Sunday, December 6, 2009

Chocolate chip cookies, perfected

Wednesday, Dec. 02 2009
When you're the Life Sherpa, days and nights are constant searches for inner
peace, enlightenment and ways to beat football spreads. Sometimes, I come close.

Except when it comes to making chocolate chip cookies. Batches have been baked,
recipes have been refined — and nirvana has been reached. Nothing left but to
pour the milk and share:

My quest began with the recipe on the Nestle Toll House chocolate chips bag.
Being a guy, I just HAD to tweak it, find more power in that engine. I got help
from food scientist Shirley O. Corriher and the crew at "America's Test

I wanted to make the cookie softer, but only the center. I like a crisp crust
and bottom. So instead of "‰3/4 cup of white sugar and 3/4 cup of brown sugar,
I switched to one cup of brown and 1/2 cup of white. I learned from Corriher's
"BakeWise" (Scribner, $40) that the less white sugar you use, the chewier the

In "The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2010" (America's Test Kitchen, $35),
Charles Kelsey recommends reducing the amount of flour to enhance chewiness.
(Also reducing the amount of butter keeps the fat-to-flour ratio right.) He
recommends stirring the wet ingredients, letting them sit for a few minutes,
stirring again, then sitting, then stirring a third time. This allows the sugar
to caramelize more easily and contributes to the crispy crust.

I also didn't like the way Toll House cookies spread out, and I've found ways
to remedy that.

First, melt the butter completely. That separates the water from the butterfat,
which produces more gluten when mixed with the flour. This gives the cookies
more chew and a slightly stronger structure. Second, refrigerate the dough
before baking. An hour is the minimum, three hours is better, overnight is

I increased the vanilla extract from one teaspoon to one tablespoon. Why? I
love vanilla; no other reason.

The best idea came from Corriher: Grind up toasted pecans or walnuts and mix
them with the flour. This is in addition to the chopped nuts many stir into the
cookie dough. The earthy flavor of the ground nuts accentuates the sharp flavor
of the dark chocolate chips and also seems to reduce spreading.

So that's how I arrived at the perfect "Sherpa Chocolate Chip." If anyone can
convince me I'm wrong, well then, I guess I'll just have to bake more cookies.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Turkey Testicle Festival

Just Visit US travels to Huntley, IL to feast on the local cuisine. People flock to this annual festival to have a ball.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Soda Pop Stop

John Nese is the proprietor of Galcos Soda Pop Stop in LA. His father ran it as a grocery store, and when the time came for John to take charge, he decided to convert it into the ultimate soda-lovers destination. About 500 pops line the shelves, sourced lovingly by John from around the world. John has made it his mission to keep small soda-makers afloat and help them find their consumers. Galcos also acts as a distributor for restaurants and bars along the West Coast, spreading the gospel of soda made with cane sugar (no high-fructose corn syrup if John can avoid it).

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Unfortunate Sex Life of the Banana

Written by Matt Castle on 24 August 2009

The humble banana almost seems like a miracle of nature. Colourful, nutritious, and much cherished by children, monkeys and clowns, it has a favoured position in the planet’s fruitbowls. The banana is vitally important in many regions of the tropics, where different parts of the plant are used for clothing, paper and tableware, and where the fruit itself is an essential dietary staple. People across the globe appreciate the soft, nourishing flesh, the snack-sized portions, and the easy-peel covering that conveniently changes colour to indicate ripeness. Individual fruit—or fingers—sit comfortably in the human hand, readily detached from their close-packed companions. Indeed, the banana appears almost purpose-designed for efficient human consumption and distribution. It is difficult to conceive of a more fortuitous fruit.

The banana, however, is a freakish and fragile genetic mutant; one that has survived through the centuries due to the sustained application of selective breeding by diligent humans. Indeed, the “miraculous” banana is far from being a no-strings-attached gift from nature. Its cheerful appearance hides a fatal flaw— one that threatens its proud place in the grocery basket. The banana’s problem can be summed up in a single word: sex.

The banana plant is a hybrid, originating from the mismatched pairing of two South Asian wild plant species: Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana. Between these two products of nature, the former produces unpalatable fruit flesh, and the latter is far too seedy for enjoyable consumption. Nonetheless, these closely related plants occasionally cross-pollinate and spawn seedlings which grow into sterile, half-breed banana plants. Some ten thousand years ago, early human experimenters noted that some of these hybridized Musa bore unexpectedly tasty, seedless fruit in addition to an unheard-of yellowness and inexplicably amusing shape. They also proved an excellent source of carbohydrates and other important nutrients.

wild_bananaA seed-packed wild musa (banana)Despite the hybrid’s unfortunate sexual impotence, shrewd would-be agriculturalists realised that the plants could be cultivated from suckering shoots and cuttings taken from the underground stem. The genetically identical progeny produced this way remained sterile, yet the new plant could be widely propagated with human help. An intensive and prolonged process of selective breeding—aided by the variety of hybrids and occasional random genetic mutations—eventually evolved the banana into its present familiar form. Arab traders carried these new wonderfruit to Africa, and Spanish conquistadors relayed them onwards to the Americas. Thus the tasty new banana was spared from an otherwise unavoidable evolutionary dead-end.

Today, bananas and their close relatives, the starchy plantains, grow in a number of different varieties or cultivars. Among temperate palates, the most familiar is the Cavendish, a shapely and sweet-tasting dessert banana. This is the banana found in the supermarkets, splits, and milkshakes of the developed world. It is exported on an industrial scale from commercial plantations in the tropics. Every Cavendish is genetically identical, possessing the same pleasant taste (which is somewhat lacking in more subtle flavours according to banana aficionados). They also all share the same potential for yellow curvaceousness and the same susceptibility to disease.

Although there are numerous other banana and plantain varieties cultivated for local consumption in Africa and Asia, none has the same worldwide appeal as the Cavendish. While these other varieties display more genetic variability, all come from the same sterile Musa hybrids which so delighted our forebears thousands of years ago. Likewise none of them have enjoyed the benefits of the frenzied gene-shuffling facilitated by sexual congress.

Stuck with the clunky, inefficient cloning of asexual reproduction, the sterile banana is at a serious disadvantage in the never-ending biological arms race between plant and pest. Indeed, it is a well-established fact that bananas are particularly prone to crop-consuming insects and diseases. A severe outbreak of banana disease could easily spread through the genetically uniform plantations, devastating economies and depriving our fruitbowls. Varieties grown for local consumption would also suffer, potentially causing mass starvation in tropical regions.

banana_bagBanana bunches in protective isolation.This scenario may seem preposterous, but researchers all over the world are earnestly exploring the possibility. The custodians of the beloved banana are all too aware of the potential for a banana apocalypse— because it has already happened in the fruit’s past. And the next time could be much worse.

Until the middle of the twentieth century, most bananas on sale in the developed world belonged to the Gros Michel cultivar. These bananas were sweet and tasty and didn’t spoil too quickly, making them eminently suitable for commercial export. Old-timers contend that in flavour and convenience, the Gros Michel outshone even the current top-banana, the Cavendish. Yet from the early twentieth century, large plantations of ‘Big Mike’ proved increasingly fertile ground for a fungal leaf affliction known as Panama disease. Affected crops would soon deteriorate into rotting piles of unprofitable vegetation. As the century progressed, commercial growers found themselves in a desperate race against time, making doomed attempts to establish new plantations in disease-free areas of rainforest before the fungus arrived.

In the 1950s the Vietnamese Cavendish came to the rescue. Banana companies delayed switching from Big Mike for as long as possible due to the necessary changes in growing, storage, and ripening infrastructure, and many producers teetered on the edge of bankruptcy. As Big Mike started pushing up daisies, banana plantations frantically reconfigured, and by the mid 1960s the changeover was largely complete. The distinct—and now extinct—taste of Big Mike was quickly lost to the fickle public memory. Cavendish was king.

It has done a sterling job in the intervening years, yet now the Cavendish is starting to struggle in its own contest against contagion. In the 1970s a disease named Black Sigatoka was beaten back with enthusiastic applications of pesticide, but more recently a new strain of the original bane of the banana has threatened the plantations. Since 1992 a vigorous, pesticide-tolerant strain of Panama disease has been wiping out bananas—including previously resistant crops of Cavendish—in Southeast Asia. It has yet to reach the large commercial plantations in Latin America, but most banana-watchers believe that this is only a matter of time.

navel_orangeA navel orange and its underdeveloped siamese twinOpinions differ on how long the Cavendish can survive the new onslaught, and on the best way to tackle the threat. This time, unfortunately, there is no obvious back-up variety waiting in the wings. So far, banana science has provided scant few approaches for improving disease resistance. One method involves the traditional techniques of selective breeding: although banana plants are clones, very occasionally they can be persuaded to produce seeds through a painstaking process of hand pollination. Only one fruit in three hundred will produce a seed, and of these seeds only one in three will have the correct chromosomal configuration to allow germination. The seeds are laboriously extracted by straining tons of mashed fruit through fine meshes. Research stations in commercial banana growing countries, such as Honduras, engage large squads of banana sex workers for such tasks, and to screen the new plant varieties for favourable characteristics.

Another fruit subject to such human-assisted reproduction is the ubiquitous navel orange. It, too, was the result of a serendipitous mutation, this one from an orange tree in Brazil in the mid-1800s. Each orange on this particular tree was found to have a tiny, underdeveloped twin sharing its skin, causing a navel-like formation opposite the stem. These strange siamese citruses were much sweeter than the fruit of their parent trees, and delightfully seedless. Since the new tree was unable to reproduce naturally, caretakers amputated some of its limbs and grafted them onto other citrus trees to produce more of the desirable fruit. Even today navel oranges are produced through such botanical surgery, and all of the navel oranges everywhere are direct descendants—essentially genetic clones—of those from that original tree.

As for the Cavendish, its last best hope may lie in genetic modification (GM). The University of Leuven in Belgium is a world centre in banana research due to its colonial connections with Africa. Belgian banana scientists have become skilled in using DNA-transfer to introduce disease-resistance genes directly into the plant’s genome. These less labour-intensive methods promise a way to develop stronger, fitter, happier and more productive bananas.

fruity_flash“Fruity Flash” by José Mª Andrés Martín. Prints available.In 2007, Ugandan field trials of the first Leuven uber-banana were announced, although public distaste of the idea of GM foods may impede its long term success. And in Honduras, researchers have developed a banana cultivar named ‘Goldfinger’ through traditional selective breeding methods. Although it has enjoyed some public acceptance in Australia, it suffers from the drawbacks of a distinctly different, non-Cavendish flavour, and a longer maturation time. If nothing else, these advances offer hope that science will one day overcome the unfortunate sexual inadequacies of the banana. Let us hope so, otherwise the resulting bananageddon will ensure that the Cavendish goes the way of Big Mike, and future generations of fruit lovers will have to find some other curved yellow food to complement their ice cream.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Get-Slim Food List

15 Foods To Help You Lose
WebMD Feature from "Good Housekeeping" MagazineBy Denise Foley
Want To Curb Your Appetite And Stop Sugar Cravings? Then Put These On Your Grocery List.
Thirty billion a year -- that's about how much Americans spend on slim-down products, many of which don't even work. A better way to get real weight-loss results? Go grocery shopping. New research points to more than a dozen foods, from beans to beef, that can help you fight hunger, kick your candy addiction, boost your metabolism-and ultimately shed pounds. And some of these superfoods deliver health bonuses too.
1. Eggs. Skip the bagel this morning. Eggs, which are full of protein, will help you feel fuller longer-a lot longer. A multicenter study of 30 overweight or obese women found that those who ate two scrambled eggs (with two slices of toast and a reduced-calorie fruit spread) consumed less for the next 36 hours than women who had a bagel breakfast of equal calories. Other research has shown that protein may also prevent spikes in blood sugar, which can lead to food cravings.
2. Beans. You've probably never heard of cholecystokinin, but it's one of your best weight-loss pals. This digestive hormone is a natural appetite suppressant. So how do you get more cholecystokinin? One way, report researchers at the University of California at Davis, is by eating beans: A study of eight men found that their levels of the hormone (which may work by keeping food in your stomach longer) were twice as high after a meal containing beans than after a low-fiber meal containing rice and dry milk. There's also some evidence that beans keep blood sugar on an even keel, so you can stave off hunger longer. Heart-health bonus: High-fiber beans can lower your cholesterol.
3. Salad. Do you tend to stuff yourself at meals? Control that calorie intake by starting with a large salad (but hold the creamy dressing). In a study of 42 women at Penn State University, those who ate a big, low-cal salad consumed 12 percent less pasta afterward-even though they were offered as much as they wanted. The secret, say researchers, is the sheer volume of a salad, which makes you feel too full to pig out. Health bonus: A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that people who ate one salad a day with dressing had higher levels of vitamins C and E, folic acid, lycopene, and carotenoids-all disease fighters-than those who didn't add salad to their daily menu.
4. Green tea. The slimming ingredient isn't caffeine. Antioxidants called catechins are what help speed metabolism and fat burning. In a recent Japanese study, 35 men who drank a bottle of oolong tea mixed with green tea catechins lost weight, boosted their metabolism, and had a significant drop in their body mass index. Health bonus: The participants also lowered their (bad) LDL cholesterol.

5. Pears. They're now recognized as having more fiber, thanks to a corrected calculation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. At six grams (formerly four grams) per medium-size pear, they're great at filling you up. Apples come in second, with about three grams per medium-size fruit. Both contain pectin fiber, which decreases blood-sugar levels, helping you avoid between-meal snacking. This may explain why, in a Brazilian study that lasted 12 weeks, overweight women who ate three small pears or apples a day lost more weight than women on the same diet who ate three oat cookies daily instead of the fruit.
6. Soup. A cup of chicken soup is as appetite blunting as a piece of chicken: That was the finding of a Purdue University study with 18 women and 13 men. Why? Researchers speculate that even the simplest soup satisfies hunger because your brain perceives it as filling.
7. Lean beef. It's what's for dinner-or should be, if you're trying to shed pounds. The amino acid leucine, which is abundant in proteins like meat and fish as well as in dairy products, can help you pare down while maintaining calorie-burning muscle. That's what it did for 24 overweight middle-aged women in a study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Eating anywhere from nine to 10 ounces of beef a day on a roughly 1,700-calorie diet helped the women lose more weight, more fat, and less muscle mass than a control group consuming the same number of calories, but less protein. The beef eaters also had fewer hunger pangs.
8. Olive oil. Fight off middle-age pounds with extra virgin olive oil. A monounsaturated fat, it'll help you burn calories. In an Australian study, 12 postmenopausal women (ages 57 to 73) were given a breakfast cereal dressed either with a mixture of cream and skim milk or half an ounce of olive oil and skim milk. The women who ate the oil-laced muesli boosted their metabolism. Don't want to add olive oil to your oatmeal? That's OK-it works just as well in salad dressings, as a bread dip, or for sautéing.
9. Grapefruit. It's back! A 2006 study of 91 obese people conducted at the Nutrition and Metabolic Research Center at Scripps Clinic found that eating half a grapefruit before each meal or drinking a serving of the juice three times a day helped people drop more than three pounds over 12 weeks. The fruit's phytochemicals reduce insulin levels, a process that may force your body to convert calories into energy rather than flab.
10. Cinnamon. Sprinkle it on microwave oatmeal or whole-grain toast to help cure those mid-afternoon sugar slumps. Research from the U.S.
Department of Agriculture found that a little cinnamon can help control post-meal insulin spikes, which make you feel hungry. Health bonus: One USDA study showed that just a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon a day lowered the blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels in people with type 2 diabetes.
11. Vinegar. It's a great filler-upper. In a Swedish study, researchers found that people who ate bread dipped in vinegar felt fuller than those who had their slices plain. The probable reason: Acetic acid in the vinegar may slow the passage of food from the stomach into the small intestine, so your tummy stays full longer. Vinegar can also short-circuit the swift blood-sugar rise that occurs after you eat refined carbs such as white bread, cookies, and crackers.
12. Tofu. It seems too light to be filling, but a study at Louisiana State University showed that tofu does the job. Researchers tested it against chicken as a pre-meal appetizer for 42 overweight women-and the participants who had tofu ate less food during the meal. The secret: Tofu is an appetite-quashing protein.
13. Nuts. Yes, they are fattening: A handful of peanuts is about 165 calories. But research shows that people who snack on nuts tend to be slimmer than those who don't. A study from Purdue University found that when a group of 15 normal-weight people added about 500 calories worth of peanuts to their regular diet, they consumed less at subsequent meals. The participants also revved up their resting metabolism by 11 percent, which means they burned more calories even when relaxing. Health bonus: Walnuts contain omega-3 fatty acids. And researchers at Loma Linda University recently found that eating 10 to 20 whole pecans daily can reduce heart disease risks.
14. High-fiber cereal. Studies show that you can curb your appetite by eating a bowl for breakfast. But how well does it really work? Researchers at the VA Medical Center and the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis tested the theory against the ultimate diet challenge: the buffet table. They gave 14 volunteers one of five cereals before sending them out to the smorgasbord. Those who'd had the highest-fiber cereal ate less than those who didn't have as much fiber in the morning. Try General Mills Fiber One (14 grams per serving) or Kellogg's All Bran With Extra Fiber (13 grams per serving).
15. Hot red pepper. Eating a bowl of spicy chili regularly can help you lose weight. In a Japanese study, 13 women who ate breakfast foods with red pepper (think southwestern omelet) ate less than they normally did at lunch. The magic ingredient may be capsaicin, which helps suppress appetite.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Friday, June 12, 2009

Edible 'Sunscreen' In Food

Watch CBS Videos Online

Natural ways to boost skin's defense against sunburn include watermelon and orange peel, Dr. Jennifer Ashton explains more to Maggie Rodriguez.

Jackie Newgent discusses her book, "Big Green Cookbook".

The Authors@Google program welcomed Jackie Newgent to Google's New York office to discuss her book, "Big Green Cookbook".

"Jackie Newgent, an award-winning cookbook author, is a well-respected registered dietitian and culinary expert. Her much-anticipated cookbook,
"Big Green Cookbook: Hundreds of Planet-pleasing Recipes and Tips for a Luscious Low-carbon Lifestyle" (Wiley, 2009) has arrived. Its the first-ever cookbook which shows concerned consumers how to maximize flavor in real meals that minimize their carbon footprint. Its like a hybrid the Prius of cookbooks!

This event took place on April 20, 2009.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Top Poisonous Foods We Love To Eat

Everyday we chow down on food produced from plants that carry deadly poisons. Most of the time we don’t need to be concerned with this as the mass production of fruit and vegetables ensures that we are usually safe, but from time to time people accidentally kill themselves by unwittingly eating the wrong part of a plant. In order to ensure that this never happens to you, I have put together a list of the most commonly seen poisons that we come in to contact with in our kitchens.


We have all heard of toadstools - and know that they are poisonous, but what many people don’t know is that a toadstool is actually a mushroom, not a separate type of plant. Toadstool is slang for “poisonous mushroom”. While there are some useful signs that a mushroom is poisonous, they are not consistent and all mushrooms of unknown origin should be considered dangerous to eat. Some of the things you can look for to try to determine whether a mushroom is poisonous are: it should have a flat cap with no bumps, it should have pink or black gills (poisonous mushrooms often have white gills), and the gills should stay attached to the cap (not the stalk) if you pull it off. But remember, while this is generally true of many types of mushroom, it is not always true.


Elderberry trees are very attractive and quite large. They are covered with thousands of tiny flowers which have a delicate scent. The flowers are used mainly for making elderflower liqueur and soda. Sometimes the flowers are eaten after being battered and deep fried. But beneath the pretty surface lurks danger! The roots and some other parts of the elderberry tree are highly poisonous and will cause severe stomach problems. So next time you decide to pick some elderberry flowers for eating, be sure to eat just the flowers.


Castor Oil

Castor oil, the bane of many of our childhoods, is regularly added to candies, chocolate, and other foods. Furthermore, many people still consume a small amount daily or force it on their unwilling children. Fortunately the castor oil we buy is carefully prepared, because the castor bean is so deadly, that it takes just one bean to kill a human, and four to kill a horse. The poison is ricin, which is so toxic that workers who collect the seeds have strict safety guidelines to prevent accidental death. Despite this, many people working in the fields gathering the seeds suffer terrible side-effects.


Almonds are one of the most useful and wonderful of seeds (it is not a nut as many people would have you believe). It has a unique taste and its excellent suitability for use in cooking have made it one of the most popular ingredients in pastry kitchens for centuries. The most flavorsome almonds are bitter almonds (as opposed to “sweet” almonds). They have the strongest scent and are the most popular in many countries. But there is one problem: they are full of cyanide. Before consumption, bitter almonds must be processed to remove the poison. Despite this requirement, some countries make the sale of bitter almonds illegal (New Zealand regretfully is one of them). As an alternative, you can use the pip from an apricot stone which has a similar flavor and poison content. Heating destroys the poison. In fact, you may not know that it is now illegal in the USA to sell raw almonds - all almonds sold are now heat-treated to remove traces of poison and bacteria.


Cherries are a very popular fruit - used in cooking, liqueur production, or eaten raw. They are from the same family as plums, apricots, and peaches. All of the previously mentioned fruits contain highly poisonous compounds in their leaves and seeds. Almonds are also a member of this family but they are the only fruit which is harvested especially for its seeds. When the seeds of cherries are crushed, chewed, or even slightly injured, they produce prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide). Next time you are eating cherries, remember not to suck on or chew the pip.


Like the previous two items, apple seeds also contain cyanide - but obviously in much smaller doses. Apple seeds are very often eaten accidentally but you would need to chew and consume a fairly high number to get sick. There are not enough seeds in one apple to kill, but it is absolutely possible to eat enough to die. I recommend avoiding apple eating competitions! Incidentally, if you want to eat an apple and find a worm in it (and hopefully not half a worm), you can drop it in a bowl of salt water which will kill the worm.


Rhubarb is a very underrated plant - it produces some of the nicest tasting puddings and is incredibly easy to grow at home. Rhubarb is something of a wonder plant - in addition to an unknown poison in its leaves, they also contain a corrosive acid. If you mix the leaves with water and soda, it becomes even more potent. The stems are edible (and incredibly tasty) and the roots have been used for over 5,000 years as a laxitive and poop-softener.


First off, a little interesting trivia: in the US, thanks to a US Supreme Court decision in 1893, tomatoes are vegetables. In the rest of the world they are considered to be fruit (or more accurately, a berry). The reason for this decision was a tax on vegetables but not fruit. You may also be interested to know that technically, a tomato is an ovary. The leaves and stems of the tomato plant contain a chemical called “Glycoalkaloid” which causes extreme nervousness and stomach upsets. Despite this, they can be used in cooking to enhance flavor, but they must be removed before eating. Cooking in this way does not allow enough poison to seep out but can make a huge difference in taste. Finally, to enhance the flavor of tomatoes, sprinkle a little sugar on them. Now we just need to work out whether they are “toe-mah-toes” or “toe-may-toes”.



Potatoes have appeared in our history books since their introduction to Europe in the 16th century. Unfortunately they appear largely due to crop failure and severe famine, but they will be forever the central vegetable of most western families daily diet. Potatoes (like tomatoes) contain poison in the stems and leaves - and even in the potato itself if left to turn green (the green is due to a high concentration of the glycoalkaloid poison). Potato poisoning is rare, but it does happen from time to time. Death normally comes after a period of weakness and confusion, followed by a coma. The majority of cases of death by potato in the last fifty years in the USA have been the result of eating green potatoes or drinking potato leaf tea.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Unauthorized commercial for Trader Joe's

Brew the Best Possible Coffee Without Breaking the Bank


Whether you're the kind of coffee drinker that slugs back the swill in the break-room coffee pot at work or savors exotic coffee on sleepy Sundays, there is always room for enhancing your java.

Consider yourself forewarned however, once you begin brewing better coffee it becomes increasingly difficult to go back to enjoying crappy coffee. Raised in a family of non-coffee drinkers I simply accepted that the coffee I intermittently experienced in diners and donut shops across America was the entirety of the coffee experience—scalding hot, bitter in taste, and certainly not as pleasant a caffeine delivery system as Mountain Dew. All of that changed when I started drinking more coffee to survive life on the graveyard shift and decided that there had to be a way to make coffee taste good without adding so much sugar into it that I may as well have kept drinking soda.

You won't always be able to use all of the following tricks to brew a great cup of coffee—not all of us have access a local coffee roaster or the a well stocked local market—but applying even a few of them to your coffee routine will boost the quality of your coffee drinking experience.
Know Your Varieties

Nearly all the coffee in the world comes from two types of coffee plants: Arabica and Robusta. Arabica has roughly half the amount of caffeine and a more mellow taste. Robusta has more caffeine and higher acidic content which creates a significantly more bitter flavor. Many people experience mild stomach aches from the combination of higher caffeine and acidic content of Robusta beans, certainly many a potential future coffee-drinker has sworn off the stuff because of such an experience with cheap Robusta beans. It often isn't all that much more to buy Arabica over Robusta and with careful label reading you can often get Arabica coffee for the same price as Robusta based blends.
Buy Whole Beans

When you smell coffee—whether you're smelling whole beans or already ground coffee—you're essentially breathing in some of the flavor. The oils and chemical compounds that give coffee its distinct flavoring are in constant flight from the bean. The more you can do to preserve the integrity of the beans and the delightful flavor inside right up until the moment of brewing, the better the coffee will be. Keeping the beans intact for as long as possible helps immensely. If possible where you live, try to buy locally roasted beans to benefit from the freshness. Barring that, buying whole bean coffee is vastly superior to buying pre-ground coffee.

Grind Your Own

You've got whole bean coffee, now what? There are two principle types of coffee grinders on the market. A basic blade grinder costs less than $15 at any kitchen store or big box grocer and looks a lot like a tall and narrow food processor. There is a flat blade at the bottom of the chamber you put your coffee in that spins and grinds up the beans. The other kind of grinder is a burr grinder and prices for a quality model start at $200 and rise rapidly. Burr models use two interlocking metal burns to create extremely uniform coffee grounds—imagine if you will two cone shaped gears that fit together like nesting dolls. Coffee aficionados will balk at my suggestion that a blade grinder is adequate, but it's better to have irregularly but freshly ground coffee than it is to have no coffee at all because you blew $500 on a premium coffee grinder! Grind the coffee as closely to the time it will be used as possible, ideally right before you use it.

The refrigerator is the mortal enemy of your coffee. Taking coffee in and out of the fridge is a sure way to suck the flavor right out of it. Coffee that will be used frequently and immediately—whole bean or ground— is ideally stored in an air tight, opaque,and glass or otherwise inert container. Coffee that will not be consumed immediately but needs to be preserved for near-future use can be safely stored in the freezer assuming it is stored in a dry and air tight container. Storing an unsealed container of grounds or beans in the cold temperatures of either the fridge or freezer is a sure way to accelerate the its journey from delicious flavor to stale bitterness.

Press It

Most people would assume if they had less than $50 to spend on coffee brewing equipment that there would be no way they could get a premium cup of coffee out of the supplies they could afford. Fortunately one of the best methods of brewing coffee is the cheapest. You can pick up a Bodum Chambord French Press, the original and classic design, for $25 or less just about everywhere. Using a French press is one of the simplest methods of brewing a fantastic cup of coffee. A French press is a glass cylinder that has a lid with a piston style rod attached to a circular screen. Grind your coffee, put a few heaping scoops in the bottom, pour nearly boiling water over the grounds, wait about four minutes, press the plunger down to push the grounds down and enjoy some delicious coffee. One of the primary benefits of making coffee in a French press over a standard drip pot is that more of the coffee oils end up in your cup instead of in the machine's filter. More oils means better taste! As a bonus, a carefully cleaned French press can also double as an excellent pot for loose leaf tea. If you already have a drip pot and want to keep on using it, use a tip we've previously highlighted as a way to get better coffee out of drip coffee makers: run a pot of water through it before putting the actual coffee through to pre-heat the unit and help get it closer to optimum brewing temperature.
Use Pure(r) Water

While it might not be practical to install a reverse osmosis filter under your sink, the more pure the water you use for your coffee the better it will taste. A gallon of locally distilled water costs less than a dollar in most places and many supermarkets have cheap refills available—my local market has a machine that will refill a gallon jug for 35 cents. Even if you—for environmental or financial reasons—don't want to spend money on filtered or bottled water for your coffee you can still tweak your water. Fill up a pitcher of water the night before and set it out on the counter. While it's not the same as being filtered through the stony depths of a mountain aquifer it will allow some chemicals in the water like chlorine to dissipate. Anything that makes your cup of joe taste less like the pool at the YMCA is welcome.

The variety of coffees and methods of preparation ensure that the above list just barely scratches the surface of tips and tricks to be shared on the subject. If you have a great tip for making a better cup of coffee, share it in the comments below and help your fellow readers make 2009 the year their coffee stops being bitter enough to kill an old cowboy.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Professor Invents Sticker That Tells Whether Fruit Is Ripe

TUCSON, Ariz. — A University of Arizona professor has invented a sticker that can tell consumers if a fruit or vegetable is ripe.

The stickers will be available to growers next year and should make their way to supermarkets within two to three years, said Mark Riley, a UA assistant professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering.

He said growers and grocers throw out thousands of bushels of fruit each year because it ripened faster than it could get to market or be sold.

With no simple way to tell whether fruit that looks good on the outside will taste good on the inside, consumers often buy peaches, pears and melons they can't eat because they're under-ripe or overripe.

"Right now, picking fruit is more of an art than it is a science," Riley said.

A marker on Riley's RediRipe stickers detects a chemical called ethylene gas, which is released by fruit or vegetables as they ripen.

As that happens, the sticker turns from white to blue.

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The more ethylene gas the fruit produces, the darker the blue, Riley said.

The color shift is not instantaneous once a sticker is attached. It takes about 24 to 48 hours, depending on how fast the fruit is ripening, Riley said.

And there are still bugs to be worked out: The stickers do not change color to reflect an overripe or rotten piece of fruit.

Also, not all fruit produces enough ethylene to be detected by the sticker, said Jim McFerson, manager of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, a growers' research group that helped sponsor the research.

"There is still a lot of research to do," McFerson said.

Each sticker is expected to cost growers and grocers about a penny, Riley said.

There is a patent pending for the stickers through the UA. Riley said when RediRipe goes to market, the university will keep the patent and the company will license the product.

Research on ethylene's use in fruit ripening began in the 1940s, and the gas is used to ripen fruits and vegetables in storage.

Riley has done multiple small field tests on his stickers — including at an apple orchard in Willcox — and plans a much larger field test this fall in Washington.