The Ladies' Tea Guild

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Aztec Chocolate Bread Pudding.

Aztec chocolate bread pudding.
O.k., I'm a confirmed fan of bread pudding. Sweet or savory, filled with currants and lemon zest, butterscotch chips, or cheddar and onions, bread pudding is a simple comfort food to make, if it's not too hot to bake. Plus, it's just so darn frugal, especially for someone like me, who can't eat up a whole loaf of bread before it dries out or goes stale. I don't know if someone else has come up with this recipe already, but I threw together a bread pudding today (baking it in the toaster oven avoided heating up the house!) with a small loaf/sandwich roll of French bread that was thoroughly dried out, plus some chocolate. It uses Dagoba Aztec Xocolatl hot cocoa mix, thus the name, but if you don't have that, you could use your favorite intense chocolate cocoa mix, and add a dash of cinnamon and a dash of chili powder instead.

Aztec Chocolate Bread Pudding

1 small loaf or large sandwich roll of French or Italian bread, stale or dried out (but not moldy)
1 pint milk, plus extra
3 whole eggs
1/2 cup Dagoba Aztec Xocolatl cocoa mix
1/2 to 1 cup Ghirardelli dark chocolate (60% cocoa) chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes and measure out 3 cups of bread. Place in a medium bowl and pour 1 pint of milk over the bread. There should be more milk than the bread can soak up easily, so add more milk as needed; let the bread sit in the milk for 10 minutes or so to get soggy. When all the bread is saturated with the milk (there should be a little extra milk left in the bowl), smash the bread in the milk until each cube is broken up and the mixture makes a wet, chunky paste. Beat the eggs well in a separate bowl and stir into the bread and milk. Add the cocoa mix and chocolate chips and combine well. Butter an 8-inch square baking dish (or a 12-hole muffin tin) and pour the pudding mixture in, filling the container (or each muffin cup) to the top. [NOTE: If using the muffin tin, you may not have enough pudding mixture to fill every muffin cup. Don't worry.] Place on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes (15 to 20 minutes for the muffin tin) or until puffed, the top springs back when gently pressed, a knife blade inserted in the center comes out wet but clean, and the edges start to pull away from the pan. Cool in the pan before serving, (or turning the mini puddings out onto plates). Serve warm or cold, with whipped cream or ice cream. Serves 6 to 8.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Stewed Peas: proof that the Victorians ate their vegetables (at least during the spring and summer)!

This is from Godey's Lady's Book of 1860, the May issue or thereabouts. I love peas, and I happen to have some in the freezer, so I may be making this sometime soon!

Stewed Peas.

Take very young, tender green peas, and put into a stew-pan, with sufficient fresh butter to keep them from burning, but no water; season them with a little black pepper and a very little salt; set them over a moderate fire, and stir them about till the butter is well mixed through them; let them simmer till quite soft and slightly broken, taking off the lid occasionally, and give them a stir up from the bottom; if you find them becoming too dry, add some more butter; when done, drain off what superfluous butter may be about the peas, and send them to table hot. They will be found excellent. To the taste of many persons, they will be improved by a lump or two of loaf sugar put in with the butter, and also by a few sprigs of mint, to be removed before the peas go to table. Lima beans may be stewed in butter, as above; also, asparagus tops cut off from the white stalk.

Not that I need that much butter in my diet, though!

Friday, June 18, 2010

How to prepare matcha?

Prepared matcha with a Japanese sweet. Wikimedia Commons.
I've been a fan of Japanese food and tea since I was 8, but I've never had matcha except in cookies and things. One of these days I've gotta get myself some matcha and a proper tea whisk and see if I can make it properly!

So what is matcha anyway? The region around Kyoto, Japan, is the most important region for the growing and production of matcha, which is made from gyokuro tea leaves that have been steamed before drying, and retain their fresh green color, vegetal flavor and aroma. The tea is also grown differently, kept in the shade just before harvesting. According to In Pursuit of Tea: “The vibrant green color in matcha comes from careful cultivation. Tea plants are covered with mats several weeks prior to harvest, making it difficult for them to receive nutrients. In this struggle, the plant produces more chlorophyll and its leaves become supple.” The tea leaves are de-veined and ground into powder between two stones, before being packaged for sale.

Traditional Japanese preparation of matcha can involve the beautiful and meditative Japanese tea ceremony, or a modified technique more suited to everyday life. The modernized way to make a cup of matcha calls for a few more tools than are necessary for standard tea-making: a fine wire strainer, a small bowl, and a small whisk. The normal kettle, tea cup and tea spoon are perfectly fine for matcha, although it ads to the ambiance to use real Japanese ones. Matcha powder is whisked into hot water until it is frothy, and the tea leaf powder is left in the cup, to be consumed with the liquor. Since the entire tea leaf is ingested, matcha provides a higher level of Vitamin C and antioxidants than the standard tea infusion does. Here is the simplified way to prepare matcha:

Fill the kettle with fresh water and bring it almost to the boil, or bring the water to the boil, and then pour it into an empty teapot and let it sit for a minute or two. Set the wire strainer over the bowl and measure two teaspoons of matcha powder into it, then sift the matcha into the bowl. Measure one heaping teaspoon of sifted matcha and add it to the empty teacup (put the rest in an airtight container for later). Fill the teacup about ¾ of the way with hot water. Use the whisk to break up the clumps of matcha powder, then use rapid back-and-forth motions to whisk the matcha into the water and make it frothy. When the surface of the matcha is covered with froth, drink and enjoy!

For a different experience, why not try adding some matcha powder to a vanilla milkshake, sprinkling it over some vanilla or chocolate ice cream, or working it into a batch of shortbread dough? You’ll have a delicious new treat!

“Japanese tea from San Jose’s Japantown”
“Tea tasting 101: characteristics of good quality green tea”
“Matcha magic: the health benefits of green tea”
In Pursuit of Tea newsletter and website
“Matcha Green Tea – What is it?” Youtube video
“How to prepare matcha” YouTube video
Japanese tea ceremony YouTube video
another Japanese Tea Ceremony video on YouTube
Tea ceremony put on by teachers in Shizuoka
Casual home-style Japanese tea ceremony

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Gifts fit for a tea-drinker!

Loose and bagged tea.
Tea is becoming more and more popular these days, whether for its health benefits, its traditions, or just the range of flavors available from this one beverage. American tea-lovers have a wide variety of teas and tea equipment to choose from when purchasing for themselves or others. Some of the following items are available in grocery stores, craft stores and specialty shops in many areas of the country, but if none of these are for sale where you are, they can be purchased over the Internet. Here are some suggestions:

Good quality loose-leaf or bagged tea.
A nice tea mug or cup and saucer.
A new teapot.
An electric tea kettle.
A nice decanter or pitcher for iced tea.
A tea cozy, tea strainer, tea filter bags or other everyday tea equipment.
A piece of nice silverware for the tea table, like sugar tongs, tea tray, cream spoon, berry spoon, or dessert server. (Thrift stores can be great sources for old silverplate items at low prices!)
Gourmet food items for the tea party pantry. This can include packaged foods made with tea, or foods to be eaten with tea. Even something like a bar of good chocolate goes well with tea!
A nice cloth tablecloth or other tea party-appropriate linens.
A book about tea. This can include cookbooks for food to eat with tea, or tea history books, or even tea murder mysteries!
Music that can be played at a tea party.
Jewelry or other accessories with a tea theme.

Any other suggestions?

“Mother’s Day gifts for the tea-loving San Jose mom”
“Where to find tea filter bags in San Jose”
“Where to buy Chinese tea in the San Jose area”
“10 wonderful, affordable ideas for Christmas gifts, using tea”
"What should I keep in my tea party pantry?"
“Chocolate and tea: the perfect match?”
“Which foods go well with tea?”

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Lovely lemon pound cake.

Meyer lemon and thyme pound cakes.
I love having a Meyer lemon tree in the backyard, because it gives me lots of lemons to use in making lemon curd, lemonade, and in this interesting pound cake. I originally saw the recipe in the April 2009 issue of Victoria magazine, and decided to make it for a tea party this weekend. Since my birthday is also this weekend, and the recipe makes two cakes, it will also serve as my birthday cake!

The recipe is unlike traditional pound cakes because it has buttermilk and baking powder in it, which should lighten the texture a bit. I couldn't make the recipe as directed, however, because I don't have a mixer, so I don't know exactly how my hand-mixing has affected the cakes. They look flatter than other pound cakes, so I suspect that the extra leavening didn't compensate for my arms that could beat the batter only so much before giving out! The cakes smell good, and the batter tasted good when I tasted it, so I think my tea friends will like them anyway.

Meyer Lemon and Thyme Pound Cake
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup buttermilk
2 T. Meyer lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup fresh Meyer lemon zest
2 T. chopped fresh thyme
4 eggs

1 recipe Meyer Lemon Glaze

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Put oven rack in the center of the oven. Grease and flour two loaf pans, line the bottoms with parchment, and grease the parchment. In a large bowl, combine the flours, baking powder and salt, sift three times and set aside. In a separate bowl [I used a measuring cup] combine the buttermilk, lemon juice and vanilla and set aside. In a separate large bowl, using an electric mixer at high speed, beat the butter for 1 minute, or until soft and creamy. Slowly add the sugar, zest and thyme, then increase the speed again and beat the mixture for 10 minutes or until very light and creamy. Scrape the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry (flour) and liquid (buttermilk) mixtures alternately to the butter mixture, stirring just until incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Bake for 40 minutes; then cover the pans with tinfoil and bake for an additional 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Transfer pans to a wire rack, and cool cakes in pans for 10 minutes. Carefully remove cakes from pans, and spoon Meyer Lemon Glaze over the tops. Cool completely before serving. Makes 2 loaves.

Meyer Lemon Glaze
1/2 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped out

In a small bowl, whisk together the juice, sugar and vanilla bean seeds until smooth. Use immediately.

Alterations I made to the recipe: I couldn't find regular cake flour, so I used Gold Medal Wondra Sauce and Gravy flour. It seemed to be grittier than the regular flour, so I wonder how or if that will affect the texture of the cake. I substituted regular milk plus a tablespoon of lemon juice for the buttermilk, which I didn't have. Also, I only had 3 eggs, so I added a teaspoon or so of oil and water in place of the 4th egg. I didn't put the full 2 tablespoons of thyme into the batter, because my bunch of thyme was, largely dried out and I could only get a little more than 1 tablespoon that looked nice and fresh. When making the glaze, I used vanilla extract for the vanilla bean seeds, and only had 1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar to use, so my glaze turned out too thin. But other than the above, I made the recipe exactly as instructed, and it looks and smells great! It will go nicely with some Phoenix oolong tea that I have.
Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)