Tokyo Food Tour! Matcha

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Matcha ice cream – YUM!

Springtime Tea Party

 

WIN_20160416_135742

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

WIN_20160124_143842

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.

WIN_20151030_191018

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

WIN_20150417_160641

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!