28 January 2013

GUEST BLOG: Nature trail

By guest blogger Vicky Howell

A chilly morning in January when there’s still snow on the ground doesn’t seem the ideal time of year to go foraging, but that was the unlikely plan for last Sunday and a group of eager foragers gathered in Fletcher Moss Park in Didsbury to take part. Led by Jesper Launder, the intrepid explorers made their way down through the park to see what was on offer.

One of our first discoveries was cow parsley, and we were taught how to spot the difference between this and the significantly more dangerous hemlock, which can also be found in the park. Jesper told us how best to use cow parsley, as well as a number of other plants that he discovered in the undergrowth, including hogweed, nettles and three cornered leek, which tastes a bit like a spring onion. We gathered a bit of each of these to cook at the end of the session.

While we were negotiating one of the many paths in the park, one of the foragers spotted the first mushroom of the morning, which Jesper identified as an oyster mushroom. After this find we managed to see mushrooms under almost every log, including scarlet elf cups, jelly ears, glistening ink caps and velvet shanks.  Jesper explained which could be eaten and which were best to avoid, and enlightened us about the medicinal properties of each variety. 

Once we had a basket full of goodies and thoroughly frozen fingers and toes, we made our way back to the entrance to the park to see what could be made.  With the help of some eggs, milk and butter, Jesper whipped up a mushroom and three cornered leek tortilla, which went down a treat, along with some homemade Himalayan balsam flower wine. The foragers split the rest of the finds between them and went home with eager plans to head out into the woods again soon!

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

25 January 2013

GUEST BLOG: Full of flavour

By guest blogger SIOBHAN KELLY

Following the demonstration session last week of stuffed gram flour pancakes and lentil tarka dhal, this Thursday we ran the first of a series of three weekly hands-on sessions at Benchill Primary School in Wythenshawe where parents and children prepare and cook a meal together and eat together at the end.

We had hoped for a group of 12 to attend this session, but word had got round, and we had an overwhelming 26 turn up, all eager and willing to take part – a lively session was about to begin. To manage, the group was split into three sub-groups, and everyone was given a stripy butcher's apron and a name badge. The youngest in the group today was just three years old, but it’s never too young to start to cook - even if a little nap was needed halfway through!

The first task was to measure out and rinse split red lentils, and watch the murky water turn clear - everyone had a go at this. Then we measured out the colourful dried spices: turmeric, garam masala, salt, paprika and chilli flakes. Next, it was time to grate fresh ginger, chop green chilli, soak dried fenugreek leaves and chop fresh coriander and tomatoes. Such a lovely mix of colours, flavours, aromas and textures.

All these were added to a pan to boil then left to simmer while the chapatti making began. Kim demonstrated how to make the dough, then it was “every man for himself” and the children and parents got stuck in to dough making, kneading, rolling and heating the chapattis on a hot tava to cook - what fun to see the transformation from flour and water to tasty bread.

Last but not least the tarka dhal was completed: sliced onion, cumin seeds and asafetida powder were all fried in a pan with oil and then added to the lentil mix for that extra flavour.

Time to clear up and eat the wonderful food that had been prepared. We look forward to next week and the next food adventure at Benchill. Perhaps we will hear tales of this dish being prepared again at home with the help of the recipe sheets that were handed out… 

As usual, we'll be adding more photographs from this session to our Facebook page - see if you can spot yourself!

24 January 2013

GUEST POST: Put a lid on it!

By guest blogger HELEN ROADHOUSE

I can't think of anything more heartwarming on such a chilly January evening, than to be having pie and mash for dinner. That was the plan and Kevin 'Gingerkid' White had a couple of tempting recipes for us to prepare. So we cracked on with the pastry as that needed to be chilled for rolling out and then got on with creating the roux for the pie sauce base. We could use this base for both the mushroom and spinach pie as well as the chicken and tarragon pies. This was made with melted butter, flour, veg stock and the secret ingredient of creme fraiche.

Kevin had roasted up a couple of chickens so they were stripped down into big chunks, Kevin was keen that the pieces stayed large and were not chopped up small. The spinach was wilted down and squeezed of as much water as possible. As Kevin demonstrated, there was always more water to be squeezed out as it needed to be as dry as possible before going into the pie filling. Soon the room was full of garlicky mushroom cooking smells. Mmmmm!

Kevin provided the individual pie tins and pastry was rolled out and tins were lined ready for the fillings. The tarragon was chopped and some Stilton and grana Padano grated for the fillings. The pies were not over filled else they would leak, and the pie crusts were egg washed for shine plus a few had some personal decorations from participants for identification when cooked, then this batch of pies was popped in the preheated ovens for half an hour or so.

The second batch of pies were constructed while the first were browning beautifully. The best bit was seeing the proud cooks retrieving their golden creations from the ovens, then piling up the plate with mash and devouring! Even better was knowing that a second mouthwatering delight was crisping up to perfection in the ovens to be taken home to show off to family or, quite likely, not make it past the carpark out!

Janet, Tom and Gina said that the pie base sauce was something they had not done before. Mel and Steve found learning how to cook the mushrooms up for the pie filling particularly interesting. I think one of the most important parts of pie making, the pastry was an aspect that Andrew, Mel and Steve learned as they had made it before. Gina said she really enjoyed that she was making the pies and not just watching a demo plus she (and I suspect everyone else too) really enjoyed the sitting down and eating what they had produced.

Every single participant said that they would be making these pies again at home. Who can blame them, they were absolutely delicious!   See the CGF Facebook page for more photos of the pie-making session.

21 January 2013

GUEST BLOG: Bread winners!

By guest blogger EMMA SMAIL

Saturday saw another sell-out Breadmaking For Beginners session at Chorlton High School. Eleven bakers were introduced to the secrets to successful bread and the wonders of yeast by our resident bread expert Rob.

The four simple ingredients of flour, yeast, salt and water were mixed into a dough and left to rise while the group worked on their naan dough. To teach the group about how yeast behaves, Rob left some yeast in a jug of water with some sugar for it to ferment - this helps the dough to rise.
After a while the yeast in the jug had created a marvellous thick foam due to the carbon dioxide it was releasing as a result of eating all the sugar. It was amazing for the group to see this process up close.

In the meantime, Rob shared some useful tips on making a garlic puree for the naan. If you take the top and the tail off a garlic bulb then score the back of it, the skin will slide straight off. Also, after the garlic is finely chopped if you leave salt on it for one hour, it will draw the moisture out of the garlic and it will then all blend up into perfect garlic puree.
Flour, yeast, olive oil, warm yoghurt and the garlic puree were combined to create the naan dough, which was also left to rise as the bread dough was kneaded.

Once both doughs were ready, the bread dough went into bread tins and into the oven and the naan dough was rolled into a sausage, chopped into six small sections, rolled out and fried in a little sunflower oil. The room soon filled with the smell of freshly baking bread combined with the garlic smell of the naans, and everyones’ mouths were watering, ready to get stuck in.

The group enjoyed the freshly fried naans with some houmous there and then and took their loaves home to share with friends and family. Lots of fun was had and everyone learned lots. Thank you to Rob for his expertise.

Some of the feedback we received...

"Enthused and inspired! Excellent, thank you very much – feel confident now."

"Really informed and relaxed environment."
"Thank you - very inspiring and a confidence boost for total beginners to bread. Will tell friends to give it a go!" 
"Excellent. Enjoyed Rob’s enthusiasm and knowledge."
"Rob was really excited about the topic of bread and was interesting to listen to and very informative. I thought the naan-in-a-pan was a good addition and very easy to do at home."

There are more photographs from this session on the CGF Facebook page.

GUEST BLOG: Cool for school

By guest blogger SIOBHAN KELLY

Thursday afternoon saw the first session at Benchill Primary School in Wythenshawe to engage with parents, pupils and teachers, and demonstrate and share savoury stuffed pancakes and lentil tarka dhal.

The aim of this session was to enable parents and children to taste some healthy food made by Kim, and give them the chance to sign up for subsequent cooking sessions at the school. There were a variety of options to choose from: homemade burgers with salsa, fishcakes, bread and pizza, fresh pasta sauces, curry and dhal with chapattis, pies and dumplings, and tasty but simple egg dishes. The three most popular will run over the next three weeks, when parents and children will get hands-on experience of food preparation and cooking in a social, relaxed environment and an opportunity to sit down together and eat as a group.

The participants will gain new skills and learn about nutrition and the preparation of healthy, colourful, tasty dishes from scratch, using locally sourced, organic (when possible), fresh ingredients - and hopefully they'll be encouraged to cook these dishes again at home, using the recipe sheets! Our handouts also show a breakdown of the cost of the meals, and it's always a surprise to see how cheap it really is to cook from scratch compared to buying processed dishes from a supermarket or takeaways. On the final week, a selection of herbs and spices and basic ingredients relating to the dishes that have been made will be given out as a starter pack. 

We hope that those who tasted the cheese and mushroom stuffed pancakes and beautiful lentil tarka dhal will help spread the word around the school of this exciting opportunity to take part in the cooking sessions. The dhal was delicious – full of colour, flavours and aromas that wafted down the corridor and enticed those passing to come in and join us.  One of the pupils said the taste was 10/10 – well, you can’t do better than that! We look forward to returning to the school next week for the first session of their choice.

For more photos from this session, please visit the Cracking Good Food Facebook page.

17 January 2013

GUEST BLOG: Sushi good stuff!

By guest blogger EMMA SMAIL

Tuesday evening saw eight keen cooks getting into the zen mindset of Japanese cooking at Chorlton High School. The art of Japanese cooking, we are told, is all about not rushing: engaging with each of the ingredients and taking time to combine them to create some amazing and interesting flavours.

Firstly, Kim instructed the group to soak the kelp, a seaweed which would be slowly heated after rehydration to form the base of a broth for the miso soup. Next Kim taught the group some useful techniques for efficiently chopping the veg, including how to chop a pepper without wasting a single bite of it, and how to chop a carrot to create beautiful flowers.

The participants were then introduced to some new and interesting Japanese flavours including tamari, miso and mirin which would be added to the broth. The cooks were divided into three groups to make the soup and, after all the ingredients were combined, each version tasted slightly but noticeably different due to the varying quantities of ginger, chilli or miso that each of the groups added to their own broth - they all tasted fantastic, however!

The Japanese use a variety of fermented ingredients within their cooking, such as miso. This not only creates some fantastic and unusual flavours but is also incredibly good for you, Kim informs us, as the fermentation process creates ‘good bacteria’ which is helpful for the digestive system. Much like a certain yoghurt drink but a lot tastier!

Once the miso soup was slurped up it was time for sushi rolling. More vegetables were chopped and a huge variety of ingredients such as wasabi paste, pickled ginger and mirin were placed in the centre of the table so each cook could create their own unique sushi and dipping sauce depending on their tastes. The rice which was cooked earlier and left to cool (pictured above) was spread out across a sushi sheet on top of a sushi mat. A selection of veg, pastes and sauces were sprinkled on top and the whole thing was rolled into a sushi sausage using the mat. Kim of course made this process look far simpler than it is in reality but each of our cooks got the hang of this technique and made some beautiful and tasty sushi to take home and enjoy.

The evening was a huge success and a great introduction to some new ingredients. Thank you to Kim and well done to the group.

Please see Cracking Good Food's Facebook page for more photographs from this session. Click here.