How to smoke… the easy version Part 1: Buying your smoker

How to smoke… the easy version Part 1: Buying your smoker

Using a smoker and smoking your own food can be a nightmare of a task to get round for the first timer. It is super easy to google ‘Smoking food’ and disappear down about 4 or 5 different rabbits holes simultaneously. Electric smokers, coal fires, offset, upright, chamber smokers, smoker box, liquid smoke (don’t.) the list goes on. With this article I am aiming to simplify it a little bit for you if you were looking to get started as at it’s core… it’s fairly straight forward. Two main areas are vital for success, managing and understanding your pit and timing. Get these two aspects down and you are going to get at the very least, results you can be happy with.

First of all it’s about buying a smoker that suits you. For beginners I would advise not spending too much as you don’t need to spend around £1000 on a unit that you might not actually like using. I bought my offset smoker for £80 and there are a variety of ways you can modify your cheaper unit to get the results of a smoker worth 5 or 6 times its value, but I will go into more detail on this at a later date. There are plenty of places jumping on the bandwagon and selling upright and offset smokers which is great for anybody looking to get going as you can go to your local Range or garden centre and pick up a fairly functional unit for under £100 like I did.

So to bust some serious amounts of jargon and give you two easy to digest recommendation I will explain it as best I can! So if you are asking yourself, what should I buy? why? how do I decide? Hopefully this will help you come to a decision and get you started.

Upright smoker/ Water smoker

So I haven’t actually got one of these (at the moment) but it’s on order and I am well versed enough in how to use one so bare with me. These smokers rely more of providing a levelled environment for your food with a steam element that should keep your food moist throughout the cooking process while still giving it a great platform for the smoke to penetrate the food.

Construction: Usually these smokers consist of two levels of cooking grates, a level for a water pan and then finally at the bottom your coal basket. Sometimes they will have hooks in the lid if they are big enough to hang meat from and utilise the space better.

Function: Lighting the coals/ wood chunks in the basket will heat up the water pan and create steam that will engulf the food and add an element of moisture not present in all smoker types, so a great option for those worried about drying their food out. A temperature gauge is usually located at the tip of the lid for central heat reading and an air flow valve at the bottom of the unit, aligned with the coal basket.

Beginner rating 0/5:

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Offset smoker

Old faithful. I have been using my offset smoker for just over a year now and it has been an interesting learning curve but I can now get some brilliant results from this pit and it is literally my prized possession. Controlling and managing your fire is paramount in an offset as it is in any smoker but get it wrong and you will have a lot of wasted food. It is all about creating a levelled heat that can spread across the chamber gradually rather than a huge blast at 300+ degrees that just dies a death really quickly, which can be challenging to begin with but aside from this, it is a great way to get started.

Construction: A large main chamber for cooking with one or two grills, lined up next to a fire box and a chimney at opposite ends of the cooking chamber. Airflow valves will be located on the fire box as well as a cap on top of the chimney to allow you to control the heat via the air through flow. A temp gauge is more often than not located further towards the chimney rather than in the middle of the actual cooking chamber, which pissed me right off so I added another one pretty easily (£15 from Ebay delivered) and now I get much better readings. Usually you will have a good solid frame with two legs and a few wheels to help you in moving the unit around.

Function: Adding your pre lit coals to your fire box and closing the door will provide you with a good enclosed cooking environment, this will gently smoke and caress your food with indirect heat from one side, so rotation meat during a cook can be essential for good results. Closing and opening your valves to adjust the temperature is also essential as I alluded to above. In its purest form it is pretty straight forward in its function really! Sometimes a water pan can be added near the entrance of the firebox but I have found this isn’t as effective as in an upright smoker. Lining the bottom of the unit with foil is advised for simplifying cleaning up any excess fat.

Beginner rating 0/5:

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Hopefully, this makes it a little bit easier to understand WHAT you are actually looking at when shopping for your pit. In the next part I will cover what kit you need to get started, then how to actually use an offset smoker in more detail and how to manage your fire to get the best results… so make sure you subscribe and keep your ear to the ground. Next chapter will be up next week!

Phil.

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The Hungry Buck Cuban sandwich

A little while ago I watched a film called ‘Chef’ on Netflix starring John Favreau where he plays Carl Casper, a head chef at a major restaurant in California. He hits a snag when the owner of the restaurant tries to shackle his creativity and tie him down to cooking ‘classic’ proven dishes instead of being free to innovate and create something edgy and special. A high flying blogger and critic Ramsey Michel is heavily critical of Carl’s menu which starts a Twitter war between the two, Carl unfortunately being quite aggressive in his retaliation, not realising that Twitter is a very public forum to start a war of words. Ultimately this triggers a sequence of events that ruin his credibility and essentially ruins his career.

This gives Carl the opportunity to strip everything back and make something beautifully simple, tasty and fun. Traveling the country in a food truck making a huge impact with his iteration of the Cuban sandwich, he tries to rebuild his career and rebuild his fractured relationships with his family along the way. Its a brilliant film and I would recommend anybody watch it whether you are a food lover or not its a great ‘Feel good’ movie to watch on a Sunday night to help battle those lurking Monday blues.

Naturally I have spent a lot of time since watching the film researching the Cuban sandwich in its different iterations and disputed guises in and around the USA, making notes on equivalent ingredients to substitute the less available items on UK shores. Traditionally a Cuban sandwich is made from ‘Cuban’ bread which is baked in long, baguette style shapes with a crisp outer crust and a soft flaky middle, Ham, roasted pork, yellow mustard, Swiss cheese and pickles which is then pressed in a sandwich press called a Plancha. The bread being the main sticking point over here in the UK if you don’t have time to make it yourself.

In terms of the roast pork I wanted to give the sandwich a quick and easy alternative so slow roasting for hours for the sake of making one sandwich was never really a viable option for me! So I switched it up for some pork loin steaks and made a quick spice rub from salt, garlic, cumin, cinnamon and lime juice. So as blasphemous as this may be to the purists this is my homage to the iconic Cuban sandwich.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 Panini roll
  • Honey roast ham
  • 1 Pork loin steak
  • Large pickles, thinly
  • 4 slices of Swiss or Emmental cheese
  • Half a lime

Sprinkle 1/2 a teaspoon of each of the following onto a plate

  • Cinnamon
  • Cumin
  • Garlic powder
  • salt

Method:

  1. Preheat a griddle pan on a medium heat, cut the bread and lay the cheese onto the bottom half.
  2. Place to pork loin steak onto the plate and press into the spice mix, flip over and rub into the meat. Repeat for both sides.
  3. Add the pork to the pan, squeeze the juice of the lime directly onto the meat and cook for around 4 minutes each side. Remove and rest. Keep the pan on a low heat.
  4. Add the pork loin to the sandwich (you can slice it if you want) and layer the ham, pickles and any remaining cheese onto the sandwich. Add a good spread of the mustard onto the remaining bread and place on the top of the sandwich, Lightly butter the top and bottom of the bread.
  5. Turn the heat up on the griddle and add the sandwich to the pan, press down with a spare frying pan or plate to keep it compressed and on the heat. Keep it like this until browned and then flip it over to repeat.
  6. Remove your crispy Cuban from the pan and enjoy! Cut diagonally for really authentic detailing!

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Moyaux than meets the eye…

Travel broadens the mind. Travel provides us with the opportunity to see, hear and most importantly eat things that we wouldn’t be able to experience at home, making it as far as I’m concerned a very important part of life. So why is it then that I have not been abroad since I was 12? The simple answer being I am terrified of flying and cannot bare the thought of getting on one of those tubular winged terror machines.

Luckily France is not too far away and a ferry can get me there in no more than a few hours dependent on which port you arrive at. Huzzah! And I must say that driving off the ferry and onto the somewhat alien road system was an interesting experience but one that now seems like easy work after staying there for just shy of two weeks. We stayed in a small town called Moyaux, not too far from Lisieux in Normandy, on a a site called Le Colombier which was situated on an old apple orchard. The French countryside provides a really lovely base of operations for an exploration of the north western part of the country and Normandy provides a brilliant source of local produce to explore. Moyaux is a small town or even a village that doesn’t seem to have a lot going on in it but provides a true look into how French people really live, as opposed to a place that is hopped up and bloated to keep up with a bloated feeling tourism demand that pushes it’s inherent “Frenchness” onto the back burner to conform to what people want to see. It represents quintessential Normandy life and is a place build around its Church where everything closes from around 12pm until at least 2pm. For help with the mental image see the village in the film ‘Chocolat’ but without the pouting, pony tailed and guitar brandishing Johnny Depp and replaced with a fairly average looking food blogger in a Vauxhall Astra.

There were a few things that really stood out to me that seemed to represent the produce of the area that included but were not limited to; apples, which they used to create tarts, ciders and a distilled cider brandy called Calvados.  The local cheese’s and dairy produce such as the thick and rich creme fraiche, camembert which is said to have originated in Normandy in 1791, Pont-l’Eveque which is very much like a squared brie which I find slightly firmer and Neufchâtel which boasts a smooth, creamy texture with a flavour that lands somewhere between a young and fairly well aged taste. It is certainly a region worth visiting for the cheese-o-philes among us, great with fresh bread and a selection of cured meats that are not so good for the waistline but extraordinarily super for the soul!

Lisieux offers a market on a Saturday that really doesn’t seem to hold anything that special when walking into it from the side of the Basilique where we parked, as it seemed to just be full of clothing and cheap watches which tend to not really interest me if I am really honest. However when you turn the corner just to the left of the library you see just what you need to see in France. Wall to wall food. Vegetables, fruit, seafood (Not a cloudy fish eye in sight) including some lovely Moule/mussels that we enjoyed that night in a paella, fresh crepes, bread, some awesome fresh, cured and very living meats, preserves and pretty much anything you could think of that you would want to see in France when looking for a feed.

I wandered around for a few hours in awe of just how good it was and feeling very lucky to be able to see it frankly as at the time we visited the farmers of France were on strike in relation to the price of meat and milk being paid to them by the large supermarket chains. I had heard about the French supermarkets as something to behold in comparison to what we have in the UK and unfortunately it took a few days for us to get to the closest one due to the roads being closed due to farmers parking their tractors all around the hypermarket. We got around to it somehow one day before the strike moved on to Le Havre and found burning piles of cow feces, agricultural waste strewn all over the place and angry farm workers waving us off the exits which led to the store. An interesting experience to be in but if I am honest I totally support their cause and wish them luck in their endeavor’s, farms work damn hard to keep up with supply in countries all over the world and they deserve to be fairly reimbursed for their incredible amount of hard work.

Drink. Something that you need to cover when giving a run down of Normandy it seems as they are famous for their production of Calvados brandy, which is a really smooth drink for even me who is not in any way shape or form a Brandy drinker. It is actually very good when added to fried onions and put on top of a heftily loaded burger, however that is an expensive and wasteful practice to a true connoisseur! I basically lived off Grimbergen while I stayed there which seems to be a staple beer in France, It is available in some really tasty varieties such as poire/pear, kriek/berry, ruby, blonde and white to name a few that I can remember.

In summary, France offered some incredible experiences and I can’t wait to go back again. While there we visited the Bayaux tapestry, the landing beaches, Monet’s garden and the camp site was a wonderful place to relax offering a lovely little creperie just past the pool that offered take away food which I have to be honest, wasn’t perfect but it certainly filled a void if needed (heres to you Croque monsieur). Normandy is somewhere that I would recommend visiting to any person who loves food, drink and culture to visit as it has all three categories covered in droves, just don’t be scared to run off the beaten track and go somewhere other than the hypermarkets as Normandy in particular has so much to offer to reward your exploration. So if travel really does broaden the mind, consider my mind broadened.

Puff pastry tarts

This weekend made me realise something quite alarming. I haven’t given myself the time recently to have a good session in the kitchen and more so, put anything on the blog. So I made sure I could make something nice for lunch on Saturday for me and the other half that I could share with you all. I have been rather preoccupied as of late due to getting a new job and having a lot of information and new things to process as I have moved to a totally different industry, so Ive been having to prioritise that as you can imagine. Although it is definitely a positive thing as I now work for Marston’s brewery and in all honesty it is a huge step for me as I can now say that I work in an industry I am passionate about. Kind of a dream job as it involves the food and drink industry, its a huge, huge move for me and opens up a whole world of knowledge to me. (Beer/ food combinations are a very interesting topic!)

So anyway back on topic, the good lady has been on at me for a while to make her something from the old blog that I always harp on about as being one of my favourite recipes, and I felt this weekend was quite fitting as on Monday I start a new fitness regime in preparation for our holiday in France. If your going to treat yourself to something you might as well go all out anyway right?

Goats cheese and balsamic onion puff pastry tart

What you’ll need

1/2 roll of shop bought puff pastry

100g goats cheese

1 red onion finely chopped

balsamic dressing

green pesto

handful of rocket

small sprinkle of lemon juice

salt

pepper

olive oil

egg wash

Chorizo jam and spring onion puff pastry tart

1/2 roll shop bought puff pastry

1 jar chorizo jam

3 finely chopped spring onions

handful grated mozzarella

salt pepper

egg wash

Method

  1. Unload the pastry out of the box and roll out flat. Leave out of the fridge for 2 minutes before use. Preheat your oven at 200 degrees. Put a little oil in a frying pan and on a medium heat, lightly fry down the onion until translucent and soft, add 1.5 tablespoons of balsamic, the lemon juice and a good helping of salt and pepper. Turn the heat down to the lowest heat and stir well. The onions will take on the balsamic and become dark and aromatic. Take off the heat and leave to rest.
  2. cut into two equal square parts and fold over around all edges to create a barrier and a bit of a wall around each tart.
  3. lightly prick with a fork in the middle/base of the tart and brush both down with the egg wash.
  4. Place in the oven for 5 minutes until the starts to rise. When this happens remove them from the oven and on the first one add a tablespoon of pesto, spread evenly over the pastry. Followed by the onions and a few big slices of goats cheese… On the second tart spread the chorizo jam (dont be shy with it!) around then add the cheese, followed by the spring onions.
  5. Place back in the oven for 20 minutes at 160 degrees or until golden/brown.
  6. Remove and serve with a big salad and dress the goats cheese tart with a few spring of rocket

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As always a simple concept that makes for a really satisfying meal for you and the rest of the family… me and my fiance ate both on our own so be warned, if you have a family of four or more, double the volume. You will need it!

I will hopefully get round to doing that second part of the York article I promised this week so I will do my best to sort it out!

Have a great week everybody!

Phil

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Simple cod burger with gnocchi sardi salad

So, its now April apparently and it very much seems like March was one of those months that disappeared faster than a horse running at the national. The months seem to fly now that the clocks have changed and even though it is incredible to be having some lighter evenings to relax outside, it just seems like time goes a little bit faster when your enjoying yourself in pub gardens and having barbeques at home.

All the more reason to make the most of all this sunshine were currently having! The bank holiday was an absolute beauty weather wise and there certainly was no shortage of people taking their chance to have a pint by the canal at my local, the Fox and Anchor near Coven.

It is not very often I rave about a chain pub but I do love the Fox as it has a great ambiance in the winter when they light the log fires and even more so when they are buzzing with summer beer garden seekers. I even got a little bit sunburned. Which is not exactly hard as I burn like an ant under a blow torch.

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Now that we have all emerged from our wintery cocoons its time for some lighter food to compliment the bottles of Corona on the lawn (slice of lime optional but advised). White fish comes to mind as its quick, fresh and light on the pallet while being full of protein and really satisfying, paired up with this pasta salad which is the true star of this dish,makes a great meal. Enhanced further by the fact that its full of all the good stuff you can fit in without it becoming unbalanced, you’ll be feeling very pleased with yourself afterwards. No guilt. No hastle.

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Try this recipe on for size next time your feeling lazy on one of these warmer evenings.

Serves 4

For the burger:

  • 2 cod loins. Both halved.
  • 4 wholemeal buns.
  • Tartar sauce.
  • Soy sauce.
  • Pepper.
  • Few salad leaves of your choice.
  • Olive oil.

Pasta salad:

  • 400g gnocchi sardi.
  • 1 small box of cherry or small variety of tomatoes, all halved.
  • 1 courgette, diced.
  • 1 red and 1 orange pepper, diced.
  • 1 small can of sweetcorn.
  • 3 spring onions, finely chopped.
  • handful fresh parsley, finely chopped.
  • 5 tablespoons of zero fat Greek yoghurt.
  • 5 tablespoons light mayonnaise.
  • 1 tablespoons dijon mustard.
  • salt and pepper to taste.

Method:

  1. Cook the pasta to pack instructions.
  2. Add the pasta to a large mixing bowl and stir in all of the other ingredients apart from the courgette.
  3. Preheat a frying pan on a medium heat, add a tiny bit of oil and fry the courgette until it starts to brown a little, then remove and mix into the salad.
  4. Give a good few turns on a salt and pepper mill.
  5. Chill for 20 minutes.
  6. Use the preheated pan and add a little more oil.
  7. Add the cod loin halves and fry on a medium heat for around 4 minutes. Turn over and repeat.
  8. Turn the heat up to high and add a tablespoon of soy sauce, give the pan a shake so it reaches all of the fish, do this for around 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
  9. Cut the rolls and put around a teaspoon of tartar sauce on both halves. Lay a few leaves on the bottom half, followed by the soy fried fish, along with anything else you want to add. (Go crazy, its a blank canvas).
  10. Finish with one big sprinkle of black pepper, cap it off with the top half of the bread and serve with a big spoon full of the pasta.

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Its another very simple but very effective recipe to fill a void after a hard day at work when the evening is best spent enjoying the sunshine outside!

Throwback Thursday: The chilli pepper.

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The Trinidad scorpion pepper, this one is a mean customer

This is an old post from the previous blog that was very popular when I first wrote it. Thought some people might find it useful or interesting… plus its very much in the spirit of ‘#tbt’

So, the chilli pepper. One of my favourite natural ingredients (garlic being another) and usually ends up in my sauces, salads, chopped up in wraps or sandwiches or scattered over the molten cheese of a pizza. I’m getting hungry just writing this! Here’s some interesting facts about the chilli.

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  • The chili has been used in the Americas since around about 7500 BC and one of the first Europeans to experience the fiery kick of a chilli was actually Christopher Columbus.
  • They were used for medicinal purposes in Spain after they were brought back by a member of Columbus’s crew.
  • They were traded with the Portuguese and spread through colonies throughout Asia, including their introduction into Indian cuisine.
  • New variations of chilli are still being created today.

What can I do with them though?

Everybody knows you can cut them up and put them in chilli’s or curries, that’s a great application for them as they have become a staple in the countries of those dishes origin. But how about getting a little more creative with it? Try these quick little ideas sometime or simply use them to inspire your own creations. these are just a few of my favourites.

Devils grilled cheese on toast

ingredients:

  • 2 thick slices of good quality bread. (bloomer/tiger bread is good cut into slices around 2cm thick)
  • 60g strong cheddar cheese
  • 60g red Leicester cheese
  • 2 tablespoons tomato puree
  • 1 teaspoon Worcester sauce
  • 1 tea spoon of mild chilli powder
  • 2 jalapeno chilli peppers, finely chopped (keep the seeds!)
  1. Preheat the grill at a medium to high heat.
  2. Mix the tomato puree, Worcester sauce and the chilli powder well.
  3. put the bread under the grill until it starts to brown on the one side.
  4. remove the bread from the grill and evenly spread the spicy puree evenly over both slices
  5. scatter all the cheese and chopped peppers over the untoasted side of the bread, return to grill and toast until melted, then remove and enjoy!.

Habanero hot sauce

  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup white rice vinegar
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 2 habanero peppers, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground paprika
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup
  • Pinch of white pepper
  1. Add the water and vinegar to a saucepan and bring to the boil on a medium heat.
  2. Add the sugar, garlic, peppers, ginger, paprika, white pepper and ketchup.
  3. Simmer for 5 minutes.
  4. Strain into a serving dish to serve.

This works great for a BBQ or even a dip for a Saturday night in watching a movie or some really bad TV. Very warming on a winters eve but equally inviting in the heat of summer. perfect.

Are they good for me?

Red chilies contain large amounts of vitamin C and small amounts of carotene. Yellow and especially green chilies (which are essentially unripe fruit) contain a lower amount of both. In addition, peppers are a good source of most B vitamins. So in short, yes. they are. They are also said to kick start your metabolic rate, which could help fat burning.

Hottest chilli out there?

They’re measured by something called the scoville scale. check it out below

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Now that’s a little snippet of what the chilli is all about and how you can use it, next time you get chance jump in your kitchen and use it in something new. Throw them in an omelette or through some noodles or salad. They’re really versatile, and add a third dimension to many a dish. Don’t be scared, get cooking!

Phil

Welcome to 2015!

Good day to you lovely readers, and a happy new year! This is the first official post of ‘The Hungry Buck’ and I would like to start by filling in the blanks from 2014. As some of you may know my previous domain name was http://www.foodgecko.com, which I held for a year and gained a lot of experience in how to manage and write a blog. I had lots of positives coming from the comments section and a smattering of inevitable negativity which is to be expected and ignored. This is the internet after all.

The reason I had to close it was that I unfortunately ended up being made redundant from the company I was working for due to my department being essentially moved to Manchester, this meant the site had to fall behind finding gainful employment and dedicating myself to filling my financial void in my list of priorities. Timing is sometimes a wonderful thing brings unexpected surprises and joy, chance encounters and amazing experiences, however in this instance it brought a domain name renewal which I had to put on hold!

Fast forward to November 2014, I found a job and I am in a position that eclipses my previous one ten fold, meaning I am in a position where I can start up my favourite past time again and get the site on its feet. Over the next few weeks there will be a few write ups in regards to my activity last year partnered with various recipe cards and kitchen tips, so I hope i can meet the high standards expected of me. The site is currently a work in progress and i am working on the new logo and layout so bare with me on the aesthetics. In terms of the name change I felt it was quite apt that a fresh start came with a new name and layout, that paired with the fact it comes with some wicked wordplay (at this point I would be winking suggestively while giving you a slight nudge).

So some of the things you can expect this month are:

BBC good food show, winter: Quick rundown on the event with a countdown of the top 3 products and companies that I found.

Mugs of joy: Specialist and artisan teas, why you should be looking past PG tips.

The return of the “homemade” army.

Save your local butcher.

..And plentiful amounts of recipe cards such as homemade pasta, slow cooker trio, Lunch tips for the new year and some other really great (In my opinion) recipes for this time of year!.

So thanks for baring with me if you are a returning reader and if you are new to the page Hello and I hope you stay around for the duration of 2015.