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.