Category: tea

Down south style bourbon peach tea.

Bourbon peach sweet tea!

Truth be told, I’ve never really been a bourbon girl. When I was younger, the only liquor I drank was mixed in drinks like a “Madras” or “Long Island Iced Tea” or a plain ol’ rum & coke or something. I never acquired a taste for Jack Daniels, unlike my female college peers (or so they said- liars). And then later on as I got older (& realized some things do not mix well) I just stopped altogether with any kind of so-called hard liquor, and stuck to either beer or wine. Except for Jameson of course, which is a staple around here. Irish coffees!

But Jay is a bourbon guy and so I’ve come to find that there are a few that I quite enjoy with ice or in a drink, and some of those I even like straight up. There’s always a lot to choose from here (as of the time this post is being written there are no fewer than 24 bottles of bourbon/whiskey/etc on hand), so there’s enough to taste & sample & find out what I find to be good (Russell’s, James E. Pepper, and good old Maker’s Mark) & what equates to gasoline (Old Weller Antique).

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That Earl, he really knows how to jam.

Well since Valentine’s Day is over, and we’ve got some time before the all the green starts (although if you go by Pinterest/blogs it’s already starting), that means some time to bake things that aren’t artificially colored. What fun is that, right? Well as much as I do love me some food coloring (and holy balls I really do), I have to say once in a while it is nice to bake something that’s just… whatever color it is. Something basic. Something simple. Something homey & warm & comforting.

Especially when, like last week, New York gets hit with over a foot of snow. Yes, we were spared the worst of it where I am, but that doesn’t mean I like it.

But I do love tea, and I love muffins, so I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch that I bake a muffin made with tea. I’m not a stranger to using tea in baked goods or jellies, specifically Earl Grey, so it’s not exactly something that’s foreign to me… nonetheless it’s always fun to try a new twist on an old theme. That’s why when I found a recipe for Earl Grey milk jam on Pinterest I had to make it to serve along with some Earl Grey muffins (which are not going to be posted here, because they need a little tweaking).

Side note: this is a short, lazy little post for a lazy little ol’ me. I haven’t been feeling very well lately, I think I’m in need of some more influenza granita. I’m sneezing like crazy!

The milk jam is a very curious thing. It’s like the consistency of dulce de leche, or Nutella, maybe just a bit thinner. It seems to be popular in Japan, although in France they apparently have some version of it as well. It’s excellent on these muffins, but it’s also equally good in tea or coffee. Basically, dulce de leche means “candy of milk” or “milk candy” or even “milk jam”, so it’s not surprising that in some places milk jam is indeed what we think of as a thick caramel sauce, or dulce de leche. But it can be flavored in other ways, not just made into a caramel-flavored substance.

I added more than 5 tablespoons of Earl Grey to mine, which might be why it’s darker.

I’m telling you, a spoonful of this version of it in Earl Grey tea not only sweetens the tea but amps up the Earl Grey flavor in a great way.

EARL GREY MILK JAM (from B for Bonnie)

Ingredients:

  • 1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 Earl Grey tea bag, steeped in 5 tablespoons very hot water

Directions:

  1. Heat the milk in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring often to prevent scorching, for 20-25 minutes (you’ll know when it’s ready- it’ll get thick). Remove from heat and stir 3-5 tablespoons Earl Grey tea into it.
  2. Stir for a few minutes to combine. Pour into clean jar, cool and store in the refrigerator.

If you prefer to not use condensed milk, there’s a version at B for Bonnie using heavy cream & milk instead. The jam can also be made with vanilla beans instead of Earl Grey tea for a vanilla milk jam. That would be amazing in coffee, tea, or even over ice cream. For further instructions on that, visit Our Adventures in Japan.

As a matter of fact, it would make an excellent cupcake or cookie filling as well.

Chai concentrating.

Pinterest has taken over everyone’s life lately. It seems as if everyone is either making something they found on Pinterest or talking about something they found on Pinterest. And I’m no different. My Pinterest page is filled with amazing things; some of which I’ve made, some of which I’ll never make, and most of which I just gush about. I even wrote about it at textdrivebys.com twice…

This chai concentrate from Tasty Yummies is one of the ones I’ve actually both pinned and made.

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November is doing it’s best to get fully settled in. It’s been very, very cold, and as a matter of fact in addition to hurricane Sandy hammering us last week, tomorrow we’re getting a Nor’easter! Gusty winds, heavy rains and even snow in some places. So it’s time for warm drinks & spicy flavors. Hot cider, hot chocolate, hot tea. One chilly Sunday I was browsing Pinterest, looking at things I had been pinning for something interesting to create, and I noticed this chai concentrate that I had pinned way back in August. As soon as I saw the stunning photo of it in a Mason jar (how could I turn away!?) I pinned it. I’m not a massive chai person, but I do enjoy it every now & then. And it’s worth it to me to try a homemade version because I really never buy it when I’m out. I usually prefer a coffee. So when I do have chai, it’s at home. And I love some pre-made brands, and some tea companies versions of it. But sometimes it’s just not the same.

The history of chai is quite a rich one, despite most people only knowing it from it’s existence in lattes at Starbucks.

Masala chai (literally “mixed-spice tea”) is a beverage from India made by brewing tea with a mixture of aromatic Indian spices and herbs.

Plain chai

By itself, chai or cha is merely the generic word for “tea” in many European and Asian languages. The widespread form chai comes from Persian چای chay. Street vendors called “chai wallahs” (sometimes spelled “chaiwalas”) are a common sight, although coffee is a more popular beverage in some southern parts of India. Chai is also a popular item in restaurants known as Irani cafés or the genre of South Asian restaurants known as Chai Khanas or Ghahve Khane.

Spiced tea

For many English speakers, the term “chai” is synonymous with masala chai, as further described below. The redundant chai tea is sometimes used to indicate spiced milk tea as distinct from other types of tea. Numerous coffee houses use the term chai latte for their version to indicate that the steamed milk of a normal latte is being flavored with a spiced tea concentrate instead of with espresso, without necessarily implying the addition of coffee. Some coffeehouses and brand names refer to their product as chai tea latte.

The beverage is locally known as Chai karak in the Middle East.

And might I add… DELICIOUS. And this homemade concentrate is also easy. Cheap, too. But at the same time it’s quick- it takes no time at all, and it makes your house smell absolutely amazing. The smell alone is worth it! Just like the homemade pumpkin spice latte mix I posted about last month, if you’re a chai lover who buys a lot of chai lattes, this could totally save you some money.

HOMEMADE CHAI CONCENTRATE (adapted minimally from Tasty Yummies)

Yields: 1 batch of concentrate, approximately 4 cups

Ingredients:

  • 4 1/2 cups water
  • 8 bags black tea – I used PG tips
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tablespoon of pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 1 1/3 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 2 whole star anise pods
  • 1/2 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Directions:

  1. Add the water and sugar to a medium sized saucepan and bring to a boil over a medium-high heat. Once boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer and put in the tea bags, cheesecloth pouch and cinnamon sticks. Simmer for 20 minutes.
  2. Remove the pan from the heat strain the concentrate through a sieve, separating the large pieces (tea begs/cinnamon sticks/cardamom pods/anise/cloves/etc) from the mix. At this point, add your vanilla extract & honey. Stir to combine.
  3. Allow the mixture to cool before pouring it into an airtight jar or container. This amount fits perfectly into a 1-quart mason jar. Store in the refrigerator for up to one week.

To use it, mix one part concentrate with one part milk or milk-like product of your choice. Heat the concentrate for a hot version, pour over ice for a cold version.

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I used ground cardamom & ground ginger, I had fresh ginger but it was frozen & I didn’t feel like defrosting it so I could cut it (it’s a pretty large hunk, and yes I freeze my extra ginger). I didn’t have any cardamom pods but I had a large jar of it ground, so I opted to substitute that. Also, the original recipe called for a whole vanilla bean, coconut sugar & raw honey- I only had regular sugar, brown sugar, a small amount of German rock sugar (for my tea) & sugar cubes myself, so I made an executive decision. If you want to use another kind of sugar, go right ahead, but you might want to read what she says her results were first. My honey wasn’t raw either, but I don’t think that makes much of a difference taste-wise. All of my vanilla beans were being made into homemade vanilla extract at the time, so I had to use some vanilla extract instead. If you like a spicier chai, add more peppercorns. If you like a sweeter chai, add more sugar. Likewise… if you prefer a less sweet chai then just use less sugar/honey. What you use in it is totally up to you. And as a matter of fact, this mix makes a nice hostess gift, too. Tie some raffia around the top with some cinnamon sticks & handwritten instructions, and you’re good to go. And if you know someone who was in the path of Hurricane Sandy who has no power but still has a gas stove to heat it up with, maybe bring them some, along with some food.

As for me? I’ll be drinking some later tonight watching the 2012 Presidential election returns. Make sure you registered U.S. voters get out there today & do your duty! It’s a privilege to be able to push that little lever or fill in that circle on paper, so get your lazy, apathetic asses out there. And to everyone who already voted; good for you. It’s not even 8 a.m. & you’ve already made more of a difference than most people will all day. And if you’re one of those people affected by Sandy, you can still vote. Download a mail-in ballot or call your local elected officials to find out where to go to vote in New Jersey, or if you’re in NY you can click here & find out where to go (and in turn pass it on!). I know you’re all dealing with so many other things, but voting is going to continue; no matter what election day will not be suspended. And it’s so important to get your vote in. So please, try and get as many folks as you can to the polls today.

And if you remain unaffected, if you’re safe, warm & dry today, and you know where you’ll be voting & that you’ll be coming home afterwards… then especially be thankful for that.

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Rose petal hibiscus tea jelly.

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” ― C.S. Lewis

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Is that not the prettiest jelly you’ve ever seen?

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It really is. And it’s not just because I took these photos with a magical new addition to my life, although yeah, this camera takes insane photos. It’s because this jelly really is the prettiest jelly ever.

I love tea. I always have. In an Irish family, tea is basically a staple… you can’t escape it. Yes, I love coffee too, but I definitely own more varieties of tea than coffee. Tea is comforting for me. Tea is childhood illness, when my grandmother would make me a cup when I was home sick from school & my mom was at work, holding her hand to my forehead to see if I was “hot.” Tea is when I had a bad day as a teenager, and my mom would make me a cup before bed & tell me the day is over and tomorrow is a new start. Tea is family. Coffee is a jolt to get me going, whereas tea is a warm hug to settle me down.

I made a super crazy good tea jelly last summer, and it was such a massive hit that all four jars disappeared. One I sent to Lyns, and the other three just seemingly vaporized. I know I used it for a few things, and I remember having it on scones and English muffins, but I definitely don’t remember all the jars being used up. Hmm. But nonetheless they were, and now they’re seemingly gone, so it was time to make some more. I really liked the tea I used last year, but I wanted something different this year. I was still in a summer mood at the time, and it was so hot out I didn’t want to make anything too heavy or wintery, and a lot of my loose teas remind me of fall & winter. I wanted to avoid that completely- I’m more than a little annoyed that the Back To School stuff has been in stores since before my birthday and that people are trying to sell me sweaters. It’s still summer, dammit! I’ve also been reading a lot of my vintage cookbooks, or rather my reprints of vintage cookbooks, such as The Virginia House-Wife, The American Frugal Housewife & Civil War Recipes; and for some reason they all made me think of things like rose or lavender-based jellies and jams. Flowery edible things always remind me of the Colonial times or Victorian times. Rosewater was often used back then in recipes in place of vanilla extract, which was very expensive. Although it’s still used widely today, especially in Indian & Middle Eastern cuisine, most people nowadays use it as part of their toilette. Rosewater is great for your skin- it absorbs excess oil so it makes a great toner.

So as a kind of experiment, I decided to make a small jar of jelly using some flower-based tea & rose petals.

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I decided to use the last four Hibiscus tea bags from Davidson’s that I had left to make some rose petal hibiscus tea jelly. Why add actual rose petals? ‘Cause I can, really.

ROSE PETAL HIBISCUS TEA JELLY

Makes about 1 8-oz. jar with some overflow

Ingredients:

  • 4 Davidson’s Tulsi Hibiscus tea bags
  • 1 cup plus two tablespoons water
  • 1 1/2 cups plus two tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon Certo liquid pectin (or 1/3 cup apple pectin)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh strained lemon juice
  • 4-6 large unblemished rose petals (from roses not chemically treated)

Directions:

  1. Sterilize and keep warm two 8-oz. jars & one 4-oz. jar (for overflow, just in case). Place the lids in a bowl of hot water and set aside.
  2. In a bowl of water, delicately swirl the rose petals to remove any bugs or excess dirt. Remove gently and drain on paper towels. Add the tea bags to the 1 3/4 cups water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a rolling boil, then remove from the heat, add the rose petals, and let steep for 5-6 minutes. Drain and toss the tea bags & petals (unless you want to add the petals to the jars; they’ll float but you can still add them if you like).
  3. Add the pectin, lemon juice and sugar to the tea. Bring to a boil and cook over high heat until it reaches 220° F on a candy thermometer, or passes the freezer plate test, about 25-30 minutes.
  4. Pour into prepared jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace. Wipe rims and place lids & bands, turning only to fingertip tight.
  5. Process in a waterbath canner for 5 minutes. Remove onto a clean tea towel and do not disturb for a day. Check seal. Use any that aren’t sealed immediately.

The tea is slightly rosy itself. But my rose petals were a red color, so the jelly was infused with a slightly more red color than the tea would normally have (and the petals then turned a pale pinkish color themselves, as if all their color was leeched out into the jelly). If you don’t want to use the petals, you don’t have to. It just gives a really subtle rosy flavor. A drop of rosewater in the tea before cooking would work too, but it wouldn’t be as subtle. If you’ve got hibiscus, then by all means- use hibiscus petals! Like I said, the petals float to the top, so when you open the jelly; you’ll see them at the surface. You can eat them, scrape them off and toss them, or save them.

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This is a jelly with a slightly looser set. It shakes & jiggles just like jelly is supposed to, and it holds it’s shape well, yet softly. I hate that store-bought jelly is so over-firm. I think jelly should be jiggly, like jello. I think it’s better to be safe than sorry, that’s why I recommend in the recipe that you sterilize two 8-oz. jars and a 4-oz. jar. You’ll probably have a little overflow, but you might have more than just a little. ‘Cause see, depending on what kind of pot you use, what kind of oven you have, etc. you might end up with more than just one 8-oz. jar (or maybe a little less!)… so better to be safe, no? And besides, what’s the problem with ending up with more jelly? None as far as I can tell.

This isn’t really a jelly for the casual jelly-lover. It’s a very distinctive, unique flavor and it’s not for everyone. That said… if you love hibiscus tea, you’ll love this.

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And don’t worry- if your jelly doesn’t set, you can still use it! It’d be wonderful as a syrup added to iced tea, a vodka or gin cocktail, or sparkling water. Same goes for those petals you save. Plop them in some sparkling water or lemonade, too. It’s very Victorian. And if you love tea, yet you’ve never tried hibiscus flower tea, I suggest you try some. It’s delicious- especially Davidson’s.

Refreshment is only 8-10 hours away.

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And no, I don’t mean a trip to the Caribbean, although I’m sure that’s fantastic. I mean iced tea.

I’ve wanted to make sun-brewed iced tea for a while now. I did it a few times as a kid, but as a kid (and young adult) my taste in tea was pretty much either piping hot with a lot of sugar and milk when I had a cold or it was wintertime, or iced cold Snapple or AriZona iced tea right from 7-11’s refrigerator case in the summer. Homemade iced tea just didn’t do it for me. It was either too bland, not sweet enough, or didn’t taste right. Now that I’m an adult, with a (slightly) more discerning palate & a penchant for all things tea… I wanted to give it a shot again. While we’re on the subject, you know what annoys me? People who say “ice tea.” It’s not ICE tea, you moron, it’s iced tea.

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So anyway, I went on a mission to find out everything I could about making delicious sun tea. However, the internet will make you insane. Everywhere on the internet there were either blogs & websites encouraging you to make it, or ones telling you you’ll get sick and die if you make it. And I have a feeling the answer lies somewhere in the middle, probably closer to the former than the latter. Now, let me just say that I’m far from a hypochondriac. I don’t run to the doctor the minute my nose runs. I’m not even a germophobe. I don’t care about touching door handles or knobs or how many other hands have touched it. I don’t get skeeved that easily- that’s not to say nothing skeeves me, plenty of things do, but I’m not one of these people dousing everything in bleach all the time. I think honestly we’ve become so germ-phobic that we’re making ourselves sick. We’re killing our abilities to fight bacteria naturally by over-cleaning and over-sanitizing every damn thing & pumping our bodies full of antibiotics and medicines before our system even has a chance to do anything on it’s own. All of that said: I always follow proper canning procedures, and I always follow proper cleaning methods when cooking chicken, etc. I don’t take those things lightly. I don’t at all scoff at food safety, not in the least. It’s definitely important, particularly if you’re dealing with babies, young children, pregnant women or the elderly.

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But sun-tea? Really? You expect me to worry about brewing a jar of tea in the sun? Seriously?

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I had an experience a few years ago that I’d like to share, speaking of this topic. So sit down, squat down or lie down because it’s story time. You see, I used to be super into iced tea- see the first paragraph- and my absolute favorite, hands down, was Dairy Barn‘s own iced tea. Dairy Barn is a drive-thru convenience store- meaning you can go in your pajamas because you don’t have to get out of your car. Every summer they had amazing iced coffee, lemonade and iced tea. I was borderline obsessed. When I was much younger, they came in a waxed cardboard container just like milk, and had a drawing of tea leaves (or lemons, or coffee beans) and splashes on it, colored to indicate the contents. However they stopped making the iced coffee, and changed the iced tea & lemonade to big plastic jugs at some point, much to my chagrin. The taste remained the same, though, so I bought gallon after gallon. Until one summer when we had a wicked storm that knocked out power for a bit, maybe a day tops. I ventured out the next day after the power came back to get some iced tea, buying my usual gallon jug from Dairy Barn. I put in the fridge and when I went to drink some later it had a terrible taste. I looked at the jug and there was a white, cloudy stuff floating in the tea. I was immediately grossed out and took it back. They replaced it (obviously!) but that was the turning point for me. I gave up on iced tea for a long time after that. I totally lost my taste for it. I came back around to drinking iced tea a few years later when I tried Honest Tea & Gold Peak & they kick-started my taste for it again. I couldn’t deny my love any longer. But basically, my point is I came to find out years later that white stuff was bacteria that had probably began to grow once the refrigeration was off, or was perhaps growing long before that, when the jug was in a hot truck or warehouse. Or, if you believe a lot of people’s theories, the fact that the tea was now in relatively clear plastic jugs allowed the heat from the sun to grow bacteria in the sweetened tea at some point during it’s no doubt at least partially unrefrigerated journey to me. Gross, right?

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Yeah, whatever, it was gross. But you know what? That bacteria, apparently known as Alcaligenes viscolactis, is found in TAP WATER. And not just tap water, but also milk. Not tea, not plastic, not the sun and not glass jars. So the water was the culprit. And I drink water constantly, milk too, mostly without a thought, and sometimes… *gasp* …right from the tap! No filtration! And I’m still alive! You ingest more bacteria every day than you even realize. In food, on glasses & plates, in the air… And besides, that jug was one jug of iced tea out of the 6 gazillion bottles, cans, jugs and glasses of it I’ve had in my 31 years of life. I’ve been exposed to worse, surely. Okay, so the idea that this bacteria grows rapidly in the low-ish temperatures (around 130º F) sun-tea commonly reaches, and that the sugar might feed it, that could be disconcerting. I get that. And if you have a compromised immune system or a chronic illness,or if you’re pregnant, then maybe you shouldn’t chance it. But really… I had to ask myself, how many people have I heard of dying from sun tea? None. So I decided to throw caution to the wind and make myself some sun-brewed tea. This way I can utilize all this crazy sun/heat and get something good out of it! Besides, if sun-tea really killed people, half the South would’ve been dead as door nails years ago.

If you didn’t already notice, these pictures are the progression of the sun tea as it brewed during the day. To make the tea the way I did, follow this little tutorial:

SUN-BREWED TEA:

  1. Get two quart-sized Mason jars. Boil water and wash/sterilize the jars and lids thoroughly. Dry them and get your stuff ready.
  2. I did two different types of tea- Lipton Black Iced Tea bags and STASH Peach Black Tea bags. I put a different one in each jar, but of course you can use one jar of just one kind of tea if you like. Add between 1/4 cup & 1/2 cup sugar and 4 cups of water to each jar, then stir (If you’re very concerned about the bacteria, boil your water first- you can use it hot or let it cool, or use filtered water or bottled water; and if you’re super worried, add the sugar after it’s brewed). Add two tea bags to each jar: I set it up so the tags were hanging out from the lid/band and it was easier to remove them once the brewing is finished. For the plain black tea, I added a few lemon slices, but I added nothing to the peach tea.
  3. Let it sit in a place where it will get constant sun for 4-5 hours, preferably after 12 noon on a day when the temperature is well above 85-88º F. The day I made it, the temperature was roughly 96º F and you could’ve fried an egg on the sidewalk.
  4. When you bring the jars inside, remove the tea bags & put them in the fridge right away. Once it’s really cold, about 6-8 hours later, pour it into a glass with ice and enjoy!

(It’s recommended by the CDC that you toss the tea after 24 hours, and then thoroughly clean the jars or vessels with a bleach solution. Some people say they keep it until it turns cloudy and then toss it. I leave it up to you. All I’ll say is no matter what you do, when in doubt, throw it out! If it looks, smells or tastes funky… adios amigo.)

The best part? You can use a terrace, a fire escape, a deck, a front porch, front steps, etc. It can be made anywhere there’s strong sunlight. And if you prefer your tea with honey, I don’t see why you can’t use that instead of sugar. Or make it unsweetened. What-evs. Like I said above I used quart-sized jars, but if you’d rather make individual single serve jars, pint jars work too. Just lessen the amount of sugar and use one tea bag instead of two. Same goes for increasing the amount for a gallon jar: double the amount of sugar and use four tea bags. And you can experiment with the sugar amounts; I found 1/2 cup per quart was perfect. It might be too sweet (or not sweet enough!) for you. You can always add more once it’s brewed, but ya can’t take any out once it’s done. So its best to err on the side of the lesser amount unless you’re sure.

If you’re STILL worried, then by all means, make iced tea cold-brewed refrigerator way. It’s the same premise as sun tea, just.. well.. without the sun. Just for shits & giggles I tried a cold brew jar as well. I figured I could compare the taste. I think the cold brew tea actually had a better pure tea taste.

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It was very clear tasting; that’s really the only way I can describe it. As this website says:

The other method of preparation is cold brewing. With this method, the cold water draws out or pulls the flavor from the leaf as opposed to hot water, used in traditional brewing, which pushes the flavor from the leaf. Subsequently, cold infusion is a much slower, gentle method that results in a smooth, more subtle, naturally sweet tasting tea.

- Teas, Etc

They make specially made tea bags just for cold-brewing, Twinings makes a TON of them, but I used regular Lipton iced tea bags (just as I did for the sun tea). And it was such a success, I made a few more jars! The peach STASH tea made this way was divine.

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ERMAHGERDS. So refreshing.

Alright, so here’s how you do it.

COLD-BREWED (OR REFRIGERATOR) TEA:

  1. Thoroughly clean a quart Mason jar (& it’s lid) and let it dry.
  2. Again, like above, add 1/4-1/2 cup of sugar (or some honey, or Splenda, or Xylitol, etc… that is if you want to use any sweetener at all- which you don’t have to- but if you do now is the time to add it) and fill with water. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine.
  3. Add lemon slices, peach slices, mango slices, lime slices or any fruit, if desired. Otherwise just add two tea bags of whatever tea you’re using. Push them down in the water with the spoon until they’re saturated and place the lid on the jar & close it.
  4. Put the jar in the fridge for 8-10 hours. It’s ready to drink! If it isn’t strong enough, you can let it brew a little while longer.
  5. Toss the tea after three days and clean the jar again if you’re ready for another batch.

You still have to keep your eyes on it, even though it’s kept cold. They recommend that after three days you throw it out, even if it looks fine. Of course if it looks cloudy before then, you should toss it ASAP.

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While I thought that the cold brew tea had a superior tea flavor, the sun tea was much more fun to make, to be honest, just because of the whole “sun brewing” thing. If I had kids, they’d probably be far more interested in watching that brew than opening the fridge every five minutes. And if after all that, you’re still scared, then just make some homemade iced tea by brewing it the boiling water way. Ain’t no shame in it! As always, use your discretion. If it bothers you, don’t make it. If it excites you, then go brew up some tea. It’s really so much better than the store-bought kind, or even the instant powdered mix kind. This is the real thing. And it’s so freakin’ easy you’ll wonder why you never did it before (or stopped doing it). Give it a shot you’ll see.

Either way… enjoy the sun.

Tea for two.

Donsuemor & Davidson’s Tea asked me a few months ago to take part in their blogger tea party, so of course I accepted! I love tea. And I love Donsuemor. And that means that this post is all about my little tea party featuring Davidson’s delicious teas and Donsuemor’s delicious madeleines.

I might have mentioned a few times on this blog how big of a role tea has played in my life. My grandmother was a big tea drinker. If you mention the word “tea” to anyone who knew her, they’d say “Aggie!” Ever since she passed away last July, I’ve especially missed that. Her world renowned crazy tea & cookie obsession! If my nana didn’t have her tea & cookies… someone was going to pay. As long as she had a warm cup of tea & some kind of cookie, all was right with the world. Like that image says above- a cup of tea solves everything. And so on that note, for the tea party I decided to use my grandmother’s vintage fine china tea set (& musical teapot). It’s Yamaka China, made in occupied Japan. It’s trimmed in 14K gold & it is beautiful. It must be a rare pattern too, because after looking up Yamaka tea/snack/luncheon sets, I haven’t found it anywhere. The teapot isn’t Yamaka, I’m actually not sure what it is, but it plays ‘Tea For Two’ when you pick it up to pour it. They were both bought sometime after she got married in 1940. My grandma was scrupulous about keeping things perfect, so the set is in mint condition. Looks like it just came out of the box.

And yes, the teapot still plays.

I also used her vintage lace tablecloth, which I never even knew she had. I also hadn’t really ever looked at her china before, but when I decided to use it I really noticed how stunning it is. And I love the fact that the plates have a special little sunken-in area off to the side of the plate for the tea cups to sit in! Brilliant! Plenty of room on the plates for those madeleines. I went & bought some pretty flowers (that matched the tea set) and put them in another flowered tea pot for decoration. I’m not 100% sure what kind of flowers they are, but they’re gorgeous. I put out my jadeite bunny sugar bowl and I put out my grandma’s crystal salt & pepper shakers, just ’cause they’re pretty to look at. Then I got out some good silver teaspoons. All that …and I was ready for a party! A tea party, of course.

Thanks to Anna who pointed out the heart shape in the tea bag!

Donsuemor sent four types of their madeleines: chocolate, chocolate dipped, lemon zest and original. Perfect for a tea party. And of course Davidson’s Tea sent three amazing teas: Bing Cherry with Almond, Tulsi Hibiscus Flower and Vanilla Cream Spice. All of the teas are organic & these happen to all be caffeine free. And did I mention delicious?

I love the Vanilla Cream Spice tea. It’s very, very delicious. It was my favorite, although honestly I haven’t tried the Bing Cherry yet. The Hibiscus tea would be amazing iced! I think this weekend, since the weather will be warm again, I’ll make a big pitcher of hibiscus iced tea with some German rock sugar. And while I don’t think I could pick a favorite madeleine; if I did it’d be a tie between the chocolate-dipped and lemon zest. I can honestly say they’re all amazing, there’s not a bad one in the bunch. But I’m a tea lover, and I’m a French cookie (& pastry) lover too, so I guess I’m not the best judge. Or maybe I am a good judge for that reason!

And coincidentally, it may seem as though I color-coordinated everything to match the tea packets, but I didn’t! Haha. I swear. I was planning on using the jadeite bowl and her pink-patterned tea set before I even realized the tea packets matched everything perfectly. But yeah, that’s just the way I do things, you know. I like to be 100% coordinated. *wink*

All in all, it was a sweet little tea party on a beautiful end-of-April afternoon. Even Arwyn requested some tea. I think she liked the Hibiscus flower one.

Aren’t the flowers lovely, too? Thank you so very much to Donsuemor & Davidson’s Tea for helping me host such a beautiful tea party. Not only that, thank you for helping me rediscover something beautiful of my grandmother’s that I hadn’t given a lot of thought to. I had a wonderful time. I’m just sorry my tea-loving nana wasn’t here to enjoy it with us. But I guess she kind of was.

You can find Donsuemor on the web, on Twitter, and on Facebook. You can also find Davidson’s Tea on Twitter & Facebook, too! So go become a fan, become a follower & buy some of their treats.

Preserving: traditions… and some fruits, nuts & tea.

I’ve heard a lot recently about keeping traditions alive, especially after someone has passed away. For me it’s important. Vital, even. And that’s been something that has always been important in my family. The year my great-grandfather Tom died in late November (my grandmother’s father), her & my grandpa put up a Christmas tree. A smaller one, but still. The year her mother Mary passed away right before Halloween, her brother still passed out candy at the house because it was his mother’s favorite holiday. To not do these things would feel wrong to us. However, everyone grieves differently. For us it’s important to continue with the things those people loved to do… we’d feel sadder & lonelier without them. To each his own. But for me, that’s how our ancestors & family members are kept alive. Making their recipes, using their decorations, etc. Doing the things they used to do & love. Preserving the traditions. My grandma loved Christmas, to not celebrate it would be wrong.

Speaking of preserving…. in the last few days before Christmas, I thought I’d throw in three more ideas for seasonally appropriate jams/conserves/jellies. Perfect for gift-giving, as additions to the Christmas dinner/after-dinner spread, or for a Christmas Day brunch. All three are different, yet totally Christmas-y. And in case you’re wondering…

Conserves are made with dried fruits and nuts and are cooked. They have a very thick and chunky texture. Conserves work very well as a spread and as a condiment for meats and cheeses.

Jam is a thick mixture of fruit, pectin, and sugar that is boiled gently but quickly until the fruit is soft and has an organic shape, yet is still thick enough that it spreads easily and can form a blob. In addition to being a spread, jams are also good for fillings.

Jelly is made from sugar, pectin, acid, and fruit juice and is a clear spread that is firm enough to hold its shape. Jellies can also be made from ingredients other than fruit, such as herbs, tea, wine, liqueurs, flowers, and vegetables.

– source: TheKitchn

Does that clear up the confusion? So anyway, like I said, three recipes. Yes. I said THREE. Three whole recipes today. I must be crazy, right? Three recipes for three different types of jarred up, old timey, homestyle holiday fare. I guess you could say this post is a trifecta of awesomeness. Or a triple threat. Whatever it is- it rocks.

Those are regular size cupcake liners used as lid covers!

First up is the conserve; made with dried figs, dried plums & walnuts. The recipe was sent to me by my friend Chrisie who found it in an old cookbook of her grandma’s. I used whole dried Black Mission figs & Plum Amazins’ diced dried plums myself- the original recipe calls for two types of dried figs. I had the plums & figured why the hell not. My mother is a big fig person, so these were made specifically as a gift for her. I’m giving you the original recipe in it’s entirety, with any modifications I did in parentheses.

FIG (& PLUM) & WALNUT CONSERVE

Makes roughly 8 half pints

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup packed dried black figs
  • 3 cups boiling water
  • 1 cup packed dried California figs, or any medium light brown figs (I substituted Plum Amazin dried plums)
  • 1 medium orange, both the juice & the fruit (I used just the juice from a small orange, since I used slightly more figs than called for, I didn’t think I needed extra pulp or fruit)
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 cups packed light brown sugar (I used half light brown, half dark brown)
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup white wine (I omitted this)
  • ⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 ½ cups toasted walnuts, chopped (I didn’t toast them, I just tossed them in and let them cook with the fruit)
  • 1 teaspoon ground sage (I used cardamom instead, only ½ teaspoon)

Directions:

  1. Snip the stems off the figlets and place in a large bowl along with the boiling water for 30 minutes. Slice the California figs in half (if using the Plum Amazin’s there’s no need to do that, they’re already diced) and place in a large pan along with the figlets and fig water.
  2. Cut the orange in half; juice half and dice the remaining half, including rind, into small pieces. Add the orange juice to the pan. Mix in the remaining ingredients, except the walnuts and sage (or, like I used, cardamom). Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Mix in the walnuts and sage and cook for an additional 10 minutes (I let it cook down longer, so it was a much thicker consistency). Spoon the fig and walnuts into clean, hot jars, pressing down.
  3. Ladle the juice over the fruit, leaving ½”-inch headroom. Wipe the rims clean and seal. Invert the jars for 10 minutes. Restore to an upright position and cool. Check the seals, label and store in a cool, dry place for up to 1 year.

Since it’s an old recipe, and it relies on the inversion method, you might want to add in about 15 minutes processing time in a water bath canner. Unless you’re not anal about these things. I know the USDA would say otherwise, but this recipe is old & I doubt anyone died from it. Still & all I’d hate to be responsible for anyone croaking from preserves.

And next… the big ol’ boozehound of the crew: vanilla-brandy chestnut jam. This smelled so good cooking on the stove, it took everything in my power to not eat it. Seriously. As it was cooking, I wanted to just eat it right out of the pot. Then once the brandy was added… well, forget it. It seems like this is a pretty insane jam. Very rich, very dessert-like.

VANILLA-BRANDY CHESTNUT JAM

Makes about 8 pints

Ingredients:

  • 2 ¾ lbs. peeled chestnuts, chopped
  • 1 vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract)
  • 3 cups light brown sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons brandy (depending on taste)

Directions:

  1. Put peeled chestnuts and vanilla bean (or extract) in large sauce pan and just cover with water. Cover pan and bring to a boil; simmer until chestnuts are tender (about 30 min.). Remove and set aside vanilla bean. Drain chestnuts, reserving cooking liquid.
  2. Put chestnuts, sugar, and about 5 tablespoons cooking liquid in heavy pan. Split vanilla bean and scrape out seeds; add seeds and bean to pan. Heat mixture gently, stirring & gently “smooshing” the chestnuts (don’t worry if they remain in little chunks), until sugar is dissolved, then raise heat and boil until mixture is thick. Remove and discard vanilla bean (if used); stir in brandy.
  3. Ladle hot jam into sterilized jars, seal, and process in water bath for 10 minutes.

If you prefer a smoother jam, without chunks, then purée the chestnuts before step 2. I like jams to have chunks of fruit (in this case nuts) in ‘em, so I left the pieces of chestnut. And I’ll be honest here & say I bought pre-peeled chestnuts. I could not sit there & do that until my fingers bled… that’s dedication. I just like to reap the benefits. Plus, I scaled it back to make just 4 4-oz. jars, so for that small amount of chestnuts it’s kinda silly to go through all that. But certainly do as you wish.

And finally… last but not least… Gingerbread spice jelly! Made from TEA. Who’da thunk it? This is a fantastic idea, one of those “Why didn’t I think of that?” type of deals. As soon as I saw this in Taste of Home magazine, I ripped it out & circled it.

GINGERBREAD SPICE JELLY (courtesy of Robin Nagel from Taste of Home magazine, December 2011)

Makes 5 half pints

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ cups water
  • 18 individual gingerbread spice tea bags (I used Celestial Seasonings’ Gingerbread Spice tea because it’s the only one I know of!)
  • 4 ½ cups sugar
  • ½ cup unsweetened apple juice
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 2 pouches (3 oz. each) liquid fruit pectin

Directions:

  1. In a large saucepan, bring water to a boil. Remove from the heat; add tea bags. Cover and steep for 30 minutes.
  2. Discard tea bags. Stir in the sugar, apple juice and butter. Bring to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in pectin. Boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
  3. Remove from heat; skim off foam. Carefully ladle hot mixture into hot jars, leaving ¼”-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles; wipe rims and adjust lids. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water canner (adjust that for your altitude). Let cool on a tea towel for 12 hours. Check seal. (Recipe author says jelly may take up to 2 weeks to fully set- mine set as soon as it cooled)

Since these are all wrapped up & ready to be given as gifts, I can’t tell you how any of them taste yet. But I’m sure they’re both amazing. From what I saw & smelled, I think the fig conserves would be excellent on a cracker with a piece of cheese (maybe even on a sour cream pound cake), and the chestnut jam would probably be awesome with a piece of pound cake or over vanilla ice cream. Now the jelly… hmm… I’d say on warm toast with a cup of tea. But I also kinda wanna say that it’d be great in thumbprint cookies.

Speaking of wrapped up- if you want to do this with your preserves as an easy way of jazzing ‘em up, wait until after the 12-24 hours are up and you’re sure they’re cooled & sealed. Then just unscrew the band, place a cupcake liner on the top & screw the band back on. Totally simple! And after seeing all the amazing entries in Well Preserved‘s Pimp That Preserve contest, you might have been inspired to start pimpin’ your jars… but you just didn’t know where to start! Well this is an easy way. Then you can just tie a ribbon on it, put a label on & you’re done. Although I happen to think the homemade labels & little penguin stickers on my Gingerbread jelly are mighty cute, too (they’re from the scrapbooking section of Michael’s). Be creative. Take it from a 2011 Pimp That Preserve winner *wink* The best thing about giving jars of treats like these as gifts is that unlike cake, cupcakes, cookies or bread, there’s no expiration date. Well there is, but it’s so far in the future no one has to feel the need to eat it all in one week!

Maybe Santa would like a jar of one of these instead of the usual cookies this year?