Premium Coffee: What’s The Difference?

Any serious java drinker knows, coffee beans purchased from an independent retail roaster command a higher price than supermarket brands. Naturally, as with anything else, you get what you pay for. Having tasted caffeine-rich brew from most major competitors, including Peet’s®, Starbucks®, Seattle’s Best Coffee® and a slew of others, I prefer buying whole beans online from a roaster, namely Portland, Oregon-based Stumptown Coffee Roasters. But that’s just the start to a good cup of Joe.

There is a difference between the coffee on the shelf at a big box store versus freshly roasted. Consumers have a wider variety of coffee beans to choose from at a roaster, which enhances the overall taste right from the start. For instance, bourbon coffee varietals, available at most retail roasters, have an earthy flavor and slightly reddish hue after brewing. Many retail chains don’t carry sophisticated blends containing bourbon beans. Speaking of roasting, remember, French roast is not the only flavor in the world. How about trying a Vienna, espresso or medium roast? Hey, the world is your oyster, or in this case, your coffee bean.

As for the taste between freshly roasted and store bought, consider this. I cannot drink 7-Eleven®, Dunkin Donuts, Eight O’clock®, or most deli coffees black, because of the bitterness and acidity. I always have to drown the bite with half and half or something similar and plenty of sugar. Yet, I can sip the more expensive coffee without a sweetener and little milk or cream. In fact, the finer Joes often look like strong tea after brewing. But make no mistake; the amount of caffeine is strong enough to keep you going all day and more.

Though coffee roasters clearly offer the broadest assortment to shoppers, price may be a prohibitive factor at checkout. To be blunt, good coffee, single source or blend, is pricey and generally run anywhere from $13.00 to $28.00 per 12 ounces. Most major contemporary growers are located in South and Central America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific. I have a preference for Brazilian and Colombian coffee, no matter the varietal or growing location. But if you already haven’t done so, check out some freshly roasted coffee and see the difference for yourself. If not, 7-Eleven® is always open.

Video: How to Brew Coffee in an AeroPress -Stumptown Coffee Roasters/YouTube

Photos: own work

The Inconvenience Of Customer Friendliness

After finishing my Saturday morning food shopping list and eager to get back home, I trudged towards the cashier’s area with a full cart of groceries in tow. Meanwhile, self-checkout was the only available pay point before eight o’clock. Having scanned my own orders before, I began passing each bar code over the tiny red laser without any problem. But I should have known things were going too smoothly.

Before long, the display screen on the cash register started blinking a yellow message that read “cashier needed.” Seeing what happened, an employee instantly fixed the problem and I continued the process with the remaining items in my cart. One by one, I scanned a bunch of bananas, several cans of tuna fish and a seedless rye bread. But a red light went off above my head indicting help was required. Of course, the register came to a halt. That same worker immediately remedied the problem and then went back to an assigned spot to monitor the flow of customer traffic.

But after scanning the bulkier items, including two 20 pound bags of cat litter, an automated voice rang out from somewhere directing me to remove all articles from the bagging area. When I complied and moved the larger objects to the floor, the same robotic warning told me that my action was prohibited. The same employee ran over and placed little red “Thank You” stickers on the bigger items, before resetting the register. Other surprises followed.

In the midst of checking out, I discovered English muffins were two-for-one, but no sign was posted. Wanting to get out of there, I just continued scanning without the freebie. But with Murphy’s Law in full force, wouldn’t you know the register tape soon ran empty, which caused everything to come to a halt. While waiting to refill the tape, the person on duty explained how the store introduced self-checkout for its customers in the name of efficiency. Taking a deep breath, I turned around and noticed a handwritten note taped on the register across the aisle indicating “out of service.” I didn’t dare attempt to solve the mystery of the number two coffee filters that had been missing from the store for the last three months. I was lucky to get out of there at all.

Video: Panasonic Introduces ‘Robotic Checkout’ in Japan – NewsBeat Social/YouTube; photos – own work.

The Hidden Soy In Fast Food and Tuna

Recent published reports indicate Subway® restaurants, known for their foot-long hero sandwiches, use chicken that contains an abundance of soy filler. When tested, some of the fast food chain’s chicken products were not even half meat. But Subway® is not alone. Read the label on any of the most popular brands of canned tuna and chances are soy is listed as an ingredient. In either case, you know soy was not used for taste enhancement.

Now I know why the chicken sandwiches from Subway®, McDonald’s®, Wendy’s® and some other restaurants always seem so rubbery. Excluding the bun, none of these menu items are all chicken. According to an article by, DNA tests done at the request of a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) consumer affairs television show reveal Subway’s® chicken strips only contain 42.8 percent meat. The company’s oven roasted chicken was barely better at 53. 6. Surprisingly, most of the remainder of the “chicken” is soy and seasonings. But if you are thinking about dining at a competitor, think again.

After analyzing the items from several different well-known fast food eateries, the Canadian study, conducted by Trent University, showed the highest average chicken DNA content was 85 percent with the rest of the product being mostly soy. How disheartening for on-the-go convenience eaters. But don’t get me wrong. I like some soy-based products, including fried tofu with dipping sauce, but not masquerading as my chicken sandwich. Here’s one better. If you plan on switching over to tuna salad, a surprise could be waiting. Yes, there is soy in most major brands of canned tuna.

In order to avoid buying tuna with soy additives, I purchase brands like Wild Selections or Natural Sea, which have three basic ingredients: solid white albacore tuna, oil and salt. Tuna packed in water is also available. But that’s it. You won’t find soy anywhere on the label. In a time when fake news is dominating the headlines, can fake food be far behind? Serving soy-filled chicken without notice could be construed as deceitful, especially for those who are not interested in consuming vegetable-based fillers. The same applies for tuna. Any way you slice this bird or fish, soy does not belong in the recipe. It makes you wonder how many other takeout establishments are using soy additives. Even if it’s a sandwich, homemade usually outranks fast food.

Tuna Without Soy: Getting Hard To Find

Take a look at the label of most major brands of canned tuna and chances are soy will be listed as an ingredient. Hungry consumers really have to be on their toes when trying to avoid soy in tuna. That goes for water, oil or broth. On the Chicken Of The Sea® website, the company clearly indicates its broth “is derived from one or more of the following vegetables: beans (including soy beans)…” But while some cans of tuna have soy, others don’t. Bumble Bee® Prime Fillet® solid white albacore in water and the white albacore very low sodium have no soy listed on the package. But there’s more to this fish story.

It seems tuna in a water pouch is a good way to go when trying to avoid soy. Of course, there are several first-rate brands of canned tuna fish that do not use soy, vegetable broth or sodium pyrophosphate in any products. Wanting to avoid soy, I stumbled upon Wild Selections® while shopping at the local supermarket. I noticed a can of solid white albacore in water contains only three ingredients: white tuna, water and salt. That’s exactly what I wanted to see. Plus, Wild Selections® is a sustainable product and dolphin safe. A portion of each sale is donated to the World Wildlife Fund’s conservation efforts.

The only drawback to Wild Selections® is the price. At $3.99 for a 5 ounce can, the sticker shock can be a bit much. That’s why I use the tuna as part of the main meal. Tuna macaroni salad fits the bill just fine. You can add the side dishes. Remember, other soy free brands of tuna are out there. You just have to shop around. It seems like a lot to do for a simple can of tuna fish but like they say, “you are what you eat.”

Our Favorite Tuna Macaroni Salad

1 five ounce can Wild Selections® solid white albacore in water

8 ounces (dry) farfalle pasta

1 tablespoon diced onion

1 tablespoon capers

1 tablespoon diced bread and butter pickles

1/3 cup Hellman’s mayonaise

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Pinch of salt

The amount of mayonnaise may have to be adjusted depending on the moisture in the pasta. Always let the pasta cool before mixing with the mayo otherwise the macaroni product will absorb most of it and make the salad dry.

Autumn Favorite: Savory Poached Pears

As the cold weather draws near and the taste for everything pumpkin starts to fade, hungry foodies typically turn to apples for that fresh fruit fix. But why not try something tasty, elegant and light. Enter poached pears. They are easy to make and always delicious.

Poached pears are not something I grew up with as a kid. Though a prolific pear tree grew in our back yard, we never cooked the fruit. While my mother and uncle typically poached store bought peaches in wine, pears were never on the kitchen radar. The golden brown orbs were merely something we picked up off the ground and enjoyed as a snack. But things are different now.

Most supermarket varieties of pears can be poached as long as the flesh is somewhat firm. Bosc, Bartlett, red and green Anjou or Seckel all work well. No matter which type you choose, the preparation method is the same. Peel the skin from the pear before cutting it in half lengthwise. Trim the base but leave the woody stem on the top; it will look neat and appetizing. Use a round metal measuring spoon, melon baller or something else with a sharp edge to remove the rounded core.

Once the pear is prepared, place the two pieces of fruit into a 10 inch skillet or sauté pan, flat side down. Use a pan with a cover. You will see why in a moment. Next, place two bay leaves, seven black peppercorns and roughly one teaspoon of fresh lemon rind without the pith in the pan with the pears. Leave the rind as whole pieces. Add one tablespoon of light Agave syrup and one and one third cups of water. Bring the mixture to a boil and then lower the flame so the water is barely bubbling. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. What you get is a tender piece of fruit, but not falling apart. The sweetened yet slightly savory broth is tasty when cool and poured over the pears. Serve warm, cold, by itself or with a scoop of vanilla gelato on the side. The peppercorns and bay leaves add a different dimension to the dessert. Next time you go shopping for an apple, try reaching for a pear. You will not be disappointed.

Our Favorite Poached Pear Ingredients

1 medium Bosc pear, halved and cored

7 black peppercorns

2 whole bay leaves

1 teaspoon fresh lemon rind

1 tablespoon of light Agave syrup

1 1/3 cups of water

*You can use any sweetener including honey, sugar or maple syrup. Also, apple juice or even fruit punch can be substituted for water, which will make it sweeter.

Baked Salmon With a Breadcrumb Topping

Salmon is delicious served hot, cold, grilled, poached and even barbecued. One of the tastiest and healthiest ways to enjoy salmon is baked. Baking any type of fish is as easy as it gets in the kitchen. For this dish, the main ingredient is the star of the recipe, namely the salmon. Even so, try kicking it up a notch by adding some breadcrumbs on top. But hold on, because there is more to this fish story.

As far as healthy protein choices go, for many foodies, salmon ranks high on the list. But after a while, eating the same thing can get boring. That is precisely why you should try baked salmon topped with breadcrumbs. It’s pretty hard to mess up. After spraying the fish with some canola oil, you merely coat the top with breadcrumbs of your choice and then bake. It really is that easy. When the fish is done, you can pair it with a steaming hot cup of chowdah during the winter, or add a light salad after going to the beach. As long as the salmon is cooked all the way through, I’m happy. I usually sprinkle a few drops of McIlhenny Co.’s habanero Tabasco sauce on my fish. Here’s to good eating.

Our Favorite Baked Salmon Topped With Breadcrumbs

2 8-ounce center-cut salmon fillets with the skin removed

1/2 cup 4C® brand seasoned breadcrumbs

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Canola oil spray

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Mix the breadcrumbs, black pepper and olive oil in a bowl with a fork. Lay the fish on a flat dish or a small tray. If one end of the fillet is thinner than the rest, tuck it under to create a uniform size. Spray the top of each filet with canola oil and then evenly spread the breadcrumb mixture over the fish. Carefully spray another coat of canola oil on top of the breadcrumbs. Refrigerate until ready to bake. Place the salmon in a Pyrex baking dish that has been sprayed with Canola oil. Bake uncovered for 15-20 minutes, until desired doneness. Note the breadcrumbs are seasoned and already salty, so no extra salt was added. Of course, salt to preferred taste, but do not overdue it.

Photos: Own work; video “Herb Crusted Baked Salmon Recipe”-

Caponata Or Eggplant Giambotta: You Make The Call

Eggplant caponata is a tasty sweet and sour specialty that can be served as an appetizer or a side dish. Enjoyed hot, cold, spooned onto toasted Italian bread, or just eaten with a fork, caponata is a deliciously versatile dish. The mild but complex eggplant flavor is uniquely satisfying. But growing up, we never ate caponata in our house. We preferred eggplant giambotta.

Although giambotta is typically thought of as being a stew containing assorted vegetables, my grandmother, who we called Nannie, only used eggplant and onions. That’s it. Naturally, my mother used the same recipe, which calls for cooking the vegetables on top of the stove in tomato sauce and herbs. There is nothing too complicated about it. You know the giambotta is ready when the eggplant, prepared with skin on, becomes soft and tender. It takes about 30 minutes or so.

As kids, my brother and I often ate the giambotta cold, out of the refrigerator, on a sandwich. I remember how slices of white or rye bread completely soaked up the sauce. Of course, a hero or a roll is better. My friend’s grandfather always grew eggplant in the summer. So did my uncle. As a result, starting around the middle of July, we had giambotta almost every day until the end of September. Eggplant caponata, with its capers, celery and vinegar, is certainly a savory delight. But when it comes to eggplant, freshly made giambotta has a similar appeal that cannot be denied. It does not have to be summer to enjoy some freshly made eggplant giambotta.

Photos and video: own work

Eggplant Giambotta Recipe:

2 medium to large eggplants cut into quarters with the skin on

1 thinly sliced medium onion

1 15oz. can of Hunt’s® tomato sauce

1/2 cup water

3 tablespoons of canola oil

1/2 teaspoon of dried basil

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano 

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon sugar

Heat the canola oil in a 3 quart saucepan and add the eggplant and onions. Add the remaining ingredients with the tomato sauce and water going in last. Bring to a boil and then simmer with the lid on, over a low to medium flame for about 30 minutes, or until the eggplant is soft. The skin gets tender and delicious. For a variation closer to caponata, add a snack-sized box of golden raisins, one tablespoon each of capers and pine nuts and about one teaspoon of red wine vinegar. Believe it or not, dried herbs are better than fresh with this recipe.