The Clever Coffee Dripper

I’m a coffee lover–as long as it’s good coffee and it’s brewed properly.  That leaves out a lot of brewing methods, including the automatic drip coffee maker.  I’ve tried different ways of brewing coffee (other than the standard drip coffee maker):  Bodum vacuum coffee maker which I do like a lot but is not functional for work days; the Filtron cold-water brewing which makes great iced coffee in the summer, Chemex, Melitta, and, of course, a French press.  I like the flavor of coffee from the French press, but the sediment just sets my teeth on edge for some reason–otherwise, the French press is my favorite coffee maker for flavor.

When I got my last issue of Cooks Illustrated (first of this month) I noticed that they had good things to say about something called a Clever Coffee Dripper.  I’ve seen a lot of coffee brewing systems reviewed in Cook’s Illustrated; it usually comes down to them recommending the French press.  I was surprised to read that The Clever Coffee Dripper was labeled “a success”.  Curiosity and my dislike of the sediment in French press coffee finally got the better of me and on Friday I ordered a Clever Coffee Dripper.

I found it most inexpensively from Amazon.com; the price that Cook’s Illustrated quoted from that supplier plus the shipping was higher than I wanted to pay, so I googled the Clever Coffee Dripper.  Amazon’s price was a bit higher, but the shipping was less, so I ordered it from there.

Over the weekend I had an e-mail saying that it had been shipped.  I’ve been waiting rather impatiently for it to arrive.  On my way home from work today I stopped at Harris Teeter and got some #4 cone filters, in hopes that it would arrive today.

On this wet, gray, rainy day I was thinking  hot chocolate, but I found a package outside my door–the Clever Coffee Dripper had arrived.  For an instant or two I contemplated waiting until morning to try it out–but that was really only a quickly passing thought.  I knew I had to try it now!

It’s a very simple apparatus: a funnel-shaped top that looks like a Melitta or filter-cone coffee brewer, but with a few extra parts:  a coaster for it to rest on, and a lid and a stopper/valve that is opened when it is set on a cup or carafe.

I filled it with water and checked to see if it leaked (it did not) and how quickly it drained without a filter or coffee grounds in it (it drained much more rapidly than the Melitta filter-cone).

I plugged in the kettle and ground some coffee while that was heating.  I used a medium drip grind as the instructions said that too fine and it will drain too slowly; too course and  it would drain too fast.  I’m not sure how much of an issue that is since the water and the grounds stay together in the cone.  According to the instructions on the box it will fit on anything with a diameter between 1-1/2 inches and 3-3/4 inches.  That means it will fit on my thermal carafe.  I got out my widest coffee cup  to test that–also means my biggest coffee cup.

The instructions said to put in the filter and rinse to minimize the paper taste–which is something that I did even with the Melitta.  I filled my coffee cup with hot water to warm it.  The brewing time is essentially the same as the French press–but the instructions say to stir it after 1-1/2 minutes, then continue to brew for 4 minutes.  After the proper amount of time, I set the thing on my coffee cup and watched it drain.  I did follow the instructions, and I got a good cup of coffee!  I haven’t done a side-by-side test with the French press, but to me this tasted like French press coffee without the sediment.   No sediment, and easy to clean up.  Definitely a keeper!

This is not going to make a lot of coffee at one time–unless you want to brew into a carafe–and brew several times. As Cook’s Illustrated indicated–it’s for small amounts of coffee.  The heat loss during the standing time is about what you’d expect from a French press (unless you have the double-walled one).  Overall, it seems to be a good prospect for my morning coffee–easy and tasty!

Risotto–even for one

Risotto is a favorite food–sometimes it’s comfort food and sometimes it’s a treat for a special occasion.  I am addicted to that luscious, sensual, creamy texture.  Depending on the additions it’s an all-season dish–veggies or shellfish in warm weather, or sausage and meat for cold-weather, stick-to-the-ribs comfort food.

There was a time when risotto was a special-occasion, dinner-with-friends dish for me. I’d invite friends for a meal and make risotto.   One day while making spinach risotto to go with pan-seared tuna, supervised by the cat, stirring and adding liquid, stirring…and thinking…I decided that there must be a way to have risotto in single-serving quantities.  Thinking of restaurants, I was sure that there was some “trick” that would allow finishing off one serving at a time;  I needed to figure out what that was.

I’ve tried the recipe given by Barbara Kafka in Microwave Gourmet (p.  114)  and that’s good for quick risotto but, to me, not quite as luxurious as the long slow kind.  The advantage there is that she does give quantities for serving one or two.  I kept going back to restaurant line cooking, and wondering how I would do risotto in that situation–I certainly would not be making it totally “to order”–I’d be finishing it off as ordered.  As much as I like risotto, it seemed worthwhile to try to find a way to have it more often.

I was using one of the recipes from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (pp. 242-245) as usual–still stirring, thinking, and stirring….   Maybe I could take some of the risotto out while slightly undercooked, before adding the cheese and butter and any final ingredients and freeze it for later use. (Can you see the light bulb appear above my head with this though?)

Judging that there was  more than enough for two of us in the batch that I was working on, I grabbed a small container and took out a single serving (fairly large single-serving), sealed it carefully so that there was no air space, and put it in the freezer.

A couple of weeks later, I pulled it out of the freezer and let it thaw in the refrigerator.  Now to see if I had something edible.  I’d taken it out of the original batch when I though I had about ten minutes of cooking time left.  Now, back into a pan, add some broth, and more stirring.  It took a bit of effort to get it mixed with the liquid as it was stiff, but after that it seemed to be a good consistency.   As soon as the rice had that bit of “bite” –tender outside, but still firm at the center, I added the parmigiano-reggiano, and a bit of butter and it was ready to eat.

I have not done a side-by-side tasting with this method and the microwave risotto or with risotto freshly made with the classic technique, but I felt that this was a bit creamier than the microwave method, and it took about the same amount of time.

Rice for risotto needs to do two things:  to have soluble starch to dissolve in the liquid to give the creamy texture of risotto, and to have enough insoluble starch to have that “tooth” or “bite” at the center of the grain that makes risotto such a sensual (and sensuous) delight.  I’ve most often used Arborio rice for risotto, and that’s what I used for this, and for the microwave trial, and from the same batch of rice.   Two other varieties of rice used for risotto are Vialone Nano, and Carnaroli.   These three varieties offer a bit of difference in the consistency of the risotto due to differences in the kinds of starch that predominate.   The Vialone Nano has enough e “bite” while having enough soluble starch to have the creamy texture of risotto, albeit looser, and maybe a bit less creamy.  The Carnaroli  has an even firmer “bite” with the creaminess, with the Arborio being sort of in between, and the most readily available (and the least expensive) of the three.  I have not tried this technique with either the Vialone Nano or with the Carnaroli–maybe that’s a future experiment, but with the Arborio I was pleased with the result.

There are so many variations that make risotto a meal in itself:  you can add meat, vegetables, fish, or shellfish easily as you finish the thawed risotto and vary the seasoning easily.   Quick-cooking vegetables could be added as you start the finishing step; harder vegetables can be sautéed  or partially cooked before you add the risotto to finish it.

One surprisingly good addition to risotto (from Marcella Hazan’s recipes) is celery!  I’m always looking for things to do with the celery that’s left after I use the one or two ribs called for in recipes; when I saw her recipe for “Risotto with Celery” I just had to try that variation on risotto. Her recipe (p. 249 in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking) calls for 2 cups finely diced celery for six serving of risotto.  It’s added in two different stages (if you’re making risotto in the classic way):  half at the beginning  when the rice is added, and the remainder  when the rice is about half-cooked  so there is some texture variation.  This is a great side for grilled meat or fish.  I really liked it to accompany a grilled lamb shoulder chop.   (I’m starting to feel that celery may be an under-appreciated vegetable and not just an aromatic seasoning.)

For finishing liquid, if the original batch of risotto was made using broth, you could finish it with water, though I find I usually have some broth in the refrigerator.   I’ll concede that you may not have the melding of flavors that you would have were the veggies or meats cooked with the risotto for the entire cooking time, but the result is good enough when you consider the shorter time, and the fact that you can have this in single-serving quantities.

Another lovely “comfort” food with Arborio rice that is a favorite of mine is “Boiled Rice with Parmesan, Mozzarella, and Basil” (again from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (pp. 258-259).  Here is a summary of the recipe:

Boiled Rice with Parmesan, Mozzarella, and Basil

Servings: 4, but halving the recipe works well.

Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons or butter
  • 6 ounces of mozzarella (fresh)
  • 1-1/2 cups Arborio rice
  • 2/3 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
  • 4-6 fresh basil leaves (shredded)
  • salt

Preparation:

  1. Cut room-temperature butter into small pieces and cut the mozzarella in  small pieces (grate on the largest holes of a box grater if it’s not too soft–mine usually is too soft). You want small pieces so that the heat of the rice will melt it.
  2. Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil, add 1 tablespoon salt, and bring back to a boil.
  3. Add rice, stir immediately for a few seconds so that it doesn’t stick together. Cover the pan. Keep at a constant, but moderate boil, until the rice is tender but still has the central “bite”.  Stir occasionally while cooking, about 15-20 minutes.
  4. When tender but al dente, drain the rice and add the mozzarella, then the Parmesan cheese, then the butter; stir well after each is added.  Finally, add the shredded basil leaves and stir in and serve immediately.

It’s not risotto, but then you don’t have the constant stirring that goes with classic risotto,  while you do get a great texture given the soluble starch of the Arborio and the cheese melted into the hot rice.

I’ve yet to try the Cook’s Illustrated baked risotto, but that looks like another possible alternative and perhaps adaptable to smaller quantities.  As well as I like rice and risotto, I have a lot of exploring to do to find out what works best for single-serving cooking.

A son goût!

Griddled dinner, addendum

End of the work week for me; I’m home from teaching my last class (ended at 4 o’clock).  I made a stop at the local Harris Teeter store to try to find some “Opal” apples without success, and came home with only some milk and chocolate  (Chuao with chile pepper and some other spices).

I think that I probably set a record for the least time to get a meal for myself (and a good one, at that)–short of just dipping into the peanut butter jar.  Of course, it helps to start with great ingredients that really don’t need much done to them.

I got some beautiful wild-caught Alaskan salmon yesterday, so that was dinner this
evening, from the griddle.  The filet was beautiful–skin on,  not a single bone that I had to pluck out with tweezers, and it was cut to just the size that I needed for a single serving.  It was griddle-ready.

I heated the griddle so that I had a good “spit” when I flicked a drop of water on it.  I rubbed a bit of olive oil on both sides, sprinkled a little salt, put the salmon on the griddle skin-side up to start.  At the same time I tossed a handful of partially cooked haricots verts on with it.  It took about five minutes for it to brown nicely.  I flipped it over, skin-side down,  turned the heat down on that end of the griddle, and finished cooking it until there was just a nice darker streak  visible on the ends and took it off the griddle to rest for a few minutes, flipped the beans, and topped the salmon with some sorrel butter.  Great meal in about 15 minutes, start to sit-down.   Definitely minimal ingredients, but not minimal flavor–and it was a healthy dinner too. (Keiko preferred it without the sorrel butter, though.)

I wish there had been enough sorrel to make a sauce, but as it’s just coming up, I could not pick many leaves; what I could pick were minced and mixed with room-temperature butter (unsalted) to be plopped on top of the salmon.  The sorrel butter added a little richness, with some tartness that went well with the salmon.  Fast, easy, and a great way to cook for one person.

Cooking vegetables quickly

No matter how much you like to cook, sometimes you just want to prepare veggies quickly, but still want them to taste good.  One of my favorite ways to quick-cook vegetables is a technique that I learned from How to Cook without a Book by Pam Anderson, who really stresses improvisation and good food.

One of her techniques that I’ve found useful for vegetables is the “steam/sautéed” method.  It’s a very simple technique, using both “wet” and “dry” cooking in a single pan, without boiling or blanching and draining.  You can facilitate speed by how you cut the vegetables–smaller pieces cook more quickly than larger chunks.  This book is an excellent resource to help you learn to improvise and adjust quantities for single servings, doing away with leftovers. Recipes are simple, and presented in a manner that makes them very easy to adjust serving sizes, giving the necessary ingredients and there are variations given so that you get the feel of improvising.

To cook vegetables this way, you need vegetable, some fat, and flavorings.  The recipes in the book are presented starting with one pound of vegetables, but are easily down-sized to a single serving.  The basic ratio of these recipes is (p. 204):

  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon fat
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound prepared vegetable
  • optional aromatics (1/2 small onion, sliced thin, or 2 medium garlic cloves, minced)
  • optional spices (dried or fresh herbs and or flavorings)
  1. Bring the water, fat, salt, and vegetable, along with the optional aromatics, spices, dried herbs and/or other flavorings to a boil in a Dutch oven or a large deep skillet. Cover and steam over medium-high heat until the vegetable is brightly colored and must tender, 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the vegetable size.
  2. Remove the lid and continue to cook until the liquid evaporates, 1-2 minutes longer, adding optional fresh herbs and/or other flavoring at this point. Sauté to intensify flavors, 1-2 minutes longer.  Adjust seasonings, including pepper to taste and serve.

The cooking instructions are simple. I’ll give you an example of a recipe from this book, and of the technique (above):

Steam/Sautéed Carrots with Cumin (p.209)

  • 1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch coins
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley or cilantro leaves

Follow the Steam/Sautéed Vegetables recipe (p. 204), adding the cumin with the carrots and the parsley once the carrots start to sauté.

One pound of carrots is approximately 5-6 medium or 4 large, so it’s easy to adjust the proportions here for two medium carrots.  For me, 1 large carrot is about the right amount for a serving of vegetable.  The amounts of fat, spices, and water are easily adjusted (see Measurement Conversions), and they do not have to be exact–you can add a bit more water if the vegetable is not quite tender enough, and a bit extra will evaporate once the pan is uncovered.  You’ll adjust the seasonings to taste, as well.

You will need to consider whether your vegetable is “soft” (vegetables which normally give off water as they cook) may not need the steaming before the sauté step), but  vegetables that do not give off moisture as they cook, like the carrots, green beans, cabbage or broccoli, do need this step.  The amount of water will vary with the density of the vegetable–you will learn to judge that, always remembering that you can add more water a tablespoon or so at a time as needed.

Dried herbs and spices (except black pepper) should be added with the vegetable in order to have the flavors develop.  Because fresh herbs can lose volatile oils with heat exposure, these need to be added at the end so that the freshness is retained.  With this technique is easy to prepare vegetables for small-time cooking, keeping the big-time taste.