getting the most from your cup of jo

Getting the Most from Your Cup of Joe

With around 400 million cups of coffee a day being drunk in the US, it’s relatively safe to say that America loves a coffee. But, there’s a drastic difference in the quality of coffee available on the market, whether it be in the supermarket, from a street food vendor or from a specialist coffee house. So, how do we go about making sure we get a really great cup of Joe, just the way we like it?

The Groundwork.

There are over 50 different coffee-producing nations. Some of the countries that provide the best environmental conditions (both in soil type and temperature) for coffee trees to thrive, lie across what is known as “The Bean Belt” around the Equatorial zone. Each of these nations tend to cultivate a variety of different bean, alongside growing conditions, the way the bean is picked can even have an effect on the way the coffee then tastes, meaning that its possible for beans from the same plantation to even have quite drastically different tastes. As popularity and availability of coffee has increased, we also have to consider how our tastes have become more discerning, it’s much less common to reach for the boring old jar of instant than it is to choose a coffee that we really enjoy and see as a treat.

There is such a variety in the types of beans grown across the world that it always for an amazing level of innovation in the blends we have on offer. Each country tends to have their own ‘trademark’ so if we were working with a bean from Mexico, known as Altura (due to its growth at high altitudes), we would expect to be faced with a bean great for dark roasts and blends due to its depth and sharpness. If we were to move over to Asia, an Indonesian bean would provide us with a full bodies, mildly acidic and beautifully rich bean.

If you want to know more and really are a coffee fan, you might be interested in some of the amazing tips given in the clip below from professionals at The London Coffee Show. You’ll even get a glimpse of some beautifully innovative speciality coffee producers.

Pointing you in the right direction.

So with such a vast array of coffees to choose from, how on earth can we expect to know what to expect when what types of coffee’s to choose? Well a really good tip is simply to check the blend ‘story’, you’ll find this on most if not all coffee’s and it’s a fantastically quick and easy summary of what you can expect. Also we think it’s really important to make sure you select one of the growing number of fair-trade providers like Honest Coffees. But if you’re a little nervous about going it alone picking your first speciality coffee, here are 3 great recommended brands to start you off; Honest Coffees supply ethically sourced coffee from a small independent producer where quality is high on the agenda, Grumpy Mule are a fun brand with a real dedication to their ethical standards and Larry’s Beans from Raleigh, NC with a home-grown personality who go all in on environmental projects.

Putting it all together.

We have only scratched the surface, and after all that we have still only selected a coffee, we haven’t even thought about how we can make those beans/grounds into the taste sensation we so deserve. It’s not easy to brew like a pro without the right equipment so the final stage for us (well almost, unless you are in for all the fancy barista art) is selecting the right tools for the job. If you are feeling really innovative you could check out some new counter top brew systems, but, for the basics, we need to think about coffee machines, grinders and peculators.

There are some amazing coffee machines to choose from on the market and selecting the right machine for you will help you get the most enjoyment out of you newly selected beans/grounds. Not using coffee beans, not having your water at the correct temperature, not grinding your coffee properly and using incorrect measurements can all be factors in ensuring your cup of coffee isn’t up to scratch even after all that hard work selecting the perfect type of coffee for you. Luckily, this is where a good coffee machine comes in! Note* there are a number of filter, pod and espresso machines out there, but here I’m talking about a great bean to cup machine. A good quality, high end, bean to cup machine with all the extras will allow you to make the freshest coffee, froth milk ‘till your hearts content and really experiment with what you like, allowing for a beautiful and personalized ‘cup of Joe’.

Homemade American Tradition Baked Apple Pie

America’s Best Traditional Recipes 

Here in the US, we love our food and we are proud of our traditional recipes. Whether it is a dish that is served around the country or a regional specialty, we all enjoy turning our hand to something that has been handed down the generations. But how did we end up with many of these traditional dishes? And what are the tricks to get the best recipes to work?

The Hamburger

There probably is hardly an American out there who hasn’t eaten a variation of the Hamburger at some point in their life. Burgers have been around for hundreds of years and came to the US with German immigrants in the 1800s when it became known as the Hamburg steak. It first appeared on menus in New York in 1873 while the first burger stand appeared in St Louis’ World Fair of 1904.

But how do you get the ‘perfect’ burger? There’s no rules as such with the hamburger because it has so many variations. But using a great quality beef is a start and additions such as grated onion and a little minced garlic add to that classic flavor.

 

Corned Beef Hash

A hash is a dish made from diced or chopped meat along with potatoes and spices as well as sometimes onions. It became popular in Britain and France in World War II when meat was hard to come by. It crossed to the US in the 1950s with Irish families moving to the country and became a nationwide tradition. As this lovely recipe from Something New For Dinner points out, the key to making a great Corned Beef Hash is to use quality corned beef that doesn’t have too much fat in it and to shred it while it is still warm, rather than hot.

Meatloaf

The Meatloaf is another ancient dish, a form of which was mentioned in a Roman cookbook. However, the dish gained its modern style with the invention of the mechanical meat grinder that allowed different types of meat to be used in the dish. However, the traditional meatloaf has to use ground beef and should be 80% beef with only 20% fat. Adding in caramelized onions is another secret tip to bring the best flavor out of the meat before mixing with the rest of the ingredients.

Irish Beef Stew

While the Corned Beef Hash is associated with the Irish, somewhat incorrectly, the Irish Beef Stew travelled to the States with the Irish immigrants and is popular wherever their ancestors are now found. Some recipes involve another Irish tradition, Guinness, while others don’t. whatever you add to the beef, remember not to prepare your veg until the meat is stewing so they don’t get soft while waiting.

Apple Pie

Apple Pie is as near a national dessert as the USA has, a symbol of all that is good about the country as much as anything. No-one is completely sure where the recipe originated from, the US or in the UK, though early immigrants to the US found crab apple trees and used apple seeds brought from England to plant new orchards. When making pie, only use a minimal amount of thickener with the apple to avoid diluting the taste while only using the best, freshest apples for the filling.

Moscow Mule

From Russia With Love 

When you start talking about Moscow there are lots of things you think about – amazing architecture decorated in snow, fascinating people and the Moscow Mule. This is one of the most famous cocktails served around the world and like many of the most popular drinks, has also been reinvented in a number of new ways.

Creating an Icon

Despite its name, the Moscow Mule was actually invented in 1941 by John G Martin of GF Heublein Brothers Inc. a spirits and food company based in Connecticut. Alongside ‘Jack’ Morgan, the president of Cock ‘n’ Bull Products, who made ginger beer, the two created the drink in the restaurant of the same name on Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles. The combination of the ginger beer and the Smirnoff vodka came about when neither of the two items were selling well so the men put them together to make something different.

From the start, the drink was always served in a copper mug, which were bought from an immigrant called Sophie Berezinski, who came to California with 2000 of the mugs from her father’s shop in Russia. Her husband wanted to toss them but she travelled around the city, looking for someone to buy it – she found them at the Cock ‘n’ Bull, who wanted something different to serve their new drink.

Traditional Drink

The Moscow Mule is a drink served on the rocks – meaning it is poured over ice. As well as serving it in the copper mug that has become synonymous with, the drink has set ingredients for its traditional version. It is served with 9 parts vodka (also known as 4.5cl) to 1 part lime juice and 24 parts or 12cl ginger beer. The vodka and ginger beer are added to the glass with ice then the lime juice is added. It is stirred gently and a lime slice and sprig of mint is added for garnishing.

 

Variations

The fun part of cocktails today is changing the ingredients and making something new and different – and the Mule is no exception, with lots of different Moscow Mule recipes. Take the Orange Mule for example. This takes the Moscow Mule recipe and gives it a modern and refreshing change. It uses a cup of ice, 2 ounces of vodka and the same of fresh orange juice, 1 ounce of lemon juice and half a cup of ginger beer. Made in the same way as the traditional recipe, it is garnished with a piece of candied ginger, slice of orange and sprig of mint.

The Garden Mule cocktail is a very fruity variation. Four slices of cucumber, 16 blueberries, 6 mint leaves and 1 ounce of lime are used alongside 2 ounces of vodka and half a cup of ginger beer. The fruit is muddled in a cocktail shaker until crushed and juicy then the vodka and lime is added with ice. It is then strained into a mule mug and garnished with candied ginger.

Finally, the Pineapple Moscow Mule uses pineapple juice as well as lime juice, vodka and ginger beer. It is made the same way as the traditional recipe and uses candied ginger, a slice of pineapple and a sprig of mint for garnishing.

Salmon, onion and spice on cutting board. Red fish

New Foods for a New You 

Everywhere you turn there seems to be someone talking about the latest way to get fit and healthy, change your life or find the ‘new you’. It all sounds very impressive but also a little drastic for many of us. However, there is a simpler approach that is about looking at new foods to try, new approaches to what you eat and replacing the odd unhealthy food with a healthier option.

Healthy Foods

For starters, rather than drive yourself nuts trying to fit a formal diet into a busy life, why not consider adding a few healthy foods into your daily routine and reap their benefits?

A simple one to start with is the lemon. This little yellow fruit contains over 100% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin C we require which helps increase the good HDL cholesterol in our system as well as boosting bone strength. It also contains citrus flavonoids which may help reduce the growth of cancer cells as well as being anti-inflammatory. And it is easy to add to your diet – add a slice of lemon to a mug of green tea or even just to plain water to start getting those benefits.

A surprising one is dark chocolate – one fourth of an ounce a day can reduce blood pressure in healthy people while the flavonoids it contains reduce the bad cholesterol and increase the good stuff. A perfect treat that helps your body too!

Balancing Foods

Another area to look at is balancing the foods you eat to give your body everything it needs. Omega-3 is one of those substances that is much discussed – a fatty acid that helps reduce blood pressure as well as improving mood in winter. It comes from eating fish such as salmon and sardines as well as some kinds of tuna. Alternative, walnuts and flax are non-fish ways to get the substance.

Adding fibre to your diet is an area that can be easy to do and have good, solid benefits. The recommended amount of fibre is 21-38 grams a day and this helps to prevent diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers as well as helping to lose weight. Whole wheat couscous, quinoa, bulger and polenta are all easy ways to increase your fibre intake.

Eating Healthy

Eating healthy isn’t always about just eating fruit and vegetables and not much else. It’s about eating the right kind of foods to get the balance you need.

Pizzas are seen as the enemy by many ‘diet experts’ but that doesn’t quite cover the whole story. Take the sweet potato crust pizza. This uses sweet potatoes, known for having a huge list of health benefits, along with almond flour, baking soda, Italian seasoning and a little salt to create a base. Mashed up and laid on a baking tray it creates a tasty base that can then be added whatever you like. A little mozzarella, some tomato sauce and then some halved tomatoes and basil is one idea but you can use whatever you like.

Homemade pizza served on a stone serving dish

Viva Italia 

Italian food is one of the most popular types of food around the UK and few of us don’t have our own favourite pizza or pasta dish. Most of us will also be adept at creating a nice simple spaghetti Bolognese or perhaps other pasta dishes. But we often shy away from other dishes that seem more complicated for one reason or another – lack of confidence and lack of time being two of the most common. But trying something different on the Italian menu is surprisingly easy and takes a lot less time than you would think.

Italian Stuffed Chicken

Chicken is a great meat to use in Italian cooking because it has a gentle taste, works well with absolutely anything and is simple to cook. This recipe is a great way to have an Italian style chicken dish that doesn’t take long to prepare.

Heat the oven to 200 degrees. Take 2 tablespoon of chopped olive or sundried tomatoes, depending on your preference then beat them with one garlic clove and half a teaspoon of mixed herbs. Also add in a 200 g full fat soft cheese and mix this all together. Next, cut a slit into the chicken and use the knife to keep the pocket open. Stuff the mixture into the slit, around a quarter of it per chicken breast then press it closed. Put the chicken onto a greased baking tray and season. Take four ripe tomatoes and slice them then lie these pieces over the chicken before scattering with herbs and drizzling with olive oil. Cook for 20 minutes until the chicken is golden and cooked then serve with a green salad and some crusty bread.

Fettucine Alfredo

Fettucine alfredo sounds pretty fancy but is basically a creamy pasta dish that is surprisingly simple to make. You can make your own fettucine or pick some up from the store then cook it following the instructions or until it is the texture you prefer. Next, make the sauce by heating 150ml double cream with 150ml single cream. Separate an egg yolk then add this to the cream, whisking it in. add in 60grams of Parmesan, grated as well as salt and black pepper. Once the sauce is heated through, the fettucine can be tossed into it and served. Finish it with shavings of truffle or gratings of nutmeg if you prefer along with grated Parmesan.

One-Step Coffee Ice Cream

You can get ice cream making machines quite easily today but this recipe means you don’t even need that. Take 300 ml of double cream, 175 grams of condensed milk and mix in with two tablespoons of instant espresso powder and the same amount of espresso liqueur. Whisk until soft peaks form on the mixture and it is a soft coffee colour. Split it into 500 ml airtight containers and pop it into the freezer overnight. When you come to serve it, take it straight out of the freezer and into ice cream dishes or even sundae glasses.