I like to eat, as does my family. But cooking, not so much.
I have an apology to offer: I am woefully unqualified to review a cookbook.
What was I thinking? Here is what I was thinking: I like tea. A lot. I drink tea nearly everyday, sometimes more than one steaming mug of that elixir each day. So when I read the description of this book, Steeped: Recipes Infused with Tea, by Annelies Zijderveld, in the Speakeasy Book review email, I said, "Yes." Immediately after accepting the request to write the review, I began to worry and even regret my decision. I am not an enthusiastic cook. I am not an adventurous cook. I am barely a cook at all. However, now that I've had the book for a few weeks and have had a chance to cook through some of it, I am glad I let my love of tea guide me to this lovely book about tea.
It is a beautiful book. Photographs of pasta dishes, fancy teapots, silverware, flowers, fruit, dishes of well-crafted food - it is all delightful to look at and the recipes we created were delightful to eat and drink. I must be honest - my daughter and I (she is really the better cook of the two of us) didn't make every recipe in the book. In the coming days and weeks, we plan to make more of them, and we expect that we will enjoy the future finished products as much as we have enjoyed the ones we've tried thus far.
Annelies begins the book by explaining the differences between the types of tea we commonly drink - black tea, green tea, white tea, oolongs, and herbal tisanes (she explains why they aren't actually "tea"). She goes on to explain how to brew tea - water temperatures and brewing times. She specifies kitchen utensils and pantry supplies that will make cooking with tea an easier endeavor. Those few pages piqued my curiosity and drew me into the rest of the book with greater interest.
I had no idea that breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert could be so elegantly elevated by the addition of tea. I had no idea that popcorn, ice cream, granola, smoothies, jam, pancakes, salads and even egg sandwiches could benefit from the deep flavors and rich colors of tea. I love a warm cup of matcha green tea in the morning, but seeing it poured over ice cream like a sauce, deepened my appreciation of its versatility. One of my favorite soups is corn chowder, and this book substitutes the traditional veggie broth with chamomile tea. Lovely.
One suggestion I would make to anyone planning to buy and use this book, make sure you read the recipe completely before beginning it. I suppose that's true of any recipe book, but we made the mistake of not reading all the way through and sometimes found ourselves unprepared for the steps as we read them. So if you find that you need to brew tea and let it steep for significant periods of time, or if you are making a yogurt parfait that includes the step of allowing tea and yogurt to refrigerate together for up to four days, or if you need to raise the temperature of jelly up to 220 degrees but you don't have a thermometer, you are in trouble. Trust me on that. I am somebody who tends to decide on a recipe based on whether I already have the ingredients in the house. In the case of many of these recipes, mercifully they were made of relatively common ingredients (which is a blessing) but they involve relatively adventurous techniques (which is a challenge for kitchen novices like me). Let me emphasize that this is not a complaint about the book - it is a suggestion for its readers. Even after reading the introduction and tea primer, I still managed to not be prepared for all that the recipes required. So I figured I would pass along this example of my ineptitude as a warning to others to be more attentive than I was.
If you like to cook, if you like to drink tea, if you like to rethink and reconfigure dishes that you have mastered, and if you are intrigued by the idea of mixing the teas you love into the foods you love, then this is the cookbook for you. And if you are like me, and you just like to look at beautiful cookbooks and drool over well edited photographs, then this is the cookbook for you too.
When/If you buy this book and decide which dishes you will create and recreate, please invite me over to taste your tea-soaked creations.
I'm always up for a hot cup of tea and an enthusiastic conversation while enjoying somebody else's cooking.
Just ask my daughter.