31 July 2008
Rebrew it as iced tea for today, of course.
Oolongs' rich flavor and fragrance are particularly forgiving- revealing, even- in multiple brews.
The name for Iron Goddess, or Tieguanyin, is a combination of the word for iron (ti) jars the tea was traditional stored in, and the female goddess of mercy (Guan or Kwan Yin), who allegedly showed the Qing-era emperor Kangxi these particular tea bushes in a dream.
Whether that's true or not, it certainly is a dream to drink after a night in the refrigerator.
Iced, it has a lingering woodsy taste, laced with a subtle sweetness. And maybe it's the ti talking, but I also detect a refreshing metallic tinge, like how cold water drunk from a silver goblet tastes- not that I've done that lately.
Iced Iron Goddess is not nearly as sweet as cold-brewed Dragonwell, but you still won't need any sugar for this one. Its earthy flavor is actually an invigorating change of pace from the dessert train that's been running rampant through my kitchen.
30 July 2008
It is Iron Goddess tea, a fragrant, sweet Chinese oolong more properly known as Tieguanyin or Ti Kwan Yin. And it was the base of a refreshing picnic in sticky, crowded Bryant Park today, but not how you'd expect.
I tend to use tea as an accompaniment or special ingredient mainly for sweet foods- no doubt thanks to my weary grandmother, who would dip any screaming babies' pacifier in sugar to get them to stop crying. (It really works.)
But occasionally I'll crave something savory with my cup, and that's what I decided on for lunch today.
A tea-marinted tofu and mushroom dish, from the unfairly unheralded Cooking With Tea, caught my eye while I was paging through cookbooks and recipe clippings.
The original recipe called for Yunnan, a black Chinese tea, but I thought I'd try that oolong that had been languishing under all my Japanese greens for the past few months.
And with the farmer's market laden with earthy treasures right now, it was simple to pick up some fresh shiitakes and criminis, marinate the tofu, and then reduce the liquid into to a light yet rich sauce.
Served over kimchi rice, whose spicy kick paradoxically cools you as you eat, it was easily the best meal of the day: just salty enough, with a haunting fragrance and a gingery bite. And it was completely gone within five minutes.
Makes: 2 servings.
1 package firm tofu, drained
2 teaspoons Yunnan or Iron Goddess tea leaves
3-4 cups water
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 large garlic clove, crushed, plus 1 large garlic clove, minced, for the mushrooms
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil for tofu, plus 2 teaspoons olive oil for the mushrooms
2 ounces fresh shiitake, oyster or crimini mushrooms, washed and thinly sliced
1. Slice tofu horizontally into two thin rectangles. Wrap both pieces in a dishtowel and set on a rimmed plate. Place another plate on top, and weight it down with a few heavy cans for about 30 minutes, to remove excess water.
2. Brew the tea leaves in 3-4 cups sub-boiling water (about 190 degrees) for 3 minutes. Strain into a large dish, and stir in soy sauce, crushed garlic, ginger and sugar. Gently place the tofu in the dish, and marinate, refrigerated, for a few hours or overnight.
3. Remove tofu from marinade and pat dry. Heat the 1 tablespoon olive oil in a heavy skillet, and carefully place tofu in pan. Cook for 5 minutes per side, or until golden brown. Remove from skillet, sprinkle with salt, and set aside.
4. Heat remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil in same skillet, and add remaining minced garlic and mushrooms. Saute over medium heat until browned, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from skillet and set aside.
5. Pour all remaining marinade into skillet, and reduce over medium-high heat until thickened and about 1/3 cup, about 10 minutes. Add in mushrooms, salt to taste, and toss to coat. Let cool to room temperature, if desired.
6. Slice tofu, and drizzle sauce over top before serving.
The only outside addition was an iced tea from 'wichcraft (SE corner of 6th Ave. and 42nd St.). The choices were "regular"- a confusing term, but I was too thirsty to ask for clarification- Darjeeling or herbal. I got the Darjeeling ($2.11) and since it was served plain, grabbed a few demerara sugar packets, just in case.
For an iced tea on the road- and from a booth, no less- it wasn't bad, and one packet of sugar (R.I.P., Granny) made it even a little better. It slaughtered what I found in Brooklyn, but it was still apparent that whatever type of tea they're using, it's not the highest quality.
Then again, it's being served to people who think a park rustling with rats and urine-soaked souls begging for change is a relaxing, natural spot to eat lunch. So I suppose you can't blame Mr. Colicchio from not trying harder to up the ante.
25 July 2008
The best pound cake known to mankind was served this morning, to much delight- I just cut the slices in the kitchen and brought them to the table, so my friend didn't realize that half the cake made in her honor was already gone.
Served with a simple, cold-brewed summer iced tea, it was one of the best breakfasts I've had in ages. I think she'll agree. And if not, then it's out on the street with her.
Set 5-6 tablespoons Darjeeling tea in 6-8 cups of water overnight, or at least 10 hours, with two sprigs fresh mint.
Remove tea and add half a lemon, sliced, and 3 tablespoons honey. Serve over ice and more mint, if desired.
24 July 2008
This post was supposed to go up tomorrow, when I should have first cut into it and shared a slice with an old friend who is arriving then. I made it on the spur of the moment today, so I could have one of her very favorite food treats waiting for our breakfast Friday morning; then I would blab on endlessly here about how lovely it is to surprise people with beloved meals, and how little else is better than making breakfast and a welcoming cup of tea for friends.
But as I set it out on the counter to cool and the morning wore on, I. Just. Couldn't. Wait.
I cut it, put a bite in my mouth, and Gott in Himmel, tears are coming to my eyes. Screw satisfying your friends' deepest culinary desires and connecting with humanity. (And she's traveling today anyway, so she won't even see this.)
Look, I'd smash that $50 bottle of Champagne and crawl over the glass shards on my hands and knees if required to get to this rich, velvety, golden cake. Matcha brownies, darlings, you're fabulous, but there's a new love in my kitchen, one I would happily kill for.
Please, if you have ever cared for your own well being, just make this cake. I got the original recipe from Saveur- the most gorgeous, well-tested food publication out there- and I didn't change a thing. Why mess with perfection?
3 sticks unsalted butter, plus more for the pan at room temperature
2 tablespoons plus 3 cups flour
1 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1 cup milk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 teaspoon pure lemon extract
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1. Heat oven to 325°. Generously grease a 10-inch tube pan with a small amount of butter. Add 2 tablespoons flour; turn the pan to coat it evenly with flour, tap out any excess, and set aside. (The inside of the pan should be smoothly and evenly coated with butter and flour, with no clumps or gaps.)
2. Using a sieve set over a bowl, sift together remaining flour, baking powder and salt. Repeat two more times. In a measuring vessel with a pourable spout, combine milk and the almond, lemon and vanilla extracts.
3. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle, cream butter at medium-low speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Gradually add sugar, 1/4 cup at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, and beat until satiny smooth, about 2-3 minutes.
4. Add one egg at a time to the butter mixture, beating for 15 seconds before adding another, and scraping down the bowl after each addition. Reduce the mixer speed to low and alternately add the flour and milk mixtures in three batches, beginning and ending with the flour. Scrape down sides of the bowl; beat just until the batter is smooth and silky but no more.
5. Scrape batter into prepared pan and firmly tap on counter to allow batter to settle evenly. Bake until light golden and a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out moist but clean, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Let cake cool in pan on a rack for 30 minutes. Invert cake onto rack; let cool completely before slicing.
There is no need for any frosting or adornment, just a cup of delicate Uji Gyokoro- the tea's natural creaminess renders it a soulmate to all that butter in the cake.
And don't feel too guilty- there should be left over for breakfast and more tea tomorrow morning.
22 July 2008
What's more pleasurable than that delicious feeling when you lazily open your eyes and conjure up your first meal of the day? And if you've somehow had the presence of mind to make the tea the night before, even better.
So the hazy, golden light that greeted me this morning was more than welcome, as I had cherry wheat biscuits to make, and iced chocolate chai awaiting me in the refrigerator.
Before you start groaning over the whole wheatedness, let me explain: these tender little biscuits are actually better for it. The resulting nuttiness plays off the tart sweetness of the dried cherries perfectly, and paves the way for as much butter, jam or honey as you can pile on. It's healthy!
If that doesn't convince you, do keep in mind that whole-wheat flour, much like lentils, cauliflower and even green tea, all once fell into the category of "I can't believe humans actually even consider comsuming this without a gun held to their heads" for me. But if I could set aside the brown sugar-cinnamon Pop Tarts and let my breakfast tastes expand, so can you.
The original biscuit recipe is from a lovely little blog, Milk Eggs Chocolate. My only adaption was to increase the sugar to 2 tablespoons, and to use vanilla-infused sugar at that- I suspected it would more aptly complement with the spices in the iced tea.
As for the tea, I used started with a chocolate tea from a local chocolate shop, and brewed a pot of it for 5 minutes, then let it chill overnight.
I know I usually bash blends, but this one, which has aromatic pieces of cacao beans and vanilla pods studding the black tea, is a worthy exception.
In the meantime, I made some chai-spice syrup and refrigerated it overnight as well. Once cold, it can be mixed into the iced tea in whatever quantity you desire. Start with 1/2 cup for 6 cups of tea and see how much you can handle; any leftover can be kept, chilled, for months.
Combine 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add 6 cardamom pods, crushed, 6 whole cloves, 1 cinnamon stick and 6 black peppercorns. Add a 2-inch piece fresh ginger, scrubbed and sliced into coins, and continue to simmer over medium heat for 10-15 minutes.
Cover and remove from heat; let sit for 10 minutes. Strain into a jar and refrigerate.
And if you're wondering why there aren't any pictures of the tea, it's because I drank it too fast- which should make for quite the productive afternoon.
20 July 2008
One of the only brief respites I've found recently was iced White Peony tea, which I cold-brewed overnight, for about 10 hours. Poured for breakfast yesterday, it was a revelation: deeply golden colored, with a sweet, soft yet rich taste.
I was surprised at the depth of flavor- and color- for a white tea, which is made solely of the tender, unopened budset (the uppermost leaves) for a characteristic subtle, refined taste. Traditionally, white tea was only produced the Chinese province of Fujian, and as legend has it, picked by white-silk-gloved virgins.
Those being somewhat in decline these days, white tea is still harvested meticulously but by trollop and maiden alike, and is also grown on a small scale in India and Sri Lanka. Much like Champagne, however, it's worth seeking out authentic Fujian white tea- the terroir for this delicate tea does make a noticeable difference.
White Peony, or Bai Mudan, is actually a type of white tea referred to as new style, as it is slightly more processed than the traditional style. Developed in the 1960s, in the new style the leaves are handled minimally and carefully, just with the addition of a brief oxidation process.
This bestows a deeper color and flavor to the tea, one that might surprise you if you've only had a traditional white tea like Silver Needles.
In a rare case of choosing the cheaper option, I have to say I prefer the taste of new-style white tea over its prohibitively expensive traditional-style counterpart. (And don't even consider that this might change my stance on designer clothing.) Especially cold-brewed, the delightful, almost honey-sweet flavor of white tea just seems to come out more in the new-style version.
I'm guessing this is what the mystery tea shop in L.I.C. uses for its iced apricot-white tea.
And even though it only has to do with the tea in name only, I couldn't resist taking a look back at the real thing- a beautiful, heavenly scented white peony from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden a few months ago. Yes, you may call me Ms. O'Keeffe from now on.
18 July 2008
Never quite as popular as its polished, sophisticated sisters Manhattan and Brooklyn, or even as brash and bold as The Bronx or Staten Island, this maligned borough is that quiet, pretty girl in the corner at the party who initially escapes notice.
But as the night wears on, her silent confidence can't help but rise to the forefront, showing off her inimitable style- all with complete nonchalance, of course.
While en route to lunch with a fabulous jewelry designer in Long Island City the other day, I noticed this storefront, with "TEA" in letters almost as big as the coffee sign. My friend said she had checked it out recently while waiting for the B61 bus, and kindly asked if I wanted to check out their iced tea before we went to lunch.
Seeing as we had three blocks to walk to the restaurant and it was 117 degrees out, I managed to nod and whisper, "Iced. tea."
Inside the cozy, angled corner building, we were greeted warmly and I ordered the first thing my eye fell on: apricot iced tea ($2).
I usually avoid flavored teas- they too often taste like sh*t on a swizzle stick- but something told me to be brave. As the girl behind the counter handed it to me, I asked what kind it was exactly, and she told me it was brewed from a loose-leaf dried apricot-white tea blend.
Hmm. I looked to the right, and spotted packages of organic white peony and dragonwell. Maybe these people knew what they were doing.
With one sip, it was clear that they did.
The tea was richly floral, but not overpowering, and perfectly brewed, without a hint of bitterness. Its cool, natural sweetness (much like the personality of a certain tea-blog author) was the ideal counterpoint to such a sweltering day. Plus, it really matched my bright orange toenails.
And as one further enticement, this sign was posted near the door:
What, exactly, is choobee tea? And why do I have to wait a week to find out?
From the list of flavors, I'm guessing it's bubble tea- OK, that's nothing new. But for this neighborhood, it certainly is. And if the iced tea is any indication, then this concoction will be delicious.
By this time next week, I will no doubt be strutting around, asking people if they've tried choobee tea, and shooting them a look of disdain when they plead ignorance.
If only I knew where to tell them to get it.
I managed to not only miss the name of this miragelike tea shop entirely, but my Internet searches all morning have turned up nothing. I was told it had only been open for six weeks, but still, how could there be nothing out there about this place? Thanks to some forensic investigation using Google maps and the reflection in the shop's front window, I believe it's located at the corner of Jackson Ave. and 11th St., just across the Pulaski Bridge from Greenpoint.
Maybe I'll just have to go back today to get the details about this latest Queens gem. And another apricot iced tea or four.
16 July 2008
The event itself was outstanding, but the epiphany that green tea and dark chocolate belong together was even more significant. I started experimenting with the two, and soon happened upon perfection: the best brownies in the world, made with matcha, or powdered Japanese green tea.
Imagine the romantic ideal of Romeo and Juliet, Petrach and Laura, Abelard and Heloise in food form- and without all those messy suicides and unrequited love. The slight bitterness of the matcha and the chocolate, carried by the richness of the sugar and butter, dance together like nothing you've ever put in your mouth before.
The original brownies were found in Regan Daley's verbose but seductive cookbook In the Sweet Kitchen. The quantities of butter and chocolate may seem excessive, but I've tried countless other brownie recipes and nothing- absolutely nothing- measures up.
They're rich, intense, and for a solid food, somehow more moist than any liquid.
They're the best thing to ever come out of my kitchen, and worth their weight in gold. If you make nothing else, make these. Anyone lucky enough to be bestowed with one and a cup of matcha will be your love slave forever.
Makes: 28 brownies.
7 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, in small pieces
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon matcha
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 1/3 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Walnut halves (optional)
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9x13-inch baking pan with nonstick aluminum foil.
2. In a medium saucepan, melt chocolates and butter over very low heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.
3. In a small bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, matcha and salt. In a large bowl, beat eggs slightly to blend. Add sugar and whisk for two minutes, until mixture is thickened and pale. Whisk in vanilla.
4. Pour chocolate into egg mixture and whisk to blend. Sift flour mixture over the batter in three additions, folding each in gently with a rubber spatula before adding the next.
5. Scrape batter into prepared pan and place walnut halves on top, if desired. Bake for about 35 minutes, until the surface is shiny, just set and beginning to show cracks at the edges. Do not overbake.
A few tips: If you've never melted chocolate before, keep in mind it must be done slowly, over very low heat, to avoid burning. There's no way to rush this step. When folding in the flour, do so in as few strokes as possible- this prevents the gluten in flour from activating, which would make the finished product tough and chewy (great for bread, but not for sweets). And do watch carefully after about 30 minutes of baking: If cooked too long, the brownies will lose their moist, gooey texture and may start to resemble those from a Duncan Hines baking mix. The horror.
15 July 2008
I was pleasantly surprised, however, by what I could rustle up in rest stops and otherwise unimpressive restaurants along the way. It may be a far cry from what I make here, but Southerners do know their iced tea.
Combined with my now practiced cold-brew technique (and armed with a few ounces of Megami sencha), I didn't go a day without tea, even if it meant setting up a plastic bottle of Kentucky tap water and green tea in a mud-encrusted cooler in the back of an increasingly ripe van for the night.
When I retrieved it each morning at 6 a.m. and sat on a curb to watch the sun rise over the verdant, ancient Appalachian mountains, I thought about the essential role place plays in enjoying any food. Sipping tea to a cacophony of chirping birds and bats, instead of bus horns and babel, I could have been halfway across the world from New York.
Just the act of making and consuming tea, though, connects me to wherever I find myself. It requires a patience and concentration that fosters an incredible appreciation of where you are when you drink it.
04 July 2008
03 July 2008
At least I didn't end up with any duplicates, but it would have been beneficial to stick to my vow to try all-new teas. Once again, I ended up with a majority of Japanese greens. I can't help it. They're my crack.
- Megami sencha: A subtly vegetal Japanese green, this brews up a particularly vibrant emerald cup.
- Okumidori sencha: Another sweet Japanese green. I'm curious to try this, Megami and Umegashima sencha together for a side-by-side comparison, especially since I can never remember which one is my favorite.
- Uji gyokoro: At over $15 an ounce, this is the one I save for quiet mornings alone, or when the stray tea master drops in. It's been my favorite tea for years.
- Pi lo chun: A Chinese green (new to me) that's also called, somewhat unappetizingly, "spring green snail," due to its leaves' characteristic spiral curl (and with hope, not taste).
- Matcha: There are two primary drinking grades of this powdered Japanese green, koicha (thick) and usucha (thin), which refer to how they're prepared and the texture of the final cup. Usucha is lighter but less sweet, and a better choice for matcha novices.
02 July 2008
I hit Ito En (822 Madison Ave.) yesterday to replenish my tea supplies. Talking with the knowledgeable employee who was waiting on me, he asked if I'd heard of something called wild tea.
There were so many terrible jokes I could have made at this point, but I was actually quite curious, so I just admitted that I hadn't.
He pulled out a giant, sealed bag from their refrigerated case and opened it up to reveal what looked like small clods of dirt (or worse). This tea is found growing wild in wooded areas in China, he told me. Processed as an oolong, the dark, cherry-sized clumps of leaves have a naturally high glucose content.
It didn't smell very sweet to me, but he offered to brew some up. I was a bit skeptical, but I've made it a rule to never refuse an offer of tea, especially in a shop this good.
He began by dipping a bamboo hishaku, or ladle, into a kettle of hot water and pouring a little into a gaiwan (the popular Chinese lidded teacup) that was holding the tea, to open the leaves a bit- which he also recommended for extracting maximum flavor out of any oolongs. This was quickly poured off, using the lid to hold the tea inside the cup.
The gaiwan was then filled again, covered, and swirled for a minute or two to brew the tea.
Three new cups were then lined up on the counter, and the tea was poured into each a third at a time (so each would have an equal balance of tea, as the brew became increasingly strong while he was pouring). Truly, a spread fit for Goldilocks, or one thirsty tea addict.
However, I noticed there was another customer hovering nearby at this point, and one cup was for him, so I pulled just one toward me.
And it was bizarre- the tea tasted like someone had been pouring spoonfuls of sugar into it every time your back was turned. It was uncannily sweet, with an almost syrupy texture.
As I neared the end of the cup, finding only a neglible trace of an oolong's characteristic astringency or pleasantly earthy flavor, I found the tea a bit cloying. But I'd imagine after a savory meal, or for any avowed tea haters, it would be perfect. It's a strong tea, but there's just no bitterness.
One last note: I know these photos are not up to my usual standards, but it turns out my quick, surreptitious snapping had been a good idea. Just after I took the one above, I was coolly informed by a different employee that photography was not permitted.
OK, fine. It's your business, so you can make the rules. But this got me thinking about the recent issue of food photography being banned by a certain imperious chef here in Manhattan.
Is freedom of blogging protected under the First Amendment? An excellent question for all your Fourth of July parties. Well, depending on what kind of party you find yourself at.
In the meantime, more forbidden photos are coming, along with a list of the rest of my tea haul.
01 July 2008
A mislabeled jar that I spotted on my disappointing Brooklyn iced-tea crawl was the inspiration for this brilliant new blend: one shop had a small sign with "lime-coconut" printed on it, in front of the brewed black iced tea.
The person in line ahead of me asked the question I was wondering, "Is that lime-coconut tea?"
Of course not. It was overbrewed, blah, bagged English Breakfast, nothing more.
It stuck in my mind, though, and as the heat and humidity have shown no signs of abating, I started thinking obsessively (the best way to do it) about what lime-coconut iced tea would taste like.
Memories of my last coconut cracking still fresh (a.k.a. rotting, oily coconut water sprayed all over me and my kitchen), I desired something a bit simpler, but still seasonal, tropical and refreshing. And then I remembered a recipe in the garrulous Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian cookbook, in the extensive drinks section- a lime-ginger sharbat, or flavored syrup, from India, which is often used as a base for cooling drinks.
I'd loved it mixed with both still and sparkling water, but what about pairing it with tea?
Darjeeling, an Indian black, was my tea of choice. I figured it would be strong enough to stand up to the concentrated flavors of the sharbat, but just floral enough to complement the fruity, fragrant tones of the lime and ginger- classic Indian flavorings beyond just drinks.
It worked even etter than I anticipated: this iced tea tastes so good, so sweet and refreshing, it will convince you to never even consider looking at the bottled stuff again.
I'd imagine it would go over swimmingly any Fourth of July cookouts, too. Since I'm not invited to any, you'll have to let me know if I'm right.
Makes: about 3 cups.
3 cups sugar
1 1/2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin slices
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (about 7 limes)
1. Combine sugar, 1 cup of water and ginger slices in a large saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring.
2. Lower heat and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Add lime juice, stir, and simmer for another 15 minutes, or until the liquid has turned slightly syrupy.
3. Pour into glass jars, allow to cool slightly, then cover tightly and store in refrigerator.
Get out that teapot, brew a mess of Darjeeling, mix in about 1/2 cup of the sharbat, and add some lime slices on top. Chill well, and serve over lots of ice- this is strong stuff.