Third wave espresso sucks

by Steve, November 25th, 2015

There, I said it. (And craft beer sucks, too.)

Now before you get your knickers in a knot, hear me out. I’m not a fan of Folgers or Budweiser.

I had my first espresso circa 1990, when second-wave coffee was pretty well on the way to jumping the shark. Starbucks led the way, selling primarily steamed milk flavored with a variety of syrups and espresso. My first double shot was from Captain Beans on Southeast 12th Ave. in Portland, and quickly grew to prefer it to drip coffee. I’m not a milk drinker, so I never bothered with cappuccinos or lattes. I’ve always preferred it straight up, with no sugar or milk.

In the early 2000s the “third wave” came along, with Portland’s Stumptown setting the tone. I grabbed a double shot at their original Division St. store after a dentist appointment once, and remember how awful it tasted. Not so much bitter as sour. Not the well-balanced flavor I had grown accustomed to. They call it Hair Bender. A balanced shot of espresso should not bend your hair. It should warm your soul.

Now in 2015, I find myself working in downtown Portland, trying to find a decent espresso. All the cool places have that awful sour taste. I braved the self-conciously hip Courier (record player on the bar? seriously?) to try their version of the double shot, and literally threw it away after a single sip. Mugshots: same story. Nasty. Ken’s Artisan Bakery? Same story. Spella? Not quite as bad, but definitely a noticeable sour taste. What’s the deal, I wondered.

One idea I had was that there’s some kind psychology in foodies that requires “good” things to be an acquired taste. Just like beer snobs have acclimated to dramatically over-hopped, unbalanced flavor in their beer, third-wave coffee snobs have convinced themselves that “sour” equals good in espresso.

The other thought I had was that most people drink espresso buried under two or three cups of steamed cow’s milk, and without sour espresso, they wouldn’t be able to differentiate “good” espresso without the sour tones cutting through all the lactose and milk fat.

Today I found a blog post about this flavor trend that explains it a little better. It seems in an effort to preserve the individualized flavor of single-source beans, third-wave roasters lightly roast their beans. Unfortunately (for those of us who prefer balance of umami and bitter), the preserved flavor agents are acids that would otherwise be muted in a darker roast. The result is a very unbalanced, acid-forward flavor. Maybe with a ton of sugar and/or milk this would be pleasant to drink. But that doesn’t sound very foodie, now does it?

It turns out that like beer brewing, it’s hard to improve on the Europe’s espresso tradition. Starbucks, for all their sins (and there are a lot) still makes a damn good shot of espresso.

Yes, you can learn to like bitter and sour things, and then pretend people who don’t like it are Budweiser- and Folgers-loving troglodytes. Or you can appreciate a smooth, rich, balanced thing, perfected over generations, in no need of improvement.

Best oven-fried spuds

by Steve, January 4th, 2015

Spuds

Ingredients

    Spuds, peeled
    Olive oil
    Melted butter
    Salt and pepper

Method:

Preheat oven to 425F. Slice spuds almost all the way through and place in a roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil and melted butter. Roast for 45 minutes or so. Use a pastry brush to slather the butter and oil over the tops of the spuds a couple times during the baking. Done when browned on top and crispy on the bottom.

Mothers’ Day Fritatta

by Steve, May 11th, 2014

frittata

Ingredients:

    1 package frozen hashbrowns
    6 eggs
    1 6 oz. tub pesto
    1 bunch asparagus
    olive oil
    balsamic vinegar
    salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 400F.

Preheat a large cast iron skillet* with oil over medium-high heat. Put hashbrowns in preheated pan and cover.

Roast asparagus in olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar.

Beat eggs, and add tub of pesto. Chop up roasted asparagus, let cool a bit, then add to egg mixture.

Preheat broiler.

When hashbrowns have browned on the bottom, remove from heat and pour egg mixture over the top. Put under the broiler until firm and browned on top.

*If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, you can improvise with a non-stick skillet and a roasting pan. That’s what I did today. I browned the hashbrowns in two batches in a non-stick skillet, then transferred them to the roasting pan for the final broiling.

Blondie brownies

by Steve, May 10th, 2014

 
Brown on blonde

Zeke and I mixed these up and baked them today. They are too good. Don’t say we didn’t warn you. The idea is a layered bar, bottom a blondie, the top a brownie. Start with the blondie layer.

Blondie ingredients

    1 cup flour
    1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    1/8 teaspoon baking soda
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/3 cup butter, melted
    1 cup brown sugar, packed
    1 egg, beaten
    1 tablespoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 325F.

Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium mixing bowl and set aside.

Mix melted butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl, then add egg and vanilla.

Gradually stir in dry ingredients to the sugar and butter mix. Spread mix evenly in a greased 9×13 baking pan. Set aside.

Brownie ingredients

    2 sticks butter
    2 cups sugar
    4 eggs, beaten
    1 cup flour
    1/2 cup cocoa
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    2 teaspoons vanilla

Cream butter and sugar; add eggs. Mix dry ingredients together and add to butter-sugar mixture. Add Vanilla.

Spread evenly on top of the blondie dough.

Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

You may recognize the brownie recipe from Grandma Margie’s cookbook, which you should go buy if you haven’t already!

London Diaries

by Steve, September 26th, 2013
Palace of Westminster
Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament) from the London Eye

Emmy and I first started planing a London trip almost two years ago. We can thank Harry Styles, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne and the rest of One Direction for the inspiration of the destination. They were a gateway for Emmy getting into other British acts and British fashion. Emmy says, “I was thinking of London as this perfect place. And it was.”

Other than Canada, I hadn’t traveled internationally since 1997, when Nancy and I got engaged in Lisbon and Wesley and I traveled to Prague.

To be honest, the UK was not the top of my travel bucket list for travel. But it should have been. We had an all around great trip. I was very pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to travel in London, and how much I enjoyed the green spaces alongside the cosmopolitan urban culture and amenities. Public transit is extremely convenient; we took the tube everywhere except a cab to our flat on arrival and when we took the train to Windsor and to the Harry Potter studio tour.

Untitled
Greek lunch in Windsor

We were both especially pleased at the ease (and quality) of vegetarian dining in London, something that is always stressful while traveling, particularly in continental Europe (maybe it’s better there now) and Latin America. It seems like almost every restaurant in London has a selection vegetarian items, all nicely marked with a “V” or in their own category on menu. (Even in supposedly prog Portland, we often don’t get this courtesy.) I assumed we’d be eating a lot of Indian food (no complaints there, mate!), but we never did, and we didn’t find the need to look for vegetarian restaurants, either (of which there are plenty). Somebody even rated London the number one vegan city in the world. I would have scoffed at that notion prior to this trip.

For a while we considered splitting the trip between London and Paris, even entertaining the crazy notion of a day or overnight trip to Paris. We decided this would be too much hassle and not enough time in either city, and decided to focus a full 10 days on London. We rented a flat instead of a hotel so we could just unpack and move in and have a full home base. This turned out to be a really good decision. It was less expensive than a hotel, still very conveniently located, and extremely comfortable and convenient (separate bedrooms, kitchen, laundry, and a huge terrace overlooking the neighborhood).

If you’re not me or Emmy or directly related to us, the rest of this may be boring. I’m just recording it from my hand-written journal for posterity. If you just want to see photos, you can see them all on Flickr (pictures of me and Emmy are protected; if you’re family drop me a line and I’ll send you a special link so you can see us).

Read the rest of this entry »

Pesto primavera

by Steve, June 30th, 2013

Yeah, it’s l’estate, not la primavera, but the peas are just coming on strong, and so are the carrots. And we had some red bells and pesto in the fridge, ergo:
Pesto primavera

Ingredients

    1 Red bell pepper, sliced
    1 handful fresh carrots, sliced thinly on a diagonal
    2 handfuls snow peas, sliced into bite-size chunks
    1/2 sweet onion, chopped
    6 cloves garlic, sliced
    1 handful sun-dried tomatoes, chopped (I like the kind packed with olive oil)
    Grated Parmesan
    1/2 cup pesto
    Zest of 1 lemon
    Olive oil

Method

Saute onion, carrot and pepper in olive oil over medium heat until soft. Add peas, garlic and sun-dried tomatoes. Saute until soft, then turn up heat and sear. When carrots and onions are browned a little, turn off heat and toss in pesto. Serve over capellini, top with a sprinkle of Parmesan and another sprinkle of lemon zest.

Strawberry season in Oregon

by Steve, June 2nd, 2013

Leftover salad

by Steve, April 18th, 2013

No lettuce? No problem!

leftover Salad

    1/2 red bell pepper, cut into 3/4″ squares
    1/2 cucumber, sliced thinly
    1 medium carrot, grated
    1 slice onion, chopped finley
    1 slice jalapeño, chopped finely
    A couple drizzles olive oil
    Splash balsamic vinegar
    celery salt to taste
    ground black pepper to taste
    Tamari rice crackers, crumbled

Mix all ingredients. Eat as your first meal of the year out on the deck.

Breakfast in Portland

by Steve, February 19th, 2013
20110225 Hashed Browns ?????_03
photo by MiniQQ

The wife and I found ourselves in downtown Portland for breakfast yesterday, and thought we’d hit longtime Portland fave Bijou Cafe. That didn’t work out; the line was out the door (but not around the block like the one for Voodoo Donuts down the street). We could have grabbed a crappy cup of coffee at Stumptown next door so we could sit down at their sidewalk table while waiting for our Bijou table, but we worried we were getting too close to acting out a Portlandia sketch.

Speaking of Voodoo, that place has come to define Portland. A couple walking ahead of us (mid 50s, him with a Harley jean jacket and pressed Levis) stopped a stranger and asked where it was. Pretty soon we noticed every other person on the street was carrying a pink box of donuts.

Also, good luck finding street parking in downtown Portland anymore unless you are parking a fixie bike, a streetcar or a short-term rental car (excuse me, car-sharing car). So we had to walk about 20 blocks to discover that we’re not cool enough for Bijou anymore.

So yeah, hipsters on fixies, ironic donuts and lines out the door for a pretentious over-priced breakfast. And cops cruising around looking for mentally ill people to beat up or shoot. That’s what our Portland has become, apparently (or was it like this all along and we’re just now noticing?).

Walking back to our car we stopped to buy a Street Roots. Had to wait in line for that, too, but only one deep (“It’ll be a good day when the line to buy Street Roots is as long as the line at Voodoo Donuts,” said Nancy).

Then we saw Bagel Bistro on 4th and Stark. Not a customer inside. We got breakfast there, and it was pretty good. Pretty, pretty good. Standard greasy spoon type menu, including genuine hash browns. None of those pompous “home fries” or “cottage potatoes.” Honest-to-goodness hash browns, grated and fried to a crisp golden brown. And the price was right, too.

Jesus, maybe we did end up acting out a Portlandia sketch.

My top secret marinara plus no-fuss lasagna

by Steve, September 30th, 2012

Put 'em in a pot

Okay, not so top secret. It’s different every time I make it, anyway. Here’s How I did it today.

Ingredients

    Big bowl of sauce tomatoes from the garden (“federle” variety, start from Fair Weather Farm, Lebanon, Ore.)
    2 onions
    3 stalks celery
    1 bulb garlic
    1 bunch fresh basil (from Gathering Together Farm, Philomath, Ore., bought at Beaverton Farmers Market)
    3 small zucchini (from Dennison Farms, Corvallis, Ore., bought at Beaverton Farmers Market)
    2 red bell peppers (Dennison)
    Dried herbs: oregano, thyme, basil, tarragon, crushed red peppers (the hot kind)
    Salt and pepper
    Olive oil

Start a saute with olive oil (don’t be shy, use a little more!), chopped onions, garlic, celery and red pepper. Add salt and pepper, crushed red pepper and dried herbs. I use just a pinch of tarragon, and a good dash or two each of oregano, thyme and basil. Let it cook to bring out the sweetness.

Gad zukes!

While the saute is working, look in the fridge and add any other veggies you can sneak in (this will all be blended later, so you can do just about anything if you’re trying to sneak it past a picky eater). This being September, I found some zucchini.

Sautee

Add extra veggies to the saute, and cook some more.

saucers

While that’s cooking, start cutting up the tomatoes. If you’re really picky, you can parboil them and peel them, but I’m not picky. I never do this. Just dice them into small enough pieces that the skins don’t get huge and curly in your sauce. Add the tomatoes as they’re chopped, and cook all day.

blend!

After simmering all day, chop up the fresh basil and mix it in. Turn off heat and puree with a hand blender.

lasagna!

Then, make lasagna!

Ingredients

    Sauce (see above)
    1 box no-boil noodles
    1 32 oz. container ricotta
    4 eggs
    Mozzarella, grated
    Parmesan, grated
    Nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350. Mix eggs, ricotta and a dash of nutmeg. Ladle a generous layer of sauce in the bottom of a 9×13 pan. Layer with noodles. Space them out and don’t overlap; they’ll expand. Add a layer of the ricotta mixture and another layer of sauce. Add another layer of noodles, then more sauce, and ricotta mixture. Top with grated mozzarella and parmesan. Bake for 45 minutes or until top is browned. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.