Monday, February 13, 2017

The duck is not getting smoked...

When I was planning our Sunday dinner, I thought it might be interesting to smoke the duck breasts for added flavour. But, as I hadn't done that before, I did an experiment on Saturday, with a chicken breast, to see whether I liked it.

This miniature galvanised dustbin is what I use for hot smoking. I bought it on eBay for a very reasonable price. Putting the smoking wood in the bottom and heating it on the lowest gas setting of the smallest burner produces plenty of smoke.
Here's the set-up with a test chicken breast in it. The shelf is a cooling rack, again from eBay, and the hooks are made from 2mm galvanised garden wire. I put the bit of foil in to stop drips falling onto the wood, as burnt chicken juice is not a particularly pleasant flavour! The digital thermometer probe's end is in the thickest part of the chicken breast.
Lid on, and light up! I kept an eye on the temperature, and turned the extractor fan right up to avoid setting off the smoke alarm. After about ten minutes, the volume of smoke escaping from the top of the dusbin was very much reduced, and at twelve minutes, the inside of the chicken had reached 55°C, so I turned the gas off. That's supposed to be the right temperature for a nice pink duck breast, according to the internet. If you happen to be in America, it's also, the internet says, dangerously undercooked. Since well-done duck is pretty much not worth eating, I ignore such warnings.
As you can see, the chicken is cooked, but still very pleasantly moist. The smoky coating on it was very strong tasting, and I think either a different smoke wood, or a lot less of it would have been better.

I was very pleased with the result, though. We decided not to use the smoker for our Sunday dinner, after all.
Here it is, with boiled new potatoes, steamed courgette and pak choi. The sauce has white wine, orange juice, and orange zest in it. The duck was delicious, as usual, and I really don't think it needs any extra flavour.

[Gressingham Duck, feel free to advertise on this page!]

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Toulouse sausages...

These sausages are a step on the path to a mighty cassoulet that I intend to make soon. The inspiration for the cassoulet comes from Tim Hayward's book, "The DIY Cook". The book can actually be bought new for less than half the price Amazon are asking.

Along the way to the cassoulet, I have already made and stored confit duck legs, and petit salé, which is a sort of French cured pork, a bit like bacon.

The Toulouse sausage recipe I used, however, is not the one in this book, as I liked the look of the recipe I found online, on a blog called "Adventures with the Pig". I used rather more meat than he does, 2 kg in fact, and left out the breadcrumbs, which I feel have no place in a sausage. You don't have to take my word for that, and are at perfect liberty to add things to your sausages if you want to. Of course, they'll be inferior, but the freedom!

I used one kilo of pork shoulder (pork butt, if you are on the left of the Atlantic Ocean), and one kilo of pork belly. They were cubed and frozen, before being allowed to nearly defrost. Doing that stops the loss of delicious meat juice during the mincing. This one requires the coarse setting of your mincer, as it's supposed to be a nice rustic sausage.

Here are the casings, in this case, they are hog casings. They need to be soaked for a couple of hours before use. There's no getting away from it, these things are unpleasant to handle, but either you want real sausages, or you don't.
There are people who insist on using a hand powered mincer, and I imagine they have one arm very much bigger than the other. Here's what I use, on our trusty Kenwood Chef. I've had that plastic bowl since 1979, if you were wondering.
The other ingredients are thyme, black pepper, nutmeg, garlic, red wine (200 ml) and about four teaspoons of salt. Ordinary cooking salt is fine. You don't need Nigella's beloved Maldon salt, or kosher salt, whatever that is.
Here we go! Add the herbs, spices, salt, and red wine to the minced meat, put on your CSI glove, and get stuck in. I always hold my gloved hand under a tap, to attempt to remove the talc, or whatever it is, from the glove before I get started on this.
Mix for a good long time, until everything seems to be properly blended. This can easily take ten minutes, by which time you will have a worryingly cold hand.
Once you think you have mixed it enough, take a little sample, and fry it, so you can check you are happy with the flavourings. Adding more, if something seems to be lacking, is easy, but I have no idea what to do if I think I have put too much garlic. This has never happened, but I am a great fan of garlic...
Caption competition.

The casings need to be slid onto the sausage stuffing attachment. It's easier if you keep them as wet as you can. I'm going to refrain from all the remarks almost every other web site makes about this process at this point.

Load up the machine with mince, and away you go...

Left hand guides the sausage, and slows down the casing, so it fills properly, while your right hand pushes the meat down into the machine. If you are left handed, you will need to stand on your head, or turn the machine round.

You can twist them into links as you go, or when you have finished. I've done them both ways, and the results seem much the same.

In a surprisingly short time, you will have lovely sausages, in large numbers. I tend to divide them into groups big enough for a meal and cling film them before freezing them.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Smoked Mackerel, Food of the Gods.

I've been meaning to try smoking food for a long time, and finally got round to it. The inspiration for this little project came from Tim Hayward's book, "Food DIY", as so many of these fun things I do have.

I bought these four nice mackerel from Mr Tesco for the princely sum of £6.16 for 1.76Kg.

I didn't get the lass on the counter to gut them, or fillet them, because I feel good about being able to do grown-up stuff like that myself.

I removed the guts for disposal, and then cut off the heads, and filleted them. I would normally not waste the tasty heads and the bones, along with the flesh remaining on them, but instead of making fish stock, or even a Singapore fish head curry, I wanted to concentrate on learning the smoking procedures.

Here are the fillets. They are rather pretty this way up, and you don't get to see some of my rougher knife work this way. I salted them for about half an hour, but forgot to take any pictures of that.

I've been accumulating the things I would need for this job for quite a while now, including three bags of wood for smoking. I decided to go for a nice, robust oak smoking this time. The bags of wood came from somebody on eBay, I think.

These days, eBay is one of the first places I look when I want to buy something for these games.

It's where I got the rather fine bin in the next picture, which is made out of steel, treated by galvanising it. Because of that, it has no paint on it, an important point when choosing something to put on top of the gas hob. It would probably work fine on an electric hob, as long as it was in contact with the heat.

As for those ceramic induction hobs they fit in "designer" homes, I have no idea whether this would work, or the dustbin would levitate and explode. 

I like to cook with gas because I can control it quickly. This matters when you are in the habit of cooking experimentally. Or just mentally...

Flinging some wood in the bin, I set to work to hang the mackerel fillets up, in a similar way to the illustration in "Food DIY". Instead of the skewer he used, which would have needed holes in the bin, I made a cunningly shaped hanging wire from a metal clothes hanger. You know, the sort that used to be on inner city Ford Escorts as radio aerials, after yobs had snapped the proper ones off.

By this point, things were obviously going far too well.

The fillets, hanging on the wire, looked lovely, and were all ready for some hot, smoky action.

I considered turning the kitchen smoke alarm off, in case the dustbin lid let out too much smoke, but decided instead to turn the cooker hood up to level three, the one that makes a noise like a jumbo jet. I took the metal grills off the bottom of the extractor, in an attempt to get maximum airflow.

I shouldn't have done that, as I saw they needed cleaning, a job I did when I finished the real fun stuff.

It was time. I lit the gas, and watched anxiously. Quite soon, smoke began to trickle out from under the lid, and it smelled rather amazing. I was rather glad the smoke detector kept quiet, until I thought that I would want to test it later because of that.

I gave it about fifteen minutes of heat, and stopped. There was a fair bit of smoky condensation around the edge of the lid, and it turned out to be more than there would have been if the fish had behaved themselves, and stayed on the wire.

Three of them had broken, and fallen down into the bottom of the bin. I don't know if salting them for longer would have toughened them up enough to stay on the wire. I've decided to get some wire racks to go in the bin, so this will not happen again.

As you can see, most of the wood has given up its smoke, without bursting into flames, and the fish is cooked. It looked and smelled fine, and I retrieved the fallen bits as well.

The weight of the smoked fish produced, apart from the delicious bits that accidentally fell in my mouth, was 768g. Tesco sells smoked mackerel for £1 for a hundred grams, so not only have I produced something wonderful, but i have made a small saving in money terms!

Here are the bits I didn't taste. I've frozen half, and kept the rest in the fridge. Breakfast will be nice...

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Paella for two

No, I'm not going to give you a recipe. There are thousands of them on the web, and most of the ones that don't tell you to put chorizo in will be quite acceptable. Here are the ingredients I used.

The onion gets cooked in olive oil until it's soft first, then the chicken, garlic, peeled deseeded tomatoes, and paprika go in.

Once they seem to be done enough, add the rice, as above, and stock. This is chicken stock from a stock cube (I know, I should be using home made stock, but I've run out of it) with some saffron added. Unlike a risotto, where you add the stock a bit at a time, it all goes in at once for a paella. Try not to stir it any more than you need to to stop it sticking to the pan.

I really ought to have a lid that fits this pan.

The finished dish, garnished with fresh parsley. I had to wash the parsley very thoroughly, as the rain had enticed numerous small slugs onto it, that I had no interest in eating.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

So much for error handling!

No matter how clever my error handling code was, in the program I wrote for my webcam, the Python 2.7 FTP library kept finding new ways to fall over, hang, or generally run round like a headless chicken.

I can't use Python 3.x as the picamera library only works with 2.7 at the moment. In the end, I decided not to bother with error handling at all. I wrote a bash script that calls a Python script, which takes and uploads one photograph. After a decent interval, it kills the Python script, if it is still running, waits a bit more, and loops round to take another picture.

while true
# Take a picture
python &
# Wait 3 minutes
sleep 3m
# If is still running, murder it quietly
ps -ef | awk '/python && !/awk/ {print $2}' | xargs -r kill -9 > /dev/null
# Wait 6 minutes
sleep 6m

The webcam software now becomes very simple:-

# Imports
import io
import os
import schedule
import time
import datetime
import picamera
import ftplib

# Camera setup stuff
camera = picamera.PiCamera()
width = 2592 # As wide as the camera will go
height = 1000 # Max is 1944
camera.resolution = (width, height)

# Put the time and date in a text file
now ="%H:%M %d-%m-%Y")
print now
with open("timedate.txt", "w") as f:

# Take the picture 
time.sleep(2) # Camera warm up time

# Upload the picture
ftp = ftplib.FTP()
ftp.connect("ftp.YOUR-SITE", 21)
ftp.storlines("STOR timedate.txt", open("timedate.txt"))
ftp.storbinary("STOR view.jpg", open("view.jpg", "rb"))

print ("Time, date and picture sent.")