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Recipes and food musings for the global home cook.

Generously stuff each eggplant skin with a mixture of quinoa, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, parsley, salt, crushed red pepper, and small pieces of eggplant. Top with goat cheese. (The Gourmand Mom)

Meatless Monday: Quinoa-stuffed baby eggplant

By The Gourmand Mom / 09.17.12

Up until a couple years ago, quinoa was relatively unheard of. It certainly wasn’t something my family ate when I was growing up and I rarely ran across it on restaurant menus, cookbooks or online. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, quinoa seemed to explode onto the food scene. Suddenly, quinoa is everywhere. It’s actually been on a gradual rise in popularity over the past several years and now this trendy pseudograin has found a place with the cool kids, right next to cupcakes and macarons.

Despite it’s relatively new popularity, there’s actually nothing new about quinoa. On the contrary, it was once considered a sacred food source of the ancient Incas. And with good reason. Quinoa is high in protein and unique in the realm of vegetable proteins for its notable lysine content. Containing all eight essential amino acids, quinoa is considered to be a complete protein, which is especially attractive for people looking to get their protein from non-meat sources. It’s also high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, gluten-free, wheat-free, and easily digestible. It’s truly a nutritional superfood.

A few years ago, after reading an article touting the awesomeness of quinoa, I ran to the store, bought myself a bag and prepared it with dried fruits and a bit of honey for breakfast. To be honest, I was less than thrilled with the result and hadn’t prepared it since; until yesterday, that is.

Inspired by the request of a friend, I decided to give it another try. This time, I went with a savory preparation, incorporating some of my favorite flavors; sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, and goat cheese. I stuffed all of this delicious goodness into a baby eggplant and the result was phenomenal. Seriously delicious! Have it for lunch or make it as a side dish for dinner. You’ll be happy you did.

Now, be careful to pronounce it correctly when talking to your friends about your new favorite quinoa recipe. Though, by appearance and common convention, you may assume it’s pronounced Kin-O-ah, the correct pronunciation is actually KEEN-wah. It takes me a forced effort to remember this fact. My mind thinks Kin-O-ah, while I force my mouth to say KEEN-wah. In fact, if someone started talking to me about KEEN-wah, it would probably take me a good minute before I figured out what they were talking about. It goes against my natural instincts, but KEEN-wah it is.


2 baby eggplants
3/4 cup quinoa
1-1/2 cups vegetable stock
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place quinoa and vegetable stock in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Stir. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and gently simmer for 15 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat. Keep covered and allow it to rest for 5 minutes. Gently fluff with a fork.

Meanwhile, cut the eggplants in half lengthwise. Use a knife to cut around the edges being careful not to cut through the skin. Leave about a 1/4 inch remaining around the edges. Use a spoon to scoop out the middle.

Chop the scooped eggplant into small pieces. Drizzle with olive oil. Add the sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, parsley, salt, crushed red pepper, and about 2/3 of the goat cheese crumbles. (Reserve the remaining 1/3 of goat cheese crumbles for topping the stuffed eggplants.)

Once the quinoa is cooked, gently toss it with the eggplant mixture. Rub the outside of the eggplant skins with a small amount of olive oil, then place on a baking sheet. Generously stuff each skin with the quinoa mixture. Bake for 35-40 minutes. Sprinkle the remaining goat cheese crumbles on top of each eggplant during the last 10 minutes of cooking.

Related post on The Gourmand Mom: Carrot-raisin pancakes with cream cheese glaze

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Prickly pear syrup is added to a lemon-lime seltzer for a refreshing, homemade soda. (Kitchen Report)

Cookbook review: The Artisan Soda Workshop

By Kitchen Report / 09.15.12

Forget about buying the same old boring bottles of soda from the supermarket. There is a much better and creative way – with a little bit of effort –  to bring a bit of sparkle to your next party. The Artisan Soda Workshop by Andrea Lynn (Ulysses Press, 2012, 127 pp.) has more than 70 recipes that will help you to make your own sodas at home using fresh fruit and the real flavors of spices and herbs.

With sections ranging from “Homemade Soda Copycats” (Natural Golden Cola Syrup, Root Beer Syrup), to “Soda Adventures with Herbs and Spices” (Sea Salt-Lime Syrup, Mango-Chile Syrup), to “Seasonal Suds” and “Agua Frescas and Shrubs” there’s a lot here to explore and enjoy.

“Soda didn’t start out as a mass-produced uniform product,” Lynn writes in the introduction to “The Artisan Soda Workshop.” “A hundred years ago, soda could be enjoyed at local shops that offered it in a wide variety of house-made options. Now, more people are looking back to the history of soda and recognizing all the possibilities; they’re applying modern ideas about food to make new and exciting soda recipes.”

While homemade sodas may seem like a chore, when one could simply twist off the cap of a mass-produced drink, there are some added benefits. Homemade sodas are made with real fruit, not artificial flavoring, and you can control the sugar levels to your preference. The syrups just need to be stirred into seltzer water, and Lynn says purchasing your own seltzermaker is worth it. (She likes There are also plenty of other uses for your fruit syrup, such as drizzling it over pancakes or atop big bowl of ice cream.

We had a Cowboy Chili Cookoff at work this week, and instead of trying to compete among all the other chuck-and-beans creations I decided to go another route and bring homemade soda punch. It was a good decision I think – there were 19 crockpots of chili but only two homemade sodas: Prickly Pear Agua Fresca and Sparkling Watermelon-Jalapeño Agua Fresca.

“Agua fresca” simply means “fresh water” and its a common practice in  Mexican, Central American, and Caribbean cuisine to serve “fresh water” blended with a bit of fruit. There are almost endless combinations, as Lynn points out in her book, and once you get down the basic knack of boiling down fruit to make simple syrups you can quickly experiment on your own.

For instance, with the Watermelon-Jalapeño Agua Fresca, I bet adding a cup of freshly chopped mint to the simple syrup would add yet another level of taste to the sweet-then-heat flavor of this sparkling pink drink. Even without the mint, it was a big hit at our Cowboy Cookoff.

As with most drinks, “to taste” is completely subjective. Lynn does offer some basic measurement guides at the back of the book, but the yields were hard to translate (for me) into a large-punch-bowl size. So I simply puréed and strained one small, seedless watermelon, which resulted in about 4 cups of juice, squeezed in the juice of two limes, and used the entire 1/2 cup of the jalapeño simple syrup (see recipe below) combined with 2 liters of sparkling plain seltzer. The combo was perfect, with only the slightest hint of heat. Someone else thought you could get away with eliminating the sugar from the simple syrup altogether, since the watermelon is already quite sweet. As I mentioned, “to taste” is completely subjective.

For the Prickly Pear Agua Fresca, I was intrigued after reading about prickly pear punch earlier this summer on The Ravenous Couple’s blog and thought I might find some prickly pears in the supermarket in the Hispanic neighborhood near me. Sure enough, there was an unmarked basket of prickly pears, also known as cactus fruit or dessert figs, and I bought 16. Prickly pears are covered in fine needles that will embedded in your finger tips. I tried soaking the pears first and then wearing gardening gloves when I peeled them, but neither of these were much help!

Peeling the pears is actually quite simple. You chop off both ends, slice about 1/4 inch through the flesh lengthwise, and peel. The peel comes off all in one piece and you are left with a bright magenta egg shape that has a consistency of a kiwi. Simply cut this up, and boil in a pot of water. Or you can purée the pulp and add to water or lemonade. (You can find a good pictorial guide on pealing prickly pears here.)

I put all 16 prickly pears in 6 cups of water and thought it would only take me 1/2 an hour to boil the syrup down to a cup, per Lynn’s measurements. But this did not happen. After an hour of simmering I still had a lot of water left. So I strained out the pulp and continued simmering another 40 minutes until I had about 1-1/2 cups of syrup.

When I added the agave syrup, and then added 2 tablespoons of the finished syrup to a glass of plain seltzer water, I felt the taste was too mild. In the end, I added the entire 1-1/2 cups of prickly pear syrup to 2 liters of lemon-lime seltzer. The added citrus taste was just enough to complement the prickly pear taste – faintly resembling bubblegum – without overpowering it.

Was it worth all the trouble to make my own soda? I’d say yes. First, they were a novelty among the regular plastic jugs of store bought soda lining the drinks table. Second, the bowls of magenta and pink punch with floating lime circles was pleasing to look at and inviting to try. Third, they tasted delicious and fresh!

So try artisan soda sometime and make a real treat for your dinner guests, friends, and family.

Fizzy Watermelon-Jalapeño Agua Fresca
Excerpted with permission from “The Artisan Soda Workshop” by Andrea Lynn
Yield: About 2 cups

Watermelon and jalapeño make for a great pairing of sweet and heat. The level of heat in individual jalapeños can vary quite a bit, so you may want to taste as you go to get a sense of the spice level. Jalapeño seeds contain a lot of the pepper’s punch, so make sure to include them.

Jalapeño simple syrup
1 jalapeño, chopped, seeds included
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Watermelon juice
2-1/2 cups cubed watermelon
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice

To make the simple syrup: In a small pot, combine the jalapeño, water, and sugar. Bring to a boil over high heat and the let cook until the sugar is entirely dissolved and the syrup is flavored with jalapeño, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool. Then, use a fine-mesh sieve to strain the jalapeño pieces out of the simple syrup. Refrigerate the syrup in a covered container for up to 7 days.

To make the watermelon juice: In a food or blender, combine the watermelon and lime juice. Blend until the watermelon is puréed, 1 to 2 minutes. Then, fit a bowl with a fine-mesh sieve, and pour the juice through the strainer to catch the pulp. Make sure to press the puréed fruit against the strainer to extract as much liquid as possible, and discard the pulp. Refrigerate the watermelon juice in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

To make Fizzy Watermelon-Jalapeño Agua Fresca: Fill a 10-ounce glass with 8 ounces (1 cup) watermelon juice. Stir in 1 to 2 teaspoons of jalapeño simple syrup to taste. Top with seltzer, and serve.

Prickly Pear Syrup
Excerpted with permission from “The Artisan Soda Workshop” by Andrea Lynn
Yield: About 2 cups
Yield: 1/2 cup

Prickly pear is the fruit of a paddle-shaped cactus. Some people describe its flavor as reminiscent of bubblegum. Don’t be intimidated; it’s easier to work with prickly pears than it seems. The soda’s magenta hue makes this one of the most beautiful of the bunch.

8 prickly pears
3 cups water
2 tablespoons agave syrup

To tackle the prickly pear, use a cutting board that you don’t mind potentially staining. Slice off both ends of each prickly pear. Then, cut down one side of the prickly pear skin. Use your hands to open the skin around the prickly pear and remove the flesh. you can use your hands to break the flesh into pieces, or chop with a knife.

Combine the prickly pear pieces and water in a medium pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low or medium-low, and let simmer for about 15 minutes, until most of the liquid is gone, with just 1/2 cup remaining, plus the prickly pear seeds. Remove from the heat, and let cool. Use a fine-mesh sieve to strain the pulp and seeds from the syrup, making sure to press it against the strainer to extract as much liquid as possible. Stir in the agave to combine. Refrigerate the syrup in a covered container for up to 5 days.

To make Prickly Pear Soda: Stir 2 tablespoons Prickly Pear Syrup, or to taste, into 10 ounces (1-1/4 cups) seltzer.

Related posts on Kitchen Report: Sparkling Watermelon LemonadeRhubarb SpritzerArnold Palmers,Traditional Mayan Chocolate Drink

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Add onions, peppers, and garlic to field peas while pickling for an extra kick of flavor. The canned peas will keep for a year in a cool dry place. (The Runaway Spoon)

Let the canning begin: Pickled field peas

By The Runaway Spoon / 09.14.12

Field peas are one of my favorite things about summer. I freeze them in little baggies to pull out at the height of the winter blahs to remind me of the warmer months. I always seem to remember them as warmer months, not miserable, stifling hot and humid. On Saturdays, when I am cooking and putting by my farmers market purchases, I put them on to cook with some piece of pork, garlic or onion and let them bubble away while I work. But I also love them chilled in salads, so I decided to work on a pickled relish that would hark back to those fresh summer salads, chock full of farmers market ingredients, with a nice vinegary zing.

The peas need to be of roughly the same size. I have found that tiny lady peas turn mushy and disintegrate, while larger butter beans are unevenly pickled.  Crowder, whippoorwill and the darker peas tend to turn the brine an unattractive color.You could add some zipper or cream peas, as long as they size is right. If you like a little spice, very finely dice a jalapeno or two and add to the mix, or put a whole hot chili in while cooking, then fish it out before canning.  You could also add a pinch of dried pepper flakes.

Pickled field peas are a great relish beside roast pork, but also make a great dip for corn chips. In the middle of winter, you can pretend it’s summer by serving a scoop of this pickle in a lettuce cup as a salad. Pickle black-eyed peas alone, and you have a perfect hostess gift for New Year’s, or a special treat to serve for good luck.

Pickled Field Peas

2 pounds fresh field peas, all about the same size – purple hull, pink-eye, black-eye or a combination
1 large Vidalia onion
2 green bell peppers
1 red or orange bell pepper or 1 pimento pepper
3 cloves garlic
2 cups cider vinegar
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons canning salt or 3 tablespoons table salt
1-1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Put the peas into a large bowl of cold water and leave to soak for about 10 minutes. Finely dice the onions and peppers (I use my as-seen-on-TV onion chopper to speed things up). Finely dice the garlic.

Skim off any floating peas, then use your hands to scoop the peas out of the water and place them in a 5-quart Dutch oven. Let the water drip through your fingers leaving any debris and dirt behind. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, just until slightly soft, but still with a bite. Drain, rinse and return to the pot, which you should wipe out first to remove any scum.

Add the onions, peppers and garlic to the peas in the pot and stir well to distribute evenly. Pour in the vinegar and sugar, stir well then add the salt, mustard, paprika, celery seed and pepper.

Bring to simmer over medium high heat, reduce the heat to medium and simmer, at just a gentle bubble, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. While your peas are cooking, get a boiling water canner or big stockpot of water going. When the peas are almost ready, pour some boiling water over the lids of the jars to soften the seals and set aside. When the cooking time is up for the peas, immediately scoop into sterilized canning jars. Top with a little extra brine to cover, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Dry the lids with a clean paper towel and place on the jars. Screw on the bands, then process the jars for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath.

Refrigerate any extra peas, and discard any extra brine.

When the jars are processed, leave to cool on a towel on the counter.

The processed jars will keep for a year in a cool, dark place. Don’t forget to label your jars!

Makes about 7 half-pint jars.

Related post on The Runaway Spoon: Goat Cheese Pancakes with Blackberry Syrup

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A cup of tea and a letter from a distant loved one helps to warm the heart and transcend the miles. (The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook)

Tea and marriage, separation and fried chicken

By The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook / 09.12.12

“With a smile and the warmth of

… a cup of tea, you caught me”

In black ink scrawled across college ruled paper, these simple words are strung together like precious pearls gracing a debutante’s soft neck. They offer a fleeting taste of the entire pie – a heartfelt poem of several stanzas that arrived in the mail, charged with the emotion of separation, the faint scent of a faraway place lingering between the lines.

Tea, like grey Seattle skies and the inconsistency of constancy, has always been a part of our lives. My husband claims he fell in love with me when I served him a cup of tea at my brother’s house all those years ago. We gave away sachets of jasmine tea at our wedding. And on many a cold, wintry evening, when the chill seeped deep into our bones, we’d share a hot pot of tea to thaw ourselves out.

In August, my husband and I celebrated 10 years of marriage. Our hearts proudly bear the battle scars.

As newlyweds in England, I, lonesome and failing miserably at being a wife in a foreign land, fled home to Singapore to seek comfort under my mother’s wing and the familial company of old friends. He thought I was never coming back. I did.

Then came the arrival of a child we waited five heartbreaking years for. Silly us. We had absolutely no clue what we were in for. The sleep deprivation. A super-fussy baby whose wails could rival the queen of the banshees. To “cry it out” or not to “cry it out.” Did I mention the sleep deprivation? That baby is now a beautiful toddler, and a beacon who shows us the way and reminds us why we’re journeying.

Over the years, oh, how the seams of our relationship have heaved and ho’ed under the strain of having a spouse who’s just as obligated to his country as he is to his family. One transatlantic move, three cross-country moves (and counting), and two run-ins with the USCIS later, like rock that’s weathered by wind and rain, we’ve been through rough times but we’re not broken. We’re just transformed.

We’ve come a long way, but the journey is not yet over.

Sadly, at this milestone, we’re separated by 11-1/2 hours, 6,720 miles, 2 continents, and a damn war that won’t go away.

So here I am, raising my cup of tea to a decade of married life, with a plateful of mochiko chicken on the table and an Omar-shaped hole in my heart.

My husband eats just about everything I cook but his eyes light up and he gushes every time I make mochiko chicken. This is one recipe from my cookbook that he didn’t mind me testing over and over and over again. I can almost guarantee that it’ll be one of his first requests for a home-cooked meal when he returns from his year-long deployment. In his honor, I’m sharing it with you today so you can share it with your loved ones near and far.

I made this dish my own by using tapioca starch (Southeast Asian cooks prefer this to cornstarch) which I think gives the chicken a crispier edge and nira (Japanese chives) instead of green onions.

Seek out Koda Farms Blue Star brand of mochiko, flour made from Japanese sweet rice (which is similar to glutinous rice) in the Asian aisle of many supermarkets.

Mochiko Fried Chicken

Time: 45 minutes, plus marinating

Makes: 4 to 6 servings as part of a multi-course family-style meal

2-1/2 to 3 pounds bone-in chicken thighs
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup mochiko (sweet rice flour)
1/4 cup tapioca starch (or cornstarch)
1/4 cup sugar
Small bunch nira (or green onions), chopped (1/4 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
Vegetable oil for shallow frying

Debone the chicken, and reserve the bones to make stock. Cut the meat into 2-inch chunks.

In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, soy sauce, mochiko, tapioca starch, sugar, nira, and garlic. Tumble in the chicken and toss to coat evenly. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least four hours, or preferably 12 hours.

Bring the chicken to room temperature before frying.

Line a plate with paper towels. In a large heavy skillet, heat about 1 inch of oil over high heat until it becomes runny and starts to shimmer. Reduce the heat to medium. Using tongs or cooking chopsticks, carefully lower thickly coated chicken pieces one at a time into the oil. You are shallow-frying, so the pieces will only be half submerged. Fry in a batch of seven to eight pieces (don’t overcrowd the pan) until both sides are crispy and evenly golden brown, two to three minutes on each side.

Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon, shaking off excess oil, and drain on paper towels. Use a slotted spoon or a wire mesh strainer to remove any debris from the oil and repeat until all the chicken is cooked.

Serve hot with freshly steamed short-grain rice, or cold as an appetizer or picnic food.

Related post on The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook: Chicken larb and purple sticky rice

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It is plum season and piles of fruit in tones from deep purple to a delicate mottled green are ready for eating. (The Rowdy Chowgirl)

How to make plum jam

By The Rowdy Chowgirl / 09.11.12

Last week the plums started arriving at work, in bags and baskets, distributed to various strategic places in offices and common area. Piles of fruit, in tones from deep purple to a delicate mottled green, enticing all of us to stop and nibble on one or to grab a handful for later.

It is plum season in Seattle, and so many people have trees in their yard producing a bountiful harvest of fruit. My plum trees are old and gnarled, covered in lichen. I haven’t seen any fruit from them in years. They are still beautiful, though useless. So when one of my coworkers, perhaps with a tone of slight despair over the quantity of fruit his trees were producing, offered to bring me a whole bag of plums, I eagerly accepted. I would make jam, I said, and would bring him back a jar of it.

The plums duly arrived the next morning. Ripe fruit does not wait, so I stopped on the way home for some extra lids and pectin, and got out my canning tools.

I have made enough jam by this point to know that it can be done in a few hours on a weeknight, should the need arise. But that is without any dallying, or I will end up still in the steamy kitchen, sticky-haired and cross, after my usual bedtime.

So without loss of time, I gathered up jars and rings and canning utensils got them in the dishwasher. And I filled the big canner and put it on the stove, as that much water takes nearly forever to come to a boil.

Then I took a moment to consider recipes. Jam is just fruit, water, sugar, pectin and heat, in varying ratios. I knew I wanted a basic reduced-sugar recipe, so that the bright tartness of the fruit would not be overwhelmed. The big controversy in plum jam recipes is whether to peel the plums. Some cooks contend that the peels become tough and bitter. Others leave the peels on and are quite happy with the results. I applied Occam’s Razor to this problem and took the simplest course. I left the peels on.

And my jam was all that I hoped it would be. A delicate glowing ruby color. A medium set – not hard and jelly-like, but nicely jammy (perhaps a circular definition, but this is cooking, not rhetoric!). And sweet, but not a sugarfest. The summery tart flavor of the plums asserted itself exactly as I had hoped.

And there were even a few halved pitted plums left over, to put in the refrigerator and eat over the next few days whenever I walked past, with a little shiver of pleasure as the icy fruit touched my tongue. Just as William Carlos Williams points out in his poem "This Is Just to Say", they were delicious. So sweet and so cold.

Plum Jam

(Adapted from Sure-Jell recipe) 

 7 cups pitted and finely diced plums, peels left on (buy about 4 pounds of ripe plums and eat any extras)
1/2 cup water
4-1/2 cups sugar, divided
1 box low sugar/no sugar powdered pectin

Bring canner, half full with water, to simmer. Wash eight 8-ounce jars and screw bands in dishwasher to sterilize. Leave in dishwasher until ready to use. Place flat lids in small saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a gentle simmer. Turn off heat and let stand in hot water until ready to use.

Take 1/4 cup of the sugar and mix with the pectin in a separate small bowl. Set aside.

Pit unpeeled plums. Finely chop fruit. Place fruit in saucepan and add water. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 5-10 minutes (until they look soft and cooked), stirring occasionally and mash a bit with a potato masher. Measure exactly 6-1/2 cups prepared fruit into a heavy-bottomed stockpot.

Add pectin/sugar mixture to fruit in stock pot. Bring to full rolling boil (a boil that doesn’t stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in remaining 4-1/4 cups sugar. Return to full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Let sit for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally and skimming off any foam with a metal spoon.

(Save the foam! It is delicious. Put it in the refrigerator and use it within a few days. Stir it into your yogurt, put it on your ice cream, or just use it like jam. It is jam really, just foamier.)

Ladle into prepared jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of tops. Run a butter knife around inside of jars to remove air pockets. Wipe jar rims and threads. Cover with lids. Screw bands on tightly. Place jars on rack in canner. Water must cover jars by 1 to 2 inches. Add boiling water, if necessary. Cover and bring water to gentle boil. Process for 10 minutes.

Remove jars and place upright on a towel to cool completely. After jars cool, check seals by pressing middles of lids with finger. (If lids spring back, lids are not sealed and refrigeration is necessary.)

Related post on The Rowdy Chowgirl: Blackberry Jam

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These Southern tea cake-inspired cookies are worth the trouble. Grind the mint and sugar together in the food processor before mixing the batter. (The Runaway Spoon)

The flavor of the South: Sweet tea cookies

By The Runaway Spoon / 09.10.12

The flavor of sweet tea is the flavor of the South. With the wafting aroma of mint and the tang of lemon, with that tooth-achingly sweet depth. I love to transform those flavors into many forms, from punches to sorbet to these cookies. They are redolent with those iconic flavors.

The texture of these cookies is really that of a classic Southern tea cake, but I just couldn’t bring myself to call them Sweet Tea Tea Cakes. I can imagine nibbling these with a glass of sweet tea punch in my best flowery dress on a country veranda, surrounded by azaleas and magnolias, though I’ll admit it has been awhile since I’ve done anything like that. 

These cookies also share that amazing Southern trait of adaptability. These fit in anywhere. Serve these cookies on your best silver tray lined with a linen doily or pack them in a brown bag for a tailgate. Perfect for a ladies luncheon or a backyard barbecue. Just like that string of your grandmother’s pearls.

I am not generally a fan of the two-appliance recipe, but these are a very special cookie and worth the dirty dishes. After lots of experimenting, I have found that grinding the sugar with the mint in a food processor really does produce the best mint flavor and prevents the mint from turning a muddy brown.

Sweet Tea Cookies
Make about 3 dozen cookies 

For the Cookies:
1/2 cup milk
1 black tea bag (such as orange pekoe or any blend for ice tea)
1/2 cup loosely packed mint leaves
1-3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
2 eggs
1 tablespoon lemon zest
3 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Heat the milk in the microwave for 45 seconds. Drop in the tea bag and leave to steep until completely cool. Remove the tea bag. The milk will turn a pale beige, not dark like regular tea.

Place the mint leaves in sugar in the bowl of a food processor (a small one works fine here). Process until the mint is finely chopped and combined with the sugar.

Cream the butter and mint sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl. Add the tea milk and beat until combined, then add the lemon zest and beat. Beat in the flour, baking powder and salt slowly until everything is combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Scoop mounds of dough onto the prepared baking sheets. I use a two-tablespoon cookie scoop. Bake the cookies until puffed up and golden around the edges, about 10-12 minutes. Leave to cool on the baking sheets for two minutes, then carefully remove to a cooling rack to cool completely. When one baking sheet has cooled, use the last of the dough to make more cookies.

Cool completely and glaze.

For the Glaze:
1 black tea bag (as above)
6 mint leaves
1 cup water
2-1/2 cups powdered sugar

Put the tea bag and mint leaves in a measuring jug and pour over 3/4 cup of boiling water. Leave to steep for five minutes, then remove the tea bag and leave to cool completely.

Sift the powdered sugar into a bowl and add about five tablespoons of the tea, a bit at a time, whisking until you have a glaze the consistency of heavy cream. Place some foil (or the parchment from the baking sheets) under the cooling racks to catch drips and spoon the glaze over the cookies. I have another trick though – I prefer to dip the top of the cookies in the glaze, swirl them around a bit, very gently, lift them out and let the excess drip off, then return to the cooling rack. I find this gives you a nice even coat of glaze. Leave the cookies until the glaze sets. The cookies can be kept in an airtight container for one day.

Related post on The Runaway Spoon: Fresh Tomato Buttermilk Biscuits

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An Arnold Palmer is half lemonade and half iced tea, created by the golfing sensation of the 1960s. (Kitchen Report)

A toast to Arnold Palmer

By Kitchen Report / 09.10.12

"I'll have an Arnold Palmer." Do you know what I mean? Lemonade and ice tea, and somehow my current favorite beverage. Named for the legendary golfer Arnold Palmer, the drink is said to have been born in the 1960s, according to Parade magazine, when Mr. Palmer asked a waitress at a course in Palm Springs to mix lemonade into his iced tea. Another customer overheard his request, and "a Palmer" was born. It's refreshing powers are said to be the perfect drink to revive onself after 18 holes under the sun.

“You can now find it everywhere!” said Palmer, who turns 83 on Sept. 10.

Today, the Arizona Beverage Company has a corner on the market of the half-iced-tea, half-lemonade refreshment coming in bottles of all sizes, including a 20-ounce version bearing not only the image of Arnold Palmer, but a golf ball-shaped neck. Palmer, who stormed on the golfing scene to battle Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player just as TVs became a fixture in every American living room, is said to be a master of sports marketing.

But really, how hard is it to make your own Arnold Palmer at home? Not hard at all! You can either mix up store-bought lemonade and iced tea, or you can make it from scratch.

Here are some recipes to help you stir up your own Arnold Palmer. But no promises on improving your swing.


Makes about 9 cups, adapted from The Runaway Spoon

6 – 7 large lemons
Zest of 1 lemon
1 cup sugar
6 – 8 cups water

Scrub the lemons clean, and with a zester, or vegetable peeler, shave off the peel from one lemon. In a saucepan, stir together the sugar and 1 cup of the water, add the lemon zest. Bring to a boil, and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Halve and juice the lemons, yielding about 1 cup of juice. Pour the juice into a large pitcher. When the syrup has cooled, strain it through a fine sieve into the pitcher, pressing on the solids to extract as much syrup as you can. Stir the juice and syrup together. Add the remaining water, testing around 6 cups for your preferred level of sweetness.

Iced tea
Makes about 8 cups, adapted from Hillbilly Housewife

6 to 8 tea bags of your choice
4 cups of boiling water
4 cups cold water
1/2 cup sugar or 1/4 cup honey, optional

Add 4 cups of water to a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and add tea bags. Allow to steep for 10 minutes, but not longer so your tea doesn't turn out bitter. Toss tea bags into the trash.

Add the 4 cups of cold water to a pitcher, then add the hot tea water. If you like sweet tea, stir in sugar or honey until it has dissolved, to your taste. Chill in the 'fridge until ready for serving.

Arnold Palmer Iced Tea

1/2 glass lemonade
1/2 glass iced tea
Sprig of mint, for garish

Serve and enjoy!

Related posts on Kitchen Report: Sparkling Watermelon LemonadeRhubarb Spritzer

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When cooking a bunch of beets, don’t discard the greens. Save them to make a flavorful and nutritious pesto. Freezing the leftover pesto is a nice way to save some of the abundance of summer for later. (The Rowdy Chowgirl)

Beet greens pesto

By The Rowdy Chowgirl / 09.07.12

Last week, thanks to the folks at Oxbow Farm, I cooked beets for the first time ever, and was quite happy with my Golden Summer Soup. When I was cleaning and trimming the beets, I held onto the beet greens. There was no way I was throwing away a bunch of fresh, nutritious greens. I washed them well, and saved them in the refrigerator for later use. I had initially planned to do a simple braise with them, just like I would with chard or other greens.

That would have been good. But you know what is even better? Pesto. Pesto is so much more than just basil. It can be made with virtually any herb (I’m partial to mint or cilantro), or with greens. Spinach, chard, nettles, kale – you name it, most greens can be used for pesto.

Sometimes I buy pine nuts from the bulk container at the co-op, but they can get expensive. I also like to use raw sunflower seeds or walnuts in my pesto.

A quick blanch in boiling water is helpful to soften the greens and to preserve their bright color.

You can also freeze extra pesto in an ice cube tray. This is a nice way to save some of the abundance of summer for later. You will want a special designated ice cube tray for this, as the pesto will definitely discolor the tray and leave behind a whiff of garlic. Put about 1 tablespoon of pesto in each space in tray and freeze. Once frozen, remove pesto cubes from tray, place in an airtight container, and keep in freezer. Remove and thaw cubes as needed for cooking.

Beet Green and Kale Pesto

8 cups beet greens (or beet green/kale combo in any proportion)
1/2 cup olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
squeeze of fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper

Half fill stockpot with water, cover, and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, fill large bowl with ice water to blanch greens.

Clean beet greens well and remove stems. One bunch of beets will yield 3-4 cups of greens. Add enough kale leaves (also cleaned and with stems removed) to make 8 cups of greens.

When water is boiling, add greens and stir. Cook for two minutes, then scoop greens from boiling water with a large slotted spoon and plunge into ice water. (If you are in the process of making dinner, add pasta to the water that is already boiling and set timer.)

Swirl greens around in ice water to cool. Drain and gently squeeze out excess water. Roughly chop greens. Add greens, oil, garlic, sunflower seeds, Parmesan, and lemon juice to food processor (or use immersion blender) and process until uniform and smooth – you still want tiny bits of the greens, not a purée. Taste and add salt, pepper, and additional lemon juice if needed.

Makes about 1-1/2 cups. Use about 2 tablespoons of pesto per serving for pasta.

Related post on The Rowdy Chowgirl: Lamb Ragu

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Swiss chard, carrots, kale and beets are displayed in the produce section at a Whole Foods Market in Boston. All the produce is organic. (John Nordell/The Christian Science Monitor)

Organic vs. non-organic foods: Why I'm still going to buy organic

By Blue Kitchen / 09.06.12

A study just released by Stanford University scientists has found that organic foods – produce, meat and dairy – are no more nutritious than non-organic or conventional foods. The study also reports that they are no less likely to be contaminated. They’re probably right. They examined more than 40 years worth of research on the topic; the study used no outside funding to avoid any “perception of bias”; and, well, they’re scientists.

The problem with their research, as I see it, is that they asked the wrong question. No one has really seriously claimed that organic foods are more nutritious. And earlier studies on this very subject have already stated what the Stanford researchers were “surprised” to discover. To me, they missed the point. Their central question was kind of like asking if LED light bulbs are any quieter than conventional ones, or if fuel-efficient vehicles are any shinier than gas guzzlers. 

Because while organic foods may not be more nutritional than conventional foods, they are definitely healthier. First, there are the pesticides applied to conventional produce. The study recognized this, but said that pesticide levels were all within safety guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency. However, an impressive number of studies question whether the EPA’s levels are strict enough.

Organic foods are healthier for the people who grow them, too. Exposure to pesticides is a constant threat to the well-being of farm workers. Animals raised organically for food also generally lead healthier, happier lives. And finally, there’s the planet itself. Chemical run-off, waste production, and depletion of the soil from the monoculture approach of industrial farming all place a huge burden on the environment.

Here’s why this matters so much. In an age in which more and more of our information comes from sound bites, easy-to-digest nuggets like “organic foods are no more nutritious than conventional foods” have more weight than they deserve. I first saw this story in the elevator at my office this week, telling me nothing more than the above with “Stanford scientists report…” attached to it. Armed with one authoritative-sounding little slice of a bigger story, it’s easy to pass up the usually more expensive organic option at the grocery store, figuring it makes no difference. It’s also easy to skip the farmers market, to fail to support legislation aimed at helping local farmers or protecting farm workers.

Even The New York Times story on the study, a reasonably balanced piece that also quoted a senior analyst with the Environmental Working Group, did so under the overreaching headline “Stanford Scientists Cast Doubt on Advantages of Organic Meat and Produce.”

All this said, in our household we don’t buy strictly local or organic either. Our decisions are driven by convenience and cost just like everyone else’s. But we’re buying more organic these days, from local sources when possible. It all starts with asking the right questions.

Related post on Blue Kitchen: The corn-free challenge: My week without corn

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Grilled Asian flank steak is an affordable cut of meat, takes well to marinades, and is as tender as it is flavorful. (Blue Kitchen)

Tender and flavorful: Grilled Asian flank steak

By Blue Kitchen / 09.06.12

I use the word flavorful a lot here, I know. Sometimes, I think I should reserve it for flank steak. Before going any further, let me share my own idea of what flavorful means. It’s not a one-note taste bud bomb, like a buffalo wing or a lemon wedge. To me, flavorful means engaging multiple corners of the palate at once, bringing layer after layer of tastes and combining them beautifully. If done right, flavorful means stopping conversation at the dinner table with the first bite. Which is what the flank steak pictured here did on Labor Day

Flank steak makes such feats easy. Not only is it one of the meatiest tasting cuts of beef on its own – it takes well to marinating. It’s usually one of the more affordable cuts, too, which makes me wonder why it isn’t more popular.

Actually, I know why. Flank steak, cut from hardworking abdominal muscles with a pronounced grain of long muscle fibers, has a reputation for being tough. And it can be, if overcooked or carved improperly. But cooked to medium-rare or just barely medium and then sliced thin across the grain, it’s plenty tender. And, well, flavorful.

Still, a recent comment by a reader on an old post about tenderizing notoriously chewy (but also delicious) lamb shoulder chops with kosher salt had me wondering if the same technique would make flank steak even more tender. The technique is called dry brining. Essentially, you coat the meat with a generous layer of coarse kosher salt and let it sit for a while. Then you rinse the salt off. I hear alarm bells going off everywhere right now: “But that will suck all the juices out of the meat!” It does, at first. Then the juices are drawn back into the meat, along with the salt, changing the protein cell structure and tenderizing the steak (or lamb or pork or…).

It also flavors the meat, so don’t add any more salt before cooking – and don't use particularly salty ingredients in your marinade. Also, don’t use table salt for dry brining. It’s too fine, and too much will be absorbed by the meat. You certainly can make this recipe without the dry brining step. Just season the steak with a little salt before putting it on the grill. But it really did make the meat incredibly tender.

The marinade is a mash-up of a number of recipes I’ve seen, plus some of my own ideas. It’s an international mash-up, too, of ingredients that not only cross various Asian boundaries, but find their ways to other continents. One, the wildly (and deservedly) popular Sriracha hot sauce, is actually an American product created in the suburbs of Los Angeles by a Chinese-Vietnamese immigrant, David Tran. For as many big flavors as you’ll see on the ingredients list – and for as fragrant as the marinade is when you’ve mixed it together – the resulting flavor on the grilled steak is pleasantly restrained. It doesn’t overpower the rich meaty flavor of the steak; it just makes it – OK, last time for this post – more flavorful.

Grilled Asian Flank Steak

Serves 4 to 6

1 1/2-pound flank steak
kosher salt (do not use table salt)

For marinade:

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions (about 1)
1 jalapeño pepper, finely chopped (see Kitchen Notes)
2 large cloves garlic, minced
zest of 1 lime
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon fish sauce (available in Asian markets and many supermarkets)
2 teaspoons Sriracha (or other hot sauce)
2 tablespoons olive oil

Pat steak dry with paper towels. Season generously on both sides with kosher salt and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Let it rest on counter for one hour.

Meanwhile, make marinade. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside. After steak has been coated with salt for one hour, unwrap it and rinse thoroughly under cold running water. Pat dry with paper towels and place in a large zippered plastic bag. Add marinade to bag, being careful to coat steak on both sides. Seal bag, forcing out most of the air inside and, manipulating bag from the outside, work rub marinade against surfaces of the steak. Refrigerate at least six hours and preferably overnight.

Grill steak. About half an hour before the grill is ready for cooking, remove steak from fridge to bring it to room temperature. Prepare grill for direct grilling and medium-high heat. Remove steak from zippered bag and scrape off excess marinade (I used the back edge of a table knife). Discard marinade.

Brush grill grate with a little oil and place steak directly over coals (or gas heat source). Close grill and cook for about four minutes. Turn and cook other side for about four minutes, with grill lid closed. If first side isn’t sufficiently browned, flip and cook for maybe another minute. Steak should be medium-rare to medium at this point. Do not cook more than than 10 minutes; when flank steak is overcooked (aka well-done) it becomes tough.

Transfer to cutting board or platter and tent with foil. Let steak rest for five minutes, then slice into quarter- to half-inch thick slices – the thinner, the better –across the grain. Serve.

Kitchen Notes

Don’t fear the heat. Yes, the recipe calls for an entire jalapeño pepper, seeds and all, and two teaspoons of hot sauce. But most of this gets scraped off after the steak is done marinating. The heat was barely noticeable.

Related post on Blue Kitchen: Cheap lamb chops made tender

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