21 May 2013

GUEST BLOG: Pancake day

By guest blogger TRACEY

We ran a really enjoyable session on Saturday 18 May in Chorlton Precinct. Passers-by were invited to take part in a free cooking workshop, which we organised in conjunction with Manchester City Council. Those who took part began by beating a flavoursome batter - made from gram flour and water with the addition of garlic and finely chopped chilli - into a savoury pancake mix. Fresh coriander was then chopped and sprinkled into the batter, enhancing both the colour and the fragrance. 

The participants were offered two choices with which to stuff their pancakes. The first was refried borlotti beans and a spicy salsa, which I think amazed and delighted them because these ordinary-looking beans created such a strong appetising taste when mixed with cumin, paprika, chilli powder and lime juice. The alternative stuffing was sautéed mushrooms with a garlic paste and a tablespoon of fresh parsley. The mouth-watering aromas caused the depth of the crowd to double very quickly and once everyone had sampled the delicious pancake, they were adamant that they would be trying this cheap, nutritious gluten- and wheat-free, vegan dish again at home. And who can blame them - just look at this...

We were lucky to be joined by Stuart Bowman who ran a ‘sowing seeds’ workshop, and children and adults alike sowed a variety of seeds: basil, cress, beans, lettuce and many more. His participants were also made aware of the importance of composting and were all lucky to leave with potted seeds to reap the benefits of their efforts later on in the year. Thanks to Stuart, our volunteers and cooks - they made this a really enjoyable and tasty afternoon, despite the weather!

There are lots of great photos from this event on the Cracking Good Food Facebook page - be sure to pay a visit and "like"!

GUEST BLOG: Naughty, with spice

By guest blogger KIM IRWIN

Friday saw our final breadmaking session working with the DEP groups in Whalley Range. On the menu was enriched breads which included Chelsea buns and hot cross buns - delicious sweet treats!
Our bakers divided into teams and were soon weighing out the flour and making dough, with soaked dried fruit added to the Chelsea bun mixture and dried fruit added to the hot cross bun mix. Pretty soon the doughs were rising and the team got to work on making the pastry for the buns and a glaze made from apricot jam.
As it was our final session, we'd invited the other group to join us for a lunchtime celebration, everyone bringing in dishes they'd prepared at home. Soon enough we had enough food to feed a small army, with dishes from all over the world reflecting the diversity of cultures in the groups we had worked with. Dishes such as potato pakoras, bhajis, aloo chat, noodle salad, stuffed aubergine and vine leaves were all happily gobbled up, as was a delicious beetroot and chocolate cake for afters! It was a real celebratory feast of food. We all wondered if were going to have enough room to try the buns…
By this time the doughs had risen and the hot cross buns were shaped and crossed to finish baking in the oven. The dough for the Chelsea buns was rolled out and sprinkled with fruit, then rolled into a sausage and sliced into smaller pieces - they looked so gooood already. The room was smelling amazing and it was with a bittersweet air that our wares were lifted from the oven one final time. Finished with the glaze, the hot cross buns were sliced and spread with butter and we certainly found the room to sample how wonderful they tasted. 
All agreed it had been a fabulous way to spend a Friday morning over the past 10 weeks and here at Cracking Good Food, we hope to accquire funding to continue our work with such enthusiastic cooks. Well done, everyone, and thank you for sharing your food, energy and enthusiam with us.

There are now lots of photographs from our bun-baking sessions with the DEP up on our Facebook page. Click here to look at them.

18 May 2013

GUEST BLOG: Mexican wave

By guest blogger TRACEY

We’re nearing the end of a six-week programme at the Approved Premises and Wednesday's session was Mexican cookery, so a chance for the group to learn about the different spices which are used to enhance this cuisine and compare them to the herbs and spices they've been learning about it previous weeks. Their tastebuds have been on a journey around the world - we landed in China for stir-fry, went Italian with pasta, had curry in India and of course swung by good old Blighty in week two for some dumplings and pies! 

This week, Kim introduced four dishes: salsa, guacamole, refried beans, tortillas and lightly fried quesadilla. The group of four formed their familiar production line: chopping plum and cherry tomatoes, cucumber, onions and chillies for the salsa, then stirring through a glug of olive oil along with some fresh coriander. A similar mix was then prepared with the addition of avocado and garlic for the guacamole, which we discovered translates to ‘avocado sauce’. Kim explained that the smell of garlic can be removed from your hands by rubbing them over a piece of steel such as a tap or by rinsing with some lemon juice – the guys were delighted. Kim also told us how to soften the avocados - place them next to a banana as apparently the avocado reacts to gases released by the banana. But ideally, buy your avocado a week before you plan to use it.

We then turned our attention to making the refried beans and tortillas. The borlotti beans were washed, mashed and sprinkled with chipotle, cumin, garlic paste and finely sliced chillies. The tortillas were made with a simple mix of flour, warm water, salt, butter and baking powder, then dry fried in a pan over a high heat. Some of the group sampled the deliciously spiced ingredients straight away on a freshly made tortilla, known as a fajita, but Kim wanted to take the dish to another level… On one half of a cooked tortilla, Kim got the guys to spread a spoonful of refried beans, then plop on some salsa and sprinkle over grated cheese, then she showed them how to fold the unladen side of the tortilla over the filled half and this 'quesadilla’ was put back into the pan to warm through and melt the cheese. The quesadillas were served with a dollop of soured cream and some shredded lettuce and just tasted divine. Thanks guys for bringing a little Mexico to the back streets of Chorlton!

There are more photographs from this session on Facebook - click here.

GUEST BLOG: Rice magic

By guest blogger CHRIS YOUNG

A room full of excited participants assembled at Chorlton High School on the evening of Tuesday 14 May. Only a few had previously tried to cook Japanese cuisine or sushi so everyone was eager to learn how to make miso soup and sushi with a delicious dipping sauce.

Chef Kim Irwin started the session by talking about the different ingredients we were going to use and explained that Japanese cooking is all about subtle flavours and that you should uncover different layers as you taste the food. She then showed us how to chop the vegetables in different ways to make the presentation more interesting, and shared some tricks and tips, and the participants got cracking and did very well!

The miso soup was made by first soaking some kombu (kelp) in cold water then heating it up without boiling (as it turns bitter if it boils), then the resulting dashi was used as stock for the soup. The chopped vegetables were quickly fried and the dashi was added, together with the other ingredients.

For the sushi, we cooked a special sushi rice, leaving it to steam for 15 minutes. It was then spread out evenly on a baking tray to cool to room temperature. Kim showed the group how to put the sushi together: she flattened out a bamboo sushi roller and placed a nori seaweed sheet on top then she added the rice, chopped vegetables, some umboshi plum paste, wasabi paste and finally a piece of fish. She then put some water on the top end of the seaweed sheet to act a bit like glue and slowly rolled while pulling on the mat. Once rolled, the mat was removed and the sushi slice into bite-size pieces with a sharp knife.

The participants then all had a go at making their own sushi, some veggie versions, some fish, and we all sat down to eat. I'd never had sushi before and I wasn’t sure if I was going to taste it, but I'm glad I did - I liked it a lot! Thank you to Kim, to the participants and to the volunteers – you all did a splendid job!

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

Kim will be running the Turning Japanese session again on 4 June at our Altrincham Cookery School. Click here for more details and to book, please contact Andrea Lacon at Altrincham Grammar School For Boys - telephone 0161 928 0858 or email alacon@agsb.co.uk.

13 May 2013

GUEST BLOG: Walk this way

By guest blogger VICKY HOWELL

What better way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon than learning about the wonderful array of spices, vegetables and other ingredients used in Punjabi cooking from Cracking Good Food’s very own Harjinder Kaur. 

The group of Spice Walkers gathered outside Ahmed’s Cash and Carry on Clarendon Road in Whalley Range and were quickly warmed up with a treat of aubergine pakoras, freshly cooked by Harjinder that morning. After these had been devoured, the discussion moved on to the extensive range of vegetables on display, from familiar items like peppers, aubergines and courgettes, to the less well-known karela, tinda, which works well in lamb dishes, and radish seed pods, which can be added to vegetable curries for an extra peppery kick.

Moving inside, we came across jars of pickles in every possible flavour, and Harjinder gave us some tips on how to use these as a starter. Round the corner, we came to the spice aisle and Harjinder explained that her own spice box contains just 11 different spices, which can be used to make almost any type of Punjabi dish. She gave us a quick rundown on how to make your own garam masala by grinding together cinnamon sticks, black cardamom pods and whole cloves, and pointed out some more unusual items, such as pomegranate seeds - it turned out that these were one of the key ingredients in the pakoras we’d enjoyed earlier. 

All the Spice Walkers left with bulging bags of ingredients to take home, so it’s a safe bet that homemade curry is on the menu soon!

There are more photos from the Spice Walk on our Facebook page.

Harjinder is leading a session in authentic Punjabi cookery at our Altrincham Cookery School on Saturday 18 May. Desi Punjabi Khanna means "tasty home-cooked food" and shouldn't be missed! See the Cracking Good Food website for details.

GUEST BLOG: Rising stars

By guest blogger SIOBHAN KELLY

There was another full house this Saturday (11 May) for the four-hour breadmaking session at Chorlton High School. The warm kitchens were a welcome contrast to the cold overcast weather outside. On the menu today was a loaf of bread, garlic naan bread and focaccia. 

First off, we made the dough for our loaves of bread with a choice of flours and yeast. While the dough was rising (the temperature in the kitchen was quite tropical this morning - perfect conditions for the dough to rise in), the dough for the naan and focaccia was prepared.

The focaccia dough was stretched, rolled and sprinkled with sunblushed tomatoes and olives, folded into three, then rolled out again and left to rise, before it was sprinkled with sliced red onions, rock salt and fresh rosemary, ready to bake. These look so spectacular when cooked!

The garlic naan breads were then ready to roll into shape and cook in a frying pan - a lovely sight with smell enveloping the kitchen space. As soon as they were ready, we are them with red pepper hummus and other dips - it's hungry work, this breadmaking!

Rob chatted passionately throughout the session, sharing preparation tips, scientific facts, good places to buy ingredients, and interesting stories to share. Everyone has recipe sheets to take away at the end of the session, so time can be spent enjoying the 'hands-on' experience of making dough, rather than taking notes. These sessions are designed for working individually and also in small groups. Learning together in a relaxed, sociable environment, we then sit and eat together after everyone's hard work, which also gives us time to reflect upon what's been made and learnt in the kitchen during the session. 

Today the participants were treated to freshly made pizzas for their lunch, which myself and the volunteer Charlotte made. These had a fresh tomato sauce containing apple, onions and garlic, while the toppings were made up of olives, chestnut mushrooms, anchovies, red pepper, yellow chillies and freshly ground pepper - delicious.

This was another successful session that inspired participants who now have the knowledge to bake their own breads at home. Thanks as always to our volunteers who work hard to help with the smooth running of our sessions. A lovely group of people today.

We have loads of photos from this session on our official Facebook page - take a look!

We have various breadmaking sessions coming up in Chorlton and Altrincham - see the Cookery School section on our website for full details and ways to book.

GUEST BLOG: Two for one

By guest blogger TRACEY

A whole lot of pasta was going on during our latest Foundation For Learning & Life Skills course at the Approved Premises last Wednesday, 8 May. Despite being two guys down, the remaining four of the group swiftly and smoothly completed all the tasks to produce a well-balanced and delicious duo of pasta dishes. Kim listed the many dishes that could be made from the ingredients laid on the table with minimal alteration and explained how the combined ingredients are great to freeze. 

The guys began by preparing the vegetables; dicing the onions and slicing the garlic, then adding salt to draw out the moisture. Kim’s hot on including colour in her diet, as the different colours are not just appealing to the eye but contain a lot of different minerals and vitamins for a healthy body! So the guys set to sautéing the onion, garlic and carrots then added these to the mince they'd already browned. Keeping with the healthy theme, just a little salt was added to the mix as the guys were urged to include fresh rosemary to enhance the flavour instead, or you could also use thyme as both release a woody and fragrant depth. I was delighted that Kim shared a BBQ tip – use the stalk of the rosemary as a kebab stick - I can almost taste the kebab, it's just unfortunate I can’t see the sun as I type!

 The participants' attention was moved to making a roux (cheese sauce) and, considering it was the first time for all, an amazingly smooth, lump-free sauce was achieved – everyone was delighted! We then went off on a tangent sharing our own and family members' secret ingredients, among the mix was salt, sugar, soy sauce and lemon juice, but on this occasion, the secret was out as Kim asked them to add mustard to the roux. Some mushrooms were sautéed and ham was ribboned then both were mixed into the cheese sauce. Once the penne pasta had cooked, all the ingredients were combined and left to let the flavours settle in together, whilst the group finished off the Bolognese sauce.

Kim explained the meaning of ‘Umami’: it's the fifth sense in relation to taste and translates to ‘pleasant savoury taste’, which the guys achieved by adding soy sauce to the Bolognese. Spaghetti was twisted and dropped into a pan of boiling water. Kim highlighted that no salt or oil was needed as oil doesn’t mix with water and the sauce already had salt in it. The meal did not lack in anything but had the lovely addition of fresh broccoli with a drizzle of lemon. I really enjoyed the day’s session!

See the Cracking Good Food Facebook page for more photos from the workshop.

7 May 2013

GUEST BLOG: Spring into action

By guest blogger SARAH BENJAMINS

Spring was traditionally the time people would load up on nutrients after the lean harsh winter times - so it's a great time for a forage to take advantage of the abundance, with some reliable stalwarts of the wild food world to be found in plentiful supply alongside some less common surprises.

After demonstrating how to pick and eat nettles without getting stung, last Saturday (4 May), expert forager Jesper Launder shared his wild garlic and nettle soup recipe and talked a little about the medicinal benefits of the ingredients (Jesper is a registered medical herbalist). Nettles are packed full of vitamins, minerals and useful phytochemicals, and can be 'managed' in a corner of your garden throughout spring and summer to provide nutrients both for you and for your plants. We also found Jack by the Hedge in abundance which makes a lovely salad leaf, and a number of other leafy greens that can be used raw or cooked in salads, pestos, wilted as a side or incorporated into risottos and stews.

It's the perfect time of year to pick dandelion flowers for making homemade wine, and Jesper shared his recipe (though sadly no samples were available!) along with ideas for other wild wines.

There were many more interesting discoveries and fascinating facts, too numerous for this blog, but the highlight for some was the discovery of some Pignut plants, and a demonstration of how to find and 'harvest' the elusive nut without damaging the surrounding plants - a lesson in sustainable foraging.

After two and a half hour's foraging, we took our loaded baskets to the lakeside in Chorlton Waterpark and cooked up a buttery St George's mushroom entree, leafy garlicky main with scrambled egg, and a creamy dessert made from Sweet Cicely and yoghurt. Foraged food tastes good outdoors, and, as I can testify after cooking up some of my finds later that evening, good indoors too!

Fancy a forage? See the CGF website for details of more upcoming wild food forays.

There are photos from our recent wild food trips on the CGF Facebook page.