Group gets Manchester cooking

The community food team behind Manchester Tart and other favourites is pressing on with their mission to Get Manchester Cooking.
Alison Holland at Zest told me: “Growing out of the Manchester Tart cook book success, a new social cooking club has formed, for those inspired by the book and wanting to try out some of the recipes but also share their own recipes!
“The club is for everyone – those who know how to cook and those who want to learn. Its about sharing cooking tips and learning how to make quick and healthy meals. Making cooking fun but also a great opportunity to make new friends.”
The club is on every Thursday at Trinity Methodist Church, Butler Street, Ancoats from 10.30 – 13.00pm and IT’S FREE
To book a place and find out more call Alison at Zest on 0161 655 7883 or Geraldine Wall, Community Food Co-ordinator on 07971331539
* Alison also reveals there’s been some developments on the debate about whether banana should be included in an authentic Manchester Tart and she’s going to get back to us with an answer soon.

Those foods you can’t live without

Fellow foodie blogger GastroGrrl has been pondering the sorts of food people miss if they are living abroad.
I’m not surprised to find Marmite as one of the first suggestions on the list from contributors.
(The ongoing “new recipe” Marmite debate continues apace on this blog too).
But a few of the other items mentioned are more surprising – decaffeinated tea for instance, who’d miss that?
Taking her lead I thought I’d conduct a quick poll on the subject.
Those items listed are some of the usual suspects and a couple of my own quirks but please feel free to add an additional choice to the poll, post a comment below or drop GastroGrrl a comment.
Which British foodstuff couldn’t you live without?
( surveys)

Let them eat lobster! Plus did you cookalong with Gordon?

The eagle-eyed among users of this blog will have spotted less eating out than usual. That’s because I’ve been doing more eating in.
As everyone knows, dining in is the new dining out!
There’s been plenty of reports online about how people are foregoing restaurants for fast food and even that we’re all going to be celebrating Christmas with home-made paper hats and a fowl plucked from the garden shed.
But while it is noticeably quieter around the city’s restaurants at the moment (no figures that I can find to back this up, just an observation from experience at the moment) there’s always winners in these difficult economic times.
And the winners are……… the supermarkets.
So far I’ve tried out the M&S dine in for £10. I have to say it was a pretty good meal and the wine wasn’t half bad either (although the Trafford Centre branch had sold out of red before even midday on the Saturday I shopped for it).
A large pasta pasta dish of well seasoned and succulent prawns with linguine and peas which was particularly lemony and didn’t dry out at all in the oven, a good helping of vegetables and the sort of creamy panna cotta Marks has become favoured for was no hardship for an evening in good surroundings with good company.
I read today that a “lobster war” with budget supermarket Lidle serving up the luxury crustaceans for £3.99. Remarkable turn of events.
If this credit crunch continues along these lines we’ll all soon be sitting at home scoffing caviar and truffles.
For my part, I am this week going to give Tesco’s “Finest night in for £3” a try. Granted it looks on the face of it a struggle to compare the experience of, what was previously called a “ready meal”, with a restaurant experience but I’m prepared to give it a try. All in the interests of research of course.
There’s just one thing that mere pricing alone can’t deal with and that’s the washing up. Take note retail bosses, the supermarket to provide assistance in the quarter will be the victor of all.
* I was intending to blog this weekend about the new series of Gordon Ramsay’s cookalong (Friday night, Channel 4, 9pm. But somehow, the words fail me. If anyone can offer any explanation for Friday’s show, please do go ahead and post your best below. The Times had a good bash at covering it. Apparently a future show is also doing the three-courses for £10 gig so maybe I’ll give that a go too.

‘New superfoods’: Surprisingly like the old ordinary ones!

The 20 “superfoods” which lead to a longer life may contain a few indulgent surprises but on the whole are just the sorts of things we’ve known we should have been eating all along.
As widely “revealed” online today, fruit and veg is good for you and occassional treats such as chocolate and coffee all add to a good mix.
Well, well, who’d have believed that?!
After years of children being brought up to believe “an apple a day” and “eating your greens” was a sensible diet this devastating piece of research comes along to confirm the wisdom of that advice, adding that spinach, berries and plums are also good for you.
But just in case this revelation could lead to widespread confusion, I picked out the graphic below from the Daily Mail’s coverage of the 20 types of food and drink identified by Gary Williamson, professor of ‘functional foods’ at Leeds University to hekp you get through the day.
(Next week’s exclusive: Smoking is bad for you! You heard it here first).

Food and the art of cookbooks: My top five

I’m late to TV’s The Restaurant , BBC 2’s reality show backed and financed by chef legend Raymond Blanc.
For the similarly uninitiated, couples compete for the chance to run a business with the master by running real restaurants with mixed success.
Last night’s challenge involved three completely hopeless attempts at pitching a cookbook. One couple came up with what was intended to be a child-friendly title “Conquering Cabbage” (one can only assume “beating broccoli” and “canoodling carrots are soon to follow). Another couple (one half of which should get a special award for smugness) came up with something called “The cheerful soul” which disappointingly wasn’t even a fish cookery pun but just a mawkish collection of “childhood favourites” and the final one had so many errors in the text that recipes required that water be mixed with water.
In fact they were all so incredibly awful it did leave me wondering whether any of the participants actually read cookbooks.
I do read cook books – and I mean read. I’m quite happy curled up on the sofa going through my favourite books without any intention of cooking!
So I decided to draw up my all time top five cookbooks as of now. That is, before the Christmas sackfall arrives to start another year of culinary adventures.
1. 1,500 recipes by Marguerite Patten Maybe it’s because this is the first cookbook my mum gave me when I set up home alone but I think it has more to do with the fact that this massive tome is so incredibly useful. The recipes are arranged in different labelled sections “quick suppers”, “main meals etc”. The instructions are all simple to follow and, although there’s no real illustrations, it is full of useful technical tips too.
2. The Moro Cookbook by Samantha and Samuel Clark.
This betrays my love of eastern Mediterranean cuisine and is what gets pulled off the shelf for posh nosh. Having said that there’s some everyday stuff in there too – the veggie stew Turlu, Turlu being a particular favourite. The downside of this book is the difficulty of sourcing some of the ingredients (pomegranate molasses for example) but if you go alomg with the general idea of the recipe, there’s usually a way round it.
3. The Silver Spoon
I am informed that Italian brides are routinely give this as a wedding gift. And very comprehensive it is too. The content is divided by course in the Italian way and there a good selection of illustrations. Although a good read, I have had mixed results with this book, finding some of the recipes frustratingly a little advanced.
4. Superfoods Michael van Straten
This is one of those books that gets read regularly as it has such a mine of information about the different nutritional qualities of food. Here the content is divided into touchy-feely values such as “positive thinking” and most of the recipes are to do with assembling ingredients to resemble the lovely photography featured rather than cooking technique.
5. How to be a domestic goddess by Nigella Lawson
I don’t do much baking (not having much of a sweet tooth) but if I do need to make a cake, this is the book I turn to. Easy to follow with the now expected gorgeous pictures even I can bake a passable chocolate cake in 40 mins using this book.
Do you share any of my choices? What’s your favourite? Let me know below.

Recession fuels fast food sales as “Jaws” regains title

According to the Australian website Business day, fast food sales are on the rise as people cut back on “luxury restaurants”.
The website reports this afternoon that, “As Western economies move into recession and luxury restaurants lament their dwindling clientele, fast-food chains and budget supermarkets around the world are noting a rise in sales.
“In Britain, McDonald’s has reported an 8.5% rise in sales this month, while monthly sales at rival Domino’s Pizzas have risen 8.9%, year-on-year.”
The article also features an American called Joey Chestnut(pictured) who does his bit for fast food consumption in the US.
It reports that; “The 24-year-old from San Jose, California, this week regained his No. 1 ranking on the International Federation of Competitive Eating order of merit by devouring 45 pizza slices in 10 minutes to win the Famous Famiglia World Pizza Eating Championship in New York.
“Jaws”, as he’s known to his fans, last month, consumed 93 hamburgers in eight minutes to win a contest in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Never let it be said I don’t scour the globe to bring you the most bizarre food items!

The Manchester economy: The pasty index

As economic indicators go, I always think food.
(Then again, I suppose having this blog means that I think food for most topics!)
And when you look at eating habits in Manchester you can’t avoid looking at those city favourites – pies and pasties.
So I’ve had a look at that favourite haunt of construction workers’ and city slickers alike – Greggs – to see if there’s proof of an economuic downturn to be found there.
Interesting results!

Thanks to Andrew Webb for this great picture (again!).

Roux dishes cooking tonight.

Brasserie Chez Gerard are cooking some of Michel Roux’s signature dishes tonight.
And the cooking legend, who has held three Michelin stars at the Waterside, Bray, for two decades, is promoting his new book, Pastry in the Spinningfields Taste Tipi at 7pm tonight.
But if you can’t make either event, there’s heaps of other stuff going on at the Manchester Food and Drink Festival – so much so, it’s hard to know where to aim.
The full listings are here.

Chefs sell their services

Some of the region’s best chefs are going to sell themselves tonight.
Guests at an invite-only event in the swish Great John Street Hotel will be able to bid to have a top cook come and prepare a three course dinner (with suitable wine) at the winning bidders’ own home.
Bidding starts at £200 and will raise money for the new charity, the Manchester Food and Drink Festival Grassroots Foundation which will raise funds and provide grants to both individuals and groups, wanting to deliver healthy eating initiatives in the local community.
Those up for auction certainly are the cream of the crop (see below). It’ll be interesting to see just how much they go for.
How much would you pay for?
Michael Riemenschneider
Head Chef at Michelin starred restaurant Juniper
Ian Matfin Executive Chef Michael Caines Abode Restaurant
Robert Owen Brown
Chef Proprietor at The Angel
Robert Craggs
Chef proprietor at The Cadeby Inn, Yorkshire
David Gale
Head Chef at Podium
Kevin Whiteford
Head Chef at Malmaison
John Quilter
Chef Proprietor of Marmalade
Neil Lorenzo
Head chef at Circle Club

Foodie markets back in the city – at a price

It’s good to get back to Manchester and find the markets up and running.
Certainly brightens up a lunchtime to grab a quick wander around St Ann’s Square as part of the city’s food and drink festival.
Fresh cooked food from paella to curry, soup and smoothies all for sale alongside fresh produce. It’s all great except for one thing.
The price.
I’m sure I’m not alone in being prepared to pay a little more for the sake of having fresh and/or unusal food.
But the pricing of some of the stalls is alarming.
This lunch-time I purchased a handsome sized chunk of feta cheese and a tub of olives but was stunned to receive little more than £2 change from a tenner.
Come on traders, give us a break!
If I, as one of your biggest foodie fans finds the pricing a turn-off, it’s likely that shoppers will soon find market purchses a disgruntled one-time only experience rather than enjoying dropping by every lunchtime to sample more.
(At least this trader knows good value when he see’s it – that M.E.N he’s reading was one of the free ones handed out in the centre!)