Spiced and Iced Hibiscus Tea (Agua de Jamaica)

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I was recently gifted with a very large bag of dried hibiscus blossoms. When I say gifted, I mean lifted from the ‘grab table’ on set. Dark and shriveled, it’s hard to believe they’re the same flowers in a Hawaiian lei.

I love hibiscus ‘Jamaica’, the magenta punch served in Latin American restaurants. At Tortaria near Union Square, they have a huge jug of it alongside horchata. And I have a special place in my heart for the hibiscus doughnut at Dough in Brooklyn. It’s one of those things that tastes as good as it looks, perhaps better.

I discovered (re: Googled) that brewed hibiscus is actually a global drink, with variations in Egypt, the Middle East, West Africa, the Philippines, Thailand, the Caribbean and even Italy. Who knew? My version is cold-brewed with black tea and mulling spices leftover from the holidays. Don’t worry, it won’t taste like liquid potpourri, the spices are actually very subtle. Be warned: hibiscus is quite tart, like cranberry juice, so sweeten accordingly. It also makes a great base for a rum cocktail. Just saying.

Spiced and Iced Hibiscus Tea

  • 2 quarts water
  • 5 tea bags (any type, I used black tea)
  • 1/2 cup dried hibiscus blossoms
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 star anise pods
  • 1 orange, sliced, divided
  • Simple syrup, to taste*

Directions

  1. Combine the water, tea bags, hibiscus blossoms, cinnamon stick, star anise and half of the orange slices in a large pitcher or jar. Cover and chill overnight.
  2. Strain and serve over ice, garnished with remaining orange slices. Sweeten with simple syrup, if desired.

*Simple syrup: combine equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Allow to cool before mixing into tea or coffee.

Brown Butter Brownies

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I first made these simple chocolate brownies last Valentine’s Day. They were topped with dulce de leche ice cream and washed down with lots of champagne (gal pal holidays at their finest). They were so good, I found myself turning to the recipe about once a month. Dressed up with Maldon sea salt, they were perfect for dinner parties. Spiked with espresso and more dark chocolate, they made the trip to Long Beach Island.

If you’re looking for a cake-like, vaguely chocolate, somewhat sandy brownies, don’t make these. These are intensely chocolatey, rich, dense. They rely on a combination of brown butter and cocoa powder and very little flour. What I like most (besides their taste) is their versatility. For holiday appeal, I added a dash of peppermint extract to the batter and covered them warm with crushed candy canes. Wrapped in parchment and cellophane, they’d make a great gift.

Brown Butter Brownies 

From Bon Appetit

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, chilled
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all purpose flour

  1. Preheat oven to 325F. Line an 8×8 baking pan with foil; coat with cooking spray.
  2. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Continue cooking for about 5 minutes, stirring often, until butter stops foaming and brown bits form at the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat.
  3. To the saucepan, add sugar, cocoa, 2 tsp. water, vanilla and a large pinch of salt. Stir to blend then allow to cool slightly.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time, whisking throughly after each addition. When mixture looks shiny, add flour and stir until thoroughly blended (may take about a minute). Stir in mix-ins (optional).
  5. Bake brownies until toothpick inserted comes out almost clean, about 25 minutes. Do not overbake!! Cool slightly then transfer to the freezer for a bit – this will make them easier to slice into clean squares.

The Oatmeal Raisin Cookie

These are it (dare I say?) the perfect oatmeal cookie. I don’t use the ‘P’ word lightly, you see, it just sets the bar too high. But these, these are some mighty fine cookies, if I do say so. What makes them different? The basic thick & chewy cookie is bolstered with 2 kinds of oatmeal (old-fashioned and quick) for varying texture. Keeping with the theme, both golden and black raisins add a pop of sweetness. Toasted pecans provide a satisfying crunch. And have patience: a chill before baking allows the dough to “marinate”, melding the flavors and preventing excess “spread” during baking. So follow the recipe, pour yourself a cup of tea and revel.

The Oatmeal Raisin Cookie

Yield: About 4 dozen small cookies or 3 dozen larger cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 cups quick oats
  • 3/4 cup golden raisins
  • 3/4 cup black raisins
  • 1 cup toasted pecans, chopped
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F
  2. In a large bowl, beat together the butter, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla until smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt together. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture into the butter/sugar mixture and beat, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Repeat this process twice more with the remaining 2/3 of the flour mixture. Stir in the oats, raisins and pecans.
  3. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes or the freezer for about 15 minutes. You can refrigerate the dough for up to 24 hours before baking.
  4. Roll the dough into balls and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Flatten the tops slightly. Bake for 1o to 12 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through. They are done when the edges are lightly golden – the tops may appear a bit doughy.
  5. Remove from the oven and let the cookies sit on the hot baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool.
-Recipe adapted from  smitten kitchen