25 July 2013

GUEST BLOG: Into the Biosphere

By guest blogger TRACEY

There was a 100% attendance for our special cooking sessions at the Biospheric Project on the evenings of Monday 15 and Tuesday 16 July, but considering the amazing menu, knowledgeable cooking leaders, relaxed environment and the engaging surroundings plus the fact that the event was being run as part of the Manchester International Festival... is it any wonder! 

The sessions took place in a - until recently - derelict mill on the banks of the River Irwell in Salford. The mill is confidently striding its way to becoming a thriving agricultural space which houses innovative sustainable food systems, and the backdrop to our sessions was an aquaponics system, an emerging agroforest and a number of polytunnels set on the rooftop garden to grow leaf crops. Our dinner guests were fortunate to be cooking and dining in the hub of this part-farm, part-laboratory and part-research centre, inspiring them to create some truly visionary and flavoursome delights. 

On Monday, Cracking Cook Kim Irwin guided the participants through each step to create a wild shiitake mushroom risotto with a Parmesan crisp and micro herb salad, using mushrooms foraged in Chorlton the previous evening and herbs grown by the Biospheric Project. The air filled with pungent woody odours as we roughly chopped the mushrooms, which were then set aside to soften in boiling water while the group set to creating a homemade stock and chopping and slicing onions and garlic. Both were saut√©ed in olive oil and a bay leaf added to the pot then rice and wine was stirred in, and the risotto started to take shape and the sounds of hunger rumbled through the room! A delegated stirrer was appointed within each team of four and they took on the responsibility of ensuring the risotto did not dry out by continuously adding stock a bit at a time - they didn't want it to be too wet, either, so a balancing act ensued! Once content with the balance of moisture and the density of the rice, the mushrooms were drained and mixed in with the rice along with a sprinkle of tarragon, a dollop of cream and a squeeze of lemon juice. The dish looked amazing, especially when served with the Parmesan crisp and fresh micro salad. Kim then delighted the participants with dessert: a delicious fresh layered pudding using hazelnuts, which were soaked in rose water then crushed, and layered with yoghurt and fresh strawberries in an upcycled jar delicately decorated with beautiful yellow, white and blue flowers. The guys were then treated to a visit of the roof garden, then left fully satiated and satisfied - so much so that some had already enlisted for the following night's session!

On Tuesday, sustainable food advocate Jules Bagnoli led an action-packed and informative session, sharing information about the different greens that were going to be used in the main course, such as sorrel, purslane and borage. The participants were making an extensive menu of Salford snail porridge, rainbow trout stuffed with sustainably farmed nettle and served with wild garlic pesto and herb tempura fritters, and a deliciously light and refreshing zingy lemon posset. The participants began by making a stock using onions, garlic and some of the leaves from the previous evening’s ingredients. Once the stock was ready, oats were added to a pan and a delicious savoury porridge formed. The snails were washed, boiled, drained then fried in garlic butter. It was unfortunate that the supply of snails had been affected by the heatwave, but what Jules had managed to find were pleasing to the eye. While the porridge simmered, we made dessert: lemon juice, cream and sugar were whipped up and poured into cappuccino cups then chilled alongside some freshly hulled berries treated to a sprinkling of shredded angelica. So with pudding done and the starter simmering, attention was turned to the main. The trout had been gutted, topped and tailed, so the guests stuffed a fish each with herbs, butter and seasoning then wrapped it in buttered greaseproof paper to bake in the oven. The pace upped when it was time to start bringing each course together, but each dish looked incredibly appetising, and enticed everyone to new flavours, in particular the red amaranth cress. 

Two great sessions, so a huge thank you to Kim and Jules for sharing their inspiring information and some fabulous cooking tips! There are loads of photographs from the two evenings on the Cracking Good Food Facebook page: click here to be redirected.

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