Mar 222010

Yerba Mate, a species of the holly plant that is native to South America, is the key ingredient in a common social practice and a popular tea-like drink throughout the countries of South America. Already popular when the conquistadors arrived in 1592, the herb is associated with a number of myths and legends that vary from country to country.

Traditionally drunk from a hollow gourd, called a mate, and using a metal straw, Yerba Mate is widely known for it’s health benefits and it’s energizing qualities. Besides being a pleasant and well-loved beverage, Yerba Mate is thought to help combat obesity.

In many parts of South America, Yerba mate serves the same function that coffee does in Italy and France, with friends gathering at a café for their daily cup. It is served both hot and cold and is drunk throughout the year.

As the popularity of Yerba Mate spreads, different brewing methods have emerged beyond the traditional steeping.

Similar to coffee, Yerba Mate can be brewed using either a drip coffee machine or even better, a French press, both at a ratio of four tablespoons per twelve cups of water.

A tea ball or tea bags can be filled with the leaves of the plant and steeped as with tea for 3-4 minutes. The tea can also be cooled and served with ice and is excellent with a wedge of lemon and a drizzle of honey.

Alternatively you can brew Yerba Mate in an espresso machine, treating it as you would coffee grounds. This can be served similarly to a late with steamed milk and flavorings.

The traditional method is, of course, to serve Yerba Mate in a hollowed and cured gourd.
Fill the gourd three quarters of the way full with your favorite Yerba Mate. Covering the opening of the mate with the palm of your hand, invert the gourd and shake it several times. This disperses the finer particles of the tea and helps keep them from clogging the bombilla, or metal straw, while drinking.

Yerba Mate on it’s own has a vegetal, somewhat bitter flavor. It can be sweetened with honey, sugar or stevia, added to the tea before the water.

Heat the water to 180 degrees and, tilting the mate, pour until the liquid almost reaches the rim. Insert the bombilla and sip, refilling with warm water as you drink.

Unused Yerba Mate should be stored in a cool, clean place; a glass jar on a pantry shelf is ideal but never store in the freezer.

Mar 162010

Chicken is a wonderful and inexpensive meat to cook, but it can be tricky.  For instance, if you want to grill chicken breasts, you have to know exactly when to pull that meat off the heat so that it is cooked through and moist.  Remove it a minute too soon, the meat is slightly pink and you’ve got to worry about salmonella.  Leave it on a minute too long, no salmonella, but you have to cut it with a chainsaw.

Dark meat is easier, as it stays moist and can handle higher temperatures, but with all the bad health press it has been getting recently, some people just won’t eat it.  Also, since people have been eating the more neutral-flavored chicken breasts for so long, many find the dark meat from the leg or thigh simply too gamey.  Too “chicken-y.”

So some genius invented (or at least, invented the marketing for) the vertical chicken roaster, a conical apparatus you just slide your whole chicken over to cook.  It works great, as the heat is allowed to rise through the bird’s cavity to cook the meat from the inside while the circulating heat throughout the rest of the oven cooks and crisps the skin.  It is thermodynamics-meets-cooking at its best.

Now that you know you have heat rising through the cavity, why not season that hot air?  How do you season air?  Simple: add a liquid.

As you are probably well aware, liquid plus heat creates steam.  The steam rises with the hot air, and the two make the perfect team when it comes to vertically roasting chicken.  You now don’t have to worry so much about drying out the breast meat because the water in the steam will help keep it moist, and it will help neutralize the stronger flavors in the dark meat.  Since the chicken absorbs a lot of the water in the steam traveling through, you still have enough dry heat in your grill or oven to cook the bird from the outside.

And there is no better flavored steam than beer.  Ale, bock, stout… it makes no difference: the sugars from the evaporating alcohol are sweet, and the grainy, hoppy aromas are a wonderful flavor pairing for chicken.  Putting a seasoning liquid in a cake pan underneath the chicken is awkward, messy, and inconsistent.  However, one can of your favorite beer tastes just like the next, and the can itself is a clean and easily transportable steamer that fits right inside your chicken.

When vertically roasting your chicken with beer, season both the skin and the meat beneath with a good dry rub.  You want smokiness in your rub, so whatever spice combination you choose, be sure to include at least a little bit of paprika, as its deep earthiness is perfect for this type of cooking.  Figure roughly 10 minutes per pound of bird, and then add another 10 minutes to the cooking time.  Ideally, you never want to cook meat right after you pull it out of the refrigerator, but since nobody really lives in that ‘ideal’ world, if you put your chicken in the oven while it is still cold, add another 10 minutes to the overall cooking time.

So, worst case scenario, from start to finish you are looking at maybe an hour between getting home from a hard day of work and eating a meal that is both delicious and nutritious.  And, you have another excuse to have more beer lying around the house.

It’s win-win.

Dec 132009

Fresh-ground pepper tastes entirely different from the kind you buy pre-ground. It’s spicier, more aromatic, and in a word, better. The same can be said of ground sea salt.  Although the grinding process doesn’t affect salt’s flavor as much as pepper, using a salt mill will allow you to integrate sea salt into your cooking by making it smaller. Sea salt is much more flavorful than the traditional table salt that comes in small granules.

No matter how simple salt and pepper grinders may be, they’ll make a world of difference in your food. Follow the tips below to have the best salt and pepper possible.

Tip #1: Only keep a little pepper in your mill.

If you don’t use pepper very often, only fill your grinder partially. Most people don’t know that pepper can go stale. It won’t taste its best if left in a grinder for months. Store your peppercorns in an airtight container somewhere cool and dark. Add them to your grinder only when necessary. For salt, there’s no limit on the amount of product you can keep out. You don’t have to worry about salt going bad if left in the grinder for too long.

Tip #2: Avoid cleaning in water.

Don’t try to clean your salt or pepper mill in water, especially if they are made of wood. Instead, clean with a small brush and wipe the surface with window cleaner. Never put your salt or pepper mill in the dishwasher.

Tip #3: Keep the salt in the salt mill.

Don’t try to buy a pepper mill for your salt. Salt mills are specially designed for sea salts. If placed in pepper mills, salt can corrode the internal steel mechanism and may clog the grinding system.

Tip #4: Only fill with dry salt.

Only dry salt should be used in a salt mill. Damp salt will clog the grinder, unless you have a mill designed for sea salt.

Tip #5: Adjust for different grinds.

Every good salt or pepper mill will have a way to adjust the size of the grind. You can usually do this by turning the screw on top of the grinder. You can always adjust to a coarser grind, but if you want finer salt or pepper, you will have to empty the mill first.

Tip #6: Pay attention to pepper color.

Black and white peppercorns are small and easy to grind. However, green and pink ones are a bit bigger. These peppercorns can clog your mill if you aren’t careful. Never try to grind pink or green pepper alone. Instead, mix these peppercorns in with standard black or white pepper.

Tip #7: Buy as a pair.

Some companies sell salt and pepper mills together. This is a good option because the grinder will match. If you aren’t as concerned about a salt grinder, you could also purchase a salt shaker and pepper mill combo. This design is convenient because it keeps both spices together.

Jul 252009