69 in 69 – I’m raising the bar

We’re only on day 14, and we’re up to 15 recipes, so it feels appropriate to change the challenge to completing 69 recipes in 69 days.  I’m sure we can do it and I’ve moved the deadline day to 28th July instead of end of September. Go us!

And rather than drown you in detail, here is a quick whistle stop tour of all the nine recipes we cooked this week:

Beetroot Brownies: Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache (all the cakes in this book are made from vegetables).  These brownies were a revelation.  Easy to make even if the beetroot peeling and chopping was a little messy on the hands.  And MY GOD, they packed a punch – moist, rich, earthy.  I couldn’t get enough of them.

Moroccan chicken kebabs and panzella salad: Good Housekeeping Step by Step Cook Book. I’ve wanted to make panzella salad ever since I had one that blew my mind in Tuscany a few years ago.  Who would have thought that some stale bread, tomatoes and cucumber could taste so good?  But it’s quite something.  And the whole meal was a magical combination for a stunningly sunny bank holiday sunday.

Griddled nectarines with feta salad: Good Food 101 Veggie Dishes. This was a saturday lunchtime quickie – just a few simple ingredients compiled in ten minutes.  A gorgeous, light combination of salty feta, sweet melty hot nectarines and fresh mint.

Jamie chose a slow roasted Persian Lamb recipe with pomegranate salad: Good Food 101 Slow-Cooking Recipes. I was not keen – it involved pomegranate molasses and a pomegranate – I wasn’t convinced we’d find either of those in the Stockport suburbs of Hazel Grove.  However Jamie’s enthusiasm won out.  He even MADE the pomegranate molasses!  The thing that impressed us most was the pomegranate salad.  Yes the lamb was succulent and delicious (four hours of cooking in molasses), but the salad was tart, juicy and beautiful – a wonderful compliment to the lamb.

Smoked haddock with white beans and parsley : Gordon Ramsey Cooking for Friends was last friday night’s supper treat.  Jamie found it a bit fiddly – there was pureeing and faffy stages to the dish, but as the consumer of the dish, I was delighted.  It was stylish and showy to look at and just felt like something that you would be served in a posh restaurant.  Bacon and smoked haddock is a great combination and the bean/thyme mash was lovely.

Jamaican chops: Caribbean Food Made Easy with Levi Roots.  A week day simple dinner for us – pork chops slow cooked in a fiery, sweet tomato sauce with celery, peppers and lime. Easy to assemble, tasty and comforting.

Salmon fillet wrapped in proscuitto with herby lentils, spinach and yoghurt: Jamie Oliver The Return of the Naked Chef was a desperation choice.  It was late in the evening and I needed to pick something easy for the next day.  Everything else in this cookbook looked long-winded, but when I spied this I was a happy girl.  Speedy, simple and healthy.  And it really delivered.  It’s not the most aesthetically pleasing dish but prosciutto and salmon REALLY works – the salty meat enhances the salmon and those herby lentils were a nice earthy, flavourful background to the dish.

Keralan Coconut Curry: Anjum’s Indian Vegetarian Feast.  Another beautiful book that had never been cooked from. The curry was creamy, spicy and had lovely depth – for me it was delicious but nothing earth shattering as I’ve had many similar curries, but it really wowed Jamie.

Spurred on by last week’s pitta success I baked oatmeal and potato bread: Home Baking Cookbook.  It was a cheap and easy number (apart from having to make the mash which was a pain!).  Admittedly we did burn the entire top of the loaf, but it really had no affect on the flavour.  It was a dense bread wholesome bread – perfect for making picnic sandwiches with the leftover feta from the salad. I’m definitely getting into this bread making thing – it’s satisfyingly easy and I love the therapeutic process of kneading the dough.

It’s been an intense week of cooking and eating and I’ve loved it.  This challenge is proving to be a real adventure – it’s a heartening and nostalgic experience re-connecting with my neglected books.   Fancy joining me in a similar challenge? Comment below and fill me in!

 

 

 

 

 

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My marvellous culinary journey with Cracking Good Food

In 2014, mid divorce and feeling like I needed some new hobbies in my life, I made a very good decision: I started volunteering with the cookery school and charity Cracking Good Food.

I’ve always loved the look of the courses they offer – they were unusual and intrigued me – Nepalese – Japanese – elderflower foraging – pasta making.  Volunteering would be a way of learning for free and a great opportunity to meet interesting, foodie people.

So I signed up and oh my! have I learnt a lot.  In the last eighteen months these are just a few of the courses I’ve helped on:

Punjabi Vegetarian

Indian born, Neha grew up being taught to cook by her family.  I’ve done this course twice and the food is an incredible combination of spicy, yet gentle and wholesome – you feel comforted and soothed by this delicious food. Neha herself is part of the charm of this class – she is a wonderfully sweet and caring young woman, clucking around the class, making sure everyone is okay and explaining and demonstrating whenever help is needed.  The class culminates in a massive feast at lunchtime of dhal, spinach paneer, okra marsala and parathas (a gorgeous buttery version of chapatis).

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A vegetarian Punjabi picnic feast
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Spice heaven

Bread and Easter Treats

Rob is the bread expert.  He’s been with Cracking Good Food for all it’s six years and his bread courses are extremely popular.  So much so that he runs ten a year.  I suspect it’s not just his wonderful bread expertise that attracts the punters – Rob is a fantastic teacher – he’s dramatic and witty and brings the subject to life. And this session was bread with a twist: focaccia, hot cross buns and chelsea buns.  In fact hot cross buns and chelsea buns are in essence pretty much the same and I can’t get enough of either of them.

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Fresh from the oven – chelsea buns

Chocolate Truffles

What’s not to like about a chocolate truffle course? And this one I was attending rather than volunteering so even more fun than usual!  Isobel from Dormouse Chocolates runs the only bean to bar chocolate making business in Manchester.  She trained to be a chocolatier at Hotel du Chocolat before setting up her own company in 2014.  It was a privilege to hear all about the chocolate making process at Dormouse where they use a stone grinder to grind raw coca beans. And making chocolate truffles with 70% Ecuadorian chocolate callets was a hoot! I have to confess to not fully taking on board all the different processes of what we were doing (I know we tempered the chocolate at some point) because I was too busy yapping to my new best friend on the course – Diane.  And that is what I love about these courses – it’s the fascinating people that go on them.  Cracking Good Food attracts interesting, broadminded clients – and they are a joy to work with. It was an entirely female group and it felt gloriously girly – especially decorating the truffles at the end with edible glitter and chopped nuts and cocoa.

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Delightful chocolate truffles
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Perks of the course! Scraping the bowl out

Offal and Game

I was curious about this course, but I can’t say I’ve ever been a fan of offal and game. However I knew I would like Iain Devine (@drunkenbutcher). He’s a bit of a legend on twitter and I’d heard a lot about his lively supper clubs.  I wanted to meet this man!  And Iain lived up to expectation – he was funny and fascinating and knew his cooking. And the food and offal was TASTY!  Seriously – devilled kidneys on toast? Oh yes – melty and spicy. Pigeon on fondant potato? Succulent – great combo with the creamy potatos. Chicken liver pate? Rich and flavourful. I have been turned.

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The Drunken Butcher (aka Iain Devine) butchering a rabbit
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Pigeon on fondant potato

Pastry

This was a long day.  A 9am start and a 4.30pm finish.  I was a little anxious that I’d run out of steam and want to go home.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Neil Buttery – Mr Pastry himself – was a captivating teacher.  The whole class hung on his every word! Neil whilst doing a PHD in Evolutionary Biolology (yes really!) started blogging about food history as a way of practising writing.  This led to a lot of experimenting with game pies, sparking a passion for pastry and Neil hasn’t looked back since. He now runs the Buttery at the POD in Levenshulme – a  restaurant specialising in pies. On the menu for the course: custard tarts, savoury pies and eccles cakes. So much buttery, crumbly goodness. Those 7.5 hours whizzed by.

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Learning about pastry and custard tarts

Foraging

On a cold saturday in January we headed out to Fletcher Moss Park in Didsbury. The delightful and very knowledgeable Jesper Launder guided us through a very unpromising barren and soggy park.  But it was very fruitful – we came back with a colourful variety of mushrooms and leafy greens.  And my favourite bit (unsurprisingly) was the cook up at the end. We tipped our goodies out onto the wall of the park and Jesper cranked up the camping stove and magicked up some exquisite buttery, mushroom, leafy omlettes!

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A beautiful basket of foraged mushrooms

Lucky me!  It really has been a journey in every sense.

I won’t lie, I usually wake up on a Saturday morning at 7am wondering why on earth I’ve signed up to a course! There’s usually a bit of cursing and grumpiness as I get myself ready for a 9am start.

But without fail when I come home in the afternoon I’m energised and excited and I’ve made some new friends!

Every single chef at cracking good food that I’ve met is passionate and inspiring.

If you’re interested to see the Courses Cracking Good Food have on offer – have a look:

http://www.crackinggoodfood.org/