Tea Smoked Chicken Wings

Grilling, baking, and frying are all common ways to cook chicken, but have you ever tried tea smoking? If you are looking for a recipe to add flavor and interest to your fall table without adding extra calories or fat, this is the method you’ve been looking for. A shiny, lacquer like finish is characteristic of tea smoking, similar to the results you get from barbecuing except prettier and milder in taste.

There are two layers of flavor in these wings. The first layer of flavor is from the marinade, where soaking the chicken for 24 hours or overnight will produce the most tasty chicken wings. My favorite additions to the marinade are the ginger and rice wine, which add some brightness and acidity to balance out the smoked flavors that come later.

Most tea smoking recipes include Szechuan peppercorns somewhere in the preparation process. The peppercorns are a bright red color, and have woody, slightly lemony taste. They are known for producing a slight numbing effect on the tongue.

To make the tea smoking process easier and cleaner, start by lining a large wok with a large piece of heavy-duty foil. The tea smoke base of oolong tea, apple wood chips, sugar, cinnamon, star anise, orange rinds, and rice are placed directly on top of the foil, and a steaming rack is placed on top. The rack will hold the chicken wings so that they can smoke on all sides for the maximum flavor and color.

In my opinion, it’s best to do your tea smoking outside. Don’t get me wrong, you won’t have plumes of smoke coming out of your wok, but the smokey wisps will produce a spicy essence throughout your house, one that’s noticeable for at least a few hours, if not longer. If you can’t do this, do what I did and remove the top of the wok outdoors after the wings are finished smoking.

If you increase the steaming and smoking times, you can easily use this recipe to cook other larger pieces of chicken for an elegant tea-laced fall meal. By changing up the smoking base with ingredients like jasmine tea, black tea, or even other types of wood chips, you’ll end up with some very intricate nuances in flavor that only a good tea smoke can create.

Tea Smoked Chicken Wings

Makes 12-15 wing pieces.

Ingredients:

{Marinade}

1 1/2 pound chicken wings, sectioned with wing tips removed

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup rice wine

1/2 tsp five spice

1/4 tsp sesame oil

1 1/2 tsp Szechuan peppercorns, lightly toasted and lightly crushed

5 Tsp brown sugar

1 large green onion, cut into 1″ pieces

2″ nub of ginger, peeled and cut into thin slices

{Smoking Mix}

3 Tbsp oolong tea leaves

1/2 cup apple wood chips

1/2 cup rice

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 tsp cloves

2 cinnamon sticks

2 star anise pods

Equipment:

large ziplock bag

tongs

large wok with lid

steaming rack that fits inside wok, lightly oiled to prevent sticking

heavy-duty foil

Directions:

1.) Place all marinade ingredients into the ziplock bag. Mix the ingredients together well, then let the chicken wings sit in the marinade overnight or for at least 5 hours.

2.) When the wings have finished marinating, fill a wok with 2 inches of water set on high heat to a full boil. Use tongs to remove wings from the marinade, making sure to brush off any bits of pepper if they cling on. Place wings on a steamer rack in the wok, cover the wok with a lid, then steam the wings for 10 minutes on high. After 10 minutes, place wings on a large platter and set aside. Carefully remove steamer rack with tongs and set aside as well.

3.) Pour water out of the wok. Place 2 large sheets of heavy-duty foil on the bottom of the wok, covering the inner surface of the wok completely. Scatter the smoking mix on the bottom of the wok, making sure the ingredients are evenly dispersed. Place rack back in wok, then place chicken wings on top of the rack. Turn heat onto med-high, wait for the first wisps of smoke to appear, then smoke the wings for 15-20 minutes until they develop a beautiful dark amber lacquer on their surface.

Matcha Cornflake Clusters

Have 5 minutes to liven up this Matcha Monday? There’s no other way to describe my Matcha Cornflake Clusters than crunchy, nutty, and best of all…easy! They’re just what you need when you’re craving an original and unique sweet treat.

Although I love how versatile white chocolate is, sometimes it’s just too sweet. I try to taper some of that sweetness here by adding a healthy dose of almond butter to the melted chocolate before adding cornflakes. The almond butter not only tames some of the sweetness, but also helps to thin out the white chocolate a bit so that it doesn’t cover the cornflakes in such a thick layer.

The bright tasting matcha and pleasantly bitter sesame seeds add another layer of nuttiness to balance the flavors here. Take care to avoid overheating the chocolate, as this will cause it to become thick and gloppy. Crisp, airy piles of coated cornflake are what we want, so be light-handed in combining the ingredients and when spooning them out. Feel free to add a host of tasty tidbits to these clusters. Dried fruits, granola, left over pumpkin seeds…there are many interesting ways to dress these babies up!

Matcha Cornflake Clusters

Makes 12 clusters.

Ingredients:

1 1/3 cup white chocolate chips

1/4 cup almond butter

1 Tbsp + 2 tsp matcha powder, sifted

pinch salt

2 2/3 cup cornflakes

1 Tbsp black sesame seeds (optional)

Equipment:

double boiler

rubber spatula

large sheet pan lined with parchment paper

spoon

Directions:

1.)  Fill the bottom pan of double boiler with enough water so that the water doesn’t touch the top pan of the double boiler. Bring the water to a boil over high heat.

2.)  Meanwhile, place the white chocolate chips and almond butter in the top pan of the double boiler. Turn the heat down to low and melt the chocolate and almond butter together. Add in the sifted matcha and salt, then mix the chocolate thoroughly. Be careful not to overheat the chocolate, otherwise it will get clumpy.

3.)  Remove the top pan of the double boiler off of the heat, then add the cornflakes into the melted chocolate. Fold the cornflakes in gently using the rubber spatula. Spoon rounded tablespoon heaps of the coated cornflake mixture onto the lined sheet pan, sprinkle them with sesame seeds, and then allow the matcha chocolate clusters to harden before serving.

Tea of the Week: Pukka’s Lemon, Ginger, and Manuka Honey

I’ll admit it, I’m not always the biggest fan of herbal teas. Sometimes, they can taste medicinal, bitter, or just plain strange. Just when I want to write them off, I’ll stumble upon a blend that changes my mind. It’s possible for caffeine-free blends to be every bit as delicious as tea-based ones…sometimes, it just takes a bit of trial and error. One of these pleasing herbal blends is Pukka’s Lemon, Ginger, and Manuka Honey Herbal Tea…enticing from first site to last sip!

If you aren’t familiar with the tea company Pukka, this colorful, vibrant brand is built on organic herbal teas for well-being. If you ever come across a set of Pukka’s teas, you won’t be able to take your eyes off of them. Each box looks like an artfully wrapped gift. The mere glimpse of their packaging makes me feel like some yoga and meditation time are in order.

I first discovered Pukka Teas at the Berkeley Bowlan artisan food store just outside of the U.C. Berkeley campus, which happens to be my hubby’s alma mater. It’s not surprising to find a brand like Pukka in place Berkeley, as the label prides itself on values like healthfulness, conservation, and the protection of nature. You can literally taste that vision in each sip of their teas…all of their brews are naturally organic and free of artificial flavoring.

If you like the spicy taste of ginger, then you will certainly enjoy this blend. At first, you’ll taste the sharp acidity and slight bitterness of the lemons. This gentle kick is followed by a tinge of heat from the ginger followed by a smooth, lingering touch of mild sweetness from manuka honey, a New Zealand sourced treasure that’s thought to have antioxidant properties.

As we head into flu season, Pukka’s Lemon, Ginger, and Manuka Honey Tea is the ideal brew to nourish yourself with. The blend is so deeply soothing that you can easily drink it before an afternoon snooze or even just before bedtime. Whether you are feeling sick or not it doesn’t matter, because this rejuvenating cup of pure comfort is bliss anytime you’re in need of some extra TLC.

Tasting Notes for Pukka’s Lemon, Ginger, & Manuka Honey Herbal Tea:

BREWING TIPS:  212 degrees F for at least 5 minutes. Just leave the tea bag in to steep for as long as you want!

THE BLEND:  Sun-ripened Sicilian lemons and ginger root, both slow-dried. The blend also has licorice root, elderflower, fennel seed, lemon verbena leaf, turmeric root, lemon essential oil, lemon myrtle leaf, and manuka honey flavor mixed in.

THE SCENT:  Smells of sunny citrus blossoms and fragrant ginger.

THE STEEP:  The tisane is floral, slightly sweet, and very smooth and soothing. Brews to a frosty yellow like fresh lemonade. Even though the blend has a good amount of lemon and ginger root, it isn’t harsh, acidic, or bitter. The fennel seeds help to round out the flavors without overwhelming the brew.

GET IT:  Find this blend online at the Pukka’s beautiful site and also on Amazon or some vitamin/health food stores. If you are ever around the Berkeley area in Northern California, definitely check out the Berkeley Bowl, where you’ll find a huge variety of Pukka’s teas to choose from and many other organic goodies as well!

FOOD PAIRING:  This blend will enhance any lightly sweet treat with ginger or lemon in it. Gingersnaps, a lemon poppy seed muffin, or a thick slice of Hachiya Persimmon Bread would all be perfect with this herbal brew.

Tea Tin Topiaries

There’s something mysterious and elegant about black tea tins. Many times, a black tea tin indicates the classic, traditional, and signature blend of a tea shop–a blend to be savored and cherished.

As you might imagine, my tea cabinet is literally bursting at the seams with tea tins of all shapes and colors. Many of the tins in my cabinet are actually empty. When opened, these empty tins carry the faintest essence of steeps past, a reminder that it’s either time to stock up again or time to get crafting!

Around Halloween, black and orange tea tins take on new meaning. They make artful, eye-catching decorations that aren’t the least bit tacky. The empty tins that I have the most of are Mariage Frères tins–so very chic and distinctively French. Just a glimpse and they give me the fondest memories of my tea adventures in France last year.

Some other tins that remind me of Halloween include the tins from Disney’s Mad Tea Party Blend and Harney & Sons’ Hot Cinnamon Sunset. These blends are black tea based, but while one is fruity (apricots!), the other is spicy. Both are delicious choices for fall tea-drinking.

To make these topiaries distinctively Halloween-like, I’ve used pumpkin seeds to create natural-looking greenery instead of using loose, dried moss. Pumpkin seeds are the perfect color of leaf green, and lie flat when glued onto styrofoam using a matcha infused buttercream. The lightweight seeds help to accentuate the form of the styrofoam base, which I’ve even used for making macaron towers before. I like to finish these arrangements with sparkly black spider stickers and some Halloween themed ribbon for a faintly “spooky” effect.

Once you find the right color of tea tin and some seasonal embellishments, Tea Tin Topiaries are perfect for any holiday occasion. For Halloween, Thanksgiving, or even Christmas, these structured garden pieces are easy to put together and make whimsical little centerpieces. This year, I’ll be placing these topiaries by large bowls of candy for a festive touch when the trick-or-treaters come knocking. It might be wishful thinking, but I’m hoping the sugar-crazed kiddos keep their hands off of my seed and candy creations…looky no touchy!

Tea Tin Topiary

Makes 1 topiary.

What You’ll Need:

bamboo lollipop stick

2 styrofoam balls ( I used a 3″ diameter ball) or 1 styrofoam cone (3″ x 6″) + 1 styrofoam ball (3″)

serrated knife

glue (hot glue/glue gun works best and fastest)

1/3 cup pumpkin seeds

large plate

matcha powder (just enough to give the icing a light green tint)

1/4 cup white icing

icing spreader

decorative ribbon

scissors

spider stickers (optional)

tea tin

colorful, small decorative candies for topping off the base of the tins and for helping to adjust the height of topiary (how much depends on size of tin)

Step-By-Step:

1.)  Cut a half-inch slice from one styrofoam ball to create a flat base for the topiary. Stick the lollipop stick into the middle base of another ball or cone, about 1″ in. Stick the other side of the stick into the styrofoam ball base, again about 1″ in. Use glue to attach both ends of the stick to each styrofoam piece. Make sure the topiary is standing perfectly straight before letting the glue dry completely.

2.)  Mix the matcha in with the icing. Use the spreader to spread a thin layer of the green icing onto the top styrofoam topiary piece. Over a large plate, attach the pumpkin seeds by scattering them on the surface of the iced styrofoam. Use your fingers to flatten them to the surface of the icing, and fill in any open icing gaps with more seeds.

3.)  Place some candies into the base of the tin. You may need to place more or less depending on how high you want your topiary to be. Place the topiary’s base into the semi-filled tea tin, adjust it so that it stands straight, and then fill the tin with remaining candies until the base is full with them. The weight of the candy will help to keep the tower in place.

4.)  Tie or adorn the topiaries with ribbon. If you want to wrap the cone like I did, use a dab of hot glue on one end of a long piece of ribbon, then secure it to the bottom edge of the topiary. Wrap the ribbon carefully around the surface of the topiary, then use another dab of glue to secure the other end of the ribbon onto the top edge of the topiary. Snip off any excess ribbon. If using, attach spider stickers on the topiary for a “spooky” effect.

Tea of the Week: Samovar’s Apple Ginseng Oolong

Earlier this year, I visited Samovar Tea Lounge in San Francisco. To say that it’s a place to get tea is a severe understatement as the shop embodies the idea of serenity in a cup. Samovar is unlike any traditional tea room you’ve ever been to and elevates tea to an almost spiritual pastime. If you are in San Francisco and love tea, it is not to be missed!

Apple Ginseng is one of Samovar’s popular oolong blends. The tea has a wonderfully earthy quality where plentiful chunks of dried apple and mildly sweet licorice root make help to mellow out the soft bitterness of ginseng. If you’ve ever had plain ginseng tea before and didn’t like it or if you’ve never had ginseng tea before and are curious, you should definitely try this blend.

Together, the fragrant Taiwanese oolong and sweet apples lend a floral essence to this blend that the ginseng tea itself wouldn’t have otherwise. The steep has a sunny, honey-like character to it, making it a yummy partner to breakfast items and brunch time baked goods.

I’m presenting this tea to you Samovar-style today, where the guest is offered a small wooden tray with a pot of tea, a teacup, and perhaps some extra tea for additional steepings. This is the signature way that Samovar Tea Lounge serves any brew. It’s a simple, unique way of treating every brew with a sense of ritual, focus, and respect.

The addition of both ginseng and oolong in this blend mean that it has a fair amount of caffeine, so this an excellent AM steep to help get your day moving along. Samovar hails this tea as one that promotes “vital energy and libido.” I can attest that the first part of this equation is true. As for the second part, don’t expect any reports back from me…you’ll just have try some and find out for yourself!

Tasting Notes for Samovar’s Apple Ginseng Oolong Tea:

BREWING TIPS:  212 degrees F for 5 minutes. I generally like to drink any ginseng tea hot. Good for several steepings.

THE BLEND:  A mix of Taiwanese oolong, dried chunks of organic apple, organic white ginseng, organic licorice root, and natural apple flavor.

THE SCENT:  Smells of wood, tree branches, and earthy fallen leaves. Like a serene autumn walk through the woods.

THE STEEP:  Each sip starts with slight astringency from the ginseng root. The astringency is followed by the woody, earthy taste of oolong, and then tamed by gentle sweetness from the apples. This is a sunny, refreshing alternative to your morning cup of Joe.

GET IT:  You’ll find this blend at all of Samovar’s vibrant tea lounges in San Francisco, except for their latest Tea Bar on Valencia St. The tea is also available online at Samovar’s website or on Amazon.

FOOD PAIRING:  Apple Ginseng Oolong pairs perfectly with fall breakfast treats like french toast, pancakes, or a thick slice of Maple Brick Toast. It’s also exceptionally delicious with Mochi Banana Bread or my favorite fall treat…Crisp Apple Strudels!

The cute sticker comes tucked inside the box of tea!

Pumpkin Chai Energy Balls

I can’t begin to tell you how happy I am that it’s pumpkin season again! Even though you can technically eat pumpkin anytime of the year, there’s something about eating it in the fall that makes it taste that much more satisfying and delicious.

The only thing better than eating pumpkin is eating pumpkin with a spicy chai tea. My recipe for Pumpkin Chai Energy Balls combine these autumn inspired ingredients together with a host of other nutritious add-ins including old-fashioned oatmeal, almonds, flax seeds, chia seeds, and of course…pumpkin purée!

These energy balls are completely flour-free, and don’t require any cooking. To give them bulk without making them too gritty, I use both pulverized oatmeal and almond meal. I reserve some of the oats to be left whole so that you still get a bit of chew and texture in each nibble.

When it comes to the chocolate chip addition, I like to add the darkest chocolate chips I can find. Good quality, slightly bitter-tasting chocolate chips make the bold chai flavors stand out and also help to balance out the mild sweetness of the maple syrup. These moist, flavorful bites are perfect as a mid-day pick me up or as a reasonable swap out when you are looking to get a cookie fix. Pumpkin Chai Energy Balls also make an ideal snack before hitting the gym and are convenient to-go treats as they are easy to pack and hold their shape well. If you please, even try enjoying a few for breakfast. You just might have to come back to this ingredient list to remind yourself that you aren’t actually eating dessert!

Pumpkin Chai Energy Balls

Makes 30 balls.

Ingredients:

1 cup old-fashioned oats, ground to a meal in food processor

1/2 cup old-fashioned oats

2 Tbsp ground flax seeds

2 Tbsp chia seeds

1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp chai tea mix (I used Trader Joe’s Spicy Chai Tea Latte)

1 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

1/2 cup pumpkin purée (just from a can)

1/2 cup almond butter

1/4 cup maple syrup

Equipment:

large mixing bowl

mixing spoon

cookie scoop with 1 3/4″ diameter (2 Tbsp)

Directions:

1.)  Place all dry ingredients in the mixing bowl, then lightly toss together. Add the wet ingredients, then mix everything together with the spoon.

2.)  Use the ice cream scoop to scoop out a 2 Tbsp portion of the mixture, then roll it into a smooth ball. Repeat this process to form 30 energy balls. Store the energy balls in a sealed box or bag in the fridge.

Yin Yang Popsicles

Did you know that this past Monday was National Coffee Day? Until this week, I never realized that there was such a concept, and naturally went straight to Google to search for National Tea Day. The closest we get to such a refreshing occasion is National Iced Tea Day on June 10th and National Hot Tea Month in January. Hah! Here in America, the Land of Java, coffee only gets one celebratory day, while tea gets a day and a month. Go figure.

ying yang popsicles 5In the East, tea is hands down the drink of choice, much more popular than its bean-based counterpart. While drinking black coffee isn’t common, the Chinese have tempered their taste buds to welcome coffee in a milked-down, tea-infused concoction named Yin Yang or Yuan Yang, also known as Hong Kong Coffee Milk Tea.

Yuan Yang is a robust drink that marries the best of two worlds. While coffee’s dark strength embodies the masculine yang component, the tea serves as the softer, gentler, feminine yin. Just when you thought you had to order one or the other, you can have both!

ying yang popsicles HK teaHong Kong milk teas are generally made with a full-bodied, brisk Ceylon Orange Pekoe. This Sri Lankan black tea is characteristically bright and crisp, yet bold enough to stand up to the coffee in Yuan Yang. To make my version of Yin Yang Coffee Milk Tea, I use a Chinese brand of tea that my dad likes. It’s similar to a Lipton–nothing too fancy or expensive, but if you don’t want to go the tea bag route a loose leaf tea like Twinings’ Ceylon Orange Pekoe will work great too. And as for the coffee, use a brew that’s smooth and well-balanced like a house blend or medium roast.ying yang popsicles black and white evaporated milkIn HK the most common brand of evaporated milk to use for Yuan Yang Coffee Tea is Black & White brand evaporated milk. You can easily find it at Chinese markets, but if you don’t want to make the extra trip, just use the evaporated milk available at your local market. Although less common, you’ll find that there are some that make their Yuan Yang with condensed milk, but I prefer to use evaporated because I have more control over the sweetness of my brew this way.

ying yang popsicles 7Just when you thought popsicle season was over, I’ve decided to bring it back! The temperature in SoCal is supposed to soar back up to 90 degrees by the end of this week, but it won’t be problem because I’ll be ready to face the heat this time…Yin Yang Popsicle in hand!

Yin Yang Popsicles

Makes 10-12 popsicles.

Ingredients:

2 cups fresh brewed coffee

2 cups of strongly brewed Ceylon tea (I used 6 tea bags), brewed at 212 degrees F for 5 minutes

3/4 cup evaporated milk

1/3 cup sugar (or to taste)

Equipment:

popsicle maker

10-12 popsicle sticks

large measuring cup

pitcher

shallow bowl

Directions:

1.)  Brew coffee and tea. Pour them into a large pitcher while still hot, then mix in the sugar. After the sugar has dissolved, mix in the evaporated milk.

2.)  Soak the popsicle sticks in some warm water. Pour the coffee-tea into popsicle molds, then place the mold cover on. Shake off the excess water from the popsicle sticks, then insert them into the open slots on the cover.

3.)  Carefully place popsicle mold in the freezer for 3 hours until the popsicles are completely frozen. When ready to serve, run the molds under some warm water so that the popsicles easily release from the mold. Serve the pops immediately or place them in small individual sandwich bags to enjoy later.

*** SERVING TIP: If you are feeling lazy, feel free to serve the Yin Yang Coffee Tea simply chilled or over ice…it will be equally delicious and refreshing.