31 January 2014

GUEST POST: Love your leftovers!

By guest blogger HELEN ROADHOUSE

Our latest free cooking session with Love Food Hate Waste was at the Newbury Community Centre in Buckley Farnworth, Bolton, and what a great facility this is too! So many activities were happening while we were getting ready to cook a veggie chilli with our enthusiastic group, who got all the veggies chopped small under Kim's direction. She explained about having less waste by not peeling veggies, just give them a good scrub first.

During the quiz, one group came up with many more ingredients sitting unused in their cupboards and fridges than the other, so we had good fun with the challenge of devising recipes from a rather scant list but this really got people thinking creatively about what they could do with the items and some fantastic and tasty sounding ideas were made. I love how the participants always get really involved in the task and always come up with inspired ideas!

We chatted about our shopping habits and the best times to shop (not hungry!), and said it was a good idea to make lists and stick to them, take the correct cash and, most importantly, not be seduced by BOGOF offers unless you're going to freeze the extra or use it up. Everyone felt they could benefit from following these tips. Kim discussed portion sizes and how it was especially easy to cook too much pasta and rice. She showed us that only a handful of uncooked rice was enough of a portion for one person and proved this by only cooking that amount. She also showed us how to steam rather than boil rice as this was more energy efficient so saving on our ever-costly energy bills too.

Our chilli was lovely and as usual there was no waste and all leftovers were enthusiastically taken away in food cartons. Another excellent session.

For details of our FREE Love Food Hate Waste cooking sessions throughout February and March in Wythenshawe, Partington, Oldham, Salford, Bury, Rochdale and Bolton visit the Cracking Good Food website.

29 January 2014

GUEST POST: Hot date

By guest blogger TRACEY

Monday's session at the Approved Premises in Stockport was obviously much anticipated as sandwich boxes were already out for any leftovers! Still, rightly so, as the lentil tarka dhal, chicken jalfrezi and fresh naan in a pan is always a winner. The guys were prepared to put in the work prepping the chillies, peppers, carrots, tomatoes and plenty of thinly sliced onions! Once the onions and garlic were sautéed, the remaining vegetables were added to the pan along with fresh tomatoes and all the spices, and finally the chicken pieces. 

The guys were becoming increasingly eager for the curries to cook as the aromas were whetting their appetites, but they had to remain focused to make sure the dhal didn’t stick, warmly spicing it with turmeric, garam masala, paprika and chillies. Then there were the naan breads, which, after encouraging the dough to rise in a warm oven, then had to be kneaded, rolled out and fried (see below). There was plenty of excitement about making their own garlic naan breads especially as they hadn’t realised it's so easy to do so – even without a tandoor! The final meal came together and everyone got stuck in, commenting on how delicious the dishes were and one person saying that the food made him question why he didn’t cook before - but will do now!

GUEST BLOG: Rice magic

By guest blogger CORIN BELL

January is all about good resolutions and fresh starts, and what better way to get healthy and get active than with a very lively course in vegetarian Chinese cooking? We kicked off our spring cooking school by going totally woks, and very refreshing it was too, with lots of fresh garlic and ginger, and fresh, crunchy, stir-fried veg and tofu. Perfect for a cold january day! 

Cooking leader Judy Wong took our lovely group of participants through some of the things that make a dish authentically Chinese, including how to successfully cook and cool rice to make the perfect egg-fried rice, how to seal and care for your wok, and how to use different chopping styles for different dishes. Judy demonstrated that real Chinese cuisine is all about the preparation: the cooking should take minutes and is all about super-fresh ingredients and a super-hot wok, so we had to have everything ready in advance. The group also learned a lot about traditional Chinese ingredients such as black mushrooms and oyster sauce, and how to balance light and dark soy sauce to get the flavour that you only ever seem to experience in good Chinese restaurants. 

We made three dishes during the session, so the pace was fast, but as it led to delicious egg-fried rice, stir-fried tofu and vegetables, and mock “chicken” and green beans in lemon sauce, I don’t think anyone minded! This was a really lively session to shake us all out of our winter hibernation and get some really fresh dishes back on the menu… massive thanks to Judy, who is a fairly new guest cook to Cracking Good Food, and to Elizabeth and Janice, our amazing volunteers, who kept everything running smoothly. 

Join Judy this Saturday for her Cantonese cuisine class incorporating meat and fish. Perfect for Chinese New Year! Click here for more. Click here for more photos from this session.

GUEST BLOG: Spill the beans

By guest blogger CHRIS YOUNG

Cracking Good Food is continuing to partner up with Love Food Hate Waste (LFHW) and Recycling for Greater Manchester, and on Saturday we were at Crimble Croft Community Centre in Heywood, Rochdale.

With a room full of enthusiastic people, CGF’s chef Kim started out by talking about how much food we waste in England and how, by doing some easy, practical things every day in the home, we can all waste much less, which will ultimately benefit our purses as well as the environment. These sessions are not just informative, they are practical as well, and we all got busy making a vegetable and bean chilli with rice for everyone to enjoy at the end of the session. After Kim showed how to easily chop an onion, everyone got chopping away. The rest of the vegetables followed and as Kim started the cooking, a lovely smell spread throughout the room.

We had a great discussion and shared ides and tips throughout the session – as well as enjoying a tasty veggie and bean chilli. Everyone agreed that they learned a lot and that they would make the dish as home!

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

For details of our FREE Love Food Hate Waste cooking sessions throughout February and March in Wythenshawe, Partington, Oldham, Salford, Bury, Rochdale and Bolton visit the Cracking Good Food website.

28 January 2014

GUEST BLOG: Like peas in a pod

By guest blogger TRACEY

The guys at the Approved Premises in Oldham were on fire in our curry-making session on 23 January, and despite being 50% down on workforce, they gave 100% effort and contribution, making the lunch worthy of any Indian restaurant's lunchtime menu. Maz introduced many new spices and shared the great medicinal benefits of most. Cumin, asofetieda, garam masala and turmeric were added to the lentil tarka dhal, creating a warm and wholesome dish which when the tarka (made using coriander, tomatoes, garlic, onions and spices) was added, not only enhanced the flavour, but also gave it a great bite! Meanwhile the vegetable jalfrezi was receiving lots of attention by means of the vegetables being coated in tomato juice and sprinkled with spices. The guys each had a turn at rolling out the naan dough, although some opted to use the traditional method of using your palm and fingers to shape the dough. The naans were then fried in a pan, using a towel to ease out any air bubbles. Take a look at the pictures on Facebook to see what an amazing session and lunch we had...

GUEST BLOG: Hot stuff

By guest blogger HELEN ROADHOUSE

We had an excellent turnout at Ashton Town Hall for our Love Food Hate Waste session in partnership with Recycle for Greater Manchester last Monday, when we were cooking veggie chilli. This was a brilliant opportunity to show everyone just how easy it is to make this tasty meal.

Some participants wanted to peel their veggies but after Maz explained some of the benefits of keeping the skins on, we had very little peelings to be recycled. Even better, one of the attendees, John, asked if he could take the few we did have for his wormery! Result! No waste at all! 
We got all the veg chopped and into the pans with the spices and tinned tomatoes. We opened the tins of beans and showed everyone the different types. All were pretty familiar with the kidney beans but most had not had much experience of aduki and pinto beans. Lots of questions were asked as to their taste, price and availability. Of course people tried them and some were surprised at their 'nuttiness'. We also discussed their high protein content and cheap cost, and how they could be bought for very little dried so the excess could be shared with friends.

Our quiz went down well again and it was agreed that some great recipes could be put together using up the ingredients left in our cupboards and fridges, while making a sandwich can just as easily be a good way to use up food. Shopping habits were discussed and questions asked about the best places to buy certain items and how planning and portion control are great ways to limit wastage as is freezing any extra portions. By now, the chilli was ready to serve and the rice had fluffed up a treat. One or two people were cautious about chilli heat but Maz explained that you can make this dish as hot or mild as you like, just as you can include in the recipe whichever veggies you happen to have in. As it turned out, the hotter of the two pans was the popular one - lots of chilli fans in this session! Some containers were filled with what was left so, true to the session ethos, there was no waste whatsoever!

We had some really lovely comments from the participants about what they had learned and how much fun they had discussing reducing food waste and learning tips they could pass onto their groups and communities. They said it made learning to cook uncomplicated and fun.

Visit the Cracking Good Food website to find out the dates and details of the upcoming FREE events we're running around Greater Manchester until the end of March. Click here for more.

GUEST BLOG: Bread winners

By guest blogger SIOBHAN KELLY

Rob's very popular bread session was fully booked again on the morning of Saturday 18 January, with everyone keen to start making their loaf of bread, garlic naan breads and focaccia. After a brief introduction, the session started with a chat from Rob sharing his wealth of knowledge on bread-making, handy tips, behaviour of different yeasts, and the sourcing of ingredients, and this continued throughout the session. The fun began by mixing flour, water, salt and yeast together to make the first batch of dough for a loaf of bread using a Baker's Mate. No kitchen should be without one of these fantastic little white spatulas.

Leaving the dough to rise, the group split into pairs and worked together to prepare the naan bread and focaccia doughs. The focaccia dough was stretched, rolled and sprinkled with sun-dried tomatoes and olives, then folded into three, rolled out again and left to rise, then sprinkled with sliced red onions, rock salt, fresh rosemary and olive oil on top ready to bake. These are spectacular in my eyes, so rustic and beautiful and my favourite visually. The naan dough, made with heated yogurt to give it's distinct flavour and texture, was then ready to roll into shape and cook in a frying pan - delicious eaten on its own, with houmous, curry or anything, really. 

Pizza dough was made during the session by the volunteer and co-ordinator, which is fun and simple to make. While the pizza dough was rising, the topping was prepped: red, green and yellow peppers, anchovies, black olives, mushrooms, cheese and fresh chillies - a winning combination of colour, flavour and texture. A light fluffy pizza was produced, very tasty - I could have eaten six slices myself!  This is the lunch treat we serve to the participants of the bread sessions.

Recipe sheets were given out, so there was no need for note-taking during the busy hands-on session. I'm sure everyone will be inspired to continue baking these breads at home - perhaps it will be the end of 'shop-bought bread' for them in the future… Thanks as always to our volunteers, who give up their time for free and help our sessions run smoothly. We would struggle without their hard work and time given.

Look out for future bread session dates on the Cracking Good Food website; there are now full-day sessions in Whalley Range as well as the half-day sessions like this one in Chorlton. 

27 January 2014

GUEST BLOG: Full of beans

By guest blogger CORIN BELL

What an energetic cooking session… what horrible weather! Nine wonderful participants braved what can only be described as apocalyptic weather to take part in our second Love Food Hate Waste session of 2014 on Thursday in Reddish. For this round of FREE (yes you heard me… free!) cooking classes, we’re knocking up a delicious vegetable and mixed bean chilli with rice while learning all about reducing waste (and money!) in the kitchen. 

If you’ve not heard about our Love Food Hate Waste sessions yet, I shall offer a little recap. Cracking Good Food have teamed up with Recycle for Greater Manchester to offer a range of free cooking sessions all geared around helping people to reduce food waste at home. Given that the average family wastes £50 worth of food every month (that’s £600 per year!), we should all be signing up. We had a particularly lively session today, and myself and Cooking Leader Kim both struggled to stop talking long enough to actually get some cooking done! Luckily Cracking Good Food sessions are never about sitting back and watching, so we had nine willing participants ready to learn some new chopping and food prepping skills. 

Once the chilli was bubbling away, the group took a bit of time to see if we could solve some of our food waste problems. Each of the Love Food Hate Waste sessions includes a group activity where we look at the foods and ingredients we waste most at home, and work out how we might be able to use them up in a cheap and tasty way. Top tips for today included making big pans of soup when you notice veg is going off and freeze it in portions, then you can defrost it as and when you need it and eat at your leisure. We also learned that you can make a very tasty soup out of leftover lettuce! I never cease to be amazed by the great tips and ideas that people come to the sessions with - I always come away having learnt something new. 

So, great food, really lively afternoon, and lots of great ideas that could save you money… what’s not to love? Join us on one of the upcoming sessions. Have a look on the website and book your free places now: click here

More photos from the Reddish session can be viewed on our Facebook page.

22 January 2014

GUEST BLOG: Freshen up

By guest blogger TRACEY

We held an action-packed session in Bury yesterday making dhal, zesty raita and rice on top of a dressed spinach salad for over 70 people attending the Brighter Futures service user community event funded by Bury City Council. Kim had procured produce from Fareshare at Smithfield Market to demonstrate how intercepted food destined for landfill still has plenty of life and freshness in it - enough to serve so many people a nutritious and flavoursome lunch! 

Some attendees lent a hand to chop, peel and slice the vegetables while others watched and passed around the fresh herbs (coriander and mint) and spices to familiarise themselves with the fragrances, and Kim expanded on their uses and health benefits. All were captivated by the messages Kim shared about preserving food, shopping economically and reducing waste. The event's attendees enjoyed the dish so much and were delighted when they each received a Cracking Good Food Kit Bag containing healthy eating information leaflets along with recipe sheets and ingredients to make the dish again later in the week!

There are more photos from this session on the Cracking Good Food Facebook page - please remember to "like" us and follow us!

21 January 2014

GUEST BLOG: Stew pied!

By guest blogger TRACEY

Yesterday, we ran the second of six sessions at the Approved Premises in Stockport.  The guys made swift work of preparing all the vegetables. Parsnips, turnips, sweet potatoes and carrots were peeled then diced and sauteed with leeks and sliced onions. Cracking Cook Rob brought his pressure cooker to demonstrate its use and speed up the cooking of the diced beef as we were limited to only one and a half hours' cooking time. This resulted in succulent tender meat which smelt wonderful as the meat was steamed with a bouquet garni made up of fresh rosemary, bay leaves and thyme.

The aromas filled the room along with the enticing smell of the onion and leeks. Beans and peas were added to the pan along with chopped tomatoes to bulk the dish out further, then the mixture was split in two. Once separated, a short crust pastry was settled over half the mix and baked, while the suet dumplings were settled on top of the stew and left to cook through. Our hearty lunch was plated up with creamy mashed potato and both stew and pie were devoured very quickly, leaving super-clean plates!

More pictures from this session are on our Facebook page: click here.

GUEST BLOG: Beefed up

By guest blogger TRACEY

We were back at the Approved Premises in Oldham on Friday 17 January for the second of six sessions. It was an extremely busy session as the guys were cooking a filling lunch of beef stew and dumplings plus a vegetable and beef suet crust pie along with crispy roast potatoes - a tall order considering we were over 50% down on workforce. Still, the group enjoyed prepping all the vegetables and listening to Cracking Cook Maz share the health benefits of each and how the dish can lend itself to many variations. They made a batch of deliciously fluffy dumplings and a suet crust pie top giving the dish a great rustic appearance. Potatoes were roasted in their skins and treated to a sprinkling of salt and a drizzle of olive oil. The meal was completed with steamed broccoli and looked and tasted amazing.

More photos from this session can be viewed on our Facebook page.

17 January 2014

GUEST BLOG: Nutty but nice

By guest blogger TRACEY

Rob and I were delighted to be back at the Approved Premises on Monday, cooking stir-fry with satay sauce and egg-fried rice. The group settled into the peeling, chopping and slicing production line, sharing their extensive cooking skills and knowledge previously gained. They were intrigued about the origin and uses of some of the vegetables, especially the celeriac and courgettes, while there were a few comments and frowns about the lack of meat!

Rob introduced them to a new style of cooking rice: dry frying it before adding water, which creates a nutty taste. Once the rice was boiled and left to cool before adding eggs, the vegetables were quickly fried and the peanut-flavoured sauce made, filling the room with some flavoursome aromas and hungry tummies! We all sat down to eat and evaluate the session, and although we didn’t win them over this time with the vegetarian option, all the guys agreed that they would make it again, with modifications! One participant said: “I’m living off stir-fry when I leave!” High praise.

16 January 2014

GUEST BLOG: In the deep mid-winter

Words and photos by guest blogger AMY SOMERS

The Mid-Winter Wild Food Foray surpassed my expectations. It made for a truly informative and enjoyable Sunday afternoon, on 12 January, which is definitely an achievement due to its proximity to the rather toasty Didsbury pub! Jesper was engaging and enthusiastic, even keeping an eight year old present and very much part of a lovely group of foraging locals in the rather chilly January weather. The wealth of food sourced at this time of this year astounded me. We then gathered to make our collection into a meal, and this, along with some of Jesper's homemade wine, really consolidated the whole experience.

There are lots more great photos from Amy of this trip on our Facebook page and there are plenty more wild food forages planned for 2014 - check out our website for dates and details by clicking here.

15 January 2014

GUEST BLOG: Veggie might!

By guest blogger TRACEY

Cracking Good Food started the New Year off last Friday with a new course at an Approved Premises over in Oldham. Despite our new participants being reluctant to try some of the vegetables and the non-meat stir-fry; second portions were had by many and all of them said they would cook the dish again! They easily mastered chopping the vegetables correctly after Maz demonstrated knife skills and they enjoyed being able to personalise the taste of their dishes with all the new sauces they were introduced to. Maz complimented the session with information about the health benefits of some of the vegetables and the best ways of cooking the vegetables to get the most out of them.

We were delighted to record the group's reactions to the final dish during the end-of-session evaluation. They shared how the session had introduced them to new cooking techniques, new equipment such as the wok and, for some, new vegetables too. They were surprised that the meal cost just £1 per head, but especially surprised at themselves as, to quote “I didn’t notice the lack of meat” and “because you’re not looking for the meat, you’re experiencing the flavours!” A great all round experience – thanks, guys.

GUEST BLOG: Festive feasting

By guest blogger TRACEY

Christmas spirit was definitely in the air at the last Approved Premises session on the Wednesday before as the guys delivered a festive feast worthy of any table. Free-range chicken thighs were steam-roasted under foil in place of the traditional turkey, while parsnips were cut into batons, roasted and treated to a drizzle of honey just before they were removed from the oven. A subtly nutmeg-flavoured celeriac potato mash was served alongside crispy roast potatoes as well as sprouts and carrots, cooked to perfection to accompany this delicious dinner. The guys mastered the art of creating a warm herby smooth gravy, using caramelised onions, cornflour and a bouquet of rosemary – it was agreed that a gravy can make or break a meal, but not surprisingly theirs completely complimented the meal!

Our chefs delighted themselves with their tasty sweetcorn and red pepper fritters along with some delicately spiced onion bhajis - our alternative starters for the seasonal spread. Cracking Cook Kim shared the beneifits of using gram flour; a favourite with celiacs due to its wheat-free nature, and of interest to our participants due to it being so versatile and cheap. 

But no Christmas meal is complete without a pudding, and we all enjoyed the delicious carrot and orange cake which was swiftly put together with ease - and just as quickly disappearedBoth Kim and I have really enjoyed working alongside the participants and were thrilled to hear them sum up the six-week course as ‘just superb’.