Thursday, May 12, 2016

Cold Brewed Tea with Rhubarb Simple Syrup

 “When you have a watch, time is like a swimming pool. There are edges and sides. Without a watch, time is like the ocean. Sloppy and vast.”
-Carol Rifka Brunt, Tell the Wolves I'm Home

It's a funny thing, time.  Right now I feel as if I don't have nearly enough of it but at the same time I have no idea how I am filling all of it.  Case in point- I just logged onto my blog hosting site and read that I hadn't posted anything in a month.  A month!  How on Earth did that happen?  Has time really passed so quickly to me that those 4 weeks can seem like the blink of an eye?  I know that I've been busy with pulling together a move of my household to yet another country and keeping my kids healthy and happy and saying goodbye to friends who are moving on and...well, you know the drill.  Life.

And in the meantime, time keeps marching on.  Did you know that this is my 250th post?!  Oh, and that I've been blogging for 5 years now.  That's an average of 1 post a week for the past 5 years.  Mind blowing.  Don't even get me started on the fact that my husband's 40th birthday is in less than a week.  That means that mine is just a few short months away. 

Stop.  Right.  There. 

I can't even wrap my mind around that one.  I was just sitting in the optometrist's chair (remarking on how blind I am, a sure sign that the crest of the hill is right in front of me) talking with him about how no matter how old you are, in your mind you're still a perfect age.  For him, 22 years old and for me it's always 23.  Funny isn't it?  That was nearly half my life ago and I still can't quite comprehend that I'm really any older than that.

So here I am giving you a recipe that requires very little of your time so that you can enjoy the passage and not wonder where it all went.  Put some loose tea in some water, set it in your fridge or a cool spot and walk away.  Take your kids for a bike ride.  Go see a movie with your fellow.  Take a nap.  Do something that makes you happy and when you return, magic will have happened and you will have a pitcher of tea ready to sweeten as you wish (but I humbly suggest the rhubarb syrup I'm sharing today too).

Cold Brewed Tea with Rhubarb Simple Syrup
Makes 1 quart of tea and 2 cups simple syrup
For the printable recipe, click here.

This tea is good with just about any loose tea you enjoy.  I like a good strong black tea like English Breakfast or even Earl Grey (which is the pretty tea that I used for this batch), but a green or even white tea would do just as well.  You may need to adjust steep times for a stronger flavor.  The simple syrup is easy to make and you can really flavor it any way you wish.  Rhubarb was in season and my youngest loves it any way he can get it.  This was the perfect way to make the season last just a little bit longer.  Any berry you like would be a great alternative to the rhubarb.

For the tea: 
5 tbs loose tea of your choice
1 quart (about 4 cups) of cold water

Scoop the tea leaves into a 1liter container.  Add the cold water and cover the container.  Give the container a few shakes to distribute and bruise the tea leaves a bit.  Place in the refrigerator or a cool spot for 5 hours or until tea has reached desired strength.

Remove the container from the refrigerator.  Set cheesecloth in a fine mesh strainer over a large bowl.  Pour the tea through the strainer to remove the tea leaves.  Bundle tea leaves into the cheesecloth and give it a bit of a squeeze to extract any remaining liquid.  Discard the used leaves.  Pour the tea into a jar or bottle and refrigerate until ready to use.

For the simple syrup:
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 cup thinly sliced rhubarb

Combine all the ingredients in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a simmer to dissolve the sugar then turn off the heat and let the rhubarb steep in the sugar syrup for 5 minutes.  Strain through a fine mesh strainer to remove the rhubarb solids.  Place in an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use.  Syrup will keep for up to two weeks.

To make a glass of iced tea:
Add 8 oz of the cold tea and a handful of ice to a glass. Sweeten to taste with the rhubarb simple syrup (try 2 tbs to start) and stir.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Buttermilk Cupcakes

I'm going to exercise all of my patience, good nature and positivity today.  It's imperative.  Because if I give in to the "dark side" of my mood things can go very bad, very quickly.  (Can you tell I just watched the newest Star Wars?)

There are some big wheels turning right now that determine the future of my family and they are just turning WAY TOO SLOW for my liking.  It's time for the next big move thanks to the Navy and we know where we are going but the when, how and how frustrated we will be along the way is still up in the air.  The simple act of moving is difficult as it is but throw in three kids, an international move, moving our furnishings into storage, passports, visas and a month in the States in between and you can see how I might be just the tiniest bit stressed.

So instead over obsessing over things that are completely out of my control, I'm making cupcakes.  Simple, light, vanilla scented ones.  I've made these a few times recently and I'm happy to say that they always turn out just right and are easy to play with if you want to go beyond basic.  The first time I baked them I made these sweet little butterfly cupcakes like my Nana used to make.  You just cut a cone-shaped piece of cake from the top, fill the hole with something delicious (I used jam and lemon curd this time, but Nana used to use pastry cream), slice the cake cone in half and nestle it in the filling to look like butterfly wings.  My kids loved them and I was reminded of hanging out in Nana's kitchen as a little girl.  If anything was going to make me forget a mountain of stress, that was it. 

Thanks, Nana.

Buttermilk Cupcakes
Makes 1 dozen standard cupcakes.  Adapted from this recipe by Martha Stewart.
For the printable recipe, click here

This is a simple, basic cupcake that you can do in one bowl by hand without having to pull out (or clean!) a big mixer if you don't want to.  It just takes a little elbow grease to whisk the eggs and sugar but it's totally do-able.  That kinda makes it perfect in my book.  The other bonus with this cupcake is that you really can leave it simple or jazz it up any way you want.  I've made them with mini chocolate chips for a birthday topped with buttercream and left them plain for a quick treat.  Add some lemon zest and blueberries, warm spices like cinnamon or cardamom or even bits of toffee or nuts to make them completely special and different.  What you do with the cupcakes is up to you but they are bound to become one of those recipes you keep coming back to time and again.

2 large eggs, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup buttermilk
4 tbs butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Line the cups of a standard cupcake tin with cupcake liners.  Set aside.

Place the eggs and sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer.  Whisk on medium high until the mixture has thickened, lightened in color and forms ribbons on the surface that hold for a few seconds before disappearing. (Alternately, you can do this by hand with a whisk and a large bowl).  Reduce the speed to low and slowly add in the flour and baking powder.  Mix just until incorporated.

In a small saucepan, warm the buttermilk and butter just until the butter melts.  With the mixer on low, slowly add the buttermilk/butter mixture to the batter until it is smooth.  Add in the vanilla and mix until just incorporated (if you want to add anything to the batter such as chocolate chips or berries, add them now).

Divide the batter evenly among the prepared cupcake cups.  Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the cupcakes are lightly golden on top and the tops spring back when pressed gently and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Let the cupcakes cool in the tin on a wire rack for about 10 minutes.  Remove from the tin and cool completely on the rack.  Cupcakes can be stored in an airtight container for up to three days at room temperature.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Saint Joseph's Cakes {Nana's Recipe}

A few years ago my mom sent my sister and I a message asking us what recipes we'd really love to have from when we were kids that she and our grandmother had made for us.  We sent back a whole list of recipes, things that we rarely make ourselves and some that have become staples, that were the day to day must haves from our childhoods.  There were pasta and bread recipe requests as well as the cakes and cookies that were the highlights of family meals and celebrations.  Clearly, Mom had a plan to do something with this list of favorites.  But I think life got in the way and she was never able to do what she had hoped to.

Fast forward a year and I was growing weary of asking Mom for the same recipes over and over again (Why did I not write that down?  Where did that one go in the latest move?).  Plus, I was pregnant with my third baby and eager to get family recipes all in one place so that I could pass them on to my children.  So I made a determined effort to get all of the important baking recipes from my Mom and she and I collaborated in putting together a collection of recipes and stories in one book.  When we made our list of recipes to include, there were some that were absolutely non-negotiable.  Mostly these were the recipes from my Nana that came from Italy and would be completely lost of we didn't make the effort to write them down now.  This "cake" was one of them.

Nana made these cakes every year for St. Joseph's Day, a holiday that is celebrated in her Italian home region on March 19 every year.  They were one of my absolute favorites growing up- a sort of doughnut/French cruller stuffed full with sweet ricotta and chocolate chips.  It was one of the first that I made on my own for my college roommates and even for my students every year when I was teaching.  Now my own children love them and ask for them from time to time.  There was no way that I was going to leave this treat out of our collection.  I did a bit of streamlining of the ricotta filling recipe, but other than that this recipe is all Nana.  I wouldn't have it any other way.

Saint Joseph's Cakes
Makes at least one dozen 3 inch cakes.
For the printable recipe, click here.

These pretty little cakes are very much like a fried cream puff.  Keeping that in mind, they don't do too well after about a day.  So plan to eat them or share them all the day they are made.  Don't fill them until you are ready to serve or they will become too soggy.  The filling is the same as you would use to fill a cannoli so any leftover can be used to fill bought cannoli shells or even baked cream puffs (or if you are like me, straight off the spoon standing in front of the fridge).

½ cup neutral-flavored oil                                   
1 cup water                     
1 cup pastry (or all-purpose) flour
1 tbs sugar    
4 large eggs                                           
½ tsp each grated lemon and orange rind

Also: Neutral-flavored oil for frying
Chocolate Chip Ricotta Cream (recipe follows)
Powdered sugar for dusting the tops

 Cut several squares of parchment paper into 4 inch squares.

Combine oil, salt, and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Add flour all at once and mix well with a wooden spoon until the dough leaves the side of pan. Remove from the stove and let it cool off a little.  Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add sugar, grated peels and mix well again.

Heat oil in a large pan that’s about 4 or 5 inches deep.  Fill a large pastry bag fitted with a large star tip with the mixture. On each square of parchment paper, pipe out a 3” circle of dough. When the oil starts to shimmer on the surface drop the parchment with the dough circles into the oil. The paper will come off in a few seconds and you can remove it. Fry until golden brown, flip, and fry until the other side is golden. Let cool completely.

Slice in half and fill with chocolate chip ricotta cream.  Dust with powdered sugar.

Chocolate Chip Ricotta Cream
2 3/4 cup ricotta
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp finely grated orange zest
1/2 tsp fresh orange juice

Line a fine mesh sieve with a layer of cheesecloth and place over a bowl.  Put the ricotta into the sieve and place the whole thing into the refrigerator to drain overnight (covered with plastic wrap).

In a large bowl, whip the drained ricotta and powdered sugar with a wooden spoon or spatula until fluffy.  Beat in the chocolate chips, vanilla, orange zest and juice.  Refrigerate, covered, at least one hour or until ready to use.