Christmas is Coming – Red Wine Jelly

I like preparing for Christmas. There’s something about the smells of cooking festive goodies that add to the delicious anticipation of 25 December. This year, I made red wine jelly for gifts. Reducing the red wine created a juicy berry and rather alcoholic fug that lingered about the house for a few hours. It’s a very simple because there’s no faffing around with peeling and chopping fruit. I just bought the cheapest bottle of varietal wine I could find – this meaning no anonymous “red table wine”. The supermarket had a shiraz and a merlot on sale for $16, so that was it. Here’s what the final results look like sitting in the fridge. Don’t they look adorable all dressed up with Christmas ribbon?

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I based my recipe on one from America’s Test Kitchen (log in required to see their recipe). Not having liquid pectin available, I substituted the powdered type. That first batch was far too sweet, although I liked the concentrated berry flavours from reducing about a third of the wine separately.

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The rest of the bottle goes into the actual jelly part, with pectin and sugar added, as is lemon juice for a punch of acidity. I added a drop of flavourless oil (in my case sunflower) to stop excessive foaming. This doesn’t mean that the mixture won’t bubble like mad. It simply means that the foam will go away, very important for a smooth top on your jelly.

If you’re not interested in preserving and want to use the jelly quickly, like in the week or so, then jump straight to the recipe at the bottom. The rest is about how to preserve in sterilised glass bottles.

One thing that people may not realise is that making preserves in Singapore isn’t easy because it’s hard to come by the right jars. The general advice is not to reuse them, or at least use new lids each time. Good luck on finding new lids for old jar. I ended up buying new ones. Proper jars with metal lids I got from Isetan ($2.50 or so per 150ml jar, more for the 300ml ones), with cheaper reinforcements from Ikea (4 for about $4). The problem with the Ikea ones are that the lids are plastic with metal paint on the top. Don’t diss them for being cheap, they’re still very smart all gussied up with Christmas ribbon.

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The second step to making preserves is to start sterilising your jars before you make the jam. There are various methods for doing it and I chose was I felt was most hassle free – using my oven. First I lined the base of a wire rack with some newspaper and put the freshly washed jars right side up, then set the oven to 150ºC. The metal lids I put in a pan of water and set it to boil. The plastic ones I left alone because I wasn’t sure if they would be able to withstand the heat of sterilisation. I just popped them on and hope the jelly still keeps. Once you’ve got your jars and lids going, get started on the jelly.

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Once the jelly is ready, cover a surface with a tea towel on which to set the jars down, and get out your funnel (or just be ultra careful when pouring) some spare tea towels and your oven mitts. Then carefully extract your bottles one by one from the oven with your mitts and place on the tea towel. Be careful, they are incredibly hot and it’s not obvious at all. Carefully transfer the jelly mixture into each bottle just up to the next. If your funnel is plastic, hold it carefully so it doesn’t touch the sides of the bottle. The jelly mixture will bubble, showing that the bottles really are hot! When the bottles are all filled, carefully use a damp cloth to wipe away any stray jelly mixture on the screw threads. Fish out your lids one by one from the hot water, dry with a clean tea towel and screw on gingerly till fairly tight but don’t force it all the way. (If using the Ikea bottles, forget about inverting. Just make sure the bottles are as clean as you can make them and finish the contents quickly. I’d say keep in the fridge and consume within a month.)

Now carefully turn each bottle over – this is to ensure that the lids are screwed on correctly. Then leave to cool. If not screwed right, quickly turn right way up and sort out the mess if this happens (yup – been there, done that). Rinse and reboil the lid, top up with whatever jelly you may have left, screw on the lid tightly. Then put this stray bottle back in the hot oven and leave for about 20 minutes. Remove and screw the cap on tightly, then invert and allow to cool with the rest.

It’s not as hard as it sounds from the above passage. Just read through carefully and take your time for the first attempt. Ready for the recipe?

Ingredients:

1 750ml bottle of red wine (merlot or shiraz both work well)
500g sugar
50g powdered pectin
3 tbsp lemon juice
drop of unflavoured oil

Method:

  1. Sterilise your bottles and caps (see preceding paragraphs).
  2. Reduce about a third of the wine (200ml if you’re measuring) in a small pan over medium heat till reduced to about 50ml or so. It takes about 20 minutes.
  3. In the mean time, heat the remaining wine on high, then mix the sugar and powdered pectin thoroughly in a bowl. Add the sugar-pectin mixture to the hot wine and bring to a rapid bowl. Add the drop of oil.
  4. Reduce the heat so it bubbles but not threaten to boil over. Stir occasionally for about 10 minutes or till you don’t see anymore pectin granules.
  5. Stir in reduced wine and turn off the heat.
  6. Pour into sterilised jars, cap, and allow to cool.

Makes 4 150ml jars.

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Diving the Similans: Things in Crevices

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There was lots of other good stuff at Koh Bon. A lot of these were crevice dwellers. Some of them were quite shy and it was fun to wait for them to emerge and observe them doing their thing. During the dive, I only saw the two white eye moray eels in the hole and spent ages trying to get a good shot. It was only when I reviewed the pictures out of the water did I notice that there was also a fimbriated eel at the back of the hole. Look carefully above the middle white eye moray’s head and you’ll see its yellow head splotched with black.

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There were other oddities such as this warty orange thing. I have no idea if it’s a coral or a worm or something else, but it’s incredibly pretty nonetheless.

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Then of course there are the ubiquitous Christmas tree worms. They come in lots of different colours and are invariably embedded in brown coral. When you go too close they suddenly withdraw and the entire thing retreats instantaneously into the hole.

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I admit the lighting in the next photo isn’t great but try to spot what’s there. Hint: it takes up quite a bit of the photo. This fella is a master of disguise.

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Can you see it’s a reef octopus? It’s one of the biggest specimens I’ve seen and its tentacles looking quite menacing. Needless to say, I didn’t stay longer than necessary for a few snaps.

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Our dive guide spotted this ornate ghost pipefish quite by chance and he was visibly pleased to be able to point it out to us.

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It’s related to the seahorse and it’s such an odd fish for always being upside down. It’s one of my favourite fish because it’s so pretty and sightings of these aren’t that common.

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Towards dusk, the crustaceans started coming out. Here are some durban dancing shrimp. They’re cute because they always hang out in groups and like to face the same direction.

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It also helps that they’re not painfully shy and are quite happy to pose for pictures. They’re such funny stripey little red things.

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Then there was this lobster with the longest feelers ever. I had to resist the strong urge to pull it out of its hole by its feelers!

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The identity of this crevice dweller stumps me. I looked through my entire fish ID reference book and I can’t find a fish that has a head that looks like My Little Pony! I think it’s a type of blenny, anyone have any ideas?

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And the last of the lot: a banded sea snake! This is probably only the third one I’ve seen and I’ve done a far number of dives. They’re supposed to be several times more poisonous than the most poisonous land snakes but aren’t aggressive. I guess that’s a good sign.

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The Black Manta: Anambas Islands

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DC and I needed a break, so we jumped at the chance when the waitlist cleared for the Black Manta. That weekend, it went to the Anambas Islands, Seven Skies Wreck and ended at Pulau Aur. It was a very relaxing weekend as the boat left on Friday evening and returned on Sunday evening from Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal. There was no long bus ride nor jostling with the crowds at the causeway. It was very chill as we could relax on deck or in the cabin and there were even cheap massages available, albeit not very good ones.

The boat travelled all night and delivered us to Pulau Damar, one of the southernmost of the Anambas Islands for our checkout dive. It was a nice relaxed, very easy dive with only a little current here and there. It was fun trying to catch a bit of current while trying out my brand new bright red Jetfin Revos. (Verdict? Not bad!)

There wasn’t a whole lot of life down there. We found a giant moray eel in a hole and I was glad that I didn’t have to get too close to snap this photo.

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I got a little bored, so started taking pictures of feather starfish, which look quite dramatic perched at the top of a lump of hard coral, especially when coupled with some cute Christmas tree worms to balance out the picture somewhat.

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DC had quite a bit of fun checking out his new gear and testing his buoyancy in different positions. Too bad I couldn’t signal for him to get closer to the coral for a better picture.

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Now this picture isn’t that bad. I really like how blue the sea looks behind it.

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There was also some really bizarre maze coral that I’ve not really seen much before. This is quite a cool texture shot.

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To top things off, we saw a pretty lionfish. This one is rather special as it’s not the usual common lionfish. It’s called the spotfin lionfish, from the pretty spots on its pectoral fins. Such a pity that I was for some reason distracted and couldn’t get a good close up shot of this fella.

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