Monday, November 18, 2019

All Things Tea

I started drinking tea when I was in college. Isn't that where all good habits start? *wink* My tea habit is now (gulp!) over twenty years old.

In the beginning, I sipped only herbal infusions, also known as tisanes or herbal teas. At some point, somebody recommended green tea for its health benefits, so I gave that a try and ended up adding it to my tea habit. A few years ago, I started expanding my tea palate to include black, oolong, and pu-erh teas.

As I explore new teas and learn more about the mental and physical health benefits of drinking tea, my love for tea continues to grow.

Below is a collection of my thoughts on all things tea and a guide for maximal tea enjoyment.

1. Steeping
2. Re-steeping
3. Upcycling Tea
4. Cold Steeping
5. Favorite Tea Brands
6. Favorite Tea Gear


1. Steeping

I love the ritual of making tea as much as I love the beverage itself. For many years, I boiled water for in a glass measuring cup in the microwave. A couple years ago, I switched to heating water in a small stainless steel kettle on the stove. Some claim the different heating methods produce different tasting teas, but, if there are any, they are minute.

  • Measure desired amount of water:
    • Tea bags – 8 ounces per bag
    • Tea sachets – 16 ounces per sachet
    • Loose leaf tea – 8 ounces for each teaspoon of tea leaves
* I heat ¾ of the water I need for the tea, then add cold water and/or ice after the tea is steeped to make the correct amount of tea. This way, my tea is ready to drink right away – without scalding my tongue.
  • Heat water to ideal temperature:
    • White tea – less than boiling (175°F)
    • Green tea – less than boiling (175°F)
    • Oolong tea – depends on the variety; some use less than boiling, some use boiling
    • Black tea, pu-erh tea, herbal infusions – boiling (212°F)
* This guide from The Spruce Eats gives a great (and more detailed) explanation of ideal water temperatures for tea.
  • Pour hot water over tea. (Don't add tea to hot water.)
  • Cover mug or teapot and steep:
    • White tea – 1 minute
    • Green tea – 3 minutes
    • Oolong tea – 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the variety
    • Black tea, pu-erh tea – 5 minutes
    • Herbal infusions – 5 to 7 minutes
  • Remove tea bag, sachet, or strainer from mug.
*Save your sachet or steeped tea leaves. See section below about re-steeping.
  • Add cold water and/or ice to cool tea to preferred drinking temperature. Enjoy!
  • Adjusting the flavor: If your tea tastes too bitter, try reducing the water temperature or steeping time. With loose leaf tea, you can try using fewer leaves. 
2. Re-steeping

I am 100% a child of the 'Reduce. Reuse. Recyle.' era. So I love that many teas can be steeped a second time for even more enjoyment. Some teas even taste more delightful on the second steep.
  • The best teas for re-steeping are loose leaf teas or those packaged in sachets. Tea in bags doesn't re-steep very well.
  • The number of times you can re-steep depends on the variety. In general, green, oolong, and black teas and herbal tisanes are good for two or three steeps; pu-erh tea can be steeped five times or more.
  • All varieties of tea can be re-steeped with boiling water. There's no need for cooler water for green or white teas.
  • Add 1 - 2 minutes to the original steep time, to extract more flavor from the tea.
*I steep all of my teas and herbal infusions, except pu-erhs, twice. Then I upcycle the twice-steeped tea (see the section below). Read more about re-steeping in this post from DiviniTea.



3. Upcycling Tea

My sister, Sara, gets credit for this idea. While visiting, she made a cup of tea for the drive home. After she left, I found the tea bag sitting in a cup full of water on the counter. I asked her about it and she said she always soaks her used tea bags. Now I do, too, but with a few tweaks to the method.

After I've steeped (and re-steeped) my tea, I put the tea bag, sachet, or loose leaves in a glass jar. I fill the jar with 16 ounces of cold water, cap it, and stick it in the fridge. A day or two or three later – whenever I get to it, really – the tea has transformed the water into a delicious, lightly flavored water.

I'm not sure if this beverage should be called upcycled tea or tea water – neither sounds very cool. Regardless of moniker, this flavored water is delightful. It's also a clear indicator of my frugality; every last drop of flavor (and beneficial phytonutrients) is squeezed out of the tea I purchase.


4. Cold Steeping Tea

Upcycling tea prompted me to try cold steeping tea. Mostly, this came about because hot tea isn't as enjoyable during the hot summer months as cold tea.

  • Combine cool water and tea in glass jar with lid.
    • 8 ounces water per tea bag
    • 16 ounces water per tea sachet
    • 8 ounces water for each teaspoon loose leaf tea
  • Place jar in refrigerator to steep.
    • Steep green, oolong, and black teas for 8 to 24 hours.
    • Steep herbal teas for 8 to 48 hours.
  • Strain tea or remove bag/sachet.
  • Cold steeped tea leaves/bags/sachets can be re-steeped several times.
*Read more about cold steeping tea in this article from Serious Eats.


5. Favorite Teas

I dedicated one of my newspaper columns to the topic of tea. While writing that column, I counted how many varieties of tea I actually had on hand. The number topped 40. Instead of listing my entire collection, here are some of my favorite tea brands:


Online (sold as loose leaf, in sachets, and in bags)
Grocery Store Brands (sold mostly in bags)
  • Tazo
  • Stash
  • Bigelow
  • Celestial Seasonings

6. Favorite Tea Gear

  • Tea Kettle

  • Tea Mug with Infuser

  • Tea Pot with Infuser

  • Tea Sachet Squeezer
Squeezing your tea sachet or tea bag is frowned upon by some, but I am a diehard squeezer. I love strong tea, enjoy bitter flavors (to a certain degree), and don't like dripping tea bags dribbling all over my counter.

Happy tea sipping!


I have no affiliation with the brands listed in this post, nor was I compensated for mentioning them.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Muffins

Lightly sweetened and made with 100% whole grain, these Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Muffins are scrumptious.

Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Muffins

Ingredients

¼ cup butter, melted [half a stick]*
½ cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2¼ cups diced apples**
    OR 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
    OR 1¼ cups apples + ½ cup applesauce
½ cup whole milk

1 cup quick cook oatmeal
1½ cups white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt

Directions

Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray muffin tins*** with nonstick cooking spray or grease as desired.

In a large bowl, whisk together melted butter, brown sugar, egg, and vanilla. Stir in apples (and/or applesauce) and milk.

Mix together oatmeal, flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt.

Add dry ingredients to apple mixture. Fold together just until dry ingredients are mixed in. Don't over mix.

Spoon batter into prepared tins, filling tins ¾ full.

Bake for 14 to 16 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center of muffin comes out clean.****

Notes

*As always, I recommend Land O' Lakes butter. And not just because the milk from our farm goes to Land O'Lakes. Land O'Lakes truly makes the best-tasting butter, which makes baked goods taste better.

**I leave the peels on the apples when I dice them. Less work, plus more fiber.

***I use my Grandma Jeanie's vintage Comet muffin tins. I suspect these tins make smaller muffins than modern muffin tins. This recipe makes 18 vintage-size muffins.

****Muffins made with fresh, diced apples will bake faster than muffins made with applesauce.


When the bees out-pollinate themselves. And it rains all summer long. So you have more apples than you know what to do with. And the apples are as big as your hand. You pull out all the apple recipes you have. This apple muffin recipe has been a favorite for many years now.


If you like these muffins, you might also like these Apple Cinnamon Toaster Pancakes.

Enjoy, friends!

Monday, April 8, 2019

Dan's Chocolate Chip Cookies


Dan's Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes approximately 48 cookies

Ingredients

1½ cups Land O Lakes® Butter [3 sticks]
1¼ white sugar
1¼ firmly packed brown sugar (I use dark brown sugar.)
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon lemon juice

4¼ cups all purpose flour [510 grams]
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cinnamon

3 cups chocolate chips [18 ounces] (I use semi-sweet or milk chocolate or a combination.)

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Cream butter and sugars together. Add eggs, one at a time. Mix in vanilla and lemon juice.

Stir flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon together. With mixer running, add flour mixture to butter mixture, about a half cup at a time. Mix just until flour is fully incorporated. Add chocolate chips and mix briefly.

Drop by heaping tablespoons (#40 scoop), 2 inches apart, onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes or until cookies are puffed up and just starting to brown around the edges. They will flatten into chewy cookies as they cool.

Cool 2 minutes on cookie sheet. Remove to cooling rack to cool completely.

Serve with a big glass of milk.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars: Mix ingredients as if making cookies. Spray half sheet baking pan (11 x 16) with cooking spray. Press dough into prepared pan using butter wrapper. Bake at 375°F for 25 - 30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool and cut into bars. Serve with a big glass of milk.


The Story Behind the Recipe

One day, after I finished making a batch of my most-loved Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies, Dan asked me, “Can you make plain chocolate chip cookies? Like, with no nuts or anything like that?”

I didn’t have a tried-and-true recipe for plain chocolate chip cookies.

I thought for half a second about doing an internet search. But the idea of sifting through thousands of versions of chocolate chip cookies didn't appeal to me. (Out of curiosity, I just did a Google search for “chocolate chip cookies.” It yielded over 20 million results.)

But I know a baking guru who's far better than the internet. And she happens to be a dear friend.

I sent a quick message to Becky.


Until recently, Becky was the director of the Land O’Lakes Test Kitchen. I know the folks in the Test Kitchen test and tolerance test and test again each recipe before it becomes part of the Land O’Lakes recipe collection. I knew that if anyone could recommend the best "plain" chocolate chip cookie recipe, it was Becky.

Becky and I together in the Land O'Lakes Test Kitchen a couple years ago.

Becky recommended two recipes from the Land O'Lakes Test Kitchen: Chewy Jumbo Chocolate Chip Cookies and Five Star Chocolate Chip Cookies.

The recipes are essentially the same. The only difference is the size of the final cookie. I gave the recipe a try and baked the smaller-sized cookies. Dan – and the rest of my family – loved them instantly.



I agreed with my family. But I thought, "I can make these better."

Better. This a common theme for both my life and our farm.  Our farm motto is: "Better for our cows, better for our land, better for our family, and better for our community." I'm always asking, "How can I make this better?"

So I did. Borrowing the concept from my own favorite chocolate chip cookies, I added extra chocolate chips, a pinch of cinnamon, and a dash of lemon juice. You can’t taste the cinnamon and lemon, they just add dimension to the flavor profile – much the same way good tea and fine chocolate have nuances of flavor above and below the main flavor notes.

I shared the "better" cookies with my friend, Summer, and she said, “There's something special in these, isn’t there.”

"Yeah, there is," I grinned. "Butter!"

Then I let her in on my secret. There’s no point in keeping a good recipe a secret.

Here's the best part about these cookies, though. I've made this recipe with too much flour, too much sugar,  milk chocolate chips, semi-sweet chocolate chips, without the cinnamon and lemon juice, with dark brown sugar and light brown sugar... No matter the mistakes or variations, these cookies are delicious.

I was telling Becky one day about how forgiving this cookie recipe is. She said, "That's the sign of a good recipe. And that's why we do tolerance testing – to find the best recipes that turn out every time."

Dan's Chocolate Chip Cookies – as we now refer to them – really are some of the best cookies ever.


I am a Land O'Lakes Cooperative member-owner. I received compensation from Land O'Lakes for this post. All opinions are my own.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Easy Cheesy Valentines


Looking for an awesome alternative to candy for your kids' Valentine's Day exchange at school?

These Cheesy Valentines are perfect!

1. Start with your favorite snack cheese or string cheese.

Cheese makes a great Valentine's Day gift because it's so tasty! But, from a mom's perspective, cheese is great because its protein helps counter all of the sugar that comes with traditional Valentine's Day treats.


2. Add a cute label.

Standard mailing labels (Avery 5160 or 8160) fit perfectly on most snack-sized cheese.

The Avery Design & Print online label designer makes designing labels super easy.

Older kids can design their own labels. My littler kids sat with me and picked out the clip-art and fonts they wanted for their labels.


3. Pack the cheese snacks in an insulated lunch bag with a small ice pack so they stay cold until the exchange.

Happy Valentine's Day!


I am a Land O'Lakes Cooperative member-owner; I did not receive compensation from Land O'Lakes for this post. I have no affiliation with Avery Products Corporation, nor did I receive compensation for this post. All opinions are my own.


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Fiesta Stoup

Veggies + Meat + Spices = Party in your mouth. But don't try eating it without cheese. Then it's not nearly as much fun.

Fiesta: party or celebration... derived from the Latin word for feast...

Stoup: thicker than soup... thinner than stew...

And that's exactly what this spicy, meat and veggie-rich soup/stew is: a party in your mouth.

But don't try eating it without cheese. Then it's not nearly as much fun.


This stoup comes together in minutes with three easy main ingredients: a bag of frozen sliced bell peppers and onions, a can of diced tomatoes, and shredded meat. I usually use leftover beef roast or pork roast. If I'm really craving this stoup, I'll bake a couple frozen chicken breasts and shred them.

I've been making this stoup for so long, I can't even remember how I first came up with the idea. But I do know what keeps me making it:

✔ Delicious!
✔ Quick and easy to make
✔ Minimal prep with recipe-ready ingredients
✔ Repurpose leftover roast beef, roast pork, or chicken
✔ Keeps and reheats really well! I make a double batch and eat it for lunch all week.
✔ Super nutritious: fiber (from veggies), protein (from meat and cheese), and phytonutrients (from veggies and spices)
✔ Very low carb
✔ Easily customizable: cut back on the chipotle and cayenne peppers for less heat; add a can of pinto beans (drained and rinsed); the variations are endless


Fiesta Stoup

Ingredients

1 cup chicken broth (or 1 cup water + bouillon/soup base)
14 oz bag frozen sliced bell peppers and onions (like Birds Eye® Pepper Stir-Fry)
14 oz can petite diced tomatoes (with juice)
2 cups cooked, shredded beef roast, pork roast, or chicken (approx. ½ pound)

2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon ground oregano
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon chipotle chile pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cayenne red pepper
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
salt to taste

1 tablespoon lime juice

Co-jack cheese, sliced or shredded (I love the convenience of Land O'Lakes® Co-Jack Snack Cheese.)

Optional Accompaniments: sour cream, avocado, tortilla chips

Directions

Combine broth and frozen vegetables in medium pot. Cook over medium heat until vegetables are hot.

While vegetables are heating, combine spices in small bowl.

Add tomatoes, shredded meat, and spices to vegetables. Mix well to distribute spices. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes to combine flavors.

Remove from heat and stir in lime juice.

Serve with cheese. I like to take a bite of Co-Jack Snack Cheese and follow it with a bite of Fiesta Stoup. It's just as good if you top the hot stoup with shredded cheese and let it melt.


I am a Land O'Lakes Cooperative member-owner; I did not receive compensation from Land O'Lakes for this post. I have no affiliation with Birds Eye or Pinnacle Foods Group LLC, nor did I receive compensation for this post. All opinions are my own.