I'm a Little Teapot
2018 has begun with bitter cold temperatures. It was reported that on New Year’s Day, 90% of the United States was below freezing. Parts of the country that are normally pleasant at this time of year were in the 20s. Places that are normally cold---forget about it! Brrrrrrr! Here in East Tennessee, we have seen the teens and even single digits. The wind chill has brought the “feels like” temp as low as minus 5 degrees. Being outdoors has been a challenge best taken in small doses, and only if dressed in layers. Indoors is the place to be, but even there, my frugal Yankee nature will not allow me to blast the heat until I am truly warm and comfortable. Sweaters, scarves, afghans, long johns, wooly socks and fingerless gloves all help in getting me through these chilly days and nights, but one of my favorite ways to warm from the inside out is with a hot, steaming mug of tea. As both a New Englander and a somewhat romantic Moonchild, I have collected some beautiful and delicate porcelain teacups and teapots over the years, but today, when it is shiver-me-timbers weather, I want a large, sturdy mug. Something I can wrap both hands around. I want the steaming tea to warm my face as the thick ceramic thaws my fingers. Once I hear that kettle whistle, I am already warmer.
Growing up, my Mom drank coffee, my Dad drank tea, and we youngsters drank cocoa. It wasn’t until we were teenagers that we were allowed to drink tea, and it was a Very. Big. Deal. I did love it, though, and took mine with sugar and milk. As the years passed, the sugar got less and less and I would totally forgo milk depending on the tea. I branched out into the world of coffee once I began working in the skyscrapers of downtown Boston. It was the thing to do back then, but my love of tea endured. To this day, one shelf of my cupboard is devoted to tea. Bags, tins, boxes, English, Irish, Chinese and Chai. White, green, black, oolong, rooibos and herbal, with many more still left to explore. Just opening the cupboard door brings a smile.
As the years have passed, my sensitivity to caffeine has increased. This makes me a one-and-done cup of coffee drinker. Although tea has less of the stimulant than it’s jazzed up sister beverage, I still try to keep my intake moderate. I have concocted a totally caffeine-free and delicious take on a fruity Chai-spiced tea that I can sip throughout the day (and evening) and often do---especially in this freezing weather. Just add boiling water to my SPICED TEA BASE, sweeten with a little honey and a splash of fresh fruit juice and begin to feel the thaw. It pairs perfectly with one of my husband Will’s creations, a DRIED FRUIT AND NUT “FRITTER”. The word fritter is in quotes because it is not a fritter in the deep-fried sense, but more a cross with an oven baked scone. It is packed with sweetness, all from the dried fruit, with a nutty crunch that just begs for a cup of tea.
If you are one of the many Americans wondering when you will be released from the icy grip of January, have hope. Spring is a mere 57 days away! Until then, try my tea (and Will’s “fritters”)---and if you are in Australia, where it is midsummer, my tea is delicious iced as well!
SPICED “TEA” BASE
Makes 1 quart of tea base
4 cups water
6 cardamom pods
6 black peppercorns
6 slices of fresh ginger (quarter sized)
6 2-inch slices of fresh orange peel
1 cinnamon stick (about 4 inches)
Add ins (choose 1):
Lemon or lime
Honey or other sweetener to taste
In a saucepan, place water and spices. Bring water just to a light simmer. Do not boil. Cover pan and keep at a very light simmer for 20 minutes. Turn off heat and let mixture steep for at least 20 minutes or until fully cooled. Strain tea base through a fine sieve and store in a quart mason jar.
To make tea: In a large mug (or teapot) add 1 part tea base and 2 parts boiling water. If adding a fruit juice to the tea, use 1 part juice to the mug or pot. (You may also add green or black tea to the mixture by steeping loose leaves or tea bag(s) in the mug or teapot)
Sweeten to taste with honey or your preferred sweetener.
WILL’S DRIED FRUIT AND NUT “FRITTERS”
Makes 8 servings
2/3 cup half and half, divided
2 large eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ cup walnuts, roughly chopped
½ cup pitted dates (about 6 large dates), roughly chopped
½ cup dried apricots, halved if small, quartered if large
½ cup dried cranberries
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ Tablespoons turbinado sugar
2 Tablespoons butter, divided
Preheat oven to 350°
Preheat a 10-inch high sided oven proof skillet on the stovetop over low heat.
In a large bowl, mix together (with a fork) 1/3 cup of the half and half, 2 eggs and vanilla until frothy. In a small bowl, combine flour and baking powder, and thoroughly blend into egg mixture. Add the second 1/3 cup of half and half, blend until smooth and let batter sit while you prepare the fruit and nuts.
Roughly chop walnuts, dates and apricots. The goal is to have fairly large chunks. Add chopped fruit, nuts and dried cranberries to the batter. Add the salt and sugar, and stir until fruit is evenly distributed throughout the batter. At this point, the batter will be thicker than a pancake batter, and somewhat “sticky”.
To the preheated skillet on the stovetop, add 1 Tablespoon butter that has been cut into 2-3 pieces. Swirl the pan to distribute the butter over entire bottom of the skillet. Before the butter has a chance to brown, add the batter to the c enter of the skillet. The batter will be “tight” enough that it will not run to the edges like a pancake, so take the back of a spoon or spatula and press the batter outward from the center to a thickness of about a half inch. Turn the heat up to medium. When you first see a bubble break the top of the batter, add the final Tablespoon of butter (cut into a few smaller pieces) on the top of the fritter and around the sides. Turn off the stovetop and put the skillet, uncovered, into the oven. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes, then turn oven up to 425° and bake for 10 more minutes until golden brown on the top. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before cutting into wedges and serving.