Parental Leave – Uncharted territory

It has been a while, for (hopefully) obvious reasons; the arrival of a little one in your life means that everything you knew until then is thrown in the air and rearranges itself as it lands in a heap by your feet.

We have had the Urban Wild Boy (UWB) now since the end of February and it has been a lot of fun! The first three weeks we had together as a family to help him (and us) settle in to this new situation, which was great. After this, because we do like bacon on our bread, I had to go back to work and make some money whilst the Urban Wild Woman stayed at home with the boy. She was entitled to 18 weeks of fully paid Parental Leave, so the choice was easy; she took the full 18 weeks.

After the 18 weeks were up, at the end of June, it was my turn. I had spoken at work that I wanted to do the same, so take 18 weeks off to balance things out, but they asked if it would be alright if I took 26 weeks. This meant that it would be a lot easier to find cover for the time I am away in the form of a secondment. Given the fact that they asked me to have 8 extra weeks off and that we had saved up enough for any period of time that we would be on Statutory Parental Pay (aka. “beer money”), the choice was easy, I took the 26 weeks.

This meant that I am now at home with the boy and won’t have to go back to work until the beginning of 2017! It seems unreal, a period that long without work but with money in the bank but at the same time very exciting to be given this opportunity.

We are in week 4 now (as far as I can tell, they all blur together) and things are going great. We had a couple of days in the beginning of getting used to each other and getting used to the routine of feeding, sleeping and playing but now everything seems settled for the moment.

Now the dust has settled and we have survived the first mini-heatwave (poor little boy) and teeth have come through, summer seems to finally have arrived and calm will set in. The problem now is that a lot of the services and playgroups and swimming etc. break up for a couple of weeks, so I will have to get creative and find us things to do. This will probably involve a lot of walks outdoors in the carrier and gardening, but I will also have to get in touch with lots of people for play-dates and a change of scenery for the UWB. There is a gym session for babies (I presume more for parents than for the children) that does run over the summer which I am keen to explore, as well as checking out the local swimming pools for a nice break from the monotony of home life.

If anybody has some good ideas for Dads and babies to do for 6 months, I am open to anything, please let me know in the Comments section below.

I will do another post on the progress of the Fostering to Adopt process shortly (I hope) as that is another story altogether, this one is just a quick update and a sign of life.

The Urban Wild Baby

He is here at last, we have a little boy in the house!

About two and a half years ago the UWM household decided it might be nice to start our own little family. We looked at the different options and decided upon adoption; there are plenty of children waiting for parents, we didn’t feel the need to propagate our own DNA so that’s what we did.

After a few hiccups and frustrations with the various adoption services along the way, we now finally have a child. When we started, people talked about “fostering to adopt” as a new way of adopting, but nobody really knew anything about it. It was recommended for people that were desperate to have a baby but did involve some potential issues. 

The idea is that the baby comes to you on a fostering basis first and, while the legal position is being sorted out, you can start caring for him or her, avoiding the need for additional moves and transitions. After everything is sorted, the placement changes into an adoption placement. This permanence is thought to be highly beneficial for a child, because it is only moved once instead of to a foster carer first and only to the so-called “forever family”after the placement order comes through for adoption. Sounds great, but this does mean that during the fostering period there are chances that the birth family sorts themselves out which might mean the baby goes back to them. As a foster carer, you are also expected to quit your job and you would have to facilitate contact between the child and its birth family in this period. 

All this meant that initially we agreed that, even though we’d like a child as young as possible, fostering to adopt was not necessarily right for us so we went into the process for straightforward adoption. We got approved as adopters in April last year and started looking for children straight away. And then nothing…either no suitable children or, even worse, suitable children but not for us due to location or other requirements.

But, in September we had a visit from our social worker, telling us about this newborn baby that they were looking to place and would we be up for being dually approved, so that we could foster to adopt? In April last year legislation had changed, making the process of fostering to adopt equal to normal adoption and a lot easier, so we said yes, of course! I mean, what are the chances of having a newborn baby? So we fast-tracked the approval process for foster carers and got approved in November. Unfortunately, by this time he had already been moved into foster care so we wouldn’t be the first and only move, but hey, we could live with that and I’m sure he won’t remember! 

After the (un)necessary delays, he finally came to us this week, five and a half months old and a dream of a little boy! 

We are very happy with him and he seems quite content with us, but the transition is total; from drinking, going out when we wanted to, doing what we want to do when we want it to being utterly and completely focused on him and his needs. Feeding him when needed, rocking him to sleep, going for walks, listening to him breathing and coughing in the cot next to us, worrying something is wrong or will go wrong, our lives have changed dramatically. I know this is just a period of transition for the getting used to each other and establishing new routines. Pretty soon it will become normal and the worries will subside (a bit) and we can get on with whatever remains of our lives, but for the moment it is all-absorbing. I have got three weeks off work so we can form together as a family properly which is great. At least we have each other for help, advice and relief for three weeks, before I go back to work. 

It is strange though, sitting at home, trying to figure out what to do. The house has probably never been this tidy, we are on top of the washing and the dishes. Yes, there is a lot of extra stuff that comes with a baby but it doesn’t mean the house has to become a tip, especially if the two of us are at home together.

So for now, slightly weirded out but very happy and I will report back soon with progress!

The Underdog Meats & Beers – Always, and I mean always, support the Underdog!

After my slightly critical story about Annie’s Burger Shack here in Nottingham (click here for that story) , I figured I’d also write a positive story about burgers. Who knows, it might give Annie some ideas…

A couple of months ago, I was lucky enough to go to Sao Paulo, Brazil, with Mrs Urban Wildman, who had to go there for work. I can write a lot about Sao Paulo but will probably do so in a different post. Let me just say for now that it is huge, an eye-opener and has got some of the best food on the planet!

We were staying in the Pinheiros district of the city, famous for its bohemian character, with Vila Madalena as the culmination in urban cool. think tight trousers, craft beer, beards and loads of tattoos. Now, I like beer, have a beard and tattoos but have never felt more outclassed in all of them as in Sao Paulo!
In the area, around the corner from the hotel, we were recommended to go to a burger place. Initially we were skeptical, I mean burgers, really? But we decided to go anyway and OMG, what a place!

underdogThe place was called the Underdog Meat and Beers (address R. João Moura, 541 – Pinheiros, São Paulo – SP, 05412-001, Brazil) and the story was that the owner spent a couple of years down in Argentina, mastering the art of the “Asado”, the South American way of barbecue.

Traditionally an asado consists of an open fire with huge cuts of meat around it on sticks or poles. How far or close to the fire the meat is, determines the cooking and to stop the meat from drying out, you baste it with its own juices as you catch them dripping down. asadoYou cut pieces of these huge chunks of meat as they are cooked and dip them in chimichurri sauce, a sauce of chopped parsley, dried oregano, garlic, salt, pepper, onion, and paprika with olive oil. Nowadays, you can also create an asado a la parilla, whereby you create the fire, let it die down into embers and place a grill over the top for grilling the meats.

The Underdog is probably the smallest restaurant I have ever visited, it is tiny! Looking in, there is a bar dividing the space in two halves lengthways, from which the drinks are served. This is also where the only indoor seats are, there are about 6 bar stools for punters and you can just about squeeze past behind them to find the toilets in the back. Behind the bar is also the asado, where the magic happens. They don’t do anything fancy here, but what they do is very, very good. The beer is very nice, with a lot of US IPA’s (Shipyard Brewery’s Monkeyfist was very good) and because it is Sao Paulo, you sit outside, in tables in the street. They have about 5-6 high tables right outside the restaurant where you can sit on bar stools or, if you wait until after the business next door closes, you can find one of the 9 or so tables in the little patio there.

The guys that work there are really cool, speak amazing English and will often just come up to your table for a chat. It feels more like a youth or friend’s party than a restaurant and you are made to feel very welcome. Don’t pretend to be too polite, the guys will introduce themselves (not in the US way but just as somebody at a party or so) and if you need something, you just call them over and place your order.

underdog-2The menu is small, divided into starters, burgers and mains. Don’t expect any vegetables or vegetarian options here, it does what it says on the door: meat. By far the best starter we found was the “Choripan”; a hotdog with a barbecue-ed chorizo and chimichurri. This was recommended to us by the guys as one of the best-sellers and after we had it once, we ordered it every time we went. The sausage was juicy, smoky and spicy, the chimichurri added a nice note of freshness to it and the bread served to keep your fingers relatively clean whilst soaking up all these great juices.
The burgers are a pure beef affair, grilled to medium-rare perfection (remember to tell them if you want it done more well-done but I wouldn’t know why) and the options menu then allows you to choose your accompaniments, be it cheddar or blue cheese, jalapenos, onions, mushrooms, sour cream or bacon. This allows you to create your perfect burger without taking away from the bbq perfection of the high-quality meat (Annie, take heed!).burger underdog
The meats are, again, great quality beef allowed to speak for themselves. They are all barbecue-ed and served with chimichurri sauce, surrounded by pieces of bread to keep (most of) the juices on the wooden board (shaped like a coffin-lid). We had the skirt steak, which was juicy and had a great bite, without being chewy.

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They do other cuts too, like fillet, shoulder or sirloin or even sausages and they all come the same way; just the meat with a little bread, no vegetables.

After the meat-fest (and copious amounts of Monkeyfist) we were very glad that it was only a short walk back to the hotel, we were stuffed! But, having been there a couple of times now, even if we were on the other side of a 28 million people metropolis like Sao Paulo, any detour would be worth it. I’m even wondering if flying out on Friday night, going there for dinner on Saturday and flying back to the UK on Sunday can somehow be justified.

The choripan, the burgers, the meats, the beer, the company, the atmosphere – it really was that good.

So, for all these burger places back here in the UK, take a trip, pay the Underdog a visit and see how your business can (and should) be run. Nothing too fancy, just a wood fire, great quality meat and some beers, what more does one need.

Annie’s Burger Shack – Annie are you OK?

I love Annie’s Burger Shack in Nottingham. In a city that has a few too many fast food outlets, chain restaurants and poorly executed formula establishments, it has always stood out as a beacon of independence.

Annielogo-largeAnnie came over to Nottingham from the United States back in 1994 and started her first Annie’s Burger Shack back in 2009 in a pub called the Navigation Inn, on Wilford Street, across the canal from the HMRC offices. She basically ran it as a sort of concession, using the kitchen at the pub to cook up some authentic US-style burgers, inspired by Rock ‘n Roll and her native country. We went there with some friends, not long after she had started. The pub itself was nothing to write home about, a standard Nottingham pub that was known for regularly having good live music. They had a great selection of beers, a lot of them Real Ales and hand-pulled from small breweries. Remember, this was at the beginning of the whole Real Ale revival and the selection was great. This came in very handy, as Annie was cooking burgers for about 50 people at a time on what must have been no more than a 4 burner stove, cranking them out as fast as she could, but still very slow.

We were there on a schoolnight, but it still took more than 45 minutes to get a table. At this point you’re getting a little annoyed (“this better be good”) whilst secretly hoping “this must be good, if they are this busy on a Thursday night” in equal measures, adding to the anticipation. We ordered from the large menu where you choose a burger based (vegetarian and vegan are catered for, exemplary) on the combinations that Annie had come up with (the “Lemmy” with JD-sauce or the “Fajita Burger” with jalapenos and guacamole for example), after which you choose your kind of chips and possibly a side of coleslaw. As I said, a good thing the beer was so good, because it took another hour to get our burgers to the table.

Luckily, we were proven right in our eager anticipation because the burgers were amazing, the best I’d had in Nottingham, possibly even the UK! They were juicy, the bun was not dry but not soggy either, the sauces and garnishes were spot on!

Burger 1In 2014, because of Annie’s success in the Navigation Inn and the fact that she couldn’t accommodate all these people, she was able to move to a property of her own; the amazing premises she still occupies on the corner of Broadway in the Lace market. Here, she was able to occupy a proper kitchen with a proper brigade to assist her and good waiting staff who struck the right balance between friendliness and professionalism (and tattoos, piercings and facial hair).

Most importantly, she was a Free House; she could still continue serving all these great Real Ales from a lot of small, independent breweries like before. The burgers were great and the place was a roaring success. She had succeeded in becoming a Nottingham icon.

I have been a couple of times since then (about once a year) in which time she has also opened up a bar downstairs. This area is a watering hole in its own rights, serving the same great quality beers as upstairs and it also functions as a waiting area for those who can’t get a table right away. Booking a table used to be tricky, whereby they take reservations for half of the restaurant and leave the other half available for passing trade, a system that generally works really well.

Unfortunately, in my visits over the years I have noticed that the place seems to have become almost complacent when it comes to the burgers; the menu still features the same quirky combinations and interesting recipes (the Reuben, a burger with sauerkraut, pastrami and rye bread for example), as well as regularly changing specials, but the food itself lacks the spark it had in the beginning. The burgers, as well as the buns, have become drier, meaning that the bun often breaks up in your hand as you are trying to eat it and end up holding the patty and garnish between your fingers, while your bun drops onto your plate in two halves. The garnishes are still OK, but nothing more, there is no zing to them. The prices are still good where 2 burgers and drinks will cost you less £30, but they don’t make up for diminished afterglow I experienced.

Luckily, the beer is still very good, but can’t make up for the anxiety I feel when I look at this place. Has Annie become a victim of her own success? Has she started to believe the hype a little too much? Or, even worse, is she gearing up to open another place with the same formula, becoming a chain restaurant?

Please Annie, tell me this is not the case and that I’m wrong, tell me that you haven’t lost the passion for cooking us great hamburgers here in Nottingham. I know these things might be seen as inevitable (why exactly?) but I miss the passion you and your crew showed. Waiting for almost 2 hours for a great burger is so much more preferable than being sat down, ordered and served within 20 minutes with a mediocre burger. Maybe your everyday customer will want speed (and maybe you’ll want most of them out the door quickly as well…) which will bring you turnover, but speed isn’t everything.At the speed you are turning out the burgers it is hard to get a second or even a third pint in. This isn’t authentic Rhode Island anymore, it is turning into a burger factory. Please tell me you are not thinking about expanding and opening other restaurants with the same formula, turning this Nottingham icon into yet another form of gourmet burger restaurant.

Annielogo-smallOh well, at least is always the beer…

Sourdough

Sourdough part 1.

Living in the United Kingdom, coming from the Netherlands and France, has been quite a shock where it comes to the quality of the bread. I love bread and I love sandwiches so we always have bread in the house. Unfortunately, the UK seems to be stuck with the ubiquitous “sliced white”, a tasteless and soggy excuse for a loaf of bread. The UK has even re-invented the process of bread making (the Chorleywood process) to be able to make it even more tasteless. 80% of the UK’s bread is made using this process, which allows for the use of lower protein-level flours and quicker baking in huge factories, creating a loaf that only does a very poor impersonation of bread.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a baker in the village so, a year ago, I thought it would be fun to try and make my own bread. I did have a very critical audience though; mrs. Urban Wildman comes from a baking family, having grown up in the very successful family bakery. So, any bread I was going to make would have to be good enough for her exacting standards.

I started out using standard baking yeast and the results were OK, still lacking a lot of the flavour I was looking for in a loaf. Therefore I made the plunge and embarked on the path of sourdough, never to look back…

Sourdough is great; it is natural and gives bread with great flavour and texture and isn’t that much more difficult than baking with standard yeast. It does the same thing as standard yeasts, only slower. This slower process means you have to do a little more planning, you can’t wake up in the morning and bake a loaf ready for lunch the same day. Otherwise, almost everything that can be achieved with baker’s yeast can be achieved with sourdough, it just needs a bit more experimentation and understanding of the process and what takes place in your mixing bowl.

In essence, a sourdough culture or starter is just a mix of water and flour in which naturally occurring yeasts from the air surrounding you grows. Because these yeasts ‘eat’ sugars in the mix and convert them to carbon dioxide, they give rise to breads whilst at the same time creating lactic acid which gives the bread a slightly acidic taste.

An added benefit is that it feels as though sourdough bread is easier to digest than standard breads made with baker’s yeast. It createsless bloating and you don’t feel overly lethargic after yet another overly laden sandwich.

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In this post I will explain how I created my own sourdough starter and how I keep it alive. In future posts, I will share my recipe for a standard weekend bake and possibly explore some more recipes.

How to create a sourdough starter

After I had taken the decision on creating my own starter, I of course turned to the magic of the internet to figure out how to do this. Turns out there are several ways, including buying a ready-made or freeze dried starter from another batch. The whole point of sourdough is that you create this mix of flour and water which then forms a healthy feeding medium for yeasts that occur in your house naturally. So buying another culture seemed pointless as I figured the yeasts would be replaced anyway. Plus, as always, I thought I could do better myself…

I wasn’t too confident that we’d have enough yeasts floating around in our kitchen, so I started looking at ways to kick-start the process. I found quite a few methods incorporating fruit and especially apples or grapes in the water-flour mix. The idea is that there are yeasts present on the skins of these fruits that could start growing. Over the course of time, this culture would start being replaced by my kitchen yeasts and the fruits would dissolve in the mix, so it seemed a good idea to give this a try.

Bad idea, the whole thing turned mouldy and bad in a matter of days and I ended up throwing the whole thing out, a little deflated.

A couple of days later, I still thought I wanted to give it a try so I went for the basic recipe:

100 grams of flour and 100 ml of water.
The great thing with sourdough is that this is pretty much all you need to remember when you start. The idea is that, as your culture eats its way through the flour, creating all the good gases and acids, it starts to run out of food and will need topping up or feeding. To create your culture, you need to do this every day, or even twice a day. I did a daily refresh for 10 days, after which I started baking with Graham, as I started calling him (named after the Urban Wildgrandfather baker). I had well and truly created life (cue dramatic music) so now it was all about keeping him alive! Obviously we have quite a few organisms living in our house, because he’s still alive today!

Method:

On day 1, start by mixing 100g of flour and 100ml of water in a container. You can use any kind of flour to do this, I would always recommend using an organic wholemeal flour (wheat, rye or spelt doesn’t matter), non-sterilised of course (sterilisation would kill the yeasts that occur naturally). You don’t have to use the full 100ml of water or you might need some more (the great thing about sourdough is that it is not an exact science), as long as the resulting mix has the consistency of thick wallpaper paste or pancake batter. Don’t choose your container too small as the mixture will stay in there for a while and will rise and fall. Nothing will happen, your mixture will just look like a very strange kind of pancake batter. . Leave on your kitchen counter in an open container overnight.

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On day 2, you can expect to see little gas bubbles in the mixture. This is exciting, as this is a sign you’ve got activity in there and are on your way to working with sourdough. If you see bubbles, you will notice a change in the smell as well; it will smell a bit fruity and yeasty maybe, but not mouldy or rotten.
Even if there is no sign of activity yet, it is time to feed the mixture. Start by throwing about half of your mixture away (it makes a great addition to your compost) because otherwise you will soon run out of space in your container. After this, add another 100g of flour and 100ml of water and mix. Leave out again for another day.

Repeat this process of throwing half of your mixture out and feeding with 100g of flour and 100ml of water for a week to 10 days to create a stable culture. You will start seeing more and more activity, bigger and bigger bubbles and your mix will start to smell beery-y and fermented, but still smell fresh. You will also get to know your creation, see how fast it reacts to a feed and how much it rises and falls. A good way to measure this is to actually mark the level on the outside of the container, it should double in size between feeds.

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Now that you have your culture stable and strong, it is time to think about how often you will use it. If you intend to bake daily, you can keep him out of the fridge , as long as you feed him every day. I bake only once a week on the weekend, so Graham lives in the fridge during the week. The cooler temperature slows down fermentation, allowing for more time in between feeding. Otherwise, if you weren’t baking every day but kept your starter at room temperature, you would still be throwing half away every day and feeding, making a lot of waste and requiring a lot of flour.I still feed him with 100g of wholemeal flour and 100ml of water. After he has doubled in size and is creating loads of bubbles, I use 150g of starter to bake my bread, the rest of him goes back in the fridge.

He has gone through 2 weeks in the fridge without feeding and was fine. The longer you leave it in between feeds, the more it starts looking for nutrients, eventually converting sugars to alcohol! This looks like a greay scummy layer of liquid on top of your starter and smells boozy. Don’t worry too much about this, you can tip it away or stir it back in, along with the feed of flour and water. This alcohol used to be called ‘hooch’ and I’m sure was seen as the baker’s privilege, a little tipple before starting the bake!

If you want to, you can even freeze part of your culture, it will stay dormant for a very long time. When you are ready, take it out and thaw it, feed it and you’ll see, it will come back alive!

So that’s it, this is how to get started with sourdough and creating a starter culture. I thoroughly recommend it, as the result is so much nicer that store-bought bread and hey, how cool is it to actually create life in a jar?

The perfect Roast Beef

This is a recipe that was given to me by Erik from Slagerij de Wit in de Wakkerstraat in Amsterdam. My brother is lucky enough to be living around the corner from this amazing butcher’s and put me on to them. Slagerij de Wit is one of the last butchers in Amsterdam still butchering themselves, using the whole animal to create a high-quality product. They are famous for their sausages and cured meats (their ossenworst is award-winning!) and even have their own, 100-year old smoker in the cellar of the shop! One of the great things about having a butcher around the corner like this is that you can go in and ask him for any cut you want and he’ll cut it for you. Plus, because they personally buy in the animals, they know everything about provenance, age and quality of the meat they sell. They are passionate about their products and gave us an impromptu tour of the shop, including the smoker, last time we were there.

When it comes to roast beef, he recommended a “wrong way around” method; achieve the cuisson you would like your meat to have first (blue, rare, medium etc.) by putting it in a very low oven for a long time and finish it off by browning the outside last. The big advantage of this method over the traditional way of browning first and then roasting in the oven is that you get meat that is correctly cooked throughout with a crispy brown crust.

The theory behind this is as follows: When it comes to achieving the perfect piece of roast beef it is all about the temperature of the core. What happens when you put beef in a high oven to roast, the temperature needs to penetrate the meat until it reaches the core and starts cooking this to create the cuisson.
This means that the outside of your cut is exposed to the higher temperature for a lot longer than the inside, in effect over-cooking it. This creates the triple layering of a typical roast beef: if you slice the average roast, you will see a brown crust, then a grey, overcooked layer to rare in the middle.
The greying of beef happens because the exposure to high temperatures boils the water in the meat and denaturates the proteins (just think how egg white goes from translucent to white when cooking; that is denaturating). And, as everybody should know, you do not overcook good quality beef on pain of death, so why would you overcook a good 50% of your Sunday roast if it can be avoided?

So, ideally, we want to eliminate the grey, overcooked layer and only enjoy a perfectly cooked roast; the crust and the rare bit in the middle.  So, what a lot of higher-end restaurants do is vacuum pack their beef and cook it in a water bath at 54°C. This temperature is perfect to achieve the perfect rare steak, but low enough not to overcook any part of your meat. The trick is to leave it in for long enough for the temperature to reach the core, which can be measured by sticking a meat thermometer into the center of the meat. This way, the whole piece will achieve the same temperature without the outside getting too hot. Once the correct temperature has been achieved throughout, the last thing to do is to create a nice crispy brown crust by pan-frying your meat on all sides.

Now, because I am not a Michelin-starred chef, I don’t have a water-bath and sous-vide machine (I know, I really should have a word with the Urban Wildwoman) but Erik from Slagerij de Wit has the perfect tip for people like me: sit your piece of beef in an oven set as low as it will go (50°C is perfect) until the core reaches that perfect 50-54°C. Then you can take it out and because the heat has reached the center, it will retain its temperature for a while. This means you can whack up the oven, ready for your roast potatoes, vegetables, chips, whatever while the meat has a rest. Then, when everything else is done, you finish of the meat in a frying pan or skillet, brown it on all sides and serve to cries of admiration for achieving the best roast people have ever had!

So, to try this out, and because we don’t live around the corner from Slagerij de Wit we went to the Watnall Farm Shop to get some very nice beef. This was only going to be for the 2 of us, so we got a 1 rib-width piece of sirloin, bone in, weighing about 1.2 kg. IMG_0675

IMG_0676It had been dry-aged for 4 weeks, and you can see the side that had been exposed had turned very dark with age and started to dry out. It smelled amazing, good enough to eat raw. The smell of properly hung and aged beef is something special and makes your mouth water!

It then went into the oven at 50°C for 2 hours, after which the core temperature had reached 52° (see the thermometer punctures in the middle), perfect for the blue to rare piece of meat.

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I increased the temperature of the oven, put the chips in, made a nice rocket, tomato and parmesan salad with pumpkin seeds and balsamico dressing and put my skillet on a high heat with some of the beef fat for frying. IMG_0678Fried the  piece on all sides, put it on a board and sliced it. Nice big blob of mustard on the side, oh my…

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The beef was so good, so succulent, so flavourful and tender that we almost finished of the whole 1.2 kg on the night. We had to force ourselves to stop eating or we would have exploded.

So, with this technique we will be able to achieve the perfect piece of beef everytime. The only thing that varies is the time it will take in the oven, but the principle applies to any size piece.

Oil-drum Barbecue

So I thought I’d jinx the summer for everybody already and create my first post for the Urban Wildman about barbecue. I love barbecue-ing and especially grilling large cuts of meat on a slow roast. This prompted me a couple of years ago to attempt building my own barbecue. 
I had a vague idea if what I wanted, so after some research I settled on the idea of building my own oil drum barbecue, a cheap way of creating a very large barbecue that can also be used a a smoker or a slow roaster.

The first step was to source a drum. Ideally it would have to be one that hadn’t contained anything flammable as I would be cutting it with an angle grinder and the idea of this thing exploding in my face did not appeal to me. In my research, I found some old news articles, published on my birthday (!) the year before about a gentleman in Oxfordshire who this happened to with obvious consequences… 

I turned to Preloved and found one there for a tenner. It had contained urethane resin for some packaging company so after a good rinse with washing-up liquid and opening both holes to get some fresh air in it, I figured now would be as good a time as any to start cutting.

 

 

 

 

I had never used an angle grinder before in my life but I found it easy enough to use, fairly precise as long as you don’t want to go too fast and don’t force the blade too much. It is a very violent little machine so I made sure I was wearing gloves and eye-protection!
First, cut the top line of the hinges. When this is done, drill the holes and mount the hinges as it is a lot more difficult to do this and line them up properly after you have cut the whole lid. 

After this you can cut the rest of the lid out.
I went for a quarter size opening, instead of cutting the barrel in half. I figured this will allow for better heat retention and give the opportunity for smoking as well. I cut it following the lip to give it a bit of an overhang to stop rain from coming in.

I had laid the beast in an old steel table frame I had lying about and it started to look like the real deal already! Now all that needs doing to it is burn it to get rid of as much paint as possible to clean the inside of the drum and season it, mount some brackets for the grills, drill extra ventilation holes at the bottom, attach a handle and insert a thermometer in the lid, as well as adding a chain to stop it opening too far. And oh yes, try and find a frame to mount it on. And a grill, otherwise it is just a very large outdoor fireplace, and we already have one of those. And paint it somehow…But, as always, I ran out of time this weekend, so this would all have to wait until a few weeks later…

 

When I asked at work, it turned out they had a spare steel packing table from one of our distribution centres and they very kindly let me have it, as well as a few spare pallets for building materials. Went to pick everything up in the Volvo and with some very crafty disassembling of both the table as well as the car it fitted right in and we got it back home. It is very big, made to be worked on standing up and very deep, so we had to be very careful getting it through the alleyway into the back garden to preserve our knuckles.

Not being a welder, the only solution I saw was to mount the red steel table frame from the pictures above in the new frame, creating a cradle in the middle of this massive blue frame, giving the option of creating some work surfaces either side as well as underneath. A frantic weekend of angle grinding, cutting, drilling and mounting followed, with the result being a cradled oil drum sitting inside a nice blue frame. If I thought the drum was big, this frame was huge!

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SAMSUNGAs you can see, I already made a start with the handle (made from a broomstick), brackets for the grilles and a retaining chain for the lid. I also drilled some holes on the side for air on both sides, mounting an old mayonnaise lid as a means to close of some of the vents.

 

That evening I lit the first fire in there to burn of residues and to get rid of as much paint on the outside as possible. SAMSUNG

 

 

 

 

The next day I sanded the whole thing back to metal and painted it with special black stove and barbecue paint. This would protect it a bit more from the elements without creating noxious fumes that would taint the cooking.
After this, we were on the home straight, time to finish it off. 

I disassembled some pallets and created some shelves left and right and below the drum. SAMSUNGI made these with the idea of using them for storage of wood/garden chairs, charcoal etc. Maybe I’ll make some doors for them later on, I don’t know yet. 

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Last, I sanded them roughly and coated them in linseed oil to give them a little bit of protection:

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The finished job (for now), not looking too bad for someone who has never done any metalwork before in his life!

So now all we have to do is wait for barbecue summers…I will post actual recipes and barbecue tips separately, for the moment I can say that it has performed beyond expectation so far!

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