Queen of Tea and Grains

May 23, 2010 § Leave a comment

I just pulled a batch of chocolate chip cookies out of the oven but those are going to have to wait another day. I returned from Victoria, Canada the other day from a brief visit with my grandparents. They just bought a condo in Victoria, in addition to their house by the mountains, and the past couple days have been filled with the logistics of setting up a new home as well as a couple afternoon getaways. The trip included the obligatory trip downtown to Roger’s chocolates, where we picked up a couple boxes of dark chocolate mints and a bag of chocolate-covered English toffee for me to bring back to San Francisco. Soft maple sugar candies also found their way into my carry-on. I was that kid sitting in the coffee shop eating the sugar cubes meant to go in grown-up coffee and I still firmly believe I could go days on sugar alone. Maple sugar is even better than cane sugar, as it has a melt-in-your-mouth translucency and comes in the pretty shapes of maples leaves and acorns.

We also spent an afternoon at the James Bay Tea Room, which is a small white cottage on the outskirts of downtown. With a pot of the house tea — orange pekoe — we got scones with jam and whipped cream, mini quiches, butter-raisin and lemon tarts, and triangle egg and tuna sandwiches. The tea service was slightly spoiled by the fact that the sugar came out of a large jar and the strawberry jam out of plastic packaging.

While the tea was satisfactory, it did not live up to expectations. Last summer, we went to the Point Ellice Tea House, which is further out of downtown, which was much better. While Point Ellice didn’t have authentic Devonshire cream (Grandpa was adamant that authentic cream is thick enough to be cut with a knife), it offered a full array of sweets, including lemon loaf and trifle, and savories like tomato soup and cucumber sandwiches. A lovely afternoon.

I had another lovely experience last night at 18 Reasons, which is a small storefront run by Bi-Rite Market on Guerrero in San Francisco. The non-profit runs a series of events about food and art for the community, including presentations by local food producers. Last night, it held a potluck dinner with Kim Boyce, author of Good to the Grain. Every attendee made and brought a recipe from the book and we sat around a long wooden table enjoying the wide array of baked goods. Good to the Grain is all about baking with other grains besides white flour, including whole-wheat, barley, rye, buckwheat and spelt among others. The food table concentrated mostly on sweet rather than savory and boasted ginger-peach muffins, olive oil rosemary cake with chocolate chips, quinoa cookies, whole wheat chocolate chip cookies and my own contribution, summer peach pie.

This was my first time making a pie with a real pie crust. I’ve made my fair share of tarts, as well as a pumpkin pie, but never real pastry dough. Everyone said the pie turned out beautifully and we were instructed during introductions that we were not allowed to apologize for whatever we brought, but next time I will be careful to ensure the crust is sealed on the edges as some of the peach juices seeped out.

I won’t give you the recipe for the pie but rather instruct you to go buy Kim’s book. The photos are beautiful and I’ve already made several of the recipes which turned out wonderfully. If you’ve never cooked with other grains before, you should definitely try it out. Even the simple switch to whole wheat flour lends a new dimension to whatever you are baking. I won’t say anything more about whole wheat flour now, as it might spoil my next post!

A cookie with your coffee: Chocolate-sheathed almond biscotti

May 23, 2010 § 3 Comments

There are some things you just never really think of making yourself. For me, biscotti are one of them. I never, ever order biscotti in a café, or pick one out at a dessert table. The only time I ever really eat biscotti is when it comes as an accompaniment to the coffee I ordered after dinner. And then, I absolutely refuse to dunk the biscotti into the coffee — I mean, I can’t think of any other situation where it’s socially acceptable to eat a soggy cookie. But after reading several accounts of biscotti making that ended an ambivalence towards the cookie, I decided to give it a shot. I chose a recipe for Chocolate-sheathed almond biscotti out of my trusted Christmas cookie book, the same one that brought you those sugar cookies way back when. The chocolate coating — I left out the shortening because I just don’t like cooking with it — makes these totally more than edible without the cup of coffee. They are good just plain too, nicely spiced with cinnamon with a good crunch from the almonds. Homemade biscotti are softer than most biscotti you find in stores, which tend to be rock hard. To get the desired texture, you cook them twice (hence the name, biscotti), first as a big log and then as sliced cookies.

I’m not entirely convinced that biscotti are the best things ever but they were a good treat to bring up to my grandparents this week. We enjoyed more than a couple with our afternoon tea.

Chocolate-sheathed Almond Biscotti
The Christmas Cookie Book
Lou Seibert Pappas

3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/2 cup toasted raw almonds, chopping into halves or thirds

Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Grease and flour a baking sheet.
Beat together the eggs and the vanilla and almond extracts in a small bowl until blended. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and mix until blended. Stir in the nuts.
Divide the dough in half. One at a time, place the 2 dough portions on the prepared baking sheet and form each into a log about ½ inch high, 1 ½ inches wide and 14 inches long. Space the logs at least 2 inches apart.
Bake the logs for 25 minutes, or until set and golden brown. Transfer to a rack and let cool on the baking sheet for 6 to 8 minutes. Reduce the over temperature to 300ºF. Transfer the logs to a cutting board. Using a serrate knife, slice at a 45-degree angle about 3/8 inch thick. Lay the slices flat on the baking sheet and return to the over for 15 minutes longer, turning them once, to dry slightly. Transfer to racks to cool.

The original glaze has you combining 6 ounces of bittersweet chocolate and ½ teaspoon vegetable shortening in a double boiler. I just melted some dark Dove chocolates in the microwave and it worked great!

Sun and scones at the end of the tunnel

May 6, 2010 § Leave a comment

I had all these grand plans for this week. A margarita cake for Cinco de Mayo, strawberry shortcake cookies because I’ve been dying to make an all-inclusive handheld strawberry shortcake and lavender shortbread to send off to my best friend, who is leaving for India in four days. I bought a basket of strawberries at the local farmer’s market on Tuesday for this purpose and searched for lavender without success. Unfortunately, Princeton doesn’t quite have the same obsession with all things lavender — fresh stalks in a vase, dried stalks hanging from an open window, embroidered sachets imported from Provence — that most cities (or, towns) have come summer.

And sadly, this week, school got in the way. I’ve been in the library since lunchtime and it doesn’t look like I’m going to make that US Postal deadline to send off that package. Nor does it look like I’m going to get into the kitchen at all anytime soon. So, I searched through my photo archives, thinking I could at least leave the students here with a little finals period procrastination. These are some of my favorite food moments from last summer, in anticipation of this summer, which is quickly approaching.

18 Reasons, run by BiRite Grocery and Creamery in San Francisco, runs weekly local food events. This night last summer it was Chocolate: From Bean to Bar, featuring a presentation by Taza chocolate, cocoa bean and nip tasting as well as a variety of chocolate goodness and fresh milk from Bi-Rite. Taza is a small, direct trade chocolate company that uses cocoa beans grown in the Dominican Republic and process them using the traditional Mexican stone-grinding method. It was love at first sip with the chili chocolate milk. It’s deliciously sweet with a spicy burn and tingle that sets in a couple seconds after the sweetness.

Tea and scones might be my favorite combination ever. This lovely scone is part of a high tea service at the Point Ellice House in Victoria. My grandpa was adamant that it wasn’t real clotted cream because it wasn’t thick enough to be cut with a butter knife but I happen to enjoy my scones with a simple pat of blackberry jam anyway. Double props if it’s Granny’s blackberry jelly.

I’ve never had a lemon bar as good as my dad’s lemon bars. They are tarter than any other bar I’ve ever tasted. I love all things lemon — lemon loaf with that delicious lemon glaze, lemonade, lemon curd, lemon tarts…I could go on and on, but I won’t.

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