Allspice Chronicles

Entertain like a Queen, Think Lean and Live Green! A personal collection of recipes,anecdotes,and good old fashioned advice…

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How To Make A Perfect Cup Of Tea

by Danica Waters /photo credits at bottom of post


Having published the recipe for what I think are the Best Traditional Scones In The World, it’s high time to get into how to make the perfect cup of tea to accompany them. Take a look:

 

 

There’s a lot of speculation as to whether it’s best to add milk to the cup before or after the tea is poured.  According to Margot Cooper, a tea specialist at London’s Fortnum & Mason, milk was originally added to the cup before pouring the tea to keep the teacups from breaking.  However, as finer materials were introduced, such as bone china, the English took to pouring the milk after the tea was served to demonstrate that they were serving on china of the finest quality.  She also advised that the advantage to adding milk afterwards is that you have the ability to gauge the strength of your tea prior to diluting it with milk.  While this train of thought made certain sense, it went against everything I’d ever been taught by my mother-in-law about making tea, so I decided to look into it a bit further.

 

It appears that my mother-in-law was right; scientists at the Royal Society of Chemists in England had something else to say about the “milk matter “entirely.  It seems that at high temperatures, milk proteins unfold and clump together in a process called “denaturation”.  Essentially, adding a thin stream of cold milk to a cup of hot tea causes your milk to go “bad”.  The RSC advises that to maintain the freshest flavor possible, “It is better to have the chilled milk massed at the bottom of the cup, awaiting the stream of hot tea.  This allows the milk to cool the tea, rather than the tea ruinously raise the temperature of the milk.”  (source:  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk/3016342.stm)

 

So now we know.

 

And according to my mother-in-law, there’s one more essential step to making the perfect pot of tea:   Pour a bit off the top.  That’s right.  Before your serve anyone, pour a little tea off the top of the pot down the sink.  It is said to improve the flavor by removing any bitterness.  While I haven’t been able to find any scientific information to support this, I’m not going to question it.  Her tea is perfect every time.

 

To Loose-Leaf or Bag It:

Regarding whether or not it’s best to use tea bags or loose-leaf tea, either will work.  However,  loose leaf tea is allowed to freely circulate in the water, allowing for maximum oil extraction and renders a richer, more flavorful cup of tea.  When using loose-leaf tea, figure on using one teaspoon per cup, plus one teaspoon for the pot, if desired.

 

Steeping Times and Temperatures:

Courtesy of www.seattleteacup.com, following is a handy reference chart for temperature and steeping times for different types of tea:

Tea type Water Temperature Steeping Time
White tea 160° 1.5 to 2 minutes
Green tea 170° 2 minutes
Oolong tea (greener) 170° 2-3 minutes
Oolong tea (darker) 190-212° 2-4 minutes
Black tea 212°(rolling boil) 3 minutes
Herbal tea 212°(rolling boil) 3-5 minutes

 

What to do with all those loose tea leaves?

Read them, of course!  Do you see birds?  Triangles?  Courtesy of www.teausa.com, here’s a list of some of the more commonly seen symbols and their meanings:

 

ACORN—Continued health—improved health.

ANCHOR—Lucky symbol. Success in business or in love. If blurred or indistinct just the reverse.

HEART—A lover. If close to a ring, marriage to the present lover. If indistinct, the lover is fickle.

HEAVENLY BODIES—(Sun, Moon, Star)—Good luck—great happiness and success.

OWL—Indicates sickness or poverty. Warning against starting a new venture.

PALM TREE —Good omen. Success in any undertaking. Single people learn of marriage. MOON (crescent)—Prosperity, fame. If cloudy, difficulties will be solved.

ELEPHANT—Good Luck—good health—happiness.

TRIANGLES—Unexpected good fortune.

BIRDS—Good Luck. If flying, good news from the direction it comes. If at rest a fortunate journey.” (www.teausa.com)

 

For a complete, step-by-step guide on tasseography, or the art of reading tea leaves, check out their website.  It makes for loads of fun on chilly afternoons.

Enjoy!

 

Photo Credits:

(Tea Service photo courtesy of http://en0910.wordpress.com/2010/02/10/assessment-of-your-projects/)

(Milk pouring into teacup – photo courtesy of Caters News Agency / Mail Online)

(Smiling tea leaves in cup  – photo courtesy of mosangels.ning.com)

(Tea reading photo courtesy of www.teausa.org)

 

 

Posted November 3rd, 2011.

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Blackberry Crush

by Danica Waters – photo courtesy of Martha Stewart. com

 

Taking advantage of  the last glorious wave of the blackberry season, I happened across this delicious-sounding libation on Martha Stewart’s website.  As pretty to look at as it is to taste, I had to share.

Enjoy!

Blackberry Crush

(Martha Stewart)

 

4 blackberries

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon Simple Syrup

1 1/4 ounces vodka

Seltzer

Ice

Mint sprig

 

In a glass, combine blackberries, lemon juice, and simple syrup; lightly crush berries to release their juice. Add ice and vodka; top with seltzer. Stir to combine. Garnish with a mint sprig.

Posted October 6th, 2011.

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A Most Delicious Vodka Mojito

by Danica Waters

 

For her 23rd birthday celebration, my eldest daughter suggested we try Mojitos as an accompaniment for her all-time-favorite Southwestern Chicken and Pasta Salad.  Rather than use the traditional rum in our Mojitos, we tried vodka.  To everyone’s delight, the substitution was magical!  The transparency and lightness of the vodka allowed the full flavor of the lime and mint to fully shine through.  Topping it off with generous splash of a lime-flavored sparkling water in place of the traditional club soda only served to amplify the yumminess.  The best part?   Because the mojito is enhanced with sparkling water, it’s big on flavor but lighter on calories than most alcoholic beverages.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Vodka Mojito

 

1-1/2 oz vodka

½ tsp sugar

3 mint leaves

¼ lime

Lime-flavored sparkling water to taste

Lots of ice – enhance with crushed mint leaves and lime juice for maximum flavor

 

 

In a cocktail glass, place several slightly crushed mint leaves and fill with ice.

 

In a cocktail shaker, muddle ¼ of a lime and three mint leaves with ½ tsp of sugar and a splash of sparkling water.  Add ice; pour vodka over the top.  Shake well; strain and pour into prepared cocktail glass.  Top off with lime-flavored sparkling water to taste.

 

Makes 1 delicious mojito.

Posted August 16th, 2011.

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Fajah’s Glorious Grapefruit-tini

by Danica Waters

Be careful.  Be very, very careful.  These grapefruit-tinis are so delicious, and refreshing, and perfect on hot summer evenings, they sneak up on you.   Grapefruit being the palate-cleanser that it is, these martinis are delicious served with almost every type of cuisine:  Mexican, Indian, Moroccan, good old fashioned burgers, you-name-it.  Don’t think they’d go so well with macaroni and cheese, but hey, you can’t win them all.

Here’s the recipe:

Fajah’s Glorious Grapefruit-tini

  • Equal parts freshly squeezed grapefruit juice (ruby red preferred) and chilled vodka
  • Juice of half a lemon, freshly squeezed
  • 2 sugar cubes
  • sugar for rimming glasses

 

Fill cocktail shaker halfway with crushed ice (cubed ice brought to the top of the shaker will work, but crushed is better).   Add lemon juice, sugar cubes, and equal parts grapefruit juice and chilled vodka to fill your shaker.  Put on the lid and shake away until cocktail is thoroughly blended, ice-cold, and sugar cubes are dissolved.  Pour into sugar rimmed cocktail glasses, serve, and enjoy (responsibly)…

 

Posted June 24th, 2011.

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A Guide to the World of Vodka

by Danica Waters

There’s something about summertime that makes the world of the fun and fruity cocktail that much more, well, fun.  And because Vodka is considered the best mixing liquor of all the base spirits, I figure it’s the best place to begin our exploration of “cocktail culture”, and to develop our “Guide to the World of Vodka”.

Primarily made from grain, such as wheat or rye, vodka is also frequently made from potatoes or beets.  The ingredients undergo a three-stage process which involves fermentation, distillation, and filtration in various degrees to achieve different levels of quality in the final product.  During fermentation,  yeast is used to break down sugar molecules into carbon dioxide gas and ethyl alcohol.    Then the resulting liquid is distilled at least three times via a process of condensation and evaporation.   Finally, it is filtered over charcoal to remove impurities.

While any recipe will provide better results with the use of premium ingredients, when mixing stronger flavors such as grapefruit with vodka, even a lower-cost vodka can provide yummy results.  But when it comes to enjoying a really good vodka, the basic rule of thumb is how it feels on the tongue.  If the vodka burns and “bites back”on the tongue and in the back of the throat, it is generally considered to be of  lesser-quality, while better brands will deliver a much more smooth finish.  And there’s nothing better on a hot summer evening than a good, smooth Vodka on the rocks, simply poured over crushed summer fruit and/or herbs.  (Try vodka poured over small slices of fresh lemon, lime, orange, and strawberry, with a crushed sprig of mint thrown in.  Yum!)

Colleen Graham at about.com put together a list of some of the best world vodkas at various price points;  it’s a handy reference piece for not only your own personal bar, but for gift-giving as well.  Here’s the list:

“Let’s Get Cheap – Vodkas Around $10

Favorite Brands for a Good Price – Vodkas Around $20

This is Where it Starts Getting Really Good – Vodkas Around $30

A Touch of Luxury – Vodkas Over $40

Another great reference piece is her list of Boutique Vodkas, along with her list of the Top 10 Most Popular Brands of Premium Vodka – check them out.

Next time we’ll start exploring the fantastic world of infused vodkas!  Got a flavor combination you think will rock the planet?  Send in your ideas – we’d love to share them!

Posted June 10th, 2011.

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Blood Orange Margarita

by Danica Waters

Browsing through one of my all-time favorite blogs, (Ree Drummond’s The Pioneer Woman) I ran across this fantastic photo of Blood Orange Margaritas.  Made my mouth water, and I thought I’d share.  The recipe actually comes from a great food blog called White On Rice Couple.  I am in LOVE!  Beautiful food, beautiful photographs…  check them out!

“Blood Orange Margarita Recipe
The acidity of  fresh blood orange juice in this margarita is outstanding. The bright, tart flavors of blood orange makes a brilliantly colored cocktail and not to mention very refreshing too.

3 oz fresh Blood Orange Juice
2 oz Tequila (for recommendations see comments on Meyer Lemon Margarita post)
1 oz  Triple Sec
splash of agave nectar (syrup) (optional yet fantastic suggestion from Brooke-who is a kick ass bartender)

1. Rub the rim of an old fashioned glass (or whatever similar vessel you prefer) with an edge of a blood orange slice.  Swirl the rim through a small pile of kosher or sea salt to salt the rim.

2. Combine all ingredients into a cocktail shaker, add ice and shake for 15 seconds.

3. Put a few cubes of ice in your glass.  Strain the cocktail into the glass and enjoy.”

NOW THAT’S A LIBATION!  YUM!!!

Posted May 14th, 2011.

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In Honor of Cinco de Mayo: A Mexican Beer Review

by Danica Waters

Just in time for our American observance of Cinco de Mayo, I figured it was a good time to do some research on the world of Mexican beers.  I will admit I am not a huge fan of Corona – being more a Guinness Girl myself, I  personally think Corona tastes like a skunk doused in lime juice.  BUT I must admit the bottles do look incredibly inviting when peeking out of a large ice bucket on a hot summer’s day.  Guinness just wouldn’t have the same effect.

Interestingly, during my research, I discovered that the reason the Coronas I’ve had tasted  “skunky” is because of its clear bottle.  Come to find out, beer exposed to any kind of sunlight will go bad – quickly.  To preserve the freshness of beer, it must be bottled in dark glass.  Green glass works, though not as effectively as the dark amber colored bottles.  But clear glass is just simply a no-no.

Reading dozens of reviews rendered dozens of different opinions about which beers are best.  One of the most comprehensive reviews I found was written by travel author Tim Leffel.  Here’s what he has to say:

“Mexican Beer Brands

Here is a complete rundown of Mexican beers, from the stellar ones to those best left on the shelf. Unless indicated otherwise, the alcohol percentage is 4.5%.

The Standouts—All With 5.3% Alcohol

Bohemia—For real beer lovers, Bohemia is the clear winner. The most common one, with gold foil on the top, is an unabashedly European lager with far more complexity than the competition. There is also a tasty dark “obscura” version (with silver foil) that resembles a bock beer. Occasionally you’ll find a 5.7% Bohemia Weizen wheat beer, but it’s rare.

In bars and restaurants, Bohemia will often be the most expensive beer, but only by a few pesos, so it’s worth the upgrade. Expect to pay 10-12 pesos a bottle (a dollar or less) in convenience stores. The main drawback of Bohemia is that it isn’t available in returnable bottles, so drinking this is not helping Mexico’s mounting garbage problem.

Negra Modelo—The other true premium beer, this fine malty brew is familiar to many Americans as it’s a staple in Mexican restaurants. It’s a dark beer that goes well with spicy and hearty Mexican food and is interesting on its own—no lime required.

Other Dark Lagers and Amber Beers

DosXX Amber—This is another restaurant staple in the U.S.  It has a more intense flavor than the norm and is a refreshing change from the sea of lighter beers, going well with hearty food.

Leon—Looks are deceiving with Leon, a beer that looks darker and maltier than it really is. It is a wimpier version of Negra Modelo, but is the only dark beer that is widely available in large returnable bottles—reason enough to have it on your list.

Medium Lagers

Victoria—This is a popular choice for those who want to drink a couple beers without getting buzzed as its only 4% alcohol. It’s surprisingly flavorful though and is widely available in small and large returnable bottles. Not available outside Mexico.

Modelo—This sister beer to Negra Modelo is touted as a premium beer and comes with a neck wrapped in silver foil in bottles, but in reality most people wouldn’t be able to distinguish it from most others in a taste test. It has a little more body and heavier finish than the Corona class though and also comes in cans.

DosXX Lager—The Rolling Rock of Mexico, in a green bottle with a strangely sweet taste. Available in cans as well.

Carta Blanca and Estrella—These two similar-tasting brands used to be quite common, but seem to be fading away into obscurity. Neither is a standout, but perfectly drinkable.

Pale Yellow Lagers—all 4.5% alcohol

Corona—This is reportedly the best-selling import beer in the world, but it usually tastes better in Mexico, where the bottles don’t have so much time in transit and on shelves. (Sunlight coming through clear bottles is never a good thing for beer.) This is the typical “drink all afternoon” beer, working well on its own or with a plate of tacos. Refreshing with a lime.

Sol—While Corona wins the marketing wars in the U.S., Sol is the winning brand in Mexico. You see the logo plastered everywhere and it’s seemingly on every restaurant and bar menu. Like Corona, it’s simple and inoffensive, but still more flavorful than your typical American macrobrew. At its best cold, and progressively worse as it gets warmer.

Montejo—Named after the Spaniard who conquered the Yucatan and left a trail of blood in his wake. Less dramatic than its name would suggest, but a nice change of pace.

Superior—Very similar in taste to Montejo and available in big returnable bottles or cans.

Pacifico—A bit more bitter and hefty than Corona, Montejo, or Sol, many beer drinkers view this as the best of the light lagers and it is especially popular in the western half of the country.

A Step Down

Tecate—Sold mostly in cans, this is a “load up the cooler” kind of beer that is nothing to get excited about. If you are staying at a low-end all-inclusive resort, this is what they will probably be serving.

Corona Especial—There’s nothing “especial” about this cheaper beer and it bears little resemblance to the regular Corona. Available in big quart bottles only for when quantity is more important than quality.

Tecate Light—Billed by a friend who lived in Mexico for a year as “the worst beer I have ever tasted,” this is one to avoid at all costs unless you are on a crash diet. It’s as bad as Coors Light, which is saying a lot. Has 3.9% alcohol.

Modelo Light—Almost as bad as Tecate Light, but not quite, with 3.7% alcohol.

Indio—A beer designed to appear to people who can barely afford beer, the poor peasants who are probably of “Indio” blood themselves. Made with cheaper ingredients and it shows.

Pre-mixed combinations—You can buy beer in the supermarkets of Mexico that is mixed with salt, lime, hot sauce, or some other chemical concoction. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

(http://www.transitionsabroad.com/listings/travel/resourceful_traveler/mexican-beer-rundown.shtml)

Enjoy – and feel free to send in your comments about which beer you prefer!  Happy Cinco de Mayo!


Posted April 28th, 2011.

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“Happily-Ever-After” Punch

by Danica Waters / source photo courtesy of www.myrecipes.com

It’s coming on springtime, which brings Easter and Dance Recitals,  Baseball and Graduation Parties…  Magical times call for magical beverages!  And this one has proved itself to be good for kids of all ages.

I found this recipe when I was 22 years old.  I had decided to throw a very large, very stylish birthday party for my eldest daughter, who was turning 3.  I was on a mission.  I had people to impress.  Having become her mom less than a year before, I’d never organized anything like that EVER, I had no idea how the whole birthday-party-thing worked, I was a bit intimidated by the thought of a roomful of screaming children, and even more intimidated by not knowing what on earth to do with their parents?  An awkward dilemma was magnified by the fact that I was half the age of most of the parents whose children I would be inviting, and several mothers at the Preschool went out of their way to make sure it was a far less-than-comfortable experience for me to show up to collect my little girl.  I’ve always been one to deal with these things head-on, and so I sent the invitations to EVERY SINGLE PARENT in the school.   Needless to say, EVERY SINGLE ONE RSVP’d.  (Oh, Lordy.)

My daughter had wished for a Beauty and the Beast-themed party, so, armed with my two awesome sisters and the latest issue of the Oriental Trading Company novelty catalog (www.orientaltrading.com), I ordered games, art supplies, a million pink balloons, miles of paper streamers, and loads of party favors.  The menu for the kids was simple: Pigs In a Blanket, Chicken Fingers, little double-decker PB-B&J finger sandwiches, grapes, berries, and melon balls.  And Cheetos.  Lots of Cheetos.  I did a separate table for the adults, a more sophisticated spread including two kinds of quiche and a curried chicken salad.  I figured I’d spare them the Cheetos, as we would have enough day-glo orange fingers to manage that afternoon.  The tables looked beautiful.  My sisters had done a smashing job of decorating the place.  We were ready.  And we had a secret weapon.

Food, decorations, and bravado aside, the secret weapon was this punch.  Not only did the kids love it, especially with the fruit kebabs that they could eat right out of their glass, but my husband discovered it to be an excellent mixer with a bit of light rum in each of the adult’s glasses.  We were unsure of how the parents would react to the offering of alcohol at a children’s party.  I was personally prepared for anything.  Condemnation.  Hellfire and brimstone.  What I wasn’t prepared for was the sheer delight and enthusiasm with which the offer of a wee nip was met.  It was like magic.  Voila!  No more mean moms!  Parents were beaming from ear to ear, the game Pin the Tail on the Donkey became an uproarious affair, and the kids had so much fun they didn’t want to leave.  So my first offering to the Great Libation shall be what I call Happily- Ever- After Punch.  May it work magic for you, too!

Happily-Ever-After Punch (aka Sparkling Pink Lemonade)

(Adapted from the Land O’ LakesTreasury of Country Recipes)

1-1/2 C sugar (or substitute stevia to taste, for a much healthier alternative!)

1-1/2 C freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 6 lemons)

1 qt club soda, chilled

4 tsp grenadine syrup

6” wooden skewers

Assorted fresh fruit pieces (strawberries, melon, pineapple chunks, etc.)

In a 2 – quart pitcher combine sugar and lemon juice; stir well.  Refrigerate at least half an hour.  Just before serving, add club soda.  Stir in grenadine syrup.

On 6” wooden skewers, thread fruit pieces to make kebobs.  Place kebobs in glasses, add ice, and pour in lemonade.

Note:  this only makes 1-1/2 quarts, so be sure to make enough for your gathering!  And in emergency situations, remember the rum.

Posted April 21st, 2011.

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The Great Libation!

by Danica Waters

li·ba·tion:
(http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/libation)
[lahy-bey-shuhn]
–noun
1. a pouring out of wine or other liquid in honor of a deity.
2. the liquid poured out.
3. Often Facetious .
a. an intoxicating beverage, as wine, especially when drunk in ceremonial or celebrative situations.
b. an act or instance of drinking such a beverage.

Ahhhh…. the Great Libation.  I love the word “libation”, primarily because it rolls off the tongue in a delicious sort of way, and also because I absolutely relish the way my artistic, free-thinking Aunt used to say it as she emerged from her studio on the occasional late South Texas afternoons when I’d pop in for a visit.    “Truly delightful to see you, my dear, and forgive me for being an absolute hell- of- a- mess,” she’d say as she smoothed her unruly hair back and removed her reading glasses from her flushed face.   “Come in!  Come in!  What will it be?  I think we must treat ourselves to a little li-bation in honor of your visit, don’t you agree?”  For her to say, “Would you like a glass of wine?” would have been so terribly boring in comparison.  In her animated Southern drawl, the simple utterance of the word “libation” smacked of all things indulgent and wickedly wonderful.  But beyond the beverage, the greatest indulgence was that this was a space where, with the gentle assistance of the libation itself, conversation would flow, lessons would be learned, and secrets would be told.  (It was like the “Midnight Margarita” scene in the classic chick-flick Practical Magic, sans the evil dead dude lurking underneath the lawn.)

Indeed, the meaning of the word “libation” has as much or more to do with the ritual of drinking the spirits as it has to do with the spirits themselves.  In doing a little light reading about the worldwide connotations of the word “libation’, I ran across an interesting fact:  It seems that Siberian shaman (especially those living in close proximity to the Alta Mountains) initiate their spiritual drums via a ritual considered an act of “enlivening the drum”.  During the ritual, they pour beer all over the skin and wood used to create the instrument.  The shaman believe that the beer has the ability to bring the spirits of the tree and the deer back to life so that they may tell their life story and pledge their continued energy to the healing and prophetic efforts of the shaman.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libation)

I feel that at this point I should stress that my inclusion of the aforementioned ritual in this little  piece does not infer or otherwise indicate my endorsement of dousing the household furniture in your favorite beverage as a cool party trick.  I’m pretty darn sure the couch will not reveal its life story if baptized in Fat Bastard-or- any- other- type- of-Ale.  I’m even more certain I would not want to ever sit on that sofa if its life story had been revealed.  This would most definitely fall into the category of “Things I Do Not Want To Know”. TMI, folks.  T.M.I..

However, even from the perspective of our less-mystical Western culture, the “enlivening of the drum” sounds entirely plausible to me. I can remember many a drummer who seemed to play much better after spilling a bit of beer on his/her drum set.  Come to think of it, I’ve attended more than one occasion during which the entire room was thankfully enlivened when libations were served.  Powerful stuff – Viva la libation!

So in that spirit, we’ll explore the vast territory of the Great Libation together. We’ll get into the world of wines, explore the single malts, and manage to come up with a fine rum punch or two.  If you’ve got a recipe you think we can’t live without, please send it along (with a dashing picture of yourself)!  Let the party begin!

Posted April 16th, 2011.

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