Saturday, October 22, 2005

Mythbusters, Nancyland Style: Battle French Press vs. Drip Coffeemaker

I might get some flack from the coffee geeks reading this post, but bear in mind, I AM a scientist by nature, so I like to think I know a thing or two about designing a fair and solid experiment. So everyone knows that a French press produces a better cup of coffee than most drip coffeemakers on the market simply because you can get your water hot enough (just off the boil) to extract more out of your coffee, right? Well, I'm not one to blindly accept these things without testing, and besides that, I've gotten pretty good results from my beloved little drip coffeemaker. It's actually a little freebie machine that I received from the Gevalia coffee company in the mail, and it produces up to 4 cups of coffee, and as little as 2 cups of coffee quite respectably (which can't be done in a full-sized coffeemaker successfully, generally speaking). It's a Melitta machine with a cone-shaped filter. I use a metal mesh reusable filter to save trees. Incidentally, the little Melitta cone-shaped filter that you can place over a mug and pour boiling water into is approved of by the JJ Bean website as an acceptable home brewing option. So I decided to do the side by side comparison, very open to having the results change my morning coffee routine. I measured equal amounts (4 level tablespoons) of JJ Bean's Ethiopian Harar, finely ground into each machine. I measured exactly 2 cups of cold, tap water for each machine as well. I was expecting the process of brewing the coffee in the coffeemaker to take less time than the French press (including boiling time using my electric kettle), but actually, they were both ready to drink in the same amount of time. After pouring in the rolling boiling water, I stirred the grounds vigorously in the French press as directed, and gave it 3.5 minutes brewing time, with lid on, and plunger raised. The ratio of coffee to water wound up being a little high for my taste, but I wanted to make sure that I followed the generally accepted recommendation to not skimp on the coffee. After tasting each product a few times using a spoon, both Martini Man (tasting "blindly") and myself (not tasting "blindly") decided that the coffeemaker coffee was smoother, less bitter, and preferable. So, at least for this particular coffee blend, and for my morning quantity of 2 cups of coffee, the coffeemaker coffee wins out on:
1. taste - smoother
2. ease of preparation - I can stick the coffee in and ignore it while I shower, as opposed to having to stir and time the brewing for the French press).
3. no unwanted sludgy dregs at the bottom of the cup.

So far, it's only a sample size of one, and I can and should repeat this experiment. Another consideration is that it's quite likely that the final amount of water used was slightly less in the French press due to more water loss through evaporation by bringing the water to a rolling boil. This would obviously have a huge effect on the smoothness or bitterness in taste. However, I really think that the water difference here is negligible since the coffeemaker water is heated throughout the five minutes of brewing time, and has water evaporating throughout this period of time, while for the French press, evaporation happens mainly over only two minutes, during the time it takes to boil the water. Remember also, these results are specific to my own personal coffee needs, with my admittedly unsophisticated coffee palate, and with the equipment available to me at this time. Hell, yah, I know an espresso maker would be even better. But for now, my verdict is MYTH BUSTED!

Friday, October 21, 2005


The foodiesphere grows fatter each day...not unlike many of its contributers (a hazard of the hobby). You may have noticed that occassionally my "Fun Links" section grows, but it's an attempt at a very edited list relevant to foodies of Vancouver (but for a more comprehensive food blog and resource list, check out KIPlog's list). I'm fairly selective, and usually a site has gotten me quite excited in order for me to add them. These are spaces that I tend to check in on regularly myself, so I tend to pick sites that update regularly or provide a great reference. For example, I just found a nifty little guide for what wine to pair with your food, or what food to pair with your wine, on the Wine and Dine, B.C. News site. There's also a nice little calendar of local food events there. For example, on November 18th, Lumiere restaurant celebrates its 10th anniversary with "The Inspiration Dinner," where Rob Feenie will cook with Charlie Trotter of Chicago. Twelve courses will be served, but a menu has not been released. Tickets are $1000 (wine, tax, tip, and signed cookbooks included) per person, according to eGullet. Six of those seats will be given to young, up and coming chefs. I can't wait to hear the buzz about it afterwards...assuming that at least one person of the lucky few that attends this dinner connects to the foodiesphere in some way. Almost all of the food writing in print form in Vancouver makes its way onto the web. Will the dinner live up to expectations? And will some lucky food writer get sent over by their publication? Mmmm, media pass dreams... Anyhow, if anyone reading this does go, please give Nancyland an exclusive report!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Top Five Fried Chicken in Vancouver

Do you love fried chicken like I love fried chicken? Here's my top five list of fried chicken dishes found in the city.

5. KFC's Original Recipe chicken (many locations) - It's just a classic. If only they would serve buttermilk biscuits and gravy, corn on the cob, and wedge fries with them like they do in the southern U.S. KFC's.

4. Nu's Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken Wings, espelette chili gastrique (under the Granville St. Bridge)- frenching drummettes, stuffing them with goat cheese, and deep frying them...what a good idea!

3. Hon's Deep Fried Chicken Wings with Spicy Salt (Robson at Broughton) - A big plate of wings deep fried without a batter, then tossed in the wok with sliced fresh chilies, garlic and five spice salt. Spicy, salty goodness, Cantonese style.

2. House of Dosas' Chicken 65 (Kingsway at Knight St.)- South Indian, spicy, little juicy chunks of chicken, served with a great dipping sauce.

1. Yuji's Wasabi Tempura Chicken (West 4th at Maple) - delicate, crispy tempura batter surrounds tasty, juicy dark meat with a nice hit of wasabi embedded in the chicken. Served simply with a wedge of lemon. This dish easily takes the number one spot.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Five Cookbook Meme - Tag, You're It!

Linda, of Kayaksoup tagged me with this blogosphere version of a "chain letter" ages ago, and I've been meaning to get to it all this time. I was browsing around the net, and I found someone who actually researched, tracked and documented the history of this particular meme out of interest, just to see where it has been (and she wasn't even the one who started this meme)! If Ana of Pumpkin Pie Bungalow can do all that, then I can certainly just answer the 5 questions! Here are my long-awaited answers:

1. Total number of cookbooks owned: 34

2. Last cookbook I bought: John Bishop's Cooking at My House. A bargain found at a Book Warehouse. It's filled with recipes that look simple enough, and appealing enough for me to want to try, plus with nice little background notes on each, and photos for many. I love cookbooks with lots of photos of the food.

3. Last cookbook I read: Lately, I've been playing around with my Charlie Trotter's Desserts, trying to find a great dessert for an upcoming party. Great food porn, with beautiful photos of plated desserts with multiple components. I wasn't too happy with the tarts I made from recipes in the book so far, but I'll keep trying.

4. Five cookbooks that mean a lot to me:

- Larousse Gastronomique. More of an encyclopedia type reference book than a cookbook, but it is actually filled with lots of classic recipes. I just love being able to look up any cooking or food term that I might run across. On top of that, there's a lot of satisfaction in having found it in a bargain book store for a great price years ago.

- Salsas That Cook, by Rick Bayless. Sentimental reasons - given to me as a gift by someone who was thinking of me while in Chicago at Rick Bayless' restaurant and had the chef autograph it to me personally. Plus it's actually quite a fun cookbook, besides being a sweet gift. I know the question only asks for five, but I'll sneak another one in here too, Lumiere Light, by Rob Feenie is another cookbook gift I received from friends, adding to my cookbook collection.

- Goodhousekeeping Illustrated Cookbook - I keep coming back to this one, because it has all the basics, and the many recipes I've cooked from this book have been winners. Great step-by-step and finished product colour photos.

- Joy of Cooking - a classic with great information about ingredients, and how to deal with them. It was my first cookbook, as it has been for many, many people (including Linda who tagged me in the first place).

- Grand Finales, The Art of the Plated Dessert by Tish Boyle and Timothy Moriarty, with photos by John Uher, and Grand Finales, A Modernist View of Plated Desserts - Beautiful photos of amazing dessert art. I just love browsing through these two.

5. Which 5 people would you most like to see fill this out in their blog?
Okay, here are some Vancouver foodies. Consider yourself all tagged. For all of you, please feel free to ignore the "tag" or participate as you wish. Have fun if you do!

- Roland and Barb at VanEats
- SaabKen (who needs a food blog of his own, but has a Saab enthusiast site)
- Martin at liminalSpace
- Jack and Jill at Jack and Jill Dine Out
- Andrew at Waiterblog, and the Westender

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Best Almond Croissant in Town posting

For those who check the top of the page for new posts, take a look at August 10, 2005 for an addition to the Granville Island overview. Just don't buy up all the almond croissants when I'm going to Granville Island!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

La Piazza Dario Ristorante Italiano

How many times have I driven past this restaurant and thought "Ooo, I want to try this restaurant!"? La Piazza Dario Ristorante Italiano (3075 Slocan St. at Grandview Highway) is at the Italian Cultural Centre, so I already had high expectations that the food would be authentic before we even stepped in. When Bac'n Girl, Definitely Not Bacon Boy, and I did walk in, we all remarked on what a warm and inviting room it was. It has a bit of an 80's look to it (like Bonsor Pool), but after all, the restaurant has been around since the 80's. With it's tablecloths and traditional decor, it is nice enough to feel right for a special occassion, while being comfortably relaxed with its rich, amber glow. In fact, Bac'n girl and I both had the thought that this would be a great third date restaurant. Well, actually I'd be just fine if someone brought me here on a first date, but that's just me. It also felt quite right for other celebrations, like the quiet birthday dinner for Bac'n Girl that we were there for that evening. In fact, I almost wish that I had known about this place when I was trying to plan a dinner for my birthday, as their website has set menus all laid out on their website for large groups. A nice bonus for large groups is that it also has plenty of parking, and is near 29th Avenue skytrain station.

While all the elements were there, food is usually the most important one to me, and this meal definitely surpassed my expectations. Every item that we had was delicious. We shared the house antipasto ($11.95) which included some really tasty cold seafood bits like incredibly tender and flavourful baby shrimp, and some nice squid pieces. Not to mention a crazy giant green olive that Bac'n girl assures me is now illegal in Canada, and difficult to come by. Too bad, because I really liked it. The insalada capresse ($8.50) was good but I guess it's just not the right time of year for tomatoes. The tortellini in brodo was a really tasty soup of veal tortellini in clear broth. The server listed many specials that all sounded good. I chose the gnocchi (which we misunderstood to be an appetizer when he was listing the dishes, and it wound up being an almost overly generous main dish sized portion). It was covered in the best tasting tomato cream sauce I have ever had. I'm glad the server suggested that sauce when I asked. The gnocchi itself was on the soft side, but I loved it this way. Bac'n Girl's veal parmesan (a daily special) was really tasty, without feeling greasy at all. I was hugely impressed by how adeptly the chef cooked the chicken for Definitely Not Bacon Boy's chicken breast in gorgonzola sauce ($18.95). I'm not usually one to enjoy white meat (not willing to take the risk of overcooked, dry, stringy flesh), but the chicken breast here was tender and juicy, with really tasty seared bits on the outside surface. By the way, we had a bottle of red wine with dinner, so I was eating under the influence, and I admit this probably makes everything just a little bit tastier to me. It doesn't really matter though, because I will always feel like having a little wine with an Italian dinner, so I will get the same effect whenever I come back.

Service was hospitable and attentive, and they did what too few restaurants do these days - they encouraged us to take our time throughout, and did not bring our bill until we asked, while still remaining easily accessible by a little eye contact across the room. We were absolutely stuffed by this time, but none of us could resist the idea of dessert, so we each ordered one. We had the tiramisu, the torta della casa (garnished with a profiterole), and the chocolate mousse cake. They were all good, but my favourite was the chocolate mousse cake, a fluffy, yet deeply chocolately version. La Piazza has been around for a very long time, and it shows in all the best ways. I can't wait to have a chance to go again. It also looks like a nice place to have a meal outdoors on the patio during the summer.

Tiramisu Posted by Picasa

Torta di Cioccolata, Chocolate mousse cake

Torta della Casa (St. Honore Cake)