The Dinner Party Around the World

TL;DR Last saturday I held a dinner party at my house. This is the recap, with the recipes.

For the last 3-4 months, I had been thinking a lot about holding a dinner party. I had been playing with several ideas in my head. And you know how ideas are like – they are screaming to come out of one’s head and into reality. So last month I decided to send out invites to 6 people, for a dinner party around the world.

For the dinner party I knew there had to be a theme. I originally started with the theme of “Layers”, but as time went on, I convinced myself that the theme would be too subtle. So I changed it to “Travelling Around Planet Earth”. But I still was very enamoured with the idea of layers in my dinner party. So I made a compromise. By the time the invites were sent out, the dinner party was called “A Trip Around Planet Earth”, with the theme of “Layers” Continue reading

You Should Roast Your Coffee In Two Stages (Now Comes With: OpenCV Tricks!)

If you follow me on Twitter (and you should), you will know that since about 3 months ago, I started roasting my own coffee. Yes, my coffee madness has culminated over the years to this. This was my first roast:

My first roast

Since then I have roasted 16 batches. The variables I vary are: temperature, time, pre-roast mass, and technique. I use a regular $10 popcorn popper from KMart to roast my beans (I originally wanted to purchase a Behmor, but I decided that I should stay lean while learning how to roast coffee) – and I have a thermometer to roughly gauge the temperatures of the popcorn popper. Eventually I’ll hook the thermometer up to an Arduino, but that’s a story for another day.

Despite all the controls, I had problems with my roasts. They were okay to drink – not as bad as buying supermarket coffee, but they weren’t excellent. The main problem was consistency. My roasts were not consistent – some beans were darker than the others. Here were the factors that caused the beans to be inconsistently roasted:

  • Different sized beans – Can’t do much here.
  • Uneven heating – various causes:
    • Popcorn popper too hot
    • Popcorn popper doesn’t agitate the beans fast enough (too heavy? too light?)
    • Popcorn popper doesn’t agitate the beans randomly enough
    • Location of beans in popper

I eventually narrowed it down to the fact that the popcorn popper was too hot – it burns some beans before they could be agitated out. In fact, after the first two throwaway attempts of the roasting, I realized that 7 minutes or so in a popcorn popper as recommended by amateur roasters on the Internet would just burn my beans.

I did a quick lookup, and true enough, most amateur roasters on the web are Americans (or live in America). Are American popcorn poppers different?
Continue reading

Latte Art As Signalling

I had this thought the other day: latte art is signalling. To pour a rosetta in a cappuccino, you would need perfectly brewed espresso, and perfectly steamed and textured milk. If you do not pull enough crema in your espresso shot, or if the crema dissipates too quickly, you cannot pour a rosetta. If the milk isn’t properly textured, and there is too much air in the milk (or too little), you won’t be able to pour a rosetta because the milk wouldn’t drag across the surface of the crema easily. Free-pouring latte art signals that you have the skills to make good coffee.

I was thinking this upon reading a thread in reddit about latte art. It turns out we have generally great baristas in Australia – I’ve rarely bought a cappuccino that does not come with some form of tulip, heart or rosetta. Latte art is rare in America though.

Coffee quality in Sydney is well above average (coffee quality in Melbourne is even better) compared to coffee from around the world. It’s also one reason why Starbucks cannot survive in Australia. Baristas signal their skill in making coffee by pouring latte art. But it’s so common that the act of signalling is diluted. It took an external anchor (a realization that Americans don’t commonly get good espresso based drinks) to make me re-realize the act of signalling.

I think this raises a lot of interesting things to think about: Signaling is only useful if it’s novel enough. When everyone signals by using the same signals, it fails to become a signal any further. If after Michael Spence’s paper [1] was published, most students went to study philosophy to signal that they’re potentially good employees, the signal will fail.

Of course the big underlying assumption of Spence’s paper is that there will always be good and bad employees – and only good employees will take the effort to signal that. I don’t know if I can say the same for cafes and baristas in Sydney/Melbourne. It would appear that even the small cafe at the corner has fantastic machines and baristas who can pull great shots.

Just some food for thought. Now here’s a picture of me pondering a vacuum pot coffee at a Kopi Luwak farm in Bali.

Pondering Kopi Luwak

No, for the record, I do not think Kopi Luwak is a good thing. The animals we saw were caged but in quite humane conditions. The coffee itself was not really spectacular. Firstly, the roast was uneven. And it was bland. It lacks features, unlike a good Ethiopian Yirgacheffe (my current coffee at home), which can taste like blueberries and candied oranges, Kopi Luwak was just flat. I merely drank it out of novelty. Wouldn’t want it again.

  1. [1] Michael Spence (1973). “Job Market Signaling“. Quarterly Journal of Economics (The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 87, No. 3) 87 (3): 355–374.

Pie All The Things!

 

This blog post is way overdue. It was meant to be posted on Pi Day (March 14th, thanks to the screwed up date format the Americans have). Anyhow, my partner and I celebrated Half-Tau Day with a dinner full of pies. We had shepherd’s pie for dinner, and for dessert, we had a strawberry pie/tart. The shepherd’s pie on 3.14159266 Day was pretty run-of-the-mill, but the strawberry pie/tart was a little novel, and so we documented us making it. (You can jump straight to the shepherd’s pie recipe if you’re interested)

Strawberry Pie

First off, here’s a picture of all the ingredients:

Yes, you saw that right: Balsamic vinegar AND coriander were in the pie. I did say it was novel didn’t I? My partner and I don’t normally eat sugar, and we had to buy some for 3-as-defined-by-the-Bible Day. Continue reading

Hainanese Chicken Rice, A Recipe

So, I got pretty ranty in my previous post about Channel 7’s “Hainese” chicken rice in their My Kitchen Rules program. So I decided to make Hainanese (again, note the correct spelling) Chicken Rice myself. I set myself the challenge of bringing it down to its utmost basic, that is, celebrating the Chicken.

Hainanese Chicken Rice – A History

Hainanese chicken rice has a long history. The Hainanese were a people of food [1]. When they left China at the beginning of the early 20th century, they brought with them their flair of running restaurants. However, being immigrants with limited resources, they conserved every bit they can, which lead to chicken rice.

Chicken rice is an interesting dish in the sense that it is in my opinion, a celebration of chicken. Virtually everything about  chicken rice involves, well, the chicken. So I thought to myself, knowing how traditional Hainanese hawkers cook, on how to make good chicken rice. You will notice that one single chicken goes everywhere in this dish. Continue reading

  1. [1] other Chinese sub-ethnicities too have good food, but as a gross generalization, the single characteristic trait of Hainanese people is that they are brilliant restaurateurs