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Every single site I visted for how to make ginger beer is a sure recipe for exploding bottles. If you’ve ever tried to make ginger beer I imagine you have a few stories of sheds painted with the texture of glass and the smell of ginger. Nearly every site too claims that their recipe is for ‘non-alcoholic’ ginger beer. The real solution to the glass bottle hand grenade and a more realistic knowledge of alcohol content is I think¬† just a little understanding of how yeast works. I’m no yeast expert at all, but really just a couple of facts will ensure you never have another exploding bottle again.

Yeast is a living organism, it’s a bacteria, and for its food it eats sugar. Like all living organisms, yeast has waste products. Once it eats sugar it farts carbon dioxide and poos out alcohol. The carbon dioxide ensures a carbonated drink. Unless you have a beer keg, the only way to carbonate a drink is by feeding sugar to yeast. But if the yeast is farting, it’s probably going to follow through at some point too, and produce alcohol.

This means that when you read a ginger bear recipe on another site that calls for 1kg of sugar to 3 litres of water, you have a sure recipe for exploding bottles. There are a few things people try to do to prevent this, one is to use plastic bottles. This is a good idea, no shattered glass, but you still can’t avoid having to spend 20 minutes opening the bottle only to have it froth all over your kitchen floor anyway. And by this time, the ginger beer would be very alcoholic. The other is to refrigerate the ginger beer after 1 week of having it sit out of the fridge. This basically puts the yeast to sleep and means it can’t eat the sugar at a fast enough rate to build the high pressures needed to blow up bottles. But who wants a fridge full of ginger beer? And the yeast still eats sugar in a fridge, just at a slower rate.

So the real problem is how do you sweeten the drink without the yeast eating all the sugar, turning the ginger beer into a cocktail or blowing up your shed? My solution is to separate out the sugar. That is, make a ginger beer with enough sugar to carbonate the bottles, then when poured add a ginger cordial to it to sweeten it. Sure it doesn’t sound as exciting, but much more stable and won’t have you up on charges of serving alcohol to minors when your kids want a drink. Here’s my recipe. Note this recipe hasn’t yet been tried. I’ll make it next week and will have some tasting comments after its bottle fermented for a month or so. This recipe makes 8 litres but will make much less if you need to. Vary the ingredients to your liking (except the ginger and sugar).

Ginger Beer
250g Ginger, grated
6 Lemons, rinds separated
20 Kaffir Lime leaves, torn
2 Cinnamon sticks
6 Cloves
80g Sugar
1 Packet Ale Yeast (you can use baking yeast if you can’t be bothered going to a brew store)

Cordial
1 Lemon, peeled and peel reserved
1 piece of ginger sliced
10 kaffir lime leaves
2 cups sugar
1 cup water

1. Rehydrate yeast in a cup of warm water and 1/2 tablespoon sugar. Set aside.
2. Place ginger, lemon rind, lime leaves, spices and sugar in a pot, add 2L of water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 20 minutes.
3. Strain mixture and then pour into fermenter. Add 6L cold water, adjusting until temperature is below 30C, then pitch yeast. If you don’t have a fermenter (most don’t), just add more water to the saucepan (using two if necessary) and using a funnel pour into bottles.
4. Bottle.
5. Condition for 3 weeks.
6. For cordial, dissolve ingredients into a saucepan and boil for 5 minutes. Strain into a glass bottle. Sugar may crystallise at some point, if it does, dissolve sugar again by placing the bottle into a sink of boiling water.

Tasting…
Drinking it now (22.8.2010). Tastes great. Does need the cordial to sweeten it. But tastes just like the best quality ginger beer you can buy.

Beware the Habanero

Habanero’s are the world’s hottest chilli. They have been known to induce vomiting, bleeding and even unconsciousness.

I’m growing a Habanero plant. I just pulled off a ripe one, cut the end off and it tasted like nothing. No heat. I thought it must have been a dud plant (it happens when the parent plant has cross pollinated with a capsicum). So I cut off a big slather and ate it. Don’t do this. The plant wasn’t a dud after all and…..it hurts.

Nick

Siem Reap – Cambodia

Wow what a different place to Vietnam. It’s hard to describe how. One of our guides in Vietnam told us that Vietnam had culture that was strongly influenced by the Chinese and the Cambodians one that has been influence by India. Although i’ve never been to India, it was still this influence that I indeed felt. Especially in the food.

We arrived late in Cambodia and were tired. We decided to eat at the hotel we were staying at – the Bopha Angkor Hotel. This is always a risk because often in Asia the hotels try to westernise the menu or dull the flavours. But this place was excellent. We had a rich coconut beef curry and Fish Amok. They were incredible. We discovered that Fish Amok is the national (at least regional) dish of Cambodia. It is a simple curry like coconut sauce with a strong lemongrass flavour. Here’s a picture:

We actually loved Amok so much we ate it for five days in a row.

The food in Cambodia is far more like Thai food than Vietnamese food is. Yet it seems to use less dry spices and less chilli. A good change if you’re sick of Thai. We actually went to a cooking school and learned how to cook a few dishes, included Amok. Although I can’t give you the cooking school’s Amok recipe, i can give you my version of the dish for the ingredients commonly available in Sydney. Here it is:

Fish Amok
300g steaky fish, e.g. ling, cut into 1cm slices
I onion thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 chilli sliced
1 small nob of ginger, grated
1 small nob of fresh tumeric, sliced (if unavaiable, 1 teaspoon tumeric powder
1 lemongrass stalk, diced very thinly, white part only
1 handful of english spinach leaves
1 can of coconut milk.

Combine chilli, garlic, ginger and lemongrass, tumeric together by pounding in a mortar and pestle or a small blender. Heat a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil in a pan. Fry onion until translucent. Add lemongrass mixture and cook for a few minutes. Do not shake the can of coconut milk but open it and pour the top layer into the pan until the water is left at the bottom. Add the spinach. Simmer until fish is cooked through, add more of the coconut water if necessary. Serves 2-3. The banana leaf parcel is the common presentation in Cambodia and you can do it if you like fiddling with stuff. Held together by either staples of toothpicks.

Well we went to the Mekong as I said we would. This was one of the highlights of the trip. This was the view from our room:

One of the funny things about Vietnam is everyone copies each other. So for lunch in the Mekong we had a full meal of deep frish whole fish, spring rolls, barbequed prawns and thick soup. We arrived at our homestay at night (to discover the word homestay in Vietnam means B&B in English) and we were served exactly the same dish we had for lunch. Great but very funny.

Notice the vietnamese style presentation….very traditional ūüėČ

We are in Phu Quoc now, a little island off the coast of South Vietnam. What I love about this place is the fresh seafood. The best scallops I’ve ever had. Many places display their fresh seafood out the front, you choose what you like and it’s cooked right up for you on coals.

(We ate the ones with tiger stripes)

Tonight we went to a little restaurant and when we ordered the seafood one of the family jumped on their motorbike went to the market and came back with our seafood almost so fresh it was still flapping in the bag.

Went fishing last night too and for the first time i actually caught something. A little fish and a squid. Yum Yum. Would show you a photo but the fish is so big it doesn’t fit in it.

But we say goodbye to Vietnam now. I’ll miss the place where if you a book a tour it can arrive an hour early or an hour late. I’ll miss waving a taxi that is full and literally within 10s his friend arriving to pick you up. I’ll miss the fact that the seafood platters are the cheapest thing on the menu and everything is locally grown and caught and eaten by us.

Tomorrow we head to Cambodia. I’ve heard the food there is nothing to write home about but we’ll see….

Nick

Saigon

Well after enjoying this in HoiAn:

(that’s a coconut)

And this:

….we arrived in Saigon.

Saigon (officially HoChiMinh City – although no one calls it that) is the biggest city in Vietnam. It really is what you’d expect of a big Asian city. Big buildings, lots of business, messy traffic etc. But the traffic is no where near as much fun as Hanoi, and I think it makes less sense. In Hanoi you just walked out into a busy road and the bikes and cars just seemed to dodge you. Here there are actually road rules but i can’t yet figure out what they are. Hope I don’t die.

On out first night we went and ate some street food. A Vietnamese pork and prawn pancake. It was pretty good. But it was cooked in so much oil it kinda left our mouths feeling like a petrol station.

The food otherwise is like any big city. Unless you have really hunted out the great cheap eateries, you have to pay money to eat great food. We’ve eaten some good pho etc but i’m yet to be convinced that the food here can live up to the excitement of the local produce, seafood and value of HoiAn.

Tomorrow we head to the river region – the Mekong Delta. This promises to be a real country experience, with malaria warnings, excessive boat trips and even one night staying in the home of a local Vietnamese family.

I really want to eat some snake or turtle while I’m here, and I’ve heard that these dishes are the specialty of the delta… let’s hope and pray.

Nick

HoiAn

I always wondered why food related things are called gastonomic. Now I realise. Make of that what you will.

Yesterday we left Hanoi and arrived in HoiAn, much further south. HoiAn is a great little seaside town that I think probably survived on the fishing industry but now thrives on the tourism. It’s quiet, it’s hot, the sun shines and it feels like a completely different place to Hanoi.

For lunch we had a local specialty – snapper grilled in banana leaves with lemongrass and dried shrimp. Delicious.

At night the locals line the river while they eat dinner and drink the local cheap beer (bia) РLarue, which happens to be one of the best. So Pen and I did just this. We found a great little restaurant by the river and spent the afternoon enjoying it. I normally despise people who order spring rolls at asian restaurants but here they are amazing. Freshly deep fried crispy ricepaper and filled with great tasting herbs and meat.

Even better were the live clams sitting in the tank at the restaurant that were cooked fresh for us with garlic in a pepper and lemon sauce.

So after 4 plates of food such as this and 4 beers the bill came to about $20 AUD. It was a great afternoon.

The food in HoiAn is very different to Hanoi. Much more complexity of flavour. Much greater use of herbs, citrus and coconut. And like all Vietnamese food, absolutely loaded with garlic.

I’m going to have an attempt at a few of these dishes when i get home, so stay tuned…

Nick

Hanoi

We arrived in Hanoi late last night (Monday). Had three meals on the plane that were, well…Asian inspired aeroplane food. Awful.

Hanoi is a crazy and alive city. About the same population as Sydney but it seems like millions more. I used to think Asians were the worst drivers in the world and now i realise that the Vietnamese in Hanoi, at least, are in fact the best drivers in the world. There are basically no road rules, round abouts or traffic lights that anyone pays attention to, you just have to fight your way through it, and somehow they manage to do it without, as far as i can tell, much disaster.

But this blog is a food blog not a traffic blog. We went to the market our in burbs today which was great. Huge plates of produces and live fish, crabs and prawns. Meat cut and laid out and even quite a few stalls selling whole roasted dog (I didn’t eat any…yet).

For lunch we went into one of the restaurants and had quite a lot of trouble convincing them that we didn’t want to eat their ‘western’ dishes (eg spaghetti bolognese). I would hate to think what that would taste like. They even refused to serve us one dish claiming it wasn’t ‘suitable’ for us. I really think maybe Vietnam has been burnt by far too many British tourists who somehow expect to eat yorkshire puddings and pie in Asia. So we ordered a beef stir fried noodle and deep fried whole carp. The carp was meant to be eaten in rice paper rolls and the restaurant assumed we would have no idea what to do with rice paper, salad and carp so they got two waitresses to spend about 15 minutes rolling them for us while we sat there and ate. The carp was great. Tasted like it was deep fried in pork fat and it was so crispy that it was hard to tell the difference between the bones and the meat. Here is a picture. If anyone can tell me how to rotate a picture in wordpress without using an photo editing program i would greatly appreciate it. For now, just twist your head to the lift and it will look great.

I tried a local beer too. They brought the bottle out and it felt and tasted like it had never seen a fridge in its life. As warm as a Sydney summer. Despite that it was a good beer and for about $1.00 AUD i wasn’t complaining.

We spend another day in Hanoi and then head south.