Cinco de Mayo is the little observed (in Mexico anyway) anniversary of an improbable victory by the Mexican army over that of the French which occurred on May 5th, 18-something. This particular May 5th is also the annual running of the Kentucky Derby. So the good folks over at the Cooking Channel shared with me a libation that will help you celebrate both at the same time. Dig it!
|The Mint Julep Margarita||
- 2 limes, each cut into 16 pieces
- 2 teaspoons superfine sugar
- 10 fresh mint leaves
- 2 ounces bourbon
- 1 ounce orange liqueur
- 1/4 cup seltzer
- Place the limes in a cocktail shaker.
- Sprinkle with the sugar and add the mint leaves.
- Muddle well, making sure the juice is really extracted from the limes and the sugar dissolves.
- Add the bourbon and orange liqueur.
- Add a couple of ice cubes, cover and shake well. Strain.
- Can be served over ice or straight. Top with seltzer.
When it comes to special occasion dinners no Southern table is complete without a pitcher (or two) of iced tea. As I wrote in my 2010 cookbook Third Coast Cuisine, “. . . iced tea is always sweet. If you order iced tea at a restaurant or café you should expect and receive a glass of sweetened tea. There is a drink who’s recipe closely resembles iced tea except for the omission of sweetener. It is called “unsweetened tea,” not iced tea. It is similar to iced tea in the same way that diet cola is similar to cola. But they are not the same thing.” I am no less resolute in that now.
Recently, I took up the subject of tea with a guy who knows a lot about it. Richard Rosenfeld is the owner of Two Leaves and a Bud, a premium tea purveyor out of Aspen, CO. Rosenfeld opened his company in 2005 with the mission of bringing the experience of the gardens back to his customers. He personally visits the farmers in exotic locals like Darjeeling, Assam and Sri Lanka and hand picks (sometimes literally) the tea he decides to sell. It’s safe to say the guy knows his tea.
I believe there are two major movements which have driven the growth in tea. One is health (and the movement away from coffee). And the other is the availability of better tasting tea, better quality tea in the US.
You know you’re drinking a good cup of tea because it doesn’t go bitter.
How does loose tea differ from the tea that comes in bags?
I look at it as wine from a bottle as opposed to wine from a box. You know wine from a box can be very good but generally wine fom a bottle is considered a much better wine. But how they are different specifically, you have two major types of tea - whole leaf tea and dust tea. There are lots of different dust teas out there and just because we don’t do dust doesn’t mean they’re bad. But they tend to be a little more insipid. They have a little less depth of flavor. A good glass of tea should have a top note, it should have middle notes and it should have a finish.
How long should you steep whole leaf tea?
For whole leaf black teas you’re in the four to five minute area. For whole leaf green teas you are in five plus.
So what’s my secret to a perfect pitcher of iced tea? Well I start with Two Leaves and a Bud’s Assam Breakfast Black Tea. I prefer the loose leaf but even the bags are still better than any tea you’ve ever had before. Then another premium ingredient, Demarerra sugar. Demerara is so named because originally it came from sugar cane fields in the colony of Demerara in Guyana. It is an unrefined sugar like the more common Turbinado (popularly known as Sugar in the Raw which is also a great sugar for tea). I like Demarerra because it has the subtle notes of brown sugar and molasses. It usually comes in large caramel colored crystals.
The final ingredient is filtered water. I don’t want any outside flavors disrupting my perfect pitcher of iced tea. That’s also why I never steep more than five minutes. Many people think this will make a stronger brew but that isn’t true at all. It will only allow more outside flavors into the tea, then you have to use more sugar to cover them up. If you want stronger tea, use more tea leaves.
|Perfect Iced Tea||
- 4 tablespoons loose black tea
- 1 cup Demerara sugar
- 3 quarts filtered water
- In a 2 quart saucepan bring 1 quart water to a boil.
- Add tea, cover, and remove from heat. Allow to steep for no more than five minutes.
- Strain the tea through a very fine sieve or coffee filter into a three-quart pitcher.
- Add sugar and stir until all sugar is dissolved.
- Add the remaining 2 quarts of water and refrigerate at least 2 hours.
|Aztec Hot Chocolate||
- 2 cups boiling water
- 1 chili pepper, cut in half, seeds removed
- 5 cups whole milk
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
- 1 to 2 cinnamon sticks
- 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into 1/4″pieces
- 2 tablespoons honey, or to taste
- l tablespoon almonds or hazelnuts, ground extra fine
- In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, add chili pepper to boiling water.
- Cook until liquid is reduced to 1 cup.
- Remove chili pepper; strain the water, and set aside.
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine milk, vanilla bean and cinnamon stick until bubbles appear around the edge
- Reduce heat to low; add chocolate and honey; whisk occasionally until chocolate is melted and silky.
- Turn off heat; remove vanilla bean and cinnamon stick.
- Add chili-infused water, a little at a time, tasting to make sure the flavor isn’t too strong.
If chocolate is too thick, thin with a little more milk.
|Mixed Berry Smoothie||
- 1 cup Driscoll’s Blueberries
- 1 cup Driscoll’s Raspberries or Blackberries
- 1 cup Driscoll’s Strawberries, halved or quartered
- 1 cup vanilla yogurt
- cup orange juice
- 1 – 2 tablespoons honey, to taste
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped crystallized ginger
- Berries for garnish
- Blend all ingredients plus two ice cubes in a blender until smooth. Garnish with additional berries before serving.