Category Archives: General

2014 – The Year of Making Things

In an effort to get back to basics, I’ve decided that 2014 is going to be the year of making things from scratch.

For the purpose of this blog, when I say “things” I mean stuff like bacon, country sausage, butter, mayonnaise, corn bread mix, pulled pork barbecue, vanilla essence, sloe gin and a whole raft of other things. I’m also going to do some woodworking and blacksmithing but that’s really not food related unless I make butcher blocks and knives!

While I’m working on all that, Christina is going to work on her fine pastry skills and work on becoming a better patissier.

There are a few reasons I want to make stuff:

    1. There are some common American ingredients I still haven’t found replacements for in the UK so I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’m just going to have to make them myself.
    2. Once I can make the stuff I’m missing, I can then start practicing a few recipes I would like to serve in my dream cafe.
    3. It will improve my skills by forcing me to learn all kinds of new techniques.

Thankfully, we have new neighbors who used to run restaurants in Venezuela and the UK. The husband is a professional chef and has agreed to teach me a few things (as long as I don’t get better than he is) so there will be some interesting posts coming up.


Dry Curing

Since I’m such a fan of bacon – American bacon in particular – I thought it only right to do a post on dry curing. Dry curing has been around and done the same way since the 13th century. Essentially, it’s the salting method but with the addition of nitrates. I know that sounds a bit like chemistry but bear with me.

To dry cure any type of meat, the salt (with nitrates) has to be rubbed in ham or other meat cuts before smoking. This is a tough job because it can only be done by hand. Once that’s done, the meat is packed in tubs – forcing the meat and coarse salt together as tightly as possible. It’s then left for some pre-determined time – sometimes as long as 6 weeks!

Over time, the salt dehydrates the meat by drawing moisture out of it and, as as we already know from reducing sauces, the more water you remove the more intense the flavour. (to a point)

In the barrel example above, all the liquid would simply drain away through a hole in the bottom of the tub. This drainage played important part in the process as the moisture was taking with it tiny particles of meat and blood. That’s good because the meat and blood might spoil the brine if given high enough temperatures. If the brine is kept at cooler or refrigerator temperatures the drainage hole is not needed and the liquid can sit at the bottom of the tub where some of the liquid will be re-absorbed by the meat. Of course, if the product is to be air-dried the liquid is unwelcome as it will slow down the drying process.

The dry curing method is best used for all types of sausages, bacon, and hams that will be air-dried.

In most cases, after curing process has been completed the meats go for smoking, then for air drying and there is no cooking involved. In addition to salt and Nitrates, the ingredients such as sugar, coriander, thyme, and juniper are often added to the dry mix.

The dry cure method is characterized by fast action and it can be used under wider temperature variations than other curing methods. There is a greater loss of meat weight due to the loss of water, product will have more pronounced flavour, it will be saltier and will be better preserved.

Suitable for meats that will not be cooked but smoked and air- dryed or just air-dryed.

It is also the best curing method for people living in hot climates or those with no refrigeration.


Make Your Own Vanilla Extract

vanilla-beanFor the foodies out there this will probably be old hat but I thought I’d post it anyway. Vanilla extract is something Chris made a few years back and it’s got to be one of the easiest things to make (and one of the best ‘bang for your buck’ recipes) we know.

Seriously, it really is overkill to do the whole “Ingredients / Directions” thing but I will just for continuity.

In our experience, the hardest part of the entire recipe is waiting for it be ready to use!

TOP TIP – homemade vanilla extract is a great thing to give as a holiday gift. You do all the work in May, then when December rolls around everything will be done – saving time, money and a huge amount of stress. Bonus! We bought the vodka in bulk and picked up some posh 500ml bottles to give away as gifts. It’s more cost-effective to buy the vodka in large amounts and 500ml makes a nice gift size.

500ml vodka – just get the cheap stuff it won’t make any difference to the final result.
3-4 raw vanilla pods

With a sharp knife, split the vanilla pods lengthways. Do not remove the seeds.

Open the bottle of vodka and add the vanilla pods. Reseal. Let the vanilla pods steep for at least 4 months, but we’d recommend 6 months. Technically there’s no need to shake the bottle during that time but it won’t hurt anything if you do.

After 4-5 months your homemade vanilla extract will be ready to use. No more store bought extract! Use exactly as you would any other vanilla extract – no adjustment is necessary.

Oh, and by the way – if you leave the pods in the bottle, you can just keep topping it up with more vodka after you use some and it will ‘refresh’ itself for quite a while.


Have you ever made your own vanilla extract? Did you notice a difference? Let us know in the comments!