Saturday, December 19, 2009

Peppermint Patties, Chocolate-Cherry Kisses, and Chocolate Covered Margaritas, Oh My!

I started making candy last year, on a whim. Again, this new domestic tendency in me wanted more kitchen experience, and giving homemade chocolates to family members as gifts seemed fun, and it fit my budget much better than buying gifts. I was so excited about candy making that I was considering buying chocolate molds and fancy equipment to keep it going. But the novelty quickly wore off and I was ready to move on to something else.

However, I've had both recipe requests and candy requests this holiday season, everywhere from friends to Corey's co-workers, so I'm pulling motivation from deep within and going for it.

This year the plan for gifts was apple butter, but I'm realizing that if I'm going to be making candy anyway, I might as well step up my gift game and pull out the old double boiler again for some serious candy making messery. I certainly can't eat all of it. 

If you have family members who are fans of peppermint patties, cherry bonbons, or any other chocolate covered candy, you can use this recipe to impress them. I'll give you the two variations that were big hits last year (peppermint and cherry) and a new one from this year, but it's very easy to change it up to your favorite filling flavor.

You can also easily change the consistency of the filling by adding less powdered sugar or adding more liquid of some kind. You will get a more gooey filling, which is easy to deal with if you have chocolate molds, but makes a huge mess if not. For the cherry filling I have reduced the amount of sugar, because the cherry juice is already very sweet: it's going to be gooey. If you get frustrated, make bark by mixing the melted chocolate and cherry filling and pouring into a parchment paper lined pan. I recommend using a darker chocolate--if you have to, thin out your bag of chocolate chips with a bar of bittersweet chocolate. Chocolate with a lot of fillers is more difficult to use as a coating.

I've given a few methods of how to make these candies. For the more liquid fillings, freezing or piping with chocolate into swirls, buttons, or kisses makes things less complicated. If piping, use a small sandwich bag and work in batches.You may end up with varying degrees of firmness, as I did (I ended up with both buttons and kisses in the same batch), but they'll all be delicious!

Peppermint Patties

1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup Earth Balance, softened
4 3/4 cups powdered sugar  
3 tsp peppermint extract
1 bag chocolate chips (dark is best)

1. In a food processor fitted with the dough blade, blend together the corn syrup, Earth Balance, and extract. Add the powdered sugar in 1 cup installments, blending well before adding the next cup. The filling will be dry and crumbly.

2. In a double boiler, melt the bag of chocolate chips. Lay out a sheet of parchment or wax paper.

3. Roll the filling into small balls and flatten out. Dip them into the chocolate and place them on the parchment paper to cool.

Cherry Filling

1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup Earth Balance, softened
4 cups powdered sugar
15 Maraschino cherries
1/3 cup maraschino cherry juice
2 tsp cherry extract or flavoring (optional) 

1. In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, pulse the Maraschino cherries until finely chopped. Switch to the dough blade and follow the instructions 1 and 2, substituting the cherry juice for the peppermint extract.

2. Fill a small plastic sandwich or ziplock bag, half with the melted chocolate and half with the cherry filling, as diagonally oriented as possible.

3. Snip a small corner off of the bag and pipe gently onto parchment paper into kiss shapes or swirls.

Chocolate-Covered Margaritas

1/4 cup corn syrup
1/4 cup Earth Balance
juice and zest from 1 lime
3/4s of a nip of tequila
1/4 of a nip of cointreau
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar 

1. Follow instructions for peppermint patty recipe 1-2, substituting lime zest and juice, tequila, and cointreau for peppermint extract.

2. Freeze the mixture in the food processor bowl for 1 day for best results, at least 1 hour if not possible.

3. Dab a small amount of chocolate onto the parchment paper. Form medium to large sized patties or balls of the sugar mixture and place them in the chocolate on the parchment paper. Spoon melted chocolate over them to coat.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Pomegranate Poundcake

It's basically winter up here in New England, now that snow has fallen twice in a week. Unfortunately, my kitchen is not ready to give up on autumn yet--pumpkin in the fridge, pears on the table, pomegranate pips in the freezer.

I was inspired to make poundcake after watching the Good Eats episode on the subject. I'm inspired to make anything Alton Brown tells me to.

Naturally, vegan poundcake presents a problem--I didn't think a pounds worth of Ener-G eggs would cut it (they are great, but not exactly like eggs), so I started blog surfing to find a vegan version. Lo and behold, The Blooming Platter. The picture perfect slice on her poundcake post sold me.

And now for that pesky pomegranate. I had pomegranate juice before I ever ate a pomegranate pip, which is a shame, because I like the pips better than the juice. I mean, if you're trying to pound in a ton of nutrients lickity split, then the juice is the way to go, but if you like to take your time eating your food, pomegranate pips are awesome.

When Corey and I were sick we had no appetite whatsoever, but we drank cold or hot water constantly to relieve our fevers or chills. I found that I could stomach frozen pomegranate pips during the last day of my illness--it gave me the fluids I needed to stay alive, it was cold so it cooled me off, and it was in such tiny quantities that it didn't make me nauseous.

Not only does pomegranate pack a lot of fluid and antioxidants, which is what is making it famous these days, it also has a lot of vitamin K, fiber, and folate, plus iron, calcium, and B vitamins. It's got it going on.

The cake itself is very sweet (feel free to reduce the sugar by a half cup if you use the silken tofu I recommend) and the texture is perfect: moist and spongy, and the crust has a crispy, buttery flavor. I used frozen pomegranate pips, but you can use fresh ones, too. They add a slight tang to each bite. Warn your guests that they will encounter seeds--Corey was unpleasantly surprised by them. Lastly, if you have an airtight container your can fit the loaf into, I'd recommend storing it in the fridge that way--refrigerator flavored poundcake is gross. Otherwise, tightly wrap it in plastic wrap.

Pomegranate Poundcake
(Yields 1 5"x9" loaf)

1/2 cup Earth Balance, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup silken tofu, blended or food processed until smooth (I like Nasoya's vanilla flavored silken tofu) 
2 cups cake flour
1/2 cup water
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup pomegranate pips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 5 x 9 loaf pan.

2. Cream the butter and sugar in an electric mixer at medium high speed until soft and fluffy. Add half of the tofu and beat for 1 minute. Add the second half of the tofu and beat for another minute. Reduce the speed. Add half of the cake flour and stir to combine. Add the water, extract, baking powder, and the rest of the flour and beat on medium high speed for 1-2 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, fold in the pomegranate pips gently.

3. Pour the batter into the loaf pan and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the top cracks and browns. Separate the loaf from the sides of the pan, but allow to cool before removing it.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Pear-Cardamom Coffee Cake

When Corey and I moved in together, I talked about wanting to always have some sort of coffee cake around to snack on with tea. In the real world, lunches and dinners for the next couple days comes first, so coffee cake has taken a backseat to lasagna, fried rice, and chili-mac.

Not. Anymore.

With this really easy recipe, I'm confident I can whip up a coffee cake a few times a month. Enter the pears!

Let's talk about cardamom. Cardamom is one of those spices that you encounter the first time (if you're a Westerner) with total delight. The first time I had chai, it was the cardamom that held my attention. I haven't had an opportunity to use it in a recipe recently, so I decided that coffee cake was it's time to shine.

This is a super simple recipe -- no creaming of butter and sugar, you just mix together everything dry, throw in everything wet, and stir. It turns into more of a dough than a batter, so don't keep mixing to thin it out or it will become too chewy. The cake is very light in flavor, almost white, and incredibly moist. The pears slice under your fork like butter, but hold their shape under the deliciously sweet, spicy topping.

As you can see, mine developed a really sturdy crust. That's because I baked it for an hour (I was waiting for the topping to brown). I changed the original recipe to include more Earth Balance and sugar in the topping so that it would brown faster.

Pear Cardamom Coffee Cake (adapted from Lanier B&B)

(serves 9)


2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup Earth Balance, melted
3/4 cup soymilk
2 Ener-G Eggs
1 tsp almond extract

1-2 firm pears, sliced

2/3 cup flour
5 Tbl Earth Balance, melted
5 Tbl brown sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp salt

1. Grease and flour an 8" x 8" pan. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix together dry ingredients for cake, add wet ingredients and mix. Spread in the bottom of the pan.

2. Arrange the pear slices on top of the cake.

3. Mix the topping ingredients and sprinkle over the pears evenly. Bake for 40 minutes. Serve very warm.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving Fever

And I don't mean that in a good way.

Corey and I both came down with a fever and cough Thanksgiving week, and though my fever started to break on Thanksgiving day and Corey's cough was improving, we made the tough decision to miss Thanksgiving at his uncle's house.

This is where we were instead:

'Sup couch? Nice to see you again.

It's no fun missing out on Thanksgiving (I had my wisdom teeth out the day before Thanksgiving when I was 18. I woke up from my Percoset nap, bloody drool dried in the corner of my mouth, saying, "you didn't wake me for dinner?" Apparently they tried. It's strong stuff.), but it's really disappointing to miss out on spending time with Corey's family.

Not that we would have been great company. A 103 degree fever doesn't bring the best out in anyone. Anyway, we're making the best of it now that our appetites are back by making noodle soup and vegan Thanksgiving leftovers: mashed potatoes and "turkey" salad sandwiches on biscuits.

And, we're having better cups of tea.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Easy Vegan Shortbread

That's right, easy. You didn't think it was possible, did you? Well, thanks to VeganYumYum's Lauren Ulm, it is possible.

And when I say easy, I mean easy. It really bothers me when a recipe is described as easy, but you need several bowls, a food processor, and baking pans to make it happen. For me, the amount of dishes left to do factors into the equation. This recipe is a one mixer bowl, one pan, 4-5 ingredient masterpiece.

Lauren's version is a lavender shortbread, which is lovely and all, and frankly, so classy it might just hold up in a tea party, but it doesn't really fly in November. It'd be too weird with all of the beta-carotene flavors going on everywhere else. Time to break out the almond extract.

I put almond extract into everything. Cookies, pancakes, soy yogurt, oatmeal, and now, shortbread.

To make the rounds into accessible (i.e.: not personal pan pizza sized) cookies, lightly pressing a spatula or knife into the baked product allows for clean breaking.
These are crispy, crumbly, and lightly buttery, and the recipe is easily adaptable to other flavors. On the plates above I have almond shortbread and vanilla bean shortbread.

Almond Shortbread
Makes about 6 4.5" rounds

1 cup Earth Balance, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour

1. Cream the Earth Balance, sugar, and almond extract in an electric mixer until soft and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes on medium high speed.
2. Mix in the flour by hand with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. Do not overmix, just get everything combined nicely. It may be a little crumbly.
3. Divide the dough in half, form into flat rounds, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least an hour.
4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Divide each round into 3 parts and roll out to 1/4" thickness on parchment paper, forming into rounds of equal diameter.
5. Place the parchment paper with the shortbread on it on a cookie sheet and bake for 15-18 minutes, until the edges are golden brown.
6. Using a knife or spatula, lightly score the shortbread into quarters or sixths. Allow to cool.

These are great with tea (obviously), and with fruit spreads, like homemade apple butter.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Voila! A Pumpkin Roll!

Yes. That is (Better Than) cream cheese filling.

 Yes. Those are walnuts encrusting the top.

And yes, that is spicy pumpkin cake rolled up for easy slicing.

This is not an easy recipe. It requires many ingredients, many steps, and careful handling. It requires patience, of which I have very little, especially when it comes to food (which is why Corey handles the pancakes and grilled cheese--it makes the difference between hastily cooked burnt messes and beautifully browned gems of deliciousness). However, the result is well worth the effort. It has wow factor.

Now, you'll notice that there are walnuts on the roll. I've recently, as in two months ago, had a revelation about nuts.

They don't suck.

I don't know how it happened, but one day I bought cashews and walnuts and made plans to cook with them. Cashews ground up into a vegan cauliflower chowder, walnuts toasted and sprinkled on butternut squash soup. That's all it took, and now I don't mind nuts. Now, for some reason, I need a combination of textures to stay interested in what I'm eating. The extra protein doesn't hurt either.

I use canned pumpkin, mainly because I can't be bothered to gut a pumpkin for the very little meat you get out of it, though pumpkin seeds are a lovely snack. I know it's not legit, but there you have it. 
Be very generous in your powdered sugar towel. The sugar is meant to keep the cake from sticking to the towel as it cools. It's also very important to roll up the cake while it's still hot--this prevents it from breaking when you roll it the final time. I've done it by myself in the past, but Corey is going to be home this time, so he'll be my pumpkin roll partner. Hopefully that will make it easier!
When you make this recipe you will come to a point when you need to decide if you want the walnuts on the outside of the roll or the inside. I like the outside for two reasons: 1) It covers up any cake deformities and 2) Many of our friends have nut allergies. Hiding them is just dangerous! When you turn the cake onto the sugar towel, turn it so the walnuts are in the sugar.

Pumpkin Roll (adapted from Libby's)
Serves 10-15, depending on your slicery


1/4 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons ground ginger
3 Ener-G Egg Replacer eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 cup chopped walnuts

1 8 oz container Better Than Cream Cheese
1 cup powdered sugar
6 tablespoons Earth Balance
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 jellyroll pan
Parchment or wax paper
Nonstick cooking spray
Thin cotton towel

For the cake:
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare baking pan with sides (aka jellyroll pan): grease the pan with non-stick cooking spray. Cut the parchment or wax paper to fit the pan and spray with nonstick cooking spray, place on the pan sprayed side up. Use the 1/4 cup powdered sugar to dust the cotton towel well, more if needed.
2.Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices in a small bowl. Beat the Ener-G eggs and sugar in a large mixer bowl until thick. Beat in the pumpkin. Stir in the flour mixture. Pour into the prepared jellyroll pan and spread evenly. Sprinkle with the chopped walnuts.
3. Bake for 13-15 minutes, or until top of cake springs back when touched. It should not be browned. Immediately loosen and turn the cake onto the prepared sugar towel. Loosely roll up the cake and towel together, starting with the narrow end, and allow to cool on a rack.

For the filling:
1. Beat cream cheese, powdered sugar, Earth Balance, and vanilla extract until well mixed and smooth. Keep cool in the refrigerator.

Putting it together:
1. Once cake is cool, carefully unroll it. Spread the cream cheese mixture over the middle, leaving about 2 inches on each side to allow for natural spreading as you roll the cake. Reroll the cake and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least one hour.

If your cake breaks as you roll or unroll, not to worry. The filling acts like a glue and will hold it together once you refrigerate it.

We enjoyed our pumpkin roll and shortbread (recipe coming soon!) with Earl Grey and English Breakfast tea.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

An English Breakfast Is the Only Breakfast

What is an English breakfast without a stiff cup of tea? Or a tea party? Hmm?

English breakfast tea is a good gateway tea, for those ready to move from cheaper black teas to tea blends. It contains mostly Assam tea, a strong, robust tea grown in Southern India. Other teas found in the blend are Ceylon, Kenynan, and Keemun.

It was made to be taken with milk and sugar, but it's also good without milk. I've recently recovered from a trachea infection, and all I drank (and ate, really) was English breakfast tea with agave and lemon.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


The idea of a housewarming is so beautiful to me.

Moving--not so much.

But the housewarming makes it all worth it. After you're settled, you invite your neighbors and friends over, and you lay claim to your space by throwing it a party. Moving hasn't really felt complete as of yet (maybe that has more to do with eating off of milk crates for two months), but I feel that once we have the housewarming, everything will be settled and broken in.

I'm all about seasonal eating, like a grizzly bear (if I could get away with it I'd hibernate all winter, too). So, the housewarming has an autumn theme.

It's pretty easy to get into autumn around here. There's a day where the summer humidity is just not there anymore (this year it was in August--don't get me started). The leaves take their time changing colors, and it gets pretty brilliant, with oranges, peaches, reds, and yellows, still mixed in with the occasional green tree or bluish conifer. The temperature fluctuates between the upper 30s and the low 70s for a while, snow, rain, wind, and sunshine.

Enjoy those days while you can, New England. Subzero 2010 is not far off.

With Thanksgiving a week away, what can a girl make for a tea party that everyone isn't going to eat a few days later?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Apple Butter

Apple picking is, to me, the quintessential New England day trip. I've lived here for a few years, but I never had the chance to go. And, to be perfectly honest, apples are my least favorite fruit.

There. I said it.

I don't like crunchy or crispy foods, and as a child I hated the texture of the skin. I also find most apples flavor to be distinctly boring. So what changed my mind about apples? Apple butter.

In the Chesapeake Bay area, we do not have apple butter. I'd never had or heard of it until I moved up here. It is spreadable and jam-like. Texture issue, resolved. And, you add a myriad of spices to it . Flavor issue, resolved. And it's sweet, but not super sweet, so it's versatile. Great on toast, English muffins, or crackers. Also pancakes and waffles. And also vanilla ice cream. Yum.

The thing with making your own apple butter is that you have to can it. At first I was completely intimidated by the idea, so I looked for ways to do it without canning, but the alternative is just having a lot of apple butter and having to use it in a few days, or risk poisoning yourself and your loved ones.


What really turned me on to the idea is that I could make great gifts. (Last year I made peppermint patties, coconut drops, and cherry bonbons, but they are time consuming and turned me off to powdered sugar for 6 months. I might never forgive them.)

Canning is not difficult if you have the right tools (holler, Amazon!), but you need to follow recipes to the T, and they have to be tested for safety purposes. Also you get points for domesticity.

I'm using a recipe adapted from; it's essentially the same but I spice it up more. I've used between 1 and 2 cups of sugar in the recipe, and I like it both ways, but if you don't care for the tartness of apples, use 2 cups. I've also left the cores in the first part of the cooking process. Along with the skin, that's where most of an apples flavor is. I also recommend using a combination of different apples. Pie apples like Granny Smiths and Cortlands will give you a traditional tart apple flavor, apples like MacIntosh, Empire, and Winesaps have a wine-like, or vinous, flavor. Use apples that you like, and you can't go wrong, though very sweet apples like Red Delicious won't give you much of an apple flavor, due to their high sugar and water content.

My first time making this recipe I used whole cloves. They look really pretty suspended in the jars, but if you want a really even consistency, I suggest sticking to ground spices. And usually I'm a stickler for fresh ginger, but its stringy texture will break up the smoothness in your apple butter.

Apple Butter (Recipe adapted from Preserve Food)
Makes about 4 pints


15 medium sized apples (I like a combination of Cortlands and Empires)
4 cups apple cider
2 cups sugar
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
5 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cloves

1. Wash and quarter the apples, removing the stems. Place them in a Dutch oven or a heavy bottomed, large pot. Add the apple cider and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, turning the apples occasionally to cook evenly and to prevent sticking.
2. Press the mixture through a fine mesh sieve to remove skins and seeds. Return about 10 cups to the Dutch oven or pot.
3. Add the sugar and spices. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours, stirring frequently to prevent burning, until mixture has thickened and turned brown.
4. Spoon the apple butter into hot, sterilized jars, leaving a 1/4 inch head-space. Wipe rims, place the lids on, and screw the bands tightly.
5. Place in a boiling water canner and process for 5-10 minutes (5 for half-pint, 10 for full pint). Carefully remove the jars and allow them to cool on a towel.

Enjoy on oatmeal, cookies, ice cream, or toast!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Earl of My Heart

I've always been a big fan of Earl Grey tea.

When I was a very young tea drinker, I found the flavor very sophisticated, maybe because I couldn't fathom what made it different from the Lipton black tea I usually drank. Sort of smoky, sort of bitter.

One day I bought Twinings Earl Grey tea, the yellow box having caught my eye as I was choosing which tea to sample next. When I got home I put the water on and waited. During this time I didn't know it was a HUGE no-no to boil water for tea, so I waited for my little friend, the kettle, to whistle me back into the kitchen. I opened up the pouch and inhaled the aroma...

It was love at first scent. It was definitely Earl Grey tea, the same notes were still there, but Twinings Earl Grey had a decidedly more fruity aroma. It was just lovely.

The fragrance and flavor so inspired me that I checked out the facts behind Earl Grey tea. It's flavor comes from bergamot, a citrus fruit that grows in Southeast Asia. Only in Twinings could I really get that fruit flavor. I'm not sure if they use real fruit rind or chemicals to make that delicious scent, but it's by far my favorite tea to drink with milk.

My favorite Earl Grey beverage? The London Fog. I was going through a trying time a few years ago, both physically and emotionally. I'd moved into a new neighborhood, quit my job, and was taking time sorting things out for myself. There was a coffeehouse down the street, the 1369 Cafe in Inman Square, with easily the strongest coffee in town, and a quiet, dark atmosphere, befitting to my mood and the early spring/late winter weather here in Boston. The London Fog is a great drink when you're in need of a little comforting luxury. It is Earl Grey tea with steamed milk and vanilla syrup. Perfect, yes?

Friday, October 30, 2009

It's Tea Time!

This blog is about my favorite things.

Tea has always been my favorite beverage--well, aside from that crazy couple of years dedicated to double espresso lattes twice a day. That was then.

This is now.

Tea is comfort. Tea is refinement. Tea is global. Flavorful, elegant. Tea is always good.

My favourite naturalist (is it weird that I have one?) is, of course, Sir David Attenborough. As young children, my siblings and I were limited to PBS for our televisual pleasure. Every night we watched Wild America with Marty Stouffer, and we were only allowed to stay up late to watch Nova specials. At the time, we thought our parents were crazy, but in retrospect, I can see the value of toning down the constant violence of the Power Rangers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (which is not to say that I didn't watch those shows and love them), and replacing that with educational television.

Thanks mom and dad.

Anyway, I didn't really begin to appreciate Sir David Attenborough until I took home a DVD from the library a few years ago, The Blue Planet.

Oh. Good. Christ. In. Heaven.

I watched it over and over again, and then I went back for the next episodes and watched them over and over again. I couldn't get over the artistic filming, the majestic music, and, of course, the information. I'd given up on nature films for a long time--since I'd had so much of it as a child, nothing surprised me or taught me anything anymore.

But it wasn't only the research, and the newness of the information, it was the presentation. Sir Attenborough has a true appreciation for the intricacies of the lives of animals and plants. He is as in awe of them as I am.

From Blue Planet I went to Planet Earth, and then into the more detailed series, like Life in the Undergrowth. Each was stunning, both visually and mentally. I was hooked. 

And my last favorite thing, as anyone who knows me will tell you, is cooking. I did not grow up a cook. Some kids have parents that love to teach them to cook, but my father was a sort of control freak genius in the kitchen, so my sister and I were confined to making cakes out of boxes. Fast forward to age 18, when I went vegan.

Uh-oh. Suddenly quesadillas and chicken fingers, my staples, were off the menu, and I couldn't live on tomato soup and Oreos forever. Believe me, I tried. So, it was time to take control--I had to learn how to cook.

How on Planet Earth am I going to tie this all together? By hosting tea parties with my friends and watching Sir David Attenborough (hereafter SDA) hosted programmes, of course!