By Rebecca Lindamood, Local columnist
---- — This is the time of year when I want nothing more than to traipse through the woods. The leaves have hit the deck and between the satisfying rustling sound they make, the scent of pine needles and apples, and the brisk air, a walk yields something that just might be the best feeling in the world. We're getting ready to hunker down along with the bears, groundhogs, hobbits, squirrels and other woodland creatures.
My thoughts turn to warm fires, family, good books, old movies, quiet music and great steaming platters of roasts, mashed potatoes, pie, cookies -- and hot tea.
I know coffee is a perennial darling, but let's talk tea for just a moment. Have you read the "Little House" books by Laura Ingalls Wilder? I remember them taking the edge off of the long, hard winters with strong, hot tea more than once. There is something about tea that makes you slow down and relax.
Why? I think it must have something to do with the intensive manpower that goes into every cup of tea. Hand-picked leaves dried lovingly, packaged carefully and shipped to those who stand by, kettles in hand, ready to bring the water to a boil and coax every bit of flavor out of those tiny but potent shriveled leaves.
The glow of citrus, subtle sweetness and round but gentle heat of spices makes this Spiced Orange Chai Concentrate do exactly what all chai -- all tea, for that matter -- should do; it fills your belly and warms you from the inside out. Handily, the recipe makes a large amount and is good for up to a month in the refrigerator or up to three months in the freezer.
While I prefer it served hot with banks of steam rising from it on chilly autumn and winter days, it is superb served over ice, ice cream, or yogurt just to keep things interesting. I've even been known to stir a tablespoon or two into an apple pie or galette. If a walk in the woods is the best feeling in the world, a Chai Apple Pie comes in pretty closely behind it.
Spiced Orange Chai Concentrate
4½ c. water
1 stick cinnamon, broken into large pieces
1 piece fresh ginger root, 2-4 inches long (according to taste), unpeeled and roughly chopped
8 whole cardamom pods
2 whole star anise pods
10 whole cloves
8 whole black peppercorns
½ t. freshly grated or ground nutmeg
1-3 slices of a fresh orange (according to taste), peel and all
10 t. green or black tea leaves -- or -- 10 green or black tea bags -- or -- an equivalent amount of green and black tea combined
½ c. brown or raw sugar
1 T. honey
1 T. pure vanilla extract
Bring the water to a boil in a pan with a tight fitting lid.
Add all of the spices and tea, remove from heat, cover tightly and let steep 15-20 minutes, depending on the desired strength of the tea.
Strain into a large container and add the brown sugar, honey and vanilla. Stir to combine. Transfer to a large canning jar with a tight fitting lid. Store in the refrigerator for up to one month.
To serve: Mix 1 part of the concentrate to 1 part milk. You can mix it with steamed milk or with cold milk and then heat it together. Alternatively, you can serve it cold over ice. Brrrr.
Adapted gently from thecatnipcat on TastyKitchen.com.
Now are you looking around for something to dollop on top of that delicious Spiced Orange Chai you just made? I have a big treat for you.
Can you imagine something better than sipping chai through a billowy, creamy cloud of coconut whipped cream? Well, maybe someone else can, but I surely can't.
This treat comes with a hat trick of bonuses: it is non-dairy, it comes from shelf-stable, canned coconut milk so no last-minute trips to the store for heavy cream, and it is done in mere minutes. I like it on chai, pie, chai pie and non-rhyming, non-chai rice pudding.
Coconut Whipped "Cream"
1 can full-fat coconut milk, well-chilled in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours (I prefer unsweetened, but this is optional)
Optional: 1-2 t. confectioners' sugar
Open the can of coconut milk and carefully scoop the thick solids from the top of the can, avoiding the clear-ish coconut water at the bottom. You can save the coconut water for a later dish or drink it.
Add the solids to a mixing bowl or the work bowl of a stand mixer and whip with the sugar (if using) for 30 seconds to 1 minute or until smooth and creamy. This can be used immediately or kept in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for one to two weeks.
"But hang on one second," you say, "I wanted a caramel chai!" I would never leave you hanging.
This oldie but goody hasn't been seen here for a couple years, but deserves another look. This is as close to real dulce de leche as you can get without owning a goat and it requires nothing more complicated than a can or two of sweetened condensed milk*, a slow cooker with a lid, water and patience. If you're like me, the patience will be the hardest ingredient to manage.
*It is worth noting that most manufacturers of sweetened condensed milk do not recommend heating their products in the can. It's true. And therefore I'm not recommending it. I'm just telling you what would happen if you were to accidentally follow the instructions below much in the same way I have accidentally done it many times. Remember: you've been warned. Caramel is dangerous.
Shortcut Dulce de Leche
1-2 unopened cans of sweetened condensed milk, labels removed
Place the can(s) of sweetened condensed milk in a slow cooker and cover with boiling water by a minimum of 2 inches. You can cover it by more than that if you have space available. Place the lid on the slow cooker, turn to low and let it go for 8 hours.
Use canning tongs to move the can to a cooling rack (for fastest caramel-to-mouth delivery), or let the can cool along with the water in the slow cooker (for the safest method).
For a heartier helping of Foodie With Family, go to www.foodiewithfamily.com or Rebecca's new blog, www.icouldeatthat.com. Write to Rebecca at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your adventures and favorite recipes.