Astra Espresso Machines Combine Classic Style with Practical Design

Astra Espresso MachinesAstra’s line of commercial espresso machines combine a classic European look with durable American-made construction.  If you are paying attention, you’ll see these machines operating at restaurants and coffee shops, often having continued to operate for decades.  Astra makes their machines in California, and we can help you customize one with options including modifying the tamping setup, color, voltage, and group and steam wand configuration.

Astra Mega II Semi-Automatic

The standard models have a self-tamping brewing mechanism, a quiet internal motor with a rotary-vane Procon pump, a vacuum valve to prevent milk from entering the steam boiler, and an automatic shut-off if water does not reach the machine.  They also have microprocessor-controlled diagnostics, and automatic models can be programmed to automatically produce your desired amount of espresso.

Astra DBS

In addition to full-size commercial espresso machines for busy coffee shops, Astra makes smaller machines for the home or office using the same commercial quality components as their commercial workhorses.  If you’re looking for a real heavy-duty espresso machine for the office, Astra’s Pro or DBS models are a great choice.

These machines use American parts, many of which can be found at local hardware stores, which is helpful if repair is ever needed.  If service or installation is required, Astra has repair technicians available and can arrange service on your machine in most parts of the country.

If you are new to shopping for espresso machines, you may encounter some terms you are not familiar with.  Here are a few explanations of some of the espresso-lingo:

Semi-automatic: semi-automatic machines have a button/switch that starts the water flowing to make the espresso.

Automatic: automatic machines can be programmed to dispense predetermined amounts of espresso when activated.

Portafilter – this is the thing with the handle that you put espresso grounds into.  It’s a portable-filter, hence the name.

Tamping / Self-tamping – tamping is basically packing or compressing the coffee grounds into the portafilter so espresso flows through a properly compressed puck-shaped portion of espresso grounds.  Astra’s machines come standard with a self-tamping mechanism that compresses the grounds for you.  Otherwise, you can configure the machine such that you do the tamping using a tamper, which is just a somewhat puck-shaped device you press onto the grounds before attaching the portafilter to the group.

Group or Group Head – this is what you attach the portafilter to so water will flow through the espresso grounds.  It’s where the espresso making gets done.  Machines may have multiple groups.

Steam Wand – the steam wand sprays pressurized steam for frothing milk for cappuccinos and lattes.  Machines may have multiple steam wands too.

Hot water tap – when you just want hot water, you use this tap.

We like Astra’s machines, we know the company and its president, and we can help you order the right machine for your business at a great price.  Contact us with questions,

Rick@AKitchen

Rethinking Water – Enhanced Water Service at Restaurants and Cafes

restaurant water serviceWater service is an integral part of food service, and these days, the best way to provide water for customers is being re-thought in restaurants and other public spaces. Customers in general are less interested in disposable bottles of water, and in restaurants and cafes, an enhanced water offering other than straight-out-of-the-tap water or bottled water is something customers notice and appreciate.  New water delivery systems are showing up to deliver high quality drinking water with a stylish and modern approach. These systems help improve on water service by allowing you to deliver filtered, chilled tap water in an efficient, if not elegant manner.  For restaurants, coffee lounges, wine bars, and cafes looking to improve their water service, the Blupura systems are here.  These water dispensers are made and designed in Italy, and turn your tap water into an enhanced, stylish offering. They can include filtration to improve the taste of water, cooling capability to chill the water, and they make sparkling carbonated water too, so you can provide the additional perk of serving bubbly water from an elegant tap.

The Elkay / Blupura water dispensers are designed and built in Italy, and provide sparkling, chilled, filtered water.

As an enhancement to a cafe environment, we’ve seen the Blupura style water dispensers set up in self-service stations at markets, delis, and counter-service restaurants. With this setup, customers can help themselves to carafes of high quality sparkling or chilled still water while enjoying their lunch. It’s a nice touch, and while giving up the profits from sparkling water sales, the overall enhancement to the customer experience is noticeable, and the offering likely pays off in terms of return visits.

The Blupura Carbonation Chiller

In a fine dining setting, the ability to allow customers to specify whether they would like sparkling or still water is another subtle and elegant enhancement to the dining experience. In food service, the details matter, and water is just part of the game. The Blupura carbonation chiller mounts under the counter or bar, along with a filter and CO2 tank, to turn your tap water into a premium offering.

EZH2O Water Bottle Fillers

This transformation is happening elsewhere beyond restaurants and bars too.  People are becoming inclined to avoid the wastefulness of disposable bottled water, preferring to carry their own water bottles. In places like golf clubhouses, markets, lodges, recreation centers, tennis clubs, and other mixed service environments, this presents a need to provide a way for customers to fill their own containers with water. Nobody wants to use a bathroom sink, and filling a container with the old standard water fountain is difficult. The new EZH2O systems allow customers to easily fill their water bottles, helping to reduce wasted water and the use of disposable bottles.

Take a look at the Blupura and EZH2O systems to see how they might fit into your establishment.   Rick@ABestKitchen

Merchandising with True’s Smaller T-12 Refrigerators and Freezers

When space is an issue, or you just want a lower-profile, smaller glass-door refrigeration display, take a look at True’s T-12-LD Refrigerators Merchandisers (also available as freezers).  From the website and catalog pictures, you might not pick up that these units are smaller, at only just over 5 feet tall, and just over 25 inches wide.  Compared to the larger, taller glass door coolers, these units are quaint and provide additional merchandising capability on top or above.  Markets, delis, restaurants and coffee shops seeking smaller refrigerators for self-service can benefit from these 5 foot high glass door refrigerators.  The T models add a stainless steel front for additional appearance enhancements too.

Another thing you may not be aware of is that we can put you in contact with True Manufacturing’s art and graphics department, and they will work with you to add custom graphics to your refrigerators.  In the case of Market 28 shown below, the addition of a custom logo graphic adds some style and branding to this specialty foods store.  Custom graphics are available for all True models, and many of our other manufacturers of merchandisers also offer customized graphics solutions.  Contact us and we’ll help you add graphics to your refrigeration order.

Zeroll – The Original Ice Cream Scoop

Zeroll Ice Cream Scoop

The Zeroll ice cream scoop is considered an original if not the original ice cream scoop.  It has not changed much at all since it was introduced in the 1930s.  This scoop’s handle is filled with a fluid to conduct heat from your hand into the scoop in order to slightly melt the ice cream as you dip, so the scoop slices through the ice cream creating a nice smooth ball that easily slips onto a cone or into a dish.

This scoop is also more cost effective than other models because as the ice cream forms a ball, it is not compressed so it appears larger because it is somewhat hollow.  If you’re just wanting a lighter portion or if you’re aiming for higher profits and easy scooping, the Zeroll is your answer.

Another nice thing about this scoop is it has no levers, springs, or extra parts, so it is easy to clean.  Plus there is no need for the lever/spring action, so it works equally well left or right handed.

Yet another nice thing about the Zeroll is that is was invented in Ohio and is still made in the U.S.A.  We stock this scoop, so you can order the original ice cream scoop from the original online kitchen company – ABestKitchen.  Get the Zeroll here.

zeroll scoop technique

Cool Chef Clothing for Hot Summer Days and Nights

cw-vseriesLook cool and feel cool in Chef Works professional clothing with summer style. Chef Works Cool Vent baggy pants and Cool Vent chef coats wick moisture and are breathable and provide ventilation to keep you looking and feeling good in the kitchen.

This new line includes comfortable fitting pants, coats, and hats that will keep you cool in the kitchen and looking good too.  Coats feature Cool-Vent slits in the back, side, and/or underarm for added breathability on hot summer days and night.  Pants also incorporate the Cool-Vent inserts for breezy ventilation.  We are carrying lots of styles from Chef Works catalog, and can special order for you if you are looking for something in particular.  Stay cool this summer – abestkitchen@AKitchen

Serve Beer Colder than Ice with Beer Frosters

Beer Frosters

Beer Frosters

Cold beer is a truly valuable selling point that customers pay attention to. Some people will even give extra praise when beer is nice and cold. If you want to serve your customers the coldest beer possible at your restaurant or bar, some standard service methods include freezing your mugs or pint glasses, keeping bottled beer on ice, and chilled draught lines. If you chill it too cold, beer will freeze. Putting beer on ice will chill it to 32 to 33 degrees Fahrenheit, and a refrigerator will come close to 32 degrees as well, but have you considered that because beer contains alcohol, it can be chilled below the freezing point of water? Enter the beer froster.

Beer frosters are designed to keep beer at 23 degrees – well below the freezing point of water, but not quite cold enough to freeze the beer. Any water condensation on the beer bottles will freeze, putting a nice frosty finish on the bottles. With Fogel’s beer frosters, you can truly serve the coldest beer possible.

Fogel’s frosters are available in horizontal models for underbar use and vertical units with glass doors for merchandising.  With these coolers, you’ll most likely want to rotate the beers regularly to ensure bottles or cans at the bottom of the units are not freezing.  That said, customers might be drinking those frosty beers at a fast enough rate to prevent that from happening!

Check them out here: Beer Frosters

Here’s to a great summer with beer that is colder than ice –

Rick@AKitchen

Juice, Juicers, and Juicing

As this is being written, it’s February.  Pretty much the entire country under a the veil of winter.  In fact, the entire continental U.S. is blue on the weather map.  But in 6 months, it will be a balmy summer day in August.  Grills will be lit, lawns mowed, it will be warm, sunny and the mood will be right for juice.  So let’s take a little vacation from the cold and talk about summer, juice, and juicers.

The Original Lemon Squeezer

Amco Lemon Squeezer

Amco Lime Squeezer

Bar Fruit Squeezer

Cocktail Lemon / Lime Squeezer

Small Juicers

An amusing lemonade, a refreshing margarita, or a quick drizzle of citrus calls for Amco’s original hand juicer or one of these other small handheld squeezers. Commonplace at any bar, and not to be confused with lesser quality imitation models, Amco’s lemon and lime squeezers are built to last and will keep us cool on this vacation.  So give your hands a rest and get one of these affordable juicing tools.

Nemco Easy Juicer

Nemco Easy Juicer

Zeus Commercial Citrus Juicer

Zeus Juicer

Titan Manual Heavy Duty Juicer

Titan

Larger Juicers

OK.  Now, on our vacation, the kids are operating a lemonade stand, there’s a barbecue, the neighborhood friends are outside relaxing, and it’s starting to feel like a little block party.  We need some more serious juicing. Cue the heavier duty stand up juicers. Our favorites are the Zeus and the Titan – these heavy duty models can really press. The Zeus can even do pomegranates. They are sturdy and attractive, and will support a hefty lemonade operation and more. For the price, you will not find a better manual juicer than the Titan or Zeus.

Uniworld Commercial Electric Citrus Juicer UJC-N50

Commercial Juicers

Commercial Juicers

It’s been a great summer.  We’ve had so much success juicing lately that we’ve decided to incorporate juice into a larger operation. We need some juice power to generate profits. The Uniworld UJC-N50 Commercial 1/4 HP Electric Juicer devours citrus. It’s a heavy 33 lbs in weight and it’s quiet motor is designed for years of daily use. Slice some oranges, grapefruits, and lemons and extract juiciness. You can find it and more models here: Commercial Juicers.

Enjoy,

Rick@AKitchen

P.S. – don’t forget the little umbrellas.

Cocktail Parasols - One Gross

Cocktail Umbrellas

Crepe Season

Crepes CookingIt’s always crepe season, and there’s never a bad time of day for crepes. For breakfast, lunch and dinner, in winter or summer, a crepe is always good. Hearty, savory crepes with meat and cheese on a cold day, fruit filled crepes on a sunny day in spring, chocolate crepes for dessert, mmmm.

Crepes are easy and fast to make, which makes them well-suited as healthy additions to menus at concessions, coffee shops, and fast-food stops. As a dessert, your find crepes at fine dining restaurants too. And at home, they are a fast, fun, and easy-to-make treat. Since it’s always a good time to make them, here are some instructions and helpful equipment for making crepes.

On Cutting Boards – Plastic vs. Wood? You May Be Surprised

Maple Top Work Table

A wood cutting surface, NSF approved for commercial restaurant use

Wood Vs. Plastic Cutting Boards

Food Safety

Various styles of cutting boards and butcher blocks are used judiciously in kitchens and restaurants everywhere.  Avoiding contamination by using separate cutting boards for various food types, washing boards with hot soap and water between cutting jobs, and using the right board type are basic concepts in every kitchen.  There seems to be some debate, however, over what type of board material is best.  Many people believe that wood is unsafe, and plastic is more sanitary.  But why then, would butcher blocks and wood cutting surfaces be used in restaurants and commercial kitchens everywhere?  And why would wood surfaces be approved by NSF and health departments if they are unsafe?  It turns out, when it comes to preventing growth of bacteria, wood is superior to plastic cutting surfaces.

A somewhat recent study at UC Davis was surprised to find out about wood’s superiority after they set out to design a way to disinfect wood so it would be as safe as plastic.  They soon determined that on wood surfaces, bacteria such as Salmonella quickly disappeared from the cutting board surfaces, even surfaces that had many knife cuts.  Plastic, however, especially plastic with grooves from knife use, tended to harbor the bacteria over time.  It seems that on wood surfaces, the bacteria are kept away from the cutting surface because they are absorbed by the wood, where they eventually die.  Plastic allows any bacteria to live for some time on the surface, and knife cuts in plastic can harbor the bacteria for some time.  Check out the study here:

http://faculty.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/faculty/docliver/Research/cuttingboard.htm

That doesn’t mean plastic does not have it’s place – it does somewhat dispel, however, the common household belief that plastic boards should be used for meat and fish rather than wooden boards.  And, of course, proper washing and taking steps to avoid cross contamination should be practiced with any board surface.

Other Wood Benefits

Wood boards and butcher blocks can last a lifetime.  The cutting surface of a wood board can be maintained and treated with products such as John Boos Mystery Oil to keep the block looking like new and prevent drying & cracking. If needed, a thick board can also be sanded down to remove knife scars and other flaws. A thick board, if taken care of, can last decades, if not a century or more.

Wood cutting surfaces are better for your cutlery.  If you’ve invested in some nice kitchen cutlery, you’ll want to maintain the blades.  Often, dulling of knives is actually caused by the blade folding, ever so slightly at the knife edge due to impact while chopping.  The surface of wooden cutting boards is less inclined to cause this knife damage than hard plastics and other materials.

Wood boards and blocks are attractive.  A good block or board looks good and adds character to a kitchen.  In addition to cutting boards, check out our selection of maple top tables and butcher block tables for some beautiful and functional blocks.

Wood Board Types

End Grain Board

End Grain Cutting Board

End Grain boards are the constructed by binding the wood sections vertically so that the “end” of the cut pieces make up the cutting surface.  This results in a board that is superior in its ability to resist and hide knife cuts as well as being attractive.  Because the grain is on-end, it allows knives to penetrate somewhat, making it a more forgiving surface that is easier on your cutlery.  Your knives will stay sharp longer with this type of board.

Boos Edge Grain Cutting Board

Edge Grain Cutting Board

Edge Grain boards use the long-end of the block pieces to make the cutting surface.  This results in an attractive and sanitary board as well, while being easier to manufacture and therefore somewhat more economical.  An edge-grain board, however, will dull knives somewhat more quickly than an end-grain surface, and it will show more knife marks over time.  Don’t worry, that doesn’t stop chefs and professionals like Rachael Ray from using them.  Edge-grain cutting boards and blocks are practical, high in quality, and perfectly suitable for any kitchen – commercial or residential.

Rick@AKitchen

Spice Up Your Day (Or Night) With Candy Apples

 

Candy Apples

Yummy

It’s a cool Autumn evening, the perfect time to make some candy apples.  At ABestKitchen, besides all the big equipment and awesome kitchen supplies, we have some fun products, including candy apple dip and sticks.

I would suggest starting with the two dip varieties, then adding toppings and possibly a double-dip into some other gooey treat.  And why stop with nuts?  I am thinking of multiple options for dips and toppings at my candy apple party:

Crushed Oreos

Melted chocolate sprinkled with sea salt

The Caramel Apple Dip with Cocoa Pebbles

Melted chocolate sprinkled with crushed potato chips

The caramel dip rolled in M&Ms

Some version sprinkled with cinnamon, not sure yet

Caramel & popcorn

Any other ideas?  Leave a comment and let me know.  Also, one tidbit I picked up is to not use the coated apples from the store.  Try to get uncoated ones or buy directly from the farm – the candy sticks better without the coating.

Rick@AKitchen