26 March 2013

GUEST BLOG: Great bakes

By guest blogger SIOBHAN KELLY

We had another full house on Saturday (23 March) for our ever-popular Bread Extra session led by our resident breadmaker extraordinaire, Rob Tomlinson, and, despite it being a bitterly cold morning with sub zero temperatures outside, the room was warm and welcoming thanks to all the ovens being on ready to bake.

We were going to be making various types of bread: a traditional loaf, garlic naan plus focaccia with sun-dried tomatoes, olives, sliced red onions, rock salt and fresh rosemary. The volunteers also made pizza so we could all share lunch - we made a dough and a basic pizza sauce and prepared toppings of olives, red peppers, anchovies, mushrooms and cheese – the result was delicious: such a light and spongy base and a healthy, simple and tasty topping. 

The session started with making dough for the loaves, discussions on the different types of yeast, their properties and behaviour, then straight into some hands-on fun with flour and water helped with the use of a handy plastic spatula known as the Baker's Mate. The dough was mixed and left to rise with a damp tea towel over the bowl to prevent the dough from drying out and forming a crust.

Next, it was time for garlic paste making, for the naans - fresh chopped garlic is mixed with sea salt to make a paste. The naan dough is made with flour and heated up soya yoghurt and olive oil for the liquid, so it's suitable for vegans, and just delicious when fried in the pan and eaten with red pepper hummous.

The focaccia-making was good fun and they looked so spectacular when completed, my favourite bread. Stretching the dough can sometimes be more effective than rolling it as it is very elastic. The first layer was sprinkled with sun-dried tomatoes and olives, folded over and left to rise again, then sprinkled with sliced red onions, fresh rosemary and rock salt before putting in a hot oven to bake through. Once these were ready, we gathered round the table with the focaccia, loaves and naan and as we tasted the different bread, Rob gave us some more interesting information about bread-making and when reflected on what we had learnt after just one morning in the kitchen.

Visit the Facebook page for Cracking Good Food to see and "like" more photographs.

On Saturday 11 May, we'll be re-running the Bread Extra session described here, then on Saturday 29 June, we are running the second all-day breadmaking session - see the CGF website for more information and bookings. 

25 March 2013

GUEST BLOG: Flat pack

By guest blogger KIM IRWIN

Once again early Friday morning Rob and I set up for another breadmaking session at the DEP in Chorlton. Running the same workshop as the week before but with our second group of bakers, we soon warmed up the room and welcomed the cooks with steaming cups of tea as the first day of spring felt a wee bit wintery!

The now experienced bakers set to work immediately, making two batches of dough in each small group they were divided into for their focaccia and pizza session. Once the dough was rising, the pizza base (made from tinned tomatoes, onion and herbs) began bubbling away, reducing and intensifying its flavour. The toppings of anchovies, mushrooms and peppers were thinly sliced with the cooks showing off their knife skills on our newly sharpened knives. Having doubled in size, the pizza dough was rolled out then smeared all over with the thick and delicious sauce. Toppings were added and then the baking began before adding the cheese a little later - Rob advised that overcooked cheese is indigestible so it's best to add near the end and just let it melt over the top. Great tip! When they came out of the oven, it didn't take long for everyone to devour the heavenly slices and we all agreed that the anchovies, with their strong flavour, worked well on a pizza.

Next we prepared the focaccia dough, rolling it out and stuffing it with sun-dried tomatoes, red onion, olives and rosemary. It looked like a fluffy pillow and was soon glimmering with olive oil and sea salt crystals. This was going to be good! We cleared up as we waited for the focaccia to bake, and it was soon ready and didn't disappoint. It looked incredible but as everyone was stuffed with pizza the bread was divided up and packaged up to be taken home for sharing with loved ones. Another great session was had by all. Until next time!

More photos from this session can be viewed on the CGF Facebook page.

GUEST BLOG: Top this

By guest blogger EMMA SMAIL

The final session of the successful ‘What do you want to cook?’ programme at Benchill Primary School took place on Thursday (21 March) and brought together participants from both of the two rounds of sessions, who came accompanied by friends and family keen to share in their cooking. Pictures were displayed of previous sessions so we could all look back at what we had learnt and produced. It was a busy and exciting afternoon.

Pizza was on the menu so the first task was to make the dough. The large group was divided into six smaller teams, each preparing one dough to share. Yeast, salt and water was added to flour and mixed well then left to rise under a warm damp cloth. Normally the dough would be left for a few hours but as time was limited half an hour with an extra teaspoon of yeast had to do. While that was put to one side, the tomato sauce went on the hob. With just passata, olive oil, a bit of water and some herbs, it's as simple to make as the dough! Next, a rainbow of different veggies were prepared and cheese was grated.

Once the dough was ready, it was time for the fun bit: kneading the dough. Lots of our young chefs really enjoyed this bit and got stuck in to giving their dough a beating. The dough was then divided up and rolled into pizza bases of many different sizes and shapes and building the pizzas was done as a production line, one table at a time. First a good dollop of sauce was poured on and spread around, then cheese was added and finally the veg of each person's choice was sprinkled on top so almost everyone ended up with a different and unique pizza, all very colourful. As the last group was putting their pizzas in the oven, the first groups were gorging themselves on theirs. 

The smells were incredible and the taste even better. I think this was the first session in which we had no leftovers for people to take home - it was too good not to eat it all up at once! This was a great way to end this successful programme of sessions. Over the weeks everyone got the opportunity to cook something they really wanted to learn and the children loved getting involved in the cooking - it was a real family affair! This last session really was a celebration, and the addition of friends and family members to the table was a great opportunity to share and show off new skills. I hope the participants of the Benchill Primary School sessions have enjoyed them as much as Cracking Good Food have. Well done, and thanks everyone for all your hard work.

There are more photographs from this session on our Facebook page. Click here to check them out!

19 March 2013

GUEST BLOG: Spring into action

By guest blogger SARAH BENJAMINS

The forage at the weekend started with some expectation management, as this is one of the leanest times of year, and there was some debate - while the sun struggled to make an appearance - as to whether spring had even arrived yet. However, we managed to find plenty of edible food less than 50 metres into the Fletcher Moss gardens in Didsbury.

Among other treats, we sampled some very tasty young wild garlic leaves and collected a couple of handfuls for cooking. After a good discussion on the many culinary and medicinal uses of nettles (I'm looking forward to trying nettle top and wild garlic leaf pesto), we moved on to the fascinating world of pine and its testosterone-boosting properties. Our foraging leader, Jesper Launder (pictured above), described how to make a preparation from pine pollen which can benefit both men and women in need of a little extra va-va-voom - which frankly is probably most of us, after the winter we've had. We found many other edible plants beginning to emerge, many not quite ready to harvest yet, but a bumper crop of scarlet elf cup mushrooms (pictured below) had us scampering delightedly round the woods, and soon afterwards we located a few blackthorn shrubs, making a mental note to return in sloe-picking season. We were then treated to a birch sap tapping demonstration, and were relieved to see the sap rising at last - which means whatever the weather's doing, spring is officially here!

Finally we set up the 'walltop kitchen' and cooked up some mushroom tortilla and mushroom fritters. We also made some experimental wild garlic fritters, which proved very popular, and sampled some of Jesper's homemade dandelion wine, potent, warming, and very tasty. Another successful and informative day's forage.

We have lots more foraging sessions scheduled with Jesper over the coming months - please visit the Cracking Good Food website to see what we have on offer: click here to be redirected.

GUEST BLOG: Flour power

By guest blogger Siobhan Kelly

On Saturday, we joined forces with the Northern Quarter Baking Club and worked as one big team. Everyone made a loaf of bread, then worked in small groups to make garlic naan dough and focaccia dough, each frying their own naan breads, then sharing in the making of the huge and quite amazing looking focaccias – better than anything you could ever buy in a shop, and a work of art, in my eyes.

Meanwhile, I was involved in making pizza dough, a basic tomato sauce and toppings for the participants' lunch, and thoroughly enjoyed my experience. It was my first time making a pizza from scratch and I was amazed at just how simple and quick it actually was - I'll be doing it again at home!

First off was making a loaf of bread each. Cooking leader Rob explained the different types of yeast and how each of them react and work, and differences between dried, fresh and fast-acting yeast. Tins were liberally greased with margarine, ready to pop the kneaded dough in place. The kitchen soon became warm with all the ovens on, ready for the baking to begin.

Once the loaf dough was left to do its thing, we split into small groups to make the dough for the naans and focaccia. The great thing about making your own garlic naan from scratch is that you can make it as strong with garlic as your taste allows, and it's healthy and full of flavour. The focaccia is exciting to make, stretching then folding over and rolling the dough then adding ingredients in between the layers: sun-dried tomatoes and olives, fresh rosemary, sliced red onions and a sprinkling of rock salt. 

A feast of fresh breads was displayed on the table at the close of the session, and then we had a relaxed time nibbling on the fresh garlic naan breads dipped in red pepper hummous while listening to Rob's wisdom on breadmaking. This was an inspiring, interesting and sociable session with a friendly bunch of people, which made for great team-work. Real hands-on fun, learning and cooking together - what better way to spend a Saturday morning and early afternoon?

There are more photographs from this session on our Facebook page

We've added some more breadmaking sessions to the spring programme as all those scheduled have booked up! On Saturday 11 May, we'll be re-running the Bread Extra session described here, then on Saturday 29 June, we are running the second all-day breadmaking session - see the CGF website for full details of both and how to book. 

GUEST BLOG: All you knead is loaf

By guest blogger KIM IRWIN

We've been really cracking on sharing our breadmaking skills with the different groups from the Development Education Prject (DEP). Our resident breadmaking expert Rob Tomlinson leads these sessions once a week at St Margaret's Social Centre on Brantingham Road in Chorlton, with help from Kim.

1. Friday 8 March - basic breadmaking skills
We were back at St Margaret's for our second masterclass in breadmaking  in conjunction with the DEP - this time with a different group. Working individually, each person weighed out their flour, yeast and salt then gauged the correct temperature that the water should be in order to activate the yeast. Once combined, the dough was left to rise as we moved tables for the theory part of the session. Rob was soon sharing his many years' worth of tips about breadmaking and informing everyone just how the supermarkets manage to make their bread stay fresh for a week! Interesting stuff. Once the bread had risen, it was knocked back and left for a final proving in the bread tins. The ovens were cranked up and then all eight loaves put in to bake. After 40 minutes, they were tested by tapping lightly on the base, those that sounded hollow were done, those that remained a wee bit spongey were put back in for another 10 minutes to finish off. Everyone left with their own homebaked loaf to share with friends and family. Another successful bread session with Rob!

2. Friday 15 March - focaccia and pizzas
This Friday saw the CGF team back working with the same group from two weeks ago (click here for the blog of that session). For the first 15 minutes, they shared their breadmaking successes since that first class, and it was inspiring to hear that they had been putting into practice what Rob had taught them. As they were now skilled bakers, they were soon put to task in pairs to make two lots of dough each, one for a pizza base and the other for some stuffed focaccia. Once the dough was rising, the participants set to making tomato sauce for the pizza base topping and chopping the fresh ingredients for the focaccia. The room smelled delicious and we were soon feasting on some homemade Fatayer, a Middle Eastern stuffed bread pocket with feta and mint inside that one of the participants had brought to share with the rest of the group. Lovely stuff. Once the sauce had reduced and pizza bases had been rolled out, toppings were added. Wonderful olives, sunblushed tomatoes and mature cheddar were liberally added, and for those who ate fish, salted anchvies were put on some. We were soon sharing amazing pizza slices which everyone agreed were simple to make and tasted far better than a takeaway equivalent. The focaccia dough was rolled next, with olives onions and fresh rosemary stuffed inside. Olive oil was used for the classic Italian taste and into the ovens they went. Once cooked, the participants divided their delicacies to take home and share with loved ones - wow, what a treat, they certainly looked and smelled like the real deal! Looking forward to hearing if anyone makes the pizzas and focaccia between now and our next meeting.

There are more photos from our DEP sessions on our Facebook page. Click here to view the ones from Friday 8 March.

GUEST BLOG: Food is fun

By guest blogger EMMA SMAIL

Lasagne was on the menu at the penultimate session of our current ‘What do you want to cook?’ programme for pupils and parents at Benchill Primary School in Wythenshawe last Thursday. Several of the mums had said they had either always had trouble with it or had never attempted it because it seemed too difficult.

Kim’s roasted veg and lentil take on this classic recipe is easy, cheap, healthy and incredibly delicious, and first she introduced the group to a very simple tomato sauce recipe. One can of tomatoes, a big squeeze of tomato puree, a splash of water, a glug of olive oil, a pinch of salt and some dried herbs were mixed together in a pan and placed on a hot hob to simmer away. We could forget about that for now and move on to the vegetables, which we chopped into chunks and mixed with olive oil, a pinch of salt and some rosemary leaves then put in the oven to roast. Any vegetables of your choice would suit this recipe, Kim said. Lentils were then rinsed and added to the tomato sauce and left to swell.

It was the béchamel sauce that people were most nervous about but the young chefs did a great job of mixing flour and melted butter together to make a roux then gradually adding milk and whisking away to create a lovely creamy white sauce. Once the veg was suitably roasted and smelling fantastic, they were mixed into the tomato sauce and we began to build the lasagne. The veg and tomato mixture was layered in between the lasagne sheets then the béchamel sauce poured over the top with grated cheese to finish off.

A salad of grated carrot, beetroot and toasted sunflower seeds dressed with lemon juice and olive oil was prepared as an accompaniment. The young chefs had lots of fun grating the beetroot turning their hands and the surfaces a lovely deep purple! Unfortunately the girl who grated the most beetroot didn’t like its taste, but at least she enjoyed preparing it! There were a few ingredients today that hadn’t been tried before by many of the participants - butternut squash, lentils, sunflower seeds and beetroot that wasn’t either pickled or vacuum packed - and most of the group loved the new flavours.
A very tasty success, and a recipe that will be made again and again by these participants. Thank you all for your help and hard work, and we look forward to cooking with you again on Thursday 21 March.

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

18 March 2013

GUEST BLOG: Ravioli ravioli...

By guest blogger HELEN ROADHOUSE

The class at Chorlton High School last Tuesday promised to be a new experience for all of us: making our own pasta from scratch and creating ravioli with different delicious fillings.

The basic pasta recipe is so simple - just a few ingredients of flour, eggs and some olive oil mixed into a dough in the food processor - and it took literally seconds. It was once out of the food processor that the hard work started. The dough had to be brought together and kneaded quite hard to work the gluten and make it elastic. It has to be a very firm and almost dryish dough so as not to be sticky and so it would not fall apart when rolled in the machines. Once Kevin, aka The Ginger Kid, was happy that everyone had managed to get their dough to the right consistency and it was kneaded sufficiently, he asked for it to be wrapped in clingfilm and left to rest until we had made the fillings. 

There were two fillings: a vegetarian butternut squash one and a crab one. Kevin had bought three cooked crabs to be used and he showed us how to expertly extract the meat, and discard the dead man's fingers - this part of the crab will make you poorly if you eat it, but is easily identifiable and easily discarded. Everyone took great relish in smashing the the shells with rolling pins and winkling out the tasty meat from the legs. Most participants had not done this themselves before so found it an interesting learning bonus on top of making the fresh pasta. The crab was mashed up with herbs as was the roasted squash and there we had two delicious fillings ready for the pasta.

Kevin deftly demonstrated rolling the dough and passing it through the pasta machines. These machines have up to six notches so that the roller can be set to different widths. Each time the pasta dough was wound through, the machine was switched to a narrower notch until the dough was thin enough to use. Kevin made this process look very easy, and he said it was, although there were various disbelieving comments from the participants! It was great fun watching everyone have a go and, while a couple of people needed a helping hand, ultimately everyone ended up with great pasta. Small squares were cut and filled, some with the crab mix and some with the butternut squash, then the squares were folded over into crescent shapes and the edges squeezed together, then the ravioli was gently popped into boiling water and cooked for three minutes. 

Once drained, the ravioli was served with a buttery lemon sauce, and everyone tucked into their tasty pasta parcels topped with some grated Grana Padano cheese. How satisfying to have created your own pasta from scratch and turned it into delicious ravioli. Helena said she would have liked to have done this session with her friend or daughter; Jo said that she thought the fillings were really interesting and would have loved to have had some wine with it! Pamela was surprised at how easy it was to make the dough.

There are more photos from this amazing session here and you can still sign up for Kevin's next session, Impressive Afters on Tuesday 16 April, here.

GUEST BLOG: Roti dinners

By guest blogger CHRIS YOUNG

Harjinder has been working her magic again recently, with two sessions sharing her secrets of Punjabi cuisine: first with a group in Chorlton on Saturday 9 March and then with a class in Altrincham on Monday 11 March.

Dhal, two curries and raita at our Altrincham session

With a full house of participants, Harjinder started last Monday's cooking session at Altrincham Grammar School For Boys by introducing the different spices we were going to use in the recipes. She shared some interesting anecdotes and said she was taught to cook and use the spices by her mum at an early age. She also talked about how some spices can be used as herbal remedies – who knew the spices we use for cooking could have so many benefits? She then showed us how to make the roti dough as it needed to rest before making it in time to sit down to eat together at the end of the evening.

One of the Altrincham participants shows off his homemade roti

Everyone was divided into groups of four and each group together made the dishes of the evening: lentil Tarka Dhal, Kumba Di Sabji (mushroom curry), Kabli Channa Sabji (chickpea curry), cucumber raita and rotis. All the ingredients and fresh vegetables were already laid out on the cooking stations and everyone got stuck into chopping. It didn’t take long before great aromas started to spread throughout the kitchen from the different spices used in Punjabi cookery.

The group at our Chorlton class dig in to their Punjabi feast

When the dishes were almost completed, Harjinder demonstrated how to make the rotis. On a very hot tava (a kind of griddle), she used her fingers to flip the roti and used a tea towel to press down around the roti to eliminate air bubbles and to give it an even colour/cook – it can’t get more authentic that that! Another way to finish off the roti is to cook it directly on the gas flame, though, as Harjinder said, it's not for the fainthearted! Everyone went back to their cooking stations to make their own rotis and it was a great laugh and experience – not to mention easy and delicious. As soon as the rotis were ready, Harjinder passed around clarified butter to spread on the fresh bread then we finished the dishes and took all the food to the table to sit down and eat the feast together. And what a feast it was – the food was amazing!

Fresh flatbreads to accompany the meal in Chorlton

CGF’s next cooking session at AGSB in Altrincham is on Monday 15 April, when we will be cooking different types of risotto with our rice expert Kim Irwin. There are just three places available so book quickly by calling Andrea Lacon on 0161 928 0858 or by emailing her via alacon@agsb.co.uk.

Our next session with Harjinder is in Chorlton on Saturday 27 April, when she will be leading a masterclass in making delicious stuffed parathas. Visit www.crackinggoodfood.org for full details and how to book.

You can see more photos from Chorlton here and from Altrincham here.

GUEST BLOG: Totally Approved

By guest blogger TRACEY

It was all go at the Approved Premises on Wednesday 6 March, and in this, our penultimate session, the guys managed to deliver a fantastic Mexican feast featuring guacamole, spicy salsa and refried beans all to be encased in a homemade tortilla. Despite being two down at the start, the production line still featured lots of peeling, chopping and slicing: red onion, white onion, garlic, tomatoes, coriander, green chillies, lime, lemon and avocados. Once prepped, the guys set to making the spicy salsa, sautéing the white onion and garlic, then adding tinned tomatoes. The salsa was seasoned, then a generous sprinkling of cumin and chilli was added. Once the salsa had reduced, freshly chopped coriander was thrown in near the end along with a glug of extra virgin oil and, as one of the guys rightly pointed out, this added to the richness of the salsa in both taste and apprearance.

Focus moved onto the refried beans, which were rinsed and drained then roughly mashed. It made a change not to be met with the usual barrage of complaints and unfavourable comments previously received when making this staple dish of Mexican cuisine and while there was a little speculation and reservation, on the whole, the guys seemed open to try this new dish. The red onions were chopped and fried with the garlic, then smoky and flavoursome chipotle was added. I think of all the herbs, spices and flavourings I've been introduced to do while working at Cracking Good Food, this is definitely my favourite as the richness and sweetness of the dried chillies add a terrific depth to any dish. Of course, I must remember that when circulating this ‘small tin of delight’ around the room for all to revel in the aroma, not everyone will be as animated or enthused by it as I am! The beans were added and mixed in with the onions, then freshly chopped coriander was stirred in along with the juice of two limes. This is such a tasty and highly fibrous dish which introduces a new texture to your palate.

The tortilla bread swiftly came together by mixing plain flour, 2 teaspoons of baking powder, a pinch or two of salt and some boiling water. Once kneaded, the guys broke off golfball-sized pieces and rolled them to around 3-5mm thick. Half the team set to dry-frying the tortillas, while the remaining prepared the final component of a fajita – the guacamole! The avocados were stoned and roughly chopped then the group was reminded of the ‘triangular tip’ when cutting the woody stalk away from tomato – slice the tomato in half leaving the stalk end complete on one side, then, using a sharp knife, cut a triangle around the stalk end, and just pop it out! It's an efficient tip to minimise wastage. The fruits were mixed together with the juice of one lemon, some olive oil, chopped coriander and salt. Finally, shredded lettuce, olives and tomatoes was prepped along with a pile of grated cheese for people to add to their fajitas according to taste. The guys delivered a great feast at just £1.84 per head and everyone enjoyed it and commented on how good the food looked - “the best meal so far”, apparently! 


We were back at the Approved Premises last Wednesday (13 March) when our current run of sessions came to an end with our store cupboard challenge, which always goes down a storm! The group had previously been given a list of typical store cupboard ingredients and asked to come up with a tasty, healthy and inexpensive three-course dinner using the skills and knowledge they have picked up over the course of their programme with Cracking Good Food. The guys devised the menu the previous week and between themselves chose who was to complete each task. They excelled themselves, rustling up a chicken and sweetcorn soup to start, followed by steak mince burgers served with paprika-spiced oven-cooked sweet potato wedges and salad on the side. We were also treated to fish burgers for a meat alternative and carrot cake was baked for dessert, so a lovely meal was cooked by the guys in this ‘participant-led’ session.

To start, one guy set to peeling and finely slicing the ginger and chopping the garlic, while the sweetcorn was rinsed by another, who then turned his attention to dicing the onions. Elsewhere, the potatoes were being peeled, cubed and boiled for the fishcakes, while a tin of tuna was drained, an egg beaten and spring onion finely sliced. All the ingredients were then mixed together and formed into patties between floured hands. The patties were placed on a baking tray and left in the fridge to firm up. Meanwhile, two of the guys had weighed out the ingredients for the carrot cake. The dry ingredients (flour, cinnamon, sugar and raisins) were mixed together and the wet ingredients (eggs and oil) were quickly mixed in a measuring jug. At this stage, freshly grated nutmeg was added to the bowl, then the guys combined the wet and dry ingredients, rhythmically mixing to create a lump-free batter. The soup was watched over to make sure an appetising consistency was achieved once the stock was added to the ginger, onion, garlic and sweetcorn. On a couple of occasions, the group decided the consistency was too runny, so a cornflour roux was added to the soup. Some beefy work was taking place while the other dishes were coming together. Two guys had chopped onions and decided to add chopped garlic to the steak mince for the burgers too. They seasoned the meat, then decided to add paprika for a little extra spice. They hand mixed the mince then formed burger patties, which were also put in the fridge to firm up. Their thoughts turned to the potato wedges, so the potatoes were scrubbed and sliced accordingly and placed in baking trays. The wedges were sprinkled with paprika, salt and olive oil then placed in the oven for roasting... so it was a real hive of activity in the first half of a three-hour session! After a quick break, the heat in the kitchen was really turned up as the burgers and fishcakes were fried, the cake was baked and the heat under the soup was turned up to aid the thickening. A nice cool salad of shredded lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, cucumber, roasted sesame seeds and a rather large capsicum pepper were sliced chopped and mixed together.

By this time the guys were really looking forward to their 'scran' and so was I! The guys had worked so hard and shared the tasks fairly among the group and the tasty meal they’d cooked was deserved by all – thank you so much for a great celebratory ‘end of course’ meal and well done to all! It was a great way to end the course and we're really looking forward to returning to the Approved Premises on 17 April, when, thanks to new funding for the project, we'll be running three more programmes, including one in Stockport.

There are more photos from the Mexican session
here and more from the final session here.

16 March 2013

GUEST BLOG: School food fun

By guest blogger EMMA SMAIL

Session two of ‘What do you want to cook?’ at Benchill Primary School in Wythenshawe took place on Thursday 7 March. This week, our cooks had chosen burger and chips for the menu, which was very appropriate considering the recent scandal about what’s been ending up in our burgers! Kim took a slightly different approach to this classic kids’ favourite, making Cajun-spiced wedges and fresh, wholesome salsa to accompany the burgers.

First the potatoes were chopped into wedges and par-boiled for about five minutes, just until they began to go soft, then placed in hot oil on a baking tray and sprinkled with a pinch of salt and a spoonful of Spanish paprika. The smell of the paprika filled the room instantly as it hit the hot potatoes and this delighted the children, who likened the aroma to barbecues.

As the wedges were sizzling away in the oven, the salsa was prepared. Tomatoes and cucumbers were chopped, deseeded and sliced, garlic was crushed and red onion was diced. All the children took part in the chopping to create a bowlful of incredibly colourful veg. It was decided that only half of one chilli should be added as the chillies were hotter than expected! It was suggested that this would make an excellent summer salad on its own as well as an accompaniment to a meal.

Onto the burgers... Everyone in the group was given the right amount of mince and could choose from the remaining garlic, onion and seasoning to flavour their burgers. Everyone commented on how good it was to be able to see exactly what was going into their burgers and have complete control over what they were eating, and as soon as the burgers were placed into the hot pans, mouths were watering.

As these were cooking, the last-minute touches of olive oil and a squeeze of lime were added to the salsa and once the burgers were cooked through, everyone got stuck in! The Cajun-spiced wedges weren’t to everyone’s taste, but as one young participant pointed out, it’s just a different flavour and you might come to enjoy it if you get used to it. Wise encouraging words, as new, different and interesting flavours are what’s so exciting about food.

The burgers went down a treat and everyone agreed they were far better than what you get at fast food outlets! This is a kids' favourite that, when made from scratch, is a cheap, easy and tasty dinner, and the benefit of knowing exactly what is in it is one that cannot be argued with. Well done to everyone who took part and we look forward to cooking at the school again.

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

8 March 2013

GUEST BLOG: Walking and talking

By guest blogger HARJINDER KAUR, who led this walk!

Last weekend, I led a tour to look at some of the more unusual ingredients I use in my Punjabi cooking, which I teach as both paid-for public classes and also as some of the sessions Cracking Good Food runs for community groups.

Once the enthusiastic "Spice Walkers" had gathered outside Ahmed's Store in Clarendon Road, we set about perusing the array of vegetables on display, and we identified some more well-known varieties: aubergines, kerala (bitter gourd), kadu (various types of marrow) and mooli, which we used as a paratha filling in one of my classes only last week. 

I also spied a couple of things that I've not cooked in a while, pointing out arbi or arvi. It’s also known as Chamadumpa, and the tubers resemble Jerusalem artichokes. Arbi can be used much like a potato; it’s very starchy and has high sugar content. It has an unusual taste - a little sterner than a potato - but for those looking for variety for a vegetarian palate, then give it a try - it can be curried or stir-fried.

Another great delight to see were radish seed pods, a delicacy from my childhood. The pods have a peppery taste, and have been used in various cuisines since the 1800sI remember my mum would plant radishes then let them go to seed. The resulting pods would be curried as a vegetarian dish or added to a chicken curry, and they can also be eaten raw in salads - absolutely delicious and unusual. 

We continued the spice talk as we walked between the burgeoning shelves of Ahmed’s Store. I was spoilt for choice with what to point out, but everyone was all ears as we wended our way round the aisles and took in spices, dhals and various flours: atta (chapatti flour), millet, cornflower and gram flour. Dried pomegranate seeds were one ingredient that was new to the group, so my Pakora recipe crept into the conversation as well, fitting in nicely, as one of the group wanted to know what dishes he could use adjwain (lovage seeds) in.

Some of our Spice Walkers took the opportunity to purchase some of the ingredients that we talked about - I have a fair idea of what was on the menu being cooked for supper on Sunday! Our leaflet about spices with the colourful chart of my own Spice Box was a great reminder of the day as well. Many thanks to Ahmed's Store, our very generous shopkeepers who kept our hunger at bay with Bombay mix and jalebis.

We've just added a new date to our spring programme, with Harjinder leading one of her popular stuffed paratha masterclasses on Saturday 27 April at Chorlton High School. Click here for full details and how to book.

5 March 2013

GUEST BLOG: Making some dough

By guest blogger HELEN ROADHOUSE

What a gorgeous day it was for the ever popular Bread Extra session. We were going to be making a classic loaf, garlic naan and focaccia, and we also had a surprise for the participants who could not fail to be peckish after creating all these tempting breads.

As usual Rob had his audience rapt as he shared his expertise and detailed the differences between flours and yeasts. He explained how you should always use some salt, but that you can vary the amount according to taste or should you have health issues. It was interesting to hear how modern shop-bought breads are made too quickly due to modified yeasts and specially grown, high gluten, strong flours. Before the 1960s, commercially made bread took so much longer to be ready for the oven, meaning that lactobacillus was produced by the yeasts which helped break down gluten and consequently made bread more digestible. Coeliac disease and gluten intolerances are noticeably more common since this process was sped up with the  introduction of modern ingredients.

While the participants got on with their creations, the coordinators set to with 
constructing a late lunch for everyone. We made some more dough and rolled it out then started on a tomato sauce - we were having pizza, of course! We fried an onion and some garlic, then added tomatoes and Rob's secret ingredient. An apple or pear is added instead of sugar and this takes the edge off any bitterness and also adds some depth of flavour. I've never made my tomato sauces any other way since Rob first showed me this. For the topping, we sliced some mushrooms and added some delicious anchovies and some olives left over from the focaccia.

The first batch of fabulous loaves - every one of them a success - were taken out of the oven and replaced with the pizzas and they were ready pretty much when the focaccias were done. These were some of the most glorious focaccias I have seen in these sessions - beautifully risen and baked to perfection. By now, as you can imagine, the room was full of mouthwatering fresh bread and garlicky focaccia aromas, so everyone was more than ready for pizza. There was no waste, every slice was claimed, so everyone went home full of homemade pizza and proudly clutching their beautiful bread. Result!

There are more photographs from this session on our Facebook page

We've added some more breadmaking sessions to the spring programme as all those scheduled have booked up! On Saturday 11 May, we'll be re-running the Bread Extra session described here, then on Saturday 29 June, we are running the second all-day breadmaking session - see the CGF website for full details of both and how to book. 

GUEST BLOG: Baking hot

By guest blogger KIM IRWIN

The first day of March saw the team in St Margaret's in Chorlton working with the DEP (Development Education Project) to deliver the first in a series of five breadmaking workshops for local people. In our first session, our resident breadmaking expert Rob instructed the class on the art of baking a basic loaf, using a variety of yeasts and flours.  

Dough was soon mixed and kneaded then left under a tea towel to double in size while we retired to the classroom to find out some more about bread. A lively discussion ensued and we pondered the history of bread, grain and gluten, its impact on health, modern and artisan baking techniques, cost and milling processes, and so much more.  

One of the participants had brought along her own home-baked Turkish buns made with cheese and parsley, which were absolutely delightful and a welcome treat in our tea break! Once we'd polished these off, the dough had risen and we swiftly placed our bread tins in the ovens for baking. Not long after, perfect loaves were removed and everyone in the class had a freshly baked warm loaf to carry home with them. It was a great start to our five-week course and we're really looking forward to Rob sharing his secrets of perfect pizza bases, foccacia, naan bread, tea cakes and more. 

See more photos from this community session on the CGF Facebook page: click here.

GUEST BLOG: Fun with food!

By guest blogger SIOBHAN KELLY

Last Thursday (28 February) saw the first of the second block of “What Do You Want To Cook?” sessions at Benchill Primary School in Wythenshawe, where parents and children cook together, then eat together afterwards as a group. We had a lovely group - some were already booked on the list, but others were invited as they left an after-school meeting, and we were delighted they could join us at such short notice.   

On the menu was vegetable curry with rotis (chapatti). Everyone took part in cutting and chopping onions, garlic, courgettes, sweet peppers and aubergines - all such different colours, textures, smells and tastes. We started the cooking off by frying onions with cumin seeds then added chopped garlic and grated ginger – the lovely smells wafting down the corridor had many heads popping round the door asking what was going on!  The youngest in the group, aged just three, was munching away on fresh green peppers, and it was great to see such a healthy snack following nursery school. 

While the vegetables cooked in the wok, tinned chopped tomatoes were added to the mix along with fresh red chillies and dried spices: cumin, turmeric, salt, paprika, garam masala and red chilli flakes. The colour and aroma was wonderful and it looked so appetising, far better than a takeaway from a shop, and so quick, easy and inexpensive to make.

Harjinder demonstrated how to make rotis using flour and water and said she had been making them since childhood. She told everyone that another traditional way of cooking rotis in the Punjab is in a clay pot - a tandoor - and she said that many villages had a communal tandoor for everyone could to make use of.  It was great to hear about this communal social cooking - it's what ‘Cracking Good Food’ is all about!

The dough was divided up so both adults and children could take turns kneading and rolling their chapattis - there was some handy work with the rolling pins, then everyone had a go flipping the dough from hand to hand to remove excess flour and make the flatbreads slightly larger and thinner. Next they were cooked on a hot tava and we watched them change colour as they cooked, Harjinder showing how to tap down the hot air bubbles with a tea towel. Everyone did a fantastic job and should be proud of themselves.

The curry was dished up and many helpings were had. There wasn't a morsel left, and we were delighted to see such great appetites and enjoyment of the wonderful food everyone had prepared together. 

Recipe sheets along with a special spice list were given out with a breakdown of the cost of this meal. Everyone was encouraged to make the rotis again at home and photograph them so they can be exhibited on the cooking room wall next week, so we look forward to seeing them next week and hearing stories of parents and children cooking healthy, nutritional, cheap, colourful meals from scratch again at home. 

There are more photographs from this community event on our Facebook page.

GUEST BLOG: Talking Italian

By guest blogger TRACEY

The group were on fire again at the Approved Premises on Wednesday 27 February! Alison explained the different types of pasta sauces we were going to be making: a substantial weighty creamy cheese sauce with ribbon-cut ham and a mix of sliced chestnut and white mushroom to go with penne, plus a highly flavoursome spaghetti alla puttanesca (surprisingly we’d not forgotten the translation of this dish - whore's-style spaghetti!).

The prep got underway: slicing onions, mushrooms, garlic, peppers and chillies. Alison introduced some new flavours to some of the guys - capers, which were thoroughly washed to remove some of the salt, and black olives. The olives received a mixed range of comments and actions from “not bad” to the offending olive being rapidly expelled! I must confess that olives are not to my liking either, but once added to a dish, I find they compliment the flavours and I was pleased that many others agreed. The aroma of the onions and mushrooms filled the room and once the garlic, chilli and peppers were fried, the hunger pangs started to get stronger. 

All hands were on deck for prepping the roux sauce, melting the fat, adding the flour then mixing in the milk, and Alison shared her mum’s tip of warming the milk beforehand to avoid curdling and lumps. One participant put some serious elbow work into stopping it from getting too thick, resulting in a wonderfully silky smooth and delicious cheese sauce, then the mushrooms, onions and ham were added, resulting in a subtle but tasty savoury dish.

The puttanesca took shape after the tomatoes, garlic and a good glug of olive oil were left to reduce down for an hour, with capers, olives, parsley, chillies, black pepper and lemon juice all going in. The mix looked so appealing and it tasted wonderful once it was mixed with the spaghetti.

And I wasn’t the only one who thought the food was good - as one participant commented: “This is the best bit of scran we’ve had so far.” So thanks, guys, for a nutritious and hearty lunch!

There are more photos from this community session on the Cracking Good Food Facebook page.

4 March 2013


We have two bloggers this time round...

By guest blogger JULIET LAWSON

I'm one of the directors of Cracking Good Food, and while I don’t normally go to our cooking sessions, I decided to go to the venison session last Monday evening with Robert Owen Brown as it looked so interesting. I guess I’m a decent cook, otherwise I probably wouldn’t be in this job, but I learnt such a lot – like how to butcher a muntjac deer. It’s the most sustainable meat in the UK. They’re technically vermin as they destroy crops and strip bark and have to be culled to keep numbers under control. We’re all so out of touch with where our meat comes from. Half of us wouldn’t recognise what animal a cut of meat comes from if it weren’t for the colour-coded Styrofoam packaging it comes in, let along know where each of the cuts comes from on the body and how to butcher and prepare them.

We probably spent the best part of an hour preparing the meat. It was a labour of love and put me in mind of the Slow Food movement. I found it a strangely soothing experience spending a good 10 minutes gently easing off the silvery ‘skin’ which coated one side of the venison loin and I was proud of my perfect-looking loin fillet.

We made three gorgeous dishes. First into the pot was the makings for the stew, with meat from the legs, nicely browned first (I’ve now learnt to let meat sit and not move it around too much if you want it to brown nicely). Nothing so easy but satisfying as a good stew. We used juniper berries, which makes perfect sense with venison, I’ll definitely do that again. Next up was pan-fried loin atop a delicious fondant potato with a - curiously tasty pickled red cabbage and chocolate sauce - kind of sweet and sour without the Asian flavours. I never knew how easy it was to pickle your own red cabbage. And how cheap! I’m definitely doing that in future. Last up was venison liver with baby onions and a reduced dandelion and burdock sauce resting on a tasty celeriac mash (pictured below). The first mouthful felt a bit sweet but after that it felt deliciously balanced. Rob said it’s his answer to balsamic vinegar reductions, seeing as we’re in Manchester, like. Have to say I agree with him.

The session had finished but for me the fun didn’t stop there. Apart from the fact that we took our delicious stew away with us for dinner the next day, Rob said we could take one of the carcasses home too. There weren’t many takers so I put my hand in the ring for one. I’ll be honest, I had that sneaky feeling that it might sit in the fridge in its inglorious bin bag in for a few days and I wouldn’t have the time or maybe the inclination to do anything with it, and then I’d feel guilty... but actually the following evening, I spent half an hour relieving the carcass of any more meat I could inexpertly get off it – enough for a bit of a stew for two, I reckon. That went in the freezer. Then I broke it up and bunged it in a big stockpot with a good slug of some red wine that had been sitting about for a while (hard to imagine, I know!), a couple of carrots and onions and a load of water, and I boiled it up for the rest of the evening. Rob said he boils his stock for five hours so I put it back on again in the morning for a while. I strained it, cooled it down and skimmed the fat off, then reduced it right down. It tasted glorious. It’s in the freezer now too. Apparently it is absolutely fantastic in a French onion soup. One to try in the next couple of weeks! All the last bits of meat had fallen off the bones and there must have been about a pound & a half of shredded meat there in the pan, so I painstakingly made sure that there were no little bits of bone left in it and then parcelled that up for the freezer too – one lot for a pie and one for a spicy tomato-based goulash to have with mash or polenta.

It’s made me feel so much more connected with where my food has come from. And a little bit smug, if I’m honest, because I’ve respected the animal enough to not waste any of it. Nose-to-tail cooking: game on!

By guest blogger CHRIS YOUNG

Sustainability is the game and what better than to cook venison? Robert Owen Brown, executive head chef at The Mark Addy in Manchester, started out by talking about sustainability and information about the food the participants were about to cook. He then showed everyone how to butcher a deer and nothing went to waste: the liver was butter fried with baby onions, dandelion and burdock reduction (and served with celeriac mash), the loin was cooked and served with a delicious sauce of marinated red cabbage and chocolate (and served with a fondant potato), and the haunch was slow braised with wine, herbs and vegetables. The carcasses were also available to take home and Robert said that one example was to use it for stock.

Everyone was paired up and got to butcher and fillet under Roberts’s expert guidance. After questions and laughter, the kitchen fell completely silence as everyone got immersed in their tasks. However, the silence didn’t last long as Robert kept talked about his ‘tricks of the trade’, and everyone enjoyed both the information and practical skills they received during the evening and the session was fun, friendly and laid backAs the cooking started, a heavenly smell filled the kitchen and we couldn’t wait to start eating! Once the meals were cooked, everyone sat down together to enjoy the food and everyone got to bring home any leftovers and all of the haunch stew! How can you beat that? 

When asking what part of the class they enjoyed the most, some of the feedback was:

“Excellent tuition from Robert”
“Discussion about deer/culling/sustainability”
“Cooking different parts [of the animal]”
“Inspirational approach but tackled in down-to-earth practical manner”

There are more photos from this Altrincham session on our Facebook page: click here to be redirected.