Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Tea Lunch--Making Tea

There is nothing quite like a good cup of tea on a day like THIS:

Which is what Northern Connecticut is looking like AT THIS VERY MINUTE. Snowfall predictions are 5 to 9 inches.

I'm so glad that I don't have to go anywhere today.

For those of you who DISLIKE tea...

For those of you who have made tea with only hot water and a teabag from a box...


Are you still there? Good. Please don't be scared--for your own wellbeing or mine. I just want you to try my tea. Please???

Tea is simple to make, but you need to pay attention to WHAT you use for both equipment and ingredients.

Starring in our tea-making session...

One teakettle, one little teapot, looseleaf tea, and COLD water.

Is it okay that I didn't include the water? I didn't want it to warm up while I took the picture. Because it needs to be COLD.

Anyway, let's take each of these starring characters and explain why each one is important. First, the tea kettle.

The tea kettle is what you heat the water in for the tea. It is not to be confused with the teapot.

The teapot is never ever used to heat the water on the cooktop. It is what holds the tea leaves and water while the tea is steeping and then comes to the table to serve the tea. This is a small teapot for one or two people. It's my everyday teapot.

It comes with a straining basket for the tea leaves.

If your teapot is larger like this one...

Or doesn't come with a strainer, you have a few options.

First you can use a ball strainer.

You could also use a tea filter. It looks like an over-sized teabag.

Or you can forego the strainers all together and let the tea leaves steep in the water and then strain them out with a beautiful tea strainer that fits on the side of an individual teacup.

I don't have one of those, so I use one of the three above options.

Note: If you are only going to drink one cup of tea, you can use a straining basket like the one below...

It has room for just one teaspoon of tea leaves and will steep the tea right in your teacup.

Okay, that's the equipment. Now let's talk about the ingredients.


Harney and Sons Tea is the kind I use most often because 1) it's really good, and 2) I can buy it a mile from my house at a local shop. I've tried other looseleaf teas when I have had the chance. If you find a looseleaf tea you really like, use it.

Some of you may still be skeptical about the whole "looseleaf vs. teabag" difference. In the interest of science, I submit to you...

"Exhibit A" a teaspoon of looseleaf black tea from Harney and Sons.

"Exhibit B"--black tea from a teabag
(produced by a well-known English tea company--which I received as a gift this Christmas.)

Here they are side by side...

Which one looks better to you?

I believe that better looking = better tasting.

For you coffee fanatics, which one is better--freshly ground beans or instant coffee granules?

I rest my case.

Now, excuse me for a moment while I carefully return "Exhibit A" to its home in the tea tin.


Cold tap water tastes fresher than hot tap water because it hasn't been sitting in the hot water heater for a while waiting to be used. Even a water filter can't change that.

Okay, now that we have our tea lesson over, let's make some tea!

First, fill your teakettle at least halfway with COLD water. More if you're making a larger pot of tea.

Since I have great tasting water straight out of the tap, that's what I use. If you are not so fortunate, use filtered water.

Next, set your burner for medium-high heat...

And give yourself 10-15 minutes for the water to boil. During that time you can wait for the water to boil, get ready for the day, throw in a load of laundry, fire up the computer, start a fire in the wood stove, watch the snowflakes get the idea.

Unless you need to figure out how much water your teapot holds.

Mine holds over 2 cups of water.

Now, to measure tea leaves, we use the ratio of 1 teaspoon for every teacup of tea.

That's teacup, not cup.

In the regular world, a liquid measure of 1 cup = 8 ounces.

But in the "tea world," 1 teacup = 6 ounces.

To determine how many teacups my teapot holds, I multiply 8 ounces by 2 cups to get my total number of ounces--16. Then I divide 16 ounces by 6 ounces to give me how many teacups of tea I can fit in my teapot.

Sorry. I didn't warn you about the math word problem earlier, did I?

Find someone good with math word problems to help you. And then never forget how many teacups your teapot holds.

So my teapot holds about 2 1/2 to 3 teacups of tea. Therefore, I will add 2 1/2 teaspoons of tea...

Plus one more teaspoon "for the pot."

ALWAYS add one more teaspoon for the pot. We don't want to make the teapot jealous. It would make for some not-so-good tea.

Now, right before or right when the teakettle starts to "whistle" that it's ready...

Add the water to your black tea and let it steep for 4-5 minutes. The time will depend on what type of black tea you have purchased. Try it at different lengths of time until you find what you like.

If you buy green, oolong, white, or herbal tea--the steeping time will be different.

Again--finish getting ready for the day, throw in half a load of laundry, read an email or two, check the wood stove, watch the snowflakes fall...

When your 4-5 minutes is up...

Take out the tea straining equipment...

And enjoy a steaming cup of tea!

Paired with some slices of Banana Bread (with chocolate chips instead of nuts) and you can deal with ANY kind of "frightful" weather.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! bjh

Monday, December 29, 2008

Say Happy New Year with a Lunch Tea!

Christmas is officially three days past. If your plans for a Christmas gathering never came to pass--like mine, there is still time for a holiday celebration.

This coming Saturday, I'm having a New Year "girls only" family celebration. My mom, aunt, and grandmother will be coming to relax, have lunch, and witness the snowman "invasion." (There will be more on that in a future post--stay tuned!)

My menu is simple and economical, but delicious. Here's the rundown:

Creamy Tomato Soup
Homemade Mini Quiches
Chicken Salad Tea Sandwiches
Tossed Salad (my aunt's contribution)
Mini Blueberry Scones
Tea or Coffee

Each day this week I'll be posting recipes--and most of them will have step-by-step photos in homage to Pioneer Woman, who is both inspiring and approachable.

Spending time with the most important women in my life--what a great way to start 2009! bjh

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

I wish you all a very merry Christmas. May you experience true joy and peace today!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas Breakfast Tea...for One

Alas, the winter magic has postponed my tea.

With the snowfall rate predicted to be an inch per hour, I had a feeling yesterday that I wouldn't have a large turnout. So I asked everyone to let me know their thoughts on having the tea--and we decided to reschedule.

It won't be a Christmas tea perhaps--but it will be a winter-themed event in January. My snowmen and snowflakes don't leave my house until March anyway.

So, what to do? Have a breakfast tea for one.

I took the baked omelet recipe I was going to make for the tea and modified it for one person.

If you would like the original recipe by Giada De Laurentiis, click here. Here's my breakfast inspired by Giada's recipe.

Provencal Ham and Swiss Baked Omelet for One

2 eggs
1 tbs plus 1 tsp of whole milk or cream
1 1/2 oz. of Swiss cheese, either shredded or cut into 1 1/2 inch matchstick-sized strips (I used 1 1/2 slices of cheese)
2 oz. of sliced ham, cut into 1 1/2 inch matchstick-sized strips
1/4 c. red onion, diced (about a 3/8 inch slice of a large onion)
1/4 of a roasted red pepper, diced
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. of herbes de provence
olive oil
salt and pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 425º F.
  2. Butter an 8-ounce porcelain ramekin and set aside. Also set aside one-third of Swiss cheese for the top of the omelet.
  3. Heat a small saute pan on medium heat. When pan is heated, add a small amount each of olive oil and butter, just enough to coat the bottom of the pan.
  4. Add diced onion to pan and season with salt and pepper to taste and a pinch of herbes de provence. Saute for 5-6 minutes until the onion starts to soften and become more translucent.
  5. Add the diced roasted red pepper to the onion and saute for another 1-2 minutes, until the pepper is warmed through. Set pepper and onion aside to cool.
  6. While the vegetables are cooling, beat the eggs until slightly frothy with the yolks and whites thoroughly mixed. Add the milk or heavy cream and 1/4 teaspoon of herbes de provence to the eggs and whisk to combine.
  7. When the vegetable mixture is room temperature, add the vegetables, ham, and 1 oz. of the swiss cheese to the egg mixture and stir until combined. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Pour the batter into the buttered ramekin and top with remaining 1/2 oz. of swiss cheese and a pinch of herbes de provence if desired.
  9. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until center of omelet is firm and top is puffy and slightly browned.
  10. Let omelet stand for 10 minutes before serving. Omelet will "deflate" somewhat.
Bon appetit! bjh

Winter Magic...

Yesterday, we experienced some winter magic.

It snowed.

Here are some pictures I took this morning to capture some magic of my own.

Branches covered with glittering, marshmallow-like icing...

Decorated just in time for Christmas!

Pure white snow makes the natural beauty of tree branches stand out...

The contrast can be seen without using black and white film.

Overgrown trees and shrubs add their own beauty...

As well as my brush pile.

Snow brings fallen trees to life as magical winter creatures...

And reveals the magic of Charlie Brown's Christmas tree.

Enjoy the winter wonderland in your own "neck of the woods." bjh

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Christmas Breakfast Tea Recipes: Quick breads

Homemade: Banana Walnut Bread, originally uploaded by FoodieJP

An essential element to ANY breakfast or brunch celebration is the “quick bread”—an all-American treat that, according to Food Facts and Trivia, originated at the end of the 18th century when pearlash, a leavening agent made from wood ash, became widely used in cooking. Pearlash produced carbon dioxide in the dough, lightening the baked goods without the use of beaten egg whites or yeast. For the last 150 years, we have used baking soda and baking powder to accomplish the same “quick” results.

Here are three delicious quick breads that take just a bit more effort and time than a “box mix” with exponentially better taste. The first two are from Kathleen’s Bake Shop Cookbook and the second is from Totally Teabreads, both a part of my cookbook library.

FIRST NOTE: Any personal comments or changes are in underlined italics.

SECOND NOTE: All quick breads should be cooled to room temperature before serving.

Banana-Nut Bread

(Yield: 2 large loaves)

4 cups all-purpose flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

¾ cup butter

1 1/3 cups granulated sugar

4 eggs

4 ½ cups fully mashed bananas (about 10 medium to large bananas)

2 cups chopped walnuts (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 350º F. Grease two 9- by 5- by 3-inch loaf pans.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In another large bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and beat well. Add dry ingredients alternately with mashed bananas to butter mixture, Fold in nuts. Pour batter evenly into prepared pans.
  4. Bake for 1 hour, or until a cake tester inserted in center comes out clean.

Pumpkin Bread

(Yield: 2 loaves)

2 cups granulated sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

4 eggs

2 cups mashed fresh pumpkin, or 1 (16 ounce) can solid-packed pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling)

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

½ teaspoon ground allspice

¾ cup water

1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 350º F. Grease two 9- by 5- by 3-inch loaf pans.
  2. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients except nuts with an electric mixer. Stir in chopped nuts. Pour batter evenly into prepared pans.
  3. Bake for 1 hour, or until center springs back when lightly touched

Lemon Blueberry Bread

(Yield: 1 loaf)

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 container (8 ounces) lemon yogurt, a room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon grated lemon peel

½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1 ½ cups fresh or frozen unsweetened blueberries

Lemon Drizzle (optional)

3 to 4 tablespoons sifted confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350º F. Butter a 9- by 5- by 3-inch loaf pan.

To prepare bread:

  1. In a medium sized bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a small bowl, stir together yogurt, vanilla, and lemon peel until blended
  2. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until blended. One at a time, add eggs, beating well after each addition. In three additions each, alternately beat in flour mixture and yogurt mixture, beating just until combined. Stir in blueberries. Pour batter into prepared pan and spread evenly.
  3. Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in center of bread comes out clean.
  4. Remove pan to a wire rack. Cool for 10 minutes before removing bread from pan; finish cooling on rack.

To prepare lemon drizzle:

  1. In a small bowl, stir together 3 tablespoons of confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice.
  2. Add more confectioners’ sugar, if necessary, so that mixture is thick enough for drizzling.
  3. Drizzle mixture over the top of the loaf.

Bon Appetit! bjh

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

All I Want for Christmas is My...Christmas Tea Party!

After an unbearably long hiatus...I'm back in the blogosphere.

Although I am not going to divulge any uncomfortably personal details, I will say this--I'm ready to write again. And just in time for my Christmas tea party!

I'm unsure how many people will be attending because 1) I sent out the invitations this past Saturday and 2) I've set the date for December 2oth, the Saturday before Christmas. But I do have something in my favor--it's a breakfast tea party.

So, my guests are selecting a type of breakfast dish (egg dish, muffins, fruit, and so forth) while I provide the festive atmosphere, refreshing drinks (which will include tea, coffee, and juices) and...well, a surprise.

Over the next few posts, I will be giving some of my ideas for great breakfast dishes for any winter gathering--so come back soon!

As for my tea party surprise? No more hints. It wouldn't be in the Christmas spirit to give away too much, would it? bjh

Monday, April 28, 2008

Much Ado About...Daffodils

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

--William Wordsworth

My crowd, my host of daffodils has not appeared this year. So far it consists of two blossoms.

This little daffodil greeted me a couple of weeks ago...

And this full-sized bi-color bloom welcomed me last week.

I'm not sure why my daffodils have disappeared--maybe the tulips and crocuses are crowding them too much. Maybe the chipmunks like them over the tulips. I've noticed some more burrows this year--but I was concerned about the tulips.

I'll have to wait until fall to dig up the bulbs and find out.

So... here are some memories of last year's blooms.

A duet of two-tone golden blooms...

A snowy white daffodil with just a hint of gold in contrast to the lemony tulips behind.

A lone lemony daffodil nestled among some expiring crocus...

Some bright and cheery miniature daffodils to warm Wordsworth's lonely cloud.

Some more little rays of sunshine sheltered under a growing tulip leaf.

Two blooms trumpeting the arrival of spring!

Spring has not only arrived, she's dressed for a celebration! bjh

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Tea with Nana Update

Nana and I won't be having tea on Monday. She has a doctor's appointment that conflicts. So...we'll be rescheduling.

At any rate, tomorrow there will be another "Much Ado" post, and on Monday I will post the recipes for the tea. Then stay tuned for when Nana and I do have our tea party because I would love for you to join us! bjh

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Tea with Nana

I believe my introduction to tea was the typical one for most Americans.

I can't remember the exact day I had my first cup of hot tea, but one experience sticks out in my mind. I was over at Nana's (my maternal grandmother) watching some television show. I remember sitting on a kitchen chair way too close to the television sipping Lipton tea out of my grandmother's Liberty Blue china teacup.

(Nana had originally acquired the Liberty Blue place settings through her bank, adding pieces until she had enough for several guests; she uses it everyday, three times a day. I never thought of her stuff as antiques, but now I see Liberty Blue ware in antique stores selling for at least $15 a dinner plate.)

From that point on, hot tea was always brewed from a teabag and drunk out of a teacup. Iced tea came one of two ways: brewed from Lipton decaf teabags with plenty of sugar and lemon (Nana's preference) or brewed from Celestial Seasoning's Red Zinger teabags with honey added for sweetness (my Auntie Joyce's favorite). Tea may have come from mass-produced teabags, but it was an integral part of our lives.

However, my introduction to home cooking was not so typical, I guess. I say that because a good number of women in my generation (I guess it's Generation X) don't make food like I do--from scratch. For example, their recipe for potato salad dressing comes from a product called "potato salad dressing" in the grocery condiment aisle. Mine is a variation of my Nana's mayonnaise dressing that I watched her make several times for all sorts of things--egg salad, chicken salad, potato salad, and cole slaw. It's a basic mixture of mayonnaise, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and paprika that's finger-lickin good (I happen to really like mayonnaise). I tweak the seasonings a bit depending on the salad's composition--for coleslaw I add cider vinegar and some sugar; for chicken salad I add some lemon zest and fresh herbs; for egg salad it's mustard and dill weed.

And pies were ALWAYS homemade from crust to filling--NEVER store-bought. Now, I know some people struggle with pastry crusts, but in my family it's genetic--all the women in the family from my mom's side make REALLY GOOD pie crust. (In fact, Nana, my aunt, and my mom still follow the basic recipe of Nana Edwards--my great-grandmother: shortening, flour, salt, and water ; it's the one that's in the old Better Homes and Gardens cookbooks. I make that one sometimes; I usually make one that has some sugar, an egg, and butter--I try to avoid hydrogenated stuff like shortening and margarine--and eat the real thing.)

Anyway, back to why I'm rambling on about my Nana's cooking: she taught me a lot about cooking by just watching her. How important it was to learn how to cook; how good made-from-scratch food tasted; how cooking could show people the depth of your love for them.

So, I'm making a date with Nana for tea. She's eaten my cooking many times over the last few years at family gatherings and such. But I'm going to have a tea party with my Nana--tea for two. I don't think she's ever experienced a tea party before. Maybe she's had looseleaf tea...but that would have been decades ago.

I'm bringing my Victorian teapot given to me by my Great-Aunt Dot (my dad's aunt) and my new teakettle to brew the tea. And we'll use Nana's Liberty Blue plates and teacups for the meal--just like we do every time I stop over for "just a snack."

What will we have? Well, some looseleaf tea, definitely made-from-scratch chicken salad, maybe some homemade tomato soup (or Campbell's--I'll see what Nana prefers), and absolutely some dessert because Nana has a sweet tooth.

Don't worry if you can't make it. I'll post the recipes and if you want, you can still have lunch with us around 1:00 on Monday. bjh

The-Sweet-and-Savory-of-Yummy: Part Deux

Cardamom Citrus Fruit Salad, originally uploaded by Elise Bauer.

I wish I had taken this photo--it's beautiful! And makes me want to make my citrus salad recipe again so I can also take a beautiful photo of a delicious, refreshing salad for my readers and Gracious Hospitality guests.

My research at paid off again with this other recipe for my Christmas Tea. It was a light, refreshing counterpoint to the prior courses of rich Quiche Lorraine and Roasted Winter Squash Soup.

This salad garnered rave reviews from everyone at my Christmas Tea; it's the perfect dish to spirit away the winter blues. However, the combination of mint and citrus makes it light and refreshing enough to make year-round.

Where I branched off from the recipe was 1) I also segmented a pummelo in addition to the grapefruit and oranges (to be adventurous), and 2) I used the dried cranberries because that was what I had.

Just an update on the comfort food poll to the right--"dessert" is winning, with "macaroni and cheese" in second place by two. Looks like the soupnuts and meateaters will be the "also ran" unless they rally the troops!

Where was I? Oh, the recipe! Here goes!


2 white grapefruits
2 pink grapefruits

6 large navel oranges
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves

1/4 cup sugar
Seeds from 1 pomegranate or 1/4 cup dried cranberries


Cut peel and white pith from grapefruits and oranges. Cut between membranes to release segments. Combine fruit in large shallow bowl. (Fruit can be segmented 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Place mint and sugar in processor. Using on/off turns, blend until mint is finely chopped, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl. Sprinkle mint sugar and pomegranate seeds over fruit; serve.

Like all the recipes I've recently posted--wonderful for the next day's breakfast! bjh