Wednesday, March 09, 2022

Chai DIY

 

Many, many moons ago, my Nepali friend Raj taught me how to make fresh, homemade chai. This was before Starbucks capitalized on this age-old Indian beverage and before you could find concentrated versions in your local market. While many of these prepackaged chais taste just fine, nothing beats the fresh version.
 
Chai is deeply warming and soothing, with a bit of tang. It’s creamy with a hit of caffeine that is a great alternative to coffee or for an afternoon pick-me-up. I used to make a small saucepan of it back in the day, but like many dishes in my repertoire, it got rotated out in favor of something else. 
 
In the last year, I have begun making it again, in large batches. Butcher/electrician/carpenter son doesn’t drink coffee and much prefers a morning chai, cold or hot, to get going. Mr. B loves a mid-morning or mid-afternoon cup as a taste treat. I can drink it any time….
 
While I may have forgotten the original ratios, as they were never written down, I have worked to perfect the recipe to my family’s taste. I now make a large batch once a week and store it in quart jars in the beer/soda fridge. Any time someone wants a hit, they can pour it into a cup, add milk and microwave or pour over ice and top with milk. And it is oh, so much better than anything you will find out there. 
 
It's also better for you than plain coffee or tea and less caloric than most mochas and fancy coffee drinks. In fact, there is a whole host of benefits based on the fresh ingredients in chai. To name a few:
  • Ginger: This gnarly root is a staple in Asian cultures, primarily used as a fresh ingredient. While you are probably familiar with it in its powdered form for baking, fresh ginger is much better…both in taste and effect. It aids in digestion, is helpful with nausea, has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, can lower blood sugar, and may even help to lower your cholesterol. 
  • Cardamom: Similarly, cardamom is an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and can aid in lowering your blood pressure. Some studies have shown that it can help heal ulcers and lower blood sugar levels. 
  • Cloves: Also high in antioxidants, cloves have antimicrobial properties, and may help to regulate blood sugar. Like cardamom, there are compounds in these little buds that help to treat ulcers. 
  • Cinnamon: An antioxidant, cinnamon is also good for your gut and blood pressure, has antibacterial and antifungal properties, and can lower blood sugar. (I’m sensing a theme here!)

So, in 30 minutes, you can have a daily dose of chai to improve your health, probably your mood, and tantalize your tastebuds. The ingredients are few but may require some sourcing. 
 
I use whole cinnamon sticks, whole cloves and cardamom pods. All are easily found at Cost Plus World Market, Whole Foods, even most chain grocery stores. Do not, under any circumstances use the powered form of any of these. As for the cardamom, you may not find pods, but only seeds. If that is the case, use about ½ teaspoon of the seeds. 
 
All of these spices are ground in a mortar and pestle. I have a cheap wooden one that I use exclusively for this purpose. You could also put these spices in a Ziploc and beat with a meat tenderizer, rolling pin, hammer, or whatever is handy. You just want to break them up enough to release their flavor and oils. 
 
Ginger is easily found at any grocery store. Make sure it is fresh, not dried out, and has large rhizomes or knobs that make them easy to peel and cut. I use regular granulated sugar and have not experimented with other types of sugars, honey or agave. Hard to mess with perfection here. Lastly is the tea. I use only tea leaves, not tea bags. I prefer a good Darjeeling, and given that you use so little, I buy it in tins so that it stays fresh longer. (You could also use a stronger-flavored Assam.)
 
Let me know what you think!

 

Chai

3 cinnamon sticks
10 cloves
14 cardamom pods
1½ - 2-inch piece of ginger
14 cups water
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons black tea leaves (preferably Darjeeling or Assam)
 
Place water in large saucepan stew pot and turn on to medium-high heat. 
 
Break up cinnamon sticks in mortar and pestle and add to water. Do the same with the cloves and cardamom. The green pods of the cardamom will break open and seeds will spill out. You can remove the papery outer shell before adding to the water, or just throw it all in. 
 
Peel the ginger piece with a spoon, peeler, or knife. Cut into slices and add to water. 
 
Bring all to a boil, then turn down and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
 
Add your sugar, stir, and cook for another 2 minutes.
 
Add your tea leaves, stir, and turn the heat off. Let steep for 10-15 minutes. Strain into a pitcher or other container. 
 
Refrigerate once cooled.
 
To serve hot, pour into a mug and top with milk. Heat in microwave. (You can also reheat on the stove, adding the milk once the tea is hot.) To serve cold, pour over ice and top with milk. 
 
Yield: 14 cups

Monday, March 07, 2022

Za’atar: Spicing Up the Standard Sheet Pan Dinner

 

Sweetie Pie

Disclaimer: No pet chickens were harmed in the preparation of this meal. I just wanted to show off one of my girls. 

 

In the 1970s, we had Hamburger Helper, the 80s brought crockpot/slow cookers, the oughts brought the Instant Pot, and air fryers became popular in the last decade—all designed to make fixing dinner a little bit easier. More recently, sheet pan bakes have become a popular way to fix dinner, particularly for those with busy lives.

 

They make for easy prep, hands-off cooking, and the clean-up just takes a minute. Traditionally, recipes for sheet pan bakes are comprised of a protein, vegetable and starch. Some are marinated, others slathered in a sauce, and many make use of an herb mixture. 

 

Today’s post covers the latter preparation. It’s prepared with the Middle Eastern spice mixture called za’atar. Za’atar contains herbs and spices that vary based on the region and what is available (much like Indian or Thai curries). Among the ingredients can be: oregano, thyme, marjoram, cumin, coriander, sesame seeds, sumac, and chili flakes. Salt may also be added. Za’atar can be found in most grocery stores these days, as well as Cost Plus World Market. If you’re feeling ambitious, there are recipes on the internet that will also allow you to make your own.

 

The za’atar sheet pan bake I’ve been making, to rave reviews, utilizes chicken thighs, broccoli and potatoes. This modified recipe originally appeared in the November 2021 issues of Eating Well and it’s well worth repeating here. It is the epitome of what this blog stands for – leaving the standard dinner fare behind and incorporating foreign flavors and fresh ingredients to provide tasty meals for those you love. And it also goes to show that good food doesn’t have to take hours, multiple pans, and a grocery store’s worth of ingredients. 

 

Even better, it’s served with a tasty yogurt sauce that really amps up the flavor.

 

Roast Za-atar Chicken with Broccoli and Potatoes

1 ¾ pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thights

1 medium broccoli crown, cut into ½-inch planks

2 cups baby potatoes, halved*

¼ cup olive oil

2 tablespoons za’atar

¾ teaspoon ground pepper

½ teaspoon salt

 

Sauce

1 cup plain yogurt

1 tablespoon minced fresh dill (or 1 teaspoon dried)

1 tablespoon minced onion

½ teaspoon minced or grated garlic

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

 

Mix up the ingredients for the sauce and place in the refrigerator. 

 

Turn on oven to 450 degrees. In a bowl, toss chicken, broccoli and potatoes with oil and spices. Arrange the chicken, skin side up, in the center of a large foil-lined baking pan (makes for easy clean up). Place broccoli and potatoes in a single layer around the chicken. Roast for 25 minutes or until thigh registers 165 degrees. 

 

Turn the broiler on high and broil until the chicken skin is brown and crispy. Serve with yogurt sauce. 

 

*I’ve also used red or Yukon potatoes, cut into 8-10 chunks

 

Yield: 4 servings

 

 

Friday, February 11, 2022

Hungarian Kifli: My First Yeasted Cookie


I’ve been baking since my early teens and, if you know me, that was a way long time ago. Never, in all those years, have I ever made a yeasted cookie. I didn’t even know they existed. It was only through serendipity that I found myself making a batch for guests.

 

A good friend’s parents come to visit for a month from Florida each year to help her with projects, see their grandson, and have a change of scenery. We always invite them over at least once to share a meal and catch up. This year I wanted to do something Hungarian, as they are originally from that country. 

 

My first thought was to make langos, a traditional fried bread that is served with garlic cloves rubbed over it. I used to order it every time I ate at Bravo Fono at Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto. That restaurant has since closed and I really miss the taste of langos. But I am not fond of deep frying and rarely have that much vegetable oil in the house, so I nixed that idea. My thoughts turned to something sweet, my bailiwick. 

 

Looking up different types of Hungarian cookies, I happened upon the kifli, a crescent-shaped cookie made from a yeasted dough and filled with a meringue/nut mixture. I was intrigued as the dough not only took yeast, but basically had no sugar, and there was very little sugar in the filling. A sweet treat that is only faintly sweet. Sounded perfect.

 

And so I embarked on a new baking experience. The yeast mixture is very quick to make, just a few minutes, and then the dough is split in two, shaped into flat rounds and rests in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours (or overnight). The filling is basic, with whipped egg whites, ground walnuts (or almonds), a bit of sugar and a tinge of lemon juice. Again, just a few minutes time. Each dough round is rolled out into a circle, cut into 8 pie-shaped wedges and then each wedge is filled with the meringue mixture before rolling up and bending it into a crescent shape. (Actually, bending probably isn’t necessary, but I was following the recipe.)

 

A twenty-minute bake and a sprinkling of powdered sugar and you have some of the most lovely cookies that pair well with both tea and coffee. Again, not remarkably sweet and with a slight crunch from the ground nuts. They were a hit and the three experts claimed I hit the Hungarian nail on the head. And given that they were quite large, they worked perfectly the next morning as a breakfast pastry. Bonus!

 

Recipe after the jump….

 

Tuesday, February 08, 2022

A New Twist on an Old Favorite: Grapefruit Curd

 

I’ve been making lemon curd for close to 30 years. Initially, I would make a batch and refrigerate it, as I couldn’t find directions on how to can it. It seemed so much more delicate than jam or preserves. And given that it has eggs and butter, I was a fairly new and nervous canner. I remember calling in to a radio show my dad listened to when a well-known chef was on discussing canning. Question asked and answered. From then on, I have made double and triple batches at one time and canned that lemon curd safely.

 

Three weeks ago, my brother picked about 20 pounds of Meyer lemons and we met in Oxnard for a long weekend, part of which was spent canning lemon curd. Fifteen jars of it! We have since been in the California desert visiting family and getting a bit of respite from the freezing mountain temps. 

 

My godmother lives in a gated community called The Citrus, and throughout the property are lemon, mandarin, orange, and grapefruit trees. Residents (and guests) are allowed to pick all the fruit they want. Since I had my handy dandy canner with me (doesn’t everyone travel with one?), I thought I would give grapefruit curd a try, given their abundance this time of year. 

 

These were lovely ruby red grapefruits, bursting with bright pink juice. I used roughly the same recipe as with lemon curd, with one exception. Grapefruit juice is fairly mild in its singular form, but when boiled down you get a much more intense flavor that works well in the curd. I also threw in a bit of lemon juice to brighten/complement the flavor just a bit.

 

Needless to say, it was a hit. I ate it straight from the jar, but am looking forward to going home and making some crumpets on which to serve it. Nothing like a good crumpet with all its holes filled with curd to make me swoon. And you will too.

 

So here it goes…..


 

Grapefruit Curd

2 cups fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice

¼ cup lemon juice

7 tablespoons grapefruit zest

1 pound sugar

1 stick butter

8 eggs, lightly beaten

 

Boil the grapefruit juice down until you have 1 cup.

Before eggs....look at that color!

 

Combine juice, zest, sugar, and butter in double boiler over simmering water until the sugar dissolves and the butter melts. (I often use a very heavy bottom pan in lieu of a double boiler and it works if the heat is kept low enough and you stir constantly.)

 

Pour one ladleful of hot liquid into eggs, whisking constantly to temper the eggs. Repeat at least twice to warm up the eggs and keep them from curdling. Once warm, whisk the egss into the hot mixture, stirring constantly. 

 

Cook, stirring, until thick (about 20 minutes). 

 

Remove from heat, cool, and store in the refrigerator. If you want to can these, it will take 20 minutes in a hot water bath 

 

YIELD: approximately 5 cups.

 

Monday, January 24, 2022

Changing it Up: Lemon Pesto Pasta


Lemons are one of my favorite foods/fruits/flavors. I am always looking for new ways to use them, particularly when gifted with my favorite Meyer lemons, which I can no longer grow high in the snowy mountains. Last weekend my brother raided his tree and brought 20+ pounds of Meyers to his beach house, where we met him for a few days. I was able to turn that bounty into 16 pints of lemon curd to share with everyone. 

We also collaborated on a pasta dish utilizing a few leftover Meyers. He made some yummy fresh pasta (although store-bought will do just fine) and I whipped up a lemon pesto to toss with the long strands of goodness. It’s a very simple dish that is made in about 20-25 minutes, start to finish. Pairs perfectly with a salad and nice loaf of sourdough.

 

Now, I was skeptical at first when I heard of lemon pesto, but being a lemon fiend I knew I had to try it. There are multiple recipes out there, so feel free to experiment by adding garlic or parsley, substituting cashews for the almonds, etc. We all agreed it was a nice departure from the typical basil pesto and really brightened up a cold winter night. 

 

Lemon Pesto Pasta

1 pound pasta

4 lemons, peeled thinly

½ - ¾ cup slivered almonds*

½ cup parmesan

Olive oil

Fresh ground pepper, to taste

Salt, to taste

 

Put your water on to boil and start peeling the lemons. 

 

Take half the peel and put into the water pot. Boil for 2-3 minutes, then strain out the peel and discard. (This helps to flavor the pasta.) Add in your pasta and cook to al dente.

 

In a food processor, place the remaining peels and the almonds. Pulse until you have a sandy crumb mixture. Add in the parmesan and pulse for 10-20 seconds. With the processor running on low, drizzle in enough olive oil to make a loose paste. When emulsified, add salt and pepper to taste.

 

Drain your pasta, reserving about a cup of water. Place your pasta back in the pot on low, adding in your pesto. Mix, adding water as you stir to help make a sauce. Turn off the heat and serve with extra parmesan. 

 

*I have also used the dry roasted, sliced almonds from Trader Joes and they work just fine.

 

 

Additional lemon recipes on Eating Suburbia:

Limoncello

Lemon Simple syrup (for iced teas, cocktails) 

Lemon Drop Cocktail

Lemon Curd

Lemon Curd Mousse Cake (aka cake of 1,000 bowls)

Lemon Meringue Frosting

Meyer Lemon Marmalade

Meyer Lemon Semifreddo

Glazed Lemon Bites

Meyer Lemon Ice Cream

Chicken Avoglemeno

Lemony Lentil Soup

Shaved Brussels Sprouts, Meyer Lemon & Quinoa Salad

 

And if that isn’t enough to satisfy you, you can find a recipe for Meyer Lemon and Gigante Bean Open-Face Sandwich in my second cookbook (Eating Suburbia) and recipes for Meyer Lemon Champagne Preserves, Meyer Lemon Cream Dressing, and Blueberry Lemon Cake in my third cookbook (Food Is Love). 

 

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

The Big Debate (in my head)


This morning my brother called me. He was enjoying toast with some of my homemade peach-vanilla jam and it reminded him that he recently had some lemon-pear marmalade that was out of this world. He gently suggested that I should make some when pear season rolls around. Definitely a good idea, as I like pears and lemons very much and already make several varieties of marmalade, as well as lemon curd, pear jam and pear butter. 

This conversation sparked a little niggle in my head…something that had been bothering me. Recently I saw a cooking competition with professional chefs. I’m always intrigued by how they use ingredients. But one chef made a dish in which she included a peach marmalade she had made on the spot. I was appalled that she labeled what she had made as marmalade—as it didn’t contain any citrus—and even more outraged that the judges didn’t call her out on it. Why you ask?

 

Well, I believe in certain distinctions between jelly, jam, preserves, marmalades and fruit butters. I probably have a unique but fairly professional view on the topic, as my family owned a processing plant that manufactured jellies, jams, preserves, and marmalades (as well as fruit filling, peanut butters, and some other odd and assorted items). I’ve also been home canning for 30 years, and actually built a canning kitchen on the old screen porch of our cabin. I’m also an editor who is a stickler for proper terminology. 

 

In my own head, which was confirmed by several other reputable and more objective sources, these distinctions include:

 

  • Jelly: uses fruit juice, requires pectin, final product has no chunks of fruit at all
  • Jam: uses mashed fruit, can be made with or without pectin, final product has some chunks of fruit
  • Preserves: uses whole fruit or large chunks of fruit, no pectin necessary, final product is mostly fruit chunks
  • Marmalade: uses whole citrus fruit, including the peel, no pectin, slivers of peel visible in final product
  • Butters: uses fruit puree, no pectin, no chunks of fruit in final product

 

So, by definition a peach cannot be made into a marmalade. However, my brother’s recommendation of lemon-pear marmalade can be classified as a marmalade as it has citrus fruit in it. 

 

Check back in the late summer/early fall 2021 when pears are at their ripest and I’ll give that lemon-pear marmalade a go…..