detailing experiments in cooking, coffee and decorating
detailing experiments in cooking, coffee and decorating
Coffee, at it’s very basic, is coffee grounds combined with water. To most people, making coffee involves putting a paper filter into an automatic drip brewer, scooping in a bit of pre-ground coffee and pressing ‘start’. What you may not know is that coffee is very complex and can have a variety of complex flavors and profiles, similar to wine, that can be influenced by the way it’s brewed.
There are many processes that a coffee bean can go through before reaching your hands, and many that await the brewer. Among the few things that you can use to control the way the coffee will taste are the coffee-to-water ratio, grind, brew temperature, extraction time, turbulence, brewer geometry and filter type. This can be an intimidating amount of variables to think about so we’ll start with a basic scenario; a typical #4 paper filter cone in a ceramic, manual dripper, such as the Melitta.
BREWER In this scenario you’ve already set one variable: the brewer geometry. The shape of the brewer influences the way the resulting coffee tastes by affecting the turbulence of the water hitting the coffee, the way the water flows through the coffee bed, and the way the grounds stop extracting as the water level lowers. All of these factors affect certain areas of the coffee bed differently, which creates a different extraction and a different flavor.
FILTER The next variable to choose is the type of filter to use. The behavior of the filter can change depending on the brand, material and wether or not the paper is bleached or unbleached. Generally bleached is a better option because it tends to taste less papery. Try to choose filters that have been oxygen bleached; it’s better for your health and the environment. Other options for filters include metal mesh and fabric, both of which require more work to keep clean. Metal can offer a decent brew and fabric can be wonderful if its well taken care of. Paper offers the most consistent results with no effort in maintenance.
BREW RATIO/WATER The next variable to think about is the amount of brewed coffee you want to have. From there you can determine how much coffee and water (by weight) to use by following the ratio of 1 part coffee to 17 parts water. This will give you a starting point for adjusting your grind. For a drip coffee you’ll want to choose a medium grind which should be sandy in texture. Make sure your water is in the right range for brewing (195-202 F BREW TEMP*) and get ready for a trial run of coffee brewing.
TURBULENCE During brewing you’ll want to try to be as consistent as possible with the amount and type of turbulence that you’re inflicting on the coffee. This means that you’ll want to pour the water onto the grounds in a very replicable manner while trying to keep the flow of the water and the height at which you’re pouring the same between all brews. This can mean that you’re pouring very slowly into the center of your grounds for the entire brew, pouring in small batches, pouring in concentric circles, etc. As a beginner it’s important to do something you’re comfortable being consistent with from brew to brew. I personally do a very slow pour in concentric circles for the whole brew, but this also requires having a pour-over kettle (such as Bona Vita , or Hario) If you’re pouring water with a less accurate kettle I recommend trying to keep the water level consistent, try to pour at an even rate, and possibly make large circles if you can keep the flow of water consistent, otherwise pour in the center in batches and try not to let the grounds go dry.
BREWING and TASTING
Brewing coffee is the fun part. To make a brew that you can replicate you’ll need to have a digital gram scale. These retail for about $30 and you can pick them up at any kitchen supply store. Use the scale to first weigh out your beans to grind. For a 1-2 cup brewer weigh out 30g coffee (and later 510g water, determined by the 1:17 ratio). Start boiling water while you grind your coffee; you’ll want to boil more water than you need for brewing so you can preheat the brewer and rinse the filter. Once the water has boiled, place a fresh filter inside your brewer, place the brewer over whatever you want to brew into, and pour a couple cups of water just off the boil through. Discard the rinse water from the brewing device, add your freshly ground coffee to the drained brewer, and place the whole assembly on the scale and tare the weight (set the scale to 0). Fill a pourover kettle with more than enough water to brew (more than 510g, which will help prevent heat loss and make pouring easier) Start by “blooming” the coffee by adding enough water to saturate, about 30-60g water. Check the readout on the scale to see when you have added enough water. Stirring the slurry is an option at this point that would help ensure all of the grounds are getting evenly wet, but it can cause more variations between brews. If you choose to stir, do it in a manner that is consistent and replicable. After blooming for 30 seconds, start slowly pouring water into the grounds in a manner that you’re comfortable with. I like to pour in concentric circles starting in the center of the grounds and working outwards. Do this until the scale tells you that you’ve added 510g water. Let the brewer drain, and you’re ready to drink!
Taste your resulting brew. How does it taste? Is it bitter, weak, too strong? Try to disassociate “strength” with “bitterness”. Coffee can have a lot of flavor without being bitter, and it can also be very weak and have a lot of bitterness. If the coffee is at a strength that you like without too much bitterness then it seems as though you created a good brew. If its too weak, try adjusting the grind finer and if it’s strong you might want to try changing the grind to be a bit more coarse. Bitterness typically comes from overextraction, which can come from having a grind that’s too fine, or by passing too much water through a coarse grind. Varying too much from the coffee-to-water ratio can waste grounds. If you would like a stronger brew try making the grind finer before upping the amount of coffee. A proper brew with good coffee should be full bodied and sweet with minimal bitterness
*Brew temperature is measured in the coffee bed during brewing. This is affected by ambient temperature, the temperature of the grounds, and the temperature of the brewer, all of which absorb heat from the water. Generally brew water will need to be hotter than your desired brew temperature.
I recently decided to try making curry because I had a pile of onions in the house and a bunch of spices that I bought a year ago that I knew should be used and replaced soon. I tried to do some research online on how to make a good indian style curry, too many of which started with “add curry powder too….”. The brief references I found on making a curry from scratch detailed caramelizing lots of onions and adding lots of spices. The spices were preferably whole spices that were fried in some oil until they popped, they would then be added to sweet caramelized onions, cooked until nice and fragrant, and the pureed. It wasn’t the full detailed description that I was hoping for but I decided to just give it a try.
I started with the onions. I used two yellow onions, sliced thinly, chucked in a pan on low heat and left to caramelize for about an hour, stirring occasionally. In the meantime I went through my collection of spices and pulled out a bunch of things that could be used up. I picked out ground cumin, cayenne, turmeric and coriander. For whole spices I used fenugreek, black pepper, a couple of whole cloves and mustard seed. I fried the whole spices in some oil until they were toasted and had started popping. The first time I did this I burnt most of my spices, so use a medium low heat and toss them directly into the onions when they’re done toasting. I added the ground spices directly to the caramelized onions. I cooked this all together for a bit and then let it cool so that I could toss it in my blender to puree everything into a paste.
When I was ready to use the curry paste I tossed some back in a pot, thinned it with a bit of water and slowly warmed it up while stirring in yogurt. I ate it by dipping pita bread into the mixture.
The result was tasty, but I didn’t have enough spices for the amount of onion there was, and the yogurt I chose was too tart to work properly with the savory Indian flavors.
After that attempt I tried more curries with different spices. All of them turned out too sweet tasting for my liking, so I decided to change things up a bit. I started experimenting with red curries without using onions. This meant there was a lot of tart, savory aspects from the tomatoes and none of the caramely sweetness from the slow cooked onions. This method got me very close to the flavors I crave in a curry. I ended up using a curry blend from my favorite spice company as a starting point for the spices I used, then added more spices to adjust to taste from there. The result was a craveably delicious curry that I could eat bowls and bowls of.
My two favorite things to cook in the curry sauce are lamb cut into bite size pieces and cauliflower florets. I’ve also tried bone-in chicken thighs that I cooked in the sauce for about 45 minutes or until they were tender enough to easily separate from the bone.
Onion-Free Indian Red Curry
To replicate the recipe exactly use Spicely brand spice blends. I hope to be able to create my own curry spice blend soon, which I’ll be sure to share with you.
5 tsp curry powder
3 teaspoons garam masala
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp cinnamon
4 large garlic cloves, about 4 tsp chopped
3 tbsp butter
16 oz can diced tomatoes (or fresh)
Yogurt to taste, about 1/4 cupMelt the butter in a medium sized sauce pan and sauté the garlic until fragrant, but not browned.
Add in all of the ground spices and stir constantly until lightly toasted and fragrant, immediately add the whole can of tomatoes. Stir to combine and puree either with a hand blender or in an upright blender.
Return to pot and simmer for at least 30 minutes. Add vegetables directly to curry and simmer until done.
For meat, cut in bite sized pieces and sear in a separate pan before adding to curry. Simmer in curry sauce until done, or optionally stew the meat in the sauce until tender.
Let the curry cool slightly, stir in yogurt and serve.
I have a strong dislike for sponges. I grew up in a household that never had a single sponge and any time I interacted with one at another house it would be smelly and dampened with questionable water. Once I moved into my own apartment I tried to give sponges a chance, thinking that maybe it was poor quality sponges that harbored nasty bacteria. I explored many different brands of sponges made of different materials before I decided a smell-resistant sponge was unlikely to exist. My search failed me and I’m going back to square one: pot scrubbers.
Growing up we only washed dishes with a wet bar towel and a plastic bristled scrub brush. The cloths were great because they scrubbed well and could be tossed into the laundry, washed, reused and would last for years with constant use. I used this method after my sponge testing failed. My issue with this method these days is that a bar towel is too large to conveniently scrub dishes with, and the cotton terry material harbors a fair amount of bacteria making them smelly quickly. The thing that really makes the towels better than sponges is that they can be washed once they get smelly and they’re fine to use again, but I wanted a method that required less maintenance.
I started knitting pot scrubbers as a smaller and more accessible alternative to terry cloth bar towels. The first time I knitted a set of these I used cotton yarn, which is easy to find and fairly durable. Cotton is slightly stronger when wet, but doesn’t respond well to being washed and dried consistently. The first set of scrubbers survived about a year. After they were put out of commission I started researching fibers that would be more bacteria and rot resistant, and more durable to being washed and dried frequently. I settled on hemp for it’s durability; it’s stronger when wet and naturally mold resistant.
The reason these scrubbers are so great is because they’re a perfect size for scrubbing pots without being too bulky. They’re machine washable and hold up wonderfully. The open knit pattern allows the scrubber to dry quickly, thus preventing bacteria growth. The stockinette stitch I knit these in has the perfect amount of texture for rubbing off stuck on grime.
I can keep these wonderful scrubbers in the sink for a week or so before they need to be tossed in the laundry. They’re extremely inexpensive to make and they help you practice your knits and purls. They also look quite cute.
I’ve been in search of the perfect lemonade for a year and a half, attempting to recreate a lemonade from a cafe I used to frequent. Their lemonade was perfectly sweet and tart with floral vanilla notes. I’ve made and tasted many lemonades over the past 18 months in search of a similar lemonade and none have compared.
My most recent trial was Meyer lemonade. I was handed a bag of Meyer lemons leftover from my work at the end of the week. I seized the opportunity to make a batch of lemonade, hoping that the inherent sweet and floral notes of Meyer lemons would be what I’ve been craving. I had a jar of crystalized honey that I decided to use to sweeten the lemonade and to boost up the floral note. The result was delicious but had a consequence that I hadn’t anticipated.
When I make lemonade I squeeze a bunch of lemons an sweeten them but don’t add water. That allows me to store it in the fridge without taking up a huge amount of space, that way whenever I want a glass of lemonade I just add some lemonade “concentrate” to a glass and top it off with water. The problem occurred after the lemonade had been in the refrigerator for a couple days. Opening the concentrate and smelling it presented an odd fermented scent. Thinking that it might have been from the older lemons I had used I decided that it was just the lemon juice fermenting, perhaps being inoculated by yeasts before I had made the juice. With further thought I decided to research the effect of adding water to honey; I discovered that honey is full of enzymes and naturally occurring yeasts that activate and multiply when in contact with water forming a fermented honey* substance! Delicious.
Needless to say I haven’t yet been able to recreate the lemonade from that cafe, though I do recommend trying Meyer lemonade and using honey as a lemonade sweetener if you’re going to be drinking it quickly.
*Fermented honey is sold as a health food and is available online. It’s said to be a great aid for your digestion, even more so than regular raw honey. It’s richer in flavor and slightly foamy.
Baking soda is one if my favorite ingredients in the house. I use it in pretty much every room to clean, polish, deodorize and scour. It’s one of the most versatile substances for the household. Most of us stock a box of baking soda for adding to cake batters and another box to go in the fridge to capture yucky smells, and that’s about the extent of our experience. My most common application for baking soda is using it as a scrub, both for my pots and pans and for my skin.
Baking soda is mildly alkaline and abrasive which makes it great for cleaning and scrubbing surfaces without scratching. In the kitchen it works great for scrubbing pots clean. To restore a metal pot’s original brightness and shine, scrub the pot with a paste made of baking soda and water. Coating the inside of your oven with the same paste and letting it soak for 12 hours will dissolve all the stuck on grime, making it easy to scrub and wipe away.
Since baking soda is so mild it also makes a wonderful exfoliant. I use it a few times a week as a facial scrub, mixed with water or facial cleanser and massaged onto my skin. This works as well as, if not better than, store bought exfoliants. I also harness baking soda’s deodorizing and moisture absorption powers to make a deodorant. This is one of the most effective natural deodorants I’ve tried, and while it’s not an antiperspirant, it will absorb some excess moisture. Combining baking soda with coconut or cocoa butter and essential oils creates a wonderful, easy, inexpensive deodorant that is cleaner than most of what you’ll find in stores.
Baking Soda Deodorant
1/4 cup baking soda*
1/8 cup melted coconut or cocoa butter, or enough to form a paste
8 drops of essential oils ( I like 2 drops tea tree, 2 lavender and 4 sweet orange)
Mix ingredients together.
Adjust level of fragrance to your preference by adding more or less essential oil.
Pour mixture into a small jar and allow to cool and set
Apply a pea sized amount with fingers when needed.
Alternatively, pour the mixture into an empty deodorant tube. Coconut butter has a low melting point and turns to liquid at around room temperature, so try using cocoa butter if you’re opting to use a deodorant tube.
*If baking soda is irritating to your skin, try adding in a couple teaspoons of powdered starch.
Burlap coffee sacks, from Ritual Coffee, stretched onto frames. They will eventually form the platform on which moss and air plants will grow on.
A glimpse of a decorative project that adorns my hallway. The cards are a set of botanical prints from the New York Botanical Garden; the back of the cards have the botanical name and information about the history of the plant and current uses. It was made using a stretcher frame, brass screw eyes, string and pin clips.
Searching for a new recipe always yields interesting results. Sometimes recipes are exactly the same, as is the case with most chocolate chip cookie recipes, and other times recipes are so vastly different that it’s hard to know where to start. A few weeks ago I went looking for a cake recipe to use up some applesauce I had just made, and the results were interesting. It seems as though any cake ever named an Applesauce Cake is made using a butter creaming method. This is nice because that method of baking cake provides a very specific textured crumb which is very enjoyable. The problem being that these types of recipes don’t lend themselves well to much experimentation. I am a big fan of substitutions. Everything I bake tends to have at least one thing substituted, usually the flour, sometimes the butter. The sugar is always adjusted. This meant being creative when I wanted to make my applesauce cake. I needed to find a way to substitute applesauce into a more convenient recipe, which lead to me searching for pumpkin bread. Pumpkin bread happens to be mede using a quick bread or muffin-method recipe, making it really easy for me to substitute applesauce for pumpkin puree without having a big change in texture. I also substituted in whole wheat flour, reduced the sugar, and used half olive oil and half canola oil. This provided a wonderfully rich, moist, fluffy cake that didn’t make you feel weighed down.
Though I suppose I should call it apple bread instead of cake. Here’s the recipe: 1 1/2 cup Applesauce 280 g whole wheat flour 1 tsp baking soda 80 g oil (olive oil or canola) 210 g sugar 1 egg or 1 amount of egg replacer Cinnamon and rosemary powder are wonderful additions Mix together dry ingredients. Combine wet ingredients including sugar. Gently stir the two together. Bake at 325 Fahrenheit for 1 hour (and up to 1 hour 15 min)
I’ve lived in San Francisco for two years now and haven’t thought once about being prepared for any type of disaster. The recent earthquakes near Japan and living in the “ring of fire” has made me realize that I should be more prepared to take care of myself and my family if disaster strikes. My household currently doesn’t have a first aid kit, let alone supplies to survive without help for 3 days. Learning about how to stock up for a disaster took quite a bit of research and I’m happy to share what I found out with you.
The first thing I looked into is a first aid kit stocked with bandages, disinfectants, gloves, ointments and a handy book on how to treat injuries. Look for a kit that is stocked enough to keep wounds clean and properly dressed for a few days. Consider taking a first aid class to learn how to treat for sprains and fractures, and how to administer CPR. The American Red Cross is a great resource for preparedness kits, first aid kits, and classes.
The next most important thing is to acquire a supply of water for 3 days worth of survival. For my family that meant 7 gallons water, for which I purchased a 30 liter fusti. Other options for water storage include buying gallons of spring water or refilling old soda bottles with water. Be sure to date and rotate the bottles for newer ones. Tap water doesn’t need to be treated, but if you’re planning on using filtered water, bleach will need to be added to ensure safety. Keep in mind that in a pinch, water can be recovered from the tank of your toilet, as long as you don’t keep bowl cleaner tablets in there.
Next thing was to acquire enough food to feed my family for 3 days time. This food should be nutrient rich and something that you would normally enjoy eating. Don’t stock up on foods that make you cringe just because they’re healthy and shelf stable. Make sure to also include some comfort foods to calm your nerves in stressful situations, such as chocolate bars, sugary cereal or potato chips. For us that meant stocking up on kale chips, miso paste, seaweed snacks, dried fruit, nuts and dehydrated bee pollen (high in protein). Other good options are jerky, tea and coffee, bouillon cubes, juices, nut butters, crackers and canned prepared foods. Try to avoid high sodium products because they’re dehydrating. Stock items that don’t need to be heated up much and don’t require lots of water to prepare. If you’re stocking up on canned food make sure to store an extra can opener with that food. Make sure to label and rotate food often to ensure freshness. Buy a camping stove and fuel if you’re planning to have hot food and make sure to have something to eat off of and prepare food in.
Create an easily accessible area for your emergency supplies. Keep other blackout items in the same area, such as candles and matches (waterproof or stored in a waterproof container) and a flashlight for each family member. It’s helpful to keep important documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, medical information and travelers checks or cash in case banks are closed. It’s also helpful to keep a set of warm clothing and sturdy shoes ready to go, and rain gear if possible. Don’t forget about your pets. Make sure that you store food for them and have a dish for them to eat and drink out of and keep a spare harness and leash or pet carrier nearby.
It’s also important to learn how to turn off the gas line in case of leaks. This is usually done from the outside of the building and requires a wrench. Talk to the building manager about locating the shut off and educating tenants about this. Keep in mind that once the gas is turned off it shouldn’t be turned back on by anyone but the gas company.
There are so many more things that you can do to be prepared so do more research on your own; 72hours.org is a great resource.