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Tandoor for an Indian Summer

I know for a fact Jules has mentioned many time on both the blog and on Twitter about my sometimes eccentric projects. From the cheese press to the hanging meat safe ever since I came up with the idea of making a tandoor oven I knew I had to make it. I’m an Engineer, what do you expect! With a little help from Instructables and my dad, the DIY king, the project soon took shape. When Jules received a copy of Miss Masala it gave me the incentive to make and try out this mad idea of mine with everything that has been cooked so far in the tandoor comes from recipes in this great cookbook.

I built a hot smoker for a few years. A cold smoker had been in the planning but stumbled when it came to sourcing a suitable barrel. Then one day at work I spotted an old metal barrel that was begging to be used in a project. I realised not only could I make this barrel into a Tandoor Oven but adapt it so it could also be used for cold smoking. Along with picking up a bargain pair of terracotta pots on ebay, a huge bag of vemiculite I managed to find hanging around at work, clearing Wilkos of all their fire cement and a cymbal (yes a cymbal from my dad’s drumming days) I was getting closer to building the tandoor. Due to the nature of my job I have access to machines and parts that help me make some of the parts, but I think it could be done without this luxury. I also made the extra long skewers using hexagonal steel bar left over from a work project and the twists help stop the meat from falling off. No thermometer yet on the oven but I can confirm it is hot. Super hot. Hot enough to singe your arm hairs hot. I Managed to brand my arm when the lid tilted and am now on the lookout for food safe elbow-length heat-proof gloves.  How they manage to use these ovens in restaurants without causing injury I don’t know!

The first main tryout of the oven worked better than I could have ever planned. Inevitably one of the 4 naan breads ended up at the bottom of the pit (you may spot it on the chicken kebab picture) as I couldn’t catch it quick enough when it came away from the wall. A bit of a way to go look wise but taste of the naans were closest we’ve got so far. They had that lovely chewiness that only happens when cooking in a tandoor. Next time we would try rolling the dough a bit thinner. The tandoor chicken pieces were also particularly good and cooked in under 5 min due to the heat. I have read about cooking pizzas in the oven in that you lower them in one at a time on a metal plate.

Read both these articles (article 1, article 2) before partaking in the project to make sure you understand the safety implications.

Garden Tandoor Oven

1 large metal drum (must not be galvanised)
2 terracotta pots that fit inside a metal drum when one pot is inverted on top of the other.
pots of fire cement (Wilkos works out by far the cheepest)

1) The first job is to drill a 4″ hole for the air vent at the bottom of the barrel. The vent needs to be high enough to allow a layer of sand at the bottom of the barrel for the plant pot to sit on but no too high that the fire can’t breath properly. Once the hole has been drilled a piece of 4″ pipe is welded into place. I added a vent flap to the pipe to allow more control of the fire.

2) Once this is done the barrel is ready for a lick of paint. As the barrel won’t get too hot I just used ordinary black gloss paint.

3) Whilst the paint is drying its time to get busy with some boys toys. The bottom of the first plant pot is swiftly cut off with an angle grinder (terracotta cut surprising easily). The next toy to play with is a drill with a big 4″ holesaw in it. This is to cut the hole in the bottom of the other pot for the air vent pipe to fit in.

4) The next thing to do is to fill the bottom of the barrel with enough sand to make sure the bottom plant pot will sit at the right height and level (its best to put the barrel where its going to end up as it will get pretty heavy once everything is in it). The first plant pot is put into place and the gap between the pot and the barrel is packed with vermiculite. The next pot is then put upside down on top of the other pot. More vermiculite is packed into the cavity (its surprising how much you can pack in a small space!).

5) Now for the messy bit! All the joints need to be sealed with fire cement and the top of the barrel needs to be sealed to stop the vermiculite escaping. The final piece is the cymbal that acts as a lid and was a perfect fit for my plant pot.

6) The tandoor is almost ready to fire. The inside needs to be coated with oil to make sure the naan breads don’t stick too much.

7) Now the fun begins. Use some charcoal and start a fire in the bottom as you would a bbq and wait until the flames have died down and the coals have a healthy red glow. Don’t use wood as from our experience it gets v smoky and the flames can get shockingly high.Your now ready to start cooking!

DIY Cheese Press

Given The Baker Jules has most of the say on the blog it was about time for me The Butcher & random stuff maker to have a go. As Jules has always let on I love any gadgets related to cookery and the quirky or more old-fashioned the better. Previous projects include a clay pizza oven, bread bin hot smoker, along with a meat/cheese safe suspended from the outhouse ceiling and restoring a clockwork spit (I’ve promised to blog about both of these  soon). The next project in the pipeline is a cold smoker. The burner has already been fashioned from an old gas bottle but I just need an elusive wooden barrel for the smoking chamber…And you thought Jules was a food geek!

My first attempt at cheesemaking was Basic Hard cheese. This was soon followed by an attempt at a basic blue cheese. All was going well until somehow Mr & Mrs Robin found their way into the shed and found this delectable fatty treat. It couldn’t be saved for human consumption, but certainly gave the birds a feast. After that hurdle the cheese safe was born. Since the beginning I wanted to make a cheese press that would form the cheese properly and give it its characteristic truckle shape. Not one to buy things like this, I wanted to make a press from scratch. It gives me the Engineer in me a challenge. It was more or less made of items I found in the outhouse or at the Aladdin’s cave of Dad’s garage. It’s not difficult, more of an easy/medium project, you just need some basic woodworking knowledge and tools. Hopefully the photos above help explain it better than I can.

You will need:

Piece of  hardwood for the base (hardwood won’t swell with the whey)
2 blocks of hardwood for inside tube
Broom handle (for holding the parts together)
Suitable lengths of wood for the sides
Modified G-clamp
Piece of drain pipe
Large baking tray
muslin/cheese cloth

1) First construct the base. Router a gully into the hardwood to allow the whey to drain from the curds easier.

2) To make the uprights at one end cut out a suitable sized notchfor the cross bar to sit in. Secure the two uprights to the base with screws.

3) For the cross bar you have two options. Fashion yourself a screw mechanism or, like me, chop down a g-clamp and  embedded it in the cross bar. It works perfectly. With the cross bar in place drill the holes for the broom handles through both uprights and crossbar at the same time to ensure the holes line up. The cross bar can then be held in place with short lengths of broom handle.

4) Cut a round piece of hardwood to match the internal diameter of the pipe that will for the truckle (This needs to be a snug fit)

5) Below the screw place the piece of piping and line with cheesecloth. Fill the tube with the curd. Place the round block of hardwood in the pipe. Screw down the screw onto the block, squashing the curds (If the screw isn’t long enough use a block of wood as a spacer). Keep turning until the screw becomes tight. Tighten the screw each day until the desired density is achieved.

Beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

New Decade = New Blog. As I decided to move over to WordPress I thought it was a fine opportunity to “rebrand” my blog and make it more inclusive of Hubs and his fantastic foodie projects.Please bear with me with the new look as with the festive season fast approaching time is tight, but both Hubs & I will be back soon.

Lighting in the cottage at this time of year makes photography very difficult, hence my lack of posts recently. Thankfully I have a much-needed tripod on my Christmas List.

Christmas is coming at full force and the to do list is extending at an alarming rate I feel organised but also totally unorganised at the same time. Everything is revolving around getting to the end of term without drowning in a sea of glitter and baking for friends and family with the odd party and ball thrown in for good measure. All the Christmas editions of foodie mags around December are full festive cheer, but to be quite frank there is only so many ways you can carve and stuff a turkey! Baking in the house at this time of the year is very much based around traditions and sometimes I can be a bit too stubbon to change them.

Here the staple for Christmas baking is mincemeat. I’m very particular what goes into my mincemeat, hence why I make my own. I was a bit heavy-handed with the rum this year, but given the latest batch of mince pies were practically inhaled by workmates I don’t hear them complaining! I usually make the mince pies one of 2 ways – either in the style of mini Eccles cakes, or traditional shape but with gluten-free pastry to cater for some friends. Today I finished baking stained glass biscuits with 40 primary aged kids, they loved watching the biscuits transform. This weekend the well-fed Christmas Marzipan Cake is finally being sliced. I just hope it’s as good as I’m expecting.

Hubs has also been busy with the slow food for Christmas. Salami is curing ready for an “allotment swap”, a length of pork belly has just been dry cured and is beginning to dry out in the meat safe plus a leg of pork is brining in a mix of cider and spices ready to be boiled into a ham. Just don’t ask if we have a pan big enough to boil the ham. If these meaty experiments work I’ll get Hubs to post the recipe.

In the final preparations for Christmas I’m getting all Sarah Raven and going to attempt to transform a boring Supermarket wreath into something a bit more us with a foodie twist of chillies and limes and bake my usual biscuits to adorn the tree. If the wreath goes wrong (of which there is a high possibility!) I know that the wonderful Kerry at The Blossom Tree will be coming to my rescue.

So raise a glass of your favourite festive tipple to Christmas, cheers!

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