26 April 2013

GUEST BLOG: Beefing things up

By guest blogger TRACEY

WE had such a great session on Wednesday 17 April at the Approved Premises. With the guys raring to go prepping the beef skirt and vegetables for the day's menu and Kim keen to tell them all about the versatility of the ingredients, the session got off to a flying start. Due to the poor weather last year, the availability of locally grown crops has been limited, so vegetables such as beetroot, mushrooms and parsnips were used to add flavour, taste and nutrition to what was set to be a trio of vegetable and beef skirt dishes.

The guys began peeling, slicing and chopping the mushrooms, celery, onions, carrots, parsnips and beetroot then dicing the beef. Kim explained the beauty of the chosen cut, skirt - it's economical and cooks well, within a decent amount of time, and has very little fat. The vegetables were sautéed and the beef skirt dredged with flour to thicken the stew, then browned on a high heat. Fresh thyme was added to the meat, releasing an enticing aroma to the room. The windows were opened and many of the passing residents stopped to savour the smell and ask what was being cooked.

The guys peeled the potatoes for the mash, continually stirred and added stock to the stew to prevent it sticking, and moulded the fresh rosemary dough into golfball-sized dumplings which were to be added to the stew after the break. The guys returned and rolled the shortcrust pastry onto a dish, carefully tucking it around the dish to create a homely rustic-looking pie. Two participants set to making the mustard mash (not one of my favourites, but honesty must prevail as they got the right amount of mustard to not overpower the subtlety of the potato). The three dishes were cooked to perfection and served alongside some fresh broccoli which was treated to a splash of lemon, leaving us all feeling zesty and full after a lovely homemade meal – thanks, guys!

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

23 April 2013

GUEST BLOG: Our daily bread

By guest blogger EMMA SMAIL

Last Saturday (20 April) saw the first of Rob’s Our Daily Bread sessions: a new full-day bread course in response to feedback from people saying they want more time for the bread classes, as there is so much to learn. And learn we did: Our Daily Bread sent participants away with four different varieties of bread, and a sourdough starter so they can make a fifth variety when that is ready in a few days.

First was the basic bread dough. Flour, yeast, salt and water were mixed and left to rise, then we got on with making rye bread. Rye bread follows a similar recipe, with rye flour, of course. Rob introduced everyone to the traditional Polish way of making rye bread by adding a couple of teaspoons of molasses for that distinctive taste and dark colour, and caraway seeds, a very popular seed in Polish cooking. Next up, the bagel dough was made and each baking team had three doughs rising as we stopped for lunch.
After lunch everyone started kneading the basic bread and left it rising in the tin as we moved onto the final bread mixture of the day, soda bread. This one is made with bicarbonate of soda instead of yeast, as when it is mixed with slightly sour milk, or buttermilk – the whey from the cheese-making process, as is the traditional Irish way - the bicarbonate of soda reacts and effervesces with the acidity causing the dough to rise. The bakers made their own buttermilk by adding a squeeze of lemon juice to milk to make it curdle then it was mixed with the dry ingredients, shaped and baked. No rising or kneading required.
Rye bread was kneaded and shaped and left to rise then this and the basic bread were also baked as the group shaped and boiled their bagels. One participant said that, out of making all the breads today, shaping the bagels into their distinctive shape was the most fun. The bagels are boiled for two minutes on each side before being baked, a process that made some of the bagels swell up to enormous sizes! There was a selection of ingredients such as different seeds and sugar to top the bagels with so everyone could make them their own. Then many of the other breads were ready to come out of the oven in time for the bagels to go in. By this point the smells in the room were amazing. Everyone knows that freshly baked bread is one of the loveliest smells; the smell of three different varieties of freshly baked breads at the same time is exquisite.
By the end of the session each baker had a huge hamper amount of bread to take home and share, or eat all in one sitting if they so desired! Also, everyone was given a sourdough starter of rye flour mixed with water to keep adding to for years and years to get endless sourdough loaves from. More importantly, everyone had the skills and knowledge to bake so many different kinds of loaves they could almost have a different type of bread every day.
The extended edition of Rob’s bread course went down a treat. Not only were more recipes taught and learnt, but there was more time to get Rob to offload more of his extensive bread knowledge to the group - although a full day still isn’t enough to learn everything he knows! All the participants thoroughly enjoyed the day and we thank them for all their hard work and effort.
See our Facebook page for more photographs of this session.
Rob will be running more breadmaking classes in the near future in both Chorlton and Altrincham - check out the Cracking Good Food website for full dates and details.


GUEST BLOG: Afters hours

By guest blogger HELEN ROADHOUSE

Kevin White, aka The Ginger Kid, was back at Chorlton High School last Tuesday to show us some Impressive Afters. We were lucky enough to have both Alicja and Maz helping out, both chefs in their own right, so the participants had a wealth of cooking knowledge to draw from. Apple Tarte Tatin and Panna Cotta was on the cards, so we cracked on with the Panna Cotta as that takes a while to set. The double cream was infused with the aromatic seeds from a vanilla pod. Kevin talked about how he picked his vanilla from the Barbakan shop in Chorlton and had acquired some fine fat juicy pods. Only half a pod per pan of cream was needed. Kevin showed us how to split the pods and scrape out the seeds. We had some gelatine soaking ready for the cream and vanilla, so that was whisked in and left to cool. This really is not a good dessert for those watching their waistlines, but it was starting to look mouthwatering.

Next, we got on with the pastry for the tarts and the fruit for the syrup. We soon realised that we were learning more than a few different cooking techniques tonight - the participants were certainly getting their money's worth! There were a lot of different parts to this session and lots of skills to master, but the end results really will impress dinner party guests! Kevin advised that it's better to use butter than margarine for pastry as margarine has too much water content to make ideal pastry (but that is what makes it great for cakes) and not to knead too much as we don't want to stretch the gluten in the flour. The pastry was wrapped up and left in the refrigerator to rest, then our attention was turned back to the Panna Cotta, filling up little foil pots with the mix. These too were refrigerated athough Kevin didn't expect they would be completely set as they really need a few hours at least. Still, he'd brought a few he had made earlier, so we could all have a taste of what was to come!

We had apples peeled and chopped, drying on some paper towel ready for the pastry. Kevin then had us making caramel for the tarts, and this is where the fun started! The butter, sugar and water have to be boiled but watched like a hawk so the mixture doesn't burn. When ready, it was poured into the bottom of the tart tins. Of course there was a minor disaster that ended up as burnt caramel but there was plenty left from the other pans to save the day and a lesson learned to keep an eye on the pan!
Apple pieces were arranged in the little tart tins and small pastry circles rolled, placed over the apples and tucked into the tins, then the tarts went into the ovens.

Next, Kevin showed us how to prepare a pineapple and some kiwi, which we poached in some cinnamon-infused sugar syrup to go with our Panna Cotta. Of course your favourite alcoholic tipple could always be added to flavour the syrup should you want to! We tried Kevin's Panna Cotta, which was deliciously smooth and when turned out of the dish was perfectly formed and looked irresistible! Same with the tarts - everyone's was golden and the caramel-infused apples with melt-in-the-mouth pastry base was delicious! Everyone said they would be making the Tarte Tatins again at home, as will I. Madeleine said she found the variety of different skills involved interesting while Ian had never made pastry and puddings before and found the whole session friendly, interactive and not at all intimidating, and Noor said it was interesting seeing how easy and quick it was to make the afters.

There was more than enough for everyone to take home and although Kevin said I should put my Panna Cotta back in the fridge, it never made it that far and was demolished within minutes of getting it home! Mmmmm mmmm!

More photographs from this event can be found on the CGF Facebook page. Remember to "like"!

The Ginger Kid's next session with Cracking Good Food takes place on the evening of Monday 17 June at Altrincham Grammar School For Boys, when we'll be making pasta from scratch. See our website for more details and how to book: http://www.crackinggoodfood.org/.

22 April 2013

GUEST BLOG: Wok's cooking?

By guest blogger TRACEY

Met a great bunch of lads at the Approved Premises on Wednesday 17 April for our fifth round of six cooking sessions there. Kim led the session, and thanks to her instructions and guidance, the guys delivered an authentic-looking (and tasting!) Chinese stir-fry with sweet and sour sauce. The guys set to work using their newly acquired knife skills and knowledge of how to handle the vegetables, peeling, chopping and slicing carrots, broccoli, peppers, onions, spring onions, mushrooms and courgettes.

Kim drew their attention to the ‘holy trinity’ of Chinese cuisine: chilli gives the heat, garlic releases flavour and ginger lets a zesty aroma run wild through the dish. Together with the crunchy vegetables, you have a party on your tongue... to quote one of the participants! Throughout the session, Kim highlighted the health benefits of the ingredients, so the guys knew they were going to be feasting on a nutritious as well as cheap and quick meal. A flavoursome and balanced sweet and sour sauce was made using pineapple chunks, soy sauce, wine vinegar and tomato puree, while the spring onions and soy sauce were mixed into the egg-fried rice. The result was enjoyed by all and not a grain of rice was left!

You can see more photographs from this community session on the CGF Facebook page.

GUEST BLOG: Soda so good

By guest blogger KIM IRWIN

After a two-week break for Easter festivities we were back at the DEP premises with our second group making soda bread and bagels. With no time for hanging about, the group split into pairs and cracked on with the soda bread dough, measuring out warmed milk which was 'split' (curdled) by adding a lemon. Bicarbonate of soda was added to provide the rising agent and the dough was covered and left to rest.

We moved onto homemade bagels, which was a new experience for everyone, and again the dough was quickly pulled together - our team of budding bakers have certainly mastered the breadmaking art! With our two doughs resting, we enjoyed a short tea break then got back to work, shaping our soda dough (no need for kneading this one) and slicing the top with a cross shape to ensure it baked evenly… it looked very professional! Once the soda breads were in the oven, we heated water in pans for the first stage of bagel making. Shaping the bagels into doughnut rings was fun, then we carefully placed them in the simmering water for three minutes until they puffed up. Next, they were quickly placed on a baking sheet, given an egg wash and sprinkled with poppy seeds. One adventurous baker sprinkled her bagels with brown sugar, and, mmmm, they were really good when baked!

We enjoyed sampling the soda bread with butter and caramelised onion hummus - it was quite delightful - and waited in anticipation for the bagels to finish baking. After cleaning up and discussing the recipes, the freshly baked bagels were packaged up to be taken home and shared with loved ones. Another mouthwatering session was at an end and everyone left in agreement that it was a very pleasant way to spend a Friday morning.

See the Cracking Good Food Facebook page for more tasty samples.

GUEST BLOG: Grainy city

By guest blogger CHRIS YOUNG

At our fourth cooking session at Altrincham Grammar School for Boys (AGSB) on Monday 15 April, the high-tech kitchen was full of excited participants, and it was great to see some familiar faces as several of the participants had been to previous cooking sessions. This time, we made wild mushroom risotto and squash, lemon and two-grain risotto.

Chef Kim Irwin started the session by talking about the different types of grains and their usage and explained that by knowing your grains, you can improve your cooking. For risottos, a special rice called Arborio is normally used and can be bought in most stores these days. For the two-grain risotto, in addition to Arborio rice, barley rice was also used. Barley adds an interesting texture to the risotto plus a variety of minerals and vitamins.

Kim also showed how to chop vegetables in a safe and efficient way – a great skill to have! Everyone got to practise as they were chopping the ingredients for the stock - carrot, leek, celery, fennel, onion, bay leaf, garlic and fresh herbs. Fennel can sometimes be difficult to find but the stock works without it if you don't manage to get hold of any. At Cracking Good Food, we teach (among other things) sustainability, and tonight was no different: we used everything from the vegetables for the stock, skin included, and didn't let anything go to waste. You'll notice the difference, too - the stock has a deeper, fuller taste.

The secret to a perfect risotto is in the stirring and when to add liquid. By carefully stirring the rice,  adding one ladleful of stock at a time and ensuring the rice absorbs the stock slowly before adding more, the rice slowly releases the starch, which allows the risotto to become creamy. And, did you know that a perfect risotto should have a bite to it and not be mushy? The things you learn at our sessions!

It was great to see how everyone enjoyed themselves and, thanks to the expert guidance and useful tips from Kim, the participants created two wonderful perfectly made risotto dishes.

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

CGF is delighted to announce that we will offer further cooking classes this summer at AGSB:
Saturday 18 May:  Meat/fish Punjabi with Harjinder (3 hours, 10am start)
Tuesday 4 June:  Sushi/Japanese with Kim (3 hours, 6pm start)
Saturday 8 June:  Bread with Rob (4 hours, 10am start)
Monday 17 June:  Pasta from scratch with Kevin (3 hours, 6pm start)

4 April 2013

GUEST BLOG: Bagel factory

By guest blogger TRACEY

It was all go at Friday’s Development Education Programme session. Rob had the 11 participants captivated with information and instructions on how to make authentic bagels and a scone base soda bread. The participants were eager to get started and remained keen throughout the session. 

They carefully measured out the simple ingredients of flour, salt, yeast and sugar for the bagels, then gradually added the wet ingredients of oil and warm milk to make a spongy dough which was left to rise while the group turned their attentions to the soda bread. The cooking room then doubled up as a science lab as Rob wanted to demonstrate how the rising agent (bicarbonate of soda, or, to give it its proper name, sodium bicarbonate) reacts when added to lemon juice, water and vinegar. I think we all expected to see a fair-sized eruption once it was added to the water – alas there was nothing, however, excitement rippled through the room when Rob was encouraged on and added the bicarbonate of soda to the vinegar and plenty of bubbles appeared. Rob wanted us to understand that the creation of the bubbles aids the rising process during baking. Experiments aside, cold milk, lemon juice and vinegar were added to ¾ white bread flour, ¼ wholemeal, sugar and salt. The group members were given the option of adding pumpkin seeds. A wet dough was formed, then flour was sprinkled on top, enabling the group to divide the mix into two balls. Indentations of a cross were made into each ball then they were placed on a well-greased baking tray and put in the oven for 20 minutes. 

Meanwhile, the participants returned to the bagel dough, rolling out long sausage-shaped pieces, chopping the ends then joining them together. These rings were placed in boiling water for three minutes each side, removed and basted with a beaten egg. The bagels were sprinkled with sesame or poppy seeds and cooked in the ovens for 20 minutes. Everyone was delighted with the results: really authentic-looking bagels which tasted superb – thanks, guys, for a really enjoyable session.