Sunday, August 30, 2009

Two Mighty Herbal Teas, Two Not So Mighty

The lovely people at Mighty Leaf Tea are kind enough to keep sending me tea samples. I don't have the heart to tell them that I have to give away most of them. I just keep the herbal ones and give the rest to my neighbor.

My neighbor thanks you, by the way.

So do I, actually. Most of what they send me is excellent, although the last batch wasn't up to their usual standards, I'll admit. In any case, here's the scoop on what's been brewing in my tea pot, of late.

Organic Detox Infusion
I was nervous at first, trying this out. A detoxing tea? Medicine traditionally tastes bad, right? I was wrong. This is nothing short of true relaxation in cup. I'm not kidding. This naturally sweet tea has a clean, refreshing flavor. I don't know if it's actually detoxifying, but it's certainly intoxicating.

5 zucchinis

Coco Chai
When I first saw the name of this Rooibos based tea, I thought. Chocolate tea? Okay. I'll give it a try. I should have checked the spelling, first. This isn't chocolate tea. This is coconut tea, but it takes coconut to a new level. The creaminess of the coconut mixes with the fruitiness of the rooibos and the spice of ginger and cinnamon, delivering a fresh, exotic flavor experience.

4 zucchinis

Rooibos Renewal
It seems that I'm in the minority when compared to the reviews of this tea I've seen at Mighty Leaf's site. I wasn't all that impressed. It has a great green rooibos base, but they lost me with the other ingredients. Each one seems like a winner, rose hips, orange peel ... but for me it was just okay. Certainly not something I'll go after when they make so many other more excellent teas.

Is there anyway I can convince the people at Mighty Leaf to offer the green rooibos by itself, like you do the red? Please?

3 zucchinis

Spirulina Stamina
There's a lot going on in this herbal blend, but none of it impressed me. For some reason I could never make a cup with consistent flavor. It wasn't terrible mind you, and I did finish off the sample, but I can't recommend it. It's actually the first of the Mighty Leaf teas that I preferred having honey with. The others are quite nice on their own. Again, I find myself in the minority when it comes to the reviews at Mighty Leaf

2 zucchinis

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Kitchen Equipment – Measuring Tools

Never underestimate the need for accurate measurements in cooking. This can be especially true when baking. Liquid and dry ingredients are mostly measured by volume, although sometimes a recipe calls for measurement by weight.

Buying good measuring equipment for the kitchen is always a good investment. When baking pies, breads, or cakes, accuracy is very important if you want good results. Some measurement tests I've read have found vast differences in accuracy at times, so don't skimp.

Liquid Measuring Cup
Large cups are a lot more versatile than smaller ones. I like the two and four cup Pyrex models, but plastic will do. Some say that plastic is longer lasting and safer, but I've not found that to be true. I recently threw away some plastic ones I had when the bottoms cracked. Try and get one with both Standard (US) and Metric units.

Measuring Cups
Smaller measuring cups are fine for dry ingredients, and will work fine for smaller liquid measures. The base measure is the 8 ounce cup (250 ml). You'll want cups in 1, 1/2, 1/3, and 1/4 sizes at a minimum. I like metal ones, but plastic ones are okay, too. Measure all ingredients level with the top of the cup, or some other mark. Sliding the back of a table knife across the top is an old trick that can help remove the excess.

Measuring Spoons
Teaspoons and tablespoon measurements should be done so the ingredients are level with the top of the spoon, just like the larger measuring cups. Metal or plastic sets are fine, but don't use the silverware you put on your table and eat with. It's just not accurate.

Kitchen Scale
I actually don't have a set of these, but I'm beginning to wish I did. They can be useful for weighing meat portions, as well as fruits and vegetables when canning. Professional bakers use them because it takes into account the current moisture content in the flour, where measuring cups do not. I've been told that balance scales are the most accurate, but I'm not sure I believe it. The scales I used in college chemistry were digital and insanely accurate. In any case, when I eventually buy a scale, I think I'll go for a good digital one.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

How to Make Gazpacho

On hot summer nights, it's nice to have something cool and refreshing for dinner. Why not take advantage of the full swing of late summer vegetables and make gazpacho?

Gazpacho is the best known of Span's chilled soups, and is made best with fresh summer vegetables, blended with olive oil, vinegar and bread. It is a smooth and creamy soup, although there is no milk or cream. It makes a great soup course, or appetizer, but works equally well as the main course for a simple dinner.

Gazpacho takes no more than about ten minutes or prep time, and should be chilled in the refrigerator for about twenty or thirty more minutes. The quick preparation makes it perfect for a weeknight meal.

Although baguettes are specified in the recipe, any white bread will do. Adding a dash of red pepper flakes will make the dish more colorful and add a bit of spice, if desired.

Equipment Needed
Blender or Food Processor
Cutting Board
Kitchen knife
Measuring spoons
Large strainer
Mixing bowls
Rubber spatula
Plastic wrap
Vegetable peeler

4 baguette slices, 1 /2” thick
2/3 cup water
6 small ripe tomatoes (or 5 medium ones)
1/2 green pepper
1 1/2” length of cucumber
1/3 small onion
1 small garlic clove (or 3/4 medium garlic clove)
3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
salt (as needed)
ground black pepper (to taste)
additional extra virgin olive oil to finish

Cut the baguette slices into 3/4 inch pieces and put in a large mixing bowl. Add the water and let them soak while preparing the other ingredients.

Remove the stems from the tomatoes, the seeds and stem from the pepper. Peel the onion, cucumber, and garlic clove. Cut each vegetable into 3/4 inch pieces and add to the bowl with the bread.

Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of white-wine vinegar, a pinch of salt and ground pepper, and mix well.

Put the vegetable mixture into a blender of food processor. Blend the ingredients until smooth and creamy.

Don't over fill your blender. It's okay to do this in batches.

Place the sieve over a clean bowl (rinsing and wiping cleaning the bowl you just used will be fine) and pour in the mixture. Strain the mixture through the sieve using a rubber spatula to push the liquid through. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.

Cover the bowl in plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled (about thirty minutes).

Transfer the soup to individual serving bowls and drizzle some olive oil over the top. Serve with additional baguette slices, or better yet, bruschetta, as desired.

Makes 6 servings.

You don't have to strain the soup through a sieve if you don't want. I don't mind the occasional tiny piece of tomato or cucumber seeds and skin. If I were serving this for an elegant dinner party, I would do it, though. What you may want to do is scrape the leavings out of the sieve, add a bit of salt, pepper and olive oil, and have a quick treat yourself, as a reward for making dinner. There's a lot of flavor in those bits!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Non Alcoholic Drink Recipes – Grapefruit Revival

Non Alcoholic Drink Recipes – Grapefruit RevivalSome neighbors have gifted us with a lot of grapefruit juice. A lot. The wife bought it for food storage only to discover than her husband hated grapefruit juice. I like grapefruit juice so I was happy to accept it.

But what am I supposed to do with it all? A glass of grapefruit juice, straight up, get's pretty boring after a while. The constant acidity isn't too good for my acid reflux, either. So I started mixing it with various things just to see how it would turn out. One morning as my teenage daughter was finally dragging herself out of bed around noon, inspiration struck. My work have finally paid off. The flavor is bright and creamy with a slightly bitter citrus edge. I like it.

If you don't drink anything with caffienne, and many Mormons don't, you'll need to find some kind of substitute. I suspect that a lemon-lime soda would work well (I like 7-Up), or maybe Fresca, if you're in a diet mode. I've not tried either one this way, so you're on your own.

After consulting with the rest of the family we decided to call it “Grapefruit Revival.” I'm not sure I'm happy with the name but I can't think of anything better. If you can think of a better name, leave it in the comments. If I like it, I'll use it.

Equipment needed
One glass per serving
Spoon for stirring

(This is a minimalist drink.)

grapefruit juice (fresh or canned, pink Texas is best)
lime juice
vanilla extract
kosher salt
ice cubes
Mountain Dew

Fill the glass about 1/3 of the way with grapefruit juice. Add a splash of lime juice and a splash of vanilla extract (about 1/2 teaspoon each) and a pinch of kosher salt. Stir with the spoon to dissolve. Add a few ice cubes. Fill the rest of the way with Mountain Dew and give it one more stir. Enjoy!

The lime juice and kosher salt work to reduce the bitterness of the grapefruit juice. Lime juice is less acidic, so it acts as a buffer between the grapefruit juice and the soda pop. Salt interferes with bitter taste receptors on the tongue. Kosher salt is less strong in taste than other kinds of salt, so if you use something else, I can't guarantee you'll get good results. You don't want to taste the salt.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Pepper – the King of Spices

Black pepper is nearly as common in cooking today as salt is. At one time, it was so rare a commodity that peppercorns were actually used as currency. While it can be found in Thailand and Malaysia, it's main roots are in the Malabar coastal region of India. It is the oldest spice known, and the most widely used.

Prior to the 1800's, pepper was a luxury item, only affordable to the royalty and the upper classes. Acquiring it was a major force behind the spice trade. Many a fortune was won and lost on this “black gold.”

There are several varieties of pepper and most come from the Piper nigrum. Don't confuse this with cayenne pepper, though. They aren't related. Cayenne comes from chili peppers, not the fruit of the Piper nigrum. Their heat sources differ as well. Cayenne gets its heat from capsicum, while peppercorns get their heat from piperine.

While pre-ground black pepper is available, I recommend getting a decent pepper mill and buying the pepper corns. There are two good reasons that Mormons, especially, should consider this. First, the flavor is much better. Second, like all spices, peppercorns will remain tasty in food storage much longer than ground pepper will. As ground pepper ages, I find it can take on an unpleasant mustiness.

Black Peppercorns
These come from the not-quite-ripe berries of the Piper nigrum vine. After they've reached full size, they are picked and dried in the sun. Enzymes in the berries cause the skin to turn black during the drying process. It has the strongest in flavor of all peppercorns, and is my favorite.

White Peppercorns
These are fully mature, red, ripened berries. After harvesting, the outer skin is rubbed off to expose the smooth layer underneath, and then dried and bleached by the sun. They are slightly milder than black pepper and are favored in white sauces because they don't speckle the food.

I use black peppercorns almost exclusively. I appreciate the flavor and don't have a problem with speckled food.

Green Peppercorns
This variety is picked at the same time as black peppercorns, but they aren't allowed to dry. Instead, they are pickled in a vinegar or brine solution. You can find them freeze-dried and dehydrated, but the dehydrated ones have more flavor. The flavor and heat are less pronounced than black peppercorns and they are the least pungent.

Red Peppercorns
This is a mature peppercorn that still has it's outer skin. They are is often difficult to find outside of gourmet shops, and can be very expensive. They are pungent like a black peppercorn, with a slight sweetness.

Pink Peppercorns
These are actually unrelated to the black peppercorn. They come from the Baies rose plant and are imported from Madagascar. As a result, they are rather expensive. They are pungent and slightly sweet, but don't have nearly the amount of flavor.

Pink Berries
Often called pink peppercorns, which they are not, they aren't related to the black peppercorn or the Baies rose plant. Instead, it's the seed of a plant known as either the Brazilian pepper tree, Christmas berry, or Florida holly, even though it's considered a scourge in that state. I've been told the flavor is more like sweet menthol, but I refuse to eat them. They can cause severe allergic reactions, especially in children, and are toxic when eaten in large quantities. Avoid these.

Mixed Peppercorns
In many gourmet shops you will find a blend of black, white, green, red, and pink peppercorns under the name of a “five pepper blend.” They are used mostly as a condiment or sprinkled on before serving as much for their decorative quality as their flavor.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Free Recipe - How to Make Chinese Cabbage Salad

What' s this? Two green salad recipes in a row? Well ... yeah. I like green salads. This one doesn't feature lettuce, though. It's built on a base of tender Chinese cabbage.

There are several varieties of Chinese cabbage, but this salad is based on wom bak, more commonly known as napa cabbage. Chinese cabbage is wonderfully tender and is the main ingredient in kimchi. It's also a good source of carotene, vitamin A and vitamin C. In spite of being good for you, Chinese cabbage is really tasty, and I think you'll enjoy this salad. I love it's simplicity and bright flavors.

I also happen to think it looks pretty.

Equipment needed
Cutting board
Kitchen knife
Measuring spoons
Mixing bowls
Large strainer (sieve)

6 Chinese cabbage (napa) leaves*
1/2 cup corn kernels
3 Roma tomatoes**
3 or 4 chives
6 lemon wedges

for the dressing
6 tablespoons black-rice vinegar***
2 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
salt, as required

Fill the mixing bowl with plenty of water and a few ice cubes. Cut the Chinese cabbage leave crosswise into thin slices. Don't use the outermost leaves. They're too firm for a salad and are best saved for soups. Soak the sliced cabbage in the bowl of ice water for a minute or two to crisp it up. Don't soak it too long, or you will spoil the flavor. Drain the water off, using a strainer.

Remove the stems from the tomatoes, and cut them into wedges, lengthwise.** Cut the chives into 2 inch lengths.

If using fresh corn from your garden, remove it from the cob and blanch it. Frozen corn should be thawed and blanched, as well. Canned corn can be used (gotta cycle that food storage, somehow), but you'll want to rinse and drain it thoroughly.

Now that everything else is prepared for assembly, let's make the dressing. Put the vinegar, sugar, and a pinch of salt into a small bowl. Add the sesame oil and whisk the ingredients together, thoroughly. Taste and add more salt, if needed.

Arrange the Chinese cabbage, tomatoes, corn, and chives (in that order) on individual plates. Garnish with a lemon wedge. Drizzle on the dressing, about 1 tablespoon or so per salad, and serve.

*You can substitute lettuce or regular cabbage for the Chinese cabbage, if you want to, but I don't recommend it. There's just something wonderful about this tender, sweet, leafy vegetable.

**Cherry tomatoes are often used, cut in half, for this recipe. Roma tomatoes are less expensive and have a more meaty texture, so I normally use them, instead.

***Black-rice vinegar can be hard to find outside of a few specialty shops. If you can't find Black-rice vinegar where you live, use balsamic vinegar, just leave out the sugar. Balsamic vinegar is sweet enough on it's own without it.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Free Recipe - How to Make Salad Nichoise

With August beginning, harvest time in our garden's will start to enter, full swing. What can we do to start using some that bounty and use up the last of the spring greens? Why not turn to the south of France and make Salad Nichoise?

Equipment Needed
Measuring Cups
Measuring Spoons
Cutting Board
Chef's Knife
Mixing Bowls
Slotted Spoon
Large colander or Large Sieve
6 Serving bowls

1 medium potato
3 boiled eggs
30 green beans (or a 12 oz. can, if you don't have fresh)
1 small green bell pepper
2 small tomatoes
12 lettuce leaves
6 oz. canned tuna
12 anchovy fillets (optional)
18 pitted black olives (kalamata are my favorite)
salt (as required)

for the dressing
4 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup light olive oil
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper (to taste)


Drain the tuna, and place into a small bowl. Cover with milk and let soak while the rest of the preparations are made. Soaking the canned tuna in milk will remove the unpleasant “fishiness” so common with canned tuna.

If using fresh green beans, cut the ends off the green beans, and then cut them in small pieces, about 1 inch long. Prepare an ice bath by putting ice water into a large bowl. If using canned beans, drain the beans in a colander and rinse with cold water. Drain thoroughly.

Peel the potato in a bowl and cover with water to keep it from browning.

Fill a saucepan with water and bring it to a boil.

If using fresh green beans, add the beans and boil for about two minutes, until they have a bright green color. Using a slotted spoon, remove the green beans from the boiling water and transfer to the ice bath. Turn off the heat, but do not drain the water . We'll use this same water to cook potato. Remove the beans from the ice water and drain thoroughly.

Put the potato in water. Add additional hot water if you need to, to cover the potato. Return the water to a boil on hight heat, and then reduce heat to a simmer, about medium low. Boil the potato for a bout 15 to 20 minutes, until soft enough that you can easily insert a fork. Do not overcook or the potato will fall apart! Using a slotted spoon, remove the potato, draining off the water. Allow the potato to cool enough to handle. Cut in half, lengthwise, and then into 1/2-inch wide half-moon slices.

Cut the green pepper in half lengthwise. Remove the stem and seeds from the green pepper. Cut into thin strips, about 1/4-inch wide, across the pepper this time.

Remove the stem from the tomatoes and cut into 1/2-inch wedges.

Peel to boiled eggs and cut into 1/4-inch round slices.

Clean and rinse the lettuce and tear into small pieces.

Drain the milk from the tuna.

To make the dressing

Add a dash of salt and a dash of ground pepper to a bowl. Add the mustard and mix together. Whisk in the red wine vinegar. Slowly add the olive oil, whisking at you do, to create an emulsion. Repeat with the extra virgin olive oil.

To assemble the salad

Mentally divide each ingredient into 6 equal parts. You're going to assemble each serving into it's own bowl.

First, arrange the lettuce in the bowls. Add the potatoes and green peppers. Arrange the boiled egg and green beans attractively in the bowl. Put the tomatoes and anchovies (if using) on top and sprinkle of a few of the olives. Drizzle some of the dressing over the salad and serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings.

*Sieve Trick: If you have a large enough saucepan, you can put the beans into the sieve, and then put the sieve into the hot water, submerging the beans. It's the same process as deep-frying without the oil. Then, when the beans are done, you just pull out the sieve with the green beans still in it, let it drain a bit, and the immediately plunge the sieve into the ice water bath. This way, you don't have to fish around with a slotted spoon to get all the green beans.