Author: Sasha Martin

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What’s the difference? Tasting Ceylon Teas

English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast, English Afternoon… Why so many names when they’re all “100% Ceylon Tea”? My husband gave me a box set of black teas for Christmas. I poured intently over the dozen-or-so varieties only to discover that, while the tea names varied, the labels all listed the same ingredient: 100% Ceylon Tea. The issue came up again this month: I am fueling my book tour with gallons of tea … and yet every cuppa is little more than a brew of 100% Ceylon Tea. Isn’t the definition of insanity Doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results? I had to find out what was going on. My next move? A literal “pouring over” with hot water. Every morning I sipped a different tea only to remain perplexed: I couldn’t detect a noticeable difference in the teas. Feeling more and more duped, I decided to host an official tea tasting.  And, since I wanted to be sure of the results, I did it with my husband and friend. How to set up an accurate tea tasting: Whether you’re …

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Living with my memoir out in the world

Between recipes and global tips I want to take a moment to pause, breath in, and thank you, my beautiful readers. You continue to welcome me as I tour the country and promote my debut memoir, Life from Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Forgiveness. Your warmth humbles me. You tell me it’s safe to cry with you – and good thing, because I can’t seem to stop. I did it in book signings, on live radio, and in front of live studio audiences. I did it when that one host asked me “What would you tell your ten year old self?” Tears streamed down as I choked out the words “Nothing, I’d just hug her.” If you read the book you know my ten year old self sorely needed hugs. Sharing my life story makes me feel naked on stage but I learned something amazing: when you’re willing to be vulnerable, so are your friends. We’ve cried together, you and I, sometimes without words being exchanged. Just a knowing look can be enough. Others have opened …

Irish Red Velvet Cake Recipe

O’Hara’s Irish Red Velvet Cake with Bailey’s Buttercream

Think you need to eat green this Saint Patrick’s Day? Think again. Come Saint Patrick’s Day, few desserts can stand up to the mighty Guinness Chocolate Cake – until now.  Irish Red Velvet Cake is as cheery as a wee leprechaun’s cheeks and as fiery as his beard. The crimson batter contains a dusting of cocoa and is bound with buttermilk – both characteristics of a traditional Red Velvet Cake, popular in the American South. But a few glugs of O’Hara’s Irish Red Ale gives this otherwise ordinary cake Celtic edge. This delightful Irish-American fusion makes an ideal dessert for the 40 million Irish Americans who celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day every year. (And, since Saint Patrick’s Day is more widely celebrated by Irish Americans than the Irish, this fusion turns out to be quite apropos.) What is an Irish Red Ale? Irish Red ales are reddish-brown in color and full-bodied. In the case of O’Hara’s, toasted malt sweetens the drink, while a bit of hops deepens the finish. Too much of the bubbly brew can give the Irish Red Velvet Cake a yeasty, bread-like flavor – a modest 1/2 cup does the trick. Cutting back on the …

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Samoan Tropical Salad

Summer can’t come soon enough – the heat of sun on my shoulders, the way my skin smells with sunscreen on, hot evenings under the stars. So today we’re going to Samoa. There’ll be drippy sweetness: papaya and cantaloupe. There’ll be richness, too – buttery avocado and moody – almost bitter – spinach. And to finish it all off? A puckering of lime juice – as bright as a Samoan seascape.   Typically known for rich, coconut milk-laden recipes, this Samoan salad is a healthier twist on island fare. The version I based mine on even won a Samoan recipe challenge! I chose this salad for sentimental reasons – something to set the scene a bit for the release of my new book Life from Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Forgiveness. I went to Samoa 2 months before I was born (as a real life stowaway, I suppose). Scientists believe our taste preferences can be affected by what our mother’s ate while we were gestating. I like to think I carry a bit of Samoa with me today. It was an …

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On sending my book out into the world

They say writing a book is like having a baby. I’m not so sure.

My memoir,  Life from Scratch is due into the world on March 3rd, 2015. I started writing in 2013 and can assure you that the 2-year gestation period was one of the most challenging periods of my career. I am just now starting to feel the butterflies as early press pours in from Women’s Day, O Magazine, and Food and Wine.

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Peking Walnuts

In the spirit of DIY deliciousness, why not start off the Chinese New Year with something sweet and savory? Peking Walnuts are an impressive affair – the glossy walnuts appear lacquered, but it’s really just a simple sugar coating that’s been dunked in a vat of hot vegetable oil. While the walnuts cook, the sugar caramelizes onto the crust and takes on a reddish hue – just like Peking Duck. The red color makes Peking Walnuts lucky. What’s the story with the color red and Chinese New Year? Legend has it that a Chinese beast called Nian lives under the sea and mountains. He is afraid of the color red. Chinese families use lots of red during the New Year to scare him away.Today, red signifies both luck and joy in Chinese culture. How to make Peking Walnuts (and impress all your friends): Grab a bunch of walnuts. Boil them until their skins fall off. Dry well. Toss with sugar and let dry for a couple of hours in a sunny spot (or overnight).   Meanwhile, go watch some fireworks! When you return, deep …

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Salad Niçoise

There’s nothing like a mid-winter picnic, especially if Salad Niçoise is part of the equation. The other day my daughter asked if we could eat dinner outside. It was sunny, the temperature in the mid-sixties. My answer? Most definitely. We bundled up – each in a cozy sweater – and set up our colorful spread on the scraggly winter landscape. For the Salad Niçoise, I piled on delicately steamed French beans, hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, and everything deliciously funky: Tuna, olives, capers and a few anchovies (for salty chew). A handful of crackers with cheese completed dinner (though a hunk of crusty bread would be nice, too). My husband flashed us all back to his “Mr Picky” days as he struggled to down one solitary anchovy. He did the work but remains unconvinced of their merits. My daughter escaped the challenge since she’s a self-proclaimed vegetarian, focusing her efforts instead on the vegetables and cheese (for protein). As for myself, I ate everything. While we enjoyed our meal, the sun sunk behind our neighbors’ rooftop (taking the warmth with it). Our fingers gradually chilled until we …

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Kir Impérial

In honor of Valentine’s Day – and being one month away from the release of my new memoir (Eeee!!) – I went to the “way back” machine and dug up what I consider to be the most romantic of all French drinks: a Kir Impérial. There are only two things you need to know about Kir Impérial. #1 It bubbles. #2. It tastes like love. But… since I’m a front row kind of gal… The Story Behind Kir Once upon a time the Kir was actually called “vin blanc cassis” – which just means “white wine currants.” According to Larousse Gastronomique, this was a specialty drink from Burgundy, France. It mixed two of the region’s best drinks: an Aligoté wine (dry white wine) and cassis (black currant liqueur). After World War II everything changed. A priest, who helped 5,000 people escape a prisoners of war camp, was knighted and elected as the mayor of Dijon. He always served vin blanc de cassis during official meetings and celebrations, in part because there was a red wine shortage. His name was – you guessed it – Felix …

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Going “Down Under” with an Easy Kid’s Lunch

Throwing together a Down Under lunch requires just a few fun ingredients. My kindergartner loves a good cheese sandwich (don’t we all!?) so this week I smeared her sandwich bread with sticky, salty yeast extract like they do in Australia and New Zealand (I couldn’t find Aussie’s preferred version, Vegemite, so I used Marmite, the version preferred in Britain and New Zealand). Let the record state: ooey gooey cheese paninis with yeast extract are also grand! The salty smack goes a long, long way; don’t overdo it! Next, leftovers came to the rescue. On the side are leftover sweet potatoes drizzled with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. In New Zealand and parts of Australia they call sweet potatoes “kumara.” The shining star of the meal came from the fruit basket: one shiny Granny Smith apple. These green beauties were first cultivated in Australia in 1868. What an easy, authentic addition to the lunch box. The container came back empty, so I’d say her lunch “down under” was a success! Tips & Tricks: Ava’s lunch is vegetarian but others might enjoy tossing the sweet potatoes …

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Eritrean Spiced Bread | Hembesha

This year Ava and I brought a loaf of Eritrean Hembesha bread to the annual Martin Luther King parade. It’s a random sort of thing to bring to a parade, but I’d just pulled batch #3 out of the oven and couldn’t stand the thought of the bread cooling down without being able to enjoy a still-steaming, soft wedge. There are few things better than a steaming-hot piece of homemade bread.  Hembesha is no exception: the east African bread is soft and earthy with whispers of garlic, coriander, cardamom, and fenugreek. The distinct flavor profile is great with hearty stews or even on the side of scrambled eggs (perfect for a savory brunch). That being said, hembesha is traditionally served in the afternoon with tea and a drizzle of honey and/or tesmi (tesemi is spiced ghee made with ginger, garlic, onions, and berbere) While original recipes decorate the flat loaves with nails, I’ve used a ravioli wheel (the idea came from the blog Yesterdish). I learned the hard way – don’t just score the dough – cut through 99-100% of the …

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5 Easy ways to use up your spices

Cleaning out the spice drawer: you either love or hate the job. For every person that has a collection of barely-used spices from their wedding 20 years ago, there are folks who try to rotate through their spices yearly. But sometimes we get stuck on how to use up that last tablespoon of a spice without trudging through an obscure recipe (a recipe that probably barely uses a pinch of the herb or spice anyway).  The good news is that we don’t need recipes – there are a handful of quick solutions to make using up your spices simple and painless: 1. Seasoned Butter This is by far the easiest method to use up spices – soften a stick or two of butter on the counter, then mix in 1-2 tablespoons of salt-free herbs or spices. Try making a sweet blend with cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg (honey is great in here, too). Or try a savory version with oregano, basil, and garlic (really any green herbs will work together!). Or go spicy with hot paprika, berbere or ground harissa. It’s …

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Labneh

For much of December I found myself being entertained rather than entertaining. It was a nice, relaxing way to spend two weeks but I find myself – even now that we’re well into the New Year – looking for a way to make someone else feel special and cared for.  After some recipe rummaging, I had my answer: Labneh. Soup might comfort, jelly might wibble-wobble, but Labneh delights. This Middle Eastern thickened yogurt appetizer seems oh so fancy but is really a set-it-and-forget-it kind of affair – exactly what I need to pay it forward during a busy time of year. It’s mild and tangy – but if you use full fat yogurt, very creamy and indulgent in a… healthy way (it’s made with yogurt, after all). Does your mind ever wander when you cook? Mine does. As the yogurt strained in the cool, dark refrigerator I considered the people who came in my life for no more than a season – perhaps a brilliant season, perhaps a painful one. I reminded myself that letting them go is a gift. Ahhhh, what a gift for my heart. …