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?