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.