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 sessionhere and more from the final session here.