29 November 2013

GUEST BLOG: Curry up!

By guest blogger TRACEY

The guys were raring to go at the Approved Premises session on Wednesday 27 November and when today's Cracking Cook, Kim, gauged the level of keenness for curries, it was 100%, so the group began preparing chicken jalfrezi and lentil dhal. As the veg copping got underway, Kim had the opportunity to share her knowledge of how the curries they were making were full of nutrients: protein, fibre, carbohydrates and the healthy omega 3 and 6 fatty acids which help to reduce the risk of some serious illnesses. Kim explained that not only was the fresh produce contributing to their ‘eat a rainbow’ diet, but that the spices each had powerful abilities to help maintain a healthy system, ease digestion and soothe physical aches and inflammations, while some even help to prevent illnesses such as Alzheimer’s. 

The guys started preparing the garlic naan breads, peeling and finely chopping garlic then adding salt to help draw the moisture out, then leaving it to one side so they could turn their attention to making the naan dough using flour, salt and yeast. A gooey sticky mix unfolded when the water was added, but Kim explained how it can be easily remedied just by adding more flour. Once kneaded, the dough was left to rise with a warm, damp tea towel placed over the bowl to speed up the process. 

The spices for the jalfrezi were selected and Kim highlighted how paprika and turmeric are the ones which mainly give a curry its brownish colour. The three key ingredients of chilli, garlic and ginger were prepped - dicing the ginger and chilli, and pressing the garlic then chopping it into a paste. Meanwhile the colourful array of vegetables - carrots, cauliflower, peppers, onions, potatoes and tomatoes - were peeled and sliced, then sautéed in  a saucepan with a combination of spices: garam masala, paprika and turmeric. Tomato puree and water were stirred in, and the chicken thighs were salted and treated to a drizzle of oil then placed in the oven to roast.

The group were impressed with how much the naan bread dough had risen in this short time, as it was nearly double its original size, so some of the guys got on with rolling the naans out and frying them in the pan, while the others set to washing the lentils for the dhal and adding the spices, which included cumin, soaked fenugreek and onion seeds. The dhal was left to simmer and some freshly chopped coriander was sprinkled on near the end of cooking. The final dish was so satisfying and it was great to hear the guys comment how they wouldn’t be buying naan bread again!

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

22 November 2013

GUEST BLOG: Parcel force

By guest blogger CHRIS YOUNG

Most of the participants at the Cracking Good Food cooking session on Tuesday evening at Altrincham Grammar School for Boys had never endeavoured to make their own pasta from scratch or used a pasta machine before, so there was some excitement in the kitchen before we'd even started! The group was not only going to learn how to make pasta from scratch, but also how to turn it into two types of ravioli: one with a mouth-watering crab filling and a white wine and butter sauce; the other with a butternut squash filling and a hazelnut and brown butter sauce.

Kevin White, our pasta master chef, started out by showing how to make the dough from an easy recipe of just flour, eggs, olive oil and salt. These ingredients were added to a food processor and kneaded for a few minutes, then put into the fridge to rest. Kevin, aka Michelin-trained The Ginger Kid, then moved on to show how to get the maximum of fresh, cooked crab out of the shell and to check the meat thoroughly once it’s been removed (no one wants to bite down on a hard piece of shell or cartilage in the middle of their meal!). The participants then mixed the crab meat with fresh parsley, red chillies and seasoning ready to stuff the pasta with. They then moved on to the butternut squash filling: roasting the squash in the oven until soft, removing the flesh and mixing it with nutmeg and grated Parmesan. 

By this time, the dough was ready to work with and Kevin showed everyone how to use the pasta machine and how to cut and shape the resulting strips to create the perfect professional-looking pasta using the two fillings already prepared. The participants then cracked on with making their own perfect pasta, and the concentration was evident in the kitchen – and they did so well! Once the raw ravioli was ready, it was cooked in boiling water while the sauces were prepared. The white wine sauce for the crab ravioli was easily made and, when everyone sat down to eat together, there was a unison agreement that the hazelnut sauce was a perfect complement to the butternut squash pasta. Very good!

You can see more photos from this session on the Cracking Good Food Facebook page.

21 November 2013

GUEST BLOG: Cold comfort

By guest blogger TRACEY

It was such a relaxed session at the Approved Premises in Chorlton this Wednesday, despite the guys having to prepare a good deal of seasonal vegetables for the beef and root vegetable casserole with herby dumplings and a lovely rustic Lancashire crust pie using the same beef and veg mix. Kim shared tips on how to peel and chop the hard-skinned butternut squash and the guys deftly worked their way through the parsnips, carrots, tomatoes, leeks and beetroot, and were reminded about what they learnt last week: that ‘eating a rainbow’ of vegetables aids digestion and is simply more enticing. Bay leaves, tomato puree and paprika were added to the saucepan with the chopped root vegetables, along with fragrant rosemary and thyme. Our tastebuds were well and truly awakened when the braising beef  a cheap cut, but tasty if you cook it for the right length of time  was set to brown on a high heat then combined with the veg and stock poured over.

While the mixture stewed, the guys set to measuring out flour, one batch for the dumplings and another for the pie top – however, the batteries in the scales were flat! Kim welcomed suggestions to overcome the dilemma, then explained that you can calculate the required amount simply by judging the quantity left in the bag in relation to the ‘full package’ amount. The guys relished the challenge, and we ended up with some beautifully fluffy chive dumplings and a perfect crust pie top. Our hearty lunch was accompanied by broccoli florets which had been treated to a sprinkling of lemon juice – a very tasty and extremely satisfying, colourful meal.

Visit our Facebook page for more photographs from the session.

GUEST BLOG: Christmas is coming...

By guest blogger CORIN BELL

We kicked off the seasonal events at our cookery school with a Cracking Christmas dinner on Saturday at Chorlton High, a delicious vegetarian alternative to turkey and all the trimmings. The menu consisted of a butternut squash, leek and cashew loaf with Parmesan crust, served with cumin and honey-glazed parsnips, pot-roasted cauliflower, steamed curly kale with lemon, and a red wine and balsamic jus… and as if that wasn't enough, we also made beetroot and truffle cream cheese tarts as an appetiser! 

Our participants ranged from those who "could barely fry an egg" (his phrase, not mine!) to those who wanted to learn some new skills and get some inspiration in preparation for Christmas Day. It was great to demonstrate a full vegetarian menu for Christmas, and prove that Christmas dinner doesn't have to mean meat. It was also lovely to show off some seasonal veg too, leeks, cauliflower, kale and squash all being in season in the UK from now until January. 

Kim introduced the session and talked us through the menu and the skills we'd be learning along the way. If you don't cook very often, it can feel like a big job and a bit daunting when you do take on a challenge, so a helping hand with things like safe and quick chopping skills, which bit of each veg to remove, and how to cook for maximum taste and super presentation were also on the cards for the day.

One of the great things about this session was that the group got to put together a fairly complicated meal, with a number of different elements. So as well as learning the skills to cook each part, Kim also guided the group through how you could make Christmas Day a breeze by preparing some of the dishes in advance, and some that needed to be prepared last minute - such as the kale, to avoid the pain of soggy greens! As you can imagine, it was a lively session with lots of top tips and information passed around, both by the Cracking Good Food crew and by those who came along. 

It was lovely to hear some of the group utter genuine surprise at how wonderfully the dish came together, and how simple it was to create some really amazing flavours. The red wine and balsamic jus added a real wow factor to the meal, yet has just three ingredients and two steps: add to a pan and heat until reduced. Cooking really is a confidence game! A veg and nut loaf is a great alternative to meat for Christmas day, and has a lot of the same characteristics - it goes great with gravy (or jus), it's warming, filling and full of protein, and it's lovely cold on a sandwich with a big dollop of pickle the day after! 

The highlight of the session for me was learning that you could cook a whole head of cauliflower  in a pan with absolutely no water… and that it would taste better than if you oven baked or steamed it! If you want to know the secret, you'll just have to book on a session and ask Kim… Thanks to all the lovely guys and girls who came along for the day, to Kim for her wonderful instruction, and to Claire our amazing volunteer who seems oddly addicted to washing-up…

There are more photos from this session on the CGF Facebook page here.

And if we've accidentally put you into a Christmas tailspin, don't panic: Cracking Good Food gift vouchers make great stocking fillers and can be ordered online, so it's easy as pie. For full details, just visit our website by clicking here.

20 November 2013

GUEST BLOG: Rice and easy!

By guest blogger TRACEY

It was great to be back at the Approved Premises in Chorlton last Wednesday, especially when the six participants were so keen to get on and learn. Kim shared her knowledge and tips of how to prepare some of the ingredients  carrots, fennel, cabbage, peppers, onions, courgettes and garlic – and she demonstrated safe knife skills when peeling, chopping and slicing all the vegetables. Today's menu was Chinese inspired, with egg-fried rice, stir-fry vegetables and sweet and sour sauce, and cheat's cripsy seaweed. The group members were delighted to learn how Chinese restaurants achieve the floral-looking carrot and finely chopped seaweed. Kim also explained how by simply cutting the spring onions at an angle they instantly look great, and the guys were in awe and enjoyed applying their newly acquired techniques.

Kim shared the many health benefits of the ‘Holy Trinity’ of Chinese cuisine  garlic, ginger and chilli – and explained how a healthy diet includes foods of all colours. The food today was practically a rainbow! Their visual learning continued as Kim highlighted the daily amount of recommended salt, dipping a teaspoon into the salt cellar to show what 6g looks like – which they were all pretty surprised to see. Their attention was then turned to preparing the rice, which was set to boil and later drained and left to cool down for mixing with a beaten egg to make the egg-fried rice.

The guys started to make the sweet and sour sauce using pineapple juice, sliced pineapple, tomato puree and white wine vinegar, then a small amount of cornflour was mixed with water and used to thicken the sauce. Meanwhile the cabbage was finely chopped, washed and drained, then generously treated to the flavoursome and fragrant sesame seed oil, plus a little salt, and placed in the oven in order to crisp up - this was our cheat's crispy seaweed! The cheat’s crispy seaweed was removed from the oven to compliment our meal, which all came together once the beaten eggs were placed on the heat, the rice added and the spring onions stirred into the mix. Soy sauce was sprinkled over the rice and added a familiar depth of flavour, then the vegetables were quickly stir-fried and covered in the juicy sweet and sour sauce. It's no surprise that the guys made comments about how fresh and tasty the food was and how much they got out of the session  a great first session, thanks guys.

There are more photos from the Approved Premises on our Facebook page.


By guest blogger SIOBHAN KELLY

On Saturday 9 November, Robert Owen Brown, executive head chef of the award-winning restaurant The Mark Addy, came to Chorlton to show us how to prepare and cook to perfection different cuts of venison and wild mallard. Veggies might want to look away now! I knew what a treat was in store for the participants as I had coordinated the same session back in February. I told them it would ‘blow their minds’, and it didn’t disappoint.

Robert is a big proponent of "nose-to-tail" eating, which means using all parts of an animal so that absolutely nothing is wasted, making it a very sustainable way to eat meat, if you are going to. Robert also shoots his own game, meaning it is not intensively farmed and avoids culling. He began the session, therefore, with a lesson in butchery, so that as much of the meat can be extracted, including the offal, advising that while you might not have use for it all right now, you can of course freeze the different cuts for future dishes.  

On the menu we had three dishes: slow-braised venison haunch with claret and thyme (pictured, bottom); venison loin with red cabbage and juniper berries, and roast breast of mallard with Pimm's, chestnuts and parsnips (pictured, top). The duck was in place of the butter-fried venison liver with a dandelion and burdock reduction and celeriac mash, which was originally on the menu, and which sounded amazing, but after the hunt for the deer, Robert gave the liver to his dogs as a reward for all their hard work, so we can't really complain!

Robert had shot the muntjac deer just four days before the class in Bollington, Cheshire, so they hadn't travelled far, adding to the sustainability aspect. Muntjac is smaller than roe deer, and much sweeter eating - they're very lean with barely any fat at all, so along with the fact that they have not been intensively farmed, it's a healthy choice. Robert allocated one venison between two people, and after he had demonstrated the requisite butchery skills, it was over to each pair to start taking off the different cuts. The back strap of sirloin was removed first then the rest, and the room was in silence throughout, a calmness of concentration.

The slow-braised venison haunch was the first dish to be prepared, so that it had time to simmer away during the session. Large pieces of meat were fried in oil then removed, and chopped onion, swede and carrots were added to the juices in the pan along with juniper berries for flavour and flour to thicken the sauce, then the venison pieces were put back in and claret and venison stock poured over. Redcurrant jelly was added right at the end for flavouring and depth.

Next to prepare was the duck, so the legs and breasts were taken off and put in a tray with the chestnuts then placed in the oven to roast. The carcasses were kept to make stock with. Robert taught us a tip for working out if meat is rare, medium or well-cooked meat using the "finger test" to compare how the heel of your hand can represent the feel of meat after different cooking times. Check it out here. We used this to cook our venison loin to our tastes, laying the pieces of meat on top fondant potato and serving the dish with red cabbage and chocolate: the cabbage was chopped and heated in a venison stock reduction, then chocolate and butter was added to the pan.

All three dishes were top restaurant standard: they looked stunning and tasted superb, truly. I cannot recommend this session enough! It combines fantastic and humorous teaching from top chef Robert, learning more about "nose-to-tail" eating, and an opportunity for a totally "hands on" experience, preparing and cooking fresh sustainable meat - you can’t get better than that!

You can see more photos from this session on the Cracking Good Food Facebook page.

For details of all our upcoming classes, visit the Cracking Good Food website.

GUEST BLOG: Shopping and chopping

By guest blogger MAZ. Photos by MATTHEW SHANLEY

It was a crisp Saturday morning as I arrived at the Unit 16 empty shop run by Buddleia. This is a temporary space for all the community to use for new business ideas or host meetings or events, and it's a great location for workshops and training. Cracking Good Food was there to ‘reclaim the high street’ and show the participants of the free event, how easy and cheap - not to mention healthy - it is to cook from scratch using fresh, seasonal produce from local greengrocers, which we are lucky enough to have in abundance in Manchester

With our participants made up of families from the community, we were ready to reclaim. As we walked down the hill to the Manchester Superstore grocers, we discussed what we might find in season in early November - parsnips have arrived and beetroot is still strong. There was a great array of fruit and vegetables, which gave us the chance to add some diversity to our menu. While picking out what we wanted, a couple if items had us confused, but, once we'd asked, we were enlightened.

Back at the Unit we finalised the menu and began the prep. We decided to make saag aloo, with some parsnips to make it a little sweeter, and a beetroot raita as some people had never used beetroot before, and these would be served stuffed in gram flour pancakes - delicious! Everyone got completely involved in chopping, cooking, eating and also clearing up, as is the Cracking Good Food way. Everyone was very happy to find some seasonal well-priced ingredients on their high street to make some staple classics more creative and tasty.

There are lots more photos from this event on the Cracking Good Food Facebook page.

13 November 2013

GUEST BLOG: Healthy pulse

By guest blogger HELEN ROADHOUSE

Yesterday, we were at Salford University, cooking dhal today at the Healthy Eating Expo. We had four sessions lined up throughout the day so students could come along and get involved chopping veg and asking questions. They certainly did! Each demo was well attended and once hands were cleaned and aprons adorned there was enthusiastic interaction every time - it was great to see so many young people keen to find out ideas on how to eat cheaply and nutritiously. As lentils are incredibly cheap and store easily, this is a perfect store cupboard recipe, plus it's quick and easy. The lucky students also got to take away goody bags brimming with lovely veggies and lentils and, of course, our recipe so they could make it at home later.

We discussed buying spices and sharing them out with friends as the quantities are always large and won't be used quickly. We explained that spices are a cheap and tasty way to change or add flavour to even the simplest of ingredients, and that dhal is a great recipe for using up those veggies nearly ready to compost so it saves money as well as food waste. Our corner was certainly the most popular once Kim had a pot of dhal ready to dish out! Curiosity over the goody bags and their ingredients was great too and they all flew out to the willing cooks. I suspect there will be the smell of curry across campus over the coming days going off how much people enjoyed the dhal!

See the Cracking Good Food Facebook page for more photos from the Healthy Eating Expo.

GUEST BLOG: Monster mash

By guest blogger HELEN ROADHOUSE

We were in Cheadle Hulme on Monday for another of our free sessions to promote the Love Food Hate Waste message. Once we had introduced ourselves and explained that we were going to be cooking a tagine with golden mash, we set about getting everyone to help us prepare the veggies. Maz wasn't keen to peel the carrots, potatoes and parsnips because the were lovely and fresh and the skins contain so many nutrients that would be lost by peeling, so we just cut out any bad bits. Of course, this also reduces waste, so that set the session off to a good start.

We had the onions frying after a few tears and Maz went through the spices with the group as we cooked the carrots and potatoes, then once the tagine was cooking away we started with the storecupboard quiz. The great thing about this was how engaged everyone became, sharing all their ingredients and admitting which items had been left for ages in the back of the cupboard or fridge. One participant said she had some miso in her fridge that she had no idea what to do with - helpful ideas for her included using it to flavour soups, stews and gravies, and she said she had every intention of giving it a go! There were loads of great recipe ideas for using up old tins and the like, even anchovies - pizza toppings and tapenade, for starters...

This group members were very interactive and asked loads of questions about how to make veg last longer and about storage to avoid wasting food. It was great to see people really caring about the subject. We discussed in detail how to save on wastage especially if you live alone, as several participants did. We discussed buying the right portions and not being seduced by the 'bog of' (buy one get one free) items unless they knew they would eat or freeze them. We discussed sharing large bags of spices with friends and family so they don't go to waste. We also discussed that going to the shops when you're hungry is a huge mistake! I've done it so many times and ended up overfilling my basket. Using a shopping basket rather than a trolley was a great tip from the group - it reduces what you can physically carry - while taking no more cash than you need to spend was another good idea. 

This was a really confident and chatty group who really seemed to take on board the LFHW message, and all agreed they had learned ways in which to save themselves money, waste less food and be more versatile with their cooking. And let's not forget the tagine, which also went down very well. We'd gone easy on the spices as one or two of the participants didn't like too much heat, but that's the beauty of this dish - you can easily tailor it to your own tastes. Once again a successful session.

See the Facebook page for more photos: click here.

This session was part of a rolling programme. The next session is on Tuesday in Swinton. Full details of how to book your free place are available on our website.

GUEST BLOG: Better bread

By guest blogger CHRIS YOUNG

Cracking Good Food’s bread expert, Rob Tomlinson, spent Saturday morning at Altrincham Grammar School for Boys showing a full house how to make garlic naan breads and aromatic focaccia with onions, rosemary and crystal salt on top and olives and sundried tomatoes inside, and the perfect organic loaf. Our two wonderful volunteers, Anne and Dianne, also made some wonderful pizzas from scratch so we had a delicious lunch to keep us going!

Rob started out by talking about the different types of yeast and how the quantity affects the breadmaking process: the less yeast you use, the longer it takes for the dough to rise. Understanding yeast and how it works is very important to successful baking. The different types of flour are also important to understand and Rob explained everything as well as tips on how to make the perfect bread.

Everyone started by making the organic loaf so the dough would have enough time to rise.
After that we got on with the focaccia dough. Once risen, the dough was folded and stretched out to fit a baking tray and then we added the onion, fresh rosemary, olive oil, garlic and sea salt on top.

Next, the participants made the naan dough and Rob showed how to make a great garlic paste by chopping garlic, adding salt and squashing it all together using the blade of a knife. It’s both cheaper and better than the store-bought stuff! The garlic paste was added to the naan dough and this was then kneaded until it had a soft, spongy texture. The naan dough was then cut into six equal pieces and rolled out before being cooked in oil-greased pans, giving off an amazing aroma. Thank you to Rob, participants and the volunteers for a great baking day!

Have a look at our Facebook page for more photos from the Breaking Bread session.

Our next class in Altrincham is on Tuesday, when Kevin White, aka Ginger Kid, will be taking us through the steps for making delicious pasta, totally from scratch, Sign up here: http://www.crackinggoodfood.org/cookery-school/altrincham/#pasta-from-scratch

6 November 2013

GUEST BLOG: Pick n mix 2

By guest blogger LUKE DICKENS

Cracking Good Food have been busy on the foraging front lately, and on Halloween Jesper Launder - "an encyclopaedia of foraging” - took another group our for a wild food hunt. After a quick introduction and gauging of what exactly the foragers wanted to get out of the day, we got stuck in looking for anything interesting. To begin with, we found a large array of poisonous mushrooms and the deadly Autumn crocus, which was a little worrying, but with the promise of a good horde of edibles in the next field, we foraged on in high spirits.

Next we sampled a variety of different plants:
Jack by the hedge – a leaf with garlic and mustard flavours;
Cow parsley – a lemony variant of its culinary counterpart;
Comfrey/knitweed – relieves joint discomfort;
Japanese knotweed – wild rhubarb; 
Wild garlic (variant) – all-year-round allium tastes;
Bitter landcress – similar to watercress but with a stronger “wasabi” taste;
Wild horseradish – strong wasabi tastes.

During our forage, we found several mushroom varieties that were brought to Jesper to identify. Jesper is always very approachable and has never failed to identify and enlighten about all species that are found. “Most things that are not so interesting can be made very interesting after a bit of fermentation,” Jesper explained to us as he described yet another wild wine he was experimenting with. Next we went out into the unfertilised cow pastures to find some field mushrooms. This was the jackpot we’d all been waiting for and there were enough for a good feast at the end, everyone in the group interacting to really get to grips with new wild culinary creations. Jesper and I agreed that it’s nice to see so much enthusiasm!

4 November 2013

GUEST BLOG: Pick n mix

By guest blogger CLAIRE HITCHEN

The group grew slowly from a trio sheltering from the rain under a tree, then mushrooming (!) into a dozen souls or so. We started off in heavy rain but luckily after half an hour the sun came out. Jesper knew the likely mushroom territory and also knows his fungi. He is a herbalist by profession and for three hours taught us about plants and fungi, toxic and non-toxic.  

We ended the mushroom-gathering session by also picking wild leeks and some hawthorn berries, and the latter were stewed down with sugar and cider vinegar to make a relish. The wild leek and mushrooms were cooked in butter (the Calor gas, cooking trivet, pans and utensils materialised from Jesper's car along with some bread) and the results were delicious!  

There are more photographs from our forage on the Cracking Good Food Facebook page.

Jesper is leading an early winter wild food forage on Saturday 30 November in Didsbury's Fletcher Moss park. Details and booking information are available on the Cracking Good Food website: click here to be redirected.

1 November 2013

GUEST BLOG: Monster mash - and tasty tagine

By guest blogger TRACEY

The free community cooking session we ran with Love Food Hate Waste and Recycle For Greater Manchester at Collier Hill Community Centre in Oldham on Tuesday evening was full and action packed. The food went down really well, as did the messages about reducing food waste and the tips for making a small budget go far. The participants were split into groups for a discussion about what to do with food leftovers and the stuff at the back of the fridge! They came up with some great and rather tasty ideas! 

We were making a tagine and mash, which Cracking Cook Kim talked us through, and the participants worked really well together, peeling, slicing and frying onions before adding chopped parsnips, red onions, potatoes, peppers and dried apricots. Cumin, paprika, cinnamon and mild chilli powder were heated in a frying pan with honey, and a lovely aroma filled the room as the spices cooked, then we added tinned tomatoes and water, and left the contents to simmer, while we boiled potatoes for the mash. Everything came together perfectly and as everyone was pretty hungry after the group work, we all tucked in to this wonderful autumnal meal enthusiastically.

See our website for details of upcoming classes FREE with Love Food Hate Waste and Recycle For Greater Manchester.

GUEST BLOG: Cool for school

By guest blogger MAZ

We were looking forward to cooking at Abbey Hey Primary School on the last day before they broke up for half term and as all the children started to appear with happy faces in their best ready for the school photos, we knew we would all have a great day! The teachers were really pleased to see our extra gifts of apples and pears for all. These were to eat after the pancakes stuffed with broccoli and mushrooms, helping contribute to achieving that important five-a-day.

At 9.15am, the first group of 15 children came in with enthusiasm and questions. We safely chopped our vegetables together and after cooking the broccoli, one boy said he could now tell his dad that he didn't cook it properly and he could show him how to do it so it would taste as good as ours! We completed four sessions with the groups, and the knowledge and participation was exceptional - the  kids clearly have great teachers with support at home. 

Lunch time arrived and after the pancakes were all eaten, we had some great comments from the children such as 'these are tasty and I don't usually like mushrooms' and 'can I have another as they are really good'. It was then time for us to go and as we left, I gave them a big wave and as 100 children waved back to us, our day here was complete.