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So much for finishing NaBloPoMo strong. Last night, I started feeling an ache in my chest, and I woke up this morning with a full-blown, throat-searing, nose-plugging cold. Okay, so it’s just a cold. But I feel sorry for myself, unhappy, and weak. But with this post, we will have completed a post a day for a month! So at least there’s that.

My other comfort today has been Greek Mountain Tea, a recent purchase from the Greek Market. What a great discovery that place has been!

The Mountain Tea was dried but still green in its cellophane bag, and only $2.25. After sampling it today, I’m so glad I took it home with me. I thought I’d brew some up today because I read that it’s considered a cure-all in Greece, and Wikipedia claims that it “is traditionally used to fight the common cold, flu and allergies. Other traditional uses are for soothing respiratory problems, aiding digestion, strengthening the immune system, and calming mild anxiety. It is also used to relieve sinus congestion.”

Sounds like just what I need! I brewed it up and added a bit of honey as a sweetener. I was please to discover that the tea isn’t just healthy, but pleasant. It has a a lemony, thymey, chamomile-like aroma, and a mild flavour.

GREEK MOUNTAIN TEA

-a handful of Mountain tea, both leave and stems (1 to 2 tablespoons)
-one cup of boiling water
-honey to taste, if desired

Pour water over tea and allow to steep for about 10 minutes. The tea will have a light yellow/tan colour. I used my french press for this, because the herbs were buoyant and popped up above the level of the water. The french press let me keep them down.

This month, the Daring Bakers took on a super-caramel cake, a recipe from Shuna Fish Lydon.that was originally published on Bay Area Bites.

I say super-caramel, because it really was. Caramel cake, caramel icing, and in my case, caramel drizzle. This cake was moist, and I think probably in my case, too dense. I’m not a cake-lover or a cake baker, and it seems that more often than not, my cakes are heavy. Why? I don’t know. I guess because I don’t adore cakes, I’m not putting the love into them that they deserve. They fall flat out of resentment. I did, however, adore the icing. With browned butter and dark caramel and a pinch of salt, the icing was rich, sweet and delicious. If it weren’t totally inappropriate, I could eat this icing straight out of a bowl. Of course, then I’d probably end up very, very sick.

This wasn’t my first time making caramel, so I didn’t have any problems with it, though I’ve ruined many a caramel to get to this point. What I love most about making it is the suspense– standing over the pot watching the sugar syrup boil in thick bubbles that look like alien eyeballs, and worrying as it gets darker and darker that I’ll wait too long, just a second too long, and I’ll end up with burnt muck instead of dark, rich, bittersweet syrup. I feel so accomplished when I don’t ruin it. I love any opportunity to make a caramel!

So, that’s my caramel cake report. The cake itself was nice but I probably won’t make it again. The icing… that I can’t wait to recreate. Maybe on top of carrot cake next time!

Thanks to Dolores at Chronicles of Culinary Curiousity and her co-hosts Alex of Blondie and Brownie,  Jenny of Foray into Food and gluten-free adapter Natalie of Gluten-a-Go-Go for a fun caramel-laden challenge. For the recipe, please see the above Bay Area Bites link. And if you want more caramel cake (I know you do!), check out the Daring Bakers Blogroll!

I think I’ve made this clear before, and any of you who know me in the real world are well-aware, but in case you didn’t know, when it comes to food, I’m novelty-seeking to a fault. If there’s something I’ve never heard of on the menu, that’s what I’m going to try. I have a hard time going back to recipes. And if I find out about an ingredient I’ve never used before, I have to try it, preferably as soon as possible. Also, if you can make ice cream with it, I will probably neglect all other life responsibilities in order to own it. Immediately.

Hence the three newest additions to my pantry– masticha (paste), sahlab, and mountain tea.

The sahlab (or salep) I bought is in drink mix form, and the instructions say to mix it with milk, bring it to a boil, then and rose or orange blossom water before “decorating” it with cinnamon and nuts for serving. I think I might make ice cream with it. Surprise.

I bought the mountain tea– which came dried but still green in a cello bag–because I read that it’s Greek grandma’s answer to every ailment, and I thought I’d test it out on my mild cold. That, and I’ve never tried it before.

The lady at the cash register didn’t blink at the sahlab (or salep) and mountain tea, but she did hesitate at the masticha. It is a glass jar with a thick white paste inside it. On the front is a picture of a glass full of water that has a spoon full of white goo resting in it.

The cashier looked up at me and asked “have you every tried this before?” I said no. She said “in Greece, they put a spoonful of it into water.” I said I would try that, and then added that I thought I might try to make ice cream with it. I am obviously obsessed with ice cream. She nodded politely, then told me “It’s a bit… um… goopy.” She’s right, it is… it’s really thick and sticky, almost chewy (which makes sense, as mastic  was actually probably the world’s first chewing gum). Anyway, now I have this jar of… goop. And it tastes pretty good, very much like a plant, with a bit of a pinesol flavour (in a good way). We’ll see what’s going to happen with it.

Have you ever heard of mastic or salep, or mountain tea? Have you got any uses for them?

p.s. If you’re in Edmonton, you should check out Hellas Foods on 109 Ave, just off 124 St. They’ve got some great stuff!

There’s nothing like a blogging event to keep a food blogger on her toes. While I’m not a huge joiner-of-things, I love the idea of Taste & Create, an activity that pairs food bloggers up to browse through each other’s archives and choose a delicious recipe to recreate.

I was paired with The Life and Loves of Grumpy’s Honeybunch, a blog I’ve come across before. Its tagline, “who I love, what I love, and what I love to” explains the proprietress HoneyB’s mindset perfectly. I loved browsing the recipes on this charming site, but I also enjoyed that it’s clear in every post why she cooks. It’s for “who she loves,” and the blog is full of mentions of and reflections about friends and family. It’s all very homey and comforting.

I picked out a recent recipe that caught my eye mostly because of its use of cardamom (my current obsession). On the other hand, I was a little unsure because of the sesame seeds. I’m not a huge sesame lover, because I find it has a musty kind of taste to it. This recipe worked well because the nutty rich flavour of the sesame, while present, wasn’t dominant. I also loved the warm cardamom scent of the cookies, but I would add more next time (or grind it fresh instead of using my tired old ground cardamom), because I thought there wasn’t enough for my taste (mind you, I’m a cardamom fiend). My favourite thing about the cookie is its texture. They’re chewy at the middle, but crunchy and crisp at their edges.

Finally, as these cookies are iced, they are very sweet. HoneyB mentioned the same thing. Next time I make them I might not make the icing, though as I flavoured that with cardamom too, it will hurt me a bit to leave it off. You can find the recipe here. The changes I made were: demerara sugar instead of regular brown sugar, cardamom instead of cinnamon in the icing, and bake time (this was by accident, as I forgot about them, but I baked them for about 15-18 minutes and they turned out great).

Thanks, HoneyB, for a great recipe and a glimpse into your life!

Yesterday I made a great cocktail that had raw egg white in it. It shook up nice and frothy, and the egg gave the drink a nice mouth-feel and texture. It tasted like Orange Julius for grownups! I’m probably going to include the recipe in my next cocktail column, but I’m wondering if I should. I wonder if anyone would try it. Does anyone even touch raw egg anymore? Would you drink a cocktail with egg white in it?

Here’s some discussion online:

The Kitchn explains the logic of egg in cocktails.
The New York Times says egg whites in drinks are back.
The Art of Drink says egg whites are safe.
David Wondrich says to shake your drink twice to get the best foam.

…because I’m supposed to post at least once a week to help keep SiS’s NaBloPoMo (post a day month) run going and because I only feel like playing video games and drinking beer today.

Counts. Totally counts.

Today I cooked with my favourite girls. They’re 6, 3, and 2. I don’t see them nearly often enough, which also means that we don’t cook together too often, but here are some things I’ve learned:

-They really, really like cracking eggs themselves.
-They also like measuring liquids into measuring cups. Six-year-olds can do this, but 3-year-olds… not so much.
-Aprons are a must (and they’re really adorable).
-Don’t worry about spilling and messes. Kids are going to get themselves and a kitchen dirty, but clean-up is easy.
-Baking is great because there’s a lot of measuring (I do a lot of the measuring, but I let them pour the ingredients into the bowl), a lot of stirring, and no knives. Plus baking seems a bit like magic, so they get really into it.

We cooked from Molly Katzen’s Salad People and More Real Recipes. This is a great book that alternates between print instructions for adults and illustrated comics-style recipes for kids. The 6-year-old loves going through the pictures, narrating the process something like this: “first you put the egg, then you put the milk, then you mix it up, then you add some stuff, then you put the green stuff, then you cook it, then you EEEAT IT!!”

Most of the recipes start with whole foods, so kids really are cooking, not just assembling pre-packaged foods in new combinations. The book isn’t perfect– one recipe calls for protein powder, which I find odd, and a recipe for focaccia starts with premade store-bought pizza dough. Time-saving, sure, but…. clearly I’m a purist.  These oddities are offset by a recipes like parmesan crisps, pesto, cool cucumber soup with fresh mint, and mango-honey lassi with buttermilk. I think it’s great, and we’re definitely getting Katzen’s other book for preschoolers, Pretend Soup and Other Real Recipes, as a Christmas gift for the girls.

Today we made “corny corn cakes,” which were essentially cornmeal pancakes with some whole kernels of corn added in. I actually enjoyed the pancakes and found that the corn/cornmeal combination gave a nice rich flavour and a great texture.The girls’ favourite thing about the corny corn cakes was the whole kernels of corn in the batter. When we sat down to eat the pancakes, they loved discovering those big chunks of corn. They were especially delighted when a kernel fell out of the pancake on their fork. The two older girls had maple syrup on their pancakes, but the two-year-old requested grape jelly. I don’t know why. Kids are weird.

CORNY CORN CAKES
from Molly Katzen

Dry Ingredients:
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. sugar

Wet Ingredients:
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 Tbsp melted butter
1/2 cup corn (I used canned kernels)

Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl.

Beat the eggs in another bowl, then add buttermilk, butter, and corn. Beat to combine.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and stir (gently, just make sure everything’s combined–like with any pancake, you don’t need smoothness)

Melt a little butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When the skillet is hot enough, pour the batter in about 1/2 cup at a time.

Cook pancakes until they’re golden brown on the bottom, about 5 minutes (start checking when you see holes forming on the top of the batter in the skillet). Flip, then cook the other side, which should take less time.

And then you EEEAT IT!!

-2 slices of beer bread
-smoked turkey
-Carnation instant breakfast
-beef jerky (teriyaki flavour)
-a handful of almonds
-double espresso

Not necessarily in that order. NaBloPoMo combined with lack of time and inspiration makes for exciting blogging.

Today’s recipe is a previously mentioned gift from Farhan at happygrub. When she sent me a package of amazing goodies from Singapore, she wasn’t allowed to send the tin of cardamom milk that she had planned to include. However, it made the 10 000 km journey anyway, straight from the note Farhan tucked into the package into my idea bank. As soon as I read about this milk, I was intrigued, so I asked for more details. Farhan told me “masala tea is made by boiling cardamom pods which are crushed with the tea and milk, then strained before serving. The cardamom milk is just a shortcut and can be poured straight into the mug from the fridge. It’s nice. You should make a large batch and store it, have it with Indian tea and condensed milk. That’s how tea/coffee is drunk all over Asia. No one drank fresh milk in coffee or tea till Starbucks came.” (Hope it’s okay that I’m quoting you, Farhan!)

Today was  particularly gloomy in Edmonton, without even a hint of sun from morning till night. Just varying shades of grey. Not to mention the abbreviated day–sunrise at 8 AM, sunset at 4:30… and it’s only getting shorter. If ever there was a day that needed spicing up, it was today. So I decided to make a batch of cardamom milk. I added it to Indian tea (straight out of my Singapore package, and brewed strong), and it was lovely. I made a big batch, just like Farhan recommended, so I’d have more on hand. When I was recipe planning, I thought a bit of sugar added to the milk would be a good idea, to help with preservation (does that make sense at all? I don’t know, but it tastes good!) The milk added to tea gave a hint of the exotic without being over-the-top complex, like chai is. It’s a perfect antidote to winter cold.

Cardamom Milk
I didn’t have a recipe for this, so I winged it. Feel free to experiment with your own proportions. And let me know if you come up with something divine!

3 cups milk
1/3 cup sugar
10-15 green cardamom pods*, slightly crushed

Combine all ingredients in a saucapan, and warm over medium-low heat until milk seems like it’s going to start boiling any second. Remove from heat and allow the cardamom to steep in the milk for 20 minutes. Strain cardamom seeds and pods out of milk and store your finished product in the fridge.

To use this milk with tea, I brewed strong tea and filled my cup 3/4 with tea, topping up the rest with cardamom milk. Next time I’ll try some condensed milk, although I found this mixture to be plenty sweet for me.

*if you’re looking for cardamom, try finding it in an Indian market, or the “ethnic” aisle of the supermarket (in Edmonton, Superstore has it cheap). Cardamom is WAY cheaper there than in specialty markets. By cheaper, I mean $5 compared to $13, at least in Edmonton.

Carlo’s usually the video poster, but I thought this was a funny postscript to our cheese-making post. I found it while browsing around looking for cheddar recipes (so I can make cheese curds, so I can make poutine). This is definitely NOT how cheese is made. Carlo and I are big fans of these guys, Mitchell and Webb, star in a hilarious (vulgar) sitcom called Peep Show and this sketch comedy show (WARNING: some NSFW language).

After watching the above video this morning, I was browsing my feed reader and found this lemon and fresh cranberry scone recipe at Smitten Kitchen. That got me out of bed (yes, I browse in bed) and into the kitchen. I didn’t have a lemon in the fruit bowl (especially not my favourite meyer lemon, which Deb recommends–we obviously need to plan a trip to LA so we can raid my uncle and aunt’s tree), so I made lime-cranberry scones. I think the lack of lemon was a convenient circumstance, because I loved the slightly flowery lime aroma. The scones themselves were perfect, crisp at their edges and tender, almost meltingly so, at their heart. With or without cranberries (go with!), this is an excellent base recipe. Check out the above link to Smitten Kitchen to try it out yourself.

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