27 February 2013

GUEST BLOG: Kneads must

By guest blogger SIOBHAN KELLY

There was another full house on Saturday morning (23 February) for one of Rob's famous breadmaking sessions. Despite it being so chilly outside, inside, the room soon warmed up with the heat from all the ovens - a perfect temperature to help the dough rise, and giving everyone rosy cheeks all round.  

On the menu today were basic loaves, garlic naan bread, and focaccia with olives, sundried tomatoes, rosemary and olive oil. As an added treat, two of the trainee cooks who were helping out made pizzas for us all to share for lunch - homemade dough and basic tomato sauce with toppings of cheese, anchovies and olives.

After the initial introductions, it was time for everyone in the group to start measuring flour, yeast, sugar, salt and water to make the dough for our loaves. Covering the bowls with tea towels, we left the balls to rest and rise in the warm atmosphere, while we tidied up before the kneading stage, learning that Bakers Mates are exactly that - a simple, essential and effective utensil, great for mixing ingredients, scraping off hardened dough mixture, and even cleaning down surfaces - a must for every budding breadmaker.

 Next, we split into groups to make naan dough and focaccia dough. No salt was necessary for the naan dough as it was already present from the handmade garlic paste, which we made by slicing and chopping fresh garlic and mixing with sea salt to form a paste. Yoghurt was used instead of water, gently heating it in a pan using a finger to stir rather than a spoon, enabling the correct temperature to be reached - and saving on the washing-up! Once ready, the naan dough was rolled out and fried in hot oil, taking care to avoid hot oil splashes. 

The loaves were put into the oven and then it was time to work on the focaccia. The dough was stretched to the size of a large roasting tin, left to rise then scattered with sliced olives and sundried tomatoes, folded over, rolled a little, then sprinkled with thick slices of organic red onions, fresh rosemary and rock salt. They then went in the oven for about 25 minutes.

It wasn't long before some heavenly bread smells filled the room, and soon the loaves were ready to check.  Rob showed us the best way was to fold a tea towel long ways and hold the base of the bread tin with one end, and let the loaf fall out into the other end and check it by tapping the bottom. 

There was time at the end of the session to sit down and admire and sample all the baking, then eat the freshly baked pizza slices together as a group. These are always sell-out sessions and it really is a great way to spend a Saturday morning - cooking from scratch, using fresh, locally sourced ingredients, learning new skills, chatting with fellow food lovers, being in a sociable, relaxed environment, and taking home a freshly baked loaf of bread, a spectacular rustic focaccia, and a garlic naan without going to the shops. 

There are more photographs from this session on our Facebook page

We're running our first full-day breadmaking session on Saturday 20 April; see the CGF website for full details. If you can't make that, we are planning more baking sessions over the coming months, so watch this space!

25 February 2013

GUEST BLOG: Spice magic

By guest blogger KIM IRWIN

Cracking Good Food recently teamed up with Network Express International training providers to deliver a bespoke cookery course, both practical and theoretical, designed for three delegates who provide the meals on an oil rig in the Libyan desert. This was going to be a challenging session as the three oversee safe food production for over 500 hungry rig workers, three times a day, so we had a lot to live up to!

We began by exchanging personal experiences of day-to-day living in our respective countries, and we talked about foods we liked and didn't like, national dishes, herbs and spices. It really is true; food is a great way to find common ground between people - we all need to eat, don't we?

We set to work making lunch: Punjabi dhal followed by stuffed parathas (Cracking Cook Harjinder’s recipes were used), and everyone agreed that it was a fine meal - healthy and packed with flavour. During the afternoon, we ran a theory session based on health and safety and good governance while prepping food on a commercial scale, then finished off with a set of exercises 'What would you do if…'. It was a challenging experience which stretched the CGF team, but we hope the delegates took some of the Cracking Good Food ethos back to Libya with them.

There are more photographs from this bespoke session on our Facebook page.

20 February 2013

GUEST BLOG: The art of foraging

By guest blogger SARAH BENJAMINS. Photos by BEN GREENAWAY

This unusual foraging event took place in Manchester Art Gallery in the heart of the city centre, as part of a special evening to celebrate Dickens’ 201st birthday on Thursday 7 February. The talk linked with a gallery artwork The Walk to Dover, inspired by Dickens' novel David Copperfield, in which Copperfield survived by foraging for food while walking to Dover to find his aunt.  

The event was hosted by medical herbalist and lifelong forager Jesper Launder, who brought a surprising variety of freshly foraged wild foods for us to try, despite this being probably the leanest time of year. Jesper is a big fan of finding uses for those Gardener's Question Time 'love to hate' plants, and he described how to identify and cook Ground Elder and Nettles, two favourite 'pests'. He also showed us how to tell your Cow Parsley, Hogweed and Wild Garlic (edible) from your Hemlock, Giant Hogweed and Lily of the Valley (err.. definitely not edible!). His medical herbalist training was also useful as he explained why people with kidney stones should avoid Sorrel, and how dried Wild Garlic seeds can be ground and used as a remedy for indigestion. 

We moved on from green stuff to the wonderful and mysterious world of fungi. Jesper told us why winter is the safest time for novices to forage for mushrooms, why button mushrooms are best bought organic and eaten cooked, and why Oyster Mushrooms cooked in butter could be thought of as a 'balanced meal'! I also discovered that they have been found to lower cholesterol. His technical knowledge came to the fore when describing medicinal uses of mushrooms, and how they are part of mainstream medicine elsewhere in the world, particularly in Japan and China. We also learned about some of the many uses of the inedible but extremely versatile Razorstrop mushroom, the 'Swiss army knife' of the mushroom world.

Finally we cooked up and tasted a delicious mushroom and herb tortilla using the foods we'd seen, including the beautiful named-from-a-storybook Scarlet Elf Cup, and we went away very satisfied, with some fascinating insights into the world of our native wild foods.

Check out the Cracking Good Food website for details of upcoming foraging sessions "in the field" with Jesper.

19 February 2013

GUEST BLOG: Game for it

By guest blogger SIOBHAN KELLY

What a treat was in store for the participants of the “Game On: Cooking with Venison” class on Saturday at Chorlton High School which was hosted by the award-winning Executive Head Chef Robert Owen Brown from The Mark Addy in Manchester.

On the menu were three delicious-sounding dishes:
1. Slow-braised venison haunch with claret and thyme
2. Butter-fried venison liver with baby onions and a dandelion and burdock reduction served with celeriac mash
3. Venison loin with red cabbage and chocolate

The session started with the group pairing up and each pair was given a Muntjac deer (Muntjac is smaller and much sweeter than Roe, and it's very lean – rarely any fat at all) to prepare and take off various cuts of meat. Robert shot the four deer himself three days ago, and explained the importance of knowing your source - if you're going to eat meat, be aware of it provenance, and, even better, cook it from scratch yourself and avoid pre-prepared food and ready meals (just look at the horse meat scandal!). Robert talked about how sustainable game is as he demonstrated some butchery skills for the various cuts of meat, then it was over to the participants - everyone was going to have a very real and hands-on experience! The silence that descended on the room meant that you could hear a pin drop, such was the concentration - the level of involvement was fantastic to see. The back strap of sirloin (venison loin) was removed with a sharp knife and prepared so that the meat didn’t shrink in the pan. As the pairs worked on this, Robert shared some tales of his shooting experiences and life in the kitchen - this friendly-chit chat throughout the session made it relaxed and fun, and a proper treat.

It was time to prepare the slow-braised venison haunch with claret and thyme. Large pieces of diced venison haunch were fried in oil, then removed from the pan. Chopped onion, swede and carrot were added, with juniper berries, a measure of flour followed by the braised venison. Now time for the claret and venison stock, and the dish was left to gently cook for a couple of hours, then redcurrant jelly was added at the end with seasoning.

Next it was butter-fried venison liver with baby onions and a dandelion and burdock reduction served with celeriac mash. The liver was a magnificent colour, so shiny, but after its very thin membrane was removed, it was a rather duller shade. The liver was sliced then the celeriac was diced and heated in milk, with a fresh bay leaf, then drained and mashed. The baby onions were heated in a pan and cooked rapidly till golden brown then the liver was pan fried adding butter and the dandelion and burdock reduction. Once cooked, it was presented on a circular bed of celeriac mash – fit for a restaurant!

The third dish of the morning was venison loin with red cabbage and chocolate. To save time, Robert had brought along a fondant potato for everyone (a disc of potato baked in the oven in butter, thyme, garlic and chicken stock). The red cabbage (in vinegar) was heated in a small pan while the venison loin was cooking gently in the oven next to the potato. Dark chocolate and butter were added to the cabbage pan and left to melt off the heat. Once each bit was ready, cabbage was piled on top of the potato and the venison, still pink in the middle, was sliced and displayed on top - a pure delight to the eye, as you can see from the photograph.

This was such a thrilling morning and a rare opportunity to prepare fresh sustainable meat with the chef who actually shot the animal locally a few days previously. To create such beautiful and stunning dishes to restaurant standard in a sociable friendly environment and then sit down as a group and eat the results of our hard work was amazing. A pure delight for all, and such a buzz throughout the whole session.

This session will be running again at Altrincham Grammar School for Boys on Monday 25 February, 6-9pm, and you still have chance to sign up. To book please contact Andrea Lacon on 0161 928 0858 or email her alacon@agsb.co.uk. Have a look at the Cracking Good Food website for more details www.crackinggoodfood.org. You won’t be disappointed!  

There are more photos from this event on our Facebook page.

GUEST BLOG: Curry on cooking

By guest blogger KIM 

last Wed 13th, at the Approved Premises.

It was a cold spring morning when Alison turned up at the Approved Premises last Wednesday, carrying a bag full of fresh ingredients ready for another morning session with the clients. Once our room was set up, the day's ambitions set out and a timeline roughly plotted, we were ready to start.

Chicken jalfrezi, Mumbai lentils and naan in a pan were all on the menu so we had a fair bit to get through.  The group soon got stuck into veg prep, chicken thighs entered the oven for a roasting and flour was weighed out to make the bread dough. All the guys were enthusiastic and as banter bandied about, the aroma of spice filled the room and before long it was time for a break - the morning had flown by. As the curry sauce reduced down, lentils with tamarind bubbled away on the next hob, it was set to be a fine feast. The guys rolled out their own naan breads with a garlic paste added earlier in the process and decided to add chopped coriander at the end, then everyone enjoyed frying their bread. Wow, best naan bread… ever! The chicken was shredded off the bone and Alison shared how this cheaper cut of meat is very economical and contains more flavour…great tips.

The table was soon loaded with what looked better than any takeaway extravaganza I have ever seen. And it all tasted amazing. With punchy flavours and full of vitality, the food got the thumbs-up all round.

You can see more photographs from this session on our Facebook page.

15 February 2013

GUEST BLOG: Stuff it

By guest blogger KIM IRWIN

Saturday 9 February saw the Cracking Good Food team run another booked-up session at Chorlton High. Harjinder's ever-popular Punjabi cooking sessions are always great fun, and Saturday's did not disappoint. On the menu were stuffed parathas with homemade yoghurt. To get the keen cooks started, Harjinder demonstrated the traditional technique to make atta dough from stoneground wholemeal flour, using her hand as an implement for measuring the water, then making a claw shape to pull the dough together. After kneading, Harjinder left her dough to rest and the cooks divided into small groups to make their own.

Next up was making the fillings for the parathas, of which there were two types. For the first, potatoes were mashed in their skins then we added a selection of aromatic spices including lovage and pomegranate seeds, plus chopped fresh herbs and finely sliced onion. Harjinder shared with the group her family's blend of spices which make up traditional masala mixes, and I jotted down the recipe to add to my own spice collection. Shredded mooli was transformed with a vibrant cacophony of fresh herbs and spices (pictured above), and the result could have been served as a dish by itself, but this was another filling for the parathas. I could hardly wait to taste the finished product, my mouth was watering…

Harjinder heated the traditional tawas (cast-iron, flat pans) and soon the first roti was rolled and on the tawa, expertly manoeuvred around by Harjinder's quick hands. Once the cooks felt confident to tackle their own, rotis were rolled and stuffed with the mouthwatering fillings to transform them into parathas, and soon the smell of freshly cooked bread wafted through the air. Harjinder had brought with her a big bowl of homemade yoghurt and she talked the group through the different stages of making it, and we all agreed that it seemed like a straightforward process to try at home. A dollop of the yoghurt was served on the side of the parathas, which were sprinkled with salt and some masala spice mix… mmmm, delicious!  

TOP TIP: Have a window open at home when frying the roti/parathas as they create a very smoky atmosphere and you don't want to set your smoke alarm off like we did! Ooops.

You can see a full set of photos from this session on our Facebook page.

13 February 2013

GUEST BLOG: Wild times

By guest blogger BETH CREEDON

As something of a wild food aficionado, I was excited to build up my repertoire by joining the foraging trip last Sunday with Jesper Launder and Cracking Good Food, and, despite normally being something of a fair weather forager, braved the drizzle to meet at 11am at Fletcher Moss Park in Didsbury.

I know Jesper Launder as a very knowledgeable herbalist and wild food expert, and he taught us how to identify common plants in their first flushes of early spring growth. For ten years I have been foraging mainly in the summer and autumn, so finally learning how to spot Garlic Mustard, Cow Parsley (and how to tell it apart from its deadly relative Hemlock), Ground Elder, Cleavers, Hogweed and Three Cornered Leeks in February felt very exciting. In the boggy parts of the park we searched for and found Wild Garlic then discovered a huge bounty of Scarlet Elf Cups (pictured above) on the mossy logs. They are just so beautiful and the group got stuck in and collected a large bounty.

We took our five-month-old baby in a sling and our dog, both of whom became a little impatient with the slow stooping process around the park, so we had to depart early, unfortunately missing out on sampling the cook-up at the end. However, in the one and a half hours we were there, we collected some Cow Parsley(above) and feral Chives, and some peppery Hairy Bittercress to add to a homemade tabbouleh, and took home a wealth of seasonal wild food expertise to last a lifetime. Thank you Cracking Good Food and thank you Jesper!

You can read a review of Beth's wild food evening in Chorlton here.

12 February 2013

GUEST BLOG: Gone fishing

By guest blogger CHRIS YOUNG

There was a great buzz at Cracking Good Food’s first session, Discovering Fish, at Altrincham Grammar School For Boys yesterday. 

Rob Tomlison, the chef, showed everyone how to fillet a plaice and gut a mackerel, and, for most participants, this was their first time doing so! There were a lot of laughs, questions and pride in their accomplishments, and their handiwork was then neatly placed in a baking tray to be cooked for everyone to share at the end of the session.

Rob explained the differences in fish and cooking methods, and involved everyone in the steps in cooking Plaice Veronique and Mackerel with Szechuan sauce. Rob also showed how to make a tasty fish stock (which was used as a base for the Veronique sauce) - what a great way to make the most of the fish scrapings and vegetables!    

 Some of the feedback was: 
"It was great to learn how to fillet fish and how to make fish stock”
“I have never filleted fish and didn’t know how to make sauces before this class”
“I really enjoyed the experience and hope to put what I have learnt to good use”

There was great team work among the participants and, at the end of the cooking session, we all sat down to enjoy the food everyone contributed to so well! Thank you to AGSB for letting us utilise their new, high-tech kitchen and for their partnership with CGF. We look forward continuing having our cooking classes there this spring:  
  • Venison (25/2)
  • Vegetarian Punjabi (11/3)
  • Mezze (18/3)
  • Risotto (15/4) 
There is a selection of photographs from this session on the Cracking Good Food Facebook page. Click here to be redirected - and please remember to like!

GUEST BLOG: Discovering the sauce

By guest blogger SIOBHAN KELLY

Today was the fourth session at Benchill Primary School and three families joined us again this week - it was great to see familiar faces. On the menu was fusilli pasta and two different sauces, which we made from scratch: a basic tomato sauce and a cheese sauce with mushrooms and ham.

Chopping of red onions and garlic began, and these were cooked in oil with oregano, before we added chopped tinned tomatoes, water and tomato puree. This was reduced down to thicken it, then seasoning was added - it’s as easy as that to make a healthy, colourful, simple tomato sauce or ragu!

Next it was time to prepare the cheese sauce. Finely diced red onions were fried in oil with chopped garlic.  The heat was reduced then we added butter and stirred in flour, before whisking in milk gradually so as to let it thicken. Mustard was added for additional flavour, then last but not least some grated cheese. Sliced mushrooms were fried and strips of ham were cut with scissors (below), and these were added to the cheese sauce for the finished product.

 With the pasta boiling, we had time to set the table before dishing up and sitting down to eat. The two sauces offered a perfect combination of colours, flavours and textures, and both were delicious and quite a feast! As we dug in, we chatted about how inexpensive the servings were, and compared the cost to shop-bought jars of pasta sauce. The basic tomato sauce with pasta was just 32p per serving while the ham, mushroom and cheese sauce with pasta came in at £1.25 per serving - cheap as well as cheerful!

And as well as learning some new dishes and enjoying a tasty, healthy meal, each family was given a goody bag containing a mix of herbs and spices and a selection of fresh ingredients to inspire them to try the recipes they've learnt over the past month again at home. Cracking Good Food look forward to another series of cooking sessions with Benchill Primary School soon! 

There are more photographs from this session on the Cracking Good Food Facebook page: click here

7 February 2013

GUEST BLOG: Pukka pies

By guest blogger TRACEY

A delicious, hearty and nutritious stew mix was cooked up at the Approved Premises on Wednesday 6 February. The group was one man down but this didn’t hinder spirits on the prepping production line! Eager to get on, we had two volunteers to chop the leeks and garlic, while the remaining vegetables were distributed out to the other three. Peeling the butternut squash, celeriac and the beautiful candy-striped beetroot proved a challenge as the skin for each is quite tough to remove. However, the guys had a choice of  tools to helps them - a paring knife, vegetable peeler or a 8” knife - so the veg was soon peeled and chopped to approx 2cm cubed. Red onions, sweet potatoes and parsnips were also peeled and chopped, while the red chillies were deseeded and finely sliced. 

The group was delighted that meat was being added to the mix, so two of them cut away the fatty pieces, then chopped the boneless chicken thighs into bite-sized pieces. Alison pointed out that this cut of meat is quick to cook but also tasty and cheap – handy for all as we aim to cook up nutritious, healthy and economical dishes. The veg was sautéed for a few minutes prior to adding the chicken. A short while after, the fragrant but subtle tasting bouillon was used as stock, then bay leaves, salt, chillies and tomato puree were added to the pan and the stew was left to cook. 

Meanwhile, flour was weighed out for the dumplings and more was measured for the suet crust top for the pies. Fat was added to each bowl, but the rosemary, which was chopped finely – filling the room with an amazing aroma, was only added to the suet pastry. I think all participants were delighted with the end result as second portions were dished up and it was great to hear such comments as: “the food tastes fresh”, “it's good homemade comfort food” and “there's lots of vitamins in it”. Wholly agreed with on my part! Thanks to everyone for a delicious big hearty lunch.

There are more photos from this session on the official CGF Facebook page, here.

5 February 2013

GUEST BLOG: Floured up

By guest blogger SIOBHAN KELLY

The Bread Extra session at Chorlton High School on Saturday (2 February) was a treat, and a lovely group gathered for an extended and relaxed session on this bright, clear Manchester morning. On the menu was a basic loaf, naan bread and focaccia.

After the initial introductions and some interesting facts about the different flours available, it was time to start measuring flour and mixing with water for the dough. As we mixed and kneaded and shaped the basic loaf dough, we learnt some great tips, including...

Top Tip: it is better to end up with wetter dough rather than drier dough as flour can always be added, but nearly impossible to add water after this stage.

Top Tip: if your hands are sticky after kneading dough, cover them with flour and rub together instead of washing with water - it comes off a treat.

We left the dough to ‘rest’ in a bowl covered with a tea towel - the room was nice and warm (almost tropical!) to help this process along - and got on with preparing the garlic for the naan. The cloves were sliced in two directions then chopped finely before salt was added to make a garlic paste. Yoghurt was gently heated in a pan using a finger to stir rather than a spoon (to enable the correct temperature to be reached), then this was added to the naan dough, which was rolled out and fried in a pan - easy!

The most exciting bread for me today was the focaccia, quite a magnificent sight, containing sun-dried tomatoes, olives, red onions and fresh rosemary – just beautiful. The dough was loosely stretched into a large rectangle, scattered with chopped sun-dried tomatoes and olives, folded over, rolled a little then sprinkled with thin slices or chopped pieces of red onions, fresh rosemary and rock salt, ready to cook in the oven

Once the focaccia and loaves were ready to take out, we set the table and all sat down to chat and feast, with red pepper hummous to accompany the breads. Now and throughout the session, Rob talked about breadmaking with so many interesting facts and figures, helpful tips, scientific facts - such food for thought. Four hours went by in a flash!

More photographs from this session can be viewed on the Cracking Good Food Facebook page. Click here.

We are running a very special all-day breadmaking session on 20 April. See our website for full details and booking information. Click here.

GUEST BLOG: Make some dough

By guest blogger SIOBHAN KELLY

Last Thursday saw the third of four sessions at Benchill Primary School in Wythenshawe and, once again, parents and children prepared ingredients and cooked together then sat down to eat as a group afterwards.

On the menu today was pizza, with homemade dough and tomato sauce, and luckily we had fantastic sized tables for kneading and rolling the dough for the pizza bases. Both parents and children got stuck into the fun of making the dough - sleeves were rolled up, and it was a real hands-on experience and lots of fun for the children! With rolling pins at the ready, there was some enthusiastic rolling into shapes and sizes of their choice. We even had a heart-shaped pizza base made by the youngest, aged three - what a lovely idea!

Next was the chopping of red onions and garlic to add to tinned tomatoes for the basic tomato sauce, which was left to cook on the stove top. This was followed by the slicing of red, green and yellow peppers, pineapple chunks, tomatoes and olives for the pizza toppings - lots of bright colours for everyone to choose from to make their own bespoke creation.

As the pizzas cooked in the oven, it was time to clear up including collecting the bits of vegetable waste in green bags to recycle for composting. The smell of cooking food was working its way from the kitchen and we waited with anticipation for the feast… Once ready, the pizzas were a big hit. It's always a joy to sit and eat what has been prepared by your own hands. 

Recipe sheets were given out with the ingredients and cooking instructions for everyone to try making pizzas again at home, and there was an added treat of a bag full of vegetables for each family to take away. On the back of the recipe sheet was a breakdown of the cost of ingredients today, and for tasty, homemade pizzas topped with tomato sauce, veg, mozzarella and cheddar, an individual pizza costs just 76p; so much cheaper (and healthier!) than shop-bought or takeaway.

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

4 February 2013

GUEST BLOG: Rice and easy

By guest blogger TRACEY

It was our first day back at the Approved Premises on Wednesday 30 January and we were joined in the kitchen by a group of six new guys. This was the first in a block of four courses, which brought the return of Alison, and she started the session with a fresh and healthy vegetable stir-fry. We’re so used to the protests of ‘what, no meat?’ and welcome the opportunity to share the delights and benefits of keeping this a meat-free dish – but this time we had company! A previous participant (who was seriously opposed to vegetables) shared his experience of cooking and eating the meal – convincing the guys that, actually, it's pretty good and that he’d have it again! So the group chopped and sliced broccoli, onion, garlic, chilli, carrots, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, peppers and courgettes, and sliced the ginger julienne style. They listened and watched, learnt some new food types and cooking terms, and developed their knife skills along the way.

Next was preparing the ingredients for the sweet and sour sauce; tomatoes and tomato puree, pineapple juice, white wine vinegar, soy sauce and vinegar – simple and tasty. The preparation for the egg-fried rice got underway; the spring onions were sliced, eggs beaten and rice put onto cook, rice quantities are always difficult to judge, but we based it on one cup serving two. Once cooked, the rice was left to cool and the onions were fried in the wok alongside the eggs, then the ingredients were combined to form a high-protein and fibrous side dish which looked stunning. I love the prep of the ‘cheats crispy seaweed’ - leaves of a savoy cabbage are rolled, finely sliced and blanched for a few minutes, placed on a baking sheet and dressed in a mix of tahini and soy sauce, then put in the oven to crisp up. Alison continued the Chinese tradition of increasing the protein intake by including chopped cashew nuts which could be sprinkled over the stir-fry. Chopped coriander and lime wedges were also used to dress the food. We sat down to eat and enjoy the meal fit for an emperor’s banquet (which did include our previous participant!) and calculated that we fed a group of 18 for just £1.20 per head! 

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