Category Archives: Snacks

Homemade Chai Concentrate – the gift that reminds people why Starbucks is unneccesary.

Amazing, easy, and guaranteed to please...what else can you ask for in a tea?

I have a friend who has love/hate relationships with the Chai drinks she buys in coffeehouses.   She loves it when a place gets it exactly right; all the best flavors come out, not too heavy on the sugar, and the milk doesn’t wreck her stomach.  But there have been so many times she has seen the dark side of Chai…the pre-fab powder based mixes, the scorched milk, the weak and the sad Chais.  I want you to be exotic, comforting, balanced she thinks at the coffeehouse counter… but sadly, her purchase has not ended the way she had hoped.   Now that I have ingested 16 ounces of you, I can see that you are going to be twisting my guts in a few short minutes, she sighs.

And we can’t forget the fundamental problem of huge gaps between one retailer to another.  You like strong peppery flavors?  Too bad!  This place specializes in weak brown water that’s also intensly sweet!  You want to taste all the flavors of the anise, the cardamom, the nutmeg?  Nope!  Sorry!  Cinnamon is the only flavor that matters here, bub.  This one’s going to make sure you taste the hell out of that cinnamon.

I mean, I know they’re all close, and they’re all passable (mostly), but why do we need to play roulette with our drink purchases, hoping that maybe, maybe, this one will come out a winner?  There’s no reason, I say, when we can make them at home for ourselves and the people we want to save from this chai purgatory.  We can make them exactly the way we deserve to have them made.  Peppery?  You got it.  Strong orange notes with a follow up of ginger?  I’m on it.  Heavy on the cloves, easy on the sugar?  Not a problem at all, compadre.  Got a problem with lactose?  Hey!  Try your fantastic homemade Chai in unsweetened rice milk, almond milk, or soy milk at home!

So with that being said, this recipe is a guideline to be tinkered with and refined as you try it out a few times to pinpoint the parts that make you really happy.  It’s a great recipe, for sure, and versions of it can be found on Pinterest, all over the blogosphere, and the gazillion recipe finders around.  I started with recipes I found here and here, and then modified a few things as I went along.

Chai Concentrate

4 1/2 cups water
9 bags of black tea  ( I know. 9?  I couldn’t decide between 8 and 10, so…)
3 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 inches fresh ginger, cut into thin coins
10 whole cloves
10 cardamom pods
1/2 tsp fresh nutmeg
3 star anise
1 tsp ground pepper (or whole peppercorns)
1 tsp orange zest
1 Tb vanilla extract
1 Tb honey (if desired for more sweetness)

Getting to use star anise in a recipe was reason enough to make this mix. Their cuteness can not be overstated.


In a medium saucepan, boil the water and sugar.  While you are waiting for the water to boil, take all of your teabags and tie the strings together into a knot, cutting off any paper tags.   Bring the boiling down to a simmer, and add all of the other ingredients except for the extract and the honey – it’s better if they don’t get too hot.

Let the ingredients simmer on low for 20 minutes, then pass through a fine strainer and into a bowl to cool.  If you don’t have a fine strainer, you can wrap all the ingredients (except the teabags and the cinnamon sticks) in a bit of cheesecloth and then just pluck the little package out once the simmering is over.

Once the mix has cooled, it will fit very nicely into a  quart mason jar and can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a week, ready to make you happy that you went out there and found whole cardamom in the bulk spice section of the store.

To Serve:

Mix one part concentrate to one part milk, to half and half, or to my favorite – unsweetened almond milk 🙂  It is really nice served cold with ice, but as I am living in Minnesota in December, piping hot with a little crunchy treat nearby is my way to go.  And according to responses on the blog Tasty Yummies, I’m hearing that people are reducing the concentrate down and using it in really cool ways on desserts and in their baking!  I fully encourage this in others, I just know I won’t be adding any extra tasks onto myself until these holidays are over.  So have fun!  Explore!  And report back.


Gluten Free Pumpkin Cornbread

I woke up this morning knowing that I was going to make chili.

I’ve been having this bug to make chili using adobo chipotle peppers, veggies and squash…but that’s a different post.  The point of this post is: where there’s chili, there should be some cornbread!  And as an extra plus for me, cornbread is one of those things that is pretty easily converted into a GF version.  I sign up for blog email updates just like everyone else, and as I was checking my email this morning I saw an update from Jules Gluten Free blog about all of her great recipes using pumpkin as the main ingredient.  Having just taken the whole family to our favorite pumpkin patch recently, I was in a cooking-with-pumpkin state of mind, and I checked out her email.  There were all sorts of recipes she had worked out for using pumpkin, from pumpkin muffins to pumpkin pancakes, and there at the bottom of her list was pumpkin cornbread.  I knew right away that I had found the match for my spicy, smoky chipotle chili. Continue reading Gluten Free Pumpkin Cornbread

Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips

Banana bread has always been one of those all-time homey comfort foods for me (as it is, I’m sure, for most people).  Give me a fresh cup of coffee and a still-warm slice, and I’m in a happy place.  But there came a time, about a year ago, when banana bread became something more sinister…a treat that was only to be eaten if I felt like I was due for some massive tummy pain and nausea, resulting in me cursing the day I ever let a crumb of it pass over my lips. Continue reading Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips

Autumn Apple Zucchini Muffins

I recently was given the gift of a gigantic bag of apples picked fresh from my co-workers apple tree.  And when I say gigantic, I mean a HUGE BAG of apples (when my co-worker brought them to me at work, he called ahead to ask me to open the trunk of my car – it took both of us to heft the bag in).  So I have some apple to get through!  And since I still have a decent supply of zucchini from the end of summer harvest, these wonderful little muffins seemed the perfect solution.

I have always thought of myself as more of a cook than a baker, making sauces and soups made easy sense to me in a way that the mathematics of baking and dessert making never did.   This is not a great lead-up to a muffin recipe, I realize, but I want to give some perspective so that you can understand how thrilled, delighted and amazed I was at how great these muffins really are.  They are soft and moist, neither too dense or too dry, and have a great balance of fruit to crumb texture.  They have enough good stuff in them to not feel bad about eating more than one, and yet the crunchy sugar topping makes it feel like a treat!  I love them, and best of all, my kids love them (even my husband – who is not a fan of baked-fruit desserts said he liked them).

I made them using a gluten free flour blend and xanthan gum, but you could certainly use regular all purpose flour in the same amount.  I also made a large batch of them, it seems like a time effective way to bake, and it is easy to freeze the extras to enjoy later.

I hope you love them as much as I do!  Your house is going to smell amazing.

Apple Zucchini Muffins with Raisins
Makes approximately 30 muffins

For the muffins:
1/2 cup butter, room temp
2 1/2 cup sugar (equal parts white and brown sugars)
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 eggs
1 tsp salt
4 cups flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Blend)
1 tsp xanthan gum (only needed if using GF flour)
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 Tb cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
3 Tb milled flax seed
1/2 cup applesauce
1/4 cup milk (I used almond milk, but any kind is fine)
1/4 cup vanilla yogurt
1 medium zucchini, grated
2 medium apples or 3 small apples, cored and grated
1/2 cup raisins

For the sugar topping:
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
3 Tb flour
2 Tb butter, cut into chunks
3 Tb oats

How to:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and get out your muffin pans and muffin liners.
  2. After grating the zucchini, you’re going to want to get the extra liquid out of it before they go into the muffins.  To do this, take the grated zucchini and put it in a strainer.  Sprinkle liberally with salt (don’t worry, we’re going to wash it off!) and let it drain while you are working on the rest of the recipe – about 15 minutes.
  3. In a stand mixer cream the butter and sugar with a whisk attachment.  Add the eggs one at a time until fully incorporated.  Add the vanilla and be sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl so that everything is well blended.
  4. In another large bowl combine all the dry ingredients (salt through flax) and stir well using a dry whisk.  With the stand mixer on low, add the dry to the wet slowly, until mostly incorporated – it does not have to be smooth.  Try not to over beat!
  5. With the mixer on low, add applesauce, yogurt and milk.  Go to your strainer, and rinse the salt off your zucchini and then squeeze all of the liquid you can out of it and toss it into the batter.  Add the apples and raisins.  Blend until just combined, then turn off the mixer and give the batter a couple of stirs with a spoon, being sure to get to the bottom of the bowl.
  6. For the topping, combine all ingredients into a small bowl and mash together with a fork.  This is a very flexible topping, so if you like more oats or more cinnamon, add what you like!
  7. Fill each muffin cup about 3/4 full and top with a pinch of the topping (press on slightly).  Bake for approximately 25 minutes, and rotate your pans halfway through the baking to ensure equal doneness.
  8. Once they are done, take them out and let them cool for 10 minutes and then dig in.

This Salsa is the Rooster’s Beak

Salsa may not be a thing of great consequence, but when you use a great recipe that you love making and everyone loves eating, it settles that one little area of life for you.   No more random store-bought stuff, no more hoping a recipe you found somewhere will work.  This one is it for me, I’m good.

Happiness in a bowl...

In the past when I’ve been in a pinch, I’ve tried choosing a salsa in the grocery store.  And although I’m sure there is a place somewhere that sells something fantastic, I haven’t had much luck yet.  I don’t know about you, but I find the gigantic selection of salsas at grocery stores both overwhelming and disappointing.  I see them all towering there in front of me as I pace back and forth, as though one is going to stop me and say “Look. You don’t need to go back to those jars down there.  That guy over there?  He’s watered down and pasty.  See that one?  He’s so full of sugar and vinegar that he might as well be made out of just tomatoes.  They suck.  I’m the one you want.”.  But as the jars haven’t started talking to me (yet), I stand there, sigh, and finally pick one at the intersection of Costs too Much and Looks Organic.

Being a person who loves veggies and who likes to cook, this is my solution to the salsa shopping dilemma.  This recipe is fresh, it’s chunky and it’s full of great flavors that make salsa worth eating.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Salsa Fresca – Makes approx. 4 cups

3-4 tomatoes, cut in half and squeezed of their juices

1 large green pepper, finely diced

1 jalapeno, seeded and minced (if you like heat, leave some of the seeds intact)

1 red onion, finely diced

1 avocado, pitted and small dice

1/2 c corn (fresh if possible, or frozen)

1/2 cooked beans of your choice (I used adzuki, but any bean will do!)

1/2 Tb salt

Freshly ground pepper

2 garlic cloves, minced (or 1 tsp garlic powder)

1 tsp chili powder

2 Tb cumin

1 Tb lime juice

1 Tb vinegar

2 tsp sugar

2 Tb olive oil

1/2 cup plain greek yogurt or sour cream, lowfat if possible


This recipe is very simple to assemble, there are just a few tips that will make your final product really great:

  1. Prep all your veggies except your avocado.  They brown quickly, and this is one ingredient you are going to add just as you are about to serve it.
  2. Combine everything in a large mixing bowl except the yogurt, avocado and olive oil and let the mixture rest in your fridge for 3-8 hours.  The salt that was added is going to bring out the natural veggie  juices like the dickens, and this way you can just pour them off before you add the rest of your ingredients.
  3. After the fridge/de-liquiding time is over, stir the veggies around and give them a taste.  Some of the seasonings or salt may have been absorbed or poured off when you got rid of the excess juices, you can add more now if needed.
  4. Take 1/2 cup of the mixture and the olive oil and add it to a food processor or blender.  It does not have to be totally smooth, but you are looking to decrease the chunkiness of it.  Add this now smoothed-out mix and your yogurt to the mixing bowl and give it all a nice stir.  Retaste, adjust your seasonings as needed.
  5. Add your diced avocado, and you are ready for business!

There’s not much I don’t love this on: scrambled eggs, my brown rice, pan-fried fish, even cottage cheese.  And of course, chips!

I was wandering around Wikipedia today,  I thought I’d search under salsa and see if there were more things to learn.  It turns out, there were!  I found out a valuable lesson: there are salsa people, and then there are pico de gallo people.  I am a pico de gallo person.

I’ve always called this recipe salsa (and I guess really it is salsa fresca), but I think technically I should be calling it a pico de gallo.  According to those who know, salsa is supposed to be more of a sauce: Salsa Roja (red sauce), Salsa Verde (green sauce), Salsa Negra (yep,you guessed it, black sauce).   And although I’ve had some great salsas like this in restaurants around town, I don’t really want to make it at home.  I enjoy the texture and taste of fresh un-blended ingredients;  I like to see a whole melange of things going on in my salsa as opposed to the texture of the red-liquid type that sits soupily in its bowl, just waiting to fall onto my white t-shirt as it makes the trip to my mouth.

I also learned that Pico de Gallo literally means the “rooster’s beak”.  Nifty little fact!  And since I know you are dying to learn how such a tasty condiment would get that strange name, I’m going to share my new knowledge with you! 

“One of the sources for the name “rooster’s beak” could be the beak-like shape and the red color of the chilis used to make it. According to food writer Sharon Tyler Herbst, it is so called because originally it was eaten with the thumb and forefinger, and retrieving and eating the condiment resembled the actions of a pecking rooster.

Another suggested etymology is that pico is derived from the verb picar, which has two meanings: 1) to mince or chop, and 2) to bite, sting or peck. The rooster, gallo in Spanish, is a common metaphor for the hyper-masculine (“macho”) male in Mexican culture. One example of such machismo is taking pride in withstanding the spicy burn of chilis.”

Thanks, Wikipedia!  Learning is fun.

Use Your Melon! A no-mess guide to cleaning and prepping

For some people, cleaning fruit is no big thing.  They have a way they’ve always done it, they’re happy with what they do, and they’ve manged to make it through life just fine, thank you very much!  For others…cleaning fruit – especially melons and pineapple, and ESPECIALLY in front of other people, can become an exercise in risk management and self-image damage control.

When I was working my way through culinary school, I had a part-time job in the morning prepping food for a cafeteria that fed hundreds of people during the lunch hour.  I worked my way through all of the different culinary stations eventually, but the one that every single cook had to start at first was the salad bar.  Working the salad bar is a difficult job with very little in the way of public adoration; the total opposite of say, the saute Continue reading Use Your Melon! A no-mess guide to cleaning and prepping