carajillo

carajillo

Some say that this coffee drink dates back to when Spain occupied Cuba. Soldiers would drink coffee and rum to give them courage–coraje in Spanish, which later transformed into the current name of the drink: “carajillo.”

There are many variations of this drink. For January’s supper club, the carajillo I’ll be making will have Licor 43, Bella Aurora coffee, whipped coconut cream and citrus chocolate.


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carajillo
carajillo

Menu for the Jan 23 coffee flavored Dinner with Daniel

Matt Gebis has chosen a few select coffees for the upcoming Dinner with Daniel. I have designed the courses around each coffee’s unique character. You will be amazed to be introduced to a whole new range of flavors in this familiar daily beverage:

  • Coffee BBQ Pork Ribs – Miju Sali Coffee, Ethiopia
  • Pan-seared Emerald Valley Ricotta Chiesi with Cocoa and Coffee – Las Capucas Coffee, Honduras
  • Sea bass with Marcona Almond Crusted Prawns in Coffee and Coriander Sauce – Unafe Co-op Coffee, Peru
  • Brussels Sprouts with Onion and Coffee Jam – Finca de las Delicias Coffee, Mexico
  • Bella Aurora Coffee Roasted Carrots and Beets – Bella Aurora Coffee, Nicaragua
  • White Truffle Panna Cotta with La Dorita Dulce de Leche Liqueur and Coffee – Unafe Co-op Coffee, Peru
  • Carajillo – Bella Aurora Coffee, Nicaragua

Emerald Valley is a local farm in Scenery Hill, producing artisanal cheeses.

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January 2016 Dinner with Daniel: coffee flavor

Matt Gebis drinking an espresso
Matt Gebis, coffee maven and owner of Espresso a Mano, drinking his favorite coffee preparation (an espresso shot)

Coffee has always been a cherished part of my life. Even before I could drink it, the comforting smell of coffee and the sound of it percolating in the moka pot was a call to start the day and meet the rest of my family at the table. I am pretty open about my coffee obsession. Who else do you know who has a grove of coffee trees in his house?

My friend Matt Gebis may have me beat. He has converted his obsession with coffee into a career. In 2009, he opened the Lawrenceville coffee spot Espresso a Mano, a mecca for coffee lovers that’s still making headlines. He has been at the forefront of coffee culture in Pittsburgh for many years.
Matt will provide some of his favorite coffees to be featured in January’s Dinner with Daniel. Come to get a new perspective on coffee and let the coffee aroma call you to the table!
Here I am with Matt in Espresso a Mano in 2009
Here I am with Matt in Espresso a Mano in 2009

quark

Curds separating from the whey in the process of making quark

I was first introduced to quark in Germany. This fresh cheese is a tasty part of a good, old-fashioned breakfast. But it can be found in many other countries from Northern Europe to the Middle East.

It’s similar to the French fromage blanc or the Spanish queso fresco. This fresh cheese with a little honey and maybe a few roasted hazelnuts is one of my all time favorite desserts.

Homemade quark will be served as part of dessert for the December supper club.

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Curds separating from the whey in the process of making quark
Curds separating from the whey in the process of making quark
The quark emerges from the cheesecloth
Straining through the cheesecloth to remove the whey

notes from the windowsill: cocoa nibs

cocoa pod

Something very special ended up on my windowsill–a cocoa pod! Just in time for Valentine’s Day.

I decided to see what takes to get from pod to cocoa. After all, chocolate is king this time of year–though it usually comes in the shape of a heart!

cocoa pod
Here’s the cocoa pod that was on my windowsill this week. Let’s experiment!

The most fun I had was probably as I cut into the pod. The inside looks like a fuzzy experimental corn cob, and smelled very much like the inside of a pumpkin.

In following the process I gathered up the beans to let them ferment. This stops them from germinating and starts the flavoring of the nib. The white stuff on the outside helps with this, and in six days they are ready to dry. A couple more days and they are dry, and ready for roasting. This is similar to roasting coffee, and a key part of the process of giving the nib its final flavor. I think by now most everyone has had cocoa nibs in fancy candy bars or as a dessert garnish. The ones I toasted had the familiar little bitter crunch of nibs I’ve eaten before. I ground the nibs in my kitchen pestle and then I had my cocoa powder.

Long preparations like these with so many steps always make me wonder how people discovered that we could eat the final product in this particular way. Accident or not, you gotta love the inquisitive mind of those people over two thousand years ago, the first chocolatiers! It was definably worth cutting that pod open.

cocoa beans
These are the cocoa beans outside of the pod as they begin to ferment
cocoa nib
Here is a cocoa nib – a piece of the bean after fermentation and drying.
toasted cocoa beans
This is what the beans look like after they are toasted.
homemade cocoa powder
I used my mortar and pestle to grind the nibs into cocoa powder.

laurino

Northern Spain has a long tradition of flavored spirits called orujo, which is similar to Italy’s grappa. In Spain you can buy these flavored spirits at the store, but it’s also something of a family tradition and a hobby to make them at home. People use many different flavorings, from fruity to very savory, from strawberry to radish. Cherry is popular. One of my aunts has a sour cherry tree for the sole purpose of flavoring her “orujo de guindas.” I don’t think the thought of making a pie or other dessert with these cherries ever occurred to her.

When Michele Savoia from Dish Osteria told me about liquore alloro, also called laurino, I couldn’t wait to try it. Laurino is traditionally made in Sicily and bay leaves are used to flavor the spirit. It was a great after meal beverage.

I have my own bay leaf trees and I never knew of this. So, under the instruction of Michele I made my own. I used locally produced Boyd & Blair Vodka. My laurino was a little different than Michele’s. I made it less sweet but it’s still floral and delicious. Swirling a little glass of this laurino under my nose, I can be transported right into the middle of my garden on a nice summer day, even though my garden is covered in layers of snow. It’s magic.

Believe me, this only my first batch–I look forward to tinkering with the recipe.

bayleaves
Straining the bay leaves

 

Buen provecho!

Mary’s cousin’s squash

This is what the squash or melon looks like cut open
The mystery squash, gourd, or melon that grew in my garden in 2014
This strange squash/melon did not look like much when it started to grow, and for all its foliage it only produced a single fruit. But it turned out to be my favorite surprise from the garden this year!

I had a great time this year in the garden growing new things. Different types of beans, brussels sprouts, cucuzza (a kind of squash), just to mention a few. But the most intriguing of them all was the strange Italian squash that grew from a seed that Mary Menetti gave me. Mary runs the Italian Garden Project. She’s always on the lookout for gardeners to grow a few of her heirloom seeds each year, and this year I tried a bunch of different things including this nameless squash. We weren’t really able to gather much more information about it–just that a cousin of Mary’s from Italy gave her the seeds. I’m still trying to find out more about it.

I had pretty much forgotten about this plant. I saw it growing by the pole beans, but I didn’t give it much attention. Then I noticed as it grew it started to climb up the pole beans, all the way up to the top and then all across them. At this point it was hard to miss. A few flowers appeared–not many. And only one became fruit. This squash started looking like, well, a squash, like one of those round zucchini. Then it got bigger and started to look like a small pumpkin. It was just different than any other squash I had grown before. I grew very intrigued as time to harvest it approached. The only way to find out more about it was to cut into it.

When I cut into it I found a sweet-smelling squash, with almost a fruity aroma, like spaghetti squash in texture but with whiter flesh and fewer seeds.

I roasted it in the oven like you would a spaghetti squash and ate a portion of it one night for dinner with nothing on it, not even salt. I wanted to get an idea of its most basic taste. And it was sweet! Sweeter than any other squash I had ever had. I didn’t care for it for a savory preparation, but something else came to mind. It reminded me of siam pumpkin (“cucurbita ficifolia“). This melon-looking thing is actually a squash, and it’s used in Spain and other countries for sweet preparations, fillings and jellies. Believe me, it’s good. One of my favorite treats when I was a kid.

So, I added a little sugar, not much, and cooked the squash down until it achieved the consistency of the “cabello de angel” that I remember from my childhood. Looks like golden strands of hair, like an angel’s hair. It is incredibly similar and I can’t get over it! I have saved some seeds and I will definitely try growing it again next year.

This is what the squash or melon looks like cut open
Cut open, the mystery squash has firm, white, stringy flesh and a hint of melon aroma.
The flesh of the squash resembled spaghetti squash, but it had a milder, sweeter, more floral smell.
The flesh of the squash resembled spaghetti squash, but it had a milder, sweeter, more floral smell.
With just a little sugar, the squash cooked up just as I had hoped. It really resembles cabello de angel--angel's hair preserves. This is getting exciting!
With just a little sugar, the squash cooked up just as I had hoped. It really resembles cabello de angel–angel’s hair preserves.
I made a little nest of dough and filled it with the squash preserves. Delicious! It was a big hit--much more exotic than pumpkin pie.
Cabello de Angel in puff pastry bird’s nests. Delicious! It was a big hit.

green coriander

green coriander

One of my most vivid memories of Iran is the incredibly fresh and fragrant spice markets. Most of those spices can now be found in good spice markets all over the world. Green coriander is not one of them. These seeds are hard to find in the western world, unless you grow your own cilantro. Coriander seeds are a vibrant green before they turn into the coriander seeds we all know. As the cilantro plants start to go to seed–right after tiny beautiful white flowers appear–seemingly thousands of these seeds will start to appear at the top of the plants.

green coriander
As the plant goes to seed is hard to find good cilantro leaves for my salsa. But a handful of green coriander is a great substitute.

Often when I’m around the cilantro, I’ll pick a few of these seeds, pop them in my mouth and chew on them as I garden. Their flavor is a combination of mild cilantro and “orangy-citrusy” coriander. Much bigger range of flavor than what you would get from dried coriander. I love them! I always keep some in my freezer. They stay green this way. Definitely worth trying!

roasted chicken seasoned with green coriander and lime
Green coriander and lime are a great addition to roasted chicken.