Give that back! It's mine!

Well once again I missed all the cool monthly blogging events - I swear I am gonna start doing them two weeks ahead. Of course I say that now – but you know I am fibbing!

So instead of blogging, I have been thinking. (Pauses while the jokes fly – no, there is not smoke coming from my ears - and you can’t hear the gears grinding! hardee har har.) I recently read this post on The Fellowship of FSFE. The summation (for those of you who hate page hopping) is that a German chef living in Rome is asking for a cookyright on his food creations. In this case, every time you cook one of his dishes, you must attribute the recipe to him.

It reminded me of magic - magicians are very concerned about who gets credit for what trick. When you publish an effect you should document your influences, references and sources if you can. And if you don’t, there will be hell to pay with the fellow members of the community. Lord forbid if someone else published a similar effect in a magazine 50 years ago and you did not remember reading it 20 years back. (The technical term “effect” is used by some magi instead of “tricks”. Makes it sound more technical and less like a practical joke, I guess. Or maybe it makes them sound more like performers instead of prostitutes. Your call.)

I book marked this page and let everything percolate. It was an interesting concept. How could you “copyright” food? I mean, pasta is pasta; tomato sauce is tomato sauce. Can what one chef do to the base recipe be so different that it deserves to be attributed to him alone? Even if a person puts together ingredients in what he believes is a novel fashion, what is to say that other people are not using the same ingredients to create foods in a similar vein?

Somewhere in the back of my brain, I remember a lecture from an anthropology class. It was about the dissemination of technology among cultures. One theory held that all technology was developed by one group of people and then was spread through contact with other groups. Kind of like a venereal disease or something. Another theory held that people who were exposed to similar problems would come up with similar solutions without any contact with each other.

Cooking is really a type of technology. It takes raw ingredients and using existing processes, produces a final composite product. Originally, we learned those technologies from those around us – extended family and neighbors. People who traveled would bring back information from outside sources and that information was incorporated into the local “vocabulary”, but by and large, each isolated group created food that fit the locale that they lived in using what was on hand and in season.

The advent of modern means of idea transmission, starting with the printing press, has broken down the walls of isolation that separate these small pockets of cooks. The internet has accelerated these processes even more. How many of us own woks? I do. And I know my mother didn’t or my grandmother. I also know that if I want to learn all about Indian vegetarian cooking, I can just hop on over to Indira’s site and read away. When my mother was a young woman, there was almost no information about real Indian cooking here in the States. The closest she could come to the real McCoy were things like tinned curried powders which people incorporated into recipes, but usually in a very Western manner - things like curried chicken salad or Country Captain.

Now that everyone has access to the same database of ideas and influences, how can anyone say that they invented a way of cooking that may have been developed independently by some other person on the other side of the globe? Look at the telephone; Al Bell may have won the patent, but Elisha Gray was working on the same thing at the same time. If he had been a little quicker, we may all be talking about “Pa Grey” instead of “Ma Bell”.

How can you even assume that something such as “cookyright” could be established much less enforced? Ideas that have been forgotten are constantly being recreated. Old techniques are being revived and new applications being found. How about the science experiment with frozen nitrogen ice cream? That “fun” idea has spawned everything from Dippin’ Dots to high end cuisine. So who came up with the original idea for the ice cream? Do we see him credited when someone is talking about their use of the idea? No.
I have tons of recipes in my file, all written on stained 3 x 5 index cards that were collected from years of church recipe swaps. If I take one of those recipes, modify it and then publish it on my blog - how can I give proper credit? I have no idea if that original recipe was created by the person who gave me the card or if she got it from some lady’s magazine 30 years ago.

Now, I want you to go take a gander at Food Hacking. The gentleman who runs this blog sites sources and influences, but does not claim that he is the sole owner of the ideas. He says those ideas are public domain.

Is food more of a meme than an idea that can be categorized, quantified and claimed? Cooking and food preparation are central to our every day lives. That is why we obsess on it, why we worry about what we are cooking for dinner or the quality of the last restaurant experience. Every book and magazine we read, every television show we watch, every meal we eat leaves a lasting impression that effects how we approach our next meal. When we create a “new” recipe, we are standing on the shoulders of those that came before us.

To our German friend, I’ll grant you a “cookyright” as long as you credit every single cook that worked on the recipe before you - from the person who invented pasta to the sous chef who tasted it and recommended a pinch more salt. Get crackin’ dude – you have your work cut out for you!


A bit of bone from my man

One of the best things about being married is sharing the things you love with the person you love most. Tony and I have been married fifteen years now and we still get to share new things every day.

Take a few months ago, for example. Tony and I were camped out on the couch watching Tony Bourdain’s Cook’s Tour. It was the episode where he goes to St. John restaurant headed up by Fergus Henderson. The restaurant is dedicated to eating foods that are no longer socially acceptable like pig trotters, tongue and tripe. As a starter, Tony Bourdain gets a serving of bone marrow with parsley salad. My hubby looks over at me and says, “You know, I really love marrow. I haven’t had any in twenty years. It’s really hard to find now unless you order it special.”

Fifteen years, and I never knew. I was devastated. When I got married, I learned to cook dishes I knew my hubby loved: pot roast, lentil soup and fried rice among others. But not once did he ever mention that he loved marrow. So I picked up a copy of
Nose to Tail Eating by Fergus Henderson and learned to make marrow bones.

My only drawback was finding marrow bones. Schuman’s does not carry marrow bones. I finally was able to find them through Meijer’s. Turns out that they get them precut and vacuum packed, so I had to take what I could get. I am in the process of finding someone who can customer cut the bones for me. In the meantime, the precut bones will have to do.

It’s funny that it is so hard to find bones in the butcher shops, considering every animal is full of them. We slaughter about
27 million cattle every year, but you hardly ever see bones in the meat case or on the dinner plate. I have to wonder how much of the “boneless meat syndrome” is a result of the Great Depression and WWII. I know, I know, you think this is some hair brained notion by some wacko.

But consider this – my parents both grew up during the Great Depression. My mother endured rationing during the war. They both went to great lengths to make sure that their children would not have to endure the hardships that they did. We only got the best of everything. It was the same with all the other kids who had parents from that generation – most never had to raise animals for meat or home can vegetables and fruit. The Baby Boomers were removed from the nasty dirty world of food production.

Also, with women entering the work force during the war and in ever increasing numbers afterwards, there was a need for quick cooking protein sources. Women who were working outside the home no longer had the time to cook large cuts of meat. Boneless cuts cook more quickly and eventually, the Boomers and their offspring became accustomed to seeing boneless or nearly boneless meat on the dinner table. Thanks to convenient prepackaged foods and boneless cuts, Gen X became even more detached from what a real dead animal looked like. Unless it was road kill - and that didn’t do anything to improve the image.

Some food writers seem mystified by the fact that most of the American population is turned off by the thought of boney meat. It is what we have become accustomed to. It is what we grew up eating, as right or wrong as that may be. Think of it like music - if you are used to listening to music from Europe based on diatonic scales and then suddenly had to listen to music from China, which is based on pentatonic-diatonic scales- you would say to yourself “what kind of crazy stuff is this?” You can’t just throw boney meat back on the market and expect it to be embraced by a culture that has not been taught how to appreciate it.

Ok, let me put the soap box away and talk about some yummy food.

So anyhow – Tony announced that he really really loved marrow and wanted to have some - some day….and looked at me with those big sad puppy eyes. And off I went on my quest for the rarest thing in meatdom – marrow bones.

Fergus Henderson calls for 3 inch bones and roasting them for 20 minutes. Because my bones were so thin – I just broiled them. I toasted some good bread and made up Henderson’s parsley salad. Tony had misgivings about the salad, but it the perfect way to cut the richness of the fatty marrow. Needless to say - the spark is still in our marriage after fifteen years, with the help of a little bit of bone and some parsley.

I am not going to give you the recipe – mostly because I want you to go get the book and read it. Fergus (yes, I am on a first name basis with him now.) says things like “…lightly chop your parsley, just enough to discipline it…” and “…when you smell it, it will smell quite
umpfy.” It’s a great read and an even better eat.


Hot Java Jive

I used freelance for a local coffee roaster. The company required me to work out of their offices which were attached to the coffee roasting facilities. The best perk: every time the roasters got a new batch of green coffee, they were required to roast a small batch and everyone in the office got to taste it for “comparison”. I am telling ya folks, nothing beats fresh roasted, fresh brewed coffee. Before my job at the roaster, I used to be happy just drinking coffee out of the vat at work. Now, Maxwell House just don’t get it for this girl.

So, when I can afford it, I like to stop by my local coffee roasters and pick up a batch of really good beans, grind them fresh and brew myself up a mess of fine coffee. The problem is – I had a drip style pot a la Mr. Coffee. True, it’s a far cry for the percolator but it still does not brew a great cup of java. I then went to a French press, which I found to be tasty but it always seemed to have some “sediment” in the bottom of cup when I finished. I do not want to look at sludge in the morning. Its bad enough I have to look at myself in the mirror, much less “mud” in my morning cup o joe.

I figured I would be doomed to the morning sludge when I came across a new type of coffee pot. It didn’t require me to plug it in. It wasn’t made out of fragile glass. It’s called the AeroPress. The press is made by Aerobie,Inc. in Palo Alto, CA. Are they manufactures of food paraphernalia you ask? No, they make items like flying discs. The inventor behind the company is Alan Adler, an engineering instructor from Stanford University. Take a look at this thing - it looks like something that a techie would come up with. I’m cool with that being a geek myself. Function over form anytime baby!

Let me just briefly describe the workings of the Aeropress. The main body of the press consists of a tube with a disposable microfilter on the business end. The grounds are measured with a provided scoop and placed into the body of the press. (One scoop equals one serving of espresso.) A handy funnel is provided to facilitate this and prevent grounds from scattering all over your counter. The other important part is the plunger. It consists of a hollow tube with a neoprene seal on the bottom. (The plunger can also double as a measuring cup for heating your water in the microwave - in case you don’t have access to a stove! Very nice thinking, Alan.)

Procedure: Water must be heated to a temperature between 165 and 175 degrees. Do not boil. The grounds are measured into the body with the handy scoop and funnel. Once the water has reached the proper temperature you pour the hot water over the grounds, stir with the handy provided stirring implement, insert the plunger and compress the grounds to extract all the coffee goodness. Of course this is a very skimpy description - but you can download the actual instructions for the procedure from the company website.

So how is this different from the French Press? First, the filter is much finer. A French press does not get all the sediment filtered out. Even when you use a coarse ground coffee from a burr grinder, you still end up with very fine particles in the cup. With a French press, if you do not drink everything right away, the remaining coffee sits in the pot and “steeps” the grounds, which can make the brew bitter. In the Aeropress method, the liquid passes through the grounds makes a kind of coffee concentrate. What comes out of the working end into the glass is strong. Espresso strong. This is good because you can then dilute it to the desired strength. My hubby likes his coffee to put hair on his chest while I like a traditional cup of Americano Now, we both get our way with only one procedure. You can even make the “coffee base” ahead and add hot water to it, kind of like the toddy method.

I found this product very easy to use. The key to success is preparation and consistency. You only have a few seconds to get the heated water into the press once it hits the right temperature. I actually started using an instant read thermometer to make sure I got the temperature just right, because once I let it get higher than 175, I could taste the bitterness that crept into the brew. As far as consistency, I had to make quite a few batches of coffee before I found the right formula of coffee to water. If you use an espresso roast and grind, you will get different results than if you were using a city roast with a drip grind. If you are not a thinker first thing in the morning, you might want to consider the making the concentrate the night before and adding hot water to it for that first wake-me-up cup. Since I had my new toy, I wanted to see what other people would think about the coffee it produced. That called for a party. Well, a small one. Actually, I just got together with Debbie and Gail for a coffee clache. Gail invited one of her neighbors, Lillian, to join us. Gail, Debbie and I used this as a chance to try out some new recipes. Gail contributed crepes filled with scrambled eggs, bacon and cheese sauce plus some killer cinnamon rolls. Debbie brought some almond pound cake. She confessed that she cheated by using a mix. (Tsk, tsk Debbie!) It was still good, but the almond flavor was just a tad artificial. Me-I’ve been playing with yeast doughs from my 1946 Joy of Cooking and made a yeast coffee cake topped with apples and walnuts. It was good, but it still needs a lot of work before I share the recipe.

Once we were all filled up, we turned to the taste test. Here is how I set up the experiment. First, I bought fresh roasted coffee from a local purveyor. I chose a medium roast Costa Rica and bought three different forms: whole bean, drip grind and coarse grind (for the French press).

Next, Gail procured some bottled water so that we would not have any off flavors from the local water supply.

The three methods of brewing were: Automatic Drip, French Press and Aeropress.
For the Automatic Drip machine and the Aeropress, I used pre-ground coffee. For the French Press, I used the Coarse ground coffee. I made the brew according to the instructions for the respective equipment and poured the liquids into numbered cups. I also provided a glass of water for each taster. The tasters did not know which brew was in what numbered cup.

The tasters first sniffed the cups to assess the aroma.

  • Cup 1-all tasters agreed that this sample had little aroma
  • Cup 2- all tasters agreed that this sample had a strong aroma
  • Cup 3- all tasters agreed that this sample had a strong aroma.

Next, each taster sipped some of the coffee without any additives. I asked them to take a sip of water before tasting the next cup.

Cup 1:
  • Debbie –the coffee was bitter and a little too hot
  • Gail –the coffee was a too hot and was “flat”
  • Lillian – Coffee too warm and was “heavy”

Cup 2:

  • Debbie – the coffee has a nice flavor without bitterness
  • Gail- the coffee had a good flavor, very light body (almost too light)
  • Lillian – the coffee tasted good but was a little cooler than she liked

Cup 3:

  • Debbie – the coffee has a good flavor with mild bitterness
  • Gail- the coffee tasted good, but had too much sediment
  • Lillian – the coffee had a good flavor, but she did not like the sediment in the bottom of the cup

The results?

  • Cup 1 was the Automatic Drip
  • Cup 2 was the Aeropress
  • Cup 3 was the French Press

The auto drip machine was a newer machine that Gail received as a present from one of her sons. She uses it every morning to get her engine started. However, it produced a brew that was bitter and the hot plate kept the coffee at a higher temperature which may have contributed to the bitterness by continuing to “cook” the brew for a few minutes while I was preparing the other two coffees.

The Aeropress was voted the most liked coffee by show of hands before I revealed which cup contained which coffee. The brew had a deep aroma and flavorful while lacking any of the usual bitterness found in the other brewing methods. The only real complaint was that the coffee was a little “cooler” than the other two brews. Because the Aeropress starts off with a lower water temperature, it seems to be important to drink the coffee as soon as possible if you like a hot cup of java.

The French Press came in second. The coffee had a deep aroma and only mild bitterness. It also had a heavier body than the Aeropress, but that may have been due to the suspended grounds rather than the extraction method. None of the tasters liked the residue that was left in the bottom of the cup. Lillian described it as “muddy”.

So will the gals cough up the $30.00 to buy an Aeropress? Well…Debbie is the only coffee drinker in her house and has a single serve Melita that she swears by. While she loved the Aeropress, I don’t think she will be running out to spend the money unless I sneak in and steal her current coffee maker. Gail and Lillian love their low maintenance Mr.Coffees. While it isn’t the best cup of coffee, the automatic drip machines do offer convenience and a heating element to keep their caffeine fix warm. Me – I like the Aeropress a lot. It is fun and easy to use, and makes a killer cup of coffee. I am a convert and use it to make my morning cuppa.

So what are you waiting for?? Go out and get one!