23 May 2014

GUEST BLOG: Wild night out

By guest blogger SHARON ROBINSON

Our forage this week was no more than half a mile, along one edge of Chorlton Water Park and about 50 metres of the River Mersey. Foraging expert Jesper Launder explained that we’re in a bit of a seasonal transition period wild food wise - spring has sprung and the recent sunshine has encouraged some early summer activity. 

The evening seemed to have a bit of a cocktail/wine theme as we started right next to the sloe – the berries will be perfect in autumn for pepping up vodka or gin. As well as dandelion and nettles, there were young oak leaves and hawthorn flowers for making wine, and water mint for mojito. My favourite was the elderflower and I’ll be back for some to make elderflower champagne.
We ended the evening with Jesper creating a sweet and savoury tempura feast washed down with some summer oak leaf wine. Very tasty!

See the Cracking Good Food Facebook page for more photos from Wednesday's forage.

19 May 2014

GUEST BLOG: Great bakes

By guest blogger CORIN BELL

It’s definitely the start of summer, and it was a beautiful sunny day when we turned on the ovens at Chorlton High School for some dough-based action with our resident bread-making expert Rob Tomlinson. The half-day bread-making course runs with a little more speed than the luxurious full-day course we ran at Flixton Girls' School for the first time last week (see our blog post), but our lovely group still got to make FOUR different kinds of bread… phew!

The group started by learning how to make a classic white loaf, keeping the recipe nice and simple to focus on techniques, the right steps to take, timings and how you can devise the perfect bread-baking process to suit you. While the group got into some technique lessons on kneading, myself and volunteer James got cracking making pizzas - it’s hard work all this bread lark, and our group were going to knead (sorry) a good lunch and everyone gets to hear how to make this extra kind of dough, and takes home the recipe. Once the white loaves were kneaded and resting happily, the group went on to learn how to make an enriched dough (one with fat, in this case olive oil, added to the dough at the start) as the base of a sun-dried tomato and olive focaccia. Smells of garlic, rosemary and olives filled the kitchen, and thankfully the pizzas were ready just before anyone started eating their raw dough!

After a quick lunch break, and some chat about different types of yeast, and how to fit making a daily loaf into your life, the group moved onto making garlic naan. Tip of the day… we all need to stop saying “naan bread”, because naan is the traditional Farsi word for bread, so w'ere basically asking for "bread bread" when we head out for Indian - thanks, Rob! Naan dough is made using yoghurt, so this was a new adventure for lots of our group, and as the bread is pan cooked rather than oven baked, there were lots of new techniques to learn. By the end of the session, the group had a cracking stack of naan, beautiful herbie focaccia, and a perfect tin loaf to take home… bring on the carbs!

There are more photographs from this session on the Cracking Good Food Facebook page - click here to be redirected, and please do "like"!

More bread making sessions are coming up in Chorlton (14 June, 13 September and 11 October), Prestwich (7 June and 27 September) and Flixton (12 July and 8 November). Visit the Cookery Schools pages on our website for full details and online booking - click here.

16 May 2014

GUEST BLOG: Spring into action

At the ‘Well Seasoned’ session last Saturday Jules Bagnoli shared her incredible knowledge of how to use food and flavours to their absolute maximum and avoid waste. Renowned low-carbon chef and slow food exponent Jules, who has run two celebrated Michelin-listed restaurants, led one of the free cook and dine sessions Cracking Good Food organised last year at The Biospheric Foundation during Manchester International Festival, and is an expert on cooking sustainably and getting the best out of British ingredients.

On the mouth-watering menu on Saturday was sumac-spiced spring lamb and roast garlic on a homemade oatcake served with spring leaves and fresh, local asparagus, plus a dollop of red onion jam and dill yoghurt (pictured above), plus a delicious vegetarian option of pan-fried samphire and chickpea fritters.

Participants first got the lamb in the oven, after giving it a good rub with herbs and spices, then started making the onion jam, which was left to cook down for the full duration of the session (pictured above) and only tended to by a glug of wine every so often. The kitchen then turned into a hive of activity, with oatcakes, fritters and a delicious dill yoghurt being prepared. At least one of the batches of the samphire and chickpea fritters worked (we won’t mention the other!).

Jules showed everyone how to plate up like a professional (pictured above), which we all replicated - to a certain extent! Eating the food is always the best bit, and this session didn’t disappoint as all the flavours balanced out wonderfully!  

13 May 2014

GUEST BLOG: All in a day's work

By guest blogger CORIN BELL

Our full-day bread-baking course, Our Daily Bread, kicked off in style on Saturday in our new, very spacious venue at Flixton Girls' School. The amazing Rob Tomlinson was on hand to tell us everything we ever wanted to know about yeast, sourdough, flours, processes and bread-making myths. The session started with a chat about the loaves that we’d be making as we had a coffee and some of Rob’s lovely homemade flapjack (he does look after us). The group then began by making a classic white loaf, keeping the recipe nice and simple to focus on techniques, the right steps to take, timings and myths. There are so many books, websites and blogs about bread, and all of the experts have different tips and steps they swear by, so it’s great to have Rob explain how they all fit together and how you can devise the perfect bread-making process to suit you. 

While the participants cracked on with kneading, myself and our delightful volunteer Judith made some pizza dough and a lovely thick tomato sauce to whip up some pizzas for lunch. Although the group didn’t make the pizzas themselves, me and Judith talked them through the process, which is very similar to the basic loaf recipe, and everyone got the recipe so they can have a go at home. The end result
 four different pizzas, a beetroot and farro grain salad, and a well-earned break!

Over the course of the day, with lots of time for coffee and questions, the group also made a beautiful black olive, sun-dried tomato and rosemary focaccia, and a light rye bread bloomer. It’s great to be able to compare how the different types of flour behave, and how different additions to the basic loaf (the focaccia is an enriched dough, with olive oil in the basic recipe, for example) affect the rising time, and how you treat the dough to get it light and airy. This new bread-making day was a really engaging workshop with a lovely relaxed pace… as Rob always says: great bread has five ingredients, flour, yeast, water, a pinch of salt - and plenty of time. 

There are more photographs from this Our Daily Bread session on the Cracking Good Food Facebook page.

Our next full-day bread making session is in Prestwich on Saturday 7 June - book here. Our next half-day bread making session is in Chorlton on Saturday 14 June - book here.

GUEST BLOG: Vegging out

By guest blogger CHRIS YOUNG

Cracking Good Food partnered up with the Vegetarian Society on Saturday, holding three free cooking sessions for the general public outside the wonderful Post Box CafĂ© in Chorlton. This event was to celebrate the upcoming National Vegetarian Week (19-25 May) - we wanted to show how easy and delicious vegetarian meals are, so we cooked quesadillas stuffed with sweet potatoes and re-fried beans served with a yoghurt sauce and a fresh salsa. 

Some great people braved the weather to join us for the cooking sessions - luckily we had sturdy gazebos to cook under! We chatted about National Vegetarian Week and how by swapping just one meal a week from meat to vegetarian will benefit your health and environment - and also save you money - then our Cracking Cook Maz went through the spices and ingredients used for the quesadilla recipe, such as dried chipotle chilli and ground cumin, and showed some tricks on how to safely chop vegetables. Everyone got stuck in chopping the sweet potatoes, onions, peppers, tomatoes and garlic -the great thing with quesadillas is that they are cheap, easy to make and you can put almost anything in the mix, so look around your cupboards to see what you can use up. 

As Maz got the ingredients in the pan, a wonderful aroma started to spread in the little market place.  Several people stopped to see what we were cooking, then signed up for one of the other sessions, and  some of the Chorlton Community Market stallholders came over to get a closer sniff! Many of the participants had eaten sweet potatoes before but not with cheese (we used vegetarian cheese), and they thought it was an amazing combination! Also, some people were wary that beans can be a bit tasteless but by mixing them with different vegetables and adding herbs, spices and seasoning, they made a great, tasty filling. We would like to thank the Vegetarian Society for sponsoring us so we could hold these vegetarian sessions – all the participants really enjoyed the cooking sessions and the food!

For more photos from Saturday, see the CGF Facebook page: click here.

Our next community event is this Saturday (17 May), 11am-4.30pm, when we will be cooking and selling delicious food at the Chorlton Arts Festival Arts and Craft Market at St. Clement's Church.

8 May 2014

GUEST BLOG: Wild times

By guest blogger SHARON ROBINSON

It is amazing how much tasty food there is free on your doorstep. Jesper, a cross between Brian Cox and James Martin, shared his amazing scientific knowledge and love of cooking with butter in Fletcher Moss Park and the surrounding green belt. This started right at the entrance to the park with Jesper pointing out the young leaves on the lime trees. 

Moving through the Alpine Gardens, we learned about the rejuvenating properties of pine pollen and tried the tasty three-cornered leek, considered to be an invasive pest. Out in Millgate Fields, we foraged for mushrooms and found Oyster, St George’s, Fried Chicken and Stinky Ink Cap varieties. We gathered wild garlic, ground elder, water mint and horseradish among many other things and at times it felt like we were trampling over someone’s dinner as we moved round the fields. The evening ended with a cook-up of some of our bounty washed down with a splash of dandelion wine. Delicious!

There are more photos from this wild food foraging trip on the CGF Facebook page. Click here.

7 May 2014

GUEST BLOG: School trip

By guest blogger KIM IRWIN

Tuesday 29 April saw the CGF team at an eco primary school in Ashton-under-Lyne, Canon Burrows.  It was the earliest of starts in order to get set up and ready for 9am… lots of coffee did the trick! We kicked off with year 3 and ran four workshops back to back throughout the morning with the entire year.

Maz showed the youngsters safe chopping skills and they all enjoyed preparing peppers, onions and tomatoes for our Mexican themed dishes. The fledgling chefs impressed us with their nutritional knowledge and could name all the food groups that, when combined, make for a healthy and well-balanced diet. Once the peppers and onions were chopped, Maz showed each group how to sautee using a spray oil to give the pan the lightest of coating and ensure a less greasy end result. The beans were enthusiastically mashed by each group and then combined with the peppers to create the quesadilla filling.  

Wholemeal wraps were stuffed and then sprinkled with cheese and lightly toasted on each side to make a super crispy Mexican sandwich. The final part was making a fresh salsa and the young chefs made short work of chopping the fresh tomatoes, spring onions and coriander which was then drizzled with lime juice to make a zingy accompaniment to the quesadillas. Hungry mouths were soon satisfied and even those who weren't keen gave the dish a go - what more could we ask for?

These sessions were repeated in the afternoon with year 5 and, by the time 4pm came, both Maz and I were ready for a rest.  It was a thoroughly lovely day with the teachers, volunteers and pupils of Canon Burrows school, and we really hope to work with them again in the not too distant future. Ooh and on the way out we spotted their very impressive green, living roof. A forward-thinking school with lots to offer its community!

There are more photos from the day on our Facebook page.

2 May 2014

GUEST BLOG: Pound saver

Special blog by Cracking Good Food director JULIET LAWSON

I heard about the Live Below The Line challenge last year when Jack Monroe signed up for it. Back then, I told myself I’d do it this year, but it crept right up on me, I hadn’t seen it promoted anywhere and suddenly it was the following week and it was the first I’d heard about it. I spent a day or two mulling it over and thinking about whether I could even find the headspace to do it with all the other usual work and family juggles, then took the plunge and signed up for it a week ago.

The basic premise is to spend only £5 on all food and drink to last you for five days - that's just £1 per day: the UK equivalent (incorporating cost of living adjustments) of the extreme poverty line. It's estimated that 2.1 billion people around the world live ‘below the line’ for everything every day, and I only had to do it for food and drink for five days. How hard could it be? Quite hard, actually. Food’s been going up in price and a fiver doesn’t get you all that much these days. One thing was clear – I was kissing goodbye to meat, fish and dairy for five days and only drinking water. So far, so healthy. I stocked up on rice, chapati flour, pulses, onions, carrots, a potato, a parsnip and two eggs.

Meals have centred on chapati for breakfast, veggie soup with lentils and soup mix (barley and pulses) for bulk at lunchtime, and rice-based meals with onions and pulses in the evening. I budgeted a little for oil, salt and pepper and small amounts of some basic spices. Hardliners say you should literally go out with your £5 and see what you can buy and not use anything else from your cupboards, but others say it’s fine to budget a little for these things. This was my meal plan for the five days:

Monday: chapati for breakfast, soup and chappati for lunch, Chinese-style rice with fried onion, peas and a fried egg on top for dinner. Water to drink. So far, so good - quite tasty even. Started to get a headache though - probably caffeine withdrawal because it can't have been dehydration; I’ve been drinking water like it’s going out of fashion.
Tuesday: chapati for breakfast, soup for lunch, rice with fried onions and cooked green lentils with a bit of dried chilli and garlic for dinner. Headache persisting.
Wednesday: no breakfast (couldn’t face another chapati), soup for lunch, rice with a basic curry made of chickpeas, onion and tinned tomatoes for dinner. Headache gone!
Thursday: no breakfast, soup for lunch, curry and rice again for dinner, with a chapati.
Friday: a re-run of Tuesday - chapati for breakfast, soup for lunch, rice with fried onions and cooked green lentils with a bit of dried chilli and garlic for dinner with the added extra of a tasty fried egg on top. I spent the week looking forward to that!

What I found more than anything is it’s really dull. If you have so little money to spend on food, and you can’t plan and accumulate a useful storecupboard over a period of time, you can’t get any variety and you end up having to eat the same thing all week, with a few variations, because you’ve got to buy the whole tin of chickpeas, the whole bag of rice etc and then your money’s gone. However, you can do it, and reasonably healthily, and on just a bit more, with effective planning, you could eat quite well.

This is what I think I’d do to eat well on a very small budget:
·        Plan plan plan – you can’t do that really for this challenge, but if you buy a bag of rice one week, have some left over for your cupboard by the end of the week, buy pasta the next, buy a useful spice the next, buy mixed herbs the next, after a while, you’ve got a storecupboard of basics that means with a few added extras, you can rustle something up that’s completely different from what you had the day before – bliss!
·        Shop at the local greengrocers or market for fresh fruit and veg – buy in ones and twos instead of whole bags and, hey presto, variety! They’re cheaper too, and it’s more likely to be good local produce.
·        Shop with a friend – double the budget, double the variety, and then split everything, or organise a food bartering group to take it one step further.
·        Have a spice-swapping party – buy herbs and spices at independent stores or markets where it's cheaper then share them out (save up small glass jars and label them) and you all end up with a spice box for about a pound! 

This week has been a sobering experience and has really made me realise how lucky most of us are. I can enjoy some lovely fresh fruit and cheese, or a bacon buttie, or a roast dinner this weekend, whatever I please within reason, but for so many people, in this country as well as across the world, things are much harder.

To sponsor me (raising money for The Hunger Project), visit https://www.livebelowtheline.com/me/julietlawson

Cracking Good Food teaches people to plan and cook tasty and healthy food on low incomes via its community outreach work - click here for more - and we’ve just been awarded a Lottery Awards 4 All grant to help parents develop their own community cooking clubs in three schools in East Manchester.

GUEST BLOG: Winning game

By guest blogger SIOBHAN KELLY

On Saturday, participants at Cracking Good Food's Chorlton Cookery School were lucky enough to have the fantastic opportunity to meet the renowned nose-to-tail chef Robert Owen Brown and to cook under his guidance and expertise. The group prepared and cooked three restaurant-standard dishes: wild rabbit with bacon, baby onions and Schnapps, branchlings (baby rook) with black pudding and black cherries, and lobster with wild garlic and double cream.

To start with, everyone was presented with a rabbit to skin, gut and fillet. At 4 o'clock that morning, Robert was out shooting - it is literally impossible to get meat fresher than this and to know exactly where the animal came from. Everyone removed and rinsed two rabbit legs and two sirloins which were fried in a pan to seal and brown the meat along with shallots. Bacon, carrot, celery and leek were sweated before Schnapps was added and the liquid reduced down. Bay leaves, butter and game stock were added then left to reduce then double cream and rabbit loins were added. Once we were ready to eat, the dish was garnished with herbs and the taste was very rich and dense, just beautiful.

Next it was time to prepare the lobsters, whose pincers were held together with elastic bands for safety during preparation. The tails and claws were boiled in water for a few minutes, then plunged into cold water, then the heads were put into boiling water to cook. The sauce was made simply by adding fresh wild garlic leaves to cream and warming through.

The branchlings had been plucked and the giblets removed before the session, so they were braised whole in a pan and then put in the oven to cook on a tray. These birds have a light meat so, to compliment them, a dark sauce was made with black cherries and black pudding.  

There was a lot to cram into four hours, but it was a memorable experience for all involved and a great chance to cook with fresh, sustainable ingredients rich in flavour, colour and aroma. Robert Owen Brown's new cookbook, Crispy Squirrel and Vimto Trifle (Manchester Books Limited), was available to buy and it's well worth having in your collection.

Cracking Good Food will be running more sessions with Robert Owen Brown in the future, so keep an eye on the website - there's a lot to learn, and most of all, it's really fun.

See the CGF Facebook page for more photos.