So – do you guys remember my Sunday post about coffee?  And I said that I wanted to take a closer look at how they take a naturally caffeinated product and make it decaf?  Decaf coffee contains up to 10% caffeine, so any extraction method has to remove at least 90% of the caffeine from the bean.   Its pretty easy to add to something, but how do you extract a chemical from a solid bean?

Well, I did some digging around and it turns out there are three general methods.  Which is a bit nicer than the original Benzene extraction method they used to use.

So how DO they get the caffeine out?

The first and probably the most natural of the three methods, appropriately referred to as the natural method, is the Water Method.   Its a bit of an intricate process of “battery extraction”.   The key to this is the water that runs over the fresh, green coffee beans (pre-roast) – solubilizes the caffeine in the beans and is extracted from the bean into the water.   The oils from the coffee beans helps to extract the caffeine from the beans.   Here’s the thing about that water though.  That water is technically a decaf coffee brew.  The circulating water has been brewed with coffee beans, essentially creating a caffeinated brew.   That brew is then run over charcoal that has been coated with a carbohydrate, usually sucrose, that extracts the caffeine from the brew.  That decaffeinated beverage is the water used to extract caffeine from the green coffee beans I mentioned above.   Kind of makes your eyes swim, right?

While the water method is the least, invasive, we’ll say – its also the least specific for caffeine and only removes up to 96% of caffeine from the coffee beans.

The second two methods are the direct solvent method and the supercritical carbon dioxide extraction method (ooooOOOOOooooo).  If both of these sound a little scarier than the water method, its sort’ve true, they’re both harsher than caffeine extraction by water.

The direct solvent usually employs the use of a chemical solvent to extract the caffeine from the coffee beans.  The three most common solvents are methylene chloride, coffee oil or ethyl acetate.  Ethyl acetate is the same ester that’s found naturally in fruits like bananas.  Similar to the water extraction method, the solvent is circulated over the green coffee beans and recaptured. The beans are cleaned of any residual solvent by steaming and the process is repeated until the desired level of extraction is achieved.   Solvents are more specific for caffeine than water and can extract 96-97% of the caffeine.

The last extraction method, supercritical carbon dioxide extraction is essentially the same as the solvent method, only it uses – you guessed it…carbon dioxide, circulating at very high pressures.  These high pressures give the gas “supercritical properties” (and a cape?? haha).   The gas takes on the caffeine, then circulated through those same carbo coated charcoals in a column to remove the caffeine from the gas, so it can be recirculated to repeat the process.  Its an expensive method, but extremely efficient, extracting up to 98% of the caffeine and has the added bonus of being naturally abundant.


So.  There you have it.  Honestly, when reading these my first thought was “yikes…”  A lot of times, coffee isn’t about the caffeine for me, its about the taste and the rituatl.  So sometimes, when I carve the taste of coffee, but know I’ve reached my limit for caffeine, I opt for a cup of decaf, to prolong that single moment of enjoying a hot cup of coffee.  But now, I’m not so sure.   I dunno, would you guys want to drink decaf, knowing the different processes it takes to make it?    I think of it like soda, I prefer to have a little bit of the real stuff every now and then, than a lot of the “fake stuff” all the time.    Although, in the grand scheme of things, is it so bad?  Hard to tell.

Just some food for thought.




words cannot express.


see it here

Time for another Sunday of Katie Learns to Cook! This week I have a massive chapter of “Kitchen Staples”.  And by massive, I mean 40+ pages of herbs, spices, nuts, oils, vinegars, condiments, plus learning how to prepare and serve quality coffees and teas.  For your sanity and minI’ve opted to split up the chapter into different sections.  So, lets talk herbs and spices!

First up, some vocab   To start, lets talk about the difference between flavoring  and seasoning.

1.  If you season  a dish, you’re adding something to ENHANCE the natural flavors  of the food without actually changing the taste.   Think salt, a little bit of salt can really bring out the flavors of things, even melons.  (Note – a LITTLE bit guys, heavily salting your cantalope will not have good results).

2.  If you flavor  a dish, you’re adding  a new taste, one that potentially changes the natural flavors.  I would think pickling something with vinegar may be a good way to think of this.   A pickle, does not taste like a cucumber.  But its still delicious!

Now lets talk more specifically about those things you can use to season or flavor a dish.  Oils, vinegars and condiments come a little later in the chapter,  so  today we’re going to focus on the herbs and spices.   Do you know the difference?

Herbs is the general title for the group of aromatic plants (aromatic – can enhance the natural aromas of a food).  Generally speaking, the leaves stems or flowers are typically used to flavor a dish and can come in dried or fresh format, fresh being the general preferred format (although I have to say, cooking with fresh rosemary is a pain).

Spices tend to be the bark, roots, buds and berries of aromatic plants and for the most part used in their dried form.    Especially fun are the plants that can give you both an herb AND a spice (Dill!)

Now.  Guys – there were 71 different herbs and spices they covered in this chapter.  71.  But don’t worry, I’m not going to go over them all.  What was most interesting to me was reading about the origins of the herbs and spices and generally what they pair well with.   Truth be told, the spices section, while interesting wasn’t really where I learned things, but it was the spices, the SPICES that I had a few “wait, what?” moments.  Which, if you think about it – is what this whole practice of Katie Learns to Cook  has been all about, right?  So lets talk a little more about spices and I’ll highlight some of those facts that were new to me.

First and foremost, I really enjoyed reading about the general history of spices.  Used as early as 2800B.C., spices have played a part in medicine, therapeutic purposes, cosmetics and of course, food.   The Romans used spices for preservatives and perfumes in addition to everything else.  Because of the long traveling distance to get these spices (a lot are native to China and India, etc), being able to purchase and use spices was a sign of significant wealth.   Exploration of the New World brought new exposure to foods, like chiles, tomatoes, potatoes and the delicious chocolate and vanilla flavors.  Can you imagine life without it?   By the 19th century, trading companies made monopolization of spices impossible and the cost of spices dropped significantly.  Although I would argue they’re still some of the more expensive things you can buy.

There are a lot of neat little facts in this chapter about specific spices and I’d like to highlight those for you now.  For instance, did you know that most commercial chile powders are actually a combination of spices that include oregano, cumin, garlic and others?   Or how about cinnamon?    Cinnamon happens to have a flavor cousin, cassia   ,  which is also cheaper.   Because laws do not require that labels distinguish between the two, chances are when you buy ground cinnamon here in the US, what you’re ACTUALLY getting is Cassia.   Now I’m curious, I have a grinder of “Saigon Cinnamon chips” and a container of “ground cinnamon”.  It’d be nice to think that my grinder contained real cinnamon and not cassia chips instead.  But who’s to say?

Lets  move away from individual spices and talk for a bit about herb and spice blends.  I SWEAR by some of the spice blends that I get from Penzeys.  I love supporting my local spice guy from home, but since we don’t get up there very often and my brother is conveniently located up the street from one of their stores, I make do (my favorite, btw are their Italian sausage spice mix and Turkish Spice mix – ahem…hint hint brother?).    While I was reading through the different mixes, I recognized a few of the names (Chinese Five Spice Powder, Garam Masala, Herbes de Provence etc., etc.,) and I came across Curry Powder.  Now.  Here is where I get to show my absolute ignorance of the culinary field.  And I hang my head in shame as I say this.

I thought curry powder was ITS OWN INDIVIDUAL SPICE.  So naturally, I did a double take, flipped back through the spice pages and and did not find curry.   I read the description of  “typical ingredients” that included black pepper, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, ginger, mace and tumeric.  But NO CURRY.   I admit.  I stormed into the kitchen and much to the annoyance of my husband, interrupted the brewing process so I could search through my spice cabinet for the last tin of commercial curry that we have (we’ve since bought from the spice guy up in Lancaster).  Sure enough.  “INGREDIENTS:  Coriander seeds, Tumeric, Chillies, Salt, Cumin seeds, Fennel seeds, Black Pepper, Garlic, Ginger, Fenugree, Cinnamon, Cloves, Anise and Mustard. ”

You guys.  Was I the only one who didn’t know this (stop laughing, Nik)?  APPARENTLY curry powder is a European invention that the Brits brought back from their colonial India.  The spice mix was meant to be the complete set of flavors for the ever popular “curry dish”.  There are different types, like mine – the Madras Curry, which is a spicy/hot curry style or the Bombay/Chinese style curry, which is more mild and sweet.

I don’t mind saying it.  My world is UPSIDE DOWN TODAY.    And if I ever questioned why the heck I was doing all of this “self-learning” thing, well….curry powder has reminded me.

Seriously.  Did everyone else know this already?



ps – now I really want some curry.

In this week’s installment of Katie learns to Cook, I read up a bit more on knives and knife skills that are important to know when in the kitchen.  Lets get to it!

As a professional in the cooking world, there are more than a few knives to have in your arsenal, a Chef’s Knife, which your go-to for basic chopping and every day kitchen skills.  I’ve read multiple cookbooks that say, if you’re going to have one knife in your kitchen, this all-purpose knife is the one to have.

Another all-purpose knife is the utility knife, shaped like a chef’s knife, but smaller.

After these two knives, there are task specific knives (does that make sense?).  Boning knives are used to get the meat off of a bone and a paring knife is helpful for doing “detail work” on fruits and veggies.  Personally, I couldn’t live without my paring knife and love it for coring pieces of fruit and cutting celery (I can thank my mama for that one).

You also have knives like the cleaver (commonly seen at the butcher to cut through bones), a slicer, which can be smooth blades for slicing through meats or serrated for slicing through breads and pastries.  We have a few serrated ones and also belong on my list of “can’t live without” knives.

Other little knives like oyster or clam knives are pretty specific to prying open the shells of each.   And of course, its hard to buy a set of knives that don’t include some smaller serrated steak knives.

Its pretty unanimous that if you’re going to spend some money on knives, aim for the best set of knives you can afford.  Maybe that means buying one or two really good all-purpose  knives like a chef’s knife and a utility or paring knife, depending on what you do in the kitchen.   I can’t speak very much to all the different brands of knives, but the chapter is pretty adamant that a good knife starts with a solid and good piece of metal, which has been stamped, cut or forged into the shape of the blade.   Blades are usually made of carbon steel, stainless steel, high-carbon stainless steel or ceramic.  My brother has some ceramic knives and while they’re very much on the expensive side, he swears by them.  I used them once, and was pretty impressed with them, although it was strange to use a knife who’s handle was simply an extension of the blade.  Has anyone else out there ever used a ceramic knife??.

Gripping the Knife

When I first read this chapter, the thought had never occurred to me, to actually sit down and think about how I was holding my knife.  While its best to hold the knife that is safest and most comfortable for you, there are two general suggested ways to hold a chef’s knife, according to this chapter.  While each way involves a nice grip on the handle, one method is to hold the handle with three fingers and grip the base of the blade with your thumb and index finger.  The second method, is to use a four fingered grip on the handle and have your thumb on the front of the handle.   I had always just grabbed the handle whole hog and (shockingly!) never had as good control of the knife’s movement as I would’ve liked.  I’ve found that the first variation of the grip is what really works well for me and has a much better feel for balance.

Controlling the Knife

Here is one thing that I need to work on (cue scary confessions and reader gasps?).  Its not that uncommon if you were to hear me swearing in the kitchen on a nightly basis because my blade some how jumped from whatever it was cutting to a part of my body.  My friends have joked about getting me some chain link gloves for when I’m chopping vegetables and I’ve been known to scare a few people out of the kitchen with my skillz.  Just kidding on the skillz part.    Apparently, the control that I’m lacking is what is key to making beautiful even cuts of vegetables, fruit or meats (and not your finger!).  For this reason, it is especially important to not prep food with old or dull blades.    Its also important to grip whatever it is you’re cutting in a way to guide the knife along its length.  This is the part that scares me, because even though its common practice to keep your fingers out of the way when you’re cutting something, it takes a lot of skill to move quickly on a cutting board in a fluid, accurate and safe way.   Two ways to help with this are how you move your knife through what you’re cooking.  Two common methods:

1.  Place the tip of the knife on your cutting board and holding your (for argument’s sake, we’ll say carrot) carrot, between your first three fingertips and thumb, curled under.   Lifting the back of the knife and using the knuckle of your first finger as a guide, work your way down the vegetable.

2.  Gripping the vegetable the same way as above, instead of a stationary tip/fulcrum motion, slice down and towards yourself, through the vegetable.   For this technique, its important that the wrist does most of the work, not the elbow.

Both techniques use your first knuckle as your guide.  I plan on spending the next week practicing both techniques to see if I can get more comfortable and learn to trust my abilities.

The last part of the chapter was super interesting to me (ok, lets be real, the whole chapter was interesting to me), was the different kind of cuts.  What I thought would be really fun, would be to work on these different kinds of cuts throughout the next week or two also (there are a few) and see how I do.  Here’s a brief list and explanation of each:

Slicing: To cut in relatively thin, broad pieces.  You can do a chiffonade which to shred or slice leafy vegetables/herbs into extremely thin sections.  Rondelles are commonly used as a way to present cylindrical veggies, like carrots, as small rounds (think carrot chips?).  Similar to the rondelles, there are also diagonals where the item is sliced on a bias into ovals instead of rounds.  Some of the more advanced preps may include oblique cuts (two angle-cuts) or lozenges  (small diamond shaped pieces).

Horizontal Slicing: If you’ve ever butterflied a chicken breast, you’ve done a horizontal slice.  This technique can also be used for soft veggies.

Chopping:  This is where you cut your item into smaller pieces.  For chopping it isn’t as important that the pieces are uniform in size.  For that you want…

Dicing:  If you would’ve asked me how many ways there are to dice something, I don’t think I would’ve been able to tell you more than one.  Lucky for us, what appears to be the only difference in these uniformly cut items, is the size of the cut.  Importantly, in order to accurately dice something, it should be first cut into the appropriate sized stick, such as a Juilienne or the slightly larger Batonnet.  From there, you can set to dicing your sized pieces.  From smallest to largest these are:

Brunoise: 1/8 inch x 1/8 inch x 1/8 inch

Small Dice: 1/4 inch x 1/4 inch x 1/4 inch

Medium Dice:  1/2 inch x 1/2 inch x 1/2 inch

Large Dice: 3/4 inch x 3/4 inch x 3/4 inch

Paysanne:  1/2 inch x 1/2 inch x 1/8 inch (these, obviously are more like flat shapes, rather than cubes).

Honestly, I’m not sure how many of us “every day” chefs would sit there and measure out the sizes of the dices as we go.  I’m content to eyeball, but I can imagine culinary school includes a lot of practice at whipping up a pot of largely diced potatoes at the drop of the hat.  Even if I don’t have the exact measurements down, I understand the importance of uniformly cut pieces, in order to ensure even cooking as WELL as control the textures you experience when you eat something.   Do you want one thing to stand out or is your dish more about highlighting a few different ingredients at one time.  If the first, you may want to have that item be the larger of the ingredients, whereas if its the second, cut them all uniform, so you get a nice heaping spoonful of each ingredient in one bite!

Mincing: If you mince something, you’re cutting it into extremely small pieces, and uniform sizing isn’t important. Think, minced garlic or shallots.  MMMMmmm

If yo uwant to get super fancy and fun, especially with presentation, you could try your hand at a toorner which is a football shaped  cut, with seven equal sides and two blunt ends.  I can forsee a lot of destroyed potatoes if I try to practice this one too much…

There are also little parsiennes.  My husband, Brandon, somehow got on the kick of getting each of our good friends melon ballers as wedding gifts.  I don’t know why, nor do I care to understand.  However, These little melon ballers are perfect for creating these parsiennes cuts of uniform spheres.  Little balls of melons for fruit salad?  Tres chic! Veggie garnish or a fun way to make a soup more interesting?  Absolutely!


And that, my friends is a very long explanation of my absolute favorite chapter to date.  Although next week it may be ousted by Chapter 7, the Kitchen Staples!   The important thing for me, is not only knowing this kind of information, but being able to put it to use, so I’m going to spend the next couple of weeks practicing practicing practicing!

Hope everyone enjoys the rest of their Sunday!


Welcome to my third installment of my Katie learns to Cook series.  Last week I walked you through the first half of Chapter 2, where we learned about Food Safety.  For the second part of Chapter 2, we reviewed the general principles of Sanitation.  

First and foremost, a few important vocab words to become familiar with.

cross-contamination: the process whereby one contaminated item ( a finger, a dish, etc), contaminates something else, such as food or another utensil/kitchen tool.  This is a big deal in food prep.

clean:   In the food world, when something is clean it has no visible dirt, grime or the like.

sanitary:  when something is sanitary, not only is it clean, but any harmful substance that may be left behind has been brought to levels that are considered to be safe.

sterilize: the process of erradicating any lovely microorganisms that may or may not cause harm.

HACCP system:  the HACCP system stands for the Hazardous Analysis Critical Control Points system.  This system isn’t anything that’s official, but allows the food prep to walk through the process of obtaining, preparing and serving an item of food and identifying any points along the way (a critical control point ) where mistakes may happen and cause the food to become cross-contaminated.

Clearly, cross contamination is a big deal in this chapter, so lets take a quick look at some of the more common ways CC can occur.

1.  Personal Cleanliness:  Where clothes that fit, don’t wipe your snotty nose and then touch your food.  When you’re washing your handss, be sure to do so in hot running and soapy water, paying special attention to your fingers and nails, rinse and repeat! Clean Clean Clean!

2.  Dish and Equipment Cleanliness:  A lot of no-brainers, that in actuality people tend to not do in their own kitchen.  Don’t wipe something off the floor with a dishtowel and put the dishtowel back on its rod.  If you’re cutting something that could contain microorganisms (read: raw meat), be sure to switch cutting boards and utensils before moving on in your food prep.  Never put cooked food BACK into the container you stored it in when it was raw and always keep raw food below the cooked to avoid cross contamination that way.

3. Pest Management:  Probably one of the grossest of the three, pest management focuses mainly on rodents and insects.  The general rule of thumb, is that if you SEE the pest, then  there’s probably a serious infestation going on and you may want to consider some professional pest management.  Some helpful tips to help with pest management include ideas such as sealing up any and all cracks, especially in your kitchen, don’t leave standing water (cockroaches LOVE this stuff).  One that I never thought of is to store your food off the ground and away from the wall, so as to not tempt any pests with easy access to the goods.  Another rule of thumb is to rotate your stock, using what’s fondly known as the FIFO rule, first in, first out.  If you buy something on Monday, use it before the things that you bought the following Wednesday.

And for today’s gross-tacular lesson of the day? COCKROACHES.  In my first apartment complex, I learned that my cat was quite the cockroach hunter.  She loved to snack on half and thoughtfully left me the other half to do the same (I didn’t).  Cockroaches were one of the major insect pests that this chapter focused on.  And I thought I’d share a few highlights.

These gross buggers really only like to scurry around at night (if you’ve never seen a cockroach move, these guys are FAST and there is no other word than scurry to describe how they move).  Therefore, if you see any in the daylight you better throw in your cards and call the pro’s, because there’s likely a MAJOR infestation going down in your place.

Because they largely move around at night, here are some helpful hints in how to identify a possible infestation.   Cockroaches have a strong residual oily odor, that can be smelled after they’re gone and their feces apparently look a lot like pepper.  Another helpful hint?  Get a cat.  They’re good cockroach hunters.

So that wraps up our chapter on food cleanliness, safety and sanitation.  Some important things to remember are to make sure you take into consideration what kind of food you’re cooking and make an effort to understand the possible ways your food may be contaminated along the way.  From where it comes from, how its handled, cooked and served, there are plenty of places for food to go wrong.  Not to mention the way we take care of our kitchen and personal hygiene.  The fact is, there are a ton of things that aren’t in our control when it comes to keeping our food safe, but happily, there are plenty of things we can  do to try to prevent anything truly harmful from happening.

See you tomorrow for another week!


Happy Monday everyone!  I usually like to take today to recap my weekend and talk about my marathon training (or lack thereof).  And while I do have fun things to tell you about my weekend, will you forgive me if I push that off for just a day and introduce something new?

I’ve mentioned once or twice that I’d really like to learn more about cooking and while I don’t have the time or funds to ship off to culinary school, I do have other resources available to me.  I’ve started to work my way through that cooking textbook I borrowed from my brother and thought it’d be fun if I shared some of the things I learn along the way with you guys!  Ideally, I’d like to post this column of sorts once a week so we can work through the chapters at a decent pace and I was thinking Sundays would be a great day to do it.  Ideally, I’d also post the first post on a Sunday, but the first day of class is always a bit kooky, right? 🙂  Right!  And as an FYI – i’m planning putting together a page specifically for the posts on this column, so they can be easily accessed in the future.  So look for that over here —->

So today is the first installment of it, but pretend it came yesterday.   I don’t want to give anyone the idea that I am certified to or pretending to teach a class on Culinary arts, rather just hoping to share what I learn along the way!  Conversation, suggestions, questions, tips on any of the stuff I bring up would be a lot of fun, for readers, writers and commenters, so chat away down there 🙂

Rather than go through every single thing I’ve learned in each chapter, I think I’ll spend more time highlighting the things that were most interesting to me.  The first chapter, as usual is a lot of background information, setting you up for the things you’ll be learning in the subsequent chapters.  For this “course”, it means learning some culinary history, some vocab and getting a general idea of how a kitchen works.  So here goes!

The chapter focused on some of the main players in the development of restaurants and cuisines.  For instance – did you know that the first restaurant, was sort’ve scandalous?  Until then, guilds would specialize in one particular item (be it baking, soups/stocks, pastries, etc) and that was that.  Until along came a guy named Boulanger, who was the first to open up a restaurant that served a variety of foods that were made on the premises.  The restaurant industry, so to speak, was significantly helped along by the French Revolution, of all things.  That’s because the revolution abolished what was left of the monopolies that the guilds had over cooking and allowed the common folk access to chefs that used to work for the now downsized aristocracy.

Now, we have a whole slew of restaurants that can range from simple eats to grande, classic, nouvelle, new American and even fusion cuisine.   It seems that cuisines started out being pretty intricate and fancy, focusing on the hows and whys of cooking and refined presentations.  With the development of new cuisines such as nouvelle and new American, there started to be more emphasis on the simplicity, freshness of flavors and use of fresh, local produce.  I think one of the most interesting developments is the creation of fusion cuisine, where there’s a combination of ingredients or preparation of a meal from two separate ethnic or regional cuisines.  While I can appreciate all the different types of cuisines, I think I fall under the category of the new cuisines, I like when my meals have simple but delicious flavors, that are created from local ingredients.  And some of my favorite restaurants are Spanish Fusion restaurants.  Yum!

One of my favorite parts about this chapter, was the section that listed all of the different jobs of chefs (aka a brigade) that go into the preparation of our meals, as well as the serving of our meals.  Even though it was fun to learn the French names of chefs who specialize in all of the different components for a meal, I was even more interested in the job titles for those who work in the dining room.  Here’s a list:

The Dining Room Manager – also known as the maitre’d.  This guy/gal we’re all pretty familiar with.  They seat us and at the fancier restaurants, help to develop a menu, train the staff and creates the seating charts.  They’re an “overseer” of sorts.

Wine Steward/Sommelier – if you go to a nicer restaurant, these folks will help you pick out a nice bottle of wine to go along with your meal!

Now here is where it starts to get a little more involved than what I ever thought:

Head waiter – I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen one in action, but these guys are responsible for service in the entire dining room.  In actuality, American service tends to not utilize these, so its pretty rare that we’d see one.

Captains – these guys are responsible for taking your order and doing any on-site prep beside the table.  So if you order a Steak Diane, a homemade ceasar salad or a whole fish, or anything that involves “a production” beside your table, the captain is who you’ll see!

Front Waiters – responsible for serving the food and making sure your table is set for the appropriate course.  I think a combination of the captain and the front waiters are what most folks these days are used to seeing.

Finally, the back waiters – aka the busperson.  Charged with clearing the tables and keeping the water glasses full!

So the next time you go out to eat, keep in mind all the things that people are doing and see if you can pick the different jobs out as they happen!

It was a typical first chapter, but an interesting and enlightening one.  Its amazing to think of all the different jobs that go on behind the scenes.  Even crazier?  To think that we perform almost all of these jobs ourselves in our own kitchen each day! Yikes!

I’ll end with a quote that I thought was particularly relevant to something I was struggling with a few weeks ago.

“A chef should not be inventive, simply for the sake of invention”.