Butternut Squash Crystal Dumplings

Butternut squash is one of my favorite ingredients to find on any fall inspired table. I love that its taste is somewhere between starch and vegetable, savory and sweet. In this recipe, we take the versatility of butternut squash to the next level, where East meets West.

For many, turkey is the highlight of a Thanksgiving meal, but for me it’s gotta be the sides. Butternut squash soup? We can do even better than that. These delicate little bites are stuffed with so many gorgeous autumn flavors…like Thanksgiving and Dim Sum hour all wrapped in one!

The goal when cooking with butternut squash is to enhance its subtle nutty flavor without overwhelming it. Some 5 spice (anise, cinnamon, cloves, fennel, and Szechuan pepper), soy sauce, sesame oil, honey, and freshly grated ginger add a touch of Asian flavor here. A twirl in the food processor after roasting and the flavors meld together to make a thick purée.

Stuffing roasted butternut squash into dumplings sounds like an impossible task, but it’s surprisingly easy to do as long as you use a secret tool…your freezer! Spoon out teaspoonfuls of the purée on to a parchment-lined baking sheet, then pop the sheet into the deep freeze until the blobs of squash harden completely.

Wrap each squash ball completely with a round piece of the crystal wrapper dough and you’ll have my cheat version of a crystal dumpling. No pleats or fancy edges here, just a simply constructed, round dumpling. And if you decide to go with store-bought dumpling wrappers you can skip the freezing step entirely.

What I love about these dumplings is that they are equally delicious with both Asian unflavored teas and other fall-inspired, flavored teas. Japanese houjicha, a fruity oolong tea, or even a vanilla and pepper laced Darjeeling will bring out the sweet nuttiness of the squash and Chinese 5 Spice. The most delicious way to serve these Butternut Squash Crystal Dumplings is atop some sautéed spinach for a colorful and healthful vegetarian meal…seasonal eating at its best!

Butternut Squash Crystal Dumplings

Makes 24 dumplings.

Ingredients:

{Filling}

1 pound of butternut squash, rind and seeds removed, cut into 1″ cubes

1 Tbsp grapeseed or vegetable oil

1/2 tsp sesame oil

1/2 tsp Chinese 5 Spice

1/8 tsp white pepper

1 Tbsp soy sauce

1 Tbsp honey

1/4 tsp grated ginger

pinch cayenne pepper, to taste (optional)

{Crystal Dumpling Skin}

This is a half recipe of Ha Gao skins, where vegetable oil is used instead of vegetable oil spread.

1 cup wheat starch

2/3 cup tapioca flour

1/4 tsp fine salt

1 Tbsp vegetable oil

1/2 cup water just before boiling (175 degrees F)

{Garnish}

sesame seeds

sautéed spinach

Equipment:

grater

half sheet pan

food processor

medium bowl

small sheet pan lined with parchment

tsp measure

large mixing bowl

work surface

knife

large ziplock bag

bamboo steamer lined with parchment

wok with slightly larger diameter than steamer OR a stockpot with exactly the same diameter as the steamer

Directions:

1.)  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. With clean hands, mix all of the filling ingredients on the half sheet pan thoroughly. When the oven comes to temperature, bake the butternut squash for 30 minutes, until soft and lightly browned. Remove the squash from oven and set aside to cool for 10 minutes.

2.)  Process the roasted squash in a food processor fitted with a steel blade, until it becomes a smooth, thick purée. Place this purée in a medium bowl, then spoon out rounded teaspoonfuls on a small sheet pan lined with parchment. Place this sheet pan in the freezer until the squash balls freeze completely.

3.)  While the squash balls are freezing, make the Crystal Dumpling Skin by combining all the skin ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Mix the dough together with chopsticks, then use your hand to knead the dough until it comes together. Place the dough on a work surface and divide it into 24 equal pieces. Do this by shaping the dough into a log, and then cutting each log in half. Continue to cut each dough piece in half until you get 24 equal pieces. Roll each dough piece into a ball, then place the balls into a large sealed ziplock bag so that the dough balls don’t touch.

4.)  When the squash spoonfuls have hardened, start making the dumplings by flattening one ball of Crystal Dumpling Skin Dough in the palm of your hand. Using your other hand, flatten the dough into a 3″ circle, then place a squash ball in it. Envelope the squash ball completely with the white dough, sealing the edges so that the butternut squash doesn’t peek out of the skin. Place stuffed dumplings 1″ apart in a bamboo steamer fitted with parchment paper to prevent sticking.

5.)  Fill a large wok or stockpot half full with water and bring to a full boil. Place bamboo steamer on top of wok or pot, cover, and then steam the dumplings for 12 minutes while water is on full boil the entire time. Finish the dumplings with a sprinkle of sesame seeds. Serve them over sautéed spinach, right out of the steamer with soy sauce, mustard, or chilli sauce for dipping.

Tea of the Week: T Project’s I’ll Take You There

If there’s something I love more than tea its organic, small-batch tea, blended by someone who knows what they’re doing. If you caught my last recipe post on Tea Sandwich Bread from this past Thursday, the name Teri Gelber might sound familiar. That’s because Teri isn’t only the author of a phenomenal cookbook, but she’s taken her talents into the realm of tea this year by opening up her own business in Portland, simply called the T Project.

When I met Teri at the Tea Expo a few years ago, what immediately drew us together was our mutual love of food and drink. It’s that same appreciation of the culinary that sets Teri’s tea company apart from the usual tea company. Her blends are artistic, inspired, flavorful, and out-of-the-ordinary in the best possible way.

T Project’s I’ll Take You There blend is a smooth Darjeeling made up of not fully oxidized black tea, vanilla, and peppercorns. The tea’s peach pit-like warm fruit notes along with vanilla bean and white and pink peppercorns create a decadent, bold blend with a mildly spicy tinge at the end of each sip.

The champagne of teas…it’s a name reserved for a brew that’s as unique as a wine is, the result of the land it’s grown in (in Darjeeling, of course!) and its Chinese origins. T Project’s I’ll Take You There blend will seriously take you to the highest mountain tops in North East India…nothing like a bold yet delicate whiff (and sip) of Himalayan mountain essence to get your day started!

Many thanks to my friend Teri for the opportunity to try some of her delicious teas!

Tasting Notes for T Project’s I’ll Take You There:

BREWING TIPS:  200 degrees F for 3 minutes. Please be careful not to overbrew…too long of a steeping will cause the blend to become bitter and too astringent. Steep it right and you’ll be in heaven!

THE BLEND:  Dark brown and grayish twisted black leaves with white and pink peppercorns and dried flower petals.

THE SCENT:  Like a freshly baked vanilla cookie, mildly floral with a hint of lemon-like brightness.

THE STEEP:  A brilliant golden sunset in your cup. The coppery brew has a creamy natural vanilla taste. If you look closely you’ll see little vanilla beans floating atop your tea. This blend is balanced and bold and yet it still has a lightness about it. Slightly floral and vegetal, it tastes of peach pit and roasted pears. You should notice a very slight astringency at the end of a sip which is complemented by a slight kick from the peppercorns. It’s flavor is complex, just as a good Darjeeling should taste!

GET IT:  At the beautiful T Project website, or in certain gourmet food stores in and around Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. If you don’t happen to like black tea, please check out Teri’s other artisan blends, all packaged to be eco-friendly. Can’t go wrong with teas named Diamonds and RustMarrakesh Express, and Voilà! Her Wild is the Wind blend would be perfect as a Christmas gift…you’ll find Oregon-foraged cedar tips in it!

FOOD PAIRING:  Hands down, you should enjoy this blend with a simple, humble slice of Teri’s Tea Sandwich Bread LoafTea, toast, and a dab of butter…nothing could be better. This tea would also be fabulous in a tea-based affogato (tea with ice cream), where you substitute the coffee for this elegant blend…more to come on this soon!

Tea Sandwich Bread

When I started blogging, I made it a point to cover some tea recipes that weren’t the most traditional. Many assumed that since I had a tea food blog, finger sandwich recipes would be in plenty. For the most part, I chose to hold off on tea sandwiches for a while, just until I could give you the perfect tea sandwich bread recipe to get things rolling.

This Tea Sandwich Loaf recipe is adapted from Nancy Silverton and Teri Gelber’s incredible cookbook, Nancy Silverton’s Sandwich Book. The bread made from this recipe yields the soft, tender, tight-crumbed bread that we’ve come to associate with a scrumptious tea sandwich. After all, a tea sandwich can only be as delicious as the bread is.

There are many wonderful things about making tea sandwich bread at home. First (and most obviously), nothing beats a golden loaf of bread baking in your oven. In the fall and wintertime, the ambient heat from the oven is especially cozy, while the scent of fresh bread instantly makes any place smell like home.

Another less obvious benefit to making tea sandwich bread yourself is that it’s much more versatile than than your standard grocery market loaf. Since it isn’t pre-sliced and has squared edges, you are free to experiment with all kinds of shapes and sizes–a serrated knife or cookie cutter and you are on your way to making some gorgeous tea time delicacies. Thick, thin, rolled, or cubed–the possibilities are endless!

Personally, I love to cut off the crust on this loaf and then slice it thin, lengthwise. By cutting the loaf this way, you’ll be able to make the most of your fillings, where each nibble will have a better (and more equal) filling-to-bread ratio. This is especially great since afternoon tea is such a carb-heavy meal.

In my family, I’m a crustless kind of gal, while my mom loves the crisp, golden edges on a fresh loaf. The crust on this bread is like the crust on a rustic French bread. You can’t go wrong with a dab of European butter or jam. Above all, the trick here is to not slice (or eat) the bread until it has cooled completely…take my word for it, you might want to make two loaves just in case!

Looking for an elegant tea to enjoy with a slice of this delicious bread? My suggestion is a decadent vanilla bean Darjeeling blend called I’ll Take You There…a tea blended by the co-author of Nancy Silverton’s Sandwich Book, my friend Teri Gelber!

Tea Sandwich Bread

Makes 1 large loaf.

Ingredients:

1 1/3 cups lukewarm water

2 1/4 tsp SAF instant yeast

3 3/4 cups + 1 Tbsp bread flour

1 Tbsp powdered nonfat milk

1 Tbsp + 1 tsp sugar

2 tsp salt

3 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened

1 Tbsp melted butter or non-stick spray, for coating bowl and pan

Equipment:

large stand mixer with dough hook attachment

large bowl

plastic wrap

work surface

pullman loaf pan (13″ or 12 cup capacity)

serrated bread knife (if slicing)

cooking thermometer (optional)

bread slicer (optional)

Directions:

1.)  Make the Dough. Place the yeast, bread flour, powdered milk, and sugar in the mixing bowl of a large stand mixer. Turn the mixer on low-speed, then add the water. Increase the speed to medium, then mix for 2 minutes. After two minutes, turn off the mixer and then add the salt. Turn the mixer on low again to incorporate the salt, then increase the mixer to medium speed once again. Add the softened butter, 1 Tbsp at a time, then continue to mix the dough for about 10 minutes. When you add the butter, the dough will make a slapping sound against the side of the mixing bowl like when you make a brioche dough.

2.)  First Rise. After 10 minutes you should get a soft and supple ball of dough. Place the dough in a bowl lightly greased with melted butter or nonstick spray. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, then place in a warm, draft free place to rise until doubled in volume.

3.)  Shape the Loaf. After doubling in volume, place the dough on a work surface, then give the dough a few light kneadings. Lightly pull/press the dough to make an evenly thick 8″ x 11″ rectangle (like a piece of paper). Fold the left and right sides over lengthwise to meet in the middle (the sides should overlap). Square off the edges, then pinch the seam closed. Tuck, pinch, and seal off the ends under the long loaf.

4.)  Second Rise. Place the cylinder-like loaf seam side down, into a pullman pan greased with melted butter or nonstick spray. Let the dough rest in the pan for about 5 minutes (covered with plastic wrap), then use your fingers to press the dough into the pan as evenly as possible–this will help to assure squared off edges on the loaf when it bakes. Cover the loaf pan with plastic wrap, then place in a warm, draft free place until it rises to 1/2″ under the top edge of the pan.

5.)  Bake, Cool, and Slice! About a half hour before the loaf has finished rising, place an oven rack in the lower 1/3 portion of your oven, then heat the oven to 475 degrees F. When the dough has risen (1/2″ under the rim), slide the greased top of the pullman loaf pan on. Bake the loaf for about 45 minutes, until the loaf is golden brown or registers an internal temperature of 190 degrees F on a cooking thermometer. Wait until the bread completely cools before slicing with a serrated knife.

Adapted from Tea Sandwich Loaf recipe in Nancy Silverton’s Sandwich Book by Nancy Silverton and Teri Gelber.

Tea of the Week: Den’s Tea’s Houjicha

Fallen leaves crunching under your boots, crisp breezes, and cozy evenings filled with candlelight mark a season worth savoring. While cinnamon or spiced flavored teas often come to mind this time of year, a woody Japanese Houjicha (a.k.a. Hojicha) is one of my favorite fall blends. There couldn’t be a brew more reminiscent of a golden autumn harvest.

Den’s Tea’s Houjicha tea bags contain a roasted green tea that’s strong on toasty, savory notes. This tea brews to a dark chocolate brown, almost like a lightly roasted coffee. But despite its looks, Houjicha is smooth and sweet, low in caffeine, and hardly bitter at all.

As the evenings get longer, Den’s Tea’s Houjicha is a comforting, full-flavored brew to cuddle up with. Throw a few of these delightfully wrapped tea bags in your travel bag or purse and you’ll have a delicious tea to enjoy in any beautiful fall setting. 

Tasting Notes for Den’s Tea’s Houjicha Pyramid Tea Bags:

BREWING TIPS:  190 degrees F for 30 seconds up to 2 minutes. I like a darker brew. This green tea can tolerate a higher temperature than unroasted, vegetal green teas.

THE BLEND:  A roasted Japanese green tea. Cut, twig-like tea leaves, in pyramid tea bags with a notched tag for easy placement on the edge of your teacup.

THE SCENT:  Smells of aged wood, dried leaves, and roasted chestnuts.

THE STEEP:  A clear, dark brew that looks like watered down coffee. Very smooth, mild, and sweet in a caramel-like way. Tastes like roasted nuts with full-bodied flavor and buttery, toasty notes.

GET IT:  At the Den’s Tea website or at well-stocked Japanese markets.

FOOD PAIRING:  This would be perfect with favorite autumn foods like pumpkin, pecan, or sweet potato pie. Also a delicious complement to Pumpkin DangoMaple Pumpkin Cupcakes or Pumpkin Butter Mochi. And since the tea is distinctly savory, it would be delicious with roasted vegetables (brussels sprouts!) or squash (butternut!) and even Thanksgiving turkey.

Pumpkin Rooibos Muffins

After my Pumpkin Tea Set post last week, some readers asked me what would become of my pie pumpkins. Well here they are, transformed into homey, humble little muffins…Rooibos Pumpkin Muffins to be exact. Just when you thought those pumpkins had met their last tea pairing with chai, rooibos shows up in baked form!

Rooibos, also known as red bush tea or red tea, is a plant native to South Africa. You’ll find the short, slim stalks of this caffeine-free herb in many tisanes where it lends a mild, aromatic sweetness and gorgeous coppery orange color. I love that you can enjoy the soothing effects of this tea anytime of day.

Pumpkin and rooibos tea are natural partners—both ingredients evoke the warm, earthy flavors of fall. In this recipe, lightly toasting the rooibos before adding it into the batter helps it to release more of its lightly malty flavor. After toasting, I also give the rooibos a light steeping in hot water to help it soften and release even more of it’s rich aroma and essence.

Whether you are drinking or eating them together, rooibos and pumpkin make a delicious culinary match. I like to enjoy these muffins with a pure rooibos-only blend, as the simple taste of the tea will help the spicy cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove flavors to shine. Enjoy these muffins for breakfast, along with a light meal, or as a simple mid-day sweet treat.

Pumpkin Rooibos Muffins

Makes 10 muffins.

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp rooibos, about 4-5 tea bags, lightly toasted for 1 minute in a dry pan

1/3 cup hot water

8 oz. pumpkin purée

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 cup brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 egg

1 1/2 cups flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp clove

Equipment:

standard muffin tin

10 cupcake liners

2 mixing bowls

cooling rack

Directions:

1.)  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Rip the rooibos tea bags open, then brew them in 1/3 cup of hot water.

2.)  In a large bowl, mix together the pumpkin, oil, sugar, vanilla and egg. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.

3.)  Gradually add the dry flour mixture into the pumpkin mixture until everything is just moistened. Mix in the rooibos tea (along with the leaves), until the batter is homogenous. Spoon 1/3 cup of the batter into each of the cupcake liners in the muffin pan.

4.)  Bake cupcakes for about 15 minutes, until a toothpick barely comes out clean. Place on a cooling rack to cool before serving.

Green Tea Chicken Soup

I spent most of last week sick with a head cold, slurping down copious amounts of hot tea. As I was busy with Halloween posts and not very interested in eating regular food, Green Tea Chicken Soup became my life saver. Soup can taste like a 5-star meal when you’re sick, and luckily, with this recipe, my 5-star meal took just minutes to make!

As wonderful as chicken noodle soup is, the Asian gal in me insists on putting my untraditional twist on this favorite. It’s amazing how some slight changes to the ingredient list can instantly transform a homey, farmstead recipe into a unique and inspired one. Miso, ginger, and green tea are my secret ingredients here–they add just a touch of Asian flair without overwhelming the soup.

I found these organic green tea soba noodles at World Market the other day. These are great in any soup, but especially here, where their green tea flavor is also infused in the broth itself. These noodles have buckwheat in them, which helps to create a tender texture similar to that of egg noodles.

I use the green tea in a way similar to how a bouquet garni is used. A disposable green tea “pouch” strainer is filled and knotted so that the tea can release all of its vibrant flavor and later be collected and removed. The difference between my green tea bouquet garni and a traditional one is that the tea version is removed just after the soup comes to a boil instead of being left in the soup for the entire cooking process. This way, we can easily remove the tea before it starts to taste bitter.

While I like to use Genmaicha (Japanese brown rice or popcorn tea) to make my Green Tea Chicken Soup, you can use any green tea you like. I prefer Genmaicha here because it has a rich and toasty taste from the rice, but any not too expensive (and unflavored) Chinese or Japanese green tea will work well here.

If you’re feeling under the weather this fall or winter, this is the recipe for you! And even if you aren’t sick, this cozy soup can get you through the harshest of chilly days. Be generous with the ginger and green tea and you’ll have a classically soothing and antioxidant-rich combination that would leave any soup lover feeling completely nourished and satisfied.

Green Tea Chicken Soup

Makes 2 large bowls of soup.

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp olive oil or peanut oil

1 tsp sesame oil

5 green onions, thinly sliced, whites separated from greens

2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2″ pieces

2 stalks of celery, peeled and cut into 1/2″ pieces

48 oz low sodium chicken broth

1- 2″ x 1″ knob of ginger, peeled and cut into 3 pieces

3 Tbsp green tea leaves, put into a large enclosed strainer or large T-Sac and knotted (I used Genmaicha)

2 Tbsp miso broth concentrate (you can also use miso paste, but use to taste)

3 1/2 oz green tea or regular soba noodles, broken into 3″short noodles

1 large cooked chicken breast, shredded

1/2 cup enoki or shiitake mushrooms

cilantro, for serving

ground black pepper to taste

Equipment:

1 large pot

1 medium pot

peeler

strainer

large tea strainer or large paper tea filter

Directions:

1.)  Heat olive oil and sesame oil over medium high heat until it shimmers. Lower the heat, add the white parts of the green onions, and sauté until softened but not browned, about 3-5 minutes. Add the carrots and celery, and sauté them for 3-5 minutes. Add the chicken broth, drop in the ginger and green tea bouquet garni, then increase heat to high and bring the broth to a full boil.

2.)  When the broth reaches a full boil, lower the heat to a slow simmer, then remove the green tea bouquet garni after a minute. Add the miso paste, cover the pot, and let the soup simmer for 15 minutes on low.

3.)  Meanwhile, in a separate pot, boil the green tea noodles 2 minutes shy of the package instructions. When cooked, drain the noodles and set aside.

4.)  After 15 minutes on low heat, remove the ginger knobs. Add the noodles, shredded chicken, and mushrooms, then bring the soup back to a boil. Serve piping hot with sliced green onion and cilantro, then add pepper to taste and serve.

Tea of the Week: TeaGschwendner’s Asian Pear

From apples to pumpkins and now to pears! It’s been a busy fruit-filled week here at Thirsty for Tea. There are certain fruits that mark the beginning of fall, and Asian pears are one of my favorites. Crisp, juicy, and not-too-sweet, Asian pears have finally met their tea-steeped match in TeaGschwendner’s divine Asian Pear blend.

TeaGschwendner is a flavored green tea bursting with fresh pear flavor and aroma. It’s easy to associate the term “flavored” with a tea that’s strong in tastes that aren’t natural, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth when it comes to this blend. The flavor of pear in this tea is subtle and mild, as if you had juiced a pear and infused some of its syrupy goodness in each sip.

TeaGschwendner’s Asian Pear blend reminds me of freshly fallen leaves mixed together with ripe, juicy pears…a heavenly combination that’s mellow and comforting. This is a luxurious treat for any green tea lover–an award-winning tea from the 2012 North American Tea Championship that’s delicate yet full of fruity flavor. Each sip is a reminder of autumn’s most beautiful flavors.

Tasting Notes for TeaGschwendner’s Asian Pear:

BREWING TIPS:  190 degrees F for 1-2 minutes. Most enjoyable and flavorful on the first brew.

THE BLEND:  A mix of Indian, Japanese, and Ceylon green teas with orange blossoms and Asian pear bits scattered throughout. Medium to large green tea leaves with some thin stems.

THE SCENT:  Like a soft perfume with notes of honey and vanilla. Slightly citrusy from the orange blossoms.

THE STEEP:  A fresh, mild green tea that’s very slightly astringent. Warm and fruity with a gentle yet distinctive pear essence. A kiss of honey-like sweetness without any sugar or artificial flavorings.

GET IT:  At the TeaGschwendner site or at one of TeaGschwendner’s stores in Chicago or abroad.

FOOD PAIRING:  Very satisfying when paired with some fresh, juicy slices of Asian pear or Pumpkin & Green Tea Dango (without the black sesame sauce). Would also be delicious with some hot out of the oven Crisp Apple Strudel or Apple Pie Buns.