Lavender Chamomile Tea Cookies

lavender1Perfect with brunch or afternoon tea, these little cookies offer lovely and surprising flavors. Because they are crisp (perfect for dunking), they will keep well in a sealed storage container on your counter or in the freezer. Let’s get started! Continue reading

Tokyo Food Tour! Matcha

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Matcha powder made into hot tea

Matcha tea is an important beverage in Japan, used in traditional tea ceremonies and favored as an everyday, relaxing beverage as well. Before arriving in Tokyo, I understood that matcha was a popular beverage. What I didn’t understand, but have come to appreciate, is that matcha is also a popular food ingredient!

Matcha tea is made from high quality green tea leaves. After the leaves are dried, they are ground into a fine powder (see photo above). Small quantities of matcha powder are whisked (or just stirred) into almost-boiling hot water to make tea. Note that there’s no “tea bag” here – there’s nothing to remove from your cup. Instead, matcha is whole tea, where the leaves themselves are consumed instead of merely steeped. Why is this significant? For starters, drinking matcha tea provides significantly more antioxidants per cup because you are consuming the entire leaf. Remember, antioxidants are powerful little cancer fighters and anti-aging weapons! Also, matcha tea contains more caffeine that steeped tea, making matcha tea a nice substitute for a cup of coffee.

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Barracuda tempura dusted with matcha and salt

Here in Tokyo, we’ve seen matcha powder used as a seasoning. In the photo to the left, a lovely slice of barracuda tempura has been dusted with salt and matcha. Absolutely delicious!

We’ve also seen matcha used to flavor Japanese interpretations of traditional French desserts. I’m reserving those photos, friends, because I plan to recreate a few sweet treats and bring you recipes here at Crowded Earth Kitchen. Stay tuned!

Finally, matcha ice cream is quite popular here. The matcha soft serve ice cream cone shown below is Half-Pint approved!

Want to try matcha for yourself? Here’s a link for you!

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Matcha ice cream – YUM!

Springtime Tea Party

 

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Recently, I hosted a Springtime Tea Party. It was great fun! If you have a few friends you haven’t seen in a while (don’t we all?), consider inviting them over for a simple tea. Here are a few suggestions!

First, don’t worry about being matchy-matchy.

I used an inexpensive tablecloth to cover an old, scratched up kitchen table. It looked juuussst fine, and didn’t require a big investment. My little fruit bowls are completely different from my plates, and yet they worked together nicely. Those little dishes of chocolate? Mismatched! The napkins? Borrowed from my mother! You get the idea.

Second, if you don’t want to cook from scratch, don’t.

A tea party does not require hours of slaving away in the kitchen. If you don’t feel like spending prep time in your kitchen, here is a “recipe” for a fuss-free tea party:

Boil a pot of water, and steep a pot of tea! Offer cream and sugar on the side.

Break one or two high-quality chocolate bars into bite size pieces, and arrange the pieces in a small serving dish.

Layer a few cups of berries in a pretty bowl. Drizzle with honey or maple syrup.

Purchase a tray of cookies or scones. My local Aldi offers a surprising variety of delicious cookies at very reasonable prices!

gazpachoThinly slice a loaf of artisan bread from your local bakery. Spread each slice with butter or cream cheese, and top with thin slices of cucumber or prosciutto. Delicious!

Feel like cooking?

If you’d like to prepare a dish or two from scratch, here are a few suggestions:

croque ingredientsSpringtime Gazpacho served in little tea cups makes a lovely chilled starter!

Mini Croque Monsieurs make lovely tea sandwiches!

Rainbow Shortcake makes a beautiful, individually plated dessert!

 

 

rainbow shortcake

Life is short. Enjoy your friends!

English Lemon Curd

WIN_20160303_144850After spending several days making batch after batch of magnificent French macarons, we have lots of leftover egg yolks in the refrigerator! Here at Crowded Earth Kitchen, we don’t waste ingredients. We considered making pasta with our egg yolks, but our sweet tooth won instead… English Lemon Curd is the winner! Sweet and tangy, silky and scrumptious, the English were sure onto a good thing when they thought to cook egg yolks, lemon, sugar, and butter into a delicious spread. Enjoy English Lemon Curd on scones, or as a filling in individual fruit tarts.

WIN_20160303_134623We’re using sweet, thin skinned little Meyer lemons today, because they are in season and steeply discounted at the market. If the larger, more common lemons are more economical where you live, no worries. Any lemons will work in this recipe. Please don’t use margarine, however… English Lemon Curd requires real butter.

Let’s get started!

WIN_20160303_140743Ingredients (Makes about 2 cups) Continue reading

Spiced Lemon Blueberry Bread

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Not too sweet, Spiced Lemon Blueberry Bread is lovely enjoyed with fresh butter over afternoon tea. This recipe makes excellent use of preserved lemons (a link to that recipe is provided below). If you don’t have preserved lemons, you can mimic the flavor in this recipe by substituting 1 tablespoon lemon juice + 1 teaspoon lemon zest + 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon.

Ingredients (Makes 1 loaf)

2 cups flour

1/2 cup sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

2 eggs, beaten

3/4 cup skim milk

1/4 cup applesauce

3/4 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)

2 tablespoons preserved lemons, rinsed and finely diced

WIN_20160124_133922Directions

Step 1) Grease loaf pan well and coat with flour.  Set aside.

Step 2) Combine all dry ingredients and mix well.

Step 3) Combine egg, milk, and applesauce in a separate bowl and mix well.

Step 4) Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir until moistened.  Don’t get carried away… it’s OK if the batter is a little bit lumpy!

Step 5) Gently fold in blueberries.  Save a dozen blueberries for the next step.

Step 6) Transfer batter to loaf pan. Sprinkle top with a bit of sugar and a few extra blueberries if desired.

Step 7) Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center of the loaf comes out clean.  Cool and enjoy!

Three Food Resolutions to Consider

Happy New Year from Crowded Earth Kitchen! Let’s kick off 2016 with a few new and improved food habits, shall we? Not only can these three simple changes improve our health, they can help us save a LOT of money. What’s not to love about that?

picture650#1  Less soda pop, more tea. The negative health effects of soft drinks, even diet soft drinks, have been well researched. Also, commercial sodas are expensive! Think of all of those SuperBowl commercials… those advertising dollars have to come from somewhere, right? Let’s give this simple swap a try. Our bodies and our wallets will thank us.

#2  Less drive-thru food, more homemade freezer meals. My weakness is drive-thru burritos, even though I know they are a nutritional nightmare. The wake-up call for me was when I admitted stopping at a drive-thru after pledging a boycott and a friend said, “Of course you’re having trouble stopping – you’re addicted. You’re addicted to the salt, the MSG, and who-knows-what-all in the chemical soup that is Fast Food.” Gross. I know better, and my body deserves better. Time to stock up on home cooked, individually portioned and frozen soups, stromboli, and other meals which thaw and reheat easily.

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Chili freezes and thaws easily!

WIN_20150517_184936#3  Less brown food, more green food. This one is self-explanatory. Most Western diets are higher than they should be in breaded, fried “brown” food, and lacking in fresh, vegetable-based “green” food. Crowded Earth Ktichen is chock full of vegetable-based recipes for on-the-go snacks, simple lunches, family dinners, and a variety of ethnic dishes.

May 2016 bring you good health, and may your kitchen be a place that makes you happy!

Bubble Tea

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If you’ve ever dined in a sushi or hibachi restaurant, you’ve probably seen bubble tea on the menu. It’s a fun, nonalcoholic novelty beverage, often available in many flavors (most of them quite sweet) and a wide variety of colors. The main attraction, however, are the big tapioca “bubbles” floating in the tea, which can be captured and enjoyed through a wide straw.

As much as I enjoy all of the quirkiness of bubble tea, I can’t help but notice that most flavors contain an alarming amount of sugar. I also doubt that the brightly colored bubble tea available in restaurants is even the slightest bit natural. Finally, bubble tea in restaurants can be really expensive – more than twice the cost of a soft drink, and often comparable to an alcohol-based beverage. We can do better.

WIN_20150417_153619The Crowded Earth Kitchen version of bubble tea combines large tapioca beads and sweetened but naturally colored tea. The result is a lighter bubble tea with fewer artificial ingredients and a much more economical cost. Feel free to use any hot tea that you enjoy. I’m using a Chinese instant tea called Gan Mao Cha, purchased at my local Asian market. Gan Mao Cha contains WIN_20150417_155632sugar, honeysuckle, mulberry leaf, peppermint, and licorice root – it’s delicious! Sweetened green tea would be lovely, as well.

Ingredients (per serving)

1 cup of brewed tea, any variety you prefer, chilled

WIN_20150417_1600202 tablespoons large tapioca beads (about pea size when dry)

Directions

Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add large tapioca beads, reduce heat to simmer, and cover the pot. After 5 minutes, tapioca beads should be even larger (like small marbles) and soft. Strain tapioca beads from water and place tapioca beads in a festive glass. Fill glass with chilled, sweetened tea and enjoy!

Spring Tea

picture101Happy first day of Spring!  Lavender is synonymous with springtime here at Crowded Earth Kitchen.  The signature color of lavender buds, combined with their fresh, clean scent, are an assurance that the warm summer sun will be here soon enough.  While we wait, let’s warm up with a cup of tea!

Lavender teas have long been recommended by herbal experts for soothing the stomach, serving as a sleep aide, and relieving headaches.  Crowded Earth Kitchen is featuring two lavender tea blends today.  The first, Lavender Passion Flower Tea, combines lavender with passion flower leaves.  Available in the herbal section of many markets, passion flower leaves have a long history as a folk remedy for anxiety and insomnia.  Lavender Passion Flower Tea has an earthy taste and a springtime fragrance reminiscent of freshly cut grass.

Our second lavender tea blend, Lavender Chamomint, combines lavender with the soothing power of German chamomile and the perky zip of peppermint.  While also offering calming properties, the herbs in Lavender Chamomint have also been used by women as folk remedies for pre-menstrual symptoms and menstrual cramps.

picture390Lavender Passion Flower Tea

(makes 12 cups)

Combine 2 heaping tablespoons of dried passion flower leaves with 2 heaping tablespoons of dried lavender buds.  Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 teaspoon of this mixture.  Steep for 5 minutes.

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picture391Lavender Chamomint Tea

(makes 15 cups)

Combine 2 heaping tablespoons of dried lavender buds, 2 heaping tablespoons of dried German chamomile, and 1 heaping tablespoon of peppermint.  Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 teaspoon of this mixture.  Steep for 5 minutes.

Enjoy, and Be Well!

Crowded Earth Kitchen will revisit the topic of tea from time to time.  If you have a favorite herb or type of tea that you would like to see featured, please comment below!

Lavender Tea Blends

picture101It’s time for our April Wellness Teas!  Lavender is synonymous with springtime here at Crowded Earth Kitchen.  The signature color of lavender buds, combined with their fresh, clean scent, are an assurance that the warm summer sun will be here soon enough.  While we wait, let’s warm up with a cup of tea!

Lavender teas have long been recommended by herbal experts for soothing the stomach, serving as a sleep aide, and relieving headaches.  Crowded Earth Kitchen is featuring two lavender tea blends today.  The first, Lavender Passion Flower Tea, combines lavender with passion flower leaves.  Available in the herbal section of many markets, passion flower leaves have a long history as a folk remedy for anxiety and insomnia.  Lavender Passion Flower Tea has an earthy taste and a springtime fragrance reminiscent of freshly cut grass.

Our second lavender tea blend, Lavender Chamomint, combines lavender with the soothing power of German chamomile and the perky zip of peppermint.  While also offering calming properties, the herbs in Lavender Chamomint have also been used by women as folk remedies for pre-menstrual symptoms and menstrual cramps.

picture390Lavender Passion Flower Tea

(makes 12 cups)

Combine 2 heaping tablespoons of dried passion flower leaves with 2 heaping tablespoons of dried lavender buds.  Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 teaspoon of this mixture.  Steep for 5 minutes.

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picture391Lavender Chamomint Tea

(makes 15 cups)

Combine 2 heaping tablespoons of dried lavender buds, 2 heaping tablespoons of dried German chamomile, and 1 heaping tablespoon of peppermint.  Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 teaspoon of this mixture.  Steep for 5 minutes.

Enjoy, and Be Well!

Crowded Earth Kitchen will revisit the topic of tea from time to time.  If you have a favorite herb or type of tea that you would like to see featured, please comment below!

Wellness Teas, Part II

picture101Last month, we explored a few of the many connections between tea and wellness.  Did you enjoy the After Dinner Blend, or perhaps the Healthy Blood Pressure Blend?  Today we will share two additional herbal varieties, Healthy Skin Blend and Stress Relief Blend.

Be Well!

Healthy Skin Blend (makes 15 cups)

I’ve often lovingly referred to this blend as “Teenager Tea,” because of the healthy skin properties inherent in these herbs.  Rooibos is made from the leaves of the Calicotome villosa plant, and is chock full of antioxidants, including Vitamin C.  Dried raspberry leaf is also high in antioxidants and has a long history in folk medicine.  There are many accounts of raspberry leaf being steeped as a purification brew and applied directly to skin rashes as a poultice.  Rosehip has long been used in skincare preparations, although the jury is still out as far as scientific research is concerned.  Finally, ginger contains chemical properties which may help to regulate natural oils for healthy skin.

To prepare this blend, simply combine the following four ingredients, readily available in spice shops or the bulk spice section of better markets (pictured clockwise from top):

picture098 (2)1 heaping tablespoon Crystallized Ginger

1 heaping tablespoon Red Rooibos

2 heaping tablespoons Raspberry Leaf

1 heaping tablespoon Dried Rosehip

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Combine all ingredients in a small container (4 ounce jelly jars are pretty, reusable, and just the right size).  For each cup of tea, add 1 teaspoon of the herbal blend to a tea ball or empty tea bag (available wherever loose teas are sold).  Place the tea ball or tea bag in a mug along with 8 to 10 ounces of boiling water.  Steep for 7 minutes for a mild, caramel brew with a slightly astringent aftertaste.  Enjoy!

Stress Relief Blend (makes 12 – 15 cups, depending upon strength)

I don’t know how anyone could enjoy a cup or two of this delicious, soothing tea and still feel stressed.  The combination of chamomile and peppermint is sublime, with ginger providing a pinch of punch and a dash of sweetness.

Combine the following ingredients (pictured clockwise from top):

picture0992 heaping tablespoons Chamomile

2 heaping tablespoons Peppermint

1 heaping tablespoon Crystallized Ginger

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After combining, spoon 1 teaspoon of the herbal blend into a tea ball or tea bag.  Steep in 8 to 10 ounces of boiling water for 5 minutes to create a sweet, minty beverage.  If you find you like your tea beverages a bit stronger, use an extra 1/2 teaspoon in your next cup.

Enjoy, and Be Well!

As promised last month, Crowded Earth Kitchen will revisit the topic of tea from time to time.  If you have a favorite herb or type of tea that you would like to see featured, please comment below!

Wellness Teas, Part I

picture101Tea and wellness have been connected in cultures around the world for literally thousands of years.  Across hemispheres, languages, religions, and millennia, people have been preparing and drinking teas to share hospitality, strengthen family and community relationships, grow in their spirituality, treat disease, and fortify their physical health.

The simple act of preparing tea invokes an aura of wellness.  Aromatherapy is inherent in the mixing of teas and herbs, as how can possibly create tea blends without considering their medley of natural aromas?  Relaxation also is inherent in the brewing of tea, as infusing water with the flavors, aromas, oils, and other properties of teas and herbs takes time.  Settle in for a few minutes and join Crowded Earth Kitchen in the quiet and timeless ritual of preparing tea.

Strictly speaking, “tea” refers specifically to the leaves and leaf buds of the Camellia sinensis plant.  Combinations of herbs, spices, and other plants that do not include Camellia sinensis are commonly referred to as “herbal teas,” but are not literal teas.  Nonetheless, herbal teas are often delicious, and can fill important roles in achieving overall wellness.  Today we are featuring two herbal blends, After Dinner Blend and Healthy Blood Pressure.

After Dinner Blend (makes 15 cups)

This mild herbal tea blend is a personal favorite for settling the stomach and aiding in healthy digestion.  It has a slightly earthy flavor reminiscent of chai.  To prepare, simply combine one heaping tablespoon of each of the following five ingredients, readily available in spice shops or the bulk spice section of better markets (pictured clockwise from top):

picture093 (2)Crystallized Ginger

Whole Cloves

Ground Slippery Elm

Whole Cardamom Pods

Peppermint

Combine all five ingredients in a small container (4 ounce jelly jars are pretty, reusable, and just the right size).  For each cup of tea, add 1 teaspoon of the herbal blend to a tea ball or empty tea bag (available wherever loose teas are sold).  Place the tea ball or tea bag in a mug along with 8 to 10 ounces of boiling water.  Steep for 7 minutes.  Enjoy!

Healthy Blood Pressure Blend (makes 12 cups)

Disclaimer:  Crowded Earth Kitchen is not in the business of dispensing medical advice.  If you have high blood pressure, visit an actual MD and follow their advice.  I do, and I do.  I also drink 1 or 2 cups of this tea everyday.  The Omega-3 fatty acids in flax seed are a healthy dietary addition for most people, regardless of hypertension.  Dandelion root is a natural diuretic.  Hawthorn has been used conventionally for cardiovascular health.  Last but not least, hibiscus has shown promise in lowering blood pressure in medical studies.  Please see WebMD.com for more information, and consult your physician with any questions.

If you’re still with me, combine 1 heaping tablespoon of each of the following four ingredients (pictured clockwise from top):

picture096Hawthorne Berry

Hibiscus

Flax Seed

Dandelion Root

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After combining, spoon 1 teaspoon of the herbal blend into a tea ball or tea bag.  Steep in 8 to 10 ounces of boiling water for 7 minutes to create a fruity, ruby red beverage.  Enjoy, and Be Well!

Crowded Earth Kitchen will revisit the topic of tea on occasion, sharing two favorite blends at a time.  If you have a favorite herb or type of tea that you would like to see featured, please comment below!