Monday, September 18, 2006

How Italians (and the French) Make Coffee at Home

I love beginning my day with a cafe au lait, and recently I've been making mine in a moka--the stovetop espresso maker that's a kitchen essential in French and Italian kitchens. My companion gave me the moka for Christmas, but I hadn't tried it out yet simply because I wasn't sure how to use it. But the other day, I was doing some library research for an article on Italian desserts, and voila, I came across some perfectly written instructions for making coffee in a moka. Now, I can't be stopped! If you'd like to give a moka a try, here's a simple step-by-step:

1)Fill the bottom chamber with filtered water to just below the steam vent.
2)Insert the metal coffee filter into the bottom chamber. Add the ground coffee in spoonfuls, tamping down each spoonful firmly until the filter is full to the rim. Press the coffee down to ensure it's compact.
3)Screw on the top chamber.
4)The slower the espresso emerges from the moka, the more flavorful the coffee. Place the moka on the stove and turn the heat on low.
5)When the pot makes fast and furious sputtering sounds, the coffee is ready.
6)If desired, blend with heated milk.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Why Starbucks Baristas Are Up in Arms...

This Seattle Times story made me laugh:

By Melissa Allison

If someone pays $2 for espresso, then fills half the cup with milk at the condiment bar, is that stealing?
People are saving $1 to $2 a cup — sometimes more, if they use half-and-half or get extra shots — with creative ordering from the complicated menus of the coffee world.
While Starbucks is keeping mum on the do-it-yourself dairy phenomenon, its baristas are flaming customers online.
For some, it is a matter of attitude.
"You're being cheap," one barista vented on "You're dealing with people who aren't stupid. Toss in something self-deprecating and quit acting like you're a superior human being because you've managed to figure out a cheaper way to do something. I'll bet you didn't ask for a discount on that Louis Vuitton purse or those ugly highlights."
There are lots of ways to save. In one scenario, using Starbucks pricing in downtown Seattle, customers pay $2.05 before tax for three shots of espresso over ice. The same beverage with milk — also known as an iced latte with extra espresso — would cost $3.50 before tax.
A customer with the handle "Coffee Drinker in Seattle" took offense on the gossip site at some baristas' reactions.
"You're talking about customer[s] like they're shoplifters, using prejudicial/racist terminology to classify something so trivial and so off target from the cultural message [Starbucks] wants to imprint," the post said, referring to drinks that are sometimes called "poor man's lattes" and sometimes worse.
Tess Jonasson, a Capitol Hill resident who favors a double shot of espresso with no dairy, agrees that baristas should not be upset.
"They're not corporate," she said. "The half-and-half has nothing to do with their salary."
Brian Fairbrother, a manager at Espresso Vivace, says it happens mostly with iced coffee.
In the big picture, it does not cost Vivace much, but "no one wants to be taken advantage of," Fairbrother said. "The baristas get offended."
Kelli Watson, a barista at Mokas Café & Coffee Bar, said she sees it once a day on average and finds it annoying.
"I don't blame anybody for saving a few bucks, but it just seems unfair," she said.
It also ticks off other customers who find dairy canisters empty after someone has drained 8 or more ounces for one drink.
Then there are baristas who tell customers how to game the system.
"[W]hen they are already spending hundreds of dollars a month, it doesn't really hurt us that badly, since they feel more loyalty and will be customers for life that way," counseled one barista online. Another looked down on it, but asked, "wouldn't it be great if they would tip the difference?"

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Food Finds

I've been doing more writing than cooking lately, and thus don't have much to report on in the way of culinary adventures. I spent some time earlier this week testing and editing hot chocolate and soup recipes for a Michigan magazine. It's hard to get into winter food mode while I'm still mowing the lawn in the heat!

Here are a few things I've come across in my travels and writing assignments lately that I think you, dear readers, might like:
  • A contemporary (and inexpensive) salt cellar from Tivoli Home.
  • Guyaux Chocolate Truffles. These rich little chocolate bombes are dusted with bittersweet cocoa. Ask your favorite food and wine shop to order them--they're wonderful, and you can't beat the price! I bought mine for $12.00 at Upson Wine & Coffee in Kalamazoo. (Hat tip: Mom and Pops)
  • All the wine shops now are carrying the new bottled Bellini Wine Cocktail from Canella. A great way to have ready-made bellinis in a flash!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Help me, dear readers...

...and I'll help you in return! I'm working on a magazine story tentatively titled "How to Throw a Great Dinner Party," which will be published just in time to kick off of the holiday entertaining season. I'm interviewing experts on everything from wine to music to food, as well as some fun people who entertain frequently. Here's my question for you: What would help you feel more confident planning a dinner party? Are you clueless about champagne? Worried about wine? Mystified by menu planning? Dreading cleaning your bathroom? (Sorry, can't help you there.) But seriously, I'd love to hear what you'd be interested in reading about in an article on dinner parties. I am at your service, and I'll mail a copy of the article to anyone who offers a suggestion.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Some interesting and news-y tidbits

Every once in a while I'm reminded why I like food writing so much. I love to discover people who are concocting delicious things and then to tell the world about them! Upon publication, the restaurateur/chef/artisan is (usually) very happy and the readers are excited about their new food find. Everybody wins! I received a very nice e-mail from a gelato artisan whom I wrote about in Southwest Airlines Spirit last month:

I just wanted to let you know that the response we have been getting from your piece has been huge! We are receiving calls from all over the country asking about our gelato. Additionally, people that we know and have lost touch with have contacted us because they read the article while on vacation. So you have had a double effect. Thank you!I truly appreciate your featuring us!

Me again: Awww, how nice. I love hearing from people I've written about.

Other things to check out today:
  • My friend, colleague and talented singer-songwriter Bill McGarvey is featured on the cover of this week's National Catholic Reporter. Read the story, listen to his music, and then go buy his CDs!
  • I wrote about Dutch Gold's single-source varietal honeys for Belly du Jour. Who wouldn't want the sugar buzz that comes from this liquid gold?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Maple Bourbon Pecans and More

This weekend was filled with good eating: homemade corn and potato chowder (made with central Ohio sweet corn and fingerling potatoes from Toad Hill Farm), which was a perfect soup to sample this weekend. The ingredients are light, making it an appropriate soup for summer's end, yet it was warm and comforting enough to be an antidote to Saturday's cool and rainy weather.

On Saturday I trekked up to Whole Foods (or "whole paycheck" as our neighbor calls it). On football Saturdays everyone else in Columbus is either at the OSU game or watching it at home on t.v., so it's the perfect time to do some food shopping on Sawmill Rd., Columbus's "Main Street U.S.A." with every chain store imaginable--worth avoiding not only because of all the big box stores, but also because it's always so jammed with traffic. Anyway, I checked out Whole Foods' nut roasting station, and ended up walking away with a little paper cone full of maple bourbon pecans. I love the challenge of planning an entire meal around one ingredient, and I was determined to do more than just gobble up these delicious nuggets on the drive home. I elected to make them a centerpiece for a Labor Day brunch and made them into maple bourbon pecan waffles! I selected a chocolate chip waffle recipe and substituted finely chopped pecans for the chocolate chips, then sprinkled some whole pecans on top of the maple syrup-drizzled waffles. The waffles were crunchy, nutty, bourbon-y and sweet...a great way to kick off Labor Day!

Ah, but today it was business and usual, and thus my dinner consisted of a bowl of Lucky Charms. Sigh. I love three-day weekends. And maple bourbon pecans.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Game Day Guac

I can't stop thinking about college football season, specifically, tomorrow's Notre Dame vs. Georgia Tech matchup. (Today I've been fighting the temptation to just hang out on NDNation all day, clicking "refresh" every 60 seconds.) I love this time of year, when football fans are so rah-rah, excitable, and the early September air is filled with the promise of the unknown.

I just finished up a really interesting story for the October issue of Columbus Monthly, (Columbusites, keep an eye out), so I'm cutting myself a little bit of slack this afternoon, which has given me a little time to think about GAME DAY FOOD! I thought I'd share one of my favorite game watch concoctions: Avocado-Roasted Corn Guacamole. Not only is it a crowd pleaser, it allows you to use some of the fresh sweet corn and tomatoes that are so plentiful at Midwest farmers' markets right now.

Have a great three-day weekend everyone, and GO IRISH!

Avocado-Roasted Corn Guacamole

I like to serve this with blue corn chips because all the colors look fabulous together.

1 c. frozen/canned corn kernels
3 T. corn oil
2 large avocados, cut into ½ in. dice
1 large tomato, cut into ½ in. dice
¼ c. chopped cilantro
2 T. minced red onion
1 t. minced jalapeno
1 t. minced garlic
2 T. fresh lime juice
1 ½ t. kosher salt
¼ t. cumin

1)Preheat oven to 450 degrees. On a baking sheet, toss the corn with 1 T. of the oil. Roast, tossing often, for 7-8 minutes, until golden. Let cool, then transfer to medium bowl.

2)Fold in avocado, tomato, cilantro, onion, jalapeno, and garlic. Stir in the lime juice, vinegar, coarse salt, cumin, and 2 more T. of corn oil. Cover and refrigerate for up to 6 hours.

3)Serve with tortilla chips.