Monday, October 17, 2011

The coffee hater

I make a very lousy Swede for at least two reasons: I hate the taste of coffee and I try to avoid eating fish. Don't even think of mentioning lutfisk. Shudder. The one Swedish thing about my cooking is the generous use of butter. Smor ock kärlek. Butter and love. That's the motto of Swedish cooking. That much I truly live up to.

Back to the coffee issue. I do not mind the smell of coffee brewing. That is homey. But I have never liked the taste of coffee in my mouth. Don't even consider bringing up mocha, thanks. If I detect coffee in my chocolate I want to spit it out, and usually do, though not in front of others.

When I went to France on my semester abroad in autumn of 1967 I had successfully navigated to the ripe age of 21 without ever tasting more than a sip of the nasty stuff. The day I arrived on the train in Montpellier my host family was all out and about. So Jean René, the son my age, arranged for a friend to meet me at the train. Said friend took me to the apartment where his family lived and his mother looked after me until my family could sweep me off to their home. The gracious lady offered me coffee. I said, as graciously as I could, that I do not drink coffee but appreciate the offer. She opined that this was because I had not had good French coffee and hers was marvelous and I must have some.

Well, I may have been a callow youth but I did not want to start an international incident on my second day in France. She brought me a (mercifully small) cup of coffee, "black as my heart" as my mother would say. Steeling myself, I took a sip. Fire hit my belly, and I don't mean passion. I thought I had just downed battery acid. And since I had not slept much on the train the night before nor eaten much, the caffeine hit my bloodstream almost instantly. My heart raced. And yes, I thought the flavor was incredibly vile. I made polite noises and probably took one or two more sips before begging off, saying it was most impressive but my body was not accustomed to it.

No, I don't ever intend to drink coffee again. Why do you ask? Yes, unless the tiramisu is beyond elegant I will spit it out. If it is truly exceptional I will eat one bite just to test the quality of all the other things that make tiramisu elegant. I believe it is a wonderful dessert, I just don't want any.

So, on Facebook I talked about my indulging in a high end ice cream maker Friday night. If I make this much gelato, why not? One tires of having to put the freezing canister of my prior ice cream device in the freezer for at least one night. One might want to make more than one flavor or greater quantities and need to keep on freezing after one batch. Well, now one can. It was a chunk of money. I said I felt I could justify this (having made gelato now five times in two months). But I could not justify the espresso machine for sale at Costco because I loathe coffee, don't even keep any in the house, and it was way too much money. Though it would be nice to be able to serve espresso at the end of a lovely Italian meal, just to round out the experience.

Allow me to compound this story with another aside. When I moved to Albuquerque and had the illusion I would entertain more than I actually did the first four years here, I bought one pound each of regular and decaf coffee and put same in my freezer. I do have a coffee grinder (two, actually, though one is for spices only). I have a coffee maker (two, actually, for "leaded" and decaf). I think it was three years later that I tossed out the two pounds of coffee. Probably had freezer burn at that point. I had made coffee once, perhaps. (I do have tea, mind you.)

Friend Randy, who keeps an eye on my Facebook posts, not only showed up with a couple bottles of wine on Saturday but he and his friend Troy also had a little host gift:

These lovely rose pattern demitasse cups and saucers for my espresso.

Knowing full well how I feel about coffee and the whole issue around it.

Bless their hearts. (And aren't the cups beautiful?)

It was not gratuitous teasing. Randy also pointed out that there are alternatives to expensive fancy schmancy espresso machines. (Oh, and tonight at Costco I noticed the espresso machine was actually about eight dollars cheaper than my new ice cream maker. That was a bit humbling.)

So I did some reading online about espresso and related topics and did a little shopping on the way home tonight.

I have a new coffee grinder. I can set it for an espresso grind without wondering if I have done it right.

And I have a stovetop espresso maker, the classic macchinetta from 1933.

I also have some Italian roast and espresso beans from Whole Foods (small quantities) and also a bag of the espresso roast Starbucks and medium roast decaf from Starbucks purchased at Costco. I need to learn how to use the new toys, of course, but I will learn.

I also know that my hand blender can whip up 150 degree milk, so I don't need no stinkin' steam device or 'spensive device à frapper.

So if you come to my house for an Italian meal, you will be able to enjoy a shot of espresso. Hell, I'll even throw some hooch in and you can have caffè corretto. A latte? We can do that too. What, you want mocha? I've got Starbucks cocoa powder. We'll do it.

This is your friendly barista, who still loathes coffee but wants y'all to have a good time (and drive home sober).

--the BB

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The meal that was and the photos that weren't - updated

Last night's meal was fun to do, a lot of work, and the company was great. Part of my cooking journey is to have dinner guests that I would like to get to know better, making new acquaintances and gaining new friends. This weekend everybody had prior commitments and it appeared we would be only three for this huge meal. My friend Randy pursued it a bit, asking if I knew K and D. Yes, I said, I just met them Thursday night. He had their phone number. I rechecked old messages, and by the time we were through it was a full table of six as originally planned. Yay! Thanks, Randy. Fun lively dinner companions.

In fact, I had such a good time (or was very busy pulling the main course together) that I forgot to take any photos past the soup course.

Here we have the antipasto.

One bread dough made into a large loaf and a smaller one with olives. The olive bread is in the center with the cheeses. The other is on the sides with bruschetta. Two kinds of olives, salted pistachios, toasted almonds. We began with blood orange soda in champagne flutes and pinot grigio/pinot gris.

Here is the table.

And here is the butternut squash soup, wickedly containing whole milk and heavy cream. The fresh bit of thyme from the yard was described as the fly in the soup. "Are we supposed to eat the fly?" was the question.

The next course was stracotto, an Italian pot roast that was browned then braising in the oven for four hours. It was cooked with onion, carrot, celery, mushrooms, a can of diced tomatoes with their juice, chicken broth, beef broth, red wine, and a sprig of fresh thyme. As the meat rested I cooked down the liquid with a sprig of fresh rosemary (also from the yard), furiously reducing it to about one third. Omigod, the sauce on the meat was incredible. Served with a ladle of soft polenta, sautéed haricots verts, and sautéed mushrooms.

Dessert was blueberry gelato. I was going to make a sorbetto but did not have enough blueberry puree so I threw cream in and called it gelato. Served with cantucci.

Every course had some learnings, which is another reason I do this. I want to be a better cook with a wider repertory of dishes and techniques plus consistent results.

Very few leftovers but damn, we ate well.

Planning the next one in a fortnight.


Leftovers to the rescue. I had one large serving of leftovers from the main course and took it all to work today for lunch. I also took a dinner plate and my camera. So here is what the main course looked like (except on a harsh white formica background (sorry).

I must say, the stracotto recipe is a keeper. Dayumn, them's good eats! I must do this again.

And supper tonight is pure naughtiness, just dessert. Gelato di mirtilli con cantucci.

More came out of that dinner party. To be continued in the next post.

--the BB