How to Prepare Coffee

Degrease the censer, for I’m about tread on hallowed ground. Today I tackle how to most effectively prepare coffee for human consumption.

“OMG”, you’re saying, “hasn’t that been laid to rest?” You snort and adjust your sleeve for dramatic effect before continuing, “the best technique—hands down—has clearly been proven to be X.” Where “X” is my shorthand for your interminable ramble on flat burr grinders, grind densities, solubles concentration, solubles yield, and brewing time. Not to mention water temperature, brew volume, conical filter sections, and metastatic percolation.

You proceed to weave a complicated tapestry of coffee-making equipment, carefully extolling the virtues of glassware, cork, and copper tubing for solubles extraction. After all, you’re an expert on coffee and you know that it can be palatably brewed only in something as complicated and Italian as the engine of a Ferrari.

Then you reveal your twist. “But you don’t actually need all that fancy equipment if you know a little science.” And with unrelenting, Amway resolve, you proceed to explain how Stanford lecturer Alan Adler, inventor of the AEROBIE® flying ring, will free us from the leather-clad shackles of Italian craftsmanship for the low, low price of just $39.99.

AeroPress®

And then you produce a graph. You carry it everywhere with you. It’s printed on laminated heavy stock.

Brewing Control Chart

From your well-adjusted sleeve, you’ve drawn a collapsible pointer, de-collapsed it, and you’re now thwacking at the graph. “You see,” you continue, “you can simply combine the Adler AeroPress® with an understanding of the proper brewing ratio [thwack] and how it relates to strength [thwack] and extraction [thwack] as expressed by blah blah something [thwack thwack thwack].” My head’s nodding to the thwacks, but I’ve stopped listening.

I’m aware of the AeroPress®. I’ve been using them at my restaurants for a long time. So long, in fact, that I still have the original light blue plastic models that look a bit like medical specimen cups.

It’s true that they’re cheaper than the Ferrari-engine-style steampunk monstrosities and it’s true that they’re just as effective at brewing a reasonable cup of coffee; however, the scientific process requires too much math for my baristas. They just don’t have time to perform multivariate statistics and Fourier transforms—fast or otherwise—for each cup they brew. So I decided to look for an improvement upon the AeroPress®. I needed something fast, cheap, and easy that delivered the caffeinated experience my patrons crave. After some soul searching in the alleyways of the more dubious neighborhoods near my hometown, I found it.

Allow me to share with you my new, perfect method for preparing coffee.

Begin by freeing a small piece of copper scouring pad with tin snips or scissors that you’re willing to dull. The size of the piece isn’t critical, but it should comfortably fit between your thumb and index finger. Remove any small, dangling copper bits and hold the piece of scouring pad in an open flame until it glows red and smokes. This burns off any coatings or impurities. The orange copper will turn a dull grey with some black charring.

Heating Scouring Pad

Procure a love rose in a glass tube. You can find these at gas station convenience stores.

Love Rose in a Tube

Remove the foil from the ends of the tube and extract the rose. You can discard the rose or give it to your sweetie. In my experience, sweeties do not much care for flimsy plastic roses extracted from tubes purchased at gas stations. Sweeties prefer that I discard the rose.

Extract Love Rose from Tube

Stuff the prepared copper scouring pad into one end of the glass tube.

Insert Scouring Pad

Use chopsticks or kebab skewers to pack the copper scouring pad into a tight cylinder inside the tube near one end. You should pack it tight enough that the copper pad stays firmly in place. Blow hard through one end of the tube to ensure the copper pad stays in place and that no loose copper or ash bits remain.

Tamp Scouring Pad

Place one whole coffee bean inside the tube such that it abuts the packed scouring pad.

Insert Coffee Bean

The coffee bean should sit entirely inside the glass tube. Inspect the bean’s placement to ensure it does not protrude from the tube. If it does, extract the bean and reposition the packed scouring pad with your chopstick or kebab skewer.

Coffee Stem Ready

Light up the coffee bean and toke heavily. The coffee bean should melt into the scouring pad and produce white coffee vapor. Although you can no longer see the bean, you can continue to periodically apply flame to the scouring pad end of the tube to produce more coffee vapor. Repeat until the bean is consumed and no more vapor appears. Use caution not to apply the flame for too long in one go or you might ignite the copper. Inhaling flaming copper is no fun.

Enjoying Coffee

The apparatus is cheap, the process is remarkably tolerant of variations in preparation, and the vaporization of the bean produces none of the characteristic bitterness of brewed coffee. It’s perfect. Even the mighty AeroPress® doesn’t come close to achieving these results. This is going to change the way you think about coffee.

They’re not quite ready yet, but I’m toying around with other improvements to the overall coffee making process. For example, it’s looking like I can dispense with the entire roasting step by firing green beans in the tube for a few extra minutes before melting them into the scouring pad. In my testing thus far, the sustained heat required for this is causing scouring pad ignition and oral blistering at unacceptable levels; however, I am persistent. I’m consulting with inner city experts on the problem and I’m convinced I can crack it.

Posted in Technique | Tagged , , , , , | 19 Comments

Savoury Baklava

Yesterday afternoon, Agathe—my poissonnière—wandered into the kitchen with too much time on her hands. She quietly watched us prep, but I noticed that she seemed to be eager to announce something. Glee shuddered her weight from one foot to the other. Finally unable to resist, she stated loudly, “Mise en place!!? HAH! More like “Misery en place!”

Agathe grinned at us. We stared back. Needing to relieve himself of its heft, a commis set down his knife to fully glare at Agathe. The kitchen clock ticked off a handful of seconds.

“Agathe,” I asked, “how long have you been waiting to use that one?”

Agathe opened her mouth…paused for effect…and emitted a screaming, reverberating cackle that bounced after her bleached apron strings, out the door.

We stood in awe. Provigil doesn’t eliminate awe; it heightens our awareness of it. So we stood in awe of our awe. We gaped at the awe of our awe of our awe. We drooled at a higher order of awe than we had ever before collectively experienced. The kitchen clock ticked off years.

“That didn’t make any sense,” the commis finally moaned, having had the sense to reclaim his knife. “We’re not prepping the mise en place. We’re not even working near it. In fact…”, he looked around, “…it’s not even in the kitchen at the moment.”

And it was not. We had rolled it out back, along with the other nonessential equipment. In its place, we had assembled a prep line focused on breaded chicken strips. That evening, we were to cater a party for the terminally-ill children of Happy House Recovery Point. This was a condition of my recent parole.

Now, the counselors from HHRP had prepared us for a thing or two about children and cancer. First, children do not like chicken skins. Children do not like chicken skins because chicken skins taste like chicken. And, we’re conditioned from the time we can stuff our gobs with Cheerios that chicken is supposed to taste like a watery blob of protein that goes down quietly with Cheerios. But, it turns out that skinful chicken actually—well, it actually tastes like chicken. And 6 year olds with malignant, intracranial neoplasms scream like—well, they scream like 6yr olds that don’t like the taste of chicken. Unfortunately, it’s not socially-acceptable to seat dying children in the corner with a mouthful of liquid chicken skin until they come to their senses. So off the skins came. And quite a pile they did make, for lots of picky, sickly children were hungry.

But every cloud has its lining and every idiom has its day. A ruddy glut of chicken skin and my inherent dearth of patience inspired our very popular savoury baklava appetizer.

Let’s see how it’s made.

Savoury Baklava

Arrange your chicken skin in unappetizing pile on waxed paper. It should look unappetizing so that you work quickly while it’s cold. Melt some butter, chop some pistachios, and pray that you have orange blossom water.

Savoury baklava ingredients

Stretch the chicken skin across a shallow dish.

The first layer of skins

Brush the stretched chicken skin liberally with butter. Repeat this process of stretching skins and slathering them with butter until the shallow dish is half full. This requires optimism and two to three skins.

Applying butter

Toast the chopped pistachios and toss them with a few drops of orange blossom water. You can substitute rose water at the expense of your baklava tasting like old church lady. That cost-benefit analysis is up to you. I use orange blossom water.

Applying pistachios

Repeat the stretching/slathering process until you fill the shallow dish (about three more skins, no more optimism).

Ready for the oven

Soak the dish in olive oil and bake for 50 minutes in an oven preheated to 350°C. De-warm the oven and let the dish rest for 10 minutes. With a very sharp knife, partition the baklava into two-bite stratifications.

Plated baklava

Plate with arugula and a ball of foamed lardo. Enjoy.

And, if you’re wondering, Agathe eventually apologized. I’d forgotten about her in the frenzy that followed the popular announcement of our baklava. Retrospectfully, I’m somewhat embarrassed to have taken for granted the continuous flow of flawless fish she delivered in the past month. But when she arrived−hat in hand−to apologize for her awful, stupid, and awe-entrenching joke, I fired her on the spot. In my kitchen, bad humor is as unforgivable as bad food.

Posted in Recipes | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Personal Turkey

Remember the sheet cake? The darker times of our recent history found us as drooling jackals eyeing one another’s styrofoam plates as we uneasily jockeyed to be the next to gnaw at the kill. The kill being a sheet cake from Costco. We wore our desire for the premium cuts in the toothy facade of a smile that thinly grinned, “get between me and that sugar rosette and I’ll snap your neck.” It was medieval. We were destined to destroy ourselves; our culture relegated to a thin smear of greasy frosting on a golden cake drum. Fortunately, Los Angeles invented the cupcake to save us all. The cupcake: a little cake that is sanitary, individualized, modern, and civil. Everyone gets a rosette. No one has to die. We’ve come so far.

Or have we? Yes, we’ve modernized the cake, but let’s turn our attention to the Thanksgiving turkey. Who thought that surrounding a dead bird with a bunch of starving relatives was a good idea? Limited quantities of light/dark meat, only two drumsticks, one wishbone—all hanging on a carcass to be portioned by the alpha and condescendingly doled to the pack. Portioned and doled in the best case. More traditionally, your uncle and his wife-of-the-month use their table knives to make a mess of the breast while your brother-in-law reaches under your carving knife to peel off half the skin, shuttling it to his plate with an obscene amount of gravy while the kids are screaming about who gets to snap the wishbone this year while the dog sinks his teeth into your leg and then the turkey’s. Jackals. All of you.

But I’m not here to point out problems. I’m here to offer solutions. My solution this year is the personal turkey.

Preparation of the personal turkey dinner is similar to the traditional thanksgiving dinner. Begin by procuring the turkeys. One per person. I recommend urban pygmy turkeys from San Francisco. They’re festive, playful, and—for various medical reasons—have loosely-attached gizzards that make cleaning a breeze.

Urban pygmy turkeys from San Francisco

Clean and salt the turkeys. Then, make a little of your favorite stuffing.

Stuffing for Personal Turkey

The stuffing should be individually-portioned. If you’re making giblet stuffing, be sure to track which stuffing goes with which turkey and stuff the stuffing into the appropriate turkey (the appropriate turkey being the turkey that contributed the giblets for that turkey’s portion of stuffing).

Stuffing the Personal Turkey

Finish seasoning the turkeys according to your family’s tradition. This might involve salt/pepper, garlic, butter, olive oil, parsley, etc. Simply scale and portion the spices accordingly. Proceed to bake, roast, or deep-fry the turkeys as you typically would. Plate the turkeys along with your traditional Thanksgiving fare, ensuring that no dissimilar food items touch one another (garnish excepting).

Personal Turkey Dinner

Serve and enjoy the quiet, orderly Thanksgiving dinner made possible by the personal turkey: a little turkey that is sanitary, individualized, modern, and civil. Everyone gets light and dark meat, both drumsticks, a wishbone, and their very own carcass to suck on. No one has to die. We’ve come so far. For this, we give thanks.

Posted in Technique | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

The Secret Ingredient

Appearances define your success. It is expected that a master chef can rattle off the comprehensive ingredient list of any foodstuff with a dip of her finger and a tap on her tongue. To maintain this appearance, training will only get you so far—you must have a good nose. You can spend your 10,000 hours tasting everything in the market. You can invest in a good aroma kit. But if you don’t have natural nosing ability, you’ll simply never be a master chef by relying on your nose. So, is it hopeless if you can’t tell tuna from turnip on scent alone? No! Our industry offers tricks that you can use to augment your limited olfactory sense. Though we refer to them as “tricks” because we employ them as magical acts to impress, they do represent a large, technological body of knowledge developed hundred of years ago and handed down through the tradition of culinary education.

The first trick leverages a bit of social engineering. Certainly you’ve encountered the host of a food-oriented, social gathering who sets a dish of something unexciting amidst the group and proudly proclaims that “you’ll absolutely love it” due to his “secret ingredient.” And, of course, everyone absolutely loves it. As they gush through wine-tripped tongues and speculate about the ingredient, you calmly reach out and dip your finger into the dish. The audacity of sticking your finger into communal food immediately commands attention. Your fellow diners clutch their drinks and stare at you expectantly while you furrow your brow, sniff your finger suspiciously, and then—with a look that says, “I’ve decided this won’t kill me”—you stick your finger in your mouth. You narrow your eyes and proclaim, “the secret ingredient is…mayonnaise”.

You know this because the secret ingredient is always mayonnaise. Always. Whenever you hear the phrase “secret ingredient”, you can safely and reliably assume it is mayonnaise, even if you can’t taste it.

Let us walk through some common examples.

Dale’s creamy guacamole has a secret? The secret is mayonnaise.

Florence makes better crab dip than anyone else? Florence uses mayonnaise.

How does Shawnique keep her lemon cake so moist? Mayonnaise.

Jerry’s chocolate pudding is to die for? It’s nothing but mayonnaise and chocolate syrup.

If an ingredient is said to be “secret”, you can bet it’s mayonnaise. Why, but for the embarrassment of relying on mayonnaise to make a dish taste good, would anyone keep an ingredient secret?

Posted in Technique | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How to Make Nougat

Step 1 – Place eggs and several other ingredients next to a big mixer.

Step 2 – Lay paper all over the counter. Nougat is messy.

Step 3 – Coat a paintbrush with boiling sugar water. Discard paintbrush.

Step 4 – Once the boiling sugar water turns brown, pour it into a mixing bowl. Something white should already be in the mixing bowl.

Step 5 – Dip the mixer into the white stuff and swirl it around a few times. Remove the mixer from the bowl and pinch the white stuff. This is nougat.

Step 6 – Once you have completely pinched the nougat, it should have almonds and pistachios in it. Spread the nougat around in a rectangular pan.

Step 7 – The nougat is now finished. You may occasionally peek at it.

Posted in Recipes | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Two-part Expanding Meat

“Enis!”
I cringe whenever my pastry chef, Pétard, shrieks my name. Pétard is a nervous, wiry boy who sneaks out of bed in the early morning to pilfer hummingbird feeders on his way into his 4am shift, re-upping with Red Bulls throughout the day. It’s hard not to stare at the burnt sienna stain around his lips when he’s talking. With the pale skin, he looks like some sort of vampire clown.

“It’s terrible! I just learned that our vegetarian ham isn’t vegetarian! At all!”
For those of you not familiar with the material, vegetarian ham is a spongy, ham-like, textured good that we use to placate vegans (despite a poor translation to “vegetarian”, the product is actually vegan). Usually parenthesized, its actual flavor varies, but it’s largely an afterthought and mostly unnecessary. At my restaurant, we buy Chicken Taste:

And Stew Flavors:

Buy? Yes, I said “buy”. We don’t bother serving fresh food to vegans. But I digress.

“Did you know that MEAT goes into vegetarian ham?!!?”
Pétard was trembling—more than usual. My instincts were screaming, “Fire him! He’s weird and shrill! And the growing pile of empty feeders is overwhelming the busboys!” But I thought about his dreamy gougères and opted to address his feedback.

Pétard, classically-trained, was unaware of innovations in protein preparations. He hears, “dead things are made into vegetarian ham” and immediately assumes it’s not safe for vegans. However, applying critical thought to the veganistic objection to the commoditization of sentient animals, one quickly realizes that the reclamation of castoff protein not only aligns with veganism, but reinforces it by differentiating life from lifelessness in a manner that maximizes natural resources and minimizes environmental damage. For, you see, only naturally dead and decaying animal material can be made into decent vegetarian ham. Rather than get too technical here, let’s see how vegetarian ham is made.

Vegetarian Ham (no taste)

To make vegetarian ham, reclaim castoff protein with heavy gloves and a garbage bag.

By the natural end of life, senescent cells have lost the majority of their telomeres, which resist denaturation. The low-telomere property of naturally dead and decaying animal material is optimal for the following step.

Place the castoff protein in a blender and add an equal amount of food-grade 2-mercaptoethanol to cleave disulfide bonds. Blend for 10 minutes or until well-integrated.

[photo omitted (okay, some taste)]

In a well-ventilated area, arrange the following ingredients:

  • Food-grade, edible polyurethane expanding foam, part A
  • Food-grade, edible polyurethane expanding foam, part B
  • Transglutaminase
  • Denatured protein (prepared as instructed above)
  • Graduated mixing beaker (approx 500 ml)
  • Olive oil

Wipe down the mixing beaker with olive oil. Into the prepared beaker, pour 50 ml of the food-grade, edible polyurethane expanding foam, part A.

Add 50 ml of food-grade, edible polyurethane expanding foam, part B.

Add the denatured protein and at least enough transglutaminase to form a covalent bond between a free amine group and the gamma-carboxamide group of the protein-bound glutamine (to taste). Stir the mixture for 30-45 seconds, or until foaming begins.

Foaming will complete in about 1-2 minutes.

Depending upon temperature and relative pressure, the protein mixture will expand to 25-30 times the unfoamed volume. A 500 ml beaker won’t even come close to containing over 100 ml of pre-expanded ham, so you should go back and consider using something larger.

You’ll find the expanded ham overflow significantly less dense than the ham inside the beaker. Trim the overflow and soak it in bacon fat for chicharrónes. After trimming, loosen the primary ham log with a firm rap and tug. Slice and plate.

The two-part expanding meat process yields a variety of identifiable foods, depending upon the input protein. Try, for example, cuttlefish balls, crab stick, chicharrónes, salisbury steak, any “mousse” or “foam” from Thomas Keller, and more!

Finally, vegetarian ham is closed-cell ham, so you can enjoy it in the event of a water landing.

P.S. Even after my restaurant stopped buying vegetarian ham and started making it fresh so that we could quality check the chain of ingredients, Pétard insisted that reclaimed protein was still against veganism. We came to an agreement by trademarking Vegetarian Ham®. Our menu now features Vegetarian Ham®, and determining what that means is left as an exercise for the diner.

Posted in Recipes, Technique | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Slicing Bread

Uniformity defines a good slice of bread. Knots, whorls, and grades hallmark the rough ware of swarthy, unkempt bakers of ages past. Industrial bread slicers now produce pristine planes for industrial chefs, but what of the small commercial kitchen or home? Are prosumers relegated to the dark days of irregular bread? No! Stop wrestling with that awful “bread knife” (seriously, whoever decided to serrate a turkey calfer and call it a “bread knife” should be deboned) and invest a few measly dollars in a handheld multislicer–the best invention since sliced bread!

Continue reading

Posted in Technique, Tools | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

How to Make Fish

Sometimes recipes call for fish. Don’t panic! Fish is easy to make. Start with high-quality meat.

Start with high quality meat

Continue reading

Posted in Technique | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Swedish Lemon Tea Biscuits

It’s been a busy few weeks, gentle readers, and I appreciate your patience with my day job. It’s not an easy thing, running an exclusive restaurant. Your threats of death have motivated and inspired. I thank you for limiting yourselves to threats. I reciprocate now with the following challenging, but rewarding recipe.

Swedish Lemon Tea Biscuit ingredients

Continue reading

Posted in Recipes | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Reclaimed Macaroni Salad

Yesterday, our saucier, Fredrick, approached the refrigerator with a quick glance in my direction. Hesitatingly, he used a crude FIMO-covered magnet to tack to the refrigerator door a drawing from his daughter. The drawing was of a flower in macaroni relief. A piece of macaroni detached itself and fell to the floor with a succession of soft clicks that diminished as I approached Fredrick.

“I hope it’s okay,” he said with his eyes on the crack under fridge where the macaroni had disappeared, “Emma makes so many of these. I’m not sure what to do with them any more. We’ve run out of space at home, so she asked me to bring this to work.”

This seemed like a trend to be quashed, so I suggested that Fredrick take advantage of his young daughter’s still-goldfish memory and quietly discard older drawings. She’ll never notice.

“But she can paper the entire fridge in a day. Besides, what am I supposed to do with them? Throw them out? She pours her heart into these things.”

I informed Fredrick that I didn’t care what he did with the tripe as long as he didn’t tack it to our refrigerator. The last thing I need is dry macaroni falling into a bowl of borscht on its way into service. But, sensing a desperate man, I softened a bit and suggested the following solution that puts the art to a use better than landfill:

Begin by collecting the oldest, or the most insipid, macaroni art from around the house. The refrigerator is a good place to start, though some families dedicate walls to this stuff.

Insipid artwork

Continue reading

Posted in Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment