Sunday, June 15, 2008

Indulgent Breakfast for One

This is indulgent by my standards. For some, indulgent breakfast might mean a decadent brunch, or at the very least something baked and sweet and covered in syrup. For me, that much sweetness is impossible at breakfast, when I nearly always want something either light and quick (like, say, yogurt and fruit or toast and jelly), or protein-packed and savory. I'm more of an omelet or breakfast taco than a pancake. When I have a morning to myself, when I'm off work and can take the time, I like to play around with eggs and cheese and tempeh bacon and avocado.

In order to make breakfast, I have to have coffee. It's a little like having to have wine while cooking dinner. I can do without, but it's much mellower and more enjoyable to do with. And for a truly wonderful morning experience, there is nothing so good as coffee made from a french press.

Why a french press? Is it so much better than a regular coffeemaker? In a word, yes. And here's a few reasons how it works, and why. To begin, this is how you make a proper press. It does take longer than the standard brewing, and requires more hands-on work. I consider this like a morning ritual. Like cooking anything, preparing a proper press takes a little love, and a little attention. You can get delicious store bought bread, just like you can make tasty brewer coffee, but when you make the bread yourself, you have an additional investment, just like when you press. I enjoy the steps, and having a hands-on coffee experience.

First, start with good beans. Arabica beans are the highest quality. There are a lot of places to get arabica beans. I primarily recommend getting them from a coffee shop and not the grocery store, or at least going to a good store. I won't extol the virtues of fair-trade, above market farmer payment, organic, and shade-grown practices, because I'll assume you already know that people should get a fair wage, and chemicals are bad for you and your coffee, your taste buds and the environment. So you have these delicious beans. And beans from different regions have different flavors. You want to enjoy these idiosyncracies, or you wouldn't be making high-quality coffee.

Put a kettle of water on the stove, and put a thermometer in the water, so it's not touching the sides or bottom of the pan. You want the water hot, not boiling. Somewhere around 190 degrees is ideal. Water that isn't hot enough doesn't pull enough flavor from the beans. Water that is too hot burns them. 190 degrees is hot enough, but not too hot. Don't use boiling water. It is way too hot.

While you're waiting for the water to boil, get out a little kitchen scale, put a little cup on it, and tare it. The average size of french press makes 8 cups. For an 8 cup press, you need 57 grams of beans. You can't really measure this in volume. Each bean's roasting process results in a slightly different weight of bean. For example, something roasted a long time, like a dark Italian or French roast, results in a lighter bean, and the right amount of beans takes up a greater volume than, say, a light roast, which doesn't roast as long, and results in a heavier bean. So you need a greater volume of darker roast than lighter. Generally. Whatever roast you have, you want 57 grams of it.

Then get out your grinder, and grind it on the coarsest setting. You can, of course, get your beans ground at the store. This is convenient and you don't have another gadget lying around. However, coffee stores much longer and fresher in whole bean form. So if you're going to go ahead and get a nice bean, you might want to get a nice grinder too. Something with an adjustable grind and amount. Don't keep coffee ground longer than month. Part of the makeup of coffee is oil. The oil will go rancid if you keep it longer. And also, it's not a good idea to try to prolong its life in the freezer. The constant change in temperature also messes with the oil. It's a good idea to buy a small amount instead of compromising the quality.

Grinding the coffee coarsely is also important. In a press, the grinds steep all in the water, similarly to a loose-leaf tea. After the steeping, the grinds are pressed to the bottom of the carafe, and the coffee remains on top. A mesh layer separates the two, but water still moves up and down around the grinds. If the grind is adjusted too finely, the coffee will be too strong. There will also be grinds in your coffee. If it is too coarse, the coffee will be too weak, because not enough surface area will be exposed to the water. Most grinders (all that I've seen) are set so that the coarsest setting will be fine for a french press, so there's not that much to worry about here.

Now you pour the ground beans into the press. Presses are usually either glass or metal carafes. Metal carafes are nice because they keep the coffee hot longer. Know this, though: french presses are meant to be poured soon after they finish. If you keep the pressed coffee longer, it will get stronger, and stronger, and stronger. Maybe too strong. It will become the Hulk of coffees.

Pour your 190 degree water into the carafe, and give it a little stir with a spoon. Then, place the lid on top, but don't press the mesh layer down yet. Set a timer for 4 minutes. After 4 minutes, press down on the top, and your coffee will be separated from the grinds.

Then, pour your cup of coffee. Don't burn your tongue. Tasty, isn't it? Don't worry about the bottom of the coffee. It will have a small amount of sediment. There shouldn't be any in your mouth, but french pressed coffee is thicker than brewer coffee. Also, don't worry about the layer of oil on the top. That layer is why the coffee is better from a french press! The oil from the beans is allowed to remain in the water, and that oil contains the taste of the bean. It won't feel oily, but it will have a shine. In a brewer, the oil is caught in the filter and held back from the cup (unless you have a metal cone filter, from which you will get oilier, and more flavorful, coffee).

See, a lot of people don't know how much coffee has in common with wine. You don't have to get artificially flavored beans to taste different things in the beans. A pure bean will exhibit qualities of its origin. Latin American coffees, for example, are bright and acidic. Asian coffees are earthy. (There are no hard and fast rules here, however) And within those vast, vast regions are a multitude of finer tastes. Floral, citrusy, earthy, peppery, spicy, herbal... just like wine, coffee has different finishes and qualities. A french press is one of the best ways to clearly experience the subtelties.

Okay, so, coffee in hand, it's time for some food. This is my favorite breakfast. Well, one of them.

Cut some red potatoes up into small squares. I used 2 small potatoes for just myself. Dice up 1/2 a yellow onion, 1 garlic clove, a small handful of cilantro, and slice 1/2 an avocado. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a pan over medium heat (I think 3/4 of all recipes I make start that way). Once it's hot, toss in the onions for about a minute, then the potatoes. Cook the potatoes till they're soft when you poke them with your fork, or when you taste one to check, and you can bite through it and it's not hard inside (this is how I cook when I cook for myself alone). Add the garlic and sautee about a minute, so it gets fragrant and infuses the potatoes. I'm not exact on when to add the garlic. I know I don't want to overcook it, but I do want to let it inform the other flavors... so I add it after the potatoes are done. I like the potatoes a little golden on the outside, as well, in case you want another indicator of done-ness.

Then, I crack open two eggs into the pan on top of the potatoes and let them cook till the whites are firm. I like my yolk to remain whole then run all over the place when I put my fork in it. Cook yours to your desired done-ness. My mother would never dream of eating anything but a firmly cooked yolk, on account of the possibility of salmonella. Do what you want.

While the egg is cooking, I heat a little canned fat-free refried beans in another portion of the pan. It's not ideal, I know, but it's quick, and good. I eat about 1/4 of a can as a side. After it's hot and the eggs are done, slide the breakfast out onto your plate. Top with the cilantro and sliced avocado. It's a piece of heaven. I'd add a piece or two of tempeh bacon too, or a heated tortilla or toast, but that might be overkill.

After eating, I decided that, since I have a glass-carafe french press, which allows the coffee to cool quickly, to make it a little cozy. It's hard to consume that much coffee that fast, even for me, so I wanted to keep it warm a little longer. I made this reversible one with a little button close, sort of free-hand (it's just rectangles, so it took about 20 minutes). I made it slightly too small (this is why you should measure) so I have to go get toggle buttons to allow a little extra length, but I think it's very cute. The music fabric is a vintage find I've made EVERYTHING from (headband, iPod case, purse, and press cozy) and the hedgehog fabric came from a Japanese Etsy shop. I love hedgehogs, and Japanese fabric.

The other problem with the thing is that I'm not quite sure how to properly end my bias-taped edges. They end up a little long, like this. If anyone can help explain how to avoid this, I'd be SUPER greatful!!

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