Kombucha-Fermented Apple Cider

I’m fond of cider, and I was curious what would happen if the “usual” cider fermentation process was augmented with a kombucha culture. I dropped a scoby into unpreserved apple cider to find out. On one hand, it seemed promising, since hard cider (fermented “naturally” or otherwise) tends to happen readily and has tasty results. On the other hand, I wasn’t adding anything with acid or alcohol to help ensure that the kombucha culture dominated the process. It would be possible to end with something disgusting, or even toxic.

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Lamb Brats with Cherry Salsa

I picked up some lamb brats made by Moore Family Farm, and fried them up in a bit of olive oil. I ate the first one bare, but it seemed to be missing a little something. I envisioned a slight sweetness that one would normally get from a bun, but the closest thing I had to a bun was a bagel. I decided the bagel would do, but that I should add something else as a sauce. I pulled out some Esch Road Medium Cherry Salsa. This turned out to be the perfect accompaniment to the rich flavor of the lamb brat. It even sounds like a pairing you’d get at an expensive gourmet restaurant. Maybe I should suggest it to Big Grove Tavern; it definitely fits their farm-to-table schtick.

Smoke and Pepper?

Back in March, I was in Chicago and had my first meal at a Red Robin. I had a Smoke and Pepper burger and a chocolate and Myer’s Rum shake. Both were delicious, but I still managed to be a little disappointed by the burger. While it tasted great, I could taste neither smoke nor pepper. Apparently the flavor is supposed to be from the alder-smoked salt used on the burger and the black pepper used on the Bacon, as well as smoke- and pepper-flavored ketchup. The fries come with the special ketchup and I was never able to pick out the namesake flavors. Weird.

Nevertheless, it was rather tasty, and I’d be interested in the recipe. I’ve not yet seen one online, so I guess nobody’s recreated it.

Zambian Comparo, pt2

This update will include the results to two different samplings.


This was almost identical to the espresso sampling, particularly the late pulls. Okay, but not very satisfying.

Moka Pot

The flatbean was dominated by a dull grapefruit bitterness. It was a lot like the americano, but stronger, fuller bodied, and more simplistic. Half and half dulled the flavors without diminishing the grapefruit.

In stark contrast, the peaberry really started to shine! It was tart and fruity without being overbearing, and unlike the flatbean, was enticing. A pleasure to drink. It inspired my to try it iced, and while it was still good, it wasn’t as good as it had been hot. I added a splash of half and half to the iced version and it turned into a drink that was different, but equally delicious , when compared to the hot coffee out of the moka pot.

Zambian Comparo, pt1

I hadn’t ever expected to conduct a reprise of my peaberry/flatbean comparison, but I was browsing coffee at my local coffee shop and ran across a similar-yet-very-different pair of coffees: Ljulu Lipati and Ljulu Lipati Peaberry. They’re similar to my previous sampling in that there’s a peaberry/flatbean sibling rivalry. But thye’re different in that they’re from Zambia, and coffees from Africa tend to be at the opposite end of the flavor spectrum than coffees from Indonesia. FWIW, I don’t expect to find as much difference as I did when comparing the two Sulawesi. On with the sampling!


Flatbean: It’s good, though perhaps not quite what I would normally prefer in an espresso. I was a little shocked when I took a sip, and decided that it had a distinct flavor of grapefruit, and then read the label to find that “grapefruit bitters” is the first flavor listed. It then lists sour cherry, which I also detected as a complicating factor in the grapefruit. I don’t usually “get” the flavors listed on the bag, so if you’re in the same boat and want finally taste the marketing copy*, give this a try.

Peaberry: This is prety similar to the flatbean, though it is different. The grapefruit still dominates the flavor. That said, I’m not sure I would have come up with that specific description if I hadn’t tried the flat bean first. I wasn’t really able to identify any others myself, so I looked at the description on the bag and was able to imagine tasting the roasted red pepper. Had I been trying, maybe I could have tasted that with the flatbean as well.

In each case, the late pull tasted very much like the ristretto, but watered down a bit – still strongly grapefruit.


I didn’t think to look until I saw a distinct difference in crema pulling the peaberry shot, but the two coffees have different levels of freshness. The peaberry was roasted April 3 and the flatbean March 22. I wouldn’t call eitherei one is fresh, but I could definitely tell a difference in the appearance. I don’t know much the flavors differ, or if I could detect them.

*I call it marketing copy, but I don’t really doubt that the cuppers actually tasted these flavors. I’m sure they have a much more trained palette, and probably don’t the weak sense of smell that skews my gustation.


A while back I heard some buzz about the $11k Clover and how it made an incredible cup of coffee. Intelligentsia installed several in their stores, and started serving all coffee, brewed one at a time from the Clover (at some locations). I have a lot of respect for Intelligentsia, so I figured that whenever I made it up to Chicago I’d stop by and give it a try.

A couple of weeks ago I was in Chicago, so I checked to see which locations had a Clover. None. I learned that way back in 2008, Starbucks bought the manufacturer, and stopped selling new units or parts. After 5 years, no other clovers were left, they finally figured out how to use them, and they started introducing Clover into select locations. One of these locations was convenient on my trip, so I stopped twice to give it a try.

Starbuck uses the Clover to brew only their Reserve coffees, which seems reasonable to me, though it also gives them an extra reason to charge a pretty penny. Day one I had a Mexican bean, and the entire cup was dominated by the typical Starbucks char. Maybe the Clover was amazingly transparent, or maybe I was influenced by the hype, but I tasted even more char than usual. It’s disappointing that an origin as subtle as a Mexican wouldn’t be handled better.

Day two I ordered a Ethoipian Yirgacheffe, figuring the (potentially overbearing) berry flavors would shine through. And they did! Unfortunately, the strong berry odor out of the cup disappeared as soon as the coffee had cooled enough that I could drink it. In the end, I got two cups of coffee that were mediocre at best. And with several excellent roasters in Chicago, that’s a real shame.

Comparo: pt3

In Comparo: pt2 I mentioned my observations on pairing beans with a complementary preparation, and how I expected these Indonesian coffees to fare better in a French Press. This test didn’t work out quite like I expected.

The peaberry actually made a pretty tasty cup of coffee, better than the americano before, so I suppose my prediction was validated. However, I expected the flatbean to shine in the French Press, and to finally prevail over the peaberry. Nevertheless, as with each previous comparison, I much preferred the peaberry to the flatbean.

I have just enough left to try my Moka Pot, so that will be up next.

Comparo: pt2

Last post I introduced the two coffees I’m comparing. This week I try them in americano – it will be brief. My americano is 1 oz of espresso ristretto diluted with 3 oz hot water.

Unsurprisingly, it mirrored the espresso samples. The peaberry was pretty good, and the flatbean was not. The latter was bad enough I had to add a little half and half in order to finish it.

This was disappointing, but somewhat expected. I’ve found that heavier/earthier beans are better prepared in a french press and that brighter beans are better in a moka pot. Since an espresso machine could be considered a very optimized moka pot and Indonesian coffees tend to epitomize heavy, earthy coffees, this preparation isn’t expected to bring out the best in either of these coffees. FWIW, I find bright coffees in a french press to be harsh, and earthy coffees in the moka pot to be muddy. Using the right tool for the job makes all the difference. :)


Comparo: pt1

I was intrigued by the following description:

Same varieties. Same farmers. Same washed process. Peaberry vs. flat bean.

Peaberries have a reputation for being”different”, and this is a rare opportunity for a direct comparison, so a coworker and I split the following Indonesian coffees to evaluate them side-by-side.


We’ll see if my 6oz stretches far enough, but I’d like to sample them as:

  • Straight espresso ristretto (1/3 cup of grounds pulled into 1 oz of espresso)
  • Straight espresso “late pull” (What to call this? It’s an additional 1/2 oz pulled after the ristretto pull.)
  • Americano (1 pt espresso ristretto, 3 pts hot water)
  • Cortado Breve (I’m not sure what to call this, but it is 1 pt espresso ristretto and 1 pt half and half.)
  • French Press
  • Moka Pot


This morning I compared them as straight shots of espresso ristretto and as late pulls. Neither was especially tasty like this, but the peaberry was better. The flatbean had a fuller flavor, but it was less pleasant. The peaberry’s late pull was weaker, but didn’t show any signs of over-extraction; it still had body and didn’t have any bitterness. On the other hand, the flatbean was over extracted, thin and starting to get bitter.

The late pull is interesting just because 1 oz of espresso isn’t much, and if I can enjoy a 50% higher yield, that’s a bonus. It’s also useful because when making an americano, 1/2 oz of tasty late pull is better than 1/2 oz of water. I want to maximize the yumminess even when diluting the yumminess to make it last longer.


Many people obsess over crema. I don’t get it, but having freshly roasted coffee makes a huge difference in crema. With fresh beans, I usually have 1/2 oz of coffee with 1 oz of crema (~1/2 in). With old beans, I get 1/2 oz of coffee with 1mm of crema. So if you like crema, use freshly roasted beans.

I’ve also heard that robusta (as opposed to arabica) is often added to espresso blends to enhance body and crema. It certainly does!. After I stopped the pull, the basket was hissing as the more crema came out. I had 1/2 oz of coffee with 2.5 oz of crema. After the pull, the crema was solid enough to have peaks where it had dripped down.

I got S. O. Espresso India Sitara From Paradise Roasters (http://www.coffeereview.com/review.cfm?ID=1206), and I ground and pulled it 5 days after roasting. In my experience, there’s a noticeable freshness difference 10 days after roasting, so this would have been square in the middle and the extraordinary crema couldn’t be attributed to post-roast outgassing. Of course, I’ve only tried this once, so it could have been a fluke.

Better Espresso

A while back I got a new coffee grinder as a belated Christmas gift. I already have a countertop grinder, but it won’t grind fine enough for me modest espresso machine. This means that my espresso has been pretty thin unless I get my coffee pre-ground. This means that my coffee isn’t ground fresh, which means that my espresso has been stale. This isn’t ideal.

The new grinder, which will grind fine enough for Turkish coffee, more than fine enough to choke my espresso machine. This means that I can grind my beans right before I pull a shot. This also means that I can order freshly roasted beans. What a difference it makes!

Since my last coffee post I’ve also modded my portafilter to allow me to use a larger, unpressurized basket. The combination of the grinder and basket is great, and I can now regularly pull 1-1.5oz shots (from 1/4 cup of beans) that are better than what I’ve been served anywhere else. As a comparison, I use to order 3 shots of espresso with 1 shot of water for my americano. Now I use one shot of espresso with three shots of water, and it still has more body than what I used to order.

Houston Food

In my post on Texas in August, I mentioned that I couldn’t remember the name of our dinner location in Houston. I thought it was Mexican, but apparently, it’s “Latin American-Caribbean Fusion”. I like Mexican, but that description reminds me of a tasty restaurant here in Champaign that I think of as “gourmet equatorial”.

It was El Pueblito Patio, and if you have the opportunity to go there, I highly recommend it. It was amazingly delicious, and felt very friendly and authentic. Seriously, I think we all felt like they were a big family, and like they were welcoming us into their family. (Radio Maria is nice, but it has a sort of artsy fancy-date pretentiousness about it.) When they found out that it was Rachel’s first birthday, they brought out a huge piece of Tres Leches – big enough for all five of us to share. It was easily one of the best desserts I’ve ever had. Sadly, I can’t remember my entree, but I seem to recall Rachel having a plate of fried plantain?

Go there.

Hot Toddies

I’ve long heard of a Hot Toddy, but never tried one. I searched online and found widely varying proportions. Here’s the common range I found for a basic Hot Toddy:

1-2 oz whisky, brandy, rum, etc
1 tb honey
1-2 tsp lemon juice (or 1/4 of a lemon)
1/4c – 1c hot water

I decided to start with something in the middle:

1.5 oz Woodford Reserve Whiskey
1 tb honey
1/4 lemon
1/2 c hot water

I heated the water to boiling, poured it into a mug, added the other ingredients, and stirred.

It had potential, but I didn’t really care for it very much. I’ll try it later with a splash of bitters.

I next tried it with Myers Rum, and it was pretty tasty. I’ve read that a spiced rum works well, though I don’t have any. It’s not the sort of thing likely to get much use (not liking coconut), so if I do sample that, it will be from a small 1.5 oz bottle.

Next up was with my Corsair Rye, and this was also quite tasty. However, this stuff is one of my favorite whisk(e)ys, and it seems like a bit of a waste to dilute it with anything. I was a little sad to see it that this almost finished off the bottle.

With Redbreast it was okay, but remarkably uninteresting.

Connemara was also pretty tasty, but I feel like I lost a lot of the more interesting bits of Connemara. For example, there was no sense of peat in the finished drink.

I found that I could easily increase the water to 3/4 cup without it getting too weak; I didn’t try any more. I also didn’t change any other proportions because everything tasted well balanced the way it was. For a bit more detail on the specific Whiskeys involved, see my last post.

Maybe next I’ll try Hot Buttered Rum. I’ll have to buy more rum.


Although I have usually a variety of liquor on hand, I don’t tend to drink it very often or in much quantity. I have two Irish whiskeys that I purchased in Ireland 10 years ago. I’ve have a Bourbon not quite as long, but it’s been quite a few years. A small 1.5 oz bottle of rum I bought a couple of years ago for a Puerto Rican custard (which I’ve still not tried with rum!). My Rye was a gift from a friend the Christmas of 2011.

My favorite of the bunch is the rye, despite the overly-long name: Corsair Experimental Collection 100% Kentucky Rye Whiskey. I like rye, and this is the best I’ve had.

Redbreast 12 Irish Whiskey is okay, but not remarkably interesting. The Connemara peated Irish Whiskey (cask strength) is really interesting.

Myers is the best rum I’ve had. The flavor it thick and dark, but is a bit overly simple and could use some refinement. I’ve tried many “better” rums, but they’ve all been pretty flavorless in comparison to Myers. That said, the local selection has exploded over the last 10 years or so, so I’d be a lot more likely to find something tasty if I started started sampling again.

Pods Wrapup

The temperature from my espresso machine isn’t especially consistent. I’ve seen temperatures in the cup range from 160° to 130°, and from 190° to 170° if I run it without the portafilter. So far, it doesn’t seem to have a big impact on the quality of pod-based espresso, but I’d have to use a bunch of identical pods to to test that.

The QA on the pods is a little slack. A few pods had an edge sealed into the wrapper. With the exception of the one pod I opened on the “stuck” side (tearing into the pod), the effects were inconsequential, since I only lost a bit of paper.

I had an odd experience of bad pulls with the Segafredo Deca Crèm and Compagnia dell’Arabica, Dacaffeinato Leggero Light. One pod variety was watery and flavorless the first time, but fine the second. The second I was able to “fix” by immediately stopping the pull and “flipping” the pod. I can’t imagine how it could be a pod defect, but I also can’t figure out what user error could be responsible.

I’ve had a cold all week, though I’ve not been especially congested. I don’t think this skewed things too much, as I always have a weak sense of smell and tend to miss subtle and not-so-subtle olfactory and gustatory effects.

I initially thought of using a numeric scale to rate various qualities of the espressos, but I didn’t feel like I had sufficient sense of the scale to avoid revising it with each cup. Now that I’ve made it though everything, I feel like I should be able to do it justice. I’ve assigned each pod a series of values, bease on a 1-5 scale, and included benchmarks for drip, French press, Moka pot, and the best espresso I’ve made.

I’m a little dissatisfied with the ranking because not all characteristics are equal. I care more about strength than body and more about body than bitterness. I briefly considered using a 1-3 scale for bitterness, and a 1-4 scale for body, but I decided that was too complicated and would probably be confusing.

Here are my ratings for what I’ve tried, grouped by regular /decaf, and sorted by descending preference.

Body (mouthfeel/viscosity)

1 water/thin
2 light
3 moderate
4 medium
5 heavy


1 water
2 weak
3 moderate
4 strong
5 intense


1 intense
2 moderate
3 slight
4 hint
5 water (none)


my best home espresso: 5 5 5
moka pot: 4 4 4
french press: 3 3 4
strong (good) drip: 1 4 3
standard drip: 1 3 3


Compagnia dell’Arabica, Dacaffeinato Leggero Light: 3 4 5. 2 2 5.
Caffé Izzo, Decaffeinato: 3 4 5. The second was not worthwhile.
Caffé del Boge, Blu Decaf: 3 3 5. 2 2 5.
Lucaffé, Dacaffeinato: 2 4 3. 2 4 3.
Starbucks, Dark Decaf: 3 4 2. The second was not worthwhile.
Miscela D’oro, Decaf: 3 3 3. The second was not worthwhile.
Covim, Suave Decaffeinato: 2 4 3. 1 3 3 (characterful).
LavAzza, Dek: 2 4 3. The second was not worthwhile.
Segafredo Deca Crèm: 2 4 2. The second was not worthwhile.
Espressione, Decaf: 2 4 2. The second was not worthwhile.
Caffé Borbone, Decaffeinato: 2 3 ?. The second was not worthwhile. (characterful)
Danesi Caffé, Easy Espresso Decaf: 2 3 3. The second was not worthwhile.
Amigos Caffé, Decaffeinato: 2 2 3. The second was not worthwhile.
PodMerchant, Decaf: 2 2 3. The second was not worthwhile.


Lucaffé, Blucaffé: 3 4 4. 2 3 3.
Lucaffé, Pulcinella: 3 4 4. 2 3 3.
Lucaffé, Mamma Lucia Blend: 3 2 4. 2 3 3.
Lucaffé, Classic: 3 4 4. 2 3 3.
Lucaffé, Columbia: 3 4 5. 2 3 4.
Lucaffé, Messico: 3 5 5. 2 4 5.
Compagnia dell’Arabica, Purissimi Caffé: ? ? ?. 2 4 3.
Compagnia dell’Arabica, Columbia Medellin Supremo, Vellutato: 3 5 5. 2 4 4.
Compagnia dell’Arabica, Brasil Santos, Delicato: 3 4 5. ? ? ?
Compagnia dell’Arabica, Kenya “AA” Washed, Intenso: 3 4 5. 2 4 4.

Covim, Orocrema: 4 3 4. The second was not worthwhile.
Espressione, 100% arabica: 3 3 4. 3 2 5
Espressione, espresso: 3 2 5. 3 1 4.
Podmerchant, Stout: 3 3 3. The second was not worthwhile.
Pellini Top, Arabica 100%: 2 4 5.  2 2 5.
Lavazza, espresso gran crema: 2 4 2. The second was not worthwhile.
Covim, Gold Arabica: 2 4 ?. The second was not worthwhile.
Amigos Caffé, Extra Bar: 1 4 ?. The second was not worthwhile.
Caffé Izzo, arabica 100%: 3 3 2. The second was not worthwhile. (Boring and balanced to a fault)
Illy: 2 3 5. The second was not worthwhile.
Caffé Rialto: 2 3 3. 1 2 4.
Miscela D’Oro, Espresso: 2 3 2. The second was not worthwhile.
Podmerchant, Arabica: 2 3 1. The second was not worthwhile.
Segafredo Zanetti, Espresso Casa, Gusto Cremoso: 2 2 5. The second was not worthwhile.
Caffé Borbone, Miscela Oro: 2 2 4. The second was not worthwhile.
Caffé Borbone, Miscela Blu: 2 2 4. The second was not worthwhile.
Vivi Caffé, Espresso Casa:  2 2 4. The second was not worthwhile.
Podmerchant, Blend: 2 2 1. The second was not worthwhile.
Amigos Caffé: 1 2 ?. The second was not worthwhile.

There’s a clear set of winners for regular. The pods from Lucaffé and Compagnia dell’Arabica were all better than the rest, and each had a second 1/2 oz that was good enough that it might warrant a “normal” 1 oz ristretto pull. Covim Orocrema gets an honorable mention.

As for decaf, why is is that only decaf had any pods with noteworthy depth of character? Puzzling. There isn’t a clear place to draw the line between ones to purchase by the box, and those to forget.

From here on out, as I finish off the last half of the pods, I’ll probably check to see if the results second pod is consistent with the first, but I’m not planning to blog about it. I’m also likely to experiment with ways to improve the results from my machine, adding cream, etc.

Pods #12


  • Caffé del boge, blu decaf: Medium body and flavor, no bitterness. Second cup had light body and flavor, without bitterness.
  • PodMerchant, decaf: Light flavor, body, and bitterness. Second cup had watery body and flavor, and light bitterness.
  • Compagnia dell’Arabica, Dacaffeinato Leggero Light: My first pod pulled like light brown water I flipped it over and tried again, and it was better. However, it was thin and bitter, so I suspected a problem and threw it out. I pulled out my spare pod and it too pulled like water. I stopped it right away, flipped it over and tried again. This time it was medium bodied, medium strong, and not bitter. The second cup had a light body and flavor, still without bitterness.
  • Lucaffé, Dacaffeinato: light body, strong, and a little bitter. The second cup was exactly the same.

Click here for the introduction to this series.

Texas BBQ

A couple of years ago we went to Texas for David and Alyscia’s wedding. True to form, I did quite a bit of research on various family activities and different restaurants to try on the trip. There were a few different BBQ places I was hoping to sample, but I only made it to one of them.

Thankfully, it was Joe Cotten’s Barbeque Joint. I see that Joe Cotten’s burned down March 2, 2011, after 64 years at its Robstown location, but it’s reopened for carryout and catering in nearby Calallen. I hope to make it back if I’m ever in the area.

It’s been two years, and I don’t recall a lot of details, so this will be brief. The pork, brisket, and sausage, were quite tasty, smoky without tasting like smoke, and the sauce was a great (but unnecessary) complement. I was eating it in the passenger seat while we drove from New Braunfels to Corpus Christi, so the restaurant’s ambience wasn’t able to contribute to my enjoyment of the meal. My recollection is that the sauce reminded me more of salsa than the thick and sweet (KC-style) sauce that’s common in the midwest or the vinegary sauce common in the Carolinas. It didn’t actually taste like salsa, but the texture was thinner and more chunky, and the flavor was much more fresh and less heavy than more common BBQ sauces. It broadened my horizons.

If I can find my notes from the other places I’d hoped to visit, I’ll post those too.

Pods #10

Six from Lucaffé (all rather similar)

  • Blucaffé: strong, medium bodied, and a little bitter. The second cup was light bodied with moderate flavor and more bitterness.
  • Pulcinella: strong, medium bodied, and a little bitter. The second cup was light bodied with moderate flavor and more bitterness.
  • Mamma Lucia Blend: moderately strong, medium bodied, and moderately bitter  The second cup was light bodied with moderate flavor and more bitterness.
  • Classic: strong, medium bodied, and a little bitter. The second cup was light bodied with moderate flavor and more bitterness.
  • Columbia: strong, medium bodied, and no bitterness. The second cup was light bodied with moderate flavor and light bitterness.
  • Messico: very strong, medium bodied, and no bitterness. The second cup was light bodied with moderate flavor and no bitterness.

That’s the last of the unsampled regular pods, now all that’s left is decaf.

Click here for the introduction to this series.

Pods #9

A promising lot from Compagnia dell’Arabica

  • Purissimi Caffé: I dropped the first cup, but the few drops I got were promising. The second cup was light-bodied, and tasted like a decent strong drip coffee.
  • Columbia Medellin Supremo, Vellutato: Moderate body, and flavor intensity nearing that of real espresso. No bitterness. The second cup was light bodied and had a moderate drip flavor with only a hint of bitterness.
  • Brasil Santos, Delicato: Moderate body and strong flavor without bitterness. (I got distracted and dumped the pod before pulling a second cup.)
  • Kenya “AA” Washed, Intenso: Moderate body, with a strong flavor sans bitterness. The second cup was light bodied and had a moderate drip flavor with only a hint of bitterness.

Click here for the introduction to this series.

Pods #8

  • Miscela D’Oro, Espresso: less flavor and body than a good drip, with more bitterness. The second cup was undrinkable dark bitter water.
  • Podmerchant, Arabica: light bodied, but with a whiff of classic coffee flavor that’s drowned out by bitterness. Second cup was thin and bitter.
  • Podmerchant, Blend: light bodied and still bitter, but without the classic coffee flavor. Second cup was thin and bitter.
  • Podmerchant, Stout: medium bodied, but with moderate flavor and low bitterness. Second cup was light bodied dark brown water.

Click here for the introduction to this series.

Pods #7

  • Caffé Rialto: small bodied with moderate flavor and slight bitterness. The second cup was a muted version of the first, with less body.
  • Pellini Top, Arabica 100%: small bodied with strong flavor and no bitterness.  The second cup was a muted version of the first, with the same  body.
  • Illy: small bodied with moderate flavor and no bitterness. The second cup had only little flavor and body.
  • Lavazza, espresso gran crema: light body, strong and bitter. the second cup has less flavor, no body, and was still bitter.

Click here for the introduction to this series.


Ever cooked with nutmeg? It has an unusual quality I find interesting. The flavor is great, but only up to the point at which you get too much. Then the flavor turns bitter and nasty. How does that sudden change happen? What else is like this?

I’ve only ever found one other thing that shares this quality, and that’s Angostura Bitters. Angostura also has another unique quality. It’s magical. Not only is it tasty all by itself as a flavoring, it can magically “smooth” other flavors. Coffee a bit harsh? Add a dash of bitters. But wait, that’s not all! It can also make two different flavors blend in a pleasant way. I’ve used it to meld the flavors of a lime-cranberry pie. I’ve not tried it as much as it seems like I should, but I’ve not yet found a flavor-dissonance that wasn’t helped (if not resolved) by the addition of Angostura Bitters. Know of anything else like this?

pods #6

  • Caffé Izzo, arabica 100%: moderate body, flavor, and bitterness; balanced to a fault. The second 1/2 oz is the similar, but slight.
  • Espressione, 100% arabica: Moderate body and flavor, low bitterness. Second cup still has Moderate body, but with muted flavor and no bitterness.
  • Espressione, espresso: Moderate body, and no bitterness, but only a little flavor. Second cup still has moderate body, less flavor, and a little bitterness.

Click here for the introduction to this series.

Pods #5


  • Segafredo Deca Crèm: brown water. No body or flavor. It must contain Robusta, because it had crema, albeit one that was pale and disappeared quickly. Incredulous, I tried the second pod. This time it was light bodied with a strong, moderately bitter flavor, not unlike the unimpressive espresso I could order at any local coffee shop. The second cup was almost completely devoid of flavor and body.
  • Caffé Borbone, Decaffeinato: Strong, moderately characterful flavor, with a little body. The second had little flavor and body.
  • Danesi Caffé, Easy Espresso Decaf: medium flavor and light body, some bitterness. The second was thin, lightly flavored, and moderately bitter.

Click here for the introduction to this series.

Pods #4

A bland bunch

  • Segafredo Zanetti, Espresso Casa, Gusto Cremoso: light bodied, not much flavor, but no bitterness. Second cup was half of the first.
  • Caffé Borbone, Miscela Oro: light bodied, little flavor, little bitterness. Second cup was brown water.
  • Caffé Borbone, Miscela Blu: light bodied, little flavor, little bitterness. Second cup was brown water. (Much like the one before…)
  • Vivi Caffé, Espresso Casa:  light bodied, not much flavor, little bitterness. Second cup was average (bad) drip.

Click here for the introduction to this series.

Pods #1

For Christmas I received a huge variety pack of ESE espresso pods. This is great, because it combines two things I enjoy: coffee and sampling. Up to this point I’ve only had pods from Starbucks, and while drinkable, they aren’t as good as espresso from freshly roasted and ground beans. I have 45 different pods to sample, so I’m hoping to find at least one that is above average, and more than simply “enjoyable”.

If I hope to end my sampling with a knowledge of what I liked (or disliked), I’ll have to write it down. And if I’m doing that, I might as well do it here. I’m not expecting each”review to have much detail. I’ll make a new post for each “set” of reviews and finish up with a review of everything. I two pods of each variety, so I’ll be able to make additional side-by-side reviews at that point. I may post more than one review a day.

For reference, I believe a good espresso should be full-bodied, feel viscous, and be strong enough to be bracing (maybe shocking), but WITHOUT being bitter.

I’m making the espresso in a DeLonghi EC155. I’m starting with a 1/2 oz shot (molto ristretto) in order to give the pods the best possible chance of meeting that standard. I pull a second 1/2 oz shot to get a feel for the flavor of a normal 1 oz ristretto shot.

First Sampling:

  • Amigos Caffé: thin and weak even in the 1/2 oz pull. the next 1/2 oz  was watery.
  • Amigos Caffé, Extra Bar: the first 1/2 oz was thin, but like strong drip coffee. The second 1/2 oz was rather bitter.


My pastor works part time at Starbucks. Yeah, it’s kinda weird, but I think it’s cool that he has a normal job interacting with unbelievers as a layperson. One of his benefits is more free coffee than he can drink, and I’m one of the people that benefits from his overflowing blessing.

Mind you, I’m not really a fan of Starbucks coffee. I think that name “Charbucks” is too uncomfortably close to the truth, but it’s free, so I can deal with it. (See, I’m not a snob! :-) When I saw the blonde line of coffees, it piqued my interest and I had to give it a try.

It’s weak.

I was warned about this, but I didn’t believe it. I chalked it up to simply dark roast versus light roast. I’ve had the had a couple of weeks to try the Willow Blend, in regular and decaf, in my espresso machine, moka pot, French press, and as a New Orleans style cold-steep coffee. I *can* make it strong, but it crosses the line of no longer tasting like coffee, and no longer tasting a little good.

No matter what I do, I can’t make a strong flavored cup of coffee that actually tastes good. I’m really puzzled by this. I don’t believe that light-roasting is the problem; I’ve enjoyed quite a bit of coffee from Terroir, which has championed the practice of lightly roasting coffee, and it’s always been excellent without any difficulty making it strong. (Ironic trivia: Frappaccinos, which taste very little like coffee, were actually created by George Howell (of Terroir), and Starbucks acquired the product when it bought George’s first coffee company.)

It gets a barely passing review from Coffee Review, who describes it as: monotoned, flat, muted, lean, and simple. (More info on the CR ratings can be found here.) The review of the Willow Blend suggests that the weakness is intentional. I don’t know that it’s better than Dunkin, but it’s certainly better than Folgers and their ilk. But blond Starbucks vs bold Starbucks reminds me of when I was a coffee neophyte. I would buy Maxwell House Dark Roast not because it was “better”, but because it had more flavor (which seemed better to me). I’d now buy Starbucks House over Blond because it has more flavor, though it’s probably not really any better. I guess I’m just not the target buyer for this product. I wonder if I’m the target buyer for *any* Starbucks product…

Key Lime Pie

I was recently asked for my Key Lime pie recipe, and realized I don’t have a current version online. This is really only an update of the recipe I posted earlier. I thought about updating the old post, but some comments wouldn’t make sense, so I decided to just make a new post. That will also make it easier to find.



1 pie crust (prebaked, 8′, shortbread)


1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 oz)
¾ cup key lime juice
4 oz cream cheese, softened
1 tbsp ginger juice

whipped cream

½ cup heavy cream
1½ tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp lime zest (persian limes tend to have nicer color, are cheaper, are easier to find, and work just fine)


Preheat oven to :  350°

Soften cream cheese at 350° for 10 minutes and whip. Add sweetened condensed milk, ginger juice, and lime juice, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Pour into crust and bake for 20 minutes. (Technically, baking shouldn’t be needed, as the juice and the milk react and thicken. I’ve never actually tried it without baking. :)

Vigorously mix cream and sugar until you have soft peaks, spread on top of pie, and then decorate with lime zest (or lime slices). The lime zest is easier to sprinkle evenly if I zest it while the pie is baking, throw it into the freezer, and pull it out immediatly before serving.

I find the pie is best the second day, so I’ll usually make it the night before and then top with whipped cream right before the pie is served. The flavor will be intense, and the whipped cream will help balance it. If you find the flavor is still too intense, you can reduce the lime to 1/2 cup and eliminate the ginger, but I wouldn’t recommend it. :)

key lime experiments, pt 5

In pt. 4 I tried using green stevia powder. I don’t remember the texture, but it tasted horrible. I decided to try again with stevia drops. I knew that I didn’t especially like the flavor of stevia, but I was hoping that the drops would have a negligible effect on the texture and that the lime juice would overpower stevia’ aftertaste.


1 oz cream cheese
1 tbsp key lime juice
8 drops stevia extract

Notes: texture is okay, but it’s not sweet enough.


1 oz cream cheese
1 tbsp key lime juice
12 drops stevia extract

Notes: texture is okay, if a bit wet, but it’s not sweet enough and I can taste the stevia.


1 oz cream cheese
1 tbsp key lime juice
16 drops stevia extract

Notes: texture is still okay, if a bit too wet, and it might be sweet enough, but the stevia leaves a nasty taste in my mouth.

Conclusions: I’ve run out of ideas for this, so I’m not expecting any more Key Lime experiments. However, there is one thing I’ve tried (but not documented), that is worth developing into a whole pie. I’d like to get it into edible form in time for the holidays, but we’ll see.

Puerto Rican Custard

I started making this a few years ago, and it’s been a hit from the start. Uncharacteristically, I’ve felt little compulsion to tweak it from my first go. I based it on a Condensed Milk Custard from “Puerto Rican Cookery” by Carmen Aboy Valldejuli. I made this as a pie, using a store-bought 8″ shortbread crust, rather than as a traditional flan, and couldn’t resist making a few other changes along the way. :)

It’s worth mentioning that although this contains a fair bit of coconut milk, the coconut flavor is relatively subtle. This is good, since I don’t like coconut. The coconut milk is there because the original recipe called for water, and I couldn’t bear to add water to custard.


8 egg yolks
1 can sweetened condensed milk (full fat)
3/4 cup coconut milk
1 tsp blackstrap molasses (I’d probably prefer more, but any more and the less molasses-philic members of my family might start to complain.)

Preheat to 350

Mix the ingredients, adding one at a time. Pour them into the crust and bake it for one hour.

Boil an additional can of sweetened condensed milk to make a tasty caramel and drizzle it over the top, serve a dollop with each slice, or something similar.

I also want to try it with Myers rum (omitting the molasses) and an Oreo crust. Or maybe I can mix caramel, rum, and cocoa powder…

key lime experiments, pt 4

I made there a while ago. I didn’t take notes, and only remember that none of them turned out well.

1 oz cream cheese
1 tbsp key lime juice
1 tsp Stevia (green powder)

Notes: A continuation of the efforts from #13, #12, and #2 to make #1 tasty while preserving the texture.

1 oz cream cheese
1 tbsp key lime juice
1 tbsp xylitol crystals

Notes: A continuation of the efforts from #13, #12, and #2 to make #1 tasty while preserving the texture.

1 oz cream cheese
2 tbsp key lime juice
2 tbsp sugar
1 egg yolk

Notes: A continuation of the efforts reduce the high proportion of egg in #4 without the negative side effects from #11 when the egg was simply halved (using the modification suggested in the summary of pt. 2)

1 tbsp key lime juice
1 tbsp evaporated milk
1 tbsp sugar

Notes: An idea from the summary of pt. 2)

key lime experiments, pt 3

I had a small bit of cream cheese that needed to be used, I modified #2 and #1 from key lime experiments, pt 1. I substituted honey for sugar in the former and doubled the lime juice in the latter. I let the girls help me make and sample these.

1 oz cream cheese
1 tbsp key lime juice
1 tbsp honey

Notes: Much like #2. Sarah didn’t like it, but Elizabeth ate it all up!

1 oz cream cheese
2 tbsp key lime juice

Notes: The texture was better than #1, but perhaps a titch too soft this time. The flavor was very intense, and not good. I talked Sarah out of trying this one; Elizabeth tried it but didn’t like it at all.

The texture of #1 and #13 is really is quite interesting, I just need to find a way to sweeten it without adding so much moisture. Are there any natural “dry” sweeteners? Maybe stevia or a sugar alcohol?

Nutty Bean Soup

The recipe below started as an attempt to make something like a cream of potato soup that featured beans and contained no dairy (or potatoes). It works pretty well, and is really easy. I took it to student feast last Sunday, and while I didn’t get as many complements as with previous dishes I’ve taken, it didn’t appear to get sampled much. Maybe I need to come up with a more enticing name!


1¾ cups white beans (1 can)
1 cup water
2 tbsp red wine
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp almond butter
2 teasp cilantro (dried)
1 teasp garlic (dried)
1 teasp sage (dried)
1 teasp coriander (dried)
1 teasp sea salt

1¾ cups black beans (1 can)
1 tbsp walnut oil
½ cup fresh corn
½ cup small onion (finely diced)
1 teasp prepared horseradish
black pepper (fresh ground)


Puree (a) ingredients. Finely dice onion and saute with corn in walnut oil in large skillet. Add puree and black beans and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in horseradish, and serve. Black pepper to taste.

key lime experiments, pt 2

In the conclusion to key lime experiments, pt 1 I wrote:

Eventually I’ll try more variations of #4: with half the egg yolk; where the egg yolks are swapped with beaten egg whites; and where the cream cheese is swapped with heavy cream.

I’ve unfairly excluded butter from my list of dairy products, perhaps I should try it as an addition to #5? That would hearken back to “Lemon Pie, Pt 3″.

Today I addressed those.

1 egg yolk
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp key lime juice
1 tbsp sugar

Notes: Texture was not very creamy or smooth, and the flavor was quite mild.

1 tbsp heavy cream
1 tbsp key lime juice
1 tbsp sugar
1 egg yolk

Notes: Similar to 4#, but with a softer texture. The flavor was rather mild. Overall, probably no better than #2.

1 tbsp cream cheese
1 tbsp key lime juice
1 tbsp sugar
1 egg white

Notes: Similar to #4, but the texture was a bit coarse and the flavor was very mild.

1 tbsp cream cheese
1 tbsp key lime juice
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 egg yolk

Notes: Flavor and texture is good. Similar to #4, but less smooth and rich. This is still a *lot* of egg, but it seems to be too little.


I’m not sure where to go from here. The mild flavored ones have me perplexed. There’s a lot of lime juice in there, how could the flavor disappear?

I need to develop #4 a bit more, and I’d still like to do *something* with #1. And maybe #4 and #10 with double the lime/sugar? I’m also curious what #10 would be like it I beat the egg whites into peaks and gently folded them in. Fluffy perhaps? Maybe #1 with honey (halved) instead of sugar? I wonder how brown sugar would fare?

#9 with cornstarch should be similar to flan, that’s probably worth a try. And maybe another where half of the cream is milk.

I already know what happens when I mix lime juice and sweetened condensed milk. I wonder what happens when I use evaporated milk?

key lime experiments, pt 1

I’ve started using my silicone cupcake forms to make small pies for sampling. They let me get away with omitting the crust and making very small quantities. I generally just scale everything down until I end up with a single egg, reducing the baking temperature and time to allow for the drastic increase in relative surface area.

This weekend I made a Cardamom Buttermilk Pie and a Key Lime Cheesecake. Neither was noteworthy, but after making those I had some extra ingredients so I figured I might as well thrown some things together and see what happened. (I didn’t expect them to all be edible…) Here are the experiments and notes, in the order of sampling.

1 oz cream cheese
1 tbsp key lime juice

Notes: This was really interesting, I liked the texture even if it was a bit more firm than I was looking for. I got the impression that doubling the lime juice would get the texture spot on. Unfortunately, it didn’t taste good. Cream cheese alone isn’t tasty, and adding lime juice doesn’t help.

1 oz cream cheese
1 tbsp key lime juice
1 tbsp sugar

Notes: This tastes really good. I was surprised to find that the texture was a lot more “loose” than #1, apparently from the sugar?

1 oz cream cheese
1 tbsp key lime juice
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp corn starch

Notes: flavor and texture is good, though a bit firm; I suspect I could cut back on the corn starch.

1 oz cream cheese
1 tbsp key lime juice
1 tbsp sugar
1 egg yolk

Notes: Flavor and texture is good. Very similar to #3, but a bit less firm and noticeably smoother and richer (and more intense). Proportionally, this is a *lot* of egg. This realization prompted the next variation just to see exactly what the cream cheese contributes.

1 tbsp key lime juice
1 tbsp sugar
1 egg yolk

Notes: Flavor okay, texture is kind of… loose, similar to #2, but more so. Interesting, but not a path to explore further.

1 tbsp sour cream
1 tbsp key lime juice
1 tbsp sugar
1 egg yolk

Notes: Okay, texture, diluted lime flavor and an unpleasant tinge of something in the aftertaste. It also had an odd “drying” effect on my mouth.

1 tbsp buttermilk
1 tbsp key lime juice
1 tbsp sugar
1 egg yolk

Notes: Similar to #6, but the texture and flavor were each watery.

I’d like to revisit #1, but I need a way to make it sweeter. My impression was that adding more lime juice would make the texture more fluffy. I need a sweetener that won’t have the dramatic affect on the texture as granulated sugar.

Eventually I’ll try more variations of #4: with half the egg yolk; where the egg yolks are swapped with beaten egg whites; and where the cream cheese is swapped with heavy cream.

I’ve unfairly excluded butter from my list of dairy products, perhaps I should try it as an addition to #5? That would hearken back to “Lemon Pie, Pt 3”.

Maybe after Thanksgiving I’ll have an chance to try more.

pie crusts

Over the last few years, it has gotten more and more difficult to find the Keebler shortbread pie crusts that I like to use for my pies (which are generally in the theme of creme). Friday I saw that there was no longer a space on the shelf for Shortbread crusts rather than the increasing norm of filling the shortbread slot with yet-another graham cracker crust. I went for my second (and increasingly available) choice of granola crust, and it was better than expected. They seem to be grinding the granola so that it has more of the fine texture of the shortbread crust, while still being a sort of granola. Of course, fine granola is still not shortbread. Furthermore, fine granola isn’t really desirable for those times I want a granola crust.

I suppose this is just one more indication that I need to start making my own crusts. Have any quick and easy recipes for shortbread or granola crusts?

lemon pie, pt 4

This time I tried a modification of my key lime recipe, making a few substitutions.

1 pie crust (prebaked, 8′ granola)

1 can evaporated milk (12 oz)
3/4 cup crystallized honey
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 tbsp cornstarch
2 eggs

1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp bourbon

Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix crystallized honey and evaporated milk and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes, and then stir in lemon juice. Beat eggs, then slowly temper with lemon/honey/milk mixture. Mix in cornstarch. Pour into pie shell and bake for 20 minutes. Allow to cool, overnight if possible. Make fluff and spread onto pie as close as possible to serving time.

As with pt 3, the lemon juice was half fresh squeezed from meyer lemons and half bottled by Santa Cruz Organics. I had ~1/2 cup extra filling, so I’d have to tweak things if I wanted to work from this in the future. It was okay, certainly edible, reminiscent of pt 1. Not particularly sweet, not particular tart, and not much to hold my interest. I took two bites and felt like I’d pretty much experienced all it had to offer. It was also a bit softer than I’d like.

If I modified this in the future, I’d probably cut the milk to 1 cup and use 5/8 cup each of lemon juice and honey. This would get the volume down, the sweetness up a bit, and the tartness up a lot, but it would still be soft. I suppose more corn starch would fix that without affecting the volume, but then the recipe would start to look like a creamy lemon meringue. Or I could add more eggs, but then I’m starting to approximate my proposed modifications to pt 2. At this point, I’m more likely to just work from that recipe rather than modifying this one, or maybe try a lemon meringue.

lemon pie, pt 3

Fruittart pointed me to this Lemon Cream Tart. It looked tasty, so I decided to give it a try for my workplace “treat week” that coincided with exam week for our students. It was probably an even bigger experiment than the others. It’s the first time I’ve made a tart and the first time I’ve ever made my own crust. I didn’t actually use the pistachio crust, opting instead to use the crust from the Warm Mocha Tart.

I followed the recipes pretty closely and won’t duplicate them here. The only changes I made were to increase all measures by 50% in order to accommodate my 11-inch tart pan, and to top it with fresh raspberries rather than candied ginger. The lemon was half fresh-squeezed meyer lemons and half bottled lemon juice from Santa Cruz Organics.

I was glad for the lone raspberry on the piece I tried, and if I make it again I’ll put a layer of raspberry puree between the crust and lemon creme. It was pretty tasty, but not quite what I’m looking for (though nicely educational). The experiments will continue. : )


I’ve discovered that lemon curd and banana complement each other surprisingly well. So well, in fact that I’m thinking of making some sort of pie to highlight the combination. But it seems like I need one more thing, and I’m not sure what. Perhaps some kind of nut? Suggestions are welcome. : )

lemon pie, pt 2

This time I wanted to make sure the lemon was a prominent as the lime in the key lime recipe, and at this I succeeded! Too much for most people, myself included. I used a combination of recipes, mostly the lime tart filling and the lemon curd filling. I had to make a few last-minute changes, but I’ll list the recipe I started with. (I mistakenly thought I needed 3 cups of filling, so the measures below reflect a 50% increase.)

1 prebaked granola crust (9″)

1 1/4 cup lemon juice (from 10 lemons?)
9 whole eggs
3/4 cup honey (substituted for 1/3 cup sugar)
9 tbsp butter
1 tbsp lemon zest
1 dash salt

Combine the juice, zest, sugar, and butter in a saucepan over medium heat until steaming. Whisk the yolks in a bowl until liquid. Slowly beat the steaming liquid into the yolks and return the mixture to low heat. Continue whisking until it thickens, about 8 minutes. Pour into crust and refrigerate. Top with whipped cream and sprinkle with lemon zest before serving.

I ran out of honey, so I added 2 tbsp of blood orange syrup. I ran out of lemon juice, so I added 1/4 cup of key lime juice. I couldn’t taste the orange syrup, but the lime juice made itself known.

It was initially too soft, but it firmed up some by the next day, so it seems like making it at least 24 hours in advance might be a good idea. I had a cup of extra curd, so I put it in a nice quilted mason jar and gifted it to someone who seemed especially fond of the pie. The pie was too tart (and the filling too voluminous), so if I revisit this I’ll try these measures:

.75 cup fresh lemon juice (5 lemons)
.75 cup honey
6 tablespoons butter
6 large eggs

However, I was wishing that it was a bit more creamy. What does the butter do for it? What would happen if I swapped it out for 4 tbsp of cream cheese? My informal experiment this evening shows that a mixture of lime juice and cream cheese thickens nicely (unlike yogurt), so I suspect this would make it a bit firmer as well.

lemon pie, pt 1

As you may have noticed, I took my usual key lime to the CEFC Thanksgiving dinner. I was asked for the recipe, so I’ll point to it here. I’ve decided I’d like to figure out how to make it without using the sweetened condensed milk, partly to enable a reduction or substitution in sweetener, but also just to remove the one “prepared” ingredient for something less processed.

However, my key lime pie has developed a following (I’m expected to bring one to each family holiday), so I decided to experiment with lemon pies, hoping that the knowledge gained would transfer to my key lime recipe. My father in law is on a diet that restricts him to unrefined foods, so I’m also experimenting with using honey as the sweetener.

The first experiment was a lemon custard for my small group. It was completely edible, but not quite what I’d hoped for. My recie was a combination of custard recipes from “How to Cook Everything” and the “Betty Crocker Old-Fashioned Cookbook”.

1 prebaked granola crust (9″)

3 whole eggs + 4 egg yolks
1/4 cup honey (substituted for 1/3 cup sugar)
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cup milk (scalded)
1/2 cup lemon juice (from 4 lemons?)
1 tbsp lemon zest
1 dash salt

Preheat over to 350.
Mix everything but milk in bowl. Slowly mix in milk. Pour into crust and bake 45 minutes. Top with whipped cream before serving.

I discovered that I had almost a cup of extra filling. Since the flavor was *really* mild, I suspect that using only 3/4 cup of milk would help with that. It also wasn’t as firm as I’d like, and I expect the reduction in milk to help with that too.

I used honey from Alice’s Grandpa’s bees. It’s quite dark, and has a strong flavor that nicely complements the lemon.

Peanut Brittle Cheesecake

Yesterday I tried the peanut putter cheesecake at Pekara bakery in downtown Champaign. I like a lot of the things they make (and I like that they make and sell things based on my requests), and the PB cheesecake was okay, but not outstanding. I was a bachelor for the day, so I decided to try making a better one. I’ve never made cheesecake before, so I didn’t know what I’d end up with, but that didn’t stop me. I did cheat, though, and baked it in a store-bought granola pie crust, so it’s not a proper cheesecake. But I had too much filling, so I also baked a small crustless cheesecake in a 4″ springform.

I threw together:

2 packs of cream cheese
2 eggs
~1 cup crunchy, unsalted, unsweetened peanut butter
~2 Tb roasted chicory espresso
1 cup sugar
8 oz butter
1/4 tsp lemon juice
1 Tb water

I intended to add two tablespoons of flour, but I forgot.

I was computerless yesterday and none of our cookbooks had a PB cheesecake recipe. So I wasn’t really following a recipe (though I read several basic recipes before I started) and I was a little lax in measuring the PB and chicory. This was also part of an ongoing effort to come up with uses for roasted chicory. The Pekara cheesecake was a little lacking in body, and I theorized that a little chicory might help with that (I think it did). I started out mixing a bit of chicory and PB to see how far I could take it and then added that to the cream cheese. Coffee might work better than chicory (not that they taste at all alike), though I probably didn’t add enough chicory to test it well. I used what I had made and didn’t feel like brewing more.

Just adding the sugar seemed a little blah, so I decided to turn it into butterscotch. But my butterscotch recipe was on the aforementioned unavailable computer and none of our cookbooks have a recipe for it, so I tried to do that from memory too. : ) It turned out well enough to add to the cheesecake and while I haven’t tried the crusted one, the small one was pretty tasty. We’ll see what Alice thinks when she discovers it.

Blue Lime

As a variation on my key lime pie (following the lime/mango and the lime/cranberry) I made two lime/blueberry pies for small group Sunday. One was a granola crust with pureed berries and the other shortbread with whole blueberries. The granola crust smelled nice out of the oven, but I think my preference was for what I didn’t serve, shortbread crust with pureed berries. The blueberry flavor was a little stronger in the puree and I’m not a big fan of whole fruit. But the flavor was too subtle for my liking, I think that lime/cranberry has been the only variation worth repeating. I still want to try an orange/citrus version but I’m out of ideas after that, so I may have to find some other line of experimentation to which I can subject others. The whole recipe is posted elsewhere, but here are the measurements:

one 8″ pie crust

1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 oz)
1/2 cup key lime juice
1/2 cup pureed blueberries
1 tbsp cornstarch

Experiment in Terror

(I had the Moon-Rays in my head, and this *is* an experiment…)

Written elsewhere:

> So . . . um, how did the sandwich filling work out?
> Any recipes coming out of that?
> *hint, hint, nudge, nudge* ;-)

Thanks for the prod.

It was okay, but neither the filling or the sauce worked out as well as I’d hoped. So I’ll have to try it again before I post something. You were right though, after 5 hours in the crock, it became watery and muted in flavor. But I left the lid ajar and turned up the heat and it cooked down nicely. Tossing in an extra tablespoon of chipotle (I ran out of cayenne) at the last minute got the heat back up helped unmute the flavor, but it still tasted more like a thin BBQ sauce than a rich Buffalo sauce like I’d intended. I think I’ll just plan on adding the sauce after the chicken is cooked.

One good thing was that I learned that throwing chicken in the crock for five hours causes it to separate into fibrous pieces, as though I’d shredded it. Did the overnight marinade do this, or would it have happened anyway? And will the same thing happen with other meat? And is there a more expedient way than crock cooking?

The sauce also was pretty muted in flavor. I put together Gorgonzola, cream, and toasted sesame oil. It had a good texture, but the cream seemed to mask the other flavors.

I’m sure it was fine for everyone else, even Alice liked it. That’s right, my vegetarian ate one and a half chicken sandwiches. :)

In the meantime, here’s a simple Buffalo Blue sauce:

4 tbsp blue cheese (Gorgonzola)
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
½ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp garlic powder

Gently heat cheese until soft. Combine with garlic, cayenne, and vinegar, mix, and serve. I want to try two variations: one with lime juice for instead of vinegar, and one with a little bourbon. :)

mole chili

Yesterday I took my veggie chili and tweaked it slightly. I halved the vinegar, substituted cocoa for cinnamon, and doubled the cocoa.

It wasn’t bad, had a definite mole flavor (not intentional, but also not surprising), but I think I prefer the normal recipe. Maybe next time I’ll try substituting tamarind paste for the tomatoes and vinegar. But if I get my peppers smoked first, I’ll probably try it with fresh smoked peppers!


I made pies for small group last night. I worked from the Key Lime recipe I’ve use for a while, but mixed up the flavors a bit. I don’t normally bake, but cream/custard pies are an exception because the timing isn’t critical. As you’ll quickly notice, I don’t make “healthy” desserts. :)

Here’s the original (I no longer use the recipe below. My current key lime pie recipe is here.):


1 pie crust (prebaked, 8′ shortbread)

1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 oz)
1/2 cup key lime juice
1 tbsp cornstarch

1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tbsp key lime peel (freshly zested)


Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine all filling ingredients in a bowl, mixing well. Pour into pie shell and bake for 20 min.

Make fluff and spread onto pie, finishing by sprinkling lime zest on top.

Last night I forgot the cornstarch and made the following variations.

> Substitute key lime/mango juice for lime juice
> and garnish with thin mango slivers.

Everyone seemed to like it.

> Substitute cranberry nectar for 1/4 cup of lime juice,
> add two dashes of Angostura Bitters,
> and garnish with ??

Also popular, though I left it ungarnished. I’d try it with only a single dash of bitters (maybe none). I’d appreciate garnish suggestions, but I’d rather avoid actual cranberries.

> Substitute mild molasses for lime juice,
> add 2tbsp unsweetened cocoa and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract,
> and garnish with dusting of cinnamon.

This was my attempt to shoehorn my chocolate pie recipe into the key lime pie form. I didn’t find the flavor result to be nearly as good as my original (which tastes like an Oreo), though the flavor was surprisingly complex for a cream pie. I thought it was too sweet and too molassesy, but several people seemed to enjoy it quite a bit!

I had a feeling the molasses would be too much when I was adding it, but I wasn’t sure what else to do. Also, I’ve only used blackstrap molasses in the past and wasn’t sure just how mild the “mild” would be. Considering that the sweetened condensed milk contains almost twice as much sugar as the cup of powdered sugar I would normally use in my Chocolate pie, using a mild molasses (it’s sweeter, right?) probably wasn’t the best choice! So maybe I should have tried substituting 1/4 cup blackstrap molasses and 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa for the lime juice in the original recipe? Maybe next time.

Here’s the my original Chocolate pie recipe:


1 pie crust (prebaked, 8′, shortbread)

2 eggs
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tbsp unsweetened baking cocoa
1 1/2 tbsp molasses (blackstrap)
1/2 tbsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp granulated sugar


Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine sugar and cocoa in a bowl, mixing well. Add heavy cream, molasses, and vanilla, mixing on high speed until firm. Transfer to saucepan and heat until steaming. Beat eggs in a bowl and temper with steaming liquid, mixing well. Add back into saucepan and gently heat to a soft boil, stirring constantly. Pour into pie shell and bake for 45 minutes.

Make fluff, spread onto pie, and finish with a light dusting of cinnamon.

(As you can see, with the exception of the eggs, it’s really just baked chocolate fluff.)

Spicy Lasagna

This is an experimental lasagna that I made for this semester’s first Student Feast. I put a little thought into what I wanted in it and Alice went looking for groceries. Alas, several ingredients were not to be found, necessitating further improvisation with ingredients at hand. I’d never made lasagna before and Alice really did most of the work of putting it together. This isn’t really a recipe yet; we just threw it together (based on her more traditional lasagnas) without really thinking about future duplication or tweaking. Believe it or not, I tried really hard to keep it simple and not throw too much into it.

It had four layers consisting of noodles, sauce, and cheese. The noodles were not precooked, and alternated between whole wheat and semolina. The sauce was 3/4 of a bottle of Cabernet Marinara (Muir Glen) long-simmered with finely chopped pepperoni, garlic powder, half-sliced garlic cloves, and a generous portion (1/4 cup?) of Jamaican Jerk seasoning (Frontier Organics). The sauce really thickened and I had to add water so that it wasn’t pasty. The top layer used an Alfredo sauce. In the middle was a layer of chicken-jalapeno sausages sliced and quartered. The cheese layers were cottage cheese (because I dislike ricotta), mozzarella, and fresh basil.

I wanted to use pulled pork or shredded chicken, but couldn’t find any in time. I also wanted to use Tabasco pepperoni, but it was also hiding. I’d probably try making each cheese layer different: mozzarella, Swiss, smoked Gouda, and a homemade Alfredo sauce heavy in Parmesan and maybe fontinella. I’m open to suggestions!

I had hoped to make spicy brownies as an accompaniment, but it didn’t work out. Maybe next time.


I started out making this Gorgonzola Tortellini but Alice isn’t a big fan of blue cheese, pork, or it’s heavy richness, so it’s followed by a lighter version that’s vegetarian. Each is really quick and easy to make, and relatively inexpensive to boot! Someday maybe I’ll try it with better-than-frozen tortellini. : )


Gorgonzola Tortellini


1 lb frozen tortellini (pork)
1 cup diced tomatoes (1 can)
1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola (2 oz)
1/4 cup cream sherry (Harvey’s Bristol)
1/4 cup olive oil (extra virgin)
3 teasp walnuts (finely chopped)
1/4 teasp cayenne pepper (coarse)
3 green onions


Combine everything but blue cheese and tortellini and let sit for 1 hour. Cook tortellini until tender. Add blue cheese to sauce and then toss tortellini with sauce. Serve warm, not hot.

(A heavier, richer, non-vegetarian version of the Walnut/Oloroso Tortellini.)

(Next time I make it I’ll try adding 1/8 cup basil.)


RECIPE: Walnut/Oloroso Tortellini


1 lb frozen tortellini
1 cup diced tomatoes (1 can)
1/4 cup olive oil (extra virgin)
1/8 cup oloroso sherry
3 teasp walnuts (finely chopped)
1/4 teasp black pepper (coarse)
3 green onions (chopped)


Combine everything but tortellini and let sit for 1 hour. Cook tortellini until tender and toss with sauce. Serve warm, not hot.

(A lighter, Gorgonzola-free, and vegetarian version of the Gorgonzola Tortellini.)

(Next time I make it I’ll try adding 1/8 cup basil.)

white chili

I have quite a few “chili” recipes that I created while working third shift. I’d cook up a batch and it would make two complete meals. They’re all variations on the meat/bean/heat theme I think of as chili, because chili is relatively well-rounded, relatively low in carbs (which I tend to overdo), and really low in calories.


1/2 lb chicken (ground, lean)
1 1/2 cups navy beans (1 can)
1 cup water
1/2 cup bell pepper (orange, fine diced)
1/2 cup onion (vidalia, coarse diced)
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tbsp Mexican Oregeno
1 teasp white pepper (fine ground)
1 teasp sea salt
1/2 teasp coriander
1/2 teasp sage (rubbed)
1/2 teasp thyme
1/4 teasp star anise
1 temple orange (~1/2 C juice?)
24 drops mesquite smoke solution


Combine beans, water, salt, thyme, and white pepper in sauce pan and simmer on low heat. Brown chicken, onion, pepper, and oregeno in skillet, then add to sauce pan and simmer for an additional five minutes. Remove from heat and stir in juice from orange and remaining spices (coriander, sage, and anise). Add a dollop of sour cream to each bowl.

( I want to eventually try substituting mesquite pod powder (I need to remember to order some!) for the smoke solution and/or with pumpkin. And maybe tomatillos.)

a sauce

Although I like Pickapeppa sauce, it’s lacking oomph. But add some Chipotle Tabasco, and it’s mighty tasty. Unfortunately, I don’t know the proportions; I combined what was left of the two bottles. Someday I’ll probably deconstruct it, but there are other sauces I’ll make first, and other recipes I’m more interested in finishing.

veggie chili

This is what has become of the surprise chili posted earlier, and is the recipe that was requested by Fruit Tart.

It’s good fresh, but better the second day.



3 cups kidney beans (2 cans)
1 1/2 cups black beans (1 can)
1 cup crushed tomatoes
1 cup water
1/2 cup wild rice (4 oz)
1/2 cup corn (fresh/frozen)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp molasses (dark)
2 teasp sea salt
2 teasp chipotle
1 teasp garlic powder
1 teasp cinnamon
1 yellow pepper (finely diced)
1 red pepper (finely diced)
1 red onion (finely diced)
2 heads garlic (whole cloves)


Cook wild rice with 1 1/2 cups water. Dice peppers and onions and saute. Add remaining ingredients to stew pot, cover and simmer, about 15 minutes. Add vegetables and wild rice, and simmer everything additional 30 minutes.

(I’d like to experiment with using whole (dried? fresh?) peppers, cinnamon sticks, and cocoa instead of cinnamon (not simultaneously : ). I’d really like to try it with tamarinds replacing the vinegar and tomatoes, but I’m not sure how to use them. From what I’ve read, I *think* it could work, but who knows?)

surprise chili

When I was a freshman I lived largely off of rice that was cooked with chicken boullion, cinnamon, and allspice. And pizza. The next year I lived in a house with a six other guys in IlliniLife. The following recipe is pretty characteristic of the chili I made there. I’ve since become a culinary deconstructivist.



1/2 lb sausage (chorizo, or Italian)
2 cups kidney beans (1 can)
1 cup marinara sauce
1/3 cup worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp tabasco sauce (to taste)


Stir everything but sausage into sauce pan, cover, and simmer. Brown sausage, and add to sauce pan. Add water until chili has achieved desired consistancy (some like it thick, some like it thin) and serve.

(This chili is should be easy to make using ingredients a student might have on hand. It’s quick, simple, and cheap, and you’re surprised that it tastes as much like chili as it does.)