Almost every piece of writing I’ve seen which is concerned with having a home smoker features a variation on the phrase ‘as addictive as cigarette smoking’. At first I thought this was a lack of original thinking on the part of the home smoking community, but now I realise that it is simply a statement of fact. It is such a novel thing to do and, at least in these early stages, very exciting. It’s all so trial-and-error, and that’s the problem as well as the wonder of it. Where error creeps in, I want to take a second shot at the process to get it right. This is neither practical nor time (or money) efficient but that doesn’t change the fact that the lure of the stove top smoker is, unlike the lung of the non-stop smoker, strong. There is another drawback too, in that while the smell of smoking food is quite pleasant, it is not so pleasant when your house is full of it for two days, as mine has been this weekend. The stairwell in my block of flats was also pretty smokey yesterday, which I didn’t realise as I’d been in the kitchen all day making various items, which I will present for your perusal presently. I suppose it’s only a matter of time before someone comes to the door and says, ‘Um… Are you trying to have an indoor barbeque?’.
Not that anyone I know would ever actually try to do that, least of all my sister. You would imagine that a big fireplace, which is designed to have a fire in it, would support a disposable barbeque. For the record, it doesn’t.
Despite the drawbacks, I succumbed to the lure again yesterday and made myself two los of smoked items. The first was smoked garlic, which I then added to a fresh-baked baguette. This didn’t really work out as I had hoped, but we’ll get to that. I peeled the garlic cloves before putting them in the smoker , which I had loaded again with pine cones and, this time, some home-dried rosemary and thyme. The smoke did not reflect the smells of the herbs at all, and I don’t think that the taste of them came through either; perhaps it would have worked better had it been only the herbs. Further experimentation is needed. I used my fingers to drip some water over the top of the smoking materials to encourage smoke and discourage fire, but made sure not too add too much, as I did last time. I left the garlic in the smoker on a low heat for about twenty minutes (so many things take about twenty minutes, it’s getting to be the non-Biblical equivalent of forty days and forty nights). I would have liked to leave them longer, as the taste was still quite raw, although they were partially softened. Unfortunately the cloves were small enough to have fallen through the grilling rack and onto the drip tray, which sits directly on top of the smoking materials. This had burned the side of the garlic cloves that had touched the metal, and I though that it was best to rescue what I could at this stage rather than try to soften them further and just end up ruining them altogether. Another time I’ll use a square of waxed paper or tinfoil to make sure that smaller items don’t fall through to their doom. I also only had four cloves left – I go through so much garlic, even when it feels like I’ve just bought two or three heads of the stuff I seem to be running out. Next time I’d do a whole head, and I’d be inclined to peel them all first. It’ll be a hassle but I feel that smoking them with the skin on, then discarding the skin, would be a waste of the flavour. You can also see the amazing colour that the garlic took on from the smoking, it’d be a shame to lose that. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with the garlic once I’d smoked it – I waited to see what the taste was like and how much butter or oil or whatever I could add to it without spreading that flavour too thinly. The flavour was very powerful; sharp and a bit spicy, as it was still pretty raw, and mellow and smokey too. Just what I’d hoped for, really, which is always a nice feeling. Admittedly the flavour of smoked garlic is not *all* I hope for, my life doesn’t feel like it’s now complete, but it’s one thing ticked off the list. A small thing, granted, and, if I really thought about it, it might be quite a long list, but still; better than a poke in the eye with that stick you get in the middle of a head of garlic. I decided to add it to some bread I was going to bake, so made it into garlic butter – well, garlic margarine, if we’re being fussy. I added the marge a teaspoonful at a time, to make sure that the unique flavour of the garlic wasn’t lost – it ended up supporting only three teaspoons so I didn’t have a great deal of the stuff. I decided to bake it right in to the bread, as the flavour was too raw to use for spreading so I wanted it cooked a bit further. This didn’t really work out that well as there wasn’t really enough of the butter, but the bits of the bread that did have it were pretty nice. The bread recipe is from a book I’ve had for a while, and I’ve made it two or three times with good success so I tend to stick with it. The original recipe is for a layered bread with roasted peppers and herbs, which is also good, and baked in a cake tin which gives a nice round loaf. I decided to stick with the plain bread and make a couple of baguettes – one plain and one with the garlic butter. What I did for the garlic bread was make a trough in the middle of the baguette to put the butter in, then sealed up around it, as demonstrated in the first pic. Once it was all sealed up I turned it over to rise and then bake, and scored the top for prettiness. The second baguette is just plain bread, also scored for prettiness. Please note that there is a difference between being scored for prettiness and being rated for it – I do not have a beauty pageant for all the food I make, and give out awards that I’ve printed on my computer and keep a league table. Of course not. That would be ridiculous. The granita would win every time, it wouldn’t be fair.
One thing that went wrong with the bread was that I didn’t oil the waxed paper, and the dough stuck to it. Not ideal,I had to brush the bottom of the loaves with water to soften the paper and peel it off in those tiny, annoying bits, like trying to peel label off a DVD that you’re gong to give as a present so you want to look nice. Otherwise the bread was good, but the butter didn’t travel through the dough as I’d thought it might, so the end result looks a bit weird. Next time I make smoked garlic I’ll be smoking it for longer so that it’s cooked through, and it can then be applied to cooked bread in vast, delicious quantities, as nature intended.
Having now spent a lot of time talking about bread, which is supposed to be one of my off-limits items (oops) I’ll turn to the main part of yesterday’s meal – pasta. Oh, that’s on the no list too. In fact, there are only three items on the list, and I ate all of them yesterday. It somehow doesn’t seem to count in my mind if it’s home-cooked. At ny rate, I have mae pasta before with varying degrees of success, and struggled again this time. I don’t know if I cooked it at too high a heat, or a little too long, or if it was a problem with the texture of the dough, but it didn’t turn out right. I think it might have been a combination of not enough egg in the dough and slight overcooking – the pasta was very soft and broke apart really easily. It tasted OK, and I haven’t been put off continuing to try because I’d really like to get it down; I think it’s a case of practise makes perfect. If only it would make pasta, instead. The real star of the plate was the smoked chicken, though, which annoyingly is the one thing that I forgot to get a picture of. I set up the smoker as before, this time with pine cones and thyme, having run out of rosemary. I had two chicken thighs that were brought out of hibernation, having been living in the freezer for a while. It’s amazing really; for this whole, two-course meal I only spent £1 on ingredients. I’ll think twice before saying ‘I’ve got nothing in’ again. The freezer has really come into play this last week or so, otherwise I really would have been on plain pasta and baked beans (sans toast) until Tuesday.
I had the chicken in the smoker, on a low heat, for half an hour. I left the skin on to cook it and it came out a great, deep golden colour, like the garlic above. The meat inside just looked like normal chicken but the smokey flavour had permeated all the way to the bone, which is exactly the point and so I was once more pleased with the result. I chopped it up and added it to a little soy milk, thickened with potato flour and seasoned with salt and pepper to make a white sauce. I then boiled the pasta for a few minutes, and in with the pasta I put some chopped asparagus (my £1 spending spree item). Once these were drained I added the chicken sauce and some grated parmesan. I only made enough sauce to lightly coat the pasta, and then served with more black pepper. I didn’t get a great picture of the finished result, partly because it was white pasta, white chicken and white sauce in a white bowl and partly because I really just wanted to sit down and eat. There wasn’t very much of it, either, although that was kind of on purpose because I knew I was making bread to go with it, and there definitely is such a thing as too many carbs. Don’t talk to me about the Atkins diet…
I think that the real highlight of all the things I made yesterday, though, was the raspberry granita. I think that I could have taken one further step and made it a sorbet but it was so nice as it was that I was worried about ruining it by doing too much with it; like that episode of Father Ted where he tries to get out one little ding in a car and it ends up looking like people have been throwing metal ping-pong balls at it for a hundred years. I can’t find a good version of the clip – it’s from ‘Think Fast, Father Ted’, and as with the rest of the episodes worth repeated viewing. Anyway, priests and cars aside, I kept the texture of the dessert coarse, and called it a granita. I started by taking a punnet of raspberries out of the freezer; I’d seen them in the supermarket at a reduced to clear price, so bought them to freeze so that one day I could whip up something raspberry-related. Once they had thawed out a bit, I popped them into the blender to make a rough paste. I scraped this out into a tupperware and had a taste; it tasted very much like raspberries that had been frozen then made into a rough paste. So far, so good. They were quite sour, so I thought they’d benefit from a little sweetening and maybe a bit of extra depth of flavour. I knew I’d be making a syrup to achieve these changes, but wasn’t sure what to put in it besides sugar and water. I had a look in the spice drawer to see if there was anything in there that seemed appropriate, but nothing really inspired me. Then I remembered a recent addition to my tea cupboard – pirate tea. Here is a link to the site of all the pirate products that Lidl have to offer, as this is surprisingly only one of them; the site’s translated from German so contains some excellently bizarre phraseology, like ‘we are all seven-ocean-waters washed with!’. The pirate tea that I have is berry and vanilla, so it was perfect for the purpose I had in mind. I put a little sugar, maybe about an eighth of a cup, into the bottom of a saucepan and added water to cover by about 5mm. I then put the tea bag in and simmered on a very low heat until the syrup was reduced and a deep red. It reduced down to four teaspoons of liquid, which I mixed in to the raspberries. I then had a second brain wave and added the grated zest of a lime, and mixed again, then put in the freezer. It wasn’t much to look at at this time, and after an hour and a half I took it out and mashed it up with a fork, then put it back in. It still wasn’t much to look at, yet here is a picture of each stage, for completeness’ sake.
Just before serving, I took the tupperware out of the freezer and mashed the granita up again, then put into little bowls and garnished with another bit of lime zest. It was a great success, really refreshing but also sweet enough to satisfy the post-savoury craving for sugar. I’ll definitely make it again; next time I’m going to try mashing it them putting back into the blender to make a smooth sorbet. It might need re-freezing for a short time once that’s been done, which is why I didn’t try it this time. It was nice to have a bit of texture in it anyway, makes it feel like a more substantial treat. I’ve had no luck any time I’ve tried to make ice cream, but I’m clearly a natural at other frozen desserts.
Tunes: I’m going with the Prince classic Raspberry Beret (or Raspberryberry as I prefer to think of it for comedy reasons). This video has a trippy still of Prince’s silhouette for you look at while you ponder the deep and powerful lyrics.
Viewing: We chose to pair the movie Kick Ass with last night’s eating and drinking activities. It doesn’t really match the food in any way, it was just available. I enjoyed it a lot, although did spend much of the film trying to figure out who Aaron Johnson looks like; I concluded that he’s been created in a lab using genes from Ashton Kutcher, Elijah Wood and just a hint of Jude Law. That’s almost definitely what’s happened. How did I get a copy if this film, you ask? Watching a lot of Doctor Who has made me a time traveller…? Yeah, that’s the story I’m going with.