Archives for the month of: January, 2011

Making coffee is a morning ritual I take a lot of pleasure in. Partly because I’m a creature of habit and enjoy the routine but also because I love the smell, process, and of course the taste. Most of us are accustomed to using the auto-drip coffee makers for their ease and ability to set it on a timer. To me, automatic coffee makers take the fun out of brewing coffee. Plus auto-drips (a least most of them) tend to burn the coffee and generally brew a less robust cup.

I’ll admit that I’m a bit of a coffee snob. I spent some time working as a barista and lived in Italy for a semester and if that won’t do it, nothing will. That aside, with a little extra effort and the right tools, you can have excellent coffee at home every day. As with any task, having the proper tool is vital to getting a good result. So I thought I would do an overview of coffee makers that brew a great cup.

french press coffee maker

Personally, my favorite way to brew coffee is with a french press. With the french press you pour the coffee and hot water into the the glass cylinder, stir it up and put the lid/plunger on top. After four minutes you gently push the mesh plunger down, which forces the grounds to the bottom. This method retains all the oils in the coffee which gives it a deep flavor.

Moka Pot coffee maker

The moka pot, also known as the stovetop espresso maker (even though it doesn’t actually brew espresso) is another great method. This kind of coffee maker is more popular in Europe than it is here in the US. It makes a relatively small amount of coffee that is concentrated and rich in flavor. For this method, you put pre-warmed water in the bottom section. The coffee grounds go in a basket in the middle of the maker and the whole thing is placed on the stove. As the water is heating, it pushes up through the grounds into the top section.

AeroPress Coffee Maker

Another brewer that makes espresso strength coffee is the AeroPress. The first time I had coffee made with an AeroPress, I was immediately impressed. The coffee is smooth and less acidic than normal coffee but has a really strong flavor. The AeroPress hasn’t been around for a long time; it was invented only 6 years ago. It is basically a large syringe. A small filter is put in the bottom, then the coffee and water are added. It only steeps for 10 seconds before you plunge it and force the coffee through the filter into your cup.

Vacuum Pot

The Vacuum Pot is a much more delicate way to brew coffee but some people swear by it.  The method is a bit complicated and the equipment is fragile but it makes excellent coffee. The vacuum pot is two glass orbs with the coffee in the top and the water in the bottom. As the water heats up, it is forced up into the coffee. You remove the pot from the heat source after all of the water is pushed into the top. The resulting vacuum that is created pulls the liquid back down into the bottom leaving the grounds behind. Once all the coffee has been pulled back into the bottom, remove the top with the grounds and pour your coffee!

pour over method

The pour over method is arguably the simplest way to brew a fresh cup of coffee. It’s cheap too. Most plastic cones, such as the Melitta cones cost under five dollars (of course you can spend much more than that if you are inclined). You simply place the plastic cone on top of your cup. You place a filter in the cone and add your coffee. You pour the water in two steps. In the initial pour you pour just enough water to saturate the grounds. After about 15 seconds, begin pouring the rest of the water, pouring it in a spiral motion to evenly saturate the grounds.

For more detailed instructions, Stumptown Coffee Roasters has a great step-by-step guide to brewing coffee. A few final tips for brewing: always use fresh water and freshly roasted coffee,  always grind your coffee to fit your brewing method, and don’t forget to pre-warm your mug!

Happy brewing!


It has taken a year and half of living in California for me to work up the courage to try new produce. Growing up in North Carolina, there was not nearly the variety of fruits and vegetables that there is here. Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing fruits and veggies in NC, but they are much more seasonal and not nearly as diverse.  There is produce at the Berkeley Bowl that I have never in my life laid eyes upon, much less eaten. Most of the time I suspiciously peer at the alien fruits and veggies, keeping a safe distance, before I head over to select some apples and carrots. But this weekend I decided to buck up some courage and buy some of these unfamiliar fruits.

After contemplating a table of very interesting and exotic looking fruit I choose a horned melon, a dragon fruit, and cherimoya. Admittedly, I choose the dragon fruit and horned melon for their visual appeal. I knew I was going to draw them for Illustrated Bites and I couldn’t help but select the most eye catching fruit. I had heard of cherimoya before and decided to try one, even though it wasn’t as flashy as the other two.

Horned MelonThe first fruit that I sliced open was the horned melon. The interior of the fruit is bright green transparent packets of juice, similar in texture to citrus but much more slimy. The flavor of the flesh is slightly sweet. I thought it tasted similar to a cucumber, while my sweetie thought it tasted somewhat like kiwi. I read that the peel is edible but I don’t know why you would try to eat something covered in spikes.

Dragon FruitThe dragon fruit has a beautiful white, juicy interior speckled with tiny black seeds. To eat it you slice it half lengthwise and run a spoon the circumference of the section to remove the flesh from the peel. You can then lift the white part out and slice it. The peel is not edible. I found dragon fruit to be quite tasty but subtle. It was refreshing, crunchy, and only slightly sweet.

Cherimoya I was excited to try the cherimoya after reading a little about them. They are also known as a custard apple and Mark Twain called it “the most delicious fruit known to man.” To eat it you simply slice it in half and spoon out the interior. Don’t eat the seeds though, they are poisonous. The cherimoya was very sweet with a bananaish flavor and texture. It was a little too sweet for me, though after doing some reading the one I chose may have been over-ripe.

Overall I’m glad I’ve started to branch out from my usual apples and oranges. However, I don’t think I’ll purchase these particular fruit again. I found them more pleasing to the eye than the palate.  It was a fun taste test but no new favorites yet.

Thai Brunch

Berkeley has many culinary treasures but one of my favorite is brunch at the Thai Buddhist Temple. It is a unique experience that draws a huge crowd every Sunday.  Thai brunch is a fundraiser for the temple but it has become a Berkeley institution. It is extremely popular and tops the list of places to take visitors to give them a real Berkeley experience.

The food is served cafeteria style in a courtyard behind the temple. There is a wide selection to choose from and it is all tasty and cheap. Tents, folding tables, and chairs make up the dining area but it is often so crowded that diners spill into the front yard to sit in the grass.  It is a bit chaotic but it’s a lot of fun.  The temple is tucked in a neighborhood in South Berkeley and I am lucky enough to live around the corner!

This weekend my friends Stephanie and Dakota came over from San Francisco to have a taste of Thailand with me. We got there late, so there were long lines and they were starting to run out of entrees but we were still able to get a good selection of vegetarian curries. Seating was limited, so we took the food back to my apartment to enjoy it on the back porch. It has been unseasonably warm and sunny, so it was a great day for some porch sittin’. The lovely weather and sharing good food with friends made for an excellent Sunday.

If you’re ever in Berkeley on Sunday, I recommend you swing by the temple and give Thai Brunch a try!


granola ingredients

To round off my last post on yogurt, here is a tasty recipe for homemade granola. Making granola from scratch is super easy and cheap. Granola is a staple in my diet (pretty appropriate for a Berkeley dweller, huh?) and making it from scratch allows me to customize it to my taste. Plus, quality granola from the grocery store often costs $6-$10 for a small bag, which is unaffordable at the rate I consume it. This recipe costs less and will leave you with more granola than you know what to do with.

When making your granola, use whatever ingredients you like. Granola can be made using any grain (or combo of grains), nuts, spices, and dried fruit that you prefer. You can also control how sweet it is by adding more or less honey.  It’s up to you to make it your own.

Basic Granola Recipe:

  • 4 cups of grain flakes. (Such as oat, rye, wheat, spelt, or any other)
  • 1/2 Cup of butter. (You can use more or less as desired)
  • Vanilla
  • Spices (cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, etc.)
  • 2 cups lightly chopped nuts (you choose!)
  • 1 cup chopped dried fruit (really, its up to you!)
  • 1/3-1/2 cup of honey
  • plus anything else you want! (Such as coconut or flax seeds)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  In a sauce pan melt the butter and mix in the spices and vanilla. In a large mixing bowl mix the grain flakes, nuts, and any additional ingredients such as flax seeds or coconut. (Do not add the dried fruit yet. You mix the fruit in after the grains and nuts have been toasted in the oven.)  Pour the melted butter and spices over the grains and nuts and mix together. Make sure to coat the grains evenly. Spread the coated mixture onto a baking sheet in a thin layer. You will probably have to do two batches. Bake for 25 minutes total, stirring the ingredients halfway through.

After you remove from the oven drizzle the honey over the granola while it’s still warm. Mix to coat all the flakes. Add the dried fruit and combine. Let the granola cool completely and store in an airtight container. The granola will keep for about a month. Enjoy!

cup of yogurtMaking homemade yogurt is surprisingly simple and requires no special equipment. After reading about the advantages of homemade vs. store bought  I decided to give making yogurt a try. Fresh, organic yogurt is cheaper to make than to buy and it doesn’t leave you with an unrecyclable plastic container. Homemade yogurt doesn’t have any additives, sweeteners, or thickeners like many store bought brands and it has more pro-biotic cultures which are good for digestion. Plus its fun and satisfying to make!

Convinced? Lets make yogurt!


  • 1 quart of high quality milk. (Use local and organic if possible. I used whole milk but you can you 2% if you prefer)
  • 2 tablespoons of plain yogurt with active cultures, or one teaspoon of powdered yogurt starter.


  • Candy thermometer
  • One quart mason jar
  • whisk (or fork)

Step One: Pour the milk into a sauce pan and put on medium-low heat. Heat it slowly and never let it boil. Bring up to about 185 degrees F. Stir occasionally as it is heating; it should take about 15 min.


Step Two: As the milk is heating up, sterilize your mason jar and lid in boiling water. Let them air dry. Warm a large pot of water to incubate the yogurt in. The water should be 90-100 degrees F.

Step Three: Once the milk has heated to 185 degrees F, hold it at this temperature for five minutes. Then remove from heat and cool to 115 degrees F, stirring occasionally.

Step Four : Put the yogurt or starter in the bottom of the sterilized mason jar. Add about 1/2 cup of the cooled milk and whisk to blend.  Add the remaining milk and stir well.

mason jar and yogurt

Step Five: Fasten the lid and place the jar in the pot of warm water and place the whole thing in the oven. (The light should be left on if it is an electric oven, or the pilot light if it is a gas oven.) Incubate the yogurt for 8-10 hours. Then remove from the water and refrigerate.


Step five is the most important step in the whole process. This is when the bacterial fermentation takes place which transforms the milk into yogurt. All of the prior steps were intended to kill off any other bacteria which may interfere or give the yogurt strange flavors. What you are doing is growing the bacteria lactobacillus bulgaricus and streptococcus thermophilus. These bacteria ferment the lactose into lactic acid. This gives the yogurt its tart flavor. The bacteria also coagulates the milk proteins and gives yogurt its creamy texture. Its a little gross but ever so interesting. Enjoy!

Bacteria in Yogurt

spoon, fork, and knife

Illustrated Bites has gotten off to a good start in 2011. This blog is the result of my desire to invest more effort in my passions of art and cooking. Blogging is new to me so I’m still learning and trying to get into the groove of being a blogger.  My posts have been sporadic so far but starting next week I will regularly post on Mondays and Thursdays. There will be more how-tos, recipes, and soon there will be interviews with folks who have more culinary knowledge than I. And of course, more Illustration!  I’m looking forward to sharing all this with you soon. Be well and have an awesome weekend!

I approach making soup in a similar way that I approach painting. I have a basic plan of what I want to make but most of the process is visceral. What I love about cooking is that it is a creative process. I add a dash of this or that and generally throw things in as I see fit. The result is tasty, but in the end I can never quite remember everything I did to make that particular soup.

Yesterday, I threw together a soup that was really simple and delicious. I managed to keep track of everything I put in, but these aren’t exact proportions.  When you’re cooking try to enjoy the creativity of it. Be willing to experiment, to mess up, and whip up something that is unique.

Here is a basic guideline, for a delicious black bean and chorizo soup. Add things to your taste and have fun.

  • 2 cups cooked black beans
  • 1-2 onions
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 potato
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1/2 pound ground mexican chrorizo sausage
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper to taste

First boil the beans for an hour. Then drain the beans and add the chopped onion. Cover with water and bring to a boil, then let simmer for about 2o minutes. Add the chopped carrots, peppers, and potato and let that simmer for another 10 minutes or so. Add the chorizo and let simmer for a final 20-30 min. While you stir the soup, smash some of the black beans to thicken the soup. While you’re at it go ahead and throw in the red pepper flakes. The spices in the meat season the soup quite nicely and I found I only needed to add a little salt and pepper.

This cake rocks my socks. I found the recipe for Guinness Chocolate Cake over at Design*Sponge when I was searching for a cake to make for my sweetie’s birthday. The oddity of having Guinness as a main ingredient sold me on this particular recipe, but we were in for a surprise. This cake is AMAZING! It is perfectly moist and has a deep chocolatey flavor. Not to mention, the icing is basically a cheese cake. Needless to say, this cake is not for the faint of heart.

I made this cake again when I was home for the holidays and it went over well with the whole family. My mom was a little dubious when I cracked a can of Guinness while mixing the batter, but she was definitely won over in the end.  This cake has firmly cemented itself as my all time favorite dessert.

For those of you who find making a cake from scratch intimidating, I assure you this is (fairly) painless. You’re cooking with Guinness! Just crack one open for yourself after you give one to the cake.  I made this in my sparsely stocked kitchen and had to improvise on several steps. For one, I don’t have a mixer so I had to put a little extra love/elbow grease into combining the ingredients. If you don’t have a sifter, you can use two spoons to toss the flour (like a salad) in order to loosen and aerate it. To whip the cream, two forks and some love will do the trick. You can tag team this effort, whipping cream by hand is a bit of a workout. (But seriously, this cake is rich. You may as well get a little exercise  before you indulge.) My point is, you can do it! It will be well worth your effort. Enjoy!

Jump on over to Design*Sponge for the full recipe.

Until recently, pomegranates were a bit of a mystery to me. I didn’t know how to tell if it was ripe, how to peel it, or even what to do with it once I managed to get it peeled. Pomegranates are fairly common here in California but back home in North Carolina they aren’t as widely available. They only appear around Christmas and at several dollars a pop, they always seemed too pricey to take a chance on. So when I noticed them at the Berkeley Bowl for a dollar, I decided to buy a few and figure out what to do with this mysterious fruit.

My first attempt ended in a pulpy mess. The dark purple juice splattered everywhere (including on my sweetie’s white laptop) and I destroyed a majority of the seeds. Realizing brute force wasn’t the best method for extracting the tasty seeds from the membrane, I did a little research. Turns out there is an easy and much less messy way to peel a pomegranate.

Step one: Slice the pomegranate in half. You may want to place a paper towel on your cutting board to prevent the juice from staining the board.

sliced pomegranate

Step two: Submerge the pomegranate in a bowl of cold water. Keeping the pomegranate under the water reduces the mess and makes it easier to separate the seeds from the membrane. Push on the outer part of the peel to begin separating the seeds from the pith. You may have to push hard to crack the peel and white membrane.

Step three: Gently remove the seeds from the white membrane. The seeds will sink to the bottom of the bowl and the membrane will float. Once you have removed all of the seeds, pick out any pith that is floating on the surface of the water. Using  a small mesh strainer is the easiest way to do this, but you can pick it out by hand.

Step four: Strain the pomegranate seeds.

Not too bad, huh? Now that you have the fresh pomegranate at your disposal, there are a number of ways you can enjoy it. It’s great in a fruit salad or on a spinach salad with blue cheese. Of course you can always snack on them straight up. So delicious!

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