DIY Buzz: Coffee Roasting Class at the Institute of Domestic Technology

I have never been the coffee-aholic, and truth be told I make a terrible pot of coffee — I think it’s a mental block (I can’t whistle or snap either, go figure).  But Big N truly enjoys coffee.  Because he imbibes exactly one cup per day, he wants that cup to be perfect.  And even though I drink at most a half a cup of coffee in the morning, so do I.

I also can’t resist an opportunity to learn a new DIY skill.  So when my friend M turned me onto the coffee roasting class at Altadena’s Institute of Domestic Technology, I was game!  First, a bit about the Institute.  Altadena is becoming the hip place for foodies and DIY-ers to learn food making skills.  Hosted at the Zane Grey Estate, the Institute holds classes on canning, cheesemaking (it is home to about three dozen goats at present whose milk is used for the class), coffee roasting, cocktail crafting, and the next class I intend to sign up for: bacon curing!  (Note to the Westsiders- there is another location at Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills which hosts similar classes).

Cupping Lesson M and I attended the Saturday coffee roasting class, taught by Plow & Gun microroaster Daniel Kent.  First, we experienced a blind sniffing and tasting “cupping” lesson to demonstrate the difference between beans sourced from various countries as well as the difference the degree of roasting (light to dark, aka City to French Roast) can make on a single type of bean.  Armed with our knowledge, we were then taught how to roast in the most simple of DIY gadgets: the Whirly Pop popcorn maker.  With nothing but an aluminum pot and a hand crank, we dumped our beans in our Whirly Pop that was already preheating on the stove, set the timer, started cranking, and then carefully checked as the beans went from yellow to gold to brown, and listened for the first crack (a popping sound) and second cracks (more like Rice Krispies) to determine when to remove our beans from the flame.  Whirly Pop

Once our beans hit the target temperature, we dumped them onto cookie sheets to cool, and then separated the newly roasted beans from the flaky chaff.  All told, the process was extremely simple; the hardest part was turning the hand crank constantly for about 12 minutes.  With a little practice, I have no doubt that I’ll be able to become more consistent with my roast quality (because small variations can result in big screw ups).  We left the class with a bag of our first roast (I roasted my Guatemalen beans to a light City roast) and a bag of green beans to try it again ourselves at home (for which I purchased my own Whirly Pop).

M and I had a great time and I definitely recommend attending a class at the Institute, though you better hurry because apparently word is catching on.   Martha Stewart herself has taken notice in this month’s Living magazine. Martha Stewart Living

One satisfied customer Since the class, I ordered 5 pounds of beans from around the world from trusted green bean sourcer: Sweet Marias.  I’ve been studiously practicing my whirly technique and giving away freshly roasted beans for my fellow coffee lovers to try.  I’m sure I don’t have to convince you that freshly roasted coffee tastes a gazillion times better than the preground stuff that’s been dying a slow death on the grocery store shelf for eight months.  And while I’m still no expert, the feedback on my beans has been pretty good.  Check out this satisfied relative!

Fresh Roasted Beans Oh, and the best part: Whole Foods sells a pound of our former favorite Kenya Grand Cru roasted coffee for $16-20.  I can make a fresher and better cup with Kenya beans purchased from Sweet Marias for about a third the price.  DIY-ers unite!

*first two photos above of the Institute of Domestic Technology courtesy of Heather Bullard

Roast Beast: An Evening at the Wildlife Waystation

Tonight I had the privilege of attending a celebratory dinner for Big N’s company at the Wildlife Waystation in the mountains of the Angeles National Forrest.  What a magical evening it was.

The Waystation takes in exotic animals of all kinds who no longer have homes.  Examples include a grizzly bear who retired from a long career in show business, to tigers whose owners thought it would be cool to have a tiger until it grew up and mauled them, to homeless chimpanzees who found their way to the Waystation after the laboratory that performed experiments on them for years closed down.  Started by Martine Collette in 1976, who still runs the joint and regales her guests with crazy stories while pouring exotic libations, the Waystation is currently home to over 400 animals and runs solely on private donations and volunteer labor.

Montana 2

We started the evening with a tour of the more people friendly animals (and wouldn’t you know it, I only had my crappy iphone with me, forgive the pics).  Meet Montana, the elderly white tiger with arthritis, and Sheba, a 23 year old beauty who came right up to me and met my stare with her kind blue eyes.  We met lions, a grizzly bear, a brown bear, several rowdy Chimpanzees with wicked senses of humor, and even a Liger!  We saw spider monkeys climbing their cages, capuchins chowing down on bananas, wolves playing together in their pack, heard a jet black panther purring (a deep guttural sound), and listened while the lions talked to each other at a volume that could be heard for miles (see video below).  What’s amazing about this place is the animals come right up to you, not more than three feet from you (the minimum safe distance the Waystation likes to enforce, except for the chimps, which require a 20 foot gap to ensure safety from their playful but incredibly accurate water spitting antics).

After our tour we entered a lovely tented area and dined together with the sounds of exotic birds chirping in the distance and buzzing our tent.  For dinner the Waystation served chicken, salmon, and roast beast (beer marinated tri tip), along with garden fresh vegetables, and moist chocolate cake for dessert, all made in Martine’s 1938 cottage on the 160 acre property.

Sheba 2

The Waystation is currently closed to the public (and only hosts special events), but hopes to reopen within the year once they can afford a few Code updates.  Our dinner helped raise needed funds that allow the Waystation to take in any exotic animal in need of love and care.  If you’re looking to spread the wealth, consider adding the Waystation to your list of worthy causes.  You can even sponsor your own animal.

Redondo Beach Fish Market: Fresh Clams

Taking advantage of this fine winter 80 degree weather we’ve been enjoying in LA, Big N, Griffin, and I took a fieldtrip down to the Redondo Beach Pier. I’ve never been before. Griffin loved watching the fisherman fish in vain and giggled at the gigantic pelicans that plant themselves firmly on the pier and dare you to scare them away. Those crazy birds let you walk right up to them and practically pat them on the bill before they move.

My favorite part were the open air fish markets. The markets were bustling with people pigging out on plates piled high with lobster, crabs, oysters, and sea urchin.  The distinct sound of hammers  cracking crab claws (conveniently available for rent) filled the air.

While Big N took Fin for a stroll, I stopped in Quality Seafood to check out the fresh catches.  The counter is nearly a block long, separated into stations where you can order steamed and sauteed fish to eat outside, or where you can buy by the pound to go.  I went a little crazy and bought a few oysters (Kushi and Pacific) that were freshly shucked for Big N and I to shoot on site, as well as two pounds of clams and three pounds of steamed Dungeness crab claws.

Clams Staring at about 10 varieties of clams with wonder, the clam-monger took pity on me and recommended the Manila and the Savory clams, which are smaller but, in his opinion, tastier than the larger varieties available.  Happy with my purchases, which they packed on ice for our trip home, I couldn’t wait to make dinner that night.

And I discovered something awesome.  With a few pantry items I had in my kitchen, plus a loaf of crusty bread, I had a delicious and healthy* clam dinner on the table in about 15 minutes flat (once my clams were cleaned, see note below).  Bonus.  To be perfectly honest, I didn’t taste that much of a difference between our Savory and Manila clams, but they were both tender, juicy, and briney.  The saffron sauce provided a richness that made them special.

See my quick and super easy clam bouillabaise recipe below.  Next time you’re in Redondo, don’t pass up the fish market.  It’s worth a detour.

(And if you’re wondering, we ate the crab for dinner the next night: spicy crab cakes with roasted red pepper aioli, served with creamy parmesan polenta and sauteed asparagus.  Big N ate them too fast to photograph.)

Clam Bouillabaisse

*Clams are packed with iron, which most of us women don’t get enough of these days.  They’re also loaded with other good minerals, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium.  Go clams!

(Since I forgot to take photos of the fish market, doh!, I borrowed a couple from K1sworld).

Quick Clam Bouillabaisse

Serves 2
Prep time 5 minutes
Cook time 10 minutes
Total time 15 minutes
Allergy Shellfish
Meal type Appetizer, Main Dish


  • 2 lb Clams (I prefer smaller clams (Manila, Savory, Littleneck), but your choice)
  • 1 cup Chicken stock
  • 3 cloves Garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon Saffron
  • 4 tablespoons Butter (Unsalted)
  • 1 can Cannellini Beans (Drained and rinsed)
  • 1 handful Parsley (Chopped, Italian/flat-leafed, not the curly kind)


  • 1/2 cup White wine
  • 2 Shallots
  • 1/2 cup Tomatoes (Cherry or grape work best, cut them in half)


You can clean the clams ahead of time by putting them in a large bowl with cold water and a few tablespoons of flour or oatmeal, then stir. Put them in the fridge for 1 hour. The flour causes the clams to spit out any sand in their shells. Give them a quick rinse before using.

Also, make sure all of your clams are still alive. If any shells are open, give them a quick tap. If the clam closes up, it's still alive. If the shell doesn't close after you tap it, it's dead. Discard any dead clams. Also discard any clams that have cracked or broken shells.


Melt butter in large pan with tight fitting lid. Add shallots (if using) and saute until fragrant, then add garlic and saute 1 minute.
2. Add wine (if using), chicken stock, and saffron and simmer 1-2 minutes until saffron colors the cooking liquid.
3. Add tomatoes (if using) and drained/rinsed beans and stir.
4. Add clams and sprinkle with the chopped parsley, quickly cover the pan, and steam them until the clams just open up (about 5 minutes on medium heat). Do not overcook your clams or they'll be tough.
5. Remove from heat, pour into bowl with sauce and serve with crusty bread for dipping.

Candy Japan: Takoyaki “Octopus Balls”

I’m a little behind on reporting, but I know you’re all on pins and needles waiting to see what delectable sweets the folks over at Candy Japan sent me.

Last month’s shipment came with something called “Takoyaki,” which roughly translates to Octopus Balls.  Here’s the package, which came with a brown tray, a few other foil packs, a red plastic pouch with gummies inside, and a tiny spoon.

Takoyaki Candy

Why name a candy after octopus balls? Well, apparently this candy is meant to emulate the popular octopus balls available in fast food joints, as explained in this video:

I’m glad they sent me a how-to video, because the package’s complicated instructions were all in Japanese and I never would have figured it out from the cartoon pictures.  In case this candy pops up at your local Five & Dime, I’ll walk you through how to make it:

First, mix the gummy solution with some water in the handy mixing area with your spoon, included.  Then quickly pour the solution into the molds because it will continue to solidify as it sits.


Add your octopus gummies and cover with more gummy solution to create the ball with the octopus inside.

Octopus gummy

Wait for it to solidify, then add your sauce.


Finally, seaon with your crunchy “fish flakes.”

Fish flakes

Enjoy your Takoyaki Octopus gummy.

Takoyaki Octopus ball gummy

The gelatinous exterior tastes like some non-descript orange fruit flavor and the “octopus” gummy inside tastes more like strawberry.  The green “fish flakes” are like pop rocks.  I have to say this candy was more fun to make than to eat.  I like having to work for my food.  Another fun experience thanks to my mail order friends in Japan.




Grains of the world: Spain and Latin America

In Cuisine Across Cultures class we’ve been touring the world one grain at a time.  Each class we learn about different grains and starches used in the various parts of the world, such as rice, noodles, maize, wheat, potatoes, etc.  Every day we are broken up into groups of four.  There is usually one dish that all of us need to make individually, and another four dishes that we divide up among the four of us.  So we each cook 2 dishes per day, and we help out our team members to prepare their dishes as well.

We’ve been focusing on grains in latin speaking countries.  Here are a few of the dishes we prepared last week.  I think we broke the bank on lard.


Paella: saffron rice with tons of goodies: clams, mussels, squid, shrimp, chicken, sausage

Arepas with shrimp
Arepas: South American corn dough treat filled with spicy shrimp

Sopes three ways

Sopes three ways: corn dough base topped with carnitas, chicken, and poblano peppers with cheese


Pupusas: stuffed corn pancakes with poblano and cheese


Empanadas: more corn cake stuffed with spicy ground beef

And my personal favorite of the bunch: TAMALES- chicken, queso Oaxaca, poblano chile. Tamales are actually pretty easy to make, but they take a while. You need to make your filling, make your masa mixture (masa plus lard, very healthy), spread it out, wrap them, tie them, then steam the tamales for about an hour. After all that work you’re rewarded with soft, creamy, sweet/salty goodness.

I hope you enjoyed our survey of the all mighty corn.  Ole!

Next up: grains in Asia.



Sushi in a day: Blue Fin Tuna Nigiri and Hamachi Toro

In Japan, sushi chefs aren’t born in a day.  Apprentices typically work for five years and spend at least the first two just learning to make rice.  During that time, the apprentice watches and learns before he’s allowed to even pick up a knife.  So the fact that we spent all of a day at LCB learning to cut fish and make sushi rice was kind of a joke.  But we sure had fun.

Making perfect sushi rice is an acquired skill, but mine didn’t come out too bad.  We started with medium short grain rice (in general, the shorter the grain the stickier it is), and washed and dried our rice overnight.  To the pot we added a little salt and sugar, plus a small square of kombu (kelp) for flavoring.  When it was cooked and still hot we placed it in a bamboo hangiri (bowl) to cool it and mix it with a solution of sugar, salt, and rice wine vinegar that was heated to dissolve the sugar.  That’s where the skill comes in; you have to cut the rice with the solution and not break the grains.  My rice came out pretty good.  Not five-years-experience good, but still sticky without being mushy.

For the nigiri we had a beautiful hunk of blue fin tuna and another of yellowtail (hamachi).  Chef Oh Really portioned out the fish and I was smart and fast enough to grab the belly cut from the yellowtail (toro!).  He then taught us how to slice at a bias against the grain.  My first few pieces didn’t come out so well but I got the hang of it after a while.

We had all the fixins: wasabi powder, pickled ginger, soy, sesame seeds, sriracha rooster sauce, and nori.  I made nigiri out of my tuna and hamachi toro, and with my trimmings I made a spicy tuna roll with avocado, carrots, and cucumber.  I topped that off with more slices of tuna, hamachi, and avocado, to create a rainbow roll.  I brought chopsticks, a chopstick rest, and a soy sauce dish from home to complete the look.  My chef was impressed with that one.

Sushi plate

And there you have it.  Give me five more years and maybe I’ll be up to snuff.  But I deserve a pat on the back for my first attempt.  I’ve dined in at least three dozen sushi joints over the years and I’d say my plate would have ranked right near the bottom of the top half.

Next up: more grains from around the world.