Spring is in the Soup

While shopping at Whole Foods yesterday I picked up their free magazine, Delicious Living and leafed through for some needed inspiration for dinner that night.  Yes, there it was a lovely green soup.  Yum!  Plus I only needed a few ingredients.

It was super tasty.  My son, who doesn’t eat zucchini ate two bowls.  By the way when the family asked what was in the soup, I answered “spring!”

(Next time I make it I’m going to reduce the water for a bit more texture.  For a richer soup you could substitute half milk for the water.)

Zucchini Soup with Mint from Delicious Living

This is a perfect appetizer—the last spoonful leaves you wanting more. Adding the herbs at the end protects enzymes and phytonutrients, and intensifies the soup’s flavor. For variation, substitute ¼ cup packed fresh basil for the mint and chives.

Serves 8

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3-4 medium zucchini, diced (about 4 cups)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 vegetable bouillon cubes
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, plus more for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

Directions

  1. Place olive oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until it begins to soften. Add zucchini and garlic; continue stirring until vegetables soften. Add water and bouillon cubes; stir well. When mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat to maintain a steady simmer and continue cooking for about 10 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.
  2. Transfer to a blender and add 3 tablespoons chives and the mint. Process until smooth. Return to pot, add pepper, and reheat. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve immediately, sprinkled with chives.
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Holidays, Cold and Flu Are Here…Tea to the Rescue

Last year we got the flu just before Thanksgiving.  This year it was literally on the drive home from my parents.  Thanksgiving dinner was great as was the visit, but the drive home made us not want to think about doing it for a very long time.  Long story short my poor son got sick in the car and we ended up having to stay in a motel on I5 just outside the Grapevine where he was up all night with the flu.  The next day we were finally able to drive home – my son sleeping most of the way.

It would be two days later when my daughter got it (although a milder version).  And now my husband and I both have colds.  There is one thing that seems to be soothing whether healthy or sick during these cooler months for all ages and that is tea.  You know about my love of iced tea, but hot’s great too.  My kids love tea with a touch of honey.  My pediatrician’s nurse actually suggested it as a remedy for coughs rather than medicine. (But never for those under 1 year.).  This time of year we stock up on peppermint tea which you can only get in winter.  But we also have a large variety of everything from cammomile to ginger to mint to chai to fit everyone’s mood and illness.  Tea is the most popular drink in the world – so there must be something there.

Mint Chamomile Tea

A cup of chamomile tea can be soothing for a child on a cold day or with a cold inside. The added mint syrup lends a bit of sweet and spice. Most children don’t like drinks and food too hot. Keep temperature on warm or lukewarm.

Makes 1 cup

 

1 cup water

1 bag chamomile tea

2 teaspoons Mint Syrup (see below)

Bring water to a boil
in a saucepan. Add tea bag and let steep for 3 to 5 minutes. Carefully squeeze
tea bag and discard. Add syrup and stir.

 

Mint Syrup

The symbol of hospitality, mint has been used for scores of culinary and medicinal purposes over the centuries. This simple mint syrup can be added as a sweetener to hot
and cold teas, as well as lemonade and plain water.

Makes 2 cups syrup

 

¾ cup turbinado sugar

2 cups water

2 cups fresh mint (1 bunch), torn into 2-inch pieces

In a small saucepan, combine sugar, water, and mint. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until sugar has dissolved, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and let stand for at least 30 minutes.

Pour though a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl or pitcher and discard mint.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.

 

 

 

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I Heart Iced Tea

Yesterday was National Iced Tea Day.  Although you probably already knew that right?  I celebrated with a glass of iced tea.  Actually whether it’s a holiday or not, I drink a glass or two of iced tea.  There’s not a lot of beverages I drink.  My mainstays are water and iced tea.  I’m not big on bubbles.  I no longer drink coffee.  So tea, cold or hot is my drink.  Apparently this is true for many people, as tea is the most popular drink, worldwide.

Whether you brew it from a tea bag, buy a bottle or order at a restaurant – there are lots of options.  What kind of tea?  Is it caffeinated?  Plus there are the sweeteners to consider.  Watch out…  Many bottled versions have high fructose corn syrup.  Or there’s the fake sweeteners that are full of chemicals.  And you never know what you’ll get in a restaurant – Lipton, Nestea, fresh brewed, flavored, etc.

These are a few of my favorite iced teas…

My first is the Mighty Leaf, African Nectar.  This is good both hot and cold, but the first time I had the cold was at the Nob Hill Spa.  Brewing this at home or ordering it out (they also brew it at La Boulange) reminds me of my annual stress free day at the spa.  Mighty Leaf makes all kinds of teas in bag, loose leaf and iced tea forms in a huge variety of flavors.

My next favorite is Honest Tea’s Oo-la-Long Peach.  Honest Tea makes quite a few flavors and uses red, green, white and black teas, but this is my favorite.  Just enough sweetness and no chemical taste.

Finally our staple at home (my husband is an iced tea guy too) is Tejava.  This is bottled, plain black tea without sweetener.  This is good all on it’s own.  We stock up on the big bottles.

I have a few iced tea recipes in my book, Petit Appetit: Eat, Drink and Be Merry.  The antioxidants in many teas, hot or cold, can benefit everyone.  Just be sure to make decaf for the kids.  Adding a slice of lemon or orange makes it extra special.  The best way to sweeten iced tea is with simple syrup, as it mixes well with the cold liquid.  Granular sugar just adds grains without flavor. (My friends who endure my “iced tea with a splash of simple syrup” order at restaurants will attest for me).  Below is a recipe for a mint simple syrup that is a refreshing addition to hot and cold teas.

 

Minty Iced Green Tea

This is the standard and favorite “iced tea” in my family’s refrigerator. The mint syrup sweetens the sometimes bitterness of green tea. Despite the name this tea will not be green in color, much to my son’s dismay.
Yield 4½ cups

4 cups water

4 bags green tea

½ cup Mint Syrup (see below)

Bring water to a boil in a saucepan. Remove from heat and add tea bags, cover, and let steep for 5 minutes. Carefully squeeze tea bags and discard. Let cool.

 

Pour tea into a glass pitcher and add syrup. Serve over ice.

 

Mint Syrup

The symbol of hospitality, mint has been used for scores of culinary and medicinal purposes over the centuries. This simple mint syrup can be added as a sweetener to hot and cold teas, as well as lemonade and plain water (see below)
Makes 2 cups syrup

3/4 cup turbinado (raw) sugar

2 cups water

2 cups fresh mint (1 bunch), torn into 2-inch pieces
In a small saucepan, combine sugar, water, and mint. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until sugar has dissolved, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and let stand for at least 30 minutes.

Pour though a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl or pitcher and discard mint.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.

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Happy Birthday to Me (with Mint Chip Ice Cream)

After becoming a parent your own birthdays are not as meaningful or exciting to you, but they are for your kids.  Even if the gifts they see you open aren’t toys like they’d hope for, they still look forward to the cake.  What’s a birthday without cake?  The cake was never as important to me, even as a kid, as the ice cream.  I do appreciate a good layer cake, and I must admit the Ghostly Good Cake was a tasty one.  However we have so many birthdays and desserts the month of July, I’m ready to make something different.  

Of course my husband always brings a cake home.  It’s usually a petit one (so we don’t have left-overs) for the candle and singing ritual from the local bakery or grocer, which is usually fine and tasty.  But I insist on making mint chip ice cream.  The kids protested when I said I was making ice cream and said “It’s your birthday, you can’t make it yourself”.  To which I replied “It’s my birthday and I want MY mint ice cream. Not one you buy in a store.” 

This is my favorite recipe for mint chip ice cream.  Note: it is more mint than chocolate and thus not chocoalte mint.  It’s not a crazy color green and doesn’t have mint extract, but the real mint from the garden.  It makes it like no one else’s.  Even the kids agree, once they’re reminded by the taste.

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Recipe

(from Simply Recipes.com)

Ingredients

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  • 3 cups of fresh mint leaves (not stems), rinsed, drained, packed
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream (divided, 1 cup and 1 cup)
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • A pinch of salt
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate or dark chocolate, chopped fine, keep in the freezer until used

Method

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1 Put the mint leaves in a heavy saucepan with the 1 cup of milk and 1 cup of the cream. Heat until just steaming (do not let boil), remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 30 minutes. Reheat the mixture until steaming, remove from heat and let stand for 15 more minutes.

cooling cream in ice bath
2 While the mint is infusing in step 1, prepare the remaining cream over an ice bath. Pour the remaining 1 cup of cream into a medium size metal bowl, set in ice water (with lots of ice) over a larger bowl. Set a mesh strainer on top of the bowls. Set aside.

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3 Strain the milk cream mixture into a separate bowl, pressing against the mint leaves with a rubber spatula in the sieve to get the most liquid out of them. Return the milk cream mixture to the saucepan. Add sugar and salt to the mixture. Heat until just steaming again, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat.

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4 Whisk the egg yolks in a medium sized bowl. Slowly pour the heated milk cream mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly so that the egg yolks are tempered by the warm mixture, but not cooked by it. Scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

5 Return the saucepan to the stove, stirring the mixture constantly over medium heat with a wooden spoon, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spoon so that you can run your finger across the coating and have the coating not run. This can take about 10 minutes.

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The custard base does not coat the back of the spoon, it is not ready.

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The custard base coats the back of the spoon. You can run your finger across the coating and have it not run. It is ready and should be removed from heat immediately, and poured through the sieve over the ice bath to stop the cooking.

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6 Pour the custard through the strainer (from step 2) and stir into the cold cream to stop the cooking.

7 Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator (at least a couple of hours) or stir the mixture in the bowl placed over the ice bath until thoroughly chilled (20 minutes or so). Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

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8 Once the ice cream has been made in the ice cream maker it should be pretty soft. Gently fold in the finely chopped chocolate. Put in an airtight container and place in the freezer for at least an hour, preferably several hours. If it has been frozen for more than a day, you may need to let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes to soften it before serving.

Makes 1 quart.

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Spring Peas Please

I love peas.  Really, any peas….snap, spring, petit, snow.  There’s something about the shape and color that is very happy and reminds me of hot days as a kid.  Spring, also known as English peas have a pretty short season.  English peas are unlike snap peas in that you don’t eat the pod, just the sweet peas inside.  My kids love popping them open, then unzipping them to see how big and how many they got.  Actually when choosing spring peas, you want to stay away from those that are too fat and bulging as they’re full of starch and not as sweet as the smaller pods.

At the beginning of spring pea season I hit the farmer’s market and bought about 8 pounds from Iocopa Farms.  (Unfortunately we weren’t very lucky growing our own peas this year.  The vines are growing, but no peas.)  My kids and I shelled for days.  They really got into it.  My daughter eating them faster than we can shell them.  Really you should shell them quickly after buying and cook or eat them within a few days.  If cooking the English peas, figure that 1 pound will yield 1 cup of shelled peas.   

Besides eating them raw we also made pea puree, spring pea soup, orzo with peas and mint, and curry, herb peas.  The good thing about peas is you can buy them organic and frozen all year long.  This certainly cuts down the time to make a pea dish if you don’t have the time or the willing mini sous chefs to shell with you.  It also allows you to enjoy them year round – in or out of season.  We were able to grow the fresh cilantro and mint that I think pair so well with peas.

Here’s a few pea recipes if you’re heading to the farmer’s market or picking in your own garden now.  Or keep these recipes for the Fall, when you hit the frozen aisle and need a reminder of spring.  Oddly enough some kids like icey, frozen vegetables.  My son loved a bowl of frozen peas right out of the freezer when he was 3 and 4 years old.  I sometimes suggest frozen veggies to parents who say their kids won’t eat veggies.  Try them raw, cooked, and even frozen.  You never know…

Sweet Pea Puree (from The Petit Appetit Cookbook)

Give peas a chance!   Many children’s first foray into green vegetables is peas, because of their sweet flavor.  Just be careful not to overcook.  They should be bright green, not drab and gray, like the jarred version.

 1 package (10 ounces) frozen organic peas, or 10 ounces shelled fresh peas

 Steamer Method:

Place frozen or fresh peas in steamer basket set in a pot filled with a small amount (about 1to 2 inches, but not to touch fruit) of lightly boiling water.  Cover tightly for best nutrient retention and steam for 2 to 3 minutes or until peas and tender and bright green.  Rinse peas in cold water to stop cooking.  Add tablespoons of reserved cooking liquid to puree to make smoother and adjust consistency.

Curry & Herb Peas (from The Petit Appetit Cookbook)

 The cumin and curry makes this dish an aromatic, but not spicy for those just trying spices.  These peas make a great accompaniment to grilled fish and meats for all ages.   

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon curry powder

½ teaspoon ground cumin

1/3 cup water

16 ounces fresh or 1 package (16 ounces) frozen, organic peas, thawed

½ cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

 Heat butter in large saucepan over moderate heat.  When foam subsides, add garlic to pan and quickly sauté until light brown.  Stir in curry, cumin, water and peas and simmer until peas are tender and heated throughout, approximately 5 minutes.  Stir in cilantro, if desired.

 Mind your peas!  They will cook quickly.  If they are overcooked, they can become mushy, and lose their bright color and sweet flavor.

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