Monday, January 31, 2011

In the Kitchen: Coffee

I probably should be doing work instead of writing this up, but I've got an overwhelming feeling of boredom right now, so why not? I'm going to attempt to turn this into a weekly feature, but think of this as something along the lines of 'kitchen essentials.' Anyways, I thought it would be awesome to write about one of my favorite beverages--coffee.

First of all, what's not to love? When waking up in the morning for work or class, nothing is quite as energizing as a strong cup of coffee. That jolt of caffeine always seems to hit the spot and get me out of whatever state of exhaustion I'm in. Brewing a good cup of coffee is easy, and the minimal effort it takes is well worth it. To me, three things are absolutely necessary when we're talking about coffee:

  1. Coffee - Alright, let's start with the obvious. Put away your Folgers, Maxwell House, Eight O'Clock...whatever pre-ground nonsense you're buying isn't going to cut it. I suggest taking a trip to your local coffee joint and picking up a bag of whatever roast sounds best. You'll get a couple of benefits from buying local: 1) The quality is going to be significantly higher, since the coffee is either roasted on-site or contracted with someone local, and 2) You're supporting a local small business.
  2. Coffee Grinder - I alluded to it earlier, but purchasing coffee that's already ground takes a significant toll on the flavor. Buy whole bean...always. Besides, the ground stuff is generally ground too finely to be properly steeped. Coffee grinders range in price from $10 to $300 for a really, really nice burr grinder. I'm not a huge fan of burr grinders because they tend to be noisy and quite messy. I recommend this Mr. Coffee grinder. It's cheap ($15), easy to clean and gets the job done. It's got a auto-off feature on it too so you can adjust how finely you want the beans ground. Grinding whole beans on the spot really gives the coffee a much different taste than if you were using pre-ground coffee, and it's a huge improvement.
  3. French Press - People who know me really well know that I generally tend to consider the French press the Eighth Wonder of the World. I own a coffeemaker and use it when I've got a lot of people who want coffee, but when I'm making coffee in the morning, I always go with the French press. It's absurdly easy to use--put coffee in the glass chamber, pour hot/boiling water on it, place the top on and let it steep for 5 minutes, and finally--push down the plunger. Really, it's that easy, and the taste represents a huge improvement over anything you could make with an electric coffeemaker. Like grinders, the French press is inexpensive and is essential to a great brew. I use this one made by Bodum.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Winter Warmer

I had been dying to try my new immersion blender and, with the forecast looking like snow, thought a nice, warm soup would be the perfect dish to combat the icy weather. I've always been a curry fiend, which probably explains why this is one of my favorite recipes! There's always been an odd misconception that curry is spicy, although this idea is, well, wrong. When you go to an Indian restaurant, most of the dishes labeled as "curry" are spicy mainly because of the 'chilli' powder that they use. You can purchase hot curry, but most of them are pretty mild.

Anyways, back to the dish--Curry Carrot soup. It's really, really easy to make (only 8 ingredients!) and, while it may not look like much, it's loaded with flavor! The soup goes great with a salad and crusty wheat bread. For drink, I paired it with Dark Horse Boffo, an excellent brown ale. The malty nuttiness of the beer was a great complement to the sweetness of the soup. Anyways, here's the recipe for those of you seeking something new and delicious:

Curry Carrot Soup

- 2 cups chopped onions

- 2 T olive oil
- 2 lbs. carrots chopped coarsely
- 4 cups low-salt fat-free chicken broth
- 1 T chopped fresh ginger
- 1 tsp. curry powder
- ¼ tsp. black pepper
- 1+ cups orange juice
- Sour cream


1. Saute onions in olive oil until glazed and soft (
do not brown).
2. Add all other ingredients
EXCEPT juice; simmer until tender (about 20-25 minutes).
3. Cool slightly. Put in blender and puree.

4. Return to pot, stir in orange juice, and simmer until heated through.

5. Ladle into bowls and garnish with sour cream and more curry, if desired.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

T is for Tofu.

With this being the inaugural post of my blog, I thought I would attempt something especially challenging. I had never worked with tofu before, so I knew this was going to be a [CRAZY] kitchen adventure. And, to make things more difficult, I would be cooking the one cuisine I had never quite mastered--Asian cooking.

So, the challenge: Panko-crusted orange tofu. Tofu is one of those weird, weird foods--it doesn't really taste like anything, but takes on whatever flavors you cook it with. I bought a block of tofu at the store, pulled it out of the box, and patted it down to drain the excess moisture. Then, I prepared my breading station--flour, egg and panko. I cubed the tofu, rolled it in each mixture, and put it in the oven to bake.

While the tofu was baking, I set out to make the sauce--vinegar, sugar, OJ, soy sauce and a heaping spoonful of chili garlic paste for that extra kick. I threw the ingredients in a pan, turned up the heat, and let the sauce simmer, with the hope that it would begin to thicken.

My gamble paid off...I was totally thrilled to see the bubbling in the pan! With the sauce quickly getting thicker and turning into somewhat of a glaze, and the tofu browning and getting crispy, I felt it was time to advance my plan to the next level. I pulled the tofu out of the oven and dumped it in the pan, stirring the mixture until everything was coated evenly.

Being the somewhat healthy lunatic that I am, I served it over brown rice. The end result? Success! The tofu was cooked well and had really taken on the flavor of the sauce, which had a nice sweet, orange taste with a strong, spicy kick. I refuse to say I've mastered Asian cooking, but this is certainly a huge step in the right direction. Onward!