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.