be your own barista. or not.

after several years of a Lavazza espresso machine that did all the work for us (using pods), we decided to branch out and get ourselves a coffee machine with just sufficient bells and whistles but not enough that we didn't have to do some work ourselves. i believe the term is semi-automatic. pffft. too much semi for my liking. introducing the beauty and bane of our lives: the expobar brewtus II. it looked good. very fancy in fact. after a very long time reading the manual we finally figured out how to use it; well, turn it on at least. we also discovered a hidden society for scarily serious coffee drinkers. for an example: "Brewing ratio" is the best way to specify what a "ristretto," "regular espresso," or "lungo" is. Brewing ratio is the ratio of dry coffee used to liquid beverage produced. For example, a 32 gram espresso shot prepared with 16 grams of coffee would have a brewing ratio of 16/32 or 50%. Previously I called this the "extraction ratio," but I believe "brewing ratio" is the more descriptive term. It is already used by the SCAA in defining brewed coffee parameters. When first introduced to this approach, many people feel the geek coefficient is too high. They feel more comfortable remaining confused and deluded, gliby mouthing the terms "ristretto," "espresso" and "lungo." But I think that many serious home and professional baristas are motivated enough to seek a better way to communicate. geek coefficient? you don't say. whilst we haven't joined the coffee community who take this more seriously than their day jobs, we have become quite proficient in coffee-making. we know the difference between good and bad crema, how much coffee to grind to make a weak, strong, super strong cup of coffee, how to do a single or double espresso etc. it's been quite the learning experience all round. i even know how to refill the machine with water (big hint: everything shuts down without any warning leaving you incredulous and p'd off). we don't rate illy coffee beans at all (we've tried their dark roast and regular roast). we much prefer the wholefoods range of beans - columbian at the moment. the crema produced by these beans is really good and the coffee just tastes better. as for the steaming milk option - there is a knack to getting it frothy enough so it has body rather than just bubbles on the top. i have yet to learn it, sigh. interestingly enough, 2 percent or skimmed milk froths better than whole milk. i am going to try it with soy too and see how that goes. now that i have crossed over into geek land, i am signing off before it's too late.

Poaching an Egg

First, heat a saucepan with about 6 inches of water in it. Put a splash of white vinegar in the water - this helps tighten up the egg. You can use balsamic (this adds a creamy colouring to the egg, which you may/may not like). When the water is just about to boil, gently create a "whirlpool" with a spatula...with the water moving in a circle, slip your egg into the pot. The reason for the whirlpool is that the movement helps the white wrap itself more uniformly around the you don't get as many bits of white flying off in all directions. After about 3 mins, your perfectly poached egg will be ready to scoop out and serve.

the best salad dressing ever

6 vine tomatoes 2 cloves garlic honey dijon mustard sherry vinegar parsley olive oil salt to taste take your tomatoes and drop them into boiling water for 5 mins. once the skin starts to peel off, remove them and peel off the skins entirely. remove the insides of the tomatoes making sure you retain as much of the juices and seeds as possible - do it over a sieve if you have one handy - letting the juices run into a bowl. chop the remaining tomato "bodies" and put to one side - but strain out as much of the juices as you can - add this juice to the batch in the bowl. you can use the chopped up flesh for a salsa or something else... back to the juices... the collection of juices should be bright red and it's fine if there are seeds in there, it adds to the texture and flavour. chill this for 30 mins, covered with clingfilm. after half an hour, take the bowl out of the fridge - add the finely minced garlic, 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon of honey, 1 tablespoon of sherry vinegar and mix well with either a whisk or fork. add in 1 tablespoon of dijon mustard (the kind with white wine and seeds) and whisk well again. add salt to taste. voila -- a lovely salad dressing that has the sweetness from the honey, the acidity from the vinegar but also an added special something from the fresh tomato juices. this dressing also goes really well drizzled over the top of steamed asparagus.

seared tuna in pancetta, with a chanterelle mushroom sauce

this was the starter - a rather adventurous precursor to the short ribs braised in red wine... it was easier than i thought (thank goodness) but the prep is a little time-consuming. slab of tuna (enough for 4 people) 6 slices of pancetta (strips if possible) garlic twine 1. take your strips of pancetta and lay them down crosswise on an oiled surface. 2. very lightly salt your tuna (the pancetta is salty in itself). now place the slab of tuna across it, wrap the pancetta over the tuna. tie closed with the twine. 3. sear the wrapped steak in a tablespoon of butter on all 4 sides til lightly browned (about 2 mins each side). 4. place the pan into your oven (350 degs F) for 5 mins - this will give you a medium steak. 3 mins will give you a rarer steak, 7 mins well done. of course this is dependent on your oven, and also how long you sear the steak for beforehand. for the sauce: olive oil a large handful of chanterelle mushrooms (use dried if you can't find fresh - just rehydrate them in hot water for 30 mins before use). 2 shallots finely chopped 2 cloves garlic finely chopped sherry vinegar salt and pepper to season 1. heat the olive oil (medium flame) - add the shallots and garlic and brown gently. 2. throw in the mushrooms and bring to the boil over a high heat - now splash in 2 tablespoons of sherry vinegar. 3. lower the heat and add the mushrooms. cover and leave for 3 mins or until the mushrooms have cooked through. 4. if the dish dries out, splash a little water in there just to keep things from burning/drying out. 5. season to taste. no photos of this i'm afraid, was too busy cooking it up and trying not to set anything on fire! pudding - the final frontier...i cheated. i bought blackberry crumble from Wholefoods, my favourite pudding that they make. DELICIOUS. with vanilla ice cream. DELICIOUS-er.

Short ribs braised in red wine, French style

this serves 4 people: short ribs (2 per person) flour 2 stalks celery, 2 carrots, 1 leek, 4 peeled and whole shallots 2 bay leaves, 2 stems of thyme, 6 sprigs of italian flat leaf parsley 6 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole salt and pepper to taste lots of red wine (1 bottle to be precise, yikes) 3 quarts beef stock olive oil 1. lightly dust the ribs with flour. now sear the short ribs in the olive oil and set the meat to one side. 2. in the same pan (dutch oven works well), fry up the vegetables, garlic, bay, thyme until lightly browned (around 7 mins). season to taste. 3. in a separate pan, bring the red wine to a boil - set it alight (hold a match above the fumes) and let the flames die naturally (this takes 2 or so mins). 4. back to the dutch oven and veggies - add the red wine, ribs and stock and bring to the boil. 5. put in centre rack of your oven (325 degs F) and leave to cook for 3hours. the meat will slide off the bone, and the sauce is less alcoholy than one might imagine! i served this with mashed potatoes. more than a little filling for a summer time supper but delicious all the same.

Fish and Chips G-style

served with a cauliflower & sweetcorn salad and farmers market tomatoes.

Farewell lunch for Mr. Martinez

last weekend we bade farewell to a dear family member who is off to join his beloved for a 3 year stint in Uruguay, Montevideo to be exact. the weather was beautiful, we grilled, ate and bid adios to someone we shall miss very much. we ate well - chorizo, steak, cuttlefish, all on the grill. delicious.

on the potomac, labor day

sailing on the potomac, labor day weekend

Introducing Flor

puppy training is hard work; even harder when the pupil is stubborn, small, has no worthwhile attention span and can pull a sad face that encourages pity 99.9% of the time. she is named Flor and is a French Bulldog puppy. we've had her 8 weeks now and she is almost 5 months old. the serious training started last night with a nice and patient chap called David, from the training sounded good - it comes with a lifetime guarantee (!) and promises visible changes almost immediately. in summary, i get to behave like a dog, think like a dog and assert myself as pack leader. perfect. it's harder than it sounds and i did feel rather idiotic making bark noises. it does the trick though. at one point, Flor was allowing herself to be pulled around the room on her leash by Chiquitin who was merciless in his baiting skills. Chiquitin is a 4 month old tabby kitten with no fear and apparently no brains either. i even have a chart on which to record our daily progress. we shall see if the changes stick longterm; i sincerely hope so as there's only so much barking i am happy to do in public.