Sunny London welcomes all passengers

After 30 hours of flying in sealed metal tubes breathing other people’s coughs and farts, we’ve finally arrived in London.

Thermokarst lakes in West Siberia
Thermokarst lakes and gas rigs in West Siberia (Google Maps)

The flight from Shanghai to London flies a great circle over Mongolia and northern Russia, Finland, Denmark, across the North Sea, and then along the Thames River estuary. The West Siberian taiga is dotted with remote oil and gas rigs, and pocked with a zillion circular lakes that look like ancient impact craters. They’re not craters; they’re thermokarst lakes, formed from the melting of permafrost.

Circling Heathrow we got a nice aerial overview of some important landmarks. Heathrow Terminal 3 itself however is a cramped Soviet-era concrete affair, replete with peeling vinyl wallpaper, worn-out door latches, leaking refrigerant and blown fluorescent lights; but bright burned-in plasma screens with cheery signs intrude on the squalor, promising to ease your immigration check with speedy e-passport stations. They weren’t working however, which meant that it took 70 minutes to queue and get our passports rubber-stamped.

Sunrise from the air, East China Sea
Sunrise from the air, 12 kilometres above somewhere in the East China Sea.

Steve picked us up and we went home via Hammersmith and Earl’s Court, past where he used to work; it was nice to see bits of London I haven’t seen for nearly 15 years, and try and (mostly fail to) regain my bearings. Much of the way was noticeably leafy, and being summer, all the trees are in full greenery; elms, alders, oaks, planes, sycamores and chestnuts, deciduous trees that immediately invoke “English countryside” for me. I haven’t actually seen a conifer yet.

Today we went for a walk around Dulwich where we’re staying to figure out where the shops are and buy some bread. Otherwise a quiet day in to recover, ring the bank, get UK SIM cards sorted out so we don’t get charged $10 a megabyte, and maybe have a nap. More soon.

Allergy-free Carrot Cake

Bake this for friends with small persons allergic to nuts, eggs, and dairy.

Ingredients:

  • 4 oz (125 g) dairy-free margarine
  • 6 oz (¾ cup) sugar
  • 4 tsp egg-substitute starch (2 eggs’ worth)
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 inch of ginger
  • ½ cup soy or rice milk
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 8 oz (225 g) flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder

Soften the butter, whisk the sugar into it until fluffy and nearly white. Shove the carrot and ginger through a juicer (or fine grater) and add the juice and pulp to the mix with the egg powder, and beat. Add the baking soda to the milk and microwave (30-60 seconds) until frothy, and fold in. Sift the flour and baking powder in and fold gently until just combined. Turn into a greased (with margarine) and floured cake tin and bake at 180°C for 30-40 minutes until done.

Note: I used Orgran egg-replacer, but have a look at the Allergy NZ site for other egg substitution ideas.

Feijoa Jam

Here’s the recipe for 10 kg of feijoa jam.

  • 6 kg feijoas
  • 500 g stewed apple
  • 300 ml lime juice
  • extra hot water
  • 4 kg sugar
  • Lots of jam jars

Halve or quarter (depending how keen you’re feeling) the feijoas into a very large pot. Don’t peel them or scoop them – use the whole fruit. The skin contains the distinctive, beautiful feijoa fragrance, and it should be present in the jam.

Tip the stewed apple and lime juice in, and cook it on moderate heat until the fruit starts to soften. Keep stirring to prevent it caramelising (or burning) on the bottom.

Stick-blend it once the fruit has heated through and has softened, and bring it up to a gentle rolling boil. You may need to add hot water to thin it (if it gloops and spatters big gobs at you, it’s too thick). Simmer it like this for a good 10-15 minutes. Keep stirring.

Tip in all the sugar. Dissolving sugar is endothermic and will cool the mix, and take several minutes on high heat to get back up to a rolling boil. Once boiling, it will take a further 10-15 minutes to get to setting temperature. Keep stirring.

When the jam has reached setting temperature, pour while still hot into preheated glass jam jars, and put the lids on immediately. As the jam cools, it will create a vacuum seal under the lid.

Testing for setting: you can do this with a jam thermometer, and wait until the mix gets up to 104°C. Or, watch for the way it drips off the spoon. If it runs off the bottom edge in one stream, it’s not ready yet; it’s at setting temperature when you get multiple, thicker drips from the spoon. Or, put a knife in the freezer. Drip some small drops from the spoon onto the cold knife and wait for them to cool. If the surface of the drops wrinkle when you prod them with your finger, it’s set.

 

A note on jars: use only glass jars with quarter-turn metal lids. Save them in a box in the garage for just this sort of occasion! Plastic jars will usually warp when you drop hot jam into them, and also probably contain Bisphenol A. Screw-turn metal and plastic lids won’t seal anywhere as well as quarter-turn metal lids.

Chilli sauce got a little out of control

So this time, I picked 16 kg of late, red jalapeño from Penray Gardens, fire-roasted it, and smoked it.

Along with several kilos of tomatoes and red bell peppers, this was a huge amount of ingredients. Luckily I had help from Shadley, Andrew and Tara in picking, roasting, smoking, chopping, stirring and tasting duties, and a fun time was had by all.

This all went in the pot with much the same recipe as last year (see my previous post). This time I made up a label in Inkscape using some nifty fonts from Font Squirrel, based on a 1920s French wine label.

It’s chilli season again

Chillies from Penray Gardens.

March always brings ripening red chillies, especially to my favourite market garden up the road. This year’s first small batch of sauce was made with mild poblano chilli, a small amount of very hot manzano chilli, capsicum and de-seeded tomato, all roasted and smoked with hickory, and simmered in vinegar, lime juice, onion, garlic, toasted ground cumin and honey.

Chillies from Penray Gardens.
Produce from Penray Gardens, March 2015. Clockwise from bottom left: bhut jolokia chilli (800,000 SCU), red capsicums, tomatoes, poblano chilli (2,000 – 5,000 SCU), manzano chilli (250,000 – 300,000 SCU), experimental smoky chilli sauce 2015, Batch #1.

Penray Gardens have pick-your-own chillies and capsicums for very good prices, and tomatoes for $2 a kilo. This haul is just under 8 kg (17 lb) of ingredients for around $30, which is good for 3-4 litres (a gallon or so) of sauce. I’ve also got enough bhut jolokia here to make an extremely ferocious hot sauce too.

I have also discovered that my Smokai smoke generator works much better when I undo the nut, pull the back off and clear all the tar out of the air intake. So good in fact, I’ve had some good feedback that this sauce might actually be too smoky, and I don’t want to make the same mistake many NZ craft breweries make with their hops. Sometimes more is not better! I’ll do a post soon about my experiments with smoking food, methinks.

Facebook chat on your phone

There has been a lot of talk recently about the enormous liberties Facebook Messenger takes with your privacy and whatnot, and frankly, what’s new? What the hell are we even using this crummy Facebook service for anyway? In the meantime, if you want to continue to chat with your Facebook friends on your phone, install any of the dozens of apps available for iPhone or Android that can do XMPP (Jabber) protocol chat, and set up the account with your Facebook username (which looks something like fred.flinstone.1234) and your password. On an Android, I suggest you use Conversations (free if you install it with F-Droid). Oh but you can’t send pictures or video of your cat, or do video calls, sorry. But for the rest of the time you can have text conversations with your Facebook contacts without it hoovering up your contacts database, call log, SMS message history, and location and sending it to Facebook, every time you call someone, send a message, or use Google Hangouts. (I wonder if Google know about that?)

The reason I know Facebook Messanger does this is because I used a second option the more technologically enlightened among you could consider, which is to use the Privacy Guard built into CyanogenMod Android, and possibly other ROMs, to restrict all its app permissions to “Always Ask”. By doing this, I was able to see what Facebook Messenger was up to. Any time the phone rang, or I made a call, up would pop a message asking whether I would like to permit Facebook Messenger to read my contacts database and call log. Same thing when I use Google Hangouts to talk to people on Google Plus. So I just made all the permissions “Denied” instead. But now that I have Conversations installed, I think I’ll just uninstall it. For more information on Privacy Guard, head over to Julian Evans’ blog post “How to use Android Privacy Guard on CyanogenMod 11”.

 

Chipotle sauce

Penray in Otaki have pick your own chillies for $5.95 a kilo at the moment, so I was more or less obliged to take some late season red jalapeño off their hands in order to make chipotle sauce. A true chipotle is a completely dried and smoked red jalapeño chilli, and these are rehydrated in hot water to make a sauce. After a bit of looking online, I took an average and cut some corners, and I seem to have managed a good chipotle sauce with a fair amount of heat, a bonny colour, and a good blend of smoke, sour, citrus and fruity chilli flavours. First, equipment you will need:

  • A large roasting pan
  • Mortar & pestle
  • A smoker
  • Hickory chips for smoking
  • A very large jam saucepan, at least 8 litres (2 gallons)
  • Stick blender

Ingredients (these are approximate amounts, I pretty much made it up as I went along):

  • 7 kg (15 lb) red jalapeño chillieschipotle_20140418_1
  • olive oil
  • 1 bulb of garlic
  • 2-3 large onions
  • 2 tbsp cumin seed
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 450 g (1 lb) tomato concentrate paste
  • 300 ml (½ pint) juice of lemons and limes. That’s quite a lot; about 5 lemons and 10 limes, probably more
  • 300 ml (½ pint) cider vinegar (other vinegars would probably do)
  • Lots of boiling water, to stop it glooping and spattering everywhere

chipotle_20140418_2Preheat the oven to grill at least 240°C.

Pour all the chillies in the sink, fill it up with cold water and give them a good old wash to get all the mud, insect poo and residue off the outside. De-stem and halve the chillies and place cut-side down in an oven tray. If you have sensitive skin, wear gloves; my arms were rather pleasantly on fire, from fingernail to elbow, for the rest of the day.

Put the tray of chillies in the chipotle_20140418_3oven to grill for at least 15 minutes or until the skins are well blistered and just beginning to blacken. (I had to do this step several times… 7 kg is a lot of chillies!)

While this is going on, get the smoker fired up with a few pine cones and kindling, and leave to burn down to form a good bed of embers.

chipotle_20140418_4Once the chillies are done, optionally remove the blistered skins (I left some of them on for a bit of texture and colour) and place them on trays in the smoker.

Pile up a load of hickory chips on the ember bed and close the lid on the smoker. Go drink some good wine, and leave chillies to smoke for a good few hours (at least 3 hours if you can manage it), the longer the better. Whenever the smoke starts to die down, get in there with some more wood chips and your best brass player breathing practice. Rinse and repeat for as long as you can be bothered, really.

At some point during the smoking stage,chipotle_20140418_6 grind the cumin in the mortar & pestle, and finely dice the onions and garlic. In a hot frying pan, dry-toast the ground cumin seed until fragrant, then tip in a bit of oil and sauté the garlic and onion with the cumin, and set aside.

Pull your now gloriously smoky chillies out of the smoker and tip into a truly gargantuan saucepan (I don’t actually have one, so I used two merely enormous saucepans instead). Add the sautéed onions and all the other ingredients, and stick-blend it, adding sufficient boiling water to thin it to a sauce consistency.

chipotle_20140418_8Bring it to the boil then simmer it for about 2 hours, stirring as needed to keep the bottom from sticking. It should reduce slightly and thicken. Like any pickle or jam, if it is glooping and spattering everywhere and sticking to the bottom, it is probably too thick; add water.

Once it has reduced and become slightly glossy, transfer it into pre-heated jars and seal immediately. This is where you re-use all those jars with quarter-turn metal lids you kept. These jars are best because unlike plastic lid jars, they will vacuum seal as the contents cool, and won’t leak air over a 2-3 year shelf life.

This recipe made sauce for 13 x 330 ml jars and 4 x 500 ml bottles, which is about 6.5 litres (1½ gallons) altogether.

chipotle_20140418_9