TeaGuide: Reviews and Ramblings

March 24, 2015

Cooking with tea: Hot and sour sesame noodles

This is one of my favourite tea recipes, and it’s especially nice as a warm-weather lunch or light dinner, or as part of dinner. The recipe was inspired by a dish served at a bistro in a small New Jersey town. I convinced the chef/owner to give me his list of ingredients, and from there I tweaked it around. One key component that I added was tea.

As I tried various teas to see which one worked best, I was surprised to find three very different teas that each complemented the dish in its own way.Hot and Sour Sesame Noodles My first test was with a slightly smoky Georgia tea, because I like a cup of smoky tea with spicy foods. Yummy! When I fixed the dish with rice noodles I tried genmaicha, a user-friendly green tea mixed with toasted rice kernels. Another hit! Then came the day when I really wanted this dish but didn’t feel like steeping up another pot of tea, so in my laziness I used leftover oolong tea. Bingo once again!

My favourite tea for this is oolong, but choose whichever you prefer. For best results use strong tea made with twice as much leaf as usual and steeped for the regular time. If you’re using oolong, make sure it’s not a floral variety (believe me, it’s yucky). A peachy/nutty generic “Formosa oolong” works best.

Now about the other ingredients … You can use almost any kind of noodles or pasta you like; I’ve used wheat, whole wheat, rice, buckwheat – even ramen noodles. Adjust the amount of garlic and cayenne to your own taste. Rice vinegar is available at most supermarkets. The only really exotic ingredient is gomasio, a mixture of salt and sesame seeds sold in natural food stores. If you can’t find it, substitute plain sesame seeds.

The recipe is easily doubled, tripled, or more to serve a crowd, and it’s tea-rrific for picnics or buffets.

Hot and sour sesame noodles
About 4 servings

3/4 pound (12 ounces) noodles, linguine, or pasta
1 teaspoon light oil (peanut, sunflower …)
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup strong tea, cooled
2 Tablespoons maple syrup, agave, honey, or other syrupy sweetener
1 Tablespoon tamari or Kikkoman® soy sauce
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon crushed cayenne pepper flakes
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
Gomasio or sesame seeds
Suggested toppings: cubed tofu, shredded lettuce, shredded carrots, bean sprouts, sliced cucumber, sliced celery, slivered canned water chestnuts, sliced snow peas, slivered scallions, cooked and cooled broccoli florets

Prepare the noodles to al dente tenderness. Rinse with cold water, drain well, and place in a large bowl. Toss the cooked pasta with the light oil; set aside. Mix the tomato paste and vinegar together in a small bowl. Add the remaining ingredients, blending well. Divide pasta into four dishes, top as desired, then spoon on the dressing. Sprinkle each dish lightly with gomasio. Enjoy!

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February 26, 2015

Ramblings: Vegan variation on a scone

Had to take off a few weeks to tend to a very sick kitty. Now that I’m not constantly running to the vet’s office and we’ve got our daily routine of food preparation and tube-feeding organized, days are more relaxed and I can go back to one of my favourite things; namely, writing about tea and tea “stuff.”

afternoon teaDuring the fifteen years (1997 to 2012) when I was editing and publishing TeaGuide Worldwide Tea Directory, it was a rare tea room review we received that did not include a detailed evaluation of the scones that were served: whether they were too small or too large, too hard or too doughy, or happily just right. Scones are arguably the most popular component of a traditional afternoon tea, and tea drinkers do expect them to be just the way we like them!

The first scones were cooked up in Scotland in the early sixteenth century. These were essentially griddle-baked raised oatcakes, formed into large rounds and cut into wedges for serving. Nowadays scone bakers more often use wheat flour and cut the scones into rounds with a biscuit cutter or drop-shape them into rounded mounds.

Recipes for scones generally call for butter and either milk or cream, and are served with clotted cream, butter, and jam. Someone once told me that the whole point of scones is to provide a foundation for holding as much cream and jam as possible!

While this pleases most tea lovers, those of us who follow a purely vegetarian, or vegan, diet – abstaining from all animal-based products – often find ourselves having to pass on eating scones. This, however, is changing, as more people turn to a vegan diet, whether for philosophic or health reasons. Even former President Bill Clinton – once the poster boy for double bacon cheeseburgers – not only joins daughter Chelsea as a vegan, he is very vocal in his support for this cholesterol-free dietary plan. (Please note that this is not a political endorsement, just simply an observation about a well-known American.)

scone1aA growing number of restaurants, including tea rooms, either offer vegan menu choices or will alter dishes to suit. Before you visit a tea venue be sure to either read their menu online to see if it includes vegan dishes, or give them a call to discuss your dietary preferences and see if they will accommodate you. In my own experience, more often than not the answer will be “yes.”

Vegans — or anyone who is watching their cholesterol intake, is lactose intolerant, or is allergic to eggs — can make our own scones by substituting vegetable shortening and non-dairy milk for the dairy products. I prefer using coconut or palm oil shortening (Spectrum Organics makes several varieties that are available in natural food stores and many supermarkets) and plain soy milk, although you can use vegan margarine, light vegetable oil, rice milk, and almond milk.

If you prefer a scone mix, be sure to read the ingredients carefully; many incorporate dairy products. I like the mixes from Victorian House Sconesespecially their oatmeal variety. The VHS website even features mixing instructions for a vegan variation, provided by yours truly. I also like that these scones are baked in the original wedge shape.

The following recipe for scones came to me from my friend ~Sophia. Whether you’re a vegan or not, give it a try – they’re absolutely delicious! And remember: One properly eats a scone just as one eats a dinner roll: break off a bite-sized piece, add “embellishments,” and pop it in your mouth. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat!

~Sophia’s Maple Scones
Makes about a dozen

2-1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
4 Tablespoons vegan shortening, vegan margarine, or light oil such as sunflower
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped fine
3/4 cup plain, unflavoured soy milk
1/3 cup maple syrup (preferably Grade B, which has a richer flavour)

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 375° F.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment baking paper.
  • Mix together the flour and baking powder.
  • Cut in the shortening, margarine, or oil with a pastry cutter until the texture is crumbly.
  • Stir in the walnuts.
  • Add the milk and maple syrup, stirring until blended to a soft dough.
  • Knead the dough for a minute or so on a lightly floured board until smooth.
  • Pat or roll to a thickness of one-half inch.
  • Dip a large biscuit cutter (or the rim of a ten-ounce drinking glass) into flour, cut out rounds, and place each round onto the parchment. Shape any leftover dough into a round with your hands.
  • Bake for twenty minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm with your favourite topping.

I like to accompany these flavourful scones with an assertive tea such as a rich nectar-y Assam. Fortunately, 2014 was an excellent year for Assams, like this tippy Meleng estate tea. If kitty’s health keeps improving I’m hoping to present a round-up of my favourite Assams in the next week or two. Meanwhile, if you decide to fix a batch of these scones, do let me know how you like them.

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October 22, 2014

Ramblings: Tea time treats

The word tea doesn’t refer only to the leaf or the beverage — sometimes tea refers to a meal. A British working man might come home and ask his wife “What’s for tea?” just as we here in the USA ask “What’s for lunch … or dinner?”

I originally developed this recipe after a trip to Québec and Montréal, where we had — as usual — purchased a fair quantity of their wonderful maple syrup. Two things I’ve always loved are maple syrup and sweet potatoes. When I fix candied sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving I always include maple syrup, and thought there must be other ways to pair up these two complementary flavours.

Another long-time favourite is almond butter. It’s healthful and it tastes so good. I use it as cake filling, in smoothies, and of course slathered on anything in the baked-goods family. Finally the light bulb went on: why not put them all together?

Well, it worked even better than I’d hoped and it has become one of my favourite teatime recipes. Especially when I can use the sweet potatoes from our own garden, which start to mature in mid-October, just in time for Thanksgiving. I’ve served this simple spread with scones, biscuits, crumpets, toast, and even shortbread many times. Perfect paired with a fragrant Darjeeling, or a malty Assam, or perhaps a smooth Ceylon tea.

Sweet potato butter

The first sweet potato we pulled from our garden this year. It weighed a whopping 800g (1.75 lb) — and it was yummy!

Be sure to use the best quality pure maple syrup, preferably Grade B, which is less refined and much more mapley. Almond butter is available at many supermarkets next to the peanut butter; if you can’t find it, try a natural foods store or look online.

You can cook the potatoes by boiling or baking, tho’ I prefer to cut them into cubes, place them into a shallow bowl, cover with a damp paper towel, and nuke for about twelve minutes or until tender.

Serve this yummy treat at your next autumn tea and I almost guarantee you and your guests will smile. Be sure to let me know how you like it!

Sweet potato butter
About 1-1/2 cups

1-1/2 cups mashed cooked sweet potatoes (about 2 large potatoes)
2 Tablespoons almond butter, unsweetened and unsalted
2 Tablespoons maple syrup, or to taste
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg

Place the potatoes into a mixing bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients to the mashed sweet potatoes. Mix well by hand, or purée briefly in a blender or food processor for a smoother texture. Serve with biscuits, scones, crumpets, or tea bread. The butter can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for about two days, but is best served as soon as possible after preparing. (Tip: Be sure the almond butter is at room temperature before mixing it in.)

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