Sunday, 29 September 2013

Hot Stuff - The New Scoobville Scale for Chillies

Dorset Naga - Eleven on the Scoobville Scale

The Scoville Scale (SHU)  is the measurement of the pungency (spicy heat) of chilli peppers.  This is defined as the number of times a chili extract needs to be diluted in water for it to lose its heat.  This ranges from normal bell peppers which rate as 0 SHU  to the Moruga Scorpion and the Butch-T Scorpion which are jostling for the prize of being the hottest in the world at up to 2,000,000 SHU.

The Scoobville Scale (SGU) is different.  This is the measurement of sweating and swearing that emits from the Scooby Gill when tasting spicy culinary delights.  This scale goes from 1 - 11 because it's too normal to do a scale that is from 1-10 (see below for an example of this).

The Scoobville scale is as follows -
1.    I'm kind of getting that.
2.    Yep, I'm getting that now.
3.    Okay, that's got a bit of spingly spangly to it.
4.    That's a bit Mexicano chilliano.
5.    That's got some flavour misbehaviour.
6.    That's feeling Irie firey.
7.    Okay, let's take this outside now as I'm finding it hard to function.
8.    There's absolutely no need for that buster.
9.     It seems I have developed spontaneous Tourette's syndrome.
10.   Call the cops, I'm going to citate your ass.
11.   W.M.D.

Jamaican 'Knee Jerk' Chilli Sauce

I got the basics of this sauce from some ideas I found online and adapted it to use the ingredients I already had, to both improve the colour and to reduce the consistency slightly as the resulting recipe seemed to make the sauce too thick.  Following your intuition can sometimes provide better results than following a recipe, but make sure you write down what you did so you can make it again if it is really nice (are you listening Scooby?!).
I'm very pleased with the results on this one.  This might be the tastiest hot chilli sauce I've ever had, but it's early days and we have lots more chillies to use and ideas to try.  This sauce has many layers of tastes and depths of flavours, and smells amazing from the moment the chillies start to roast and just improves from there.  Taste wise it starts with a fruity mango and apple sharpness rising to an intense black pepper twang on the tip of the tongue, then plateaus to leave most of the heat and a deep caramel flavour.  But that's just what we think.  Caution is advised as a tiny dollop on the small end of a teaspoon is enough to start my facial sauna.  Scooby rates this as a 7 or 8 on the 'Scoobville Scale' (for more information on this watch out for the next post!).
Jamaican 'Knee Jerk' Chilli Sauce
100g Jamaican Jerk peppers 
(or Scotch Bonnet)
10g whole garlic cloves
20g dark brown sugar
(we used molasses sugar)
20g salt
5g mustard powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cumin
2 tsp cornflour
200ml apple cider vinegar
50ml passata
1.  Start by roasting the whole chillies and garlic on a lightly oiled baking tray for 20-25 minutes at 200 degrees C.  They should be nicely browned/caramelised in places.  Allow to cool slightly.
2.  Put on some clean plastic/latex gloves and de-stalk the chillies, removing the seeds and pith (unless you want maximum heat in which case leave them in). 
3.  Roughly chop the chillies and squeeze out the roasted garlic from its skin and place in a pan.
4.  Add all the other ingredients to the pan and mix well. 
5.  Bring up to heat and simmer for 5 minutes,  stirring to prevent sticking and to make sure the sugar has dissolved fully.
6.  Allow to cool and then blend to a smooth consistency before bottling into a clean, sterile container of your choice.
Enjoy (in moderation)!

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Testing, Testing, One, Two....Phew!

Before Phil unleashed his culinary skills on the special chillies that our friend Dominic had kindly given us, he wanted to experiment with the plant of non-specified chillies we had bought from a supermarket weeks ago (see photo and if anyone can help us with identification please let us know).  If all else failed, at least none of the premium home grown ones would be wasted.
This was to be the first of many chilli sauce making experiments.  After searching the net for some good recipes he quickly got bored and decided to make one up from ingredients we had in the store cupboard.  Phil was on his own when it came to this series of experiments, particularly so as he had requested I get him a couple of pairs of protective gloves from work to help him 'handle the chillies'.  He drew the line at eye protection on this occasion, but didn't rule it out for further experiments with some of the hotter varieties in the future!  As far as I was concerned, this was starting to sound hazardous. 
My part in all of this would be to provide the photograph of the end result; the safer end of the deal in my opinion.  I might consider trying the resulting sauce  but only after careful inspection of Phil's face, followed by a thorough inspection of his forehead to see how much sweat was breaking out.
In this particular case, the experiment was a success, resulting in one bottle of smoky sweet sauce with overtones of barbecue.  The heat builds, taps you on the shoulder before giving you a slight but passionate slap round the face.  We enjoyed it trickled over tortilla chips.  I chose the tortillas with the merest smattering on them, just to be sure, and watched as a very slight moistness formed on Phil's forehead.
Phil felt ready now to play with the big boys.
Chilli Sauce Test Run

1 tsp oil (rapeseed)
8 hot red chillies (seeds and pith removed)
1/2 tsp medium madras curry powder
200ml passata
100ml coconut vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp shoyu soya sauce

1.  Chop the chillies finely.
2.  Heat the oil in a pan and then fry the chillies gently for 2 minutes.
3.  Add the curry powder and fry for a further minute.
4.  Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for five minutes.
5.  Allow to cool and then blend to a smooth sauce like consistency.
6.  Decant into a clean sauce bottle.


Sunday, 22 September 2013

Burd's Eye View of Chillies

What have I let myself in for?  Phil loves chillies and so does our friend Dominic Burd.  I on the other hand have a wary appreciation of them.
We met up today at the chilli festival at the Eden Project.  Dom brought us a big bag of chilli goodies - a selection of chillies from his first ever home grown crop.  It was more than enough to make Phil's eyes go wide with wonder whilst I carefully scanned Dom's very meticulous tasting notes that accompanied his hot property.  Straight away I had a firm favourite - the Mulato Isleno Poblano  - on account of the words 'mildest' and 'faintest piquancy' being featured.  Even the name sounds positively angelic compared to the 'Devil's Rib', 'Turtle Claw' and 'Hot Scotch' that also featured in Dom's crop. 
Dom's chilli treats clockwise from top right - Orange Habanero, Turtle Claw, Bengal Naga, Hot Scotch, Dorset Naga, Jamaican Jerk Habanero, Isleno Mulato Poblano, Devils Rib and Early Jalapeno (in the middle)
Dom's enthusiasm for chillies was however infectious.  So much so that I found myself wandering off unattended at one point and trying of my own accord a chilli mash made by the Bad Boy Chilli Company based in Lostwithiel here in Cornwall.  Phil was amazed I had done this as I am not known for my experimentation with spicy food any more than Phil is for taking a big bite of garlic bread.  I tried the Bird's Eye Mash on account of the fact that I thought it would be less hot than the red coloured Scotch Bonnet Mash next to it.  I was wrong on two counts; the first was picking up quite a cocktail stick's worth in one go and the second was that Dean, one of the Bad Boys, informed me that in fact the Scotch Bonnet Mash had a little less of a hit not so much due to it's 'heat', as in fact that is more, but more due to its flavour.  He was right, as I discovered when I timidly approached it with a smaller sample this time.  I was learning in the 'baptism of fire' style.

Michael and Joy Michaud in the Dorset Naga seed crop tunnelLearning was very much part of the day, particularly so when listening to the wonderfully entertaining and informative talks given by Michael Michaud from Sea Spring Seeds in Dorset.  Michael runs Sea Spring Seeds with his wife Joy and it is where Dom sourced his chilli plants from. 

Even after one years growing he swears by them and given the knowledge and enthusiasm exuding from Michael, I can see why.  It was great he had a chance to meet Michael face to face and tap into his expertise and Phil and I will certainly make Sea Spring Seeds our 'go to' company now for next seasons vegetable seeds as a result too.  For us, word of mouth and personal experience go a long way when it comes to doing business with people.

Eden could have made so much more of the chilli festival than they did to be honest (the advertising and information on the website was minimalist to say the least).  That said, a good day was had by all.  We had a chance to catch up with Dom, a pleasure we don't do nearly as much as we should, and we all furthered our knowledge of growing and eating chillis. 

Now it was time to start experimenting in the kitchen with Dom's crop.  Watch this space......I predict a heat wave in the coming months!

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Badger Cull

I have just been sent this link by a friend.  It is a well written piece about the badger cull from a County Councillor from Somerset County Council. 
What makes it very valuable is that he is writing it from the perspective of someone who was essentially pro cull but then dug deeper.  It is refreshing to hear of a politician taking it upon themselves to investigate and question their own government.  I really hope this story gets out there.  It is of course what the anti-cull camp have been screaming loudly about for a long long time but sometimes it takes an insider to start questioning things before some people will sit up and take note. 
I applaud Mike Rigby's intelligence to investigate and question the cull.  I also applaud his honesty and bravery in doing so despite representing a rural constituency.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Intelligence and Sensitivity

Sometimes, just sometimes, you wonder what makes people tick.  Actually let's be honest here; it's more than sometimes.  In fact, it is a daily occurrence.  The litter chucked out the car window, the group of people stood chatting in the entrance to the shop whilst everyone has to walk around them, the car parked so it takes up two spaces in the car park and the complete blanket subconscious denial of the infliction of cruelty on beings of a different species; they are all examples of different levels of ignorance that torture me to different degrees on a daily basis.  People often show a complete disregard and awareness for the minor actions in their lives so how could we expect them to deal with really important stuff?  Phil and I refer to all of these as 'another bout of unawareness'.
I don't consider myself to be a very intelligent person.  I don't have a degree and I don't have a high flying job that I can hold up and say "hey look how important and intelligent I am", but you know what, I've met plenty of people who fit this description but somehow have missed the point.  What is the point you might ask?  Well, in my uneducated and unqualified opinion, the point is that you should always engage your brain fully, beyond your own 'world', beyond what others tell you, beyond your own race, country, belief and species.  You and your family are not the only people sharing this planet.
You know what, I might order some of these pills.  It might stop me ranting and make me happier.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Quick and Easy Tomato Tartlets

Despite the fact that Summer has had a hissy fit and left, slamming the door firmly shut behind her with a flurry of wind and rain, the tomatoes have yet to give up on us.  Their shiny rotund forms can be seen clinging on to the now sad looking plants as they are whipped about mercilessly in the cooling northern wind. 

Everyday we retrieve those that have given in and fallen to the ground in various stages of ripeness as well as plucking those that have made it all the way through before they too give up. 

Delightfully, we seem to have a constant supply of ripe ones piled up in a bowl on our kitchen worktop.  Most of these we have been enjoying fresh; by far the best and simplest way to enjoy them in our view.  Every now and then however we enjoy bringing out their sweetness with a touch of cooking.

Tomato Tartlets
Take some lovely fresh tomatoes and halve.
Cut some vegan puff pastry with a cookie cutter of a size that will allow space around the tomato when placed on top.  Pop them onto a greased oven tray.
Go grab some vegan cheese if you have some (you don't have to but it is a naughty addition especially if you use a Vegusto cheese!).  Slice and sneak one slice on top of each pastry round.
Pop a tomato half on top of the cheese and then scatter over some fresh herbs (we like a bit of oregano and thyme) and then a pinch of course salt and some ground black pepper.  Finish with the merest drip of olive oil on top of the tomatoes.
Bake at about 200 degrees C for approximately 25 minutes (basically until the pastry is risen around the tomatoes and golden brown - you'll work it out for sure!).

Saturday, 14 September 2013


It's been a pretty good year for squashes but now, as the wetter weather is encroaching more and more on the unusually warm and dry summer, it is time to start harvesting before they can even think about rotting.
Nestling amongst the long green grass, we found this monster at 15 inches long.  I think it is either an Early Prolific Straight Neck or a Pink Banana type.  Both of these varieties are heirloom ones that I found in a garden centre in California a few years ago.  Couldn't say which one it is for sure as they have intermingled and rambled all over the garden and many of the plant labels pulled out by the tendrils in the process (as if they didn't want to be identified!).  I like it when the plants take control and yet still deliver tasty results.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Beer Bamboozled

Beer is not by default vegan or even vegetarian.  It's one of those things that many people, even some vegetarians/vegans, don't tend to realise or think about because "how does beer have meat in it?" after all; a question we have been asked on many occasions.  Well it is a fact that many beers use animal products (isinglass (from fish bladder), gelatine, egg whites, sea shells, honey, dairy, amongst other things) in the brewing process; specifically the filtering process.  Although this may not end up in the final product, the fact remains that a part of an animal has been abused to get it to that point, so for that reason any pure ethical veggie or vegan would normally choose their brew carefully.
The next follow up question is then normally; what beer do you drink and how do you know it is okay?  Sadly the majority of beer bottles are not labelled as well as many food items are these days and it is a very rare thing to see a cask beer in a pub clearly labelled as such (and indeed the cask version is even less likely to be veggie or vegan anyway due to increased likelihood it has been filtered).  Let's just say that the industry has got a way to go in their labelling let alone their brewing process when it comes to veggie and vegan options.
It can be frustrating being surrounded by multiple local ales in a pub to then have to resort to a mainstream offering that you know is okay.  However, vegan ales are out there and with a little research, a bit of help and an enjoyable amount of exploration you can discover a world of tasty and ethical vegan brews.
Below is a selection of the ones we have enjoyed over the last month or so (notice that is past tense as the bottles have already been emptied!).  Art Brew, Batemans and Samuel Smiths all label their bottles as vegan (so we love them for that!). 
For a reliable and up to date reference to vegan beers, wines and ciders you can't get better than Barnivore and there are even Apps available through their site now if you are a techno freak!
Barnivore, your vegan wine and beer guide

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Golden September Light

An early dinner greeted me on return from work last night - a lovely healthy Japanese style stew complete with tofu chunks and seaweed.  As well as curries, Phil is also very good at this style of cooking. 
With the goodness of the ocean inside our tummies, we decided we had enough time before dark to take in the goodness of the ocean from the outside too and promptly took to walking along the estuary and out to the beach.  We also had the intention of searching for giant puffballs along the way but alas, as predicted by Phil, we had shamefully left it too late in the season and found no evidence on our usual patch.  Regardless it was such a beautiful evening of warmth and light. 
The light was painting everything golden; the sculpted ripples on the sand, the gentle sparkling eddies of the river, the under wings of the seagulls drifting in the still air overhead, the splashes of water as dogs surged to capture floating balls and the smiling faces of our fellow beach dwellers.
As the sun dropped, people stood contemplating the narrowing pathway of light out to sea until the final 'blip' sent the whole of the sky above into a final display of graduated yellow to blue. 
It was time to head home before the September nip in the air took hold and chased away the gathered warmth and golden memories of this glorious evening.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

It's Cobnuts!

It's literally nuts that most people don't think about foraging for food.  They say that money doesn't grow on trees but food does and modern day society seems to have forgotten this.  Not only does it save you money to forage but you can find things that are extraordinarily tastier than most shop bought produce; and sometimes even produce not readily available in the shops altogether. 
Take these cobnuts for instance; they are Kentish Cobnuts and we just don't see them normally down our end of the country.  Therefore, a recent trip to visit my parents in Kent had us collecting them like squirrels.  They may not look 'supermarket perfect' but they sure make up for it taste wise.  You could say we were like kids in a 'nature candy store'. 
And the foraging season proper is only just beginning........