Tag Archives: Sugar

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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Day 40: Homemade Limoncello for the Holidays

Can you believe we are already at the 40-day mark of the Homemade Limoncello making process?  Today I added some simple syrup (see note below) and more vodka, and then it will sit for another 40 days.  My post for Day 1 was on August 16th, and the lemon peels and 100-proof vodka have since been happily mingling inside a gallon jar. I was excited about the Day 1 post not only because I was able to share a recipe that my Mom has fostered for many years, but the chef who created the recipe, Joanne Weir, read AND commented on my post! Needless to say, I was thrilled that one of my favorite chefs took the time to acknowledge my blog.  In case you missed Day 1, limoncello is enjoyed after dinner and served ice cold – it has a strong, bright lemon flavor steeped in smooth vodka.  It’s an honor to be offered a glass of someone’s homemade limoncello – a sign that you are a welcome guest who will be invited back again.

Note: You probably noticed that my limoncello has an amber color; that’s from the type of sugar I used, which is organic and has a blonde color to it.  The flavor isn’t affected, but it doesn’t produce the golden, clear color you are looking for in limoncello; I would therefore recommend using a white sugar for the proper color.  Every day is a learning experience in the kitchen!  The perfectionist in me is reeling from this silly mistake, but I must move on.

I have again included Joanne Weir’s recipe below, but here is another quick break-down of the 80-day process:

Day 1: August 16, 2012
Add lemon peels and vodka to a covered jar, let sit for 40 days in a cool, dark place

Save the lemon juice for later use; after peeling, cut the lemons in half and juice, pour juice into ice cube tray, freeze and store cubes in freezer bag or container.
Yields about 12 ice cubes; one regular ice cube = 2 tablespoons

Need some ideas for using fresh lemon juice ice cubes? Add to water pitcher for instant flavor, add to sauces, or defrost and use when baking or making vinaigrettes.

Day 40: September 24, 2012
Add simple syrup and more vodka to jar, let sit again for 40 days in a cool, dark place

Day 80: November 3, 2012
Strain, pour into clean bottles and keep in freezer (yields 3 quarts/12 cups)

Good News: If you haven’t started your Limoncello for the Holidays, it’s not too late.

In November, I’ll share the final product with you, when our limoncello will be ready to drink – just in time for David’s birthday, too! Are you planning to give some limoncello as gifts? Stay tuned – I’ll also share some resources for decorative bottles.

Eat well and share the love!

Homemade Limoncello, by Joanne Weir (print recipe)
Limoncello must steep for 80 days
Yields 3 quarts

Ingredients:
15 thick-skinned lemons
2 750-ml bottles 100-proof vodka
4 cups sugar

5 cups water

Directions:
Day 1: Wash the lemons well with a vegetable brush and hot water; pat dry. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the peel from the lemon in long, wide strips. Scrape away any of the bitter white pith from the lemon peel with a paring knife.

Combine the lemon peels and one of the bottles of vodka in a large (at least 4 quarts) glass jar with a lid. Cover the jar and store it at room temperature in a dark cabinet or cupboard for 40 days. As the vodka sits, it will slowly take on the bright yellow color of the lemon zest.

Day 40: In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar with 5 cups of water. Bring to a boil over high heat and let the syrup boil for 5 minutes. Let the syrup cool, then add it to the limoncello mixture, along with the remaining bottle of vodka. Cover the jar and return it to the cupboard for another 40 days.

Day 80: Strain the limoncello into bottles and discard the lemon zest.

A nice surprise………..Last week I discovered an aspen tree sapling has rooted itself in my flower pot! I have always wanted my own aspen grove (I love the sound when the leaves rustle in the breeze) but never planted any in our yard. Perhaps now we can.

Homemade Limoncello For The Holidays

I know it’s only mid-August but now is the time to start planning for some Holiday sipping and gifts with Homemade Limoncello. Yes, that’s right, I mentioned the word Holiday!  This recipe is from one of my favorite chefs, Joanne Weir – it was her cooking class in Tucson that introduced me to the finer points of food, and started me on this path. Her limoncello recipe was featured in Fine Cooking magazine (March, 1997) and is still a winner today.  Limoncello comes to us from the Amalfi Coast in Southern Italy and is served ice cold as an after dinner drink or aperitif.  The color comes from lemon peels and the flavor is pure lemon steeped in smooth alcohol.  It’s a special treat to be offered a sip of someone’s homemade limoncello after a meal.  Mom makes this recipe often and thankfully she shares her bounty with us, complete with handwritten labels for a personal touch.  The recipe is super simple to make with only 4 ingredients: Lemon peel, good quality 100-proof vodka, sugar and water (simple syrup).  But you will need to wait for 80 days to let the flavors steep, that’s why you need to plan – or at least start thinking about it – now.

You’ll also need a 4-quart/gallon glass container with a lid for this homemade limoncello recipe. Joanne Weir’s recipe is listed below, but here is a quick break-down of the 80-day process:

Day 1: August 16, 2012
Add lemon peels and vodka to a covered jar, let sit for 40 days in a cool, dark place
(Save the juice for later use: after peeling, juice the lemons, transfer juice to ice cube tray, freeze and store cubes in freezer bag or container)

Day 40: September 24, 2012
Add simple syrup and more vodka to jar, let sit again for 40 days in a cool, dark place

Day 80: November 3, 2012
Strain, pour into clean bottles and keep in freezer (yields 3 quarts/12 cups)

I will share my progress with you around the 40-day mark, and remind you that there still may be time to make a batch for the Holidays!   

For a vacation-inspiring post about limoncello, read this Rick Steves’ Europe article; the author’s closing paragraph sums up limoncello with finesse: “Take a sip of limoncello. Smell the aroma of the lemon and see the vibrant color in your glass. Close your eyes and you will be transported back to Italy. Hear the rustling of the leaves of the lemon trees as the breeze comes in from the Bay of Naples. Feel the warmth of the sun on your skin. Take another taste and feel the cold liqueur cool your taste buds. Remember how it was such a welcoming finale to your Italian meal. As you drink in the memories and drink in the liqueur, you will find yourself dreaming of your next sojourn to Italy.”

Eat well and share the love!

Homemade Limoncello, by Joanne Weir
Limoncello must steep for 80 days
Yields 3 quarts

Ingredients:
15 thick-skinned lemons
2 750-ml bottles 100-proof vodka
4 cups sugar

5 cups water

Directions:
Day 1: Wash the lemons well with a vegetable brush and hot water; pat dry. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the peel from the lemon in long, wide strips. Scrape away any of the bitter white pith from the lemon peel with a paring knife.

Combine the lemon peels and one of the bottles of vodka in a large (at least 4 quarts) glass jar with a lid. Cover the jar and store it at room temperature in a dark cabinet or cupboard for 40 days. As the vodka sits, it will slowly take on the bright yellow color of the lemon zest.

Day 40: In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar with 5 cups of water. Bring to a boil over high heat and let the syrup boil for 5 minutes. Let the syrup cool, then add it to the limoncello mixture, along with the remaining bottle of vodka. Cover the jar and return it to the cupboard for another 40 days.

Day 80: Strain the limoncello into bottles and discard the lemon zest.

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A note of remembrance: Yesterday would have been Julia’s Child’s 100th birthday, a pioneer in the culinary field. She left her mark on the world with her groundbreaking talents, passion for enjoying and understanding food, by introducing (and demystifying) French cooking techniques to Americans, and with her cookbooks and TV shows. Now that’s a woman I would have loved to share a dinner table with! Here is a funny, endearing re-mix music video that PBS put together in her honor: