Experiments in Coffee

Experiments into how to make the perfect cup:

A few years ago, I started using house guests as subjects in an experiment.1 My experiment was designed to test what variables in the coffee brewing process produce a perceptible improvement in coffee flavor. A frequent assertion is that numerous variables must be carefully considered to brew a good cup of coffee. I wanted to know if this premise was true as humans are really good at creating their own reality distortion fields.2 My main motivation for this experiment was to determine how I could brew the best coffee with minimal time and monetary investment. I didn’t want to buy a $11,000 Blossom Oneif I could avoid it…

A common belief among coffee pundits is that good coffee depends on good grinding. Specifically, coffee ground with a burr grinder purportedly tastes better because it grinds the beans more uniformly and doesn’t over-heat the grounds like traditional blade grinders…In total, 24 data samples were collected in these experiments. Each of the 3 burr grinder models performed comparably. Surprisingly, 13/24 or ≈54% of subjects actually preferred the blade grinder.

And so on. It’s a little wordy on the statistical tests (which is: good? bad?), but I think the moral of the story is just to buy good beans. And maybe an Aeropress.

Pork meatball banh mi

It’s been a while since I’ve put up a recipe, hasn’t it? I’ve been bad about taking pictures of what I do, and now that I get around to it – well, look at the picture above. So grainy. I left my camera on 3200 ISO, dammit. Anyway, I’ve made this enough that it deserves to be put on here. Originally from the January 2010 issue of Bon Appetit, I’ve scrapped the hot chili mayo that you can see in the picture above because, well, it’s not very good.

In any event, this pork meatball banh mi (vietnamese sandwich) is pretty good. The mixture of sweet, spice, and fish sauce in the meatballs is superb, and the jalapenos and vinegary pickled vegetables really complete the dish.

1 lb. ground pork
1/4 cup chopped basil
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 finely chopped green onions
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp Sriracha
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp kosher salt

2 cups coarsely grated carrots
2 cups coarsely grated daikon
1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp sesame oil
2-3 thinly sliced jalapeno chiles
Cilantro sprigs
Baguette or rolls

For meatballs, mix ingredients in a large bowl. Roll into small (~1-2 inch) balls, place on a cooking sheet and chill.

For sandwich, toss first five ingredients in a medium bowl and let sit for 1 hour (this is important!).

Preheat oven to 300F. Heat sesame oil in a large pan and saute meatballs. Transfer meatballs to a different cooking sheet, and place in oven (to keep warm).

To make sandwich, either cut baguette in half (for an open-faced sandwich) or remove some of inside to make room for ingredients. Drain pickled vegetables, and add everything to bread.

The perfect egg

I just got back from Chicago, so I have a lot to catch up on. I didn’t realize the dining scene in Chicago was so great – might I recommend The Gage or Lao Szechuan/Shanghai for anyone who’s there?

On the topic of food, here’s an article with the best type of cooking advice one can get. It goes step-by-step experimenting and explaining how temperature, time, etc affect boiling an egg. Learn how to make the perfect boiled egg here.

Would you like some fruit with that wine?


Inspired by a recipe at Orangette, I made this delightfully simple dish. Perfect for when you have some fruit, some spare (?!) wine, and a warm summer day.

Some wine

Slice up some fruit and put it in a shallow bowl. Add sugar, to taste (original recipe has 4 tbsp/8 peaches). Add some wine so that the fruit lies in a nice big pool of it. Put it all in the fridge for at least a few hours, or optimally a few days. That’s it!

French Onion Soup


I made this recipe from a mixture of other recipes I found out on the interwebs. It’s delicious…

2-3 large sweet onions (about 1.5-2 lbs)
3 tsp butter (maybe a little more…)
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar
2 large cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup dry white wine
1.5-2 quarts beef stock
1/4 tsp dry thyme
1 bay leaf

Country bread
Grated cheese (Gruyere if you’re feeling rich, otherwise Swiss)

Melt the butter in a large saucepan on medium heat. Alternately, use an electric skillet set to 300 F (150 C). Once butter is melted, add in sliced onions. After about ten minutes, add salt and sugar (the sugar helps it caramelize). Cook for 30-40 more minutes until onions are a deep golden brown or mahogany. Feel free to steal a couple for some toasted bread if you’re hungry already…

Now add in the garlic and let it cook for a minute or two. Then turn up the heat and add the wine. Let it boil for a few minutes so it reduces. Turn the heat back down and add the stock, thyme, and bay leaf and maybe a little pepper. If you’re like me and occasionally forget to buy enough stock, using 1/2 quart boiling water is okay – but not as delicious. Simmer 30-40 minutes, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Discard the bay leaf.

About ten minutes before the soup is done, preheat your broiler. Heat slices of bread for 1-2 minutes, then sprinkle with grated cheese. Return to broiler for 1 minute or until cheese is golden brown. Alternately, ladle soup into an oven-safe bowl and put toasted bread on top, then sprinkle cheese. Put the whole bowl in and cook until cheese is golden brown. If you use this method, you should use a bowl slightly smaller than your bread; use the bowl as a cookie-cutter and make the bread perfectly-shaped to fit into the bowl. Remember, the crouton is what makes the soup!

Be all the cook you can be


Metafilter has an excellent AskMefi about cooking secrets (previously). One of the cooler things to come out of the discussion was a link to a site, FoodPairing, that suggests foods to pair with each other, and replacements for ingredients. It seems like it would be an invaluable resource for deciding on how to build meals.

Anyway, snippets from the AskMefi (most of these were repeated multiple times, so I’m going to take that as an indicator of good advice):

One thing that really brightens flavor is not using just the juice of fresh lemons, limes, and oranges, but adding the zest too, grated with a microplane. The difference is powerful.

Professional chefs use a shocking amount of butter. That makes a difference.

Seriously, stock is the foundation of a huge swathe of world cuisines. It doesn’t add depth and richness and flavour, it is depth and richness and flavour.

I think eating at really good cheap restaurants and then trying to copy the food they make is a good start. I’ve been working on my fish tacos a lot lately, after having some amazing ones at a local place. I think mine have become just as good. It’s been fun trying to copy and then improve on their recipe.

don’t make pasta and sauce separately and then pour the sauce over a plate of pasta (unless you really want to for some reason). For better pasta, blended with its sauce, do this: Make your pan sauce and leave it in the pan, with enough room for adding pasta later. Cook the pasta in water, stopping it just a hair short of ‘done’. When you drain the pasta, save some of the water you’re draining from it, either in the cooking pot or in a basin under the colander. Add the pasta to the sauce pan, and also add a little bit of the retained water. Simmer the sauce with the pasta in it for a few minutes before finishing and serving.

And then other, more in-depth, responses.

Sausages with green lentils and tomato salsa


Sometimes food just looks so good you have to make it, whether you want to or not. I mean, look at how pretty that picture is. And turns out it’s pretty good, too! It’s a surprisingly sweet salsa to go with the sausage. Here’s my interpretation of Jamie Oliver’s recipe:

4 Italian Sausages
Olive oil
1 small red onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic
1 small stick of cinnamon
crushed red peppers (to taste)
2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
16 oz plum or grape tomatoes, diced finely

In a pan, put the olive oil, onion, garlic, cinnamon, and red peppers on for about 10 minutes on a low heat. When the onions are soft and turning translucent, turn up the heat and after a moment add the red wine vinegar. Then turn the down the heat and simmer slowly for about half an hour. Cook the sausages while you are waiting.

When everything’s all cooked, remove the cinnamon stick then combine the salsa and the sausages. I could only find pre-cooked lentils when I went shopping (sigh), so I didn’t get to try his recipe for those. Enjoy!

Grilled Shrimp with Orange and Habanero Mojo


I made this delicious recipe last week. It’s pretty good, though it feels like it’s missing something? But it’s light and easy and a perfect summer meal.

1/2 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon seeded and chopped fresh habanero chile (or not seeded for extra spice…)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
Coarsely ground black pepper
8-12 jumbo shrimp
Wooden skewers (optional, soak in water beforehand)

Combine all ingredients except for shrimp into a bowl into a bowl. Let shrimp soak up the flavor for 30+ minutes. Grill until cooked, then drizzle mojo on shrimp before eating.

Food bloggin’

The Times has a great collection of links to the best food blogs that are clogging the tubes. I am saddened that Smitten Kitchen isn’t number one – because it’s definitely way better than Orangette – and the lack of an Indian food blog included in there. I have found one blog that looks promising for Indian recipes, but I haven’t cooked anything from it yet. The one thing it doesn’t have that I’d really like is a good naan recipe. I’ve found tried two different recipes so far; one tasted like pancakes while the other was delicious but didn’t really taste like naan. How hard can it be??  Perhaps this woman can give me the secrets of naan-baking.

In other news, I’m close to having a great Tikka Masala recipe. It’s pretty tasty as-is, but I think I can make it better and closer to the flavor I’m looking for. Stay tuned!

Recipe: Home-style curry

I added a new banner to the blog, I’m trying to decide what I think of it.

In food news, I have made this delicious home-style curry recipe a couple of times now and love it.

The recipe is pretty simple, although it can be hard to find certain ingredients. The Indian supermarket near my house is pretty poorly stocked at a lot of things. We couldn’t even find coconut milk! Luckily powdered coconut milk seems to work fine as a substitute. Here is the recipe:


1 tbsp oil
4 eggs
1 medium onion, chopped
6 plum tomatoes or 2 large tomatoes or 3 medium tomatoes
6-8 cloves garlic minced finely
1/2 inch ginger minced finely
2 tsp masala powder
2 tsp sour cream
1/2 cup coconut milk (can replace with water but won’t taste as good)
mint leaves

Put 1 tbsp oil on a pan. Add chopped ginger and garlic and cook at medium heat until done. Add onions and cook until transparent. Add the salt, masala powder, and sour cream, and fry for one minute. More masala powder can be added if you want the dish to be hotter.

tomatoNext, add chopped tomatoes and stir until cooked well. Add in water and coconut milk, and salt and pepper as desired. When gravy starts to thicken, or boils, break the egg into the mixture (or add chicken). Simmer for 10 minutes (or until chicken cooked), then add in cilantro and mint leaves. Add salt and pepper to taste. I think we used about 1 lb. chicken when making the recipe last time? But it really depends on what you want. This recipe is very flexible, with a lot of room for mistakes. It is eaten with rice or (preferably!) chapati. Yum yum yum.

Food food food

As I said before, this blog is partially going to be used as a clearing-house for all the things I want to remember.  One thing I definitely need to remember are delicious recipes.  Here are a few of my favorites…

I really love to make eggs in tomato sauce.  They are simple and oh-so delicious.  Plus they look really gross, and everyone knows I like gross looking foods.

Another fun recipe is for huevos rancheros.  Harder to make and it looks slightly less gross, but it is very scrumcious.  Yummy!

I am okay with the recipe for empanadas that I have found.  It takes forever and it only tastes okay, but it makes the chicken so deliciously moist and flavorful.  I need to find a better recipe; when we had a Chilean living in our house, she made the most delicious empanadas in the world!  I need to steal her secrets

Also, I made scones a couple weeks ago and they were surprisingly delicious.  I think the deliciousness came from the blueberries I stole from my roommate, because we all know theft makes things taste better.

Finally, my mom sent me a couple of links to new york times articles.  The first is about how scientists are being their insightful little selves and improving cooking!  Yay us!  The other lists the things the trendy chef should and should not have in their cupboard.  Being the trendwhore that I am, this is very useful, nay, required information.  Now I must throw out my bread crumbs and bouilloun cubes!  And my cheap lemon juice must be replaced with extremely expensive lemons!  Thank you new york times for making my life a little bit more costly.