21 February 2014

GUEST BLOG: Rice n easy

By guest blogger TRACEY

Kim had a captivated audience in Saturday’s session on Japanese cuisine. The group members were keen to observe Kim's demonstration using the rolling mats and practise their newly found sushi-making skills, and enjoyed smelling all the liquids and sauces used to flavour their rice. While some found the initial rolling of the seaweed sheets fiddly, they concentrated hard to perfect their second attempt and the flavoured rice and finely chopped vegetables remained neatly in the seaweed. 

The participants were also treated to miso soup, using soaked kelp knots to create the stock, while a selection of green pepper, fennel, carrot, spring onion and mushrooms was gently fried along with ginger, garlic and chilli to give the soup some kick! Objective achieved because the soup was poured over a bowl of sweet potato and buckwheat noodles and topped with some crispy bean sprouts, resulting in a bowl of delicious goodness, as illustrated below (more pictures from this session can be seen on the CGF Facebook page)!

20 February 2014

GUEST BLOG: Last but not least

By guest blogger TRACEY

We've just run two more of our sessions in Home Office Approved Premises: one in Oldham and one in Stockport, both concluding the latest of our regular six-week courses.

Oldham, 14 February

Our last session on Friday was met with a monster menu – beef madras, rice and dumplings, vegetable stir-fry with rice noodles, and a delicious ginger-based cheesecake to further delight our tastebuds. The guys were all set to take ownership of their dishes, so with little instruction prepped the vegetables for both the stir-fry and madras. A discussion took place as to how many chillies should be used and as three fiery green ones were chosen, some of us were a bit worried, until we found out that yoghurt would be on hand! We were really pleased that we could include making some Jamaican dumplings - although a little distant from the chosen cuisines, they are great for mopping up any continents' gravy! Making the stir-fry allowed for an opportunity to introduce and use rice noodles, which are so delicate, but easily take on the flavour of the other ingredients and added bulk to the meal. Finally the non-bake cheesecake was constructed using limited ingredients of crème fraiche and soft cheese, with only a little sugar added to contrast against the sweet gingernut biscuit base. Our final evaluation was accompanied with awarding the guys with certificates for completing the course along with a set of pans to get them cooking.

Stockport, 17 February

We bid farewell to the Approved Premises in Stockport on a high this Monday. The guys prepared a feast using their skills and knowledge gained from the previous five weeks. On the menu was chicken and bean chilli, rice, peshwari naan, garlic naan, raita and a springy lemon slab cake. The participants all worked really hard to pull off this varied and packed menu, and the familiar production line of prepping vegetables began, while they simultaneously prepared the dough for the naan breads, and chopped the coconut, almonds and mixed fruit in a food processor for the peshwari filling. The chicken breasts were roasted then sliced and added to the simmering tomatoes, onions and garlic, then all the ingredients were treated to a sprinkling of turmeric, cumin and paprika, then left to simmer while the dry rice was fried first before boiling to bring about a lovely nutty taste and brown appearance. After a quick break, the lemon slab cake ingredients were mixed together and left to rise in the oven, then finally, the raita was prepared by finely chopping up mint and mixing it with yoghurt. This was a great combination of dishes that left us all feeling satisfied, and the guys were particularly pleased to be given certificates for completing the six-week cooking course and a set of pans each to encourage them to continue cooking!

GUEST POST: Beans means savings

By guest blogger CORIN BELL

We had an amazing and lively bunch yesterday at our free Love Food Hate Waste (LFHW) cooking session in Bury. We’re doing a number of these sessions around Greater Manchester, and it’s great to see how different mixes of people make for a completely different session. This week we had a wonderful cultural mix and a range of ages that spiced things up - apt for the chilli we were making! 

Kim led the group in learning some chopping skills and talking about the recipe for our wonderful one pot, leftover-using veg and bean chilli with rice. Once we’d got our food bubbling away, it was on to our storecupboard activity. As part of the LFHW sessions, we encourage the group to think of ways to reduce food waste by sharing tips on how to use up the things that tend to get wasted in your home. We all have our own bad habits (yep, even the good folks at CGF towers), but a problem shared in these sessions is sometimes a problem solved!

Some amazing tips came out of today’s session, and really showed the range of knowledge and skills we had in one room… I learned that a great way to use up older flour, oil and spices is to make flat breads, which literally take minutes! Other tips included chopping veg up into very small pieces then once it’s been bubbling away in a dish like a curry, even if the kids don’t like that particular veg, they need never know they’ve just eaten it… I love a bit of sneaky parenting!

Our lovely dish fed over 30 people, with everyone gathering round for the meal, while our cook Kim swapped some ideas with the community centre's cook… all round, a pretty cracking day. 

See the CGF website for details on upcoming FREE sessions. The next is Saturday 1 March in Rochdale. Click here for more.

19 February 2014

GUEST BLOG: Get zest, go!

By guest blogger HELEN ROADHOUSE

Last Thursday, we were in Cheetham Hill leading a cookery demonstration and discussion about diet and health as part of Zest Health Week, run by Manchester City Council. There was lots of cooking going on and plenty of visitors with full plates going from stall to stall - quite a few people had already eaten at the other stalls but were tempted once they could smell our yummy stuffed pancakes and we had quite an audience, intrigued as to how our pancakes would turn out. 

Cracking Cook Kim (pictured above) fried up some tomatoes and peppers that we'd sourced from Fareshare, an organisation that stops food being wasted. Kim also added some tasty spices to the pancakes for extra flavour including chilli, cumin and, when suggested, some garam masala. We packed the pancakes with the pepper and tomato mix and some cream cheese, and we couldn't cook them quick enough! One lady told us that she never makes anything that takes ages as she's so slow but she thought these pancakes would be perfect for her as they're so quick and easy to prepare. We chatted about how easy it is to vary the pancake fillings, including sweet fillings such as banana and yoghurt, and how healthy, cheap and simple it is to prepare. Another lady commented on the gram flour used for the pancakes as she was thrilled to be able to eat them as she has a gluten intolerance - perfect! 

Meanwhile, I made up the goody bags for taking home later - they all went but then they were absolutely bursting with good stuff like tomatoes, peppers, bananas, yoghurt and cream cheese, not forgetting the all important recipe sheet for pancakes along with some very useful and informative leaflets on healthy eating. Another successful cooking demo with yet another tasty, healthy and appealing recipe.

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

13 February 2014

GUEST BLOG: All things nice

By guest blogger CORIN BELL

On Saturday, our resident baking master Rob took a group of participants through the delicious process of making Chelsea buns and hot cross buns for our pre-Easter Bread Special: Sugar & Spice baking course… and it has to be said, much as I’m a fan of a range of cuisines from around the world, there’s something about the smell of baking hot cross buns that cannot be beaten (and instantly makes me want to get the kettle on). 

Rob started by going through the very many similarities between Chelsea buns and hot cross buns, and indeed celebration breads from around the globe. Then we got cracking with some basic techniques: mixing the dough for both buns followed by a good bit of kneading. 

As a bonus, while this was going on, our two amazing volunteers Claire and Eva got stuck into making some sun-dried tomato, olive and rosemary foccaccia bread for our lunch break… so to add to the wonderful smells of cinnamon, mixed spice and orange zest, there was now a delightful olive and rosemary scent in the air (you may have guessed I was hungry at this point!). 

Our participants learned how to knead, shape and roll their various breads. It’s little things like how to add fruit to a dough without smooching (yes, that’s a technical term) it into a paste while shaping and kneading that really make the difference. Also a quick lesson in how to get the spice mix just right so that your hot cross buns smell like heaven. 

One of the things that I like about Cracking Good Food's bread courses is that, because breads and buns need to sit and rise before going in the oven, there’s time for the group to sit and chat about food over a cup of tea (and, thanks to our volunteers, a big hunk of foccaccia!). We were soon back to our delicious work, learning that the best way to get a perfect golden top and an amazing glaze on our Easter breads is to use Rob’s patented (OK, maybe not actually patented) mix of egg wash, followed by apricot glaze. 

It’s always lovely to see people building confidence and skills in working with leavened dough, as it does scare some people off, particularly if you have made a few "Chelsea bricks” in the past (come on, we’ve all done it!). But with a few simple tips, and a good demonstration or two, you can be sure that you’ll have the best buns in town! And here are the results...

Chelsea buns before

and after!

Focaccia before

and after!

You can see more mouth-watering photos from this session on the Cracking Good Food Facebook page. And if you're feeling inspired, take a look at the upcoming bread sessions we have on offer in Chorlton and Whalley Range over on the CGF website.

12 February 2014

GUEST BLOG: Chipotle in

By guest blogger TRACEY

It was a busy session at the Approved Premises in Stockport on Monday. The group were making a combination of delicious "tapas" dishes which included Mexican tortillas, salsa, re-fried beans and Lebanese baba ganoosh. The combination was both warming and spicy, mainly down to the chipotle, chilli and cumin spices. The guys were delighted to be able to personalise their dishes and using new ingredients that they had neither eaten before nor even heard of in some cases. But when we sat down to eat lunch together they said they would try the pulses and spices again. One of the participants commented that the tortilla was "the Mexican naan" and left the class delighted knowing that he now has the skills to make both!

GUEST BLOG: Saving time

By guest blogger CHRIS YOUNG

We've just run two more of our free Love Food Hate Waste (LFHW) sessions in partnership with Recycling For Greater Manchester: on Sunday at the Lifestyle Woodhouse Park community centre in Wythenshawe and on Monday at Limeside’s community centre, Oldham.

Wythenshawe, 9 February

We started the session in Wythenshawe by talking how much food each household wastes each month (5kg!) and what we can do to save that food (and money). We were going to be making a veg and bean chilli, so Cracking Cook Maz got everyone started on chopping the onions, carrots, sweet potatoes and peppers. When making stew-type dishes, almost anything can go into them so look around in your cupboards to see what you can use up. As e chopped, we had an interesting discussion about our shopping habits, where everyone shopped, how often, and if anyone looked through their cupboards and made a list of what to buy before they went shopping. We also talked about use-by dates versus sell-by dates. (Use-by date = you should eat/use the item by that date. Sold-by date = the date it should be sold by the shop, but use your judgement as most things can be eaten/used after their sell-by date.)

Next, we had an exercise, in which the different groups wrote down what they had in their cupboards and fridges – especially items that they were not sure what to do with. One group had 49 things! We then asked the groups to use these ingredient lists to think of meals to make, and they came up with wonderful things such as quiche, flapjacks, trifle, veggie casserole and cabbage soup, just to mention a few things. After the group activity, Maz (pictured above, standing) finished up the cooking and we all enjoyed a healthy veg and bean chilli with rice.

Limeside, Oldham 10 February

CGF’s Kim (below) started out the session in Limeside Community Centre by talking about how much money we could save and how we could help the environment by utilising all of the food we purchase. For example, instead of throwing out the ‘less attractive’ fruit and veggies, use them up in pies and stews.  On average, each household in England is wasting £50 per month by throwing away food!

To show how even "past-it" vegetables can look attractive and taste good, Kim was showing everyone how to make a veg and bean chilli, starting by demonstrating how to easily chop an onion and sharing a great tip to ensure your onions are cooked perfectly in a chilli or stew: be sure to cook them to your liking before adding the rest of the mixture as liquid will stop the cooking process of the onion. We also had carrots, garlic, mushrooms, parsnips and peppers, and Kim showed everyone how to get as much as possible out of each vegetable. It was a good session with shared ideas and tips throughout. While eating the veg and bean chilli with rice, fresh herbs and a dollop of yoghurt (if wanted), even the most avid meat eater agreed that it was an excellent substitution for a meat meal!

See the CGF website for details on upcoming FREE sessions. The next is this Saturday, 15 February, in Salford. Click here for more.

7 February 2014

GUEST BLOG: Low carbon

By guest blogger TRACEY

We were pleased to be a part of an uplifting event at Manchester's Town Hall on Wednesday 5 February as CGF took a stall to help acknowledge that 500 council staff completed their Carbon Literacy Course. We met lots of staff who enthused about the knowledge they'd gained and how they can implement it into their work and lifestyle. Each visitor to our stand was delighted to receive an information pack containing lots of healthy eating information.

4 February 2014

GUEST BLOG: Saturday's swap shop!

By guest blogger CORIN BELL

We took the roadshow to Partington in Trafford on Saturday for another energising Love Food Hate Waste session. This time around it was myself and Maz cooking up a veg and bean chilli storm, with rice to make sure even the biggest appetites were satisfied by this veggie delight. 

We’ve been asked at a number of the LFHW sessions why we’ve chosen to demonstrate meals that are vegetarian, as a lot of traditional British diets are based around meat. It’s a really good question, and there are a lot of people who still feel that it’s not really a main course unless it’s meaty, but the combination of beans, vegetables and grains in the meal contains a plenty of protein so you don't go hungry, plus our tasty veggie version contains less than half the fat of the meat option, and just about halves the cost per portion of making the dish, AND the veggie option is kinder to the environment too… so we’re pretty convinced that switching at least some of your meals over to these super-tasty, one pot, veggie wonders is good all round. 

As ever with a Cracking Good Food session, no one gets to just sit and watch. It’s hands washed, aprons on, and learning some safe and speedy chopping skills from Maz. We used carrots, parsnips and other UK seasonal veg for this recipe, but Maz stressed that the great thing about these dishes is that you can add any veg you like, making them great for using what’s in season, and also using up your leftovers!

Once the pan was bubbling away we got down to an activity with our lovely participants around using up your leftovers and saving some cash. It never ceases to amaze me, no matter how many of these sessions we do, how the conversation always goes differently, and we learn something new every time. My favourite tip to come out of this session was very simply… give it away! What a great idea! If you’ve bought a jar of this or a bottle of that, tried it once and really aren’t inspired by it, it can be difficult to coax yourself to think of things to do with it. So why not swap it with a friend? That way the ingredient won’t go to waste, and you might just end up with something really tasty… I love it when a plan comes together! 

See the CGF website for details on upcoming FREE sessions. The next is on 9 February in Wythenshawe. Click here for more.

GUEST BLOG: On standby

We've been back at the Approved Premises in Oldham and Stockport this week, perfecting pasta sauces for two quick and easy standby meals. Tracey tells us more...

Oldham, 31 January

The group was introduced to some new flavours with the olives, capers and anchovies in the subtly spicy puttanesca sauce, and learnt the benefits and new taste and texture of wholewheat pasta. They were surprised by how ‘deliciously sweet and gritty’ it was, especially compared to the 'smooth' macaroni with cheese, mushroom and bacon sauce, and the wholewheat pasta was deemed the tastiest! None of the processes fazed the guys, they jointly created a smooth sauce using the roux method and loved learning how to crisp up the bacon and achieve al dente pasta. Maz ran through the different types and colours of pasta available and not only are they keen to cook the dishes again, they are also eager to try the different flavours. A perfect result!

Stockport, 3 February

This session went pretty swiftly as the guys worked through the food preparation so quickly. Baby tomatoes and olives were halved, parsley leaves finely chopped, anchovies sliced and chillies de-seeded and diced. The puttanesca ingredients were combined with tinned chopped tomatoes and left to bubble and develop over a low heat. Meanwhile, roasting the bacon and sauteeing the mushrooms for the carbonara got everyone in the mood for a feast as the smells were so enticing. One participant took charge of creating the roux and the result was an evenly textured, smooth, creamy cheese sauce which everyone loved and many second portions were had!