Monday, October 20, 2008

Hot beverage tips - psst save double-double, grandé bucks!

Grandé bucks got you feeling small? Create your own coffee shop delights at home!
So you’re perplexed about the ever-changing hot beverage choices at your favourite coffee shop? Or, perhaps you’re considering a degree from “Barista University” just to figure out the bizarre lingo required to order a simple cup of coffee or tea. And if it weren’t for all those “grandés” or double-doubles you sucked back over the last year you probably could have bought that little coffeehouse franchise on the corner. Take heart, your expensive love affair with the hot stuff is not unusual. For centuries, folks around the world have enjoyed the ritual of drinking tea or coffee while chatting with their comrades or enjoying a quiet moment to themselves.

In the 15th century in Middle Eastern countries, coffeehouses served as social gathering places where men would meet to drink coffee or tea and talk politics, listen to music, read books, or play chess and backgammon. Thanks to Mr. Twinnings, of Twinnings Tea fame, the “men only’ policy changed in 1717 when he converted his London coffeehouse to a teahouse and began admitting both genders. Several centuries later, coffeehouses could be found in countries around the world serving both coffee and tea to men AND women! In the US and Canada during the 1960’s, political activists held coffeehouses in church basements. Usually a sole singer/guitarist performed onstage while the steamy politics of the day were discussed among guests. The careers of folk singers like Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan were launched via these grassroots. But if you’re feeling a little like Lightnin’ Hopkins in his 1969 Coffeehouse Blues and the high cost of your grandé or double-double is getting you down, try these hot stuff recipes at home. Grab a little milk frother (under $15 at Cdn Tire or Stokes, etc), whip on the Barista apron, strum a few chords on the guitar and create your own oasis for you, your family and friends. Who knows, my friend? Maybe your Espresso Barista degree isn’t blowin’ in the wind afterall!

Spicy Chai Latté
2 tea bags (regular or non-caffeine)
1 ½ cups boiling water
1 ½ cups 2% milk
1 three inch cinnamon stick
3 cloves
3 cardamom pods
1/8 tsp allspice
6 black peppercorns
1 peeled 3 cm quarter-size piece fresh gingerroot
1 tbsp honey to taste

Add spices to boiling water, return to boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Add tea bags and steep for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, heat milk in microwave or saucepan. (Froth warm milk with a milk frother, if desired) Strain tea mixture into mugs. Add hot milk and honey (frothed milk should be scooped on top of each mug of tea mixture).

Pure & Simple Cappuccino
Make Espresso coffee for 2 (Try the President’s Choice brand)
Warm approximately 1/3 cup of milk (if desired add 1 tsp white sugar to the milk before warming)
Pour into a tall container
Froth milk with a milk frother
Pour coffee into a fancy mug and spoon milk over top
Sprinkle with cinnamon, cocoa or nutmeg or all three!
Serves 2

Aztec Hot Chocolate with a fiery twist
1 2/3 cups milk
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
½ or whole red chili pepper, split with seeds removed
1 cinnamon stick, around 3-4"
1 1/2 oz chocolate (bittersweet)
Simmer milk in a saucepan with vanilla bean, cinnamon and chili. Heat through for about a minute. Whisk in grated chocolate, and continue to simmer until melted. Remove from heat and let 'steep' for another 10 minutes. Strain out the spices and serve. Serves 2.

Homemade Spicy Mulled Cider Mix
¾ cup crushed cinnamon sticks
¾ cup chopped dried orange rind
1/3 cup whole allspice
¼ cup cloves
In a jar, combine cinnamon, orange rind, allspice and cloves. Makes about 2 cups. (This mix makes a nice host gift)

To make cider:
4 cups apple juice or half apple juice plus half cranberry juice
2 tbsp Spicy Mulled Cider Mix
In a saucepan, combine apple juice and Spicy Mulled Cider Mix; cover and bring to a simmer. Gently simmer for 20; strain into mugs. Makes 4 servings

Blueberry Tea
Add ¾ oz each Amaretto and Grand Marnier to a warmed snifter glass. Top with 5 oz cold Orange Pekoe or Earl Grey Tea. Garnish with an orange twist and a few fresh blueberries, if desired.

No-Caffeine Extra Zesty Moon Chai
10 1-inch size pieces of peeled ginger
4 cinnamon sticks, broken
1 tsp green cardamom pods
2 1/4 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp cloves, whole
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp licorice root
1/2 tsp allspice
5 cups water
3 tbsp honey
Milk, to taste

Combine everything except milk and honey, in a saucepan. Cover pot and simmer for 45 minutes. Remove the pot from heat, and let sit for another 35 minutes (covered). Strain out the spices and add honey, and honey and milk to taste.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Pumpkins: October’s bounty is versatile, colourful and good for you too!

Mini-pumpkins serve as lovely centrepieces, name card holders (just make a slice to hold the card) and tealight candleholders (slice off top and hollow out) for a Fall dinner table.

It’s October 1535. You’re Jacques Cartier navigating your way up the St. Lawrence River for the first time. Peering through your scope you see scattered patches of large, bright orange round things sitting in the riverbank fields ahead. Hmm? Have you been at sea too long or, are you about to be invaded by an army of very pudgy, misshapen aliens with a serious camouflage problem? Being a seasoned world explorer you pull over and ask the local native people what these orange things are. “Isqoutm squash, monsieur,” they reply. Translation: “Pumpkins”. And so, you and your French confreres are introduced to the monster member of the Cucurbita family, her siblings being the petite squash and svelte-like cucumber. The French named this mysterious large melon the Pepon, then Pompon. The English changed it to Pompion, and finally, the Pumpkin.

Our native people though were the real discoverers of the pumpkin’s many virtues. High in fibre, heart-friendly potassium, vitamins A and C, and good-for-you antioxidant beta-carotene, pumpkin was used as a daily food staple in the native people’s diet long before the colonists landed in North America. In these pre-marshmallow times, as a delicacy, the Native Indians would roast long strips of pumpkin over an open fire. Hollowed out pumpkins also performed double-duty as biodegradable, disposable and nutritious roasting pots in the hot ashes of dying fires. No pot scrubbing required!

But it was the Irish who revealed the pumpkin’s inner magical spirit. Always in pursuit of life, liberty and luck, Irish settlers to North America began the tradition of carving pumpkins into Jack-o-lanterns and placing a piece of coal inside to light up the creation, as part of their Samhain holiday on October 31st to welcome back dead souls. They used turnips in the old country but quickly discovered pumpkins were much easier to hack up in a hurry.

These days pumpkin seeds are used to deworm humans, to prevent prostrate cancer and to relieve burns—not surprising since pumpkins are comprised of 80 per cent water.

With the pumpkin being a lifesaver in so may ways, it’s easy to see why the wise Fairy Godmother reserved a pumpkin carriage to whisk away the one-shoed lady to life-altering bliss in the children’s fairy tale, Cinderella. And, we have lived happily ever after with the pumpkin ever since!

Try these pumpkin pleaser recipes to get you started.

Tasty Bacon-Pumpkin Pasta
Serves 4-6
3-4 cups dry penne pasta (or your favourite pasta)
2 cups pumpkin puree (1 large tin)
6 strips bacon
2 garlic cloves minced
1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
¾ cream or whole milk
pinch of sage
pinch of nutmeg

1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
Toasted chopped pecans for garnish, if desired

Boil penne to al dente. In a deep fry pan cook bacon until crisp, drain on paper towels to absorb grease and dice into thin strips. Discard all but 1 tbsp bacon fat from fry pan. Lower fry pan heat to med-low and cook garlic in remaining bacon fat. Stir often to prevent it from burning. Add the pumpkin, parsley, sage, nutmeg and cream. Stir until warmed. DO NOT BOIL. (If you wish, reserve some of the sauce and Parmesan cheese for another meal at this point.) Drain pasta. Stir Parmesan cheese into pasta, then stir in sauce. Mix well and serve immediately. Top each serving with toasted chopped pecans.

The Crowd-Pleaser Pumpkin Cheesecake
This recipe is easy to make but allow yourself enough time to bake and cool the cake, then chill it overnight. You will need a 9 inch spring form pan and an electric mixer.
2 cups gingersnap cookie crumbs
(PC English style Gingersnaps crushed in a food processor work well)
3 tbsp butter, melted
2 tbsp granulated sugar
(Reserve a tbsp or two of this mixture to sprinkle over the baked cake, if desired)

3 250 g pkgs light cream cheese, softened
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 ½ cups canned pumpkin
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp EACH nutmeg and ginger
2 tbsp milk
1 tbsp bourbon, if desired

Combine ingredients. Press firmly onto bottom and ½ inch up sides of a 9 inch spring form pan. Chill for 1 or more hours.
In a large bowl, using a electric mixer, beat cream cheese and sugars until very smooth. Beat in eggs one at a time, until just blended. Beat in pumpkin, spices, milk, cornstarch and bourbon, until thoroughly combined. Pour into pan. Bake at 350 F for 50-55 minutes or until center of cake is just set. Remove cake from oven and run a knife around sides of pan. Cool at room temperature on a cookie rack. Chill, covered, overnight. To serve, remove sides of pan and garnish as desired with crumb mixture, whipped cream or whole pecans or pralines.

High Fibre Breakfast Pumpkin Muffins
Dry ingredients:
¾ cup bran
¾ cup whole wheat flour
¾ cup white sugar
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ginger
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp cloves
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp soda
½ tsp salt
1 cup raisins or currants

Wet ingredients:
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 egg unbeaten
½ cup canola oil
½ cup plain yogurt

In a bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Add pumpkin, egg, oil and yogurt and stir until just combined. Tip for muffin success: after adding wet ingredients to the dry ingredient mixture, only stir the mixture 17 times! Spoon batter into paper-lined muffin tins. Bake in 400 F oven for 25 minutes or until firm to the touch. Let cool in tin on a rack for 10 minutes. Remove muffins from tin and allow to cool on a cookie rack. Makes 12 muffins.

Bon Appétit!