New blog location

This free site has been great to get started with, but the limitations of it have become more and more apparent, so I’m in the process of migrating the content to – I can have a lot more control over the hosting, look and feel, themes, plugins, etc. I don’t really like the way it looks at the moment, so you’ll have to bear with me while I tinker with it for a bit, but nearly all the content from this site should now be on there.

I’ll leave this one running a while before shutting it down.



Crispy pig’s ears with nasturtium and caper tartare sauce

The finished dish

The finished dish

I finally got around to making the crunchy ears starter. I saved the ears from the last head I bought (for guanciale / brawn). The Nasturtiums are pretty much finished now so I wanted to do this whilst they were still in flower.

You need:

  • 2 fresh pig’s ears (ask your butcher or farmer – they’ll like you even more for asking)
  • A small white onion, a carrot and a celery rib, diced
  • Half a sliced leek
  • A bouquet garni (Parsley stalks, bay leaf and sprigs of thyme wrapped in the outer leaf of a leek and tied with string)
  • About 10 black peppercorns

For deep frying the ear slices:

  • Panko breadcrumbs (you could use matzo meal instead, or just normal breadcrumbs)
  • Beaten egg
  • Well seasoned flour
  • Veg oil

For the caper tartare sauce:

  • A few finely diced shallots
  • A tablespoon of finely chopped nasturtium capers (normal capers will do nicely too)
  • A tablespoon of gherkins or cornichons, finely chopped (bonus points for pickling your own)
  • A hard boiled egg
  • About 100g of mayonnaise (bonus points if you make it yourself)
  • Nasturtium flowers
  • Nasturtium leaves
  • Finely chopped fresh parsley
  • The juice of half a lemon

First of all get the ears on the go. Give them a good scrub. Shave them, or use a blowtorch to get rid of any hairs.

A matching pair of ears

A matching set

Pop them into a pan with some cold water. Bring to a simmer for a couple of minutes then take them out and discard the water.

Refill the pan with cold water and add the ears and the other ingredients.

Ears and other ingredients ready to simmer

Ears and other ingredients ready to simmer

Bring to a simmer (don’t boil them), and simmer gently for a couple of hours, until a knife or skewer passes through them easily.

After simmering for a couple of hours

After simmering for a couple of hours

Whilst the ears are simmering away, make the tartare sauce:

Put the finely chopped egg, gherkins, capers and parsley into a bowl and add the mayo and the lemon juice. Mix well, season to taste, and then add most of the nasturtium flowers and leaves. Save a few flowers and leaves to for garnishing.

Once the ears are tender, put them between sheets of greaseproof paper, weigh them down with a couple of books or something else flat and heavy, and leave them to cool.

Dried and ready to be pressed

Dried and ready to be pressed

Weigh them down with some heavy items

Weigh them down with some heavy items

Fry the ears up:

Once they’re cool and flat, slice the ears into long, thin strips

Mmm, cartilage

Mmm, cartilage

Dust with flour, then beaten egg, and then cover with the Panko breadcrumbs and deep fry until crispy

Everything ready for coating the ears strips

Everything ready for coating the ears strips

Crisped up nicely

Crisped up nicely

Serve your crispy ear-based crackling snacks to your unsuspecting guests, or sit and munch them all yourself 🙂

Verdict: Not at all bad. The panko breadcrumbs are super crunchy and not greasy (make sure the oil’s hot enough!) The cartilage is crunchy when you bite into them. However, the real winner of this plate is the nasturium caper sauce, which is bloody delicious and offsets the ears brilliantly. Next time I’ll get more heavy handed with the seasoning of the flour.

Cold smoked chorizo

Cold smoked chorizo after hanging

Cold smoked chorizo

This is a cold smoked, Mexican style fresh chorizo sausage.

I made these to test out my original curing chamber setup (with the vivarium controller), as they only need to hang for about 5-7 days. Plus I wanted to use my newly built cold smoker 🙂

Shopping list (adjust the amounts according to how much meat / fat you have. The ratios are important):

  • 1.5kg pork shoulder, or a mixture of shoulder and belly, diced into 1″ cubes
  • 650g back fat diced into smaller cubes than the meat (if you can’t get back fat, use a greater ratio of belly)
  • 40g Sea salt
  • 6g of Cure #1 (pink salt)
  • 25g dried chilli powder
  • 3g white pepper
  • 75g dehydrated skimmed milk
  • 15g dried cumin
  • Thinly sliced spring onions – 120g or so, green part included
  • About 60ml cold water, and some ice cubes
  • Natural hog casings
  • Cold smoker / dust / pellets

Get your sausage on:

Important: Make sure you’ve got your grinder blades in the freezer for a few hours to help keep everything super cold and stop the fat smearing when grinding, and get your hog casings in some warmish water so they’re ready to be stuffed. If you have room, put the meat and fat into the freezer for a while too.

  • Put ice cubes in one mixing bowl and then put the other bowl into it
  • Mix the diced meat, salts, herbs and milk powder together and grind them through the coarse plate on your grinder, into the iced bowl
  • Grind the fat through the fine plate into the iced bowl with the meat in
  • Mix this all together with the spring onions and a splash of cold water, it’ll go sticky when you mix it – you want this
  • Take a small piece and fry it off in a pan to check the seasoning. Adjust if necessary. Make sure that you put the rest of the mixture in the fridge while you do this
  • Rinse the casings out thoroughly. Don’t let go else they’ll disappear down the plug hole!
  • Stuff your sausages into the casings, and twist into links. Whatever length you like
chorizo coil

Chorizo coil

chorizo links

And now with links!

  • Put them uncovered in the fridge overnight to build up a pellicle so that they take the smoke better
  • Stick them on your cold smoker for a few hours (I think mine had about 5 hours), they should have some nice colouration by then
Looking pretty good after a cold smokin'

Looking pretty good after a cold smokin’

  • Then hang them in the fridge (curing chamber, etc) for about 5 days. Ideally they want about 70% humidity. Mine were in there for a week and the humidity was all over the place, but they turned out fine. I was testing out the viability of the reptile vivarium controller as a curing chamber controller at the time, but I decided that more control was needed, hence sausageBot was born.
Hang them for about 5-7 days

Hang them for about 5-7 days

  • You can then freeze them and they’ll keep for ages, or keep them in the fridge for a couple of weeks max.
  • For bonus points, vacuum seal them – they take up less room and you won’t get any freezer burn. Plus it’s good fun.
Vacuum packed for freezing

I love this thing.

That’s it!

Unsurprisingly you can use them like any fresh chorizo – they’re particularly good with chicken, in risotto, or just fried up as a tapas dish.

Rainier cherries in syrup

Rainier cherries

Rainier cherries

It’s been a bumper year for the Rainier cherries. I picked 6Kg from the tree in the back garden in about half an hour (strictly speaking it’s my neighbour’s tree and I just picked the branches overhanging my garden).

So I’m left with a conundrum: What the hell am I going to do with them all? I pickled some – but that only used 400g. There’s no room in the freezer because it’s full of meats and stock.

No choice but to preserve them. I’d got a load of jam and pickle jars I’d saved up since last year, so no issue there.

There are loads of recipes online for canning / preserving fruit. I found this one on Simple Bites

I used triple the amount of cherries but you can adjust this accordingly:

  • 1Kg cherries
  • 1L water
  • ~300g sugar (adjust depending on how sweet your cherries are. These are really sweet)
  • Vanilla pods (I cut them up into quarters, one per jar)
  • Sanitised jars with “poppy” seal type lids – I put mine through the dishwasher, they were old gherkin jars from work.
  • Cherry stoner / pitter

While the jars are in the dishwasher, wash, de-stem and stone your cherries. You could do it manually with a knife, if you’re a masochist. It takes quite a while even with a stoner, and I couldn’t face doing any more after about 2Kg. So I kept some whole to fill some other jars.

Put the stoned cherries in water with a splash of lemon juice to stop them browning.

Dry your clean jars off in a low oven and keep them warm.

Then make the syrup – put the sugar and water in a pan and bring to a simmer, so that the sugar’s totally dissolved. Keep it on a low heat for now.

Put a huge pan of water on to boil. I can only get 3 jars at a time in mine. If you have a trivet to put in the bottom of the pan to keep the jars from the direct heat, then so much the better.

Put a piece of vanilla pod into each warm jar, and then cram as many cherries as you can in. Leave a little room at the top so you can cover them totally with the syrup.

Cover the cherries with the hot syrup, and give them a bang on the work surface to loosen any trapped air. Make sure the thread on the jars is super clean (use a clean towel with a little boiling water on if there’s bits of cherry stuck to them), and then hand-tighten the lids.

Transfer them to the huge pan of water you’ve got simmering. The water should cover the jars completely. Simmer them for about 18 minutes. You should see bubbles coming from the jars during this time.

After 18 or so minutes, lift them out of the hot water and put the next batch in. A jar-lifter is really very handy here.

Let the jars cool down, and listen out for the “pops” from the lids as they seal. Any which don’t pop inwards you can keep in the fridge, the others are shelf safe.

Here are my jars full of cherries. They seem to have lost some colour which is a shame, but I was pleased when they all went pop!

Rainier cherries in syrup

Rainier cherries in syrup

Another sausageBot session

Had another good sausagebot curing chamber controller session tonight with Spandex. We’ve got the enclosure almost completed now and it’s starting to come together really well. Still need to work out exactly how to fix the lid on properly, but the tabbed corner pieces are all glued together and the base and sides too. I think the next job is to start wiring all the innards up and testing it before we finalise the enclosure structure as we know it’ll look sweet once complete.

Some pics of tonight’s progress…

sausagebot top off front view

sausagebot top off front view

sausagebot top off rear view

sausagebot top off rear view

Top on front view - sexy!

Top on front view – sexy!

Next time we’ll get all the innards fixed into place then onto testing and software development 🙂 It occurred to us tonight that we’ve spent an inordinate amount of time designing and building the enclosure but it’s time well spent I think. The really exciting stuff is up next!