Tuesday, October 9, 2012

How to make coffee that doesn't suck: Swedish Egg Coffee

Swedish egg coffee is one of my favorite brewing methods. It makes an extra-mellow, non-bitter cup of coffee and can be scaled up to huge amounts of coffee for huge amounts of people. It's a fantastic way to tantalize kids and adults at Scout camp, which I did this weekend, and it's a great way to make coffee for people who don't like bitter coffee. It's a strong flavor for those who like strong coffee, but not so strong that you need milk to tone it down.

According to legend, Swedish Egg Coffee was a recipe carried "on the boat" from Sweden to America back in the late 1800's. Coffee filters didn't exist like they do today, so your option for coffee was percolator coffee, which is bitter and acidic and generally pretty awful. Definitely not appropriate fare for us culinarily timid Swedes. Enter egg coffee.

It's wicked easy. In fact, it's probably the easiest coffee I've ever made. You can make it on a stove, you can make it on a fire. You can make it in a teapot or in a cup or in a coffee can. I used a percolator pot for the sake of convenience and made it over a camp stove at Scout camp this weekend. It took about twelve minutes.
  1. Get a pot, preferably one of those aluminum pots with a spout on it, but really anything will do. Fill it with water, but keep track of how much water you use.
  2. Do one or two tablespoons of coarse-ground (like a percolator grind) coffee per 6 ounces of water in the pot, depending how strong you like it. Just dump the coffee into the water.
  3. Boil for 5-10 minutes.
  4. At the end of the 5-10 minutes, give the pot a solid stir and get it swirling. Turn off the heat.
  5. While it's still swirling, crack a single egg and dump the whole thing, shell and all, into the water. Use one egg for every ten cups of liquid.
  6. Filter through a French Press or coffee filter or your teeth or whatever.
Not only does the egg solidify around most of the grounds, it neutralizes most of the bitterness and acidity so you get a REALLY mellow cup of coffee. It's an old immigrant trick and a lot of the Minnesota Lutheran churches still make it. As far as smooth, mellow coffee goes, it's about as good as it gets.

I'll warn you, the leftovers in the bottom of the pot look awful. Here's a picture I took of the remnants at camp this weekend. It's just boiled egg and coffee, but it still looks terrible.

Looks like dead birds in an oil spill but man oh man, is it delicious.

If you make some, let me know how it turns out!

How to make coffee that doesn't suck: The French Press

I don't sleep well when I'm camping. I never have, and I probably never will. When I go to camp, I don't go so I can spend the whole time in bed. Oh no sir. When I camp, I like to be all full of piss and vinegar, and coffee sure makes an awful lot of piss.

To be honest, I had resigned myself to drinking terrible coffee at camp. Instant or percolated, it was always just terrible. Bitter, gritty, and acidic. I just accepted it and drank it anyway. Then, someone gave me a French press. After a scan of the instructions, I made my first cup of French press coffee at camp.

I took a sip.

It was GOOD.

The problem I was running into at camp was that I was relying on boiling water to make my coffee. There's never electricity in a campsite, and even if there were, I wouldn't drag my espresso machine into the woods. Boiling water has a nasty tendency to over-extract the coffee, which explains why I was so used to it tasting like bitter vinegar. Milk would help cut the acidity, but in the summer, storing milk just isn't an option.

Enter the French Press.

1. Grind your beans to a coarse grind. This is crucial, because if your grind is too fine, you'll get more and more grit at the bottom of your cup, and you'll get it floating in your coffee. It's nice and manly to spit out a wadful of coffee grounds, but let's be honest. Grit blows. I follow the rule of 2 tablespoons of beans per 8 oz of water.

See those chunks of coffee beans? That means I need a new grinder.
 I'll be getting a burr grinder.

2. Heat your water. Either boil it and let it cool for a couple minutes or use a thermometer to get it between 195-205 degrees. If it's at a rolling boil your coffee is going to suck mad hard. Give yourself a couple minutes and let it cool. While it's cooling, cover the bottom of the French Press with your coarse ground coffee. My French press will hold 5.5 cups of water, so we'll do 11 tablespoons of coffee in the bottom.

It puts the water on the stove or else it gets the hose again

3. Pour the ALL of the NON-BOILING water over the coffee.

 If I have to tell you to be careful while you're pouring hot water 
then you probably shouldn't be playing with a stove. Moron.

4. Let it sit, stirring occasionally, for a full five minutes. After the five minutes, stir and really mix up the coffee with a non-metal spoon. Stir some more, maybe another minute. If you use a metal spoon, ninja kittens with tear our your eyes and feed them to goldfish as treats. If you've done the stirring right (and if you didn't you will lose the approval of your father) you should have a layer of foam on top. This is good. This means that we're on the last step.

5. Now comes the fun part. Put the top of the lid onto the jar portion of the lid. Push gently but firmly DOWN. When the screen hits the bottom, just pour and serve.

If you're an ultra-light backpacker, it's probably not the best route to take, but for someone who doesn't mind a few extra ounces in their pack, it's a GREAT way to make delicious, mellow coffee without the nasty vinegary taste of traditional camp coffee.

Monday, September 24, 2012

How to make coffee that doesn't suck: Grinding Beans

We've all been there. Someone offers us a cup of coffee and It's. Just. Wrong. It's vinegary. It's gritty. It's nasty and bitter. It's (worst of all) way too weak. Bad coffee can reduce a grown man to tears. It can ruin marriages. It can even ruin your shot at salvation. God HATES bad coffee.

Bad coffee is bad news.

"But El Chris!" You'll cry, "I'm no coffee nut, I just like drinking the stuff! What can I DOOO?" Fear not, dear readers, for El Chris will show you how to grind your coffee RIGHT.

The grind is a VERY important part of brewing good coffee. It makes as much of a difference as the beans you use. Today you'll learn how to grind for a percolator, French press, drip coffee pot, and espresso maker. You'll also learn what to look for on pre-packaged coffee. More on that later.


This is my grinder. There are many like it, but this one is mine. Without it, I am nothing. NOTHING.

Aside from being a delicious type of sandwich, a grinder is crucial. There are two types of grinders: a burr grinder and a blade grinder. Blade grinders use two blades shaped like a propeller to chop up the beans. Blade grinders are cheaper, simpler, and infinitely more popular, but they lack consistency in the grind. When I grind coarse coffee in my blade grinder, I'll find some whole beans leftover that weren't touched by the blades. A Burr grinder is a preferred grinder, but they veer toward the pricier end. I'm currently saving for one. I will be demonstrating with a blade grinder today. I love my grinder because it has markings on it to grind for each of these methods. If you REALLY like mine, you can get one here for about 15 dollars. I've had it for about ten years and it's still going strong.

Percolator and French Press

This is a percolator, idiot.
This is a French press, or a Freedom Press if you're a turd. You aren't a turd, ARE you?

Percolation is one of the oldest modern methods of brewing coffee. It's still used to make lots of coffee quickly, but it's often done with drip-grind coffee, which is too fine.

The same issue happens with a French press. A French press, like a percolator, doesn't use a paper filter. If your coffee is too fine, it will slip through the mesh filter and give you gritty sludge at the bottom of your cup. A mouthful of that will destroy everything you love. Properly ground coarse coffee should feel like kosher salt.

Coarse ground coffee, perfect for a French press or a percolator.

Drip Brewers

My awesome drip brewer. One time it killed a guy.

These are your Mr Coffees, your "Free coffee maker if you sign up for Gevalia!" and likely your office coffee maker. If you ever buy a bag or can of coffee in the grocery store, odds are it's a drip grind. Electric drip brewers revolutionized home brewing because the temperature could be more precisely controlled and suddenly coffee tasted good. Boiling water is so hot that it over-extracts the coffee and makes really acidic, REALLY bitter coffee. Drip brewers don't do that.
Drip brew coffee should be ground finer than percolator or French press. It should feel like sand.

Proper drip grind

Espresso makers

The espresso machine that makes me so awesome.
Camping espresso maker. Most scoutmasters have one of these hooked to an IV bag.

This one is tricky. Espresso is both a roast and a grind and that throws a LOT of people off. If you buy a bag of espresso at the store and it's ground, odds are it's ground for a drip brewer and NOT for an espresso maker. Starbucks and Caribou are AWFUL at this. This is too coarse for an espresso maker and will result in weak, watery espresso and an excruciatingly painful death. Even if it isn't labeled as drip grind, you can tell it is if you read the instructions. If it says to use 1 tablespoon of coffee for 6-8 ounces of water, then it's drip grind. You can actually grind any roast of coffee into espresso, but we'll get to that another time. Well ground espresso should look like fine sugar. If it's more like flour or powdered sugar, your espresso maker will clog and you'll probably get cancer, so watch for that.

Properly ground fine coffee.

This week, I'll teach you how to make coffee using each of these methods, plus a bonus method not covered here. Never again will you make a crappy cup of coffee. Remember folks, God HATES bad coffee.

How to make killer guacamole

Since my wife is quite a foodie and I'm a kick-ass husband, I bought her a molcajete for her birthday. I couldn't just throw it at her and say "Have fun, woman!" so I manned up and figured out to make a killer guacamole. If you make this, women will throw their phone numbers at you so hard that your head will spin.

This is my wife's molcajete. It took me 2 pounds of rice to season it,
but that's another post for another time.

To make what I call my panty-dropping Guacamole, you'll need the following.
You will need:

  • 4 Avocados
  • 3 Serrano Peppers**
  • 1 JalapeƱo Pepper**
  • 1 Bunch of Cilantro
  • 1 Half-Onion, Minced
  • 1 Roma Tomato
  • 1 Skillet
  • 1 Molcajete
  • Another bowl  
  • A tater masher

**If you're a real Minnesotan and can't stand the spicy, use Anaheim or Poblano peppers instead.**

1. Put your skillet on the stove on medium heat. Cast iron works best for this, but if you have something else then, well, I guess nobody's perfect. Stab a couple of holes in each of the peppers and the tomato. That's pretty important because if you don't, your crap will explode and you'll get spicy in your eye which SUCKS. Roast them by putting them on the skillet for ten minutes. Give them a turn every now and again, but other than that you leave your pretty hands off. Don't be intimidated by roasting. It's the same as putting in the skillet and leaving them.

Roasting is seriously this easy.

If you've roasted right, they'll look like this and your life will be fantastic.

2. Once your peppers are roasted, cut the ends off and throw them away. They get nasty.
Like honeybadger nasty.

3. Now it's time to skin the tomato. While it's still hot, take it out and seal it in a container to trap the steam and soften it up. I put mine in the molcajete and put a pack of tortillas on the top. Let it sit in there for a couple of minutes and then just peel the skin off. Super easy time.

4. Once your tomato is peeled, it's time to mash. Put the peppers and the tomato in the molcajete. Mash. You're going to mash a lot.

And mash some more.

And mash even more. Once it looks like salsa, it's ready.

5. Now you're going to mince your onion-half because it's been a bad, naughty onion. You're going to mince it and you're going to like it. It should look like this.

Your minced half-onion should look like this. If your pieces are too big, the taste will overpower the rest of the guac.
6. Now cut and mash those avocados!

Cut it in half. Call it names while you cut it. Hurting it's feelings will make it taste better.

Smack the seed with your knife, then twist. Out she comes.

Now scoop. Repeat for each avocado.

Throw in the chopped cilantro and mash away!

7. Now add the onion and dump in to the molcajete. Be gentle.

Stir. Mix. Whatever helps you sleep.

8. Serve to a lady. With chips. Ladies love chips.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A killer weekend getting back to what I believe in.

This weekend, I slept under these stars. It felt right.
If you're wondering, it was shot at ISO 200
18mm-f/3.5 for 30 seconds on a D50. The picnic table was my tripod.
I'm especially proud of the big dipper.
That's my tent on the left. My mom bought it for me for my birthday in 2008. That tent has been ERRYWHERES with me. It went east-to-west across northern Minnesota with me during the year that I gave up. It housed me and my wife at scout camp during her first summer there. It's housed me on 48 weekend campouts so far, and it will serve me well on many, many more.

This weekend, it housed me at Philippo Scout Reservation in Cannon Falls, Minnesota. I was there for for my scouting district's Order of the Arrow Conclave and it was AWESOME.

In which El Chris does legit farm work for like 25 minutes.

I'm white. I'm getting to be middle aged. I grew up in a white suburb FULL of people getting to be middle aged. I admit this freely. I also admit that I never, EVER worked on a farm. EVER. 

I was taking a break this weekend (since I'm an adult leader, I take lots of breaks) when a buddy of mine from Wood Badge walked past. 

"Hey El Chris," came the cry. "How about we go unload that hay trailer?"

I really had no excuse other than "Wow, that sounds awful" so I went along. My back already hurt.

 We arrived at this mountain of hay on a cart. "Well this doesn't look so bad!" I muttered to myself.
"Naw, it's lots worse," said Ranger Bob. "Ya'll gon' be unloadin that trailer behind you." The chock full trailer behind us is the trailer shown below. Chock full of hay that might have dead snakes. This was going from bad to worse.
Our job was to make this nice large pile on the right and add it to the sloppy pile below and make it look good and ventilate so that dry rot doesn't set in.

I started in. Then I quickly stopped. I had no gloves. I realized that chappy hands would a slothy El Chris make, and since I have soft little princess hands, they would get chappy FAST.
Ranger Bob got me some nice gloves. We went back to work.

 My buddies Darryl and Darryl were helping me out. Actually, I was helping them. I was about 25 years their junior and they gave me an ass kicking worthy of an elementary school playground. Hoo boy, did we move that hay. We cleaned up the receiving pile and then we threw the hay from the hay trailer. I got some on my skin and it was awful. I think it's still in there.

The whole reason  I do this thing with Order of the Arrow to implant a belief in my scouts that cheerful service is a quality that a good man has. We LIKE cheerful service because it reminds us to remain happy in irksome circumstances. THAT is why I moved bales of Hay.

Sure, there's good food that you can read about here, but that was hardly it.

We finished, and aside from some residual hay, we got through it just fine, thanks.
The boys dressed up in their OA regalia and said their lines FLAWLESSLY.  

 The boys took their roles seriously and delivered their lines well. VERY well.
Here's an irksome task.

And here's Derek drinking two cans of Mountain Dew
at the same time. He DID deserve them, in case you're wondering.
If you look close, you can see him dribbling globules of Mountain Dew.
This guy had the least irksome task of all of them. I want his job next year.

Snagged this shot during the PERFECT blue hour. I couldn't have BEGGED for it to look any nicer. I love this camp, I love being here, and I love know that it's there. Thanks for the great weekend, and I'll see you in 2 more.

 What's your favorite place to camp?

Leave me a comment and I'll let you know what I think! 

Monday, September 17, 2012

How to cook chicken parmesan for 100 people without dying in the face

In which El Chris makes a turd of himself taking too many pictures of food.

This weekend, I went camping. More on that later. Naturally, I had my camera and I made certain that all the cooking staff KNEW that I would be following them. All four of the meals were made in dutch ovens, and they were so good that my face melted straight off.



The Food God and Goddess were there (you'll know her by her apron) and spearheaded some sweet meals, including mountain man breakfast and a killer set of dutch oven sloppy joes. However, those couldn't hold a candle to the chicken parmesan they served for dinner. It was like Heaven landed on my tongue and then exploded. It was like a thousand Golden Retriever puppies were giggling inside my mouth. And it followed a VERY simple recipe that can be scaled to serve over 100 people, which is what we did.

To make it, you'll need the following for each dutch oven, which serves 4 teenage boys or 6 normal people:

4 Chicken Breasts
4 Baguettes
1 package instant mashed potatoes.
Two 14.5 ounce cans of Italian-style stewed tomatoes (or just a crap ton of tomato sauce)
1 clove garlic (optional-ish)
1/2 Teaspoon oregano
2 tablespoons of corn starch
1/4 cup of grated Parmesan
1 big-ass can of corn
3 lb rigatoni pasta
Bag of charcoal
Tin foil or Foil liner (super optional)

1. Line up your dutch ovens. If you have one, I guess that's fine. The liners placed in each oven made cleanup a snap, so get a bunch right now because I said so. Make sure you have 1 additional pot liner, as we will need the extra later.

2. Heat the dutch oven to 350. For a 12" oven, that means you'll need 24 charcoal briquettes total. Since we'll be roasting the chicken, put 12 briquettes underneath, and 12 on the lid. Make sure you arrange the coals on the edge of the lid and not in the middle. This will ensure that the lid heats evenly. Just trust me. Do it this way or you'll screw it up and probably die or something.
Careful, they're hot and if you touch one then you're stupid.

3. Roast the chicken for 20 minutes. By roast I mean put the lid (with coals) on the pot and go drink some Shasta. It better be Shasta.

4. While the chicken is cooking, you're going to prep the pasta sauce. BECAUSE I SAID SO! GOD! In a seperate pot, stir all the ingredients together. That means you take the oregano, 2 cans of tomato junk, corn starch, and parmasan and stir them all together. I don't care how you do it, as long as you stir the bejeepers out of it. Cook over medium heat or so the sauce is hot to the touch but not bubbling. It will thicken, like your hipster buddy's love for crappy music.

5. Mix the sauce and cook it like so: 

Here's a 4th picture of the pot with the same stuff.

6. Now we start the real prep. The cooked chicken is now in the dutch ovens. That's a hard win, folks.

At this point, you should have a guy named Brandon you can yell at.
Do it. "GO OPEN THE CORN!" you can scream.

7. While Brandon is opening corn, you can spoon the delicious sauce over the chicken. You can do it like we did below, as long as you're generous. You will have sauce left over, which is perfect for bread dipping.
At this point, The Food Goddess was offered a sacrificial lamb
and we waited impatiently to see her reaction.
She simply stirred.
She stirred some more and declared the sauce
fit for consumption. There was much rejoicing.
Then we poured much sauce onto much chicken.

In which El Chris watches Brandon make so much corn that El Chris will poop corn for a week.

You can now have Brandon heat the corn and dump it into a heaty thingy.
8. With the corn, as long as it's been heated, you can serve it up. I like to heat it in the can (the can WILL take the heat from the stove, as long as you ditch the label so it can't burn.) and then serve it from the can. It saves on dishes, but the electric heaty thingy was way handy.

9. While the corn and chicken are doing their thing, make the package of mashed potatoes. Mince and add the leftover garlic. Mix in some corn. Cover with surplus sauce while serving. Make new friends.

10. At this point, all of the chicken should be in ovens, ready to rock. Since they're all in 12" dutch ovens, cooking them should be a simple matter of counting. Twelve coals on the bottom, twelve on the top. Stack. The top coals on the first dutch oven become the bottom coals of the next. Brilliant, right? Now stacky stacky (no more the 4 high, you're not superman.) and cook for another 30-40 minutes. While this is cooking, slice the baguettes into manageable pieces. The bread should be used to sop up extra sauce.

I know we're cooking with 9 ovens here, but if you just have one, twelve
coals on the top and twelve on the bottom will be just fine, sir, just fine.

Sometimes, make sure the Food God pokes at them to keep them cooking.
He likes to poke stuff that's burning.
11. About ten minutes before the chicken is done cooking, you can start making the pasta. To cook pasta, you boil it in water for 8-12 minutes. Put some in your mouth. Does it feel right? Then it's done.
You can also taste (right, like put the food in your mouth and evaluate the results) the sauce and see if you like it. You can add a clove of minced garlic if you don't like it and your wife says it's ok, otherwise leave it be.

At this point, you will have a table full of ordeal candidates who demand food NOW. They will soon be appeased.
Paul was so hungry that he made eye contact with the photographer.

Despite our best efforts, Eric seemed oblivious to commands like

Loads of newly elected ordeal MEMBERS lined up to get their first
solid meal in 24 hours
This is what all of the fellas signed up for. They have been waiting for this for EVER. It's totally worth it. Make sure you douse their potatoes in sauce and give them bread to sop up the extra. Each oven will supply 8-10 half-breasts-of-chicken.

Got any other suggestions? I'd love to hear them! Leave them in the comments, a response is guaranteed.