Coffee!!

I’ve gone a bit mad on the coffee front.

My first foray into the world of coffee geeks was when I heard of the Aeropress coffee maker. This is basically a large syringe into which you put freshly ground coffee and water, you then inject the brew into your cup through a paper filter.

1026-AeroPressThe whole thing only costs about £18 but it really does make a fantastic cup of coffee, being a combination between an espresso and a French Press. The resultant cup of coffee is cleaner than my usual Mokka pot or French pressl, with far more flavour due of course to having freshly ground coffee. This has to be of the right grind size and so I bought a Porlex hand grinder to process my coffee beans. This takes about two minutes to grind the beans needed for one cup of coffee. It’s a Japanese design and uses ceramic burr grinders for a consistent grind. My research steered me away from blade grinders and mixers which are too inconsistent.

Before I bought the Aeropress, I performed my usual diligent on-line research and saw many recipes and ways of using the Aeropress, including the inverted method, which involves turning it upside down to brew the coffee. The image above shows the normal method, with all of the parts you get for your £18. When first looking at YouTube clips I was slightly put off by the high hipster content, although having a beard and a bad haircut are not requirements for brewing a damn fine cup of coffee. The universal point was that just everybody praised the coffee one can make in the thing.

I was also initially sceptical (purely age and hair related) when seeing the hipsters measuring and weighing not only the beans but also the water. Some of them were even advocating the way to stir the brew before fully making it. However arsy these seemingly arcane points at first appeared, when thinking about it, and actually making the coffee at home, they made sense. After all you’re following a recipe; you wouldn’t bake a cake without measuring the ingredients, timing the bake and setting the temperature of the cooker. So it is with coffee. Get it right and you can repeat. Get it wrong and you know your start point to try something else.

So taking delivery of all the bits in the Aeropress kit and the hand grinder, I made several cups of coffee, following the on-line recipes. The hand grinder grinds the 16gms of beans which I have decided on using in a couple of minutes. The brew from an Aeropress, following the recommended method, is strong and somewhat concentrated, too strong for me neat but perfect when diluted with hot water. One of the advantages of the Aeropress is that there are so many variables, you can tweak how you use it to change your method and the quality of the coffee you make.

After using it for a couple of weeks and being very pleased with the results, I was finding the manual grinding to be a little bit of a chore. The Aeropress is excellent at making one cup of coffee but on some evenings and on lazy weekends, one cup is not enough.

Back on line I went. I wanted to see what electric grinders were recommended  and what else would give me a tasteful, clean cup of coffee similar to the Aeropress. The latter objective was first and easily met.chemex

A Chemex filter coffee maker, also know as a pour over, is a simple and beautifully designed filter system made from chemically inert glass and especially designed and composed Chemex filters. These are thicker than many other paper filters. Once again there are countless recipes on-line about how to get the best from a Chemex. I’ve tried a couple and the coffee has been delicious, although again sometimes too strong. I’ve not slept for several days given the caffeine-buzz following all my experimenting!

So the final thing to sort out was a decent electric grinder, to save my poor arthritic wrist from the daily torture session of manual grinding. There are many wonderful coffee forums and having skulked in a few, the general advice was to spend more on a grinder than any other component within your coffee making setup. Another piece of advice was to stay away from grinders that offer too many fancy functions with sliders, buttons and lights. The final piece of advice was to buy from a specialist coffee retailer and avoid some of the familiar brands available on Amazon.

After doing even more extensive research I put my Xmas cheque to good use and bought a Eureka Mignon Mk2 Grinder.eurkea This little beauty does only one thing, it grinds coffee. It uses flat metal burrs and can either be used on demand or to run for a set time. It is built like a tank and is easy to clean. It takes about 10 to 20 seconds to grind what I need to charge either my Aeropress or Chemex with freshly ground, beautifully smelling coffee.

While I don’t have an espresso machine, this grinder can grind coffee beans to the fineness required for espresso, not everything can. I change the grind dial to make the medium fine grinds for my Chemex to a slightly finer grind for my Aeropress. I also use a mokka pot and have a French Press but these have been relegated at the moment, yet the grinder can produce the appropriate grind for those methods too. It’s so easy and so quick.

As for the coffee I’ve been drinking, I started out buying some Sainsburys Fair Trade Colombian beans, which is medium roasted and has a tasty, nutty quality with a nice buzz. With the Aeropress and the Chemex, you can taste so much more of the flavour of the beans than an oily, over roasted bean. Since then I’ve tried some more up-market beans, from the very handy and knowledgeable ArtisanRoast in Broughton Street. I’m currently trying their Finca Eleta from Panama. It’s as they say a coffee you could drink all day. Personally that may not be wise, but it is delicious, light and sweet. The good news is that their shop contains many more varieties to try and taste, merely a quick bus ride from home. So if you see my jittering, wide-eyed down the road, you’ll now know I’ve been sampling again.

Cheers!

Smooth

As one who is smooth in all aspects of character, personality and culture, I have recently extended my smoothness to the realm of culinary expertise and begun creating green smoothies.

I thought it would be useful and beneficial to improve my diet, eat more fruits and greens, while making additional use of the blender of joy. I downloaded onto my Kindle a green smoothie recipe book, by Victoria Boutenko, Green Smoothie Revolution: The Radical Leap Towards Natural Health. She offers sound advice on which blender to purchase (basically the most powerful one you can afford, Vitamix or Enpee) and how best to use it making smoothies. The book offers many many interesting recipes, whether you are starting to drink green smoothies or are already experienced and adventurous – dandelion and nettle leaves may be in my future but then again they may not.

However, there is a tone of the proselytising zealot in some of what she writes, a tone repeated in the endorsements included by a “Health Minister” Dr. Donato and one of his most successful weight loss patients, Clent Manich. Much of this over-bearing fanaticism stems from a desire to persuade others to eat exclusively raw food. Eating greens and fresh food daily, in a readily absorbable smoothie can do nothing but good. I do however treat the almost religious fervor and claims of “miracle” benefits with undisguised scepticism. Clent Manich lost over half his body weight, down from 400 to 170 pounds, which is a terrific achievement, by eating exclusively raw food and green smoothies. Naturally he’s proud of his weight loss but he’s taken the list of benefits too far. Here’s a list of physical and medical improvements, he claims he’s experienced following the raw food and green smoothie path. Clearly some of these must be taken with a large pinch of salt, although that would surely defeat the purpose:

  • Anger reduction: “I used to be a lot angrier. My feelings were intense, and I would often clench my jaw in anger.”
  • Calming: “I was always nervous and on edge, as if expecting trouble.”
  • Depression: “I was always depressed. I cannot tell you how bad it was.”
  • Hair: “My grey hair changed back to my natural colour; I can’t find one silver hair.”
  • Hair 2: “The bald spot on the back of my head is gone, entirely filled in with new hair.”
  • Hair 3: “I’ve grown hair on my chest and belly where I never had any before.”
  • Warts: “A wart disappeared from my face. One day I noticed it was gone.”
  • Oral hygiene: “My teeth have gotten whiter.”
  • Oral hygiene 2: “My breath [is] sweeter.”
  • Liver: “[My liver] now it is half that size.”
  • Skin: “My skin is so much clearer and healthier looking.”
  • Strength: “My physical strength has also increased.”
  • Eyesight: “I don’t need glasses any more! I told him [my optician] that it was because I was drinking green smoothies everyday.”
  • Sleep apnea: “Now I sleep soundly through the night.

What I will say is that having a smoothie for breakfast does genuinely give you a bit of a lift and there is a sense of increased vitality. Whether that’s entirely a physical reaction is mute.

I  thought I would share a couple of Boutenko’s recipes that I’ve tried and a few I’ve concocted myself.

Spinach memory booster:

  • 2 cups of spinach
  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 pear
  • 1 apple
  • 1 cup of water

This one is a starter recipe, designed to be very fruity and digestible. The pear was the dominant flavour, although the cucumber provided a fresh undernote to the smoothie. I omitted lime juice from the recipe, as I felt that would possibly make it to acidic.

Lovely green goodness:

  • 1 banana
  • 1 apple
  • 1 pear
  • 1 ½ cup of spinach
  • 1 cup of water

Also a friendly way into green smoothies. The first few times you make them, the greenness of them is somewhat startling, especially when you taste them and you can’t really detect anything but the dominant fruit, in this case banana. In fact whenever one adds banana, that is the dominant flavour.

Tropical taste:

  • 1 banana
  • 2 handfuls of fresh pineapple chunks
  • 2 cups of kale
  • 1 cup of water

Even with a 2 to 1 ration of pineapple to banana, this one primarily tasted of banana.

Fresh fruit fun:

  • 1 banana
  • ½ a cucumber
  • 1⁄4 of a fresh pineapple
  • 6 large kale leaves
  • 1 cup of water

A very light one this time, but the sweetness is required to balance the stronger flavour of the kale, which was organic and quite potent.

Blueberry balls-up:

  • 1 cup of frozen blueberries
  • 2 cups of spinach
  • ½ a cucumber
  • 1 banana
  • 1 cups of water

So named as it was not so much a green smoothie as a dirty, bluey-browny type affair which was not appetising to the eye. Brave Erin at work tried some and found it to taste a lot better than it looked. I used a too unripe banana which meant the taste was under-sweet and rather starchy.

I’m just about to go off and make this one for the first time for breakfast.

Pineapple apple apple:

  • 2 apples
  • ½ a fresh pineapple
  • 2 cups of spinach
  • 1 cup of water

Yum!

Muffizzas

Feeling virtuous (and hungry) after my second walk of the weekend, I thought I would try Jack Monroe’s Muffizza’s recipe.

I deviated only slightly but following Jack’s spirit of creating inexpensive but fun food, I stuck to using supermarket’s own brand items:

4 Morrisons muffins – 49p
400g tin of Tesco plum tomatoes – 34p
1 ball of Tesco value mozzarella – 44p
Some home-made basil pesto – xx?
1 green chilli – 3p
Juice of half a lemon – 15p
Sprig of basil – 20p
Salt & pepper

Her great idea is to make some mini pizzas from the muffins.

I used two, which when cut in half make four muffizzas – as this was my only meal of the day, my guilt was somewhat assuaged.

The method is as follows.

Switch the grill on to a medium heat. Cut the muffins in half. I poured the tinned toms, with the chilli including seeds, a couple of leaves of basil and a quick squeeze of lemon juice into my mini food processor and pulsed it for a second to blend. While blending the sauce, I was grilling the muffins’ bottoms for a minute or so, to firm up, to seal, the base.

I then spread on my tomato mixture over the cut sides of the muffins, added a slice of mozzarella and then plonked on a dollop of pesto. The muffizzas go under the grill for maybe five minutes or until the mozzarella has melted into the pesto and created a delicious smear!

I thoroughly enjoyed my four muffizzas, and was able to put two of the muffins and the remaining tomato mix in the freezer for another time. I’ll need to find a way of using up the remaining chunk of mozzarella but I feel some form of cooked apple should be involved. The only thing I would do next time would be to wipe the muffins with some garlic, for an even more Italian flavour.

Another success thanks to Jack.

Jack’s carrot, cumin & kidney bean burger

I tried one of Jack’s delicious recipes tonight, the CCK burger! After a rather heavy day, calorifically speaking, at work, I fancied something meat free, fresh, nutritious and cost conscious!

So  I picked Jack’s recipe for the CCK burger and made enough for four good sized burgers, two of which I cooked, with the remaining two chilling in my (very ill fridge) for tomorrow. Please click on the link above for the recipe and many others, or follow it here:

Ingredients, makes 4:
1 carrot, grated, 5p (from a 1.25kg veg pack average 20pcs, £1)
1 onion, finely chopped, 5p (from a 1.25kg veg pack average 20pcs, £1)
Handful of coriander, finely chopped, free (window ledge)
Teaspoon of cumin, 2p approx (80p/46g)
1 can kidney beans, 21p
Splash of oil, 2p (£4.50/3l)
Teaspoon of flour, 1p (65p/1.5kg)

Method:
1. Drain and rinse the kidney beans in cold water to wash away the ‘tinned’ taste. Put in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, then simmer for ten minutes to soften.
2. In a separate pan, add the finely chopped onion, grated carrot, cumin and coriander. Drizzle a little oil over and cook gently on a low heat to soften.
3. When the kidney beans have heated through and softened, drain and add to the carrots and onions. Mash together with a masher or a fork until you have a smooth-ish purée (like a mashed potato consistency). Stir in a heaped teaspoon of flour.
4. Heat a little oil in a frying pan on a medium heat. With floured hands, shape some of the mixture into a ball, about the size of a golf ball. Place in the oil and flatten gently with a fork to make the burger shape. Cook for a few minutes on one side, before turning over gently. They need to be handled with care while cooking as they can be quite fragile!
5. When cooked on both sides, serve hot.

I ate mine with a tin of plumb tomatoes (36p) and added a little additional olive oil and basil on the side. Delicious!

When cooking tomorrow’s two burgers, I think I will add a clove of garlic to the cooking oil and may sprinkle on a dash of lime juice and Tabasco sauce for the Mexican version! Viva!

Chicken with puy lentils

I’ve been making use of my new casserole dish and after one partially successful attempt at Elizabeth David’s beouf bourguignon I’ve adapted the concept to make a chicken dish with puy lentils.

Ingredients:

One chicken piece per person – breasts or thighs
3x carrots
1x large onion
1x large shallot
2x sticks of celery
1 packet of baby button mushrooms
250gms of pre-cooked puy lentils per two people – fresh or ready to eat
1 pint of chicken stock
Bouquet garni – thyme, bay leaves, parsley
2x whole cloves of garlic
Unsalted butter
Olive oil
Seasoning
White wine


Method:

On a medium to high heat place the olive oil with some butter in the bottom of your casserole pan. Once the butter and oil are hot enough, brown the chicken pieces and then remove them to a warm dish.

Place the sliced onion, chopped carrots and celery into the oil and butter and sweat them down until the onions are translucent.

Use a large glass of white wine to deglaze the bottom of the pan and add the stock. Make up your bouquet garni and add. Return the chicken to the pan, resting on top of the vegetables, cover with the lid and place in a pre-heated oven on a low temperature for an hour or an hour and a half depending on your oven and temperature.

At that point, add in the button mushrooms, whole or cut in half depending on size, also add the puy lentils. Continue cooking for an hour. About five minutes before serving add a small slurp or two of the wine to the sauce , which should ideally be quite thin although the lentils will thicken it somewhat.

You can serve this with any form of potatoes you like but it also goes really well with crusty bread.

It tastes even better when any remains are re-heated the following day!