The week that’s been – Cold!

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Heavy frosts have continued, so with a hot cup of coffee in hand, and a kettle of hot water in the other it’s off to the chicken pen to make sure they have free flowing water.

cider vinergar

Planting in the polytunnel has started. I start my broad beans off in pots, so that the field mice don’e eat them all!

broadbean

An ethical alternative to avocado? Less air-miles? And to be honest, it’s hard to find a decent avocado in a UK supermarket.

guacamole recipe

guagamole

What’s New?

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As you may have noticed, the blog has taken on a new look. 

This is a blog for self sufficiency in the modern world, we all have other jobs, busy lives, and I’ve noticed at NotJustPots often the week is filled with lots of little, little & maybe insignificant things, telling small stories. It’s not a time to wax lyrical about living a self sufficient life in the ideal sense of the word, and portraying a dream of living off the land… That can’t always be possible for whatever reasons. We’re still learning about this and still working out what’s possible with what we’ve got.  Hopefully you can work out what you can do about where your food comes from with what you’ve got.

Sounds like an about us page? Well as we said there – if you follow a couple of tech hippies on their journey you would see that we throw convention to the wind sometimes… Guess we just did.

Anyway welcome to ‘the week that’s been’ storyboard at NotJustpots (NJP)

seeds arriving

shitake

Now this is a first for us, growing mushrooms. You can order these self contained kits with full growing instructions online.

The shiitake mushroom spores are seeded on a sawdust log in a plastic tray, so there’s no mess. When we received ours last week, the log had small white and brown bumps on it, so all we needed to do was place them on a north facing window sill in a room that was a minimum of 15 deg C and spray daily to keep the sawdust moist.  In just under a week mushrooms are sprouting and growing daily!

So this is the stage we’re at now with our shiitake mushrooms. In few weeks they should be ready to harvest.

  • Grow all year round
  • Easy to grow!

 

funtime

 

We’ve always let our aeroponic herbs run riot, and it gets hard to clear down the system at the end of a growing cycle. So this year, we’re going to harvest a whole, smaller plant at a time and cover the growing hole with a home designed plug to prevent the formation of algae.

Never designed something with CAD software before, took 3 prototypes to get these plugs right, then printed them on our small 3D printer (a nice and useful thing to have on a smallholding I’ve printed replacement wheel bushes for our old faithful wheelbarrows in the past, but never designed something from scratch!!)

And finally some studio time. Looking forward to using the ‘franken cam’ to capture the plants, ingredients & stories that grow from NJP!  – Have a good week!

Tech Food

leadThe latest issue of Wired USA has just dropped through the letterbox, and in it is an article called “Invasion of the Kitchen Robots” There appears to be a number of commercial robots out there serving us food.

There is “Gordon” the robotic barista arm making coffee in San Francisco, “Sally” the salad server, twin robots making fresh ramen in China and some guys at MIT have created a fully automated mini kitchen!

Now we do like our gadgets at NotJustPots! Especially in the kitchen! Anything to make life easier…

It’s not the first time food related articles have appeared in Wired.

Back in the August 2016 edition there was a food feature called What to Eat Today. A scientific guide to eating in the modern world. Food is a struggle how do we “eat pleasurably, ethically, healthily.* I loved their periodic table for protein and couldn’t resist the cover! I just had to make that Fried Chicken!_NJP1933

The original chicken recipe was by David Chang of Momofuku, but I found this recipe at Gentrified Chicken. 

Spice mix
This makes a lot, so scale accordingly.

25 g Szechuan Peppercorns
25 g Cayenne
20 g Onion Powder
20 g Garlic Powder
25 g Paprika
10 g Thyme Powder
Grind up the Szechuan peppercorns to a fine powder, then pass through a sieve to remove chunks. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly.

To make homemade thyme powder just put some dried thyme in a coffee / spice grinder.

For the Chicken
4x Chicken Thighs
4x Chicken Drumsticks
Milk
1 tsp Salt per Cup of Milk
2 Cloves Garlic
2 Sprigs Thyme
1 Bay Leaf
2 Cracks of Black Pepper
Place chicken in a large pot and cover with milk.
Add the salt and remaining ingredients and simmer at 65° C for 35 to 40 minutes, or until chicken is almost fully cooked.
Do not let the milk boil.
When done remove chicken from the liquid and cool the liquid to use in the dredging process.

Dredging and Frying
150g Plain Flour
20 g Spice Mix
Oil
Heat oil to 180° C.
Combine flour & spice mix and mix thoroughly.
Dip the chicken in the dredge, then in the cooking liquid, then back in the dredge, then in the cooking liquid, and once more in the dredge.
Fry for 3 to 5 minutes.

I’ve omitted a few things, out of personal preference,  but the unadulterated recipe can be found here:

http://gentrifriedchicken.tumblr.com/post/102237158752/david-chang-fried-chicken-vogue-caviar-recipe

I’ve made this a few times as a weekend treat, and it’s worked out really well. The chicken is super crispy!

Last night I cooked the chicken drumsticks in the sous vide, in attempt to use less milk. The chicken was tender, but the coating didn’t seem to stick as well this time.

Not sure if it’s the cooking method or the new chicken pieces, that we source from a Welsh, organic family run farm. The chicken is additive free, so maybe that affects the skin?

I’m going to do it again with the new chicken but cook it as per the recipe, and see if that makes a difference. Or maybe, a gadget is not necessarily the best tool for this job.

*Scott Dadich Editor in Chief Wired USA August 2016

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Store Cupboard Essentials – A New Direction…

lead2I know we’ve only done one of these, but I’ve been thinking…

The idea behind this feature, is to reclaim these overly processed food items and make them more natural, as they once were, when family recipes were passed down from mother to child. This probably doesn’t happen a lot these days as it is so much easier just to pick these items up at the store.

I never got a copy of my mother’s chutney recipe and when I wanted to recreate it last year, searching the web turned up numerous recipes, all with variations and interesting takes on new ingredient combinations. All I wanted was a simple old English chutney recipe, but I didn’t know where to start!

_NJP0889What’s a traditional English green tomato chutney?

Then I came across a book by Elizabeth David, widely considered to be one of Britain’s greatest food writers, called Spices, Salt & Aromatics in the English Kitchen, in which she states that historically our country has shown a “preoccupation with the spices and the scents, the fruit, the flavourings, the sauces and condiments of the orient, near and far.”

Elizabeth David 1970

During the period of the British East India Company the housewives of the time were very interested in reproducing the chutneys brought back from India, but with using ingredients they could buy at home.

This was it! My starting point…

Mild Green Tomato Chutney (recipe courtesy of Elizabeth David)
907g Green Tomatoes
907g Cooking Apples
226g Onions
680g Brown Sugar
453g Stoneless Raisins / Sultanas
2 tsp Ground Ginger
2 tsp Ground Allspice
2 tsp Crushed Black Peppercorns
2 Garlic Cloves
2 tbs Salt
852ml White Wine Vinegar

Peel and slice the onions and apples and chop the tomatoes.
Place those ingredients into a non-reactive saucepan along with all the other dry ingredients and the crushed garlic.
David then goes on to say to “moisten with a little of the vinegar
Cook gently for about 1 hour adding the vinegar as the chutney thickens.
When it reaches a jam like consistency the chutney is ready to bottle(follow your canning manufacturer’s guidelines).

_BYS0025

The result?

  • Using all the vinegar meant cooking for longer than 1 hour to reach the right consistency making the ingredients too soft.
  • A little too sweet and salty
  • Ratio of sultanas to apple / tomato combo too high?
  • General flavour was good, as I was hoping for a “Branston Pickle” type of chutney

Next steps…

From this solid foundation I can now, next season work on developing my own recipe that I can pass on to others…

If you’ve made this – what were your thoughts?

green tomato chutney

Po’Butty… A Welsh Twist on a Classic!

new leadFirst frosty mornings of the year have arrived and ’tis the season for comfort food – A hot pulled meat sandwich smothered in a sweet, sticky, slightly spicy sauce.

What’s in a name?

Po’ Boy – A traditional hot sandwich from Louisiana of either fried seafood or shredded meat in a sloppy sauce served on a long crusty bread roll.

Butty – A slang word for a sandwich in parts of the UK, again the contents are hot and they are placed between 2 slices of bread. Most commonly a chip butty (i.e French fries / frites) or bacon butty.
It is also a South Wales Valley phrase for a friend or mate!

The origin of the Po’Boy started “In 1922, brothers Bennie and Clovis Martin quit their jobs as New Orleans streetcar conductors and opened a coffee shop in the city’s historic French Market ….”
when in 1929 there was a major strike and the community came out in support of the strikers and “as former streetcar conductors, the brothers also lent their support, announcing that they would feed any hungry striker who could not afford to pay.”

(cited from a post by Susan Waggoner August 2015 on www.ForknPlate.com)

The South Wales Valleys are tight-knit communities with an industrial heritage that have _NJP1774also seen their fair share of strikes, so the word butty seemed a good one to use to describe this dish.

The meat traditionally used in a Po’ boy is usually a tough cut of beef slow cooked until it falls off the bone and is easily shredded. Wales is renowned for it’s lamb, but the delicate flavour of this meat, I didn’t think would work well in a Po’ Boy type sandwich, so I decided on Mutton – meat from a 3 year old sheep that is known to be a lot tougher.

And so the Mutton Po’ Butty with a Cherry & Fig BBQ Saucewas born.

I cooked the mutton in a sous vide for 3 days at 60 degrees centigrade (140 Fahrenheit).

_NJP1782Building Blocks for the BBQ Sauce

Fresh Cherry Juice
Fresh Fig Juice
Port
Sprig of Rosemary
Dark Muscovado Sugar
White Vinegar
A Dash of Welsh Wildflower Honey
NJP (NotJustPots) Tomato Ketchup**
Chilli Powder to taste.

Take the first 4 ingredients and simmer until reduced by about half. In another pan simmer the remaining ingredients until reduced by the same amount.
Combine both together.
I added a final step of simmering to thicken, as I wanted quite a thick BBQ sauce to toss the mutton in.
Serve on a homemade brioche bun.

BTW we live close to a really good authentic smoke house called The Hang Fire Southern Kitchen in Barry, South Wales, where the provenance of their food is really important to them. Check out their story here  https://hangfiresmokehouse.com/about-us/ – and if you ever get a chance to visit they make an awesome Shrimp Po’Boy!

*BBQ sauce adapted from http://www.finecooking.com/recipe/smoked-lamb-ribs-with-rosemary-and-fig-barbecue-sauce

**Recipe to follow in Store Cupboard Essentials

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Leave the Soil at The Door

leadThere are four types of hydroponics we use at Not Just Pots – we use them for growing different types of things. Currently 2 of our 3 polytunnels are used for hydroponics of one sort or another.

Hydroponics at the consumer level is still a relatively new thing in the UK – so new that it’s fairly likely when you shop for the systems and supplies people will assume you’re growing weed not veg!

So here’s a quick roundup of the systems and what we use them for:

Seedlings for all these systems are propagated in wool cubes until they’ve sprouted and developed a good root structure.

NFT

(Nutrient Film Technique)
This is the kind of hydroponic system most people think of when they think about hydroponics. NFT systems have a constant flow of nutrient solution. The nutrient solution is pumped into the growing tray and flows over the roots of the plants, and then drains back into the reservoir.


There is usually no growing medium used other than air, which saves the expense of replacing the growing medium after every crop. Normally the plant is supported in a small plastic basket with the roots dangling into the nutrient solution.
Most of our lettuce grows in this and in the summer we can harvest one a day.

Aeroponics

The aeroponic system is probably the most high-tech type of hydroponic gardening. Like the NFT system above, the growing medium is primarily air. The roots hang in the air and are misted with nutrient solution. The misting is usually done every few minutes in some systems or continuously in others like ours. Because the roots are exposed to the

air like the NFT system, the roots will dry out rapidly if the misting cycles are interrupted so keeping an eye on these is vital.
We use this for fast growing herbs like Dill, Basil, Cilantro and Parsley.

Water Culture

The water culture system is the simplest of all active hydroponic systems. There are a few different ways to do this

    • The plants slot into foam mats that float directly on the nutrient solution. An air pump supplies air to a series of air stones that bubbles in the nutrientsolution and supplies oxygen to the roots of the plants.
    • The other type is a cascade system which is pumped and the falling water oxygenates itself. Air is incredibly important for roots – so if the roots are in water it must be well oxygenated.IMG_6388 (1)

Most of the time we grow our watercress in the cascade system – it thrives and keeps us in lovely peppery leaves.

On the floating mats this year we grew rocket (arugula), pak choi and spinach. We have grown herbs and leaf lettuce quite well this way too. If you want to build your own Water Culture system, there are details in this article https://notjustpots.wordpress.com/2017/07/20/building-a-watercressinator/

Flood and Drain

The Ebb and Flow system works by temporarily flooding the grow vessel with nutrient solution and then draining the solution back into the reservoir. This action is normally done with a submerged pump that is connected to a timer.
When the timer turns the pump on, nutrient solution is pumped into the grow tray or pots. When the timer shuts the pump off the nutrient solution flows back into the IMG_4511reservoir. The Timer is set to come on several times a day, depending on the size and type of plants, temperature and humidity and the type of growing medium used.
We use large Flood and Drain pots to grow Tomatoes, Tomatillos and Peppers

As for the nutrients we use – we only use them in the NFT and Aeroponics – the rest are plain water. As we come to the end of a growing cycle, we flush the plants with plain water.
As this is a water based growing system, the plants need to be fed nutrients to grow. Each type of plant has specific nutrient requirements, that is why we use several systems, so that we can put plants with similar tastes in nutrients together so that they grow well.

As we come to the end of a growing cycle, we flush the plants with plain water.

NJP_0291

Store Cupboard Staples from Scratch

storecupboardThought we’d start putting some store cupboard recipes up – we’ll try to do this once a month. We got a Weck home canner a couple of months ago after agonising about the safe and scary ways to preserve things long term. The Weck system seemed the best to us from a food safety point of view and ended the inevitable cracked Kilner jars when boiling them on the stove top. Anyway it allowed us to start changing our store cupboard from shop bought condiments / sauces and other preserves to things we make ourselves. We’ll do Brown Sauce this month and coming up will be Tomato Ketchup, Mango Chutney, Burger Relish and Jam plus whatever else we can think of.

Some of the recipes we make are a way of using up the harvest from the garden, and a way of preserving food for later in the season. Others may be just nice stuff – treats, and creating our own version of condiments to try and limit our consumption of artificial preservatives, high levels of sugar and salt. We’ll try to use things from the garden seasonally though this can be difficult.

brown sauceflatr

So anyway this is Brown Sauce month! A spicy condiment almost always tomato based – famous brands such as  HP Sauce (UK / Ireland / Australia / New Zealand / Canada), A1 Steak Sauce (USA). In the UK there is also Tiptree Brown sauce but we prefer HP original’s spicier taste.

The British plum season starts late August to early October & we have 3 Brown Turkey Fig trees growing in pots bursting with fruit, so this is my take on a spicy, yet slightly fruity brown sauce.

NJP’s Brown Sauce Recipe_NJP1236

453g British Plums stones removed
283g Fresh Figs chopped roughly
185g Onion chopped roughly
65g Raisins
13g Fresh Garlic
13g Fresh Ginger
18g Fresh Red Chili Peppers deseeded

_NJP1265SPICES
1/4 tbsp Chili Powder
1/4 tbsp Turmeric
1/4 tsp Allspice Berries
A couple of Mace Blades
2 tsp Tamarind Paste

PRESERVING AGENTS
14g Salt *
187ml Cider Vinegar
70g Dark Brown Muscovado Sugar *
1 tsp Black Treacle *

  1. Place all the ingredients apart from the sugar into a nonreactive pan – don’t use copper!
  2. Bring to the boil and then place onto a low heat and simmer until the fruit is soft and pulpy.
  3. Blitz the contents of the pan in a blender / food processor
  4. At this point either return the sauce to the pan or you can use the extra step of using a food mill to extract liquid from the pulp, depending on whether you want a clearer sauce without bits.
  5. Add the sugar to the blended sauce and simmer until the desired consistency is reached *
  6. Place into sterilised jars and follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for your canning method.
  7. If not using a preserving bath, use the sauce within 2 weeks and  always keep refrigerated.

* If you want a long shelf life for your preserves you need to use preserving agents traditionally these are salt, sugar & vinegars.

  • So use unrefined cane sugar wherever possible.
  • Use black treacle where molasses is not available. I used this as a colouring for the sauce to give a rich brown colour instead of a food colouring. (I plan on looking at making natural food colourings soon, so hopefully I can drop this items from the next batch of brown sauce).
  • To check the consistency I put a sample of sauce on a cold saucer and placed it into the fridge to cool. When cool the sauce behaves differently. Desired thickness is a personal choice, but we like our brown sauce gloopy!