In the Bag

In a Nineties twist on a traditional favorite, tea is no longer merely being sipped as a late afternoon pick-me-up. Brewed tea is cropping up as an ingredient in everything from crepes to chicken salad and dinner drinks.Not only can tea add flavor to meals, but cooking with tea can also be good for your health. Studies show that tea leaves are a good source of antioxidants that combat disease. A good cup of tea, while not the fountain of youth nor the sole alternative to modern medicine, is pleasant, sociable, tasty and potentially good for you. Cooking with tea is another way to enjoy its benefits.The Celestial Seasonings tea company recently released Cooking with Tea (Park Lane Press). Each recipe uses at least one of the company's tea blends: Brie with Strawberry-Kiwi Cranberry Sauce and English Breakfast Beef Stew, for example. "One day while standing in my kitchen steaming carrots for the 5 millionth time, I decided to throw a couple of Mandarin Orange Spice tea bags in the boiling water," writes Jennifer Siegel, who shares Cooking with Tea's co-author credits with her husband Mo, a Celestial Seasonings founder. "I was surprised at how much the orange and clove in the tea enhanced the flavor of plain old carrots."Bigelow Tea has also come up with recipes to promote its blends, which include traditional British favorites like Earl Grey and English breakfast tea as well as flavored teas. To tantalize those with a sweet tooth, Bigelow offers easy recipes for subtly flavored treats such as Fruit'n'Berries Scones, Constant Comment Tea Cake and Raspberry Royale Brownies.While these recipes provide an easy way to get started, understanding the premise of cooking with tea invites further experimentation. The flavored teas on the market include a mixture of various spices and herbs; Celestial Seasonings' Harvest Spice, for example, contains roasted chicory root, orange peel, anise seed, hibiscus flowers, ginger root, licorice root and cardamom. To individually purchase all these hard-to-find flavors would be expensive and time-consuming. Keep a selection of tea bags around, and the groundwork is quick, painless and inexpensive.For example, the cookbook includes a refreshing recipe for peppermint-chocolate cake made with a brew infused by six peppermint tea bags. Although the same effect could be achieved with a tablespoon or two of peppermint extract, the cost of a 4-ounce bottle of peppermint extract (about $7) far exceeds that of the tea bags (a box of Celestial Seasonings costs about $2.60 for 20 tea bags).Imagine the possibilities: enhance the flavor of muffins with a cinnamon spice blend; increase the richness of sweet potatoes by slitting them lengthwise and then baking them stuffed with moistened vanilla tea bags; or saturate a chicken dish in a lemon tea-based marinade. For Sunday brunch, skip the bacon and eggs and whip up some cinnamon crepes instead. Low in fat and effortless to prepare, crepes get a nice flavor if you substitute cooled cinnamon tea for the milk in the recipe. Stuff the crepes with fruit or yogurt and sprinkle with powdered sugar at brunch -- or for a quick dessert, fill them with ice cream.Liberating tea from the kettle can also save time. For your next party, an easy ginger ale and tea punch can be prepared in just seconds. Buy a two-liter bottle of ginger ale and pour out one cup. Add five bags of Red Zinger tea to the bottle, one at a time. Cap and refrigerate for one hour. Then pick the clothes off the floor, tidy the bathrooms and prepare the chips and dip. Just when the house is starting to sparkle, the punch will be ready. Pour it into a punch bowl before serving.Don't forget the tea after dinner, either. Instead of a cup of coffee or decaf, test out a tea latte. Scald, but do not boil, milk in a saucepan until it is foamy and about doubles in volume. Pour the steamed milk into a hot cup of vanilla or cinnamon tea, holding back the foam with a spoon.Spoon the remaining frothy milk over the tea and add a sweetener, if desired. For what Celestial Seasonings calls "happy tea," top it off with a shot of liqueur. Tea time has never been so much fun.Constant Comment MuffinsAdapted from Bigelow recipe pamphlet.1 1/4 cups milk4 Bigelow Constant Comment tea bags2 1/2 cups flour1/3 cup sugar1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder 3/4 cup butter or margarine, cold Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease muffin tin or use liners. Combine milk and tea bags in saucepan; heat on low until bubbles form around edge, stirring occasionally. Do not boil. Remove from heat and let cool 15 to 20 minutes. Remove tea bags, squeeze out excess liquid and set aside. In large bowl, combine dry ingredients. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or a fork until mixture is in coarse crumbs. Stir in the liquid just until flour is moistened, being careful not to overmix. Spoon mixture into muffin tin and bake for 20 minutes, until golden brown. Serves 12. Bengal Spice Chicken SaladAdapted from Cooking with Tea by Jennifer and Mo Siegel. 4 cups water4 Celestial Seasonings Bengal Spice tea bags 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts1/2 cup chopped walnuts 3/4 cup seedless grapes 1/4 cup chopped dates 1/2 cup light mayonnaise Boil the water in a large pot; add tea bags and chicken. Cover and simmer about 30 minutes, until chicken is cooked through. When the chicken and broth are cool enough to handle, pour the contents of the pot into a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate for about 1 hour. Strain the chicken, cut it into cubes, and put into a bowl with the remaining ingredients. Toss and serve. Serves 4.

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