In a box: Cold smoking for beginners on a budget

Wood chips smoking

A few years back, myself and Mr Other Half ventured on a novel, for us, food adventure. One windy weekend we found ourselves in a scenic part of Cumbria to learn about hot and cold smoked food on a course run by Smoky Jo’s. (It was a throughly great time with fishing, sausage making and smoking instruction aplenty included. I do recommend their courses if you have a chance to go on one)

My most favourite part of the weekend, apart from eating lots of absolutely delicious food, was learning about cold smoking.

At that point it was still quite often viewed as being a specialist technique in the U.K, something that companies rather than individuals did, compared to the wide variety of home-smoked recipes that can be found throughout regions of the U.S or Canada, right alongside barbecuing. That doesn’t put off some D.I.Y inventiveness for home-smoked food fans here though! (Check out Smoky Jo’s DIY Gallery to see how people have made their own)

Now home smoking, of the hot and cold variety, has become more prominent through recipes used by chefs such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Heston Blumenthal, as well as the move towards being more aware about where food comes from and how to cook and preserve foods in a home environment.

Unfortunately, our good intentions of getting around to doing cold smoking at home got put to one side and never followed through. Until coming across this marvel; the Pro-Q Eco Smoker. This link is for Amazon UK and is for the Eco Smoker kit bundled with Smoky Jo’s own book on all things hot and cold smoking.

Pro-Q smoker

The Pro-Q Eco Smoker assembled

It may look a simple cardboard box from my photo, but I can testify to the fact that there is nothing basic about the flavours you can create. It comprises of an inner and outer cardboard box, two metal shelves, a metal tray, smoke generator and a range of wood chips (maple, oak, cherry and beech). It is self-assembly but not difficult to put together so that you’re ready to get on and start smoking. One of the best things about this kit is that it is a simple matter of folding up the cardboard for recycling when it can no long be used, so no cumbersome equipment wastage. The metal items can be cleaned many times over for use in cold smoking.

Smoked cheese and steak

Food placed for cold smoking

So far we’ve smoked a hard and semi-soft cheese (Lincolnshire Poacher and Raclette), garlic bulbs and sirloin steaks that had a coffee marinade applied first and were then fried. They all turned out well, especially the steak, with a cherry wood smoke. We fully intend on getting more creative with curing ham, nuts, more types of cheese, vegetables and even our own tea smoked salmon in the style of Heston Blumenthal.

Smoked Lincolnshire Poacher and Raclette

Smoked Lincolnshire Poacher and Raclette

As Christmas is coming this struck me as an ideal gift to give to a foodie fan or home cooking enthusiast who is a beginner to cold smoking. It’s economical for the amount of times it can be used and it means you can try out this type of food flavouring and preservation without needing to invest considerably more time or money in permanent equipment, if unsure that it is something that you will like beforehand.

Cold smoking does take a bit of time and patience with preparation and you will need to cook some of your produce afterwards, but once you get a taste for it, which is very easy to do, you’ll be wondering why you never thought of trying it before.

Sweet and crunchy bhajia

I’m a keen home cook but I have say that I don’t usually experiment with recipes I know well. If an old favourite works, and everyone enjoys it, then it probably doesn’t need much improving on.

Sweetcorn & Sweet potato bhajia

Sometimes though, there will be the odd one that I think could do with a bit of tinkering.

This recipe is an adaptation of Alastair Hendy’s sweetcorn and sweet potato bhajia (from his Cooking For Friends book). I’ve always found them not quite crunchy enough for my taste, so I’ve given them a bit more texture. The dip to go with them is another adaptation by mixing Indonesian and Burmese flavours.

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Lucky cat, lucky fish

I’ve been a little slow at getting into the stride of 2013 but I hope that readers have all had a good start to the New Year.

Muji maneki neko and lucky koi silicon tray

One of the lovely Christmas gifts I received, from a dear friend in Japan, is a silicon mould from Muji with the shape of a maneki-neko (lucky beckoning cat) and luck carp*. If you’ve never heard of Muji before they make a lot of amazing home products with simple and effective design ethos and at reasonable prices.

It comes with a simple recipe book, which I took as good starting place to try out the mould. As I’m unable to read Japanese characters I asked my friend to translate a recipe for me. These turned out to be moist, delicious savoury cakes derived from the traditional French cake olive salé.

As I’ve been unable to find an English language version online, I decided to share this recipe based on my friend’s translation. Olive salé recipes are available on many French language cooking sites but are generally for a larger, traditional loaf-shaped cake. The quantities below make ten bite-sized cakes which makes them ideal for a snack or canapés.

Cake olive salé. Original recipe by Muji.

If you don’t have a silicon mould with deep shapes then you can try doubling the below quantities and using a mini-muffin tray instead.


60g/2½ oz. Plain white flour

One flat teaspoon of baking powder

One large egg

30ml/⅛ of a cup Milk

20ml/ just under ⅛ cup of Olive oil

20g/¾ oz. de-stoned green olives, finely chopped

30g/1½oz. Parmesan, grated


Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C/375 degrees F.

Sieve together the plain flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl. Add the large egg, milk and olive oil to the flour and whisk together until you have a smooth batter. Add the finely chopped olives and grated Parmesan and fold them into the batter with a silicon or wooden spatula. When mixed thoroughly; spoon the mixture into the silicon moulds or mini-muffin tray. If you’re using a muffin tray, do grease it first with a little olive oil.

Put your silicon or muffin tray in the oven for thirteen minutes, or until you can see the mixture has risen and is turning golden at the edges. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes. These are best eaten warm, so serve immediately when they are cool enough to handle.


Alternative ingredients can be other grated hard cheeses, chopped herbs, finely chopped ham or bacon, sun-dried tomatoes and chopped peppers. I’ve made some with bacon, herbs and cheddar cheese and they were delicious!

*Since originally posting this: I’ve had people ask where they can buy the Muji ‘Lucky’ tray. Unfortunately, this product is only sold online for Japan-based customers and is not available internationally. The only suggestion I can make is if you know someone who lives in Japan, or travels there regularly, is to ask if they can buy one and either post it as a gift or bring it back with them.



A Popcorn Night

Halloween is one of those festivals where I face a dilemma; do I prepare treats for trick or treaters or not?

This is not from any objection to the celebration, but, in England it really depends on the area you live in whether there are local traditions that still take place or if children go door to door for trick or treating. As another popular celebration is on 5th November, Guy Fawkes Night (Bonfire Night), Halloween is not quite on the same scale as it can be elsewhere.

With the previous experience of a day spent making cupcakes and buying bags of themed chocolate, it turned out there was not a knock on the door the whole night. I decided on a re-think for future Halloweens.

Honey caramel popcorn, balsamic vinegar and sea salt popcorn

Honey caramel popcorn, balsamic vinegar and sea salt popcorn

Popcorn. It’s easy to make, fairly inexpensive if no-one turns up to eat it (apart from me and Mr Other Half!) and allows for a bit of fun with flavours. Here’s two recipes I’ve used: one for a honey caramel and one for salt and balsamic vinegar. These also work well if you want nibbles for a Bonfire Night party too!

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Yum, nachos!

Nachos with black beans, salsa and sour cream

Nachos with black beans, salsa and sour cream

Before getting to the nacho recipe: thank you to recent visitors who’ve decided to follow Imagination is spicy! I’m delighted if you’ve found this blog through the recent Photographs on a Friday featuring Mr. Bowie the cat.

I’m aware some newer readers follow a non-carnivorous, plant-derived diet and lifestyle. I think that it’s only fair to mention, to avoid possible misunderstandings or discomfort, that I do share recipes that feature meat, fish, milk and eggs and other dairy items, as well as recipes that are suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

For this recipe I’ve combined one of my favourite snack foods, nachos, with some leftover enchilada filling of black beans, red pepper and onion cooked in a spicy stock. I came up with this filling when I realised that the enchilada recipe I wanted to do needed kidney beans in chilli sauce. Neither Mr Other Half or myself enjoy the taste and texture of kidney beans and tend to replace them with black beans wherever possible.

Nachos and black beans

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White chocolate and sprinkles

White chocolate shapes with 100s and 1000s

White chocolate shapes with coloured sugar balls

Back when kids’ penny pick and mix sweets were actually closer to costing pennies, a favourite of mine to splurge pocket money on were White Gems. These are tiny discs of some substance that’s a bit like chocolate, except for the taste, with rainbow-coloured hundreds and thousands (sprinkles). I loved them for the look. Rainbow colours work like magic on small children and that’s why things like My Little Pony happen.

Feeling in a nostalgic mood for some colourful chocolate, rather than buy the commercially made sweets that are still available, I decided to make a variant. As the name White Gems is no doubt registered to someone’s company, these are my “White chocolate shapes with coloured sugar balls”. Please feel free to suggest a snappier name as I’m not very good with that sort of thing.

There’s only three things you need to make these: white chocolate, some rainbow hundreds and thousands, usually found in the baking and cake decoration section of supermarkets, and a silicon mould. (The link shows the one I use, unfortunately it is a discontinued line on the website)

Break the chocolate bar up into chunks, then either melt it in a microwave or in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Add a few hundreds and thousands to the silicon mould shapes. Once the chocolate has fully melted and become runny cool for a minute or two, so you won’t burn your hands on it instantly, then spoon or pour the chocolate into the mould. Put the mould into the fridge and leave to cool for about an hour. Et voilà, chocolate shapes with added rainbow colours!

The photo above was my first attempt and aesthetically they could do with some more work but they taste great! There are now none left as Mr. Other Half helped me with the quality control process.

Scotch eggs

Scotch eggs are one of those picnic/snack items that make me queasy. The first time I tried one (a pre-packaging, commercial brand) it left the indelible thought that eating a cold, wet flannel would have been more delicious by comparison. Soggy breadcrumbs, a thin layer of some mechanically retrieved meat paste and an egg that smelled unpleasant. I’m sure the experience increased my dislike of hardboiled eggs generally, I avoided eating Scotch eggs again for years.

Scotch eggs - I haz a sad

I was a little downcast when my other half came back from a work trip declaring that he’d had the best Scotch eggs ever at a catered buffet and did we have any recipes we could try at home? As I’ve somehow managed to end up with 40 cookery books (and more will come, I’m sure), wobbling piles of recipe cards, a bursting folder of magazine and newspaper cuttings, it looked like there was a fair chance one could be found.

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