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mince-pies

Nearly everyone loves pie, so when you hear about having pie during the holidays, it turns some heads. While beloved pies like apple and pumpkin are served during the holidays, mince pies are the true holiday crowd pleaser. Mince pies have been around since the 1600s and believe it or not, they were originally filled with actual meat! Love them or hate them, it’s not Christmas to many without a mince pie! In the US, not too many people have heard of mince pies or even know that they are a major part of the holidays but in the UK, it’s not Christmas without them. The mince (or mincemeat) is made of dried fruits, peels, bits of apple, along with distilled spirits like brandy, and spices.

In the UK, mince pies come in bite size and usually in packs of 6, 9 or 12. Sometimes the pies are decorated beautifully in pastry, with shapes like stars or holly cut into them. In the US, some markets sell what are dubbed as “mini” pies, because mincemeat pies are sold as a whole entire pie to cut and share. Suet, which is a type of animal fat, is also commonly used in many made-from-scratch mincemeat recipes.

When it comes to getting a mince pie fix, some simply go to the grocery store to pick up their mince pies. Others like to make their own by using either homemade or jarred mincemeat, and using either store bought pastry or pastry made from scratch. To make mini pies, some use muffin tins and for a large pie, others use a whole pie plate. Add just a dusting of powdered sugar and you’ve got yourself a nice holiday treat!

However, when it comes to popularity, mince pies are not too common in the United States. You won’t find them as easily as you would in the UK. It’s not a common part of the holiday tradition here as it is on the other side of the pond but you can always keep it going or even start it if you have not had them before!

-CD

christmas-dinner-kf7y0tubWhen you have a holiday dinner, what is traditional at your table? For my family, it’s pretty similar to the food at Thanksgiving, except we have a ham and sometimes a turkey (with some delicious stuffing) since I have a sister who refuses to eat ham (thank the teacher in high school who scared her out of eating it). My family also changes the date quite often. Sometimes we’ll have it on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day.

Much like the Americans, the British gather with their family and friends to celebrate the holidays and have a nice meal. It’s a bit different from the American Christmas dinner, only the dishes are slightly different. They have a roast turkey which can be covered with streaky bacon (or the bacon we know of in the US, the crispy bacon), along with the trimmings and side dishes of roasted potatoes (roasted with oil and some herbs whereas us Americans like to mash ours), and herb or chestnut stuffing. An unusual side that goes with dinner is pigs in a blanket, little sausages wrapped in bacon. In the US, they are more associated with football parties and other gatherings but is a savory part of the British Christmas dinner.

Then come vegetables. In the US, we’re well knowteasxca1000032372_-00_gold-crown-iced-christmas-cake-24oz-681g_1n for dishes like candied yams and green bean casserole. The yams are usually popular as they are plentiful at this time of year. Candied yams are made in various ways, like using brown sugar, cinnamon, and molasses or simply topping with marshmallows. Green bean casserole is easy to make and very satisfying. Made with cream of mushroom soup and topped with crunchy onions, it’s usually gone at my house! For the British, they enjoy roasted parsteatssc1000021426_-00_fosters-brandy-butter-3-52oz-100gnips, mashed turnips (or as they’re called in the UK, suede). Then there is the brussel sprout. A popular dish for the British, it’s on many plates for the traditional Christmas dinner. It’s a common debate on whether people like them or not but for the ones who do, it’s a divine treat for their holiday dinner! Cooked in many ways.

To sauce things up are gravy, which can come from the drippings of the turkey or usually from a mix. Cranberry sauce is enjoyed with the turkey but not as widely as the US where millions of cans of the tart berry sauce are sold each year. In the UK, cranberry sauce is sold in a jar while the US comes in a can but two varieties, jellied or whole berry. It can also be made at home with fresh cranberries! Finally, bread sauce! Dating back to the medieval times, this is an oldie but goodie. Made with bread crumbs, cream, and other ingredients.

Don’t forget dessert! Christmas cake, puddings, and mince pies with a bit of brandy butter are plentiful along with hot cups of tea and mulled wine. Also plentiful is the warmth and spirit of the holidays from enjoying a lovely meal with loved ones.

What are your favorite holiday dishes and traditions?

 

Flower in a tea plant at a Darjeeling Tea plan...

Image via Wikipedia Camellia sinensis, our precious drinking tea, not to be confused with Camellia japonica, which we prize for blossom in the winter.

If you are from a certain part of the country, usually rural, you will recognize the old saying: “It was a good year for peaches…or plums…or tomatoes, etc.” Many a gardener, farmer, or homemaker spending hours in a hot kitchen filling canning jars has marked a year by the exceptional bounty and fine taste of the produce of that year.

Our family still remarks on our good year for pecans. It was the first year in our new home built in the midst of a pecan orchard. That fall, the pecans fell on the tin roofs, sounding like gunshot, and we went around stepping on them in bare feet (then swearing), and picking them up, cracking them, munching on the sweet meat like crazy. Pecans were thick as a carpet beneath the trees, and we scooped them into buckets and had people come ask if they could scoop them, too. It was a good year for pecans, which was a contrast to the next year when the trees were barren as the proverbial baby’s behind, a circumstance caused by the weather in our area̶ — very cold previous winter, late frosts, and skimpy on the rain, too.

I thought of this recently as I sniffed and then sipped a Darjeeling tea from an estate I had never sampled. I found it definitely lacking as compared to the Darjeeling I had been drinking for months. “Not a good year for tea,” popped into my mind. It comes from the old farmer part of my genes (and jeans).

No matter the soil of the high mountains or the soil of the low country or the soil of the in-betweens, the tea plants will be affected by the amount of sunlight, rain, and temperatures they receive at varying times throughout the year, all things that man cannot control. Then there are things such as time of harvest — the flush period — and curing, packing, transporting, and storing. How was the weather throughout it all? Did everyone do their job correctly? A million things effect the tea before it reaches my cup, and all of it has been the constant worry and concern of tea growers from every country for centuries. No matter their nationality, traditions, religion or political stance, farmers throughout the world are the same, hoping for a good year for their crop.

Looking up hopefully at the pecan trees and watching the sky for spring rains that have not come, I then look back at my tea cup for long seconds in which a strong kinship with the tea growers and lovers everywhere washes over me. I find myself praying for the tea plants and estate farmers, people I don’t know but to whom I am eternally thankful. I can do without pecans, but I sure cannot do without my good cup of tea.

Where there’s tea, there’s hope. ~Arthur W. Pinero

You might enjoy reading about the tea plant — Camellia sinensis — at Dave’s Garden. You can also buy seeds and plants at the site.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

For some tea drinkers – present company included – a cup of tea is just fine and nothing more is needed. We drink our tea, sometimes in copious and staggering amounts, but that is all. Other tea lovers might want to take things a step further and do such things as incorporating tea into their food. This is not a new concept but it’s one that seems to be gaining in popularity along with the general upswing of interest in fine foods and specialty tea. If you doubt the level of interest in this topic, consider that there are actually restaurants scattered throughout Asia whose menus are comprised exclusively of tea-related dishes.

Of the smattering of cookbooks that have popped up to fill this niche, Cynthia Gold and Lise Stern’s Culinary Tea is the most recent. Gold, a tea sommelier (yes, that’s right, sommeliers are not just for wine anymore) at The Boston Park Plaza Hotel & Towers, brings a considerable amount of experience to her topic and even claims to be “one of the first chefs practicing ‘culinary tea’ in the United States.”

Part One of the book is devoted to Understanding Tea, with a chapter that sketches out the historical precedents for using tea as an ingredient in cooking. The next few chapters take a look at the fundamentals of tea. It’s a section will be especially useful to newcomers to the world of tea but will probably be something of a review for old hands. Part Two of the book, not surprisingly, takes a look at the Techniques of Cooking With Tea and presents the 150 recipes (and then some), broken out into the categories of Starters, Entrees, Desserts and Tea Beverages.

As the title promises the recipes featured in here have an international theme, which seems fitting for a product that is produced and consumed in various ways around the world. Among the assorted and sundry of the many interesting recipes are a Jasmine Tea Chicken Soup, Rosy Green Tea Truffles, a Banana-Blueberry Smoothie, Chinese Tea-Smoked Duck, Smoked Tea-Brined Capon, Assam Shortbread and Thousand-Year Old Eggs. Aspiring tea chefs will be glad to know that this latter item, a popular delicacy in some parts of Asia, can be prepared in quite a bit less than one thousand years. But patience is still a virtue.

Don’t miss William’s blog, Tea Guy Speaks!

[Editor’s note: Our blog is chock full of great articles on this topic. Use our search feature to find them!]

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Drink tea. Sure. Eat tea? Why not?

As we pointed out in an article in these pages not so long ago, tea is not just for drinking. It can also be used as an ingredient in a wide assortment of recipes, including sweet and savory dishes. If you’re looking for more information about this subject, here are a few more books that will offer some insight.

Cooking With Tea: Techniques and Recipes for Appetizers, Entrees, Desserts, and More
by Robert Wemischner & Diana Rosen
Wemischner and Rosen have included more than 100 recipes for tea dishes in this volume. Also included, an assortment of useful information on tea and food pairings, tidbits of tea history and general background information.

Tea Cuisine: A New Approach to Flavoring Contemporary and Traditional Dishes
by Joanna Pruess & John Harney
Tea Cuisine is a revised edition of Pruess and Harney’s 2001 book, Eat Tea: Savory and Sweet Dishes Flavored with the World’s Most Versatile Ingredient. It features a number of tea-themed recipes, a Tea 101, of sorts, and assorted and sundry information about tea. If the name Harney sounds familiar, it’s probably because of his connection with tea merchant, Harney & Sons.

The Ultimate Tea Diet: How Tea Can Boost Your Metabolism, Shrink Your Appetite, and Kick-Start Remarkable Weight Loss
by Mark Ukra, Sharyn Kolberg
From Mark “Dr. Tea” Ukra, The Ultimate Tea Diet is not a cookbook, in the strictest sense of the word, and perhaps it goes a bit overboard on the connection between tea and weight loss. But it does include an assortment of tea recipes and, of course, plenty of advice on how to use tea as part of a weight loss plan.

New Tastes in Green Tea: A Novel Flavor for Familiar Drinks, Dishes, and Desserts
By Mutsuko Tokunaga
As the title would suggest, New Tastes In Green Tea primarily deals with beverages and various dishes made with green tea. As with the majority of the other books mentioned in this article, it also features sections on tea history and background information.

Cooking with Green Tea: Delicious Dishes Enhanced by the Miraculous Healing Powers of Green Tea
By Ying Chang Compestine
Even more on green tea and cuisine. This one, once again, as the title suggests, comes at the topic by taking a closer look at the alleged health benefits for this popular beverage.

Don’t miss William’s blog, Tea Guy Speaks!

It’s no secret (or at least it shouldn’t be) that tea goes great with just about any kind of food. As with wine, the trick is to figure out which teas and foods make the best match. In the world of wine, this function is typically carried out by an individual known as a sommelier. In the world of tea, this function may be carried out by…well, by a tea sommelier.

This is a relatively new concept in most circles, but with the increasing interest in “good” tea, more tea sommeliers are beginning to pop up on the scene.

Speaking of tea sommeliers, here’s an article about Cynthia Gold, a Massachusetts-based sommelier who plies her trade at The Boston Park Plaza Hotel and Towers. The article gives some interesting insights into what a tea sommelier does and also discusses Culinary Tea: More Than 150 Recipes Steeped in Tradition from Around the World, a recently released book that Gold co-wrote.

Of course, as Gold’s book and a number of other tea-related cookbooks would suggest, tea is not just a great accompaniment to food, but it can also be used as an ingredient. It even serves nicely as an ingredient in chocolate, or at least that’s what Smile Chocolatiers, a California-based treat maker, is betting on. They recently came out with a line of chocolates that are infused with “the essence of finely crushed organic teas.” Works for me.

Tea infused prunes doesn’t sound nearly as appealing as chocolate and tea, but your mileage may vary. The contributor of this recipe recommends using Earl Grey or jasmine tea, but anyone eager to try out this recipe could doubtless use their imagination when it comes to tea selection.

If tea and seafood are more your speed, then you might be interested in this recipe for Tea-Smoked Clams And Mussels With Szechuan Mignonette. It calls for “loose tea,” which is of course a rather generic notion, given that there are hundreds or even thousands of varieties of such. Once again, a little bit of imaginative tea selection should go a long way toward making this a memorable dish.

Don’t miss William’s blog, Tea Guy Speaks!

Lots of jokes are made about fruitcake, but it’s still one of the most popular food items for the winter holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and News Year’s). It’s also great with coffees, teas, and hot cocoa. Such versatility! And the variety of recipes seems so great that you can throw a fruitcake free-for-all, with every guest having a different type of cake and no duplication.

Contrary to what some comedians would have you believe, there is not just one fruitcake that has existed for decades and gets passed around from one person to another as a gift. Fruitcakes are big business, not only for companies such as Bronte, Mr. Kipling, and Walkers, but also for you at-home bakers. You all are carrying on a tradition that dates back to the 1400s in Britain when shipments of dried fruits from the Mediterranean region of the then known world started arriving (give a clever cook a new ingredient, and a new style of cake or other delectable goodie is born).

Like a lot of foods that are common these days, fruitcakes started as a way of preserving food, adding a bit of variety to what was a pretty bland daily menu at the time, and/or symbolizing something important in their lives. These heavy, candied fruit laden cakes were a sign of the harvest, a tasty alternative to plain cakes, and could last for a year or more, often getting better with the passing of time (sort of like those pu-erh cakes).

Fruitcakes are fairly easy to make, as long as you follow the directions. One of the key steps is to soak the fruits and nuts overnight in some liquid, ranging from fruit juice to brandy, whisky, or rum. The fruits are then drained and the liquid is retained to be used in making the fruitcake. From there, the process is quite simple: get someone who knows what they’re doing to make one for you. Ha!

Seriously, though, if you can make scones, you can bake a decent tasting fruitcake.

A few tips for making the best fruitcake:

  • Start with the freshest ingredients, especially the spices.
  • A bit of flour on your fruits and nuts will keep them from sinking in the batter.
  • You can get a moister cake by either adding a cup of applesauce to the recipe or placing a pan of water on the oven rack below the baking cake.
  • You’re not stuck with a specific pan size and can also use muffin tins, but you might have to adjust the baking time.
  • Either coat the pans with grease and flour or line with greased brown paper or wax paper.
  • Avoid over-baking your cake by inserting a metal or wooden skewer in the cake’s center and then pulling it out to test for doneness. A clean skewer means the cake is done.
  • Don’t try to remove the fruitcake from the pan until it has completely cooled.

When serving the cake, you can frost it with a glazing to give it a bit of a shine. Slice the cake when cold and use a sawing motion and a sharp, thin blade. You can store your fruitcake, especially if it is laced with a liquor, for months. Even the unlaced cakes can stay in your refrigerator or freezer for quite a while. Fruitcake gone stale? Freshen it by heating briefly in the microwave or in a steamer. An appropriate sauce or other topping will also help.

If you want to take the easy route for supplying fruitcakes to your guests, buy ’em! Here are a few options:

Don’t forget the German fruity bread called “stollen” and the Italian version called “Panettone.”

Whichever you choose, you’ll have a fruity good time!

Don’t forget to visit A.C.’s blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill!

Tea and food pairings can be harmonious and peaceful or so jarring that they seem like teatime “blasphemy.” After all, teatime should be about a break in the day, a chance to have a time out and recollect your composure during a hectic day. Right?

Borengajuli Assam

Tea drinkers usually recognize that certain foods pair with certain teas. Some of those pairings are very traditional. Very. Some just seem to make sense. Still others range from slightly off kilter to downright whacky where the tastes jar your expectations and your tastebuds. Whether you like this or not only you can say.

A few traditional/sensible pairings:

  • Irish Breakfast Blend with a bowl of well-boiled steel cut oats and a bit of cream and honey
  • A rich, malty Assam with English style (thick sliced) bacon, crumpets, butter, and jam
  • Japanese Sencha with a selection of sushi
  • English Breakfast Blend with fried kidneys, scones, clotted cream and jam
  • White teas with fruits, a variety of crackers, and mild cheeses
  • Cinnamon couscous with lamb and prunes and Moroccan Mint

Some “blasphemous” pairings:

Quite frankly, I’ve never really been all that concerned about being blasphemous (as far as tea is concerned), so here are some of my favorite pairings:

  • Young Pu-erh with a slice of pumpkin pie and whipped cream (on the pie, not in the tea)
  • Scottish Breakfast with crisp bacon, eggs, and fresh baked crumpets or scones with jam
  • Dragonwell Green Tea with hubby’s soon-to-be-famous salmon filet, green beans with dill sauce, and wild rice pilaf

Bottom line here: Go ahead. Mix it up. Have egg rolls with an English Breakfast Blend, potato salad and grilled hot dogs with pu-erh, Monk’s Blend Black Tea with wiener schnitzel and sauerkraut, or whatever pairing suites your palate. It’s one of the beautiful aspects of the “tea life”: you set your own rules. Enjoy!

Head over to A.C.’s blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill, for more advice on living what she calls the “tea life.”

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© Online Stores, LLC, and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, LLC., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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