Keep Mint Contained…Always

Escaped mint...seeded outside the pot into the lower least it smells good :-)

Escaped mint…seeded outside the pot into the lower garden…at least it smells good ūüôā

In walking our backyard this week, was excited to see so many sprouts and buds bursting out from everywhere…except for my mint …

Mint is a wonderful herb to have growing in your yard.  I love it in iced tea.  Gives it a nice lift.   Adding a  teeny bit of minced mint to creamed cheese and cucumber sandwiches is wonderful.  Makes the sandwich even more refreshing.

While mint is easy to grow, never plant mint in the ground unless your goal is to have your garden literally over run with it’s glorious fragrance… here’s why…a couple years ago, I inadvertantly let some mint I had planted in a pot root “outside” this pot…here it is now “free wheeling” in my yard. ¬† Time to get my gloves on and start yanking out this before it really takes hold.

Just a tiny bit of mint is also intriguing in a spring salad of asparagus, cucumbers, snap peas, watercress, lemon juice, olive oil and minced mint (two or three leaves).

Here is an open-faced version of my cucumber, mint tea sandwich.

Cucumber sandwiches pair well with a Darjeeling tea or a white tea.

My mint...contained

My mint…contained

Open-faced, cucumber mint & creamed cheese sandwich

Open-faced, cucumber mint & creamed cheese sandwich – used a mandolin to slice cukes so thin

Quality Ingredient of the Week … Bay Laurel Leaves

I just love to watch the Academy Awards (Oscar) Show. ¬†It’s pretty much my favorite show of the year (that and the Master’s Golf Tournament.) ¬†It’s the primary reason I wanted a larger, newer, HD flat screen television. ¬†So….when I realized that we were away from home when the Oscars were on, I was a bit disappointed (bummed out actually). ¬†We were in the Napa Valley, in the small town of Yountville, the week the show was on…we recorded it so I could watch it when back home (not the same at all!) ¬†But that was the plan after I got over my tantrum about missing the live show.

The morning after the Oscars, we were walking around town, went to lunch, visited a few shops – there was a “buzz” going on about the show from the locals asking, “hey, did you see the AMEX commercial? ¬†Did you see Thomas Keller? It was beautiful. Our little town was on the Oscars.” ¬† When I got home, instead of watching the show to see who won (as I couldn’t wait and read and watched everything about it online while away)…I scanned through it to find the Thomas Keller commercial, which was about 2 1/2 hours ¬†into the show. ¬†It was beautiful. ¬†What struck me was the start where he is planting a bay laurel seedling in the backyard of his famed French Laundry Restaurant … then the end of the commercial shows how it has grown and he states he uses those leaves in all his restaurants. It brought to mind “Betty’s” ¬†Bay Laurel…which is now mine…it’s been thriving in my yard in a large pot for over 10 years now. ¬† I inherited it from my mom when she passed and I just love going out to snag a few leaves whenever I’m making pasta sauce, soups, or braising anything. ¬†My family grew up knowing the bay leaf as our primary aromatic spice…it’s in our taste memory now.

When talking to a friend about the bay leaf last week, she said she uses it when a recipe calls for it but doesn’t really know what it tastes like and how a recipe would be different without it. ¬†So…thought I’d research my favorite spice and share the info with you here…along with a photo of the nicest little bay laurel tree on our patio…we grow it in a pot and keep it contained to a manageable size.

History:¬†The bay laurel tree has been cultivated since the beginning of recorded history; it originated in Asia Minor, and spread to the Mediterranean and other countries with suitable climates. Guess that’s why we use so much of it (due to our Mediterranean background.)

The laurel tree from which the bay leaf comes was very important both symbolically and literally in both Greece and Rome. The laurel can be found as a central component found in many ancient mythologies that glorify the tree as a symbol of honor. Bay leaves are one of the most widely used culinary herbs in Europe and North America. In the Elizabethan era, some people believed pinning bay leaves to one’s pillow on the eve of ¬†St. Valentine’s Day¬†would permit one to see one’s future spouse in a dream. ¬†(if any one of you try this and it works, let us know in the comment section ūüôā )

Uses: They are used in soups, stews, meat, seafood and vegetable dishes. The leaves also flavor many classic French dishes. The leaves are most often used whole (sometimes in a bouquet garni) and removed before serving (they can be abrasive in the digestive tract).

The plant is the source of several popular spices¬†used in a wide variety of recipes, particularly among Mediterranean cuisines. Most commonly, the aromatic leaves are used, fresh or dried. For cooking purposes, whole bay leaves have a long shelf life¬†of about one year, under normal temperature and humidity. Bay leaves are used almost exclusively as flavour agents during the food preparation stage. ¬†They are typically removed from dishes before serving…you wouldn’t want to eat one.

I use the bay leaf in some of the soup recipes in my tea book.  The subtle aromatic flavor exuded adds a layer of complexity to the taste of soup that is just delicious.
My small Laurel Bay Leaf Tree...inherited from my mom...growing nicely in a pot

My small Laurel Bay Leaf Tree…inherited from my mom…growing nicely in a pot

Makes 5 one cup servings or 10 servings in shot glasses or demitasse cups

PREP TIME:  15 minutes TOTAL TIME:  1 hour (includes cooking and cooling time)

1 (15 ounce can) of white beans, drained

3 cups chicken stock or broth

1 clove of minced garlic

1 tablespoon good quality olive oil

¬Ĺ medium onion, chopped

1 bay leaf

1 medium sprig of rosemary plus 1 to 2 teaspoons of chopped rosemary.  Reserve for topping finished soup.

In a medium to large stockpot over medium heat, sauté the chopped onion with the olive oil until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes.  Do not brown the onion.  Reduce the heat and add the minced garlic; sauté another couple of minutes.

Add the beans, sprig of rosemary, and chicken stock. Cover, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer for approximately 30 minutes.  Remove the rosemary.

Let the soup cool for 10 to 15 minutes, then purée in a blender in batches or purée with an immersion blender right in the stockpot.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Add a bit of chopped rosemary to the top if you desire.

Serve in demitasse or tea cups, or other interesting glass for a nice-sized portion to go with the rest of your tea menu.

This soup pairs well with the savory scones or Irish soda bread.

This Week’s Culinary Class – Menu Planning

I had the pleasure to guest speak about tea time menus this week at two menu planning classes at a nearby culinary school. ¬†It is exciting to see the energy, acumen, and sheer focus of these students, about 60 of them. ¬†As I hadn’t spoken in front of a class in several years, I was a bit anxious initially, but they were so engaged in the subject that it instantly became an energetic dialogue about how to make tea time an integral part of their menu, along with how to prepare a good cup of tea and discuss what ¬†“quality” tea is worthy of ¬†having on your menu.

From years of experience leading meetings and teaching classes, I know that if you bring food and prizes, it’s a good thing…these tools can kick up the energy and involvement. ¬†So, I prepared three items from the tea manual for the students to taste and pair with two teas I demonstrated preparing.

Both classes were held in the morning. ¬†One was at 7 a.m. (early…whew)… so I decided to prepare a little savory bite of egg salad on toasted whole grain bread topped with crispy bacon… (so they got eggs, bacon and toast for breakfast ūüôā )

I also served my deliciously decadent dark chocolate brownies w/ walnuts…using Valhrona 85% dark chocolate in the recipe and my light as air coconut macaroons (made with egg whites and unsweetened raw coconut). ¬†These items paired well with the lovely black tea I served – Organic Assam Rani Estate (from Mighty Leaf) and the Dragon Pearl green tea from Harney & Sons.

We had lively discussions about how to prepare a great cup of tea, how to create a tea menu that is interesting and available for customers on a daily basis.  It was fun and the students are inspiring.  Makes me feel good to know they will be running restaurants nearby soon.

Culinary class..all about tea time as an integral menu category...morning class got egg salad on toast with crispy bacon on top...Mighty Leaf teas were brewed

Culinary class..all about tea time as an integral menu category…morning class got egg salad on toast with crispy bacon on top…Mighty Leaf teas were brewed

IMG_0515 IMG_0517 IMG_0518

Ingredient of the week – Best Food’s Mayonnaise

Our mom, Betty… had influence over us in many ways, particularly in our food habits. ¬† For example, she ONLY used Best Food’s Mayonnaise (called Hellmann’s in East) when a recipe called for mayonnaise…full fat too, none of the “light” stuff. ¬† It was and is always Best Foods (Hellmann’s) that we reach for in our households. ¬†It’s the taste our palates are used to, we just love it. ¬†It’s in our egg salad and chicken salad recipes. ¬†It’s also in the best, most moist cake ever…Mom’s mayo cake.

The recipe and photos are in the Tea With Betty book. ¬†I’ll post it here too. ¬†I made it the other day for a new book group I’m in…the host wanted to try it as vanilla only, it was her birthday. ¬†I was reminded how delicious this cake is when having some the other day. ¬†I made mini cupcakes, frosted with cream cheese frosting. ¬†Took 30 minutes from start to finish… (9 minutes baking time for the mini cakes). ¬†Everyone loved it. ¬†They always do.

Betty was “almost” famous for her Mayo cake – a marble cake. ¬†Every family birthday for the last 50+ years ¬†includes this cake (really, it’s been that long). ¬†It came from a 50’s recipe she probably got off a Best Food’s Mayonnaise jar – ¬†and she was quick to tell you that you HAD to use Best Foods Real Mayonnaise. ¬†We always keep a large jar in our pantry or fridge. ¬†When mayo cake newbies first hear about it, they usually screw up their faces and say, “what?.” ¬†We always pipe up with, “well ya know, mayonnaise is primarily made of just eggs and oil.”

They all love it. ¬†They ask for the recipe. ¬†They make it themselves and request it when at our homes. ¬†It’s easy. ¬†It’s consistently great. ¬†As with any cake…don’t over bake it!!

Best Foods Mayonnaise Ingredients are:  soybean oil, water, whole eggs, and egg yolks, vinegar, salt, sugar, lemon juice, calcium disodium ETDA (used to protect quality) natural flavorings.

My jar looks like the one below – 64 oz. large size, I never like to run out ūüôā

Often I prepare mini cakes – as made for my book group…

This cake is so good, it doesn’t need to be frosted. ¬†We grew up using just a little powdered, confectioners sugar dusting as the topping. ¬†It’s perfect with a cup of tea for sure!



Makes 24 cupcakes, or one 9‚ÄĚ x 13‚ÄĚ cake, or one Bundt pan cake, or one 9‚ÄĚ two-layer cake.

PREP TIME: 20 minutes TOTAL TIME:¬† 1 hour 15 minutes (includes full cake baking time) ¬†¬†Preheat oven to 350¬į F.

4 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 ¬Ĺ teaspoons baking soda

1 ¬ĺ cups sugar

1 ¬Ĺ cups Best Food‚Äôs/Hellman‚Äôs brand mayonnaise

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2 cups fresh water

8 tablespoons best quality unsweetened cocoa; reserve until after batter is prepared

Mix dry ingredients together, except for the cocoa.

Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix for about 2 minutes using a hand mixer or with a wooden spoon.

Reserve 2 cups of the batter and add the cocoa to this reserved batter; put aside.

Pour remaining vanilla batter into your baking pan of choice:¬† a 9‚ÄĚ by 13‚ÄĚ cake pan,¬† large angel food cake pan, Bundt pan, cupcake pan that is lined with paper baking cups, or two 9‚ÄĚ cake pans for a two-layer cake. With a spoon, dollop the reserved chocolate batter in various spots onto the vanilla batter.

Using a table knife or skewer, gently swirl this chocolate batter in a circular motion to create a marbling effect with the vanilla batter.  Be careful not to touch the sides or bottom of the baking pan while swirling.

Bake 45 to 50 minutes or until tester comes out clean for a full-sized cake.  Do not over bake.

Bake 18 to 20 minutes for a regular cupcake size or 8 to 9 minutes for a mini cupcake.

Full sized cake…pictured below.

Best Foods GIANT sized mayonnaise jar

Best Foods GIANT sized mayonnaise jar

Frosted mini mayonnaise (marble) cake cupcakes

Frosted mini mayonnaise (marble) cake cupcakes

Mom's full-sized Mayonnaise cake...marbling the cake with a skewer

Mom’s full-sized Mayonnaise cake…marbling the cake with a skewer-carefully moving the chocolate batter around the vanilla batter

All the Tea in Napa Valley…..

You know how I am always on the hunt for a great cup of tea…well on our recent trip to the Napa Valley, I am happy to say I found plenty of it. ¬†There was obviously serious thought that went into the choice of tea leaves and the brewing and serving pieces. ¬†From gorgeous silver pots and cool looking tetsubin pots the experience was ¬†spot on. ¬†Hot, flavorful, quality teas. ¬†Chef Cindy Pawlcyn’s famed Mustards Grill and her newer, Brassica both offered Dammann Freres¬†whole leave teas in silk bags…served in iron pots which kept the tea nice and hot while you consume it.

Then we were off for a truly special meal at the famed French Laundry. ¬†You’d expect their tea to be uniquely delicious and perfectly prepared…it was. ¬†It paired beautifully with the desserts. ¬†I ordered a Ben Shan Oolong (had no idea what it was…but I love the complexity and earthiness of an Oolong tea so tried it.) ¬†It was wonderful. ¬†Every sip was so satisfying.

¬†‚ÄúBen Shan‚ÄĚ translates to ‚ÄúSource Mountain, it tastes is roasted and floral, with a lasting nutty after-taste.

¬†Behind the Leaf: ¬†Ben Shan is one of the famous Anxi County oolongs from China. The name ‚ÄúBen Shan‚ÄĚ is the cultivar of camellia sinensis used to make this oolong. ¬†This is one I am going to find and purchase for me.
Ben Shan Oolong...tea service after dinner at The French Laundry

Ben Shan Oolong…tea service after dinner at The French Laundry ¬†Spectacular service and taste – as expected from here