Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Mr. Beer Is Here

Thanks to a last-year Christmas gift of a Mr. Beer kit, I've entered the world of home beer brewing.

The two batches I've made so far have come out pretty well, and it's also kind of fun.

I just wish I got along better with alcohol, because I like the taste of beer, but not always the way alcohol makes me feel (and none of the non-alcoholic beers I've bought and tried - and I've tried them all - taste very good to me).

Friday, November 20, 2009

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Tell Me It Ain't So!

And just when we were getting ready to start an organic garden:

Organic food is no healthier, study finds

Wed Jul 29, 2009 12:29pm EDT

LONDON (Reuters) - Organic food has no nutritional or health benefits over ordinary food, according to a major study published Wednesday.

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine said consumers were paying higher prices for organic food because of its perceived health benefits, creating a global organic market worth an estimated $48 billion in 2007.

A systematic review of 162 scientific papers published in the scientific literature over the last 50 years, however, found there was no significant difference.

"A small number of differences in nutrient content were found to exist between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs, but these are unlikely to be of any public health relevance," said Alan Dangour, one of the report's authors.

"Our review indicates that there is currently no evidence to support the selection of organically over conventionally produced foods on the basis of nutritional superiority."

The results of research, which was commissioned by the British government's Food Standards Agency, were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Sales of organic food have fallen in some markets, including Britain, as recession has led consumers to cut back on purchases.

The Soil Association said in April that growth in sales of organic products in Britain slowed to just 1.7 percent in 2008, well below the average annual growth rate of 26 percent over the last decade, following a plunge in demand at the end of the year.

(Reporting by Ben Hirschler; editing by Simon Jessop)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Healing Herbs

8 Commonly Used Herbs and their Healing Properties
By Dr. Maoshing Ni
Posted on Wed, Jun 17, 2009, 5:14 pm PDT

Dr. Mao's Secrets of Longevity
by Dr. Maoshing Ni a Yahoo! Health Expert for Alternative Medicine

Visit Alternative Medicine Home »
More By This Expert
4 Exercises to Sharpen Your Brain
8 Commonly Used Herbs and their Healing Properties
5 Secrets to Preserve Your Eyesight

Herbs have been part of every culture and medical tradition since the earliest humans walked the earth for treatment of everything from colds to digestive issues to depression. You may be surprised to learn that the herbs you have been regularly using to infuse your food with appetizing flavors also have amazing healing abilities. They are easily grown in your own home so you can have them on hand to use whenever the urge to cook strikes you. Read on to find the healing health benefits of these commonly used herbs.

1. Rosemary
Rosemary has been used as a brain tonic in Chinese traditional medicine for thousands of years. Rosemary contains volatile oils that help stimulate brain activities and increase brain alertness. One compound it contains, cineole, has been found to enhance the ability of rat to navigate mazes. So skip the harsh coffee and spice up your energy level with rosemary. Other benefits? Rosemary also aids in digestion and perks up your immune system. Steep it as tea, use in your poultry dishes and soups--or just crush some up to fill your home with an energizing scent.

Growing tips: Rosemary needs to live in a very sunny window and may even need supplemental light. It is sensitive to overwatering so keep it on the dry side.

2. Mint
Peppermint, spearmint, and other mint-family plants are considered one of the most versatile herbs in traditional Chinese medicine. Peppermint has many well-documented properties: It increases healthy gastric secretions, relaxes the intestines, soothes spasms, settles the stomach, and alleviates gas. In a culture marked by poor diet and digestion--and the heartburn that comes with it--peppermint can be your best friend. Additionally, peppermint is rich in antioxidants that support good vision and also cleanses your liver, helping to eliminate harmful toxins from your body. Steep peppermint as a tea and drink it a half an hour after mealtimes for untroubled digestion.

Growing tips: Mint is an easy-to-grow herb that is invasive, so be sure to grow it in its own pot.

3. Oregano
When you're suffering from cold or flu, steep oregano in a pot of water and inhale the vapors, which are antibacterial, antiviral and decongesting. This immunity-enhancing herb also settles digestion and prevents bloating.

Growing tips: Oregano needs a lot of light to grow so find a window with direct light or grow out-of-doors.

4. Sage
Chinese traditional medicine has long used sage to help prevent the loss of mental function that comes with age. Sage has been found to increase oxygen to the brain cortex and to help improve concentration. Sage is easy on the digestion. Cook it up in soups and poultry dishes.

Growing tips: Sage can be a bit difficult to grow. It is very sensitive to overwatering because it is more susceptible to mildew than other herbs.

5. Chives
A member of the garlic and onion family, chives have been used throughout history for natural healing because they contain a substantial amount of vitamin C as well as essential minerals such as potassium, calcium, iron and folic acid. In Chinese medicine they are used to clear stuffy noses, prevent bad breath, ease stomach aches, strengthen the lower back, and improve poor circulation that gives you cold hands and feet. Some serving suggestions? Chop up chives and add them to stir-fries or mix in with ground poultry to stuff ravioli or dumplings.

Growing tips: Chives are fairly easy to grow because they don't require as much light as other herbs.

6. Basil
A favorite herb in Italian cooking, basil's scent can perk up your energy level and it is filled with luteolin, a bioflavonoid that studies have shown to be the best protection of cell DNA from radiation.

Growing tips: Basil can be more difficult to grow. Your best bet is to grow it during warm, bright summer months.

7. Cilantro
Cilantro is an energy tonic that can boost your immune system and smooth out your digestion. Use it in your cooking to get its health benefits.

Growing tips: Cilantro, the name for the stems and leaves of the coriander plant, can be hard to grow. Sow the coriander seeds in a thick concentration in a shallow tray.

8. Parsley
Parsley is used in a Chinese folk remedy for cooling the liver and clearing the eyes. Parsley is packed with luteolin, and there is some evidence that this helps protect the eye from UV radiation damage and from glycation, a process in which sticky sugar molecules bind up protein, potentially damaging the retina. The age-old folk remedy recipe for vision protection is a juice blend of celery, peppermint, and Chinese parsley, made fresh daily.

Growing tips: Parsley doesn't need very much sun, but it is a slow grower, so don't expect a high yield.

Herbal Tea Recipes
Aside from use in cooking, all of the above herbs can be used to make aromatic potent teas. You may use the herbs individually or experiment with combinations. For example, to make a tea that soothes digestion and prevents bloating: Steep 1 teaspoon each of mint, rosemary, oregano, cilantro, sage and basil and in a cup of hot filtered water for five minutes.

Other herbal teas that can bring big benefits to your health are my specially formulated Ancient Treasures tea and Internal Cleanse tea, which will gently cleanse your body of toxins and bring you emotional tranquility.

Grow Your Own
To grow your own herbs, all you need is some terra cotta pots with drainage holes, high-quality organic potting soil, and a window sill that gets at least six hours of light per day. A southwestern-facing window is your best choice for good light. If this isn't possible, you can get a few clamp-on reflector lights with compact fluorescent bulbs and place them about six inches away from the plant. Keep in mind that overwatering is the biggest mistake people make when trying to grow herbs inside. The rule of thumb is to let the herbs dry out completely, and then water. Beginning with baby plants will be less troublesome than starting from seed. With practice, you will learn the best ways to grow and care for your indoor herbal garden.

I hope this article helps you make the most of herbs! I invite you to visit often and share your own personal health and longevity tips with me.

May you live long, live strong, and live happy!

--Dr. Mao

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Wake Up And Smell The Coffee!

Coffee's Aroma Kick-starts Genes In The Brain

ScienceDaily (June 16, 2008) — Drink coffee to send a wake-up call to the brain? Or just smell its rich, warm aroma? An international group of scientists is reporting some of the first evidence that simply inhaling coffee aroma alters the activity of genes in the brain.

In experiments with laboratory rats, they found that coffee aroma orchestrates the expression of more than a dozen genes and some changes in protein expressions, in ways that help reduce the stress of sleep deprivation.

Han-Seok Seo and colleagues point out that hundreds of studies have been done on the ingredients in coffee, including substances linked to beneficial health effects. "There are few studies that deal with the beneficial effects of coffee aroma," they note. "This study is the first effort to elucidate the effects of coffee bean aroma on the sleep deprivation-induced stress in the rat brain."

In an effort to begin filling that gap, they allowed lab rats to inhale coffee aroma, including some rats stressed by sleep deprivation. The study then compared gene and protein expressions in the rats' brains. Rats that sniffed coffee showed different levels of activity in 17 genes. Thirteen of the genes showed differential mRNA expression between the stress group and the stress with coffee group, including proteins with healthful antioxidant activity known to protect nerve cells from stress-related damage.

Journal reference:

Han-Seok Seo et al. Effects of Coffee Bean Aroma on the Rat Brain Stressed by Sleep Deprivation: A Selected Transcript- and 2D Gel-Based Proteome Analysis. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, June 25, 2008 DOI: 10.1021/jf8001137
Adapted from materials provided by American Chemical Society.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


May 13, 2009
Absinthes to Go Mad Over

ABSINTHE? So devil may care, so deliciously disreputable, so ... louche. But it’s poisonous, no? It eats your brain and drives you crazy!

If nothing else, a century of prohibition on absinthe gave it the sort of aura of dissolute glamour that would-be brooding artists would drown their agents for. The two faces of absinthe offered possibilities to idealists the world over, searching for a muse or testing the limits of their risk-taking.

Consider the cast of mythological absinthe drinkers: the vulnerable painter and poet, too sensitive for this mean old world; the tormented soul, unable to snap out of his self-loathing; the rakish hedonist, seeking one big, lurid rush; the wealthy dilettante, dipping a toe in bohemia; and of course, all manner of willing women.

But now absinthe is legal again, and the romance of belle époque naughtiness must give way to what’s in the glass. Pull over, you disillusioned dreamers: with no laws to break, no frissons of danger, let the mystification stop right now.

Since absinthe was legalized in the United States in 2007, it has gone from forbidden fruit to virulent weed. Once smuggled from Eastern Europe or procured from back-alley producers, absinthe is now just another bottle on the bar. Yet mystique continues as marketing.

To give absinthe its moment in the harsh light of day, the tasting panel sampled 20 bottles. Florence Fabricant and I were joined by Audrey Saunders, an owner of the Pegu Club on West Houston Street, and Pete Wells, editor of the Dining section, who writes about drinks.

So what makes absinthe absinthe? Essentially it is a neutral spirit infused with myriad herbs and botanicals, centering around anise, fennel and a specific type of wormwood, Artemisia absinthium, from which absinthe takes its name. This wormwood contains small amounts of thujone, a compound once thought to affect the mind. It’s understood now that hallucinations and other health issues attributed to overindulging in absinthe were more a result of alcohol poisoning due to the high alcohol content, typically 50 to 70 percent.

Few things demystify absinthe more than the daunting prospect of 20 glasses in front of you. For instance, all those nicknames — the green fairy, the green muse, the green torment, the green oblivion — might lead one to believe that absinthe is green, right? Often, but not always.

The absinthes offered numerous variations on green, from pale celadon and shimmering aquamarine to extra virgin olive oil to dizzyingly garish shades that don’t exist in nature outside of South Beach nightclubs. But one absinthe was turquoise, which is near enough to green, I suppose. Another was mouthwash blue. A few were completely clear. Those were from Switzerland and included our favorite in the tasting, Kübler. More on that soon enough.

What was plain to all of us was that absinthe, stripped of its mystique, can be wonderfully enjoyable but also confusing.

For example, the ritual of service: the slow drip of water, from an Art Nouveau fountain through a sugar cube held in a slotted spoon over the glass, seeping down into a pool of green like sweetened tears. Oops, again with the mystique.

Here’s what’s important to know: forget the sugar, remember the water. Despite the reverence today for vintage bottles of pre-prohibition absinthe, much of what was produced back in the old days was harsh and industrial. Sugar might have been a necessary addition to make it palatable. The absinthes in our tasting had enough natural (and possibly unnatural) sweetness that adding sugar was unnecessary. The quality of most of them was unexpectedly good.

“I was surprised by how few lousy ones there were,” said Pete, whose experiences with contraband absinthes had not always been pleasant.

Without water, though, almost any absinthe would be difficult to endure. Absinthe in general is simply too strong to drink undiluted. Of our 20 bottles, 13 were 60 percent alcohol or more. Not only do they require water, they require just the right amount, anywhere from three to five parts water to one part absinthe, the amount rising — usually but not always — in tandem with the original strength of each bottle.

The best method, we found, was to begin with a three-to-one ratio, and then, if the absinthe still tastes harsh, continue adding until a seductive balance is achieved. With too little water, for example, Lucid, No. 9 on our list, was hot and harsh at 62 percent alcohol. By slowly adding more to achieve the right balance, the Lucid became mellow and inviting.

Water not only changes the flavors, it almost magically alters the appearance of the absinthe. As you slowly add water, the liquid in the glass seems to thicken, and transforms into an opalescent pastel cloud. The French call this effect the louche (which has the wonderful double meaning of turbulent in French and disreputable in English). Technically, when absinthe is distilled, the anise and fennel oils dissolve into the alcohol. As the water dilutes the alcohol, it frees the oils from their molecular prison, and they form a cloudy suspension.

The louche effect occurs even with clear Swiss absinthes, like our No. 1, Kübler, which turned a brilliant white in the glass. It offered rich, warm anise and herbal flavors that were deliciously subtle rather than greatly complex.

Among our top absinthes, the Grande Absente, the Pernod and the Émile Pernot Vieux Pontarlier all were beautifully integrated, with balanced flavors centering on anise, licorice and fennel, augmented by herbs and citrus. The next rank, particularly the St. George — with a spider monkey on its label beating on a skull — and the Jade Nouvelle-Orléans, offered greater complexity, with more pronounced floral and herbal flavors, and less focus on anise. Absinthe connoisseurs often seem to prefer these to the bottles that we favored.

One Swiss absinthe, Mansinthe, distilled to the specifications of Marilyn Manson, was not clear but a more common shade of green. Its brininess divided the panel. It was our No. 10.

I mentioned that we had 20 absinthes in our tasting. Actually, we had 19, with one absinthe substitute, Absente, which was distilled in France using a different species of wormwood and marketed in the United States during the ban. It’s not absinthe, but we liked it very much, particularly its iridescent louche and straightforward but rich anise flavor. The same distiller now makes Grande Absente, an authentic absinthe, which was our No. 2 bottle.

As appealing as we found absinthe, we did not agree on its best role. Florence thought it would be a good aperitif, like a pastis, which is made with anise substitutes like Pernod or Ricard and blended with water to the same pearly result. I disagreed, thinking that absinthe’s herbal flavors made it a better digestif, settling the stomach after a meal, like Chartreuse or amaro. We all agreed that flaming absinthe cocktails are silly affectations.

While a little absinthe can be quite pleasant, a lot, as with any other strong spirit, will make you drunk. Perhaps, if you are of an Oscar Wilde bent, too much absinthe will do to you what it did to him: “After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were,” he said in one of his many disquisitions on absinthe. “After the second you see things as they are not. Finally you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.”

Personally, I prefer how martinis affected Dorothy Parker:

I like to have a martini,
Two at the very most.
After three I’m under the table,
after four I’m under my host.

Tasting Report: A Worldly Spirit Revisits From Here and There


Kübler, Switzerland
★★★ ½
53 percent alcohol
Clear, turns brilliant white; mellow, lingering and deliciously subtle with a chorus of variations on anise and herbal flavors. (Importer: Altamar Brands, Corona del Mar, Calif.)

Grande Absente, France
69 percent alcohol
Rich, lively and seductive with complex, spicy flavors of licorice,
spices and fresh mint. (Crillon Importers, Paramus, N.J.)

Pernod Absinthe, France
68 percent alcohol
Shimmering, with complex, lingering flavors of anise, lemon balm
and citrus. (Pernod Ricard, Purchase, N.Y.)

Émile Pernot Vieux Pontarlier, France
65 percent alcohol
Iridescent, with well-integrated flavors of anise, mint and lemon.
(Tempus Fugit Spirits, San Francisco)

St. George Absinthe Verte, United States
★★ ½
60 percent alcohol
Highly perfumed, with aromas of flowers, chamomile and licorice.

Jade Nouvelle-Orléans, France
★★ ½
68 percent alcohol
Savory and almost saline, with lingering, toasty flavors of citrus,
mint, pine and fennel. (Viridian Spirits, Manhasset, N.Y.)

Obsello, Spain
★★ ½
50 percent alcohol
Lively, appealing aromas and flavors of licorice and fennel.
(Esmeralda Liquors, Manhasset, N.Y.)

La Clandestine, Switzerland
53 percent alcohol
Straightforward, with flavors of anise and lavender. (Viridian Spirits)

Lucid, France
62 percent alcohol
Gentle and well balanced with smoky anise and spice flavors.
(Viridian Spirits)

Mansinthe by Marilyn Manson, Switzerland
66.6 percent alcohol
Grassy and briny, with aromas of lemon, balsam and sweet anise. (Tempus Fugit Spirits)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ready Set Joe!

I wrote here about how I have found that I could make a good cup of coffee with my 12-cup drip-brew coffeemaker while using a lot less coffee than I've been using in my beloved Aerobie AeroPress.

The other day I found Melitta's Ready Set Joe Single Cup Coffee Brewer (uses #2 Melitta filters with Flavor Pores, either white or natural brown - $3.99/100) at the Kroger grocery store after looking for it at half a dozen other stores (and failing to find it or its larger sibling), so I snatched up two of them for $2.99 each, one for home and one for the office. All they had was black, but it also comes in red (and maybe other colors as well). (Note: The new Ready Set Joe design replaces the older version by adding openings that let you see how much water has dripped into the cup, instead of totally covering the top of the cup; it also eliminates the side coffee-cup-like handle.)

As much as I've liked my AeroPress, I find that the Melitta makes a better-tasting (IMO) cup of coffee, with less effort and less cleanup (and less coffee needed per cup). I currently use an AeroPress scoop (~37 ml, vs. 30 ml for standard 2 TBSP coffee measure), ground at drip grind, and slowly pour (and repour) hot water after it's boiled in my teakettle into the filter until I've created about a 10-11 oz. cup of coffee.  As the water drips through, gently keep pouring more water into the filter, being sure to wash down the grinds from the sides of the filter so all the coffee gets thoroughly brewed. Keep a second cup right next to the one you're brewing over so you can remove the Ready-Set-Joe when your cup has the 10-11 oz. you want and set it on top of the extra/overflow cup so it can keep dripping if it still has water in it.

I suspect that letting the water cool down a bit might make the coffee a little less bitter, if one prefers their coffee that way. Also, some suggest stirring the coffee slurry in the filter that you get after you first pour in the water. I don't know if this makes much of a difference if you slowly and carefully soak the grinds thoroughly. It can definitly foam up if the coffee is really freshly-roasted, so be careful as you fill the filter with water; the #2 filter is not very large, and you don't want it to overflow/overfill.

The nice thing about this system is that, like the AeroPress, it gives you total control over the coffee-making: i.e., the grind, the water temperature, and the brew/drip time. Automatic dripmakers largely take the water temperature control out of your hands, though some let you adjust the brew/drip time by an adjustable dial for the strength of the coffee. And make no mistake about it - the water temperature can make a huge difference in the taste. Brew two cups, one with water just after it boils in your tea kettle, and another after you wait 30 seconds after your hot water boils, and see how different they can taste. Some coffees taste better if brewed with hotter water; sometimes it depends on how old the coffee is - e.g., I may do a 20-second wait-to-pour with a fresh bag of beans, yet find that if I'm using the same beans 2 weeks later, a hotter water temperature is needed to make it taste better.

The paper filter, as in the AeroPress, absorbs the cholesterol-raising chemicals in coffee, yet the micropores (unlike the AeroPress) seem to (or supposedly) allow more of the coffee oils through, making for a better-tasting cup of coffee. All I know is that I like the coffee better than a French Press or the AeroPress.

Better-tasting coffee, at a better per-cup price. How cool is that!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Good Pasta, Less Water

How Much Water Does Pasta Really Need?

The Curious Cook
Published: February 24, 2009

SOME time ago, as I emptied a big pot of pasta water into the sink and waited for the fog to lift from my glasses, a simple question occurred to me. Why boil so much more water than pasta actually absorbs, only to pour it down the drain? Couldn’t we cook pasta just as well with much less water and energy? Another question quickly followed: if we could, what would the defenders of Italian tradition say?

After some experiments, I’ve found that we can indeed make pasta in just a few cups of water and save a good deal of energy. Not that much in your kitchen or mine — just the amount needed to keep a burner on high for a few more minutes. But Americans cook something like a billion pounds of pasta a year, so those minutes could add up.

My rough figuring indicates an energy savings at the stove top of several trillion B.T.U.s. At the power plant, that would mean saving 250,000 to 500,000 barrels of oil, or $10 million to $20 million at current prices. Significant numbers, though these days they sound like small drops in a very large pot.

The standard method for cooking pasta, found in Italian cookbooks and on pasta packages, is to heat to a rolling boil 4 to 6 quarts of well-salted water per pound of pasta. The usual rationales are that abundant water quickly recovers the boil when the pasta is added, gives the noodles room so that they don’t stick to one another, and dilutes the starch they release, so they don’t end up with a “gluey” surface.

To see which of these factors are really significant, I put a pound of spaghetti into a pot, added just 2 quarts of cold water and 2 teaspoons salt and turned on the heat. The water took about 8 minutes to reach the boil, during which I had to push the noodles around occasionally to keep them from sticking. They took another 10 minutes to cook through.

When I drained the pasta, it had the texture and saltiness I expected, seemed about as sticky as usual, and when tossed with a little oil, seemed perfectly normal.

So I tried reducing the water even further, to 1 1/2 quarts. I had to stir often because that’s not quite enough to keep all the pasta immersed all the time, but again the spaghetti came out fine.

Why can pasta cook normally in a small volume of water that starts out cold? Because the noodles absorb water only very slowly at temperatures much below the boil, so little happens to them in the few minutes it takes for the water to heat up. And no matter how starchy the cooking water is, the solid noodle surfaces themselves are starchier, and will be sticky until they’re lubricated by sauce or oil.

I described my method in e-mail messages to two of this country’s best-known advocates of Italian cuisine. Lidia Bastianich told me: “My grandmother would have thought of the idea surely as blasphemous. I think it is curious.” And Marcella Hazan said, “I am a very curious person, and I’m glad people are exploring new ways.” Both of them gave it a try.

Ms. Bastianich responded with a controlled experiment. She started spaghettini in pots of cold water and boiling water (4 quarts each instead of her usual 6) side by side and found the cold-water version lacking in the gradation of texture she looks for. As for the flavor, she said “I felt that the cold-water pasta had lost some of the nutty flavor of a good semolina pasta cooked properly.”

Ms. Bastianich agreed that using less water is O.K. “Yes, I think it’s doable to reduce the cooking water by one third,” from 6 quarts per pound to 4. “But please ‘butta la pasta’ in boiling water.”

Ms. Hazan tried starting a batch of shell pasta in a somewhat reduced amount of cold water, and found that it needed constant stirring to avoid sticking. “Maybe you save heat energy, but you also have to work a lot harder,” she told me in a follow-up call. “It’s not so convenient. I don’t know if I would cook pasta this way.”

Heartened by the experts’ willingness to experiment, I went back to work, this time starting with hot water. I found that it’s possible to butta la pasta in 1 1/2 or 2 quarts of boiling water without having the noodles stick. Short shapes just require occasional stirring. Long strands and ribbons need a quick wetting with cold water just before they go into the pot, then frequent stirring for a minute or two.

Except for capellini, which cooks too quickly, I find that both the cold and hot versions of the minimal-water method work well with the common shapes I’ve tried, with whole wheat pasta, and even fresh pasta, as long as any surface flour is rinsed off first.

I prefer starting with cold water, because the noodles don’t stick together at all as they go into the pot, and because I don’t notice a difference in flavor once they’re drained and sauced. It’s true, though, that no matter what temperature you start with, this method requires more attention. That’s a disadvantage when you’re cooking several things at once.

If you cook pasta often, try experimenting with different starting temperatures and amounts of water. You can even cook pasta in the manner of a risotto, adding the liquid in small doses and stirring constantly. Be sure to use a pot broad enough for the noodles to lie flat on the bottom, and to reduce the salt for smaller volumes of water.

There’s one other dividend to cooking pasta in minimal water that I hadn’t anticipated: the leftover pasta water. It’s thick, but you can still easily ladle it out by tilting the pan. And it’s very pleasant tasting: not too salty, lots of body, and lots of semolina flavor. Whole-wheat pasta water is surprisingly delicious.

Italian recipes often suggest adding pasta water to adjust the consistency of a sauce, but this thick water is almost a sauce in itself. When I anointed a batch of spaghetti with olive oil and then tossed it with a couple of ladles-full, the oil dispersed into tiny droplets in the liquid, and the oily coating became an especially creamy one.

Restaurant cooks prize thick pasta water. In “Heat,” his best-selling account of working in Mario Batali’s restaurant Babbo, Bill Buford describes how in the course of an evening, water in the pasta cooker goes from clear to cloudy to muddy, a stage that is “yucky-sounding but wonderful,” because the water “behaves like a sauce thickener, binding the elements and flavoring the pasta with the flavor of itself.”

Mr. Buford suggests that the muddy pasta water should be bottled and sold, because home cooking never produces anything like it. Cooking one batch of pasta in minimal water can’t smooth out the starch as completely or generate those long-cooked flavors. But it does make pasta water good enough to sip.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Dollars and Sense: Drip Brew Vs. AeroPress (Part 2)

Earlier I wrote a comparison of the cost-per-cup of drip-brew versus AeroPress.

During the holidays I made coffee in my 12-cup GE Drip-Brew coffeemaker. I used one 30 ml (2 TBSP) coffee measure of beans (ground for drip - i.e., halfway between espresso and French press) for every two 5-oz. cups of coffee = 30 ml beans per 10 oz. cup of coffee = 3 ml beans per 1 oz. coffee.

(I also did the same with my Hamilton Beach Brewmaster, but the coffee tasted slightly bitter; I suspect the HB heats the water to a higher temperature.)

Translating this to the 38 ml AeroPress scoop should give about 12.7 oz. coffee per AeroPress scoop. I made an 11 oz. cup with 1 AeroPress scoop of ground coffee (halfway between espresso and drip), stirring and letting the coffee "brew" for 1 minute, rather than the usual 10-20 sec. recommended, in order to extract more coffee flavor. It wasn't bad, and almost brings the AeroPress cost down to the price of using the drip-brew coffeemaker.

Maybe I'll look for a Melitta 1-4 cup cone for a truer "drip" brew.