Cacao Rose Chai

Makes 5 C

Cacao Rose Chai

Sometimes nothing is better than a cup of chai.  It’s warm, spicy, sweet, creamy.  The blend of the spices and tea and milk (in this case coconut milk) are like a warm blanket on a cold day.  With a cup of chai, you slow down and breathe.  Literally.  According to Ayurveda, most of the spices used in chai are sattvic, or calming.  Sattva also denotes clarity, understanding and light.  Not bad for a cup of tea.

Chai is like curry.  There are a million and one ways to make it and they will vary quite a bit depending on what region you’re in.  This is exciting for 2 reasons.  First, for purists, there’s nothing like finding a traditional version…and really, it is quite special.  Second, it leaves room for plenty of interpretation and experimentation.  These recipes are made for the rest of us to get creative, to tweak and play with until they resonate with us.

I took the 2nd route and while this chai has many (not all) of the traditional spices, I decided to play with the tea.  Purists, I believe, would choose a black tea like Assam or Ceylon.  I chose Dark Obsession Chocolate Rose.  It sounds too good to be tea, and I assure you it is, but it’s still tea.  I try not to think too much about the decadent contradiction and just enjoy it.  Sometimes the best things just can’t be explained.  This special blend comes from Marie Belle’s in NYC.  If you can, go there.  It’s a treat like no other.  (So are gifts from there=) )

As for the nutritional aspect of chai:

Cinnamon is one of the oldest spices in history with uses in the Middle East, China and the Mediterranean.  Not surprisingly, it enjoys a long list of medicinal properties as well.  Cinnamon is known to improve circulation, counter congestion and treat nausea.  It is also a stimulant and an analgesic.  Cinnamon also aids in the absorption of nutrients, so feel free to use this spice in your savory dishes, too!

Star Anise is popular in Chinese and Vietnamese cooking.  Medicinally, it’s commonly used to aid digestion, as a diuretic and for pain relief.  It also does wonders for coughs.

Clove is a particularly strong spice that is also a digestive aid and treats nausea.  Cloves have pain-relieving and antiseptic attributes.  “Clove is also used to synergistically increase the potency of other herbal blends.”¹

Black Peppercorn was once the most important spice in world trade.  It is commonly used to support circulation, stimulate the flow of energy² and improve metabolism.

Cardamom is special.  Rebecca Wood describes it as tasting like lemon zest and eucalyptus.  She also says that cardamom acts as an antidote to the stress caused by coffee on the adrenal glands, which in my opinion makes chai a great substitution…if that’s what you’re looking for.  In addition to being a digestive aid, easing coughs, congestion and breathlessness and benefiting the lungs, kidneys and heart, cardamom also makes you happy!

Black tea isn’t often considered for its health benefits, especially not next to its more famous relative, green tea.  Still, it has some health properties to boast such as; inhibiting tumor cells, being high in antioxidants and strengthening the immune system.

I encourage you to get creative with your own recipes.  Maybe you like more cloves or perhaps you’ll try a green tea chai?  If you’re feeling a bit under the weather, definitely add some fresh ginger.  Whatever you choose, I assure you that this cup of chai will get you to slow down and smell the roses.

Enjoy, friends!

You’ll need:

6 C water

10-12 cardamom pods

1 cinnamon stick

4-5 black peppercorns

1 star anise

3 whole cloves

2 T Dark Obsession Chocolate Rose

To make:

1. Bring water and all spices to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

2. Covered, let spices steep for 10 minutes.  Then, return to a boil and promptly remove from heat.

3. Add tea and let steep for 5-7 minutes

4. Strain and discard tea and spices.  Let tea cool to room temperature and then refrigerate.  Unless you’re having a cup immediately, then prepare as per instructions below, or to taste!

To serve:

1. While tea is settling, bring 3/4 C of milk (dairy or non-dairy) to a simmer and add to tea.

2. Add 2 T maple syrup or sweetener of choice.  (Optional-you could also add 1t vanilla extract.)

3. Serve in individual cups and ENJOY!

¹http://www.chai-tea.org/benefits.html

²Rebecca Wood, The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia

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Guinness Stew

Serves 4

guinness stew

Slow cooking does wonders for 2 things:  1. tougher cuts of meat* and 2. slowing YOU down.  December is certainly a merry and jolly month, but hidden in the merriment there can be found the stress of keeping it all together.  You know, the grab-bags, the after-work parties, the planning, the traveling, and, and, and.  We all forget to slow down and breathe until January rolls around and our resolutions are staring us in the face.  I’m convinced there are better ways to end the year…and to start another one.

Tough cuts of meat are also easily forgotten, if not completely ignored.  It takes too much time to turn them into the tender, tasty bites that is their inherent potential.  We’ve also gotten spoiled with more tender cuts.  Filet mignon, anyone?  Rib-eyes, NY Strip Steak…nope, I won’t say no to those, but to ignore eye-rounds, chuck roasts, short ribs, to name a few, would be a BIG mistake.  Good things take time and even in this day and age when everything goes so much faster than even yesterday, it still holds true.  Once in a while you’ve got to stop to smell the roses, or in our case, to stew a classic Guinness stew.

Braising is a combination of cooking techniques.  First, the meat (veggies can also be braised:) is seared on all sides.  It’s then cooked in liquid, about 1/2 way up the meat, usually covered, either stovetop or finished in the oven.  It’s an old school way of cooking and anytime my husband cooks a stew (or other braise) he always talks of a connection he feels to a long line of cooks before him, parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, all partaking in this careful but loving way to prepare a meal for your family.  It’s wonderful to feel connected and it’s wonderful to get that feeling from cooking, from preparing a meal and then sharing and eating it together.  It’s nourishing on every level.

By the way, the only thing classic about this Guinness Stew is that it’s become a classic in our home.  With these chilly days that have found us, I hope that you find this dish as warming and satisfying as we do.

*Most of you know this already, but just in case:  Whenever I cook or eat animal protein, I do so because it’s sourced from local farms that treat their animals with respect and kindness.  Cows graze on grasses and roam the fields, chickens hang out by the cows eating all kinds of things we’d rather not think about.  Still, it’s their native diet and what’s better for them is better for us.  No antibiotics or growth hormones, no chemicals or funky diets made out of whatever is cheapest and most readily available.  Happy, healthy animals that come from farms where the farmers love what they do…that’s where I get my meat from.  

You’ll need:

1 lb. eye round, cut in 1″ cubes, all fat trimmed and seasoned in sea salt and pepper (don’t be shy with the salt and pepper)

1 T organic canola oil

1 T extra-virgin olive oil

1 (largish) yellow onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 celery stalks, diced

6 sprigs fresh thyme

1 T spelt flour

1 T tomato paste (optional)

1 can Guinness

1 C vegetable stock (+ more depending on how things go!)

3-4 red potatoes, 1/2″ dice

2 carrots, 1/4″ rondelles (fancy way to say sliced ;))

1/2 C frozen peas

1 T red wine vinegar

2 T fresh parsley, finely chopped

Sea salt, to taste

To make:

(Preheat oven to 325°)

1. Heat canola oil in a heavy bottom sauce pan (Le Creuset dutch oven is amazing for this) over high heat and sear meat on all sides till nice and brown.  You may need to do this in batches and it will take 7-10 minutes per batch.  Resist the urge to move the meat around TOO much or too soon.  You’ll know when it’s time to roll them over!

2. Reserve the meat and juices in a bowl and set aside.

3. Add olive oil to pan over medium heat and then add onions, garlic, celery and thyme and a pinch of sea salt.  Cook for 4 minutes, stirring often.

4. Add tomato paste (if using) and flour and cook for 2-3 more minutes until it becomes like a fragrant paste.  Then add Guinness and stir.  Add 1 C of vegetable stock and let it come to a simmer.

5. Add meat and juices (can’t let all that flavor go to waste) and bay leaves and let it come to a simmer again.  Cover and place in the oven for 1 hour.  (You can either clean up a bit here or go and relax…you deserve it…and you’ll be back!)

6. After an hour has passed, add the potatoes and carrots and cook for another hour to hour and a half.  Check that the liquid is about 1/2 way up the meat and vegetables.  At this point it should start looking stew-y.

7. Place sauce pan/dutch oven on the stove and remove the bay leaves.  Add the frozen peas and red wine vinegar, cover and let sit for 10 minutes.

8. Top with fresh parsley when ready to serve.

9. Enjoy with sourdough bread, over noodles or rice or just on its own!