Monday, April 28, 2008

Cooking with Tea

Tea. We drink it hot. We drink it iced. We drink it black, with lemon, or with milk and sugar. However we like our tea...we rarely think beyond the mug. I was no different, until last fall, when I received an interesting phonecall from the Bigelow Tea company.

"We are looking for someone to develop recipes using tea as an ingredient," they said. "Are you interested?" Up for a new challenge, I readily agreed. Before I even hung up the phone already had a half dozen ideas scratched out on a pad of paper. This would be fun! Now I had to see if these ideas would translate into dishes that people would actually want to eat. I was a little skeptical, but with several dozen boxes of tea at my disposal and a grocery list in hand, I forged ahead into the culinary wild.

My first idea was to create a soup. Everyone loves chicken noodle soup, so I started there. Ginger was a flavor already used with both chicken and noodles, so why not in soup? I began by making a broth which was 2/3 chicken stock and 1/3 strong ginger tea. I experimented with a variety of other soup ingredients, and settled on a simple combination of garlic, carrots, noodles, and parsley (and of course, chicken). I realized during my first taste (which resulted in a ho-hum initial impression), that salt was a very necessary component of this soup, as it is in most soups. Just a teaspoon of salt completely brought forth the wonderful ginger flavor, which was otherwise masked by the other ingredients.

Since developing this soup recipe, I've gone on to create many check them out and consider using tea to flavor your next dish!

(more spring/summer recipes to come soon at !!)

Photos courtesy of Bigelow Tea Company.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Breaking in the Panini Press

A panini press is something I'd avoided buying for years. Why? I have no idea. Perhaps because it was just one more gadget to store in my cabinets. Or, perhaps because I figured it would go the way of the other small appliances I use only once or twice a year--relegated to the basement.
I'd written articles on indoor grilling and always included a section on contact grills (the less fancy name for a panini press), but yet I didn't own one. It seems as if everyone loves them---and George Forman has made a fortune selling them---but I never took the plunge. Then, a few months ago I was in Boston visiting college friends and saw a panini press on the counter. "I'd use it for every meal, if I could," my friend said. She was flabbergasted when I told her I didn't have one. "I can't believe you, of all people, do not own one!"

I thought about it on the drive back to Connecticut, and thought that maybe I should finally join the happy panini-making masses and pony up for one. I could even develop some panini making classes (Aha! A business expense!). So off I went to do my homework.

I ended up purchasing a Cuisinart Griddler....which works as a panini press and indoor contact grill, but when you swap out the ridged grill plates for the flat plates, you can open the grill flat and use it as a griddle to make pancakes, french toast, the works. The best part? The grill/griddle plates are dishwasher safe.

So far I haven't even found a spot in the cabinet for my panini press, since it has been on my counter getting daily use (I know, first flames). I've made a variety of panini (prosciutto/mozzarella, dessert panini, PB&J panini for my kids), I've grilled chicken breasts, and today I made a recipe for Whole Wheat Vanilla Pancakes I read over at the Cooking with Amy blog (by the way, they were delicious).

Fresh strawberries are coming into season, so try using them in a panini for a delicious dessert or snack. My Panini Dolci (dolce is Italian for "sweet") combine sweet berries with chocolate, making them a treat for the whole family!

Panini Dolci
Serves 4

4 slices country bread
butter, at room temperature
4-6 medium strawberries, hulled and sliced
1/4 cup chocolate chips (semi-sweet are my favorite)

Preheat your panini press to medium-high heat.
Butter one side of each slice of bread, and put two slices butter-side down on the bottom plate of your press.
Arrange a layer of sliced strawberries on each piece of bread, and sprinkle the chocolate chips evenly on top of the fruit.
Cover with the other slices of bread (butter side UP), and close the press. Grill for approximately 3-5 minutes, until bread is toasted (grill marks should be apparent) and the chocolate chips are melted.
Cut each sandwich in half and serve warm.

Monday, April 14, 2008

From the Farm: Radishes

Lexi was back again this week with a half share of this week's harvest from the Gazy Brothers Farm. It included a big bunch of crunchy bok choy (which I plan to use in tonight's stir fry), more green garlic, and some absolutely gorgeous radishes. Pretty as they are, radishes were never one of my favorite things. My husband, on the other hand, loves them. His family always had a garden, and because radishes grow relatively quickly, it was the first veggie he learned to plant as a child. After sampling the fresh bunch in this week's bag, now I know why he loves them----fresh from the garden radishes are DELICIOUS! To me, they were entirely different than the ones I've found in the grocery store. Somehow more mild in flavor, and crunchier. Even my kids loved them (this is my 5 year old's hand grabbing them just as I shot this photo). Before I could even think of what to use them for, half the bunch were gone as my family happily crunched away.

With what was remaining, I chopped up a little Asian-inspired salad. The idea came from a similar salad I used to enjoy when we lived in New York City, at my favorite neighborhood Thai restaurant. A simple, crunchy combination of cucumbers, carrots, and in this case, radishes. A perfect accompaniment to any Asian flavored dinner, or even great on its own for a light lunch.

Crunch away!
Asian Salad with Radishes
Serves 2

1 bunch fresh radishes, sliced into half-moon shaped pieces
1/2 English cucumber, sliced into half-moon shaped pieces

2 medium carrots, sliced into half-moon shaped pieces

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 tablespoons canola oil


pinch of sugar
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Place the radishes, cucumbers, and carrots in a bowl.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil, salt, pepper, sugar and cilantro.

Toss with vegetables and serve chilled or at room temperature.

Monday, April 7, 2008

From the Farm: Greens

The phone rang, and it was Lexi Gazy "from the farm", as she said. That would be Gazy Brothers Farm in Oxford, CT, where I recently joined the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). For those of you who aren't familiar with CSAs, they are programs where you agree to purchase a “share” of the farm, and in return, you receive weekly harvests of whatever is in season at the time. For creative cooks and adventurous eaters alike, this is a wonderful way to have a variety of interesting, fresh produce each week, and the opportunity to support local farmers. Shareholders pay the farmers upfront, guaranteeing them a market for their crops, which in turn provides stability in the sometimes unpredictable world of farming. Gazy Brothers Farm in Oxford is in their fourth year of the CSA program.

I'd missed the deadline to join the spring CSA, so a friend and I went in on one share of veggies and one share of fruit for the summer growing season. Lexi had a few bags of this week's harvest left over and said she could swing by if I was interested. Naturally, I was. She pulled up and opened the hatch of her car to reveal a half dozen or so white bags of produce. Given the time of year, the bags were full of a variety of greens, ranging from the familiar, to those lesser known. I immediately recognized a gorgeous bunch of cilantro, some green leaf lettuce, and arugula. I also saw what looked like monster scallions, but were instead green garlic. I guessed correctly on the beet greens, which gave themselves away by their vibrant red stems, but didn't recognize the remaining two bunches. They turned out to be kohlrabi greens and turnip greens.

After thanking Lexi for thinking of me, I rushed inside to wrap everything correctly to insure they stayed fresh. Then sat down to figure out what I was going to do with all these greens. Since there was no way I could possible eat everything in the next few days, I decided to focus on longer-term storage.

This process was old hat to me, as I had grown accustomed to harvesting my abundant indoor basil plant every several days. Unless I needed basil for whatever I was making for dinner that night, I would pull out my food processor and whip up a batch of basil puree or pesto. I would then scrape the contents of my work bowl into a plastic ziplock bag, squeeze out the air, and freeze for later use. I figured this was probably the best bet for many of the greens I'd just received. I started with the green garlic. Into the work bowl they went with some salt and olive oil, and the result was a wonderfully bright, pungent puree. I figured the garlicky goodness would be fantastic slathered over grilled fish or chicken. I didn't have any lemons on hand, but I will likely squeeze some fresh lemon juice into the mixture when I'm ready to use it, making it a totally fresh lemon-garlic seasoning.

For my second batch of puree, I didn't even bother to clean out the work bowl of my food processor, since I figured the remnants of my green garlic puree would be a fantastic addition to my arugula pesto. I whirred the peppery greens (also know as "rocket") together with salt, pepper, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil to make a beautiful sauce for pasta. I saved some for the night's dinner, and froze the rest for another day.

Lastly, I made cilantro pesto, which I often use with shrimp. It is great brushed on grilled shrimp skewers, or even as an alternative dipping sauce for chilled shrimp. To cut the strong flavor a bit, I added the last of my fresh parsley from my indoor garden, and also added a pinch of sugar and a squeeze of lime juice, which gives it a bit of a southwestern flair. Like the others, into the freezer it went, filling my shelves with great solutions for fast weeknight meals.
I can't wait to see what is in my farm bag the next time!
Contact info for Gazy Brothers Farm:
391 Chestnut Tree Hill Road, Oxford, CT 06478

To find a CSA in your area, go to

Linguine with Arugula Pesto
Serves 4
1 large bunch fresh arugula (rocket) greens
1 large green garlic stem, cut into 1 inch pieces (or 2 small garlic cloves)
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
olive oil

Place the arugula and green garlic in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse until finely chopped.
Add pine nuts and Parmesan cheese, pulse to combine.
With the blades still running, slowly add olive oil through the feed tube until a puree is formed (everything should whirr around the work bowl like a sauce).
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with linguine and more grated cheese.

NOTE: To make a creamier sauce, add 1/2 cup of ricotta cheese to the pesto.

Cilantro Pesto
1 large bunch cilantro, thoroughly washed and thick stems removed
1 large stalk green garlic, cut into 1 inch pieces (or 2 small garlic cloves)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon sugar
olive oil

Place the cilantro and green garlic in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse until finely chopped.
Add lime juice and sugar, pulse to combine.With the blades still running, slowly add olive oil through the feed tube until a puree is formed (everything should whirr around the work bowl like a sauce).
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve as a dipping sauce for chilled shrimp, or brush on shrimp skewers before grilling. Also good for chicken, fish, or grilled veggies.