drained the beans then roughly mashed half the mix while the red onions, garlic, cumin and chilli were caramelizing on the heat. The aroma filled the room, aiding and inspiring the almost tangible concentration among the team. The mixtures were combined, then lime juice, coriander and salt and pepper were mixed in. They were delighted with the result!

There was some reluctance to try the guacamole, as the texture and consistency of avocado was unfamiliar to some. Rob decided a smooth consistency might work better, so out came the hand blender and the ingredients were blended down to a fine and tasty saucy dip – perfect for dipping a tortilla chip into!

Sweet potatoes were peeled and cut into wedges, then sprinkled with the smoky paprika spice. They looked wonderful and tasted delicious once roasted. The guys really enjoyed making the bread wraps and were surprised at just how the simple ingredients of flour, butter, baking powder, salt and water could create a tasty blanket for the delicious foods they made to go in it!

It was great to hear the guys saying how much they had enjoyed and benefited from the course of six sessions. Some agreed that they learnt new recipes; others had improved on their knowledge and skills. But I was particularly pleased to hear that one individual’s love of cooking had been revived.

Well done, guys, and thank you for providing such a wonderful feast!

You can see more photos from this session on the Cracking Good Food Facebook page.

16 July 2012

GUEST BLOG: Store cupboard cooking

By guest blogger TRACEY

Austerity was in the air at the Approved Premises on Wednesday 11 July. The group had previously been given a list of items in a virtual store cupboard so they could cook up a healthy and appealing dinner with minimal ingredients. We were impressed with the enthusiasm and self-assured capabilities of each participant and enthralled when they devised a three-course menu of onion bhajis with a mustard and mayonnaise dip, pizza with coleslaw (being prepared above) and kedgeree, and a no-measure pancake mix for dessert. 

So on Wednesday, as an onlooker, you may have mistook the tears streaming down their cheeks, thinking the guys were emotionally overwhelmed with this challenge - but it was purely down to the amount of onions needed in varying styles for the bhajis, pizza, coleslaw and kedgeree! Once the frying started and the room filled will that undeniably pleasing aroma, everyone ran with the challenge and many independently got on with the tasks ahead.

The naan bread pizza base rose and the delicious tomato-based sauce reduced down perfectly resulting in a delicious rich and tasty pizza topping. Debates were had over what to top each pizza with, but it was agreed that courgette, tuna and sweetcorn were the best options, especially as both the sweetcorn and tuna could also be used for the kedgeree. The coleslaw was dressed in a perfectly balanced mix of lemon, yogurt, Dijon mustard, oil and salt and pepper, which, to my surprise, I loved (I don’t do mustard)! The kedgeree tasted and looked amazing even using tinned tuna in place of fresh haddock, and tips were shared on how to boil the perfect egg - and obviously adhered to! It was great to see the bhajis come together, purposefully a little flat in appearance as the group bore in mind the healthy eating aspects when planning the meal. We were lucky to have two varieties of bhajis: onion and vegetables as the guys cleverly suggested using the surplus veg from the coleslaw and pizza to reduce food wastage!

Once we were sat enjoying our feast the guys commented that fresh pizza was definitely better than frozen and that they would cook the menu again!

You can see more photos from this session by clicking here.

GUEST BLOG: Flat pack

By guest blogger TRACEY

Thankfully, the Big Green Thank You event on Saturday 14 July wasn’t hindered by the morning's mishap of all the Cracking Good Food equipment and ingredients being locked in my car… along with the car keys!

Over 50 creative and adventurous pizzas were made by the young people of Reddish Vale Technology College. Stretford Pizza Ovens helped serve up the wonderfully tasty pizzas and queues were kept to a minimum, as they each took just 90 seconds to cook! The guys really enjoyed rolling out the dough, spreading on the tomato-based sauce with some opting for pesto, then decorating their pizzas with aubergines, chillies, courgettes, red onions, mushrooms, peppers, capers and herbs. Although some were reluctant to try these ingredients at first, a little persuasion worked and some participants were even keen to try the delights again in different dishes!

A great day organised by The Kindling Trust.

There's another write-up of the event on The Kindling Trust's website and pictures on their Facebook page and ours!

6 July 2012

GUEST BLOG: Talking Italian

By guest blogger TRACEY

A perfect mix of pasta dishes were stirred up at the Approved Premises on Wednesday 4 July. A tangy yet spicy puttanesca sauce along with a deeply creamy and tasty mushroom, bacon and cheese carbonara sauce were both served with pasta al dente. The guys formed the now familiar peeling, chopping and slicing stations, and the concentration was near tangible, as they now have the skills and knowledge to do what’s needed when prepping.

The sauces were made simultaneously, so it was all hands to the pumps, cutting bacon into lardons, rinsing capers, chopping the olives and draining the anchovies; reserving the oil for frying the vegetables later. The reaction to the ingredients was quite positive as there had been some resistance to sampling the anchovies and olives in isolation, but a keenness to try them when served in the dish. Once the garlic, anchovies, chillies, tomatoes, capers and parsley were mixed, the puttanesca sauce came together with ease, and it looked rich and enticing, and tasted amazing.

After a break, the participants were divided into pairs to prep the cheese sauce, fry the onions and mushrooms, and cook the pasta. We intended to use the juice from the fried mushrooms as liquid for the roux sauce, but the mushrooms absorbed most of it - still, it didn’t hinder the taste of the cheese sauce as it was rich thick and creamy and looked wonderful once the caramelised onions and mushrooms were mixed in. Basil was used to garnish the dishes and the participants were keen to try the Parmesan in block form and seemed to appreciate the difference in taste when sprinkled onto the food.

One participant commented that the puttanesca sauce “carries the initial taste of fish, but then the chilli kicks in”, and he was very surprised that he liked the dish as he wasn’t overly enthusiastic to try the anchovies straight out of the tin! Well done, Rob – you converted many to the delights of capers, anchovies and olives, and led a great discussion ahead of next week's store-cupboard session where the guys have devised their own menu. You also very kindly shared the translation of puttanesca - interesting!

You can see more photographs from this session on the CGF Facebook page: click here.

GUEST BLOG: Packed with flavour

By guest blogger SIOBHAN KELLY

Friday 29 June was the last of a series of four sessions helping women in two hostels in Withington learn how to prepare and cook healthy meals on a budget. 

On today’s menu was a chicken and vegetable stir-fry with crispy seaweed, plus no-bake cheesecake.

We started off by preparing the cheesecake which just needed chilling in the fridge instead of baking in the oven.  Digestive biscuits were put in a bowl and  bashed into crumbs with the end of a rolling pin then melted butter was added to make the base, and this was placed in the bottom of a ramekin dish. Cream cheese and grated lime zest were mixed together and sliced strawberries and chopped fresh basil leaves were left to infuse for the topping.

Crispy seaweed is made from de-stalking large cabbage leaves, rolling them up tightly then slicing thinly to make strips. These were then washed, drained and fried with sesame seeds in a hot wok. The strips of cabbage darken and shrink to form a crispy seaweed dish.

Chicken was sliced and chopped into chunks and fried in a hot wok to brown and seal, adding honey to glaze and sweeten it. Red and green peppers were cut into chunks, garlic was squashed and chopped to release the juices, and Kim demonstrated how to make pretty flower-shaped carrot slices, then these, along with broccoli florets, fresh chilli, grated ginger, freshly squeezed lemon juice, and boiled and drained wholewheat noodles were added to the wok.

The feast was now ready to eat – a perfect combination of flavours in every mouthful. Lemon zesty sweet honey chicken mixed with vegetables and noodles was lovely, followed by a heavenly cheesecake topped with fresh strawberries and fresh basil.

Goody bags were given out containing a mix of ingredients to help the participants repeat some dishes in their own time. The bags (pictured)  included a bottle of lemon juice, red onion, garlic, fresh ginger, bunch of fresh coriander, a carrot, and recipe sheets. The participants will be awarded framed certificates from the sessions they have attended and in the near future, a cookery book with recipes, photographs and input/comments from the last four weeks will be produced. What an enjoyable course with a rich array of dishes over the weeks - what a shame there isn’t a fifth!

There are lots more photos from this session on our Facebook page.

3 July 2012

GUEST BLOG: Use your loaf!

By guest blogger HELEN ROADHOUSE

It was a full house for making bread at Chorlton High School on Saturday, so it was looking to be a busy day, even with the extra hour that has been added to this session! Rob wasted no time in telling us that we would be making a standard loaf, garlic naan and some focaccia, so everyone would be going home with a veritable feast of goodies!

Rob explained that bread bought in supermarkets is made very quickly and filled with preservatives and all sorts of other chemicals so it stays fresh for longer. It was interesting to learn that there are no laws to insist on commercial breadmakers listing the exact contents. We all found it interesting to ponder why Britain has such a huge commercial 'sliced white' industry whereas in most other European countries, France particularly, the bread culture is to buy bread baked freshly daily from local bakeries.

Rob brought in some sour dough that he had freshly baked that morning for us all to try. Mmmmm!
Unfortunately sour dough takes a bit too long to prepare for a session, but he explained to us the processes and its benefits so we could go home and make some sour dough if we chose to. One of the interesting parts of the sour dough process is the 'starter' or ' sponge' that is used. Sour dough does not use dried or fresh yeast, but instead a mixture of flour, water and sugar is left for the natural yeasts in the air to become the mixture that is added to the dough. This 'starter' can take up to four days to be ready to use and then usually bakers will use half of the mixture or batter for a batch and use the other half to prepare a new 'starter' for the next batch and so on it goes. Some old bakeries are reputed to be using and dividing the same starter originally prepared over a hundred years ago! Rob certainly is a font of interesting facts and baking tips!

Everyone's standard loaf dough rose well enough to be baked so everyone had a loaf to be proud to take home. The naan smelt garlicky and tempting and the focaccia was adorned with yummy ingredients so the room was full of mouth-watering aromas.
The day was a busy but brilliantly successful and a lot of delicious breads were created. The volunteers, Angela and Vinod, were fantastic to have on the team and were greatly appreciated by all. I think I can genuinely say that everyone thoroughly enjoyed baking with Rob and they all soaked up his fantastic knowledge. So many participants said how much they couldn't wait to start baking the recipes at home, especially the sour dough. What a lovely group of people!

Rob will be running a Breadmaking For Beginners session on Saturday 29 September and another Bread Extra session on Saturday 20 October. Full details and booking information can be found on the Cracking Good Food website: click here and here to be redirected.

2 July 2012

GUEST BLOG: Curry in a hurry

By guest blogger TRACEY

On the menu for the Approved Premises last Wednesday (27 June) was curry: chicken jalfrezi, sweet and sour Mumbai lentils, and garlic naan. Rob bought some of the cheapest cuts of chicken (thighs and legs) to roast once sprinkled with salt. We needed the chicken moist and tender to break up and add to the jalfrezi, so the oven was set to cook for one hour. 

The group then reported for ‘garlic duty’, and soon everyone was peeling and chopping, keeping the root intact to make it easier to slice then cube. A few group members were already familiar with Rob’s tip to draw the moisture out… add salt to the garlic, then gently press with a knife’s edge. Some participants re-employed previously learnt skills to peel and chop the ginger into matchsticks, while others peeled, sliced and chopped the peppers, onions and chillies. By this point, people were drawn to the room from upstairs, intrigued to know which vegetables were being used. The group began to prep the garlic naan bread dough; using flour, yeast, salt and not forgetting the copious amounts of garlic! The ingredients were combined with soya milk to accommodate the dietary needs of one group member. Rob demonstrated how to knead then the dough was left to prove.

After a break, the aroma of onions, garlic and ginger being fried made everyone feel very hungry and one participant commented that the  mix “looked good to eat NOW”. The peppers were sizzling and reducing down in another pan, while the lentils were being washed and ready to cook. Turmeric, salt, sugar and tamarind were added to the lentils and left to simmer. Rob explained that the tamarind provided the sour element to this dish - it's like jam with no sugar. The spices for the lentils were fried, using a pan lid to ensure the cumin, black mustard seeds and fenugeek didn’t escape while popping. One participant undertook "lentil-watch", stirring the spices in and making sure the mix didn’t stick. Although he didn't fancy the ingredients at first, his opinion rapidly changed once the chopped coconut block was added.

Tinned tomatoes were added to the onion and pepper jalfrezi base and, once the chicken had cooked, it was shredded and added to the pan. The final touch of chopped coriander was stirred in and, not only did it look and smell divine, it was a real treat for our tastebuds too. One participant had the genius idea of adding some chopped fresh tomatoes to the lentil dhal along with the coriander at the end and again this worked exceptionally well. Everyone got involved in rolling and frying the now infamous naan-in-a-pan’ and they, plus six visitors, then joined in sampling the delights from our Curry in a Hurry session, all for about as little as £1.40 per head.

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