The first time my Irish friend Patrick came over to our house and heard me apologizing for the financial and ecological costs of running our Aga, he said to me: 'Don't you apologize, you cannot put a price on a friend.' And he is right. He grew up around a warm Aga and I am so glad I can say the same about my kids. This cooker is so much more than a cooker, it is the central part of our kitchen and in the wintertime of our house.
When working the oven, you start by asking yourself the following question: what do I want to do? Do I want to stir fry or bring it to a boil? If the answer is the former I work on the simmering plate. If it is the latter I go to the boiling plate. Do I want to bake, roast or simmer? For baking I choose the baking oven at 180 degrees Celsius. For roasting, I turn to the 220-degree oven and simmering takes place in the oven that keeps a temperature slightly below 100 degrees. That is it. No knobs, no buttons, no complicated programs. This ease of use also brings about a certain mindfulness I was not aware one could attain by cooking.
Of course, these cookers have over the years become victims of parody. The British Catherine Tate sketch show (2004-2007) featured a recurring character called The Aga Saga Woman who embodied the prosperous and cozy middle-class English lifestyle many Aga owners aspire to. The title of the sketch is a pun on the Aga saga, a type of popular novel, set in The Midlands and populated by the middle classes of the sort that typically own Aga cookers. Another tv show that explicitly dealt with Agas was the 2003 BBC TV show Posh Nosh. The show parodied TV chefs and used the Aga to show that cooking was not at all hard. 'Just pop it into the Aga' thus became a standard phrase throughout the show.
The financial and ecological downsides of this cooker are considerable but I managed to find a way around this (see The Big Green Egg) so we can still face ourselves. The first step in this process is using the thermostat. When the cooker is not in use the thermostat takes the temperatures of the ovens down thirty percent. Thus at night, the cooker hibernates. When we are out for more than a day we let the cooker know so it enters vacation mode, bringing the ovens down even more. Step two and three are called The Big Green Egg and the Flame Boss controller. You will read about those in separate entries.
pop it into the Aga!
Something is good because it is expensive. This popular fallacy is often justified with objective criteria (handmade, cost of design, materials used etc.) to warrant the asking price. Quality, for one, has its price. Sometimes, however, there is a product that completely defies this logic. For instance, for the money you spend on five large drinks in a well-known coffee franchise, you at home can own one of the best coffee makers in the world.
That is what the Aeropress is: the cheapest way to incredible coffee. Furthermore, it is easy to use, as well as attractive for its design. It consists of two light elements, a cylinder and a plunger, that make it look like a syringe. Because of its light weight and its durability, you can take it just about anywhere.
Making coffee takes less than two minutes and contrary to most other brewing methods the Aeropress makes a single serving of coffee.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to the perfect coffee set with an Aeropress. There is the upright and the inverse method. Whichever way you choose to turn this nifty gadget, your coffee will be incredibly tasty and at least five times better than the coffees that you did not buy at that billion-dollar coffee franchise.
I judged a fully-fledged outside kitchen too extreme and a tripod barbecue too flimsy.
I hereby offer you insight into me getting a Big Green Egg barbecue oven in my backyard. Now I also have to admit that I am not such a barbecue fanatic. Don't get me wrong, I love the first BBQ of the year as much as the next person, but I soon find myself getting bored with them.
When I read about this Egg That Should Not Be Named A Barbecue, I did not know what to make of it. If this was not an ordinary grill, then what was it? What else can it do?
I soon learned that the better-phrased question was 'what can the Big Green Egg not do?' It grills directly like a regular barbecue but also indirectly like an oven, it bakes pizzas, smokes fish and meat, it bakes bread, roasts chicken and turkey, it slow cooks, and makes casseroles and stir-fries. I am sure I just forgot at least half a dozen uses I have not had the time to try out.
The Big Green Egg provided me with the opportunity to redeem myself in the eyes of the Goddess of Ecology.
Basically, I use it to replace my hibernating Aga cooker in the summertime.
I have written about how running my Aga year-round has given me a bad conscience. In the spirit of full disclosure, I need to add that it went so far that we needed to install an AC in our top bedroom to compensate for the production of excessive heat from the downstairs cooker.
Now that climate change is definitely upon us, I had to find a way to change my life. This Big Green Egg offered me that chance. It provided me with the opportunity to redeem myself in the eyes of the Goddess of Ecology.
Now when the month of May comes around the Aga powers down and the Big Green Egg gets center stage, supported by the Thermomix (see Thermomix) for quick pasta and rice dishes on rainy days when the cook does not feel like going outside.
The upstairs AC is now only used on the hottest of days, a few weeks per year at the most. Thanks to the BGE I again dare to look at myself in the mirror.
Another pleasant side effect of this tandem (Aga and Egg) is that the whole old-fashioned idea of seasons has come back into our lives. In the sweltering heat of the July sun I now long for the cold and wet Aga days and 'Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote the droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote,' I cannot stop thinking about hatching the Egg.
Yet it gets even better. Good things come in threes, so they say. That second thing is the Looftlighter (see Looftlighter).
Not great coffee,
yet an experience
This is not a real coffee maker in the purist's view. It is an experience. Scooping in the ground beans, adding the water, putting it on the stove and letting it boil and percolate brings the Italian way of life to every kitchen. It is also a great way to make coffee outdoors. Still, the coffee one makes with it is not the best coffee. The process does not do dignity to the beans. The result is a very strong coffee that resembles espresso coffee but without the crema. As a pick-me-up coffee overlooking an Italian lake, sea or mountain top in the morning, Bialetti coffee is great, but you need to have a strong stomach.
A friend of mine recently told me about a similar percolator designed in 1979 by Richard Sapper and produced by Alessi ever since. Its design, use of materials and functionality is supposed to take this brewing method to the next level. Next time when he has me over for coffee, I will surely update this post.
Some tasks are better left to designated tools. A mandoline is such a tool. For slicing the occasional carrot or onion you don't need it, but when you are preparing food for a large party a mandoline comes in handy and makes the work much lighter. The Börner V-slicer mandoline shines when it has to quickly prepare large quantities of vegetables. What I like most about this great little helper, however, is that I find myself also using it for the above-mentioned occasional carrot or onion since it is so easy to clean.
It is so handy,
I use it for a single onion
The three adjustable inserts offer a wide range of cutting options: from slices and julienne sticks in four different thicknesses to cubes either diced or finely minced, for a total of ten different cutting options.
This slicer is the best invention since sliced bread. Now bread stays fresh for way longer than when I used to buy it sliced.
It is easy to use, easy to set up and to store away and the vintage look brings me back to days of yore when my grandmother did the same: every morning, while the kitchen bathed in an odor of a fresh batch of coffee, she sliced bread with a slicer akin to mine...
the best invention since
When it comes to temperature control nothing beats this electric kettle. When making coffee it all comes down to four deciding factors: the quality of the fresh beans, the grinder, the machine, and the barista. Right behind the big four, you will find other influencers like water quality and water temperature. The Brewista kettle brings your water to and keeps it at the right temperature for the coffee (or tea) brewing method of your choosing (Aeropress at 88, V60 at 91 degrees Celsius etc.)
During the warmer months of the year our Aga is not in use and this kettle greatly enhances and simplifies our daily coffee brewing process.
It simplifies our daily coffee brewing routine
This, I admit, was a bit of an eccentric addition to our outdoor kitchen.
Because I had to come up with a plan to let the AGA hibernate during the warmer months I needed a small stove outside to heat whatever needs heating.
I came across this Dutch design (Bertus Fridael) going back to the invention of the simplest wood-burning camping stoves.
The principle works like this: although you burn wood inside of the stove, it creates gas. Just like in the nineteenth century, when gas was extracted from wood with a special wood generator, this stove is based on the same traditional technique extracting fuel from organic, eco-friendly materials like dried wood or organic waste from the garden.
Every time I use it
I am in Italy,
rather than in my backyard.
This stove gives a new life to a traditional forgotten technique.
I mostly use this wood-gas stove in combination with the Bialetti percolator. This way of preparing coffee, although not the tastiest, always makes me believe I am somewhere in Italy rather than at home.
If this stove can create this feeling, I believe the investment was worth it.
Unless you live near a coffee shop that takes roasting beans seriously, you might consider getting a coffee subscription service with one of the best roasters out there.
It works like this: you decide whether you want to drink espresso-based coffees, filter coffees or a mixture of the two. You then set the amount you wish to consume per month and the frequency of the deliveries.
Once this is done, the subscription service takes over. They will ship to you the finest of their curated coffees at a cost lower than the coffees on their webshop or in their physical shop. With every shipment, they include a leaflet with information about the individual bean varieties and they offer tips about brewing methods so that when these beans arrive in your kitchen, you feel as if the roaster has come along as well.
When the beans arrive, I feel as if the roaster has come along as well
I have tried a few subscriptions over the past few years (Caffenation from Antwerp, and The Barn from Berlin) but for some reason I canceled them. Don't get me wrong: these services offer great coffee, beyond great actually, maybe too great for my taste. Both roasters pride themselves on their knowledge of African coffees from Ethiopia and Kenya, the top coffee places in the world at this time. If I was to compare these regions with wine-producing regions I would say they are the Bordeaux and Bourgogne of coffee. Maybe that is what got to me in the end. They are the best of the best, but sometimes I just want something different. I want to taste a great Rioja or Barolo from time to time.
I am currently getting my coffee beans from Supremo, a German roaster that offers an enormous variety of beans, wonderful quality, great and insightful descriptions of their coffees at a very reasonable monthly rate. They too offer coffees from the East African top spots but apart from those places they also source from the Americas, the Orient, and the Pacific Region. The coffee I am presently enjoying is a specialty coffee from Yemen, according to many the birthplace of coffee or as they call it, Mocha. It has won a cup of Excellence award, arguably the gold medal at the coffee Olympics.
Supremo's after-sales service is equally impressive. When I let them know about my preference for lightly roasted espresso blends they immediately updated my order for future shipments and when during a very busy period they shipped my beans later than usual, they upgraded my next package with the best coffee from Honduras I have ever tasted.
Although you should leave your house regularly, with a great coffee subscription service going out for great coffee will no longer be a valid reason. Better get yourself a dog.
Smoking is the process of flavoring, cooking and preserving food by exposing it to smoke from burning or smoldering material, most often wood. Meat, fish, cheeses, and tea can all be smoked.
That at least is the theory. When you put this into practice you have to choose between different ways of smoking: cold, warm, hot, liquid or roasting. By far the easiest and thus the most practical way I found, is the cold smoking method.
where there is smoke, there is
great tasting food
This is how it goes. You fill a tiny aluminum tray, shaped like a labyrinth, called a cold smoke generator with oak sawdust. You put a tea candle at the beginning of the maze. The smoking begins. Put the smoke generator at the bottom of a closed barbecue. On the grill, you place the products you want to smoke. Don't forget to open up the barbecue vent just a tiny bit so the smoke can escape and the fire keeps on burning.
The fire will continue to run until all the sawdust is consumed. This might take up to six hours. When the smoking has stopped, you are ready to set the table.
When it comes to great coffee there is a saying. I am sure there are a lot of sayings, but the one relevant to this great grinder is: for great coffee the 4 M's have to align.
Although this sounds a bit like astrology it is way more down to earth than one would think. The quality of a cup of coffee (be it espresso or slow coffee) is determined by La Macchina (be it an espresso machine or slow coffee apparatus), by La Miscela or the selection of beans (for espresso this might be a blend but for slow coffee, most experts prefer a coffee of a single bean variety), by La Mano (the skill of the barista) and finally by the fourth M', La Macinatura or the grinding of the beans.
These four parts are of equal importance when creating great coffee, but in my opinion, it is mostly the grinder that gets overlooked.
how I marvel at the sight of quality German engineering
Not by the Germans of Commandante with their C40 hand grinder. When you take a look at this hand grinder it is difficult to refrain from marveling at the quality of the (German) engineering.
On the inside, you will find a blue stainless steel axle, a crank and micro ball bearings as well as high-nitrogen martensitic steel burrs. These burrs are strong, sharp and highly resistant to pitting.
The outside of the C40 sports a stainless steel hull wrapped in a thin wood veneer (different choices of wood are available), an oak wood handle (from the Black Forest) and a screw-on glass container. Even when not in use this truly is a beautiful object.
The C40 is capable of catering to all coffee tastes. It grinds equally well for Turkish coffee and French press as for espresso. Adjusting the plastic knob at the bottom is easy. You unscrew the glass container and turn the plastic knob while holding the handle in place. It has stepped grind adjustment, giving you the ability to count clicks after zeroing out the burrs, allowing you to easily return to the same grind size.
To me, this is hands down the most beautifully designed and best-engineered hand grinder out there.
I use it every morning with my Aeropress coffee maker and that combination works particularly well, not only because of the reasons I already mentioned but also because the glass container with the ground beans fits perfectly on top of the Aeropress shaft so that filling goes without spilling.
I don't know whether the Commandante people have done this on purpose. Judging from the rest of their design, I would not put it past them…
When cooking on the Aga this is the go-to kettle. It has a built-in thermometer that is not as accurate as the Brewista (see Brewista electric kettle), nor does this kettle stop at the required temperature.
However, it greatly helps in distinguishing between water temperatures for tea (white, green, oolong, black, herbal) and coffee.
The 'Made in Belgium' label definitely means something when you take a look at Demeyere's pots and pans. For four generations, Demeyere has developed and produced high-quality stainless steel cookware in Belgium. The result is cookware which is faster, more functional, and more durable than any cookware on the market.
No wonder that many Michelin star chefs swear by these pots and pans. All series offer great quality so choosing among them is a matter of 'les goûts et les couleurs'.
I prefer Demeyere's Apollo series because of their timelessness. I landed on them five years ago and I have not looked back since...
Since getting these pots
I have not looked back since
There is no two without three. In summer I replace the Aga with the Egg and I light it in minutes with the Looflighter (one and two). But there is still a bit of a but.
The Egg can be quite childlike sometimes and thus should not be left unattended. If you do leave it because you are occupied with, say, your real children, the Egg sometimes just runs off. If you are not constantly paying close attention to the thermometer on the lid of the Egg the temperature might rise to temperatures well above the desired cooking temperatures.
Bringing it down from what Eggheads call overshooting has proven to be somewhat of an impossible enterprise since the ceramic dome keeps the temperature trapped. In such a situation the same people even advise completely restarting the Egg.
Unless you are an experienced Egghead, it is, in other words, best not to step too far away from the fire.
Well, that proved to be a bit of a hassle. I could not keep an eye on the thermometer of the Egg while inside, doing other cooking-related tasks. What if it rains? I did not want to get wet trapped outside next to my Egg eying the thermometer.
the heat remains where it should be, encircling your meat, poultry or vegetables
There had to be a better way. Of course, there was.
The Flame Boss controller lets you control the temperature of your egg remotely. After starting a fire with the Looftlighter I now set the desired temperature for the cooking technique I am undertaking: 90 for slow cooking, 180 for baking or 220 for roasting, just like I am used to doing with the Aga in wintertime.
Now, however, it is the Flame Boss that performs its magic. The small blower that clicks into the bottom opening of the Egg ramps the heat up or down, while a probe monitors the internal temperature so you know when your food is perfectly cooked.
Flame Boss lets you keep the lid of the cooker closed, the temperate steady and the heat where it should be – encircling your meat, poultry, fish or vegetables.
Its mobile app even makes it possible to track and control the temperature inside the Egg in real-time. Even while out grocery shopping and no longer connected to the wifi network this is possible using a mobile data connection.
Cooking for guests now works like this: I choose a recipe or dish to prepare, I start the grill and set the temperature on the Flame Boss, I shop for groceries, I prep the ingredients and start cooking on the Egg. If it is an oven dish I do this before they arrive. If it involves grilling it takes place à la minute.
I feel I have entered the home stretch with this three-pronged approach: Big Green Egg, Looftlighter and Flame Boss. I have perfected my setup. My three-stage rocket has left the earth...
Using a French press is one of the easiest, least expensive ways to make great coffee. The process is a no-brainer. Freshly ground beans go into the glass pot. Hot but never boiling water is poured on top. The beans and the water get stirred a few times before the lid with the lever out is put on the pot. Now it is time for the coffee to steep. Three to four minutes should do the trick. Set an alarm if you find yourself forgetting about your brew. Then plunge the press. Do this slowly. Bringing the plunger completely down should take roughly thirty seconds. Pour the coffee and enjoy it.
The Bodum brand makes great French presses. Especially their classic Chambord press designed in the fifties is worth your money. It comes in 1l and 1,5l varieties. I got the largest one because once you make coffee the way I just outlined, people are going to love it.
Yes, these knives are damn sharp but others are too. What sets a Global knife apart is not so much its function but rather its form, its pleasing aesthetic and its production method.
One knife, one material, one form. Sort of. All knives are handcrafted in Yoshikin's factory in Niigate in line with the highest possible, almost Samurai-like, standards. Pure Japanese craftsmanship if I ever saw it.
effortlessly good looks
Hard enough to hold the blade's steep acute cutting edge for a long time but soft enough for ease of sharpening.
The blades are forged from the extremely hard Cromovo 18 high carbon stainless steel, ice tempered and hardened to resist corrosion.
To balance their knives Global has designed hollow handles filled with just the right amount of sand to counter the weight of the blade.
The smooth contours and seamless construction eliminates food and dirt traps, offering the ultimate in safety, hygiene, good grip, and effortlessly good looks.
A friend of mine raved about these washing cloths so I decided to try them out.
The H2O in the brand name suggests that only water is needed when cleaning with these cloths and sure enough that seems to work. Chemical cleaning products are no longer necessary.
The basic set I bought contains three microfiber cloths: two multipurpose ones that I mostly use for kitchen cleaning and a fine one for eyeglasses and technological devices like TV and computer screens.
So far I am quite impressed with them. These products are exclusively sold through direct sale at home parties so for the time being they can only be ordered at a party near you.
Keep your eyes open.
Fill the top container with ice cubes, the filter with ground coffee and a few minutes later the first drops of strong concentrated coffee drips into the decanter from which you serve the coffee on ice cubes.
Beware: friends we served this coffee to on a summer afternoon were not able to sleep the following night. This is not for the faint-hearted but as a summer drink, this is one of the best non-alcoholic drinks I can think of.
More than once I have experienced the following scenario. I have starved myself the whole day because I am invited to a backyard barbecue at night. Once there, the affair is quite pleasant. I am stuffing myself with chips and nuts to keep the hunger at bay. The wine and conversation are flowing nicely until... the hostess gives the one presiding over the fire, often her partner or husband, the thumbs-up to get the grill ready. What? Getting it ready? It is not ready yet? Do the coals still have to be lit? No! This will take forever. And so it does. Sometimes it takes the host more than one attempt to light the grill. The hairdryer and sometimes spirits (I don't mean the good kind) come out, and finally, finally, if, by that time someone is still around, the grill is ready to cook.
When I purchased the Big Green Egg I meant to cook on it a few times a week, not three times throughout the summer. Therefore, I had to find a solution for the lighting problem I just described. I have no problems admitting that I am probably as inept at lighting a fire as the man in the scene I just painted. In a cave, I would be worthless, but give me the web and some hours to navigate it, and I give you the world. The Looftligher is a Swedish product invented by Richard Looft.
I feel like the Mad Max of cavemen. Bring it on!
It is the quickest, safest and environmentally friendliest method of lighting a grill or fireplace. It produces the perfect glow in no time – whether it be charcoal in a grill or logs in a fireplace. When you start the Looftlighter by pressing the button, clean and hot air that reaches temperatures of 600°C is projected at the coals. After a minute the coals start glowing. Let this be your cue to withdraw your hand to a safer distance of about twenty centimeters. Another minute later a proper fire is going and your grill is ready for cooking. The whole process has taken less than five minutes.
I do this at least a few times a week. Sometimes I even light the grill just for grilling a bell pepper, zucchini or eggplant. It is that easy and fun. Armed with my Looftlighter I feel like the Mad Max of cavemen. Bring it on!
This is the entry-level model in the Mahlkonig family but for the home, I find this the best automatic grinder. Mahlkonig seems to agree because the new version of this grinder is called the Vario Home.
It grinds on demand. This means that it only grinds the beans you need to pull your espresso shot(s), no more, no less. The portions are set for espresso, filter and French press.
The only thing you have to do is fine-tune the grind adjustments: fine for espresso and coarser for filter and French press.
It boasts 200 grind adjustments but I have to admit that I use this grinder only for espresso. Changing adjustment takes time and since it does not adjust immediately there is always a bit of waste lost in the process: a bit too fine for filter coffee, too coarse for espresso-based drinks.
I leave it on the espresso setting that works well for the bean on hand and leave it unchanged. For filter and French press, I use the Commandante hand grinder.
Some days you don't want to exert yourself and you just don't like making an espresso or slow coffee. You stay in your pajamas the whole day and feel like being served.
Servants have not been around since the nineteenth century so you turn to the master of Mocca sitting on your kitchen counter.
This automatic drip coffee machine is the best you can get. It has been developed to comply with the highest SCA (Specialty Coffee Association) and ECBE (European Coffee Brewing Centre) coffee standards..
For over 50 years, Technivorm, the company behind Moccamaster, has produced exceptional quality coffee brewers. Every single Moccamaster coffee maker is made by hand in Holland with premium parts and components — including durable copper heating elements and heavy-duty housings that are built to last.
So pour in the ground beans, add water, sit back for three minutes and drink a clean, crisp and flavorful, fully infused cup of coffee.
To be fair, a manually brewed coffee cup can still top the Moccamaster brewer just because you have more variables to play with.
On the other hand, if it is consistency, convenience and drinking great coffee in your pajamas you are after, nothing beats this machine.
The English Oxo-good grips is one of my favorite brands when it comes to kitchen design. I use their peelers, their whisks and tongs daily but I am most happy with their POP containers.
Stackable and space-efficient, these POP Containers are designed for modular use, so you can organize them in any number of height combinations to fit your countertop and pantry. Their push-button mechanism creates an airtight seal with just one touch. Corners are shaped for pouring. Lids come apart for cleaning. They come in different shapes and sizes, offering solutions for storing items in containers between 0.2l and 5.7l.
Oxo Good Grips recently updated their containers to a 2.0 version making the containers dishwasher safe, the lids shallower, and they added handy accessories like a sieve, various spoons and a label system to keep track of what is what in your storage.
These salt and pepper mills are everywhere. On every table in every restaurant where salt and pepper are taken seriously, Peugeot is within arm's length.
I prefer the traditional looking Paris series but they also come in more modern variants.
When it comes to size Peugeot does not disappoint either. From tiny to gargantuan and in a wide range of materials, there is a mill for everyone, making this - forgive the pun - your go-to run-of-the-mill mill.
When I told a friend about a great way to keep an already opened bottle of wine fresh for up to ten days, she laughed at me. She did not see the point in this, since in her experience, an open bottle did not last more than a day, let alone ten.
True enough, ten days might be a stretch but I did notice that a bottle of wine stored with the Aeronox cap on it tastes better the second day.
This device does what its name suggests: it stops oxygen from entering the bottle and the wine. Once a wine bottle is closed with the Antiox Stopper, the oxidation of the wine is interrupted and the oxygen no longer produces acetic acid in the bottle.
With this stopper, wine that smells unpleasant or tastes like vinegar is a thing of days gone by. It is no surprise that the Antiox is recommended by many international sommelier associations.
Pulltex people are wine people. When they create a bottle opener, they know what they are doing.
Their opener is the standard by which all the others are measured. Sure you can get easier openers that whirr, screw, buzz, pull and eject all in under two seconds but where is the fun in that?
Opening a great bottle of wine should not be an overcomplicated, technical procedure but should be done with respect for the wine and the winemaker, which means doing it traditionally, like a sommelier.
This cutting board does what it was designed for. It comes in various sizes so there is always one right for you.
The basic board comes with replaceable, click-on top covers. Depending on the type of food you are preparing, you just click on the blue for fish, red for meat, white for dairy or the green for vegetable cutting. This is a professional kitchen tool so hygienic precautions meet the highest HACCP standards.
Ah, Miss Silvia! You have been loved, admired and praised the world over. For more than two decades you have been the apple of the eye of many espresso lovers out there. What can I say that you have not yet heard? What can I add to those affectionate words and phrases in countless love letters sent to you by all those discerning connoisseurs of great coffee? Nothing, I am sure that you have not heard or read a thousand times over and yet I cannot stop myself from joining in. Every day, every morning you bring me joy unlike any other…
I think I am going to stop here before my wife reads this. Yet there is one thing, in particular, I find most appealing about Miss Silvia that has not been well documented and that I find most appealing: her modest upbringing.
Rancilio has been a well-known Italian producer of professional espresso machines. It was founded in 1927 by the Milanese Roberto Rancilio. Today professional Rancilio machines, admittedly lacking the sexy appeal of La Marzocca or even Della Corte, still rank among the best restaurant-grade coffee machines out there.
a one of a kind classic
Ironically, it was not those gigantic machines that made coffee drinkers fall in love with the brand. In 1997, Rancilio created a home kitchen-sized espresso machine based on their commercial offerings. This was initially only available as a thank-you gift to importers and vendors of Rancilio's restaurant-grade coffee machines but was later sold to consumers as The Silvia.
The Silvia is a one-group machine with a vibratory pump from ULKA and a single brass boiler that's controlled by 3 thermostats for both steam and hot water. Over twenty years, Rancilio has introduced five versions of The Silvia, always introducing minor improvements. Today Silvia is still regarded as the gold standard in its class. This is the only machine I have ever come across that makes espresso and milk-based espresso drinks of a coffee bar quality in a home environment.
Twenty years ago the Canadian Reg Barber had an idea to revolutionize the espresso industry. That idea was to turn the flimsy, plastic tamper of the past into a beautiful, easy to use tamper built with the best materials.
Today, these coffee tampers offer the best craftsmanship and functionality of any tamper in the world. They are used by many coffee enthusiasts, professional and serious amateurs alike.
A handmade tamper is a perfect tool to tamp freshly ground coffee in the espresso's portafilter.
If done successfully, which is not so hard with this tamper, the barista creates a level bed for the water to run through. If the water evenly makes its way through the soaked coffee bed and is not allowed to channel (running through channels created where coffee grinds where not tamped hard enough) only then does the coffee give off all its rich flavors and does it reach its full potential, flowing evenly into the pre-heated cups.
This juicer gets everything right. It is powerful, hefty, durable and it sports great features like a no-drip spout that holds juice back to avoid spillage onto your countertop. That way you can easily change glasses when pressing for multiple people.
From the smallest of limes to the largest of grapefruits, the four fin acid-resistant cone maximizes the extraction of all citrus fruits. Its active-arm press with a power-assisted lever makes juicing effortless.
A giant drawback for me when using juicers in the past was the inevitable wash-up. The Solis makes this part of the morning routine easier than its previous competitors. Three metal parts come undone and go into the dishwasher, while the stainless steel body is wiped clean in one single movement.
A dishwasher is often the last kitchen appliance consumers invest in but at the same time, it is also the last appliance they would part with. The same can be said about the Thermomix. It is mainly bought by people who already have all the rest whereas it should be bought by people who are just starting out. The result of getting a Thermomix is that you start to realize that you bought way too many other things first that now you no longer have a use for. A Thermomix replaces a blender, a microwave, a cooker, and a steam oven. The day my daughters leave the house, their farewell gift is going to be a Thermomix...
The machine itself is not cheap, so it took me two years to succumb to its temptation. I feared that this machine was going to be one of those shining kitchen gadgets that promise more than they deliver. A few years before I had invested in a kitchen robot that just sat staring at me once I realized that the cleaning of the thing cost more time than the operation of it saved me. It sat there on the kitchen counter waiting for a new owner to come and take it away. I feared the same was going to happen to the Thermomix. That is why my wife, who is the more sensible of the two of us, went to two cooking demonstrations with me before making the purchase. After the second demonstration she, too, was sold.
last one in
last one out
I am a functional cook myself, meaning that during the week I cook dinner for my family and on weekends when we don't dine at family and friends, I prepare the occasional warm lunch. When friends come over for dinner I like to impress them but without going to too much trouble. I don't have a cooking passion (perfecting the same dish, coming up with signature recipes, selecting hard-to-find ingredients) that I have come to admire in others. I don't have the brains to memorize recipes and lastly, I don't like to enter the shop with a long list of exotic ingredients.
Before the Thermomix came into my life all the above did not add up. My everyday cooking was unimaginative, dinners with friends took hours to prepare but left them unimpressed, I bought cookbooks like crazy hoping to find the perfect recipe and I spent way too much time in grocery stores.
Enter the Thermomix. With three thousand recipes (all listed in categories) stored into the machine's memory, I no longer have to worry about what to prepare. These recipes almost all use simple and easy-to-find ingredients that are compiled in a list emailed to my email account for consultation in the grocery store. Once I start to cook, it works like this: the machine gives you step-by-step instructions about when to add what and how much. It also weighs the ingredients. When it is time for chopping, it chops. When it needs to stir, it stirs.
When I don't feel like cooking it makes a restaurant-grade risotto for me
in less than twenty minutes
I will conclude by describing a risotto recipe I make once a week, traditionally after a long day when I don't feel like cooking and cleaning the kitchen but still want my family to enjoy a healthy and tasty meal. This risotto recipe only uses fresh ingredients and takes less than twenty minutes to prepare.
Take an onion, peel it and slice it in half. The two halves go into the Thermomix bowl. Set the timer to five seconds and chop the onion by turning the knob to setting 5. Five seconds later, when the onion is chopped, you add olive oil and stir fry the onion (the blades of the knife slowly move on speed 1) for three minutes by setting the temperature to 110 degrees Celsius. Next, add the one ingredient that will set this risotto apart: chopped carrots, sliced mushrooms, spinach, leek, bacon, salmon etc. Stir fry again for a few minutes depending on the ingredients’ cooking time (carrot will take longer than spinach). Then you add the 320gr of risotto rice. The Thermomix will weigh the rice for you. Another minute of stirring at a high temperature will glaze the rice. It is now time to add the fluids. Sixty milliliters of white wine is poured into the bowl. When boiling for three minutes the alcohol will mostly evaporate. Seven hundred milliliters of water and one cube of vegetable broth are then added to the mixture. Now it is time to sit back and let the machine do its magic. For twelve minutes the Thermomix gently and evenly stirs the risotto while the water mixture cooks the rice. The time waiting can be used to clean the kitchen or set the table. When the machine stops you pour the risotto into a serving bowl, add a nut of butter and forty grams of grated cheese and call everybody to the table. Voilà, it is that simple.
The ritual of pour-over coffee is like meditation: there's no machine in your way, no flashing lights, no electric power cords. It is just you and a few simple tools. The result is a cup reminiscent of one from an electric drip coffeemaker, but noticeably more delicate and complex.
When you observe the blooming of the beans, you notice how the spiral of the pour alters the final cup. The whole experience gets you in tune with your coffee.
coffee like meditation
The three methods (V60/Chemex/Kalita) are fairly similar. They all use paper filters in which you add the freshly ground beans. With a gooseneck kettle, you pour the hot but never boiling water over the beans. This process should be undertaken in at least three separate pours.
The first pour wets the beans and lets the coffee bloom, co2 escapes, and the grounds will rise. The second pour should even the beans making sure that extraction takes place evenly. Finally, after the third pour (some purists will further divide this step into two) your coffee will be ready to enjoy. The whole process should not take longer than four minutes.