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Saturday, October 28, 2006

the vibiemme revealed

so i woke up this morning and my husband said: "nasa just called; they want the space shuttle back." he was of course discussing the size of the vibiemme box.

previous reviews apparently criticized the packing of this machine; the domobar electronic i'm looking at has had many improvements since that time, as jim p. has worked with the manufacturer to make the machine more home-friendly. so i'm being careful here to dwell on just how well-packed i think this baby is.

it's important to remember that ups won't deliver palletized things to apartment addresses in nyc, according to my doorman. and as a package expert, i think he should know.

(for non-nyc people, the doorman is the ultimate package guy. he's basically your lifestyle butler and security chief all in one.)

so i think the demand for palletizing the vibiemme wouldn't have worked for me. anyway, as it was, my doorman sent the ups guy up with his monster dolly in the elevator.

my husband answered the door -- i was standing on my head at yoga class during this event -- and the ups guy eyeballed my foyer. "um, the doorman said to bring this on up," mr. ups said, "do you think it'll fit in the door?"

if it'd come on a pallet, i'd be stuck making coffee in the hallway. and i don't think my neighbors in apartment 4 would appreciate that.

anyway, after 10 minutes of careful unpacking, cutting through tape, opening the flaps, removing 2 layers of bubble wrap, and scooping out enough styrofoam peanuts from just the top to fill 3 trash bags, this is what we see:opening the vibiemmematrushka boxes! so we repeat the unveiling process for another 10 minutes, lift the vibiemme out of the inner sanctum and carry it -- my husband and myself -- into the kitchen:the vibiemme in shroudboy howdy! we then carefully untape and cut through another 8 layers (we counted!) of bubble wrap. how more carefully could this be packed? with an anti-gravity device?

with the vibiemme on the counter, we return to the space shuttle box, and excavate in the remaining acres of peanuts to find the drip tray, the 3(!) commercial portafilters, the blind filter, a grouphead brush, the standard italian toy tamper, a 7g coffee scoop, the drip tray cover, the usual hilariously poorly translated italian manual, and the export paperwork. we learn the vibiemme was built in milan in late october or early november 2005. the triple portafilter setlet's talk about those portafilters for a second: there's a single-spout with a double basket, a double-spout with a double basket, an optional pod filter (but why, i ask, would anyone buy a machine of this quality and use pods? it boggles the mind), and a blind basket for backflushing.

all good. flipping through the manual, i see that it's not gonna be much help. for example, it tells you how to adjust the pressure screw to adjust the pressure, but it doesn't tell you where that screw actually is in the machine!

you can't blame vibiemme or jim p. of 1st-line for this. this is just part of the usual situation when buying italian espresso machines, esp. at this level.

as an italian company, vibiemme thinks this machine is going into a small cafe; this is after all basically a light-duty commercial one-group. and that the person opening the box will be a professional barista who's served at least 2 years of apprenticeship playing with machines before receiving the title of real barista.

the sweet old italian guys at vibiemme, i'm sure, never considered, as ms. piggy would say, l'il ol' moi as the end-target of this machine. but here it is, assembled in my real nyc kitchen.

assembly of the machine is simple: slide the drip tray into the front, place the wire mesh drip tray cover on top, wipe the finger-prints off the gleaming side, and stand back to admire the sudden shining beauty. my god it's the best mirror i have in my house!

i could put my makeup on every morning in this gorgeous thing. i feel like i should ask it "who is the fairest of them all?"

the stainless steel is so perfectly reflective that you can't actually see the shape of the machine in the photo; it just takes on the look of my overall kitchen:mirror mirror on the counterin fact my husband, photographer extraordinaire, insists on putting up a white board to fuzz out the side so you can actually see the machine's form:opening the vibiemmeah! there it is! i'm surprised by how much it improves the overall look of my kitchen, actually. . .

in short, not counting photography, unpacking the vibiemme takes 45 minutes. assembly, 2 minutes.

compared to silvia, and certainly to carlos expobar, the vibiemme is a whole 'nother league. the parts are just so heavy and carefully machined, with excellent finish.

the feet -- we know everyone's obsessed with these heroic feet -- do have little rubber button pads on the bottom. the dual gauges -- one for steam, the other for boiler pressure -- are well-placed and easy to read.

the ball joints on the wands are a bit stiff, since the machine is new, but the turn nicely in all directions -- such a big improvement over carlos expobar, whose steam wand had limited mobility. i think overall the machine has a slightly art moderne design to it, with the super-cool triangular bakelite wand knobs.

it's not a long, slender, curving, kind of art deco design, but rather more geometrical: triangles against trapezoids against rectangles. it's more architectonic, with the exposed e-61 grouphead, open wands, and emphasis on the jutting drip tray.

it's crucial to note here as well that this machine is a pour-over -- not plumbed-in -- hx design. whew! this entry's long enough now!

i'll continue with more tomorrow on setting this bad boy up. because of its long "nose" down towards the e-61 grouphead, i think i'll name this machine ceasar!

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posted by fortune | 10:29 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments | leave a voicemail

Friday, October 27, 2006

the vibiemme arrives!

cat explores the vibiemmeand i return home from yoga tonite to discover: the vibiemme machine from super bccy pal jim p. at 1st-line has arrived, just as he promised.

whoa -- it's a huge 70lb. box! what room in the hallway?

still everyone's very excited; the cat can't stop investigating. who could blame him? cats love boxes, don't they? can you imagine how many peanuts must be in this monster?

but seriously, since i am graced with the presence of what is widely reputed to be the world's largest tomcat -- my friends often ask me how "the lion" is -- i hope this helps show the size of the box.

tomorrow we'll unpack this giant box with lots of photos you dear readers can see for yourselves how sturdily packaged this gleaming baby is said to be. and you'll get at least one photo of the kitchen re-arranging process.

i'm moving my microwave and putting my steamy latin guy carlos expobar in the closet for the time being. this new, improved vibiemme is 21" deep, a full 5" deeper than carlos.

so tune into tomorrow afternoon. it's supposed to rain all day, which is perfect for setting up a new espresso machine!

thanks again to jim of 1st-line! what an adventure demo-ing this will be!

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posted by fortune | 7:32 PM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments | leave a voicemail

oren sends coffee!

and yesterday what arrived but some awesome beans from oren? a nice blue-berry scented longberry harrar, and his colombia star, both roasted just 2 days ago.

the colombia was chosen for oren by long-time bccy pal genevieve felix on her buying trip to that country earlier this year. she dealt directly with the farmers and the mills herself.

i brewed up the full-city harrar this morning in the cafetiére, but didn't succeed in getting the blue outta the aroma and into the cup.

this is usually a grind issue, so i'll work on that. . .in the meantime, the colombia in the chemex first thing tomorrow!

thank you, oren!

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posted by fortune | 7:54 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments | leave a voicemail

Thursday, October 26, 2006

alright, already!

much to my surprise -- since this isn't really a food blog in the way most food blogs are food blogs, you know? -- my inbox has seen fair traffic requesting the pasta e fagioli recipe from the other day. so, ok.

many people, such as my husband, think they don't like pasta e fagioli -- until they try this one, based on a recipe by the famous italian cooking expert anna del conte.

this is a northern italian version, based on olive oil and using radicchio. i assume you are using dried borlotti/cranberry/ cannellini/great northern beans, and possess both a food processor and a pressure cooker.

to quick-soak beans (who has time or forethought to soak them overnight? not any working woman i know!):

1 pound dried borlotti/cranberry/cannellini/great northern beans
7 cups water

combine these in your pressure cooker. bring to high pressure (about 5 mins.) and cook for 2 minutes. let pressure release naturally, about 10 mins.

instant soaked beans!

while the beans are sitting to release pressure, make the soffrito, or sauteed soup base:

1 med. onion
2 stalks leafy celery
2 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons fresh herbs (italian parsley, rosemary, marjoram, sage, thyme -- a mixture of whatever you've got around and like, or just use all parsley, hey make it the way you like it, it's your soup!) or more, as you like it

toss the veggies & herbs in the food processor and chop very finely with the chopping blade. put in a bowl until ready to use. any left-over herbage will go towards the soup garnish at the end.

8-12 oz. radicchio (the round chioggia kind, not the pointy treviso kind)

change processor blade to the shredder. shred the radicchio into long slices, not short stubby ones like coleslaw. if your machine can't do this, shred the thing with your biggest chef's knife. put shredded radicchio into the bowl with the rest of the soffrito -- unless you want to reserve some to garnish the top of the soup, in which case, put some aside for that purpose.

drain beans, discard water, wash pressure cooker: this process massively reduces any tummy issues from the beans for most people.

please note that in the pressure cooker, the different types of beans above cook at slightly different times, with the cranberry and borlotti taking the longest, up to 20 mins. the great northern can be done in 15 mins., which is why i personally tend to recommend the great northern.

cook beans:

the beans
6 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
2 tablespoons olive oil

pressure cook for the time proper for your bean type (15-20 mins, depending). let the pressure release naturally (about 10 mins).

while the beans are cooking, fire up your biggest saute pan, and heat 3 tablespoons good olive oil. saute the soffrito with a big pinch of salt (try even 1/4 teaspoon) for about 7 mins. until soft.

but don't let the garlic burn! add more oil if you need it.

when the pressure has left the beans, take the lid off the cooker. following this method the beans should be beautiful and whole.

if not it doesn't matter, since we're going to puree 2/3s of them in the processor. so do that -- refit the processor with the chopping blade (or use an immersion blender!), ladle in beans and a little stock into the processor bowl, and puree to a creamy paste.

return the puree to the pressure cooker, stirring it in to make a very thick and creamy soup. add the finished soffrito -- be sure to scrape in everything from the saute pan for max flavor -- and stir well.

return soup to a simmer. add 3 or 4 tablespoons excellent oaky red wine vinegar or high-quality (25 year+) balsamic vinegar.

red wine vinegar is more authentic for this soup, but most people will prefer the taste of the balsamic. you will probably need to add another 2 cups water at this point, but remember this version of the soup is supposed to be very thick.

simmer gently for another 10 or 15 mins. stir often to prevent scorching, as the remaining whole beans and radicchio shreds will want to sit on the bottom and burn.

now the fagioli part is done. for best flavor, stop here and refrigerate the soup overnight; everyone knows bean soup is better the next day.

but if you don't have time for that, no problem, the soup will still be fantastic.

now let's move onto the pasta. you can use whole-wheat pasta here if you like for a full-bodied peasant-type flavor.

most recipes recommend 8 oz. ditalini, but I prefer tubettini, which is a personal quirk -- just get something smaller than the whole beans.

i find it's much easier to cook the pasta separately from the soup at this point -- less chance of scorching the radicchio. while you're waiting for the pasta water to boil, also boil an egg (some people boil the egg with the pasta!).

the egg forms part of the garnish later. cook pasta a minute or so less than al dente, reserving a cup or two of cooking water.

add the reserved pasta cooking water and pasta to soup. simmer for about 5 mins., and during this final simmer, grate about 1/3-1/2 cup best quality parmesan cheese.

now to finish soup! remove soup from heat, stir in cheese, set the lid on lightly, and let soup sit for 5 mins. while the soup is sitting, coarsely cube the hard-boiled egg.

taste the soup. the parmesan is pretty salty, but you may find you want up to 2 or even 3 teaspoons more salt, depending on your personal taste.

grind in as much fresh black pepper as you like too. now let's finish and garnish the soup!

ladle this thick soup into serving bowls, and decorate with a bit of the reserved shredded radicchio, some egg, a drizzle of olive oil, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, a light dusting of parmesan, a sprig of parsley or the herb(s) or your choice, and more black pepper if desired.

in short, whatever you like. with a side green vegetable, this soup is a full meal.

it's a big recipe, about 5 or 6 qts., and it keeps for about 9 days. it also freezes very well (unlike coffee).

using this method, you can get a gorgeous cold-weather soup with an all-day-grandma-simmered-authentic taste and texture in just about 2 hours, most of which is waiting around for the pressure to release. this is key, as the non-pressure-cooker version takes 3 days (1 to soak beans overnight, 1 to let bean soup sit overnight, and serve day 3).

plus the only clean up is the pressure cooker, the saute pan, and the food processor bowl. this is super-key!

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posted by fortune | 7:58 PM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 3 comments | leave a voicemail

regional coffee culture, more multi-part many

"coffee culture is thriving in hong kong with close to one third of residents now purchasing ready-to-drink coffee outside of the home, according to a new survey."

"cappuccino is the most popular coffee bought by hong kong consumers. . ."

hong kong's moving towards specialty coffee. at this rate hong kong could in just a few years join formerly-tea drinking nations such as japan and the u.k.

i guess we should start saying now "all the coffee in hong kong." many people still don't believe me when i tell that that developing asia is overall moving to a coffee culture quickly.

soon it appears that a tea-drinking majority may be a mark of a nation's underdeveloped status. it is certainly interesting that as a country prospers -- perhaps "modernizes" is a better word? -- it appears that coffee consumption increases.

actually, i'd like to see a comparison of internet adoption/wireless connection rates and coffee consumption. what's the correlation there? or is it a mere co-incidence?

in other news, we coffee lovers now have our confirming study: coffee consumption appears to combat the development of diabetes.

since this expensive and difficult disease is widely said to be the next big global epidemic, it's good news. since the article above seems not to explain why coffee works, let me fill in the gap for them.

the current theory i hear most bruited about attributes coffee's many beneficial effects to its multitude of anti-oxidants, such as chlorogenic acid. let's see if future research bears this out. . .

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posted by fortune | 8:45 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 1 comments | leave a voicemail

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

at last we're getting somewhere with the foodies

"after dinner a couple of weeks ago, a friend asked me for a cup of coffee. and that's when i realized i had no earthly idea how to make one.

i'm 51 years old and i've been cooking seriously for more than 25 years. i've written two cookbooks. i can make fresh pasta fine as a silk scarf and a consommé that sparkles like a mountain stream. yet i didn't know how to make a really good cup of coffee."

finally, a foodie -- and espressohound -- who admits they know nothing about beautiful specialty single-origin estate coffees and basic brewing rules. as they say in recovery, you can't get better until you admit the problem.

humility towards the beauty of the single-origins has long been a battle-cry for those of the so-called "anti-espresso" camp, those who feel the current emphasis on better espresso beverages has overshadowed the single origins in the specialty world. no doubt they are encouraged by this article.

however, i have to say that i still think the author's not quite there. for example, i think he's brewing too weak and too cold.

that he attributes the "earthy" of his java brew to the device -- the french press or cafetiére -- instead of to the characteristic of the beans themselves is an issue as well. altho' as long-time readers know, the brewing method does highlight different aspects that are inherent in each bean.

i'm also happy he's using a chemex. good start!

while the author brews at 190-200, i think it would be better to brew at a water temperature of 195-205. that's the scaa standard.

and instead of the useless and too weak 2 tablespoons coffee to 8 oz. water, he should use the brewing control chart.

that is, for one cup coffee, i think he should use a minimum of .25 oz fresh-ground, fresh-roasted coffee to 5 oz. water, or 7 gr coffee to 148 ml. as an espressohound, he'd probably actually prefer it stronger.

his too-weak brewing ratio is probably why he describes the kenya aa as "sour" instead of piquant, which is the classic term for it on the scaa flavor wheel.

still, it's a great start overall! would that all foodies could do well and travel so far! all espressohounds too!

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posted by fortune | 8:16 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments | leave a voicemail

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

jim p. to the rescue

after corresponding with jim p. of 1st-line about my silvia's little trouble, i was very heartened to receive an email from him offering me a demo of a vibiemme!

now this machine has been reviewed before. however, i find that discussions like this don't really address the practicalities of using a high-end machine of this type in a real home with a real family.

so i'm very excited to be able to look at a quality machine like this in a more reality-oriented way. "the girls' eye view," you might say. i am waaay less concerned with the quality of the rubber on the feet(!) than i am the quality of the coffee.

and also i am more concerned with how easy it is to use, clean and maintain! how do you backflush it? descale it?

set the temperature without destroying your nails or involving your husband's entire saturday afternoon? do i have to re-wire my kitchen or re-plumb my house for it? (those are non-starters, thank you very much.)

how it will interact with cats, non-coffeemaking husbands, and even consider children. all in a real home in a real kitchen where we also have to consider noise, space, and whether it clashes with the upscale fridge.

this is rather a departure for me, as regular readers know, since i usually focus on the coffee, especially beautiful single-origin coffees. but i have received quite a few requests recently to talk about espresso machines in a more pragmatic manner.

high-end espresso machines are often compared to stereo equipment, which i think is wrong. when you start thinking of them that way, it's over: i'm out.

that is, i don't think an elaborate temperature graph taken 5 times during each shot is going to be of much use to me. either the coffee tastes great, or it doesn't -- long-time readers know i'm an italian-spec girl, not a schomer-geek.

a quality espresso machine is fine kitchen equipment for the home; it is an appliance between a high-end stand mixer and a wolf stove. (actually the vibiemme costs almost as much as a 6-burner wolf!)

reviews should be about its authentic use in a home environment over time and not just gearhead "how big is the boiler?" chat, as if most people are going to notice a performance difference between say, a 1.9 liter boiler and a 1.7 liter one.

sheeesh. so after talking to jim, i hope to see the vibiemme sometime in the next week or so. get ready -- i'll be talking about it a lot!

my only concern is its size -- it is nearly 5 inches deeper than my carlos expobar. finding room on the kitchen counter will be the first challenge. . . .

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posted by fortune | 7:41 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments | leave a voicemail

Monday, October 23, 2006

big yoga book

oh yeah. so long-time readers know that from the ancient anusara background of my regular yoga studio i retain a strange interest in the philosopher and dramatist abhinavagupta. thus after talking to eddie stern, he recommended to me a rather scholarly tome, the doctrine of vibration.

i finally found a used copy of this puppy -- rather beat up and underlined i must say -- but there it is. and alas like so many books about indian thinking it's written that stilted style so peculiar to indology.

i almost think they force professors of eastern thought to adopt that crazy awkward tone and wacked-out english syntax. despite what the amazon reviews might lead you to believe, this ain't an easy book to read, and in fact i don't think your average yoga student could do it without having made some headway through feuerstein's the yoga tradition first.

otherwise you wouldn't know your agama from your veda, if you know what i mean, and would be totally lost among the technical terms of formal indology, of which feuerstein gives a fairly do-able overview. and to be totally honest, i'm not sure most well-meaning yoga students could be induced to give good attention to the feuerstein without the inspiration of dr. douglas brooks' cd, currents of grace, which makes all this seem approachable to begin with.

i haven't done anusara as an asana practice for years and years, but i still find that cd an interesting source. . .truly devoted readers may recall that it even propelled me to attempt to make my way through some of swami laxmanjoo's work itself.

it is an interesting experience to tangle with this scholarly doctrine -- an interesting contrast to for example this article in the ny review of books on consciousness. it's amazing how western thinking is so, um, well, non-nuanced when it comes to this subject in comparison to indian thinking.

it's clear we don't really have much clue about it at all beyond the physical science of it. . .

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posted by fortune | 5:45 PM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments | leave a voicemail

Sunday, October 22, 2006

more on silvia & carlos

bccy super-pal jim p. of 1st-line and i had a little correspondence about silvia's brew 'stat this morning. one thing he told me was extremely interesting -- that the life of this tiny device is factory-rated at 2-4 years.

and yet i got nearly 7 out of it! so i guess i either take good care of silvia, or i got really lucky one day with the italian workman who built her at the rancilio factory outside of milan in jan. 2000.

one of the things i like about rancilio -- besides the reliability of their machines! -- is that they are a family company. they are still run by members of the rancilio family, even as the company has grown into a global concern.

(silvia rancilio, the daughter after whom this little machine was named, still participates in running the company. i've been told that like many northern italian ladies, she is lovely, private, and family-oriented, but obviously i've never met her.)

this matters to me, i guess, because family companies are an italian tradition, which is appealing, but also because i think that the family will care more since it's their name on every machine. rancilio doesn't allow factory tours, but i have often thought of writing them with a letter to give to the person who hand-built my silvia; as i understand it, they are still largely hand-made things.

my silvia, who as long-time readers remember was featured in the new york times, and who has sat in my kitchen for years as a member of my own family was built by a real human being, not some japanese assembly-line robot. i often wonder who that person was; if they know how much i enjoy what they built.

i have to say that i don't know as much about carlos expobar. he was built in valencia in april 2003, i believe, but that's the end of my knowledge.

expobar's slow-loading and nearly content-free website just doesn't offer me much insight into who they are, which is a pity. but carlos is an excellent value machine and runs rock-solid without effort -- plus never underestimate the value of his self-backflush, which is an awesome, awesome feature.

devoted readers remember that i adjusted the p-stat on carlos to set it at the inei model for espresso. the italian standards differ from what we are used to in "third wave" shops in subtle but important ways, such as temperature in the cup.

as a result, coffee from silvia is noticeably different than from carlos, esp. in the same blend, such as the batdorf dancing goats. my husband loves that coffee, and i like it too.

it tastes lovely when properly made, is easy to work with, not too finicky, brews well in a rather wide temperature band, all that. in contrast, some famous espressi are quite hard to dial in, require an exact temperature for good results, or are best in a quite limited age range.

after a couple of years now drinking between the machines, i may happen to prefer the strict italian style in most coffees. but again, not all the american espresso blends i am privileged to sample are designed to work in this model.

it may actually be easier to produce a good espresso on carlos than on silvia, all things considered. that's not to say the learning curve on either machine for a newbie isn't steep, but that carlos is less picky about the grind.

on the other hand at his temperature, less-than-really-fresh coffee screams its age in the cup, i find. . .

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posted by fortune | 11:34 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments | leave a voicemail

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