Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Little Break

Just wanted to pop in to say that I'm taking a little break for the next couple of weeks. Right now, things are busy with work and at home, leaving me with little time or energy to post. Hope to see you back here in a couple of weeks!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Quick Tip: Easily Make Any Tea Decaf

Photo courtesy of Le Palais des Thes

A few years ago, I worked for a wholesaler that imported goods to sell to specialty boutiques, high end department stores (like Neiman Marcus), and other fun shops, like Anthropologie. We sold a variety of products, from candles to bath products to tea. 

We all went through extensive tea training, learning the ins and outs of how the tea we were selling is grown, harvested, cultivated, packaged, steeped, and slurped. The training completely changed my perspective on tea, making me truly appreciate good, whole leaf, fairly traded teas.

One of the things I learned is that any tea can be decaffeinated quickly and easily at home. It's pretty cold here in Wisconsin these days, and I like drinking something hot in the evening to warm me up. We didn't have any decaf tea on hand, but that wasn't an issue at all.

And there ya go! Just to be sure I was telling you the right thing, I double-checked my memory against other tea sources. Keep in mind that like anything that says "decaf," there's still a small amount of caffeine present. 

About 75-90% of caffeine is removed when commercially done; there are two methods used, one of which also strips the tea of its nutritive values. This at-home method removes about 80% of the caffeine. So, yes, there is still caffeine, but a marginal amount. Trust me, I'm still getting (lack of) caffeine headaches when including this in my caffeine-free day.

Update (2/2012): I just received a tea assortment from Teavana, and in their literature it mentions the same technique and info. 

Monday, January 2, 2012

Hot Chocolate & Marshmallows

It's the start of the new year, which means that most people vowed to lose weight, eat healthier, and exercise more. Maybe, if it weren't so cold today, I would have been on board with that. According to our local NBC station, we have a morning forecast of "blustery and cloudy with scattered snow flurries. Temps in the teens," and an afternoon forecast of "colder." Colder?

This year, we gave our neighbors little kits of hot chocolate cubes and homemade marshmallows. The cubes were supposed to be hot chocolate on sticks, but after I tested a few out to determine the proper number of cubes per cup, I realized that I prefer a spoon instead of a stick to stir the heck out of the chocolate into the hot milk. The sticks would just get thrown out. Plus, I don't want to stir my hot chocolate with a marshmallow, melting my mallow into the hot chocolate. I prefer to have a glob of marshmallow on top, and, since everyone shares my preferences (right... right?!), stickless hot chocolate cubes and stars they were. *Delicious, rich, warm, wish-I-didn't-already-eat-all-of-the-scraps* hot chocolate cubes and stars they were.

Both recipes take a little bit of effort, but neither are expensive to make. If you have some friends or neighbors over this winter, these would make sweet little favors to hand out. Or, if you do Valentine's Day gifts for your kids' teachers, these are perfecto. Really, just make up an excuse to make them.

If you decide you want to put them on sticks, I've heard that you should put the marshmallow on the stick first (slide from the bottom) and then put the hot chocolate cubes on underneath. The marshmallow will leave a sticky mess if you slide it down from the top of the sticks. 

Here are the links to the two recipes I used and a couple of notes to help clarify how I did things:

Cocoa Blocks - King Arthur Flour
  • These are a little soft after resting 12 hours, but they'll continue to harden after you cut them. I made these 2 or 3 days before I made the marshmallows, and they were perfectly firm and not sticky.
  • I found that 50 grams (about 2 cubes for me) were the right amount of chocolate per 8 ounces of milk. 
  • I used half semi-sweet chocolate chips and half 60% Bittersweet chocolate chips with vanilla extract. I was tempted to use mint extract, but I only had spearmint on hand (and that would be gross). 
  • I weighed the chocolate since not all chips are made the same size. I like how they give you the option to view the recipe in weight as well as volume.
Springy, Fluffy Marshmallows - smitten kitchen
  • I have made these twice and both turned out perfectly. John's supposedly not a marshmallow lover, but he really liked these.  Here's how it went last time.
  • If you are like me and only have one stand mixer bowl, you'll need to whip your egg whites while the sugar is on the stove. Transfer them to another bowl, wipe out your mixer bowl, and then soften your gelatin in the mixer bowl while the sugar is still on the stove (you should have plenty of time to do all of that). If your egg whites separated while resting, try to only add the whipped part into the marshmallows when that time comes (and discard the separated liquid part). Some separation will be normal, but it shouldn't affect your outcome.
  • I used cookie cutters to cut some of the marshmallows. Others, I cut into cubes with a knife. 
  • If you don't have the same sized pan that she recommends, err on the size of using a larger pan. 

I really hope you make these sometime! They're fun to eat and inexpensive as far as gifts go. And the mess? Yeah, it makes a mess, but it's an easy mess to clean up.