The Republic of Tea: plantain coconut raw green bush tea

Raw Green Bush Tea Plantain Coconut Tea drinkers know that this ancient beverage is not only fragrant, delicious and warming, but it's also healthy and beneficial to the diet.

I'm a coffee drinker most mornings.  But because of the antioxidant-rich properties of tea, I'm interested in the health benefits of tea-drinking.

Recently, The Republic of Tea sent me a sample of their new raw green bush teas - red teas made with the South African wonder herb Rooibos, pronounced roy-boss

Rooibos was originally prepared and enjoyed by local African Bushmen, who fermented and sundried the leaves of this wild mountain plant.

The Republic of Tea uses modern production
 processes - lightly steaming just harvested plants below 115 degrees F - to halt oxidation and the green version of this red tea is the base for their new line of Raw Green Bush Teas.

The line has five flavors - Organic Raw Green, Plantain Coconut, Black Currant Cardamom, Mango Chili, and Orange Red Carrot.

We sampled Plantain Coconut - two of our Island favorite flavors.  One of the ways I love tea is milky, perhaps spiced with chai, and sweetened with honey. But I know studies show milk reduces the benefits of tea's antioxidants, which can reduce the risk of certain cancers, heart disease and stroke as well as protect against Alzheimer's disease. 

So, I was delighted to find this low tannin green tea tastes great without milk or sugar. 

Even though I steeped it for a strong brew, there was no bitterness and the tea had a slight natural sweetness. The tea's bouquet was perfumed and aromatic. 

A complementary benefit of tea-drinking is taking the moment to slow down, to sip and savor, engaging all the senses.  Plantain coconut raw green bush tea is a great brew to indulge yourself with a little exotic flavor.

Raw green bush teas are also rich in iron, magnesium, potassium, fluoride, zinc, manganese, calcium and Vitamin C. For the diet conscious, they are caffeine and calorie free.

The teas come in a canister with 36 unbleached tea bags and retail for $10 U.S.

Hamilton Beach Custom Grinder hands free helper

Hamilton Beach Custom Grinder I never need more than a few cups of coffee ground, but if I do, the new Hamilton Beach Custom Grinder will do the trick.

Fifteen cups with hands free! I've hit the mother lode.

My father has an old-fashioned crank grinder, one that was used in the 20s and 30s. I'm not sure of the provenance, but maybe it was my grandfather's or more likely my stepmom's.

I like the look of the old-time grinder, the simplicity of it too. I may have to hunt one down for my use. It seems like the perfect tool for my single cup household.

But in the meantime, I like the efficiency of this little electric workhorse. I have two other grinders and I love them, but I have to stay put when they're in use. You have to hold the cap to activate the grinder action.

In this age of unceasing motion and multitasking, the coffee grinder requiring constant attention is a drawback. We need those extra minutes to increase productivity - or so we're lead to believe.

I like the fact that I can adjust the grind to my coffee maker - drip, espresso, perk. And the retractable cord keeps counters clutter-free. Too bad there isn't a nifty electronic mechanism to order everything else on the kitchen counter.

The Hamilton Beach Custom Grinder retails for $19.99.


Seattle Gourmet Coffee a great home brew

Emerald City Blend is wonderful wake-me-up

Always on the alert for a great tasting new coffee to brew at home, I was delighted to taste test the micro-roasted coffees of Seattle Gourmet Coffee.

The master roasters at Seattle Gourmet Coffee sent me three pounds of beans, one each of Emerald City Blend, Northwest, and Sorrento.

Grinding was a delight as I inhaled the rich and aromatic aroma of the coffees. If the nose of these coffees is any indication - dark, nutty and potent. The kitchen was filled with an enticing invitation to perk a pot.

I tried the Sorrento first. Billed as a darker Italian style roast, typical of Southern Italy, I found it to be lighter than I was expecting. Smooth and low acid, I recommend a higher coffee to water ratio to achieve a fuller bodied brew. 

Northwest,  a medium-bodied roast with a smooth and spicy finish, was next.  This coffee is balanced and has an amazing depth of flavor.  A real bargain at $11.95 per pound.

When I think of Emerald City, I think of the bejeweled fantasy city of the Wizard of Oz.  Now, after tasting Seattle Gourmet Coffee's blend of African, South and Central American, and Indian coffee beans, I'll be dreaming of a hot and tasty cup of java.

Emerald City Blend with its luxurious mouthfeel and intense flavor was by far the favorite. 

Seattle Gourmet Coffees can be bought online and the company also offers a Coffee of the Month Club (a terrific value at $50 for one pound per month, plus shipping & handling, as well as a 30% discount on future purchases ). 

Seattle Gourmet Coffee is offering 10% off your order with the following promotional code: BURKE 1.

The ultimate gourmet marshmallow: Plush Puffs

Caramel swirl Plush Puffs dunked in so-good chocolate fondue

If your notion of marshmallows is old school bags of semi-soft sort of bland Campfires, then we have some serious good news for you.

Plush Puffs are plump all natural marshmallow pillows packed with flavor from Vanilla Bean to Caramel Swirl (my personal favorite) to Peppi Mint and Chocolate Chipetta. 

The plush bags of gourmet marshmallows retail for $6 for 16-18 i -inch cubes of gooey deliciousness.

Eat them straight out of the bag plain, toasted, dunked in chocolate fondue, or afloat in your hot chocolate.

Need more inspiration? Plush Puffs' website has recipes.

Top Paris pastry chef opens Nutella patissierie

Nutella is my secret vice

I am of a certain age, which here means that I can remember a time that Nutella was sadly NOT available in US groceries.

I remember stashing jars of the chocolatey, nutty goodness in my suitcase to hold me until my next trip over the pond.

Thank goodness this indignity has been rectified, although I still think the European product far superior to what we mere Nutella newbies get stateside. And technically, US Nutella is manufactured in Canada.

For those of you fortunate enough to find yourselves in Paris, My Little Paris, the insider's guide to La Ville-Lumière or the City of Lights, suggests La pâtisserie des rêves (93 rue du Bac, 7th Metro Rue du Bac or Sèvres Babylone tel : 00 33 1 42 84 00 82) where pastry chef Phillippe Conticini creates the recipes in his cookbook,Sensations Nutella dedicated exclusively to the jar of chocolately, nutty deliciousness.

We can't think of anything more divine.

Heart Healthy Goodness to Go: Dr. Lankin's Awesome Almonds


Fellow foodie Maura Badji. Read more of her musings on other subjects.

My friend Velma, a school nurse, always packs healthy snacks for work, family, and social outings.  Carrot sticks and hummus, celery and low-fat cheese.  I admire that in a school nurse. 

When I remember to pack a snack, I tend to pack carrot sticks & dark chocolate,  pears & brie,  Pringles & yogurt.  It's all about balance, I say when she laughs at me. 

Lately, I've been trying to follow in her healthy footsteps and snack on more globally healthful foods.  In June we took our two sons to see the UniverSoul circus, where all the snacks for sale promised immediate cardiac events, which did not stop 90% of the audience from chowing down on funnel cakes bigger than their heads. 

Right in the middle of a death-defying yet hilarious stunt, performed by what looked like the host of Sprockets and a young Mr T, Velma passed me a can of raw almonds. 

Raw.  Unsalted.  Almonds.  At the circus.  Festive as gluten-free cookies at Christmas. (My apologies to the celiac sufferers.)

Undaunted,  I reached in my bag and pulled out a plastic pouch of Awesome Almonds' Cocoa Espresso almonds.  Heart-healthy nuts, rich cocoa and a little kick of caffeine in one bite.  Who would have thought to put these three taste treats together yet still keep the calories down?  A doctor, as it turns out.     

Dr. Ken Lankin developed Awesome Almonds seven years ago as a healthy treat for his patients who were following low-carb, but sometimes unexciting diets. 

Artisanally crafted in small batches,  Awesome Almonds are heat-sealed right from the roasting kettle for maximum flavor and aroma.  At 170 calories per 1 ounce serving, this snack has no cholesterol, sodium, or transfat; Awesome Almonds are naturally preserved with Vitamin E. 

Also available in orange vanilla, and cinnamon vanilla, this certified Kosher and Vegan snack is portable, tasty, and yes Velma, healthy.   

Awesome Almonds can be purchased at, as well as fine food and healthfood stores

Maura Alia Badji's writing can also be found at and many literary journals, such as The Haight Ashbury Literary Journal and Switched-On-Gutenberg.

Norman Love Confections Unveils New Flavors

Simply delicious Norman Love Confections Seven new handcrafted white, milk and dark chocolate flavors have been introduced into award-winning Norman Love Confections' (NLC) 2009 product line complete with 36 flavors and its new ultra-premium dark chocolate line titled BLACK.

New 2009 flavors include: Banana Nut Bread; Chocolate Pretzel; Creole Truffle; Honey Toffee Truffle; Key Lime Shell; Passion Panna Cotta; and Toasted Almond.

Chocolatier and founder of NLC Norman Love explains that through a collaborative process, his team works to put together identifiable single flavors stemming from American foods and beverages.

"Regardless of the new flavors we focus on making each piece of premium chocolate perfect with the freshest ingredients," Love says. "We also try our best to transfer the flavor profile with an aesthetic. Americans eat with their eyes, so delivering a visual wow factor in addition to the taste wow is critical

The 2009 new flavors focus on comfort foods and popular American dishes. "Many of us have memories of our mom or grandmother as a child from the kitchen," Love states. "Who cannot recall the fresh baked smell of banana nut bread?"

Following is a description of the newly unveiled 2009 flavors:

Banana Nut Bread: A rich banana ganache with roasted walnuts and a touch of vanilla.

Chocolate Pretzel: A fun and flavorful pairing crunchy baked pretzels and rich dark chocolate.

Creole Truffle: A 49% dark Venezuelan Chocolate made from Criolo beans and blended with cream and butter.

Honey Toffee Truffle
: A buttery vanilla toffee ganache made with Tasmanian Honey and blended with Swiss milk chocolate.

Key Lime Shell: Classic and simple, made with fresh key lime juice and the feeling of a little Florida sunshine with each bite.

Passion Panna Cotta: A light buttermilk ganache layered with passion fruit and vanilla jam covered in white chocolate.

Toasted Almond: Roasted almonds blended into a Swiss white chocolate ganache and accented with a touch of amaretto and Kahlua.

All of NLC's regular assorted boxes are available in 10-, 15-, 18-, 25- and 36-piece boxes starting at $22 for the 10-piece box (prices do not including shipping and applicable taxes).

For those visiting NLC's chocolate salon in Ft. Myers, Florida, they can indulge in a piece of luxury for as little as $1.50.

Finalists for Outstanding New Product of 2009 announced

Tortilla chips with olives and capers, breakfast cheese and organic blood orange soda are among the 11 finalists for the 2009 sofi Award for Outstanding New Product of 2009.

The sofi Awards, presented by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, honor the outstanding specialty foods and beverages of the year in 33 categories. “sofi” stands for specialty outstanding food innovation.

Finalists for Outstanding New Product 2009 are:

    * Belle Chevre -  Belle & The Bees Breakfast Cheese
    * Chex Finer Foods - Laurel Hill Tortilla Chips - Olive and Caper
    * Clotho Corp. -  Haddrell's of Cambridge Rewarewa Honey
    * European Imports Ltd.-  Cucina Viva Roasted Red Tomatoes
    * Grafton Village Cheese Co. - Grafton Duet
    * Koppert Cress USA - Mustard Cress Single Retail Unit
    * New England Herbal Foods -  Danielle Fruit Chips - Roasted Coconut
    * Sonoma Syrup Co.™ - Acai Black Currant Superfruit Syrup™
    * The Gracious Gourmet - Dilled Carrot Tomato Tapenade
    * Theo Chocolate - Theo Limited Edition Collection
    * Vinnedge Distributing Inc.- Vergnano Italian Organic Blood Orange Soda

A national panel of specialty food experts tasted and evaluated 1,997 products over five days at NASFT offices in New York this spring.

They selected 128 finalists across 33 categories, including Outstanding Chocolate, Cheese, Snack Food and Olive Oil. The last two groups of finalists were selected earlier this month, for Outstanding New Product and Outstanding Product Line.

The finalists will be judged by attendees at the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York. Gold winners will be announced at a special ceremony Monday, June 29 hosted by noted chef Ming Tsai.

Awaken Savor's all natural spice blends

Read more from Maura here

Maura Alia Badji

Contributing Writer

Grocery store brands, dollar store finds,  more local fruits and veggies, less red meat, and home-cooked meals over take out---these are some of the cost-cutting measures I've adopted during this long recession. 

I like the challenge of saving the most money while getting the best food for my small family.

However, there are two things I won't stint on: good dark chocolate and fine spices. The right spices and marinades can dress up economical meals, enriching flavor and enhancing texture.  I consider it a double win if I can find reasonably priced fine spices and herbs. 

Awaken Savor's fine spice and herb blends offer exotic and enticing tastes from around the world at prices that don't break your budget. 

One of my favorite Awaken Savor blends is Ras el Hanout , a rosy-hued rub which includes saffron Subtle yet instense salt-free flavor stigma, mild paprika, cumin, ginger, coriander seed, cassia, turmeric, fennel seed, allspice, green cardamom seed, whole dill seed, galangal, nutmeg, rosebud powder, bay leaves, caraway seed, cayenne pepper, clove, mace, cubeb pepper, brown cardamom, lavender flowers, orris root.

Its subtle yet intense aroma, which reminded me of the Chicken Tikka Masala I had enjoyed for years at my favorite restaurant in Seattle, Cedars on Brooklyn, compelled me to prepare a home-cooked version. 

I also prepared chicken breasts, marinated in olive oil and pomegranate-infused wine vinegar with a pinch of salt (a habit I haven't totally dropped), and then grilled  for a quick lunch with steamed jasmine rice and greens.

Za'atar is a peppery, smoky traditional Middle Eastern blend of thyme, oregano, basil, savory, whole dry marjoram, ground sumac berries, sesame seeds, orange peel, and hyssop.  

Za'atar is something of an aquired taste.  However, I enjoyed Awaken Savor's version much more than  Penzey's Fine Spices blend, which I used a few years ago and found to be a little bitter. 

I whipped up a simple olive oil and lemon juice based marinade with a pinch of salt and chopped chives.  There was enough to divide for use on grilled tilapia filets one day and baked chicken breasts the next.  The blend has a multi-layered flavor which enhanced both the poultry and fish.

I approached Texas Tear Dropper meat rub with some trepidation. A fiery blend of chipotle, cayenne, aleppo, chiles, black peppercorns, wasabi, and mustard, I had been warned it was HOT. However, after marinading a London Broil in the rub with red wine vinegar and a little olive oil and grilling it to medium rare, I found the spice-infused meat extremely flavorful with just the right amount of heat.  It also has a strong and delicious aroma.

All Awaken Savor blends are salt free; I added a small amount of salt to two of the marinades I prepared, but you can easily do without.  They are all natural and each product comes with a recipe card that includes the origin of the blend.

Awaken Savor products are available at, and at many fine food stores. 

Give Dad grill power to go for Father's Day

Solaire Grill takes the BBQ with you

I don't think I've seen anything shinier and brighter or more fabulously functional than this Solaire Infrared Portable BBQ Grill, SOL-IR17B.

If Dad doesn't love it, you can always re-gift it to me. 

At 19 pounds, it's not a featherweight, but it's still pretty portable and comes with a heavy-duty, double strapped carrying case with extra pockets to carry extra one-pound propane refill tanks.  The 14,000 BTU infrared burner heats up in three minutes and cooks 50% faster than other grills.

Bring on the kebabs!