iced tea with mint

Knife, Whisk and Spoon is baaaack!! Let’s ease back in with something easy to make on a hot summer day…

…and iced tea is ridiculously easy to make. Why didn’t I try making this sooner? Please share you favorite iced tea concoctions in the comments below!

iced tea with mint (unsweetened)

ingredients:

6 black tea bags
6 cups boiling water
2 cups cold water
several fresh mint sprigs

method:

Crush the mint with your hands to release the natural flavors. Put the tea bags and mint at the bottom of a heat-safe vessel.* Pour the boiling water into the vessel and let the tea steep for 1-2 minutes. Fish out the tea bags (do not squeeze them) and discard. Pour in the cold water (more or less to dilute the tea to taste) and put the tea in the fridge to chill. (Leave the mint in the pitcher.) Wait about an hour before adding some ice cubes to the pitcher. Finally, put on some shades, go to a sunny spot and enjoy some refreshing iced tea!

* I used a glass pitcher, which promptly cracked and began to leak as I poured in the boiling water. So, um, I don’t recommend that you use a glass pitcher unless you know it is heat-safe. The one I used was hand- made by some guy on the beach in Mexico, so I should’ve known better. Again, I’m not a scientist, nor did I retain basic facts that I probably learned in 6th grade science, apparently. (Can someone explain why this happened?)

Anyways, CHEERS!!! :)

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braised lamb shanks

Hello, spooners!!  Wow, I posted nothing in October.  But that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t cooking!  The most noteworthy dish that I prepared last month was braised lamb shanks.  Yum.

I am now a full-on omnivore, red meat included.  But I don’t particularly like beef.  It’s okay.  To me, it has a heavy mouth feel and not a very interesting flavor.  But lamb — I love lamb.  It tastes rich and succulent and has a certain je ne sais quoi that beef just doesn’t have.

My mother never, ever prepared lamb when I was growing up. I have no memory from my first 30 years of life of eating lamb, nor of ever wanting to eat lamb. Perhaps it was too (relatively) exotic?  Or not widely available in the Great Plains, a.k.a., beef country?  Or a bit too pricey?  Likely, all three of these reasons explain my inexperience with lamb.

I first tried lamb on my 31st birthday, when, shortly after my decision to reintroduce red meat to my diet, hubby took me to LB Steak on Santana Row.  I was not interested in any of the cuts of beef.  Rather, I quickly narrowed my choices to the pork chop and the braised lamb shank.  Hubby told me, “lamb may be too strong a taste for you — you might not like it.”  Not interested in ordering a $35 dish that I might not like, I ordered the pork chop.  “I’m sorry, miss, we just ran out of pork chops.”  I took this as a divine sign to order the lamb.

And I was sooo glad that I did.  The red-purple meat was falling off the bone, moist, rich and sooo delicious.  (Bonus: I shredded the leftover meat to make lamb-potato hash the next day for breakfast.)

The wonderful thing about lamb shanks is that a successful preparation is truly a triumph over sinew, tendons and hard-working leg muscles, which are tougher than meat that comes from the animal’s torso muscles.  A shank — the shin of the animal — is the lower leg, or knee-to-ankle portion, of the animal.  It is an inexpensive cut of lamb, certainly much cheaper than lamb chops or leg roast.

Raw lamb shanks look like this:

Lamb shanks need to be cooked low and slow to reach their full potential.  The slow cooking allows the meat to soften and pull away from the bone while the connective tissues melt and coat the strands of meat.  The results are delicious.  As my friend Scott said, “this tastes like a $50 meal!”  Awesome, I’ve got LB Steak beat!

You must try this recipe!  Serve it with mashed potatoes to soak up the juices, and pair it with a red wine such as Zinfandel.

braised lamb shanks

serves 4

[adapted from T. Susan Chang's recipe posted on npr.org on 2/16/10]

Ingredients:

4 lamb shanks, about 1 lb each

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 large yellow onion, peeled and chopped

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

2 white turnips, peeled and chopped  (optional, I added them because I had them on hand)

1 head of garlic, cut in half cross-wise

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

2 bay leaves

1 jar of home-packed crushed heirloom tomatoes (or simply use a can of crushed tomatoes from the store)

2 cups (1 pint) chicken stock

3 tablespoons tomato paste

3/4 cup white wine

pinch black peppercorns

pinch red chile flakes

olive oil

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons chopped parsley

zest from 1 lemon

2 garlic cloves, minced

Method:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Trim any excess fat from the shanks. Season them liberally with salt and pepper, the day before if possible.  Cover the shanks with plastic wrap and store in the fridge over night.

Put the flour on a plate and press the shanks into it so that they are lightly coated with flour.  Into a heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat, pour enough olive oil to generously cover the bottom of the pan. Add the shanks and brown them well on all sides. This will take 12 minutes or so.

When the shanks are browned, remove them from the pan and set aside.

Remove most of the fat and add the onions, carrots, turnips, garlic, chile pepper flakes, peppercorns, rosemary and bay leaves to the roasting pan. Cook for a few minutes, stirring now and then, until the vegetables soften.  Add the wine, tomatoes and tomato paste.

Turn up the heat to reduce the wine and scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. When the wine has reduced by half, put the shanks back in the pan and pour in the chicken broth.  The liquid should come about halfway up the sides of the shanks, so pour in more broth or water, if necessary.

Bring the liquid to a boil.  (This is where it’s super helpful to have bridged burners or a gas stove.)  Immediately turn off the heat, cover and cook (braise) the shanks for 2.5 to 3 hours in a 325-degree oven.  Remove the cover for the last 20 minutes of cooking to brown the meat a little.  The lamb should be meltingly tender and falling off the bones.

To make the gremolata, simply mix together the parsley, lemon zest and minced garlic in a small bowl.

Plate the lamb shanks:  Put a mound of mashed potatoes in the center of the plate.  Put one lamb shank on the plate and spoon some veggies and the cooking liquid over the lamb and potatoes.  Sprinkle the lamb with the gremolata and serve.

Eat Real Festival = foodie heaven

My plum-cinnamon jam did not win.  :(

It’s okay.  That woman with the raspberry jam had better watch out because I’ll be back next year!  :)

The festival in Oakland was so much fun — and tasty!  There were gourmet food trucks everywhere, and because the philosophy of the festival was that wholesome, locally sourced food should be affordable to everyone, no item could be priced higher than $5.  But the fives add up when you graze throughout the day, as I did.  I devoured the following during my six hours at the festival:

  • Grilled cheese with brisket sandwich from Osteria Stellina
  • Spicy corn dog from Tante’s
  • Five spice grilled chicken banh mi from Little Green Cyclo
  • Lamb gyro from The Whole Beast
  • Beef tallow fries from Belcampo Meat Co.

Wow, when I list it all out, I see that I was pretty keen to the red meat yesterday!  No inhibitions when I know that the animals were sustainably raised!

I also had a few mason jars of locally crafted wines and beers.

Did I mention that I was in foodie heaven?  I wish I had photos to share, but my Blackberry does not perform at par.

I purchased some canned goods from the vendors at the festival’s market — I was choosy in that I only bought items that wowed me when I tried them and that I did not know (yet!) how to make myself.  I bought these tasty items to add to our pantry:

  • horseradish-leek saurkraut from Farmhouse Culture, a company that specializes in saurkrauts
  • Early Girl tomato jam from Blue Chair Fruit Company (the sweetness of this jam combined with deep tomatoey flavor really surprised me!)
  • sa’or, which (I was told) is an Italian condiment of caramalized onions and currants preserved in olive oil (I can see this pairing very well with a grilled cheese sandwich)
  • caramelized garlic hummus from ♥ & Hummus
  • dark chocolate bar with figs and anise from Vice Chocolates

Yum, yum, yum.  Hubby was pleased to see the intriguing items that I brought home.  I want to figure out how to make the sa’or and try my own tomato jam next year, now that I know it is tasty and not weird!  (Hmm, next year’s Jamboree Contest entry??)

I watched a demonstration on cooking with beef chuck, a kids Iron-Chef-style cooking competition (secret ingredient: basil!) and I watched a “Flyin’ Knives” butchery competition, in which three teams of professional butchers had 45 minutes to break down a quarter steer into commercial cuts.  Fascinating.

There was an info booth on keeping backyard laying hens.  I was so excited and texted hubby: “Got info on chicken coops!  We can totally do it!!”  Well, as it turns out, the Man (the City of San Jose) says, “not in your tiny backyard, Huynhs!”  A home chicken coop must be kept 15 feet from any residence.  Given that we are immediately neighbored by three other condos and homes, that will not work out.  A few years from now, when we hunt for our next house, “backyard big enough for chicken coop” will be a must-have criterion!

Finally, I was pleased that Happy Girl Kitchen, Co., was at the festival.   (Their workshops taught me how to make jam, pickles and canned tomato goods.)  The Happy Girl folks teamed up with Farmhouse Culture to put on a saurkraut-making workshop which, sadly, I missed because I did not arrive in time.  But I visited Happy Girl’s booth at the end of the day and I purchased this awesome t-shirt:

Indeed.  Can’t wait for Eat Real Fest 2012!

I entered a jam contest!

I entered my plum-cinnamon jam in the Oakland Eat Real Festival 2011 Jamboree Contest.  I’m looking forward to the festival, which will be an homage to all things local, homemade and delicious.  And who knows — maybe my jam will win!  I’ll find out on Saturday!

preserved grape leaves

We are fortunate to have grapes grow as the shady overhang in our backyard.  They are exotic yet seasonal, and so I decided to preserve some of the leaves for future use.

Dolmas (grape leaves stuffed with rice and other Greek ingredients) are a lot of work, but I would like to make them as a special appetizer for Thanksgiving using the grape leaves from our garden.

To preserve fresh grape leaves, cut them from the vines and layer them vein side up, as shown.  Fold and layer them inside a pint jar:

Cover the grape leaves with a 3:2 brine, which is three parts filtered water to two parts apple cider vinegar. Here, I made two pints of leaves and used three cups of filtered water and two cups of apple cider vinegar, which I boiled before adding it to the jars.  Process the jars for 15 minutes.

I’ll post my recipe for dolmas when I make those this fall using my preserved grape leaves.  UPDATE:  It just occurred to me that I could make a batch of dolmas now using fresh, blanched grape leaves.  Duh!  I’ll try to do that in the next week or two while the vines are still green and fresh.

tips for the home brewer (or, how I’m pretty sure I messed up my brother’s beer)

My brother and I recently brewed beer.  As novice brewers, we used a kit and followed all the instructions carefully, but we still encountered road blocks and ended up learning more about how to mess up beer than how to make it.  If brewing beer is an art — nay, a craft — then we’re pretty sure that what we made is the beer equivalent of a finger-painting.

I’ll let my brother, the beer enthusiast, post instructions and illustrative photos on how to home-brew beer.  To compliment his post, here are my tips for the aspiring home brewers:

1.  It’s important to keep sterile everything that will come in contact with the beer after it is cooked and before it begins the fermenting process.  That being said, you will quickly realize how unsterile you and your home environment are.  What, you sterilized all the tubing, spoons, thermometers, etc., in a big bucket of sterilizing solution?  That’s great, but what will you do when (a) your natural tendency is to put the spoon down on the counter (dammit!), (b) you forget that you’re not supposed to put the spoon on the counter and do it again (dammit!), (c) you touch the end of the spoon with your unsterile hand (dammit!!!), (d) you need both hands and now you gotta put the spoon down somewhere (DAMMIT!!!) . . . you get the idea.  Keep a big bowl of sterilizing solution on hand to dump the tools in as you work so that you can keep them sterile and resterilize them when you inevitably “contaminate” them (over and over again).

2.  If your plan is to cool the pot of boiled wort in a kitchen sink filled with ice water, make sure your brother’s roommate did not throw out the stopper for the sink.  Just saying.

3.  Don’t touch the inside of the fermenter bucket with your unsterile hands.  Don’t touch the inside of the wort pot while the wort is cooling.  Don’t touch the bottom of the fermenter stopper just before your brother plugs it into the fermenter.  You know what, either sterilize your hands or just keep back already, Carrie!!

4.  Watch the heat and stir the wort frequently if you’re using a pot made of a super-conductive material like aluminum.  Alternatively, tout your finished product as having “smokey” qualities, certainly not a scorched flavor . . .

5.  Set your expectations low for the final product, which you won’t get to taste until the beer finishes the four-week fermenting process.  Plan to try your beer on a Friday night so that if it makes you sick you will have two days to recover.  Actually, go ahead and put in for a day off the following Monday.

pints of pickled peppers!

My cousin Angela, an avid gardener and canner in Minnesota, asked me if I had a suggestion for what she could do with the glut of banana peppers in her garden.  What to do?  Make pints of pickled peppers!!

I made pickled jalapeños, which we’ll use throughout the year for chili, nachos, quesadillas . . . yum!  Pickling peppers is easy: slice the peppers crosswise, lengthwise or leave them whole, pack the peppers in jars and cover them with your basic pickling brine (I use a ratio of 3 parts water to 2 parts vinegar) without salt, sugar or spices.  (The peppers have plenty of their own flavor to preserve!)

pickled peppers

Yield:  3 pints*

Time required:  About 30 minutes

[ *Canning equipment is required to make these pickled peppers pantry stable.  Please refer to my relish recipe and jam posts for a full list of equipment and more details on the canning process. ]

Ingredients:

1 pound peppers (such as jalapeños)

3 cups filtered water

2 cups apple cider vinegar

Method:

Prepare the hot water canner.  (Mine takes a loooong time for all the water to get hot enough to process jars, so this is always my first step.)

Combine the water and vinegar in a sauce pan and bring it to a boil.

Meanwhile, wash and slice the peppers (or keep them whole).  Pack the peppers into pint jars.

When the hot water canner is ready to go (hot water actively steaming but not boiling), remove the hot brine from the heat and fill the pepper jars with brine, leaving 1/4-inch head space.  (It’s important to wait until just before processing so that the veggies aren’t sitting around in the hot brine, getting mushy.)  Process the jars in the hot water canner for 10 minutes.  Check the jars to ensure all have sealed, label the lids with the date and contents and await spicy winter days ahead!