Tea of the Week: Harney & Sons’ Birthday Tea

Yesterday was my birthday, which for me meant a new Apple MacBook Pro (from my generous hubby), a colorful slice of Chinese-Style Bakery Cake (which I’ll be posting about tomorrow), and finally, a cheery glass of Harney and Sons’ Birthday Tea (a brew that tastes that much more delicious on your birthday!).

I discovered this blend a few years ago when searching for some kid-friendly, non-caffeinated blends. What makes the tea so appealing is its fantastically brilliant color, the result of blending hibiscus, rose hips, and decaf ceylon tea.

This Birthday Tea blend was created for John Harney’s 80th birthday, just a few years ago. If you didn’t know already, John Harney is the founder of Harney & Sons’ Tea Company, known by many to be a “missionary of tea.” John Harney died at the age of 83 earlier this year, but will be forever be remembered for his passion in helping to revive America’s appreciation for good quality, loose leaf teas.

Unlike most of Harney & Son’s blends, Birthday Tea is actually available in sample packets. The sample is perfect for tucking into a birthday card or gift…a thoughtful little way to make anyone’s birthday that much more festive.

Tasting Notes for Harney & Sons’ Birthday Tea:

BREWING TIPS:  Brew this tea with water at a full boil, and feel free to steep for as long as you want. I let the tea bags steep for a full 10 minutes, which helps the water to cool before pouring the brew over a large glass filled with ice. The tea is also delicious served hot.

THE BLEND:  A blend of hibiscus, rosehips, decaf ceylon, Raspberry flavor, spearmint, peppermint, marigold petals, and cornflowers.

THE SCENT:  Distinctively fruity, with strong raspberry and pomegranate essences.

THE STEEP:  Tart and fruity. Like drinking fruit punch without the added sugar. The tea is the most gorgeous color of ruby red crimson, the shade of a light red wine sangria. In fact, if you throw some berries (organic strawberries, raspberries) and fruit (mango, apples) to soak along with the blend it will be absolutely delicious.

GET IT:  The blend is available at the Harney & Sons’ website, in single serving loose leaf packets or a 20 sachet tin. You can also find the steep at Amazon.

FOOD PAIRING:  The best thing to eat with this blend is a fruit-based birthday cake! It would also be a bright complement to some fresh fruit salad or crisp green veggies, like a Chicken Cobb Salad or Rainbow Spring Rolls.

Matcha Chip Biscotti

I normally like the texture of my baked goods to be chewy and soft. The exception to this is biscotti, a twice-baked and crisp cookie that’s destined for dunking. A soak in some tea, milk, or even coffee, and this rustic cookie yields a bulky yet tender bite–a slightly healthier version of milk and cookies!

I’m always looking for ways to use my best cocoa powder. I love that cocoa powder has relatively few calories, and yet it’s packed with robust chocolatey flavor. In this recipe, the cocoa powder meets Matcha Chocolate Chips, made from mixing white chocolate with beautiful matcha tea powder. Slightly bitter flavors from both the cocoa and matcha powders help to tame the sweetness of the white chocolate, making the biscotti rich and decadent without tasting overly sweet. 

I like to pair my Matcha Chip Biscotti with a cup of soothing matcha milk. It sounds like a fancy drink, but there’s nothing to whipping some up. In a small glass, simply stir a teaspoon of matcha powder in with a small splash of hot water, then top off the concentrated tea with your favorite milk. I prefer almond milk, but you can use regular milk, soy milk, or even light coconut milk in the same way. Matcha milk is delicious warm or cold, and goes perfectly with sweetened baked goods, especially these Matcha Chip Biscotti! 

If stored in an airtight container, Matcha Chip Biscotti will taste great for up to two weeks. Proper drying during the second round of baking will help them to keep their incredibly crunchy texture. It seems ironic to bake them so crisp just to soak them back into a liquid, but contrasting textures make this tea and cookie combination fabulous.

Matcha Chip Biscotti are perfect in the morning or as an afternoon pick-me-up snack. Be generous when adding those Matcha Chocolate Chips and finish the cookies off with a few gulps of matcha milk. The unique pairing will leave you zipping through your day like nobody’s business!

Matcha Chip Biscotti

Makes 15 biscotti.

Ingredients:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup best-quality cocoa powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

3 Tbsp butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg, at room temperature

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp almond extract

1/4 cup dark chocolate chips

1/4 cup matcha chocolate chips

1/2 cup sliced almonds

Equipment:

large bowl or stand mixer with paddle attachment

medium bowl

large baking sheet fitted with parchment

large cutting board

serrated knife

Directions:

1.)  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In large bowl, cream butter and sugar together. Mix in egg and extracts until throughly incorporated.

2.)  In a medium bowl, mix together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Gradually add this mixture to the butter mixture until it is all added in. You can use the stand mixer (on low speed) or a large spoon to do this. Stir in chocolate chips and almonds.

3.)  Shape the dough directly on the baking sheet into an 11″ by 3″ log. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, until the biscotti log is firm and dry to the touch. Remove from oven, then let cool for 10-15 minutes, until you can use your hands to handle it onto a cutting board.

4.)  Using serrated knife, cut out diagonal slices of the biscotti, about 3/4″ thick, until you get 15 equal cookie pieces. Place the cut biscotti on the original baking sheet and return to oven to bake for an additional 10 minutes until the cookies are hardened and crisp. Remove the baking sheet from oven and transfer the cookies to cool on a cooling rack. Pack the biscotti into an airtight container and store at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

Tea of the Week: Sunflower’s Jasmine Tea

For me, this orange and gold tin conjures up my first memories of Chinese tea. Sunflower’s Jasmine Tea is the classic and basic choice in many Chinese households, like Twinings is in the UK or Lipton is in the US. I can’t be positive, but I don’t think their packaging has ever changed over the past 30 years, and that’s part of this brand’s nostalgic charm…it’s an oldie, but a goodie.

This isn’t an expensive or rare tea–it’s a practical tea, something you can enjoy everyday without breaking the bank. The brew has a nice balance where you can taste the green tea and floral notes equally, without either flavor being more pronounced. You can find it at almost all Chinese grocery stores and definitely somewhere in your local Chinatown. If you are new to Chinese teas, the brew is a must-try. It’s exceptionally popular and pleasing to a variety of palettes.

I never separate or strain the tea leaves apart from my jasmine tea brew. I find it almost therapeutic to see the little cuts of leaves swimming and sinking in my teacup, just like they do when I go out for dim sum or Chinese food. An occasional tea leaf may accidentally sneak by and get swallowed, but take it from a Cantonese girl– the brew really shouldn’t be enjoyed any other way. That being said, over brewing this tea will bring out it’s bitter flavors, so be careful abut your water temperature.

Tasting Notes for Sunflower’s Jasmine Tea:

BREWING TIPS:  Although the package directions say to brew with boiling water, I like to brew this blend at about 160 degrees F, letting the leaves continue to brew as the water temperature cools. A small pinch per cup of water produces a light brew, which is ideally how it should be enjoyed.

THE BLEND:  Brown, thin, twisted tea leaves with a few jasmine flower petals mixed in .

THE SCENT:  Very floral and soft. Not as strong as rose scented tea, but delicate and very slightly perfume-like.

THE STEEP:  The body of the liquor is light but will continue to become heavier as the leaves have a chance to steep longer. Similarly, the brew will start off looking buttery yellow and later become a burnt orange color. When it starts to turn orange, it’s time to top off with more hot water.

GET IT:  The blend is available at Chinese markets, Chinatowns, and even on Amazon!

FOOD PAIRING:  This is the quintessential dim sum tea, so it would go amazingly well with any of my Dim Sum Recipes, but particularly any steamed dumplings like Siu Mai, Ha Gao or Shrimp & Asparagus Pouch Dumplings.

Mini Cream Scones

As fancy as afternoon tea is, one of its unique features is that the meal is almost entirely finger friendly. Still, a knife and a spoon are essential if you plan on enjoying a scone or two. How else are you going to place that perfect dab of lemon curd or that hefty dollop of Devonshire cream?

This recipe for Mini Cream Scones eliminates the need for all the extra equipment. The cuties are ready for enjoying straight off the serving dish–tender, buttery bites of richness.

I consider this recipe to be more American than it is English, as the scone dough is an ideal canvas for adding in all kinds of extras from currants to cranberries to chocolate chips. Here, I’ve simply added a healthy dose of fresh lemon zest so that I can be liberal in adding jam, curd, and Devonshire Cream later.

Back in February, I shared a recipe for Fragrant Orange English Scones, where I offered some tips on how to eat scones the proper way. These Mini Cream Scones break all those rules of propriety that I had laid out in my earlier post, as they are meant to be eaten in one bite, so that your guests can skip out on the slicing, breaking, and crumbs!

Pass these adorable little bites around your next tea party as you would hors d’oeuvres. No spreaders or spoons are necessary, and clean up will be a snap! The afternoon tea table is an ideal setting to showcase variety and creativity, so a few batches of these Mini Cream Scones in different flavors will certainly up the charm factor at your next tea time get together.

Mini Cream Scones

Makes 20 bite-size scones.

Ingredients:

{Mini Scones}

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 Tbsp sugar

1 1/4 tsp baking powder

1/8 tsp salt

4 Tbsp unsalted butter

1 Tbsp lemon zest

1/2 cup heavy cream, straight from fridge

1 Tbsp heavy cream, for tops of scones

1 Tbsp white decorating sugar, for tops of scones (optional)

extra flour, for dusting work surface

{Fillings}

lemon curd

jam

{Devonshire Cream}

2 oz cream cheese, at room temperature

2 tsp sugar

1/8 tsp salt

1/2 cup heavy cream, straight from fridge

1/2 packet whip cream stabilizer

Equipment:

large bowl

dough cutter or quick hands

work surface

rolling-pin

round cookie cutter, 1″- 1 1/4″ in diameter

large baking sheet fitted with parchment or silicone mat

electric hand-held mixer with whisk attachment

3 small pastry bags or plastic sandwich bags

Directions:

1.)  Make the Scones. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

2.)  Combine dry ingredients and zest, and mix together evenly. Cut butter into dry ingredients, into pea sized bits.

3.)  Pour cream in and mix with large spoon until the mixture clumps up into a shaggy mess.

4.)  Scatter plenty of extra flour on the work surface. Place shaggy dough onto the work surface, then flour your hands and knead the dough a few times until it comes together.

5.)  Roll dough out so that it is 1 1/4″ thick. Punch out 20 small rounds of dough using the well-floured cookie cutter. Place on large baking sheet at least 1″ apart.

6.)  Brush tops of scones with heavy cream, then scatter with decorating sugar if you like. Bake scones for 8-10 minutes, or until the tops are lightly golden brown.

7.)  Make the Devonshire Cream. In a large bowl, use a hand-held electric whisk to mix the cream cheese. Add half of the heavy cream, the sugar, salt, and half a packet of the whip cream stabilizer, then whisk on medium speed until you get a thickened cream. Add the last half of the heavy cream, then whip the mixture to stiff peaks.

8.)  Layer the Fillings. Place lemon curd, jam, and Devonshire Cream in each of the small pastry bags. Snip the tip off of each bag then squeeze a dollop of each the ingredients on the bottom half of each cooled, horizontally cut scone. Create mini sandwich scones by placing the top half of each scone on top of the fillings and serve!

Dim Sum Recipe #10: Shrimp & Asparagus Pouch Dumplings

The fun of making dumplings always involves a bit of crafty handwork, especially when it comes to those store-bought wrappers. It’s amazing how many ways you can fold a simple square or round of dough…kind of like food origami, which is perfect for people like me who love to play with their food!

One of my favorite dumpling shapes has to be this elegant and easy-to-make pouch shape. You basically wrap these up like you would wrap up a gift. Imagine a square cloth napkin laid out in front of you with a coconut in the middle, where the napkin is the wrapper and the coconut is the dumpling filling.

Secure the inner edges of the pouch together by simply dabbing some water all around the center lump (coconut) of filling. After gathering the edges together, a deliberate pinch from all sides of the wrapper in towards the center just above the filling will seal off the pouch. The dumplings will stand sealed on their own, which makes the asparagus “tie” purely optional and ornamental.

It’s more common to find strips of chives used to tie off pouch dumplings, but here I’ve used ribbons of asparagus. I figure since it’s part of my filling, I might as well make good use of it in decorating my dumplings too…one less thing to buy at the market, which is always a good thing! Using a vegetable peeler, I make very thin strips of asparagus ribbons that are about 3″ long, and then wrap them around the pinched part of each pouch to make a finished looking dumpling.

Here, I’ve made a light and healthy shrimp and asparagus filling based on my Ha Gao Recipe, but you can fill these pouch dumplings with any kind filling you want. In a pinch, I’ve even stuffed these store-bought dumpling wrappers with lean turkey breakfast sausage with sliced green onions mixed in for a quick and satisfying meal.

Depending on how you like the taste of raw asparagus, you can also wrap these pouches with the asparagus ribbons after steaming if you prefer a greener looking pouch tie. Keep in mind that when using the vegetable peeler, thinner asparagus “ribbons” will be the easiest to use as ties.

A quick dousing of bold soy sauce and hot chili oil make a delicious finish for these dumplings, especially since the shrimp and asparagus filling is mild in flavor. I like to pair these Shrimp & Asparagus Pouches with some Chinese Jasmine Green Tea (one of my favorites!) as the tea is light and fragrant, just like these pretty little dumplings are.

Dim Sum Recipe # 10:  Shrimp & Asparagus Pouch Dumplings

Makes 20 dumplings. 

Ingredients:

{Filling}

6 oz. peeled, deveined shrimp, chopped into 1/4″ pieces

1 tsp soy sauce

1 1/2 tsp sherry

1/2 tsp sesame oil

2 Tbsp non-hydrogenated vegetable oil spread (I used Natural Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks) or butter @ room temperature

1 tsp white sugar

1 tsp salt

1/8 tsp white pepper

1 1/2 tsp cornstarch

3 large cloves garlic, crushed

15 green asparagus stalks, white tough base removed, chopped into 1/4″ pieces

{Wrappers}

20 dumpling wrappers, square-shaped

{Finishes}

5 extra stalks of asparagus, for making asparagus ribbons

soy sauce

chili oil

Equipment:

small bowl of water

bamboo steamer

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

work surface

1 tsp measure

parchment paper, cut in circle to size of bamboo steamer and perforated with 1″ cuts throughout

vegetable peeler

Directions:

1.)  Mix all the filling ingredients together.

2.)  On a work surface, lay out a dumpling wrapper. Spoon a rounded tsp of the filling into the center of the wrapper, then lightly dab the area around the filling with water. Gather the outer edges of the wrapper together and pinch the dumpling in the area just above where the filling sits, then set the dumpling aside. Repeat this process with all 20 dumplings.

3.)  Use a vegetable peeler to peel out very thin ribbons of asparagus. Cut each ribbon into 3″ pieces. You want the ribbon to be soft and pliable, able to be wrapped around the pinched area on the dumplings. If the asparagus ribbons are too stiff, soak them in a small bowl of hot water for a few minutes until they are malleable and limp, blot them with a paper towel, then try to use them again. Wrap the ribbons around each dumpling to create a pouch-like look, then place them in a bamboo steamer lined with parchment.

4.)  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, then steam for 8-10 minutes while water is on full boil the entire time. Eat the pouch dumplings fresh, with plenty of soy sauce and chili oil.

Tea of the Week: Spicely Organic’s Sweet Turmeric Kick

Sweet Tumeric If you’re looking for a tea to tip off the start of autumn, Spicely Organic’s Sweet Turmeric Kick will get things moving into full swing. This “tea” actually isn’t tea-based at all. Instead, it combines the warm flavors of ground turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon into a bright and soothing herbal blend that’s completely camellia sinensis free.

Spicely Organics is a San Francisco based company well-known for their huge variety of organic spices, so making a spice-based tea is certainly natural leap for them. Sweet Turmeric Kick’s light, lingering notes of honey-like sweetness come from vanilla powder and stevia. The spicy and sweet flavors meld together to make a snappy yet smooth cup of tea.

After brewing, expect the ground spices to pool at the bottom of your teacup or teapot, so periodically stir the tea if you want the full taste of the spices to come through in every sip. You can also try steeping the tea in regular milk, almond milk, or soy milk for some added heft and creaminess. On a cool fall day and even into winter, the brew will taste delicious this way.

Tasting Notes for Spicely Organic’s Sweet Turmeric Kick:

BREWING TIPS:  A half teaspoon for every 8 ounces doesn’t seem like much but it’s the perfect amount! Brew at 200-210 degrees F and enjoy warm.

THE BLEND:  Bright, auburn-orange powder with the tiniest fibers of ginger flecked throughout.

THE SCENT:  The blend itself smells earthy, slightly mustardy, and peppery. Once it’s brewed, the tea smells lighter and sweeter, and has a honey-like essence.

THE STEEP:  Brews to the most beautiful shade of bright, sunny orange. The brew is slightly cloudy when you first brew it, but it will become clearer once the spices settle. The steep tastes of butternut squash, pumpkin pie, and sweet melon.

GET IT:  The blend is available at Spicely Organics’s website.

FOOD PAIRING:  This would be perfect with Indian foods like a fresh piece of Spice in the City’s Garlic Naan Bread or My Food Tapestry’s Beetroot Parathas. The tea would also be great for breakfast with other hearty breads like muffins and whole grain bread or even french toast or pancakes.

Smoked Salmon Macarons

Every time I think I’ve made my last set of macarons, I come up with some new and interesting flavor that I can’t resist experimenting with. This is probably a good thing, because when it comes to macaron making it’s always a good idea to keep your skills up. It took me months to create my first normal looking macarons and the last thing I want to do is forget all those skills I worked so hard to build!

Smoked Salmon Macarons are an unexpected twist on this classic French sandwich cookie. This time, these elegant shells are filled with a smoked salmon mousse made of Boursin cheese, smoked salmon, and a generous squeeze of lemon juice. This is a savory filling, the type you would typically find in a tea sandwich or even on top of a bagel. While the macaron shell remains sweet, the filling provides salty contrast in each crunchy and chewy bite.

These macarons are perfect for an afternoon tea, bridal shower, or even as a fancy starter for a dinner party. Dress them up with fresh or dried herbs like chives and dill for a pretty finish. Simply mix the herbs into the filling or even just scatter them on top of the shells just after piping them out.

If you are a person who loves the combination of sweet and salty these are the treat for you. A grassy Chinese or Japanese green tea would be delicious with these Smoked Salmon Macarons. The vegetal tasting green tea brew will help all the fresh lemon and herb flavors to shine bright.

Just when you thought you’d tasted the most unique flavors of French Macarons, here’s one more to try that you probably won’t spot in the pastry case of your local pâtisserie! Happy Friday and Bon Appétit!

Smoked Salmon French Macarons

Makes 35 macaron sandwiches.

Ingredients:

{Macaron Shells}

dried chives or dill

{Filling}

4 oz smoked salmon

5 oz package Boursin cheese, at room temperature

2 Tbsp lemon juice

1/2 oz fresh chives or dill, finely chopped

black pepper to taste

Equipment:

food processor

rubber spatula

piping bag fitted with #847 star tip

Directions:

1.)  Make the macaron shells (without the green tea powder). If you’d like to decorate the tops of the shells with herbs, scatter them on just after piping out the macarons in step 8. After baking, match shells into pairs based on size and shape. Set the shells aside to cool.

2.)  Make the filling by placing the smoked salmon, cheese, lemon juice, and pepper into a food processor and processing until everything is evenly mixed. Mix in the chopped herbs gently with a rubber spatula.

3.)  Place the smoked salmon cheese filling into the piping bag. Fill one macaron shell from each pair with a 2 tsp dollop of the filling, then top with the other matching macaron shell.

4.)  Ideally, let the macarons set in the fridge in a covered container for a few hours before serving. This way, the flavors of the filling have a chance to meld with the shells.