Friday, 17 October 2014

Out and about spice holder

I have to admit that I have what I call a bit of a 'lame game' palete in that I'm not sort of in tune with gamey flavours. Well I'm getting better but I still prefer stranger tastes with a sauce or flavouring.


This little device has served, and still serves me well although it's been used in a different role from that it's intended for. It was purchased from Boots and was in the holiday section for putting lotions and potions in. 


It works with each section being self contained with a thread top and bottom and a single lid. To get to a particular section you simply unscrew it so that it's showing, then screw the other section to the bottom. This spice on show is actually Bart's jerky mix and the others are medium curry powder, Shwartz seasonall, Ras-El-Hanout (A sort of Moroccan curry paste) and English mustard powder. I will wean myself off slowly!

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Pablo meets the Leopards!

I've been helping out on Woodlife Trails courses as a course assistant as and when I can for a year now and was delighted to learn that Pablo and JP are keen to get the team involved with Scouting more. I was even more delighted that Pablo agreed to come and do an evening with my Cub pack as a one-off (Pablo doesn't live a million miles away from me so that's why I decided to approach him to see if he would be willing to come down to see the Leopard Cub pack (for whom I'm an assistant cub leader)). He was and said that Hannah would come too.


 


I was his little helper at the Gilwell Reunion recently and in between bouts of business we chatted over what to put into the hour and a quarter available at the cub evening. 




I asked him if they'd be happy to have a bite to eat (my shout) a hostelry that was a couple of minutes walk from the HQ. He was! Well the hostelry shut the Friday before so it was Shish kebab and chips all round as a more than acceptable plan B!

I'd briefed the cubs the previous week about what Woodlife Trails do and that Pablo used to be in the army and won't take any nonsense (anything to get them to behave!). After giving Pablo and Hannah a brief introduction and buildup I left them to take the floor. He's said in the past that kids aren't his preferred audience...Not true, he owned them!



He started them off with a game which soon turned into a talk about what sign animals may leave behind, the cubs did really well and I wasn't mouthing answers to them (well maybe a couple). Pablo then outlined the basic skills needed to be a tracker which they'd need later in the meeting.



He'd brought mini a selection of items from the table of death and did a quick talk about some selected pieces from it going through what animal they can from and certain physical features. He then invited the cubs to have a 'poo talk' at which point he almost disappeared under a see of cubs (bearing in mind there were nearly thirty of them). No surprise that 'poo talk' kept their attention. Our Scout Group's policy is to keep photos featuring the kids passworded so you may notice some zombie like Cubs in the pictures I've used where I've had to blur their features...Do not adjust your monitor.

 

Pablo needed a volunteer and that honour fell to our Akela, it's usually me so I could sit back and watch for a change, as Pablo used mud, burnt corks and a scrim scarf to disguise her white contrasting features for tracking.


 

Hannah then became a deer as Pablo challenged them to become members of the tracking clan.



Starting off in the opposite corner they walked, they crouched and then they slithered and did really well as they got to Hannah the deer. Pablo asked me to be a spotter to single out anyone not up to scratch...I wasn't needed.


 

Their tracking evening was rounded off with a final talk from Pablo and he invited them forward for a touchy-feely session on the mini table of death whilst Hannah and I rattled through the queue of Cubs wanting their faces 'painted' with burnt cork.

 

So job done but no, several Cubs stopped them to ask questions after we'd finished the meeting with Grand Howl which was great to see that the evening had opened their minds up and generated questions. Great evening folks, thanks!









Monday, 13 October 2014

Squirrel!

When I started to discover that the natural development of my love of nature was bushcrafting and all the other parts that can be part of this vast topic I naturally wanted to learn as much as I could. I had a loose bucket list in my head of things that I wanted to master or at least try and one of those ongoing things is wild foods.

I dabble with foraging in a hobbyist bushcrafter sort of way but one food that has always alluded me is squirrel. I've been on several courses and not had it as a meal and a local farm butcher said he could probably get me some but that fizzled out to nothing, and when another local farm shop charges about seven quid for a prepared vacuum packed rabbit local availability  wasn't looking looking good.


JP had bagged one on the latest Woodlife Trails immersion course and he used it (and the rabbit) to give the clients an impromptu game prep demonstration.


As well as seeing the squirrel butchered it was also interesting from an anatomical point of view to see the 'positive' foot shape as opposed to the 'negative' in the ground and those lower teeth! JP was going to take them home for the pot so I explained my situation and he kindly let me blag it's right leg for a taste when I got home.


Since JP had done all the hard work all I had to do was remove the flesh from the bone. The flesh was sticky so nice uniform pieces wasn't really happening, but I managed to cut the pieces up into a usable size(ish). I oiled up a frying pan and seasoned the pieces with salt, pepper and garlic granules.



First off I cooked it to a lightly browned stage and the family tried it. Now whenever I hear the flavour described it's usually a cross between something and pork. I'd agree and we decide upon beef and pork. I then slapped it back in the pan to give it a crispy exterior and it was more like pork on it's own flavour wise.

if I ever manage to score a whole squirrel I reckon a slow cooked casserole with chicken stock (well I ain't gonna get squirrel stock cubes am I?!), mixed veg, potatoes, garlic, thyme and pearl barley would be spot on. JP, thanks for helping me tick that one off the list sir!  

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Woodlife Trails immersion course Oct 2014


Woodlife Trails ran a fully booked up immersion course this weekend just gone at Hatfield Forest. In a nutshell it is a course designed to skill up clients how to and then actually to immerse themselves in their own little overnight viewing area to see what mother nature has in for them. I sensed that I was being watched as I walked in...



It was a soggy and misty Saturday night for the clients to head out but nevertheless there were some excellent and indeed closeup sightings offered up during the Sunday morning debrief in the parachute classroom.



Pablo and JP went around the circle and plotted their sightings onto a map, having been told how to record what they saw and it was interesting to see folk cross referencing sightings as Pablo explained the forest network of animals and birds talking to each other.


Sightings ranged from mice to badgers to deer sighted in a variety of locations. JP had been out on Saturday with his new air rifle (that's super duper air rifle actually) and cleanly popped a rabbit and squirrel. They were to be prepped with the diploma guys who were working on projects in a separate part of the forest, but due to popular punter demand he prepped them in front of them and had their attention throughout. I've seen rabbits prepped many times but this was a really in depth demo.


Arguably the best bits for me were the christening of my new pan which most of the Woodlife crew have, and the fact that the damp lifted in the Autumn sunshine and the 'chute came down dry...It's sometimes the little things...


More pictures here.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Dehydrator timings/ temperatures & machine review


I'd recently started making apple rings in the oven for the family to snack on, they were being yummed up so I took the plunge and purchased a dehydrator which I've done a quick review on at the bottom of the page. The purpose of this page though is for me to record my timings and temperatures so I have a reference to refer to, and if any other neebies out there find it useful then hurrah!

 I don't usually stick a page out that isn't complete but this one is an exception as I'll add newly tried foodstuffs, tweak recorded figures were appropriate, and information on how dehydrated stuff reconstitutes in dishes. A lot of these foods may not at first glance be very bushcrafty but I can see me making a lot of jerky and fruit leather, plus the dried fruits will make excellent snacks and potentially additions to things like porridge. I'll also look to dry things like nettles, thyme etc and experiment with crushed up dried seasoning for dishes. I've purchased it at the tail end of the hedgerow bounty, but it gives me time to perfect timings for when it comes around again. Any text highlighted  thusly is for me to review stuff when I redo it, do not adjust your monitors.

 

Apples and pears. Sliced to around 3mm (as per the manual suggestion), would perhaps go a bit thinner tried white/ brown sugar and cinnamon as toppings, the latter didn't come through, even with more added on the second go so will need even more than the amount shown in the picture). 

Apple slices need cut surfaces wiping with lemon juice to stop browning (see the picture above to see a coated and non-coated one)...the juice of one lemon in a bowl will do about three apples and two pears. I initially did sixty degrees for seven and a half hours and then a couple more hours at forty degrees, but seventy degrees overnight was good in one hit. I experimented with a sugar dusting too.

 

Pears. The ones I got weren't at optimum ripeness and where a little bland at sixty degress for around. I did them like the apple rings with lemon juice and a light white sugar coating. They will be sensational when done ripe I suspect. Sixty degrees for seven hours but I suspect seventy degrees overnight may be the way forward. The pictures above are, left to right, an apple and pear slice.

 

Apple and pear chunks. As a trial I did some small chunks and again, gave them a sugar dusting. I did them overnight at fifty five degrees and came out squishy and pleasingly chewy.


Papaya. Not the brighest coloured one when chopped open to be fair but disappointing nevertheless. The colour has improved as it dehydrated but is dried on the outside and soft in the middle. I may try a really thin slice at seventy degrees overnight in the future. I do find papayas a bit hit and miss to buy as it goes.


Spicy beet. Not bad at all but the slices were cut from a wedge which makes even slicing hard. Sixty degrees for seven hours makes a pleasing snack.


 

Two sizes of cut banana...The larger ones at about  four milimetres were ok but the thinner ones, around the two milimetre mark were buggers to turn during drying as they stick easily to the rack. Sixty degrees for seven hours but I will try longer to dry them a bit more, possibly with a sugar dusting.

 


Celery didn't set the world on fire as a snack when done at sixty degrees for seven hours, although it does work as an addition to a hot savoury dish. Par boiling for a couple of minutes first helped.


 

Fruit leather (from a small shop purchased plum punnet). The dehydrator I've got has the fan at the bottom so I wasn't sure how fruit leather would come out. I popped it on a piece of parchment paper with paperclips in the corners to make a low sided container. The plums are slowly cooked down, with a hit of brown sugar and a dash of water to stop it catching. It was then poured through a sieve. 


I did it at seventy degrees for ten hours to find it still a bit sloppy. I then did three hours at forty degrees and this finished it off nicely. I will experiment with the settings to do it in one time hit. I cut it into strips and left the parchment paper on the back to help stop it sticking.


I have several ways to make jerky (and several blog pages too; an indoor, traditional and poshcraft set up with marinade details) and this was one of the dehydrator's acid tests (along with fruit leather). I sort of adapted the manual's recipe suggestion and liberally marinated the thin, across the grain topside pieces in terkiyaki sauce, garlic granules and Bart's dry jerky mix.


  

I tried experimenting with a quick pre smoke on our gas barbecue using wood chips in tin foil and smoke started to issue at 160 degrees. It didn't work that well but I suspect I may revisit this. That said, I thought I'd miss the smoky taste but actually I didn't. The jerky was a little crispy at seventy degrees overnight (the darker dehydrated one is above next to some traditional jerky). Perhaps either fifty five degrees overnight, or seventy degrees for say seven hours may be the magic combo.

 

Pineapple. I sliced a medium tin of rings (in natural juice) in half and you can fill a while tray with one tin exactly (if you eat one ring!). Overnight at seventy degrees did the trick. They reminded me of the fruit on pineapple cakes in taste and texture. I've read that chilli and pepper are a pineapples best friend so may experiment with this at a later date.


Mango. Seventy degrees overnight was a winner and you'd be hard put to tell it from commercially produced stuff. I sliced two thicknesses of about two and three milimeteres and the thinner ones were done, whereas the larger ones needed a couple of hours at forty degrees extra.

 

Pepper. This is a thinner, sweeter Romano variety. I did the yellow ones above as thin slices at 70 degrees for twelve hours, perhaps a bit wrinkled but still flavoursome.

 

 The red ones are still thinner Romano ones but bigger pieces and dehydrated at fifty five degrees for twelve hours and are slightly softer.

 

 

Cooked savoy cabbage as an experiment (the sweeter inner leaves) for twelve hours at seventy degrees. A shade too crispy but another batch done at fifty five degrees for about six hours was better. I've got an idea for a great dish...Watch this space!

 

Fully cooked carrot slices. Carrot I did uncooked and not really a chewy snack, would be good in a campfire meal. These were sixty degrees for seven hours.

   

I tried par boiled and again, they were a bit chewy in a not nice sort of way. They were done at fifty five degrees for twelve hours it saw them looking pretty much the same.

 

 

Tomatoes on the vine. Cut to two widths (as shown) and half covered in a salt and garlic powder covering, the other half in salt and sugar. Intense flavour. I tried whole and halved cherry tomatoes, the whole ones didn't work and I removed them, the halved ones needed about twelve hours at fifty five degrees and whilst this time didn't fully dry them (they were wrinkled and squishy) the flavour was equally good.

  

Strawberries. I tried meduim sized fruits in halves and slices and the former were like the cherry tomatoes in texture, whereas the slices were similar to the freeze dried slices you get in cereal. Twelve hours at fifty five degrees.

 


Natural greens/ herbs. I tried nettles, plantain and yarrow from outside, and some leftover coriander all at fifty five degrees. The plantain leaves were done after about six hours, the yarrow about an hour and a half later. The nettles and coriander took about eight hours to be crispy.

 

Chillies. I tried whole and sliced at fifty five degrees. Like the whole cherry tomatoes I removed the uncut chilli as it just wasn't happening. The chilli strips seeemed to take forever to dry but at the ten hour mark it occurred that they had rolled up and therefore weren't drying that well. I will do smaller pieces at say fifty five degrees/ six hours (?) next time.


Onions. I did two three milimetre slices and par boiled one but not the other. I dehydrated at fifty five degrees for ten hours and both did ok but didn't fully dry. I'll try a higher temperature next time.

 

 

Potato. Fully cooked new potatoes with the cut surfaces covered in lemon juice (didn't know if it would stop browning like it does apple and pear rings). seventy degrees overnight made them like peanut brittle with some becoming almost opaque. Fifty five degrees for about eight hours seems better. 


Raspberries. Put in whole as an experiment at sixty degrees for about eight hours and very disappointing, they have just gone soft and not even dried a little bit. Not sure any extended drying or slicing would help.

 

Horseradish root. peeled, grated and dehydrated at 40 degrees for about three hours. It dried really quickly and may well have gone brown if done any longer. It lost a lot of it's potency once dried.


With all the dehydrates vegetables I'd done I decided to make a basic vegetable soup. I used a vegetable stock gel 'cube' in around half a pint of water.


 I cooked the assorted vegetables on a medium to low heat for around ten minutes that produced a soup that reminded me a little of packet soup mixes from my childhood...but better. Generally the vegetables reconstituted well but perhaps the celery and carrots could have done with a couple of additional minutes. The dried vegetables will be useful on future bushcrafting trips.


The dehydrated apple chunks and strawberry slices really worked well in a bowl of porridge and would be good when out and about.


So to the unit itself. It's a Vonshef dehydrator and is at the budget end of things. I based my purcahse on the sole review which bemoaned the lack of temperature guidance in the manual as the reason three stars wasn't four (I agree, it's tardy). The other budget ones made by Andrew James had reviews raising issues about brittle trays but since I purchased it another review has appeared raising the brittle tray issue with this model. Actually looking at the Andrew James ones they look very similar so I wonder if they are from the same stable? I'll be annoyed if they are as the Andrew James one is cheaper! 

When I wash the trays I put my hand behind the bit I'm washing or wiping down as a precaution but that said I guess they will be a little vulnerable to damage simply because of them being criss-crossed plastic...The photo above on the right hand side shows the stacking options, you can either have them low like the bottom three shelves, or if you turn them around they stack a little higher for bigger food like the forth from bottom shelf.


It has a small temperature range of forty-seventy degrees celsuis  (I would have preferred fahrenheit instead of celsuis) and a base fan (as opposed to one at the back). That all said I think this unit has a bright future, and won't end up as a future car boot item. There is a well used and friendly Facebook group too.

Vacuum sealer blog here