{Tazo Cookoff} Vanilla Rooibos Quinoa Pudding with Cherry & Pistachio

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Fate smiled down on me last week when I opened the box containing the mystery ingredient for week two of the Tazo Cookoff. I had been dreaming of a tea enriched breakfast appropriate rice pudding for months. When I was first asked to participate in this challenge I knew I finally had an excuse to actually make it. But I wanted to step things up for this challenge so I decided that instead of using rice I would use quinoa. I crossed my fingers and hoped that one of the mystery ingredients would work in this dish.
Imagine my delight when I opened he week two box only to find a jar of organic red quinoa waiting to take pat in some culinary magic. My quinoa pudding was meant to be.

I used boxed vanilla rooibos latte concentrate for this recipe because cooking with a product clearly meant for drinking (even more than tea in general) seemed fun. Plus it meant that I didn’t need to add any additional sugar or spices (the concentrate is slightly sweetened and contains vanilla and cinnamon). Complete with toppings, this recipe contains a grand total of six ingredients. You can’t get much simpler than that!


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The quinoa gives this pudding a nutty flavor and a coarse texture — it lacks the creamy starchiness or rice pudding and reminds me more of steel cut oats. The flavor of the tea is very prominent and combined with the sweetness of the cherries and the crunch of the pistachios, it makes a great breakfast or a filling snack.

Also, vanilla rooibos lattes? Totally my new favorite drink. Warm and creamy, with a slightly floral this drink reminds me of the perfect rainy day. The kind where you have nothing better to do than sit in your yoga pants, drink tea, and curl up with a book while the rain softly pitter patters outside the window.

A few tips for making this pudding:
   
  1. Make sure to rinse the quinoa well. Until the water runs clear. This will prevent it from being bitter.
  2. Ignore the directions on the back of the box of concentrate. If you look at the box, you’ll be tempted to use more concentrate than this recipe calls for. That would be a huge mistake. Even though you start with a cup and a half of milk, it reduces down to form the pudding and you’ll only end up with about a quarter cup of milk in the final dish. If you use too much concentrate the ratios will be way off and your pudding will be far too sweet.

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Click to continue reading Vanilla Rooibos Quinoa Pudding with Cherry & Pistachio and for a change to win a great Tazo gift pack –>

Zucchini and Summer Squash Gratin with Herbs de Provence

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Yesterday – August 8 – was “National Sneak Some Zucchini onto Your Neighbors Porch Day.” It sounds like a joke, but think about it. If you have a garden (or know someone who has a garden) chances are you’ve been up to your ears in zucchini and summer squash for a few weeks already. You might be sick of them. And looking for an excuse to sneak some on an innocent neighbor under cover of night. But this gratin might just rekindle your love of the ubiquitous summertime vegetable.

As delicious as my tea-smoked salmon with lavender and honey glaze was (Have you seen it yet? Entered to win some tea?), this gratin held its own. Served together, dinner was an event. I half expected fireworks to go off as I finished my plate. The squash bakes in their own juices until they are soft and delicate. The tomatoes begin to dry from the heat of the oven, leaving them sweet and intensely flavored. The sharp Parmesan and crisp breadcrumbs lend classic comfort. And then, there’s the unexpected. Instead of using italian seasonings, you take a little detour through the south of France thanks to fresh thyme and herbs de Provence (a mixture of savory, fennel, basil, thyme, and lavender).

Sure you may be reluctant to turn your oven on in the height of August. Wait for a rainy day if you must. But I wouldn’t wait. Really, it’s already so hot that having the oven on doesn’t seen to make it any worse. And even if it does, it’s totally worth it.

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{Tazo Cookoff} Tea-Smoked Salmon with Honey & Lavender Glaze

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I’ve been in something of a cooking rut lately, struggling to find inspiration and ideas for new dishes. Apparently all l needed in order to get back in the groove of things was a good challenge! When I received an invitation to take part in the Tazo Cook-Off, I almost declined. Somehow, in the bat of an eye, my schedule for August has filled up and I couldn’t imagine how I would find time to participate in a challenge that would require me to come up with three new recipes over the course of three weeks, each involving both tea and a mystery ingredient that would be disclosed to me the cook-off progressed.

But, if you know me you know I love a good culinary challenge — of course I ended up saying yes! And boy am I glad I did, because I never would have thought to create this amazing tea-smoked salmon with honey & lavender glaze otherwise. And that would be sad, because this recipe is so good that you should just go ahead and cancel whatever dinner plans you have for tomorrow and make this instead. (And if that’s not enough to get you to keep reading this post, what if I told you there’s a fantastic giveaway opportunity if you keep reading?)

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So I spent the past week thinking about all of the great things that I could make with tea, when a package arrived for me on Monday with my first mystery ingredient. Lavender. Right. There go those ideas! I have to admit, I was a little stumped. I was stuck on the idea of shortbread cookies for a while, but that just seemed so obvious. No, I was determined to go savory with this dish. And I began to think about salmon.

The most recent issue of Fine Cooking had an article on tea-smoking that had intrigued me, and this seemed like the perfect time to try it out. I played around with flavors and technique until I came up with the recipe you see here. Which is incredible. The flavors of the teas — orange, cloves, star anise, cinnamon — permeate the salmon and give it an amazing flavor. The honey and lavender give it a floral sweetness that just works. And smoking it gives it the most amazing texture — silky and smooth, yet still flakey and fully cooked. I’ve really never had anything like it before, but this is definitely a technique that I’ll be using again and again.

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Click to continue reading Tea-Smoked Salmon with Honey & Lavender Glaze –>

Baked Crab and Corn Empanadas with Roasted Poblano Sauce

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I’ve been really into fruit salsas this summer and when the hot, steamy weather last week left me craving watermelon, I decided to make a Latin American style meal featuring light and fresh summer flavors. These crab and corn empanadas were a huge hit! The crust was crispy and flakey and, while the flavor of the filling was unexpected, it just worked. The smokey and complex flavor of the poblano sauce paired perfectly with the rest of the meal – I based it off the enchilada sauce that I made for my pork and pineapple stacked enchilada and I was a little worried that it wouldn’t be good without being baked with cheese, but it definitely held its own in this dish. The pool of sauce under the empanada made for a gorgeous plate and I wouldn’t hesitate to serve this to guests. Actually, it would make a perfect dinner party dish, since the prep work is very quick and can be done ahead of time.

The empanadas were also great left over! I think they may have even gotten better after spending the night in the fridge. To reheat them, I just popped the in the toaster oven on “light” for 2 minutes – just enough to crisp up the outside and warm them through.  

I served these with sauteed plantains and watermelon salsa (watermelon, red onion, jalapeno, lime juice, and salt). The meal was light and refreshing. If you want a more substantial dinner, they would also be great with a side of black beans.

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