25 September 2014

GUEST POST: Nepal you want

By guest blogger CORIN BELL

Cracking Good Food started an exciting new chapter on Saturday with the first of our new programme of Nepalese cookery courses… Momo Making! Momos are traditional Nepalese dumplings, and are a staple of Nepalese street food. Our wonderful chef, Philippa, who lived in Nepal for a number of years, explained that you can find momos, steamed or fried, meat or veggie, on every street corner in Nepal. To add to the authentic Nepalese street food vibe, the session also included making a classic spicy tomato pickle to serve with the momo, and Thenthuk, a spicy broth filled with chunks of vegetable and “hand pulled” noodles. 

The session began with a traditional Nepali tea, prepared by Philippa, which had an amazing fragrance of spices, similar to Indian chai. While we drink our tea, Philippa explained a little about how she ended up living in Nepal, and told us about the origins of the food that we would be cooking. The hands-on cooking started with us making dough for the dumplings (in this case the dough is called the wrapper) and the noodles. As it's the same mix, this is one of the reasons you tend to find these dishes together on a Nepalese street stall. 

The next job was to prepare the fillings for our momo and our soup, which involved some serious chopping skills as the vegetables for the momo filling have to be chopped incredibly finely to ensure a good mixture of filling in each small dumpling. Philippa and the Cracking Good Food team were on hand to demonstrate some good techniques. The ingredients for the momo filling are simple and fresh, and the kitchen soon filled with amazing smells. At the same time we started to get our soup on the boil. The Thenthuk broth is something that has evolved over time and contains Tibetan, as well as Indian, influences. A wonderful mix of spices and herbs brings simple vegetables to life. 

Assembling our momo dumplings was the fun part, along with learning the age-old technique for stretching our “hand-pulled” noodles. This is where nimble fingers, or just lots of time to try and try again, come in handy. Philippa demonstrated how to fold the rolled-out dumpling “wrappers” around the filling to create a beautiful little work of food art. Great fun, some mocking, and a little confusion follow. Slowly but surely, with some one-to-one support from Philippa, we all start to have our momo “eureka!” moments. It has to be said, the first time you actually manage to make a momo that looks anything like one of Philippa’s is a very proud moment! After the momos, the hand-pulled noodles are not nearly as much of a challenge. 

We decided to make steamed dumplings rather than fried and, along with the very low-fat, spice-packed noodle soup, the whole session was really healthy! The spicy tomato pickle was the easiest, and one of the tastiest, things I’ve ever made, and will now be accompanying every meal I eat! And just to really finish off the day, Philippa offered everyone a quick lesson in the Nepalese alphabet and a spice bag with their name written in Nepali on it. 

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

Philippa is back at the Cracking Good Food Chorlton cookery school on Saturday 4 October (sold out) and Saturday 7 February, showing how to make Dal Bhat, delicious Nepalese curries. See our website for details and how to book.

24 September 2014

GUEST BLOG: Playing ketchup

By guest blogger FINN TOPSON

Last Wednesday's foraging session was relocated from Chorlton Ees to nearby Fletcher Moss park in Didsbury, but due to a distinct lack of rain this September, there was some uncertainty as to whether this dry and warm early evening walk would provide the group with what we had come to seek: wild food! Luckily, it soon became obvious that we had no need to worry as our first encounter with wild mushrooms took place only metres from the park's main gate, where we found some beautiful and large, yet sadly inedible, specimens.

Over the course of the evening, we foraged through several areas of the park and learnt a good deal from our forage leader Jesper about the various identification methods which can be employed when seeking wild mushrooms. He also told us all about potential medicinal uses for fungi and, as well as filling our baskets with various types of mushrooms, we got the chance to pick some three-cornered leeks as well as some hawthorn berries.

We regrouped back at the park entrance and Jesper swiftly began cooking up a storm, sautéing the wild mushrooms along with the three-cornered leeks and plenty of butter in one pan, and boiling the hawthorn berries with vinegar, sugar and water to prepare a delicious ketchup in another. The food was served in a fittingly rustic style with the mushrooms and ketchup piled onto slices of bread, and the quiet while everyone ate and the empty pans at the end is a sure sign that everyone greatly enjoyed their food!  

Jesper Launder leads regular wild food forages with Cracking Good Food, in Chorlton and Didsbury. The next are on Saturday 8 November and Sunday 30 November - full details of all the foraging trips are available on the CGF website here.

15 September 2014

GUEST BLOG: Back to bake

By guest blogger SIOBHAN KELLY

We kicked off the autumn programme of Cracking Good Food classes on Saturday with our four-hour Breaking Bread session at our Chorlton cookery school. The group of 11 each made an organic loaf, then paired up to make focaccia with sundried tomatoes, red onion, black olives, rock salt and herbs, and finally some garlic naan breads.

The first job was to make a dough for the loaves with a mix of flours and different yeasts, which Cracking Cook and expert baker Rob Tomlinson explained. The dough was put to one side to rise in the warm kitchen environment as the group got on with the other breads.

Co-ordinator and volunteer Claire was in charge of lunch and cracked on with preparing the pizza dough plus toppings of red peppers, anchovies, mushrooms, fresh chillies, black olives and grated cheese. The pizza sauce was made from scratch using red onions, garlic, diced apple, bouillon powder, tomato puree, tinned tomatoes, fresh garlic and salt, and left on a low heat to reduce. The participants enjoyed a few slices of pizza as their lunch today and were given the recipe for pizza dough (and all the other breads) at the end of the session, so they could try making it themselves at home.

While Claire busied herself with the pizzas, the participants made focaccia dough. This was left to rise for a short while then it was rolled out, sprinkled with chopped, sundried tomatoes and olives, folded over then left to rise again.  After it was rolled for the second time, it was sprinkled with sliced red onions, rosemary, olive oil and sea salt, and put it in the oven. Cheese can also be added on top towards the end of the cooking time.  

The garlic paste for the naan is made by crushing garlic and salt together - it's as simple and quick as that - then it's added to the flour mix. Yoghurt is heated in a pan and used instead of water to make the dough. The mixture is rolled out after it has risen and fried in a pan of oil. It's delicious eaten with houmous or other dips and of course curry dishes.

So it was another busy, but rewarding, morning in the kitchen with new skills learnt, a wealth of knowledge shared by Rob and everyone enjoying the communal cooking and eating experience.  Recipe sheets were handed out at the end of the session so the love of breadmaking can continue at home.

We currently run two different breadmaking classes in three locations: Chorlton, Prestwich and Flixton. There are lots more of the four-hour Breaking Bread sessions in Chorlton (£60) coming up along with the extended six-hour Our Daily Bread classes in Flixton and Prestwich (at the new, lower price of £80). The six-hour sessions include an introduction to sourdough and a free sourdough starter, plus a 26-page colour booklet, Best Thing Since Sliced Bread, full of information, tips and recipes from our resident artisan breadmaker Rob TomlinsonBoth Breaking Bread and Our Daily Bread are suitable for beginners or people who want to get more out of their breadmaking, and all our classes teach skills which can be practised at home using simple, non-specialist equipment. We now have a dedicated breadmaking page on the website - to view click here.

5 September 2014

GUEST BLOG: Cooking by torchlight

By guest blogger MONICA BURR

As the Late Summer Forage on the evening of Wednesday 27 August was my first forage with Cracking Good Food, I arrived a bit early - so early there was nobody at the meeting spot. I thought maybe I had the wrong place but then I spotted some one with a basket walking towards me, smiling. A forager and her basket - baskets are part of a forager's kit, I now know!

By 5.30pm, 13 people, carrying bags, baskets and containers, had gathered. We talked and introduced ourselves. Two people had been on many of Jesper's forages (they had great baskets!) while some people were first timers (no baskets). One woman told me that she jogged regularly in Fletcher Moss Park and thought it would be fun to learn about the plants she was running by each day. Another was interested in learning how to identify edible mushrooms.

Jesper, our forage leader, arrived and off we headed. Over the next three hours, Jesper led us through various parts of the park so we could experience different growing areas. Deep, wet, shady forest, open, sunny meadows, grassy areas with big trees and fallen logs, edges of paths. There were a surprising number of mushrooms just in the grass around the tennis courts! Actually there were mushrooms everywhere although I never would have noticed them if Jesper hadn't pointed them out. We found so many different kinds that I can't remember them all, except Shaggy Ink Caps these I can now identify. And they are tasty when cooked.
 As we walked, Jesper helped us find other edibles. Hawthorn berries, sloe berries, wild horseradish, the seeds from the exploding pods of the Himalayan balsam (who knew?), rosehips, elderberries, blackberries and wild garlic. He explained the nutritional and medicinal benefits of some of the plants as well teaching us how to forage sustainably and responsibly. A visually beautiful example of nature's abundance was finding hundreds of freshly fallen bright yellow oval-shaped plums in a darker, forested area. 

The sun sets later these days and I think we were surprised at how soon it got dark. But with the help of light from phones, Jesper set up a camp kitchen and cooked a huge pan of mushrooms and wild garlic. Dessert was stewed plums, blackberries and elderberries served with thick yoghurt. Everyone headed home with containers of yummy wild food and a warm tummy - and perhaps with eyes a little more open to the delicate details that we pass each day.

For details of upcoming Jesper's wild food foraging trips - the next on Wednesday 17 September at 5.30pm - visit the Cracking Good Food website by clicking here.