Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Cinnamon stick

Everyone knows what cinnamon smells like. I used to enjoy it most often on toast with sugar and margarine as a kid. Naturally, I was very curious to find out how it would taste infused into espresso. I used a stick Brian generously gave me, grating about a centimetre of it into a small jar for our afternoon experiment. 

Adding the usual amount didn't do much for the flavour but gave it a comforting scent. Similar to vanilla, it didn't hurt the coffee, but it didn't help it much either. Except in the aftertaste where it loitered warmly in seemingly natural harmony with the nutty brew. 

A generous pinch to the espresso grind, however, added not only a stronger and more nuanced cinnamon aroma, but also a pronounced, almost spicy, flavour on the front-middle of the palate. It was really nice! It warmed me to the core. The flavours blended really well, emphasizing the nutty qualities of the espresso, I thought. 

The addition of milk didn't do anything for me. The flavours were merely diluted. A nice drink, but not what we are looking for. Cinnamon definitely is on the A-list and we'll be experimenting with it again.

Monday, 30 January 2012


Normally, vanilla is used in baking and desserts as a flavour enhance. Similar to salt, vanilla tends to bring out flavour qualities of other foods that otherwise wouldn't be noticeable. I was hoping that it would do the same thing for espresso.

My first impression was that it had a great aroma. The familar vanilla quality smelled great alongside the complex coffee notes. Unfortunately, it was lost in the tasting. Espresso is quite forward in taste, and generally has no trouble telling you what it wants you to know. The taste was present, but it didn't bring anything new or interesting to the shot.

Vanilla's superpower just isn't effective here. To put it in nerdy X-men terms, espresso is magneto's helmet that prevents against Professor Xavier's vanilla psionic attacks. Professor X, you'll have to stick to baking cookies with Jean Grey.

Stacked Brunch

I'm not quite sure what to call this. Maybe you can help me out in the comments. It is my take on eggs florentine but without the poached egg, spinach, hollandaise sauce, or english muffin. Instead, I used portabella mushrooms, tomatoes, parmesan cheese, and a broiled egg.

2 portabella mushroom caps
2 eggs
1 small vine tomato, thickly sliced
1/4C parmesan, grated
2 pieces rye toast

Preheat oven to 400F. In an oiled pan, roast the mushroom caps for a few minutes while you prepare the other ingredients. When slightly softened, remove from the oven. Crack the eggs into the mushroom caps, top with salt, pepper, and cheese. Add sliced tomatoes to the pan.

Broil until cheese browns. Remove tomatoes to cover toast. Top with mushroom caps, serve immediately, eat and enjoy.

This was pretty delicious. The mushrooms had that perfect fleshy feel to them without being mushy or rubbery and the tomatoes were juicy. The parmesan was, well, you can always use a little more parmesan. The yolk was still a bit runny, though I would have liked it a bit more so. This would work better on an english muffin, but I enjoyed the earthy caraway rye bread. Tell me you don't want to tear into this for breakfast tomorrow:

Friday, 27 January 2012

Green Cardamom

I once read that there is a history of adding cardamom to coffee in the Arab world. Traditionally, a few pods would be added to the grounds to spice up the usual brew. I'd never cooked with it before, so I didn't really know how it would taste or smell. I've definitely tasted it before, but I couldn't tell you where. In chocolate maybe, or in Indian food? The experiment begins with a mortar & pestle.

Just a small pinch is all that is needed to really change the taste of the espresso shot. The cardamom subtly scents and blends seamlessly into the body without competing with it. Very complimentary. The syrupy bottom third I found a little strong, so maybe a smaller pinch next time. Just goes to show how assertive a spice this really is. Overall, the infusion lent a clean, crisp, almost lemony taste that was quite enjoyable. I can see why

Roll a sip around on your tongue and it coats nicely. The cardamom adds another layer of complexity similar to that of nutmeg, but more insistent. It plays little spoon to the coffee on the palate. A taste reminiscent of ginger  compliments the blueberry notes of the Ethiopian Sidamo surprisingly well. The two notes toss a ball back and forth across your tongue for a few moments before they settle down . Wow! Enamoured as I am with this coffee bean, I couldn't ask for a better cup. This flavour has broached the top three of all those we've tried in my books.


After yesterday's sammiches, I had some avocado leftovers that were perfectly ripe. What could I do but make guacamole? There are way too many bad avocados around these days. I have stopped buying them from big box grocery stores because they are small, usually brutally bruised, and they don't taste right. I buy from a nearby independent grocer who stocks the best tasting avocados I've ever had. They are rich, creamy, and when perfectly ripe, deeply flavourful with a just giving texture. I'm assuming they are still Hass varietals, but I'm not entirely sure. In any case, these were picture perfect; I really should have taken one.

1.5 ripe avocados
1 tomato, seeded and chopped
chopped cilantro
2 tsp lemon juice
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
1 inside clove of garlic, minced
salt and pepper

Remove avocado flesh from skin into a bowl and break it up with a fork until lumpy. Add other ingredients and mix up, stirring well until avocado becomes smoother. I like it with small lumps in it. Be careful not to add too much garlic as it will take over. A little goes a really long way here, especially the next day.

Ladypants and I ate this atop Marc's homemade rye crackers and they were delicious! The creaminess of the avocado with the spiciness of the pepper zinging through it, the freshness of the cilantro and tomato, and the sharpness of the fresh garlic combined to make something remarkable. This would only be half as good without that quality giant Mexican berry. A lot of recipes I've seen call for a lot more lemon juice, but I think that is just to compensate for poor quality ingredients. To some degree the higher acidity covers up the delicate flavour of the alligator pear. If it isn't there to start with, it probably helps. Avocado FTW!

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Lemon oil & cloves

Inspired by a suggestion from Eleanor who commented on the Mint post, today we tried putting a couple drops of lemon oil on the espresso grounds. At first only the faintest hint of lemon was present, almost covered by the nutty aromas of the Steampunk blend. Not enough to really change the experience. The bottom syrupy third of the shot was intensely lemony, unpleasantly so. Not a good lemon flavour either, more of a lemon pledge sort of smell.

Uncertain of how the oil experiment would turn out, I came prepared with a second addition to try: Cloves. Brian hates cloves with a fiery passion that consumes his soul, so I bit the bullet and took one for the team. A whiff of the spice was quite reminiscent of allspice, so a light sprinkle was all I put at the bottom of the holder. Even so, it was more than enough to render a nice cup markedly unpleasant. The cloves fought for control over the mid palate. With sugar, it was more palatable, but not much better a drink. I would not want another cup.

Today did not present us with a winning infusion, but we learned a couple things. Essential oils won't work ( actually they are not recommended for ingestion), and despite it being one of the more commonly recommended spices to add to coffee, cloves didn't work for either of us using our method.

Grilled coffee chicken & avocado sammiches

One of the best things about making grilled chicken for dinner is the delicious sammiches for lunch the next day.

4 slices bread, flax seed
1 chicken quarter, off the bone
onions from under chicken, see last post
half an avocado, sliced
salt & pepper
habanero hot sauce, optional

Preheat george foreman grill or panini press. Place toppings in order listed on top of bread and top with another.

 Press somewhat firmly. Place sammiches on grill until outside is toasty and inside is warmed through. Serve, eat, & enjoy.

The bread is super crispy, and inside you get all those great flavours. The roasted chicken, the perfectly ripe creamy avocado, a bit of sweetness from the onions, and a refreshing burst of cilantro to lighten it all up. The spicy pepper flavour of the hot sauce was ok, but didn't add much.

Some people like to butter the outside of grilled sammiches like this, but I find it too greasy for my taste. Cheese always works well, but it isn't necessary. I also have no problem calling them sammiches even though it gives me a squiggly red line underneath as I type the word. It does that for Canadian flavours too but not American flavors. I've become used to it.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Coffee chicken & cheddar cauliflour pancakes

Brian gave me the puck from the double shot of Sidamo he made for me this afternoon, so I decided to see if it would work as a meat rub. Thanks Guy Guy for the inspiration!

Coffee Chicken:
2 chicken leg quarters
1 medium onion, sliced
1 Tbsp olive oil

1 heaping tsp used Sidamo espresso silt
2 cloves garlic, pastified

1 cayenne pepper, crushed
1 tsp grain mustard

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice onion, add to bottom of pan, add olive oil over top. Mix rub ingredients together and rub all over seasoned chicken quarters.

Put in oven, turn temp down to 375 and bake for 1 hour or until chicken is cooked through. Baste with olive oil halfway through to get golden and crispy skin. Rest for 10 minutes before eating.

The chicken was moist and tender. The skin was flavourful and crispy The espresso silt wasn't as strong as I thought it would be, but it was quite tasty!  The coffee definitely complimented the chicken. I wouldn't hesitate to use silt in a rub again. Next time I'll use more rub on the chicken and mix some fat into the rub itself so it coats more evenly.

Cheddar cauliflour pancakes:
1/3 head cauliflour
1/2 C old cheddar, grated
1 jalapeno, chopped
5 sprigs thyme, leaves removed
1/2 C bread crumbs
1 egg
salt & pepper

Steam cauliflour until tender.

Break up cauliflour with a fork in a bowl, add next 4 ingredients. Mix in egg and form into 4 equal sized patties. Coat patties in flour so they brown and stay together better. Saute in olive oil until brown and crispy on the outside.

They were crispy on the outside, creamy inside and very cheesy. These could just as easily have been a replacement for mashed potatoes. The jalapeno didn't come through at all but the thyme worked well. Sauteing in butter would have tasted better, but it always does. Tasty enough to make these again.


Inspired by the taste of gingersnap cookies alongside a Steampunk espresso, I had high hopes for this combination. I thought the assertive sharp and spicy qualities would peak through and add a layer of complexity. 

Our first attempt added a really nice aroma to the coffee. The smells balanced well, but I couldn't taste it at all. Brian could but he didn't look convinced. So, we added more for round two. This time the ginger taste came through strongly but overpowered most of the delicate floral aromas and tastes to the coffee. A little too competitive. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't great. Ginger is better left in the cookie.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012


In today's experiment we infused The Mad Bean house blend Steampunk with mint. At the usual amount of spice grind addition, the flavour of the mint was completely lost. We did see some finely ground mint particles in the crema, but they just didn't come through, even after letting them steep for a couple minutes.

What else was there to do but to lay it on thick and try again? I spooned an amount that if nutmeg or chili quite possibly could have been lethal and Brian pulled another shot. The flavour was still underwhelming. It was there this time, an improvement, but it was only slightly reminiscent of toothpaste. A mild cooling feeling upon inhalation was pleasant but I would have loved it to have doubled or tripled in intensity to the point of a mint gum where it almost hurts to inhale. That mixed with the heat and heady aromas of espresso, that would have been truly remarkable.

So, I put a quarter sized amount in the bottom of the espresso cup, poured a shot on top of it, and let it steep for 45 seconds. The cold mouthfeel I wanted was there at about double the intensity of that above, but the mint flavour was overpowering. Every sip was like the first taste of anything immediately after having brushed your teeth. Ick! And the powdered mint bits expanded to form a gritty texture that was also revolting. Despite our best efforts, mint is not worth pursuing.

Ethiopian Sidamo Coffee as Espresso Review

Since I started drinking coffee in August 2011, I've had some undrinkable cups, some that I really enjoyed, some that took some getting used to, and some that opened my mind up to new possibilities of flavour. Before I started the infusion experiments with Brian a couple weeks ago, I thought I had learned a few things about the way coffee should taste. The double espresso pulled for me at The Rooster yesterday reminded me that I know nothing and still have a lot to learn. 

This particular brew was made using Ethiopian Sidamo, a single origin bean. This means it only grows in one place. Once the harvest is over and the supply is shipped, you have to wait until next year to get more. It also means the flavour is variable. With only one bean in the mix, weather, environment, grind, espresso machine, and bean quality all tremendously influence the flavour of the resulting brew. One bad bean, a sudden change in humidity or inattentive barista can make a normally great coffee mediocre or, at worst, terrible. Although the same variety, the Sidamo has beans of widely varying sizes. Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee brewing, but still doesn't have the quality control of powerhouse countries such as Brazil or Kenya. Many baristas and roasters use a combination of beans to balance out the flavour and keep it consistent when any one of them can have an off day.

Barista training, experience and attentiveness also play a huge part in making quality coffee. Much more than I'd previously realized. Pulling a great shot is not so much skill or craft as art. It almost seems as if the planets have to align with the eye of aquila during a meteor shower on a slow news day during the menstrual cycle of Hera for the full potential of the bean to shine through. 

That must have happened yesterday because I've never had a shot so flavourful! The crema alone was new ground for me. It was thick, must have been half a centimeter, and had a density to it. I dreamed about this shot last night. In it, I scooped out the crema in once piece, cooked it like a pancake and served it with a thimble of maple syrup. Somehow I don't think that's possible in real life, but if it was, I'm sure I'd order it twice! During my first sip, at first I wasn't getting any liquid and suddenly it burst through the crema in a most delightful burst of flavour.

The coffee had incredible depth like nothing I've experienced before in coffee, wine, food or otherwise. There was a distinct fruitiness, blueberry notes I realized. Fruity notes in coffee? YES! A new thing for me. Also a definite peak in the flavour profile, almost like spiciness, but more rounded. I wish I knew a better way to describe it, but you'll just have to go there and try one for yourself. No doubt it was an absolutely delicious and passionately made brew. All that and Rick later told me he had tasted it better from them in the past. Ha!

With the same bean in his shop now, so I had to try out Brian's version. It was much more intensely blueberry. Where I had to search for it in the Rooster's version yesterday, it punched me in the face on the first sip at The Mad Bean. The spiciness wasn't present, but I didn't miss it. Aromatic and very floral, I think I'm enamoured with this bean and will be sad the day this year's supply is used up.

Brian tells me the difference may come from the roasting of the beans where just a few seconds more or less can drastically change the flavour. Roast for too long and a lot of the floral and fruity notes disappear, replaced by those more bitter and spicy. Some coffees can handle darker roasts, but not all. It is important to choose a roast time to emphasize the qualities that make that bean varietal taste best.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Chicken Soup for the Sick

Ladypants is not feeling well so I made her some soup.

2 full chicken legs, separated, leg nubs discarded, thighs halved, fat chunk separated
1 large onion, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
1 inch nub of ginger, minced
5 cloves garlic
10 sprigs thyme, bouquet
~1 tsp tumeric
1 jalapeno, split down the middle
2 bay leaves
1 beer
8 cups water
1 cup brown rice
half red pepper
half head of cauliflour
small handful of cilantro, chopped, stems minced
salt and pepper

Preheat soup pot, add fat chunks to melt. Once a layer of fat covers bottom of pan, brown chicken parts. Add onions, carrots, ginger and garlic. When onions have softened, add tumeric, bouquet of thyme, jalapeno, bay leaves beer and water.

Bring to simmer and add rice. Simmer for 35 minutes, add red pepper and cauliflour. Simmer for 10 more minutes while discarding chicken skin/fat/jalapeno and removing meat from the bones. Adjust seasoning, add cilantro, serve hot, eat and enjoy.

Chopping through the nubs of the drumstick allows marrow flavour to escape into the soup, creating a more flavourful broth. I made this kind of soup because ginger, garlic, chicken and tumeric are all health promoting ingredients that work very well together.

Coffee Crawl

This morning Rick took Brian and me on a coffee crawl in the east end of Toronto. I'm vibrating from all the caffeine and still have the taste in my mouth! We went to four independent coffee shops, sampled a brew in each place, talked to three of the owners, and generally had a great time.

Rooster was our first stop, neatly tucked into the side of a residential neighbourhood a couple blocks north of Gerrard on Broadway. Greeted warmly at the door, my first impression was that this is somewhere I would go regularly if it was in my neighbourhood. The owner Shawn came right around the bar and chatted with us as if we were old friends, true of Rick but that seemed to extend to the rest of us too. There was a big communal table at the back of the place. What a great idea!

The barista pulled me an Atomic Rooster double shot of espresso. They used Ethiopian Sidamo beans of single origin. It was heavenly! With a thick crema housing all kinds of aromatic notes, I was instantly impressed by the place. I tasted the blueberry notes Rick said I should, and an almost spicy quality I'd never experienced in coffee before (aside from our chili experiments).

Next we headed to the Beaches to a truly unique shop called Wunderland. The owner, Peter, lives upstairs in this typical Beaches style house he converted to a coffee shop last April. Decorated in rustic fashion with reclaimed barn beams outlining the room, and homemade furniture made out of the same using the sawmill in his back yard, the place had a small town intimacy to it.

Rick had a pomegranate spritzer and I a double shot of the Classico Incountry (spelling?) espresso. It was naturally sweet and really syrupy near the bottom. I thought it was missing something, but any lack was quickly made up for when he made himself a cup and joined us at the table. We talked for some time about politics, art, wood craft and facebook. I will definitely stop in next time I venture into dragon territory.

Our third stop had a definite French air to it. Voulez Vous' blue striped theme, fresh baked bread smell, ornate fireplace, open kitchen and gratuitous use of chalkboard was quite welcoming. They also had a communal table made of re-purposed bowling alley, adorned with a bowling ball, right at the front. Maybe they are more popular than I realized.

We sat at the back of the place to wait for the owner. I had a short americano brewed from the Super Bar blend of Classico. My least favourite drink of the day. I thought it tasted almost burnt, quite harsh, but after I added a bit of cream it evened out and was enjoyable.

Finally, we stopped into the Mad Dog Cafe in Chinatown East, Gerrard & Logan. This place had a clean industrial feel to it with the old hardware sign hanging over a white brick wall, low hanging steel light fixtures. grey colour palate and visible air ducts, balanced by warm eclectic touches with park bench and church pew seating. They also serve sandwiches and brunch, but I wasn't hungry.

The owner, Johnson, seemed nervous making us double macchiatos, but he needn't have been. My first experience with Detour, I was impressed. I detected distinct notes of dark chocolate, a slight sweetness almost fruity, and a nutty quality I'm sure was walnut. A great drink to end the day!

From left to right at Mad Dog Cafe: Rick, me, Brian. We're happier than we look.

For those keeping score at home, yes that was 8 shots of espresso in various forms. No wonder I'm vibrating! I'd do it again in a second though, and I am already looking forward to round two.

*Update* Holy caffeine crash Batma-zzzz....

Friday, 20 January 2012


The best part about nutmeg is the appearance of it. When a nut is ground, the open face looks like the cross section of a tiny brain. Interesting because when a small amount is infused with espresso, it adds a layer of complexity I hadn't anticipated.

The first sip of the day was awful, overpowering, intense, brutal, however you want to put it. Knowing how assertive this spice can be, Brian put less than normal in the filter. It just goes to show how intense this flavour can be. A little really goes a long way. Learning, we added the tiniest of pinches, must have been only 1/16th of a teaspoon, to even it out.

Magic! Once we sorted the balance out, the result was brilliant. Nutmeg doesn't take over any part of the coffee flavour, rather adds an extra layer of complexity. Fresh grated, it brought a bright note of earthy bitterness that chased around the coffee flavours in the aftertaste. That's where the nutmeg really shines, the aftertaste. In sip it's good, after it turns great. Milk completely muted this effect and nearly washed out its flavour completely.

I imagine nutmeg would be great in addition to other infusion ingredients too. As it only adds to the already complex experience of the espresso, something that plays in the sweet range of the palate would work with it nicely. Added to fennel, orange in syrup, or even chili-chocolate it may elaborate the experience in surprising ways. To the winner's circle it goes. Stay tuned for more developments on nutmeg infused espresso.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Caraway Seed

It was interesting. It's not that it didn't work. Parts of it did, but something was missing. The strong, earthy flavour of the seed definitely pierced through the strength of the espresso. The balance was there, so it wasn't that. Starting at the tip of the tongue, it washed all the way back down the throat. I just wouldn't want to drink it more than as an occasional novelty.

You know, it might work as an accompaniment to a deli sandwich. With the flavours of a good cut of deli meat, some sharp cheese and mustard on rye already in your mouth, this shot might be a really nice finish to the meal; the bready tone of the caraway unifying the coffee with the sandwich. Without a deli nearby, it was impossible to test the theory.

Drinking a double long espresso after our taste testing, I had a thought. The bitterness brought out by the long pull is surprisingly similar to the flavour of the caraway. Perhaps the similarity caused a clash, despite the more floral single pull we taste with.

In any case, it didn't work as a stand alone drink. Not even with chocolate! I guess it isn't cheating to use it after all. At the end of the day, caraway didn't enhance the coffee in any way. Better luck next time.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Minestrone Soup

1lb lean ground pork
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion
2 carrots
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 head broccoli, stem peeled and chopped with small florets separated
1 can tomatoes
3 small potatoes
1 jalapeno pepper, split down the middle but otherwise whole
6 cups water
1 tsp dried dill
1 tsp tumeric
1 cup dried pasta
salt & pepper
parmesan cheese, fresh grated

Brown pork in olive oil, add vegetables, tomatoes, and water. Save broccoli heads for a bit later as they will go mushy but chop up the core of the stems and put them in. Add dried dill and turmeric. Simmer for 20 minutes or until veggies have only a little bite to them. Add broccoli heads and 1 cup pasta and simmer until pasta is done. Serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese, eat & enjoy. It should get better overnight.

This was pretty good but not great. Next time I could use chicken stock instead of water, and definitely no potatoes along with the noodles. One or the other. Fresh herbs such as a thyme bouquet would have enhanced the flavour and complexity of the broth. Add parmesan rinds to the broth to give it body and flavour. Brown the pork more, and caramelize the onions. Butter would have tasted better than olive oil but isn't has healthy. The broccoli got a bit mushy despite adding it at the end, so did the pasta (would have happened overnight anyways). Put them in after you turn off the heat instead of simmering through. That might preserve a better texture. I was in a bit of a rush this time, but those steps would have made a great soup. I like my soup really thick, without much broth at all. Stew like. If you want lots of broth, add more water. For a tasty vegetarian dish, omit meat and use vegetable stock.

Other ingredients that would have worked:
Butternut squash, cauliflower, zuccini, beet greens, spinach, roasted red or orange bell pepper, celery, white wine, sausage, rice instead of pasta, beans, pretty much any meat or produce you have in your fridge it seems.

Ladypants has advised that I was too critical, that this soup is delicious, and that I really should have not added the potatoes. Next day magic! Also, this:


Ack! There is no way to make this palatable. Even after finding the bottom of another double long I still can't get the taste out of my mouth. Our first attempt with about half a teaspoon was simply overpowering. It was too much of the spice and all flavour of espresso was obliterated. Even tempered with milk and sugar, the mouth-feel was gritty. Tongue crushingly bad. In espresso infusion experiment history, this was the first time we both needed a glass of water and some recovery time.

The second attempt was just a light dusting over the bottom of the holder. This turned out to be a bit of an overcompensation.  The flavour was completely lost in the coffee. A fine brew, but with nothing added it was bound to be.

Third and finally, we added an amount somewhere in the middle, a light spattering to just cover the filter. The balance between coffee and allspice seemed right, but a sip was still too much. The flavours simply don't work together. Adding milk, then sugar, didn't change our opinions about it. The combination can only be described as unpleasant.

Today's results surprised me because, judging by the smell, I really thought they would work well together. When I asked a chef friend of mine for her professional opinion on what flavours would infuse well with espresso, this was the first thing she recommended. It was already on the list but it goes to show I wasn't the only one who thought the combination would blend nicely. The only way I think allspice might work is in a blend of spices, mixed with ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and/or clove to achieve a kind of gingerbread coffee effect. Alone it seemed to dominate or be undetectable with no middle ground.

It was bound to happen, something that didn't work and has absolutely no potential worth pursuing. Kinda takes the pressure off. At least it would if there were any pressure to begin with. We learned something, so I'll still consider today's tasting a win.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Orange - Round 3

With a two and oh record, we refused to admit defeat and went for another go at an old foe: orange zest. First we tried a plain shot with our new found method of coating the bottom of the holder with the ground up spice. It clearly had potential but wasn't quite there yet. Though pleasant enough to drink, I still found it a bit oily and somewhat raw. A little too much like the taste you get when you bite into an orange peel for my liking, especially in the aftertaste.

Next we tried to temper that intensity by turning the shot into a macchiato, or adding a bit of micro foamed milk to it. It tempered the raw flavour alright, but a bit too much. I found the brew quite subtle, as if it were merely orange scented rather than infused. Floral is a good word. Hoping for a creamsicle air to it, I was a bit disappointed. The texture and mouth-feel of the macchiato was quite nice and creamy but the flavour just wasn't there.

But the day wasn't done yet. One last attempt to salvage the essence of orange came with the addition of chocolate to the brew. A bit of chocolate syrup to the bottom of the espresso cup changed everything. In fact, it was a world of difference. At first sip, I made as close to a squeal noise as this baritone's voice is capable of making. Delightful!

The chocolate rounded out the middle of the palate, mitigating the force of the zest. The sweetness toyed with the tip of my tongue as the orange flavour danced around its middle. It reminds me of what I imagine a chocolate orange would taste like if it were made by a master swiss chocolatier. The only downside was the aftertaste. I'm not sure if it was a throwback from earlier shots, but I definitely still had a patch of that raw oil clinging to my taste buds for some time after the last drop. I don't care if adding chocolate is virtually cheating, this one is going into the win pile.

Leftover Trout Quesadilla

3 whole wheat tortillas
2 C grated old cheddar, grated
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tomato, seeded and chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees with the pizza stone inside and prepare ingredients for assembly.

Once heated, remove pizza stone and assemble first layer with half the cheese, all the garlic and peppers.

Put second tortilla on top and assemble second layer with tomatoes, shredded fish and rest of the cheese. Be sure to put some cheese below and on top of ingredients in both layers to be sure it all sticks together.

Put final layer on top and put a pan on top to stop it from curling upwards. Bake for 10 minutes, remove pan and broil until golden brown and crispy on top.

Slice, eat immediately, and enjoy.

This came out pretty well, certainly better than previous efforts. The pizza stone kept the bottom really crispy and the middle tortilla gave some much needed stability to support all the toppings. I could pick up the slice and it held horizontal without anything falling out. It's a cheese miracle!

Normally I wouldn't put fish with cheese, but I liked this. The mustard atop the fish really came through. I would have kept the seeds in the jalapeno because it wasn't spicy at all. The tomato was a welcome burst of juices. I didn't taste much garlic, so I'd add a second clove next time. Cilantro is a must next time because I found it a bit heavy tasting.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Fish Cakes

5 small to medium sized potatoes, 1" cubed
1lb boneless cod filet, 1" cubed
1/6 spanish onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic
1/2 red pepper
1 cayenne pepper
1 Tbsp whole grain dijon mustard
2 Tbsp cream
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 C bread crumbs
2 Tbsp flour to coat
salt and pepper to taste
Butter for frying

Boil potatoes. When they are almost tender add fish. Lightly saute onion, garlic & peppers.

Drain when potatoes are tender and add to a bowl. Add sauted vegetables to the bowl and mash together. Add mustard, cream, mix lightly. Add lemon juice and bread crumbs. Mix until even distribution.

Form into patties (mine were about 4" in diameter), coat in seasoned flour. Fry in butter. Flip when patties are a bit browner than this picture. These turned out to be like pancakes where the first batch (pictured) didn't brown as nicely as the rest.

Serve with sliced avocado and yogurt. Eat & enjoy.

These fish cakes turned out really tasty, but not at all fishy. Neither I nor Ladypants could pick it out at all, so next time I'd use more fish. so they aren't really fish cakes, more fried mashed potato awesomeness. Crunchy on the outside, creamy in the middle with a nice texture from the red peppers. They tasted great with the perfectly ripe avocado and the tang of the yogurt. I was surprised to find myself full after only three. They also quelled the caffeine shakes leftover from this afternoon's tasting session. Win, win, win!

Cayenne Chocolate Espresso

You know when you suddenly run into a good friend in an unexpected place and it turns your day around for the better? That's what a cayenne espresso infusion is like, but with chocolate! You taste the chocolate first at the front of your palate, the familiar espresso second in the middle, and then the cayenne donkey punches you in the back of the throat a couple seconds later. If you don't know what a donkey punch is, don't look it up, just take it at face value.

Without the chocolate, the infusion was a little one-two note for my liking. If you like spicy it was still good, but the chocolate put it over the edge. I was pleased with how well the flavour of the pepper came through, spiciness aside. The fragrant, floral, almost rosy notes came bursting through the thick coffee curtains as if to say, "Hey! Look at me! I'm here now." Most of the seeds were removed in an attempt to allay the spiciness, and it was a good thing I did. The sudden burn in the gullet around the two second mark was pleasantly surprising for a spice nut like me, like the wave of a dear friend across the street in the corner of your eye. Even Brian enjoyed it, and he is, as he put it, "not a spice guy."

My friend and partner in music crime, Marc, has a backyard garden at his place on College street. He grew and dried these particular cayenne peppers. I don't know if that makes them taste better, but it can't hurt. If anything, it makes this cuppa joe more of a local brew than it already was. Just a small spattering at the bottom of the holder was all it took to make a surprising, intriguing, full flavoured shot.

For me, the sweet chocolate flavour rounded out and balanced the intensity of the shot and the pepper. This blend was also tasted by a coffee connoisseur by the name of Rick who has a political/coffee blog found here. He found the infusion "surprising", and said that it tasted better than a chili brew he had at last year's Toronto Barista Championship. What a compliment! After only a week I wouldn't consider myself a barista, but Brian is certainly a master of his craft. I am definitely looking forward to seeing how this infusion comes together.

Mustard crusted trout

This is an extremely simple and delicious way to prepare fish. Probably my shortest recipe:

Take some fish, I like rainbow trout. Put a thin layer of crushed whole grain mustard on top of it. Broil until opaque in the middle. I had a thin filet, so it took about 6 minutes. Eat and enjoy.

I served mine with some leftover curry brown rice with vegetables. The mustard highly complements the curry flavour of the rice. For a light lunch, a salad will work too.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Jalapeno spinach macaroni and cheese

2 1/2 C Uncooked macaroni or other short hollow pasta
1/4 C Butter
1 Tbsp Flour
1 1/4 C milk, cream or mixture of the two
125 g Gorgonzola or other creamy blue cheese
125 g Old cheddar
2 Cloves of garlic
1 Jalapeno pepper, minced (remove the seeds if you want to reduce the spiciness)
Large handful of baby spinach
Salt & Pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Boil pasta in heavily salted water as instructed on the package. Melt butter in pan, add flour and stir until creamy. Add milk/cream and stir until fully incorporated. Add cheeses, garlic, and minced jalapeno pepper, stirring often. When melted, add spinach to wilt down, still stirring often. If the sauce is too thick, add some pasta water.  Season to taste. Mix pasta and sauce, put in cassarole dish and top with freshly grated parmesan cheese. Bake for 20 minutes. Broil until Parmesan layer turns golden brown.

Rich, creamy, flavourful, spicy, and satisfying. A great dinner unless you are on a diet. The sauce is quick and can be made in about the time it takes the pasta to cook. If you make this, I'd be interested to know in the comments how you liked it, any changes/substitutions you made, and how they worked out. I'm looking forward to leftovers.

To make this healthier you could use quinoa instead of pasta and add a higher proportion of vegetables. Any combination of broccoli, cauliflour, red bell pepper, zuccini and white kidney beans would be my choices.

Freaky Friday 13th Medley

Today's mixture is something of a hodgepodge. At first it was going to be lightly toasted walnuts but my mortar & pestle teamed up to turn them into more of a sticky butter than a powder. So I added some cocoa powder to loosen it up and a quarter orange of leftover peel. It doesn't smell nearly as potent as any of the other experimental ingredients tried so far, but I was banking on the oils working together to coat the palate in a swirl of lingering flavours.

There was definitely a swirl, though the flavours didn't stand out as much as I would have liked. The orange was completely lost, but that was to be expected. The walnut and chocolate were there but not in any readily describable way. Muddled is a word. Indistinct is another. The addition of sugar brought them marginally forward to the middle of the tongue, but didn't make them any more pronounced as they did with the fennel seed.

The flavour was great, and definitely different from just the espresso alone, but I wouldn't have been able to identify any individual component from the mix. Brian likened this effect to a good cocktail, such as a long island iced tea. There are several liquors in it but they blend together in such a way as to create a new taste, barely recognizable as the original elements. I think this is a good way of thinking about it. We decided this compound warrants further testing but not as an espresso shot, perhaps as a cappuccino or macchiato.

Flavour possibilities I thought of today:
sweet red pepper
curry (?)

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Fennel Seed Espresso

Despite ye gods efforts to keep me indoors, with their gaping grey inverted bowl of a maw spitting incessantly upon anything daring to emerge from cover, I managed to get out to The Mad Bean for another espresso infusion experiment. Today's flavour, fennel seed ground to a powder. The smell released from those inconspicuous pods being crushed between mortar and pestle enveloped me in a surprisingly warm cloud of earthy licorice. A good start.

Into the first brew, Mr. Mad Bean (Brian as he prefers to be called) mixed in a quarter teaspoon of the ground spice with the beans. This produced a very subtle taste of licorice on the front end, but not enough for either of our liking.

Changing tactics, we instead dusted the bottom of the holder screen, hoping to intensify the flavour and bring it to the forefront. Worked like a charm. The licorice was there, sitting proudly on the tip of the tongue. The earthy notes of the fennel seed disappeared into those of the espresso but they weren't missed. The addition of sugar seemed to heighten the flavour and bind it to the front of the palate, allowing the bitterness to wash back in a wave all the way down the throat.

The same sweetened infusion as a long double shot (my preference) seemed to lightly mute the flavours and balance out the bitterness, making the wave more of a roller than a crashing breaker. I normally take my time and enjoy small sips, but I couldn't get enough of it and quickly saw the bottom of the cup. It was exquisite.

This infusion is an entirely new breed of cat, neither fully licorice or espresso, though both are present. Anyone reading this must try this. Available soon only at The Mad Bean (link to the left). If you aren't in Toronto, convince your favourite barista to give it a try, or better yet, visit the city and try the original for yourself.

On another note, this combination of flavours is not a novel idea. After a conversation with an Italian bartender friend of mine, I learned that a shot of Sambuca in espresso is a traditional beverage called Caffe Carretto. Roasted espresso beans can also be floated in a shot of Sambuca and lit on fire to infuse the shot with coffee flavour. Traditional, novel or otherwise, the fennel and espresso flavours work together magically.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Roasted orange & nutmeg bailey's cookies

After yesterday's partially successful but mostly overpowering and unpleasant espresso infusion, I had some leftover dried orange and nutmeg mixture. Unwilling to waste good flavour, I decided they would make an excellent modification to my previously published (on my ladyfriend's blog) and mildly overconfident Perfect Bailey's Oatmeal cookie recipe. I used a half cup of dried cranberries and a good teaspoon of the dried orange and nutmeg as optional additives.

They turned out pretty well! They were crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside and generally a joy to eat. Tonight's midnight snack will certainly be milk and cookies. Some fell apart on the cooling rack and will be used as ice cream topping.

Normally they should be allowed to cool for several minutes on the pan to ensure they stay together, however I was using a pizza stone to bake them. This means they would have burnt on the bottom or become crisp all the way through. Unconscionable! A few cookie fatalities are worth the even baking that the stone provides.

The initial flavour was an intense sweetness with a hit of bailey's. The cranberries add to the chewy texture in the mid chew and help keep the cookie moist. The orange and nutmeg emerge simultaneously in the finish with a swirling flourish that teases the palate before the inevitable next bite.

I love the balance of these cookies and their egg-less nature means guilt free cookie dough eating for the baker. If you make these, tell me of any variations you made in the comments and how they worked. Happy eating!

Blood Orange Espresso

Success! Not quite in the way I'd envisioned, but I did ask for the unexpected. Today's espresso infusion was again orange, this time a blood variety but I don't think it matters. I air dried the orange zest this time, and ground it up to a fine powder in my newly purchased mortar & pestle. The aroma! As true an orange smell as can be. If therapy was needed, it would have done the trick, I'm certain.

A half blood oranges worth of zest sprinkled atop the espresso powder before tamping definitely changed the flavour and mouth feel of the brew. The orange didn't sabre its way through to a sharp note as I thought it might. It loitered at the back, nearly out of view for the first few sips. Slowly its true character emerged, oily tentacles coated my palate, growing more confident with each passing moment. A full climax never materialized but remained a subtle suggestion of possibility.

By the end of the cup, after the last drop was downed, the fun really started. The citrus oils lingered on my palate and mixed playfully with the espresso aftertaste. This to me was the most enjoyable and interesting part of the experiment. If I had been eating anything, as I often do with my daily dose, the effect would have been lost amid a flurry of macerating crumbs. The flavours danced around each other for about five minutes until they dwindled into memory.

Mr. Mad Bean and I agreed that it was a thoroughly enjoyable drink, one that definitely warrants more testing. And test I'm happy to do.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

A bold beginning

Today marks an historic day. It marks the beginning of a flavour experiment that will lead to the unexpected. At least that's what I'm hoping.

A little history. After leaving the world of the gainfully employed at the end of July 2011, I decided to acquire the taste of coffee. It started as a means to an end, specifically to appreciate the subtleties of stout ales, but has turned into a force in its own right. I now enjoy drinking coffee, mostly espresso or americano. I can now discern a good cup from a bad cup, and a good cup from a great cup.

I recently made the acquaintance of an extremely friendly and generally delightful coffee shop owner after he served me an excellent long double shot of espresso. I may refer to him occasionally as Mr. Mad Bean. I got to thinking about the process of espresso infusion. The pressure that gives the brew its masculine qualities. The machinery specifically engineered to bring forth the essence of a well roasted bean. What other flavours would compete and complement this heady beast of a beverage? I have 13 ideas so far. Can they be added to the grinds and be infused in the same way? I shared these thoughts with MrMB and his interest was piqued. A Google search revealed little.

We resolved to join forces and experiment. His machine, my variations, our curiosity. The goal is to make a cup of infused espresso that subtly enhances the overall flavour while maintaining the essential qualities of a good brew, and tasty enough to enjoy regularly.

The first test was this afternoon. Oven dehydrated orange and nutmeg. A pinch was undetectable, yet a teaspoon mixed in with the grinds completely overpowered the espresso. The orange rind changed from refreshingly bright to stodgy during dehydration and didn't work with the coffee. My food processor was not able to grind the rind into powder as I'd hoped, and some of the largeer (2mm) chunks blocked the filter to a small degree. (I purchased a mortar and pestle to fine grind things so this shouldn't be a problem going forward.) The nutmeg was undetectable.

I'd consider this a partial success. The infusion method works. However, this particular spice mixture is better suited to cookies than coffee. I will try air drying or use fresh orange zest to keep the bright notes. This should allow the orange to slice rather than strangle the flavour of the coffee.

I can't speak for Mr. Mad Bean, but I'm excited for tomorrow's experiment!

Lessons learned so far:
-espresso infusion works
-the finer grind the better
-don't heat dry orange