Where growing, making & good living come together

Smoked cheese – my first attempt at cold smoking

Posted by on Sunday 25 July 2010 in cooking, eating, smoking | 3 comments

I’ve been intrigued by the idea of curing & smoking food for a while but I only started to seriously consider doing it when Martin from Old Sleningford Farm mentioned a) how cheap cheddar can be transformed by a little time in a smoker and b) how easy it is to build a garden smokehouse.

About a month ago, I decided it would be a perfect project for this year’s birthday new fun craft/experience/skill and started reading into it in more detail. It’s a lot easier to build a hot smoker and there were a number of smokers-cum-bbqs on eBay – but that wouldn’t let me do cheese, and I like smoked cheese a lot. I thought I’d have to build a smoker with an external firebox, feeding the cooling smoke into the chamber via piping – and the thought of that overwhelmed me a little. Then by complete chance, I stumbled upon the ProQ Cold Smoke Generator.

The ProQ Cold Smoke Generator was only developed last year but it’s a wonderful combination of simplicity & genius. Obviously I’m new to smoking so I can’t compare it to other methods – but every other method I’ve read about was way more complicated that this. It’s a carefully (but not overly) engineered spiral of metal mesh. It doesn’t use gas or electricity – just a few seconds of a tealight to get started, then the sawdust smoulders away of its own accord for up to 10hrs, without any further intervention, stoking or encouragement. I think what finally won me over though was the instructions on the ProQ/Mac’s BBQ site showing how, with the CSG, you could make a smokehouse from a cardboard box, two bits of dowel, an old baking tray and some cooling racks. Recycling and frugal!

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Big portions vs food waste: a dilemma

Posted by on Tuesday 6 July 2010 in eating, frugal | 1 comment

While going about our chores, we had lunch in Saltaire on Saturday. We only wanted something light so got sandwiches – but when they arrived, the plates piled high with food – enormous sandwiches, stacks of salad and a generous portion of homemade coleslaw. It’s not often we’re overfaced by food portions but it happened there.

Big portions are obviously good from a being-cheap point of view – if we go back there again, we’ll half the cost by sharing and still probably have enough to eat – and people feel better about paying the (frankly quite expense) prices if they get so much food they can’t eat it. But we both ended up leaving food. Since they were covered in salad dressing and sandwich fillings, the stuff we left probably won’t be composted (if the cafe composts their leftovers at all) so our meal generated food waste that will be sent to landfill.

I like food and I like getting as much for my money as possible but I don’t like stuff going to waste. I might have been happy as a frugal bunny but sad as a waste-reducing greenie.

Has anyone been in a similar situation? Any advice? Where does your preference lie – in perceived value for money or minimal waste?

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More experiments with wild garlic seed pods

Posted by on Friday 2 July 2010 in eating, wild food | 1 comment

After the pickling success a few weeks ago, I wanted to find other ways to use wild garlic seed pods for the year.

Experiment 1: Mint and wild garlic seed pods pesto
*Everyone* makes pesto from wild garlic leaves so I decided to give it a go with the pods and mint leaves. (After the pickling, I, randomly, went to clean my teeth and noticed that the lingering smell of that chivey garlic on my hands mingled wonderfully with my Sensodyne – and I wondered if that wasn’t a perfect jumping off point for my George’s Marvellous Pesto experiments. As luck would have it, our mint has gone mad this year so I had a lot of leaves to work with.)

The seed pods have a much lower water content than leaves so when blasted together, it was very dry and needed quite a bit of olive oil to make it ooze. Although it’s supposed to be pretty decent oil, the stuff I used added an unpleasant note to the paste – even over the super super strong flavour of the garlic and the mint. All in all, it was a bit overwhelming.

Verdict: Fail.

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Bargain dinners – lamb curry and lamb, chorizo & chickpea casserole

Posted by on Tuesday 29 June 2010 in cooking, eating | 1 comment

I intended to write more about wild garlic pods today but we cooked up such a bargainacious storm last night I can’t resist telling you about it.

I spotted a perfectly-fine looking 2kg shoulder of lamb in the reduced-to-clear section of the supermarket a few weeks ago. It was less than an hour before closing and the shop was pretty empty to they’d marked it down from £12 to £1.35 (it had originally been on offer at £12 too!). A 2kg joint for £1.35! The reduced meat gods were looking out for us that day – one of the staff had wrapped a couple of packs together with the sticker price of 75p – the top pack was ox tail, a less observant person might have thought the bottom pack was too. It wasn’t, it was £8-worth of sirloin steak! We ate the steak the following evening but the lamb went straight into the freezer until a time we fancied a nice roast.

I got it out to defrost yesterday and fully intended to slow roast it yesterday afternoon but work was a bit frantic and it just didn’t happen. By dinner time, we needed something quicker than a 5-hours-in-the-oven roast so I decided to hack it up instead and let John whip up a curry with it instead. There was so much meat though that I had enough to make a casserole with it too – a slow cooked one so I could use up the tougher meat.

John’s made a few excellent Achars recently but lacking yoghurt today, made a jalfrezi instead. Then forgot to add the egg, the numpty. We’ll add it when we have the leftovers though and add some more spices to freshen it up again.

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Pickling wild garlic (Ramsons) seed pods

Posted by on Monday 28 June 2010 in eating, wild food | 1 comment

I love wild garlic. It was the first wild food I really tried and the one I’m still most comfortable with given how easily identifiable it is, and how it makes the world green when everything else is still hitting the snooze alarm after winter.

Usefully, the woods next to our house are *filled* with it, more than anywhere else I’ve seen – we’ve even got a sizeable patch growing at the bottom of our garden, which made it very easy to forage for a few handfuls of leaves at a time when I wanted to fling them in a recipe. Unfortunately though, like when you have most things in abundance, you don’t think about the time when they’re not going to be there any more – and I didn’t think about preserving any leaves until it was pretty much too late.

I’ve got a baggie full of stems in the freezer though – for using like spring onions in stir frys – and I was already thinking about how to preserve some seed pods when ManUpATree Nick Weston published a post on pod pickling. Very convenient timing!

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Growing salad leaves – frugal, organic & green

Posted by on Friday 25 June 2010 in eating, growing | 0 comments

I just sowed my fourth pot of loose salad leaves of the season.

We finished the last of the just-about-to-bolt Winter Gems lettuce this week and have got a tray of Lollo Rosso seedlings in our porch/greenhouse but loose leaves has been filling the gap between those beautifully – and in three or four weeks, this new pot will be offering up its tasty leaves too.

Until we started growing our own, my partner John and I weren’t big salad eater, but mostly from disorganisation than anything. We didn’t have meal plans and we’d regularly find lettuce going soggy/brown in our fridge – we’d buy it for one meal, then eat some more at a second but then we’d have meals that didn’t work with salad or eat out, and soon the lettuce would be past it. We realised that didn’t make sense from a frugal or food waste point of view so tended to not have it at all at home, to save the waste.

Now though, from early spring to about the first frosts, we can eat fresh salad leaves whenever we want them – and without waste. A little gem lettuce is just the right size for a meal for us, or for a sandwich, we can just pick a handful of loose/”pick and come again” leaves.

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