Monday, August 24, 2009

How Did they Discover Coffee from a Bean?

Written by Andrea Scalici

I don’t know if it’s my inquisitive nature or my obvious love of food but I often find myself pondering the origins of some of my favorite, can’t live without, treats. Like coffee for example; who would have thought that simply roasting some beans would turn into this amazing black elixir I couldn’t start my day without? And so began my quest to finally uncover such answers...
We start in Ethiopia around the 15th century. Legend has it that a goat herder came upon a lively group of “dancing goats” chewing on bright red berries from a bush. He decided to try to berries for himself, immediately enjoying the exhilaration. The man ran with the berries to a nearby monastery and showed them to an Islamic holy man, who in turn, disapproved of their use and threw them into his fire. The "Legend of Dancing Goats" goes on to describe the enticing, billowing aroma that came out of the fire where the beans were swiftly rescued from the flames, ground up, and dissolved in hot water – producing the world’s first cup of coffee.

The story then moves throughout Arabia, where qahwa beans were roasted and brewed similar to today, Persia, Turkey, and northern Africa. From the Muslim world, kahve spread to Italy and the rest of Europe, Indonesia, and the Americas. The first European caffè house opened in Italy in 1645.

Coffee has since seen many advances and reformations. One I have to wonder about is the world's most expensive variety, Kopi Luwak, named for the Indonesian word coffee and its "processor", the Asian Palm Civet.
These cat/raccoon-like animals ingest the red coffee cherries containing the fruit and seed. The inner bean is not digested, but a unique combination of enzymes in the stomach break down the proteins that give coffee its bitter taste. The beans are defecated, still covered in some inner layers of the berry, washed, and given a light roast (so as to not destroy the complex flavors that develop through the process). The most pronounced characteristic of Kopi Luwak is a marked reduction in bitterness. How did anyone think to do this?! It is said that these omnivores tend to pick the ripest and sweetest fruit, thus providing brewers with a natural selection for the best coffee beans. But still?! Is there anything left to discover about coffee? I have to wonder...

In today’s world, these magic beans are a vital cash crop for many Third World countries where coffee is the primary export. Though the process hasn’t changed very much relatively speaking, the culture certainly has. On any given day in America you can choose regular or decaf, bold or medium, and au lait or light and sweet. You could even attend a cupping or coffee tasting to explore different regions’ distinctions. And on any given day, you can find me with my billowing aromatic, piping hot cup in my hand, complete with a little cream.

Stay tuned for the upcoming installments that explore the origins of popcorn, bagels, and more!
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Seared Jumbo Scallops, Grilled Calamari, Swordfish Kebobs...

Written by Tracey Ceurvels

When you walk through the open doors to this ground-level restaurant you might think you’re somewhere far more exotic than Brooklyn. But with the buses, cars and taxis whizzing down Fulton Street, there is no mistaking that you’re in Fort Greene.
Welcome to Aqualis Grill, the neighborhood’s newest addition to its ever-growing culinary scene, which serves Mediterranean food (with mostly Greek influences). The dining room is minimal yet warm and inviting with a tin ceiling, exposed brick and plants. There was once an Italian restaurant here (some of the basic elements are intact), but the space has been pleasantly revamped to suit owner Gorian Papa’s sensibilities. There’s an open kitchen where you can watch chef John Tsakanis, formerly of Kellari Taverna, make the restaurant’s specialty; fresh fish—Mediterranean sea bass, red snapper or royal dorado—picked that morning from Hunt’s Point then grilled whole, simply, with olive oil. The food here is clean, fresh and straightforward. Some of the highlights include the octopus appetizer ($10), grilled calamari with lemon saffron vinaigrette ($10), swordfish kebob with escarole ($19), the cod with spinach and roasted golden beets ($18) and the jumbo scallops, pan roasted with a white bean salad ($18). You must come here for the seafood, but if you’re feeling carnivorous, there are juicy lamb chops ($21) and a crisp and tender roast chicken ($16). There is also a cute bar where you can enjoy an appetizer or dinner, but on my visit, no alcohol (the liquor license still hadn’t arrived but hopefully it will soon). To top it all off, dessert here is a single option; a classic Greek dish of homemade baklava that’s served with yogurt topped with sour cherries. With its unique flair and bright flavors, Aqualis Grill is a welcome newcomer to the neighborhood. Read more!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Chocolate Anyone?

written by Deepa Chander

When I think about the most expensive chocolate dessert in the world, I picture it sitting proud on a plate, somewhere in the middle of an exotic resort being served by tuxeod clad gentleman, eating it while sipping the perfect champagne.But surprisingly, this is one dessert that I don't have to travel far to find, just hop on the subway and get to Serendipity 3, right here in New York City. Deemed the world's most expensive chocolate dessert, this lavish and luxurious item sells at a whopping $25,000. The Frozen Haute Chocolate is made from a blend of 28 cocoas from around the world and is served in a goblet lined with edible gold. It is topped with whipped cream, more gold and a side of Madeline au Truffle, which itself sells for $2,600 a pound. And for the "cherry on top", the dessert is plated with an 18k gold and diamond bracelet resting on the base of the goblet, and a gold spoon with white and chocolate diamonds as souvenirs. In this age of financial downfall, this may seem like a bit much. I mean, who in the world can afford to pay $25,000 for dessert? Probably just the filthy rich and famous, but then again this is New York where you have to think ahead all the time on the culinary scene. Coming up with unique and bizarre food is part of the process and, for some customers, part of the appeal. There are many other unique items made from chocolate that seem to attract crowds like chocolate spas to relax your mind and body at the Hotel Hershey in Pennsylvania, or chocolate flavored toothpaste - cause..well, why not? I guess the point is the excitement of paying an exuberant amount of money on dessert (and jewelry). Is it any good? Who cares? After shelling out $25, 000 for it, I doubt I would complain.

PS: This dessert is just a version of their popular frozen hot chocolate, created by owner Stephen Bruce.
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Sunday, August 2, 2009

Cherry Stained Photography

written and photographed by Rebekah Peppler

Is it just me or have the cherries never been better then right here right now? Firm, juicy and sweet as the heavens, these amethyst phenoenons demand a hot summer day, a seat on a concrete curb and a surfeit of garnet-stained hands and lips. A few weeks ago, when my eyes proved too big for my stomach and cherries threatened to overtake the house, I reached for my favorite sweet tart dough recipe, doctored it up with a bit of cardamom, a touch of almond and let those crimson delights do all the work. Let's just say that tart never made it to sunset.

Since – as a rule – I don’t go a night without dessert, I switched out the filling for the probably the easiest custard known to man, dolloped it with lightly sweetened whipped cream and sat back as the sky turned from day to night, my lips and hands perfectly matching the cherry-red sky.

Cherry-Cardamom Tart
Serves 8-10

For Cardamom Sucrée Crust
For one 9” tart, six 3” tartlettes … and a bit extra for a rainy day
• 125 g powdered sugar
• 250 g butter; unsalted
• 3 eggs
• 500 g cake flour
• ½ tsp baking powder
• 1 tsp almond extract
• 1 tsp cardamom; freshly ground
Cream together butter and sugar until lightened and doubled in volume. Add eggs and almond extract gradually, mixing to combine after each addition. Sift together cake flour, baking powder and cardamom. Add all at once and mix just to combine. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill till firm.
For Almond Cream
• 125 g butter
• 125 g powdered sugar
• 125 g almond flour
• 3 eggs
• 1 tsp almond extract
• 20 g pastry cream powder (25 g cornstarch can be substituted)

Cream together butter, sugar and almond flour. Add eggs and almond extract gradually until completely combined. Add the pastry cream powder and mix tocombine.

For Tart
Preheat oven to 350˚ F. Roll out the sucrée and line a 9-inch tart shell, chill for at least 30 minutes. Dock the bottom of the shell and place an even layer of almond cream into the unbaked tart shell. Line with pitted Bing cherries and bake 40-50 minutes until the crust is browned and almond cream is set. Allow to cool.
Custard Tartlets with Sweet Cherries
Makes six 3-inch tartlettes
• 100 g vanilla sugar
• 2 eggs
• 50 ml heavy cream
• 125 ml milk
• ¾ tsp cardamom; freshly ground
• ¾ tsp vanilla extract
• ¼ tsp almond extract

• Cardamom-Sucrée
• Bing cherries; pitted
• Crème Chantilly

Line six tartlette molds with cardamom sucrée and chill. Dock the bottom of the tartlettes with a fork, fill with baking weights and blind bake till lightly browned. When cooled, whisk together the eggs and sugar. Add the heavy cream, whole milk, cardamom and extracts until incorporated. Strain custard, fill tart shells with pitted cherries and fill with custard. Bake 300˚ for 20-25 minutes or until custard is set. Cool and serve with crème chantilly.

For the Crème Chantilly
• 100 g heavy whipping cream
• 25 g powdered sugar
• ½ tsp vanilla extract

Whip heavy cream to a soft peak, add in sugar and vanilla and whip to medium peak.

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