One for the Road: Building a Travel-Humidor

I travel a lot and far too often I ran out of Cigars somewhere far away without any decent cigar shops in the vicinity.
At that point I decided to build myself a decent travel humidor.
It needed to be sturdy, absolutely airtight and the cigars shouldn’t bump around too much.
I got myself a nice handgun-transportcase and took out most of the foam rubber, leaving just a bit of padding on all sides.

From building my large humidor I still had a lot of Cedro cutoffs left. Perfect for a small humidor like this one.

First of all I built a box that serves as a frame for the complete interior.

I then fitted everything in.
For moisturising I use two large 72% Boveda Pads. As the case is completely airtight these will last a few months before needing to be exchanged.
Also, I drilled holes into all the trays to ensure sufficient air circulation inside the Humidor.
Finally, the hygrometer was built into the lid so you can always see it immediately when you open the humidor.

And now for the really decadent part.
This humidor fits exactly into the cooler-holder on golf carts. So now I can always have my humidor with me on the golf course, perfectly located for easy access.

Storage Space: Building a large Humidor

Like just about every other aficionado, I came to a point where my Humidor was too small for all those cigars I had.
A good cigar is like a good red wine: the aroma improves with age. Unfortunately, aging cigars means that you need a lot of storage space for cigars you won’t smoke for at least another four or five years.

I therefore needed a new humidor but I didn’t find anything on the market that would suit my requirements:
– large
– interior made of cedro, at least 5mm strong
– computerized moisturising-system
– low maintenance

Since what I wanted didn’t exist, I decided to build my own.
As a basis for my humidor I bought a large cabinet made of oak.
It has a large compartment with a glass door at the top.
Below there is a drawer which holds the moisturising system.
Finally at the bottom there is a smaller compartment with a wooden door. This is great for storing all that other stuff like ashtrays, lighters, spare trays, etc.

The cabinet as it was delivered. Still quite bare but with a lot of potential

For the moisturising system and the cedro I went to Marc AndrΓ© in Stuttgart. He’s THE specialist for humidors in Europe.
Check out his website
Not only does he built great humidors but he also supplies high quality components, wood, etc. if you want to build your own.
After a long chat with him, I bought a large quantity of 8mm Cedro from him and his “Huminator Medium” moisturising system.
This system is fully computerised, it has an external display and it holds up to eight litres of distilled water which is enough to keep the humidor running for up to eight months without need a refill of water
Great for people like me who travel a lot, sometimes for months and don’t want to come back just to find the humidor dry and all those well aged Cubans dried out and without any taste.
The selection of the right wood is fundamental for your humidor.
Cedro or Spanish Cedar as it’s called is the only wood suitable for a good humidor. The name “Spanish Cedar” is misleading. When the spaniards arrived in Central America they found this tree that reminded them of the Cedar tree they new from the Mediterranean.
The wood is totally different though. Not only does it have a different colour but it also has an extremely bitter taste. Also, Cedro and Tobacco react when put together. For some unknown reason, Cedro has a positive influence on the chemical processes that take place in a cigar when it ages.
Unfortunately the cheap (and sometimes also expensive) humidors that are available on the market often only have a very thin layer of Cedro, sometimes as thin as a tenth of a millimetre.
This is understandable as Cedro is very expensive, probably the most expensive part of the humidor, so manufacturers try to maximize their profits by using as little as possible.
This very thin layer of Cedro is normally glued onto some cheaper wood.
Again, not good. In order to ensure an even relative humidity in the humidor, the wood serves as a moisture-reservoir. That’s also why a new humidor needs to run empty (i.e. without cigars) for some time until the wood has absorbed enough moisture, allowing it to buffer moisture.
In my case with 8mm Cedro this meant that I had to run in the humidor for nearly one month until the relative humidity was stable.
First of all I glued Cedro onto the inside of the humidor, weighing it down to ensure that it stuck nicel to the oakwood of the cabinet.

The drawer wasn’t quite deep enough so I had to create an aluminium frame to hold the moisturiser.

I carefully drilled some holes and then sawed out the area where the display unit was to be mounted.

Finally, the moisturiser was built into the frame. and the display unit was glued in.
Fits perfectly.

The top compartment that holds the cigars is constructed completely of Cedro and made to hold trays that I bought from a cigar shop.
If you look closely you can also see that the boards don’t go right to the back. There is a 5cm gap between the back wall and the boards.
Also, there are holes drilled into the bottom board.
All this serves for air-circulation. The moisturiser will blow air up at the back. This goes right up to the top where it then gets sucked down again through the holes.
The moisture-sensor is mounted below the top board on the side, outside the airstream. This way it will always measure the correct relative humidity inside the humidor.
The moisturising system will start blowing moist air up at the back of the humidor when the relative humidity drops below 69%. Once it goes over 72% it will stop adding moisture.
Plus, every ten minutes it will blow non-moisturised air for a duration of two minutes. This way the air circulates in the humidor, preventing mould from developing.

Also an indirect lighting system was installed using LEDs
This humidor holds up to 1.200 cigars, enough to last me for some time.

When it was finally finished I celebrated with a good bottle of red wine and a nice Cuban cigar.

Making Arrangements: Plating

Many chefs cook brilliantly. Their food is tasty and perfect. For lack of time or simply because they concentrate only on the taste, the presentation of their food often has room for improvement.
People eat with their eyes. Creative plating enhances both the taste and the look of the food. If something looks good, we all tend to have a more positive attitude towards it, thus already thinking it tastes good before it’s even touched our tongue.
A very simple example will underline this.
Both pictures show the same food, prepared by the same chef at the same time and served on the same plate.
The meal is pork belly with sweetpotato-dumplings and a tomato salsa.
This picture shows the food simply served on a square plate.
The pork belly is cut and placed in a semi-symmetric fashion.
Next to the meat there are three dumplings, topped by the tomato salsa.
Looks ok but not really fancy.

The second picture shows the same meal.
It’s far less than in the first picture of course, but if you prepare a six-course meal, portions need to be smaller.
This time the tomato salsa was placed at the bottom. On top of this came a slice of dumpling, finally to be topped by a piece of pork belly.
Much more appealing, isn’t it?
But not only that. It actually also tastes better.
The food is arranged in such a way that you can scoop up each of these stacks with your fork and eat it in one single bite. This means that you have all components in your mouth in exactly the right quantity.
Eating from the first plate on the other hand, you’ll have problems getting all three components into your mouth in quantities which are balanced in such a way that none of them is too dominant.
As you can see from this example, giving some thought to arranging the food on the plate can actually have a great impact on the taste itself.

Taking some time to create a proper presentation will take your cooking to a completely new level if you do it right.
I’ll be writing a few blog-posts on this topic in future.

A Great Helper: The Spoon Measure

The spoon measure is one of these simple tools of which you didn’t know you needed them until you got one.

(Unpaid Advertising)
Once you have one, you’ll constantly be using it and ask yourself how you coped before.
OK, I may be exaggerating here but just a little bit. πŸ™‚
The use for this tool is very simple.
There are a lot of recipes that don’t give you the weight for components or spices you add, but rather use “one tablespoon, 1/2 teaspooon”, etc. as a measure.
Now how much is actually a tablespoon? How do you measure 1/2 teaspoon?
This is where the spoon measure comes in.
It’s a cheap tool but really comes in handy.

Seriously Overrated: The Juicer

(Unpaid Advertising)
I think one of the most overrated tools in the kitchen is the juicer.
If you own one, how often do you really use it? And what do you do with it?
Mine (which you see on the photo) is now over one year old and I’ve used it maybe two or three times.
All I use it for is juicing tomatoes. I haven’t used it for anything else yet.
When I bought it I thought “Wow, a juicer! I’m going to do so many cool things with it.”
After using it for the first time, when I had to clean it, which was a hassle and really time consuming, I though “Wow, what a freaking lot of work, just for a few juiced tomatoes.”.
In the end, I didn’t even find any recipes where I needed so much fresh juice that it was worthwhile using it.
In 99% of the cases, I find it easier just cutting stuff up and straining it through a cloth. This takes a bit of time and is quite a lot of work but in the end still less time consuming than having to clean a juicer.
For juicing tomatoes though, it’s brilliant.
A lot of my recipes from the Molecular Cuisine contain tomato-water.
Even though tomatoes are red, tomato-water is actually yellow, at least of you manage to get out all the meat, skin, etc. This really works best with a juicer.
The yellow tomato-water has a very intensive tomato-flavor.
You can easily turn it into a foam with Lecithin, make tomato gummi-bears using Agar Agar, create tomato spheres, etc.
That’s another story though. But anyway, that’s the only use I’ve found for my Juicer so far.
If you have any other uses, please leave a comment.

Cigars: Completely DIY

I’ve enjoyed smoking cigars for many years and I was always curious about the production process from seed to cigar.

Finally, in 2015 I decided to give it a try.
First of all I bought seeds “Havanna Corojo” plus all the required equipment for growing seedlings from these seeds.
I got mine from, a shop I can highly recommend.
When the seedlings were big enough and there was no more danger of frost, I planted them in my field.

The soil is very sandy and perfect for growing tobacco. Actually, my great-grandfather grew tobacco here already.

After some months the plants had grown nicely and the leaves were ready for harvesting.

As you can see, they actually grew over my head.

Unfortunately, I had to work a lot so I wasn’t able to take care of the crop as much as I wanted to. Luckily though, my dad (with whom I shared the crop) took care of everything.
Here you can see us having a break with a Single Malt and a good cigar.

When the leaves were harvested, they were strung up for drying.
Dad went to a lot of trouble building a sturdy frame and making sure that the leaves dry properly.

When the leaves were dry we took them down and prepared them for fermenting.
First of all we placed them on a palette to make sure that air can flow below them.

We then covered them with a bed sheet (for lack of banana leaves) and weighed the tobacco down with some heavy stones.

Every few weeks we removed the weight and shifted the tobacco around, moving the leaves from the inside to the outside to ensure an even fermentation.
Finally, after eight months, I was able to take the leaves and roll our first cigars.
I rolled them and placed them in an old cigar-press which I found on eBay.

After pressing, they looked quite good, even though they looked a bit rough for lack of a wrapper.

I decided to leave them like that.
These cigars taste great!
The workload and patience involved in the production is huge.
Having done it myself once, I have the greatest respect for the people doing this professionally.

Molecular’s Little Helpers: Dosage

When I searched for a comprehensive list of dosage-recommendations for my most important molecular ingredients, I was disappointed to find nothing proper on the web.

Based on my experience, I created my own.
I listed only ingredients that I use myself, the most important being Agar Agar, Xanthan Gum and Lecithin (in that order).
The rest… well, I have them, but I don’t use them that often.
One of them. Methyl Cellulose, I don’t use at all anymore. Basically this is wallpaper glue. Also, it’s used in the adult film-industry for fake… oh well, I leave this to your imagination.
But whatever, it’s something I don’t want in my food. I have listed it because many recipes still contain it. But if possible, you should refrain from using it.

The quantities shown here are always min. -> max. What within this range is right for whatever you’re doing depends on several factors, e.g. how much acid your liquid contains, whether it contains alcohol, etc.
It may take a few tries to achieve a satisfactory result.
My approach is to start in the middle and then go up or down, depending on whether the result is too hard or too soft.

Please note that some of these additives can have side-effects. Even though they have been tested to be fit for human consumption (shown by the ‘E’-Number), the tests were done with certain maximum quantities.
You should keep the quantities you use as low as possible, even if you should find recipes that require high quantities.
I’ve found recipes that go way above the maximum permitted quantity for industrially produced food.
If in doubt, rather don’t do it.
Sticking to the max. quantities shown in the list above should keep you on the safe side but in case of doubt, please check.

Molecular’s Little Helpers: The Most Important Additives

(Unpaid Advertising)
Molecular cuisine relies heavily on additives, some of which are vegan and actually quite helpful, while others… I’ll never understand why people put some of this stuff into their food.

There are of course a lot more than listed here, but these are the ones I regard as most important (as I use them a lot).
Others may have a different opinion but that doesn’t mean they’re right and I’m wrong. πŸ™‚

I don’t list them alphabetically here, but rather in the order of their importance for my own cooking.
For a quick overview on the dosage, please check here:
Molecular’s Little Helpers: Dosage

Agar Agar (E406):
Used for Gelification.
Agar Agar is believed to have been discovered in Japan in the mid 17th century. It’s obtained from Red Marine Algae, making it a vegan alternative to Gelatine.
Besides Gelification, it’s also used as a laxative and an appetite suppressant, depending on the dosage.
If you stick to the dosage recommended below you should be on the safe side though.
Overdosing in a recipe will cause your product to have a rubbery, hard texture.
For gelification, Agar Agar is my favourite additive.
Dosage: approx. 0,3g – 1g/100g

Xanthan Gum (E415):
Used for Emulsification.
Xanthan Gum was discovered in the early 1960s and was approved for use in foods in 1968.
It’s produced by fermentation of sugar. The name is derived from the bacteria used in the fermentation process, called Xanthomonas Campestris.
Xanthan Gum increases the viscosity of a liquid. It can also be used to make foams.
Many gluten-free products contain Xanthan, as it gives products the stickiness which normally comes from Gluten.
High doses of Xanthan work as a laxative (approx. 15g/day). Sticking to the recommended dosage will keep you well below this number.
Dosage: approx. 0,3g – 0,5g/100g

Lecithin (E322):
Used for Emulsification.
Lecithin, as we use it in cooking, is a mixture of phospholipids in oil.
The major source of lecithin is soybean-oil.
Genetically modified crops may be used here but they aren’t detectable in the end-product. Therefore you can never be certain that your product is GM-free.
I use it mainly for creating foams.
Dosage: approx. 0,3g – 0,6g/100g

Calcium Lactate (E327):
Used for Spherification and Reverse Spherification.
Calcium Lactate is produced by the reaction of lactic acid with either Calcium Hydroxide or Calcium Carbonate.
It reacts with Sodium Aginate, forming a skin around a sphere, therefore in Molecular Cuisine both are normally used together.
Dosage: approx. 5g-7g/1l Water (Spherification), 1g/100g (Reverse Spherification).

Sodium Alginate (E400):
Used for Spherification and Reverse Spherification.
Sodium Alginate is refined from Brown Seaweed.
It reacts with Calcium Lactate, forming a skin around a sphere, therefore in Molecular Cuisine both are normally used together.
Dosage: approx. 5g/1l Water (Spherification), 0,5-1g/100g (Reverse Spherification).

Gellan Gum (E418):
Used for Gelification.
Gellan Gum is produced by the bacterium Sphingomonas Elodea.
This bacterium was discovered in the US in 1978.
Other than Agar Agar, gels made with Gellan Gum are heat-resistant up to 70 Degrees Celsius, therefore I use it mainly for creating hot gels.
Dosage: approx. 0,6g – 1g/100g

Carrageenan Kappa (E407):
Used for Gelification.
Carrageenan Kappa is derived from Red Edible Seaweed.
This is one of the oldest additives we know, as it was used in China as far back as 600 B.C.
Carrageenan won’t dissolve in cold water, therefore water must first be heated to at least 60 Degrees Celsius before adding it.
I don’t really use it a lot as I find that I can use Agar Agar in the majority of cases where I want to create a gel.
Dosage: approx. 0,6g – 1,2g/100g

Methyl Cellulose (E461):
Used for Gelification.
I only list this additive because it appears in some recipes I have found. I don’t recommend using it!
Methy Cellulose is produced by heating cellulose with a caustic solution and adding Methyl Chloride.
Methyl Cellulose has one distinctive property that makes it special: it sets when hot and it melts when cold.
This is the one additive I don’t ever use. I have some which I purchased for testing but I don’t prepare food with it.
Methyl Cellulose is also used as wallpaper-glue. Who wants to eat glue?
Another use is in the Adult Movie Industry where it’s used as fake… I leave this to your imagination. With the pictures you have in your head now, do you really want that stuff in your mouth? πŸ˜‰
Neither do I.
Plus I wouldn’t know why I’d need a hot gel that melts when it cools down.
Dosage: approx. 3g/100g

Knives: The essential Tools

(Unpaid Advertising)
Whatever you do in the kitchen, get yourself at least one good knife.
If possible, get yourself even more.
A good knife doesn’t necessarily cost a fortune but it’s an advantage if you have money to spare.
Personally, I prefer Japanese knives.
After some checking around, I got to know Miyabi knives.
These aren’t the cheapest but I’m impressed by the quality.

If you can’t or don’t want to spend too much money on knives but still want decent quality, there are quite a few sufficient knives out there.
Going with good German brands from Solingen (which has been the centre of German’s knife-making industry for a few centuries), you can’t do anything wrong.

As you can see in the photo, I have several different knives which I use on a regular basis.
The top one is a bread-knife, I guess I don’t need to explain what I need that for.
The one below that is a Sujihiki. I use it mainly to fillet fish.
The middle one is a Santoku. I use this to cut large vegetables, even pumpkins.
Next comes a Gyutoh which I use to cut meat.
Finally, the small one, called Shotoh,  is for all those other kitchen tasks like peeling potatoes, etc.

I like these Miyabi-knives because they are really, really sharp and they stay sharp for a very long time if you treat them right.
They are sharpened on both sides of the blade with the traditional Japanese Honbazuke honing.

My knives are symmetrical, i.e. honed on both sides of the blade.
Traditional Japanese cooking requires asymmetrical blades which means that these are honed on one side only.
As I don’t do that much Japanese cooking except for the occasional Sushi, I prefer the symmetrical blades.

If you want to know more about Miyabi-knives and gather more knowledge on knives as a whole, check out their website. It’s really worth reading:

The Fine Scale: Most important Tool in the Molecular Cuisine

(Unpaid Advertising)
Molecular Cuisine means that you will be working with things like Agar Agar, Xanthan Gum, Gellan Gum, Sodium Alginate, Calcium Lactate, etc.
These are usually very potent, meaning that you will need only tiny quantities to achieve the desired effect, sometimes as little as 0,3g/100g.
So, if for example you want to turn 50g of soy-sauce into soy-gel, you would need only 0,15g of Agar Agar. Using 0,3g would turn it into Soy-rubber which would be inedible.
Your scale must therefore be able to weigh quantities of down to 100th or a gram.
The maximum tare isn’t really relevant. My scale goes up to max. 200g which is way more than I need. For weighing large quantities of flour, suga, etc. I use a normal kitchen-scale.

To give you an idea on the quantities you need, please refer to the linked page which contains a table with dosages for the different additives:

Molecular’s Little Helpers: Dosage