Enjoying the Simple Pleasures of Life, While Living in a Complicated World

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  • 12 bean chili pot and container for freezing
  • WC pears in glaspanfor pear tart
  • soup roasted veggie soup

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A Tea Story~Enjoying A Cuppa of Teavana

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Today, I brewed a pot of Teavana’s ‘Peach Tranquility’ and paired it with a lovely slice of panettone from Trader Joes…Tea time delight! The light, buttery texture and citrus flavors complimented the tea perfectly.

A visit to Teavana has been on my ‘To-Do’ list for quite some time. Searching for new sources of tea is a favorite past time of mine and the prospect of tasting new teas is something I look forward to.

My first impression entering the shop was: immaculately clean, well-organized, uncluttered and  displays were attractive and polished. My eyes were drawn to the cast iron tea pots, especially, the blue teapot with birds  circling the outside. I learned the inside is enameled, making  for easy cleaning. My main reason for considering purchasing an iron teapot that costs nearly $100 dollars?  Breakage. I wouldn’t have to replace it due to breakage, hairline cracks and chipping that china, porcelain and earthenware teapots are susceptible to from normal use. However, I did purchase one of their unique, Perfectea Maker teapots that does NOT pour from a spout. You place it over your cup and it pours perfectly strained tea from the underside of the teapot.

The staff: well trained and VERY informative. I was given a tour by a host, and as I asked lots of questions, was provided with knowledgable answers. There is a daily ‘tea du jour’ available for sampling, along with their version of ‘sugar’ was a delightful feature.

After my host gave me a tour of the store, I was directed to the counter overlooking an entire wall of tea. There were so many categories of tea, I was a bit overwhelmed where to begin. Thankfully, the store was not busy at the time of my visit, so I could take my time and not feel hurried as my host took me through the different categories. I was impressed I could see and smell each tea I requested. The assortment was dizzying to keep track of, and  even though I had quite a good idea what I wanted to bring home and sample…I was intrigued by the variety flavored teas. In the end, I chose quite a variety to bring home consisting of: flavored, herbal, green, white and black teas.

One suggestion: Visit Teavana’s website (www.teavana.com) before visiting one of their stores.

Now about price: Teavana teas are a bit pricey, compared to other tea suppliers, like Harney & Sons. However, you can see and smell teas before you buy them and have your questions answered on the spot. Another plus: you can re-brew a pot of tea several  times in succession without losing flavor.

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Forgoing purchasing tea tins, I placed all of the teas in canning jars and transferred the labels when I arrived home. I was excited to use Teavana’s Perfectea Maker for the first time, and have to admit, it’s ingenious design makes brewing and straining a pot of loose tea, simple and easy.

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In the morning, ‘Oprah Chai’ is a favorite of mine and delightful anytime during the day. Herbal teas are very soothing in the evening. Black teas are refreshing and flavored teas add wonderful variety to tea time. It’s a bit of a culinary adventure pairing flavored teas with different desserts to experience new taste sensations.

Visiting Teavana is a pleasant tea adventure! If you’re a first time customer….Visit their website (write down a list of teas you’d like to see) and plan your visit to a store. Find a time when the store is not busy so you can take your time, ask plenty of questions and peruse the wall of tea at your leisure. Most of all, have fun! XO Annie

 

 

 

Cooking Recipes of Jacques Pepin~ Egg and Swiss Chard Gratin

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Growing up, my mother and I watched cooking televisions together. Julia Child was a marvel and the one she most identified with, The Galloping Gourmet was the most entertaining (she loved his British accent) and her favorite was…Jacques Pepin. She cooked dishes very much like his, made with fresh vegetables, sauces and stock she made from scratch.

We NEVER went out to eat in restaurants and when McDonald’s opened a fast-food place in town, she was perplexed at the thought of “fast food”.  She cooked every meal with what she had on hand from a menu she created from weekly sales posted in the newspaper or what was featured at the butcher’s. She could poach eggs perfectly (my favorite) and even though her kitchen was very simple, without the latest gadgetry (we didn’t have a dishwasher or a microwave; toaster ovens and food processors hadn’t been invented yet) she turned out wonderful food . Her goulash, salads, ice box cookies, dressing, and hamburgers are still talked about…and those are just a few of her recipes she became well-known for in our family. Every fall, I crave her vegetable stew and yams sweetened with maple syrup.

I’ve continued watching cooking programs on PBS and Jacques Pepin is still MY favorite. His new series, “Jacques Pepin Heart & Soul” is an intimate look into his career in the kitchen, special moments in his life and family all wrapped up in his final series. I’m looking forward to more episodes and purchasing his book.

This recipe featured in the Episode ‘Recipes at Le Pelican’ was inspiring! So much so, I immediately went out and bought the ingredients I didn’t have on hand, and made it the next day! It’s very easy to make and it’s layered with marvelous flavors. I added diced, smoked country ham and  it complemented the dish perfectly!  This recipe is recreated from my notes…

I miss you, Mom.


 


Eggs and Swiss Chard Gratin

Recipe adapted from Jacques Pepin’s book: “Heart & Soul”

A bunch of Swiss Chard (I used rainbow Swiss chard)

1 cup mushrooms, washed and sliced

1 1/2 cups smoked country ham, diced in small cubes

8 eggs, hard-boiled and peeled (2 eggs per person) and sliced

1 1/2 cups Swiss cheesse, grated

Salt and pepper

Béchamel Sauce

1 tablespoon, flour

1 tablespoon butter

1 cup milk

Pinch of salt and pepper.

In a sauce pan melted 1 tablespoon of butter, add 1 tablespoon of flour and stirring with a whisk stir flour mixture for several minutes, add milk, salt and pepper. Stir continually until sauce is thickened. 

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Lightly butter casserrole dish. Wash and slice mushrooms. Peel (under cool, running water) and slice, hard-boiled eggs.

Preheat a large pan on the stove over medium heat. Wash  (do not dry) Swiss chard and chop into 2-inch segments. Place wet chard in pan and a pinch of salt; reduce heat to low, cover and steam. Check often so it doesn’t burn. Note: It may appear to be a lot of chard, but it drastically cooks down to a small amount. Place witled chard in bottom of casserole. Return pan to heat and add 1 tablespoon of butter. When melted add sliced mushrooms and cook over medium heat for 3-4 minutes.

Assemble casserole

Place chard on the bottom as the first layer. Followed by a layer of cooked, sliced mushrooms, then layer country ham. Arrange  sliced, hard boiled eggs over the ham. Ladle bechamel sauce over layers and top with  grated, Swiss cheese.

Bake at 350-degrees until cheese is completely melted and lightly browned. Serve.

A Tea Time Story~ Rose Themed Tea with a Long Distance Friend

The other day, the mail arrived. Normally, it’s a ‘meh’ moment until I spotted a package that was addressed to me from my friend, Karen, who lives in Wisconsin. Karen and I met on Facebook when I posted a picture of a mismatched, vintage set of china with a lovely rose pattern.  Karen contacted me and mentioned she had a beautiful platter with a rose pattern, and would I like to have it. A few days later, it arrived and it was a perfect mismatch. Can there be such a thing? YES! Is it possible to have a dear, close friend…Even though you’ve never met them? YES!

In our chats together,  we discovered we were kindred spirits in our many, shared interests and have been friends ever since.


However, on this particular day, her  package held  a lovely surprise…Russian Tea Cakes! As it happened, I was making a tea tray and her package held the perfect, made-from-scratch treat! Karen also included her family recipe for these melt in your mouth cookies and it made my day! What a marvelous treat from a sweet and thoughtful friend.

 My rose themed tea tray set with Roy Kirkham ‘English Rose’ China and Karen’s melt in your mouth, buttery Russian tea cakes served with Harney & Sons~Rose Scented Tea. I’m sharing her wonderful recipe with you! Thank you, Karen !

Karen’s Russian Tea Cakes

Ingredients:

1 cup butter

1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar

2 1/4 cups of all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

3/4 cups finely chopped nuts

Directions:

Cream together butter and sugar and flour, gradually. Add salt and work with hands to mix. Add vanilla and nuts. Roll into balls. Place on greased cookie sheet. Bake 14-17 minutes at 400-degrees. While still warm, roll in confectioner’s sugar and when cool, roll again. Enjoy, Kathy!

Vegetarian Crockpot Chili

Temperatures are slowly dropping and as the nights are closing in, there’s an ever-present chill in the air. It’s soup season! This soup is packed with good things and makes for a deliciously hot and hearty meal. I’m testing new recipes using my slow-cooker and this soup is perfect for starting in the morning. Be prepared for wonderful aroma’s greeting you as you walk in the door to a home cooked meal! There’s nothing like a bowl of homemade soup to warm you up on a chilly evening.

12 bean chilAAi

Vegetarian Crockpot Chili
2 cups, of dried bean mix (I love Costco’s Gourmet Bean Blend-Epicurean Speciaity)
1 can (28 ounces) of whole tomatoes
2 cans (15 ounces) tomato sauce
1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
1 1/2 cups of onions, diced
2 cups celery, diced1 green pepper, diced
1 small jar, diced jalapeno peppers (optional)
8 cups of water
1/2 teaspoon, fresh ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon cocoa
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons, chili powder
1 1/2 tablespoons, cumin
1/2 teaspoon, Kosher salt
After the beans have cooked 8 hours add:
1/2 – 3/4 cup, acini di pepe pasta
1/4 cup, red quinoa

Carefully pick through beans and remove any foreign particles. Place dried beans in a large sieve and rinse under cold, running water. Empty beans into a large, dutch oven and add 6 cups cold water. Soak overnight (or a minimum 4 hours) and strain water and beans through a sieve or colander. Rinse beans with cold water and set aside.

In a large slow-cooker, add whole tomatoes and mash with a potato masher. Add tomato sauce, vegetables and spices. Add beans, cover and cook on low for 8 hours Add acini di pepe pasta and red quinoa and cook for another 2 hours with lid off. Serve with shredded Cheddar cheese and crushed corn chips.

12 bean chili pot and container for freezing

Time saving tip: This soup freezes beautifully, and is a great make ahead meal when life gets hectic and there’s no time to cook. Enjoy! Annie

Buttermilk Banana Bread

Here’s a banana bread that not only tastes good…is healthy for you! Fall is a time for baking, sweaters, apple cider, apple pie, homemade baked bread, comfort food, quilts, cocoa, good books and movies, knitting or crochet projects and getting cozy as the nights begin to close in. It’s also the time for enjoying glorious Fall colors, visiting apple orchards, walks in the woods, raking leaves and bonfires. Don’t forget a nice slice of banana bread slathered with butter. Annie

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Buttermilk Banana Bread

1 cup butter
1 1/2 cup sugar
4 cups flour
2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chia seeds (food grade) (optional)
2 tablespoons flaxseed (optional)
4 eggs
1/3 cup buttermilk
4-5 ripe bananas, pureed
1/2 cup nuts, roasted (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 2 loaf pans, and set aside.
In a large  mixing bowl combine: flour, baking soda, salt, chia seeds, and flaxseed. Stir together until well blended.
In a mixer on high: cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Turn mixer down to medium speed, add eggs, one at a time. Add pureed bananas and buttermilk (add more buttermilk if mixture is too stiff). Stop and scrape mixing bowl sides, as needed. On low speed, add dry ingredients and turn increase mixer to medium; add nuts of you wish.

Fill both loaf pans to 3/4 full, place on a cookie sheet and bake in a preheated oven for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Asparagus and Bacon Quiche~ A Springtime Treat

Asparagus Bacon Quiche

When asparagus is abundant in the Spring, making this quiche is delightful with fresh, gorgeous layers of flavor. Served with a salad and a nice glass of wine, you’ll have a delicious meal to share with family or friends. I’ve adapted this recipe from a Taste of Home recipe:

Serves 6

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Ingredients

1 unbaked 9″ pastry shell (make your own or buy ready made crust)
1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
6 strips of baked bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups half and half
1 cup grated Swiss cheese, plus more to sprinkle
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
! tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon dried basil

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Bake bacon in the oven or cook in a skillet. Remove bacon when done and place on paper towels and pat dry. Slice bacon into 1-inch segments, and set aside. Place asparagus pieces in a steamer and steam for 8-10 minutes, remove from steamer and dry on paper towels. (You can also place asparagus in a covered saucepan with an inch of water and simmer until tender crisp.) While the asparagus is steaming, line a 9-inch glass pie pan with a crust; prick sides and bottom with a fork. Bake at 4oo degrees for 12 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl add: eggs, half and half, salt, pepper, Dijon mustard and dried basil. Beat with a whisk until well blended.

Place asparagus spears and bacon pieces on the bottom of the pie curst and sprinkle with 1 cup of swiss cheese. Pour egg mixture over fillings and sprinkle 1/4 cup of swiss cheese over the top. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes and reduce heat to 350. Continue to bake for 20-25 minutes until the surface is lightly golden, or until a toothpick or knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Late Summer Pear Tart

The natural sweetness of pears makes for scrumptious desserts, especially easy to make cobblers and tarts. In my quest to make healthier desserts… this recipe is filled with summer goodness and wholesome ingredients. Fresh ripe pears have so much to offer this time of year. This tart so very easy to make (no crust) and if you don’t have pears on hand, any ripe fruit will do. Enjoy!~ Annie

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Late Summer Pear Tart

Ingredients
4 ripe pears
Batter:
2/3 cup flour
Zest of one lemon
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon of salt
3 eggs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter-melted
1/2 cup milk (I use 2%)
Juice of 1 lemon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter or spray a large, glass pie plate (mine: 11.5-inches).
In a large bowl combine: flour, lemon zest, sugar and salt. Whisk together until well-blended.
In a medium sized bowl blend together with a whisk, stirring until well combined:  eggs, butter milk and lemon juice.
Make a well in the dry ingredients. Slowly, add all the wet ingredients: whisking all the while until the batter just comes together and is smooth.

Once you have the batter prepared, core pears and cut into 1/2-inch slices. Place in the bottom of glass pan. Pour the batter over the pears. Bake in a preheated oven for 25-30 minutes or until it is set in the middle. Let cool, and serve with a dollop of whipped cream. Garnish with a mint sprig. If you can resist temptation… Chill overnight in the refrigerator, and allow the flavors to deepen and blend together. It’s absolutely scrumptious!!

WC Pear tart on blue spode plate

 

Pour the batter over the sliced pears
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Bake until the batter is set in the middle
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It’s irresistible!!

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This is a wonderful confection- perfectly light, lemony and filled with summer goodness.
Serve with a dollop of whipped cream and enjoy! ~ Annie

Almond Pear Tea Bread

It’s mid-September and pears are abundantly available for canning or baking luscious confections to share with family and friends!  I’m partial to making tea breads with seasonal fruit. Here’s a wonderful tea cake using fresh, fragrant and perfectly ripened pears, almonds and cardamon giving this tea bread a lovely depth of flavor.

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Almond Pear Tea Bread
Makes one large loaf.

Ingredients

1 cup freshly pureed ripe pears (2 medium pears-peeled and cored)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/4 cup milk
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
3 teaspoons grated lemon peel
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamon
1/2 cup sliced almonds

Lemon Cardamon Glaze:
In a medium mixing bowl:  With a whisk, combine ingredients and whisk until smooth.
1 1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon butter, softened
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter or spray 9 1/2″ x 5 1/2″ loaf pan. I also like to line the loaf with parchment paper so the loaf doesn’t stick to sides or bottom. Parchment paper also makes it easy to remove the loaf from the pan when it’s finished baking.

In a small bowl:
Combine with a wire whisk: pureed pears, oil, egg, lemon peel and milk. Whisk until well blended.

In a large mixing bowl:
Add: flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cardamon> Stir until all ingredients are well blended. Fold in pear mixture until the dry ingredients are moistened. Gently stir in almonds. Spoon dough into the prepared loaf pan. Bake for 55-60 minutes, until the loaf tests done with a cake tester. Remove from pan and cool on a wire rack. If you’re using parchment paper, allow the loaf to cool about 10 minutes before removing.

While the loaf is baking, make the glaze and set it aside. When the cake has cooled, drizzle glaze over the top and sides and let it set for about 20 minutes.

This almond pear tea bread is lovely served with tea or coffee, along with sliced fresh pears and a dollop of whipped cream garnished with a sprig of mint.
Enjoy!

Annie’s Roasted Vegetable Soup

This time of year Farmer’s Markets are teeming with fresh vegetables and herbs! Delicious goodness from local sources and finish off this soup with homemade chicken stock, you’re in store for summer goodness in a bowl. Next time you buy a rotisserie chicken, make a flavorful stock from the carcass. Here’s my recipe for Rotisserie Chicken Stock.

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Roasted Vegetable Soup

Ingredients
1 quart of Chicken stock
3- medium red onions, rough chopped
4 large carrots, rough chopped
4 ribs celery, rough chopped
2 parsnips, rough chopped
5 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half
4-6 cups of cherry tomatoes, cut in half
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Fresh basil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Add all of the vegetables  in a large zip-loc bag and drizzle generously with olive oil. Season with a large pinch of salt and 1/2 teaspoon freshly, ground pepper. Close bag and smush vegetables until all of the contents are well coated. Open zip-loc bag and empty veggies onto the cookie sheet. Place in the oven for 45-50 minutes. Check the last 10 minutes to be sure vegetables are thoroughly cooked and slightly caramelized. Cool and store in a container until ready to use. This is a great make ahead soup…You can roast the vegetables one day, and make the soup the next!

To Make the Soup
In a blender add a generous portion of vegetables and add chicken broth to begin pureeing mixture. Puree for 20 seconds, and add more vegetables and broth to a desired consistency.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  I like adding 2 tablespoons freshly minced basil from my garden. I also like to use fresh basil or basil flowers as a garnish when serving this fresh garden soup!

Optional seasonings:
1/4 teaspoon ground celery salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin with 1/2 teaspoon chili powder

Annie’s Awesome Simple Syrup for Iced Tea

The hot days of August often seem to stretch on for days without relief, and the only beverage that surely will quench a thirst is fresh, brewed iced tea. There’s one addition to creating a deliciously cold glass of tea….herbal simple syrups! They’re easy to make, and if you plant a garden with mint, lemon verbena and other herbs; there’s no end to the variety you can make! You can find more of my recipes for simple syrup…
Mint & Lemon Verbena Simple Syrup
Rose Petal Simple Syrup
Ginger Simple Syrup

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Annie’s Awesome Simple Syrup for Iced Tea


Ingredients

2 cups water
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup torn, mint leaves
1/2 cup torn, lemon verbena leaves
4 large pieces of candied ginger

Ginger, lemon verbena & mint simple syrup~ perfect for iced tea! It has a nice kick of heat, along with a lemony, refreshing taste of mint. Wonderful for sweetening iced tea, and other beverages.
In a medium saucepan: add 2 cups water & 2 cups sugar. Over medium heat- stir until sugar is completely dissolved.. Allow the syrup become completely clear and reach a gentle simmer.

While syrup is clarifying- Rinse 1/2 cup of torn mint leaves, 1/4 cup torn lemon verbena leaves, dry on a paper towel. Place 4 large pieces of candied ginger in a medium zip-loc bag; pulverize with a rolling pin into small particles.

Once the syrup has reached a simmer, add mint, candied ginger & lemon verbena to syrup. Turn off the heat, and allow the syrup to cool over the next two hours. Strain cooled simple syrup into a jar (I like canning jars) or a bottle. Will keep for a week refrigerated. Use in iced tea or other beverages. Enjoy!

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