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Excelsior! As promised, I’ve finally got around to finishing up the first piece in a new series of cook-the-book style posts! First at-bat is Stan Lee Presents the Mighty Marvel Superheroes Cookbook. 

The book begins with a brief introduction and some basic tips on safety and kitchen cleanliness. Then, as any good morning would, delves into some breakfast.

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A wise man once said “There has never been a sadness that can’t be cured by breakfast food” and a trip to your local diner will prove that every time. While studies have more or less debunked the conventional wisdom that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, starting your morning with good food is a great way to set the tone for the rest of the day.

With Captain America’s Day Starters, we get a few different options for easy, healthy and delicious kick start.

‘Fresh fruit or fruit juice. Lots of vitamins C and A’

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I’ve wrote on here a few times about how great smoothies can be for breakfast. Blend up your favorite mix of fruits and veggies with some juice or milk (I also like to throw some type of sea vegetable in the mix) and you’re ready to go. Once you blend your mix, you can freeze it in an ice cube tray to make things even easier while you’re still groggy. This particular blend I threw together features banana, pineapple, orange, mango and sweet potato.

‘Milk is the best source of calcium. It’s need for strong bones and teeth. It also supplies protein – essential building blocks for our bodies’img_4825

Milk is certainly nutritious, if not a little bit weird as a concept, but yogurt has even more calcium and is loaded with beneficial bacteria. Mixed with granola and some fresh fruit, it makes for a hearty, protein-packed breakfast.

‘Bread or cereal, lots of variations in this department’

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For simplicity, flavor and customization, look no further than Avocado Toast, loaded with Omega 3 fats and complex carbohydrates. The only two things you need are in the name itself. Apart from avocado and toasted bread, the possibilities are near endless. The folks over that The Kitchn have a great piece to get your creative juices going; Here, I’ve got 12 grain bread with butter and sesame seeds, mashed avocado, and thinly sliced cucumber tossed with salt, pepper, chili flake and lime juice.

Now, for those looking for a more traditional American-style breakfast, look no further than Hulk’s Fried Potatoes with Bacon and Eggs

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This dish needs little explanation, if any at all. Bacon, eggs, toast, breakfast potatoes; Maybe some coffee, if you’re so inclined. I will give one little trick I recently picked  up while working mainly breakfast shifts: par-boil your potatoes with onions and garlic. This cooks them through, so when you fry ’em up they’ll be soft on the inside and crispy on the outside. It’s the same principle to making great French Fries.

In Our Next Exciting Issue…

The Thing’s Clobbered Omelet

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So, the theme of the week for Reddit’s 52 Weeks of Cooking Challenge is Nordic cuisine. As soon as I new that theme was coming up, I was ready to an awesome write-up about the explosion of popularity that Scandinavia has seen in recent years. About Rene Redzepi and about Noma, about Magnus Nilsson and Fäviken. To a much lesser extent,  I was going to write about how metal bands from the region are pretty spectacular. You can probably gather from the way this is going so far, those are not the things that I’m going to write about.

As I may or may not have mentioned on here before, I really have a thing for historical recipes. I think discovering how we ate through history is pretty fascinating, but also the recreation and reinterpretation of the same ideas can prove to be both challenging and exciting. So for Nordic cuisine, I wanted to look into how Vikings ate; what kind of staples held them over on their way to Valhalla. And as I typed “viking recipes” into the search engine, on only the second link to come up, and even the very first recipe from that link, a word appeared on the screen that would change my whole game plan.

Gruel

That’s right, gruel. The slop that was given to Dickensian orphans out of sheer economic necessity. As further research proved, gruel was actually a fairly common dish throughout Europe during the middle ages, and isn’t just a synonym for half-hilariously-half-painfully awful food. So, out the window  went my idea for a piece to pay homage to, if not the originators of than certainly the champions of, truly local food systems. In came the idea that amused me on a fairly childish level and made me giggle. I don’t know what that says about me as a chef.

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Similar to a thin porridge, gruel is really just a cereal or grain that’s cooked with milk. It seems like the thickness is the defining factor, often being drank rather than eaten. Fruit and sugar are common additions to make it a bit more palatable. According to the site, vikings made porridge and gruel between the 7th and 11th of May over an open fire in their longhouses (no details are given as to why those dates are relevant). This is a pretty traditional version of the dish: Toasted barley, pears and honey. It came together in about 30 minutes and would make for a perfect, hearty breakfast, especially considering that cold months are rapidly approaching.

Toasted Barley Gruel with Pears & Honey

makes about 2 servings

  • Anjou Pear, peeled, cored, 2 each
  • Water, 4 cups
  • Honey, 2 tablespoons, plus more as needed
  • Pearled Barley, 1 cup
  • Whole Milk, 4 cups
  • Kosher Salt, 1/4 teaspoon

Combine water and honey and bring to a boil. Poach pears until soft, about 3 minutes. Remove While pears are cooking, add barley to a dry sauce pot and bring to medium-high heat. Toast until aromatic, about 2 minutes. Add milk and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer  and cook until barley is tender, about 20 minutes. Dice cooked pears and mix with barley, serve hot, topped with honey.

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For whatever reason, this post has me at a loss for how to  begin. I think it’s partially due to to complexity of the region at hand: the Caribbean Islands. Depending on how you look at it, it can seem like a wide array of prospects. To many, the first thing that may come to mind the serene beaches and palm trees, utterly ruined by hoards of hoaky vacationers. To others, a certain swashbuckling movie franchise may conjure images of adventure on the high seas. I’ve been lucky enough to visit the Caribbean on several occasions in the past, largely from the boarding dock of a Carnival Cruise ship. Having spent my entire life in northern Vermont, it was a very otherworldly experience. Bright colors, ample sunshine, densely populated; It was almost entirely, but not completely, opposite of everything that I knew.

The first couple of trips, I was fairly young, I would say early teens. Whenever my dad got back from a tour in Afghanistan, we would take a cruise as a family for a week or so. Among the sights we saw, one thing that prevailed across every island we stopped at was the abundance of fruity, sweet, brightly colored liquor drinks. This is where my mom fell in love with Malibu coconut rum, and insisted that I loved it too (truthfully, even at 13 I thought it was nasty). On the islands, they were typically served in a short, clear plastic cup, but aboard the “Fun Ship”, they were served the way you imaging a fruity tropical drink to be served: a tall, curvy glass, with a little umbrella and a hunk of pineapple I’m pretty sure if you bought to cup the first time they would give you discount refills, probably so you’d forget how much money you blew in the casino. By and large, those are the kind of drinks you get in the Caribbean.

In a small shack on Green Turtle Cay in the Bahamas, one of the most iconic of these drinks, although probably one of the least known, developed in the early 1960’s.

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Photo Courtesy UncommonCaribbean

New Plymouth, which makes up the better part of the island, was originally settled in the 1800’s by travellers from New England. Almost smack-dab in the center, sits Miss Emily’s Blue Bee Bar. Adorned with tattered flags, postcards, and well-worn shirts, Miss Emily’s is a Bahamian institution, drawing travelers from across the world. While I’m sure you can get a variety of generic fruity drinks there, the Blue Bee is know for one thing and one thing only: The Goombay Smash. As the story goes, the drink was concocted by Miss Emily during a game of dominos. Likely for religious reasons, Miss Emily didn’t actually drink alcohol, so she had friends taste it and collective adopted the name Goombay Smash, after the style of music popular in the Bahamas.

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Photo Courtesy Rum Therapy

While the drink was an instant hit, the recipe has remained a family secret. Even today at the Blue Bee, the drink is never prepared to order, rather poured from a large jug. Violet, Miss Emily’s daughter, remains sole heir to the secret recipe, and has vaguely hinted at some of the ingredients that go into the classic drink: Coconut rum, various other types of rum, and pineapple juice. To me, that describes probably 90% of the drinks you can get in the area. After a good bit of Googling , my suspicions were confirmed. But during that research, the Goombay Smash turned up again in the last place I expected it to: right here in Vermont.

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Photo Courtesy Tripadvisor

In a town renowned for its ski resort, tropical drinks seem a bit out of place. However, the Goombay Smash sits prominently on the menu at Chalet Killington, and other bars in the snowy mountain town. First introduced by Bernie Pierce, a former bartender at the Chalet, little else in known about how the drink made it’s way to Vermont. If I had to place a wager, I would guess it’s due to seasonal work migration: When ski resorts die down in the summer, many employees pack off to places with better tourism, like the Caribbean.

In Vermont, the recipes maintain the shape you’d expect: rum, fruit juice, more rum, something sweet. In all honesty, I’m not a huge fan of this style of drink. They tend to be overly sweet, unbalanced, and boozy. But the history and tradition that the Goombay Smash was steeped in was too good for me to pass up, and I set out to make my own version.

The obvious starting place is the rum. The obvious starting place is the rum itself. In one regard, not much has changed in the past 11 years, and I still really dislike Malibu rum. To combat that, I tried my hand at infusing the rum myself.

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Coconut. White Rum. Not too difficult here. Two ingredients and time is all you really need to make your own version of the requisite spirit, minus all the sugar and artificial flavor. Combine the two and let steep in a cool, dark place for a about a week and you’re good to go. However, if you’re impatient like me, hot steeping is a quick fix: I vacuum sealed the two and steeped sous vide for about 2 hours. In hindsight, I wish I had waited. The coconut actually absorbed about 60% of the rum that went into it, so I was left with more rum-infused coconut than coconut-infused rum. The rum that it did yield also had a slick of coconut oil across the top, which I didn’t realize until after I had rebottled and cooled it, essentially corking the rum into the bottom of the bottle.

While I was in the DIY mood, I also made spiced rum, to a much high degree of success.

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This one is open to a little more interpretation, and can be built to suit your taste. Using amber rum as a base, I steeped it (again, sous vide) with vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, star anise, clove, allspice, nutmeg, black pepper, orange peel and cardamom.

With our liquor in hand, we can start to build the cocktail.

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Among the various recipes online, a few ingredients appeared in nearly all of them: Pineapple, orange, apricot brandy. In the interest of making it more like a traditional Smash-style cocktail, I also added some thyme for a nice herbal flavor to contrast the fruit.

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In the bottom of a cocktail shaker. I muddle the pineapple and thyme with fresh apricot and molasses (another Caribbean staple, here standing in for dark rum). I went about 50-50 with the coconut rum and spiced rum, but this can again be adjusted for how you like your drink. Add a some orange juice, give it a good shake, and you’re ready to go.

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The result? My version of the Goombay Smash certainly looks the part of the fruity drinks tourists love to guzzle, but a little less sweet and a little more complex flavor profile. I could certainly see myself sitting beachside with a couple of these for the next 30 years and being totally fine with it.

Goombay Smash

makes 1 drink

  • Pineapple, chopped, about 1/4 cup
  • Apricot, chopped, about 1/4 cup
  • Fresh Thyme, 2 sprigs, plus more for garnish
  • Molasses, about 2 tablespoons
  • Coconut Rum, 2oz
  • Spiced Rum, 2oz
  • Orange Juice, 6oz
  • Ice, as needed

In the top of a cocktail shaker, muddle pineapple, apricot, thyme and molasses until juices are released. Add rums and juice, then fill the shaker with ice, then seal with the bottom shaker. Shake cocktail thoroughly, then strain into an iced glass. Garnish with thyme (optional).

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Central Asia is our destination for the 38th week of Reddit’s 52 Weeks of Cooking Challenge, meaning looking at a cuisine from one of the six Stans: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan. Since Afghan cuisine is the only one that I’m even the least bit familiar with, I decided to start there. Unfortunately for most of central Asia, including Afghanistan, there isn’t much of a written history behind their cuisine. So rather than go on about something I can’t explain too thoroughly, I’ll get right into the food. I wouldn’t want to… babble on. Get it? Get it?

eshkana

One of my favorite things about the 52 weeks challenge is getting to research new foods, cultures, cuisines and ideas.  Much to my disdain, this week was incredibly frustrating to do that with. Afghan cuisine similar to that of the surrounding areas, relying heavily on native ingredients such as lamb, heavy spices, and dried fruits. Eshkana Miwa, a traditional Afghan dish, prefect showcases the latter of these three ingredients. A dish that I couldn’t find a translation for, let alone an origin or real specific description, consists of stewed fruits with onion, garlic and spices. Served with an egg poached in the cooking liquid for the fruits, it seems to be a breakfast or brunch dish served in late summer. After a long simmer, the dried prunes and apricots take on an almost meat-like characteristic, while still maintaining there definitive sweetness. The soft-poached egg ties everything together quite nicely, adding a rich fatty element to cut through the heavy sweetness. I don’t really know what else to say about this dish, which is a first for me. Hopefully I’ll be able to revisit this recipe at some point after doing much, much more research.

Eshkana Miwa, Afghan Fruit Soup

makes about 1 quart

  • Dried Apricot, 8 oz
  • Prunes, 8oz
  • Yellow Onion, minced, 1 each
  • Garlic, minced, 3 cloves
  • White Vinegar, 1 tablespoon
  • Granulated Sugar, 1 tablespoon
  • Kosher Salt, to taste
  • Black pepper, ground, to taste
  • Eggs, as needed

In a medium sauce pot, combine apricots and prunes with enough water to cover by an inch. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 hour, adding more water as needed. In a separate medium sauce pot, saute onions and garlic in a small amount of oil until translucent. Add fruit and their liquid, as well as the vinegar and sugar. Add enough water to cover by 1 inch, and allow to simmer for another hour. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Crack an egg into the simmering liquid for each portion you plan to serve. Cook until egg white is set and yolk begins to cook. Serve warm, with one egg per portion.

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Jynnan Tonnyx

Originating in Africa and Western Asia, melons are a variety of gourd with edible fleshy fruit. In the summer, we most commonly see watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew, but the family includes many other varieties such as casaba, canary, and the exotic horned melon. The 33rd week of Reddit’s 52 Weeks of Cooking Challenge is all about melons, and while I can’t claim to know very much about them as a product, I definitely know how to cook with them, so let’s get right into the food!

In my bachelor’s program at school, I was lucky enough to take a great class called Spirits & Principles of Mixology. The idea was to introduce students to how cocktails and liquors came about, to learn about the history of the liquor industry, and to teach the basics of craft cocktail-making. What the gist of it ended up being was “let’s taste 8 different vodkas at 9 in the morning”, and as a 20-year-old college student, I was totally okay with that. One project in the class was to design a bar concept, study the demographics of an area, and come up with a menu. For whatever reason, my group decided that our bar would specialize in house-infused liquors. Among the cool ideas that we came up with, the one that stuck out most to me was a Roasted Cantaloupe-Infused Gin. Being that I was 20 at the time, I wasn’t actually able to test the recipe that I wrote for it, but it sounded cool so we went with it. Since then, the idea has always been in the back of my head. I’ve been on a huge gin kick for the past few months, and with this week’s theme being melons, I figured it would be a perfect opportunity for a great summer cocktail.

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When I went to the store to pick up ingredients, next to the cantaloupe they were running a special on locally grown Muskmelons. I had never heard of them before, so I asked the guy stocking shelves and he was more than happy to fill me in: Muskmelons are the original variety off of which most of the melons we know today were cultivated. The appearance is similar to an ugly cantaloupe, with the flavor being a bit more earthy and less sweet. He offered to cut one open and let me try it, but I was already sold. I picked up a nice big melon (hehehe…) and a few other ingredients I would need for a delicious Homemade Tonic Water and got to work. After breaking down the melon, I roasted it with just a little sugar until it was deep orange and started to blacken a little. While the fruit was warm, I wrapped it in cheesecloth and let it soak with a bottle of gin for about 3 hours to let the flavors infuse. Once the infusion was over, the gin was left with a subtle orange hue and little flecks of fruit floating about in it. This method is great because it not only gives you a great product for cocktails, but it can help to take the sting off of a cheap bottle of liquor. I mixed equal parts gin and tonic syrup, then topped it off with soda water. I think the recipe from Imbibe has a bit too much acid in it to use in another drink, but when mixed with the gin you don’t need to add the traditional squeeze of lime. Fruity, bitter, and refreshing, this is the perfect drink for a cool August night.

Melon Infused Gin

makes 1, 750ml bottle

  • Muskmelon or Cantaloupe, 1 each
  • Raw Sugar, 2 tablespoons
  • London Dry Gin, 1, 750ml bottle

Preheat oven to 500F. Peel and seed melon and cut into medium-sized chunks*. In a bowl, toss melon with sugar then transfer to a baking dish. Roast melon until sugar begins to caramelize and melon begins to blacken, about 30-35 minutes. Remove melon from oven. While fruit is still warm, wrap in cheesecloth and place into a large bowl or pitcher. Pour gin oven melon and let infuse at least 3 hours. Remove melon from gin and lightly squeeze to release juices and gin. Transfer gin back into it’s bottle and store refrigerated. Serve over ice with tonic and soda water.

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Most well known for their chocolates, beers and waffles, Belgium offers a melting pot of cuisine, borrowing from their French, German, and Dutch neighbors. It’s often said of Belgian cuisine that is made in the quantity of German cuisine, but with the quality of French cuisine. With such a rich cultural history, it’s not surprising that Belgians take great pride in their food and cooking. While street vendors offer a quick bite for those craving waffles or frites-mayonnaise, most restaurants tend to approach things with a greater sense of finesse, and meals are not often hurried.

I’ll admit that I’m not terribly familiar with Belgian cuisine, but I do know a thing or two about Belgian beers. Beer in Belgium takes quite a drastic turn from beer cultures around the world. In America, hops have been the dominating ingredient in recent years, while in much of Europe, malt is the star of the show. In Belgium however, yeast is the star of the show. Many brewers in the small country rely on wild fermentation to craft their beers, letting the natural bacteria of the environment go to work converting the sugars to alcohol. Since the use of wild yeasts can be unpredictable and imprecise, Belgian beers are revered far and wide for their tart, sour flavors, with many beers leaving the yeast cells in the bottle for added flavor. Since I was unfamiliar with what makes the food distinctly Belgian, for the 14th week of Reddit’s 52 Weeks of Cooking Challenge I took to the Wikisphere to find a traditional dish and worked with the recipe to incorporate some delicious Belgian beer.

poulet frites

Poulet-Frites-Compote is a traditional Belgian dish consisting of roast chicken served with French fries and applesauce.  I brined the chicken with salt, orange, coriander and Saison Dupont, a Belgian farmhouse-style ale. After soaking in the brine overnight,  I slathered on some butter and let it roast until golden brown. I just got in my new toy, an Anova Immersion Circulator, and was itching to try it out all day so I tried out the ChefSteps method for French fries, which involved brining the fries with sugar and salt, then poaching in a vacuum bag to begin cooking the fries before twice-frying them. They came out pretty well, but I didn’t notice any huge difference between that method and the normal method of twice-frying. As for the apple compote, I used a blend of apples that I’ve been using for cider lately and cooked them down with a little sugar, lemon, and cinnamon. Altogether, everything was really simple and the flavors complemented each other really nicely. The sweet and salty combination of the fries and apple compote was perfect, and the distinct flavors of the Saison came through really nicely in the chicken. Dishes like these are some of the ones that I like the most: Everything is very simple in it’s own right, but when put together in one dish they become more than just the sum of the parts.

Belgian Beer-Brined Chicken

makes 1 chicken

  • Water, 12 ounces
  • Orange, sliced, 1 each
  • Coriander, crushed, 1 teaspoon
  • Salt, 1/3 cup
  • Saison, Witbier, or Hefeweizen, 12 ounces (1 bottle), cold
  • Roasting Chicken, 1 each
  • Butter, softened, as needed

Combine water, orange, coriander and salt. Bring to a boil to dissolve salt, then remove from heat. Chill brine completely. Add beer to cooled brine. Place chicken in brine and allow to soak overnight. Preheat oven to 500F. Remove chicken from brine and pat dry. Rub softened butter underneath the skin of the chicken, covering the breasts, legs, and thighs. Place oranges from brine into a roasting pan and place chicken on top. Roast at 500F until chicken is deep brown. Reduce heat to 350F and continue to cook until the internal temperature between the leg and thigh reads 155F on a probe thermometer. Remove from oven and allow to rest 5-10 minutes before carving.

Apple Compote

makes about 2 cups

  • McIntosh Apple, 2 each*
  • Fuji Apple, 1 each*
  • Gala Apple, 1 each*
  • Cortland Apple, 1 each*
  • Water, 1 tablespoon
  • Sugar, 1 tablespoon
  • Lemon Juice, 1 tablespoon
  • Cinnamon Stick, 1 each

Peel, core and dice all the apples. Add to a sauce pot with water and cook over low heat until apples are softened, but still retain some texture. Add sugar, lemon and cinnamon and continue cooking for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely. To serve, remove cinnamon stick and warm slightly.

 

 

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I, as I’m sure many of you can relate, do not live in a tropical area. In fact, northern Vermont is pretty much the least tropical you can get. But in recent years, even the smaller grocery stores have started carrying a variety of tropical fruits. While most people may think of tropical fruits as just pineapples, mangoes, papayas and the like, Wikipedia defines a tropical fruit as any fruit with an intolerance to frost. This definition would include things such as Cape Gooseberry, Honeydew Melon, Pistachios, Olives, and even allspice and nutmeg! As you may have guessed,  tropical fruit is the theme for the 28th week of Reddit’s 52 Weeks of Cooking Challenge!

What I think is great about tropical fruit is their natural colors and flavors. Fruits grown in tropical environments always seem to have brighter, more vivid colors and provide a great visual element to any dish. To highlight their great natural qualities, I picked a few tropical fruits that were available up here and made a fruit terrine, which is totally not just a fancy jello cup.

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 There really isn’t too much to say about this, since I didn’t really cook very much. Thinly sliced mangoes and avocados, pineapple and pomegranate seeds, all set in a lightly sweetened gelatin. Fresh pineapple contains the enzyme bromelain, which breaks down proteins and is commonly used in meat tenderizers. This enzyme will also stop gelatin from setting properly, which is why I had to blanch the pineapple for a few minutes before adding the gelatin. A friend of mine runs Tea Rex Tea Co. and I was lucky enough to get a sample of their Ice Age blend: a great mix of black tea, orange and mint. I thought that these flavors would compliment the tropical fruits nicely, so I made a simple coulis infused with the tea and drizzled it over the fruit. Sweet, tart, creamy; this dessert was perfect finish to a nice summer evening.

Tropical Fruit Terrine

makes about 4 cups

  • Avocado, thinly sliced, 1 each
  • Mango, thinly sliced, 1 each
  • Pineapple, small diced, blanched, 2 cups
  • Pomegranate seeds, about 2 cups
  • Cold Water, 1 cup
  • Gelatin, 4 packets
  • Hot Water, 3 cups
  • Sugar, 1 cup

Line a cupcake pan with alternating slices of mango and avocado. Combine pineapple and pomegranate and fill cups with mixture. Bloom gelatin over cold water, let stand 5 minutes. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil, add sugar and let dissolve. Dissolve bloomed gelatin into hot water. Fill fruit cups with gelatin and place in the refrigerator for 6 hours to set.

Black Tea Coulis

  • Tea Rex Tea Co. Ice Age Tea, about 9 grams
  • Water, 1 cup
  • Sugar, 2 cups

Bring water to a boil. Remove from heat and add tea. Allow to steep 4 minutes. Strain liquid into another pot . While still hot, add sugar, stirring to dissolve. Return to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and  allow to cool completely before serving.

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