Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ratios & Refrigerators, Oh My!

I just got a new cookbook that I'm super-psyched about called Ratio, by Michael Ruhlman!

This book has been answering all my burning baking & cooking questions! In theory, you can take the basic ratios given in this book and create just about anything your little hearts desire without ever relying on another cookbook again! I have yet to put this to the test but you can bet I'm going to be doing some serious baking in the near future! In the name of Science, of course!

For those who don't know the origins of Pound Cake, it got it's name because the recipe calls for equal parts (about 1 pound each) of butter, sugar, egg, & flour. (Hint: how you mix your cake can make all the difference.) What I'm really curious about though, is the taste. A professional cook, and friend of mine, once tested this traditional little recipe and said that the result was not as tasty as some of the more fine-tuned versions we have today. Of course, adding a few extra flavors like vanilla, salt, lemon zest & lime zest will greatly improve this and I guess that's really the point of having these handy ratios! With a little imagination, I can make an endless variety of Pound Cakes!

So be sure to stay tuned for my latest cooking experiments! Tonight I plan to make homemade pasta for the first time (and without a rolling pin or pasta roller! Yikes!)! Necessity is the mother of invention and that means it's time to get creative!

Speaking of creative inventions, check out this article about a nifty project by Jihyun Ryou on how to Reverse Engineer the Refrigerator!

Ryou researched old-school, 'oral knowledge' about how to preserve your food without using a refrigerator!
Some of these tricks I knew, like keeping potatoes in the dark or throwing a few grains of rice in your salt shaker to absorb extra moisture, but some were completely new to me and absolutely fascinating! I can't wait to have a system like this set up in my own kitchen one day! People rely so much on technology these days that we forget how to really observe the world around us and work with it instead of against it. Way to think outside the box!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Cafe Grumpy Coffee Shop Review

Hi All!

I have been promising a coffee shop review for a while now and I FINALLY did it!

This is a special review in many ways, one because it is my first on my new blog, Defiant Designs, and second because I had my boyfriend's little sister (11) with me to help!

This weekend I reviewed Cafe Grumpy! We went to the Lower East Side location on Saturday, around 2pm. I know, a little late for coffee, but we were having a lazy day. The original Cafe Grumpy location is in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, but I chose the Lower East Side because it has the Cafe Grumpy Bakery next door! As a lover of baked goods everywhere, I thought it would be a perfect idea to get them straight from the source! Also, there's a cool playground for kids across the street!

The weather when we arrived was brisk and cloudy, which could account for the lack of people, but I was still surprised to see that no one else was there! Usually when I go to a coffee shop, it's packed! The interior was small and cozy with a deep window seat to sit and chat. There was lots of tile and exposed brick, and a neon sign with their signature 'Grumpy' face. The two baristas were very nice and helpful and there was a small glass case of baked goods on the counter. Also proudly displayed was a wooden stand with two metal, pour-over cones nestled inside so you can watch as they brew your single cup of drip coffee right in front of you! (I wish I had taken more pictures of the interior but I was feeling a little conspicuous being that we were the only people in the shop!) I know my inner geek is showing but I also liked that their register was an IPad on a swivel stand! They had their own roasted blends of coffee proudly displayed and I purchased one and had them grind it up (Espresso grind) for me (review of this to follow). I also thought it was cute how they had a wooden beaker stand set up with little glass beakers filled with different blends of teas! Such an awesome presentation!

The Bakery- right next door!!

Now, on to the good stuff!

I ordered a latte (only one size) and an apple turnover. My co-conspirator ordered a hot chocolate, a brownie, and a croissant. My bf's li'l-sis thought the brownie and croissant were fab! But she was not impressed with the hot chocolate and actually ended up throwing it away because of the taste! At first she said it was too 'thick'. I explained that this is actually a desirable affect for coffee shops to have a thick, rich foam, but she insisted it tasted 'funny'. So I took a sip myself and I had to admit it did taste pretty 'funny'. I'm not quite able to put my finger on it, but it was something foul. First the chocolate was separated on the bottom of the cup and I'm not sure if they used a powder or a syrup but it was not blended well, second I think they may have burnt the milk as they were foaming it, or, the milk had gone bad. Even my own latte started to have a strange taste to it when I was half-way through! Although we were both impressed with their latte art: a heart for my little guest and a fern for me. On first sip, I thought my latte was lovely! The foam was thick and it had this interesting nutty flavor to it that I thought was unique. But as I got further down (and it began to cool), I noticed the same strange flavor that I had tasted in the hot chocolate. I ended up throwing mine away too (and I hate to waste coffee!).

I was also not impressed with their baked goods. The croissant was so-so, the brownie didn't have much depth to to the flavor, it seemed too sweet and had an almost powdery texture. I know everyone has their own brownie preference though and I tend to prefer mine rich and chewy with a thin crust on top, so maybe that's just a 'me' thing. Also, I was very disappointed with the apple turnover. The filling was nice and I could tell it was homemade with none of the usual gooey syrupy fillers. It was rich and spicy and had a nice depth to the flavor, but the crust was old, stale, and chewy. Very difficult to eat. I would expect that having the bakery right next door, they would be more on top of the freshness factor, but maybe that's what I get for being a late riser!

Croissant- Beautiful Color!

I don't like to give a place a bad review based on one visit, especially since it seems to have such great reviews from other people, so I will simply chalk it up to bad luck and give it another shot some other day. Perhaps I will have better luck at one of their other three locations!