19 June 2014

GUEST BLOG: Stockport projects

By guest blogger TRACEY
CGF were delighted to be invited to Stockport Residents' Findings Launch Event on Monday evening to hear the results of how the Stockport Central Food Project is getting on. This is a scheme set up to identify and try to tackle some of the barriers preventing residents from accessing healthy food in some of Stockport's central zones. The residents detailed the project to date, prompting discussion about what they need to do to ensure its continued success. Exciting times are ahead and hopefully some healthier nutritious and appetising food is winging its way down the A6!

16 June 2014

GUEST BLOG: Bread time

By guest blogger SIOBHAN KELLY

We had another full house on Saturday for our popular four-hour breadmaking session at Chorlton High School. On the menu today was a loaf of bread, garlic naans and focaccia. The participants were also treated to four freshly made pizzas for their lunch made by volunteer Katya and myself, another use for dough. We lathered them with our very own recipe for tomato sauce, containing apple, red onions, fresh garlic and tinned tomatoes. The toppings were olives, chestnut mushrooms, anchovies, red and yellow peppers, red chillies, ground pepper and grated cheese - delicious. There was enough for a quarter of a pizza each. The recipe is given to the participants, along with all the baked goods they make, at the end of the session. 

Rob, Cracking Good Food's very own breadmaker extraordinaire, chatted passionately about bread throughout the session, sharing preparation tips, scientific facts, good places to buy ingredients and interesting stories. Everyone has recipe sheets to take away at the end of the session, so time could be spent enjoying the hands-on experience of making dough, rather than taking notes. These sessions are designed for working individually and also in small groups, learning together in a relaxed, sociable environment. 

To make the dough for their loaves of bread, the participants were given a choice of flours and yeast. While the dough is rising, the dough for the naans and focaccia is prepared. The temperature in the kitchen was quite tropical - perfect conditions for the dough to rise in. The focaccia dough is stretched, rolled and sprinkled with sundried tomatoes and chopped black olives, then folded into three and rolled out again. It's then left to rise before being sprinkled with sliced red onions, rock salt and fresh rosemary  ready to bake. These look so spectacular when cooked - rustic heaven. The garlic naans are also rolled into shape and cooked in a frying pan on the stove top. It's a lovely sight to see them bubble and go a deep golden colour and the delicious smell envelopes the kitchen space.

This was another successful session, inspiring the participants, who now have the knowledge to bake their own breads at home. A wonderful group this week, who all helped clear up and muck in - hope they come back soon, a joy in the cooking room. Thank you to Katya, our volunteer, who worked so hard to help with the smooth running of this session.
There are more photos from Saturday's Breaking Bread class on the official CGF Facebook page here - do be sure to click "like"! 
And if you'd like to try your hand at making your own bread or improve the bread baking skills you already have, we run lots of courses, in Chorlton, Flixton and now Prestwich. See our website for more by clicking here.

GUEST BLOG: Beside the seaside

By guest blogger TRACEY

Last Thursday, we teamed up with environmental not-for-profit organisation Red Rose Forest to show pupils from Thames Primary Academy School in Blackpool about the benefits of growing - and eating - home grown fruit and veg. Red Rose Forest have helped the pupils to create an allotment as part of the Big Lottery Fund's Local Food Project and we ran a cookery lesson using fresh produce plucked from the plot.

When your critics are made up of 30 lively and opinionated children, you know you've achieved success when each one says ‘thank you’ for the session. Although not all were great fans of our now infamous quesadilla recipe, stuffed with refried beans and served with a cold salsa and sour cream, they each appreciated that they were being introduced to new ingredients and had been taught some useful cooking skills. 

Many had never held a knife before, used a masher or grated up cheese, but this didn't stop them from being keen - all wanting to smell the herbs and spices and try the dish even if onions weren't their thing! We never get dispirited when met with unwillingness to try because the participants always take something (knowledge and skills) away, which they can always apply to other dishes. Still, it did raise a smile knowing that this young chap went away fully satisfied: "Best I’ve ever had, I enjoyed the session and the food - I had two plates," said Marcus from Year 6.

More photos from this session can be viewed on the Cracking Good Food Facebook page here.

11 June 2014

GUEST BLOG: Sweet and savoury

By guest blogger HELEN ROADHOUSE

When you end a school cooking session with the mushroom 'haters' saying that they love them after trying them in our savoury pancakes, you know you are doing something right.

We were at Wentworth School in Eccles running a cookery session for kids who were involved in growing their own food, so this was a great opportunity for them to taste foods that they could then go on to grow for themselves.

We started with a no-bake cheesecake plus raspberries (sourced from Fareshare) cooked with some sugar and lemon as this needed to be left to cool in the fridges while the class got on with chopping up the fillings for the pancakes. Some had beans to purée and some had mushrooms to fry with garlic. We also sieved gram flour to make pancakes, just adding some water to make a fairly loose mixture. In some of this, we added chopped fresh herbs, which Miranda had brought from her garden to show the class what they could grow in the allotments at the school, and chopped chillies. The class was really attentive and keen to get the pancakes cooked. Seeing them all trying the pancakes and discussing what other ingredients they could add was great - chicken was a popular choice. The beans were delicious but it was the mushroom filling with spinach and cheese that got used up. 

A frantic washing-up session was needed before we could serve up the anticipated cheesecakes. The fruit was a surprise hit and all of the children absolutely loved the reduced raspberry topping just by itself and had loads of ideas as to what else they could use it for, like on ice cream, cakes and porridge, and even on meat! Of course, we made enough for all our volunteers and the teachers, but there wouldn't have been any waste.

It really was a fun and enthusiastic session and all the children seemed to thoroughly enjoy learning, cooking and eating the food. I asked if they could describe in one word what they thought of the session and we got 'extravaganza' from Kyle, 'fandabidozy' from Alex, 'perfect' from Abdul and  'extraordinary' from our other excellent pancake chef Jayden. Erin loved the cheesecake and said 'sweet' while Morgan absolutely loved what we cooked and said it was 'mind changing'. Kate said it was 'lush', Daisy said it was 'superb', Robyn said it was 'OMG LOL!' and Hannah just said 'mushrooms'! We had a definite all-round positive response and there were lots of comments about not being able to wait to try it at home. We all loved this session and all the kids were brilliant and so well behaved, and I have it down as one of my all time CGF faves!

10 June 2014

GUEST BLOG: Bread heads

By guest blogger CORIN BELL

Our full-day bread-baking course came to a new home this week, at Prestwich Arts College, and it’s great to be doing some more work in the north! The ever-amazing Rob Tomlinson was on hand to tell us everything we ever wanted to know about yeast, sourdough, flours, processes and myths in breadmaking.

The day started with a nice fresh coffee and some discussion about the breads we were going to make, different types of flour, different types of yeast, and the additives and ingredients that can sometimes pop up in shop-bought breads.

The group started by making a classic white loaf, keeping the recipe nice and simple to focus on techniques, the right steps to take and timings. 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 on hand to explain why how they all fit together, and how you can devise the perfect bread-baking process to suit you.

While the participants cracked on with kneading, myself and our delightful volunteer Marcello 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, myself and Marcello talked them through the process (the dough is very similar to the basic loaf recipe), and everyone got the recipe so they could have a go when they got 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) affect the rising time, and how you treat the dough to get it light and airy.

The course also has a strong environmental and sustainable focus, reflecting the values of Cracking Good Food. Rob spoke passionately about organic flour, and how real bread shouldn’t be full of additives. One of the things I love most about being involved with this course is the almost philosophical feel it has. Conversation flows from traditional skills, to the satisfaction of creating your own bread, to the practice of kneading as meditation… what a bunch of hippies!

The full-day breadmaking course is a delightful, engaging workshop with a lovely relaxed pace… as Rob tells every group, great bread has five ingredients: flour, yeast, water and pinch of salt - and lots of time.

More photographs from this session, our first in Prestwich, can be viewed on the Cracking Good Food Facebook page here. Please "like" and, if you were there, send us your photos for out Facebook album!

Our next full-day session in Prestwich is on Saturday 27 September. In the meantime, we're running a full-day session in Flixton on Saturday 12 July (and again on Saturday 8 November), plus a half-day session in Chorlton on Saturday 13 September (and again on Saturday 11 October). We're also running a special Festive Bread session in Chorlton on Saturday 22 November. Full details of all these sessions and how to book can be found here. Spread the word!

4 June 2014

GUEST BLOG: Bread matters

By guest blogger TRACEY

Our half day bread session (Breaking Bread) with the Boaz Trust on 24 May was spent baking a basic loaf, naans and focaccia with 12 ladies representing so many corners of the globe; Cuba, China, Iran, Kenya, Uganda and many more. Some were able to share their own native breadmaking styles, whilst a lady from Eritrea demonstrated how they decorate their own flat breads using a fork, simply stunning. Rob easily captivated their interest through sharing information about the rewards and health benefits of making your own chemical free bread. 

He highlighted how you decide on the grain and can vary the taste by adding different seeds, thus personalising your loaf. After such hard work mixing and kneading their dough, they carefully 'cradled' the dough into a greased tin. We all sat to share and eat the home made pizzas at lunch time, it was a much needed break to fuel the work needed to move to the naan dough. They chose to add garlic to the mix, so expertly top and tailed each clove after Rob's demonstration. The focaccia was a wetter dough, but our happy bakers kneaded and proved the dough to perfection as each focaccia looked amazing once garnished with garlic, rock salt, and rosemary.

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

If you're interested in learning breadmaking or developing your skills, we have plenty of classes to sign up for in Chorlton, Flixton and Prestwich - the next is a full-day session this Saturday; see our website for full details and how to book here.

GUEST BLOG: Happy in Horwich

By guest blogger TRACEY

Cracking Good Food recently delivered a cooking workshop at Places for People (Horwich), an organisation specialising in property management, development and regeneration. We set up at the residential setting as part of a Community Involvement Day event. A group of enthusiastic residents and visitors swiftly prepped the celery and onions for the lentil and tomate soup they were also keen to move onto the quesadillas. These ‘low prep’ dishes were chosen as we are mindful that some people aged over 55 may experience dexterity difficulties. 

Many of the participants shared their past experiences of making soups and their most favourite flavours but were keen to hear Kim’s money and time saving tips of making bulk and freezing batches, keeping it healthy by adding water and not oil to a ‘sticky’ pan, for tired hands use pre crushed garlic and that freezing fresh herbs is possible! The aroma of the bouquet garni brought many an enquiring nose into the room to participate or prep and they were all fascinated by the accompanying dish of spiced Mexican quesadillas. Kim explained how the refried beans filling were an excellent cheap and great source of fibre and protein and are incredibly cheap to buy. They were moderately spiced with paprika, cumin and zesty lime juice, then mixed with the sautéed peppers and red onions. Once the mixture was spread between the tortillas, sprinkled with grated cheese and lightly fried, the queue for this nutritious and low cost lunch nearly spread across the room!

More photos from this session are on our Facebook page here.

GUEST BLOG: Foraging in Hebden

By guest blogger SARAH BENJAMINS

A gorgeous sunny day enticed us out to the hills of Hebden Bridge on Sunday 18 May, through beautiful mixed woodland, along babbling brooks and gullies, crossing a hidden waterfall, and up onto sunny meadows. Late spring brings an abundance of interesting plants, both culinary and medicinal, as foraging expert Jesper Launder (pictured) explained. Woodavens, Nettle (rich in iron and other minerals), Toadflax, Jack by the Hedge, Rosebay Willowherb, Meadowsweet (aspirin precursor), Hawthorn Flowers (good for the heart). 

We collected basketfuls of watercress from a stream, along with a graphic explanation of why foraged watercress should always be eaten cooked not raw (liver flukes are not to be messed with). We also found Easter Dock, an important, nutrient rich wild spring food which is celebrated nearby at the annual Mytholmroyd Easter Dock Pudding Festival. The highlight for some was looking for pignuts, along with a lesson on how to forage legally, sustainably and responsibly, ensuring we leave a habitat able to continue to provide its bounty year on year. Back at base, Jesper cooked up our finds, making fritters and soup, and sharing with us some of his home brewed Oak leaf and Knotweed wines. A great way to spend a Sunday!

There are more great photos from the trip to Hebden Bridge on our Facebook page here and here.

Jesper is leading some special elderflower forages this month, and on 25 June you get a free Le Parfait jar to preserve your jams, jellies, pickles etc - see our website for more: click here.