Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Tipsy Tea Party

Welcome to homemade Afternoon Tea. This is not the first tea service we have hosted, but while we're not professional, we like to think we've got the stuff to make you satisfied and rub your belly happy. You can make an Afternoon Tea set-up at home too! It can be a full Afternoon Tea, a smaller Cream Tea, or even High Tea! Angela hosted at the Tipsy Tea house and she also prepared most of the food. J.K. provided homemade bread for the sandwiches, as well as the adorable (and tasty) Dr. Who stamped shortbread cookies, plus earl grey flavored Madelines. Another guest brought two lovely traditional Eastern European holiday cakes to share as well.

Desserts- petit fours from Dianda's, cookies by JK, chocolate cheese by TJ's and cakes by Gabriela.
 This collaborative effort made hosting the tea party a cinch. We had a beginning course of Sweet Potato and Carrot soup with Candied Pecans for garnish. Pureed soups are easy to make and a great alternative to stews. Since we're into the bosom of winter now (happily SF Bay area dwellers are spared the snow and Zero degree weather) soup is a hearty meal that can carry you through the day. Angela enjoys cooking up whatever is in the veg drawer and if you use the stick blender at the end, it becomes a world class soup! If you want a textural contrast, maybe add meat or potatoes in the bottom of the dish plus some garnish on top (toasted nuts or croutons?) and, voila!, you have made lunch or dinner a meal to remember.

Pumpkin and sweet potato soup with candied pecan garnish.
  You can't host a tea without scones. This time we made scones from scratch, but you can also purchase bakery scones, or make some from a box mix. Just make sure you have your double devon cream, jams, and curd to be spread on top. We had both lemon and lime curd (purchased), as well as four kinds of jam. They included homemade blackberry, homemade strawberry, imported fancy pants grapefruit/gin flavor from Harrods and homemade pomegranate/plum. The homemade jams were collected from the Swap or gifts from talented friends with an abundance of fruit. We had two types of scones, triangle pastry type scones and biscuit scones. Angela used the Cheese and Apple scone recipe published by Craftsman and Wolves and while it was a bit labor intensive, it yielded an amazing amount of scones (everyone got to take some home too)! It was a bit of a trick to make it by hand (sans stand mixer), but the end product is well worth the effort! The great thing is that since the CAW tea menu is always changing you can score your favorites to make at home.

Thanks to CAW for sharing their recipe. We loved your afternoon tea too.
No, there can never be too many jams!
Double Devon Cream and Key Lime Curd, plus milk and sugar for tea.
 Angela also created four kinds of Sandwiches which included Salmon and herbed butter, cucumber/cream cheese with mint, roasted red pepper with crushed white beans, plus roast beef/cheddar with mustard.These were paired with a homemade red cabbage coleslaw. A no mayo coleslaw, for the non-mayonaise eating guests. I looked at several cookbooks before deciding to ad lib on this coleslaw. I was inspired by several things, such as adding the sunflower seeds for salty contrasts and green apple for the tart sweetness. It was delicious (if we do say so ourselves).

Four kinds of sandwiches and a little coleslaw.
Let this official meeting of the unofficial Coleslaw Meetup group commence!
Tea sandwiches with scones and fruit.
Biscuit scones, fruit, sandos.
For beverages we enjoyed a variety of teas which included Shanti from the Tao of Tea, an herbal berry blend from Aroma Tea Shop, and a flowering rose tea from the Imperial Tea Court. We enjoyed the teas to our personal preference, with milk, sugar, or straight. Why is this a Tipsy Tea? We were keeping warm with a mulled wine alongside our tea-filled cups. Tipsy Tea can include a special cocktail made with tea, or a tea-infused syrup that you can use to flavor sparkling wine. (If you're interested in learning more about Tipsy Tea, you can come to the 7th Annual SF Bay Area Chocolate Salon and check out the Tipsy Tea booth where there the Tipsy Tea Mavens will be selling Chocolate Teas, shaped sugar cubes, and tea infused syrups as well as tea accessories.)

We hope you're inspired to host your own Afternoon Tea party. Make it a potluck and nothing could be simpler. If you feel inspired to host(ess) then be prepared to bathe in the oooo's, ahhh's and yums that will come your way during the meal and thank you's that will come after it's complete.

The Feast is prepared!
Let us Eat.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The coach stops here-Wayfare Tavern

I have been a fan of Tyler Florence since the days of Food 911. My college roommate and I were always dreaming up recipes that he could come cook for us. We did not imagine that I would one day be able to go downtown and order delicious food at his SF restaurant Wayfare Tavern. There is a lot of hype about this resto and we were excited to finally check it out! My friend booked our lunch reservation well in advance, and we arrived with hunger gnawing on our insides ready to eat. We were not disappointed! My dining partner ordered a glass of wine, but I chose a specialty cocktail. I'll admit the name drew me in, and the ingredients cinched the deal, I chose the Pomegranate Fizz. This drink features vodka, pomegranate, ginger rosemary syrup and soda water that is garnished with a stick of fresh rosemary. I really enjoyed the scent of the fresh rosemary as I took my first (and last) sip of this delightful cocktail.

Pomegranate Fizz
We took a minute to be overwhelmed by the choices on the lunch menu. There were quite a few choices that jumped off the page at us, so V and I decided to cover more ground by splitting the meal. Cauliflower Soup caught our attention, and when it arrived I was surprised by the mounds of naked lobster beignets in the bottoms of our bowl. This soup is served the French way which involves the diner being shown the surprise at the bottom of the dish before it's covered with the warm flavorful soup.  Pureed cauliflower, tarragon and applewood smoked bacon were put together in a recipe that inspired us to dream of soup ingredients that would be an easy simple meal to make at home.(Plus I loved being introduced to a new way of serving soup.) I haven't tried cauliflower lately, but today I made a pureed pumpkin soup. At the end I tossed the roasted potatoes chunks in at the last moment giving it a wonderful textural contrast. This is a great alternative to serving stew.

Lobster dumplings peep above the pureed cauliflower. Yum.
Next up is the Wayfare Ceasar for our salad course. It featured soft egg, boquerones, garlic confit and herbed breadcrumbs (which are Not to be confused with croutons--emphasis mine). We chopped up the romaine stalks and stirred everything around a bit in order to get a taste of every flavor in each bite. Salty anchovies with light crunchy lettuce, it was a delight to eat this reimagined Ceasar salad.

Herbed breadcrumbles lower left corner gave texture and a flavor kick to this salad.
For our main course, it was no contest. We had to have the Fried Chicken. I'd been hearing about this chicken since the resto had opened and it was time to check it out. The waitress served it on a big platter and brought us small plates. Side Note: the waitstaff here was kind enough to split our servings in two for both the soup and salad at no charge! A thoughtful and simple gesture that sometimes costs more than the dish itself is just a part of great service at Wayfare Tavern. Thanks crew!

Organic chicken soaked in a buttermilk brine and lightly breaded with a garnish of crisp woody herbs (read deep fried!) and roasted garlic cloves.We squeezed the lemon wedges over the hot juicy chicken and ate it up.

The Fried Chicken lives up to it's hype. 
Can we fit dessert under our belts? We have to! It would be impossible to say "no" to Sticky Toffee Pudding. We each spooned up a bit of cubeb peppercorn ice cream along with leaves of wood sorrel and California medjool dates. I can honestly say I have never had leafy green bits on a sweet pastry dessert. Until now! Show me the way Mr. Florence....

Yes, we were Forced to eat this amazing dessert.
When I return to this destination restaurant, I will be trying out other options on the menu. It might be hard to choose something else for a main dish 'cause that chicken was just so damn good. I didn't take any pictures of the resto itself, although the decor is in keeping with the name. You may feel as though you've stepped into the modern version of an upscale Olde Englishe pub or coaching inn  full of lux dark wood and low lighting. The perfect place to hide out on a rainy day and keep cozy.

Do you have a favorite 'special occasion' restaurant in your neighborhood or city? Who is your favorite famous chef? I know if Jacques Pepin was serving food someplace I could afford that I would eat there every meal.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Afternoon Tea at the Oak Room

A perfectly personalized table setting.
The menu for Afternoon Tea at the Oak Room was a surprise, even after we sat down and looked at the official menu clapboard. We didn't get any more information than what had been presented on the website. Three of our party chose the Royal Tea, which included a glass of Gloria Ferrer Sparkling Wine ($5 more), and one person chose the Complete Tea plus a Red Blossom Three Chrysanthemums blossoming tea. Everyone else also made their tea selections, which included the St. Francis Holiday blend, the Wild Berries and Blossoms, plus Chamomile Citron which were courtesy of Mighty Leaf. The sparkling wine showed up immediately, however, our teapots lagged behind. They were lovely small glass pots, which you could sweeten with your own personal pot of honey, milk and lemon in any combination.

Beautiful flowering tea from Red Blossom!

Herbal tea with milk.

 After a bit our servers appeared like magic with a modern twist on the tiered serving tray that holds all the components of afternoon tea. We enjoyed our maple glazed scones with a side of whipped cream, or a spoonful from our personal pots of jam which were blackberry, strawberry or marmalade. The towerng stack of salmon on little toasts amazed us all. The thin delicate slices of cucumber on cream cheese were lovely to look at and taste, while egg salad triangles 'rounded' out our trio. Our server let us know we could ask for more of anything (except sparkling wine refills) for no additional cost. We made sure to snag enough salmon for everyone at the table to get two of the mountainous sandwiches. The waitstaff also offered us PB&J (families can come together and enjoy this tea) as well, but we politely declined. Strawberries with cream delighted everyone; the fruit was ripe and yummy. Our four individual desserts were on the table when we arrived, but we resisted the "dessert first" credo and enjoyed them after the main course.

3 trays for four ladies.
Scones, sandwiches, and fruit- unlimited.
Three sandwiches came with the original tray.

Individual desserts.
The desserts included a raspberry tart, vanilla macaroon, glazed mini cream puff, plus a layered chocolate and cream pastry. Tea Time resisted hoarding any extra desserts, but if you so desired, you could also ask for seconds of these tasty little gems. Tea Time can't promise that you'll get the same menu as we ate during our visit, and we would suggest calling ahead if you have dietary restrictions as the staff at the Westin-St. Francis was was very accommodating. We also encourage to you to ask to have your tea pot topped off whenever you see a waiter. If you drink tea like Tea Time, tiny pretty clear pots sometimes just aren't as functional as the large size traditional tea pot.

This is our first foray into the realm of Hotel afternoon tea. We'll be bringing you more afternoon tea updates as the year moves along. Please let us know if you think we should check out a place! Or if you'd like to do a guest afternoon tea post, that could be an option! We want to know about your afternoon tea experiences too.

Tea Time hopes that a  mountain of Salmon awaits you at the Oak Room.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Cook The Book: Around My French Table—Dessert

I got my copy of Dorie Greenspan's around my french table from the San Francisco Public Library, too. They have 16 copies, so there wasn't even a waiting list.

As Angela pointed out, I'm a baker, not a cook, so I headed directly to the Desserts section. Cocoa sabl├ęs on page 402 immediately caught my eye, but then I discovered honey-spiced madeleines on page 408. I'm a little cookied-out after my Christmas cookie project and I love madeleines. Also, honey is one of my favorite flavors (after chocolate, of course), so I looked no further and began assembling my ingredients.

Mix the sugar and orange peel. 

 Add eggs and beat with the whisk attachment until thick. Add honey and vanilla, beating more after each addition.

Sift dry ingredients over egg mixture. 

Change the attachment to the silicone paddle if you have one, and stir the dry ingredients in at your mixer's slowest speed. With mixer running, slowly pour in melted butter and stir until fully incorporated. If you don't have a silicone paddle, fold these ingredients in by hand with a rubber spatula.

The silicone paddle is definitely worth the investment. It scrapes the sides of the bowl, so you don't have to stop and do that. And it folds. I've even made sponge cake with this paddle. This is the brand I have, the BeaterBlade.

 Cover your batter with plastic wrap and chill. It isn't absolutely necessary to chill the batter but you probably won't get the characteristic "bumps" if you don't. Half an hour in the freezer should do the job.

I use a standard madeleine pan, with 1 1/2 tablespoons of batter in each mold. This recipe gave me 20 madeleines.
 Baked madeleines
 Close up of both sides

These madeleines are light and delicious, and beautiful as well.

Cook the Book—Around My French Table

I was out of town and had to wait to get my hands on the library copy of Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan. It was on hold so I wasn't worried about someone else checking it out and running off with it, but I was a bit concerned about what I would choose to cook! How would I have time to look through this book and choose something, buy the ingredients and cook the recipe, eat the food and then write my blog post?
It turned out to be amazingly simple. I ran to the library after work and hefted this tome up from the shelf. It's got a great food photo right on the cover in oversized still life. I thumbed through it a bit and wandered around looking for some light mystery reads to add to the pile. After I self-checked my books out I sat for a minute at the big library table to flick around the recipes in the cookbook. The pictures and writing drew me in even as I jumped around from the middle to the end and back again. Some recipes looked exotic, some too complicated, some of the stories Ms. Greenspan included were almost more interesting than the foodie porn pictures. My blog partner in crime, J.K., is a baker. I cook, I bake, I make things up. Sometimes it feels like a chore to follow the recipe. However, this is a cook the book experiment, and I wanted to choose something warm and inviting to cook Plus follow the recipe.

I found myself coming back to the French Onion Soup (page 56/57) recipe with its delightful story about D.G.'s trip to the Famous French Market Les Halles - or what was left of it.  FOS looks so delicious, no one can resist bubbling hot cheese on toasted bread. I even have FOS bowls to use! However, just making a soup from this cookbook seemed a little tame, even if it's a classic that's been on my mind to learn to make. So I flipped and flopped around the book a little more and this time a picture caught my eye. It looked so seasonal. A Pumpkin Flan with Walnuts and Gorgonzola Cheese (page 146). I have Never made flan. I purport not to even Like flan. But who could resist such a picture! Perhaps I Do like flan, but I don't know it because I have not had a Pumpkin Flan. With Cheese! What a dilemma. How do I pick?

French Onion Soup - FOS

Pumpkin Flan

As you can see, I didn't. I made the easiest choice, which was to dive into French cooking with a recipe in each hand. Another thing that made these recipes a delight is the ingredient list was short. I even found I only needed to buy 4 things from the store. (I could have made do with 3, but I decided to get the Gruyere for the Soup instead of using a cheese from the larder.) Looking through the book there seem to be other, more complicated recipes, but I really like that D.G. offers up simple good stuff as well.

For full disclosure, I used Vidalia onions in my French Onion Soup as I have no idea where to find "Spanish" onions. I also chose to add meat. In an "OMG, I am a cook!" moment, I read a side note on the French Onion Soup recipe page where D.G. suggests making the soup more substantial by adding meat. Since I'd already purchased my oxtails and browned them in the pot before adding the onions I felt validated instead of slightly subversive. I purchase my meat from a local butcher, and I had also bought a bone-in chicken breast to poach in order to have the chicken broth needed for the recipe. I think that the tender chicken, laid in the bottom of the bowl as she suggested is just a tasty as the oxtail. It took quite a while for the onions to cook down, but the end result was worth it. A lovely soup featuring loads of caramelized onion flavor with its own built in cheesy bread. I will make this soup again, and again, though I doubt I will ever need the recipe.

Cutting onions according to D.G's instructions.

My low tech cheese grater. I love it!

Oxtail surprise!

mmmm, so cheesy!

The flan was an art. Just a few ingredients are used to make a fancy dish. All the ingredients got dumped in a glass bowl while I toasted the walnuts. My favorite way to separate egg whites/yolks is the hand method, which is messy but gentle and effective. I got out the immersion blender and it worked perfectly, no need to dirty any fancy food processor. As you can see, I used coffee cups. Since I didn't know if I would even like the end product, I didn't want to purchase ramekins. If I make this recipe again for a dinner party, I would purchase the 'proper' dishes to cook it in because someone might want coffee or tea later. I also did not line the dish with paper towels. I don't use paper towels, and I figured the thick ceramic of the pan would be enough protection. I let the pan and water sit in the oven as it preheated. Wait, what's that smell! Oh No, Walnuts! Yes, sigh, I burned my nuts. So out they went into the compost and I grabbed some candied pecans to replace them. My flan with toppings went into the coffee cups and the coffee cups went into the water bath. I added a bit more water so that it was half way up the side of the coffee cups and set the timer. Once the knife blade came out clean I gave a shout and pulled the pan and let it rest on the cooktop. This recipe is pumpkin goodness with the salty cheese and crunchy nuts giving a great contrast. Guess what, flan is not scary, or gross, and I like it after all! I would heartily recommend this recipe as a Thanksgiving 'alternative.' Next time I make it, I would drop some salty cheese in the middle too. Delish.

All the ingredients ready to blend.

The flan in its bath, waiting to cook up to perfection.

Puffy pumpkin deliciousness with pecans and Gorgonzola cheese.
 I have this cookbook for a few weeks, so maybe I'll find the time to shop for and try one of the more complicated seafood recipes. Or maybe I'll find another picture that catches my eye and then see that the recipe itself is simple. The best kind of food! Simple and delicious. No one could ask for more. I can't wait to see what the other people decide to cook. Maybe that will inspire me too. Stay tuned for February, when the group cooks another book: Asian Dumplings. Tea Time Loves Dim Sum, so this should be good!

My simple French meal was a hit with my dining partner.
A Post Script:

This cook book has won my heart. I love that Dorie Greenspan encourages you to make each recipe your own, both through suggestions of "Bon Idee" sidebars or direct encouragement through stories of her own experience. This is how I cook, so the fact that a famous cook book author has made sure to include this outlook and, in fact, nearly requires you to add your own sparkle to her recipes is an eye opener. Around My French Table has introduced me to simple French cooking, and I admit that it has changed my perspective on what French cooking requires you to do. More simple and delicious food in my life is so good, I love cook the book already.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Afternoon Tea at the Old Mint

There are a lot of places in SF to find afternoon tea. It may be surprising to some, but afternoon tea is a popular fundraiser for charities. We attended the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society's afternoon tea and silent auction event. The event was catered and our menu included scones, sandwiches, and desserts. There was also tea and sparkling wine for drinks. 

We were lucky enough to share our four top table with two lovely ladies. One was a member of the Society and she had brought her friend. Neither JK or Angela knew much about this charity, so we quizzed our tablemates to get the scoop. The proceeds from the tea tickets and the silent auction go towards the refurbishment of this stately piece of SF history. The tables were preset when we arrived and chose our seats. The waiters poured us each a glass of sparkling wine and we chatted a moment, perusing our pamphlets before our table offered a toast and began eating.

Our lovely table, set up with gift bag and tea service.
The scones.
Sandwiches (plate one).

The sweets.
Gift Bag Contents from Peerless.
Angela had visited the Old Mint for a SF neighborhood event and scoped out the building, but she was excited to learn more (facts and fiction!) on the guided tour Tea Time had signed up for after tea. There was varied entertainment, provided by a Dickens Faire choir in full costume as well as other minstrels and an Old Saint Nick character who interacted with the crowd. Guests were able to wander the main level and basement at will, however there were three guided tours of the lowest level and Tea Time jumped at the chance to acquire more local knowledge.

A bit of history about "The Granite Lady".* On July 8, 1852, President Millard Fillmore signed an act authorizing a branch mint in California. Within a short time, Treasury Secretary Thomas Corwin chose San Francisco as the site. The basement walls were of granite from the Griffith Quarry in Penryn, Placer County, California. On May 26, 1870, the cornerstone of the Mint was laid. The building opened on a rainy Saturday, November 5, 1874. Architect Alfred B. Mullett knew well that the Pacific Coast was subject to earthquakes, and with remarkable foresight he designed the Old Mint to “float” on its foundations in an earthquake, rather than shatter.  His vision was validated when the mint rode out the severe earthquake of Wednesday, April 18, 1906, practically undamaged. The Treasury Department planned to close the building permanently in 1994 due to its operating as a museum at a deficit and the need to make seismic upgrades and security improvements, but Senators Boxer and Feinstein arranged a reprieve and it continued as a museum until December 30, 1995. In January 2003, The San Francisco Museum and Historical Society's plan to renovate the building and establish a permanent home for the San Francisco Museum won unanimous support from the Mayor's Old Mint Task Force.

Old Saint Nick spreading Holiday cheer.
Welcome to Afternoon Tea.

Stay in character with a song in your heart.
Music for the season.
Holiday Carols in an Olde Englishe style.
Cheers to History!

Used for crushing gold.
Testing the acoustics, great sounds.

Families and the hoi polloi attend these events.

A glimpse into the past?
The Old Mint also supports artists. You can see the displays provided by the Historical Society reflecting their research into the history of Afternoon Tea as well as the "Money" art that was the current exhibit at the time in our pictures below. Additionally there is plenty refurbished architectural elements to fascinate history buffs. They offer tours of the building that are open to the general public, although they are free to Society members.

It's all about money, honey.

History lives!

Local art on display when Tea Time visited the Mint.
The silent auction and history of tea displays provided by the Historical Society were entertaining and illuminating. Tea Time bid on the tea pot gift box from Peerless, but we didn't win. Maybe next time!

Proceeds from the Silent Auction go towards restoring the Old Mint.
Peerless also provided the tea and chocolates for the goodie bags.

A wide variety of auction items.

A samovar and tea.
Antique Asian tea accessories.
Tea tins of all shapes, sizes and ages.

Tea Display by the Historical Society.

Learn more about Tea and History!

Tea Time enjoyed their guided tour and extra info about the history of the Old Mint. If you get the chance to attend an event at this architectural gem grab it. Thank you to the Historical Society for maintaining this landmark venue and helping to integrate history into our daily lives by restoring it plus sponsoring artists and events. We look forward to visiting again in the future.

*Information taken from the website of the Old Mint.

Ho Ho Ho.

Update: March 2013

It's not afternoon tea, but you can get in and check out the Old Mint at an upcoming event in April.