Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Why I hate Americanos

I don't like the drink they call the americano.  It makes me sad to add water to an espresso and getting charged extra.  So, I took a friend whose drink is the above mentioned americano with the express goal of getting him to switch to a long espresso which is just an espresso with more water poured through the extraction process.  We went to three different places, two of which he was fairly familiar with and tried the cups of black gold.  It is helpful to note that he does drink his coffee with sugar probably to counteract the bitterness of the coffee.

I wasn't able to convince him otherwise but did figure out a few things about what he likes about it.  It largely comes to a less intensity and more liquid, never mind the fact that the liquid is just added water.  I find the coffee thinner and it doesn't seem that the flavour is consistent the whole way through.  We tried espresso with a side of water and while he was happy with the coffee it wasn't the same experience.  He found it too strong.  So I have failed at the primary objective of making him a believer and I am unable to recommend my process to americano lovers.  Just note that you are paying 50 cents more for water that you could get free for the asking from the same coffee shop.

However, this same friend has been turned on to using a stove top espresso and adding just a little water at home.  The Moka pot makes a superior cup of coffee to most inexpensive espresso makers and costs just a fraction of the price.  I am not against americanos per se but rather the fact that you are being charged for water.  There is no extra coffee, just water.  You wouldn't order a milkshake and then ask for water and pay for it... and that is why I hate americanos -- the drink not the people.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Book Review: Man with a Pan

I just finished, Man with a Pan, a book of collected essays, recipes and tips entitled in the trenches.  There are very few original recipes that you haven't seen before.  Only Mexican Chocolate Pie and Vegetarian Bobotie, a type of South African curry caught my eye.  The reading is entertaining for a father who cooks, allowing for a male perspective of domesticity that is seldom talked about.  It allows for comparison of strategies and thinking about what it means to be a male cooking for our families.  I was able to see myself in some of these essays and was encouraged that they were not all polished and perfect, much like I feel fatherhood and cooking can be.  The essays felt genuine.

Some standout essays included an essay about gender bias in cooking by Shankar Vedantam and Mark Bittman's Finding Myself in the Kitchen.  Matt Greenberg, a screenwriter known for his horror, writes a screenplay that reads like a B movie centered around a grill that kills with a few gross out moments at the end.  It is a lot of fun to read and reminds me of Strange Tales or the Cryptkeeper.

Mario Batali's essay is interesting in that he is talking about a lot of what appears to be high end dishes but when you break it down, he makes simple but good fare for his family.  Tripe, cardoons, duck testicles and even truffles are just ingredients that need only a little prep and nothing more.  These may seem gourmet but they are just vegetables, leftover meat parts and mushrooms.

The essay that I connected with most was Keith Dixon's Alternate Side Cooking.  It clearly articulated why I cook for my brood.  It captures the phenomena of your spouse cooking every now and then to rave reviews.  There is a description of the inherent jealousy and and fleeting resentment due to the fact that you do it all the time and it is the way that you use to connect to your children and spouse.  Your cooking is expected to be a certain caliber and your efforts are generally unappreciated.  This is no knock on my family but has been going on for millennia.  Man bites dog is a headline but dog bites man is rarely one.

All in all, this was a quick fun read with a few essays that really spoke to me.  The short pieces were personal and seemed honest and sometimes raw.  The book was like a series of small meals where some things worked and others didn't.  It was still a dinner party that I was glad to have attended but maybe I won't be back...except for the company.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Recipes: Cold Brewed Mocha Coffee

Last year around this time, we went to a cottage and I tried making a New Orleans Style Iced Coffee.  It worked out great. It was a cold brewed style which is just a fancy way of saying left out on the counter overnight to brew without adding any heat.  It tasted of chicory and coffee with no bitterness that you often experience with iced coffees found in cafes that use hot coffee and ice.  It was kind of like Camp which you can still buy in select locations.  Being from a possible slavic background (it's complicated), means enjoying a roasted chicory flavour.  They did it for economy -- couldn't grow coffee in Eastern Europe and too expensive to buy it from Ethiopia.  So, the history of the English based Camp and the French based New Orleans style are a result of colonial times.  Coffee was short and so they found ways of adulterating it.

So what does this have to do with the title and mocha... whatever it says up there? Well, the chicory based one worked so well that I substituted or adulterated coffee with some cacao nibs and some vanilla.  In order to make the most of the chocolate flavour, I had to mix half milk with the resultant filtered liquid.  It tasted like a mild mocha with a little cacao bitterness and no coffee bitterness.  It was even better than the chicory one.  I think that varying the adulterants along with the coffee beans could provide some interesting options.  Using a bright Kona and accenting the citrus notes with ginger or an Ethiopian Sidamo with pronounced vanilla to raise the blueberry so on and so forth, etc, etc, etc.

It is so easy to make and requires very little extras that it is a good summertime drink.  And if you add booze then you are going so many other places.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

New Coffee Shops Along Gerrard Street

There are two new cafes that are set to open up on Gerrard Street East in the next while.  There addresses are not separated by much but due to the jog that results in Upper Gerrard, they are considered being in different neighbourhoods.

The history of upper Gerrard Street is centered around the railway and streetcar tracks.  It used to be a major thoroughway through the area.  Pictures up until the late '60s show a vibrant community including banks, butchers, grocery stores and the like.  That all disappeared for a very long time.  Now the stretch just east of Woodbine and Gerrard is starting to see a glimmer of life, as new cafes, condominiums and other more service oriented businesses start.  It is in this block that a new espresso bar will open up.  Up until early this year, you could get an espresso at the Upper Beach Cafe on your way to work.  However, the cafe is trying to remake itself into a bistro serving lunches and suppers and now opens too late for the morning rush.  The new espresso cafe does not have a name listed yet but you can see the metal lights hanging from the ceiling through the kraft paper barrier.

The second cafe, The Lazy Daisy cafe is opening at Coxwell and Gerrard, at the edge of Little India.  This set of blocks is also seeing a metamorphosis.  It has been for around 30 years, the epicenter of Eastern Asian culture in Toronto but like all ethnic quarters has seen its inhabitants move to the suburbs and only show up for nostalgia.  There is a resurgence of Indian and Pakistani restaurants to replace some of the for rent or lease signs but the newer restaurants are becoming more attuned to area tastes.  In some cases this means a dumbing down of the cuisines while in others it means serving a niche in terms of food tastes.  The first indicator of this movement seems to be BJ Supermarket which is more like a traditional western supermarket in terms of design, signing and organization that happens to carry a lot of groceries from "back home".  There is now a hakka restaurant, an ice cream shop and a refurbished Lahore Tikka House.  Other bits of excitement that fit into the more reflective of the area are the new pet shop, an upcoming fruit market that looks more traditionally western and the upcoming cafe as mentioned.

Does this mean the end of India Bazaar?  I don't think so.  If you go down any evening in the summer, there are many people walking the streets.  Many of them are suburbanites out for an evening of shopping, eating and catching up with old friends.  What this new wave does is to fill in the gaps of morning, midday and the cold winters with local consumers and more importantly local friends and neighbours.  In this new Ford city, it is important to remember lessons from Jane that it is the messy interactions on the street that create vibrant communities rather than the sterile drive from house to work.

Update: The new coffee shop on Upper Gerrard is Bandit Coffee and opened.  See review here.  Review of Lazy Daisy's here.