Saturday, April 24, 2010

How Does My Garden Grow: Strawberry Mint Iced Tea

I have no patience for hulling. It looks nice and all, but honestly, when you have a 4 year old chanting for food, you want to get the job done as quickly as possible, which means decisively lopping off the top part of the fruit, leaves and all.  Anything less in an exercise in ritalin. 

That being said, I am always wondering what to do with the strawberry tops.  My cat seems to like them; she can lick the cut ends for hours.  But other than that, they are kind of like the infamous (albeit inverted) muffin stumps from Seinfeld - nobody wants them.  Until now.

I have discovered that they make a very nice tea.  Next time you have a few strawberry tops, give the leaves a sniff; they are floral, fragrant, and sweet, all good characteristics for tea leaves. And it's a nice nod to thrift, as well as a tasty pick me up.   

A couple of notes on this recipe:

  • This is the strawberry season of all strawberry seasons.  Here in NJ, they will be ready to pick in a few weeks.  But the US crop is largely dominated by California and Florida growers; this year, weather conditions have forced the two states' growing seasons to overlap, resulting in supermarkets flooded with inexpensive, delicious fruit.  A wonderful change after a winter of $8 for a pint of cardboard tasting third cousins removed.  

  • Mint can always be purchased, but really consider growing it.  Like strawberries, it grows well anywhere whether a field or a container garden.  Mint is incredibly hearty, requires little care or maintenance, and makes everything around it green and fragrant. 
  • You can sweeten this tea pretty much any way you please.  Simple syrup works well, as it does in any beverage. Agave also works, but it needs to be diluted with hot water first, to thin it out.  Personally, I have been experimenting with liquid stevia and really enjoying it.  It's an herb (very common in Latin America, where they grow it like basil), has no calories, no glycemic impact, and the liquid cuts the bitterness found in the powder form.

This tea is best made with fresh ingredients, and is a nice portents of great things to come in the garden.  Enjoy.

Strawberry Mint Iced Tea
Makes 4 cups of tea

10 fresh strawberries
5 fresh mint leaves, crushed
4 1/4 cups hot water
1/4 cup sugar or 10 drops of liquid stevia

  1. Remove leaves from strawberries.  Common sense tip: Discard any leaves that seem molded or mildewed. Add with mint to a small infuser. 
  2. Pour 4 cups of hot water over the infuser and let steep in a tea pot for 10 minutes.  
  3. Fill a pitcher with ice cubes. 
  4. Mix strawberries (without leaves) in a blender (you may need to add 1 tbsp water here, to get it to liquify properly). Strain and add to pitcher. 
  5. Heat remaining 1/4 cup of water.  Dissolve sugar in water and and add to pitcher.  Alternatively,  add the liquid stevia.
  6. Pour hot tea into the pitcher with ice cubes. Stir, and serve.  
Simon Howden /
Michelle Meiklejohn /

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

In Vitro Meat

Artificially manufactured meat. I have been meaning to post about it for a while but needed some time to, um, digest this. 

The Telegraph reported last November on a scientific breakthrough that allows us humans to grow meat in a lab. Not grow animals, just the muscle and tissues.  So nothing ever is slaughtered/dies, but then again no being ever lives. Here is a grueling excerpt:

Mark Post, professor of physiology at Eindhoven University, told The Sunday Times: “What we have at the moment is rather like wasted muscle tissue. We need to find ways of improving it by training it and stretching it, but we will get there.

“This product will be good for the environment and will reduce animal suffering. If it feels and tastes like meat, people will buy it.

“You could take the meat from one animal and create the volume of meat previously provided by a million animals.”

The PETA people actually support this, as do a number of environmental groups. It certainly takes the punch out of the vegan parry, "I never eat anything that had a face." My gut (sorry) instinct is never, no way, but I have a feeling it is going to become commonplace, and soon. What do you think? Comments below please.

Image: Maggie Smith /

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Paella Party

Every Friday night I make a big family dinner, with fresh bread, a roasted chicken, and string beans.  Every Friday night I make a big family dinner, with fresh bread, a roasted chicken, and string beans. Every Friday night I make a big family dinner, with fresh bread, a roasted chicken, and string beans. 

It makes me a very dull girl. 

Anyway, this week we were having guests, and I was behind as usual.  As I cursed under (and let's face it, above) my breath, I had a realization.  This wasn't any fun.  And I wanted a good time, not just for me, but for all of us.  Spring is finally here after a long, crappy winter, and it seemed like a little fresh air was in order. And then it hit me - paella.

Paella is one of those dishes that seems a lot more complicated than it really is.  It uses simple but easily found ingredients, cooks in less than 30 minutes, and serves family style. Paella is tasty, colorful, and when done right looks like confetti in a pot. In short, Paella is a party. 

Here are a couple of tricks that have served me well when making this dish:
  • Use a large, cast iron, dutch oven.  Ladies, this is the time to bat your eyelashes and ask your handsome husband/boyfriend/girlfriend/neighbor/boy next door that you wanted to talk to but could not find an excuse to do so, to lug your super heavy Le Creuset out of the closet and onto the stove.  It goes from the burner into the oven, and you need something that can take the heat.  Well made stainless steel would probably work.  I would not recommend using anything non-stick, or thinly made.  
  • Paella is all about the rice.  You can try long grain rice, but beware that it will not work well with a paella recipe.  You need something starchier, say an aborrio, short grain, or medium grain.  Personally, I keep the latter on hand in the pantry; medium grain rice is inexpensive and readily available in the Spanish foods section of your market.  I like the Goya brand. 
  • Use a dry white wine.  I prefer sherry or vermouth. 
  • Try and find a high quality sausage.  Chorizo is the traditional choice.  But I like the chicken andouille  kinds that are out there; they are healthier and easier on the stomach. Looking for a kosher brand?  Try Neshama, which is kosher and organic.  If you can find me a grass fed, pasture raised brand, please post a comment about it below.
I made my paella and because it came together so quickly and easily, I didn't need that extra pill before the guests arrived.  Everyone enjoyed themselves, and we all had a lovely evening. Oh, and ps: clean up was a breeze because this is a one pot meal, and Le Creuset washes like a dream.  All just in time for The Shining's 30th anniversary - maybe The Overlook can start serving it in the dining room, cheer the place up a little.  

Chicken and Andouille Paella
Adapted from Marc Bitman's How to Cook Everything
Serves 4

3 1/2 cups of chicken stock
Pinch of saffron
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 bone in, skin on chicken thighs
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tbsp chopped garlic
fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
8 oz chorizo or andouille sausage (I use a chicken version)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup tomato puree
2 tsp paprika (smoked if you've go it, sweet if you don't)
8 roasted red peppers, rough chopped (piquillo are best if you can find them)
2 cups medium grain rice
Chopped, fresh cilantro leaves

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Place stock and saffron in a sauce pan and warm. 
  3. In a large dutch oven (preferably cast iron), cook chicken in oil until deeply browned on both sides. Add onion and garlic and cook on medium until soft. 
  4. Add chorizo, wine, tomato puree, and paprika. Bring to boil and cook for 5 minutes. Stir occasionally.  
  5. Add the peppers.  Add rice, scattering it evenly across the pan. Cook for 1 - 2 minutes. Add the warm stock and stir until just combined. 
  6. Place pan in oven and bake for 15 minutes. If the rice seems dry but not done, add a little stock or water. Turn off the oven and let the pot sit in there for another 5 - 15 minutes. 
  7. Remove pan from oven, sprinkle with cilantro, and serve.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Rethinking shopping

I admit it, I am a grocery shopping addict.  A real fiend.  It is my go to excuse when I need to get out of the house, which we chose in part because it was across the street from the local A&P.  I love perusing the produce and imagining the possibilities in the spice section.  There is something so hopeful about the whole expedition; when I am at the market I can envision making anything.  In my mind while seeking flour, I can assemble tall cakes in a single bound.  When the farmer's markets open, I am shopping for truth, justice, and the American way.

My preferences include smaller, local/regional stores, which are in abundance here in Hoboken. It is not uncommon to find me gazing at apples around 9 am, then at another store for fish at noon, and back to market again after dinner for staples.  It is not that I am unorganized about shopping, I just like to buy different things at different places.  The store with the best strawberries may not have a seafood counter or carry toilet paper. And if my daughter comes along, they better have the right band aids or it is going to be a loooong afternoon.

That being said, I am rethinking shopping.  The uptick of coops, CSA's, online stores,and other mechanisms are pushing me in this direction, and there are distinct advantages to buying food like this, including:
  • Quality: It seems like I am getting higher quality food.  My meat, poultry, and eggs are grass fed and pasture raised.  The produce is beyond organic, with local farms adhering to higher and less costly standards.
  • Safety: I know exactly where my food originates from; it hasn't been centralized or merged or anything that would make it difficult to track.  It also comforts me knowing how close I am to the source, as opposed to the supermarkets, where there is a little too much mystery behind the cellophane.
  • Convenience: I really like having things delivered to the house. It's very retro and makes me want to put on pearls and a circle pin. When the eggs and cheese arrive, they go right in the fridge, with no crappy check out aisle or customer card.  And while I was skeptical of the whole meat in the mail concept, it has turned out to be one of the best choices I have ever made. 
  • Efficiency: There is something to be said about buying in bulk.  Obviously there are cost savings involved, but more important is the time.  I use chick peas two or three times a week; buying a five pound bag of them means that I only have to shop for them once a in a blue moon.  
Then there is the whole locavore argument; I am torn here, because on the one hand, my food is largely local.  I get my eggs and cheese from a farm in PA.  Our CSA will provide me with fruits and vegetables from an in state farm from June - October.  And even though my meat is delivered, it originates from farms within 90 miles of my house.  But this means less business for local businesses here in my little city, and that is a problem.  They do not have all the products I want, but on the other hand do have a store front here in town that pays taxes and is part of the community. It is an urban dilemma, and I don't see any full reconciliation of these issues until the products sold through alternative markets become more in demand, more mainstream.  

So for now, I will continue with my CSA and coops and online sources.  But I am still shopping locally for things that are best found around the corner, like bread, flowers, and Superman band-aids. 

How about you?  Have you changed your grocery shopping ways?  Leave a comment below and tell me about it.

Image: Suat Eman /