Christmas Tea Raisin Tarts

We wait every year for traditional Christmas foods. For those of who grew up in Western Canada, Murchie’s Christmas Blend Tea is a cherished annual treat. It’s on my list of seasonal creature comforts, not only for an afternoon break, but as a festive way to start my day.

Since the original writing of this post, Murchie’s Christmas Blend has sold out completely. Not to worry, the Orange Spice Blend is a perfect substitute.  It seems I’m not the only one who gets nostalgic for Murchie’s tea at Christmas!

Black tea is a fabulous ingredient in baking, especially in desserts. These little raisin tarts are not too sweet, thanks to the judicious use of brown sugar and the astringency that comes from soaking the raisins in double strength black tea. The tannins in the tea balance the sweetness of the syrup and the dried fruit, adding depth and just a hint of bitterness due to the extra strong brew. Like a cross between butter tarts and mincemeat, these little treats are delicately spiced, drawing on the flavours in this scented tea blend for a perfectly balanced taste. 

Tiny tartelettes are perfect for gifting and are just the right size to share space on a dessert platter with your shortbread and slices of Murchie’s Christmas Cake. They make a sweet contrast to my tangy Cranberry Apple Christmas Rose Tarts!

I use the rest of the pot to make a hot toddy based on the same flavours in the raisin tarts. You really won’t find a more comforting pairing than a tea toddy with tea-infused raisin tarts! 

CHRISTMAS TEA RAISIN TARTS

A cross between butter tarts and mincemeat, these little treats are delicately spiced, drawing on the flavours in this scented tea blend for a perfectly balanced taste. 
Prep Time: 2 hours
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Canadian
Keyword: #buttertarts, #cookingwithtea, #mincemeattarts, #tea
Servings: 24

Equipment

  • minimuffin baking trays

Ingredients

  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1 cup sultana or Thompson raisins (or black currants!)
  • ¼ cup diced candied lemon or orange peel
  • 1 cup double-strength Murchie’s Christmas Blend black tea
  • ¼ cup dark rum 
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 tsp lemon zest (or orange zest)
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 2 tbsp butter (if salted, skip pinch of salt above)
  • 1 batch your favourite double-crust pie dough 

Instructions

  • Roll your pie dough and cut out circles, rolling and re-rolling the leftover dough until you have 48 identical shapes. The ring of a wide-mouth mason jar is the perfect size for mini-muffin pans and should yield the correct number of pastry shells for 4 dozen tarts. Press circles into mini-muffin tins. Refrigerate for two hours, or up to 24 hours in advance. 
  • Preheat oven to 400ºF. 
  • Brew a pot of Murchie’s Christmas blend double or even triple strength. Loose leaf or tea bags both work just fine. 
  • Stir together brown sugar, cornstarch and pinch of salt, if using. 
  • Combine raisins and candied peel in a pot on the stovetop with tea and rum. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes on low. 
  • Turn up the heat to medium and add in the sugar mixture. Stir together for 2-5 minutes, until liquid begins to look a little less cloudy. 
  • Turn off the heat, then add vanilla, zest and butter. Stir until butter is melted and let cool. 
  • Carefully spoon the cooled filling into the prepared tart shells. Try to scoop up mostly fruit with your spoon, filling each shell no more than halfway. Distribute remaining syrup evenly throughout. Caution: too much filling will spill over during baking, making the tarts hard to remove from the muffin tin. 
  • Bake for 12 minutes, checking at 9 minutes to make sure they don’t bubble over. Unlike a cake, you can pop these out of the oven, and then put them back in to brown further if you desire. 
  • Serve with a Hot Tea Toddy. Merry Christmas! 

Notes

This recipe works beautifully with dried currants as well. Substitute raisins with dried currants (or a mixture equaling two cups) and cook for an extra 5 minutes on the stovetop. Pairs equally well with lemon or orange candied peel and zest, or a combination of both.
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Cranberry Apple Christmas Rose Tarts

When I saw the rose apple pie on the King Arthur Flour website, I was entranced. Had to make it. But one of the instructions confused me. It advised the use of white sugar to keep the apple slices as white as possible. I can see that brown roses might seem dingy. But white? For Christmas? I wanted red roses!

Cranberry apple is both seasonal and pretty. Dehydrated cranberries are the perfect way to colour and flavour your roses, along with some vanilla bean. The berries are pulverised with sugar and vanilla seeds, and are left to macerate while the dough is cut and resting.

Cranberry and apple is a classic combo, but even with the vanilla, these tarts were missing something. Cranberries and apples are both acidic, so sourness—while desirable—can be dominate here. Sugar alone does not posses enough depth to add counterbalance the high, tangy notes. And I didn’t want to do the heavy spice route, and diminish the brightness too much—just tone it down a touch. Lining the tarts with marzipan proved to be the perfect trick—a little umami and richness to mitigate the intensity of cranberry. And to make these lovely little tarts more Christmas-y!

NOTE: I prefer almond paste for lining pies, but this year it proved impossible to find in stores. If you bake regularly, you might want to order some online. https://www.odense.com

Often when you macerate fruit in flavour sugar for a pie, you add the juices to the fruit after you’ve placed it in the pie crust. I found when I did that, my tarts were too jammy and reminiscent of cranberry sauce. I want the apples to be the dominate flavour here. Besides, apple and cranberries are both full of pectin. You don’t need the tapioca-thickened juices to hold them together. You want distinct petals, not a red, gummy blob. Please excuse the crumbs below. This is blogging verité.

The amounts in my recipe should work well, depending on how thin you slice your apples. (See the King Arthur piece for tips on apple slicing.) I used a mandolin and also tried slicing by hand. Both require practice to achieve even thickness. But if you get some very thin pieces, and they get very soggy, not to worry. You can use them to glue together thicker pieces. They’ll actually add to the amount of apple you can pack into each tart when used this way. And if you run out of apples? Just add some fresh slices, and use the well-soaked mixed in with those that sit in the macerating liquid for a shorter time. You’ll be fine to wing it a little.

I tried baking these at a lower temperature after my first few batches were burnt at the edges. But the crust never firmed up and they fell apart. So I kept the temperature high and covered them lightly with foil halfway through to ensure full cooking and no burning. I removed the foil to let the heat set my little flowers in one final blast.

A dollop of whipped cream would not hurt these one bit. AFTER everyone has had a chance to admire their beauty. If you’ve got some holly, real or fake, use the green to keep the Christmas colours happening.

Raspberry, strawberry or cherries, dehydrated of course, would all work well here. But Christmas only comes once a year! Give these tart little tarts a whirl and brighten up your Christmas table. Much happiness to you all!

Gratitude to @bravetart, aka Stella Parks, both for introducing me to the glories of freeze-dried fruit, her method of macerating apples for a pie, and her fabulous pastry dough. And to King Arthur’s Flour for instructions on how to make a rose apple pie.

Cranberry Apple Christmas Rose Tarts

Dried cranberries coat apple slices to give a seasonal taste and look to a rosebud apple tart. Marzipan softens the sourness of the cranberries and makes them even more Christmasy!
Prep Time: 3 hours
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours 30 minutes
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American, Canadian
Keyword: #applerosetarts, #christmas, #christmastarts, #cranberry, #cranberryapple, #rosetarts
Servings: 12

Equipment

  • Food processor
  • muffin tins
  • Tin foil

Ingredients

  • 1 batch favourite pie dough
  • 1 ½ oz dehydrated cranberries (or 45 gr) (you can use 1 oz or 30 gr for a less assertive cranberry flavour)
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 3 lbs sweet apples
  • ¼ cup tapica starch also known as tapioca flour
  • 1 tube marzipan

Instructions

  • Make pie dough, roll out and cut into circles until you have 2 dozen circles to line 2 muffin tins. Let rest for two hours.
  • Put your freeze-dried berries, sugar, salt and the vanilla seeds together in the food precoessor until the cranberries are powdered, about one minute. Do not add tapioca at this point.
  • Put the powdery mixture in an ziplock bag or a bowl and place it beside the cutting board where you'll be slicing your apples. Add in the hollowed-out vanilla pods.
  • No need to peel your apples.
    Slice apples evenly about ⅛ inch thick. Don't worry if they are not perfectly even. Trancluscent is fine, transparent is for eating. Throw away the first slice that is mostly skin.
  • Cut the round slices in half and throw in with the cranberry-vanilla sugar mixture, tossing to coat.
  • Once all your apples are sliced, let them sit in the ziplock bag, making their own juices, for at least one hour and up to three. Toss and squish once in a while to distribute flavours evenly.
  • When you are ready to assemble your tarts, add tapicoa and give the apple slices one last good squishing to distribute it evenly.
  • Remove the tart shells (pastry dough) from the fridge and preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
  • Cut slices from your tube of maripan, about ¼ inch thick. Line the bottom of the tarts by pressing the marzipan in gently. (Don't skip this step! It MAKES the tarts!)
  • Line each tart with overlapping apple slices, starting at the outer edges and working your way in. Start with the tallest pieces. Use a variety of thicknesses to get a more natural look and to help the bigger pieces stay in place.
  • When there is a small hole in the centre, take a few thin pieces and roll them together, pressing tightly. Jam this little roll into the centre and watch it expand. If there's enough room, do it again.
  • Do not top up your roses with extra macerating liquid, or your little roses will look like little red gummy blobs.
  • Bake for 15 minutes, then check to see that no burning is happening at the edges.
  • Cover lightly with tin foil and bake for 15 more minutes.
  • Remove foil and let cook for 2-5 minutes more.
  • Remove from oven, and let cool for 5 minutes. When cool enough to handle, use a knife to loosen around the edges. Use a fork if necessary to help the tarts out of the pan. The reason to do this quickly is that any juices that may have spilled over could cause them to stick to the pan when completely cooled.
  • Serve with whipped cream or just as is! If you can find any edible metallic spray, gold or silver would be an amazing final touch. Enjoy!

Notes

  • Freeze-dried cherries would make an excellent substitute here. Or try raspberries or strawberries. 
  • I prefer almond paste to marzipan for lining pies, but it’s been impossible to find this year. Odense makes both: https://www.odense.com
  • Mini-muffin tins make beautiful bite-sized rosebuds. Cut the baking time to 20 min, half covered, half not. They can still burn in a shorter cooking time. 
  • Gratitude to @bravetart, aka Stella Parks, both for introducing me to the glories of freeze-dried fruit, her method of macerating apples for a pie, and her fabulous pastry dough. And to King Arthur’s Flour for instructions on how to make a rose apple pie.
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Fresh Cranberry Salsa

Welcome to Cranberry Week at The Everything Kitchen!

Cranberry sauce is so easy to make for Thanksgiving. In Canada, we have a long wait between our celebration in October and Christmas. In between now and then, those little bags of fresh cranberries wait patiently on the shelves, waiting for the next holiday. What do they do in the in-between time?

I was trying to think of ways to use use fresh cranberries, in the name of good health and because our use of them seems absurdly limited. I’m not one for dried cranberries, just because they are so sugar laden, you might as well have candy instead. But cranberries on their own can be overwhelmingly tart.

I remembered a recipe I saw years ago for a fresh cranberry sauce. I have termed it salsa, because many people identity that with an uncooked sauce, but really, same word, different language. Call it what you want, this sauce is versatile, delicious, and healthy as can be.

It does make more than you can eat at one sitting, so I’ll follow this post with a few more, highlighting all the delicious ways you can use fresh cranberry sauce for everyday occasions. No need to wait until Christmas! (Or American Thanksgiving. For that, you want my Perfect Cranberry Sauce.)

Fresh Cranberry Salsa

Cranberries are for more than turkey. This fresh sauce can be used for every meal of the day. It does not get healthier than this, folks!
Prep Time: 1 minute
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Course: Garnish
Cuisine: American, Canadian
Keyword: #cranberries, #freshcranberries, #freshrawcranberries

Equipment

  • Food processor

Ingredients

  • 1 bag fresh cranberries
  • 1 orange
  • 1 apple
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 pinch salt

Instructions

  • Chop the orange roughly to make it easier to pulverize.
  • Core and slice the apple. Leave the skin on. We are being healthy here, people!
  • Put the cranberries, orange and apple in the food processor and blitz them together until they from uniform, tiny pieces to make a rough salsa. Open the machine and scrape down the sides to avoid any big chunks. Add honey and a touch of salt and continue.
  • You can leave it slightly rough, as I have here, or break it down until it's almost smooth. Smaller pieces are more versatile and easier to use, but a little texture is still desirable.

Notes

This recipe is great on turkey, chicken or fish. It’s also great as a sandwich spread, used to flavour mayonnaise, good in a tuna or chicken salad. It works in salad dressing, in plain yoghurt or in a smoothie, on top of cheesecake, in baked sweet potatoes, melted in the middle of a brie wheel. Check my blog for more ideas! 
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Ugly Soup

Lentil & Potato Soup

I’m sure there are many Italians who do not appreciate the nickname I’ve given this soup, but really, I had little choice. Whenever make this soup for someone for the first time, objections are raised immediately. I mean, it does look like dog food. It’s really just not even a little bit pretty.

Happily, what it lacks in beauty it makes up for in taste. Especially my jazzed-up version. Traditionally, this is a comforting yet very dull soup. But I’ve added a little trick that takes it from good to great, and all because my kids are little potato-heads.

In most versions, this is a plain lentil soup with diced potatoes, a tomato base (I prefer a broth base), some aromatics. Cheap and…not cheerful, exactly, but nourishing. I made it a touch nicer by using Puy lentils or black beluga lentils which retain their shape a little more, are not so musty tasty as regular lentils, and are a less dreary shade of khaki when cooked. I threw in a Parmasean rind to the broth for a little more backbone.

But the greatest tidbit is this: use leftover fried potatoes. Fry them up in olive oil, or bacon grease, or duck fat. Whatever you like. But fry them up with big slices of garlic that get nicely browned and caramelized on the outside and soft and sweet on the inside. Add those to your soup, then add more garlic. And top with Parmesan cheese.

Now come on. Anything would taste great if you cooked it up like that and drizzled it with olive oil. But these garlicky lentils are more palate-pleasing than you can possible believe. And given that they are full of protein, fibre, magnesium, folic acid, zinc and Vitamins A & C, and cheap to boot, why are earth are you not cooking lentils with regularity?

I know you all have Instapots now, so you can pressure cook your lentils, like I did. Or just cook them on a stovetop. I have a stovetop pressure cooker, which I really should use more often. I find it provides me more control and flexibility than a countertop version. But to each her own.

If you don’t have leftover fried potatoes, it’s worth making them for this soup. Plain peeled, uncooked are fine, but we can have good nutrition AND great taste, and so we shall.

This is your new comfort food. And when you’ve made it and surprised yourself, you can torment and delight your friends and neighbours like I have. And feed them well at the same time.

Ugly Soup

Lentil and potato soup gets a flavour boost form two kinds of garlic and hearty fried potatoes.
Course: Appetizer, Main Course, Side Dish, Snack, Soup
Cuisine: American, Canadian, Italian
Keyword: #lentilpotatosoup, #lentilsoup, #lotsagarlic

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Puy or black lentils Rinse and pick over your lentils
  • 3 cups water
  • 8-10 fresh bay leaves (or 3-6 dried)
  • 2 lbs. Yukon potatoes, diced
  • 1 head garlic
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • fine sea salt (non-iodized)
  • 3 tbsp olive oil (or fat of your choice)

Instructions

  • Rinse your lentils. If you're using the fancy Puy variety, they should be clean but take a look for tiny twigs nonetheless.
  • Add lentils to a pressure cooker with 3 cups of water, 4-6 fresh bay leaves and a teaspoon of salt. Bring to high heat, reduce to medium high, and cook for 10-12 minutes. The lentils will mostly retain their shape, but if they get a little mushy, that's just fine. That will help add some body to the soup.
  • Or bring the above ingredients to a boil, reduce to a simmmer and leave on the stove for an hour and a half. You choose. (Get a pressure cooker!)
  • While the lentils are cooking away, rinse then dice the potatoes.
  • Preheat a non-stick pan over medium heat. Once the pan is heated, add your oil and let it get hot before adding your potatoes. Throw them in the hot oil, sprinkle them with a tbsp of salt and turn the heat down to medium low. Leave undisturbed while potatoes develop a nice brown crust.
  • Take 6-8 cloves of garlic and slice them into thick pieces, 2 or three per clove. Drop on top of the potatoes as they cook.
  • When the lentils are done, turn off heat. Open the valve for quick release. Once it's quit sputtering, remove the lid. Check to see how much water remains. They should be almost covered but not quite. Add 1-2 cups of chicken stock, depending on how much water has evaporated from the lentils.
  • Throw in the Parmasean rind and the rest of the bay leaves. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer while you turn your attention back to the potatoes.
  • Using a spatula, try to flip potatoes around so that they brown all over.
  • Simmer the lentils for as long as you need to to ensure lentils are thoroughly softened. This could be as little as 5 minutes if the pressure cooker did the trick, but take whatever time you need.
  • Mince 4-8 cloves—I'm serious!—and add them to the soup.
  • Once the potatoes are thoroughly browned, add them to the soup. Stir in grated Parmasean. Taste for salt.
  • Top with more cheese, Italian parsley if you can find it, fresh pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Like most soups, this is better the next day, but it is delicious and fortifying straight from the pot. Stay warm, my friends!
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Old-Fashioned Dad’s Cookies

My favourite cookies, this recipe is simplicity itself. These cookies are humble, delicious and beautifully unpretentious.

They don’t need beurre noisette (browned butter), they don’t need a topping of large flakes of exotic salts, and they certainly don’t need chocolate chips! (But I can’t stop you, can I?) They just need to made and enjoyed as is.

These may seem plain when compared to the many decadent, multi-layered, adorably shaped cookies that appear all over Instagram and Pinterest. That’s okay. I have always love the delighted look of surprise on the faces of those who try them, often out of sheer courtesy. “These cookies are really good!” they exclaim with shocked expressions. These cookies defy expectations.

This is my grandma’s recipe, and she made damn good cookies. You want super-charged, ultra-loaded, tweaked and upgraded cookies, look elsewhere. Here lies the beauty of the original. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Old-Fashioned Dad’s Cookies

Grandma's original recipe, these plain-seeming cookies are rich in flavour and tradition.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Course: Dessert, Snack
Cuisine: American, British, Canadian
Keyword: #dadscookies, #oatmealcookies, #simplerecipes, oatmealcoconutcookies

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp fine sea salt (or ½ tsp kosher salt)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 375°
  • Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.
  • In a stand mixer, beat together butter and sugars. Add eggs, then vanilla. Alternatively, you can mix them all together by hand in a large bowl.
  • Add flour mixture to the sugar-butter mixture. Stir until combined. Add coconut and oats. Stir in until dispersed evenly. I like to use my hands for this last step.
  • Drop from a tablespoon onto a parchment paper lined cookie tray. Bake for 15 munites, or until tan at the edges and golden brown all over.
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Pumpkin Coconut Soup

This is less of a pumpkin-spice recipe and more of a pumpkin-herb recipe. I started by wanting to use up leftover Thanksgiving pie pumpkins, so I went to a Bon Appetit recipe that caught my eye. It used butternut squash and coconut milk, but a squash is a squash is a squash. Use whatever you have—I certainly felt free to. And that’s what good home cooking is: using up what’s at hand while making it taste delightful.

The Bon Appetit recipe used garlic and ginger as the main sources of flavour, adding a little heat with chili flakes and cilantro. All well and good, but I needed more from my soup. If I’m to be drinking/eating healthy vegan things, they must have maximal flavour, dammit.

An upgrade was easily achieved with the addition of some chopped lemongrass and fresh lime leaves, simmered in with the pumpkin as it cooks. This made a huge difference. My pumpkin soup went from having a nice taste to an excellent one. It meant putting the lemongrass in some cheesecloth, then extracting it along with the lime leaves right before blending, rather than just dumping the whole pot into the blender. A tiny effort well worth the exertion.

This soup is warm, healthy, and cheerful as can be. If you want to reduce the fat content, use light coconut milk. I made a big batch that was a perfect host to leftover grilled shrimp, some sautéed kale from the night before, some quickly cooked green beans. I topped it with the cilantro leaves and toasted pumpkin seeds, and of course peanuts and toasted coconut would be lovely as well. Cilantro haters, you know very well that you can and will skip that particular ingredient. You know who you are.

Pumpkin Coconut Soup

A warming, filling, herbacous soup that is as healthy as it is tasty.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Course: Appetizer, Soup
Cuisine: Southeast Asian
Keyword: #coconut, #lemongrass, #pumpkin, #pumpkinsoup, ginger
Servings: 8

Ingredients

  • 1 large onion
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp fresh grated ginger
  • 2-3 Thai chilis (optional)
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, bottom parts only
  • 4-6 lime leaves
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 3 tbsp grapeseed oil or coconut oil
  • 3 tsp kosher salt
  • 4-4½ lbs pumpkin
  • 1 small bunch cilantro

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 350°.
  • Preheat a thick-bottomed pot on medium heat, adding the oil once it's warm. Dice the onion and sauté until translucent. Turn down to medium low.
  • Mince garlic and chilis, if using. Grate ginger, wash and chop cilantro stems. Sauté everything together on medium low.
  • Peel and seed the pumpkins, or whatever squash you have. A thinner skinned squash willl yield more flesh, so you could start with 3½-4 lbs. Chop into roughly evenly sized cubes and add to the pot.
  • Add water just to cover, then add coconut milk and 2 tsp of salt.
  • Chop lemongrass and wrap in cheesecloth or put into a dispoable tea bag and add to soup. Add lime leaves and salt.
  • Bring to a boil then turn heat down and simmer until pumpkin is soft, about 15-20 minutes. Let cool a bit.
  • Rinse seeds, discarding most of the stringy flesh. Don't worry if you don't get it all, it will dry up and separate more easily after baking. Cover seeds in 1 tbsp of oil and 1 tsp of salt.
  • Spread on a parchment-lined rimmed cookie sheet. Toast for 15-20 minutes, stirring halfway through. Toast until golden brown.
  • Come back to your soup. Just before you pour it in the blender, remove the lemongrass and lime leaves. Fill the blender no more than 2/3 full, and make sure there's a little ventilation if it's still steaming hot. You do not want your kitchen to look like a Jackson Pollack painintg.
  • Blend until silky smooth. Pour back into the pot to reheat before serving. Top with cilantro, pumpkin seeds, and unsweetened toasted coconut, if you have it. Voilà!
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