Displaying items by tag: salty

    Thursday, 26 November 2020 04:28

    Foodie Frenzy - Month of smoked goods and chocolate.

    Spring time is an insanely busy time, and I'm sorry I haven't had a chance to write much lately. Wren has been making fancy higher-end hand made chocolates, (see Ren's kitchen gallery in my photography section) amongst the home made marshmallows, turkish delights, and rocky road that all seems to mysteriously vanish without a trace..... I conveniently blame the cats, but I am by no means convincing. That's when Wren isn't gardening, or making fancy "up cycled" clothing, home made soap, or other beauty products.... or just helping me with my foodie insanity.

    Foodie present "one-upping" insanity.

    Honestly, it's good to see Wren using all the chocolate making gear that I gave as her birthday present. Naturally in the cheeky Wren style, she "one upped" me and got me the pH meter I've been wanting for my cheese making. I do feel guilty that she spent so much, but it's going to be a huge help... so I better step up my gifting game this Christmas. Now please note that you don't need a pH meter to make cheese if you're ok with some variability in your final cheeses. It's fun in a "lucky dip" kind of way. As soon as you want consistency between one batch and another.. then that's when the pH meter will come in handy. Subtle differences in pH, can be the difference between two very different cheeses... and you just can't manage it without accurate measurement.

    Back to the current activities.

    Meanwhile, before you think I've been "slackin' off", I've been going nuts on cheese making, bread baking, mixing up oil infusions, making black garlic, drying onions, and making fancy salts/rubs for barbecue season. Wow have I missed my barbecue! With all the bushfires last year and the completely understandable total fire bans in place, I didn't really use my barbecue at all last summer. Then I was overseas for a before Covid made that impossible, when I got back just before the border closures, I had a contract job after that ended just in time for the Canberra winter. So the workshop/garage was filled with barbecue fuel I never got around to using, and I'm making up for it now.

    Did I mention that our cherry tree is nearly ready for harvest? Strawberries are everywhere, we've got apricots in the pipeline, nectarines practically ripe....We're merely days away from a major harvest inundation... so I have to finish off my current activities to make room in the kitchen. So let's talk about what I've been doing for the past month or so...

    It all started with a phone call.....

    Wren and I tend to give/sell our surplus plants, produce, and home-made "stuff" when we find that we have no more room to store it. Occasionally, we'll put our wayward seedlings on Gumtree at practically negligible cost to give the plants a good home, Wren sells soap online, (look up "TheSoapyWren" on Etsy if you're interested... apparently her store name can't have spaces, so you have to type it without them to find her shop.. not the best system from an IT guy's perspective, but hey it's not my system to fix).

    Interestingly, there aren't a great deal of craft shops in Canberra, but there are in numerous towns around Canberra. One of them is in my home town, roughly 2 hours away the Wren/Ham estate... if we can call our humble townhouse an "estate". :-)

    A lovely woman/volunteer/over worked feudal serf from the craft shop called me quite unexpectedly. It was unexpected for two reasons:

    1. The shop had been closed due to Covid... given that most of the volunteers were of a more elderly persuasion... and most at risk from the virus.
    2. Given that the shop had been closed, I thought there would be plenty of our stuff still "in stock".

    So I was expecting some bad news like there'd been a problem, or someone I knew might have died... but it was not that dire at all.

    Apparently some big burly guys had "picked up" some of my smoked salts/rubs before the closure, and had brought their friends to get more when the shop re-opened only to be disappointed when it ran out.

    So the lovely volunteer asked me if I could supply some more "product" (if I can say that without it sounding like I'm involved in something illicit) so I stumbled out to the shed and did a stock take of my smoking situation.

    The stock take... a journey of a thousand leagues... begins with... stepping around my wood working to find everything.

    My workshop is a "work in progress". Translation: "A mess". So when I'm trying to tidy up, I found all sorts of things when I'm looking for that pesky tool box, or which tool box has all the spare linen in it. (Apparently I'm a linen hoarder.. which I'm sure there's worse things to be). However after some creative re-structuring of the shed, I found I had a lot of smoking woods. Some of the ones I found were:

    • An entire garbage bin full of cherry wood from our pruning of the tree two years ago.
    • Some peach wood chips - works on a lot of things.
    • Some apple wood chips - great for pork, chicken, and some sausages.
    • Entire bag of pear wood chips - haven't tried this in an actual meal yet, but I'll give it a go.
    • Some Tasmanian Oak chips - great for red meats, but adds some sort of "something else" which I find quite pleasant. It's also shockingly expensive... which is why I only have a little.
    • Old whisky barrel chunks - great for pretty much any meat I've tried.. but better on red meats.
    • Mesquite chunks - the stronger flavour is great for red meats, more potent spices like pepper, chilli, or garlic.
    • Hickory chunks - this smoking "classic" works in the same situations of Mesquite.
    • Maple... adds a slight sweetness to the "tang" but it's subtle. The temptation to use it too much to emphasize the sweetness will lead to a smoky, but bitter and acrid taste. A light touch and milder flavoured meat like chicken breast goes really well.

    Couple this with my barbecue, some sieves, a cold smoker attachment, aquarium pump (to oxygenate the cold smoker and pump the smoke into the barbecue), and a blow torch... it was time to decide on my smoking method....

    Cold Vs. Hot Smoking:

    When most people think of smoking, particularly on a barbecue, they're thinking of "hot smoking". Add a few bits of wood, or smoking wood "dust" to your hot coals, gas burner, etc, and you get some extra "smokiness" to your meal. This is great for adding fancy smoked flavours to cooked meats and vegetables, but many more delicate foods, such as herbs, spices, and cheeses would burn, melt or otherwise decay if "hot smoked". Cold smoking may seem like an oxymoron (you need fire to make smoke, and fire is hot). However, if you burn the wood in a slow, controlled way, you don't create much heat. If you then pipe the smoke from the "hot box" to a separate "food box", the smoke is often barely warmer than ambient temperatures when it gets to the food. Sometimes smoke is piped into refrigerated rooms/containers so both cold temperatures and smoke are present.

    In short, by putting distance between the fire, and where the smoke hits the food, you get the "cold" smoking process... although remember that "cold" is relative to the cooking temperatures found in hot smoking, and offers no "cooling" capability.

    Many people know that to bring the most flavour from their spices, a "light toasting" in a dry frypan immediately before use, will significantly improve and/or amplify the flavour. However, when you're smoking spices for future use, you're not planning to roast it "just yet", as the aroma and flavour will be severely reduced if days, weeks, or months go by between the toasting and actual use. So cold smoking seems a better choice in my case. Salt can go either way, but in order to have the most flexibility in my food smoking binge, I chose the cold approach.

    The metal cylinder on the left that looks like a semi truck exhaust, is the cold smoker attachment, connected to the air intake of the Kamado.

    Selecting the salts, woods, and burn times...

    Smoked salts are one of the easiest things to make. However, salts come in many varieties.

    The salt matters, but not as much as you might think:

    Ignoring for a moment, the rise of Himalayan or Murray River "pink salts" over traditional white table salt, and the differing chemical compositions found in other locations like the Dead Sea, or salt mines under Germany vs somewhere in Africa... at the end of day, most edible salt will be sodium chloride (NaCl) with some impurities/trace elements (depending on whether it's marketed as a flaw or a benefit). The taste will be pretty similar, all else being equal. Things do change when the particle size changes, and of course, what you mix with your salt, or what you put your salt on. But don't worry about it too much. Just don't confuse sodium chloride (table salt) with sodium nitrate.  Sodium nitrate varieties are used in food, but in extremely small quantities. Normal salt quantities of the nitrate varieties would be toxic to even large men.

    Particle size and flavour:

    Salt comes in fine grains (typical with table salt), coarse grains (typical with cooking salts), flakes, and rock salt (which I feel should be called "gravelly salt", or "pebbly salt" at best). Now when you have smaller grain sizes, you'll get more surface area to attach smoke to, but you'll probably have to stir it around when smoking more often as the airflow between the grains is reduced. Since smoke attaches itself to the surface of each grain, it will have a stronger smoky flavour, than if you use a coarser salt. Conversely, rock salt tends to have better airflow between grains (less stirring when smoking) but will have a milder flavour to begin with. Since rock salt is often used in a grinder prior to eating, it will then have an even milder smoke flavour as the grains are "cracked" which makes is a "partially smoke covered" salt.

    I really like rock salt though, as it's a gateway "smoked salt". It may not taste of smoke, but the smell will be part of the flavour profile.

    Remember: Smell + taste = flavour. Both the aroma, and the taste buds work together to form a sense of "flavour". This is why wine tasters often sniff, then taste the wine before judging it as good, bad or indifferent. However, please note that studies have shown that the same wine can be served to the same professional wine judge on separate occasions, and it's likely that they'll give it three different values. Just a thought.. and something from my Perceptual Psychology class.

    Wood choices:

    Salt is quite forgiving, as it doesn't have the pungency of some spices, nor does it have much aroma, it's a very robust spice that you can't overcook easily, so you can smoke it using either the hot or cold smoking methods. However, if you mix it with more delicate ingredients, then things become less simple. If you're just doing salt, you can choose almost any wood and it'll work pretty well. If you like a particular wood smoke on a milder flavoured meal... then make a dedicated smoked salt batch for that particular meal will help with the flavour "pairing". If you use a lot of salt in curries, then you'll need to choose a more potent smoking wood type in order to compete with the potent flavours and aromas going on in that type of meal. However, see what you can get locally, or work with whatever (non toxic) woods you have on hand. Experimentation is key... also, don't limit yourself to just one wood type. I often mix two or even three types on one meal/spice batch.

    If you're smoking stronger spices (or planning to use smoked salts for particular meals that use more flavoursome ingredients) it makes sense to tailor the smoking woods to something stronger in those situations.

    Smoking times:

    Smoking spices is easy to start, but hard to master. However, if you like a lightly smoked flavour, then smoking foods for less time is an important strategy. If you want to add that noticeable smoke experience to your food, then you'll be best served smoking it for longer.

    Here's my general guidelines:

      Typical Time Smoked Practical Uses
    Lightly smoked  2 hours or less Milder flavoured/delicate foods, cheeses, background "complexity" in sauces (Note: smoke attaches to "wetter" foods very well)
    Moderately smoked 2 - 18 hours Most barbecued goods fall in this category, people who want "some" smokiness but don't want to smell like a bush fire. Also good to get the flavour/aroma with "a little less" salt in the diet
    Heavily smoked >18 hours Stronger spices, more flavoursome ingredients, and for situations where smokiness is a strong benefit. Also good for using sparing amounts of smoked "product" to get the "smokiness" you want... so it can help in reducing salt intake significantly.

    In short, start light and work your way up until it's noticeable, then keep going until you've gone too far. Then you know where your tolerances lie, and can smoke future batches accordingly.

    Here is the same salt, smoked with different woods for differing amounts of time that I've done previously. Note how peach wood imbues a brown, whereas apple and oak go more grey. Also, as the smoking time goes up, so does the darkness of the finished product.

    Kick the tyres, and light the fires....

    The small smoke trails coming out of the chimney in the first photo belies the smokiness inside.You can see the coriander seeds in the sieves, but you probably can't see the garlic bulbs on the left... unless you squint really hard and... imagine.

    Wheeling out my barbecue, cleaning it out, attaching the cold smoker, filling it with wood, running power cord to the air pump, and firing up the cold smoking setup, happens exactly as you might imagine. Naturally, I had the expectation that it'll chug along based on how much air the pump gives the smouldering fire.... While that's true, I found that the smoker blows out at the "drop of a hat" in ideal conditions, but keeps burning strong through rain downpours and storms. This is just one of the many ironies that define my insane hobby activities.

    Fitting it in around one's life....

    If I'm home, I start my day by cleaning out the cold smoker, burning any debris out, accumulated from the previous day's smoking. Using my steel brush welded to a 1m metal rod to scrape out the ash that remains in all the "nooks and crannies" while using a welding glove to hold the smoker. Letting that cool, I go inside and put salt into sieves so that the smoke can attach on all sides. I stack as many sieves into the barbecue as I can, (see above) and close the lid. Then I mix my smoke woods, put it into the smoker, start the burn, and keep an eye on it throughout the day, re-lighting it as needed. When night rolls around, I'll periodically check that the smoker is still going, but if it dies at around 9-10pm I'll shut it down so we can open up some windows to let some cool air in without the fear of triggering smoke alarms or choking on smoke in our sleep.

    Rinse lather repeat....

    This has been my last month. I have smoked salts to differing degrees, with differing woods, I've smoked coriander seeds, onion flakes, garlic granules, whole garlic bulbs, made my own smoked Hungarian paprika, smoked mustard seeds, cheeses, and even honey. (Smoked honey, with mustard and mint goes really well on lamb). I've had so much smoke in my eyes and hair, creosote on my hands, and ash in embarrassing smears across my arms, and paprika on my face... I guess I looked like some sort of backyard tribesman in ceremonial paints, grunting and wildly flailing limbs around the fire praying to the pagan smoke gods... or simply in feeble attempts to get the various forms of stuff off me.

    So I've got somewhere between 20-30Kg of "product". Some single ingredient offerings, others mixed with two or more other ingredients.... all sitting in about two dozen tupperware containers.... all in quantities too large for anyone to find practical.

    All smoked up and nowhere to go.... small jars for the "jar poor?".

    Ok, so I've smoked my spices, cheeses, garlic, herbs, and whatever else I got my hands on. I temporarily put them in tupperware, because I didn't have enough jars to put them in. I asked friends, family, even put an ad on Gumtree asking for free jars. Most people want huge jars for storing larger items. I was the "weirdo" wanting empty spice shakers, anchovette/baby food jars. If it got to jam jar sizes, it was getting too big for my needs. It seems most people toss the small jars out, thinking they're "useless". So I haven't gotten many responses.

    One nice lady who lived "not far" responded to my Gumtree ad and had a rather impressive food forest, and collection of jars she wanted to be rid of. Several reusable shopping bags full of empty jars later, I was off and packing like the smoke-smelling madman I had become. Now most people boil their jars to sterilize them. I prefer to use the oven set to 100oC with jars on one shelf, and correspondingly placed lids on another. This works well... until the oven element "blows up" and fries the plastic in the lids in a blaze of over-heated glory... as happened when I'd placed the maximum amount of jars inside.

    <cue groaning here>

    Several hours later, after scraping all the burned plastic out of the oven and giving it a good clean...<cue more groaning here> I dismantled the oven and replaced the heating element. Yes, cleaning and fixing the oven is exactly as fun as it sounds. However, when it was back up and running, I sterilized jars, filled them with smoked product goodness while the jars were still hot, sealed them up, then re-sanitized them in the oven for good measure. I do this to avoid poisoning the folks I care about... and those whose efforts I appreciate with a thank you gift.. or those who simply buy my excess produce and fund my next batch of insanity.

    Jars of modestly smoked rock salts of a mere 12 hours with Peach and Apple wood came out a middling grey. Jars of 28 hour smoked table salt came out a dark charcoal, almost black colour, and whoever opens the jar will probably set off their smoke alarm, or think it should. However, it works surprisingly well in pumpkin soup. Smoked pepper is fun, because if it starts black, everyone is wondering where the smoke is coming from, but still works well in a pumpkin soup, mashed potatoes, or casseroles. Home made, freshly smoked paprika is going to be orders of magnitude more flavoursome than the store bought varieties. Like many powdered spices, toasting it just before use, really brings out the flavour and smell of both the spice and the smokiness. Works really well on steaks, or in any meat rub you care to mix yourself.

    Smoker's going, and slowly working on the latest batch of salt, but meanwhile back in the kitchen...

    I diced up a lot of onions, set up the dehydrator, and let it run for a day or so to ensure the onion bits had as little water as possible. Since onions (like most plants) have a high moisture content that 500g onion you diced is going to much smaller and lighter when it's done. Nine re-lightings of the smoker later, and your onions look like this:

    Onions still on the dehydrator trays
    Some close up dehydrated onion flakes.

    These are too big for a pepper grinder or salt shaker, so I've decided to blend these down to more manageable "chunks", or "granules" so I can put the onion and the smoked rock salt into a salt/pepper grinder. If I were to use this with table salt, I'd probably be more inclined to blend it for longer to get closer to a nice "powder" or at least, finer grains. So into the blender it goes...

    The onion flakes before blending...
    Blending the flakes on slow for a short period of time... and we get:

    ... open up the smoker and the salt looks like..

    This salt was smoked on Tasmanian Oak and Pear wood... and has gone brown like the peach wood above rather than grey. If I had gone very heavy on the smoke, it would likely go grey.

    Mixing it with other stuff...

    I generally prefer to keep my mixes relatively simple. That way, people can add "extras" to taste later on. So this particular batch is going to be smoked salt, coriander, and onion. Onion salt is a popular product, the smokiness adds the aroma of barbecue, and the coriander seeds adds a slightly citrus-like flavour that pretty much works with everything.

    Here's a nice close up of the mixed salt, coriander and onion.

    Making it presentable...

    Recycled jars are environmentally friendly and cost effective. However, they aren't the prettiest of packaging. So we typically scrape the labels off during the initial cleaning. But we do the "old lady" thing by placing circles of fabric (fabric "hats" which I sometimes call "bonnets" over the lids, and printing our own labels. If they're just for us, we'll probably just use some masking tape, write the info on the tape, and skip the lid covers altogether. If they're being given/sold, we'll "give them a face lift", using Wrens graphic design skills, proper labels, some scrap fabric, and a pair of pinking shears.

    This is not the same mix, but a couple of jars we filled earlier. The left one is a jar of smoked salt & pepper. The right, a jar of smoked salt.

    Not going backwards.... financially.

    Making stuff for fun is one thing. Making things for sale is another matter entirely. Your standards have to "go up", quality control becomes important, as is sanitation. However, most hobbyists don't document things well. They'll buy ingredients, sometimes over months or even years, and forget to account the full list of expenses. Then suddenly you're putting a lot of effort and effectively giving your money away. Most people can't do that for very long before it all becomes too much. I believe that if you sell something, make it good, and charge a fair price. To do that:

    • Break each product down into the component ingredients.
    • Calculate the amount of each ingredient in each product.
    • Calculate the cost of that amount for every ingredient and add them together.
    • Factor in consumables such as cleaning supplies, wood chips, blow torch gas, and the cost of each amount.
    • Wear and tear on pumps, or other equipment.
    • Your time... most people woefully under charge for this. Cleaning and preparing jars/ingredients is something to account for.
    • Any additional packaging, labels, rubber bands, fabric.
    • Transport costs. If you are taking things "just down the road", that's easy. Sending things in post, or driving hundreds of kilometres is an expensive proposition.
    • Don't expect that you can match commercial, large scale industrial producers in low costs. You're not in their league. Make something better and you'll get customers coming back, even if you are relatively more expensive.
    • Many craft shops have their own rules for labeling, and they won't sell it if the rules aren't followed. Nut warnings, ingredients, and labeling conventions must be followed, here's an example:
    The finished product, almost ready for sale. My membership code is truly "Ham", and that tells the shop that I should get the cash from the sale. Dalmation refers to the black and white of the salt and pepper mix. "Smokey" may seem and outdated spelling compared to "smoky" as an adjective. However, I'm old fashioned in my linguistic tendencies, and I'm trying to appeal to an older demographic. If you think that's wrong, I'm sorry, but the labels are on there now. :-)
    Remember how I needed jars.... this is why. It's not even one third of what I've made.. please ignore the dust and fluff that's accumulated on the tops, that will be removed shortly. I've made this much because shipping it in drips and drabs over the course of a year is expensive, and has a high degree of problems (smashed jars, lost parcels, attempted deliveries outside of business hours, the list goes on). So to increase my profits, or to reduce the chance of going backwards, I have made a lot.

    Ren has been doing the same things with her chocolates, designing little cardboard chocolate boxes, and cutting/folding them up. She's tried a dozen different flavours of fillings, ranging from nuts, pralines, jams, dried fruits, etc, etc. Each time we have to break everything down and really dig into the details.

    We then also have an entire spreadsheet dedicated to every product in every store, how many we supplied, how many have been sold, when the remainder is likely to become out of date, how much they cost to make, how much to charge, how much profit can we expect after tax and commissions are taken out. Truthfully, we use these products to practice and hone our making skills, and fund the basic costs. We're certainly not making enough to retire on, but it makes the hobby a more affordable endeavour.

    I better check the smoker.... again.


    Take care and enjoy your Christmas "maker/baker/barbecue/smoking binges"... whatever that involves.

    Ham, and the snoring cat Clarence.







    Published in Food
    Tagged under
    Monday, 18 May 2020 02:49

    Beyond bread: Pretzels


    I think I need to create a section called "Rens corner", but she only made some non-committal noises when I asked her if she'd be interested. However, despite the fact that I didn't actually do this, I feel I can add a little bit of wayward experience, and advice.

    Back to the pretzels...

    When most people think of bread, and they think of loaves, or flat breads, or even rolls in one form or another. However, outside of Germany, pretzels often fall somewhere off the "mainstream bread" track.

    I think pretzels in Australia (and perhaps other countries as well) are often mistaken for the ones found in the potato chip aisle at your local supermarket. These are quite a bit different to the true fresh bread-like pretzels that are so popular in Germany.

    If I had to put pretzels in a "bread category", I'd probably be putting them into the same category as the humble bagel as both are boiled, then baked. So if you like the idea of a salty, freshly baked bagel, then real pretzels are probably appealing to you.

    Ren arbitrarily decided to make fresh pretzels yesterday as I was out in the workshop, so there weren't any photos of the process. Sorry.

    Side note: This is actually the first dough to be proofed into our recently emptied, defrosted, and retrofitted freezer that has been (temporarily) converted into a much larger bread proofing box and occasionally, higher temperature cheese cave. So I'm going to guess that testing the setup was part of her motivation... but it is weird to think we proofed our dough, which is usually best done at around 25oC... in a freezer. (Don't worry, I'll add another article about this conversion).

    So I came back in from my workshop to be hit by the smell freshly baked pretzels all cooling on a wire rack. Let's just be clear here, having poor impulse control when it comes to eating freshly made bread, I tried to help myself to a pre-dinner snack.. but was thwarted by the rather unexpected security system....

    Those pretzels had fused to the rack, and were having the kind of issues "letting go", that some Jewish mother friends of mine have. Their words, not mine.

    In fact when slowly prised away from the rack, the non-stick coating was attached to the pretzel, rather than the rack... since I don't think non-stick coatings are healthy to eat, I simply opted to cut the pretzel away from the rack, and leave the base still attached to the rack, ready to be soaked and scrubbed away later.

    I don't know if it was the fact that I was really hungry, or the fact that it's pretzel-based deliciousness, but I was going to have a second one, no matter how hard it was stuck on. I guess I looked weird muttering again to the pretzel/cooling rack, sometimes gentle words of encouragement, and other times, using scarier-than-average knives.

    All in all, the humble pretzel is a delicious alternative in bread making that is great as a treat now and then. However, I strongly recommend that you use baking paper during the cooking and cooling stages to avoid similar problems if you want to try to make some.

    The recipe Ren used...

    Ren used the pretzel recipe found in "Germany" recipe book, part of the "Gourmet Pilgrim" series. Which is one of the few recipe books that comes shipped in a biscuit tin. The book is actually an interesting read, and shows you how to make foods found in various regions of Germany, a bit of history and culture is thrown in there too. In all of this self-isolation, perhaps a book like this is a good gift idea for yourself or people you know.

    More information about the book can be found here:


    Unfortunately, due to copyright, I can't share the recipe with you. However, there are plenty of freely available pretzel recipes out there on the web for you to try.

    So when making breads, don't limit yourself to what you think is "normal". Try the breads and treats made in other countries, and see whether or not you can avoid certain sticking situations I had to deal with.

    Stay safe and happy baking!

    Ham (and Ren by proxy).

    Published in Bread making
    © 2022 WaywardHam.net. All Rights Reserved.