28 March 2014

GUEST BLOG: Flipping great

By guest blogger KIM IRWIN

Yesterday, the team arrived nice and early at Prestwich Arts College in North Manchester to cook savoury pancakes with two groups of year 9's. We divided each group of 14 pupils into three teams and between them they prepped sweet potatoes, red onions, leeks, mushrooms, garlic and fresh coriander. 

The pancake mixture was then made up in minutes by the keen cooks, and all the pupils in both groups got to fry their own pancake, some even successfully flipping theirs over in the air! The smell of garlic and aromatic spices was soon getting everyone intrigued as to what the finished product would taste like and, though some were still skeptical, everyone at least had a go at tasting the different fillings. Cracking kids make cracking cooks!

GUEST BLOG: Pancake day

By guest blogger KIM IRWIN

Tuesday evening saw the Cracking Good Food team at St George's Community Centre in Collyhurst cooking with a group of young local people at a Youth Hub session run by YPAC Manchester. They were a keen bunch and Cracking Cook Maz was soon showing them how to chop safely, telling them why spices are an important part of cooking and explaining how to minimise waste during the preparation stage.

The young cooks each took a turn at the stoves and cooked three different fillings to stuff their savoury pancakes with: sweet potato with paprika, crispy curried leeks, and garlic mushrooms with spinach. Fillings complete, the budding chefs rustled up the gram flour pancake mixture in no time and added finely chopped spring onions for flavour and texture. Each young cook fried their own pancake and stuffed them with their choice of filling then crumbled feta cheese on top. We were all soon tucking in and comparing the different fillings and tastes. Like all good cooks, the group pitched in with the washing-up and we were soon closing the doors on another great CGF session!

GUEST BLOG: List opportunity

By guest blogger KIM IRWIN

Last Saturday, the CGF team delivered a Love Food Hate Waste session, in partnership with Recycle for Greater Manchester, at the Miners Community Centre in Moston. We had a small but lively bunch join us for the afternoon and they were all excited at the prospect of the Mexican-inspired quesadillas, as no one had ever tried them before, so new experiences all round! Cooking leader Maz demonstrated safe knife skills and a discussion ensued on the benefits of not peeling certain vegetables and thus reducing raw waste. Sweet potatoes were put on to boil and the participants made short work of prepping the peppers, onions and garlic to make the refried beans, salsa and quesadilla filling. When everything was bubbling away, we moved on to the store cupboard activity we always include in these sessions, and the two teams came up with a huge amount of suggestions for store cupboard items and then some interesting menu ideas from the two lists. 

Everyone agreed that shopping when hungry is not the best idea as you can make unnecessary purchases and that menu planning and list making are great ways to stick to your budget and buy just what you need. Maz then showed the group how to mash the sweet potatoes and combine with the peppers to make a wonderful filling sandwiched between two tortilla wraps and gently panfried on each side. This was served with a side of refried beans and a serving of salsa. It was lip-smackingly good and the group began exchanging ideas for alternative fillings. Inspired and with full bellys, the group pitched in and helped us clear up, and that was the end of another 'cracking' session. 

25 March 2014


By guest blogger JULIET LAWSON

Today was the launch of our new, improved and extended bread ‘all-dayer’, Our Daily Bread. What a change of pace for our volunteers from the frenetic half-day course! 

They say the fifth vital ingredient (after flour, water, yeast and salt) in bread is time, and the extra time today gave the participants the chance to perfect their kneading technique, to get one-to-one advice from Rob about their own particular breadmaking foibles, to learn all about sourdough (and savour some of the sourdough loaf which Rob brought in to try, spread with rich butter), to find out more about the science of breadmaking, and the politics, and how to vary recipes to suit your own tastes. 

We learnt all about bio-availability of nutrients (look it up!) and the autolysis stage, which still makes me think of little yeast cells waking up, rubbing their eyes, having a gentle stretch and a snack – it makes perfect sense!

Everyone went home with enough bread for a week - a perfect loaf, a lovely rye bread boule and some fragrant, savoury focaccia stuffed with sundried tomato and olives and topped with rosemary, red onion and crystal salt - together with a full-colour 26-page booklet containing everything they need to know to help them develop their breadmaking skills further at home. The smells were intoxicating. And a delicious homemade pizza was served at lunchtime, with a tasty and nutritious faro grain, golden beetroot and coriander salad. What a great way to spend a rainy Saturday!

Check out the Cracking Good Food website for details of our upcoming bread making courses in Chorlton and Prestwich, and have a look at our Facebook page for more photos from this session.

24 March 2014

GUEST BLOG: Colour therapy

By guest blogger SIOBHAN KELLY

A small but perfectly formed group gathered on Saturday 15 March for another of our Love Food Hate Waste sessions, in partnership with Recycle for Greater Manchester, at the Elms Community Centre in Whitefield, Bury. Six lovely ladies joined us to make quesadillas, re-fried beans and salsa. Shop-bought tortillas were used today, but with more time outside the session, these can be easily made at home for this dish. A lovely mix of fresh ingredients was used and there was an array of colours, textures and tastes created from the food combinations. We used sweet potatoes, red onions, red, yellow and  green peppers, fresh garlic and cheddar cheese for the quesadilla filling; pinto beans, borlotti beans, red onions, garlic, chilli flakes, ground cumin, vegetable oil, lime juice, salt and pepper for the re-fried beans, and chopped tomatoes, garlic, red onion, cumin powder, chilli flakes and fresh coriander for the salsa.

Everyone had the chance to chop the fresh veg and herbs, taste and smell the ingredients, be part of the preparation of these dishes, then sit down and eat together. There was also an exercise halfway through where the group split into two and wrote down any ingredients that are in their cupboards that they either never use or had no ideas what to do with, or that are regularly bought each week. Long lists were created then the teams then swapped them over and began to create dishes from them. They weren't short of ideas... each group filled a flip chart piece of paper with food combinations, new dishes and old favourites. We hope that this exercise encourages everyone to try foods that they might not put together usually, to avoid throwing away ingredients you might not know what to do with.

Discussions happened throughout the session about food waste, packaging, how people shop, where they buy their ingredients, local facilities, recycling, recipe ideas and favourite dishes, cooking from scratch, and freezing whole meals and/or leftovers - all thought-provoking. There were clean plates all round, even after second helpings, and this was a really friendly and enjoyable group to work with - they made us very welcome and we had fun sharing ideas together.

Our next LFHW session is tomorrow (Tuesday 25 March) in Chadderton. Full details are on our website here, where you can also reserve your FREE place.

17 March 2014

GUEST BLOG: All things bright and beautiful

By guest blogger TRACEY

Everyone’s expectations of Friday's curry session at the Home Office Approved Premises in Salford were exceeded. Even those not participating were drawn in by the familiar curry aroma of garam masala, turmeric and paprika – aptly termed the holy trinity of Indian cusine. But those who were cooking swiftyly chopped the onions, garlic, ginger, carrots and cauliflower for the chicken madras, while the lentils were thoroughly rinsed for the Punjabi dhal (pictured). 

Many were new to some of the spices and lentils, while others were surprised that cauliflower could be added to a curry. A few people had favoured ‘making’ curries using jars and tins, which can contain too much salt, but Kim’s thought-proking enlightenmight of how salt is needed in our diets was countered by stressing the importrance that we know just how much and what the amount of recommended salt looks like. So everyone judged the amount by sight and were shocked to see how much 6g actually was.

There was plenty of self-acknowledgment of how the group members' skills are improving and how Kim’s ‘healthy, food-simple dishes’ messages have been retained by the group. The session concluded with a full room and full bellies as we all sat to savour delicious dishes and expertly made garlic naan bread – 'this is top notch' and ‘you’d pay good money for this food’ were just a few comments made.

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

14 March 2014

GUEST BLOG: Spice age

By guest blogger CORIN BELL

A beautiful spring day brought us together at our Chorlton site for a lesson in vegetarian Punjabi cooking with Harjinder, of Hairy Bikers TV show and cookbook fame, don’t ya know! The group made three amazing dishes - saag paneer (spinach and Indian cheese curry, pictured), bartha (smoked aubergine curry) and tarka daal (a lentil dish), and we even found time to learn to make our own roti (sometimes called chapatis) and parathas (a different style of cooking the breads). 

Harjinder began by taking the group through the spices we’d be using (this entire session smelt amazing!), and explaining how different spices are used in Punjabi cooking, and how this differs from other regions of India. Then it was on to some chopping, and again, the smells were amazing… lots of garlic, ginger, fresh coriander… yum! Once all the veg was prepped Harjinder explained the dishes and then it was time to get the heat on. Traditional Punjabi cooking wouldn’t be done over a hob that could be turned down, so there’s no fear of heat in this style of cooking. The sounds and smells of paneer cheese frying in cumin were beautiful. 

My favourite demonstration of the day was Harjinder’s traditional stove-top rotis (chapatis). Harjinder demonstrated that by starting to cook the roti on a 
tava (a traditional flat, heavy chapati pan), then flipping them onto the raw flame of the cooker, you could ensure they were cooked to perfection… and they puff up like little bread balloons! Not only a very tasty bread, but a great party trick - we’ve got it all at Cracking Good Food!

The Punjabi style of cooking (for these dishes at least) seemed faster than some other Indian styles of cooking, and we managed to knock up the three very different tasting, beautiful dishes in just two hours. At the end of the session, the group sat down to eat (my favourite part of these classes) and swapped ideas for dishes and useful cooking tips. The social aspect of the sessions is one of the things that people really seem to love… Now if I can only find someone else to do the washing-up!

There are more photographs from this session on the Cracking Good Food Facebook page. Don't forget to click the "like" button!

We'll be running this session again on 15 November. Click here for more details and to book places via our secure online bookings site.

12 March 2014

GUEST BLOG: Chipotle with everything

By guest blogger TRACEY

We delivered our Love Food Hate Waste messages in Rochdale on Monday, when the Rochdale Women's Welfare Association was celebrating 103 years of International Women's Day. Over 150 ladies attended the festival and many were fortunate to sample the fragrantly spiced homemade quesadillas and warm spicy salsa we were dishing up.

They devoured the food and soaked up Kim's tips on reducing waste in the kitchen, saving food, the environment and money, and were keen to hear our ideas on what to do with shrivelled veg in the fridge and old tins in the cupboard! Many were unfamiliar with the chipotle flavouring in our dish, but loved the smokiness and how it changed the taste of the food. Most of all, they were delighted to be introduced to a simple, light dish which was high in protein and fibre, and provided a new idea of what to do with tomatoes, coriander and cumin, which they all seemed to have in their larders.

See the CGF Facebook page for more photographs from this event here

If you fancy joining Cracking Good Food and Recycle for Greater Manchester on a future FREE Love Food Hate Waste session around Greater Manchester, visit our website here to book (places are limited, so hurry!) - we'll be in Whitefield on Saturday 15 March then Moston on 22 March and Chadderton on 25 March.

GUEST BLOG: Good scents

By guest blogger TRACEY

It was a real pleasure to deliver a session at the Feastival Celebratory Event in Stockport last Saturday. Many of those attending represented local organisations and charities who were being awarded with a cheque from the council - so there was a real buzz in the air, along with the warm and spicy aroma of paprika, chilli and cumin. We had lots of people following their noses over to our stall because of the delicious smell, and after sampling our vegetable and bean chilli, they wanted to find out how to make it - especially as many of the children lapped it up!

Click here to go over to our Facebook page for more photos from this event.

GUEST BLOG: Stew-pendous

By guest blogger TRACEY

Despite it being a lovely warm and sunny day last Friday, the guys at the Approved Premises in Salford were still keen to get cooking then sit and eat the hearty beef and seasonal veg stew with dumplings plus a spicy beef and vegetable pie, with broccoli on the side. 

First came the preparation of the vegetables - lots of peeling, slicing and chopping - while the guys listened to Kim give information about them, some of which were new to some participants. The lean beef was diced and coated in lightly seasoned flour then fried in a pan. Once the meat had browned, the vegetables were added and the mixture was halved, since one lot needed to be spiced up with chilli flakes to go into the pie and the other had a bouquet garni (above) thrown in for flavouring. While the two pots simmered, the dumplings and pastry for the pie top were made, giving the guys opportunity to guesstimate the measurements as the scales had broken! They did an excellent job, because the dumplings were light and fluffy and the pastry top was evenly moist. A great session with delicious food - thanks, guys!

10 March 2014

GUEST BLOG: Mexican street food

By guest blogger CHRIS YOUNG

On Saturday, Cracking Good Food held another free Love Food Hate Waste session in partnership with Recycling for Greater Manchester to raise awareness of the need to reduce food waste and help the environment, this time in Salford at the wonderful Ordsall Community Café Project.

The session included talking about how to reduce food waste in our homes by storing food correctly, portion control, planning your meals, and thinking of ways to cook up the food in your cupboards and fridge before the due dates. Not only do these tips save our environment, they will also help you save money! After our Cracking Cook Maz (pictured above, standing) showed some tricks on how to safely chop vegetables, everyone got stuck in chopping the sweet potatoes, onions, peppers and garlic that were being used in the meal we were having at the end of the session: homemade Mexican-style quesadillas with re-fried beans and salsa.

While Maz was cooking the quesadillas, we had a group activity where everyone wrote down the food in their kitchens back home. The groups then swapped lists and were asked to create meal plans from the items given. There was a great discussion and we learned that with, just a little imagination, we can incorporate the food items instead of throwing them out when they expire: omelettes, pasta and stir-fry were some of the great suggestions - and not only can you use up any food you have, they're also easy to make. Several people thanked us for offering this informative and interesting session, and they were eager to make some simple changes in their life to help save the environment – and save some money!

See the CGF Facebook page for more photographs from this session here and book places on future FREE Love Food Hate Waste sessions around Greater Manchester here - we'll be in Whitefield next then Moston and Chadderton.

8 March 2014

GUEST BLOG: International bright young things

By guest blogger HELEN ROADHOUSE

We were cooking a tasty vegetable chilli in Sale on Thursday as part of an event to celebrate International Women's Day, welcoming a group of ladies and demonstrating how to cook a tasty and cheap healthy meal. We asked if anyone wanted to help us chop up some of the vegetables and an enthusiastic helper called Jackie took care of dicing all our lovely orange peppers for us. All our veggies came from Fareshare and ample portions of peppers, potatoes, aubergine, green beans and some gorgeous butternut squash were destined to go into our pot. Soon the onions were frying and once golden we added the chopped veg and left it all cooking down in the pan while we discussed cooking and eating habits. Some of the group admitted they didn't cook much at home and Jackie said she really wasn't keen on peppers and hadn't even tried butternut squash - couldn't we make fish and chips instead... 

The ladies watched a short film about empowering women before we all got to eat together. We served the chilli up with rice and some tortilla chips. Our cooking leader Miranda (above) and myself were wondering if our ladies would be hungry enough to eat it all especially as there were lots of tempting cakes and treats laid out. Would we be having to take home our lovely chilli? Well, everyone got stuck into the chilli and some even asked for second helpings. Jackie soon forgot about fish and chips after her second plate of chilli, and exclaimed how lovely the butternut squash was!

This was a really relaxed session with some really great ladies and all the food was eaten, which can only be considered a resounding success.

See our Facebook page for more photos.

5 March 2014

GUEST BLOG: Beanz means savingz

By guest blogger CHRIS YOUNG

Cracking Good Food (CGF), in partnership with Love Food Hate Waste (LFHW) and Recycle for Greater Manchester, started its third round of free food and information sessions yesterday. This event saw us in Horwich’s Resource Centre near Bolton, where we made a delicious vegetarian quesadilla with re-fried beans and salsa.

CGF’s chef Maz (pictured standing, below) started by asking how many of the participants had eaten quesadillas before and only a few had tried them. The great thing with quesadilla - a flour or corn tortilla filled with a savoury mixture - is that it is so cheap and easy to make, and you can put anything in it. To flavour the re-fried beans, we used dried chipotle chilli, a spice that might not be used often but is becoming more readily available, but you could use chilli flakes and paprika power instead. After being shown a few safe and fast chopping tips, everyone got stuck in preparing the onions, garlic, peppers and sweet potatoes for the quesadilla filling, and tomatoes and fresh herbs for the salsa. 

While Maz was cooking the dishes, we discussed what we can do to waste less food and therefore save the environment – and help our purses. Shopping habits are always interesting to talk about and if you look in your cupboards, fridge and freezer, make a ‘menu’, and make a list before you go shopping, you can use up the items in your kitchen and save money.

Check out more photos from this event on our Facebook page and see the CGF website for details on upcoming FREE sessions. The next is this Saturday, 8 March, in Ordsall, Salford. Click here for more.

4 March 2014

GUEST BLOG: Loafing around

By guest blogger SIOBHAN KELLY

We hosted another full house for Rob's very popular Breaking Bread session on Saturday's bright spring morning. In these classes, each participant makes a loaf of bread, then pairs up to make naan breads and focaccia, some of which they get to take home, along with recipe sheets handed out at the end to encourage baking more bread at home. The participants are treated to homemade pizza for lunch which is made from scratch during the session by the volunteer staff. While the dough is rising, a pizza sauce is made using red onions, garlic, tinned tomatoes and a diced apple. The pizzas are topped with the sauce and layered with mushrooms (pre-fried), red peppers, chillies, black olives, anchovies (a veggie option is also available!) and grated cheese - it's quite a heavenly taste when cooked, if I say so myself.

Throughout the session, Rob shares a wealth of knowledge about bread-making, yeasts, flours available, where to shop, and our good old friend 'the Baker's Mate'. The session is interspersed with questions, answers, and fact sharing. Tips, such as: make the dough wetter rather than drier to begin with, as it is nearly impossible to add water to a dry dough, but easy to add flour to a wetter dough.

This is a 'hands-on' session, so rather than just watching/demonstrations, the participants do everything themselves, the best way to learn. Naan breads, which include freshly made garlic paste (being prepared in the photograph) are fried in pans of oil then eaten with avocado or red pepper hummusThe focaccia always look divine even before they are cooked: plump, colourful and topped with fresh rosemary, olive oil, red onions and rock salt, with black olives and sun-dried tomatoes inside the dough.  Rustic, beautiful and a meal in itself.

The participants are encouraged to look at the photos on our Facebook page and comment about their experience during the session today: click here. There are lots more exciting courses to whet your appetite coming up over spring and summer, including full-day breadmaking in Whalley Range in May, July, September and November, a brand-new course in Prestwich and the return of this half-day course to Chorlton (the next one with places still available is 14 June). All details can be found on the Cracking Good Food website.

GUEST BLOG: Frequent friers!

By guest blogger TRACEY

We had a great first session in our latest run at the Approved Premises in Salford last Friday, cooking a tasty and cheap stir-fry from scratch. The guys were really keen to hear Kim's advice about eating healthily; ensuring your diet includes a rainbow of foods and how shopping in season can have a positive impact on your budget. Kim also demonstrated how to use knives correctly and slicing styles, and the group's eagerness wasn't lost when it came to prepping the ingredients: courgettes, carrots, onions, garlic, ginger and peppers, plus spring cabbage for the cheat's seaweed. We discussed the different ways of cooking rice, as it varied widely between the different participants, and how noodles would equally compliment this healthy, nutritious tasty dish. A delicious sweet and sour sauce was put together by one of the guys, and the end result was eaten quickly and enjoyed by all!