October 30, 2007

Tea for Me

With the weather finally getting into chillier zones, I've started thinking about warming foods- especially since yesterday I could not get rid of my cold hands until I finally wizened up and wrapped them around a big mug of tea. This got me thinking about my favorite teas.

I'm very partial to GenMai Cha which is a Japanese tea made of green tea leaves and roasted brown rice. I've heard it referenced as Popcorn Tea, because according to tea sellers, some of the rice is supposed to pop during the roasting process. However, the brand of GenMai Cha I buy contains popped millet seeds mixed in with with the toasted brown rice and green tea leaves. I'm not sure if there are multiple variations, or if the addition of millet changes the name, but in any event, it's delicious. The tea is smooth, mellow and toasty, and actually works well with milk (stop cringing you tea purists!). I happen to like dairy in my tea- you can keep the lemon, thanks. I'm thinking about experimenting and making my own blend of GenMai Cha. I'll let you know how that works out.

This brings me to one of my other favorite tea drinks that I do make my own blend of. It's Chai! -of the Indian Subcontinental variety. The type of chai that I make is an almost-instant version compared to the traditional method which involves brewing a large amount of chai at once. With this method, you make a chai-spiced milk that you can add to your individual cup of tea so you can make just one or two cups at a time.

The spice blend is as follows:

1/2 t. ground cardamom
1/4 t. ground allspice
1/4 t. ground cinnamon
1/4 t. ground cloves
1/8 t. ground black pepper - I usually use double this amount for myself cuz I like the heat :p

12 oz. of milk **See the note

Place the milk and spices into a very clean jar and let sit for 24 hours in the fridge for the flavors to develop. Use a few tablespoons of the spiced milk per cup with the tea and sweetener of your choice.

**For a more "traditional" flavor, use evaporated milk, however any sort of milk can be used here- nonfat, soy, regular milk, 2%, half n' half. Be aware of the age of your milk and if it's been sitting open for awhile. Bringing it to a boil to kill bacteria might be a good idea if it's not so fresh. Watch out for boil-overs. :P

This Chai blend makes me very happy. It can be dressed in so many ways..green tea and honey, irish breakfast tea and turbinado sugar, oolong tea and jaggery, white tea and evaporated cane juice..so many teas, so many sweeteners, so little time....

Anyway, enjoy this chai recipe and tell me what you think!

October 29, 2007

Spicy Anchovy

I've never been much of a journal writer because I find it dull as Hades trying to go on and on about me. Dear Diary, today I woke up. Today I tied my shoelaces in a new knot...that sort of snorefest. This writing about food thing, though, this is exciting!

So today's topic is ...Spicy Anchovy.

My Mom and I went on a shopping spree and enjoyed ourselves by perusing through a predominantly Chinese market. I have to tell you that shopping in an international market is probably one of my very favorite things to do. Really, this is my idea of a grand adventure. Anyway, this market had a very nice selection of pre-made foodstuffs for sale. We ordered boba tea and snacked on jin dui- those wonderful sesame-seed coated, fried glutinous-rice balls with the sweet red-bean paste inside. They were very good, and perfectly made, fried large and golden, crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside with the filling only slightly sweet. I was glad I ordered only one, or I probably would have eaten all within my sticky grasp.

Snack accomplished, we began to browse and decided to find something unusual for my Father, fine connoisseur of many things strange and wonderful. We came across something that just had to be bought, because honestly, I couldn't imagine it what it would taste like. It was labeled Spicy Anchovy (Ready to eat). The ingredients are: anchovy, hot pepper, sugar, peanuts, dried tofu and seasonings. (?) As you can see from the photo, the anchovies are whole, tiny, crispy little fishies, tossed with chile flakes and sugar crystals. The tofu is in thin, chewy slivers and the whole thing is liberally sprinkled with whole peanuts. All in all, one of the most interesting dishes I've tried lately. The sweet, salty, crispy, chewy, fishy, peanuty tastes all work together, but are strong. I think this dish works best as a condiment for rice, but my Mom munched on it straight, so to each their anchovy own.

October 28, 2007

The Cucumber Trick

A few years ago I had an unexpected, fairly random and completely wonderful culinary adventure literally drop on my doorstep with grocery bags in hand. Her name was Natiya, we met for the first time the day before, and exchanged a fun conversation about Thai food and how much I love it! Natiya being from Thailand, and excited about my interest in her country's cooking, said that she would have to come over and cook me a Thai meal. I nodded politely and murmured something affirmative...sounded good to me, but people say things like that all the time and I didn't really take it literally. I have to admit, I was pretty surprised when she showed up the next day at my house at lunchtime, groceries in hand, prepared to cook us lunch. So, after my initial surprise at seeing her there I became ecstatic! I mean honestly, how cool is that?!

After she was done cooking, what we ended up with was two delicious coconut milk curries. One was green and one was red, with chicken, eggplant and potatoes being the main ingredients. These were scented with fresh basil leaves added right before serving, and accompanied by steaming jasmine rice. To those of you who are unfamiliar with Thai curries, they are really very different from what you might be thinking, especially if what you might be thinking contains that ubiquitous, dry, yellow powder stuff or cooked golden raisins (don't get me started). Traditionally, Thai curries are a pounded blend of herbs like cilantro, and lemongrass, roots, rhizomes and alliums like coriander root, galangal, ginger, shallots, and garlic, chiles, either red or green, spices like cumin, turmeric and coriander, and ingredients such as ga pi (shrimp paste made of fermented shrimp and salt) or nam pla (fish sauce of fermented fish and salt). Purists say the ingredients should be pounded, not ground, in a mortar and pestle, and in a certain order to bring out maxim flavor, and the shrimp paste should be toasted before use. This is all good information, and makes for a curry par excellence. However, Natiya brought out two containers of Mae Ploy brand curry paste, one red and one green and proceeded from there. I'm not going to argue that fresh and homemade isn't best, or that homemade coconut milk doesn't taste better than the powdered or canned kind, but sometimes there are different factors to consider such as time, equipment, availability and quality of ingredients, and skill level. This curry paste did a nice job, and would be very easy for just about anyone to duplicate. Of course this hasn't stopped me from acquiring a slew of homemade Thai curry paste recipes or making my own coconut milk..wink wink.

But back to my tale of lunch. Natiya dished us up her masterpieces, and we proceeded to eat. It was wonderful, but I have to say, this was some hot stuff, and I consider myself a lover of hot food. I was thoroughly impressed as Natiya added dried red chile flakes to her own bowl. Then, amidst all this bliss, disaster struck. Somehow I managed to get the chile heat on the outside of my lips. It was horrible. I was certain they were going to catch fire any second. I shamefully admitted to Natiya that my mouth was burning, and she laughed and said simply, "That's because you're not eating any cucumber." I think I must have been staring at her rather blankly, because she pointed to the raw cucumber between us that she had been slicing and eating the whole time. She told me that the cucumber cut the heat. I had never heard of this before, but I was very much game for anything at that point and grabbed a slice. I was sold when I rather desperately rubbed the cucumber on the outside of my mouth and was amazed as my lips stopped burning. I took a bite, and behold! it worked inside too! Cucumber conclusion: Forget milk or bread, cucumber does the job right!

So this is the story of the Cucumber Trick - and one of my best lunchtime surprises. Natiya had another one for me a few weeks later involving Pho, but I'll save that for another time.