Acadian Rappie Pie

statue to Evangeline Acadian Rappie Pie

Longfellow’s Acadian heroine Evangeline stands in Port Royal.

The Acadians have kept French language and culture alive in Maritime Canada. And they took these to Louisiana where it still survives as Cajun. But somehow, Louisiana never inherited their real culinary gift –  Acadian rappie pie.

In 1605, Sieur de Mons and his cartographer, Samuel de Champlain, began the first settlement of Port Royal. This is the oldest settlement in North America apart from St. Augustine, Fla.

The beauty of the Bay of Fundy and its sheltered harbour had long been known to the Mi’kmaq people who had lived here for centuries. The French and Mi’kmaq began a long and enduring friendship in the land that became known as Acadie, possibly from the classical name, Arcadia – a place of lasting peace. And the French settlers here were Acadians. Continue reading

Christmas Cookie Canes

I started making Christmas cookie canes when my children were little. They were my alternative to pure sugar candy canes; we even hung them on the tree. There’s just one cup of icing sugar in 48 cookies! My kids loved them and they continue to be a favourite with my grandchildren.

They are undoubtedly fiddly to make, but well worth the effort. And when the children are a little older, they can help make them. They actually enjoy rolling the little pieces of dough into snakes, though they may need help twining them.

By the way, I make the dough in my Cuisinart food processor. When I add food colouring  to half the dough, I use the Cuisinart to blend the colour into the dough. It makes the whole job soooo much easier and faster. The time-consuming bit is dividing the red dough and the plain dough each into 48 small lumps. Note: start by dividing each colour ball into quarters and divide each quarter into 12 small balls and roll these before starting on the next quarter.  Working on one at a time prevents the remaining dough from drying out while you roll.

RECIPE

  • ½ cup butter
  • ½ cup shortening
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • red food colouring (use the paste kind, available at cake decorating stores, to get a really intense red colour)

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Mix the butter, shortening and sugar very well. Add the egg and flavouring and blend well. Finally, blend in flour and salt. Divide the dough in half and colour half with the red colour.

Divide each colour into four equal balls. Each ball should produce 12 teaspoon-sized pieces of dough.

Roll one red and one plain piece into snakes, then entwine the snakes to form a cookie cane with a curve. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet to bake for 9 minutes. DO NOT brown.  Cool on a rack. Enjoy!

Ginger Shortbread

Put delicate shortbread and zippy ginger together for a perfect holiday treat.

The sweet holiday season is upon us. Decadent chocolate, gooey caramel and super-sweet peppermint are all nice, but to my mind, nothing beats a well-made shortbread cookie. That rich, subtly sweet, melt-in-your-mouth flavour just can’t be topped by any iced sugar cookie or bar. Like most, I have shortbread recipes and will go to the wall to defend why they are the best. 

Regardless, any recipe worthy of the shortbread name will include the same fundamental ingredients: real butter, sugar and flour. The variations thereafter are as numerous “as sand on the seashore”.

It will come as no surprise that shortbread traces its roots back to the peasant class of Scotland. Shortbread’s predecessor was bannock (biscuit bread), made by baking leftover bread dough on a very low heat until it hardened into what we might call a cracker today.  Over time, the yeast was replaced with butter and the flour with oats, creating a rich, crumbly biscuit.

The earliest shortbread was flavoured with caraway seeds and it is said Mary Queen of Scots was a fan. In fact, she is credited with boosting shortbread’s popularity by making it acceptable for the rich to eat this with tea. Over time the wealthy replaced oats – the grain of the common people – with flour and sugar – only used by the upper classes because of their cost. And the shortbread we know today was born.

Our family’s favourite shortbread comes from a recipe provided by a cooking instructor and friend, Jan Knox. Jan is no longer with us, but her recipes has been delighting my family for 30 years!

Ginger Shortbread

A favourite with our friends and family. I use a food processor for easy preparation but the ginger must be incorporated by hand. I don’t add the ginger powder but do if you like it really gingery. BTW, I’m generous with the crystallized ginger measurement!

Ginger shortbread
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 3 tbsp. chopped preserved ginger

Blend the butter until smooth and work in the sugar, then flour, ground ginger and salt. Once you have a ball of dough, work in the ginger with your fingers. Compact into a long roll in waxed paper and refrigerate for at least two hours.

Ginger shortbread cookies in oven

Preheat oven to 325 F. Cut into ¼ inch slices. Bake on an ungreased baking sheet for 8-10 minutes. Be careful not to overcook; the edges should just be starting to turn golden.

The Perfect Cup of Tea

pouring tea into a china cup - The Perfect cup of tea I unashamedly admit to being a tea granny. I start my day with a pot of tea and drink two cups. Do I make the perfect cup of tea? I think, after all these years, I have the formula down pretty much pat. But I have been foxed by awful water (I always take tea with me on my travels but sometimes the local water is unpleasant). And I have taken to carrying a china mug with me (see below for why).

To make the perfect cup of tea, always start with a clean pot that has never been used for coffee or any other strong beverage. (This is my biggest beef with airline tea – it’s invariably in a pot previously used for coffee).

Being of British background, I would add that a china or thin-edged cup is essential. I will swear that tea tastes better in a china cup! Never buy tea from a take-out spot that puts it in a foam cup.

Silver tea pots aside, I prefer my tea made in a simple ceramic or china tea pot. Many purists will debate this, but I find that metal surfaces leach their own flavour into the tea. After all, tea contains tannic acid.

I’m not a snob. I drink bagged tea but I’m careful to choose good quality teas. I have used tea balls for loose tea but here again, you run the risk of a metallic taste if the quality of the metal is poor. I often use a Teefilter bag (paper) when using loose tea as it’s easier to lift the whole thing out and prevent the tea from stewing. Note that bagged tea is usually composed of broken leaves so they require a lot less time to brew than whole leaves.

How to make the perfect cup of tea

  1. Boil fresh cold water.
  2. Add a little of the boiled water to the pot. Swirl to warm the pot, empty, then add tea and more boiling water. Note, in a chat with Sam Twining of Twining’s Tea, he affirmed this as a good way to do it because by the time you swirl the water and empty the pot, the hot water in the kettle is just off the boil, ideal for tea making.
  3. How long you steep the tea is up to you but if you know the variety of tea, you can get guidance on what’s optimum. Many fine restaurants in Britain now use a small coffee press (never before used for coffee!!!) for serving tea. The guest can watch the water darken, the tea leaves unfurl; then press down and pour the brewed tea.
  4. Tea should be served with milk or lemon (not cream or non-dairy creamer). Sugar is optional.
  5. There are two schools as to whether milk should be added before or after the tea is poured into the cup. It may not be as genteel, but I favour the latter since it lets me control exactly how strong I want my cup to be.

Did you know you can cook with tea? Check here.

A quick Menu of Basic Tea Types:

All tea comes from the same plant – Camelia sinensis – but their country of origin and their handling makes a big difference.

White teas: These are picked from the first spring buds and may even have some down on the leaves. They are kept out of sunlight to prevent them from becoming green. These are slightly fermented and usually have a delicate flavour and aroma. They also have a very high level of polyphenols.

Pu-Erh: These teas from China age beautifully and not uncommonly may be as much as 50 years old! Chinese researchers believe this deliciously earthy tea lowers cholesterol.

Keemun: A black Chinese tea with a fruity flavour; a key part of an English Breakfast tea blend.

Macha: Japanese green tea powder made from gyokuro leaves which have been steamed and dried.

Sencha: Japanese green leaf tea with a robust, grassy flavour and mild aroma.

Lapsang Souchong: An acquired taste, this smoky flavoured tea is withered over pine or cedar fires, pan-fried, rolled and oxidized before being fully dried in bamboo baskets over burning pine.

Oolong: The leaves are wilted, bruised and dried. Oolongs lie between green and black teas in that they are partly fermented. The flavour is not as grassy as green tea and a great oolong will have many nuances of flavour.

Darjeeling: A highly prized tea from India with a floral aroma and somewhat astringent, tannic characteristics, and a spiciness often referred to by tea connoisseurs as muscatel.

 

Have a cuppa – it’s tea time

man pouring tea - Have a cuppa- its tea time

Pouring a cuppa at the famed afternoon tea at The Empress in Victoria, BC

Feeling tired, sad, upset, cold, in need of a lift?  In much of the world the answer to all these is tea time. Have a cuppa! After all, tea is the universal panacea for all ills, especially in Britain..

But tea isn’t British. It is said to have been discovered in China by Emperor Shen Nung in 2700 B.C. Unlike pestilence-ridden Europe, the Chinese made a habit of boiling water before consuming it. The story is told that some dry leaves fell into the emperor’s pot of boiling water and the aroma and flavor were so good, he brewed it regularly thereafter. The Portuguese brought tea to their court in the 16th century. From there it moved to the British court. In 1660, tea sold for 15 shillings a pound ($1800 in today’s terms), making it a drink for the aristocracy alone.

Thomas Twining's tea shop - Have a cuppa - it's tea timeIn 1706, Thomas Twining bought his first coffee shop in The Strand in London and started blending tea. Ladies sent their footmen in to buy tea as they couldn’t enter the shop, (this was a male domain). So Thomas opened three tea shops where ladies could be served with propriety. When Thomas’ grandson was elected chairman of the tea traders in 1784, he convinced the Prime Minister that the tea tax should be reduced.

“It was this act that enabled the British to become the tea drinkers we are today,” says Samuel Twining, current president of Twining’s Tea. “But for that, we’d still be drinking beer for breakfast.”

“Tea is healthy. It is totally natural, and because it contains anti-oxidant flavenoids, it fights free radicals in the body. So tea is good for you,” says Louise Roberge, president of the Tea Association of Canada, enumerating tea’s virtues. “It has less caffeine than coffee, it tastes good, and (without additions) has no calories.”

tea plant - Feeling tired, sad, upset, cold, in need of a lift? Have a cuppa! In much of the world the answer to all these is a cup of tea – the universal panacea for all ills.

The tea plant – Camelia sinensis.

Black, green and oolong tea all come from the same plant – Camelia sinensis. The leaves of black tea have been withered in the air so the leaves are completely oxidized. “Think of an apple, which turns black when exposed to the air,” suggests Roberge.

For green tea, the leaves are steamed to prevent oxidation so they become bright green. “Like steaming broccoli,” adds Roberge. Oolong is between black and green, with a shorter oxidation time than black tea.

Many consumers assume green tea is caffeine free. It’s not. It contains 24-45 mg per 8-oz cup while black tea 14-70 mg of caffeine. On the other hand, brewed coffee serves a whopping 95-200 mg per cup.

More significantly, tea is the perfect pick-me-up because the caffeine in tea is processed more slowly. It doesn’t give you the quick high of coffee, but because it lasts longer, it also doesn’t have the same rapid drop, leaving you feeling tired and in need of another fix. But you should make it properly.

tea tasting with cups and fresh loose tea - Feeling tired, sad, upset, cold, in need of a lift? Have a cuppa! In much of the world the answer to all these is a cup of tea – the universal panacea for all ills.

A tea tasting at Ten Ren Tea in Richmond, BC. Loose tea leaves are added to the pot.

Tea – the new wine

Think of tea as the new wine. Serious tea connoisseurs will taste teas the way oenophiles taste wine, with much sniffing and slurping. Single estate teas are prized. Descriptives like astringency, balance, citrusy, smoky, bright, complex, flowery and even finish are tossed around like confetti. And these days, tea sommeliers in many restaurants can help you find the best tea pairing for your meal.

And as with wine, tea can be used in cooking. Most people have sampled green tea ice cream. But says Shabnam Weber, owner of The Tea Emporium and creator of the Tea Sommelier program for the Tea Council of Canada, tea can be used to flavour broths. “Tea is flavoured water, so infusing jasmine tea into the broth when poaching chicken or shellfish adds a beautiful flavour,” Weber explains. “And that broth makes a wonderful stock for soups.”

Reducing a tea-infused stock to make a sauce can produce a unique flavour profile, she adds.

salmon with tea leaves on top - Feeling tired, sad, upset, cold, in need of a lift? Have a cuppa! In much of the world the answer to all these is a cup of tea – the universal panacea for all ills.

Tea in the marinade or rub adds a lovely flavour to salmon

Tea leaves – especially lapsang souchong – can add a whole new dimension to barbequed and smoked meats. Instead of applewood chips, she suggests, try adding tea leaves to the coals.

And finally, finely ground tea leaves with complementary spices make a delicious rub for meats. She suggests jasmine with lemon grass and salt; or lapsang souchong and chipotle peppers. Earl Grey tea, with its underlying Bergamot, really enhances the flavour of roasts.

Tea can enhance any sweet recipe too. Infusing warm cream or milk with tea before using it to prepare puddings or crême brulée adds a whole new dimension. “Tea can replace any liquid in a recipe to enhance the flavour,” says Weber, adding, “How about adding macha (green tea) powder to the flour when making a sponge cake?”

Here’s an easy recipe provided by Shabnam using jasmine tea:.

Jasmine cured Gravad Lax

lax with bagels on plate - Feeling tired, sad, upset, cold, in need of a lift? Have a cuppa! In much of the world the answer to all these is a cup of tea – the universal panacea for all ills.

Jasmine tea adds a delicate flavour to lax.

This recipe uses jasmine tea in place of the usual dill.

500 gr. Salmon filet ( center cut, skin on )

300 gr. Coarse sea salt

150 gr. Sugar

1 tbs. Jasmine Dragon tears or other high grade jasmine tea

1 tbs. olive oil

Fresh ground pepper

Mix the sugar and salt. Pulverise the Dragon Tears in a spice grinder.

Rub the salmon with the olive oil and the jasmine tea. Season with fresh pepper.

Cover the bottom of a rectangular container with 1 cm. of the salt/sugar mixture.

Set the salmon on top and cover with the rest of the mixture.

Cover with saran wrap and weigh down with tins or jam jars.

Let this cure for 36 hrs. in the refrigerator. Remove the salmon and clean of all the salt and sugar.

Thinly slice the Jasmine cured Lax and serve with dark rye bread, a lemon wedge  and honey mustard sauce.

Masala Chai Tea

spices for masala chai - Feeling tired, sad, upset, cold, in need of a lift? Have a cuppa! In much of the world the answer to all these is a cup of tea – the universal panacea for all ills.

Masala chai brings the flavours of India to a cuppa.

This classic Indian spiced tea has a wonderful scented flavour. This makes enough for two cups.

350ml/12fl oz water

100ml/3½fl oz milk

4 black peppercorns

10 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed

good pinch green fennel seeds

small piece cinnamon stick

1 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and roughly sliced

1 black tea bag

sugar, to taste

salt, to taste (optional)

Heat the water and milk in a pan with the spices and ginger until it comes to the boil. Turn the heat down and cook over a low to medium heat for 15 minutes. Be careful as the milk can easily rise and boil over.

Once the volume is reduced to a large cupful, add the teabag and let it brew for one minute, or longer if you like strong tea.

To serve, strain into a cup and add sugar to taste.