Tag Archives: Mint

Moroccan Mint Tea & A Cookie With Many Names

A cookie with many names…….Growing up in the Southwest, we called them Mexican wedding cookies – a melt in your mouth buttery, shortbread-like cookie with a sweet, nutty flavor.  They are also known as Russian Tea Cake, Italian Butter Nut, Southern Pecan Butterball, Snowdrop and Viennese Sugar Ball.  In the September 2012 issue of Food & Wine there is a version called walnut snowball cookies; it is just one of several recipes from two friends born in Jerusalem who are chefs and restaurant owners in London, and releasing a new cookbook inspired by their home country.  When I saw the beautifully photographed plate of cookies, I was inspired to get baking and indulge my sweet tooth!  My next thought was how wonderful our family recipe for Moroccan Mint Tea would be with this can’t-eat-just-one cookie.  I was also sold because the recipe uses some fresh vanilla bean, which always promises full vanilla flavor.  The hot, sweet mint tea proved to be the perfect pairing with the cookies.

The walnut snowball cookies tasted even better than I remembered (the vanilla bean really does make a flavor difference), and the recipe is easy to prepare.  I made a few modifications to the F&W recipe: increased oven temp by 25 degrees, added water in order to get dough to come together and used a hand-mixer instead of upright mixer (the first two were probably due to our high altitude and the low humidity) – the recipe below includes my changes.  I also reduced the recipe by half, for a yield of about 20 cookies.  Trust me; you’ll want extras of these addicting little cookies. In fact, this post was supposed to be for last week but we ended up eating most of the cookies (among other photo mishaps) before I got my main photograph!  The plate just didn’t look right with only 6 cookies on it, so I made up another batch the next day and got out the camera again.

My family’s beautiful Moroccan tea pot held countless glasses of mint tea when we were growing up; I am glad I ended with up with this heirloom!  We lived in Kenitra, Morocco (outside Rabat) for a few years in the early 1970’s while my father was stationed there with the Navy; as a young child, it was a cultural experience that opened my eyes in many ways.  We lived for a short time in the middle of the city, in a villa surrounded with high walls.  The large yard held a garden, including mint plants – it was in this garden where we discovered as kids how delicious the honeysuckle flower nectar tasted fresh off the vine.  For her Moroccan Mint Tea, I remember Mom snipping off several sprigs of mint, adding them to the tea pot filled with sugar and tea leaves, and then the fragrant aromas when the hot water was added.

It’s been a while since we made a pot of tea so I had to call Mom to get the official family recipe.  Loose black tea leaves (didn’t have any hand so I got permission to use a tea bag instead; gunpowder green tea also shown in picture with tea bag), sugar and whole mint sprigs are added to the tea pot and hot water is poured over it all.  The mixture steeps for 5 minutes and after a taste for sweetness, it is ready to enjoy.

The Moroccan Mint Tea and walnut snowball cookies will definitely be served together in our house again, and again.

Eat well and share the love!

Moroccan Mint Tea with Walnut Snowball Cookies   (print recipe)
Original Cookie Recipe: Sammi Tamimi and Yotam Ottolenghi
Cookie Recipe Adapted by: Melissa Schenker/Foodie for Two
Makes about 20 cookies (adapted recipe is halved from original; recipe can be doubled)

Moroccan Mint Tea
Serves 2, makes 3 cups

Ingredients:
1 tea bag (black tea) or 1 tablespoon loose black tea
3 whole mint sprigs
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sugar
3 cups steaming hot water

Directions:
Add the sugar to a tea pot or serving pitcher; add the mint sprigs and tea, and pour hot water over mixture. Stir a few times to dissolve the sugar and close the tea pot lid (or cover up pitcher). Let steep for 5 minutes. Serve hot; pour into glasses tableside.

Walnut Snowball Cookies
Ingredients:
¾ cup walnuts (3 ounces)
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
½ cup, plus 2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cold water

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a large, rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper. Spread the walnuts on the baking sheet and bake for about 8 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool, then coarsely chop.

Add the butter and vanilla to a large glass or stainless steel bowl. Using a hand-mixer beat the butter with the vanilla bean seeds at medium speed until pale, about 2 minutes. Add ½ cup of the confectioners’ sugar and beat at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula halfway through. At low speed, mix in the salt, then gradually add the flour, 2 teaspoons water and walnuts and beat just until the cookie dough comes together, scraping down the side of the bowl halfway through.

Roll level tablespoons of the dough into balls and arrange them on the prepared cookie sheets. Bake the cookies in the middle of the oven for about 17 minutes, until they are lightly browned on the bottom; rotate the cookie sheet halfway through baking. Let the cookies firm up on the sheets, about 5 minutes, then transfer them to a rack to cool slightly.

Put the remaining 2/3 cup of confectioners’ sugar in a small bowl. Roll the warm cookies in the sugar to coat and return to the rack to cool completely. Roll again in the sugar.

v  Make Ahead: The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 5 days.


A late-summer sale that I couldn’t resist: These zinnias are happy in the indirect sun and continue to bloom. They are a welcome sight to the almost spent flowers and changing colors of Fall around us.

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A Chilled Soup To Beat The Heat: Gazpacho

Here is another inspiration from our cruise a few weeks ago: Gazpacho, a delicious chilled soup that is refreshing and requires no cooking! Even at our 7,500 foot elevation, we have seen temperatures in the 90’s and the daytime temperature inside the house has reached 85 degrees! We don’t have air-conditioning so as soon as the sun wanes we open all our doors and windows to capture some of the cool air. This is the perfect recipe to help cool things off. Gazpacho hails from Spain and is made with uncooked tomatoes, cucumber, sweet onion, bell pepper, garlic and cilantro. Tomatoes are the star ingredient, a great use for the delicious summer bounty from your garden or farmer’s market. Out of season, my favorite go-to is the vine-ripened variety. This is a super easy recipe that can be made with many variations: for example, if you don’t have cherry tomatoes add some of your favorite Bloody Mary mix!

I like my gazpacho more pureed and smooth rather than chunky, and then I add a chopped vegetable garnish at the end for a little crunch.  And I like to peel the cucumbers because they make the soup darker, which you can see from the photo because I forgot to do that!  The garnish has scallions, radishes, habanero and mint, which adds a bright, fresh flavor. The soup also tastes better if made one or two days ahead of time because it allows the flavors to develop and mingle. Another delicious idea: serve the gazpacho in a shot glass for a mini appetizer – top it with some vegetable garnish and add some chopped, cooked shrimp or some diced avocado to finish it off.

If you want to go for a snazzy presentation to impress your honey (or guests), transfer the soup to a fancy pitcher, add one tablespoon of the garnish to the bottom of each cup or bowl and pour the gazpacho table-side.  You’ll look like a pro!

Eat well and share the love!

Gazpacho (print recipe)
Recipe: Melissa Schenker/Foodie for Two
Prep Time: 10 minutes; Refrigerate: 4 to 24 hours / Total cooking time: 24 hours
Makes about 2 cups

Ingredients:
Soup
10 medium vine-ripened tomatoes (Campari), or 3 large, good quality tomatoes
1 cup cherry tomatoes (about 15)
½ cucumber, peeled and chopped
¼ cup chopped sweet onion
3 baby bell peppers (or ½ of one red, yellow or orange bell pepper), seeds removed and chopped
½ small garlic clove
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1/8 teaspoon lime zest
½ cup cilantro leaves and stems
½ teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
¾ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
Garnish
2 tablespoons finely chopped scallion (about ¾ of a scallion)
1 radish, grated
1/8 to ¼ teaspoon finely diced habanero or jalapeno
3 tablespoons finely diced cucumber (peeled)
1 tablespoon mint, finely chopped
Pinch of salt and fresh cracked pepper
½ teaspoon extra virgin olive oil (plus extra for drizzle)

Directions:
Soup: Cut the tomatoes (except the cherry tomatoes) in half and remove the seeds and pulp with a spoon; discard seeds and pulp. Chop the tomatoes into large pieces.

Add all the soup ingredients to a food processor or blender and blend until smooth and finely chopped, about 1 minute.  If you like your soup more chunky, blend for less time.

Transfer soup to a bowl or large measuring cup and chill for at least 4 hours, or overnight. 
Gazpacho is best the next day; if possible make one day ahead to let the flavors develop fully.

Garnish: Add the scallions, radishes, habanero, cucumber, mint, salt, pepper and olive oil to a small bowl and mix well.

Assemble: Serve soup cold – In a small coffee cup or bowl add about 3/4 cup of soup, top with 1 tablespoon of garnish mixture and a small drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. 

A photo memory from the cruise a few weeks ago…..After the zipline in Jamaica, in Chakka Park and enjoying authentic Jerk chicken for lunch.  The male peacock, with his wings spread, tried his best to get the female’s attention while we watched from the picnic bench. 

Treat Yourself: Drink Lots of Water

I have been depriving myself for no good reason, that’s what I realized the other day.  Adding fruit to my water is something that’s usually reserved for summertime and I am declaring it should be a winter ritual as well.  It may seem ordinary to talk about drinking some water, but why not make it fun since we need 8 glasses for the recommended daily amount?   When we drink enough water we feel better, our skin looks more radiant and we are deeply nourished.  The simple act of adding some thinly sliced cucumber or even a lemon wedge to my water glass makes me happy.  It somehow feels like I am drinking something special and I usually go for refills.  A bonus: the fruit offers some minerals and vitamins and gives you a small nutritional boost.  For a simple treat, make a pitcher of water with sliced fruit – see my favorites below – and keep it in the refrigerator to quench your thirst all day long.  Or if you are hosting a party, set out a large pitcher along with plenty of glasses so your guests can help themselves.

Here are some favorite ways to dress up my water glass any time of the year.  For best flavor, give the citrus slices a gentle squeeze over the water and drop them in:

Cucumber:  Make the slices interesting by running a zester or vegetable peeler (cut 4 strips) about an inch down the sides before cutting.  (Actually a fruit – source of Potassium, Calcium, Iron, Zinc and Vitamins A, C, E & K)

Grapefruit: not your usual suspect for water – imparts a refreshing citrus flavor. (Source of Calcium, Iron, Potassium, Magnesium and Vitamins A, B6, C & E)

Orange & Lemon: Bright, citrus flavors – not to mention a beautiful combination of colors.   (Oranges – source of Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Potassium, Zinc and Vitamins A, B6 & C)

Lemon & Mint: a classic, refreshing combination – make the day of, if left overnight the lemons can become overpowering and tangy.  (Lemons – source of Potassium and Vitamins B6, C & E)

All nutritional information from USDA website – national nutrient database for standard reference

How do you make your water routine more interesting?

Eat well and share the love!


Trevi Fountain – Rome, Italy: A close up of the water surface, with coins at the bottom.

Memorial Day Dessert: Strawberry Granita with Whipped Cream

Next weekend is Memorial Day weekend – it’s time to start thinking about a menu and isn’t dessert the logical place to start?  We are always full after eating the barbecued and homemade treats during the weekend so I wanted to try something light and refreshing for dessert.  Strawberry Mint Granita with Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream is the perfect finish.  It is very simple to make with just a few steps.  Your freezer does most of the work which means you can spend more time outdoors having fun.  This is a surprisingly decadent combination.  When you add the whipped cream to the granita, the whipped cream’s texture becomes like a soft ice cream because it gets slightly frozen!  It’s almost like eating fresh strawberry ice cream but with lots more strawberry flavor.

There are only four ingredients that you’ll need for the Strawberry Mint Granita: water, sugar, strawberries and mint.  I let the strawberries soften in the warm syrup (see below) for about fifteen minutes on very low heat.  Then I puréed it in the blender and strained it through a fine sieve to remove any seeds and large pieces.  That was most of the work and the freezer did the rest.  The recipe is versatile because almost any of your favorite fruit can be used in place of strawberries.  Try experimenting with flavors, like blueberry/thyme, peach/basil or mango/orange.

Granita is just frozen flavored ice and similar to sorbet.  The fruit and simple syrup mixture is frozen in a shallow pan and scraped with a fork to form large ice crystals.  There are many recipe variations and flavors, and I decided to go with the original recipe in my head – make a simple syrup, add fresh fruit, purée, strain, freeze and scrape every few hours.  It was that easy.  I of course had to add a twist to the simple syrup and infuse it with mint.  It is super easy to make.  After lightly heating the water and sugar, I added two mint sprigs and lightly mashed them with the back of spoon to release the oils and then let it steep off the heat for about ten minutes.  The mint added another layer of flavor that was just a hint in the background, which I am so fond of. 

At first you may question whipped cream with granita.  I had seen a photo of a fruit granita with this combination and was intrigued about how it would taste.  I was so pleasantly surprised at how rich, creamy and decadent it makes every bite.  I love using fresh vanilla beans for cream dishes, not only for the authentic, fresh flavor they impart but also for the wonderful little black flecks they leave throughout.  The flecks are a wonderful visual reminder of the flavors yet to come.  I didn’t want the vanilla flavor to be too dominant in this recipe so I only used half the bean.  The fresh vanilla bean paste is perfect to use in fresh whipped cream because the pure flavor stands up to the rich, fluffy goodness. 

Here’s to many sweet treats for your Memorial Day Weekend!

Strawberry & Mint Granita with Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream
Recipe: Melissa Schenker/Foodie for Two
Serves two foodies, plus extras (makes about 3 cups granita)

Ingredients:
Mint-Infused Simple Syrup:
1 cup water
¾ cups sugar
2 mint sprigs
1 pound strawberries, stems removed and cut into thin slices
Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
Half of one vanilla bean
1 tablespoon sugar
Garnish:
Strawberry slices
Fresh mint

Directions:
Mint-Infused Simple Syrup:
Add water and sugar to a medium sauce pan over medium-low heat.  Stir to dissolve sugar.  When sugar is dissolved, turn off heat and add the whole sprigs of mint.  With the back of a spoon, lightly mash the mint leaves to release the oils.  Let steep for 10 minutes.  Return heat to medium-low and add the sliced strawberries.  Stir well and let steep for 15 minutes.

Remove the mint sprigs and transfer the mixture to a blender; purée mixture until smooth, about 30 seconds.  Pour through a fine sieve into a 13 x 9 glass dish.  Press most of the fruit through the sieve with the back of a spoon until just solids are left (be sure to also scrape the bottom of the sieve – where all the good stuff is) and stir to combine.

Cover dish with plastic wrap and freeze mixture for 6 to 8 hours, or overnight.  Scrape with a fork every few hours to form crystals (otherwise it will be a frozen block). 

Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream:
Add the whipped cream, vanilla bean paste and sugar to a large glass bowl and mix with a hand-mixer on low until soft peaks form, about 1 ½ minutes.  Cover and refrigerate if not using immediately.  Can be made one day ahead.

Assemble:
Place some granita in the bottom of a parfait glass and add a good dollop of whipped cream.  Add another scoop of granita and finish with a small dollop of whipped cream.  Garnish with a slice of strawberry and fresh mint.