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Ideas, advice, and what to make now from the Chowhound community and CHOW editors.

Sweet Tea

Sweet tea is a southern staple, and there’s a good reason it’s called sweet tea, not iced tea. It’s real sweet; not just sweet, but sweeeet. It’s not all about sugar, though. Proper preparation and the right kind of tea are even more important, say chowhounds.

While the best hot brewed tea is made with loose leaves, southern sweet tea always begins with tea bags. Any good black tea will do, but there are specific brands hounds recommend. Luzianne tea, a New Orleans product, is blended especially for making iced tea, and will stay clear, says Candy, who warns that Assam teas make for cloudy iced tea. The ultimate tea for iced tea is from Charleston Tea Plantation (available as <a href=”http://www.bigelowtea.com/shop/details.cfm?si=1&sc=1&pi=00353
”>American Classic Tea from Bigelow). This, says Danna, is the only tea grown in the United States. “It smells sooooo good!”

Here’s how to make sweet tea:

Boil 4 cups of water with 1 cup of sugar. Add 10 regular-size tea bags, remove from heat and cover. Let sit until cool, then pluck out the the bags (don’t squeeze them, or you’ll make the tea cloudy). Pour into a gallon-size pitcher and fill with water or refrigerate the concentrate to make one glass at a time. It will only keep for a couple of days (LisaAZ).

Interesting tip: oc climber adds a pinch of baking soda to the boiling water to smooth out the tannins.

Becca Porter offers an alternate method: Put 4 cups of water in a medium saucepan. Add three tea bags, and turn the heat to medium. When bubbles form on the edge, pour the solution into a pitcher, and discard the tea bags. Stir in 1/2 to 3/4 cups sugar. Add two quarts cold water, and stir. Serve over ice. Becca prefers Lipton tea bags.

Board Links: sweet tea

Spicy Popcorn

Chowhounds like a spicy spin on their popcorn. Here are some favorite methods.

Use chili oil instead of vegetable vegetable oil for stove-top popping, plus add Parmesan cheese and salt (chowmeow).

Pop on stovetop in olive oil, then top with melted butter, kosher salt, and smoked Spanish Paprika (JaneRI).

Make “homemade” microwave popcorn in a plain paper bag: use 1/3 cup popcorn, a few drops water (around 1/4 tsp), around 1/2 tsp of chili oil, and a few shakes of coarse salt. Shake to distribute everything, fold top of bag over a few times, and microwave about 3 minutes (you’ll have to play with the time to see what works for your microwave (cheryl h).

Or, toss garlic powder, cayenne and Parmesan with standard unflavored microwave popcorn (MeowMixx).

Board Links: Spicy popcorn

The Secret to Light and Crispy Beer Batter

If you prefer fried fish, onion rings, etc., with a light, crispy crust (vs. a denser, crunchy one), Pei has discovered the secret: incorporate beaten egg white into a typical beer batter. Here’s her recipe:

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 T cornstarch
1 T baking powder
2 tsp salt
2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1 bottle of beer
2 egg whites

Mix all the dry ingredients together, add the beer, and stir to mix thoroughly. Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Mix a little of the batter into the whites, then mix that all back into the batter. The mixture of dry ingredients and beer can sit as long as an hour–but beat the egg whites just before frying.

Board Links: Egg Whites for Beer Batter

Reduced-Sugar Fruit Sorbet

Good, dead-ripe fruit is sweet enough that it doesn’t require lots of extra sugar when making desserts. But sugar plays a larger role than just sweetening in making sorbet–it also affects texture and freezability. Too little sugar will produce a sorbet that freezes rock hard when stored, and will be full of ice crystals even when fresh. Here are some strategies for reducing sugar without compromising quality.

Instead of adding simple syrup to your fruit puree, try stirring sugar directly in (superfine sugar dissolves best). The taste will be cleanest, and you won’t be adding unnecessary water, which could help produce ice crystals. A pinch of salt helps bring out the fruit’s flavor.

Add a bit of alcohol (about 2 T of vodka for a neutral taste, or use a liqueur with a complementary flavor) toward the end of your ice cream machine’s freezing cycle. Alcohol inhibits overfreezing.

Remember that if your mixture has the perfect sweetness before freezing, it will be less sweet after, as freezing mutes sweetness. So adjust accordingly!

Board Links: Sorbet with a Reduced Sugar Simple Syrup–Will it work?

What the Devil’s Got into Your Eggs?

Hounds offer up their favorite variations for filling deviled eggs.

-smoked paprika in the filling and as a garnish

-mayo, soy sauce, and chili-garlic paste

-wasabi and smoked salmon, topped with white and black sesame seeds

-high-quality unsalted butter and anchovy paste

-plain yogurt and mayo, curry powder, mango chutney, cilantro leaf garnish

-crumbled bacon

Board Links: Deviled egg variations ? Favorites for fruit salads? Suggestions please!

Light Lemon Hotcakes: Brilliance for Breakfast

These light, frsh-tasting lemony hotcakes, topped with fruit and a bit of syrup, are a perfect way to start your day.

Here’s Peppermint Pate’s recipe:

Stir together:
1 scant cup buttermilk
2 egg yolks
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla
zest of 2 lemons
Fold in:
1 T melted butter

In another bowl, sift:
3/4 cup all purpose flour
3 T sugar (preferably superfine)
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet mixture. Stir to incorporate. Whip two egg whites until soft peaks form and fold into batter. Cook in a lightly buttered pan. Serves 3 to 4.

Board Links: Peppermint Pate’s lemon hotcakes–Brilliance for breakfast!

The Secret Life of Condensed Milk

Sweetened condensed milk (SCM) has lots of uses beyond key lime pie and Thai iced tea. And while it’s high in sugar, at least it’s natural (ingredients are just milk and sugar, with no additives or preservatives). And even the low-fat and fat-free versions taste pretty rich. Note that SCM is often much cheaper in Latino or Vietnamese markets. Here are some ingriguing uses for this stuff:

SCM is used in Vietnamese-style coffee, but a heaping teaspoonful in your standard American cup is a superior alternative to anything else when you’ve run out of milk (rworange).

A spoonful of SCM takes oatmeal to an amazing level; add raisins and cinnamon and it’s almost like eating rice pudding.

A little SCM is terrific poured over stewed fruits, such as rhubarb.

Crushed ice, lime juice, and SCM served in a tall glass with a spoon makes a great creamy citrus drink (petradish).

Mix SCM with lemon, lime, or orange juice and zest to taste and and freeze in popsicle molds to make creamy frozen citrus bars.

Candy recommends a recipe for chocolate natillas (rich pudding made with SCM); she recommends using a very dark chocolate. See the recipe.

Use SCM to make homemade dulce de leche. (recipe)

Nestle has a SCM brand aimed at the Latino market called La Lechera, and recently introduced a flip-top plastic squeeze bottle version that makes it easy to use just a spoonful and store the rest safely in the fridge. If you store it upside-down, the SCM is ready to flow, with no drips. Dommy is a convert: “Now that I got my bottle, there is NO going back for me!”

Board Links: Elsie the Cow’s condensed milk is udderly swell

Superior Shrimp Cocktail

The two commandments of the superior shrimp cocktail are:

1. Excellent shrimp
2. Do not overcook

The best shrimp cocktails begin, naturally, with the best shrimp. Look for American white or pink, and avoid imported farm-raised tiger shrimp, which just don’t taste good. Buy frozen if you can–the ones you see in your fishmonger’s case were frozen and defrosted, so you’ll get fresher results if you do the defrosting yourself right before you cook.

For the best flavor, cook shrimp in their shells. If you cut a slit down the back (through the shell) before cooking, shelling will be much easier. Bring a large pot of water to boil, adding seasonings if you wish (JudiAU puts in lots of salt plus four times the amount of crab boil seasoning suggested on the seasoning package). Add shrimp, and remove as soon as they’re opaque (just 2-3 minutes for medium-sized ones). Dump them in a bowl of ice water to chill, then shell.

Everyone has different sauce preferences, but hounds agree that homemade beats off-the-shelf cocktail sauce. Homemade includes, however, doctored-up treatments of store-bought ingredients. For example, fix up Heinz Chili Sauce with some added horseradish and fresh lemon juice (ChinoWayne).

Dommy offers her family’s recipe for a Mexican-style shrimp cocktail (a.k.a. coctel de gambas):

To cooled, drained shrimp, add the following, all chopped: cucumber, red onion, cilantro, firm avocado, and serrano chiles. Stir in a mixture of ketchup and lemon juice. Serve with saltines.

Board Links: What makes a “good” shrimp cocktail (or is that a misnomer)?

Simple Dressing Formulas

Here are some simple formulas for combining condiments (along with salt and pepper) to create common dressings, which you can amp up with herbs, spices, and other flavorings of your choice to taste.

Ketchup + mayonnaise = Russian dressing

Ketchup + mayonnaise + relish (+ capers) = Thousand Island dressing

Mayonnaise + lemon juice + relish (+ capers) = tartar sauce

Board Links: Salad Dressings

Cajun Seasoning Mix

This recipe for Cajun-style seasoning (courtesy of Fleur), can be used in many ways: as a rub, in flour for dredging, in salad dressing, mixed with olive oil as a marinade for grilled meat, fish, chicken, and vegetables.

2 1/2 T sweet paprika
2 T kosher salt
2 T garlic powder
1 T black pepper
1 T onion powder
1 T cayenne pepper
1 T dried oregano
1 T dried thyme

Combine all ingredients, mix well. Store in an airtight container. Makes about 2/3 cup. Keeps a long time, until you use it all up.

Board Links
Cajun seasoning???