Tag Archives: coffee

Strange Brew at Mercury Espresso Bar

6 Dec

For Neil and I, a cup of coffee is never just a cup of coffee. Sure, there’s utilitarian coffee-chain brew for mornings when you desperately need a jolt or a quick fix to satiate your caffeine addiction, but you pretty much know what you’re going to get; flavorless, too strong and bitter, or too weak and watery muck.

Call it coffee snobbery if you will, but if there’s any time to be picky, for us anyway, it’s with our favorite vice. We covet a truly great brew where you can taste the nuances in the beans and the layers of flavor.

We do have a drip coffee maker at home, but in the last year or so we’ve really been digging our French press and other methods like the classic Italian stovetop pot. We’re also always on the hunt for great beans and we usually grind them fresh and like to buy small batches of locally roasted ones (our current fave is Ideal Coffee’s Prince of Darkness).

We have a bunch of favorite coffee shops around Toronto, with Broadview Espresso and Mercury Espresso Bar (both conveniently in the east end) topping the list. When I saw that Mercury was offering up two completely new (to me anyway) and seemingly strange ways of brewing coffee, I knew a little taste test experiment was in order.

The staff at Mercury are more than just a bunch of hipsters jumping on the indie coffee shop train. They all seem to be really enthusiastic about coffee and very knowledgeable about various methods and beans. And they were all too happy to show us the ropes with their two unique methods of brewing coffee: The siphon and the chemex.

It was suggested that we try both methods with the same Indonesian beans so we could really taste the difference between each cup.

We started with the siphon, which brought back memories of science class and Bunsen burners.

The bottom glass bulb is filled with water and heated with a butane flame. The water boils and shoots up into the top chamber where the grinds sit, separated by a filter. The water and grinds mix, you put out the flame and freshly brewed coffee falls back into the bottom chamber.

The siphon promises a “very clean, delicate and crisp” brew, which is right on the money. The coffee was really more like tea – not watered down, just light and clean, and surprisingly sweet. Neil felt that his needed a touch of cream and sugar to round out the taste, but I drank mine black and really loved the interesting tea-like consistency.

Next came the chemex, which is somewhat reminiscent of a wine carafe and requires an exact, timed preparation.

It takes a large paper filter that’s folded over three times to form a cone that sits in the beaker. You need to wet the filter with hot water to remove any paper taste and to seal it in. It takes a coarser grind than the siphon, and the grinds sit right in the cone. You pour just a little boiled water onto the grinds to wet them, and then wait 30 seconds to let the grinds ‘bloom’ (I love that descriptive; the grinds really do puff up and bloom as they take in the water). Then, the rest of the water should be poured in very slowly and steadily over three and a half minutes.

This is serious business at Mercury; a timer was used and the chemex was never left unattended as the water was poured ever so carefully in equal amounts. Once all the water goes through, you let the coffee sit to allow for every last drop to come through.

The coffee produced by the chemex was delicious and, amazingly, so different than the siphon. It had a much more syrupy consistency – a lot darker like espresso, though not heavy. It produced a flavor that was intense but still very clean. It was strong but not overpowering and it tasted richer and spicier than the siphon brew.

Darker chemex brew in background & lighter siphon brew in foreground

It was amazing to taste two completely different flavor profiles from the same beans. The siphon brought out the honey, citrusy notes of the beans and the chemex brought out spicier ones.  Neil drank his black with a touch of sugar (like he would espresso) and I drank mine black at first and then added some milk near the end and enjoyed it both ways.

This may seem like a whole lot of hoopla for a simple cup of coffee, but it was totally worth it. We really did experience different flavors and consistencies through the different methods and found an appreciation for both.

You can try out one or both of these methods at Mercury after 2 p.m. (the busier hours are reserved for the more common lattes and americanos), and the food nerd in me highly recommends trying both out for a fun and really cool taste experience.

Thanks to the weekend staff at Mercury for walking us through each process with a ton of enthusiasm and passion!


Coffee and Cocoa-Rubbed Bison with Sauteed Greens

3 Dec

coffee bison

Living in Winnipeg for five years in my mid-20s gave me more exposure to meats I might not have thought much about if I was living in Toronto, including bison. Winnipeg was where I first tasted something encrusted in coffee – the espresso-crusted seared tuna at Fude restaurant. As much as I’ve always loved bison and proteins cooked with coffee, I’d never personally experimented with either. So when a trip to our favorite Toronto grocery store, Fiesta Farms, turned up a great looking bison striploin I had to buy, and a brainstorm on what to do with the bison made stirred up memories of a dinner we had this summer at Angeline’s in Prince Edward County that included an amazing piece of coffee-crusted halibut, I knew that the rich, slightly sweet bison would match well with the earthy, nutty taste of ground coffee.

Rather than encrusting the bison in a thicker-grind crust, I decide to create a dry rub and pan-sear the meat. After getting a few ideas from recipes posted online, I came up with this recipe combining coffee with cocoa and a bit of heat. The measurements below made enough rub to generously coat a s1/3 lb piece of bison, with some rub leftover.

coffee and cocoa rub for bison

Coffee-Cocoa Rub

1/2 tbs cocoa powder
1/2 tbs ground coffee (I used a medium roast Hawaiian coffee. I’m not sure how other beans might affect the flavour, but this is something I’ll experiment more with.)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp dried chili flakes (I used REALLY hot chilis my sister brought back from India, and they were a bit too much, but I imagine that this amount of ‘regular’ chili flakes would be the right amount of heat)

seared bison

To cook the bison, I covered the meat with a generous amount of rub. I then pre-heat a pan over medium-high heat. From there, it turned into a bit of a guessing game as to when the meat was properly cooked. Initially, I seared it for about 3 minutes per side, based on a few website recommendations and since I knew bison is a low-fat meat that can overcook easily. After testing the meat and finding it still way too rare, I opted to cook it another 3 or 4 minutes on each side. That seemed to do the trick, since after letting it rest loosely tented under foil for 10 minutes and slicing it against the grain, I ended up with nice medium-rare bison. Next time I’ll definitely shoot for a 6 minute sear per side for a thicker cut steak.

bison sliced

Adventures in timing and doneness aside, the bison turned out great. The coffee-cocoa rub gave a really pronounced nutty coffee flavour, while the cocoa added a bit of sweetness and depth and the cayenne and chili flakes added a nice kick.

shallots raisins pine nuts

Jenny created the perfect side dish with a saute that combined chopped broccoli florets, frozen spinach and kale, one chopped shallot, and a handful of pine nuts and raisins. She began by sauteeing the shallot in olive oil on medium heat for several minutes until translucent, then adding the raisins and pine nuts. She cooked those for a few minutes, allowing the raisins to plump up a bit and the pine nuts to brown slightly, before adding in the broccoli and sauteing for another few minutes. Finally, she added the frozen spinach and kale and let it cook down. Once everything was cooked nicely, she squeezed the juice of half a lemon overtop and seasoned with salt. The sweetness of the raisins and the toasted nuttiness of the pine nuts (a classic southern Italian combo) were the perfect compliment to the fresh greens, and the lemon juice brightened up the flavors that came from the combination of simple ingredients.

saute broccoli spinach

I’m not sure why it took me so long to experiment with bison, or with coffee rubs, but I’m definitely going to be cooking more with both in the future. And if anyone has any great bison recipes or tips on great coffee-based rubs, we’d love to hear them – leave a comment below!

Holiday Giveaway #1: New PC Insider’s Report Products from Loblaws

30 Nov

One of the things I love most about the holidays is the excitement that builds in my mind around traditions. Over the years as my family circle evolved, our holiday traditions did too. My parents’ divorce, relatives passing away, my moving away from home and other events led to new ways of celebrating the holidays. But no matter what’s happened, some things that I’ve grown to look forward to at Christmas haven’t changed. My mom and relatives always put out far-too-indulgent feasts of delicious food, I always make sure to get in at least one viewing of A Christmas Story, and as far as I’m concerned, Christmas isn’t officially over until I get to hear The Pogues’ Fairytale of New York at least a dozen times.

Another holiday tradition I’ve looked forward to for as long as I remember is the President’s Choice Insider’s Report. Since I was a kid, I’ve always loved reading through the pages of the Insider’s Report, with its descriptions of products reading more like stories than marketing copy. As a kid, I knew that the arrival of the Insider’s Report in the Saturday paper meant it was only a matter of time before delicious treats began making their way into our kitchen… PC Egg Nog, Chocolate Fudge Crackle Ice Cream, PC smoked salmon on Christmas morning.

So it seems fitting that Communal Table’s first 2010 holiday giveaway is a selection of products from the latest edition of the PC Holiday Insider’s Report. We have a package of goodies that would go great with a morning of opening presents… or would make pretty good gifts themselves. Here’s what you can win:

  • A 1 lb. package of of new PC 100% single origin Hawaiian fine-grind coffee (Jenny and I are currently working our way through a package of this stuff; it’s medium bodied and flavourful – perfect for weekends!)
  • A 425 g jar of PC The World’s Best Jumbo Cashews
  • A box of the new PC Gourmet Belgian Chocolate Collection (30 chocolates in six flavours)
  • A box of the new PC Chocolate Fruit Fancies, which  are milk or dark chocolate ganache and fruit puree enrobed in Belgian chocolate

This stuff all looks delicious, and to be honest I’d love to keep it and eat it all myself. But Jenny won’t let me, so we’re giving it all away to one lucky reader. All you have to do to enter this contest is this: Leave a comment below this post and let us know what your favorite holiday traditions are (Canadian entries only for this one). That’s it. We’ll pick a name at random from all comments left on this post by Monday, December 6, and announce the winner here next Tuesday, when we’ll also announce our next holiday giveaway prize (yep, we have more holiday surprises coming!)

Also, don’t forget about Communal Table’s donation drive on behalf of the Daily Bread Food Bank… all donations made are eligible to win a $200 gift certificate to North 44 Restaurant in Toronto and a signed copy of chef Mark McEwan’s new cookbook, Good Food at Home.  Click here for details on how you can donate and win with Communal Table.

Food Find: Coffee Oil

30 Aug

Neil and I have a bit of an obsession with olive oil. Specifically, Spanish olive oil. It all started a few years ago when I produced a television segment about an olive oil shop in Montreal called Olive & Olives. I had no idea that a little TV story would be the start of such a big culinary obsession. The owners of Olive & Olives take a lot of pride in the oils they bring into their lovely store, and most of them are Spanish. The depth of flavor in Spanish olive oils is amazing, ranging from very green and fruity to strong and peppery. After our first visit, Neil and I left with armfuls of different bottles.

When our stash of oils from Montreal ran out, we knew we had to seek out a place in Toronto that could give us our fix. And that’s when we found The Spice Trader and Olive Pit on Queen Street. They’ve now moved into a new space but the original setup had The Spice Trader on street level and The Olive Pit as its own little store downstairs. I have too many great things to say about The Spice Trader and their range of spices (not to mention the wonderful owners who always share recipes and tips with their customers) so I’ll save that for another post. But discovering The Olive Pit was one of the best things that has happened to our humble kitchen.

The owners of the store are a lovely couple who know their olive oils. They let customers taste-test their oils and will give you a little ‘olive oil 101’ if you’re interested in learning about the differences between countries, olives and blends. They bring in a special Spanish olive oil that they bottle themselves and it’s one of our favorites. They also carry a citrus olive oil that I sometimes dream about when I’m making a salad and trying to figure out what to use as a dressing. And they have a selection of specialty syrups (like Rose and Lavender – right up my alley!), vinegars and condiments.

But our most coveted discovery at The Olive Pit is Coffee Oil. When the owners first told us about it we were skeptical, thinking it had potential to be gimmicky. We were wrong. Just smelling the incredible oil, you understand that this is serious stuff. And the taste is nothing short of heavenly. If you love coffee and you love olive oil, as we do, it’s worth investing in a bottle. It’s a blend of two very precious and delicate flavors. There’s nothing more to it than cold pressed extra virgin coffee oil made from Guatemalan Arabica coffee beans and olive oil made from Arbequina olives from Catalonia, Spain. You can really taste the essence of coffee and the good quality of the olive oil that it’s blended with.

What does one do with coffee olive oil, you ask? To be honest, we have yet to experience it in different savory dishes, though I can absolutely see how well it could work with so many different flavors. One suggestion is to drizzle it over avocado slices with coarse salt (yum!) or over grilled fish & seafood. There are a few recipes and serving suggestions that come inside the special gold box and we will definitely try them out.

But what we’ve been using the thick, golden liquid for is Coffee Olive Oil Ice Cream. To me, it’s perfection. There is a recipe for ice cream that comes with the oil, but Neil came up with his own based on his olive oil ice cream, which we’ve posted about previously. It’s smooth and creamy but not heavy and the flavor suggests the essence of coffee but not an overpowering hit of it, like you might get in some coffee ice creams. Because there’s nothing artificial in the oil, the flavor you get in the ice cream is soft and clean-tasting. It’s the kind of thing you want to eat slowly and appreciate with every bite.

We usually serve it straight up in coffee mugs but last week we decided to pour the ice cream mixture into a colorful loaf pan to freeze into a mold and we sprinkled the top with crushed Amaretti cookies. The idea was to serve it in slices, but it didn’t exactly turn out as planned. It may have needed a few more hours in the freezer. Either way, it tasted amazing and the Amaretti added another layer of flavor and a nice crunch.

Neil’s Coffee Olive Oil Ice Cream

2 cups 1% milk
1 cup 5% cream
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup coffee oil
Large pinch of salt
1 tablespoon alcohol (to slow the freezing process; I use vodka, since it has no flavour)
About 10 amaretti cookies, crushed

In a blender, combine milk, cream, sugar, salt and oil. Turn on ice cream maker and add mixture to to the freezer bowl; add vodka early in churning process. Once ice cream is mostly frozen, pour into a serving container and top with crushed amaretti cookies. Cover container with plastic wrap and place ice cream in freezer for several hours.

To serve, cut ice cream into slices and plate, or scoop into bowls.

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