Pumpkin Tea Set

A few years ago, my hubby carved a very impressive Yoda themed pumpkin about a week before Halloween. We set it outside on our porch, and two days later the pumpkin had become a festering mess, aged from the heat and warmth of California sunshine. I know better than to carve my pumpkins too early now, so I carved my bright orange beauties on the brink of Halloween this year. I collected 1 small pie pumpkin and 2 Wee Bee pumpkins from my random visits to the market over the last few weeks, and now it was time for them to meet their fate.

What did I carve from my pumpkins? Well, I carved them into a tea set for two of course! The tea set is complete with a regular sized teapot and 2 sturdy teacups, just in time for a mid-autumn Pumpkin Chai Latte break!

Although you could serve any fall tea in this cheery pumpkin teapot, a Pumpkin Chai Latte is definitely the way to go. I must say, I’m in love with my Pumpkin Chai Latte recipe…it’s smooth, creamy, and has just the perfect spicy kick to it. My secret ingredient is freshly and finely ground black pepper, which makes it over-the-top delicious.

The best part about using a pie pumpkin to make a pumpkin teapot is that you can later use the teapot to make pie! Using a smaller variety of pumpkin will also allow for easy pouring when tea time comes along. In fact, don’t use a larger pumpkin for this project. The perfect teapot pumpkin has an even base, doesn’t have any soft spots, and doesn’t weigh more than 2 1/2 pounds. And with that I’d like you wish you a very Happy Halloween this year! If you are too busy passing out candy and don’t have time for the tea set, do yourself a favor and at least make the Pumpkin Chai Latte. Nothing could taste better on a crisp fall day!

I’ve decided to take my Pumpkin Tea Set and Chai Lattes over to celebrate Fiesta Friday this week..meet me there!

Pumpkin Chai Latte

Serves 2 with refills. 

Ingredients:

2 cups strongly brewed chai, preferably loose leaf ( I used a ratio of 1 cup water to 1 Tbsp chai)

2 cups vanilla almond milk

1/2 cup pumpkin purée

1/4 cup honey or to taste

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp finely ground black pepper

1/8 tsp ground cloves

1/8 tsp ground ginger

pinch salt

Directions:

1.)  Combine all the ingredients in a pot, bring to just under a boil, and serve!

Pumpkin Tea Set

What You’ll Need:

1 pie pumpkin, just under 2 1/2 pounds

2 Wee Bee pumpkins

wine pourer

12 gauge black aluminum wire (you can find this in the jewelry section of the craft store)

decorative beads, enough to cover the length of handle (make sure the wire will fit through them)

tea strainer

pumpkin carver or serrated knife

pliers

wrench

spoon

pen

ruler

scissors

Step-by-Step:

1.)  Gather the goods.

2.)  Use a pen to outline the diameter of the mesh strainer on the top, center of each pumpkin

3.)  Cut the caps off of the teacups/Wee Bee pumpkins and the large pumpkin.

4.)  Dig out the seeds and string.

5.)  Spoon all the seeds and string out of the teapot and teacups before proceeding with making the teapot.

6.)  Make the teapot by marking a dot 1″ from the inner cut edge on the pumpkin. Repeat this again on the other opposite side of the cut opening. Measure out a 2-foot piece of the wire and cut it with scissors.

7.)  Use the screwdriver to make a hole where the ink dots are marked.

8.)  Wrap one end of the wire in the hole once…

9.)  Then wrap the wire over a second time…

10.)  This is the time to loop all the beads through (not pictured). When you’ve looped the wire with beads to a reasonable length of your liking, it’s time to seal off the handle and cut off any excess wire. Again, mark a hole on the opposite side of the teapot opening, use the screwdriver to penetrate through the marked hole, then make a double wire loop to create a finished teapot handle.

10.  Make the spout by creating a hole to fit the narrow end of the wine pourer. Angle the spout at a 60 degree angle from the base (i.e. the tip of the pourer points upwards). Make the hole slightly narrow so that the wine pourer will fit in snugly and not leak.

11.)  Push the narrow end of the wine pourer into the hole until it fits in very snug…the teapot is complete!

 

Pumpkin & Green Tea Dango

It’s been a long time since my last mochi post, so I decided to experiment with making dango this week. Also known as Japanese sweet rice dumplings, these soft and chewy rice balls are often made with water or even tofu as the binding ingredient.

With an open can of pumpkin purée staring back at me every time I opened my fridge, I decided to go for it…Pumpkin & Green Tea Dango with a Black Sesame Sauce–a recipe that sounds unique and looks peculiar, but tastes amazing!

If you are craving a mochi type of snack and don’t want a lot of mess and fuss, I’m highly convinced that dango are the way to go. Dango are commonly found in the beautiful pink, white, and green variation known as Hanami Dango.

With Halloween just around the corner, I went for orange, green, and black variation where the main flavors are pumpkin, green tea, and black sesame. These natural, wholesome ingredients are complex in texture and flavor–a fall inspired version of the traditional favorite, Goma (sesame) Dango.

I’m not sure if a 2 teaspoon measure exists out there, but this amount makes a perfectly sized dango dumpling. What’s great about these dumplings is that after you shape them, you can easily freeze the round dumplings for later. Simply boil a large pot of water, drop the dumplings in, and wait for them to float to the surface. A plunge into cold water and a quick skewering and you’re almost done!

This black sesame sauce takes just a minute to make. If you can’t find black sesame powder, you can take black sesame seeds and grind them down finely in a spice grinder. The sauce has a nutty, sweet, and slightly savory flavor, and the dumplings are naked (and not nearly as delicious) without it.

Instead of serving cupcakes, cookies, or candy to celebrate Halloween this year why not celebrate with Pumpkin Dango? A cup of toasty, twiggy (lots of stems!) Japanese Hojicha would pair perfectly with these beautiful skewers. There couldn’t be a better snack to celebrate autumn’s most delicious flavors.

Pumpkin & Green Tea Dango

Makes 9 skewers.

Ingredients:

{Rice Dumplings}

1 cup +2 Tbsp glutinous rice flour

3 Tbsp sugar

3/4 cup pumpkin purée

2 tsp matcha powder, sifted

{Black Sesame Sauce}

1 cup black sesame powder

1/2 cup honey

3/4 cup hot water

Equipment:

2 large mixing bowls

tsp measure

large plate

large pot

slotted spoon

shallow medium bowl of ice water

9 skewers, 5 “or 6″ is ideal

small mixing bowl

Directions:

1.)  In a large bowl combine rice flour, sugar, and pumpkin. Knead until thoroughly incorporated. Divide dough in half, then place one of the halves in another large bowl and add the sifted matcha powder to it. Knead the green tea dough until it is throughly incorporated and has an even green color.

2.)  Use tsp measure to measure out 2 tsp balls of the rice dough. Use your hands to roll each ball until it is smooth, then park them on a large plate. Repeat this process with the green tea dough. You should end up with 28 balls (14 orange, 14 green).

3.)  Fill a large pot with water and bring to a full rolling boil. Boil the rice dumplings until they completely float on the surface of the water, mixing occasionally to prevent sticking. If the dumplings are at room temperature (not frozen) this will take 5-6 minutes. When the balls are floating, remove them from the hot water using a slotted spoon, then plunge them into the medium bowl of ice water.

4.)  When the balls have cooled, use a skewer to pierce through the center of 3 of the dumplings, leaving a 1/4″ allowance at the tip of the skewer. Repeat the process with all 9 skewers, then set the dango aside.

5.)  Combine the black sesame powder, honey, and hot water together in a small bowl. Plate the dango by spooning about 2 Tbsp of the black sesame sauce on a small plate, then place the pumpkin dango on top and serve.

Boba Thai Tea Shooters

A few months back I received an email from my blogger friend Lan over at morestomach. Lan had messaged me to ask about making Thai Iced Tea, that much-loved sweet orange concoction that Thai food lovers can’t seem to get enough of.

In our chats, I shared with Lan a few tips on making Thai tea and some ideas on where she might be able to find some (you can find it at Asian markets, Amazon, or Teavana). We then discussed how the tea gets that strange yet inviting bright orange color. Lan’s food style is pure, clean, and elegantly composed, so I had to break it to her gently…that neon coloring is artificial.

I put this recipe together to use up the last of my Thai tea stash that’s been hanging out in the back of my tea cabinet over the last year. Since it’s Halloween this week, I figure I should put that orange brilliance to good use and make some festive Thai Tea Shooters in test tubes, complete with a few boba balls for an extra spooky effect.

Today I’m using plastic test tube favors to make these shots. I found them on sale at my local craft store (Michaels) over the weekend (part of the Martha Stewart line), and can’t get over how adorable they are. Glass tubes would be so much classier, but hey, it Halloween, so a bit of tackiness is allowed right!?

There’s really nothing to making Thai Tea. The hardest part is waiting for it to cool down so that it doesn’t melt the ice that you serve it with. Luckily, that’s not an issue here because these shots are made with well-chilled tea. This way, there’s no need for ice and the tea keeps its strong flavor and creamy appearance.

Another tip for making good Thai Tea is to boil the tea for a long time. This type of full flavored tea isn’t sensitive to heat like traditional brews are, so it’s fine to boil the tea for up to 15 minutes instead of just steeping it. A darker, more concentrated brew will be tastier than a lighter one, since you can always adjust the strength of the tea with the stronger version.

What character are you planning to be this Halloween? If you’re having a get together and know that your guests are Thai tea fans, be a Mad Scientist and make some ghastly Boba Thai Tea Shooters! These curious little treats will be the delight of any creepy bash!

Boba Thai Tea Shooters

Makes 12-15 test tube shots.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup loose leaf Thai tea

1 quart of water

1/2 cup sugar, or to taste

1/2 cup half-and-half

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup boba tapioca balls, prepared according to package instructions

Equipment:

large pot

large heatproof pitcher

a double layered piece of cheesecloth

fine mesh strainer

test tube favors (I used Martha Stewart brand)

tall basket or test tube holder

Directions:

1.)  Boil the water in a large pot, add the tea, then lower the heat to a rolling boil for 10-15 minutes. After 15 minutes, strain out the leaves by pouring the tea through a cheesecloth-lined fine mesh strainer into a large heatproof pitcher.

2.)  Add the sugar to the tea just after boiling. Feel free to play around with the amount of sugar to suit your taste. Let the tea cool to room temperature. Mix in the half-and-half and vanilla extract, then place the tea in the fridge to chill completely.

3.)  Pour the tea into test tubes until they are 3/4 full. Just before serving, add a few boba balls to each tube, then cap with the corks and place the test tubes in a test tube holder. You’re done!

*** Entertaining Tip: It’s a good idea to have some fat boba straws for your guests to use for drinking. If the boba sits around at the bottom of the test tubes for a long time, they may tend to stick there. The straws will allow for easy drinking if you happen to need them, especially if you are wanting to make the shots ahead of time.

Apple Tea Cake

Tea and novels go hand in hand, and children’s books are certainly no exception. Today, I’m co-hosting this post with my good friend Danielle Davis from This Picture Book Life, a brilliant blog about children books, both classic and modern.

When Danielle asked me to recreate a recipe showcasing Julie Paschkis’ charming book, Apple Cake: A Recipe for Love, I jumped at the opportunity. With all the beautiful apples available at the market this fall, I knew that I could easily create a cake to celebrate the book’s whimsical imagery and endearing theme of expressing love through cooking.In the book, a boy makes a girl an apple cake to get her to stop reading and notice him. She’s the apple of his eye. He takes 1 green apple, 2 red apples, and some other yummy spices and ingredients to create a beautiful cake for his sweetie.

Success! The cake is enticing enough to catch her attention. At the end of story, they share the cake together, a heart full of love between them.

Staying true to the book, I used 1 green apple (Granny Smith) and 2 sweet ones (Honeycrisp) in this Apple Tea Cake recipe. The sour apple is mixed into the cake batter while the 2 sweet apples are cubed, dusted generously with cinnamon sugar, and scattered over the top of the cake to create a rustic topping.

My personal ingredient addition not included in the original recipe of the book is buttermilk. The baked apples meld together with the buttermilk based batter to create an almost custard-like texture to the cake–moist, tender, and deliciously creamy!

Brimming with apple goodness, this is a scrumptious cake that’s simple enough to make any day of the week. I’m not sure what the exact difference is between a coffee cake and a tea cake, but in my opinion a tea cake is lighter both in texture and in flavor so that it enhances a tea instead of overwhelming it.

Adagio Tea’s Candy Apple Tea goes perfectly with this Apple Tea Cake. It’s maple-like sweetness highlights the golden baked apple chunks and adds a touch of caramelized richness to each bite. The blend is good on its own, but great with this cake.

Tea, cake, and an adorably sweet love story like Apple Cake: A Recipe for Love? Now that’s a trio worth exploring.

A sincere thank you to Danielle Davis of This Picture Book Life for the opportunity! Please hop on over to her site to check out some of the beautiful illustrations from Julie Paschkis’ book.

Apple Tea Cake

Makes 1-8″ cake.

Ingredients:

{Cake Base}

4 Tbsp butter, softened

1/3 cup sugar

1 egg

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

pinch salt

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/2 cup buttermilk

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2″ cubes

{Apple Topping}

2 Tbsp butter, melted

2 Tbsp sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

2 Honeycrisp, Gala, or Fuji apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2″ cubes

sifted powdered sugar for serving (optional)

Equipment:

8″ baking pan (I used a spring form for easy removal), sprayed with non-stick spray

large mixing bowl

medium mixing bowl

rubber spatula

peeler and paring knife

small heart-shaped cookie cutter (optional)

Directions:

1.)  Make the Cake Base. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium mixing bowl, mix together the 1 cup of flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg. In a large bowl, cream the 4 Tbsp of butter and 1/3 cup of sugar. Add in the egg and vanilla and mix them in. Gradually add the flour mix into the butter mixture until barely incorporated. Gently mix the Granny Smith apple chunks into the batter, then pour the batter into the baking pan. Use the back of the rubber spatula to smooth and even out the batter. Set aside.

2.)  Make the Apple Topping. Place the Honeycrisp apple chunks into the medium bowl. Pour the remaining 2 Tbsp of melted butter over the apples, then dust with the cinnamon and sugar. Toss the apples so that all the spice, sugar, and butter is evenly distributed. Topple apples over the cake batter evenly, then lightly press them in so that they adhere to the top surface of the cake.

3.)  Finish the Cake. Bake the cake for 30-35 minutes or until the top is lightly golden, the apples look slightly dry, and a toothpick comes out clean. Wait for the cake to cool for at least 15 minutes before removing from the baking pan. Dust the top of the cake with sifted powdered sugar just before serving. For an optional decorative touch, top the cake with red apple heart cut-outs. Enjoy!

apple cake cutouts

Tea of the Week: Adagio’s Candy Apple

Fresh back from the Windy City, I’m stocked up with cozy steeps to satisfy me through the end of fall. Deciding to take a break from my daily dose of chai, I decided to pick up a blend from Adagio Teas called Candy Apple. It sounded like just the perfect tea to celebrate Halloween with this year!

Candy Apple is a Sri Lankan black tea infused with the rich taste of sweet apples and dark caramel. There’s a definitive maple syrup like sweetness to the blend with warm undertones of cinnamon spice to finish.

A splash of milk and sugar would certainly be delicious additions to this tea. There’s a pleasant bitterness to the blend that makes it reminiscent of brown sugar or molasses. At first sip, it actually reminded me of drinking a sweet dessert wine or brandy.

I’ve brewed this tea with some thin slices of apple thrown in, steeped along with the tea. Despite the suggested brew time of only 3 minutes, this tea has a tendency to brew very dark, so fresh apple pieces help to balance the brew with some brightness and acidity.

Adagio Tea’s Candy Apple tea is dark and spooky, yet distinctively sweet. If you’re looking for a way to cut back on your candy intake this Halloween, it might be just the right tea for you!

Tasting Notes for Adagio’s Candy Apple Tea:

BREWING TIPS:  212 degrees F for 3 minutes. This tea brews dark fast so if you don’t like very strong teas, use a timer and steep for less than 3 minutes.

THE BLEND:  Black tea from Sri Lanka mixed with dried apple pieces, natural caramel apple flavor, and cinnamon.

THE SCENT:  Robust with the scent of burnt sugar. Reminiscent of pecan pralines or a sweet barrel aged brandy.

THE STEEP:  A brilliant reddish brown. Light baked apple flavor with a bold, malty maple syrup-like base. Slightly smoky and spicy from the cinnamon with a mildly bitter essence. As you can see from my photos, I think Caramel Apple is a more fitting name for the blend.

GET IT:  You can find this blend at Adagios Teas in Chicago and also online at the Adagio Teas site.

FOOD PAIRING:  Would be great with pancakes, Swedish Apple Pie Buns, or perhaps, a slice of Maple Brick Toast!

TeaGschwendner in Chicago

If you’re in Chicago and find yourself in need of a break after shopping on Michigan Avenue, take a brisk walk north and you’ll find TeaGschwendner, an artisan tea company based out of Germany. Here in the US, we’re lucky enough to have 2 TeaGschwendner shops both located in the Chicago area, but in Germany there are over 130 TeaGschwendner stores, and even few more scattered throughout Europe and the Middle East.

If you think you might get lost on the way over to the store, check out this clip by TeaGschwendner where you can figure out how to pronounce TeaGschwendner, just in case you need to ask for directions. Not only will you get a glimpse of Thomas Holz, the Master Tea Taster at TeaGschwendner, but the clip should also give you a new appreciation for tea selection, steeping, and of course, slurping!

Entering TeaGschwender is like entering a bank vault packed with fragrant tea-filled aluminum safe deposit boxes. Instead of finding money, gold watches, or a string of pearls inside each box, you’ll find some of the world’s most exclusive teas…drinkable treasures waiting to be discovered and revealed.

Despite TeaGschwendner’s exceptional reputation among seasoned tea drinkers, the staff are incredibly friendly, knowledgeable, not the least bit pretentious. On the day I visited, Ryan, the store manager, provided outstanding insight into the company’s teas and lead me to just the right blends to please both my palette and my pocketbook.

If you are a seasoned connoisseur of Indian and Chinese teas, the shop has a very impressive stock of teas from Darjeeling, Assam, Ceylon, and beyond. For aspiring connoisseurs like myself, there are some more modest blends to choose from, including Almond Milk (one of their new honeybush blends), Bamboo Pomelo (an award-winning herbal blend at the North American Tea Expo in 2013), and Asian Pear (a mild green tea with a soft pear essence…my favorite!).

If you need some more help choosing a blend, don’t hesitate to ask for a taste! Below is my “slice” of the Carrot Cake blenda tangy, spicy brew with large chunks of carrots, oranges, and raisins studded throughout.

The Black Oothu and Green Manjolai are teas grown in South India, in tea gardens located in the middle of a Bengal Tiger Reserve. These teas are the result of the company’s partnership with the Nature Conservation League of Germany, and part of the proceeds that come from these teas go towards helping endangered Royal Bengal Tigers in South India.

The shop on State Street isn’t that large, but it does hold a wide selection of tea wares from all around the world. I especially love TeaGschwendner’s signature teacups, which are very wide and shallow. It’s the type of teacup that takes an extra bit of finesse to drink out of, reminding you to slow down, savor, and take a break.

TeaGschwendner carries a few brands of rare gourmet chocolates, including these handsome bars from Mast Brothers, based out of New York. The only thing better than drinking tea is drinking tea with a complex piece of chocolate, and what a feast for the eyes these bars are!

Here’s a look at some of the colorful Moroccan teacups I found next to Japanese cast iron teapot displays at the store. Stay tuned…you’ll be seeing the blue cups reappear in one of my upcoming posts soon!

Part of the charm of this shop is that it allows you to travel the world through a cup of tea. If you are lucky enough to visit one of their shops here in the US or elsewhere abroad, TeaGschwendner’s excellent customer service and attention to detail are sure to leave you with a renewed appreciation for world-class teas.

TeaGschwendner 

1160 North State Street

Chicago, Illinois 60610

312.932.0639

Adagio Teas in Chicago

Greetings from Chicago! I’m in the Windy City this week searching for the most comforting fall blends I can find. Many people come to Chicago searching for some buttery deep dish pizza or a snappy hot dog. But what do I look for? Teas that I can’t find in a sunny, 90-degrees-in-October place like Los Angeles.

There’s something about Chicago that makes it uniquely tea-friendly. Long wool coats and bone chilling temps set the stage for a thriving tea culture, and Adagio Teas is one of those tea shops that makes tea drinking that much more enticing.

Although Adagio Teas is actually based out of New Jersey, they have 3 brick and mortar retail stores, all located in Chicago. I visited the Adagio store on State Street in Downtown Chicago. The store isn’t exceptionally large but it is filled with a huge variety of tea goodies from clay teapots to tea flavored chocolate bars to zodiac themed teas.

The Masters Collection is a set of high-quality international specialty teas at Adagio. Most of the teas from this collection are from China or Japan, and are single origin teas not blends. These teas come in Asian-inspired decorative tins where Formosa Ali Shan, Fujian Ti Kuan Yin, and Fujian Silver Needle are among the most popular steeps from this collection.

This tea shop is currently holding a World of Artisan Teas tasting tour, where each week 3 teas from one tea-producing country are featured for your tasting pleasure, free of charge. After your tea tastings, you’ll get a stamp in your “tea passport” just as you would if you had traveled to that country. A fully stamped passport entitles you to a gift from Adagio at the end of your travels.

If you are a picky tea drinker or want to try your hand at creating your own personal blend, there’s a station at the back of the store where you can mix and match teas to suit your taste. You can even schedule private tastings where you can learn about and discover new teas.

On the day I visited, I selected Adagio’s Formosa Bai Hao to try. This tea has a distinctive honey-like peachy essence that transforms into a sweet, woody brew once steeped. Bai Hao is also known as Oriental Beauty, and is highly oxidized which makes it reminiscent of fallen autumn leaves.

The friendly and knowledgable staff at Adagio Teas on State Street do a great job at taking the mystery out of tea drinking. I love that the brand celebrates tea in so many dynamic and creative ways, and aims to educate customers at the same time. You can also find some of Adagio’s teas and teaware on Amazon, but if you are in the Chicago area, a trip over to one of their vibrant stores is well worth your time.