Sunday, December 6, 2009

Extreme Coffee


I like coffee, but I'm not obsessed.  A good brew from a good independent coffee bar usually is enough to satisfy me.  Awful diner or convenience store coffee is a big turnoff.

Nothing prepared me, however, from an impromptu foray into the coffee temple that calls itself Barismo in East Arlington.  Susan and I were next door in 13 Forest, checking out potential art, when I remembered that Barismo was right next door, and we had some time on our hands (unlike my usual visits to the area to Thailand Cafe, fantastic fast Thai food).  Time is what we needed, because we found out that we knew NOTHING about coffee. 

It's not immediately clear upon walking in what the business is.  There are small bags of coffee on the shelves, along with a variety of coffee gear, none of which looks familiar.  There is a whiteboard on the wall with different kinds of coffee you can get.  Espresso, capuccino (I know that), then siphon and pour over.  Huh?  No tables and chairs either but two small batch roasting machines behind the counter, along with two friendly baristas, one of whom was happy to answer our many questions the first of which was "what should we order?"  A question that was not as dumb as it sounds, because we were unfamiliar with the offerings.

And the answers.  Well, I had to admit to our new friend that I hadn't understood most of what he'd just told me, regarding growing regions, roasting methods, grind, brew, temperature, equipment.

We started with an espresso.  Which, we were told, would be of uncertain size, because they brew it for optimum quality, rather than for a particular cup size.  OK.  What we got was a thimbleful of espresso that had only what I could call a sour taste.  Not bad, sour, necessarily, but not the usual bitter strength of an espresso.  I thought it was a taste I could get used to, and maybe even like.  Susan was turned off.  But it was gone so quickly that it was hard to tell.  (Well, we did share that little thimbleful).

Next, the siphon.  Two cups for seven dollars.  Actually two little glasses, probably 3-4 ounces each. It took our friendly barista about ten minutes to prepare the device and deliver the coffee.  It was unlike any coffee I'd ever had.  I'm sure there were a lot of adjectives I could have chosen.  Fruity, floral, rich.  It definitely changed taste as it went from hot hot to just hot, to warm.  I'd tell you the kind of coffee they used, if I could remember. You can see the method below, from heating up the water to the prescribed temperature, to cooling it down with a wet towel to get the coffee to descend once the steam pressure subsides.




While we were finishing up these little glass they let us try a capuccino (pictured at the top), which was the best cappuccino I'd ever had. The foam was rich, not airy, and the taste complex. And the cappuccino art stayed intact to the bottom of the little cup. I'd have that again, for sure.

We didn't get to try the pour over method, which looks like using a hand-poured Melitta filter but the filter basket has deep ridges that allow the water to seep through the sides of the basket, not just the bottom, optimizing the flavor extraction. Next time!

So, if coffee is more than just of cup of joe, go here, at least once, just for the experience.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Slow roasted heaven...I mean tomatoes with goat cheese


If you have an afternoon or evening free, to enjoy warm aromas in your house, then you must do this.  The provenance of this is unclear, but all paths have led to Orangette.  One via Bon Apetit, the other on her Orangette blog..  I tried the first one last year, and it ranks with the most tasty things I've ever had.  So I tried it again this year, and it did not disappoint.

Start with one of those boxes of tomatoes you can get at the farm stand, the ones intended for sauces.  I don't know what kind these were.  They're the ones pictured in Bean and Green Saute with Tomatoes and Eggs.  There may still be some at your farm stand, so hurry.

Slice them in half lengthwise, and pull out the seeds.  (I may try this sometime without doing this step.)  Put in a roasting pan.  Pour oil to about 1/4 inch in the pan, and some more on top of the tomatoes.  Sprinkle generously with dried oregano, then some salt and very lightly with sugar.  Put in a 250 degree oven for an hour.


After and hour, flip them over, and put them back in for 45 minutes.


Flip them over again, and sprinkle on some minced garlic and return to the oven for 15 minutes.  (The original called for adding the garlic after removing them from the oven, which is wonderful, but so garlicky you can't talk to anyone for a couple of days.  The 15 minutes in the oven took the softened the edge of the garlic.)

Remove from the oven and sprinkle with chopped fresh mint, and let cool for a couple of hours.

Serve with a smear of goat cheese over crusty bread.  Repeat.

When you get tired of it, try it rolled in a flatbread with labneh.  Just as good!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Into the freezer: Start with a pot of beans, Part 4

The beans were great.  But enough is enough.  There were beans enough for another dish, and that other dish will come some day.  Into the freezer they went, to emerge when some new inspirations strikes.

See the rest of the series:
Start with a pot of beans
Bean and green saute, with tomatoes and eggs: Start with a pot of beans, Part 2
Bean soup: Start with a pot of beans, Part 3
Into the freezer: Start with a pot of beans, Part 4

Check out the October blog carnival on legumes hosted by Cook Sister inspired by My Legume Love Affair on Well Seasoned Cook.

Bean soup: Start with a pot of beans, Part 3

There were still PLENTY of beans left after the first two dishes this week, but I was in the mood for something a little different.  Looking at the contents of the fridge, I found I had some vegetables that needed using up.  Opportunity.  Plus, the beans were comfortably bathed in lots of good cooking liquid.  Soup, I thought.

What I had on had were some string beans, half a red bell pepper, and some more greens.  I got the string beans and bell pepper going in a saucepan with a little olive oil and garlic, and cooked until they started to soften, about 10 minutes.  To this, I added the beans and bean cooking liquid, and then added another cup or so of water while rinsing out the bean storage container.  This was about right.  Brought that to a boil, and then reduced to a simmer, for another 15 minutes or so.

Just before serving, I added the juice of one and a half limes to the pot, and after spooning the soup into the oversized mug, added a teaspoon or so of zest from the lime.  This gave the whole dish a vaguely Mexican slant.  The soup had earthy notes from the beans, mid-tones from the veggies, and high notes from the lime.  I ate it accompanied by some bread, but serving it over a corn tortilla (or with tortilla strips) would have been entirely appropriate.

See the rest of the series:
Start with a pot of beans
Bean and green saute, with tomatoes and eggs: Start with a pot of beans, Part 2
Bean soup: Start with a pot of beans, Part 3
Into the freezer: Start with a pot of beans, Part 4

And, there's an October blog carnival on -- legumes hosted by Cook Sister inspired by My Legume Love Affair on Well Seasoned Cook.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Bean and green saute, with tomatoes and eggs: Start with a pot of beans, part 2

Two containers of wet and wonderful beans from the weekend's cooking.  What to do next?  A new cooking challenge for me this fall has been a foray into the world of CSA -- community supported agriculture.  I signed up with Enterprise Farm this summer, and as a result I get a box of produce each Wednesday, that demands attention, especially as the next Wednesday rolls around, and I haven't eaten everything that won't keep from the previous week.  This week, it was dandelion greens.  More greens.

So I had to use greens.  And, I had bought a big box of field tomatoes from Wilson Farm that were going to be used for slow roasting (stay tuned!!), but I had plenty more to use.  I've discovered only recently how terrific tomatoes are when they're cooked.  Either a lot, like with slow roasting, or just a bit, when added to a saute pan with other things.  Even so-so tomatoes burst into sweetness and complex flavor when cooked. Try it -- you'll see!

Beans, greens, tomatoes.  A good start.  Heat some olive oil, add a smashed clove of garlic and a couple of chopped tomatoes (seeds and all).  Cook for about 10 minutes, until the tomatoes start to reduce in size.  If you cook longer, they'll practically disappear, concentrating the tomato flavor even more, but I was hoping to recognize the tomatoes when was done.  Add the chopped greens and let until they start to wilt, and then add the cooked beans with some of the bean cooking liquid.  Bring to a boil and simmer for as long as you can to meld the flavors.

Looking at all the soupy goodness caused two inspirations.  One, was to serve it over polenta, which works well with anything runny.  And the other was to poach a couple of eggs in the simmering pan, so that they'd ooze out all over when it was time to eat.

Seasoning was a salt, pepper and half teaspoon or so of chili powder.   Mine came from Chimayo New Mexico, but whatever you have, I'm sure will be great.

This beat my expectation.  The taste was great, but the texture was superb.  The runny egg imparted a silky feeling to the whole thing, and a rich flavor to the concoction.  I'll be trying that trick again sometime soon.

See the rest of the series:
Start with a pot of beans
Bean and green saute, with tomatoes and eggs: Start with a pot of beans, Part 2
Bean soup: Start with a pot of beans, Part 3
Into the freezer: Start with a pot of beans, Part 4

And, there's an October blog carnival on -- legumes hosted by Cook Sister inspired by My Legume Love Affair on Well Seasoned Cook.

Start with a pot of beans

It's only fitting to start my new blog by telling the story of a humble pound of beans as they find their way into several dishes over the course of the week, and ending up with the last portion in the freezer, waiting for the appropriate moment.  Legumes are the most basic of foods.  Remember in Genesis when Essau sold his birthright for some lentils?  And in Mark Bittman's  Food Matters the very first recipe is for a Sunday pot of beans.  And, I just bought my first box of heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo.  And, there's an October blog carnival on -- legumes hosted by Cook Sister inspired by My Legume Love Affair on Well Seasoned Cook.  Here's the story of my Sunday pot of beans, made Saturday.

Beans and greens and shrooms

1 lb vaquero beans (from Rancho Gordo), about 2 cups dry, using about 2 cups of the COOKED beans for this recipe, and the rest, for the inspirations over the rest of the week
1/2 onion, chopped
1 large bunch red chard (or whatever greens you desire...I prefer sturdier greens)
1 medium shallot clove, chopped
3 or 4 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 small packet dried mushrooms (about an ounce)
Olive Oil, a tablespoon or so for the beans and another for the greens
Butter, a tablespoon or so
Salt and pepper to taste.
Seasoning, optional.  Such as sesame oil, tamarind paste, smoked paprika, pinch of cayenne.

Cook the beans.  I tried for the first time the Rancho Gordo suggested method, in a crockpot.  Inspect the dried beans for stones and dirt, and rinse.  Add 3-4x the amount of water, and sauteed onion.  Cook on high.  Mine took several hours, but not all day, so be careful.  I was concerned that I'd overcooked the beans because they started to burst open, but once they burst, all that beany taste started melding with the water, which ended up working very nicely for the bean dishes over the course of the week.  They were soft, but not falling apart.  The beans were ready early, but they can sit for awhile.  Actually, I think they benefit from that.  Mine sat for a few hours waiting for dinnertime.

When you start getting hungry for dinner, wash and chop the greens roughly -- a broad chop for the leafy part, and a smaller chop for the stem part so they cook evenly.

Rinse the dried mushrooms in warm water, drain, then cover with boiling water for 15 minutes or more, until the shrooms are tender.

Meanwhile, in a skillet, heat  the olive oil and butter, then the shallots and garlic, and cook until softened.  Add the greens, and saute until they start to wilt.  About 5 to 10 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and cooked beans to the pan, stir and continue cooking.  Add a few tablespoons of the mushroom  liquid as well as the bean liquid, and keep cooking.  Perhaps 10 minutes, until everything is hot.

With some salt and pepper, this is a very tasty dish.  The beans and the mushrooms blend naturally into an earthy, satisfying meal.  I was very happy with my first try with the heirloom beans, too, but use whatever you can find.

You can add some flavoring if you'd like, and I tried a few.  Sesame chili oil was a little overpowering for my taste, but plain toasted sesame oil might be good.  I tried a dab of tamarind paste on a small corner of my plate, and that worked well, but may not be to everyone's taste.  Pimenton is always a good one.

Serve plain, or over rice, or other grain.  You could even add the grain to the saute pan to blend all the flavors.

There was plenty of this dish left over for another meal or two. And, there were plenty of plain, cooked beans leftover for new experiments.  See these recipes:

See the rest of the series:
Start with a pot of beans
Bean and green saute, with tomatoes and eggs: Start with a pot of beans, Part 2
Bean soup: Start with a pot of beans, Part 3
Into the freezer: Start with a pot of beans, Part 4

Improbable Pantry: Aspiration

I can't draw a straight line.  And I can't make music.  But I can cook, and that's how I make art.  In cooking, the pantry and farmers market are the palette from which I compose and create meals that improbably emerge from their humble beginnings of seeds, grains, legumes, roots, stems, and leaves.  I also make art by taking photographs.  With this blog, I plan to combine these two passions, and share my culinary adventures, from the mundane to the exotic.  And I hope that you will share your adventures with me, in comments, links to your own blogs or your own discoveries.

By the time Michael Pollan declared, "Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants," in his In Defense of Food, it didn't take much to convince me. I had always eaten what my grandmother would recognize as food.  Mostly.  I did have a thing for Oreos, but still.  And then Mark Bittman followed with practical eating advice along the same philosophical lines in his book/cookbook Food Matters.  If you're unfamiliar with these books, go get them.  You will never look at food the same way again.  And that'll be a good thing.

I'm not a fancy cook.  I don't spend a lot of time with fussy preparations or elegant presentation.  I make basic home cooking that tends toward the aggressively flavored.  I go for ethnic cuisines that don't hold back on taste.  Asian, Middle Eastern, Latin American foods and the flavorings they use show up often in my cooking. I am not averse to mixing and matching, and trying a bit of home-grown "fusion".  Umami is my friend.  Which is not to say I won't try a long-simmered batch of stew or simple plate of roasted vegetables with nothing more than salt and pepper, letting the natural flavor of the ingredients come through.  But Ido tend to like flavors that hit you over the head.

I don't eat much meat anymore.  Mostly a little, for a treat.  For some extra flavor.  I don't miss it, but I enjoy it when I use it. You will be surprised how far a little meat will go.  I'm increasingly seeking out sustainably and humanely grown meats.  Since I eat so little of it, the extra cost is not a barrier.

Organic.  Plants and meat.  When I can.  There are a lot of farmers using integrated pest management, and I applaud their efforts and am happy to buy their produce.  There are a lot of tradeoffs out there, and I'm happy to support the shift to more sustainable agriculture.

I've always been concerned that a mostly vegetable diet would leave me hungry all the time.  But it hasn't.  A variety of whole grains and hearty vegetables is enough to fill anyone up.  And as Mark Bittman says in his book, if you eat this way, you can pretty much eat as much as you want.  I've found that to be the case, but I really do not find that I overeat.

The Internet has changed the way I cook.  Whereas I used to go to a few shelves full of cookbooks, now I search the web.  I have a few go-to bloggers I like to check out, but am often surprised by new sources of great ideas.  I'll usually scan a few ideas on a particular theme -- like "eggplant" -- and then synthesize something from the cooking techniques and flavorings that I've read about.  Sometimes I'll use a recipe directly, but more often, it's a little of this and a little of that.  Since I know what's in my pantry and my fridge, particular food inspirations usually come from a day or two of simmering in my brain, so by the time I'm in the kitchen, I have a pretty good idea about what I'm about to do.

So when I post a recipe here, it will rarely suffer from putting your own spin on it.  And I'm eager to hear about how you have worked with the same themes.

The premise of this blog is this:

  • Explore how to use whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables when in season, well raised meat as much as I can.

  • Explore new tastes and new ideas.

  • Participate in and inspire a community of people that share a passion for simply prepared, tasty, healthy food.

  • Keep it simple.  And fun.
So, the journey begins  Your comments, suggestions and opinions are welcome, and we'll see what new food frontiers we can explore together.


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