Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Summer Drinks - Installment I -an alternative to sugary beverages

As soon as the weather turns from slippers and sweaters, to short sleeves and flip flops, a major change takes place in our kitchen. Tea cups rarely make it out of the cabinet, relegated to the occasional early morning hot cup of coffee or tea, and large jars filled with an ever changing assortment of cold beverages garner considerable space in our fridge. Homemade iced teas and coffees bring thirst quenching pleasure from June to October. 

Making homemade iced tea is incredibly simple, inexpensive and healthy. All you need is a jar, some water and a teabag or two, or some herbs from your garden and you are set. These days, the standard black tea doesn't get much play in my rotation of flavors: peppermint, rooibos chai, earl grey, lemon zinger, raspberry, or green tea are among my favorites. I used to brew these teas by boiling water, pouring it over a few tea bags and then leaving the jar out to cool for a few hours before placing them in the fridge, but a few years ago, I heard a tea expert rambling on about ice tea on the radio and he talked about cold brewing for herbal or green teas, so I gave it a try. Cold brewing is just the process of putting tea leaves or a tea bag into cold water and letting it steep for a number of hours, no heating required. Sun tea is a common name for this process, but you don't actually need to let the tea sit in the sun, I experimented with this process on the window sill and in the fridge, resulting in the same end product, refreshing iced tea that took about 30 seconds of my time to prepare and about 20 cents for a half gallon. Sure beats spending money on those sugary bottled versions.

Life is so full and busy these days. The weight of all the work to be done and the enormity of the problems in the world can sometimes feel overwhelming. It is the simple treats in daily life, the small moments of pleasure that bring me joy and help me to have some perspective. I know it sounds cheesy, but staring at the two jars of iced tea on my fridge door brings a little flutter to my heart and the moment it takes to decide between the peppermint tea poured over ice or the refreshing red chai with a splash of milk and honey is like a 10 second vacation, and the time I spend sipping the lovely concoction from a tall sweating glass is like a small gift managing to poke a hole in the stresses of life.

Homemade Iced Tea
Please experiment with hot or cold brewing and the amount of tea per jug of water that works for you.
I find with cold brewing or sun tea, that you actually need less tea to create a flavorful brew. I prefer to sweeten my teas to order, if we sweeten them at all. This allows you to control your sugar intake. If you do prefer sweetened iced tea, add your sweetener while the tea is hot or add the sweetener to a bit of hot water to dissolve it and then mix into the tea. Agave or honey are good alternatives to sugar.

What you'll need:
Large pitcher or jug that fits in your refrigerator approximately 1/2 gallon
(use glass if filling with boiling water)
1-3 tea bags - tags removed,  or fresh herbs like mint, lavender or lemon verbena
  1. For Cold Brew: herbal or green tea bags or loose tea, approximately 2 bags per half gallon of water. Place tea bags in water jug on counter or in your fridge, and steep for 3 hours or until tea reaches desired potency. Remove tea bags and refrigerate tea. Drink straight, over ice, with sweetener, lemon or milk, Enjoy!
  2. For Hot Brew: Boil water and pour over tea bags, 2-4 tea bags per half gallon of water. Steep tea for 20 minutes, remove from the water and let tea cool. Place in refrigerator and drink as desired once chilled.
These iced teas are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to summer time drinks, so check back soon for more ideas...

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Healthy Corner Stores

As I've said more than a few times lately, my life in food has been seriously busy. One of the many great projects I am trying to lend a hand in is the Healthy Corner Store Initiative in New Haven, CT lead by a great local organization: CARE and the New Haven Health Department.  The idea is to work with local corner store owners to carry more healthy foods and to place them in prominent locations in the store to increase the amount of healthy foods purchased by customers. One of the main objectives is to get the stores connected with local wholesale produce vendors to get fresh fruits and vegetables into the stores. Here is a link to an article on the launching of the second Healthy Corner Store - Clinton Food Center, last week, and an article on the first launch of Adam's Store the week before.
Kids from the school across the street help to launch the healthy corner store 
with pledges to eat healthy foods and snacks (above). Some of the new fruits and 
vegetables being carried at the store, and racks of healthier snack options,
a better alternative to potato chips and candy bars (below).

For each store launch I have been helping out by serving up fruit kebabs to get kids and adults thinking and eating fresh. The kebabs are a big hit, and really easy to make. 

The thing I love about fruit kebabs is that they take simple fruits and make them festive and easy to eat in a party setting, no plates or utensils needed. I served these for my son's birthday party in the park this spring and the kids loved them, as much or more than the cake! Many schools are working to eliminate cupcakes and sugary sweets in the classroom for kid's birthdays during the school year, and something like fruit kebabs are a great fun alternative treat!

Fruit Kebabs
An assortment of fresh fruits: pineapple, melon, grapes, strawberries, apples, etc. 
   Soft squishy fruits such as raspberries, mango, kiwi or oranges, don't work as well.
   If using apples you'll also need a lemon or some cinnamon
 6-8 inch long skewers, available in the cooking supply or grilling area of the grocery store

  1. Wash and cut fruit into 1 inch cubes and place in separate bowls or bags. Grapes can be left whole, strawberries can be cut if they are large, and apples should be tossed in a touch of lemon juice to stop them from browning. Cinnamon can also be used on apples if you enjoy the flavor.
  2. Use the pointed side of the skewer to poke through each piece of fruit. For a nice display, choose a pattern for the fruit and make a large bunch of kebabs with the same pattern so they look nice on a platter.
  3. Cover and keep refrigerated until you are ready to serve. Will hold for 1 day in the fridge, but are best if made within a few hours of serving. Enjoy!
These kebabs would be fun made with vegetables as well 
and served up with a salad dressing dipping sauce.