Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Favorite Cake for Tea Time

A couple of months ago my electric range decided to malfunction.  Since it was eleven years old, my husband chose to shop for a new one - this time a gas range, and I love it! 

The first thing baked  in my new oven was a chocolate cake which would turn into a "mound cake" for my hubby's birthday. 

The cake and frosting recipe was given to me over forty years ago from my mother-in-law's girlfriend.   I used to  make the scratch cake with varying degrees of success.    Sometimes it would turn out moist and perfect and other times it would be too dry.  I now use  a Duncan Hines Devil's Food Cake Mix, which is always consistently moist, and a lot faster.

Though not difficult to make, the cake is "putsy" because of multiple steps.   The time is well spent, however, because the end result is a delicious cake with rave reviews!  It is the favorite birthday cake of several family members and is always on our family's Christmas Eve menu as the "Birthday cake for Jesus." 

After cake layer tops have been leveled with a knife, making the whipped cream and putting the "mounds" on top is the first step.   When the mounds have been formed, refrigeration is necessary to firm the mounds.   Frosting the sides of the cake is necessary to keep it from drying out.  The mounds firm up in 4-5 hours or overnight.

The next step is covering the mounds with chocolate frosting.   The original recipe had instructions for making a chocolate frosting from scratch, but I've simplified it by using a 16 oz. container of Duncan Hines "Classic Chocolate" Creamy Home-Style Frosting.

The whipped cream mound filling is the only part of the original recipe that I currently use.  The cake is without a doubt my most requested recipe, and I have given it to countless individuals over the years.   

Here you see what delicious goodness appears when the cake's been cut into.  

Because of the whipped cream mounds it has to be refrigerated, so it's not a good summertime  cake for eating outdoors or taking on picnics.  Trust me, I know!  The mounds get so soft they literally slide right off the top of the cake.

A  scrumptious slice and I don't want to know how many calories! 

I paired this cake with a blend of robust, malty Assam and Ceylon black tea from London's Fortnum & Mason, which was given to me as a gift.  The only addition to the tea was a splash of cold milk.   It reminded me of when I was a child and loved to eat chocolate cake with a glass of cold milk!

This is an individual size cake with just one mound.  The mound is  a bit difficult to see, but it's there!  The individual cakes are baked in  jumbo muffin tins - perfect size for a tea party!  

Here's the recipe for the whipped cream mound filling which I have never seen in a cookbook - and I have hundreds of cookbooks!

Whipped Cream Mound Filling
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup 2% or Whole Milk [skim milk is too thin and will not thicken]
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 stick butter, slightly softened
1/2 cup Crisco

In heavy saucepan, mix sugar and cornstarch together.  Add milk and cook over medium heat until mixture thickens to the consistency of a cream sauce.  Remove from heat and add vanilla.  Cool completely.  [I usually expedite this process by setting the pan in a sink of ice water.]

Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl cream together butter and Crisco.  Add cooled milk mixture by spoonfuls and mix with an electric mixer at high speed until well blended and fluffy.  Spread between layers of cake and form into mounds on top of cake.  Enjoy!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Then and Now at Victorian Rose Tea House

The Victorian Rose is the first tea house I visited in the early days of my "tea journey"  [1998], so it is a place of significance to me.  Over the years I have sat at quiet, cozy tables with family members or dear friends enjoying pleasant conversation over a pot of tea and tasty food, while life's busyness slowed down and time seemed to be temporarily suspended.  

The tea room, established in 1995, is located inside an early 1900's house at 118 W. 3rd Street, in Rochester, MI - just a quick 30 minutes from my house. 

The house is decorated with family heirlooms and fine china.  Someone has aptly said, "It's like stepping back in time to go to grandma's house for lunch!"

The Grilled Chicken Victorian Rose Salad  is mixed greens topped with dried cranberries, mandarin oranges, pecans, and a grilled chicken breast, dressed with their own homemade raspberry dressing.   I ordered this on my first visit, and it's still on their menu today.  It is one of their most popular menu offerings.

A traditional English Afternoon Tea consisting of a three tiered server with savories/finger sandwiches, scones, and bite-sized desserts isn't offered, but scones with specialty butter and dessert selections can be ordered  à la carte.  A pot of tea from an array of tea bags is also sold separately.

Below is my firstborn granddaughter, Tiffany Jill.  I took her to the Victorian Rose on her 8th birthday in July, 1999.  The pink hat was courtesy of the tea room.  She had fun trying on several hats that were almost as big as her! ;-)

Tiffany and I returned to the Victorian Rose in December 2011 - 12 years later.  She's 20 years old now and a junior in college, and beautiful - both inside and outside!  [Grandma's have bragging rights!] 

Amazing what 12 years does - Tiffany turned into a beautiful young lady and I turned into a "mature" grandmother!  I feel very blessed that God has allowed me to watch her grow up, so I won't complain [too much] about the effects of time!

I love the way tea brings people together!

On our recent visit I ordered the Loretta Chicken Pie - a flaky pie crust encasing chunks of chicken and vegetables, topped with a tarragon cream sauce accompanied by the Victorian Rose House Salad.

Tiffany ordered their Quiche of Day - a bacon quiche which was also accompanied by the Victorian Rose House Salad.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Movies, Tea, and Teacups

Earlier this week my husband and I went to see the film, Iron Lady.  I like tea scenes in movies, and British films usually provide many of them.   Iron Lady was no exception. Margaret Thatcher [brilliantly portrayed by Meryl Streep] asks the question in one scene, "Shall I be mother [and pour the tea]?"

In another scene depicting Thatcher's younger years, she declares to Denis [her husband], "One's life has got to matter.  I can't die washing up a teacup!"  In a closing scene, she's alone in her kitchen, afflicted with Alzheimer's, washing a teacup.  Life had almost come full circle, and her life definitely did matter. 

On the way home from the theater, my memory drifted back to the time when my perception of  a teacup became far more than a pretty drinking vessel.

I worked as a church secretary for 22 years [church pictured above], and resigned in 2004 to begin a new chapter in my life - tea!  My years of service were recognized on a Sunday morning, and the church paid my way to a tea related training conference they knew I was planning to attend.  Spontaneous speaking in front of a lot people isn't my forte, but as I stepped to the podium the analogy of a teacup came to mind and I shared why I wanted my life to be like the teacups I would be demonstrating in my new job.  

[1] A genuine bone China teacup is translucent and lets light shine through.     
[2] Teacups are bi-functional.  They receive and they dispense.
[3] Teacups, especially with frequent use, have flaws yet they remain useful and fulfill their purpose.

Application: May Jesus shine through me to dispense His love, even though I'm an imperfect vessel!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Best Part of Waking Up...

The best part of waking up isn't Folger's in my cup - it's hot tea in my cup!  

And to make that possible I depend on Breville's electric kettle from Sur la tableI love that store!  [No affiliation]

For a long time, I used a stovetop tea kettle and thermometer for steeping teas which worked fine, but I've become spoiled by Breville's variable temperature kettle where the water is heated to just the right temperature at the push of a button.  Then it's simply a matter of pouring the water over the tea leaves in a small infuser basket placed in my Bodum mug, and steeping for the the required time.  

Simpson & Vail's Chinese flavored Green Jade Lemon Tea and Lemon Ginger Tea is what I'm enjoying right now, with Green Jade as my favorite.   Green teas provide "more bang for the buck" since the tea leaves yield more than one steeping.

A little squeeze of honey makes the tea perfect, and a slice of pumpkin bread welcomes the morning nicely!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sweet Afton Tea Room

A long-time girlfriend [since 7th grade] and I met at Sweet Afton Tea Room in Plymouth, MI recently to "catch up" on life.

The tea room is named after the Afton River in Ayrshire, Scotland made famous by Scottish poet, Robert Burns, in his 1791 poem, "Sweet Afton."

Established in 1988, the tea room is on its fourth owner, successfully keeping its doors open for business 24 years - incredible longevity for a tea room.

We ordered from the "Hearty Fare" section of the menu and chose the Robert Burns option, which was a  slice of  quiche, a warm cheddar muffin, and a cup of soup.  Stuffed Pepper Soup was one of the choices, and our waitress said it was very good, so we took her recommendation.  The pot of tea was additional and I chose Wild Cherry Amaretto, a flavored black tea. 

Our server took our picture. My girlfriend, Sandy [left], and me.

Perhaps because it was a damp, rainy day, the soup was especially enjoyable, and I came home searching the Internet for the recipe.  There were several to chose from, so I took the liberty of combining recipes.  We love soup in the winter months at our house and this one is a winner. 

Stuffed Pepper Soup
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
1 medium onion, finely diced
3  sweet green peppers, coarsely chopped
3 cans tomato soup
1 can beef broth
1 package dry onion soup mix
1 3/4 cup water
1 [15 oz.] can tomato sauce
1 [28 oz.] can petite diced tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon sage
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup white [or brown] rice, uncooked

In large Dutch oven brown ground beef and onion together.  Add remaining ingredients except rice and simmer on stove top for 45 minutes to an hour. 

The last fifteen minutes prepare rice in a separate saucepan, combining 2 cups of water to 1 cup of rice and bring to boil.  Reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes [if using brown rice simmer for 45 minutes] or until liquid is absorbed and rice is fluffy.  Add to soup and serve.

The rice will absorb liquid from the soup even though cooked separately.  Thin with additional beef broth if necessary.

Sweet Afton's food and service are good and worthy of a visit if you are ever in Plymouth, MI or the surrounding area.  Quaint stores surround the tea room for shopping.

After lunch we headed over to Livonia, MI to visit two antique malls.

The Town Peddler

We didn't find any treasures to bring home that day except the treasure of our friendship and a wonderful day spent together!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Entering the World of Blogging

Desiring to write a blog, I attended a blogging class at the Community College shortly before the holidays.  Writing, tea, cooking, dishware/tablescaping and traveling are great pleasures of mine, and well-suited topics for my entry into the blogging world.   

As with anything new [and especially pertaining to computers], I went to class with a bit of apprehension.  The inspiring presence of an 86 year old classmate helped affirm, "I can do this!" [Raising my teacup in tribute to you, Mary!]

Knowing the class was five hours long, supper was in the making before I left home, with the aid of my crock pot and a new chili recipe I tweaked for the annual chili cook-off at church.

Two ingredients set this chili apart from other recipes - pumpkin and Lapsang Souchong black tea.

Pumpkin/Turkey Chili
1 tablespoon oil
1 1/2 - 2 lbs. ground turkey
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 each, red, yellow, and orange sweet pepper,  diced
1 [14.5 oz.] can petite diced tomatoes [including liquid]
1 [15 oz.] can 100% pure pumpkin [not pumpkin pie mix]
2 [15.5 oz.] cans white kidney beans [Cannellini]
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup brewed Lapsang Souchong Tea
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of allspice
grated cheddar cheese

Heat oil in Dutch oven and add turkey, onion, garlic, and sweet peppers.  Simmer until turkey is browned and vegetables are tender.   Transfer to crock pot and add tomatoes, pumpkin, chicken broth, tea, chili powder, cumin and salt and pepper.  Mix well and cook on low 4-5 hours.   An hour before done add cinnamon, allspice and kidney beans that have been rinsed and drained.  If chili needs thinning add more broth.

Top individual bowls of chili with grated cheese before serving. 

Lapsang Souchong tea gives the chili a subtle smoky flavor when used in moderation.

Savory Cornmeal Madeleines accompany this chili perfectly.  A California tea friend inspired me to make them.

Savory Cornmeal Madeleines
1/3 cup butter
1 small onion, finely diced 
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1 egg
1 cup milk
1 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
1/2 cup grated smoked Gruyere Cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt butter in heavy saucepan and sauté onion until tender but not brown.  Set aside.
In bowl stir together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and sage.
In a separate bowl whisk egg and milk until blended.   Add to dry ingredients along with butter/onion mixture, corn and grated cheese.  Stir just until blended.

Brush soft butter into madeleine cavities and sprinkle with cornmeal.  Shake out excess.  Do not skip this step even when using non-stick pans.  These madeleines are notorious for sticking!

Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly golden.  Remove from oven and let rest 1-2 minutes.  Invert pan and lightly tap on counter to release Madeleines. 

These are best eaten right from the oven, but they do keep in a covered container for 1-2 days. Reheat in microwave before serving.  Or freeze and reheat in oven 2-3 minutes until warmed through. 

Yield:  Approximately 4 dozen [less if Madeleine pan is large size]

Harney & Sons Cranberry Autumn black tea was my choice for this meal.  Harney teas are among my favorites. 

Yummy, healthy and easy.  My kind of meal!