Tea for Two … or Thirty-two

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For my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary party I decided to go with a garden party luncheon theme. It turned out to be one of the hottest days we had this summer so I made sure to have plenty of refreshments. Rather than employ hot tea on a hot day (even though the tea cups would have been super cute), I went with iced tea in the hopes that my guests wouldn’t collapse from the heat. I decided on a nice cold decaffeinated mint version (using Stash Organics Cascade Mint), a black tea with a twist (Teavana’s Mango Blank Tea with Lemon), and then the popular Earl Grey Gin cocktail (made with Tetley Vanilla Earl Grey).

And it is suprisingly difficult to make large quantities of iced tea. For one, I only had one pot large enough to hold the required amount of boiling water for each batch. So that meant I could only make one batch of tea at a time. I also only had one bowl large enough to hold that much hot liquid while it cooled. And then I didn’t have enough room in my refrigerator to cool it all down. But I did manage. It took a bit of math to figure out how many tea bags I needed for each of my batches (seeing as I usually just chuck two bags in a teapot and I’m done).

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And I had to calculate how much fluid would fit in each of my glass jars. I got these 7.5L ones from Home Sense for a reasonable price. Remember when you figure out how much water you need, you also need to consider any other displacement volume, such as whether you’re adding fruit (lemon slices) and/or ice.

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And speaking of ice, because I didn’t want to water down my tea as the day wore on, I chose to make my own giant tea ice cubes by freezing some tea in these little ziploc containers.

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All in all it was a very successful shindig, and everyone was refreshed!

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Freezer Pies

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What do you do when you have a big party coming up that requires lots of yummy baked goods, but you know that on the weekend in question you’re going to be way too busy to do anything as involved as make a pie? You take advantage of your freezer, of course.

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First you make up your favourite pastry dough. I always love the original Joy of Cooking version that you can find in a previous post here. The Joy also has some great information on how to make pies ahead of time by freezing them before baking.

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Then you make up your fillings. Here we opted for a vanilla peach and a strawberry-blueberry version. As long as you have about five cups of fruit, and then a couple tablespoons each of sugar, butter, and thickener (flour or corn starch), plus a few drops of lemon juice, then you can make any pie you want.

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We had a tool that Cait called a “strawberry effer-upper” (though she used a stronger word than “effer,” if you catch my drift) which handily slices your strawberries into several neat pieces. Cait’s sister Jules was very happy to take on the effer-upper role. She’s a little sadistic like that.

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Cait also made the error of purchasing clingstone peaches for our pies instead of freestone peaches, so getting the flesh of the fruit off the stone was a bit of a challenge. Eventually I discovered that if you cut wedges into the peach then it’s easier to pry off the sections.

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Once your fillings are made and mixed, leave them at least fifteen minutes to macerate.

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Ideally your dough has been chilling happily all this time and you’ve had a chance to roll it out and let it chill some more. The difference between a regular pie and a freezer pie is that when you plop the bottom shell into the pie dish, you leave a piece of plastic wrap on the bottom between the dish and the pastry. Honest.

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Then you fill your pie that is sitting on top of a layer of plastic wrap. This pie is quite tall.

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Seal it in with more pastry. Do not glaze your pastry at this point, if you’re into that kind of thing. You gotta wait on that.

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Now wrap the rest of it up in plastic wrap so it’s tightly sealed. Wrap again in foil and shove that into the freezer.

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When you’re ready to bake, haul the frozen pies out of the freezer. Preheat your oven to 425°F.

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I stored the strawberry/blueberry one on an angle so I did have a bit of leakage.

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Pry the pie out of the dish and peel off the bottom wrap.

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Plop the pie back into the dish (you can glaze it now if you wish) and pop it in the oven for 10 minutes.

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After ten minutes, haul it out and cut steam vents in the pastry.

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Then shove it back in the oven (this time at 350°F) for a further hour, until the pastry is light brown and crusty and the insides are bubbling out.

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Let those cool completely (or nearly completely) before eating. Yum!

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EAT IT FOR BREAKFAST: Quinoa Oatmeal

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I love, LOVE reading Thug Kitchen.  Believe it or not, this is actually how I cook most of the time.  With very colourful language.  I tend to tone it down so as not to offend your more delicate sensibilities.  However, you may find that sometimes the tenor of my writing changes a bit.  Usually you can blame that on a binge reading of Thug Kitchen, or a quick episode of Epic Meal Time.  If I had my own internet cooking show, you can bet there would be lots of yelling and throwing of things.  And probably more dropping-things-on-the-floor-then-picking-them-up-and-putting-them-back-in-the-bowl than you were really prepared for.  Because that’s real life for me.

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Anyway, I’m a firm believer in breakfast.  Yup, I’m one of THOSE.  Don’t even argue with me.  And I love me my parritch, so this quinoa oatmeal with steel cut oats appeals to the hippy highlander in me.

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Start with 1/2 cup quinoa, and give that a good rinse in a sieve so that you wash off all the bitterness.

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Put 4 cups water in a kettle and set that on the stove to come to an almost boil (you’ll thank me for the shortcut later).

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Now you’re going to plop a bit of olive or coconut oil (1 teaspoon) in a saucepan, followed by 1 cup steel cut oats.

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Stir that around on medium heat until the oats start to smell nice and toasty.

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Chuck in the quinoa and the water and bring it to a boil (which will be almost immediately because you already almost boiled the water, remember?), then lower it to a simmer and let it cook as it is for about 20 minutes.

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Stir it occasionally so it doesn’t burn, but don’t fret too much about it.

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Add in about 1/2 cup of whatever kind of milk you like and turn off the heat.

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Serves 4, garnished with fruit and nuts or raisins and brown sugar or whatever floats your boat!

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Have You Tried Banana “Ice Cream”?

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No?  You probably should.  It’s like all the good things about ice cream, but it’s also gluten-free, vegan, and pretty darned good for you.  I feel like world peace could be achieved if everyone could have some of this ice cream (except for people who are allergic to bananas — they will just have to negotiate peace on their own terms).

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So basically, you take some bananas.  Ripe ones, with a few brown spots.  You want them soft and squishy and very sweet.

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Then you peel them and slice them into disks.  And then you freeze those.  In the freezer.  Or outside, if you live in Central or Eastern or Atlantic Canada.  Or Northern Europe.  Or Siberia.  Or Antarctica (actually, then they’d probably be too cold.  Your freezer is probably warmer than Antarctica).

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Then you take them out of the freezer.  And you plop them in your food processor.

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AND YOU GIVE IT A WHAZ.  Which is what Jamie Oliver would say.  And the Pie and I love him, so that’s one of our new favourite phrases.

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And when it’s all gooey and soft and smooth, you can eat it!

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If you prefer your soft serve a little more firm, you can chuck it back in the freezer for a bit.  I like the fact that when it thaws, because it’s banana, it doesn’t get all soupy.

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And you can flavour it as well!  Add peanut butter, Nutella, chocolate chips, cocoa, vanilla … you name it (I added Nutella and vanilla).

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The only limit is your imagination — and what you have to stuff in there.  GO BANANAS!

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VERSUS: Two Ways to Bust Open a Pomegranate

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Somewhere in the world it is pomegranate season.  I know this because for once, the shiny red fruit arriving in our St. John’s stores is lustrous and blemish-free.  So they’re raring to go.  Plus, instead of spending $6-$7 per fruit, I’m only spending $3.  That’s still a lot, but you know, it’s Newfoundland.  I’ve long since stopped being concerned about saving money on produce.  Just ain’t gonna happen.

Especially when you consider how awesomely good a pomegranate is.  I used to love picking them apart as a kid.  I appreciate food you have to work for, like artichokes.  I think my mother loved them too because it kept me quiet and occupied for long periods of time, though it was quite messy.  Small price to pay I suppose.

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As far as I know, there are two decent ways to get all those juicy seeds out of a pomegranate.  There is the official, POM-certified method (which has its own brochure, situated neatly above the pomegranate bins at the grocery store), and then there’s the way that we all learned recently from the internet, which I call the SMASHY method.  I bought two pomegranates the other day so I thought I would test both methods at the same time and tell you which one I liked the best.  It’s a battle!

The Smashy Method:

This is the most fun I think of the two methods.  First, you pare off the top and bottom of the pomegranate.

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Then you score the skin around in a circle.

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And carefully pry it apart into two pieces.

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Set the fruit cut side down on your palm over a bowl, and make a little loose cup out of your fingers so the fruit can fall through.  Then you take a giant spoon, and you start smacking the skin of that pomegranate half.  I mean you can really go to town, smacking it all over.

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And the fruit will start to fall between your fingers into the bowl.

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And the skin will start to crack.  Keep going.  Beat the crap out of that thing.

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Of course there will be casualties.  Some seeds may fly elsewhere. Fortunately our canine vacuum is a fan of any form of fruit that may fall on his floor.

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But it’s quite effective in getting most of the stuff out.

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It does tend to leave some large chunks of pith in your bowl.

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Not to mention splatters of pomegranate juice in places  you’d rather it wasn’t.

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The Official Method:

Chop off the top and bottom and score and pry apart, just like last time.

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Submerge your fruit in a bowl of water and gently pull off the seeds.

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This may take a while.

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But note how the pith just floats to the top.  You can scoop it out with a slotted spoon or your fingers.  I ended up dumping the fruits of my labour (hahaha) with the other method into the water bowl as well, to get rid of the extra pith.

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Then you just pour it all into a strainer to drain and you’re good to go.

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VERDICT: While the “official” method was tidier, it took a lot longer (and didn’t involve hitting things with a spoon).  If there were ways to combine the two methods (smacking it with a spoon while under water) then I’d be completely sold.  Until someone comes up with a method like that, I’m just going to sit here and eat these.

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Rum-Raspberry Meringues

Rum-Raspberry Meringues

I had to fill in (on rather short notice) for one of the members of my Sweet Treats group at work, and so this is what I came up with.  I LOVE (love, love, love) meringues.  Always have.  In fact I think they’re the first thing I ever baked.  And so every time I make something with egg yolks I take advantage of the extra whites and whip up a batch.  The Pie isn’t a huge fan of the crispy, chewy, sugary goodness, but that hasn’t stopped me yet.  I’ve even branched out and made different varieties of chocolate meringue, one of which I posted about here.  But I keep seeing fruity versions, so I thought I’d give that a go.  Most of the recipes call for food colouring and raspberry or strawberry extract, neither of which are particularly yummy to me.  I mean, I understand why you would use them in this case — the fluffy egg whites are pretty delicate and would collapse if you put too much heavy stuff into the mix.

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But I think we can give this a bit of a go, with some real fruit.  We just have to be very careful.

What you need is some egg whites, at room temperature.  I have some pasteurized egg whites that came in a carton which has been sitting in my freezer since Cait and Jul were here, so I might as well use that. Then you need some cream of tartar, which is your stiffening agent. And some sugar.  For sweetness.  Obviously.  You can use any sweetener you like, but I prefer the ease of good old regular sugar.

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And you need some fruit.  I’m going to use about a cup and a half of frozen raspberries here, which I thawed, and I’m going to gently stew them for a little bit with 1 teaspoon corn starch.  To prevent lumps of corn starch forming, mix the spoonful of starch with a small amount of the raspberry juice first, to form a slurry (this technique works really well when adding thickener to gravies, too).  I added in a tablespoon or so of sugar, just to get rid of the bite of the raspberry acid.

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Then I’m going to strain them (and by that I mean shove the mess through a sieve with a spoon), and come out with a nice little coulis.  Let that cool for a bit.

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Now you can start your meringues.  Preheat your oven to 250°F and line some baking sheets with parchment paper.

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The regular proportions I use come from The Joy of Cooking, and involve 4 egg whites1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar, 1 teaspoon vanilla (which I made from rum!) and 1 cup sugar.  You can multiply or divide this recipe however you wish.  In my carton o’ egg whites the label says there is the equivalent of 8 egg whites, so I’m going with that proportion, which is a double batch.

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Of course, I didn’t learn until after I’d put it all together that pasteurized egg whites (such as those that come in a carton) do not lend themselves well to making meringue.  So I had to start all over again.

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SO very much not what I was aiming for.

So you have your room temperature egg whites, and you chuck them in the bowl of a mixer with your cream of tartar and your rum/vanilla, and you beat the crap out of it with your whisk-y thing.  When you’ve got nice foamy peaks, you can start adding your sugar in, a little bit at a time.  Keep beating until you have nice firm peaks.

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That’s more like it!

These peaks not only hold their own weight, but they can support the weight of the heavy metal whisk as well!

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Once the egg whites form stiff peaks, you can gently fold in your coulis.

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Rum-Raspberry Meringues

I spooned the meringue stuff onto the baking sheets in decent cookie-sized heaps, and ended up with 42 of them.  Bake them for 1 1/2 to 2 hours (maybe a bit longer if they’re still squishy on the bottom, and make sure to rotate your sheets if you’ve got them on two levels), and let them cool inside the oven after you’ve turned it off.  If you cool them too quickly they’ll collapse.  Store them in an airtight container and make sure to eat them all within a few days of baking.

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Greetings from inside the oven …

These are strongly reminiscent of those fruit-flavoured hard candies that they hand out in restaurants, that you suck on for a while and then you chew and the inside is all squishy and sticks together.  That’s what biting on these is like.  Taste is very similar, too.

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Apple Clafoutis

Apple Clafoutis

This recipe comes from one of my favourite daily reads, Caroline over at The Wanna be Country Girl.  Clafoutis is a traditional French dish made with cherries.  Technically, if you’re making it with some other fruit you should call it a flaugnarde.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, okay?

This being my first ever clafoutis to bake and to eat, I can wholeheartedly say that it is a warm, comforting, and easy dish.  It practically makes itself.  It’s kind of like a half-pastry, half-custard, fruity pudding-y-type thing.  That’s the best way I can describe it.

So this is how you do it. Ask the kitchen spider to give you a hand.

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Preheat your oven to 325°F.

Take yourself some fruit, enough to fit in a single layer on the bottom of a deep-dish pie plate.  I decided that 4 Royal Gala apples would do the trick.

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Peel, core, and cube those babies up and chuck them in a saucepan or frying pan with 1 1/2 tablespoons butter, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon.  Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes.

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Butter your deep-dish pie plate and pour in the cooked fruit, together with the pan juices.

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In a bowl, mix together 1/2 cup flour and 3/4 cup sugar.  Add to that 3 eggs, slightly beaten, and 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk.

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Mix thoroughly.  You’ll have a super-runny batter.

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Pour that batter over the fruit in your pie dish.  The fruit will float to the top, don’t worry.

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Shove that in the oven and bake it for about an hour, until the whole thing is set.

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Allow to cool, but serve warm.  So custardy and good!

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