Wednesday, June 29, 2011

ingredient: GREEN TEA

Green tea is made from Camellia Sinensis, a tea plant native to China. What makes Green tea "green tea" however, is not the plant it comes from (other varieties of tea come from the same plant), but rather the process of harvesting and processing that the leaves undergo.

In short: tea plants produce a series of leaves and flowers, with the small, new shoots called the "flush" appearing every few weeks. These small, young leaves are typically picked by hand and then dried. Green tea goes through the least amount of oxidation, meaning it's processed more quickly and maintains the most antioxidants. Green tea producers end oxidation by applying heat-- the Japanese use steam while in China the leaves are often dried in hot pans. This process of quick drying is also what imparts the tea's characteristic astringent taste.

We've all heard that there are health benefits to drinking green tea, and I'm here to say that it's true. A combination of caffeine and antioxident polyphenols in green tea means that if you drink enough cups, you'll stimulate fat oxidation in your body, essentially boosting your metabolic rate without actually having to move your butt. Green tea also helps prevent cardiac disease, atherosclerosis, blood clots, tumors, Alzheimer's Disease, and just about every type of cancer.

Luckily, the health benefits of green tea has increased its popularity and availability in the U.S. If plain green tea isn't to your taste, there are many others to try. Jasmine green tea (light and refreshing without a hint of bitterness) and Genmaicha (a Japanese toasted brown rice green tea that's nutty and delicious) are two of my favorites. My most recent tipple of choice is "Organic Precious Eyebrow" a Chinese green tea that tastes like plums.

Green Tea Muffins

After a trip to Japan last summer, I decided that there are few things the U.S. needs to steal from the Japanese.

1. Good quality conveyor belt sushi

2. Tommy Lee Jones-endorsed Iced Coffee

Because I'll only buy my iced coffee from a vending
machine if Tommy says it's OK

3. Pagodas

Our buildings are so square, man

4. Green Tea Flavored Sweets

In Japan, everything from cookies to bagels to soft-serve ice cream (see above) are imbued with green tea. The tangy, earthy flavor adds a delicious, unexpected edge to sweets and I quickly became a fan. Luckily, I brought home a tin of powdered green tea from Japan which is perfect to use in baking.

adapted from allrecipes
Makes 12 muffins

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon matcha green tea powder (note: actual tea leaves won't work)
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 cup milk
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, sugar, and powdered green tea.

In a medium bowl, whisk together egg, melted butter and milk until combined. Add egg mixture to flour mixture and stir until just combined. Stir in walnuts.

Bake muffins until golden on top and a cake tester comes out clean, about 20 minutes.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

ingredient: BASIL

I've never met a person who doesn't love basil. If there was a highschool for herbs, Basil would definitely be the most popular student. Yes, Basil would be the nice, sweet girl who always looks great and to whom people seem unable to say no. The prom queen to misunderstood Fenugreek or the average Joe Parsley. "I heard Basil and Pine Nut are going steady. Don't tell Tomato."

The name basil comes from the Greek word βασιλεύς, which means king. The most common basil in the western hemisphere is Sweet Basil, made famous through Italian cuisine, particularly caprese salads and pesto sauce. Sweet Basil has a mellow flavor and large, rounded leaves. Thai or Holy Basil is used Northeast Asian cooking, particularly in Thailand and Taiwan. It has a pronounced liquorish flavor and maintains its flavor more strongly after cooking than sweet basil.

Basil has become so popular in the U.S. that I see it sold in grocery stores year-round. There are two problems with this. The first is that Basil is extremely sensitive to cold weather, making it a summer food in these parts. I know it looks promising, but you are going to be sorely disappointed if you buy basil in the winter. So hold off, and gorge in the summer (i.e now!). The second problem (related to my desire to do the aforementioned gorging) is the price, which is frankly astronomical. I've paid four dollars for what can barely be described as a bunch and was really more like a few sad stalks. (I'm talking to you, Safeway of Palo Alto). The solution? Grow you own.

my basil plant!

This plant cost me 6 dollars (it's actually two pots, at $3 each), when I bought it at the farmers market in Union Square. I could sell this for like twenty bucks at the super market! I think I found a new venture to pay off my student loans. If I don't eat it first.

Basil Pesto and A Very Delicious Sandwich

Like probably every other person on this planet, I love pesto. What I love besides its taste is its versatility. If you have pesto, you have a pasta sauce, you have a crostini, you have a lovely dressing for roasted vegetables and a topping for fish. You also have a pretty stellar condiment for sandwiches.

Like what sandwich? Well, this Pesto-Salmon Sandwich, for instance:

This sandwich has great returns. It's super simple and supremely delicious. First, grill some salmon (wild please). Top that salmon with some basil pesto that you've whizzed up in about two minutes in your food processor. Add a few slices of summer-ripe tomatoes and put them on a chewy french baguette. What you have is sandwich heaven. The bread soaks up the juices from the fish and the olive oil. The basil has a sweetness that matches the barely sweet salmon, and is brought to life with the acidity from the tomatoes.


For Pesto:

1 Garlic Clove
2 Cups Fresh Basil
1/4 Cup plus 2 TBSP Toasted Pine Nuts
2/3 Cup extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 Cup Freshly Grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste

Put garlic clove in the bowl of your food processor. Pulse until minced. Add basil and 1/4 cup pine nuts. Pulse until blended with a coarse, paste-like texture. While the motor is running, add the olive oil until emulsified.

Scoop pesto into a small bowl. Stir in parmesan cheese and remaining pine nuts (I like the texture and look of adding whole nuts to the pesto, but they are optional). Season with salt and pepper.

For Pesto-Salmon Sandwich:
serves 4

1 large french baguette cut into four pieces, or 4 rolls
1 pound salmon
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup pesto
2 medium tomatoes, sliced

Directions :

Heat oil in a large ridged grill pan over medium high heat. Add salmon and grill until just cooked through, about 3 minutes per side (cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of your fish. Count on about 8 minutes total per inch.) Cut cooked fillet into four equal pieces.

Spread one half of each baguette with 1/4 cup pesto. Top with tomato slices and one piece of the salmon. Eat.

(I served it with a delicious olive and tomato salad)

Monday, June 20, 2011


English cucumbers are the lazy man's cuke. Because unlike regular cucumbers, this extra long, thin variety doesn't need to be seeded or peeled before using. Do I really care if I shave two minutes off my horiatiki-making time? Let's just say you never know when you'll want an extra minute to ponder why a politician named after a, er, hotdog, wouldn't have foreseen his own demise. And then possibly a second minute to consider again how important names are, and how when naming my child I'm going to do a google search to see how many people with my child's potential name are epic failures or strippers or the like.

See? Two minutes goes fast.

A few facts about English cucumbers. First, English cucumbers don't need to be peeled because they're thinner and they aren't waxed. (How very European of them!) In fact English cucumbers come shrink-wrapped, which helps prevents water loss but also means you don't get the waxy film found on many garden variety cukes. Second, the label "seedless" is a misnomer, because they do indeed have seeds. They share a relationship similar to that of the Japanese eggplant to the Italian variety: their seeds are small and tasteless, not big and bitter, so you don't have to remove them before eating. Their other nickname is "burpless" cucumbers because people find them easier to digest, though honestly I never had a particularly difficult time with regular cucumbers so I can't explain the origins of this one.

Like their more stubby cousins, English cucumbers grow on vines on the ground. They're related to watermelon, zucchini, and pumpkins and have high levels of vitamin C, fiber, and water. Plus they're so long that you only have to grab one when shopping. Another thirty seconds saved. Another chance to wonder if the man at the deli gives me a straw with my drink but I know I'm not going to use it, should I accept it anyway and save it for a later date?

Cucumber Pea Salad with Yogurt Dressing
adapted from Food and Wine

I'm generally a hot food person, as in I like eating all my food above room temperature, even in the summer. There was indeed a time when I thought gazpacho was heresy, and I thought all those people who said, "Oh I'm not hungry, it's too hot out" were merely trying to look good in a bikini. But as I've grown, my tastes have changed, and now I look forward to cooling dishes on hot days.

This salad is a perfect summer dish; good on it's own with a side of crusty bread or even better accompanying some grilled fish. The cucumbers are juicy and crisp, while the peas add a touch of sweetness. The yogurt dressing is light yet creamy, and when combined with the cucumbers the dish gets an almost-tzatziki like essence. Best of all, I've found a use for the copious amount of basil which is growing outside my door, clamoring to touch the fourth floor (I live on the third.) Next up? Pesto...


1 cup plain whole-milk or 2 percent Greek yogurt
1/8 cup fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves

1 cup finely shredded basil leaves

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 pound frozen baby peas, thawed

2 English cucumbers cut into 1/2 inch pieces


In a large bowl, whisk together yogurt, lemon juice and olive oil. Stir in cucumbers and peas. Add parsley, basil and toss to coat.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Note: I can never get enough lemon. If you find the dressing too citrusy, cut the lemon back to 3 tablespoons or increase the extra virgin olive oil by 3 tablespoons.