The Blind Chocolatier, Unit 6, Staveley Mill Yard, Back Lane, Staveley, Cumbria LA8 9LR

Featured

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

So much to choose from and all Hann-made in the Lake District!

In June this year Dan and I visited my beloved Lake District for a few days and it was a welcome opportunity to see my step-mum Gil and my step-sister Annabel, as well do some sightseeing and to visit my father’s grave, for the first time since the Pandemic.

The weather during most of our trip was warm and sunny and on our last day in the area Dan and I chose to take an “AA Short Walk” around the boundary of Staveley’s Mill Yard and Craggy Woods, four miles in a two-hour stretch which was very pleasant especially along the pathways shaded by trees.

We returned to our starting point and after a sandwich lunch and coffee in a local cafe we decided to have a mooch around the Mill Yard as we had heard there was a chocolate shop there – and I am never one to pass up a chocolate opportunity!

The Blind Chocolatier is on the right-hand side inside the main entrance to Staveley Mill Yard and is a cute little shop with neat rows of delectable artisan chocolates and chocolate bars attractively and clearly displayed for easier choosing, although in practice choice may be something of a novelty when everything on offer appears scrumptious and irresistible.

Whilst deliberating, we chatted to the chocolatier himself to find out more about he and his craft. A pastry chef and member of a multiple-award winning team since 2007, in July 2015 local man Stuart was diagnosed with Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON), a rare eye condition characterised by loss of vision which is often the only symptom. LHON is a mitochondrial inherited (transferred from mother to child) degeneration of retinal ganglion cells and their axons that leads to an acute or subacute loss of central vision and typically affects young males. It is only transferred through the mother as it is primarily due to mutations in the mitochondrial, rather than nuclear, genome and only the egg contributes mitochondria to the embryo which means that men cannot pass the disease on to their offspring. Although registered legally blind, Stuart has not only continued to maintain his role in a 2 Rosette Standard kitchen but has finally achieved a long-held dream of having a chocolate shop in Staveley, where his business has flourished.

Stuart told us that Christmas trade last year was very successful and hoped that despite the Cost of Living Crisis those healthy sales would be repeated as he had just invested in new tempering equipment. I said that I am sure he will continue do well; after all, who doesn’t love chocolate?!

Dan and I eventually chose two chocolates each, including cherry and blackberry varieties which Stuart put in a little box to take out, although we assured him they wouldn’t last 5 minutes and of course they didn’t; we were barely outside the door before we got stuck in and they were scrumptious and flavourful with a smooth, velvety texture. I could have eaten two or three times the quantity without any help at all from Dan!

Heaven in a box!

The Blind Chocolatier has a page on both Facebook and Instagram, sometimes showcasing new flavours in production or activities going on behind the scenes such as new product development, sneak-peaks at Christmas confectionery or making a special batch of wedding favours, as well as a website at http://www.theblindchocolatier.co.uk with an online shop offering both delivery and collection services. Choose from a wide variety of tempting and beautifully-wrapped artisan chocolate bars for £3.20 each, including Dark Chocolate with Pistachio and Almond for ‘nutty’ moments, Vegan Oat Milk and Dark Chocolate and Ginger; or what about a 6 Selection Box of Chocolates for £6, a Milk or White Chocolate 12 box or a 12 box All Rounder for £11.50 each? Postage and packing costs £6 for delivery within 1-2 days so I ordered a box of the Chef’s Selection containing 25 chocolates for £23 to send straight to my stepmother for her birthday, along with a note, and she was thrilled to receive them especially as they were made locally. I shall certainly be ordering more in the future.

If you are planning a trip to the English Lake District, why not put Staveley Mill Yard on your ‘to visit’ list? The Blind Chocolatier and his neighbours look forward to welcoming you soon.

The Blind Chocolatier is open Monday – Saturday 10 am to 5pm and on Sunday 10 am – 4 pm.

Happy eating!

Catherine

Ginger, Lime and Orange No-Bake Cheesecake

Featured

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

Who can resist a classic cheesecake for dessert with its rich, buttery base and creamy filling? Whether baked or simply prepared and refrigerated, cheesecake is so versatile and adding chocolate even as a final flourish and finishing touch elevates it to another level. Whether you go for something traditional, fruity or laced with alcohol, there is a cheesecake to please everyone.

We are currently having a new custom-built kitchen at home and have no cooking facilities other than a one-ring electric countertop hob (which I usually use for my candle-making) and a traditional coal-fired barbecue in the back garden. The next-door neighbours were coming over for dinner and I wanted to create a no-fuss dessert that was quick and easy to make and could be chilled and stored in the refrigerator until needed. Although I do enjoy a traditional baked cheesecake, I actually prefer the non-baked variety and in any case it was not possible to prepare a baked one due to the lack of kitchen facilities at present. I had decided on a Mexican-themed dinner cooked on the barbecue and rather than settle for lime, which can be a little sharp for some tastes, I thought about using a twist of orange for more subtlety combined with the gentle heat of ginger to marry the two citrus flavours, and then sprinkle over a little grated 72% dark chocolate just before serving for a further dimension; ginger and citrus flavours pair very well with dark chocolate and of course chocolate features in a wide variety of savoury Mexican dishes.

Assuming you are mindful to remove the double cream from the refrigerator at least half an hour before you intend to start making the cheesecake filling – for example, when you put the biscuit base in the refrigerator to chill – then it will take you less than 30 minutes in total to prepare in two separate stages.

Ingredients

Gluten-free; vegetarian

  • 200 g Gluten-free Ginger Biscuits (Cookies)
  • 80 g Unsalted Butter
  • 500 g Cream Cheese, such as Mascarpone
  • 110 g Icing Sugar, sifted to remove any lumps
  • Juice and zest of 1 orange and 2 limes
  • 150 ml Double Cream, whipped
  • Dark Chocolate, to decorate

Grease the inside of a 20 cm loose-base cake tin and line the base with baking parchment to fit.

Place the ginger biscuits in a clean polythene bag, tie, place on a board and bash into crumbs with a rolling pin. Alternatively, put the ginger biscuits in a food processor and pulse until they resemble fine breadcrumbs.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat, remove from the heat and quickly add the biscuit crumbs stirring well to combine.

Spoon the buttery biscuit crumbs into the cake tin, spreading evenly over the lined base and pressing them down well with the back of a metal spoon. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours to harden.

Meanwhile, tip the cream cheese and icing sugar into a large bowl and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon to combine. Add the juice and zest of one orange and two limes and stir into the cream cheese and sugar mixture.

Pour the double cream into a separate bowl and beat with an electric or balloon whisk until it forms soft peaks and then combine with the other ingredients, mixing in thoroughly.

Pour the mixture evenly into the cake tin over the hardened biscuit base and smooth over with a palette knife and chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Carefully push out the base of the cake tin and place the cheesecake on a board. If you are lucky you may be able to remove the cheesecake itself from the base of the tin but often I don’t risk it! Decorate the top of the cheesecake with a little grated dark chocolate before cutting into slices.

COOKS’ NOTES

You may substitute regular ginger biscuits for gluten-free, if you don’t wish to make your cheesecake “Free From”.

Quark, mascarpone, Philadelphia store’s own brand cream cheese will all work well in this recipe.

Remove the cream from the refrigerator and allow to stand at room temperature for AT LEAST 30 minutes and it should whip up in no time at all, even with a balloon whisk!

If you don’t have a cake tin you may make and serve the cheesecake in individual ramekins, which look pretty for fuss-free dinner parties. For 4-6 people, you could halve the ingredient quantities depending on the size of the ramekins. Grease each ramekin with a little melted butter, omit the baking paper but follow the recipe. Garnish with a slither each of fresh orange and lime before serving, if you like.

“Tranquillo”

Featured

Tags

, , , , , , ,

Last year I composed a short piece of music which I named “Tranquillo” and recorded earlier this year. In Italian, Tranquillo means ‘calm’, ‘peaceful’, ‘quiet’ and I wrote the piece with meditation and relaxation in mind.

The recording incorporates natural wave sounds, sampled whilst visiting my local beach during the first Lockdown in 2020, not with anything particular in mind but with the idea that at some stage I might use the wave sounds for some kind of project in the future.

“Tranquillo” is written in C major with a 4/4 or ‘common’ time signature. It starts in the octave above middle C, in the Solfeggio frequency of 528 Hz which enables meditation, healing and transformation. To learn more about the Solfeggio scale and the role it plays in Healing and Sound Therapy, please refer to my previous blog here:-

https://catherineevans63.com/2022/05/11/sound-therapy-and-the-solfeggio-scale/

The tempo is Andante, which in music means ‘moderately slow’ and is written as 120 at the top left-hand side of the music score, beneath the heading. It is an easy piece to play at beginner to intermediate level.  Sustain pedal may be added for phrasing at the player’s discretion and the recording has been given echo to soften the tone.

The standard recording of this short piece is 2 minutes 28 seconds and this and the score is in Ternary Form, or 3 parts. Parts A and B are repeated and Part C is played once. To hear it, please visit my  Bandcamp https://catherineevans.bandcamp.com/track/tranquillo

You can also listen to the piece and/or purchase the Score from:- https://www.scoreexchange.com/scores/549189.html

The extended (meditation) version has been looped to 11 minutes 11 seconds for YouTube (11:11:50 which they rounded up to 11:12) and the video comprises various random footage of sea and skies filmed over the last few years mostly around Thanet in coastal Kent, with certain of the sunset stills taken in Aberystwyth, South Wales in August 2019 while Dan and I were there for a family wedding.

Happy listening!

Catherine

My blog content is always offered freely but if you enjoy what you read, please tip me a peppermint tea by clicking on the PayPal button at the top of this blog. Thank you and blessed be!

Sound Therapy and the Solfeggio Scale

Featured

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I believe that in music we are often subconsciously drawn to frequencies that resonate with us or offer something which we need. Whether we simply enjoy listening to music or whether we write music or song, I believe we automatically choose particular frequencies and key signatures without necessarily intending to do so. In fact every note has its own unique frequency and wavelength. For example, I have discovered that middle C (otherwise known as C4) on the piano has a frequency of 262 Hz and vibrates to L4 – the fourth vertebra in the lumbar spine. I find this fact interesting; I have sometimes been drawn to playing pieces and indeed have composed music in this key signature without even giving it any deep and meaningful thought and simply going by instinct, despite my history of lower back problems stretching back nearly 30 years!

Sound therapy uses a variety of approaches to using vibrational frequencies to aid healing and therapy and even just playing or listening to music can help you to relax and focus.  For example, Mantra is based on the resonance of specific chants. The mantra ‘OM’ vibrates to 432 Hz and has been used for thousands of years for meditation. However, if a piano is tuned to this frequency it sounds inferior to one tuned to A440 concert pitch due to calculations of the scale in the factory intended for A440 – determined by wire gauge, string length and tension.

Another tool of meditation is the use of Binaural Beats. The purpose of these frequencies is to play two slightly varying tones in each ear which then creates a third sound inside your brain in order to change the oscillation of brain waves and thus encourage a more positive state of mind and ultimately a greater sense of wellbeing.

The Solfeggio Scale is one we may be familiar with in the form of the vocal warm-up exercise: “Doh-Ray-Me-Fa-So-La-Ti-Doh” and please note the first syllable ‘Sol’ meaning ‘sun’, associated with warmth, growth, happiness and positivity. This scale is said to have been created by an 11th-century monk named Guido D’Arezzo, comprising a set of 6 tonal scales or frequencies for use in sacred chants in Latin – although in effect it existed in some form as far back as the 6th century AD. These chants contained special tones or frequencies which, when sung in harmony, and in Latin, were believed to impart tremendous spiritual blessings during religious masses. When these special frequencies were sung in harmony they were believed to bring spiritual abundance during religious masses; the combination of these ancient sacred tones and the Latin intonation had the power to penetrate throughout the recesses of the subconscious mind and support deep healing and transformation. “The Hymn to St John the Baptist” is renowned for being the most inspirational hymn ever written, featuring all six Solfeggio notes. At some point the Scale was lost only to be rediscovered in the mid-1970s by Dr Joseph Puleo, an American naturopathic physician and herbalist, and 3 lower tones were added making a total of nine, derived from numerology.

Our modern-day musical scale is slightly out of kilter from the original Solfeggio frequencies and consequently is a little more dissonant, as it is based upon what is known as the “Twelve-Tone Equal Temperament” and falls within the frequency of A440 Hz The ancient music scale was simply called “Just Intonation.” Furthermore, our modern music falls within the A 440 Hz frequency (concert pitch, as described above), which in circa 1914 was changed from A417 Hz. All nine Solfeggio frequencies together with their potential for healing and transformation are briefly addressed in turn.

174 Hz (F3 or 174.614 Hz, rounded up to 175 Hz) is the lowest of the frequencies and the first of the three more modern, lower tones. This frequency reduces and heals pain and lowers stress. It contains certain nodes and background tones that target the chakras and develop the healing power and energy to bring about a sense of wellbeing. This frequency can also help to lessen emotional pain and open you up to greater love and courage and may act as a natural anaesthetic or “painkiller”, so if you are feeling in a bad way emotionally and/or are still holding on to deep emotional wounds or scars, listening to music in this frequency may help you to release emotional damage and find the strength and courage to move forward more boldly in life, no longer holding on to ghosts of the past.

285 Hz is the second of the three lower frequencies and lies between C#4 (277.18 Hz rounded up to 278 Hz) and D4 (293.665 or 294 Hz) on the piano. This frequency is soothing and calming and “sends a message” through energy fields to heal and restore tissues and damaged organs in the body. The 285 Hz frequency also helps speed up the healing of burns, fractures, sprains, cuts, burns and other injuries to the limbs and boosts the immune system. It is believed that this frequency creates positive shifts to those near them so if, for example, you are recovering from an operation or injury or, say, you are recovering from an illness or have been feeling “under the weather” then listening to music in this frequency may help to support you in your recovery.

396 Hz is the third of the lowest frequencies and is found at G4 (391.991 Hz rounded up to 392 Hz). This frequency vibrates to the Root Chakra and also helps to balance that energy centre. It is good for letting go of grief and loss and for removing negative blocks such as fear and guilt. It is one of the fundamental frequencies in sound healing. When we have negative feelings our bodies start producing more cortisol which then affects our sleep and our general health and wellbeing. Listening to 396 Hz frequency music helps to create a strong magnetic energy field which gives us the power to achieve our ambitions, and its vibrations release us from the chains of negativity. The frequency is also used for awakening and turning grief and sadness into joy, and may be very helpful in helping to overcome bereavement particularly if you are finding it hard to come to terms with things.

417 Hz or note G#4 (415.3 Hz rounded up to 416 Hz) is the first of the original set of frequencies and vibrates to the Sacral Chakra located just below the navel. It is known as the ‘Frequency of Change’ and is used to cleanse and unblock negative or stale energy. A deeply transformative frequency, its powerful vibrations heal the brain, enabling us to overcome trauma and manage any negative thought patterns, thus it shares some aspects of its therapeutic power with the lowest frequency of 174 Hz whilst going the extra mile.

528 Hz or note C5 (523.251 Hz rounded up to 524 Hz), the octave above middle C and twice the frequency of C4, is the ‘Love’ frequency which is said to repair DNA. This frequency is equivalent to a piano tuned at A442 or C4 +16 cents on the tuning fork. I recently recorded “Tranquillo” which I composed in this key signature – again, I was simply guided to it – intended for meditation. It was only afterwards when I started looking more into the Ancient Solfeggio Frequencies when I discovered that 528 Hz music is the ultimate frequency for meditation and is best played softly. The 528 Hz frequency vibrates to the Solar Plexus. It increases positive thoughts and feelings and has been found to be the source of healing and recovery for the entire body, mind and spirit – so important for offering up the potential for DNA repair. It is linked to a natural, deep rooted link with the natural world and reinforces relationships with creativity and is perfect for when you feel in need of deep healing and to overcome traumas carried through from past lives as well as those of your ancestors. Now for an interesting scientific fact: if you tap your hand on a table, then you will have just been exposed to 528 Hz sound waves. White noise has no pitch and also has 528 Hz sonics and almost every sound except for a pure sine wave (a continuous wave as shown on a graph in mathematics, engineering and physics for example and with a smooth periodic function) contains white noise!

The 639 Hz frequency lies between D#5 (622.254 Hz rounded up to 623 Hz) and E5 (659.255 Hz rounded up to 660 Hz). This frequency is known as the Miracle Tone and vibrates to the Heart Chakra to manifest pure positive love energy. Listening to music in this frequency helps us to emotionally reconnect and attract love both from ourselves and those around us. This music can also help us to feel closer to universal consciousness, or self-realization by allowing us to look at a particular situation in a different way than before. Listeners may start to experience greater harmony in their relationships and navigate through life with better communication skills, deeper understanding, tolerance and love. Anyone struggling with turbulent or toxic relationships and co-dependency, or who is going through a rough patch in their personal life may find that listening to 639 Hz music enables them to heal and go on to transform areas of their life that no longer serve them well. The 639 Hz frequency may also be used to balance a blocked Heart Chakra which may manifest itself through low self-esteem, depression, lack of trust, low blood pressure, poor circulation and other heart and lung problems of the physical body.

The 748 Hz or note F#5 (739.989 rounded up to 740 Hz) frequency vibrates to the Throat Chakra and is used to cleanse all types of infections and dissolve toxins and electromagnetic radiations. It is directly connected to the Principle of Light – a higher form of bioenergy. Listening to music of this frequency may enable you to open up to communicate with your higher self, awakening your inner strength and intuition. It can also be used to cleanse blocked negative energy and overcome fear, overthinking and worry. Are you an overthinker? Do you spend hour after hour, day after day, week after week picking over and trying to analyze or make sense of a situation or an experience, whether it occurred recently or even long ago in your past? Then perhaps the 748 Hz frequency will enable you to take a step back and start to look at the situation more objectively and realize that’s where it belongs – in the past – and that today is for living without “what if’s” or regret. Nobody will think any the worse of you and even if they did, it is their issue to deal with, not yours.

The 852 Hz frequency (G#5 or 830.60 Hz rounded up to 831 Hz) corresponds with the Third Eye Chakra, which is known as the Seat of Intuitiveness. Music in this frequency may be used for clarity of thought, connection with the spirit world and a return to self-awareness, particularly if you have been feeling detached or disconnected from what is going on around you. In other words, if you have been feeling ungrounded or distracted and not always present in the moment.

The 963 Hz frequency lies between A#5 (932.328 Hz rounded up to 933 Hz) and B5 (987.767 or 988 Hz) and is also known as the ‘Frequency of the Gods’ or ‘Seat of the Soul’; its sound vibrates with the Crown Chakra and activates the pineal gland, which is a small pine cone-shaped gland found in the middle of the human brain, in between the two hemispheres of the epithalamus, and was one of the last glands to be discovered. The pineal gland is particularly important for the secretion of melatonin, a serotonin-derived hormone which regulates the body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm, and sleep pattern. The gland is also rich in calcium levels, which act as a radiographer to find the middle of the brain in X-ray images. The 963 Hz frequency enables us to awaken the perfect state and make direct contact with the Universal Light, to which this frequency is attuned.

As I mentioned earlier, the contemporary music scale is a little out of step with the original Solfeggio frequencies, however there are ways of attaining a closer connection, particularly where the nearest notes on a keyboard lies further away from, or even where two lie between, the sacred frequency; for example in the case of 285 Hz, 639 Hz, 852 Hz and 963 Hz frequencies. Even note F#5 corresponding to 748 Hz frequency is a little further out than is ideal. Where a particular frequency lies between two notes, the lower of the two notes is usually taken but to the purist this is nowhere near perfect.

An alternative to the keyboard may be to apply a pitch-bend technique and/or by using a different musical instrument such as strings, pipes, gongs or Tibetan bells, for example, in order to reach the intended frequency more accurately. Please remember of course that the voice is a very versatile instrument capable of a wide variety of sounds and techniques. Holding a note at a particular frequency may be used in chant or as a popular warm-up exercise. You may try it for yourself and find that over the coming weeks and months your singing and speaking voice and vocal range improve significantly and out of that your confidence also grows. YouTube is populated by a wide variety of channels offering music full of love and light intended to heal, cleanse and uplift the body, mind and soul; if you prefer your music darker, check out the channel Atrium Carceri on YouTube for its more Gothic, sacred chants.

Please go to my YouTube Channel Cat Evans Artist to watch the video which accompanies this blog.

Thank you and Blessed be!

Catherine

My blog is always free but if you like what you have read, please feel free to “tip” me a herbal tea!

Home-smoked Salmon

Featured

Tags

, , , ,

Home-smoked salmon is delicious with scrambled eggs on sourdough and garnished with fresh dill.

One of my favourite treats is smoked salmon, always a winner at parties and get-togethers and other special occasions, as is gravadlax (lox).

Smoked salmon and gravadlax both involve curing a whole salmon fillet, after which it may be thinly sliced and eaten or – as in the case of smoked salmon – hot or cold smoked over wood. Smoked salmon is relatively expensive from a supermarket being as much as £5.99 or more for 100 grams, and is therefore considered a delicacy so preparing it at home with a little know-how is usually great value for money.

An interesting fact about smoked salmon: the technique of smoking salmon was brought to the UK by Jewish immigrants from Russia and Poland who settled in the East End of London in the late-19th century. Here they smoked salmon in order to preserve it as methods of refrigeration were rather primative.

Cold smoked salmon is cured salmon that is then smoked at very low temperatures for at least 12 hours which allows it to develop a silky-smooth texture with a fresh taste and bright colour similar to that of raw salmon, whereas the higher temperature of hot-smoked salmon will give the fish a flaky texture and smokier flavour. Both types are delicious served in salads, quiches or on party canapés and are also tasty ingredients in mousses, terrines and patés.

I first tried curing and smoking my own nitrite- and nitrate-free salmon earlier last summer during the first Lockdown and bought an 800 g fillet of sashimi-grade salmon from Fruits de Mer fishmongers in Broadstairs which turned out to be a great success, so later in October I bought a 1 kg side of salmon for around £16, which yielded a generous quantity of 100-150 g packets with a total retail value of around £50 had I purchased them from the supermarket.

I researched smoking and curing methods on the internet and was surprised at the wide variations in techniques and ingredients, which might appear quite confusing to a novice as, for example, some recipes call for a large quantity of salt and a shorter curing time while others are much less salty, and the choice of salt and sugar varies too between recipes. I also referred to the ethical River Cottage Handbook No. 13 Curing and Smoking by Steven Lamb and in the end devised my own method drawing on a combination of the recipe for gravadlax (with a small amount of curing salt and a few variations) and curing times and smoking techniques gleaned from what I considered to be the best sources on the internet.

I used Cornish PDV salt and organic juniper berries from Beech Tree (beech-tree.co.uk), together with soft brown sugar and some dill – we do not use any chemicals on the produce we grow. The salt and sugar in the cure prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and, along with the other ingredients, as a seasoning for the salmon.

Ingredients for a dry cure

Once the dry rub has been applied it may be left to cure in the refrigerator between 12 hours (which will provide a milder flavour) and 48 hours, but I went for 36 hours to provide a fuller flavour that isn’t too salty. As the salmon cures in the refrigerator, massage the curing mixture into every area of the fish after 24 hours and flip it over so that no areas are missed. Generally, unless you are using a very large side of salmon, I personally do not think it is wise to leave the salmon curing for longer than 36 hours as it will become too salty. After the curing time, remove the cure under cold running water and then leave it to soak in a large bowl of cold water to cover by 3 inches for 30 minutes and then drain well in a colander.  pat the salmon dry with kitchen paper and place it skin side down on a wire rack over a food standard tray (which should have the symbol of a knife and fork on the base) or a board or baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper and refrigerate it uncovered for at least 4 hours or preferably overnight to allow the pellicle to form so it is ready to smoke. The pellicle is the surface of the salmon that is most exposed during the curing process and will become slightly ‘tacky’. It develops a smokier flavour and drier, firmer texture than the flesh underneath and is very nutritious, being rich in protein and Omega 3.

If you are cold smoking your salmon, it needs to be done at an ambient temperature not exceeding 150°F (66°C) – as low as 80°F (27°C) is fine. Assuming you are smoking your salmon outdoors you may use a normal smoker (with no fire in the firebox) with a 12 inch tube filled with wood pellets, but you don’t need a professional smoking kit or anything fancy. You can use a kettle barbecue or even a fire pit with a lid and a small foil package of wood chips, or even just a stove-top smoker or a baking tray with a rack and foil and some wood chips if the weather is not on your side and you need to do the smoking indoors. Oak, maple or beech wood chips are good, we have also tried apple wood chips for a more delicate flavour. If you are using a baking tray, make sure it is one you don’t mind getting marked by the flame of a gas hob. In all cases, make sure that you soak your wood chips for an hour before use, wrap them securely in heavy-duty tin foil pierced at intervals before lighting to allow the smoke to escape and place them to one side in the base of your smoker, place the salmon on a wire rack and position it over the smoker, ensuring that the salmon is not sitting directly over the parcel of wood chips and cover with a lid or with foil. Check the temperature of the smoker regularly to ensure that it does not rise above 66°C and if it does, remove the lid to allow it to bring it back down to temperature. This process will take at least up to 24 hours depending on which cold-smoking method you choose, outside/indoor temperatures and the weight and thickness of your fish. The salmon should have an internal temperature of 120°F (49°C) when a temperature probe is inserted into the thickest part of the flesh.

Place the wood chips to one side of the salmon.

Cold smoked salmon should last 3-4 days in the refrigerator but if you cannot eat a while side of salmon within this time frame, separate the fish into smaller portions and vacuum seal or alternatively wrap the portions in cling film and put into ziplock freezer bags. This should extend the life of your smoked salmon to 3-4 weeks in the refrigerator or 3-4 months in the freezer, but it will keep almost indefinitely in a deep freezer.

If you are hot smoking your salmon, it can be done perfectly well in your kitchen with a baking tray with a rack and wood chips. Line the tray with foil and cover the bottom with wood chips. Place the salmon skin side down on to a wire rack and position over the baking tray and either put the lid on (if there is one) or cover with foil, ensuring that the foil doesn’t touch the fish. Put the tray over a medium heat to allow the wood chips to smoke; you will see smoke come out of the edges of the foil or lid. The temperature in the smoker should reach a maximum of 225ºF (107ºC) and the fish should reach an internal finished temperature of no greater than 140ºF (60ºC) to avoid the salmon from drying out. If the temperature in the smoker begins to exceed 225ºF, you may lift the lid to bring it back down again. Remove the tray from the heat and stand, covered, for 20 minutes. Test the internal temperature of the fish by inserting a clean temperature probe and if you are satisfied, lift the salmon from the rack. The flesh of the salmon should be an opaque pink and a skewer should be easy to insert but if the fillet needs extra cooking, give it a few minutes in a hot oven. To enjoy the salmon at its best, either serve and eat it right away or leave it to cool and store in a refrigerator until the next day before either using it in hot or cold recipes or wrapping it in foil and heating in the oven until warmed through.

Hot smoked salmon can be refrigerated for two-to-three weeks or one week after opening, and can be frozen for up to three months. Store the salmon in the original packaging or wrap it tightly in cling film to prevent it from drying out and to maintain its quality and succulence.

Ingredients:

  • 1kg side of salmon
  • 100g light soft brown sugar
  • 75g PDV salt
  • 15g black peppercorns, coarsely ground
  • Bunch fresh dill, course stalks removed, finely chopped
  • 10g juniper berries, crushed.

Method:

1. Rinse salmon fillet under cold running water and pat dry with kitchen paper. Place skin side down on a clean board and your fingers along the flesh side of the salmon, checking for the sharp ends of any pin bones, and pull out any you find with sterilized tweezers or needle nose pliers.

Place the salmon side on a clean board, skin side down.

2. Prepare the cure, combining all the ingredients in a bowl.

3. Spread half the cure over the bottom of a baking dish or over the inside of an extra-large ziplock bag and lay the fillet on top of the cure. If possible the cure should extend about half an inch beyond the edges of the fish on each side. Then spread the rest of the cure on top of the fish, and massage it into the flesh to distribute it completely.

Rub the salmon all over, both flesh side and skin side, with the dry cure

4. If you are using a baking dish, cover with cling film; if you are using a ziplock bag seal it and place it on a food standard tray and if you like, weight it down with something heavy. Refrigerate for 24-48 hours.

5. After 12 hours of refrigeration, massage the cure into the fish, flip the fillet over and massage the other side. Return to the refrigerator. Do this every 12 hours.

6. At the end of your chosen curing time, carefully rinse the cure off the salmon under cold running water. Then place the salmon in a deep dish or large bowl with cold water to cover by about 3 inches and soak it for 30 minutes. Drain through a colander. This process will also help to remove some of the salinity in the fish.

7. Blot both sides of the salmon fillet with kitchen paper and place it skin side down on a wire rack over a baking tray and allow the fish to dry, uncovered, in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight to allow the pellicle to form – the flesh will feel slightly tacky.

8. Smoke the salmon according to your preferred hot or cold method (as described in the narrative above this recipe).

9. When the salmon has cooled completely, transfer it to the refrigerator and chill completely before slicing or flaking (if hot-smoked) or slicing very thinly and serving with your favourite accompaniments such as cream cheese, rye bread or bagels, lemon wedges, capers, thinly sliced pink or red onions (perhaps dressed with a little white wine and tarragon vinegar) or mixed salad garnish.

Bon appetit!

COOK’S NOTES:

When slicing cold-smoked salmon use a very sharp knife preferably with plenty of length and breadth, these slicing knives are expensive but high quality and well worth the hefty price tag – Lakeland Limited sell a good one for around £63. Keep the salmon in the refrigerator until you need to slice it. If you are right-handed place the salmon in front of you so that the thinner tail end is on your right-hand side. Position the knife about a quarter of the way up the salmon (tail end) holding it almost horizontal but so that the leading edge barely cuts into the fish. Move the knife backwards and forwards along the full length of the knife as you gradually move towards the tail and slightly downwards, which should give you a slice shaped like a long D. Continue slicing towards the tail as you gradually move up the fish. The knife blade should be visible through the salmon. When you reach the skin, cut along it to remove all the salmon. Once you get to the other end of the fish, turn it and cut the other way to remove the last few slices. Don’t worry if you don’t get it right straight away, practice makes perfect, and Dan and I are not quite there yet either!

Sausages!

Featured

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Didn’t we do well?!

Back in June, my husband Dan and I celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary in Lockdown with a day of sausage-making followed by a socially-distanced barbecue with our next-door-neighbours, Aidan and Sophia.

The art of sausage-making involves some scientific know-how and there is an obvious difference between making fresh sausages and those that you do not intend to eat right away.

Fresh sausage does not normally need curing salt, just a teaspoon of sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, whatever herbs, spices and other flavourings you like such as apple, sun-dried tomatoes or ale, breadcrumbs or oatmeal and the best quality meat you can afford. However, if you intend to experiment with curing some of the mixture or wish to store fresh raw sausages in the refrigerator for 2-3 days, then you will need to substitute curing salt for sea salt. You may also store your fresh sausages in the freezer well-wrapped for up to 3 months, but freeze them on the day you have made them and consume them within the time frame. Making your own sausages also gives you control over the quality of the other ingredients as shop-bought sausages often contain more unsavoury parts of the animal such as snout, gums, connective tissue and so forth.

If you want to keep your bangers in the refrigerator for 2-3 days before eating them or intend to have a go at producing air-dried sausage, such as chorizo, it is important to add a special curing salt, such as potassium nitrate or pink curing salt, to your sausage recipe in order to avoid botulism. The amount of curing salt varies according to which curing salt you choose and which type of sausage you are making but in the case of chorizo, for example, it is common practice to add 0.5g of potassium nitrate per kg of meat or 2.5g of pink curing salt per kg of meat, which is about half a teaspoon.

The method of curing also varies and is often very precise. Chorizo is often air dried by hanging up in an area with a steady temperature of between 50 and 60F and a humidity of 65-80F, but some people prefer to use an air dryer. Temperature and humidity are very important to avoid problems such as case hardening, which occurs when the cases cure faster than the meat inside. This usually happens when there is not enough humidity and the meat inside will not cure properly, although it is more of a problem with fatter sausages such as salami.

Occasionally mould will form on the sausage casing. White powdery mould is usually safe, but if it forms simply wipe it off with apple cider vinegar. If green mould forms on the outside of the casing do likewise, but if it is another colour such as blue or black you will need to throw the sausage away.

If the sausage does end up dryer on the outside than the inside, wrap in waxed paper or cling film and pop it in the refrigerator for a few days which will usually correct the problem, as the humidity left in the sausages will even out, leaving a more balanced sausage.

Air dried sausage is ready to eat when it has lost at least 35% of its original weight, so make sure you weigh the sausage before you hang it up to dry and then weigh it again before cutting, when it is firm to the touch by squeezing it.

If you are thinking about curing your own sausages in this way, making a small batch of fresh sausage (containing curing salt instead of sea salt and a variety of other seasonings) for eating right away and air drying one or two of the links to experiment, may be a step forward.

Dan and I chose to make fresh sausages by hand after grinding the ingredients in a food processor, as we did not have a sausage-maker or meat-grinder.

Mixing the ingredients – this was the beef mixture

Because I wanted to make some vegetarian haggis sausages for myself, I bought one stick of Viscofan 30mm diameter 100% plant-based sausage skin from the Ebay UK seller butcherssundries_online, which cost me £8.99 including free p&p for one 15.24 metre stick. Viscofan are world-leaders in producing the finest quality sausage skins, using state-of-the-art technology to form their ingredients into casings. The casing I bought is 100% vegetarian, gluten-free, GMO-free, allergen-free and are also suitable for vegans. They are also marketed as having an excellent natural look with good frying qualities and a tender bite. The all-one-length stick is sectioned at approximately 2.5 cm intervals in folded form, which we found produced an average yield of 6 sausages and also allowed us to cut off the length of casing we needed without wasting any, knotting the cut-off end to secure before stuffing.

We started with the ingredients for the vegetarian haggis sausages, then the pork and tomato and finally the beef and red wine ones, washing the food processor thoroughly afterwards between each batch of ingredients to avoid cross-contamination. As we had no sausage-maker we first tried piping the mixture into the skin, which wasn’t very effective, but I had a brainwave and we inserted a small funnel into the open end of the casing and pushed the mixture through the funnel with clean fingers and the handle of a wooden spoon. We made sure the sausage casing was well-filled before twisting at each interval to form the individual sausage shapes, but this was the tricky part as the casing seemed less pliable than we expected so we needed to twist it several times to stay in place.

Stuffing the skins

All the sausages cooked perfectly on the barbecue, the skins did not burst and had a tender bit. We set the grill higher over the coals to allow the sausages to cook evenly. There is nothing worse than a sausage burnt on the outside and still half-cooked on the inside. We wrapped the haggis sausages in foil and placed them in a foil tray with some water and steamed them over the barbecue. All the sausages had a good consistency and tasted delicious and we all enjoyed what we ate. I served all the sausages with a good vegetarian red wine reduction, a foil tray of onions gently fried and then placed over the barbecue covered with heavy-duty foil and some creamy mashed potato, and we shared a good bottle of Champagne.

Below are my sausage recipes – simply combine all ingredients in a food processor or meat grinder before making into sausages. I eyeballed most of the ingredients based on instinct, but if you’re not a confident cook then feel free to use your own weights and measures.

BEEF AND RED WINE SAUSAGES

  • 500g minced beef – drizzled with a good glug of Merlot and allowed to marinate overnight
  • A good handful of fresh breadcrumbs or oatmeal
  • Fresh thyme, leaves only
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

PORK AND TOMATO SAUSAGES

  • 500g minced pork
  • A good handful of fresh breadcrumbs or oatmeal
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • Chopped sun-dried tomatoes if liked
  • Fresh thyme and chopped sage, leaves only
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

VEGETARIAN HAGGIS SAUSAGES

  • Can butter beans, drained and mashed
  • A good handful of oatmeal
  • Chopped garden herbs, leaves only – thyme, rosemary, marjoram
  • A good handful of vegetable suet
  • A glug of sunflower oil
  • 1 tsp ground allspice
  • Sea salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper

We have since invested in a combined sausage-maker and meat-grinder and had a date making turkey and chorizo sausages seasoned with hot and smoked paprika, which turned out really well. We gave some to my brother and he loved them!

Basil Gnocchi with Mediterranean Vegetables

Featured

Tags

, , , , , ,

During the Lockdown period I have seen a few TV programmes featuring celebrity chefs preparing gnocchi.

Now, I have tried pre-packaged gnocchi from the supermarket several times in the past but it was never to my liking. It often has a strange, slimy texture and is under seasoned, tasting of very little at all; an underwhelming dining experience, it must be said.

For me, texture is a very important consideration when preparing meals. If something looks and tastes ‘wrong’ to my palate I am unable to eat it and I am sure many people share my sentiments. Gnocchi has usually had this effect upon me, thus I tend to avoid it.

However, recently having watched TV programmes showcasing tempting plates and inventive recipe ideas with gnocchi, and then discovering that gnocchi is a slightly healthier alternative to traditional white pasta, I did wonder whether I might be missing out on a taste sensation and might perhaps have more luck making my own gnocchi and, at the same time, make it gluten- and egg-free, so I decided to give it a go.

Gnocchi are little Italian soft dough dumplings often made with a blend of semolina or wheat flour, mashed potato, egg and seasoning and can be fried, baked or boiled. Other ingredients might include cornmeal or breadcrumbs, cheese or egg, and flavourings such as vegetables, herbs, cocoa or prunes.

I used Doves Farm plain (all purpose) gluten-free flour which is a blend of rice, potato, tapioca, maize and buckwheat and is also suitable for a Kosher diet. Recipes online suggest baking rather than boiling gluten-free gnocchi but I saw no reason why the little dumplings could not be boiled as long as handled with the love and respect any handcrafted product deserves.

One of the most important things is to use floury potatoes and make sure they steam dry before mashing and that it is well-seasoned with salt and pepper. The potato can be boiled first or baked in its jacket in a microwave oven before mashing A potato ricer, if you have one, makes it easier to get a nice smooth texture with no lumps, otherwise use a conventional potato masher and some elbow grease, but for my recipe do not add milk or butter or any beaten egg. Simply combine the potato with the plain flour, add chopped sage or any chopped herbs of your choice, and season well with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Form the gnocchi dough into little balls or lozenge shapes and use the back of a fork to create a crinkle effect, before boiling in a pan of salted water for a couple of minutes. When they are ready, the gnocchi will rise to the surface. Remove them with a slotted spoon on to kitchen paper to drain and then serve with any sauce of your choice – or even a simple drizzle of garlic infused olive oil and torn basil leaves, or a little pesto or sun dried tomato tapenade.

For a heartier plate and to keep this recipe vegan, any tomato-based sauce goes well with gnocchi, whether you roast whole cherry tomatoes in an oven with garlic and balsamic vinegar or use tinned chopped tomatoes. For a vegetarian, gnocchi can be enjoyed with roasted butternut squash and goat’s cheese or perhaps some spinach and ricotta. I decided to serve the gnocchi simply with a side of roasted Mediterranean vegetables – diced aubergine (eggplant), roughly chopped onions, tomatoes, courgette, tomatoes and bell peppers and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

I found the gnocchi cheap to make and easy to prepare, and the time taken was worth the effort as the result was delicious. I have discovered a liking for freshly-prepared gnocchi, they are tasty, filling and versatile and I will enjoy experimenting with different flavour and texture combinations.

Ingredients (serves 4)

For the gnocchi

  • 400g   Potatoes, mashed
  • 50g     Gluten-free Plain flour
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
  • Finely chopped fresh or dried basil

For the vegetables

  • 1 Aubergine diced into 2cm chunks
  • 2 courgettes diced into 2cm chunks
  • Whole cherry tomatoes or quartered vine-ripened tomatoes
  • 2 red onions, roughly chopped into chunks
  • Red and Yellow Bell Pepper, deseeded and sliced into strips
  • Crushed garlic cloves (optional)
  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Torn basil leaves (to serve)

 

  1. Boil floury potatoes in their skins in salt water, drain thoroughly and return to the pan to steam dry. Alternatively, microwave potatoes in their skins until cooked through.
  2. Wash and prepare the vegetables, drain well on kitchen paper and place in a roasting tin with some crushed garlic cloves if liked and a good glug of olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place in a medium oven and roast for 20-25 minutes or until tender.
  3. On the hob, heat a large pan of salted water and bring to the boil.
  4. Meanwhile, as soon as the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel the skins away with clean hands and either push the potatoes through a potato ricer or mash to remove any lumps. Turn potatoes out on to a large board.
  5. Measure out 50g plain flour on to the board and gently mix into the potatoes, along with chopped fresh or dried basil to your liking and season well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add a little more flour if you think it is necessary, but only add one tablespoon at a time to avoid the dough becoming too dry.
  6. Carefully knead the dough for a few minutes until pliable and then roll into four thin sausage shapes 2-3 cm thick and cut each sausage into 3cm slices. Then either roll into balls or carefully mould into lozenges, using the back of a fork to create grooves which will help the sauce to stick to the dumplings.
  7. Carefully place the gnocchi in the pan of salted water and boil for about 2 minutes. They are ready when they rise to the surface and they will have puffed up a bit. Cook the gnocchi in two batches of two servings to ensure they do not stick together.
  8. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon, toss with a little garlic-infused extra virgin olive oil and serve with the Mediterranean vegetables and torn basil leaves.


Donate with PayPal

CREAM OF WILD GARLIC SOUP

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

In the UK, the wild garlic (allium ursinum) or ‘Ramsons’ season is a short one: these pungent plants are usually ready for picking around the beginning of April until the end of May or early June, though it is normally at its most prolific from April until the beginning of May. Wild garlic plants have pretty white blooms and coat the shady floors of woods at springtime. Although it may also be found in scrub and hedgerows, it prefers the damper conditions of woodland and chalk soils.

Other names for wild garlic include ‘buckram’, ‘broad-leafed garlic’, ‘gypsy’s onions’, ‘wood garlic’, ‘bear leek’ and ‘stinking Jenny’. Its leaves are long, oval and pointed with untoothed edges which grow from the base of the plant and the bulb. They are sometimes confused with lily of the valley when not in flower but you will know it is wild garlic from its strong garlicky smell if you crush some of the leaves in your hand, and lily of the valley flowers are bell-shaped. Lily of the valley is poisonous so make sure you know what you are picking if you are out foraging. The flowers of the wild garlic are small and white with six petals on a thin stalk and around 25 flowers make up each rounded flower cluster on a single, leafless stalk.

Wild garlic reproduces through bulbs, bulbils and occasionally from seeds which are 2-3mm long and are black and quite flat on one side. They scatter when the parts of the plant above the ground die down. It is important not to over-forage wild garlic, which would badly affect regrowth and availability in the following year. Unfortunately, as this plant has become a highly-prized gourmet ingredient this practice is becoming a major problem in certain areas of its habitat. The whole point of foraging is to take only what you need with a respect for nature and mindfulness of its bounty, and not with ruthlessness or for large-scale material gain.

It is the leaves of the wild garlic that are eaten, with the bulbs left intact in the ground, and the taste is quite mild, similar to that of chives. It is best picked before the flowers appear, but in any case it is best to try and avoid picking stalks that bear flowers to ensure the survival of the plant in following years.

Wild garlic leaves can be eaten raw or lightly cooked; they are very versatile and can be used in a wide variety of recipes. Make sure you wash and drain them thoroughly. Some recipes might also ask you to blanch the leaves for a few minutes in boiling water. Wild garlic can be stirred into risottos or omelettes, added to lasagnes and bakes, soups and stews or used in sauces such as pesto or gremolata, or in salads and dressings. In a soup or stew they are best added at the last moment to wilt down, rather like watercress or spinach.

I particularly enjoy making wild garlic pesto which I use in salads or to smooth over my homemade pizza base before adding toppings. I also enjoy the taste of wild garlic soup so I am sharing with you one of my recipes which is prepared in a slow cooker. If you like, use coconut milk instead of double cream to finish to keep it vegan. Please see the cook’s notes at the end of the recipe for other variations.

INGREDIENTS

(Serves 3-4)

1 medium potato, peeled and cut into small chunks

1 clove of garlic, chopped finely

Large handful of foraged wild garlic leaves (or a small packet), larger stalks removed

1 onion, roughly chopped

500 ml vegetable stock (or enough to cover)

Double cream or coconut milk to finish

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

METHOD

  1. In the crock of a small slow cooker place all the ingredients except for the wild garlic leaves and add enough cold vegetable stock to cover approx 2.5 cm above the vegetables. The stock can be made with water and a teaspoon of Swiss Bouillon granules or you can use reserved water from steamed vegetables. Season with salt and pepper. Place the lid on the crock and cook on high for 1 hour, then cook on low for a further 1-1.5 hours or until vegetables are tender. If you prefer to use hot stock, please remember to switch on your slow cooker to high to heat up 30 minutes before you add ingredients and hot liquid as the crock is heat sensitive and may crack.
  2. Meanwhile prepare the wild garlic leaves, removing any flowers and larger, thicker stalks, place in a colander and rinse thoroughly in cold running water, leave to drain.
  3. When the vegetables are tender add the wild garlic leaves to wilt down for 30 seconds or so with the lid on and switch off the slow cooker, leave the soup to cool down a little.
  4. Blend soup thoroughly until smooth with a stick blender, taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Stir through a swirl of double cream or coconut milk, check and correct seasoning again and gently reheat on the low setting. Serve with a few garlic croutons and a chunk of good bread.

COOK’S NOTES

If you prefer your soup to have a milder flavour, replace the onion with a small finely sliced leek.

Try adding some finely chopped chives or parsley to the blended soup.

A stick of lemongrass cooked with the vegetables might add an Asian twist if you are finishing the soup with coconut milk. Remember to remove the lemon grass before blending.

Meat eaters might like to garnish the soup with a scattering of pan fried bacon bits or some crispy pancetta.

If you don’t have a slow cooker, just use a saucepan as usual. Cook the vegetables in the stock until tender. Once tender, remove from the heat and quickly add the wild garlic leaves and allow to wilt down in the residual heat. When the soup mixture has cooled slightly blitz with a stick blender, adjust seasoning, add cream or coconut milk, adjust seasoning again if necessary and gently reheat before serving with garnishes as you like.

If you have neither cream nor coconut milk, just add a splash of milk before reheating or simply reheat with its bright green colour, ladle into a warm bowl and perhaps add a dollop of natural yoghurt or creme fraiche.

PRINCES AND PRESIDENTS

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

On Monday 3 January 2022 the Jeffrey Epstein papers were unsealed and made public in a ruling by United States judges. The sealed financial settlement of $500,000 was made in 2009 between the disgraced financier and Ms Virginia Giuffre (formerly Roberts), a sex trafficking victim of Epstein who has launched a civil lawsuit in the US against Prince Andrew for sexual assault. Ms Giuffre claims she was forced to have sex  with the Prince at Ms Maxwell’s London home when she was a 17-year-old minor, but Prince Andrew denies the accusation and insists he was at home on the evening of the alleged assault. He claims that he had taken his daughter Princess Beatrice to a Pizza Express for a birthday meal in Woking at around 4 or 5 o’clock that afternoon and as his loyal ex-wife Sarah Ferguson was away from the family home that day, the rule they always had was that he would spend the evening at home with their two girls, although as yet he is unable to prove any of this. Nor, despite photographic evidence to the contrary, does the Prince recall having ever met Ms Giuffre.

Ms Giuffre alleges that Prince Andrew abused her in 2001 on 3 separate occasions when was 17 years old and known as Virginia Roberts. She claims the first time was in Ghislaine Maxwell’s London property, the second time in Jeffrey Epstein’s townhouse in Manhattan and once on his Little Saint James Island estate (also known as Epstein Island). She filed her lawsuit against Prince Andrew in August 2021 in the Southern District Court of New York under the New York State’s Child Victims Act.

The Prince’s lawyer, Andrew Brettler,  described Ms Giuffre’s case as “baseless”, also stating that it was “ambiguous at best and unintelligible at worst”. Last weekend he also attempted to have the case thrown out, arguing that Ms Giuffre, who is a US citizen, now lives in Australia with her husband and children but evidence showed that she is domiciled in Colorado and is registered to vote there, and New York Judge Lewis Kaplan rejected a dismissal. In any case, Australia is enduring draconian restrictions under governmental coronavirus policy many people are not even permitted to cross state borders, let alone fly in and out of the country unless for specific, authorized reasons so even if Ms Giuffre had fully intended to return to Colorado at some point she may have been unable to unless granted special dispensation.

Back in 2019 Prince Andrew appeared in an ill-advised, ‘car-crash’ television interview with the BBC journalist Emily Maitlis in an effort to clear his name, in which in a BBC article earlier this week she said the answers he gave to her on camera in response to the allegations made against him by Virginia Giuffre may have seemed “astonishing”, maybe even “jaw dropping in places” but that in some strange way she had been expecting them. Before the cameras rolled the two had talked through the things he wanted to say part of her job was to create the space for him to speak and explain on the record his own account of what had or had not occurred, and in no way was the interview intended to “catch him out”. She said that having watched back at the interview and the questions she asked that day she was taken back at their directness but she had simply gone with the flow as it was the only opportunity to hear the Prince’s side of the story. During the interview Prince Andrew denied he had ever slept with Ms Giuffre; he was in Woking at a Pizza Express with his daughter Beatrice in the late afternoon of the day of the alleged offence. He also denied Ms Giuffre’s claim that he was sweating profusely at Tramp nightclub whilst dancing with her just hours before the alleged abuse took place, owing to an “overdose of adrenaline in the Falklands War” which had left him unable to perspire. However,  it has since been reported that Prince Andrew’s lawyers have so far been unable to provide any documentary evidence that he is unable to sweat, despite his strongest denial of the allegations made against him.

Discussing the case over dinner with a friend the other day, they pointed out to me that often the Royals tend to possess a certain naivety, relying on aides and Palace officials for advice on day-to-day as well as more important issues, though ultimately the Royal member will make the final decision and can choose to avoid any counselling given. For example, with this in mind and despite his haughty and entitled attitude Prince Andrew may simply possess a poor filter when it comes to friends and associates and perhaps he had been manipulated (and flattered) by his dazzlingly charismatic, well-connected and worldly friend Ms Maxwell, who played him like a fiddle and coaxed him into her web of deceit with her lively spirit and warm-hearted generosity, however disingenuous she actually was; that in his naivety he was hoodwinked or ‘framed’ into posing for a staged photograph with his accuser (and Ms Maxwell smiling in the background) that might prove useful in the future and implicate him in her deeds should her means demand it. If this argument is a valid one, then it might be argued that the same goes for Ms Giuffre herself, however there is nothing to suggest she has not spoken her honest truths and surely if there had been a shred of doubt regarding her story she would not have been awarded compensation from the Epstein settlement fund. One might also argue that even assuming Prince Andrew DID visit Epstein Island, it is possible he stayed at a guest house on the estate and not at the main house and therefore was blissfully unaware of what was going on, but again the burden of proof would lie with he and his legal team and would they be in a position to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt?

On Tuesday morning following the unsealing of the Epstein settlement,  a hearing took place between Judge Kaplan and the legal representatives for the Plaintiff and the Defendant. Andrew Brettler on behalf of Prince Andrew argued that Ms Giuffre had accepted a $500,000 financial settlement from Jeffrey Epstein and that one of the conditions contained therein stipulated that she not pursue a case against any associate of Epstein, therefore shielding Price Andrew from her new lawsuit. He argued that Jeffrey Epstein would never have wanted his name dragged back into a lawsuit where Ms Giuffre might later sue Prince Andrew and others and then subpoena Epstein to attest.  However, Judge Kaplan highlighted the very broad scope of the settlement including the language applied to “other potential defendants” which left it open to interpretation and pushed back against Brettler’s argument.

Neither was Judge Kaplan interested in Brettler’s demands that Ms Giuffre share further details about the alleged events that had taken place and told him point blank that “it’s not going to happen”. He did say that Prince Andrew had the right to dissect Virginia Giuffre’s allegations when both parties soon start sharing evidence.

Matters became very awkward at one point when Judge Kaplan quoted a specific sentence from Giuffre’s lawsuit. This line mentioned Prince Andrew sexually abusing the Plaintiff, Ms Giuffre, at Maxwell’s London home on one occasion during which encounter Epstein, Maxwell and Prince Andrew forced the Plaintiff to engage in sexual intercourse with Prince Andrew “against her will”. Furthermore, the Judge said that he must “assume the truth of the allegation” at this stage of the process. Mr Brettler retorted that the allegation was too vague, but Judge Kaplan struck back: “it was sexual intercourse. Involuntary sexual intercourse. There isn’t any doubt about what that means.”

David Boies, the attorney for Virginia Giuffre, said he intended to depose between 10 and 12 people including family members such as Prince Andrew’s daughter Princess Beatrice, his niece-in-law Meghan Markle, and his ex-wife Sarah Ferguson among others to give evidence, but would not depose the Queen out of respect. The Prince had insisted he was enjoying a pizza with Beatrice and therefore couldn’t possibly have gone to any nightclub with Virginia, and this would need to be proved and supported by his own family; Sarah Ferguson has consistently stated that she stands by her ex-husband “one hundred percent” and that they are still “living their love story”.

After hearing both sides, Judge Kaplan said he would make a decision as soon as possible, although it is widely believed he will allow this to go to trial and had said previously that he wanted to see one happen later this year. This will probably be sometime in the autumn.

Whilst an individual is presumed innocent unless proven guilty, the tactical strategies of the Prince and his legal team to derail any lawsuit seem to do more to arouse suspicion than defend his innocence. Quite aside from the arguments raised with Judge Kaplan in order to have Ms Giuffre’s case dismissed, it was reported later last summer that Prince Andrew flitted from Royal residence to Royal residence in an attempt to avoid court papers being served upon him. According to David Boies, on 27 August 2021 the court documents were handed to an on-duty Metropolitan Police Officer at the main gates of Prince Andrew’s home in Windsor Great Park, Buckinghamshire. The law firm Blackfords, who represent the Prince in “certain UK matters” questioned whether the papers had indeed been properly served and suggested they might challenge the court’s jurisdiction in the case, according to the Prince’s rights, including on the basis of potentially defective service. However, in court documents Ms Giuffre’s attorney, David Boies, considered it implausible that the Prince was unaware of the lawsuit and indeed that lawyers at Blackfords had been instructed by the Prince to evade and contest service and that they had confirmed that Prince Andrew had already had notice of the lawsuit and was weighing up his chances of success. Boies further argued that any other conclusion would be somewhat far-fetched, regardless of whether or not Blackfords confirmed service, as reliable media outlets all over the world had reported on the filing of the plaintiff’s suit, and countless articles about it had been published.

For us to get to the truth and for his own sake, Prince Andrew needs to fully cooperate and respond to the allegations made against him in an appropriate setting with the full intention of clearing his name if he has done no wrong. Surely he owes it to himself to set the record straight with the evidence required to prove his innocence once and for all. Time once spent at the centre of Royal life with a full diary of official and social engagements is now reduced to hiding behind the high walls of various of his mother’s properties and idling his days away in front of the television or helping his adoring ex-wife about the house with her charity work and with only his memories for comfort. A life so reduced is no life at all and in a way he has already created his own prison, wrapped in his self-serving cloak of humiliation and cowardice, choosing to bury his head in the sand in the hope it will all go away. On the other hand, facing the humiliation of being dragged through the Federal courts and exposed to innumerable sordid headlines, he may not feel is an option given his new desire for modesty and discretion and the fact that any trial might bring further disgrace to the Royal Family.

Daily Mirror Royal Editor Russell Myers has been reported as saying that the Palace will be nervous that any trial might overshadow the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations as she marks 70 years on the throne with a four-day weekend in June involving street parties, a gala concert at Buckingham Concert and a Jubilee Pageant, but Prince Andrew will not be allowed anywhere near the festivities and any outings.

Already aware that he would be banished from his mother’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations as well as any appearance on the Royal balcony,  to add to his woes The Daily Mail reported that the Metropolitan Police is under pressure from legal experts to question the Prince as it is learned that he and his friend Ghislaine had continued to socialize ‘for years’ despite her paedophile billionaire ex-partner Jeffrey Epstein’s conviction and was even the guest of honour at her birthday party at London’s Dorchester Hotel in December 2012. Former officers and prosecutors argue that the Met should investigate all the alleged offences committed on British soil ‘without fear or favour’. In other words, even Princes and Presidents should not be above scrutiny. The Met has maintained it continues to ‘liaise with other law enforcement agencies who lead the investigation into matters related to Jeffrey Epstein”, such as the FBI, but legal experts argue that the Met can no longer evade commencing an investigation; indeed it could be argued that it is their moral, ethical and public duty to do so. Prince Andrew has been quoted on many occasions as saying that he has offered to co-operate with the inquiry by the FBI who wanted to talk to him, but the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York had been unable to make contact with him despite their best efforts.

Seemingly his consistently (and what might be regarded as) irrational and obstructive behaviour and the outcome of the Maxwell trial have put Prince Andrew further under the spotlight. On the late afternoon of Wednesday 29 December 2021 Prince Andrew’s long-time friend, the British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, was found guilty of recruiting and grooming teenage girls for sexual encounters between 1994 and 2004 with herself and Epstein on 5 out of 6 indictments at the Federal Court House in New York before Judge Alison Nathan. The moment happened quickly and almost unexpectedly  – though was, I am sure – a relief, being barely 10 minutes before the end of the session that day. Justice was finally served and the women whose lives were destroyed by years of abuse by Maxwell and her late partner-in-crime Jeffrey Epstein were vindicated. The twelve-strong jury had taken some 5 days to deliberate and due to the ongoing surge in Omicron cases, Judge Nathan had told the jury that if necessary they should reconvene each day throughout the customary new year recess until their verdicts had been reached. As each day passed and court house staff continued to deplete due to Covid, the situation was becoming increasingly risky with the strong likelihood of any juror testing positive as the days went on, which would end in a mistrial and this was the last thing Judge Nathan would have wanted. When the moment came, the press were ushered from the building and only 17 people were present to hear the verdicts. These included Judge Alison Nathan, various FBI agents, attorneys, the Defendant Ms Maxwell and a few dedicated writers who had tirelessly risen every day before dawn to stand in line for several hours in the freezing cold outside the court house to gain admittance, listened and observed intently in the court room and waited around every single day of the deliberations, sharing news and updates through their social media feeds and sub-stacks. These were mostly well-known writers and reporters: lawyer, journalist and author Lucia Osborne-Crowley; entrepreneur Jessica Reed-Kraus; and Vicky Ward journalist, bestselling author and host/reporter of the documentary “Chasing Ghislaine” – but also the Broadway and television actor, Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer, who took up covering trials and other subjects that interested her during the course of the pandemic and has dazzled many of us with her daily rhetorical updates, critical thinking and attention to detail throughout this landmark trial. Live streamed conversations between these four women also helped to bring the trial, and its aftermath, to life.

These writers observed that Ms Maxwell had been touchy-feely throughout the trial, dressed stylishly and sauntering into the courtroom each day smiling, kissing and hugging her family and her lawyers as though playing to an audience, note-scribbling and sketching back at the wonderfully experienced artists who had been selected to illustrate the trial in chalk pastels, these talented people who worked quickly in chalk pastels turning out 5 or 6 accurate sketches on a daily basis, until perhaps their fingers were raw and bleeding. However, whilst it might be assumed the Defendant would demonstrate some kind of human reaction to the verdicts and the prospect of a 65-year jail sentence, it was observed that she showed not a glimmer of emotion as she was led away to her holding cell; no kisses or smiles or hugs on this occasion for her siblings or her Defence team, more of an arrogant strop at the very notion that she should be found guilty as charged!

Evidently this entitled, arrogant and sociopathic woman did not expect a guilty verdicts and was confident that she would be acquitted, still believing that she was entirely innocent. How wrong she was and what terrific justice for all those women who were groomed and abused as young women and minors over a number of years, and who were represented by US Attorney Lisa Bloom, herself a former victim of abuse. Some of these women who had been abused and had already received financial out-of-court settlements from the Epstein Victim Compensation Fund took the stand under oath and were cross-examined, although Virginia Roberts Giuffre was not one of them and Prince Andrew’s name was not mentioned. However, during the course of the trial Ms Giuffre’s name was mentioned some 250 times and photos of her as a teenager were shown to the jury. Maxwell’s senior counsel Bobbi Sternheim and her colleagues including  Laura Menninger attempted to pick holes and discrepancies in the women’s testimonies. For example, the  $2.9m (£2.15m) that “Jane” had received from the Epstein Victim Compensation Fund was raised, together with a long-winded examination of her career as a soap actress with roles as a prostitute, cancer survivor and a woman who quashes a Mexican drug cartel, and she was accused of being “melodramatic”. Other witnesses stepped forward and partly corroborated her story, and by the time the second accuser, “Kate”, gave her evidence Prosecution were on-point with their questioning and the stories of her battles with drugs and alcohol and her reasons why she had continued to associate with Epstein well into her thirties took the wind out of the sails of any cross-examination from Sternheim. However, it was the harrowing and shocking stories of the third accuser, “Carolyn”, and the fourth, Annie Farmer, who added weight to the authenticities and similarities of the four accusers and again the Prosecution were able to ask the difficult questions before the Defence had the opportunity as the accusers were able to explain themselves in a non-hostile space.

The trial had been listed to last for up to 6 weeks, so it came as something of a surprise when the Prosecution rested its case at the end of the second week. Almost immediately stories appeared in the mainstream media that the Defence would be calling up to 35 witnesses to corroborate Maxwell’s version of events,  but following a three-day recess the Defence put on a chaotic performance sometimes struggling to call any witnesses. Three potential witnesses were banned by Judge Alison Nathan from giving evidence under a pseudonym and another, a British man named Alexander Hamilton, had Covid. On behalf of the Defence Laura Menninger begged Judge Nathan for a delay so they could bring forward the 81-year-old owner of the Nag’s Head public house in London’s Belgravia, to testify whether indeed Maxwell had owned a house in 1994 where allegedly Kate’s abuse had begun, but Judge Nathan denied the request.

On day 12 and supported by Sternheim’s arm behind her back, Maxwell stood defiantly before Judge Nathan and when asked if she wished to testify, instead of the customary “yes” or “no, your honour” she replied: “Your honour, the government has not proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt so there is no need for me to testify.” In summing up, Maxwell’s attorneys suggested that the four accusers who had testified against Maxwell had their memories manipulated over the passage of time, therefore wrongfully implicating her in Jeffrey Epstein’s sickening crimes but the writing was on the wall.

As spectators and members of the press waited in the bitter cold outside the court house last Wednesday evening, Maxwell’s family members and her lead Defence Attorney, Bobbi Sternheim, exited the building and gave a short statement, vowing to appeal the five guilty verdicts on sex trafficking and conspiracy indictments, however they face an uphill struggle against the overwhelming evidence upon which the jury voted ‘beyond a shadow of all reasonable doubt’.

For example, the challenges by the Defence might include focusing on the anonymous witnesses that Judge Nathan did not allow to testify, as well as the ruling that prevented them from recalling two of Ms Maxwell’s accusers. For the appeal to succeed Ms Maxwell’s legal team would need to demonstrate that Judge Nathan abused her discretion or violated rules of evidence. My personal view is that given that Judge Nathan has enjoyed a long and distinguished legal career (she has served as a judge on the US District Court for the Southern District of New York since 2011 and before that was engaged in private practice, academia and government service) and was nominated to the United States Court of Appeal for the Second Circuit in November last year by President Joe Biden, it seems highly unlikely that such challenge would bear fruit especially given that Judge Nathan was extremely mindful to seat an impartial jury, she was respectful at all times towards both sides, and Ms Maxwell received a fair trial. Furthermore, whilst there is a precedent for witnesses of sexual crimes to have their names removed, there is no precedent for the Defence to request that their witnesses testify under a pseudonym,  which is probably why Judge Nathan did not allow it. The Defence might also try to argue that the jurors felt rushed in reaching their decision due to the pressures of Covid, however Judge Nathan still openly told them to take all the time they needed and the fact that they returned a not guilty verdict on one charge showed that they had examined every shred of evidence during their deliberations and even if they believed that Ms Maxwell was guilty of the second indictment, if they were not absolutely certain beyond a shadow of reasonable doubt that she was indeed guilty then they would need to return a not guilty verdict on that particular charge, which is what they did. Ms Maxwell’s attorneys might also try to question the sums awarded to the four witnesses of up to $5m and call forward trustees of the Epstein Victims Compensation Fund which has paid out nearly $125m to some 150 individuals, in an attempt to highlight any inconsistencies in their testimonies to the jury. However, even if an appeal was allowed to proceed the Defence would need to demonstrate that any violations bore any weight upon the outcome of the trial.

As Ms Maxwell whiles away her time on ‘suicide watch’ awaiting sentencing in solitary confinement ‘next to a sewer’ in her prison cell, the FBI rifle through her notorious “little black book”, their eyes scanning the identities of the 300 or so names allegedly contained therein. Aside from Prince Andrew, who else is implicated in all of this? What do they know, what role did they play in it and what other scandalous deeds are hidden from view? Why would Prince Andrew and others not want to fight to clear their names instead of flying under the radar and evading justice? Is Prince Andrew not confident of his truths, his legal team or the loved ones who continue to support him, and is he indeed guilty of misdemeanors, notwithstanding he has clearly demonstrated poor judgement of character? Who and what are Prince Andrew and his friend Ghislaine Maxwell protecting that they keep protesting their own innocence and why should either of them think that they are above the law and the deeds of others? If Ms Maxwell’s appeal falters will she finally start naming names, resigning herself to the fact that whether she tries to get her sentence reduced or face whatever fate lies ahead in jail there is no way out? Her ex-lover Jeffrey Epstein was also put on suicide watch in jail and that ended badly; thoughts of that must surely enter her mind.

If after his deliberations Judge Kaplan allows the civil lawsuit by Virginia Roberts Giuffre’s against Prince Andrew to go ahead and if the Prince does not succeed in clearing his name – or even, as is now being reported, if he seeks to cut a deal to avoid further embarrassment to the British Royal Family – what names and deeds will begin to seep like a bloodstain through the pages of that Little Black Book in the coming weeks and months? According to karmic law, what goes around comes around and in the wake of trials and tribulations, stories and testimonies, the truth always wins in the end.

Avenue Waltz

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

Although most of you know me for my recipe blogs, there is much more to me than just a love of food.

One of the other things I love is music. I am a published poet, songwriter and recording artist (as one half of the alternative due, ElectrickWytch, along with my husband Dan) and I also compose classical music, notating by hand.

Writing music score is an activity I started more recently, over a four-day period during the last festive season on the run up to the UK’s Third Lockdown. Like many people in the UK, we had a quiet Christmas being joined only by Dan’s mum, Verna, who was in our ‘bubble’.

I play the piano and have been having lessons with my teacher Jake for about three years now. I really enjoy my lessons and although I had already been able to read music and play instruments off and on since a young age, my sight-reading has definitely improved over the last few years, especially since the Lockdowns when I was forced to teach myself the Grade 2/3 syllabus (I don’t get on well with Zoom or other online methods of learning and participation, I don’t feel sufficiently ‘connected’) and my forays into writing music. Regular piano lessons have enabled my skills and confidence to grow; although I have been writing songs for many years, never did I think that one day I would be able to start writing classical music and take to it like a duck to water.

My MIL went back to Richmond on 28 December and Dan, who is a Piano Tuner/Technician, had tunings in the London area that day. I had been amusing myself with daily piano practice and, with some kind of melody that had literally popped into my head very early that morning, I set about carefully writing the notes in pencil on to some blank manuscript paper that I found among my bunch of sheet music books. Over the next few days, I wrote the music in small sections at a time, going between the paper and the piano as I expanded and built up the piece. I recorded certain sections of the piece on to my mobile phone to help me recall more easily the melody and rhythm and notate it accurately and as I intended by using the playback on my mobile phone app whilst putting pencil to paper. By lunchtime on New Year’s Eve, my Avenue Waltz was born. I dedicated it to Jake and his fiancé Liam as a housewarming gift on the occasion of their moving into a new house together. I called it Avenue Waltz because Jake and Liam’s new house is on an avenue, and the melody and rhythm of the composition convey the ambience and feel of a couple’s journey and conversation along a tree-lined road on a sunny spring day. Dan transferred my hand-notated manuscript on to Guitar Pro 5 and printed off a copy, which I signed and delivered to Jake by hand.

Written in the key of C Major and in 3/4 time, Avenue Waltz is a Piano Grade 3 Level Viennese-style waltz reminiscent of the well-known Austro-Hungarian composers of the 19th century such as Johann Strauss II (The Blue Danube, Emperor Waltz) and Franz Lehár who was best known for his Operettas such as The Merry Widow but also his most famous waltz piece, Gold and Silver Waltz. Avenue Waltz is a piece that could easily be orchestrated and immediately makes me think of André Rieu’s dancers twirling around the ballroom to the dulcet melodies of his Johann Strauss Orchestra, and the little trill in bar 77 contains that trademark element of playfulness and good humour.

Excerpt from page 2 of my composition.

Avenue Waltz contains fast running semi-quavers in bars 6, 13, 36 and 43 and various other places as a lead-on to the next musical section, or cadence, as means of punctuation. The piece is an adaptation of an A, B, A Coda or shortened rondo form. A rondo form is a principal theme or ‘refrain’ which alternates with one or more contrasting themes or episodes, which are occasionally referred to as ‘digressions’ or ‘couplets’. One main characteristic of my music is either this rondo form or, in fact, ternary or trio form, such as one of my new pieces La Periquita (more about that later). Ternary form is otherwise known as song form, a three-part musical form consisting of an opening section A, a following section B, and then a repetition of the first section. This style was popularised in the eighteenth-century Baroque music of G F Handel’s Messiah and St John’s Passion by his contemporary, Johann Sebastian Bach.

Avenue Waltz also contains a ‘drone’ in the bass clef at bars 46-76. The piece is approximately five minutes’ in duration including repeats, depending on whether one takes it faster or a little slower. It is available to purchase and download from:-

catherineevans.bandcamp.com http://www.scoreexchange.com/scores/546726.html

I hope you enjoy listening to (or perhaps even playing) my composition and thank you for your support!

Catherine

Ethical Home-cured Bacon

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Nothing beats the taste and quality of home-cured bacon.

Like most traditional and modern methods of preserving, home-curing and smoking bacon is a scientific process, where the ratio of cure to weight of pork, the number of days and procedure, in the case of smoking, the heat of the smoker and method used, together with the internal temperature of the meat, are crucial to its success.

For centuries, curing has been a way of preserving and flavouring foods such as meat, fish and vegetables by adding salt in order to draw out moisture from the food by the process of osmosis. A combination of salt with the addition of nitrite and/or nitrate, sugar, herbs and spices is often used for preservation, flavour and colour.

Curing one’s own bacon and other cuts offers the opportunity of avoiding the harmful nitrates and nitrites of industrially processed meats, which are often linked to a higher risk of colon or breast cancer especially in the case of red meats, even if you only enjoy them occasionally and in any case when the meat tastes so yummy can you really stop at one or two slices? Grazing on a late-night sandwich of cold meats topped with tangy dill pickles or a dollop of mustard or horseradish layered between a chunk of good bread can sometimes be impossible to resist when one feels a tad peckish. However, recent surveys have shown that commercially cured meats such as bacon or ham significantly increase the risk of cancer, while the World Health Organization includes bacon in the same category as asbestos, alcohol and arsenic which is actually quite scary.

Traditionally, nitrates and nitrates have been used to keep meat pink and avoid botulism, the bacteria of which are not harmful in themselves but the toxins they produce are highly poisonous and can be killed by cooking at a high temperature for a significant time. Most cases of food-poisoning are caused by storing food at the wrong temperature, being stored incorrectly or through bad practices in food processing plants, and the sure fire way of preventing botulism is by using synthetic cures like nitrates and nitrites such as saltpetre, which is potassium nitrate, or pink salts (for example, Prague Powder). Salt itself can be used as an alternative but one must make sure that the salt used is non-iodized such as pure sea salt, or else the meat will turn an unappetising shade of grey even though the cured meat should still be safe to eat. Even if commercially-produced bacon and ham are labelled ‘nitrite-free’ and instead contain vegetable extracts such as celery or beetroot powder, these convert to nitrites either in the preserving process or when they come into contact with the bacteria in your gut. It seems obvious, therefore, that the best and safest way to enjoy processed meats is to either source them at considerable expense from a wholly authentic, artisan supplier or else cure them yourself, which will yield a far greater quantity of product for a lot less money with the ethical choice of using the highest quality cut of meat you can afford.

Ever interested in the relationship between food and science and bored during the Lockdown, I decided to try my hand at dry-curing a 1.45kg piece of outdoor reared belly pork from the Chef & Butcher in Broadstairs, which the butcher skinned and boned out for me. The pork cost me £5.60 including the bones and the skin with its layer of fat and nothing was wasted; I put the bones in a plastic food-safe container in the freezer for stock or gravy at a later date and roasted the skin in the oven to make pork scratchings for my husband, Dan.

The first thing to do was to carefully wash and pat dry the pork and weigh it in order to calculate the amount of salt and sugar required for a safe, effective cure. The amount of curing salt should be between 3% and 5% of the net weight of the pork, and the cut weighed 1.160 kg which I rounded up to 1.2 kg for ease of calculation. I went for the safe option of 5% salt, therefore: 1.2 kg/100 = 12g x 5 = 60g.

The curing salt I used was Pure Vacuum Dried (PVD) Salt from Beech Tree via their Ebay store; they are a Cornwall-based supplier of a wide range of organic herbs and spices specifically aimed at cure mixes and cookery. For more information email info@beechtree.co.uk. PDV is created from salt which, after being carefully mined is evaporated in a brine in a vacuum. This process is highly efficient as the brine is boiled at a lower temperature than the usual 100°C and its purity and affordability in large quantities also benefits from finer granules than either sea salt or rock salt and under the microscope all the grains are cuboid, small and identical in size. This means that when they are applied to your meat they will create an evenness of cure because each salt particle dissolves and penetrates at the same rate. The particles also lock together, creating a good covering for methods of curing such as the salt-box method which is used for large joints of meat such as a leg of pork. Meanwhile, Kosher salt is a high-grade salt with large crystals and is usually additive-free. The salt is kosher because it draws away any residual blood from the meat, to comply with Kosher Law, and thus can also be used in natural curing methods.

The PVD I used contains an anti-caking agent – but neither Nitrates nor Nitrates – and it arrived in a carefully sealed and labelled bag with storage instructions. The PVD will keep well stored in a dry airtight container, away from direct sunlight. Another reason I chose PDV is because it is the curing salt used by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage as outlined in River Cottage Handbook No. 13, Curing & Smoking by Steven Lamb; River Cottage are well-renowned for their ethical and eco-friendly standards of food production.

Any other ingredients included in the rub are at the discretion of the individual. Some people like to keep things simple and may add herbs and maybe some juniper or add nothing at all. Others, like myself, like to pimp it up and add a variety of herbs and spices. Dan enjoys a deep, smoky flavour so I added smoked paprika and Hungarian paprika to my blend as below:-

Curing Blend Recipe

  • 5% nitrate-free curing salt
  • 5% raw brown sugar
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp each rosemary and sage, chopped
  • 1 tsp ground allspice berries
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika

Alternatively you can add or substitute any of the following . . .  1 tsp ground juniper berries, and/or 1 tsp ground cloves, star anise, garlic powder, 1 tsp yellow mustard seeds, 1 tsp ground nutmeg and 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tsp thyme.

Method

  1. Wash the belly pork and pat dry and place on a foil-lined tray.
  2. Grind the herbs and spices in a pestle and mortar
  3. In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients – the herbs and spices and the curing salt and the sugar – until well-blended.
  4. Rub the spice mix over the pork belly, taking care to cover every bit of the surface on all sides.
  5. Place the pork belly in the refrigerator in a ziplock bag on a rack or baking sheet and rest for between 5 and 7 days. Every day the belly should be flipped onto the other side and the contents (which will change to a liquid) should be massaged around.
  6. Remove pork belly from the refrigerator and rinse thoroughly with cool water. Pat dry with paper towels and return to the refrigerator uncovered (on a rack over a pan to catch any drips) for 24 hours before smoking or slicing into strips.

If you wish to smoke your bacon before slicing, it may be done in a conventional domestic oven at 200oF (94oC) until it reaches an internal temperature of 150oF (66oC). This may take anything from 90 minutes to 4 or even 6 hours, depending on the size and weight of your meat (ours took nearly 2 hours) and do remember that oven temperatures may vary. You will need an instant-read thermometer, a roasting pan with a roasting rack that sits about 1.5 inches above the base of the pan, heavy duty aluminium foil and some wood chips. Hickory or maple wood chips will give you a traditional deep, smoky flavour but apple wood chips are perfect for a lighter, sweeter result and these were the ones my husband Dan and I used the first time we tried it.

Allow the belly pork to rest at room temperature for at least an hour and heat the oven to 200oF, removing all but one oven shelves. Line the base and sides of the pan crosswise with aluminium foil making sure that the excess foil extends over the long sides and a little up and over the short sides of the pan. Depending on the width of your foil you may need to use a few sheets, which should overlap in the centre of the pan by at least one inch. When these steps are completed, loosely scatter the wood chips over and place the rack over the chips. Put the pork belly on the rack skin side up and bring the long sides of the foil up to meet in the middle, then folding the down twice and crimping it to secure. Then bring up the short sides of the foil to meet at the top seam and crimp, ensuring that the whole of the rack and the belly are completely covered with foil. The crimping should be quite tight but should not touch the belly so that the smoke can circulate round it.

Put the pan on the stove top on a medium-high heat across two burners until smoke gently and steadily billows out of the top seam of the foil, which will probably take about 5 minutes, but it won’t be too powerful. When doing so I would recommend your leaving a door or window open or turning on the extractor fan above your stove.

Then place the pan on a shelf in the centre of the oven and cook until the internal temperature of the pork reaches 150oF on the thermometer. We checked the temperature after the first hour and based on the temperature reading, 30 minutes later and finally the was ready after 1 hour 50 minutes of smoking. It is important to secure (as before) the foil bundle after checking your meat and that you do not test it too frequently in order to ensure that the smoking temperature does not drop too low and to just let it do its thing. Therefore, if you have a larger piece of pork once an hour for the first two or three hours depending on its size. and then maybe at a further one hour and/or two half-hour intervals when the internal temperature of the pork is creeping closer towards the 150oF mark. As with many things, smoking requires you to draw on your instincts. It is perhaps wiser when home-smoking for the first time to try it out on smaller cut of belly pork, just in case your first attempt does not go to plan.

When the belly pork has reached an internal temperature of 150oF, remove it from the oven and carefully open the top seam of the foil to allow the meat to cool to room temperature. Then remove the skin with a sharp knife, cutting it away from you, and discard it. Wrap the bacon tightly in cling film or parchment and refrigerate it for at least 6 hours or overnight to allow the fat to firm up again, before slicing and cooking.

The smoked bacon should look like this; the skin or rind should cut off easily.

If you prefer to cook your belly pork in a smoker, a 1.5 kg piece of belly pork will often take up to 3 hours at 200oF or until the internal temperature of the pork reaches 150oF on the thermometer. If your smoker has a switch, set it to 200oF and soak 3 or 4 cups of wood chips in water for at least one hour before starting. Make 3 or 4 wood chip pouches. Cut out a 12” x 24” piece of heavy duty tin foil and place a cup of soaked wood chips on one end of the foil and add a handful of dry chips and fold foil over wooden chips. Fold all 4 edges of the foil towards the centre at least twice, poke holes on top of the pouch with a fork.

Lift the grill that’s above the lit element and place a pouch directly on the heat source. Close the lid and wait until smoke starts to escape from the foil pouch. Place the belly pork on the unlit side of the grill and close the lid. Smoke until the internal temperature reaches 150oF. Replace pouch every hour or so. Open the lid from time to time to let heat escape if the temperature is getting too warm. You may need to keep a close eye on it to maintain an even temperature so this method is not necessarily ideal if you need to go off and do something else for an hour or two. When the meat is ready, allow it to rest on a rack and baking sheet until it reaches room temperature and then wrap and refrigerate as in the conventional oven method.

Whether you choose to smoke your bacon in a conventional oven or over a smoker, after cooling and resting it may be stored for up to two weeks tightly wrapped in the refrigerator or, alternatively, sliced and wrapped in clingfilm and then foil (to prevent freezer burn) and transferred to a freezer for up to 3 months.

I have since tried curing a 1.1 kg piece of rolled pork loin for unsmoked back bacon, with equally successful results, but in this case I removed the butchers’ string before weighing the pork and prepping the dry cure. This is important to ensure that the cure can be effectively rubbed into the whole of the pork without missing any areas due to the presence of butchers’ string, so the pork can be cured fully and safely. I swapped paprika for crushed juniper berries and also added some fresh homegrown thyme to the cure, in addition to the other ingredients in my ‘go-to’ recipe.

The method is the the same as for streaky bacon, but instead of smoking the bacon after the curing and resting time, the loin can be cut into rashers on the long side of the meat before wrapping and storing in the refrigerator or freezer, as previously explained. Make sure that your knife is razor sharp so that it cuts through the meat cleanly like butter or, if you intend to cure your own bacon and charcuterie on a regular basis, you could invest in a meat slicer for around £65 on Ebay. or put it on your Christmas wish list!

Dan and I sliced and wrapped our bacon joints for both freezer and immediate use, and each time we had 5 or 6 packs of 6 flavourful rashers plus a 100g package of lardons to use in soups and stews. Dan took some to my brother, Robert, for he and his son Louie to enjoy, and over the following days and weeks I cooked with the rest.

A perfect plate of bacon, egg and crunchy fried homemade bread.

I will be curing another loin of belly or pork towards the end of November or early December in time for the festive season, and as I have also brined and cooked a joint of beef brisked for salt beef and will be curing some beef topside for braosola as well as a rolled pancetta, a meat slicer is definitely on my festive wish list!