Chai Concentrate: Instant Comfort in a Cup

After a hard day sometimes you just need some good old fashioned comfort, and you need it NOW.  Problem is, comfort usually takes time and on days like that I’m not into delayed gratification.  So what I need is a little kitchen magic and some make-ahead planning.

My crock pot is the closest thing I have to a magic cauldron.  I can make the most wonderful concoctions in it with almost no effort and I use it often, especially for that heavenly elixir, chai tea.  Frankly, I’m too cheap to buy the stuff in a box or bottle, and I tried the homemade instant mix but I don’t like the idea of coffee creamer (I mean what IS that stuff anyway?).   For me, it’s not just about how a dish looks, it’s also about how it’s made and what kind of ingredients go into making it yummy.  Now, I love chai, hot, cold, with or without milk.  It’s delicious, comforting and a special way to unwind after a busy day.  The trouble is I want my comfort now and not half an hour from now after I’ve assembled all the ingredients, found that I’m completely out of cinnamon sticks, gone to the store, come back, steeped the tea and spices and poured out that first cup.  No, I want it fast, easy and ready to use.  With a little research and a few of my own contributions, here is my version of Chai Tea Concentrate.   There are no actual rules here, so use the spices you like.  So drag out that slow cooker and let’s make some comfort in a cup.

Chai Tea Concentrate

Makes slightly less than 2 quarts

 Ingredients:

  • 8 cups water
  • 8 individual tea bags (black or green)
  • 1 cup sugar or 3/4 cup honey or brown rice syrup (I use half regular sugar and half light brown sugar) – you can always add more to taste
  • 6 slices (rounds) fresh ginger
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 6 allspice berries
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 2 star anise
  • 8 cardamom seeds (they’re tiny but strong)
  • 6-8 peppercorns
  • 1 nutmeg, or 1 1/2 teaspoons of grated nutmeg
  • Peel from one fresh orange
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried orange peel powder (you could substitute additional fresh orange peel or orange zest)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried lemon peel powder (you could substitute 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Chai Concentrate Ingredients 1

 

 

 

 

 

Directions:

Pour the water into the crock pot, add sugar and stir to dissolve.  Once the sugar is dissolved, add the tea bags, and all of the remaining ingredients except the vanilla.

Chai Concentrate zzz 003

 

 

 

 

 

Set the crock pot to hi and let it simmer for 2-4 hours.  It will have reduced slightly and is very strong, so if you’re sensitive to caffeine you should use decaffeinated or your favorite herb tea.  MON 006

Turn off the heat and let cool slightly, then add the vanilla.

chai monday 006

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the concentrate is completely cooled, strain and store in the refrigerator in a glass container.

Wed Chai 006

 

 

Magic in a cup.  Enjoy!    Wed Chai 003

 

 

 

 

 

Healthy Soups Are Good Medicine

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Hippocrates Winter is here in earnest and flu season is hitting its peak.  The really bad news is that the vaccine this year isn’t as effective as in years past so supporting your immune system is a good way to stay healthy.  Food as medicine is a very old idea and here are two great soups to help boost your immune system plus provide a bowl of comfort when you’re fighting off the miseries.  My first soup is a serious flu and cold fighter but it’s not a great first course on date night.

Garlic Soup

Ingredients: 3-4 medium potatoes, peeled and diced 1 – 3 small parsnips, peeled and diced 1 large carrot, peeled and left whole 1 small onion, diced 6-8 cloves garlic, peeled and minced 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil

What You Need

What You Need

In a heavy saucepan, sauté the onion in the melted the butter (or oil).  Add the minced garlic. Garlic Soup 10   Saute onion until translucent and the garlic is fragrant but not browned.   Add the parsnips and potatoes and cook for about 3-4 minutes. Garlic Soup 14

 

 

 

 

 

Add the stock and the whole carrot, cover and simmer until the vegetables are fork tender. Garlic Soup 17                                                                                                                                     Remove the carrot and set aside. Blend the soup until smooth. Garlic Soup 20

Slice the carrot and add back to the soup.  Garnish with ground black pepper and crackers. Garlic Soup 21 But what if you already feel awful and your tummy is out of sorts.  Sometimes you need comfort as well as an immunity boost.  This soup is will fix you right up and even kids and cranky husbands like it.

Spicy Ginger-Carrot Soup

This is based on a recipe I found for Punjabi Ginger Soup with a few added tweaks.  It really is delicious and you’ll eat it again and again even if you’re not feeling under the weather. Ingredients: 1 large onion, diced 1 sizable knob of ginger (about 2 tablespoons grated), or you can use powdered ginger. 2 carrots, peeled and chopped 2 tablespoons coconut oil (or butter if you prefer) 1 tablespoon cumin seed 3 teaspoons ground turmeric 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (to taste) Salt and pepper to taste 1 15-ounce can of full fat coconut milk Spicy Ginger Soup 2           In a heavy skillet, saute cumin seed, turmeric and pepper flakes in the coconut oil until the spices are fragrant. Ginger soup 002           Add the ginger, salt, onion and the carrot and sauté for another 2-3 minutes. Pour in the can of coconut milk and simmer until the carrot is tender.

Ginger soup 007

Spicy Ginger Carrot Soup

  Blend until smooth, garnish with some chopped mint and serve with some crusty bread. Ginger soup 013   There’s ginger to settle your tummy, tumeric to boost your immune system, a bit of pepper to help the aches and stuffy nose, and smooth yummy coconut milk to make everything feel all better.  Enjoy!

Fermented Vegetables: Delicious and Nutritious

We closed up the garden a couple of weeks ago and did a final harvest. Now the decision is what to do with end of the season vegetables.  I’ve been reading a lot lately about the probiotic nutrition in fermented vegetables and thought this would be a great opportunity to try my hand at a new way of preserving foods as well as saving money.  (Have you seen the price for probiotic supplements?)   Fortunately this isn’t a complicated process.

I started with the most essential vegetable for fermenting:  cabbage (set aside a couple of the large outside leaves to cover the vegetables during the fermentation process, cabbage

 

followed by the last of the collards. Collards

 

 

To this base I added an assortment of vegetables that were languishing in the refrigerator and pantry: cucumbers, carrots, tiny squash, red bell pepper, some garlic and a few slices of pickled ginger.  There’s no real rule here, just use what you like and what you have.  It all goes into the food processor for a medium fine chop.

 

Fermented Foods 003Sprinkle with some kosher or canning salt (any kind without iodine) and let the chopped vegetables drain.  I didn’t really measure this, but one source said that 3 tablespoons salt to 5 lbs of vegetables should be about right.  After about half an hour, squeeze out as much water as possible and pack tightly into a glass or ceramic container with a tight fitting lid.

I found this one at the thrift store for $3 and replaced the rubber lid casket.  Works great.

Pack the vegetables down tightly (I use a big wooden spoon) a little at a time.

In a 2 cup measure, add 1 3/4 cup filtered or distilled water.  I add whey to speed up the fermentation process (I use the whey drained off the plain Greek yogurt which seems to work well, but you could use a probiotic starter that you can purchase.)   You don’t have to use the whey, some people just use the salt and the natural bacteria from the vegetables for the fermentation process but I like the added tang that the whey adds.

Pour the mixture over the tightly packed vegetables making sure the liquid completely covers the vegetables.  Fold the cabbage leaves you set aside earlier and place on top of the vegetable mixture.  Place a heavy weight (I used a ceramic cereal bowl) on top of the cabbage leaves and place the lid tightly on the jar. Fermented Foods 006Fermented Foods 008 And that’s it.  Set it on the counter inside another dish or pan to catch any residue from the fermentation.  Once a day, lift the lid and replace it.  I like to let my veggies ferment for at least 7 days, but it depends greatly on your personal taste.   When you think they’re ready to eat, spoon the fermented yummies into clean (sanitized in dishwasher) glass jars and put in the refrigerator. Fermented Foods 001 The vegetables will continue to ferment (slowly) in the refrigerator.  In addition to being delicious, fermented foods are a great way to keep your digestive system and your entire body healthier.   Enjoy!        Ε

 

 

Vegetable Powders

Magic in the kitchen is really all about enhancing flavor and, whenever possible adding nutrition.  That often means very expensive little jars of flavorings, extracts and packages of fresh herbs.

Recently I discovered a way to make many of those extra special ingredients at home for much less money (thank you, doomsday preppers).   I started with dehydrated tomatoes.  I used both fresh from the garden, and a #10 can of diced organic tomatoes from Costco ($2.79 for the whole thing).  It seems like a lot, but the end product could easily fit into a 1 gallon zip lock or a couple of quart jars.  It took about 24 hours (time can vary) to get the tomatoes to a dehydrated state.  I loaded up the spice grinder, and pulsed until the tomatoes were a fine powder.

Making Tomato Powder

Making Tomato Powder

After grinding, press the powder through a sieve to remove the large pieces.  Save the larger pieces to use in soups or as a sprinkle on garnish.

Tomato Powder

Tomato Powder

Store the powder in the cupboard in a tightly capped glass jar.  Add a spoonful to sauces, soups, homemade pasta dough, almost anywhere you would like to have the tomato flavor with out the need to reduce the water content.  Careful though, it’s pretty intense flavoring.

Another really great flavor enhancer is mushroom powder.  This is very expensive to buy so making it at home is a real money saver, and it’s also a stealthy way to add great mushroom flavor to any dish without upsetting all the anti-mushroom eaters.  I bought the mushrooms on sale.    I cleaned and sliced the mushrooms and put them in the microwave for about 1 minute.  This enhances the flavor.  (Some people even cook them first, or use the mushrooms from their stock, puree and spread them on the fruit leather sheet in their dehydrator, but it’s not a necessary step.)

Quick Steaming Mushrooms

Quick Steaming Mushrooms

After microwave steaming them, I placed the mushrooms in a single layer in the dehydrator.  It took about 12 hours to reach the desired state, but this can vary.

Dried Mushrooms

Dried Mushrooms

Once dried, I put them in the spice grinder and pulsed until I had a fine powder.  A word of caution, don’t open the spice grinder right away or you’ll be inhaling mushroom powder for the next 5 minutes or so.  I like it in my food, just not in my lungs.  Again, pass the powder through a sieve and put into a glass jar.

Drying Mushrooms 009

Last, but certainly not least, there’s kale.  We drink a lot of protein shakes and smoothies, and adding green vegetables is a super way to up the nutrition and to put some extra vegetables in your dishes without attracting any unwanted grousing.  The process is very similar to both tomatoes and mushrooms.  I cut and washed the kale and dried on paper towels.

Fresh Kale

Fresh Kale

Place the kale pieces on a single layer in the dehydrator.  You can crowd them, but don’t stack them up.  It’s easier to handle if you work with smaller, salad size pieces.

After the Drying

After the Drying

Process in the spice grinder until you get a fine powder.

 

 

Kale Powder

Kale Powder

Pass it through a sieve and store in a glass jar.

Add a teaspoon to shakes, smoothies, soups or pasta dough.  You can do this in your oven if you don’t have a dehydrator, and they are great additions to your pantry.

 

Three Seasonings

Three Seasonings

Let me know your ideas for using powders.

E Sign