Caffeinated in Seattle

September 10, 2011

A girl cannot be living in Seattle and not write about coffee in her culinary and travel blog. Seattle, home of Starbucks and a variety of other big name coffee brands, is better known by locals for the independent coffee shops whose baristas strive to serve up the best espresso and cappuccinos outside of Italy. In what I like to call my “transition period” since returning back to the US from India, I’ve spent a lot of time at my favorite coffee spot, Zoka Coffee Roaster and Tea Company, which incidentally pays me to be there. These baristas taste their coffee like a sommelier would taste wine. For instance, their single origin coffee from the Finca El Limonar (“The Lemontree”) farm in Guatemala has notes of chocolate, lychee and a citrusy aftertaste while the Ethiopian single origin tastes like blueberries. Now I thought I knew a lot about coffee before, but until recently had never heard of a “pour over” with a special filter to brew coffee to create a smoother, more delicious cup than your regular drip coffee machine. Also, that 16 oz. cappuccino you’re drinking at Starbucks – it’s not real, it’s just a foamy latte. Traditional cappuccinos are served in 6 oz. cups to perfectly serve the 1:1:1 ratio of espresso, milk, and foam. Now am I starting to sound like an expert?

A pour over, iced toddy with soy milk, and latte.

Coffee cupping... the best way to taste coffee at various brew times and temperatures to get the full range of possible flavors.

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As I sit here at the kitchen table writing this, the oven is having its wonderfully wicked way with the macaroni and cheese…cooking it to sheer hot and creamy perfection…ARGH. I love pasta. I love cheese (and butter and so on…) – so, naturally, mac and cheese is a huge winner (i’ve even been known to reach for Kraft’s ready-made stuff…which is probably a little sacrilegious and something that I should not admit to. Oh well). I’ve never actually made macaroni and cheese before, as mum does a brilliant version herself – when I was little and mum picked us up from school, inevitably, one of the first questions we asked on jumping into the car was ‘what’s for dinner?’; the answer of ‘macaroni and cheese’ always resulted in an overexcited little squeal. In my mind i’ve forever seen it as a very homely, comforting dish, not something to be ordered in a restaurant. However, the other day, a couple of friends and I went to this (relatively) new, slightly dingy, speakeasy-style American Diner in Soho, Spuntino, where we ordered the most scrumptiously creamy and rich mac and cheese. It was absolutely delicious and so unexpected. The only other mac and cheese I’ve tasted which came close to this was in a little bistro in the Dordogne (my three-year old cousin had actually ordered it off the kid’s menu and I, like many a greedy adult, decided to polish off her leftovers, wishing that I too had been able to order off the kid’s menu….)


I’m not sure where my mum’s recipe comes from, but it is a slightly elaborate version, complete with onions and bacon. I decided to opt for a bog-standard mac and cheese – bechamel sauce, lots of cheese – bish, bash and bosh.

Smitten Kitchen led me to Martha Stewart’s recipe and it did not disappoint one teensy bit. It was wonderfully easy to make (one of the beauties of a simple mac and cheese), and came out of the oven bubbling and oozing with yummy creamy cheesiness. The only variations I made to the recipe were a) I left off the breadcrumb topping (there’s enough carbohydrate in it already) and b) I used conchiglie instead of macaroni – we had some shells knocking around in the cupboard and I thought ‘why not’. It worked well and made it perhaps a little less stodgy. (I’m also becoming increasingly lax when it comes to precise measurements and tend to just throw things together with little accuracy…whether this is down to laziness/cockiness, i’m not too sure, so this recipe might be even better if followed word-for-word!)

This is definitely going on the to-make-more-often list….

Serves 6

1/2 cup butter
2 3/4 cups milk
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoons salt
Couple of dashes ground nutmeg
Black pepper
Couple of dashes cayenne pepper
2 1/4 cups grated medium/mature cheddar cheese
1 cup grated Gruyère
1/2 pound macaroni (or whatever other pasta you choose to use)

1. Preheat oven to 360°F/180 C.

2. Warm the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat. When the butter bubbles, add the flour. Cook and stir for about 1 minute.

3. While whisking, slowly pour in the hot milk a little at a time to keep mixture smooth. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick (8-12 minutes)

4. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, and 3/4 cup Gruyère and set the sauce aside.

5. Boil some water, add pasta and cook for about 4 minutes, or until just underdone. Drain and rinse under cold running water. Stir the macaroni into the cheese sauce.

6. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish. Sprinkle the remaining 3/4 cup cheddar cheese, 1/4 cup Gruyère ontop. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes.

The Kerala Parotta

What’s not to love about a fried, flaky pancake-like piece of dough from ‘God’s Own Country’? The answer is, absolutely nothing. The Kerala Parotta is quite possibly our favorite Indian food which we combine with the usual vegetable kurma, but also a nice channa masala from our local hot spot, Thevar’s. It’s gotten so bad (i.e. eating 1-2 per day) that we’ve had to cut ourselves off from this deliciousness, but never for too long before we go running back for more. Recipe to follow soon…

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