Saturday, September 26, 2009

rising coffee prices

There was an article in yesterday's Seattle Times about rising coffee prices and the retail effect. I thought it was interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it quoted Maria at Sweet Maria's:
"People who are interested in home roasting are not necessarily interested in the price," she said. "They're interested in having the best coffee they can have. People who are interested in price go to Costco and buy cheap coffee."
Second, it had a supposed price breakdown of the cost components of a $3 latte: $2.23 for the 300% markup, 32 cents for two shots of espresso, 20 cents for milk, 15 cents for cup, lid, sleeve, and stirrer, and 5 to 10 cents for rent, labor, and utilities.

That last number seems absurd. A single operator would have to produce between 85 and 171 of these an hour just to make Washington state's minimum wage, even if rent and utilities are ignored! When have you ever seen an espresso stand put a car through in 30 seconds, let alone do it all day? The busiest coffee shop I've ever seen is a Starbucks outside the Moscone Convention Center in the morning before an event starts, and I'm sure it doesn't come close to serving that many items per employee per hour. Hmm.

a return to delicious normality

I hadn't roasted coffee for many weeks until yesterday. Tracey won several packages of various Starbucks beans at some event and I've been using those. This morning I made lattes with yesterday's Moka Kadir. Oh, my. What a stunning reminder of why I roast my own! It was like replacing a mud pie with a chocolate soufflé.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

first attempt at making biltong

Biltong is a South African cured meat, originating with Dutch settlers who needed a way to preserve big slabs of game. It's marinated in vinegar and spices then hung to dry for several days. There are many recipes and techniques varying quite a bit in the type of vinegar, quantity of salt and sugar, presence of other spices, stages of application and marination, curing method, and curing time.

For my first attempt I drew upon three main sources and concocted my own amalgamation of the three.
I used about five pounds of beef top sirloin and tri-tip steaks.

Rather than separating the wet and dry marination processes I went with the simpler approach of producing a single wet marinade. I used:
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • generous 1/2 cup Balsamic vinegar
  • 2 heaping tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • scant 2 tablespoons coarse sea salt
  • 1/3 cup crushed coriander seeds (Indian)
I left the steaks whole aside from one, since they were already about an inch thick and judging by the photos in the chowhound article the shrinkage will be considerable. The tri-tips were already fairly elongate.

They went straight into a zip lock bag with the marinade where I massaged them and sucked out all the air.

They marinated for about 19 hours. I rinsed them in a solution of vinegar and water, taking off most of the coriander seeds.

I boiled and threaded wire through each piece and hung them in my hacked together biltong dryer. The dryer maintains a temperature of 110 to 140 degrees. After 22 hours this is how they looked.

After 24 hours I took a sample from the bottom of a tri-tip and a sirloin. The thin piece of tri-tip was fairly dry and firm and very chewy, although not difficult like a rock hard piece of jerky. The flavor was a really nice tang complemented well by the coriander. The sirloin, obviously much less thoroughly cured and extremely tender, also had a strong beefy flavor. I don't think the sirloin is quite ready, and probably the tri-tip isn't either in the thicker parts.

I'm not sure yet how long I'll let these go. Another day, for sure. This article, which I found only later after looking for photos of sliced biltong to gauge the color, notes that the moisture content is a matter of personal preference. I don't know if there are spoilage concerns with more moisture but that seems like a possibility. They aren't like a cured ham with a thick layer of protective gunk.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

first tall telegraph greenhouse cucumber

Picked the first Tall Telegraph greenhouse cucumber at the end of August. It's interesting that while the vine is laden with tiny cucumbers this one was full size. I've seen the same thing with lemon cucumbers. I wonder what causes that. Also interesting is that another vine, same variety and inches away, has a large one that is smooth skinned.

Flavor was fine. Bitter at the peel, not as sweet as I prefer, and young enough that there were scarcely any seeds. I'll have to let the next ones go longer and see how the flavor changes.

Made it into a nice salad with tomatoes and basil from the garden, with a drizzle of olive oil and splashes of white and seasoned rice vinegars.

Definitely need to get these started earlier next season.

zucchini refrigerator pickles

Like probably just about everyone who plants zucchini, at some point I begin looking about for new uses. It occurred to me that they'd probably make fine refrigerator pickles -- perhaps not quite as crisp as cucumbers, but good enough. There are plenty of recipes online, but I went with an LA Times article containing the Zuni Café recipe.

I roughly tripled the recipe, using a few pounds of zucchini.

I decided to slice them about 3/16 inch thick instead of 1/8 in order to give them a little more crunch.

About a third of the vinegar was red wine rather than cider (ran out). I neglected to crush the mustard seeds, using that portion whole, but freshly ground the rest of it.

This quantity of brine takes some time to cool, so I got it started while the zucchini was in the salt water. It was ready at the same time as the zucchini. I didn't quite get the point of the "pat dry" step so in a fit of madness I simply added the brine to the drained squash.

The taste test the next day met with universal approval. I actually found a slight bitterness that I'd prefer weren't present, probably from the turmeric. The turmeric does impart that great color, but perhaps it could be dialed down a bit. The onions are really good -- I'd slice them thick next time so they are more substantial.

Overall, well worth the effort. Next time I'd look for ways to increase the complexity of the flavors, reduce the bitterness, and include more and thicker onion slices.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

mom's Ukrainian-style borscht

While the boys were visiting my parents, mom made borscht and the boys found it appealing. When I received the news I realized that I probably haven't had it since I was a boy myself! I recall liking it very much. I thought it would be a fun dish to make with the first beets from the garden.

Courtesy of Ukraine Trek comes this description of borscht:
But especially known and most favorite dish all over the world is famous Ukrainian borsch. Borsch is cooked of the fresh vegetables: cabbage, beet, tomato with the addition of pounded lard with garlic and parsley. The combination of all these groceries give the borsch its piquancy, aroma and unforgettable taste. There are about 30 types of Ukrainian borsch (Poltava borsch, Chernigov borsch, Kiev borsch, Volyn borsch, Lviv borsch and others).
Here's mom's recipe. It lacks a few things like lard, goose fat, and garlic that I've seen in some recipes. I made the beef stock from scratch. I chose to omit the carrots because I just don't like them that much in soup. I added minced garlic near the end per this recipe, as well as fresh dill. I served it with parsley and sour cream.

Simmer 30 minutes, covered:

  • 1 pound beef chuck
  • 8 cups beef broth
  • salt, pepper, bay leaf
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a 6 quart kettle. Add and saute 5 minutes:
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, sliced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 4 medium raw beets, in strips
  • 1/2 medium cabbage, shredded
  • 4 medium potatoes, cubed
Add 1 6 ounce can tomato paste and 1 tablespoon vinegar. Simmer 10 minutes. Add meat and broth. Simmer 1 1/2 hours. Serve with sour cream, lemon slices, parsley or dill.

For the stock I referred to the recipe in The New Best Recipe cookbook. I had two pounds of soup bones but had only a pound of chuck rather than the four it calls for. I also didn't have any red wine on hand to reduce so I used a bit of Worcestershire sauce.

As with all Cook's Illustrated recipes the experimentation and food science behind the final recipe is interesting. It takes far more beef to produce a meaty stock than chicken for several reasons: chicken flavor compounds are very strong, it's the Maillard reactions that deliver a lot of what we think of as the beefy flavor (contrast boiled beef), chicken skin and fat taste like chicken while beef fat is rich but not beefy, and chicken bones and marrow contribute chicken flavor while beef marrow contributes body but not much flavor and beef bones taste like bones.

So, my stock ended up being not as rich as it should have been but I wasn't disappointed.

A less starchy potato than would have held up a little better, but the Yukon Golds were fine. The beets were fresh from the garden and very nice.

The result was great! I suppose this must be one of my comfort foods. The boys and I enjoyed several steaming bowls while watching football on a drizzly, dreary evening. I thought the beef flavor was perfectly adequate. The beet flavor was prominent. Overall it's a magnificent combination of sweet and savory with enough richness from the stock and sour cream to be satisfyingly filling.

Cold the next day it was just as good, and perhaps even better. It was apparent, though, that I could have skimmed the fat from the stock more thoroughly. The texture wasn't ideal due to the small fat granules. Letting the stock cool enough to skim it well would have added quite a bit of time to the preparation. Maybe a solution is to let it sit for 15 minutes or so, skim enough liquid to get the fat along with some stock, and pop that into the freezer. The hot stock could be used immediately then reunited with the small amount of cold stock after the fat had been removed.

Monday, September 7, 2009

sixth brew (goldenflower ale), part 3

Finally bottled the goldenflower ale on September 1. I realized that if I didn't get it into bottles I wouldn't have anything to bring to the next homebrew meeting!

It was in the secondary fermenter, dry hopping, for 6 weeks. As far as I can tell, all that dry hopping added no hop aroma at all. The flavor is OK, still plenty of honey, slightly phenolic. Nothing to jump up and down about.

Gravity was 1.007. Original gravity was 1.043, so ABV is about 3.75%.

giant zucchini oddity

Upon returning from a week's vacation recently we were greeted by an enormous zucchini, four inches in diameter and perhaps 15 inches in length. That wasn't a surprise; everyone has seen and fled from much larger.

Two things did get my attention. First, when we left all the squash on this vine were a few inches in length. The others grew slowly, while this one went all Attack of the 50 Foot Woman on us. Second, it was of excellent quality! Unlike other bloated zucchini monsters with their spongy flesh and unpleasant seeds, this one was firm, mild, and had seeds no more developed than you'd typically find in one a fifth the size. Huh?

Age must be as significant a factor as size in the quality of the squash. I wonder what causes one to go berserk while the others bide their time? I've seen the same with cucumbers.

delicious blanched spinach and tomatoes

I've been experimenting with boiling ribs before grilling them, after talking to brother Matt about his technique. I did this the other day with a rack of pork ribs and plain water. Upon removing the ribs I cast about for something to do with what I suspected to be a rather tasty pot of liquid.

The solution was to pack a steamer basket with baby spinach and blanch it for 15 or 20 seconds. I drained the spinach and tossed it with halved Roma grape tomatoes from the garden and a few twists of sea salt and cracked black pepper. Not overly greasy, but with just enough pork fat and succulent pig flavor to be startlingly delicious. It's very pretty, too. I'll have to take a photo next time.