The Cruel Realities of Kopi Luwak (a.k.a. Poo Coffee) + Adventures in Coffee Reduction

You may have noticed my most recent obsession with Bali and the images I took there. It’s true. The plant life, ocean, natural landscape, food and general gorgeousness of Bali have really helped to inspire me this winter. Though the photos have thus far not included a recipe, they have all been leading up to this post.

 Balinese coffee

I have been pretty fascinated with Kopi Luwak for some years now. Ever since I’d heard it was considered the most expensive beverage on the planet and was basically cleaned up cat poo, there was no turning this experience junkie around. 

 coffee plant

I enjoy thinking about the beginnings of foods. For example, who decided to eat blue cheese for the first time? Why did they think it would be a good idea? Who did all the fieldwork needed to figure out which mushrooms are edible and which would melt their insides? Why was it worth it to them? Who decided that soured milk, or yogurt, was ok to eat? And of course, who decided to pick up the droppings of a civet cat because they thought it would make an extra delicious espresso? I know many food traditions have been discovered out of need, but come on.

 kopi luwak beans

Kopi luwak got its beginnings in just that way. The civet, a cat like creature native to Indonesia, eats the choicest, ripest coffee beans as part of its diet. The beans then ferment in their digestive tract and come out whole because the civets are unable to digest them. Then, some people decided it would be a great idea to collect the wild civet poo, clean and roast the beans and call it a delicacy. A rare and expensive beverage. While in Bali, I made it a priority to seek kopi luwak out. My guide in Ubud brought me to an agro tourism farm called Bali Pulina. I was warmly greeted as soon as I walked onto the property and was given a small tour to show what they grew and produced. The place was beautiful. Several photos from my previous posts were taken there, including flowers, spices and one of the many amazing rice terraces that Ubud is known for.

 Coffee samples

In their little café, I was offered a free tasting of the beverages they produce and a fantastic overlooking view of the rice terrace. I sipped the teas, coffees and cocoas, tasting and enjoying them individually and comparing the results. They were all lovely, but I was far too focused on getting to the shop to buy luwak coffee. I finally got some. I brought it back to Korea and drank the shit out of that shit coffee. It produced a nutty, farmy coffee that was quite pleasant. It was exciting to compare it to the normal coffee I keep around the house and try it with different sugars and milks.

 cocoa beans in BaliBali mystery plantspices in bali

Unfortunately, with the slightest bit of research, I discovered information that made me regret having made my purchase. I found out that farmed civet coffee can never produce the desired results so sought after by coffee connoisseurs. This is because wild civets eat the ripe coffee beans as a part of a balanced diet including all the other things civets eat, while the animals on these plantations (often taken from the wild) are fed a diet made entirely of coffee beans. This is very unhealthy for the civets. And since there is nothing else in their guts, the beans don’t produce the desired flavours they once did. More importantly, farmed civets are often kept in horrendous conditions. They are shy and territorial by nature. Being kept in cramped cages so close to other civets is very stressful and often results in a loss of sanity and decrease in their health. Perhaps it was my enthusiasm for food and wildlife that kept me naïve, but learning this was heart-wrenching and I no longer wish to support the production of this culinary rarity. Though I certainly did savour the small amount I acquired there.

 

I was perhaps a little ambitious with this recipe. I cannot actually say it was a success. In fact, it was mostly a failure. I tried very hard to pair coffee with various flavours with nauseating results. I poured some on quail eggs and potatoes, dipped in some toast and even a tiny bite of pan-fried fish. I tried tasting it with random ingredients around my kitchen. The only success with this experiment, thus far, is in making me feel ill. Clearly, I have my work cut out for me. Luckily, the reduction itself is quite nice (albeit bitter) in small doses. When I’ve worked out what to pair it with, I’ll post something magical. Suggestions are welcome!

spiced coffee and red wine reduction.jpg

Spiced Coffee and Red Wine Reduction

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup strong coffee
  • 1/3 cup red cooking wine
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • a piece of fresh ginger (about the size of a quarter), cleaned and chopped
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 cardamom pods
  • ¼ teaspoon whole lavender flowers
  • ¼ teaspoon chopped dried lemongrass

Directions

While the coffee is still hot, pour it in a cup with the ginger, lavender, lemongrass, cardamom and cinnamon. Let the spices infuse for a 2-3 hours then strain.

Using a non-reactive skillet, pour in the wine, coffee and sugar. Simmer over medium high heat for about 10-15 minutes or until the liquid has reduced by about half. Remove from heat.

Taste your coffee reduction with various things around your kitchen. Have blind taste tests with your friends. Laugh at the faces they make.

 

 

 

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Smoked Duck Szechuan Pepper Stuffed Pumpkin + Rendered Duck Fat

 smoked duck stuffed pumpkin 2

I first started getting the craving to stuff a gourd when the fall harvest hit the markets here in Seoul. The orange pumpkins are a bit different from the ones I’m used to in Canada. They are also harder to find, expensive and too massive for my little kitchen. I settled for a delightful kabocha squash (dan hobak) that can be found everywhere at this time of year. They can be found in a variety of sizes, too, from tiny to medium large. This excites me to no end. I’d love to have a dinner party and serve a tiny pumpkin to each guest (heehee!).

 smoked duck stuffed pumpkin bite

Smoked duck is readily available here in Korea, so as one of my favourite meats, I chose to stuff my gourd with it. It adds an excellent smoky quality and flavour to the mixture, as well. I removed most of the skin and fat before adding the meat to the mixture in order to render it. Duck fat has a gorgeous flavour that is highly complimentary to many food items. I’ve tried to substitute it with pork fat when cooking shiitake mushrooms, for example, and found myself disappointed with the results. Rendering is incredibly easy. Simply collect the fat, cook in a pot on low heat until the fat is clear and strain into a jar for refrigeration. Once cooled, it should be pure and white. The fat should keep for 2-3 months. Use in place of oil or to add flavour.

 smoked duck stuffed pumpkin 1

The Szechuan pepper is a curious spice. Despite its name, it is not closely related to, nor has much of the hot spicy quality found in the Piperaceae family (such as black pepper). In fact, its genus belongs in the citrus family. It has a sharp, bright flavour, which is known to enliven food. It is also known for its numbing feature. Moments after putting one of these husks in my mouth, I was hit with an odd numbness I’ve never quite experienced before. These peppers are perfect for this dish because of how well they bring out all the flavours.

smoked duck stuffed pumpkin bite 2

Smoked Duck Szechuan Pepper Stuffed Pumpkin  

Ingredients

  • 1 medium or 2 small pumpkins (or your favourite round gourds)
  • 150 grams of chopped oyster mushrooms
  • 100 grams of smoked duck cut into bite size pieces (remove fat if rendering)
  • 1 diced bell pepper (any colour)
  • ½ cup cottage cheese
  • ¼ cup milk (any kind)
  • 45 grams or 1/3 cup of cashew pieces
  • 165 grams or 1 cup of uncooked rice (I used brown jasmine, but basmati would substitute well)
  • 5-6 cloves of chopped garlic
  • 1-3 chopped chilies (depending on your spice tolerance)
  • 1 teaspoon capers
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon Szechuan peppers

Directions

Rinse rice two or three times by splashing around in water and draining. Finally, add two cups of water and place over high heat in a pot or rice cooker. Once it starts to boil over, turn heat very low for 20-30 minutes. My little test to check if the rice is done without stirring is to tip the pot slightly. If the rice slides or moves in any way, it needs to cook longer. If the rice doesn’t move, it’s done.

While rice is cooking, fill a large pot with enough water to submerge your pumpkin(s) and bring to a boil. Cut the top off the gourd(s) and remove the seeds and gunk.

Once water is boiling, carefully lower into the water, including the top. Allow it to boil for 15 minutes. It should be soft, but firm enough to hold its shape. Drain water and carefully scoop out the gourd. Place in the refrigerator to cool.

Heat a dash of cooking oil in a frying pan and brown the garlic and chilies. Add the mushrooms and fry until the mushrooms have released their water and have reached a modest golden colour.

Preheat oven to 350ºF/180ºC/ gas mark 4.

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients except pumpkin, butter and milk. Mix.

Pour excess water that might have pooled in the pumpkin and begin stuffing with the mixture. Once filled, pour in the milk to fight possible drying out. Top with butter and replace the pumpkin top.

Bake for 25-30 minutes. While it is baking, clean your messy kitchen and think about how hard you will eat your stuffed pumpkin.

Because you boiled the pumpkin, you can eat all of it, including the skin. Do this very thing.

Enjoy your mouth-gasms.

smoked duck stuffed pumpkin

Lemon Ricotta Deep Dish Pancake with Cranberries and Chocolate For Your Sunday Brunch

Lemon Ricotta Deep Dish Pancake with Cranberries and Chocolate slice

Now beginning the recovery from my recent job/life debacle, I am finally starting to step away from a constant state of panic. I am happily settling into a new routine with my new job and generally feeling normal again. Fresh start. My new apartment is the biggest I’ve ever had in Korea and I love it. I’m looking forward to getting my kitchen set up and getting back to cooking.

 Korean kitchen

For now, I’m enjoying making comforting, cozy foods. There is nothing better to get you back on track with your life than cooking the recipes you know and love.

 Lemon Ricotta Deep Dish Pancake with Cranberries and Chocolate

Brunch is my favourite meal. It combines sweet, savory, bitter and greasy with flawless ease. It’s perfect for sleeping in or meeting a friend when recovering from the night before.  Since you’re combining two meals, you can allow yourself to overeat (in some moderation) without guilt, or at least that’s what I tell myself.

 Lemon Ricotta Deep Dish Pancake with Cranberries and Chocolate 2

I’m not usually attracted sweet foods in the morning, but since brunch is a gateway meal, I can make exceptions. This deep dish pancake is a perfect way to tie your sweet brunch to your savory brunch. It’s eggy texture and sour fruitiness invites the eater to have one bite with syrup, the next with a bit of bacon and the next mixed with quiche provençale. Or solo, of course. Wash it down with a sip of espresso macchiato. Viola! Brunch.

Lemon Ricotta Deep Dish Pancake with Cranberries and Chocolate 1

This recipe is very easy and the ingredients are easily found (even in Korea… Bless you, Costco). Invite a friend or two over for brunch, lounge around chatting and then work it off with a nice walk around town. Happy Sunday.

Lemon Ricotta Deep Dish Pancake with Cranberries and Chocolate slice 2

Lemon Ricotta Deep Dish Pancake with Cranberries and Chocolate

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 5 eggs
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 ½ cup ricotta cheese
  • 2 tbsp softened butter
  • ½ cup lemon juice (2 lemons)
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ cup fresh or frozen cranberries
  • ½ cup chocolate chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 425ºF/220ºC/Gas Mark 7.

Spread butter around a 7 inch circular baking pan.

In a bowl, whisk eggs until frothy.

Leaving out the chocolate and cranberries, whisk in remaining ingredients in with the eggs until smooth.

Pour the mixture into the greased pan.

Sprinkle berries and chocolate on top of the pancake and gently press in.

Bake for 20-25 minutes.

Cut a piece for yourself and drizzle with maple syrup mixed with a touch of ricotta cheese.

Garnish with walnuts and cranberries.

Eat immediately and voraciously.

Korean Fist-Rice with Fried Seaweed, Prosciutto and White Truffle Oil

Korean Fist Rice with Fried Seaweed Prosciutto and White Truffle Oil 2

Of all the comfort foods I have grown to love here in Korea, Joomeok Bap, or Fist-Rice has become one of my favourites. This snack is healthy, tasty, easy and satisfying to make. It is perfect to bring on a picnic or as a pick-me-up when outdoors.

Korean Fist Rice with Fried Seaweed Prosciutto and White Truffle Oil

Fist-Rice is traditionally made by hand-mixing various vegetables, as well as ground beef or dried anchovies with rice. The mixture is then tightly packed into individual, fist shaped balls.  The best of the bunch uses crumbled seaweed (kim ga-ru). This is because Korean seaweed is deep-fried, salted and flavoured with sesame seeds, perilla oil and a pinch of sugar. The stuff is salty, greasy and delicious, so it’s easy to devour an entire bag in one go.

Korean Fist Rice with Fried Seaweed Prosciutto and White Truffle Oil 1

The combination of flavours in this dish are so glorious, it brings tears to my eyes. Land and sea take hand and make beautiful fist shaped babies.

Korean Fist Rice with Fried Seaweed Prosciutto and White Truffle Oil 3

Korean Fist-Rice with Fried Seaweed, Prosciutto and White Truffle Oil

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of uncooked sticky or glutinous rice
  • 4 cups water
  • 70 grams (about 1 ½ cups) Korean crumbled seaweed
  • 100 grams thinly sliced prosciutto torn into small pieces
  • White truffle oil

Directions

Rinse rice two or three times and drain. Pour the measured water on the rice in a pot and cover. Bring to a rolling boil on high heat for 10 to 15 minutes.

Lower heat to the minimum temperature and allow the rice to cook for another 30 minutes. Never stir the rice. To check if it has absorbed all the water, simply tip the pot on it’s side. If the rice slides, it needs to continue cooking. If it doesn’t slide, it is ready to be removed from heat.

Allow the rice to cool enough that it doesn’t burn to touch with your hand.

Combine the seaweed and prosciutto with the rice. Grab small handfuls of the mixture and squeeze to form tightly packed spheres.

Drizzle white truffle oil over the fist rice and devour.

No Korean products available near you? Order here. Or here.

Stuffed Bell Peppers with Saffron Yogurt Sauce

Stuffed Yellow Peppers with Saffron Yogurt Sauce

I remember starting an odd little short story inspired by saffron when I was about twelve. My parents were avid listeners of NPR when I was growing up and I fancied Garrison Keillor’s fabulous stories from A Prairie Home Companion. I’d learned about saffron being The World’s Most Expensive Spice and started imagining tiny garden plots that could yield big money. I’d even considered using my backyard to start my own crop, blissfully unaware that the New England climate might not be suitable for saffron production. The story, if I remember correctly, was about an unassuming saffron farmer trying to survive in a small town riddled with landmines. I didn’t complete the story. The loose ends were too difficult to tie up.

 Roasted yellow peppers

The delicate filaments of the saffron crocus are handpicked and dried individually. To produce a pound, 200,000 stigmas must be picked from flowers that yield up to three threads per season. It costs $70 for an ounce. Precious.

Stuffed Yellow Peppers with Saffron Yogurt Sauce 2 

Saffron has been used in many traditional cuisines, including Spanish, Indian, Mexican and Mediterranean. Rich in flavour and deep yellow in colour, the delicate spice is often used to flavour rice, breads and seafood dishes. Saffron’s metallic flavour and sophistication are surprisingly adaptable and versatile. I was lulled by the bitter field grass scent and rusty aroma. It reminded me that the simplest answer is often the best. A few threads sprinkled on top of yogurt complimented my stuffed peppers perfectly.

Stuffed Yellow Peppers with Saffron Yogurt Sauce bite

Stuffed Bell Peppers with Saffron Yogurt Sauce

Ingredients (makes 2)

  • 2 bell peppers
  • 2 king oyster mushrooms
  • 8 oz of ground beef
  • 3 cups of shredded green cabbage
  • 6 minced cloves of garlic
  • 1 cup of cooked basmati rice
  • ½ tsp rosemary
  • 2 tbsp red wine
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce or tamari
  • ½ tsp salt
  • cooking oil

For the sauce:

  • 1 cup yogurt
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of saffron

Directions

Preheat oven to 175ºC/ 350ºF / Gas mark 4.

Halve the mushrooms lengthwise and sprinkle oil and salt on them. Bake them in a lightly oiled pan for 30 minutes. Transfer the mushrooms into a blender and blend into a paste.

Cut the tops off the bell peppers and remove the seeds and pith from inside. Wash and sprinkle with oil and salt. Roast for 20 minutes.

Using medium high heat, brown garlic in a fry pan with some oil. Add ground beef and stir until evenly browned. Remove from heat and transfer ingredients into a bowl with the mushroom paste.

Using the same pan, stir-fry the cabbage until translucent. Transfer cabbage into a blender and blend into a paste. Add to the bowl with other ingredients.

Crumble the cooked rice into the bowl with other ingredients. Add soy sauce, salt, rosemary and red wine. Mix well.

Carefully stuff the mixture into peppers and replace the tops. Bake for 30 minutes.

Combine yogurt with salt and saffron.

Drizzle yogurt sauce on the peppers and serve.

Simple Chocolate Mousse with Pink Peppercorn Sea Salt and Cocoa Nibs + Cherry Blossoms in Seoul

chocolate mousse with pink peppercorns and cocoa nibs 

Spring in Seoul has brought along a reemergence of cherry blossoms and (for me) chocolate (not that my relationship with chocolate ever actually went into hibernation… but … whatever).

Here’s what it looks like right now.

 cherry blossoms 1cherry blossoms 2cherry blossoms 3magnolia blossoms

yellow blossomspink cherry blossoms

 

One of my elementary classes recently read a book called “The Story of Chocolate” by Usborne books, which is a fun little thing full of interesting facts. Most of the books I am forced to read with my students cause uncontrollable eye rolling and confusion on my part. They often include bizarre Korean publications of classics like Pinocchio where our protagonist has a nose made from a sausage and is born from a talking log (a few slight liberties where taken from the original). You can imagine my excitement when I began reading The Story of Chocolate with my students and found I was actually interested and (gasp) learning something.

 

Apparently, the first chocolate eaters were monkeys. The clever little guys ate the luscious white pulp from the cocoa pods and spat out the bitter beans found within. Mayan farmers saw the monkeys doing this and copied them. They continued to discard the beans until they discovered the pleasant aroma coming from the beans that were left to roast in the hot sun. They tried the beans and realized they weren’t so bad after all. The beans were ground into a paste and turned into a drink. Cocoa beans became the drug of choice and were soon worth more than gold. It was even used as a currency. The Mayans eventually shared their secret with Aztec traders, who were conquered by some Spanish guy who stole a bunch of beans and brought them back to Europe and so on. We’ll call this the abridged version.

whipped cream peaks 

So anyone who hasn’t been living in cave all their life has tried chocolate at some point and probably loved it. Humans have had a major love affair with chocolate and we will do just about anything to get our grubby little paws on some. Understandably so. It turns out that chocolate is an aphrodisiac and has the ability to make us happy in more ways than one. Heyyy!

 bittersweet chocolate chips

Pink peppercorns (baie rose) pair rather well chocolate and are also an aphrodisiac. Heyyy! Thought to be part of the piper family tree, pink peppercorns aren’t actually related to pepper. In fact, they are the dried berries of the shrub Schinus molle, commonly known as the Peruvian peppertree and have been confused due to their similarities in size, shape and pungent flavour.

 

Where pepper has an intense, sharp and biting taste, pink peppercorn has a softer and more delicate flavour that adds sophistication to any dish. And just look at the stuff. They are elegance incarnate.

chocolate mousse with pink peppercorns and cocoa nibs bite

Simple Chocolate Mousse with Pink Peppercorn Sea Salt and Cocoa Nibs

Ingredients

    • 1 quart of heavy cream
    • 12 oz of bittersweet chocolate
    • 2 tsp of vanilla extract
    • ½ tsp sea salt
    • 1 ½ tbsp of coarsely crushed cocoa nibs
    • 1 tsp of crushed pink peppercorns

Directions

Whip heavy cream until it forms stiff peaks. TIP: Perform stiffness test by dipping whisk into the cream and lifting up. If the peaks keep their form, it’s done.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. When melted, add salt and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, take 1/3  of the whipped cream and gently fold in the chocolate. Once fully incorporated, add another third and continue to fold. Repeat with the rest of the cream and fold until the mousse is uniform in colour. Then, fold in the cocoa nibs.

Sprinkle pink peppercorn bits on top when serving.

Heyyy!

Magpie!
Magpie!

Flavour Pairing: Cauliflower Cashew Soup with Curry Yogurt Sauce + Leaving the Road Less Travelled

Cauliflower cashew soup with curry yogurt sauce

I always struggle to answer when asked where I’m from. Do I answer the place I was born? The place I’ve been most recently? Where I grew up? The place I’ve spent most of my life? The place my family lives? Where I’m most comfortable? Any of these could be the actual question behind the posed inquiry and my head swims with possible responses. For me, each would get a different reply.

Shiny
Shiny

The past decade or so of my life has been spent in a relatively nomadic state. I’ve lived and worked overseas, studied abroad and traveled like a maniac. The idea of ‘home’ has been stretched and expanded to mean more than I’ve ever thought possible. Home is where the heart is, yes, but home is so much more, too. I felt at home when I finally stepped on Icelandic soil after having dreams about the place for many years. Montreal is the home of my mum’s side of the family, as well as many of my closest friends, and though I only lived there for my university years, it feels like home. I lived in Seoul (and have now just returned) for 3 ½ years, and it too has a place in my heart and feels like home. I can’t tell my life story to every person who asks me where I’m from, so I usually come up with one short answer or another.

 Cauliflower cashew soup with curry yogurt sauce 2

After a few rushed weeks of fevered packing, random fits of tears and goodbye kisses, I left my home by my mother’s side at The Abode of the Message in New Lebanon, New York to return to Korea. The Abode is the place I was born, rebelled against and returned to. It is the place I lost my father and found a new meaning to the importance of family. It is the place I found love, lost it, and found it again. Eight peaceful months were spent cooking, eating, writing, photographing, running, loving, breathing, blissing out on nature, watching out for bears, catching up with old loved ones and meeting new loved ones. 

 Cauliflower cashew soup with curry yogurt sauce mixed 2

As I was staying with my mother for the first time in 10 years, there were a few challenges to overcome. Mainly involving myself not acting like an entitled 12 year old. This is a tough challenge for anyone reorganizing their lives to be closer to their mum. I took it as an opportunity to better my relationship with her. I didn’t always succeed… with the whole not being a grumpy, misunderstood teenager thing, but I tried.

 

When it came down to saying goodbye, even though I’ve done it countless times before (both to The Abode and to my mum), I found I was only able to remember the good things, the best things. Our connection fills me so much that my eyes start to leak. Home.

 

So, let the reign of debauchery and hilarity in Korea begin.

misspelled English sign in KoreaWelcome to SamcheongdongThe new Seoul City Hall building 

By the way, this cauliflower cashew soup with curry yogurt sauce is perfectly balanced and really pretty. Also, preparing a sauce for a soup makes you feel like you’re on top of things and you know what you’re doing.

 

Besides, it’s so easy.

Cauliflower cashew soup with curry yogurt sauce mixed

Cauliflower Cashew Soup with Curry Yogurt Sauce

Ingredients

For the soup:

  • 1 large head of cauliflower (about 7-10 cups chopped roughly)
  • 2 ½ cups cashew pieces
  • 1 cup chopped potato
  • 1 leek, washed and chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 5 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tbsp fenugreek
  • ¼ tsp clove powder
  • 1 ½ tbsp salt
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • a pinch of paprika
  • cooking oil
  • water

For the sauce:

  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 ½ tsp Indian curry powder
  • ¼ tsp salt

Directions

Add some cooking oil, the onions and garlic to a large pot on medium high heat. Let brown for 4-5 minutes. Stir intermittently.

Add cauliflower, leek and potato. Cook for 10 minutes.

Pour water in until all vegetables are just covered. Do not put in too much or the soup will be watery. Add cashews and spices.

Let the soup boil for 20-25 minutes.

Take the soup off the heat. Using an emersion blender, blend the soup until smooth.

In a separate bowl, mix yogurt, salt and curry powder until well incorporated.

Place a dollop of yogurt on top of the soup when ready to serve.

Serves 4-6