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Sunday, May 29, 2011

~Spices of Life~ Just add water and what do you get? Golden Chai!

Our little Walla Walla has grown more and more metropolitan over the last few years lately we've been seeing more and more in the way of exotic ingredients/foods.  Down town the other day, in search of a pulled pork sandwich and some pickled green tomatoes, I found my nose in the tea section of our Salumierie.  The tea that jumped ahead of all of the others was one called Yunnan Gold.  Tea added to the list!

~Golden Spiced Chai~

Printable Recipe

2 C Yunnan tea
1 1/2 Teaspoon fresh ground green cardamom
1/2 Teaspoon fresh ground star anise
2 Tablespoon fresh ground cinnamon
2 Tablespoon ground ginger
1 Teaspoons ground nutmeg
1 1/2 Teaspoon crushed whole cloves
1/2 Teaspoon ground grains of paradise
1/2 Teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 Teaspoon dried Valencia orange peel
1/4 Teaspoon ground vanilla seeds

Special Tools: Medium Measuring Bowl
                       Large Mason Jar w/Lid

                       Mortar and Pestle and/or countertop spice grinder

Yield - about 2 Cups (32 single tablespoon servings)
This time, with the such a short ingredient category list (spices + tea + water), I'm gonna start with a fairly recent addition to my blog's extra segments!  Ingredient notes!  Needs to be said for sure with this one!

~~~Ingredient Notes: Whole Spices~~~

For any good chai, the key is good quality spice.  Good quality AND strong I should say.  Store bought ground spices can work when making chai but they simply aren't strong enough.  The same could of course be said for many many recipes.
Whole spices from an organic tea shop

Spices are defined as the dried seeds, fruit, roots, bark, or other woody, vegetative portions of a plant or tree added to food for flavor (cinnamon), color (saffron), or as a preservative (salt.)  With only a few exceptions, the actual spice is an oil in the flesh of the plant.  When we grind spices (or they're ground at the packing facility) the oils are allowed to pass more readily into the surrounding environment due to increased surface area.

pre-ground spices at the local grocery
With store bought spices, all of the whole spices are ground and packed, sealed tight for freshness and shipping, but you just can't stop the release of oils...  Once the spices are ground, the oils begin to seep out and begin to oxidize, loosing flavor quickly, even inside the bottles.  Often these spices are further treated via irradiation (to kill and parasites/bacteria,) killing unwanted bugs but also further degrading the essential oils.

Grinding spices at home boils down to fresher and less-processed ingredients.  Less oils escaping between grinding and use just equals better ingredients and better dishes that result!  The fresher the better, I think it's safe to say, is universal!

~~~Ingredient Notes: Whole Spices~~~

First off, grind your spices.  I think the best for chai tea is to more crush them than grind them to powder.  The finer the grind the better in most cases but with chai, you want to have just slightly larger pieces for a few reasons.  The first reason is flavor: too fine of a grind can lend the tea a far too powerful, almost bitter/harsh flavor.  The second reason is simply to allow proper, thorough straining after brewing.

Grind and or crush your spices to your liking then mix them thoroughly in a medium mixing bowl to homogenize.  Just like when you add leavening, thorough sifting/mixing here is key so you can avoid one dose of chai with WAAAAY too much of one spice or another (learned from experience myself.)  This spice mix is great for other applications as well like cooked custards and cakes!  Just put any extra in a coffee or spice grinder to powder completely and save for later!

Once you have your spice mix, time for the tea itself!  To mix properly, I like to be like bond and shake rather than stir.  Shaking the tea and the spices tends to mix them more evenly and keeps the small, fragile tea leaves from being beaten to a pulp.

In a large mason jar with a screw on lid, combine the tea leaves and spices and shake gently until you have a nice even mixture.  This will keep, sealed tight, for quite a while.  Just be sure to keep it cool and out of direct sun.

To Brew: 

When it comes to actually brewing this lovely tea, there are a whole few options.  If you've a tea ball rattling around the kitchen, feel free to fill it and steep in a cup of freshly boiled water but I feel the second option is much more fitting for the kind of tea we're after here.
Take a good, rounded tablespoon (or two if you like it strong) and toss it, along with a full 8 oz of cool water into a small pot and place it on the stove over medium heat.  Bring the contents to a very slow simmer for about one minute then remove from heat and strain with a fine mesh sieve.  Serve with lemon, soymilk, honey, and maybe a nice spiced cookie!

Chai has always (even when I was little) been a favorite of mine and of my family's.  The beauty of this sweetly pungent and spicy elixir is that it combines so many likely and unlikely allies into one wonderful blend, hitting so many notes that part of the fun is just trying to figure out what makes the stuff so good! 
Here I've added some non-traditional chai spices (Valencia orange peel, grains of paradise, vanilla seeds) but that too is part of the fun.  Try it out and see what you might want to add, take out, change...  Add a bay leaf, replace the orange peel with dried cranberries perhaps.  No matter what you end up with, it'll surely be worth writing home about!  Keep on experimenting!


Sunday, May 22, 2011

~Easy-Peasy Lemon-doodles!~ Always room for a classic... with a twist!

Isn't there always room for a cookie?  And so it goes, all the way to the bank, via the grocery store and high priced cookies with all kinds of preservatives and other Mr. Yuk-worthy "ingredients."  Why not just make something good at home?  Cookies this simple are a fun distraction on a slow Sunday afternoon.


3 Sticks (12 oz) butter (room temperature)
2 Cups baker's sugar
Zest of one small lemon
3 Large eggs, lightly beaten
1 Teaspoon vanilla Extract
4 1/2 Cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon cream of tartar
1 Teaspoon baking soda
3/4 Teaspoon salt

Spice Sugar:

3 Cups bakers sugar
3 Tablespoons cinnamon
1/3 Teaspoon ground cardamom

Special Tools: Countertop Mixer, Hand Mixer, or Food Processor
                       Parchment Lined Baking Sheet
                       Small Ice Cream Scoop

Yield - About 3 dozen cookies

These little guys are a fun mistake actually.  They came into being when I inadvertently added a small amount of lemon extract instead of vanilla...  that first batch came out just a bit too zingy (by "zingy" I mean "foul) but the concept was a good one!  This here is the result of quite a bit of fiddling and the happy chance of finding Meyer lemons at the local grocery.  The spiced sugar recipe comes from my blueberry scone blend, meant mimic a citron flavor palate.  Lets get started!

Preheat your oven to 400f and center a rack for cooking.  These little ones cook hot and fast so don't bake them too high (excessive drying) or too low (not quite done through) in the oven.  Of course this depends on the oven and can vary quite a bit but better safe than sorry..

In the bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment (or in a food processor,) cream together sugar and butter on high speed until it becomes very light and fluffy.  All those tiny tiny air pockets created by the sugar crystals cutting into the butter create lift in the baking process so don't rush this step.

~FOOD SCIENCE NOTES (creaming butter and sugar): Mechanical Leavening~

Once you've achieved a nice fluffy mixture, add your lemon zest and vanilla and mix again to properly incorporate the flavors.  Next its time to add the liquids: fresh eggs!


What is the difference really between farm fresh and store bought eggs?  So so many things to list off but lets get a few in here.

First and foremost is nutrition.  Farm eggs are almost always better for you because of the health of the hens.  Being allowed to roam and forage for themselves keeps them healthier and happier, getting more sunlight and a much more varied diet rich in natural nutrients, not simply whatever blended multivitamin mix cage farming companies might use.  Better hens make better eggs.

Second (but not at all secondary) comes the enjoyment of eating them and cooking with them!  The flavors alone are much richer and more complex (again from the hens' varied diet)
The whites are clearer and more cohesive, staying together in a tight disk when frying and cooking evenly, firming up with little loss when boiling.
The yolks themselves are creamier and thicker, standing up tall when cooking and on the plate, and whipping up beautifully when making cookies or cake.

However you want to look at it, you can't go wrong with fresher cleaner foods so if you can get to you're local farm stand, grocery co-op, or farmers' market, keep your eyes peeled!


Add your eggs gradually in portions, mixing at medium low speed then turn up to high speed to finish and return the mix to a fluffy texture.  You should have a moderately thick, fluffy batter similar to mascarpone cheese.

Sift together your flour, slat, baking soda, and cream of tartar two or three times to ensure the leavening agents are thoroughly incorporated.  The cream of tartar especially so.  Just one cookie tasting of salty batteries and metal can still ruin your mood.  Add your dry ingredients in two parts, mixing at low speed until you have a thoroughly moistened dough.

What makes a snickerdoodle a snickerdoodle if not a coating of cinnamon sugar?  This time though I wanted something a bit different.  To accent the lemon zest I added just a small amount of cardamom.  The cardamoms floral, gingery flavor mellows the zest without muting it and adds just a little bit of complexity to the cinnamon.  This mix also makes a great topping for toast!

To form the cookies, take a small amount of dough (using your ice cream scoop or spoon) and form in into a 1.5" ball.  Roll the balls in your spiced sugar and place them on your parchment lined cookie sheet.  Bake 8-10 minutes until light golden brown.

I can say it again I think:  Isn't there always room for a good cookie?  These can be made with almost any citrus zest.  Maybe try orange zest with a tiny bit of clove then half dip them in chocolate.  A little bit of key lime zest mixed in with the lemon just for fun, brown sugar to coat.  Don't be tied down by conventional ingredient mixes.  Keep on experimenting!


Sunday, May 8, 2011

~Spring Has Sprung and the Market is Fine!~ A day at the Walla Walla Farmer's Market Season Opener!

A lovely Saturday in Walla Walla and what a day for a market!  Last weekend, I made a trip to the Walla Walla Valley Farmers' Market opening day of the season and brought my camera along!  Here is a little bit of what I captured:

All kinds of folks out to see the market and its wares, all with their kids and dogs hoping for a treat here and there...

Fresh, live herbs, and green growing plants for the garden.  Tomato plants, squash vines, herbs, cucumber plants, fresh spring veggies like asparagus, peas...  Plenty of greenery to be had!

Fresh flowers, dried flowers, live flowers, hanging pots, pottery, garden soil...

Fresh spring blossom honey, handcrafted wares from soaps to bar tables made from wine barrels and from candles to copper flowers and up-cycled garden tools!

All of these things and more!  Live music, great food, sun, and a darn good excuse to get yourself out of bed on a Saturday!  The market runs all the way through the end of October with seasonal produce and all kinds of great stuff!  Come check it out if your in the area!