Tea Latte

I love how cold weather makes hot beverages taste even better. It always has and it always will for me. I remember when, as a young child, I would come inside from playing in the snow and ditch my cold wet boots just inside the door, leaving chunks of fluffy white snow to melt on the floor into big salty puddles. My sister and I would peel off layers of clothing, icy and sopping wet, and dash to the kitchen in our thermals to beg for hot chocolate with marshmallows. Usually the dehydrated stuff in the packets would do the trick, but sometimes Dad would simmer milk and chocolate sauce on the stove, pour the concoction into little Peter Rabbit mugs, and top it with big melt-in-your-mouth marshmallows.

These days I am more into coffee. And by “into coffee”, I mean can’t live without it, won’t start my day until I find it, and don’t ever pass up the chance to grab a big mug of it, summer or winter, rain or shine, always and forever.

However with the recent snow and sleet activity in central Virginia, I have branched out into tea, cider, and even the occasional hot chocolate with marshmallows. Ever since I bought my new teapot, I have been obsessed with tea in the evenings and sometimes with breakfast on the weekdays. After microwaving water for tea for the last 15 years of my life, I have finally discovered the joy of making tea at the appropriate temperature, and oh my goodness is it so much better. I blame my mother for having a proper tea pot, with which I was obsessed over the holidays. And now I have my very own!

I got a little creative this week and made myself a tea latte with breakfast. It was so delicious that I had to share the recipe. Although the measurements aren’t exact because I kind of estimated. I encourage you to play with the proportions anyway because everyone likes their coffee or tea a different way.

Vanilla Spice Tea Latte


Ingredients:

1 black tea bag (I used Twinings English Breakfast which is also great all by itself)

1/4 cup reduced fat milk

1 teaspoon honey

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cinnamon and nutmeg to taste

Preparation:

1. Brew some hot water in a tea pot.

2. Microwave the milk for about 30 seconds, or until just warmed.

3. To the milk, add honey, vanilla, and a dash each of cinnamon and nutmeg. I would guess that I used about 1/8 of a teaspoon of cinnamon and just a pinch of nutmeg. Stir to combine. If the honey will not melt into the milk, zap it in the microwave for another 10 seconds and then try again.

4. As soon as the water begins to boil, pour 6 oz. of hot water into a mug and add the tea bag. Steep for 4 minutes.

5. Remove the bag from the tea (do not squeeze it out into the mug or it may get bitter). Add the milk mixture and stir to combine.

Today it is a little cold but the sun is shining and I’m heading outside to play. Dad won’t be waiting with hot chocolate when I make it back inside, but at least I can count on my new tea pot to help me warm up when I get back. And if I’m lucky I can deliver a little warmth to someone I love too.

Holiday Break

So I haven’t really posted in about a week because it has been the craziest week ever! I finished my Christmas shopping, visited family on a daytrip to DC, accepted an offer for a new job, and left my job at A Comedy of Errors, Inc. (not the real name of my former employer). It all happened pretty quickly and ended pretty awesomely. Add to this whirlwind a recent and ongoing investigation of the mysterious appearance of fruit flies in my home, and you have a recipe for A TON of eating (and drinking ;)) out. There just wasn’t much cooking to share and no time to share it with you.

drug of choice

So picture this scene: 6:50 AM, Starbucks. I patiently await the arrival of my soon-to-be supervisor while I sip a hot cappuccino. By 7:15 AM I have signed an offer of employment before the sun has even risen over our fair city. At 7:25 AM I am resigning from my position at A Comedy of Errors, Inc. to the shock and dismay of my coworkers. By 7:35 AM I have been all but escorted off the premises. This is what happens when you go to a competitor, and I expected it, but here I am all dressed up with no place to go. So I went to take my pre-employment drug test.

But then what?

I am off work until January 3rd. I have been working 45-60 hours a week for the last six months. So what do you do with a two-week holiday break before it’s back to work in January? Well I channeled my college self and figured out exactly what to do with myself.

I made eggnog cookies.

I had a celebratory beer.

I walked a mile for this Snow Goose

Or two.

With a sketchy character and a menu that featured a star-studded cast of brews.

I did a lot of victory dances and whimsical swinging around various objects in my urban environment.

I watched videos online.

I had some delicious beers with some more sketchy characters, who also had big career accomplishments to celebrate.

 

I know this is the wrong glass for this beer but I had to be festive.

I made nut bark for some dear friends!

Seems like I'm having a moment with the blue striped tea towel. Let's just go with it.

Nut Bark

Melt 12 oz semisweet chocolate chips over a simmering pot of water. Melt the chocolate in a glass bowl that is placed above, not in, the hot water.

 

Makeshift Double Boiler

Spread the melted chocolate out on a 9×13 baking dish lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle two cups of mixed nuts over the chocolate and gently press them into the chocolate with a large spatula.

Pop the whole sheet into the freezer or refrigerator for about 30 minutes. When completely cooled and set, break the bark into various sized pieces.

I have been on break for two days and I think I’m starting to get the hang of the relaxation thing, although I have been quite productive. Eleven more days to go. How will I spend all this free time?

Homemade Granola

During my visit to my hometown over Thanksgiving weekend, I picked up a bag of some of the most delicious granola I have ever tasted:

Michele’s Granola!

I tasted some of the pumpkin spice granola at a local coffee shop and was immediately hooked. I bought the 12 oz. size for around $7.50 and enjoyed every single oat and nut cluster in the whole bag. As the weekend drew nearer, the bag felt lighter and lighter. When I could see the brown paper at the bottom of the sack of granola, I panicked.

I considered stocking up on the stuff (which I highly recommend) but when I added up the cost of 2-3 months’ worth of Michele’s Granola and considered the impending drain on my bank account around the holidays, I figured there had to be a more cost effective way to get my fix. It was time to make some homemade granola. And it was a great way to get the holiday-related baking itch out of my system, without gaining 5 pounds of cookie dough around my midsection.

I burned the first batch while texting my friends about how awesome I was for making my own granola. The second batch was perfection. I did dump a whole batch of burnt granola in the trash, but on the bright side, now I can show you a color reference so you can tell the difference between “too long in the oven” and “just right.”

too long in the oven

just right 🙂

Speaking of bright sides, I replaced my 100-watt soft white kitchen light bulb with a GE Reveal light bulb, which is supposed to mimic daylight. This is particularly important for photographing your late night cooking and baking adventures for your food blog. No matter how hard I try, I rarely cook an entire dish during the 6 hours of daylight we get this time of year. I thought, “this light bulb will save me!”

At first, the only thing it revealed was the horrifying collection of crumbs on my kitchen floor that I couldn’t even see in normal light. However it also improved the lighting situation for my photos so I am proud to present to you my 11:00 PM granola adventure, in all its GE Reveal glory.

Basic Granola

Ingredients

  • 2 cups old fashioned oats
  • 1/4 cup shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup unsalted nuts (I used almonds, but any nut will do)
  • 1/4 cup unsalted sunflower seeds
  • 1/8 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Optional: 1/2 cup other mix-ins (dried fruit, chocolate chips, etc)

Preparation

1.Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

2. Combine the oats, coconut, nuts, and seeds in a medium-sized mixing bowl.

3. Combine oil and honey over medium heat in a small sauce pan. You may add the brown sugar at this step or in the next one. Bring to a boil then remove from the heat and whisk to combine. It will look a little angry when it starts to boil, but it will be OK. This is necessary to get the honey to jive with all the other ingredients when you toss everything together.

4. Carefully pour the oil-honey mixture over the granola and stir to combine. Add brown sugar if you have not already. Add vanilla, cinnamon, and salt and toss all ingredients together.

5. Pour the granola mixture onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Use a wooden spoon to spread it into an even layer.

6. Bake in preheated oven for ten minutes, then stir to turn over and return to oven for ten additional minutes at 325 degrees F.

Make yourself a cup of tea while you wait.

7. Remove from oven and sprinkle mix-ins over the top of the granola. Let the granola cool completely on the baking sheet before packing in an airtight container. Granola should keep for 1-2 weeks, although I doubt it will last that long!

I made a few variations of this granola and all varieties made fine accompaniments to our weekend activities. The cinnamon raisin went well with Saturday hiking.

And the gingerbread version was great for Sunday decorating.

When inspiration strikes, I hope you find this granola a fun and easy snack to go along with whatever you get yourself into this winter.

For more holiday baking ideas, check out Brittany’s 12 Days of Cookies over at Eating Bird Food. My persimmon cookies were featured last week, and all of the other cookies she has highlighted look delicious too!

Farmers’ Market 12.04.10

Shall we?

I decided I had to make it to the last SOTJ market of the outdoor market season, and I dragged Kyle along with me in the cold this morning. I promised him coffee before and hiking after, so he was sold. I am so glad we went!

Here is what we picked up this week, and the loot includes a very funny looking character called a Black Spanish Radish. I’m eager to see what I can do with these. They are my kitchen challenge for this week.

click for a closer look

 

  • Cauliflower
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Apple cider
  • Black pepper linguine
  • Black Spanish radishes
  • Goat cheese wrapped in hot peppers, rosemary, and corn husk

As we finished tasting all of the goat cheeses that Bonnyclabber had to offer, our coffee cups went empty and we had only one thing in mind. In the interest of squeezing in all of the Fall activities that we love to do, we headed on to hiking. The first snow of the season is scheduled for tonight so I think we both had an urge to celebrate Fall as much as possible while we still could. Onward to the crunchy leaves and scenic river views.

Farewell to the market at Forest Hill Park. . . until next year.

Veggie Redux: Bangers and Mash

Since eliminating meat from my diet, I have expanded my culinary horizons and seized the opportunity to try new ingredients and preparations. I have said before that vegetarianism has opened more doors for me than it has closed. However, I did not stop eating meat because I didn’t like meat. I really enjoyed meat on occasion, and some dishes have been hard to replace. For that reason, I have tried to recreate some of my favorite meat dishes using meatless ingredients. There have been successes and failures, but the thrill of the adventure is worth the bumpy ride.

Last night I attempted a recreation of bangers and mash, the traditional English dish made of sausage and mashed potatoes. This one was a success. I do not know if meat-eaters would be fooled, but for this pair of vegetarians, my rendition definitely satisfied the craving. And that is what it is all about. The vegan sausages with their pepperiness and bits of sundried tomato offered a hearty complement to the creamy mashed Yukon golds. Paired with a side of roasted brussels sprouts, this meal felt more winter than fall. However with the chilly rainy weather we have had for the last week, it really hit the spot.

I know I have ignored two of the cardinal rules of food photography: don’t photograph brown food and expect it to look appetizing, and always use natural light. But the thing is, gravy is brown. And so are sausages. And I still think they look really freaking appetizing. But maybe you had to be there. Also, it was cold and dark outside so artificial light was all I had. Really, this dish wouldn’t work so well on a bright sunny day so give me the benefit of the doubt and use your imagination. This truly was a hearty and delicious dish.

click to see it in all its gravy glory

Veggie Bangers and Mash (serves 4)

Ingredients:

4 medium Yukon gold potatoes

One package Tofurky Italian sausages (4 links)

2 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 medium onion

1 Tbsp all-purpose flour

2 Tbsp stone ground mustard

1 cup vegetable broth

1/4 cup milk

2 Tbsp butter

Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

1. Peel and cut the potatoes into 1 inch chunks. Place in a large pot, cover with water, and boil over medium-high heat for 10-15 minutes or until tender.

2. Slice the sausages into 1/2-inch thick rounds. Heat 2 Tbsp of oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the sausages when hot and cook until browned.

3. Cut the onion into thin slices. When the sausages are browned, remove them from the pan to a paper towel lined plate. Add the onion to the pan and saute until translucent.

4. When the potatoes are done cooking, drain them in a colander and return to the pot. Mash the potatoes, adding milk and butter until you reach teh desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper. Cover to keep warm.

5. Add the flour to the onions and stire to coat. Cook for about one minute, then add the vegetable broth to the pan. Whisk in the mustard. Let cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring often, until this reduces to a gravy-like consistency.

6. Return the sausages to the gravy pan and stir to coat. Cook until warmed throughout.

7. Serve the sausages over the mashed potatoes.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts (serves 4)

Ingredients:

1 lb brussels sprouts

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

Preparation:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Wash and trim the brussels sprouts. Remove the stems.

3. Combine the brussels sprouts with the desired amount of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Toss to coat and spread out in a single layer on a baking sheet.

4. Cook in a 400 degree oven for 35-40 minutes, until the leaves are brown and crispy, while the centers are still soft and green.