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Just finished reading How It All Began: A Novelby Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant (she arrived after the birth, actually). Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of middle-aged high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, and wealthy) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Beverages, on August 27th, 2012.

agave_meyer_lemonade

Some weeks ago we attended a very special dinner. Reading Cheryl Sternman Rule’s blog, 5 second rule, I saw that Cheryl was going to visit our neck of the woods here in Southern California and would be cooking a dinner for up to 20 lucky people with help from a charming couple, Kim and Barry, who opened their home to host the dinner. Cheryl’s blog is a favorite of mine, and I’ve featured a couple of her recipes here in the past. She’s a professional food writer and developer; she’s also a wife and mother of two sons. And, she’s just published a cookbook (with an amazing photographer, Pauline Phlipot – and no, that’s not a typo – her name is spelled that way) called  Ripe: A Fresh, Colorful Approach to Fruits and Vegetables.

When I clicked on the link to enquire about the dinner, I discovered that the hostess lived very near us. Wow, that made it even more enticing. Quick-like, I signed up (and paid for the dinner, obviously) so my DH and I could go. Included in the price was a cookbook for each person! Yea! I will use the 2nd one as a gift, and I had it signed by Cheryl. When we arrived at Kim and Brian’s house, Cheryl and Kim were busy at work in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on a wonderful multi-course meal. Eighteen more people arrived and appetizers were served (a Radish and Olive Crostini) along with this very nice, refreshing lemonade enhanced with agave nectar. And Kim added in some vodka.

RIPE_cover, Photography © 2012 by Paulette PhlipotPhoto from: http://www.eastwest.com/september-2012-events-east-westIsn’t that cookbook cover just stunning? The book is so chock-block full of gorgeous photographs, it’s almost worthy of being a coffee table book, if you get my drift. Cheryl made a fabulous match with the photographer in creating this book. Cheryl did give a short talk to all of the dinner guests about how the book came about and shared some of the story about how any writer works with a publisher. That was interesting to me since I’d never heard much about the actual publishing part. I’ve heard and read that today, with the gigantic flush of cookbooks out there, and new ones every single day of the year, you have to have some kind of a hook, a niche, to be a successful cookbook author. Cheryl cleverly decided to write her book based on color. Yes, you read that right. Color. The book is divided into chapters for Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Purple & Blue, and White. Just imagine what fruits and veggies you’d find in each of those chapters. The theme, of course, is to cook or prepare foods at their prime, when they’re RIPE, and with some fairly simple additions or preparation, the fruit and veggies will do all the work. All the recipes are contained on one page, so that makes most of them relatively easy.

I’ll be sharing three of the recipes here on my blog (the publisher won’t permit more than that), so I had to choose – oh, that was hard because everything we had was delicious. Today I’m giving you the beverage. Another day you’ll read about the vegetarian main course, a delicious red pepper chili with grilled corn, and lastly the oh-so delicious dessert, a blueberry nutmeg cake.  Other bloggers and/or newspapers have featured all of the other menu items from the dinner we went to – click the links if you’re interested in any of these: Cucumber Halloumi Salad with Licorice Notes (it was the cheese that made that one special), Carrot Soup with Garam Masala Cream (I love garam masala, so it was a given that I’d like that one too), and a salad called Red Leaf Lettuce with Grapes and Table Flowers (this one wasn’t my favorite, but perhaps my salad didn’t have enough dressing on it – I liked the nice touch of the edible flowers, though).

lemonade_and_cookbookNow, back to this refreshing beverage . . . if you happen to have Meyer lemons, you’ll enjoy using the juice for this. If you have regular lemons . . . no worries . . . just add a bit more agave since regular lemons are a bit more sour.

meyer_lemon_540In the cookbook, on the page for lemons, Cheryl wrote a short blurb about lemons, about her dwarf Meyer lemon tree that thrives in her front yard. She swears that if she ever moves, the tree is going with her. Hmmm. Good luck with that! But just below (as she does with every fruit and veggie in the book) she gives a few simple ideas/uses. For lemons she suggests a risotto (butter, shallots, Arborio rice, white wine, stock, lemon zest, juice and pecorino); another suggestion is avgolemono (a Greek lemony soup) of stock, rice, egg yolks, lemon juice and parsley; and lastly lemon curd (egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice zest and butter). Then on the facing page is the recipe for the lemonade. And a photo of the food.

Cookbook cover photo:  © 2012 by Paulette Phlipot; Cheryl’s photo: www.eastwest.com. All other photos are my own. Recipes reprinted with permission from RIPE © 2012 by Cheryl Sternman Rule, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Book Group.

What I liked: well, I’m not much of a drinker, but I loved the vodka-enhanced lemonade. Loved the sweet-sour taste (more sweet than sour). Just so very refreshing. Great for a summer evening.

What I didn’t like: nothing whatsoever!

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Agave Meyer Lemonade

Recipe By: Recipes reprinted with permission from RIPE © 2012 by Cheryl Sternman Rule, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Book Group.
Serving Size: 6
Yield: 1 1/4 quarts
NOTES: Cheryl Sternman Rule says: I can think of no better way to honor the bright, uplifting flavor of sunny lemons than with this fresh, agave-sweetened lemonade. If you can’t find Meyer lemons, swap the more acidic (and more common) Eureka variety. In either case, adjust the agave to taste.

1 1/4 cups Meyer lemon juice
1/2 cup agave nectar — (170-340g) or to taste (1/2 to 2/3)
4 cups cold water — (0.95l) preferably refrigerated
Ice
[Add vodka, if you’d like – our hostess prepared it that way]

1. Squeeze enough lemons (6 to 7) into a 2-cup (500-ml) glass measure to yield 11/4 cups (300 ml) of juice. Strain into a large pitcher.
2. Whisk in the agave nectar, beginning with 1/2 cup (118 ml) and adding more to taste. Pour in the water. Whisk to combine. [Add vodka if you’d like to zip it up a little bit.]
3. Chill, covered, until ready to serve. Distribute the lemonade among ice-filled glasses. Slice the remaining lemon (you may even have one left over), and float 1 slice in each glass. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 13 Calories; 0g Fat (0.0% calories from fat); trace Protein; 5g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 5mg Sodium.

Posted in Beverages, on June 28th, 2012.

moroccan_mint_tea

Over the years we’ve gone to Marakesh (the restaurant) and always at the end of the meal they serve mint tea. Hot, sweetened mint tea. And I always love to watch the servers pour it from long narrow-spouted decorated metal teapots into delicate glasses from 2-3 feet above.

Until the other day I’d never made mint tea. In Moroccan tea culture, the tea is made with gunpowder green tea – and mint added. Checking info over at wikipedia, I discovered the Moroccans are concerned now about all the pesticides used in commercial mint production, so some Moroccans are foregoing the mint. How sad, I say!

Fortunately I had a copious amount of mint (without pesticides!) from my friend Joan’s garden. She made the mistake of planting it somewhere in her back yard some years ago and now it wants to take over, as mint likes to do. I used a LOT of mint in my Moroccan dinner I made the other night. And making the mint tea was so easy – I bought some green tea at Trader Joe’s (green tea isn’t a tea variety I turn to, nor did I have any in my tea arsenal). You can vary the amount to suit your taste – I made about 12 cups, I think, and used 5 green tea bags (which were so easy to remove once the tea had steeped) and about 3-4 long mint stems (about 5-7 inches long) and attached leaves. It steeped for 5 minutes, then I strained it, let it cool and chilled it. I also sweetened the tea, but I didn’t add as much sweetener as the recipe called for, and I liked it that way. You might want to taste it before you add too much.

Interestingly, when I was reading info at wikipedia, in Morocco, actually boiling the tea with sugar is an important step because it allows the sugar to undergo hydrolysis, giving the tea a distinctive taste. Photo at right came from wikipedia, showing the pouring of hot mint tea into glasses. They pour it from a distance in order to create foam.

In Morocco, tea serving is generally the bailiwick of men, believe it or not! And it’s an important sign of hospitality. Some years ago Dave and I did visit Morocco (only for a day), and were served Moroccan mint tea several times – at a spice merchant’s shop, at a Moroccan carpet store, then again after lunch. I have no recollection if it was served by men or women, though.

So anyway, I made the tea, cooled it, chilled it, then served it with a mint sprig in the top and set a pitcher of tea on the dinner table, with a bowl of ice and more mint. Everyone enjoyed it. I had left over tea, so I enjoyed it for many days afterwards. Green tea has less caffeine than black tea, and less caffeine than coffee (a lot less, actually). I’m very careful about caffeine. I get “the jitters” quickly from drinking regular coffee, so on rare occasions do I drink any beverage with much caffeine.

What I liked: the refreshing taste – I like spearmint (but not peppermint at all) – and I like the very mild sweetness added to it. The mint shines through.

What I didn’t like: nothing.

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Moroccan Mint Tea

Recipe By: Phillis Carey’s version.
Serving Size: 6
NOTES: If you buy Moroccan tea, it likely is a combination of green tea AND mint, so you may not need the fresh mint except for a garnish.

4 teaspoons green tea — or Moroccan tea (traditionally Moroccans use gunpowder green)
24 whole mint leaves — plus more for garnish
4 tablespoons sugar — or more to taste [or use agave, or Splenda]
4 cups boiling water — plus more to warm the teapot

1. Rinse teapot in boiling water (to heat the pot). Pour out water. Quickly add tea, mint leaves and sugar to the pot, then add boiling water and swirl the pot gently a few times to dissolve the sugar. Replace lid (cover pot with a towel or a tea cozy if you’re serving hot tea) and allow to steep for 5 minutes.
2. Pour tea through a strainer into serving cups. Or, cool to room temp and chill if you’re serving it as iced tea. Serve with a mint sprig in or on top.
Per Serving: 34 Calories; 0g Fat (0.0% calories from fat); trace Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 6mg Sodium.

Posted in Beverages, on February 29th, 2012.

orange_sparkler

Everybody’s had a mimosa, right? That lovely brunch-time drink that’s a mixture of orange juice and champagne? Well, this recipe has a similar  ancestry, but it’s so much better. With so much more flavor (from the brandy, and the addition of a simple syrup mixture).

This drink is sweeter (obviously since there is the simple syrup added), although you could alter the ratio of the brandy syrup to champagne. That’s completely up to you.

imageThe recipe came from a special class I attended recently, complements of Sunkist. And this recipe was developed specifically for the Cara Cara orange.

What’s a Cara Cara Orange? Well, it’s a Navel orange. Not a hybrid with red grapefruit or blood oranges, as you might think since it has the prettiest rosy color. The orange was discovered in Venezuela in 1976. It’s a cross between the Washington navel and the Brazilian Bahia navel, and growers discovered it thrives here in California.  Oddly, they’re not all that easy to find, and there doesn’t seem to be any reason why that I can find. Probably because we’re just primed for regular Navels. But I liked the deeper flavor – and the color. If you can’t find cara cara oranges, just use Navel oranges instead.

In this recipe, you combine juice, zest, sugar, water and brandy (or cognac if you’re willing to use the good stuff) and simmer it until it’s reduced about half. The mixture is cooled, strained of any pulp and zest, and chilled. When you’re ready to serve this, just spoon in 1 1/2 ounces of the brandy syrup into a champagne flute, pour in a bit of champagne and garnish with a nice Cara Cara orange segment. Done. Easy. Delicious.

What I liked: the pretty color. The lovely taste – the brandy adds a depth of flavor – you can’t really pick out the brandy – you just know it has something else in it!

What I didn’t like: nothing at all. Do make it for your next brunch!

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Orange Sparkler

Recipe By: Altered slightly from a Sunkist Growers recipe by Robert Danhi.
Serving Size: 2-4

FOR BRANDY SYRUP:
1/2 cup orange juice — from Cara Cara oranges, or Navels
1/2 tablespoon orange zest
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup brandy — or cognac
FOR EACH DRINK:
1 1/2 ounces brandy syrup
5 ounces sparkling wine — Champagne, or other type of white sparkling wine
1 piece orange section

1. In a medium-sized, heavy saucepan (taller rather than wider if possible) add the orange zest, orange juice, sugar, water and brandy and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes until mixture has reduced about 40-50%, stirring frequently with a wire whisk (be careful it doesn’t boil over). Allow to cool, then strain mixture into a small jar and chill. The mixture will keep for several days.
2. In each tall champagne flute add the brandy syrup, sparkling wine, then the fresh orange segment. Serve.

Posted in Beverages, on September 4th, 2011.

kumquat_negroni

Yesterday I told you about making some kumquat vodka, that sat in my refrigerator for about 3 weeks infusing. Today I’m telling you about what I did with the infused vodka when it was ready!

It was a few weeks ago I was watching Giada on the Food Network and she was making a summer cocktail. An Herb and Orange Negroni, she called it. Maybe I’d heard the word Negroni before, but sure didn’t know what it was. Actually a Negroni became a popular Italian cocktail in the last century, and it was gin-based. Somewhere along the line bartenders began adapting it with other ingredients from its original (gin, Campari, vermouth) by adding sweet vermouth, fruit juices, sparkling water and changing the alcohol to vodka. And when vodka was used, they renamed it Negroski (making it a Russian-language suffix – get it? – vodka=Russian=”ski” suffixes).

Watching Giada, I’d perked up at her use of the herb infused vodka since I had the kumquat vodka stewing in the refrigerator already. Perfect, I thought! Had to buy Campari first (it’s a type of bitters, a bright pinky-red color). I did have sweet vermouth I use occasionally in cooking, we had oranges on our lower slope and one of our grandkids scampered down there and clambered around the awkward hill to fetch some for us to use. They’re Valencias, not Navels, so they’re a little more tart than eating oranges. Worked fine in this cocktail, though. I forgot to decorate the glasses with some orange slices, though. I was too anxious to get them served and dashed to my photo corner to take a picture of my glass before they were all gone!

If you’re looking for a sweet fruit drink, this isn’t it. It’s tart and definitely retains some of the Campari (bitters) flavor, but it’s not overwhelming. I served it to four adults. Three liked it, our daughter Sara didn’t. She isn’t much of a drinker anyway, so I wasn’t surprised. I loved it. I drank mine and a little bit of Sara’s abandoned drink.

What I liked: the savory-ness of the drink; that it wasn’t a sweet fruit drink; how refreshing it was; and how easy it was to make as long as you have the citrus-infused vodka (or use any bottled citrus vodka you already have on hand).

What I didn’t like: nada, nothing. Great drink. Worth making. Different.

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Kumquat and Thyme Negroni

Recipe By: Found online at myrecipes.com
Serving Size: 5

1 cup vodka — kumquat-infused
3/4 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup sweet vermouth
1/4 cup Campari
10 ounces sparkling water — or club soda
fresh thyme sprigs and orange slices for garnish, if desired

1. In a pitcher combine the chilled kumquat vodka, orange juice, sweet vermouth, Campari and sparkling water.
2. Stir well and pour over ice. Garnish with fresh thyme sprigs and orange slices. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 159 Calories; trace Fat (2.3% calories from fat); trace Protein; 7g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 5mg Sodium.

Posted in Beverages, on September 3rd, 2011.

kumquat_liqueurIs that not gorgeous? Kumquats, mostly cut in half, some fresh sprigs of thyme from my garden, and a huge slug of Russian vodka (plain). Oh, there’s also a bit of simple syrup in this too – you could use sugar, but some recipes suggest dissolving the sugar first, so I took that route.

It was a few weeks ago that Darci, our friend and decorator, told me about a kumquat vodka she’d made for a group of girlfriends. I couldn’t find the recipe she had used, but found a bunch of others using kumquats. The bugs don’t like kumquats. The fruit flies haven’t found it, obviously. The rabbits and squirrels around here obviously don’t like kumquats, either. Hooray for me!

All this takes is a little bit of patience as you need to let this infuse for a few weeks. Some recipes suggest leaving it at room temp for a few days. This recipe wants refrigeration and three weeks of infusing. I loved the idea of the fresh thyme in it. Maybe if you drank this vodka straight you could pick out the herbaceous flavor, but with the drink I made you really couldn’t.

Rarely do I even have a mixed drink, but fruity ones are more palatable to me, and this just was a perfect use of the kumquats. It took every kumquat we had on our shrub to make this, and that’s okay. Tomorrow I’ll share the recipe for the drink I made with one cup (of the 2 1/2) of the vodka. If you have something you already want to make with kumquat vodka, go ahead. Otherwise, wait until tomorrow and you’ll hear all about the fruity drink I served at our brunch. I don’t drink straight vodka in any way, shape or form, so I’m not including my usual “what I liked” about it segment. Just stay tuned until tomorrow . . .

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Kumquat Vodka

Recipe By: Found online at myrecipes.com
Serving Size: 20

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
2 cups vodka — use good quality stuff
16 whole kumquats — divided use
3 sprigs fresh thyme

1. In a medium saucepan heat sugar and water, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Set aside to cool to room temp.
2. Add vodka to the mixture, stir and pour into a glass decanter.
3. Cut 10 of the kumquats in half lengthwise. Leave remaining ones whole.
4. Add kumquats (halved ones first) to the vodka and add the thyme sprigs. Stick the thyme sprigs down into the kumquats so they won’t float.
5. Cover decanter with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 weeks. Decant the vodka into a clean bottle and discard the kumquats and herbs. The vodka will turn bitter if you leave the fruit in the mixture too long.
6. Serve ice-cold in individual shot glasses (2-ounce servings) if desired.
Per Serving: 80 Calories; trace Fat (0.3% calories from fat); trace Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 1mg Sodium.

Posted in Beverages, on August 22nd, 2011.

ginger_spice_chai

What about you – do you like chai? I certainly do, and order hot chai in the cold winter months when I visit a coffee store like Peet’s or Starbucks. I love the spicy foam from a hot chai that they’ve frothed for me. But I’ve not had iced chai, I don’t think. Maybe the coffee places make it, I just haven’t noticed or tried it. So many of those drinks are overly sweet to me, unfortunately. I do order sugar-free when it’s available. But the sweet ones – why do they DO that, I want to know? Even the blended and freddo drinks are too sweet. Sadly, these stores are just contributing to our dependence on sugar, and increasing the calories in those drinks by huge leaps. Oh well. . .

Anyway, over at Elana’s Pantry (a blog) she recently made a spicy ginger chai. And since we were entertaining a group of 15 for dinner, I thought I’d make a big pot of it for anyone who wanted something other than wine or soft drinks. Elana called hers just “Iced Ginger Chai,” and I suppose by my adding the word spiced in the title makes it redundant since chai means spiced tea. But I wanted you to know that this stuff is not just a chai, but it’s spicy (warm to hot) from a lot of ginger and black peppercorns. I’m enjoying  a large glass of it right now as I write this, and after sipping some a couple of minutes ago, I can still feel the residual heat in my mouth, on my tongue. It’s not unpleasant – in fact I LOVE the taste of it. (If you’re sensitive to any kind of spice-heat, you might want to reduce the quantity of ginger and peppercorns in this by about a third.)

I did make one change (an optional one) since I didn’t have any rooibos tea. Rooibos is that popular (and fairly new to the U.S. markets anyway) herbal tea – also called bush tea or red bush tea (because it makes a very dark reddish-brown colored tea) – made from a legume plant grown only in South Africa and it IS caffeine free. I’m not all that crazy about it as a straight tea (too grassy-like or tree/twig tasting for my tastes), and I gave away my can of it some months ago to someone who loves it. So I substituted a traditional black tea, thereby making it a caffeinated drink. Fine for daytime, maybe not at night. So, if you choose to make this with regular black tea (I used a black tea blend), do as I did – let the black tea soak in the mixture for about 7 minutes, then remove (I used tea bags so it would be easy to get them out). I actually did it after the 30-minute rolling boil – you don’t want to BOIL black tea, a no-no to tea aficionados as it quickly becomes bitter after that magical 5-7 minutes.

Nothing about making this is hard to do – but it does need to steep overnight. Making it the rooibos way, you bring all the ingredients (cardamom pods, whole cloves, peppercorns, the rooibos tea, and fennel seeds) to a boil – not the milk or any sweetener – reduce it to a rolling simmer and let it go for about 30 minutes. At a rolling boil the mixture reduces down some. Elana said hers reduced to about half – mine not that much, so I suppose I didn’t keep mine at the same high boil she did. Then you turn off the heat and let it sit overnight (at room temp – there’s nothing in it to spoil). Easy! In the morning strain out the ginger, tea and spices, and chill the mixture. Whenever you want to use it, either in a single glass or in bulk like I did, you merely use a cup of the chai concentrate and 1/4 cup of almond milk (chill it first) and pour it over an ample number of ice cubes. I added just a bit more of the almond milk (I doubled the recipe and used the full cardboard box of almond milk). Add some sweetener if you choose and you’re ready for a refreshing treat. Most traditional chai drinkers use sweetener, but you can decide that for yourself. When I served it, I didn’t sweeten it but left the sweeteners next to the tall beverage dispenser I served it in. Some people asked what it was, but most didn’t and I was way too busy to go around and tell everyone. Next time I’ll need to make a little sign to place conspicuously near it.

What I liked: the ease of making it; the spicy combo (you’d never know there are fennel seeds in the brew), and the spice-heat from the ginger and peppercorns; it only takes a little bit of almond milk to smooth out the flavors and make it a creamy chai.

What I didn’t like: nothing at all – loved it. It may become a regular thing in my summer kitchen. You do need to plan ahead, however – at least the day before.

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Indian Spiced Ginger Chai (Tea)

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from elana’s pantry blog, 7/2011
Serving Size: 4

2 quarts water
1/2 cup fresh ginger — finely chopped (skin on)
10 whole cardamom — pods
5 whole cloves
10 whole black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
1/4 cup tea — (organic loose rooibos, or substitute black tea – see directions below)
1 cup almond milk — or more if you prefer a more milky tea
Sweetener – stevia, agave, or sugar

1.  Place all ingredients (except almond milk and sweetener) in a large pot and bring to a boil.  If you are using black tea, use tea bags or a tea diffuser to contain the tea, and add it later (see note in #2).  If you’re using rooibos, add it in with all the other ingredients and leave it in for the full steeping time in the recipe.
2.  Reduce heat and allow to simmer (rolling simmer) for 30 minutes.  Turn off heat (and add the black tea now, if you’re using it, and remove it 5-7 minutes later), then allow tea to sit overnight at room temp to continue steeping.
3.  Strain mixture into a 1-quart jar.  This is your “concentrate.”
4.  Fill a glass with ice, pour in 1 cup of chai concentrate and add 1/4 cup (or more) almond milk, or milk of your choice.
5.  Add sweetener if desired – stevia, sugar or agave nectar to taste and serve.
Per Serving: 97 Calories; 4g Fat (27.5% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 19g Carbohydrate; 8g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 43mg Sodium.

Posted in Beverages, on September 3rd, 2010.

Totally forgot to put in the pretty garnishes – a cinnamon stick and a half round slice of fresh orange. Just picture it there. The glasses were adorned with them when I served it (but I forgot to take a picture) so this is the leftovers that I was sipping on a few nights later . . .

About six weeks ago I posted a recipe for a white sangria that is quite similar to this. sangria_tuaca_dispenserActually, I think the original recipe is the same, but I made a few changes to both.

This sangria is VERY easy to make, as long as you have all the ingredients. The most time consuming was squeezing the fresh limes. It’s fresh orange juice, the fresh lime juice, red wine, Tuaca, Limoncello, some red vermouth and 7-up or Sprite.

The drink is very refreshing, as sangrias are. I like the additional flavor depths from the Tuaca and Limoncello. Hope you try this – it’s worth making.

A friend of mine made this sangria some months ago for a Sunday brunch thing and she put it one of those pretty beverage dispensers. It was a nice day, so we enjoyed the refreshing drink all through the meal. See photo at right.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Beverages, on July 19th, 2010.

When I sent my DH grocery shopping (in case you’re new to my blog, my hubby loves to go grocery shopping, so I let him do about 90% of it – actually I’m happy he wants to), I told him to buy some Tuaca. Huh? he said. What’s that. I just said it’s a liqueur. When he got home he said, with a rather strident voice . . . do you know how much that stuff cost? No, I didn’t. $25.00 he said. But I’m going to use just 1/2 cup, honey. That mollified him a little!

Until today I’d never tried Tuaca (pronounced too-ah-kah). And because I didn’t know much about it except that it’s vanilla scented, I went online to read up about it. Tuaca was originally produced by the Tuoni and Canepa families of Livorno, Italy. The liqueur is sweet and golden brown in color. Its ingredients include brandy, essence of orange, and vanilla. Vanilla is the dominant flavor.

The recipe supposedly dates back to the Renaissance. A legend claims that it was created for Lorenzo the Magnificent. Well, whatever its source, it’s a lovely flavor. It’s sweet, but not sickeningly so like some liqueurs can be. It’s more like a flavored brandy than it is B&B or Drambuie type. I did taste it – a tiny sip just so I’d know what the stuff tasted like – it’s nice.

For this lunch we did the other day for six couples (an old friend/couple came to town on a visit so we had a friends-reunion kind of thing), I wanted to serve something lighter, summer fare, for a drink. Some folks in the group don’t drink, so we had ice water and soft drinks. And I didn’t think that many people would want sangria – but, oh yes they did! I didn’t have enough of this. Wish I’d had at least double the amount – I’d have had no trouble getting rid of it – maybe I’d have had some leftover, which would have been nice. Very, very nice. Guess I’ll just have to make it again. Sooner rather than later.

I scrounged around in my to-try recipe file and found three sangria recipes that seemed interesting, so I took some ideas from each of them. Some of our guests don’t drink red wine, so I made it with white (Sauvignon Blanc). But then I added some other nice stuff: Limoncello, the Tuaca, fresh orange juice, a little sugar, some cinnamon sticks and then fruit stuff. I chilled everything the night before and muddled the fruit, sugar and wine for an hour or two before our lunch. Then I added some 7-up just before serving – not a lot, just enough to give it some spritz. And served it in that pretty pitcher you can see up top.

All of it lovely. I think Tuaca will keep on your liquor shelf for a looooong time, so even though it is an investment, you’ll be able to use it for years to come. Limoncello won’t keep quite as long, but almost. If you don’t want to invest in either of those liqueurs, add a little jot of vanilla and some lemon juice. But do make this.

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White Sangria with Tuaca

Recipe By: My concoction from about 3 different recipes
Serving Size: 8

750 milliliters Sauvignon Blanc
2 cups fresh orange juice
3/4 cup Tuaca
1/2 cup limoncello
1/4 cup sugar
12 ounces 7-Up® (or Sprite)
2 whole cinnamon sticks
1 whole orange — sliced (garnish)

1. Chill the wine, orange juice, Tuaca, and limoncello for a few hours or overnight. (You can combine those ingredients in a pitcher to start.)
2. Add the sugar, stir to dissolve the sugar, then add sliced fruit (you can use oranges, lemons, limes, peaches, mango, pineapple), and chill for another hour.
3. Add the 7-up (or Sprite) just before serving. Stir and pour over ice into small glasses (about 8 ounces) and serve.
Per Serving: 149 Calories; trace Fat (2.3% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 22g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 11mg Sodium.

A year ago: Heirloom Tomatoes
Three years ago: Shrimp and Bread Skewers with Romesco Sauce

Posted in Beverages, on June 10th, 2010.

I’m on a food quest – a mission, if you will. To find out how to make perfect Thai iced tea. It took me a couple of weeks of periodic research online (finding various recipes, with use of various kinds of milk, hearing about the different kinds of Thai tea to buy, visiting several Asian markets trying to find it) before I finally just went to my local Thai restaurant and asked them if they’d sell me their tea. Sure they would. For $7.00 for the bag you’ll see in the photo down below. The kind owner was trying to tell me how much of the tea mix to use, but I couldn’t understand him well enough to know what he was saying. How much tea to water? I couldn’t understand. The bag does have a recipe on it (in English!), but I think it would be way too strong. I don’t want to stay up all night with all the caffeine. So I resorted to just trying it, guessing on the quantity. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Beverages, Desserts, on May 1st, 2010.

The other night was our son’s birthday, and I took a good part of the dinner to their house. Karen made a lovely roast chicken and I made Brussels sprouts with orange brandy and dried cranberries, a green salad with some of the Rose’s Vinaigrette from a week ago, and dessert.

Last weekend we were in No. California and at a winery tasting room I bought a bottle of Earth & Vine’s Black Raspberry Elixir. It’s a bottled fruit concentrate (see photo below right) you can use mostly for beverages, I’d suppose. Although you could probably add it to fresh fruit, or on top of yogurt. The recipes on the bottle are all beverages, some with liquor, some without. The elixir has no alcohol in it – it’s just the straight fruit (both black and red raspberry purees), sugar and lemon juice.

There was no recipe for a float on the label, but it just sounded like something you could do with this, so I made it up in my head. I bought some Haagen-Dazs vanilla bean ice cream, brought along some Chambord and chilled club soda. That’s all there was in it. I looked up a few recipes for root beer floats and then just winged it. For each drink I used about a tablespoon of Chambord, about 2 tablespoons of the black raspberry elixir, about 6 ounces of club soda, then plopped in a nice rounded scoop of the ice cream. A straw was all that was needed. Do make sure the ice cream is really solidly frozen, though. Ours was a bit on the melting side so it oozed into the drink faster than we liked. Still mighty tasty, though. You might have to hunt for the elixirs (there are other flavors, but you can read all about them online at Earth & Vine). Then make up your own combination.
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Black Raspberry Ice Cream Float

Recipe By: My own concoction.
Serving Size: 1

1 tablespoon Chambord liqueur
2 tablespoons Earth & Vine black raspberry elixir
6 ounces club soda
1 scoop vanilla ice cream

1. Into a tall glass (chilled if you have time and space) pour the Chambord, then the elixir.
2. Pour in 6 ounces of club soda, stir to combine, then add the scoop of well-frozen ice cream. Add a straw and serve immediately.0

One Year Ago: A photo of a riddling rack made into an herb garden
Two years ago: Lemon Oregano Vinaigrette
Three years ago: Caramelized Carnitas Tacos

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