Monday, June 13, 2011

Chai Tea Concentrate

Cardamom. It's supposed to be a key ingredient in chai. But the first time I decided I had to make a chai latte (I mean, absolutely had to, right then and there), it just so happened that we were snowed in to our little apartment. (Well, "snowed in" by a Floridian's standards, who, 5 years later, still just stands in front of her car and stares when she walks out in the morning and there's a little ice on the windshield. I mean, what I am supposed to do with that? Ice scraper you say? What's that?) Either way, the moral of the story is this - we were snowed in, I had no cardamom lying around, and I wasn't about to venture out to try to find some.

So, not to be dissuaded by the facts, I forged ahead and made it without cardamom, resolutely throwing lots and lots of every other spice I could find into the pot to try to make up for this one missing ingredient. And guess what?It was still tasty and delicious without it! Turns out it's really difficult to ruin chai concentrate. The spices have a way of meshing and melding and just generally swirling all together into a lovely, fragrant concoction that absolutely refuses to be ruined, even by neglecting to add a key ingredient.

Now, since then, I have procured some cardamom, which I used in the batch of chai I made tonight, but at least one non-typical chai spice has stuck around from that first recipe - anise. I know most chai recipes you'll find don't call for it, but I just kind of chucked some in the pot that night to see what would happen, and I happen to think it adds a little extra zing. When it comes to chai, the spicier and more complex and layered, the better, I say. So, the anise is here to stay. If you don't have any of the below spices, that's ok. No cardamom, throw in an extra couple of cloves to make up for it. No ginger, throw in some extra cinnamon instead. Trust me. It'll be ok.

Ingredients, for concentrate:
3 cups water
6 cardamom pods
6 cloves
3 anise stars
1 inch of ginger root (you can peel it, but I don't bother)
2 cinnamon sticks (or, 2 Tbsp. ground cinnamon)
1 Tbsp. ground nutmeg
4 Earl Grey tea bags
(or any other black tea, even green tea for that matter. I just happen to love the subtle citrusy touch that Earl Grey brings to the table, and I think you might too.)

for latte:
nutmeg & cinnamon for topping

(servings: 4-ish)

This is going to be complicated, so get ready. Are you ready? Dump all the ingredients into a medium sized pot. Put on stove. Let simmer.

Yep. That's pretty much it.

Well, ok, a few more details may be in order. Let the mixture come to a boil. Let boil for 5 minutes. Turn down to medium-low, cover, and let simmer for 15-30 more minutes, depending on how long you're willing to wait. The longer you let it simmer, the stronger and more melded the spices will be, but hey... sometimes you just can't wait, and that's ok too. This recipe isn't particularly time sensitive.

Once you've let it simmer for a while, take it off the stove, strain the spices out, and you'll be left with only the concentrate. My highly technical straining method involves balancing a colander on top of a large measuring cup. The spout is handy for pouring into mugs for serving.

Fill a mug halfway with chai concentrate. Fill the other half with milk. Equal parts. Easy as that.

If you have a steamer, go ahead and steam your milk first. If you don't... use my method. Heat milk in microwave, then use the whisk attachment on your electric hand mixer. It'll get you some froth, and that's all that matters. Sprinkle a little cinnamon or nutmeg on top (or both!) and voila! Coffee bar chai latte, just in time to kick back for a little guilty pleasure Monday night TV viewing at its finest. The Bachelorette. Yes, I know, feel free to judge me, I'm judging me too. And yet, I can't stop watching...

The rest of the concentrate will last up to a week in the fridge. And hey, maybe even longer, but it's never made it longer than a week in my fridge before being used up, so I wouldn't know.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Tuscan Potato Pizza

I've been wanting to create a potato pizza since I first discovered such a thing existed. Let me set the scene for you. I'm grabbing a late lunch in downtown B'ham with friends. We're sitting at Mellow Mushroom, and they order a potato pizza, casually, flippantly, like its something they've done a million times. What is potato pizza, say I, confused look on my face. I've never heard of such a thing. Apparently I am the only one. Still thinking the concoction a little strange sounding, I order my own pizza.

Suffice it to say, however many months later, I couldn't tell you what pizza I ordered, but I definitely remember the potato pizza. Tasty and delicious and wonderful and full of all sorts of potato goodness. Driving home, I had best intentions to recreate the recipe that very week. Ahem. Many, many months later, here we are.

Let me make this real simple for you. Start with a base of carbs, layer on more carbs, toss some green, herb-y things on top to feel better about all those carbs. Done and done. Got it?

Ok, really though, despite all the carbs, there's something rustic and wholesome and just plain earthy about this pizza that somehow makes me feel not all that guilty. I mean, I did throw some green in there, right?

Now, this is a significantly different version from the potato pizza I tried at Mellow Mushroom, so if you've ever had that version, don't be misled into thinking this will taste the same. If I recall, that pizza was more loaded baked potato-ish... a zingy chipotle ranch sauce, cheddar cheese, chives...

This pizza, though, this pizza is more Tuscan Italy inspired, if you will. See, I have a confession to make - I went to the farmer's market this weekend, and I went a little crazy. When you're cooking for one, there's really no need to come home with three, huge bags brimming full of assorted produce. Unless you have this odd, compulsive need to buy WHATEVER FRESH PRODUCE IS SET IN FRONT OF YOU. Yeah. I can't help myself, I'm sorry. So when I came home and unloaded the red potatoes and mini yellow onions into the same bowl together and set them next to the huge vase of sunflowers (yes, ok, I'm compulsively addicted to fresh flowers too, you got me) I thought, Italy. Then I thought, Pizza! Then I immediately started searching though my favorite food blogs for the perfect potato pizza recipe. (Also, I started plotting means to get myself back to Rome under the guise of some legitimate need to be there... still working on that...) Here's the version I ended up creating.

Pizza Dough
2 -3 Small Red Potatoes
1 Small Yellow Onion
5 Springs Thyme
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1/3 cup Goat Cheese
1/3 cup Parmesan Cheese

(servings: 2)

Start with a fist sized amount of pizza dough. (I made this myself, recipe for that to come later.) You can roll it out on the counter with a floured rolling pin, OR stretch it out enough to get it to drape over one knuckle, then start spinning it until its big enough to get it to stretch over both knuckles, then keep spinning until you get the thickness you're looking for. I prefer the second method, makes me feel more, ahem, authentic. Don't ask me why, just does. I also prefer my dough quite thin. But hey, your pizza dough technique is completely up to you.

Place your dough on a pizza stone OR a cookie sheet. I used the latter. I'd love a pizza stone but they're expensive... I've heard that a large terra cotta dish for approx. $15 at Lowe's will work just as well so I'm considering investing. (And yes, $15 is "investing" when you're an English grad student). If and when I do, I'll let you know how that turns out!

First, spread the goat cheese on the dough.

Thinly slice your potatoes and tightly layer them all over your pizza. The thinner the better, you want them to get all nice and crispy in there. And seriously people... ALL OVER. This is potato pizza, don't skimp on the potato!

Thinly slice your onion, and sprinkle it liberally over top the potato layer. Drizzle olive oil over your tuber/veggie topping combo.

Roughly chop thyme and scatter on top. If you don't have thyme, sub in any other herb you darn well please. Rosemary would be delightful. Chives would be delicious. Basil would be... dandy? (Err, running out of "d" words). Basically, anything goes.

Finally, sprinkle parmesan cheese over everything, add a generous shake of freshly ground black pepper, and slide into a 350 oven. Cook for 15 minutes, then for 1 more minute on low broil to perfectly crisp that crust.

When you slide your pizza out, I'd go for an extra sprinkling of parmesan over everything, but you don't have to.

In the spirit of Italy (well, in the spirit of oh-hey-I-have-tomato-in-the-fridge-that-I-need-to-use- up!), I served it up with a quick caprese salad on the side, but an arugula salad, perhaps, would be lovely as well.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Balsamic Goat Cheese Chicken

This meal is deceptively fancy. Especially if you pronounce it with a pretentiously faux French accent... ras'berreeee de la goa' chees, de chi'can. Ok, or maybe that's just me. Anyways, what I was trying to say, is that this is easier to prepare than it might sound. Really. A perfect weeknight meal, in other words. Or tonight, in my case, a perfect, "I really just need to hurry up and get back to my Grey's Anatomy marathon!" meal. Because that's the kind of important stuff I've done with my life today. Don't judge me.

1 Chicken breast
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
a handful of raspberries (try subbing blackberries, or even pomegranate arils)
Green onions
Black pepper
Red lettuce greens
2 spoonfuls of goat cheese
Clover sprouts (optional)

(serves: 1)

Start by getting your chicken on the grill. I used a countertop George Foreman, but you could certainly use a real grill if you have one. I don't. While you're at it, you may as well go ahead and grill a few extras to cut up for salads and such. Just saying. If you use a G.F. grill, don't forget to spray it down with a little cooking spray first. Sprinkle both sides of the chicken with freshly cracked black pepper as you turn it.

Wash and tear your lettuce greens, arrange on one half of the plate for your side salad.

Get your balsamic vinaigrette going. Turn the stovetop up to medium high, pour in your vinegar, and throw in a good sized handful of raspberries. (7-8 for one person, obviously a little more if you're doubling or quadrupling the recipe). Grind a few dashes of black pepper in, and let it go for a few minutes until it starts to bubble and thicken. Add a handful of thinly sliced green onions, and let thicken for 2 minutes more. Take off the stove once it has thickened to your desired consistency. There's not a science to this, its more of a touch-and-go art. This sauce is quite sharp and tangy, which is exactly how I like it, but if you'd like to sweeten it up a little bit, just add a teaspoon or two of brown sugar to the vinegar at the beginning.

While you wait for your chicken to finish grilling, top your salad with a handful of raspberries, a few thinly sliced cucumbers, a dollop of clover sprouts, a few green onion slices, and a sprinkle of goat cheese.

Take your chicken off the grill, and admire those perfectly charred grill marks.

Spoon the raspberry-balsamic vinegar over the chicken, then add a small dollop of goat cheese on top. The cool, creaminess of the goat cheese will nicely balance out the tart, tanginess of the sauce. Finish both the salad and the chicken off with a final grating of black pepper. Voila. Back to Grey's. Just like that.

Sparkling Basil Papaya Smoothie

Nothing like tons of leftover papaya from a girl's Spa Weekend to inspire a good for you afternoon smoothie in the spirit of clearing fridge space! My highly precise recipe for this particular smoothie involves chucking assorted freezer leftovers and a few handfuls of herbs all together into the blender, along with the offending papaya, of course, until it looks drinkable.

1/2 of a large papaya
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup sparkling water
1/2 frozen banana
5 ice cubes
a handful of mint leaves
2 handfuls of basil leaves
6 or 7 strawberries (optional)

(servings: 2)

Blend, and top with an extra dash of sparkling water on top and an extra mint or basil leaf or two. Cheers!