Apple peeler

Friday 11th November 2016

Need a bit of light relief after recent events?

I've admired these apple peelers ever since I first saw one - if you've never seen them before watch the video below!

They were first patented by D. H. Goodell in 1867 and nearly 150 years later it still blows my mind!

The beauty, simplicity and elegance of this machine raise the hairs on the back of my neck. It's almost magical.

For more information than you could possibly want, check out the Apple Parer Museum

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Perfect muesli

Friday 28th October 2016

My life can be broadly categorised into four phases by the kind of cereal that I have for breakfast, like the classic Ages of Man from Greek mythology:

The Coco Pops age (4-14)

This was the golden age, where the most important thing in my life was opening the next box of Coco Pops to find out which toy is in the packet.

I had no concept of nutrition and so the cereal with the most chocolate in it was obviously the best. It filled me up for almost an hour every morning before I was hungry again. 

 

The Shreddies age (14-32)

Eventually I realised that I needed to eat something a bit more substantial for breakfast.

I always found Shreddies extremely comforting, and through the upheaval and homesickness of going to university I found Shreddies a constant companion.

When we lived in New Zealand I had to eat sub-standard Canadian imported Shreddies which had bilingual ingredients, but luckily in Melbourne there was a British shop where I could get the real thing at vastly inflated prices. 

 

The Weetabix age (32-40)

The transition to Weetabix was abrupt, and no-one was more surprised than me.

I literally woke up one morning and disliked the taste of Shreddies. I don't know if they changed the recipe overnight or whether my taste buds revolted. 

I also find Weetabix very comforting, and while I had braces on my teeth there were many extremely painful days where all I could eat was soggy Weetabix. 

 

The Muesli age (40 - ?)

Over the last year or so, I've found myself coveting Kat's breakfast cereal of choice, muesli.

If you'd told me from the past about this I would have laughed in your face, but to mangle Shakespeare, a man loves the cereal in his age that he cannot endure in his youth

I've tried a whole bunch of muesli in the last twelve months, but none of them quite cut it. I want something without added sugar, salt or skimmed milk powder so Alpen is out. I want something with the right balance of fruit to nuts, and Brazil nuts seem to make my mouth tingle in a bad way so Jordan's and the Dorset Cereals range are out. I also want something that's reasonably nutritious without too many calories so granola is out, and that leaves me with one option: make my own. 

So here are the results of my experiments to find the perfect muesli. If you want to try experimenting, you can change the ingredient sliders below - share your recipe in the comments. 

           







Nutrition

Nutrition values per serving (0g)

Calories 0Kcal
Protein 0g
Fat 0g
    of which saturates 0g
Carbohydrates 0g
    of which sugars 0g


Make a batch

To make 500g of this recipe you'll need:

    Ingredients

    Use the sliders below to specify quantities of ingredients per serving:

    0g Jumbo oats
    0g Wheat flakes
    0g Almond flakes
    0g Mixed vine fruit
    0g Dessicated coconut
    0g Dried apricots
    0g Dried apple
    0g Mixed seeds
    0g Chopped hazelnuts
    0g Dried papaya
    0g Dried cranberries


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    Making ketchup

    Friday 30th September 2016

    Ketchup is one of those magical foods that bears almost no relation to the ingredients it's made from. Go to your fridge now and eat a teaspoon of ketchup straight from the bottle. Does it taste of tomatoes? Does it taste of anything apart from sugar and vinegar? Quite.

    I wanted to try making ketchup to see the transformation from a bunch of fruit into a delicious goo. The secret? The recipe is 25% sugar. 

    I started off with a recipe I found on the Guardian website and adapted it - mainly to reduce the insane quantities of sugar and salt! I wanted to make a regular Heinz style one, and a Bloody Mary ketchup as sold by Stokes, because everything's better with chilli in it. 

    Below you can see the ingredients - well, the tomatoes, everything else is underneath. After an hour and a half it's reduced down into a sweet gooey mess. 

    Ingredients

    Makes about 1.25 litres

    • 1.5kg tomatoes, roughly chopped
    • 1 small onion, diced
    • 6 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
    • 40g salt
    • 350g sugar
    • 40ml balsamic vinegar
    • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
    • 6 whole cloves

    Optional Blood Mary additions:

    • 2 tbsp vodka
    • A good glug of Worcestershire sauce
    • Chilli to taste

    Recipe

    Put all the ingredients in a pan and simmer for about an hour and a half. Keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn't burn.

    When it's reduced down by about half, puree it in a food processor and then sieve into a clean pan.

    Adjust the thickness with water if too thick, or reduce some more if it seems too thin. Bear in mind that it's going to be a lot thicker when it's cold.

    Allow to cool, bottle and serve. 

    The verdict

    "Amazing", "delicious", "oh, I thought it was shop-bought", "got a good kick", and "as good as Heinz" were some of the comments people made. 

    But therein lies the futility of this recipe: Heinz have perfected ketchup over the last 140 years, but they've also become deeply entrenched in your soul as the standard for ketchup. So the best I can ever hope for is "as good as Heinz". And their product is a fraction of the cost of mine. 

    Interesting, but I won't be doing it again. 

     

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    Five percent

    Friday 1st July 2016

    Back in May I made a silly bet with a friend that I could lose 5% of my body fat more quickly than he could. I learned a lot about nutrition and completely changed my relationship to food along the way! My diet has always been pretty poor and if I'm going to live to be a hundred I need to sort it out. 

    We don't have any lawyers at Lost In Thought, but if we did I'm sure they'd say that I'm not a doctor, this isn't dietary advice and you shouldn't follow a diet from some random blog that you found on the web. 

     

     

    Measuring time

    I bought some body fat calculation scales which use electrical impedance along with your weight to calculate your percentage of body fat.

    I started off weighing 68.4kg with 18.4% fat according to the scales. This means I'm carrying 12.6kg of fat around. Ew! This is a mixture of subcutaneous fat, under my skin, and visceral fat which surrounds my organs and is considered the bad fat.

    An average range for a 40-year old adult male is 18% - 24% body fat. If I somehow manage to lose 5% I'll be in the fitness body fat category according to Wikipedia. I can do fitness.

    This makes me smile because Alfie, who I'm competing with, is starting at 15.9% so he'll be in the athlete range at 10.9%. Not sure I could do athlete, but good luck to him.

    However my calculations tell me that if I'm going to lose 5% fat I have to shed 7.5kg of fat and I'll weigh 60.9kg. I've never been that light in my life and I'm going to look skeletal.

    The other way would be to increase the percentage of non-fat, either by gaining muscle or by drinking lots of water to increase my total weight. Another quick calculation tells me I could drink 27 litres of water to achieve this. According to this article six litres of water will kill a 75kg adult human, so that's probably out. I told you I'm not a doctor, right?

    I'm going to have to work out a lot and keep an eye on my muscle mass (which the scales also tell me) and try to put on muscle as I lose fat. If I start losing muscle as well then it's going to take even longer.

     

    Day 1

    Today is pretty hard. The scales tell me that my resting metabolism is 1550 kcal per day, so I set that as my food goal in MyFitnessPal. I quickly realise that my diet has always been very heavy in carbohydrates and fat, very low in protein. This is bad, I need to be eating lots of protein to build muscle in between workouts.

    So I start learning about nutrition for the first time in my life. I've only ever used MyFitnessPal to count calories before, but now I start keeping an eye on the ratio of carbohydrates to fat to protein.

     

    Day 4

    Hmm, I'm 0.9% fatter than I was when I started but 0.4kg lighter, so all I've done is lose muscle (or become dehydrated). The reading on the scales jumped about a lot during the first four days so I'm going to say that 19.5% is my new starting body fat and I'm aiming for 14.5%. Or am I cheating already on day four?

     

    Day 5

    I've been reading up on the best ways to lose fat and the consensus is that I need a low carbohydrate diet. This encourages your body start burning fat, but the constant low blood sugar is making me feel dizzy. I'm trying to eat 50% carbohydrates, 30% fat and 20% protein.

    Here are the MyFitnessPal charts of my carbs (blue), fat (red) and protein (green) ratios for three days at this point, as you can see it's hard to stick to the ratios!

     

    Day 10

    Back to my original fat levels and lost 1.3kg. The dizziness has gone now. I've changed to 40% carb, 30% fat and 30% protein. This is a huge amount of protein: at least a chicken breast, a steak or a fish every day, which is unusual for me. My coffee intake seems to have gone up dramatically, not sure if this is related.

     

    Day 15

    Okay, we're starting to get somewhere. I've lost 0.7% fat and only 0.1% muscle so it looks like I've got the balance right at 35% carbs, 35% fat and 30% protein. My normal meals of pasta with some kind of sauce have been replaced by a grilled chicken breast, half a head of steamed broccoli and a small portion of quinoa. 

     

    Day 20

    After a weekend of serious walking I wonder if I might actually achieve this goal. I've now lost 1.8% fat and put on 0.8% muscle. The scales tell me that my visceral fat has gone down too, which is an unintended health benefit. I've eaten more fillet steak in the last month than the preceding 40 years. I'm really hungry a lot of the time though, which isn't a good sign. 

     

    Day 25

    Starting to get a bit bored of this now. One thing I've learned is that how much I need to eat during a day is very different to how empty my stomach feels. In the past I'd always eat when my stomach rumbled, but I realise now that I don't need to.

    Eating loads of salad and loving it! Here are some more MyFitnessPal ratios:

     

    Day 30 

    I think I can keep this up for about another week at the most. I'm losing about 0.1% body fat a day on average, so I might make it to 14.5%. I'm down to 64.3kg, the lightest I've ever been as an adult. I've discovered that the best time to take my measurements is when I'm fully hydrated, so I've taken to drinking a pint of water mid-morning, waiting for my body to pee out what I don't need and then get on the scales. 

     

    Day 35

    This morning I step on the scales and I weigh 63.8kg. I glance at the mirror and I look too thin. I've been feeling a bit weird, light-headed and a little angry. I've lost a lot of weight and not much fat for the last five days, so I think I'm about ready to give up. It's been a really interesting experience, not one I'd like to repeat but I've learned a huge amount about nutrition. 

    There's an increasing body of evidence to suggest that we shouldn't be counting calories but eating a high fat, lower carb diet. There's an interesting article here. To quote from it:

    The EPIC study revealed that one can [of cola] a day (approximately 150 calories) was associated with substantially increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Conversely, PREDIMED revealed that consumption of a handful of nuts, (30 g of walnuts, 15 g of almonds and 15 g of hazelnuts) or four tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil per day (approximately 500 calories) significantly reduced the risk of heart attack and stroke. 

     

    Day 39

    Done it, woohoo! I've been away for three days at a dance music festival, not eating or sleeping much. I hopped on the scales when I got home and I'm down to 14.5% fat! I feel pretty good to be honest, like I've got a younger body, a lot more energy and feel more alive (despite the festival). 

    Here are the final graphs:

    That was hard work

    This has easily been the hardest thing I've done for Lost In Thought, but also one of the most rewarding. I've stopped logging my calories for now because I don't want to lose any more weight, but I'm still going to eat sensibly with more fat and protein and fewer carbs. I didn't think my 5% fat loss was going to be achievable without some serious weight lifting, and I'm really thrilled that I achieved my goal! I'm going back to weighing myself once a week instead of every day, as all the health professionals recommend. 

    This is lunch today to celebrate. I know what it looks like, but this is actually what I wanted to eat for lunch. Kat's smirking reading this, because she can't believe I would ever choose to eat it. But in all honesty I've completely changed how I feel about food and drink in just over a month. 

     

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    Pizza oven

    Friday 20th May 2016

    I've always wanted a pizza oven at home but we just don't have the room to build one. So when Dan asked me if I wanted to build one in his garden I jumped at the chance!

    All about the base

    First of all we laid a brick base for the oven topped with a layer of paving slabs. We put a layer of fire bricks, from an old night storage heater, as the floor of the oven. I've never done bricklaying before - it was fun!

     

    The oven

    A few weeks ago we built the oven. We started with a dome of sand the size of the inside of the oven and then covered it in wet newspaper.

    On top of this we put a 5cm thick layer of wet clay/sand mix and left it to dry for a week. The first time we did this we only left it for a day, and the dome collapsed when we removed the sand!

    Once it had hardened we cut a hole in the front, removed the sand and started a fire inside to bake the clay hard.

    A couple of days later we made the arch. This was another sand former in an arch shape at the front of the oven and then built an arch out of bricks with a clay/sand mix for the mortar. In hindsight this should have been a cement mortar but hey ho. Then we added a thick sawdust/clay mix as an insulating layer.

    Cooking up

    The moment of truth - we fired it up to make the first batch of pizzas! OMG they were good. The oven took about three hours to get to temperature and then the pizzas cooked in under a minute.

     

    Final layers

    The final layers were another clay/sand layer and then a strong cement mortar as a final waterproof layer at the end. We decided to cover the arch in a layer on mortar too, because the clay/sand mix that held the bricks in place didn't look very strong. We made a little door to go at the front and it's all done!

     

    Paint job

    Well almost. Dan wants to paint it so here are my favourite three ideas for the paint job. Vote for which one you think looks best!

     

    Retro

     

    Flames

     

    Ladybird

    Leave a comment below saying which paint job we should go for, or suggest an alternative.

     

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    Lamb's pluck

    Friday 15th April 2016

    A little while ago I bought a lamb's pluck from my local butchers - a liver, lungs and heart attached. I wanted the heart for some photos of my heart post, but I thought you might like to see, hear and taste the rest of the organs!

    Not for the squeamish, but I guess you've worked that out already.

    Are you a big fan of lungs? Let me know a good recipe in the comments.

     

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    Cooking with insects

    Friday 25th March 2016

    Ever since I was a kid, people have touted insects as the future of food. In some parts of the world they already are - I lost count of the number of times we saw various insects in markets in SE Asia, including this delicious sight in Skoun, Cambodia, where fried spiders are the local delicacy. No, I didn't try them.

    You're eating insects

    Even westerners eat a surprising amount of insects every year. The FDA's Defect Levels Handbook details exactly how many insect fragments is too many:

    • chocolate - over 60 insect fragments per 100g
    • curry - over 100 insect fragments per 25g
    • macaroni - over 225 insect fragments per 225g
    • wheat flour - over 75 insect fragments per 50g

    Yum.

    Cricket flour

    But from an environmental point of view, we should all be eating insects. It takes something like 4,000L of water to make a kilo of beef, but just 2L of water to make kilo of cricket flour as well as massively lower methane emissions.

    So when a wonderful friend, Celia, was kind enough to give me a bag of cricket flour, I thought I'd give it a go. The 100g bag she gave me contains around a thousand milled crickets. By weight it has twice as much protein as beef, the same amount of calcium as milk, and as much vitamin B12 as salmon.

    I tried some of the flour raw, it doesn't really taste of anything. I grew up with a lot of lizards that ate crickets, so I'm very familiar with the smell of them. Unsurprisingly the flour smells just like crickets, slightly nutty and not at all unpleasant.

    Here's my recipe for cricket ginger nuts:

    Ingredients

    Makes 30

    • 170g plain wheat flour
    • 80g cricket flour
    • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
    • 1 tbsp ground ginger
    • ½ tsp mixed spice
    • 125g unsalted butter
    • 185g soft brown sugar
    • 60ml boiling water
    • 1 tbsp golden syrup

    Here are the finished item - for comparison I made a batch on the left which use just wheat flour, and the cricket cookies on the right.

    Method

    Preheat the oven to 180ºC / 160ºC fan.

    Sift the wheat flour, cricket flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger and spice into a bowl.

    You may want to sift the cricket flour last and keep an eye out for large fragments like this one, which is about 3mm across. Discard them if you're a bit squeamish.

    Add the butter and sugar, and rub together with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

    Pour the boiling water into a small jug and add the golden syrup.

    Stir until mixed, and then add to the flour mixture. Stir with a knife until the ingredients are all mixed.

    The mixture will be very wet and sticky.

    Form into small balls and place on a couple of greased baking trays.

    Bake in the oven for about 15 mins. They'll be very dark, so don't rely on being able to tell visually when they're cooked or you might burn them.

    Place on wire racks to cool, and them film your friends eating them.

     

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    Why quit sugar?

    Friday 15th January 2016

    A friend recently asked me to look into the I Quit Sugar phenomenon, to see if it has any health benefits. I'd never even heard of it, here's what I've learned.

     

    Do what?

    Sarah Wilson, an Australian journalist, decided to 'quit sugar' in 2011 as part of a newspaper column she was writing. She was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease in 2008 and was looking for ways to improve her health. According to Wikipedia she "has often said that she was addicted to sugar as a child".

    The book was an enormous success, and led to a sequel I Quit Sugar for Life published in 2014, as well as spin off books I Quit Sugar Christmas Cookbook I Quit Sugar Chocolate Cookbook and so on. You get the idea. 

     

    What does "quitting sugar" even mean?

    You may well ask.

    Before I started reading up on what "quitting sugar" meant it made me irate, because there's no way you could ever avoid all sugar. Nor would you want to - sugars are an important source of fuel for almost every living organism.

    Let's have a quick biochemistry lesson.

     

    What's sugar?

    Sugars are small molecules, little rings of carbon with oxygen and hydrogen attached. Some of them are well known, like glucose and sucrose, but there are others like fructose, lactose and maltose.

    Sugars are usually found on their own (like glucose), attached in pairs (sucrose is glucose and fructose joined together) or in short chains. If you join a whole bunch of sugars together then you get things like starch, which is made of glucose. You can make glucose syrup by breaking down starch with hydrochloric acid, something I keep meaning to try. 

    Sugars are found in practically every food source: fruit, vegetables, bread, milk - and of course cake.

     

    So what is she on about?

    Contrary to the name I Quit Sugar, Wilson is actually talking about reducing the amount of processed foods and specifically fructose in her diet.

    Fructose is mainly found in fruits, but it's also half of the sucrose molecule (along with glucose). To quote her website:

    What are we referring to when we say “sugar”?

    • Sucrose (ordinary table sugar) is made up of 50 per cent glucose and 50 per cent fructose.
    • It’s the fructose bit that we’re referring to in our name I Quit Sugar.
    • Other sugars (glucose, maltose and lactose) are safe to eat in moderation. But fructose is not.

    In an article in The Guardian in 2013 she elaborated further:

    This is what quitting sugar is about – quitting the (mostly) processed foods saturated in (regular) sugar.

    Why target fructose? Well, because it's the only food molecule on the planet not recognised by our bodies and is, thus, metabolised in detrimental (to our health, wellbeing, longevity and looks) ways once we put it in our gobs. It wreaks metabolic havoc, leading to a host of diseases, shuts down our appetite mechanism, causing us to eat more of everything, and makes us fat, in part because it's largely processed in the liver.

    I don't know about you, but my science alarm bells have started ringing. Let's look at that last statement:

    • it's the only food molecule on the planet not recognised by our bodies

    It is recognised by our bodies, there's an enzyme specifically designed to break down fructose, fructokinase, which is the first of many steps that your body takes to make use of it.

    • It wreaks metabolic havoc, leading to a host of diseases

    There are specific diseases where you shouldn't consume fructose, but if you don't have those then it shouldn't cause any problems if you're consuming it in moderation.

    • causing us to eat more of everything, and makes us fat

    The evidence is slim on this, with more research needed. Some studies have found that over-consumption of fructose is associated with fatty liver, others have found that it isn't associated with weight gain. 

    Then there's this from her website:

    Fructose is addictive. Some studies say it’s more addictive than cocaine and heroine [sic].

    Really? Where are these "studies" published, because I can't find a single scientific study that backs up this claim.

    And finally this, also from her website:

    So why isn’t our book (and website) called I Quit Fructose, then?

        To be honest, it’s not very catchy, is it?

    No, but it would have been more accurate. She also hosted a show called Eat Yourself Sexy so she's obviously more concerned with good names than science. 

     

    Should I cut down the amount of sugar I eat?

    Probably, but you probably eat too much generally, and if you're anything like me your diet could definitely be improved. I'm not a doctor, so take any my advice with a pinch of, er, sugar.

    New UK government guidelines will recommend consuming no more than 30g of sugar a day. There's 35g of sugar in a can of Coke. Do you ever drink Coke? If so, the government thinks you should have less sugar.

    They also say you should stop smoking, and drink a maximum of 14 units of alcohol a week. Doing both of these will make a definite, scientifically provable improvement in your health.

    For example cigarette smokers at age 35 are twice as likely to die before they reach 65 as non-smokers. 89% of lung cancer deaths in England are caused by smoking. If you're going to carry on smoking then by all means have another cake - your time is limited.

     

    Should I quit sugar?

    Sure, why not. Try it if you like, it's unlikely to make anything worse and you might feel better. But this isn't the magic diet that suddenly makes your life wonderful again. As the wonderful Ben Goldacre, champion of evidence-based medicine (and who is a doctor) says, "I think you'll find it's a bit more complicated than that".

    If you're tired and stressed the whole time, you probably need to cram less into your busy life and sleep more. If you're overweight then you need more exercise and less food. If you're depressed then you need to seek treatment. And some problems just don't have solutions, as horrible as that sounds. If you've got terminal cancer, cutting down on fructose isn't going to help.

    Think carefully before you sign up to Sarah Wilson's £80 programme. Can you improve your diet on your own, without her pastel website and irritating smile? Do you want to quit sugar because you know you're not taking very good care of yourself, and you're looking for an easy fix?

    Something as simple as keeping a food diary has been shown to help with weight loss and improve diet. I used the free MyFitnessPal mobile app to track my food intake for three months and it made a huge difference to the way I eat.

     

    Any more advice, Dr Mat?

    I've told you before, I'm not a doctor. But I make a point of ignoring every new popular fad diet, because I just don't believe that any of them work.

    Your digestive system is an incredibly beautiful, complicated process which has evolved over millions of years to ingest pretty much anything you can eat and keep you alive (unless you have a specific disease like Coeliac). Your liver does an almost magical job of removing toxins from your body without any help from you, despite the amount of alcohol you make it process.

    I once spent three miserable weeks doing a Carol Vorderman "detox" diet (whatever that means) and discovered that, surprise surprise, I'm not lactose or gluten intolerant but I am grumpy when I'm not allowed any milk or wheat.

    I don't smoke, I don't drink, I'm fairly fit, I'm not overweight, but I do eat considerably more than 30g of sugar a day.

    Am I going to die? Absolutely, and so are you.

     

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    Making halloumi

    Friday 13th November 2015

    Years ago I got excited by cheese-making, but it went the way of all my hobbies once I realised that I needed a way of closely monitoring the temperature and humidity.

    Then last week I saw that milk was on special offer in our local supermarket and thought I'd have a go at making halloumi at home. It doesn't need any special conditions because it's kept in the fridge in brine, so it's a lot easier. 

    Ingredients

    • 2 litres of full fat milk
    • 2 tsp rennet (I used Langdales)
    • 50g sea salt (I made my own)
    • A 30cm square of cheese cloth, or a clean tea towel

    Instructions

    Heat the milk in a saucepan to 32°C, then add the rennet. Stir to mix it completely and then cover the pan and leave it for an hour or two.

    The rennet acts on the milk proteins to turn the liquid into a strange semi-solid congealed mass - this is the curd. Cut the curd into cubes about 3cm across, and use the knife at an angle to cut across it a few times. Leave it for half an hour, after which time the whey should have started to separate out. 

    Put the pan on a very gentle heat and bring it up to 38°C. All the instructions I've read say to do this over half an hour, but that's very hard. It took me about 10 minutes to get up to temperature. Stir it very gently, and you'll see that the curds break up into small lumps in the greeny-coloured whey.

    Line a colander with the cheese cloth and put it over a clean saucepan. Gently pour the curds into the cloth, making sure that you're saving the whey in the pan below. Once the whey has all drained off, you need to compress the remaining curds.

    You could do this by simply putting a small plate on top of the curds and then resting some heavy cook books on top, or I bought a cheap cheese mould from eBay (I love eBay) which has holes that allow the whey to drain out. Leave it to press and drain overnight. 

    The next day, the curd will be a hard mass, which you need to cut into blocks about 5cm wide so the brine can cure it. 

    Heat the whey in a saucepan to 85°C and put the cheese into pan. Keep a close eye on the temperature, don't let it get too hot, and wait until the cheese floats to the surface. Some instructions said this will take about half an hour, but it was more like 15 minutes for me. Take the cheese out and leave it to cool.

    Finally you need to make up the brine to cure the cheese in. Add 500ml of whey to 500ml boiling water, and stir in 50g of salt. Cool the liquid to room temperature. 

    Sterilise a large clean jar and place the cheese into it. Top up with the brine almost to the brim, and place a small piece of cling film on top of the surface of the liquid to stop the cheese drying out when it floats. 

    Leave it for a week, and then enjoy!

     

     

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    Open cola

    Friday 2nd October 2015

    The recipe for Open Cola, an open-source recipe for a Coke-type drink, came out in 2001. I've always wondered what was in Coke so thought I'd have a go at making some with Ash and Pete.

    Here's what happened.

    First of all we got all ingredients together. This was no mean feat in itself, and cost about £40 - but this is enough to make several batches. We sort of followed the recipes on Wikipedia and Cube-Cola. Most of the essential oils came from an online supplier, with everything else coming from eBay (I love eBay).

    Flavouring formula

    • 3.50 mL orange oil
    • 2.75 mL lime oil
    • 1.25 mL cassia oil
    • 1.00 mL lemon oil
    • 1.00 mL nutmeg oil
    • 0.25 mL coriander oil
    • 0.25 mL neroli oil
    • 0.25 mL lavender oil
    • 10.0 g food-grade gum arabic powder
    • 40 mL water (the Wikipedia recipe says 3ml but this really didn't work for us)

    Put on some gloves and goggles, the essential oils are pretty fierce. Measure out the oils and mix together, as shown below left. Mix the gum arabic powder with the water until it forms a cloudy liquid, and then add the oils.

    You'll need to blend these together into an emulsion, which can take several minutes in a food processor or with a whizzy stick. Eventually it will form a cloudy emulsion as shown in the bottom right. You can tell it's an emulsion because if you put a drop into a glass of water, it won't separate into a oil layer on the top of the water. Don't leave it in the food processor too long because the oils start to attack the plastic.

    We (okay, I) made a right mess of this step because we didn't dilute the gum arabic with enough water, so we wasted quite a lot of the mixture. We ended up with 30g of the emulsion when it should have been nearer 60g.

    The mixture smelled absolutely incredible but it didn't taste too great - very very bitter.

    Concentrate

    The two recipes we were following deviated quite widely here, so we made a new middle path.

    • 1.5kg plain granulated white table sugar
    • 750mL water
    • 30.0 mL caramel colour
    • 17.5 mL 75% phosphoric acid (particularly nasty, watch out)
    • 30.0 mL flavouring formula
    • 1g caffeine tablets, crushed up, diluted with 10ml of water and passed through a coffee filter

    Put the sugar and water in a pan and heat, making sure it doesn't boil. Add the caramel, phosphoric acid (carefully!) and caffeine solution to the flavouring formula and stir carefully.

    My pH sticks said that the mixture was about pH 1, so don't drink it.

    Once the sugar has all dissolved in the water, adding the flavouring and stir, then allow it to cool. We made just over two litres of the concentrate, enough to make 14 litres of cola. This is what the concentrate looked like.

    Drinkies

    We diluted the mixture 7:1 with sparkling mineral water and tried it - absolutely delicious! We had a bottle of Coke to compare it with, and to be honest after our magical open source cola, the "real thing" tasted dull and lifeless.

    I've since tried it with soda water (also nice) and with straight tap water and it's still great! I've had really good feedback from everyone who's tried it, although almost nobody has guessed what flavour it's supposed to be - especially since it's not brown.

    So it's a winner in terms of taste, how about cost? If we hadn't messed up the first stage we would have had more like 28 litres of cola and enough ingredients left over to make another 2-3 batches. That's about 70 litres of cola for £40, which is about half the cost of buying it.

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    Making salt from seawater

    Friday 4th September 2015

    When I told a friend I was going to make salt, her reaction was 'why bother?'. True, it's pretty cheap but I was curious to see the point where it turns from being water to being salt. We had some friends staying and their kids were really interested to see the process, so maybe your kids would like to see it too.

     

    Collecting

    I wanted to get some nice clean sea water, so we went out for a sail in St Austell Bay and collected 5 litres of water from a spot about quarter of a mile offshore.

     

    Filtering

    When we got back, I left it to sit overnight so any big particles settled to the bottom, and then filtered it through a bunch of coffee filters. There were a few specks in the filters, but generally it was pretty clean.

     

    Boiling

    Okay, so this isn't the most environmentally friendly way I could have done it, but waiting for it to evaporate in the UK would have taken weeks. As the water level went down it became more and more cloudy.If you're doing this at home, don't use steel pans! It went a bit rusty.

    Eventually it became a white crystalline sludge, at which point we ran it through another coffee filter but this time we kept the solid material.

     

    Drying

    We spread the sludge onto a piece of baking paper and dried it in the oven at about 85°C for a couple of hours, until it was completely dry.

     

    Flaking

    Once it was dry, the salt had caked into large lumps, so we pushed it through a sieve. Ta da!

     

    In total we got 134g of salt from 5 litres of water. Average sea salinity is 3.5% so the maximum yield was 175g. There was a lot crusted onto the pan, and some of the salt will have evaporated with the water, so this is about right.

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    Coconutella

    Friday 14th August 2015

    I'm a massive Nutella fan, so when a friend posted a link explaining how to make it, I ran right out to buy some hazelnuts. I wanted to avoid using palm oil, and thought it would be extra awesome with coconut oil instead. I made a batch with normal oil, a batch with coconut oil and a batch with dark chocolate just to see what would happen.

    Here's a quick video showing what I did:

    Ingredients

    Update: I've since discovered a much simpler version if you're in a hurry - see the end of the post for details.

    • 170g hazelnuts
    • 340g chocolate - milk or plain depending on what you like
    • 45ml coconut oil (or vegetable oil if you prefer)
    • 3 tbsp icing sugar
    • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
    • ½ tsp vanilla essence
    • ½ tsp salt

    Method

    Heat your oven to 160°C (non-fan oven 180°C) and bake the hazelnuts for 10-12 minutes until they brown slightly.

    Microwave the chocolate until it's just liquid and then stir to make it smooth.

    When the hazelnuts are done, rub the skins off with a tea towel, leave them to cool down and then puree in a blender for about 5-10 minutes until they become smooth and buttery. If they're very fresh nuts, you may want to roast them for a bit longer, otherwise the water in them is going to react with the chocolate to form a solid mess.

    Add all the remaining ingredients and continue to blend for another few minutes, until the mixture is smooth.

    Strain through a sieve to remove the larger chunks (there will be some small pieces left in the mixture) and then scoff it all straight out of the bowl immediately.

     
     

    Update

    Since I wrote this post I've refined the ingredient and made it much simpler, here's an updated recipe:

    • 170g smooth hazel butter (like Biona)
    • 340g chocolate - milk or plain depending on what you like
    • 3tbsp coconut oil

    Melt the chocolate in a microwave and then mix all the ingredients together. Done!

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    Fruitarian for a week

    Friday 24th July 2015

    I once told a vegan friend that I thought she was pretty hardcore for voluntarily keeping to such a strict diet. 'No way,' she told me, 'fruitarians are hardcore.' That was ten years ago, and ever since then I've thought of them as the radical extremists of the food world.

    So I thought I'd give it a go for a week. I've always had a fairly distant relationship with fruit: I'll eat strawberries with cream, watermelon and a grape or two, but I'm going way outside my comfort zone here.

     

    What's the point?

    There are a wide range of reasons to be fruitarian:

    • Religious - for example Jaines who follow a path of non-injury towards all living beings
    • Environmental - some estimates put agricultural greenhouse gas emissions at 18% of the total. Eating organic is a big part of the diet (but not one I'm following)
    • Ethical - some people take issue with the way that meat is raised
    • Health - but it can be hard to get enough vitamin B12, calcium, iron and zinc

     

    What do Fruitarians eat?

    Fruit, duh.

    Of course, it's more complicated than that. According to Wikipedia, people who eat 75% raw fruit consider themselves to be fruitarians, a figure that fruitarian.info states as 50% or more. The Fruitarian defines it as "raw fruit and seeds only". Blimey.

    I couldn't find a strict definition of what fruitarians eat. The general consensus seems to be fruits and nuts, mainly or entirely raw. Think of it as a raw vegan diet - any plant products you can eat raw, so no grains, pulses, bread or potatoes.  Most importantly (for me) they don't consume coffee.

    Some fruitarians only eat one type of food at a time, so if you're having peaches for lunch, then that's all you eat. Have a break of 45 to 90 minutes and then eat a different kind of food. Now that's self control.

     

    Monday

    8am Last night I crammed myself full of chocolate and chips at the pub quiz, but I was still hungry when I woke up. Feeling slightly scared, I made an early morning trip to our amazing local grocers and bought £30 worth of fruit to try to keep myself alive until lunchtime.

    9am Breakfast is a banana, a handful of grapes, some figs, dates, strawberries and a passion fruit. I've probably committed a terrible mistake already, but I'm feeling pretty good.

    12pm I'm surprised to find that I'm not massively hungry, but I'm waiting for the inevitable caffeine headache to kick in this afternoon. Lunch is some watermelon, another banana, a peach, some dried apricots, cherries and more grapes.

    1pm The caffeine headache begins. I really want an espresso, hot water and lemon is really not doing it for me.

    4pm Feeling insanely hungry, I cast about for something substantial to eat. There's only fruit! Mild panic attack ensues. Can I really keep this up for a week?

    6pm One upside of a fruitarian diet is that I'm spending much less time preparing food. Dinner is a massive plate of salad, followed by half a coconut and half a bag of pistachios. Caffeine headache still dominating the experience, and I'm feeling really tired.

     

    Tuesday

    9am While walking the dog this morning, I considered eating some his dry, tasteless biscuits. Don't judge me. Another big plate of bananas, peach, strawberries, figs, dates and pistachios. Starting to feel a bit more familiar now, but the caffeine headache is making the experience quite unpleasant.

    12pm I've had enough of the headache, so one cup of coffee later and I'm feeling great! Lunch is a big plate of salad and avocado, followed by watermelon and coconut. Still not sure I can do this for a week.

    7pm We're going to out to celebrate with a friend tonight at a restaurant, so instead of behaving like an idiot and demanding a fruitarian meal I've decided to eat a normal dinner. After all, it's only 50-75% raw fruit, and I need some vitamin B12, right? Dover sole never tasted so good!

     

     

    Wednesday

    9am Back to a fruity breakfast this morning with a banana, mango, strawberry and blueberry smoothie, some figs, nuts and coffee.

    12pm Another big plate of salad, loads of coconut and pistachios. You get the idea. I'm amazed how just one cup of coffee a day sorts me out.

    6pm My Wednesday evening exercise class almost kills me. Need more food.

    7pm Another social do at a pub tonight with a noticable lack of anything fruity. I settle for a pork pie, sausage rolls and a cheese sandwich.

     

    Thursday

    9am I'm really enjoying a pure fruit breakfast, I might carry on with this after the week is up. Melon, banana, strawberries, blueberries and passion fruit.

    12pm Getting in my stride now, I make fruitarian sushi rolls using grated cauliflower instead of rice. It's pretty decent, although the cauliflower doesn't have the same sticky properties and fragments a little.

    6pm Trying to keep up the diet this evening, so I have a big plate of salad for dinner.

    10:30pm That didn't work at all, I'm really hungry so I scoff a bowl of Weetabix and a Magnum.

     

    Friday

    9am Another big plate of fruit for breakfast. Still enjoying it, but I'm going to be so happy when this is over.

    12pm Another big plate of salad. Finding it hard to be excited about salad.

    6pm I need all my energy for poker night, so consume a burger, a bag of cookies and bunch of soft drinks. And it works!

     

    Saturday

    9am Yet more fruit.

    12pm Yet more salad. Just holding out for dinner.

    8pm Meat feast pizza, hooray!

    Sunday

    8am Squash match this morning. A breakfast smoothie just doesn't cut it, so I munch a mid-match Mars bar.

    12pm The diet restrictions are starting to crumble as I have a plate of pasta, cheese and salami for lunch, followed by sweets and cake at the town fair.

    7pm Hunger takes over and I go into a feeding frenzy, consuming anything I can find in the house. The dog is lucky he doesn't have bite marks on him.

     

    Conclusion

    I won't lie, this week's been really hard. I'm not a natural fruit eater and I've found it very difficult indeed to get enough calories when I'm doing any kind of exercise. I'm now 2kg below my target weight.

    I can just about see how people follow diets like Raw 'til 4, but I just don't understand how anyone can be fruitarian for any length of time! But somehow they do. Michael Arnstein has been a fruitarian since 2008 and he can run a hundred miles in 12 hours, so my original hypothesis has been proved - fruitarians are hardcore.

    To some people, this experiment will look like a total failure - I was 100% fruitarian for around 36 hours. But I see it as a real success - I've got a new appreciation for fruit. I can see myself continuing with fruit for breakfast, but not every day.

    Have you ever tried this? Think you'll give it a go? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

     

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    Mentos eruption

    Friday 29th May 2015

    I've seen some great Mentos and Diet Coke eruption videos on Youtube, and I've always wondered whether other soft drinks work too.

    Here comes the science.

    Hypothesis

    The Mentos eruption works just as well with any kind of soft drink, but it doesn't work with Fruit Mentos or sparkling water. It will be more explosive with powdered Mentos because of the increased surface area.

    Method

    12 bottles of various soft drinks and 12 packets of Mentos were bought from a local supermarket. The bottles were opened and a packet of Mentos (eight sweets) was dropped into the bottle using our patented delivery mechanism (an empty Berocca tube).

    Results

    Screenshots were taken from the video at peak foam. The images were scaled to make the bottles the same size and the eruptions were plotted on a pretty graph.

    The average heights of the eruptions were calculated. Note that Coke Life and sparkling water were not included in either of the diet or regular averages.

    • Average height: 26cm
    • Average diet drink height: 26cm
    • Average sugary drink height: 34cm
    • Average Tesco drink height: 32cm
    • Average Coca-Cola drink height: 28cm

    Conclusion

    Our experiment shows that soft drinks containing sugar can produce higher eruptions than diet products, and that it does work with Fruit Mentos but not with sparkling water. Powdered Mentos do not produce a higher plume than whole sweets.

    Sadly our delivery mechanism left a lot to be desired, and to be honest the height of the eruption a lot to do with how many Mentos were delivered into the bottle before it started foaming.

    Wikipedia explains the science behind it. The world record for the most number of simultaneous Mentos and Soda fountains is 4,334 bottles at once!

    Thanks very much to my awesome cameramen Jay-yoh and K-Herb.

     

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    Making butter

    Friday 24th April 2015

    If you've never made butter at home, I'd really recommend it. The whole process takes ten minutes, and it's magical when the cream suddenly becomes butter. You can make it by hand if you like, but it's a lot quicker with a blender.

    I made a short video of it, sorry about the dodgy camera work:

    Here's what you'll need to make 275g butter:

    • A blender with a whisk attachment
    • 600ml double cream
    • 1 tsp salt
    • 1 litre ice-cold water

    Put the cream into the blender and turn it on. After 3-4 minutes it will become whipped cream, and you might need to scrape it back into the bowl. A couple of minutes more blending and it suddenly changes texture into yellow butter with a watery buttermilk. Pour out the buttermilk into a container, it's great for making cornbread and pancakes, or you can just drink it.

    Now you need to wash the rest of the buttermilk out of the butter to increase its life span. Add a cup of ice cold water and knead the butter with a spatula. The water will quickly go cloudy. Pour the water out and repeat twice or thrice until the water remains clear.

    Add 1 tsp of salt and mix well into the butter. The less you handle the butter the better as it will melt, so I found a pair of butter pats in an antique shop which allow you to work it without warming it up.

    You could also mix in some herbs, I used thyme and garlic which is perfect for spreading on toast for a snack.

    Once you've got it into the right shape, refrigerate and enjoy!

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    The perfect Virgin Mary

    Friday 20th February 2015

    I stopped drinking about two years ago and I love it (more about why here).

    But the one thing that I find really irritating is the range of non-alcoholic drinks in pubs. There are lots of expensive sweet drinks (coke, lemonade etc), loads of really expensive sweet drinks (J2O, Appletise etc.) and almost no non-sweet drinks at all.

    The only two good non-alcholic drinks that most pubs can do is a lemon, lime and bitters or a Virgin Mary, and both drinks seem to prove a real challenge to bar staff. With the former I've been served a bitter shandy with angostura bitters (so wrong) and most Virgin Marys are just tomato juice and tabasco (just dull).

    I knew I could do better so I've had a play, and here's my recipe for the perfect Virgin Mary.

    Ingredients

    • Chilli sauce, I'm using some awesome Bad Boy Chilli mash
    • A small bowl of ground salt and pepper, mixed together
    • Wasabi
    • Lemon slices
    • Garlic, I'm using garlic pureé because it dissolves more easily
    • English mustard
    • Worcestershire sauce (or soy sauce for vegetarians)
    • Horseradish, I'm using grated fresh horseradish for extra fire
    • Ice
    • Tomato juice

    Method

    1. Turn your glass upside down, and dunk it 1cm into fresh water, then dunk into the salt and pepper to coat the rim of the glass, as shown on the left, below.
    2. Mix all your ingredients (I'll leave the proportions to you) into a nasty brown sludge, as shown in the middle photo below.
    3. Add the sludge and a small amount of tomato juice to the glass, and stir well.
    4. Add the remaining tomato juice, stir well then add the ice and lemon.
    5. Enjoy!

    The finished drink

    Any tips for other ingredients to make it extra super awesome?

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    Kentucky Fried Pheasant

    Friday 6th February 2015

    I absolutely love KFC - those three letters are making me salivate right now. But I can't eat there any more since I read Fast Food Nation - it put me off fast food for life. Their treatment of animals and environmental record is really rather poor. Until 2006 there was a PETA activist whose legal name was KentuckyFriedCruelty.com (although his mum still called him Chris).

    Ever since I stopped eating there I've wondered what the Colonel's 11 secret herbs and spices are, and if it's possible to make at home. Recently I came across a website with a recipe and after a few tweaks I'm in fried chicken heaven once again.

    Of course, it doesn't have to be made with chicken, so here I've made it with pheasant (thanks Rachel's mum!) which is just as tasty, but you'll want to make sure you use young tender pheasant, and it does give the final product a stronger taste. Make it with chicken if you like.

    Ingredients

    The first thing to note is that there aren't 11 herbs and spices listed. The original recipe had onion salt and marjoram too, but we don't have those on the spice rack and I can't taste the difference without them. If it really bothers you then by all means add 11. I've tried removing other ingredients and in my opinion the only ones that really matter are salt, pepper and MSG.

    This brings me onto the second thing to note. Yes, you do need to put MSG into it. The original recipe had 2 tbsp of MSG so I've scaled it back to a sixth of that, and anyway there's nothing wrong with MSG. You can buy a bag at any chinese supermarket (or eBay) for a couple of quid that will keep you going for the rest of your life.

    • 500g of pheasant/chicken meat, cut into thin strips
    • 1 bottle of rapeseed oil (e.g. Crisp N Dry)
    • 1 egg
    • 150g plain flour
    • 1 garlic clove, crushed
    • ½ tsp ground chilli
    • 1 tsp ground oregano
    • 1 tsp ground dried sage
    • 1 tsp ground dried basil
    • 1 tsp ground black pepper
    • 2 tsp salt
    • 1 tsp MSG
    • 2 tbsp paprika

    Method

    Put the oil into a large saucepan and heat to 180ºC (warning blah blah hot).

    While it's heating, get four bowls. In the first, put the pheasant strips. In the second, beat the egg. In the third, sift the flour and mix in the herbs and spices. One by one, take a pheasant strip and dunk it in the beaten egg, then drop it into the flour and coat on all sides. Place in the fourth bowl.

    Once you've coated all the strips, take the coated strips one by one and dunk them carefully in the egg again, then back in the flour again, then place them back into a bowl ready to cook. This double coating is the secret to making it super-awesome.

    When the oil is up to temperature cook the strips in batches of 3-4 at a time, for about 2 minutes until they are golden. When you cook the first batch, cut a piece open to check it's cooked and then cook the others to the same colour on the outside.

    What do you think? Needs more MSG? Leave your comment below.

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