Canadian Bacon Cheese Crisps

Have you ever considered pairing tea with cheese? Think about your last Cucumber and Cream Cheese Tea Sandwich. I’m guessing you can remember the tartness of the cheese, and (if you had it with tea) how the brew brought those flavors to life. Cheese and wine often make ideal partners, but the next time you find yourself in the funky smelling cheese section of your favorite gourmet store, think of the leaves and not the liquor. Tea has a way of highlighting rich cheese flavors, whether sharp, tangy, or just plain stinky!

This simple recipe for cheese crisps is made with any semi-hard or hard cheese. I’ve made these with strong English Cheddar, Swiss Gruyère, and Italian Pecorino Romano all with great results. Today I’m using everyone’s favorite, a nutty Parmigiano-Reggiano, which you can easily buy pre-grated if you find yourself short on time. 
My cutesy embellishment for these crisps is a little heart of lean Canadian Bacon which develops a lovely caramelized finish as it cooks. These crisps take mere minutes to make, but are surprisingly elegant when paired with other yummy nibbles like cornichon, olives, or marinated peppers…an ideal way to kick off any romantic Valentine’s Day soirée.

English or Irish Breakfast Tea, Keemun, and Darjeeling all make great pairings to these Canadian Bacon Cheese Crisps. The full-bodied strength of these black teas make them like red wine, able to stand up to the complex umami flavors in robustly flavored cheeses. But don’t take my word for it…find and discover your own favorite tea and cheese pairings! Assam and Gouda? Darjeeling and Havarti? Sencha and Goat Cheese? If you love tea and love cheese, let the culinary adventures begin!

Canadian Bacon Cheese Crisps

Makes 15 crisps.

Ingredients:

5 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated

5 pieces Canadian bacon

dried parsley (optional)

Equipment:

flat top griddle or large skillet

spatula

paper towels

round metal cookie cutter, 2 1/4″

1 Tbsp measure

large baking sheet, lined with paper towels

small heart-shaped cookie cutter (optional)

Directions:

1.) Cut out heart shapes from the Canadian bacon using a small heart-shaped cookie cutter. I was able to get 3 hearts out of one bacon slice. Blot them with a paper towel to remove excess moisture from the surface. Set aside.

2.) Place the round cookie cutter on a flat top griddle, then spoon out 1 Tbsp of the grated cheese in the center of the cutter. Spread the cheese out with your finger so that it lays even in thickness in the cutter. Remove the cutter, then repeat the process as many times as the size of your griddle allows. Leave 1″ between each patch of cheese.

3.) Turn on the griddle to 350 degrees F or med-high heat (if using stove top) under a skillet. Heat the cheese until melts, for several minutes until the fat starts to render out. When the edges of the cheese start to brown and the cheese looks semi-set, use paper towels to blot off the now liquid fat. Gently lay the paper towel even to the surface of the cheese and the fat should easily wick up. Push a “heart” of Canadian bacon in the center of the melted cheese.

4.) Flip the cheese crisp over to brown the other side. Cook for a few minutes, checking occasionally to see when the bacon “hearts” are nicely browned but not burned. Remove the crisps from the griddle using a thin spatula. Park them on a paper towel lined baking sheet until hardened. Lightly sprinkle the tops of the cheese crisp with dried parsley to finish.

Tea of the Week: Lupicia’s Sakura Matcha Au Lait

There’s something about being in the midst of winter that makes me yearn for sunnier days and brighter steeps. As a food blogger with modest camera knowledge, I’m at the sun’s mercy everyday. A clear, bright day after a host of overcast ones not only brings my craft back to life but also helps to keep the winter blues at bay. Lupicia’s Sakura Matcha Au Lait is a foreshadowing of lovely spring days to come. Sweet and savory with a kick of caffeine, it adds a lively pop of freshness to any dreary day. From the name of this tea, you might expect it to taste like bowl of fresh cherries. I hate to break it to you, but it’s simply not going to taste like that. This tea tastes distinctively of cherry blossoms (sakura)not cherries. In Japan, cherry blossoms are often pickled in salt after flowering in the spring, which is what gives this blend its pleasantly salty and mildly floral taste. For those longing to take a trip to Springtime Japan though their taste buds, this matcha will take you there.
Tasting Notes for Lupicia’s Sakura Matcha au Lait:

BREWING TIPS:  In a large microwave safe bowl or chawan, mix 2 heaping teaspoons of the mix with 8 fluid ounces of milk (I like soy milk or almond milk). Mix thoroughly with a whisk or chasen, then microwave on high for 1 minute. Carefully remove from the microwave, then mix again to create frothy bubbles just before serving.

THE BLEND:  Sugar, powdered green tea, powdered cherry leaf and cherry petal, and aluminum potassium sulfate.

THE SCENT:  Softly grassy. Very subtle on the floral notes.

THE STEEP:  Mildly salty and lightly sweet with a vanilla-like essence. Slightly bitter and earthy as is characteristic of matcha. Brews to a creamy, vibrant leaf green.

GET IT:  Online, at Lupicia or at Lupicia stores in California or Hawaii.

FOOD PAIRING:  This would be yummy with savory or sweet snacks as it borders on the flavor profiles of both. Furikake Tofu Fries, Neapolitan Mochi Cake (for V-Day!), or Smoked Salmon Spring Rolls would all complement this tea’s complex flavor.

Furikake Tofu Fries

Pommes frites, chips, papas fritas…whatever you call them, french fries are delicious. I have a love-hate relationship with french fries (here’s a recipe for Matcha Fries, the real deal), and that’s where these Baked Furikake Tofu Fries come into play. Crispy, crunchy, and immensely satisfying, these are the perfect treat for guilt-free munching whenever those deep-fried cravings come knocking on your door.
These Tofu Fries are the proteinized version of baked zucchini fries. If you want to create a rigid, baton-like structure for easy dipping, then using extra firm tofu is a must. Just like you would with regular potato fries, you’ll want to thoroughly dry off any excess moisture from the tofu so that the fries crisp up well and aren’t the least bit soggy. Use paper towels to blot the surface of the tofu block before cutting, then also blot the matchsticks after cutting as needed.
Panko bread crumbs, parmesan, and green tea furikake create an uber-crunchy, flavorful golden coating to the fries. The furikake, a dry Japanese seasoning usually made with seaweed, is made with Japanese Sencha here. Sencha is known for its spinach-like, rich taste and lends a light savory flavor to the fries. To top it all off there’s Ginger Miso Aioli, an amazingly delicious dip that requires very little effort to whip up. A final dunk into a creamy bowl of this condiment and your figure-friendly, Asian-inspired fry experience is complete!
Baked Furikake Tofu Fries

Makes 18 fries.

Ingredients:

{Tofu Fries}

1-14 oz. block of extra firm tofu

3/4 cup panko bread crumbs

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 Tbsp Green Tea Furikake, or your favorite furikake seasoning

2 egg whites

vegetable oil spray

{Ginger Miso Aioli}

1 cup light mayo

1 Tbsp miso concentrate or miso paste to taste

1/4 tsp fresh grated ginger

{Garnish}

extra furikake

shichimi togarashi

Equipment:

paper towels

cutting board

sharp knife

large baking sheet fitted with parchment

2 large shallow bowls

Directions:

1.)  Drain the block of tofu, then use paper towels to blot all around its surface so that there isn’t any excess moisture left. Cut the tofu block in half, slicing perpendicular to the longer side. Cut the halves into 9 equal matchstick pieces each to create 18 tofu fry pieces. Again, use paper towels to blot the matchsticks so that there isn’t any excess moisture left. Set aside.

2.)  Lightly spray the parchment lined baking sheet with vegetable oil spray. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Prepare the breadcrumb dredge by mixing the panko, parmesan, and furikake together in a large shallow bowl. In another large shallow bowl, gently beat the egg whites until they are frothy.

3.)  To dredge a fry, place one in the egg white mixture and cover it on all sides. Drain off any excess egg white, then place the egg white coated tofu piece into the panko breadcrumbs. Cover all sides thoroughly with the coating. Place the tofu piece on the greased parchment in the baking sheet. Repeat the process until all the tofu pieces are dredged, placing them on the baking sheet so that the pieces don’t touch.

4.)  Give the tofu pieces a final even spray of vegetable oil before baking them in the oven for about 25 minutes, until golden brown. To make the Ginger Miso Aioli, mix the mayo, miso, and ginger in a small bowl. Serve the aioli with the hot fries, sprinkling extra furikake or togarashi on the fries to taste.

Fruit & Tea Rainbow Smoothie

Mornings…I dread mornings. Even with a cup of tea, the AM is a rough patch for me. It’s the time of day that I usually reach for some matcha to give me a visual pleasing and flavorful boost.

This Rainbow Smoothie is the deluxe version of my favorite morning cup of matcha–perfect for weekends or when you have a bit of extra time to spare. Layer after layer, it’s packed with fruits, yogurt, green tea, and even some veggies. It’s a special treat for those mornings that need an extra dose of sunshine and vitality.

It took me a few tries to get this recipe right. The key is to get each layer of the Rainbow Smoothie to be about the same thick consistency as the next layer. This assures that each layer can stay in its place without mixing with the smoothie layer before or after it.

I prefer to use frozen fruits or veggies whenever I can so that the smoothie retains a thicker consistency during blending and layering. Following measurement is important here, as is slightly adjusting the amounts of fruit you use depending on their juiciness and weight.
The foolproof way to create this colorful drink is to place each smoothie layer in the serving glass and then directly into the freezer to chill for about 10 minutes before adding the next layer. Use a tablespoon measure to gently lay in each smoothie layer to help the rainbow colors appear even in thickness.

If you want a quick Rainbow Smoothie fix, you can even make these up to a few hours ahead of time with good results. Simply place them in the fridge to chill before serving time. The process is a lot like making a layered jello, where a bit of patience goes a long way. Whip these up using only best quality, organic produce and your mornings with be that much brighter!

Fruit & Tea Rainbow Smoothie

Makes 2- 1 cup smoothies. 

Ingredients:

Purple Layer {1/2 cup frozen blueberries, 1/4 cup regular vanilla yogurt, 2 Tbsp coconut water)

Green Layer {1/3 cup packed kale, 1 rounded tsp matcha powder, 1/4 cup regular vanilla yogurt, 2 Tbsp coconut water}

Yellow Layer {1/2 cup frozen pineapple, 1/4 cup regular vanilla yogurt, 2 Tbsp coconut water}

Orange Layer {1/2 cup frozen mango, 1/4 cup regular vanilla yogurt, 2 Tbsp coconut water}

Pink Layer {1/2 cup frozen raspberries, 1/4 cup regular vanilla yogurt, 2 Tbsp coconut water}

Equipment:

blender (I used my mini one)

serving glasses

Tbsp measure

5 small cups for placing each smoothie color/flavor in before layering

Directions:

1.)  For one color/layer of the smoothie, place all the ingredients into the blender and blend on high, until you get an even consistency. Place the mixture into a small cup, then in the fridge to stay cold. Rinse, shake out, and dry the blender before blending the next smoothie layer. Pour each smoothie color into one small cup.

2.)  Starting with the purple smoothie, carefully spoon about 3 Tbsp of the mixture into each of 2 glasses. Place these glasses into the freezer to chill for about 10 minutes until the layer is softly set.

3.)  After 10 minutes, spoon out the green layer, then chill in the freezer again for 10 minutes. Repeat the spooning and chilling process for the next layers (yellow, orange, and then red) until the smoothie is complete. Enjoy!

Hazelnut Butter Mochi

Like many mochi lovers, every now and then I have to get my mochi fix in. After posting about MochiCream over the weekend, the urge to make some of these chewy, pillowy treats was more than I could resist.

What started out as a recipe to use up the last can of sweet red bean paste hiding in the back of my pantry soon took a turn for the delicious when a jar of hazelnut butter caught my eye. Could I fill my mochi with hazelnut butter? Sure I could…and the results were amazing!I ended up using Justin’s, a brand of hazelnut butter with less sugar than the more popular brand of Nutella. The consistency of this nut butter is closer to that of a red bean paste–thicker, less goopy, and better able to hold it’s shape.

If you wanted to used Nutella for this recipe, no prob: simply spoon it out in round blobs onto a sheet of parchment paper. Place them into the freezer to harden ahead of time, and when it’s time to stuff the mochi, you’ll have a neat little balls of goodness to wrap into the cooked rice dough. 
Despite my efforts to make mochi making neater, and the end of the day, it’s a truly messy affair. If you’ve ever worked with powdered sugar or cornstarch before then you’ll know what I’m talking about.

My best recommendation for making these is to wear white, from head to toe. If you are dressed in black (like I was) you’ll be looking like a hot mess post-mochi making. Luckily, nobody will care if you hand them one of these nutty, chocolately rice cakes to munch on before they can say anything! Serve them with a cup of Chocolate Pu’erh from Chambre de Sucre for a rich pairing. 

Hazelnut Butter Mochi

Makes 15 pieces.

Ingredients:

8 oz mochiko (sweet rice flour)

1 can coconut milk

1/4 cup water

1/2 cup white sugar

1 Tbsp vanilla

1-16 oz jar chocolate hazelnut butter (I used Justin’s)

katakuriko (potato starch), for dusting work surface

non-stick coconut or vegetable oil spray

Equipment:

medium bowl

whisk

rubber spatula

microwaveable 9 x 13 rectangular casserole dish

sharp knife

large work surface

1 1/2 Tbsp measure

15 mini cupcake liners

Directions:

1.) In a medium bowl, combine the mochiko, coconut milk, water, sugar, and vanilla and whisk thoroughly until you get a homogenous batter.

2.) Pour batter into a casserole dish evenly sprayed with non-stick oil spray. Distribute the batter evenly. Uncovered, microwave the batter on high for 1 minute at a time, stirring and mixing the batter in between each minute until it becomes a semi-translucent dough. When the dough is finished it should not look powdery or whitish at all. In this step you are cooking the rice flour, looking for the rice dough to be homogenous and cooked through. My dough took about 7 minutes to cook through. Spoon this blob of cooked rice flour dough on to a work surface generously dusted with katakuriko.

3.) Divide the dough into 15 equal pieces using a sharp knife. The dough will be hot, so be careful.

4.) Dust each piece with katakuriko to prevent them from sticking to one another.

5.) To make the mochi, roll one piece of the dough into a ball. Flatten the ball into a round disk, about 3 1/2″ across. Spoon 1 1/2 Tbsp of the hazelnut butter into the center of the disk, then pinch the opposite edges of the disk together to seal the mochi.

hazelnut butter mochi 10

6.) Flip the sealed mochi over to reveal a smooth, rounded top. Repeat this process to make 15 stuffed mochi. Place the pieces into small cupcake liners for easy serving. Mochi are best eaten within a day or two, and can be stored at room temperature. 

Tea of the Week: David’s Tea’s The Skinny

What are your goals for 2015? Judging from the packed gym this week, exercising and making time for your health might be at the top of your to-do list. Personally, my goal is stay balanced. A piece of mochi or a trip out for afternoon tea? It’s all fine, as long as I earn them, stay mindful, and keep things in check.David’s Tea’s The Skinny gets those ambitious aspirations towards well-being into motion. A few revitalizing sips help to set the stage for making better health choices. An added bonus? The blend is organic, keeping with the theme of drinking and eating clean. And if you find yourself feeling under the weather this flu season, a touch of honey will instantly change this vibrant brew into a home remedy.

Tasting Notes for David’s Tea’s The Skinny (Organic):

BREWING TIPS:  The instructions say to brew the tea at 185 degrees F for 4-7 minutes. I prefer to brew this just under 5 minutes. Longer steeps will produce strong bitter notes, which I’m not a fan of.

THE BLEND:  Chinese Oolong and Pu’erh tea with small pieces of dried orange peel, ginger, and eleuthero root, also known as Siberian ginseng.

THE SCENT:  Bright with the smell of fresh oranges with a woody finish from the ginger and eleuthero root.

THE STEEP:  This is an earthy, coppery brew, on the verge of being dark. Expect it to be strong on the orange peel and eleuthero root notes, making it taste slightly mineral-like. If you need a boost and enjoy the slight bitterness of lemon or orange peel, you should give this brew a try.

GET IT:  Online, at David’s Tea, or at one of the brick and mortar David’s Tea stores in the US or Canada.

FOOD PAIRING:  Drink this with fresh citrus fruits like oranges, pomelos, or even broiled grapefruit. Enjoy this as a light pick-me-up with some fresh veggies and hummus before heading off for a workout.

MochiCream in Los Angeles

Before January passes us by I wanted to share about my recent trip over to MochiCream in Los Angeles. Mochi rice cakes are a classic tea snack in Asian culture, eaten for good luck and prosperity during the New Year, so there couldn’t be a better time to showcase this little gem of a shop.You’ll find MochiCream tucked inside Mitsuwa, a Japanese Market in the South Bay area of LA. The company hails from Japan, and is known for their stuffed mochi, but this time they aren’t filled with bean paste or ice cream.

mochi cream 3These mochi are lighter and softer than the ice cream filled ones that you might have had before. They’re filled with a medium bodied whipped cream and a layer of flavorful jam or paste, in the flavor of your choosing. Double Mango, Apple Pie, Darjeeling, and Sakura are just a few of their hard-to-resist specialties.
My favorite? The Houjicha. The gentle taste of the roasted green tea brings a bitter balance to the sweetness of the mochi cake. Above all, it’s the texture that I love most about these treats…silky, pillow-like, and buttery soft.
If you want to try their mochi in a less traditional shape, try their mochido, or mochi donuts. In the display case, they only feature the fake plastic ones. For the real deal, you’ll need to place your order and then wait 10 minutes for them to thaw before enjoying. 
It’s true, good things come to those who wait. After 10 minutes, the texture of the mochi is soft and fluffy, like a cloud. If you love English scones or French macarons, I’m sure these Japanese mochi are right up your alley.
My best suggestion when it comes to MochiCream is to look over your choices before you get there. Otherwise, you’re going to be tempted to buy dozens of these babies, and then you will eat them all, so it’s a good idea have a game plan. Make sure to stop over at MochiCream in Torrance for a Japanese tea time favorite the next time you are out and about in LA. Along with Fugetsu-Do, a traditional wagashi store in Little Tokyo, MochiCream is one of my favorite places in the city to get a bite of this perfectly chewy confection.

MochiCream in Mitsuwa Marketplace

21515 Western Ave

Torrance, CA 90501

310.328.8333