Ji Zhen (Golden Needle) Tea

We picked up two ounces of Ji Zhen Tea at Dobra Tea in Portland, Maine this summer. This tea is a Chinese black tea, and one of the oldest teas in the world. It is called Ji Zhen, or "Golden Needle," because its young tea leaves have a needle-like shape and a beautiful golden color.

The aroma of the leaves is sweet, with hints of earthiness. When brewed, the golden leaves produced a tea of reddish-brown color with a golden ring around the edge of the cup. This high-quality tea has a very mellow flavor with hints of honey, chocolate and pepper. The inherent sweetness of the tea made us not want to add anything to it, although many people enjoy it with milk.

It is recommended to brew the tea leaves up to three times, which means those few ounces will produce many cups. We look forward to every one; it is an exceptional cup of tea.


Birthday Gravlax: Secret Recipe Club

Amy writes:

It's Chris's birthday and he and a bunch of buddies have headed to Northern Vermont for a guys' weekend. Not being a guy myself, I'm not exactly sure what goes on at these weekends, but I imagine fire, meat, whiskey and cigars at the very least. I doubt I'm off base.

Meanwhile, here in CT, I'm doing some fall nesting, part of which is preparing for this month's Secret Recipe Club. We were assigned Delishhh, a food blog by Ewa who was born in Sweden. Delishhh is filled with recipes from all over the globe, but since I've never made anything Swedish (not even a meatball...), I headed right to her Swedish Food section. It was then I realized that I was facing a perfect convergence of events - while Chris is away, I can spend the weekend preparing Delishhh's recipe for one of his favorite foods (gravlax), and when he comes home, he can detox from his meat-and-fire-filled weekend with some flavorfully cured raw salmon.

Gravlax is one of Sweden's most famous dishes. Being new to Swedish cuisine, I decided to stay with Ewa's tried and true recipe, even preparing the "Hovmästarsås," or mustard sauce, accompaniment. I purchased a beautiful piece of salmon fillet and rubbed it with a salt, sugar, and white pepper mixture as instructed.

I added chopped dill, wrapped the fish tightly in plastic wrap, and placed it in a zip-type bag inside the refrigerator to cure for the weekend, turning the salmon three times each day.

When it was ready, I served it over grilled rye bread with the mustard sauce drizzled over it. Chris was both surprised and thrilled at the result, pronouncing it indeed "Delishhh," and saying he could eat it every day. Even better, he has it all to himself, as nothing about gravlax is, as my friend Joanne would say, "Amy-approved" - neither salmon (raw or cooked), nor dill, nor mustard sauce. Happy Birthday, Chris! And thank you, Ewa!


CT Farm-to-Chef Week 2011: Peppercorn's Grill

This week is Connecticut Farm-to-Chef Week, sponsored by the state Department of Agriculture's Farm-to-Chef Program. According to the website, "seventy restaurants, caterers, institutions, schools, farms, wineries, and other dining venues throughout the state have signed up to create their own special Farm-to-Chef menu showcasing Connecticut Grown ingredients and Connecticut wines" throughout this week.

We enjoyed a fabulous dining experience at Farm-to-Chef Week participant Peppercorn's Grill on Main Street in Hartford for a (bargain!) prix fix of $29.50 (before 6 p.m.) or $37 (after 6). The three-course meal featured end-of-summer favorites such as stone fruits, corn, shellfish, greens, cheeses and more. Here are some photos and descriptions of our meal. If you haven't gotten out there to savor CT's best proteins and produce, do so before the celebration ends! Saturday, September 24th is the last night to indulge!

Appetizer Course

Local Arugula and Summer Stone Fruit
with toasted pine nuts, local peaches, plums and imported cactus fruit
tossed with white balsamic vinaigrette and
finished withaged dry ricotta.
Arugula provided by Earthtone Farms CSA, Windsor CT and
Fruit provided by Rogers Orchard, Southington CT

Fiori di Zucca
Crispy beer battered zucchini blossoms
stuffed with peppered mozzarella.
Blossoms picked daily from Cialfi's own garden, Plainville CT


Slow-Roasted Fork Tender Beef Short Ribs
prepared "drunken" with tiny vegetables, fresh herbs, garlic, local apple cider,
and red wine, served with local corn polenta and
sauteed rapini greens from our own garden.
Beef Short Ribs from Broad Brook Beef, East Windsor CT and
Cider from Rogers Orchards, Southington CT

Crab Crusted Local Wild Bass
with arugula pesto over a pool of saffron reduction
served with heirloom potatoes and a "misticanza" of fresh field greens and fresh herbs.
Bass from Meat Without Feet, Brooklyn NY
and all greens from Earthtone Farms, CSA, Windsor CT;
potatoes from GeoRoots Solar Growth Farm, Canton CT.


Kim Rukas' from Earth Tones Apple Crisp
with our housemade gelato
Apples from Rogers Orchards, Southington CT

Marinated Local Peaches and Seasonal Fruits
house made gelato served with a zuppa of fresh local peaches and berries
in a sweet basil scented "soup".
Fruit from Rogers Orchards, Southington CT
and Gresczyk Farms, New Hartford CT

Accompanied by


Beef and Stout Pot Pie

Ah, fall. The kaleidoscope of colors on the sugar maples. The sound of fallen leaves crunching as you walk on the sidewalk. The faint smell of firewood coming from your neighbor's chimney. The crisp feel of the air outside. The fuzziness of the sweater you're wearing for the first time. And, oh, the food! Hearty, comforting food that needs to cook for hours and makes your house smell so delicious. Yes, we love fall. And our first great fall dish this year was Beef and Stout Pot Pie.

In this dish, a basic beef stew meets Harpoon's smooth, rich, small-batch Island Creek Oyster Stout for a flavorful and satisfying meal. Island Creek is an oyster farming and distribution company out of Massachusetts. Typically, stouts make a great pairing when eating oysters. In this case, Harpoon's brewers put the oysters right into the beer during the brewing process, although the impact to the taste of the beer is minimal. The stout has hints of roasted barley along with a slight mineral brininess from the oysters, both of which add great flavor to the chuck steak we braised in it.

We reserved the water in which we had boiled the carrots and potatoes to enhance the vegetable flavor in the pot pie. And, instead of regular old onion and garlic, we used fresh cippolini onions and hard-neck garlic from the farmers' market. Refrigerated puff pastry dough topped the deliciousness inside the bowl, offering contrasting texture with its flaky crunch as well as a hint of surprise when you break through to the chunky, meaty stew.

Beef and Stout Pot Pie

Ingredients (for 4 individual pot pies):
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
4 carrots, peeled and diced
2 lbs. boneless beef chuck steaks, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 yellow cippolini onions, roughly chopped
2 hard-neck garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 cup water, reserved from boiling carrots and potatoes
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup beef broth
1 cup Harpoon Island Creek Oyster Stout
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 sheets frozen puff pastry dough
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon water

Boil potatoes and carrots together until tender. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the water, and place in refrigerator to cool. Preheat oven to 350. Place chunks of beef along with flour, salt and pepper in a large zip-type bag; toss to coat. Heat oil in a large ovenproof pot over high heat, then working in batches, brown meat on all sides, about 4 minutes per batch; set aside. Add onion, garlic and 1/4 cup reserved vegetable water to th epot and cook, scraping the brown bits from the bottom of the pot, and stirring often until onion is softened. Add tomato paste and cook for one minute. Return beef to pot along with broth, stout, Worcestershire, and thyme. Bring to a low boil, then cover and transfer to oven. Braise for 1 1/2 hours. Remove from oven and stir in the cooled carrots and potatoes. Allow stew to cool uncovered for 1/2 hour before topping with puff pastry (otherwise the pastry will melt). In the meantime, thaw the puff pastry dough and raise oven temperature to 425. When ready to assemble pot pies, cut circles in the dough 1/2-inch wider in diameter than the bowls you plan to use. Fill these individual oven-proof bowls with the stew then top with the pastry dough, pressing dough onto the rim of the bowl to help it adhere. Beat together the egg and tablespoon of water and brush the top of the pastry dough with this egg wash. Place pot pies on a baking sheet and bake until pastry is puffed and golden, about 20 minutes.  


Book Review: The Cookiepedia

Wouldn't it be wonderful to have all those classic cookie recipes - shortbreads, snickerdoodles, macaroons (and macarons!), and more - in one place? It sure would be, and, now, it is, with Stacy Adimando's new cookbook, The Cookiepedia. With dozens of cookie recipes loaded with helpful tips, this book is a must-have for every cookie lover. We received a review copy of the book from publisher Quirk Books about a month ago, but found ourselves with little time on our hands until last weekend, when, at our five-year-old niece's request, we used the book to make a batch of chocolate chip cookies while Louie the Cat looked on.

First of all, we love the cute cardboard-cut-out look of the cover, and the practical and convenient lie-flat binding. The recipe was straight-forward and easy-to-follow. The cookies had a wonderful molasses flavor that came from adding brown sugar as well as white sugar, and a deep, rich chocolate flavor from using bittersweet chips.

They didn't come out looking like the beautiful picture in the book, that's true. We have baking issues, as you've probably read before. However, they tasted so good that we were inspired to browse the rest of the book.

It is categorized by "type" of cookie (e.g. Chocolaty, Buttery, Fancy, etc.), so you can easily find a recipe to suit your needs, wants, desires and/or cravings. Each and every recipe is accompanied by baking tips, helpful hints, fun anecdotes, cheer-inducing hand-drawn illustrations and even a place for baker's notes. Did we mention the gorgeous photographs that make you want to grab a cookie right from the pages and pour a glass of milk to go along with it?

If you love cookies (and really, who doesn't?), this book full of reinvented-from-the-classics cookie recipes ought to be your next cookbook purchase. We'll be mixing up a batch of the Molasses Spice Cookies this weekend...just in time for fall. Why don't you join us?

The Cookiepedia came out September 6th and can be purchased here, at Amazon.com.


A Couple in the Kitchen, Being Featured At...

Kent over at Simple Recipes chose our blog to be part of his Featured Foodies list. Check out his fabulous website featuring "Great Recipes. Made Simple." We look forward to a great partnership! Thank you, Kent!

And you can find our recipe for Honey-Soy Chicken with Asian Spices at Baked Chicken Drumstick Recipes.

And, FINALLY, you can now follow us on Facebook!!!


Kara-Age Chicken with Seared Garlic Green Beans

When we think of Kikkoman, we think of this cartoon, with that uber-catchy song refrain that sticks in our heads for days after we hear it. Show me, show you, Kikkoman! Kikkoman! But now, after receiving a box of Kikkoman Kara-Age Coating Mix through the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program, we will imagine tasty golden nuggets of chicken fried in a light and tasty coating with hints of soy and ginger as we sing along.

The first things we noticed when we opened one of the two packets included in the box was the wonderful ginger scent and the fine powdery-ness of the coating. The box informs us that Kara-Age is "Japan's popular fried chicken dish" (Show me, show you!) and gives clear and easy instructions that have you eating your Kara-Age in about five minutes. Just cut, toss, shake and fry! While it suggests chicken in the main instructions, it says that it's great for fish as well, and gives a quick recipe for Asian-Style Popcorn Shrimp. An easy dipping sauce, says the box, is Kikkoman (Kikkoman!) Ponzu. We used boneless chicken breasts that we cut into bite-sized pieces, and served our Kara-Age with seared garlic green beans (All right!) for a quick, easy, deliciously savory meal. 


Toss and shake!



Kara-Age Chicken with Seared Garlic Green Beans

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound green beans, trimmed
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1 packet Kikkoman Kara-Age Coating Mix
1 pound boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
vegetable oil for frying

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until very hot but not smoking. Add the green beans and cook for 10-12 minutes, tossing often, until tender and browned in spots. Reduce heat to medium-low and add garlic. Stir for a minute until fragrant. Season with salt and pepper, remove from skillet and set aside on a large serving platter. Meanwhile, pour Kikkoman Kara-Age Coating Mix into a large plastic bag. Moisten chicken pieces with water, allowing excess to drip off. Add chicken pieces to bag and close. Shake well to coat all pieces evenly. Pour vegetable oil into a large heavy skillet, filling it about 1/4-inch high. Heat the oil. Working in batches, fry the chicken in hot oil, turning pieces frequently, until golden brown, about 2 minutes each side. Remove and set on paper towels to absorb excess oil. Place atop green beans to serve.


Meatless Monday: Green Grape and Gorgonzola Pizza

Yes, you are reading that correctly. Inspired by one of the pies we saw on Cooking Channel's recent special, "Pizza Outside the Box," we made a Green Grape and Gorgonzola Pizza, a perfect meal for Meatless Monday.

Does it sound strange? Sure. But it's very much like nibbling on a cheese board: three different cheeses, grapes, and bread. A virtual picnic in Paris, no airline ticket needed. We urge you to try it. You won't be disappointed. It's a party on your tastebuds - sweet, salty, crispy, chewy, cheesy, crunchy, tangy, herby and, in a word, fabulous.

Green Grape and Gorgonzola Pizza

3/4-1 lb. pizza dough
corn meal
olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup shredded provolone cheese
1-1 1/2 cups halved grapes
1/3 cup gorgonzola cheese
2 tablespoons chopped rosemary

Place a pizza stone on a rack in the lower third of your oven. Preheat the oven to 450°F for at least 30 minutes. Take the pizza dough and flatten it with your hands on a slightly floured work surface.

Starting at the center and working outwards, use your fingertips to press the dough to 1/2-inch thick. Gently stretch the dough until it reaches the desired diameter - 10 to 12 inches. Use your palm to flatten the edge of the dough where it is thicker. Lightly sprinkle a baking sheet with corn meal and transfer the dough to the baking sheet. Brush the top of the dough with olive oil to prevent it from getting soggy from the toppings. Sprinkle the outer edge of the crust with the kosher salt.

Mix together the mozzarella and provolone cheeses; spread this cheese mixture in a thin layer over the dough. Cover the cheese with the halved grapes. Sprinkle the pizza with the gorgonzola cheese crumbles and chopped rosemary.

Carefully slide the pizza onto the hot pizza stone and bake at 450 for 15-20 minutes, until crust is browned and cheese is melted and golden. Enjoy!