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Posts Tagged ‘sweet’

Today is the second of Annie’s Virtual Vegan Potlucks, in which a whole host of vegan and vegan-friendly bloggers unite in a big festival of meat- and dairy-free noshing around the globe.

Participants chose a category from a list of menu items (breads, mains, desserts, beverages, etc.), decided on what they wanted to bring to the virtual table, and were then placed in a list organised by Annie (for the full list of participants, please see here).

Each blogger taking part will post their own contribution today, adding a link to the blog before and after them on Annie’s list, creating a chain of vegan blogs that you can, if you wish, work your way through in a massive banquet of vegan delights.

Last time we did this, I opted for the beverages category so that I could write about tea. This time I’ve opted for the beverages category so that I can write about tea.

If you happen to live in the northern hemisphere you will perhaps have noticed a chilly change in the weather of late. In light of this, I’ve chosen to bring a lovely warming chai to the potluck (equally tasty south of the equator, I’m quite sure):

20 years ago I popped off to live and work in Pakistan, thinking I might stay there for about 3 months. Unwilling to leave a country that dished up such excellent tea, I gave up on coming home so soon and stayed on for another year to get in a decent amount of tea drinking.

During my time there I drank a lot of chai. It was consistently hot, spicy, usually sweet, and virtually always delicious.

I can only recall one less than satisfactory chai experience. I was visiting someone, I forget now who or where it was (there was a lot of visiting and tea taking going on), and was given a welcoming cup of sweet chai to sup on. My host, as he was pouring out the chai, unwittingly dropped some of his cigarette ash into the cup. Out of politeness, I consumed both the tea and the ash.

Speaking as one who has tried it both ways, I would strongly recommend drinking chai without the addition of cigarette ash.

I have often tried to recreate at home the taste of the lovely ashless Pakistani chai that I drank so much of back then, but I’ve never succeeded in getting it to taste as good.

Clipper’s chai isn’t quite like the stuff I remember from those days but it is a very quick and easy way to get that spicy, warming, delicious tea taste, and the combination of spices Clipper have come up with is far better than any concoction I’ve managed to mix up for myself. One of the slightly unusual ingredients in the tea is lemon peel, which I think is what sets it apart from other chai teas I’ve tried. The lemon is not overpowering but it adds a little citrusy zing to the spiciness, which I think works very well.

In order to bring joy to your life once you have a packet of this stuff, you’ll need some boiling water, and possibly some sort of milk and sweetener, if you like it that way (although it’s also jolly nice black, in my opinion).

It is highly acceptable served straight into a mug, or from a teapot with pretty china and a few chums to share the pleasure with.

At first glance (or indeed, after a prolonged stare), turning up to the potluck bearing nothing but a box of teabags might seem like a bit of a cop-out. I can’t deny that, I admit that it shows a distinct lack of culinary effort on my part, but on the up side if I’m let loose near a kettle I can promise you a perfectly brewed pot of tea.

As any regular tea drinker will know, there are a few key elements to making a nice cup of tea, and chief amongst these (at least for black tea) is boiling water .

I’m sorry to report that occasionally in a tearoom I have been brought a pot of hot water with a cup and teabag on the side. This has been both painful and distressing, very much like standing on an upturned plug or stubbing a toe.

In a tearoom, even if the water is boiling when it goes into the pot, it certainly won’t be boiling by the time it reaches the customer. Sitting alone in the pot, its bubbly loveliness is wasted on the inside of the pot instead of usefully infusing the tea.

Pouring hot – but not boiling – water onto a teabag is the sort of experience one should restrict to those occasions when one is marooned at the top of Mount Everest.

Following their successful ascent of Mount Everst in 1953, Tensing Norgay and Edmund Hillary take tea out of tin mugs (I bet it tasted pretty good, too).

Up at 29,000 feet, due to a decrease in pressure that results in the water boiling at a lower temperature, a warm slooshy tea-like concotion is the best the weary climber can hope for. (I have this on good authority, although I can’t claim to have tested it out for myself; it’s regrettable, but being in possession of this information has put me right off climbing Everest). Down nearer sea level there are no such excuses for shoddy tea preparation.

Here are my top tips for making a lovely pot of Clipper chai:

1. Get some Clipper chai tea, a teapot and however many teacups you require.

2. Put plenty of freshly drawn cold water into a kettle and put it on to boil.

3. Just before the water boils, pour a decent splash of nearly boiling water into the teapot to warm it.

4. Slosh the water around the teapot while the kettle comes to the boil, and then discard the teapot water and bung in as many teabags as you think you’ll need (one per person, is my advice).

5. When the kettle boils, immediately pour the water into the warmed teapot onto the teabags and give the whole lot a stir with a spoon (and perhaps a squidge of the bags, if you feel like it).

6. Pop a teacosy onto the teapot (such as this delightful creation by veteran teacosy maker, Laine Williams:

7. Wait patiently for around 3 minutes and then pour the tea into cups (personally, I wouldn’t warm the cups because my feeling is that the tea has already done all its infusing, and now I just want it to be cool enough to drink as soon as possible).

If you want to add milk, you might like to glug a slosh of soy or alternative milk (I have tried it with oat milk, which was quite nice, but I wonder if almond might be preferable) into the cup prior to adding the tea. Alternatively, you may prefer to add the milk afterwards, but in any case I don’t think you need to worry about the china breaking with the hot tea (which is, apparently, one of the reasons for adding the milk first) since the tea will have cooled down a little since you added the water to the pot. If you’re nervous about adding too much milk, I would advise adding it after you’ve poured the tea, and just a little at a time so that you can taste it and find the quantity you prefer.

Sweetener is another matter of personal taste. The chai I had in Pakistan was generally very sweet, and I enjoyed it greatly at the time, but when I make Clipper chai I don’t add any sweetener because I’ve developed a taste for it ‘plain’, so to speak.

If you fancy trying this tea but can’t find Clipper chai at an outlet near you, it is available online from a number of websites, including the Clipper site, here.

Bottoms up!

image courtesy of thethreetomatoes.com

To visit the blog on the list before mine, Don’t Switch Off The Light, please click on the image below:

To visit the blog after mine, Veganosaurus (which, as it happens, contains a chai recipe), please click on this image:

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How dark to you think dark chocolate should be?

This is not necessarily the definitive answer, but according to the European Union (click to see Wikipedia article), in order for chocolate to be ‘dark’ it must contain at least 35% cocoa solids (the same article states that the US has no official definition for dark chocolate). By contrast, something like the Cadbury’s Twirl (milk chocolate) contains ‘a minumum of 25% cocoa solids’.  When I think of dark chocolate, I expect it to contain at least 60% cocoa solids, and in today’s little investigation I’ve decided to compare two bars containing 70% cocoa solids.

There are many different makes of dark chocolate, and if I were doing this thing properly I would have a wider sample range, but since this is really just an excuse for me to try out different chocolate, I’m comparing Green and Black’s with Divine (I should have taken a photograph of them nicely wrapped up together but unfortunately I had already started eating them before it occurred to me):

Part of my non-scientific approach to this was to purchase bars of different sizes. The Green & Black’s bar shown is the 100g size, whereas the Divine one is 45g. The reason for this is that I happened to see the small size of Divine the other day when I fancied some chocolate and then yesterday in Tesco I noticed that Green & Black’s chocolate was on special offer in the 100g size. It’s all down to practicalities.

Both companies are fully Fairtrade certified, so thumbs up to that in the first instance. They’re also both attractively packaged, in my opinion, and immediately recognisable due to their design.

First up: Green & Black’s. Here’s what greets you when you peel off the outer paper layer:

The foil inside continues the Green & Black’s font from outside the packet, and reinforces the fact that what you’re about to nibble on is organic. Very reassuring. As nice as the foil is, you need to remove it to get at the chocolate, and this is what faces you when you’ve done so:

Close up each individual rectangle carries the Green & Black’s leaf motif, apart from the rectangle at the bottom right, which is unique and special and wants to grab your attention with its distinctiveness:

The rows and columns of little chunks are segregated by channels that lead you to believe it would be easy to break them up into single blocks. In my experience this is not the case. They’re almost tolerant of you trying to break them into columns, but when it comes to rows they like to give you the run around. How often I have tried to break them into rows I don’t know, but I have no recollection of it ever having been successful. I tried for this investigation and all I got were bits like this, defiant in their refusal to break as I wished them to:

On the up side, the way they break makes the chocolate look inviting (whether this demonstrates conchoidal fracture or two directional cleavage I wouldn’t like to say, but either way it looks rather nice to me).

Most importantly, what does Green & Black’s 70% chocolate taste like? Well, here are my thoughts, and you may well disagree with me. The words that came to mind when I munched on a piece were: dark, bitter, sweet, tangy, lively and complex. Of these, the tanginess was what probably impressed itself on me most.

Very good, and now to the Divine:

The foil inside a bar of Divine is uniformly gold, certainly less interesting than the Green & Black’s. However, before you even get to the foil it has a few little tricks up its sleeve. End on, with this small bar at least, it demonstrates just how much thought has been put into the wrapper design:

When you open the wrapper, a pleasing symmetry of design is evident:

The imprints on the bar itself are very different from those on the Green & Black’s, but I’m not sure what they’re like on the 100g bar; obviously I will need to buy one and have a look.

To my mind, there is nothing linking the design on the outside of the packaging with that on the chocolate bar. Where there is a satisfying balance on the Green & Black’s bar and its packaging, no such balance exists with the Divine bar. You may consider it to be a good thing, this self-effacing gesture on the part of the Divine bar. Perhaps, it’s telling us, the taste will speak for itself. I endeavoured to find out. The individual blocks seemed to be too big for one mouthful and so I tried to bite into one. This was not an easy task, due to the thickness of the chocolate.

However, what I was hit with was a very welcome taste. One word entered my mind when I tasted this chocolate: smooth. Not for Divine, the tangy liveliness of the Green & Black’s. This chocolate had a laid-back, relaxed attitude and a smoothness I didn’t detect in the Green & Black’s. Also, unlike the Green & Black’s, it left no bitter after-taste. The sensation I had after eating this chocolate was that I had drifted off for a minute or two into a land of peaceful meadows, where all my cares and worries had been lifted and I felt happy and at one with the world.

And so, the verdict. Which did I like best?

What I would say is this. If you’re about to enter a martial arts competition – you’ve got your pjyamas on and your belt tied neatly round your waist – you need a chocolate bar that will stir the sinews, make you feel alert and vibrant and ready for action. In this case, I would recommend opting for Green & Black’s. The complexity will stimulate different areas of your brain, allowing your feet and arms to move in unison and enabling you to fly through your movements with ease and fluidity.

On the other hand, if you’re having a relaxing day off from the Ju-jitsu, you would be much better off with the Divine bar. Sink into your favourite chair with a nice cup of tea, or lie on the soft grass staring up at the blue sky and the fluffy white clouds, and let the smooth dark chocolate of Divine relax body and soul, refreshing and repairing your tired limbs and bringing peace and clarity to your mind.

There is, in my opinion, a time and a place for each of these wonderful chocolate bars and I would recommend keeping a small stock of each in your medicine cabinet.

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At this time of year, during a Scottish winter, my mum regularly wears two vests. I’ve known about this for a while, but for some reason donning two vests myself has never really occurred to me. It somehow seems so decadent, having not just one cosy vest on, but two, and yet I’m perfectly happy to wear a t-shirt over a vest, so why not two vests?

You may be thinking I’m making a fuss about nothing, and perhaps you yourself frequently go around with two vests on, but today is a big day for me, for it is my First Day of Two Vests. It’s a cold, frosty morning in Blairgowrie and if I was going to try it any day, today is a good day to give it a go.

And so to the two tearooms.

My plan today is to re-visit two recently discovered tearooms (recently discovered by me, at least), one in Dundee and the other in Arbroath. Both of them are tipped for the guide book but my policy is to visit each tearoom that gets into the guide at least twice so that I’m convinced of their merits. Both of today’s tearooms made a big impression on me on my first visit to them, so I’m looking forward to today’s little outing.

When I went before, the Dundee one made me feel as if I’d gone back in time. It had me thinking I was sitting in the late 1940s, recovering from the second world war and feeling that Blighty was getting back on its feet again. My notes remind me that leaf tea was served in a teapot that poured well, and that the place had an air of tranquility and calm about it. I am also reminded of the possibly unsweetened and slightly salty tasting fruit scone with only two sultanas in it, and the way in which it was completely transformed by the application of the tearoom’s own home-made raspberry jam. I remember that I was sorely tempted by the range of tea breads on offer, and almost chose one over the scone. Will I have an even greater dilemma today, knowing that the jammed-up scone is such a wonderful taste experience? Will I be able to choose an alternative option just to try it out? Thank goodness I’m taking the parents with me, and between us we can perhaps order both scone and tea bread. I think it will be impossible for me to pass up another opportunity to savour that glorious raspberry jam.

Tearoom two is one of those little gems beloved by locals but possibly not known about much outside the county boundaries. I may be wrong about that, but it was certainly a revelation to me. It was hotching when I went there last time for a late-ish lunch, and I was asked if I had booked a table. Just to be on the safe side, I’ll take the tearoom’s phone number with me today. During my last visit there, I had the impression I was sitting in someone’s house, but with lots of tables full of people I didn’t know. It had that friendly, community sort of feel about it.

My dad hasn’t been to either of these tearooms and so I’ll be interested to see if he agrees with my first impressions, or if something else strikes him about them. I’ve got my camera in my bag and will endeavour to take a photo or two to share anon.  I do hope they haven’t run out of that jam in Dundee…

 

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